Posts Tagged ‘indie’

Democracy 3 Review

Democracy 3 Featured

Democracy 3 Boxart

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

Sometime after going through high school, I found myself becoming interested in the workings of American government. It seemed too ridiculous on the news or complex to make any sense, so I tried to learn more about it. Of course, tuning into MSNBC, I gained a skewed perspective (as is true of most Americans and their news outlets of choice). In any case, along the way, I learned about the way a democracy is meant to function as well. With this “wealth” of knowledge, I dove into Democracy 3 expecting a fairly easy time.

It was not easy, even with a tad bit of government knowledge stored away in my brain. If anything, it seems a far more realistic simulation of government complexity than any other political games I’ve played in the past. Players are brought in with a simple tutorial but even that doesn’t aid how overwhelming the main screen with icons first appears. Each icon  represents a facet of government and has ties to other aspects that it affects. Because there are so many things a President must take care of, the screen is absolutely filled to the brim with these icons.

Democracy 3 Screenshot 1

Learning how to use them, thankfully, is easier than it would seem. Hovering over icons lets you see what they do, in case the icon images don’t give a good enough hint. Everything from controlling minute aspects of what to tax, to changing the cost of education, to enacting new laws on hot button issues is in your grasp. The main thing that you ever have to worry about is Political Capital. In game, it stands as your currency which recharges after each turn. Without enough of it, you can’t enact new policy changes.

Some tweaks might not lead to big changes but others definitely will. In particular, certain religious groups are depicted as having very serious fringe organizations that can and will assassinate you. After this happened to me, I began to consider that my role should be to please multiple groups rather than just my own gains. Of course, you can try and turn the United States into a staunch dictatorship if you really want to! Just expect to make much of your constituency very, very unhappy. It must be noted that you can choose from a handful of other governments to control, but I stuck with the US because it is the one I’m most familiar with.

Democracy 3 Screenshot 2

Part of what makes Democracy 3 “realistic” is that there is no way to win the game, or make everyone love you. It’s just not ever going to be the case. Similarly, natural or man-made disasters can wreak havoc on your approval level. Yes, it’s unfair, but that is something Presidents must contend with. Of course, realism in a political sim is great for some but will confuse or annoy others. Basically, if you don’t regularly look up political news then chances are this is not the game for you – although you might learn something by giving it a shot anyway.

The biggest criticism to lob at the game is simply that it is little more than a fancy database setup to let you play President. But then, that’s all some of us want to do. Checking the small variances in increasing or decreasing percentages of funding is enthralling for a certain mindset (such as my own). Trying to balance needs of the people versus what you believe to be “right” is a fine balancing act. Democracy 3 does an excellent job at letting the player test out just how good or bad they’d be if they had all the Presidential powers at their disposal.

Score: 4

4 out of 5 alpacas

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Montague’s Mount Review

Montague's Mount Featured

Montague's Mount Boxart

Developer: PolyPusher Studios
Publisher: Mastertronic
Platform: PC – Direct, GamersGate, Get Games, GOG*

Montague’s Mount is a game that reveals very little about itself when you begin. As the story starts, your character simply wakes up on a dark and dreary beach. There are pieces of wood scattered around and it seems as if you once had a boat and ended up here. The character hobbles – perhaps his leg was injured in the accident? His coughs also echo in the quiet air which makes it seem that this guy is in a lot of trouble washing up in a strange place. You find a walking stick, and then proceed. That’s all the introduction player or character receives.

This is an excellent start to a game which, unfortunately, cannot live up to its own expectations. It sure tries though. Everything about the game attempts to push a dark and mysterious atmosphere, from the mostly monochrome visuals to the sometimes eerie ambient sounds. The story is also told in small snippets, and objects are named in the Irish language Gaeilge. This all sets up a superb “feeling” for Montague’s Mount but none of this can protect against dull gameplay.

Wandering through this isolated island is ponderous. The lead character is purposefully slow and so is his interactions with everything around him. At one point, a bridge is lowered, but it creeps down at a horrendous pace. Really, this characterizes much of the game where puzzles are resolved in equally snail-like fashion. Slow events could increase tension if there were anything to fear, but that’s not the case here either. Instead, everything is monotonously paced without a good reason.

Montague's Mount Featured

Exploration is the main goal and you’ll be doing a lot of it. Players basically have to examine every object, because it’s never known what might be useful. Only necessary items can be picked up, which is convenient. There still happens to be a ton of clutter though which is fairly annoying to comb through. But if you ever lessen your extreme attention to detail then needed objects will be overlooked, only forcing you to comb through an area or two again. Whenever a game demands copious item hunts it is annoying, but definitely more so in dark environments. As you might expect, these are plentiful in Montague’s Mount.

Even those who enjoy atmospheric and slow games might find a bigger issue with this one. For some reason, Montague’s Mount has caused me (and some other players as well) to experience definite framerate issues. Without them, I’m certain it would have been easier to tolerate the game, but the common 20 FPS or so really made other issues readily apparent. Some have reported no hitches when playing, but there doesn’t appear to be a demo to test out first.

To me, Montague’s Mount is a game that seriously could have been great but has turned out to be a very flawed creation. Puzzles usually only require fetching an item and using it, but that is hardly compelling gameplay. Of course, when finding some items can be difficult it just serves to annoy rather than immerse anyone into the world. Of course, the technical issues I encountered made it a nearly unbearable gameplay experience. It’s really sad to see a game with such promise end up this way, but they can’t all be winners.

Score: 1

1 out of 5 alpacas

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Eleusis Review

Eleusis Featured

Eleusis Boxart

Developer: Nocturnal works
Publisher: Nocturnal works
Platform: PC – DesuraDirect, GamersGateSteam

If you’re anything like me, then Eleusis might strike you as an odd name. The game itself (judging by just screenshots) could also seem to be like any number of other horror games out there. However, these initial assessments sell the game short. It is nothing like the world of Slender copycats nor Amnesia. It takes a very different path, even if they all share a few gameplay elements in common.

In Eleusis, you’re given a very basic setup. After receiving a letter to visit your mother, your journey is stopped by a rock slide on the only road. Having your car stuck in the middle of the night is quite an unfortunate situation, thankfully, you find a town nearby and hope someone there can help you. The only problem is the town seems completely abandoned… Until you hear a scream.

While playing it was hard to shake the feeling that this felt far more like a classic adventure game than modern jump scare horror. Yes, it has attractive and ominous graphics, but the gameplay doesn’t necessarily tread far from old roots. What this means is that puzzles mainly consist of finding the right objects and using them when needed. Oftentimes, there are keys hidden which unlock the doors you need to head through. This is all pretty simple, at least, although finding objects can often be difficult.

Eleusis Featured

The difficulty stems from the fact that there’s just a lot of stuff the player can interact with. About 80% of it is useless, but the other 20% will be items worth investigating or provide objects necessary to finish the game. If you ever skip something, you can go back and find it, but it might take a while considering there are a lot of places to look. Wandering too often gets annoying so try to keep you eyes peeled throughout the duration of Eleusis.

So what is that differentiates this game from the pack? Primarily, it’s due to a focus more on discovery rather than running and hiding all the time. However, another neat aspect of the game (and its plot) is revealed by the title. Eleusis is the name of a town in Greece where the “Eleusinian Mysteries” took place. This was a yearly ceremony instigated by a cult and, well, if you research it a little you’ll see the parallels between these ancient ceremonies and the game.

Mainly, the only issues lie with the title being short-ish and a bit of an item hunt. Beyond that, Eleusis is a creepy adventure game that pulls from a very interesting facet of ancient Greek history. This is a game best for those who are tired of playing copycat, half-finished horror titles which keep getting published.

Score: 2.5

2 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Bad Hotel Review

Bad Hotel Featured

Bad Hotel Boxart

Developer: Lucky Frame
Publisher: Lucky Frame
Platform: iOS, PC – Steam

Many gamers have tired of the tower defense genre as it was shoehorned into many games in the past year. I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to tune out any new games which rest within the genre, but even so, you might want to check out Bad Hotel. That’s because Bad Hotel creates something quite different out of the simple tower defense conventions.

First is the plot which sets you out as a hotel owner. The hotel is effectively your “tower” and, under normal circumstances, there should be nothing threatening its existence. However, Tarnation Tadstock happens to be in the neighborhood and he isn’t pleased with a new entrepreneur in his midst. As such, he sends legions of seagulls, swimmers, clouds, and a host of other enemies at you to make your hotel crumble.

Of course, you’re able to fight back! The player is always presented with a handful of possible rooms they can build. For example, there are main rooms which offer you money. Then there are rooms that house guns or healing stations. Unfortunately, of all the rooms, only the standard ones (aka, free of any other function) will generate cash. Without cash, you can’t build more weapons to fight. Each level is always a test to see how much weaponry you need versus funding.

Bad Hotel Screenshot

Each section of the building has its own health. Once it has been whittled to zero, it disappears, meaning you lose whatever benefit it offered. Skillfully deciding between how to orient weapon or health rooms is important because they’re usually expensive and you don’t want them going to waste. Housing them safely between standard rooms is helpful, but sometimes circumstances go so fast you’ll barely have time to think. It seems at these times that playing on an iPhone or iPad would be preferred, simply because it is hard to maneuver new rooms onto the hotel fast enough otherwise.

Bad Hotel’s gameplay is pretty fun and quickly increases in difficulty. However, that’s not all it has going for it. There are also the visuals that stand out as distinct amongst any other tower defense games, as well as most titles in general. It’s attractively designed with an art deco style and 80s color scheme. Musically the game stands out as well thanks to its procedurally-generated tunes. Each building offers its own sound effect, meaning the player is changing the music simply by how they choose to play.

If there’s any reason to knock Bad Hotel it could just be because it’s a bit too hard. The money given at the start of a round is always sufficient to get going, but if you’re not quick to come up with a strategy it isn’t enough. This could easily be solved by having two difficulty modes. Mostly though, it seems to me that playing on PC is not the ideal way to go. As I said before, quick hotel building would be much easier with touch controls, rather than mouse-based drag and drop functionality. Still, Bad Hotel provides a challenging and unique tower defense experience.

Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas

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Escape Goat Review

Escape Goat Featured

Escape Goat Boxart

Developer: MagicalTimeBean
Publisher: MagicalTimeBean
Platform: PC – Desura, Direct, GOG*, Steam (Reviewed), Xbox 360 – XBLIG

Escape Goat is one of those games that has managed to evade me since it launched on Xbox Live Indie Games. Many took notice of it at the time, but for me, my interest in any XBLIG title was negatively colored by a few unfortunate experiences. Only now have I finally gotten to spend time with Escape Goat and can’t believe I passed on it for so long.

The game is a puzzle platformer, which in itself isn’t impressive anymore, but thankfully there is a lot that manages to set it apart from the zillion others out there. The first thing anyone is likely to notice is the purple goat. This is your character, of course! The goat can jump, double jump, and ram to speed up. This unusually colored goat teams up with a mouse which can travel on walls to trigger buttons from afar, or even teleport you under the right circumstances.

As the story begins, you realize that the goat and every other animal is stuck in the Prison of Agnus. All players need to know is that they’re going to go through a series of rooms to find sheep and save them. Once every (or most) animals are saved then our goat hero can finally escape. Overall, this grants a little over 50 solvable levels. There are even more difficult ones to complete after you beat the game as well.

Escape Goat Featured

Unlike most puzzle platformers, it actually feels like the majority of Escape Goat is actually solvable. This isn’t a slight against any other games. Generally, it’s hard for me to work through many puzzle games because they seem to be hard right from the start. But here it’s easy to grasp the concepts of buttons and switches and how to most effectively use your mouse friend. As new features are introduced, such as exploding barrels, you work them into your puzzle-solving knowledge and continue to move forward smoothly.

It might only take a few rounds of guess and check to figure out the solution to a stage, but sometimes the controls can muck up plans. Playing with the Xbox 360 gamepad is recommended and is what I did. With this setup, it seemed that the goat was not perfectly attuned with my thumbstick motions. The issue only became apparent on a few late stages where I was attempting to perform some speedy hoofwork.

For the most part though, everything about Escape Goat is lovely. The visuals are a very attractive pixel art style, the chiptune music is suitably excellent, and puzzles themselves are varied from stage to stage. Beating the main game only takes a couple of hours but once you’re done with that it’s fun to then jump into the extra hard stages or even try your hand at the stage editor. In any case, Escape Goat only costs $4.99 which actually seems cheap for the amount of puzzles provided. It also happens to be the best game featuring a purple goat out there – at least until Escape Goat 2 launches!

Score: 4.5

4 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Cook, Serve, Delicious! Review

Cook, Serve, Delicious! Screenshot 1

Cook, Serve, Delicious! Boxart

Developer: Vertigo Gaming
Publisher: Vertigo Gaming
Platform: Android, iOS, PC – Desura, Direct, Steam (Reviewed)

For some reason, I’ve always had an affinity for games that have to do with food. Whether it’s BurgerTime, Cooking Mama, or Ore no Ryouri there has always been something uniquely appealing about them. It seems developer Vertigo Gaming shared my passions because in the early 2000s they released Ore no Ryomi 1 and 2. These two titles were fun, if simplistic fan games. In 2012, after serious growth as a developer, they published Cook, Serve, Delicious! This title blows basically all other cooking games out of the water.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! Screenshot 1

You begin the game as the owner of a brand new, and quite frankly, unappealing restaurant. The location gains customers primarily because of being situated in an office complex rather than word of mouth. With a zero star establishment under your name, it’s up to the player to get it into shape and eventually make it all the way to a five-star restaurant. Although you’re the boss, this is not a simple management simulator. In fact, most of the gameplay takes place in the kitchen.

Players must cook all the food that customers order! After selecting the food you want to serve for the day, you must sit behind the counter and wait to serve guests. As they pile in, they rattle off their food choices and the player must get to work preparing them. With an item selected, you have to choose all the proper ingredients and then serve. For example, if someone asks for chicken noodle soup then you’d better make sure to put chicken, noodles, and the like into the soup before cooking! Adding and interacting with food items (in the PC version) can be accomplished via mouse clicks or keyboard shortcuts, but keyboard is definitely the way to go.

Keyboard is suggested because things get incredibly hectic almost from the get go. There is often a steady stream of customers popping in, but things get even worse during rush hours. At these times, you’ll see all your prep stations fill with waiting orders that you want to fulfill. It’s possible to ignore orders, but then customers will leave frustrated and not return. Some food items are super easy to prepare such as corn dogs, but others require real attention. After a while though, you’ll likely start to memorize the various keyboard presses for different food items.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! Screenshot 3

Because keyboard play and quick reading is basically integral to being successful at Cook, Serve, Delicious! it is not a game suggested for young children or anyone with various hand/wrist strain injuries. It would also definitely be hard for those who type using the “hunt and peck” method but could actually help them memorize letter locations. As for me, my average WPM fluctuates between 90-110 and there was still a learning curve to become skilled at hammering out orders. With that said, the layout is mostly genius because many food item keybindings are directly related to their name. For example, to add bacon you type “B”. It is also possible to change most of the buttons if you need to.

Okay, so food is hectic to prepare and serve but also a lot of fun. Serving customers perfect meals makes more visitors arrive next time. With more meals served, your restaurant generates more money. And with more money you can buy a host of goodies for the business. There are many recipes to choose from, equipment to aid the player, and you can even place bets on how well you expect your next performance at work to be. Money is integral and easy to burn so manage it well!

After a while, new opportunities pop up. First, there is the ability to cater events. This is one great way to make money on the side. Many other, increasingly odd, avenues of play appear as well. It’s these concepts which expand beyond purely “cooking food in the restaurant” that make Cook, Serve, Delicious! and even better game. It just seems like such a vast product which is weird when simply looking at it at face value.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! Screenshot 2

The game is deep and will last a while. Even after all this discussion, there are still neat mechanics at play such as ratings on menu items that affect you in positive or negative ways. Then there are the e-mails you get daily that range from helpful to just plain awkward. Then there are the silly touches such as the names given to specialty menu items (such as “cheesy leaves” for a cheese-covered salad). Visually, it’s easy to see the attention Vertigo Gaming gave the title. Food looks routinely delicious with its cartoonish depictions and overall everything just seems pretty polished.

As for issues, it can be tougher to do certain menu items because they require a hand to move from the main portion of keyboard to arrow keys. Yes, these bindings can be changed, but it would have been cool to see an alternate layout available by default. Otherwise, it can be hard to make one that works well for yourself. I’ve ended up looking through the Steam Community of this game for one. It would also have been appreciated to see multiple difficulties available. I understand that the game is meant to be hectic, but it is probably nearly unplayable for those who have less than ideal keyboarding skills. An option to tweak speed, or disable rushes entirely could go a long way.

Bringing up these points is important to me because Cook, Serve, Delicious! is an excellent game that could easily attract attention from gamers of all types. It is far from the “casual” experience that supposed hardcore gamers ignore, and yet, non-gamers could even get into it. Having read comments from players so far it also seems that fans of different genres have still gravitated to the simple fun of playing this title. Cook, Serve, Delicious! is a seriously fun way to spend some time and I recommend anyone who has had their curiosity piqued to check it out.

Score: 4.5

4 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Freedom Fall Review

Freedom Fall Featured


Developer: Stirfire Studios
Publisher: Stirfire Studios
Platform: Android, iOS, Ouya, PC (Reviewed)

Freedom Fall is one heck of a game. It might not be long or incredibly complex but it offers up some entertaining platforming play alongside really neat writing. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s discuss the basics of the game before showering it with positive platitudes.

In this game you play as a shoe-less boy with hair that looks like fire and is apparently named Marsh. Young Marsh is trapped in a tower filled with traps. His goal is to fall from the top of the tower to the bottom but it’s far from easy. If you’ve never played a vertical platformer before then this might take a little getting used to. After all, it can be hard to judge your fall if you can’t even see what’s below you. Usually it isn’t so bad as to cause many repeat jumps, at least.

Why is Marsh in this tower seeking his freedom? By reading the scrawls painted on the wall, you quickly become introduced to a princess character. She is the one who has placed diabolical spikes and saws all about the tower as a means to stop you. Try and avoid them but you’ll definitely hit many on your way down.

Freedom Fall Screenshot

The princess serves as by far the most interesting character (of the two) because she pushes the narrative forward. She describes how and why she must punish Marsh, as well as how she abhors the typical princess narrative. This includes wearing dresses, being saved, and apparently talking to birds. It’s incredibly refreshing to see a character like this although we primarily see her through her personal graffiti.

Controls are a bit finicky, though. I played with a 360 controller on PC and found them to be not as precise as they could be. Primarily my issues were with hanging/climbing on parts of the wall. Of course, the 360 gamepad is known for being rather imperfect for specific control so who knows who really is at fault here.

In any case, Freedom Fall is a very brief but fun experience. It only took me an hour to play through once, although there is definitely reason to replay if you want to collect all the gears and reach a higher score. I just wish we could have seen even more of the princess and her story.

Score: 3

3 out of 5 alpacas

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Omegalodon Review

Omegalodon Featured

Omegalodon Boxart

Developer: North of Earth
Publisher: North of Earth
Platform: PC (Desura, DirectSteam)

There are a few things I’ve always really wanted to do in games. One is to get to be a serial killer in a cheesy horror movie-type title and another is to be a rampaging dinosaur. As you might guess from the title, Omegalodon fits into the category of “rampaging dinosaur” (or at least some sort of giant fish-reptile hybrid). The question is if it can stand up as a worthy experience.

When first playing Omegalodon, I was incredibly confused as to what to do. Judging by the Steam forums, this seems a somewhat common response from new players. If you take the time to read any user-created guide though you’ll see things are pretty simple. You can play on the side the giant monster or with the police and army who are trying to stop it from destroying the city. If you join monster team then you can either inhabit the actual omegalodon (only one per game) or be an enviro. Enviros are trying to preserve this rare species and have healing powers.

Omegalodon Featured

Of course, the army and police units exist to stop it at all costs. They can hop around in a variety of weaponized vehicles and attempt to stop further destruction. Unfortunately, they can also engage in shooting each other which is what some games devolve into if nobody play as the monster. You can always tell who is on what team by opening up the map and checking the color of their location marker.

So the game is actually quite simple. But even so, there are not many people playing right now. This is the same issue that befalls a lot of indie multiplayer releases. I have encountered two kinds of regulars so far. One group was incredibly rude to newbies and the other appeared to be a group of children who were having fun roleplaying rather than sticking to the army/soldiers vs. monster gameplay.

When no one wants to play the game “properly” it’s hard to get a feel for how it is actually supposed to play out. When inhabiting the omegalodon, his health decreases fairly fast too which makes it hard to do too much before dying. Overall, it does seem like a game that needs a bit more structure more to feel like a fleshed out title. That, or simply needs more players who can make a match exciting. I’d like to have a good match myself, but after hours of trying, have yet to really hit it off with Omegalodon. If you’re committed to playing, make sure to rope in a few friends as well.

Score: 1.5

1 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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Doorways: Chapter 1 & 2 Review

Doorways Featured

Doorways Boxart

Developer: Saibot Studios
Publisher: Saibot Studios
Platform: PC (Desura, Steam)

In the past year or so, it seems that many indie developers have been doing nothing more than riding off the successful formula of Slender. Although the Slender Man mythos itself follows a whole host of “serial stalker” tropes to begin with, many developers have latched onto the design as if it were the only way to make a horror title. Of course, it’s not, and we have a whole history of games within the genre to prove it. I say all this because Doorways does not follow that safe (and frankly, tiring) path and instead charts its own course toward creepiness.

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Telepath RPG: Servants of God Review

Telepath RPG: Servants of God

Telepath RPG: Servants of God Boxart

Developer: Sinister Design
Publisher: Sinister Design
Platform: PC (Desura, Direct, GamersGate)

This post is part of the Indie RPG Bundle review collection

It’s possible that if you’re reading this review that “Telepath RPG” might sound familiar to you. Having never heard of Telepath RPG: Servants of God before, it was quite the surprise that there were actually two previous games in the series. Both appeared as free titles on Newgrounds. Those Flash titles appear to have set the basics for what the series would become in its third iteration.

Telepath RPG: Servants of God sets the stage in a fantasy Middle East where people have come to impose their religion upon the local people of Ravinale. You and your parents are sternly opposed to these new rulers and vocal enough that your entire family is imprisoned! But there are many others looking to kick these theocrats out of the city. With these soldiers at your side, the player must serve as a tactician to lead them to victory. Unfortunately, the story is static in that you can’t change the main character’s gender or race despite it not affecting much (beyond the obvious usage of “he” in voiced lines).

The game is played from a top down perspective where you control each of the teammates. Actions are always governed by the player and include positioning, attacks, and healing. Each character has a max number of places they can move per turn and distances for their attacks. With each in your hands, it’s required to keep track of positioning so that one character doesn’t block another out of attacking or anything like that. Play is pretty simple and that’s a big part of what makes it so fun. It’s incredibly enjoyable to control the team and keep them smartly placed for the most effective victories.

Telepath RPG: Servants of God

Beyond these main story battles there are also side quests to be completed. Regardless of what you’re doing, Servants of God is infused with tons of chatter. Characters all have personalities apparent through their words and the writing is a pretty good read. Many, but not all, characters also receive voice acting to speak their lines. It seems the voice actors might not be professionals, but they are (usually) not embarrassing to listen to.

One point that might bother some players are the visuals. The gameplay screens for battle and exploration depict characters as very cartoony. It definitely clashes with the otherwise high quality portraits. Some scenes have colored drawn backdrops that both look unpolished and like they were pulled from a fable. I’m not sure how that works out, I appreciated them nonetheless.

RPG players who are willing to spend some time with Telepath RPG: Servants of God just might find it to be surprisingly enjoyable. It’s not perfect, but offers easy to understand gameplay and a variety of difficulty levels so most everyone can play.

Score: 3.5

3 1/2 out of 5 alpacas

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