Capsule Reviews: You Need That Cute and Busy Stuff These Days

Foo. In addition to hating being ill, I’m kind of really hating on the general level of discourse we’re often forced into on random occasions when one is not even thinking of doing any feather-ruffling and someone you barely nod at gets their feathers quite ruffled. Boo. Anyway, some games are actually quite perfect at boinging away the nonsense thanks to crafty devs who just want to share what they’ve created with anyone and everyone who wants to have a good old time and maybe end a day with a smile. Submitted for your approval are the following indies, all at a nice enough price point to recommend to even the cheapest of cheapskates:

 

 

ihugu boxIHUGU (Nintendo Switch, $3.99): The first time I turned on Kool2Play’s simple and offbeat game, I was greeted with a quote from Ronald Reagan about peace that made me nearly spit out the sip of water I’d just taken. The second time I fired up the game, it was a quote from Jimi Hendrix that was in the same peaceful vein. While more or less a basic memory match game, the concept works well enough thanks to a wacky factor that more than makes up for its repetitive nature. Hug as many different folks as you can in assorted levels set around the globe and try for high scores by not hugging the same person twice. A few brief mini-games of the non-violent sort are dropped in every so often and are the same simplistic fun, but complexity and depth aren’t supposed to be strong points here.

 

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It ain’t rocket science, folks: huggin’, not thuggin’ is the way to do it.

 

Then again, the idea of a simple hug making someone’s day is almost a luxurious thought these days, a pipe dream of sorts if you think about it in this climate. But some of you may be very surprised to know that in real life this action (when done in a non-creepy and pure manner) is actually a great way to greet friends new or old. The game’s positivity and bright, cheerful visuals make it something to dip into if your day has been chick full of gloomy types angst-ing at your ankles with their low attitudes. Besides, you can custom create a bizarre looking character that only a mother would love who gets to spread a bit of joy as it zips from stage to stage spreading the love. What’s to hate about that? Also, the new 2-player mode is pretty neat for what it is even though the game never sets its sights above novelty status.

Score: C+ (75%)

Review code provided by the publisher

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Capsule Reviews: Rooms of Gloom and Doom and Such

Hey, I’m still here plinking away at a few health issues, but here’s something to read while I’m in recovery mode.

There’s a certain type of gamer I call “Trophy Hunters” who seem to rely solely on video and/or text walkthroughs of certain games in order to snag easy rewards in the form of digital Trophies or Achievements. Yes, this style of play kind of saps the fun factor out of games by breaking them down to into easy to digest “how to” posts. But there’s an odd benefit to this in the net effect of selling quite a few budget to fully priced indie to AAA titles that might normally not even get a sideways glance.

That said, when played as they “should” be, there are a number of these inexpensive titles that are really worth the effort it takes to complete them using one’s brainpower and maybe a pen and notepad for some of the trickier puzzles. Anyway, without further adieu, Here are a few indies that kept my old grey matter cooking that are worth a look:

 

 

PRIX_13Planet RIX-13 (PC/PS4/Vita/Switch): Indie developer 9 Eyes Game Studio (with a big assist from Sometimes You for the console ports) takes it back to the good old adventure game days with this simple-looking and somewhat straightforward sci-fi yarn about a space pilot who crashes on an alien planet and needs to find a way off… or else. Without a walkthrough, the game can be a bit of a mind-bender when you come up against situations where your character is killed and your brain is not wanting those deaths to transpire. The amusing thing here is dying in all the possible ways allowed by the game is a big part of netting those Trophies, so get used to expiring in a few ways as your adventure progresses.

While the game isn’t lengthy at all, it’s replayable if you decide you want to see every choice via playing in a linear manner. As noted, a few of the trickier puzzles may stump those who tend to think to literally or who don’t quite grasp that this isn’t a conventional narrative when it comes to how certain sections play out. For the record, I did cheat on one puzzle because it involved going in and out of a certain doorway in a certain order and yes, I ended up face-palming myself when I looked up the solution and discovered that a number of players had also gotten waylaid by that one spot. Hmmm… I guess there’s something to this trophy hound stuff after all?

Score: B (80%)

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Capsule Reviews: It’s A Puzzlement!

Not every game needs to go for epic length status or terminally flashy visuals to be enjoyable. I tend to gravitate to puzzle games when I need a break from other genres  and there have been a few really cool ones this year. Here’s a quick look at a some of the ones I liked a lot:

 

solar flux switchSolar Flux (Nintendo Switch, $9.99): Firebrand Games’ great space-themed puzzler may look simple, but it riffs on classic arcade gameplay with homages to Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Puzzle Bobble, a bit of Star Castle and probably a few other titles my brain can’t recall in a really fun, challenging manner. While it’s at heart, a supremely soothing experience, the reliance on touchscreen-only controls combined with limited fuel and the need for precision movement of your very fragile ship means you’ll be getting a game that won’t easily be mastered in one sitting. Yes, the music is ear-pleasing and completely chill, but if you’re easily flustered by even the tiniest of mistakes, the gameplay can get pretty tense if you’re not able to tip-tap-steer your way out of trouble. Practice makes perfect, folks.

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That challenge ramps up geometrically during the 80 missions set across 4 galaxies, but nice looks and all, you’re not here to do any sightseeing. Getting the best times as things get complicated is somewhat tricky (but rewarding). So expect a few retries and perhaps a few times when you’re just putting the game down for a bit and coming back later if you lose that zen-like concentration. Don’t worry, though. Those assorted suns you need to recharge will be there when you return. All is good in this universe, just relax and it’ll be quite the thrill.

Score: A (90%)

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Capsule Reviews: Get Me Reroute! (Or: Part 2)

Heh, oops. I had a little router issue not long after posting yesterday that had me a bit flummoxed after several restarts and too much waiting around, but we’re back on the boat and headed somewhat upstream, whee. Anyway, back to more of what you should be playing or at least looking at with a thoughtful gaze:

 

 

forgotton anne boxForgotton Anne (PS4/Switch/PC/Mac, $19.99): No matter what you get this one on, it needs to be bought, played and thoroughly enjoyed. If the words “playable anime” get your ears perked up, you’ll be pleased to know that developer ThroughLine Games has created exactly that, as well as a love letter to the works of Studio Ghibli. A beautiful hybrid of adventure, platform and puzzle game with a bit of detective story for good measure, it’s also (in my opinion) hands down, the absolute best game to date to come out of the Square Enix Collective program which focuses on getting more indie games out to the masses. Go download and play the PC or Switch demo (the latter is on the eShop) and you’ll see this one’s an instant classic.

In addition to a memorable lead character and well-told story, the game’s visuals, voice acting and soundtrack are all phenomenal. The addition of multiple dialog choices makes the game quite replayable because the manner in which you interact with characters or solve problems alters a few plot points or closes off some paths. This isn’t a game about fighting tons of enemies, leveling up or the usual stuff you may expect. It’s a story-driven game where you’ll appreciate the quality of the finished work as you’re drawn into the plot and memorable characters for as long as the experience lasts.  I’ll go as far as to say this one is one of my favorite indies of 2018 and it should be one of yours as well.

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Everywhere you look, there’s something to see that catches your eye in this game.

This is a game I’d even highly recommend non-gamers have a go at, as there’s neither a life bar to worry about nor a true Game Over state. That and with a controller, even the slightly tricky longer jumps that need to be made aren’t a total pain. Just watching Anne’s animation as she gets around is a joy, and yes, the different Forgotlings are equally impressive. While this game probably won’t get a sequel, if ThroughLine wants to do another Ghibli-inspired game, I certainly won’t stop them. Hell, I’ll be cheering them on and hoping it’s as good as or even better than this is.

Also, if this ever gets a physical edition at some point down the road, I say get it just for anything art-related that comes as part of the package. Well, the game, too, but yeah, seeing more of this gorgeousness is a thing that’s necessary in a more physical over digital manner.

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To paraphrase ZZ Top: “She’s got wings… and she knows how to use them…”

Score: A (95%)

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Review: Where Are My Friends? (PS4)

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WAMF_PS4Don’t let the childlike look of its hand-drawn visuals fool you one bit. Where Are My Friends?  ($5.99) is going to absolutely break those gamers out there who take it for a spin expecting an easy Trophy hunt. Between the wordless storytelling that requires paying full attention when exploring the game’s point/click adventure segments, to some insane platforming sections, this one’s a hardcore challenge well disguised as a more light, family friendly affair. Actually, it may take an entire family to complete some of the fiercely tough sequences here, so get everyone together and maybe even the family pet can even give this a shot after everyone else fails.

My own reflexes aren’t as sharp these days, so at one point after discovering the somewhat challenging (okay, brutal) platforming sections, I actually made a phone call, packed up my PS4 and hoofed it over to a friend’s place so his 11-year old kid could do what I couldn’t. Let’s just say that kid earned his free pizza after that, but he also wanted me to note (and I quote): “This is one of the most crazy games I’ve ever played in my life, and I’m only 11!  You should pay me more next time!”  Hey, kid? There won’t be a next time (until the next time I get a game like this), and you didn’t get paid, per se (don’t child labor laws prevent that sort of thing?) . You’re a ringer, pal – you’re supposed to do your thing, do it well and zip it. Well, I didn’t say that, but I’m thinking he’s now thinking he’s getting pressed into service whenever I need some game-related help.

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Review: Metropolis: Lux Obscura (PS4/Vita)

 

Hooooooo boy. If a mature game that successfully mashes up Sin City and Puzzle Quest seems as if it’ll be right up your dark, rainy alley, have I got something for you, pal. Sometimes You has ported Ktulhu Solutions’ previously PC-only (and very NSFW) game Metropolis: Lux Obscura over to consoles (it’s coming April 4) and if you’re in the mood for a totally lewd and somewhat amusing in terms of its wall to wall profanity game experience, go whip out that wallet and pony up that dough. Leave the kids out of this one, please, as it’s absolutely not for them. Unless, of course you want them quoting the racier lines from this at family gatherings or in places where someone might keel over in a dead faint from the ear-searing dialog.

While it’s a bit on the short side, you get four endings and the game excels at paying somewhat intentionally cheesy homage to Frank Miller’s graphic novels (although the art here is a lot less impressive) with that reliance on shock value profanity and a few topless and/or scantily clad females as well as some more salacious content that may make your eyes pop a few times before all is said and done. Amusingly enough, as raw as this game is, PC version owners can get a patch that turns that version into a er, how shall I put it… “somewhat Stormier” experience. And nope, you won’t see that patch coming at all to the PS4 or Vita (or Nintendo Switch, for that matter).

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Review: One Eyed Kutkh (PS4)

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Charmingly abstract and somewhat brief, One Eyed Kutkh comes highly recommended as a game that’s just as entertaining for kids as it is for adults looking for a nicely non violent bedtime story experience. Developer Baba Yaga Games and Sometimes You bring their inexpensive Unity engine indie to the PS4 and it’s a winner despite that short play length. Hey, sometimes you just need a tiny bite late at night, as a big full meal can often leave you with a rumbly tummy afterwards.

The story’s a simple one (and yes, so simple I’m swiping this from the official site because the PlayStation Network page isn’t up just yet):

A single traveler on his way home crashes on a mysterious planet. To continue his journey, he’ll have to get to the ninth heaven, deceive the Sun and the Moon and steal their space-boats.

That’s pretty much it, except the game uses no words at all save for intentionally alien noises coming from a few characters.

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Review: NORTH (PS4)

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While it’s under an hour in length (or maybe just over an hour if you get stuck or play at a slower pace – hey, I’m old and slow!), NORTH is a pretty unique and memorably weird game from developer Outlands Games ported by Sometimes You to PS4. A first person game about the pathway to immigration as presented in a surreal land inhabited by some bizarre-looking alien lifeforms, it’s also an interestingly timely game experience that’s also intentionally visually unsettling. Imagine David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Fritz Lang teaming up to make a ‘walking simulator’ with light adventure game elements and you’d be somewhat close.

The game’s brevity is noted at the beginning and you’re also told you can’t save your progress because the story is meant to be played/told in one sitting. There are also no options to change the game’s brightness level and you’s better be comfortable with the non-configurable controls as well. The game places intentional restrictions on the player as he attempts to make it through the intentionally confusing mix of exploration and mild to maddening puzzle solving required to eventually secure asylum in the strange world he’s ended up in.

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Review: Energy Invasion (PS4)

Energy Invasion PS4I could be a really sneaky bum of a guy and start this short review with the following blurb-friendly pull quote: “Energy Invasion is the first Breakout game of 2018!” and actually be completely correct. Well, the game is a sort of clone/homage to the classic arcade game with a bit of Arkanoid and a teeny-tiny dash of Space Invaders wrapped into a twin-stick shooter for good measure.  While not flawless, overall, it’s a pretty decent game from the ever busy developer Sometimes You (Evgeniy Kolpakov) that should appeal to fans of those older games looking for something new to hop into for a spell.

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You get three game modes (Invasion, Linear, Endless), online leaderboards if you want to chart your score, and a surprisingly cool soundtrack from someone named Nick R 61 who packs the game with some pretty solid cuts. While the game isn’t the most impressive visually, you do get some neat background effects and a mix of retro and modern visual touches courtesy of the Unity engine. Gameplay is a bit more complex than Breakout as your ball can shoot at enemy blocks rather than the paddle at the bottom of the screen like in some Breakout/Arkanoid clones. It’s a bit tricky to get the hang of at first as you end up having to watch the ball as it ricochets around the screen while trying not to get distracted by the shots. On the easiest mode, you don’t need to worry about enemy shots at all. But crank up the challenge and it’s time to play Artful Dodger as the enemy shoots back.

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Capsule Reviews, The Third: Some RPGs

Let’s see now. I’m trying to shoehorn a load of stuff into my schedule this year, so I’ve taken to compiling certain games and films into shorter, easier to digest capsule reviews that don’t drag on like my longer boring full meal posts. Don’t worry, those longer reviews aren’t gone at all. I’m just saving up my currently lower than usual energy stores for those more epic length posts. Anyway, let’s get cracking:

 

 

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One More Dungeon (PC/PS4/PS3/Vita/Switch/Xbox One) – Not quite a RPG and more of a cross between a first-person shooter and a perma-death packed randomly generated roguelike, OMD’s in your face pixel art will seem garish to some players, but I liked it quite a lot. The game is a challenging bit of fun that will kill your character off constantly, but somehow keeps you coming back for more. Points earned via playing can be used to unlock assorted modifiers that make playing somewhat easier or a great deal harder, so how tough things get is eventually your call.

There’s a sanity level to consider and the game’s overall vibe reminded me a tiny bit of Eldritch, another retro-style FPS, although that game had a more Lovecraftian vibe going for it. OMD’s low price point and speedy gameplay keep it fun going even if you end up buying the farm a wee bit too much. This is one of those games that you’ll go back to a over and over, provided you like what you see and/or it grows on you. Developer Stately Snail and Ratalaika Games (who handled the port) deserve a tip of the cap for this one.

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