Reviews
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Game Info:

When it Hits the Fan
Developed By: Heartfelt Games LLC
Published By: Heartfelt Games LLC
Released: September 19, 2017
Available On: Windows
Genre: Top Down Shooter, Action
ESRB Rating: none
Number of Players: Single-player, Multi-player
Price: $9.99

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

There are multiple types of gamers in the world. For just as assuredly as God fashioned 100% unique individuals, ways to approach video games are just as numerous. However, we can still recognize patterns among the personalities, and the two most general among gamers are the Casuals and the Hardcore. These mentalities require little explanation. Casuals prefer games as an occasional entertainment; ironclad dedication need not apply. Then come the Hardcore gamers. They aren’t solely paid professionals or extremists, but they at the very least consider gaming as their hobby. Just those two differences among buyers factors into how a game is generally received. Years ago, hardcore players were the primary buyers in this market. Games were played for the high score and the challenge, but that’s changed. Gaming today has reached a far wider acceptance, and to appease the masses, most games are now expected to accommodate casual play. Still, there are modern games like When it Hits the Fan that keep the harsher traditions alive.

This game is really basic, so I can squeeze a lot of topics into one paragraph. For When it Hits the Fan’s story, trouble isn’t brewing in the world. It’s already here. Zombies are rising. Aliens are invading. Killer bots are zapping, and demons are spawning - and all on the same day. Fancy that. I guess they compared calendars. Well, someone’s gotta clean up this mess, so it might as well be our muscle pumped hero. This plot is a good excuse to shoot anything you want. Clearly, the object of When it Hits the Fan is to reach level’s end while gunning down everything in sight. There are four levels. Each level is comprised of three to four stages, and you’re expected to win all its stages in order to unlock the next level. The controls are easy enough. Your mouse lets you aim, and the classic ‘A’, ‘W’, ‘S’, and ‘D’ keys move your macho man around. Game controllers work too. You’ll start off with a basic pistol with its BB-gun levels of firepower. However, there is far superior artillery laying about. Be thankful for that, because you’re headed for a bullet storm of pain. Which is exactly why I’m thankful the control scheme, setup, and rules aren’t any harder than this.

When it Hits the Fan
Highlights:

Strong Points: Dishes Out a Good Challenge
Weak Points: Terribly Frustrating; Abysmal Saving System
Moral Warnings: 64-bit Carnage; Mild Language; Occult References

When it Hits the Fan’s gameplay comes in two flavors: ‘Panic attack’ and ‘Good gravy! Make it stop!’ There’s no kiddie pool in this swim meet. Jump in, and you’re getting the typhoon. The enemies hunting you swarm in groups. We’re talking oodles per gobs. Some have guns. Some don’t, but they all have their rehearsed attack patterns that you should learn and exploit. You must move constantly to avoid death. Then again, there are mines that some enemies plant too, so watch your step. Not to mention there are enemy spawn points in need of a good bashing. Now, this game obviously wants you to be a one man army, so what’s your advantage? Well, those guns I mentioned, the ones strewn everywhere aren’t for show. They come in many varieties, and are useful for certain situations. The big rifle, for example, has a short-distance, high-damage spread shot. That’s ideal for crowd control and fortified spawn points. However, the machine gun with its long range and rapid fire is king at killing threats from afar. Power ups are everywhere to assist you too, so be sure to pick those up. Oh yeah, I almost forgot there is a multiplayer mode where you aim to get the higher score, but considering I didn’t have a buddy, I couldn’t test it. I can’t imagine When it Hits the Fan acting much differently, though, other than you’d have a friendly comrade to plow the hordes with.

As for the boss fights. Oh man, the boss fights. Imagine the biggest downpour outside your window, and someone asks you to run though it without getting wet. Yeah. The torrents of lasers these big boys spit at you is that insane. Now, I’m not against harsh challenge. Impossible odds made some of my fondest gaming memories. When it Hits the Fan gave me a generous amount of lives and continues too, so why am I clearly about to get critical? Well, its lack of saving options is a sadistic joke for somebody’s sick kicks. I’ve mentioned that to progress the levels all stages within a level must be finished, right? Well, there are no checkpoints! Even if you’re skilled, it’s unlikely you’ll survive long enough to pass the swarms and figure out the boss’s attack pattern. You’d die within the first few seconds of the battle, not learn anything about it, then have to fight your way back just to try to catch a fleeting glimpse of something actually helpful . . . before you lose again . . . and have to restart . . . again. For Pete’s sake! It’s hard enough just to get there, people!!! But then it gets worse. Apparently, according to When it Hits the Fan, there are no quitters. It’s an insanely cruel policy. Trying to win can suck precious hours of your time. You’d naturally want a break, but if you leave, you’d be sent back to stage one to start all over! All that nail-biting success you sweated for? Gone. That‘s no challenge. That’s a time stealing trap baited for ambitious players like myself. It caused such a disparaging predicament that I verbally prayed to God Himself to get me through the final fight just so I wouldn’t have to backtrack. Of course, He always hears me. In fact, He let me win the very next round. It was another grand testament of His power and compassion, but a game that got me despairing that much should not be.

When it Hits the Fan
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 56%
Gameplay - 8/20
Graphics - 5/10
Sound - 5/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 76%
Violence - 4/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

There’s nothing much else to talk about besides the sound and visuals. They’re okay. The digital sprites look nice. Their movements are fluid, and the game never froze. When it Hit’s the Fan’s four levels are set on a city street, a high-voltage lab, Hell, and an alien mothership. Their designs are good if a bit unimaginative with some environmental hazards sprinkled in. There’s also explodable stuff you can blow up just for fun, but it’s disappointing how ineffective the blasts are against your enemies. You’d think an enjoyable idea like that would be a no brainer to add in, but that’s not the case here. Oh well. Either, the developers missed an opportunity, or I’m just too incompetent to pull it off. As for sound effects, they were okay. The music was okay too. Overall, the presentation was just okay. At least When it Hits the Fan wasn’t buggy. The buggiest thing are the giant cockroaches scurrying around.

When it Hits the Fan may be one word away from the crass pit, but it kept its language surprisingly tame. One or two uses of ‘bada**’ was it. However, this game gives itself a decent blood bath. Zombie bodies you ‘re’-kill linger, and their coagulating blood spatters, complete with a yucky sound effect. I don’t care how unrealistic it looks. It’s puke levels of disgusting. (And so my personal loathing for zombies continues.) You already heard me mention a Hell level. Occult pentagrams are littered everywhere there, and though the devils with pitchforks and bitty horns are poor representations of actual demons, a cartoony portrayal that makes light of a very real threat can be just as bad if not more so than a Biblically accurate one.

When it Hits the Fan is pretty par for the course among its kind. It doesn’t take its genre to new heights or give it a new spin. Now, it doesn’t have to be revolutionary. It just needs to deliver the kind of fun its intended audience wants, and if you think Casuals are the intended audience, then your head is really stuck in the sand. I don’t see anyone beyond Hardcore gamers really liking this. I can already imagine the rest of my family groaning if they played one minute of this thing. If hard earned accomplishment is what sparks you, go for it, but don’t be surprised if the miserable saving system drives you up a wall. By the way, parents, I suggest searching elsewhere for your child’s game. Zombie bodies and Wiccan circles from Hell wouldn’t be counted as ‘family’ material. Still, there was one new memorable moment I walked away with from my experience. When it Hits the Fan brought me to my spiritual knees for a miracle win. It’s a humbling game. That’s for sure.

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Game Info:

ASSAULT GUNNERS HD EDITION 
Developed By: SHADE Inc.
Published By: Marvelous, Marvelous Europe Limited
Release Date: March 20, 2018
Available On: Windows, PS4, PS Vita (soon)
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
Genre: Action
Mode: Single Player
MSRP: $11.99 (Complete), $9.99 without DLC

Thank you Marvelous for sending us this game to review!

I’ve always had a soft spot for giant robots. Whether we are talking about the iconic ‘80s Transformers, the great Western franchises BattleTech and MechWarrior, or the Eastern ones like Mobile Suit Gundam, I’ve always given them a chance, and usually liked the results. ASSAULT GUNNERS HD EDITION (the actual title is all caps, sorry) is a HD remake of an obscure mech PS Vita game that was never released here in the West. Now we get to play it on Windows PC and PS4, and for the very reasonable price of $9.99.

There is a story in Assault Gunners. It has something to do with being on Mars in the distant future and... something. I mostly ignored it because it just got in the way of the next mission and more action. This game is really all about just shooting other robots with your robots. It’s mindless fun, pure and simple.

It takes place in a third-person view, where you get to see the back of the robot, and shoot, boost, or jump (if you can get it to work), dodge incoming fire, and blast the other robots to pieces. Each mission you earn development points, as well as pick up a certain amount of parts. These parts are used to customize your robot, which can include simpler things like weapons up to things like the entire upper torso or lower torso with legs. These can affect stamina, damage dealt, or movement and rotation speed. There are a ton of options, and you get more to mess with after each mission, so this game will keep any budding robot mechanics happy for some time.

ASSAULT GUNNERS HD EDITION
Highlights:

Strong Points: Simple robot blasting action; decent amount of mech customization; good value
Weak Points: Using mouse + keyboard is almost cheating; no subtitles for most of the in-level Japanese voice acting
Moral Warnings: Robot violence

This game was originally designed to run on a PS Vita before being ported to modern platforms, and graphically you can tell; it looks serviceable but not great. When it comes to controls, I noticed keyboard and mouse support, so I thought I would try that first, thinking that I would eventually settle on using a controller like I often do with console ports. That is most definitely not the case here. It’s a single-player only game, so there is no such thing as ‘cheating’, but if there were, it would probably be using a mouse for this game.

On a gamepad, when you move and you aim, your cursor moves quite slowly. Looking into this on the Steam forums, I discovered that the rotation speed part of the robot specification has a large impact on how quickly you turn, which may make the armor vs. speed tradeoff worth it for many players, which really affects what you would use for the bottom part of the robot. This is not the case with the mouse, because it completely ignores all rotation speed limitations. If you move your mouse quickly, you turn quickly. Most PC players would complain if this was not the case, but it basically breaks the game – it becomes much, much easier, since if you have decent aim with a mouse, you will almost always hit your target. Of course that doesn’t mean that big explosions are somehow left behind now – I still love those grenades for clearing out enemies.

ASSAULT GUNNERS HD EDITION
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 70%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 4/5
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

And there are a ton of enemies. Depending on the level, there can easily be hundreds of robots, flying drones, or tanks on screen for you to pummel into smithereens on screen at any one time. And if you do want to take things into your own hands, you can do that too – with brass knuckles and such. I usually found myself using grenades to clear areas, and using rapid-fire guns or lasers when trying to take down boss or single powerful units.

Sometimes a level tasks you with arming (or disarming) various satellites or bombs or some such things. This usually just requires sitting in the same place for about three seconds. It sounds easy, and it usually is, though you may want to clear a path there first if there are too many baddies around. One thing that I found oddly frustrating is that a small number of these points you have to get to are on top of a building or a small hill. This means that you have to use the extremely hard to execute ‘jump’ feature of your robot. I found this a bit easier when using a gamepad, but when using a mouse and keyboard, I would try to jump, and did it almost completely by accident – I was not able to do it on command at any time, but I eventually messed around with the button enough to get it to happen enough times to clear those missions. It’s very strange and a huge misstep in a game that otherwise controls quite well. Also, all of the voice acting is in Japanese with no subtitles, so whatever they are saying to you mid level I was completely oblivious to while playing. The music and sound effects are quite fine and get the job done.

ASSAULT GUNNERS HD EDITION is perhaps one of the simplest games I’ve played in recent memory. Even Earth Defense Force, which quickly became one of my favorite games after reviewing it a few years ago, seems equally simple at first glace – just blow up alien invaders. But that game has hidden depth that this one seems to lack. It takes hints from games of a past era, and hasn’t really evolved much beyond them. It’s a fun, simple game for when you just want a diversion from the more serious and involving fare that’s out there. And the price is very fair.

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Game Info:

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

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

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

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

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

Candleman: The Complete Journey
Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Game Info:

Excubitor
Developed by: Tesseract Interactive
Published by: Kasedo Games
Release date: May 26, 2016
Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up, Tower Defense
Number of players: Single player
ESRB Rating: Not rated
Price: $14.99
(Humble Store link)

Thanks, Kasedo Games, for sending us a review key!

Many popular casual games are in the time-management genre. In these games, a hard-working waitress must seat customers, take their orders, and deliver their food in a timely manner. It’s a plate-spinning experience of balancing the growing line of customers at the door with food piling up to be served. Excubitor is, superficially, nothing like that. From moment-to-moment, though, Excubitor feels more like Diner Dash than like other shoot ‘em ups or tower defense games. At the start of each level, you must survey the land, pick a few spots to build turret defenses, and run back to base before the drones that spawned while you were setting up destroy your mothership. While you defend, more drones will spawn across the map to attack helpless colonists. You could fend off the attack now, or wait a few seconds to finish building a weapon-suppressing EMP. Hopefully you set up some generators back at the start, or you’ll be out of power already. This combination of tower defense and shoot ‘em up is a stellar example of neither genre, but the alchemical combination produces intense plate-spinning gameplay of continuous tactical trade-offs and near-failures. In the world of Excubitor, Flo the Diner Dash waitress would be an excellent pilot.

For all I could tell of the plot, Flo might as well be the pilot. I tried to follow the story as told in mission briefings, and I gathered that human colonies set up to mine an energy source known as Voidshards were under attack by drones. I don’t know who the pilot player character is. I don’t know anything about the A.I.-controlled mothership except that it’s called the Antares and must not be allowed to die in any mission. I believe the attacking drones were originally created by humans. Apparently the story didn’t feel the need to explain, because the ending cinematic said that a completely different space ship was investigating the source of the attacks somewhere near Jupiter. I would play a sequel to Excubitor for reasons I’ll get to soon, but the blatant sequel hook is not one of those reasons.

Mission types boil down to defending points, surviving waves, or destroying a boss. The basic mechanics of the game are split between shooting down drones and building towers to shoot them down for you. Shooting them yourself is strongly emphasized. You have few spots to build towers; you must use some spots for power generators; and most of the towers don’t pack enough punch to take out major threats. There are several types of offensive towers such as machine guns, rockets, and multi-shot electric spires. Support towers include enemy-slowing cryo units, EMPs, and ship-healing points. Towers are critical to surviving missions in that they whittle enemy drones’ health so that your ship can take them out quickly.

Excubitor
Highlights:

Strong Points: Fast-paced and constant decision-making; appreciable improvement in leveling and equipment over time; satisfying increase in difficulty from normal to hard and beyond
Weak Points: Limited choice in tower defense gameplay; little visceral appeal in shoot ‘em up gameplay; controls make concessions to tower defense needs at the expense of shooting
Moral Warnings: Space combat with drones, lasers, rockets, and explosions; objective points which may be destroyed include civilian buildings and space ships

The hands-on approach to enemy disposal is facilitated by the same ship which you use to set up towers. The player must switch between construction, attack, and evasion at a moment’s notice. The ship is helped by regular weapon upgrades with good variety. My favorite, albeit inefficient, ship loadout had an ice ray to slow enemies and a flamethrower to provide damage over time. The weapons lack a certain desirable kick and, in my mind, came to be understood as erasers swept over enemies until they disappeared. The ship’s shields, hull integrity, weapon power, and engines can be upgraded over time. Each upgrade is important, and the game is not kind to over-specialization.

You must diversify ship upgrades because, if you don’t, you’ll be too slow to zip about the map efficiently, too squishy to survive waves of enemies, or too wimpy to destroy them before they destroy the mission objectives or your mother ship. Your ship respawns when it is destroyed with no penalty; unfortunately, as long as your ship is down, the enemy can focus all fire on defense points. In this, Excubitor is quite punishing. Sustained fire on objectives over the course of several seconds is devastating. On higher difficulties, a few shots are enough to warrant a retry if they slip by early enough in a mission.

The few enemy types combine in interesting ways to demand tactical responses. Tiny drone swarms can be ignored with the right tower setup and otherwise will annihilate everything. Bombers which will kill the mother ship in moments are slow and, therefore, are escorted by fighters which will deviate from their path to chase your ship. Some drones heal those around them; some drones use tractor beams to prevent your ship from chasing down the bombers. A few enemies become absolute priority targets because of their destructive potential. That said, only one enemy felt unfair to me (I despise the spider tank); the rest were varied and engaging.

Excubitor is a fractal of tactical tradeoffs. Do I need a generator here, or can I afford a rocket tower? Should I defend the secondary objective for the extra reward or rush back to defend the base? Should I try to kill the bomber which is about to end the mission, or do I need to kill the healing drone first? Even power-ups dropped by enemies require careful consideration. The power-ups cycle between various kinds of healing and boosts. Can I grab the speed boost to get to the objective, or do I need to wait for the shield restore? Should I pick up the power-up now or leave it on the map for when I need it more desperately? Whatever the player does, these decisions have to be made fast, because a bomber flanked by fighters is incoming across the map, and it better be stopped. The wrong decisions are punished, so it is very satisfying to successfully balance defense, building, offense, and evasion.

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

Game Score - 82%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 4/5
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

Excubitor should be played with a mouse and keyboard. A controller is well-supported; it just isn’t well-suited to the gameplay. One thumb must be dedicated to movement; the other, to aim. This isn’t a problem in twin-stick shooters because there, “aim” simply means direction. Here, the targeting reticle handles direction as well as distance from the ship, acting as a cursor both to place towers and to attack enemies. A controller is too slow in the heat of battle to handle that kind of precision. The mouse, on the other hand, performs its job very well.

While sound design is fairly minimal, Excubitor distinguished itself with the most helpful and least annoying klaxon I've ever heard. This alarm goes off to signal that a mission-critical point is under attack. Somehow it is just loud enough to be heard over the din of explosions yet quiet enough not to grate. Graphics are good and always make identifying enemies, pickups, and objectives easy. The backgrounds are well-designed as well; unfortunately, each map looks very similar across its surface, making it easy to get lost. The minimap is an essential tool for navigation, and this can be problematic in intense scrambles to and from different points in the level. The low camera angle is more to blame here than the graphics.

The levels full of particles and independent entities can be hard on a computer’s hardware. Slowdown was never a problem; overheating sometimes was. Accompanying overheating were game-breaking loading errors such as spawning the player ship below the plain of the stage or not spawning enemies correctly. Restarting the game, or simply giving my computer a couple minutes to cool off, fixed the problems. The many explosions are the only major moral concern. Robot voices are the primary thing heard in dialog; the rare instance of human voices did not include horrific deaths or terror.

Excubitor, if not more than the sum of its parts, is distinct from them. Arcade combat combined with strategic defense equals frantic time-management. Time flies when you're madly dashing from mother ship to drone factory and back again; I hardly believed Steam when it told me that I'd spent 10 hours on the 16-mission story. Your mileage may vary time-wise. I spent most of the story in Hard mode, finely tuning the first 20 seconds of most levels to get my towers set up before the enemies got too close and iterating on my strategy for the rest of the level until I finally broke through. I wouldn't have it any other way, though Normal difficulty offers a good challenge as well. The game allows difficulty switching during the story. New Game+ mode, then, locks the difficulty on just this side of requiring perfect play. I tried it but did not finish. By that point, Excubitor had given me plenty of thrills and satisfaction. It’s rewarding; it’s fun. It might not be the best choice for fans of Excubitor’s component genres. Nevertheless, its special concoction of tactics is worth trying out.

 

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Game Info:

Companion
Developed by: Narrator
Published by: Sekai Project
Release date: March 31, 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!

Companion is a kinetic visual novel that tells an interesting tale in roughly two hours. There are no choices to be made, so the ending and dialogue will be the same for everyone who chooses to embark on this story about finding love despite an apocalypse quickly approaching.

You play a male astronomer approaching thirty. He is one of the few humans who will hibernate underground, as the rest of the world is oblivious to the massive asteroid that will strike Earth within a couple of months. Not many people know about this and even fewer are taking safety measures to ensure humanity’s survival. The hibernation slots are so limited that the scientists are not even allowed to bring their young children to the bunker with them.

Companion
Highlights:

Strong Points: Interesting story
Weak Points: Only two hours long; the Mandarin voice acting isn’t that good
Moral Warnings: The story begins with the main character accepting solicitation from a prostitute; sex is referenced but not shown; Airi wears some revealing outfits; language and blaspheming

With less than a week before going underground, the main character is on his way home just like any other day. The rain is coming down pretty hard when a young girl asks to share his umbrella and home with her for the night. This isn’t his first time with a street worker, but her helpless demeanor pulls on his heart strings and he falls for her charms.

The game’s text is vividly detailed and the story is very well written. Sex is implied, but not drawn out or expounded on more than necessary. The F word is used to describe the encounter. Blaspheming is also found in the text as well. Many of the dialogue lines are voice acted with the exception of the main character's. The voice acting is done in Mandarin and in all honesty I found the prostitute girl, Airi’s voice quite grating at times.

Aside from her voice, her character didn’t really resonate with me. I get that she had a troubled past and a hard life, but she comes off as fickle and is even more difficult to figure out than a standard female. As a woman, I can vouch for how complex we are at times, but still there is usually a reason for why we act the way we do and Airi seems to fly off the handle more than I would anticipate.

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

Game Score - 78%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 6/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 69%
Violence - 10/10
Language - 1/10
Sexual Content - 3.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The main character is still drawn to her and wants to give her happiness and show her kindness in the limited amount of time he has left. This becomes more than a one night stand and he put her feelings above his on many occasions in this story. Because this game is so short I’ll leave the story a mystery and not spoil it for any visual novel fans out there.

The artwork is really nice and you can view many of the stills from the extras menu. Some of Airi’s artwork is provocative and revealing. The background music and sound effects are well done. Most of the voice acting was well done with the exception of Airi’s in my opinion.

In the end, I enjoyed the story and time in this visual novel. Because it’s only two hours long I’m not sure if I would want to pay $9.99 for it since it’s only good for one play through. It’s certainly worth adding to your wishlist and picking up on sale as long as you’re not offended by the cursing and adult content.

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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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