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

EARLY ACCESS: Enter the Darkest Dungeon

The darkness is growing ferociously as you cautiously take yet another step into the unknown and sacred ruins. You have lost track of place and time, and supplies are running low. In fact, the last torch has just burned out, and visibility as well as morale and courage has diminished beneath what you considered sanely possible. Yet you cannot abandon the mission. You have gone through too much. You have sacrificed too much and too many.

Your team was flawed. You are flawed, but yet you and your team managed to leave relentless battles against twisted and unimaginable bizarre foes alive – although mentally vulnerable and heavily affected by the increasing psychological stress and paranoia. You are verging on a mental breakdown, and struggle to stop your natural survival instincts of abandoning your team and your mission, but you manage to find the last bit of courage, the last bit of hope, and take yet another step. The darkness thirstily inhales your fears as you approach the next door…

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Darkest Dungeon features an astonishing hand-drawn atmosphere.

The roguelike-genre has experienced a major renaissance the past few years with hundreds of games released last year alone, and every so often, a game stands out. This is one of them. This is Darkest Dungeon, a challenging roguelike turn-based RPG with innovative and highly intriguing game mechanics by developer Red Hook. It is hard to properly compare the game to others, but in all its essence, Darkest Dungeon remains a visually stunning dungeon-crawler similar to games such as Legends of Grimrock, but with clever and very innovative game mechanics.

The player must lead a team of four flawed heroes through twisted forests, crypts and ruins (the game currently has three completed dungeons, but more dungeons have been announced). Unlike traditional RPG games, all heroes experience psychological pressure as well as their subsequent side effects. The system does not necessarily interfere with the progression nor development however, but when the stress-factor becomes too high it will heavily affect the heroes. Whilst most side-effects are negative and mostly temporary, some effects are positive and will benefit the hero through all future endeavours. Character progression and development thus largely depends on the outcome of the psychological-dice roll.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Character progression is due to the affliction-system highly unique and very interesting.

Players will moreover manage a small village which functions as your party’s headquarters. The various buildings allow the heroes to reduce their stress through either drinking, gambling, medieval treatment, prayer or meditation. Though, every stress-reducing activity is expensive and with the party heavily relying on gear (torches, rations, medicine and bandages) for the next mission it becomes a matter of priorities. Additionally, players need money to fund the heroes’ personal equipment and skills. The many needs for money ultimately encourages the player to take further risks in an attempt to obtain more gold to secure further adventuring.

Darkest Dungeon is still – perhaps quite surprising – in early-access despite feeling like a near-complete game. The graphics and atmosphere is stunning and engrossing, the narration and voice acting is well-made and the gameplay feels reasonably balanced. The combat system is turn-based and heavily relies on positioning and picking the right heroes, skills and items. Failing to do so properly results in a brutal death which due to the roguelike-elements means, worst case scenario, permanently lost heroes (though, the player may abandon a mission, but doing so generates no gold to cover the restoration of the remaining heroes’ physical and mental health). With an announced six months of early-access-mode and dedicated developers, the game is bound to receive plenty of updates which only strengthens this recommendation.

Buy Darkest Dungeon (EARLY ACCESS) on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/262060/

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

EARLY ACCESS: Welcome to the Sunrider Academy

Introducing the second chapter of the Sunrider trilogy, developer Love In Space welcomes the player to the ever hectic student life at the imaginary Sunrider Academy campus. The player takes the role as Kayto Shields – a young and decently ambitious man whom, unable to decline, ends up being appointed as the school’s Club Manager. He finds himself forced to take the unwanted responsibility and must ensure the three worst-performing clubs regain a minimum of five members each, fix their respective administrations and compete in competitions. Kayto must moreover manage his already tight schedule to fit both a healthy focus on school, homework and exercise, as well as building relationships.

The controls and interaction are similar to other visual novels with the exception of the player's holo in the upper right corner. This gives, once activated, a nice overview of the players current progress.

The controls and interaction are similar to other visual novels with the exception of the player’s holo in the upper right corner. This gives, once activated, a nice overview of the players current progress.

Sunrider Academy requires the player to pay a constant and very cautious eye at Kayto’s extremely tight schedule in order to properly explore the different character paths. It is evident that the dating-like aspect is meant as the end-game (and likely with different endings depending on which character you attempt to pursue), whereas the time-management is a mere requirement to get started. This can prove a surprisingly challenging thing to accomplish however. Fortunately the game does offer various difficulties allowing players to simply enjoy and explore the various paths without fearing a bad ending. Though, as the game does offer a delightful amount of choices, playing on a difficulty risking a bad ending does make the player think more long-term when deciding.

An unique aspect to Sunrider Academy compared to other visual-novels and anime games is the character progression. All activities the player engages in awards points in various categories (RPG-players, read: skilltrees) such as intelligence, luck, charisma and fitness. All events throughout the game are either directly or indirectly related to these parameters – passing an exam requires a high intelligence, for instance. Failing to manage your time properly means an increased stress-level followed by a higher risk of failing everyday activities and ultimately less points. Similar, success in dating depends on these parameters.

The game is, in its current state, very solid, but it's evident that players only get to experience glimpses of the final product.

The game is, in its current state, very solid, but it’s evident that players only get to experience glimpses of the final product – image source.

However, these types of games does not appeal to everyone, and should not be purchased nor played by everyone. Whilst Steam has experienced an exponential increase of respectively visual novels and anime games throughout 2014, the genre does remain extremely unique and requires a genuine interest (or curiosity!) in anime. If you enjoy anime, reading and dating-like simulation (or perhaps just the everyday management similar to The Sims), Sunrider Academy appears to be a very solid game to explore. It is moreover beginner-friendly for players unfamiliar or inexperienced with the genre.

It is important to stress that Sunrider Academy mostly feels like an extended demo for what’s to come in its current state – one can expect about four of the announced thirty hours of gameplay. However, the developer appears very active and does listen to community feedback, so the estimated months of early-access might be worth the wait. In the meantime I’d recommend to check out the free demo if any of the above sounds appealing!

Buy Sunrider Academy (EARLY ACCESS), or download the DEMO, on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/340730/

Play Sunrider Mask of Arcdius (F2P) on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/313730/

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

Fancy Skulls – a procedural death labyrinth

I was super excited back in January when an early-access version of Fancy Skulls from developer tequibo was made available for purchase on respectively the Humble Bundle platform and the IndieGameStand. Arguably the game was still work-in-progress back then, but the Unity-based program already had some interesting and unique elements to offer.

Recently, back in June, Fancy Skulls was released on Steam as an early-access game after being GreenLit by the community. The latter is especially important to bear in mind as this review is based solely on version 0.7.2, and several elements are thus likely still subjects to change in future updates. However, the accomplishment of being GreenLit and the constant flow of updates throughout many months clearly shows a dedicated developer and a game worth writing about.

Fancy Skulls rewards the player for taking their time to aim properly as all enemies have a weak spot.

Fancy Skulls is an interesting, roguelike first-person shooter set in a mysterious, surreal and ever dangerous labyrinth inhabited by a range of monster eggs which comes alive as the player triggers the room. The first thing which strikes the eye is the unique and very abstract graphics – especially the enemies have a very unique and intriguing design, in fact, they stand out as something which you haven’t seen in any game before.

Secondly comes the very straightforward and smooth movement (seemingly inspired by games like Unreal Tournament or Quake) and mouse-control – something which is done very likeable for a game created in Unity. Fancy Skull utilizes the standard WASD-controls, but the player will soon discover that movement and time can be altered and changed. An example hereby is a kite, which instantly changes the gameplay significantly by allowing the player to fly.

Chests and crates are scattered throughout most rooms, adding a treasure-hunter element.

Chests and crates are scattered throughout most rooms, adding a treasure-hunter element.

This brings me to the gameplay. Fancy Skulls has one, seemingly simple and straightforward goal; complete level 1-9. Without dying, of course. Though, after the first few deaths completing all nine levels and all rooms without dying suddenly appears quite a challenge. And truth be told, it is. The different enemies requires an individual analysis – does it move, if yes, how and where is its weak spot. The latter is not always as obvious as you’d like it to be – something which ultimately forces the player to position themselves to get a clear shot – an act which needs to be done flawlessly as each room locks down until all enemies are cleared.

However, the most important aspect the Fancy Skull’s gameplay is the range of items and upgrades gathered from chest and purchased from stores. The different items furthermore appear very balanced as players are forced to wait for mana regeneration before an item may be used again, and since each item and upgrade is done on the cost of another item or upgrade.

Keys, coins or ammo-packs are found in most rooms and rewarding upon clearing a room.

Keys, coins or ammo-packs are found in most rooms and/or rewarded upon clearing a room.

The stores (or, rather, vendors) – which currency is coins picked up after completing a room or gathered from drops – allows the player to upgrade their weapon(s) as they see fit. I found the standard revolver to be very powerful by sacrificing six-shots to just one (but with all six bullet’s damage in one) and purchasing a no-ammo upgrade – effectively creating a sniper rifle. Upgrading weapons does allow for some strategic gameplay as some upgrades are weak against certain type of enemies while some are powerful against other enemies.

A massive difference compared to other similar games is the limited ammunition, required aiming and otherwise strategic planning of weapon upgrades. These elements does all contribute towards making Fancy Skulls truly unique while offering a great replay-ability.

One of the many items ignites nearby enemies.

One of the many items ignites nearby enemies.

Roguelike games have always been a part of the gaming scene, but only a fair few first person shooters are vaguely fitting the sub-genre’s requirements of permanent death and procedural level generation. Not only is Fancy Skulls one of them, but the game is likely to set a new standard and be an inspiration for new games within this genre – especially considering the fact that the game is still being developed!

Fancy Skulls is truly fancy, and it deserves more recognition than it already has achieved. The game is highly recommended with an interesting gameplay, surreal and abstract graphics and hours of re-playability.

Buy Fancy Skulls on Steam here:
http://store.steampowered.com/app/307090/

Buy Fancy Skulls directly from tequibo (and get a Steam key as well):
http://www.fancyskulls.com/