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Puzzle

  • Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm
    Developed by: JMJ Interactive
    Published by: JMJ Interactive
    Release date: January 26, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: Rhythm
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $6.99

    Thank you JMJ Interactive for sending us this game to review!

    Rhythm and puzzle matching games have been around for a while. Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm combines the genres into a match 4 game that requires you to move around the blocks to the beat of the music for a combination bonus.  Like most rhythm games, you’re given a rating of perfect, good, or bad depending on your timing when shuffling around the various colored or patterned blocks.

    When you start the campaign mode you’ll get a text-based tutorial of the basic gameplay.  Like Tetris, blocks will fall down in rows of four.  A bar will slide across them and if you press a button on or off beat, the selected block will be swapped out with the one that’s in the preview box on the upper left hand side of the screen.  When four similar blocks are touching they will vanish and clear room for more.  If the blocks build up too high, it’s game over.  Continuing is an option, but you’ll take a score penalty that increments with each continue used.  

    Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great soundtrack; interesting combination of rhythm and matching games
    Weak Points: Unusual gamepad controls; crashes when exiting the game; low-resolution
    Moral Warnings: None

    I’ll be the first to admit that I am not good at this game.  So the continue option is the only way I was able to advance through most of the campaign.  The soundtrack is great and worth purchasing if you like electronic dance music.  You can play songs individually after they have been unlocked in the campaign mode.  

    Some Steam features like trading cards and achievements are implemented, but sadly there is no cloud save functionality.  The progress I made on my desktop did not transfer over to my laptop computer.  The leaderboards are nice, but my name won’t be on there anytime soon.

    Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    The visuals are nice, but are rather low resolution and there are no options to increase the screen resolution at all.  Another weird quirk is that this game would crash whenever I exited from it using my desktop.  My laptop didn’t experience that issue though.  

    Akihabara - Feel the Rhythm has full controller support and I was able to play it using my Xbox One controller and my Steel Series Stratus XL.  The XYAB buttons work in the game but the button to make selections in the game menu is the start button.  The D-pad works as expected, but the joysticks are not usable.  

    There are no moral issues worth mentioning and this game is suitable for rhythm game lovers of all ages.  While this is an interesting combination of puzzle and rhythm game genres, I am not sure if it’s a good fit for me.  I’m good at those genres individually, but when combined I’m horrible at it.  Despite being bad at this title, I still enjoyed playing it.  The price is a reasonable $6.99 and worth keeping an eye on if it goes on sale.

  • Anomaly 1729 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

    Anomaly 1729
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Cadogan

  • Collide-a-Ball (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Collide-a-Ball
    Published By: Starsign
    Developed By: Starsign, SIMS Co.
    Released: September 15, 2016
    Available On: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $1.99

    Thank you Rainy Frog Games for sending us review codes for Starsign's games!

    I recently reviewed Ping Pong Trick Shots by Starsign, and though the graphics are limited, I found it to be a decent little game. Well a second title from them has been released to the eShop and it very much resembles Ping Pong Trick Shots in terms of appearance.

    There are three modes to choose from in Collide-a-Ball: Free Play, Wait & Go!, and Single Ball. They each share similarities, but do change up the established formula presented in Free Play.

    Collide-a-Ball
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Clever and challenging puzzle game; 3D is utilized very well; Upbeat music.
    Weak Points: Barebones graphics; Limited gameplay appeal.
    Moral Warnings:None.

    Free Play is made up of 30 stages which can be played in any order. The goal is to use objects and different types of panels to make a red and a blue ball collide at a goal flag at the same time. Hence the name of the game! By using the touch screen speed panels, ramps, and other things can be manipulated to affect the speed of each ball. Usually there's only one solution and it's not too difficult to figure out what to do. As you're given all the objects on screen to move and rotate as you please, solutions will quickly become apparent in the early stages. The later stages, specifically 20 through 30, aren't as obvious and are very well designed. They were challenging and I liked the quick ramp up in difficulty. 

    Wait & Go! consists of 20 stages and in this mode objects cannot be interacted with. Instead, the balls will roll on their own when the stage is started. It's up to the player to gauge how much of a delay will be needed to send the balls off at the right times so that they collide at the predestined spot. Pressing the start button sends the blue ball out and pressing it again will release the red ball. This mode can require a bit more precision in timing than I would have liked, but it was a fun mode all the same.

    Last up is Single Ball, which is made up of only 10 stages. In this mode the player must use the objects on screen to slow down the ball enough that it stops on the goal flag. This one felt a bit tacked on and didn't last me very long. It did provide a challenge like the other modes, and it left me wanting a few more stages when I was done.

    Collide-a-Ball
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

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

    Graphically, this is a tiny step up from Ping Pong Trick Shots. The background is still a static blue sky and the playing fields are checkerboard tiles. The tiles that send a ball left or right are a bit confusing at first, but after using them once you'll know which is which. The 3D is much more welcoming for this title and adds a nice layer of depth without being too harsh on the eyes. It's a shame the game feels so barebones, as this is actually a great puzzle game.

    Soundwise, the few tracks to be heard in the game are upbeat and mesh well with the gameplay on screen. The looping tracks are catchy and surprisingly didn't get old to me. The balls' themselves make funny noises when going over panels or when they fall off a high ledge. I personally found the minimalistic approach in the sound department to actually enhance the game. 

    At the end of the day Collide-a-Ball is a great puzzle game that is only held back by its lack of visual flair. The price tag alone should entice players to try this one out. I'm willing to bet most will come away just as surprised as I was in regards to the amount of fun to be had. Collide-a-Ball is filled with moments that require critical thinking, which is one of the reasons it comes recommended.

    -Kyuremu

     

  • Defend Your Crypt (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Defend Your Crypt
    Developed by: Ratalaika Games
    Published by: Ratalaika Games
    Release date: July 21, 2016 (3DS)
    Available on: 3DS, Mac, Wii U, Windows
    Genre: Strategy, Puzzle
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Blood and Violence)
    Price: $2.99

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

    Defend Your Crypt is a strategy game that has the player take control of a long-deceased Pharaoh. He has the special ability to activate traps inside different tombs in an attempt to stop thieves from stealing its gold.

    The tutorial stages teach the player how and when to activate traps. Traps come in many different shapes such as trap floors, flamethrowers, crossbows, stone presses, and many more gruesome hazards. Each trap must be unlocked using skulls. You start the level with a set amount of skulls to use, and with each thief that bites the dust, one more skull is added to your total. Once a trap has been activated, it must cooldown for a short period before it can be used again. Each fiendish device is extremely fun to master, as getting multiple kills with one device can make that wave of enemies a little more manageable. If three thieves happen to make their way to the gold it's game over.

    Defend Your Crypt
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The retro Egyptian graphics and music are both charming; Extremely satisfying to 100% a stage; Hours of content with 60 stages total.
    Weak Points: Later levels can seem unfair in difficulty; Music can get repetitive after long play sessions; Some grammatical errors.
    Moral Warnings: Thieves in the crypt are killed in a multitude of bloody ways.

    Each stage has a 3-skull rating system. Completing a stage without a thief reaching the gold will result in a 3-skull rating. Should a thief get to the gold, a skull will be removed. These skulls are needed to unlock much harder versions of the original 30 stages. These harder stages usually have more thieves with almost no room for errors. Anyone that thinks the normal stages are too easy will find these stages to be much more challenging to 100%. If that wasn't enough, there are achievements to unlock for doing specific tasks.

    Naturally, the game has an Egyptian theme to its 8-bit style. The tomb may look cramped on the 3DS' bottom screen, but I never had an issue making out what was going on. The bottom screen is where the action will take place, but later levels can be two screens tall. These levels task the player with switching between levels of the tomb, as the traps can only be activated from the touch screen. These stages become frenetic, but with patience can easily be overcome.

    Defend Your Crypt
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 91%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The music in the game is always great to hear when starting a level. There are about five different tracks that can be played when starting a level, and they all blend well with the game's environment. The traps all have distinct sound effects when activated which are clear and crisp. Even the thieves themselves all make distinct sounds upon death depending on which trap they walked into.

    The biggest, and really only moral warnings about this game are the blood and violence. Whether it's a body being squished or a scorpion attacking a thief, blood is always left behind. This is serves as a reminder to the other thieves that they could easily be the next one to die there. To those that don't want to see any blood, the devs actually included an option to turn it off.

    Defend Your Crypt is an extremely fun budget title that is really only marred by some grammatical errors. There's plenty of challenge waiting in this title and I highly recommend it to fans of strategy and tower defense games. For $3 it's not going to break the bank and it's filled with hours of fun.

    -Kyuremu

  • Dragonester (PC)

    Game Info:

    Dragonester
    Developed By: Tritrium
    Release Date: March 2010
    ESRB: Not rated
    Available on: PC
    Single Player
    Genre: Puzzle, Strategy
    Retail Price: $9.95

    System requirements
    • OS : Vista32/ 2000/ XP
    • CPU : Pentium3 500Mhz minimum
    • RAM : 512MB Minimum
    • More than Available 100M bytes HDD
    • DirectX 8.0 or Higher

    Thank you Gamers Gate for sending us this game to review!

    Dragons and humans have co-existed for a while. Your town flourishes by harvesting dragon eggs and selling them to warriors so that they can raise loyal dragons to fight in the war. There are five dragon variations and you’ll be harvesting eggs from the red, green and blue dragons. At the very end of the game you can create and sell silver dragon eggs. There are also black dragons, but they are evil and will attack and destroy the dragon nests if you don’t move them away in time.

    There are twenty levels and they grow gradually harder as you progress through them. When you first start you only have to worry about selling eggs and repairing nests that get worn out after a lot of use. As the war continues the dragons get involved and they start getting picky about where their nests are. On top of gathering eggs and repairing nests you now have to move nests around so similarly colored dragons are next to each other. Enemies, pirate ships and evil dragons will appear and when you shoot them down, you collect black gems.

    Highlights:

    Strengths: Unique and challenging game play.
    Weaknesses: Dated graphics, annoying controls.
    Moral warnings: Violence but no blood.

    These black gems can be combined with large dragon eggs to make red, green and blue gems. These gems can later be turned into diamonds which are key to creating silver dragon eggs. To make the large eggs, gems, diamonds and silver dragon eggs you need the proper buildings in place. The game gets really complicated towards the end when you have to shuffle dragons around, repair nests, fight off enemies, collect eggs, make gems, create diamonds and silver dragon eggs, and you have to do all of it simultaneously!

    When you complete a level there are three different ranks (gold, silver, bronze) you can receive depending on how quickly you were able to meet the objectives. The higher your rank the more money you receive. Money in this game is used to improve upon the technology to make the eggs, gems and diamonds faster. Reloading your ammunition costs money as well.
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score: 74%
    Game Play: 15/20
    Graphics: 6/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Controls/Interface: 4/5
    Stability: 5/5

    Appropriateness Score: 96%
    Violence: 8/10
    Sexual Content: 10/10
    Language: 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    You can purchase buildings in your town like a gun shop and a fortress. The gun shop sells weapons and upgrades. The fortress building lets you play challenge levels of varying difficulty. They are usually quick challenges like destroying a certain number of enemies within a couple of minutes. As you progress in the main quest some of the levels have prerequisites which require that your town buildings be upgraded. If you’re short on money you can make some more by replaying previous levels to get a higher rank or by playing some of the fortress challenges.

    There’s a statue in the town that lets you play ranked challenges. This is a single player game so you only compete against yourself and others who use your computer. You don’t earn any money on the ranked challenges.

    Graphically this game is a bit dated. It runs at a fixed resolution, 1024x768. If you have a wide screen monitor, the graphics will be stretched a bit. The 2D backgrounds and sprites bring back Super Nintendo memories. There are two main views in the game. You have the town overview and the playing level. Although the graphics are dated they do the job just fine. I just wish I could run it at a higher resolution.

    The background music is nice but a bit repetitive and the sound effects for the various guns are nice.

    The controls are all mouse driven. You have to drag and drop the nests, eggs and jewels where you want them. The scroll wheel is used to change gun types and the right mouse button is used for reloading. The controls aren\'t that good though - sometimes it takes a few clicks to actually trigger the reload process, for instance.

    With a price point of $9.95 or less there’s a lot of fun to be had here. It\'s a nice little game with plenty of replay value. You can replay the main levels to try to get higher scores, or try to complete all of the fortress challenges or play all of the ranked challenges. If you can multitask and enjoy puzzle games, check out Dragonester.
  • Epic Word Search Holiday Special (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Epic Word Search Holiday Special
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: October 6, 2016
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

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

    With its dual screen layout the 3DS is ideal for word find puzzles.  Lightwood Games has released several word search type games for Nintendo and mobile platforms.  Epic Word Search Holiday Special is the third in the series and features five massive puzzles with roughly fifteen-hundred words hidden within fourteen thousand characters.

    There are five themed puzzles and only two of them are holiday related.  Besides the Halloween and Christmas puzzles there are others based on love, summer and monsters in general.  While the monster themed puzzle has all of the horror movie monsters covered, I was pleasantly surprised to see ones included from Pokemon and Dr. Who.  Since those are trademarked names they’re referred to as “Catch them all” and “Doctor ?”.   

    Epic Word Search Holiday Special
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of themed words to find
    Weak Points: Pricey compared to word find books
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol, Halloween, demon, and goddess references

    Each of the puzzles has several related puzzles combined into one.  Each section has color coded letters and sometimes the words will span across multiple sections.  Because the puzzles are so huge, you’ll have to use the circle pad to navigate and gain access to different sections.  The words to find will appear on the top screen and will change as you scroll across different sections of the puzzle.   

    Words to find will be frontwards, backwards, and diagonal.  Not surprisingly, the backwards and diagonal words are harder to locate. The words themselves vary in length and many of them I was not familiar with.  Selecting them is done by dragging and selecting the words using the bottom touch screen.    

    Epic Word Search Holiday Special
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 66%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Progress is saved automatically and the percentage found for each section can be sent via Street Pass if you want compete against other word search enthusiasts.  Because of the simplistic visuals, this game is quick to load and is ideal for short gaming sessions.  The background music is pleasant to listen to and consists of public domain classical music tracks.

    Like most word searches, Epic Word Search Holiday Special is pretty clean and suitable for people of all ages to play.  There are Halloween and demon references in the puzzles that you would expect to find them in.  The love themed puzzle has alcohol references in having you find words like pub and brewery.  The word hookup is also in that puzzle.  On a positive note, the Christmas puzzle has many words from the traditional hymns along with the secular songs.

    In the end, Epic Word Search Holiday Special is sure to entertain those who love word finds.  It’s not for everyone though.  If it wasn’t for the Pokemon puzzle my kids would have little interest in this title.   Those that do get into the game will sink several hours into it so for them it’s a pretty good bargain.  For everyone else, stick with the $0.99 paperback books.

  • Escape Lizards (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Escape Lizards
    Developer: Egodystonic Studios
    Published by: Independent
    Release Date: April 10, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Puzzle, Action
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $ 15.99

    Thanks Egodystonic Studios for sending us a review code.

    Physics puzzle based games will either be great or horrid; I have never found a in-between yet. Escape Lizards is one of those games that wound up being a terrible experience. It has potential, but when it's marked down by control issues and bad camera, I should not give participation points. This Is Escape Lizards.

    Escape Lizards puts you in charge of rescuing the young of lizard clans hunted down by vile eagles. You do this by rolling lizard eggs along different courses from start to finish. You can change the gravity of each course to find different planes to roll on with the left and right bumpers. Each course also gives you a limited amount of times you can jump with your egg. On each course are a number of coins that you collect to unlock new worlds. Every world has a time challenge as well, when you beat stages within a time limit you win stars that aid in unlocking worlds. You also have the option of smashing eagle eggs in each course; doing so will unlock new skins for your lizard eggs.

    Escape Lizards
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It has the potential to be a creative take on a old idea of rolling a marble down a course
    Weak Points: The Controls are horrible and half the time you try to solve these puzzles while fighting with camera movement
    Moral Warnings:None

    The biggest problem with this game is the controls. The camera has an option to shut off up and down inverse controls yet not left and right. The game also forces your controller (if you use one) to have a dead zone. The keyboard controls are not better, you'll still have a problem controlling the egg. You don't directly control the egg by the way, you tilt the stage itself to move it. When you tilt the world to move the egg, the camera will move without you wanting it. This will only further aggravate you as you try to play the game. Sometimes a dead zone can make a controller feel more responsive yet that's not the case.

    This game relies on the way you tilt the stage as well as controller movement. When you look at other games that consist of rolling a ball down the course, the controls are tight for a reason, with minimal to no dead zone. Without controlling the egg itself, the game only becomes more frustrating when your controls over the world are either extremely sensitive or unresponsive. Part of this game's challenge is fighting with your own controls.

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

    Game Score - 36%
    Gameplay - 5/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 1/5

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

    Escape Lizards doesn't have a lot going for itself. The graphics consist of background images while you roll around on the low-res stages. The UI is extremely cluttered and only serves as a distraction. The music is just small 10 second jingles on loop. I will give some credit to this game for a new approach at a marble rolling game. It gave me the feeling of those cheap marble ball mazes in the toy aisle. Yet those marble ball maze toys are also the kind of thing you pick up for a niece or nephew when you forgot their birthday. That's all this game really is, a last minute birthday gift.

    Other than the very lightly encouraged murdering of eagle babies, you won't find moral issues with this title.

    Escape Lizards is a game filled with a rolling sense of disappointment and waste. It might be fun for a few people, yet it will just be another game on Steam's release list.

  • Gravity Island (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

    Thanks to astragon Entertainment GmbH for the review code!

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

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

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

    Gravity Island
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Cadogan

  • Green Game: TimeSwapper (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Green Game: TimeSwapper
    Developed by: iFun4all
    Published by: iFun4all
    Release date: April 4, 2016
    Available on: iOS, PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you iFun4all for sending us a review code for this game!

    The only way to know the story behind Green Game: TimeSwapper is to read the store page as it’s not mentioned in the game itself.  I’ll save you a few moments and reiterate it here.  You’re the master of time and can set it to the past, present or future with the swipe of your hand.  A self-propelled mechanical bird must gather knowledge of the mysterious and hostile green world.  It’s up to you to have it complete its mission successfully.

    There are fifty levels in total and each of them have three gears that can be collected in any order.    If you miss a gear, you can always go back and replay the level to claim it.  Gathering gears is actually optional since you merely have to reach the end of the level to unlock the next one.  Of course, this is easier said than done.

    Green Game: TimeSwapper
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging game that will push you to your limits and keeps track of how many times you have died
    Weak Points: Experienced a few rage quit moments as the timing and controls are difficult to master
    Moral Warnings: Mechanical violence

    Since the mechanical bird is self-propelled and constantly moving, you must use the environment to steer it in the direction you wish it to go.  

    There are many traps, spikes, and blades that will have to be avoided at all costs.  By swiping the Vita’s touch screen you can control a ray of green light that can activate steam pumps and disarm various traps.  Some of the traps have multiple “states” that are tricky to get just right and sadly, you only have one life per level to get it right. All of your miscalculations will be tallied and prominently displayed on the loading screen.  And no, there are no check points because that would make this game too easy.

    Some levels have temporary modifiers like the ability to slow down the bird’s speed.  Be sure to collect those if you can.  Though it’s usually easier to just avoid them altogether and just focus on getting to the exit point.  In the end it all depends on how much of a completionist you are.

    Green Game: TimeSwapper
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    If you like timing based puzzle games, you’ll enjoy Green Game: TimeSwapper.  Though if you’re easily frustrated, this game may get under your skin after a while.  You will die often, and thankfully there is no blood since the victim is mechanical.

    The graphics are fitting to the game’s name with green backdrops and shadows.  It ran well on my Vita other than the controls taking a few tries to master at times.  The touch screen works well though I wonder how I would have fared with a controller instead.

    The background music is mellow and has a jazz flare to it.  The machinery sound effects and bird’s screeching upon its demise are well done. 

    In the end, this a cute little game that’s best enjoyed in short bursts.  I found it perfect to play while waiting in roller coaster lines at my nearest theme park.  The price is a reasonable $4.99  and it's worth checking out on any platform that’s convenient for you.

     

  • Hue (PS4)

    boxart
    Game Info:

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

     

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

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

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

    Hue
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • I Expect You To Die (Rift)

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    Game Info:

    I Expect You To Die
    Developed by: Schell Games LLC
    Published by: Schell Games LLC
    Release date: December 6, 2016
    Available on: Oculus Rift, PSVR
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence, tobacco and alcohol use
    Price; $24.99

    Thank you Schell Games LLC for sending us this game to review!

    If you ever wanted to be a secret agent like James Bond and think your way out of deadly situations and traps, then I Expect You to Die is for you.  The intro credits song and artwork are extremely well done and are very similar in style to those found in the classic Bond movies.  The voice acting and humor is also top notch in this virtual reality espionage game.

    Like all secret agents, you have telekinetic powers that let you manipulate objects from a distance.  This ability will come in handy as you search around and find clues and the tools needed to get you out of several deadly scenarios.  There are only four missions, but several ways to die while completing them.

    I Expect You To Die
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great tribute to James Bond and Austin Powers movies
    Weak Points: There are only four missions, and the game can be completed in less than an hour
    Moral Warnings: Many ways to die; you can consume alcohol and cigars 

    The first mission takes place inside of a car which is on a plane and you have make it out alive.  Since there’s poison gas surrounding your vehicle, it’s best to stay inside.  You will have to quickly roll down your window to grab one of the screwdrivers needed to access the dynamite launcher that’s tucked away.  Just in case you’re wondering where to find dynamite, you’ll have a couple of sticks of it after disarming a ticking bomb by cutting the colored wires in the proper order.  You’ve always wanted to do that, right?

    Besides driving out of a flying aircraft you’ll also have to neutralize a deadly chemical weapon, escape a sinking submarine pod, and deactivate a deadly machine inside of the villain's hunting lodge in the Alps.  There is no shortage of adventure in this game, and as long as you don’t mind a little timed pressure, you’ll have a blast.  

    You’ll be clocked on how quickly you can complete each mission and there are several optional objectives available as well.  Speed runs are encouraged, but not required.  In fact, you can take your time in solving some of the puzzles, but a couple of the riddles need to be completed expediently.  

    I Expect You To Die
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    Be prepared to restart levels over a few times as you kill yourself in humorous ways.  I have been burned, suffocated, drowned, and blown up by grenades.  Despite the many ways to die, this game isn’t too bloody or violent.  The screen just fades to red as you’re fading away.  Many of the levels have cigars and champagne in them.  You are able to consume both of them.  For what it’s worth, you can also drink coffee or eat sandwiches, which may be moldy depending on the level.

    The Oculus Touch controls work great and this game is well suited for them.  PSVR owners can also enjoy this title with the Move controllers.  Sadly, this game doesn't appear to be on Steam/HTC Vive as of this review.

    As well polished and great as this game is, my only complaint is the short amount of game time you get for $25.  Because I Expect You To Die can be completed in less than an hour, I recommend holding off for a sale before purchasing it.  It is a solid VR experience no matter how much you pay for it though.  I highly recommend this game to any fans of James Bond movies.

  • In Between (Xbox One)

     

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    Game Info:

    In Between
    Developed by: Gentlymad
    Published by: Headup Games
    Release Date: June 8, 2016
    Available on: PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle-platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $11.99

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

    Death is inevitable and sometimes people die in an undeserving manner.  The nameless protagonist in this game is diagnosed with a type of terminal cancer that is unusual given his lifestyle.  He’s struggling with anger and depression as he’s coming to grips with his diagnosis.  Throughout the sixty levels you’ll get to relive some of his fondest memories in his life.

    At first the puzzles only have gravity defying challenges.  The main character can walk along walls and float up to the ceiling to avoid the spiky areas that will kill him (in a bloodless manner) upon impact.  The death effect is like a shattering of glass with all of the fragments spreading across the screen.  I got to see it more than one-hundred times and even got an achievement for dying so much.

    In Between
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging puzzles; neat visuals; great story, background music,  and voice acting
    Weak Points: Some of the levels are very frustrating with not enough checkpoints
    Moral Warnings: This game revolves around the main character dying and reminiscing on his life; many bloodless deaths will be experienced while attempting these puzzles; drinking references

    Other achievements are earned by watching all of the memories and completing the life sections on depression, anger, denial, and bargaining.  Throughout the game you’ll get to relive the character’s interactions with his father, mother, wife, and daughter.  As great as the story is, it takes a lot of patience and persistence to get through it. 

     I enjoyed the puzzles until the timed ones appeared.  While there isn’t a timer that’s counting up or down, there is a darkness that creeps up on the player that can only be temporarily thwarted by facing it.  Since you only have a limited amount of time before it catches up with you, you’ll have to be quick and precise with your movements.  Sadly, there are not enough checkpoints to reduce the amount of frustration that have caused many gamers to rage quit on this title.
    In Between
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    I watched some helpful YouTube videos on how to solve some of the puzzles in the levels that were stumping me.  Even with the guides, I lacked the agility and patience to complete the trickier levels.  Before purchasing this game, I highly recommend checking out the demo on Steam or watching a YouTube video or two to see what’s expected of you.

    If you like challenging puzzles and platformer games, In Between is well polished and has a lot to offer.  The art style is neat and the levels have a lot of variety to keep things interesting.  The background music is pleasant and the voice acting is well done.   While nothing is shown, the game talks about drinking and drunkenness.  Though this game is clean enough for kids to play, I can’t imagine them having the patience needed to complete these trials.  The regular price on the Xbox store is $11.99, but I have seen this game for less than $5 on Steam and for that price it’s worth looking into.

  • Kill The Bad Guy (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Kill The Bad Guy
    Developed by: Exkee
    Published by: Exkee
    Release Date: May 28, 2014
    Available on: Linux, Mac, PC
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Exkee for sending us this game to review!

    Kill The Bad Guy is a unique and violent 3D puzzle game that puts you in a secret society that kills criminals that the justice system has left on the streets.  Many of these bad guys have a fictitious and gruesome back-story that justifies their need for a bloody death.  One of the back stories is said to be true about a murderer that castrated, sexually abused, eventually killed and ate the child victims and wrote to their parents explaining the gruesome details of their death.  While it’s not right to seek vengeance (Romans 12:19), as a parent, I don’t mind letting a tree fall over and kill this guy.

    Not every story makes your blood boil like that example.  One of the missions has you take out a guy that does the back stroke in crowded public pools.  The unlockable mini-games are pretty light hearted as well and let you kill groups of zombies or fling Rottweilers at bad guys Angry Birds style. 

    Kill The Bad Guy
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Creative but violent puzzle game with over 60 levels
    Weak Points: Not much replay value or flexibility on how to kill the bad guys
    Moral Warnings:Plenty of violence, gore, graphic details and language

    The main game consists of sixty increasingly difficult scenarios.  There isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room when it comes to orchestrating the demise of the bad guys.  Many levels only offer one or two ways to kill the criminals.  It’s bad enough when the bad guy can see what you’re up to and flee, but later in the game you have to be discreet enough to avoid cameras and eye witnesses.  While it is not condoned, killing of innocents is possible, but you will fail the level for doing so.   

    Like many Steam games there are various achievements including one for merely launching the game.  Other achievements can be earned for failing, killing the bad guy, or pedestrians a lot.  With each successful kill you get to watch a replay of it and have the option of sharing a screenshot on social media sites.  

    Each level has a primary and secondary objective along with a hidden passport and each of these items earns you a star for completing or finding them.  Another star can be earned for collecting the golden tooth that flies out of the bad guy as he dies a creative and bloody death.  

    Kill The Bad Guy
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 48%
    Violence - 1/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 1.5/10

    Some killing methods include dropping a piano, running over, flinging objects (including a dead dog), impaling with a javelin or burning with fire.  Since there are not many ways to kill per level, there is not much re-playability other than to locate the hidden passport or killing the bad guy on the first day for more points/stars.

    Other than the obvious violence, there is some language in the scenarios and rap music playing in the background.  The bad guy even says “Dah fu..”when he sees something fishy.  There are several sexual and graphic details in the back stories.  Lastly, some of the levels allow you to distract the bad guy with porno magazines.   

    Kill The Bad Guy will entertain you for a few hours and the price is a reasonable fifteen dollars.  This game hasn’t been rated by the ESRB and if it was, it would earn a Mature rating.  With the gratuitous violence and language, this is not a game that should be played around or by children.

  • Magical Brickout (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Magical Brickout
    Developed by: Cunning Force Games
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Released: October 17, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, SteamOS
    Genre: Puzzle, action
    Number of players: 1 offline 
    Price: $7.99

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

    Most people who know the history of video games will admit that one of the first was a primitive table tennis simulator called "Pong." But the game required two players, and some wanted a version they could play themselves. Thus, in 1976, "Breakout" was created, and appeared in arcades – and Atari home game consoles – since then.

    The game has proven to be so popular that it has been imitated and replicated many times over the past four decades. But for the most part, the formula has remained the same – the player controls the paddle and moves it back and forth to try and keep the ball from leaving the playing field, and destroying bricks in the process. Once all the bricks are destroyed, you can move on to the next level, wave, or puzzle.

    Magical Brickout does something new with this formula – a move that I would even describe as truly innovative. Rather than moving a paddle back and forth, you actually rotate the entire playing field. The field is circular and, with the possible exception of indestructible metal bricks on a few of the levels, contains nothing that represents a paddle. This simple twist completely changes the formula – and the gameplay – of this familiar old design.

    Magical Brickout
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Original approach to "Breakout"; challenging levels
    Weak Points: Steep learning curve; mediocre music
    Moral Warnings: Some undead references

    The story behind the game is presented through a series of animated cartoon panels, and some text windows that appear at the beginning of each level. An evil wizard has built a magical castle, and has trapped several fairies inside bricks. Your job is to free the fairies by destroying the bricks and, eventually, the evil wizard's sinister guardians. A gremlin will appear on the levels, and if you manage to whack it with the ball you can score extra points. Some of the bricks also contain power-ups, and others will contain penalties. A few other bricks will appear, which change based upon which stage you're playing. Each of the eight stages contains six levels, for a total of 48 levels, not counting the tutorial.

    In addition to the bricks, there are a couple of other mechanics involved as well. Along the sides of the playing fields are two potion bottles. As you destroy the bricks, the bottles fill up, providing the possibility of free balls and multiplier bonuses to your score. If you lose your ball, the potions drain away and you have to start all over. Leaderboards are available, and you can see how your scores stack up against others. My name is in the top 15 as I write this, but given the newness of the game, I doubt it will be there long!

    The controls to the game are sharp and responsive, and I had no trouble using either the keyboard or my gamepad. The music is pleasant, but gets repetitive before too long. The graphics are cartoonish and cute, with funny signs in the background. They can be a bit distracting at first, but as you get familiar with the level, you can focus more upon the bricks, rather than the scenery. Interestingly enough, the levels aren't randomized. The bricks are arrayed in a fashion that highlight the background elements, and the fairies always appear in the same location. The bonuses and penalties do change location every time a new ball is launched, though, so there is some randomization to keep the levels fresh. 

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    The lack of variation helps with the game, though. Although this is an original spin on the "Breakout" model, that hardly means that the game is easier. This simple difference is enough to ramp up the difficulty significantly. It can often be difficult to tell how the ball is going to bounce off a brick, especially if struck on the shorter end, rather than the broad face. The fact that the bricks don't change location helps immensely, as once you've played a level enough times, you can figure out what maneuvers tend to work the best in removing the bricks in the shortest amount of time, and with the fewest balls lost. You can score one to three stars on each level, and achievements are available for getting stars on every level. There are a total of 44 achievements to unlock, but most of them are not easy to obtain.

    From a moral perspective, there isn't a lot to worry about in the game. There are a few references to undead, especially in the "Graveyard" levels, and the décor occasionally features skulls. The game focuses on magic and fairies, but it isn't apparent if you're casting spells. There isn't any occult imagery or language issues to be found here. The gremlin that appears on the levels can be hit with the ball, but simply falls backwards with a stunned expression.

    Altogether, Magical Breakout is a tough, sometimes frustrating challenge, but is original enough that it's worth a try. The price is a reasonable $7.99. This is a whimsical, solid game and a fun variation of an old, familiar formula.

    Incidentally, if you would like to play a free variation of the original Breakout, go to http://www.google.com. Click on "Images" and then type in "Atari Breakout" into the search field. Wait a few seconds, and then the screen will transform into the game.

     

  • Monumental (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Monumental
    Developed By: Whipstitch Games
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: January 22, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $9.99

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

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review code!

    The first-person puzzle genre has endured quite a few twists and turns over the years. In the early years, games such as Starship Titanic or Rama reveled in presenting an unknown world full of complicated challenges for you to solve. More recently, games such as Portal introduced a more action-styled element to the puzzles. Others either toe – or blatantly cross – the line of “walking simulator”, where the only puzzle is how they got so much media attention and praise in the first place. Occasionally, however, you can find a game that throws back to an older age that expected you to play with pen and paper at the ready, and Monumental certainly fits that bill.

    Monumental is a first-person puzzle game set in a mysterious alien world. The Mandrake Research Facility has gone some time without a transmission, and you are sent to check up on the five researchers stationed there. In the process, you’ll comb through the facility, poke around an abandoned ruin, and plunge into the depths of the central temple – and uncover some details about the alien civilization yourself.

    The entirety of the game involves wandering around each of the three aforementioned areas, discovering obstacles, data nodes, alien runes, and so on. The puzzles have a decent amount of variety to them, though you’ll mostly solve math problems, manipulate colors, or activate sounds in a particular order. While you only deal with good old fashioned English and Arabic numerals in the research facility, out in the ruins you’ll need to decode the aliens’ language and base-8 number system.

     

    Monumental
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Satisfying puzzles; interesting alien world
    Weak Points: A few unintuitive puzzles; occasional freezes/softlocks during loading
    Moral Warnings: A few dead bodies, one with a blood-covered shirt; text descriptions of one-sided attempts at adultery; Barbie-style naked humanoid aliens; a single minor curse (hell)

    The puzzles, as the main attraction, do their job and do it well for the most part. While the game is mostly linear, some small sequence breaks are possible with enough thought. There are a rare few instances where the puzzles simply don’t make logical sense, the most egregious being gaining entry into one researcher’s room: the password requires a combination of colors that’s found randomly plastered to a wall in such a way that it just looks like part of the futuristic scenery. The code also requires you to back out of the terminal entirely if you get it wrong, which is different than every other terminal in the game. Luckily, there’s an in-game hint system for moments like these, with each one giving you somewhere between a light nudge or a heavy push in the right direction. There’s no punishment for using these, aside from the total number of used hints being displayed on your save file as a monument to your shame.

    That said, even that puzzle could be figured out with enough thought, trial-and-error, or simple desperation, and the vast majority of the puzzles are similar. The interface only adds to the experience: you can, and are required to, take pictures and record audio, and can display those recordings at any time. It’s a quick, user-friendly solution to writing everything down on paper – though that old method still comes in handy quite a bit. The relative ease of access to your references, combined with the standard high quality of the presented puzzles, creates a truly satisfying experience.

    The controls are a bit hard to get used to, however. You use the mouse wheel to scroll between your various gadgets, and right-clicking activates them - this is rather simple and intuitive enough. Complicating matters, though, is the addition of device-specific menus where your notes, pictures, or sound clips are stored; these are brought up by clicking the mouse wheel, and right-clicking from there displays or plays the selected data. While there is no way to delete unwanted pictures or audio, which is especially annoying when you mess up the controls and snap a photo of the bare floor, the ease with which you can scroll through them makes it almost a non-issue. There are keyboard controls for the interface as well, but the game never outlines them and you can’t configure the keys, making it one puzzle the game could do without.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Monumental’s presentation is decent enough, neither impressing nor disappointing. The graphics look rather nice even on the lowest settings, but a few objects – mainly otherworldly flora and the like – have strange muddy textures on them that at best make the world look alien but usually just make it look unappealing. Each of the three levels as well as the title screen and credits has their own song, and while none stand out, they do convincingly set the intended tones and never get irritating to listen to. The audio cues you’re intended to record and input stand out clearly from the music, and replaying something via the menu cuts the music entirely to provide unimpeded access – though sometimes the music won’t come back at all without a visit to the pause screen. Finally, the alien civilization itself is engaging and fun to explore, with the only real complaint being how underutilized it is: the developers clearly mapped out an entire alien language, but never use it anywhere but the title of the game on the title screen. All puzzle hints and solutions are instead plastered as-is on seemingly random walls, which can break the immersion somewhat.

    The biggest issue Monumental has, however, lies in its stability. As mentioned previously, the music can cut off after listening to an audio recording. Changing the graphics quality in-game results in an unplayable mess of random textures that requires a restart to fix. The game itself runs smoothly – but only when it loads at all. While the first level loads reliably, the ruins and temple levels can and will get stuck at about 90% loaded. Sometimes even successful loads will visibly freeze the game, spinning circle mouse cursor included, but at least you know it’s loading when that happens. If you softlock on a loading screen, your only options are to wait the fifteen minutes or more for it to sort itself out, or open up the task manager and manually end the process. Worst of all, this happens in up to a third of all loading attempts. Needless to say, the flow of the game is severely hampered when you’re forced to quit playing, and it makes entering a new area something to fear rather than be excited about.

    There are only a few minor moral issues to find in Monumental. You’ll stumble upon some corpses along the way, one of which wearing a blood-soaked shirt. Among the notes left by the researchers, a few describe one man’s attempt to seduce a woman away from her husband, though neither of the two married individuals want anything to do with it. The aliens are depicted as humanoid and naked, but it’s only as disturbing as an Academy Award. Finally, there is a single use of the word “hell” in one of the research notes, but the language is clean otherwise.

    Overall, Monumental is a superb puzzle game marred by a few leaps of logic and some severe technical issues. While solving the challenges and exploring the alien civilization are rewarding, it’s hampered when the game fights you to simply view them. The loading issues are such that it’s hard to recommend it at full price to anyone but the biggest puzzle genre fans or those with extreme patience, but there’s definitely a rewarding experience waiting for you if you decide to pick it up.

    -Cadogan

     

  • Osmos (Mac)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Osmos
    Developed by: Hemisphere
    Games
    Published by: Hemisphere Games
    Released: August 18, 2009
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iOS
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB rating: E
    Number of players: 1 offline
    Price: $9.99 (Humble Store), $2.99 (Google Play), $0.99 (App Store)

    In nature, there tends to be one dominant rule – eat, or be eaten. This seems to apply in the microscopic world as well. In the abstract game Osmos, by Hemisphere Games, this simple mechanic is foremost among the challenges.

    You control a bright blue orb, surrounded by other orbs, on a dark surface in a 2D world. You can absorb those smaller than you – which are demonstrated by their dark blue color – but those orbs larger than you will absorb some of your material instead if you touch them. The larger orbs can be identified by their reddish outline, but as you grow in size, the outline becomes thinner and paler until it also switches to blue – meaning you can absorb them without worry. The bulk of the challenges in the game consist of absorbing smaller orbs and growing in size. The more you absorb, the larger you grow. Each level has different goals, but the mechanics are the same – eat, or be eaten. 

    Osmos
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great music; challenging puzzles; simple concept to understand
    Weak Points: Steep learning curve; can often get frustrating
    Moral Warnings: Blobs absorb other blobs

    Moving around in the game further adds to the challenge. You use the mouse to steer yourself. Pressing the mouse button will cause your orb to squirt out some of the substance you are comprised of. This has the effect of making you move in the opposite direction of your mouse clicks, but you also shrink a bit in the process. You'll continue moving in the direction you indicated, unless gravitational forces pull you in a different direction, or you run into something larger than you (which will strip away your material). So even the process of moving towards smaller orbs – or away from danger – is something that needs to be calculated into your moves. If you shrink to such a point that you cannot win, a warning will pop up at the bottom of the screen. You can then choose to restart the level from the beginning, or just steer yourself into the closest red circle and end it all. There isn't a way to save your progress in the middle of a challenge, but the individual challenges are short, so it isn't much of an irritation.

    You can slow down the action on the screen, allowing yourself more time to react. You also can speed things up, but playing at the slowest speed is generally preferred. If you are having trouble with a level, it's also possible to set it up to randomly arrange the level, rather than stay with the preset design. I've found that this actually can make some of the levels easier, oddly enough. 

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

    The graphics are polished and smooth, with the color contrast of the orbs making it easy to tell at a glance what's a threat, and what is your prey. The music consists of ambient electronica, surprisingly soothing given how tense the game can make you feel at times. The game can get a bit redundant after too long – at least when it's not getting tooth-grindingly frustrating. Fortunately, each puzzle can be completed in just a few minutes, so it's all right to play this game in small doses. Complete a level or two, then move on to another game before returning, if you'd like. It works well for a casual game. There are a total of 47 different challenges, so there is quite a bit to accomplish in the game. If played on Steam, there are 11 achievements to unlock as well, but most of them come only at the end of a chain of challenges, so they aren't pushovers to obtain.

    From a moral standpoint, there really isn't too much to worry about in this game. The only sort of violence that can be found consists of absorbing the blue orbs, or being absorbed by the red orbs. Some of the challenges feature a green orb that is implied to be intelligent, but that's about the extent of it. 

    Osmos is an entertaining puzzle game that can occasionally be quite frustrating. It operates on a simple mechanic that can be tough to master. For those looking for a casual game to spend just a few minutes at a time, but still provides a solid challenge, Osmos could fit the mold.

     

  • Paint it Back (Mac)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Paint it Back
    Developed by: Casual Labs
    Published by: Casual Labs
    Released: October 14, 2015
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, iOS, Android
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $7.99 (Steam), free (Android, iOS, with different levels available for purchase)

    Many, many years ago, a new type of puzzle appeared in one of my favorite magazines. Called "Paint By Numbers," these were logic puzzles from a company called Conceptis, Ltd. in which clues can be used to form a picture. So when "Paint it Back" by Casual Labs popped up for sale on Steam, I quickly added it to my wish list! This style of game has been done by other companies – including Nintendo with the popular Picross games – but Casual Labs' approach is just as entertaining, and provides 150 new puzzles to solve.

    Paint it Back has a fairly simple, silly story. A ghost has appeared in an art gallery, but while he wandered about, he frightened all the artwork away, leaving nothing but blank canvases. The ghost apologizes to the artist-in-residence, but there's a lot of work to be done to restore the paintings. Fortunately, the artist has an assistant – you!

    A tutorial is included to help you understand the concept of the puzzles. You have a grid of empty squares, with numbers along the top and the left side. The numbers tell you how many of the squares need to be filled in, or painted. If there is a space between the numbers, then at least one blank square separates the painted portions of that row or column. Using logic, you'll eventually be able to figure out what squares need to be painted in, and the painting will be restored.

    Paint it Back
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Several logic puzzles to solve in an amusing setting; Steam Workshop connection for more puzzles; good price for the amount of content; free demo available
    Weak Points: Bland, repetitive music; average graphics
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and tobacco references; minor occult references 

    Take note that, even though the end result will look like pixellated color pictures, you aren't solving a colored variation of these puzzles. Rather, you'll solve a black and white version of the painting, and the color is added on the little canvas in the upper left corner, and to the final painting once completed. Many of the puzzles have multiple difficulty levels, granting between one to three medals. The more medals you earn, the more galleries will be unlocked. A few other challenges will be added as well, including timed puzzles, or ones where you're not allowed to use any "x"es to mark blank squares. The game comes with more than 150 puzzles to solve, but the Steam version also includes Steam Workshop integration, so others can create and upload their own puzzles for people to solve. 

    The cartoonish figures that appear in each of the galleries are cute, but move stiffly. You'll see them very seldom, though, as the bulk of the game will be spent with the grid of squares against a pale blue background. The music is pleasant, with a bit of a retro video game feel to it, but hardly memorable. In fact, it grows repetitious before too long, since you'll be hearing the same tunes repeatedly as you spend time on the puzzles. The controls are simply done with the mouse, and except for typing in your name at the start of the game, no other peripherals are even used.

    Paint it Back
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

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

    There are a few parts of the game that may lead to moral concerns, but these are fairly minor. A few of the puzzles have alcohol and tobacco references, and one of the painters can be seen using his paintbrush as a cigar, complete with smoke rings. There is the aforementioned ghost, a witch and even the devil are the subject of some of the paintings. Fortunately, even though it is an art gallery, I didn't spot any nudes among the collection. I can't say the same for any of the Steam Workshop content, though – as that is created by some of the players, it's outside the scope of this review.

    The Steam version includes all of the puzzles. Although the Android and iOS versions are free, each separate chapter isn't included and must be purchased separately. The full version can be purchased from the App Store or Google Play for $2.99 though, so if you're looking for a way to get the entire game, this is the most economical way to do so. The game also is available on Amazon, for those that use Kindles, and is completely free for Amazon Prime members.

    Paint it Back is a fun puzzle game that brings a familiar favorite to the computer screen. Those who enjoy logic puzzles will get a kick out of these challenges as well – especially while they create amusing pictures at the same time. Although it does have its flaws, the puzzles in the game are very well done. A free demo is available on Steam, and if you want more of these types of puzzles, do a search for Conceptis, Ltd.

  • Pic-A-Pix Color (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pic-A-Pix Color
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: April 13, 2017
    Available on: 3DS, Wii U
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $5.00

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

    Lightwood Games specializes in puzzle games and we have previously reviewed their Sudoku and Word Find titles. Pic-A-Pix Color is available on both the 3DS and Wii U. I opted to play the 3DS version for its portability and convenience. The puzzles in this title are designed by Conceptis ltd.

    If you’re familiar with Picross, Nonogram, Griddlers, or Hanjie puzzles then you’ll know how to play this game. If you’re new to this style of puzzle games you’ll quickly learn that the concept is simple but mastering it takes some time. The goal is to fill in the correct pixels using the vertical and horizontal clues provided. As the title states, the one-hundred and fifty puzzles in this game are in color.

    Pic-A-Pix Color
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of fun and challenging puzzles to solve
    Weak Points: In-app purchases
    Moral Warnings: The only magic in this game is a picture of a rabbit coming out of a hat

    Since I haven’t played Picross, this was a relatively new experience for me. I like how the puzzles start off with easier 5x5 grids and gradually move up to 10X10, 15X15, 20X15, and then 20X20. Make sure you're wearing your glasses if needed for the 20X20 puzzles as the 3DS’ screen is at its limit there.

    Not only does the complexity change, but the number of colors used do so as well. You’re given the number of colored pixels to use in each row and column, but figuring out the placement is on you. If you want to double check your work, you can use the magnifying glass icon to point out any errors. If any mistakes are found, you can have the game automatically remove them, but this will remove the option for a gold medal upon completion. The time spent solving the puzzle is recorded if you want to try and beat your previous performance.

    Pic-A-Pix Color
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    When the correct pixels are filled in, the clues are usually blanked out as a result. This doesn’t happen on all of the puzzles though and the developer is aware of this and hopes to rectify it in the future. Other than that minor glitch, I experienced no problems playing this game.

    Since we’re working with pixel art, don’t expect the finished puzzles to look photorealistic. The less your hopes are, the better. Upon completion, the solved puzzles do resemble what they’re supposed to. The background music fits into the retro theme with its chiptune style.

    Pic-A-Pix Color is very fun and it’s a great game to pick up and play anytime. If the one-hundred and fifty puzzles are not enough you can buy more packs for $1.99 apiece. The packs are sold in bundles that feature a variety of set sizes and includes an additional 30-45 puzzles for the reasonable asking price. Be sure to lock down your 3DS’ eShop access before letting a child play this title.

  • Ping Pong Trick Shot (3DS)

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    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

    Ping Pong Trick Shot
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Kyuremu

  • Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (3DS)

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    Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

    Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
    Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About Us:

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

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