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October 3, 2022

Quick Review: Particle Mace

A new take on an old game? Sign me up.

Developed by Andy Wallace, published by Andy Makes and released on January 22nd, 2015 (though the in-game menu mentions a copyright from 2012), Particle Mace tries to reinvent the arcade classic Asteroids. You maneuver your little ship in a closed space filled with floating rocks, round circles for simplicity’s sake. There's also enemy ships coming in multiple forms.

Swing the space trash around!

Oh, the feel of Asteroids is definitely there.
There are two differences: The first is that all you can do is move around, using the mouse or an analog stick, and the space is limited by a perimeter that kills you when you hit it. The second is that you cannot shoot at all; in place of bullets, your ship pulls along a batch of space trash that gets flung around while you’re moving. As a result, you instead need to make use of slingshot physics to actually destroy things in the area. This requires a lot more strategy and skill than the original version. Other mechanics don’t change, like how asteroids struck split into smaller ones when destroyed and enemy saucers follow your ship around.

Fast, huh? But not as good in destroying
enemies and asteroids. Tough choice.
On top of the main ship, several more can be unlocked, with varying stats – one that’s quicker but trickier to attack with, one that’s heavier but has an extra HP… all of the extra ships can be unlocked through in-game achievements (ex. reach 2,000 points in Easy Mode). The game offers multiple modes. On the multiplayer side of things, there’s a Co-Op Arcade mode as well as a Death Match mode. The first Solo mode is Arcade, available in multiple difficulties: An intro to learn the game, an Easy mode, a Hard mode, and an Asteroid Mode where enemies are absent but asteroids are much more numerous.

Well, even with that minimalist art style, we
can easily tell that this is a black hole.
The second single-player mode, and the most interesting to me, is Mission, which isn’t a Story Mode per se. In it, you have to complete 150 missions, always delivered in groups of 3. If you finish all three current missions in one round, the game forces a loss in the game and you get the next three. A mission you beat is replaced by a new one, and the world changes along with them. This is where the creativity is at its most present, with the playing field, enemies and other factors changing basedon the current missions. Adding a black hole that pulls everything in? Having to chase a Snitch around to kill it? Changing the perimeter of the battle area so that it’s more dangerous to maneuver in? Sure!

Those white lines are the limits of the map.
This mission has a map shaped like a clover.
Hitting the limits is an instant kill. Good luck!
I like a game that goes for a simple idea and sticks with it, and merely adds to the base idea to make a complete experience. My time spent playing Particle Mace was fairly short but it effectively showed everything I had to see, barring the multiplayer modes, and I quite enjoyed the pick-up-and-play feel and the simple controls that require more skill and practice in order to achieve good scores. It very much reminds me of an arcade game in that regard, but the Mission Mode is also a much-appreciated addition. If, like me, you’re not the type to seek out high scores, you might not spend a lot of time on it, but if you’re that kind of player, you might enjoy it quite a bit.

Particle Mace is available on Steam for 4.99$ USD.

September 30, 2022

Quick Review: Oh... Sir! The Insult Simulator

AKA Monty Python: The Home Game.

(I recommend you check the images in full size to see the insults and pieces of sentences.)

Uhh... "Your sister / looks like / a dead parrot / and /
smells of / spam!"
Developed by Vile Monarch, published by Good Shepherd Entertainment and released on October 25th, 2016, Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator is a game of verbal jousting. Snarking knights, sardonic folks and other comical enemies using their words to deliver unforgettable beatdowns. Choose your character, choose your opponent, choose a setting (which features the precise squabble to insult each other over) and let your spite do the talking. Did you sell a dead parrot to a customer? Has someone taken your train seat? A scuffle about a corpse? Doesn’t matter! Mock your opponent into oblivion! “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”

Wait, is that H.P. lovecraft? Gee, those tentacles would
explain a thing or two about his writings.
For insults, though, this is complete nonsense.

Ah, nothing like going for a walk in the park and
trading blows while sipping tea over a corpse.
The gameplay is fairly simple: These combats take place over sharing a nice cup of tea. A bank of words appears between the two, and they take turns picking a word to craft the sentence of their insult. You can choose to end a sentence as soon as you want, but in doing so you forfeit the chance to craft something longer and, thus, more harmful to your opponent’s ego, represented by a life bar. Both players have access to two extra pieces not in the main bank, available from their personal teacup, which they can sip on once during a round to reroll those two pieces.

"Your mother / was born in / a public loo / and /
doesn't own a colour telly!"
Each character has their weakness, a topic they’re particularly affected by – as an example, the starting character, Sir Knight, is an elderly educated fellow who hates being mocked using things of “modern” society, like Star Wars or social media. Strike those buttonsfor massive damage! To expand an insult into the next round, you can select a "(…)" when it appears among the choices. A sentence ends when you either pick a choice that ends with an exclamation mark, or hit the exclamation mark button yourself. The game also adapts options based on the turn your sentence takes (singular/plural, as an example). Furthermore, if you use the same subject of insult multiple rounds in a row, there will be an ego hit bonus to that insult. Be very careful, however; while making a long-winded insult is tempting, the longer you go, the harder it will be to craft a complete sentence. And a grammatically-incorrect sentence fails, dealing a big fat 0 damage to an opponent’s ego. You've made a fool of yourself!

You mean to tell me that God has family issues?
Gee, I never would've guessed!
In theory, this leads to hilarious mix-and-match insults frequently taking a turn for the absurd. In practice, the game’s greatest weakness is that it randomizes the bank of options on each turn, so not only is it fairly difficult to build something that’s satisfactory (or hits the enemy’s button), but you can also have pieces of sentences be taken by your opponent before you could grab them, so there is some strategy involved. As far as I know, the only non-randomized pieces are subjects from insults thrown in the previous round, probably to make repetition combos easier to achieve.

Do most of the insults make sense? No.
Are they complete non sequiturs? Yes.
Are they funny? Hell yes.
This game’s fine, it has a pretty comical art style and tone befitting its nature (and the Monty Python references are so common it might as well be an unofficial game adaptation!), and is a pretty unique (if imperfect) idea overall. The randomness of the pieces of sentence can work against the player, some mechanics are tricky to make the best use of, and most insults you’ll come up with won’t make any sense. That said, there’s a few single-player modes (quick play, and a short Tournament mode) as well as multiplayer options, and a handful of characters and scenes to unlock. The biggest flaw with the game may be that, in spite of its attempt at having a lot of stuff to craft insults with and some variety with characters and settings, it’s not too long until you’ve seen most of what the game has to offer.

The game costs 1.99$USD, or 1.59£. A sequel is available, subtitled The Hollywood Roast, featuring people from the more American side of entertainment, and that one has a free DLC adding famous YouTubers and Twitch streamers to the insult-o-thon.

September 28, 2022

Quick Review: The Maze Escaper

I’m not a-maze-d.

Created by Pritesh Singh and released on August 3rd, 2020, The Maze Escaper is, well… exactly what it says on the tin. You escape mazes. Why? How did you end in there? What’s the purpose of the mazes? Why are there robots in the mazes? Why are you also a robot in the maze? Why do you have time powers? There’s little to no context whatsoever.

Oh hey Mister Roboto, how's it goin-
Crap, he's running at me now!
Move with WASD, jump with the Spacebar, look around and aim with the mouse and shoot with a Left-click. The only other ability you have involves slowing down time by pressing the T key, which slows everything down, yourself included; however it gives you time to aim better to kill the other robots. You have Life Points, a number going down starting at 100, and an Energy gauge; shooting and slowing time costs Energy, but collecting silver spheres refills it by several thousands. To beat a level and open its portal, you have to fill the gauge up to a certain value of Energy by grabbing spheres, then find the way towards the exit of the maze, all while avoiding or killing enemy robots. For those, I’ve seen only two types: Red ones, which shoot lasers from a distance, and brown ones, which come close and attack with punches.

Oh great, there's more of those.

Little to no music, yet someone still pulled
the old disco balls out of the 70s.
Music? Pretty much nonexistent. Gameplay? As far as I can tell, it never varies. There’s a second mode focused on survival around a giant maze, but the 30 levels from the base game are, I assume, pretty much the same throughout. The game’s environments also never change; always the same walls, often transparent. Since there’s no way to differentiate any maze walls from each other, your only way of figuring out where to go next is to use the map in the upper-right corner of the screen, which  was shrunk down poorly for the screen so walls often don't appear on it. Sure, the time of day changes, and the sunsets and sunrises lead to a different feel/ambiance in some levels, but it’s still the same damn grey walls. Over and over.

Finally the exit! ...Damn it, I don't have enough
energy to open it. Back into the maze I go!

Easy to reach the podium when there are
so few competitors.
Really, the lack of substance and the repetitiveness of it all is what sinks this game down. At the very least, the graphics are very good, but it means very little when there isn’t good gameplay to back it up. And it seems most people had the same thought, as the game has leaderboards for each level, so players can compare with others on how many points they ended each level on; Level 1 has seven entries, Level 2 is down to three. Says it all. There’s just nothing to really hook someone into playing further.

For full disclaimer, I actually won this game in a Twitch streamer’s raffle, so I didn’t pay for it. I really don’t recommend you pay for this game, not at its original price tag of 19.99$ USD, not even when its price is cut down by 90%, to 1.99$. This feels like a game made by someone testing the tools to make something basic, but functional. This is Pritesh Singh’s only game for now, as well, so perhaps they are planning to make new games that will better catch one’s attention. I encourage them to keep going.

September 26, 2022

Quick Review: Light Fall

It’s dark, but light is peeking through.

Mere minutes in and I was already wowed.
A creation of Bishop Games (a Quebec indie studio) released on April 26th, 2018, Light Fall is the tale of an amnesiac boy in the land of Numbra, perpetually shrouded in darkness. The boy soon meets an elderly owl named Stryx who, at first, reluctantly joins the quest, only to show interest when the little guy unlocks a powerful ability, tied to this world and its lore. A magical cube, the Shadow Core, which the mysterious kid is capable of summoning at will and use for a large number of situations. And he’ll need that power, as great forces from the opposing kingdom of Eternium, symbolized by deadly pink crystals, seek to take over…

I’ve played a lot of platformers, both regular and of the puzzle variety, and this one brings to the table an idea that I don’t recall seeing elsewhere. The basic controls involve moving with WASD, jumping with the Spacebar and running by holding down the left Shift key. The little hero can jump, but he can also jump on walls. In the first acts, our protagonist gains access to four abilities, all of which involve the Shadow Core, which you manipulate in different ways… using the arrow keys.

This cube is the best shield I've ever seen!

Left key attack: Destroy the poisonous wasps!
-Down key: The most frequent use, in which the square will appear as a platform right under the player character’s feet, thus allowing to keep a running/jumping stride;
-Up key: Summon the block, and then place it somewhere in order to use as a stationary platform or to shield from a few hazards, such as lasers. Later, it can even be used to make invisible platforms appear;
-Left key: The only mode of attack, the square is hurled forward in the direction the character is facing. Necessary to kill enemies and destroy or temporarily stop other hazards;
-Right key: The final ability you learn, the block will stay in place in front of the character, and it can thus be used either as a shield against hazards or as a temporary wall to wall-jump off of. Of note, the Down and Right key skills are limited to four uses in midair, after which you must land on solid ground to reset the count.

With the blocks, you can cross most gaps,
and jump repeatedly without breaking stride.
Per these mechanics, it’s not just possible to achieve some pretty impressive platforming feats, it’s encouraged! To the point where the game comes with a bonus speedrun mode. The base game’s difficulty ramps up considerably in the last levels, so you’ll need a lot of practice to pull through.

Not challenged enough? You can look for all of the villagers imprisoned in crystals, and set them free with a blast using the Left key. You can also look for golden stones, grab them, and carry them back to a checkpoint to get bonus lore about the game. The checkpoints in a level will helpfully indicate how many of each you can find. Be prepared, though; many of them are hidden behind tough trials.

Then again, some of the imprisoned people
are just tricky to find, period. At least they're
easy to rescue.

The game does get really hard later on. These
energy spheres? The red ones spin around
and keep growing and shrinking. It's not even
close to the final levels.
Visually, the game’s pretty unique; most of the platforms and characters are made of complete darkness, only showing minimal white details, like eyes or the owl’s “mustache”; hazards, noteworthy items, and backgrounds are colored, but the actual focus of gameplay is pretty much shrouded in darkness. And every single screen is beautiful. Music’s great as well. I can’t say the story is its most memorable aspect, but it’s fine and presented by gorgeous cutscenes. Gameplay is solid; on top of the kid’s regular abilities, the Shadow Core as a mechanic opens a lot of possibilities, all of which are taken advantage of by the devs. It takes a moment to adapt to using the arrow keys for effects, but one can manage pretty well. Add some collection side-quests, several levels that tweak the formula for new challenges and some stunning moments and scenes, and what we’ve got is a pretty great platformer overall, that I recommend, though I feel the game may be a bit on the short side.

Light Fall is available on Steam for 14.99 USD.

September 23, 2022

Quick Review: Legend of Mysteria

Welcome back to my unofficial sub-series about RPG Maker games! Today: Another intriguing blend of genres!

Well, that sets the tone!
Developed by Labyrinthine and published by Senpai Studios, Legend of Mysteria is an entry in the Labyronia RPG Maker game series, also made by Labyrinthine. In this one, released on October 9th, 2015, we follow a tale of a murder most foul in Mysteria Tower. Dinyon, a Demigod soon to take the throne to officially become a deity for the element of earth, is murdered in the middle of prayer, in front of a crowd. The assassin attempts an escape but is killed by a fire spell, but not before claiming to have been hired by Windir, an air mage present. Captured and treated as a murderer, Windir now has to clear his name by sneaking around, figuring out the actual culprit, and perhaps finding some allies for this quest.

Okay... To progress the plot, I'll have to anyway.
So, standard RPG Maker fare, right? Well, not quite. Battling takes a backseat in the first half. In its place, we have a greater focus on puzzle, exploration, and investigation, adopting the codes we more commonly see in an entirely different genre: Point-and-click. Find the items you need, and see how they further the plot. Hope you like reading, as you’ll gather several books. Some of those detail the twelve suspects, three per element. Other books and papers found during this quest can be used to learn more about this world, its inhabitants, and what each of them is planning. To find the culprit, inspecting everything is mandatory.

There are 10 more suspects, each with a page
like this.

We're controlling wizards (and a dragon).
Magic's the way to go for offense, they suck
at attacking physically.
The game timidly returns to its RPG roots in the second half, outside of the Tower and into the town of Labyronia, where wizards are captured on-sight and burned at the stake. (Meaning that if you walk in with a wizard robe on, it’s an instant game over.) The point-and-click aspect is still present, but combat is more frequent. However, without a level-up system, neither Windir nor his eventual allies get any stronger on their own, so they must rely on equipment and skills, which makes battles much harder. The quest of clearing the name and finding the culprit is still present, but the story takes more turns, many of which artificially lengthen the game’s duration. You can return to the Tower of Mysteria with a spell; however, if you need to go back to Labyronia, the road is long and tedious.

Gee, is it me or Labyronia is... a bit of a maze??
*ba-dum-tss* All joking aside, I have the other
Labyronia games, so I will find out why the city
has bottomless pits and is shaped like a maze.

Solve the crime you're accused of,
snitch on other crimes while you're at it.
Cool idea, this one! Not something I’ve seen done in an RPG Maker title before. Or, at the very least, if point-and-click-like quests exist in other titles, I’ve never seen it to that extent. From my own brief experience coding with the software, I can tell you that it takes a special script in order to have the point-and-click feel of having to show the right item to the right person to get the plot to progress. I’ve already discussed my gripes with the plot; I think expanding the scope of the world is nice, but it does lead to annoyances. Also, a lot of the necessary information is in the books you find, so you may need to frequently reread the stuff in your inventory, especially in order to figure out which book you must show to which character or how to solve a few puzzles.

The list of tools is nothing. The list of books is
so long you'd need a vertical scrolling bar.
Then again, that’s pretty standard for a point-and-click, in which you may end up stuck unless you take copious notes on everything that’s asked of you if you want to progress. Quests do pile up over time, making it tricky to remember what you need to do. The game is already pretty great as it is, but I know there are scripts that exist to include a quest tracker to the pause menu, and this title would have greatly benefited from one.

Putting my issues aside, I feel this is another great example of what can be done with RPG Maker; sure it doesn’t hit perfect notes, but it’s a creative title presenting a complex and intriguing story, with a pretty good length. It blends genres and features interesting characters and gameplay elements. If RPG Maker titles are your thing or you have some interest in creating your own game with the software, it’s an excellent demonstration of what it can do at its best.

Another sign doesn't lie: Look at the quantity of
scenery elements that have been put in every
single map in the game; it shows that the one
who made this game had great attention to detail.
Even the sunray had to be added in this screen!

Legend of Mysteria is currently available for 0.49$ USD.