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Platformer

  • A Valley Without Wind (Mac)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    A Valley Without Wind 
    Developed by: Arcen Games
    Released: April 24, 2012
    Available on: Mac OS X (reviewed), Windows XP (or better)
    Genre: 2D platformer, with some civilization management and RPG elements included
    Number of players: 1 offline, unknown online
    Price:$14.99 

    Thank you GamersGate for sending us this game to review!

    The world has been shattered – not just in space, but in time. Icy tundras can be found next to barren deserts and abandoned cities or toxic robotic graveyards. Amidst the ruins, certain people emerge to try and scrape together what they can to survive. Some of these people are called glyph bearers and have unusual powers granted to them. They need to use these powers to help others survive a wilderness filled with cruel monsters and sinister constructs, and to help them build a shelter against the effects of violent storms. If one glyph bearer falls, another will emerge to take his or her place.

    This is the world as it is depicted in the game “A Valley Without Wind” by Arcen Games. The player controls a glyph bearer through a setting which is largely a platformer game. The player will have to jump from ledge to platform – and even has a spell to create more platforms – to make it from one side of the area to the other. Of course there will be environmental challenges and enemies to defeat along the way.

    But that's just putting it simply. The player will also have to collect resources from the area in order to improve the wide variety of spells that they can develop. They can solve various quests in order to improve the settlement or to unlock new powers. They will run across bosses and “mini-bosses” that pose additional difficulty. They will discover occasional clues to mysteries, essentially helping to piece together the long-lost backstory of the game world. And they will have to use clever platforming skills and solve various mazes in order to complete the challenges presented.

    In addition to the platforming elements, there is a bit of civilization management as well. The player can obtain the plans to build structures on an overworld map which have a variety of effects, such as improving the settlement for the character's people or pushing back the relentless storms that plague the area. In this overworld map, the player can choose which area to enter next.

    A Valley Without Wind
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very flexible difficulty settings, randomization leads to different gameplay experiences, good music
    Weak Points: Complex game, mediocre graphics
    Moral Warnings:Magic use

    If you are getting the impression that this is a fairly complicated game for a platformer, you would be correct. I've just barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer, and haven't even gotten into the role-playing game elements or the challenges of defeating “lieutenants” in order to weaken the “overlord,” the central boss of each continent. The biggest factor to all this, however, is that the game is almost entirely random. The levels, the enemies, the location and types of quests, and even the player's starting characters are all generated randomly. Because of this, there are no walkthroughs to be found to complete the game. This aspect leads to a dynamic gaming experience that can keep the player guessing. 

    Arcen Games has gone out of its way to make the game really cater to the player's desires, too. The game features multiple levels of difficulty for different aspects of the game. For example, if the player enjoys puzzle platformers, but loathes being attacked all the time, they can crank up the difficulty for the platforming element while dropping the difficulty of the monsters. The player can even turn off the civilization-management aspects of the game if they want to have more of an action-oriented experience, if they choose. Best of all, the player can change the difficulty either at the opening menu screen, or at the settlement that he or she is trying to grow. If the player thought the last area was too difficult or too easy, they can simply change it before going to the next area. The new region will be generated with these changes, and the player can determine if it is more to his or her liking.

    With all the different elements to the game, it can be hard to keep track of everything that is going on. The game does provide helpful tool tips when a new gameplay element emerges, but there is still a lot to try and memorize. It can be dizzying trying to keep track of all the different goals, and sometimes it may just be best to play through the game and let the different achievements pop up as they occur, rather than trying for a specific target.

    Because of the way it is structured, the game is endless. Once a player is able to defeat the overlord of a continent, they can travel to the next one and begin the cycle again. In addition, if played on Steam, there are almost 100 achievements to unlock, and the game takes advantage of the trading card system on Steam as well. As an added bonus, when this game is purchased, Arcen Games will give you the sequel at the same time. The same activation code can be used to unlock both games – or even unlock the games on Steam, if you should happen to obtain the games from a different source.

    A Valley Without Wind

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    The music has an interesting chiptune style combined with orchestra, and even rock, which makes an intriguing, memorable soundtrack. The music changes subtly to fit the mood of the current scene and flows very well. The sound effects also are top-notch. The graphics, on the other hand, leave something to be desired. Some of the smaller enemies have an annoying tendency of blending in with the background, making it difficult to tell if your character is being damaged by enemy fire or a creature. The screen has an occasional tendency to flicker whenever the character is moving (or falling) too fast. In addition, the graphics look like they were adapted from some of the products that can be purchased for 3D rendering programs like Poser or DAZ Studio – while this isn't inherently bad in itself, it does lead to a tendency to have the characters and scenery look fairly generic. I have had an occasional issue with starting the game – the game will sometimes hang during the loading process, and I would have to force-quit in order to get out. Restarting the game after such a hang never led to any issues, though, and the game didn't freeze during actual gameplay, either.

    Although there is a multiplayer element to this game, I was never able to find other people to play with when I attempted to use it. As a result, I can't report on how well the game works when there is more than one player on the screen, or if the game becomes player vs. player, or more cooperative, or both.

    From a moral standpoint, the game is pretty clean. Human characters wear conservative outfits or full bodysuits which protect them against various elements, so there are no nudity elements. The closest thing to nudity that I saw was a shirt that showed one of the contemporary woman's midriff. Enemies vanish when defeated (with some robots exploding into a ball of fire), leaving behind green motes that can heal the character and glowing “consciousness shards” which serve as the in-game currency. When your character dies, it may leave behind a “vengeful spirit” that will attack you if you visit that area again, but other than that, there are no undead creatures that I've found. There are some large crystal beings that are implied to be alien in some fashion that will help you in the settlements. And although the main character is implied to use magic, the source of this magic is never explained or defined – it may be magic, or mutant powers, or alien technology... who knows?

    All in all, “A Valley Without Wind” is an interesting experience. If you are the kind of person who enjoys a classic platformer experience – like the early Castlevania or Metroid games – you will probably enjoy the idea that this game can be played endlessly and never be the same. If you are the kind of person who wants an intriguing challenge and a fun blend of different game genres, then this may be a great addition to your library. However, if you prefer a game with a clear, beginning-to-end storyline or realistic, cutting-edge graphics, you may want to look elsewhere.

  • Anomaly 1729 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Anomaly 1729
    Developed By: Anvil Drop, LLC
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: December 30, 2015
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Third-Person Puzzle Platformer
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $9.99

    The world of Phiohm is vast and clean. Countless nanites shape its landscape and keep the world orderly, driven by a central intelligence. In general, Phiohm is calm, with few surprises and even fewer problems. But in a remote corner of this world, a being suddenly gains cognizance and becomes self-driven. For the 1729th time, an anomaly begins to wander Phiohm.

    Anomaly 1729 is a puzzle platformer that falls somewhere between Portal and a Rubik’s Cube. Taking control of the titular Anomaly 1729, a freshly-sentient robot that dubs itself Ano, you move through the atmospheric world of Phiohm while solving puzzle rooms presented by an omnipresent voice. The main mechanic involves rotation: using Ano’s “messenger” arm cannon, you shoot packets of blue or orange data. Striking the floating cubes suspended in the air rotates the entire room 90 degrees in the indicated direction – blue shots move the room in one direction, orange the opposite. While some puzzles restrict the room’s movement, there are usually one or more cubes representing each of the three axes of rotation. As Ano stays in place during these rotations, reaching the exit of each puzzle chamber requires proper positioning and forethought to either move the platforms to you or change gravity to make Ano fall where you need to go.

    The game slowly introduces a few more mechanics as you progress: platforms that won’t rotate with the room (and thus keep Ano in place as well), pads that repel or attract Ano depending on their coloration, fields that restrict your abilities, and so on. These additions are usually given their own section free from the other gameplay elements, allowing you to adapt to them alone before they’re integrated into the chambers. This is done through a series of hub areas; moving to a puzzle room requires solving a less intensive test, usually free of rotation, as a sort of preview to the main attraction. By the end of the game, the chambers are packed with so many elements that they become quite complex and require a lot of spatial awareness to piece together.

    Ano controls well enough, with the two mouse buttons firing the blue and orange shots and spacebar to jump. The jumps are a little floaty, but Ano gets more height than it appears and the platforms give significant leeway for error. In addition, you have a small amount of air control, so accurate jumping is rather easy. Ano does retain momentum from any source, which can be a little troublesome when jumping from moving platforms. Overall, Ano’s controls are simple and it’s easy to move around Phiohm – almost too easy, as the next point illustrates.

    Anomaly 1729
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Neat concept; most puzzles are clever and satisfying to solve
    Weak Points: Everything looks similar; easy to get lost; can get permanently stuck at times
    Moral Warnings: Game implies you’re hurting nanites every time you change something

    The room for error the platforming gives you, while making the necessary jumps forgiving, also allow for some serious sequence breaks. Each puzzle has an intended solution, but the travel time of your messenger shots, along with Ano’s air control, allows for what are likely unintentional results. Since Ano freezes in place while the room rotates, clever jumps, controlled falls, and well-timed shots can combine to skip large portions of a chamber. It’s hard to tell if this technique is an accidental quirk of the game engine or a purposeful system to reward players thinking outside the box. Either way, it’s both a blessing and a curse: cheesing out a puzzle that way can feel rewarding, but is an ultimately hollow victory – and doing it accidentally feels like cheating.

    The potential use of such possibly-illicit means of puzzle solving is exacerbated by the game’s main flaw: you really can’t tell where you need to go most of the time. Graphically, the game looks nice, being essentially a mix of Mirror’s Edge and Tron – most of the environments are solid whites, blues, and oranges, with bright neon lines cutting through the landscape. However, everything looks mostly the same; the first hub guides you to new locations by darkening where you’ve been, and puzzle rooms start and end with automated doors, but a lot of the middle portion of the game is a maze of white walls and blue pillars. Add to the fact that the game intends for you to climb above, run on top of, and jump between the walls, it’s a little too easy to lose track of where you’ve been and where you need to go.

    In addition, your actual goals don’t stand out too much and are easy to misplace. There are two object types to find in order to progress: the aforementioned puzzle room doors, and podiums. The podiums are half the size of Ano, and will either reveal story elements or manipulate the room in some fashion. Neither of them stand out from the rest of the world in any meaningful way: doors have glowing red or green text but are otherwise another part of the wall, and podiums have no discernible markings to draw attention. It’s even worse in the puzzle chambers, as trying to keep track of a tiny podium in the midst of spinning the room every which way becomes extremely difficult. Likewise, entrance doors don’t turn off or otherwise differentiate themselves from the exit doors, and it’s entirely possible to accidentally wind up back at the start due to losing track of which door you’re moving toward. A simple glow or neon marking on your targets would go a long way to keeping the player oriented, but as it stands it’s too easy to completely lose your way and wind up undoing progress by mistake.

    When they work, though, the puzzles are challenging and satisfying to solve. The rotational aspect of the game takes some getting used to, but eventually you’ll learn to see paths on the walls and ceilings, adding a refreshing layer of verticality. Taking your time and thinking through your moves is a must, as random rotation will get you nowhere most of the time. While most rooms are airtight in their design, a few have areas where you can get permanently stuck – in one case, a bounce pad tossed Ano short of the mark and down an inescapable hole, with no option but to return to the last checkpoint and start over. Overall, however, each puzzle is significantly different from the others, and the different platform types and restrictive fields make for varied gameplay.

    Anomaly 1729
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 77%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

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

    The game offers some semblance of a story, but it’s a little simple and moves too fast. When Ano awakens, he’s led by the “voice of Phiohm,” who calls himself Yuler. Ano makes it immediately clear that he wants to see all of Phiohm and what lies beyond, and Yuler guides him along. However, Yuler isn’t particularly consistent: one moment he’s encouraging Ano to explore and move on, but as Ano goes down the only path available to him, Yuler starts demanding Ano turn back and forget everything. There’s a brief moment when Ano worries that he’s hurting the nanites that make up Phiohm when he manipulates them, but there’s never an in-game implication of pain and the whole topic is dropped after the first hub area. At the final hub, Ano declares that he understands the purpose of Phiohm and the nanites; suffice it to say it would’ve been nice of him to share that information with the audience.

    In addition, the story is told in subtitles of a fictional language that is not translated for you at the start. Instead, the first hub world holds its own podiums which translate a few letters at a time. It’s a neat idea, and you don’t lose any vital information before you have enough letters to understand the text, but it’s entirely possible to miss one and go the whole game with an imperfect translation – the game makes these podiums rather obvious, but it’s still an odd choice. Later hubs have podiums that tell the story of another anomaly that came before Ano, and are much harder to find, especially with the aforementioned lack of visual cues. Even so, the conversations between Ano and Yuler are nice distractions in between puzzles, and the story overall adds more than it takes away – and you can simply turn the story off in the menu if you so desire. There are two endings, but the first is rather unsatisfying and skips the final puzzle, so it’s only worth seeing on replays. Upon beating the game, you can start over with your translations intact; it may seem strange to replay a finite puzzle game, but the variable solutions make it worth another playthrough.

    As mentioned before, the graphics suit the atmosphere well; the neon lines turn orange and pulse when Yuler is talking, which is a nice touch. All the neon strains the eyes after a while, though, and maneuvering the camera too close to a light source can mess up the rendering and make rooms too dark to navigate even after moving the camera away. Audio-wise, there are few faults to find. The soundtrack is made up of calm ambient music that turns more intense when in a puzzle chamber, and the sound effects are fitting and never grate on the ears. The song for the final hub is the only downside, as it contains a sound that can only be described as a sneaker squeaking on hardwood, which can get irritating when trying to figure out the final puzzles. Still, the majority of the songs are easy on the ears, and the seamless transition into and out of the puzzle variants is an aspect more games should use.

    Morally, the only aspect worth noting is the aforementioned nanite abuse, and even that is up for interpretation. Yuler insists the nanites are not sentient, but never denies Ano’s claim that he’s hurting them. Again, however, there is no indication that Phiohm’s nanites react poorly to Ano’s manipulation. Ano himself is disturbed by his potential assault, and cites it as one of his main reasons for wanting to leave Phiohm, so any violence is unintentional. Other than that, every aspect of the game is appropriate for all ages.

    In the end, Anomaly 1729 is a game with interesting ideas marred by some design flaws. The core of the game works well, and most puzzles are difficult without becoming too frustrating, but the ease with which important objects fade into the chaotic background makes some chambers more annoying than others. Still, puzzle game fans will likely get their money’s worth – though if you prefer your challenges two-dimensional, you might want to wait for a sale.

    -Cadogan

  • Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
    Developed by: Inti Creates
    Published by: Inti Creates (Digital) Yacht Club Games (Physical) 
    Release Date: September 29, 2016
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Action-Shooter, Platformer
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes)
    Number of players: Single player
    Price: $13.49

    Thank you Yacht Club Games for sending us a copy of the game to review!

    Just a little over two years ago, Inti Creates released their Mega Man inspired title for the 3DS known as Azure Striker Gunvolt. It was extremely well received and to much anticipation the sequel has now arrived.

    The story picks up some time after the last game. Gunvolt, having defeated the Sumeragi Group and stopped "Project Muse," is spending time healing and recouping with friends when a new threat emerges. A powerful organization of adepts from across the world known as "Eden" threatens to restart the efforts of Sumeragi and captures Lumen, the muse that is held within the young girl Joules. It's up to Gunvolt and Copen to defeat Eden.

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 allows Gunvolt or Copen to be selected at the main menu and their storylines play out differently. Copen returns from the first game and immediately seeks revenge against Gunvolt and every other adept in an effort to save his sister who was also kidnapped by Eden. Copen believes it's his mission from God to destroy all adepts. 

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging and engaging gameplay; Beautiful art style; 2 playable storylines.
    Weak Points: Bosses have cheap attack patterns; Levels can feel lackluster; Never felt like Gunvolt was getting stronger as the game progressed.
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence throughout the game; Sexual themes are prominent; Minor amounts of cursing.

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 plays virtually identical to the first game. As you move Gunvolt through linear stages, you'll once again have to "tag" enemies before using your Flashfield ability. Shooting enemies will tag them with metal rods, and by tagging an enemy multiple times, more damage will be inflicted when you shock them with Flashfield. A returning feature called Prevasion has now been made permanent rather than being relegated to an equip item. Prevasion nullifies damage Gunvolt takes once as long as he has energy called EP. EP drains whenever Gunvolt uses Flashfield and when it runs out he'll overheat, causing the EP bar to refill exponentially slower. By tapping down on the D-pad twice Gunvolt can refill the energy bar so long as he isn't currently overheated.

    Copen handles slightly differently when compared to Gunvolt.  Because he's human he doesn't have to worry about overheating like Gunvolt. He must dash through an enemy to tag it before he can unleash a stream of bullets to destroy it. In a way, Copen is like the reverse of Beck from Mighty No. 9. He can also jump diagonally off walls in a zipping motion. Despite their differences, levels are still completed in the same fashion as Gunvolt's.

    The story plays out over the course of 10 stages with each stage taking an average of 15 minutes to complete. Stages breakdown into three sections for the most part. You'll platform around the stage and defeat enemies until you reach a midpoint. These points are closed off rooms that requires the player to defeat a certain amount of enemies in order to unlock the door to progress. The next stretch will play out like the first with platforming challenges and baddies to shoot until you reach the end of the stage. A boss battle awaits at the end of each stage, and these encounters with Eden's adepts are incredibly challenging. 

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Much like the Mega Man games before it, bosses jump or move sporadically around the screen and Gunvolt or Copen are practically guaranteed to take damage the first time you take one on. You'll need to keep an eye on your EP so that Prevasion will activate as well as dash at the right moments. When Gunvolt defeats a boss he'll gain a new type of gun, whereas with Copen, he'll gain a new ability from that boss also like in Mega Man. By using materials gained at the end of stages, the player can craft accessories for Gunvolt or Copen to equip. These can have numerous effects and it can be fun to experiment with new ones. Though, I never actually found enough materials to craft anything my first time through, making the whole crafting system feel unnecessary.

    The main reason you'll want to avoid taking damage is because of the Kudos system, which makes a return from the first game, allowing you to boost your score as long as you keep dealing damage and don't get hit. There are three modes by which Kudos can be handled: Gutless, Cautious, and Fearless. Basically Gutless keeps your Kudos even if you're damaged, Cautious takes three hits before Kudos are lost, and Fearless only allows one hit but are worth more. When a certain amount of Kudos is reached the background music will change. There are Kudos based challenges and it's not always easy avoiding damage throughout a stage. This provides a reason to replay levels to try and complete these challenges.

    Graphically, this is a real eye-pleaser. Character and boss designs are beautiful and certain areas of stages have immense detail. Cutscenes are definitely the highlight of the game. 3D is used incredibly well and adds the right amount of depth to stages. There's not much to say other than the game is gorgeous. The music is also well done, but it's nothing that will honestly stick with you after you finish the game. The sound effects in the game are also well used. Now because this game is dubbed entirely in Japanese, there are dialogue boxes that will clutter the already jam packed top-screen. To make things even more inconvenient, sometimes these conversations have nothing to do with what's currently happening on screen. Thankfully, the developers allowed players to turn off these boxes in the settings menu.

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2

    Morally, there are some things to mention. Firstly, Copen believes God has chosen him to kill all of the adepts. This can come across as blasphemous. Another issue some may have is with the character Zonda. Zonda is extremely open about having both parts of anatomy and has the ability to split into two forms based on both genders. His forms are also depicted as highly sexualized. There is also a fair amount of violence to be seen, with some scenes even depicting blood. I wouldn't recommend this one for the kids solely because of Zonda's dialogue.

    Outside of the violent and sexual natures of the game there's a lot to enjoy in Azure Striker Gunvolt 2. The story doesn't last more than 4 hours, but with secret endings for both characters and difficult challenges to attempt, there's tons to do. This one comes highly recommended to Mega Man fans that were let down by Mighty No. 9. If you haven't played the first game and want to get into the series, The Striker Pack contains both games and is available digitally and physically.

    -Kyuremu

  • Bard's Gold (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bard's Gold
    Developed and Published By: Erdem Sen/Pixel Lantern
    Released: August 14, 2015
    Available On: Windows, macOS, SteamOS, Linux, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita
    Genre: Arcade Platformer
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $4.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Pixel Lantern for sending us this game to review!

    A goblin has stolen the Bard’s Gold, a legendary treasure and family heirloom. The bard gives chase, following the critter through a magic portal to a strange land. That is all Bard’s Gold gives you for a story; as a love letter to an older generation of games, the story is relegated to the manual, and the gameplay takes center stage.

    Bard’s Gold is an arcade platformer with a few borrowed elements from other genres, namely RPGs and Roguelikes. The core of the game revolves around exploring one of the four different areas’ levels, searching for the exit door and the key it requires. Each area is filled with traps and monsters, which the bard is rather ill-equipped to deal with at first. You collect a steady supply of gems along the way, however, which can be traded for equipment at the semi-common shops found throughout the levels. Upon death or game completion, you can enhance the bard’s natural abilities with the remaining gems; unlike the shop items, these stay with you permanently.

    The bard is sluggish and weak to start, which unfortunately makes the game hard to get into at first. His throwing knives have little range and power, and nearly every creature outpaces him. Between the monsters and the many traps, some of which are well hidden, you’ll have to take it slow – but not too slow, as each room has a timer attached to it that, when expired, triggers fireballs to rain from the sky. While the source of some tension, it’s more of an annoyance, as clearing out the enemies becomes a tedious game of standing one level above or below, dropping/jumping to hit them with two or three daggers, then moving out of the way until they come back around.

    Bard's Gold
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Responsive controls; steady and satisfying character progression
    Weak Points: Very slow gameplay at first; little variety in level layout; occasional cheap deaths
    Moral Warnings: Light violence; cartoony undead monsters; can make deals with, including selling your soul to, a Grim Reaper-type storeowner

    The further you go into the game, the less this becomes an issue, as the gems you pick up from pots and defeated monsters give you access to upgrades, including different weapons, power potions, speed shoes, and the like. Given enough money, the weakling bard quickly becomes a powerhouse capable of tearing through enemies. Of course, if you get too cocky and bumble into a trap, you’re back to square one – death removes every item you’ve collected. You can buy a protective sphere to shield you from one hit, and a shield to protect your items from one death, but being too careless can be costly.

    Death is something you get used to in Bard’s Gold, but each one is avoidable for the most part. Traps can be hard to spot, but still have telltale signs that your eyes adjust to after some time. Enemies have different abilities that can surprise you at first, but are all easily identifiable by color, design, and/or sound. Death is common for the new player, but experienced ones can very well go the whole game without a single failure. The controls are very responsive, with every movement exactly as ordered, so death is always the player’s fault – mostly. Sadly, the bard can’t look up (though he can look down), and offscreen enemies are still active but are silent. There were a few occasions where an unseen slime monster spat a blob of acid that dropped from the sky onto the bard, with no warning or chance of avoidance.

    Upon the end of the game, a screen appears that allows you to pump whatever gems you have remaining into the bard’s skills, ranging from more starting lives to better attack distance to starting each game with an upgrade or three. As such, even if you are struggling with the game, enough time invested will ensure the bard strengthens enough to help out – though most abilities are locked at first, and require finding skill books in-game. Like the rest of the game, the rise to power is slow but steady, and coincides with player skill enough to feel like a reward rather than a handicap. It is important to note, however, that this end screen only appears on game over or game completion; quitting out from the pause menu gives you nothing.

    Once you’ve beaten the game, Bard’s Gold offers a few different ways to vary it up. Each world has a small selection of pre-defined, unchanging levels, offering a chance to memorize and speedrun the game for a spot on the integrated high score leaderboards. There are three difficulties; the two harder ones limit your starting lives and increase enemy health, but multiply the gems you receive. In addition, the hardest one has no checkpoints, requiring a start-to-finish run of the whole game. Finally, there is an item you can unlock in the shop that randomizes the traps in each level while doubling your point gain, offering a breath of fresh air if you’ve grown tired of the normal stages.

    Bard's Gold
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The presentation of the game is high quality throughout. The pixilated graphics are crisp, clean, and generally well animated, with particular care given to the movements of the bard. There are only two resolution options, with one being miniscule and the other fullscreen; suffice to say, fullscreen is the way to go if you want to actually see traps, especially in the game’s darkened first level. The music is generally appealing, with each song fitting the world it’s in, but the two-minute loops can get tiresome after a while. Finally, the game runs smoothly, with no crashes or hiccups in sight.

    There are a rather surprising amount of moral issues to be found in such a simple game. Combat is prevalent, though only against fantasy monsters like slimes and robots and creatures like bats and worms. The enemies and the bard all vanish upon expiration with no corpses or blood – aside from a bleeding effect, which only puts a red droplet icon above the affected creature. The final world is a graveyard populated by cartoony undead, mainly skeletons and ghosts. Most egregious, however is the storeowner you barter with, being a Grim Reaper analogue. Along with the obvious issue of dealing with an avatar of death, the aforementioned item that randomizes the traps in each level is the bard’s soul, which he sells to the Reaper for a thousand gems. While never necessary, and indeed requiring a conscious decision to unlock in the first place, it’s still selling your soul for money and points, even if it makes the game harder.

    All in all, Bard’s Gold is an engaging little game with a decent amount of variety to it. The biggest draws are the solid controls and the player progression – if you can get through the sluggish opening, driving the bard from wimp to slayer is satisfying and makes the game enjoyable to come back to. With the game currently sitting at $4.99 on Steam, there’s little risk in picking it up – just remember to mind your step, watch your head, and keep both hands on your soul at all times.

    -Cadogan

  • Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition (3DS)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition
    Developed by: Axol Studio
    Published by: Ratalaika Games
    Release date: August 18, 2016 (3DS)
    Available on: 3DS, Wii U, Windows
    Genre: Run and Gun, Platformer
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up (Fantasy Violence)
    Price: $2.99

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us the game to review!

    The Black Hand of Fate, a terrorist organization, has constructed a secret base in a volcano in Antarctica and it's up to the Blasting Agent to put their plans to a stop. This is the story of Blasting Agent, and it's just as simple as its gameplay, which is a good thing.

    Blasting Agent is a well known game currently available on Kongregate, a site dedicated to smaller budget games. It was originally released in 2009, and was praised by many players. It has been generally updated to smooth and refine the graphics, as well as having new levels and new bosses added in to create the Ultimate Edition. The developers claim that this is the definitive version to play, and it's hard to argue with that.

    Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent level designs; The soundtrack is phenomenal; Crisp graphics and smooth animations.
    Weak Points: A little on the short side; No 3D.
    Moral Warnings: As this is an 8-bit shooting game, there's a minor amount of violence.

    Spread across six expansive levels, players guide the agent across multiple rooms eliminating the various robotic enemies that appear. They can either be shot or jumped on as means of dispatching them. Each level is broken up into separate "rooms" and in each room there are certain amounts of enemies to be defeated and gold to be collected. On easy mode, getting a 90% in both categories for a stage will unlock a power-up. Some power-ups include a dash for movement and the ability to double jump. At the end of each stage is a boss that must be defeated. They all have awesome designs, and no two bosses fight the same, which is a huge plus. Completing the game unlocks hard mode and it lives up to its name. Enemies have more health and deal more damage. The reward for getting 100% in the gold amount and enemy kills unlocks a costume for the agent. The costumes are merely cosmetic, but they each look awesome so I couldn't complain.

    Scattered throughout the levels players can find four different upgrades. Blue upgrades increase speed and range of the bullets, green increases damage, and red adds a spread functionality to the gun. There is also a health upgrade that will increase the agent's heart count by one. All of these are needed as the enemies and bosses become bullet sponges halfway through the game. Every door in the game acts as a checkpoint, and when you are killed you respawn with full health at the last door you entered. This can be utilized effectively to restore health after a difficult room simply by taking damage until the agent dies and respawning. The amounts of enemies eliminated and gold collected are saved at each door, so there's no need to worry about redoing anything if you use the doors this way. 

    Something worth mentioning is if you hold down the 'A' button to continuously shoot, you'll keep firing in the same direction, even if you change directions. To shoot in a different direction just release the 'A' button and you are free to move once more. This takes some time to get used to, but for the most part it's a great feature that should be utilized more in run and gun games.

    Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 95%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Graphically, the 8-bit style works perfectly on a handheld. Sprites are bright and colorful, and levels feel intricately designed without ever feeling too large. Bosses are large and take on an almost 16-bit appearance. They are much smoother looking than anything else in the game and they definitely stand out because of it. At the end of level three the agent is chased down by a giant robot, but unfortunately there's no music playing during the boss fight. This was the only case of a letdown in the game that I found.

    In the audio department, this has one of my favorite soundtracks for a 3DS title. Each song is unique and memorable. In a way, it reminded me of Cave Story. Not particularly in how the music sounds, but that each area has a new song that plays, and they all fit the environments perfectly. This is a soundtrack I may consider purchasing, it's that good. Sound effects are loud and crisp and do a great job exemplifying the action. Ambient sounds like wind blowing across the frozen surface of Antarctica in the first level really instills a sense of being completely alone. 

    As far as appropriateness goes this game is pretty harmless. Since every enemy is a robot there's really no need to be concerned about the violence. At the end of the day there aren't many things to complain about with Blasting Agent, aside from the overall short length of the game. Combining the right amount of difficulty, amazing music, and a visual style all its own, I highly recommend it. $2.99 is a steal for a game of this quality. The passion the developers poured into it can be seen and heard the moment you walk through that first door in level one.

    -Kyuremu

  • Bob Was Hungry (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Bob Was Hungry
    Developed by: Shorebound Studios
    Published by: Shorebound Studios
    Release Date: August 19, 2015
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of Players: Up to eight players online
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Shorebound Studios for sending us this game to review!

    Bob is a round alien that likes to eat. He was happily flying around in space and was running out of food until his ship crashed into a meteor and landed on a strange planet along with his dinner that he was about to eat.  Bob’s goal is to locate his dinner and ideally a condiment to go along with it.  

    Each of the one-hundred and seventy levels has a condiment and a meal hidden within it.  The meal is required to unlock the next level, but if you want to have your time recorded and the harder difficulty unlocked, you’ll need to collect the condiment too.  There are various Steam achievements for unlocking various meal combinations.  To earn these achievements, you’ll have to play each level several times over.  That wouldn’t be a big deal if the levels were not very challenging; however, Bob Was Hungry prides itself on being a difficult platformer.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Over 170 challenging levels and up to eight players can play through them together
    Weak Points: This  game prides itself on being brutally difficult; some graphical glitches
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    Many people compare Bob Was hungry to a 3D version of Super Meat Boy when it comes to difficulty.  Many of the obstacles in Bob Was Hungry are not visible until it’s too late.  With that said, I felt that many of my deaths were truly earned and that the level design is very sadistic indeed.  I wish I could tell you that there are check points, but there are not.  Each death means that you’ll have to start over from the beginning and re-grab the condiment that’s often difficult to get to.

    Most of the deadly obstacles involve spikes.  Clumps of spikes on the ground, spikes in the wall, moving spikes, spinning spiked wheels, and crushing blocks that have (you guessed it!) spikes all over them.  True to the platformer genre, there are plenty of moving, rotating, and crumbling platforms to jump across as well.

    Bob Was Hungry
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Deaths are celebrated in this game and there are Steam achievements for dying 12, 100, 1,000, and 10,000 times.  Fortunately, the deaths are not gory and simply show Bob breaking up into many pieces.  The graphics are very colorful and look nice.  There are five different worlds to mix things up a bit.  Bob will traverse though plateaus, caves, tropical and arctic zones, and even space!

    Despite dying a lot, I wasn’t too flustered and often laughed at my predicament.  My son laughed at his many deaths as well so I know that I’m not alone.  Perhaps the cheerful music helps calm the nerves.  The sound effects are minimal, but the death “thump” is very fitting.

    Due to this game’s difficulty and not knowing everyone’s patience threshold, it’s hard to give this game a solid recommendation.    It is cute and fun, but very difficult.  The asking price is a reasonable $9.99, but it has been on sale for as little as $0.50.  It’s definitely worth picking up on a sale and there is a demo to see if this game is a good fit for you.

     

  • Clustertruck (Mac)

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

    Clustertruck
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • Dragon: A Game About A Dragon (PC)

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    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Xbox 360)

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    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I walked away from Enslaved, and was ready to be as harsh as possible because of how frequently I became annoyed with it. The game was enjoyable, to be sure, but there are far too many rough edges for me to fully recommend it. Were that extra layer of polish added, and some balancing issues fixed, this would be an automatic recommendation. As it stands, I can’t much say that it’s an amazing title with a great story on top of great gameplay. It’s not. The story is worth experiencing, but how much you get out of the rest of the final product is highly dependent on your tolerances as a player.
  • Ginger Roll: 3D Platformer (Android)

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    Game Info:

    Ginger Roll: 3D Platformer
    Developed by: IRF Media
    Published by: IRF Media
    Release date: December 23, 2015
    Available on: Android, iOS
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    Price: $0.99

    Thank you IRF Media for sending us this game to re-review! 

    Last year we reviewed several builds of Ginger Roll and were unimpressed with the game’s performance and revenue model that charged for lives to play the game.  Several of our criticisms were addressed in the renamed game that now goes by Ginger Roll: 3D Platformer.

    The game’s story is actually explained in the game now and there’s a tutorial to teach you about the basic controls and the available power-ups.  Ginger Roll’s premise remains the same with Saif being trapped in a Zorb ball by the evil child genius, Iblis.  In order to stop Iblis from world domination, Saif must complete the various challenges set before him.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute concept and visuals
    Weak Points: Repetitive and annoying music; confusing level design and menu interface; it's easy to lose your game progress; not enough time to complete some levels; game will not launch if your mobile device is not online
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon deaths; one Hell themed world

    Ginger Roll/Ginger Roll: 3D Platformer is very similar to Monkey Ball where the main character rolls around in a blue ball which can be controlled with your tablet’s gyro sensor or via a software joystick.  While the concept of gyro controls is good, the implementation is lacking and I found the software joystick to be more precise.  

    There are four areas with fifteen levels apiece for Saif to traverse in order to stop Iblis. Since I don’t like linking my Facebook account to games, I played using the guest option.  Sadly, I found out the hard way that tapping the power icon logs you out instead of exiting the game.  Logging out of the guest account erases all of you progress without warning.  Some of the levels I lost progress in it took dozens of lives to complete too.  Thankfully this game replenishes lives without charging for them anymore.  When your default twenty-five lives/hearts are used up you’ll automatically be credited with three more.    

    Cookies are scattered throughout the levels and if you collect enough of them you can unlock different outfits and characters to play at the in-game store.  Besides cookies, there are also power-ups like jetpacks available.  There are also obstacles like fans, decelerators, and even deadly saw blades to avoid.  

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

    Game Score - 56%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 0/5

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

    When Saif dies he makes a funny sounding cartoon-like scream.   Unfortunately, the background music is annoying, repetitive, and hard to disable.  Disabling it is possible, but the game didn’t seem to remember my preference of keeping it off.  

    Most of the levels are pretty straight forward and can easily be completed in the thirty seconds allotted to do so.  Before you begin each level, you’re shown a fly-by sequence to see what you’re getting into.  Even with the fly-by, some of the levels were still pretty tricky and finding the entrance to some chutes to go in was rather difficult.  Other levels are exceptionally long and the thirty seconds given is not enough time.

    Even though noticeable improvements have been made in Ginger Roll: 3D Platformer, there are still too many flaws for me to recommend spending $0.99 on this title.  More variety in music and increased time for longer levels would be appreciated.  The biggest issue by far is the confusing interface and how easy it is to accidentally erase your progress. That’s unforgivable, and I consider myself to be a pretty forgiving person.

  • Ginger: Beyond the Crystal (XboxOne)

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    Game Info:

    Ginger: Beyond the Crystal
    Developed by: Drakhar Studio
    Published by: Badland Games
    Release date: October 24, 2016
    Available on: PS4, macOS, Windows, Xbox One
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: Platformer
    ESRB Rating: E for Crude humor and mild fantasy violence
    Price: $14.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Badland Games for sending us this game to review!

    The world was once peaceful and a goddess protected the tiny blue villagers as they brought gifts to her stone idol. Not long ago, the goddess stopped talking to the villagers and bestowed upon them an infant named Ginger.  When Ginger came of age, his village and others nearby were devastated by an attack on the crystals that have been corrupted and scattered across the land.  It’s up to Ginger to cleanse the crystals and to restore the towns who are missing their inhabitants.

    In order to rescue villagers and rebuild towns, Ginger will have collect blue crystals and building materials throughout his adventure.  The blue crystals act as a currency to rescue villagers and to buy accessories to cheer them up after the trauma they’ve been through.  Another way to make them happy is to rebuild their houses that have been destroyed in the chaos.  In order to rebuild their houses and other buildings you’ll need to locate items such as wood and rocks.  Sometimes they can be found scattered throughout the land, but another way to earn these resources is by completing quests.

    Ginger: Beyond the Crystal
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute characters and a decent variety of levels and challenges; nice background music
    Weak Points: Forced camera views; clunky battle system; loading screens
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; Druid religion references; Halloween and undead themes; magic use

    Besides cleansing crystals, Ginger can be kept busy by completing tasks for the villagers.  The quests usually consist of fetching various items, defeating nearby monsters, or winning a timed race.  The compass-like interface on the bottom of the screen makes it easier to find the items needed for the fetch quests, although it can only track the resources required for one quest at a time.  Because of this limitation, you may only want to accept one quest at a time.  

    Before moving onto the next town, the current one must be fully cleansed of its evil by purifying all of the red crystals into blue ones.  There are two red crystal level types; one method is when a red crystal appears in a town you can jump into it to enter a 3D platforming challenge.   Typically, you’ll have to cleanse several red crystals that are on floating platforms, which are surrounded by several spinning and rotating ones to navigate through.

    The other method of cleansing red crystals involve going through portals to enter various themed areas like a volcano, a crypt, and a mine to name a few.  These areas have one crystal to cleanse but getting to it requires appeasing or defeating a guardian/boss of some sort.  These areas typically have sections that are only available if Ginger has the appropriate outfit/ability.

    Ginger: Beyond the Crystal
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Throughout his journey, Ginger will rescue people who will grant him special powers.  For example, a minstrel will give him the ability to  play a lute to unlock gates by repeating a simple musical melody puzzle.  Another ability he’ll acquire is to change into a mouse to access areas that he would normally be too big to enter.  To extend the gameplay time you’ll have to go back to previously explored areas to access and open chests that were not available to you previously.  Another option to extend your gameplay time is to try the hard/old-school mode that transforms the checkpoints to mere healing stations. With some of the timed puzzles, I’m happy with my choice of playing this game on the default/normal difficulty.

    Fans of many classic 90’s style 3D platformers will find much to like in this colorful and cute game.  Overall Ginger: Beyond the Crystal is well polished, but there were some noticeable slowdowns on my Xbox One.  The soundtrack is exceptional and sets the mood nicely.   The voice acting consists of gibberish which some may find cute.

    Though this game is relatively safe for children to play, they may get flustered at the difficulty and skills required to complete the spinning platform challenges.  On the moral front, there are several references to druid beliefs and goddess worship.  Ginger can wear a magician outfit, which grants him the ability to cast magic spells.  Lastly, some of the levels have undead enemies and Halloween themes. 

    If you like challenging platformers and don’t mind the worshipping of goddesses and crystals, then Ginger: Beyond the Crystal is bound to entertain you for a bit.  The price is a reasonable $19.99, but I’d hold off for a sale just in case the jumping and timed puzzles aren’t your thing.   

  • Gravity Island (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Gravity Island
    Developed By: ILIKESCIFI Games, Clement Willay Games
    Published By: astragon Entertainment GmbH
    Released: September 21, 2016
    Available On: iOS, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle Platformer
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $4.99 (Steam), free with ads (iOS)

    Thanks to astragon Entertainment GmbH for the review code!

    Did you ever capture fireflies in jars when you were younger? Were you ever sad to see them go when you finally released them? Did you ever get the urge to chase them down to the ends of the earth, stuff them into a lantern, and use them to light your house? If so, Gravity Island may be your ticket to fulfilling that long-lost wish.

    Gravity Island is a puzzle platformer centered on the simple premise of solving mazes while collecting Lumies. These little light-emitting creatures were the pets and lantern of the main character, a small white bear-like being named Shiro. When Shiro accidentally drops the lamp and all his Lumies fly away, he sets out to get them back.

    Gravity Island’s main mechanic is, predictably, gravity. Every level will have blocks with arrows on them pointing in one of the four cardinal directions; touching these will shift gravity as indicated, allowing you to walk on the ceiling and walls. Each of the game’s four worlds introduce a new gameplay element, such as springs or transporters, for you to contend with alongside the gravity. While the path to the level exit might be rather simple, making it there with all three Lumies in tow can prove to be more strenuous.

    Gravity Island
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Tight controls; engaging puzzles
    Weak Points: Short and easy; no way to see the full stage; some bugs
    Moral Warnings: Shiro becomes a ghostly angel when he dies

    The levels are generally well-designed, with your goals easy enough to plan out after some wandering. However, with no pause function and no way to see the entire level beyond what’s around Shiro, some later levels become less about planning and more about trial-and-error. Often, you will be presented with two or more paths, one leading to the exit and one to a Lumie, with no way to discern the two. If you happen to take the way to the exit, there’s a high possibility you will not be able to return to the junction, forcing a restart. In addition, while the game is usually decent in showing you obstacles like spikes on the road ahead, many of them are three or four gravity switches away. You’ll have to contend with the dangers immediately in front of you first, and then try to remember where the spikes were - while coming at them from a different angle. This leads to a lot of leaps of faith, cheap deaths, and otherwise needless restarts.

    Even though this is a rather large design flaw, it amounts to only a minor annoyance most of the time, as each level is short – most come in at under a minute, and a very rare few will take over two. The controls are near-perfect as well, both in responsiveness and layout: Shiro moves exactly as you command using the arrow keys and spacebar (or analog stick and A button on an Xbox controller), making the simple acts of running and jumping quite satisfying. With the level reset button on the enter key (or Y button) and easily accessible at all times, even repeated failures won't keep you out of the game for long.

    While these easy restarts do wonders for the game’s flow, they also highlight its longevity issues. Level difficulty is sporadic, with difficult levels occasionally followed by mindlessly easy ones, but completing the game with every lumie will only take around two hours. Though it tries to add some replayability by displaying the time it takes to beat a level, this doesn’t seem to be saved anywhere in-game – you’ll have to write your times down yourself if you’re aiming to beat them later. The responsive controls do make speedrunning a rather enjoyable affair, but the fun is entirely self-made in this case.

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Presentation-wise, Gravity Island is solid throughout. The levels themselves are rather samey, but the backgrounds are colorful and pleasant to look at – though spikes will occasionally blend in with the scenery. Shiro’s animations are a bit awkward, but competent enough. The tutorials are presented in cute sketches of Shiro performing the indicated action, adding to the game’s lighthearted atmosphere. The music is decent sounding but ultimately forgettable, being comprised of generic children’s cartoon-styled tracks, though the song for the final level stands out from the pack in a good way. The game is marred by some technical issues, however, most notably a rare instance of Shiro sliding through walls upon changing gravity – which can be manipulated to your benefit sometimes. Also, the Steam achievements will randomly fail to activate; according to them, I managed to complete the game without ever learning how to jump.

    Morality-wise, there’s only one real problem of note. Shiro can die if he lands on spikes or burns up in an explosion or fire arrow. The latter has him fall into a pile of ash with cartoonish googly eyes, but the spikes burst him and have his ghostly angel begin flying in whatever direction is currently up. This is especially jarring, as the tutorial sketch just shows Shiro sitting down and crying after hitting spikes; the startling popping noise and rather macabre aftermath in-game came as quite the surprise, especially with an otherwise innocuous experience. Even if Shiro does come right back upon restart, it’s enough to potentially give some parents a pause before proffering the game to younger children.

    Overall, Gravity Island is a game with undeniable charm and solid gameplay, but lacks content; some, maybe even most, gamers could easily beat the whole game in one quick sitting. For those with little time for anything but a quick play session, however, it might be worth taking a look at when a sale rolls around. There’s also a version for Apple devices that is apparently free with some ads, which might be the better choice for playing on the go. Whatever direction you decide to go with this game, it’s at least worth a look.

    -Cadogan

  • Hubert's Island Adventure: Mouse o'War

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    Game Info:

    Hubert's Island Adventure: Mouse o'War
    Developed By: Cheese and Bacon Games
    Release Date: January 27, 2012
    Available on: PC 
    Modes: Singleplayer
    ESRB Rating: N/R
    MSRP: $9.99
    Version Reviewed: 1.1

    Thank you Cheese and Bacon games for sending us this game to review!

    Cheese and Bacon games is a husband and wife team that aim to make DRM free games that are both fun and family friendly.  Their first major release is Hubert’s Island adventure: Mouse o’ War.  This platformer game reminds me of Super Mario World and if you like that classic, chances are that you’ll enjoy this game. 

    Like many Mario games, there’s a map mode that you can walk around in and choose which area/level to enter in and play.  The main character is Hubert, but you can play as two other creatures (I honestly don’t know what they are!) as well.  Hubert’s girlfriend, Sally, has been kidnapped and it’s your job to rescue her.   

    Saving her is no simple task, since there are many enemies and bosses that stand in your way.  There’s a wide variety of foes including cows, penguins, sharks, zombie cows, scare crows, pumpkins, bees, and banana tossing monkeys.  Getting touched by thrown objects or the enemies is instant death for Hubert.  Fortunately there are flag checkpoints so you don’t have to start all over from the beginning of the level. However, when Hubert dies, the enemies that have been defeated respawn as well.     

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay; lots of hidden areas and achievements.
    Weak Points: Graphics are rough around the edges; font is a little hard to read.
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence.

    Hubert isn’t defenseless, as he can shoot purple goop at enemies to knock them out.  The ammunition is limited so if you run out, you’ll have to master defensive maneuvers.  There are some temporary power-up like the ability to fly.  Just make sure you avoid the spikes that often surround them.  

    Every level has leaves and cheese wedges to collect.  Typically you'll find that most levels have keys needed to unlock new areas.  There’s also a built in achievement system with many achievements to unlock such as dying a certain number of times, killing X number of enemies, playing for a length of time and so forth.  There are some funny ones too, but I don’t want to spoil them.

    Cheese and Bacon games (I love that name!) has put a lot of effort into making this game fun and has launched a kickstarter to raise funds to make a multiplayer co-op version.  They’re also hoping to port it to Mac and Linux as well.  While the graphics are a bit on the lacking side, they do get the job done.  There are a ton of other extras like hidden areas, and the menu screen tells you what the phase of the moon is.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    The sound track is completely original and works well to set the mood of the various levels.  If you really enjoy the music, you can buy it for $2.99.  The sound effects add to the retro feel of the game.

    I started playing Hubert’s Island Adventure with the keyboard and mouse but I found the default keyboard scheme to be a little clunky.  You can customize the keyboard or use a controller with the game; I did the latter. I use a program called MotioninJoy which lets me plug in a PS3 controller to emulate an Xbox 360 controller.  While I have used this flawlessly for a couple other games, occasionally my game controller would stop working as I was playing.  Other than that, it ran great.

    There’s a demo available and they have since upgraded the game to version 1.2.  The price is normally $9.99 but I have seen it as low as $2.99 on their website.  As a Christian parent, I have no complaints with this game morally.  I like how it knocks the enemies out instead of killing them.  My kids enjoyed watching me play it, and I have loaded it onto their computer.  I also appreciate how the developers are totally cool with sharing the game within the same household.  I look forward to seeing what other games they come out with.

     

  • Hue (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Hue
    Developed by: Fiddlesticks
    Published by: Curve Digital
    Release date: August 30, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita, Xbox One
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: Puzzle platformer
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

     

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

    A scientist named Anne has developed a ring that can alter color and change the way that people perceive it.  The evil doctor Grey has taken the ring and rendered Anne invisible.  It’s up to her son, Hue, to wield the power of color and save her.  

    In the beginning, the 2D world is greyscale but that doesn’t last for long after Hue discovers his first color.   By switching to that color (blue), obstacles of that same color disappear and permit passage through them.  Switching colors makes platforms, crates, and doors invisible when they would have been seen otherwise.  As you add more colors to your palette the gameplay gets increasingly complex, but fun!

    Hue
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun puzzle platformer with great visuals, music, and voice acting
    Weak Points:  Short game with little replay value
    Moral Warnings: Hue can die, there are statues of gods throughout the game

    Like many platformers you’ll be expected to perform many successful jumps onto various objects.  Sometimes you’ll have to jump and switch colors mid-air to land on the previously hidden platform.  Besides jumping, you’ll have to avoid spikes and boulders coming your way.

    Most of the levels in this game are puzzle based.  You’ll need to put your thinking cap on in order to figure out how to move various crates and make your way through tricky mazes.  If you die or mess up, your progress is saved at the entrance of each level.  Vita owners can utilize cross save functionality to transfer their progress back and forth between the PS4 and handheld system.

    There’s roughly six hours of gameplay in this $14.99 title.  To add some replay value, there are twenty-eight hidden beakers to find throughout the world.  Other than re-solving puzzles there’s not much else to do.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Despite the short amount of gameplay, Hue is extremely well polished.  The background music is well done and the voice acting is top notch too.  As Hue collects letters from his mother, they are narrated in a lovely British accent. If you like the soundtrack, it is available for purchase on Steam for $6.99.  

    The shadow artwork is nicely done and I like how adding the colors makes you appreciate their beauty throughout the game.  As you traverse the land you’ll see statues of various gods or idols, but you won’t have to interact with them.  The world is a bit confusing and landmarks help you distinguish where you’ve been before.  

    Hue is a family friendly game that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.  Despite the ability to die and the presence of idol statues, there’s little to complain about.  Some of the puzzles may be too challenging for young minds though.  

    If you like puzzle platformer games then Hue is definitely worth looking into.  On Steam the game plus the soundtrack can be yours for less than $20.  It’s well worth the standard price, but is an even a better bargain if you can get it on sale.  I look forward to more games from Fiddlesticks.

     

  • Hyper Crazy Climber (PSN)

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    Game Info:

    Hyper Crazy Climber
    Developed by: Nichibutsu
    Published by: Nihon Bussan
    Release date: April 15, 2014
    Available on: PSX, PS3, Vita
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $5.99

    Thank you MonkeyPaw Games for sending us this game to review!

    Crazy Climber was the original vertical climbing game released in 1980 for the arcade and Atari 2600 system.  Nintendo took notice and launched its climbing competition Donkey Kong in 1981.   The sequel Crazy Climber 2 launched in Japan eight years later.  Hyper Crazy Climber is another Japanese only game that was released for the PlayStation in 1996.

    MonkeyPaw Games specializes in importing Japanese classics to the rest of us.  The only downside is that there is more Japanese text than English.  The menu text is in English but everything else is unclear.   The game itself is still very playable as long as you can master the complex controls.  

    Hyper Crazy Climber
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique game style
    Weak Points: Only partial English translations
    Moral Warnings:Cartoon violence

    There’s not much of a back story and your goal is to scale tall buildings while dodging objects and enemies coming your way.  There are three characters with differences in speed and endurance (how good they hold on when getting hit).  The girl is the fastest but has the least endurance and the robot is her polar opposite.  The male climber has an even balance between the two.  

    There are three sets of controls, Easy, Normal and Hard.  You have to set the control type in the configuration menu!! The easy configuration uses the control pad left and right to move in the respective directions while the X button moves the left hand and circle button moves the right hand.  The Normal controls are more complex and involve using the control pad left + square to move left while the control pad right + the circle button moves the climber to the right.  Climbing involves alternating between using the control pad up + x and control pad down + triangle.  Control pad up + triangle is used for clinging to the ledge to withstand an object collision.  If that’s not confusing enough there’s an option to use two controllers to control each side of the climber.

    Getting your character to move is half the battle.  The next step is mastering the controls enough to evade incoming objects.   If you are hit while moving you will be knocked off and lose a life. If you are not moving, there is a chance you may maintain your grip.  This is where the endurance stat comes into play.  While most objects are best to be avoided, there are some power ups worth collecting like apples, extra lives and dynamite. 

    Hyper Crazy Climber
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

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

    Golden apples can unlock bonus stages and dynamite will remove some enemies.  Timers temporarily freeze the enemies in their tracks for a short while.  Levels with windows and shutters will leave them in their current position when frozen in time.  If a lucky cat is collected at a dead end a helicopter will appear and carry the climber further up the level.  

    Power ups appear in the same spot so be sure to remember where you found them.  Unfortunately you cannot save your progress mid-level, only at the world screen.    

    Morally speaking, the only concern is cartoon violence as objects are thrown at your climber for no apparent reason.  Since this game was released in the mid-nineties the graphics and sound effects are dated by today’s standards.  If you can look past that, Hyper Crazy Climber lives up to its name in offering a fun and challenging experience.

  • Organic Panic (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Organic Panic
    Developed by: Last Limb
    Published by: GameMill Entertainment
    Release date: March 29, 2016
    Available on: Windows, PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Last Limb for sending us a review copy of this game!

    Organic Panic is an epic battle between fruits and veggies against meat and cheeses.  The evil gang of meat and cheese are attempting world domination and are using Apple's sister’s magical energy to power their devious technological equipment.  To save his sister, Eva, Apple must train his organic army on how to use their special powers to conquer the forces of darkness.

    The four main characters each have special abilities that are not accessible to the others.  Kiwi can spray water while Cherry can control the earth.  Coconut can alter gravity while Carrot hurls fireballs and can climb walls.  Sometimes you’ll get to switch between characters to use each of their abilities to get past obstacles that are blocking their way to the exit portal.  If either character dies, you’ll have to start over from the beginning of the level.

    Not all of the characters are available from the start as you’ll have to rescue them one by one in the single-player adventure mode.  There are over two-hundred levels which have destructible environments and physics that can work in your favor or kill you. I like the silly death scene captions like “Darn,” “Come on!,” and many specific to how you died.  One of them does say “That sucks.”   

    Organic Panic
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute physics platformer game that lets you have a food fight without all of the mess
    Weak Points: You have to complete the adventure mode before unlocking the multiplayer game modes
    Moral Warnings: Food fighting violence; minor language (sucks); magic use

    Some of the levels are more challenging than others with many of them being finished in less than a minute while others take more time to get through.  Although the exit portal may be nearby, bonus points are awarded if you can defeat enemies and locate the hidden gem before you leave the level.  If you’re not happy with your final score, you can always go back and try again to increase your ranking on the global leaderboards.  

    After the comic book driven story mode is completed, the bonus levels and multiplayer game modes become available.  There are co-op and versus game modes that allow food fights between two and four players.  Other than various food getting blasted, chopped, and squashed into pieces, this is a fun game that can be enjoyed by the whole family.  When it comes to food fights, Organic Panic probably offers the cleanest way to have one.  

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 89%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The levels have various obstacles that have to be avoided or destroyed.  I love the destructible environments that the Cherry and Carrot players can demolish.  Some levels are covered in metal and are impervious to attacks. There’s plenty of level variety so chances are that you won’t get bored, just stumped or frustrated occasionally.

    The sound effects get the job done, but the background music is forgettable.  No complaints, but I’m not rushing out to buy the soundtrack either. 

    Though we played this game on the PS4, it’s also available for the Xbox One and in early access for Steam users.  The Steam version seems to have some stability issues that have racked up enough negative reviews to lower the game’s overall rating to “mixed.”  If you own a console, I recommend picking up that version if you want to be able to enjoy the game right away.

    There’s a lot to like in Organic Panic and my kids enjoyed watching and playing this game with me.  My only complaint is that you have to complete the main story mode before you can enjoy the multiplayer gameplay options.  Hopefully PC users get a more enjoyable experience soon.

  • Poncho (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Poncho
    Developed by: Delve Interactive
    Published by: Rising Star Games
    Release Date: November 3, 2015
    Available on: OSX, SteamOS, Windows
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Rising Star Games for sending us this game to review!

    Poncho was pitched on Kickstarter in September of 2014. Although the campaign was unsuccessful, Rising Star Games published Poncho to make this multiple dimension puzzle platforming game a reality.  Gamers who are familiar with Fez will see many similarities with the retro soundtrack and visuals along with the perspective shifting capabilities.  However, instead of rotating the screen for a different view, players can shift between the foreground and background dimension to solve various puzzles.  While not available on the 3DS, Poncho would utilize its depth 3D effects perfectly.  

    The premise is simple; humanity has ceased to exist and robotic and plant life is all that remains on Earth.  With his dimension shifting abilities, Poncho can go back and save mankind and perhaps get to meet his maker in the process.  While Poncho is mostly alone, he will meet some allies, like the Junkyard King who will reward him for reassembling his robotic army for him.

     

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique platformer that lets you shift between the foreground and background to solve puzzles 
    Weak Points: High frustration factor as the levels and puzzles can be confusing at times; short amount of gameplay if you’re good at it; the main menu is only accessible while you’re in a level
    Moral Warnings:None!

    There are eight levels and each one has a set amount of robots to fix as well as gems and keys to collect.  Gems are used as currency to buy additional keys from merchants.  The prices of the keys will go up after each purchase.   If you can’t afford to buy keys, take comfort in knowing that they can often be found inside of the levels if you’re willing to solve puzzles to reach them. The Junkyard King also gives keys out as a reward for fixing his robots.  

    Keys are crucial to advancing the game to unlock newer levels. So be sure to have a couple of each color on hand at all times.  New abilities can also be found in the levels, but you have to work hard to earn them as they require going off of the beaten path to access them.   

    Besides locating keys, broken robots, and gems, Poncho must find the teleporter to unlock future levels to advance the game’s story.  The levels typically consist of a few screens wide, but the meat of them is in their depth and height.  As Poncho walks to the left or the right, it won’t take long before some obstacle blocks his path and in order to move forward he’ll likely have to go in the foreground or the background to bypass it.  Switching between planes is also required to ascend and climb up onto ledges that reside in a different plane. 

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    Switching between planes is easy enough once you have the controls mastered.  The left and right triggers switch between planes and the Xbox 360 controller works flawlessly in this game.  For an added challenge many of the platforms switch between the planes on regular intervals so timing them correctly is required.  Other platforms shift planes when you do and those are trickier to master.  

    Despite the sixteen-bit graphics, they are nicely detailed and colorful.  The retro look and feel are charming and the soundtrack is available for $4.99 if you like it.  I thought it was decent, but nothing spectacular.

    While Poncho is kid safe, the puzzles may be frustrating for people of all ages.  I found this title to be best enjoyed in small doses.  If you are good at it, it can be beaten in a few hours.  Because of those concerns, I wouldn’t recommend buying Poncho at full price.  It’s been on sale on Steam before and is worth looking into at a lower price.  

  • Ratchet & Clank (PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ratchet & Clank
    Developed by: Insomniac Games
    Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
    Release date: April 12, 2016
    Available on: PlayStation 4
    Genre: Platformer, Shooter
    Number of players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for animated blood, fantasy violence
    Price: $29.00
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    As one of PlayStation’s most popular franchises, Ratchet & Clank was bound to release a game for the PS4 system. The franchise’s latest title, simply titled Ratchet & Clank, is a reboot to the PlayStation 2 classic and a tie in to the 2016 animated film. Boasting spectacular visuals and an explosive gameplay style, Ratchet & Clank is one of the most enjoyable PS4 games currently available.

    The story to the game mostly follows the original 2002 game’s plot, though many things change in the second half of the game. Ratchet is a mechanic who one day meets a defective warbot named Clank. The two of them try to stop an evil businessman named Chairman Drek from blowing up planets in order to salvage the remains and create his own planet. The plot is fairly straightforward, but it is not exactly interesting. Despite it being a reboot, the game acts as if you are already familiar with all of the characters. Because of this, there is not much interaction or development among the cast. I was surprised to find that Ratchet and Clank do not seem to talk much other than Clank giving Ratchet mission objectives.

    Despite the lackluster storytelling, the game maintains a solid sense of humor. The game consistently proves to be quite funny and the voice cast is great. James Arnold Taylor now voices Ratchet in the one story he did not (Mikey Kelly voiced him in the original version). David Kaye and Jim Ward again voice Clank and Captain Quark, both performing as well as usual. However, one change in the voice cast is rather disappointing. Hollywood star Paul Giamatti replaces Kevin Michael Richardson as Chairmen Drek, and the result is a very awkward-sounding performance. Any line of Drek’s dialogue that is exclusive to the game is performed by Eric Bauza, but unfortunately his acting is just as awkward. None of this is helped by Drek’s poorly written character, who’s entire dialogue seems to consist of jokes that are not funny.

    Ratchet & Clank
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful graphics, both artistically and technically; series-renown weapons; major gameplay improvements to the original; genuinely funny dialogue; great voice cast
    Weak Points: Underdeveloped story; occasionally lazy character animations; smaller world sizes; Chairmen Drek’s character and voice
    Moral Warnings: Cartoonish violence; animated blood

    Many of the gameplay mechanics are similar to the classic 3D platformer games of the early 2000s, such as Jak and Daxter or Crash Bandicoot. What makes the Ratchet & Clank series unique from other 3D platformers is its weapons and chaotic action. The reboot is no exception. As you progress through the game, you are able to purchase several different weapons, each featuring a unique style of combat. Some are as simple as throwing grenades, while others are as crazy as turning enemies into sheep. The end result is an incredible, mayhem-inducing spectacle of a game.

    Some elements to the gameplay have been added to since the original. Weapon upgrades, which were introduced later in the series, are now possible. Weapons can be leveled up five times in the first play through and ten times in a harder mode called “Challenge Mode.” You can also purchase weapon upgrades using a currency known as “Raritanium.” There are other additions from the original. “Holocard” collecting, an addition that is brand new to the franchise, involves you collecting various cards to complete sets. Each set gives you additional enhancements and available weapons for purchase.

    Unfortunately, the level design is a bit too similar to the original title. Though the worlds themselves look fine, they end up being rather small compared to many of today’s triple-A titles. I cannot complain too much about this, though. At least the gameplay is deep and engaging, unlike many of today’s “open-world” games (e.g. No Man’s Sky). I would rather play a game with small worlds and a lot of depth than a game with big worlds and little depth.

    Ratchet & Clank
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 87%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8.5/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Of course, the most obvious update to the game is its graphics. Unlike other remakes that simply smooth out previous graphics, Ratchet & Clank has completely redone its visual presentation, resulting in one of the most beautiful remakes ever made. Its cartoony style is full of color and is notably easier to look at than many of today’s more mature-looking games. However, it’s not quite the best looking game I have played. Though visually the game is beautiful, many of the cinematics are reduced to simple animation bits where the characters hardly move. This hinders the storytelling, which was not very spectacular to begin with. It is also worth mentioning that the framerate can lag a bit during gameplay when the action gets too intense. Despite these minor issues, the game is always a joy to look at while in gameplay.

    There is not much to mention when it comes to moral content. Some Ratchet & Clank games can get pretty edgy with their humor, but not really with this one. The reason, I think, is because the game is based on a more child-oriented film. This is a good thing for concerned parents, but can result in some juvenile humor (typically found in clips from the film). There is no swearing either, unlike previous games that have slipped in a couple of words. Obviously, though, the game is very action-packed. Most of the fun comes from demolishing your enemies in crazy ways. All of it is fairly cartoonish, but not to the same degree as games like Disney Infinity. There is also some animated blood and one planet you travel to has a scientist that has you collect brains from creatures. This, too, is not as bad as it sounds, but can still be a bit gross for some younger audiences.

    With jaw-dropping graphics and a great voice cast, Ratchet & Clank is definitely one of the best presentations of the current console generation. This is somewhat ironic given how negatively received its film counterpart was. It’s improvements to the series’ old-school gameplay make this remake, for the most part, superior to the original. Though the storytelling is somewhat disappointing, Ratchet & Clank is blast to play for gamers of all ages.

  • Rise & Shine (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Rise & Shine
    Developed by: Super Mega Team
    Published by: Adult Swim Games
    Release date: January 13, 2017
    Available on: Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Violence, and Language
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Adult Swim Games for sending us this game to review!

    Gamearth is a peaceful planet that’s now under attack from the Nextgen aliens.  A legendary hero that looks very similar to Link bestows a mysterious gun called Shine to a young kid named Rise.  It’s now up to Rise & Shine to save the planet!

    Shine isn’t your ordinary gun, as it can talk and grant its owner the ability to respawn when they die.  There are various add-ons and bullet types available for it as well.  For example, there are electrical bullets that wreak havoc on electronic devices.  One cool ability is the remote control option that lets you direct where you want the bullets to go.  Enemies won’t just sit around and wait for you to control a bullet; be prepared to act quickly and time your attacks with precision.

    Rise & Shine
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Awesome hand drawn artwork; lots of homages paid to classic video games
    Weak Points: Only a couple hours long if you’re good; if you’re not good, you’ll probably be frustrated instead
    Moral Warnings: Blood and gore; some language (bad*ss, d*mn, WTF)

    While Rise & Shine is a beautifully drawn 2D platformer, there’s a fair amount of puzzles to solve.  Besides dodging and controlling bullets, you’ll have to shoot and think your way out of locked rooms as well as disabling menacing bosses.  Many of your attacks are timed so accuracy is crucial.  As cool as Shine is, it does have an ammo limit and will need to be reloaded frequently.  You won’t survive long if you think you can run out in the open and fire a spray of bullets haphazardly.  Many areas have rocks and you can hide behind them for cover.  Use them!  When things die in this game blood and gibs splatter all over the place.  

    Checkpoints are used and you cannot save whenever you like.  Upon completing the game, an Iron Man option becomes available where you have to complete the game in one life as your save file gets deleted if you die.  Completing the game can be done in as little as two hours if you’re good or several more if you’re a glutton for punishment.

    Rise & Shine
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 71%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Rise & Shine is not an easy game as you will die often and be forced to learn where to walk safely to avoid various traps and land mines.   Relying on a steady hand is also necessary to guide the bullets where they need to go to take down bosses.      

    While the beautiful graphics got my attention, the story isn’t very original with the simple premise of kicking the aliens off of your planet to save it.  The dialogue is witty and I appreciated the homages paid to various games like Duck Hunt and some series including Half-Life, Portal, The Legend of Zelda, and Mario.  

    If you enjoy puzzle platformer games and don’t mind dying a bunch of times, then you’ll probably enjoy Rise & Shine.   Despite the gorgeous visuals, the rest of the game is mediocre and extremely short.  The sound effects are great, but they drown out the forgettable background music.  Because of the frustration and length of the game, I recommend holding off for a sale before buying this one.

     

  • Runbow Deluxe Edition (Wii U)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Runbow Deluxe Edition
    Developed by: 13AM Games
    Published by: 13AM Games
    Release date: November 1, 2016
    Available on: 3DS, Windows, Wii U
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: Up to nine players
    ESRB Rating: Everyone for Mild Fantasy Violence
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you 13AM Games for sending us this game to review!

    Runbow was originally released for the Wii U in August of 2015.  Since then there has been added DLC which is included in the Deluxe Edition along with the game’s soundtrack.  The rest of this 2D platformer party game remains the same.  

    While playing by yourself is an option I don’t recommend it.  In total there are over one hundred and forty challenges that require making your way through changing terrain to collect a trophy as fast as possible. Certain platforms are only usable when the changing background is a different color.  Like many platformer games, there are numerous ways to die including spikes, crushing blocks, boulders, and wide chasms.  With each death you’ll see a random witty slogan that makes fun of your efforts. My favorite taunts include "Never give up except now," "Take a deep breath," and "Like that but better."   If you find the challenges too much you can usually skip them or enlist a friend to join in your game to help out.

    Runbow Deluxe Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun game concept and lots of different game play mode to enjoy with friends
    Weak Points: Some of the challenges are frustrating, but they can be skipped
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; Shantae’s outfit shows off her belly

    As you progress you’ll unlock new characters to play as and many of them are from popular indie games.  My family recognized Shovel Knight, Shantae, Gunvolt, Commander Video from the Bit Trip series, and Lilac from Freedom Planet.  Each character has unique abilities and attack moves.

    Aside from the single player adventures, there are four multiplayer modes to choose from.  In the run mode all of the players run towards the trophy and the first one to get to it, wins.  Another take on this mode is Colour Master where the player with the gamepad can drop bombs, lightning bolts, colors, enemy AI units, and can temporarily reverse the controls for the rest of the players to prevent them from getting to the trophy.  The running team gets points for each player who reaches the trophy.  

    Runbow Deluxe Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    While my kids enjoyed the Colour Master Mode, the Arena was probably their favorite.  If you enjoy brawler games, then you’ll find plenty to love here.  The King of the Hill mode is fun and some of the locations for the coveted crown are a challenge to get to and stay put for several seconds. 

    The included DLC unlocks a whole new adventure mode along with several new costumes and multiplayer levels.  The soundtrack is bundled in via a bandcamp code.  That portion alone is worth $9 if you enjoyed the music.  While the soundtrack is energetic and fitting for this high energy game, I had no desire to own it.

    Despite not falling in love with the music, the kids and I enjoyed the rest of the game.  There is cartoon violence, but other than that, Runbow is a fun game that can be enjoyed by the entire family.  Like many games, it’s way more fun when you have friends to play alongside or against you!  This is a great addition to any Wii U owner’s library.

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About Us:

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

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