PREVIEW: Majestic Nights

Conspiracy theories are not always just conspiracy theories. Sometimes there’s simply something which (or whom) cannot be denied existence – especially not if you have witnessed everything. Or have you? In fact you are not really sure, but everyone around you seems to believe you did. So perhaps you really did – working as an intelligence operative deep undercover and constantly living in the shadows can’t be healthy. No, you need to know for certain that what has been seen cannot be unseen.

And with that, welcome to Majestic Nights.

Majestic Nights

Introducing Majestic Nights – an episodic role-playing-thriller set in an alternate 1980s where all conspiracy theories, past and present, are true.

Set in the 80’s bright, lively and colorful world, the six darkest and most controversial conspiracies through the last 50 years are about to slowly become unwrapped and revealed – all from experiments with mind control and alien abductions to government hoaxes. Indeed, Majestic Nights has been announced to be released in six standalone chapters, excluding the seventh and free prologue Sunset After Dark, all covering one of the six aforementioned conspiracy theories. A season pass allowing access to all episodes once released will moreover become available – though each episode may be purchased individually for a small price.

Gameplay-wise through the roughly 30-40 minutes the prologue takes, it is evident that Majestic Nights is an intriguing mix of stealth, interrogation and action-packed shootouts. Worth noting, however, is that if the protagonist is spotted by enemies, the game will enter a slow-motion mode which significantly reduces the excitement regardless of difficulty. Though, ignoring stiff movement and what at times feels like unresponsive, or slow, controls, the gameplay from a game still in development feels solid. Furthermore, Australian developer Epiphany Games has assured me that several improvements and tweaks (likely addressing the above) will be implemented accordingly prior to launch.

Majestic Nights

You may decide to walk the shadows and avoid direct shootouts, or play by the motto: There’s no one to notice, if there’s no one to notice. A melee-option has moreover been confirmed, something which only adds to the stealth-play.

Another aspect worth noting is the three difficulty-levels, and unfortunately, after having played through all options, there seem to be little-to-no difference between either. Significant differences such as limited or reduced ammunition, reduced cover time, reduced running, no indicator around story-related elements or similar between the difficulty-levels would be very welcome. It is important to stress that the vast majority of players will enjoy the story regardless of difficulty, but those who seek a challenge whilst following an intriguing story would appreciate this.

The visual design of Majestic Nights seems – at first glance – to be a mix of respectively Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us. This means comic-like drawings from an unusual and unique color palette which isn’t afraid of bright colours. The lightning effects when caught is moreover a nice twist and most unique. Admittedly this art style won’t please everyone, but it suits the overall environment and story nicely.

Depending on the player's choice of words, the events will occur differently.

Depending on the player’s choice of words, the events will occur differently.

Overall Majestic Nights seeks to offer a unique perspective on conspiracy theories – an interesting subject which allows for many options. It will be interesting to see how the actual chapters will unfold, but with the right tweaks and fixes together with a firm focus on delivering an intriguing story, Majestic Nights will likely turn majestic.

Pre-order Majestic Nights on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/284140

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

A brilliant love-hate relationship

Playing a game usually means having and following a comprehensive and at times complicated recipe; but Fenix Rage by Green Lava Studios shows that the recipe may be as simple as making cookies. Unfortunately I cannot make cookies. Instead, I must accept fate and cope with a slowly boiling rage and frustration as I enter the inevitably lead to death the thousandth time.

Fenix Rage appears relatively simple at first glance with easy and very responsive core-mechanics. The player is given the ability to use infinite double-jumps and a special quick-dashing technique – each action may be cancelled by moving differently, should the player wish to do so. However, with the intriguing and highly challenging map design the controls are very hard to master accordingly.

Fenix Rage

The charming graphics are merely a cover for the inevitable death and perilous environment.

Surprisingly, the gameplay itself is even simpler than the controls as the charming platforms are loaded. The game offers two approaches on each map – the player may either choose to go for speed and thus optimize their run flawlessly and compete on the leaderboards, or they may attempt to collect all cookies at the cost of time. I say two approaches because attempting to do both successfully simultaneously is, more or less, impossible – something which undeniably teases you to complete each map more than once to obtain both things. Naturally, the maps furthermore get increasingly more complicated as more hazardous puzzles are introduced as well as unforgiving bosses being unleashed.

The different puzzles moreover introduces some very interesting and unique gameplay as coordination and positioning suddenly becomes a crucial part of completion. Similar, each boss (and there are many!) is unique and forces the player to develop different strategies to defeat them. Failing to do any of the above means death and a complete restart of the map – there is no health bar, start-from-where-you-died or anything slightly forgiving.

Fenix Rage

A range of new puzzles are being introduced as the player slowly progresses through the maps and worlds. All maps are furthermore unique and requires their own, specific approach.

The maliciously designed obstacles unavoidably means that the player is going to die. A lot. This aspect requires Fenix Rage to find the perfect balance between frustration, rage and a slight humiliation of the player’s self esteem. There are no excuses whilst playing Fenix Rage – you either understand the map, obstacles and control the movement flawlessly, or you die. Moreover, understanding the map becomes increasingly more relevant as the player advances from the ten-second maps – something which brutally bumps up the difficulty promptly and significantly. Completing a map thus requires either an incredible lucky run or full control of the movement – and rewards both relief and a feel of accomplishment.

And as if completing the levels normally wasn’t enough, the game offers two extra options (Challenge and God). The challenge-mode requires the player to complete the map on limited jumps / dashes – something which often results in having to time each jump perfectly to not waste a single pixel. The god-mode offers a whole new way of playing as the player now is required to touch all obstacles in a seemingly impossible amount of time.

Approaching the levels as an explorer and observer will help generate an understanding of the obstacles.

Approaching the levels as an explorer and observer will help generate an understanding of the obstacles.

If you aren’t prepared, Fenix Rage will tear apart and humiliate your self-esteem and everything you thought you knew about mastering platformers. Fenix Rage is truly testing your skill (and at times what feels like your sanity), but Green Lava Studios understands how to balance the ocean of infuriating moments with the rewarding sense of accomplishment when completing a level. If you are up for a challenge and master anger management as well as platformers, Fenix Rage is a must-have.

Buy Fenix Rage on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/294460/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

A simple hero with great ethics

As the silence gradually gets filled by creeping and submerged ambient sounds, and as a bright divine-like light slowly emerges in a atmospheric monochrome world surrounded by black silhouettes, you know Hero of Many by Czech-developer Trickster Arts isn’t your ordinary action-adventure game. Without further ado, and followed by a simple, wordless and very powerful opening-cutscene, the player is introduced to the charming world of Hero of Many.

The simplicity of the game experienced in the first few minutes of gameplay is stunning – yet genius and immersive. The player takes the role as a nameless and thus anonymous (this aspect is very interesting upon analyzing the game’s story!) orb-like microorganism on a quest to defeat lethal black counterparts whilst rescuing as many friends as possible.

The silhouettes - seemingly inspired by games like Limbo - are extremely simple but manages to charm and engross players.

The silhouettes – seemingly inspired by games like Limbo – is an extremely detailed world-design (despite the lack of colours and depth) which manages to charm and engross the player.

In good accordance with the wordless story, there is no way of telling which way is the correct way through any of the 26 different maze-like maps. Players may only navigate using their memory, or by the guidance of carefully placed lanterns which gets activated once passed. However, as there is no time limit, exploration immediately becomes the natural first priority. By exploring all caves and corridors the player furthermore ensures to find close-to-all friends – the more friends you collect, the stronger (and exposed) you become.

Whilst the environment may appear peaceful and to a certain degree divine with the ambient sounds and bright light, dangers will suddenly emerge and instantly turn the gameplay into a matter of surviving and guiding your friends wisely and efficiently. Approaching enemies may moreover be done in several ways – a full-scale attack or slowly by luring and taking them out one by one or in smaller groups and thus decrease own losses. However, whilst the initial attack may be launched as the player pleases, the actual battle is automatic and cannot be controlled by the player.

The background colour and enemies gradually  changes and advances as the player progresses through the maps.

The background colour and enemy-force gradually changes and advances as the player progresses through the maps.

very impressive aspect to Hero of Many is the dynamic soundtrack – especially considering the fact that it is a ported-game (something which only the initial interface hints, by the way). In terms of quality, the music is comparable to several high-budget titles and follows the gameplay in perfect order – all from soothing and melodic to intense and motivational battle-music.

However, beyond exploration and semi-automatic battles, the gameplay is somewhat limited as the puzzles presented are extremely simple and straightforward. Instead it becomes a question of keeping as many friends alive by timing the attacks accordingly and exploring everything. This is a minor set-back, but the immersive atmosphere mixed with the great soundtrack makes up for the lack of game mechanics – Hero of Many essentially becomes a story which the player writes and interprets in their own, unique way.

Exploration has several positive effects beyond increasing your army of friends - for instance special energy-berries may be eaten to increase your friends' health and strength.

Exploration has several positive effects beyond increasing your army of friends – for instance, special berries (often hidden in deserted areas) may be eaten to increase your friends’ health and strength.

Hero of Many is an atmospheric-action adventure set in a deep undersea and monochrome world with an immersive design. Packed with friends and foes, exploration and survival becomes a natural aspect of the game, and without words or back-story, the player is allowed and encouraged to create their own story and follow their own paths.

Buy Hero of Many on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/297370/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

planetarian -the revierie of a little planet-

Hope.

Post-apocalyptic.

A melancholic environment.

The above are all valid keywords and terms when describing the themes in the apocalyptic visual novel planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~  by Japanese-developer Key – a kinetic novel fast approaching its 10th anniversary in November later this year.

It is important to stress that this is not a game – nor is it an interactive novel, but rather a kinetic visual novel meaning that the player, unlike traditional visual novels, is given no choices in terms of how the story progresses. An approach which undeniably puts a lot of pressure on the story as it needs to be stellar and very solid to both entertain the player and justify the price. My review will thus primarily focus on the story and illustrations rather than the game mechanics. Though, it is important to remember that the game is nearly ten years old, and that the UI and resolution-options thus are limited and clunky due to that.

The world a wasteland with a consisted poisonous and corrosive rain - all a direct result of humanity's warfare on themselves.

The word is a ravaged wasteland which suffers from a consistent poisonous and corrosive rain – all a direct result of humanity’s warfare and inability to forgive and communicate properly.

planetarian introduces the reader to the ravaged remains of an once magnificent and monumental civilization which, due to depletion of limited natural resources, overpopulation and a failed Space Exploration Project, has become the victim of its own biological- and nuclear warfare. Once started, the war wouldn’t end and the bloodshed continued for thirty rough and unforgiving years – well into an era dominated by automated war machines set to kill anyone trespassing their territory on sight and capable of withstanding the now poisonous rain.

Whilst humanity remains present in small, unfriendly and very scattered groups, the story only includes one human-character; a middle-aged soldier and so-called junker (a person who enters dead cities on their own in an attempt to scavenge and track down valuable and undamaged objects) – simply referred to as ‘the junker’. Our main-character enters a derelict city and finds himself in the Flowercrest Department Store, where he unexpectedly is greeted by the ever talkative gynoid attendant, Yumeni. It quickly turns out that Yumeni is completely unaware of what have happened the previous 30 years as the databases she connects to are long gone. She thus welcomes the protagonist like a regular guest and refers to him as Mr. Customer, and proceeds as if nothing is wrong by showing massive loyalty and attentive while sharing happiness.

There are only two characters throughout the entire story, one of them being the talkative robot, Hoshino Yumemi.

In fact, Yumeni welcomes the junker as the store’s 2 500 000th visitor (despite him really being the 2 497 290th), and insists on showing him a special commemorative projection – an offer which he despite his aggravations accepts. Unfortunately the projector device, Miss Jena, is malfunctioning and the junker is required to repair it. As the junker works on the projector, he continues to observe and talk to Yumeni, whose innocence, amazing work ethic and almost childish happiness makes him grow fond of her.

The above ultimately means that a great amount of the dialogues consist of pure small-talk – something which appears subtle at first, however, is the fact that the small-talk perhaps are the most important dialogues. They truly show the differences between the junker and Yumeni, and how the two of them are respectively born and created into two different worlds years apart.

The illustrations are all very well-made with rich colours.

As the story progresses, it is evident that writer Yūichi Suzumoto understands how to play with the reader’s emotions and how to create a unique setting for his story. Mixed with very appealing illustrations, music and dialogues the character development furthermore remains intriguing and charming.

When that’s said, then planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~  is not a game (or story) for everyone. A passion for anime is an absolutely minimum requirement, and an acceptance of the fact that there are no choices or interaction to be made beyond the dialogue speed. However, if you like anime and don’t mind a kinetic novel, then planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~ is a great choice for an emotional and solid story.

Buy planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~ on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/316720/

A press copy was kindly provided for reviewing purposes.

Reforming the endless-running genre with Velocibox

As a seasoned gamer, I usually approach games with a clear assumption and expectation that I can complete them somewhat straightforward. This illusion was completely shattered and humiliated after just one minute in the fast-paced and unforgiving world of Velocibox. The amount of deaths was nearly proportional with the amount of seconds played, and after just ten minutes I seriously questioned my abilities to even reach level two, let alone complete the game in level eight.

Introducing and completely reforming the endless-running genre, Velocibox invites the player to a very high-paced game with a constant momentum where dodging and twitching once again becomes crucial for survival. Minimalistic and very bright colours welcomes the player upon loading the game, but after a quick tutorial, the aforementioned bright and welcoming colours show their real face together with the controls and game speed.

All four walls may be utilized in the hunt for boxes and never ending struggle of survival.

All four walls may be utilized in the hunt for boxes and never ending struggle of survival.

The endless-running genre has been around for ages, but recently experienced its renaissance through iOS and Android games such as Temple Run and Subway Surfers in the previous years. Though, while they may share the same rouge-like elements (no pausing or resetting), then Velocibox is very unique due to the controls and graphics. Unlike most other endless-runners, you are allowed to utilize the ceiling and walls (in fact, you are more or less required to do so). This means that all obstacles may be completed in different ways – all depending on the next obstacle, certain approaches may be preferred. And with 70 different patterns there are a lot of options – and a lot of frustration when your plan fails miserably.

Additionally, the cubes needed to advance to the next level are rarely placed in line; thus forcing the player to hunt these while spinning and dodging obstacles. The player is required to collect six cubes to advance to the next level, though these may be collected when the player see fit – the level will continue to run until the player catches six cubes or dies. Your score, however, is depending on how fast and how many boxes are collected – the more cubes as fast as possible, the more points. The player is thus encouraged to take chances for a higher score – and with integrated Steam Leaderboards, this becomes very relevant.

The different colours add a very interesting - and challenging - level design.

The different colours add a very interesting – and challenging – level design.

Mastering the controls while comprehending the camera movement and constant speed is a strong indicator that Velocibox indeed is a skill-based game – somewhat similar to games like Super Hexagon. It requires fast reflexes and a seemingly impossible overview – though, with enough tries the player learns how to approach the individual obstacles and master the controls properly. However, once the player finally advances to the next level, the aforementioned colours turn out to be a real enemy; because while the controls are essentially the same, the drastic change in colours means a loss of the vague overview. Similar, each new level introduces new obstacles – something which ultimately means the player is forced to slowly progress as they master each level better and better. The better they master the first level, the easier they may approach the second, and so forth.

Each new level introduces new - and at times unforgiving - obstacles.

Each new level introduces new – and at times unforgiving – obstacles.

Velocibox is an extremely challenging and fast-paced game with minimalistic graphics and a very intriguing gameplay. Advancing through the levels requires patience and a great amount of concentration – and despite the thousands of tries, the game still remains fun, entertaining and extremely challenging. The key is undeniably to master your reflexes and understanding the art of re-orientation, and doing so successfully is highly rewarding. Don’t be put off by the first many failed attempts, but rather try and experience the satisfaction by reaching level two (and three, and four, and…) . Good luck!

Buy Velocibox on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/317710/

A press copy was kindly provided by the developer for reviewing purposes.