Sep 242014
 
Road Not Taken

Who knew that throwing trees could save children?

But it can, in Spry Fox’s newest game The Road Not Taken.

Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken is a game by the previously mentioned Seattle, WA game company – the same one that made Triple Town. Although it has more of a story line, this game is very similar to Triple Town at it’s core in it’s match-3 style combination-based gameplay.

The story follows a mysterious traveller who comes through a town. The town’s livelihood is through berry picking and they do so with their children. However, their children are getting lost out in the woods, and it is my job as the mysterious traveler to venture into the woods and reunite them with their parents.

The story is given to you in little bits. A small cut scene here, a lost child’s soul there, a quote from a ghost or a villager. It’s pieced together in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the simplistic puzzle gameplay – but it leaves you wanting more each time.

Game Play
Those who have played Triple Town will recognize The Road Not Taken’s match-3 like quality. The gameplay board is made up of squares that you can travel on. Each square is a path to travel on or contains an item you can move or interact with in some way. To get through each board, the player has to combine items into groups of 3 or more to move them, open doors and get to children to return them to their parents.

Much like Triple Town, players can combine various objects to make new ones by picking them up, throwing them and lumping them together on the gameboard. Throughout the game, as you discover new combos or, “secrets”, they go into your logbook for later reference.

Challenges
I have to admit, I was initially fooled by this games cutesy exterior and seemingly simple goal of finding children lost in the woods. Not only does the game have a little bit of a darker element with ominous music and the ghost of lost children, the gameplay is surprisingly more punishing than I expected.

To begin, at the beginning of every year (you go through several “years” searching for all the children which serve as each level), you start out with a certain amount of energy. Every time you pick up and carry an object, you lose energy. This means you can’t just go through carrying a tree to where you need to. Instead, you have to strategically throw it across the board as much as possible to avoid expending your energy meter.

Not all items are static objects either. There are living creatures that get in your way (including some familiar looking bears). In addition to that there are several forms of “ghosts”. These ghosts are different from the lost children souls you encounter on occasion. These ghost can be picked up and thrown as well as combined to make objects that are better or worse. At best you make a log out of one of them. At worst you get “doom” ghosts, who follow you around the board, attempting to trap you into a corner.

Walking into a ghost will make the character insecure about his past, whispering mean things to him as they drain all his energy. And if you lose all your energy – you start back at the beginning of the year, having to play the level all over again.

This combined with various animals that will “bite” you if you stand in the square next to them, I found the game very difficult to get through each level without having to start over several times, even with the most careful of planning.

Interactions
You can help yourself a bit before venturing out into the forest to find the children. You can interact with the villagers by bumping into them (seems rude, but effective). If you chat with them, sometimes you can trade items to try and make a friend. If you’ve made a friend, they often times will give you something to help you on your journey.

You can also teleport back to the first game board to get back into the city at anytime during gameplay to get out of a jam. However if you go into the village, you will have to start the level over again.

Music/Atmosphere
As you well know, dear reader, I’m a sucker for a good game soundtrack and this game did a great job. It’s atmospheric and ominous, playing well into this idea of lost souls and troubled past they allude to in the gameplay. The audio producer of the game, Daniel Simmons, posted a blog post on the Playstation blog about how many of the sounds were made, showing how much care was taken.

The artwork in this game was a real shining point here. It was whimsical, having a very hand drawn feel.

Overall
In the end this was a fun little game to play. I played on the PS4, although it is also available on the Vita, which I think I would have prefered to play it on. Even better, I think this game would make a great candidate for a iPad/mobile.

Because of it’s simplistic gameplay, I think I would have prefered it on a more casual format, more than sitting front and center by playing it on my console.

That being said, if you’re looking for a challenging puzzle game with great artwork and music, make sure to pick up The Road Not Taken, available now.

Apr 242014
 

Every now and again, you come across a game so pretty you forget you’re playing it for a moment. Thankfully Ustwo, the company and maker of Monument Valley – a mobile iOS game/ M.C. Escher painting in the form of a game, thought of that in advance by creating a game with an option to take screenshots.

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Like a cross between Fez and Journey, Monument Valley is the simple tale of a girl in white on a quest. For what and why is relatively unimportant as you click through the puzzle levels. In this game you twist and turn platforms using the Escher-esk optical illusions to find unexpected bridges and pathways to reach your destination. The only real obstacle you face are the “Crows” (sorry, not a Game of Thrones reference) who insist on standing in your way and sometimes cawing at you.

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Monument Valley is designed to be virtually stress-free. As you play, a soothing soundtrack and playful audio created by Stafford Bawler floats through the gameplay. It’s a perfect game to pick up and put down again as needed – though be warned. It’s a rather short game so you may find yourself at the end wishing for more.

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Having such a beautifully designed and simple game makes sense however, for a company that is actually a graphic design and digital product studio, focusing on non-game mobile apps. According to an article by Buzzfeed:

Ustwogames started in 2011 as team without much direct experience in the gaming world — the staffers were app developers and graphic designers — and its first game, Whale Trail, was a minor success. Buoyed, Matt Miller, one of Ustwo’s founders, decided to hire directly from the gaming industry to add to the Whale Trail team.

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Although games were not its primary focus starting out, Ustwo has built a gaming team which has created an amazing visual experience with interesting puzzles with great visuals and audio. Although only available through iOS at the moment, there are talks of additional levels – as well as the possibility of other platforms, including Android and PS Vita, according to an article on game review site Polygon.

If you have an iOS device I definitely suggest picking this one up. It is a little on the pricier side for an app ($3.99) – but there are no in game purchases, and although I don’t normally feel this way about puzzle games, there is a replayability in its zen-ness. Pick it up here and check the website out here.

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Mar 162014
 
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It’s an exciting story that you follow along with bated breath – a 60s’ mystery-spy-thriller-fiction novel with hints of mind control and someone following you. Oh, and very stylish design.

Throw in some puzzles and you’ve got yourself a game. And that’s just what the 2-man game developer Simogo made (four, in this case as they paired with Daniel Olsén & Jonathan Eng to make a soundtrack for the game)

“A surreal thriller in which the written word is your map

DEVICE 6 plays with the conventions of games and literature, entwines story with geography and blends puzzle and novella, to draw players into an intriguing mystery of technology and neuroscience.”

And surreal it is. The gameplay is very basic. Stripped down to what could best be described as an interactive novel. As you read, you learn that the protagonist – Anna – has been dropped onto a mysterious island with no recollection of how she got there. As the story unfolds she has to wade through a series of clues to discover what forces are at play here, keeping her there.
The game plays in 6 “chapters.” And although written like a short story or novel – Simogo hasn’t taken the design aspect out of play. In line with the 60s’ world and mystery that’s unfolding before Anna, the story moves with the player. You follow lines of text like they’re a road or a bridge to 60’s inspired color blocks containing black and white pictures. The pictures aren’t extensive but they do exist to set the mood and provide the player with added clues.

As you play a chapter, you follow the text, turning your iPad or iPhone along with the story, discovering hidden twists and turns. The game allows you to go back and forth – gathering clues to be able to crack the final puzzle that awaits you at the end of each chapter.

This game definitely drew me in. I’m a big fan of mystery novellas myself and this one had enough intrigue to keep me going. The puzzles were challenging. There wasn’t too much hand-holding as far as how to achieve the answers.

There are a few interactive elements in each chapter (buttons to push, pictures to slide) so you really had to scrutinize each picture, push each button, go back and forth across the text to really dig down and find the answer.

In addition to all this Simogo did a nice job of adding in pictures and text just to add to the story that has nothing to do with the puzzle. I spent a fair amount of time going over these pictures trying to extract clues out of them until I realized I might have been overthinking it.

As far as replayablity goes this game has two things going against it. It’s a puzzle game so once you play through you pretty much know what to do every time after that. And it’s a mystery novella with a big reveal at the end. So this one for most would be a play once and move on. However the storyline is interesting enough I say it’s well worth even just one play through of it. Also It’s storyline does also work in its advantage as I would want to play it again if only to “re-read” the story.

Now if this all this game had – a mystery novella, fun puzzles, a great design – it would be a pretty stellar game on its own. However, Simogo took it even a step further and…don’t worry, no spoilers…I will say the game takes things a wonderful step further with a very playful and interesting way of breaking the 4th wall during the gameplay.

This game is only available via iOS right now, so if you have one of those devices make sure to pick this one up. If you don’t have one of those devices, just tell your friend you need to borrow their iPhone for a couple of hours. IT’S IMPORTANT DUDE.

Check out the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdnjXQL6Muk

Feb 142014
 

Mech games is a rather niche section of the gaming landscape that, very sadly, has not been seen in some time, but they appear to be coming back in a very big way. MechWarrior Online was released late last year, and we have Titanfall on the horizon as well. And now we have Hawken, a multiplayer-only first person (mech) shooter for the PC, which will be taking a big step forward tomorrow by releasing their early-access client via Steam today.

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While the Hawken beta has been available for some time directly on Adhesive Games website, they officially shut down their launcher last week and have transitioned over to the Steam client. Account holders have been able to download it early and begin play, but things should ramp up a great deal now that it has been released for general Steam users. Obviously moving over to Steam isn’t going to change the game in any significant way beyond maybe your friends list, but it is definitely going to bump up their visibility.

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Even for early access, this game is an absolute blast so far. The action is very fast-paced, and the levels are relatively small, so not much in the way of tactical combat but it makes up for it in sheer chaos and robotic goodness. Different classes of mech, and the ability to customize that mech in your workshop, adds a ton of variety to combat. If you are a fan of the idea of piloting your own mech in a fast-paced team shooter (and who isn’t) you owe it to yourself to give Hawken a try, and being free-to-play, there is almost no risk if it isn’t for you.

Feb 072014
 
dontstarve

The Art Of Survival and why I now have a love/hate relationship with Klei Entertainment.

It’s day 3 of your survival. I’ve died two times and now I’m angry playing the game. I’m ANGRY playing a game because I refuse to give up until I find something cool or unlock the story. I have never angry played a game and I’m sitting here playing out of spite, hatred, and pure loathful determination.

This is one of my new favorite games.

I’m talking about Don’t Starve by Klei Entertainment. If you’ve played this game you probably know what I’m talking about.

If you haven’t then you’ll come to find: Don’t Starve is a survival/sandbox/resource building game. Your first character Max is plopped into the middle of the woods with a mysterious man telling you need to survive.

All you know is that you have a stomach meter gauging how hungry you are, a brain meter telling you how sane you are, and a clock showing you how much time you have until night. Then you play.

Through trial, error and perhaps the occasional internet forum check you begin to figure how to play the game and what the goals are.

This is where my love/hate relationship begins.

Oh Klei Entertainment, where do I begin…

I love this world you’ve created where you can start building resources and slowly build your way to making tools which can lead to more advanced tools and gadgets. You can find a portal into a challenge world where you can use your skills to fight and survive against unique and interesting challenges. There you can find a rich and interesting store line.

…a world where if you die you start the whole damn thing over. Whole. Damn. Thing. And that can happen within minutes or hours of playing a game.

I love how much that raises the stakes.

I love your Tim Burton-eske artwork. I love its bleakness and how it fits into this world of monsters and survival…

… a bleakness that is also a constant visual reminder of the fact that no matter how many days I survive there may be no point to this in the end.

I love that you’ve created a wonderful search and discover game. There is no hand holding. There is only trial and error. The goals are simplistic at first enough to get you started then progress to more complex goals to make things interesting. It’s a wonderful formula…

…that is addicting as hell.

I love that you’ve created the perfect game for patient gamers. If you are patient you are rewarded with a bounty of cool new gadgets which you’ve carefully and painstakingly gathered and learned for. You will unlock cool new characters with unique tools, skill sets, and quirks. You will have found a portal filled with unique resources monsters and challenges to keep things fresh…

…but if you are not patient, you will give up on the game all together. Or you will become like me and find yourself angry playing the game, even after dying for the 5th time and going through all the same entry level tasks because-even though you are sick and tired of chopping down trees-you just know there is so much more to see.

There is supposedly a really interesting and poignant ending to see. And you will do all you can to see it, god damn it. Even if it kills you.

And it will kill you.

And Klei Entertainment, you know all this you sick bastards. On your website you even say the game offers Uncompromising Survival: No instructions. No help. No hand holding. Start with nothing and craft, hunt, research, farm and fight to survive.

And if you don’t believe me, just take a look:

Don’t Starve drives me mad like few games ever do
http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/01/14/dont-starve-ps4-review-2

Don’t Starve is a survival sim that gets under your skin.
http://www.polygon.com/2013/6/26/4439118/dont-starve-review-eat-to-live

Don’t Starve is a brutish, complex affair
http://thechronicleherald.ca/artslife/1184380-the-player-don-t-starve-is-a-brutish-complex-affair

Don’t Starve: No hand-holding and no hints
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/dont-starve-ps4-review-no-handholding-and-no-hints-this-is-a-proper-survival-game-9061442.html

But with relentless punishing comes reward. Don’t starve is a game I can pick up at any time. It’s timeless in its simplicity. But in addition to that developers are committed to creating new maps, new challenges and new characters for the game making it an ever-evolving experience. The game is amazing in its complexity and I’m excited to keep playing it.

Either way, it was just reported that this game has passed the one million player mark so they must be doing something right.

My final verdict: Check it out. Love it or hate it it’s worth a play through. Now I have to go. Night is coming and I both have to wait for this game to come out on vita and collect more logs to make a fire.

Feb 072014
 
Hearthstone

Hearthstone has finally moved into open beta, and of course now is the perfect time to jump in and give it a shot. Even though it is still in beta, the game has already taken on the polish that Blizzard has really become known for, while providing what could easily be qualified as a full game experience. For those who don’t know, Hearthstone is a free-to-play, competitive card game, loosely based on the unbelievably popular Warcraft series. You pick your class, each with their own specific set of cards and abilities, build your ideal deck, and battle others online.

Ultimately, this is basically Magic: The Gathering distilled to a more simplistic, easy to play form. Each match-up takes approximately ten minutes, so it is perfect for a quick game or two when you have time. Building your deck can be a much more in-depth experience though for those who desire it, but the big question that will face Hearthstone moving forward is whether it can match the depth that games like Magic hold. So far though, the limits have yet to be found and this could continue to be a huge game on both casual and competitive scenes for years to come, and as such you really owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

Jan 272014
 

Video game music, costumes and artful cinematography? Count me in. If you haven’t heard of Lindsey Stirling, now would be a good time to learn. I only discovered her recently and have been watching everything I can on her YouTube Channel.

LindseyStirling

Stirling is a violinist, dancer and all around performance artist. Stirling started to get attention when she was a quarter finalist on season five of America’s Got Talent. Although she didn’t win she began putting videos up on her YouTube channel and is now doing musical tours.

She does do other music besides video game music (she played “hip hop violin” during America’s Got Talent and one of her top videos is Crystallize which is a Dub Step Violin Solo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHjpOzsQ9YI) the video game music is of course some of my favorite.

Speaking of my favorites feel free to start with these:

Zelda Medley: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3KUyPKbR7Q
Assassin’s Creed 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOg8Cz9yfWg
Skyrim: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSLPH9d-jsI

Check out her youtube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/user/lindseystomp

Jan 092014
 

sr

I had the chance to experience Shadowrun 4th edition recently, giving me a fresh insight into a well-known tabletop game. Shadowrun is a D6 game system set in a post-modern, corporate-run, urban environment that is the perfect breeding ground for the hybrid of near-future tech with a dungeon-crawling fantasy campaign.

While set in a fantasy environment, Shadowrun offers its users the technology of the not-so-distant future, and does a good job in keeping level-headed about the advancement of said technology.  The designers introduced a well-formulated timeline that allows the players to maintain a good grasp on world events—but is still general enough as to not completely define character biographies (just provide an outline).

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Shadowrun has numerous positive qualities and very little in the way of drawbacks. Here are a few of my thoughts on each:

Positive

Shadowrun offers a brilliant, though complicated, character creation system that lets the player micromanage his character’s build. The writers did incorporate a great step-by-step that helps lay out build costs and points out where to turn to in the book for specifics.

Numerous pre-generated PCs and NPCs are in the book. This comes in handy for quick-start campaigns, lazy GMs/players, and character build reference points.

In-depth combat system incorporates numerous rules to add a level of ‘realism’ to your table-top battle.

Negatives

As I mentioned above, this system is complicated. Learning the rules will be a real chore. Your first few sessions will be rather slow as you read through the book looking for various rules. So make sure to have a practice session, as my GM did. Or at maybe a character building fiesta? Like a scrap book party for us nerds, right?

Some rules are hard to find. A few rules—item specific ones come to mind—are listed in combat rather than in the item description. This can be infuriatingly sucky if you built your PC with these items in mind.

Finally, this system uses a lot of GM fiat. This can be either a major positive point, or a horrendously negative one depending on the GM. While fiat can be great for a level-headed GM, it can be the worst if the GM is out to get the PC—or perhaps, have secretly decided you’ll be the comic relief/red shirt of the group. A pretty  major concern to consider is that leveling is also GM-dependent. Basic rewards for your run-of-the-mill campaigns, but additional points can be offered by roleplaying, etc.

In the end, I give Shadowrun the Matt Seal of Approval. I delved deeply into these books when the opportunity came and I liked what I saw. I won’t recommend it to newer groups—mainly because of the complicated combat systems—but I would definitely recommend it to everyone else.

Jan 082014
 

There it is again.

There’s another one, sitting in my Inbox, innocently staring me down. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that I’ve bought three already and I’ve barely gotten through a fourth of the games. It doesn’t matter that I like all the games. It doesn’t matter. I know as soon as I click that link I will buy it.

It’s true. I have a Humble Indie Bundle problem.

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But before we get into all of that, let’s take a step back. Humble Indie Bundle, or just the Humble Bundle was a simple enough concept created by Jeff Rosen and John Graham of Wolfire games. Inspired by Steam Bundles, it includes a collection of video games (or in some cases other forms of digital works) neatly bundled together for you-all for a pay-what-you-can price.

But what makes this model so addicting to me is not only video games at an affordable price (though that does help)—but they have a regular model where every month they’ve got a couple of different sales to choose from for a two week period. You can also sign up for their email list so you can know the moment that each one is offered.

So there you have it. Each month, I have an email chalk full of affordable games just sitting there waiting for me—but only for so long. The need to grab them up, stock up for winter and make sure I have them is there. I feel it welling up into an irresistible impulse that leads me to click that buy button before I even know what’s hit me.

Just when you think I should have a little buyer’s remorse for getting all these games I haven’t played yet though, there is a feel-good aspect thrown into all of this to help curve even that. The Indie game developer movement is one that has been growing in the past few years and it’s great to see a list of games that fall under that category being showcased. And to top it all off you can add on the option to give to charity as well, which just is a wonderful top-off.

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When it comes down to it I’ve never felt too bad buying and supporting these games. Now I just have an excellent stockpile of games to get through when I’m bored.

That reminds me. Have you seen Humble Indie Bundle X yet? You should probably check it out before it goes: Humble Bundle.

Jan 072014
 

Xenomorphs have hit upon a bit of bad luck lately with their portrayal in media. We haven’t been given a decent movie in over a decade and it has been even longer for a good gaming experience. In fact, you may have to go back to 1999’s Aliens versus Predator for the last great game featuring the titular character from Ridley Scott’s Alien film, which is a shame and a half.

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However, there is a small glimmer of hope on the horizon. Creative Assembly (yes, that’s right, the creators of the Total War series) have released an announcement trailer for Alien: Isolation, intended to be a return to the atmosphere of the very first movie. Based on the trailer and the developer diary, this is intended to be a survival-horror instead of the generic shoot-em-up that recent games have been designed to be. To that end, there is only one Alien, hunting you through the dark and claustrophobic hull of a ship, groans of metal, odd pipes and wires strategically placed to force you to creep along slowly, double-checking every nook and cranny, and pushing your imagination into overdrive. In this environment, that one Alien is more terrifying than plowing your way through hordes of them could ever be.

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Furthermore, the Alien itself is a throwback to the original film. It stands very tall and upright, as opposed to the hunched over, 4-legged body-style of the movies that came after. The Alien will hunt you throughout the game, drawn to any loud noises or disturbances as you search the ship for evidence of your mother’s disappearance (you play as Amanda Ripley), and the developers have said these events will not be scripted whatsoever beyond the first sighting. You will have little to no protection against the Alien should you be found, so the emphasis will be on hiding and escaping from sight quickly, if you were so unfortunate as to draw the attention of the Alien.

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For many people, this return to more of a horror type story is an extremely welcome return, and based upon the little information to be found in the trailer and developers notes, it should be on the radar of any fan of the original film, or of horror in general. All we can do now is wait and say “oh pleaaase don’t screw this up.”

The announcement trailer may be found HERE.