Monthly Archives: May 2016

Battle for Blood

20160530213721_1


Battle for Blood on Steam

MSRP: Free with in-game purchases

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, WinPhone

Release: 7/8/15


Battle for Blood might just be the cutest game about slaughtering hordes of undead that I’ve ever come across.  Clearly designed for mobile devices, it’s a match-3 game where your matches spawn soldiers to fight the battle going on at the top of the screen.  You only get so many moves at a time, then the matching part of the game is paused while your soldiers continue their battle.  Completing a section of the battle recharges your moves and allows you to create more soldiers.

20160530213851_1.jpg

As you travel through the levels,  you unlock different types of units, and you get coins which you can use to upgrade your units.  Upgrades get very expensive very quickly, and that’s where the monetization comes in.  There’s a shop where you can purchase coins.  However, impressively, you don’t seem to be limited in any way if you don’t spend cash.  There is no energy bar, no ridiculous invite-your-friends spam, just a solid casual game that allows you to spend some money to bypass some grinding for coins.

20160530214722_1

At the beginning of each level, you are allowed to choose what types of units you take into battle.  Each type of unit has a percent chance attached to it, and you must fill – or overfill – the percent bar at the bottom in order to start the level.  You will also unlock access to items that you can use to influence the battle, but these also cost coins, so you have to choose between having items and upgrading your troops.  Coins don’t come that quickly to incentivize making a purchase.

 

Overall, I found Battle for Blood to be a satisfying little time waster.  There are definitely difficulty spikes as you progress, but you can always replay earlier levels to get more coins, or you can toss a little cash at the developers to support the game if you’re enjoying it.  In the current FTP app market, the prices for coins seem more than reasonable – early levels only award about 1000 coins on first completion, and less on replay.

Imperium Romanum Gold Edition

20160529203543_1.jpg


Imperium Romanum Gold Edition on Steam (demo available)

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows

Release: 10/30/08


City builders have always been a weakness of mine. There’s something soothing about putting down houses and roads, creating a functional economy, and making your townsfolk happy.  Frequently, city building is something that’s just tacked onto a military strategy, where all of your civilian infrastructure exists solely to support your military might. While Imperium Romanum Gold Edition doesn’t go quite so far as to allow you to completely disregard the need for a military, its focus is very clearly on the city building & economic aspects.

20160529203748_1.jpg

There are two tutorial missions – one for the absolute basics of city-building & an introduction to Imperium Romanum’s tablet system for mission objectives, and one for military. From there the game is dividing into scenarios & campaigns.  The scenarios are basically sandbox missions without objectives – at least as far as I can figure – and the campaign consists of multiple loosely connected scenarios that are objective based.  I’m one of those people who prefer objectives, so the 20 included scenarios aren’t that exciting for me, and I feel like a lot of effort was put into them when there could have just been a random map generator.

20160529204319_1.jpg

There’s nothing ground-breaking here.  If you’ve played other city builders, you know how they work. The graphics were a pleasant surprise, though – zooming in close is just as satisfying as viewing your city from afar. There’s also some intriguing mechanics choices – you will need to balance your slave population as well as your workers, and workers won’t travel all that far, either for jobs or amenities.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to see how far is too far, so there’s going to be a lot of trial and error trying to figure that out.

20160529211231_1.jpg

Imperium Romanum Gold Edition isn’t an exceptional game, but it’s a solid contender in the not-so-crowded city builder genre.  There’s ample content for a $10 asking price, and the play is enjoyable, if not particularly deep.  It’s not a must buy, but it’s worthwhile if you like to do some low key city management now and again.

Dawn of Magic 2 (Time of Shadows)

20160528223558_1.jpg


Dawn of Magic 2 (Time of Shadows) on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows

Release: 9/8/09


Right off the bat, this game kind of has a public relations nightmare going on.  Dawn of Magic 2 is called Time of Shadows in the United States, because the original Dawn of Magic was originally a game called Blood Magic, and well, you can see there’s a bit of an identity problem here.  Since this game is called Dawn of Magic 2 both in my Steam library and in the game itself, I’m going to stick with that from here on out, even though the page in the Steam store calls it Time of Shadows.  Get it? No? Me neither, really.

If only the name were the biggest problem here. Yes, one of the four character choices is the Fat Friar. They don’t really get any better as you go, but I decided that the stats of the gypsy character were most in line with how I tend to play ARPGs, so I went with it. You also have to choose your alignment (good, evil or neutral), and the game seems to indicate that this will impact the actions you’ll be able to take in game. Choosing immortal allows you to respawn after dying, choosing moral is this game’s version of hardcore mode.

20160528223630_1.jpg

One of the great things about ARPGs is that if they manage to do a couple of things really really well, then gamers tend to overlook the ways in which they don’t shine.  A decent game can get by if they have at least two of the following: great classes with interesting skill trees, plentiful and powerful loot, and a compelling story.

Well, there are no real classes in Dawn of Magic 2, and most of the character customization is based around schools of magic, so if you’re not interested in being a caster, there’s nothing here for you.   Oh, and by the way, as you increase in power in the different schools of magic, it causes physical deformities in your character, so if you’re the type to be overly concerned about your character’s looks, you may want to stay away.

20160528224017_1.jpg

Before the end of the introductory cut scene, I kind of hated my character. Maybe the others are a little more pleasant. Either way, I thought I’d go for a bit of a spin and see how the game actually plays. The answer: not so well, actually. The UI is beyond clunky. Nothing feels like it’s in the right place.  My first death came from simply not having figured out where my health bar was. Turns out those things that look like gems in the lower left and right hand corners measure your health and mana – wait, this game calls it Chi – respectively.  Maybe it’s just me, but I would think you’d want those a lot closer to each other.

20160528224231_1.jpg

I tried to figure it out on my own. I failed. I played through the tutorial, and then there was a lot of rolling my eyes and chicken slaughter.  I broke a bunch of boxes, and only got the loot that was scripted into the tutorial. Random townspeople kept yelling at me in unattractive and overlapping text boxes.  There just wasn’t enough shine to make me want to try to keep polishing.

20160528225754_1

There’s something in here that wants to be a good and interesting game, but I’m not sure I want to wade through the awkwardness and bad first impressions to find it. The magic system looks like it has a lot of promise, if I could only figure out how to make it work.  Dawn of Magic 2 really does itself a disservice every step of the way, and it’s not surprising that so few people are willing to take the time to see if there’s a game worth playing somewhere in there.

 

Blueprint Tycoon

20160528183231_1.jpg


Blueprint Tycoon on Steam

MSRP: $2.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 5/13/16


I’ve been trying to spend more time with indie games lately, ever since Stardew Valley came seemingly out of nowhere and rocked my world. However, some of  my previous experience with indie economic sims has made me very cautious.  It’s not really a genre that can be carried by cutesy graphics – the simulation has to feel satisfying.

Let me just say this: Blueprint Tycoon really seems to nail it. In fact, there’s so much attention to detail in the supply chain that it all seems pretty overwhelming at first.  I played through the tutorial, and made a few false starts at the first mission.  Sell jewelry, the game says, making it sound so simple. However, you need to use care in how your place and connect your buildings, or you’ll spend more time moving goods than making them, and that is pretty much a perfect recipe for NOT making a profit.

20160528183811_1.jpg

The graphics are simple, and other than some initial confusion about entrances and exits on buildings – excuse me, blueprints – I don’t see any issue with that. You need to make your building choices carefully because your most precious resource is space. Although you can move some goods via ships, blimps, and hot air balloons, most of the time, you’re going to need roads to keep everything connected.  Any time your workers are spending getting products from point A to point B is time they can’t spend producing things.

That said, I feel like most of the supply chains are fairly transparent & mostly logical.  It’s easy to find out what you need to make a given product, however, it does in many ways limit your strategy.  The unique idea here is the ability to change how production happens inside your buildings by editing the blueprints, but I feel like this is the one area it falls short.  Default blueprints are available, and they work just fine. It just adds unnecessary complexity to a pretty solid casual sim.

20160528184308_1.jpg

The entire game consists of 3 tutorial levels, 3 scenarios, and a scenario editor.  Considering the low base cost of the game, and the integrated Steam Workshop support (less than two full weeks after release, there are already several user-created scenarios available for download), I don’t think the limited amount of release content is an issue. Whether or not the developers intend to release more scenarios (either for free or as paid DLC), providing the players with the ability to keep adding content on such a low priced game blows my mind.   I’m glad I took a chance on this one.

 

 

Chuzzle Deluxe

2016-05-27 20_28_59-Chuzzle Deluxe 1.0.jpg


Chuzzle Deluxe on Steam (demo available)

MSRP: $4.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Release: 8/30/06


There are probably about a million casual match-3 games out there, but I really think that Chuzzle is probably my favorite.  It’s a slide-to-match game, rather than a swap to match, and is unusual in that it doesn’t require your matches to be in a straight horizontal or vertical line.

2016-05-27 20_30_10-Chuzzle Deluxe 1.0.jpg

There are four game modes: Classic, Speed, Zen, and Mind Bender.  Classic is untimed, where you keep making matches until there are no more moves available – although you are allotted a small number of shuffles – or until you fill up the score bottle, at which point you go to the next level. Speed is exactly what it sounds like – a race against the clock.  Zen is the never ending mode, and Mind Bender is the “puzzle mode”.  I personally spend most of my time playing Classic.

As you increase in level, not only are other colors added, but you will run into a few things that will make matching more challenging.  The first thing you’ll encounter are giant chuzzles, which take up the space of four normal chuzzles, and lock together the lines that contain it.  You are also unable to slide a giant chuzzle off the board, so that further limits your possible moves.   Then, the game will start adding in locked chuzzles, which cannot be moved at all either horizontally or vertically.  It’s usually a good idea to prioritize getting rid of the special chuzzles since having too many on the board at a time can mean game over if they lock you out of moves completely.

 

As far as casual game go, the $5 price tag is very reasonable, and there is a demo available so you can try before you buy.  If you enjoy match-3 game play, Chuzzle Deluxe is a can’t miss.

Crayon Physics Deluxe

20160423201453_1.jpg


Crayon Physics Deluxe (demo available)

MSRP: $19.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android

Release: 1/7/09


If you’ve ever played any kind of game in a competitive multiplayer environment, you’re probably familiar with the term “meta” as it applies to gaming.  If you’ve ever played an MMO, you know about (and have probably used) a “cookie cutter” build.  These things come about because they work, and most often, because they work better than almost all other available options.

Crayon Physics Deluxe is a sandbox hidden in a game’s clothing.  If you can’t or won’t lose that meta-mindset, you’re going to suck all of the potential for fun right out.  Crayon Physics Deluxe really shines when you’re willing to think outside the box.

20160423201507_1

And that’s also its biggest flaw.  If you are just using the most efficient solution, it’s painfully dull, and I think in a lot of ways, that drastically limits its target audience.  Although you’re told before you even fully load into the game that you’re supposed to find the “awesomest” solution, most gamers have been trained to do what works, and what works is just not interesting here.

20160423201844_1

In each level, you’re presented with a red ball.  You need to add components to the drawing in order to manipulate that ball and get it to touch the star (or stars).  You absolutely have to consider gravity here.  The image above is from one of the earliest levels, and you probably can think of a simple, inelegant solution.  Using that solution will get you past the level, but it wouldn’t be particularly rewarding.

20160423201541_1.jpg

Even given the inclusion of a level editor, most gamers should give this a pass at $20. It relies on a combination of creative thinking, a decent understanding of physics, and the ability to be charmed by seriously low-fi graphics. It’s nothing I ever would have sought out, and I don’t know which part of that trinity I’m missing, but it didn’t work at all for me.

Two Worlds Epic Edition

two-worlds-epic-edition.jpg


Two Worlds Epic Edition

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, XBox 360

Release: 5/9/07


I can usually tell before the end of the first chapter if I’m going to enjoy a book.  I give a movie no more than 10 minutes or so to hook me.  But video games can be a lot harder to judge.   Firstly, you have introductory cut scenes, and then there’s tutorials, and depending on the scope of the game, you may have invested a couple of hours before you know whether or not you’re really going to enjoy it.

Even if you decide just to focus on the main story, avoiding all the distractions that open world gaming provides, you can expect to spend about 20 hours on Two Worlds Epic Edition if you want to see it through to the end.  If you’re an explorer, you can add anywhere from 10 to 40 hours to that total.  Though it’s an older title, and the graphics aren’t nearly as impressive as they once were, that’s a lot of game for a $10 asking price.

20160524213436_1.jpg

I’ve been trying to avoid going into any new (to me) massive games like this, because there’s just no way I can give you anything even approaching a comprehensive review.  Sometimes, a game starts slow, and just keeps getting better.  Sometimes, the first couple of hours are fantastic, and then a game loses itself. It’s always a bit of a gamble.

I really enjoyed the time I spent with Two Worlds, although I felt that the intro movie was a little bit too long.  The character creation is minimal because you play as a specific person in the story-line, not just an anonymous hero.  The game forgoes typical class based characterization for a level what you like approach.  There are opportunities in game to respec some of your skill points, so a poor choice doesn’t necessarily mean game over.  There is some light crafting (alchemy), and there are multiple factions you can achieve reputation with. You will be given moral choices while playing your character, and the decisions you make will effect the outcome of the game.

20160524214151_1.jpg

Open world games are hard to do well – there’s a balancing act of the main story content and the other optional content that’s difficult to get right.  Make the story too compelling, and players will skip out on all the other stuff; make it not compelling enough, and they may wander away from the game before finishing it out.  I really can’t speak to how well Two Worlds handles this conundrum.

The graphics are dated; perhaps even slightly sub-par for the age of the game.  The control scheme isn’t terribly complex, although there’s the questionable choice of using the space bar as the interact key & if keys are remappable, I haven’t figured out how.  I had issues with the game crashing to the desktop several times while trying to change graphical resolution.  I’m sure that’s not the last bug that I’ll encounter.

But the thing that really impressed me was this – nine years after release, the game is still being supported and updated.  Non-Steam DRM has just been removed from Steam versions of the game, and there’s a beta code available that can be used to help Two Worlds play nicer with modern operating systems. I think this is so much more critical to being able to continue to enjoy older games than graphical touch ups, and I have a lot of respect for a company that continues to pour resources into a game after so much time has passed.

20160524212625_1

Two Worlds Epic Edition is far from perfect.  It was far from perfect back in 2007.  However, it does offer a lot of content for a relatively low price point (even lower through May 30th, while it’s on sale for just over a dollar!).  Although it’s been compared to the Elder Scrolls games, it lacks the full customization options and doesn’t have nearly as much content or mod support as Oblivion, which was released around the same time. But it feels solid, and if you enjoy open world RPGs, it’s probably worth a go.

The Night of the Rabbit

20160524134050_1.jpg


The Night of the Rabbit on Steam

MSRP: $19.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Release: 5/28/13


I’ve managed to acquire quite a few Daedalic adventure games in bundles over the years, and most aren’t anything I every would have sought out.  As someone who really enjoys a good adventure game, I’m not sure what it is about them that just doesn’t grab me, but Night of the Rabbit is pretty consistently well-reviewed, so I though that would be a good place to start.

20160524133507_1.jpg

Let’s start with the obvious: it’s freaking gorgeous. And it sounds good, both the music and the voices.  This is a game that at least starts out doing everything right.  There’s a weird bit before you actually get into the story, and then it just feels right.  You’re playing as Jerry Hazelnut, a boy on summer vacation whose greatest desire to become a magician.  There’s a unique tutorial portion which involves a radio show that helps you get through the controls, and then you’re off to pick blackberries.

20160524134403_1.jpg

This is where the game started to lose me.  I interacted with everything that the game would let me and I still got stuck right away – I walked back and forth between three screens for a good fifteen minutes or so before going off to look for a walk through.  Sadly, what The Night of the Rabbit doesn’t do quite so well is telegraph when there’s more scene to be found by clicking towards the edges of the screen; the scene you enter upon leaving Jerry’s front yard is wider than it appears.

Shortly thereafter, Jerry receives a letter with some seriously convoluted instructions.  I made sure to check the journal because I knew there was no way I was going to remember everything that I was just told to do, and although the journal references the letter, it doesn’t give the amount of detail needed to actually proceed.  Sure, I could have muddled through it or kept using the guide, but I just wasn’t feeling it anymore.  There’s a reason I never pushed through the Myst games.  I like a good puzzle, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

20160524140004_1

Even given my short play time, there was a lot I liked about The Night of the Rabbit, and I’ll likely go back to it in the future, but I’m going to make sure I have a pen & paper by my side when I do. It’s supposed to be approximately 10 – 12 hours for completion, and although I feel like that’s a little short to justify the price, it’s clear the production values were excellent, and it’s certainly forgivable if the story is as captivating as reviewers have made it sound.

Concrete Jungle

20160522215343_1.jpg


Concrete Jungle on Steam

MSRP: $12.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 9/23/15


Concrete Jungle is a good game that risks being disliked solely because it doesn’t do what it claims.  City building is a pretty established game genre, so calling your game a city planner when it’s really more of a card game and a puzzle game is somewhat disingenuous. However, I went into Concrete Jungle with a pretty decent idea of what to expect after reading reviews, and I was pleasantly surprised by how solid the game actually is.

20160522215404_1.jpg

Concrete Jungle gives you a blank grid to build on, and it’s only columns (from the upper left to the lower right) that matter.  You have a target score for each column, and once you hit that score in the left-most column, those tiles are removed from the board, and new blank tiles appear on the right hand side.  It sounds simple enough, but the challenge comes in the randomness of the cards you are dealt.  You are limited not just in the cards you are dealt, but by the fact that you can only place one of the highlighted cards at the top of your hand.

20160523093156_1.jpg

It’s pretty simple in its base mechanics, but there is some real depth to a lot of the cards, and it does require some strategy on the part of the player.  Yes, you can on occasion get a really terrible hand, but for the most part, solo scenarios should be winnable with careful planning.

20160523080653_1.jpg

Concrete Jungle features a campaign mode, as well as custom games. There are three custom game modes: solo, where you are in full control of the board and can add cards to your deck as you progress through the level, classic, which is like solo, but without the ability to manage your deck, and vs. mode, where local multiplayer is supported, but you can also compete against AI opponents.  The tutorial levels are built into campaign mode, so since the game isn’t particularly intuitive, I would recommend starting there.

If you’re looking for a game that reminds you of SimCity, Cities: Skylines, or even something more old school like Zeus: Master of Olympus, then Concrete Jungle is unlikely to satisfy.  If you’re intrigued by the deck building component, you’ll probably be disappointed.  However, if you want a challenging puzzle game that really makes you think several moves ahead, well, then this might be the game you’re looking for.

Decay: The Mare

20160522192238_1.jpg


Decay: The Mare on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux (also available episodically on Android, XBox)

Release: 2/13/15


Though the late 90s were probably the heyday of point-and-click horror adventure games – these were the days of Phantasmagoria, The 7th Guest, and the Gabriel Knight series – the past few years has seen indie developers trying to bring back the genre. With all the technological improvements over the last 20 years, there’s no reason that horror adventure games can’t be just as terrifying as a survival horror title – possibly even more so because the pace is slower and allows for more intricate storytelling.

Sadly, Decay: The Mare does so much wrong in the first 10 minutes of play, that it’s hard to find a compelling reason to stick around to see if the story gets really good.  You play as Sam, a drug addict who, in an attempt to get his life straightened out, checks himself into a spooky asylum.  It wouldn’t be my first choice if I needed rehab, but hey, we don’t all make good choices.  Obviously a very standard trope, and you know things are going to go bad very quickly.

20160522192842_1

My first major irritation comes in the first scene.  If you choose to use the tutorial, you’re told to search around your room.  However, other than the UI interactables, you only have three choices.  One, click on the door and you’re told that it is locked.  Two, click on the wardrobe, it opens, and the game tells you that there’s nothing inside.  Finally, you can click on the plate on the desk, and you zoom into see the pills inside.  You’re given the choice to take your medicine or not.

Trying to get into the mindset of a recovering addict, I elect not to take the random pills someone just left lying on the desk.  I try to open the door again – still locked.  I click the hint icon only to be told that I must search the room further, but there’s nothing left to click on.  After several minutes of pretty tedious pixel-hunting, I conclude that in order to further the game, I have to take the pills.  I tabbed out to look up a walkthrough to make sure I wasn’t missing anything obvious, but no, taking your meds is mandatory here, it seems.

Decay: The Mare gets a big old strike on this one – offering a choice that’s not a choice is a pet peeve of mine.  If something must happen, make it happen.  Make it a cut scene.  When I first find the pills, make me take them automatically.  I don’t care how it happens, but presenting something as a player decision when there is only actually one option is going to alienate any player who doesn’t want to do that thing for whatever reason.

20160522193330_1

Strike two comes from the decision to add tons of little things for atmosphere.  Sounds like a great idea, right? It is, until you fail to make at least some of those objects that are just there to make things feel more authentic interactable.  Let me look more closely at the picture, even if it does nothing.  Let me zoom in on the printed pages, even if it turns out that they’re only ripped from the phonebook, or newspaper advertisements for bleach. If a developer is going to add character, they should go all the way.  Not only do extra interactables make the player feel more connected to the setting, it actually potentially adds play time to the game.

The nail in the coffin, so to speak, at least for me, was the sheer quantity of load screens I experienced in such a short time. In a game with very little to do, having to continually be pulled out of the game due to load times is pretty much inexcusable.  With a single exception, we’re talking about all static images – I just didn’t feel like what I was getting warranted load screens in the slightest.

20160522193110_1.jpg

I feel like Decay: The Mare might have had an interesting story to tell. Reviews estimate a play through time of anywhere from 90 minutes to about three hours, and a quick glance at the achievements seem to indicate that there are multiple endings. Maybe for some folks, that’s enough to justify a $10 purchase price.

2016-05-22 20_13_49-Steam Community __ Decay - The Mare __ Achievements.jpg

However, since only a little more than half the folks playing this on Steam managed play long enough to leave their room, I’m guessing I’m far from the only one who didn’t find Decay: The Mare compelling enough from the outset to push through. Horror games really need to grab you right from the start, whether it be with amazing audio, a good story hook, or intriguing graphics. This game failed, at least for me, on all three counts.