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August 11, 2017

Steam Pack 5

This probably won’t be one of my more famous Steam Packs, for a good reason. While I was editing the humongous review of Super Mario RPG, I kept some smaller game running in the background, some clicker, because I’m a stupid addict. It made me think of free games in general.

Steam has an odd relationship with free games. It accepts any small games by developers that are handed out for free on the platform, no matter the amount of effort put into them; as an example, I reviewed small experiments like Carpe Diem before. It also has a ton of free games that include microtransactions, of the kinds that are necessary to either properly beat the game or get an edge in a competitive multiplayer mode. We also have free games that include microtransactions but can be beaten without ever paying a single penny. Today, I am looking at the concepts of free, free-to-play, “fee-to-pay”, microtransactions, payable extras, you name it – but not necessarily in that order. No, it’s not gonna be a heavy article, I just sensed a theme among the titles I played lately and thought it would tie the whole pack nicely together. Let’s begin, shall we?

Camera Obscura

Price on Steam: 1.00$

Starting with something almost free, we have a little indie project that combines a platform game with puzzle elements… common genre among indie devs, as I’ve discussed before. This one does something I’ve never seen before, though. Anteater Games beings us Camera Obscura: You’re the protagonist. You’re an amateur photographer. There’s a giant tower. You want to scale it. You got a magical camera with you.

For some reason, you die if you touch any enemy. Including
the cute anteaters here. Inexplicable.
You need the camera to reach the top. It creates temporary movable platforms out of the solid areas surrounding you at the time you took a picture, like hard light becoming terrain for a few seconds. Why “movable”? Because these hard light platforms created by your camera will move along with you for a second before setting themselves in place and staying put for a few more seconds. The puzzle aspect of this platform game is thus to take pictures at the right moment, then move as needed to be able to cross gaps or jump to higher ledges thanks to the solidified light. It may be just a little hop, or it may require running over what once was a bottomless pit.

On top of that, the game has enemies, which are indestructible because our protagonist went in with only a camera and left their bazooka at home. Sheesh! Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. They “can” kill enemies, usually by crushing them into the hard light, but most of the time the protagonist and their single HP will be at the mercy of whatever living threat is in the way. Not every platform will be replicated into hard light, though; and some places are locked by puzzles, requiring, say, an enemy to press a switch so you can progress.

Your temporary platforms can also become a hindrance
if you don't place them correctly.
It’s a strong concept, and one that opens the way to a lot of space-based puzzles. The protagonist’s jumping abilities are far from incredible, so many of the solutions will simply involve creating an additional step between two platforms to make a viable staircase or walk over a large gap. It’s also possible to move the game’s camera (by which, I mean the screen) in all directions, and though your magical camera won’t reach that far to make platforms, you can still use that feature to see what’s coming next.

Also, collecting photos containing
backstory rather than pictures, a
sweet little completion quest.
This game is very hard, but fair. You need to master the camera’s ability early on, though.. The thing will require very precise timing when it comes to moving and jumping, and a single mistake can cost you a life (thank God they’re infinite, and thank God there’s a lot of checkpoints). 57 levels of the same thing can get tedious, especially if the concept isn’t expanded upon, and it’s one of the flaws in this little game. Thankfully, the environments are sufficiently diverse and the soundtrack adds a lot of ambiance. In the end, it’s a game that might not please anyone, but folks who like puzzle platformers might find something here to their liking. Oh, and when you buy the game, you get a free level editor, allowing you to create your own levels and publish them on the game’s Steam Workshop!

Learn To Fly 3

Price: Free-to-play

Everyone has to start somewhere.
I used to visit Newgrounds a lot before I joined Steam. I remember liking quite a few altitude games on there. Those are games where you control a little character usually trying to go to space. You collect money to upgrade your launcher, get better jetpacks, decrease air friction… One of the funnier games in that genre was the Learn to Fly "series" (it had only 2 games), about a penguin trying to reach space or blast through a giant iceberg. It’s famous for its tongue-in-cheek tone, where every upgrade has its accompanying reference or joke, and for the utterly ridiculous lengths the little penguin will go to in order to achieve its goal. I guess the maker(s) of the first two decided to stick the third one on Steam.

See how far it can go?
Hey, this is not a UFO Parking Zone!

Unlike the first two, this one is actually free-to-play, meaning that you could in theory spend real-life money on it. For, you see, the first time you play, most upgrades are locked, and can only be unlocked after multiple playthroughs. Beat the original, 200km height goal, and then beat it over and over again – that’s a fairly quick way to unlock everything.

Whoa, that's heavy.
(P.S. This is Payload mode, hence the giant weights.)
Here, you can spend real money to buy Sardines, which you can then use in the game’s Black Market to buy cheat upgrades, special bonus items, or one-time-use modifiers that will make you earn more in-game money or reach a higher altitude. Last but not least, you can buy trading card packs. Yes, there are trading cards here. Not any trading cards, mind you; these will contain additional launchers, rockets, body modifiers, all of which can then be equipped to your penguin to go to crazier and crazier altitudes. You can also get in those packs some of the previously-mentioned one-time-use modifiers. Some cards can even conntain Bonus Points, which are required to upgrade elements that affect the whole game. The Bonus Shop will make your launchers more efficient, your fuel will take longer to consume, your penguin will be more aerodynamic, your gravity less limiting… It’s playing God all to allow a penguin to go to space.

There are four modes: Story, about sending your penguin as high as possible; Payload, in which your penguin is given a heavy weight and must reach a high altitude in spite of the added weight; Classic, in which your penguin will instead try to fly around the world, getting thrown horizontally rather than vertically; and Sandbox, where one can toy around with the game's programming to try and reach the craziest possible heights - or utterly crash the game, if the player goes too far.

As you can guess, all of the interest is in getting those booster packs, as they hold all the rewards you want. You could pay for Sardines to buy them… or never spend any real money at all, and grind for Sardines with multiple playthroughs, earning them by completing in-game achievements, and just buying a pack every time you have enough Sardines. That’s how I did it, and I beat the game without ever spending any real-life money on it.

Hmm... Do I want to pay for in-game currency... or do I want
another actual game instead...
In fact, the microtransactions seem to have been tacked onto this game as a way to excuse its status as a technically “free” title. And allow the developers to make some cash and, perhaps, make an even better Learn to Fly 4. LtF3 has the same humor and tone as the others, and adds a lot of customization options to the mix. Cute and funny; a decent time-waster, I guess. Just don’t spend any money on it. You can beat this game without paying a single dollar. Tenacity will lead you to places! No need to spend!

Minion Masters

Price: 5.49$ (fee-to-pay)

That's a busy screen and not that great a game so far,
but the cute Deck Master makes up for it I guess.
A basic PvP title about cards being used to summon monsters on the player’s side of the field, to then assault the base on the enemy’s side. Simple enough, no? Every type of enemy has its own abilities, attack speed, target requirements (can they hit airborne monsters? Can they shoot projectiles?), and a cost to be summoned to the field. It becomes an odd mix of tower defense and resource management as you farm points to summon your stronger beasts to go against the enemy, who has the same strengths and limitations as you do… just with a different deck. The first player destroying the other player’s base wins the duel. Monsters with bigger summon costs will survive more hits on the battlefield and deal massive damage, but will often have drawbacks like walking slowly, attacking slowly, or being only able to attack some categories of enemies.

Yes, the lion is my avatar. Got a problem with that?
There’s also various abilities that can be unlocked during a match, all depending on which “bridges” you control. Both sides of the field are connected by bridges that the summons walk through, and each bridge is controlled by the owner of the last summoned monster that walked through it. These include bonuses like faster increase in summon points, better attack, and so on. You can get new deck masters with different abilities, allowing you an edge against some of the opponents.

Obviously, the PvP aspect is the main reason why this game exists. There is a very short 1-Player mode where you just battle CPU opponents, allowing you to spin the wheel and get more rewards, whether it’s new cards to use in the game or some of the various currencies that can be used. It's all preparations to get into PvP, however.

Gotta smash the enemy! ....'s fortress.
Let me make this clear, though: This game is still in Early Access, so it’s incomplete (your purchase of the game and any additional content are supposed to help the developers continuing work on this product). Base price is currently 5 dollars – but you need to pay an extra 20$ to get upgrades that will make it quicker to level up in the game, get better rewards, and so on. Yeah. 25$ is getting a bit pricey for a PvP game in Early Access… That’s not even mentioning the microtransactions. For, you see, you can spend real money to buy Rubies, which you can then use in the game to get new deck masters, arenas and power tokens. And as is the case for every fee-to-pay game, while you can progress slowly by accumulating victories in PvP tournaments and by coming back every day to get rewards, ultimately grinding that way is slow and tedious. You WILL need to spend some more if you want a competitive edge… because you’ll otherwise be at a disadvantage when battling others who may have paid dear money to get better summons and effects on their side.

I don’t blame Minion Masters’ developer, BetaDwarf, for adding fee-to-pay elements to their game, but as it stands, I can’t really enjoy it. I get why they do that, you pay for the main game and then you can choose to pay for more or not, and all the money they receive can help them develop a better product in the long run. But it falls into the common fee-to-pay traps of eventually forcing the player to pay if they want to be able to measure up to everyone else. It’s not bad, but I don’t really like it. Hopefully it becomes less restrictive as time goes and we can enjoy it without having to pay more than the game’s starting fee.

Time Clickers

Price: Free

After I realized I had too many of those, I decided to purge clickers out of my Steam collection. Too much of a waste of time. Hell, the only one I kept is Time Clickers, and even then, I’ll likely delete it as soon as I’ve beaten it. So, let’s take a look at that one, and then be done with clickers in general.

These blocks are in the shape of a lightbulb, right?
Like every clicker, there’s a thing to click on, and upgrades to buy. Could have been a cookie, could have been a monster, could have been a cookie monster. Nope, we’re clicking on… cubes of different colors (weakest to strongest: Red-white-yellow) put together into a recognizable shape. This forces you to move the cursor around to click every block in order to destroy it. The accompanying upgrades are also made to target and shoot cubes in a certain number and at a certain frequency, unlike upgrades in other clickers that would rely solely on Damage-per-second (DPS) since there would technically be only one target on the screen. The attacking speed of your upgraded weapons matters into the DPS.

Overlevel at the start, and you,ll be overpowered!
See levels pass by at super-speed!
Other than that, it still follows the same beats as so many other clickers: Click-click-click, complete waves of 10 enemies, fight a boss every 5th wave or so, fight bigger bosses, upgrade your weapons with the money received… And, starting from Wave 100, get a secondary “currency” of sorts that will increase your damage per second by 10% for each one you get, although you can spend it on permanent upgrades that will make your playthrough easier or allow you to get further. Oh, most clickers also include microtransactions, because even developers of clicker games need to make some money. See, I just described most clickers out there.

Soo... many... things to upgrade... Holy wow.
Time Clickers does things a little different, though. First, in most other clickers you get a 10% bonus to DPS for each of the special currency you keep, and you lose that bonus if you spend said currency on upgrades. It’s not the case here, as you can get permanent upgrades in Time Clickers and you still keep the DPS bonus. Oh, also, there are no microtrasanctions whatsoever. It may be a grind to beat the game, but you won’t spend a single cent on it!

That’s okay, there’s no point in continuing past Wave 4,000 anyway. Or after you got every special upgrade to the maximum level, which is also a Hell of a grind, but anything you do after this is merely for bragging rights. Get all the achievements, upgrade everything to the maximum, also improve your weapons with the third currency, weapon cubes (a third currency that improves your weapons, though they take much longer to gather; that's another thing I don’t see in other clickers), and… I dunno, beat it and then stop wasting your time on it.

I mean, it’s a clicker. It’s inherently a waste of time with rewards to make you feel some sort of accomplishment without actually doing much for it, as well as something pretty to look at, something that you can just keep in the background or set and forget while you do more important things. It’s addictive but ultimately pointless. I liked this one because it didn’t include a way to take your real money, but I’ll still delete it from my collection because I shouldn’t spend my time with those games. Oh no, I should play, y’know, other games. For review on this blog.

So, this completes another Steam Pack. Yeah, sorry, I guess this one didn’t have much in the way of jokes. Oh well. Come back next Friday for something that will be full of jokes, guaranteed.