Reviews of Our Favorites

Florence is a game that possesses a level of elegance that is rare in a mobile game. This is of course not the first mobile game to have high artistic aspirations, but it is not often that a project is created with such a pure and simple execution.

Florence is a beautiful mobile game developed by Mountains Studios, and published by Annapurna Interactive.

Equal parts digital comic, and interactive game, Florence tells a story of love that is relatably human, and beautifully artistic. Paired with an incredible soundtrack (which is done by Kevin Penkin) Florence is a truly beautiful piece of art. Deep and moving melodies sweep over the player and transport them into a world where the music takes the place of words, and communicates the experiences and events to the player absent of dialogue. The story is presented to the player through digital comic like frames that feature numerous opportunities for players to interact with the story.For instance when Florence wakes up, and you are able to move a toothbrush around the screen to help her brush her teeth. In one frame she is commuting to work on a bus and the player is able to interact with her social media app on her phone. Little puzzles and interactions like this make the experience of playing Florence fun and whimsical. It should be noted that there is no “losing” in Florence as the story will come to the same conclusion no matter what the player chooses to do. There are a few short puzzles that the player will need to complete in order to move forward, but nothing prohibitively difficult.

My only complaint about Florence is it’s short length. At the end of the game I found myself desperately wanting more of the great experience that I had just walked through. I enjoyed the whole game in one sitting with my wife, which took about 30 minutes or so. Brevity in itself is perhaps not a mark against it, but rather an indication of it’s well executed presentation. It is a short game that wastes no time, and every image and song is a rare form of simple magic. Florence is not one noted as it might seem to be at first glance. Florence explores many aspects of love, self discovery, and the emotions around real decisions that people must make as they grow up. The tone of Florence could be compared somewhat films such as Begin Again, or La La Land, featuring both happy and melancholy moments backed by an exceptional and moving cello soundtrack. Florence is an exceptional example of what great storytelling can be in a digital experience. The specifics of the story are not particularly important as much as the settings and emotions surrounding them.

Because the experience is relatively short it’s hard to talk about the game without giving away too much of the story or showing all the game mechanics. The best thing I can say about it is go get the game, and enjoy it for yourself. I personally really hope that Mountains Studios decides to make more short stories in a similar style but with different settings. Whatever else we get from them in the future, short story or otherwise, I’m sure it will be great.

Florence is currently available on IOS for $3 and coming soon to Android. Next time you want to get lost in a great soundtrack and story, drop a couple bucks and get this great game! The soundtrack is available on Spotify, though I would wait until after you’ve played the game as the songs are listed as all the chapter titles and contain minor spoilers. I’ve been listening for a few days now and thoroughly been enjoying it (seriously, it’s so good!).

Have an awesome day, and Happy Gaming Friends!

It’s been over a month since Christmas and New Years Eve, and all of January I’ve been thinking about how games can bring people together. If your family and friends are anything like mine then you often spend time playing games together. Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, reunions, vacations, etc… Card games, board games, video games, we love them all. It’s true that people tend to think of “party games” as being restricted mainly just to card and board games like Apples to Apples, Exploding Kittens, Cards Against Humanity, and so on. And though those are all great games to play with friends, there are so many video games which are great for entertaining groups of friends and family as well. This last Thanksgiving I even got my grandpa to play Mario Kart 8 on my Switch, which was an amazing and fun experience. He wasn’t that bad actually.

I wish that more people knew about the great wealth of multiplayer indie games that have been developed recently. Not only do playing games with friends make for a fun night because of the social aspect of gathering, but there is something powerful about experiencing interactive media with others that is absent in solely visual entertainment like cinema. Even today in 2018 video games often get the stigma “time wasters” or they are at least seen as  less valuable than film or other forms of art. However much research has gone into studying how games really affect us, and it’s pretty crazy the good things that games can for us. In fact, a friend of mine named Helen Nichols has a great article about “27 Science-Backed Benefits of Video Games” on her site Well Being Secrets, which I totally recommend you check out. I have gathered a list of particularly frantic and chaotic games that are guaranteed to bring your gaming party some big laughs. For your next party instead of breaking out one of your old board games people have played a hundred times, give one of these games a try for something a bit more unique.

There are a lot of classic party hits like Mario Kart, Smash Bros, or whatever COD game is lying around at the time. This list, however, is comprised of games that are a little less well known and have a certain element of frantic cooperation/competition that makes them both amazing couch multiplayer games, and a kick to watch for those who prefer to sip a cocktail and laugh at their friends. In no particular order, here are some of my favorites:

Overcooked

Overcooked is a hilarious, audacious, and generally ridiculous take on a simple teamwork cooking game. Players will be forced to scramble as their food orders pile up, causing them to communicate and strategize to discover the most efficient way to tackle the culinary tasks given to them. Supporting up to 4 players and devoid of any combat mechanics, Overcooked makes for an amazing multiplayer couch game when people want to play something a bit on the silly side. The cooking is pretty normal, it’s the worlds that get weird. Players will be asked to cook in moving cars, pirate ships, on ice floats, volcanoes, during earthquakes, and even in space! Different maps bring different mechanics that the players will have to deal with, for extra zainy fun. Overcooked is probably the most accessible and crowd friendly game on this list. It’s also available on a lot of platforms, being playable on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and through Steam.

Crawl

Crawl is somewhat comparable to Smash Bros, not so much in the match time, structure, or mood, but rather that one player always comes out on top, there are temporary alliances, crazy frantic arcade action, and everyone starts off equal every time. Though playable with 2 or 3 players, Crawl is at it’s best (and deadliest) with all 4 players battling for 1st. Arcade paced action with full controller support makes Crawl an amazing couch multiplayer game! Teams are constantly changing, and even when you “lose” by dying, you then re-join the other specters to torment the new survivor! This revolving door of alliances makes the already chaotic battle game that much more frantic and fun. Players struggle and race for the good shop items in an attempt to gain an edge against the overwhelming odds stacked against them, making the game fun for spectators to cheer for their hero of choice.

The pixel art in Crawl is simply amazing, and the whole game is a joy to behold (well, it’s also incredibly dark and ominous in presentation, but in that chilling, charming kind of way). Will the top player make it to that last dungeon room to fight the boss and win, or will they fall, leaving room for another t0 rise to the challenge? Crawl is relatively easy for new players to jump into. The game difficulty comes not in learning the controls, but simply with practice, as basically all creatures/weapons have no more than 2 attacks. Players who have played other combat driven games will obviously do better than those who don’t. Even so, it’s not too hard to learn the basics. With a relatively easy entry,  4 player controller support, and fast chaotic action, Crawl is perfect for groups big groups.

Crypt of the NecroDancer

Crypt of the Necrodancer is one of my favorite discoveries of 2015, and even though the game is a few years old now it still remains to be one of the most unique and fun multiplayer game experiences I’ve enjoyed. Though the game is only playable with 2 players at a time, it still makes for a great party game as the rounds can be fast (especially when death comes fast for inexperienced players). The overall vibe of the game is so wacky and fun it makes for a fun spectator game. NecroDancer is effectively half rhythm game, half dungeon crawler, empowering players to dance and fight to the groovy beats. This one is a bit harder for newbies to get used to, but can be very compelling to pass a few controllers around on death, due to the short round/level time. The frustrations that can accompany a unique and new game such as NecroDancer are somewhat relieved by the fact that the game is cooperative. What better way to dance battle against hoards of groovy undead than with a friend to struggle through it with. At any rate, whether you are a master at this odd DDR/D&D mix or a rookie scared to try to moonwalk, Crypt of the NecroDancer is a hilarious, creative, and fun game to share with friends. The sounds track is killer and should be enjoyed with that volume knob cranked up. It should also be mentioned that it’s a roguelike and the levels are procedurally generated, so even for veterans, the journey is new every time.

Invisigun Heroes

Invisigun Heroes is one of those games that didn’t seem to make as big of a media impact as it deserves. Though one could argue that operating under the radar is what Invisigun Heroes does best, as all the characters in the game are invisible. Even with the extended clip of gameplay, it’s a little hard to make out what exactly is even happening on screen. To really get the hang of Invisigun Heroes you really do have to just try it. This is certainly the game with the hardest level of entry on this list, but that is kinda one of the things that makes it so good. Essentially the game is a simple shooter with the one exception that everyone is cloaked until they fire, which briefly reveals their location. Players are all essentially just guessing where they are will inevitably bump into things causing trees to shake, leaving footprints in sand and snow, splashing water, and even sometimes run into each other. It’s kinda like playing tag in the dark in a small room, but in a good way!

The pixel art and level design is great, and the creative list of playable characters put unique and interesting abilities in the player’s hands. Invisigun Heroes works just as well with 2 players as it does with 4, and the map list is actually quite impressive, allowing for tons of variety in what is otherwise a fairly simple and straightforward game. As in Overcooked, the different worlds bring crazy obstacles all players will have to be wary of. In Invisigun Heroes though players can use these environmental elements to help them find, trap, trick, and kill other players. Ice levels have yeti’s that will pop out of caves, Egyptian themed levels have switches that toggle obstacles, and some factory stages even have cameras that will reveal players locations making them easy targets. A well-placed shot or trap is hard to master, but so satisfying when you do.  Though tricky to get used to, this game is perfect for parties as a match can be over in as little as 30 seconds. Line up 10 matches in a row, or surrender your controller after each kill to keep the action moving. Invisigun Heroes is available on Steam and itch.io.

The Bug Butcher

The Bug Butcher is another game that is only playable with up to 2 players, but it makes for a great heart pounding, high score chasing experience. Quick gameplay and level based challenges make for an easygoing controller passing experience. It’s probably better suited for playing with just one other person and working through the levels in order, but because the levels are so short (under 5 min to beat usually), and the game is so good I thought it deserved a mention here. This game is actually available on mobile devices which is where I played the majority of the campaign, but as far as I know, the multiplayer experience is only available on PC. The hand-drawn style graphics and visual design are awesome. I sincerely hope there is a Bug Butcher 2 at some point in the future.  The Bug Butcher is a simple but incredibly fun game, which you can read my full review of here.

Genital Jousting

And finally, we end our list with the crowning gaming creation that is…yes, Genital Jousting. This game is exactly what it sounds like, a game about dicks. It is hilariously irreverent and not at all ashamed of what it is. This game will at least be a hilarious conversation starter if nothing else. I do know this game can be a little bit divisive however as you really kinda have to know your audience with this one. Many people are likely to be offended, awkward, or even just grossed out by Genital Jousting (which is fair, cause it does get pretty gross). But that’s also part of the fun of it; It’s a crazy game where silly dick things play a ton of silly dick games that are somehow simultaneously sexual and routine. Maybe you want your willy to walk his/her dog (and yes, it’s a wiener dog). Perhaps you and your phallic friends will be racing, or playing soccer, or picking flowers, or a number of other preposterous competitions that real world wieners should never do. This game is awesome for parties because it’s not very technically demanding, and it’s playable with up to an insane max of 8 players! This weird and creative game is admittedly, very gross, but also in the same measure, strangely endearing.

That’s my list of 6 frantic multiplayer indie games for your next party. I hope they bring joy (and a little chaos) to your next Friday night gathering. If you have other great couch multiplayer games you like, let us know in the comments! And as always…

Happy Gaming Friends!

For those who seek visceral death in bizarre, creepy fantasy lands, look no farther! Badland 1 was a great journey through a machine infested forest, and if you liked that then Badland 2 is the experience you’re looking for!

In 2013 Frogmind released the incredibly fresh and sharp game Badland. The original was compelling, surprising, eerie, and exhilarating. With the Game of the Year Edition bringing the single player level count to 100, I thought I probably didn’t want more Badland. After a few levels of Badland 2, I quickly changed my mind.

It should be noted that Badland 2 has been out for well over a year, but I personally hadn’t spent much time with it until just recently, and I think that it is well worth a mention here as a great indie mobile game recommendation. The game is a little old but still stands up incredibly well and is just as amazing as some of the better mobile games of this year.

Setting: Bizarre lands, familiar and new. The setting of Badland 2 starts off pretty much the same as the original. The unmistakable whimsy of Badland is seen through all the eerie and beautiful levels. The small fragile creature you control flaps through a twisted quiet forest that has been infested with machines. The sharp contrast between nature and metal starts as a familiar, yet effective mood. As the levels continue however the biome of the levels changes, introducing more realized versions of past level variations. Snow levels have new environmental challenges, like ice beams. Fire levels have lava flows, heat lamps, and lasers…so many lasers. And finally the hero (and their many clones) find themselves in an all new sort of void environment, with floating green plasma, new gravity mechanics, and puzzles.

No matter the color and style of the environments and puzzles, Bandland 2 is still very much the same game as the original at heart,  which is perfect. Any large departure from the original game mechanics would likely be a loss. The squeal feels much more like a natural progression from where the first game left off.

Gameplay: New Layers of Paint on the Same, Wonderful Game. For those who have not played the first installation, essentially the objective of any level is to get at least one of the flying (or rolling) creatures that you control to the end alive. Though there are other objectives, which i’ll talk about in a minute, this all the player needs to do to win any given level. There are of course always a gauntlet of spines, explosives, lasers, waterfalls, pits, and lava (to name a few) which the player must carefully avoid on their way to the goal. The controls are super easy to use, just tap the left or right side of the screen to move in that direction and keep from falling for a second. This creates a simple but challenging task as flying through levels usually demands a lot of avoiding things.

Some of my favorite times with Badland 2 (and 1 for that matter), are levels that incorporate a lot of the pick-ups that change speed and slow time. These are often combined with cloning pick-ups will split and duplicate the little creatures. There are some incredible moments in Badland 2 particularly that give the player a brief feeling of being out of control. Having  50 clones tear across an open map full of saws at super speed, then dramatically slowing time just before they all die is an example of the kinds of things that this game will impose upon it’s players. One new addition to the squeal is the occasional ability to stop time, which makes for some amazing moments. There are also pick-ups that will make the clones sticky, bouncy, fat and heavy, or tiny and fast. This makes for tons of crazy combinations that are tricky but always fun to experiment with.

Difficulty: Change your goals to change difficulty. Though the main goal of any given level is always to get at least one clone to the end, levels always have secondary objectives like getting a certain number of clones to the end, losing no clones, or finishing the level in one try. This challenge based objective system allows players to progress through most levels simply attempting them multiple times, while also allowing experienced players to challenge themselves by aiming for more specific (and much harder) goals. This allows Badland to be what the player wants; An atmospheric immersive experience, or a tight difficult set of challenges.

Badland 2 is not really new anymore, but it still holds up as one of my personal favorite mobile games. If you decide to get into the greatness that is the Badland games, bigger screens if available are recommended along with headphones. The game’s soundtrack is subtle but all the sound design blends together to make for a great audio experience. Badland 2 is available on Android and IOS. I believe that the only difference is that the IOS version is $4, while the Android version is free but plays ads unless you pay to remove them. Badland 1 Game of the Year edition is available on Steam for $10, with controls and levels adapted for PC. This Steam version also features a 4 player mode to play with friends!

The Badland games are some of my favorites for playing in my spare time and I defiantly recommend them to anyone at all interested!

As always, happy gaming friends! 

Enter the Gungeon: Our Full Review

With the massive surge of rouge-like games flooding Steam, it might be hard to find the best ones. But fear no more! It has officially been confirmed, Enter the Gungeon is what you’ve been waiting for!

20160819141452_1

Enter the Gungeon is an arcade style, rouge-like, dungeon crawling game available for PC and PS4. It’s developed by Dodge Roll Games and is published by Devolver Digital. Like  practically everything that Devolver publishes, this game is AWESOME!  I’ve been playing EtG almost constantly since I bought It this summer, and after 60+ hours of dungeon-crawling, dodge-rolling action I still have a fat stack of items and guns to unlock! The game is hugely fun solo and even better co-op. One of the great appeals of this title is the sheer number of unlockables available to the player. With 180+ guns and 150+ items to discover and wield, each delve continues to be interesting and new.

As per my usual review style, I find it helpful to break my experience down into three categories; setting, gameplay, and difficulty. Though there are certain elements that are consistent in all good games, some games are awesome due to their adept use of dialogue and storytelling (such as Kentucky Route Zero and Bastion), while others excel at having intrinsically fun gameplay mechanics. Enter the Gungeon has a bit of everything + more gun puns than you thought existed!

Setting: dungeon crawling as you have never seen before!

20160727164543_1

The setting of EtG is especially interesting because it is both familiar and new. The game takes the familiar idea of  the procedurally generated dungeon and adds guns to EVERYTHING! Almost all the loot that your character will find in each delve adds guns, ammo types,  mags, bombs, etc… to your arsenal. The combination has perfect synergy. With a gun-themed dungeon, there are hilarious gun puns at ever turn. Even the enemies you fight are mostly bullets and guns that have been re-animated by the mysterious powers of the Gungeon! You can use “bullet time” and “Shotgun Coffee” to get the upper hand in tense situations. Or try using “Gundromona Strain” with the “Ring of Triggers” for a heavy damage tactical advantage! The Gungeoneer’s weapon choices are equally punny and awesome! Wield “Makarov (The People’s Gun!) or the “Budget Revolver” for affordable options. For Supreme firepower pick up the “Machine Fist” or the “Shotgun Full of Hate!” + Tons of iconic guns like “Void Marshal” (Han Solo), “Heroine” (Samus Aron), “Mine Cutter” (Dead Space), and “Deck4rd” (Blade Runner). 

Each character has a reason that they are in the Gungeon looking for the ultimate loot, the gun that can KILL THE PAST! This is awesome because it’s kinda a quirky idea, but also because everyone in real life has something that they would go back in time and change. It is a noble goal, but do you have what it takes to conquer the Gungeon?

Gameplay: Shoot and dodge with 180 + guns

enter-the-gungeon-review-6

As is true with many roguelikes, EtG has loot, loot, and more loot! Most of which has to be purchased before it’s added to the pool of randomly available treasure on each individual delve. It’s a ton of fun to collect more wild and crazy weapons and items the longer you play. This awesome element of looting and shopping combined with the actual gameplay of fighting enemies is near perfect. The gameplay is basically just a matter of timing dodge-rolls under patterns of bullets while mastering each random weapon you’ve picked up on the current delve. Since this is a bullet-hell game dodging can be the hardest thing to nail down on your way to Gungeon mastery, especially when it’s boss killin’ time!

enter-the-gungeon-steam-sale-header-image-htxt-africa

Of course, these are just the basic mechanics and each delve will evolve its own strategies and challenges as  you pick up unique items and weapons. Arguably this is the best thing about roguelikes; each run changes and evolves as you play it.

20160721180648_1

Difficulty: After Lvl 1 all bets are off…

EtG certainly has a learning curve. I’m not going to say it’s as hard as some other “hardcore games” that punish players brutally for every mistake, (like Darkest Dungeon) but as you descend to deeper and deeper levels the game will ramp up difficulty sharply. Cleaning floor 1 for me personally is a cake walk after 60+ hours game experience, but after walking onto floor 2 things can go incredibly well or start to take a turn for the worst. Since so many elements of each dungeon are randomly generated rooms, they can be super easy or throw 4 waves of enemies at the player as early as the first room of a delve. I would not say that the game is RNG heavy, though there are a lot of random variables. Though there is a lot to learn with gunplay, the really important skill for Gungeon survival is learning to dodge and maneuver so you don’t take damage. Because of the insane spray of bullets that often build up deep into floor 3 and on, this can become quite difficult.

20160817180753_1

Some gamers have questioned if the game is too hard. I suppose this is a matter of opinion.  Even though I personally have never beaten the last boss nor assembled all 4 pieces of the bullet for the gun that will kill the past, I’m not dissuaded from playing the game still. I feel confident that with practice and persistence I’ll reach much further goals in my future Gungeon crawls, + have a ton of fun!

Enter the Gungeon is an incredibly fun game, playable single player or co-op with 1 friend. Both modes are incredibly entertaining and well crafted. With hundreds of guns and items to find + challenges, achievements, bosses, NPCs, secrets, and hidden items, EtG will keep players entertained well into this winter. And for those who have been playing for a while, sometime this fall EtG is getting a huge free update:“The Supply Drop Update”!!!!!

etg_supply-drop-update-banner

Enter the Gungeon is available on PC through Steam and the Humble Store, as well as on PlayStation 4 for $15. You will die often, but trust me, this one is worth it!

Happy Shooting Friends!

 

The last decade has brought an amazing amount of high quality indie games to PC and consoles, providing a vast variety of games to pick from. But sometimes you might want something a little different than the many “pay-to-win” mobile games available when you are on the go. The struggle is real when it comes to finding great quality mobile games that are complete in themselves and that don’t lean heavily on in-app purchases to be fun. Everyone knows that Minecraft has had a mobile edition for quite some time now, but here are a few that you may not know about. This is my list of the top 5 best indie games that have pocket editions, so you can take these high quality games with you when you are waiting in that long line at your next concert or convention.

1. Downwell

Downwell gets the first slot on this list for a few reasons. first of course, it’s just a really great game that I think more people should know about. But secondly, it’s the perfect mobile game due to its fast pace and simple gameplay. Though sometimes it is nice to have a more complicated gaming experience on mobile, or perhaps a narrative based adventure, for those times that you need a quick burst of bullet-shoe, high-score, well-diving action Downwell has your back. Perfect for waiting in lines and killing time, but still a compelling game for Saturday night. Downwell is a simple game to learn, and truly a challenge to master. Any arcade game lover needs to go get addicted to this ASAP! It is available on on IOS and Android for $3

2. Crypt of the NecroDancer

WOW. This game is so unique and clever that I tell people often to check it out on the PC. Now that it’s available on IOS you can take the dungeon-crawling dance party with you! This one will be harder for people with smaller phone screens, but this shouldn’t be much of a problem since every phone these days looks like an iPad Mini. Even so a larger screen will be helpful as you have many enemies and items to view the farther each run takes you. Essentially this is a rouge-like that is played to the beat of the music. There’s a good number of items and weapons to discover along the way to dance-move mastery! Crypt of the NecroDancer is extremely well made. This title is currently available on IOS devices for $5.

3. Bastion

Bastion brings a gaming experience heavy in environment and brilliant story telling. The hero is accompanied in his journeys by a narrator who speaks about player in 3rd person, recalling your past while also commenting on present actions. This is tricky story telling medium that Supergiant Games nails in this title. Bastion is great because it actually transfers over to mobile pretty naturally. As with other titles you will need to have a decently sized screen for optimum gameplay, but Bastion should play well on most mobile devices. It’s a lot of fun, and tells a moving and beautifully imaginative story. The experience is well worth the low price of $5 on the apple app store, especially since on Steam it’s $15.

4. Transistor

Transistor is another title from Supergiant Games. This title takes place in a sci-fi, almost cyberpunk universe, and like Bastion, Transistor also has a great aesthetic and brilliant storytelling. In a world where people’s consciousnesses can be downloaded, city covers all you can see. The player takes the role of “Red”, an unlikely enemy of the government who escapes execution with an unexpected friend, a circuitry sword that is occupied by the consciousness of an old friend. The game can be played in real time, or in planned out turns where Red uses her highly customizable array of moves and weapons to take out her enemies in the most efficient way possible. Transistor truly is a unique game that borrows very little from other titles. Transistor is the most expensive game on the list at $10, but Supergiant Games seems to keep their games the same on mobile devices as on PC, so it’s still kinda like getting 50% off, as it’s priced at $20 on Steam.

5. Don’t Starve 

Don’t Starve is a brutal, crafting survival game set in a Gothic/Victorian setting. This game is both addicting and maddening. It’s very different from the other games on this list as a standard game of Don’t Starve often takes a long time, and being a rouge-lite game with no linear narrative plus perma-death, it is less fitting for killing time and lifting boring moments, but is better for sitting down for longer periods of time to focus on it. The PC version of Don’t Starve has been out for some time, but if you haven’t enjoyed the brutal sanity draining adventure yet this is a great way to try it out. There does not seem to be any additions to the pocket edition yet (no “Reign of Giants”, or “Don’t Starve Together”), but but hey, you can play in an airport now. As with the other games, the pocket edition is much cheaper at $5, as it’s $15 on Steam.

That’s my list of my top 5 indie games with pocket editions. I know there are some other good ones out there too, but these happen to be my personal favorites. If you have a different favorite indie title with a pocket edition leave a comment, or let us know on our Facebook or Twitter page!

As always, Happy Gaming Friends!

– Jacob Tillson

Darkest Dungeon is a game about making the best of hopeless situations. It’s a Gothic style turn based RPG, that not only explores the challenge of nuanced battle strategy, but also deals with the stress and trauma your heroes suffer as they drive back terrors in their assault on, The Darkest Dungeon!

I have personally become a bit obsessed with this game. Aside from the occasional arcade shooter, it’s about the only game I’ve played for the last month. Darkest Dungeon is not a game for the causal gamer. I am always up for enjoying an atmospheric, Zen-like gaming experience like Alto’s Adventure, Monument Valley, and Fez, this however is not one of them! It takes a great deal of time and strategy to successfully complete the various dungeons available, while meanwhile preparing for the future final challenges. It will test your strategies brutally and swiftly punish any mistakes.

Story/Setting – Gothic Lovecraft  This is one of those games that has a brilliant narration that plays in the background as you succeed or fail your missions. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the narrator in Bastion in that the narrator serves as much as an environmental ambiance as he does a means to further the story. I personally really enjoy the dramatic overtones of the game and it fits well with the theme of overwhelming darkness and despair.

20160613000536_1

The actual story it’s self is not played out in real time, but rather is more the story of how the insidious madness of the void has grown to how it is when you arrive. At the entrance to each boss (which there are quite a few of) the payer gets a narration that begins a story of how this boss came to be. All boss stories have 3 parts as bosses must be fought 3 times (easy, medium, hard versions), and this forms the structure to most of the story of the game till the end. There is however an equally interesting and ever changing story of your own personal experience in DD.  What I love about this game is its attention to detail. Each hero has positive and negative quirks (like heavy drinker, or warrior of light, etc…) which give them a special uniqueness.  Random events trigger after most quests, and while in the dungeon heroes have virtue checks that will cause them to become either afflicted with damaged mental/emotion states, or draw out best in them, causing them to become powerful, courageous, stalwart, etc… This gives every run its own story, and things even take place back in the relative safety of The Hamlet while you are gone. All this adds up to make for a great gaming experience that feels both personal and natural.

20160616012848_1

Gameplay –  Nuanced Battles in 100’s of Different Encounters.  To finish the final quest and defeat the most difficult dungeon will take many hours of preparation to level up at least 1 strong 4 hero party, and after that it’s not even a guarantee that you will succeed. After each dungeon crawl 1 week has passed. For me personally I take on average 1 hour per week (including both preparation and the crawl itself), though I do tend to think and strategize longer than other players likely do. I know the final battle is possible to complete in less than 100 weeks as veteran players have been challenging each other to complete it in 72 weeks. I am at week 85 right now and do not see myself beating the game in less than 100. The length I think is excellent though as there are many details to attend to in each individual dungeon crawl, but the whole time there is a sort of “macro game” you are playing of managing and altering leveled heroes to prepare for your final assault. It is a long run to work your way through the whole game, but it’s designed to challenge the player to do just that, and there are always bosses at every difficulty level to fight to keep things interesting.

20160609170021_1

The actual gameplay mechanics are excellent. It is incredibly well balanced, and really forces you to think about skill and class combinations, as well as the party’s resistances and initiative (called “speed” in DD). It is possible to both make a party that always stays in the same slots, and to make a party that is highly mobile and adaptive; the player must decide which is best for each situation. Heroes that reach 0 HP are on “Death’s Door” and have a “deathblow” check every time they receive DMG. This creates tense moments, narrow escapes, and realistic death counts.

One thing I love about this game is how unique and imaginative some of the classes are. Classes like the Leper, Plague Doctor, Antiquarian, Abomination, and the Grave Robber are some examples of characters you don’t often see in many other games. As many other RPG games do, this one takes bits from history, mythology, and religion to make it’s world and lore. Darkest also takes a heavy dose of H.P. Lovecraft influence as well and serves as the main theme for the whole game, though it is set in a Gothic world rather than the early 1900’s, as many Lovecraft stories do.

Difficulty – Sometimes, Victory is Retreating Safely. No matter how you look at it, this game is really hard. Maybe not like bullet hell 80’s arcade game hard, but more like really hard strategy with heavy RNG. It will cause any gamer to grow and adapt to its volatile nature, and makes one second guess their own style and battle plans. One of the main complaints I’ve heard about this game is that it rely too much on RNG and that bad luck can overcome any hero party. This I partially disagree with. Though it is true that bad rolls can cause devastating losses, the game gives the player a great deal of information about the percent chance of almost everything your hero’s will attack or defend against. It is true that the game gives no info on enemy DMG and ACC stats, but after hours of gameplay you get a pretty good feeling of how most attacks can fair against different parties.

20160605001258_1

Since the player only gets detailed stats on their own heroes and not the enemies, it feel realistic in that way, since you often know much more about your troops than your opponents. The only hero stat that I would really like to see is the hero change to pass their virtue check when tested, and to my knowledge, it is not displayed anywhere even though you can modify it with trinkets.

Though the gameplay mechanics in DD are very good, this really serves as a strong foundation that makes the strong emotional impact of this game possible. The overwhelming feeling of darkness and despair creates a drastic contrast to the rare moments of heroic victory and virtue. when several heroes are “selfish” or “irrational” then that last one becomes “Courageous”  and leads the others to victory with CRITs, party buffs, and stress heals,  it feel so much more meaningful! The struggle against terrible evil in this dark fantasy game feels perfect for an Eldritch horror style RPG. If you like RPG games or H.P. Lovecraft games this is one you don’t want to miss.

It is available on Steam and recently was added to PS4  for $25. It’s well worth it! Also check out  the developer webpage

“Return! Claim your birthright! And deliver us from the ravenous clutching shadows of, The Darkest Dungeon!!!”

Happy Gaming Friends!

 

 

 

– A NEW ODYSSEY FOR CLASSIC SHMUPS PLAYERS –

Hydora is a game that I stumbled across in the archives of my favorite game blog, Indiegames.com. Hydora was made by Locomalito, a game company that has made several other interesting and creative games of varying genre and styles. The group  produces a lot of cool merchandise in addition to bringing interesting and innovative retro-style games into today’s modern world. Although you can purchase the merch and disks of the games with covers, you can also download this specific game directly from their website, completely free.

Hydora is a side-scrolling shooter game that is sort of a mix between an 80’s style arcade game and a modern art project. The game holds more complexity and individuality than that of a true arcade game, yet still holds to simple game play and basic upgrades such as a simple primary and secondary weapon. (you pick your first and second weapon before each level), all with in game-play power-ups. I got the game because I was looking for a good game to play when I needed a break from stress, and I love old scrolling shooter games.  The thing that really got my attention about this one was the excellence in pixel art. I love the practical and aesthetic value of the level design and am surprised this game is not more well known, as it is truly excellent.

Hydorah-Temple-of-Dunarys

Story/Setting – An old favorite with a new style. The setting of the game starts in a very simple and traditional space-shooter setting that feels natural and fitting. But as you continue playing the setting quickly becomes more interesting and rapidly deviates from player expectations. There are no “worlds” or chunks of levels with single themes, but rather every level spills into the next and features a very unique and strong theme, often with completely original enemies and environmental hazards. The setting is as skillful re-imagining of a familiar style and genre.

Hydora-1st-Boss

Gameplay – If it ain’t broke…  The gamplay it’s-self could be described as simple and solid. Though much of the game is very original, the game play is actually completely traditional for a scrolling shooter; movement, guns, and a super bomb type weapon you collect in the level. One innovation to this traditional method was that you collect a new weapon (either primary, secondary, or super bomb) after every level, and select your choice a the beginning of each stage. This was clever and interesting, and though not hugely necessary, it was fun. The weapon selection and gameplay works well as a solid foundation for the rest of the game to be built on.

Hydora-gas-planet

Difficulty – 80’s style arcade brutality. As a part of the game’s self-described 80’s arcade roots, it can be sincerely difficult. unless you have a shield, which is very hard to obtain, a single hit from anything will kill you, (and even then, 2 hits kills you). Every death will also rob you of some gun power and movement speed you will have to struggle to earn back. This is fun, but at times can also be frustrating.

Overall, Hydora is one of my favorites. For a retro style shooter I would give it a 9/10. It’s not super long, but it’s high difficulty will keep you battling to finish this beautifully created modern space adventure. Everyone interested in indie games should give this one a try, and being that it is free to download, there is nothing stopping you from engaging in this bizarre galactic struggle. Suit up and join the fight to save the human race, you’ll be glad you did!

For more cool Hydora stuff, click here!

– AN ILLUSORY ADVENTURE OF
IMPOSSIBLE ARCHITECTURE AND FORGIVENESS –

Monument Valley is more than a game, it is Art. It is both abstract, as well as purposeful, it is relaxing and thought provoking, narrative and emotion, symbolic and literal, curiously real and simply impossible.

To truly experience the creative power of this game, you really just need to play through it for yourself. (If you can’t tell, I’m a huge fan). You need to get a cup of coffee, ice cream, or popcorn, (or one of each), put on your noise canceling headphones, and immerse yourself in the subtle and inviting world of Monument Valley.

Story/Setting – Subtle and unexpected. Though the game a puzzle game first, you will begin to see that themes and motifs related to the characters in the game will start to form a quiet but enchanting narrative. You do not need to know this storyline to play the game (storyline is even possibly too strong or conventional a word to describe), and all the levels can be played again individually and independently of the others. The setting it amazing and every level looks great.

Gameplay – Simplistic, but Inventive. The basic controls are intuitive and interactive; you simply tap where you want your character (Ida) to go. You can also drag, spin, and slide interactive objects in the world to solve puzzles. While there are obstacles and difficulties, the game features no direct conflict or fighting, which suits it quite well actually. Everything you interact with either builds or dismantles the world around you to help you reach your goals, which also adds to the immersive geometric setting of MV.

Difficulty – casual, while occasionally puzzling. I felt that the first collection of levels to be released were generally easy with a couple mind stretching moments. I felt I got through all the levels relatively quickly. The only real trouble for me was the last 2 levels, and very specifically, the final stage will give you some grief. But if your experience is like mine, by this time you love the game and are determined to play through to it’s conclusion. It seems that most people say they finished the original 10 levels in about 2 hours or so. (Also USTWO has since MV’s original release developed a second series of levels under the title Forgotten Shores, which I will explore in a future game review.)

Monument Valley is available on IOS, Android, and Kindle Fire. It’s something like $4, and I would say it is well worth it’s price. The game is beautiful to watch and it sounds great too.

Plus, here is a link to some great fan art the people are making from Monument Valley, most of it makes way more sense after you play through the game first. Enjoy!

http://monumentfriends.tumblr.com/

– Jacob Tillson