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Mini Metro

mini-metro-gameplay-screenshot-1Explaining how a puzzle game works can sometimes be very esoteric. Someone could be sitting there for an hour listening, and still be a bit fuzzy on what’s going on. As such, it can often make things a lot more understandable simply by wrapping such a game in a real world setting. Mini Metro does this quite well. If one were to say it was a game where players attached lines to shapes so that tiny shapes could travel those lines and get to similar shapes, that would be hard for a lot of people to wrap their heads around. If one simply says its a game where one creates a subway system, suddenly everything makes a ton of sense.

This is a game with a very minimalist presentation. Stages look like subway maps with simple black or white backgrounds and blue representing water. Each station appears on the map as a shape with three stations present at the beginning of each stage. This is where players start, dragging their mouse or finger from station to station in order to set a train line. Players start with three lines and three trains. From there it’s up to them how their subway system will be laid out.

Don’t waste too much time, though, because passengers are going to start showing up wanting to go places. These are depicted by smaller shapes corresponding to that of the stations. This way players have an idea where passengers are going and can plan out their routes accordingly.

mini-metro-gameplay-screenshot-2Things are simple enough with only three stations, but over time more and more stations will pop up. From there, one must be clever about how their lines are set up. Sometimes a series of loops might be best. On other occasions, straight lines work better. Often, a combination of the two will be in order. At first this isn’t too difficult. However, as time progresses there will be a lot more stations on the map. When this happens, it will become harder and harder to keep up with all of the stations and passengers. This is intentional, though. The game is designed to eventually overwhelm. The player must simply persevere for as long as possible, getting as many passengers to their destination as possible before a station becomes overcrowded with people waiting. When that happens it’s game over.

To give players a little bit of help, they receive an extra train each in-game week. They’ll also be given a choice of a few other bonuses to improve their subway system. These include extra carriages, additional lines, and larger stations among other things. These will help a lot in accommodating all of the people trying to use the subway. It’s always a relief to use these in helping take some of the strain off of a particularly busy line, but one knows it’s only a matter of time before another areas becomes crowded.

mini-metro-gameplay-screenshot-3Mini Metro has quite a few stages to it, each in a popular metropolitan area. These include London, Paris, Osaka, Shanghai, Mumbai, and the like. Each provides their own geographical challenges, especially if they have a lot of water around them. Many will need to be unlocked before visiting, though. This is usually done by managing to score at least 500 on a map or maps preceding it. There is also a daily challenge mode which does exactly what is says on the box. It’s nice when one wants a change of pace from the standard game.

This is a game that can be played in short spurts or marathon sessions. Hop into a map and have at it setting up a subway system. It’s very satisfying to set up an efficient system for getting people around, especially later in the game when one has to deal with huge throngs of passengers. It’s a relaxing, simple enough concept that makes time fly by. This actually makes it a pretty good way to pass the time while commuting on a busy subway, all while making one’s own virtual subway system, which is strangely meta in its own way.

Mini Metro is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam, GOG, and Itch.io. It’s also available for iOS and Android, as well as the Nintendo Switch.

Jotun

jotun-gameplay-screenshot-1Games that throw huge bosses at players just feel epic. They instantly illicit a, “Yikes!” as battle begins. From there things evolve. First one runs around desperately trying not to get killed. The monstrosity in front of them is probably blasting stuff, smashing things, and barely giving players a moment to catch their breath. There’s a lot going on and there’s just this massive creature there that would like nothing better than put an end to players’ adventures.

Then something happens. Players start to figure out the patterns. At first one starts to discover the best way to dodge incoming attacks. Then openings to counterattack become noticeable. Suddenly, the player lands a blow on the boss. From there, momentum slowly begins to shift. Then, finally, after a pitched battle, the player emerges victories.

Of course this is simplifying things just slightly. It’s highly likely that players died several times and had to redo the battle. However, at some point they figured out what to do, and executed it reasonably well. Then they found their on screen alter ego standing over the corpse of a once terrifying boss. With that, a tremendous sense of satisfaction washes over the player, only to be yanked away as the process repeats on the next boss. That’s okay, though, because eventually the game will be completed, all the bosses dead, and those who finished this will be able to enjoy the sense of accomplishment. Even if one doesn’t finish the game, they’ll likely have the good sense to point at it and tell friends, “The fights in that game are epic!”

jotun-gameplay-screenshot-2Jotun is one such game that deserves these accolades. The game follows the story of a recently deceased viking woman named Thora. Her death was less than glorious and as a result she has to prove her mettle to the gods. Doing so will ensure her a place in Valhalla. The gods are fine with this, so they issue her a challenge. If she is able to defeat a number of Jotun, giants of viking mythology, they will grant her a place in paradise.

From there, players venture forth exploring a number of different worlds. The game is structured as half boss fights and half exploration / puzzle solving. First one must explore a couple of areas in the domain of a given Jotun. Here Thora will look for runes that open up the sealed door to the giant of that realm. She’ll also occasionally find fruit that will increase her health pool, as well as alters to various viking gods. When she comes across these alters, she is granted new abilities, which are quite helpful. The exploration and puzzle solving usually have little to no combat. It’s more about figuring out how to get all of the runes and power ups in the area. It makes for a slower pace, but is a nice counter balance to the extremely busy boss fights.

Meanwhile, fighting the actual Jotun is as epic and exciting as the little story at the start of this article implies. Seeing as the game is presented from an isometric view, it’s all about dashing in, getting in a few swings and getting out after. There will also be specific mechanics to engage in, but never get caught out. Doing so will likely result in a very large foot coming down on Thora’s head, or some other unpleasantly over-sized outcome that will take off a ton of health.

jotun-gameplay-screenshot-3These beings are giants after all, and the game really emphasizes it. When Thora engages one of these creatures, the camera pans out until she’s just a tiny little person on the screen. Often she barely comes up to the ankle of a Jotun. Seeing this is imposing enough as it is, but then the giant starts attacking.

From here it’s all about learning patterns, battle phases, and figuring out how and when to attack. Each boss will have multiple phases, so there’s a lot to sort out, but it’s very satisfying when one does. Battles are tough but fair. If a player dies, it’s clear it was because of something they did or didn’t do. Maybe they didn’t see an add. Perhaps they got greedy and tried to get in one too many swings with Thora’s ax when it was obvious the Jotun was about to attack. Another possibility is that one neglected to look for alters of the gods and / or fruit to make Thora stronger, and are now at a disadvantage in the fight.

The game is such, that it pretty much bombards players with opportunities for self-reflection when things go wrong. If a player dies a few times on a particular Jotun, the best thing to do is pay a little more attention in the fight. Make sure there isn’t anything that one is missing. Most players will have a eureka moment where they figure out what they need to do. Not long after that, the boss is usually dead, with the player sitting triumphantly in front of their monitor.

jotun-gameplay-screenshot-4With regards to graphics and music, they both add so much to the experience. Visually everything has been hand drawn frame-by-frame. The art style is reminiscent of cartoons from the 1970s with bold colors and just enough detail to add personality to the Jotun. They’re usually angry, or at least thoroughly annoyed that a mere human would have the nerve to poke them in the toe with her ax. Meanwhile, the game’s soundtrack is fantastic. It’s all orchestral pieces with a mix of softer tunes for exploration areas. Here, it runs the gamut from the serene to the foreboding. When a boss fight commences, players are greeted with a cacophonous explosion of instruments that instantly signal that shit just got real.

People in the mood for some epic battles against giant bosses mixed with a nice serving of viking mythology would do well to take a look at Jotun. The battles really are fantastic. Even the exploration can be fun, not to mention relaxing. Meanwhile, the game looks and sounds amazing. All in all, it’s definitely worth a play.

Jotun is currently available for Windows, Mac, and Linux via Steam and GOG. It is also out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the Switch.