The Way We All Go

Change is inevitable.

In many ways this remains an undeniable truth which everyone, young as old, has to face and accept one day. Today is that day for the main protagonist in The Way We All Go, the young student, Atcchan. He has returned to his hometown during a short holiday following two-years of studies in another city. He is visiting his grandparents, and is overwhelmed with familiar surroundings and nostalgia. However nice the nostalgia may be, one cannot leave for two full years and not expect things and people to have changed. A new reality which accompanied by anxiety slowly sinks in for Atcchan. He’s worried sick that his treasured friendships might have changed – that those he once considered dear friends might not remain his friends today. The uncomfortable thought that he might have changed too occurs, too.

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The Way We All Go is an interesting mixture of actual drawings and edited, real-life images like the one above. It works decently for the vast majority of images, but does appear somewhat unprofessional or even amateurish in others – though ultimately accomplishes to add a unique touch to the game.

It quickly becomes evident that whilst Atcchan appreciates being back, although temporarily, he did leave the sleepy Japanese town with significant unfinished business. He reluctantly explains and excuses himself as it turns out that he only managed the courage to say goodbye to one friend before moving. That is despite claiming to have had two best friends; Amu and Noelle, of whom only Amu got a goodbye. Atcchan thus becomes determined to reach out to both girls – despite being almost obsessively overwhelmed by anxiety and worries. The latter to a degree which risks causing the reader to grow frustrated (and even permanently annoyed) with Atcchan due to his constant whining and severe worrying.

The insecure and somewhat incompetent protagonist is however an interesting character which, perhaps better than most other characters, genuinely manages to portrait the world through the eyes of a teenager suffering from social anxiety. The reader is in other words forced to share Atcchan’s seemingly endless stream of consciousness – for better and worse. The lengthy ramblings does however make it easier for the reader to decide for Atcchan – partly because virtually every perspective of a situation has been analysed thoroughly, and partly because you genuinely want the story to progress.

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The game allows the reader to dictate the story through a few, but very significant and at times tough, choices for which the consequences often appear impossible to comprehend for Atcchan.

And boy, does the story progress!

A reaction I never quite expected to get prior to playing. I should stress that my experience with anime games, and thus visual novels, is extremely (almost embarrassingly) limited to just a handful of titles. This means that I’m forced to judge almost exclusively on the story and the interaction with the player. A natural question thus becomes whether the story works, or not? The short and cryptic answer to that is yes, mostly.

The vast majority of visual novels are either strictly kinetic, or relatively linear. The Way We All Go appears linear, but is delightfully different and does offer several endings. However, despite the numerous endings, the decisions left with the player are not exactly overwhelming nor overly exciting. In fact most appear harmless or even silly, however, the truth of the matter is that every decision effectively pushes the player down a slippery and irreversible slope. A path which often-times appears to take Atcchan, who’s been busy desperately piecing back the imaginary utopia he expected on arrival, by surprise.

Nothing is ever as it seems...

Nothing is ever as it seems…

The Way We All Go is an interesting piece of content which takes a slightly different approach to the visual-novel genre with unique artwork and several unique, and delightfully surprising, endings. Those interested in the genre will thus find The Way We All Go a solid game featuring interesting endings and bizarre plot-twists. Those new to the genre may want to enter through a slightly more traditional game, but will get a great glimpse into the world of Japanese games nonetheless.

Buy The Way We All Go on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/352610/

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

 

A (too) comforting Shelter

Survival- and horror-games have exploded in popularity the past few years, creating an exciting cascade of games mixing and matching various themes and multiple genres as a result; indie- and AAA-titles alike. Though, where most seem to be infected by zombies, few have attempted to portrait the true origin of survival found within the animal kingdom.

Welcomed by bright and very minimalistic graphics, Shelter 2, by developer Might & Delight, seeks to introduce the player to a world in which their every move and action remains absolutely vital to their continued survival. Players of the original Shelter will immediately feel at home, and anyone new to the Shelter-series is about to start a truly unique experience.

The beauty of nature is unmatched - just like the unforgiving rawness and dangers lurking around every corner.

The beauty of nature is unmatched – just like the unforgiving rawness and dangers lurking around every corner.

Taking the engaging role as a pregnant lynx mother, the player finds themselves in a peculiar and surprisingly vulnerable situation in the middle of the food chain – being neither the strongest nor weakest animal. This means that despite being both healthy, agile and relatively fast, dangers remain both eminent and inevitable. The vulnerable position and rumored wolf packs undeniably invites to action; unfortunately the only true taste of raw action throughout the entire game is strictly experienced during the prologue.

As the prologue finishes, the player is required to find a safe shelter. Once this is achieved, the main objective changes significantly. It is no longer about actual survival, but rather hunting helpless, wild rabbits within safe distance from your newly established base. Rinse and repeat until your kittens eventually reach adulthood and start their own endeavors. At first glance this feels rather vague, without real substance and somewhat underwhelming – which is both the truth, and a huge shame.

Taking the responsibility of fostering and raising four kittens should prove a challenge, but in reality it feels too laid-back.

Taking the responsibility of fostering and raising four kittens should prove a challenge, but in reality it feels rather relaxing.

Now, it is important to stress that Shelter 2 features several positive elements which undeniably is a direct result of the dedication and passion shared among the developers. There is absolutely no doubt that Shelter 2 is the product of a carefully nursed idea. Period. However, success is never guaranteed with just a good idea. In fact, and more often than not, a good idea is merely the key to get the real work started. A good game demands proper, responsive gameplay, solid graphics and preferably an enjoyable soundtrack. Shelter 2 is a good idea, and does feature the above as well. Surprisingly, however, the game can’t help but feel incomplete regardless – leaving the feeling that the massive potential simply has been left untouched somewhere behind the snow-covered mountains.

There are several reasons at to why the untouched potential can be compared to the mountains as they, too, are left unused in the game. A major downside to Shelter’s gameplay is the severe lack of replayability. The greatest incentive to play a second time appears to be for achievement hunters only; not because players are encouraged to explore more of the world. The fact that the player is given no reason to explore the – and let’s be honest, beautiful – world beyond the first competition is strange. There’s no lack of food nor any eminent dangers forcing the player to move – I certainly didn’t encounter any through almost four hours of gameplay. Shelter 2 ultimately leaves you begging for more content; which isn’t necessarily a good thing in this case.

The potential is undoubtedly present, but whether it’s fully utilized is largely depending on interpretation.

It is evident that Shelter 2 is created with passion, and whilst it does manage to introduce a lightweight version of the Animal Kingdom, it lacks to present true survival and actual dangers. The first play-through will be rewarding and in many ways interesting. However, without any incentive to continue to play, explore or challenging survival, the three-four hours of gameplay hardly justifies the current price-tag.

Buy Shelter 2 on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/275100/

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

 

BLACKHOLE – Mind-bending space adventure

Welcome to the year of 2121.

Science has progressed enormously, and mankind is now in possession of technology allowing them to effectively protect Earth from the dangers in space. You find yourself on a spaceship on such a mission – in fact a quite special one set out to close the last remaining black hole. The crew consists of seasoned astronauts and a highly sophisticated, GLaDOS-like AI, Ariel. Why you are here is an entirely different matter. You are not a seasoned astronaut, and the others would rather not have you here. You’ve thus been assigned to the coffee-machine with the noble cause of providing the crew with freshly brewed coffee whenever needed. A task which you miraculously manage to screw up, repeatedly. However, before there’s any time to delve with yet another of your numerous mistakes, the ship’s alarm starts. Something has gone dreadfully wrong, and panic quickly ensues. The crew has accidentally steered the ship onto an inevitable path towards total destruction. What a morning!

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The player must explore the richly detailed planet Entity in an attempt to scavenge parts to repair the spaceship and locate potential survivors.

It would have been naïve to fight the black hole’s immense powers, and the crew must, although reluctantly, accept their faith. And sure enough, the ship crashes into the planet-like world, Entity, seconds later. At first glance, no crew-members appeared to have survived beyond Auriel. Yet, for reasons unknown, you somehow managed to survive the horrendous crash and crawl your way through the remains – much to Auriel’s surprise. After the dust has settled, you and Auriel must now find your way through the alien planet on a mission to scavenge materials for reparations and rescue any fellow crew members whom might have survived the crash.

With the story set, many would find it hard to believe that BLACKHOLE indeed is a platformer. There’s no doubt that the game is  a platformer, but it manages to stand out on several factors. The game features an interesting and unique setting accompanied with a great sense of story-progression. The latter is largely achieved by exquisite voice-acting, which especially shines through from the intriguing AI, Auriel, and her constant chatter. The hand-painted 2D-world is moreover beautifully designed and delightfully accompanied by a great soundtrack.

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The game is full HD and performs at a steady 50 frames per second – even on low-end machines. The smooth gameplay is greatly accompanied by responsive controls.

With the story, world design and voice-over in place, the next step is the actual gameplay. A good gameplay, and especially in a platformer, requires solid and responsive controls as well as a challenging and preferably non-repetitive maps. BLACKHOLE very much manages all of this, and does so in a way which appeals to a surprisingly wide audience. The latter, for instance, is achieved by allowing players to advance through levels with a bare minimum of required objectives and unlimited time. The option to complete things with ease should be put in perspective, though. There’s no mercy and players will die repeatedly and grow increasingly frustrated with several levels, but they can decide to continue without completing everything. This, of course, means that players looking for an extra challenge does not have to look far.

Onto the actual gameplay. BLACKHOLE consists of a range of different puzzles which all requires the player to think creatively. The main aspect of this is altering the gravity in order to avoid obstacles. Inspired by VVVVVV, gravity needs to be altered more than once just to complete one objective. In addition to swapping gravity repeatedly, the player must not only reach the objective(s), but also safely return to the start-portal to complete the level. The beauty if this is that whilst the mechanics are simple, and whilst the player can progress with just a few objectives completed, every single map is a challenge and genuinely enjoyable.

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Entity might be pretty, but is most certainly also dangerous.

The longer you play BLACKHOLE, the more you realize and appreciate the genuine dedication and keen eye to detail throughout the game. It is evident that the developers, artists and musicians wanted to deliver a unique and challenging game. The fact that ongoing support the next six months with additional levels and content for free has been announced already merely stresses the true dedication.

It is your time to become a hero and survive the dangers within the black hole.

Buy BLACKHOLE on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/322680/

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