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Every Wednesday on Twitch, I'll try to play Steam games for you.
(NOTE: Due to a new job, I may change around my streaming schedule.)

May 19, 2017

Castle of Illusion


Didn't think I'd put a pic of such a
different game in the review of a
Disney-based platform game!
On Steam, we’ve all got that one game that was pulled out of the store for a reason or another. It’s no longer available for others to buy, but if you’ve got it in your game library, you can still play it as much as you want. For some reason, a few games included in Humble Bundles can also be this. In other cases, the game is announced as leaving the store and can still be purchased, sometimes with a great price reduction, before it goes away; this recently happened to the Alan Wake series due to expiring music licenses. That was also the case for a while for Disney’s Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse, HD Remix.

Or, if you prefer brevity, you can just call it Castle of Illusion.

I would say a toy box world makes sense for a platforming
character who's a mouse, except Mickey is usually too
big for this to make any sense...
The original game was released on the Sega Mega Drive, known in America as the Sega Genesis, in 1990. It was, at the time, a very sweet little side-scrolling platform adventure featuring Mickey Mouse, where he ventures through a few worlds in order to save his girlfriend Minnie. The game was praised at the time, even reaching 21st place in Mega magazine’s 1992 list of the greatest games of all time on the Mega Drive.

And thus, much like DuckTales Remastered, an appreciated, beloved and cherished retro title had to get its 3D remake for the new era. Bonus points for Castle of Illusion HD coming out less than a month after DuckTales Remastered, on September 2013. Removed on September 1st, 2016, from the Steam Store, Castle of Illusion has returned on March 30th, 2017, now costing 16.99$, so my introduction about games no longer being in the store is kinda pointless. Oh well, it happens! It just means that I have an even better reason to review it! Follow me in this adventure, as we follow Mickey in the eponymous Castle, and meet all the dangers within!


What starts this adventure? The implication that the main Disney cast (the fan-favorites of the Mickey and Donald sub-series, including Scrooge who probably got his ticket for free, the cheapskate) is watching the events unravel like they’re a stage play or a movie. Well, I hope they’ve got a good stunt actor for Mickey, because he’s gonna get hurt a lot! Also, a Disney play/film and no songs? 1/10, not musical enough.

May 15, 2017

2064: Read Only Memories (Part 2)

I spent Part 1 reviewing this game. This, today, is a special; I’ll discuss some themes of the game. As I mentioned previously, 2064: Read Only Memories is a game that touches on a lot of social topics that are still controversial, especially among gamers. I mean, I don’t have a high opinion of people in general, but I’ve seen some gamers exhibit the worst kinds of behavior. A certain event in 2014 But I digress. Long story short: Don’t like this game and the subjects it brings up? Don’t read this, simple as that. Also, if you do read, be aware that there is a spoiler alert; I’ll be spoiling details of the plot here.

Race, gender, orientation… and ROMs

The world of 2064: Read Only Memories shows a society that has moved past many of the questions of our time.

Lexi is offhandedly mentioned to have dated the protagonist's sister.
Yes, a lesbian, but never is it ever glorified as a wonderful or mystical
thing, nor is it used to allure viewers in any way.
In other words, it's banal - and that's what we should look for, a world
where one's sexuality matters not to the world at large. Same goes for
gender, as shown by TOMCAT or Sympathy in this game.
If there’s still racism in that world (outside of the Hybrids case), it’s not depicted. Homophobia and transphobia also seem to be a thing of the past, seeing as various people throughout the game are revealed as being either gay or trans, without any form of discrimination affecting these characters – nobody seems to mind. Majid, one of the owners of Stardust, is from Pakistan, and his origin is a problem to no one. And no one bats an eye when it’s mentioned that the second owner, Gus, is his boyfriend. Meanwhile, Lexi Rivers, the ex-girlfriend of the protagonist’s sister, occupies an important position at the Neo San Francisco Police Department. Sympathy is a woman sporting a beard and cool glasses, and if everyone around her didn’t keep referring to her with female pronouns, I’d be certain she’s a trans man, or a woman currently transitioning. In fact, that might be the case, her fellows maybe just didn't start calling her with male pronouns (and we could argue it's still not very respectful...). TOMCAT is nonbinary, and is always referred to with the correct they/their pronouns… which is also an option for the main character. In other words, this has all become normal, banal even, which is pretty great.

I actually applaud Turing for being a three-dimensional
character, as a robot that is still struggling to comprehend
all of the emotions they can use, and as a machine that does
not yet know proper etiquette for interactions in society -
also for being sometimes a smartass that runs their mouth
with pointless trvia when they can slip in some of that info.
Interacting with the world at large, not only with Hayden,
helped greatly their character development.
Where do ROMs, that world’s robots, factor in all this? Well, for starters, Turing also wants to be referred to as nonbinary, having no personal concept of gender nor a desire to identify as either gender. Their design and voice leads some people to assume that they’re like a young boy, and use male pronouns. Here comes the major spoilers: Turing is the second ROM made by Hayden to exhibit emotions; the first one, Grace, identified as female. Also, the best ending in the game sees Turing transmitting Hayden’s emotion matrix code to all ROMs on the planet, leading to widespread machine sentience. Or, at least, as close to sentience as robots can be. And with this ending, we can see that a) not all robots are happy with it, b) many struggle in dealing with these new emotions, and c) all robots can now make choices in line with the ones done by humans in 2064. I think one or two robots even mention what they want to be addressed as from now on, with which pronouns. The advantage being, ROMs having no gender to start with, they’re free to choose how they want to be identified: Nonbinary, male, female... I’ll discuss machine sentience later.

Hybrids (and cyborgs) versus the Human Revolution

Arguably a good idea; in some science-fiction stories,
too much cybernetics on a single person would make them
go insane.
In my opinion, one of the more interesting parts of the plot is the struggle of Hybrids (and, to some extent, cyborgs) against a group of protesters known as the Human Revolution, led by Brian Mulberry. The game attempts to portray various things realistically; among them, prejudice and protest groups. See, the Human Revolution isn’t a homogenous group where everybody has the exact same goals. The whole group is against drastic modifications to humans that can turn willing subjects into half-animal beings known as Hybrids… but its members show varying degrees in their demands. The more accepting members state that they want to cease gene splicing when it’s used only for fashion; after all, the procedure is irreversible. The more extreme Human Revolution members, on the other hand, are against any and all gene splicing, and are also starting to go against cyborgs too. Their basic argument is that “people who undergo these changes aren’t as human as everyone else anymore”, which they seem to believe gives them a pass to discriminate them.

My personal stance on the matter? Choosing to become a hybrid only for fashion isn’t really worth it. It’s a major decision that cannot be taken lightly. As the game shows, this treatment will radically change the life of the person undergoing it. Doing it just to look cool is overlooking all of the potential difficulties that can result from such a drastic change. And a person becoming a hybrid “for fashion” must be ready to face these changes in the eyes of the people around them – since hybrids suffer from discrimination. However, there are some people suffering from rare or otherwise untreatable diseases who survived through gene splicing.

What if it IS the only way to cure them?
Speaking of, this is also portrayed realistically – or, at least, the game tries to depict the hypocrisy of people who call themselves “accepting” of a change while actually encouraging hatred of said change. Take Brian Mulberry, as an example. He’s the leader of Human Revolution, one of its moderate members – or so he says. He claims to be fine with those who go through it to be cured from a disease, and adds that he’s only against the gene splicing treatment being done on someone who requested it for fashion. That is what he says. However, a little later, he actually approves discrimination against all hybrids – nearly celebrating that a hybrid was thrown out of their apartment by their landlord. Y’know… a hybrid who could have been one of those who had to become one to be cured from a disease. This highlights Mulberry’s hypocrisy… a form of hypocrisy he doesn’t seem to realize, much like various people in real life, supposedly holding accepting views with caveats that contradict that image of acceptance they are trying to convey.

Oh, Jim Sterling may have a voice to make this guy sound as trustworthy as possible; doesn’t matter, Mulberry is a jerk. Good work from this game to realistically portray this kind of thought process.

Big Brother is watching… and editing

That woman was just thrown out of a third story window.
We don't find out by who until the final chapter...
...not counting the epilogue, of course.
One of the secondary arcs of this game involves the media sources of Neo San Francisco. It’s actually important in discovering why Hayden was kidnapped – and killed, as we learn. For, you see, the main character’s investigation brings them to speak with other people from news sites… and most of them are either found dead, or are killed during the investigation. Even at least one other person who helps the heroes gets run over by a truck, in a time period where cars are all computer-controlled, and built to avoid hitting people unless their system is overridden.

It thus turns out that someone or something is aware of the protagonist and Turing’s investigation. And indeed, something is aware. The sparse leads are eventually tied together – and bring the two to Parallax, the enterprise Hayden was working for, and the most important ROM manufacturer out there. We learn of Big Blue and Baby Blue, two projects set up by Parallax. Big Blue is, basically, a program that will extend to every single ROM through the network and keep a complete database of every person’s preferences… in anything. So, you know, a less subtle version of social media that keeps track of everything you talk about and makes ad suggestions to go with these preferences. Except all of this data would go to Parallax… and considering all the people that died to bring this project to fruition, they’re not doing it for the good of mankind.

Obviously, if someone is plugging these leaks , then the
heroes are getting into far more trouble than they ever
thought!
But is Baby Blue really responsible for this?
Meanwhile, the other program, Baby Blue, was sent through the network already. Its purpose? Spy what’s said about Parallax on the new Internet of 2064, known as the Meshnet, and correct anything that may paint a negative picture of the company. Articles that critique Parallax, reports that shine light on the controversy around them… sometimes words are edited, other times big sections are modified. Yup, say hello to actual attacks on freedom of speech. That’s basically what this amounts to. That is entirely too much power for a company, now imagine if a government had both Baby Blue to edit critiques towards its leadership, and Big Blue to know everything about everyone and have the possibility to sell people’s secrets… One could say we’re already living in a world where Big Brother exists, but the situation barely avoided in Read Only Memories is even worse…

Machine sentience

At the end of 2064: ROM, the player and Turing spread the latter’s sentience-replicating code to all ROMs in the world. I discussed it earlier, machine sentience has a lot of effects that nobody saw coming, in particular Turing and the protagonist on this quest to stop Big Blue.

The program transmitted to all robots truly acted like they suddenly gained a personality and emotions – or, basically, as if they had a brain. A sudden acknowledgement of sentience has to be disorienting. A sudden surge of sentiments, this new creativity… The ROMs of the world were clearly not ready for this.

This concept draws parallels to other instances in fiction of robots developing something that feels eerily close to sentience, like Sonny in I, Robot (I still need to read the damn book, I only saw the movie with Will Smith). An artificial intelligence so powerful it makes a robot more like a person than a machine. This is reflected in the playable epilogue of 2064: Read Only Memories. Since Turing was the only one living with this new program so far, all the robots are asking him for advice. Some robots who were designed to fulfill certain purposes no longer want to, they either want to do something else or just be lazy.

For the record, it's that tiny spherical thing on the floor
speaking. It now has intelligence... but not many ways
to use it!
A floor-cleaning ROM at the hospital, who’s little more than a half-sphere sliding around, is not very happy about this change, saying he’s an old model and will probably be replaced sometime later – and that this new humanlike intelligence is useless to him, since all he can do is clean floors, he doesn’t even have arms or legs. It raises another question – the protagonist and Turing did share this intelligence with all ROMs, but did all ROMs want it? Not all of them are equipped in such a way that they can benefit from it. At least, the ones who are can now pursue careers that would have never been possible for robots before, mostly in art. But some others realize their important role in society and decide to continue doing what they were doing originally; that’s an option too. Although I have to wonder, would they ask for money? What could any of them desire now? They don’t need to eat, they can’t access most forms of entertainment (almost all video and gaming is done through VR in that depiction of the future, and that requires a human brain to work)…

You keep offering water, Alphie. If that makes you happy.

Long story short, an artificial intelligence that is strikingly similar to sentience sounds incredible – and it is, but we’d have to keep in mind the other possibilities brought by it. If machines become as intelligent as humans, or gain a similar “emotional intelligence” or “creative intelligence”, must we start considering them as people? That’s the conclusion 2064: Read Only Memories reaches, and draws parallels with the Hybrids. In a way, the two situations aren’t all that different. This new intelligence opens ROMs to discrimination from humans (“Why would you want that? You may be smart but you’re just a stupid machine!” type of comments), not all that different from the kind of things Hybrids often hear in that world (“Why should I consider you a human anymore? You’re more of an animal anyway!”). Granted, it gives Jess plenty of work since she's a lawyer who defends cases of such discrimination, but still...

I guess, the entire point is that, whenever there’s a major change to the world, there will always be people who hate that change and everyone who gets something from it.

---

Well, that was quite the analysis! I still suggest you play the game, though. On this, I say, see you next Friday for the next review on Planned All Along!

May 12, 2017

2064: Read Only Memories (Part 1)

They love to sneak in and take centerstage.

Some of the more interesting topics of science-fiction, in my opinion:
-The evolution of society decades, even centuries after what we know today;
-The line between artificial intelligence and sentience;
-Changes to mankind, biologically and mentally;
-The advancement of medical technology;
-How different, and yet how similar, humans are regardless of the era.

Greed, hatred, prejudice, fear of the other, any negative sentiment, name it; it has existed since the dawn of time and will continue to exist no matter how advanced we get. Today’s game sheds a light on a world, 47 years after our current time, where things are both radically different and not all that different.

"How many different drinks do you have?"
"53."
"I'LL TRY THEM ALL!"
Yes, you can do that.
“2064: Read Only Memories”, released in January 2017, is the Director’s Cut edition of “Read Only Memories”, originally released in 2015. I haven’t played the original, so I can’t use it as a point of comparison; but that’s alright, I don’t intend for this review to be a comparison. The game is famous for its deep story, featuring social issues that reminds one of similar debates we currently have; it’s also quite popular for its comedy, its voice acting, and the various paths the story can take, based on your successes, failures, and attitude (as you are often asked to reply to characters, and the responses range from “Nice person” to “Total jerk”). It’s also infamous in the less respectful circles of gamers for featuring these social issues I just mentioned, and for using the voice talents of Jim Sterling and, in a minor role…Zoe Quinn.

If you start frothing at the mouth hearing that name, you better ignore this review. In fact, ignore my entire blog. (She's not even in it for 10 minutes!)


With this out of the way, allow me to say how this review will be done: Part 1 will be the actual review, with a short description of the plot (to keep most of it a secret, so that those of you interested in the game can discover it without me spoiling it all). Part 2 will be a discussion of the game’s themes, with actual spoilers, thus you can skip if it you want. Let’s get this started, shall we?

May 8, 2017

Chroma Squad (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

When we left last Friday, the Chroma Squad crew had just completed their second season, with even more success thanks to the ratings boosters installed by Lord Gaga in their studio. They managed to avoid the sophomore slump; can they keep it up with their third season? Well… only if the Lead’s attitude allows them…

This serious discussion on the behavior of their team leader comes right
after they beat up a person in a very dumb giant pigeon costume. With arms.

"I'm, usually doing more of the hard work as the Lead
so I deserve a bit more?" Screw you, dude!
Yes, Season 3 promises better costumes, better plots… and a diva demeanor from the character in red, both inside and outside the show. Yes, the Lead, whom I’m calling Lead because you, the player, named them. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call him… Ace. I dunno, that’s the name I went with in my playthrough, because I didn’t bother changing names much.

So Ace is having an attitude, and it reflects in both his comments and his behavior during filming. Trying to steal the spotlight, doing more things than his fellow actors… And for some reason, Lord Gaga seems to be encouraging that behavior. That’s not good… His teammates will have to take him down a peg, because it’s becoming troublesome.

Gaga, do NOT encourage the egotism!

Big flytrap monster in a pot, summoning smaller plants...
Yup, that's a mean green motherf- from outer space.
As the season goes, things get more difficult due to the Lead’s newfound egotism. At the end of the season, however, after the group defeats a cheap Audrey II wannabe, we learn the truth. Lord Gaga had been toying with them all along! (Remember, this is outside of the show.) The audience boosters he installed? Actual portals used to summon real monsters! (Yup, that’s also outside of the actual show.) As for the Lead’s bizarre attitude thus far? Brainwashed. Sheesh, I’ve heard of fiction overtaking reality in stories before, but that’s really silly! …Oh wait. I remembered, we ARE talking about a Tokusatsu series within a game about making a Tokusatsu series, where the characters are actors portraying the team members while also being characters in the game and the Tokusatsu elements bleed over into their reality and-

AND THAT'S FOR SEYMOUR KRELBORN!

Er… I think I need to go lie down. Is that breaking the sixty-fourth wall or something? Why not the 1024th wall while we’re at it?

Not if we can stop it! Sorry, we're off-script, I can't
think of anything better to say.
Well, at least the team manages to get their good Leader back before the start of the fourth season. Lord Gaga has clearly announced himself as an evil alien overlord trying to take over the world (of course), so now the grand mission is to stop him. The team destroys the audience booster, but Gaga’s plan worked; monsters have been summoned! The original anthropomorphic city vermin enemies played by various stuntmen in suits have been replaced by actual monsters and aliens to defeat… all of which are, also, anthropomorphic city vermins. It appears the universe has aliens who look like pigeons, rats and squirrels; who knew? Quite the coincidence that Chroma Squad originally picked that theme for its mooks, huh? The alien ones are much tougher than the actors, though. But hey, now each and every one of them can brag about being on Earth television to their alien families and friends! A lot of Earthlings don’t even have that honor!

Season 3 also ended with the reveal that Cerebro is, actually, really a giant sentient brain in a jar, one that belonged to an ex-Hero of the Universe who is now reduced to this form, and who can now function as an actual character, not just a machine with given lines to say. I don’t think even a brain as big as his could explain why he was found turned off in an abandoned warehouse on Earth, though.

Good thing I was recording my playthrough!
Another thing I might like to clarify about the game; the developers have done a fantastic job and there’s no arguing there, the game looks and plays great. But! Like any finished product, there may be things they’ve overlooked. As a result, there’s a way to contact them through a helpful button on the top right of the screen if you notice a bug or glitch. I personally encountered one that was quite annoying. It was against the Audrey II boss, which had a tendency to run around the stage after dropping a bunch of plantlike bombs. At one point it ran outside of the squares it could walk on, and started attacking from there. It had also become impossible to hit it, since you need to select the enemy’s square in order to attack, and that boss was no longer on a square – nor could it come back. I wrote in a report and sent it to the team. So yeah, if you see glitches, be sure to tell them. That’s very kind of them – although it’s often too easy to accidentally click that big report button at the top of the screen.


See that blue-haired girl in the bottom right corner?
Yep, she's important.
Season 4 starts as Chroma Squad battles a monster in the sewers and saves a bunch of civilians, one of which looks like a martial artist. The girl, who goes by the name of Tammy, immediately catches your Techie’s eye. Throughout the following season, we see more tough aliens and bizarre creatures with themes, but we have a new overarching plot. Indeed, Cerebro is dropping hints about his old team… In particular, an implication that he was part of the old saviors of Earth, until their defeat at the hands of Lord Gaga and his forces. Speaking of Gaga, the reason he took on the pompadour and the sunglasses, well, he grew to appreciate Planet Earth’s pop culture. What can I say, we’ve had that effect on extraterrestrial life forms for as long as I can remember. So yeah, Gaga was not born this way, but now he lives for the applause! No need for a poker face, he’ll just dance around your bullets and punches! You can do what you want, that won’t stop him! …Okay, I’ll stop.

This season ends as Tammy resurfaces… as a zombie controlled by Lord Gaga. As it turns out, Tammy was one of the members of Cerebro’s old team. A fighter with experience against the universe’s forces of evil! Yes, yes! Give me that good Sentai cheese! Thus, the final battle of that season has our team of 5 battling Tammy and Gaga. Now, this is the most interesting part of the game, as the decision taken here by the team will radically change what Season 5 offers. Defeat Tammy before Gaga? Oopsie! You basically activated Hard Mode. Good luck with what comes next! Beat Gaga, save Tammy? She’ll offer to join the team. Refuse her offer, and she leaves, to go back to her family I guess. Accept her offer, and you get a very, very strong combatant added to your team! Her playstyle is different, she can become either a strong attacker or a target for enemy attacks. That’s the path I went with, so that’s the one I’ll describe.

Whaaaaaat? The ultra-realistic brain-in-a-jar
prop that can say lines and act like mission
control turns out to be a Honest-to-God real
brain in a jar that can act like mission control?
Gee, I never saw that coming!

The enemies get serious. The villainss become nastier.
Here, we're apparently battling Tammy's ex-boyfriend,
turned into a hulking brute.
As it turns out, the team’s Techie is quite overjoyed that Tammy joined the group, and tries some pretty poor pick-up lines on her, which I could have sworn I’ve already heard somewhere else. Yes, that Puck-Man anecdote is strangely familiar… It also turns out that said Techie has been working on a way to transport the Chroma Squad Tower, along with the camera crew and the Mech – which has become an actual, giant robot, to battle actual, giant monsters, with all the actual, giant damage they can inflict on the surrounding city. As for the season, it features such memorable villains as… Colin’s Bear... A Barney parody… a cat in a mecha with tentacles… a hypnotist harlequin with a pirate attire and big claws… Dammit, harlequins again? The best part, in my opinion, is that the season’s episodes tend to focus on a character of Chroma Squad. That’s great for a final season, each character gets their moment to shine!

Believe in my experience, that is no good pick-up line.
Come to think of it, there is no good pick-up line.

At the end of the fifth season, Techie’s project is destroyed by the villains… but they manage to salvage a piece of it, allowing them to rebuild it quickly – and thus they make their way to the villains’ lair, where they defeat a winged fellow using four miniature kaiju as helpers. That’s, like, 5 bosses in one! Season 5 ends with that fight, but the game isn’t over… Any good franchise needs its movie. There is no Season 6; THAT’S the movie.

The team prepares before the grand finale, and then can head out. We’re going back to the villains’ lair! Chroma Squad runs into Lord Gaga’s room, where he awaits. His battle is pretty impressive, as he can summon any of the previous bosses in the game. These are still much stronger than the average enemy despite the Squad’s heightened strength, so it’s best for them to concentrate their efforts on attacking Gaga. Following this, Gaga flees but Tammy follows – leaving the other 5 to battle in the previous room, which has turned into a gas chamber that’s slowly asphyxiating them. Don’t worry, they get better. Tammy isn’t so lucky, pursuing Gaga and being defeated by him. Confident in victory, Gaga takes on an even more stylish suit – thankfully, he left aside the meat dress and the cockatiel full body suit.

Gaga’s superior, the Master of the Universe, appears, and if you expected He-Man, prepare to be disappointed. Instead, this final boss looks a lot more like… Um…

That Star Map cape doesn't lie.

…Yep. Same cape. Definitely some Kirby influences there.

Having escaped from the gas chamber, Chroma Squad appears and heals Tammy, Master of the Universe (MotU?) considers Gaga’s mission a failure and promptly kills him. Aww, I’ll miss that villain. …Okay, no, not really. But I guess he was pretty interesting. After Chroma Squad is brought down, Tammy reveals her true potential, becoming the White Ranger. Her friends recover, and the team is ready for battle!

The White Ranger overshadows all of the others.
Even though she started off as a guest party member.
MotU is the boss with the biggest life bar, no doubt there. It will frequently summon mooks who bring weapons to him, and he can use these weapons to badly hurt all of the heroes surrounding him. When cornered, it’ll also teleport away. This is a long, long battle… and midway through, MotU turns into a much more demonic fellow, with strong attack power, but much easier to fight as a whole team.

When that boss is defeated, you can guess what happens. Come on, this movie has been severely lacking a giant monster battle. And thus, on the toppled remains of this spaceship, we get the Master of the Universe demon, turned giant, against the Squad’s very real and very dangerous mecha. For the record, Giant-MotU has 480,000 HP. You might only have about 80,000. MotU’s attacks are super-strong, too. You can’t win that one. Seriously, you can’t.

...Okay, we're doomed.

Look at those numbers! It's literally impossible to lose!
You can’t… because it’s made in such a way that when you lose, the fans come to your rescue, and it turns out that Chroma Squad has all of Planet Earth encouraging them. It’s so cheesy, and yet, it’s so awesome – the perfect Tokusatsu scene! On top of this, the mecha’s HP keep increasing, making it impossible to deplete, and its hit chance grows past 1000%, meaning that every single hit will land, and increase in power, until the boss is defeated with this final combo. With the threat defeated once and for all, the space station starts crumbling, Chroma Squad makes a run for it. Hopefully they didn’t leave any cameramen behind!

And it only took two minutes of skipping past a whole bunch of text
from a narrator who didn't want to show you anything, to get thus
awesome short scene.
The Mecha leaves as the station implodes, and heads back to Earth, where the characters are hailed as actual goddamn heroes. Because that’s what they actually became. And thus ends the story of Chroma Squad; have fun viewing the end credits, which includes the gigantic list of Kickstarter backers for this game! There’s a few scenes past that point, mostly the Narrator addressing the audience, doing a Ferris Bueller – because no story that breaks the fourth wall into a 10,000-piece puzzle is complete without that post-credits reference. If you pull through the many, many messages, you do get a pretty cool scene showing the game’s developers as their own team (Zyumerica Clonerangers), and revealing what Cerebro originally looked like – an awesome giant lizard in a hoodie. Can’t get better than that!


Damn, this is a great game. If you’re a fan of Sentai series, you’ll probably enjoy even more the various references to the many, many popular shows of that genre. Chroma Squad is packed full of references to those shows, but also to various other geek series, and it would be very long to list them all. It's clearly a labor of love. On top of this, the gameplay works very well; every decision you make during the management sim will have an impact while episodes are being recorded, and every little element and ability must be taken into consideration. Hence why it’s very important to learn to manage the money made with each episode, in order to improve every aspect of the studio, equipment, and so on, so that the next battles are easier for the team.

There are so many menu screens in the management sim, that I
decided to stick them all together.
While it is possible to directly buy the weapons you want, it’s a lot more rewarding to collect materials and use them to craft what you need – in fact, enemies can drop materials when defeated, meaning you can sometimes make weapons and armor without having to buy much. On that note, one thing that does annoy me is that, when you buy packs of materials (which, by the way, are fairly expensive, especially the damn cardboard box packs!), the contents of a pack are determined at random among the items that can be found in said pack. You could buy many packs without getting what you want, while accumulating stuff you don’t need at the moment. Don’t worry, you’ll (usually) get to use it later. Also of note is the rather interesting “Recycle” system where you cannot sell the crafted equipment you’re getting rid of; instead, you recycle them and recover some materials. Every item to recover is decided by a percentage (usually 50% or less), so once again, what you receive from recycling old equipment is all up to chance.

Much of the challenge of the game lies in completing the Director’s Instructions, although it’s very rewarding when you succeed. There are fans and money to gain! It definitely adds some difficulty to every battle. Since getting more fans and maming more money becomes required to get better equipment and have better chances of winning the next fights, ou kinda have to try and complete these instructions. Speaking of, the villains are all very creative, with many great attacks – the folks at Behold Studios definitely went all-out to imagine these enemies, which can be weird or awesome – or both. And of course, the combat mechanics are great, and introduce things that I haven’t seen anywhere else – among them, the Teamwork mechanic, which adds greatly to the strategies that one can use. Yes, the game plays great, and feels unique. Oh, sure, there may be the occasional bug – but, at least, you can report said bugs.

Do you know what's missing here? A Cerebro-sized party hat.

It's ann in the details. Have you noticed that with every punch
thrown by your mecha in these sections, the screen tilts
a little more?
The pixel art is impressive, and the very detailed screens we often get when a Season starts, ends, or when something major happens, look great. It’s also great that the monitor screen often feels like an old TV set, or the series looks taped on VHS (you can fastforward cutscenes and there’s definitely a VHS effect when you do). The chiptune soundtrack also adds greatly to the retro feel of the whole thing.

Truly, a wonderful game. It’s got a few issues here or there, some would say it doesn’t go far enough in its homage to Sentai shows, others would say that the combination of management sim and tactical RPG wasn’t as smooth as it could have been and neither of them has a big enough impact on the other… Eh, I thought those two elements were done well. Really, if you like Sentai series, you should like this game. Get it. It costs 14.99$ USD, so if you’ve got that amount to spend, look it up.

Next Friday: Something completely different!

May 5, 2017

Chroma Squad (Part 1)


Time for another Steam game! I’m pretty sure we can all relate to this: You see a game that interests you – maybe it looks nice, maybe it’s curiosity, maybe you just don’t want to lose the link because you want to buy it once you’ve got money to spend… Some games get added to your wishlist, others leave it. In the end, you have a few dozen games you wish you could afford, so you end up purchasing only the cheaper ones… even if they’re in the 5$ to 20$ price range.


I was never into that series, but I see its appeal.
One could say it disqualifies me from talking about a game
that is all about this sort of show... but I disagree!
That was my case with Chroma Squad. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of that game, whose trailer began with a live-action spoof of the Sentai (or Tokusatsu) genre; you know, Power Rangers and all those similar shows that involve heroes in bright colors fighting silly monsters, often facing similar giant-sized creatures with their own huge mecha. I’ve never really been a fan of Sentai series, oddly enough; the grand campiness would turn me off. Still, these series have large fanbases, with some particularly dedicated fans willing to discuss every themed season of the genre’s most famous titles. By the way, hi Linkara, when’s the next History of Power Rangers?

Good thing there was this
conveniently empty field
so close to the city, huh?
Plus, the mere concept that these villains have usually access to a giant monster of their own, but always start off battling the colorful heroes on their level. And I’m supposed to believe that villains aiming to conquer/destroy the world have a sense of honor? Honor, my ass. If I was a villain, I’d try to stomp the Rainbow Spandex Five with a giant monster from the start. If I was a hero… I’d bring out the robot from the get-go and save the world in a single stomp. Hey, if it kills the enemy in one fell swoop, and prevents the potential destruction caused by two giant combatants in the middle of a city… It’s the results that matter, right?

Today’s game takes place directly in the camp and colorful world of Sentai shows. Or rather, it’s a game about making a Sentai show. Managing the resources, equipment, advertising, costumes, and the actors’ paychecks. That’s the management sim part. The action RPG comes in the next part, where the actors film their show – using regular punch attacks, weapon attacks, and special moves, all taking attack, defense, HP into consideration. Actually, the game kicks it up a notch, with equipment affecting the number of squares each character can move, their critical hit chance, their counterattack chance, and many other factors that make you wonder if they’re attempting to emulate tabletop RPGs as well.

Actually, that’s exactly what it feels like: A mix between tabletop and video game RPGs. Gear up, prepare your tight Ranger costumes – with helmets – and meet me in the fantastic and often not-so-fantastic world of TV show production!

April 28, 2017

Bastion


Entry number: Who cares, really? The number doesn’t matter. All I know is that I’ll keep on telling this story until it’s over. The Bastion, our floating mass in a sea of emptiness and floating masses, will keep us safe as long as it can. Or rather, it shouldn’t endure more than it already has.

A kid’s bizarre voyage is coming to a conclusion. Soon we’ll know the end of it. Or, well, I hope so. That’s if he comes back. But… until then, I would say it’s time to go over what happened. A proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning. My name’s Rucks. I’m a Caelondian – not that it matters, Caelondia is in tatters. I could say I was a Caelondian. I woke up one day to see our world had been reduced to bits and pieces idling in a great nothing. The Calamity had happened.


You'd think the destruction of the world would have
awoken him. And yet, nope.
That day, a Kid rose from bed, his bedroom the only remaining part of his home. Not even a fridge nearby for a breakfast. He took a few steps, and the ground formed before him, and stayed as he walked further. Monsters on the way: Squirts and Windbags. I’ve never stopped to marvel at the odd names we’ve given these critters. Scumbag, Anklegator, Lunkhead, Rattletail, Pecker… These names feel like they could be a part of some fantasy world where animals are collected for battle. Although perhaps such a world would have chosen a different name for Pecker. Then the Kid stumbled onto the Bastion, where he found me. Perhaps I should have asked his name. With everything he’s done for the Bastion, I really should have. Veda perhaps? Nah, that sounds stupid. Plus he’s gotten used to being called the Kid.

I always thought rolling on the ground was impractical.
But if it makes the Kid faster...
Here’s the deal with the Bastion. This piece of land has a panel to let anyone ride the wind towards any location we can access. Look out at landing, though; even the Kid falls headfirst. I do remember that moment he told me about where he saw a perfectly fine and comfy pile of wheat to land on, and he fell right next to it. This universe has a wicked sense of humor, doesn’t it? The Bastion was created long ago, as a way to save us. In case of Calamity, break glass. There’s one problem though; its batteries are empty. The only way to refill them is to get Cores and Shards, scattered across the vast emptiness. Oh, certainly, I can send the Kid anywhere, but he’ll have to do some fighting on his own when he gets there. Good thing the weapons were left behind, ready for the Kid to use on his way.

April 21, 2017

Steam Pack 3


I wasn’t expecting to have a third set like this so soon... but at least it can help me practice in making my reviews shorter, especially those of Steam games. Last February I bought the Freedom Humble Bundle, which added a large amount of games to my collection for only 30 bucks… including many games that I would likely never write a full review about. Steam Packs are my way to cover all of those without wasting a whole weekend for each game. Once again, here are four games of varying prices, picked among the first titles of my library (in alphabetical order). Let’s-a go!

7 Grand Steps, Step 1: What Ancients Begat


Kind of a board game, kind of a Choose-your-own-path adventure, this game (often shortened to just “7 Grand Steps") relates the story of a character as they begin their legacy across History, starting in Egypt. Fall in love, become a parent, contribute to the major scientific discoveries of each era – even better, make those discoveries yourself!

Moving through the five circles of life.
On your turn, you can spend a Token with a symbol to move forward and perhaps accumulate Legendary Points. Legendary Points are what allow you to bring science forward, become a hero, or gain recognition. You can find a life partner, have children, teach your children the various arts present in that time period. Everything’s done through Tokens, by the way, and accumulating Tokens can be tricky since the parents are the only ones able to move on the board and collect Points. Interacting with other people – especially the loved one and some allies – lets the player collect more Tokens. The player can also distribute some of the remaining tokens among the kids, teaching them in one talent needed to live in that era. Someday, your character and their life partner will retire – and later die – and you choose which child gets to continue the legacy under your “guidance”. After which, things keep going, mankind evolves, passes through time…

Oh hey, you got all positive adjectives!
I got all negative adjectives...
The first section takes place in the Copper Age, and then moves on to the Bronze Age. I’ve yet to play through all of it (it probably gets to Golden Age and perhaps beyond), but the first full game gives a good idea of how the whole thing plays out. When selecting a child to continue the legacy, they take part in a trial… which you have NO control on. All they let you do afterwards is pick the character’s next defining adjective (good or bad, depending on how the trial went). Wanted Shura the Benevolent? Sorry, the Random Number God decided you were going to be Shura the Petty! There are some other choices you can make from time to time, but those don’t have that much of an impact. After a moment, you can move to the next outward ring of the “board” on this coin-operated game, all the way to Royalty! …That is, if your luck will allow it.

Making tokens, making kids... Making HISTORY!

You can never find out whether or not you've made
the right choice.
It’s definitely a good game, although I don’t know if I’d play through all of it. For one, I think too many things are decided at random – so if you strike out with all the opposite-sex partners at the start of the new character’s life, or they all get married before you could get one, well, you’re in trouble. Same for the Tokens, who when received are given symbols at random based on the talents of the character that gathered them. Whether or not a rite of passage goes well; the results of picking one of the four options presented in certain scenarios… There is enough strategy to balance it out, but you can never tell if you’ll end up screwed over by the inherent randomness. Well, I guess that’s life… I mean, all went well until my fifth or sixth family, then soldiers pillaged that family's village, killed my character’s wife or husband and two of the kids, and I barely survived thanks to a bit of luck.

It’s an enjoyable game, though I wouldn’t see myself paying 20$ for it. But hey, if you like strategy games, board games, choose-your-own-adventure books, and Historical fiction, you might find things of interest in this.

AI War: Fleet Command


Things start off simple enough...
Off to the conquest of your own sector of the universe! This game combines elements of real-time strategy, resource management and tower defense. The story is quite simple: Two warring human factions decided to build robotic combatants (the eponymous AI) to fight in wars, to avoid losing as many human soldiers in the feud. The AI rebelled, and headed out into the galaxy, taking over planets and fighting against mankind. We are now on the losing end, and the few remaining humans count on you to turn the tide around again: Defeat and drive the AI out of this galaxy!

...and you have no shortage of locations to visit...
If that’s the kind of game Ender was playing, then I’m glad not to be in his place. This game is very complicated. There are dozens upon dozens of types of ships that you can control and create, and you need to remember the functions of each and every single one of them. Harvest resources from the planets you visit, build a war force to capture planets, fend off the attackers. The game’s development studio, Arcen Games, explained that the opponent AI was built to be challenging, not to be fair. In other words, the odds will always be stacked against you. Oh, sure, you can set the difficulty level of the opponents – but even the lowest difficulty can prove problematic. See, you have limitations on how many ships of each type you can build – the enemy has no such limit. Computers are cheating bastards indeed.

...But then, things get completely crazy...

There is also a storyline that you can play, which adds two aliens with very different moral compasses to the original war between humans and machines. I should also mention that it’s possible to play this game with up to 8 players, meaning that you can help each other against the AI, or go around and battle other players. There are also multiple expansion packs that can radically change the way the game is played, if you really love the concept, the gameplay, and you want to add some spice to it.

...and there is so much on the screen that you can hardly
realize everything that is going on!
I swear, this IS Ender's Game!
Now, I’ll admit, this game is too complex for me. I mean, I can usually play games that are fairly complex, but this one didn’t attract me all that much. Oh, it’s not bad, it’s just not for me. I certainly like the backstory behind the game, and I find the settings and music to be simply beautiful – but there is so much to keep in mind, I lose focus. It’s just too much to juggle at once. And this, folks, is why we’re all doomed if someday I end up becoming humanity’s last hope. That’s also probably why I’ll never become a politician.

If this interests you, the game is currently sold on Steam for 9.99$, add 7$ or 8$ to that to get all of the expansions. There’s also an AI War 2 in development if you like the game.

The Astonishing Game


Hey, remember that rock opera I reviewed last year? Because I am that big of a Dream Theater fanboy? Did you know they had a game made out of that story? Because they did! And it’s on Steam! Of course, that also means a kickass soundtrack made of the instrumentals of the songs in that rock opera!

Is that how they play chess in the future? I always
thought it would be Knights decapitating towers,
pawns getting murdered by Bishops... all in
beautiful holographic animations!
It’s a pretty awesome concept for a game, too. Unique, that’s for sure. Probably more unique than “Chosen One saves the world with the power of love and the power of music”. Imagine chess… with RPG elements. Literally, chess, with characters moving like chess pieces on the board and attacking other pieces… except characters have hit points (called motivation points), so it can take more than one hit to take down any piece. You can play as the Ravenskill Rebel Militia, represented by musicians: drummers, guitarists, keyboardists, vocalists… and a dancer, for some reason. All that’s missing is a Theremin player. Or, you can play as the Great Northern Empire of the Americas, represented by characters in positions of power with roles similar to those of band members. What, a Judge has to keep the beat of justice, like a good drummer, no? …No?

Good to know what each piece does... now let's just
hope that menu will close easily, and won't be stuck
in the way.
You create pieces by spending energy points, and must also use energy points for every action you do – whether it’s moving pieces, making them attack, or using special moves to get the upper hand on the other side. And since there aren’t pieces to capture and, well, checkmates to be had, there is a different way to win: By destroying three of the special pieces at the other end of the board, representing the enemy’s headquarters.

There is, of course, a single-player campaign to complete, as well as a multiplayer option. There is also a Tutorial to let you understand the game. Cool concept, nice soundtrack, fairly decent models for the characters on the board, with an epic prog metal soundtrack… And by playing the game, you could actually win tickets to go see The Astonishing concert! Unfortunately, the praise ends here.

Ooooh, game customization! Alright!

Some stuff to learn about... but otherwise, it seems
like a clever idea. I just wish it wasn't so buggy.
See, the game is a bug-riddled mess. I never actually managed to beat the Tutorial, as I met not one, but two glitches that stopped my playthrough in its tracks: First I get the popup explaining one piece and am unable to remove it from the screen – with the popup blocking the screen and making it impossible to play unless you quit. The second glitch had the computer opponent making its moves and never ending its turn afterwards, preventing me from doing my own actions. Dream Theater, you’re a fantastic band, but you should have overseen that game’s creation and applied some quality control, because… yeah, that’s bad. I don’t think I’ll ever get a total play time for this one that even equals the length of the original rock opera. Big thumb down… but if you can’t resist the temptation, well, it’s on Steam for 2.99$.

Caveman World: Mountains of Unga Boonga


Let’s end this article with a good ol’ platform game. After all the logic thinking, it’ll be good to just be running and jumping my way around levels. Oh, right, it’s that one… Yeah, this one’s bad. Real bad. Anubis II level of bad? Probably not.

Caveman World: Mountains of Unga Boonga (Boy, that title is needlessly long) presents Unga, a caveman who has a sad tendency to wind up separated from his family in dangerous territory. Your task is to bring him home safe, avoid the various prehistoric monsters – including sabretooth tigers, mammoths and dinosaurs, because who cares about prehistorical accuracy – and bring back fruits for the family. On the way, Unga will often run into simplistic puzzles where he needs to find a bone key to unlock a door.

Lots of grunts and primitive sounds were exchanged
around the dinner floor that evening. Talks of how
they really need to invent weapons as quickly as
fucking possible so that they can finally have some
mammoth meat for dinner.

"Freaking triceratops! You should NOT exist at the
same time as I do!"
I’ll say that much, the game has an alright difficulty and a great number of levels, which already makes it more playable than other infamous junk titles out there. However, much like many of those junk titles, it suffers from various issues regarding physics and hit detection. Unga can run, but can only jump rather poorly, which is not really a good thing in a platformer. The enemies can be hard to avoid, and sometimes they, also, benefit from the poor hit detection. That’s particularly annoying in that this is a game that works with a system of stars: You can get up to three stars on any level, and the only way to do so in a level is to collect all the fruits and not get hit at all.

Yeah, this doesn't look good.
Ugly and repetitive graphics, with terrible physics and no real reason to keep playing past the first few levels (unless you seek out the Steam achievements and trading cards). Then again, I am not really surprised, as this game came out in 2016, infamous year where the Steam platform had a record number of game releases… most of which were shovelware released thanks to Steam Greenlight. But hey, at least it’s very cheap, there’s that. Caveman World: Mountains of Unga Boonga only costs 0.99$, if you really must try it for yourself.

---

There you go. Another Steam Pack done. I hope you enjoyed, and I hope these quick reviews gave you some idea of whether or not you’d buy either of these games. I might just pile up the Steam reviews now, posting them all over the next few weeks. I do have five of those to look at…