Pathologic Featured

Pathologic Review

Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge Publisher: Ice-Pick Lodge Platform: PC – GOG Pathologic is one of the strangest games I have ever played. This isn’t due to the content, which is entirely understandable, but because its ability to shift from extremely good […]

LYNE Featured

LYNE Review

Developer: Thomas Bowker Publisher: Thomas Bowker Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS, Windows PC – Direct, itch.io Steam What makes a puzzle game enjoyable? Usually, it’s a heavy focus on one very simple concept that takes skill to master. LYNE follows this principle […]

140 Featured

140 Review

Developer: Carlsen Games Publisher: Carlsen Games Platform: PC – Direct, Steam One of my greatest loves in gaming is seeing how people create aesthetically interesting experiences. If they have some good gameplay to back it up then that’s just an […]

Words for Evil Featured

Words for Evil Review

Developer: Dylan Loney Publisher: Dylan Loney Platform: PC – Desura, itch.io, IndieGameStand RPGs usually seem a bit too unwieldy for me to play. I can’t help but view them as such long journeys with a requisite amount of dull grinding. Words […]

Snake Blocks Featured

Snake Blocks Review

Developer: Spooky Cat Publisher: Spooky Cat Platform: itch.io As a fan of snakes, I could never pass up a game called Snake Blocks. The name might be initially confounding, but it all makes sense once you see this is a […]

 

Pathologic Review

Pathologic Featured

Pathologic Boxart

Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge
Publisher: Ice-Pick Lodge
Platform: PC – GOG

Pathologic is one of the strangest games I have ever played. This isn’t due to the content, which is entirely understandable, but because its ability to shift from extremely good to annoyingly difficult in the span of playing for a few hours. This is a game that has earned a lot of acclaim over the years – enough to warrant a Kickstarter-funded remake! Even after finally playing it myself it’s hard to distill my complex reaction into a simple “I love/hate it” response.

Certainly, there’s a lot to love about Pathologic. The game allows you to play as one of three characters (third unlocked after a playthrough) entering into a slowly dying town. A plague has swept the area which leaves no one safe – not even you – from its grip. Visually, the world already looks dead with its desaturated browns, blacks, and greys. You hope to help people survive but that’s a massive task to accomplish.

It’s hard enough to save yourself. This is a survival game in the truest sense where you must think three steps ahead for what you need. Food, medicine, and the like are necessities and not just health boosts. If you can’t buy them you can always attempt to barter with townsfolk… or steal their stuff right out of their homes. There’s not a hyper obvious “good/bad” pathway, but characters will react with hostility, fear, or kindness based off what people are saying about you.

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The biggest problem with Pathologic is that it does so much to dissuade you from falling deeper into its world. First, the translation is pretty rough which means an English-speaker simply can’t get the full understanding of what’s going on (and may even be confused). The larger issue is the high barrier to entry for surviving in the game very long at all. Then there’s the combat which is primarily a test of patience than skill.

Despite these issues, Pathologic creates one stunning experience. It was far more innovative in 2005 than many games are today. Its experimentation may not have worked out perfectly, but it’s still a game worth playing. Here’s hoping the remake will fix the original issues without destroying its spirit!


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Early Access Preview: Night Shift

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When Night Shift first launched onto Steam Early Access it immediately compelled me, although likely not for the reasons developer Brandon Brizzi intended. It made me recall memories of playing Night Driver on Atari, as if that is something anyone would wish to emulate today. Night Shift is effectively a puzzle game in Early Access because the story needs to be filled out a bit more. Some puzzles may also require tweaking since it seems some players have a lot of trouble with them.

What is coolest about Night Driver at the moment is how it places you inside a car during the middle of the night with no other explanation. You drive in the dark and find lights – and ghosts. Why? This strangeness is immediately compelling. Puzzles relate to messing with light, as they did in Brizzi’s last game 1000 Amps. Ghosts provide vague hints to point players in the right direction but sometimes that isn’t enough.

Night Shift Featured

On multiple occasions I found myself confused with what to do next. It seemed as if the road repeated continuously with no way to break the cycle. Somehow, it always seemed just as my patience ran out that I would suddenly solve a puzzle. Pressing onward was sometimes a stilted process but it sure felt good to finally solve tough puzzles. Right now there’s at least one puzzle that hopefully gets tweaked, as it relies on watching a pattern that is very hard to see from the car’s angle.

Both from a visual and audio standpoint Night Shift is already 100% ready to go. I am a big fan of the pixelated objects in a 3D landscape. Their stark and simple coloration is pretty stylish as well. As for the music it is an excellent 80s-style selection. If you’re curious, here’s a link to artist Dance with the Dead’s “Out of Body” album page. “Robeast” is by far my favorite track in the game!

I enjoy Night Shift’s quiet, secretive tone. In some ways it worries me that too much exposition might be brought to the game’s final version. Whatever ends up happening this is still a tremendously unique title. Lovers of mysterious games should check it out.

LYNE Review

LYNE Featured

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Developer: Thomas Bowker
Publisher: Thomas Bowker
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS, Windows PC – Direct, itch.io Steam

What makes a puzzle game enjoyable? Usually, it’s a heavy focus on one very simple concept that takes skill to master. LYNE follows this principle perfectly thanks to an easy to grasp component of drawing lines. All you have to do is make connecting lines between shapes of the same color. The tricky part comes in thanks to limited spaces in which to draw these lines, as well as the requirement of connecting multiple colors without crossing pathways. Things quickly get challenging, but in a way that facilitates continued play.

I won’t lie, my first attempt at LYNE was superbly pitiful. After barely being introduced to the core components I found myself completely stuck. After frustrated fumbling I closed the game and came back to it later. Lo and behold, that brief time away allowed me to think about the problem from a different angle and solve it. Many puzzle games are like this and it’s that moment once you first start to really “grasp” the core mechanics that you can feel smart while whizzing through puzzles. The more I played, the better I became. Eventually there were even periods that I entered into the “puzzle zone” and seemed to solve many in a row with no issue at all.

LYNE Featured

LYNE is a game for people who enjoy these types of experiences, and simply want a playful title to mess with. The price is super low at $2.99, but the amount of puzzles included is frankly astronomical by comparison. Beyond the main selection of hundreds of puzzles there are also daily puzzles. These procedurally-generated puzzles come in different difficulties and are all still quite fun. Although I’ve yet to complete it, there’s probably at least six hours of main-game puzzles to work through. It would be nice if hints were available though to help in those moments where you feel impossibly stuck.

Beyond the enjoyable, and sometimes super difficult puzzle gameplay, it just looks good. The calm colors, paired with some really stylish design, helps it stand out from the puzzler pack. It also functions well, although a few tweaks could help a lot. My biggest gripe is not being able to partially redraw lines on my own terms instead of being forced to undo on their terms. Really, what needs to be emphasized about LYNE is the incredible wealth of solid gameplay you get. This is an excellent puzzle game and players get a huge value for their money.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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140 Review

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Developer: Carlsen Games
Publisher: Carlsen Games
Platform: PC – Direct, Steam

One of my greatest loves in gaming is seeing how people create aesthetically interesting experiences. If they have some good gameplay to back it up then that’s just an added bonus. 140 by Carlsen Games is a pretty good, if imperfect example of a game focused on creating a very specific look and feel. It was obvious as soon as the multi-colored menu loads that I would enjoy this game.

The graphics are incredibly minimal. Your avatar is a square/circle/triangle when the mood suits it. As you travel along the 2D stages, sections animate in time with the music. For example, a platform might move with the beat or disappear at that moment. This lends itself to rhythm-based platforming where you must always be on time to make jumps safely. It’s not too difficult, although bosses prove a tougher challenge.

140 Featured

I can’t get over how much these simplistic, stylish visuals appeal to me. All the color palettes work together perfectly. The shifts of color after collecting orbs, as well as how everything syncs and moves to the music is heavenly. Of course, some of this has to do with my enjoyment of the soundtrack to. To be fair, there don’t appear to be that many songs, but they’re good all the same.

My problem with 140 is not that it becomes challenging or unfair. Instead, I simply had a technical issue that made the timing on a jump nearly impossible. It seems at least one other person out there had the same issue. If not for that I would have completely fallen in love. Still, for most everyone else, I’d say 140 is a must-play.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Words for Evil Review

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Developer: Dylan Loney
Publisher: Dylan Loney
Platform: PC – Desura, itch.io, IndieGameStand

RPGs usually seem a bit too unwieldy for me to play. I can’t help but view them as such long journeys with a requisite amount of dull grinding. Words for Evil, although a bit of an RPG itself, is much more my speed. This 2D pixelated adventure lets you and a band of adventurers explore new lands and vanquish enemies in your path. However, it does so with a Scrabble-like mechanic rather than turn-based actions.

You begin with a lone adventurer as they battle through countless enemies. Each battle presents a board of letters on the screen. Your goal is to make as many words from it as possible, by string adjacent tiles together in 3 or more letter words. There’s a wrinkle to all this. Certain letters are colored. Only breaking these special tiles allows your side to attack. So it quickly becomes a game of not only finding any word on the field, but making sure you get in a lot of attacks as well.

Words for Evil Screenshot 1

There are two control schemes: One designed for keyboards and one for mice. Of course, the mouse clicking and dragging one seems to emulate a touch screen control concept. Using the mouse was my preferred play style early on until enemies became stronger. When it became necessary to string words together super quick, mouse play bogged me down with errors. On the other hand, keyboard controls work quite well. Just start typing out a word you see and Words for Evil immediately finds where you are to clear that space. One issue I did notice were certain words were not recognized by the game’s dictionary. Those moments were unexpected (and frustrating).

Although there’s not much story, you’ll spy a lot of other RPG genre conventions. Monsters drop loot, player stats increase over time, and there’s even room to stock a few potions. A few minigames also crop up from time to time. While still word-based, they offer a varied form of gameplay. Words for Evil is a pretty simple, fun way to spend a few hours. It might even teach you a few new words along the way.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Why Hatoful Boyfriend is a Visual Novel You Should Play

hatofulboyfriend

hatofulboyfriend

Hatoful Boyfriend is a visual novel which originally launched in 2011 by Hato Moa. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that the internet populace really took notice of it – even so, that was still a fairly niche audience. The fact that the game didn’t play nice with some modern OSes certainly didn’t help things. For whatever reason, Hatoful Bofyriend was then tweaked by Mediatonic to run on newer systems (alongside a few other little modifications/additions). It was around this point when a much larger audience took notice thanks to the remake’s release on Steam. Now, the game has “Overwhelmingly positive” reviews but most of which are done firmly tongue in cheek rather than much focus on possible merits.

The biggest trend that appeared was one of mock shock and jokes. Certainly, Hatoful Boyfriend was made to amuse, but the way so many reacted said one thing – they weren’t actually going to play it. Unfortunately, the oddball concept of a young woman going to high school with birds (and possibly falling for them) was too much for many to handle.  But in what way is this so different from most other visual novels currently on Steam? They tend to offer flighty impossible tales, often with implausible love interests (ex: the trope of tons of girls falling for one incredibly average guy).

One reason that I felt many distanced themselves far from Hatoful Boyfriend is because they cannot “be” the protagonist as they’re so used to. So far, most dissing of the game I’ve seen comes from guys who 1. don’t want to date pigeons 2. don’t want to date male pigeons. To be fair, no one should want to date pigeons – but something about the otome aspect makes it even harder for certain players to grasp. This is a shame and hopefully these players will reconsider playing a game that is about amusement and a simple story instead of serious romantic pursuits.

If you avoid Hatoful Boyfriend because it just seems too weird then I also ask you to reconsider. Yes, it is weird, and that’s part of the charm. This game offers a surprising amount of endings and is not just about being a goofy mess. Certain storylines are surprising in their emotional resonance.  Every bird has their own personality which compels one to learn more about them. Although it is not a modern classic of the visual novel genre by any stretch it is a fine value for its cost. There is so much more to this game than meets the eye – and so many people are missing out on it.

Are there problems with the experience? Yes, such as a very poor fast forward/skip text feature. The text appears the same as its original version, grammatical oddness and all. Still, Hatoful Boyfriend deserves more respect than it has received. If you ever find yourself running low on visual novels to play, then please pick it up. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Snake Blocks Review

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Developer: Spooky Cat
Publisher: Spooky Cat
Platform: itch.io

As a fan of snakes, I could never pass up a game called Snake Blocks. The name might be initially confounding, but it all makes sense once you see this is a puzzle title. Every stage includes 2 to 5 snakes and your goal is simple: Move snakes from their starting position to a goal. However, each snake can only be extended a certain amount of blocks. That’s where the puzzling element comes in. How can you organize snakes so they all reach their destinations?

It’s a lot harder than you might think! At first, only stages with 2 snakes are available and turn out to be fairly easy. Sometimes you must work snakes through blocky obstructions and other times work them around each other. In any case, once those stages are completed you enter the 3 snake arena (then 4 and 5). With more snakes comes far greater challenge. Sometimes you might think a puzzle is easy only to realize every snake but one can reach its goal. Thankfully, there’s no time limit or other factors forcing players into annoying conditions.

Snake Blocks Featured

 

Snake Blocks is full of visual personality. The color combinations between snakes and the striped backgrounds just pops in the best way. Similarly, the stylized block snakes are far more adorable than they have any right to be. I found myself taking screenshots simply thanks to the great aesthetics. An included puzzle editor offers creative players full power to create new stages (and tweak visuals as well).

The biggest issue I had while playing was moving snakes. Although you can move the camera it snaps to certain positions. Often, these angles obscure snakes. As such, I had to click and drag where I assumed a snake’s head was to get it moving into view again. Due to the isometric perspective there were also times that dragging a snake moved it to locations other than intended. Issues like these didn’t destroy my ability to play but did cause moments of frustration.

Check out Snake Blocks if you’re looking to give your mind a workout in short bursts throughout the week. It’s not perfect from a control standpoint, sure, but puzzles are still smartly designed. Beyond all that there’s the aesthetic which is simply too cute to ignore!


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Personal Nightmare Review

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Personal Nightmare Boxart

Developer: Horrorsoft
Publisher: Horrorsoft
Platform: PC – Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, GOG

Personal Nightmare is a great name for a horror game. And heck, there are definitely some horrifying moments in the title. However, this 1989 horror title is steeped with so much antiquated adventure gaming conventions that it is extremely hard to come back to today. It seems this is the case with most of Horrorsoft/Adventure Soft’s catalog (see Waxworks).

The best aspect of Personal Nightmare are the graphics. Pixel art has moved away from the “painterly” style that became prominent before 3D graphics took over so this all looks very refreshing. In particular, death scenes (which you’ll come across frequently) are super grisly. Rooms look distinct as well-meaning you won’t get lost in a maze of samey-looking sections. Of course, the map itself is huge meaning you can still get lost for other reasons.

Personal Nightmare Featured

This game uses a parser-based system with some graphical elements. A list of verbs is always present on the right side of the screen. Clicking on one helps fill out the text parser, although you can just as easily type out a full command by hand. Thankfully the inventory has a fully graphical representation although it has a max capacity. Weirdly, your briefcase within inventory provides a secondary inventory which is massive. So, start stuffing objects in there, although this might mess you up on later puzzles.

Speaking of puzzles, they’re where Personal Nightmare gets everything wrong. Not only are you required to carefully inspect every item, but many require inspection before a certain time. Time plays an integral role in the game meaning you can miss a necessary item thanks to dawdling. It’s unforgivable puzzle design as far as I’m concerned because only the most hardened adventure fans will give that a pass. Combine that with some finicky inventory management as well as clunky controls and it just becomes a huge annoyance. Personal Nightmare  is aptly named, but for all the wrong reasons.


Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas


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Blood: One Unit Whole Blood Review

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Blood: One Unit Whole Blood Boxart

Developer: Monolith Productions, 3D Realms
Publisher: GT Interactive, Atari
Platform: PC – GOG, Steam

Blood: One Unit Whole Blood might just be a game with the most redundant title around. It also happens to be a classic FPS from the 90s. Well, classic to some. I’d always heard murmurings of Blood alongside Doom and Quake but never got around to playing it myself – until now. I’ll tell you one thing, it certainly lives up to its name.

Of course a game called Blood is full of bloodstained nastiness but is there more to it than that? There’s a storyline, although it doesn’t seem to convey very much of interest. The scenes instead seem focused on showcasing awesome 3D models and lighting (awesome for the time, that is). Once you get beyond that it basically devolves into your standard older-style FPS.

Blood: One Unit Whole Blood Featured

Areas are all enclosed, although some are much larger than others. Movement is incredibly fast, almost as if the protagonist is wearing roller blades while decimating enemies. Said weapons are brutal although so are enemies. Even on the easiest difficulty the pace of Blood is fast and never lets up. If you can survive then there are a good deal of “episodes” to play. This is further enhanced by both the GOG and Steam versions including the Plasma Pak and Cryptic Passage expansion packs.

When compared to other games of the time period I feel that Blood was attempting to thematically outdo other games while maintaining a classic aesthetic. It has a neat Gothic feel at times, sure, but otherwise fails to stand out. Blood: One Unit Whole Blood is one of the many average shooters that have graced PCs over the years.


Score: 2.5

2 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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Devil’s Dare Review

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Developer: Secret Base
Publisher: Secret Base
Platform: PC – Steam

When I was young all the great beat ‘em ups had practically passed me by. Sure, I could still head to an arcade and crowd around The Simpsons Arcade Game, but outside of nostalgia this isn’t looked upon as a particularly good title. As my first “modern” home console was a Nintendo 64 all those arcade ports on SNES and Genesis also went ignored. With my warped perception of the genre, Devil’s Dare does indeed appear to channel the classic beat ‘em up aesthetic. You’ve got a choice of four fighters (to start), local co-op, pixel art, and a hefty difficulty. But does that work in today’s market?

Really, it depends what kind of player you are. If you cherish the intense difficulty arcade games presented then you’ll be right at home with Devil’s Dare. It even takes things up a notch by bringing permadeath into the equation. As you battle through four different stages you’ve got just one life. Getting killed means that run is over – unless you’ve accumulated enough money (or a Soul Token) to revive. Such items aren’t hugely common though so expect seeing Game Over often.

Devil's Dare Featured

Another reason someone might cherish beat ‘em ups is for the fun they had playing with friends or strangers at arcades. Again, the game hopes to recreate that experience by offering local co-op for up to four players. However, you won’t find any online component. Developer Secret Base stated online play is not in their plans. For some this is no big deal but for others it will prove challenging. Devil’s Dare was designed with multiplayer in mind. When you play solo everything is extremely tough. However, as soon as just two players team up there’s little trouble mowing down most monsters.

One facet I enjoyed a ton were all the references packed into the game. You’ll see obvious jabs at well known horror films, classic video games, and the like. Devil’s Dare most certainly has its heart in the right place. Enjoyment of the game comes down to your adoration for difficult beat ‘em ups and whether or not you can gather friends together to play around the computer. It might not be right for me, with my own friendships often tethered by the ‘net, but there’s definitely a fanbase out there hungry to dig in. Devil’s Dare captures the supreme difficulty of arcade games and does it with a goofy grin.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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