Back to Bed Featured

Back to Bed Review

Developer: Bedtime Digital Games Publisher: Bedtime Digital Games Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – Steam After delighting in puzzler RUSH, my attention shifted back toward puzzle games. Back to Bed first intrigued me thanks to an incredibly distinctive art style […]

Cloud Chamber Featured

Cloud Chamber Review

Developer: Investigate North Publisher: Investigate North Platform: PC – Steam Alternate reality games hold a very special place in my heart. This overlooked genre places you – the player – in something that seems much larger than a simple game. […]

Eidolon Featured

Eidolon Review

Developer: Ice Water Games Publisher: Ice Water Games Platform: PC – Direct, Steam Eidolon is perhaps the mellowest game I’ve played this year. The premise is simple enough. You’re all alone in a wooded landscape. With nothing on your person, the […]

Blackbay Asylum Featured

Blackbay Asylum Review

Developer: TAD Productions AB Publisher: KISS ltd Platform: PC – GamersGate, Steam I play a lot of games. Many of them are indie, and some are certainly odd. With that said, I don’t think any other game has been this […]

Gods Will Be Watching Featured

Gods Will Be Watching Review

Developer: Deconstructeam Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform: PC – GOG, Steam Gods Will Be Watching was a very hyped game prior to release. This continuation of fanfare from the Indiegogo success was expected, but even those who didn’t pledge freaked out. The […]

 

Early Access Preview: Broforce

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Broforce is one heck of an action game with a title that I must admit annoys me. “Bro” this and “bro” that seems incredibly juvenile but, hey, many people apparently find it amusing. Broforce takes bro-isms to the extreme by letting players control a ton of action movie heroes. As the vast majority of Hollywood action blockbusters star incredibly muscular men, your cast of playable characters is 100% bro. You’ll likely recognize the likes of Rambo, Blade, The Terminator, Indiana Jones, Judge Dredd, and many others. Their pixelated appearances are quite cute.

Players run through 2D levels filled with enemies popping up everywhere. Sometimes these are just puny soldiers and other times they’re gigantic machine gun-wielding men or even machines. Getting hit once kills you so don’t get hit! On every stage there are cages that house a hero. By saving them you obtain an extra life and immediately become that character. Therein lies one of the biggest problems I currently have with the game. You can’t see who the character is before you activate them.

Broforce Featured

This wouldn’t be a big deal if every Broforce character were equally awesome. Unfortunately, some are really annoying to use. It’s rarely the case that most players will become accustomed to every character on a fighting roster and it’s much the same in this action game. Extra lives are great but not when you waste one thanks to a poor character choice.

Despite the lovely explosion-filled pixel graphics, excellent music, and easy to grasp gameplay, Broforce is lacking a real reason to keep playing. In either single player or online modes stages still tend to play out the same way. It just feels like some integral component that incites copious replays still isn’t there. Thankfully this is just the Early Access version. Given more time Broforce may be worth investing in once it launches.

Back to Bed Review

Back to Bed Featured

Back to Bed Logo

Developer: Bedtime Digital Games
Publisher: Bedtime Digital Games
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – Steam

After delighting in puzzler RUSH, my attention shifted back toward puzzle games. Back to Bed first intrigued me thanks to an incredibly distinctive art style but it were the mechanics that sold me. Just like RUSH, you guide something (in this case a sleepwalker named Bob) to his bed. And, in a more similar twist, Bob walks in one direction and turns right when running into objects. On its own, is Back to Bed an excellent new puzzle game?

Unfortunately, I feel it falls short of its promise. Perhaps it’s more that the tremendous focus on artistry kept it from becoming a truly engaging experience. After all, the art is lovely as an obvious homage to M.C. Escher, Salvador Dali, and Rene Magritte. When a game looks this great, though, you expect equal parts greatness within the product itself.

Back to Bed Featured

To be fair, Back to Bed delivers a serviceable puzzle game on a first playthrough. The biggest issue was that it was surprisingly simple and fast (taking under two hours to beat). The difficulty complaint is addressed by nightmare modes of the same stages. Completing nightmare stages is tremendously challenging, but rewarding!

My biggest issue was that the game attempts to play with perspective, but does so only sparingly. As such, when it happens you don’t expect it and may fail many times by not being aware of the weird perspective being integral for puzzle solving. Of course, beyond this the puzzle controls themselves are a bit borked. Sometimes you simply can’t place objects where you want them. As some puzzles are very time-limited this leads to annoying failures due to the controls. Problematic controls in a puzzle game are a huge problem.

Back to Bed is an imperfect game with a lovely aesthetic. If they had pushed creativity further it would be worth rewarding those attempts. However, beyond the visual artistry, everything about Back to Bed feels tepid.


Score: 2

2 out of 5 alpacas


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Cloud Chamber Review

Cloud Chamber Featured

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Developer: Investigate North
Publisher: Investigate North
Platform: PC – Steam

Alternate reality games hold a very special place in my heart. This overlooked genre places you – the player – in something that seems much larger than a simple game. By involving you directly in a narrative, often by emailing or even calling you, these so-called ARGs brought games into a new dimension. Unfortunately, there are very few out there. Although Cloud Chamber is not really an ARG, it feels very much like one. So let’s dive into exactly what this game is!

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Eidolon Review

Eidolon Featured

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Developer: Ice Water Games
Publisher: Ice Water Games
Platform: PC – DirectSteam

Eidolon is perhaps the mellowest game I’ve played this year. The premise is simple enough. You’re all alone in a wooded landscape. With nothing on your person, the only thing to do is explore and survive. During your travels you come upon berries, animals, and letters. While the former keep you alive, the latter fuel your journey. After all, it suggests there are others out there somewhere if you just keep looking!

The game initially appealed to me because it seemed a mix of Gone Home and Proteus. Of course, that reductive way of looking at it does Eidolon a disservice. Unlike either of those, I found myself immediately hooked to this calm, beautiful post-apocalyptic landscape. Trees, bushes, and animals are simple polygons but this look definitely works. The way Ice Water Games utilized color particularity is something to behold.

Eidolon Featured

Understanding Eidolon in even a simple sense requires spending time with it. At first you might jump off a cliff only to find it seriously wounds you. For me, my beginning was trashed due to walking straight up to a bear. Unlike other games where I don’t care much for health, I wanted to do everything in my power to stay alive (and safe) here. Eventually I learned to pay attention to nature – particularly birds. Although there is much more that could be said about the game’s mechanics it would spoil the pleasure of working them out yourself.

Although you don’t have to find and read the many notes scattered about this massive landscape it adds another layer to the experience. Being drawn to the story helps add “purpose” to the game where others might not see it. With that said, simply wandering around in Eidolon has become a favorite new method of unwinding for me. I invite others out there to enter this gorgeous digital landscape and uncover its secrets.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Blackbay Asylum Review

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Developer: TAD Productions AB
Publisher: KISS ltd
Platform: PC – GamersGate, Steam

I play a lot of games. Many of them are indie, and some are certainly odd. With that said, I don’t think any other game has been this weird while still managing to grip me this year. Blackbay Asylum defies expectations, messes with convention, all while being a point and click adventure game. Well, let’s dive right in and try to define this strange creation.

Blackbay Asylum focuses on a murderer named Doug. He arrives at Blackbay Asylum after finally being caught. However, once he arrives everything goes absolutely wrong. This game has very little to do with the whole “inmates running the asylum” trope. Instead, this place becomes an apparent portal to hell. Lovely!

Despite all the gore, death, and creepiness around him, Doug feels perfectly at home. He makes jokey quips at pretty much anything early on. Jokes pummel the player so much that at least a few stick. As you explore the asylum you engage in a multitude of puzzles. Many are easy, a few are complex, and sometimes they feel annoying. For the most part they seemed fair.

Blackbay Asylum Featured

The dressing of Blackbay Asylum is all very odd, but one design change completely surprised me. For the first few chapters the game is presented from a top down perspective. But after that, it shifts back and forth between that and first person perspective. Why? I’m honestly not sure! In first person you’re given an up close look at puzzles that otherwise wouldn’t be possible with a top down view. Neither view feels like a last-minute decision, either.

Graphically, the game definitely feels behind the times. This is true of the audio often as well as some jokes. Still, the incredible oddness of everything kept me playing. I just had to see where the story went and if anything else unexpected would occur (as continued to be the case). Blackbay Asylum is definitely not for everyone, and probably asking too much at $20, but it certainly hooked me.


Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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Gods Will Be Watching Review

Gods Will Be Watching Featured

Gods Will Be Watching Logo

Developer: Deconstructeam
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform: PC – GOG, Steam

Gods Will Be Watching was a very hyped game prior to release. This continuation of fanfare from the Indiegogo success was expected, but even those who didn’t pledge freaked out. The general consensus post-launch is that the game delivered was not quite what people expected. Personally, I had no idea what to expect, and jumped right in. This led to a very intense game experience.

The basics of Gods Will Be Watching focus around it being a pixelated point and click adventure game. Players engage in scenarios and then must interact with objects or people and make choices. Each choice seems important because they often mean the difference between life or death for various characters. In a way, it’s similar to Heavy Rain (but we’ll get back to that…). It even has a Catherine-like element where, at the end of every level, you’re shown what choices most other players made.

All of these segments tie together in an overarching narrative which – spoilers – doesn’t appear to have significant differences regardless of what you do. I don’t want to touch on plot specifics because the entire game is crafted around telling said plot, but it end up falling short of its heady notions. The writing itself is nice, but you end up hearing some of the same conversations a lot after failing. It also may try a bit too hard at times for a “gritty” and “serious” narrative.

Gods Will Be Watching Featured

And, yes, you’re going to fail a lot. You cannot save mid stage so any late screwups start you from the beginning of a stage again. This proved to be a horrendous move with a Russian roulette segment early on. After many players complained about the total unfairness of these random elements, the developer added more difficulties. This way, now most players can actually beat it, not just those willing to suffer through countless replays guessing about what to do when.

It seems that Gods Will Be Watching is one of those “love it or hate it” games. I was left feeling nonplussed about the whole thing but appreciate that it tried something different. I’d be very interested to see what Deconstructeam makes next.


Score: 2.5

2 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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The Room Review

The Room Featured

The Room Logo

Developer: Fireproof Games
Publisher: Fireproof Games
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – Steam

In 2012, The Room launched on iOS and quickly gained attention. There was something about this puzzle game that attracted players. Without access to an iOS device, I sat dejected and waited for an eventual Android port. And yet, when that came, my attention was elsewhere. It is only now, with the Steam release, that I’ve finally gotten to spend time with The Room.

I think it was well worth the wait. The Room begins in a room with a large, ornate box at the center. There’s a letter on top of the box which is more than a bit cryptic and taunts the player into action. Can you solve the puzzles of this box and whatever lies within it? As such, you set to work by examining every keyhole, button, and doodad in hopes of figuring out its mysteries.

This puzzle game keeps things fresh by providing a host of puzzles all across the box. Once you solve them all then it’s time to move onto a new chapter. With new features of the mechanism to solve your brain is constantly being stressed to solve every last aspect. Many puzzles just require paying attention. Some require a bit more thought, though they rarely become a huge annoyance. If so, there’s a hint function available to save players from stressing out. Personally, I felt quite comfortable with the difficulty setting and imaginative puzzle types.

The Room Featured

The biggest difference between The Room’s mobile beginnings and Steam release are the visuals. Now every facet of the mysterious box looks absolutely stunning. Puzzles have also been tweaked to suit mouse controls. Still, a few puzzles felt obviously geared toward touch screen functionality. For example, one puzzle requires the player to click and drag for a fair bit of time to solve it. If you let up for even a second then the puzzle resets. It would be much easier to accomplish this constant “dragging” by touch controls.

The Room on PC costs $3 more than its smartphone brethren. If beautiful graphics are of most importance to you then it’s definitely worth the additional fee. However, if you don’t mind and want the best puzzle interactivity then it really seems mobile is the way to go. In either case, The Room is a great puzzle game. I wish it didn’t end so soon.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Gold Rush! Classic Review

Gold Rush! Featured

Gold Rush! Boxart

Developer: Doug MacNeill, Ken MacNeill
Publisher: Sierra, KISS ltd
Platform: PC – Direct, DOS, GamersGate, Green Man GamingSteam

After having recently whet my appetite with 1849, the California Gold Rush has become a topic I’ve found myself more interested in. Surprisingly, there aren’t a ton of games covering the time period. Gold Rush!, originally developed in 1988, is set right before the gold rush in 1848. Instead of being all about panning for gold, the game is more of a travelogue about what it took to actually make your way to California.

This is certainly an interesting approach, and one that many might not expect. You begin the game with a steady job at the bank, a house, and no family to speak of. 11 years ago your brother left town and you haven’t heard from him since – until today. As such, you decide to head out to find him. Of course, rumors have also been spreading about gold in California which means many other people have decided to head West too.

Gold Rush! focuses primarily on the journey from New York to California. Players choose from one of three routes to take: Cape Horn, Panama, or by land. Each route offers a completely different experience and puzzles to solve. Each route also provides copious information about the journey. Sometimes text glosses over harsh realities of the time while at other moments it faces them head on. It was certainly interesting to experience each journey, to say the least.

Gold Rush! Featured

Some modern gamers like to make fun of adventure games with text parsers. In this game, all you ever really have to do is combine an action and object such as “give money” or “take rope” so it’s not bad at all. The graphics are about what you would expect from late 80s tech and the audio is nearly nonexistent (and grating when it chimes in). Still, the journey is quite cool! It’s only once you finally reach California that the puzzles become more challenging, and at times annoying. This weird shift in difficulty was definitely unexpected.

When you consider the time in which it was made, Gold Rush! is a very effective adventure game. It teaches players a bit about the California Gold Rush and offers multiple ways to experience that trip. The Steam release even includes design documents for the game, which are an unexpected treat. Pick up Gold Rush! and see if you could survive the trek to California.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Paca Picks: PlayStation DTL-H1001 Blue Debugging Station

This is a PlayStation “debugging station”. These were released as DTL-H100x (blue) and DTL-H120x (green) in the United States, Japan, and Europe – my version is DTL-H001 (NTSC-U). Unlike Net Yaroze systems which were purchasable by public hobbyists, debug systems were used by development studios to quickly test games. As such, the console plays burned discs and is also region free.

How did I come upon this unit? It was sitting alongside 20 other PlayStation systems at my local thrift store. In contrast to the grey exteriors they all had I was immediately drawn to and curious about the blue version. After taking it home I learned it was a debug unit and was incredibly pleased since it had only cost $5. Unfortunately, the blue controller was nowhere to be found.

Who is VNM-Chicago? Presumably they owned all the systems that were unceremoniously dumped off at Goodwill. Maybe one day a Net Yaroze will pop up there too…

Pretentious Game Review

Pretentious Game Featured

Pretentious Game Logo

Developer: Keybol
Publisher: Bulkypix, Plug In Digital
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – Armor Games, Steam

Pretentious is a word that many have used to describe the indie game community as of late. To some, video games that attempt to tell depressing, unique, or otherwise non-normative stories are purely seeking attention. They are quite pretentious. Although I don’t agree with the sentiment I was very intrigued to play a game with the gall to call itself Pretentious Game!

Pretentious Game is actually a series of four games (first released as Flash games online) that features simple graphics and gameplay. You play as a square, sometimes two, and platform in a 2D space toward completion. Much of what makes Pretentious Game is how it tweaks the long-established platformer formula.

Pretentious Game Featured

Each stage features a bit of text and this hints directly at how to solve each stage’s “puzzle” aspect. For example, an early stage suggests that flying would be neat. Lo and behold, your block can suddenly glide through the air for that level! Sometimes the hints are a bit more convoluted, as are the methods of activating them, but it still doesn’t take long to run through each one. It took me a little under an hour to beat Pretentious Game 1-4. Each tells its own vignettes and these were more interesting than expected given Pretentious Game’s own title.

Right now there are only four chapters and each is free on Flash game portals. Mobile devices offer the first for free and then ask for an in-app purchase to unlock the rest. In comparison, Steam’s $4.99 fee seems a bit steep. The graphics are improved and you get access to all future chapters, but if you don’t require PC play then mobile’s your best bet.


Score: 2.5

2 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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