Tag Archives: Vita

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.

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.

Downwell

downwell-gameplay-screenshot-1Boots have always been popular attire in video games. Often times they have special abilities imbued in. They might let players do all sorts of things be it walk on ceilings, or jump super fast, or run faster. One type of boot that never really got explored was one with a gun on it. Sure, it sounds good on paper. However, the practicality of such a wondrous device was always a question.

So, when Downwell came along it turned a lot of heads. It took a simple concept and made it extremely fun. Players would control their little on-screen dude as he jumped down a well, blasting monsters in his way with his trust gun boots. Gun Boots! They just make sense in a game that has nothing but vertical environments.

Basically, players want to get to the bottom of the well in order to win. So, from the surface they jump down and begin their journey. As they continue to plummet downward, the denizens of the well will begin to attack. Controls simply allow for moving left and right, jumping, and firing the gun boots. As such, players will leap from ledges and rocky outcrops, then either attempt to maneuver through all of the monsters trying to attack, or blasting them to bits with their boots.

downwell-gameplay-screenshot-2At first, things aren’t too hectic, but after a few stages the pace really picks up. Players begin to strategize on the fly, figuring out the safest path to fall, when to go on the offensive, constantly monitoring how many charges the boots have left. The last bit there is important because if players are trigger happy, the current clip of ammo in the boots will run out. When that happens, players won’t be able to shoot again until after they land on a ledge. At that point, the boots automatically reload.

Downwell has some roguelike qualities to it as well. Each playthrough, the stage layouts are a little bit different. There are themes to different sections of the game, which remain consistent (the first few stages are caverns, followed by catacombs, etc), but where the ledges, bonus rooms, shops, and monsters show up change with each run. At the end of each stage, players will also get to choose from three power-ups to help them on their journey as well. These can range from health boosts, to improved accuracy, bullets blasting out of bricks that are destroyed, and a bunch of others.

With each playthrough, progress points are accumulated and as milestones are reached various goodies are unlocked. Some of these give players new styles they can utilize in the game. For instance, one causes far more weapons to spawn in a run, but reduces the likelihood of shops appearing. Another gives players more hit points, but there will be less power-ups to choose from between levels. It’s also possible to unlock new color palettes over time. These give players all sorts of options for how their game can look if the red, white, and black default isn’t to their liking.

downwell-gameplay-screenshot-2Aesthetically, Downwell goes for a very simple, retro look. Stages have very catchy chip tunes playing, and the visuals have a fairly minimalist pixel styling. What it lacks in fidelity, the game more than makes up for in personality. The way players’ character waves its arms around trying to stay balanced on the edge of a ledge is adorable. Meanwhile the game’s shopkeeper comes off as quite cordial in a way that makes it clear he’s happy to take your money.

Since the game first released in 2015, it has gradually been ported to a number of different platforms. It is available digitally for the PS4¬†and soon the Nintendo Switch as well. There are iOS and Android versions, and the game is also available on Steam, of course. Downwell takes a very simple, but also very unique concept that makes for an extremely enjoyable experience. It’s great for both people who just want to kill 10 minutes and those who want to get sucked into a game and lose themselves for an hour or so.