So the Summer gaming lull has finally ended, and now it’s time for an avalanche of video games to hit both the physical and digital shelves again! I wasted no time in acquiring some of the most interesting stuff to review, a whole cornucopia’s worth that I could spend an entire month on…
…and then right after I receive all of the press copies of the games I was looking forward to, the people behind the job I was applying for (because I still need to earn a living aside from this for now) call me up to let me know that their training will begin two weeks earlier than expected.
Anyhow, I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that I’m apologizing in advance if any of the reviews this month are shorter than usual. Actually, I would like to do smaller reviews in order to save time and give even more games coverage, but should you want me to go into more detail, I would be happy to do so. Also, there are a surprising amount of games this month that deal with either the Wild West or circuses, but no Wild West circuses. Huh. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The problem with reviewing a game like Armello is that as it’s a board game, covering all of the rules and strategies it has that make it such a deep, challenging game would probably take me quite a while, and would thus lead to what would probably be an overly long review. So I’ll just start by cutting to the chase and saying that Armello is a charming and enjoyable game that evokes epic tales of fantasy while still providing a solid level of challenge…although luck had still best be on your side.
So in the land of Armello, the current king is suffering from a disease simply known as The Rot, causing him to become corrupted and requiring the various clans of anthropomorphic critters to figure out the best way to deal with him, mainly by dueling it out to claim the throne as their own. To do so requires one to play cards that either give them the best armor in battles, buffs for various turns, perils to be placed on the field and act as traps, et cetera. This requires gold, which means you have to claim local settlements, explore dungeons, or complete quests, which are also a way to reward you with prestige that allows you to become the prestige leader and have control of the king’s declarations at the beginning of each turn, so you choose what effects are currently in play. To win the game requires you to either defeat the king in battle, collect four Spirit Stones, or simply have the most prestige when the king dies of The Rot after several turns…jeez, I haven’t even gotten to the day/night cycle or the wandering guards yet, among several other things. See what I mean about the rules?
It all sounds complex, but it really is fun to figure out and try to devise your own strategies around. There is something enjoyable about the game’s D&D-esque elements, be it the character stats or the dice-powered battles and traps, which bring in elements of Risk and Magic as well (the cards, by the way, are damn gorgeous with amazing artwork and cute animations). It is indeed the type of game you can easily get lost in. There are some annoyances, however, mainly in the fact that as the game progresses, the board gets cluttered with more NPCs as turns take longer and longer to complete. And as mentioned, luck can play a huge factor at times in determining who wins in the end. In one online game I played, there was a particular player who gained major prestige right off of the bat and proceeded to curb-stomp everyone. Other times, I was able to just waltz up and slay the king without too much effort, and I wasn’t even trying for that win condition.
Still, despite its occasional graphics, Armello is an incredibly enjoyable game, one probably best suited for playing with friends (if only so they can see the spectacular art as well), but still recommended no matter what. At the very least, it still beats Monopoly.
I’m just going to start things out by stating the two biggest flaws Armikrog has. One, it’s a point-and-click adventure game (a spiritual successor to The Neverhood, specifically) without the traditional ability to highlight interactive objects with your cursor. Two, despite having the vocal talents of Mike Nelson and Rob Paulsen as our lead heroes Tommynaut and Beak-Beak, respectively, they rarely ever speak outside of cut scenes, and have no ability to provide descriptions of any objects or scenery you encounter, no matter how much you might need them. So no way to highlight anything around you + no way to examine anything around you = No way you won’t be spending a huge chunk of the game’s time clicking everything in vain, hoping to find a way to continue.
Which is a shame, because Armikrog is a game that definitely has huge flashes of promise. The claymation visuals and animation alone are a terrific sight to behold, creating a truly unique and surreal world to explore. And as Tommynaut and Beak-Beak explore this titular fortress in search of the fuel they need to save their planet, they’ll come across the pieces of the story behind everything in the process, which even in alien languages weaves together an intriguing tale. And despite some of the annoyances in trying to find them, the puzzles in the game can be quite inspired, requiring one to keep a notebook handy to scribble down any notable visuals that could be useful later, which is always a welcome trait.
Unfortunately, for every inspired puzzle, there’s an insipid one waiting in the wings. It probably doesn’t help that there’s no inventory, and that a lot of the weaker bits just involve finding levers and the like and automatically using them on the first lever-less object you see. Other low points include huge buttons out in the open that only Beak-Beak can push because…reasons, and a puzzle involving having to calm down a crying baby via a mobile that gets repeated three times. And I don’t just mean the general concept is repeated, I mean the exact puzzle with the exact same solution is used three friggin’ different times. Yeesh. And then there are the glitches, and while I never came across any of the game-breaking bugs others have reported, I came across my fair share of disappearing models, movement failures, and among other things, a soundtrack that would seemingly only play at random times (which stinks, as the music is really good as well).
Armikrog has seen several little last-minute delays leading up to its release, and after having completed the final product, I can’t help but feel like it needed even more time in the oven. I applaud TenNapel and company for the universe they’ve made, but next time make sure to give an equal amount of love to the gameplay as well.
There are a lot of trippy indie games out there, but it takes a special kind to blow one’s mind while still producing one of the year’s best puzzle-platformers. Shockingly, Circa Infinity is exactly that kind of game, and is definitely the type of potential sleeper hit you need to check out.
The premise behind the game is that you are playing as a lone man (and a woman, later on) journeying through a constantly-deepening circular landscape while avoiding demonic monsters that represent various emotions run amok…okay, when I say it out loud like that, it does kind of sound insane. But it’s insane and fun, dammit, and that’s all that matters. The gameplay is delightfully simple as you navigate around each new sphere like a 2D Super Mario Galaxy, attempting to reach the next area located in the center while basically making sure you don’t touch anything colored red, lest you die. Straight and to the point, it’s some terrific platforming with a neat twist, even if working out the controls can be a tad difficult at times (especially when two characters become involved).
Of course, things don’t stay simple for that long. Circa Infinity is one challenging beast indeed, one that requires you to learn enemy patterns fast and react to them even faster. So the puzzle is in figuring out how to make it past every enemy unscathed, lest one hit send you flung back to the previous circle, having to deal with the earlier obstacles all over again. Aside from the increasingly complex levels, you also have to contend with boss monsters at the end of each act, all gloriously shown off with the game’s striking, minimalist style. A few of them can be a pain, but every new set of mind-melting challenges they lead to is worth it in the end.
Visually stunning and equally as stunning in its area of old-meets-newschool gameplay, Circa Infinity is one of the year’s indie highlights, a newspaper-colored beauty that you definitely need to give a whirl. Even if it does lead to you being terrorized by the embodiment of lethargy.
Curses ‘N Chaos
As you may have deduced from the above video and the name alone that’s an obvious nod to the likes of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Curses ‘N Chaos is a throwback to the days of ’80s arcade games, the time in which all of the action played out on one screen with one background and the goals were simple, yet the games themselves were immensely enjoyable. So does this new entry into the ever-expanding world of retro video games have what it takes to live up to the standards of its predecessors? For the most part, yeah, it sure as hell does.
Appropriately enough, Curses ‘N Chaos has a simple story: Lea and Leo are bounty hunters cursed by the Wizard King to be swarmed by attacking monsters at all times, their alchemist friend has figured out where they can find ingredients needed to craft an elixir that can lift the curse, boom, instant excuse to go kick monster ass. Much like similar retro indie games such as Woah Dave!, the gameplay is simple yet unbelievably fun as you deal with constant waves of monsters by jumping around, avoiding them, and beating them up, all while collecting whatever coins and power-ups they drop to use whenever you need them. Make it through ten waves before time runs out in each one, tackle a boss, and advance to the next level. Simple as that. Well, not that simple, since it won’t be long before the more cunning enemies come in to attack you from every direction while you’re still trying to deal with the ghosts and floating skulls that are already there. It’s a game that thankfully always keeps you on your toes, excited for what comes next.
But while screens can flood with enemies fast, Curses ‘N Chaos does suffer from a bit of a “kitchen sink” approach itself in some areas. I already have enough trouble trying to juggle the multiple power-ups that get dropped in the playing area since you can only use one at a time and I don’t want to waste a potion just yet, so throwing in equippable, purchasable items and a crafting system (because of course there’s a damn crafting system) just feels like overkill. Still, heading into the shop at least lets me see some gorgeous Paul Roberson sprites, in addition to the lush 8-meets-16-bit artwork that populates the main game.
Long story short, Curses ‘N Chaos is an old-school delight, an easy-to-play/hard-to-master little blast that manages to stand out amongst its peers. so give it a look, you definitely won’t be disappointed.
I’m just going to say it right now: Dropsy is, hands-down, the most feel-good game of the year. A nod to the classic LucasArts adventures of old, it’s a game where you play as the titular character, a clown sadly blamed for his old circus burning down, wanting nothing more to be loved again. And while there is a central narrative at the core of it all, the main goal is just to simply help out everyone you meet with their problems and hug everything and everyone in sight. It may sound a bit saccharine at first, but trust me, this game is still an amazing treat indeed.
So yeah, it’s a graphic adventure game about a toothless clown who talks to animals and has a “hug” command that allows him to deliver the opposite of drugs upon people (incredibly, all of this ends up being the sanest part of the game’s premise). From the outset, you’re free to basically roam around the entire city and see all of the colorful inhabitants, detailed superbly with the game’s gorgeous, cartoonish style. Your goal is to discover what each citizen needs to make them happy, then make it happen. Of course, one of the catches here is that Dropsy is a game entirely without dialogue (since Dropsy interprets all text as a bizarre language that you can actually decode), so everyone’s speech and thoughts manifests itself as rebuses. A unique twist indeed, one that sets the stage for some tender moments while still supplying a decent challenge.
I know I’m stretching the whole angle of feel-good moments, but I can’t help it. Whether you’re helping a minister realize that she should open a soup kitchen, replanting a rose for a small girl, or even helping a bootlegger make a sale to feed his kids, every little step you make towards making someone’s life just feels so damn good. It just fills your heart with love, cheesy as it might sound. Of course, it also helps that assisting everybody you meet eventually reveals more about the story behind the world of Dropsy, and as hinted at earlier, it is a weird and captivating bit of lore indeed. The various puzzles are also a treat to solve, requiring you to figure out who shows up in certain areas at different times, how to properly use your unlockable animal companions, or just plain old figuring out what the appropriate item to use is. There are a couple of challenges that go into the annoyance category, but overall they all form the meat of a classic adventure game.
Damn, I haven’t even gotten to the astounding music yet, which even has you collecting various cassette tapes just so you can experience it whenever you want, or listening to it when you fast travel (which sadly doesn’t show up until the game is nearly completed, though). But in the end, every aspect of Dropsy makes for a fantastic piece of work, an amazing adventure game that, much like its protagonist, deserves to be loved by all.
From the twisted minds of Edward McMillen and James Id, Fingered is basically a deranged game of Guess Who. You’re a detective presented with a lineup of several criminals, and based on the descriptions the witnesses give you, you have to decide which is the correct perp to give the finger to…and send to the electric chair in the process.
As expected, there is a catch, as each witness has their own unique quirks. Some talk only in negatives, some refuse to allow you to see their statements twice, others dirty up the area so you can’t see the criminals, you get the idea. So the challenge is in working around these statements and deducing whodunnit, lest you screw up twice and the game ends. Of course, another challenge is that while the art style is gleefully grotesque, trying to make out certain character traits due to it can be tricky at times (a “bald” suspect may appear to be wearing several objects that look like hair, for example).
And…well, that’s it. Yeah, in retrospect, not a whole lot of meat for a lengthy review here. Make it through twenty-one rounds of detective work, and the game ends. I’m disappointed the witnesses aren’t random, which would have greatly helped things in the replay department, but for a two-dollar game, I’d say Fingered is some quick fun worth your pocket change.
A Fistful of Gun
You know, there are some combinations in life that just prove things turn out quite fine (to say the least) when different things work together. Peanut butter and chocolate, macaroni and cheese, and now…bullet hell shooters and Spaghetti Westerns. Despite a few bumps, it turns out that this was a combo we may have needed in our lives.
When an evil railroad baron decides to build a track leading straight to Hell, the only logical response is to resurrect eleven different undead heroes from various walks of life in order to stop him…by firing massive amounts of projectiles everywhere, of course. The story mode basically involves you clearing out a field of enemies (unless its a neutral zone) and heading onto the next area of your choice; Clear enough areas, and you eventually get to tackle the boss. The surrounding areas are randomly chosen, though, so at any moment you might move from a group of angry bear herders to a batch of gun-toting mercenaries to a peyote trip or just to some old-fashioned gambling. It makes sure things keep from getting dull, although spawning a shopkeeper when I clearly have little to no money (especially if it’s the first area) is always kind of a dick move.
The graphics are astounding, and quite beautiful to look at as the screen quickly fills up with firepower, while the Old West tunes are pleasant to the ears. Each character also has their unique look, personality, and weapon, and even their own unique control scheme (some being even keyboard-only or controller-only as opposed to using a mouse to aim)…which is kind of a mixed blessing. On one hand, it means a lot of variety, but on the other, I really did get the feeling that certain characters greatly outclassed others too much. Also, the various skirmishes are almost a bit too quick, to the point where you may as well just ignore the story and play with the arcade mode instead. All the same thrills with all of the characters already unlocked.
Still, in the end, A Fistful of Gun is a slightly-shallow but ultimately fun shooter, one that’s more fun than a gun barrel full of monkeys (whatever the hell that means), so it’s another one you might want to think about checking out.
So there have been a few games this month that involve a heavy dose of luck in their gameplay in one way or another, but what about one where luck is a central mechanic? Well, that’s what Luckslinger is here for, a neat little platformer where you need to gather up all the luck you can in order to survive this hip-hop Western adventure.
Yes, you read that last bit right. Luckslinger also has a hip-hop theme to it as well, and unsurprisingly, this means we get some choice music playing throughout your journey to restore the stolen luck charms to the city of Clovercreek. You gather luck along the way, and the more of it that you have, the more things work out in your favor: Enemy bullets purposely miss you, you gain the occasional homing bullet, and certain platforms will magically manifest beneath your feet. Run into a shortage of luck, though, and you may find a notably increased amount of objects plummeting on your head or ground falling beneath your feet.
It’s a novel concept indeed, and the game definitely plays it up quite nicely. One amazing bit I experienced was when I was having difficulty with the first boss, who was chucking dynamite at me. I had died three or so time prior, but suddenly, before the fight even began…the bastard accidentally blew himself up and I won! How about that! Clovercreek itself also has various gambling and duels to partake in and press your luck even further, and it gives the game’s world some personality as well. the platforming itself is pretty standard, although manually reloading your gun becomes a bit annoying at times. Also, luck isn’t saved at checkpoints, meaning even the slightest screwup causes you you lose any sizable edge you might need for tougher segments.
Overall, though, Luckslinger is definitely a quality platformer with an inspired gimmick that’s easily worth checking out. And just my luck, I was able to make it through this review without having to resort to any Dirty Harry quotes! Yay!
I’ve made it clear in the past that I was thinking of Party Hard as a proper antidote to Hatred, in that it was actually focusing on finding the black comedy in a game where you play as a mass murderer as opposed to annoyingly taking things seriously. And now that the finished product is out, I’m happy to announce that we have at least one top-down game centered around a killing spree that’s actually fun to play! And saying that out loud makes me realize that I might have some issues.
Our playable psycho du jour is the Party Hard Killer, as the media calls him. A man sick of constant parties awakening him at 3 a.m., he sets out on a trip across the country and back in order to shut up any annoying partygoers. Sadly, this story involves narration from a grizzled cop who does try to play things straight, which is kind of at odds with the actual gameplay that allows me to rig a sports car to “accidentally” run down a clown, a luchador, and Darth Vader. Speaking of such an incident, the gameplay seems to resemble the likes of a Hitman game more than anything else. You’re given a location full of raucous folks each stage, and your goal is to pick them all off without getting caught by the police (no fighting back here). So the challenge is to use everything in a given stage at your disposal to clear everybody out, making use of spots to hide bodies, secret passages, changes of clothes, various gadgets, and all sorts of sabotage from exploding amps to poisoned booze to get the job done.
It is highly satisfying stuff indeed, and it also requires a nice dose of skill and planning in order to succeed. And each level has its own unique setting and interactive setpieces to experiment with, which are always a hoot. There’s even randomized NPCs, gear, and traps every round, which keeps things from going stale…but also kind of acts as a double-edged sword. Having certain elements of each stage be different each time is fun, but it also means that the difficulty curve in Party Hard can get a bit wonky at times. For example, the setup in a level involving a boat party took me about half a dozen attempts to get through, but thanks to the right conditions, I straight up breezed through an entire outdoor party shortly afterwards without a scratch or suspicion. Hell, in one case a biker brawl killed fourteen victims right off of the bat before I could even make a move, which made me feel a bit silly.
That said, Party Hard is still a blast to play, with easy-to-understand controls and some great graphics and terrific EDM music supporting it all as well (the game about partying has good music, imagine that). The developers are also doing their best to add new content frequently, so here’s hoping the game gets some more additional insane touches down the road, because it deserves some twisted love indeed.
Well, I suppose we might have needed an evil circus to come along and balance things out after Dropsy, so here comes Penarium to the rescue! When a farm boy named Willy accidentally joins the titular sadistic show, he finds himself being forced to perform for his life in a traumatizing showcase of violence, abuse, and constant peril…that just happens to make for a damn fine arcade game!
Again, Penarium is a game with incredibly simple mechanics. The only tools at Willy’s disposal are “jump” and “double jump,” which he’ll have to use to avoid the various onslaughts of bullets, shurikens, lasers, giant bowling balls, dragon, bees, dragons with bees in their mouths so when they roar they shoot bees, and much more. Oh, and you only have a single screen to work with (like the previous Curses ‘N Chaos), and a small group of platforms to navigate and keep you from falling to your death. The result of this is a classic type of gameplay that rewards timing and quick reflexes, which is naturally always welcome.
The objectives in the campaign’s various stages are a nicely assorted lot, ranging from barrel smashing to trying to stand in a constantly moving spotlight or even playing sinister games of Simon,with the hazards always changing and creating deadly combinations every time you make a notable advancement. It makes sure that the challenge stays as fresh as it can, which just makes me wish that the solo mode had more than thirty stages. Still, well-designed levels make sure that it’s a short-yet-sweet experience. Plus there are always the multiplayer and arcade modes with unlockable power-ups and randomized obstacles to help fill the void, which are definitely fun as well (even if they could use more goals beyond the aforementioned barrel smashing.
But despite its somewhat short length, Penarium still manages to provide a great challenge with some solid gameplay bolstered by some cool graphics and a neat soundtrack. needless to say, watching a husky kid’s guts get splattered across a stage over and over again has never been so fun! Highly recommended!
I have seen a lot of people endorsing Undertale in past few weeks, singing its praises…critics, internet personalities, webcomic artists, you name it, they’ve fallen in love with this game. But the most amazing endorsement I saw was from a random person in the comments of Destructoid’s review. They weren’t affiliated with Undertale or any gaming site (as far as I could tell), all they said was “Seriously, this game made me remember what it was like just to experience joy while playing a game. Play this game.” and then proceeded to give away free copies of this brand-new game just so others could experience it as well.
I mean…holy damn, how do I top that when singing the praises of Undertale as well?
Yeah, this is another one of those cases where I’m at a complete loss for words over just how phenomenal this game was. I haven’t felt an RPG – or any game, really – fill me with such a rush of emotions since the Paper Mario games. Speaking of which, the best way I can describe Undertale’s style and gameplay is a mix of Paper Mario, Earthbound, Cave Story, some Touhou, meta-games like The Stanley Parable, and some sprinkles of Eldritch horror. I know that sounds freaking insane, but I can honestly say that it’s the only way I can describe everything. There is just no other game out there right now that manages to be so utterly unique and yet so comfortable and familiar at the same time.
The story involves a world where humans forced monsters underground after a large war, and years later, a small child falls into the world of these various bizarre creatures. They then try to find their way out and go home…and that’s all I can say, because everything else beyond that is a potential spoiler. Yeah, I know, again, sounds stupid on my part. But my god, practically everything you do in this game involves such an incredibly memorable experience that I’m afraid of pulling a Neil deGrasse Tyson and giving away even the slightest spoiler in my outpouring. All I’ll say is that a few highlights involve cooking show jetpacks, segments where you date skeletons, ghost mixtapes, tsundereplanes, and of course, pie. Yeah, this game definitely wears its Earthbound quirk on its sleeve, and has countless humorous and charming moments up the wazoo.
Then we have Undertale’s unique selling point: Its combat. The first notable bit is that all of the enemy attacks you’re dealt take the form of bullet hell shooters, as you control your heart-shaped soul as it dodges various (and unorthodox) projectiles, or in some cases even have to deal with full-on platforming or rhythm game sequences. And every enemy has their own unique attacks, all of which are creative and fun to tackle. But then there’s the fact that you can complete the entire game without having to kill a single enemy. But it’s not just as simple as having to pick the “spare enemy” option, oh no. You will actually have to talk to your enemies, decode the actions needed to calm them down, or even use outside-the-book solutions like running away. Trust me, this is a game where you have to earn your happy ending, dammit.
Oh, and then there’s the fact that…well, I shouldn’t say anything, but trust me, Undertale takes morality choices to a whole new level. You may think you can do what you want, but Undertale knows. IT KNOWS. AND IT IS INCREDIBLE. I…I don’t know what to say anymore. All I can say now is that you need to play Undertale. It is absolutely the most moving and memorable experience you will have with a video game all year, and it is indeed something everybody needs to experience. PLAY. THIS. GAME. Bravo, Toby Fox. Bravo!
Hey, we actually have a triple-A game to review this month as well! And it’s one that I’ve been anticipating for quite a while! Yay! A horror game that’s a gigantic nod to the slasher flicks of the ’80s and ’90s, Until Dawn has apparently become quite the streaming sensation since it came out last month, but let’s see why…
So the drill is that a bunch of teenagers played by obvious twenty-somethings (including Hayden Panettiere and Rami Malek) have met up in a remote mountain cabin for a one-year anniversary to pay remembrance to the death of their best friends, who went missing after a prank went horribly wrong, sending them into the old abandoned mines that directly connect to the condemned sanitarium. Yep, sounds like absolutely nothing could go wrong with a scenario like that. Indeed, s*** hits the fan, and suddenly all the kids find themselves being stalked around every corner by mysterious threats and supernatural happenings. Until Dawn is the type of game that bills itself as an “interactive movie,” (QTEs and all) and while you may scoff at those kinds of games, I admit that I actually had a ton of fun with this one.
Why, you may ask? Well, as insane as Until Dawn’s story is as it throws everything in the book at you, it actually does keep you compelled and on the edge of your seat, and amazingly manages to tie up all of the elements belonging to various horror genres into a coherent narrative. There’s also the fact that I gradually grew to like these characters as I crafted them how I pleased via my decisions (except for Emily, because f*** Emily), and even had them subverting a few tropes now and then. Speaking of decisions, the game’s Butterfly Effect mechanic also encourages experimentation, providing a lot of replay value, be it in seeing if you can lead all of the characters to safety or which character you can give the grisliest death.
There are some minor annoyances (fixed camera angles, the lack of a true “Run” button, those damn “Don’t Move!” events where you have to keep the controller still that got one of my characters killed at the very end), but those were never dealbreakers, and the game still has several more notable moments (such as peter Stormare’s hamminess) to more than make up for them. Besides, I figured out why Until Dawn has been huge on the streaming circuit! It’s because, to quote a term from Yahtzee, it’s a real water cooler game. The kind of game while every player has their own wholly unique experience and winds up sharing their discoveries and what their decisions led to with others, wanting to watch different people play just to see how they handled things instead. So it’s a terrific horror game to watch, but even more fun to play yourself, so grab a copy if you can.
So that’s it for the reviews this month…twelve reviews in one edition is a new record from last year’s ten. And yet I’m still somewhat disappointed because I still had more I could do, go figure. Sadly, this means Skyshine’s Bedlam, Runbow, SOMA, and Zombie Vikings will have to wait until next time, where Concrete Jungle and Prison Architect might join them.
But that’s for next time. For now, on with some trailers on the next page!