enfrdeitptrues

Puzzle

  • Ping Pong Trick Shot (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ping Pong Trick Shot
    Published By: Starsign
    Developed By: Starsign, SIMS Co.
    Released: September 1, 2016
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $1.99

    Thank you Rainy Frogs Games for sending us review codes for Starsigns' games!

    The 3DS is a haven for cheaper titles looking to break into the market. Sometimes you get a gem, like with Gunman Clive and other times you may get a stinker that you regret spending a few dollars on. Ping Pong Trick Shot nearly falls into the latter.

    Ping Pong Trick Shot, as its name implies, is all about performing trick shots with ping pong balls. By pulling back on the circle pad, or using the stylus, you can aim where you want the ball to go. When you use the circle pad a bar will begin to fill. This is your power bar and it determines how much strength is behind your throw. Pressing 'A' when it's full throws the ball harder, and conversely throws the ball softer the less the bar is filled. Mixing these two mechanics makes for far too much trial and error in stages. Using just the stylus doesn't use the power bar. Instead, the game will determine how hard and from which angle you flicked the stylus on the bottom screen. I had just as much difficulty with the stylus mode as I did with the circle pad.

    Ping Pong Trick Shot
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay with four modes to play; Catchy soundtrack; Best enjoyed in short bursts.
    Weak Points: Graphics are extremely basic; Camera angles aren't always the best; Gets repetitive with long play sessions.
    Moral Warnings:None!

    There are four different modes to choose from and each add in a small amount of variation. First up is Score Attack. In it, we're given 20 balls and the goal is to make as many in the cup as possible. There are 30 levels to choose from, but the inconsistent nature of the power bar and stylus mode means you'll be missing nearly every shot the first time you play a level. Even after multiple attempts on the same level I still couldn't find the sweet spot.

    The second mode is Mission Mode. In it you'll have to pass five random stages with specific bounce criteria. This may have you attempting to make a shot in three bounces, or not being able to bounce even once. This was my favorite mode as it felt like a fair challenge. Next up is Challenge Mode. You're given 35 balls and you must pass every stage before running out of balls. This one definitely lives up to its name. It's not impossible, but with a lot of practice you'll get it. The last mode is the most underwhelming of the modes. Time Attack gives you one minute to try and make as many balls as possible into the cup.

    Ping Pong Trick Shot
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Graphically the game looks incredibly limited. Each stage is composed of two or three checkerboard tiles and a cup. Sometimes objects like buttons are used, and when hit they usually activate a tile making it spin or just lower. You can sort of move the camera, but it's fixed in such a way that not using the starting angle can actually make it harder to determine where the ball will go. The music on the other hand is the only saving grace here. It's catchy and actually relaxing to listen to. Sound effects are accurate and sound very much like ping pong noises.

    At the end of the day Ping Pong Trick Shot is a decent casual game. Is it going to blow you away with its impressive frame rate or deep narrative driven gameplay? Well no, obviously, but what it will do is provide you with plenty of 10-minute play sessions. For those looking for a cheap, casual gaming experience, you may find something enjoyable here for your $2 investment.

    -Kyuremu

  • Please Don't Touch Anything (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Please Don't Touch Anything
    Developed by: Four Quarters, Escalation Studios
    Published by: Bulkypix, Plug In Digital
    Released: March 26, 2015
    Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, gore)
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $4.99 

    My kids were interested in adding to their library on their Android tablets. Looking through my Humble Bundle library, I saw that I had this game, “Please, Don't Touch Anything.” The trailer looked innocent and amusing enough, so I went ahead and installed it on their devices.

    I probably should have looked the game up on TV Tropes earlier. Generally, when a game has an entry listed in the “Nightmare Fuel” section, it's a sign to me that it needs a bit more investigation....

    “Please, Don't Touch Anything” is a simple game with an easy to understand premise. You are visiting a friend at work, who needs to take a bathroom break. He asks you “Please, don't touch anything,” as he leaves. You are in a room with a viewscreen of a city, with a large panel with a single red button and a reset lever. When the player presses the button, a switch will appear. By pressing the button and playing with the switch, more buttons, switches and even tools will appear. The player is encouraged to experiment with the different combinations in an attempt to find all the game endings, the majority of which result in the destruction of the city on the viewscreen. As the different endings are discovered, posters appear on the wall to mark your progress.

    Please Don't Touch Anything
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Quick, amusing gameplay; numerous endings
    Weak Points: Short
    Moral Warnings: Satanic imagery; blood, including taking a hammer to a fetus; cartoon imagery of a pooping dog

    It's the several endings to the game that can lead to some of the concerns. Some of the endings lead to Satanic imagery appearing on the screen, as well as one of the posters on the wall. In fact, one of the endings requires the player to sketch a pentagram. The number “666” is written on the console, which may be a bit of foreshadowing towards these endings. One of the endings also leads to a bloody fetus emerging from the console, and you have to play a “whack-a-mole” type game with bloody cysts that also appear on the screen, as blood flows downward toward the reset button. Finally, if the player can find the “black light” device, they can find a crude picture of a dog pooping on the console as well.

    Had I known about the Satanic imagery in the game, I wouldn't have installed it on my kids' devices. In my opinion, that's one of the reasons why this Web site is such a benefit. We can learn about the moral concerns about various video games before we – or our children – play them. It's one of the reasons I decided to write this review in particular after my experiences.

    Please Don't Touch Anything
    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 - 61%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Although the game is amusing, it also is rather simple. It isn't very long, either – most of the solutions can be discovered fairly quickly. Those that aren't quickly obvious do require a bit of additional knowledge, such as Morse code or what the Fibonacci sequence is.

    In addition to the original game, Steam also sells a 3D version of the game, with the original endings plus more, that is compatible with various VR devices. A “remastered” version of the game was released for the Nintendo Switch in 2018 as well. As entertaining as this little game can be, I can't recommend it because of the moral concerns I've mentioned above. If Satanism and mutilating babies don't bother you though, you might find some entertainment in touching things in “Please, Don't Touch Anything.”

  • Plush (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Plush
    Developed by: Red Head Games
    Published by: Red Head Games
    Released: February 13, 2015
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Steam OS, 
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $3.99

    Thank you, Red Head Games, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    I am a parent, and I'm sure that I'm not alone when it comes to bedtime, and the dialogue goes something like this:

    Me: It is time for bed!

    Daughter: OK. But first I need to arrange my animals.

    Me: OK, I'll give you five minutes.

    Five minutes later....

    Me: OK, time for bed!

    Daughter: I can't! Jigglypuff and Rainbow Dash have been fighting so they can't sleep next to each other. Mr. Whiskers is tired of hearing them fight, so he's there at the bottom of my bed, but he needs to be next to Susiecat. But Susiecat needs to sleep next to Bingo, and you know she only likes to sleep right here next to my head. And then....

    This is the premise – and likely the inspiration – for the game Plush by Red Head Games. You play a little girl named Penny, and its time for bed. But first, she needs to have all her stuffed animals in places where all of them will be happy. Each animal has different rules based on their natures. For example, Mr. Unicorn doesn't like to be close to anyone by My Silly Pony. Scaredycat likes to sleep next to other animals, but will move quickly away from any other animal that approaches him. And no one likes to sleep next to Mr. Stinkypants the skunk... including other Mr. Stinkypants!

    Plush
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun puzzles; pleasing music; good physics; nice variety of challenges.
    Weak Points: Simplistic premise; somewhat dated graphics; may bore more mature gamers; only available on Steam.
    Moral Warnings:None!

    The game display shows the bedspread, and contains pillows which are unmovable. The stuffed animals can be clicked on and dragged across the bed. The physics of the game are fairly solid, and you can drag animals by their heads, limbs, or tails, if they have them. The quicker you move the animal, the more others will react, or the more they will bounce once released. When all the animals are happy, the level will be completed, and the next one will be unlocked. 

    Each level can be played with three difficulty levels. The easy one allows the player to do whatever they want – except move the pillows, of course – to make the animals happy. Normal difficulty adds a rule where if any of the animals touches the floor, the level needs to be restarted. The hardest difficulty removes the circular indicators around the animals, so you'll have to remember how close you can get animals to each other before they react.

    The music to the game is nice and soothing – perfect for bedtime! The voice acting is also nice, with a deep-voiced narrator providing the instructions, and Penny saying silly things based on what's happening on the screen (for example, "Get off my bed" in a gruff voice when she knocks one of her brother's tanks onto the floor). Although the graphics seem a little dated, they are very nice, and it's easy to tell what's going on. As an additional bonus, the game also features a "colorblind" mode, which places a semitransparent "X" across animals that are not happy. When quitting the game, it even offers a friendly dialogue box asking "Is it your bedtime?"

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

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game contains 40 puzzles, as well as a "sandbox" mode where the player can do whatever they want with the animals – and as many of the animals they want – without having to worry about bedtime at all. There is a timer for the levels, but only one of the achievements requires the goal to be met within a certain time limit (and that's the very first level, so not much of a challenge). 

    For moral concerns, this game is as clean as they come, which is probably one of the reasons why it won the Mom's Choice Award. While playing the game, it made me think about the game marketplace as a whole. Here we have a game that focuses simply on fun. There's no complicated controls, no agendas, no violence, no foul language... just innocent fun that seems hard to find any more in this industry. Frankly, I think a lot of game developers can learn a lot from this example. Games are supposed to be fun, right? 

    Admittedly, the premise of the game is remarkably simplistic. Although some of the puzzles can be challenging – especially on the harder difficulty modes – the premise remains the same throughout the entire game. As a result, the game isn't very long, and every level can be unlocked through easy mode in less than two hours. The lack of variety might bore some more mature players, but the game is perfect for younger children. Another thing I would have liked to see would be an option to change the look of the bedroom – especially to add some color contrast between the colored circles around the animals and the bedspread.

    All in all, Plush is a rare gem of a game. It brings an element of childish fun to the selection of games out there, and I heartily recommend it to players who enjoy puzzles, or stuffed animals. Parents can also rest assured that this game can be played without any serious concerns. And at $3.99, it is well worth the price.

  • Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
    Developed By: Level-5
    Published By: Nintendo
    Released: October 28, 2012
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle, Adventure
    ESRB Rating: E+10 for everyone ten and up; Mild Violence
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $35.00
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    In 2007, Level-5 introduced a brand new take on the puzzle genre called Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Unlike most of its kind, this game didn't settle on one type of repeated puzzle nor throwing out random brainteasers. Its mental challenges were instead anchored to an engaging story and featured a large, colorful cast that delighted millions. Right away, The Curious Village was regarded as a true gem in the DS's lineup and blossomed into a substantial series in its own right - even outselling Pokémon on one occasion. Three games later, the series' original platform, the DS, traded places with the 3DS, but that didn't stop Level-5 from propelling their beloved Professor into the third dimension. Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask released in America in 2012 as Layton's fifth adventure and his first on the new console.

    The Miracle Mask starts with the titular Professor and his young apprentice, Luke, visiting a vibrant metropolis called Monte d'Or. Teaming throngs of tourists crowded the streets each night to watch the "City of Miracles' " fantastical entertainments, but Layton didn't come for the sights. An old friend from high school had begged for his help, claiming the city was in danger. Of course, being the proper gentleman that he is, Layton arrived without delay, and it doesn't take long for the problem to find him. The evening's parade gets interrupted by a suave magician dubbed the Masked Gentleman, but he's not wearing said mask for concealment. It's the legendary Mask of Chaos. Claiming to wield its power, he casts a curse on several onlookers, turning them into stone. Layton and Luke chase after the fiend, but even with fellow investigator Emmy's help, the Masked Gentleman vanishes without a trace. Now with little else to go on, Layton must stop this conniving phantom before he destroys Monte d'Or. The answers lay both in the city's past and even his own.

    For me, the biggest aspect in these games aren't the puzzles. It's the plot. So much so that I don't simply consider Miracle Mask a game. I think of it as an interactive novel. Now by virtue of being a mystery story, I obviously can't bring up spoilerific details, and I'll discuss its moral ups and downs later on, but I can say that Miracle Mask's narrative is the best the series produced since Unwound Future. The story is actually split into two plots. One centers on the present, and the other takes place in the past. What impresses me most is that both narratives intersect and are equally interesting. I especially liked how the writers took an approach similar to Unwound Future's story. It's just as much about developing Layton's character as it is about the fantastical phenomena plaguing Monte d'Or. A personal conflict makes any adventure far more interesting.

    As the fifth installment in the series, The Miracle Mask sticks to the tried and true structure Curious Village founded. The game is segmented in chapters, and you can only progress by solving puzzles. You use your stylus to tap around for clues, and touching the shoe icon will allow you to walk from area to area. Accessing the Professor's trunk will allow you to save, review story highlights, look over stuff you collected, play mini-games, and keep track of the puzzles you solved or found. While some consider this format stale after five years of use, I still think it is a laid back concept that really doesn't need to change. It's simple; it's to the point, and considering how everything else is meant to be puzzling, it's appropriate. No need to bother with a complex interface. You learn it once, then it quietly backs off to let the rest take center stage. That is except for one or two sequences that do leave the beaten path, which I'll get to in a moment.

    Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Memorable Characters, Wonderful Story, Fun Puzzles
    Weak Points: Dungeon-Crawling segment was a bit too long, Low replay-ability
    Moral Warnings: Some peril, one or two casino settings

    On this point-and-click adventure, you'll way more often than not find a puzzle. The main campaign alone sports 150 of these conundrums, and they're all lined up to cut your IQ to the core. Mathematics, logic, depth-perception, slide-block: puzzles of every type were handpicked to stretch your brain in any way it can. This design choice is in itself genius because this surefire guarantees that everyone will find one easy brainteaser that'll boost their confidence and one that will drive them crazy. Seriously, even veteran Professor Layton players like myself aren't spared. These mental challenges are ranked by picarats, which you earn for after-game bonuses. The higher the picarats, the harder the puzzle and the greater the reward. However, should you answer incorrectly, the amount of picarats you can receive drops, so it's best not to rampantly guess. Thankfully, these games also understand the word 'mercy.' If you're hopelessly stuck, you can buy hints from the vague to the blatant with hint coins you collect. 

    Admittedly, you can break the game's system by guessing for the right answer, quitting without saving, then inputting the correct answer to get full credit, but that's just dirty dishonesty. Not to mention, you'd never get the elation of figuring it out on your own. In short: cheat the game, cheat yourself. I should also mention that there are a ton of extra puzzles that will keep you busy long after you complete the main campaign. It's a good thing too, because if there is one valid criticism I have with the games, it's the low replay value. Solving all the puzzles means you'd likely remember the answers later on. No doubt the developers were aware of this, and I'm glad they tried to make the first experience last as long as possible. However, that doesn't cover the issue. I know it's a near unavoidable problem the series inherited, but a design flaw is still a flaw.

    Along with the main and bonus puzzles, Miracle Mask offers little mini-games or puzzle hors d’oeuvres as I like to call them. These include shelving store items in the correct order, guiding a robot through a dangerous obstacle course, and training a cute bunny to perform in plays. These mini-games do gradually get harder but never approach mind breaking levels like the main puzzles. My favorite of these is the bunny game. It's just too adorable and watching the fur-ball act out skits is a pure delight. You even get to choose, name, and pet your long eared friend like a watered down version of Nintendogs. These mini-puzzles are somewhat dependent on the main game too. Some in-story puzzles reward you with new moves to teach or store items to situate, so if you're serious about fuzzball's acting career, you better keep that brain a'clicking. In short, these bitty brainteasers were designed as Layton sidequests set apart from the norm.

    Speaking of the norm, let's talk about where Miracle Mask did try breaking the mold. For one thing, there's this horse riding game near the beginning that lasts less than a minute. Honestly, it didn't really leave that big of an impact on me. I guess Level-5 inserted it for immersion purposes, but it happens once in-story then never again. It left me wondering whether it was really worth adding. You can revisit this little distraction later on if you like, but I had minimal reason to. In the middle of the story, the game also has you play a dungeon-crawling sequence that lasts an entire chapter. I will admit it was crafted better than that horse gimmick. It mixed in puzzling elements that jelled better with the rest of the game, but I felt it went on a bit too long. They did add new elements every other level to freshen the experience, but the main crux of it felt too recycled. It was basically the same brainteaser on repeat. I'm not saying it was unbearable. It just left me a little fatigued.

    Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 103%
    Violence - 8.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
    This game promotes the importance of family values. (+3 pts)
    The story in this game delivers a good moral lesson. (+3 pts)

    Now let's get to where the series shines: presentation. First off, I'm pleased to say that the watercolor backgrounds from the DS games survived the transition. By painting on top of the character models and layered structures, they made it work with the 3D format. The scenery is more interactive too, thanks to the added animations and ability to pan around the screen. Most puzzles were also done in watercolor, which is nice considering how long you'll be staring at them. It's like doing calculus while on an art museum field trip. The character designs were also preserved quite well from DS to 3DS. True, a three sided Layton took a little getting used to, but after the initial oddness, I grew accustomed to his new look. However, the best of the best in this art fest are the cutscenes. Same as previous games, Miracle Mask's most climactic moments are given a cinematic treatment that would make Studio Ghibli proud. The hand drawn animation is fluid, the cinematography is well timed, and what three dimensional elements were used meshed with the 2D artwork seamlessly.

    As for the music, it's stellar as always. Returning composer Tomohito Nishiura really knows how to rock an accordion and gave the instrumentation a charming flavor that is every bit as unique as the game's visuals. It is distinctly Layton. You hear it once, and there's no question about it. The voice cast did a marvelous job as well. When it comes to anime, casting choices are often a hit or miss with me, but Level-5's cast selection couldn't have been better. If the story is Miracle Masks's lifeblood, then the characters are its beating heart. Both old and new faces were given equal integrity. No part of their dialogue felt fake or forced, and our frontrunners from hero to villain are memorable and at times compelling. I found myself getting fully invested with their struggles as the tale unfolded. Plus, true to Layton fashion, the side characters all have at least one silly quirk that not only entertains but also makes them feel a tad more 'human'. (I mean, honestly. Who doesn't have a strange habit?)

    Morally speaking, I consider Miracle Mask virtually clean. There are one or two things to consider though. Starting with Monte d'Or itself, it does have this Las Vegas vibe to it. I mean, you won't see any smokers or scantily clad ladies, but there are one or two casinos and a couple of casino themed puzzles. However, neither Layton nor his comrades engage in or encourage gambling. There are some moments of peril and one cutscene includes gunfire, but no one gets shot. As for the Masked Gentleman's 'dark miracles', all I can say to any concerned parents out there is that nothing is as it appears. 

    Beyond that, Miracle Mask's virtuous rewards far outweigh the nitpicks. The story, both in the then and now, is a grand illustration of how everyone's actions, no matter how seemingly simple, affects those around them, and affirms the importance of treating others kindly. On top of that, two characters demonstrate two different parts of Christian living. One undergoes a somewhat similar experience to the prodigal son, and the other turns out to be an excellent example of Godly stewardship. I also think it's worth mentioning why Professor Layton himself is my all time favorite video game character. Frankly, he's one of the best role models I've seen in fiction. He carries an upright nobility that reflects Christian principles so strongly, I can't help but admire it.

    Considering that it's the fifth game in its lineup, it's amazing that Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask became one of the strongest in the bunch. Most of the time, a long running franchise would show its age by now, but Level-5 knew what made these games special and stuck to it. That didn't mean they shrank back from a few risks, and though some of these risks didn't all quite click, I'd say their first trip to 3D land was a success. In my opinion, this is the second best in the series. While the story didn't quite reach exceptional levels the way Unwound Future's did, it is still poignant in its own right and had my favorite ending overall. Due to its moral integrity, I can heartily recommend this game to anyone who doesn't despise puzzles. You don't even have to know anything about the earlier games to enjoy it. It's hospitable to both newcomers and dedicated fans. True, you might play Miracle Mask only once, but one playthrough will leave an impact that you likely won't forget. After all, one must always strive to make good first impressions that last. That's what a gentleman does. 

  • Puyo Puyo Champions (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Puyo Puyo Champions
    Developed by: Sonic Team
    Published by: Sega
    Release date: May 6, 2019
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Up to four
    ESRB rating: Everyone
    Price $9.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Sega for sending us this game to review!

    Puyo Puyo Champions includes Puyo Puyo 2 and Puyo Puyo Fever. Both games support solo, local multiplayer, and online gameplay (if you have a Nintendo subscription). Though this title is available on many platforms, I prefer to play on-the-go with my Switch and enjoyed handing my son a Joy-con to play a local match to kill some time away from home. I kicked his butt. Up to four players can play at a time.

    No matter which Puyo Puyo game you play, the concept is the same. Your goal is to not let your side of the screen fill up with Puyos. To clear Puyos, you need to have four of the same color touching. Clearing individual colors is okay, but the real rewarding experience is when you have multiple colors cleared in succession causing chain reactions. The more chains you can get, the more garbage Puyos you’ll send to your opponent’s screen. Garbage Puyos can be devastating as they take up crucial space and often block chains you’re working on. To get rid of garbage Puyos, you need to complete a chain. When you do this, any garbage Puyos touching those cleared away will disappear as well.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun collection of games that can be enjoyed by yourself, with family/friends, or online!; PC users can play multiplayer without a subscription service
    Weak Points: Repetitive/annoying voice acting; not many people playing in the casual rooms online
    Moral Warnings:One of the characters is a witch and another goes by "Dark Prince" (Satan)

    Both Puyo Puyo games offer various characters to play as and against. Other than appearance and voice acting, your choice won’t make much difference in Puyo Puyo 2. Unfortunately the chain counting (One!, Two!, etc) gets repetitive and annoying quickly. In Puyo Puyo Fever, each character has a special ability such as preferring shorter or longer chains. If certain conditions are met, a fever mode will commence and provide some ready-made chains to take advantage of and pummel your opponent with garbage Puyos as a result.

    The graphics are very colorful and the characters look adorable.  Even though one of the characters is a harpy, she's fully clothed.  There's a witch character and another that goes by "Dark Prince" which is a subtle name for Satan. 

    The CPUs are pretty challenging and kept me on my toes. I was reminded again and again the value of building up multiple chains. The online tournament matches are pretty challenging as well. It didn’t take me too long to find a challenger (and get my butt kicked).

    Puyo Puyo Champions
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     Sadly, I was unable to find any active casual gaming rooms. This title doesn’t appear to be cross platform, so I would assume that Steam users would have the best chances of finding casual matches to partake in. PC gamers get to play online for free while console users have to pay monthly fees for online services.

    No matter which platform you get this game on, it will be sure to entertain your family for hours. The price is a reasonable $9.99 and I have seen it on sale for half as much on some platforms. If you enjoy Puyo Puyo games and want to test your skills online, it’s worth checking out. Just don’t expect to find too many casual matches to join.

  • Puyo Puyo Tetris (Switch)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Puyo Puyo Tetris
    Developed by: SEGA
    Published by: SEGA
    Release date: April 25, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Switch
    Genre: Puzzle, Party
    Number of Players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for comic mischief and suggestive themes
    Price: $40 physical, $30 digital
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you SEGA for sending us this game to review!

    While I’m no expert at Tetris, I certainly do enjoy playing it. The iconic theme music isn’t anywhere to be found in this title though. When playing Hatsune Miku on the 3DS, I was introduced to Puyo Puyo, which is similar to Dr. Mario where you have to match up four of the same color puyos instead of pills. When you combine Puyo Puyo and Tetris together it gets a bit crazy, but it’s still fun even though I’m far from mastering both games.

    If you’re new to either title, there are three tutorials available for each game. The beginner tutorials cover the controls and teach you how to rotate the puyos and tetriminos. In Tetris you can increase the drop speed, but this is not possible in Puyo Puyo. The advanced Tetris tutorial teaches you about clearing four rows at a time (Tetris) and holding a piece for later use. Holding is great for the vertical four block pieces or a piece that you don’t have a nook for at the moment. The advanced Puyo Puyo tutorial will teach you how to utilize combos. The combos will benefit your score no matter which game you play. The Tetris expert tutorial will teach you about last second rotations that defy physics and back to back combos. Both games reward you for clearing all the pieces from the board. Mastering the stair chains and sandwich techniques in the expert Puyo Puyo tutorial is critical for your survival online and in the single-player adventure mode.

    Puyo Puyo Tetris
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great mashup of two classic games; lots of fun game modes and challenging AI and people to play against
    Weak Points: Physical version costs an extra $10
    Moral Warnings: Some of the characters are mischievous; there are references to tight outfits but you can’t really see anything

    While the story isn’t that deep or believable, it sets the stage nicely for the merging of two different game worlds and introduces you to some interesting characters. A couple of the characters like to get into trouble, but it’s pretty tame. One planet prefers tight clothes while the other likes loose fitting attire and they bicker over the fashion style a bit, but nothing is seen. The voice acting and art work is nicely done in this title and it’s funny how the two worlds are so similar and different at the same time. Much like Puyo Puyo and Tetris. One thing that both worlds have in common is that they do battles to settle matters or to calm their teammates down. This would be a funny way to solve disputes in real life. Imagine getting a raise from your boss by simply winning a Tetris or Puyo Puyo match!

    The matches are sometimes mixed where one player is playing Tetris while the other plays Puyo Puyo. In order to succeed in the campaign, you’ll need to master both modes. Other times the matches are similar and sometimes both game modes are in play at the same time! Many of the matches are won by outlasting your opponent, but there are several time and score trials where you have to exceed a certain threshold to win. Depending on your overall score, you’ll be awarded between one and three stars along with some credits which can be used to customize the appearance of the tetriminos and puyos or change the voices of your favorite characters. Combos and clearing the stage will significantly boost your score so keep that in mind for score based trials.

    If you just want to play Puyo Puyo or Tetris without a backstory, that’s possible as well. The AI is quite challenging and you can play against one to three of them or with up to three of your friends in the arcade modes. Finding people to play against online is easy to do as well. There are Puzzle League matches where your ranking changes depending on your win/lose ratio, or you can play for fun in the Free Play mode.

    Puyo Puyo Tetris
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 97%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    There are several game modes to check out and they’re all a blast. Here’s a quick run down:

    Versus – Your typical Tetris or Puyo Puyo match where the players can play a game of either of them. 

    Swap – The game board switches between Tetris and Puyo Puyo at set intervals. Can you keep track of both games at once?

    Fusion – A hybrid of both of the games.

    Big Bang – A gauntlet of well set up boards that only need a couple of correct moves to solve entirely; can you solve them faster than your opponent?

    Party – Similar to the versus mode but there are random items that can help or hinder the players like black outs that reduce visibility or funky shaped pieces that don’t fit anywhere.

    One nice thing about matches is that you can save the replays and learn from the mistakes you or your opponent has made. I can’t stress enough how important it is to master the maneuvers taught in the expert tutorial to do well online and in the adventure mode. My entire family has enjoyed playing this title and it’s a great addition to your Switch library. If you prefer physical copies of your games you'll have to pay an extra $10 for the cartridge. Other than that nitpick, I highly recommend Puyo Puyo Tetris for puzzle gamers of all ages.

  • PuzzGun (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    PuzzGun
    Developed by: Aleski Rajamaki, Matias Rajamaki
    Published by: Codera
    Released: May 9, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Number of players: Single Player
    Genre: Puzzle-Platformer
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Price: $2.99

    Thank you Aleski Rajamaki, Matias Rajamaki, and Codera for sending us this game to review!

    PuzzGun is a 2D retro styled puzzle solving platformer game by Aleski Rajamaki and Matias Rajamaki with easy-to-pick-up gameplay. The controls are easy to learn, and on level one you are shown a detailed illustration of each function. You play as a cowboy who decides he wants to explore a mysterious castle owned by an evil wizard. Apparently, nobody that entered the castle was ever seen again, and he wants to be an exception, of course. The wizard sees you right away, however, and “enslaves” you to the castle “forever.” Once you complete the 63 levels in the game (21 levels per section, no skipping levels), you will be freed from the castle.

    Your objective in each level is to reach the rainbow gem, which can be anywhere in the level. You can jump up to two blocks high. To help you reach the gem, you can shoot only gray blocks in your way to make them disappear, become bouncy (make you spring upward when stepped on) or to spawn a green block next to or on top of it to make it easier to reach some place with the gun in your hand. These effects depend on the ammo type you shot the blocks with. Ammo is limited harshly, but just barely enough to complete the level is provided. You may have to collect it, though.

    PuzzGun
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Detailed pixel art
    Weak Points: Repetitive background music
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    To collect ammo (if necessary), you will need to find the spinning colored cubes in the level. They could be right next to your spawning point or across the level. If they happen to be across the level, you will most likely spawn with some ammo. The different colored spinning cubes (collectible ammo) associate with the different ammo types. The green cubes will spawn a green block next to or above a grey block. Blue cubes give you ammo that will make a block disappear, and a yellow cube will make a block bouncy, meaning you will spring upward when you step on that block.

    Like most games, there are a few things you can do that will kill you. These include falling off of the map and contacting spikes, spinning razor-like gears, and deadly lasers. When you die of any cause you will turn into a bunch of red pixels in a sort of splashing formation.

    The controls are rather simple, but still require explaining, which the first level provides. Left-click to shoot your gun, right-click or scroll to swap ammo types. Use your mouse to aim. A to move left, D to move right and W or Space to jump. E for map, Q for playing tips, and R to restart the level. Often doing something in the wrong order will cause you to have to restart.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    In story scenes, the graphics are formed by somewhat large pixels. However, the art in these scenes is descriptive and detailed and ultimately very pretty. I find the art style interesting in a good way. In the normal levels the pixels are much bigger and compliment the retro style better.

    The music that plays in each level is as far as I know the same, but it goes in a pretty large loop and I like it because it is very calming and keeps me from getting super frustrated at the game when I can’t figure out how to complete one of the puzzles.

    PuzzGun can be puzzling and frustrating at times, but YouTube videos and walkthroughs are very helpful if you get stuck. I found PuzzGun to be a very enjoyable title with no moral issues besides cartoon violence. To anyone looking for a fun puzzle game I would recommend PuzzGun. I look forward to future games made by these developers.

  • Puzzle Labyrinth (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Puzzle Labyrinth
    Developed by: Intense
    Published by: Circle Entertainment
    Release date: June 9, 2016 
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle Dungeon Crawler
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up (Alcohol Reference and Fantasy Violence)
    Price: $5.00

    Thank you Circle for sending us a review code!

    Puzzle Labyrinth is a first-person puzzle game that is also part dungeon crawler. Exploring every tile and examining each wall will become crucial in this difficult title.

    There isn't an explanation as to why you're exploring this labyrinth, but the freedom of the main character relies on overcoming it. Spread across 60 stages, players must overcome varying degrees of difficult puzzles. The difficulty isn't quite consistent, as some early puzzles are incredibly tricky to solve. You initially are given five keys to unlock any of the selectable stages. If you run out, you are forced to solve the stages you previously skipped over. This became a huge hindrance halfway through the game.

    Most of the puzzles involve collecting items and using them in a specific manner. Once a certain condition is met, a monster can be battled to open the labyrinth door. Battles in Puzzle Labyrinth are not at all normal though. Some levels will require the player to give an enemy an item. This will satisfy them and they will leave, opening the door. Others will require using weapons and items in correct orders to overcome bigger beasts.

    Puzzle Labyrinth
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting blend of genres; Encourages critical thinking; The combat system is a refreshing change.
    Weak Points: Translation errors can make some stages harder than they should be; Music is slightly repetitive.
    Moral Warnings: One puzzle involves getting a monster intoxicated; There are some instances of magic.

    One of the more interesting elements to the game is the usage of time travel. In some stages there are warp tiles that look like melting clocks. Black clocks will move the character forward in time, and red ones will allow traveling back in time. These will be used to manipulate time in order to do things like grow a flower from a seed in an instant. They will also act as warp zones, allowing movement to tiles that may otherwise be inaccessible. Though to be honest, it's not the most extravagant use of time travel 

    As far as the music goes, it's decent, albeit only being composed of four songs. All 60 stages have the same song playing as you solve the many abstract puzzles. It's not the best song in the world, but it never got annoying to me, so I give it credit. The stage select music, which I honestly really enjoyed, will loop endlessly. Lastly is the game over track, which you'll hear a lot, and the very short stage completion track. Other than that, the sound effects are nice and help to differentiate each tile that can be interacted with.

    The graphics are actually really nice inside the labyrinth. The 3D is used very well, and I had no issues when turning the slider all the way up. The monsters are all designed really well, but the dragons were definitely my favorites. They are threatening in their own way, and with the unique battle system, it makes them more intimidating when you can't kill them. As for the actual stages themselves, there are usually enough tiles with items and objects that you may not notice the drab white walls. That's not to say there aren't a few stages where there's nothing but white walls. 

    Puzzle Labyrinth
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls/Interface - 3/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The biggest issues for this game are the translation errors. At this point it's not surprising for an Intense game to get a bad translation job. The problem here is that many of the item descriptions and enemy dialogue are horrendously mistranslated, resulting in me getting stuck halfway through. I highly recommend that anyone who gets this game visit the Miiverse community for help if they get stuck.

    Morally, this game is pretty safe. The female flying monsters are designed to be seductive in nature so there is that. Wizards do cast magic, although, it's usually just a fireball that flings from their hands. The violence is really nonexistent as the battles do not show any kind of battle damage. A slicing animation and a sound effect are all that battles consist of.

    This isn't a perfect puzzle game by any means, but that shouldn't deter fans of the genre from playing it. For the price, and the fact that I had to use my brain more than usual for once in a video game, I do recommend Puzzle Labyrinth. It took me 12 hours to get through all 60 stages, and I felt compelled to beat it. If Circle can possibly implement a patch in the future to fix the translation errors, this could be the best puzzle game on the eShop in its price range.

    -Kyuremu

     

  • Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns
    Developed By: Infinite Interactive
    Published By: D3 Publisher
    Released: Sept. 19, 2019
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Fantasy Violence)
    Available On: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Tile-Matching Puzzle, RPG
    Number of Players: 1 Offline, 2 Online
    Price: $14.99 

    If you’ve ever played a match 3 style puzzle game (Bejeweled, Candy Crush, Dr. Mario World) you know just how simple yet addictive these games can be. With a simple switch of 2 tiles a match of 3, 4, or even 5 objects can be made, causing an avalanche of new gems, jewels, or candy to fall into the empty spaces. Different rewards are given for the matching of these objects depending on the game, but the matching mechanic ensures that in each case the next solution is never more complicated than a simple switch. But what if the addictive simplicity of match-making was paired with a gaming experience with a bit more complexity and expansion? Let’s say an RPG (role-playing game)?

    Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns is a remastered version of the much touted “original match 3 RPG” Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. The remaster brings to life once again the high fantasy narrative of the 2007 tile-matching classic, while also including the 2008 expansion Revenge of the Plague Lord, as well as an all-new expansion, Attack of the Golem Lord. The remaster also boasts new HD graphics, 100 new story quests, and 5 new character classes to choose from. With the sheer amount of content available, there is no denying that the game provides enough material to justify its $14.99 price tag. But are the new upgrades worth the time? Despite its length and occasional repetitiveness, Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns capitalizes on and mostly improves off of its original formula, providing a fun and expansive fantasy world to delve into while expanding the match 3 concept into a fully fleshed out puzzle gaming experience.

    To start the game the player must choose from a list of 13 different fantasy classes such as Warrior, Ranger, Knight, or Druid. Each of these classes is diversely represented racially and physically, and each are given a corresponding difficulty level from Easy (Wizard) to Very Hard (Blood Mage). The purpose of these difficulty levels might seem straightforward, but they don’t quite work as advertised. Each class starts the game with a certain number of spells they know, and a list of spells they will have access to as they level up. These spells are used in-game by matching colored runes during combat encounters that correspond to the type of mana (magic power) needed for a certain spell: blue, yellow, green, and red. The problem I encountered is that not all of the classes are created equal. My wife and I each experimented with a few different classes and some of them are much more prepared than others when it comes to combat.

    The game’s basic layout is a high fantasy story told through combat encounters and dialogue scenes on an overview world map. Each combat encounter involves the player facing off against an enemy with a tile grid in between. Both the player and the enemy have health bars located above their portraits, as well as spaces around them for mana totals, accessories, spell resistances, and spells. Each of these sections plays a crucial role in combat encounters, where the focus is to whittle down the health bar of the enemy through dealing damage via spells or matching skulls on the grid. But as mentioned before, this is a point of struggle for some of the classes.

    Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Plenty of content; great visual upgrades while keeping the classic look of the original; simple gameplay with options for complexity
    Weak Points: Can be repetitive; unclear difficulty settings and unbalanced difficulty in many areas; cookie cutter story
    Moral Warnings: Many quests involving sorcerers and the undead; heavy magic use

    I played Warlock, a class which despite its Hard rating I found very balanced and useful. A decent starting health pool combined with good options for damage dealing, status effect inducing, and healing made my playthrough a mostly enjoyable one. My wife wasn’t so lucky. She picked Monk, and despite its Medium rating she found many battles incredibly frustrating due to the Monk’s lack of healing spells and its reliance on the charge counter mechanic, which required waiting multiple turns for spells to truly become effective. My experience playing her character was the same. Ultimately, she switched to Ranger and found more success but it is unfortunate that some archetypes were more thought out than others. Unless you are looking for a particularly challenging experience, I would suggest checking your spell book as soon as you arrive in Bartonia to start the game. If by level 10 your class doesn’t have a damage spell, healing spell, and some form of mana manipulation spell, another class will probably be easier, as these are much more reliable indicators of class difficulty than any rating next to the name.

    The game’s struggle with difficulty is its most divisive trait. I would say about 75% of the game’s combat encounters are at their proper difficulty for where they are placed in the storyline and the other 25% range from questionably easy to controller-smashing levels of difficult. Most of the boss battles are significant difficulty spikes, with the game returning to previous difficulty once they’ve been defeated. The Attack of the Golem Lord expansion introduces the golems, which seem to be designed as a late-game challenge. But one of the very first quests you can take in the game involves a fight with a Wood Golem, and there is no winning that fight at early levels. In fact, I reached nearly 75% of my playthrough before I was able to take down the golem, that quest being stuck in my quest list for the entire time. When you can only take on 4 quests at once, this was quite frustrating.

    As for easy quests, the T’rarg quests are baffling. At times in the story when regular enemies have health pools above 100, the T’rarg battles feature enemies with around 40 to 60 hit points. This would be a fantastic training quest line for players to level up in if it didn’t have level requirements, but the quest line forces you to reach certain levels before you can continue and doesn’t end until after level 20. Unsurprisingly, the final T’rarg boss fight follows the pattern of being much more difficult than any of the enemy fights before it.

    All enemies have difficulty ratings when you encounter them in the story (these can be toggled to easier/harder at the cost or gain of gold and experience) but like when choosing a character, these ratings should be ignored in favor of assessing an enemy’s health pool, spells, and equipment. Often times the RNG (random number generator) element of the game, which decides which objects will fall into emptied tiles after a successful match, is decidedly unfair and a bit too many games come down to luck. My wife was routinely frustrated by this. Most combat encounters last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, so losing because of a few unlucky turns late-game is understandable in moderation but constant loss from bad RNG can make battles feel like a waste of time.

    Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability/Polish - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence/Blood/Gore - 8/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5.5/10

    But there are so many things Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns does well. The HD visuals are a welcome upgrade from the 2007 sprites I remember as a kid, and the character art is done well. The cornucopia of enemies throughout the game are all uniquely and tastefully drawn, including notoriously provocative fantasy monsters such as harpies and medusas. The sheer number of items and spells available is impressive, and the game even provides ways to learn spells and build items outside of those normally encountered in the story. The citadel (which can be accessed at any city that has been sieged) acts as an activity hub for your character and allows you to spend money to build structures like a mage tower or stable which allow you to research spells or train mounts. These activities offer slight variations on the puzzle gameplay including timed battles and “don’t run out of matches” challenges. The capture game style is my favorite, which requires you to clear a board of tiles with exactly the right matches or you must start over.

    The music throughout is by far the highlight of the game. All the original themes from Challenge of the Warlords are kept here and each of them is its own wonderful tune that will no doubt be stuck in your head after just a few battles. The tunes would be in danger of becoming too repetitive if they weren’t so uniformly pleasing to listen to. Ranging from relaxing flute melodies to blood-pumping drum beats, the music successfully brings to life the fantasy world in a way the narrative cannot. Though the story is filled with colorful characters and is easy to follow, it isn’t innovative and mostly relies on popular fantasy tropes to move from beat to beat. The expansions are a welcome addition to the story however, providing access to areas of the map previously undiscoverable. One very useful quest line in the Revenge of the Plague Lords expansion provides a path over a mountain range that connects the lower left and right sides of the world map, which eases travel between mid-game areas and the base city of Bartonia tremendously.

    Another quality of life improvement includes the removal of the illegal move penalty, which in the original version cost you 5 health points and forfeited your turn. This makes the game less harsh on input mistakes and the timed mount training games are much easier. These are crucial if you want to avoid unnecessary encounters with repetitive enemies. By training a mount up to level 15 or more you can bypass trivial combat encounters that would otherwise add needless hours to a playthrough.

    When assessing the game's attitude toward morality, the narrative does revolve around sorcery and raising undead, with magic playing a large role in the story as a whole. There is suggested violence when you battle an enemy but dealing or taking damage simply involves vibration into the controller and a number onscreen of how many hit points were lost. There is no language except for the occasional d**n. Even though the story does revolve heavily around sorcery and the occult, the narrative clearly positions the player as a good warrior fighting against the evil undead. Good choices that benefit in-game character relationships are often rewarded by granting the player allies, which help in various ways during combat encounters.

    Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns does what a good remaster should by improving upon the established puzzle formula without drastically changing it and combining all extraneous content into one game. For those that enjoyed the 2007 original like I did, this game is an ogre’s portion of the beloved puzzle action that brought Challenge of the Warlords fame 13 years ago. For newcomers with the right knowledge going in, this can be a fun and lengthy experience in a fantasy world where matching like objects just might save the kingdom.

    -(Mlirivale)

  • Puzzle Showdown 4K (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Puzzle Showdown 4K
    Developed by: Kingdom Games
    Published by: 70 Times 7 LLC
    Release date: May 23, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Up to four locally
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you 70 Times 7 LLC for sending us this game to review!

    I enjoyed building jigsaw puzzles with my kids when they were toddlers. Sadly, we haven’t played with them much as they grew older. That has now changed with Puzzle Showdown 4K. In this game you can build over 100 high resolution (3840x2160) jigsaw puzzles by yourself or alongside up to three other players locally. You can compete for the most pieces and highest score, or play cooperatively and share the remaining pieces. Besides the puzzle game modes, there is a showcase that can act as a screensaver for your computer or console.

    The puzzles are broken down into various categories like animals, art, nature, people, skies, wacky, water, and so on. The pictures are gorgeous and I would love to use some of them as desktop wallpapers, though I am partial to my current one of blooming cherry blossom trees in Japan. There is also a decent amount of music variety as well which is categorized as acoustic, classical, and electronic. I enjoyed all of it and the sound effects are decent too.

    Puzzle Showdown 4K
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: All the joys of building puzzles without worrying about losing pieces
    Weak Points: No online play
    Moral Warnings: None, and I’m happy to see a couple of Christian themed puzzles

    Once the puzzle is selected you have to choose how many pieces you want it to be: 28, 60, 112, 252, or 510. While I never had the patience to build 500+ piece puzzles, I certainly have respect for those that do. Thankfully, you can save your progress and continue puzzles if needed. You only have one save spot for single player games so be careful not to overwrite a puzzle’s progress on accident!

    By default, the pieces are in the correct position, but if you want an added challenge, you can have them rotated so they will only work if they’re aligned correctly. I like how the piece will highlight and cause the controller to rumble when it’s in the proper place.

    Puzzle Showdown 4K
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    When working with physical puzzles I usually focused on the border pieces first. It’s a bit more difficult to do that in this game since you only have a small pool of pieces to work with at a time. You can discard pieces by pressing the circle button if desired. If you press and hold down the square button, the image of the puzzle will show up to jog your memory. You can use a faded image as a background or an outline. The falling puzzle pieces in the background is a nice touch.

    Puzzle Showdown 4K is a great game to play with family members of all ages. I enjoyed playing (and winning) several rounds against my youngest daughter. She kept wanting to re-match in hopes of beating me. Competition is great, but the cooperative mode is good too.

    One of my biggest fears of putting a 500+ piece puzzle together is the likelihood of discovering that a piece or two is missing upon (near) completion. Thankfully, that is not a concern in Puzzle Showdown 4K. Just make sure nobody overwrites your single-player progress on accident! The asking price is a reasonable $9.99 and I highly recommend this game for any puzzle enthusiasts out there.

  • Queen's Quest: Tower of Darkness (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Queen's Quest: Tower of Darkness
    Developed by: Brave Giant LTD
    Published by: Artifex Mundi
    Released: September 10, 2015
    Available on: Android, iOS, Kindle, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, Windows, Windows Phone
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB rating: E10+ for fantasy violence
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $4.99 (Google Play, Amazon, iOS, Windows Phone); $6.99 (Windows Store, App Store); $5.32 (Kinguin Affiliate Link)

    It's a hard life being a queen. You have to attend state functions and be pleasant to foreign dignitaries. You have to review and enact laws. You need to rescue your daughter from the evil wizard who abducted her. You have to look dignified and respectful at all times. So many hassles!

    Thus is the story of the nameless queen in Artifex Mundi's “Queen's Quest: Tower of Darkness.” An evil wizard appears in the throne room, turns her husband to stone, and kidnaps her daughter. Her godfather, a powerful wizard in his own right, needs to report something to a magical council and disappears. So it falls to the queen to figure out how to travel to the evil wizard's Tower of Darkness and free her own daughter. Her only companion is her daughter's fairy godmother – a literal fairy who can fly to high places and help the queen solve some of the many puzzles.

    Yes, the plot is distinctly lacking in substance in the game, and some of the elements make very little sense. For instance, why would someone take a broken knife handle, lock it in a box, and hide that box underneath a bush? But this is an Artifex Mundi game – the emphasis is less on a coherent story, and more on the puzzles. They are here in abundance – especially the hidden object puzzles which has become the signature style of this Polish game company. These puzzles have a couple of twists to them. Sometimes you need to manipulate the scene, such as opening drawers, in order to find all the objects. A few items also change shape, and you need to select them when they have morphed into the thing you need to find.

    Queen's Quest: Tower of Darkness
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Variety of puzzles; lovely artwork
    Weak Points: Not very challenging; inconsistent art; clumsy animation and music
    Moral Warnings: Fairy tale creatures and monsters

    Other challenges also need to be cleared in order to proceed. These are similar to puzzles found in many other games, such as moving crates to certain locations, or manipulating rings of beads into their proper configuration. There is the option to skip many of these puzzles, or to find hints in hidden object scenes. Using these options means that you will fail to get an achievement for solving the puzzles, though. However, the puzzles really aren't too difficult. Although entertaining, they serve more as a speed bump from the story or the next hidden object puzzle. A total of 22 achievements are available, as well as Steam trading cards.

    Most of the scenes are lavishly painted and gorgeous to look at, but there are some animated elements that seem incongruous to the rest of the art style. Portions of the game are CGI – in fact, the fairy companion appears to be the base “Victoria” figure from DAZ 3D – and end up giving the game more of a patchwork appearance. Another issue with the animation comes when the different characters speak. They seem stiff and almost puppetlike. It looks better than some of the earliest Artifex Mundi games, but there is still room for improvement. The voice acting is decent, at least. The music is all right, but has obvious starts and stops when played in a loop.

    Queen's Quest: Tower of Darkness
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    From a moral perspective, there isn't too much to be alarmed about. There is an evil wizard who seems to use dark magic. Some of the items the queen can use are magical, but she doesn't seem to be able to cast any spells herself. There are fairy tale creatures such as dwarves, satyrs and gryphons. In a puppet play there is a fortune teller with a crystal ball. But there aren't any language issues or sexual situations to be alarmed about.

    The game can be completed in five to six hours, and all the achievements can be gained in that time. Once completed, there is little reason to play through the game again. The game is less expensive for portable devices and can be worth the $2.99 price. For other platforms, it would be best to wait for a sale or a bundle to pick it up. While entertaining, this Queen's Quest is hardly memorable.

  • Radio Squid (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Radio Squid
    ublished By: Ratalaika Games
    Released: June 17, 2020
    Available On: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One
    Genre: Twin stick shooter/Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: E (Mild Fantasy Violence)
    Number of Players: Offline single-player
    Price: $4.99 on Nintendo E-Store

    Thanks to Ratalaika Games for sending us a review code!

    Zzzzzzz. Another typical day at Ink & Shell Ltd. You are a squid, the boss of Ink & Shell, and you are doing what you do best: sleeping. Your employees, a various assortment of hard-hat wearing cephalopods, have been working hard on your behalf and they’ve finally found the thing you’ve been looking for: The Siren’s Song. You are awakened unceremoniously by your starfish secretary and guided to Ink & Shell’s chief scientist. After gifting you with replenishable bombs, he gives you the go-ahead to enter the safe room and obtain the song. But not so fast. As you touch the song’s music box it disappears and the voice of the Siren greets your ears. It turns out she doesn’t appreciate theft and decides to curse you with the worst case of insomnia ever. The only way to cure it is to find the Siren at the bottom of the ocean and bring enough coin with you to reimburse her for the song you stole.

    Radio Squid is an 8-bit twin stick shooter with light puzzle elements that feels like it’s been ripped straight out of an arcade. Developed by Pixelteriyaki, gameplay involves defeating sea creatures in a labyrinthine series of rooms under the sea. Equipped with nothing but an incessant jukebox of music that causes bullets to rhythmically fire out of their body, players must learn enemy attack patterns and fight bosses in order to lift the musical curse. But with a library of fantastic chiptunes and gameplay that deftly balances slow and deliberate puzzle play with quick reflex driven shoot 'em up madness, Radio Squid just might see players cranking up the volume instead and taking a deep dive into this sneakily difficult experience.

    When you arrive in the first room of World 1 a text scrawl informs you that popping music bubbles will trigger your bullet spraying ability. How the bullets fire off into the sea is up to you. Before beginning a new game, you will be prompted with 4 different firing options: guided shot style 1, guided shot style 2, bi-directional shot, and wild shot. The guided styles fire a stream of bullets (based on the music of the level) from your squid in one direction. This direction can be changed by pressing X,Y,B,A, or by pressing the arrows on the D-pad, depending on which style you chose. Bullet direction can also be changed with the analog stick opposite the one you chose to move your squid around. The bi-directional shot alternates between two opposing directions when it fires and the wild shot fires randomly out of all 4 sides of your squid. I found guided shot 1 the simplest to use and used it throughout pretty much my whole playthrough, though I did have some success with the bi-directional shot.

    Radio Squid
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Classic look with great 8-bit graphics and chiptunes; skill-based gameplay requiring planning and quick action; earworm chiptune beats 
    Weak Points: Music beat and bullet timing doesn’t always make sense; boss battles and high skill ceiling could turn away some players; emphasis on World 6 replay can hurt replay value of other worlds
    Moral Warnings: Implied cursing

    Enemy sea creatures in a room must all be killed with your bullets before you can move to the next room. There are several different enemies and all of them have different ways to hurt you. The trick to beating a room without taking too much damage typically involves positioning yourself strategically so that when you pop the music bubble your bullets start hitting enemies. The biggest issue you’ll encounter from the very first room onward is when your bullets miss; stray bullets will bounce off of walls and anything invulnerable to damage and come right back at you. Many puzzle rooms have openings on more than one side. You can fire bullets into a hole on one side of the screen and if there is a corresponding hole on the other side, bullets will come through it back into the room. Traveling to different parts of a walled-off room works the same way, and part of solving some rooms requires you to dip in and out of walled-off areas in order to kill everything. This technique alone elevates Radio Squid above just another twin stick shooter and really encourages you to plan ahead before you go for the bubble.

    At the top of the game screen is where you will find the 3 essential aspects of your squid: health, bomb power, and coins. 5 tick marks indicate how many bombs you have. Each time you use one in a room, stray bullets, enemy projectiles, and some obstacles will immediately be turned into coins. Collecting coins adds to your wallet, and you’ll want plenty of them because when you die you lose a lot. I’m not positive on the math but it seems like the number of coins lost each time you die is around 80% of your total wallet, sometimes more. If you manage to have less than 10 coins in your wallet when you die you get a game over, and you must start back at the beginning of the world. There are 6 worlds in total with 4 levels in each, which makes Radio Squid a shorter game. That’s not an issue though because the game is about room mastery and padding your wallet rather than simply beating worlds.

    I found this out the hard way. I hadn’t played very many arcade style shoot 'em ups before this one so it took me some time to get the feel of moving around in a room while avoiding my own bullets. Though technically not a manic shooter, "manic" certainly describes the feeling I had while dodging enemy projectiles and ricocheting bullets in often cramped quarters. I died a few times in the first world but I always managed to have enough coins to keep going. Then I reached my first boss. Bosses are much harder than any room of enemies and require practice and patience to memorize their patterns. After a couple of game over screens I tried a different path in World 1 and was treated to a different boss battle, this one easier than the boss I had been fighting. Still, I barely squeaked by, with only 15 or so coins to my name. Between worlds the game offers you upgrades you can pay for; these range from simply healing you to giving you permanent boosts. There are other upgrades that can be found by shooting obstacles in rooms but the end-of-world upgrades are the best. I couldn’t afford any of them though, and this is where I started to understand the mastery element required to truly do well at the game.

    After 5 worlds of repeating that same pattern over and over (getting crushed by a boss and ending the world with 20 coins or less) I pushed through World 6 to the final boss. This one-eyed maniac is ridiculously difficult and by the time I finally beat him I was spent in more ways than one. I finished the game with a measly 16 coins. Without spoiling the ending, let’s just say the Siren wasn’t pleased with my offer. My ending was the equivalent of a participation trophy, but I didn’t feel cheated. I’m sure there are better endings to be experienced but after my fourth time failing to get a better ending I decided to give it a rest.

    Radio Squid
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay – 14/20
    Graphics – 8/10
    Sound – 9/10
    Stability – 3/5
    Controls – 4/5

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

    One criticism I have of the game is that the other worlds can become obsolete once you reach World 6. If you play the first 5 worlds optimally (a difficult feat) and are able to purchase some of the more expensive 50-coin or 100-coin upgrades before World 6, there is no reason to play early worlds again. Beating the game sends you back to the beginning of World 6, so you can just try over and over until you get the ending you want. I got good enough at the rooms in World 6 to start the final boss fight with 150 coins or more. Assuming I magically beat him in one try and used up my power bombs for extra coins, that would be about 200 coins to give to the Siren. If the coin count to get the best ending from the Siren is more like 500 then I really am terrible, but I would suggest playing the other worlds again anyway to find some other optional bosses and listen to some sick beats.

    All 11 music tracks provide for some really great listening, and they all seem to have some fun, muddy bass that makes you really feel like a squid swishing through the sea. They can all be listened to individually from the main menu by choosing Sound Test. I was a bit disappointed when playing levels because it was hard to tell sometimes how the music was influencing your bullets. I thought maybe moving the squid to the beat of any given song might help but it didn’t. Generally, busier moments of a song cued more bullets to be fired and slower moments lowered the bullet count. The only other sound complaint I had involved the text menus. I laughed when text would scroll because each word sounded like the footsteps of a giant; loud and obnoxious.

    There were only minor morality concerns in the game. One I caught was a text bubble in the beginning of the game. I believe it’s implied that a side character curses but the letters are substituted for symbols so it’s impossible to know what the character said. When you hit enemies with bullets they simply turn red for a brief second; hit them enough and they disappear. All of the enemies are cartoonish and fun, but the game still does a good job of making some bosses feel terrifying to fight.

    I had a blast playing Radio Squid. I tried several different controller variants (Gamecube controller, attached Joy-Cons, detached Joy-Cons) and all of them felt great. Like classic arcade games, the game can be easily played by any who are interested but true mastery takes dedication and talent. This game is a steal at $4.99 and anyone with a love of classic 8-bit graphics and chiptunes will not be disappointed. Pop on a pair of nice headphones, do some hand stretches, and try not to lose that hard-earned money.

  • Recyclomania (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Recyclomania
    Developed By: PixQuake
    Published By: HH-Games
    Released: August 28, 2019
    Available On: PC
    Genre: Match-3
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $2.99

    First, I'd like to thank HH-Games for the key.

    Match-3 games have had all sorts of themes over the years, and while recycling is a theme I haven't seen before, apparently there is a first time for everything. As to whether it makes for a good game despite the theme, then the uniqueness of the theme matters less than the so-so execution.

    Recyclomania is yet another Match-3 title from a developer that uses the same engine they've used for other Match-3 games. The concept remains the same as well: Match 3 or more items together to remove them from the game board until the quota of objects needed to be removed is met. None of the gimmicks are grossly different from their previous games, where bombs and other items would help remove extra items from the board if you matched 5 or more items together.

    Recyclomania
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Runs great on Windows and even Linux
    Weak Points: Derivative and does nothing other similar games don't already do; cheap-looking art assets
    Moral Warnings: Nothing

    Graphically, this was pretty underwhelming. While previous games featured detailed artwork, this one is very minimalist, featuring art that would not look out of place in a public domain art collection used for tutorial game projects. The game's levels also feature pretty boring icon art, and the brief story scenes just show some images of generic-looking people from their shoulders on up.

    Sound is nothing special either. Aside from two tracks that play in most levels, and third in special levels, the game music gets repetitive fast. Sound effects are pleasant but nothing special either.

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

    Game Score - 58%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 3/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Controls are the typical mouse-driven interface of most computer-based Match-3 games. As for stability, that is one redeeming strength of this title, as it runs great with no issues; even ran well in Linux via Steam's Proton with no problems whatsoever.

    Morally, there is nothing to complain about I could discern. Your local school asks for your help to recycle various waste products and you work on doing just that as the plot.

    While this game is acceptable for any age, I can't recommend it to anyone due to its cheap production values and bringing absolutely nothing really interesting to the table lot of other Match-3 games haven't already done. It's cheap, but I'd get it as part of a bundle instead of paying for it by itself if you really need a Match-3 fix, as it's pretty short and easy to beat in about a day or so.

  • RiME (Switch)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    RiME
    Developed by: Tequila Works
    Published by: Grey Box
    Release date: November 14, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle, Platformer
    Number of players: single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Grey Box for sending us this game to review!

    RiME was originally released for PC, PS4, and Xbox One in May of 2017. Unfortunately, the Switch port is very poorly optimized with a noticeable graphical downgrade and frequent frame rate drops. It’s a shame since I really do enjoy the game, but I couldn’t help but wish to play it on another platform for a smoother experience.

    When first launching the game, you’ll be greeted with a long loading screen. The logo will slowly get colored in as the loading progresses. Sadly, there are no witty quotes to entertain you while waiting for the game to load.

    RiME's story reveals itself more and more as you play through it. The main character is a young boy who is stranded on a mysterious yet beautiful island. He catches a glimpse of a tower in the distance and sets off to go there. This is easier said than done, as there are many puzzles and paths that need to be opened before crossing through.

    RiME
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful environment; fun puzzles
    Weak Points: Poor performance and long load times
    Moral Warnings: Mild violence

    Fortunately, the young lad is not alone: a friendly fox yips at him, leading him to his next objective. There is a cloaked figure that appears throughout the game as well. The puzzles need to be solved by the boy though. There are some helpful walkthroughs available online if you get stuck.

    The controls are pretty straightforward as the main character can move around, jump, climb, and yell/sing at various objects. You can shout at many statues and orbs to trigger events. There are also many stone structures that need to be pushed/pulled into place to align key-like mechanisms.

    RiME

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

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    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

    There are some environmental and aggressive wildlife obstacles that need to be contended with as well. For example, wild boars can be lured away or to places by using nearby fruit. Death is possible in this game though it’s not very bloody. Thankfully, RiME provides plenty of checkpoints.

    Visually, this game is very pretty. Sadly, whenever the game pans over the landscape, the main character gets noticeably downgraded and jaggedy in appearance. The Unreal Engine powers this title and the Switch is noticeably underpowered to handle it in all of its glory. Some of the areas are dark and hard to see clearly on the Switch’s screen. Docking it may be easier for the low-light areas.

    The background music and sound effects are well done. I like the calming music and atmosphere as I wrack my brain to figure out the puzzle in front of me. The shouts and singing from the boy are good too.

    In the end, RiME is a well-polished puzzle/platformer game. Unfortunately, it’s not suited for the underpowered Switch. If you do have the means of playing it on another platform, I highly recommend doing so.

  • Security Hole (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Security Hole
    Developed by: AnRaEl
    Published by: AnRaEl
    Released: September 28, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB rating: E
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $9.99

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

    –- Message intercepted 19:44:32

    To whomever is reading this, I have to caution you. If you read any more, you could get caught up in these events I've found myself in as well. If you're curious – or foolish – read on.

    I'm not sure why I decided to take up the role of a hacker, but this artificial intelligence nicknamed Sybry that contacted me seemed so desperate and lonely. She was kind of cute, too. Turns out she was raised by hackers, and she just wanted to find her father – erm, programmer. Whatever. 

    Now take note – this looks like a game by a development team by the name of AnRaEl called "Security Hole," but it's all about hacking into computer systems. Fortunately, it's not going to teach you how to really hack. It's all an elaborate puzzle game where you try to line up three dimensional shapes with – you guessed it – holes in virtual firewalls. Use your mouse and keyboard – or your game controller – to rotate the shape until it will pass through the hole. Sounds simple, right?

    Security Hole
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Variety of challenges; thought-provoking puzzle game; catchy music; nice graphics.
    Weak Points: Bland, unnecessary story; steep difficulty curve.
    Moral Warnings: Your character is a computer hacker and you have to break laws in order to proceed in the game.

    Don't be fooled. The virtual firewalls come with two different forms of security – or, more precisely, two different challenges to fit the shape through the hole. The first is a timed challenge, where you need to match the shapes within a certain duration. The second limits the number of times you can move the shape. A few of the levels require you to deal with both forms of security simultaneously. Interspersed with these are a variation where you have to guess a "password," which consists of a timed challenge where you match the shape in the middle of the screen with one of the rotating forms in each of the corners. Finally, there are "boss levels," in which you need to compile a complex virus, piece by piece, by passing them through several holes before time runs out. Once you think you've got all that figured out, the shapes change – you start with cubes, but before too long you'll have to figure out how to manipulate structures made of pyramids, dodecahedrons, cylindrical bars, and more. Fortunately, power-ups can be used to help solve the puzzles.

    As you proceed through the challenges, more of the story unfolds. These consist of still images of Sybry, with dialogue along the left side of the screen discussing what you two are doing, and why. However, the story seems vague – are you actually traveling to different locations, or is this all happening in cyberspace? At times, it's hard to tell what's going on, and you have no control over what dialogue options you have. Really, the story is the weakest element of the game, and could be construed as largely unnecessary. The focus of the game is the puzzles. Why bother adding the story in the first place?

    In fact, the story contains the only elements to this intriguing game that mark down the moral aspects. As a computer hacker, you are infiltrating other people's systems in order to glean information and plant viruses. In fact, over the course of the story, the protagonist even goes as far as to say "we're breaking so many laws right now." But of course, this is just a game. It's not like there will be real world repercussions. Nameless government entities like [REDACTED] aren't going to start intercepting and reading your e-mail messages, right?

    Security Hole
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    One of the best aspects of the game, though, is the replay elements. You can redo any of the puzzles you've completed earlier to try to get a better score – either by solving the puzzles quicker, or avoid using the power-ups. Since the puzzles are randomly generated, it's a different challenge each time. An "endless" mode also is available, where your virus keeps getting new elements with every hole you successfully push it through. How big can your virus grow before you get it wrong?

    Aside from the 2D story elements, most of the gameplay looks like a three-dimensional artistic rendition of cyberspace, with a camera that allows you to view the object – and the hole – from all sorts of angles. The music sounds new-agey, a nice blend of soothing and frenetic depending on the puzzle, which adds to the immersion into the game.

    Altogether, Security Hole is a fun game that really gets the mental muscles working. The story elements are weak, but can easily be ignored or bypassed in order to plunge into the puzzles. Just take note that the game is about hacking security systems... and you never know who might be watching.

    – End intercepted message.

  • Sega Ages: Columns II: A Voyage Through Time (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Sega Ages: Columns II: A Voyage Through Time
    Developed by: M2
    Published by: Sega
    Release date: October 17, 2019
    Available on: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single player, online and local competitive multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: E
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you, Sega, for sending us a review key!

    I can’t prove that Columns was intended to challenge Tetris. I can’t prove that Columns I, created in 1989, was inspired by Tetris’s release onto the NES the prior year. What I can say is that the tile-falling, stack-building gameplay of Columns II: A Voyage Through Time made me think of Tetris constantly. Columns is distinctly its own game, closer to match-3 puzzlers or Puyo Puyo than the venerable block stacking giant that is Tetris. To that extent, it is an interesting experience. If you know of and are already a fan of Columns, this edition is great, and I highly recommend it. If you are interested in the direction tile-falling gameplay could have gone, then it is also worth a look. Just keep in mind that more of you know about Tetris than know about Columns, and there’s probably a reason for that.

    Columns II adds a competitive multiplayer component to Columns I, which is included with this game. The sequel also adds themed sprites and music vaguely selected from jungles, deserts, and factories of the past and future (the titular “Voyage Through Time”). Most importantly, perhaps, in Columns II the screens are not empty by default. Every level starts with flashing gems that must be cleared to move to the next. In this Sega Ages edition, every five levels unlocks a sprite of an anime-style girl from another game to view on the pause menu. If that feels odd to read, I assure you that it was odd to play a game in which the most obvious extrinsic rewards are pictures of young and slightly underdressed cartoon girls.

    Sega Ages: Columns II: A Voyage Through Time
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good presentation and options; responsive controls; includes Columns I as well; quick to restart after a game over
    Weak Points: Hard to the point of frustration at times; often reliant on luck
    Moral Warnings: Some scantily-clad anime-style characters

    Columns is played in a grid with falling multicolored pieces. Each piece is a vertical stack of three colors styled as gems, stones, or something similar. The colors can be cycled (bottom to top, middle to bottom, and top to middle) until the piece reaches the bottom. When three or more of the same color match up, they disappear and the whole stack drops to fill the gaps. If the stack reaches to the top of the grid, the game is over. The strategic implication, pointed out by the in-game manual, is that setting up diagonal lines of colors is more effective than vertical or horizontal since it moves pieces around in a wider area. The practical downside is that the game depends on randomness. There is not a lot to do with colors that don’t match any of the exposed pieces already in the stack, and three-high pieces fill up the play area quickly. I will be the first to tell you that I am not exceptionally good at Columns, and that knowledge does not shake the feeling that most levels were cleared by my luck more than my skill. In my defense, the in-game manual acknowledges that Columns is hard and suggests starting on Easy mode.

    After a game over, it is easy to hop back into a round. Columns II can certainly be compelling. That is not necessarily the same as fun, and since the piece distribution felt so random, I often did not feel like going one more round would develop more skill. Skill is involved; one can get better at Columns. But there is only so much to do with undesired blocks, and Columns is unforgiving of individual poor placements. It is hard to start from scratch half-way up the grid. Some levels start with the grid almost completely full. Skill will enable you to survive longer under those conditions, but without helpful colors in the randomly-generated pieces, it is hard to make progress downward through the stack.

    Sega Ages: Columns II: A Voyage Through Time
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Columns II is enough of a classic to receive this rerelease. As a retro game package, this Switch downloadable should be commended. It includes Columns I, keeps the original resolutions, uses original music and sprites, and even includes an old school high score table where the player gets three letters to put next to their score. It also includes an online competitive mode, though I have been unable to find an opponent. Local competitive multiplayer works well; the simple controls are perfect for the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons. The game runs well and the controls are tight. With no moral concerns aside from the anime banner girls, if one enjoys the game, this is a great way to play it.

    I could never remove that other block-falling game from my head, but perhaps that says more about me than it does about Columns II. Like I said, it is a hard game. The presentation is great and the gameplay is as solid as it ever was. Columns II is not to my taste, but it may be to yours.

  • Semblance (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Semblance
    Developed by: Nyamakop
    Published by: Good Shepherd Entertainment; Gambitious
    Genre: Adventure, Puzzle, Platformer
    Release Date: July 24 2018
    Available on: Switch, Windows, MacOs
    Number of Players: Single Player
    Rating: E for Everyone
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you to Good Shepherd Entertainment for the review copy!

    Quite often, the greatest innovations come from the smallest of companies. New ideas have always been key to success in the video game industry, where everyone always desires something new. The first game from a South African studio to arrive on the Switch, Semblance, looks to keep up this track record. It takes the idea of platforming literally, with the main action of the game being the formation of platforms. Will this create steady ground for the company, or will it simply miss its jump?

    Semblance is a game focused on the manipulation of platforms to solve puzzles. The story is very abstract, resulting in it being as malleable as the world it is set in. A crystal menace is taking over, corrupting the soft, flexible world you live in. You play as an unnamed blob, who has the ability to manipulate the terrain that he is on, in combination with his flexible body. He sets out to save the world, collecting orbs and restoring the balance of nature. Once again, there isn’t much to say about the story, as it is rather basic. If this was a design choice, it was quite subtle, yet clever. There are other parts of the story told throughout the levels, though nothing groundbreaking is revealed. While the story is cliché, it’s not the reason one should have purchased Semblance in the first place, so it’s forgivable. If one bought Semblance, they bought it for its unique gameplay.

    Semblance
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great visual style; lovely music; clever gameplay
    Weak Points: Occasional glitch left me stuck in a wall
    Moral Warnings: Minor violence, potentially disturbing plot points

    Semblance is a platformer, though I could never figure out if it should be classified as puzzle or action. It certainly blends a bit of both to create a unique experience. Hazards are dotted throughout the levels, which require skill to dodge and advance past. However, it’s nothing compared to “twitch” platformers, such as Super Meat Boy or Slime-san. In place of difficult platforming is the puzzle system of Semblance.

    In Semblance, most floors and walls have the same color. This indicates that the material can be modified through the protagonist’s powers. The blob can force floors to rise or depress, leading to many possibilities for puzzles. Later on, the blob can also flatten itself like a Frisbee, opening up many new paths. These abilities felt like Semblance‘s main progression system, as each area gradually became much more complex. The real challenge of Semblance occurred within these puzzles. While few puzzles left me stumped for too long, many puzzles often required a plethora of failures in order to find a relatively simple solution. Of course, some puzzles could be solved in multiple ways, but it seems like there is always an intended method. Immense satisfaction was always felt immediately after clearing these puzzles. I enjoyed the majority of the puzzles, simply because the idea behind them is so flexible (literally). The game was never too punishing for mistakes, so I am encouraged to always try again. Despite introducing new concepts, all the puzzles always felt like they still were made with a simple premise in mind: reshape the world. Sure, the blob can become flat or slender, but even the puzzles that use these features always focus on how players change the landscape. By always remembering the main idea, Semblance‘s puzzles managed to be creative, unique, enjoyable, and never convoluted.

    I love Semblance‘s gameplay. I feel that it never lost sight of the original concept of molding the world to win. I feel that many great games forget what made them great, instead focusing on extra fluff. While this works well in many cases, it leaves some dissatisfied with the experience. Semblance made it clear what the focus was, and stuck to it. In a sequel, I would love to see new manipulations, but still continue the idea of no new powers for the blob. Right now, I feel the difficulty curve was mostly done right, with only a few grievances here and there. This made Semblance much more fun to play than some other puzzle/action platformers, which had difficulty spikes, then stagnated. I feel that Semblance‘s gameplay had just the right difficulty, while always maintaining the original focus very well. For that reason, I love it.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Semblance‘s soundtrack and artistic choices are quite interesting. I’ll admit, at first, the simplistic style was off-putting. I assumed it would get boring extremely quickly, and would become an eyesore to play. Luckily, Semblance‘s team never intended for this in the first place, and gradually change the look of the game as the player progresses. Each world has very different background music and imagery, which is quite enjoyable to look at. Both the soft natural world and the dangerous crystalline lands are simply gorgeous, and I’m glad I didn't dismiss Semblance originally. Semblance‘s soundtrack and art style are quite fitting and well made, even if the first impression didn’t convey that.

    From a moral viewpoint, Semblance is very safe, as is expected from platformers of its nature. The minor violence in the game is neither graphic nor emphasized, so it's as safe as a Mario Brothers game. There isn't a trace of language or sexual content included. Some may be unsettled by the idea of a crystalline plague devouring the gelatinous world, but I personally didn't find much wrong with it. Semblance has a bit of an abstract storytelling style, which helped it stay morally straight throughout the entire game.

    Semblance is quite a pleasant surprise. The gameplay is definitely the highlight of the experience, being properly balanced, innovative, and simply fun. The simple concept of molding the levels turns out to be a flexible one, leading to many fun experiences. The game also sounds and looks great, using a style that grew on me as I played. There are other platformers I would recommend over it, but if you are tired of traditional platformers, Semblance may be just for you.

  • Solar Flux (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Solar Flux
    Developed By: Firebrand Games
    Published By: Firebrand Games
    Released: Oct 24, 2013 (Steam/Mobile); Dec 11, 2018 (Switch)
    Available On: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Switch, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: E for everyone
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Firebrand Games for sending us a review code!

    A solar flux can go by a few names: solar constant; solar cycle; solar irradiance (even though the latter is a bit different, but related); What it means is the measurement of solar electromagnetic radiation per unit area. Even with our Earth being around a massive 91 million miles away from the Sun, we still very clearly feel the effects, and that is because of this energy produced by that big ball of plasma.

    Now that the very brief science lesson is over—Solar Flux is an intriguing puzzle game created by Firebrand Games. The main goal of this game is to replenish the energy of the suns across various solar systems. You control a ship in zero gravity, navigating through the vast reaches of space to collect loose plasma and save the dying suns. When the game begins, it goes through a rather informative tutorial explaining the controls and mechanics such as what fuel and shields are for, as well as the methods to replenish them. If you decide to play with the Joy-Cons or standard controller, you will use the left control stick to move around and A button to use fuel, the right control stick to aim and the R button to shoot when you have plasma available. The ZL and ZR buttons are to zoom the camera in and out, and the minus button pauses the game.

    When using touch controls however, movement is inverted. Touching the screen will push the ship in the opposite direction. Touching the sun in a level will automatically have the ship fire energy in that direction. You control the camera with pinching or expanding two fingers on the screen, like a smartphone. Pausing is accomplished by touching the screen with three fingers. I personally prefer the standard controls because a game like this requires precision to get good at, which I just can’t do with touch controls. Oddly enough on the Switch, when undocked, the only choice you have for controls is for the touch screen, which was a bit annoying for me when I wanted to play the game in bed.

    Solar Flux
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Simple to play, yet challenging to master; nice aesthetics and UI
    Weak Points: Annoying sound effects; Switch version is a bit unstable, sometimes crashing when going back to the menu from a level; some levels are a bit ridiculous to three star
    Moral Warnings: The ship that you control explodes when out of fuel, out of shields, or collides with an asteroid, sun, or body

    Four galaxies in total are in Solar Flux: Helios, Oceanus, Hyperion, and Cerberus, all named after figures in mythology, specifically Greek mythology. Each galaxy has around 15 to 28 levels. Excluding the tutorial levels, each level has certain requirements to earn up to three stars. On one level, you’ll have to beat the level under a certain amount of time to earn three stars; another level may require a specific amount of fuel used (if any); another level makes it so that you may not sustain too much shield damage. There are some clever ways to complete levels such as utilizing the gravitational pulls of planets to move around and save fuel, using the solar flux of the sun to break out of a gravitational pull, and plasma shots to collect other plasma. In an interesting twist, your game is not immediately over if your ship is destroyed as long as a plasma shot is active. Some of these levels may call upon a Hail Mary pass to complete successfully—I had to rely on it a few times.

    Solar Flux has a simple approach. I personally feel that anyone can simply beat the game, given enough time and patience. There are some levels that are pretty difficult to just complete (and I see myself as someone who is bad at puzzle games), but the real challenge comes from earning three stars in all the levels. Some of these requirements are brutal or borderline obnoxious as for some levels I can’t even fathom how to earn three stars. If you earn a certain number of stars in a galaxy, three extra levels are unlocked, which are more or less the most challenging levels of said galaxy. I’ve only unlocked the extra levels for the Helios galaxy—like I said before, I’m not very good at puzzle games.

    With the game taking place in space, the background is filled with the twinkle of stars and the foreground boasts the radiance of the sun. In general, the graphical aesthetics are very nice, and the UI works well and looks clean for the touch interface. Each sun in the galaxy have a distinct color from the other galaxies. Helios is orange, Oceanus is cerulean, Hyperion is teal, and Cerberus is red. The cursor when aiming is red, which can present a problem when using standard controls as it can blend in with the orange and red in the Helios and Cerberus galaxies respectively. All galaxies have certain gimmicks attached to them, like how Hyperion has an asteroid gimmick where you only have a limited time to complete your objective before the asteroid pulverizes the sun. Cerberus on the other hand features black holes, which continuously expand and have their own gravitational effect, which may mess with your shot trajectory. The graphics and the set pieces overall look fine and do their job.

    Solar Flux
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7.5/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 2.5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Capturing the ambiance of space, there isn’t music when playing the levels, with only one notable music score in the main menu and level select, and a jingle when a level is completed. In ways, the menu music reminds me of Mass Effect’s title music.  Instead of a soundtrack, Solar Flux makes up for it with sound effects, or at least attempts to. Some of the sound effects do sound alright, like the sound effects of the sun radiation and the jet expulsions of the ship, but others are really annoying, like the asteroids in Hyperion (which is a shame because that is my favorite galaxy). Overall, I feel the sound effects do the game a disservice as most of the sounds don’t really invoke a space-like feel.

    There are a few issues in stability that I’ve came across. I noticed when completing a galaxy in docked mode, there is a completion screen that prompts the press of the A button, but it doesn’t do anything. The only way to pass it is to undock the Switch, use the touch screen controls, and then dock it again. It’s not a huge issue, but can be annoying. There is also a 1-in-4 chance that the game will crash if you exit a level back to the main menu. If you play this game in one go you'll probably never run into this issue (though it did crash on me during the final level as it had to go back to the main menu for the credits so I had to complete it a second time), but when retrying levels, I'm sure it will happen a half-dozen times. At least the levels themselves are stable and I ran into no issues when playing through them.

    I would say the only moral concern about this game is that the ship you control can explode, either by running out of fuel, sustaining too much solar radiation, or knocking into certain objects like mines or planets. The main goal is to restore dying suns so there aren't any bad guys to face and the story is kept to a bare minimum.

    Solar Flux isn’t exactly the type of game for me; I prefer a bit more action or a faster pace in my puzzle games, but I still see in its core that it is a decent game in the puzzle genre and it does have an appeal for those who seek a dexterity challenge. To 100% the game is still something way beyond my reach. For a cheap price, you can get a decent amount of hours out of it. There are control issues with the Switch version, it crashes a bit too often, and the SFX are pretty underwhelming. However, it does get the brain juices flowing, the aesthetics are pleasing, and there were a few moments that I really enjoyed. Solar Flux is safe for kids to play, but I wouldn’t buy it for a child on a whim. I would first get an understanding of the genres the kid likes to play, or see if they get frustrated easily by other games before buying it for them. If you like using your hands for precision, I would give Solar Flux a try.

  • Something Ate My Alien (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Something Ate My Alien
    Developed By: Rokabium Games
    Published By: Rokabium Games
    Released: Jun 18, 2020
    Available On: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle, Platformer
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: single player
    Price: $16.99

    Thank you, Rokabium Games, for sending us a review code!

    Something Ate My Alien... Usually, the titles of media would be the name of the main character, or an object, or a meaningful blend of words. This is just a statement, but believe me, it does make more sense in context. Something Ate My Alien (SAMA) by Rokabium Games is a 2D puzzle platformer where the main plot is that some kind of pirate alien tentacle creature hijacked your ship and is forcing you and your many alien buddies to loot planets of its resources.

    Your unwelcomed guest is not the kindest individual. It is very demanding of your services and requires a “ransom” of a specific amount of materials. The four difficulties ranging from easy to insane do change the amount of materials the pirate requires for each planet. Any items collected that the pirate does not care for or has more than enough of can be hoarded for yourself, to either upgrade your weapons or suit to make future voyages easier.

    Something Ate My Alien
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Thoughtful block-pushing puzzles; worlds are massive
    Weak Points: Can feel monotonous for some players
    Moral Warnings: Alien violence

    The player alien goes underneath the crust of the planet to gather many types of minerals, gasses, fossils, and energy. Your main weapon is a mining tool in which you will blast away the ground and you jump around with your jetpack. This mining tool is only for excavation so your starting offensive weapon is a blaster meant to fend off the creatures that lurk below. Controlling your alien is pretty simple as you move with WASD, and aim around with the mouse. (The mining tool and weapons require aiming around.) Although SAMA when first starting up recommends the usage of keyboard and mouse, it will prioritize a gamepad if plugged in. Unlike many games that immediately switch the button prompts depending on what control method you use, the display will always show gamepad prompts even when using KB+M. Fortunately, all bindings can be remapped to your choosing if the default controls are awkward.

    One of the main objectives of each planet is to collect ten tokens, because throughout your voyage you’ll come across giant serpent creatures, appropriately named “Somethings”. They will swoop by interrupting your progress every once in a while breathing fire and causing a general ruckus and can only be harmed when all ten tokens of each planet are collected. I also found out why the title is named as such, when the Something did in fact, eat my alien in one bite!

    The aforementioned tokens are acquired by completing puzzle rooms. Basically, all of the puzzles in this game will consist of pushing color-coded blocks into the correct spots. These puzzles are simple enough when starting, but they do get a bit complicated as more planets are unlocked. I enjoyed these puzzles as each world introduced new gimmicks and patterns to keep them from feeling stale.

    Something Ate My Alien
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 75%
    Gameplay 13/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound 8/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls 4.5/5

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

    SAMA puts you into a rhythm because each planet is huge in size. Your alien will dig around looking for various loot until you’re either running low on oxygen or weight capacity. Scattered throughout are teleporters to send your alien back to the ship to store any resources gathered, as well as to replenish your health and oxygen levels. This pattern will pretty much repeat right until the credits roll. Strangely enough, the gameplay loop ends up being rather relaxing, although monotonous at points. Blasting away aliens is cool with the half-dozen weapons you can use, digging and the sense of progression is there, and the atmospheric music compliments it all.

    However, on a negative note, the planets can start to feel similar to each other as enemies start to repeat patterns and the Somethings fought at the end of each planet don’t change enough to feel engaging after the second meeting. Playing for long periods of time is probably not the best choice to make unless digging and exploring is something you crave.

    Morally, there really isn’t much to scoff at. The only notable aspect is the violence. The environment and alien design do lean more towards the cartoonish side and most enemies explode in a puff of dust. Even the alien simply dissolves into particles when killed.

    Something Ate My Alien is a simple experience that may just surprise you. This adventure can take anywhere between 8 and 24 or more hours as each planet can range from 2 to 6+ hours of content depending on your playspeed. It doesn’t set out to defy the genre, but what it does, it does pretty well and is generally safe for anyone to play. If only the worlds had a bit more variety in them but taking your time to experience these underground alien worlds will prevent it from feeling too repetitive.

  • Splat The Difference (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Splat The Difference
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release Date: September 15, 2016
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of Players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $5.00

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us a review code!

    Almost everyone has played a spot the difference puzzle before and they’re fun to play in small doses.  The object is to see how many differences you can detect in two nearly identical images.  Splat the Difference utilizes the two 3DS screens perfectly by showing the original image on the top screen and the altered one on the bottom.  When you detect one of the differences, you get to splat it with paint by using the stylus on the touch screen.

    There are four game modes that can be played solo or with up to four people.  Your friends don’t have to own the game to join in, they can get it via Download Play.  The host gets to choose the game mode which includes:

    Classic – In the multiplayer mode there are nine matches to see who can spot the most of the three differences in the pictures. There is no time limit and tapping all over the place is permitted though there is a slight cool-down period between taps.   The single player mode has a time limit and tapping in an incorrect place results in losing some valuable time.  As you progress through the levels you’ll get less and less time to spot all of the differences.

    Splat The Difference
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Hundreds of pictures with changing differences to splat; download play makes it easy to play with others
    Weak Points: Some of the differences are hard to detect in time; my kids did not enjoy this game
    Moral Warnings: Halloween themed pictures

    Casual – If you don’t like being timed then this is the mode for you!  There are three differences to find at your own pace.

    Frenzy – There is only one difference and not much time to find it.  Good luck!

    Mirror – If you’re looking for a challenge, this mode is for you.  You still have to find three differences but one image is reversed.

    No matter which mode you play, there are a ton of images with various levels of details and different themes.  Some of the images are holiday themed like Halloween and Valentine’s Day while others feature architecture or luggage or cars stuffed to the brim with various objects.  Though duplicate images are possible, they have different changes made to them so it’s hard to memorize the differences.

    Splat The Difference
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

     

    Not surprisingly, the more cluttered the image, the harder it is to detect the anomalies.  There is a hint button that will point out a difference for you.  However, it has a recharge time between uses and you may not even have enough time to use it in fast paced levels.  There’s also a Refresh button, but I never figured out what its purpose was.  Pressing it just made one of the images flicker briefly.   

    The game's interface is very colorful and fits the splat theme.  The background music is pleasant to listen to and is neither memorable or annoying.  I had no problems running this game and sharing it with others.  

    While I was able to set up a multiplayer match against my son, he quickly got bored and wanted to play something else (Gotta Protectors).  Even if this game isn’t for him, I’m sure that there are many kids and adults who will enjoy this title.  The asking price is a reasonable $5 and the download play makes it easy to set up matches with those who don’t own it yet.  If you enjoy spot the difference challenges, then you should consider adding this game to your 3DS library.

     

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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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