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.

 

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.

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

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. 

An undead beat ’em-up marathon

I dare you.

I dare you to stand face-to-face with some of the most iconic, obscure and frightening horror monsters in an unforgiving, rouge-like 16-bit environment packed with zombies and no easy escape. I dare you to play a game in which the difficulty only increases until the inevitably and permanent death occurs… unless, of course, you against all odds manage to survive twelve days of horror and complete the game. Welcome to Devil’s Dare by Singaporean developer Secret Base – a beat’em up game heavily inspired by classic and beloved mid-90s arcade games.

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16-bit simplicity and an otherwise minimalistic interface greets the player.

The essential mechanics of beat’em up and side-scrolling games are very simple, and whilst Devil’s Dare delightfully maintains that simplicity, it also introduces a range of new elements through six playable classes and plenty of weapon upgrades. The game initially offers four playable characters and two unlock-able characters; all four main characters being strongly inspired by games and comics such as Legend of Zelda, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Golden Axe to a degree where they may be considered as tributes. Unfortunately the otherwise well-polished characters feel much alike due to utilizing the same attack techniques and controls. This ultimately means that when the player has mastered one class, they have, with the exception of the different movement speed, mastered the rest.

A very interesting aspect to Devil’s Dare, and quite unique from other beat’em up games, is the implementation of the rouge-like permanent death. Similar to how old arcade games ended upon death, and required you to throw another coin in the slot, Devil’s Dare requires the player to either purchase a new life with the collected cash, or, if they can’t pay, wipe the save and restart. This strongly encourages and motivates the player to play more strategically than they usually would in similar beat’em up games; it’s highly rewarding to lure multiple enemies together for a good blow, for instance. Though, doing so is not entirely without risk, and with the steep and constantly increasing difficulty dying becomes both inevitably and very expensive. However, with every attempt the player refines their skills slightly and discovers new tactics and thus gradually progress further and further in the otherwise lethal maps.

All levels features an iconic and, if you have watched any cult horror movies, recognizable horror character.

All levels features an iconic and, if you have watched any cult horror movies, recognizable horror character.

The aforementioned simplicity is especially present in the combat system where only two buttons are utilized during the actual combat – Z and X. This would under normal circumstances appear very limiting and restricting for a game solely about combat, but Devil’s Dare has greatly improved the traditional beat’em up gameplay beyond just implementing the permanent death. By placing blows and hits correctly whilst mastering the movement, players can rack up fatalities (somewhat similar to the classic K.O’s) and achieve mana-, food- and large(r) cash drops. The more fatalities the player perform, albeit at a higher risk, the more mana and thus special attacks become accessible.

Furthermore, the more money the player collects, the bigger chance they stand to complete the game as money unlocks weapon- and character upgrades (i.e. attack speed, defence, health..) and, most importantly, more lives. The significant role of cash can in other words be simplified to a matter of either living or dying – an importance which the permanent-death feature simply stresses even further. The above elements are unfortunately only applicable for single-player sessions as playing the local (no option for online matchmaking) two-four player co-up significantly changes the game. The enemies are not particularly stronger, faster nor more frequent – something which ultimately makes the game significantly easier with just two players playing locally. Devil’s Dare should thus not be bought for its co-op-option, but rather for single-player gamers interested in a truly hardcore challenge.

Devil's Dare

Oh dear… again.

Devil’s Dare is in many ways a nostalgic trip to the 90s arcade games, on drugs. The game introduces the player to a highly challenging world dominated by unforgiving zombies and iconic horror monsters. It features simple gameplay and combat mechanics, but by borrowing rouge-like elements and implementing character- and weapon progression, Devil’s Dare manages to deliver an interesting and fun beat’em up experience which both newcomers and veterans alike can enjoy.

So.. do you dare?

Purchase Devil’s Dare on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/279580

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

Refined Tower Defense

Greetings, Commander!

The Awakening happened roughly six years ago and introduced a stunning replayability accompanied with an impressive simplicity and challenging gameplay – ultimately setting the scene for a very solid game in an otherwise seemingly stagnated Tower Defense-genre. Today, after more than half a decade, a humble Kickstarter-campaign and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, developer Hidden Path Entertainment is once again ready to unleash the endless and lethal waves of aliens unforgivably. The only thing left to ask is whether or not the sequel manages to deliver the same way the original did.

Welcome, or rather, welcome back to Defense Grid 2.

Simplicity is often the road to success, and Hidden Path Entertainment seems to have found their very own path. Separated defense grid systems on the verge of invasion welcomes the player.

Simplicity is often the road to success, and developer Hidden Path Entertainment has undeniably found their very own path as separated and isolated defense grid systems on the verge of invasion welcomes the player.

By the above statement and screenshot it is likely obvious for returning fans that Defense Grid 2 hasn’t advanced noticeably from The Awakening; nor reinvented the genre by any means. Aliens are indeed still trying to steal your treasured and life-depending energy cores, and you are once again required (and rewarded accordingly) to defend them best possible. However, whilst the core game mechanics and graphics hasn’t changed significantly, Hidden Path Entertainment has managed to refine their product even further through a range of small tweaks and fixes solely focused on creating and improving a smooth, challenging and entertaining gameplay. They have moreover added a humorous and fully voiced (though, and lets face it, very frivolous to the actual campaign) story as well as twelve (!) different game modes to encourage a whole new level of replayability.

It is evident that Defense Grid 2 utilizes a ton of content originally created in The Awakening. However, it is important to stress that re-using and drawing inspiration from previous games when creating a sequel is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact it can be a very appealing and useful approach. By welcoming veteran players with known and well-loved elements of nostalgia, a developer is able to jump-start the community by having the veterans foster it. Defense Grid 2 is a great example of this, and new players will thus be welcomed by a lively Steam Community Hub, thousands of veteran players and an active developer.

The difficulty drastically increases and will prove a challenge to many veteran players as well.

However, despite the strong parallels to the original game and guaranteed nostalgia trips for veterans, Defense Grid 2 depends on attracting new players to whom all the aforementioned changes means nothing as they haven’t played the original. This ultimately means that if you haven’t played The Awakening, you will experience the game as it is. What new players will find is a game which graphically appears slightly outdated, but nonetheless feels very solid.

A natural question would then be what a solid game is? The gameplay in Defense Grid 2 is arguably very straightforward and seemingly quite simple – but do not get fooled! Whilst the player indeed is required to defend best possible by utilizing up to ten different and unique towers from several waves of aliens, the difficulty increases significantly and almost exponentially. The drastic increase in difficulty is both very motivating and infuriating, but nonetheless greatly improves the replayability as just one wrong tower, a mistimed upgrade or a missed special-attack effectively can result in the game being lost. Furthermore, the towers, aliens and map design seem to have accomplished some sort of harmony with the gameplay and controls as it all works really well together.

Five planets with four missions on each in increasing difficulty welcomes the player. Each map may furthermore be played in 12 different game modes - beyond the story mode!

Five planets with four missions on each in increasing difficulty welcomes the player. Each map may furthermore be played in 12 different game modes – beyond the story mode!

Developing and funding Defense Grid 2 proved quite a journey, but it is evident that the passion towards the series through all these years was kept intact. Developer Hidden Path Entertainment manages to take the best bits from the original and refine them even further to both please and welcome old as new fans. Whilst the game graphically doesn’t meet today’s standards, its challenging and simple gameplay compensates and ultimately provides a very solid game unlike any other in the genre. Defense Grid 2 is currently the game to get if you are looking for a Tower Defense game as everything about the game screams tower defense.

Buy Defense Grid 2, and go kill aliens, on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/221540

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

 

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.

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.