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June 22, 2019

Steam Pack 20


While I’m getting some future reviews ready, I’ve decided to do another Steam Pack.

I think I’ll stop doing these. If I review short games after this Pack, instead of grouping them in sets of 4 games, I’ll just post each review as it’s done. This should allow me to play games and review games, without waiting to have 4 in line ready to be reviewed. Plus it’s going to be faster. With each article being a single review, it’ll also be easier to find a review of a game, and it’s also going to be simpler on my end overall.

And today, there IS a theme: The red/blue contrast, surprisingly popular in puzzle games (but not unheard of in platformers and other genres). The games today can all be called platformers to some level, with a clear puzzle element added to them. Let’s get into it!

Out There Somewhere



I love games that try new things. I’m not sure what to call this one. It’s a bit Metroidvania, a bit puzzle platformer, a bit exploration.

I was expecting a Metroidvania?

It doesn't take long for the game to pull off the kid gloves.
Developed by Miniboss and published by EQGames to Steam on March 14th, 2016, Out There Somewhere is the story of space hero Captain Yuri as he… er… well, that’s disappointing. While he was protecting his planet from an enemy named Gregori (in a Shmup segment), Yuri’s ship is badly damaged and crash-lands on a hostile, unknown planet. Some hero, am I right? To resume the fight, Yuri has to retrieve vital pieces for his ship, mostly batteries. They, too, have apparently landed all over this planet. It’s a hostile world and a deadly land – however, he has a trick up his sleeve.

Pretty blue color... it must be friendly.
Yuri can count on his teleportation gun, a unique device. When he shoots, the blue blast stops at the first wall it meets and he is instantly teleported there. This allows for all kinds of puzzles, and serves many other purposes – avoiding enemies easily, for one. If he was standing on the ground when he got teleported, he can jump after the teleportation, a skill that becomes vital to use later. Late in the game, there’s a big, empty room with the exit at the top, and you have to jump, shoot, and land before the blast hits the opposite wall, so you can jump again after teleporting, and make your way up like this.

Blue, red... green wasn't part of the deal!
Where does the red come in? Well, after a few screens containing monsters that Yuri is helpless to beat, he finally gets his hands on a gun that shoots deadly red blasts. There’s even an upgrade to shoot faster later in the game. To add to this mix, we soon stumble upon various vertical beams, also color-coded for your convenience. None of them are barriers per se as Yuri can just walk past them, but they tend to affect your teleportation device. Red beams stop your blast, you won’t even teleport. Blue beams will act like they’re walls; you’ll teleport next to them, but can’t teleport past them (and yes, you can still jump off after teleporting to a blue beam). Green beams are similar to blue ones, however your teleportation blast will go upwards and you’ll teleport at the highest point reached by that green beam, generally a ceiling. Interesting puzzles are made later on from the combination of these elements and various sorts of terrain, not to mention the enemies that grow more frequent and dangerous as you progress. And of course, Gregori is there as a boss at the end.

My screenshots are kinda dark...
This game has a pretty steep increase in difficulty, you’re shown the basics and then you’re left to figure everything else by yourself. What follows is screen after screen of platforming puzzles, arranged neatly into a single, big world to explore. High difficulty put aside, the game takes every advantage of its basics, and will take you to both difficult platformer segments and puzzles you’ll take a while to find the solution to. To lengthen the experience (and reward players who put in the effort), pieces of the ship are scattered all over. Finding them all and taking them to an NPC in late-game grants a neat reward. This game truly rewards players who explore the map.


The retro-inspired graphics and the soundtrack are also quite charming. And of course, the devs aren’t cruel; you have infinite lives and each screen is a save point – it may be tough, but it’s as fair as can be.

Really, the biggest barrier is the high difficulty; other than that, it’s a very good game. It’s not expensive, either; just about 1$!

Polarity



Once again, a game utilizing the red/blue contrast, except this time it focuses more on puzzle than platforming.


Developed and released by Bluebutton Games on November 4th, 2014, Polarity is about you, a hacker in first-person, tasked with collecting data in a highly-secure virtual vault for a huge company paying muchos dineros for your services. Every level is a bit on the platform side, involving some walking around, but there are also puzzles to be solved. You can grab cubes and toss them into switches of the corresponding color in order to activate effects, pull platforms, so on. You can also press Q or E to switch between red and blue. You must learn to switch between colors at the proper times. The first level shows that you can only pass through something if you’re of the same color. Red lasers kill you if you’re set to red, vice versa for blue. Same for barriers – pass through a red one while set to red, pas through a blue one when set to blue. Things get tricky when the game introduces these barriers as walkable platforms – you need to remember to be set to red while walking on a blue platform lest you want to fall off, and blue while walking on red.

These are the data cores. Grab three per level.
Each level contains three pieces of data fragments; you don’t have to collect them, but in-story you’re given a massive bonus if you get them all, so go – look for these fragments! (In-story, at least; in real, you probably couldn’t care less except for achievements.) The game is actually pretty short if you don’t bother with everything else – only 12 levels. Followed by 10 bonus levels, which I feel could have been a part of the main story, considering I played through those as well and they’re only a little bit more challenging than the main ones.

It all looks a bit samey all the time.
Then again, remember that these places are supposed to be programs.

We have green now??
And if you’re still not satisfied, grab a friend for local co-op and 15 additional levels. I don’t see much of a point with those, as I’m not a multiplayer type of guy, but I guess it’s nice for people playing on console. By the way, you can tell that this game was built for console, or at least thought to be played with a controller(s), as the button prompts to navigate the menus are controller buttons. Would you rather duel? You can play a VS Mode called “DDoS Attack” instead, as that's another available option.

For the most part, I felt like the difficulty in this one was just right – not too easy, not too tough. I didn’t have to stop very often to find the solution to a puzzle. The data fragments were also, for the most part, fairly easy to find. One of the annoying elements is that you must sometimes throw a cube in order to make it land on the switches that will activate effects. That’s cool if you’re not too far, but this! How could I have known that there was an activation pad up there?? I can barely see it!

That little red circle with an arrow is where the blue cube has to go.

The soundtrack is pretty decent, and the graphics are basic but just detailed enough for the type of game that this is – no need for super-detailed environments. Everything looks clear and nice. It’s a tad annoying that one can’t beat the game completely unless they beat the co-op levels, but the solo campaign (both main quest and bonus levels) offers plenty for a player.

Rising Islands



So far, we’ve had puzzles and platforming. How about we add some parkour to it? …No, bad idea.


Purdy.
Rising Islands was developed by Lone Hero Studios and published to Steam by SOEDESCO Publishing on August 2nd, 2016. It is the story of Hairo, a young tan woman living in a world split into floating lands. The world is nonetheless held together thanks to Relics, artefacts created by Ancients, after the end of the reign of Chaos and Discord a thousand years prio. One day, things change when a remnant of evil decides to collect the Relics to take control of the land. Two pixies, one red and one blue, come to Hairo and ask her to help save the world, stop evil, and restore balance or something, and grant her the ability to shift between “dimensions” in order to reach this goal.

Runing on walls is always cool too, I guess.
Let’s start with what this game does right: Despite the somewhat cliché premise, the plot sounds promising. The world looks very nice, it’s detailed and pretty. It’s also great that the world changes when you shift between dimensions; the sky turns red when you’re set to red, and turns blue if you shift back to blue. Hairo is a cool main character. The game is fast-paced, encourages speed-based gameplay. Lastly, most levels contain many respawn points and you have infinite lives. Trust me, you’ll need them all.

On to the negatives. For starters, I wasn’t joking about the difficulty; this is roughly the difficulty curve I’ve experienced over the first world’s levels. Granted, the game contains only 13 levels, but the increase in difficulty is insane. Something like this.

The unseen, highest points of the difficulty graph are called "I want a
refund", "Fuck this" and "Literally impossible on purpose".

The game also has a few glitches. One of bthe annoying ones
is when I walk into a portal in the hub to get to a level. It
won't work unless I step out and re-enter it. Just WHY.
Okay, it may be an exaggeration. That said, the game’s difficulty isn’t helped by the other wonky elements. First is the camera, which you do have some control over; unfortunately, even if you adjust the sensitivity in the options menu, it still acts way too fast while you move the mouse around. Considering the game requires quick reflexes, that’s a minus. The game also suffers heavily from framerate issues and lag, which do nothing to help. And of course, there's the occasional annoying development oversight and the glitch here or there...

The magical parkouring is long and tedious.
If only it wasn't such a pain in the ass...
The controls are the usual: WASD, Space to jump, mouse to move the camera, right-click to switch dimensions. Oh, and left Shift key in order to run and activate Hairo’s second ability: Parkour. This lets her run sideways or upwards on walls, grind on ledges. However, the puzzle element means you’ll usually have to shift dimensions mid-jump half the time, to go from a red wall you can stick to, to a blue wall you can stick to, and so on. This leads to an uncomfortable control scheme where you need to keep a finger at all times on Left-Shift, a finger on WASD, a finger on Space, and the other hand controlling the shitty camera and the dimension shift with the mouse. Is there even a reason to let go on Left-Shift? Ah yes, crappy puzzle elements where you need to take things slow.

Oh good! Deadly electricity now!
I needed that... not.
The puzzle elements all revolve around areas of red and blue platforms as well; you can step on blue platforms while in the blue dimension, and vice-versa. The game is quick to pull other tricks, such as platforms that become deadly when you’re in the other dimension (and you’re not told beforehand!), or platforms that literally change color every few seconds, forcing you to constantly jump and shift in order to keep going. Wouldn’t be so bad if the camera and the framerate issues weren’t so omnipresent.

You don't know these things can kill you until you
encounter them. These things are motherf...
To its credit, the game does try to feature multiple types of levels. A Time Attack mode also is available if you want to try your hand at speedrunning unlocked levels one by one. The Story Mode has a few "parkour" levels without checkpoints, and you have to reach the end as fast as possible or else the end goal disappears and you must start over (God, I hated those).

I was actually looking forward to this game, I even bought it because it sounded interesting. I had no idea it would be so annoying. It could have been done better; keep the difficulty, work on better controls, improve some technical elements… but as it stands now, this game is terrible.

Scanner Sombre



Ending today with a bit of a puzzle element, some platforming, but mostly exploration and, most importantly… a small touch of horror.

Of course! The deepest point of a cave is the best place
to play some video games in VR!

Scanner Sombre is a creation of Introversion Software and was published to Steam on April 26th, 2017. The concept is as simple as it gets: You are set to explore a mysterious cave in complete darkness. You brought nothing to help you, no rope, no hooks, and no flashlight. Instead, you have a VR headset and a scanner that will “paint” dots of colored light all over the walls. The colors serve to indicate what is close to the protagonist and what isn’t; if it’s red, you’re practically next to it, or standing on it. Further is yellow, then green, and at a distance it’s blue. From warm to cool colors. It makes for a very contemplative, interesting experience as you practically paint your own path, making your way through complete darkness and avoiding chasms and other deadly areas, with minimal storytelling to top it all off.

That statue wasn't there when I walked on that bridge earlier.
I mean, sure, that scanner is said to still have a few bugs and glitches, but nothing major, right? That very humanlike statue I met early on during exploration, that’s odd, but not scary. Though some have been appearing at random... But then, why am I seeing human bodies that are actually moving, further away from my position? Why do I get the impression that there’s… something coming at me sometimes? Why is it that if I stay in the water for too long, something attacks me???

There's a figure over there. And before you know it...
Bam! Jump scare! It lunges at you.

Holy bajeezus almighty! What the fuck was that?

Ah yes, I remember now why I don’t play horror games; I’m a wuss. Movies are fine, but the added interactivity of horror video games does a number on me. It’s a good thing that Scanner Sombre turns out to be absolutely beautiful to watch, or I wouldn’t be playing it again. Really, there are times where it’s breathtaking, even if you’re technically just looking at dots shaping up the place, like some kind of pointillist painting.

That thing doesn't look like just an old cave wall.
The game thus has very limited “graphics” per se, though the end result of “painting” the walls around is always a treat. While there is music, I found the experience more effective when it limited itself to ambient noises and scary sounds that get more frequent as I progressed. The game also sees a nice curve in difficulty; some later rooms are almost labyrinthine, making some paths really difficult to see. The addition of water, which can’t be painted with dots obviously, later down the line, adds a nice dimension. Lastly, you do get upgrades to your material; first, the ability to spread your scanner’s reach to the entire screen or concentrate it on a small area, then a way to scan the entire screen quickly with a rechargeable blast, and so on. Lastly, you even get access to a map at some point, allowing you to see how far you’ve come and where to go next. That thing is a lifesaver.

Geez, I've walked a fair distance so far going up this cave.
...wait...up?

Now if I could just pass by the dead spirits in the water…  (Before you ask, yes, I managed to go further and beat the game. There’s so much more to see past that point, additional upgrades, detailed environments... just gotta get past that scary part first.)

A later upgrade lets you see all kinds of important things
such as pipes... steel beams... grid doors... elevators...
I really like this one! It’s definitely unique, beautiful and challenging, and it’s very effective at setting its own tone. Once again, you have infinite lives (though you pop back to the last checkpoint if you fall down a pit or get killed by “something”). I was annoyed in some areas where finding my way was pretty difficult, if only because you can’t always figure out exactly where to go based on what you’ve scanned. I also struggled a lot with the water areas. Final downside is that the game must remember every single dot created by the scanner, so the save file on your computer will get pretty large by the end (think up to 1/4th of a Gb), so be prepared for that. But overall, I enjoyed it. For those of you who wish to try it, there’s a VR version of this one…

...pipes... steel beams... grid doors... elevators...
the deceased bodies of mining workers and cave explorers...

And thus ends the twentieth (and final) Steam Pack! From now on, quick game reviews will be posted on their own instead of getting bundled up like this.

June 3, 2019

Indie Pogo


So, I originally planned to write and publish this review much earlier, but then I joined the Indie Pogo Discord community and learned that a massive update was coming – so I decided to wait for it. Might as well report on the game after the update, lest I want a review that’s inaccurate merely a few weeks shortly after its publication.

The game that... didn't start it all, but it's almost as if it
did.
Among fighting games, the “Mascot fighter” sub-genre has been growing immensely. The genre was popularized by the Super Smash Bros. series, although it’s actually not the earliest example. Twelve mascots of popular Nintendo games, duking it out on stages inspired by their worlds, using items from their worlds. Some were famous, some were less so. At the time, Jigglypuff’s presence was inexplicable. While it wasn’t the first Mascot Fighter title, SSB launched the craze, which lasts to this day (with Smash Ultimate coming out last year), and numerous other games with a similar formula following suit. Just think of PlayStation All-Star Battle Royale, Sony’s response to Smash; or any fighting game that focuses on a single series, but features all of the major characters from that series. There are such games out there for Naruto, Sonic, Marvel Comics and Capcom… We even recently had Jump Force, a Mascot Fighter featuring famous anime heroes of multiple shonen series!

Fan-made or indie titles of that genre are also quite popular, no doubt due to every fan’s desire to create the biggest ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny. I recall Super Smash Flash 1 and 2, Newgrounds Rumble… Those were fun, but then there’s also today’s game, which focuses on characters from indie games available on Steam and other online gaming platforms… with a twist.


Where else could you see Shovel Knight, CommanderVideo, Sash Lilac, Penelope or Teslakid, fighting? And why is everything so jumpy?

Look at this aerial waltz. Isn't it majestic?
That’s the twist: Everybody jumps non-stop. Admittedly, I might have preferred an indie mascots fighting game in which we actually choose when to jump, but I guess that’ll do. It’s quirky, and hey, like many odd or unexpected gameplay mechanics in other games, I could end up enjoying it. It takes some getting used to, but I should do just fine.

Mind you, this game is still very recent; after a very successful Kickstarter campaign, it was released to Steam on July 10th, 2018 by Lowe Bros. Studios. As a sign that it’s still in development, there are notes on upcoming updates, which include new characters, stages and various other details.