enfrdeitptrues

Platformer

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    A Hat in Time
    Developed by: Gears for Breakfast
    Published by: Humble Bundle
    Release date: October 5, 2017
    Available on: PC, Xbox One
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: Up to two
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence, alcohol and tobacco reference
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Gears for Breakfast for sending us this game to review!

    A Hat in Time was successfully Kickstarted in 2013 by raising nearly $300,000 which is substantially more than its original goal of $30,000. Because of the huge fundraising success, many stretch goals are available in the release version including split screen co-op, new game +, and two bonus chapters that will arrive later as free DLC.

    The main character in this game is dubbed “Hat Kid” because she really doesn’t say much and she wears hats. Each hat she can equip grants her an ability. For example, the starting top hat will show her where her next objective is. This is handy when looking for someone of importance or locating one of the missing timepieces needed to get Hat Kid’s ship running again. The five worlds currently available are sizable and offer plenty of opportunities for exploration. Why focus on the storyline when there are so many areas to explore and orbs to collect?

    Just in case you're wondering, the story is pretty basic. Hat Kid was peacefully flying in space when a mafia thug demanded that her ship pay a toll. When she refused, her ship got damaged and lost its fuel, which comes in the form of shiny hourglasses. These hourglasses landed on various planets and are quickly picked up and cherished by the inhabitants. Hat Kid must go through many obstacles to collect all of her missing timepieces.

    A Hat in Time
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Charming and fun platformer game
    Weak Points: Game didn't launch properly one time
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence with some blood; gambling; drinking; smoking; ghosts; minor language (sucks)

    You’ll find many green orbs scattered around and they are used as currency to buy various badges that grant Hat Kid unique abilities. One of the badges I bought drew in orbs automatically instead of requiring her to make physical contact with them. Because a Kickstarter goal was met, there’s a voice mumble badge available as well. I enjoyed the voice acting and didn’t see a need to change it. The background music is composed by Grant Kirkhop who scored Banjo-Kazooie, one of the games that inspired A Hat in Time.

    Other inspirations for this game include Super Mario 64 and Psychonauts. Like these classics, Hat Kid will have to climb, jump, double jump, and perform all sorts of maneuvers to survive the various enemies and bosses. In the beginning, Hat Kid can only jump and then attack while in the air. It doesn’t take long for her to be reunited with her trusty umbrella to whack some sense into mafia thugs and other bad guys. Some enemies require combo attacks and the bosses take many hits before they go down. Other enemies require stealth, so you'll have to stay out of their vision zones.

    The boss battles are pretty intense and their attacks get harder to dodge as they get lower on health. Unfortunately, Hat Kid doesn’t have many hit points. Thankfully, health drops occur in the battle if you can get to them fast enough. Health orbs are available throughout the levels as well in case some of the unfriendly inhabitants get the better of you. There are other collectibles like vouchers which are required for opening up safes with goodies inside of them. Treasure chests are easier to open if you can find them.

    A Hat in Time
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Each level also has some relics in them. If you combine the related relics in the space ship's hub, you'll unlock some new areas with time pieces to explore. The hub is very colorful and with all of the gadgets, it looks like a child designed it.

    Visually, this game is so darn cute. The worlds are both colorful and well designed. The bright visuals are bound to attract the attention of kids and, for the most part, this game is safe for them to play. Like many classic platformers, there is cartoon violence. There is a crime scene that shows a puddle of blood though. One of the levels requires infiltrating a mafia establishment, which serves alcohol and promotes gambling. If Hat Kid has the proper currency, she can gamble too. Some of the characters smoke. Lastly, there is a haunted forest level with ghosts in it.

    If you like classic platformer games, A Hat in Time is worth checking out. Don’t let the childish atmosphere fool you, this game provides plenty of challenge and even more opportunities to explore. The co-op mode is great if you have a friend nearby to join in the adventure. The Steam version will have user created content available through the Workshop. The asking price is $29.99 unless you were lucky enough to back it for $10-15 on Kickstarter.

  • 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.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Aegis Defenders
    Developed By: GUTS Department
    Published By: Humble Bundle
    Released: Feb 8, 2018
    Available On: macOS, Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One.
    Genre: Platforming, Tower Defense, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild blood, Suggestive themes, Mild Language
    Number of Players: 1 offline, 2 players locally
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

     

    Thank you Humble Bundle for sending the game to review!

    Aegis Defenders is a pixelated, 2D platforming, tower defense game for up to two people. Later in the game, it gets very challenging if you're playing on your own. After many attempts at this particular level, I got someone to come help me and was able to breeze through the level playing in Co-op. Playing the game in single player can be difficult and frustrating at times. The best experience you can have with this game is playing with a buddy.

    The game itself is a good mix of platforming and tower defense. Each level will consist of you platforming though different terrains, gathering resources, and using light puzzle solving to help your characters move through the level. You will be at least controlling two people on your own, which means you will be switching between them a lot. This part of the game is not as frustrating as the tower defense portion of the level.

    Aegis Defenders
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun platforming, multiple characters, great local Co-Op gameplay
    Weak Points: Frustrating single player experience 
    Moral Warnings:Some cartoon violence, minor language, and mild blood

    There are secret items to collect and even bad guys to kill. Each character has its own attacks and special attack. There are color-coded doorways that allow only one character to pass, forcing you to switch characters to open up a gate. Often times you will get to the end of a level, where you have to stand on a switch to let another player though the gate, which then starts a tower defense game. Now you must defend against hordes of creatures and can be dangerous by just the number of enemies that can swarm you.

    The story isn’t all that interesting, though there is a twist later in the game. The story is told through cutscenes and often have an interactive element to them, in that you are given dialogue options which reward you with points to upgrade your arsenal of towers. It feels like there is a right choice in the dialogue options and you do not really get to roleplay. Bart and his granddaughter are Ruinhunters, and they scavenge in a world of Deathless(gods). The two other characters you unlock are more interesting to play, as one can shoot fireballs and the other can fling shuriken through multiple enemies.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 89%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The tower defense part of the game can get crazy while switching between multiple characters. You have a short amount of time to set up towers before each wave, but each character only has one tower they can build. You can upgrade them or sometimes if you build on top of a tower, it changes into something completely new. For example, Clu’s tower is a bomb that you can lay down, but if you build another bomb on top it becomes a spike trap. To build each tower for each character you will need to collect resources. It becomes hectic switching to each character, collecting resources, and building each character's towers in a strategic way. It can be done, but later on, in the game, it can become very stressful. This is where the local Co-op comes into play, making the game way less frustrating, as you do not have to worry about multiple characters, just the one you are controlling. You can split up tasks and the game just flows better.

    Morally there is some minor language used and there is some violence. You obviously destroy creatures in the game and while there is no gore, there is some mild blood that appears for a second after the creature is destroyed.

    Aegis Defense is a decent mash-up of genres. The game is cute with its pixel graphics and the platforming sections are great. It only gets frustrating in the latter half of the level where the tower defense starts. It’s unfortunate that the game is meant to be played with other people, as you may not have another person around to help. If you plan on playing this game solo remember that it gets brutal towards the end of the game.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Alwa's Awakening
    Developed by: Elden Pixels
    Published by: Elden Pixels
    Released: February 2, 2017
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $9.99

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

    The nation of Alwa has been under the control of evil for centuries. But now, a young woman from a distant land has been summoned to defeat the forces of evil and bring goodness and light to the world. Et cetera, yadda yadda yadda and so on.

    The premise of the game is almost cliché, but it fits with the theme. Alwa's Awakening is a homage of the NES era, with 8-bit graphics and electronica of that age. The game also reflects the difficulty of that era, with some surprisingly challenging areas near the start.

    Alwa's Awakening
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging platformer; good graphics and music; great replay value; a good homage to the NES era
    Weak Points: Some areas a bit too difficult
    Moral Warnings: Undead enemies; cartoonish violence; magic use

    Another aspect of the game are the “Metroidvania” elements, which are incorporated surprisingly well. As the heroine Zoe explores the lands, she can uncover new spells to use with her magic staff. These include creating green blocks that she can stand on, or floating blue bubbles. The game is designed so that you can find all of the power-ups even before defeating any of the bosses in the game. Not only that, backtracking is highly encouraged, as the different power-ups can give you access to areas that were impossible to reach earlier. In addition to the items you can find, you can collect small blue orbs, which are hidden throughout the game, and add to Zoe's power when fighting bosses. The game allows for a lot of replay value, especially for those who are determined to discover everything this game has to offer.

    The graphics to the game are cute in their 8-bit style. Even the little undead beasties have oversized heads and amusing expressions on their skeletal faces when they die. It's easy to tell what's happening in the game. The music fits the theme of the game wonderfully, adding to the atmosphere and mystery of the challenges without becoming annoying or overly repetitious. The controls are sharp and responsive, but I found that this game is easier when using a gamepad, rather than the keyboard. To my surprise, the game even responded well with my Logitech gamepad – which closely resembles the classic SNES controller in configuration, but tends to be completely nonfunctional in most games these days.

    Alwa's Awakening
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 89%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The only real downside to the game are the challenging areas. Most of the rooms allow you time to think about the approach you want to take, and where to use your tools. Some of the areas will have enemies fire on you as soon as you enter the room, causing you to have to think on your feet. Combine the various monsters with an abundance of instant-kill obstacles (including running water) and you'll find yourself replaying several of the rooms – and boss fights – until you get it right. Zoe can take three hits from opponents before she dies, and although some enemies drop hearts to replenish her health, these drops tend to be few and far between. Fortunately, dying simply means one more addition to your death count, and you respawn at the last save point. You even get to keep any orbs, keys or power ups you managed to grab before your death, and doors you managed to unlock remain open. The longevity of the game may be questionable as well, since there is one Steam achievement that you can gain if you complete the game in less than two hours and with fewer than five deaths. However, to gain this achievement, you will have to either know this game quite well – which involves playing through it repeatedly – or be insanely good at platformers.

    On the moral front, there isn't a whole lot to worry about. There is the presence of undead, skeletal enemies, and spellcasting foes. But defeated opponents merely stagger backwards with a stunned (often comical) expression before disappearing in a flash of smoke.

    Alwa's Awakening is a homage to 8-bit era games, and nails everything perfectly in this regard. It's an intriguing mix to have a game that's so new, but feels so nostalgic at the same time. For those who enjoy challenging – but not impossible – 2D platformers, I heartily recommend adding this game to your library.

  • 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

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun
    Developed by: ThirtyThree Games
    Published by: Gambitious
    Available on: Android, iOS, macOS, Switch, Windows
    Release date: February 8, 2018
    Genre: Twitch platformer
    Number of players: Single-player:
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence and comic mischief
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Gambitious for sending us this game to review!

    RunGunJumpGun was released on PC and mobile platforms in 2016 and has very positive reviews on Steam. It’s a perfect addition to the Switch’s library for those interested in raising their blood pressure on the go. This game prides itself on being brutally hard, yet it’s still fun and appealing at the same time.

    The story behind the game is that the sun is dying due to warlords collecting all of the Atomiks and replacing them with hysteria. Your job is to reclaim them and avenge the fallen race of aliens. Of course, the warlords won’t go down without a fight and have secured the Atomiks in rooms full of traps and weaponry to avoid.

    As the title suggests, your character can do three things: run, jump, and shoot a gun. However, you can only do one at a time. If you shoot your gun after a jump you will slowly fall due to gravity. Timing is key as you have to keep moving and avoid each and every obstacle in your path. While you can take a couple of hits, there are more opportunities to die than health points.

    ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Simple controls and fun gameplay; neat art style and soundtrack
    Weak Points: Crazy hard and frustrating
    Moral Warnings: Lots of bloodless deaths; some toilet humor

    The tutorial levels will teach you the basic controls. Your character automatically runs; pressing the left button will make them jump and the right button will fire the gun. The +/- buttons will bring up the menu and allow you to skip a level if desired. While tempting, future areas require a set amount of levels to be completed and a designated number of Atomiks to be collected.

    At the end of each run, you’ll be shown how many Atomiks you have collected and how many were available to reclaim. You can go back and redo any levels which have room for improvement. The tutorial levels have checkpoints, but many of the other levels don’t and it doesn’t take long for this game’s devious nature to reveal itself.

    Like many platformer games, you’ll have to avoid spikes. There are also turrets, saw blades, force fields, and flame throwers along with moving variations of these to contend with. Many of these obstacles can be destroyed with your gun if you time it right though avoidance is usually the better option.

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

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Patience is required to enjoy this game, as you will die many, many times. Thankfully, the deaths are bloodless. Aside from the given violence, there is some toilet humor as one of the aliens taunting you is dealing with stomach pains that turn out to be gas. Last but not least, prepare to be called maggot a lot.

    The 2D art style is pretty neat and I’m impressed with what this three person development team did. The pounding electronic soundtrack is good too and available for $1.99 on Steam if desired.

    The $7.99 asking price is the same as the PC version though the mobile editions are only $2.99. Since this game prides itself on its difficulty, only consider buying it if you enjoy crazy hard games. With that said I cannot deny its appeal or claims of being ridiculously hard.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Awesome Pea
    Developed by: PigeonDev
    Published by: PigeonDev
    Release date: September 19, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $3.99

    Thank you PigeonDev for sending us this game to review!

    There’s not much of a story in Awesome Pea. According to the Steam store page, the main character, a Pea, is quite greedy and is willing to risk his life to gather every gold coin and diamond laying about on three islands. In total, there are thirty levels in this $3.99 title.

    Of course, the gold and diamonds are heavily guarded by bubble-blowing frogs, rotating spikes, moving saw blades, and ghost-like floating skulls. Unfortunately, the greedy Pea has no offensive moves, just the ability to jump and double-jump.

    Awesome Pea
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Inexpensive and cute retro-themed platformer 
    Weak Points: The antiquating effects are not accurate for the classic Game Boy look; inconsistent difficulty spikes; some cheap deaths; no checkpoints
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; one of the enemies is a ghost-like floating skull

    Though there are three islands, most of the ten Steam achievements can be unlocked before completing the first one. The difficulty is extremely hit-or-miss in this game. Some of the levels I’ve breezed through in 5 minutes or less while others have taken me many deaths and days to finish. The train level stumped me and my kids for several days and once I completed that level, I breezed through the next two in ten minutes or so.

    While most of my deaths felt deserved or earned, there are many that felt cheap or inconsistent. For example, there are lots of narrow platforms which have spikes on the sides of them or saw blades beneath them if you miscalculate their jump. If your body is 90% on the platform and 10% over the smooth side of a spike, that will kill your Pea. To add insult to injury, there are no checkpoints so you have to start at the very beginning of the level and try again. Or rage quit.

    Needless to say, I enjoyed this title in short spurts. I can’t deny that it’s both frustrating and fun as I keep coming back for more punishment/accomplishment. While this game oozes retro charm, the effects are inaccurate for a classic Game Boy which never suffered from CRT or television tube effects. If you’re not a fan of those antiquating effects, they can be disabled in the menu thanks to the 1.2 game patch.

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

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

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

    The sound effects are well done and I like the background chiptune music. The chip sound played for the Pea’s death is fitting and doesn’t get annoying despite hearing it quite often.

    Like many platform games there is cartoon-style violence as the Pea can be killed by water, spikes, bubbles, ghosts, frogs, and saw blades.

    If you like to speedrun, Awesome Pea has you covered as each level times you on how long it took you to complete it. Thankfully, there are infinite lives so you don’t have to worry about losing any progress. Once a level is completed you can advance to the next one or go back and improve a previous score. The asking price is a reasonable $3.99, but I have seen it as low as $1.59 during a Steam sale. If you like challenging platform games it may be worth picking up.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ayo: A Rain Tale
    Developed By: Inkline Ltd.
    Published By: Inkline Ltd.
    Released: November 9, 2017
    Available On: Windows, Andriod, iOS, and macOS
    Genre: Adventure, Scrolling Platformer, Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Inkline Ltd. for sending us this game to review!

    Sometimes we First World folks don’t know how good we’ve got it. Cars, computers, heaters, lotions - every kind of comfort we need and even what we don’t need are at our fingertips. All the while, there are countless communities who’d consider themselves blessed to have just a half decent source of food. Parents and their children there endure heavy labor just to live. Well, one First World game wishes to pay tribute to one such type of local hero. The kind of hero who braves treacherous miles everyday just to carry forty pounds of water back to their families. This is Ayo: A Rain Tale.

    Ayo: A Rain Tale centers around, well, Ayo - a little African girl. Morning has dawned, and it’s time for her to strap on her water pack. The clean water spring is far, but with positive encouragement from her mother and a magic bracelet from her grandfather, Ayo sets off through the burning sands. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be an uneventful trip, though. Strong winds, scorpions, malicious entities, and perilous heat stand between her and providing for her family. I want to give credit to Inkline Ltd. for what they’re trying to do here. Raising awareness for the very real sacrifices many African women and girls make to help sustain their loved ones is a noble intention. However, Ayo’s plot structure was very disjointed. Many story elements go largely unexplained. You don’t know why the bracelet is magical; why there’s some evil storm/spirit/bull that wants to kill you; why there are blue and yellow glowing boxes - Why? Why? Why? I especially don’t understand the presence of those floating, pygmy children. They fly in, spew open-ended lines, bestow abilities, then fly off. You don’t know what they are, what they want, nor why they’re helping Ayo. It made no sense, but that’s not the end of it. The story’s vagueness even undermined their message. Characters tell Ayo to ‘believe’. Believe in what? Believe in herself? Believe in some deity? They want Ayo to put her faith somewhere. I’d like to know where. It all just felt incomplete. That’s a real shame too, because I did see windows of stroytelling brilliance here. Elements rooted in real hardships, like the slow, screen-warbling dangers of sun stroke, were really strong. That was memorable. That was compelling. That reinforced Ayo’s tale because it breeded player empathy. Any attempts to shove some supernatural side to it was just clunky.

    Ayo: A Rain Tale
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Gorgeous Art-style; Identifiable Heroine
    Weak Points: Confusing Plot; Unrealized Gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Unclear African Spiritualism; Vague Philosophies

    Alright, Ayo: A Rain Tale’s tale is about as coherent as toddler scribbles, but a toddler certainly didn’t give it shape and form. This game’s colors just pop! Rich hues were cast across its canvas, creating some welcoming shades that are indeed pleasing to the eye. Hot pinks and lavenders on the briar bushes; light lined indigos for the storm spirit; tribal patterns on Ayo’s clothes; part of me wanted to reach in and touch. It’s also been a while since a game made me stop and enjoy its sunset. The music was fun too with its tribal drums and traditional chants. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but I certainly appreciated it. As for sound design, most onscreen interactions sounded natural, save for a few sound effects like crunching gravel while climbing clouds (try figuring that whole inexplicable-ness out). However, it’s still the visuals that were the most memorable. The one sin these visuals commit, though, is it blurred the lines between tangible objects and the background too well at times. More on that later. Sure, this game grossly pales in comparison to 2012’s hit game, Journey, which also featured a beyond gorgeous desert, but Ayo also applied African styling to its setting, giving it its own unique flavor. Identifiable looks can be worth more than its salt too. If you can’t get high-def, get personality.

    As a scrolling platform game, player controls in Ayo followed the tried and true platformer format. Keys ‘A’ and ‘D’ take you left to right with spacebar as your ‘jump’ button. Your journey encourages you onward from the left to the right side of your screen until you reach the end of each story chapter. Now, since a platformer’s fun factor depends so deeply on its controls, input responsiveness is crucial to a satisfying experience. It has to feel fluid and natural to climb rocks or leap gaps. Ayo, I’d say, mostly succeeded. Moving right or left was very on point, saved my bacon on several counts, but the ‘jumping’ part led to some frustration. The problem wasn’t responsiveness, though. Ayo would jump exactly when I told her to. However, her high arc/low distance ratio and sluggish ‘jumping’ animation felt too heavy and difficult to time right. I died many times in quick reaction sequences. That also brings me back to that ‘background props vs. active props’ problem. It’s kind of a big deal. If I can’t tell what I can or cannot stand on, how do the developers expect me not to die? It wasn’t always prevalent, but I grumbled on several occasions for reasons of dying due to leaping at branches that weren’t really there. Thank the Lord this game granted unlimited lives. You do gain extra movement options for Ayo as you progress, but don’t get too excited. They’re mostly passive abilities that activate on their own in set conditions. The ‘X’ key will be added in, though, and the double jump ability is a Godsend once you get it. On a side note, this game does have controller support if that’s what you’d prefer.

    Ayo: A Rain Tale
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Reaching water in Ayo is gonna take more than a long walk. There’s a puzzle side to its nature, provided by its mechanics. Most hazards kill you on contact. Thus, half of Ayo’s challenge is to avoid typical stuff like briar patches, pitfalls, and bugs. It’s not all that hard to be honest. I hated the lightning though - that inconsistent, may or may not home in, strikes in faster increments, and insta-kill you lightning. That I could do away with. Then there are these yellow and blue glow-ey box things you need to use to progress. (No, I have no idea what to make of them either. Just roll with it.) Both colors can’t be active at the same time, so you must swap them back and forth at opportune moments. This mechanic was trickier to handle, but not in an intellectual sense. Nine times out of ten, I knew exactly what to do after glancing at the boxes layout once. It was the wonky ‘jumping’ controls that made matters difficult. As a result, this whole feature felt ‘tacked on’. Because if I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished something by solving them, then it’s not intrinsically fun. It’s just another slow down I have to slog through. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me. I guess I just expected something a little more clever from this setup. That doesn’t mean it had to be hard. I just wished the creators took their setting to its fullest potential. Why not have our heroine need to find thick leaves to cover her feet with to travel over a searing hot patch of land? Or to find sharp flint to burn insurmountable brambles with? At least give problems that can be solved by something more engaging or culturally insightful than a ‘jump’.

    Spiritual African theming is no surprise in Ayo: A Rain Tale. I don’t know how closely related this game’s pseudo mythology is to actual African beliefs or folktales, but I know a non-Biblical environment when I see one. What appear to be sacred animal statues are used to grant you new abilities. The flying pygmy children and the stormy bull of rampage I’ve already mentioned. Ayo’s bracelet is magical and able to harness the ‘animal powers’ for some unspecified reason, and I’ve already talked about the game’s unfinished philosophy of ‘belief’. As for violence, the game is very tame. Harms that come Ayo’s way either knock her over or lead to a non-bloody death screen, where she simply passes out. That’s it.

    Ayo: A Rain Tale is not an unlikable game. Though it didn’t take full advantage of its setting, and the gameplay leaned on the easy side for my tastes, I didn’t consider it a complete waste of time. Not simply because it was lovely to look at, though indeed it is was, but because I wanted to see little Ayo through. She was my in-game motivation to succeed. Sure, she doesn’t speak a word. So, she has no traits that hint to any definable personality at all, but Ayo didn’t need it. She represents the harshness of an impoverished life met head on with hope and bravery out of love for her family. It’s a trait that reflects Christ our Lord and something I can get behind. I just wish the game’s spiritualism didn’t muddy the waters. “Every hardship you face in a positive light is met with positive relief,” the game quotes, but Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Apart from Him, there is no relief.

  • 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

  • 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

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Beeftacular
    Released: Month day, year
    Developed By: Retrific
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: August 26, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action platformer
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $2.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media is a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review key!

    Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness. Consuming rotten meat is even less advised – it’s more suited to disposal. Join a raw chunk of beef on its quest to remove the spoiled cuts and answer that age-old question: how do you like your steak?

    Not to be confused with another meat-related platformer, Beeftacular tasks you with guiding a living cube of beef around a progressively more complex series of mazes and obstacle courses to eliminate all the rotten meat within. Along with a standard double jump and wall jump, you have two means of attack: a short-range melee slash that pushes you back a bit and three spears. The latter fly in a straight line, though drop off after hitting a rotten beef chunk, and can be picked up again after use. In general, at least on the “experienced” difficulty, you have ten seconds to accomplish this, though a few levels will give you more – though rarely more than you need.

    Beeftacular
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fast-paced, decently varied gameplay; level creator with Steam Workshop support
    Weak Points: Clunky, sluggish menus; no way to preview a level; some stability issues
    Moral Warnings: Bloody meat trails and violence against sentient beef (though it can be somewhat disabled); mild language (d*mn) in a Steam trading card

    The levels start off rather simple, with a few enemies crammed into a tiny space, but soon get rather complex. By the end, you’ll contend with sprawling mazes filled with portals, jump pads, spikes, lasers, crossbow turrets, and crumbling platforms. Expect to die, and die often – though restarting stages happens near-instantaneously, and can be done at any point. Completing a stage presents you with your time and a host of other stats, most prominent being your position on the online leaderboards. That’s where the meat of the game lies: while the ninety levels will take you a good two hours to beat, re-running stages for the best time is actively encouraged. There’s also a full-fledged, easy-to-use level creator where you can make your own courses and share them through Steam Workshop; as of this writing, there are around 150 player-made levels, further adding to Beeftacular’s longevity.

    In-game, Beeftacular runs quite smoothly, keeping the fast-paced atmosphere – I did experience two crashes, one to desktop and one a frozen black screen, but these were isolated events. Your beef cube controls well enough, if a bit floaty, with both keyboard and controller options available. Both control options are fully re-bindable as well, so while the default keyboard layout commits the cardinal platforming sin of “press up to jump,” you’re not stuck with it.

    In the menus, however, all momentum ceases. Booting up the game forces you to sit through about ten seconds of unskippable developer and game logo animations. The menus themselves, upon making a selection, go through a lengthy process of closing the dialogue box, swiping it off the screen, and opening a new one, making simple option toggling a chore. There’s no way to preview a level outside of the low-resolution grayscale outline on the stage select screen, so you’ll have to fly blind for the most part. You also can’t return to the level select screen from the game itself; you either advance to the next stage, restart the current one, or return to the title screen and sit through the opening animations again. While these quality-of-life issues don’t directly affect the gameplay – aside from the missing level preview option, since it makes route planning near impossible – it bogs down the experience as a whole.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The presentation works as well as it has to. The stages themselves are rather bland gray, with breakable walls and weak floors having differing shades, but that’s mostly to let your beef cube paint it with red as it moves about – every surface it touches gets coated in raw beef juice, letting you see where you’ve gone throughout your attempts at the level. While not graphically impressive, the visual design lets all important bits of the level stand out, making hazards obvious at a mere glance. The sound effects work well here too, with the whoosh of crossbow bolts and the hum of lasers standing out clearly against the wet squelching of the beef’s movement. The soundtrack only boasts two songs, one for the menus and one for the stages, but both are oddly catchy and don’t distract from the gameplay.

    Morality-wise, the whole game revolves around blood and violence, though it’s closer to a prep kitchen than a crime scene. Stages do get extremely messy, and both types of beef leave a puddle on death. To its credit, Beeftacular come with a “sponge” skin, which changes the player beef to a sponge and the rotten meat to paint cans, turning the violence into a colorful game of “kick the can” instead. While in-game dialogue is both sparse and clean, an unlockable Steam trading card contains the description “That d*mn laser!”

    While marred by some quality-of-life issues, Beeftacular is a solid time attack platformer game. The lack of a detailed level preview hurts both casual play and its speedrunning nature, but the wealth and variety of stages, both official and player-made, give it plenty of content. Currently sitting at only $2.99, Beeftacular is a choice cut.

    -Cadogan

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Bird of Light
    Developed by: Roach Interactive
    Published by: Zen Labs
    Released: July 15, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux
    Genre: Puzzle platformer
    ESRB rating: E
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $4.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media is an advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thank you, Black Shell Media, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    Cities can be terrible for those with health problems. When you've got asthma, the smog and polluted air can be a serious danger. There's nothing like living in the countryside and enjoying fresh air. When Tara, the protagonist of "Bird of Light" develops asthma, that's exactly what her parents do. 

    Take note that the wide open spaces don't go to the extreme of being suspended in the sky, though. The game consists of these floating islands and running along them. The goal of each level is to travel from the starting point, find the key, and then navigate to the castle. It's a simple concept, but adds a couple of interesting twists.

    Bird of Light
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting approach to the platformer genre; cute graphics
    Weak Points: Repetitive music; steep difficulty curve
    Moral Warnings:None

    Each level is divided into two parts. The first is the overhead map, where you can see the layout of the islands. From this point, you can add additional islands – wooden grids that connect the paths – to make a route from the start to the goal. By spending tokens, you also can reveal the location of the key and the eggs you can collect.

    The second part of the level is the actual run. Tara will run continuously, and you have no control over her speed. You can have her change lanes, turn left or right, reverse her direction, or jump. If she runs into an obstacle or falls off the islands, you can either restart the level or resume from one of the checkpoints you encountered during your run. (You also are treated to a scene of Tara sitting up in bed with a confused expression, which gives the implication that the game is all just a dream.)

    Completing the level will earn you one badge. Each level also offers two additional challenges – a speed run, where you have to retrieve the key and get to the castle within a set amount of time; and a "boss run," in which you have to collect all of the eggs in addition to the key and make it to the castle before too much time passes. In both cases, placing the wooden islands becomes essential, and sometimes the best solutions require different placements for each challenge.

    Bird of Light
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    The graphics are cute and fun, which belies the fact that the game contains a surprising difficulty spike.  The running portion contains some tricky jumps which only get harder as the levels progress. Sometimes this can be mitigated by placing the platforms in different locations, but that bears the risk of failing to achieve certain goals within the time allotted. In addition to the challenges, the game fails to unlock achievements, both within the game and through the Steam platform. So despite its interesting and innovative approach, there are a few flaws in its execution. Also, the music is repetitive and not terribly impressive. 

    On the moral front there is little to be concerned about. As previously mentioned, Tara's "deaths" just consist of her falling with a scream, followed by a scene of her sitting up in bed. There aren't any other issues that come up that could cause any worries.

    Although a clever idea, Bird of Light can prove to be too difficult for younger players. Those who enjoy a platforming challenge or speed runs may find some entertainment in this game, and the $4.99 price tag makes it quite affordable. With the opportunity to get faster times with each of the 29 levels, there is significant replay value in Bird of Light. 

  •  

    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

  • boxart
    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.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Candleman: The Complete Journey 
    Developed by: Spotlightor Interactive
    Published by: Zodiac Interactive
    Release date: January 31, 2018
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4; partial versions on Android, iOS
    Genre: 3D Platformer
    Number of players: Single player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you, Zodiac Interactive, for sending us a review key!

    Candleman is a fairy tale. It joins storybook narration to fantastical art design. The levels take you from a ship to a library to an enchanted forest and more. All this, as best I can tell, is in service to one thing: helping the player accept that they are playing as a bipedal candle. Candleman is pretty, and the story it tells is oddly uplifting. But if you choose to pick it up, do it for the gameplay. Candleman is the best 3D candle platformer ever, and it just might be among the best 3D platformers in years.

    The game opens on a candle looking at itself in a mirror and having an existential crisis. The narrator tells you that the candle wants to know why it exists and wonders if it can shine as bright as yonder lighthouse. Feel free to ignore the premise; Tolkien it isn’t. The important thing is the game’s main mechanic: your character is a candle that can burn for ten seconds total over the course of each level. Other than that, the candle can move and jump. That’s it.

    Burning is used for navigation; as you might expect, Candleman is a dark game overall. Each level contains a certain number of hidden candles that must be lit for 100% completion. Lighting all the candles grants the second half of the short poetic couplets used to name each level. I consider lighting all of these candles part of the essential experience. The levels might appear fantastical, but they are very economic in their design. If you find a nook, there is probably a candle hidden there. The challenge is in using the level’s unique gimmick to reach the candles. They serve the practical purpose of illuminating the levels, and most levels would be much shorter without them. This is not necessarily bad; as time challenge mode demonstrates, most levels can be cleared in less than three minutes when the player is focused purely on reaching the end. As someone who never speedruns games, I found two to three minutes an ideal length for a level in which I might mess up at the end and lose my wonderful time.

    Candleman: The Complete Journey
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent level design; smooth difficulty curve; good art and lighting design; consistently surprising use of light mechanics; well-positioned camera; story and time challenge modes offer very different experiences of the same levels
    Weak Points: The last quarter of the game is weaker than the rest; occasional keyboard control issues
    Moral Warnings: Ghosts, one of which can eat the candle; Candle can “die” due to crushing, falling, fire, and ghosts; Some frightening moments

    Lighting hidden candles is the skeleton of Candleman; the meat is the levels themselves. Candleman has twelve worlds averaging four levels apiece. The worlds are loosely grouped mechanically and thematically in sets of three, dividing the entire game into quarters. Without spoiling all the fun mechanics involved, I want to give a brief overview of the structure of the game. The first quarter introduces the basic mechanics and physics system, requiring the candle to push around platforms in water and adjust to the shifting gravity of a ship at sea. The game quickly sheds its thin veneer of physics simulation in the land of magical books and bottles of fairy dust. The second quarter is easily the most beautiful; the candle’s light is used to explore a colorful enchanted garden. Quarter three was my favorite, and quarter four, in a manner well-attested among great games, was the weakest.

    It would be hard to list all the clever ways the candle’s light is used even if I wanted to spoil them. (Except one thing showed in the game’s trailer: there are flying lanterns, like you might know from China or Tangled.) Sometimes plants will grow at your approach. Some creatures will fear—or chase—your light. Ice, water, and fire react to the candle in the same way they would in reality; it feels like there’s a real candle in the world of the game. Still, the strength of the game is the world-by-world gimmicks which never get old. At the halfway point, when I thought the game was out of ideas, it surprised me with a difficult mechanistic world followed by a magical mirror world.

    Whatever the world’s primary gimmick, the game makes sure you understand it before forcing you to use it under pressure. This classic principle of game design is used to great effect here. A potential downside of the carefully-graded difficulty curve is that the story never feels particularly challenging. It’ll make you think, certainly, but not for long. I was rarely stuck on a level. Even so, a completionist run of the story took me about six hours. For a video game, five to six hours is often considered short. In the case of Candleman, it felt about right. Note that this review is of the full version of the game as available on computers and consoles; currently, the mobile versions do not seem to include all worlds.

    Candleman: The Complete Journey
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    I would be remiss not to praise Candleman’s camerawork. Since the dawn of the N64, the camera have been the worst aspect of many a 3D game. Candleman answers the problem by setting the camera angle and moving it for you as you go about each level. This ensures that you nearly always see what you need to. I can remember only two times that the candle was completely hidden behind level geometry. A fixed camera also mitigates the motion sickness I sometimes feel in 3D games after playing them for a while. The camera is not perfect, but it is very good.

    “Controls follow suit,” is what I really wanted to say. It’s almost true. However, Candleman is a port of an Xbox One game, and with porting typically comes bizarre issues. Candleman’s controller support is solid. It’s so solid that a controller shaves significant time off of challenge runs. A keyboard will get you through the game, but it will slow you down if you try to race with it. Also, on two levels, the keyboard controls got stuck, running the candle in one direction and off a ledge until I paused and unpaused the game. Like I said, a keyboard is sufficient to play the game. A controller is ideal.

    The game is nonviolent in general. The candle can “die” to any number of hazards, from fire to crushers to spiky plants to ghosts. One of the ghosts, if it touches you, makes a distinctive crunching sound as the candle disappears. It’s a little disturbing, though not as much as the only boss-like encounter in the game. You don’t fight; you run. Still, the boss encounter involves—mild spoilers through the end of the paragraph—a scarier experience with a lighthouse lamp than I thought possible. Technically it is a nightmare sequence. (Why not give the candle a nightmare sequence?) Nevertheless, the boss feels like it was designed by H.P. Lovecraft.

    As a game, Candleman is straightforward and does not overstay its welcome. It is not challenging; it is merely fun. The story about the value of one’s place in the world interested me more than I expected even as the game stumbled toward its lower-quality yet pretty ending. Afterward, the gameplay was enough to bring me to the time trial mode. If “3D platforming candle” isn’t enough to get your attention, perhaps “good 3D platforming candle” is.

  • 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.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thanks to Zen Labs for the review key!

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

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

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

    Cosmic Leap
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Cadogan

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thank you Excalibur Games for sending us this game!

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

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

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

    Dad Quest
    *Fly away little bird*
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thank you Nordic Games for sending us a review code!

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

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

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

    De Blob
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thank you THQ Nordic for sending us a review code!

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

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

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

    de Blob 2
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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