September 6, 2022

SK8 Online

 


SK8 Online, developed by Legit Games LLC, was released on April 14, 2021. It is available on Android and iOS devices. The game is a head-to-head "horse" style skateboard game where you attempt to land tricks, to which your opponent must match the trick or risk getting a letter.  



The controls for this game are interesting for a touch game. You're required to swipe in specific patterns for tricks; if you manage to swipe correctly the board will fly into the air with a rotation dependent on which trick was performed. While in the air, you are then required to tap the screen to "set" the trick; tap too soon or too late and you fail the trick. The longer you let the board fly in the air, the more rotations will occur until the board falls to the ground. In all the attempts I made the board would rotate slowly at first then speed up as the board fell towards the ground making early tricks easier to set than later tricks that require more rotation like a 180 shuvit vs a 360 shuvit.  SK8 Online is played in a third-person view of the board so setting tricks requires the board to be as close to perpendicular on the screen as possible or else the trick is considered "bailed", but if close enough but not perfect you will get a sketchy trick which will prompt one redo.



There is only online play in this game, and you queue up and wait for an opponent. As you wait, you're able to practice tricks until an opponent is found. When I first started the game, I was worried that this queue was going to take a while because I wasn't sure how large of a player base this game had. My first game this queue was long, but this game has a very interesting feature that other phone games should incorporate. When you're not playing, you'll receive push notifications letting you know when there's an opponent available; you're then given 2 minutes to make your initial turn before it's a forfeit. You can also set up a private game that a friend can connect to. Games are set up so that one person performs a trick and if the trick is properly set the opponent then has to do the same trick. If they are unable to do the trick they get a letter, however, if they land the trick then they have to complete a trick and you're required to do the same trick. once a player gets all three letters in "SK8" they loose.



The game concept is great; it should work very well. Completing tricks, however, isn't an easy task and this is made evident in matches because even though it seems like you're swiping correctly your board will just sit on the screen until you've managed to swipe the correct pattern to start the trick. And the down time between both players when it's their turn only has me imagining that my opponent is struggling to pull off a trick as much as I'm struggling. What makes matters worse is after you've completed a trick and your opponent does or doesn't match the trick you're no longer allowed to use that same trick in the match. This game's only saving grace is the push notifications that there's an available match. I would like to see a solo mode where you can actually skate the board around a course and complete tricks while skating but that would require tricks to be easier to pull off. So I'm going to have to give the game a 4 out of 10.

August 11, 2022

Horizon Chase 7th Anniversary

 


It has been 
7 years since AQUIRIS decided to release the very first version of Horizon Chase. What started in the Christmas of 2014 as “Project Retroracers”, a homage to favorite 80s and 90s retro racers, particularly Top Gear, ended up growing into a huge project that has become a modern classic in the arcade racing genre across PC, consoles and mobile.



With more than 80 Million downloads and plenty of new updates along these years, they have prepare something truly special in order to celebrate the 7th anniversary. There is a brand new game mode called "Adventures", freely available from today on PC and consoles. In Adventures, players have the chance to collect skins for the game by completing a set of challenges.


Adventures will offer plenty of content,
totaling an average of 8 hours of gameplay and it works in the following way. 
Each time a new car is unlocked in the classic World Tour mode, a set of 5 tracks will become available composing a new Adventure to get through. When the player completes all the tracks of each adventure, one exclusive skin is unlocked. The player needs to unlock all the cars in the World Tour to be able to access the 34 Adventures, once the 5 races of each adventure are won, the special skin for the car associated with that adventure will be unlocked.




Horizon Chase is currently priced at $19.99 and is available on Xbox one,  PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via steam. Events planned via the games social media and discord throughout the 20th of August 2022.




August 1, 2022

Stray

 Stray

Developer: BlueTwelve Studio
Other Releases: Neon white, A memoir Blue
Initial release date: 19 July 2022
Genre: Adventure Game, Platformer
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows





Stray is the new indie by BlueTwelve Studio. It is a gorgeous game, staring an adorable cat going through an intense and heartbreaking story. I will try my best not to spoil the story but be aware there may be some story hints.

On first impression of this game, it is downright adorable; you are a cat with all the cuteness, agility, and courage of a cat. I want to take a moment to say press O and your cat will meow. There are times this even has an environmental effect for Easter eggs, which is downright classy.

I want to talk about the mechanics; they are very intuitive. The tutorial is very simple and unobtrusive, and realistically if you gave me two minutes with the controller, I would have guessed most of the controls anyway. The game does recommend using a controller, but it is in fact set up that it can be played with a keyboard, as I made the mistake of doing it after a break and then realizing... wait why I am using the keyboard?

Many of you won't, but I in fact completed this in one sitting live, even going so far as to get all collectibles. This shows me that the game is not as short as some people believe. It took me about 9 hours to do everything on a first playthrough with two backtracks. So I would say it is at least eight hours of gameplay, without all achievements. Yes, I am aware that the current world record is 1:14, but speed runners are built differently.

All I will tell you about the story of Stray is, that it is set in a dystopian future where humans have died out, and this is a journey of a cat trying to get home. This story beginning alone does everything it needs to tug on your heartstrings. My initial reaction was I will protect this cat with my life and that I certainly would have done.

As a cat owner, I may have a very small bias towards Stray due to the protagonist, but I do not believe that is the only reason that Stray is phenomenal. I don't use this word lightly; from the character development to backdrop design, to the story itself, Stray achieves everything it wants to and more.

On the flip side, this game is not perfect, some criticize it saying if it didn't star a cat that, it would be another basic platformer, but I don't agree with this. I think if you change the protagonist, it's a wholly different game as so many of the mechanics and the story progression are possible due to the cat skills you possess.

The biggest criticism I do have is in two of the areas. This being the Slums and Midtown. I feel like some directional system in these two areas would have made a huge difference. I spent at least an hour lost looking for the way to Momo's and walking around in circles. The developer has said they intended there to be no need for maps, but I feel in these areas there should have been some better directional markers.

I don't in any way think this lack of direction makes Stray a bad game, however, it is simply some refinement I think the game could use to make it better as at one point the meow button almost wasn't enough to keep me engaged whilst wandering through the Slums. 

A secondary issue is the lack of clear division between areas; as a linear game with no option to return upon leaving certain areas, I feel a pop-up between changing areas would help prevent missing side quests and collectibles. I had to return to both Antville and Midtown due to not realizing that I could no longer return to the previous area. 

Stray does somewhat account for this with the chapter select, but it can be quite frustrating to redo an entire area for a single collectible. I feel that a simple acknowledgment you can't return would save this problem; however, I do acknowledge this may cause slight spoilers in Midtown if it were to tell you. I guess this is a disadvantage within a linear game.

Going onto the price, at £23.99/$29.99 Stray is creeping into the higher price of an indie game but still much lower than a usual PS4 game. I, however, don't think the price is too high; even as someone who is used to indie games being around $10-15 this game offers so much in graphics and storytelling that I would happily pay that price, especially as I will likely play it again.

Now on the rating I know many would give this a 10, I certainly give it cat/10. However from a pure gameplay standpoint, I give it a 9/10, worthy of Game of the Year Awards, but there are some areas for improvement. The one thing I think we can all agree on is Stray has the cutest protagonist of 2022.




July 30, 2022

Echo

  

Echo is a third-person science fiction adventure game with stealth and horror elements. It was developed and published by Ultra Ultra and was released on 9/19/17, available on Steam, GOG, and PS4.  At the date of this entry, this game has a very positive rating overall on Steam.

When I first started playing Echo, I knew nothing about it aside from the summary on the Steam page.  I bought it as a part of a Humble Bundle full of stealth games, so I thought stealth was the number one gameplay mechanic in it.  

I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case once I started playing.


The main menu is eye-popping.

Echo starts with a heavy narrative and no real gameplay other than some minor exploring to get the controls down, which are not very complicated.  I enjoy science fiction and games with lots of exposition. It tells the story of the main character, En, and her ship AI called London.  They have been traveling in space for 100 years, looking for a "palace" that is rumored to be able to revive the dead.  En is looking to revive her uncle Foster at this palace, though she doesn't know where it is or how it works.  At the start of the game, she wakes up from cryosleep and banters with the entirely-too-humanly-sarcastic AI as they approach a planet.  Over the course of the beginning and throughout occasional places in the game, En and London talk to reveal more of the characters' histories and backstories.  As expected, you find out quickly that this planet is where the "palace" is, though it's not what anyone expected.  

 A little way into the first chapter, you power up this palace, and Echo begins to become less narrative and more stealthy escape room.  Tension picks up as you go from area to area, trying to avoid enemies who get smarter as you play.  And here's the thing: the enemies are YOU.  

The palace creates batches of clones of En called Echos, and the whole place goes through a cycle of power and black-outs repetitively. During each black-out, the palace reboots, and the Echos learn from anything you do during the last powered-on cycle. The atmosphere of this game is tremendous as the ambient music lets you know when the next black-out is happening.  When the power comes back on, any Echos you eliminate during the last cycle revive and learn the things you did, like sneaking, vaulting, shooting, or sprinting, among other things.  You have to continuously adapt the way you play to make the Echos and levels manageable.  If one of them catches you, you can fight them off by mashing one of the buttons, but there's a recovery period afterward where another Echo can kill you if they catch you during it.  

The gameplay is simple: duck, vault, sneak, shoot, and throw things. Keep the enemy adapting and guessing.  Make it through the puzzles of each level to get to the next instance.  Get caught?  Try again.  And again. 

Echo has a few low points, but not all of them are game-ruining.  Halfway through the game, you realize that this game was made with one character model, two excellent voice actors, and a ton of repeating resources for the levels.  Ultra Ultra did a great job taking limited models and using them effectively.  This game sometimes feels like a random layout full of baddies as a sandbox stealth game rather than a fully fleshed-out game, but I feel it works well enough if you're hoping for something simple.  The game definitely has its moments where it feels tiresome and repetitive, but I still found myself wanting to come back and try it again despite that fact.

Levels are pretty, but resources are heavily reused.

There was a point in the beginning during one of the first levels filled with Echos that I was a little stressed and didn't think I'd be able to make it through.  I took an overnight break, came back the next day, and proceeded through a few of the chapters.  I felt very accomplished when I was able to make it through all the various areas, changing up sneaking and avoiding with running and gunning to keep the Echos from learning too much.  I avoided running during the on cycles because I think I'd freak out a bit if the Echos started sprinting at me.  I did get over that after a while, but I still kept running to a minimum, usually only doing so to escape an over-populated area or sprint to the exit.

I enjoyed my time playing Echo.  This game is about 7-9 hours long, and despite many times of needing to shut this game off, I found myself coming back for one more attempt at a level.  Even though I don't see myself playing this again when it's done, this could be my gateway drug into finally playing other stealthy types of games I've been neglecting, like Metal Gear Solid V or the newer Hitman games. I did see that this game concept was being considered for a movie, but I can't tell if it hit a wall or not.  Since the last I heard about it was from a post in 2019, I'm assuming the worst, especially since Ultra Ultra doesn't exist anymore.  

In the end, I'd rate Echo a 7 out of 10.  It haunted my thoughts enough to keep coming back to it while I was mid-adventure, but now that I'm done, it's not coming back to the library again for a while.  There are more fully fleshed games I can play with the same mechanics, but this game does what it does very well.  Tense and stressful at times, can be repetitive and boring at others.  Give it a try if you're in the mood for a slow-moving, tense, stealthy adventure game.

July 29, 2022

Bass Monkey

 Bass Monkey is a 2D Hack-and-slash co-op platformer game developed by Jacob Weersing AKA YakobSoup. Initially released for free on Steam in early June 2022. The game features a fun and colorful pixel-art art style full of character and charm. It’s a very accessible game that lives up to its title as a ‘low-stress, musical platformer.’ as described on Steam. Bass Monkey has positive reviews on said platform and includes a few design decisions like a simplified control scheme and fast respawn mechanic that allow people of pretty much any skill level to jump right into the game and experience it, alone and with friends.

Bass Monkey doesn't have much of a story, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. This game doesn’t need a complicated narrative to be enjoyable. The setup is extremely simple; you play alone or with friends as either a monkey with a guitar or a bear with a bass, touring through the jungle. Or, at least, that was the initial plan. Unfortunately, you're in the jungle with a surprising number of hamsters. Like, a lot of hamsters. This would be less of a problem if these hamsters weren't also big fans of your band. It appears safety isn't their top priority, and they'll go to any length to get close to you and get your autograph, even if it means hurting you in the process. What's the only way out of this? Swinging your instruments at them wildly, of course. Don’t worry, the game’s intro says they love it.


Bass Monkey is designed for cooperative play, but you can fly solo if you prefer. There is a single-player mode in the game. Unlike many games that focus on co-op and have significantly unbalanced difficulty curves when playing solo, it works extremely well in Bass Monkey. It never felt unfair or unbalanced while playing through the campaign. Between each level there are short platforming segments designed to help teach you new mechanics and allow you to collect a ton of bananas which help add to your high score. Even though there are only two animals and two instruments to choose from when choosing your character, there is still some strategy involved. Choosing whether to play as a monkey or a bear has little effect on the gameplay experience, based on what I've seen while playing the game. Despite that, both the monkey and the bear have adjustable stats so that you can create a build that suits your playstyle. 


Your music seems to attract a wide variety of fans in Bass Monkey. Of course, they're all hamsters, but what I mean is that there are a few different enemy types you'll encounter in the game that help make the various stages feel more diverse and unique. When you first start you'll only face the basic hamster, which isn't a particularly formidable foe. They don't have much health and don't deal much damage, and they only attack at very predictable times. Their strength is in numbers. These hamsters are relatively weak, but in each stage you’ll find yourself being put up against hundreds of them, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll likely end up getting swarmed and taking a lot of damage. Other than the basic hamster there are also the ‘punk’ hamsters. These hamsters mean business, and they deal a lot more damage. I found myself dying to these guys more than any other hamster variant, although once you know how to fight them, it isn’t that bad. Moving on to the next level you’re introduced to the ‘Bowel Movement’ hamsters which are fairly round compared to the other types. Not only are they round, but they also tend to… explode, which is their main attack. Their explosions can both damage you and knock you back, so be careful. Other than these three unique hamsters, there are also the boss hamsters. They’re large, have a lot more health, and do more damage but are still very manageable, especially when playing with friends. There can be multiple boss monsters in a stage at once, so if you ignore them you might find yourself overwhelmed.

While Bass Monkey has many positive aspects, it also has some drawbacks, and some of these drawbacks have a significant impact on the overall experience of the game. For starters, the game's death mechanic feels like a last-minute decision at times. The idea is simple: if you lose all of your health, you will die and will be able to respawn at the point where you were killed in a very short amount of time. The problem is that there isn't much of an incentive to not die in the game, and there isn't much of a punishment for losing all of your health other than a measly 500-point deduction, which is honestly not that much considering how many points you'll rack up during one of the five main levels. Of course, this 'negative' is highly subjective, and some people may enjoy that system; it was something I felt needed to be addressed because it came up while playing with friends. 


Another design decision that detracts from the gameplay is how electricity is handled in the game. After the third stage, you're introduced to the concept of electricity, which is essentially just another obstacle type that you'll encounter throughout the levels. This includes lasers and, more importantly, electrified floors, which can injure the player. The lasers work fine, you have plenty of time to avoid them, and once you figure out the timing, they pose no real threat. In my playthrough, the floors, on the other hand, presented some unfair challenges. They work occasionally, but other times I found my character trapped on top of it, taking damage and unable to move, which became a bit frustrating. There is also a section in the game where you must choose between two holes to fall into. You can't see the bottom of either one, so you have to guess, and if you guess incorrectly, you'll be forced to take some damage, which is a design decision that I don't think is very appealing because it doesn't involve any strategy or planning, and whether or not you lose health on your first playthrough is simply luck.


Finally, there is an issue with the audio in the game. Overall, the music is fantastic; it's catchy and fits the tone of the levels perfectly. However, I believe some tunes could have benefited from a longer runtime, such as the main menu music, which is a very short tune that loops indefinitely. That was fine at first, but if you have to wait for a friend or sit on the main menu for a while, it can become a little tedious because there isn't any variety, just a short endless loop of a tune that quickly becomes monotonous. The sound effects in the game can also 'stack,' resulting in large audio spikes in some areas that can be a little uncomfortable when wearing headphones.


Overall, Bass Monkey is an indie game that clearly has a lot of heart behind it. The characters are entertaining, even if they don't have much personality aside from their instruments, and the game feels great as a hack-and-slash, with tons of hamsters flailing around as you swing your instruments to the beat of the music. However, there are some issues with the game that sadly detract from the overall experience. Overall I rate Bass Monkey a 7 out of 10. It’s a good game, and it has a solid foundation. But it’s a game that has a few glaring issues which I feel prevent it from being something I can see myself returning to after it’s done. I believe that with some work and possibly another chapter, it could be an incredible hack-and-slash game to play alone or with friends. I think this is a developer that has a lot of potential and I can’t wait to see what they decide to work on or create next.




July 25, 2022

Traumatarium





Traumatarium is a randomly generated dungeon crawler made in the style and format of an old-school Game Boy cartridge. It was released on itch.io as a .gb file, which can be downloaded and played in any Gameboy emulator program or can be played in the browser from the itch.io site. For this review, I used Retro-arch, which worked like a charm. It was developed by Eligos Games (Horatiu.nyc).

In Traumatarium, a great evil falls over the land, and the queen calls upon a great, yet comically vain, hero to delve into four dungeons and face its various forms. Simple premise, but this adventure will be a difficult one. It seems to me like a love letter to old-school dungeon crawlers like Wizardry or Shadowgate but doesn’t contain all the party and inventory management that made those games so deep. This game does have charm and style, though.


Traumatarium starts at a crossroads between the dungeons and the town area, which has an inn, item shop, armory, and library. The Inn saves your game and recovers health, the shop has food and recovery items, the library has some basic tutorial advice for you, and the armory provides weapons and armor that will be crucial for your success. Each dungeon has ten randomly generated floors with some kind of encounter, and each may contain monsters to fight, treasure to collect, or health recovery. When you reach each floor, you have an option to interact with the scene or attempt to leave the dungeon to return to the town. Either option can have you caught in a battle, so be prepared.
The battles are turn-based and only give you the option to attack or use an item. Battles are the only time you can use an item, so if you are fatigued from hunger or weak from a previous battle, you need to use up a precious turn while a monster gets another hit in. As a precaution, I’d advise keeping a dungeon map (purchased at the shop) with you since it will instantly take you back to town during a battle that is going wrong.
Traumatarium is truly made to play on a Game Boy, though the graphics are done as full-screen scenes rather than sprites and scrolling landscapes. You can see from some of the screenshots that the graphics are detailed in that Game Boy monochrome. The music is perfect for the platform and the setting in a hypnotic-chiptune way. As a gamer who lived through the birth and death of the Game Boy system, Traumatarium strikes all the retro feels. It also makes me dig deep into my memories to try to remember if this is almost too advanced for old Game Boy hardware. But the fact that Horatiu.nyc, the dev behind Eligos Games, has made at least a few custom-packaged Game Boy carts gives me confidence in this game.

The gameplay is where Traumatarium will get players to either love or hate this adventure. You bounce back and forth from the dungeons to the town, and if you don’t prepare or have enough gold to purchase items to survive, you’ll start over and over again. I found that I could only enjoy this game in small bursts and got a bit frustrated when really trying to dig in. If there was a mobile option for this game, its simplicity would fit right in as a game you could play with one hand while riding a subway, eating a sandwich, or swinging a sword at real-life trolls with your other hand. I have a lot of respect for the artists involved in developing Traumatarium and can tell that it was a labor of love for the Game Boy hardware.
In the end, as much as I loved the retro feels Traumatarium gave me, I could only rate it as a 5 out of 10. The gameplay didn’t strike a chord with me despite my love of old-school dungeon crawlers, mostly because of your limited ability to manage your character both in and out of battle. I don’t see myself repeatedly booting up my emulator to try to make progress. I did find that Traumatarium may have opened Pandora’s box for me to explore other indie-developed retro games made in the same vein, so I encourage anyone who finds all my descriptions interesting to grab a copy from itch.io and give it a whirl. I dare any 8-bit dungeon-crawler enthusiasts to put the game on with the speakers on max volume, close their eyes and try not to imagine themselves in 8-bit muscular glory. Go ahead, I'll wait.

July 24, 2022

Ashina: The Red Witch

 Ashina: The Red Witch

Developer: Stranga Games
Other Releases: Red Bow, My Big Sister
Initial release date: 4 June, 2022
Genre: Adventure Game
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita



Ashina is a game about Ash's exploration of the spirit world, discovering more about her mother and herself. This was funded by a Kickstarter created in July 2020 and is a prequel to My Big Sister which Stranga Games confirmed is getting a remaster soon. I started this three weeks ago, but I paused on writing a review until I felt I had ventured far enough into the game to give a full review. I am posting a full playthrough to YouTube and feel I've reached a point where I can discuss the game and not spoil too much! 

I want to start by discussing the visuals and soundtrack; this is an original soundtrack that is available free on Spotify. Whether or not you play this game, you must listen to it. It is phenomenal. The style is pixel art and works very well for what is a very cute game.

The colours work beautifully, everything is clear and well designed I have nothing negative to say about the design whatsoever. Many I know have said it has huge Undertale vibes and I don't disagree.

The one partial downside I believe is the lack of voice acting; I feel that good voice acting would elevate this game beyond belief. The characters of this game are so wonderfully designed, with their sass, wit, and originality. You could know exactly who is speaking with no hints from the language alone. I am a Tanto stan, likes sleep, likes food, can't be spoken to whilst eating. I also love Tena and her huge confidence; I think everyone could use a bit of Tena's flair.

This characterization alongside the story of Ashina is why this is one of the games I have loved most this year. There is a lot of reading which can put some people off, the puzzles are simple, but I feel these mechanics aren't the main focus. This is a story, an experience.

I have probably given the characters about 20 different voices going along, but one thing has stayed consistent: the voice they have in my head. They know who they are and they express it perfectly. It sounds strange to talk about characters as living breathing beings, but if Tanto isn't out there somewhere, scamming free sushi, I don't need to know.

I don't want to spoil the story of the game in this review, and the reason why is because I am desperate for people to experience it. The game is making me feel like I was Ash; I've been annoyed, frustrated, disgusted, and more. For that last one, all I'll say is bath sludge; I know you shivered too...

Stranga Games are also very responsive to players; I do love it when a dev team cares about its community. It is part of the reason I fell in love with indie games but whilst it can't save a bad game, it certainly elevates a good game.

I feel as if I have nothing but praise for this game but to focus on the downsides of Ashina itself is simple. If you want difficult puzzles and intensely detailed fight scenes, this may not be your cup of tea, but for genre fans and those who enjoy a good story and characters, it is a must-have.

This game is currently half price until the end of July at £3.59/$4.99 and at this price I have no hesitation in saying buy it. It is worth it. At its usual price of £7.19/$10, I still think it's worth it; if you like good characters, design, and story, this is a great choice. In my heart, this is a 10, but if I am going to give it an honest review I will have to go with an 8.5/10 it is a very good game within its genre and in general. With voice acting and maybe a few more difficult puzzles this could have easily been higher in my view, but objectively I think this is just a great game.


July 22, 2022

Blackguards 2



I am by no means an expert in Dungeons and Dragons. I've played a handful of campaigns with some friends which none of them ever completed. I enjoy the game when I have time to play, and I know people are hosting a game. Why do I bring this up, you might ask? Because the game I'm reviewing today feels like it's been ripped right from a D&D campaign. Blackguards 2 developed by Daedalic Entertainment was initially released on January 20, 2015, for PC and OS X and then released on consoles in June 2022. I played the Switch version for this review.



The game plays like a tabletop board game version of Dungeons and Dragons. Each level of the game has hexagonal tiles which correspond to where characters can stand. The character's stats will determine in what order they play their turn. Each character is given a move set and may move to the maximum of that move but without the ability to perform an action after moving. Instead, you may opt to move the character within the minimum move set and perform an action. Spells and items can and should be equipped, as well as armor and weapons. The game is turn-based and there is an element of RNG involved when performing attacks, as I found out when my character missed multiple times in a row. Weapons and armors have stats specifically to that item and they don’t correlate to another similar item. Like in Dungeons and Dragons, if you have a weapon, it has pluses to specific stats and negatives to other stats. And there’s no way to improve on those stats like you can in JRPGs. All your stat increases only come from when you level your character.

When your character does level, you have to allocate stats on your characters; unfortunately, this is where I ran into problems. Before I started this game, I was unaware that one of my Switch Joy-Cons wasn't working properly, and by that, I mean my right bumper was completely broken. Unfortunately, this meant that I couldn't get to the page where stats could be allocated, the page where spells could be selected, as well as various other pages. So, my first go-round was riddled with frustration and dismay. The first few levels were fine, but when it came to later levels where I had to have spells and other skills selected, I was out of luck. There is no way to get to the pages that I needed to access. The menus didn't wrap around, so I couldn't use the left bumper to access the proper menu. After replacing my Joy-Cons I was able to access the proper menus and progress through the story.


I'm not going to pull any punches, and Blackguards 2 doesn't either; it is frustratingly hard. If you don't do what exactly the level is looking for you to do, you're not going to pass them. If you are told to escape the area, you need to escape and not stick around to fight the enemies on the map, as you will most definitely fail the level. I made that mistake around the fifth level and was forced to replay it as I was quickly overwhelmed by the forces being thrown at me. And by being forced to replay I mean that I played it over, and over, and over again. That being said, the game is engaging and has a well-thought-out story. And the 25 to 30 hours that it takes to complete the campaign is well worth the $19.99 price tag.


 I would only recommend the game if you're a hard-core Dungeons and Dragons fan; however, for the casual gamer, I don't know if I would. The game could use some quality-of-life changes like having the menus wrap when a button might be malfunctioning. Or showing stats that compare weapons in the shop to the current weapons equipped. It is a daunting task to get through Blackguards 2 and it can be frustrating at times. On some levels it’s unclear as to what route to take to get through. On other levels, the odds are so overwhelming against you that if you don’t take the proper path, defeat the correct monsters, or even have allocated the correct stats to your characters, you won’t pass. Because of this, I have to give the game a 6 out of 10. It just isn't for me with my limited time, I can't afford to repeat levels over and over just to pass them. I didn't see a way to decrease difficulty; sometimes it's needed, especially in this game. I did run into a critical error that shut the game down completely when I tried to cast a barrier spell to block some enemy advances. After this occurred, I didn’t try to recreate the error as I was already on my fourth time of retrying the level in question. 


Sinister Night

Sinister Night

Developer: zstar
Initial Release Date: June 8, 2022
Genres: Multiplayer, Social Deduction
Platform: Steam, Microsoft Windows





Sinister Night is a game that makes you form bonds, distrust your friends, and develop a thirst for murder. This is Phasmo meets Among us, but with much better detailing. The plot is simple, five or eight streamers go to a haunted school for clout, and one to two of them, depending on the game mode, get possessed and decide to murder their friends. This is the first game release I can find from zstar who both developed and published this game.

Sinister Night is a social deduction game at its finest; you are given clues through ritual results, as well as tools that you can pick up or buy from the store. These items include night vision cameras, tracking orbs, and a bird that cheeps when near someone who is possessed. There is also lore hidden around the map in the form of diaries. These can be sold for in-game currency to purchase items.

When playing for the first time, the game gives you control hints that help you start the game straight away. That is a bonus for players like me that launch straight into a game head first.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of the game, and the occasional jump scares. Survivors have a sanity meter that, when depleted, shows you to the possessed for an easier kill. This means you need to not only perform the rituals but maintain your sanity. Running will also deplete your sanity, so choosing when to run is as important as keeping your sanity up.

The possessed are not only trying to sabotage rituals but to gain enough evil power through crystals and other items. There are different types of spirits with different powers. I personally got to play as a shapeshifter with absolutely zero success. You'll see... Once the possessed have enough evil energy, they can transform and kill another player. When this is triggered the game shifts entirely,  all the survivors can do is run and hide, hoping for it to time out without a death.

Once the timer is over, if someone is killed, the game directs you to find the body and hold a meeting. In these meetings, the dead get a public vote to accuse someone else and are allowed 30 seconds to give as much information as possible before being placed into spectator mode. This can really change the whole direction of the game and got me murdered a couple times.

I would be remiss to not discuss the issues that some of us have had with the game. There is a lack of servers within North America and Europe. Asia luckily, does not seem to have this problem. Being in Europe, I've played the game for over three days and have encountered this issue. I did not face the issue many complained about of getting kicked out of Asian servers, but this is a repeated complaint. Some have also complained about people creating locked servers. There is an option to create a passcode to join, and whilst I can understand player frustration, as a streamer, I know that this can actually be key for moderation when individuals play on their own branded platform.

This issue was much more prevalent before the devs responded to the complaints by adding a five-person mode. Originally it was eight players only to start a game, but the developer added a second mode to allow five players, with only one possessed. Developer zstar is not only very responsive to criticism but is always submitting new updates and changes based on player feedback. zstar has also created a discord server for those looking to find matches in their own country and language.

As I said earlier, I played this game on 3 occasions to not only get a real feel of Sinister Night, but also to investigate the server complaints. On day one, I played on an Asian server of eight players. I was tied up first due to my own fault, but I did not feel as though I was targeted or attempted to be unincluded even if I couldn't speak with them during the discussion. On the second day, I again played on Asian servers, not managing to survive but again of my own fault. I found a game with some chaps from the Netherlands and had a lot of fun in a five-person game, even adding them on steam to play more games in the future. On day three, I met a fellow content creator whose group not only welcomed me into their discord chat but treated me as everyone else in the group. We played quite a few games together even though there was clearly a skill discrepancy.

I think the community I've met during my time with Sinister Night has been great, and whilst I understand the frustration with servers, I think once you get into a game, you can easily get involved and make friends.

I know the reviews have been mixed, but honestly, I enjoy this game a lot, and it is likely something I will continue to play. At £7.14/$9.99 I think the price for the replayability is on the higher end, but due to the number of updates, it is worth it. I want desperately to give this an 8.8, but due to the lack of players, I need to give it an 8/10 because I can get a game, and I thoroughly enjoy my time when I do. There is occasionally a bit of waiting to get a game. The developers have been improving this constantly, making me wish more people were playing. If there was a cross over free to play mobile version this could top not only Phasmo but also Among Us.



July 20, 2022

Kyubu Kyubu Dice



Kyubu Kyubu Dice released on Android July 13, 2022, developed by Sleepy Dog Games is a Japanese-inspired action puzzle game. Unlike traditional action puzzle games Tetris, Puzzle Quest, and Candy Crush, this is a new game to the genre.



Currently, there are two modes of play, arcade mode, and puzzle mode, in addition to a tutorial. In arcade mode, you have a board of 7 by 8 squares, and your die starts in the center. As time ticks down faces of the die will appear on the board, your job is to roll the die so that the corresponding side of the die falls flat on the board where the faces have appeared. If you manage to match multiple sides subsequently it will create combos and when you roll onto an open spot with no face and will clear an area around your die depending on how many faces you managed to match. As you progress through levels the time between spawns will decrease. There is no level cap in this mode, but the spawn rate will be so great by level 130 that it would take a master to be able to contend.


Puzzle mode is just that. Each level has a different layout with a different objective. You do have to meet the objective within the given amount of moves to pass the level. The mode does mix it up with raised blocks that really turn up the difficulty factor. There are 25 puzzle levels at the time of writing, with more to come in future updates.

The game is free to play but does have some intrusive ads. Currently, an ad plays at the beginning of play, there is also a banner ad at the bottom of the play area. The developer is working on changing this and is considering offering the ability to remove ads completely for a small fee. There is also talk of adding cosmetics to the die, as well as future updates with new game modes including multiplayer. An iOS version is in the works, but no projected release date as of yet.

Baring the intrusive ads (which the developer has stated he plans to change) this is a near-perfect game. Also, the start of arcade mode has an awkward pause before any blocks are added to the board. I believe this game could become as popular as Tetris. The different game mode possibilities could make the replayability of this game quite high. That's why I'm giving the game an 8 out of 10. If you have an Android device, go download it and give it a try.



July 19, 2022

Gravitar: Recharged

 


Gravitar: Recharged



Developer: Adamvision Studios, SneakyBox

Other Releases: Pivot XL, Goalkeper VR Challenge

Initial release date: 2 June 2022

Genre: Shooter Video Game

Platforms: Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, and Steam



Gravitar: Recharged is the latest resurgence of Atari, Adamvision Studios developed it in conjunction with Lithuanian codeshop Sneakybox, who was also responsible for many other Atari renovations such as Breakout: Recharged and the most well-known Asteroids: Recharged.


The game itself is simply designed but very pretty; the lights and color scheme add a very good layer of calm to what is at times a very frustrating game. The developers clearly know how to put together a good pastel pairing, and I am certainly a fan of what they did. They make it easy to understand where you must avoid, leading to my advice, if it's black, stand back!


Gravitar: Recharged also offers the choice between Keyboard and mouse (kbm) or controller, having both fully supported. Personally, I found the controller an easier option, but my skill level of the game tells you that this does not mean it is correct. As someone who knows many gamers who struggle using kbm due to hand injuries, this is a welcome addition, adding another layer of inclusivity for the game.


The menu is clean, showing the options of arcade and missions, but as I only delved into the arcade mode, that is what I will be talking about today.

I did not try the multiplayer mode of the arcade, but I think it is important to note that this is a great feature of the game, as it triggers the nostalgia of playing these games with my friends and siblings a long time ago in my childhood.


When entering arcade mode, you are thrown straight into the game with a simple instruction "land on a planet." This, however, is much easier said than done. As I began the game, I realized the difficulty of Gravitar: Recharged’s controls are well modeled after its predecessor. You are not only fighting your own reaction times but also the gravity that pulls you down throughout. Standing still in this game is nearly impossible, which keeps the movement throughout.


You enter a planet by hovering nearby it for a small period of time. Each planet has a different level with some different objectives; examples include; activating the beacons, stealing the intelligence, and my personal hell reactor. These levels all have their own reasons for difficulty, whether it be limited space to maneuver, enemies shooting back at you, or just the gravity on each planet.


You shoot in bursts of 3, with a small charge up between each set of shots; this makes aiming important. If you're struggling to stay upright in a fight with another ship, that shot could be the difference between life and death in this game. The sad animation of the ship poofing out of existence breaks my heart to this day.


There are also power-ups you can collect during the game to have different effects on your ship, from health regen to missiles and more. This can make things a little easier for those of me who struggled with certain missions.


I'm going to take a moment to talk about the reactor mission. Out of all the missions, this one was the most difficult for me and, for a while, something I considered impossible. I actually put a bounty out for this and was proven wrong by a player called Hansel_Panda. This mission was tight, not just in movement space, but with the enemies flooding it, the beams waiting to kill you with the help of gravity, and also the escape timer. This was, in my opinion, the hardest part of this game, not to say the rest was easy, however.

On top of everything, Gravitar: Recharged is priced at a very reasonable £7.39/$9.99 this makes it not only a perfect impulse buy but also a great game to gift friends in order to force them to play with you.


I had hoped, however, to see this on speedrun.com; this seems like the type of game that would be incredible to speedrun due to its difficulty, simplistic movement styles, and from what I saw, lack of cutscenes. I really want the speedrunning community to pick this game up, as whilst I could not run it, I certainly would love watching it!


Finally, if you are indeed a psychopath, there is also a way to make this game even harder! With the addition of bonuses including single life, no power-ups, and no shield, this adds a huge difficulty boost for those of you who hate yourself, as well as a lot of replayability.


If I had to assign a number to this game, which, as you know, is 9/10ths of the review process, I would give it a 7/10. 


Overall, this was a very fun game with good replayability, albeit frustrating at times. I like the style, game options, and ideas, but I may not have the skill level it takes to really get into this game myself. Although it is a game I will likely take out every few months to rage at, watch this space to see me beat reactor one day!