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May 18, 2018

Steam Pack 11

What? Yet another Steam Pack so soon after the last?

Well... yeah. Over the last few weeks, I played a ton of short games, and still wanted to acknowledge them somewhere. I was debating whether to keep this Pack for the next round of reviews, or publish it right now, and eventually decided to release it now.

I guess some articles have 4 games, others have 5 – it all depends on how many I can fit within 2000 words.

Everlasting Summer


So it seems I’m late to the party yet again. This game developed and released by Soviet Games is apparently quite famous! I have the Steam version, let’s keep it to that one, let’s not mention any other versions circulating. Yes, we have a product from Russia here, and it’s a romance visual novel with character designs taking a lot of cues from anime.

"So I slept for 5 months?
I'm cool with that. Screw the cold Russian winter."
This game, and the other visual novels I’ve observed in such a short timespan, are proud to feature branching stories with multiple outcomes – the famed multiple endings that allegedly make you want to play over and over again until you find them all. Every ending even has its own achievement on Steam! Visual novel isn’t my genre of predilection; although I do enjoy some, I am not big on those that focus on romance. Then again, much like a book in which you are the hero, some of the interest is in seeing the paths the story takes and how things develop.


Why do I feel like singing "In The Summertime" right now?

This girl saw the future, watched Sonic Boom, and
decided she wanted Sticks' haircut.
This is the story of Semyon, a pathetic 30yo shut-in who goes to work, does his stuff, then comes back home to spend his days on the Internet speaking to strangers. Add game reviews in there and that’s basically me. One winter evening, on his way home, he falls asleep on the bus and, when he opens the eyes, he finds himself about 12 years younger, and inexplicably transported into a land of “everlasting summer” (always catchy to describe the game with its own title somewhere in the synopsis). Finding a summer camp and its pensionaries, lots and lots of teenagers – thankfully not just girls – he has to settle down until he can find a way to return to his world. Or reality? Or time period? It’s so unclear!

There are interesting touches here and there, some which
will slip over the heads of fans in America who don't
know Russian culture.
As is usual from a visual novel, you make decisions that impact the course of the game, up until the end. See, some options will increase your standing with either dateable girl, and at the end of Day 6 the girl you’ve accumulated the most points with has a story arc starting on Day 7. It IS possible to have a good enough standing with none of the girls, which leads to a Semyon ending… there’s also two special, extra girls with paths you can follow when you’ve completed at least one other path, and when you’ve completed all other paths respectively. A finale, basically. And of course, each girl has her good ending and her bad ending. (There’s even a harem ending, but I dunno why, these in romance visual novels actually creep me out…) The path to get to the arc is… um… complex, to say the least.

Compiled by one extremely brave and persistent Steam user.

Brain asplode.

Thanks, seldom-appearing information window!
And since there are so many possible endings, surely things are bound to get weird… I sincerely don’t want to spoil any of them, so I guess I’ll just say the system is very clever, and the concept is creative. The characters are pretty fun, and as I said, the story takes a lot of unexpected turns, frequently for the weirder, as soon as you scratch past the cutesy romance visual novel of the surface. I doubt I would seek out the 14 endings… but I can see why some people dedicate themselves to reaching that goal. The game also offers quite an interesting foray into Russian culture, something seldom-seen in fiction media in general. That’s refreshing. Of course, the characters are developed quite well, since part of the idea of a romance visual novel is to come to know these dateable characters.

Good game, really.

Jigoku Kisetsukan: Sense of the Seasons


Now jumping into a whole other different genre: Bullet Hell vertical shoot’em ups! Ah yes, I remember that genre. One of the first games I ever reviewed for this blog was in that genre.

…Oh God, this one is insanely tough. I already said “Bullet Hell”, and that’s not an exaggeration.

This is only the beginning.
Developer and publisher Emad gives us a tale of… personified seasons? It seems so. There are six playable characters, and each one has their storyline. The very first one is Tenshi, and she is… spring maybe? Doesn’t matter much. Discussing the story here is difficult as there are 6 playable characters, each with their own storyline, unlocked as you progress through the game. Multiple playable characters in a shmup isn't exactly something new, but it's always fun to see how each character has different bullet patterns. As for the story, I just know it involves anime characters, at least one kemonomimi, some spirits of death, and… um… a self-insert? Maybe? Sort of?

Ah, that's more like it. And, for the record, that's on
the easiest difficulty.
The story is interesting, but let’s be honest: It’ll be the least of your worries. Learn to use each character’s shooting abilities, and learn the patterns of bullets to fend off the attackers! As you kill enemies and boss phases, your character collects colored ensigns that can increase that character’s number of lives, its firepower, or its number of bombs. Hoping to gather plenty of bombs to survive? Tough luck, you can only have 2 at most.

And the bullets JUST DON’T STOP. I mean, it’s hardly a surprise for the genre. You focus far less on killing the enemies and bosses than you focus on your own survival. My eyes were on my character and the bullets flying at it. Thankfully, every boss has phases and each phase has a timer – which skips to the next phase or ends the fight (on the last phase) if it hits 0. So technically, there IS a Pacifist option here – you can apparently beat the game without killing anything! Tough, but a nice change of pace.


I never got to the boss past this one.
Welp! Touhou isn’t for me, it seems! This game is an homage to the series, and yeah, it seems I lack the patience to carry through and try beating this game fully. Though I’ll admit, it’s not for a lack of trying. With 4 difficulties (Easy, Normal, Hard and Hell), six playable characters (and just as many storylines), if you’ve got the dedication, you can pull through. The sprite art is pretty good, the game is EXTREMELY challenging (I’ve yet to get past Level 5 in any Story – and again, I tried for hours!), and the music is classic retro chiptune, very pleasant.

By Golly, I may not have completed this one yet, but I can see myself trying again and again!

Mandagon


The ambiance here is nice. Quite a change of pace
from the storm of bullets I had just before.
It’s one of those games that I’m not sure I can properly explain, but that won’t stop me from trying. Mandagon is a short 2D nonlinear platformer developed and published by Blind Sky Studios. This game can be completed in half an hour if you hurry – but why would you? Breathe in the peaceful atmosphere. Observe the panorama covered in snow and the ancient architecture. Visit this small world, from the deepest caves to the floating platforms high in the sky.

This world takes inspiration from “Tibetan theology and philosophy” (or, at least, that’s what the Steam page says). More specifically, it’s said to take place in Bardo, the Tibetan word for limbo (and, thus, the most likely candidate of a name for the place). The world, however minimalist, is breathtaking. There’s not much to say about the character, and the gameplay is similarly minimalist: Go around the map, collect emblems in homes, find their shrines around the map, set them in place, open the doors of the temple…

…And reach enlightenment.

Enlightenment sure feels a lot like an empty temple.

I could walk through this all day!
Well, okay, for 30 minutes maybe.
Oh, and there are statues scattered around, sharing words of wisdom, so that’s some stuff to read too.

My only critique is that you can’t map the keys to your liking, so you can’t choose to use the arrows to move – only WASD, while jumping is done with the Spacebar and interacting with items is done with E. Checking the inventory is the Tab key, and you have to press Tab again to leave it – not Escape, as that opens the game menu. A bit of an issue there, but it’s still manageable.

Trick & Treat


I never said every single RPG Maker game would have its own full article – some are simple adventures that don’t need much description. Developed and published by Rabbiton, this is a short, no-combat game focusing more on exploration, discovery and puzzles.



"Including the non-Halloween candy?"
"ESPECIALLY all the non-Halloween candy!"
It’s Halloween, so Charlotte and her maid Amelia decide to go trick-or-treating. However, instead of going to the town, they stop by a castle that mysteriously appeared many decades ago, and decide to go in to take whatever candy they may have. Not the most virtuous of goals, but whatever. As it turns out, the place is chock-full of dangers and, after Charlotte has run off, the easily-lost Amelia has to find her way around. That means solving puzzles, completing fetch quests, and so on. Each room has a ton of secrets.

There is definitely something off about this giant mansion that looks like a castle, the ghastly guests, the living dolls and the bizarre ways to die… wait, what? However, the greatest question remains: Can Amelia collect all the candy for herself and Charlotte?

Do I choose to be a jerk, or a decent person?

Dammit, more blood splatters to clean up. How inconvenient.
It’s not a very difficult game, mind you: Save points are frequent, and while there are ways to die they’re hardly anything more than a slap on the wrist since you can resume from the nearest save point. It can also be completed in about 90 minutes, if you run around it – but why would you? Much of the interest is in interacting with every single item and see what they do. The shelves are filled with books that hint at later puzzles (such as Egyptian mythology or Alice in Wonderland), rooms change sometimes based on progression, and there are various secrets to be found. Seemingly-random walls may contain eyes just for kicks.

How could a pumpkin kill anyone? That's silly.
The sjkeleton is already dead, though... so, clown?
The game isn’t all that scary, but it’s certainly a lot of fun. Gathering candy, completing puzzles and exploring the house is quite enjoyable. The puzzles aren’t too tricky, the twists and turns of the story are fine. You can even seek out the various ways to die, if you want! The game looks nice and uses a lot of custom RPG Maker resources, and the music’s decent. Good luck getting all the achievements, however – there lies most of the difficulty.

No, really, I recommend this one. It’s free, it’s good, it’s sufficiently unique in comparison to the usual RPG Maker titles, and it’s worth a try. Especially in October. But hey, a good Halloween game is good all year.

Surrounded by my fellows...
Even if I am just wearing a costume...
And so, there we are. Yet another Steam Pack done. I said it before, I’ll say it again: There is worth in free games. They may feel cheap at first, but that’s how it is if you judge them based on the price alone. Of course we’re more inclined to go towards the big games, those with a price, because surely they’re better if their creator makes people pay for them… Yeah, load of good that did Hunt Down The Freeman, did it? At least, if you download a free game and you don’t like it or it’s crap, you haven’t wasted any money. Yes, you can get a refund if you play less than two hours, but still. I prefer not to take that risk.

Hopefully I’m done with Steam Packs for a while now.