Posts Tagged ‘2014’

Z Review

Z Featured

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Developer: The Bitmap Brothers, TickTock Games
Publisher: KISS ltd, Kavcom
Platform: PC – GOG*, Steam

I got my first taste of real-time strategy gaming early in life. Since then I’ve sampled a great many titles in the genre but somehow never played Z by The Bitmap Brothers. This re-release changes things. After finally playing it I’m sad to have missed it back in 1996.

Z is an odd game where two factions of robots (red and blue) fight for supremacy and control of a planet. The odd factor comes in thanks to the storyline depicting the main robots as Wayne’s World-style goofballs. It definitely feels a bit dated, but a bit charming as well.

Gameplay also feels unique when compared to other RTSes. For one, you don’t create new buildings. Instead you must reach and control the existing buildings across each map. Of course, the enemy can take them from you if you’re not careful. The same holds true for vehicles which sit unmanned until someone claims them. The concept takes a while to get used to but works well. My history with Command & Conquer games also made the control scheme a bit difficult to grasp at first. It seems this is a holdover from the iOS release.

Z Featured

Each stage introduces new facets of gameplay depth to players. For one there are a great variety of deployable robots (grunts, snipers, etc) who all have advantages and disadvantages. Then there are little things like blowing up bridges for strategic purposes. Of course, there’s also just a lot of fun nuance to tipping the odds in your favor. Z is pretty tough though, even on easy.

One thing The Bitmap Brothers have always gotten just right are the graphics. All of their titles have incredibly good-looking pixel art. Z’s battlefields look far nicer than many modern pixelated games. It appears that the remake has not tampered with the graphics much beyond the GUI to accommodate HD monitors (unfortunately there are no resolution options!). The music is another high point, although the voice samples show their age.

Its rare that games nearly 20 years old hold up so well without a heavy dose of nostalgia to go with them. I hold no fond memories of Z and yet it proves to be an astonishingly good RTS title in 2014 save for its unusual control scheme. It’s a shame there’s no multiplayer because this seems perfect for playing against friends.


Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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Ampu-Tea Review

Ampu-Tea Featured

Ampu-Tea Boxart

Developer: ProjectorGames
Publisher: KISS ltd
Platform: PC – Desura, GamersGateGreen Man Gaming, IndieCity, Shiny Loot, Steam

It’s not like I keep this a secret, but I loved Surgeon Simulator 2013. Sure, the whole concept was fairly creepy but for some reason games where you have too precise control over things entertain me. That’s the main reason I checked out Ampu-Tea. The developers acknowledge their inspirations and have tweaked them into an odd tea-making sim.

Players control a robot arm. They can bend the fingers and thumb (although pinky and ring finger are activated by the same button). Beyond gripping with fingers, there’s also the option to angle the wrist in different orientations, and move up, down, left, and right. The controls are fairly simplistic and feel a lot more manageable than Surgeon Simulator 2013.

Ampu-Tea Featured

Upon starting the game there are five or so tasks (less if you’re playing on easy) related to making tea. These can involve adding a tea bag, sugar cube(s), hot water, and milk. Once all that’s taken care of you place the cup on a serving plate. Of course, getting any of this accomplished is difficult. However, after playing for only 20 minutes I was able to finagle my way to victory. Or, I would, if Ampu-Tea ever acknowledged my actions.

The biggest issue with the game is it appears in need of a few patches. For example, when given the task to add a single cube of sugar it fails to recognize when I do it in-game. An achievement popped up, but nothing else. Of course, after adding a few more sugar cubes the game failed me for adding too many. This, paired with a very short game once you figure it out, means that Ampu-Tea is not nearly as successful at the whole wacky hand control formula as its inspiration.


Score: 1.5

1 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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Z-Run Review

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Developer: Beatshapers
Publisher: Beatshapers
Platform: PSN – Vita

So, what would you do when placed in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? Run! In Z-Run that’s exactly what you do. Playing as one of two characters you simply try to maneuver through zombie-infested streets safely. Of course, you’re still free to pick up a weapon or two along the way to make the trek easier.

After choosing to play as Clair or Alex players get to either work through story mode or test survival mode. Story mode sends players through a variety of increasingly difficult levels. Levels themselves have a third person perspective with the character running directly “forward” in a 3D space. As zombies or other obstacles appear, you can whip out a melee weapon, kick them, or even try to dodge. As the playing field is fairly narrow dodging in particular can be hard to do successfully.

Z-Run Featured

One important aspect to note is the two bars (health and stamina) which must not drain. Stamina is used whenever you attack, dodge, or sprint. Health drains by being hit. Luckily there are item pickups to restore both bars. Visually, the game is gloomy and a bit repetitive with only a few stage designs to speak of. Sometimes zombies glitch out and that makes for unexpectedly humorous moments. Those spoiled by modern zombie games may also be disappointed by a meager dozen weapons. Still, Z-Run does throw players a bone by letting them level up a host of stats as they play.

Z-Run is a pretty difficult runner that excels in some areas and is lacking in others. It might not have a huge variety of stuff to do, but the core gameplay feels competent. This being a Vita game also makes sense considering each stage isn’t terribly long to complete, lending itself well to portable play. Still, there have been many entries into the runner genre over the years and Z-Run doesn’t quite reach the bar.


Score: 2

2 out of 5 alpacas


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Lost Civilization Review

Lost Civilization Featured

Lost Civilization Box

Developer: Icarus Games
Publisher: Phoenix Online Studios
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – Direct, Green Man GamingSteam

Lost Civilization is a hidden object adventure game with some very unusual story twists. The basic setup is that you’re an archaeologist named Sarah with a husband in the same profession. Things were going along fine until your husband gets kidnapped! Of course, your goal is to save him and also unravel a larger archaeological mystery along the way. The setup is pretty cool although things get really weird by the end.

Players solve hidden object puzzles, retrieve objects from said screens, and use them to solve item-based puzzles. For the most part, item puzzles are simple and keep the game moving at a quick pace. I enjoyed seeing some different uses of hidden object screens as well. For example, some tell you to place objects where they belong in a scene. Unfortunately, this did lead to trouble when exactly what objects pair with was unclear.

Lost Civilization Featured

Visually, Lost Civilization looks great. The backdrops are well-illustrated as are the characters. It’s just a shame that Sarah’s male model-esque husband only appears a few times. Hidden object scenes are also nicely designed to keep the difficulty about average. Only a few posed issues because of unclear terms (ex: “cone” referring to a pine cone). Puzzle solutions are also sometimes cruel, such as when you’re tasked with lighting a firecracker in the middle of a pigeon gathering just to get them to fly away.

So maybe Lost Civilization’s story gets wrapped up a bit too much like a modern Indiana Jones movie… It’s still a mostly fun experience. Hints are always readily available and help move things along when you get stuck. I totally admit to using the skip function on the final puzzle simply because it was of a higher difficulty than anything else prior. In any case, give Lost Civilization a go if you’ve got two or three hours to spare.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Featured

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Boxart

Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami
Platform: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Metal Gear is a longstanding franchise which gains a larger audience with each and every release. By this point, fans have been aching for Metal Gear Solid V but that’s still a ways away. As a way to tease fans (and make some extra money along the way) Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes launched. This, apparently, is just a sampling of the “next generation” gameplay and visuals. Oh, and it also introduces a bit of the storyline which will pick up again once V comes out.

As someone who at one point considered themselves an avid Metal Gear Solid fan, my experience with Ground Zeroes was immediately disappointing. Oh, no doubt it looks astonishing (mostly). Yes, there is excellent music. Controls also handle with ease and precision. But none of that could compel me to have much interest in anything that was going on. Fans like to praise Hideo Kojima’s wacky, twisting narrative sensibilities but at some point it just seems unintentional parody.

It was all thanks to a (since removed) interview with Metal Gear Solid 2 translator Agness Kaku that these thoughts first entered my mind, but now with Ground Zeroes I can clearly see what she meant. Kojima has an obvious love for Hollywood action films and, by effect, our government affairs. Injected in these action-genre sensibilities are his own concepts but these concepts no longer appeal to me. For example, early on you meet a character named Skull Face. And guess what? His face is horrifically burned and white – just like a skull! Maybe for some this seems completely awesome but at some point the mishmash of wannabe serious military narrative and ridiculous flourishes become too much.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Featured

This is only further compounded by the fact that (spoilers?) the introductory chapter takes us to a fictional section of Guantanamo Bay. Is it possible to have Metal Gear silliness in such a serious location? Maybe, but it would take incredible skill. I do not feel that is demonstrated in Ground Zeroes. Snake mutters about how he “kept you waiting” but this was not the game I was waiting for. Thankfully, it took only an hour and 45 minutes to finish. Apparently it was only at 7% completion but there was no drive left to attempt to unlock more.

At one point I would have made the ideal candidate to review a Metal Gear Solid game, but that time has apparently passed. Those who know and love everything that Kojima does will likely enjoy this too, even though some of the more obvious wackiness has been toned down. Snake may have a new voice actor but this game still follows down the gameplay path that Metal Gear Solid 4 brought about. With that said, it was not fun for me to play at all, which makes it impossible for me to recommend.


Score: 2

2 out of 5 alpacas


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Noir Syndrome Review

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Developer: Dave Gedarovich
Publisher: Glass Knuckle Games
Platform: Mobile – Android PC – Desura, Direct, Steam

Do you fancy yourself a detective? In Noir Syndrome, you get to put on your best detective garb and get to work solving a murder before many more victims surface. The supposed Anubis Killer is incredibly smart though, able to lure even the best player around town to dodge arrest. Even so, a good bunch of clues should make it very apparent who the killer is in town.

Noir Syndrome tells one basic murder story again and again but changes the clues and murderer each playthrough. You start off in your tiny apartment with cute cat and (hopefully) a chunk of cash. The player then weaves through various buildings to collect clues, talk to townspeople, and maybe nab a bite to eat. Some characters drop hints about shady locations while others name suspects.

Being a detective apparently makes one quite hungry. After a bit of searching, the game alerts you to a constantly depleting hunger status. Those who ignore it beyond the announcement of “starving” will actually die before solving a case. This, along with a two-week timeline, make Noir Syndrome a bit too difficult. Sometimes finding enough clues and names isn’t possible if you go to one or two “wrong” locations.

Noir Syndrome Featured

Still, the challenge lends itself to a lot of humorous failures. I don’t know how many attempts it took to finally apprehend the correct suspect, but it was always entertaining to try again. After a while I became better skilled at finding food and items, and knowing what items might mean. Items being basically invisible on-screen (requiring constant pressing of the investigate button) is a pretty annoying design choice, though.

If you’re someone who enjoyed The Ship or are looking forward to SpyParty then this is another game to check out (specifically, try Dinner Party mode). Even if you aren’t, it still offers a murder mystery with arcade-style play. The short playtime each case also makes it a good choice for smartphone play. Noir Syndrome is an odd, goofy look at being a detective. Despite the steep difficulty, it’s worth a look.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Ether One Review

Ether One Featured

Ether One Logo

Developer: White Paper Games
Publisher: White Paper Games
Platform: PC – GOG*, Humble Store, Steam

Are you someone who enjoyed the exploration of Gone Home but isn’t interested in puzzles that are typically aplenty in adventure games? Are you an adventure gamer who thoroughly enjoys wracking their brains on puzzles? Somehow, White Paper Games managed to make a game for both crowds with Ether One.

Ether One places players in the shoes of a “Restorer”. According to an omnipresent voice, you’re told that this means you enter into the mind of a dementia patient and try to restore their memories. Looking through memories not your own is an interesting concept and manages to overcome the sci-fi technology of it all. The story slowly unfolds and has a pretty heart-wrenching conclusion if you see it through the 3 to 7 hour playtime.

The most mechanically interesting aspect is that players can simply explore and uncover memory tidbits or they can solve puzzles to proceed. Since these are not required, you can simply ignore the ones you come across and enjoy the story that way. Of course, solving puzzles does appear to give you a deeper understanding of the storyline. Choosing to mess with the puzzles, most seemed simple enough, although I didn’t enjoy how a few seemed to require careful backtracking.

Ether One Featured

What ended up being the biggest issue for me was the fact that your player held inventory can only consist of one item. Players bring extra items to home base (accessible with a button press) and place them on shelves. This completely messed with my adventure game instincts of picking everything up because not every object in Ether One is required. All the same, I took everything back home and ended up with very cluttered shelves by the end.

My favorite feature was not the storyline, as it seemed kind of sparse early on. Instead, I was simply awed by the visuals. The 3D world is all hand drawn/painted style textures. It looks gorgeous and will definitely keep the game from looking “dated” for quite some time.

This may not be the best new adventure game of the year, but Ether One is still an admirable attempt. Players of different skillsets should all be able to make their way through the storyline and enjoy it. I just do not understand why they cluttered the world with objects (some unnecessary) and don’t let you keep multiple easily accessible. Still, what an interesting game.


Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas


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Full Bore Review

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Developer: Whole Hog Games
Publisher: Nkidu Games
Platform: PC – Steam

Full Bore is a game about an adorable little boar who digs underground searching for gems. And no, it’s not boring as the name may suggest to some. To bore is to dig by twisting or turning, and that’s exactly what the in-game boar does. It also happily bashes its head on the walls or floor when objects aren’t breakable and somehow that still looks incredibly adorable.

Once one gets past the “aww” factor, is Full Bore an entertaining game? That depends on your interpretation of entertaining, as the digger/puzzler hybrid is quite challenging. There are a wide variety of areas in the mine shafts to explore and each contains its own host of puzzles. Basically, you’ve got to figure out how to get from point A to point B by boring through blocks or pushing things around. This is so you can reach gems, characters, or new areas. Some puzzles are quite simple but other times it takes a good deal of consideration.

Some of the most challenging aspects are when Full Bore asks the player to solve a puzzle quickly. While playing with an Xbox 360 controller I found them especially tough because my boar would run off further than I commanded. The last thing anyone wants when trying to execute a precise, quick puzzle solution is to have the character lack precision. There is a saving grace to this issue though and it is a rewind function.

Full Bore Featured

At any point you can choose to rewind your moves up to the last save point. This could be just a few steps or a ton and there’s no other restrictions placed on it. The feature is cool, if overwhelmingly overpowered, and saved my hide on many occasions. Still, it would be nice if the boar could have tighter control. Unfair failures are always a tad annoying in games.

Enjoyment of Full Bore is fully dependent on the player digging, exploring, and solving puzzles. Because boar control can be a bit spotty, at least some of this is less fun than it could be. Of course, getting stuck is never any fun either but that is true of all puzzlers. It just seemed that I got into tight situations more often than in other similar games which inhibited the fun of digging around. Thankfully, the silly cast of characters and cute boar kept me engaged. Full Bore is a cute new game that puzzle enthusiasts should look into.


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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1849 Review

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Developer: Somasim
Publisher: Somasim
Platform: Mobile – Android, iOS PC – IndieGameStand, Steam

There is something about city management sims that hooks people. Most of us probably have no desire to ever deal with the realities of legislation, building codes, and the vast expenditures that a real city planner has to deal with. Put them in a game though and suddenly it’s fun. What if you could manage a city during the California Gold Rush? If that sounds awesome to you then you’re definitely going to want to check out 1849.

In this game, you’re the mayor of a newly settled town somewhere in Northern California. The goal is to hopefully capitalize off the sudden immigration of people as Gold Rush fever sets in. With good enough planning, the town will boom with people. Fail to provide them with the right resources though and they’ll simply move on to another town.

1849 Screenshot

Maps come in three varieties (small, medium, large) and have an isometric viewpoint. Players must build their town up with homes, wheat fields, jailhouses, and a good deal of other buildings. Many buildings require a chain of other buildings to produce any items at all. For example, you can make fancy clothes for the citizens but that requires first harvesting cotton, turning it into fabrics, then transforming the fabric into an outfit. This same style of mechanic holds true for creating wine and other specialties.

Getting all the buildings required for these types of chains is expensive, but pays off. Other towns need things that you can provide. Some may spend money for your excess fabrics and wood, while others offer to sell pickaxes to you. For the most part, players always have to manage both exporting and importing because no plot of land has everything. Sometimes, events crop up that task the player to do certain things before the time runs out.

Although it might seem a bit simpler than other games of the genre, 1849 is fairly difficult to do well in. Many of my missions ended in failure as I bought the wrong buildings or didn’t realize what other towns would want to trade for. After a while you do get the hang of things, though. It’s a total joy to see your town grow into a bustling, successful place.

1849 Featured

There are a few ways in which the experience could be improved. The view cannot be rotated, only zoomed in on. This leads to many times you can’t see where exactly to click or tell if something was placed properly. It is also unfortunate that there is no easy reference to view what chain of item creation is needed before creating specific buildings. Finally, it appears there are not multiple saves for sandbox towns, which is a definite disappointment.

Even with a handle of troubles, 1849 is a game I find myself coming back to often. The core gameplay mechanics are fantastic and easy to learn. It’s always fun to try fussing around in a new town to see how much it can expand. As such, anyone with a taste for city management games should definitely embark on a digital Gold Rush journey with 1849.

 


Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas


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Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike

Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike Featured

Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike

Developer: Hippomancer
Publisher: Hippomancer
Platform: PC – Steam

Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike is a brand new video game with the heart of something released in the early 90s. All you have to do is look at one crude screenshot and nearly believe this is lost FPS shovelware. If you can get past the ridiculous visuals, there is one heck of a compelling game to dig into.

As the name implies, Rogue Shooter combines retro 3D FPS stylings with roguelike elements. These include randomly generated levels, a perk system, restart upon death, destructable weapons and armor, and tough bunches of enemies. As you progress through the 100 floors (50 on easy), you’ll check out a wide variety of weapons. Some are pretty average while others, such as a gun that shoots out goofy dogs, verge on the hilarious.

Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike Featured

Although all perks are deleted after a death, there is an overarching upgrade system that carries over between playthroughs. You can use it to increase health, attack power, and inventory slots. Getting enough points for these upgrades takes a while but the fun gameplay makes accumulating enough intel manageable.

If you did not enjoy games like the original DOOM, Quake, or even knock-offs like Chex Quest then Rogue Shooter isn’t likely to please you either. However, it doesn’t exist to simply cash in on nostalgia. Playing is tremendously fun once you get accustomed to retro elements such as no ability to aim your gun up or down. I wholeheartedly recommend this oddball game to anyone who harbors a crush on 3D FPS games of yesteryear or unique roguelikes.


Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas


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