enfrdeitptrues

Platformer

  • Castle Pals (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Castle Pals
    Developed By: Brad Erkilla
    Published By: Ratalka Games
    Released: May 29th, 2020
    Available On: PS4, Switch, Xbox One
    Genre: Action, platformmer
    ESRB Rating: Number of Players: 1
    Price: $4.99

    Thanks to Ratalka Games for providing this code for this cute game!

    Castle Pals is a side-scrolling game based on the old NES games of yore. It reminded me opening up of a cross between Mario and Castlevania, although there are no vampires or Koopas here. Your mission is to save Castle Pookapick, a creepy old castle with lots of secrets. Easy, right? The player plays as 2 individuals, Kylee and Owen. You don’t get to choose; the game alternates between Owen and Kylee in each level. Kylee is the puncher and fighter and Owen the graceful flyer. Both skill sets are needed to progress through this game.

    Castle Pals opens with the first level and you begin as Owen. As you progress, it gives you hints on what to do and explains the controls. The controls are pretty simple: you fly with the B button as Owen and the same button allows Kylee to punch. The control stick moves your character the way you direct it.

    Castle Pals
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fast paced and fun; cute graphics
    Weak Points: Repetitive
    Moral Warnings: Animated violence

    There are no enemies to speak of in Castle Pals. But there are lava pits, spikes, and everything non-living imaginable that wants you dead. One false move, and your character is KO'd. There’s no life bar or hearts or powerups either. Fortunately, the game provides you with unlimited continues, so there is a lot of grace there. A timer ticks off the minutes and seconds it takes for you to pass each level, but there is no time limit on passing, which is a good thing as the game can sometimes completely stump you on how to pass.

    The soundtrack and sound effects are pretty good, but they can get repetetitve. And it is the same looped music again and again. The sound effects from pushing items and from the laser balls that want you dead are realistic, as are the sounds of applause when you pass a level.

    Castle Pals
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability – 5/5
    Controls 5/5


    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language – 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 10/10

    There is little else to say about plot and gameplay as it really is as simple- and as hard- as it sounds. So, onto the morality score. There is nothing anti-Christian in the game, and it is family friendly. There is animated violence, but no blood or gore. The characters are covered and they are not wearing anything revealing; they are, after all, two kids. No swear words are present; in fact, there’s no dialogue at all. No alcohol or drug references, and no disrespect for family values either. And no magic or occultic stuff- not even card tricks. In terms of morality, it’s about as squeaky clean as you can get.

    So, what is the final analysis on Castle Pals? From a gaming perspective, it’s entertaining enough, albeit frustrating. Don’t plan on spending more than a day or two on it. Morally, there’s no complaints at all. I just wish there had been more to the plot than two kids punching their way through, and that the areas had sometimes had more guidance on how to pass the level.

  • Celeste (Switch)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Celeste
    Developed by: Matt Makes Games
    Published by: Matt Makes Games
    Released: January 25th, 2018
    Available on: macOS, PS4, Switch(Reviewed), Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Adventure, Platforming
    ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    *Note - This review was written before the free DLC was released featuring gay/trans pride flags* 

    Video games are a complicated type of media for storytelling. It’s nearly impossible to make the gameplay and story work harmoniously; most games try to create a great story and great gameplay, then mash the two together. In most cases, little would be lost story-wise from telling the game’s tale in a book or movie. However, there is the rare title that masterfully crafts the gameplay such that it tells the story, and allows for few spoken words. Celeste is one of those games, which couples mental healing with platforming that gets extremely challenging, to put it lightly. But what makes the story and gameplay flow so well?

    Celeste is a story about overcoming mental illness. Madeline, a Canadian young adult, wants to climb Celeste Mountain in order to prove something, though she isn’t initially sure what that is. The mountain is infamous for changing people’s lives, but it’s not immediately apparent why. After meeting an old woman who teases Madeline about her ambitions, Madeline begins her climb. She soon meets another traveler, Theo, who quickly becomes a significant character in the story. The initial climb is tough, but Madeline makes it, and soon discovers why the mountain changes people. As she approaches a mysterious mirror, Madeline’s negative traits are physically manifested into Badeline, who serves as the main antagonist for most of the game. Nevertheless, Madeline continues her climb.

    I’ll openly admit, I didn’t expect Celeste‘s story to be so moving, considering that a good story is atypical, if not unheard of, in the genre. So, having such a great story was quite surprising. In terms of dialogue and cutscenes, the game is relatively thin, yet it makes the most of the interactions present. All the characters felt important to Madeline’s quest and were well developed. Theo’s character helped serve as a foil and secondary protagonist to Madeline, while Mr. Oshiro and the old woman served as the knowledgeable and mysterious elders. The way Madeline’s conversations with these characters change as the game progresses is a story in itself, as it shows her overcoming depression and becoming stronger as a result. Celeste‘s story is the best the genre has to offer due to the parallels of the figurative and literal.

    The story also ties in to gameplay. Celeste isn’t needlessly hard; its difficulty serves as an obvious metaphor. Games like Super Meat Boy seem to just be hard for the novelty of it, whereas Celeste‘s reasoning makes it much more appealing to play for me. Of course, everyone is different, but the story isn’t obstructive to the gameplay, so it ends up being a win-win scenario for the designers. You can skip all the dialogue and story if you wish, which may be what some prefer to do (though I don’t recommend it).

    Celeste
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interwoven story and gameplay; Emotional, beautiful soundtrack; Stellar pixel art
    Weak Points: None
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon Violence; One use of the word "h*ll"

    Celeste‘s gameplay is centered around getting from point A to point B on a screen, but this is much harder in practice, of course. Every hazard will instantly kill Madeline, sending her back to the beginning of the screen. Madeline can move left and right, jump, climb and use a dash. The dash can be used once in the air or on the ground as many times as desired, and is the primary interaction with the new objects in each stage. Climbing is intuitive: Madeline can latch on to a wall she faces, but she can only climb for so long before becoming fatigued. Standing on a platform allows Madeline to regain her dash and lose her fatigue. Naturally, having two of the main movement options centered around solid ground means that often the challenge of the game is simply to reach a platform before Madeline loses her grip and plummets to her death.

    Celeste manages to create entertaining, challenging stages, each differentiated by certain techniques required for completion. These are always taught in a safe environment, but quickly require mastery for progression through the stage. There are a plethora of techniques to learn, but none overstay their welcome. The gimmick of each stage is self contained, which keeps gameplay fresh as opposed to convoluted. If one is playing a variation of Golden Ridge, for example, they can expect tangible clouds, high wind speeds, and green dash bubbles, which can be found nowhere else. Of course, the reaction abilities and movement skills developed throughout the course of the game serve as a unifying factor by being applicable everywhere, but each level is guaranteed to have its own twist on things.

    One benefit of this localized system is the aforementioned lack of chaotic gameplay and focus on skills, and the other is just as important. If you don’t find a stage’s technique particularly enjoyable, you can simply avoid it! I didn’t like the cloud bouncing, but I didn’t need to worry about impacting the rest of the game since it would stay within a single level. Plus, keeping each stage isolated means that the harder B-side and C-side variations of the stage can make the most out of the techniques present. Instead of saving the hardest dash platform challenges for the final level, they can be present in level 5-C, making each challenge variation memorable in its own way.

    Celeste greatly benefits from allowing player choice. Instead of forcing players to complete a linear series of challenges, the developers took the Super Mario Odyssey approach: when comparing the difficulty of challenges, the easiest 25% are the main story paths, while the intensity quickly increases in side content. The main story isn’t going to be a breeze for the best players either; there are 175 strawberries to collect, often sequestered behind a challenging screen. It’s great that even the main story has difficulty levels that can be created for yourself, since many games simply say that disgruntled top level players should simply wait for post game challenges. There’s even more than the strawberries, like the aforementioned B and C-sides. In each level of Celeste’s main story, there is a hidden challenge room containing a B-side cassette at the end of a rhythm based challenge. The B-sides use the same visuals and concepts as the A-sides, but are much harder. It’s somewhat like an alternate reality. If B-sides are still too easy, the C-sides for each stage unlock after finishing all the B-sides. There is also an 8th stage, called The Core, which has multiple prerequisites to play its A, B, and C-side. If all that isn’t enough, there’s also the golden strawberries, which require the player to beat an entire stage in a single run, or, in one case, beat a stage without dashing. This last challenge is infeasible to all but the most devoted, so I personally consider it a bonus as opposed to an actual goal. Also, the developers have announced that some farewell stages are coming soon. Whether these are D-sides or whole new levels, they were described as “very hard” by Matt Thorson, the game’s director, so I have high expectations. Clearly, Celeste has something for everyone with its level design, and that is both admirable and reasonable.

    Celeste
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 98%
    Gameplay - 20/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    No review of Celeste would be complete without touching on the presentation. As expected, the music and visuals are stellar as an individual entity and add to the narrative about mental health. Each stage in Celeste has a piece, which has a variety of movements that coincide with the events of the chapters. This makes the music dynamic, and enjoyable to listen to with or without the game. This variation also lets Madeline’s mood and feelings be expressed, which is important to the story, of course. The fast tempo of a chase scene leading into a moment of peace adds so much to the game, and makes the tracks memorable. In fact, I am contemplating buying a copy of the album, an honor reserved for only the best soundtracks. The B-sides have remixed versions of these tracks, arranged by guest composers. This makes each stylistically distinct, but the originals are still great.

    Celeste, like many other games, has a pixelated style, but that doesn’t stop it from being unique. The design of every character, trap, platform, and background is polished, and often breathtaking. From the snowy industrial scenes of the Forsaken City, to the joyous sunsets in Golden Ridge, every sight is visually pleasing. Like the music, the visuals change with the mood, magnifying its effect. When a brief ray of sunshine (literally and figuratively) glimmers down on the player, it’s a moment of jubilation, as the worst has passed. I loved the distinct styles of Celeste‘s presentation, and it will forever stick out in my memory.

    Celeste doesn't have many moral issues, even though it is a story about mental health. Madeline's deaths are simply shown as explosions of color, so it isn't very graphic. At one point, the word "h*ll" is used, but that is it for the language.

    Celeste is a masterpiece. Everything can be enjoyed at different levels; people can be analytical of it, or simply just play for the platforming. No matter how you derive enjoyment from it, Celeste won’t disappoint. The story is endearing, interwoven, and help people understand what the depressed must cope with and how they overcome it. This game shows how powerful of a literary tool video games are, not just an interactive movie. Climbing a mountain is one large metaphor, so it’s no wonder that everything in the game fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. Even if you play just for the challenge of the platforming, you’ll understand Madeline’s struggle, and through that, the story. It’s impressive how well Madeline’s depression and how she overcomes it is portrayed, since even those who never had struggles mentally will be able to sympathize will her. The soundtrack and visuals only further improve the game, exponentially increasing the impact of the story. Although everyone has their own preferences when it comes to video games, Celeste is a title everyone should play, and those who choose to will certainly adore it.

  • Clash Force (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Clash Force
    Developed By: Spicy Gyro Games
    Published By: Ratalaika Games
    Released: July 3, 2020
    Available On: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
    Genre: Arcade / Action
    ESRB Rating: E10+ (Fantasy Violence)
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $4.99

    I'd like to thank Ratalaika Games for the review key for this review.

    In the eighties and early nineties, gaming had crude pixel graphics where the pixels were large enough to distinguish. To overcome this, they had to make moving those pixels around fun. Clash Force is a game that tries to emulate this winning formula by making you have fun in a retro action platformer.

    The plot is kicked off by a Saturday morning cartoon villain named Crackman and his lovingly traditional take over the world with an army of robots scheme. This is married to an equally charmingly cliche specialized squad of anthropomorphized animal heroes who are the only hope of stopping him, the titular Clash Force. Utilizing a lot of jumps over liquid hazards and bottomless pits alongside lots of pixelated gunfire, these brave heroes set out across multiple different areas to take back the world from Crackman's evil.

    Clash Force
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A nice retro love letter to the action-platformer genre
    Weak Points: Not much else except running and shooting to do in-game
    Moral Warnings: Pixelated shooting of cartoony robots

    Your heroes are Voom, a rhino man, Scorpio, a scorpion man, and Echid, an echidna man. All three control the same, so your choice of hero is purely cosmetic. You have a jump key and a weapon fire key, and that's pretty much your main arsenal to make it through the game. Aside from collecting weapon power-ups that change the rate and spread of your default gun, this is not a deep game. Then again, given it's a loving throwback to the days when games were simple fun to counter their crude graphical presentation, that's the whole point.

    Graphically, anyone who played an NES platformer game would shed happy nostalgiac tears, as they've got all sorts of bright colors and vibrant pixel graphics for forests, deserts, and everything else in between in 8-bit style. The animation is simple yet butter smooth, and the varied robot enemies stand out just as much as your heroes. The color palette is easy on the eyes and fits the 80's cartoon aesthetic to a T.

    Sound is a mix of 8-bit blips and bleeps and nicely rendered heroic sounding chiptunes that aren't overly impressive but set the optimistic good vs. evil mood nicely. I played on a handheld Switch and found the music and sound effects sounded crystal clear.

    Clash Force
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Controls are very simple. You have a fire key and a jump key. The other two buttons and top buttons are essentially redundant or do nothing, and it requires less than a minute to get used to the controls if you never played a platformer game before. I played it on a handheld Switch and never found the controls too much a strain on the hands. My only complaint is that jumping feels a bit floaty, though it might be argued that's part of the retro platformer experience, for which that was a common observation.

    Stability is just fine, game loads nigh instantly. The game has a stage select feature that lets you resume any level you have beaten previously, so you can turn off the game and jump back in where you last left off at any time. The difficulty has three levels, you can pick how hard or easy you want the game to be, though experienced platformer players may still find this a bit easy even on hard. There is not much else to configure save turning off the sound if you like, but I wouldn't, it sounds rather nice in my opinion.

    Morally, this is not a troublesome title. Aside from shooting a bunch of pixelated gunfire at robots that disappear instantly upon defeat, this is a pretty clean game. There are no issues with bad language, sexual content, nothing occult or supernatural, and the plot is a pretty black and white Saturday morning cartoon heroes saving the day story.

    Overall, for a title that sells for around 5 USD, you get more than enough to make the purchase worthwhile with over 20 levels to have fun in. If you're old enough to watch a Saturday morning cartoon, there is nothing in here I'd be worried about a child seeing from a moral perspective. In general, if you want a nice love letter to the retro platformer era of the NES days, this is a good place to start.

  • Clustertruck (Mac)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Clustertruck
    Developed by: Landfall Games
    Published by: tinyBuild
    Released: September 27, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, SteamOS
    Genre: Action, Platformer
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you, tinyBuild, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    Clustertruck is the name of a food delivery company located in Indianapolis. It also is the name of a video game from Landfall Games and tinyBuild. Somehow, I suspect this is not coincidence. 

    In the game, your job is to jump from truck to truck until you finally reach the goal. But what are the trucks carrying? Why is their driving so bad? And why are you racing along the tops, sides and bottoms of these vehicles in order to reach the goal? Maybe you're delivering food....

    But whatever the reason, this bizarre take on the sport of parkour is entertaining... for the first few levels. Then the game takes a severe difficulty spike, and becomes more frustrating than fun. 

    Clustertruck
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Difficult, challenging platformer; amusing concept; short levels
    Weak Points: Steep difficulty curve; lots of luck required in order to win
    Moral Warnings: Trucks run into each other; some Hell-themed levels

    The game is presented from a first-person perspective and consists of running along loaded semi trucks. You can jump from truck to truck as well, and in some instances off portions of the scenery. But if you touch the ground, or some areas that are considered to be taboo, you fail the level and have to start over from the beginning. Fortunately, each level is pretty short and can be completed in around a minute or less. That is, if you're lucky.

    Although the levels are the same, and the trucks always start in the same locations, this isn't a game of simple pattern memorization. The trucks will drive into each other and jockey for some sort of position or pecking order, and this changes at random every time you start the level. Just because a certain dash or jump worked one time doesn't mean it will the next. As a result, the game requires a lot of quick thinking, and quicker reflexes.

    Unfortunately, due to its nature, it also requires a significant amount of luck. There were many, many times I ended up failing a level simply because a truck I expected to be under me suddenly veered a different way. Or just wasn't there at all. Sometimes – especially after a particularly high jump – you just need to hope that there will be a truck between you and the ground when you land. Most of the time there won't be, and after hitting the ground inches from the goal line 20 times, you'll probably grow tired of the repetition. 

    Clustertruck
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 60%
    Gameplay - 8/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game can be controlled by the keyboard or a game controller. However, I found that I got more precision from using the keyboard. For some odd reason, the controller gave my unseen character a bizarre, floaty quality that ended up making the game even more difficult. This wasn't particularly enjoyable, and the frustration made me want to quit the game more that persevere through to the end. 

    The sound effects consist mainly of trucks honking and crashing into each other. Some other effects can be heard, depending on the theme of the level. The soundtrack consists of a bland rock theme that was quickly forgettable. The graphics were mediocre as well, with everything consisting of polygonal graphics, and not terribly impressive. It's simple enough to tell what's going on, but not terribly eye-catching.

    To its credit, there aren't too many things to worry about on the moral front. There are collisions between trucks, and apparently a Hell-themed region (which I didn't advance far enough into the game to discover). Sometimes trucks explode as well, but I just saw that from the trailers for the game. I didn't venture far enough to see that happen. I had enough of bouncing along trucks. Wait, scratch that – I had enough of falling off trucks and hitting the ground before I got to that point.

    So in a nutshell, I didn't really enjoy my time with Clustertruck. Some might enjoy it, but I didn't. I'd rather try to enjoy the food from Clustertruck in Indianapolis. Their menu is huge! If anyone reading this has ordered from them, you'll have to tell me what they think.

     

  • Cosmic Leap (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Cosmic Leap
    Developed By: Michael Hall
    Published By: Zen Labs
    Released: March 17, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Platformer
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $0.99

    Thanks to Zen Labs for the review key!

    It’s another season of the universe’s highest rated (and only) game show, Cosmic Leap! This year’s contestants, fresh from the empire’s newest liberated sector, are some of the most promising yet! Can the star player, known only as the Duke, survive this harrowing test of reflexes, gather his crew, and catch the eye of the Emperor?

    Part platformer and part runner, Cosmic Leap’s goals are simple: navigate various obstacle courses and reach your rocket ship at the end, preferably within a set time limit and/or while gathering five coins scattered throughout the stage. Unlike your average platformer, however, the stages are made up of planets of varying sizes. The bulk of the game lies in jumping from planet to planet, dodging missile-shooting UFOs and leaping over spikes and flaming skulls, all while figuring out the best route to the goal.

    All of the game’s one hundred stages, separated into ten levels, contain two objectives: finish under a certain time, and collect all five coins. These do not – and in most cases, cannot – be done in the same run, giving most stages a second life to them. Accomplishing both in a single course will unlock a “cosmic” stage, which are generally harder than the normal ones. Most of the normal stages also contain extra characters and spaceships flying through the area; jumping into these unlocks them for personal use. In essence, this gives each stage two or three variations: speed for the time limit, precision for the coins, and a mix of both for the starships. Most stages take no longer than twenty seconds, so retrying isn’t usually an issue – and with how brutal the difficulty can get later on, you’ll be retrying a lot. Cosmic Leap introduces a few mechanics as the game progresses, such as wormholes or even multiple characters to control simultaneously, helping to keep the gameplay fresh throughout.

    Cosmic Leap
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Decent, novel concept; good music; great entertainment-to-price ratio
    Weak Points: Poor controls; hazards are occasionally hard to see
    Moral Warnings: A character named “Hella Handsome Man”; implied slavery and general dictatorial tyranny

    While the inter-level variety is up to snuff, the controls are less so. Your character moves forward automatically; pressing any direction will make him halt, and a second press will send him on his way again. Which way, however, depends on both the control scheme and his facing. The standard setup makes right clockwise and left counterclockwise – which effectively reverses your controls when you’re on the bottom half of a planet, as pressing right will make you run left and vice versa. The alternate settings keep the directions relative, fixing that problem – but instead, if you wind up on the leftmost or rightmost edge of a planet, moving in your intended direction is more or less a dice roll. Internalizing a clockwise movement rather than a directional one is in your best interest; otherwise, expect a lot of misdirection and confusion. There’s a hefty amount of momentum on your character as well, so skidding straight into obstacles can be rather common. It might serve the game to have an option for a two-button control: one for changing direction, and one for stopping and starting; as it stands, however, you’re left with two different but equally clumsy control schemes.

    Additionally, jumping comes in two flavors: a single jump that keeps your speed and planetary alignment, and a double jump that slows you down while allowing you to switch planets. The first flaw here is that you can’t jump while standing still: trying to results in your character running forward again without ever leaving the ground. Secondly, switching planets feels almost arbitrary at times; sometimes the gravity will catch you from far away when you don’t mean to cross over, while occasionally you’ll practically bump your head on your intended destination but fail to properly change planets. Lastly, though the game is two-dimensional, each planet is a 3D object, so you’re not always running on a monitor-relative 2D line. This serves to make some jumps higher or shorter depending on the direction you’re moving, and make obstacles nearly impossible to clear with a standard jump – or even slam headfirst into an orbiting missile you’ve previously run under with no issues. All in all, while these problems don’t make the game unplayable, they do make it frustrating at times.

    Graphically, the game’s blocky 3D models create a pseudo-retro style reminiscent of 8-bit games but with a more modern definition and color palette. The game does look quite nice, with bright colors and quality space-themed backdrops, though the lighting can shroud obstacles from view – sometimes, the only way you’ll know a spike in on the underside of a planet is by running straight into it. The forty characters all carry their own distinct styles; expect to see some less-than-subtle references to other characters, ranging from Commander Keen to Carmen Sandiego. Cosmic Leap also comes with a visual filter emulating an old-school CRT television, with scanlines and a slight warping effect on the edges, and you can freely toggle this on and off in the settings.

    Cosmic Leap
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 65%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 2.5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The sound effects and music clash somewhat, with the former limited to NES-esque beeps and boops and the latter sticking to standard 21st century fare. Still, it keeps with the thematic blend of old and new, and both do their jobs well. The music especially stands out; though only six tracks play, one for the title screen and one per two levels, each song keeps a high-energy tone and is enjoyable to listen to even as you’re replaying a stage for the twentieth time.

    It is also worth noting that the game suffered slight freezing twice, with the first lasting for just a moment and the second taking a good five seconds to resolve. Aside from those two blips, the game ran perfectly fine – though a few hazardous projectiles have a tendency to clip through planets and hit you. Finally, though the controls are configurable, the standard keyboard layout has the relevant buttons widely scattered around the keyboard, and has the rather baffling decision of putting the default “accept” key on the space bar but have the UI show an outline of the enter key. The title screen displays a prominent “controller recommended” text box in the bottom left corner, and you should heed its advice.

    As a relatively simple 2.5D platformer, there aren’t many moral issues to find. What little violence is there is of minimal concern: characters explode into pixels when struck, and your offensive options are limited to tricking UFOs into shooting things for you. The language is almost entirely clean, save for an unlockable character named “Hella Handsome Man.” Despite the tone and genre, Cosmic Leap contains some semblance of a story, told via the game show host in between levels. While downplayed, it does imply a tyrannical empire, slavery, and physical torture behind the upbeat, goofy interludes. This will likely go over the heads of younger players, but adds a surprising and appreciated depth to the game. Regardless, the controls and difficulty are bigger hurdles for children than any of the small moral problems.

    Altogether, Cosmic Leap is a promising game that’s entertaining when it works and frustrating when it doesn’t. The fast-paced platforming action is engaging but marred by the clunky controls and sudden seemingly-random deaths. Still, with a price tag of only a dollar, it’s worth taking a look at; if you try to A-rank every stage and unlock everything, you’ll get well more than your money’s worth here.

    -Cadogan

  • Dad Quest (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dad Quest
    Developed By: Sundae Month
    Published By: Excalibur Games
    Released: February 23, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Platformer, Comedy, Adventure
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $12.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Excalibur Games for sending us this game!

    When I first loaded into Dad Quest, I was greeted to a short cutscene of why children are indestructible and powerful beings who lack guidance. But then everything changed. They brought the Dad into the mix. And now this creature without guidance has been turned into the best thing it can be. Not to mention Dads have strong feet. This is the kind of feel you can expect from this game.

    Dad Quest is a basic platformer, and it knows this. But this game succeeds in building an odd, yet hilarious world. Every Dad is not powerful on their own. In this world, Dads use children as their weapons. They throw them at enemies, they bash people with them, they even somehow manage to light people on fire with them. It seems like some genetic editing has caused these little critters to be indestructible weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, as a Dad yourself, you can choose to use your child how you want. You can bash enemies from afar, or get up close and personal to smash them. There are some power-ups you can collect that do things such as make them do more damage, light enemies on fire, or freeze them. It even has some side quests and missions you can choose to complete or leave alone. The platforming section consists of things like double jumping, rolling, climbing on walls, and more usually seen in the genre.

    Dad Quest has a simple, yet colorful collection of graphics. For all the pixel haters in the house, this game will not be your cup of tea. Dad Quest looks like a spiritual successor to the SNES and GBA era of graphics, combining big and smooth pixels with colorful, yet not overly powerful palettes. I was also taken by surprise at how fluid the graphics looked. The animation on the characters and enemies are incredibly smooth and well detailed. When it comes to animation quality, the only other pixel art game I've played that matches it is something like Hyper Light Drifter or Kingdom. 

    Dad Quest
    *Fly away little bird*
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great writing; Nostalgic graphics and music
    Weak Points: Slow and sometimes boring gameplay; Somewhat tedious sections; Short amount of playtime
    Moral Warnings: One use of blasphemy; References to a "Dad Spirit"

    Dad Quest's music also reminds me of an era that refuses to be forgotten. An age when all songs sounded the same because each console only had a few sounds they could make. Violins that sounded digital but not horrible. Synths and bells that were somewhat plucky and hollow, yet could be assembled together to make a full and rich sound. The basses remind me of something out of Earthbound, and the drums out of a SNES game. Although they don't have the same compression these old songs had, they sound very good. The melodies are simplistic and play a sort of backup to this free-spirited adventure game.

    Now, here is where I talk about Dad Quest's best feature. Its writing. Dad Quest is not a serious game, and like I said before, it knows this. You can see from its dialogue and writing that it isn't trying to tell a deep story that has a poignant purpose behind it; it's simply trying to have a good time. There is some story though, which I shall now tell you about. All throughout this world are many Dads, just like you. You'll meet many different types of Dads along the way, with unique children and abilities.

    All of these Dads are trained by a worldwide company known as "TM." TM has a mission that they give Dads to embark on, known as the Dad Quest. From what I understood, the objective is to become the very best Dad you can be, and obtain the three "Dadges" from the three Super-Dads (not a term used in the game but one I'm just going to use for them). The three Super-Dads are as follows: Mountain Dad, Desert Dad and Cave Dad. Each of these three Dads possess a Dadge. Collect them all and perhaps you'll be showered with endless rewards.

    Dad Quest
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The controls for this game feel simple, polished and fluid, not over-complicated or convoluted. You can choose to use either a keyboard, or a gamepad. I was surprised by how at home the gamepad felt. I actually played through the game until about the end using my keyboard, then had the genius idea of trying it with my Xbox One controller, and it felt great. Now, let's get on to the cons.

    Now, I don't have many issues with this game. However, there are a lot of times where I just felt bored. There were some gameplay-only sections between dialogue or meetings, where it wasn't entirely much fun, and just climbing or platforming, no dealing with enemies. I did take some breaks between playing this game, as some days it just didn't keep my interest. The graphics are also alright. They're not spectacular, but they're good. I'm going to give this game a higher score of 7 however, just because of the amazing and fluid animations.

    Now morally, there is almost nothing wrong with this game. I've seen no inappropriate character design, no crude language or jokes, and only one use of the word "God" in a blasphemous manner. There was also a couple mentions to a "Dad Spirit" but they didn't explain it very well, so I'm not going to consider it something like the Holy Spirit, but it's something to note. But for one last critique, I must point out this game is very short. I managed to finish this game in about 8 hours, and I took my time doing quests and reading all the dialogue I could. This is an early access game, and only two chapters are currently available, with a third chapter coming soon which should add a bit of content.

    So, in closing, Dad Quest is a hilarious and well-written platformer, albeit a bit short and boring sometimes.

  • Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition
    Developed By: Long Hat House
    Published By: Raw Fury
    Released: February 6, 2018 (Trials of Fear Edition: March 6, 2020)
    Available On: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, PlayStation 4, Windows, Switch, Xbox One
    Genre: Platformer
    ESRB Rating: E10 – Everyone 10+: Fantasy Violence, Language
    Number of Players: Single player
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Raw Fury for sending us a review code!

    Dandara is a rather interesting game in many ways. For one, the title of the game and the name of the character is taken from the one living person, Dandara. She was an Afro-Brazilian warrior who lived in Brazil during the colonial period and fought for the freedom of the slaves during the 17th century. She was eventually captured but instead of living the life of a slave, she found solace in death and committed suicide. Due to the nature of Brazil in that time frame, the recorded tales of Dandara tend to vary greatly.

    Long Hat Games, being Brazilian developers, take great inspiration from Brazilian culture and implement it into their creation. The titular character even shares traits with the real Dandara—being a skilled warrior who fights for the oppressed individuals of Salt. With areas looking like the urban streets you would see in the country, with street lamps and graffiti littered throughout, to temple-like areas that blend a futuristic aesthetic, Long Hat Games does a wonderful job showing off the rich and vibrant culture of Brazil. I enjoyed the choice of having the earlier sections brimming with life and a sense of freedom of expression. Many of the handful of characters within Salt you'll see within the first two sections, with the last sections of the game having said characters being entirely absent. The totalitarian state that represents the later half of Salt gives off a dire situation, with many of the enemies, in particular, being held against their will.

    The other aspect that makes Dandara so interesting is that the world of Salt has no gravity, and the devs take advantage of this by having a rather innovative movement system for a Metroidvania. Most Metroidvanias are 2D platformers that have a traditional movement system with a focus on exploration, with very few of them being 3D. While Dandara is of the 2D Metroidvania variety in both concept and execution, it also scraps the traditional movement in favor of something different. For Dandara to move, she must leap from point to point instead, with places that she is able to jump to coated with a white layer on top.

    Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Boss battles show off the strengths of the movement and combat system; the setting is truly one of a kind
    Weak Points: Controls were made with a touchscreen in mind, so other control methods suffer ; navigation can be a bit confusing and takes some time to get used to
    Moral Warnings: The world of Salt Is magical in nature, so there are a lot of supernatural elements; general violence with enemies exploding; one instance of the world “b*st*rd” uttered

    Dandara’s main method of attacking is by shooting arrows of light and aiming feels similar to a twin-stick shooter, but without the usage of the second stick. Further in the game, Dandara can gain other abilities such as missiles and lasers to mix up her arsenal. Movement in itself is snappy, fluid and responsive with combat complementing the experience, but it is clear as day to anyone playing that Dandara’s movement was not made with a traditional controller in mind. As Long Hat Games started off as mobile developers, Dandara fits best on Android or iOS devices. It controls fine with a gamepad with the combination of using the control stick and the A (or Cross) button as it gives you a bit of assist and leeway as to where you want to aim. Using keyboard and mouse for even a few minutes, one can tell that Dandara was not meant with PC controls in mind. As of March 6, 2020, thanks to user feedback, KB+M controls have been massively improved to the point that they are now a viable option for people lacking a controller. The PC legacy controls are still available for use, but I (and the developers) would strongly advise against using them. They are genuinely awful.

    Dandara progresses smoothly in both complexity and difficulty. It never gets frustratingly difficult but can present a challenge in many areas throughout. Long Hat introduces mechanics to the player one at a time and never throws you in a situation without you knowing about it. The map design can be confusing at first because the world of Salt changes perspective from room to room, and mostly exists to remind of you rooms you have once visited. It is best to make a mental map of the level layout and simply use the map itself as a reminder instead of something to heavily rely on for navigation. Enemy placement is well thought out making you thinking of attacking and evasion at the same time, even in unfavorable situations. It can get a bit crazy during the last section—testing everything you have learned across the journey.

    Like most Metroidvanias, the world is connected together by many shortcuts. Unlike many Metroidvanias, however, the upgrading of your health and magic (known as salt) is not done through collectibles. Instead, it is done in a Dark Souls-ish fashion with experience being earned from enemies, treasures, and slain bosses, while if you perish in an area, you lose all of your unspent experience, with one chance to get it back.

    Bosses are where Dandara shines the brightest and show off the best this experience has to offer. While the music of Dandara is rather calm, sincere, and slow when traversing through this strange land, the sound ramps up when facing against the bosses with the music not only increasing in volume but intensity as well. The bosses are greatly detailed and movement reaches its peak as the player is forced to optimize their movement while maximizing damage output. I greatly enjoyed every boss that I fought.

    Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay 16/20
    Graphics 8/10
    Sound 8/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls 4/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence 7.5/10
    Language 7/10
    Sexual Content 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    Trials of Fear is a massive update to the base package just a little over two years after the original release that adds three new areas that are just a little bit smaller than the original setting. One can access this extra content after the second boss is defeated and speaking to an NPC. Dark vines will infect and cover the strange door-like creatures all over Salt. Accessing them lets you enter the Hidden Realms. New abilities, enemies, and characters await you. The Hidden Realms expands on the mechanics and introduce trials to further test your skills in movement. The best moment to start exploring the extra content is after the second boss but before the final area. For people who access the new content from an already completed save file might find the Trials of Fear to be on a bit on the easy side with all of the upgrades accumulated. Keep in mind that all of this content is free to both new and existing owners.

    Moral warnings are few and far between. There is violence of the fantasy kind. It is rather simple and pretty much every enemy explodes in a magical display. Although the abilities in the world of Salt aren’t exactly called magic, its magic in everything but name. There is also one instance of a character calling another one a “b*st*rd”.

    Dandara (now on storefronts as Dandara: Trials of Fear Edition) has a lot of ambition and innovation in its genre from an unexpected area. Fans of Metroidvanias will appreciate the unique qualities it offers but people who are seeing Dandara as their entry into the genre might be left confused as to what the fuss is about for the genre as the movement system is both Dandara’s greatest strength and biggest weakness. With the Trials of Fear update, Dandara feels more like a complete package than it originally did with content that nearly doubles the playtime, difficulty modifiers after completing the game ranging from double damage taken to permadeath (although that in particular was added in 2019), quality of life changes and expanding on the lore. The original game was rather short taking five to six hours to 100%, but traversing the Hidden Realms will add on an extra two to six hours. Dandara proves that Brazilian developers do have something to offer in the massive field of video games.

  • de Blob (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    de Blob
    Developed by: Blitworks
    Published by: Nordic Games
    Release date: November 16, 2017
    Available on: iOS, PS4, Wii, Windows; Xbox One
    Genre: Action platformer
    Number of players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: Everyone with Mild Cartoon Violence
    Price: $19.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Nordic Games for sending us a review code!

    At first, I thought de Blob was a Splatoon knockoff, but then I realized that it predates it by seven years! de Blob was originally released in 2008 on iOS and Wii. The gameplay and visuals remain the same though the cutscenes could have benefited from being remade since they are a bit blurry and pixilated on higher resolutions. I haven’t played the game on the Wii to compare the controls, but they are functional though not as precise as we hoped for on the PS4. Other than these nitpicks, I found this game very cute and am happy to finally have it in my library.

    There are three game modes: Story, Free Paint, and Blob Party. In order to unlock more levels in the Free Paint and Blob Party modes, you’ll have to complete the ten story levels. The story mode is timed and has enemies to contend with. If you simply want to paint buildings without worrying about enemies, challenges, or running out of time, then you’ll want to do the Free paint mode. In Blob Party up to four players can compete against each other in various mini-games to tag the most buildings in their chosen color.

    The Paint Match mini-game is the most like Splatoon where you have to paint buildings in your color and you can repaint buildings previously claimed by others. Whomever has the most buildings in their color at the end, wins. Blob Race is similar to Paint Match but once a building has been painted, it can’t be painted over. Blob on the Run only allows one player to paint at a time and they have to be knocked out in order to allow another to paint buildings in their color.

    De Blob
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay for people of all ages
    Weak Points: The movies are poor quality and should have gotten a makeover; floaty controls that are not very precise
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    If you’re stuck playing solo, the Story and Free Paint modes are quite fun. The story is short and sweet where Chroma City was invaded by INKT creatures that sucked away all of their vibrant colors. The color revolution was born and their goal is to bring vibrant colors back to their city. You play as their champion, de Blob.

    In each level, you only have a limited amount of time before INKT catches up to you so you can’t dilly dally. While I never completed all of the optional goals, I never ran out of time either. While there are usually a couple of time extenders scattered in the levels, more can be earned by completing challenges and by liberating Raydians. In order to liberate Raydians, you have to restore color to all of the buildings in a group. Once that’s done, the creatures trapped inside will come out for you to restore their color back to them. Challenges comes in different difficulties and usually require you to paint certain buildings a particular color within a short amount of time. The harder difficulty challenges may have obstacles in the way like puddles of ink that can hurt De Blob or water that removes his paint color and supply.

    Each building, tree, or wall costs paint points to color them. De Blob can only have a maximum of one hundred paint points at a time. The paint points are replenished by collecting the red, yellow, or blue paint from the paint bots roaming the streets. More colors like green, purple, and orange can be created by combining the primary colors.

    De Blob
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    In order to clear a level, various gates must be opened by colorizing the area and completing challenges. To open the exit portal, a certain objective like reclaiming a landmark must be completed. After leaving a level, you’ll be rated by the percentage of the area you colorized, how many Radians were liberated, how many challenges were completed, and so forth. Depending on the results you are awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

    I like how each level lets you choose the mood music for it. What’s cooler yet is that the music changes and gets more complex as you switch paints and colorize the buildings. The soundtrack is really great in this game.

    As mentioned earlier in the review, the visuals are not optimized for higher resolution screens. While everything else in this port runs fine, it’s a shame that the graphics didn’t get a much needed overhaul.

    In the end, de Blob is a fun game that can be enjoyed by the whole family. The retail price is $19.99 and I have seen it for half off on Steam if you prefer the PC platform. I look forward to the sequel that will be releasing on consoles soon.

  • de Blob 2 (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    de Blob 2
    Developed by: Blue Tongue Entertainment
    Published by: THQ Nordic
    Release date: February 27, 2018
    Available on: Nintendo DS, PS3, PS4, Switch, Wii, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Action platformer
    Number of players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence, Mild Language
    Price: $19.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you THQ Nordic for sending us a review code!

    I haven’t played the de Blob games in their original format and I am glad for the re-releases so my family can enjoy these classics together on the PS4. de Blob 2 was originally released in 2011 on the DS, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii. The DS version is a bit different than the console version and I haven’t played it so I can’t comment on the gameplay. More information about the releases can be found here.

    There are two game modes: Story and Blob Party. In order to unlock more levels in the Blob Party mode, you’ll have to complete the eleven story levels. In Blob Party up to four players can work together and complete various challenges.

    The story continues from the previous game where Comrade Black was exiled to an island. He managed to escape and has been stealing the vibrant colors away from the nearby cities. de Blob has been summoned by the professor to add color back into this world and to put an end to Comrade Black’s shenanigans once and for all.

    de Blob 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay for people of all ages
    Weak Points: The movies look better than de Blob, but are still not high resolution; not as many music options as the original game; repetitive gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; potty humor

    Before you begin the story mode you’ll have to select a difficulty which cannot be changed in the easy mode. On the easy difficulty you start off with more time and lives. In each level, you only have a limited amount of time so you can’t dilly-dally. While I never completed all of the optional goals, I never ran out of time. It also helps that there are usually a couple of time extenders scattered in the levels; more can be earned by completing challenges and by liberating Graydians. In order to free Graydians, you have to restore color to all of the buildings in a group. Once that’s done, the creatures trapped inside will come out for you to restore their color back to them. Challenges comes in different difficulties and usually require you to paint certain buildings a particular color or eliminating tougher than normal enemies. The harder difficulty challenges may have obstacles in the way like puddles of ink that can hurt de Blob or water/tiles that remove his paint color and supply.

    Each building, tree, or wall costs paint points to color them. de Blob can only have a maximum of one hundred paint points at a time. The paint points are replenished by collecting the red, yellow, or blue paint from the paint bots roaming the streets. More colors like green, purple, and orange can be created by combining the primary colors. One new addition to this game is a second player character named Pinky that can give de Blob some color and shoot some enemies down for him. This is especially handy for the UFO-like creatures that drag him to the nearest poisonous ink puddle. In this title, de Blob isn’t the only one that has to deal with ink baths. There is an ink cult that baptizes their initiates in ink and de Blob must put an end to their heinous acts.

    Another new addition is collectible inspiration power-ups. With inspiration you can upgrade de Blob and Pinky’s stats and ammo levels. More platforming challenges are found in this game and they typically revolve around triggering switches while being a certain color. Some of the platformer levels end with a boss-like stage so be prepared with plenty of ink ammunition. Some new power-ups make defeating enemies and bosses a lot easier too.

    de Blob 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    In order to clear a level, various areas must be transformed by colorizing the area and completing challenges. To open the exit portal, certain objectives like reclaiming a landmark must be completed. After leaving a level, you’ll be rated by the percentage of the area you colorized, how many Graydians were liberated, how many challenges were completed, and so forth. Depending on the results you are awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

    As the world gets more color to it, the background music becomes livelier. The music is still great and not surprising as de Blob’s composer, John Guscott, worked on this title too. My only complaint with the music is that you cannot change level tracks as you could in the original game. Like the previous game, the voice acting is still gibberish.

    The cut scenes in de Blob were noticeably pixelated and low resolution. Though the movies in this title were not nearly as bad, they were not high definition. Everything else looks and runs great and the controls seem more accurate this time around.

    In the end, de Blob 2 is a fun game that can be enjoyed by the whole family. There are some instances of potty humor such as burping and farting. Cartoon violence is also a given. The asking price is very reasonable and is bound to entertain for a while. Since the levels are a bit repetitive I could only bring myself to complete one section per sitting. Despite not being completely hooked, I enjoyed my time returning color to the world with my son often by my side blasting away at INKD soldiers and robots.

  • Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (3DS)

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    Game Info:

    Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
    Developed by: Retro Studios
    Published by: Nintendo
    Release date: May 24, 2013
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: Everyone with Mild Cartoon Violence
    Price: $18.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Nintendo for sending us this game to review!

    Donkey Kong Country Returns was originally released for the Wii in 2010 and has since been ported to the 3DS and the Wii U (virtual console).  Since I’m blessed with a New Nintendo 3DS, I haven’t experienced any performance issues running this title, though it does run at 30FPS compared to the Wii’s 60FPS.  The portability is worth the trade off in my opinion.  

    Upon launching the game, you’ll be prompted to choose between a single-player or two player experience.  In order to play local multiplayer, both players need to own a copy of the game.  Once the game mode is selected, you’ll have to choose which mode you want to play.  The classic/more challenging experience is available, but an easier mode has been introduced that gives Donkey and Diddy Kong an extra heart along with more stuff available at Cranky’s island shops.  Once the difficulty is set, it cannot be changed mid-game so choose wisely.  If you’re new to the series I recommend trying it on the easier mode first because even on easy, this game gets pretty challenging later on.

    The story is simplistic, but it works.  Tikis have invaded the island and have hypnotized many of its inhabitants.  Donkey Kong isn’t phased by their hypnotic powers and is pretty angry about the Tikis stealing all of his bananas.  With the help of Diddy Kong, they’re going to get back every last one of them!
    Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:A portable port of the challenging but fun Wii game
    Weak Points:Some of the later levels get rather difficult and can be frustrating; runs at half of the speed of the Wii version
    Moral Warnings:Cartoon violence

    Donkey Kong has several abilities including jumping, pounding the ground, and blowing dandelions/candles/fires out.  These skills will come in handy when it comes to locating all of the hidden letters and puzzle pieces scattered throughout the seventy plus levels.  If you miss collecting a letter or puzzle piece, you can always go back and replay a level.   If you die mid-level you’ll have to restart from the beginning or at a checkpoint and recollect the letters since the last checkpoint.   Collected puzzle pieces are accounted for after dying though.  

    Besides collecting puzzle pieces and letters, there are also bananas and banana coins to grab.  For each one hundred bananas gathered, Donkey Kong will earn an extra balloon/life.  The coins can be spent at Cranky’s shop, which sells balloons individually or in cost saving bundles. There are also keys available, which will unlock a previously inaccessible level.  Various power-ups and other helpful accessories are available to purchase as well.

    While Donkey Kong can usually survive a couple of hits, there are many instant death scenarios.  When partnered with Diddy Kong they double their number of health hearts.  If half of the hearts get depleted, Diddy Kong will go away until you can find another DK barrel.  Diddy Kong’s rocket boost is helpful, especially during boss battles.  Thankfully there’s usually a DK barrel available before triggering a boss fight.

    The levels, enemies, and boss battles have a pattern to them.  If you figure it out you’re golden, if not you’ll be losing balloons left and right.  Thankfully, if you run out of balloons, you have the option of continuing and getting four more without having to start the game over from the beginning.  You will lose progress made at checkpoints though.  If you lose many lives, you’ll have the option of shadowing a competent Donkey Kong to learn how to complete the level.  However, if you do beat the level this way, it won’t count until you can do it on your own.

    Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    While I was thankful for the checkpoints, I often wished that there were more of them.  Most levels have just one.  The enemies are usually avoidable, but the environmental threats are much harder to avoid.  There’s a decent amount of variety when it comes to enemies including different types of bats, birds, drums, sharks and several others.  The environmental obstacles include bombs, tidal waves, stalagmites, and stalactites.  

    There’s plenty of level variety and many of them were fun while others are brutally difficult.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to lose twenty lives on a single level.  Yes, there’s the sense of accomplishment for finally completing it, but that quickly ebbs away upon discovering that I was missing a puzzle piece or a letter and I had no desire to replay it to perfect it.  I was often frazzled, but happy to continue onward in the quest of reclaiming the stolen bananas.    

    While this game is pretty clean with cartoon violence, it may be too difficult for younger children to enjoy.  It is great for playing in short spurts though.  It brought a smile to my face when I was greeted with a “You have been playing for a while.  Why don’t you take a rest?” screen.  I remember seeing those a lot growing up!

    In the end, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D offers a lot of challenge and variety to the platformer genre.  I typically enjoyed the levels where I was able to ride rhinos, rockets, and mine carts, though they got pretty challenging later on in the game.  If you don’t mind a challenge and enjoy finding hidden secrets, this game can be yours for less than $19 physically.

     

  • Dragon: A Game About A Dragon (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Dragon: A Game About A Dragon
    Developed by: Games With Dragons In
    Published by: Games With Dragons In
    Release Date: April 24, 2015
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $5.99

    Thank you Games With Dragons In for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    A dragon who goes by 'Dragon' is happily sitting at home watching trashy talk shows when he discovers that his girlfriend has been kidnapped by the evil king.  To protect his hostage, the king surrounds his castle with a barrier that can only be broken when the four orbs are re-united.  Dragon must travel across the land to defeat the guardians possessing these orbs.  

    Even though Dragon is gentle in nature, it doesn't stop hunters, evil knights, and tuba players (that shoot out saw blades) from attacking him. At first Dragon is limited to scratching and breathing fire, but throughout the game other elemental attacks like ice and lightning become available to him.      

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent soundtrack; witty dialogue; unique art
    Weak Points: Short amount of gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; tobacco references

    Like most platformer games, there are various ledges for Dragon to jump onto and chasms to jump across.  Many levels have hidden power-ups that can permanently boost Dragon's health and attack power.   Whenever an enemy is defeated, they'll drop some money.  With this money Dragon's stats can be upgraded and each successive upgrade will cost more money.  

    Besides the boss battles, there are two level styles.  There are the free roam levels where you can explore at your leisure, and there are timed levels where Dragon has to outrun an angry mob of sheep or a wall of fire closing in on him.  The timed levels have good treasure hidden in them too so be sure to check out all of the available paths. 

    Dragon: A Game About A Dragon
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The music in this game is extremely well done and is reminiscent of classic video games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, and Mega Man.  I wish there was an option to buy the soundtrack because it is worth picking up.  The composer, Zach Parrish, did a great job!  There is no voice acting, but the dialogue (available in many languages) is very witty and fun to read.  

    What sets Dragon: A Game About a Dragon apart from the other games I have played is its very unique art style.  Many games boast about hand drawn artwork, but this is the first game I have played that's obviously crayon drawn as well.  It's very unique, but sometimes it is hard to see what platforms are usable and which ones are not.    

    The unique artwork and gameplay attracted my kids to my monitor and thankfully this game is fun and safe for the whole family to enjoy.  Like many platformer games there is cartoon style violence.  At the end of most of the levels there is a campfire where Dragon will stop and take out his pipe and smoke it.  

    Dragon: A Game About a Dragon sells for $5.99 on Steam.  If you like classic platformer games it's definitely worth looking into.  Since I was able to beat the campaign in two hours, I'd recommend holding out for a sale to get your money's worth.

  • Duck Souls+ (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Duck Souls+
    Developed By: Green Dinosaur Games
    Published By: Ratalaika Games
    Released: March 27, 2020
    Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Platformer, Arcade
    ESRB Rating: E10+ (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood)
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $4.99

    I'd like to thank Ratalaika Games for the review key for this game.

    Sometimes, the simple can be the most fun, especially if you still manage to make it challenging while not being unfair. A platform side-scroller game with super hard spike trap puzzles called "I Wanna Be The Guy" was released a while back to do this. It was quite difficult despite being rather simple in design but inspired lots of players to try beating it anyway. Duck Souls+ is a game that tries to be a successor in many ways.

    The gameplay is a duck themed spike trap avoiding platformer with some clever level design that makes them all possible to beat with a bit of patience. Sounds simple, as making it past lots of spike traps is essentially the whole game, but with around a hundred different rooms of increasingly complex design and harder to avoid spikes on the walls, floor, and ceiling, it gets hard fast. Aside from being able to jump and use a "dash anywhere" skill (even in mid-air), all you have to make it through these levels is your wits.

    Duck Souls+
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Hard puzzles that are all beatable with a bit a patience
    Weak Points: Very few game modes
    Moral Warnings: Blink and you miss it blood drops; Mentions/depictions of spirits in the intro sequence

    The story is a pretty simple one. You are approached by the departed souls of ducks who lost their lives trying to make sure the eggs of your kind survived the gauntlet, and they want you to take up their mantle so their lives were not lost in vain. That's it for the plot, but it works.

    There is an ability to find different headgear for your duck that is mostly cosmetic, but the meat of the game is surviving a hundred levels of spike traps and navigating various springboards, platforms, and other help and hazards to make it past all the spikes. Each level has a "halfway point" flag you can activate to make sure you don't have to repeat every level completely if you hit the spikes, which will be invaluable to your time and sanity, there is also a "casual" and "hard" mode depending on whether you just want to beat levels or race a clock.

    Duck Souls+
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Graphics are charmingly simple and colorful pixel style graphics, rather like a decent NES game for the whole retro feel. Sound is also retro style as upbeat chiptunes that set the tense but fun mood. Controls are limited to the directional pad, the jump key, and the dash key. The simple controls are quite responsive though, so the only thing the player needs to do is have some good reflexes. Game stability is excellent, it loads fast and there are no issues of any sort I could discern.

    Morally, there isn't much to worry about. Aside from some blink and you miss it reddish dots of blood when you hit spikes and die (and immediately respawn to try again), this is a pretty clean game. The theme of the departed souls of ducks asking you to take up their mantle is pretty inoffensive., and the fact they want you to make sure their quest to save the young of your race by completing a journey to safety they couldn't accomplish is pretty laudable on the face of it.

    As a game, I found it simple but challenging so long as you have decent reflexes, and I saw nothing I'd be scared to let a ten-year-old see on the moral front. On both counts, if you have a challenging platformer itch, this is a simple yet fun way to scratch it.

  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Xbox 360)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
    Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
    Developer: Ninja Theory
    Released: October 5, 2010
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence
    Available on: PS3, Xbox 360 (version reviewed)
    Genre: Action-Platformer
    MSRP: $39.99 (Amazon)

    Recent trends in game design have, of late, indicated that certain developers believe that simplified games are en vogue. Stripped down displays, sparse controls and more have begun dotting the landscape. No longer do we have to wade four menu screens deep in a role-playing game to give characters that extra punch that might help. Sports games favor single button presses, as an antidote to a steep learning curve for anything resembling skilled play. Even platformers, that simplest genre of years ago, have somehow become “simplified”, perhaps needlessly so.

    And so it is with Ninja Theory’s newest game, an action-platformer called Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The majority of Enslaved is focused on the traversal of crumbling environments and the defeat of giant robots. While both of those things sound like they could add up to – let’s speak plainly here – an awesome game, neither really hits its mark at any point during the ten- to twelve-hour game.

    The problem is that the gameplay is either utterly unengaging or, in the case of the (very basic) combat, unresponsive to the point of frustration. Platforming is completely one-dimensional. You hit one button to swing and jump from grip to grip, and if you want to descend, you can pull the control stick down and hit that same button, or you can hit another button. It’s literally that simple, and absolutely uninvolving.
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Mostly gorgeous graphics; engrossing narrative and characters
    Weak Points: Uneven gameplay; sometimes unstable framerate, especially when a lot of activity is on-screen; platforming is way too easy, and hampered by unevenly difficult combat
    Moral Warnings:Violence against robots takes the fore here; one of the characters, Trip, is consistently dressed provocatively; lots of profanity, most of it involving blasphemy

    It also doesn’t help that most areas feel like carbon copies of the opening train sequence from Uncharted 2. In that game, it was impressive, it was cinematic, it felt like something new (and if not new, the execution was near flawless). Here, it feels like a retread, one pockmarked with frustration and cheap deaths brought on by an almost broken level of linearity. And even without that broken feeling, the very fact that you can’t miscalculate jumps and you can’t really make any mistakes during the course of gameplay makes the game almost unbearably easy through these sequences.

    During the platforming sequences, the only places where I died were when interacting with Trip (your companion). In more than one sequence, I found myself having to throw her across a gap. This wouldn’t be a problem, but actions are only permitted in very small areas; even if you’re right next to an indicator for an action, the game won’t react unless you’re in a predetermined spot. When I finally threw her across, the game refused to let me jump until I was in a specific spot. Trip was, meanwhile, hanging onto a ledge, waiting for me to pull her up, or else fall to her death. After making the jump, I stood on the ledge above Trip and jammed the button that would haul her up (in this case, the B button). Four or five button presses later, she fell and I had to restart. You learn to adapt, but it sucks the fun out of the platforming – and not because you die.

    All of which says nothing of the combat. Like the platforming, it’s marked by unresponsive controls, and seems to take its cues from other games by other developers. When it pays off, it’s flashy and fun. All too often, however, enemies will swarm and overwhelm the player. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining because the combat was artificially hard; it wasn’t. But instead of a trial-and-error, “I did this wrong” kind of feeling, I ended up having an overriding sense of aggravation during these (all too frequent) segments of the game. I turned the game off a few times during my playthrough, simply because I didn’t want to deal with it anymore.
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay 15/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound 10/10
    Stability 3/5
    Controls/Interface 3/5

    Morality Score - 73%
    Violence 6.5/10
    Language 3/10
    Sexual Content/Nudity 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 8.5/10

    Other games with this kind of hack and slash mentality have a very deliberate pacing to them. This is true even with the hardest of these. There’s a natural rhythm that those games fall into by design. Enslaved has none of that. You can’t measure its combat system as something decent, because there isn’t much “system” there. Enemies rush the player, throw cheap attacks and do so without pacing or flow. It’s such a stark contrast to the platforming that it’s almost as if two different studios developed the different areas of the game.

    Conversely, boss battles are cool, but also pretty much a mess. The camera pulls in annoyingly close during these encounters. It makes no sense, because without that fault, these encounters (which do not generally make use of typical combat elements) would seem to be some of the standout moments of the game.

    Sprinkled throughout are some interesting shooter segments, which break up the pacing but yield mixed results. They aren’t difficult and they aren’t obtrusive, but they feel off. Moving around the reticule isn’t smooth (I was coming off some marathon Halo: Reach sessions when playing Enslaved, which might be the reason for this), but instead seems to rely on a grid. I couldn’t get the reticule to move in anything but straight lines and angles, while enemies I was aiming for were moving in smooth arcs.

    Yet while I have some serious issues with the fundamental ways that Enslaved is played, not all of it is bad. In fact, a lot of it is pretty good, and that’s what makes me feel so torn about this game.

    Despite being really, really green, Enslaved is a mostly gorgeous effort. Textures are sometimes a bit too muddy, and light bloom is almost too obtrusive. Animation is amazing, however, with solid performances by Andy Serkis as Monkey, and Lindsey Shaw as Trip. And when I say “performances,” I mean exactly that: voice acting and motion-capture were done at once, so these characters feel like they’re there. Though the game isn’t dialogue-heavy, its emotional resonance certainly benefits from this.

    The sparse dialogue is made stronger by just how well-written it is. Penned by Alex Garland (screenwriter of 28 Days Later and Sunshine), Enslaved’s excellent plot is made so by the impressive demonstration of growing trust and dependency (a relationship) between the two leads. It defies the audience, because it’s never what the audience wants – willfully – and that’s just what makes it one of the best stories to come out of the medium in years.

    Based on Journey to the West, one of Chinese literature’s four great classics, Enslaved follows Monkey and Trip as they attempt to make their way to Trip’s home. After a daring escape from a crashing slave ship (a sequence all too similar to the opening of Uncharted 2), Trip fastens a headpiece to Monkey’s head. If he removes it, he dies. If he abandons her, he dies. If she dies, he dies. Monkey’s reason to assist Trip is purely a selfish one, and it drives the plot and the action for a good portion of the game.
    Enslaved’s story – easily the most captivating part of the game – stands out because of the growing relationship between the lead characters. A third wheel of sorts, Pigsy, comes in late in the game and mostly provides additional comic relief and help with gameplay scenarios. Ultimately, he’s a necessary element to the plot, but he always feels somehow superfluous to the proceedings.

    I don’t like the ending. It seemed slightly obtuse to me, mired in cliché and philosophical posturing. But then, the ending doesn’t so much matter here; the journey is what is important. Until those last few moments, it’s a magnificent one, despite the shortcomings of the game proper.

    There were some stability problems I ran into while playing Enslaved. My Xbox froze at least twice when I was playing the game, and once on the load screen. At one point, I ran into some strange glitch that caused a reticule to not appear on the screen. Hopping off the turret that I was manning, and then remounting, fixed this.

    The frame rate also sporadically drops in Enslaved. It’s a good-looking game, but it’s not that impressive. With the amount of action happening on-screen at once, the sometimes-stuttering gameplay seems a bit odd.

    One of the biggest problems I actually do have with Enslaved is the unnecessary level of profanity in it. Monkey frequently curses, often blaspheming in the process. Trip and Pigsy aren\'t exactly innocent in this regard, either, but neither character curses just as much as Monkey does.
    Worth mentioning also is the somewhat sophomoric humor that Pigsy brings to the table, specifically one instance with a genital joke.

    There\'s also plenty of violence in Enslaved, but only the beginning of the game has the player fighting people. After that initial sequence, robots are the main enemies, and there\'s no shortage of them. There\'s supposed to be blood somewhere in the proceedings, and stuff does spray out of the robots that you kill from time to time, but it\'s black and oily-looking. Coming from robots, I simply assumed that it was oil and moved on. Still, it\'s worth noting, if you\'re concerned about that sort of thing.

    Trip wears typically revealing clothing, which is surprising given the way her character acts. I\'m not saying that I expect every female lead in any game to be dressed in a modest, Puritanical fashion, but I also don\'t want to see female character designs appealing to the baser appetites of the gaming culture. That Trip is designed as such is annoying, because her personality conveys something much, much different.

    Still, the game remains very much in T-rated territory, not pushing the box with sexuality or violent content, and hardly providing content worthy of more than a PG-13 rating in film.

    I walked away from Enslaved, and was ready to be as harsh as possible because of how frequently I became annoyed with it. The game was enjoyable, to be sure, but there are far too many rough edges for me to fully recommend it. Were that extra layer of polish added, and some balancing issues fixed, this would be an automatic recommendation. As it stands, I can’t much say that it’s an amazing title with a great story on top of great gameplay. It’s not. The story is worth experiencing, but how much you get out of the rest of the final product is highly dependent on your tolerances as a player.
  • Evan’s Remains (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Evan’s Remains
    Developed by maitan69
    Published by Whitethorn Digital
    Released on June 11, 2020
    Available on Mac, Playstation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Windows
    Genre: Platformer
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $6.99

    Thank you Whitethorn Digital for sending us this game to review!

    Evan’s Remains is a platformer infused with an engaging, fast-paced story that never fails to hold the player’s interest. Combined with the gorgeous pixel art, the wonderfully crafted music, and the perfectly paced levels, it immerses them into its universe and leaves them itching for the next new discovery. The plot follows a girl named Dysis as she is sent to a remote island to search for Evan, a missing genius.

    The part that captivated me the most about the game is the plot. It continues itself every two or three puzzles, or monoliths (as they’re called in-game), and relies entirely on characters’ dialogue to communicate itself. Not all things are explained, though, and it leaves some confusion in the air as a result. Even as the story came to its close, I still was wondering some things about the characters and their motives that were left unexplained. Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Evan’s Remains
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Well-executed story; great pixel art; simple and easy controls; good soundtrack; puzzles are the perfect difficulty level; puzzles and dialogue are skippable
    Weak Points: Plot gets a little confusing at times because not everything is explained; gameplay is only two hours long
    Moral Warnings: Swearing is present (b*****d, p**s, h*ll, d**n); characters motivated by greed; white lies are encouraged by many characters throughout the story

    The controls are very simple, and there is a controls tab in the pause menu. They consist of the arrow keys and the space bar on the keyboard. On controller, they are made up of the A button, the left joystick, and the arrow pad. The A button and space are the buttons to continue the dialogue and to jump. The up and down arrow keys on the keyboard and the arrow pad are to look up and down on the puzzle, as some of them extend past the screen. The joystick, along with the left and right arrow keys, are for the player’s movement.

    The music is immersive, and I enjoyed it. The soundtrack is available on Steam as DLC for 99 cents. It fits the mood of the plot, and it suits the art style too. The sound effects are fairly realistic as well, and add to the background scenery. Everything has a chip-tune undertone, in order to accent the pixelated style.

    The art itself is nothing short of incredible. I am normally not a fan of pixel art personally, but I was thoroughly impressed with the graphical presentation seen in Evan’s Remains. When the characters are in dialogue, there is an image of their face with various expressions, which is reminiscent of a visual novel. These expressions are rendered beautifully. However, there are two black bars on the screen near the top and bottom. Normally, they are hidden on my 16:10 screen by more black above and below them, respectively, but they remained when the credits scene rolled around. The black above and below them changed into an extension of the credits scene, but those bars remained.

    Evan’s Remains
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 89%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 7.5/10

    However, this game has a few moral issues. Curse words are present (b*****d, p**s, h*ll, d**n), and there are a few instances where the characters use the Lord’s name in vain. One of the characters mentions that they are motivated by greed. White lies are also present, and they seem to have been encouraged by the other characters. These are unavoidable decisions, as there is no choice making in the game.

    Overall, Evan’s Remains is a very story-rich, immersive game that I would definitely recommend to anyone over the age of 13. If you’re looking for a short play with a large punch, I would certainly suggest giving this one a try.

    - Kittycathead

  • Family Tree (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Family Tree
    Developed by: Infinite State Games
    Published by: Eastasia Soft
    Release date: October 10, 2019
    Available on: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Pinball, Platformer
    Number of players: 1-4
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
    Price: $7.99 USD

    Thank you Eastasia Soft for sending us this game to review!

    If you have read the last few reviews I have written, then you know that I am a family man. My wife and I have been married for nearly 14 years and have two beautiful children and one on the way. Life is pretty good, and as the father of the house, it should be clear that I would never let anything happen to my beloved family. I wouldn’t even let a maniacal candy skull named Pedro abduct them and strew them across all four seasons. Nope, I would fight to save my family, no matter how incredibly impossible or unrelatable that scenario actually is. However, for the little fruit people of Infinite State Games’ level-by-level platformer Family Tree, this is a horrific reality.

    The day is going well for Mr. Fruits and Momma Orange and their family of a million and two seed children. The children are told not to stay up too late, but they don’t listen. As it gets dark, a maniacal floating skull named Pedro comes and steals all of the seeds away. It is up to Mr. Fruits to go from tree to tree, season to season, and rescue his children before Pedro is made aware of the caper. It is a fun and very simple story to match a very simple game.

    Family Tree
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Family-friendly fun; very colorful and original gameplay; ease of play is great for young gamers
    Weak Points: Extremely repetitive gameplay; maybe too juvenile for older players; controls take some getting used to
    Moral Warnings: The main antagonist, Pedro the Skull, may be to too creepy for younger players to handle

    Family Tree is a pinball platformer game that has a level by level system very similar to that of most free-to-play cell phone titles. I call this game a pinball platformer because it does not use the traditional control scheme that most platformers use. In order to move up the tree, Mr. Fruits has to be launched instead of directly jumping with the push of a button. This forces the player to aim the fruit and calculate its trajectory using a dotted-line as a guide. Mr. Fruits can move back and forth, but he only hops a little in each direction with the use of the L and R trigger buttons. These controls take a little bit of getting used to, but after a while, they prove to be smooth and responsive.

    Each level presents a wide variety of obstacles ranging from “barrel blasting” plants to angry purple squirrels. Momma Orange is the goal of each level, and she usually sits high in the tree that Mr. Fruits must climb. He must also collect fruit seeds along the way. When Mr. Fruits begins his climb, a timer begins to count down showing when Pedro will wake up and mount his attack. If the level is not cleared fast enough, Pedro the Skull will show up and slowly chase Mr. Fruits until he catches him, stripping him of all the seeds that he accumulated during his trip up the tree. Trust me, Pedro means business.

    Family Tree is broken up into various “years,” each of which is divided into four seasons. Each season consists of a total of eight levels. The sprites and obstacles change their appearance depending on the season that you are in. This change, however, it purely cosmetic, as the mechanics of each level stays pretty much the same. After each set of eight levels, Mr. Fruits must transition to the next season by engaging with Pedro in a race to Momma Orange and her seeds. This event takes the place of boss battles, and can actually be a little challenging.

    The childlike aesthetic of this game adds rather colorful flair to the gameplay. Family Tree’s hand-drawn animation is somewhat basic in design, but it complements the simplicity of the game itself. The color palette in this game is bright and lively, showing each of the seasons in the colors they are known for. If I didn’t know better, I would say that this game has a child’s touch, innocent and simple.

    Family Tree
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Simplicity, as it seems, also translates into ease of play. Once you get a hang of the controls for Mr. Fruits, it is actually quite easy for seasoned players to fly through the levels. Most of the obstacles and enemies are simply reused over and over again, so the game does not present a wide variety of gameplay. Every stage is pretty much the same; Mr. Fruits starts at the bottom of the tree and must hop to the top and rejoin Momma Orange. There are no “monkey wrenches” in this system; it is uniform, consistent, and predictable.

    From what I can see, this game was made with children in mind. The gameplay is very simple and the mechanics do not allow for a great deal of concentration or thinking to navigate. Morally, Family Tree is as innocent as its name suggests. However, I did let my daughter play the game and she had one minor concern; Pedro is a little scary. It’s not that he is this monstrous skull that steals the happiness of children, he’s just creepy. Couple his creepiness with the timer heralding his arrival and you get an anxiety-laden experience that some children will shy away from.

    Family Tree is a fun little novelty game that kids will love and parents will enjoy right alongside them. There is a multiplayer mode that allows for up to four players to battle each other in a vertical race to see who is better at navigating obstacles. Overall, Family Tree presents the Nintendo Switch with a fun little title that is best played in spurts. The hand-drawn graphics and child-like aesthetic keep this game interesting despite its rather repetitive gameplay. This game is a good addition to any family’s Switch catalog at a mere $7.99. Just look out for Pedro, because as my 8-year-old says, he’s really creepy.

  • FoxyLand (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    FoxyLand
    Developed by: BUG-Studio
    Published by: Ratalaika Games
    Release date: November 29, 2019
    Available on: Nintendo Switch, Windows, and Android
    Genre: Platformer
    ESRB rating: E for Everyone
    Number of Players: 1 player only
    Price: 4.99

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us a review code!

    FoxyLand is a fun platformer where you run around an island, collecting gems and jumping over spikes with hopes to save your girlfriend. It is very short, but that is expected considering that it is only 5 dollars. It has 36 levels, plus 3 bonus Halloween-themed levels. Other than the length, it is great and I enjoyed it very much.

    It is pretty fast-paced, which is part of the fun. Each level is different, but I can't say that the difficulty of a level depends on the number. During levels you will have to collect all gems, and once you do so it shows you where the goal is. You will sometimes have to solve a puzzle or find your way around some sort of obstacle to get a gem, while other times they will be out in the open, waiting for you to pick them up. There will sometimes be an enemy guarding it, too.

    FoxyLand
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun; family friendly; low priced
    Weak Points: No multiplayer; short
    Moral Warnings: A little bit of violence

    The story of FoxyLand is that a fox named Foxy is with his girlfriend, Jennie, and then an eagle swoops down and grabs Jennie and flies away with her. It keeps on dropping gems, which explains why you have to collect gems to beat levels.

    One thing that I think FoxyLand needs is more boss battles. The only boss it has is a skeleton in the last extra level. In my opinion, it would be better if there was one every ten levels at least. Maybe even a boss on the last normal level would be okay, because I did not expect saving the fox's girlfriend to be that easy.

    FoxyLand
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I think it is a little annoying that there are only 3 songs that play in the entire game, but they are pretty catchy. The same song plays on almost every level, which means that if you play FoxyLand, you will have to get used to it. The sound effects are pretty good, but they aren't accurate. The controls are great because they are easy to remember and learn. There are a few bugs, but not any game-breaking ones. The graphics are okay, but I think that they are supposed to look a little pixelated.

    FoxyLand is an appropriate game for anyone to play, so there are not very many moral issues. It does have some cartoon violence, because you can kill enemies by jumping on top of them. You can also die by falling into a pit of spikes, but it does not have any blood. When you die, your character flies into the air and it looks like he crashed into the screen and cracked it.

    This game entertained me, but it is not very long so I wasn't entertained for very long. You can give it to your child and I think they will enjoy it, but again, it won't take them long to beat it. Other than its length, it is fun and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys platformer games.

  • Foxyland 2 (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Foxyland 2
    Developed by: BUG-Studio
    Published by: Ratalaika Games
    Release date: January 24, 2020
    Available on: Nintendo Switch, PS Vita, PS4, Xbox One, Android, PC
    Genre: Platformer
    ESRB rating: Everyone: Mild language and mild fantasy violence
    Number of players: Up to 2
    Price: $5.99

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us a review code!

    Foxyland 2 is an entertaining platformer in which you help Foxy save his children from two hungry wolves. With over 40 levels, it's longer than the previous game. You can also have a friend help you save your pups by having them play as Foxy's wife, Jennie.

    In the story of Foxyland 2, you play as a fox named Foxy, and your pups, Tim and Cindy, get kidnapped by 2 wolves, named Duke and Jax. You and your wife Jennie (who you were saving in the first game) embark on a journey to save your kids from the hungry wolves. You will have to defeat many enemies, either by throwing cherries, or jumping on top of them. There are three worlds, and in each one the enemies change. In the first one, the enemies are the easiest, and they don't have any special traits. The second world is a desert, so they all have cacti on their heads and backs. If you jump on them, you die. The only way to kill them is with cherries. In the third world, there are mushrooms everywhere, and you can use those to bounce, and get to high places. The enemies don't have anything protecting them, but they are much stronger and faster.

    Foxyland 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun; multiplayer; over 40 levels
    Weak Points: The only levels that are difficult are boss levels, almost all others are very easy
    Moral Warnings: Mild language (h*ll, d*mn)

    What I think is a problem is that the first boss was harder than the final one. What made it so difficult is that it had a lot of health, and it shrunk the battle area so much that you didn't have enough room to dodge its attacks. The final boss was very predictable and easy to outmaneuver.

    The music is not amazing, but it fits the setting and situation very well. The sound effects are not accurate, but they're fitting. For example, like most games there is a chime when you grab a coin, and when you kill an enemy, there is a crushing sound.

    The controls are simple because they only use one joystick/d-pad and two buttons. They are extremely easy to get used to because of this, and that makes Foxyland 2 very easy.

    Foxyland 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay: 15/20
    Graphics: 7/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Stability: 4/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence: 8/10
    Language: 8/10
    Sexual content: 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    I didn't experience any game-breaking bugs or glitches, and the game never crashed.

    It has some mild language, (h*ll, d*mn) so I don't know why it is rated as E. There is violence, but it isn't too bad. There are spikes and traps, but no gore or blood. The bosses will try to crush you or rain spikes on you, but there aren't any gruesome details or anything like that.

    Foxyland 2 is a very fun platformer that I really enjoyed. It does have some mild language and violence, but nothing too bad. I would recommend this game to anyone that enjoys platformers with lovable characters and lots of enemies to fight.

  • Freedom Planet (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Freedom Planet
    Developed By: GalaxyTrail
    Published By: XSEED Games (Switch), GalaxyTrail (all others)
    Release Date: August 30, 2018 (Switch)
    Available On: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, Wii U, PlayStation 4, Switch
    Genre: Action Platformer
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
    MSRP: $14.99

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us the Switch version to review!

    I have always enjoyed the classic Sonic the Hedgehog games, even if I never did beat any of them; I was a Nintendo kid, and only had friends with a Sega Genesis. Nevertheless, it was hard to deny that Sega had a great series that made lasting impressions on those who played it. A few years ago, I became aware of Freedom Planet, which is one of the best non-clone homages to Sonic out there, or at least as far as I have seen. I was pretty excited about it, picked up the PC version, and instantly fell in love with it; but I never got far enough to review it. Now that XSEED Games is releasing the game again on Switch, I just had to take the chance to give this game the time it deserves.

    Ever since the indie game revolution from a few years back, there have been several standouts that really did a wonderful job of not only paying homage to classic gaming, but even improving on it. Shovel Knight is clearly one of them, and I would say that this one is another. It’s not a perfect game, as there are a few rough difficulty spikes, but overall, it’s a truly excellent adaptation of what made Sonic so great, and it takes it to the next level.

    Freedom Planet
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent pixel art, music, and sound effects; great voice acting; gameplay is a fantastic homage (and even improvement) over the classic Sonic the Hedgehog formula; each character plays quite differently
    Weak Points: Some big difficulty spikes
    Moral Warnings: Alien enemies attack, steal, kill, and torture; fantasy violence

    Freedom Planet takes place on planet Avalice, where the people rely on an artifact with seemingly endless power called the Kingdom Stone. A few kingdoms want this power, and there is a very fragile peace, and an alien invasion that sets off death and destruction. A group of friends, Lilac, Carol, and later Milla, find themselves thrust into the middle of this conflict, as Lilac’s endless sense of justice and helping others drags them all into an intergalactic conflict. The cutscenes are fully voice acted and extremely well done. The only difference between the two modes that you choose when you start the game, Adventure or Classic, is whether or not you can watch the cutscenes; Classic skips all that story stuff and gets right to the action.

    If you have ever played one of the classic Sega Genesis (or GBA) 2D Sonic games, then you have a pretty good idea how this plays, but even still, there is more to it. For those who have not, each level is a massive and detailed 2D side-scrolling platformer, with lots of hidden secrets, ramps, circles to spin through, and so on. It is very fast paced, and there are many paths you can take from beginning to end. There are flower petals to collect, and if you get two hundred of them, you get an extra life. There are also protective orbs you can grab, not unlike other games of this type. Every level has mini-bosses and end bosses, and they can be quite challenging as you often have to memorize their patterns in order to defeat them.

    Unlike Sonic, each character has physical attacks, and the three play uniquely. Lilac is the most Sonic-like, with a spin dash like move, and spin attacks that bop the enemies senseless. Carol is a cat that attacks with her claws and various martial-arts attacks. She can also grab her motorcycle to really mess things up or get to difficult places. Milla plays really uniquely; she can jump, flutter her dog ears, and create gel blocks or a shield out of thin air. Each character plays very differently, and is worth a replay if you love the core game, which you just might; the level design is fantastic.

    Freedom Planet
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Graphically, the polish and pixel art are quite something to behold. If it wasn’t for the widescreen presentation, this could easily have passed for a 1990s game – and that’s a compliment. The characters look excellent, the background and enemy animations look great, and the music is a really nice mix of synth and instruments. It’s a great soundtrack, and I’ve considered picking it up. The voice acting is the other thing that gives away that it might not be a 1990s game; it’s also great, and fully voice acted.

    It’s pretty safe for most audiences, as the violence is typical classic fantasy violence where you smack various robotic or organic creatures. However, in the Adventure mode, a few of the scenes later in the game are quite disturbing, as you witness Lilac being tortured by what appears to be an electric shock by the enemy. It’s extremely unsettling; you may want to have the youngest players stick with Classic mode.

    Freedom Planet is a wonderful homage to the 16-bit Sonic formula, and in many ways, is even better. It’s a blast to play, performs perfectly on both PC and Switch, and is incredibly easy to recommend to any lover of platform games. It’s a game that I’m long overdue in reviewing; if you have even the slightest inking of interest in a game like this, you won’t be disappointed; the price is more than fair.

  • Fur Up (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Fur Up
    Developer: Snowflurry Entertainment
    Publisher: Snowflurry Entertainment
    Released: August 31, 2017
    Available on: Windows, macOS
    Number of Players: Up to four players
    Genre: Platformer
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Price: $1.99

    Thank you Snowflurry Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    Fur Up is a vertical platformer game made by Snowflurry Entertainment. It is a rather simple game, but I still found it fun. Your character is a fur ball that jumps up onto platforms that disappear once you jump on them, so you must constantly be moving. Your goal is to jump as high as you can and then beat your high score which will be featured on the leaderboards. There is an option for multiplayer mode, in which it will search for servers online. If a local server is found it will be included in with the online servers. In the multiplayer mode, it can have up to four players playing simultaneously. Players can tell each other apart since the fur balls are different colors. Your fur ball could be blue, orange, pink, or green and may alternate between rounds in the single-player mode. During multiplayer mode the platforms do not disappear once you jump on them, so your only goal is to go up as high as you can without falling down or coming into contact any animals that may lurk on certain platforms (which will kill you).

    Fur Up
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Multiplayer
    Weak Points: Certain annoying sound effects
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    There are different kinds of platforms you can jump on that have different effects when you jump on them. Most platforms you see will be one solid color, while others will have more than one color on them. These multicolored ones have special effects. Red & green platforms along with yellow & blue platforms will boost your fur ball up 10x higher than a normal one would. The orange & green platforms, the pink & blue platforms and the pink & green platforms will give you more points than a normal platform would. Also, if you jump on a platform occupied by an animal without touching the animal you will also get more points than one that isn’t already occupied.

    Along with the gameplay, the controls are simple too. Gamepad is not supported, so the only thing you really need to play this game is a mouse. Left-click to jump up, and move your mouse left and right as the character follows as quickly as your mouse cursor, except somewhat following gravitational rules.

    Fur Up
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The visuals are pretty simple, but also colorful. The way the animals are portrayed makes some of them seem mean and gruesome because of the way they were drawn, but I think it’s cute.

    As for sound, the background music is appropriate. Sure, it loops, but in general I like the songs that play as your fur ball goes higher and higher up. However, there are a few sound effects I am not fond of. When you fall off of the map a downward spirally noise plays that I find quite annoying in its low-quality. Another one I don’t like plays when you die from touching an animal of some sort. Animal quarreling noises play and then a voice that says “You lost! Hahahahaha!” I would often get even more frustrated hearing that after I had gone so high and then died while coming into contact with an animal.

    Overall, I found Fur Up to be a cute game. As far as moral warnings go, all I found was cartoon violence. And since this game is pretty cheap, I can recommend it to anyone who wants a simple multiplayer platformer as long as they can handle some annoying sound effects.

  • Geometry Dash (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Geometry Dash
    Developed by: RobTop Games
    Published by: RobTop Games
    Release date: December 22, 2014
    Available on: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Price: $1.99 

    Geometry Dash is a 2013 mobile and Steam game developed by Robert Topala, or RobTop. It is a rhythm based platformer game that happens to have nothing to do with geometry. There are four versions: Geometry Dash Lite, which is the free version with ten levels (only available on Android and iOS). It also contains ads. The most popular version, Geometry Dash (the full version), costs $1.99. This version has twenty-one levels, three of which need to be unlocked via coins, that you can find hidden in levels. The least popular version of this game is called Geometry Dash Meltdown, and it is free but only comes with three levels that are not included in the full version. As of recently, Geometry Dash SubZero came out, but I have not played it nor know much about it. This review is based off of the full version of the game.

    There is no story involved in Geometry Dash; your objective is just to survive, or complete all of the levels provided. In each level your icon will encounter various spikes, walls, drops, and other obstacles to overcome in the pressure of the autoscroll. The levels are very colorful, but with much detail. Your icon is usually a square with designs of some sort on it. Your icon is changeable, and you can earn new icons by unlocking achievements or buying them in the store, which uses orbs, the in-game currency.

    Geometry Dash
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great soundtrack; addicting gameplay
    Weak Points: Simple visuals; included software to create new levels is complicated and hard to use; micro-transactions
    Moral Warnings: One character is referred to as a demon

    Players can create their own levels and upload them so anyone can play them. The software included with the game is hard to use, especially with the mobile versions. I found it difficult to rotate objects both on my tablet and on my PC.

    The controls are very simple when it comes to actually playing the game. In the mobile versions, tap the screen to jump, and on the Steam version, left click or press the space bar to jump. While playing, that is all you need to know regarding controls.

    Geometry Dash
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The soundtrack consists of one song for each level there is plus the song that plays when you play levels in practice mode – that’s twenty-two songs, and they’re all dubstep. It’s known to be a good soundtrack, and you can download it in-game for $0.99 each song. You can also extract the music files from Steam to avoid the costs, but people on mobile devices aren’t so lucky.

    When your character dies by hitting an obstacle of some sort, it just kind of explodes. There is no blood involved, neither does your character leave any evidence showing that it died in that spot. As for any other moral warnings, there is a character you will meet who is referred to as a demon. Other than that, there is nothing else worth worrying about in that sense.

    For the game’s simplicity, Geometry Dash is rather challenging and frustrating, but at the same time really fun. I’d recommend this game to anyone who has the patience to master it.

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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