Category Archives: Game Reviews

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

va-11-hall-a-gameplay-screenshot-1Cyberpunk has a lasting appeal to it. Since it was first introduced almost 40 years ago, it has steadily increased in popularity. There’s just something romantic about a high-tech neon city shrouded in eternal night. The tough part when making a game set in this backdrop is coming up with something that stands out from the crowd. Sukeban has done a great job of this. They’ve taken this popular aesthetic and wrapped it up in a visual novel coupled with a heavy dose of bartending. It sounds strange, but you’ll be surprised how well you mix drinks for clients by the end of the game. VA-11 Hall-A is incredibly engaging.

The game focuses on a women named Jill who lives in Glitch City. It’s a dystopian town where corporations rule the roost and a paramilitary group called the White Knights enforce the law. It’s a harsh place where one can hardly be blamed for wanting a drink. Sometimes folk need a moment to forget about all the problems the city has. So, from the start the game sets a tone that it takes place in a world where an oppressive regime calls the shots and there are groups constantly protesting it and trying to fight back. This backdrop is made all the more interesting one considers that the developers are from Venezuela.

va-11-hall-a-gameplay-screenshot-2While the story itself is quite interesting, what really brings it to life are VA-11 Hall-A‘s characters. There are a number of them and each are dripping with personality. On one end of the spectrum is someone like Donovan. He the no nonsense editor at the local newspaper. On the other end is Streaming-chan who insists on livestreaming every aspect of her life. This leads to all sorts of conversations when people come to the bar. Some people may want to talk about current events. Others will discuss minute details of their personal life. Then there’s everything in between. It makes for some interesting conversations and also gives hints as to what sort of drinks someone might like.

This brings us to the primary gameplay aspects of VA-11 Hall-A. While all of the conversations with clients take care of the game’s visual novel aspects, this is where players pick up the controller and get to business. From here it’s time to do some bartending. Sometimes characters will bluntly tell Jill what they want to drink, especially early in the game. Later on, though, it becomes important to be able to read their moods and personalities. They’ll hint at what they want and players have to figure it out for themselves.

This can be made easier or harder depending on what players do with Jill when she’s off work. She’ll often be hanging out in her apartment, and one can decide how they want to spruce up the place with some of the money that she earns at the bar. This can range from little decorations to doodads and entertainment devices. Be sure to always have enough left over to pay the rent, though. These little bits of shopping are important because it helps with Jill’s mood and keeps her better attuned to what her customers want. The better her mindset, the less likely she’ll make a mistake with an order.

va-11-hall-a-gameplay-screenshot-3Mixing drinks is actually a fairly involved process. There are a number of different ingredients that each impact the flavor of a drink in different ways. Then players can choose how much of each ingredient to put in. On top of this, one has to decide whether the drink should have ice or be aged. It’s even possible to make a drink a double sometimes. So, there’s a lot of depth to making these things for customers. What’s even more interesting is how players will discover they’re memorizing drinks and who likes what as the game progresses. The game has a book on how to make every drink, but eventually players will barely need to check it because they know how to make almost everything by heart.

While all of this is going on, players will be bombarded by VA-11 Hall-A‘s aesthetic. Visually the game goes for a very anime-inspired style of pixel art. Each character is full of personality and the environment has that dingy neon high-tech feel synonymous with cyberpunk. Meanwhile, the game’s music is an interesting mix of synth-laden tracks. Think of any of the recent electronic genres ending in “wave” and there’s a decent chance it shows up in the game’s soundtrack. With that, there’s a lot of good music to enjoy here. Players largely dictate what they want to hear as they pick all of the songs in the bar’s jukebox at the start of each shift.

va-11-hall-a-gameplay-screenshot-4As unusual as it may sound, “Cyberpunk Bartender Action” actually works quite well together in a game. VA-11 Hall-A‘s story and characters really go a long way in carrying the game because they’re all so interesting and likable. Meanwhile, organizing Jill’s apartment and serving up drinks is a lot of fun. People looking for something a bit different in a cyberpunk setting should seriously consider looking into this game. It’s well worth spending some time with.

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam and GOG, as well as for the PlayStation Vita. The game is also slated for release on the Switch and PlayStation 4 some time in 2019.

Axiom Verge

axiom-verge-gameplay-screenshot-1When playing a metroidvania game, it can be fun trying to figure out how much either Metroid or Castlevania influenced it. In the case of Axiom Verge, that is easy to see. The game is very clearly a love letter to classic Metroid games. From its aesthetic to gameplay, it is a well put together homage to the classic Nintendo series.

The game follows a scientist named Trace who is caught in a lab accident that renders him unconscious. When he comes to, he finds himself on a strange new world with no idea how he got there. Before long, he meets an AI and agrees to help it defeat a mad scientist that is up to no good. After this, the plot thickens quite a bit as Trace recovers some of the memories that he lost due to the accident.

Right from the get go, players can see parallels with the early 8-bit Metroids. Graphically, Axiom Verge went for the same sort of simplified pixel graphics. The detail is greater than that found in classic NES games, but doesn’t quite take things to a fidelity on par with the 16-bit era. Some of the monsters have a similar feel to those found in Nintendo’s classic series as well. That being said, the environments in the game are dripping personality. It’s really exciting venturing to new areas, as it’s hard not to be curious what they’ll be like.

axiom-verge-gameplay-screenshot-2The game’s bosses are also a sight to behold. They’re imposing figures that fill up much of the screen. This is something that was common during the 8 and 16-bit eras, but largely went away for a very long time. It’s nice to see this sort of thing come back in Axiom Verge. Boss fights should be epic, larger than life battles. That’s exactly what we get here.

As one explores the world of Axiom Verge, it’s easy to see that it is a very large place with lots to explore. There are plenty of branching paths and tucked away places beckoning at the player. It’s easy to start thinking about what they may hold. Will there be a new gadget? Maybe a boss is down that path?

Of course, often times it will not be possible to venture down those roads immediately. There will be some sort of barrier blocking it, or it will be a jump too high, or the path will be too tiny for Trace. These are all instances where one is quickly reminded that they are indeed playing a Metroidvania and will need to discover a key item in order to go down that road. Nevertheless, there are constant hints of new opportunities to explore that will entice the player onward.

While doing this, it becomes apparent that the game is a bit more combat-oriented than others in the genre. It has a bit more of a run-and-gun feel to it. There are a lot of enemies that would like nothing better than take down Trace. As such, he’ll be spending a lot of time blasting these things to pieces. He has a decent-sized rifle to start, and gains new types of shots as one progresses. From there it’s up to players to swap out weapon types as situations dictate.

axiom-verge-gameplay-screenshot-3Then there are the gadgets that give Trace new abilities. There are a bunch of these, such as a lab coat that allows Trace to pass through solid objects, as well as a nifty grappling hook. One particularly fun piece of kit that he gets is a little remote controlled drone. It’s a tiny robot that walks on four legs and has a laser for fighting enemies.

This little guy is used to enter areas too small for Trace. These can be simple corridors with a switch on the other side to open a door. Other times, it could lead to a series of rooms crawling with enemies ready to attack the drone. Usually, in this situation, there is some useful item at the end of all this. If the drone is destroyed, it de-materializes and players return to Trace. This doesn’t mean that the drone is gone forever, though. It can be redeployed, but players need to start all over again in the area they are trying to explore with it.

The game provides a good challenge. Players need to figure out where to go next, remembering old areas that may later be explorable. The sheer number of enemies and obstacles necessitate one being on their toes if they don’t want to get killed. Meanwhile, boss fights are extremely exciting not just because these things are so big, but they also have some interesting patterns for players to figure out.

With all of the Metroidvania games to come along in recent years, there is a lot to choose from currently. One needn’t fear choice paralysis, however. Axiom Verge is an excellent place to start when delving into these games. It’s easily one of the best of the bunch. The game offers tons of exploration coupled with fast-paced action. It has an interesting story with some nice twists. It’s graphics and sound are a nice homage to early Metroid games and other titles of the 8 and 16-bit era. The game just does so many things so very well. People interested in delving into the genre for a bit should seriously consider picking up Axiom Verge.

Axiom Verge is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam, as well as PlayStation 4, XboxOne, and Switch.

FTL (Faster Than Light)

ftl-faster-than-light-gameplay-screenshot-1Piloting a spaceship through the cosmos can be a challenging endeavor. Doing so while being chased by an enemy fleet all the more so. Add in random attacks from pirates, systems breaking, and answering distress calls, and would be captains will find their hands quite full. These are the sorts of things that players will have to deal with in FTL. It’s a sci-fi rogue-like where players command a spaceship, dealing with these aforementioned challenge. It becomes a matter of managing all of the SNAFUs while improving one’s ship, fighting enemies, and getting away from that nasty fleet.

The premise of the game is that the Galactic Federation has suffered a civil war and the rebels look poised to win. Players pilot a ship loyal to the Federation. They’re carrying data that could turn the whole war around, but need to get to HQ several sectors away. Complicating matters is that the rebel fleet is hot on their tail.

As such, players use their jump engines to warp from way point to way point in a sector. There’s generally no way to find out what might be lurking at any of these destinations, though. So players just have to wait and see when they get there. It could be a civilian ship in need of assistance, pirates waiting in ambush, or there may be a merchant eager to do business. All sorts of things could happen.

ftl-faster-than-light-gameplay-screenshot-2A lot of the time, though, it’s someone or something that wants to start a fight with players. As such, there is a lot of combat in FTL. Battles are actually quite involved, but thankfully the game can be paused at any time to issue orders. Ships have a handful of crew members that can be moved around to operate systems. When a fight breaks out, players may want people manning the shields and weapons. Any system with a crew member operating it will function slightly better than leaving it on autopilot.

As battles wear on, players may also have to decide if they want someone staying where they are, or risk a drop in performance because crew are needed elsewhere to repair damaged systems. A balancing act becomes necessary between optimizing systems, repairing damaged ones, putting out fires, and healing injured crew. Then you may be attacked by a boarding party and all of that goes right out the window.

All the while, there’s the whole matter of blowing up the enemy ship. Players will start off with two weapon systems, usually one missile launcher and one beam weapon. From there they must decide what systems to target on the enemy ship. If it has powerful weapons, it makes sense to target their weapons in order to disable them. If they’re trying to escape, target their engines. Different situations will call for prioritizing different systems on an enemy ship, and these may change multiple times over the course of a battle. Players can also control where power goes in their systems, so there may be times where it is necessary to divert power from one area of the ship to another in order to win a battle.

As one can see there is a lot to keep track of during a fight. It’s never overwhelming, though. When things get hectic, just remember to pause the game, take a deep breath, then get the crew doing what they need to do.

Victory often leads to salvaging the defeated ship for fuel, scrap (the game’s currency), and possibly new weapons. From there, players just need to send their crew around to repair damaged systems, heal up, then jump to the next way point to see what surprises might lurk there.

ftl-faster-than-light-gameplay-screenshot-3As this continues and players go from one star system to the next, their ship will get into a more and more precarious state. Fuel may run low, missiles might run out, the ships hull may be almost completely destroyed (once its gone, it’s game over). There is a lot to worry about. As such, later in the game resource management will become very important. There might be times where one can spend a few scrap repairing the hull, but that means not using the scrap for system upgrades. Increasingly, it may become better to avoid fights so not to risk the hull. Then again, if a battle breaks out, that may result in salvaging much needed fuel if victorious. Decisions, decisions.

If one successfully makes it all the way to Federation HQ after all this and defeats the rebel fleet, good job, that’s a win. It’s also one of the ways that new ships can be unlocked. The other is meeting specific conditions during a playthrough. In either case, it opens the door to other interesting, sometimes unusual vessels that can completely change the dynamic of the game. They all have their own goodies that help them stand out from one another. Some of them are really quite powerful.

Visually, FTL is very utilitarian. It has a 2D pixelated look to it that gets the job done. It’s enough to figure out what is going on and that’s about it. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is suitably space game sounding. It’s ambient electronic stuff that is common for games in this setting.

A session of FTL can be a harrowing experience. Between all of the combat and staying supplied enough to get to the end of the game, there’s a lot to keep players busy. Given the rogue-like nature of the game, most sessions will probably end in death. However, those times where one reigns victorious are immensely satisfying. They exemplify why Faster Than Light is such a great game worth trying.

FTL is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam and GOG, as well as iOS.

Pig Eat Ball

pig-eat-ball-gameplay-screenshot-1There will be one big challenge in this write up of Pig Eat Ball. Can words adequately convey what the game is? Or will the the images in this article better explain what the game is all about? So, here we go.

Let’s begin with story. That’s as good a place as any to start. Players take control of a space pig named Bow. Her father is the king of the space station that she lives on and feels Bow is at the age where she aught to marry. With that he has begun a competition for the eligible bachelors of the space station. Whoever wins will get to marry Bow. Of course, Bow is none too pleased about this. So, she decides to enter the contest herself in disguise. Her hope is that if she wins she’ll be able to get out of her situation.

With that, players embark on a journey through the various sectors of the space station. Here they’ll find the different stages scattered about, easily identifiable by large space clams. Bow must complete the challenges that they set out for her. When she successfully does this, they will give her a pearl.

pig-eat-ball-gameplay-screenshot-2Many of the tasks given to Bow will involve collecting tennis balls. She gathers these by wandering around, sucking them up, and storing them in her belly. The difficulty here is that these make her fat. She’s already quite plump, but after gobbling up a few of these balls, she’ll become too big to get through narrow passages. If players want to slim her down to get through, they’ll need to make use of the barf button.

Yes, there’s a barf button. It’s actually extremely important. Using it will cause Bow to vomit up whatever tennis balls she has consumed, blasting them out in a spray of green slime. It makes a huge mess, but that’s just the way things go. Once she’s walked through the narrow area, she can suck up the balls again. However, it’s better to wait a few seconds for the vomit to drip off of them. If players rush and wind up making Bow consume three vomit-drenched balls, she’ll feel sick and throw up again. So, patience is key here.

Throwing up isn’t just useful for getting through tight spots. It’s also a weapon. The stages often have enemies that want to do harm to Bow. These aren’t exactly the safest places in the world. Luckily, she can barf on them. This will usually hold them in place or slow them down for a while as they are covered in goopy green bile. So, as one can see, vomit is a multi-purpose tool on Bow’s path to victory.

pig-eat-ball-gameplay-screenshot-4Stages feel like something right out of an 80s or 90s arcade game in terms of layout. There will be all sorts of obstacles in the way of Bow and the tennis balls that she needs to collect. There are the aforementioned narrow spots. There’s enemies lurking about. There are one-way paths. There are spiky things that you don’t want to come into contact with. The game also has a number of areas where Bow can use her suction to attract a ball, but needs to lead it through a puzzle-like labyrinth in order to actually get to it. Some stages go for something completely different too. For instance, there’s a sandwich making level. Another is themed around bowling. There are also boss stages with giant, over-the-top enemies to defeat. These things are even more over-the-top than whatever players have experienced up to that point. That’s really saying something.

The game also makes references to several classic arcade games with its level design. Players will likely spot the obvious ones right away like Pac Man and Q-Bert. Others may take a little while to recognize depending on how knowledgeable one is about these games.

Stages also award players on how well they are completed. As such, there is plenty of motivation to replay them and trying to get a first place gold medal in every challenge. Each stage has clever, efficient ways to complete them. It’s actually quite satisfying figuring these out.

If players tire of playing the stages already present in Pig Eat Ball, there’s even a level editor. With that people can create their own stages, or just play levels created by the community. This opens the door to a bottomless pit of stages to keep people busy.

The game even supports a party mode for four-player local multiplayer. With that, the door is open to rigorous vomiting with friends. In a virtual setting anyway. The logistics for real life group vomiting would probably be a nightmare.

pig-eat-ball-gameplay-screenshot-4Pig Eat Ball‘s aesthetic really helps to cement the zaniness of the game. This is seen first and foremost in the character design. Right from the opening scene, players are introduced to Bow’s father. He has a cake for a head and a personality not all that dissimilar to the King of All Cosmos. It certainly sets the tone for the game. Players are later introduced to the king’s guards. These guys also have cakes for heads. There are the peculiar-looking clams, too. It would also seem that there are a number of mischievous pill bugs with a penchant for tennis milling around the station. On top of this, the color scheme and level of detail in the visuals helps everything really pop off the screen. It’s very similar to the bright colors so common in classic arcade games.

Meanwhile, the game’s soundtrack is lighthearted and upbeat. It has a lot of memorable tunes and they’re easy to get stuck in one’s head. They all do a lot to bring that arcade game feel to the forefront.

It can be very hard to make a video game that is meant to come off as weird and over the top, but also not seem contrived. Pig Eat Ball does this very well. It’s visual style and characters are endearing, while gameplay is entertaining, silly, requires some thought, and is just an overall good time. People looking for something well off the beaten path would do well to try this game out. It’s easily one of the most unusual, yet enjoyable titles to come along in a very long time.

Pig Eat Ball is currently available for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam and Itch.io, as well as  PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Papers, Please

papers-please-gameplay-screenshot-1Every now and then a game comes flying out of left field that makes people reconsider what video games are. One such example of this is Papers, Please. Here, players take on the role of a border inspector in the fictional totalitarian state of Arstotzka during the Cold War. With that, players are responsible for monitoring anyone trying to come into the country. They will do this by looking at people’s passports, visas, fingerprints, and such and compare them to guidelines set out by the Ministry of Admission. As one can see, this is very different from the vast majority of games out there. It’s also surprisingly engaging as players find themselves getting better and better at doing their job.

Everyday players will head to their border post with a new set of guidelines from the Ministry of Admissions. Things will start off simple enough, but over time there may be more things to check for, and the job will get a lot more nuanced. People visiting from certain countries may not be admitted. On some days, special visas may be required. Does the person standing at the desk match the sex of the person on the passport? Is the issuing city on the passport correct? Is the date on their visa correct? There are all sorts of things to watch out for while when inspecting these people.

Players can’t afford to dilly dally while doing this, either. They get paid by how many people they let into the country correctly. As such, it’s important to process people at a brisk pace if one wants to take care of their family. Going too slow will result in an already meager pay cheque becoming all that much smaller. However, one also needs to make sure that going fast doesn’t lead to mistakes. The Ministry of Admission doesn’t tolerate this and will dock pay when it finds out. They may even arrest you in some cases.

papers-please-gameplay-screenshot-2When money becomes tight, the other aspect of Papers, Please‘s gameplay comes starkly into focus: players have a family to take care of. All of that money being earned as a border inspector is paying for things like rent, food, utilities, and medicine. If there isn’t enough money to go around, players need to decide what their family will have to go without. This becomes even more complicated when someone is sick and medicine is needed to keep them alive. Tough choices will have to be made, but don’t dwell on them too long. You still need to get up in the morning and go to work again.

The whole thing can feel a bit grim, but a satisfaction begins to stir inside once one gets the hang of things. Developing an efficient method of going over potential entrants’ paperwork, and getting enough people processed each day to earn enough to live becomes strangely enjoyable. It feels all the more unusual because it is being juxtaposed against the constant reminder that the game takes place in a harsh totalitarian regime. So, players get into this state where they’re having a blast basically doing paperwork while being bombarded with reminders as to how terrible the game’s world is.

papers-please-gameplay-screenshot-3While all of this is going on, the game’s visuals underscore the Cold War feel of Papers, Please. It’s a very simple, pixelated look. However, the design of characters, environments, and sparse use of color echoes the Brutalist architecture that was so common during the era. This is further accentuated by how quiet the game is. There is the occasional music. It’s very reminiscent of themes one would expect to hear coming out of the Soviet bloc 40 years ago. Otherwise, it’s just the sound of the player shuffling through papers, stamping passports, and ordering the next person into the booth. Everything feels very harsh and cold.

Still, it is the satisfaction of getting good at being a border inspector that carries people through Paper’s Please. It’s the sort of game a lot of people probably never would have expected to be fun. Yet, here we are. Grasping a system, then figuring out how to work as efficiently as possible within it can be very enjoyable. Even if the country the game takes place in is incredibly harsh, it’s almost as if processing people’s papers extremely well becomes a little oasis of happiness in that otherwise troubled place.

Papers, Please is currently available for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam and GOG as well as for the PlayStation Vita.

ZeroRanger

zeroranger-gameplay-screenshot-1Even spending a few minutes with ZeroRanger, the game feels like a Where’s Waldo of shoot ’em up references. This is a game that was clearly developed by fans of the genre. Seemingly everywhere one looks, there are references to shmups of old. Some of these may be blindingly obvious. Meanwhile, others may slip under the radar until the umpteenth playthrough. It’s a love letter to these games that long time fans will thoroughly enjoy. Even if this is your first shooter ever, there’s still plenty to like. The game has responsive controls, nicely scaling challenge, and a very appealing retro art style.

Like so many shooters before, in ZeroRanger the earth is being invaded by beings from another planet. As such, players need to hop in their ship and blast their way through entire armadas solo to try and stop them. There are a few other twists and turns in the story. However, this is the general gist of things.

That being said, most people don’t play shoot ’em ups for robust narratives. They just want to blow stuff up. Happily, there is plenty of opportunity for that here. The first stage feels like something from the early 90s. There aren’t too many ships and things are relatively calm. However, it doesn’t take long before the pace picks up in a big way. By stage three things get very intense with gameplay becoming more and more bullet hell-ish. It’s interesting, as it feels like the game is trying to straddle the middle ground between traditional shmups and more hectic modern ones.

Boss fights will have bullets flying everywhere. There are patterns to be learned, and strategies to hammer out. All the while, the game makes little nods to classic shoot ’em ups. This can especially be seen in some of the mid bosses that look a lot like ships from other popular series.

zeroranger-gameplay-screenshot-2Playing through ZeroRanger, it’s interesting to see how the game evolves.  It starts off being a very traditional experience. Then things shift into the world of bullet hell. For the last little bit of the game, things go right off the rails (in a good way!). First, players’ ship suddenly gets the ability to turn into a giant robot. Then a little bit later they’re greeted with a gauntlet of shmup-y mini game boss thingies. It’s not the best set of descriptors but it will have to do without giving away spoilers as to why this happens. Basically these entail a number of smaller fights with a shoot ’em up premise at their core, usually with a lot of dodging, as players try to deal with the game’s final boss. There may even be a reference to Undertale in all of that. They’re very challenging and very interesting, but also make for a nice change of pace from other games in the genre.

Hopping into a game of ZeroRangers, players have a couple of ships to choose from that play a little bit different from one another. Also, at the end of each stage, they will have the choice of two special weapons to equip on their vessel. These include a lightning spread shot, homing lasers, and a powerful, concentrated shot among others. As a result, there are a lot of ways that one can tackle the game. Each weapon behaves very differently, so can lead to a number of combinations to try out during playthroughs.

zeroranger-gameplay-screenshot-3Visually, the game goes for a very stripped down retro look. It skips along the periphery of what might be considered an 8-bit aesthetic. The ship designs and environments have designs and levels of detail comparable to games of that era. However, the color palette is kept to a far more minimalist level. Green, orange, and black are the dominant colors on screen at any given time. It helps give ZeroRanger its personality and the game jokes around with its choice of colors from time to time. One certainly gets the impression that its developers are rather fond of orange.

Over the years, a decent number of shoot ’em ups have made their way to the PC. ZeroRanger is a very nice addition to that library. The way it takes so much of what made shmups from other eras good and combines it with solid controls, challenging bosses, and a nice, minimalist visual style makes for a very satisfying experience. ZeroRanger would be right at home in anybody’s shoot ’em up collection.

ZeroRanger is currently available for Windows on Steam and Itch.io.

Epistory – Typing Chronicles

epistory-gameplay-screenshot-1Typing games are an interesting little sub-genre. They’re the sort of thing some people probably remember from their childhood. Neat little programs packaged in some sort of educational software bundle to help kids get get used to using a keyboard. Then, somewhere along the way, people started making large, grandiose game experiences out of these things. Usually titles like Typing of the Dead tend to get the lion’s share of people’s attention. However, there are other other interesting typing games that come out every now and then.

One fine example of this is Epistory – Typing Chronicles. It follows the tale of a girl riding a fox as the pair explore a mysterious, magical world. The game goes for an aesthetic that feels like something straight out of an old pop-up children’s book. As new areas open up, the camera pans out as paper landmasses, trees, and the like sprout up. All the while, a narrator is advancing the story as the girl and her companion explore this world. Basically, the game uses a storytelling method similar to what was found in Bastion. So, a narrator will comment on the fly as the player do things and enter new areas.

As players wander around, they can press the space bar while stationary. This allows one to enter typing mode. If there is anything that has words associated with it, players will be able to see them and type the words. Successfully doing so will destroy the object. Sometimes these things will be fairly mundane like areas overgrown by weeds or a fallen tree. Other times, these will be enemies.

epistory-gameplay-screenshot-2Trees and the like are no big deal and players can take their time with them. However, enemies mean business and would like nothing better than to bring an end to the girl and her fox friend’s adventure. Some smaller, less dangerous critters will come crawling up looking for a fight. However, the big fights happen when players walk on particular circular platforms. These are peppered throughout the levels and clearly mark out areas where large fights will take place.

Early on, fighting these things will be pretty simple. Just hit the space bar to enter combat, after which a series of words will appear above enemies that need to be typed. Once all of the words are typed the enemy is defeated. In this situation, players only really need to worry about prioritizing which enemies to go after first depending on how close they are and how fast they move.

Later in the game, though, new abilities will become unlocked. These essentially allow players to change stances, each associated with a different element. For example, fire will cause the word following the one the player typed to burn away on its own. Meanwhile, ice temporarily freezes an enemy in place. Lightning can link to multiple enemies at once, at least for enemies susceptible to it. Finally, wind has a push back ability which is useful for buying time. With that, players will find themselves in more and more challenging situations that require frequently hopping between these stances if they want to win. It’s nice as it adds an element of tactics on top of all the typing.

epistory-gameplay-screenshot-3As players defeat enemies, blow up fallen trees, and the like, they slowly accumulate points that allow the girl to level up. When this happens, she receives a few points that can be spent on a skill tree. This allows one to customize what she’s good at. Some might want the fox to be able to move faster. Meanwhile, others may opt to improve one of her elemental abilities. There are a bunch of different skills that can be improved, so there’s a decent amount of wiggle room in terms of what one can do in the tree.

As all of this is going on, it’s hard not to notice how nice the game looks. It has a very unique art style that doesn’t appear often in games. Going with an look like that of a pop up book, the visuals add a touch of whimsy to the game. It very much feels like one is being told a story as they explore the game’s world and see forests, ruins, mountains, and the like spring up before them.

Ultimately, Epistory is a very nice entry into the world of typing games. What really makes it shine is the different stances that players need to hop back and forth between. It adds an extra layer of challenge with the tactics that are required, making the game all that much more engaging. While the game’s visuals will likely grab the attention of casual passersby, it’s the games approach to typing that brings Epistory its lasting appeal.

Epistory – Typing Chronicles is currently available for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam and GOG.

Glass Masquerade

glass-masquerade-gameplay-screenshot-1Jigsaw puzzles are fun, but they take up a lot of space. They require a decent-sized table to do them on. If you’re not going to glue them to something and put them on the wall as a decoration, they’ll need to be stored in a closet until the next time they’re completed. In this day and age where living spaces are getting more compact and urban for a lot of people, these puzzles aren’t all that practical. Thankfully there’s games like Glass Masquerade. It’s a very casual game where players make stained glass clock jigsaw puzzles. The game is beautiful, relaxing, and a great way to close out a busy day.

Really, this is just a very simple game. It has a globe trotting theme where players visit various countries and complete puzzles with an image related to that nation. Some of these may be a bit tricky if one is not familiar with a given region. However, the puzzles are still plenty doable. Just try and match the shapes without worrying too much about the overall image. If you can figure out what the picture is supposed to be, so much the better.

glass-masquerade-gameplay-screenshot-2Visually, the game is very pretty. Then again, the developers did choose to make a stained glass-themed game, so it would be hard for the game not to look good. It’s a style that has turned heads for centuries after all. All of the puzzles are very nice to look at, with a softness to their colors that is very appealing. Meanwhile, the game plays very soft music that further accentuates the laid back feel.

At its heart, this is what makes Glass Masquerade worth spending some time with. It’s just so relaxing. The game’s visuals, music, and simple act of putting together puzzles all work together in trying to help players’ worries and stress drift away for a bit. Moreover, it’s amazing how much it can engross someone. Don’t be surprised if what was intended as one quick puzzle before bed turns into an hour or so of play time. It’s very easy to get into a mindset of, “Well, one more puzzle can’t hurt!”

glass-masquerade-gameplay-screenshot-3The actual process of doing a puzzle brings one to a screen with a clock in the middle where the pieces of glass will be placed. Each puzzle will have around six pieces with a small circle on it corresponding to circles on the clock. This gives players a few freebies to get the puzzle started. From there, you’re on your own. Pieces are distributed on two rings around the edge of the screen. Each can be rotated separately while picking out pieces to try and place. While they are on the rings, players will only see a blackened out shape of the piece. Only when one is selected is the actual color and art visible. Early on, these pieces are quite large, but on more difficult levels, there are far more tiny and / or similar shaped ones, complicating things.

While the clock is always front and center while playing, it’s mostly there so players can challenge themselves if they so choose. It lets them try and beat their times if they want to complete puzzles as fast as possible.

Glass Masquerade is a nice, relaxing casual experience for those times when someone doesn’t want a bombastic game session. It draws players in with its soft colors and art direction and tucks them in with some very soothing music. All the while, it still provides a nice challenge putting the puzzles together.

Glass Masquerade is available for Windows and Mac via Steam.

Fight’N Rage

fight-n-rage-gameplay-screenshot-1Developers don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make a great game. Sometimes a heartfelt love letter to games of old can be a lot of fun too. This is what we have with Fight’N Rage, an old school arcade beat ’em up. With beautiful sprites, exciting combat, unlockables, and branching paths to experiment with, there’s a lot to like here.

Taking place in a dystopian future where despotic mutants rule the world (basically animal people a la The Isle of Dr. Moreau), players control some of the few humans left (and their mutant sympathizers) in a fight for their freedom. There are three characters that can be played. First there’s Gal, a girl who escaped from human traders. She’s the most agile of the bunch, able to get in, do damage, then back off quickly. Next there is F. Norris, a runaway ninja with a mysterious past. He’s the glass cannon of the bunch, as he hits very hard but his defenses aren’t great. Finally, there’s Ricardo. He’s a minotaur human rights activist. Seeing as he’s a wrestler, Ricardo has a lot of strength and good defense, but due to his size is the slowest character.

fight-n-rage-gameplay-screenshot-2Once a character has been selected, it’s off to go punch mutants in the face. Here players will see that the combat in Figh’N Rage is actually quite robust. Of course, each playable character handles in their own unique way. Adding even more depth, though, is just how varied the enemies are. There are quite a few different enemy types, and they each have their own move sets and behaviors that players must learn. As the game progresses, there will be a lot of these creatures on screen at once all doing their thing. So, players are going to have a lot on their plate between managing the hordes of enemies, how they attack, and how to make the most of each situation depending on which character they’re using.

This doesn’t even begin to touch the bosses in the game. These things are orders of magnitude more difficult. They have powerful moves that are very much so telegraphed, but it takes time to figure out how to get past their defenses. Even when one manages that, it’s usually about the time where the game will decide its a good idea for henchmen to start spawning, making the fight all the more challenging. Players will likely get through these boss fights eventually since there are unlimited continues. However, doing well in these fights is something else entirely. It will take a lot of practice to really nail the fights and make them look easy.

While all of this is going on, Fight’N Rage adds one more layer to everything. There are actually a number of branching paths in the game. Some of these are fairly obvious, with arrows pointing to other areas players can go to. Other times, players’ actions will determine how the story unfolds.

fight-n-rage-gameplay-screenshot-3A quick example of this is the first boss of the game. He’ll take a human hostage and threaten to slit her throat if players approach. Ignoring him will result in that outcome, and send the player off to some sewers with a mole man boss in the next stage. However, if the player is holding a weapon and throws it at the boss, he’ll be startled and drop the hostage. After defeating the boss, the hostage will take players to a different underground path that leads to a village. So, players will need to experiment a bit to see all of the different areas that they can go to.

Each time one plays the game, they will accumulate points. These can be used to unlock all sorts of goodies. These include extra game modes, costumes for the main characters, as well as being able to unlock all of the different mutants and using them in the extra modes.

fight-n-rage-gameplay-screenshot-4As one can see just by looking at all of the screenshots here, the game goes for a retro, 16-bit look. The pixel work is very detailed, and all of the characters and enemies are oozing personality. Stages are varied and have nice little touches for those who care to look. Meanwhile, the music is high energy, guitar driven fair, just right for facing off with hordes of angry mutants.

There have been quite a few beat ’em ups to come along in recent years. Each is clearly heavily influenced by the classics of the past. They’ve captured what made these games great to varying degrees. However, Fight’N Rage stands head and shoulders above most of these. The sheer quality of the game’s combat alone is reason enough to play. Its quality visuals and music, unlockables, and such are just icing on the cake. People looking for a quality beat ’em up should seriously consider trying Fight’N Rage out.

Figh’N Rage is available for Windows.

Osmos

osmos-gameplay-image-1There are probably a lot of puns that could be used which describe Osmos as an absorbing game. So, let’s try hard to avoid that. This is a game where players control a circular blob, maneuvering it around a field so that it can run into other smaller blobs and get bigger, while avoiding larger blobs. It’s a simple concept that makes for a very relaxing experience.

Players control a sphere of bio mass with the goal of absorbing other similar blobs, sometimes with specific types that need to be hunted or avoided. As the blob travels around, it will absorb any smaller blobs that it collides with. However, if it runs into a blob bigger than itself that larger blob will begin absorbing mass from the player’s bio matter. If the whole thing is absorbed, it’s game over. Complicating things further is that the blob propels itself by ejecting a bit of its own mass, causing it to shrink, and leaving a stream of tiny blobs behind it. So in order to move, accelerate, slow down, or change directions, players need to risk their blob getting smaller.

This creates a bit of a balancing act. Players need to decide when to be aggressive and when to be patient. There will be times where the game basically forces players on the offensive. This is especially the case on stages where there are a lot of other blobs slightly bigger than the player’s. This necessitates finding suitably sized blobs to collide with all while not bumping into the bigger ones, as well as to do at a fast enough rate to start going after the large blobs before they absorb too many blobs themselves and become insurmountable huge as a result.

Often times, though, it’s better to just wait it out. Simply allow your blob to slowly float across the screen, casually absorbing smaller ones. If one is smart, they’ll pick out an advantageous trajectory early on for their blob. Then all they need to do is let it keep going, getting bigger with ease.

osmos-gameplay-screenshot-2Osmos is actually very relaxing game as a result of all this. Blobs take a while to get moving or change directions. Their slow, fluidic nature is downright soothing to behold as a result of this. Often times, one doesn’t feel rushed to do anything, and can just enjoy watching their blob move around, absorbing others and getting bigger.

This is further amplified by the game’s aesthetics. The various blobs have a soft, warm glow to them, their illumination becoming brighter as they grow. All the while they appear to be floating along the surface of some sort of otherworldly intergalactic petri dish. While this is happening, tranquil ambient music is playing. As a result, much of the game culminates in providing players with a very relaxing experience.

Osmos is the sort of game that is great to spend some time with before bed when trying to unwind, or if one needs a brief oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic day. Just let it pull you in and enjoy the experience.

Osmos can available for Windows, Mac, and Linux (via Steam), as well as iOS and Android.