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March 29, 2019

Steam Pack 18


Time for a few more quick reviews of Steam games!

(P.S. With Google+ shutting down in a few days, be sure to join my Discord server, it could become something fun!)

EM: Shader Attack


Where's the cool futuristic warrior from the Header image??
I’ve been a fan of brick breaker games for a while now. You know the genre: Arkanoid, countless variations… All you need is a ball, a paddle, a few power-ups and a large selection of bricks placed into various designs. Grab your controller and break away.

EM: Shader Attack, developed by Live Jumb DT and published by Dagestan Technology on September 29th, 2016, is no different in that regard. Actually, it’s about as simple as Arkanoid-type games can get. Ten levels, with a possibility of 150 different map designs for bricks. No story, no concept out of the ordinary. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Breaking bricks, all the time!
The power-ups are the usual stuff you find in this kind of game: Extra lives, extra balls (as in, one more ball on the screen to break bricks), make your ball more destructive, increase the size of the paddle… It’s all fine and good. One improvement is the EM gauge, which fills up gradually as you break bricks (and can be filled up much quicker with some power-ups). It can then be activated with a click of the left mouse button, summoning five additional balls and turning all the bricks into blue TRON-like blocks. It doesn’t last very long, so be ready to catch your ball when the EM effect ends. It also creates a shield at the bottom of the screen, so your balls are safe for the duration of the effect.

Breaking bricks... breaking hearts? Oh nu!

Let's break some words.
Each level features a different styling of brick, by the way; a few of them have lights rather than precise bricks, one has bricks sporting various numbers/letters/symbols, so on. And you can adjust the brightness of the game in order to tone down the light and background effects of the game. I personally found that on low brightness, the game is faster, while it’s slower on higher brightness and background effects. Probably due to all the particles. Each level also has a musical track of its own, that’s nice.

The last improvement made on the formula is that, instead of having to destroy every brick, a bar fills at the bottom with each broken cube and you move to the next level when it’s full. It was always one of the greatest weaknesses of brick breakers, frequently you had to break every last brick, making each level longer and more boring than it needed to be, when you were down to a handful of bricks sparsed around the area.

It's even better when all the things go kablooey.
It’s an okay game, although I'm not sure it's worth the 4$ price tag. It’s decent, offers a nice set of designs and level maps, there’s some creativity in there. It’s a shame that the game ends at Level 10, it ends way too quickly. I would have loved to have more. A “keep playing” mode would have been nice, since you can get through these 10 levels in roughly 6-7 minutes. Also, when the brightness is increased, sometimes the particle effects as well as the backgrounds can get very distracting.

If only I could find that old game I played, long ago, that was a brick breaker with gnomes…

Monster Loves You!


"You must choose... but choose wisely."
I bought this game expecting an experience in which you take care of a little monster of your own. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but I wasn’t quite right either - and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Developed by Radial Games and Dejobaan Games, and published by Radial Games on March 18th, 2013, this game is actually an adventure in which you are the hero. Or, rather, you are a monster in a community of monsters living in peace, mostly hidden from humans, and you make all the decisions for your little Monsterling as it grows into a proud adult monster.

Ooh! Ferocious!
The system is easy to understand: There are five main traits a monster can have. Bravery, Cleverness, Ferocity, Honesty and Kindness can each be increased over time as you go about on adventures, or go through life experiences. You go through four stages of life: Baby, child, teenager and adult… though there is a fifth stage, that of Elder, which not all monsters reach. The very first decisions taken as a baby, shortly after birth, greatly help in defining the type of monster you become. Starting with childhood, each stage of life comes with a variety of different situations and happenings of monster life that your creature can experience.

At least the housing's nice in Monster Town.
Depending on your choices, any of the five stats mentioned earlier may increase… or, if you make the wrong choice, decrease. Over this is added a sixth stat, Respect, which is gained by doing notable things for other monsters or the community as a whole. As you can imagine, being highly respected in monster society is a plus. You can usually guess which option will increase which stat during a situation, but be aware that, much like in real life, the other monsters may not respond as you expect them to.

On my first game, I fled into the wilderness.
Dunno what that says about me.
This game is best when played repeatedly, as the knowledge of the various situations can help the player in picking what they feel is right at that moment. On my first playthrough, my monster ran away into the forest when the time for death was coming, instead of following the ritual of the community. That’s when I learned that this was one of FOURTEEN possible endings. Five of them involve your monster dying naturally at the end of adulthood, dissolving into the Spawning Vat that gives birth to new monsters – each of these five involves one stat maxed above all the others. As a child, teenager or adult, your monster will actually rarely get to meet humans, though some of these encounters can be very interesting (not to mention the ones that reference famous fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel).

How can we mess with the Little Red Riding Hood?
If, however, your monster’s stats were raised pretty evenly, you might ascend to the ranks of Elder. In that position, most of your activities will involve the high spheres of monsterkind, and you’ll be part of the council. Also, half of the situations presented may involve you actually going down into the human cities and interacting with them. As a result, it’s possible, through these new interactions, to improve both monsters and humans’ opinion of each other… or make them worse, if you’re feeling particularly devilish. Each possible ending of the game is an achievement, so if you want to find them all, both your shoulder angel and devil get a turn at choosing the path the story takes. There’s even an ending where your monster becomes a neurosurgeon among humans! …Good luck getting that one, though.

Woo! Respect! That's probably important.
Monster Loves You? I love this one! It’s cute, it’s nice, it’s surprisingly deeper than it looks at first glance, and it offers a lot of possibilities. If you plan to play it only once, the game is short and sweet, but it’s that kind of game that is best played a few times in order to get at least a few of the endings. There’s a pretty large selection of events that your monster can go through, though it may feel a little repetitive at times. However, overall, it’s pretty good. The art is nice, and the music’s alright. I love to see how the story unravels depending on the stats you’ve raised, and how that impacts the story. A definite recommendation, even with the 10$ price tag.

Rituals


Not sure whether I should call this one a walking simulator, as it feels more like a puzzle game, but all you do half the time is move around and interact with objects. Oh well.

Follow the arrows on the ground.
Rituals is the creation of Tymon Zgainski, and it was published by Mudvark on May 27th, 2015. Your unseen character seems to be an office worker in a giant tower built on three foundations. One day after work, that character takes the elevator and falls to the lowest level, and finds himself in a strange earthly area. Unsure of whether it’s some kind of dream, he visits around, and starts to unravel a strange conspiracy involving the grand building he was working in, and apparently Gaia, the spirit of Planet Earth itself…

Ah, finally some lighting.
I hesitated to call this a walking simulator because you’re not entirely free of movement; you click arrows on the screen to move around. At the same time, it still feels a lot like you’re mostly just walking around and interacting with items. It’s closer to a puzzle game, I’d say. Moving around with the arrows is slow and more than a bit annoying, in my opinion, as it forces the character to stop every few steps to make a decision. Admittedly, this at least allows the unseen protagonist to grab items nearby with ease and use them.

There isn't a single other person here.
Why is there a pot boiling over a fire?
The puzzles themselves aren’t exactly going to reinvent the wheel, they tend to be things you may have seen before. If you find a shovel, a seed, a watering can and a perfect place for a tree that will grow at an unnatural quick speed, there aren’t twenty solutions here. If a monster must be bypassed, you’ll find some way to get rid of the threat – look around for weapons, or perhaps pick up ingredients, mix them together in that pot boiling over a fire in that deserted village… okay… then poison a steak with that mixture and take it to that beast. None of the base ideas for these puzzles are exactly new, but they can be confusing to complete due to the layout of each chapter.

The world is looking a little pale.
The game ends as you gain access to the main control room of the building harnessing Gaia’s power, and you have the option of turning the machine off, or boost its power to the maximum. There’s one achievement for each, so you’re encouraged to play the game more than once to get both.

I wasn’t wowed by this one, in case my description didn’t make that clear. I mean, it’s not terrible, I’ve seen far worse, and as far as puzzle games go, it’s pretty decent and forces the player to look around and find solutions. It’s also quite stylish. However, I’m still not sure clicking arrows to move around was such a good idea, and I keep feeling like most of the stuff here has been done before. It’s alright at best. Passing grade, I suppose. You can purchase it on Steam for about 5$.

Turbo Pug


Just run from left to right. Keep running, and jump to avoid the obstacles. Sounds easy enough.

Just a pup on its morning stroll.
Developed by Space Cat Studios, SnowFlame, and Back to the Future Gaming, and released by the latter on November 9th, 2015, Turbo Pug is about a cute little pug running with all of its might to the right. And jumping to avoid obstacles on the way, of course. Man, the great wilderness is dangerous. Bottomless pits, uncertain platforms, rows of spikes, dangling skeletons, buzzsaws… Y’know, the usual sights in nature.

This is an arcade game in the purest sense of the term. The pixelated aesthetic and the chiptune music are clear indications of that, but also, it’s ungodly difficult. If this game required a quarter after every death, you would quickly get through ten bucks. Of note, the level is randomly generated, so you can never quite prepare for what’s coming next. Get good, that’s all I can say! Learn the timing, jump in time, avoid the spikes, survive as long as possible!

Still got three pups to collect. I got kitten pup, pumpkin pup...
Super pup, Christmas pup... Oh! Antarctic pup!


Welp - Antarctic pup sucks.
I… am not too good at this one. I think I aimed to get to 10,000 points (which, in this game, is pretty much nothing), and I still haven’t gotten to it. This is tough! The very fast-paced gameplay means you can’t ever lose focus. Even as the field changes, as new hazards appear, as rain begins to fall… keep your focus!

As you play, you might unlock new skins or characters – there are puppies and kittens that don’t do anything all that different from the main pug, but there are others with abilities. Do you want a Super Pug that can double jump? Perhaps you’d like a pug with a rainbow coming out of its ass? No wait! Penguin is where it’s at! (The penguin can barely jump and is terribly slow. It’s a joke option.) How about a cat that can hover?

All pups in various shapes and sizes. And spikes.
And blood... Oh gawd!

It’s said that deceptively simple games like this one can become stupidly addictive. This one didn’t quite hook me, but it is okay for a few minutes at a time. It has a nice retro aesthetic and feels very much like the sort of game you can play for a moment or two. However, if you want to get good at it, you’ll have to train for a while! The game only costs roughly 1$.

See you next time with another Steam Pack.

March 22, 2019

Steam Pack 17


Sometime before the Holidays, I took a week off work. I know I said it more than anything else on this blog, but night work takes a lot out of you. So a week of vacation was most welcome. Throughout that week, I tried to play as many short Steam games as possible. And so, now, I’ve got some fuel for a few Steam Packs. I did want to start the year with a movie review, a Wii game review, and a 3DS game review, and some others here and there as well.

(P.S. With Google+ shutting down in less than two weeks, be sure to join my Discord server, I wish to make it into a fun gaming community!)

So, let’s begin this right away with today’s selection of four games! I think today’s accidental theme is fun and peace; the games feel peaceful in some way. And to start…

Drawful 2


A while ago, I reviewed Quiplash in one such Steam Pack. Well, I had a second Jackbox game in my collection, and I figured I could talk about it now. Also, I have a lot of artistic friends, so this game is pretty popular in my circle.

Let's get two more folks to join, there's room!
Like all Jackbox games, Drawful 2, released on June 21st, 2016, involves players using their mobile devices to participate. There may be up to eight players, but others can join as audience members voting during the game. At the start of the game, players draw an avatar for themselves.

When everyone’s ready, each player gets a prompt… and must then draw that prompt the best they can, using the two colors available for them and little more than their own fingers as drawing tool. In other words: It’s not going to look good, but it’s certainly going to be funny.

Woo! Got it.
After which, drawings are seen one at a time, with each player writing down what they think the picture represents. Obviously, the artist who drew that picture can’t weigh in with their own suggestion. Of note, if someone actually comes up with the exact answer (which can happen), they’re told to write something else, which is a bit annoying. After which, all the player-made answers show up along with the actual title, and players pick their favorite. A person is awarded points for every person picking their title, while every player that got the right title get points, and the artist also gets points for each player who guessed it right.

There’s a second round if there are fewer players. At the end, whoever has the most points wins.

Looks like nobody got that one right.
It’s, without a doubt, my favorite take on Pictionary out there. I will probably never cease to praise Jackbox for their base concept, since it allows friends to play even if they live countries apart. And the simple concept of Drawful 2 makes it fun, not only for artists, but also for those who aren’t the most image artistic types. ...You can imagine I’m pointing to myself.

Don’t expect the prompts to be easy, either; some of them are items or actions, some are vague, others are idioms that require you to know the English language really well. One game I played with Quebec French-speakers had the phrase “cropdusting a party”. For the record, you don’t have time to Google it and then draw it. Not that idioms translate all too well, mind you… Also, I genuinely have no idea how I'd draw that.

Similar issue when it comes to thinking up answers. I am well aware that it’s the point of view of a French speaker looking at games that would be difficult to translate, so it may apply to very few people. Anyway, in games like Quiplash, you could reply in other languages as long as you understood the original question, if everybody spoke that other language. In Drawful, the real answer appears alongside the players’, so everyone has to respond in English. Also, spelling mistakes happen, so it can be easy to spot the real answer if it’s the only one spelled correctly. Or the one that isn't something stupid like "no idea lol".

But even with these two points, it’s a really fun game. I love it, and always do my best to gather a group to play it. …But it’s better to play on a more famous streamer’s game.

The Howler


I’m one for more peaceful games once in a while, I’ve never made a secret of that.

The Howler is a creation of Antanas Marcelionis, and it was released in… 2013? 2014? The store page says 2016, but I could have sworn I’ve read somewhere that this game’s publishers changed the release date so it would appear among the New Releases tab on Steam… which is, without a doubt, a blatant use of false advertising.

That's all the tutorial you're getting.

Good luck going through.
But anyhow. This is a puzzle game about a hot air balloon trying to reach places, and pick up and deliver parcels, and getting suddenly involved into a darker plot happening around it. The concept is as simple as it gets; your balloon can only go up or down, with the wind currents changing its trajectory – therefore, you must rise to particular altitudes in order to go left or right, and decide when or where to descend. Some winds can be stronger than others, as well, so plan your path carefully. You need nothing but the left mouse button to feed hot air into the balloon in order to rise. Your goal from a level to the next may change, but the controls will never get more complex than that. Oh wait, right, I was about to forget: For the true Howler experience, you can activate microphone functions, and raise the balloon by yelling like a maniac at your computer. Sounds so much better!

Admittedly, it looks impressive. What's not shown
is the dozen tries that blew up the balloon.
And this is a puzzle game, so the environments and goals are the true ways in which the game will change your experience. Why was everything around this balloon designed with friggin’ spikes? I got parcels to deliver!

This game is probably most famous for its level featuring a giant wolf statue. It’s even in the title image. For playing that level, I can attest – it's kind of epic. You first go above it to pick up parcels, then must maneuver carefully into the opening maw.

The last levels do get pretty tricky, as they involve picking up and laying bombs in precise places, in order to foil a large conspiracy. The very last level changes controls some more, featuring a plane’s test flight… around a sky filled with mines.

And of course, there's these goddamned floating bombs
all over in the skies.

This is a unique experience; the painted backgrounds, the pencil-drawn animated sprites and world features. The unique control scheme (if you do decide to try the microphone input instead of using the left-click button). The peaceful atmosphere, which remains even as the story progresses. Sometimes, plot-important items may be a bit difficult to see in the environment. The biggest issue I have is that it’s very short, only 16 levels in total. Then again, for a dollar, I wasn’t expecting a huge game. Something simple and quick works sometimes too.

Princess Remedy 2: In a Heap of Trouble


Welcome back, Princess! I reviewed the first game, Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt, as part of one of the earliest Steam Packs. I liked it enough to get the sequel, also made by Ludosity, and released on September 8th, 2016.

The band-aids tossed by Remedy seem to have little
smiley faces on them, and it makes me laugh.
In this sequel, Princess Remedy is called back from vacation after a Boss Tower sprouts in the world, causing hurt to many residents. It’s her task to cure each of them once more and fend off the evil contained within that tower! After being given her mission by Wash-Olof, Remedy leaves.

If you were expecting something very different from the original game, you might be disappointed; it’s the same base concept. You heal people by fighting their ills. Clear all of the monsters in every battlefield. That’s about it, really. Thankfully, this game does add a few new elements. First off, your basic special attack is still a bomb that can clear multiple enemies at once. However, that can be changed; Talk again to a person you’ve healed and you can elect them to follow you around, providing a new special move. It ranges from a dash/teleportation to healing your HP and new types of powered moves to deal extra damage.

I'll say, the sprites and nice and colorful.

That toothy monster, plus the razor monsters... Aaaah!
Second, there are actual bosses this time. A boss guards each door leading to a new area. And, once more, you have to collect a certain number of hearts before you can be allowed to walk through and fight that boss. They range from large enemies to smaller ones, but most of them can rely on items that spawn small monsters as the fight progresses.

The boss at the end is very similar to the one at the end of the first game, found in a castle at the end of the game, afflicting the Prince of the land, and split in multiple phases. It culminates in a final form that reduces the area in which Remedy can move, though it’s not that difficult.

Let's Dance!
Afterwards, the cured Prince invites Remedy to a ball in her honor. She can invite whoever she wants. That means whoever she has chosen to follow her around. At the ball, Remedy will dance along to her guest’s favorite song, in a Dance Dance Revolution mini-game played with the keyboard arrows. That’s a nice post-game reward, as many guests will have a song of their own, meaning you’ll get a different song for probably every guest. It’s a great addition to the game. But if that’s not enough, there’s a very difficult bonus boss in the final area…

This game is just as good as the first! Well, okay, it’s got additional features that make it an improvement over the original. However, the first one was free and I’m wondering whether the additional content here makes it worth paying 5$ for this one. But still, I’m not calling this game bad, on the contrary it’s quite fun. It gets pretty challenging later on, and there are harder difficulty modes for those who seek something tougher. All in all, I like it.

TIMEframe


What if the end of the world is coming, and there’s almost nothing you can do to prevent it?

I can feel myself dehydrating just looking at this.
TIMEFrame is a walking simulator developed and published by Random Seed Games. Indeed, there isn’t much to do here except walk the gigantic landscape, on the search for artifacts. You start at the spire in the center of this land, and seek the remnants of a civilization. These contain the excerpts of the story of this world, and what is about to happen to it. You don’t have time to find all of the excerpts. The cataclysm will strike either way. And indeed, that menacing red glow in the skies keeps coming closer, closer… until it hits the land.

INCOMING!

Hope you like reading.
…And then you respawn at the spire, and can resume visiting this land, gathering information by visiting the ruins scattered around. And keep going until you’ve found all of the ruins. This may take a few runs, though, considering the cataclysm happens roughly every 10 minutes. However, if you can find all of the ancient artifacts and read up on them, it will open a final set of ruins, in which your protagonist activates a system that stops the cataclysm. And that’s the end of the game.

I will admit though, there's a lot of pretty stuff here.
Walking simulators try to do things that involve minimal gameplay as well as minimal storytelling. It’s about taking it all in, rather than participating directly. While you do get to stop the threat, it’s only after doing little else than walking around, interacting with a few items, and reading. The map available on the pause menu also helps when it comes to looking for the ancient ruins scattered around.

I understand that walking simulators aren’t everyone’s thing; the minimal gameplay turns some people off. Similarly, walking simulators give the impression that they’re easy to make, just scatter the story and make people walk around a lot to get the plot going. Well, yeah; but the game has to make up for the lack of complex gameplay by featuring an interesting story that makes the player want to walk around and get the various tidbits.

This feels like walking through a desert.
But the heat's nothing compared to when the meteor hits.
On that front, TIMEframe is… okay. I’d call it average, though I do like the idea of collecting information on this dying society, then look to the ground and see how dark it’s getting, then look up and see that giant rock falling from the sky! Catches you by surprise at first, then the next cycles make you determined to prevent it… as soon as you find out it may be possible.

Well, I did enjoy it. I feel it’s a bit on the expensive side, at 6$, but it’s decent.

And thus closes another Steam Pack. See you next week! For another Pack, or maybe something different.

March 3, 2019

New Super Mario Bros. 2


(P.S. If you want to keep following this blog after Google+ shuts down, be sure to join either the Discord server, follow me on social media, or join other communities where I post links to my reviews.)

It was about time I reviewed a Nintendo 3DS game, huh? 2018 was seriously lacking in that department.

The Mario games are bursting with personality. Each platform and RPG title in the series can be accurately described with a short sentence and most gamers will know which is which. The first platformer; the one in Subcon; the one with the first Raccoon Leaf; the one with the first Yoshis; the one with the weapon-based monsters; the one with the Star Spirits; and so on. Today’s game can be accurately be described as such: The one where Mario got greedy.

Oh, and Koopalings. Always the Koopalings.

Perhaps this one’s full title should have been New Super Mario Bros. 2: Wario Called, He Wants In On This.

A Mario game that focuses on collecting coins feels more than a bit bizarre as a concept. Coins have always been a staple of the franchise. A hundred coins mean an extra life, it’s been ingrained into Mario fans over the last 35 years. The coins have always been around, sometimes sparse, sometimes frequent, but always there to give Mario a chance to get another pick-me-up, another chance after his next death. On the opposite side of things, it’s a popular self-imposed challenge to try and beat a Mario game by collecting the least coins possible, perhaps even none (one YouTuber is trying this with many mainline Mario games, by the way).


I don’t think I even need to talk about the story for this one. Like all 2D Mario platform games of recent years, Princess Peach gets kidnapped and the brothers run into action to save her from Bowser and his forces. That’s about it, really. I’m not expecting Shakespeare. The red-clad Italian plumber isn’t one for soliloquies. Some variety would be nice, though.