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Game Info:

MXGP3
Published and Developed by Milestone S.r.l.
Release date: May 30, 2017
ESRB Rating: E
Available on: Windows, XBox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch
Genre: Racing
Number of Players: 1+
Price: $49.99
(Humble Store Link)

A million thank-yous to Milestone for the review copy!

MXGP3 is a dirt bike racing game that allows the player to become a professional racer in the international dirt track circuit. In campaign mode the player gains sponsors and income based on their performance in races and can spend that income for upgrades and better bikes. They can also switch sponsors as their fame and skill increases. This is also how new bikes are unlocked for other game modes.

If you like customizing the look of your character in games like this there's plenty to do here. Options exist for all the clothing and accessories the rider carries, and two different outfits can be configured. This, of course, also includes sponsor logos and themes. There are also options for the rider's race and nationality as well as the team name and colors. The game did lack the ability to adjust the rider's facial features but that really doesn't matter when it's covered by a helmet anyway.

The bike selection is very wide, with the player being able to choose bikes from different category groups, engine sizes and manufacturers. The specs for each bike are displayed after selection and a showroom button allows the player to inspect the bike in a 360 view. To me, this is where things start to fall short. It would have been nice to have a view with the 360 bike view and specs combined, instead of having to click a separate button to view the bike. Also, the showroom view just doesn't look very good. As I rotated the camera around to examine the bike the frame rate was miserable, and there's just no good reason for that when the computer is only rendering a static environment. (My rig is running an Intel Core i7 with 8GB RAM and an AMD Radeon HD 7400M) I suppose it's the objects in the environment (the "showroom" looks like a garage) like toolboxes, cabinets, and a large pile of empty cardboard boxes. I don't know maybe it's just me but I'd rather have a smoother view even if the cost is less background cardboard. To be fair, the game does recommend a more robust video card than what I'm running so the fact that it even runs is commendable. It just seems strange to me that I can run other games that look nicer on the same hardware. That said, be aware of your setup if you decide to get this game. It's not kidding about the recommended hardware.

I don't mean to come off as grouchy here. It's just that this feature in games is one of the places where the game really needs to shine and look great, and it just didn't. We can blame the hardware on my computer for the slowness but my gaming rig, while admittedly ready for some upgrades, isn't a slouch and doesn't have this trouble with other games with far more moving objects in the 3D environment. I can run a race with over a dozen other riders but can't get a smooth view of a single, stationary bike in a room where the only other item of interest is a flat screen TV on one wall with the animated MXGP3 logo running.

There's a "Tutorial" section, which is good, but what I found there is less "tutorials" and more "a set of control combos to perform certain moves, presented as a list of still images with the appropriate controls listed next to them." I wouldn't call that a tutorial, I'd call it a cheat sheet. Still, I was glad to have it and it's more than we get in many games.

MXGP3
Highlights:

Strong Points: Realistic Elements, plenty of bikes to choose from
Weak Points: Heavy system requirements, unfinished feel, menu issues, low graphics quality
Moral Warnings: It is possible to deliberately knock over opponent racers

The player begins the game with a basic dirt bike and no sponsors. Over the course of a few circuit races, if the player can meet minimum performance goals, they can attract the attention of ever more affluent and generous sponsors which will allow the player to purchase better bikes.

Racing comes in a few different forms such as career mode and Grand Prix. In each, the player can choose to play as the custom rider setup in options or become one of the real-life riders in the circuit. There are plenty of race options like race length, weather, transmission, and brake setup. though adjusting the bike's transmission and suspension are made just before the race after the track has been chosen. The choice of track provides a variety of track conditions and lengths for variety.

In Grand Prix mode the full selection of bikes is available, and can be chosen from official or customized builds. The difference here seems to be that if the player chooses an official bike, they ride the bike. A customized bike has to be purchased... I had hoped it meant the player could start with the basic platform and make adjustments and truly "customize" the bike. Adjustments to the transmission gear ratios and suspension characteristics are made once the player knows the weather and track conditions, and there's a good variety of tweaks to the suspension to play with for the front and rear separately. This is true for all bikes though, official or custom.

The racing takes place on a dirt track, with around twenty other racers to compete with. The tracks have plenty of twists and turns, jumps, hills and hairpin turns to test the skill and reactions, not just the top speed, of the player. Getting around hairpin turns involves knowing how to shift weight, slow down and let the rear fishtail to get back to speed as fast as possible. Jockeying for position when in a pack, especially at the start of the race, is critical because it is possible to be knocked off the bike and lose time. This is why it's possible for the player to achieve wins in races even against players with superior equipment because skill is much more important than the bike when it comes to racing... But it certainly helps to have the best bike one can afford.

One bizarre effect I noticed is that the race timer is disconnected from the passage of time within the game. What I mean is that if you have a very slow frame rate, and the race progresses slowly, you would expect that by the time the bikes get to the first turn, only a few seconds would have passed in game. Actually, the timer goes in realtime, so it's easy to get around the first turn only to realize that two minutes have passed. The implications for players who are trying to post leaderboard level times on slower hardware are obvious. Unless you're a casual player, this game will punish you hard for not having cutting edge hardware to run it on.

There's a pretty complete set of game controls, not only allowing the player to steer the bike in ways you'd expect, but also to shift the rider's weight to deal better with jumps and turns. There's also a simple set of camera views. Controlling the bike is simple on a PC keyboard, though at times it can be hard to tell if the player's control inputs are doing anything. I presume this is largely a result of the way a dirt bike performs on loose packed dirt, since one can hardly expect to stop on a dime when braking, but it does make the bike feel very, very loose. This is certainly a characteristic of the style of racing but without tactile feedback it's disorienting. (No, I don't just mean a rumble feature.) On the advice of a fellow reviewer I tried to use an XBox 360 controller that I had in storage to play the game, but the game didn't seem able to recognize it, despite Windows confirming that the device was indeed connected and working properly. I did also notice that some keys on my USB keyboard didn't work in the game, but they do work in other games. Hard to be certain, but this does seem to be an issue limited to just this game.

The Multiplayer section is fairly straightforward, with options for AI difficulty, physics and number of laps. Since I was playing this game on Steam, I had the option to invite other Steam members from my friends list to play, though it seems strange to me that you can invite players even though they don't have a copy of the game. This is one way to find out, I suppose.

I'd like to write an interesting and informative commentary on the Multiplayer experience in MXGP3, but I couldn't find any active races to join. The lobby is as far as I ever got, and didn't find any players online to race against.

Ouch.

Judging from the leaderboards, there are players out there.  Maybe my timing was just bad?

MXGP3
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 78%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 6/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 2/5

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

The graphics... Hoo boy... MXGP3 uses the Unreal Engine but doesn't seem to take full advantage of it. Even with my system's graphics settings maxed out the game felt visually older than it is. It's just as well though, more on that below. The Unreal Engine just doesn't feel like it's being used to its potential which is a shame. This is 2017 and the game looked like it came out in 2005, even with all the graphics options set to maximum, which was the default when I installed it.

There are lots and lots of settings for tweaking the graphics, which is a good thing because I had to set every one of them to minimal when it was time to actually play. To get the game to run with any kind of reasonable frame rate I really had to dial the graphics down severely. The weird part is that the game looked different, but not by a huge amount. What I realized is that the particle effects are the largest change. The game is trying to look real, and one way it does this is by adding smoke effects in the background, presumably from fans grilling at tailgate parties or something, as well as colored smoke. All of this makes the environment feel a bit more real but doesn't contribute much to the game itself so I'm not sure why it's worth the performance hit. I did notice there was still some smoke in the background even when set to minimal, but at that setting the smoke may be getting rendered by some other means.

As I said above in the "showroom" screen, I won't claim my machine is a performance powerhouse, but it has run other intensive titles smoothly enough. MXGP3 really crushed it. Time attack mode was the most fun for me since mine was the only bike on the track and this was when the machine's performance was at its best.

The game music was passable, though the background music for the menus seemed to flow from lounge music to dubstep. I'm not really into dirt bike racing culture so I couldn't tell you if this fits or not. I suppose I was expecting metal. During the race is the type of standard electronic music that tunes out immediately. Noting too memorable here.

The sound effects feel realistic though the sound of nearly two dozen dirt bikes all at once tend to drown out any of the finer effects. Different bikes make different sounds but if the racer is in the pack, surrounded by a dozen other bikes, it doesn't really enhance the experience. If you're either ahead of the pack or far behind it, you have other things to worry about and aren't likely to notice anyway.

The menu controls were a bit wonky sometimes. I could use the mouse to adjust the sliders for things like music volume if I was increasing it, but the '-' symbol just didn't seem to respond. Fortunately I was able to adjust the slider with the directional keys on the keyboard. Overall the menus looked clean and were easy to understand, but hard to actually use because of this.

The game plays smoothly and didn't crash or freeze when I was playing, and my only real complaint is how taxing the performance is to the hardware.

There is an extra track available for DLC as of the time of this writing.

I don't have any serious moral issues with this game. When riding off the track one can't go on any rampages to destroy any of the scenery items or spectators. Riding off the course simply causes the player to respawn on the track at the point where they left, at a stop. It is possible to race dirty and cause other racers to crash by knocking them aside, and I didn't encounter any penalties for doing so. Maybe if I'd gone on a rampage, knocking racers out left and right, something would have happened.

The game has a LOT of corporate logos in it from sponsors, with multiple billboards on the track showing logos like Fiat and Monster. It sometimes felt like the game was more built for generating revenue from ad placement than from game sales.

Overall this can be a fun game, especially if you enjoy dirt bike racing but it really didn't jump out at me as a true labor of love. It felt unfinished, as if it could benefit from another round or two of quality assurance testing to work out the little issues I encountered. The biggest problem is that you really need a machine with the best hardware you can afford to make the game fun if you're playing it on a PC.

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Game Info:

Hand of Fate 2
Developer: Defiant Development
Published by: Defiant Development
Release Date: November 7, 2017
Available on: Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, macOS, Linux
Genre: Action, RPG, Card Game
Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Violence, Blood
Price: $29.99

Hand of Fate was quite the fun and challenging indie gem of a few years back. It had everything from adventure, an intriguing story that let your imagination run wild, and the sassiest card dealer I have ever seen. While the combat was very basic and the graphics were on the simple side it's a game I can gladly recommend to anyone at full price. Let's see how the sequel stacks up in Hand of Fate 2.

In Hand of Fate 2 once you customize your character you'll find yourself traveling with the mysterious dealer from the previous game. This time he isn't completely out to get you and lets you know that the world's problems are due to someone else taking over his game. He has made an updated version so you may be ready to take vengeance for him. While you play his game you learn just what's going on in the outside world through the new cards he has made for you.

Before you pick any level in the game you must build a deck just like the previous game. You now have one companion you can take with you in each level. There are a preset number of event cards you're allowed to take in each stage, as well as equipment and supplies you can start with. Now we have card rarities to consider as well. New platinum cards are valuable events or items that can really save you from a dire situation if luck swings in your favor. Crimson cards are very dangerous events or items that can make your game end very quickly. However, with skill you might just be able to use them to destroy any challenge in your way. After you set up your deck, the dealer will add in more cards of his own depending on what level you've chosen. Just like the last game, some cards will be marked with tokens of various colors; by completing the event or challenges on the card you will unlock more cards to use in future levels. Some weapons have these tokens now to unlock new weapons; the challenges can involve things like defeating certain factions of enemies a certain amount of times or deflecting attacks and performing a riposte.

Hand of Fate 2
Highlights:

Strong Points: Overall stronger than the original. New ways for lady luck to trip you over are fun, even if they might not swing in your favor.
Weak Points: The cards are not as well designed as the previous game. Some cards seem redundant or are just a detriment to use when compared to other cards. Combat loading in and out is kind of slow.
Moral Warnings: Light violence and magical symbolism.

Your character is represented as a small gold game piece to move across each face down card like it's a board game. As you move along, each card will play out its event with text and then you make whatever choice you feel is right. Sometimes the spaces are just for shops or trading equipment, yet some could have you risking a deal with a den of thieves or hoping a group of goblins is kind enough to give you food. Each step on the table will cost one food; as you consume a piece of food you get a small heal, but if you have no food you lose health. You have gold to purchase items and now you also have fame to worry about. Certain equipment or events will require different amounts of fame to be used. Some events will require you to play a particular mini game to determine success or failure on your choices. You have the return of the classic success or failure cards in which you choose one face down card to determine what happens. You now have dice events and events based on a spin of a wheel as well. Some events have a skill based mini game in which you must stop a pendulum of light from swinging on a certain space. If you land on a gold or silver part of the pendulum you succeed, anywhere else and you fail. Once you beat the final challenge of a level, you unlock more cards and levels.

Combat in the game is still very simple and straightforward. You string together attacks and you can block attacks from foes if they have a green mark when they are attacking; red attacks are unblockable and must be dodged. The game has various trinkets you can equip for limited use if you find them on the board. Aside from a sword and shield option you can also find hammers, axes and dual wield weapons. Be aware some attacks can only be blocked with a shield. Keep in mind you can wear as many rings as you desire and you do not have an inventory limit in how many weapons and pieces of armor you can carry with no need to equip them.

So the game does improve on the original but it's not without its own flaws or annoyances. Let's talk about the good first. The combat does feel more fluid and heavy than the original. While the combat wasn't bad in the first game you felt like you and your enemies were moving through air with no solid ground to walk on. I am glad that there are more mini games to determine success or failure than just the success and failure chance cards. The events are fun and the story is rather intriguing as well. I am excited to see all the events I can get by playing the game. Unlocking the card's have the same feeling of opening collectible cards, you don't even have to pay for card packs. The enemy variation is decent, each faction has its own backstory and it really adds to the immersion of the story.

Hand of Fate 2
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 76%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

The equipment that I've found so far in the game isn't very fun. Most of the armor I've found either increases gains of gold and food or it gives you a little extra luck on the mini games. Most of the weapons I've found just do extra damage to certain factions of enemies. When you're being teleported to a combat section of the game the loading time seems a bit longer than the last game; it doesn't flow naturally at all and it takes awhile to get in and out of battle. Some of the levels, such as the strength level, seem to be a little too luck reliant, even for me. In order to get the extra token at the end when you defeat the ogre you have to have at least 60 defense by the time you get to the end. I've had to redo this multiple times due to failed dice rolls when I had a chance at retrieving equipment from enemies. Sure the dealer can tell me I can try a new level to unlock new cards to help me. It doesn't help if I still don't get the cards that I unlocked during an event. I still love games with a bit of luck, but if you're not patient with luck based challenges you might not have as much fun as I did. My last complaint is that some of the cards seem redundant. The Lady of the Lake for example gives you a free weapon, but the Elder's gift gives you a free platinum weapon.

The graphics are decent to look at and I haven't had any stutters or issues except on loading in and out of battle. The soundtrack is OK but it can get repetitive after awhile. Controls are fluid just like the first game.

So like the first game there's a lot of magic symbolism such as the gypsy cart of the dealer or alchemist and occult styled events. This includes monstrous creatures. The game is violent yet even the dealer encourages you to find other ways around combat this time. The game has minimal blood effects. I had to zoom in to even notice them on a finishing blow.

Hand of Fate 2 is an improvement on an already fantastic game and I can recommend both to people. It has a lot of replay value and an endless mode is going to be coming in a update to the game soon. Just remember that sometimes a bit of luck can either put a golden hammer in your hands or you can go from 100 hp to 10 in the blink of an eye.

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Game Info:

Arrow Heads
Developed By: OddBird
Published By: OddBird
Released: September 21, 2017
Available On: PC
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1 - 4 offline, 2 - 4 online
Price: $14.99

Thank you OddBird for sending us a copy of this game to review.

Arrow Heads is a pretty multiplayer game about shooting your friends with arrows and was made as a student project at a college. This was the best project submitted and got the honor to be further developed into a full game. This game is all about high paced, chaotic multiplayer mayhem. It is that aspect that hurts the game the most.

Arrow Heads is a game built around playing with friends in either couch or online play in the game’s main arena mode. In this mode you and some friends get to choose your loadout and battle each other on the game’s wide assortment of levels. The action in this game is pretty wacky and fun. Your goal is to kill all of the other players, but when a player dies that doesn’t mean the game is over. They can still flop their body over to the other players and hit them with their not so lifeless corpse. While playing this mode you can unlock bird seed which allows you to purchase many different kinds of cosmetic changes for your character and different types of “arrows” for your bow.

The problem with this gamemode is that this game’s playerbase is basically dead for online play. I’ve sat in a lobby by myself waiting for another person to join me so I could really experience this mode and nobody joined. I did a little research and found out that the most players this game has had playing it ai one time in the last month was six. That really limits your chance of being able to play this mode. Thankfully, the game offers a survival mode that can be played solo. Unfortunately, it appears that none of the stuff that can be unlocked in the multiplayer mode is available to be used and you don’t collect any bird seed. This mode however was pretty fun the few times I played it. In this mode you get put onto a randomly selected level and must fight against waves of bears that are coming to attack you. The variety of the enemies here is really good with a decent number of the enemies you’ll encounter being nuisances more than being a lethal threat. This was the mode that I spent the most time playing.

Arrow Heads
Highlights:

Strong Points: Nice, but repetitive soundtrack; visuals are pretty; interesting enemies.
Weak Points: Very simple gameplay; some funky controls; some very oddly designed levels; a practically dead multiplayer scene.
Moral Warnings: Game has you either trying to kill other players or bears; some slightly crude things said by the announcer.

The gameplay of this game is pretty simple. In it you shoot arrows from your bow, but all of the arrows get shot in an arc. You must hold down the shoot key to be able to charge up a shot, increasing its range and giving it a straighter trajectory. If you hold down the fire key for too long your aim will start to bounce around. At first I thought the game was having a problem with aiming but this feature seems to be intended. After it bounces for a bit, the arrow will just fire off and you’ll start charging a new one. When standing still, you also get the ability to deflect an incoming shot, but I personally found that there was too much going on to ever stop moving.

The arrow shooting mechanic is pretty solid until you add in the art style the game went for. The game bills itself as an isometric game and it uses 2D art in what feels more like a 3D world. This leads to a weird thing where the hitbox for the enemies in this game tends to be near their legs. I’ve had many times where I aimed for where the enemy was only for the arrow to fly by behind their heads. It also doesn’t help that where you aim isn’t exactly where the arrow goes. The arrow actually goes a bit above where the indicator is at. I found it to be really hard to manage to hit things in this game especially since most of the things I’ve fought were so mobile. Another issue I had was there are some special abilities in this game. You get them after you have collected enough of a resource that drops when you kill something. When you collect enough, it spins a wheel to decide which special ability you get. This freezes your player in place, but it just slows down time for everybody else. One time I got a special and while it was choosing what ability to give me, I got to watch an enemy line up a shot on my character. That enemy instantly killed me once it finally gave me my ability.

The art also has led me to not like some of the levels. The levels look very nice and pretty but look a little bit more like something that would be in a 2D game. One of the levels I played on had a ramp that you could go up, but that ramp was at a weird angle so it was really easy to walk off. Once you walked off, you were in a hole under the ramp. Your only way to get out was to go up close to the bottom of the screen, behind the UI, and then go over to the ramp where you had to jump up over the ramp to be able to walk back up. That whole level was a bit trippy too. Something just feels off about the depth and verticality of the levels.

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

Game Score - 56%
Gameplay - 9/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 2/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 87%
Violence - 6.5/10
Language - 8.5/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

This game has a pretty cartoony art style and this is heavily represented in the character design. In the survival mode, the basic enemies are these little bears that jump at you to stun you. They are about half the height of your character and look like little cubes. They are pretty adorable. This game also has a pretty decent soundtrack. The music is very cartoony feeling and wasn’t bad to listen to. I also thought what little voice acting it had with the little announcer dude was nicely done.

The stability for this game is pretty poor. Many times when I launched the game it would just go to a black screen and lock up my computer. I’d have to restart my computer in order to fix it. It took me a while to find out what caused this. Apparently, if you try and launch this game with another program open on your computer it might cause this. That is pretty annoying. I also had one experience when I loaded the game where I couldn’t move my mouse onto the right side of the screen. 

The morality of this game was pretty good. The game is a little violent with you trying to kill your friends or bears, but it all done in a very cartoony style. Game did have a few crude things said by the announcer, but they didn’t say anything that bad. There were a couple gross jokes and the guy encouraging you to go kill the bears, but I didn’t ever hear a curse word. This game feels like it was intended to be enjoyed by children. Most of the jokes seem like something a little kid might like.

My final thoughts are that the game is okay. There are some problems I had with the art style and the way levels are designed and I am not happy about the stability problems, but if you really like this type of game it is, you’d probably like it. The main thing that would really prevent me from recommending it is the fact that the online multiplayer is basically dead. If you have friends you can play it with in person it would probably be okay. From a moral perspective, I’d say it would probably be okay to let a kid play it. I’d maybe give it a rating of E 10+ for some of the violence, but I don’t think it is anything that will offend anybody. It is just a pretty looking, okay, dead multiplayer game.

--Paul Barnard (Betuor)

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Game Info:

KARAKARA 2
Developed by: calme
Published by: Sekai Project
Release date: November 10, 2017
Available on: Windows
Genre: Visual novel
Number of players: Single-player
ESRB Rating: Not rated
Price: $9.99

Thank you Sekai Project for sending us this game to review!

KARAKARA 2 takes place after the first game and I highly recommend playing that one first before diving into the sequel. The same characters carry over including Leon, a rare human with only two ears and no tail. Most of the residents including his live-in female friends, Lucia and Aisia, have dog or cat traits as a result of a great calamity that wiped out ¾ of the population.

There are two episodes in this sequel and the third one begins with the resident female cop, Cullen, bringing Leon his monthly marriage proposal letters. Leon doesn’t consider himself ready to marry yet and turns down each lucrative offer. Declining in writing is substantially easier than doing so in person. Leon learns this the hard way when an attractive girl named Rebecca shows up at his doorstep unannounced.

KARAKARA 2
Highlights:

Strong Points: Funny characters/story; nice artwork and Japanese voice acting
Weak Points: Ended on a cliffhanger; two hours long
Moral Warnings: Skimpy outfits and well endowed females; some sexual humor; undead characters; language (d*mn, *ss)

Rebecca does not accept "No" for an answer and gets Leon to agree to a one week trial period where she can prove her worth as a potential wife. Rebecca definitely possess many great homemaking skills like cooking, sewing, and gardening. Lucia and Aisia take notice as well and devise a plan to find a weakness to keep Leon to themselves. Rebecca does indeed have a secret which I will not spoil, but it does provide some shock and comedy later on in the game.

Cullen seems to take notice that Leon’s harem grows every time she takes leave and this is no exception in the fourth episode. The café requires the services of a guardian ninja to keep everyone safe from a dangerous duo wishing to kidnap and sell Leon. Mari’s source of Ninjitsu training is a bit peculiar, but she is very agile and defends herself well.

The fourth episode goes into Mari’s past and the rest of the girls take a liking to her right away. Unlike the previous episode, they try to fan the flames of passion between her and Leon. While there is a kissing scene with a female in the third episode, any sexual encounters are not made too obvious. Many opportunities are presented but Leon seems to be a gentleman and turns them down outright.

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

Game Score - 76%
Gameplay - 13/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 74%
Violence - 10/10
Language - 6.5/10
Sexual Content - 3.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

All of the females in Leon’s life are well endowed and there are conversations between the girls comparing their physiques. There is also some crude discussions and some language (d*mn, *ss). Mari’s outfit is very skimpy, but it does not hinder her movement at all.

I was able to complete this visual novel in two hours and enjoyed it. Since it ended on a cliffhanger, I can’t wait for the sequel. If Leon’s harem continues to grow, I’m going to wonder where everyone will wind up sleeping. Things are starting to get pretty cramped with the sofa being used as a bed now.

If you enjoyed the story, characters, art, and voice acting from the original game then you won’t be disappointed here. The sequel sells for $9.99 and, as far as I can tell, does not have an 18+ patch like the original did.

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Game Info:

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King
Developed By: Castle Pixel, LLC
Published By: FDG Entertainment
Released: March 28, 2017
Available On: Windows
Genre: Action Adventure
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1
Price: $14.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thanks to FDG Entertainment for the review key!

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, as the saying goes. In the video game industry, however, it’s more accurate to say that copying is the highest form of greed, as publishers and developers single-mindedly chase after the latest big moneymaker. It’s important to note that imitation and copying are not the same; an original work inspired by another is vastly different, and superior, to a soulless clone. Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is, thankfully, an example of the former.

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is a 2D action adventure that borrows heavily (and proudly – there’s a near-namedrop in the opening sequence) from the 2D Legend of Zelda titles. As Lily, the newest Knight of the Rose, you traverse the kingdom in search of the three ingredients that will wake the king from the cursed slumber forced upon him by his brother and court wizard Crocus. Along the way, you’ll gain useful items, purge the land of Crocus’ evil, and occasionally endure impromptu scene changes from the audience – after all, this is simply a bedtime story a grandfather is telling his grandchildren.

The gameplay is standard for games in this genre: outside of the movement keys, you have one key bound to the sword and two others that can hold whatever items you please. Health is measured in the tried-and-true heart meter, with every attack taking half a heart. Blossom Tales makes use of a slowly-recharging stamina bar rather than a limited inventory; other than the various healing potions, offensive items take a chunk out of Lily’s energy. Both health and stamina can be upgraded by finding four heart pieces or energy crystals scattered throughout the decently large kingdom. There’s something to find on every screen of the overworld, which, when combined with the varied landscape, makes exploration interesting and usually rewarding.

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King
Highlights:

Strong Points: Enjoyable Zelda clone with good exploration and gameplay
Weak Points: Uninteresting sidequests; low variety in item function
Moral Warnings: Violence and elemental magic use; undead enemies; grave desecration

Similarly, the dungeons are large and engaging, if stylistically generic (featuring forest, fire, ice, and evil castle varieties). While most enemies fall into two or three archetypes, the bosses are more thought out, with a few feeling more at home in a top-down shooter instead, serving as an effective cap on each dungeon. The puzzles both inside and outside the dungeons do subscribe to the “get item, use item” formula, but only sparsely; mostly, you’ll find puzzles based around pushable blocks, floor tiles that change color or fall away, and Simon Says minigames. In all cases, the puzzles needed for story progress never get too difficult, with the more strenuous ones saved for optional upgrades. What Blossom Tales excels at is keeping things from getting stale; you’ll never run into vast stretches of similar puzzles, barring bad luck on the overworld, which makes pushing onward, and even backtracking every so often, something to look forward to.

For all its successes, however, there are a few missteps. Some are minor, like Lily’s walking speed being a tad slow and the sword having a slight delay built into its swing. There’s also the traveling salesman, who only shows up in certain areas of the map from 9:00AM to 5:00PM based on your computer’s clock, with no in-game indication of this other than a generic “sorry, we’re closed” sign - you'll have to either wait or manipulate your system's time to interact with him. The lack of item variety hits a little harder; nearly all of them fulfill the same “ranged damage” role, making most of them superfluous – the boomerang, with its ability to hit one enemy twice at a low stamina cost, is vastly superior to nearly every other item outside of a few niche uses or personal preference. Blossom Tales’ biggest failure is in its sidequests: while there are three timed obstacle courses, a journal page scavenger hunt, a mail courier quest, and a few small minigames, there are a ton of dull "gather twenty enemy drops and return" tasks to complete. Since the others either encompass the whole game or last a few minutes, most of your active sidequesting will be mindless grinding. With how well put together the main quest is, the lack of interesting sidequests stands out all the more.

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 78%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

The presentation is competent, with its greatest success being its framing device. The graphics are good for what they are, though the 8-bit characters somewhat clash against the 16-bit backgrounds. The music is harder to fault, being consistently good and even occasionally catchy in the short-term. The game’s setup as a bedtime story, however, actually plays into the gameplay: rarely, the two children will complain about a puzzle being too easy or argue over what enemies they want to see, which makes the grandfather – and the game – have to change on the fly. Like with the main puzzles, these are played sparingly, making each instance a joy to encounter.

As an action title, violence is a given, though enemies disappear in a puff of dust – save for one enemy in the forest that looks to burst into blood, but given the rest of the game, it might just be unfortunate dust coloring instead. Lily does get a handful of magic spells; these are all elemental, outside of one that can summon bees. Skeletons, zombies, and ghosts appear in varying frequency, with a whole segment of the game devoted to dealing with Crocus’ necromancy. There’s a church in the main town that may or may not worship flowers, but it’s barely given any attention. Finally, there’s a surprising amount of grave desecration – not just pulling tombstones, but blowing up non-respawning coffins for goodies. The game never draws attention to it, either – though it does set up a rather effective dark joke toward the end of the game. As with most of its story elements, the game never dwells on anything too much; with the colorful atmosphere and upbeat tone, it’s only grim in the background, which might ease the moral hit on younger children.

Altogether, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King gets a lot of things right. Its good pacing and restraint towards its puzzles and unique elements, along with its serviceable combat, make it evenly enjoyable from start to finish. While rather easy and not very long – the main story, plus some exploration, lasts ten hours or so – the $14.99 asking price is certainly fair. Whether you’re a Zelda veteran or a curious newcomer, it’s worth getting comfy and listening to this bedtime story.

-Cadogan

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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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