Monthly Archives: June 2016

KWAAN

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KWAAN on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Win, Mac

Release: 1/21/16


There are no words for how much I wanted to like KWAAN.  A non-combat MMO with a focus on creativity and cooperation? I didn’t even care about the graphics, and let me tell you, I am sick to death of pixel graphics.  I just wanted to get involved with a community of people who just wanted to improve the world by painting flowers.

Sadly, the reality was such a disappointment.

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KWAAN has the dubious honor of being the first game I’ve purchased on Steam that I’ve been so unhappy with that I’ve requested a refund (and I have bought a LOT of stuff on Steam). I’m not sure where the disconnect is, really.  The UI is less than helpful, the movement is some of the most irritating I’ve ever experienced (instead of jumping, you need to deploy a very touchy spider web thread and swing to reach higher areas), and the means of painting to improve the world is a color by number that you can’t get wrong.

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I think the nicest way I can describe the tutorial is to call it incomplete.  You’re told how to acquire the apple that you need, but not the leaf, and as I was already cheesed off about having to bumble around as if in an unresponsive platforming game, I didn’t want to explore anymore. I didn’t want to play anymore.

But I think the biggest flaw in KWAAN is this – it doesn’t have the player base to support the game it wants to be. The whole concept has the game balanced around groups of people working together to accomplish goals (with the penalty of a soft-world reset if they’re not met), and there’s just no one playing.  It’d be easy to blame it on a lack of target audience for a cooperative and pacifist multiplayer game – but I played Glitch when there were so many people clamoring to participate in projects that the game slowed to a crawl.

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KWAAN is a game that could stand to go back to beta. A graphical overhaul certainly wouldn’t make it worse, but remappable keys, a more accessible UI, and a more complete tutorial would go a long way to making this game attractive to new players. And it desperately needs new players. In it’s current state, I won’t be one of them – I lasted less than half an hour – and there’d have to be a whole lot of changes going on before I’d even give it a second glance again.

BloodGate (Early Access)

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BloodGate on Steam

MSRP: $8.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 6/2/16


Although I enjoy all manner of match-3 games, I really like games that combine match-3 play with dungeon crawling or other combat mechanics. BloodGate is a feature-complete Early Access RPG featuring match-3 game play.

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You start off with a single character, which you create from one of three classes (warrior, warlock, and stalker). Each class has access to different gear and different abilities, as well as having different elemental affinities. Elemental affinities determine which type of attacks you’re susceptible to. Everything you fight will also have an elemental affinity. As you progress through the levels, you will pick up additional characters, and you can freely swap between them during encounters, however, only one is able to do damage at any given time.

The matching mechanic here is chain making, and the longer chain you make, the more damage you do. Long chains will also spawn special tiles.   If you match three tiles in a connected triangle, you will bolster your defenses rather than doing damage.  Each color tile corresponds to an element and will charge abilities of that element on the active character.

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There are upwards of 100 multi-combat encounters to be completed, and all are replayable for score, money, and loot.  Each encounter has a goal time, and if you want to meet that goal, you don’t have a whole lot of time to think. If you complete an encounter, even if you didn’t make the goal time, you can continue on. After each encounter, you’re given the opportunity to equip any new loot, upgrade or unlock abilities, provided you’ve earned the points to do so, and visit the shop.

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Chests can be purchased with keys that drop as loot during encounters, but what you receive is completely random. There are also item packages that can be purchased with gold. Crafting also factors into the game, but needs to be unlocked by rescuing a crafting NPC.

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They haven’t quite gotten the balance right just yet, but that doesn’t keep BloodGate from being a lot of fun to play.  There’s plenty of content (including optional online PvP play) to justify the full asking price, but the game is currently on sale for under a dollar.  For a well rounded action puzzle RPG, that’s an amazing price, seeing as these games tend to have nearly endless replay value.

 

Psychonauts

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Psychonauts on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Xbox, PS2

Release: 4/19/05


Do me a favor? Before you read anything else, watch the intro cinematic, okay?

Now, I’m fairly certain my work here is done and if you haven’t already played Psychonauts, you’re heading to Steam to buy it (currently on sale for a measely $0.99), and if you have played, you’re either reinstalling or digging out your old console and getting ready to fire it up again.

Yes, it’s that good.

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Psychonauts is an action platformer, but it’s also a comedy, and a mystery, and most likely the weirdest damn thing you’ll ever play.  Campers at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp start losing their brains, and it’s up to you, Razputin, to figure out what’s going on and restore the brains to the campers.

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Although you’ll spend a bit of time in the real world, most of the game is played in the minds of others. You will collect figments of imagination, sort emotional baggage, fight censors, and find and resolve the deep psychological issues in the host – usually via a boss battle.  As you rank up, you’ll get new psychic powers, which will not only help you on future mental journeys, but will also allow you to access collectibles in the real world.

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For a game that’s over 10 years old, it still looks remarkably good, and there’s support for resolutions up to 1920 X 1080 (although some UI elements might look a little bit stretched if you choose to play in a widescreen resolution). I highly recommend using a controller to play, but folks who are particularly adept at platforming with keyboard and mouse will probably be fine.

With the current Steam sale, and with Psychonauts 2 – finally – having been confirmed, there is no better time to get into Psychonauts than right now. Go. Go buy it.

 

Blades of Time

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Blades of Time on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, XBox 360, PS3

Release: 4/20/12


Sometimes, a woman has just got to dress inappropriately and beat the crap out of some demons. In Blades of Time, you play as Ayumi, a scantily-clad treasure hunter, who has managed to brute force her way onto an island called Dragonland in hopes of finding a whole bunch of treasure. I’m fairly certain that’s the entire story. Kill stuff and explore and look for treasure, and hopefully be able to get home again.

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Despite the fact that the whole game seems to revolve around the idea of finding loot, there’s not a whole lot of loot to find.  In about an hour of play, I think I’ve picked up four items, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of gold or other currency. But there are lots of monsters to chop up with your very fancy double swords, lots of levers and switches and buttons that do things, and magical altars that will allow you to increase in power as you explore.

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Although I’m not sure explore is really the right word.  The entire game seems to be on a tight track – you’re given a compass to help you figure out which way to go, but there’s almost never any kind of choice.  The world of Dragonland is crazy with invisible walls, and stuff that looks like it should be climbable but isn’t. There’s a whole bunch of breakable scenery that doesn’t hold anything, and powers are doled out fairly slowly.  There’s also a somewhat irritating checkpoint save-system – except there’s no indication of where the checkpoints are, so if you need a break, you can’t be too sure how much you’ll have to replay.

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On the upside, the world is absolutely stunning, if a bit repetitive. Combat seems to be a fairly uncomplicated button-mashing affair, but damn, it looks cool when you kick the bad guy in the face with your ridiculous high heels. There’s no inventory management, and only four equipment slots. This is not a thinking game. This is hack and slash at it’s most pure.

The “story” mode is about 10 hours long, with optional DLC that will add another hour, give or take.  There is a multiplayer mode called Outbreak, but I wouldn’t expect to find too many people still playing due to the game’s age. It’s not an awful value for the $10 price tag, but it’s also available as one of 8 items in BundleStar’s RPG Heroes bundle, despite not being a RPG in any conceivable way.

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If you’re looking for a slaughter-fest where you can turn your brain off and just look at pretty things (including the player character) for awhile, you could do worse than Blades of Time.  It’s nothing special, but it’s functional and it feels good to play, which puts it head and shoulders above a lot of other games in the genre.

Pixel Puzzles: UndeadZ

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Pixel Puzzles: UndeadZ on Steam

MSRP: $6.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 6/6/14


True confession: I do a lot less research on a game when someone’s giving it away.  I already have one pretty great jigsaw puzzle game, and it’s just not something I’m in the mood for all that often, so I don’t pay much attention to them.  However, IndieGala was giving away Pixel Puzzles: UndeadZ recently, and I figured hey, I like puzzles and I like zombie games, why not, it’s free.

I was not prepared.

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I thought it was a little weird that all my puzzle pieces were floating in water around the edges of the screen, but I chalked that up to flavor.  What I didn’t notice was the timer at the bottom or that little barricade, or the fact that I could buy stuff. I was just going to make a puzzle, how hard could it be?  I was doing just fine, actually, until the zombies broke through the barricade and killed my little dude in the lower right, and it was game over. Oh. So that’s the gimmick.  I should probably look at the “how to play” huh?

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So, while you’re frantically trying to put together a puzzle (and they start off pretty easy, even if you do have to scavenge for your pieces), there’s a timer counting down to the release of a zombie or group of zombies.  When they come out, you have to stop working on the puzzle and take them out.  You have some bullets and a few grenades to start with, but if you need more supplies (and you probably will), you buy them with coins that you get randomly as you successfully place puzzle pieces. If you work too slowly, or just get really unlucky, you might run out of ammo and defenses. No pressure. Really.

It was very much not what I was expecting.  The puzzles pretty much met my expectations – artwork depicting zombies and zombie hunters. If you just want the puzzles, there’s an option to turn off the zombie apocalypse at the bottom of the screen.  There’s 19 puzzles, and the last is a whopping 350 pieces. There are also several other games in the series, if zombies aren’t your thing.

Steam Summer Sale 2016

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Ok, bear with me.  I posit that the Steam sales (notably summer and winter) not only are their own games, but they are the best kind of games. They’re the kind of games where you get to decide what your next few weeks or months of gaming are going to look like.

What’s a game without rules, right? I’m going to build you some bundles from the current Steam Summer Sale, and these are the guidelines I’m going to use:

  • Each bundle is going to cost no more than $20 USD.
  • No single game is going to be more than $5.
  • No single game is going to be less than 50% off.
  • Every game will have a positive or better Steam rating.
  • Bundles will be (loosely) themed, and should offer upwards of 100 hours of play.

Ready? Ok, here we go.

Continue reading

The Westport Independent

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The Westport Independent on Steam

MSRP: $9.99 (Win, Mac, Linux) / $4.99 (iOS, Android)

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android

Release: 1/21/16


If you’re looking for a feel-good game, keep looking.  The Westport Independent casts you in the role of newspaper editor under an oppressive government regime.  There are no victory conditions except those you set yourself, and even then, there’s a good chance you’re going to walk away feeling like you lost.  And if you’re expecting compelling game play, well, you’re really not looking at the right game.

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Now, all that isn’t to say I don’t respect The Westport Independent and what it does. It’s a thinking game more than a fun game. If you don’t struggle with your choices at least once during the game, you’re not playing it right.  At the beginning, I decided that I would do whatever it took the keep the paper in business and keep my employees safe, and published propaganda and ridiculous celebrity news bites and did my best not to anger the government. I wavered a couple of times, when I just couldn’t suppress my outrage at the fictional injustices being perpetrated.

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If you believe that a game is supposed to make you feel strong and powerful, this one fails. However, if a game is meant to challenge you, and to stay with you after you’ve closed it, The Westport Independent is a raging success. A single play through takes around an hour, and I finished it wondering if I could have done this or that differently and effected the outcome. Going by the achievements, it seems that there are four different endings for each of the four districts, but I don’t know that it’s possible to “do well” across the board.

If you choose to play on a tablet or other mobile device, be aware that there’s a lot of reading involved. As long as that’s comfortable, I really don’t see any reason not to purchase it for half the price.

Shattered Planet

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Shattered Planet on Steam

MSRP: $14.99 (free version with in app purchasing available on iOS / Android)

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Release: 7/3/14


I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about rogue-likes and rogue-lites in general. I’ve played a few now, all of them having taken several very large steps away from the origins of the genre. I’ve played a handful now (almost all of them being some sort of rogue-lite variation), and it still feels weird to me to play with perma-death, and without reloadable saves, and to realize that each death and each new character gives you something you didn’t have before, and increases the likelihood that next time, you’ll do better.

Shattered Planet is an exploration-centric rogue-lite. It is also a port of a mobile app, and while that alone isn’t enough to condemn a game, it is enough to make me wonder what is different enough to warrant a $15 purchase price for what was created, essentially, to be played without a start up cost, but with completely optional purchases.

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I figured the best way to figure it out would be to download the iOS app onto my phone, and play a little bit of both versions. While the mobile version doesn’t have the annoying energy limitation you often seen in freemium games, you do start with far less health (40 on mobile compared to 100 on PC/Mac).  Additionally, the PC/Mac version gives you access to all five “class” options as part of the purchase price (although three are gated behind XP walls), whereas on mobile, you have two classes, with the other three available for purchase at $4.99 each.  Since we’re now approximately even cost-wise, the PC/Mac version having an additional game mode (Daily Challenge) might nudge it ahead of the mobile version in terms of value.

As someone who really enjoys exploration-centric games, I’m really enjoying Shattered Planet.  You are deposited in a randomly generated alien landscape, and tasked with learning everything you can about everything you can.  Sounds easy, right?  It would be, if there weren’t so many hostile life forms objecting to your very presence.

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Combat requires no skill at all – click to hit, click again to hit, and if it’s still alive, click some more. Because of this, if you weren’t given any opportunity to upgrade your character, you’d die every time in more or less the same place.  Each exploration will end with your death, but when you are cloned again on your spaceship, you will be given the opportunity to use the resources you gathered to upgrade your character stats, and gamble on equipment. Any equipment and consumables you are carrying when you die are lost – all that you retain is your knowledge (which translates into experience points) and two forms of currency – scrap metal, and crystals.

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With four difficulty levels (not including daily challenges), achievements, and a boat-load of unlockables, there’s a lot of game here.  However, given that it’s really pretty shallow and seems to have a low skill ceiling and a lot of luck, I cannot recommend it at full price. There’s no narrative, and no skill challenge. I like the game for what it is – I just don’t know there’s enough game here to play with the bigger kids in the PC/Mac playground.

I do, however, highly recommend downloading the free version on your iOS or Android device. It’s not quite a demo, but it’s a good way to figure out how you feel about this particular combat-lite rogue-lite.

PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate

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PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, PS3, PSP, PS Vita, Wii U

Release: 8/26/13


I’m not sure what it is about the PixelJunk series of games from Q-Games, but they keep drawing me in to play games in genres I’m not a huge fan of.  PixelJunk Eden is basically a very very pretty platformer, and I love every minute of it. PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate is a tower defense game, and although I usually find tower defense games to be either tedious, or frustratingly hard, this one is somehow neither.

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I figure this probably means one of two things. The first could be that this is just a very simplistic tower defense game, which would make it pretty unsatisfying for most veterans of the genre.  The second is that, any minute now, the difficulty is going to jump high enough that it will feel somewhat like getting hit in the face with a rather large brick. For, now, however, I’m having a heck of a time.

Once you pass the tutorial level, you start out with access to three kinds of towers.  The first shoots arrows, and can hit either ground or flying units.  The second is a cannon, which will hit closely grouped ground units.  The third is a turret, which will only strike flying units.  Towers can be placed wherever there is a tree on the map, and you can place as many as you can afford.

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You can never engage the enemies directly, but because they drop gems and coins when they die, you want to try to be nearby, as those wont stick around forever.  If you accidentally run into one of the monsters, you are temporarily stunned and you drop coins which you need to re-gather. Gems can be spent at your hut to open up new kinds of towers. The different colored flags on your towers represent tower level, and if you wish to increase the level of a particular tower, you can do so either by spending gems or dancing next to it.

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If one or more monsters reaches your hut, they will take away one of the small people that are standing there – run out of small people, and it’s level over. The bar in the lower left hand corner of the screen will let you know what types of monsters are coming up, but don’t really give any hint to the density you can expect, and in later levels where there are multiple routes, which way they will be coming from.

So far, I’ve experienced up to twenty waves of monsters per level, and some waves have extra challenge, like one I played today where the monsters dropped no gold, so making sure you had enough towers was a lot more difficult. There are just shy of 50 different level layouts, with an island that will randomly generate levels for you.  There’s also both local and online co-op play available, so there’s plenty to do here.

For all the game it offers you, $10 is reasonable enough for PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate.  But if you’re on the fence, or you just really like a good deal, you can pick it up as part of this bundle with 7 other games for only $2.99*. If you have even the slightest interest in tower defense games, I have no doubt you’ll get your money’s worth that way.

*Although no expiration date is listed as of this writing, no good bundle lasts forever.

 

Hand Of Fate

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Hand of Fate on Steam

MSRP: $24.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, XBox One, PS4

Release: 2/17/15


Without a doubt, I’m drawn to games that combine classic genres and mechanics in new and interesting ways, and Hand of Fate is a game that feels like a mashup. In Story mode, you are tasked with beating a series of boss encounters, but instead of your typical dungeon crawl to reach the end, instead you move through a series of cards, all of which have some sort of encounter on them. Some paths are very linear – like when the cards are dealt in a single row.  Some offer many choices, and discovering an exit card early forces you to choose whether you prefer to explore the rest of the cards, or keep moving towards the conclusion.

 

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Due to the card game mechanics, this game features a lot of randomness. Maybe even too much randomness. Sometimes, you stumble on an equipment upgrade before meeting your first monster, and sometimes, you’re going up against the boss and his minions with the same rusty axe you started with.  Sometimes it feels like every other encounter is a shop, which would be great, if you’d managed to pick up any gold at all.  If the rounds were longer, this would probably be a deal breaker for me – but rounds go by quickly, and since the fail penalty is just replaying the level with a potentially very different layout, even hitting a round where it feels like you’ve missed out on every possible win condition isn’t too painful.

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To me, playing with a keyboard and mouse, combat feels like a world of random button mashing and hoping for the best.  However, the game does feature controller support, and the controller key binds seem much more logical. When I play again – and I do plan to play again – I will try out my controller and see if I feel any more, well, in control.

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There are three difficulty choices, and an unlockable endless mode.  There is also the Wildcard DLC which offer several other options for alternate play styles. For someone who enjoys the game, its replay value is immense.  However, for the player who prefers a single, cohesive story, and needs a feeling of fair play and skill based successes, Hand of Fate will be a series of annoyances. Story content is splintered everywhere, and some encounters are resolved by what basically amounts to a flip of a coin.   This is a game that would really be well served by having a playable demo.

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If you’re comfortable with a game that is more reliant on luck than skill to complete, and you enjoy unpredictability and the strategy that comes with deck building, Hand of Fate is probably a good investment, especially if you pick it up on sale along with the DLC.  But if you prefer traditional role playing games, with a constant stream of power upgrades and high rewards for skillful play, give this one a pass.