Game Quicky: Cube Grid (PC – Steam) ~ Rolling Around On The Grid

Steam store pageOfficial website

To be honest, the mobile games that attract me the most are the simple and easy to understand mobile games. When I play a game on my phone, it’s mostly to waste time while waiting for my train or something along those lines. It’s rare that I play bigger mobile games. When the small German indie studio Alchemical reached out to me with a press code for their newly released Steam port of Cube Grib, I was directly interested. So, in this article you’ll read my 100% honest opinion on the game and if I would recommend it or not. Also, this isn’t the studio’s first game, so, feel free to look at their website if you are looking for other mobile games to try out. In any case, let’s start this game quicky while I invite you to leave a comment in the comment section down below with your thoughts and/or opinions on this game and/or the content of this article.

Editorial note: I played v1.0.1 for this review.

The good cubes

There is no silly story in this game. This could be seen as a bummer to some people, but this game gets into the meat of the gameplay right away. The tutorial explains the game wonderfully, and you can dive right into the game.

The idea of this game is that you have to flip each colored tile while your cube is in the right color. Moving over a full colored tile flips it to a “square” tile (since there is a square drawn on it with that color). Moving over a “square” tile with the same color, flips it back to a full colored one. Which means, you have to reflip it before you can finish the level.

This game is a textbook example of being difficult to explain in text and better to see in action. Sadly, the trailer on the Steam page gives the wrong impression. There, the tiles turn black and this is something that doesn’t happen in the game. Since, that’s how it works in the mobile version. In this, somewhat enhanced PC-version, there are a few improvements that make this game even more enjoyable. Like more control options and being visual a bit better. Also, there are achievements in this version. Something that a lot of people adore, myself included. I find it fun to get these achievements when I do or reach certain things in games.

Now, the mobile version is free. This version costs 4 bucks. This is something you can look at in both ways. As a negative and a positive. Personally, I think this game is worth the price of admission, but I would love to see more features in the future to make it stand out more compared to the free version on mobile.

The controls are quite responsive. They are easy to learn but sometimes a bit tricky to master. For some reason, I messed up sometimes. But, quite sure that’s on me. Since the unique viewing angle of the stage made me mess up my directions sometimes. And to help with that, this game has an undo button that doesn’t count for one additional move. Sadly, you can only undo one move. So, if you want to undo more than one move, you are out of luck.

Visually, this game looks amazing. This game looks clean and isn’t “loud”. Even when you don’t understand English, you can play this game easily. The (UI) design is that good. In addition to that, the audiovisual presentation is great as well. The sound effects and music add so much to the game’s atmosphere. There are a few minor moments that miss sound effects, especially menu interactions but that’s so minor that it didn’t really bother me.

Speaking of visual presentation, you can choose the cube you play as. The amount of stars you earn at the end of each level are currency in the shop you can access from the main menu. In there, you can exchange your stars for a new cube you can play as. This is nothing more than just a visual change, but it is a nice feature that gives a bit of diversity to this game.

This game introduces the special mechanics in a pleasant way. The difficulty curve of this game is excellent, and I have nothing to remark about it. Each level provides a new challenge and the further you go, the more mechanics you’ll have to keep in mind. For example, around the 20th level you get introduced to the “timed tile”. So, when you touch that tile with the right color, you have a certain amount of moves before it reflips. So, keep these tiles as the last tile, so you can win the level.

The fact that there is no time limit or punishment if you take like “a million” moves to clear the level makes this game such an amazing title to wind down.

The bad cubes

There are a few minor issues in this Steam port. Let me talk about the controller controls first. You can control this game with a controller, and it works really well. But, controlling the menu’s and UI of the game isn’t possible. In the latest update, a controller button was added to rewind a move or restart the stage but going to the home menu isn’t possible.

Speaking of the controls, in during the levels you see a “WASD” lay-out. But the game doesn’t recognize another keyboard lay-out. So, I’m sitting here with my Belgian “AZERTY” lay-out being a bit annoyed that it’s not showing “ZQSD”. But that’s a minor nitpick since the arrow buttons work as well and that’s how I mostly played this game.

Now, there is no hint system in this game. So, if you are stuck in a certain puzzle, you can’t have any hints. Granted, developing a hint system for this type of game is quite tricky. How would you implement a hint system without it making the game quite easy or “play itself”. Here is an idea, just like in Quell, you have to pay a certain amount of coins to either see the full solution or set you on your way. And how would you earn these coins in this game? Well, maybe there is on or two hidden in each stage, and you have to click on a certain tile OR the amount of stars makes you earn a certain amount of coins?

Now, the tutorials in this game are excellent. Nothing to criticize about that. But, if you display a text box over the game, make it so that the game can’t be played in the background, or you can create weird edge cases that might break your game.

Something that’s really missing in this game is a colorblind mode. Take a game like Tetris Attack on the SNES, in this game each tile has a symbol on it, so colorblind people can easily recognize which tile is which color. In this game, each color can have its own symbol and the cube to switch color can be a similar shape, so it’s easy to distinguish. And if possible, make it an option so that people who find the mode annoying can turn it off.

There is one feature I’d love to see in a new update. In Invincible Cleopatra, there is a bar to the side of your screen that shows how close you are to perfecting the level. This is something that isn’t in this game. So, when you beat the level, it’s always waiting to see if you do or don’t get all three stars.

The conclusion

I might have written a lot of negative things about this game or things that are a bit broken/unpolished. Yet, most of these things can be patched out of the game with a (few) updates, making this game even more fun to play.

Maybe I’m a bit harsh on the game, and maybe I should look at this game for what it is. A love project where a small team of developers poured their hart and soul into. And that’s something you can clearly see.

While this game has a few shortcomings, I still would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys casual puzzle games. Or if you are looking for a simple but challenging (puzzle) game to wind down, this game is something for you.

If you are really interested in this game, I’d buy the Steam version. Since, you throw some money to the developers and that might motivate them to create an even better version or create more games. If you are unsure, you can give the mobile version a try and decide then.

In summary, this game is good and with some additional polishing it can become even better. Most of the issues I have with this game aren’t that big and can be implemented without a lot of effort. Overall, I think this game is an enjoyable time waster and I can’t wait to see which improvements the future brings.

And that’s everything I wanted to say about this game. Thank you so much for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Score: 80/100

First Impression: Final Fantasy X (PS2) ~ Soccer under water.

Wikipedia entry

So, my vacation recently started, and I felt like playing some games I have in my collection for years but haven’t really played. One of these games is Final Fantasy X on the PS2. A game I started playing this year, but I haven’t gotten the time to start really playing this game. I was even afraid in 2019 that I wouldn’t be able to start playing these two games. But now I have a whole summer to play games, and work inside my apartment. So, was it a good idea to pick Final Fantasy 10 to play during this holiday, or should I start looking for another game? Well, let’s find out together in this first impression article if I think it’s worth our time or if we should skip this game for another one. While I invite you, the reader, to leave a comment in the comment section with your thoughts and/or opinions on the game and/or the content of this article. And no, it’s a coincidence that I pick this RPG with fantasy soccer elements on the day that the final of the European Championship is being played. (That little bit would have worked, if only I was able to finish the article on that day.)

Blitz soccer under water

While writing this article, I found out that this game got an remaster way back in 2016. But, when I was able to pick up this game, and it’s sequel for €5 in my local game store second hand… Well, let’s just say I quickly decided to play the originals. Now that I’m admitting things, I think it’s a good thing to also “admit” or rather inform my readers that I haven’t played a lot of games in the Final Fantasy series. If my memory serves me correctly, this is one of the first Final Fantasy games I really started playing in-depth. I have started playing Final Fantasy 7 and other Final Fantasy titles, but for some unknown reason, I didn’t continue playing them.

Anyway, enough introductory rambling. It’s time to explain the (start) of the story of this game. So, this game opens with Tidus, a blitzball player from Zanarkand who is playing in a memorial cup. This memorial cup is to honor his father, a legendary player who went missing 10 years ago. The memorial cup for Jecht (Tidus’ father) has barely started and a big monster attacks the metropolis. Together with Auron, our main character Tidus is swept away. Who is Auron? Well, he is somebody who was looking after Tidus right after his father went missing and Tidus’ mother died.

Now, where is our Tidus swept away to? To Spira. A world where he barely knows the customs and languages. There, Tidus learns that Zanarkand has been destroyed over 1000 years ago by a being named Sin. And not only that, it turns out the Zanarkand is a holy land.

It doesn’t take long before Tidus’ blitzball skills are discovered by the locals and he enters a tournament. There, he meets various characters like the summoner Yuna. Together with her crew, Yuna is taking a pilgrimage to Zanarkand to destroy Sin. And you can bet on it that Tidus’ joins Yuna’s crew since he wants answers.

A lot of this game is voice acted. If you google this game together with “voice acting”, you get a LOT of varied opinions. From it being the worst they ever heard to being good. Personally, I think the voice acting is a bit on the weak side. I think the biggest issue is the pacing and delivery of the lines. Now, what I mean here is that the delivery of the English lines doesn’t always match the actions on screen. For example, there is a scene where you just enter a village, and you get stopped to get the prayer explained. But, there is a strange pause between the “Oh right, hold up” line and the character actually pulling you aside.

Overall, the writing so far is decent. All the unknown customs and languages are as confusing to us players then they are to our main character. If only the English voice acting was a bit more fine-tuned to give the story a bit more impact, a bit more “umphf” you know. Since there are moments that really have great voice acting, but it isn’t consistent, and it feels unpolished and a tad bit rushed.

Now, I could keep talking about the voice acting and story for a while but since I haven’t beaten the game yet, I think I’ll wait to talk about it more in depth for when I have finished this game and/or I have finished the sequel. Since then, I’ll have a way more clear picture on what the whole game and if it’s really that bad that the internet is actually saying. The only thing I want to say for now is that after 5 hours of playing, this game is a tad bit slow on the story side.

It’s battle time

This game is at its core an RPG. You explore the world while you have random battles with enemies to increase your stats. Besides that, you have a whole blitzball game to play as well. Currently, I haven’t played enough of the game to comment too in depth about blitzball. So, I’m going to focus mainly on the RPG gameplay. The battle system in this game your classic turn based affair. So, that means that if you have played RPG’s before, it won’t take you long before you get into this one.

One of the unique mechanics in this game is the Sphere Grid. I could try and explain it but I found that the Final Fantasy wiki has an excellent explanation. So, props to the writer(s) of that section of the wiki since it’s one of the best explanations of this interesting and fun to play with mechanic I was able to find.

At the end of each battle every party member that took at least one full turn earns AP. Characters who are switched out during their first turn, KO’d, or petrified at the end of the battle will not gain AP. If the player defeats the enemy using an aeon, then Yuna will be treated as having taken a turn even if she only summoned.

When enough AP is earned, the character gains a Sphere Level (“S.Lv“). The amount of AP needed to generate Sphere Levels increases progressively until the character has acquired 101 S.LV, after which an additional Sphere Level will always require 22,000 AP. When moving about the Sphere Grid, the character may move one node forward for each S.LV they have. The player does not need to activate a node to pass by it. Regardless of activation, when the player passes a node, a colored band connects their current node to the node they left to mark their path on the grid. Moving across previously connected paths allows the character to move four nodes for every S.LV they have.

Each character’s starting location on the grid indicates their strengths and weaknesses based on the variety of nodes in their section, though the player can choose to take the character down a different path using Key Spheres. The character-specific sections merge at certain points, allowing a character to take another’s path. The character-specific sections are separated by locked nodes, which become empty nodes once opened, allowing free movement. Ultimately, every node on the Sphere Grid may be accessed by every character.

https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Sphere_Grid

The Sphere Grid makes the combat even more interesting. Something that this game does extremely well is teaching the mechanics and the strategies in battles to the player. It doesn’t overwhelm you with all the mechanics of this game in one go, but it steadily builds up until every mechanic has been covered. While I love RPG’s, I always have a hard time getting into the deeper meta of the game and I barely remember several things like what’s effective against what. Thankfully, in the towns, there is a station where you can re-read every tutorial from the game to refresh your memory. I love touches like these in games since it makes the game more accessible whilst the difficulty doesn’t suffer.

Speaking about difficulty, since you have full control over the Sphere Grid, you can somewhat decide that for yourself. I think this is an excellent idea how to handle difficulty. This way more veteran players can make the game more difficult by not unlocking everything on the grid while for more casual players, the game can become “easier” by unlocking the whole grid.

Something that really surprised me is the fact you can control Tidus via the D-pad. I honestly expected that since this game is on the PS2, only the joystick would move him. But that isn’t the case. You can control him with both. Overall, the controls of this game are quite well done. They are responsive and intuitive. Even when I put the game down for several months in February and picked it back up for this summer vacation, I was able to get the hang of the controls extremely quickly.

Also, the small map/radar helps quite a lot while exploring the area’s you come across. The yellow arrow is you and the red arrow is the next major objective. I’m really curious how that’s going to work when I’m further in the game and I hope it doesn’t take away the joy of trying to find the way to your next location. Since sometimes it’s a lot of fun, getting lost in the RPG world. That’s why I love playing games like Dragon Quest.

A bit stiff

I’m not that picky when it comes to the visuals of a game. I don’t mind if a game hasn’t the best visuals or looks from yesteryear, what matters to me is that the visual presentation is consistent with a nice art style that isn’t too hard on the eyes, fits the theme and atmosphere of game and helps me to pull me into the game. But, there are something’s in this game I want to talk about.

While overall, the visual presentation of this game looks quite good, I do notice some visual hiccups here and there. I honestly can’t tell if that’s because of the composite switch I’m using, my PS2 disc or something else, but I have noticed some visual issues. In one cutscene, you could see how Tidus’ hair is modeled, since it blurred out the background on the empty spots.

Maybe I notice these imperfections more easily since I have been reviewing games for over 11 years now and I might have developed an eye for it. But, there are some things that I really don’t like in terms of animation for this game. For example, I find the somewhat slow run cycle of Tidus so unnatural, it’s honestly almost comical in my opinion. Also, I have seen some strange movements from Yuna during her first cutscenes.

It’s a real shame, since this there is a lot that this game does right in terms of the visual presentation. The battle animations look amazing, and I have seen environments that still hold up in my opinion. But, it’s a bit stiff and rough on some edges. Things that could have been patched out if the game was to release in the modern gaming industry.

Now that I have talked about the visual presentation, I think it’s high time I also talk about the audiovisual presentation. Let’s first talk about the music. The orchestral soundtrack of this game has Final Fantasy written all over it. The classic victory tune and the hints to the original theme in the theme of this game are excellent. When I’m listening to game soundtracks, I rarely skip Final Fantasy soundtracks and this game is one of them. Great soundtrack!

That also goes for the audio in this game. There are a lot of ambient sound effects that pull you more into the atmosphere of the visual design. There were some moments where I felt that some additional sound effects could have helped… like with a silent waterfall. But then again, it might run the excellent sound mixing this game has going on… So yeah.

Now, I want to mention a nitpick. There isn’t a way to quickly skip long animations and/or cutscenes. So, yeah. That’s quite annoying if you are in a rush to get somewhere since you got a game over, and you haven’t manually saved at a save stone in a while. Thankfully, I’m that kind of player who saves at every opportunity I can, just in case…

The final thing I want to touch upon in this first impression is the camera. All in all, the camera in this game is good, but sometimes it doesn’t follow the main player well enough and the main character almost goes off-screen before the camera angle switches. Thankfully, the map helps in these moments, but hey, it could have been better.

Overall, I’m quite happy that I’m giving this game a chance during my summer vacation break. While this game is showing its age in the visual department and that complaint is mostly fixed with the remaster… I do still enjoy playing the original version of the game. The only thing that really bothers me is the mediocre voice acting, which breaks some tension of the story. But, thankfully, it’s great voice practice for me since my folk theater group is restarting after the… let’s just say… the “covid-break”. So, I can try to act it out myself how I would have preformed that line.

While I could have gone more in depth on certain aspects of this game, I’m going to keep that for the review when I have fully beaten this game. I’m really curious if certain opinions are going to change. And with that said, I have said everything I wanted to say about this game for now. I want to thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another one, but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!

Review: Stella Glow (3DS) ~ Swansong

SGCoverRGBOfficial website

Around a month ago, I was looking for a new 3DS adventure to sink my time into. So, I downloaded a few demo’s from the Nintendo eShop. When I played the demo of Stella Glow, I wanted to give the full game a try. Later that day, I talked to my friends over at ButtonSmashers and something happened. I was asked to review this game and I got a review copy. So, that was a very lucky thing. Also, the subtitle of this review has a special meaning. This game is published by Sega, Atlus & NIS America but it has been developed by Imageepoch. Sadly enough, they are bankrupt now. So, they made this TRPG (tactical RPG) about music as their final game. Is it any good? Well, I had high expectations. And as usual, feel free to leave a comment with your opinion on the content of this article and/or the game. 

Note: I want to thank NIS America & ButtonSmashers for giving me a download code for this game.  

Swansong

SG-06.jpg

In this game, you play as Alto. A boy who got adopted and lost his memories. One day, when he was out hunting, he encountered a mysterious woman that warns him to leave the village. He refuses and not too long after, all hell breaks loose.

This is how the game starts. There were a lot of cliches in the story, but they didn’t weaken the story one bit. The writing of the characters is excellent. You really get to know the large cast of characters in this game. Both in the main story and in the side missions, all characters well developed. Every character has his/her own personality and they can be very relatable.

The only negative I have for the story is that it introduces too much new major plot points in the final three chapters. So, the pacing of the story isn’t the best in the end. But hey, it’s a minor thing in my eyes since it keeps you at the edge of your seat.

Something that really helps in the story department is the voice acting. Man, the voice acting is top notch. All the actors did an amazing performance for this game. I have nothing bad to say about the voice acting of this game.

Read the full review on ButtonSmashers, since I got this game from them.