enfrdeitptrues

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.

  • America’s Greatest Game Shows: Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy (Xbox One)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    America’s Greatest Game Shows: Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy
    Developed by: Ubisoft
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release date: November 6, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Up to three
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy are iconic game shows that have been around longer than I have. Jeopardy first aired in the 1960s with Art Fleming as the host. I’m more familiar with Alex Trebek though. Pat Sajak and Vanna White are still going strong since Wheel of Fortune’s launch in the mid-1970s. Sadly, none of these hosts are represented in this game collection.

    I’ve often wondered how I’d do on Jeopardy but I can’t help but think of Weird Al’s song – I Lost on Jeopardy. I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself or dishonor my family’s name. Now that an HD version of the game is available to play in the comfort of my own home, I can test my wits against my family and friends. I successfully beat my brother and dominated the Old Testament category and solved every clue for it. By doing so, I unlocked the Xbox achievement “scholar.” I also discovered that I’m pathetic when it comes to anything sports. I don’t know winning years, scores, or stadium names outside of my state.

    If you’re not familiar with Jeopardy, your goal is to win virtual cash and prizes by solving the themed answer with the clue provided. The home version is much easier since you get multiple choice answers when the actual game show does not offer them. Between my brother and AI player guessing the wrong answers I was able to win a couple of questions through the process of elimination. Multiple AI difficulty levels are available and I stuck with the default setting of medium.

    America’s Greatest Game Shows: Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Faithful to the original source material; moves along quickly though if you're too fast with the buzzer you'll be penalized
    Weak Points: Nobody to play against online; average visuals and audio; controller lag
    Moral Warnings: Skimpy shorts are worn by female contestants in Wheel of Fortune

    There are various modes including Quick, Classic, and Family. The family mode is kid friendly and allows special categories and answers to be used in game. The quick mode uses four categories with three clues per category while the classic mode uses six categories and five clues. The categories are broken down into Academia, Lifestyle, Pop Culture, and Potpourri. More categories and ranks are unlocked as you play the game.
    Like the TV show, there are three rounds: Jeopardy, Double Jeopardy, and Final Jeopardy. The higher the dollar value of the clue, the harder the question will be. If a Daily Double is triggered, the contestant who picked the clue gets to set a wager and be the first to answer it. If they answer incorrectly, the other contestants get a crack at it.

    Wheel of Fortune begins with a toss up round that reveals one letter at a time until a contestant can solve the puzzle. The winner of that round will start the game with $1000 cash. Towards the end of the game, the generic host will do a final spin of the wheel and every letter and vowel used will be awarded that amount. Vowels are free in the final spin round, but they cost money to use in the main ones. In the bonus round, you have to try and solve the word puzzle with the letters RSTLNE and three consonants and one vowel of your choosing.

    As you play the game, you’ll unlock clothing and hairstyle options for your avatar. Unfortunately, the female is forced to start off with a pair of very short shorts. Virtual prizes are also unlocked and can appear on the wheel for later playthroughs. There are over four thousand word puzzles to solve so you won’t see repeats very often.

    America’s Greatest Game Shows: Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    I like the video clips for the prizes in Wheel of Fortune. It feels very much like the game show and explains the 3GB size difference between the two game installs. The voice acting is a bit repetitive with the game show host constantly stating how shocked he was about me solving that puzzle so quickly.

    I did notice some controller lag in Wheel of Fortune and often had to push on the joystick multiple times to get it to move over to the desired letter. Other than that issue, these games ran great.

    My biggest complaint about this collection is that nobody is playing it online. Reviews on Amazon mention this as well. As that’s one of the main selling points, it is rather disappointing. If you do have family members to play against it’s still a worthy purchase if you’re a fan of the game shows. You may want to crank up the AI’s difficulty level in Wheel of Fortune as the default mode has them guessing quirky letters like Y,Z,X, and Q. If you’re stuck playing against the AI, you may want to wait for a sale before picking this collection up.

  • 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

     

  • Darknet (PC/HTC Vive)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Darknet
    Developed By: E McNeill
    Publisher: E McNeill
    Release Date: June 8, 2017
    Available On: Gear VR, Google Daydream, Oculus Rift, PS4/PS VR, Windows (HTC Vive compatible but not required)
    Genre: Puzzle, Strategy
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Violent References, Mild Language
    MSRP: $14.99

    Thank you E McNeill for sending us this game on Windows/HTC Vive to review!

    Darknet is what I would consider the ultimate expression of Hollywood's version of the internet. First, you put on your VR headset (in real life, and it's optional as it works on monitors also). Then you are connected to a virtual computer system, with really neat looking 'tubes' and areas that appears to be what the inside of a computer might look like. Once you choose to start hacking, you are brought inside a virtual dome that represents networked systems. You then hack them with viruses, hydras, exploits, and eventually worms, which you use to eventually get the payload data that you are being paid to retrieve.

    Given that US Dollars are traceable, BTC, or bitcoins, are the currency of choice once you are out of a specific system. However, during a hack, any data that you find can be quickly exchanged for US Dollars, which can then again be exchanged for many of the previously mentioned hacking tools. Each time you purchase them, the cost goes up exponentially in powers of two, so getting those extra viruses or needed exploits can be very expensive indeed, but often necessary for progress.

    Darknet
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very fun and addictive gameplay; great soundtrack; really cool premise
    Weak Points: It can get a bit repetitive; sharp difficulty spike around halfway through
    Moral Warnings: ESRB notes violent references and mild language I did not see myself; hacking is obviously illegal

    The gameplay itself is a deceptively simple puzzle game where your goal is to infect the core with your virus programs. There are various entry points which serve as both places to inject and resistance against viruses. These are all laid out on a hexagonal grid, which is all interconnected to the various points of entry. If a spreading virus hits another point, it will counterattack and subsume the virus twice as quickly as the virus itself can get around. This makes taking care of those entry points extremely important. In order to deal with them, often it's better to just cancel the badly placed ones out with another virus, rather than try to overwhelm the core purely with quantity. After all, it only takes contact with one spreading virus to seize control of the core.

    In the main overview map, there are many systems that you can use as your attack points, including normal nodes, Sentinels, and the goal, the Root. As you choose to attack one, it zooms into the puzzle mode mentioned before. Sentinels are important to attack as they put up firewalls for all nearby nodes, which can really make things a lot more difficult, as the core is then surrounded by protection which must be eliminated with viruses before you can capture the data. Once you get the Root, you will earn the BTC promised, as long as you completed it in the time allotted; if not, you lose reputation (which determines how difficult the levels are) and while news stories might still be updated, you don't earn BTC which means that you can't ultimately progress to the most difficult areas until you earn the money needed to get there. I found that around the 50% reputation mark, the difficulty level spiked dramatically.

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

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    The game takes place about ten years after quantum computers have become commonplace. There is a news feed, and your actions can update this feed. The things you have hacked are often fed to news organizations as leaks, and it is with these leaks and the resulting news articles that the world that you live in is slowly built around you. It doesn't affect your game, bit it's fascinating to see one person's vision of what a semi-dystopian and corrupt view of the future might look like.

    And as such, the main moral objection might just be that you earn your living through corporate, government, or dark net (private hacker spaces) espionage. Often the information that you learn is best to be in the light, but it can still have unexpected consequences on both public opinion or stock prices. Whether bringing this corruption to light is good is perhaps debatable, but the ends don't justify the means as a general principle. Otherwise, the ESRB notes some violent references and mild language. I did not note these things, but since there are many, many news articles that I had not unlocked, it's entirely possible that I just haven't gotten to them yet.

    Darknet is a very fascinating game that I quickly found myself enjoying greatly. After a while, the difficulty spike was too much for me, and I ran out of patience with the game, but that does not take away from the fun to be had here. I may come back to it at some point soon, since it's so much fun to play in short spurts. I agree with ESRB's assessment on age appropriateness here. It's a really interesting puzzle/strategy game with a great atmosphere and a very enjoyable soundtrack, with graphics styled in a cyber way that is really fun, especially (but not only) in Virtual Reality. Highly recommended!

  • 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

  • Desktop Dungeons (Android)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Desktop Dungeons
    Developed by: QCF Design
    Published by: QCF Design
    Released: November 7, 2013
    Available on: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS
    Genre: Puzzle, strategy
    ESRB rating: T (violence, blood)
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $14.99 (Steam), $10.00 (Android, iOS)
    (Humble Store Link)

    Greetings and welcome to the wonderful lands of (insert kingdom name here)! You have traveled a long way to get here, and now the people look to you to guide them to prosperity!

    Wait... you're sitting in front of your computer? Well, that works, too.

    Desktop Dungeons offers a fantasy strategy experience in a compact package. You are in charge of a kingdom which you get to name, and in order for it to thrive, you will have to send your flunkies – I mean, brave adventurers, into randomly-generated dungeons. At first, most of the dungeon will be obscured, but your character can move to vacant spaces to uncover what lies around it. You will find spells and treasures, as well as a variety of monsters that want to prevent your hero from bringing said treasures back to your kingdom. Movement is turn-based, but the only thing moving will be your hero – the monsters remain stationary, and only attack if you elect to attack them. Since you will typically only “win” the dungeon by killing the boss, though, you will have to fight. The level of the monster is clearly indicated on the map, and your hero will gain experience with every monster defeated. If wounded – and your hero will get wounded – he or she can recover health by revealing more of the map, but be warned! Any wounded monster also will recover health and magic points.

    Desktop Dungeons
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Quick strategic gameplay; randomly generated dungeons means the game is different every time
    Weak Points: Game can get old; your characters will die frequently; mediocre music and sound effects
    Moral Warnings: Undead and magic use; minor swearing; violence, including blood

    As you complete dungeons, you will discover other fantasy races that want to join your growing civilization, such as halflings and elves. You also will be able to spend money to upgrade buildings or unlock more character classes. Dungeon quests tend to be quick affairs, and can be completed – or lost – in about ten to fifteen minutes. The developers boast that this can be the perfect coffee break game, and with the brevity of the missions, it fits well into the “casual game” niche. 

    Don't get too attached to your heroes, though. Even if your unfortunate lackey survives the delve into the dangerous depths, a new one will be generated at the start of each dungeon.  You will get the ability to grant him or her some starting money or equipment, but the adventurer will always begin at level one. So although there are elements of a role-playing game within Desktop Dungeons, don't expect to find a grand campaign, or even a solid storyline. The only purpose of invading the dungeons is to develop and expand your kingdom, and that's about as in-depth of a plot as you can expect.

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

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 81%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game offers a hearty dose of humor and takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to its subject matter. Your adventurers sport humorous caricatures in their profiles, and some of the enemies include vampire bankers and familiar-looking cubes of sentient meat. Sound effects are minimal, and music is functional, but not terribly memorable. There is no voice acting to speak of, with one-sided dialogue appearing in the form of speech bubbles.

    Most enemies will leave a large pool of blood behind when they die (unless they have the “bloodless” trait), and undead monsters such as zombies are present. The game has clerics, but is intentionally vague as to what deity or deities they worship. You also can play magic users, and will encounter them as frequent enemies. There are a few minor swear words present, and one is insinuated in one of the spells. Apparently, you also are supposed to beware of the goats. However, this is less a moral concern and more of an advisory from the Travel Bureau of (insert kingdom name here).

    Altogether, Desktop Dungeons can be an amusing time waster in small doses. For those who enjoy fantasy strategy games, they can find this game worth the money. But for those who are looking for a meatier role-playing experience, they will probably find what they want in another kingdom.

  • Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game (Rift)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game
    Developed by: Freekstorm
    Published by: Freekstorm
    Release date: July 26, 2017
    Available on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Freekstorm for sending us this game to review!

    Doctor Kvorak is an immortal gameshow host who enjoys collecting and obliterating planets in the universe. As a contestant of his Obliteration Game, you must collect all of the pieces of the planet which are scattered throughout the level to save it. By saving it, it merely becomes enslaved to Kvorak’s planetary collection instead of incinerated.

    Besides the planetary pieces, there are fifty other themed items and wardrobe accessories to be found in each level as well. For example, when saving the cheese planet you’ll have pieces of cheese to collect and globs of slime to gather for the slime planet. In total, there are fifteen zones/planets to save with the possibility of creating your own levels and downloading other people’s challenges through Steam Workshop.

    Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Funny dialogue and fun puzzles to solve
    Weak Points: VR controls are not intuitive; the camera is annoying in VR and non-VR modes; game hangs and has long load times
    Moral Warnings: Planets will be incinerated if you fail to collect all of the savior stones; if you do save them, they’ll still be enslaved; Kvorak gets compared to a god

    The puzzles in the levels range from pushing blocks onto pressure tiles and activating various stairs/walkways to access new areas. The starting character/alien can’t really jump too well and needs to move around platforms to reach higher places. Later on in the game, different aliens with unique abilities become available. All of these creatures must work together to put an end to Doctor Kvorak’s schemes. I like the rapping space hen that annoys him by calling Kvorak out for the monster that he is.

    This game is playable with and without VR. No matter which method you choose you can expect horrible camera angles. You can manually adjust the camera in both modes and it will have to be done often unless you like staring at various walls and obstacles in your way. Some deadly foes require quick thinking and movement to avoid death and the poor camera angles do not help matters. Thankfully, checkpoints are plentiful in this game. You cannot exit and resume level progress though; you’ll have to start fresh from the beginning of the zone.

    The WASD controls in the non-VR mode is functional. The space bar is used to jump, the E button activates buttons and the R button lets you change your alien’s appearance. In VR I could not figure out how to jump since the dialogue described a Vive controller and not an Oculus Touch one. The developers were kind enough to reply to my Steam discussion thread. Triggering buttons is trickier to accomplish in VR mode.

    Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

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

    I also experienced some stability issues with this game. During loading times, Windows would sometimes ask if I wanted to wait or close the software that stopped responding. Because of the long load times with no results, I am assuming that there are no Steam Workshop maps to download.

    Visually, this game is colorful and the characters are cute. The levels are well thought out and don’t take too long to complete if you’re good at solving the puzzles. At the end of a level you’ll see how long it took you to solve it.

    The voice acting is pretty good, with my favorite character being the rapping chicken. If your alien falls, they’ll make a cute noise. Unfortunately, there’s a noticeable delay between the tumble and the noise so it quickly gets aggravating if you fall down a lot. The background music is good and sold separately as DLC if you want to buy it.

    Doctor Kvorak’s Obliteration Game is both funny and (mostly) family friendly. It’s a little rough around the edges, but is still a solid puzzle game that’s fun with and without a VR headset. The asking price is a reasonable $19.99 and hopefully more submissions will appear on Steam Workshop for it.

  • 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)

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    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)

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    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.

  • Fjong (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Fjong
    Developed by: VaragtP
    Published by: VaragtP
    Release date: September 11, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price $1.99

    Thank you VaragtP for sending us this game to review!

    Fjong and his friends are bird-like creatures who cannot fly but wish to do so. If they consume a magical candy, they can float in the air like helium balloons. In order to reach this magical candy, they’ll need your help flinging them there Angry Birds style.

    Surprisingly, Fjong is not available on mobile devices though its control scheme, simplicity, and star leveling system are very similar to most Android/iOS games out there. Mouse controls are available for those without touch screen monitors, but my son and I preferred touch controls. However, some of the levels were very frustrating even with touch controls.

    In total, there are twenty levels and each of them have a couple of Steam achievements that can be unlocked for them. Depending on how many flings it takes to get your creatures to their candy, you’ll be awarded up to three stars. If you have a perfect level, you’ll get a purple star. Steam achievements are earned for each level with a purple or a three star rating. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll be tapping the retry icon for every two and one star attempt.

    fjong
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute graphics; small file size; lots of Steam achievements
    Weak Points: Only twenty levels; frustrating controls
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    At first, you’ll only control Fjong, but later on in the game you’ll have to manage his red and yellow friends too. Each creature flings differently so you’ll have to take that into account. They all have different body shapes and some can fit through places that the others cannot. Many of the levels have pressure plates that need to be triggered in order to open up the bucket filled with magical candy. A few levels have obstacles like cacti to avoid at all costs.

    The thirteenth level was very frustrating for me and my son. This level has a rotating platform that takes some effort to fling the creatures onto in time. As annoying as the rotating platform is, the biggest issue with this level is the touch screen controls. When trying to control one creature in close proximity to the other, the wrong bird is gets moved and tallies up precious movement points. As a result of these poor controls, earning a three star rating is quite challenging.

    Other than frustrating people of all ages, this game is clean enough to be played by anyone with enough patience.

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

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

     

    Visually this game is very colorful and cute. The vertical screen layout is better suited for tablets and phones than widescreen desktop monitors. The black borders didn’t bother me as I’d rather see those than mess around with switching my screen to a vertical alignment.

    With a meager install size of 18MB, I wasn’t expecting much visually or audibly. The sound effects and background music are soothing. The creatures make cute noises and I like the cheering upon completing a level.

    In the end, Fjong is a simple game that won’t take too long to complete if you’ve got the skills and patience for it. It can be a great way to rack up Steam achievements. The asking price is $1.99 but I have seen it much lower during Holiday sales and in bundle packages.

  • Glyphs: Apprentice (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Glyphs: Apprentice
    Developed By: inSPIRE Games
    Published By: inSPIRE Games
    Released: March 16, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Single player
    Price: $9.99

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

    Glyphs: Apprentice is a puzzle game produced by inSPIRE Games, and if their advertising is anything to go by, they're determined to set your critical thinking skills ablaze. They warned all puzzle aficionados to bring their whiteboards and patience. At least, that's what they claimed you'd need should you enter their latest domain. So what kind of role are you playing in this supposed mental gauntlet? You're an aspiring mystic, studying sorcery in order to create the most potent spells ever known. . . . Oh, boy.

    So how do you conduct these spellbinding tasks? Well first, you need to pick a spell pattern. There are three difficulty levels with three Glyphs each. Each Glyph is made up of anywhere between seven to thirteen pieces, and each piece equals one puzzle. Do the math, and you'll realize there are about sixty-three of these things. Thankfully, the menu is a breeze to navigate. Just choose a difficulty, pick a glyph, then peruse the list of pieces. This format is very serviceable. It's in no way groundbreaking, but easy to navigate. Count your blessings, because you're going to be very thankful for that.

    Your goal in every puzzle is the same. On a graph, you must build an assembly line from a magic generator to an accumulator in order to transform energy balls into the specified shape. To fix up these light balls you are provided an endless supply of tools. Some change its inner shape. Some change its outer shape. Others can bind energies together in various thicknesses, but the tools you'll use the most are the arms. They alone can move energy spheres around and activate other tools. So far this all sounds fine and dandy. It certainly is nothing catastrophic. You know your goal and how to do it. However, you'll find the 'how' is going to wreck your resolve. All that ethereal machinery ain't gonna do squat by itself.

    Glyphs: Apprentice
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful Design Work
    Weak Points: Taxing Puzzles, Convoluted Gameplay, No Music
    Moral Warnings: Sorcery, Transgender Symbol Present

    When inSPIRE said you'd need a whiteboard to solve their puzzles, they weren't kidding. Do you like programming? If not, sorry. If so, good for you. You've entered the kiddie pre-lesson experience. Each arm is equipped with its own little grid where you need to insert a cornucopia of inputs into the empty slots. The colored squares you place will tell the arm how to move, when to move, and even when to pause. This bit right here is where the difficulty gets real. If energies clash, you fail. If two arms grab the same energy, you fail. On top of that, your mini manufacturing plant has to produce eight finished shapes in nonstop cycles. That last stipulation alone can ruin everything. If one, and I mean one little thing is off, it might work on the first revolution, but come the second lap, it all falls apart and takes a chain reaction of adjustments to fix . . . right up until a new problem crops up. It's daunting. I'd suggest heeding inSPIRE Games' advice and have paper and pencil on hand. 'Cause unless your memory is exceptional, you'll likely need your notes to keep your head on straight. I hadn't had to do that for a game since the Myst series. Whether or not that's a good thing depends on the person. I myself enjoy a good challenge, and the creators definitely didn't skimp on their promise. They get points for honesty.

    However, Glyphs gets unnecessarily nasty thanks to its convoluted layout. The learning curve is steep, like cliffside steep, and it can take hours just to solve the easy puzzles. The more I played, the more I bemoaned its lacking ease of access. You can't readily double check your work on other arms, so it forces you to jump hoops just to program a single arm. Thus, you'll mess up because you miscounted moves, forgot which arm activated what, or which way you had them twist/turn. You'll also wish there was a replay loop button able to isolate specific points in your plan, but no. Glyphs doesn't have that. It says, 'You want to figure that pesky middle part out? Nope. Start at the beginning. If you can't get past that? Too bad so sad. Fix me.' Not only does this sometimes bar you from making that one teeny adjustment that can fix everything, it also renders experimentation impossible. That really bites. Solving those algorithms is mind splitting enough. I shouldn't have fight the game just to test my ideas. Even the tutorial is exhaustive. It taught each tool's function but failed to explain a few input commands that could have saved me a few headaches. Now, I for one love puzzles. I love hard earned accomplishment. It's so satisfying to see my clockwork masterpieces clicking along, but when it's this twisted a labyrinth to actually play, it's a dreaded chore.

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

    Game Score - 54%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 1/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

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

    Okay, as for Glyphs' presentation: there is very little to talk about. It seemed nearly all of the creator's efforts were spent on the puzzles. Premise aside, there is no story. The game has one measly sound effect, and that's that. There's no music either. I really disliked that exclusion. Thus what's left is an environment with little to draw from or be drawn into. You'll be staring at those lists, manuals, and graphs the entire time, and it can come across as a bare minimum effort. However, this game's presentation has one saving grace: those spell patterns. They are gorgeous. I've never witnessed such an angelic display of glowing lines weaved with such artistic intent quite like this. The way that sky blue tinge adds a soft texture to those pure white wisps is an especially nice touch. Same goes for the tools and light energy you'll be using. The tiny tangled curves in their designs are all very pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately, (aside from a couple game crashes) that's pretty much it. Sounds a bit hollow, doesn't it?

    Okay, so there's not a lot to see, nothing to hear, and the challenges are one step short of calculus. How are its ethics? Putting it bluntly, Glyphs won't be winning prizes in the morals olympics. First of all, there is a transgender symbol in the final spell pattern. That mars that part. Unfortunately, the second problem pollutes everything else. Magic is a tricky topic for Christians. Clearly, I'm not alluding to the likes of Houdini or rabbits in top hats. I'm talking about the bippidi-boppidi-boo, this glass will be a shoe, wand waving. Where does the line from fictitious fun to immoral spellcasting start and stop? Opinions vary wildly, but I find Glyphs cozies way too close to Wiccan philosophy for comfort. Its premise alone disturbed me. Throughout Scripture, God taught we were to seek and rely on Him in all things, but Occult and Wiccan practice is all about empowering self. It's in direct conflict. Sadly, Glyphs not only adopted this worldview but also used it to give players their main incentive. To flavor an adventure with fictitious pixie dust is one thing, but to glorify a sinful practice and its core teaching is another.

    It's about as hard to fully explain Glyphs as it is to play Glyphs. I truly admire the great lengths inSPIRE Games took to conjure up such a challenge (pun intended). How on earth they put it all together without melting their own brains I'll never know. Plus, the art it did have was truly lovely. Kudos to them, but I think they took their goals a bit too far. Puzzle diehards and aspiring programmers are bound to get their fix from Glyphs, but its extreme complexity can potentially turn off everyone else. If they just added or streamlined a few features, it certainly would have smoothed the ride. I'm sure with more time and practice I could get really into it. That is, of course, if I could ignore all that witchcraft its been smothered in. I won't say I was completely repulsed by Glyphs: Apprentice - just disenchanted.

  • GNOG (PSVR)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    GNOG
    Developed by: Ko-op Mode
    Published by: Double Fine Productions
    Release date: May 2, 2017
    Available on: PSVR
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for crude humor
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Double Fine Productions for sending us this game to review!

    GNOG is a very unique musical puzzle game with colorful visuals and a mesmerizing art style. Playing in VR is optional, but highly recommended. At the time of this review this title is only available on PS4, but it’s set to come out on iOS and Steam later this year.

    There are nine puzzles that gradually unlock as you solve them. Each puzzle has a theme like the color purple, a candy store, a log, a rocket ship and so on. There are two sides to each puzzle and you can rotate them with the trigger buttons. There is a bit of a story to each one and you’ll uncover your goal by pulling levers, pushing buttons, plugging things in, flipping switches, and solving combination locks. There is no text so all of the combination locks use symbols.

    GNOG
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique art style and soundtrack
    Weak Points: Only nine puzzles which can be solved quickly if you’re good at them
    Moral Warnings: One of the levels shows you a bird regurgitating its food for its young, another level has you assisting  a robber in stealing from an apartment

     

    The puzzles are reasonably challenging and I was able to solve most of them on my own. For the couple that did stump me, I found some YouTube walkthrough videos to point me in the right direction. One of the combination puzzles had a 6 character password that I needed to jot down on paper the old fashioned way.

    When entering into a puzzle and solving it you feel like you’re traveling through a mystical portal. The visuals are vibrant and I like the art style. The music is exceptional as well and it's quite relaxing to listen to while exercising your brain.

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

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    While this game is safe for children to play there are a couple of things worth mentioning. One of the levels requires helping a bird feed its young by aiming its color vomit into the mouth of its hatchlings. Another has you helping out a thief stealing money and valuables from residents of a multi-level apartment.

    Like many PSVR games, I struggled getting my camera properly positioned as it would often move out of place. Even with my camera properly positioned I would sometimes get the “out of play area” error displayed. Both of these issues are not the developer’s fault but are part of the PSVR experience.

    All in all, GNOG is a neat PSVR title that I recommend checking out. Though the game is short, it’s worth the $14.99 entry fee for the mesmerizing experience it provides. The puzzles are just right in difficulty and you feel smarter for each one you complete on your own. If you like puzzles and VR, GNOG is a must-buy.

  • 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)

    boxart
    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.

     

  • Happiness Drops! (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Happiness Drops!
    Developed By: ARES Inc.
    Published By: ARES Inc.
    Release Date: December 26, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Puzzle
    Mode: 1-2 Players
    MSRP: $4.99

    Thank you ARES Inc. for sending us this game to review!

    Happiness! is a visual novel (that has not yet been converted to English) and an anime series. Happiness Drops! is a spinoff puzzle game which is basically a very cute match-three game, with some magical anime girls from the Happiness! universe. They also talk to each other in visual novel-like segments before and after battles.

    The game itself plays remarkably similar to Puyo Puyo, except that this one requires only three rather than four gems to match, which then causes them to disappear. There are only four color gems: blue diamonds, pink hearts, yellow squares, and green sphere creatures. If you make combos, you can drop gray blocks on your opponent, which they also do to you. You can remove them by clearing adjacent gems.

    There are five difficulty levels, which are very easy, easy, normal, hard, and very hard. I found the first two fairly manageable; you need to make combos to win, but the computer makes enough mistakes where a reasonable player should win most of the time. Hard and very hard are quite challenging, but if you make combos at the right time you have a decent chance, since the computer AI will take risks setting up large combos (which can then wipe you out fast, so be careful!).

    Happiness Drops!
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun puzzle game with a nice presentation; cute characters
    Weak Points: English translation that is so bad it's hilarious
    Moral Warnings: Girls with visible cleavage; girls shown wearing bikinis are rewards for some achievements; 'h*ll' and 'd*mn' used once; magic use mentioned

    I originally started this game on normal, since I tend to be halfway decent (but not great) at puzzle games. This is absolutely a misnomer, and this becomes a massive endurance race as the computer tends to be very conservative with stacking, and will try to avoid dangerous situations, doing their best to keep the stacks low. This means that even with the best of combos, they can survive your combos unless you are a master that manages more than five or six at a time.

    I ended up playing that round of normal for about four hours in one game – with the final single match taking over two and a half hours. My score was incredible, but no matter what I did, I just could not get that AI to die. I would get the stacks up high, and they would use their special skill, which helps clear the blocks, at just the right time. Since I was decently skilled, I would also use my special skill as the blocks neared the top, and I was able to get myself out of these dangerous situations.

    This went on for hours, until finally, my hands and arms started to fall asleep holding the controller (I use an Xbox One controller for most games). I have gamed for many, many years, and I have never had this happen to me before. It was incredibly painful, and I paused, flexed my hands and arms, and gave it some more time. After it approached 11pm and I had to work in the morning, I finally gave up and intentionally lost to the AI. It was frustrating, but I had to - I'd played the game from around 6:30pm until around 11pm, in one sitting - and with no save feature, there was nothing I could do. It was at this point that I dubbed the game:

    Sisyphean Drops!

    Now, the next day, I played it again on very easy, and came to enjoy it quite a bit. The art and graphics are very well polished, the music is saccharine cute and catchy, and the game itself is fun once you get the hang of it. Just do not, under any circumstances, start playing right away on normal. You will regret it.

    Happiness Drops!
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability/Polish - 2/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    In addition to the story mode, there are also endless and versus modes. Story is the main one, where you play against each of the other girls in succession, until you are the winner. There are silly visual novel sequences in between each match, and afterwards. The English translation is so terrible that it is incredibly difficult to know what they are trying to say. It seems like a machine translation, but even that doesn't explain the use of some words that have not existed in our language for hundreds of years, like 'willn't'. Sometimes it's so bad it's good - in a funny, mocking kind of way. Other times it's just bad. There is rarely a sentence without some grammatical error. Despite that, it's still fun to play.

    Endless mode is more or less what it sounds like - you challenge girls over and over as the difficulty keeps rising, until you are defeated. There are global online leaderboards, both for this and story mode, so there is plenty of impetus to keep trying. Versus mode is where you can play against a local friend or family member who is sitting nearby - there is no online play, but local mode works pretty well. I enjoyed repeatedly beating my son over and over, until he finally beat me - and he was far more excited than I expected winning in a game with a bunch of anime girls.

    For the most part, the game is fairly family friendly, and kid safe. But there are some odd exceptions. For one, on one of the character's routes, a girl says 'd*mn' and 'h*ll'. Other than that, the game is filled with silly, somewhat intelligible chitter-chatter. One girl always wears a witch outfit with ample visible cleavage, and some of the achievements unlock pictures in a gallery that include bikini shots. While the Happiness! visual novel and anime features a cross dressing gay boy, that character is missing entirely from Happiness Drops! Magic use is mentioned, but not shown.

    Happiness Drops! is an incredibly cute match-three puzzle game, that is certainly worth the low asking price. The translation is laughably bad, but of the five playable characters, only one is immodestly dressed (except for in the achievements gallery, where others wear bikinis). If you know your moes from your lolis, aren't embarrassed by that fact, and like simple puzzle games, then you will likely enjoy Happiness Drops!

  • htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (PC)

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    Game Info:

    htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary
    Developer: Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
    Published by: NIS America, Inc.   
    Release Date: May 18, 2016
    Available on: Windows, PS Vita
    Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Blood, Fantasy Violence   
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thanks NIS America for the review code!

    htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is a game that makes me happy it's on PC but not as happy as I first thought. This game is a joy with its beautiful artstyle, mysterious story and fun challenge, and it deserved much more attention. Yet porting it to the PC might not have been the best idea. Despite patches and fixes before the full release, the game remains a potential gem with one too many scratches on the surface to truly stay valuable. This is htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary.

    htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary stars Mion, a girl with tree branch horns who wakes up in a ruined factory with no clue of how she ended up in this place. The only guide she has is Lumen, a fairy that tells her where to go by its shining light. Her other ally, Umbra, a fairy that can only move in shadows, aids her by interacting with objects through the shadows. All you know is that you must go forward.

    htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: An enjoyable atmospheric, game with a relaxing tone; definitely worth at least one play
    Weak Points: Despite efforts by the devs, the game feels unresponsive at points; with Mion already moving slowly, it can make the game frustrating to move forward with
    Moral Warnings: The game has a story focused around humans trying to play God. You get some mild blood splatter when Mion dies

    You don't have direct control of Mion; by moving Lumen you give Mion an idea where to go. This encompasses everything from climbing ladders to moving objects to picking up items. By right clicking on the mouse you go to the shadow world with Umbra. Time freezes and you can move Umbra along black surfaces towards interactable objects.  Keep in mind that stopping time to go to the shadow world at certain times may give you the answer to a puzzle that you didn't see before.

    The story of this game is special to say the least. The game doesn't tell you what's going on at all other than you need to guide this little girl out of danger. You get story beats if you collect memory fragments, represented as small glowing white plants. This gives you small scenes to interact in and explore. With no dialogue, you're left with your own theories as to what the story is. I am not even completely sure if there was an apocalyptic war or presumably Mion's parents ended the world. As far as I am aware, at this point the developers of htoL#NiQ have not said anything on what their story is. So this game may frustrate people who want a clear story.

    htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 2/10

    This is a game of patience and precise timing. Some of the failures you'll have with the puzzles will be due to entering the shadow world slowly or moving Lumen too quickly. Mion's response time isn't very quick either. No matter how precise you are with Lumen, you'll feel the delay when she turns and interacts with objects. This makes it difficult to tell if you failed a puzzle due your own skill or the game's response time. This game will take you between 8 to 12 hours. You do have to collect all the memory fragments if you want to access the true final chapter later.

    Morality in this game is a mixed bag. You'll get blood splatters on the screen if Mion dies but you won't see any gore or major injury inflicted on characters. The theme you'll be presented with at the end of the story crosses into the lines of humans playing God I think, though with no clear indication of the meaning of the story I am left with my own interpretation. Other then these points there is little that is morally objectionable.

    It's a good game, yet it may not be for everyone. Mion does deserve some attention for her adventure in htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary. Even if I have no idea what's going on.

  • 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.

     

  • Human: Fall Flat (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Human: Fall Flat
    Developed By: No Brakes Games
    Published By: Curve Digital
    Released: July 22, 2016
    Available On: Linux, macOS, PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1-2 Offline
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thanks to Curve Digital for the review key!

    Falling dreams: most everyone has experienced at least one in their life. Contrary to the old myth, you won’t die if you hit the ground before waking. Instead, you might find yourself suspiciously boneless and presented with a series of physics-based puzzles. Don’t worry; it’s better than it sounds.

    Human: Fall Flat gives you control of Bob, a normal human construction worker with recurring dreams of falling. When he lands, he’s met with exotic landscapes full of open-ended puzzles to traverse, with his ultimate goal to slip out the exit door and continue his fall. As a regular guy, albeit looking and moving like a semi-featureless blob of clay, Bob’s arsenal includes two feet that can walk and jump, two hands that can firmly grasp any object, and a head that can apply the previous two to work out not-so-obvious solutions. He’ll carry boxes, climb mountains, operate motor vehicles, swing on vines and lampposts, and manipulate electricity in pursuit of the next dream.

    The puzzles themselves usually revolve around a few basic tasks, such as holding down a pressure plate or crossing a large gap. Outside of the first few tutorial levels, however, you’ll rarely come across the same setup twice. Even if you do, there’s often multiple ways around the problem: a clever thinker can work out ways to manipulate objects or Bob’s movement to find shortcuts and skip whole puzzles – and occasionally whole levels. While the game presents you with an intended path with the occasional side route, you’re free to go wherever and complete the game however you can, with the only obstacles being your imagination and the limits of the physics engine. This offers a good amount of replay value as well – and the in-game achievements can point you to solutions you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, or just goof around in fun ways.

    Human: Fall Flat
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Clever, open-ended physics puzzles; great music
    Weak Points: Some puzzles are dull and/or repetitive; the purposefully-loose controls are occasionally frustrating
    Moral Warnings: A single instance of light toilet humor

    The controls are wobbly and strange, but by design: Bob is part of the physics engine as well, after all, and leading his jelly-like form around is half the fun. The keyboard/mouse and controller work similarly: moving and jumping work as you’d expect with WASD and space/left stick and A, looking around with the mouse/right stick, and using Bob’s hands with the left and right mouse buttons/triggers. With the latter, Bob will stick his arms out and grab onto anything he touches until you command him to let go; he won’t accidentally drop anything, no matter what you put him through. While seemingly simple, you can make Bob do quite a lot by moving his hands and shifting his body weight – and watching his boneless dream body sway and bounce around is rather amusing as well. Once you get the hang of it, most everything feels natural; combined with the freedom the puzzles offer, it becomes a blast to play.

    While the majority of the game is enjoyable to run through a couple times, it suffers from a sort of creativity fatigue near the end. The second-to-last level, Power Plant, consists almost entirely of the same “power an object with batteries and wires” puzzle, which is mostly just busy work and boring back-and-forth movement on flat terrain. The freshly-added final level, Aztec, suffers from the opposite problem: it’s busy and convoluted to the point that exploiting your way around the puzzles is often easier than actually completing them. A few of the Aztec achievements are picky at best and broken at worst, as well as occurring more than halfway through and requiring a level restart on failure due to the game’s checkpoint system.

    On a more general level, while trying to get Bob around is half the game, it’s simple frustration when you know a puzzle’s solution and repeatedly can’t maneuver in the right way. It’s one thing to try new things and tweak your failures; it’s another entirely when an intended path is finicky. For example, trying to operate a rowboat is an entertaining kind of annoying that’s satisfying when you work it out; spending a few minutes trying to hook a floating-away raft to a post, not so much. It’s an uncommon problem, to be fair, and perhaps part and parcel of the physics-based gameplay, but fighting the controls can get old quickly.

    Human: Fall Flat
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 85%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

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

    The controls are wobbly and strange, but by design: Bob is part of the physics engine as well, after all, and leading his jelly-like form around is half the fun. The keyboard/mouse and controller work similarly: moving and jumping work as you’d expect with WASD and space/left stick and A, looking around with the mouse/right stick, and using Bob’s hands with the left and right mouse buttons/triggers. With the latter, Bob will stick his arms out and grab onto anything he touches until you command him to let go; he won’t accidentally drop anything, no matter what you put him through. While seemingly simple, you can make Bob do quite a lot by moving his hands and shifting his body weight – and watching his boneless dream body sway and bounce around is rather amusing as well. Once you get the hang of it, most everything feels natural; combined with the freedom the puzzles offer, it becomes a blast to play.

    While the majority of the game is enjoyable to run through a couple times, it suffers from a sort of creativity fatigue near the end. The second-to-last level, Power Plant, consists almost entirely of the same “power an object with batteries and wires” puzzle, which is mostly just busy work and boring back-and-forth movement on flat terrain. The freshly-added final level, Aztec, suffers from the opposite problem: it’s busy and convoluted to the point that exploiting your way around the puzzles is often easier than actually completing them. A few of the Aztec achievements are picky at best and broken at worst, as well as occurring more than halfway through and requiring a level restart on failure due to the game’s checkpoint system.

    On a more general level, while trying to get Bob around is half the game, it’s simple frustration when you know a puzzle’s solution and repeatedly can’t maneuver in the right way. It’s one thing to try new things and tweak your failures; it’s another entirely when an intended path is finicky. For example, trying to operate a rowboat is an entertaining kind of annoying that’s satisfying when you work it out; spending a few minutes trying to hook a floating-away raft to a post, not so much. It’s an uncommon problem, to be fair, and perhaps part and parcel of the physics-based gameplay, but fighting the controls can get old quickly.

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

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