Posts Tagged ‘indie’

The Shivah: Kosher Edition Review

The Shivah: Kosher Edition Featured

The Shivah Boxart

Developer: Wadjet Eye Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Platform: Mobile – iOS PC – Direct, GOG*, Steam

A “shivah” is a period of mourning observed by people of the Jewish faith. Those outside of the religion may have at least heard the term “sitting shivah” before. In any case, as might be expected, this is a game about death and mourning. But it’s also a tale of questioning God and the concepts surrounding faith to begin with. All told, The Shivah: Kosher Edition is one of the more interesting point and click adventure games I’ve played.

The story starts us off in Rabbi Stone’s synagogue. The place is a tiny room, the walls are cracked, and there is barely anyone left attending. His debts are high and if things don’t change the synagogue will have to close down. Things aren’t looking good for Stone until he receives word a past congregation member left him a great deal of money in their will. But why – and how – did he die?

The Shivah: Kosher Edition Featured

Stone can’t just take the money and run. He knows that this person would have never given him money because they parted on very heated and hateful terms. This is where players take over as they try to discover the reasons. It only takes an hour or two, but this cuts out the standard fluff of adventure games. You don’t have to combine millions of objects just to see if one works, or engage in pointless banter with nonsense characters. All that is here is what’s needed and that makes for a very streamlined experience.

This version is a remake of The Shivah, which was Wadjet Eye Games’ first project in 2006. It has enhanced visuals as well as a new soundtrack. There are no new decision points though, which could have been neat. The voice acting is fine although it betrays the less-than-perfect recording conditions at times. Even though it is a compact experience, The Shivah: Kosher Edition gets you involved quickly. There need to be more stories told like this in gaming. We have no reason to restrict ourselves to the drab, dull, and expected.

Score: 4
4 out of 5 alpacas

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Long Live the Queen Review

Long Live the Queen Featured

Long Live the Queen Boxart

Developer: Hanako Games
Publisher: Hanako Games
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG*, Steam

Would you love to have the power of a queen or king? With legions of people devoted to you and absolute power, how could anything go wrong? Reality is nothing like such fantasies, of course, and any ruling party has to deal with a range of problems. This is the case for young Elodie who suddenly ascends to the throne after her mother’s death. Can she handle the many stresses of being queen? That’s all up to how the player shapes her fate in Long Live the Queen.

Long Live the Queen Screenshot 1

The game is a strategy/simulation where you choose what Elodie will spend her days learning about. She can become an incredible strategist with tomes of knowledge about foreign and domestic political issues. Or, Elodie can learn how to fight directly and keep her people safe in a much more direct way. She can become a very regal queen, learning about how to present herself as true royalty and taking interest in music. Really, the only constraints on what kind of queen she’ll become are dependent on the configuration of skills the player chooses to pursue.

Much of the fun in Long Live the Queen is seeing how different skills affect events. Some are pretty obvious, such as the fact that you likely won’t win a battle if you know nothing about military strategy and logistics. However, other events are likely to shock – and sometimes be fatal. Somehow, losing is still enjoyable! It just makes you want to jump right back in and try to skew Elodie’s learning in a way that works to resolve the otherwise deadly event. Each event has a number of traits affecting it, so players aren’t shoehorned into doing the same thing every time.

Long Live the Queen Screenshot 3

However, there is another facet to skill learning that makes the game harder. You see, Elodie has a mood meter with a few specific mood types. Her aptitude for learning specific skills changes dependent on her mood. If she’s angry, she’ll do better with weapons and military training. Figuring out what moods suit specific types of learning can be a bit tough, especially when you’re already trying to resolve government and interpersonal conflicts in the main game. It’s also a bit annoying to have to regularly flip between all these screens with no way to compare two at the same time.

Long Live the Queen is far tougher, and darker, than most expect. It’s not just a cutesy little Princess Maker clone. No, this game deals with some serious political intrigue, with other nobles seeking to kill the incumbent queen to increase their own power. Definitely play this game if you’re up for some strategic excitement and see if you can survive through all Elodie’s trials!

Score: 4.5

4 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Desktop Dungeons Review

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Developer: QCF Design
Publisher: QCF Design
Platform: PC – Browser, Direct, Steam

Last year, I found myself falling in love with the roguelike genre thanks to a handful of new indie games. I had never played Rogue, but it was easy to become a big fan of the concepts. After a while though, it did start to drag a little. Each game felt a little too samey. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Desktop Dungeons but it has managed to far surpass all expectations. This is an incredibly fun roguelike that can be enjoyed by new and veteran players alike.

Desktop Dungeons starts off with some tutorials, which in itself is actually rare in the genre. You get the basic mechanics for exploring dungeons, how battles work, and how to make use of magical skills. You’re also quickly introduced to the fact that your little explorers will die – and die often. From there, you can engage in a variety of missions in different dungeons. Or, you can take on a variety of puzzle missions which seek to teach players how to play with strategies in mind.

Desktop Dungeons Screenshot

Whichever you spend your time with, Desktop Dungeons is a ton of fun. It doesn’t hold back, though! You’ll find yourself dying (and losing all loot) often. Sometimes this can be chalked up to choosing the wrong character type and loadout, but other times it’s all due to a lack of strategic thinking. Managing health potions, taking out higher level enemies, and the like all must be kept in mind. Otherwise, your adventurers are apt to be killed off quickly.

There’s nice looking art as well, although it doesn’t scale up very well, so you’ll likely play in a smaller than average game window. But the graphics are certainly charming, as are the silly little enemies. How much fun you have with Desktop Dungeons is based around how willing you are to learn. Dying is common, but with little consequence, so feel free to try out a variety of play methods. Whether your play style is hitting up one dungeon for a few minutes, or playing multiple for hours, Desktop Dungeons offers great bursts of fun.

Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas

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Intake Review

Intake Featured

Intake Boxart

Developer: Cipher Prime Studios
Publisher: Cipher Prime Studios
Platform: PC – Steam

Arcade shooters are one of my biggest guilty pleasures. I’m not generally very good at them, but they suck up my time all the same. Despite having experienced many flavors of shooters, Intake was still quite a surprise. The latest game by Cipher Prime Studios distills the shooter down to its most basic parts (which also happen to be the most “addictive”.

And, unlike most games, addictive is a fair word to use although not for the reasons you might be expecting. Instead of cluttering the screen with spaceships, penguins, or robotic fish, Intake has players taking aim at pills. The pills come in a variety of colors and your goal is to shoot them before they reach the bottom of the screen. If too many make it past then you overdose – game over.

Each stage has two colored pills and you’ll increase your multiplyer by being set to the proper color when destroying a pill. There are a few other subtleties, but for the most part gameplay is easy to grasp. Upgrades can also be purchased to allow for new powerups to appear during play. Some slow down the descending pills, while others make them gigantic for easy clicking.

Intake Screenshot

The unusual drug theme is paired with Cipher Prime’s typically gorgeous but trippy presentation style. Pills have an unearthly glow about them while the entire game has a neon glow about it. For the most part, the screen is clean, although that doesn’t make shooting a barrage of pills any easier. Of course, the visual subject matter might be off-putting for some, and that’s a totally fair reason to avoid Intake.

One reason I wasn’t completely sold on the game had to do with the soundtrack. While it is fitting, there are only three tracks in the game (two of which are expensive unlocks). You can play your own music over the game, but then the subtle connections the pills have to music are useless. Another hardship I encountered was simply running into a difficulty wall. Yes, determination will eventually get most players past it, but personally I would have loved to see some difficulty selectors or ability to select stages at will like shooters often do.

Considering Intake gets so much right though I’m willing to let most of this slide. The game is still simple to understand and fun to play repeatedly. It’s just such a shame there aren’t more songs included to change things up! Pick it up if you’re so inclined, but remember to take breaks from Intake every once in a while. Your wrists will thank you.

Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Valdis Story: Abyssal City Review

Valdis Story: Abyssal City Featured

Valdis Story: Abyssal City Boxart

Developer: Endlessfluff Games
Publisher: Endlessfluff Games
Platform: PC – Desura, Direct, Steam

You might not be familiar with the developer Endlessfluff Games, but they are a group that deserves some definite attention. In 2011, their attractive puzzle game Legend of Fae came out (maybe you’ve played it?).  Well, they’re back with another game by the name of Valdis Story: Abyssal City. As with their last major release, it is a stunningly beautiful game. But, graphics aren’t everything, so how does the game stand otherwise?

In Valdis Story, you can choose one of two playable characters (with two more being added in later). Both are humans, although from different sides of the track, as it were. Wyatt is a guy who had been living up on “the surface” where he fought against demons and angels. As you might expect, this places Reina as an underground dweller.  For her, she still seeks out exploration and danger because being cooped up is not the life she wishes to lead. Demons, angels, and ferals are all major threats to the populace – which is why someone has to fight in order to change the lives of the citizens.

As either character, you’ll explore the world in a very Metroidvania style. This means that you’ll be exploring large maps with a variety of rooms. Rooms contain enemies, treasures, and the like. There are also sections which require players to “race” with skillful platforming to get through areas in time. This is probably harder than it should be though due to jumping controls that take some getting used to. Until then, be ready to fail a handful of times when these bits crop up. Otherwise, there’s a lot of fun exploration to be had. Beating up on enemies can get a little frustrating though if they knock you off tiny platforms.

Valdis Story: Abyssal City Screenshot

Alongside searching through room after room, you’ll also be able to level the character up after enough battles. There is a nice skill tree to work through as well as the ability to increase their general stats. The inclusion of upgrades definitely enhances Valdis Story, though it would have been workable without them. Of course, the graphics are another facet that don’t have to be good to make the game engaging – but they are absolutely fantastic. The cartoony characters are animated lovingly and the backdrops also look great. Polished is one word that comes to mind, with another being gorgeous. Graphics aren’t everything but it’s always fun to see a game with such impressive art!

It’s hard to condense my final opinion on Valdis Story: Abyssal City into a succinct statement. I think there’s a lot right about the game, but still found it challenging at points due to its platforming controls. They demand more than your average platformer and it wasn’t something I was prepared for. Struggling with them early on definitely hampered my enjoyment, but once that passed it was a worthy experience. Valdis Story: Abyssal City is most worth checking out for those who have been seeking out a new and worthwhile Metroidvania game for their collection.

Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Lilly Looking Through Review

Lilly Looking Through Featured

Lilly Looking Through Boxart

Developer: Geeta Games
Publisher: Geeta Games
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG*, Mac Game Store, Steam

The past few years have been really good to adventure game fans. Thanks in part to companies like Telltale Games and Kickstarter, there seems to have been a rebirth of the genre that has long since been defined “dead” by the general gaming populace. It never died, though, and there are certainly a lot of great new games making their debut! One successful Kickstarter adventure title is Lilly Looking Through which was fully funded in 2012. Have Geeta Games managed to produce a lovely point and click adventure?

Yes! At the very start, we are introduced to Lilly. This young girl has a pair of goggles that, when worn, transform the world around her. No longer are her surroundings drab and dated but colorful and full of life! Her world becomes something straight out of a picture book or an animated fantasy film and is a joy to explore. Players navigate via a point and click interface (which includes a tool to highlight selectable objects). Some adventure games cram environments with too much interactivity, but Lilly Looking Through keeps it easy.

Lilly Looking Through Featured

Well, most of the time. There are some puzzles which caused me to employ liberal use of guess and check. Although most of the puzzles aren’t this way, the ones that are tougher can become annoying. This is mostly due to the fact that Lilly takes her sweet time traversing areas and interacting with objects. Her animations are lively and all, but after seeing them the first time it becomes more of a time waster to see them on the third or fourth loop. There’s no way to skip said animations which is the main misstep.This is a small complaint, all things considered.

Geeta Games have provided a lovingly crafted point and click game. It is fairly short (from 2-6 hours for most players) but the journey is a lot of fun. It’s easy to get wrapped up in Lilly’s goggle-aided view of the world. Her delight and discovery is definitely imparted on the player. Here’s hoping that this delightful game gains a following so that maybe we’ll see more Lilly Looking Through in the future!

Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas

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Nachtigal Review

Nachtigal Featured

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Developer: Cyanide Tea
Publisher: Cyanide Tea
Platform: PC – Direct

For many of us, the idea of having a romantic relationship with a vampire is incredibly appealing. Much of this probably comes from the fantasy aspect of the whole equation as vampires don’t actually exist! To have some ageless, handsome being doting on you hand and foot –  yes, I can see why it’s an enticing idea. But what if you simply managed to wander into a vampire’s home on accident one night? Would it still be lovely or would you end up fearing for your own mortality? This is where Cyanide Tea places players as they begin Nachtigal.

You see, it all was an accident on Miranda’s part. She was by herself on a vacation in Belgium, studying the architecture. Unfortunately, without her phone working, she finds herself completely stranded after a day of exploration. She enters into a mansion and is then trapped by two handsome, yet fearsome, vampires. Adrian and Luca don’t kill her though and let her live with them out of curiosity…

As you spend your days in the mansion, either one or both vampires will reveal parts of their history to her. Miranda somehow takes this all in stride even though she expects to die when a caravan of vampires arrive there in a few weeks. It’s odd, but her attitude helps keep the tone from being completely scary. She plays around with Adrian and Luca even though both of them end up feasting on her at various times.

Nachtigal Screenshot

This is the part that made Nachtigal hard for me to stomach. Miranda is scared – and rightly so – when they begin to use her for feeding. Yet, things quickly take a turn for the romantic as she offers herself to one or both vampires as a way to care for them. It is possibly an attempt to save herself from their anger, but the way it’s written feels icky. At least it did to me, but others will probably enjoy it as 100% fantasy fulfillment.

If it isn’t creepy to you then you’ll also probably seek out all six endings and unlock all the gorgeous CGs. Despite my trepidation, I still wanted to know every tiny bit of the story which caused me to play through multiple times. The art is nice, although it certainly gets bloody on some occasions. In particular, two endings are exceedingly creepy and not particularly befitting to the otherwise light tone. Nachtigal is anywhere from 1 to 3 hours depending on how quickly you read and if you play through more than once. It’s also available as a “pay what you want” download. As such, take Nachtigal for a spin and see if Adrian or Luca are just the kind of vampires you wish to romance.

Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas

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Ethan: Meteor Hunter Review

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Ethan - Meteor Hunter Logo

Developer: Seaven Studio
Publisher: Seaven Studio
Platform: PC – Direct, GOG* PS3 – PSN

Platformers are a lot of fun but it can be hard to dig through the piles of samey stuff to get to innovative games in the genre. The issue gets compounded once you realize that some of the innovations made don’t improve the existing formula. Ethan: Meteor Hunter is one such game that attempts to tweak things with a neat mechanic. But does it work?

In Ethan: Meteor Hunter, you must venture through a ton of levels as a little mouse. Yes, that cute rodent is Ethan, and he’s searching for meteorite fragments scattered around the environment. These serve primarily as collectibles as you try to grab each one on every stage. But there’s more to Ethan than his anthropomorphic ways. He also has the power to stop time and manipulate objects in the environment.

Ethan: Meteor Hunter Featured

How does this play out? Oftentimes, you’ll come across boxes and other items which block the way. At their easiest, all you have to do is move them aside. The difficulty progresses and requires more careful movements, sometimes interacting with other items on the screen. You might even have to make Ethan jump, pause, and move objects to keep him safe when he lands. It’s all very interesting, although it escalates in difficulty faster than might be expected.

But is there much beyond these powers to help Ethan: Meteor Hunter stand out? Unfortunately, there’s not much. The graphics are serviceable, but seem perhaps too “serious” for a game with a cute mouse lead. The music is pretty cool, although it also clashes a little with the game. Even though there are interesting pause/manipulation mechanics in play, the rest of the experience still feels like a standard platformer. It’s not bad, but not exceptional either. Still, it is exciting to see a new developer trying to do something different. Hopefully they’ll continue to push forward with changing gameplay mechanics with their future titles.

Score: 2.5

2 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Super Amazing Wagon Adventure Review

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure Featured

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure Boxart

Developer: Sparsevector
Publisher: Sparsevector
Platform: Xbox 360 – XBLIG, PC – Desura, Steam (Reviewed)

Many of us first experienced the joy of actually playing video games in the classroom with The Oregon Trail. At least, there was some excitement before realizing that the title is actually pretty tough. In the end, the most fun many of us had with it was choosing awkward/irreverent names for the group. But what if it were an actually fun, arcade-style action game? Then we’d have something like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure which would absolutely never be allowed into school.

Things start off calmly enough. After selecting three travelers, they hop into a wagon and venture through the plains hunting animals. Once that’s complete, things start to quickly descend into weirdness. Buffalos or bandits might strike out at you, or sometimes, there might be tons of squirrels rushing at you. Other times, the old timey bandits might be firing at you with machine guns. One of your wagon-goers might eat some special mushrooms that cause a great deal of trouble.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure Screenshot 1

Basically, things get all kinds of messed up and fast. But that’s obviously part of the fun. Although much of Super Amazing Wagon Adventure happens in the same general layout, the way that players work through them can change. Random hilarious events are interspersed within to keep it fresh. Much of these events are wonderful, such as discovering unicorns or special treasures underwater.

How does this game actually play? It’s about split between a side-scrolling shooter and twin stick shooter. In side-scrolling sections, you usually just have to maneuver around past dangerous things (flaming buffaloes, bullets, stinky skunk carcasses, etc) or fight back. The team has a measly gun to start but there are many gun power ups to find randomly. In the twin stick segments, you mosey around on one screen, shooting at whatever comes toward you. If you die, then the other members of the troop will investigate and have to undergo the same battle.

Gameplay itself is pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. On the other hand, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure seriously tired me out after about an hour of play. Shooting up enemies while keeping your wagon team safe is a lot harder than you’d expect and there are many, many opportunities for death. As long as one player is alive then they’ll keep going, but even keeping one person alive is tough! One of the most fun (and morbid?) things to do is name your team after friends and watch the ridiculous or grisly ways they die.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure Screenshot 2

So far, the experience is fun, if taxing. The simplicity is engaging and definitely hearkens back to earlier days of gaming. The visuals and audio definitely help in this regard. In particular, the visuals are defaulted to a mode that makes the game look like it’s playing on a CRT set. Edges are rounded and there are scan lines present as well. It’s lovely to look at the crisp pixel visuals through this veneer of authenticity.

I just wish there was a further expanded variety to make this an even more amazing adventure. For the most part, I’ve experienced dozens of playthroughs that all have to have specific types of events take place in a set order. Yes, there is a lot of variation, but these moments are additions to the existing formula. But when you consider the price of $2.99, it’s hard to suggest the game is lacking. There are multiple gameplay modes and wagon types alongside standard story mode! Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is a fun, bloody, and weird as hell journey to the American West.

Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Eldritch Review

Eldritch Featured

Eldritch Boxart

Developer: Minor Key Games
Publisher: Minor Key Games
Platform: PC – Direct, Steam

A lot of things come to mind when people invoke the name H.P. Lovecraft. Sometimes thoughts rush straight to Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, or (in)sanity. Even if you’ve never read his fiction, you’re likely aware of some of these things thanks to video games taking bits and pieces to create their own narratives. Eldritch is one such game that was inspired by Lovecraft, but also roguelikes. It might sound like a winning or awful combination (depending on your proclivity). As it turns out, the results are pretty good.

Players enter Eldritch with little explanation. They are just a woman stuck in a library, or so it seems. After reading some of the tomes, you realize that you can actually transport yourself to a new area by reading one of three special books. What is this strange new place? It’s a dungeon filled with treasures and dangerous beings – and you’ll have to survive it all. Or, as was often the case for my playthrough, you’ll die a lot.

Each dungeon is an odd mass of rooms, spikes, enemies, and objects to be found. Weapons are pivotal to survival later on and it is best to stock up on them early. Often there are coins scattered about as well which you can spend for other items. If you’re in danger, try to put the coins in storage though. Upon dying the player loses all they’ve found thus far, including any coins on their person. The same holds true for keys which are tremendously useful. However, unlocked levels will remain unlocked even after you die, which is quite handy.

Eldritch Screenshot

The gameplay itself is based around searching through levels to collect gear and find the exits. Of course, there are tons of monsters that will do anything to keep you from that goal. For about half of Eldritch the game is actually pretty easy. Then some new monster types appear that makes things more challenging – and sometimes even creepy. Sound effects are used to great effect as well.  For example, hearing odd breathing coming slowly closer will definitely cause players to be extra alert. Although there is apparently a very subtle soundtrack, I couldn’t perceive it and instead would play my own soft music over the game.

There’s an elephant in the room that it’s time to address. Eldritch looks tremendously like Minecraft. Or, it at least uses voxel graphics with pixellated skins that are certainly Minecraft-esque. This has been a trend lately for many indie developers and its easy to see why. With such graphics it is easier to worry about the experience, rather than making realistic graphics that are far beyond the scope of a small team. The game itself however is nothing like Minecraft. Aside from being able to blow up walls with dynamite, there is basically no similarity between the two.

Playing through Eldritch doesn’t take too tremendously long, but once you do, it reveals a new game+. Anyone who felt the main game was too easy will find this to be a much harder version. Features such as sneaking are actually necessary to survive! Players must also more carefully manage resources. If you felt the main game was too simple, then definitely try and get to NG+ to really start enjoying it. For me, the main game was tough enough. It’s a fun little adventure perfect for those looking to build up to more challenging roguelikes.

Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas

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