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Izzy's 2022

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isthatallyougot
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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by isthatallyougot » Fri Jan 20, 2023 11:22 am

51) Desert Mothers (PC)

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Looking for the unusual, I picked up Desert Mothers from my itch.io backlog. You are greeted by a screen that informs you that you should play with a game pad, that most buttons do something, some do something in combination with other buttons, and that some objects can be acted upon/entered. You then find yourself in the first person as a being sitting in the middle of a vast desert with your hands visible in front of you. You are able to look down and see your body and scan your surroundings in 360 degrees. Via experimentation, I learned that your environment and changes in it are tied to your breath - which you control - in a sort of meditative, trippy experience. Your hand and arm motions also seemed to impact your surroundings as manipulated in concert with your breath, and you could sometimes view yourself from outside yourself in a very Zen Buddhist manner. I also found myself within some apparently man-made structures in which I could gather objects near to me, and those same objects I could either breathe within or push away from my center. The weather could change, and the colors were interesting and varied, and the overall environmental changes were numerous and interesting. It's surely not a traditional gaming experience, and not something with real longevity, but I found it to be engaging and worth my time, especially given its purely unusual nature as well as its suggestions towards Eastern philosophy which I have always found personally very resonant. 3/5.

50) Oceanwork (PC)

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In the plain and descriptively titled Oceanwork, you play a criminal who has been exiled to a planet rich with ocean minerals and must labor retrieving the valuable resources from the ocean depths in order to pay off your bounty to regain your freedom and leave the planet. The more valuable minerals are located deeper in the sea and as you mine, you gain credits that will allow you better equipment for deeper diving, faster swimming, a quicker pickaxe, more air and so on. In the beginning, the credits earned from basic minerals and metals are paltry, but as you play and upgrade, you get to the sweet stuff in the depths. There is a whale which will search you out and “injure” you by lowering your air capacity quickly, and it was really annoying for a while as it would swim above you, preventing you from reaching the surface again. If you “die” you are charged what seemed to be roughly half of your credits and you dive back in again. Once you get the upgrade to swim faster, that nuisance was a non-issue, and with the best pickaxe, you could mine through mythril - the best material - in a single whack. The gameplay loop was actually pretty fun, and I enjoyed my time with it. I will say that it was fairly brief. I probably played for close to an hour to earn my freedom, and there wasn't even an option to save. It's surely not something I'll remember as a great game, but I honestly enjoyed it for what it was. If the developer fleshed it out a bit, the premise could expand into something worth investing significant time into. Nice idea, good low-poly visuals very reminiscent of PS1 graphics and a fun loop in a compact package, but lacking substance and a reason to keep playing. 3/5.

49) Firewatch (PC)

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In Firewatch, you play as a man named Henry who has, for all practical purposes, lost his wife. She suffered early onset dementia (at 41, I believe), and while he attempted to care for her for a while, the erratic behavior and associated symptoms eventually became too much, and her parents took the reins. Seeking to escape his grief and just forget, he takes a job as a fire lookout in the remote regions of Wyoming. He's monitored by a supervisor named Delilah, who manages the crew on watch, and interpersonal interactions and the primary narrative thread revolves around an unfolding relationship between the two as they converse exclusively via walkie talkie. In the course of doing his duties, which centered on picking up camper trash and investigating recreational mischief in the region he is responsible for, some mysteries arise surrounding a missing person as well as some apparent clandestine surveillance that puts the two on edge and drives the need for exploration. The exploration is handled via referencing an in-game map and compass, which Henry can bring up to help him get a feel for his surrounding while navigating. The world on offer is of a decent size for an otherwise linear walking sim, and it looked quite attractive in its mildly cartoony imagery. It wasn't hard to navigate with the tools at your disposal as you climbed, repelled and wandered through caves, valleys and open areas. But there were some walls which could feel a bit artificial, despite their natural construction. In the beginning, the feel of the narrative was nice, as you felt like a man who was simply seeking seclusion and isolation as a means of coping and healing. Things felt pretty grounded and relatable. However, as things progressed, the narrative surrounding the mysteries felt a bit convoluted and contrived, and the voice acting went from passable to decent to feeling forced and unnatural much of the time. Despite the enjoyment of the natural setting and initial premise along with the fun navigation and exploration, I ultimately lost interest in the story Firewatch had to tell, and in a game such as this, that's not what you want to see. It surely had its high points, but in the end, I was a bit let down by how things unfolded. I suppose it was worth the four or so hours I spent, but only just. It was a game that had been very hyped, and I was honestly expecting better. It's a soft 3/5 for me.
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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by isthatallyougot » Sat Jan 21, 2023 12:34 pm

48) Virginia (PC)

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I remember being interested in a game called Virginia when I first saw a bit of it prior to release. I put it on my wishlist but it subsequently received lukewarm to poor reviews and I lost some interest. However, I eventually found it on a sale for a dollar and figured that price was worth satisfying my initial curiosity. The thing that first drew me to it was the sense of mystery along with the lower poly, but nicely expressive visuals. And those draws remain present in the final product. In terms of the latter, I really enjoyed the look. Things had some sharp angles and lower detail, but everything was clean and often striking - to a lower poly lover anyway. The lighting was also particularly nice, doing a fine job highlighting environments. The character models could be a bit less appealing at times, at least in terms of some faces, but overall, I really liked the visual presentation. As for the sense of mystery, there's plenty. The narrative centers on an FBI agent who is looking into a missing persons case of a teen named Lucas who happens to be into some outer-space related research and investigation. Running concurrent to that is an internal affairs investigation of your partner, a partner who seems to be distrustful of the system (perhaps justifiably so), and “needs” to be watched. Things go down a conspiratorial rabbit hole, with cultish ceremonies involving people in high places and alien encounters, and there were plenty of interesting little vignettes. However, problems arose when everything juxtaposed. Scenes had a habit of transitioning awkwardly. You'll be walking down a hallway or doing something else and you're teleported into a new scenario abruptly with no transition. Things seemed to be sequential in their movement, but it was still a bit jarring until you got used to the method of storytelling. More problematic was the overly cryptic narrative. I love stories that make me reflect and consider what might be occurring without telling me everything, but you walk a fine line of showing and withholding if you want to do this type of story well. Show too much and there's no mystery. Show too little, and you risk losing the audience as they struggle to find enough to grab onto. In Virginia, the problem was certainly the latter. It reminded me of being a child doing a connect-the-dots picture where there aren't enough points to get a sense of where to draw your lines. Some things were suggestive enough to make conclusions - right or wrong, but many of the dialogue-free story beats simply felt isolated and irrelevant to any bigger picture and I had no idea where to fit the scenes in the overarching tale, resulting in confusion and disinterest more than heightened curiosity. Granted, maybe I'm just too thick to put it all together, but when I finished the game and saw Thirty Flights of Loving at the end of the credits as their inspiration- a game I played earlier this year and also found rather nonsensical, I understood. It felt like it wanted to be mysterious more for its own sake rather than for telling a great story that left compelling bread crumbs for the player. There was a comical moment for me as things “ramped up” to the conclusion. There is this epic music played by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra - phenomenal music and soundtrack, by the way. The music suggests this impending epic reveal as scenes transition more rapidly as things unfold, but this evocative music sat so at odds with the incongruous and incomplete scenes that had transpired up to that point that I found myself chuckling at the contrast and at the pretentiousness of the game. It was, “Wait till you see *THIS*!” But there weren't enough relatable pieces on display to make any revelations noteworthy or truly impactful. It was inevitably going to be just another random and disjointed event. It's a shame because I did like much of what was attempted. It had this X-files and David Lynch soup simmering, but it just didn't put the right ingredients in or in the right proportions. Finally, there wasn't much interactivity outside of highlighting something in the environment and pressing “interact” to continue the unfolding. You're mostly a spectator rather than participant here, narrative interpretation aside. Being mostly a walking simulator, and one with no real leeway in terms of exploration, everything rested on the narrative being outstanding, and for me, it wasn't. I've seen others who loved it, and I loved the premise, but if you're going to tell me a mystery and want me to dig into it - to mull things over after the tale is told or revisit it for some "aha" moments, you're going to have to give me a bit more to chew on. Virginia didn't do that for me in its two-hour run-time. I can't recommend it to any other than those who don't mind the most inscrutable tales, despite the things it clearly did well. Maybe repeat plays and digging would help to suss out some more meaning, but it wasn't good enough to warrant that type of investment, in my opinion. It's not terrible, but you have to know going in that it's got some significant flaws. The tone was more intriguing than the substance. It's a soft 3/5 that could have been better with a *little* more clarity to complement its mystery.

47) Adr1ft (PC)

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I love the vastness of space and the wonder and terror potential in that great unknown, and games that attempt to convey that atmosphere and feeling will always draw a look from me. I played such a game called Adr1ft this year. (Not a typo, I don't know why the peculiar spelling.) Things open with you immediately in danger as you grab a tether amidst a sea of wreckage high above the globe, and as the player, you have no idea what has caused the accident. The direness of your situation is apparent right away as your oxygen levels are dwindling and that becomes priority one. As you reach some of the fractured craft, you find some oxygen cannisters which delay the seemingly inevitable. The essence of the game is that you are trying to establish communications and secure your rescue via a variety of tasks that take you from one island of the craft's rubble to another, and you also collect audio recordings and other bits of narrative to give flavor to the setting and your circumstances. I have to say that the atmosphere and visuals were spectacular. It was designed for VR, but I just played it on the TV. I can imagine that it would be utterly stunning in virtual reality though, and perhaps worth the price of admission alone if that was your method of experience. The sense of desperation as you struggled amidst the wreckage to replenish your air and simply navigate around the debris hoping to miraculously rescue yourself was well conveyed. The sense of vertigo was legit, as you often didn't know “up” from “down” and got turned all around. I sometimes found myself entering an area thinking that I was oriented right-side-up (if there is such a thing in space, lol), only to discover that I was upside down. While that sense of disorientation was realistic, I imagine it was also frustrating at times and highlighted the game's biggest flaw. As mentioned, you have to accomplish certain objectives/repairs in order to have hope of deliverance from this mess, and you're guided by a small radar that points you in the general direction. Unfortunately, this is a 2D radar/map which is far from ideal in a 3D space. The problem arises as you approach the destination. Once in the area, what is required to progress can be very small and hard to find. There is a scanner that will highlight environmental objects for you, but unless you're right next to the key area, it won't show up. Compounding the frustration was the fact that the radar scans *would* highlight things that were of no use at all, things like empty crates floating about. This made absolutely no sense. I found myself in the right area in order to progress later in the game, but could not find the right element to engage with despite searching the areas repeatedly. I had completed a variety of tasks, but on the third set of them, I simply couldn't locate what to do. I considered just looking it up or watching a guide, but I had already played about 6 hours and the game had shown what it was without anything fresh or new to spur further interest, and so I ultimately put it down at that point. Another problem that caused some frustration was just how slowly you had to move. Using the thrust on your suit would cause quicker oxygen depletion, and so you would feather your propulsion and just accept a snail's pace through the heavens. You could easily find yourself outside the confines of the wreckage - a place where your oxygen levels dwindled even quicker - and realize that you had no hope of making it to another cannister or refill station because you had drifted too far away in your search for your next objective. To be fair, once you had leveled up your oxygen capacity at some point in the game, this became less of a problem, but it was still an annoyance early on. Another issue was that your suit would leak oxygen, and if you bumped into the environment - something that was happening all the time as this astronaut's body must have been ridiculously large - it would crack and compromise the integrity of your armor. There were stations where you could repair everything, but it didn't last, and any slight bump would again cause quicker loss of oxygen. And there was really no story to latch onto, just bits of flavor with no coherent whole that I was able to piece together. Granted I didn't finish it, but I played through many audio logs and read numerous computer terminals, etc. and things weren't clear or compelling. The whole game felt a bit like an unfinished tech demo in some regards, albeit an incredibly gorgeous one. I really wanted to love this game, given the presentation, and I did love that aspect, but when trying to lose myself in the fullness of the experience, I found less of a *game* than I was hoping to find. What I did enjoy was worthwhile, and if you want the sensation of being lost in space, it might be worth getting on a big discount. I spent $2.99 for it in some sale, and I guess I got my money's worth, but I'm still a bit disappointed that it didn't live up to the visuals when it came to interaction or narrative. A soft 3/5 that is worth it only for the spectacle.

46) Midvinter (PC)

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Scandinavia has given the world many wonderful things, and I'm always partial to my roots there, and so I was drawn to a game called Midvinter. One of the things bestowed upon us by the Nordic gods is the folklore surrounding gnomes or Norse dwarves, those little benevolent, and sometimes playfully mischievous, creatures that often appear in "real life" to those imbibing certain plant or fungi medicines. In the game, you play as one such benevolent gnome whose purpose is to silently and invisibly aid the family of a particular farmhouse. A new family has moved in and is soon expecting a child and you make your way around their lands, home and out-buildings tidying up and making life run as smoothly as possible for them. The central conflict, though, is with a troll who wants to swap its offspring for the new humans, and you are tasked with preventing such a horrendous transaction. The flavor of being a gnome was nicely translated as you wandered about the different areas and helped out with things big and small. And most wonderfully, the game could be played in Swedish (voice). That was a rare treat for me, and despite the voice acting not being top-notch, I really loved that authenticity it provided. Midvinter is very brief. I finished in under an hour, but there are multiple endings if you desire to try and see them. I really loved the premise, but there wasn't as much as I wanted there to experience. My love for the setting, source material and language option softens my judgment a bit here. 3/5.
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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by isthatallyougot » Mon Jan 23, 2023 11:35 am

45) Creepy Tale (PC)

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Creepy Tale is a fairly short puzzle-adventure game about a boy and his brother who are out picking mushrooms in the woods while one of them is abducted by some monsters. The art was very nice mostly. It had lots of browns and greens and reminded me of the art from the children's books "Frog and Toad", if anyone recognizes that old and obscure reference. (I loved them as a kid, even as an adult, lol.) There was plenty of spooky forest fog, shadows, and woodland creatures and spirits to instill that sense of mystery that seems to be ever-present within the woods, and the music did a really nice job of capturing that atmosphere as well. This is not a super sinister tone in terms of general mood, but more of an intense children's story type of vibe, although the ultimate revelation was pretty dark, yet not visually explicit or graphic.. There is no dialogue throughout, with everything being suggested or shown via the visuals and interactions rather than explained, but it worked nicely as it was. There are some clever puzzles that I enjoyed, but there are also some illogical or vague ones as well, and I did use a guide a time or two. One thing that bothered me was that it sometimes was hard to know what you could interact with and I was stuck one time because a tree branch that seemed to be just a part of the backdrop was a necessary item to proceed. There were a variety of instances where you wouldn't have known that an object was required, so it became necessary to interact with everything. But the mood and the bulk of the puzzles made for a mostly enjoyable time. It's only a couple of hours if you don't know what you're doing, and offers no replay value. But if you're in the mood for some nice, mostly mild scares with some fun puzzles and good atmosphere, it's worth a look. 3/5.

44) Masochisia (PC)

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Sometimes games or other art can be engaging or interesting without necessarily being pleasant. They can broach subject matter that is simultaneously, and paradoxically, alluring and repulsive. It's human nature to be drawn to oddities, to things that lie far outside the norms of experience, and sometimes those things can be quite horrific. Enter a game called Masochisia, released in 2015 by developer Oldblood, who made no other games, spookily enough. Here we are told a tale, inspired by a real life monster, who I won't spoil in case any play it. (The game never explicitly tells us this - I learned it after the fact.) We learn via present-day therapy consultations, and primarily through the flashbacks that constitute the meat of the game, of a life that was filled with abuses and hatred, a life that, given its surroundings, had little hope of any sort of happy ending or peace... a life destined for darkness and the reciprocation of inflicted-pain upon the world. Everything plays out as a point-and-click style of adventure, and there is a small inventory to manage. The bulk of the game is simply navigating where you are supposed to go and interacting with whom or what will further the story. Within this story, we find a broken mind, understandably so, that is spoken to by demons/angels arisen as a byproduct of terrible circumstances, and a being that must act out in response to the burdens he was so cruelly given. The mood is heavy and oppressive throughout, carrying a sinister air that saturates the experience. There is a thick bleakness that is quite uncomfortable, yet I was drawn to continue because the tone was so unique. The music, particularly the title screen sounds, was haunting, suggesting an internal space so dark that it gripped and terrified. The artwork was equally twisted in harmony with the narrative. And the story itself, while dealing with very uncomfortable and disturbing material - often quite explicitly, was compelling. I loved that it played with the idea of destiny/fate, the idea that whatever you experience or whoever you are is outside any notion of control - a potentially chilling concept, especially if your conditions belong to the darkest corners of human experience. Again, I can't say I “enjoyed” this narrative-heavy game in the traditional sense of things. It made me wish to turn away, and yet I finished it. It took me about three hours, and there were some mild navigational issues where I felt lost in a forest setting briefly, and it could probably be beaten a little quicker. I almost put it down due to that and the fact that it was so unapologetically sinister, but I found myself compelled to finish. My repulsion was likely buffered by the fact that I was playing a more positive game with some distinctly pleasant vibes alongside it. It's hard to know how to rate this game. Part of me didn't want to play it not long into it, and yet I made it through. It was a certainly a well-made experience, given what it was, and I find myself having mixed feelings due to the content. I'll give it a 3/5 as a reflection of that push-pull sensation I referred to in the beginning. If you've got a strong stomach and tolerance for the shadows, you might want to give it a chance, otherwise I'd steer clear. You've been warned.

43) Doki Doki Literature Club! (PC)

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Expectations and contrast/subversion of the expected is an effective tool in the realm of horror if used right. To get the rug pulled out from underneath you can be thrilling and terrifying (or even funny), depending on how it's done. Show one thing on the surface, but conceal a drastically different essence beneath. Such is the essence of a game called Doki Doki Literature Club. The title screen pops with happy anime music and bright pastel colors, along with a group of four cute girls clad in school uniform. Well, this surely seems to be stereotypical anime to the Nth degree, doesn't it? However, we're immediately met with a warning that this is not for children or those who are easily offended, so the expectation is set for the unexpected right away, which does put a bit of a damper on any surprises - just knowing up front that the surface level presentation is going to be at odds with the overall experience. And to be fair, despite knowing little going in, I DID know that it was apparently a bit dark and disturbing. And yet, I didn't know any details which still allowed for some intrigue if not total shock.

I don't want to spoil too much, so I'll tread as carefully as I can. We open as a high-school student who is having an interaction with a neighbor, a girl who has been a friend ever since you and she were children. This bubbly girl, Sayori, is interested in convincing you to join a school club that she participates in. You are a bit of an unmotivated slacker who just likes games and anime and doesn't have any interest in any “extra” effort or engagement with the practicalities of life, but your good friend manages to convince you, and you join the Doki Doki Literature club. Besides you and Sayori, there are three other girls, Monika, Yuri and Natsuki. And the club is, indeed, about literature and the enjoyment of language. In the course of things, the group decides to write and share their own poetry, something you also actively do via choosing groups of words that resonate more or less with the personalities of the different girls. If you write something that is in harmony with one of the girls, they'll get closer to you and want to spend more time with you in and outside the club setting. It was fairly interesting to have these interactions because of their nature. Without being too specific, I'll just say that there is a gradual erosion of your sense of reality, replaced by a well-conveyed feeling of a descent into madness. What you imagine is happening is undone by some fourth wall breaking and unfolds in ways that were subtly telegraphed as things developed until you realize that “reality” is not what you thought it to be at all. I enjoyed this element of disorientation and it was pretty effective in terms of psychological horror.

In the course of the narrative, the game also deals with some human darkness through the girls in the club, traits and struggles that we're all familiar with, whether directly or through observation. Some are more "benign", things like jealousy and insecurity, but there's more to the pit as things progress. And these aspects of the shadow side of humanity were disturbing, despite their familiarity. Suffice it to say that it is indeed not a game for children or those who don't like subjects of a more grim nature. But, that's only surface level scares as the rabbit hole goes deeper into the surreal realm as what you think is going on is deconstructed again and again, creating an effective sense of unease and horror.

I didn't love every element of Doki Doki though. There are a limited number of backgrounds, and the character art, while being well-done was often repeated in many scenes. And I'm generally not that interested in “anime dating” types of experiences. Granted, this isn't that at its core, but on the surface level, it wasn't really my thing. And interactivity is fairly limited. Other than creating “poetry” through picking some words to connect with the girls and the occasional choice, it's pretty linear. Overall, it was decent, but didn't really excite outside of the admittedly interesting subversion of expectations. I played it more out of curiosity due to my general knowledge of it supposedly being a bit twisted, and it was worth the five hours I spent with it. It wasn't a great game, but it's worth some time if you have an interest in a visual novel that explores the darker side while taking you down an unexpected rabbit hole. And hey, it's free on Steam, so it was certainly worth the price, lol. 3/5
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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by canedaddy » Mon Jan 23, 2023 12:17 pm

isthatallyougot wrote:
Thu Jan 19, 2023 11:55 am

Did you know you can play as the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games mascot Izzy in a platformer from the SNES? Neither did I. But in honor of, um, myself? (or the Olympics :P) I fired up this retro game in 2022. Your mission is to collect the five Olympic Rings from some dastardly villains who had the gall to nick them, all while navigating environments and enemies in hopping and bopping fashion like so many genre staples.
What in the world. Is Richard Jewel the final boss? :lol:
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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by isthatallyougot » Mon Jan 23, 2023 12:55 pm

canedaddy wrote:
Mon Jan 23, 2023 12:17 pm
What in the world. Is Richard Jewel the final boss? :lol:
He's in the dlc. :P
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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by isthatallyougot » Tue Jan 24, 2023 12:24 pm

42) Savage Halloween (PC)

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Sometimes you're just in the mood for some good old-school arcade fun, and given that it was Halloween season, I decided to fire up an homage to the NES in the form of Savage Halloween, an indie platformer/shooter I picked up for next to nothing some time ago. As with so many games of the era and style from which this has drawn inspiration, there's very little set-up or story. The world is run amok by monsters who ended up trapped on Earth after a Halloween party in which a return-portal was closed by an evil Vampire - a gateway that normally allows all the spooks and monstrosities a return to the afterlife at the conclusion of the sugar-laced, pumpkin-patch holiday. You decide to fight against this tyranny and send everyone home guns-blazing. I'm so invested! :P The visuals are colorful and varied, with a variety of themes and location across seven levels. There's a peppy and fun Halloween-themed soundtrack that was both whimsical and energetic. Across each level you must run, gun and platform in nicely animated fashion, collecting power-ups and ammo for your four additional guns or use your main infinite ammo machine gun, which was frankly the most useful for the bulk of encounters. To be fair, there were surely situations where it was nice to have the spread-fire or the exploding chicken to deal with some foes as well as a projectile that, when fired, would ricochet across world geometry until it hit someone. There were also “specials" you could find which did extra damage, but were limited in number. Along the way you'll encounter mini-bosses within levels and main bosses towards the end of each world, and after they're dispatched, you unlock the next level. The bosses were pretty fun, with that familiar pattern-based gameplay that is so recognizable to anyone who's played more than a handful of games. The controls were tight and responsive, making things feel fair when you took damage. Things weren't always easy either, but the challenge never approached the heights of the more punishing games from the NES era. There's also three selectable characters at the beginning of the game or at the outset of each level when starting anew. They all have various strengths and weaknesses in terms of health, speed and jumping ability. There's also some replay value due to a scoring system and online leader boards, although I'm sure this didn't sell enough to draw a player base for any sense of fun competition. There's also a hardcore difficulty if you want to really be challenged. All in all, I don't have much in the way of negatives to express. Sometimes the flow wasn't as consistent as I would have liked with a bit of a start/stop rhythm to some encounters and sections because of enemy type and placement, and I sometimes wished to have a bit more fluid forward momentum. And things can feel a bit repetitive as the gameplay doesn't really deviate too much throughout. But it was a fun ride. It didn't set my world on fire, but it was certainly a competent and fun game from a small developer, and it was worth the close to six hours I spent to finish it. 3/5

41) Football, Tactics and Glory (PC)

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I love soccer in terms of both the real sport and video game approximations. In fact, the World Cup is my favorite sporting event, bar none, so passionate am I about the beautiful game. (Man, that France / Argentina final is one of the best matches I've ever seen!) I watch more soccer than baseball, football or any other sport I enjoy, and by a fair margin. So I'm always interested in game adaptations. I came across an unusual take on the sport in the form of Football, Tactics and Glory for the PC. It's unique in the fact that it's a turn-based game in the mold of an X-Com rather than a more traditional game-flow that reflects the sport as it is normally expressed.

The game plays out with each side getting 3 turns to pass, move and shoot before control is handed over to the opposition. In those three turns you try to either work out an opportunity for a shot on goal or position yourself as best as you are able against your opponents coming turn. There are special moves and conditions which you can utilize that don't cost a turn, so theoretically you can prolong your possession and control in some situations. This happens via special skills that players can have or develop. There are myriad skills reflecting real-world play - skills such as long pass, nutmeg, cannon-shot and many others you'd find common to the sport. So each side takes their turn in this back-and-forth dance, and the clock progresses with the passing of each move.

The fundamentals work well enough, and there is quite a large degree of depth to which you are introduced through a staggered presentation of mandatory in-game tutorials. You come to learn of quite a bit of nuance and strategy that is available, and I appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into the creation of this game and efforts to introduce new players properly. Playing out matches, it was clear that there was some meat on this bone, some skill that could be gained with experience on this turn-based virtual pitch.

I also really appreciated how flexible things were in terms of customization. You could create your own Football (Soccer for those offended :P) Association, with multiple levels of leagues or you could apply mods directly through the Steam workshop that would allow you to replicate your preferred league from around the world. (I used a mod for the English FA with all its levels and teams so that I could control my beloved Everton.) If you wanted to create your own, you could name all the teams and create all their uniforms. The ultimate goal in the game is to start at the lowest league and work your way to the top of the highest overall league within the structure, just like you find in soccer associations around the world. You could be promoted or relegated, depending on your season's performance. There was also a great deal of depth to roster building, as players developed and learned new skills and improved (or declined) in overall ability. There were transfer markets where you could buy and sell players to help flesh out your ideal squad. It was all very compelling stuff for a soccer and sports management fan, and conceptually I was very drawn-in.

There were, unfortunately, some issues that put a dent in all the enthusiasm I felt going into this game, however. In the first place, everything seemed to boil down to who had the best skills/players more than any significant strategic application. If you (or your opponent) had a player that could shoot accurately on goal, for example, it didn't matter much what was done. There is an RNG element to each action, and a dice roll determines - within a potential range for all players involved - the outcome of the action. (Is the tackle made or does the man in possession with the matchup? and so on.) In theory, the weaker player wins against the stronger player sometimes, and to be fair, it happened here too, but it was infrequent enough to render the dice roll rather pointless. It was as if the game distilled to whoever acquires the most skills or skills at the highest level, and it felt like it negated any real tactics on the pitch, leaving team building the only important element, and that was frustrating. You were either good enough that you couldn't lose or bad enough, relative to your opposition, that you couldn't win. That was the feeling imparted, and you knew the outcome prior to the match, which kind of defeated the point of playing. Also, player progression was absolutely snail-paced. It was very clear from the beginning that, if you wanted to build a team over time, it was going to be a total grind, and not a super fun one. But most egregious for me is something that I should have known going in. What I love about soccer is the fluidity, the subtlety of positioning and dynamic interaction relative to the ball and to other players, the flow of movement and the constant real-time adjustments to all of those shifting energies in concert against one another. And a turn-based strategy game was never going to be able to replicate that, so that's my own error in judgment. Football, Tactics and glory ultimately felt more like a puzzle game with a soccer skin, but I went in hoping for a soccer experience with a tactical, turn-based approach. It's certainly not a bad game, and I did enjoy many aspects of it, but it failed to live up to my hopes, mostly due to my own lack of foresight. But I was seduced by the videos and information I had taken in, and even now, looking at some screenshots above this review, I find myself thinking I'll love my time with it more than I know I actually did. I give it high marks for trying something different, but the execution could have been better, and it's missing the dynamic action of sport that I love so much. 3/5.

40) My Lovely Daughter (PC)

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What to do when you awaken in a room without your memory beside a corpse of a girl whom you come to discover is your daughter along with a book full of madness that you come to recognize as your own writings? Well, you get to performing magic so that you can reanimate your child's dead corpse, of course. This is the premise of a game entitled My Lovely Daughter. The essence of things is that you come to know that you have learned some magic techniques from some warlock and are able to animate homunculi - these human-like creatures that possess emotional characteristics - from raw materials such as wood, water, iron, meat and so on, in a Frankenstein's monster sort of way. The quality of the homunculi (all female like your daughter) are determined by the quality and distribution of ingredients used in their formation initially, but they can also grow and develop as you send them to work for you in the nearby town. As they work, they earn money for you, but it's better if you put them to work in jobs in alignment with their primary emotional nature, be it sadness, joy, anger, or fear. As they labor, they level up and as you give them gifts or spend time with them, they grow in their attachment to you. They write you letters that reflect their basic emotional nature, often telling you how much they love you and how grateful they are. But, here's the rub. You have only created them so that you can sacrifice them to acquire their essence in order to infuse your deceased daughter's soul with the correct mix of emotional qualities to properly bring her back from the dead as she used to be. The better the homunculi, the greater the emotional essence that is extracted along with higher quality raw materials to create more abominations for your mad science. I have to say that hearing their cries and witnessing these pseudo-daughters beg for their lives before killing them in sacrifice, or worse, thanking you for loving them for a while and saying that you must know what's best for them, was quite the uncomfortable feeling. They had worked to give you funds and here you are heartlessly destroying them. A peculiar aspect of this experience is that while I felt a real aversion to the nasty work I had to do in the beginning, I became numb after many such actions as I tried to get the perfect emotional mix, and I didn't even bother to read their pleas of sadness before taking their lives. That was the most uncomfortable part of the whole experience because it was an affirmation that those in the world who are capable of human atrocities in real life must also become numb and indifferent to acts of cruelty towards other real people. That realization/reminder was quite dark - just knowing that there are real monsters out there that have no feeling or remorse for their own heinous acts. That impact aside, the nuts and bolts of the game were interesting at first as you tried to mix up the qualities to bring back your daughter, but things became repetitive as you did it over and over, week after week. It became more of a grind than consistently fun after a while, and despite having spent close to 10 hours with it, I can't give it a strong recommendation. It was intriguing and engaging on some levels, but wanted me to repeat a formulaic, and eventually tedious, method longer than the content and fascination warranted. To be clear, I did have fun (and discomfort) here, and it's certainly worth giving some of your time if you have the stomach for some uncomfortable realizations (or affirmations), but it may not have the legs to justify the grind. It's certainly unique, and I was very curious and drawn in for quite a while, but it just needed some tweaking to the structure to make it a bit less rote. 3/5.
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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by isthatallyougot » Wed Jan 25, 2023 12:30 pm

39) Clam Man (PC)

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What do you do when you're a Clam Man and you are fired from your cubicle job at a large mayonnaise firm and have reason to suspect corruption and malfeasance that penetrates deep into the underbelly of Snacky Bay City? Well, you just lost your job, so you've got plenty of free time to dig into things, so you start sniffing around trying to lure out and exterminate the rats, that's what you do. Clam Man is a point and click adventure released in 2019 for the PC, and it was in one (or more) of the itch.io bundles I bought. I took a look at it, and I was in the mood for something humorous, which this seemed to be. In the first place, there is plenty of the funny here. It's not all top-notch, but there were many times I found myself chuckling aloud at the absurdity presented. And it's not just the nonsensical kind of humor that is obvious because of an abundance of mayonnaise references or the fact that you are a clam man. There are plenty of relatable jokes that touch on being down on your luck, intra-office politics, friendship and corruption at the intersection of business and politics. I genuinely enjoyed most of the comedy here, even if some of the jokes didn't land for me. And the tale itself was somewhat interesting, laughs aside. The main issue with Clam Man is that there wasn't as much in the way of interactivity as I would have liked. There were a few puzzles and one significant logic puzzle, which was admittedly quite good, along with a smattering of very light almost-puzzles. But the bulk of the experience was progressing from one scenario to the next, conversing with npcs and interacting with objects for additional humorous commentary. There were dialogue options to choose from oftentimes, and you had to take the right route for progression, but there was no real challenge in doing so, although there was plenty of extra comedy in choosing some of the non-essential and ludicrous responses and interactions. I felt like it was trying to capture the ridiculous vibe of some of the classic point and click adventures, and while it surely had its moments, it couldn't really reach the lofty heights at which it took aim. In the end, I had a fun time with Clam Man. I doubt it's something that will really stick with me over time, but it was a nice buffer against life's stresses, and I appreciated it for what it was. It leaned heavier on the visual novel side of the scales than a traditional point and click adventure, but it was still a pretty fun time. 3/5

38) Sylvio (PC)

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When I was younger, in my teen years, I was fascinated with spooky stuff - still am in many ways. And one of the really interesting things in the realm of the paranormal is the unusual occurrence of EVPs or electronic voice phenomena. For any unfamiliar, audio recording equipment can pick up inexplicable sounds and/or “voices” that seemingly have no logical explanation. And when I was a teen, I had a voice recorder that had a voice-activated feature that would allow the recorder to remain in standby until a voice or sound loud enough to trigger it would occur, causing recording to begin and then shut off when silence returned. So I had this idea to use it when I slept to see if I picked up anything in this mysterious realm. I didn't really expect anything, but I was surely curious. Well, to be brief - and much to my surprise, my recorder did pickup a variety of noises, some of which were very clearly voice-like (and unlike my own voice), and other sounds which did not seem like they could have come from my quiet room and were certainly not sounds that I'd ever heard while lying there quietly in the darkness while awake. None of the voice sounds were decipherable into clear words, but they were certainly spooky. So, needless to say, I found myself left with the impression that there was something to this, even if I was at a loss to explain its cause or meaning. And my love of the creepy, scary world that goes bump in the night has always extended to my love of gaming, so when I became aware of a game that incorporated the idea of EVPs, I knew it was something I wanted to play.

The game in question is a lower-budget title called Sylvio where you play a ghost-chaser named Juliette Waters who is investigating a tragedy that occurred in a family park years ago. Apparently there was a landslide that killed many in this nature/amusement park, and you are in search of the ghosts of that event, hoping to let them tell their tales, solve the mystery and satisfy your own curiosity, with maybe the side-benefit of granting them peace and release from the trauma that has bound their spirits to this locale. The premise is great. You carry around your recording equipment and as you pick up interference and move towards it, you can record these messages from beyond. But there's a really cool mechanic involved in deciphering them. The messages may only reveal themselves as you manipulate their speed or direction, so in order to get the communication, you might have to play it forward or backwards and/or at an accelerated or slowed speed. It was really cool to go through the recordings and often find multiple messages via various forms of playback. And often the messages were small or cryptic, and the story unfolded largely through discovering and piecing together all the little fragments into a coherent overarching narrative. Very high marks for incorporating something fresh into the horror genre, and using it in a satisfying and compelling manner. Another thing that really stood out in Sylvio was the voice acting. I may be one of the hardest people to please when it comes to this aspect of games. I'm incredibly sensitive to verbal speech, and if it comes off in an inauthentic manner, it really detracts from my investment. And the vast majority of games are rife with over-acting to the point that things feel like parody or high-school theater. I just hate so much of the voice work in gaming. But here, the main character and some others were wonderfully understated, down-to-earth and believable in their delivery. It was incredibly refreshing to enjoy such excellent vocal delivery, especially in such a lower-budget work. Another element that I appreciated was the lack of hand-holding. In modern gaming, you just get accustomed to most (bigger-budget) games telling you where to go and what to do, and highlighting everything like you're an idiot, and the joy of exploration and discovery, of personal adventure, is just lost. But that wasn't the case here, for the most part. There were indicators about points of interest, but there was plenty to work out on your own, and I appreciated that trust in the player.

I wish I could end my review with all the great things that Sylvio did, but unfortunately there is more to this tale. First, there is some first-person platforming - which is rarely executed in an enjoyable manner, and this was no exception. Hopping around with no view of your character was awkward and clunky much of the time, and some of the puzzles required you to execute this aspect of the game. Another problem is that there are no user saves, so if you don't reach a certain (non-indicated) checkpoint, you'll lose an indeterminate amount of progress, so you never know when it's safe to quit unless you've finished a chapter, which was always clear. And as much as I appreciated the lack of hand-holding, the design structure and puzzles weren't always intuitive or logical, and you could find yourself confused about how to proceed because of poorly communicated ideas. And the combat in the game consisted of using a blunderbuss type of weapon where you shot potatoes and/or nails at black smoke enemies. It was simple and offered zero challenge if you could see the enemy before it saw you, but often you would only become aware of the threat after it had touched and killed you. Thankfully, there was little penalty for getting killed as it took you back to a checkpoint within the level without losing progress, but it also made the encounters feel non-threatening, which is decidedly at odds with any idea of horror. And while the game wasn't open-world, there were some large wide-open levels which you could traverse via foot and/or car, but there was little reason for such open spaces as you simply moved to the next EVP signal to record in order to further progress. Little was gained by driving distances to those encounters, although to be fair, there were sometimes a few little extras to be discovered along the path. Finally, the graphics textures could have been better and more varied. This is a minor complaint for me as I'm not a graphics first type of gamer, but I figured I'd mention it. Again, it's a small developer, and the atmosphere was often very good notwithstanding.

Man, do some games really create mixed feelings. I really enjoyed a great deal of what was presented here, but I was put off enough that I put it down around two-thirds of the way through. (I think it was about that, based on a YouTube walkthrough I glanced at.) And from some reviews I've read after putting it down, I learned that what remained was a repeat of what I'd already experienced without much variation. I'm really torn, but the fact that I decided to put it down before finishing speaks to the game's problems and prevents me from ranking it as highly as a part of me really wants to do. I'll still probably give the sequel a chance at some point, which is already in my backlog, to see if some refinements have been made. And maybe I'll feel the urge to go back and finish this one some day, but I have to acknowledge that although I didn't complete the game, I really enjoyed the good aspects of the game enough that I felt some real frustration and angst about putting it down. Some games are really hard for me to rank/score, and Sylvio is one such title. There's a real ambivalence with me in considering this game. In the end, the problems prevent me from giving it a clear recommendation with a 4-star score, and yet the positives are legitimately strong and prevent me from being too harsh. I rarely give games I don't finish more than 2 out of 5 stars, but it would be unfair of me to be so critical here. A bittersweet and schizophrenic 3/5.

37) Gone Home (PC)

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Gone Home was one of those games that made a big splash back when it released to where most everyone was aware of it. I never felt a strong pull to play it, knowing what little I did about it, but I ended up getting it for a song in some bundle, I believe, and I figured I might as well pull it out from my backlog to see if the hype was warranted. It's a game that is “credited” (or derided) for being the origins of the walking simulator genre. It differs from conventional narrative in that you are discovering and piecing things together via the collecting of information in an environment and assembling the story like putting together a jig-saw puzzle. It's a fine way of telling a story as far as I'm concerned. I'm always more of a “show don't tell” type of guy, and it can be fun trying to connect the dots and speculate about the finer points of what is happening or has happened. It's part of what I enjoy about the Souls franchise, so the method of expression was enjoyable for me.

The premise is that you are a university-age kid named Katie who has been traveling abroad in Europe and has come home, with little notice, to see your family again - a family consisting of both parents and your sister Sam. Due to the abrupt arrival, your parents are unable to change plans for a retreat they'd made for the weekend of your coming, and when you show up at the doorstep of your home, you find a note from your teenage (high-school) sister explaining that she has left home permanently, but not to worry because she's fine and she'll see you again one day. And so the mystery begins. You spend your time wandering through your parents' home and looking through the belongings of your family, often very personal documents, letters and whatnot, and gradually getting to know them in ways that maybe you didn't prior to having this weekend of unrestricted access to everything. I won't spoil the narrative, but suffice it to say that there's romance, identity struggle, plenty of teen angst that is familiar to anyone who has grown up, and a window into the personal lives and demons of your family - your Sister Sam in particular - to which you have not been privy until now. There's some mystery regarding your family as well, and plenty of subtlety that provides room for interpretation and the use of imagination, and I appreciated this aspect of the game.

I didn't love everything about Gone Home though. The narrative, while sometimes interesting, really wasn't as engaging as I was expecting in its fundamentals, especially given how well-received it was. It's not bad, it just wasn't special. I suppose that the bulk of the reception was due to the unique way the story was told more than the content. Although, without being specific, the journey of Sam probably resonated with a large segment of marginalized teens/people, so perhaps that contributed to the overall praise. There was this ongoing sense of some big reveal coming throughout that never really landed as seemed to be suggested, or as I expected, and that was kind of deflating when I reached the end. There were also some crumpled up notes and letters in trash cans that were a bit hard to read because of the crinkled lines on the paper interfering with legibility. But overall, I think it's a good game and I mostly enjoyed my three hours with it. There was this sense of voyeurism that was consistent as you rummaged through the lives of your family that was often tantalizing, if also feeling a bit wrong or creepy. In the end, I'm happy to have played it, and as stated, I like the format just fine, even I wasn't quite as enthusiastic about the contents. 3/5.
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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by canedaddy » Wed Jan 25, 2023 1:28 pm

Clam Man seems pretty funny indeed. And a sequel is coming, apparently. :lol: Ah, the things I miss out on by not playing PC games.
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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by isthatallyougot » Wed Jan 25, 2023 4:02 pm

canedaddy wrote:
Wed Jan 25, 2023 1:28 pm
Clam Man seems pretty funny indeed. And a sequel is coming, apparently. :lol: Ah, the things I miss out on by not playing PC games.
I had no idea. I'd be open to playing another. It had some good laughs, for sure.

Off-topic edit: I just remembered one of my all-time favorite you tube channels because of the Clam Man mayonnaise references. (he always references having a pre-dinner snack of Mayo, lol.) He's also got quite a few repeat gags, like peeling potatoes with your body, screaming at butter to melt it, punching everything, screaming "ugn" (oven) every time he uses it. Sadly they quit uploading several years ago, but I still re-watch them from time to time since they're so hilarious - to me anyway. I'd be thrilled if they suddenly started uploading again.

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Re: Izzy's 2022

Post by isthatallyougot » Thu Jan 26, 2023 11:26 am

36) Last Day of June (PC)

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Loss and tragedy is an inevitable aspect of being human. In a realm bound to time, all is transient, and we all face circumstances that are at odds with our hopes and desires at points in life, and everyone must cope as best they are able. How we cope is something that is unique to each individual, and a game called Last Day of June attempted to explore these possibilities through the lens of a couple to whom tragedy befell. I will refrain from going into spoiler territory, but I will just say that this particular character's method of coping was to relive an event from their past, examining ways in which things might have played out differently. And it is in this re-examination of past events that the story plays out and the player is engaged. The focal point is a small community of individuals whose lives all interacted with one another in the unfolding of this event, and the primary character spends their days in rumination over what could have been done differently. Within the memory, this character imagines things (through inhabiting the various characters) that happened and how they could have played out in other ways, with each character having a direct influence on the others in a sort of “butterfly effect” manner. When the imagination changes the behavior of one of the players on this stage, the scenery, and possible action, is changed for the others, and the outcome potentially altered. The whole process is a coming-to-terms sort of affair and how it was expressed was effective at allowing you to inhabit the emotions of a character trying to accept the inevitability of things that have already happened. But there is a deeper layer to things - that I won't risk revealing - that was quite poignant, in the end. Suffice it to say that the narrative held the potential to move if you are capable of feeling any sort of empathy for digital facsimiles of ourselves, and I found myself touched at the journey and outcome.

While the narrative was enjoyable and moving, it was told with no dialogue whatsoever. The characters spoke a “sim-ish” sort of language, like in Okami, or well, The Sims. And I could see that being a deterrent for some. Personally, I had no problem with it, as I have an intense relationship with language itself, and it's not always pretty. :P I often yearn for pure experience unaltered by abstraction - to get ALL the words out of my head and return to innocence. But once certain connections are made, they become virtually intractable. I digress. I will say that the lack of language did not impact the emotional weight of this tale for me. The essence of things was conveyed clearly and powerfully, absent any such symbolism. I did find the characters' lack of eyes a bit off-putting, but I assume it was an artistic choice meant to convey the soulless feel that accompanies significant loss, or perhaps the unwillingness to view the truth that is too hard to accept. Again, I didn't like it visually, but I understand why it may have been a creative choice, although perhaps I'm reading more into the design than is present. And while the puzzles were enjoyable in their solutions, I generally felt railroaded into considering things from a narrow point of view - one way to victory. I get it, but I don't like that feeling. The game also wasn't too long - about three hours or so - but it was sufficient to tell its tale in a thorough and satisfying manner. There's not too much in the way of negatives, and yet, I can't say it's an unmissable game. If you're in the mood for some emotion in your gaming and like the idea of rearranging past events to alter potential future events, and don't mind the lack of dialogue, it's worth picking up. It's a solid 3/5 for me.

35) Blue Fire (PC)

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Perusing my Steam backlog, I came upon a game from a recent bundle called Blue Fire. I'd heard it described as an homage to Zelda and seeing that it had very good reviews it piqued my curiosity enough to give it a go. The comparisons to Zelda were immediate. You're a diminutive, sword-wielding protagonist in a colorful world with puzzle-filled dungeons and a variety of NPCs who offer little quests along the way. The NPCs even speak in the Breath of the Wild “grunts” and “oohs” that will be familiar to anyone who has played that game. In fact, it felt a little too on-the-nose in that regard, maybe a little too plagiarized. The world is interconnected with a variety of “biomes” or environments like the traditional and overplayed fire and ice worlds. There are ultimately a variety of bosses to contend with that must be reached via solving various dungeons and puzzles, and progression in general is tied to unlocking certain items, skills and abilities, much like you would find in a Metroidvania or well, Zelda. There are claws that let you run on walls and a spinning whirlwind that will elevate you higher, just to mention a couple. And speaking of navigation, the platforming is very well done here. It has a very tight and responsive feel as you discover hidden nooks and crannies that reveal their secrets via advanced platforming techniques granted by new abilities, giving the game a nice sense of discovery. There is also a great deal of verticality that is well-realized, offering some really nice platforming challenges both in the main world and in the “voids” - side missions that are exclusively platforming challenges that grant you with an additional heart when completed. These little worlds reminded me very much of Super Mario Sunshine's F.L.U.D.D.-less levels, although you're not handicapped in any way in these. But having these side levels really allowed the nice platforming to shine and also provided incentive to make your character stronger against the coming challenges. I didn't complete all the voids, but they were all ranked by difficulty from one to five stars, and they could get quite challenging. So if you were really fond of the platforming, there's plenty of optional fun on offer here. (They've even made a separate game a la Super Mario Maker called “Void Maker” where users can create and share their own levels for community engagement, and it's a free DLC, so props to the developers for that bonus.) But the platforming was the highlight of the experience. When you realized your full potential and found yourself dashing into a wall-run, double jumping and elevating as you parkour to a distant platform that seemed unreachable earlier in the game, you really feel a nice sense of accomplishment and simple joy at the finesse imparted via the well-realized platforming tools at your disposal.

Visually, the game was clean and simple. There were surely some attractive areas, but the geometry was mostly basic, although accentuated nicely with color and shadow. There is also combat within the game. It has a lock-on mechanic and reminds a bit of Souls or any other game where you lock on and dodge in the dance of combat, but the finesse wasn't there. There's no stamina to contend with, and things felt pretty basic and uninspired. Everything is functional in this area, but more of a nuisance than a real joy, and it was just something I looked to avoid after a while. The game also felt confusing in its geographical layout for me. Knowing where to go was often difficult to remember in the various twists, turns, and many doors that connected everything. I think they could really improve in the level-design department as I found it tedious much of the time trying to remember what path led to what environment, and I would have loved to see a map feature used here. And the sense and pattern of progression in general felt illogical and just “off” much of the time. There wasn't a coherent feel to the structure of the world, and it did put me off to a degree. And much of the game had a very paint-by-numbers feel, maybe aping its inspirations a little too closely. The Zelda influence, in particular, felt too close. Don't misunderstand, Blue Fire still ultimately had its own vibe, but the way it wore its influences was a little too obvious, which I found a little offensive. And the narrative was not engaging at all to me. It felt like a mad-libs sort of fill-in-the-blanks plot without any real excitement or passion instilled. And as is the case with most all 3D platformers, the camera was sometimes awkward and problematic, but that's pretty much part and parcel for the genre, and not a severe indictment against the game. And the camera issues weren't egregious or prevalent.

Despite the negatives, I had fun with Blue Fire. The platforming is an outstanding base for the developers to work with, and I think if they go back to the drawing board and work on some of the other elements with the same dedication and skill that they showed with the core mechanics, they could have something truly special on their hands. In the end, Blue Fire was a good game, but it's not one that receives an unqualified recommendation from me. The highs were really high, but it was let down by some problems and it was just missing that special hard-to-define something that propels a good game into the must play category. It's a solid and fun 3/5 with a great deal of potential, and I'll be keeping my eye on any of the creators' future projects.

34) The 39 Steps (PC)

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Having ventured into the visual novel genre a bit this year, I found myself playing another titled The 39 Steps, a retelling of a 1915 novel by John Buchan. Set in 1914, A well-traveled, worldly-wise and bored Englishman, Richard Hannay, is visited one day by a man named Scudder who is looking for refuge from pursuers that are after him because of his knowledge of the impending assassination of the Greek Prime Minister. Hannay listens to his tale and eventually judges Scudder to be trustworthy, allowing him to hideout for a while in his home. Not long after, Scudder is found murdered with a knife in his chest, and Hannay, realizing that he would most likely be found guilty of the crime decides to flee with a cipher-filled notebook he retrieved from his guest along with the information given over his visit, indicating a June 15th deadline for stopping this planned crime that would likely have a ripple effect which sets the world into chaos as the domino that starts another large scale war. Hannay's conviction in Scudder's honesty, along with his desire to not let his death and story pass in vain, results in him taking on the mantle and seeing this tale through to its end, wherever it may lead. He flees to Scotland, the place of his roots, knowing he can easily pass for a Scotsman in order to blend in, and the game is afoot, and Hannay is bored no longer.

The unfolding tale is full of political intrigue, spies, bread crumbs to follow, narrow escapes, subterfuge, unexpected friends and foes, and all manner of drama as he attempts to unravel this mystery and save himself while on the run. There's an element of the hunted becoming the hunter as things play out, and all the twists and turns really moved at a nice pace and were very interesting from beginning to end. I read that this novel was an inspiration to Ian Flemming and his creation of James Bond, and I can see that. There's plenty of uncertainty for both the player and the main character that persists until the very end in a climax that would either vindicate the protagonist or leave him looking like an utter fool, and that doubt remains until the very last, building and carrying a wonderful tension.

The audiovisual presentation is nicely done with some very attractive watercolor art for the locations. The music is tense, often thrilling and appropriately moody when necessary, and there are plenty of environmental sounds that bring the various settings to life in the imagination. There's also a good amount of voice work that is very well done, with some thick, almost impenetrable Scottish accents, colloquialisms and jargon. I was glad for the subtitles, but even then found myself missing a few bits. Overall, the sense of place, time and situation was well conveyed despite the static visuals, and it was really easy to lose myself in the adventure.

Despite its strong points, The 39 Steps did have some, um, missteps along the way. There's some needless and forced interaction in this otherwise kinetic visual novel. Sometimes you are prompted to make mouse movements as a representation of the main character's actions - things like spin your mouse in a circle or move it in a line in one direction or another. These things added nothing to the experience and felt forced for the sake of including gameplay. In reality, there's no player agency here, which isn't necessarily a criticism. Interactivity doesn't always suggest choice or freedom, as many games with player input are still restricted to a linear tale. Also, while it was clear that the source material is interesting, this is clearly trimmed down for the sake of the medium, and I felt like I would have been more engaged with further narrative illumination at times. There is plenty of exposition, via dialogue and text - documents and otherwise, to be fair. I just felt like I wanted to know more than was shared sometimes. And while there is an element of navigation and searching through environments for items with which you can interact, it's quite hard to miss anything as the things you need to examine glow conspicuously to simplify things. Finally, while this was a well-told tale that was engaging throughout, narratives centering on political situations are not my favorite, and I often struggle to develop a sense of connection to all the players on the stage. There's often a complex feeling to such scenarios with so many forces influencing things in so many directions, and I miss the intimacy of a more narrow scope, but that's just my personal predilection. I'm often smooth brained, I suppose. :P But I did certainly enjoy this visual novel overall. If you don't mind the lack of interactivity and can appreciate a good, high-stakes mystery and often-thrilling adventure, it's surely worth the five hours it asks. It's a solid 3/5 for me.
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Dragon kick your a$$ into the Milky Way!
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