Columns, Video Games

ROBOTIC GAMING MONTHLY – The Cancelation of The Mod Squad

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Artwork by CitrusKing46

Welcome to yet another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly, Topless Robot’s look into whatever accolades and troubles the gaming world has gotten itself into this time around! For this go-around, we have some words on the controversy surrounding Steam’s now-deceased paid mods, a fresh batch of trailers that includes Max Rockatansky wreckin’ things up, and for those of you who want to kill about six hours of productivity, new game reviews that includes a full Let’s Play of Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China! So step on in and prepare to gleefully waste some time as usual!

A little while ago, I was asked by a fellow Roboteer if I had any opinions on the controversy surrounding Steam’s newly-introduced paid mods. Mind you, by the end of that week, Steam had discontinued their paid mods and straight-up said that they didn’t understand what they were doing, which potentially ended things right then and there. Still, we as a society of nerds are never able to let anything go anyway, so let’s continue to take a deeper look at it.

Here was the initial setup: Valve essentially introduced a new system that allowed their users to sell their Skyrim mods to other players and make money off of their work, while promoting the creativity of the modding community in the process. Sounds good, right? Well, until everyone noticed that the modders only received twenty-five percent of the sales, with the rest of the money going to Valve and Bethesda.

Quite unfair, right? These folks have put in hours upon hours crafting their own unique touches to add to a game they all love, and now they’re getting screwed over by a crappy business deal that only rewards them with mere pennies while the already-rich companies get the lion’s share. Now, that being said, I admit to having never played Skyrim yet or having a large understanding of the modding community, so I decided to take a look at the paid mods that were being offered or waiting for approval at the moment and…

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…Aaaaaaand I immediately stopped caring about any of this. This was an actual approved mod that was being sold for five dollars. It apparently makes certain adjustments to backpacks and clothing. If you were willing to pay five dollars for any of this, you are no longer allowed to have any sort of financial independence.

Not that the rest were any better. Mind you, by the time I was taking a look at things, most of the submissions were joke mods made in protest of paid mods, but even with those out of the way, what I was seeing wasn’t at all exciting: mostly just reskinned weapons and minor cosmetic additions, right down to something called “Maximum Grass Density” being sold for two dollars. And given the dickish PC Master Race’s quest for almighty graphics superiority, I couldn’t even tell if it was a joke mod or not. It’s kid of hard to be offended when everything being offered comes off as either boring or unfunny, although news of paid mods using stolen assets that apparently couldn’t be detected helped boil a little blood.

I think part of the problem – among many other things – is that a majority of the most notable mods for Skyrim (and other games in general) tend to involve licensed content, such as the ability to play as Pinkie Pie or a way to turn all of the dragons into Macho Man Randy Savage. Obviously, you can’t sell any of those for money due to legal reasons, so now you’re left with mainly having to sell gameplay adjustments that no sane person would charge money for (although again, I don’t know much about Skyrim mods, so if there are any worth money, feel free to point them out).

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And really, while Valve said they didn’t understand what they were doing, they really should have seen this coming, because a lot of this resembles the early days of Steam Greenlight, where there was no screening process, which led to several dumbasses flooding the system with fake joke games and cries for Minecraft and Battlefield 3 that drowned the legitimate submissions out, and Valve learned the hard way that a good chunk of Steam users will do anything for a quick buck, anything for a cheap laugh, or just prove that they didn’t understand the most basic of rules. And yet despite Valve admitting that they had problems like those early on that they fixed later and wanted to avoid again when receiving pitches for games, apparently they were still unable to think that things would be different this time around when receiving pitches for mods.

Basically, Valve’s heart may have been in the right place in wanting to promote and encourage modding, but their brain was in an entirely different place altogether. Maybe one day they’ll find a better way to pull off something like this, but I think it’s safe to say we won’t see it for quite a while now.

Oh, and one more thing: To those of you “review bombing” Steam’s Skyrim page with negative reviews for the game in protest of the paid mods? Yeah, you’re attempting to get revenge on them for this by saying nasty and childish things about a critically acclaimed game that’s already been out for four years that has harnessed loads and loads of awards and has already sold over twenty million copies. Genius idea. How about for an encore, you protest Warner Bros. by giving Casablanca negative IMDb reviews? Surely this will also discredit the product and cause sales to drop! That’ll show the bastards!!

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Speaking of which, I was also going to talk about the review bombing incident also mentioned in that story in the previous paragraph involving popular gaming critic John “TotalBiscuit” Bain (AKA “The Cynical Brit”) and how he decided not to review Titan Souls because he just felt it wasn’t for him, whereupon one of the game’s developers (Andrew Gleeson) reacted immaturely to this decision, and this led to several of TotalBiscuit’s fans bombing the game’s Steam page with negative reviews (or support of negative reviews), feeling that they needed to get revenge on TB’s behalf or protest Gleeson’s actions. And since TotalBiscuit has already said what I was thinking anyway in a follow-up review with Kotaku, I’ll just post what he said and let it speak for itself…

What do you make of the negative reviews Titan Souls is getting on Steam? At least a couple that I saw reference your tensions with one of the developers.

I am extremely bothered by this behavior. Dodgy reviews on Steam in general are a huge problem and Valve has been slow to react to the issue, only recently adding in a “funny” category to try and combat the huge numbers of joke reviews that are posted about a product. I would strongly discourage anyone from posting negative reviews referencing this social media spat. It’s always been my policy to critique a game on its own merits and not concern myself with things such as say, the political leaning of a developer. A great example is the controversial title Hatred. I intend to critique that just as I do any other game, regardless of the allegations that some of the developers have ties to far-right groups. It’s my job to inform the consumer first, not to pass judgment on the developers ideology. I would encourage others to follow suit and not engage in petty revenge in my name, I don’t approve or endorse such actions.

…Needless to say, as a fellow video game critic, I fully agree. Games should be judged on their own merits and not just because of any business practices, politics, or comments made by the people behind the game that you disagree with. I already consider it a slap in the face when someone gives a game on Metacritic a 0 out of 10 just because they feel the DLC is a ripoff, or because it’s part of a franchise you hate, or some other bit that has nothing to do with the core game (oh, and those of you who then give the games perfect scores to “balance things out” aren’t really any better, by the way), but the actions here just feel especially petty given that these negative reviews are in response to what essentially boils down to a playground spat. And I can’t shake the feeling that we might end up with more of these asinine reviews as the popularity of YouTube and Twitch personalities grows, so we need to nip the review bombing problem right in bud, because this is downright harmful to gaming.

See, I’ve said this before, but the video game industry is a two-way street. Yes, there are several problems plaguing the gaming industry right now as is and it’s easy to feel like the triple-A heads are treating us like absolute cretins and morons, but surprisingly enough, actually acting like absolute cretins and morons will not solve anything. No one ever looked at a kid kicking and screaming on the floor of a supermarket throwing a tantrum because mommy won’t buy them a chocolate bar and think “My gosh, what a spirited young lad! Clearly this child fully deserves the candy bar they so desire!” No, your thought is “God, I wish I could smack that kid upside the head.” And the fact that I have to say this more than once and deal with many kids like that in the gaming supermarket these days doesn’t exactly say the best about us…

Well, now it’s time for this month’s Burning Question! And while I usually try to ask something more directly related to video games, it should be noted that our next edition will mark Robotic Gaming Monthly’s one-year anniversary. So in celebration of actually somehow keeping this column alive for one whole year, I ask you all: What would you like to see us do for a one-year anniversary special? Anything you want us to write about or say? Any ideas in general? Don’t be shy, we’ll try anything, even if it involves copious amounts of liquor before it begins to make sense! Plus, there’s always the mystery prize!

Speaking of which, dnjscott walks away with one this month for answering the last Burning Question! Congrats, David! Contact us at [email protected] to claim your prize!

Next up, reviews, now with a full Let’s Play for your enjoyment as you watch us stumble through currently popular games! Yay!! WARNING, though: A video will automatically play on the next page that you might want to pause ASAP if you aren’t watching it, because Twitch is still kind of an a-hole when it comes to sharing videos.


This month in reviews: OH THANK GOD AN ACTUAL WII U GAME FOR ME TO REVIEW FINALLY. I mean damn, that little buddy has been dormant for months until now! Oh, and Assassin’s Creed and Titan Souls are here and whatnot as well, so let’s take a look!

Affordable Space Adventures

Ah, Wii U. As I mentioned last time, I was proud of you for finally getting around to showcasing some notable indie games, so I was quite eager to give one of your rare indie exclusives a spin. And thank god I was, because I wouldn’t have discovered a gem like this otherwise. Full disclosure, though, despite being hours into the game, I think I may have only begun to scratch the surface of Affordable Space Adventures (which sells for twenty bucks, by the way, if you want to crack any obvious jokes), as I don’t know how many levels it has and because as of the time I write this, its puzzles keep kicking my ass in the challenge department. Of course, if you know me by now (and as you’ll see later), I consider a blistering challenge to be a positive thing when it comes to games as long as it’s still fair, and ASA certainly delivers in that area.

The setup is this: You are a tourist being offered a chance to embark upon space travel and explore a mysterious planet light years away. Thankfully, this a budget vacation offered by Uexplore, whose opening commercial at the start of the game assures you that the journey is one hundred percent non-dangerous, that they have a perfect safety record, that everything has been operating smoothly for years, that all of the proceeds from your voyage will go towards helping out kitten orphanages, et cetera. Unsurprisingly, things go sour and you find yourself marooned on a huge alien planet in an extremely tiny spacecraft, having to venture into the depths of this strange world in order to eventually find a way off of it.

The gimmick here with Affordable Space Adventures is that it’s a platformer-ish physics puzzler where the Wii U’s gamepad and touchscreen are used to simulate an actual spaceship’s dashboard in what the game calls a Heads Down Display (har har). See, getting from Point A to Point B on this planet is kind of complicated due to the presence of several sentient machines ready to gun you down at a moment’s notice. The trick is that they can only sense you via different levels of sound, heat, electricity, et cetera that your craft emits. So you have to scan them first to determine how much of each level will trigger their defense mechanisms and what physical area they can sense you in, then try and figure out what configuration of settings to use to get past them via the touchscreen’s dashboard. So an early puzzle might be as simple as switching from the ship’s fuel engine to the electrical engine to reduce heat that a machine might detect. But trust me, things get more complex later on, as reducing certain settings causes your ship to lose more control.

For example, reducing power to the fuel engine’s stabilizer may reduce heat, but it also causes your ship to jerk around a lot. Reducing power on the electrical engine’s antigravity uses less electricity, but now you have to struggle to keep yourself in the air. And that’s not even counting all of the additional mechanics the game keeps introducing. So you have to master proper resource management, but you also have to master the art of timing as well so that you know when to trigger certain mechanics. A later puzzle, for example, might require you to turn the decelerator off so that your ship can barely slow down in order to fling yourself into the area where a machine senses you, then suddenly have to turn the engine off at the last minute to avoid being noticed while you still have enough momentum to get to other side to safety. So it’s very challenging, but definitely the good kind of challenging, with a unique and immersive set of easy-to-use controls that also really helps set the mood.

I’ve seen more than a few reviews compare Affordable Space Adventures to Limbo, and it’s not hard to see why. You are a tiny character that has to traverse a large, bleak world where everything is out to kill you, with a constant sense of dread looming over everything. And the game’s graphics do a great job of instilling that feeling, with constant bits of darkness throughout and your ship’s tiny flashlight and flares the only way to illuminate anything, except when your surroundings are lit up by wrecked machines, organic bits, eerie pools of water, and whatnot.

Then there’s the game’s music, or rather a near-absence of music, with large amounts of the game’s sections punctuated only by lengthy moans, echoes, rumbles, and whirs of machinery. It does a lot to help set the atmosphere and establish just how massive and foreboding this world is, like it’s all some colossal organism and you are but a mere mosquito on it that it will smash to bits if it ever finds. There’s also the contrast between the world on the screen and the spic-and-span, brightly lit, user-friendly menu on your gamepad, not to mention glimpses of the cheerful Uexplore manual in loading screen and the chipper live-action commercials in between certain sections (which are a hoot, by the way).

If it sounds like I really don’t have anything all that negative to say about the game, it’s because to be honest, I haven’t really encountered any notable flaws yet. I guess there’s a bit of a “kitchen sink” approach to the mechanics and that despite a world begging for secrets and exploration, there isn’t anything big to discover (yet), but those are minor. Affordable Space Adventures is one tough cookie that’s still a blast to play, and if you have a Wii U, you should grab it immediately. Because then then you get to finally join in on the snarky indie fun with the rest of us!

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China


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Ah, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China. I had high hopes that you would come along and help this series get some of its mojo back by offering some new twists when it comes to gameplay, settings, protagonists, and such. And you offered up some new twists indeed…it’s just that executing them properly is another thing entirely.

In a bit of a change of pace for the series, ACC: China is a 2.5D platformer set in 16th century China focusing on Shao Jun – an apprentice of legendary assassin and series mainstay Ezio Auditore – as she seeks revenge on the powerful Templar Zhang Yong for having the rest of her assassin brotherhood killed. The journey takes her through several locations filled with Templars that you can play through and get rewarded with by excelling at any of the three play styles you can use at any time. There’s “Shadow,” which relies entirely on stealth and the ability to sneak from hiding place to blind spot and such without being seen or drawing any attention; “Brawler,” which involves approaching your enemies head-on in combat; and “Actual Frigging Assassin,” which is basically Shadow but with more killing and is something that you’d think would be the default play style in a game called Assassin’s Creed.

Yet for some reason, it always feels like the game is leaning you towards playing Shadow, with every level containing a notable amount of places to hide in and ways to sneak around. Not that it isn’t fun to slip by guards unnoticed or difficult to control – it’s quite easy, in fact – it’s just that I feel we might have our priorities screwed up here. Also, do not try to go for the Brawler awards in each level, trust me. Tackling one enemy is tolerable, but between some wonky fighting controls and Shao Jun’s ability to take damage like her body were made of rice cakes and water balloons, any attempt to take on multiple enemies may as well be suicide.

Speaking of rice cakes (which, oh crap, I only now realize kind of sounds like an unintentionally racist example), the game’s story and characters have all of the excitement of one as well. That one sentence I began the last paragraph with? That is literally the entire plot. No real twists or turns along the way, just one assassin out for revenge. Of course, when the game opened with Shao Jun being jailed by the Templars and boasting that she wanted to be captured, no doubt sharing a cell with Loki, Silva, and the Joker, I kind of had an idea as to how creative the game’s writing would be. And for a rare female protagonist in the series, especially after the controversy Unity had, I was kind of hoping that Shao Jun would make a great impression.

Instead, she really leaves no impression, coming off as a blank slate with any information about her or personality explained only through unlockable texts. Even the meta-story the series is well-known for by now is half-assed, as while the game’s menus, map, training programs, and such are all styled in that slick, white, Animus setting, there’s never any explanation as to how the Animus factors into things this time around, which feels like a missed opportunity.

I know I’ve been harping on ACC: China so far, but it does have its positive points. The graphics are a visual delight, particularly the little bursts of unique watercolor style that occur during the cutscenes and successful assassinations. The level design is also quite grand, with a linear goal, but multiple routes, solutions, and hidden collectibles around every corner, ensuring that you can tackle each level with a fresh approach each time. The parkour you use to get around these vast areas is implemented quite nicely, and the game particularly comes alive during the segments in which you have to use those skills to outrun a raging fire. It also has some great moments where you have to think outside the box and move in three dimensions in order to avoid being seen by guards, although the controls get iffy here as well due to perspective issues.

What I guess I’m getting at here is that Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China is a promising idea for a series of budget games with some decent gameplay, that sadly gets tarnished by a bland, uninspired story and some awkward control issues. Perhaps the upcoming India and Russia entries in the series will fix the mistake here and end up being vast improvements, but unless you’re a die-hard Assassin’s Creed fan, feel free to skip this one.

And yes, as you can tell above, I have crafted an entire Let’s Play for Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China! Come see me play the game in the broadcast that fellow twitch user Josh213_323 so poetically described as “you R TARD”, “that is bad”, and “u SUCK!!!!” in an inspired moment of pure wit! See Part 2 & Part 3 here!

Broken Age

Well, the epic tale of Shay and Vella’s dual journeys continues as the long-awaited second act of Double Fine’s graphic adventure game Broken Age is here, and…well, I hate to sound lazy, but you can pretty much read my initial review of the game’s first act to get the general gist of things. One of the reasons I’m hesitant to give the game’s second act a full review as well is because A. having to do so would spoil the first act’s ending, which I still say is such a masterful bit of storytelling and an incredible twist that you really should see for yourself, and B. Pretty much all of the game’s positives I listed there apply here as well, and I would just be repeating myself. The story is still immersive, the cast is still incredible, the humor is still cute, the graphics are still jaw-dropping, the puzzles are…um…well, okay, maybe I should address that.

Indeed, Act 2 of Broken Age gets slightly tainted by the presence of a few frustrating puzzles, in particular one bit involving having to tell a talking tree a correct joke. See, in true adventure game logic, I had to tell a sentient tree a funny joke in order to get it to laugh hard enough to shake a fish decoration loose from its branches, but either I missed something, or there were no hints given as to what joke I was actually supposed to tell, leading to several frustrating minutes. Also, there are a few puzzles where I had to switch to one character to get information the other needed, like having to switch to Vella to look at a picture to get a combination Shay needs. Which is a well-designed puzzle from a gameplay standpoint, but storywise, just boggles the hell out of me how one suddenly gains knowledge of this tidbit that the other just learned.

But none of those bits ended up souring my experience with Broken Age, and now they’ve even fixed the first-act flaw that nagged me: The length. Indeed, now that the second act is here, Broken Age feels truly complete, as it works so much better as an entire whole to be played from start to finish that allows you to get even more invested with the game’s world and everything in it, a grand feature film as opposed to an episodic tale. So if you were holding out until all of the parts came together, it goes without saying that now would be the time to jump in. It is an incredible, classic adventure game, and trust me, you will not regret it.

Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today

You know, I’m always game for both a good sci-fi story and a good point-and-click adventure game, but when you list the influences behind your game as a diverse pool of such folks as Joseph Conrad, Philip K. Dick, and Terry Gilliam, you kind of set yourself up for people to approach your game with both curiosity and slight skepticism. After all, now you’re making it appear as though you’re inviting people to experience a tale that matches a combination of all of those greats. And does Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today do its inspirations justice in the end? Well…

Tomorrow Comes Today is meant to be the first part of a whole Dead Synchronicity series, and it begins with the player character, Michael, waking up in a stranger’s house with amnesia. He then quickly learns that a massive set of natural disasters known as The Great Wave has caused tons of damage and essentially caused a massive EMP blast that flung humanity into a new Dark Age and the army has taken command of everything, becoming a sadistic regime that ravages people and forces certain folks into refugee camps where escape is nigh-impossible and there’s also a huge mysterious glowing crack in the sky that people are concerned about and that no one seems to be able to explain AND there’s also a disease going around that causes people to enter a feverish state and eventually dissolve into piles of fleshy goop and HOLY CRAP Dead Synchronicity, are you trying to hit the dystopian jackpot or something?

But going back to Michael, your goal is to essentially lead him on a journey to recover his memories and piece together just exactly what the hell is going on, and while said journey hits more than a few clich?s along the way (from the hysterical preacher to the affably evil black market kingpin, for example), it still manages to weave all of them into the narrative quite well, resulting in a solid tale. As is expected from a point-and-click adventure game, the gameplay is nice and simplistic, and the puzzle design is well done too, always fair and never coming across as aggravating. The unique visual style and rusty color scheme also make for some nice treats for the eyes (with some rather detailed gruesome bits later on that are quite memorable), and the soundtrack by indie rock band Kovalski is incredible, though the quality of the game’s voice acting tends to range from “pretty good” to “oh crap, we’re running out of time, so just drag in the first random person off the street and get them to say a few lines.”

However, the story is always the big selling point in a graphic adventure game, and as pointed out earlier, while Dead Synchronicity’s tale isn’t exactly that groundbreaking, it does remain compelling enough to make you want to see it through to the end…or rather, until the cliffhanger, because as mentioned, this is but part one of a series. The broken-down world you now inhabit is rather interesting to explore, but what happens inside of it is rather easy to predict. Heck, the aforementioned cliffhanger there features what is presented as a gigantic plot twist that one can easily see coming within the first fifteen minutes of play.

It also tends to enforce the “You Bastard” trope at times, most notably when I have to give two kids a potential weapon for helping me out. The dialogue keeps giving you options to opt out of presenting them with their gift, so you initially think there might be multiple solutions, but there aren’t any (that anyone noticed). So you give them their tool, and then when they get in trouble later because of it, the game refuses to let you enter a new area without first cutting to a quick internal monologue from Michael about how he needs to go back and save the kids because it’s his fault, and to top it all off, you end up saving the kids by desecrating a corpse, which the game presents as a morally bad thing with little subtlety. A recurring phrase throughout the game is “You gotta do what you gotta do” (insert Futurama joke here); the lesson being that apocalyptic and harsh conditions cause one to make harsh choices, which is kind of an already full pot to add a contribution to.

In the end, I still found Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today to be a really good adventure game with a solid story, it’s just that it has its moments where it comes across as thinking it’s more clever than it really is. So it may not hit the high levels that its influences previously set, but it’s still an entertainingly bleak work that I recommend.

Slow Down, Bull

Well, this was a surprise. Without any previous trailers, previews, or any initial fanfare, I had suddenly found myself looking at an e-mail from Insomniac Games inviting me to review their new game on Steam (I can’t imagine why they’d think I’d be interested in their stuff). Apparently their new game Slow Down, Bull is designed to help out the Starlight Children’s Foundation as well, with half of the game’s proceeds going to support their cause. And I won’t lie, this made me nervous, largely because I worried that if the game were bad, I’d have to condemn a title that largely exists to help out charity. Thankfully, I won’t have to do that, because what we have here is a fun little action game that I can easily endorse…well, save for one issue.

Despite what the name suggests, Slow Down, Bull is not some sort of endless runner starring the bailiff from Night Court, incredible as that would be. Instead, what we have here is the story of Esteban, a bull interested not in goring the hell out of hopeful matadors, but instead in honing his arts and crafts skills. Wanting to work in several different mediums, Esteban sets out on a journey with his sister Mango the cat (don’t ask) to collect a wide variety of materials needed to create the best work he can…but Esteban also has issues in that he’s a perfectionist who worries too much when it comes to his art, sadly leading to moments where he stresses out too much and destroys his work in the process, much like eighty percent of everyone I seem to admire on deviantART (so points for accuracy). It’s up to you to help Esteban collect the materials he needs while keeping him under control.

What we have here is a top-down action game where Esteban is constantly moving throughout a maze-like area filled with collectibles, and you have to guide him through it, deposit all of the materials he’s collected so far, and make it to the end in time. The left mouse button steers him in one direction and the right mouse button steers him in the other, in a refreshingly easy-to-understand set of controls. The obvious set of enemies that move back in forth are in your way that cause you to drop what you’ve collected so far, along with a bull-catcher that makes you lose precious time.

Sounds simple, right? Well, the catch is that every time you steer Esteban, he builds up stress. Too much stress, and Esteban will just randomly fling himself around in a fit of rage for a bit. However, you can have Esteban release his rage by crashing into a wall (also required to collect certain materials), but this speeds him up, and while speed is needed to beat the time limit, it also makes it just slightly harder to control him each time. In fact, there’s a catch to everything that helps you out in this game: You can stun the bull-catcher by leading her into water, but Esteban’s speed resets after he comes into contact with water himself. You can pick up Mango at times and fling her into obstacles to destroy them, but keep her riding too long and she damages Esteban as well. You can pick up a possum friend at times and keep him attached for an eventual bonus, he ends up blinding you for brief seconds along the way. It gets a bit demanding by the time multiple elements are introduced, but it also makes sure that there’s always a nice challenge to be had.

Unsurprisingly, in a game all about arts and crafts, the graphics and music are top-notch, with lush, pastel-coated cartoonish styles blended in with words crafted with the likes of popsicle sticks, cardboard, papercraft and other materials straight out of the likes of LittleBigPlanet, accompanied by joyful, fun music throughout everything. But I mentioned that there was one issue that kind of soured me a bit on Slow Down, Bull, and it’s one that tends to plague a lot of other “casual” games as well: gating mechanics. See, the more points you get in each level, the more stamps Esteban awards himself at the end. Collect enough stamps, and you unlock the next set of levels. But given the difficulty curve of the game, getting the maximum amount of stamps in each level is easier said than done, and with a difficulty curve like this, I can guarantee that you will not be able to reach the fourth set of levels without having to annoyingly go back and replay previous levels just so you can earn that one final stamp (or five).

And I keep thinking that with this story, that seems a bit iffy: The lesson Esteban needs to learn is how to control his desire for perfection and not get stressed out or worry over it, but the game demands perfection from the player in order to acquire the stamps needed to actually get Esteban to the end of his story? Yeah, can’t help but feel like we’re seeing some mixed messages here.

Awkward morals aside, it’s still a very simple yet fun game that you can pick up for a sawbuck, with the money going to a worthy cause. So I say pick it up, have fun, and relax a little bit. And then maybe start demanding that somebody make an actual Night Court game next (a new Ace Attorney crossover, perhaps?).

Titan Souls

While I still sit on my couch sulking over the fact that I still don’t have a copy of Bloodborne to enjoy while every other publication I see shouts its praises from the rooftops telling you how you should totally be playing it and that you’re a loser if you aren’t (well, that’s what it feels like to me anyway), I can still take comfort in knowing that despite not having From Software’s latest, I still have a video game with the word “Souls” in it that prides itself on being difficult thanks to an abundance of huge bosses that can kill you instantly…just a different game than the one you’re thinking of.

I began Titan Souls as a young lad entering the monstrous ruins before me. I eagerly entered the first chamber, drew my lone arrow, fired it at the giant cube-shaped boss in front of me, and so the battle begun…whereupon I was immediately squashed to death within one second.

That was not even hyperbole.

And as an advocate of the Nintendo Hard School of Gaming, I could tell that the tone was set to have a ton of fun with the game…fun that just happened to involve myself smashing my head into a brick wall over and over.

So yeah, I may as well lead off with the combat and the bosses (a.k.a. Titans), since they’re kind of the main draw here. The catch with the combat is that, as previously mentioned, you only have one arrow to fire at them, meaning that you either have to go and run to the arrow afterwards and pick it up or hold down a button to command the arrow to magically return to you…except you can’t move while performing that action, nor can you move while firing your arrow in the first place. Oh, and you die after only one hit. Good luck indeed.

The twist is that all of the bosses die in one hit as well when you hit their weak points, but as expected, this is easier said than done. The real challenge is in locating the weak point, figuring out the pattern that allows the boss to expose it, then finding a way to leave even a split-second of time open to take the shot at it while trying not to end up as a bloody stain on the ground in the process. The bosses themselves are nicely detailed and put up some creative battles, with the most memorable being the ones that require more abstract thinking. My personal favorite was a sort of sentient blob of magma that spit out bits of fire and explosive rocks, and the key to beating it was to shoot an arrow into its mouth as it was inhaling the fire it had spit out, thus allowing me to use the “arrow return” command to drag the boss closer to me and near one of the explosive rocks so that it ignited and exposed their weak point for a scant few seconds, all while I was being in more and more danger of being burned to a crisp as I dragged it closer. Challenging, fun stuff indeed.

Now, in previews leading up to this game’s release, I’ve compared Titan Souls to Shadow of the Colossus if it were made in 1991. Turns out that was more on-the-nose than ever, because aside from the general concept of a tiny person battling massive ancient creatures with a single weapon and then finding yourself absorbing some sort of weird power after each battle, in between conquering Titans you have to manually journey through a massive land of ruins to find your next battle (with all Titans open to you after an initial starting group), and in Titan Souls not only does that mean witnessing some truly superb pixel graphics and detailed lands with little touches around you such as footprints and fungi that point to other Titans, but you also get to explore the land around you.

You’ll discover the secrets it holds, be they murals and remnants pointing to a much bigger story, hints on where to go, secret passages that lead to other battles, and more. Yep, this game is going to make you really work to find all of the bosses. It’s a terrific journey indeed…if a bit tiring. I mean, at least SotC gave you a horse, here deciding to return to a boss you previously had trouble with could mean minutes of walking, especially if you have trouble getting your bearings to the point where you wish you had a map.

I should mention one additional minus: while a keyboard might work fine initially, PC owners had best get a gamepad if they want to have the best experience…in fact, I’m pretty sure a gamepad is required to unlock at least one boss, since I couldn’t angle up a shot needed to unlock a door without one. One additional plus, though, is the music, which is absolutely sublime; my favorite bit being the foreboding tone that plays every time you enter a Titan’s lair which is followed by silence until the battle occurs, perfectly setting the mood.

I can see how Titan Souls could be a potentially polarizing game, and how much you enjoy it depends on what you truly desire out of such a game: Challenge? Length? Atmosphere? Story? Style?…Whatever the case, I will say that in my opinion, those who just defeated the first few bosses they encountered required to unlock the final area and sprinted towards the end are doing it wrong. Aside from the fact that defeating all of the Titans is the only way to unlock the true ending (naturally), Titan Souls is a game about exploration just as much as it is a game about boss battles. I loved it, and if you take your time, look around, and give every boss you see a shot, you’ll also probably walk away extremely satisfied as well (albeit with severe damage done to your teeth from having gritted them a ton).

…Well, that does it for reviews this month. We already have our hands on some notable stuff for next time, like Axiom Verge and Not a Hero (and here’s hoping we can get our hands on Splatoon as well), so join us next time for those, but for now, on to the trailers!


Trailer time! I was planning on showcasing the new bits for Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but I kept getting confused and found myself thinking that one was a teaser for the other game. There was also Yooka-Laylee, but I’d say that doesn’t need my help in promoting it when it seemingly has a rabid legion of ’90s kids and Banjo-Kazooie fans doing that job well enough as is. So let’s see what else we have instead…

Toren

Brazilian indie game studio Swordtales is all set to hopefully make a stunning debut with Toren, a sort of Ico-style action-adventure game in which you play as an imprisoned girl throughout her entire life as you climb a gigantic tower to freedom with ever-changing mechanics in what looks be an unbelievably gorgeous fantasy tale along the way. I do wish that they didn’t name the main character Moonchild, though, if only because I won’t be able to stop having Neverending Story flashbacks while playing it…

Mad Max

Yes, this Mad Max preview shows off a lot of interesting features that certainly make the game look damn attractive and shows off how it captures the spirit of the films, but screw all that, because only one thing matters here…THUNDERDOME!!! We only get a glimpse of it, but if there are indeed playable Thunderdome missions in this game, GOTY contender, no doubt about it.

Garbage Day

Yes, we now have a straight-up Groundhog Day simulator (not counting Majora’s Mask), one that allows you to experience a life where you live the same day over & over again each time you die, having to face certain consequences and ethical dilemmas in what is no doubt a challenging, artistic, and engaging…*sighs* Fine, I’ll play the damn clip…

There. Happy? I posted it so you don’t have to.

Elsinore

As intrigued as I am by Elsinore’s concept, first glimpses of it, and anything else seen in its Kickstarter campaign, all I can seemingly think about is how not only is this the second indie game this month to involve time loops, but also that this is the second indie game this year so far to involve drastic retellings of Hamlet. Are we in for some more weird trends or something?

Just Cause 3

…I’m just gonna say that I think my balls expanded by at least three sizes upon watching this video and leave it at that.

Little Devil Inside

While I can’t shake the feeling that Little Devil Inside seems a bit overambitious, if its Kickstarter campaign is any indication, I also can’t deny that I really like the look of it, and hope that it succeeds in its goal of crafting an exciting action-RPG game. At the very least, here’s hoping we get another trailer that this time, while still impressive, also isn’t so rough that it still has the mouse pointer on the screen in some places.

Circa Infinity

Now, having read up on Circa Infinity, it is possible for me to describe to you what the game is actually about (and it does sound cool)…but it’s just more fun if you watch the trailer and try to guess for yourself. Good luck!

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

On one hand, I thought developer The Chinese Room’s best-known work Dear Esther was a tad too pretentious and artsy, but I admit I’m quite intrigued by their new game here. Still, not much has still been revealed yet, but I’m curious as to what the plot is…um, you know, despite the title kind of spelling a major part of it out.

Invisible, Inc.

Finally, Klei’s much anticipated espionage simulator will be leaving Early Access this month for all to enjoy. And while the new trailer here is short and doesn’t exactly reveal anything all that new, it’s still enough to get me pumped up for the eventual finished product. What can I say, I’m still a sucker for stealth takedowns.

No Pineapple Left Behind

Because f*** children, pineapples are the real future! Am I right, folks? So let’s get to preparing those bastards for the workplace so that they can graduate and become pizza toppings and crammable toys! Yay!

Jotun

…Because incredibly well-done hand-drawn animation always manages to make Viking purgatory look a million times better, naturally. Of course, it also helps if you have an old-school action game on your side that’s shaping up to hopefully become something extraordinary…

Hiveswap

Okay, confession time: I have no real idea what the hell Homestuck is besides the barest of basics. Still, The Wolf Among Us was an episodic adventure game based on a comic I had never read, and it ended up being one of my favorite games of last year, so yeah, I’m willing to try a fellow episodic adventure set in the Homestuck universe. The fact that it looks pretty damn good kind of helps as well…

Technobabylon

Ah, Wadjet Eye, the masters of creating the best classic pixelated adventure games that we never had two decades ago. Their latest game is going to be a step into cyberpunk territory, & looks to be quite interesting indeed, even if the Blade Runner comparisons are obvious. Nonetheless, I look forward to this quite a bit.

Chip’s Challenge 2

Well, it only took two dozen years, but the unreleased sequel to one of the few defining games the Atari Lynx had is finally getting released next month. Of course, most of you might know the original more from the PC versions, so if you’re a PC gamer from quite a ways back, congratulations! One of your ultimate nostalgia trips has finally arrived!

Combat Core

What we have here is an indie fighting game inspired by Capcom’s Power Stone games in both gameplay and style. If you know anything about Power Stone (which you should), then you don’t need to know anything else except where to send your money.

And thus we reach the end of another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly. Thanks for dropping by, feel free to leave any comments offering suggestions, questions, additional discussions on what we talked about, or messages about how much we suck, and remember, make sure to have a present on you the next time we come around or you won’t be getting any birthday cake! See you next time!

Previous Editions of Robotic Gaming Monthly:
Robotic Gaming Monthly #11 – Amiib-Oh No
Robotic Gaming Monthly #10 – Revenge of the Budget Game
Robotic Gaming Monthly #9 – Nintendo (Minus) Power
Robotic Gaming Monthly #8 – The Best-Looking Games of 2015