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December 7, 2018

Cubicle Quest


I originally wanted to keep this one as part of a Steam Pack (the next one, in fact), but then I realized there may be more to talk about than I would in merely 500 words.

RPG Maker games get a bad rep, being frequently sold cheaply on Steam, in bundles. Doesn’t help that a lot of them only use the basic resources and don’t go much further than making basic fantasy stories. I reviewed a few already, some really bad, some okay, some really good!

The engine is merely the material.
Now, sculpt to your liking.
To make a really damn good RPG Maker title, you need either a perfectly unique concept, a full-fledged game, or some stunning resources for your world map, your characters, enemies… Not every game manages to have all three. And due to most resources being more fantasy-based in style (with castles, crystal balls, fantasy-based RPG monsters), it can be difficult to do something in a different style. But hey – when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And add some vodka to it. The metaphorical vodka is that extra kick anyone with enough imagination can give to the product they’re creating on this software!

Cubicle Quest is a game made by Ian Isaro, published by GrabTheGames, and released to Steam on February 25th, 2015. The project appeared on Kickstarter with an original goal of 475$, and managed to raise 1599$ - more than thrice the amount. In an interview for GameSkinny, Isaro explained that he wanted to make a game about real life issues, one that was comedic in tone, yet closer to reality than most RPGs tend to be. He wanted a product that was more entertaining than didactic in spite of the myriad of economic terms used in the story, and he also wanted to present a story of hope, where the struggles of real life (especially debt) can be fought and dealt with, “defeated” to speak of.



And now I realize that I haven’t even explained what this is all about! In Cubicle Quest, you’re an aspiring young man known as Insert Name Here… oh, right. Let’s just say his name’s Nicolas. He has just found a desk job and is facing a debt of about 40,000$ in college loans and various credit cards. Desperate with his current state, he goes to sleep, and wakes up in the world of his own mind, at Castle Sanity. In this dream world, his real-life problems are monsters; the debts are armies of demons waiting at his door, the fields are roamed by monsters known as Idle Whim or Mundane Obligation, and his metaphorical in-game money represents troops he can send out to fight, though it can also be used to buy items.

If that's all we're going to face, the journey will be simple.

This guy grows incresingly monosyllabic as the game goes.
The game has a very tongue-in-cheek tone, and the monsters, while using RPG Maker resources, have names and attributes that remind of real life – as an example, the “Unpaid Bill” monster can become “Late Fees” is not defeated fast enough. Creatures like “Slow computers” or “Bad influence” are a thing. There are bosses, lots of them; the first you’re likely to face is on your way to your first promotion, at Work Dungeon. The very first requirement in the game is to get a roommate to split the cost of staying at Castle Sanity, and the best you can get is Randall, a slacker-type guy who pays on time but doesn’t really do much else. After beating the first floor of Work Dungeon, Nicolas gets a promotion, better pay, and better chances of fighting the armies at his doors.

In the first floor, you can find your way easily, and the
enemies are simple to figure out. Wait till they throw in
the invisible walls, and the mazes, and the monsters
with unique weaknesses, and...

That tower looks peaceful. But it has enemies that can beat
you down on multiple levels. ...Pun not intended.
There’s not a single chance of beating the second floor just yet, so Nicolas can explore the surroundings. To the East, there’s Nostalgia Pier, home of Nicolas´ old acquaintances; it leads to Mom’n’Pop Kingdom, which has cut ties with Castle Sanity until Nicolas can live well off by himself. In the starting area, there’s a Shrine of Time that contains a Spirit of Minutes, a boss that can be defeated to skip time by a full year. That’s 12 paychecks in one go! It’s still too strong to be defeated, though. To the West, there’s a clearing that leads towards Societyville. That area also has a bank, of which the Savings and Investment zones are still gated off, and a Self-Improvement tower, a place with four floors allowing the player to make their life better by fighting their greatest personal problems. Keep in mind, though, they’re also bosses, so the chances are that your level isn’t high enough yet.

Another way to receive more money each month is to cut into the expenses, which involves going downstairs in Castle Sanity and fighting the bills head-on, which helps to take them out, or at least reduce them (as an example, by beating the Phone Bill monster that costs 100$/month, you get a better plan that cuts it down to 30$). Those are too powerful when you start, but after the second promotion they become more manageable. And even if you get rid of those, then you have other areas that open, including one for unnecessary expenses that the player really likes or would prefer to keep. But if you want to spare a decent amount of money, you have no other option but to cut down on those expenses too. Finances can be a heartbreaking thing.

But, of course, that’s not all. There are hidden areas all over the place with tough enemies and rewards at the key, many of which feel like bonus dungeons. Problem is, you’re not usually told how strong the enemies can be in a new discovered area until you face one and lose against it. At least, with most pre-planned battles, it’s possible to flee, and if you lose you’re just back to the map with your team weakened.

Early into the game, you obtain a Ring that lets you travel back to Castle Sanity instantly, and this will work in most areas. It'll also bring any vehicle back closer to Castle Sanity. You can even purchase similar rings for some later areas, in order to return to them without traveling by foot! The rings don’t work in Dungeon Work’s floors, however.

Time to weaken those enemy armies.

The developer of the game stated that grinding for experience was not necessary, but that’s not really true; after the first floor of Work Dungeon, a lot of challenges that open up require a strong team. Your party members get special moves as they level up, as par for the course in an RPG, and many moves become vital to progress, whether they’re healing moves or type-based. In my playthrough, a LOT of time was spent grinding.

These are the worst! Well, until you meet the next
worst thing.
Also par for the course, enemies can be categorized in certain groups, though obviously this game won’t have the usual Fire-Water-Earth-Wind type weaknesses. No, it uses other types: Human, Mental, Personal, Work-based… You’re not told which type each enemy is, but you can do some guesswork based on the situation and the name (as an example, it’s pretty obvious that the “Slow Computers” monsters are work-based). Every special attack indicates which type it’s strong against, so if you can figure out which type each monster has, then it’s possible to use the best moves against every enemy. As an example of logical guesses, a lot of self-improvement monsters and bosses fall into the Personal archetype. Status effects, also common in RPGs, now bear names like Laziness, Demotivation, Complacency, and so on.

I know I certainly have a lot of fun punching the “Stupid Customer” monster on the second floor of the Work Dungeon…

Time? That's guaranteed to kill you eventually.
Eventually, it’s time to face the second level of the dungeon, and after that’s done we see many more options open up for us. However, that also comes with new costs. It’s now possible to visit Nostalgia Pier, meet old acquaintances, some of which may join your party. You can find nine party members in the game, though only four appear in battles (the others still get 50% of the EXP). You can also choose to change around the characters of your party – the main protagonist stays, but you can switch the others around. Around this time, you should be able to fight your expenses as they appear in the basement of Castle Sanity. The monsters in a lot of bonus areas become more manageable. By cutting on costs, you can pay your debts (by sending “soldiers” to fight them, one soldier = one dollar, they’re really pushing the metaphor there). Last but not least, Randall starts skipping on paying his half of Castle Sanity’s rent, so it’s time to kick him out and find a new roommate. You can still keep him as an ally, though.

I might find a nice community soon enough.
The equipment in the game reflects the whole concept, as instead of being a weapon, a helmet, an armor, a shield, an accessory, it’s something completely different. The weapon is replaced by a Goal that provides motivation, increasing Attack to let you go further in the game. Then there’s the Community, represented by people or groups that the character can become a part of; the Virtue, a personality trait that will improve some stats; Books, which can be equipped and will steadily, passively increase one particular stat as you get through battles – those can be very good for maxing out some particular stats; and, last but not least, the Accessory. For everything that didn’t fit in the other categories.

On to all the unnecessary expenses!
I’ll be going over the last parts quickly because I don’t feel like making a longer review for this one; just know that it has a LOT of content, so allow me to show you just how much it’s got.

After you’ve eliminated most of your debt, the South of the kingdom can be explored, with many additional areas. Once you’ve acquired a boat, it possible to go further east, towards areas beyond the sea. And, of course, there’s more to see up north, too.

So you can explore the wider world, what else afterwards? Well, at the bank, once you unlock savings, you can open an account (which somehow involves going through a mine in a cart and beating a boss) and set money aside every once in a while. Then there’s the investment path that can open more options, boosting your revenue even further.

Oh, but that’s not all. You want more options? You got more options. You want a new house? You can buy a new house. Yes, it’s expensive. But it’s possible. You want a boat? Well, you’re obviously going to need one to cross the sea, but you can get a really impressive one. Do you want a car? You can get one!

Marrying the bookworm lady seems like a popular option.
She certainly seems to be the philosophical type.
Not to mention the biggest commitment of all: Mawwage! Mawwage is what bwings us togethah today. Er… Sorry, I got some leftover Princess Bride in my brain. Yes, there is an option to marry one of the many women around this world, given that they express an interest in you. How can you sway them? By maxing out a particular stat of your character. Some women like intelligence, others prefer agility, then some are all about raw attack power – you have to find the one. And, in fact, I believe there are alternate endings available for every female character you can hook up with. Oh, but don’t worry, there’s still an ending if you choose to beat the game and remain single.

I need attacks that destroy delusion too. Where can I get
one of those?
Last but not least, there are career options that eventually open. You can keep going at your desk job until you complete the four available floors of the Work Dungeon… or you can tell that boss to go screw himself while you go out and create your own job, with you as your own boss. That’s yet another possibility. Frankly, I am amazed at all the things that can be done in this game.

This may actually be the most complete RPG Maker title I have played so far. Don’t let the name “Cubicle Quest” push you away, don’t lump it in with the cheap-looking games in the RPG Maker category. This game is impressive.

The concept is silly: An RPG world as a humongous metaphor for life, self-improvement, work and finances. Vanquish your debts, your fears, your loneliness – become the best person around. Ian Isaro wanted this game to be more entertaining than didactic, but the didactic elements are there, even if they heavily rely on the metaphor to work. It’s almost beautiful how all the big and little inconveniences of adult life were given monster form and can be battled in this game. How many monsters are there? I haven’t counted, but… a lot, certainly. Over a hundred, I'd say. Is it silly? Perhaps, but it works! And the tone is very tongue-in-cheek, very meta and self-aware, which improves the whole thing.

There are multiple tutorial areas to help you, as well.

The maker of this game also wanted a game where grinding was never required. There, I would say that this didn’t succeed. You start off as fairly weak, with limited options. However, as you level up, more areas are revealed and the place nearly becomes an open world, which is great – you can go further and further. But it’s also an issue, as you can never really know the strength of the monsters in a new area until you step in, get the beating of a lifetime, see the Game Over screen, and reload your save file. Get ready to see the Game Over screen a LOT. Exploration and experimentation is required, and while you’re not going to run out of things to do (especially after you defeat the Debt Armies and get access to a boat), it’s always a gamble which areas you can actually beat at any given time. Your best option? Return to the last area you finished, and grind there if it’s possible. Since many areas open early on, some creatures tough like bosses at first may just turn out to be regular enemies later on.

I can't keeop the massages?
Fine, then, I'll just find a less expensive way to relieve
myself from stress. I'll find a way. Eventually.
Also, save often, save frequently, but make sure you can leave a place by yourself before you save there – on the off-chance that you get stuck in an inescapable death trap of a dungeon or room where the enemies are too strong, and you’re unprepared. Like, say, getting stuck in a Work Dungeon floor.

All the characters have distinct personalities, offer pretty interesting dialogues, many of them can become your roommate… and then there’s the possibility to marry one of the women you meet on your journey, with associated perks and such. I could go over the various things you can purchase or gain in this game, but there’s just too much.

And of course, there are many secrets on the map, which can be found while exploring. I actually thought the game’s Steam page was joking when it said the game had 15 to 20 hours of gameplay. It’s not a joke. I  fact, even after beating the final boss (which I won't spoil), you get access to an airshipo that can land in places you couldn't reach before, giving you access to more secrets.

Oh crap, this game even has mimics!
Most of the game has been fairly well thought-out, but I did spot small issues here and there. Usually nothing major. There are times where the menus won't appear when a battle starts, causing the game to freeze and close. It happened most often on the second floor of the Work Dungeon, but it also happened in other areas at rarer times. You might like to save frequently, just in case that it occurs. Also some things aren’t explained very well, such as the effects of some equipment items, how are the Books best used, how some special items can be found or what opens depending on your state in the game. I’ve also read that some marriage options may have strange effects on the late-game progression, but I would need to experience all of the possible alternate endings to properly report on that.

This is, without a doubt, the best RPG Maker game I’ve played on Steam. Go play it. Spare three dollars on the side and play it. It’s got flaws, a few programming erros perhaps, but otherwise it’s pretty fantastic.

November 25, 2018

Movie Review: Ralph Breaks The Internet (Wreck-It Ralph 2)

Okay, so this film is brand new, it has just come out in theaters... I went to see it on Saturday evening. I'll make this as spoiler-free as possible.


Ralph Breaks The Internet (Also knows as Wreck-It Ralph 2, Ralph 2.0... I've seen all three used) is the sequel to the original Wreck-It Ralph, released six years ago. I reviewed that one a couple years ago, if you feel like checking that review out (spoiler alert, though). In this new installment, Ralph and Vanellope are still best buds, six years after their adventure in Sugar Rush. They have fun in the various games of Litwak's arcade, they reminisce about life as video game characters, they look at the light of the real world coming through the sole unused plug of the power strip. Then they go in their respective games for doing what is, essentially, their job.

Vanellope is growing tired of always being on the same race tracks, seeing the same things over and over, and she wants more out of life. Ralph decides to create a race track just for her in Sugar Rush, which she unfortunately decides to drive into just as she's being controlled by a player, overriding theit input. Even though Vanellope ends up having loads of fun, the struggle on the gamer's side of things causes the steering wheel of the Sugar Rush cabinet to come off... and then Litwak literally breaks it in two while trying to repair it. Thankfully, another gamer in the arcade searches for a replacement online and finds one on eBay for just 200$. Litwak can't afford it though, so all seems lost.

As Sugar Rush is about to get unplugged, the candy and human inhabitants of that world hurry into the power strip, leaving the other inhabitants of the Arcade to figure out what to do. Most inhabitants find places to stay, while Fix-It Felix and Sergeant Tamora Calhoun decide to "adopt" the other racers (for what's, hopefully, temporary considering there's 15 of them!!). That evening, Ralph talks with Felix and figures out that there's only one way to save Sugar Rush: Go into the Internet (through the router Litwak installed that exact morning, no less!), buy the wheel, ship it to Litwak's and voilà!

The Internet is a gigantic place that looks like a city. This film had to keep doing everything like it's a giant metaphor, considering it did so in the original film. Unlike, say, The Emoji Movie where the apps felt like the focus more than the actual characters (not that there was much character in The Emoji Movie to begin with, it was soulless garbage) and were unchanged, with characters acting around them, here the websites tend to keep up the metaphor, usually in very clever ways, and the focus is always on the characters and their relationships. Most of the real-life websites pop up (heh) here or there, for cameo value, while the sites and games that really matter to the plot are invented, such as Buzzztube, the replacement YouTube... in a world where YouTube also exists, apparently.

Don't think about it too much, or many elements of the metaphor will start falling apart.

Moving to eBay to find the steering wheel, Ralph and Vanellope wind up dueling against a user for it, and end up pumping the price to a ridiculous 27,001.00$. You've read that right. But in order to keep the wheel, they now need to collect money. Real-life money. Well, the answer to that is simple, hire a hacker to get into PewDiePie's bank accounts. He won't notice. Nah, they first choose to follow an online ad that promises easy money through gaming.

Spamley (the spam advert's name), voiced by Bill Hader, redirects them to Slaughter Race, an online game... um... How to describe that one... Well, imagine Ubisoft's The Crew (as the game seems to focus a lot on street racing) with a hefty dose of GTA, and probably the more insane parts of Saints Row thrown in, all while staying as close to a PG-13 as a PG-rated movie can get. That attempt at easy money fails as they're unable to outwit the racer in the game whose car they had been sent off to steal. Shank, voiced by Gal Gadot, is the resident awesome woman, and though she applauds Vanellope's talent behind a steering wheel, she suggests Ralph gathers the money by becoming an Internet sensation instead. Time to get VIRAL in here!

And that's where I should stop. That's all I can reveal without delving into major spoilers for the story. There's of course Yesss, the character shown in the trailers (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), who turns out to be the Head of Buzzztube, explaining a lot of the elements of Internet fame, but I only mention her because she's in the trailers. The fictional fansite Oh My Disney is there with more cameos than you can shake a stick at, with of course all the scenes shown in promotional material of Vanellope interacting with the MANY princesses of Disney. The late Stan Lee's in there as an online avatar, too... I promised to myself that I wouldn't sob! In short: It was in a trailer? It's in the film in a form or another.

I'll be completely honest: I saw spoilers for this film about a month ago, when some guy in a Discord server I visit posted the entire synopsis as taken from a tie-in coloring book. Going to the theater, I mostly remembered small parts of that synopsis, including some plot details that made me leery as it would have been extremely easy to screw them up. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. Ralph Breaks The Internet manages to work with these plot elements and the Aesop that is attached to them, while not cutting out any of the emotion tied to the conflict of the story.

A story about the Internet would have been really, really easy to mess up, as we've seen before. The internal logic would need to be strong, and the metaphor would have to hold up. As I say, the film mostly manages to work with all of those elements, by keeping the brand names mostly out of focus or as cameos, and by substituting every element of the online "world" (such as being connected, moving to a website, and so on) with something that feels appropriate as a replacement.

Like I said, though, don't spend too long thinking about that metaphor. Some things will eventually stick out as making little or no sense, and then you'll keep on searching for more things that don't work when you overthink. Don't do that. Trust me, some questions I have about this "world" will keep me up at night.

Disney gets an opportunity to do a lot of self-deprecation in this one, through Oh My Disney and the princesses, but also by spoofing recurring elements of Disney films, both old and recent. I won't tell you what exactly, but it's great. Unfortunately, the film still feels very much like a modern Disney film, meaning it's got beats to follow and tropes to feature, some of which have been seen in most, if not all, of the recent Disney films. Disney has been criticized a lot for becoming formulaic over the last few years, and that criticism is justified. Thankfully, it's not every recurring motif of recent animated Disney films that made it into this one, though I'm not saying more about that...

About 80% to 90% of the film takes place on the Internet. Once we follow Ralph and Vanellope in there, we nearly forget about Litwak's Arcade. We don't cut back every once in a while to seeing how Felix and Calhoun do, raising fifteen candy-themed human brats. Thankfully, the beginning and the end of the film make up for it with loads of great moments and jokes, from Zangief reading Dostoievsky to the Surge Protector (the "spirit" of the power strip) being given more personality in every scene where he appears.

All in all, it's a good film. I hesitate to call it as good as the first Wreck-It Ralph, because it's so radically different it feels like comparing apples and oranges. I love the first, I greatly enjoyed the second. It's still very creative and insightful. I recommend it, though I suggest you watch the first film beforehand.

November 7, 2018

Hiatus? Again? (Update on the situation)

I felt like I had to post something here today, mostly to explain the situation and why I might be going on a short hiatus.

First things first, I might not post a review on Friday. I need to build a buffer of reviews, so that I can better balance my actual job and this hobby of mine.

When I'll resume posting after the hiatus, you can expect a few Steam Packs, because they're a quick way to get rid of some clutter in my large Steam collection. I've been thinking about maybe just not write about every game that I play, but I actually prefer to do so for each game. Even if they're short.

I got a couple movie reviews coming up as well, with probably one right after the Steam Packs. I've yet to decide on the order, and whether I'll review something bigger before moving on to a film review.

My second dilemma is this: I've been struggling more and more to find themes for Top 12 articles. Outside of the usual "Top 12 episodes of X" that I could make in the future, there isn't much that I find myself able to talk about in those. I'm seriously considering dropping those.

My third dilemma is this: I've been upgrading my room so that I could move my Nintendo Wii there, hoping to no longer have to rely on the living room TV, which is always in use by one or another of the members of the family. I got a better TV, I got cable and a DVD player in order to watch movies on it rather than on my computer. More importantly, I now have a set-up that could let me transfer my Wii here, with some work.

However, that doesn't solve the next issue: Time. A lot of Wii and Nintendo 3DS games are fairly long, and I would need to spend much of my time playing them. I wcould only play on certain times in the living room. Even if I brought my console to my room I'd still need to spend much of my awake time away from work playing and writing.

I've personally asked my boss to do 32-hour weeks inatead of 40, in part so that I'd have more free time to do these reviews, and in part because working five nights a week would burn me out eventually. With four, I can get a more normal sleep schedule on the days where I don't work, However, I sleep a lot more during the week days now, which also cuts into my free time. And I'm not cutting into sleep hours!

I have no plans to stop doing Wii and Nintendo 3DS game reviews. They've become more difficult to do because I don't own capture cards, and therefore I can't record my playthrough and use them to add images to my reviews. That's why I resorted to Let's Plays. On top of that, like I said, a lot of Wii and 3DS games are prety lengthy, so grabbing enough good images from Let's Plays can be difficult.

The best solution I can see to all this is to go on a hiatus, write as many reviews as possible, and get a  buffer of articles done. I used to have a decent buffer in early 2018, but the long reviews posted this year (especially GTAV and Undertale) pretty much led to that buffer no longer existing. I need to build up one, now. So I might not post reviews for a couple weeks. Hopefully I can come back soon with more content, and hopefully better content overall.

Oh, and with Google+ ending next year, please make sure to follow me on my other official pages for the blog!

November 2, 2018

Steam Pack 14


Might as well get that one out of the way, it’s been in my plans for a while. I swear, I don’t play games nearly as fast as I buy them. Is that addiction? Maybe. Probably. What I should try to do someday is a big month with nothing but Steam Packs, in order to get some clutter out of the collection. There are games that I don’t feel I’d play for more than an hour, while others I end up playing far longer than the average playtime (as recorded on websites such as HowLongToBeat). I tend to try and beat games before reporting on them, too. Today, as usual, four more games are being reviewed! Let’s start with…

Chronology


In a Steampunk world, an old man with a watch that lets him travel between two time periods goes on a quest to save his present by changing the past.

Chronology is a game released to Steam by Bedtime Digital Games on May 12th, 2014. This absolutely gorgeous adventure is in the purest tradition of puzzle platformers, a genre that seems extremely popular among indie developers. How many of those have I reviewed so far? I’ve lost count.

"I'm a talking snail that can stop time!"
"Not the strangest thing I've seen today."
The man, known only as the Old Inventor, thus has to travel across the wilderness in order to prevent the world-changing event of the past that has led to the grim and desperate present. His quest begins in the forest, and continues into the busy areas of town. With his watch, he can see both the past and the present, and when the path is blocked in one period he can proceed in the other. He can even change elements of the past, such as replanting a young tree to a different spot, and see it grow to be used as a platform in the present. On his journey he soon meets a big snail that talks and has time-freezing abilities of its own, though both travel in time together and can still move while time is frozen. Those two abilities, as you can imagine, become necessary together in order to get through the various traps of the partly-destroyed town of the final levels. And hey, the snail can even move around some odd corners, serve as a steed or even a platform in some situations!

On our way to save... er... the past? The present? The future?

An old man and a snail? It’s like the synopsis to a Pixar movie.

And so this adventure takes them to the heart of the city, where the Old Inventor and his slightly less sane acolyte harnessed the energy of a new and magical power source, only for it to go horribly wrong… and perhaps he can undo the bad present…

Hop! I'm no fan of snails, but this one's very useful.
Setting aside any nitpicks I would have about the time-travel elements of the story (because I’m that kind of sci-fi nerd), I would say this is a very good game! The puzzles aren’t extremely difficult for the most part, though as you progress more and more of them use a combination of the time-based mechanics. The banter between the childlike snail and the old inventor is pretty fun, and the story remains simple. Most of the tale is told through the environment, in a way. Seeing the lush, green past and the broken, decrepit present says more than words would. To top it off, the game is drop-dead gorgeous. I am left in awe at the beauty and detail of the environments visited.

How to open a door, puzzle platform style:
-Find key.
-Blast door, set it on fire, douse it, travel time, walk through.
The controls are pretty simple, and there are features to prevent frustration, such as the snail which cannot cross certain types of areas - in which case the Old Inventor can call for it and it’ll teleport near the man. Don’t ask how that works, that one stays unexplained.

I haven’t run into a lot of roadblocks here, aside from a few tricky puzzles here or there, especially at the end - which is normal, the tougher puzzles at the end of the puzzle-platform game, duh. Though I also ran into a glitch once where the old inventor got stuck into a floating piece of land, but it’s the only case I encountered. Also, to reach his goals, the inventor often does morally-questionable things. Needs of the many yadda yadda, I guess.

"I'm stuck in the walls!" Ah, the hazards of time travel.

Overall, a very fun experience, perhaps on the short side (it can be beaten in about two hours), but enjoyable nonetheless. Get it for 4.99$ on the Steam Store.

Dyna Bomb


I think I both get this one and don’t get it. The concept is simple enough, though: You control a little jetpack-wearing hero and must find your way to the exit of each level, collecting as many jewels as possible on the way.

You gotta do this quick, or you're gonna lose!
Made and published by 7 Raven Studios, and released on May 13th, 2016, Dyna Bomb is a free-to-play title with plenty of platforming levels, with puzzles sprinkled in. Finding keys to open doors, traveling around in portals, fairly common video game fixtures. More than 64 levels split across 8 worlds, that’s not half-bad.

You can just look for the end, or you can go around killing enemies using bombs found inside the level. Be careful, though. Dyna dies instantly from being touched by an enemy, a laser, a blast… Get ready to die and restart levels a lot in here. And I do mean a LOT, because even the lightest touch of something deadly will kill. Sometimes you won’t even notice something is deadly until the character hits it. And if the enemies and hazards don’t kill you, maybe the time limit will, so you should hurry! Can you get three stars on every level?

I swear that last sentence sounded like I was shilling Angry Birds… If Dyna Bomb so far sounds in this review like it’s a mobile game put up on Steam, don’t worry, you’ll get that exact feeling while playing it, too.

The controls are bothersome, with the playable character rising faster than they move whenever they’re flying left or right, meaning it’s easy to hit one of the electrified spheres of an intermittent electric zapper blocking your way. Or, well, literally anything deadly on the screen. It’s like some messed-up cheap Mega Man with the controls as fickle as Flappy Bird. Oh, but don’t worry, you can continue where you are if you pay diamonds, the in-game currency that you collect as you complete levels.

...Eh. My luck's terrible. I doubt I'll be
around this slot machine much.
You can also spend the diamonds gathered on a slot machine to get items at random, or purchase proper power-ups before a level in order to beat it more easily. The entire thing feels as though 7 Raven Studios wanted really really badly to add microtransactions to it (pay real cash for diamonds to spend!), but had to take those away.

This game is alright, but I’m not a fan. It plays well and has a wide range of options, including two playable characters (not that they make much of a difference), but I was eventually turned off by the great difficulty as well as the labyrinthine design and length of the levels. That game feels designed to nickel-and-dime you… or, well, make you buy more microtransactions. It’s not bad, and I guess it’s a nice challenge if you feel like having a free game to play once in a while… but it’s not for me.

Rabbit Hole 3D


Reading has never been more dangerous!

How to go through an R.
Developed by Somi, published by Zero Rock Entertainment and released on April 25th, 2014, Rabbit Hole 3D: Steam Edition is equal parts an arcade game and a short audiobook. Words will fly towards you very fast and you must pass through the holes between letters. That already sounds tricky. The levels are created from excerpts of the book Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, in particular the moment where Alice sees the white rabbit and follow him down, well… you can figure that one out.

The game features eight levels, which you can play one after the other in Ranked Mode, with no pauses between levels. Survive as long as possible and your final time will be recorded. Then there’s a solo mode in which you can play every level, one at a time, as preparation for the full game. Your puny little cube has only two Hit Points (or, rather, "lives") total, so it can hit a letter's solid blocks once and the next time it’s Game Over.

Gotta catch 'em all - the letters, I mean!
But don’t worry! Each letter forms a 5X5 square, and obviously your cube will have to pass through the word in an open hole among the letters. Some letters are red, others are blue: You’ll notice that all the blue letters are part of the word “RABBIT HOLE”. Pass through the word, close to a blue letter, and the corresponding letter will be darkened at the bottom of the screen in the expression "RABBIT HOLE". Collect all the letters of the words “RABBIT HOLE”, and you get an extra life! Not that collecting those letters will be easy, mind you.

BuT THEn AgAIn, cOLLEcTIng LETTERs Of THAT wORd Is AcTuALLy nOT sO dIffIcuLT, cOnsIdERIng HOw fREquEnT THEy TEnd TO BE In THE EngLIsH lAnguAgE. THE HARdEsT TO cOLLECT mAy BE THE LETTER B, sIncE yOu nEEd TwO Of THOsE, sO LOOk OuT fOR THAT OnE. ALsO THE wORds mOvE By cRAzy fAsT…

Almost there, my Dictionary Dex is almost complete! 
I can excuse the game’s difficulty since it’s meant to be played as a challenge, an arcade of sorts and the best times are recorded in the game’s high scores. I never made it past Level 4. It’s truly difficult and you need to learn the text in order to know what’s coming and plan your letter quest accordingly. Since the words move so fast, you will need to collect as many lives as possible in the early portions, so that you can face the later ones. It does reward your memory and reaction speed. It helps that the excerpt is read in portions as the level progresses, so you know what to expect soon.

But hey, I’ll always appreciate a game that is challenging, has an interesting concept, and promotes literature. That’s a plus in my book. Cool stuff, if you’ve got three dollars on the side.

Viridi


Let’s end this on a relaxing title. Calming, soothing… It’s just about taking care of plants.

Plant pot. Snail is mandatory. You must have one.
This simple game was made by Zoe Vartanian, Badru, Isa Hutchinson and Michael Bell, published by Ice Water Games and released on August 20th, 2015. You get a pot for your plants, then a couple starting plants. You even get your own mandatory pet snail! Geez, start this review with a snail, end it with a snail. That’s funny. You can spray water on the plants whenever they need it, but remember that plants take time to grow. Not exactly real-time, mind you, but a couple weeks here at least. Keep your little world alive, spray only when necessary, don’t kill any plants, and you’re good to go! Plants can live a couple days without you watering them, so this really is a game you’ll play only for a few minutes at a time, since any action you can do will take, at best, a couple seconds.

There are achievements for this game, encouraging you to grow to full maturity at least one of every single plant in the game, and then keep on raising more and more. Eventually you can free up space by uprooting mature plants and getting them in the garden, a mystical place I’ve never witnessed. In the game, I mean, in real life I have seen the outside world… yeah… we do have a garden… I mean, right now it’s covered in snow. This is Canada in November after all…

5$ upfront, no rent, make sure to keep it tidy.
Curfew at 5 PM.
But that’s not all. There’s a shop in this game, and as you can guess there’s no in-game currency. Bring in your real money, and buy a map to a grove, or 5$ for a key to an apartment - wow, rent is cheap in that world. Maybe a decoration for cats? That’s 3$. Yeah, I had two of those at home, I just pawned them off to buy myself a key to a nice and cozy apartment. Then you can buy seedlings of any plant in the game, each with their scientific name (from Cheiridopsis Denticulata to Senecio Rowleyanus, passing by Kalanchoe Thrysiflora and Fenestraria Aurantiaca, and yes I repeatedly made sure that I spelled all of those correctly), and prices ranging from 9 to 39 cents. You do get one random seedling per week for free, though - among all the plants in the game, even the ones you already have. Want that completion? Be super-lucky for a minimum of 23 weeks, or pay about… hm. My calculations get to 4.07$ USD. For one seed of every plant? Not that bad, actually.

Still not a fan of snails... but it's a good tie-in to close the review.

Though it’s mostly a free game meant to be enjoyed at your own pace, so it’s not like you need to rush to get everything done in here. Play it for a few minutes at a time, or leave it running with its soothing music and calming visuals while you do anything else. There’s no hurry, right?

Stick around for Watching Paint Dry: The Game... What do you mean, someone actually tried to make that a real game on Steam? 

..............................................Urgh.

And that covers today’s four games. Maybe something in there interests you, maybe nothing does. It’s alright. Part of my goal with these Steam Packs is to play through my backlog and talk about all those games for this blog, yes. However, I would be very happy to hear that any of my articles and quick reviews have directed someone towards any of these games. Made you discover something. Made you play and enjoy a game you may have never heard of before. That makes what I do actually worth it.

I think I’ll work on a few more Steam Packs. I might try to review a Nintendo 3DS game before the end of the year…

October 27, 2018

Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows


I thought I wanted to play a quick game? This one could be longer than both games I reviewed before it… combined! But it’s a lot simpler to discuss. Sorry, there’s no Halloween review this year, I didn’t plan for anything along those lines. Could’ve done some more FNAF, but… nah, it can wait.

I’ve always loved tower defense games. The combination of puzzle, strategy and space management… ah, I love that. The very third game I reviewed on this blog was a tower defense game for the Nintendo DS, too: Desktop Tower Defense. There have been dozens of versions and variations, often with different mechanics; some with unchangeable paths, others where you can build the path yourself or modify it partway into a level.

Ah yes, Desktop Tower Defense. A game I
haven't touched in roughly five years...

Of all of Game In A Bottle's latest games, only one
isn't GemCraft. Dedication, right there!
Game in a Bottle brings to us Gemcraft, a series of tower defense games that were unique in execution. The towers of this strategy game wore colors, each color had an ability of its own, and you could in theory upgrade towers almost endlessly. Your sole limit was your bank of mana, which was used to build anything - towers, traps, walls, amplifiers and so on - and survive whenever monsters reached your Orb, the source of your power. Monsters reaching the Orb are respawned back at the entrance, shaving an amount of mana off your pool (an amount that gets bigger as you progress through a level’s waves, increasing difficulty), and go through the path again. The waves of monsters usually follow precise paths, but later games feature levels where you need to build a long path with walls in order to slow the monsters down - and, with some leeway, you can create an inescapable death trap where, by demolishing one wall and building another, you can capture most monsters in a loop, while leaving them vulnerable from the blast of your gem-powered towers. The left-side bar shows the progression of waves, while the right side is your gem workshop, allowing construction of gems up to Level 12 (though it’s possible to go far beyond). Some games also experiment with additional abilities such as Spells or gem enhancements. As you gain levels, you get points to use on skills that reduce the cost of towers or gems, improve the abilities of gems or have other kinds of impacts on the field.

The series has had only four main games:
-GemCraft (AKA Chapter One), which was fairly basic and in which you could only build Gems at random among the colors available in a level, adding so much unnecessary fake difficulty to the game;
-GemCraft Chapter Zero (AKA “Gem of Eternity”), which added the extra modes to every level, with now the possibility to replay early levels with some added difficulty and more Experience at the key;
-Gemcraft Labyrinth, a massive game that had 169 levels around a square map, starting at the bottom center and leading to the very center, after going around the map. It’s also where, FINALLY, you could create exactly the Gems you wanted;
-Today’s game, Chasing Shadows, also known as Chapter 2;
-And another game is in development!