enfrdeitptrues

Rogue-Like

  • A Robot Named Fight! (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    A Robot Named Fight!
    Developed By: Morningstar Game Studio
    Published By: Morningstar Game Studio/Hitcents.com, Inc.
    Release Date: September 7, 2017 (Steam), April 26, 2018 (Switch)
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux, Windows Store, Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Action Adventure Platformer; Roguelike Metroidvania
    Number of Players: 1-4 co-op, 2-4 players deathmatch
    ESRB Rating: T for Blood and Gore, Violence
    MSRP: $12.99

    Thank you Novy Unlimited for sending us this game to review!

    I have a love-hate relationship with Roguelikes (or Roguelites, which this game technically is, but the developers call it a Roguelike and I don't care enough to correct them). But I love Metroidvanias. So, would I find that I love this game, or hate it? After all, two out of three loves is pretty good, right? Well, my answer is yes to both. But before I get into that, I should probably explain what makes up each kind of game.

    A Roguelike is a game that take certain important aspects of a classic from the earliest days of computer gaming, called Rogue, and takes some of those critical gameplay mechanics and brings them to the modern age. While the most proper Roguelikes are turn-based, A Robot Named Fight! is not. Instead, it is a real-time action platformer. But what it does do is borrow other features, including randomly generated levels, permanent death, and some form of resource management. Personally, I find that randomly generated levels can be great fun, but I am far from a fan of permanent death, despite understanding why it's done.

    A Metroidvania is a genre that has been made popular via the two founding franchises that make up the name: Metroid and Castlevania. Almost all Metroid games provide the template that A Robot Named Fight! clearly borrows from. The Castlevania side refers to the later 2D entries, not the original NES and SNES level-based classics. These games make use of mechanics where areas are initially locked out, but as you gain skills and power, you can return to earlier areas with your newfound abilities and access those areas. It's a very enjoyable gameplay loop that has formed the basis for some of my favorite games of all time.

    A Robot Named Fight!
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Mechanics that work well; nice music and sound effects; 16-bit style graphics that work well; great value for the money; no two playthroughs are ever the same; deathmatch and co-op can be fun
    Weak Points: You have to like the compromises that Roguelikes offer to get the most out of this game
    Moral Warnings: Lots of blood and gore, and blood can only go from 'high' to 'low'; lots of fleshy creatures will be shot and killed by your robot

    A Robot Named Fight! is a 2D, side-scrolling action-adventure platformer with completely randomized levels, and if you die, that's it - game over. You have to start all over again from the very beginning, and what you learned last game is basically for nothing, as the map this time will almost certainly be totally different. You play the game as (you guessed it) a robot named Fight, and your job is to defeat the Megabeast and its many fleshy spawn. You start with a simple blaster on your arm, and as you find upgrades, you can do more damage, move faster, gain special abilities, and so on. Each time you kill an enemy, there is one less meat-based creature in the world; the blood on the walls as well as the chunks rolling everywhere prove that your mission is for the good of the robots.

    The environment and high-quality pixel art clearly take a majority of its influences from the classic game Super Metroid. The atmosphere is dark and brooding, with lots of darker colors that make up the world you get to explore. The layout of the game world, especially the doors between levels, looks like something right out of Metroid. I personally don't find the blatant borrowing of ideas from a classic like Metroid much of a problem, but if you prefer more original ideas in that sense, look elsewhere.

    My experience with this game is a bit of a roller coaster. At first, I didn't really like it, which is why I put it down for a while. It seemed like a Metroid clone, that was perhaps a bit too close to the source material. But I died a lot. I picked it up again a bit later, and I started to see the good in it. While the obstacles are somewhat common, I found it interesting that the randomizer may choose to offer you a different way to get past them. In one run, you may get the slide skill to go under small spaces. In another, you might get arachnomorph, that turns you into a spider to crawl under them. In others, you may simply have to find another way around. These same types of adjustments apply to blast doors, tall corridors, and so on. The game usually provides a way out, but at the same time, I have occasionally found myself completely stuck with no way out; restarting was my only recourse. I was more than a little upset when that happened.

    When you die, that's it. If you got far enough or the random number generator was kind enough, you may find that you unlock new enemies, bosses, weapons, items, powerups, or even entire regions for a next playthrough. So the variety of the game continuously increases the more you play. It's a neat system, but also simultaneously my biggest frustration with it.

    A Robot Named Fight!
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I don't mind that the levels are generated. I think that's great! I don't mind that the weapons and powerups also change each time. I love that, too. But what I don't like is that there is no option or difficulty level where death does not mean a game over. While I am far from unskilled, I also don't have the patience or twitch reflexes that I may have had twenty-five years ago. (Yes, I have been gaming for a long, long time.) So when I make a stupid mistake and have to start completely over, it is more than a little irritating. While it is possible to discover a single-use save spot, and that helps, I would say 9/10 times I end up needing it within just a few minutes of discovering it. Why? Because the game tends to drop those just before massive difficulty spikes. Oh, and speaking of spikes, I tend to die from those far more often than actual enemies.

    My game playing style has tended to be more about perseverance rather than pure outright skill. I make it through difficult boss fights by keeping at it, trying over and over, until I finally figure out the patterns and make it. I conquer challenging platform segments by pushing through it with no fear until I finally make it to the other side. This game, and games like it, punish behavior that most other games reward. I get that change can be good, and in a way it's great to take a different approach. But for this older gamer, I just don't have it in me anymore. I officially hate Roguelikes with permadeath. There. I said it. If I can't learn from my mistakes and try it again, I don't want to have anything to do with this kind of game anymore.

    A Robot Named Fight! is a good game that, for me, the bad of permadeath outweighs the otherwise very good gameplay. But I know for a fact that other gamers I know well will absolutely love it. I always enjoyed my time playing it, but the fact that I will likely never beat it means that I doubt I'll play this game very much ever again, which makes me sad. When I found out that it was made by a single developer all by himself, it was even more impressive to find out what he's done. It is very bloody and gory, but otherwise, the appropriateness is common to other action games. I just hope that losing all your progress each time you play won't drive up your blood pressure, or add foul language to an otherwise clean game!

  • Arboria (PC) (Preview)

     

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    Game Info:

    Arboria
    Developed By: Dreamplant
    Published By: All in! Games
    Released: May 7, 2020 (Early Access)
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action, Role-Playing, Rogue-lite
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: single player
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you, All in! Games, for sending us a preview code!

    The first thing that really sticks out in a game like this is its art style. Arboria is a fantasy Action Role-Playing Rogue-lite created by Dreamplant currently in Early Access but unlike other forms of fantasy, the world of Arboria is pretty dark and gritty. The characters themselves called themselves the trollz. They are these realistic-looking creatures with rough spikes on their bodies and can range from dull red, blue, gray, and green colors. It’s safe to say that the Trollz are quite grotesque in looks with their beady or bug eyes and oversized jaws. All of the characters and creatures are icky. Typically ugly characters would turn the average person away immediately, but not me. I guess you could say I have an appreciation for the “attractively-challenged.”

    Starting, Arboria throws you in a tutorial as the character, Gabbok. You’ll go through the ropes on how the game controls. Whether you choose a controller or keyboard+mouse is up to you, but both methods work just fine. However, the default camera movement for keyboard+mouse is inverted so keep that in mind when starting out. People who are familiar with or have played the Dark Souls series or similar titles will feel right at home with it, with movement, attacking, dodging, and even healing feeling similar in execution. There are some differences such as the lack of a stamina meter and your “magic” recharges automatically. With that being said, it all takes place within the 3D third-person perspective where the camera is of medium distance. Enough where you can see your character and a decent amount of the environment—but obscures your field of view enough so that enemies can blindside you.

    In a twist, Gabbok is not the main character of the adventure—he is actually one of the villains. After putting on a piece of headgear of unknown origin, he went mad and abandoned Rata, his fairy companion, to dive deeper into the depths of Durnar. Now it is up to another Yotun warrior to go after him. The Trollz species are a strange-looking bunch as they are already born as adults, with an even stranger dialect (anything with an 's' is pronounced as a 'z'). All of the Trollz have these vein-like lines on their rocky skin. An interesting thing to note is that the creatures of Durnar have these blue lines, but as they near death, these lines will turn red. Durnar itself has a bunch of overgrown wildlife deep in its uncharted territories, while the village of the Trollz has a more primitive setting. They are smarter than they appear as they utilize high technology to an extent.

    The rogue-lite elements come into play when you enter the hub world and venture deeper into Durnar's randomly-generated rooms and floors. The hub world is where you get to choose one of three Yotun, each having specific traits. Some can be beneficial such as increased health or resistance. Others can be not so useful such as blurred vision. Sometimes, the ones with detrimental traits do have higher stats so it may just be worth the risk of choosing them. After your character is chosen, you can walk around the hub world but most things will stay locked until you progress a bit into the depths.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Responsive combat; good progression system that makes you feel stronger
    Weak Points: Collision issues with certain interactables; lack of feedback when getting hit or damaged by most attacks or traps
    Moral Warnings: Blood and violence—most of it green while the bloodstains on certain pieces of armor are red; your fairy companion, Rata, is stark-naked (however nothing in detail is shown); the world of Durnar is possibly one of Norse mythology as the warriors of the Trollz species are called Yotun, and the “goal” of the Yotun is to defeat Jormund the great serpent; language ranging from “a*s” to an F-bomb

    Swinging your weapons does feel slow and a bit clunky at first, but takes little time to get used to, especially if you’ve played “Souls-like” games before. Three different weapons ranging from the wide swinging sword, the jack-of-all-trades axe, and the precision-striking scythe, means there is a playstyle that fits everyone. There are also three different secondary weapons that act as utility. If you need more evasive measures with a teleport, more defenses with a shield, or just a way to keep enemies off of you with shockwaves, you'll learn to rely on them. Besides the rouge-lite elements, what makes it stand out from the rest is how it uses its dodge mechanic. When you realize that every action your character takes can be canceled into your dodge is when things start to feel less restrictive and more fluid. Then, when you realize that after dodging you can resume your combo chain is the exact moment when fighting feels engaging.

    You’ll come across nasty wasps that spit acid and aggressively sting at you, quadruped beasts with long tongues, and bipedal monsters that love to get close to you. Keeping the tempo of attacking and dodging is great and with weapons that all feel different, there are many ways to approach battles. There is even an elemental system that takes place in the combat with the elements being red/fire, blue/Ice, and green/bio. It’s nothing more than rock paper scissors (bio beats fire, which beats ice, which beats bio), although every piece of equipment can have an element attached to it, and bringing the right element(s) in battle does make a noticeable difference.

    One thing, however, that bothers me about the combat is the lack of feedback from getting hit. Most of my deaths were simply me failing to realize that I was actually getting hurt, especially from the traps. I get that traps are hard to notice (at first) and do what they are supposed to do, but when my first ever death was caused by a trap, I was left completely dumbfounded as it wasn’t even registering in my brain that I was getting hurt, let alone even activated a trap. This also extends to enemy hits as most of their attacks won’t even make you flinch, but half of them take chunks out of your health. Only the biggest hits with the longest windup give off noticeable feedback. Even if it was as simple as numbers appearing above my character's model would be good enough. A very stark contrast as when enemies are hit they flinch, numbers appear over their heads and there are distinct visual cues.

    Now with Arboria being a rogue-lite, you’re expected to live, die, and repeat. Veri is the resource used to give you permanent upgrades—gained from killing enemies or by breaking blue structures. Breaking as many Veri structures as you can is important because it pleases the "godz" and the more they are pleased, the better stats or beneficial traits your next Yotun will have. With every floor completed, you can store away your Veri to use in the hub world. If you die, A huge chunk or even all the Veri you didn’t store away is lost for good. Veri can be used to give you an extra edge such as unlocking an extra slot for your primary and secondary weapon and even giving you a bigger chance of having rarer weapons spawn. Combined with this aspect are the roots found in the levels. If you heal a root by defeating enemies or by surviving a specific amount of time, you’ll unlock more NPCs in the village and abilities.

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

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay 16/20
    Graphics 8/10
    Sound 6/10
    Stability 4/5
    Controls 5/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence 6.5/10
    Language 6/10
    Sexual Content 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 8.5/10

    When delving through the floors, you’ll come across weapons and armor with varying stats. Some weapons have special effects like giving you increased speed, doing more damage when enemies have lower health, and armor-piercing properties to name a few. When you do manage to complete floors, you can increase your stats (the main stats being toughness/health, strength/primary weapon, and focus/secondary). These main stats also have sub stats such as break which determines how well you can stagger enemies and resistance, which decreases the time debuffs last on you.

    As with it being an Early Access title, there are some glitches and bugs present. Thankfully, most of them are simply annoying instead of being game-breaking, and are hard to replicate. An example of a bug is the game confusing an item as a form of equipment and refusing to let you pick it up. Another is the inability to use your secondary weapon even if you have one equipped. I’m not too sure if this one is a bug but sometimes the collision detection when trying to destroy blue structures to gain Veri fails to interact properly. Many sound effects are also missing such as the sound for destroying breakable walls. (It is planned for the full release to have fully voiced roles and I’m sure with that will come with the rest of the missing sound effects if they are not added earlier.)

    Even though Arboria in its current state (as of this review) lacks a narrative, there are more moral warnings than one would think. There is the obvious blood and violence even if it is of the fantasy variety. Many characters don’t wear clothing but the female characters, such as your fairy companion also have more defined features to her model (although nothing graphic). There’s also some language dropped in the equipment and trait descriptions. A mild one being “a*s” when describing the shockwave weapon (which also counts as crude humor) and a strong one being the F-bomb when talking about the “bald and beautiful” trait. There is also a possibility that Durnar is based on Norse mythology as the Troll warriors are called Yotun and that one of the main reasons for going descending into the depths is to gain enough experience to defeat Jormund the great serpent. Jormund can also be a reference to or even Jörmungandr himself, the Midgard Serpent.

    In the back of my head, Arboria was always reminding me about another franchise but I couldn’t pinpoint it until I started playing it. Strangely, I get reminded of the Oddworld series, with the unsightly character, the mixture of technology and fantasy nature, and how the Trollz are goofballs. As they send their warriors down under, they dance and dab and generally have silly animations. The shaman that even sends you on your way can be a bit of a jerk as he sometimes spartan kicks you down the hole or pushes you down there against your will.

    There is a lot of potential to be had with Arboria. The combat is super solid and the graphics are good (even if the character designs are very subjective—I personally like them). There isn’t a whole lot of content or enemy variety at the moment, but Dreamplant and All in! Games plan on adding more of everything, with a full release sometime in 2021. There are more moral concerns than it seems so keep mindful of that too. It may on the surface look like yet-another-Souls-Clone trying to fill the void but within the depths are mechanics and features that let it stand out on its own. If you ever wanted your Souls-like experience to have a bit more “permadeath”, stay aware of Arboria.

  • Archero (iOS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Archero
    Developed & Published By: Habby
    Released: May 13, 2019
    Available on: Android, iOS
    Genre: Rogue-Lite, Action
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Number of Players: Single Player
    Price: Free, contains ads, Offers in-app purchases

    Having always been a fan of the rogue-lite genre, e.g. Binding of Isaac, Faster than Light, and Dead Cells, I was intrigued by this game from the get-go. I'm not usually one who enjoys the mobile gaming experience, but I made an exception for this little gem. What particularly intrigued me was the concept of combining abilities together in order to make them more powerful than what they were before combining.

    Archero (yes they really just combined Archer and Hero to come up with the name!) starts out about the same as every other rogue-lite. There's very little story and it thrusts you into the gameplay. As is typical in this genre, you will die a lot as you learn what enemies do and what abilities do. The reason it works on mobile (I played on the iOS version) is because while you are moving you cannot shoot. This limitation on the player actually increases the enjoyment because you're constantly assessing whether or not to stay still and damage the enemy, or should you move to avoid that projectile coming towards you. It's a fantastic blend of risk/reward that works perfectly for mobile touch screen controls.

    There are a number of worlds, with between 30-40 stages in each one. After completing 10, you must fight a random boss. Reaching the final stage, you fight the world boss. Every enemy defeated drops some experience and the possibility of spare health. Once the room is cleared, you gather all the experience together to level up. Every level up presents the opportunity to choose 1 of 3 random abilities (there are 58 abilities in the entire game). These abilities range from giving you more damage the lower your health gets to 2 flame orbs circling around you. Some of them affect the arrows you shoot like causing your hits to shoot out lightning and hit random enemies, which could be combined with the ricochet ability (arrows bounce between enemies). A combination like this can provide a large amount of AoE damage from a single point of attack.

    Archero
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Clever use of mobile phone controls; Strategic positioning
    Weak Points: Punishing difficulty curve in later levels
    Moral Warnings: Cartoonish violence; main character dies often

    As you progress, enemies have a chance to drop equipment which further boosts your power. This equipment will always have a base effect, like -10% damage taken. If you upgrade it to the epic version (3 of the same level/type to upgrade), it'll gain an even more powerful ability, like dealing damage and freezing enemies that hit you. Unfortunately, this appears to be the main method of monetization in the game. I personally got to world 5, and had only wore about 50% blue equipment. I hit a hard wall in terms of difficulty, and I decided that was the end of my Archero career.

    Whenever you die (and you will die often), the game pops up with a congratulations message. It then tells you how you did compared to the rest of the playerbase. Personally, I found this very compelling to see how much further I got than the rest of the playerbase. I ended at getting further than 82% of the rest of the players. A solid B-, I'll take it!

    Even though you die often, the game never makes a big deal about it. There is no blood. The avatar falls over dead, and the enemies just poof out of existence. There are times when you're fighting skeletons, demons, and dragons though. If you complete a boss without taking damage, a devil appears to make a deal with you. You can choose to sacrifice a percentage of your life for a very powerful ability. I get what they were trying to do (deal with the devil), but the symbolism of it did make my moral radar go off.

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Progression happens outside the active gameplay too. You can level up based on the experience that you received while progressing in the active game, and once you level you receive a random talent point. It could be a certain amount of health, a % of greater damage, or other things. You also receive a small amount of the in-game currency, gems, whenever you level up.

    This brings me to the biggest critique of the game. It runs the typical free-to-play model where the difficulty curve ramps up significantly in world 5. The best way to progress is to acquire more equipment. Equipment drops very rarely in the world, so the game encourages you to spend gems on Obsidian chests (1 free a week) for the chance at getting a better piece of equipment. However, there's no way to gain more gems except by leveling up or with the credit card. Sadly, this is where I started to lose interest in the game. When I feel like I'm "forced" to spend money to progress in an otherwise fun game, I decide not to.

    All in all, Archero is a fantastic little gem of a game that will provide someone with hours of entertainment. It's easy to pick up, but provides enough difficulty to keep people coming back for more. It can be played 30 seconds during the coffee line or for an hour if you have time.

  • Atomic Heist (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Atomic Heist
    Developed By: Live Aliens
    Published By: Live Aliens
    Released: April 19, 2018
    Available On: Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Action, Roguelike
    ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ for fantasy violence
    Number of Players: single player
    Price: $7.99

    *Advertising disclosure* - After this review was posted, Black Shell Media became an advertising partner.  This review is not influenced by this relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us the review code!

    Atomic Heist is another entry to the expanding roguelike genre. At this point, there are probably too many to name off of the top of anyone's head as there always seems to be one that releases every month. Roguelikes are rarely known for their story or narrative, but Atomic Heist’s plot begins with the Rhaokyn alien race attacking and overtaking the Hyperion-Six station. They want the atomic core for themselves and its up to you to escape with it in one piece.

    Atomic Heist is a twin-stick 2D top-down shooter with randomly-generated levels. It begins with a tutorial explaining the controls and mechanics. Both the keyboard and mouse controls feel responsive—although if you happen to play this on a PC, make sure that only one controller is plugged in. With two or more controllers plugged into a PC, the game becomes rather unresponsive if controller options are enabled. The mechanics are pretty simple with your primary fire consisting of the type of ammo you start with or pick up in the levels. Your secondary fire uses your alternate weapons, which by default is an atomic bomb that detonates after a few seconds. Within the levels contain various weapons that can be swapped with each other such as napalm shots that explode with an area of effect and splinter shots which shoot one bullet that splits into eight after it reaches a certain distance. Enemies are resistant to certain weapon types while being weak to others so it is encouraged to switch weapons. Fortunately, you can hold two weapons at a time.

    Your ship starts off in a bunker where you get the option to choose a perk to start with where most of them have beneficial and detrimental features. For one example, one perk can let you obtain more ammo per pick up but gives enemies 20% more health. It is best to start with the perk that enables your HUD as that has no downsides to it. The second option is to choose the weapon type and ship you start with. All weapons have a description of what enemy it is strong and weak against. All ships have different stats such as hit points, speed, and ability points. The ability points are relevant for the following screen as you allocate your points to specific attributes such as more starting health or ammo, or special abilities such as hacking computers. These abilities can range from one to four ability points. There is a level up system and with each level gained, a new ability is obtained. The last option is for the daily challenge where you go through the game with a predetermined ship and perks/abilities.

    Atomic Heist
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Loads of perks and power-ups to choose from; a good amount of replay value for the price
    Weak Points: Basic level design and aesthetics; some frustrating deaths that feel like nothing could have been done; some stability issues such as distorted sounds and controller options bugging out
    Moral Warnings: Ships are attacked and they can blow up

    Once you’re thrown into battle, the objective is to go through ten levels and defeat the final boss while enemies such as ramming types, shielding types, and pulsing types impede your progress. For every three levels, a boss appears and just like standard enemies these bosses are resistant and weak to certain weapon types. You can go through the levels without destroying all the ships, and can even skip some levels by blowing up “glitched” walls. Sometimes it is best to defeat all the enemies in a level because the next level (unless it is the tenth and final level) will grant you the option to choose a perk as you did at the beginning. Due to the wide variety of weapons, shooting can feel pretty tense as enemies with different strengths and weaknesses will start to funnel towards you. Swapping constantly between weapons, alternate weapons, and even fire rate makes Atomic Heist feel strategic as you plot how to take out these groups of enemies safely.

    The health system is pretty unique as it recharges over time, but also slowly depletes due to your ship carrying a radioactive core. Represented by green, grey, and blue—the green health is the health you currently have, the grey is the health that can be recovered over time, and the blue is the unrecoverable health. Being hit constantly also contributes to the blue part of the health bar. If a radiation symbol is picked up, it can turn that blue part into grey recoverable health. I am fond of this mechanic as it encourages you to not stick around a level for too long or to not get hit by enemies too often.

    Death comes rather easily in Atomic Heist, especially compared to other roguelikes (that I have played). Damage from enemies are high, and there are some perks with the downside of being hurt by the flames of the charred wreckage left by the enemy ships. Later in the levels are mines that can even come close to one-shotting your ship. Combine this with the lack of invincibility frames (unless you’ve obtained a certain perk), certain weapons dealing self-harm, and tight corridors, dying in less than a second was a pretty common occurrence for me to the point of frustration. Sometimes it just felt like there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. It does get slightly better when you’re able to obtain more perks, power-ups, and ships.

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

    Game Score - 71%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 3.5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    The graphics and sound design aren’t really anything special. Even with the randomly generated levels, some generated levels can feel similar due to the average aesthetics. Neither one will be winning awards anytime in the future. They are there for the sake of being there—nothing more, nothing less.

    Interesting enough for a game that is available for a console, Atomic Heist gave me a lot of trouble when trying to enable a controller. Certain buttons wouldn’t work, some buttons would do a different action, and movement was all over the place. I later found out the problem was due to having two controllers plugged in. Some parts would also make my sound drivers freak out as a notification would constantly pop up saying that my audio device was unplugged. Within the mechanics, there is a rather strange interaction between these sliding walls. Sometimes you’ll simply clip out of them and at other times, they drag you along and instakill you. Other than those, I didn’t come across any crashes.

    Morally, the only thing I noticed was the typical ship-on-ship violence. The ships blow up. Nothing about the story sticks out as it is pretty minimal in itself.

    I did get more enjoyment out of Atomic Heist than I first assumed I would. In many ways, the game reminded me of Nuclear Throne, another twin-stick roguelike. There were many deaths that frustrated me, but it did want me to play more as the mechanics are solid on their own. The wide variety of options in ships, perks, and weapons make multiple playthroughs feel warranted. The progression system is also nice and some of the ways ships are unlocked are pretty clever and cryptic (that hacking ability really comes in handy for unlocking some of them).

    People who are very familiar with roguelikes can get a lot of mileage out of Atomic Heist so I can safely recommend it to fans of the genre. The cheap price might be tempting to newcomers, but the irritating deaths and basic aesthetics may not be the best introduction for many. Atomic Heist could be better with some more polishing but as of right now, it is a pretty good game.

  • Blazing Beaks (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Blazing Beaks
    Developed by: Applava
    Published by: Applava
    Release date: May 10, 2019
    Available on: Switch, Windows
    Genre: Rogue-like
    Number of players: Up to four locally
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy violence and mild blood
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Applava for sending us this game to review!

    Applava has been making mobile games for several years and Blazing Beaks is their first PC and Switch entry. Although I haven’t played their previous titles, I am enjoying this fowl based one. Upon launching Blazing Beaks you’ll be prompted to choose between the Story and Tournament modes. There is also a log option which will show you the stats for all of your previous attempts. Information about the artifacts, bosses, and enemies encountered are also recorded for your convenience.

    The Tournament mode has all of the different game modes available for local and co-op play. There’s Deathmatch (last beak standing, wins), One Gun (each player is given one random gun), Drop hearts (players drop hearts when hurt and others can collect them), Skull Keeper (A player must find and hold onto the skull for the longest time to win, other players will gradually lose hp), and Hunting (Each player is equipped with a spear that has to be reclaimed after throwing it). A random mode is also available to keep the gameplay a surprise.

    Co-op is also possible in the story mode. The default/Normal mode has randomly generated levels available to play in three difficulties (Easy, Normal, Hard). The Seeded mode lets you play the same levels over and over again, but most of the unlockables are not available. If you’re online, you can partake in the daily challenge to see who can get the furthest on the same seed with only one try/life.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of game modes; local multiplayer; addicting gameplay
    Weak Points: No online multiplayer
    Moral Warnings: Blood and Violence

    To keep with the title’s theme, each of the characters has a beak and different starting abilities. In the beginning you have five characters with others that can be unlocked as you progress in the Story mode. The characters have between 2 and 5 health points to start with but that can be increased during the game. The starting weapons vary as well and include pistols, snowball cannons, laser guns, and more.

    Once a character is chosen, they will be deployed and will have to eliminate all of the enemies on a level before the exit unlocks to advance to the next one. Some enemies will drop hearts to replenish health, or gold coins to upgrade weapons at the store. The relic system is what sets Blazing Beaks apart from other rogue-likes. Collected cursed items can be traded in at the store for beneficial ones. The hard part is surviving with the negative attributes until locating the store.

    The store entrances are indicated by a lantern hanging out in front of them. The boss levels have a unique entrance as well. Some doors are locked and can only be unlocked if you have a key handy. Defeating bosses will usually leave behind keys and other valuable loot. Steam achievements are also earned for defeating them.

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

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Bosses are not the only way to take damage in this game. There are spikes that come up from the ground along with enemies that are invisible until they are ready to attack. Some enemies explode or leave behind harmful pools of acid upon their demise. Your character is not the only one with the capability to shoot projectiles so you’ll need to watch out for incoming projectiles.

    The retro visuals make this game small and run really well on machines with onboard graphics chips. The pixel art is cute and each area and enemy is unique and adequately detailed.

    Although it’s not super memorable, there is a soundtrack available on Steam for $4.99. There is a game + soundtrack bundle available too. The quacks and squawking sound effects are fitting and cute.

    I’ve played this game with a keyboard/mouse and with a controller. I highly recommend the latter.

    If you enjoy bird-like creatures and platypuses, I highly recommend checking Blazing Beaks out. The gameplay is fresh and fun and makes you want to try again “one more time”. It’s a great game to play with family and friends, but there’s plenty to do by yourself as well.

  • Creekside Creep Invasion (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Creekside Creep Invasion
    Developed by: Ouch Giver Games
    Published by: Ouch Giver Games
    Released: October 11, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Number of Players: Single player
    Genre: Rogue-lite Action
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Ouch Giver Games for sending us this game to review!

    Creekside Creep Invasion is an 80’s Halloween themed 8-bit rogue-lite twin-stick shooter PC game by Ouch Giver Games, an indie company. You play as Squirt, a kid who lives in downtown Creekside. He is having a hard time sleeping through the night after Halloween because of a whirring sound outside. Sure enough, looking outside he sees a dozen creeps with glowing red eyes all walking in the same direction. Squirt decides to go investigate and finds that they are attracted to an antenna next to a man in a white lab coat. The man seems to be controlling the creeps with the antenna. Your goal in each section is to destroy all three antennas, but I haven’t managed to get past even the first section. There are five sections including Downtown, Suburbs, Carnival, and Cemetery areas.

    You start the first section with 100 health and 100 stamina in a convenience store without much of a tutorial. In the convenience store you can buy various upgrades including power-ups, health-ups, mystery boxes, and costumes (each with a unique special ability), which will all go away once you die. Once you step out of the Mini Mart you start in, you can’t go back in, and you will have to fight off the creeps that will be chasing you or shooting you. You cannot progress in the level until you have defeated all of the creeps in that area. These said “creeps” include Halloween figures such as vampires, mummies, skeletons, zombies, and ghosts.

    To kill creeps, you must shoot them with whatever gun and ammo type you have on hand. Ammo types include random things like eggs, TNT, bowling balls, and water ballons. Guns and ammo types are randomized, meaning you have no say in what you get, and when you run out of ammo, you are automatically replenished with a different one. In my opinion, this feature is not my favorite, because several ammo types are useless. With the TNT ammo type, I find it difficult to kill flying enemies, because the bombs stay in place while the enemies will continue to advance toward you. 

    Creekside Creep Invasion
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay; perk-based armor; soundtrack is free; supports Steam Cloud; 48 Steam achievements
    Weak Points: Randomized weapons and ammo, several ammo types are useless
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence 

    Once you do end up killing creeps, you’ll notice that their blood is green. But when you die, your character turns red. Even after you die, enemies will continue to fire at you until you restart. Sometimes when you kill creeps, they will drop loot. Loot in this title can be money and power-ups.

    There are two ways you can play this game. Mouse and keyboard (WASD to move, mouse to aim, left-click to fire, right-click to do special attack) and with the gamepad/controller (left stick to move, right stick to aim, and triggers for regular fire and special attacks). You can check the armor you are wearing with B button or Tab. I personally prefer playing it with a controller.

    The music changes between a few songs each time you step out of the Mini Mart you start in. Though the quality of it isn’t the best, it fits the 8-bit theme quite well, and since the soundtrack is free, I think it’s worth getting.

    I feel the same way when I look at the graphics. They are very colorful, but rather low in detail, which again, compliments the 8-bit feel you get from Creekside Creep Invasion.

    Creekside Creep Invasion
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Health replenishment is very hard to find outside of the convenience store. You may find health power-ups in trash cans or by receiving a mystery box with a health-up inside. When you level up in this game, you will receive a mystery box (and a Steam achievement most likely), which may include many different things. Only if you find a health-up will you be able to regain health in this game.

    I found Creekside Creep Invasion to be a very fun (yet difficult) title! However, I also found a bug. Once I had stepped out of the Mini Mart, I backed into the wall behind me so I could more easily avoid some bullets hurling toward me, and my character became stuck outside of the map and I couldn’t see my character. I got out eventually, and it didn’t happen again. But as I continued to play, I noticed that it would freeze occasionally, which isn’t normal on a computer like mine, especially running a game like that. Once it froze my PC to the point where I had no choice but to shut it down.

    Other than that though, I would recommend this title to anybody looking for a fun rogue-lite twin-stick PC game. To be honest, rogue-lite games aren’t my favorite. But I still found this title fun, and to anyone looking for a fun rogue-lite game I would recommend Creekside Creep Invasion.

  • Curious Expedition (Xbox One)

     

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    Game Info:

    Curious Expedition
    Developed by: Maschinen-Mensch
    Published by: Thunderful Publishing AB
    Release date: September 2, 2016 (PC) April 3, 2020 (Consoles)
    Available on: Linux, macOS, PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
    Genre: Rogue-Like
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, drug references, use of alcohol, violence
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Thunderful Games for sending us a review code!

    Curious Expedition is the debut title from Maschinen-Mensch which released as a very positively rated Early Access game on Steam in 2015 and fully released a year later. The sequel is currently in Early Access with mostly positive reviews. Console gamers can now enjoy the first entry of this series, though there's no word on if the sequel will be available as well.

    The premise is simple: you must survive in randomly generated expeditions and try to make it to the golden pyramid to increase your fame. Naturally, there are some gotchas to make this game tough as nails. The map slowly reveals itself as you explore and there’s no telling where towns, caves, temples, and enemies are. The biggest kicker is that as you travel, your party loses their sanity. To offset the effects of travel you can stay at villages, churches, drink whiskey, or eat some food. As party members lose their collective marbles, they will begin to bicker and argue and the spats may turn violent or deadly.

    Surviving six expeditions is quite challenging, but you’re not alone. Some of the greatest minds from the 19th century are available to lead your party! Each character has a unique set of traits that sets them apart from the others. Not everyone is available at the beginning so you’ll have to unlock many of them as you venture forth and make a name for yourself.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Randomly generated expeditions; good variety in characters and abilities
    Weak Points: Not a fan of the retro pixel art; challenging
    Moral Warnings: Characters may go insane and do violent acts including cannibalism; you can steal artifacts from temples; various tribal and occult religions represented along with Christian missionaries; alcohol consumption; homosexual relationships; playable characters include Charles Darwin and Aleister Crowley; undead creatures

    Some of the characters I recognized include Charles Darwin, Nikola Tesla, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, and Aleister Crowley. Keep in mind that some characters do better in certain terrains than others and they all have different starting equipment. With the completion of each expedition, you can choose between a few traits to further enhance them for as long as you can keep them alive. Once your party dies, it’s game over and you’ll have to start over from the beginning.

    When you launch the game, you’ll start off with a quick tutorial to show you the basics. Once that’s finished you’ll get to select your fearless leader, choose your destination, and embark on your adventure. When your boat docks you’ll have an option to fill/refill your water. Don’t forget to do this! If you have any gold, you’ll also be able to purchase some supplies like food, torches, rope, dynamite, shovels, machetes, fireworks, climbing gear, etc. Don’t stock up on too much as carrying too many supplies will over-burden and slow down your party.

    Before leaving the ship, you’ll have an opportunity to take on a quest for delivering a letter, retrieving someone’s wife, or defeating some sort of threatening creature. You’ll also get to choose a fellow shipmate to join your party. While you’re ultimately searching for the golden pyramid, you should try and stop at various towns to rest, trade, and recruit more party members. However, before you can do any of those, you’ll often have to gain their trust first. Giving away precious supplies usually wins them over. When staying at a village you’ll often be asked your thoughts on polygamy or equality or supremacy of the two genders. Your responses will impact your relationship with the town.

    Looting temples will hurt your relationship with nearby villages. Though the riches will give you gold and fame, they come with dire consequences as the nearby terrain becomes unstable due to various natural disasters. Along with natural disasters, you’ll have to contend with aggressive and territorial creatures who can be distracted with fireworks if you have them on hand.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay: 15/20
    Graphics: 5/10
    Sound: 8/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 72%
    Violence: 7/10
    Language: 10/10
    Sexual Content: 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 8/10

    Battles are done by rolling dice. You can save the rolls you like and re-roll the others to form offensive or defensive moves. Running is always an option, but you may drop some valuable items as you make your getaway.

    Pixelated blood is shown, but many of the gruesome details are handled in the dialogue. As you travel, your party will come down with various injuries and sicknesses. Other scenarios like helping your party members engage in same-sex relationships may happen. Sometimes a party member will want to leave and you can let them or battle to have them stay. Various religions are depicted as you will escort Christian missionaries, defile temples, or have Aleister Crowley (occultist) lead your party.

    The pixelated graphics are a mixed bag. The backdrops look really well done, but the near-stick figure characters remind me of Commodore 64 era games. I like the hand-drawn art direction of the sequel much better.

    I have no complaints on the audio front. The chiptune background music is fitting and catchy. Also, the sound effects and background noises are well done.

    With the randomization and unlockable characters, this title is bound to entertain (or frustrate if you’re not good at it) for hours. It’s an interesting premise, but I’m not a fan of some of the historical figures present and the ideals they represent.

  • Deathstate: Abyssal Edition (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Deathstate: Abyssal Edition
    Developed By: Bread Machine Games
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: October 20, 2015
    Available On: Windows, macOS, PS4
    Genre: Twin-Stick Shooter, Rogue-like
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, blood, and crude humor
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $9.99

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for sending over a key for review!

    Deathstate is a twin-stick shooter rogue-like with heavy Lovecraftian themes. Although calling it a twin-stick might be the wrong wording because the core mechanic is that you don’t press any buttons to shoot. With the removal of a focus on shooting, the game is designed around careful maneuvering and positioning.

    As usual with the genre, you’ll be running around in random dungeons collecting loot, killing enemies, and dying repeatedly. There are 12 floors with a boss fight every 4 floors. Each floor is pretty large, chock full of enemies, shops, and other things to mess with. The level generation is varied enough, but nothing special. The enemy variation is good enough; there are usually 3 or 4 enemy types in each zone. The powerups you can pick up are the most interesting part of the game. Runs end up pretty different from each other not in level generation or gameplay loop, but the items you come across.

    In Deathstate, you don’t need to press a button to shoot your weapons. Your character will automatically shoot at enemies within range. With that in mind, the developers were able to ramp up the amount of dodging needing to be done. Most enemies shoot some small bullet pattern, and most of the time there will be some sort of bullet coming towards you. This doesn’t end up being a problem, because you don’t even need to think about shooting back. This can either be seen as something interesting and new, or as a hindrance. Sometimes the character will shoot at an enemy that you aren’t as worried about, and you don’t have control over that. It’s the one thing that Deathstate does that’s a little bit different, but it’s a change that doesn’t do much to innovate and isn’t significant enough to really matter.

    Deathstate: Abyssal Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Run variation is decent; plenty of content
    Weak Points: Too standard for its own good; collision has some issues; pacing can be a little slow; hard on the eyes sometimes
    Moral Warnings: Organs as powerups; Pentagram-esque patterns; demonic-like, undead, and cthulhu-like figures

    Despite not needing to think about aiming, you will have to think about your active items. You can carry two active items which require mana to use. These abilities can be flames that shoot in all directions, temporary invincibility, or even a teleport. On the other hand, there are passive weapons to find. There’s a decent number of new weapons to pick up in the game, and these are really what makes each run a little bit different. Sometimes you will be firing lasers, other times bubbles. You can also find potions all over the place that give random effects until you identify them. Lastly, there are stat upgrades. These are the items you will find the most. Most of them have both positive and negative effects.

    Surprisingly for how many bullets Deathstate expects you to dodge, it isn’t a difficult game by rogue-like standards. Personally, I beat my third attempt at it, which was disappointing. I go into the genre expecting a significant challenge, and Deathstate looked like it would be incredibly difficult, even outside of my territory. I think this title could be a great entry point for someone new to rogue-likes, but for veterans it won’t be tough.

    Deathstate: Abyssal Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 62%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The controls are nearly perfect. Everything is responsive and feels good. Maneuvering between bullets feels smooth, and I never felt like I got cheated into taking damage. The soundtrack is a little repetitive, but overall fits the atmosphere perfectly. It has a very eerie tone to it. Sound effects are okay, but not noteworthy. The general art work is fine, but nothing great. The only issue with the graphics is that there are several filters put over everything, so it can hurt the eyes if you get motion sickness. As for bugs, I haven’t found anything significant other than the character has some issues when near walls.

    Deathstate has a lot of moral issues. Enemies will drop items labeled as organs. Weapons are always magical, such as spellbooks. When you use an active ability, it puts a large pentagram-esque pattern on the ground. The whole theme of the game is Lovecraftian, so everything from Cthulhu-like and undead enemies to magical spells. Although there isn’t any blood or cursing that I’ve found, if that’s worth anything. I would say to avoid this one if you aren’t okay with occult usage in every direction.

    This title offers almost nothing new to the genre. It is very standard in execution; from level generation, to items, to enemies. It’s all been done before, and in a lot of ways done better. Deathstate feels polished for the most part, but I’d rather something unique than polished. I do want to mention that I have a lot of fun with the game; I’ve put some time into it and want to put in more. This doesn’t mean it’s a game I would tell others they absolutely need in their library. You can do much better. If anything, if the moral issues don’t worry you, and the game truly looks like a must-have, wait for a sale.

  • Deep Sixed (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Deep Sixed
    Game Title: Deep Sixed
    Developed By: LRDGames, Inc.
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: February 12, 2018
    Available On: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Roguelike, Simulation
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $12.99

    *Advertising disclosure* - After this review was posted, Black Shell Media became an advertising partner.  This review is not influenced by this relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us the review code.

    For the sake of knowledge and science (and also money), a corporation holds a monopoly on spacefaring technology. Since space travel requires people to operate the body, this is where a human comes into play. The player character, who committed criminal negligence, has to serve the rest of her sentence in an involuntary service to operate this shuttle. Accompanied by an AI to assist whenever troubles arise, it is her job to explore the unknown reaches of the galaxy to gather information for this corporation—as well as trying not to die in the process—though her wellbeing is pretty low on their priority.

    Deep Sixed is a space sim roguelike video game created by LRDGames, Inc. which takes an interesting approach to both genres by combining them together. Typically roguelikes lend themselves towards the RPG genre of games while roguelites adopt more from the action genre. This is the first time I’ve seen a roguelike that is also a simulation game. The premise is rather simple: you choose a list of missions to do, hyperwarp to the specific area, and complete the objectives of that mission, with a few optional objectives added to it as well. During the mission, you will have to repair or replace various issues that arise. Sometimes you may come across a lifeform in which you can defend yourself from or escape. Sounds pretty easy to do, right?

    Well yes, it does sound as such with the way I put it, but it is a lot more than just that. Almost immediately, Deep Sixed makes the assumption that you will be way in over your head for this task. Your AI companion will even poke fun of this matter. The first thing pointed out is that there is a manual there that goes over everything in detail, and even how to fix any specific problem or problems that come up. When a game shoves a manual on you, you know it's not messing around. There is a lot to take in, and you’re going to be doing a lot of reading and retaining information. Just a few of the many operations that come up in the game are things like replacing chips in systems, clearing radiation out of rooms, blasting away creatures that threaten the ship, and even rebooting software when AI or system failures happen. BTW, all of these particular events can happen at the same time. Every action in the game is controlled by the mouse, with some optional hotkeys if you so desire.

    Deep Sixed
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny dialogue between the two main characters; a unique mix of gameplay for its genre; multiple difficulties to satisfy both casual and experienced players
    Weak Points: Some situations can be frustrating due to the nature of the game; has less of an incentive compared to other roguelikes to replay multiple times after completion
    Moral Warnings: The player character is a criminal who is serving an involuntary service for negligence (though it never goes into detail of what she did); some situations require to kill alien creatures, which do burst in giblets when killed; some blasphemy from the main character

    Eight rooms are what’s part of the ship—and if you complete a mission without dying, you’ll be rewarded with certificates in which you can use to buy supplies or make upgrades to your ship. Where the roguelike nature comes into play is the procedurally-generated issues of the ship and permadeath status. In the standard difficulty setting, if you die, you have to start all over from the very beginning. There is an easier difficulty setting where you get more hints as to the exact place the problem is taking place in and the option to save your progress to allow you to restart from that saved point if you fail or otherwise mess up. Accessibility, while also not sacrificing challenge is something that I look forward to in games. In an ideal world, all games would have options that make the game easy enough and engaging for the average person to beat and enjoy, but also present a difficulty setting challenging enough for the audience that wants to take it a step further. In this case, Deep Sixed does it just fine.

    The AI and the player character start off with a rather interesting relationship. The corporation specifically states that the AI was programmed to have a human-like personality to have better synergy with the person working with it. There is even a moment where the human character receives an email stating that in past situations that the people have formed emotional bonds with, and even warns her against it. This, of course, plays an important role later in the game as you see the relationship between this person and AI develop more through rather funny and engaging dialogue. I’ve caught myself laughing at the various exchanges between the two—while a screen in a part of the hull is cracked, oxygen is leaking out, malfunctions in the scanner room, and aliens attacking the ship causing power shortages. There are worse ways to die, I suppose.

    Deep Sixed uses a very colorful array of covers to disguise the simple models used. It reminds me of those learning games you would play in school, like the Type to Learn series, but as those are learning tools instead of entertainment meant to be consumed, those types of graphics are acceptable for learning games. For games meant for commercial consumption, not so much. There are a few cutscenes with some animation aspects to it. I personally wouldn’t call it “animation” more so than messing with zoom and stretch effects in your video editing software of choice. The actual art however, is drawn competently and is of a realistic nature, making a contrast between the ship and the 3D models of the aliens.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 4.5/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There isn’t too much in Deep Sixed that would be morally concerning (at least from my experience), but there are still some things worth pointing out. The main human character is introduced as a criminal serving out the rest of her sentence as the repairwoman of the ship. What she did exactly, I’m not too sure, and the game doesn’t particularly care what she did either so it’s left to a vague statement. Blasting aliens with the ship’s lasers also make them bleed, and they also explode with their internals floating around the emptiness of space. The player also has blasphemous talk such as “oh my God” and “my God.” I haven’t gone through every situation the game has available, but only noticed these particular moments in my dozen or so attempts.

    As with most roguelikes, there will be situations that pop up where you feel like “nothing could be done.” Not exactly a flaw with the game itself as it is the nature of the genre. Like an untimely critical hit in a turn-based RPG or an action game where two different enemies attack in such a way where you can’t avoid the damage, it’s all part of the package and is even part of the reason why people play these types of games. You will die in this game quite often, whether it is entirely of your own fault or a combination of events that you just cannot overcome. However, I do feel that the roguelike elements did not add much to the type of game Deep Sixed tries to be. The narrative conflicts with the genre as each subsequent attempt will prompt the same story and similar mission progression. Unlike many modern roguelikes/roguelites, it fails to add extra parts for each successful completion. There are three endings to see, with two of them being very similar to each other outside of some alternative dialogue, so there is some incentive to replay multiple times.

    I can recommend Deep Sixed to you if like your games to feel like a job. It can be mundane, frustrating, exhausting, and requires way too much multitasking for the typical person who might use video games to distract themselves from the annoyances of life. For those of a different opinion, it can be a very rewarding experience due to the interesting and unique approaches it attempts. Outside of the blasphemous talk, the other moral issues are middling at their worst. If you like simulation games on the engineering side, Deep Sixed may just tickle your fancy.

  • DemonCrawl (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    DemonCrawl
    Developed By: Therefore Games
    Published By: Therefore Games
    Released: November 5, 2019
    Available On: Windows; Android
    Genre: Strategy; rogue-lite
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $14.99 on Steam; Free with ads on Google Play

    Thanks to Therefore Games for the Steam key for review!

    DemonCrawl is what happens when someone looks at Minesweeper, the classic Microsoft game about dodging mines in a minefield, and then decides to go absolutely insane with it and add a ridiculous amount of content to it. The product is a rogue-lite with over 500 unique items that takes the Minesweeper formula to completely new levels.

    To begin a game of DemonCrawl you choose from 5 different quests (which are each a set of several increasingly difficult boards) and are then thrown into a randomly generated board of tiles. On your first click, you will reveal a random amount of tiles automatically. Most tiles will have numbers on them, 1-8. These numbers mean that there are a specified amount of enemies near that tile. The goal of the game is to get through each board with a limited amount of allowed mistakes. To help you get through, you can right click on an unrevealed tile to mark it unsafe. When you lose a quest in DemonCrawl, you’re sent back to square one on the first board in the set.

    DemonCrawl
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting take on Minesweeper; Difficulty modifiers
    Weak Points: Permadeath within quests can be off-putting
    Moral Warnings: Randomly generated enemy names can be questionable; magic items; questionable characters and enemies such as priests (non-biblical) and skeletons; souls as a currency mechanic; minor violence

    The rogue-lite mechanics come into play with the hundreds of different items and events you can come across. Several item types can appear such as passives that reveal tiles each turn for you, actives that can burn enemies, bad omens that hinder you, and armor. There’s such a vast selection of items that all do something different that finding them all isn’t possible unless you sink some serious time into the game. Shrines are rare events that can be found that always give a positive and negative effect. There are several NPCs that can appear to sell different types of items or help clear the board. Sometimes the board itself has random modifiers to it such as having extremely high NPC spawn rates. There are permanent upgrades you can purchase from a shop in the main menu such as legendary items and tons of cosmetic stuff. Run variety is very strong here with all these mechanics happening at once, with tons of potential synergies and lots of toys to experiment with.

    One of the best things they included in a post launch update was the ability to modify the difficulty. You have 4 different settings you can toggle. The in-game timer can be turned off or on, which affects certain items, enemy count can be lowered, you can turn off the ability to find bad omens, and my personal favorite, the ability to get rid of luck-dependent situations completely. The game’s biggest issue before these modifiers were added was the rogue-lite nature colliding with the RNG of Minesweeper gameplay. Many runs used to end in frustration because of getting unlucky. The modifier makes (nearly) every single situation the game throws at you completely possible to get through with zero luck dependency and nothing but skill. With all these modifiers off, the game does become much easier, but still a challenge for newcomers.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Overall polish for DemonCrawl is fantastic. The controls are as simple as it gets just requiring a mouse, and the music doesn’t have any right to be as good as it is. The pixel-art backgrounds are nice to look at and everything is easily discernible at a glance. Unfortunately, the pixelated text is a little hard to read at times and the sound effects can be annoying (NPCs each have a one-liner they say when they appear; it gets annoying after a while). I hadn’t come across any bugs or crashes during my several hours of play, and as of writing, the game gets consistent large updates and fixes.

    For a game about clicking on tiles and puzzling, DemonCrawl has quite a large number of moral issues. Enemies come from a large variety of bugs, skeletons, and ogres. When an enemy dies it makes a splat sound and it explodes into pixels. You can also kill the various NPCs you find. Enemies’ names are randomly generated from a large list of words, and sometimes these words can be inappropriate such as using the word “d**n”. Names don’t show up unless you highlight over an enemy with your cursor. Magical items are found all over with mana being a core mechanic along with souls being collectable. Shrines can appear in the dungeons and you can receive bad omens. These are just things I have found from my several hours of play; there could possibly be more things I could have missed due to random generation. It’s safe to say that there are a number of questionable moral decisions to come across.

    If you are okay with looking past the moral shortcomings of DemonCrawl, what you have is a very good Minesweeper-like game that’s packed with content and interesting mechanics. The price is a bit expensive on the Steam version, but I recommend the game to anybody with even slight interest in what Minesweeper has the potential to be.

  • HyperRogue (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    HyperRogue
    Developed By: Zeno Rogue
    Published By: Zeno Rogue
    Released: January 16, 2015
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android
    Genre: Rogue-Like, Turn-Based
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Singleplayer, Up to 2 local
    Price: $4.99

    I am going to preface this review with a definition for non-Euclidean geometry. HyperRogue uses this system and it is an important part of the game; it can be hard to understand what's happening without knowing exactly what this type of geometry is. The definition I will give was provided to me by a friend that has done extensive research on it.

    "One defining property is that there are no parallel lines. In Euclidean geometry, lines that pass through different points and don't intersect are parallel. In hyperbolic geometry, such lines are called ultraparallel, and diverge from each other.
    Another property of hyperbolic geometry is that the circumference of a circle grows exponentially with its radius (i.e. very quickly), while in Euclidean geometry, it only grows linearly with its radius
    Hyperbolic geometry also has more types of curves with constant curvature: In Euclidean geometry, a curve with constant curvature is a circle. In hyperbolic geometry, you can have circles, horocycles or hypercycles (= equidistant curves)
    A horocycle can be seen as a circle with infinite radius. In Euclidean geometry, that would be a line, but in hyperbolic geometry, it is still a curve"
    - Tricosahedron

    HyperRogue is a roguelike turn-based game set in a vast non-Euclidean world. The game world bends around you and challenges what you thought was “up” or “down". There are several ways to “win” a run of HyperRogue, but all of them are optional, and none of them end the game. There are over 50 different lands you can travel through, each with their own unique look and playstyle. One land has gravity, one has wind, and another has enemies that only chase you if you stay near them for 3 turns. The bulk of the game is running around collecting treasure in each of these lands. The game somehow manages to be very complex but also be compacted into a chess-like system that’s easy to understand.

    Hyperrogue
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Incredibly unique; Tons of content; Accessible
    Weak Points: Trippy; can cause headache. UI is ugly
    Moral Warnings: Occult enemies; Magic use; areas called “Hell” and “Graveyard”

    Every run starts you in an ice world. You wander around it, collecting these star-shaped things for points. Every player will notice right away that this game is not normal. Things that were next to you are now in front of you, vice versa and etcetera. The geometry of the game is too complex to predict or understand. At the same time, it can be used to your advantage. In some cases, it is entirely possible to outrun an enemy, despite both moving 1 turn at a time. You can run forward and never see the same things twice.

    The whole game has a very open world feel to it. You never feel like you’re in a “level," and it never ends. You go into new areas simply by walking into their borders, and you can leave the same way. It manages to do this and be randomly generated. No run will ever have the same layout, which you probably wouldn’t notice due to the nature of the game anyway.

    There are a variety of powerups you can use during a run. All of them are temporary, but provide important benefits, such as breaking down walls that you couldn’t otherwise, or teleporting out of a bad situation. They are essential to survival and provide an interesting layer of strategy.

    The complexity comes from the number of different places to visit, and what comes with them. You have to approach every area a little bit differently. There is a place called “Land of Eternal Motion” where every tile you step on disappears, so instead of trying to fight off the enemies, you have to outrun them or even outsmart them. There is a land inspired by M.C. Escher’s “Reptiles” where you have to create new tiles by bumping lizard enemies into a pit. A place called "Bull Rush" requires you to lead bulls into butterflies. Every land is unique. To make sure the player always understands what they’re doing, you can right click any tile or enemy, and it gives you a paragraph long description.

    There are a lot of different game modes to play if you wish, but most are irrelevant. You can play it as a real-time game, moving with WASD or arrow keys. You can play on local co-op with a friend, but I haven’t really understood how to get it to work. You can mess with the geometry of the game itself as well.

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Since HyperRogue is a turn-based game, your character moves one turn at a time, as does everything else (aside from specific enemies, or a power-up that lets you move twice as fast). To move around you can use arrow keys, WASD, left-click, or even scroll wheel. You won’t be needing any other buttons, even attacking an enemy is simply left clicking on them. It makes the whole game feel very accessible.

    The music is fantastic. Every area has one of about five different tracks. If you’ve left a land and went back in, the music will resume from where it ended off. It feels seamless. The sound effects are mediocre. Everything makes a crunch sound when killed. Treasures all make a different sound, but not anything of note. There isn’t a story, which with this game could be considered a good thing. You’d get lost trying to follow a story anyways.

    My biggest issue with the game still ends up being minor. The menus are ugly and poorly done. They are just a giant wall of text that you can click on. I’ve encountered weird bugs with it such as being forced into real time mode, or not being able to use my mouse to move the character. Once I’m in a run, everything is perfectly fine. The game has never crashed on me, and nothing ever misbehaved.

    There are a few things worth noting about the morality of HyperRogue. There is a necromancer enemy and several others that use some form of magic. There is an area called "Hell", and a "Graveyard" with ghosts. Otherwise, the game isn’t violent. There isn’t even an attack animation. The enemies are fantasy creatures for the most part.

    Overall, HyperRogue is fantastic and unique. There isn’t anything like it on the market. It’s easy to pick up and play for 10 minutes with no annoyances and not too much to be worried about as a Christian. I wouldn’t call this a must-have but for five dollars, it is one of the best in the genre.

  • One Step From Eden (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    One Step From Eden
    Developed By: Thomas Moon Kang
    Published By: Humble Games
    Released: March 26, 2020
    Available On: Nintendo Switch, PC
    Genre: Action, Adventure, Role-Playing, Strategy, Roguelike
    ESRB Rating: Rated E10 for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    Number of Players: 1-2 offline
    Price: $19.99 Digital

    I really enjoy the Mega Man Battle Network series and jumped up at the chance to try out One Step From Eden, which is a deck-building roguelite that acts as a love letter to the former. With a refreshing take on the deck-building gameplay and highly replayable routes, there is a lot to love in this game.

    While slim on story, One Step From Eden tasks you with reaching the titular place by finishing eight worlds with a boss in each (which are all playable characters as well excluding the final one in a run). Battles take place on an 8X4 grid, with you and the enemy taking 16 squares each. You can move around freely in your side and activate spells that need mana in order to cast. All characters have a way to regenerate mana, with most of them having this done automatically. By completing stages, you will have the chance to select a random spell to add to your deck, which have different properties that will help or hinder you in your run. You can also level up with experience, which will also grant you artifacts to use; these have beneficial effects that will last until the end of your run. Due to the procedural generation of the game, each run is unique (though you can pick a seed number if you’ve written it down and can replay that identical instance if you desire).

    While you only have Saffron initially, defeating characters later in a run will cause them to be unlocked for future playthroughs. Each world consists of different stage battles, which will pit you against different enemies in each environment. You can select your path after each battle, which will also give you different locations to visit, such as a campfire to heal or a miniboss. After reaching the end of a world, you will fight a boss character; completing this will allow you to choose the next world and the gameplay loop continues until you beat every boss or lose. Additionally, you can also choose to spare or destroy bosses after you defeat them, both of which grant different benefits and endings should you spare everyone, destroy everyone, or do a mix of both.

    One Step From Eden
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Entertaining roguelike gameplay; great pixel art and soundtrack; some humorous references to pop culture
    Weak Points: Some framerate stutters; difficulty can get unfairly overwhelming at times
    Moral Warnings: A few occurrences of mild swear words; bloodless violence; optional playstyles that encourage bad actions

    This is easier said than done, however, as difficulty ramps up around the halfway mark in a run. (It’s actually quite difficult throughout the whole game, but difficulty spikes occur around world 4.) Sometimes it can get too unfair, with some bosses like Shiso and Violette getting an unfair amount of damage and speed in later levels. You can try and pick trickier bosses first due to difficulty scaling, but since there are four locations with two bosses each, you might still get unlucky with picking the other boss in a location first. (Since a playable character can’t fight themselves, the last world is unique to the final bosses.)

    Thankfully, the game is easy to control, and each spell card is given clear descriptions for you to determine whether you want to keep it in your deck or not. Thanks to shops and in-game currency you earn while in a run, you can also purchase new cards, upgrades, and removals (which can remove a card from your deck for the run). Dying will reset your progress back to the initial loadout of the character, but will unlock different artifacts and spells that you can encounter in future runs, which is a great progression method for the game. Runs last around an hour depending on if you’re successful or not, though it will be almost impossible to finish the game in one go.

    One Step From Eden
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay – 18/20
    Graphics – 8/10
    Sound – 9/10
    Stability – 3/5
    Controls – 5/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence – 5/10
    Language – 8/10
    Sexual Content – 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural – 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 8.5/10

    In terms of presentation, the game looks beautiful with its detailed pixel style. The soundtrack is amazing too, with some tracks that won’t stay out of your head long after you finish playing. The writing in this game is great as well; while there isn’t a lot of backstory within the game, there is some nice worldbuilding dialogue during boss fights, and spells have flavor text that references a ton of pop culture and media. From Super Smash Bros. to Konosuba to even the Mega Man Battle Network games, there’s a lot to love. However, there were a lot of times after playing for a lengthy period of time that the game would stutter, freezing it for a second or two. While this wasn’t a dealbreaker oddly enough (because of how precise you need to be with your attacks later in the game), it was cause for annoyance and did cost me a hit or two in a run.

    In terms of morality, there are a few things to mention. There are a few utterances of mild swears, such as hell and d*mn. In terms of violence, it’s bloodless but losing to boss characters will cause them to use a signature attack to destroy you. These finishers are more violent and detailed than regular attacks, though it only shows you disappearing with no gore shown. You can make pacts that will make the game harder in return for giving you a benefit; while nothing of the occult is explicitly mentioned, the challenge is represented by a small pentagram-like icon. Some stages will have hostages that you can rescue. You can accidentally destroy them by attacks (either your own or the enemy can destroy them), and there are a couple of artifacts that encourage you to kill hostages as well by providing bonuses for destroying them yourself. These are optional playstyles, but are still a bit objectionable.

    All in all, One Step From Eden is a great game for fans of the Mega Man Battle Network series, and fans of brutally satisfying difficulty and great action should definitely check it out.

  • Risk of Rain 2 (PC) (Preview)

     

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    Game Info:

    Risk of Rain 2
    Developed By: Hopoo Games
    Published By: Gearbox Publishing
    Released: March 28, 2019 (Early Access)
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action, Roguelike
    ESRB Rating: Rating Pending
    Number of Players: up to four players co-op
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Back in 2014, I came across a 2D roguelike called Risk of Rain, developed by the small team of Hopoo Games. It was and still is a very enjoyable, yet very janky and broken game. Even with the numerous issues that the game has, some that were unable to be fixed due to the engine of the game, I ended up putting hundreds of hours into the game across the five years of me playing it. It helped that Hopoo Games supported their game as best they could over the years and thus developed a niche and passionate community. Of course with the announcement of a sequel in development—I was raring for more Risk of Rain action.

    Its announcement was also the subject of controversy. Hopoo decided to change the sequel from a 2D action roguelike to a 3D action roguelike. Instead of controlling similar to a platformer game like Risk of Rain 1, Risk of Rain 2 controls more along the lines of a third-person shooter. Many people, including myself, were very suspicious as to how the overall style could translate into a radically different field of view. Hopoo stated (paraphrased) that “they felt they did all they could with the 2D style of Risk of Rain, so we decided to try out 3D.” With the game getting a rather surprise announcement of Early Access at PAX East, and by Gearbox Publisher no less, it was time to see if this rather daring design choice would work in Hopoo’s favor.

    The main premise of both games is to find the teleporter in each semi-randomly procedural level, and go to the next one as enemies try to kill you, and the boss that spawns because of the teleporter. Risk of Rain 2, like its predecessor, makes an interesting take on the roguelike genre. As time increases in the game, a separate difficulty from the one chosen at the beginning called scaling difficulty increases alongside it. There are the standard difficulty choices that one can choose, with each one’s main difference being the speed of which the scaling difficulty increases. For example, if one chooses the Rainstorm (normal) difficulty, the scaling difficulty will take around ten minutes to reach the next notch, while on Monsoon (hard), it will only take six. There are other more subtle differences among the chosen difficulties as well such as the achievements you earn.

    Achievements serve great importance besides bragging rights. They also unlock items and characters so it’s best to play all the difficulties at some point. The controls are rather simple. Keyboard controls are the standard WASD for movement and M1/M2 for your primary/secondary skill. The shift key is for your utility skill (which is typically movement based), the control key is to sprint, and the R key is for your special skill (which is typically an offensive skill). The space bar is to jump and E is to interact with chests. Every character controls the same but plays as different as they can due to their unique weapons and abilities. The first class you start with is the Commando who’s playstyle revolves around shooting a lot. All of his abilities have him shoot his dual pistols a lot whether it is rapid fire or piercing shots. As of this review, there are about six classes in total, ranging from the bow-wielding Huntress to the melee-based Mercenary who uses a katana.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  A great effort into translating the feel of the game in a 3D setting; excellent soundtrack; fulfilling and fast-paced gameplay either alone or with friends; lots of secrets to be found
    Weak Points: The overall concept of the sequel is built more along the lines of co-op so playing solo isn’t as balanced as the original game; minor AI issues; multiplayer being client-side can mean your run can end prematurely
    Moral Warnings: Violence, there is a bleed effect that is attributed to some items; the Artificer class uses some sort of techno-magic; one item, the "happiest mask" grants a small chance of spawning ghosts when enemies are defeated; the blazing enemy variants have curved horns, giving a demonic-looking appearance; there are shrines or temples that you can offer sacrifice (of money and lifeforce) to

    Items augment your abilities and are a very important factor in increasing your strength. They augment all kinds of factors such as movement speed, the ability to heal faster or damage output. There is no limit to how many items you can hold, and multiples of the same items also stack so collect as much as you can as often as you can (as long as you are playing solo of course; items are not shared among players in co-op). Items can be obtained in various ways such as opening chests, obtained from defeating bosses or using 3D printers to sacrifice a set amount of items for a set item displayed. Equipment can sometimes be obtained as well as these powerful items are actives and are used via the Q key. There are exclusive items that can be obtained through the use of lunar coins, which are a special kind of currency that is carried on through subsequent playthroughs.

    The sense of power can definitely be felt as progress is made. After a while, you may start to get that sense that you are unbeatable, but cockiness is a surefire way to receive a full-course meal in dirt and gravel. No matter how powerful you become, it is still very easy to die almost instantaneously. With the scaling difficulty, enemies start off rather simple and few in numbers. This won’t last for long as they will increase in numbers and intensity. Elite versions of some enemies will start to spawn, different variations of enemies will appear such as the “blazing” variants which cause a burn type of damage over time (DoT) if they hit you or if you touch them. Even the very bosses that you have been fighting will start to spawn as normal enemies. Did I forget to mention that the bosses can spawn in multiples and some bosses also have variations? This game gets very intense and hectic and will keep you on your toes constantly—just the way I like it.

    For the readers who have played the predecessor I’m sure the main question that has been ringing in your head is “Well does the game translate well into 3D?” I can say yes—at least for now. As Risk of Rain 2 is still in an alpha state, they can, unfortunately, screw it all up in the final release. Something that I have seen far too many times for Early Access titles, especially in multiplayer-centric ones. As a person who put in more hours into Risk of Rain 1 than most games of this decade, it feels very different but all very familiar too. The visual style even translates well into 3D using low polygon graphics with a unique blend of shades and colors. Your character also displays most of the items collected on itself, which can range from super cool to unintentionally hilarious. The items, abilities, and equipment from the previous entry work nearly the same. I don’t know how exactly they were able to do what they did. However, the group at Hopoo are a very talented bunch of individuals.

    The music of Risk of Rain is extremely good, and it was done all by the name of one man: Chris Christodoulou. I always find myself going back to his work. In Risk of Rain, he perfectly captures the sense of being on an unknown planet among beings that you are unfamiliar with. The subtle calmness of exploring matched with the blaring intensity of strings and percussion when the teleporter activates and everything starts to get serious. Words aren’t nearly enough to describe, so I feel it’s better if you listen to it yourself.

    Risk of Rain 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As Risk of Rain 2 is still in Early Access, there are bound to be issues present. Most are very minor in nature, which is very surprising considering the monumental task that they put upon themselves. There are some things such as going out of bounds if you end up becoming too fast, and certain enemies not acting the way they are supposed to. It holds up well as the only time I started to experience a slowdown on my mid-high range computer build was when more than half a dozen bosses were on the screen shooting off their fireworks display simultaneously. Other minor issues are that the game was built more alongside co-op than single player, so the solo experience is slightly less balanced against it. After the two-hundred minute mark (which is well above three hours) enemies start to have an irregular spawning, whether it's too much or way too little. Multiplayer is client-side, so if the hosting player ends up quitting, they ruin the whole experience for everyone else.

    Risk of Rain 1 was never morally concerning outside of bleed effects from items, the whole shrine aspects where you can offer money for items or a percentage of life for money, and violence—the same goes for its sequel for the most part. Outside of the previously mentioned points, the Artificer is the sorcerer of this game and utilizes what is basically "magic" to her beck and call. One unlockable item, the "happiest mask" grants a small chance of spawning ghosts of the defeated enemies to fight by your side. Encountered throughout the game, there are blazing enemy variants that have curved horns—giving off a demonic-like appearance. There are logs that exist that are obtained from collecting items, unlocking classes, and sometimes dropped from enemies. I haven’t unlocked all the logs that the game has available but from what I’ve seen outside of some dark imagery, there isn’t much to consider in that aspect. (However, I am not saying that it doesn’t exist so keep that in mind.) As new items, characters, and logs will be added in future updates I do not know how long this statement of mine will stay true.

    Hopoo Games could have simply made Risk of Rain 2 the same as the former entry and ship it out as such. Many people would have been happy with that, and I most certainly would have been among that group. They decided to do something that not a whole lot of developers attempt. Hopoo wasn’t satisfied with making the sequel more, they wanted to make it better. Risk of Rain 2 is an excellent game made by a passionate group that might just be masters of their craft. Loads of secrets to find, the unique playstyle of characters and random places of spawns, teleports, and items make every attempt feel different giving dozens of hours of replay value. It’s fun to play by yourself and even more so with a group or with friends. If you liked the first entry you owe it to yourself to buy this sequel. If you have a tight-knit group to play games with or simply love multiplayer games, get it now—there are plenty of others to play with. It’s hard to say whether or not the end product will be better than the previous entry as comparing an alpha build to five years of progress and updates isn’t exactly the fairest comparison, but if they continue to do what they are doing, they may just exceed that plateau.

  • Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED DLC (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED DLC 
    Developed By: ArcenGames, LLC
    Published By: ArcenGames, LLC
    Released: January 24, 2018
    Available On: Windows; macOS; Linux
    Genre: Twin-stick shooter rogue-lite
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $6.99

    Thanks to ArcenGames for the Steam review copy!

    Read our review for the Starward Rogue base game here.

    Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED is a large gold-tinted expansion to the underappreciated 2016 rogue-lite. The base game was fantastic on its own with decent run variety, a large amount of enemies to attack, and plenty of characters to choose from.

    Starward Rogue was lacking in a few areas. Late game of each run was always pretty repetitive because there were only 2 or 3 high tier weapons and you always had a high chance of finding at least one of them. Runs could feel very similar to each other due to being able to consistently find the same items. Due to the nature of the game I had eventually seen every room type and enemy type several hundred times. While a lot of these issues are due to my absurd amount of playtime, when I learned about the game getting an expansion, I was excited and ready for more of a personal all-time favorite.

    AuGMENTED comes out and includes a chance for gold-colored floors to appear and includes 3 new characters, 90+ new items, 30+ new enemies, and over 125 new rooms to fight in. To say the DLC is large is understating it.

    Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED DLC
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adds a ton of new content
    Weak Points: New floor types are difficulty spikes
    Moral Warnings: Machine violence

    Golden floors provide a completely different item, trap, and enemy pool. There is little to no overlap in what you can find on golden floors versus normal floors. The item pool lock is a bit frustrating to me because a lot of gold floor items seem to be stronger than normal floor items (such as invulnerability chance and many strong weapons), but luckily you will usually find at minimum one gold floor once per run.

    The new traps are a bit different from the usual spikes and lasers of the base game. Golden floors now have pulsing squares on the ground that hurt when glowing red, traps that drain your secondary weapon ammo, and ones that make you take double damage. While these trap designs are all a bit more interesting, a seasoned player would find most of them to be quite a lot less threatening than what normal floors have.

    Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED DLC
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    While the traps on golden floors feel like less of a threat, the enemies are the reason the DLC feels like a difficulty increase. The enemies are aggressive and shoot complex bullet patterns that don’t have range limits. There is a spherical enemy that has several orbitals you have to kill before you can get to its core. A ninja-like robot enemy comes after you with lightning-fast speed. It doesn’t help that some rooms have pipes for enemy bullets to travel through resulting in screen wrapping bullets. Not to mention the golden variant of the Warden boss fight that I still don’t fully grasp how to dodge. You have more careful than usual on the golden floors, and the majority of my failures occur there.

    Like with the base game, most of the new player mechs simply start with different items and stats with a perk. However, a couple of the new character editions are notable. One of those notable mechs is the Alpha mech. The Alpha mech’s level upgrade pool is fully randomized instead of upgrades being locked behind specific levels. Meaning stronger upgrades like an all stat increase that would usually show up around level 6 can show up at level 2. It provides some incredible run variety, although the set back is that the mech is very frail starting with 2 health. The Paladin mech is my other favorite new addition. It starts with a melee weapon and a shield. The shield needs to be aimed and is treated as a secondary weapon (uses energy as ammo that regenerates each room). You can swap out both of these items but neither weapon spawns inside a normal run, making the Paladin the only melee character.

    Starward Rogue: AuGMENTED is a fantastic DLC that does nothing but improve the 2016 shooter. Due to the difficulty increase it provides I would recommend some experience with the base game before purchasing, but if you want more Starward Rogue, the AuGMENTED DLC satisfies with no morality changes.

  • Streets of Rogue (PC) Preview

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    Game Info:

    Streets of Rogue
    Developed By: Matt Dabrowski
    Published By: tinyBuild
    Released: Preview
    Available On: macOS, Windows, Linux
    Genre: Rogue-Like
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Number of Players: 1-4 Players local or online
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Streets of Rogue is a roguelite twin-stick RPG sandbox brawler stealth game. It has randomly generated levels with permadeath and enemies to punch and shoot. There are also role-playing game mechanics such as leveling up stats, and even hiding from enemies to avoid them. Every objective can be completed through multiple solutions, and it’s up to you to decide how you play.

    You play as one of a large cast of characters, traversing through cities doing whatever objectives the game gives you. The variety of options for completion depends on the items you get and the character you have chosen. Have a machinegun and want to cause chaos? Go for it. Want to throw a syringe into a ventilation system, causing everybody in that building to run outside? You can do that too. Use an item to blind everybody in the room, and sneak by? Why not? It is completely up to you on how you play.

    There are a ton of characters to choose from, such as the Gorilla, Hacker, Assassin, Shopkeeper, Bartender, and so on. Each character has different abilities that change how you play. The Slum Dweller can yell, causing people to come to you, wondering what the ruckus is about. The Cop can arrest people. The Vampire can suck someone’s blood. Every character is unique, and your strategy changes depending on the character. If you want to make your own characters, you can do that as well, mixing and matching abilities from preset characters.

    Along with a diverse set of characters, you can find many items in each level. There are syringes, which you don’t know what they do until you use them. There are guns, baseball bats, swords, tasers, grenades, and other sorts of weaponry. There are lock picks, hacking tools, and hypnotizers. Because of the large item variety, you can end up with multiple ways to play. The game gives you ways to be aggressive, but you can be stealthy or even pacifist at the same time. You have a lot of freedom in what you want to do.

    Streets of Rogue
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Replayable; innovative; multiple ways to play.
    Weak Points: Minor balance issues.
    Moral Warnings: Pixelated gore; sexual references; immoral characters; human violence; occult references; alcohol; minor cursing (d**n, a**)

    Each level is full of life. Opposing gang members will attack each other, and if a cop sees it, they will chase after them. If a thief is inside a store, the shopkeeper will chase him out. Goons will guard various buildings. It all makes everything feel real, just like you’re in a real city. If you do something violent or suspicious, cops will attack, or people will go outside to investigate. You must be mindful of everyone and everything that happens. You can buy items from a shopkeeper, or hire a gang member to do what you ask, or even have the police ignore crimes.

    The levels can have a few kinds of objectives. Sometimes you have to neutralize an NPC. Or you have to operate 3 or 4 buttons inside a building. Or grab an item from a safe. You can do almost every objective either violently or pacifically. Every time you complete an objective, you get rewarded with an item or some gold. Completing objective can be done simply, or through a complex set of planning and thought. It all depends on your playstyle.

    There is some permanent progression. You can unlock items, traits you can get from leveling up, or even mutators which change how the game works. If you complete an area a few times, you can get an elevator that goes straight to that floor instead of always starting from the beginning.

    You get experience by doing various things inside a level. When you level up, you go back up to full health. At the end of the floor, you can choose from different abilities that alter the game. These can be things like “increased critical chance” or “make items cost less” and other simple things. Most of the traits to choose from don’t do anything super significant, but make the game easier and give you a small advantage.

    Streets of Rogue
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - -5/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 1.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    The controls are easy to understand and work well. Keyboard & mouse or a gamepad can be used. The game is viewed from a top-down perspective. Keyboard controls are WASD to move, left click to attack, and right click to use the character’s ability. You have a small inventory to store the items you have picked up, and the inventory is easy to access, and doesn’t slow down the action. On the gamepad it controls just as well, using standard twin stick controls (left stick to move, right stick to aim). There’s a tutorial you can play through that explains everything clearly, and teaches you the basics. Local co-op works perfectly, even having splitscreen for 16:9 resolutions. Online co-op works just as well, I had no latency or bug issues when playing.

    There is little to no story, but it seems like you are a part of a resistance. Unfortunately, that’s all the game tells you as far as lore. The sound is good; hitting and killing things sounds satisfying, when you get caught, it makes a tink, and everything sounds like it should sound. Visually it is nice to look at, and everything is distinct and even under chaotic situations, you can always tell what’s going on. The soundtrack is a sort of jazz, fitting the theme of cities well, though the game does need a few more tracks.

    Streets of Rogue has some minor balance issues. In multiplayer, depending on what characters you choose, you can tear through levels at ease, making the game too easy for its roguelite nature. The character customization lets you make characters that are downright unfair; you can take an ability that originally had downsides and completely remove the cons, making it very easy to make a broken character. It is probably by design, but the inventory feels too small in the late-game, meaning you have to manage your items and you end up with a full inventory quickly.

    There are quite a few moral issues here. To start off, there are some morally inappropriate characters. One of the big ones is the slavemaster, which enables you to enslave any citizen, and forcefully have them do your bidding. There’s also undead, gang members, and a naked shapeshifter, who can possess people at will. There are drugs you can take, such as an “electro pill” which you take and it makes you stronger. There’s also whisky and beer, which contain no side-effects. You can equip underwear, which gives you a small amount of armor. You can use syringes either on yourself or others. The violence is usually against humans, and has some pixelated gore. Violence is sometimes the answer when completing objectives, and usually has you going into restricted areas of a building without permission.

    Even if this game is not the most morally acceptable, it is really fun and addicting. The sandbox-like gameplay keeps you engaged for hours without it ever getting repetitive. I can see myself playing this game for a long, long time, and it’s only in early access! I can’t wait to see what they add to this gem.

    - Kinix

  • Survive! Mr. Cube (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Survive! Mr. Cube  
    Developed by: Intragames
    Published by: Intragames
    Release date: June 28, 2018
    Available on: PS4, Switch
    Genre: Action
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Intragames for sending us this title to review!

    An evil wizard is summoning the cube people into his world filled with monsters to see if they’re strong enough to make it out alive. When one person fails, another is beckoned with a different weapon and world to explore. Money earned by defeating enemies is kept throughout the game and can be used to purchase a random item from the shopkeeper for 100 gold.

    Sometimes the starter weapons are weak and only allow attacks from a certain direction. My favorite weapons are the ones that do spin attacks which help in defeating enemies swarming your character. There’s a wide variety in armaments including bows and arrows, swords, maces, lasers, lightning wands, shotguns, and more.

    The amount of health and stamina your character begins with is random as well.  Each attack uses up stamina so be sure to stock up on stamina potions for the tougher and longer battles.  You can only carry two weapons and four potions so plan accordingly. 

    Survive! Mr. Cube
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Randomly generated weapons, levels, monsters and bosses make this game different every time you play it
    Weak Points: Poor translation and some lame weapon attacks; long loading screens
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence and magic use

    Generally speaking, the maps have a good amount of treasure chests in them with potions and weapons inside. Sometimes the treasure chests are behind some poisonous ground or a body of water and are unattainable. I like the fog of war effect and not being able to see what’s lurking in the dark until I approach it. Your goal in each level is to survive and to find the warp out of there.

    Along with various enemies like boars, orcs, spiders and such are other cubes trying to escape. Don’t expect a friendly reception though! These other cubes are rather challenging and killed off my temporary character numerous times.

    The controls are pretty straightforward and twin-stick in nature. The left stick moves your character and the right stick attacks. The triggers rotate the inventory and the A and B button uses them. For interacting with objects you’ll need to press the B button.

    Survive! Mr. Cube
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 89%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Survive! Mr. Cube has voxel style visuals which are cute and remind me of Minecraft. It’s hard to tell exactly what some of the creatures are. There are some lengthy loading screens which take the opportunity to introduce you to other cubes in the game. Unfortunately, some of the explanations are riddled with grammar mistakes.

    The sound effects are fitting and sound good. The background music is pleasant, but not really memorable.

    Other than the cartoon violence and occasional magic attack, this game is pretty family friendly and kid safe.

    In the end, Survive! Mr. Cube is entertaining, but not really memorable. Sure there is plenty of replayability, but I don’t have much connection with the ever-changing cast of protagonists. When I finally do find a character I like, they quickly get killed off by a boss and are forever lost in the void. If you like games with randomly generated content you’ll probably enjoy Survive! Mr. Cube.

  • Tallowmere (Switch)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Tallowmere
    Developed by: Chris McFarland
    Published by: Teyon
    Release date: November 9, 2017
    Available on: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Switch, Wii U, Windows
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: 1-4 players
    ESRB Rating: Teen for blood, gore, and violence
    Price: $6.99

     

    Thank you Teyon for sending us this game to review!

    There’s not much of a story in Tallowmere besides trying to survive princess Tallowmere’s randomly generated dungeons to impress her. Before you depart, you can partake in various challenges or you can talk to the Grim Reaper to increase the difficulty of the game by taking on some punishments on your run through the dungeon. There is an option to make the game easier, but it has a cost. To get a health boost, you can sacrifice a kitten or a few of them. Not only do they lose their life in a bloody way, but your progress will be stored on a separate scoreboard than those who play on the standard difficulty. Last but not least is a shop keeper who sells different loot each time you talk to him. Unfortunately, you don’t start off with any gold, just a basic axe, shield, and a health potion.

    You can always backtrack to princess Tallowmere and she will restore your health. If you're lucky, you may find blue flames that can teleport you back to the main area for healing or shopping. You may also come across transparent princess Tallowmeres that can heal you on the spot. I recommend holding off on using a health potion unless it’s an emergency. Completed rooms do not respawn enemies once they are defeated. The traps to remain in place though. On your way back to the princess you’ll still have to mind the spiked surfaces, spinning saw blades, and acid spewing walls.

    Tallowmere
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun roguelike that keeps having you coming back for more; fun co-op gameplay
    Weak Points: The Switch version is $3 more expensive than the other platforms
    Moral Warnings: Mild language (d*mn); bloodshed and the ability to sacrifice kittens in exchange for a health boost; magic use; you must collect souls and offer them up to a demon statue to increase your power

    Each new dungeon room has various enemies that have different abilities and fighting styles. Some foes will rush in towards you while others have ranged attacks. Many of the ranged attacks can be thwarted with your shield, but not all of them. Some of the enemies will hurl fire or lightning toward you. Another particularly nasty attack is one that stuns you for a couple of seconds. Every few rooms the enemies will grow stronger.

    Despite the odds being stacked against you, all hope is not lost. For each defeated enemy you’ll collect their soul. After enough souls are collected, you can take them to a demon statue and trade them in for a power and health boost. The amount of souls needed for a power boost increases with each “offering”. Besides leaving their souls behind, the enemies will often drop gold and an occasional health restoring heart.

    Treasure chests are always a welcome find and usually have nice weapons or armor in them. One of my favorite weapons I had in my possession was an emerald blade that masked my presence and enabled me to make sneak attacks. It also restored my health by six points every few seconds. As cool as this weapon was it didn’t last long because you only get one life and if you die, all of your loot is gone and the dungeon will be randomized and different on your next adventure.

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

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 68%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    If you have friends to play alongside you, your odds of survival go up as you can revive each other. Health hearts are shared but the treasure chest loot is not so you’ll have to play nice and share the wealth so to speak. Setting up the co-op game took a little effort as you have to go into the game’s menu and start a new co-op game. The Switch controllers will have to be configured and each player’s name will need to be entered to tell them all apart in the game.

    The visuals have a retro look to them and are nothing too special. There’s a fair amount of variety in the enemies and if you can survive long enough, some fierce boss battles await you. With the enemy deaths there is plenty of bloodshed. Although I’m not a fan of killing kittens or demons, I’m more leery of the soul offerings than the spilling of blood.

    The sound effects are equally retro in nature and are nothing too complex. There are some voice overs and they sound computerized. Background music is present, but it’s forgettable.

    In the end, my son and I enjoyed playing this game together. It’s fun with friends or by yourself. With the randomized dungeons, it will be a different experience each time you play it. This game also has the “one more time!” thing going for it. The portability of the Switch version is great, however, other mobile platforms are only a fraction of the price. The Android version sells for $1.99 and the Steam edition is $3.99. If you like challenging roguelikes, the Switch version of Tallowmere is worth picking up if you don’t mind killing kittens and offering souls to demon statues.

  • Utopia 9 - A Volatile Vacation (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Utopia 9  - A Volatile Vacation
    Developed By: Whalegun
    Published By: Whalegun
    Released: May 5, 2016
    Available On: Windows, macOS
    Genre: Twin Stick Shooter, Rogue-like
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1-4 offline
    Price: $11.99

    Thanks to Whalegunfor the review copy of this game. My family thoroughly enjoyed it. :)

    Utopia 9 is an planet-wide vacation resort. Filled to the brim with mutants, Utopia 9 is a dry wasteland with all the conveniences you need. The local guns and groceries stores are sure to please as you make your way through waves of mutants to customer service. Utopia 9 is truly the last vacation you will ever need.

    In Utopia 9, the player fills the role of a tourist landing on the barren planet resort. In this top-down twin stick shooter, the tourist starts with a suitcase in his right hand, a gun in his left hand, and a camera in the utility slot. As the game progresses, you will find more guns, melee weapons, utilities, and armor. Additionally, collecting soylent will allow mutations to power up the tourist. The planet has different path choices to follow to reach customer support, each with randomly selected weapon and loot drops. If all the tourists die, a mutant will take their loot and become a nemesis.

    Utopia 9  - A Volatile Vacation
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging co-op gameplay
    Weak Points: A bug that forces you to start from the beginning
    Moral Warnings: Violence, Blood, Gore, Alcohol, Tobacco/Vape Reference

    The game contains 5 main types of enemies. Melee mutants runs close, trying to kill you with a suitcase or some other close range weapon. Gun mutants wield basic ranged weapons, like the pistol you start with. The tougher special mutants will wield a weapon with the same loot type as the level; for example, a melee loot level will have special mutants with strong melee weapons. A nemesis is a real challenge, fighting with the loot you last died with. Finally there is the boss with his forcefield, electric trap dispensers, and his minions. If you manage to make your way through all the mutants, you are rewarded with an unlockable character.

    Friends can join at the start of a game, which brings advantages and disadvantages. None of the players can be left behind. To revive dead teammates, someone has to give half their health to the that person. Unfortunately, if a player is caught in an explosion that tosses their body out of reach, they can't be revived, and you manually have to quit and start from the beginning again. Chests drop equipment equal to the number of players currently in game. Med kits, ammo, and soylent pickups are all shared fortunately.

    The controls for this game are simple for fighting and swapping weapons, but managing inventory can be a bit of a challenge at first. As an example, if two suitcases exist in the right hand slots, switching one of them to the left can be a challenge with four buttons for sorting your items. There is elevator music on the loading screen, but the rest of the game is just sound effects. Most of the game's story is on the Steam store page, rather than in the game.

    Utopia 9  - A Volatile Vacation
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Utopia 9 feels well balanced. As you get closer to customer support, better weapons drop and stronger enemies come in to compensate. It escalates to a point where enemies are easier to kill, but a single mistake can cost the game. It rarely feels unfair; most of the time, I knew the mistake I made.

    Excessive amounts of purple blood and remains are found throughout the game. Most of this comes from mutants the tourists kill. There are hints that the mutants were once human, and aren't fairing very well. Some of the signs are vomiting mutants, messages on walls, and mutations tourists receive to grow stronger. If you get a specific mutation, Mutants drop alcohol to heal you. One buff is called "Full Body Vape", and surrounds you with a cloud of colorful smoke.

    Utopia 9 is definitely fun, and it could be even better with a little more polish and a bug fix. The art is well done and the building interiors and exteriors look great. I beat the game in one day with the help of my brother, but we didn't manage to beat it a second time yet. We are working on it, slowly but surely. This is definitely replayable.

    -Sorrel

  • Virtual Rogue (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Virtual Rogue
    Developed By: Snowy Productions
    Released: April 8, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Shooter, Rogue-like
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $2.99

    *Advertising disclosure* - After this review was posted, Black Shell Media became an advertising partner.  This review is not influenced by this relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for the review key!

    Virtual Rogue is a top-down rogue-like shooter about a homicidal piece of paper. When New Text Document.txt is thrown in the trash, he'll go on a murderous killing spree against paint brushes, calculators, monitors and more to exact his revenge.

    Virtual Rogue puts you into a flat world that's designed to look like the old green PCB of motherboards and PCIe cards. It's a randomly generated game, which determines things like the position of walls, which enemies are spawned and how many, what kind of items are in the level, and so on. At the start of each level, there are three things you can purchase, such as RAM, chests full of stuff, items, buffs and more. Each enemy has multiple colors, with each color being harder, whether they're faster, have more health, or do more damage, meaning that each run is different from the last. You have a set amount of health; going along with the computer theme your health is RAM. You only have 10 RAM and getting killed is quite easy as most enemies take 1 RAM per hit, but some can do 2 or 3. The only way to recover health is to pick up the RAM that enemies drop, which is somewhat rare and usually only restores 1 RAM.

    Virtual Rogue
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun and creative computer theme
    Weak Points: Frustrating controls; simplistic and generic graphics; loud and annoying music; repetitive and difficult gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    There are several items in the game that seem to really do nothing. They go with the theme of being digital by acting as "hacks" such as speedhacks, aimhacks, push... hacks? That's the problem with the majority of these items, they don't have a clear use. I have no clue what most of these items do, they all have descriptions but they're vague flavor text that tries to make them sound cool but don't describe the item at all. The effects are usually so unnoticeable it's hard to tell you even used an item. You can only hold one item at a time, and even when you use items most don't last several seconds.

    Virtual Rogue has two currencies, those being bits and bytes. Bits seem to be largely useless, as bytes are only used to unlock things. Bits can be used occasionally on some luck-based objects, but they've never worked for me. The only thing bits are good for is being converted to bytes. Sometimes you can find an item shop in levels, in which you can purchase RAM, items and more. They typically have a bit-byte converter, which works pretty well. You can get a lot of bits from enemies, but you don't get many bytes. But you can get a lot of bytes from converting bits. There are also randomly generated objects like slot machines, where you test your luck and see if you get a positive or negative buff, upgrade your RAM capacity, receive an item, and more.

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

    Game Score - 40%
    Gameplay - 8/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 3/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 1/5

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

    Virtual Rogue plays like your average top-down shooter, except a lot worse. Most top-down shooters allow you to aim your shots with your mouse or controller. In Virtual Rogue, however, you walk with WASD and fire with the arrow keys; and this wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that you can't aim diagonally. But enemies can aim in any direction, which leaves you at a horrible disadvantage and makes the game incredibly difficult to play as a result.

    And that's my main issue with Virtual Rogue: it's not fun to play. Nothing else makes the game redeemable either; the artwork is just bland and generic, it's not polished and seems like something you'd put in the concept stage of a game. On the other hand, the music is unique due to how loud, screeching and annoying it is. I don't know if there are other songs in higher levels, but in my playtime I've only heard one song. Every sound here just feels off; the whole experience makes me feel as if I'm playing some kind of web browser game that asks me if I want to run Java.

    Everything feels empty, it looks bland and generic visually, the enemies are just copy-pastes, the music is grinding and the game is stupidly difficult because of the controls. Because of that, I can't recommend this game for its $3 price tag, or even if it was free; it's just not worth your time.

    - Remington

  • Voidrun (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Voidrun
    Developed By: Benjamin Soule, Pentadrangle
    Published By: Benjamin Soule
    Released: June 5, 2019
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Arcade
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $8.99

    Voidrun is a rogue-lite with fresh ideas. To kill enemies, instead of shooting them with a pistol or some other weapon, you surround them with orbs called ‘void balls’ to break the enemy and the ground underneath them. This kind of system has only been used a couple of times to my knowledge; Qix, an old Atari arcade game, and Pokémon Ranger for the DS. Voidrun does this mechanic very well and really changes up the tired and oversaturated rogue-lite genre.

    There are 3 different modes in the game. Most of my playtime has been in the classic (rogue-lite) mode, but there’s also arcade and adventure. The biggest and pretty much only consistency between the modes is your method for killing enemies. You place void balls on the ground and create a circle of them around an enemy. Once the circle is complete, it breaks the ground and the enemy, leaving a hole depending on the size of the circle you made. It's all about trapping the enemy.

    The adventure mode seems to be the most forgiving of the 3 modes, although still difficult. You play through levels on a node map and unlock various power-ups and extra lives. There's a bit of a story to follow but not much of one. This is the only mode without permanent death. For people looking for a more casual experience, adventure mode is your choice.

    Voidrun
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Innovative; replayable; polished
    Weak Points: Graphics can be hard to see; slower pacing; niche and not for everyone
    Moral Warnings: Plot is questionable; violence against robots and various creatures; destroying full planets is genocide with no obvious motive

    Arcade mode gives you 4 power-ups and then puts you in a single large map and pits you against all the enemies the game has to offer. The map is mostly just a large, blank ground. Score is calculated by how many extra void balls you have and of course enemy kills. It has a waves system with a timer. When the timer hits zero, you lose your extra void balls and a few more enemies will spawn into the map. There’s no online leaderboard, unfortunately, so you’ll only be trying to beat yourself here.

    Classic mode is the rogue-lite mode. You’re asked to destroy 4 randomly generated planets to assume victory. Each time you destroy a planet you have to get rid of one of your power-ups. Unlike most games in the genre, or most games at all, you’ll become less powerful the further you get. I haven’t seen another game do this system well, and it works here. Unfortunately, this system makes every run feel pretty similar near the end.

    Planet variety and enemy variety are good. There are about 10 different planets, each with unique characteristics. A large chunk of the enemies are snakes of some sort, but there are also tanks, robots, and even little flame balls. Most enemies require a bit of a different approach to kill, making the gameplay on each planet just slightly different.

    One of Voidrun’s biggest issues is rooted deep within the core gameplay loop. I mentioned being able to get extra void balls, and the way you do that is by breaking up the ground to find canisters. The levels are randomly generated, which means the placement of these canisters is also random. The first half of your time in a level is always running around looking for these canisters. Mind you, there’s plenty of them to go around, and they aren’t a rarity, but it does stall the pace of the game quite a lot. Enemies are designed around this system as well, with most of them being too large or too fast to kill with the starting amount of void balls. Personally, this doesn’t hurt my enjoyment of the game, but it could turn a lot of people away.

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

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Despite this major problem, Voidrun succeeds in making the other half of the gameplay incredibly satisfying. When you trap an enemy it has a great 'oomph' feeling to it. The game goes from a slow crawl of scavenging for canisters to a fast pace dodge and weave fest of chasing enemies down and trying to complete a circle around them, hoping you don't get hit. Voidrun shines in its fresh ideas for combat and the pure satisfaction that comes from achieving victory.

    Let’s talk about the art style. The colors of the default palette (other color palettes can be unlocked later) are red with a bit of white and some black. It can be hard to discern things like mines on the ground or a lone void ball. Things just seem to blend together a bit. The controls are very tight on both keyboard and gamepad, and all controls can be re-bound to whatever you want. I have not run into any major bugs so far. The music is fantastic, sounds are very retro but are satisfying to hear and fit the game.

    The only moral concern I can think of is the near nonexistent plot of Voidrun. The plot is that you were tasked by a giant spider of unknown motives to “void” planets. The spider “blesses” you with 4 power-ups to achieve this and takes them away one by one until you’ve finished the job. When you beat a planet, in the planet select screen that planet explodes. You're essentially committing genocide here, for a completely unknown reason. The plot isn’t shown or talked about often, and most of it is only mentioned on the game’s store page. You kill various enemy types, usually robotic or some sort of fantasy creature.

    Overall, I absolutely recommend Voidrun at full price. It's got some weird quirks that make it niche, but I still think it’s worth a look. The new ideas it goes for are executed extremely well, and the gameplay itself is some of the most satisfying stuff I've played this year.

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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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