‘Reviews’

Pokémon Shuffle Review

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Developer: Genius Sonority
Publisher: The Pokémon Company
Platform: 3DS, Mobile – Android, iOS

It’s funny how much I’ve begun to embrace the idea of mobile gaming (though I obviously still vastly prefer consoles and handhelds). I used to be extremely against mobile games for a variety of reasons, but I finally caved sometime in the last year or so and begun playing several different ones. Pokémon Shuffle is my most recent mobile game obsession, and for a good reason.

Basically, Pokémon Shuffle is a match 3 puzzle game. You must match the same Pokémon in order to deal damage to your opponent and beat the stage. Pokémon Shuffle keeps things interesting by allowing you to use a bevy of different Pokémon on your team. Furthermore, you must keep in consideration the attack power, types, and skills of your Pokémon in order to assure victory and high stage rankings. Some stages are pretty simple and easy, especially in the beginning. However, they eventually become more complex and require a bit of critical thinking due to opponents creating “disruptions” that can make things quite hectic. There are also “expert stages” that are timed, and as such, really test your puzzle skills and dexterity!

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Now, I tried to play the original version of Pokémon Shuffle on the 3DS, but I just wasn’t feeling it after trudging through the initial tutorial stages. I decided to give Pokémon Shuffle a second chance when it released for mobile devices, and boy did I instantly like it much more on my phone than 3DS. Maybe it’s because of the vertical one-screen layout, or it could be because it’s easier to use a mobile device’s touchscreen versus the 3DS’s. It’s also way more gorgeous and vibrant.

Unfortunately, the mobile version of Pokémon Shuffle retains some of the same annoyances that were present in the 3DS version. For one, the wait time between regaining hearts (or energy) is ludicrous at 30 minutes. Another issue includes absolutely ridiculous stages and capture rates that pretty much require you to spend your precious coins on power-ups and great balls. Alas, this is a freemium game, so such problems are expected and have to be tolerated.

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Even weeks after release, I’m still fervently playing Pokémon Shuffle. It’s just too addicting and fun, and has me hopeful for Nintendo’s future on mobile platforms.


Pink Score: 4
4 out of 5 alpacas


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The Residents: Freak Show Review

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The Residents: Freak Show Boxart

Developer: The Cryptic Corporation
Publisher: The Voyager Company
Platform: PC

The Residents are a band which have been around since the 70s crafting seriously unique music and mixed media experiences. As a fan, I’ve hungered for years to pick up the multimedia CDs they produced in the early 90s. The Residents: Freak Show is the very first of these experiments and came out alongside a music CD of the same name.

At first, I feared this would be a seriously lackluster product. The adventure title certainly seems that way at first. You simply click between a few screens which take place inside a, well, “freak show” and get a little CG representation of a performance. The graphics definitely look a bit lumpy and weird, but somehow that enhances the charm over 20 years later. Search a little deeper and you’ll uncover a whole other, and far longer, segment of gameplay beyond the easily accessible exhibits.

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Hidden behind the Mole Man’s exhibit, as well as behind a “no admittance” sign you’ll find hours of extra content. For the Mole Man in particular, you actually get to hear (and watch) the story of how he became a member of the troupe. Unfortunately, it seems the other characters don’t get the same treatment. With that said, every main character has basically a music video which includes their entire song from the Freak Show album. It also feels like each character is given a believable edge which wasn’t present through the song lyrics alone.

Seeing one of my favorite The Residents albums in action was a stunning event. This CD-ROM absolutely exceeded my expectations with the huge amount of care given to each character’s video as well as the level of interactivity. It could have easily been a slideshow, but Easter eggs and additional story content make it an enjoyable exploration of an album. If you’re a fan of The Residents then at some point you need to play The Residents: Freak Show.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Life is Strange Episode 4 – Dark Room Review

Life is Strange Episode 4 - Dark Room Featured

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Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PC – Steam PSN – PS3, PS4 Xbox 360, Xbox One

Life is Strange Episode 3 – Chaos Theory left me feeling a little strange. It seemed that DONTNOD were on the precipice of something either really cool, or were set to completely lose me. Luckily, I enjoyed Episode 4 – Dark Room far more, though it wasn’t without some oddities. First off, it really feels like the ending of Episode 3 failed to play out in a significant way here.

Without spoiling anything, it was a very underwhelming resolution. Episode 3 made it seem like this event was a huge wrench in everyone’s plans, but then there’s very little issue to actually get back on the “main” storyline. Perhaps it’ll come back into play in Episode 5, but as of now it seems nothing more than an emotionally manipulative detour.

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So, as for Episode 4 – Dark Room itself. Things are finally getting serious — far more serious than I ever expected when Life is Strange began. Although there’s a lot of melodrama, it’s easy enough to fall right into the tale. Once everything takes a turn for the creepy I was really involved and being led right down the path that DONTNOD wanted. That reveal right at the end? Yep, I seriously had no clue it was coming.

There were definitely low points to be had between the more climatic sections. For one, you’re forced to put all the clues together in one multi-part puzzle. At this point I simply wanted to get up and go, not sit around and finagle with what was ultimately a very easy set of puzzles. Playing with a controller made it more cumbersome than needed, but that’s my own stubborn fault for not switching to a mouse during the segment.

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Finally, there’s the matter of how choices “pay off” in Life is Strange. Here’s an example with a spoiler. Victoria believed me when I spoke with her at the party. Why? Because I didn’t add insult to injury after dumping paint on her in Episode 1. The fact that she specifically referenced this act of pseudo kindness did not excite me. It just revealed the utter game-y nature of this video game. My choices should impact the story in ways that feel natural. This just seemed contrived.

I am still looking forward to Life is Strange Episode 5. For one, I’m ready to see how this story comes to a close. Not only that, but I’m anxious to see just how differently things do or don’t play out when two players have made completely different choices along the way.


Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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Pongo Review

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Developer: Drixy Games
Publisher: Black Shell Media
Platform: PC – Steam

There are practically zillions of platformers out in the world. However, very few have ever managed to scratch that same vertically-based itch that Jumping Flash brought into my life. I hoped Pongo might prove a solution that didn’t require pulling out a PlayStation console.

Well, Pongo is a bit similar in that you spend a lot of time jumping very high. This is due to the fact that you traipse around the stage with a pogo stick in first person. But that’s really where the charm ends, as gameplay itself is incredibly dull — and even becomes annoying due to iffy controls. There were a fair amount of times my jumps landed me on the very edge of a platform but unable to actually reach the flat surface. Instead, my only course of action was to fall off and try again.

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When jumping betwixt platforms isn’t annoying, it’s actually a fairly simple experience. Enemies hang about stages but with a keen eye you can basically snipe most of them before they even get a chance to harm you. It’s only with bosses that you have to actually put your skills to the test. The goal? Jump across the stage until you reach the end gate and move onto one of the other 49 stages.

Then there’s the whole fact that (aside from your pogo stick) Pongo feels like a massive Lovely Planet ripoff. The graphics aren’t nearly as pleasant, though, looking more like something that I would draw before getting a glaring filter/effect placed over them. It’s definitely not attractive or stylish in my eyes. It seems a true “spiritual successor” to Jumping Flash 1 and 2 remains just a dream…


Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas


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Spectra Review

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Developer: Gateway Interactive
Publisher: Mastertronic
Platform: PC – Steam, Xbox One

Back in 2014, I came across a game by the name of Goscurry. It was a racing-style arcade game in which players navigated a single spaceship along a never-ending road suspended in space. It was incredibly challenging, but a ton of fun. This year, I discovered Spectra and couldn’t help but become intrigued because of the game’s similar nature.

In Spectra, you control a spaceship along a long, winding galactic highway. You collect blocks, dodge obstacles, and (hopefully) make it through to the end with a high score. The gameplay is simple enough as most of the time you’re only weaving left or right to stay safe on the road. Things get more challenging as you progress through each of the ten stages, but not as much as you might expect.

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This is the main contrast between Goscurry and Spectra: Difficulty. You failed in Goscurry by making one wrong move. Here, you’re given a lot more freedom. Crash into a barrier? You’ll still likely be fine as long as you don’t panic. I even came across a glitch where the ship would warp back up from underneath the road to inadvertently save your run. Despite being an easier game overall, it still offers a lot of challenge and two difficulty settings to keep players on their toes.

Chances are I would have enjoyed Spectra much more if I had not previously played Goscurry. The graphics are nice and vector-like, but less artful than I would have hoped. Similarly, the music by Chipzel is good, but apparently chiptunes of this sort are not to my personal taste. I’m the odd man out! Of course, Spectra still provides a nice way to pass the time with quick play sessions and arcade sensibilities.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Pixel Poops Review

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Developer: yyrGames
Publisher: yyrGames
Platform: PlayStation Mobile

Pixel Poops is a game I have a bit of a history with. You see, it first released under the name Pixel Shits as part of an in-joke for listeners of Orange Lounge Radio. As a long time fan, I checked the game out during its debut and found it to my tastes. After all, as someone whose first home console was an Atari 7800 there’s a bit of nostalgia for that sort of simplistic gameplay and graphics in my heart.

With that out of the way, here’s a brief overview of this goofy little title. In Pixel Poops you play as a person that poops in public. Apparently, you don’t like joggers (the green stick figures walking around) so your goal is to stop them from walking across the entire screen. Instead of real life where a jogger might just be outrageously disgusted by stepping in human feces, these poor people actually appear to get caught in giant mounds of excrement. To refill the poop meter, you stand near the Taco Bell.

Play continues until five joggers have made it through the stinky gauntlet safely. Although it starts simply, Pixel Poops ramps up in difficulty quickly by speeding up the amount of joggers on-screen at once. To score well, you’ve got to implement early game strategy such as placing small poops everywhere (to slow walking speed of enemies) before placing showstoppingly large ones. Each downed jogger is one additional point on your scoreboard. I just wish a leaderboard existed, or at least a way to save top scores.

When it all comes down to it, Pixel Poops is a super simple Atari 2600-style game with potty humor. I love that there’s a ridiculous story attached to the title and have gotten more enjoyment out of it as a sub-$1 purchase than should be possible. PlayStation Mobile shutters on September 10, 2015 so nab Pixel Poops if you want continued access to one heck of a weird game.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Airline Tycoon Deluxe Review

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Developer: Spellbound AG
Publisher: Black Forest Games
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – Desura, GamersGate, GOG*, Steam

Airline Tycoon originally launched in 1998, and despite my own simulator addiction at the time, I was totally unaware of its existence. Instead, my time was split between DinoPark Tycoon and Sim City 2000. Apparently, I was years delayed from the current market. In any case, the ultimate version of Airline Tycoon Deluxe landed in 2003 – again, totally missing me. It appears not having access to the game in my youth has changed perceptions quite a bit.

When looking over fan comments when this title launched on GOG you see tons of excitement over this being the best simulation game ever! I don’t think it’s the best ever, but it is definitely charming and well thought out. You begin as an owner of an airline and, despite CEO status, must basically do all the grunt work as well. Hire staff, chart flight plans, and work with or against the other airline owners are just some of the tasks you’ll need to take care of.

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And, honestly, it’s overwhelming. Time and time again I found myself wandering the terminal in confusion… but some of that was my own fault. If you do take the time to handle every mission that comes your way first, you’ll be taught some of the basics. In any case, once you do finally get a handle on Airline Tycoon Deluxe it does make more sense – even though there’s still a ton of systems to manage.

I wish I had played Airline Tycoon Deluxe (or the original version) in my youth because it looks exactly like the kind of tycoon simulation that was so awesome at the time. The graphics are wonderful, the music is midi-tastic, and there’s so much room to take on the task of airline owner exactly as you wish. Just, at this point in my life, it seems that there’s a lot of preamble and studying necessary to get to the good parts.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Regency Solitaire Review

Regency Solitaire Featured

Regency Solitaire Logo

Developer: Grey Alien Games
Publisher: Grey Alien Games
Platform: PC – Direct, Steam

Solitaire is one of those games which I can’t help but adore. Ever since its inclusion on Windows computers I’ve played it every so often. However, my favorite renditions of solitaire are games which shake up the formula such as Faerie Solitaire and now Regency Solitaire.

In this title, we’re thrown back in time to 19th century England and placed into the shoes of Bella. Despite being part of a wealthy family, her brother has just squandered away their riches, leaving Bella to marry a despicable fellow aptly named Mr. Bleakly. Instead of sitting idly by for men to decide her fate, Bella works to reclaim the family fortune and also select her own partner.

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We help her out in this quest by taking on round after round of solitaire. You don’t need to match card suits, just select cards one above or below your active card. The card layout is unique, more akin to what you see in western mahjong games where multiple cards may need to be uncovered to reveal the bottom one first. You’ve also got a selection of power ups, upgrades, and tasks to complete each chapter.

The best aspect of Regency Solitaire, aside from the lovely visual presentation, is that it doesn’t demand perfection. Fail your mission objectives? You can still continue! My biggest complaint is a current glitch which effectively freezes the game if you press space (which draws the next card) while in a combo. Beyond that, the release is quite fun and offers around 8 hours of gameplay on normal. And yes, you can bump it up to hard for a serious challenge.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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Life is Strange Episode 3 – Chaos Theory Review

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Life is Strange Episode 3 - Chaos Theory Logo

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PC – Steam PSN – PS3, PS4 Xbox 360, Xbox One

I’ll admit, despite the dramatic flourishes of Life is Strange Episode 2, the episode felt pretty meandering. This phenomenon appears in many episodic properties, though. Things picked up a tad in time for Episode 3 – Chaos Theory. Throughout the approximately two-hour playtime I found myself hooked, even if it wasn’t always for the best reasons.

Information related to Kate, Rachel, and the Vortex Club was left relatively untouched, even after what just occurred in the previous episode. And for reasons unknown, these interpersonal, ham-fisted issues are still more pressing than the impending destruction of Arcadia Bay. With that said, I enjoyed getting caught up in Max and Chloe’s antics even as they increase in severity.

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And (spoilers) I’ll admit to advocating very hard for a potential relationship between them. The way Episode 2 ended scared me about who Max’s potential love interest could end up being, as it seems completely wrong with the assessment I’ve made of the characters thus far (headcanon, haha). In any case, the real star of the episode is Chloe. We see more about her life and history which explains her current devil may care attitude. Then, in the final few seconds of the episode, we’re given a huge “shock” and then credits roll. Although the reveal felt like a cheap trick, it did effectively necessitate my playing of the upcoming episode.

I did not appreciate the utter game-y ness at times. Searching for a computer password and an appropriate place to hide keys had me trying every wrong option first. When the real one was revealed it was obvious, but somehow I didn’t notice (or maybe you need to perform other actions before the right one unlocks?). I’ll need to play again to see if that was the case or not, but if so, that’s truly annoying. Life is Strange is about the story, and any amount of frustration to experience more of that is a hindrance to my enjoyment.

Episode 4 looks to be when the Vortex Club party finally occurs, and as such I’m hoping it’s where everything finally amps up – so far the story is weirdly sedate. It’d be impossible to keep all that excitement for the final episode, right?


 

Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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eden* PLUS+MOSAIC Review

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Developer: minori
Publisher: MangaGamer
Platform: PC – MangaGamer*, Steam

Most of the time, my reasoning for selecting one version of a visual novel over the other is to get the original, authentic experience regardless of any potential negatives or positives associated with that release. eden* posed a different sort of challenge. For those who aren’t aware, the original version was actually a so-called all-ages release, with more content being added afterward for eden* PLUS+MOSAIC. This review is for that latter version, and it honestly impacted my opinion.

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