Bundle Stars – The Zen Bundle Review


Here’s something a little different for Pixel Pacas! It might surprise you (or not at all) but I happen to be a massive fan of video game bundles. As a collector as well there’s hardly a need for me to own more games, but sometimes the deals are far too tempting to pass up. In any case, Bundle Stars The Zen Bundle launched recently and is packed with a most surprising selection of games. This bundle is definitely not for everyone, but there’s a niche audience who will totally dig it. A big thanks goes out to Bundle Stars for providing us complimentary access to these games!

Read on to see brief discussion on each included title as well as links to full length reviews where applicable.

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Life is Strange Episode 2 – Out of Time Review

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

Life is Strange Episode 1 managed to hook me quite well. Despite a super dramatic, and not particularly “realistic,” reality it worked. I wanted to see what was in store for Max next, and with Episode 2 – Out of Time we get another sampling of this world. But, because we’ve already visited it once, some of the initial charm has worn off.

At first it felt like the episode dragged. Interpersonal teenage angst is something I’d rather leave behind, of course, DONTNOD Entertainment manage to infuse it with enough attention that you care about certain characters – and absolutely loathe others. Despite mostly solid writing, some aspects did bother me, though.

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It seems weird that right after the ending of Episode 1 that Max and her old buddy Chloe are super-duper buddies again. Sure, real life friendships might resume perfectly after a long pause, but the ham-fisted nature of their BFF-dom is a little eye-rolling. With that said, I’d much rather Max end up with Chloe rather than dating her needy guy friend. Please don’t go that route, Life is Strange!

There’s a lot of down to Earth sequences in Episode 2 but a few also drive home the impending disaster that Max continues to see. A few choices really stressed me and at least one part may have huge ramifications on the story. If you dug Life is Strange’s look into the life of an unsuspecting teenage hero then keep playing – things are slowly amping up.

Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Pixel Puzzles: Japan Review

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Developer: Decaying Logic
Publisher: KISS ltd
Platform: PC – Steam

Back in the day I used to really be into jigsaw puzzles. At one point, it even morphed into an interest in those 3D puzzles before realizing those were completely out of my league. Still, 1,000+ piece puzzles were a great way to unwind and build toward something over a few weeks. Pixel Puzzles: Japan is a digital jigsaw puzzle collection themed around Japan. Each puzzle has a nice Japanese vista, soft background music, and puzzles which increase from small sizes to larger.

Pixel Puzzles: Japan offers 21 puzzles (unlocked by playing from easiest to hardest). Unfortunately, gameplay issues become more apparent as you engage in more difficult puzzles. The main problem is that all puzzle pieces float around in a pond prior to being placed in the puzzle space. Instead of organizing pieces by color as you see fit, you’ll need to do so within the puzzle space (but that small area is quickly filled up and inconvenient).

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Letting pieces drift about is annoying because you may need to search a long time for that “one piece” you know you need. Big blobs of puzzle pieces cluster together as they move, making it harder to find the right thing. Similarly, even after you spot the required piece it’s often challenging to actually grab it – Pixel Puzzles: Japan regularly selects a nearby, but incorrect, piece. Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction to these common incidents.

And, really, when you’re trying to relax with a jigsaw puzzle frustration should be the last thing on your mind. Pixel Puzzles: Japan is an excellent concept but its execution adds too much unneeded “gameplay” into the picture. I’ve yet to play other Pixel Puzzles games (Birds, UndeadZ) but hopefully future renditions provide more enjoyment.

Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas

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Shovel Knight Review

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Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Platform:  3DS, Wii U PC – GOG*, Steam

In one of the cuter moments in Kickstarter gaming history, a goofy 2D pixelated platformer by the name of Shovel Knight saw itself funded to 415% of its $75,000 goal. I’d believed the “retro craze” was all over – but gamers proved me wrong! In 2014 Shovel Knight launched and made its way onto many Game of the Year lists. But really, how good could it really be? On the eve of release onto PlayStation platforms I decided it was finally time to give the game a go.

Now, before we get all into this, I do not feel particularly nostalgic about the NES. Instead, my tastes fall more in line with the Atari 2600 – but few folks are capitalizing on that! In any case, Shovel Knight still looks quite a bit like a NES classic and captures much of that same appeal. The platformer is immediately simple to grasp. You’re a blue knight who jumps and hits things with a shovel.

Of course, the game quickly ramps up the difficulty (and ways to play it). After accumulating enough gold you can buy new items and abilities. Or, you can boost the health and magic meters. Gold itself isn’t a scare commodity but upon each death some scatters off in floating money bags. Even so, be careful about reclaiming them the next run as greed can be deadly. For about the first half of the game I found Shovel Knight ridiculously enjoyable.

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Once things really started to ramp up in difficulty I noticed some issues (either with the game or myself!). My Xbox 360 controller didn’t seem to register inputs upon every button press. Sometimes skill usage simply wouldn’t fire off when needed, or Shovel Knight wouldn’t stop his shovel jumping despite me trying to get out of the maneuver. Every so often I couldn’t even get out a swing with a shovel despite having a perfect shot at a boss. Whey’re they’re “authentic” or not, precise controls should have been implemented by Yacht Club Games.

I appreciate what Shovel Knight is going for and wholeheartedly believe they achieved it. From the awesome chiptune soundtrack to lovely pixelated graphics this looks just like a retro game. Then there’s that simplicity of play which helps to emphasize its excellent platforming. The biggest issue simply appears to be controls which were acting up for me on PC. Given perfect control I’d still probably be awful, but at least feel that every death was entirely my fault!

Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Willy Bear Beach Episode 1 Review

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Developer: Artdecade
Publisher: Artdecade
Platform: PC – itch.io

As a fan of visual novels, I’m more than pleased to see how they’ve gained so much acceptance in the past few years. Even so, eroge titles tend to continue slipping under the radar instead of getting much recognition. However, it appears itch.io may become a method for indies to distribute them! The first I’ve seen on the platform is Willy Bear Beach Episode 1 by Artdecade. It’s cute, furry, and a nice bit of fluff between the more dramatic or dull visual novels out there.

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Numba Deluxe Review

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Developer: Cobra Mobile
Publisher: KISS ltd
Platform: PC – Big Fish Games, Desura, Steam

Fans of puzzle games are absolutely spoiled for choice on Steam – or really, any digital games marketplace. While looking for match-3 puzzle variations I came upon Numba Deluxe. The game presents players with a grid of numbers and simply asks you to line up three or more in some sort of order. As such, it’s a match-3 title which utilizes numbers instead of colored blocks to allow for “patterned” paths.

This means you’ll be able to create paths by linking together multiple of the same number but also match sequentially increasing values (1, 2, 3, 4), even ones (2, 4, 6), odd (1, 3, 5), or even multiples (2, 4, 8). Each can also be matched in backwards order as well. Despite the simple concept I often found myself sticking to the most basic of routes (repeated numbers or even). Of course, to succeed you must utilize all linking styles.

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Numba Deluxe comes with three modes: Classic, Timeless, and Puzzle. Classic and Timeless are the same except, well, the first is timed. Considering the general relaxed nature of puzzle games, Classic isn’t an ideal play style. Puzzle presents a board which requires careful solving to clear. No matter what mode you select there are some issues inherent to the title.

Sure, the music is wonderfully calming but the board itself is lacking in flair. All numbers are the same color, leaving you to “read” each instead of get into typical puzzle flow. Special blocks (fire, ice, etc) change after a certain number of turns but don’t actually tell you how many turns are left. Finally, there’s little pushing folks to keep playing. Numba Deluxe is a competent little time waster but it doesn’t offer much staying power. If you’re in desperate need for a casual puzzle game allow me to suggest Puzzler World instead.

Score: 2

2 out of 5 alpacas

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Freedom Planet Review

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Developer: GalaxyTrail
Publisher: GalaxyTrail
Platform: PC – GOG*, Steam

You know, people talk about Sonic the Hedgehog as if it were once a golden standard of 2D platformer. To be fair, the first few titles definitely brought a ton of great gameplay to the table… But they were also incredibly difficult! Freedom Planet is game which completely reveres Sonic, and as such, doesn’t stray far from the formula. You play as one of a team of brightly-colored creatures attempting to collect gems and save the world, all the while going really fast.

Freedom Planet certainly looks the part of a Sega Genesis classic. All the cast members are anthropomorphic animals because “mascots” rule! Enemies are evil because of course they are. Each stage offers copious collectibles and even a few secrets. In keeping with the time, it’s also a very brief game (if you’re skilled). Or, if you’re like me and almost immediately switched to “casual” difficulty.


My main motivation to swap difficulties was due to a variety of problems inherent with Freedom Planet. The biggest is finicky controls. When playing with my 360 gamepad my character sometimes failed to do as I desired. Instead of jumping up, she’d simply look up. At other times I’d want to jump bouncily from a wall climb only to glide off. This caused tons of problems, especially during boss fights where I’d consistently miss hitting their weak point because of ill-performed jumps.

Another issue is that the game simply overloads itself with enemies later on. Some stages are packed full of monsters and missiles, leaving very little room for error. On the lowest difficulty I safely soaked up tons of hits, at least! Freedom Planet looks fantastic and features a lot of great moments. It just happens to fall into the same trap that Sonic games did of not letting speed be the driving gameplay force. Still, it’s a mostly cool 3 hour ride for those who do appreciate Sonic and its many imitators.

Score: 2.5

2 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Review

Letter Quest Grimm's Journey Featured

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Developer: Digerati Distribution
Publisher: Bacon Bandit Games
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – DirectSteam

Words rule. As someone who writes all the time it makes sense that I’ve got at least a passing interest in the English language. That’s why games like Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey appeal to me most. It’s an RPG of sorts completely focused around Scrabble-like mechanics. You’re provided a small selection of letters and must create words with them in a short period of time. The bigger the word, or the rarer letters used (Q, X, etc) and little Grimm will release a stronger attack! Yes, the concept is simple, but quite effective.

Each stage is quite small and features Grimm walking from left to right in a cartoony 2D world. Firing off a word uses up your turn, although players can choose to utilize potions and the like instead. As you progress the enemies grow much tougher which demands more of players. Luckily, Letter Quest never makes slow typers (or clickers) disadvantaged thanks to its turn-based approach. What it does do though is offer really slow character progression.

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Upgrades to Grimm’s health, attack, and such are unlocked via gems. Gems are awarded upon beating persistent quests or levels. They’re certainly easy to get but accumulating enough for upgrades is surprisingly slow going. As such, it can be tough to defeat later stages without a lot of grinding. Really, I was just disappointed my awesome Scrabble skills weren’t enough to keep me powering through.

The concept and execution of Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey is spot on aside from its artificial gatekeeping measures. It looks cute, has a pretty responsive interface, and is an enjoyable puzzle game. If you’re looking for more in the same vein then check out Words for Evil. Although imperfect in its own regards, skilled players are rewarded without restrictions.

Score: 3
3 out of 5 alpacas

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Door Kickers Review

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Developer: KillHouse Games
Publisher: KillHouse Games
Platform: PC – GOG*, Steam

Police games intrigue me a whole heck of a lot. From Police 911 to S.W.A.T. they’re all just pretty excellent games. Unfortunately for fans of the latter title, there’s been a real lack of super strategic and gritty games since Sierra got eaten/killed/revived. Door Kickers may not be exactly the same, especially given its top-down perspective, but it is excellent in its own right.

In Door Kickers you’re given a huge array of campaigns and basically given free rein to complete them exactly how you want. Each features a different strategic situation to assess. Players plan absolutely every aspect for teams and (hopefully) execute it flawlessly. The top-down perspective gives a great vantage point as players see the entire level map. Of course, actually “seeing” where enemies are requires line of sight confirmation. Until that point areas are hidden.

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Brash players can do well enough in early stages with minimal officer deaths, but not through the entire campaign. Door Kickers is definitely designed with tacticians in mind because those players will reap the greatest rewards. It simply feels good to have a plan work perfectly. Of course, surprises are bound to happen. Modifying plans on the fly to suit changing situations feels damn good, too.

Buying Door Kickers is like unlocking a new gaming obsession. Beat all the missions? Now go back and three-star them while completing all the challenges. After that you can download user-created mods/levels, or heck, make your own. Door Kickers is an excellent strategy game, especially for those of us looking to scratch that S.W.A.T. 4 or Rainbow Six itch.

Score: 4.5

4 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Tales of Maj’Eyal Review

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Developer: DarkGod
Publisher: DarkGod
Platform: PC – GOG*, Steam

My first exposure to roguelikes would probably make Rogue fans cry. Instead of following most of the same principles, what I came to know of the genre could be better defined as rogue-lites. In any case, not everything I play falls into that distant genre cousin branch, as Tales of Maj’Eyal proves. This roguelike RPG is incredibly deliberate with turn-based play, variety of challenging enemies, tons of character classes to experiment with, and of course the possibility of permadeath.

Honestly, Tales of Maj’Eyal is quite a lot to take in right from the start. There are tons of classes and different types have their own starting hub worlds. Despite a recognizable top-down and turn-based interface, there’s a lot to get a handle on with a multitude of spell types, enemy powers, and a handful of other systems. But basically, it’s very much like a typical deep RPG wherein you’re able to hone your characters with exacting detail and will always need to be careful while exploring randomly generated dungeons.

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Once you digest everything at play here the game really takes off. It’s difficult for me, even on easier settings, but I certainly appreciate that there are multiple options available. If you’re looking for a “hardcore” experience then Tales of Maj’Eyal provides that. If you’re seeking a highly strategic, but not completely hellish game you can get that too. It’s great to see a game of this genre open itself up to a variety of skill levels.

In all, it was a big surprise how much I ended up enjoying this one. There’s so much going on, but the foundation is solid. Roguelike fans looking for something more “classic” than Rogue Legacy and its ilk will definitely find it with Tales of Maj’Eyal.

Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas

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