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.

 

EARLY ACCESS: Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power

The newest addition to the iconic Trine-series has recently been released as early-access and is, once again, a visually engrossing masterpiece with beautiful graphics, luminous lighting and stunning bloom effects. Unlike the rather subtle transition between the two prequels, Trine 3: Artifacts of Power has advanced significantly and developer Frozenbyte now invites the player to a fully interactive 3D-world within the Trine-universe.

The player must once more lead the three delightfully unique and charming characters through a fairy-tale world of mysteries and cleverly designed puzzles packed with dangerous traps and monsters. Each character, a wizard, a knight and thief, have their own identities with unique abilities, movement and controls. All of which must be mastered and used correctly to complete the levels. The player may switch freely between the three characters depending on the task at hand – something which proves an interesting game mechanic.

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power

Trine’s visuals are truly unique and extremely appealing. It was hard to find the best screenshots (yes, these are actual gameplay screenshots), so if you are interested I’d recommend to check the trailer.

It is important to stress that this preview is done in a relatively early stage of the early-access process. This means that the player is more likely to encounter a few bugs (none entirely game breaking, however) and that there’s room for tweaks and changes as the development is ongoing. Despite being in early-access, the overall experience of the current content does feel rather complete. The three characters still maintain the same abilities, movements and controls remain, for the most part, the same as well. This makes players of the previous games feel at home immediately – almost as if your game session is merely a continuation from the previous two.

Players unfamiliar with the series will, too, soon feel at home. The controls and game mechanics are relatively easy to learn, but does introduce a few challenging puzzles. It is too early to firmly conclude the overall difficulty as there’s only three levels available, but much indicates it’ll be similar to the previous ones and thus be a fine balance between challenging and easy puzzles. The soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen (the guy who created the soundtrack for the prequels as well) moreover never cease to amaze, and does a great job accompanying the atmospheric levels.

The three characters are wonderfully portrayed and invites to a giggle or two through great voice-acting. The characters moreover each play a vital part in completing any level due to their unique abilities.

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power is without a doubt looking very promising, and with a dedicated developer it’s only a matter of time before the game is fully released. Those looking for a platformer or simply a game with stunning visuals will thus undeniably enjoy Trine 3 immensely.

Buy Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/319910/

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

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

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.

Oscura: Lost Light review – an atmospheric and innovative platformer

The young apprentice of the Lighthouse of Lambent, Oscura, has accidentally destroyed the mysterious and abstruse Aurora Stone in a desperate moment of boredom, and has left the entire country in complete and utter darkness as a result. Moreover, touching the stone and becoming entranced with its powers also released the former and evil lighthouse-apprentice, Marvo. The player must now take the role of Oscura and restore the Aurora Stone by overcoming the ominous darkness and challenging puzzles within the Driftlands.

Oscura: Lost Light, by Australia-based developer Chocolate Liberation Front, is the third game (but story-wise the first; think Star Wars) in a trilogy set in the Driftlands and is the first game to also be released on the PC. The game is thus created by an experienced and seasoned developer of puzzle- and platformer games – something which becomes very evident within just a few minutes of gameplay.

Fortunately the storyline isn't important when it comes to platformers, and Oscura: Lost Light very much makes up for its stereotypical rather dull story with brilliant and challenging gameplay.

Fortunately the storyline isn’t important when it comes to platformers, and Oscura: Lost Light very much makes up for its stereotypical and rather dull story with beautiful and challenging gameplay. Please note that the above is a screenshot from the intro cinematic, and not actual gameplay.

The platformer genre has been around for ages, and whilst the gameplay does draw heavy inspiration from other platformers, developer Chocolate Liberation Front has introduced a range of delightfully and innovative game mechanics which ultimately makes the game both look and feel unique. This means that Oscura: Lost Light offers more beyond the essential and solid jump-, dash- and run-mechanics.

An example hereby is the power or ability system which significantly changes the gameplay. The player may hold up to two powers at once which must be utilized correctly in order to complete the stage. It is in other words impossible to complete the stages without both mastering the standard controls and the unique abilities. To pass deadly laser beams, the player may temporarily spawn strategically placed islands for cover, or to avoid poisonous water and traps the player can alter gravity; to name a few. This works, thanks to the very solid basic controls, surprisingly well and is crafted masterfully to suit the old-school controls and beautiful graphics.

Utilizing the unique abilities correctly is an essential requirement to complete any stage.

Utilizing the unique abilities correctly is an essential requirement to complete any stage.

The gameplay can be challenging, but is in reality extremely forgiven due to unlimited deaths and the ability to always re-spawn at the most recent checkpoint. The game does encourage the player to complete each map within a set amount of minutes and total deaths however, but as there’s no consequence or missed achievements of not doing so, many players will oftentimes feel inclined to simply proceed despite several deaths. Having the aforementioned statistics at the end of every map can do the trick, but it would be have been nice with an actual, hardcore game-mode or various difficulty settings for players appreciating a challenging gameplay. Do not get fooled however, many players will find the gameplay very challenging, but puzzle-enthusiasts may find themselves looking for more.

In addition to the very smooth and extremely responsive controls, the game is also visually stunning. One would be inclined to deem the monochrome landscape boring at first glance, but as you start the game you’ll notice all the richly detailed design accompanied with the intriguing lights and beautiful background art. The 2D-design mixed with the firm focus on light and darkness results in some great shadows and ultimately creates a very atmospheric game. Unfortunately the character design seem to lack some anti-aliasing settings as it can appear somewhat pixelated at times. This is merely a small detail, but it would be one of the few things which needs polishing for the game to reach perfection.

The responsive controls delivers a stellar gameplay experience due to the freedom it gives.

The responsive controls delivers a stellar gameplay experience due to the freedom it gives.

If you are the least bit interested in platformers or puzzle games, Oscura: Lost Light is a truly amazing game offering solid, old-school like controls mixed with new innovative game mechanics in a beautifully designed world. The story-line remains mostly irrelevant to the actual gameplay, but that does not matter as the main purpose of a platformer is solid gameplay – something which Oscura: Lost Light undeniably delivers to perfection.

Buy Oscura: Lost Light on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/320520/

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

Adorable Snowmen (A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build review)

..breathe in.. breathe out..

Prepare yourself for a challenging journey following a seemingly lonely monster in a charming and atmospheric world where simplicity and cleverly designed puzzles is key. A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is not your usual puzzle-game, but will likely prove to be one of the most charming and enjoyable puzzle-games you’ve played for a long time.

The graphics are very charming and is greatly accompanied by the soundtrack.

The graphics are very charming and is greatly accompanied by the soundtrack.

You’re on a mission to fill a beautiful and snow-covered garden with beautiful snowmen. A snowmen is created by stacking three different sized snowballs (large, medium and small – equal to bottom, top and head) on top of each other. You must start with the largest snowball as base and gradually attach the two smaller snowballs on top. However, the snowballs must be attached directly from one of the four surrounding tiles. If a snowball is pushed through a tile covered with snow it’ll grow in size and become useless to its original purpose. Do not get fooled by the initial simplicity; the puzzles increase significantly in difficulty.

There’s no penalty for making a wrong move as you can simply revert your moves one-by-one till you’re satisfied. It is moreover possible to restart each room individually if you’ve lost track of your progress and appear to be completely stuck. However, it is important to keep track of your overall progress as each completed room unlocks one or more new routes and thus new puzzles. You’ll find some rooms to be impossible to solve without access from different angels as a result. The no-penalty system positively contributes to the already peaceful and relaxed approach which ultimately makes the game a challenging journey rather than an unforgiven puzzler.

Do not get fooled; all puzzles are cleverly designed and will prove a challenge as you gradually progress.

Do not get fooled; all puzzles are cleverly designed and will prove a challenge as you gradually progress.

The player is in addition to the above also able (and encouraged) to interact with the environment – creating a Zen-like feeling with the compelling audio and artwork. The anonymous and faceless black monster suddenly doesn’t feel so strange, and you start to feel empathy with the little guy hopelessly trapped in the beautiful garden.

As you complete the final puzzle (wherein you re-create the game’s creators, Benjamin Davis and Alan Hazelden, as snowmen), a gate will open followed by the camera slowly flying above the entire garden, displaying all your creations. The camera will eventually stop and ‘THE END?‘ will fade in. The dubious question-mark indicates that there indeed is more to the game. It is now time to explore your complete garden to uncover the mysterious secrets. Those interested in doing so will find intriguing new maps and interesting mechanisms left in a dreamlike world.

...what lies above remains a mystery, but the keen puzzle fans will find challenging new gameplay and intriguing mechanics.

…what lies above remains a mystery, but the keen puzzle fans will find challenging new gameplay and intriguing mechanics.

A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is an innovative and very challenging game set in an atmospheric world with compelling artwork and audio. The game features cleverly designed puzzles and several hidden secrets. Puzzle enthusiasts will love it, and those new to the genre will be welcomed by the simplicity and increasing difficulty.

Buy A Good Snowman is Hard to Build on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/316610/

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

 

Japanese pop-up book adventures (Tengami Review)

Wrapped in mysterious and immersive dreamlike surroundings, Tengami welcomes the player to a strangely vibrant point-and-click adventure presented as a traditional Japanese pop-up book. The game was released to respectively iOS-platforms and the Wii U through 2014, but has just been released for PC through Steam this month. It is evident that Tengami is the labour of love and dedication to a great and unique idea through years, but whether or not this idea is sufficient for an enjoyable game remains (mostly) in the unknown.

Tengami is.. beautiful. The graphics are undeniably Tengami's biggest strength and offers several superb and extremely atmospheric environments; all of which is greatly accompanied with the otherwise minimalistic audio.

Tengami is.. beautiful. The graphics are undeniably Tengami’s biggest strength and offers several superb and extremely atmospheric environments; all of which are greatly accompanied by the otherwise minimalistic audio.

As the player hits start, their journey begins and more or less continues without any interruptions till the game has been completed a few hours later. There are no actual dialogues or narrative – merely some rather cryptic words as well as titles for the different chapters. Fortunately, Tengami does not require any instructions or similar as the controls remain extremely simple in accordance with the point-and-click genre. The actual mouse-movements are slightly different due to the pop-up book aspect however. All areas of interest are moreover highlighted with a small luminous circle.

The above ultimately means that it’s very hard to miss something on your journey. Similar, most puzzles are fairly easy but delightfully different and intriguing.  A good example is the first actual puzzle which requires the player to make four wolves howl simultaneously. As there are no instructions or obvious approaches, the player must attempt to find the correct order by listening to the different sounds and associated results.

Ignoring the major puzzles, the best puzzles requires the player to flip different slices of scenery to create a pathway.

Ignoring the major puzzles, the best puzzles requires the player to flip different slices of scenery to create a pathway.

However, whilst simplicity is welcome, Tengami does lack some density in its puzzles – it is a puzzle game after all. It is not because the game lacks opportunities to create innovative and intriguing puzzles; in fact the concept of playing through a pop-up book allows mechanics similar to those experienced in Portal, and though the player may get glimpses of familiarity, the opportunities remain unused. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, and perhaps Tengami is meant to be a peaceful experience, rather than a gaming experience. There is a fascinating parallel to Dear Esther without the narrative and first-person perspective, but with the atmospheric environment and minimalistic interaction.

As previously mentioned, Tengami’s greatest strength remains the sublime artwork. The game is simply beautiful. The obvious inspiration from Japanese architecture, nature and landscapes is striking and ultimately creates a very appealing atmosphere. This is crucial for any point-and-click game with minimal player interaction and control, but Tengami does a stellar job.

The game remains a peaceful experience, rather than an actual gaming experience.

Tengami remains a peaceful experience, rather than an actual gaming experience.

Tengami is a very unique and innovative game inspired by Japanese nature and traditional pop-up books, and whilst the entire setting is highly appealing, the game lacks density in its puzzle. Players looking for challenging and lengthy gameplay should thus look elsewhere, but those who appreciates a peaceful and beautiful journey in an environment like this with minimum interaction will very much enjoy Tengami. 

Buy Tengami on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/299680/

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

Please note that this review is reviewing the PC version exclusive to Steam.