Speedrunning Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine GBC – Level 1 – Canyonlands (Part 1)

PC game reviewGBC review

In the past, I have reviewed the two versions of one of the biggest games in my childhood. Ever since I saw Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Arc, I was hooked. When my cousin showed me that he had a 3D PC adventure game starring Indiana Jones, I kept playing that game until the disc actually broke on me. Yes, that frequently. Also, I didn’t have a lot of access to the internet and also my native language isn’t English, so navigating the early internet was a challenge. So, beating this game without it being well known… Was a challenge. It was no Pokémon where you could ask things to other kids during recess. I played this game over and over again, and a while ago I started speedrunning it. And in this new series of articles, I’m going to talk about the routes/tips & tricks on speedrunning this game. I’m going to focus on the GBC version, since that’s the version I mostly run and know best.

Some background

Foremost, I want to give some additional background. Especially since this is the first article in a series. When I got the GBC version for my birthday one day, I was unable to beat it. I was unable to finish Shambala for the longest time. There are some unlogical things you have to do if you haven’t played the PC version or if you don’t try everything.

Fast-forward to last year in April. After re-playing the game for the “I lost count how many times” time on the PC, I wanted to challenge myself. So, I thought, why not speedrun the game. And then I started running the PC version. I started the “All Treasures category” in the PC version since the “Any%” category is quite optimized.

If you are already lost in what I’m saying let me quickly fill you in. A speedrun is a challenge you can do in a game where you have to beat a level or the full game as quickly as possible without cheating. Now, abusing game mechanics or glitches is allowed. Well, depending on the category and/or game. Some terms that speedrunners use are:

  • ILS: a term used when only one level is ran.
  • Any%: a term that’s used to indicate that the goal is beaten as fast as possible by skipping as much as possible.
  • Category: an example of a category is Any% or ILS. It’s a type of speedrun, basically. You either have the complete the whole level/game 100% as fast as possible or collect all X or not take damage or not abuse a certain glitch… It explains itself basically.
  • TAS: Tool Assisted Speedrun. This means that certain tools were used to create the run. For example, using save states to create the perfect run. (A save state is “save” that saves the current state of the game at the moment the save state is made and can be loaded by the press of a button). Tools like emulators to have better quality footage of the run aren’t always TAS runs, depends on the game/community.
  • Strats: just a sort of strategy/technique.
  • PB: personal best time.

Now, I’ll try to explain terms in my article. When you don’t understand a certain term or something written in this article, feel free to leave a comment in the comment section, and I’ll do my best to answer it. Anyways, let’s start with explaining the starts and such are used in the first level of the Game Boy Color version of the game.

Any%

The official rule set at the moment of writing:

Link to Speedrun.com page
The current world record at the time of writing is owned by Molotok who ran this level in 29 seconds.
My current best at the time of writing is 30 seconds, which earns me the second place.

In the Any% route of this level, you get directly introduced the one of the biggest tricks in this game and that’s ladder sniping.

You’d think that runners are jumping to their impending doom here. Yet, this isn’t true. In this game, when you jump down, and you grab a ladder, all movement and fall damage is canceled. After Indy slides down the ramp, almost directly to the right, you can find the ending of the level.

Sadly, there are some annoying parts of this ladder snipe. For of all, take this image. On there, I have drawn a blue line and a green line. Stating the obvious I know, but go with me.

When Indy slides down at the start of the level, he stops somewhere in the blue zone. Well, more in the middle of the ramp. But the annoying thing is that when you go directly to the right then, you’ll hit a wall.

If you want to beat the WR in this level, and you hit that starting wall, you might as well reset. This ladder snipe is so optimized that the world record hasn’t been tied yet. Even master PC/N64 runner the_kovic with his 30 second run has trouble matching that 29 seconds.

After falling down, you need to grab this ladder. Grabbing the ladder when falling down is dubbed a “ladder snipe” in our community. The following image is the frame I grabbed the ladder in my PB.

This is how Molotok got the ladder snipe:

A few pixels higher and a bit more in the middle. This meant he saves some milliseconds there and actually goes faster.

After that, it’s climbing up and going to the right:

Taken from Molotoks video of his 29 second speedrun.

See the green line? Well, that’s a jump. It’s a few frames faster than walking close to it and then jumping. After that, we walk diagonally and give or take at the black X, we jump.

Why a jump towards the ladder there? Well, climbing ladders in this game is extremely slow. The fewer time spent climbing ladders, the better. In this game, you don’t need to start at the bottom of the ladder to climb one. In this game, there are a few moments where you need to drop from the top of a ladder to the bottom of another one. This means, that as soon as Indy hits a ladder, and you hold up, the game’ll cling Indy to the ladder, and you can start climbing. The game automatically centers Indy into the middle of the ladder when you grabbed the sides while climbing upwards. This little jump (ab)uses on how the ladders work to shave off a few frames.

When climbing up the ladder, a trick comes which I have a hard time mastering. And that’s when you reach the top of the ladder, you can go a bit to the side to save a few frames. For some reason, I go too much to the left and fall off. So, that’s why I don’t do it in my run but other runners and the TAS of the Any% of this game does.

It basically looks like this, done by Molotok

After that, we go a little to the left and do two jumps in quick succession.

Still taken from my 30 seconds PB.

The second jump is basically to lower the climbing time.

Comparing my PB to the world record, I notice that it’s mostly movement based. The fact that my snipes usually a little lower, and I don’t do the trick at the top of ladders. This costs me a ton of frames, making my 30 seconds run a bit slower compared to the world record.

After reaching the top, you have give or take 5 seconds of a small cutscene. I highly recommend you mash the A button at that time, since the faster the text box goes away, the better.

Now, when you do this ladder snipe and go for any%, the ending of this level is a bit different. The final scorpion isn’t present at ladder and Sophia doesn’t appear in the end credits scene. I honestly don’t know why, but it’s a unique difference between the Any% route and the “All Treasures route”.

Feedback requested

Now, before I get into the “All treasures” route of this level and the differences in a full game run and an ILS, I want to wrap up this article here. Because I want to hear from you all what you think. Would you want more articles like this? Where I talk about the route, techniques and all that? Do you want it in a different structure or in a different way? Is everything clear or are some parts confusing?

Writing about my speedrunning experiences is something I wanted to do for quite a while. Especially since this blog is a sort of diary of my gaming life and beside in update articles or on my Twitter, I haven’t really talked too in depth on my speedrunning. And since the PC & N64 routes are quite well documented, I thought it would be fun to do that for the GBC as well in my unique way.

I thought writing an article on my blog, giving the game more exposure would be way more fun than; how I wrote that guide about the locations of all the treasures in the PC version you can find on the resources page on the Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine speedrun page. So, this is really an experimental article and depending on your feedback… I’ll continue this series and/or improve it accordingly.

Thank you so much for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed it. I know it’s something else besides my usual game reviews and such, but I felt refreshed writing about something different and still have it game related. I enjoyed writing this so much, and I can’t wait to see, hear and read the reactions. If you all enjoy this, this’ll become another series on my blog until I have talked about every level in the game and talked about the full game runs.

And with that said, I think I have to say goodbye for now. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article about speedrunning this game and/or me talking about another game. But until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Game Quicky: Invincible Cleopatra: Caesar’s Dreams Collectors’ Edition (PC) ~ Mummy’s At Work

Steam linkBigfish Games (Collectors Edition)

It’s no secret that I enjoyed playing casual games. If a game looks interesting to me, I want to give it a try. It doesn’t matter to me if the game is from a big studio or a small indie team of 1 or 2 people in their bedroom. Today, I want to talk about a game set in Ancient Egypt. Something I really have a weak spot for. Games set in old mythological settings like Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece… Sing me up! But, is this game worth your time as well or is this a guilty pleasure of mine? Let’s take a look at this game while I invite you to leave a comment in the comment section down below with your thoughts and/or opinions on this game.

Who let the mummy’s out?

In this game you play as Cleopatra. You are trying to save Egypt from an attack from the Romans. You have to collect resources and find your way to the next area, so you can confront Caesar to try and save Egypt before it’s too late. And how are you going to do that? By invading Caesar’s dreams of course by trying to find a special mysterious amulet. It’s inception levels of peace talks. The story is quite silly and I love it. While it’s not a story that’s going to bring you to the edge of your seat, it’s still a nice addition.

If you just look at this screenshot, you’ll have a rough idea on how this game works. I call these type of games: “Free the pathway puzzlers”. So basically, you have to free a way to the end of the level by sending your limited amount of troops to gather the various resources. Removing obstacles cost a certain amount of resources, so you have to think fast about which resources to gather first and which obstacle to remove first.

I bought the collectors’ edition from Bigfish Games. In this edition, you have an additional chapter with more challenging levels to enjoy. It also includes a strategy guide that you can use when you want to beat the game 100%.

But I find it more fun to use that guide when you are 100% stuck. It also doesn’t hold your hand in how to beat the game but gives very good advice and basically explains the strategy on which section you have to focus on. There is a bit more in the collectors’ edition like the complete soundtrack, some developer art and some wallpapers.

Now, I haven’t played a lot of these type of games, but this game is managing to make me interested to play more of these type of games. I just hope they are as high quality as this one. I especially enjoy the hidden gem in each level that is a small distraction if you are waiting on your mummies to return to base camp.

The visual and audiovisual presentation of this game is great as well. It doesn’t take long before you learn all the little things that the developers put in place to aid you. The visual indication when you are trying to do something impossible; the way it shows how the path is blocked. Or the little sound cue that plays when you haven’t beaten the developers’ time.

The difficulty curve of this game is excellent. It eases you into the game, and you learn the mechanics and the small details quite easily. I never really had a moment where I didn’t really understand a mechanic. The bulk of the challenge in this game is trying to remember and optimize everything you learned in the later levels.

The visual design of the level map is great. You can quickly see how many stars you have earned in a level and if you have found the hidden gem as well. Thanks to the minimalistic UI design, it’s extremely easy to understand and use. To the point that English doesn’t need to be your first language to enjoy this game. You’ll miss out on the story, but that isn’t the biggest strong point of this game.

This game isn’t too difficult. While it’s a big challenge to beat the developer’s time, you aren’t punished too hard when you don’t beat the time. There is no real “game over” screen. Which can be seen as a negative as well. But, I honestly see it as a positive. It gives something for completions to aim towards while more casual players can just relax and enjoy the game.

Who let the mummy’s out??!!

This game is best played in short bursts if you aren’t really into these types of games. Since the repetitive nature of this game can become boring if you keep playing it without a break. The core mechanics never really change and so far, 25 levels in… I haven’t seen a lot of variations on the formula.

Some achievements are quite unclear. There isn’t even a hint in the build in strategy guide. Which is quite a shame in my opinion. Especially since you don’t know if you need to play at a certain difficulty level to unlock it or not.

Especially when you can collect two types of stars. You have the yellow stars, and you have the green stars. I’m currently halfway into the game and I still don’t understand how to get those green stars. I even played several easy levels on the highest difficulty and I still didn’t receive green stars. Most likely, I’m overlooking something, and it’s easier than I think.

Something I find a bit disappointing is that you can see the complete strategy guide from the main menu. So, you can spoil yourself on all the boards of the game. But, this isn’t such a big deal since the strategy guide is quite lacking. It explains the steps is extremely basic terms. It’s not really a strategy guide but more of a hint system. Especially, because like I said before, it doesn’t explain how to get certain achievements.

While there is a tutorial, there isn’t a “help feature” in this game. So, when you haven’t played this game for a while, and you forgot what certain buildings do, you are out of luck. You either try to understand it from context clues or replay the first few levels in the hope you find the correct level. Thankfully, this isn’t such a big problem, since in most cases, the context clues gives you the right hints but still. Maybe it would have explained how to get the green stars?

There is one mechanic I wished they handled differently. And that’s the “skip level” feature. You can skip levels as soon as the level is loaded. This makes the game way too easy. I wish you were able to use that button after for example three failed attempts or finding the hidden gem in the level.

The final negative I wanted to talk about is how silent the game is. When I placed everything on max volume, I still was able to hear my Groove play music in the background. I totally forgot to close my music player when I started playing this game a bit while writing this article and I noticed that Groove was only at 10% of its max volume. I continued to test, and it turns out that this game is just quite silent. Which is a shame since the soundtrack is enjoyable and the sound clues are important during gameplay.

Conclusion

This game got quite close to being an amazing casual game. But the rough edges it has, can be a dealbreaker for some players. Thankfully, the rough edges aren’t such big dealbreakers that make this game unplayable.

I really enjoy playing through this Egyptian adventure. I’m happy that I gave this game a try, and I’m quite curious to see other games of the same genre. How different are they and are they as fun to play as this one?

If you know of any good games like this one, feel free to leave a comment. I do have a few in my collection. Maybe you’ll see a few of them on my blog in the future?

So, if you enjoy casual games or just want a relaxing game… This game might be up your alley. Maybe even this article convinced you to take a look at this game. Who knows?

And that’s everything I wanted to say about this game. I hope you enjoyed reading this article 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: 4/5

Game Quicky: My Little Universe (Android) ~ Gather & Dump ’em boys.

Google Play StoreiOS versionFan subreddit

Finding enjoyable mobile games isn’t an easy task now-a-days. A lot of them have a microtransaction trap or are just filled with ads to the brim. And some of them, aren’t even that fun to play. But, when I notice that I start playing a mobile game for several hours and hours, play it on the train from and to work… Then, I know I found a mobile game that I want to talk about. In today’s article, I want to talk about My Little Universe. A game about grinding actually, something I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy this much. But, is it just me enjoying this game or is this game actually good? Let’s find out in this game quicky article where I talk about the positive, negative things about the game and the round it all nicely up with a conclusion bow. And if you want, you can leave a comment in the comment section down below with your thoughts and/or opinions on the game and/or the content of this article.

Editorial note: This review is written while playing v1.16.x branch. There were 3 smaller bugfix updates during me playing and writing this article.

Worth gathering

The idea in this game is that you gather resources to expand your island and repair the portal to the next world. All the while, you can upgrade your gear, battle monsters and explore the world.

Something I really like in this game is how you can’t buy these resources easily through microtransactions. This means that you don’t have to fear that this game locks you into a microtransaction loop.

There is an owl in each world that offers either a huge amount of resources, but these are totally optional. You don’t have to buy them to progress in the game or to “make the game playable”.

This game is extremely easy to learn and master. In terms of controls, you only need to know that you can move your character quite well by moving a virtual joystick. Mining and attacking all happens automatically. This game is also quite forgiving. When you die, you respawn at the last entrance.

Which you can use at your advantage. For example, in the second world in one of the caves you need a ton of stone. Since, the stone supply wasn’t all that good to gather in large quantities in the cave, I went outside to the mountains to gather them. When I felt I had enough, I just jumped in the water and let the sharks eat me to respawn at the cave entrance, so I didn’t have to make the long trek around.

This game controls extremely well, and I highly advise you to learn the timing on when resources respawn. This can be quite helpful to gather huge amounts of resources easily. At the start, you’ll gather only small amounts of resources from each location, so that’s why my second tip is to upgrade your pickaxe and axe. Since, they’ll increase the amount of resources you get from each mining session or even the speed.

If you regularly upgrade your tools, you rarely to never have to fear that you get stopped because you can’t mind the resources you need since your tool isn’t at a high enough level. And in terms of tools, you only have three of them. Your sword, your pickaxe and your axe. So, no real need of fearing that you need to upgrade a lot.

While the visual presentation is close to very good, I really like how the UI works. The UI shows only what you need to know. It hides the amount of resources you don’t need to know about. For example, if you aren’t working with resources from the first world, they are hidden. You can still use your backpack to see how much resources you have of what. You can also use that to locate certain resources when you need them. A big arrow will appear above your head to locate them.

This game automatically saves. So, you don’t have to worry that you loose progress when you exit the game. You’ll also restart at the last entrance you started at when you start the game.

This game is quite optimized. I never noticed slowdowns nor lag. Also, the loading times between locations is incredible. The amount of assets that are loaded in such a short time is just impressive.

The music and sound effects of this game are amazing. I really like them. They add a lot to the atmosphere and feeling of the game. I find it a bummer that I’m unable to easily listen to the soundtrack outside the game.

There is no real story in this game. So, that means that there is no real need for translation of this game. So, you don’t need to know English to play this game. But…

Let’s dump this

There is no real story in this game. Now, why did I place this in the negative part. Well, while I do understand and enjoy the roleplay potential that this game has, where your mind is able to run free what the worlds are supposed to be… I feel like a lot of chances for more atmosphere are missed. When I started the 3rd world, I felt like this game was missing something.

I just wish there was a little more character in the game. Like danger signs when entering a cave or more set dressing. The idea’s in how the worlds are designed are just amazing, but it lacks a bit of immersion. And I think a bit more set dressing can go a long way.

Maybe this is only on my phone, but there was a lot of Z-fighting happening in the game. Especially on the edges or bottom of textures. For those who don’t know what Z-fighting is, it’s basically when the game doesn’t know which texture should be displayed on top of which texture, and you get blinking textures where they alternate and try to be on top. It’s quite distracting if it happens on a large scale. I have added an example from Minecraft here.

Z-fighting in Minecraft with the stone fences. Taken from the bug tracker.

While I totally understand that a free game needs to have ads, I do want to talk about them. In most cases, the ads in this game aren’t that bad, but they are currently dangerously close to being quite annoying. I don’t have problems with the ad banner on the bottom, nor do I have a problem with the big resource piles you can get for free by watching an ad or the chance that you get a short ad after dying or going between worlds/caves. I do have an issue with the ads that play after you unlock a platform. These are sometimes too frequent and have the potential to break the gameplay flow somewhat.

Also, you can buy tickets to skip ads. And here they decided to do something I really dislike personally. You can’t choose to watch an ad and save your “skip ad ticket”. Thankfully you don’t lose one when an ad plays during other moments. Yeah, when you have those tickets, you can only skip those ads during picking up resources. These, thankfully short, ads still play when you travel between locations or respawn.

Depending on how you are with repetitive gameplay, this game can be boring in longer play sessions. I notice that when I play this game, I often play it in short bursts. Since there aren’t a lot of different mechanics besides gathering resources and placing them in the right location.

Something I don’t know if it’s the fault of the developers or the ad engines, but some ads can be quite annoying. Some ads appear to be playable, but then aren’t playable and appear blank. Others have an unresponsive skip or close button and take you to the App store. These should be able to be blocked by the developer if they have the chance since it shines a bad light on the game.

So, what now?

Personally, I enjoy playing this game. This game is fun to play in a short burst and respects the player. The ads walk that fine line of being acceptable and quite intrusive. Honestly, it depends on my patience level for them on that moment.

The fact that when you upgrade your gear, it’s also shown on the character. Visually, apart from the sometimes quite aggressive Z-fighting, this game looks quite polished for a mobile game. Together with a great soundtrack and sound effects, this game doesn’t have a lot of negatives.

True, the game can be repetitive in longer play sessions… But, that’s not such a big problem since this game autosaves, and you can easily play this game in shorts burst because of that.

If you enjoy casual games or games where you can wind down… Or you need easy to pick up and play games, I really think that this game is something for you. I really like to play this game during my breaks, while crossing my fingers that the ads aren’t too aggressive that time.

And with that said, I have said everything I wanted to say about this game. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I also hope to welcome you in another article, but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Score: 4/5

Game Quicky: The Rat Pack (Itch.io – PC) ~ The Rats Will Take Over

Itch.io page

Indie games can be unique. Today’s game is no different. Today, I want to talk about a game that’s created by the developers of that point-and-click game, Captain Disaster. I honestly expected a new point-and-click game when he contacted me via Twitter and when I heard it was going to be about rats, the edutainment collector part of my brain went directly to Mia: The Mouse, but this game is something completely different. It’s a TBS game, a turn-based strategy game. About rats? This is going to be unique. But, we need to ask, is this going to be the good kind of unique or the bad kind? Let’s find out in this 100% honest review of this game that I get a press review copy for. And yes, feel free to leave a comment in the comment section with your thoughts and/or opinions on the content of this article and/or the game.

Good rats, pet them

I love this easter egg random event to bits.

The story of this game is about a colony of rats going for bigger and better. Starting off on a farm and going to the big city. I’m so happy that in terms of the story, this game isn’t doing anything silly and trying to put a fantasy spin or something on it… It feels realistic and stays in the background. It’s the perfect set dressing for the game. There is one random event, that I really love. I think you can guess which one is with the screenshot here.

Most of this game is spent on one screen. This is the game screen. There are 5 squares. Let’s start with the easiest to explain. You’ll have the yellow square in the top right, this is where everything that happens during your turn is shown.

The white square in the middle is one that shows special messages. I chose a beta screenshot here on purpose, since this random event message is now one of the various events that have a nice artwork accompanying it. But not every random event has a drawing.

Then, in the bottom left, you have the rat lab. This is your upgrades section. You have 4 things that you can upgrade, and these are essential. Depending on your lab level, you earn a certain amount of lab points per turn. You can upgrade the lab by scavenging for treasure. Each upgrade can improve the skills of your rats to avoid a game over. A game over is when your population reaches zero. That’ll cause you to restart the mission.

I could write a whole article explaining how this whole game works, but the tutorial does an amazing job of that. And not only that, the difficulty curve in this game gets a chef kiss from me. In each mission, a new mechanic is introduced, and you learn easily the amount of depth this game has. You learn when you can risk losing rats in your colony and when you urgently need to do something.

There are three difficulty levels, and you can finish this whole game playing on easy mode. But, the easy mode isn’t a cakewalk. You’ll need to learn the game and think carefully about what you want to do with your colony. And try to not get distracted by the amazing music this game has. Seriously, I would love to buy this soundtrack! Together with the amusing voice work and charming sound effects, the audiovisual presentation is quite good.

At first, I was worried that this game would be boring and repetitive. But, after playing 10 missions so far, I really have to say that I’m quite enjoying myself. With an easy to learn but tricky to master game, I’m impressed with this game. Sadly, there are a few things I didn’t really like, and I’m going to explain them in the next section of this article.

Bad rats, trap them!

So, what does this game do wrong? Well, first, there is no way to save mid-mission. Thankfully, this isn’t too big of an issue, since the missions themselves are sort. Well, I say short, but I have only played this game on easy and normal difficulty, so maybe it’s long on the harder difficulty?

The second negative of this game is a strange design quirk. Why is the pause button “F1” and not “Escape”? It really messed with my hardwired brain.

Overall, the UI design is excellent… But, there is something that would take it to the next level. Currently, when you beat a level, it gets a checkmark. And it doesn’t matter on which difficulty. I would love to see a different color checkmark depending on which difficulty you have beaten the level. Since, currently, the only way to see that is in the achievements’ menu which doesn’t even have a back arrow.

Another flaw in terms of the UI is in the red bottom right corner of the game screen. There are two things wrong with that in the version I reviewed. First, it doesn’t tell you the amount of treasure you’ll need to upgrade the attack and defense of your colony. Secondly, it doesn’t tell you when you can do a raid and how many raids you have done. This is somewhat annoying in some missions where you need to do 5 raids, and you didn’t keep count.

Something I personally missed was some animation in this game. Currently, all random events have a nice drawing, but the attacking and under attack events are too static. Either add a drawing or two for them or have some animation. It would polish up the game that much more.

And that’s about everything. So, shall we go on to the conclusion? Before I ramble on, and on.

So, what we RAT this game out?

Terrible pun aside for this final section of the article, is this game worth your time, or is this conclusion going to rip this game apart? Well, to be very honest, it’s the first. This game is really worth your time. Especially because most of the things I didn’t like about this game can be fixed and fine-tuned with an update or two.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this game to everyone. If you enjoy casual/puzzle and turn-based games, I would give this game a chance. But, don’t expect this game to be action-packed. This game is more on the calming and relaxing side. The charm of a small group of creators developing a game is oozing out of this one.

I would really pet this rat and not rat this game out. It’s a great game with some minor flaws. And I can’t wait to finish this game and maybe try the hard difficulty option. And maybe I’m even going to try to fill out that achievement page.

And with that said, I want to wrap up this article and thank you for reading it. I hope you enjoyed reading this article 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: 70/100

Game Quicky: Pnevmo-Capsula: Domiki (PC – Steam) ~ Riding The Message

Steam store page

Today, I want to talk about a game called Pnevmo-Capsula: Domiki. A sort of interactive rollercoaster set in the old Soviet Russia. A game was created by a tiny team that created and published their first game. The developers reached out to me with a press code and asked me to write my 100% honest opinion on the game. So, is this game worth our time and our money, or should the developers try something else for their next project? Or should they stop creating games in the first place? That’s what I’m going to try and figure out in this article. And as usual, I invite to you leave a comment in the comment section with your thoughts and/or opinions on the game and/or the content of this article.

Riding the message

This game is really simple to understand. There are two sections in this game. The riding and the puzzle-solving section. In the riding section, you can control the cart quite easily left and right. You’ll have to look out for holes in the tracks and maybe use different routes to overcome the hole. You’ll also have to disable electric gates, which you can do with your electric shock ability at the end of the wire of the electric gate.

This electric ability is also how you interact with puzzles. Almost all the puzzles are the exact same. You have to start a machine and then figure out the four numbers of the recipient of the message. This might sound boring and repetitive, but the puzzles are all well crafted and fun to solve. I was so happy that I had two monitors, so I could take a screenshot of the list of possible numbers to aid me in solving the puzzle.

These two styles of gameplay give the game a lot of variation. There are eight chapters in this game, and whenever you mess up, you start at the beginning of the chapter. But, everything is still unlocked. So, for example, when you opened several gates… These will stay open when you respawn. This might be a useful trick for speedrunners.

In terms of visuals, this game looks amazing. I have seen games that look several times worse at this price point. There are some rough textures, like at the start of the 2nd chapter and somewhere in the 3rd on the telephone pole, but these moments were far and few in between. The camera work is really stunning. The only thing I would improve a bit is making it a bit more clear when you are at the right spot to interact with a puzzle, gate, or something.

The music and sound effect are decent. Nothing too special in my opinion, but I feel they are good enough to fit the atmosphere and setting of this game. But something else that’s mind-blowing is how, after the first chapter, there are no loading screens in the whole game. And respawning only takes a couple of seconds.

The message is lost

In this game, you play as a capsule. You’re riding on a railroad towards your final location to deliver various messages. That’s the story of this game. Sadly enough, that’s literally IT in terms of story. Apart from some world-building with the puzzles, there is no real story in this game. Why are we delivering messages in this manner? It’s such a shame that for a game that looks as nice as this, there is no real story present.

I don’t mind games that are short in nature. Creating a game is quite difficult, and making unique puzzles is a tricky thing to do. But the runtime of this game is a real shame. This game took me only 2 hours to beat TWICE. Yes, twice. There are no different endings or different ways to beat the game. So yeah, the mechanics and ideas in this game are seriously under-explored.

In general, the controls are good. Yet, there are some things that can be polished up. First of all, you can speed up with the left-hand shift key. And if you have a right-hand shift key, well, that doesn’t work to speed up. Secondly, sometimes in bends, the key I was using to go forward didn’t move the cart forward and almost got stuck. And finally, apart from interacting with the space bar… there is no real “break” button for your cart.

There are some minor things I would have improved as well. For example, it’s quite tricky to control the puzzles in some cases. It’s not always clear what you can do and how to move in the puzzle itself. I think it would be a lot better if you could use the mouse during these sections. Since the mouse is on-screen and can only be used in the menus.

The UI in this game is good, but sometimes it does strange things like not remembering your language. But, the options’ menu is lacking in my opinion. You can disable the music, but there is no volume slider. So, you can’t disable the sound effects, either. The resolutions are quite strange as well. There is a 7680*4320 resolution? Also, the buttons are clickable from anywhere on the screen as long as you are at the same height as them.

But the BIGGEST no-no this game makes is when you finish the game and restart from an earlier chapter, be careful with your save then. Since, as soon as you beat a chapter… All your other progress gets erased. For example, you have beaten chapter 6 and want to replay chapter 1. So, you go back to the main menu, choose chapters, and start chapter one. You finish chapter one, and you go back to the main menu, to start chapter 6… You’ll notice that only chapters 1 and 2 are unlocked! Thankfully, the game is short, so you can go right ahead to the location you were in, but if the game were longer this would have been a grave issue.

A less grave issue is that there is no continue option in the main menu. That’s a bit of polish this game lacks. Like, the strange jitter effect you get when you ram into an electric gate. Or the fact, that you don’t get a visual notification when you finish a chapter besides going through a gate that closes behind you. And the final thing of lacking polish is that only going from chapters 1 to 2, you have a loading screen. When you start from any other point, you’ll get a black screen… Yeah.

And that’s honestly everything I could say about this game. So, I think it’s high time to wrap up this article with the conclusion.

Should the message be delivered?

This game is a decent game for the low price point of €9. But, at its current point, I wouldn’t pay anything more. Especially for the extremely short length of this game. There is so much more that could have been done with the concept and mechanics. For example, a puzzle where you have to deliver several messages in a certain order. Or having to open/close gates.

Besides that, like every other game… This game has some other flaws. Apart from the quirkiness with the chapters, I explained earlier, most of these negatives can be polished with a patch. Apart from the lacking story, of course.

If you enjoy casual puzzle games, I would certainly give this game a look. But, to the developers, I would say, keep working on this game. Keep expanding it with new content and mechanics. If this is your first released game, I would have to say bravo. There is a lot of potential here, and I would love to see longer and more in-depth experiences.

For a small passion project, this game turned out amazing. But, I want to see this game become more than a passion project. Since, when I had beaten the game, I felt cheated. I wanted to see more, play more, but it was over when I was really getting into it.

And with the said, I want to thank you 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 to another one. Until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.

Score: 3/5

First Impression: Abyss of the Sacrifice (Switch) ~ Puzzlerooms To Sacrifice

Age warning: This game is 16+.

Wikipedia entryNintendo.com microsite

I might be a day late for Halloween, but today on the day after, I still want to talk about a somewhat horror related game. As regular readers of my blog know, I’m an avid fan of the Zero Escape trilogy. So, when I saw this game pop up on the Nintendo Switch eShop, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I had to give it a try. I enjoyed my time with it that much, that it even slipped in my top 10 games of 2020. Why did I give this game a spot there? Well, let me explain why, while I invite you to leave a comment in the comment section down below with your thoughts and/or opinions on the game and/or the content of this article.

Puzzlerooms to sacrifice

This game follows the story of 5 girls who are left in the “Foundation”. This is a strange place underground that has been built for some reason that everybody has forgotten. It doesn’t take long before our 5 heroines meet each other and strange things like earthquakes start happening. And let’s not forget, since everybody is gone from the Foundation, food and water supplies are getting more difficult to come by every day.

I don’t want to talk much about the story, since it hinges on its mystery quite a lot. It’s that sort of story where you are left in the dark about everything right from the start, but the further you go in the story the more gets explained. I do highly recommend playing this game without a break like I did. I had to restart my playthrough since I completely forgot what was going on, and I got confused.

Something that took me by surprise is the fact that this game is fully voice acted, in Japanese. Now, this makes my job of reviewing this game a bit more difficult. I barely know any Japanese, so take what I’m going to say next with a grain of salt. But, I feel that the voice acting is pretty good. I really felt the emotional performance of the voice actors and I feel they did an amazing job.

Something I really did like is how there are some cliché characters, like your doctors’ girl and the patient that went in and out of hospitals but the interaction and the backstory of these characters is handled in such a unique way, it feels quite fresh and unique. The story itself is getting quite interesting at the moment where I’m at, and I’m so glad I choose the Switch version over the Steam version since now I can take it with me on the train from and to work.

Visually, the game looks amazing. The artwork really immersed me into the world and the story. Together with the great music and sound design, I really felt like I was exploring a mystery in the Foundation. Sometimes, an important item blended into the scenery, but it gave off a small sparkle, so you didn’t have to go pixel hunting.

I really like the hint system in this game. At any time, without a penalty, you can in the menu to the “Hint” system, and you can look at the hints. Only the hints that help you to get further in the puzzle are unlocked. The ones you need later in the puzzle aren’t accessible and not even shown. The minor negative you could say that this system brings is that it somewhat spoils the length of the room, but that’s a minor thing in my opinion.

You can play this game out of order. So, each time you finish a chapter, you unlock the next entries of the story of each girl. You can play them in any order you like. To avoid getting even more confused about what’s going on, I played them somewhat in order. But, it’s a great thing that if you get stuck on one puzzle, you can stop it and go to another girl to try on that puzzle later. And believe you me, the puzzles can get quite challenging. I even had to get out a pen and paper for several puzzles to solve it.

The controls and the UI of this game is something to be praised. The only minor negative thing is that there is no real autosave, but you can save easily at any time in an overload of save slots. The amount of options is a good to have, so that way you can adjust your experience to your liking. And the easy to learn controls are shown in the options menu in case that you forgot one or two buttons.

Escape is not needed

Sadly enough, this game does have some flaws. In terms of variation, this game doesn’t have a lot of it. This game is a visual novel with some escape the room elements thrown in. But, there are some things that the visual novel sections don’t do all to well. First, the contrast of the text with the background isn’t always the best. I sometimes had trouble reading the text. Thankfully, my English is pretty decent, and I can make out the words, but I can image that it’s going to be quite annoying for people who aren’t so good at English.

Something else that really bothered me is the fact that it’s sometimes a bit unclear who is talking to who in the dialogue sections. There is no real “speaking” animation. That’s a shame, since I’m that kind of person who has a hard time remembering names. I was so glad that in World’s End Club, you had that overview screen with the names and abilities. Even in the backlog it’s unclear who is talking.

Speaking of which, when I looked into the backlog of this game… I found some strange things in the writing. This game sometimes jumps from 1st person to 3rd person writing. A great example where you can get easily confused is this one:

Suddenly, she felt a sharp tug on her arm.

"Huh?"

I didn't fall....?

As she blinked in disbelief, a voice called out above her.

That’s exactly how it appears in the game. If only a different styling was used for thoughts OR keep writing in either 1st or 3rd person, this could have improved the writing.

There were some moments of frustration as well during the puzzle segments. For example, in one room, I had to pick up a robot from the cleaning station but the area I could click to pick it up was almost completely overlapped by the “Exit screen” UI. So, be really precise with your clicks or otherwise, you’ll be stuck while you have the correct solution. Thankfully, if you find the joystick movement controls a bit too fast like me, you can use the D-pad to solve that issue.

Sadly enough, some puzzles are a bit too tricky for my liking. Even with the hint system. One time I got stuck because I tried to combine item A with B, and it didn’t work… The solution was combining item B with A. Which brings me to talk about the interface you use to combine items. This interface is a mess in my opinion. It could have been designed a lot better, since if it wasn’t explained in the tutorial section… I would have forgotten how to use it and that it was even a mechanic.

You might have noticed that I didn’t talk about the animations in the visuals’ section of this review. That’s because, there was so much more that could have been done with the animations. I really felt that the game was a bit too static and comic-book like. There could have been so much more life into the game with a bit more animations. And in some cases, I had the impression that the animations lagged while the game was anything but lagging. But, I think it’s high time to get into the conclusion of this article before I start lagging myself and go rambling.

Conclusion

This game is the perfect example of getting pretty close to greatness but missing the mark. This game has so much going for it. The amazing artstyle, the music, the concept, the atmosphere… I don’t regret my decision to include this game in my top 10 games of 2020.

Yet, this game lacks some polish which is a real shame. Since, I can truly see some people skipping this game because of it. It even makes it a bit difficult for me to recommend this game.

When I saw the scores that other reviewers were giving for this game, I was a bit annoyed. I felt that this game was getting too low scores for what’s offered here. This game tells a great story of 5 girls trying to survive and trying to figure out what happened to the world. But some technical issues hold it back. Some can be solved with a patch like the issues with the script and such, but others like the animations… That is going to need either a big patch or a remake.

But, if you enjoy games like the Zero Escape games or Corpse Party, I would say… Check out this game. Give it a chance. But, know that this game has some flaws and you best play it without too long of a break to fully enjoy this game. I personally think that this game is totally worth your time, maybe on sale. And as soon as you get use to the quirks, the negatives aren’t too bad. So, this review is luke warm, but warm enough to recommend it with caution.

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

Game Quicky: Mystik Belle – Enchanted Edition (Switch) ~ The Metroidvania Witchschool Adventure

Nintendo.com micrositeWikipedia entry

So, I was browsing the Nintendo Switch eShop one day and I came across this game. Without doing a lot of research, I bought it since it looked like an interesting indie Metroidvania game. I didn’t know that a big studio like WayForward helped the developers Last Dimension in publishing this game to the Nintendo Switch. For some reason, I didn’t realize that this game is a port either. Even with the subtitle “Enchanted Edition”. In any case, I was also surprised to learn that this game is created in GameMaker Studio. A tool I used to learn about game development when I was younger. But, with that said, how is the actual game? Is it worth your money or should you rather focus on the original edition or is this a game you could skip without hesitation? Well, I’m here to give you my opinion and while I invite you to leave a comment in the comment section with your thoughts and/or opinions on the game and/or the content of this article.

Witchschool

Usually, I write something myself to explain the story. But, the way the developers described the story is so good, I’m going to quote it here:

Being a student of mysterious art is a daunting task, doubly if you are Bell McFay – a freshman at the Hugmore Magic School. The teachers and staff are mean, I have few friends, and my grades are poor. Worst of all – Bell tends to be in the wrong place at worst. When she stayed up late to practice the magic of fire, for example tonight, but was instead assembled to confuse ancient rituals. And is there a better way to punish the unlucky first-grader than to prosecute her for an impossible job on the worst night of the year? Reproduce or exile Walpurgisnacht Brew. The sound of expulsion is beginning to improve as all types of spies hijack the school.

Official story on the eShop page

There is no voice acting in this game, so the story is told through text boxes and the environment design. Overall, the writing in this game is good. It sets up the arc of the game nicely without a lot of technobabble to pull you out of the experience. It’s quite difficult to review the story of this game because this game is somewhat short. This game takes around 5-ish hours to beat.

Usually, in these short games, I expect the story to grip me and focus more on telling a good story with interesting mechanics like Super Liminal or There Is No Game. Yet, this game doesn’t do that. I’m not saying that the story is bad, it’s just that this game focuses more on the gameplay and it’s puzzles than the overall story. This isn’t such a big negative in my eyes. While, yes, the setting and the atmosphere gives the story a lot of potential… I’m just extremely happy that it’s not bloated or is just filler to make the game longer. It’s to the point and quite enjoyable.

This game almost plays like your typical Metroidvania game. If you don’t know what a Metroidvania game is, compare it to games like Monster Tale, Blossom Tales, Lenna’s Inception amongst others. You explore large area’s where you learn new skills and abilities to help you on the way and discover secrets. Now, what this game does special is that this game has also a focus on puzzle elements and a whole inventory mechanic. In extremely rough terms, this game is a giant fetch quest in a Metroidvania game.

And it’s a lot of fun. I love exploring the school and trying to figure out which abilities I’m going to get to explore more of the castle. The responsive controls were so easy to learn that I was able to get the hang of the mechanics quite easily. The only thing that is different compared to your typical Metroidvania games is that there are no save rooms in this game. The game autosave when you change rooms. But that’s anything but a negative, to be honest.

Now, there are two ways to play this game. You can play through this game with warp chests, that help you with your inventory and makes the game a bit easier. It also gives you the option to choose if you restart the room or start from the counsel room. Or you have the harder difficulty, where you don’t have: warp chests, restart the room and the enemies hit harder. So, you can play on the difficulty you enjoy.

I really love shooting my fire spell around and leveling it up when I killed more enemies. I really liked running around this school with the amazing pixel art and animation. The game looks amazing, and the level design is well done for a Metroidvania game. While the level design makes the school feel less like a school since you don’t see a lot of classrooms and weird architecture, the pixel art is so good-looking and well-designed that it doesn’t bother me at all. (Only my really harsh critic side, tho.)

Not only does the game have amazing visuals and animations, the music is a jam. It’s amazing chiptune by Dan Rogers. I have listened to it while writing this article and I liked it so much that I decided to buy the whole soundtrack from Dan Roger’s Bandcamp I linked earlier.

Something that’s quite impressive is that this game is the love child of Andrew Bado. He placed so much love and care into the game. I mean, he even made an option where the dialogue is child-friendly in the PC version. Yes, an option! That’s something I can applaud. If only this came to the Switch version.

Almost there, Bell

I have thrown quite a lot of praise towards this game, but I’m sad to say that this game does make a few mistakes or things I don’t like. Let me first talk about the health system. There is one thing I didn’t like at all. That’s the way you heal. To heal, you have to pick up hearts that can randomly drop from enemies. The hearts drop where you kill the enemy. So, if you kill the enemy while it’s in the wall, since your projectiles go through into the wall… Your health pick-up is going to be stuck in the wall. And those don’t get attracted when you get close.

Also, there is no “quick heal” method or room. The health you have is the health you start with when you respawn or restart the room. So, when you are low on health, you better find a room where you can grind enemies to grind the health drops to get back to full health. This is one of the few moments where the game just stopped in its tracks, to be honest. Granted, you could restart at the counsel room with full health, but then you have to backtrack all the way… That isn’t fun.

Now, here is something I really found annoying. This game has an amazing mini-map, but why can’t I look at it with more detail? In this game, you have to gather and manage a lot of items. Around 60 in fact. And they are spread out over the whole map. But, remembering which item goes where is a real pain. Either having a quest list and/or which character is where it could have helped so much. Thankfully, the map is rather small, so going through all of it and trying out which item goes where wasn’t such a pain. Yet, I really missed a feature a like that in this game.

Sadly enough, there is actually a second thing I don’t like about the health system. There is this mechanic where you are able to kill enemies by just colliding with them. But this costs health. Now here is the issue with that, the sound effect and visual feedback is so similar to normally killing enemies it’s confusing. Something to improve this would be another sound effect if Belle gets hit compared to when she kills an enemy. Since, overall, the sound effects are excellent.

One of the final things I want to talk about is the pacing. In this game, you need to get three ingredients and something that really surprised me is that the second act is short. But this is an extremely minor complaint, a nitpick even. As big as a nitpick as the I find it a shame that some nice designs like statues go to waste since they are mostly in the dark. But, then again, it adds to the atmosphere and gives off a slightly creepy vibe.

Now, I think it’s high time for the conclusion, don’t you think? A summary of what I think in general about this game and trying to answer the questions I asked in the introduction of this article.

Let’s play or let’s play?

Is this game worth your time? Yes, yes it is! While the game has some annoying things like I talked about in the previous section, I really think that the positives highly outweigh the negatives for this game.

Now, if you would ask me… Which version should I play? Then, I have to answer the enchanted edition on Switch. It’s quite difficult to answer what’s new in this version since you don’t have an official change log but reading from the Twitter feeds of the developers it seems that it’s mostly a graphical upgrade and various tweaks to make the experience more enjoyable.

It also looks like this game is going to have a sequel or expansion from what I’m reading on the developers twitter feed.

I’m so glad that I gave this game a chance, since because of this game I discovered a very passionate developer that loves creating charming games like this one. I really enjoyed my time with this game, trying to figure out which item goes where. While it’s tempting to use a walkthrough, I highly advise that you don’t. There is barely any moon logic in this game, and it feels so much more rewarding to play it blind.

The charm of this game is just amazing. Mystik Belle is a hidden gem that more people should know of and play. This game has so much potential even while I haven’t finished the original, I’m already hyped for new content that’s upcoming.

And with that said, I want to thank you 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!

First Impression: Arietta of Spirits (Switch) ~ Being Bound

Nintendo.com subsiteOfficial website

Family traditions are such a big part of families. One of the biggest family traditions in my family is that at least one person goes to the seaside each and every year. It’s a tradition I don’t want to see end since it brings back so many memories, and it’s also where my love for collecting games started. The amount of garage sales and flea markets I did at the seaside, I can’t count on two hands. Anyway, today I want to talk about a game that means a lot to me currently and also talks about family traditions. And that’s Arietta of Spirits. A little indie game by Third Spirit Games and Red Art Games. It caught my attention since it looked like an interesting Zelda-ish clone, and it reminded me of games like Blossom Tales. But is this game as good as that one? Let’s find out together, shall we? But before we start, feel free to leave a comment in the comment section down below with your thoughts and/or opinions on the game and/or the content of this article.

Being bound

In this game, you take on the role of Arietta. After the passing of her grandmother, here family takes a trip to her house on the island. Now, it doesn’t take a long time before Arietta discovers that she has a special ability when she meets a mysterious friend. She can see and talk to the spirits on the island. And not only that, she can help them move on.

Currently, I’m midway in the story and while this game has a good setting, writing and atmosphere, I feel that’s something is missing. The story is currently a bit “loose”. There is not really an overarching reason to move the story forward. If you asked me to explain what happens in the story of this game, I can talk about the characters you meet and their stories but the reason why you meet these characters and what Arietta’s end goal is… I can’t tell. Of course, there is a line in the story that “explains” it, but it’s so generic…

Now, this doesn’t mean that this game has a weak story. Far from it. The character development and writing in this game is pretty nice. But, there is a lot of wasted potential because this game is rather short. There is so much more that can be done with the story and idea, but the game is over when it really gets started.

There is no real voice acting in this game apart from some grunts by our main character. So, if you don’t like that, this isn’t the game for you. Yet, the dialogues are somewhat fast-paced and flow pretty nicely. One of the taglines of this game is that this game doesn’t have a lot of filler moments and this is quite true. This game has some side quests but barely any filler at all. Yet, I felt that some moments might have left a bigger impact if the story didn’t go on such a break neck speed.

Entry level Zelda game

If you have played games like Blossom Tales or any 2D Zelda game, you’ll feel right at home. This game is your typical 2D Zelda game where you go from dungeon to dungeon and defeat bosses. Well, they aren’t really dungeons, it is more themed area’s, but explaining that would spoil parts of the story. But, there are some unique mechanics in this game.

For example, there are two types of enemies. The first type are your normal overworld enemies. And sadly, they are your “generic” bee/bats. But, they have interesting movement patterns and learning and avoiding them is quite fun. Apart from maybe dropping a health pick-up, these enemies aren’t anything to write home about.

The other type of enemies are the “spirit” enemies. These are trickier to defeat, and after defeating these, you’ll earn crystals. Earn enough crystals to fill up a demon core, and Arietta grows stronger. It’s quite easy to farm these crystals, since enemies respawn when you leave and re-enter the area. But, I dislike the fact that when a certain core is filled, you can’t pick up any more crystals. Well, you can pick them up, but it doesn’t raise your total.

So, when you have enough crystals to power up your Roamer Cores, power it up right away. Otherwise, you’ll lose various crystals and have to grind for them. You can power your core up in the inventory menu under “Roamer Cores”.

Speaking of the inventory menu, why are there two menus in the Switch version? You have a pause menu and an inventory menu. The pause menu is opened with the “+” button and the inventory menu with the “-” button. It trips me up. Then again, I totally understand why this is the case in how the menus are designed. That’s why I call the “-” the inventory menu since it’s really the menu where you can see the inventory, your goals, your achievements… While the pause menu is more of an options menu.

A bit higher, you can see the inventory menu. From that screenshot, you can also see the various other mechanics. Like, the tasks where you have to find hidden items and the amount of hidden spirit cubs you have found. Now, you might think that you’ll need the item’s menu often, but alas. The opposite is true.

There aren’t a lot of puzzles in this game. I’m even having a hard time saying there are puzzles in this game. Maybe the fact that you need to figure out how to defeat the bosses most optimally but other than, that… There aren’t really any puzzles in this game. And if there are, they aren’t cryptic or challenging enough to matter.

Something that’s extremely puzzling is the fact that there is no world map of any kind to speak off. Thankfully, this isn’t a huge game, but the lack of a world map really hurts sometimes. Especially when I want to explore an area to complete a task. It adds so much more time roaming around. You could also argue that it makes the game a bit more realistic since when you are exploring an island, you don’t have a map either… But you can either make one or have a map printed out from the internet.

Once you get the hang of the responsive and easy to master controls, this game isn’t too challenging at all. This game really feels like it’s an entry level adventure game. And you can look at this in two ways. It can be either a relaxing time to enjoy the story, but it can be boring since it’s not “engaging” or challenging.

Thankfully, this game has difficulty options. I started on the normal difficulty and found it too easy. So, after getting halfway in the game, I wanted a bit more challenge. So, I had to use the dodge, shield mechanics more to defeat enemies and not rely on health drops from cutting down bushes. I wanted to start a new save file on extreme, and I learned I wasn’t able to skip cutscenes. I sighed, and I continued playing my “normal difficulty” save file. I can totally understand that when you play through a game for this first time you are unable to skip cutscenes, but the fact you can unlock an additional difficulty after beating the game and the fact I can’t skip cutscenes worries me a bit. But, maybe you have that option then…

Joyful lost

So, because this game doesn’t have a world map… I have to admit that I got lost a few times. But, it didn’t matter too much. I really enjoyed being able to explore the island. Especially since the pixel art and design of this game is gorgeous. I really love the visual presentation of this game. I also love the animation quite a lot.

The animation makes the game a lot more immersive, but it makes the game also easier. Since the enemies telegraph their attacks so bluntly, it makes it easier to avoid. Now, there is this small mechanic that I really like.

At first, I wanted to talk about how when you have low health in this game, you barely get any feedback from the game. But then, I noticed something. My joycons vibrated in a heart beat whenever I was on low health. This is genius. The only small touch I would add is a bit more visual feedback on the screen since when you are fighting, you might miss that rumbling, especially since you are quite focused on dodging enemies and such.

Something I also quite like in this game is how the roll is handled. You can roll around to get faster to your destination, but you have stamina. The more you roll, the more fatigued Arietta gets and the shorter her rolls are. You can see how tired Arietta is by the amount of sweat dripping down her face. This really makes me think what the most optimal way is to roll and go fast. Since, there is no sprint button.

Sometimes, I got lost in area’s with a lot of enemies. The first time I got a game over, I was quite worried where I was going to respawn. But, this game is quite forgiving in that. You respawn at the start of the screen you died at. When you die at a boss, you start right at the beginning of the battle. It’s quite nice to get directly back into the action and not have to go through the whole dialogue of the boss again or having lost a lot of progress. The game auto-saves every time you change in a screen.

The final thing I want to talk about is the audiovisual presentation of this game. Let’s start with the sound effects. These are amazing. The sound effects really help you to prepare yourself for the upcoming map and to take the right actions in combat. For example, the flying bat screeches before it flies at you, so when you hear it… You know that it’s time to dodge. But, the sound effects can be helpful too to find cubs. When you get close to one, you hear it shouting. It has a distinct sound effect that really helped me find the more hidden ones.

This brings me to the music of this game. The calm vibe and atmosphere of the game really comes through in the music. The soundtrack mostly feels like lounge and relaxing music. But, it can be quite tense when it needs to. Especially the battle music. But it fits the game like a glove.

Now, what do I think overall of this game? I haven’t beaten it yet, but what is my conclusion after getting past the midway point of this game? The charm and love of this game is something quite unique. This game does have some flaws like no overworld map, more puzzles, being able to skip cutscenes…

But, what bothers me the most is that the potential of this story and setting isn’t used to its full potential in this short game. Yet, like I said earlier, the charm of this game makes up for quite a lot of it. I can totally understand that some people might not really like this game or get bored with it, but this game really got its hooks in me. For me, this game is an easy recommendation if you are looking for a nice and relaxing game to spend an afternoon or two.

What this game proves to me is that I’m going to keep an eye out for further projects from the developers, since I really think they have a lot of potential. I’m curious what they are going to do next. If they are going to make a sequel to this game, you can be sure I’m going to buy it. The charm and love of this game is infectious.

I really enjoyed playing through this game and I can’t wait to see how this game ends. It’s really a relaxing game, and it comes at the right moment in my life when I need something to calm me down after busy work days. This game is really a case of the positives outweighing the negatives for me. But, I’m repeating myself. So, it’s time to close off this article by saying my usual:

Thank you so much for reading my 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 one, but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!

Android Games – Let’s start playing on my phone again.

It has been quite some time since I wrote an article with short reviews of Android games, has it not? Lately, I have been focussing on the bigger games and I haven’t given the smaller games some time to shine on my blog. Also, when I was talking about a smaller game, I wrote a longer article on it instead of a short review. But, since I’m currently working on bigger articles and I didn’t want to skip this week, I decided I wanted to bring this series back and start talking about a few smaller games I have been playing on my phone lately. So, let’s start talking about smaller Android games and let’s take a quick look if they are worth your time/money. Also, feel free to leave a comment in the comment section with your thoughts and opinions on the games and/or the content of this article.

ProgressBar95

Steam versionAndroid version

For those who don’t know, I’m 28 years old, and I also have a day job. This day job is being an IT admin in a big art secondary school (high school for some) here in Belgium. My work days are filled with solving problems that teachers and students have, improving our IT infrastructure, developing our website… Apart from that, I’m also a big fan of old tech and I love messing around with old computers and technology.

So, when I came across ProgressBar95 on the app store, I downloaded the game right away. And I fell in love with it right away. The game keeps true to its tagline that this game is a “hypercasual UI game”. The main idea of this game is that you are a progress bar that needs to catch dropping squares to make the progress bar progress. Blue and light blue are good ones, orange are errors but still help you in progress. Pink detracts from your progress bar, so you can get rid of orange squares if you want.

Depending on how well you do, the amount of points you get to unlock various upgrades to your computer. The higher your level, the more difficult this game becomes and the more points you can earn. This game also works with lives, but if you run out of lives, you don’t have to wait a certain amount of time for them to recharge and try the game again.

So, the interface of this game is top-notch. It nails the ascetic of being a computer amazingly. For example, to toggle sound on or off, you can press the sound icon in the bottom right of the computer. If you click the “EN” of the language toolbar, you can switch languages. It also has a colorblind mode, cloud saving, multiple game modes and one of the best ways to handle microtransactions I have seen.

The different gameplay modes I have played so far is a sort infinite runner Wolfenstein game and a “dodge the red numbers and get to the bottom of an Excel spreadsheet”-game. They add so much variety to the game and I love going between them if I’m bored with one game mode.

The biggest recommendation I would give to you is that you buy the extremely cheap “no-ads” package. Overall, the ads aren’t annoying but the game improves so much without forced ads. Now, if you look at the whole shop, you might think that this game is a “pay-to-win” or a money sink. But, no. You can pay to unlock all other levels but 99% of the stuff in the store can be earned easily in-game by winning levels or doing side quests.

It’s clear that this game has a lot of love put into it and I have a hard time finding anything negative about this game. Apart from this game being extremely niche and the game being a little boring for extend playthroughs… But yeah, I honestly would recommend this game to all my other retro gamers or people who are into computer science. It’s an amazing and refreshing experience.

Score: 5/5.

Word Lanes

Android store

So, when I’m in a waiting room or have some time to kill, I love playing small games. Especially when they are puzzle games like word searches or connect the dots to give two examples.

In Word Lanes, you are presented with a grid of letters, and you have to find all the words that fit the clues at the top. Each letter can only be used once and the letters have to connect horizontally or vertically to be used in a word.

This game is rather relaxing, and it’s a great way for me to unwind. I also love how the game is fully translated into my native language. The only complaint I have about that is the fact that as a Belgian person, I always have to struggle when the hint is talking about something from the Netherlands. But, I always report them with a handy report feature after you solved a clue. With this report feature you can report typo’s, wrong clues and things like that.

I’m also on the fence about the microtransactions. You earn coins to use the hint features after beating a level, but I feel I always don’t have enough. Thankfully, you have these daily rewards and saving them up is easy then. Honestly, I just think that the prices of the power-ups are a tad bit too high.

But hey, that’s a minor complaint. Since this game has so much enjoyment to offer and the ads aren’t THAT intrusive and only play between levels. Also, quite frequently, I have an option where the ads are disabled for one day. This is amazing and actually makes me consider buying the “no ads” package since I got a free trial.

Score: 4/5

Reigns

Android store

Way back in 2017, I wrote an article about Questr. A game that has some “Tinder” style gameplay while being a questing game. Now, that game was more about adventuring while you created your party with a sort of Tinder app. In this game, the main feature of Tinder of swiping left to reject or right to approve, is set into a “choose your own adventure” game.

Reigns is published by DeveloperDigital and is so close to be amazing, it’s painful. The gameplay is quite addictive, and I love taking decisions as an immortal king on how my kingdom should progress. The atmosphere, sound effects, music and visual design is amazing. It really pulls you into the game and I love playing the game but…

It’s way too easy to take a decision. It’s too sensitive. I had several moments where I was choosing between two options and just because I hit the edge of one side a bit too much, the game decided for me. And not only that, my phone doesn’t have physical buttons anymore and quite often, I had the game deciding for me just because I swiped down to see the time or see my latest notification.

There is also no “message log”. So, when you put the game down for a moment, you can’t see the history of what happened. And if I want to change the options during gameplay, though luck. The menu only appears when see the progress between kings.

This game has a lot of amazing elements like having to balance your four powers and the various twists and turns certain decisions and pathways can take, but it has various rough edges, I fell so mixed about this game. Maybe the PC version of the game is better, but I feel like this game works best as a mobile game. But, I feel like the mobile version just got a few rough edges. For example, I had to look up a way to reset your progress in the game. It turns out you have to hold two fingers on to have the reset screen to show up.

Yet, I advise people who enjoy adventure games to give this game a go. But be warned, the mobile version has some rough edges. But, for the low asking price of this game and the amount of content in this game, I can say for a fact there is a LOT worse out there. And I’m also so glad that this amazing concept got a few sequels as well… So, I know what to play next on my phone.

Score: 3.5/5

Wrapping up

I’m so glad that I gave this format another go and revived it. It allowed me to talk about three Android games I wanted to showcase on my blog, but I didn’t have the time for or wasn’t able to write a good enough “long” article about. I think I’ll revisit this format more often in the future and maybe also use it when I play small games on Steam, Switch or other platforms.

Then again, with my busy lifestyle and the backlog of games I still want to cover, I can’t promise how frequent I’ll write articles like these. I also challenged myself to be brief and short in this article and I had the urge to keep writing about these three games. So, if you want a more in-depth article about one of these games, let me know in the comments.

So, with that said, I want to thank you 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 a future article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!

First Impression: Cave Digger (PC – Steam) ~ Diggy Diggy Dig. (Non-VR Version)

capsule_616x353-1Steam store page

At least once every two or three months, I get an email from a developer who is asking me to review their VR-game. I always have to decline since I quite easily get migraine attacks from VR headsets and that’s one of the main reasons why I don’t play VR and don’t even own a VR headset. Now, why am I taking a look at a VR game then? Well, because the developers of “Cave Digger” made a non-VR version of this game and asked me to write an honest review about their game. So, a VR game that went “Non-VR”, is it any good, or should it remain a VR-game? Let’s dive right into the caves while I invite you to leave a comment with your opinion on the game and/or the content of this article. (A press code was provided by the developer to write this article)

Diggy Diggy Dig

Cave-Digger-PC-Edition-3dIn this game, you play as a digger for the Frontier. For the first part of the game, the story doesn’t have a big hook to pull you in. But, the further you get into the game, the bigger the actual hook gets. If you want to enjoy most of the story in this game, I highly advise you to take the second radio station on your train since it describes the mystery a lot better. More on that later.

The goal in this game is that you not only uncover the mystery in this game but you also rebuild the city with the riches you find down in the caves. The more you explore the cave, the more information you get from hidden parts of the caves where a lot of jewels and riches reside that might help you earn more money and buy more upgrades. 

So, what is the mystery about? To stay as spoiler-free as I can, it’s about a hidden ancient civilization that might still be alive or too advanced for our human race. So, in the alternative western setting, you have to make a decision about what to do. I have been playing this game for 3 to 4 hours now and I haven’t met another human character… Physically that is. Most of the story is told over the radio. And I do have a complaint about it. 

The voice acting of the characters is good. It pulls you into the story without an issue. Now, English isn’t my native language and while I’m quite good at speaking it, sometimes I enjoy it when there are subtitles when a word or an expression is used that I don’t know. Sadly enough, this game doesn’t have subtitles. That’s a big bummer. 

It would have been great if there was some sort of archive of previous broadcasts. It would be a great help to those who took a (long) break while playing this game to catch up at what’s happening or to re-listen again in case you missed some parts. 

At first, I thought that this game was going to be quite linear, but that is far from the truth. Since this game has 9 different endings. Yes, the replay value of this game is quite high. Now, I haven’t encountered one of the endings so far but I’m quite curious to see them. So, when I have beaten the game and I write a follow-up review article, I’ll talk more in-depth about the endings. One thing I’m going to say already is that there funny and interesting easter eggs in this game that add a whole lot of charm to the game.

Two Ways Exploration

There are two ways you can explore, you can go to the elevator and the train. The main game is going on an adventure with your train. But, it’s easy to earn money by exploring with the elevator. You need to do both since some items to progress in the game without going into a crazy grinding mode is by buying the items at the elevator. 

The gameplay of the “two modes” are also quite different. In the elevator, you can have secret vault doors, but I don’t know how to interact with them. Most likely, I haven’t found the correct tool. You also get three different stages where you get 30 seconds to mine out resources or collect artifacts. After 30 seconds, you move on to the next section. I find that it’s quite easy to throw a stick of dynamite to the walls and use the vacuum glove to collect all the gems before they disappear into the edges of the elevator. Oh yes, that happens during the transition of the sections as well. 

So, let’s talk about train exploration. With this train, you go into the caves where you have various places you can go to get materials and explore. At first, the train goes extremely slowly but the further you upgrade your train, the faster you will be able to travel. Thankfully, there are warp points to certain landmarks so you don’t have to restart your whole travel each and every run. 

The tutorial only explains the basic controls. But the rest is up to you to actually figure out on your own. How you safely extract fossils and oil from the caves, it’s up to you to figure out. Even what the strange golden statues are doing on several dig sites.

Now, to collect the goodies, you have to throw them in the deposit box in your train. Before I got the glove, I found it extremely annoying to pick up the items one by one and deposit them. When I discovered that the glove allows you to suck up several items at once, I found that the game opens up a lot more. Also, it doesn’t take long before you meet your chest buddy who is also a deposit point and even eats up whole piles of gems and deposits them for you. 

Now, this lack of tutorial is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes the game a bit more challenging and it feels more rewarding when you figure something out and solve a puzzle. On the other hand, things like the fact that the glove is a vacuum don’t get explained and might turn some people off from this game… 

Something I can forgive is the fact that this game can be a bit repetitive. If you are interested in this game, I highly recommend that you play this game in short bursts since otherwise, this game might become quite boring. 

Something is wrong, I can feel it.

To be quite honest with you, I felt quite conflicted while writing this article. Since there is a lot that this game does right but the mistakes that this game makes are quite major. 

A great example of this is the visual presentation. Visually, this game looks amazing. The environments are detailed and feel life-like. For example, there is a volcano level in the elevator and you really feel that you are mining in an extremely hot place. In terms of animations, it’s good. Nothing too groundbreaking but good. 

Yet, there are several moments where I thought: “shouldn’t there be some visual to tell the player you are breaking this rock?” or “why does my drill always get so zoomed in when I walk very close to walls?”  or “why isn’t there a fuse animation on the dynamite?” … There are several more of these questions in the visual department, sadly enough. There isn’t enough feedback from the game to the player to communicate if they are hitting or missing a rock for example and this breaks the immersion fast. 

And it pains me to say that the smooth and stable visual presentation isn’t the only victim to this problem. The controls are as well. In most cases, the controls of this game work amazingly. I rarely felt like I was cheated out of something or that the game was unresponsive. Yet, I felt that the vacuum didn’t always work as I was expecting, and carrying around items to other places felt a bit … janky. Sometimes I dropped an item with me being unable to explain why my character dropped the item. 

But there also problems with the audiovisual presentation. The soundtrack of this game is just amazing. The variety of tracks in this game is just perfect. I really enjoy the fact there are different genres present in this game apart from all old-western-style music. The sound effects are pretty neat as well but don’t always play consistently. Sometimes they don’t play and sometimes they play for too long. Sounds that don’t always play are the drill when you are excavating relics and sounds that play too long are your gloves when you are using the super punch and cancel it. 

Not even the UI gets saved in build 2020-08-25. For some reason, there are still controller controls in the level bottom of the pause menu… while I don’t have a controller connected. On top of that, the counter for the number of unlocked endings is completely wrong. Just look at this screenshot to see both issues:

So yeah, it pains me to see this since you can clearly see that the rest of the UI is fine and works great. You can see your current main objective and your special mission to gain additional resources but mistakes like I mentioned above are just giving this game a sort of “beta” feel.

Now, most of the issues I mentioned so far I can personally overlook to a certain degree. Yes, they are annoying and they make the game less enjoyable but not unplayable for me. Yet, the thing that makes the game a bit unplayable in my opinion is the fact there is no real way to lose this game. There is no real danger in this game lurking. There is even no punishment for jumping in the ravine, you simply respawn next to your train.

So, is this game a bad or a good game? On one hand, this game is extremely relaxing and maybe it isn’t so bad that there isn’t a lot of danger lurking over your shoulder so you can enjoy the game at your own pace. Yet, on the other hand, I got a bit bored during parts of this game since I didn’t feel challenged at all.

I think the best conclusion is this. This game is perfectly balanced, as all things should be. While it has (huge) flaws that can turn people away, there are a lot of good things that can draw others in. I honestly think that with some more depth and polish, this game can become a real hit but in it’s current state, I think it will become a footnote in history.

Now, I think the big problem I have with this game is that I have played a game that did this concept a whole lot better in my opinion. I’m talking about SteamWorld Dig. Maybe I’m comparing this game and that game a bit too much in my mind diminishing my experience with this game. But, that makes this game: not a bad game. Since I enjoy trying to get the achievements in this game.

As I said earlier, I’m conflicted about this game. On one hand, I enjoy this game and I would recommend it to people who enjoy games like Minecraft or Steamworld Dig, but on the other hand, I don’t want to recommend this game since it needs a lot more work to be enjoyed by more than a niche audience. Also, I haven’t played the VR version of this game. Maybe that version is more polished.

Maybe when I finish all the endings, I might be able to form better opinions on this game. And who knows, maybe by then a few patches are released that improve the game and I might praise this game a lot more in my review. But for now, I think I’m going to wrap up this article. Thank you 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!