Review: Dark Nights With Poe and Munroe (PS4)

They’re baaaaack. Full motion games developer D’avekki Studios has made the big leap to self-publishing with the digital release of Dark Nights With Poe and Munroe,($12.99) which is now available on the PS4, Xbox and soon, Switch. The game comprised of six episodic tales of a somewhat supernatural nature, with ghosts, a werewolf, a hungry painting demon, a bizarre love triangle and more. Although the game features a few toe-dips into light horror, it’s more of a creepy dark comedy where a bit of previous homework with Davekki’s earlier titles goes a long way in explaining some of the quirkier aspects found here.

Poe (Klemings Koehring) and Munro (Leah Cunard) first appeared in 2018’s great little gem The Shapeshifting Detective and they return in this standalone set where we get to know their characters a bit more, but yes, there’s even more mystery going on in the small village of August, which seems to be a magnet for offbeat supernatural occurrences. In “Frankie” the pair need to deal with a persistent stalker with surprising results. Let’s just say Poe has a way with a knife but we haven’t heard the last of Frankie in this game.

“In Bed with Poe and Monroe” is next, and it’s about a 24-hour radiothon where the two characters need to raise funds to keep the station afloat by staying in bed together (not THAT together) while broadcasting live. Well, it’s about so much more, as a sleepy Munro discovers a few times. Poe also makes a few discoveries that are equally revealing as a jealous ghost (Ayvianna Snow) appears to make his love life even more complicated. This episode has a few scenes like the first where shocks drop in and affect the outcomes of paths to wonderfully different results. More of this strangeness will come.

In Episode Three, “Green With Envy”, the pair are racing against time to find a kidnapped and drugged student (Warrick Simon) before his time runs out. Time is of the essence as the duo’s decisions in this chapter affect the ending and all depends on how you choose to investigate the case. There’s a pair of laugh out loud innuendo bits here when Munro visits guest house owner Violet (Aislinn De’Ath) and a little De’ath goes a long way when Munro misinterprets some simple queries before asking her own. Poe gets his way (sort of) with a pretty teacher (Ashleigh Cole) who may be a suspect, but who’s the mysterious Yvette who calls into the show to say she’s the kidnapper?

Episode Four, “Everybody Changes” brings a hypnotist into the studio, Madame Baratsky (Lara Lemon), who puts Munro into a trance where she relives a past life and tells a disturbing tale of murder. As mentioned above, playing that chapter made me go see the Doctor up close and personal (I bought the game last year on the PS4), an experience I highly recommend. In any event, this episode made me want some sort of Doctor Dekker followup, or at least the desire to replay that game again a few more times.

In Episode Five, “Many Happy Returns”, it’s the day before Munro’s birthday, there’s a full moon and a caller rings in to note he may have almost run over a werewolf. Guess where out two intrepid adventurers are headed? If you guessed “Why, to find out if that’s true, but not before a possible time traveler named Kaspar (Vincent Gould) calls, then shows up to the studio!” Well, you need to be in your own game, as you’re psychic. Like all the episodes, there’s a set-up of events and situations here that definitely hints at more. This give players a hint that the sleepy town of August is quite the nexus for bizarre happenings (like the sudden rock, paper, scissors game in this chapter).

Finally, Episode Six gets truly freaky with “It Started with a Wish” where we get a soul-eating canvas demon named Rose (Rachel Cowles) who lives inside a painting. She grants Poe a wish, which he has to pay for by having Munro hide nine capsules as prizes for ‘lucky’ listeners to find. Those capsules are supposed to have museum tickets inside, but (surprise!), they have a less pleasant gift awaiting. You’ll see. Poe’s wish has very huge consequences both he and Munro have to deal with and there’s a sort of David Lynch meets Night Gallery thing here when the characters have to deal with the results.

As noted, the game teases very much that there are many more August takes to be told, and I like that Poe and Munro’s relationship goes where it does in different ways depending on your choices. In terms of production, this one’s pretty solid. Without fancy effects makeup or gore, the game still conveys an eerie, scary vibe when it needs to, But it’s also funny, sexy and mature where it matters. Some may feel the vignette nature of the episodes might be better served as a single story arc. But I found that a game where time travel seems a quiet reality, dryads may actually exist and so many possible outcomes from charming to deadly are at one’s fingers that I’m all aboard for more. Recommended.

-GW

Review: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PS4)

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The Chaos Engine, or Circle of Life in action, if you will…

fall-guys-ultimate-knockout-boxartWell, this one’s a pleasant and goofy surprise. Sometimes the silliest and most simple games ideas just work and Mediatronic’s Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout ($19.99 on Steam for PC, Free this month on PSN) reinforces this perfectly. The 60-person enter, one person wins element is pure battle royale insanity (a genre I usually avoid), it’s weaponless mix of puzzle, sporty and trap packed levels offer up some tough and hilarious navigational challenges and overall, it’s just about as good as it gets for a game of its type.

Sure, there are micro-transactions here, but they’re not at all necessary to jump in and start playing. You can get some cool cosmetics with currency earned from just playing the game, or you can pay real money for stuff if you’re in a hurry to look cooler as you fall or get knocked off assorted hazards multiple times. In other words, there are no performance-enhancing purchases here (so far and I hope there won’t be in the future). Besides, the developer and publisher need to make SOME money with this one, but it’s actually nice that PSN users at least get to more or less play free and not choose to pay… well, until they need some of the stupidly cute skins and outfits that pop up.

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It’s all fun and games, especially if someone gets cartoon hurt.

A constantly rotating set of 24 levels means you can’t predict what’s coming, but loads of dying and plenty of practice await. You just need to hope you can survive the chaos as it happens. Yes, there are some super-skilled players out there who can dive and dash through areas and as you play, some tasks get easier to plow through than others. But the lack of voice chat thankfully keeps one’s ears from burning off from what I’d imagine is some hefty amount of creative cursing taking place at some ignominious last second defeats. Although, yours truly actually screamed “Oh, Bugsnax!” at my TV after one terrible but funny loss because I’d exhausted every curse word I knew and that upcoming PS5 game’s name just popped into my head.

Then again, this is a game where you’ll watch someone winning a match and then lose it by accident when a platform vanishes suddenly, or they get beaned by a falling slice of parachuting fruit. Some players seemingly try to take out other players by lurking near an exit (grrrr!) and lunging at them or maybe hoping to be as threatening as a giant jellybean in a funky getup can. It’s all good though – sometimes you get the last laugh (well, until you lose in a future round) when the game decides to drop random survivors at the results screen to get the next stage kicking.

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Capsule Reviews: Ghost Grab 3000/Singled Out (Switch)

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You can’t be afraid of no ghost when you have the ability to use a nuke as an option.

I’d like to think that Matt Glanville (@crowbarska) has a working time machine permanently set to 1983 he’s not telling anyone about, as his games I’ve played to date all look and play like solid arcade hits of around that time. Switch ‘N’ Shoot is still one of the more thrilling and flawless uses of single-button gameplay I’ve experienced and now you have two more retro-inspired titles to  blast away with, both quite good and deceptively simple on their surfaces, but each will have you hooked in for as long as you’re playing.

Ghost Grab 3000 ($4.99) is a nifty shooter that’s a hybrid of bullet hell and strategic shot placement as its lead character needs to line up or gather well-armed ghosts and blast away as many as possible while trying to survive each round. There are a couple of weapons to whip out in an emergency situation, plus a nice upgrade system with over 100 combinations allowing you to tailor your ghost grabber as you like. Part of the fun is buying those upgrades and enhancing your character, as you can create a hero that makes the game easier or, if you want to play with as few upgrades as possible, harder. That’s a bad idea, by the way – go buy and use those upgrades, I say.

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Soul Searching: Going Native (With Dragons on the Side)

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Make mine a double, please…

In the load of stuff I need to get to in this current crazy time, review code for a little game called Soul Searching popped up in the inbox a while back and you can say I’m intrigued by the project enough to move things around and play for a bit. I’ll get to the main story mode later in this post, but let’s talk minigames for a bit. There are seven ‘Short Stories’ as the game calls them, and they can be accessed from the menu and played in any order you like. but the game will run them consecutively if you start from the first one and complete each minigame.

Publisher nakana.io has released a few unique titles so far where its different developers’ personalities are on full display in each work, so there’s a lot going on in each game, from the art styles to the approaches to gameplay. Soul Searching is brim full of weirdness as the simple pixel-heavy art in the main game gives way to some rather intense slices of mind from its developer in minigames that feature assorted visual styles ranging from simple childlike scrawls to vector graphics and crude polygonal characters. In those brief segments, you almost get a sense that indie developer Kayabros (Talha Kaya) is working through some of life’s problems and you’re along for the ride for better or worse.

(Thanks, Nakana Games!)

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Review: Demon’s Tier (PS4/Vita)

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Instructions for real life, as well.

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Nostalgic is the good word here.

The latest pairing from COWCAT and Diabolical Mind, Demon’s Tier+ ($9.99, buy it!) is an excellent example of a really good game that got much better with a slew of quality of life improvements. While the game follows a clear Gauntlet meets Diablo style of play, a strict time limit and intense difficulty combined with randomly generated levels make for quite the thrilling, replayable ride.

This isn’t a simple “one and done” trophy hunt at all. Rather, the game is an equal to Diabolical Minds’ other retro-inspired pixel-packed releases, Riddled Corpses EX and Xenon Valkyrie+, two other solo or  two player co-op team-ups worth a look. It almost feels like the developer has captured a trio of long lost late 80’s arcade machines in these three titles, all of which demand practice and patience to master, just like the old days.

Story:

Thosgar, a hated king attracted by demonic rituals, turned into a dark and diabolical being… destroying almost all of humanity and flooding the world with monsters. This story became a legend and peace returned to the land.

A thousand years later, a mysterious pit appears in a village after a huge earthquake where an evil aura emanates from…

Will you be the hero to save this world?

Don’t you hate it when that happens? Well, good. Grab your PS4 controller or Vita, and let’s send those demons back to where they came from, pronto.

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Review: SEGA AGES Thunder Force AC (Switch)

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Memories, Golden Space Roast Edition…

1990’s Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis game, Thunder Force III was such a great and very challenging entry in the series that it got an enhanced arcade version in Japan called Thunder Force AC, which has now come back as the latest SEGA AGES release on Nintendo Switch ($7.99). It’s a game I used to play along with a ton of other space shooters on the Genesis as well as developer M2’s second enhanced port of a Thunder Force title (Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar) that’s a must-buy.

You get a flawless version of the game with the new ability to play with three other ships from other titles in the series (you’ll need to play a bit to get to three of them), and the game is another example on a fine example of M2 making a good game even more stellar on Nintendo’s platform. At the time it was released, the game was quite the spectacle with its parallax scrolling, some fancy warping effects, plus a few other neat visual tricks. Oh, and the music was (and is) perfection and thankfully, you get a music player function in this version.

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Review: Dark Nights with Poe and Munro (PC)

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There are no incorrect choices in this game, as you’ll discover.

In the fourth episode of six in D’avekki Studios rather excellent FMV (full motion video) game Dark Nights with Poe and Munro ($12.99), there’s a rather neat dark surprise in store for fans of their first FMV game, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker. I won’t fully reveal that surprise, but sharp-eyed fans will have grasped it already from a single screenshot. Let’s just say that I hadn’t yet visited the Doctor’s office and had it on my Steam wishlist for a bit until that episode in Dark Nights had my brain spin around in my head and my wallet flew into my hands from across the room – SOLD. I’ve only put about four hours onto the (maybe) deceased Doctor’s couch, but it’s definitely been worth the session fee.

Back to the newer game, which is a more TV-like prequel to events in The Shapeshifting Detective (one of the better FMV games we’ve played) featuring the radio host duo from that title. You get six very replayable chapters featuring John ‘Poe’ Pope (Klemens Koehring) and Ellis Munro (Leah Cunard), both superbly possessing their roles, coming off a bit like this decade’s Mulder and Scully, but with a struggling radio show and much more supernatural goings on. Their relationship is a lot more complex (all together now: “it’s complicated!”) and the game uses that as both backdrop and foreground material for their escapades. All six chapters delve into their radio relationship as well as what happens off-air, with multiple choices that can lead to some, shall we say innnnntersting outcomes. Or, Death certainly doesn’t take a holiday here in some episodes, is all I’ll say.

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Review: TT Isle of Man – Ride On the Edge 2 (Switch)

tt-isle-of-man-ride-on-the-edge-2-switch-description-charKT Racing has clearly put a Kylotonn of work into bringing TT Isle of Man – Ride On the Edge 2  ($59.99) to the Nintendo Switch and it’s truly an impressive effort on the hybrid console. The developer has recreated the recent PC and console experience perfectly in terms of complete content on the Switch with a few very obvious concessions to the lower-powered hardware. On Switch, there’s a tiny bit of texture draw-in plus some low resolution textures such as bike shadows, some of the signage, plus logos on your rider’s gear, which can all be a bit fuzzy in static shots. Despite these flaws and some long loading times, the game completely soars when in motion, particularly in docked mode. In handheld mode, the game is fine, but as a simulation that requires zen-like focus (there’s no in-race music for a reason!), every little detail needs to be seen at the best resolution available.

Where TT2 impresses constantly is in the excellent bike detail and its thrilling overall sense of speed thanks to excellent visual representation in the various camera modes and some tremendous sound design. The sheer intensity when you get to flying down a course and don’t go flying off your bike is nothing but a pure adrenaline rush, and the game will make you appreciate the art of the learning process. That said, it feels like a bit of understeer is in play on corners and you’ll crash a lot as a beginner and a great deal less (or not at all when you get better) as you get accustomed to the controls, which can by fully customized and come in a few styles from amateur to professional. Got a first or third party Switch compatible controller with a Rumble feature? DO please use that over the handheld’s Joy-Cons. The game goes from trickier to control and a bit too shaky to one where analog controls make things more manageable. The game is playable with Joy-Cons, mind you – it’s just more difficult if you stick to the standard control scheme and/or if you have the dreaded left Joy-Con drift issues some users have experienced with the handheld.

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Review: Guard Duty (PS4)

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Oh, this is the same game, alright…

guard duty PS4Ratalaika Games has been pretty much killing it lately in terms of quietly porting and publishing little indie games that sometimes pack in a few surprises despite the low budget price points. While there’s a core group of fans who snap up most of these games for fast trophies, once in a while there comes something that’s worth a second look because it taps the right vein in the right place and is more than a simple trophy hunt you can rush through in an hour or so. Welcome to Sick Chicken Studios’ Guard Duty ($9.99, Cross-Buy with PS Vita!), folks.

This is a fantastic albeit brief homage to old computer games from the mid-80’s and the 1990’s and absolutely nails that aesthetic to a T with perfect stylized pixel art and animation, some hilarious (and fully voiced) writing and solid point & click gameplay. There’s a plot that blends in medieval and futuristic elements really well, but I’ll not spoil that for you here as the story works best this way. After an intro that teases that medieval and future melding, we meet Tondbert, loyal Guard to the Castle of Wrinklewood. He’s having a bad day that started the night before as he was stupid drunk while on duty and let a odd stranger into the village, which has led to the Princess being kidnapped. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

(Thanks, PlayStation!)

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Jet Lancer: Take To The Skies On Switch, PC

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“Snakes… Why’d it have to be snakes?”

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A pilot, a Captain and an engineer walk into a bar…

Today, ace pilot Ash Leguinn joins the ranks of the many other legendary arcade shooter ladies who fly and blast enemies out of the sky with the release of indie developer Code Wakers’ Jet Lancer on PC and Nintendo Switch ($14.99) published by Armor Games. Having put in some playtime with an earlier PC build and and after playing the Switch version for a spell, this writer can say it’s quite a challenging mix of acrobatic flight combat against waves of enemies and some pretty large and tough bosses.

Ash travels from mission to mission on a small aircraft carrier piloted by a Captain who doles out briefings as she accepts them. Others in need of aid from Ash’s skills will pop in with their own requests as the game progresses, and you’ll get a talking cat engineer named Lem early on to upgrade your ship, the LANCE, as well as that aircraft carrier it travels on. The boat is sea bound until you get an upgrade that allows it to move over land barriers and the map unlocks more missions and plot elements.

Here’s the game’s launch trailer:

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