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.

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. 

A journey to the Outer-Poles

In a desperate attempt to escape a calamitous attack on Rughzenhaide Castle and securing the life of Princess Selphin Rughzenhaide, the royal guardian Ritona Reighnvhasta performs an unorthodox and highly hazardous teleportation spell. The untested spell, utilizing the rich and extremely powerful manastreams, quickly shows a greater test of Ritona’s skills as a manakravter than expected, and the two young women find themselves alive, but stranded on the other side of the planet in foreign lands surrounded by mysterious characters as a result.

Princess Selphin and Ritona must now enter an adventurous and circuitous journey back to Rughzenhaide to face their assailants and re-take what’s rightfully Selphin’s… and without further ado, welcome to the first milestone, or part, in the fault miniseries by Japanese doujin circle ALICE IN DISSONANCE, published by Sekai Project and realized by 1137 Kickstarter backers.

The art and character design is done nicely and suits the anime-genre perfectly. Worth noting is how the male characters are slightly westernized.

The artwork is very well made and will be eye-candy for anime lovers.

It is important to stress for readers unfamiliar or new with the genre that this is not a game; nor an interactive novel. In fact fault is verging on being a kinetic visual novel (a novel with pictures and audio), rather than an actual visual novel, as the player is met with only one interactive choice which seemingly has no significant importance for how the story unfolds. An increased amount of interactive choices would have been appreciated as the otherwise very controlled kinetic-approach undeniably puts a lot of pressure on the story. The prologue does in this regard appear slightly light-hearted, but it nonetheless manages to set the scene for a delightfully intriguing story following the mysterious and fascinating Rune character.

The mysterious Rune, whom quickly befriends Princes Selphin and Ritona upon their arrival in Kadia City, suddenly disappears the day before their planned departure. Princes Selphin, whose body, like Ritona’s, is running out of natural mana and thus energy, insists that they dedicate some of their limited time to figure out what happened to Rune, and whether she requires their help. And with that decision, the two young women enters a very dark rabbit hole…

Innocence can not always hide dark and terrifying secrets, or can it…?

fault -milestone one– is exquisitely accompanied by an impressive instrumental soundtrack. Unfortunately some tracks are somewhat short, and slow-readers will thus experience several repeating tracks as a result. However, repeating tracks are compensated by immersive suspense-music which intensifies perfectly following the story line. Overall, the soundtrack accomplishes everything a well-made soundtrack should – which is great and very appealing in a visual novel!

The user interface is moreover surprisingly beautiful and super simple to use – unlike other visual novels which have a tendency to be slightly clunky. The reader is met with neat saving- and loading-features as well as an encyclopedia which may be accessed at any time. The encyclopedia is extremely helpful due to the occasional and very complex descriptions of mana- and manakravte terminology as readers, whom may feel inclined to skip a few information-heavy paragraphs, can catch up if need be. Things like locales and noteworthy items are moreover covered.

The villains are share a special mysterious and, admittedly, highly interesting aura.

The villains all share an unique and highly mysterious aura.

In conclusion, fault -milestone one- remains nothing but a very polished visual novel with an intriguing text-only story starring mysterious and dark characters in an Earth-like fantasy world. The artwork is great and the soundtrack accompanies both art and story impressively. However, due to fault being the first part in a mini-series, readers will be left with several unanswered questions and a keen desire for closure. So, ALICE IN DISSONANCE and Sekai Project; hurry up!

Buy -fault- milestone one- on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/286260/

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

Please note that this review is reviewing the director’s cut version exclusive to Steam. 

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.

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/