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If your platformer has good combat and you give plenty of chances to use it, you’re most of the way to making a solid game right there. That’s what you’re getting with Ghost 1.0, a fluid, intuitive shooter built around arenas full of robots to junk. At least, that’s what the foundation of this one is. There’s quite a bit more built up around that, including map exploration, skill trees, item shops, multiple upgrade systems, and a fairly chatty plot. Not all of those will strike the right chord with you, I’d wager, but the bulk of this one is quality enough to be very much worth it.

The Nakamura Corporation is the de facto authority on Earth thanks to their breakthroughs in robotics and AI. That doesn’t sit well with some folks, most notably Jacker and Boogan, who have their hearts set on stealing Nakamura’s secrets from their space station stronghold. Getting into the fully automated facility is no mean feat though, which is why they hire the titular Ghost to infiltrate and confiscate. Ghost is a digital agent who can possess robots like a vengeful ghost, a skill that will be extremely useful and relevant as she tears her way to the heart of Nakamura’s operation.

You’ll get a few twists and turns in the story but it mostly serves as a backdrop for the characters to snark at. Ghost 1.0 loves its characters, and will bombard you with a surprising number of voiced cutscenes as you progress. Sometimes it’ll have some relevance to the plot but it’ll always be some kind of witty banter between Jacker, Boogan, and sometimes Ghost. The dialogue is stilted enough to suggest that it’s translated, and the delivery is aggressively amateur, but I’ll admit getting a few chuckles out of it from time to time. Only a few, though… Boogan and Ghost are solid characters, but Jacker is the classic anti-social hacker with awkward jokes and some questionable opinions, so you might find yourself skipping cutscenes after all.

That’ll get you back to the action faster, which is where the game really shines. Ghost 1.0 is a shooter at heart, giving you loads of guns and jumps and dashes and lays them all out intelligently on the gamepad so you can flip and roll and blast away. You’ll come across enemies pacing the many halls of the space station but the main avenue of combat is tripping the alarms, which is unavoidable if you want to access special goodie consoles. Alarms turn the room into an arena, locking you in with waves of enemies until Jacker can clear the alert. The mixes are always clever and the rewards are great, so once you know what to expect you’ll probably want to hunt down all the alarms you can for quality lootin’ and shootin’.

You’ll earn energy cubes from most everything, which is the game’s currency. There are shops all over the map which offer consumables, permanent upgrades, new passives skills, and a host of weapons to either replace or compliment your primary pistol. Some of these items can also be found after clearing a room and triggering a shower of sparkles. Collecting all of them grants you a bonus item, meaning sometimes you can save your cash for bigger upgrades. Don’t hang onto it for too long, though, because dying wipes all your money and it can come fast in this game if you run afoul of the wrong enemies. As much as I’ve been enjoying this one, I lost thousands of cubes because of some particularly brutal traps and a boss that was able to kill me after I had killed it.

There are some annoyances like that to be found, like some awkward platforming and tricky enemies, but they’re the exception here. Exploring the Nakamura Space Station is quite a bit of fun, between the shooting and upgrading and progressing. It’s not a proper metroidvania, mind you, as you only need keycards to access new areas instead of skills. Several metraoidvania-ish skills like air dashing can be found in the skill trees, which include loads of passive bonuses unlocked by finding upgrade points along the main path. All these progression systems become totally worth it when you can make ruinous acidic weapons with rapidly regenerating ammo and the like.

On top of it all, Ghost 1.0 is a pretty long game of about 8 to 10 hours. The station is expansive and there’s plenty to see, do, and hear (if you’re sticking out the cutscenes). I’m a big fan of the nice, clean art and fluid animations, and the sound design is decent aside from the weapons which sound like ghosts of actual firearms themselves. Say what you will about the writing, but this is a solid sci-fi shooter with a wealth of content to explore. There are even alternate game modes like missions, where you embark on shorter adventures to complete specific goals. Really this is one any platforming aficionado should check out, since you don’t see this particular mash-up of combat and upgrades that often.



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Skrevet: 18. februar.
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Let me be clear, I have no problem with games that borrow the style of others, provided they bring something new to the table. Let me also be clear, for anyone reading this review in the far-flung year 2019 and beyond, that I’m not talking about INSIDE because Monochroma predates it by two years. But I am talking about LIMBO, from which this game lifts a great deal of crates and elevators and levers and switches. I think there was an attempt to make this one more than a re-hash of the same concepts, which normally I would be fine with, except they seemed to have fouled up many of the parts they added, and even a few that they borrowed.

You and your young brother seem to be getting by just fine on an abandoned farm, until the little one strays too far and gets the attention of an unseemly fellow with a collection of similar children. Forced to run, the two of you cross the wide-open plains and tunnels and city sprawl of a retro dystopia dominated by strange robots and their omnipresent company of origin. Your path only takes you deeper down the rotten rabbit hole, revealing the link between the kidnapped children and legions of robots, as well as the awful head of the whole affair. If you can keep your brother safe and stay one step ahead of the muscled brute on your tail, there may just be hope for the two of you yet.

What you get from that setup is a game that plays very much like LIMBO with a few complications and a more apparent plot. As a side-scroller you can run, jump, push, pull, and swing to make your way past the many obstacles in your long path. Most of these obstacles will be ones you’ve seen before, like weighing down a teetering platform to reach a higher one, positioning elevators to reach a higher one, and moving crates or carts around to reach a higher one. Don’t expect the variety you’ve seen in LIMBO, or the challenge, for that matter. Through my entire journey I think there were exactly two puzzles I didn’t figure out right away, and one was because the gray ladder I needed blended into the gray wall it was affixed to.

The complications come in the form of your brother, whom you’ll have to carry through the majority of the game. You can do everything you normally do while carrying him, except jump as high, so many of the puzzles in the game are designed with key ladders or ledges juuuuuuuuust out of reach. Your brother will only consent to be put down in pools of light as well, and wouldn’t you know it almost every single one of those is in a perilous spot. Seriously, there are puzzles where the only light to place him in is in front of a mine cart you have to pop the brakes on, under a shipping container you have to lower, and in a sewer where he will happily be washed away to his death. My favorite, though, is a puzzle where you have to start a giant engine and the only light is on the engine belt itself, cast from light on the teeth that thread through deadly gears. Your idiot brother won’t sit on a gloomy catwalk, oh no, he absolutely INSISTS on parking on an engine belt being fed into a grinding machine.

If I sound upset, it’s because I’m having trouble thinking of a game with more contrived, nonsensical puzzles. The developers couldn’t come up with challenges half as clever as LIMBO, so they gave you a lemming of a little brother to feed into danger. Aside from one cool chase scene on a series of car elevators, there are no puzzles in the game that even BEGIN to make you feel clever for solving them. There’s an air duct maze in this, for Pete’s sake! The developers also couldn’t polish this one to any point past functional, meaning none of the animations match up with the model collisions and you’ll be teleporting off of ledges and sticking to ladders constantly. Another favorite of mine is how your hanging animation for horizontal ropes is always perfectly level, leaving your hands forever floating above curved ropes.

I’ll give Monochroma a few points for its art style, dusky black-and-white except for occasional red objects (and a fairly silly late-game reveal), and some of the environments are neat if a little nonsensical. In the three hours it’ll take to beat this one, you’ll go from farms and refineries to crowded streets and a hilariously out-of-place cyber-lab, before ending the game on an opulent airship. On that note, the story reveals just get dumber and dumber as you go, so even if the gameplay was up to snuff it wouldn’t be leading you anywhere worthwhile. But it’s not, so there’s really nothing lost by skipping this one and sticking to LIMBO, INSIDE, and the host of better games they inspired.



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Skrevet: 17. februar.
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There’s an odd little midpoint between traditional platformers and metroidvanias that doesn’t get explored very often. It’s where you have discrete levels to complete from start to finish, that also contain side areas gated by items or abilities. Generally the game is still doable from start to finish, but you can pad out your odds of success or trigger alternate endings by replaying old levels for further exploration. This is what Pharaoh Rebirth does, taking exceptionally metroidvania capabilities like gliding and grappling hooking, and giving them out during your linear campaign to be used in old and new areas alike. The structure makes for a game that’s just as long as you want it to be, though the way some of the challenges are posed, you might not want it to be all that long at all.

Dr. Jonathan Banfield isn’t exactly the Indiana Jones action-archaeologist you’re expecting. Prior indiscretions with mystical artifacts cursed him with an anthropomorphic rabbit body (and his rival with that of a snapping turtle). Unwilling to let a little setback like that slow him down, he’s found his way into a lost Egyptian city. So has his rival, though, and in their struggle they release the great and terrible Sehur the First who curses them with death in just under seven days. The only way to break the curse is to scour Egyptian antiquity for a collection of holy grails, and to also beat the others searching for them to the punch. There’s plenty of sly dealings and double-crosses to watch out for here, not to mention loads of archaeological finds to unearth.

There’s a lot of plot here, more than you’re expecting I’d wager, and not all of it is welcome. Pharaoh Rebirth subscribes to the school of storytelling that steals control from the player every five minutes or so for a lengthy radio conversation. That’s not hyperbole either, and sometimes you’ll be treated to multiple interruptions in the same room. Your chats with your hacker buddy are filled with forced jokes and bad references, too, which had me skipping through dialogues I would normally have eaten up. The writing here is poor, caused or compounded by translation issues I couldn’t say, but I found it bad enough to actually detract from the experience.

The overall experience is pretty solid, mind you, save for some irritating design missteps. Levels tend to be long and involved but laid out in a pretty logical way, and feature a good spread of setpieces. You may face a little confusion over what you can and can’t reach at first, as most of your future powers are not the kind that have discrete level features to work from. This only becomes a problem when trying to traverse deadly spikes or the upper reaches of a room, because falling and/or dying can waste a great deal of time. The powers themselves are not terribly unique, though they have some unique presentations owing to the nature of your character, like the glider that turns his bunny ears into an airplane.

I mentioned death because it’s something you’ll be encountering a lot in this game, and in the most ignoble places. Enemies and bosses are fair and well thought-out, except when they bunch up around screen transitions or happen to catch you in a juggle because of how few invincibility frames you get when hit. Things do a lot of damage in this game, and instant death spikes rear their ugly heads in several places, so extra effort must be taken when navigating the levels. You can also look forward to changes in the formula, like controlling another character for one whole level, and contending with some frustrating on-rails segments.

The core of Pharaoh Rebirth is solid, make no mistake. The adventure before you is vast and interesting, there are scads of powers and collectibles to hunt for, and the detailed pixel graphics and peppy music keep it feeling light. It’s just that there’s a lot of polish missing here, especially in the difficulty curve. Sometimes the feeling is so pronounced that this feels like a much lower-budget game than it looks, but there’s still enough right about it to recommend. If you like your heroes fuzzy, your artifacts in a museum, and you’re willing to battle through janky levels and frustration to see it done, then you might have a future with Pharaoh Rebirth.



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Skrevet: 17. februar.
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The layout of a metroidvania can have a huge impact on how it feels to play. Just look at the GameBoy Advance Castlevanias for evidence of that, the more twisting and sectioned off they were, the less people liked them. Environmental Station Alpha is going to feel like that for the first few hours, blocking your paths with a dizzying array of barriers and gaps to usher you along the intended route. It’s pervasive enough that it might seriously frustrate your efforts to explore, and that’s not the only aggravation I ran into in my journey. But if your threshold for that is high, I must admit you’ll get a creative and surprisingly challenging entry in the genre here.

Environmental Station Alpha was a research base carved out of an asteroid to aid scientists in studying alien biomes. It was a wildly successful venture until a sudden catastrophe somehow killed the entire crew without explanation. The powers that be were content to just leave the place floating derelict, at least until recently when they started picking up a new signal from its spooky halls. To finally get to the bottom of this mystery, they send you, a survey robot, to check it out. Nothing about this mission is routine, of course, and you end up plunged into the very bowels of an abandoned station overrun with loads of inhospitable critters. If you can survive long enough, you might just be able to uncover what happened to the long departed crew, and it may not be at all what you’re expecting.

That’s a bigass if, though. ESA kicks you right into the action with a pair of bosses in the opening minutes of the game, and only ratchets things up from there. Your bot starts with only a few points of health and a very short-range blaster, so until you rack up several upgrades combat is going to be risky and punishing. You don’t even get anything from fighting besides relief and the occasional barrier opening, either. Bosses tend to have long life bars and intense patterns you can hardly be expected to handle the first time you see them. And if that wasn’t enough, the game is rife with traps and hazards you have to brave to progress, like the volcanic zone that slowly kills you that you HAVE to enter more than once before getting the item that mitigates it.

The direct threats are bad enough, but ESA contains some design decisions that can exacerbate that in a big way. The worst of these are the many, many dead-ends you’re going to encounter in the first few hours of the game, gated off by powers you don’t have, mechanics yet unexplained, or just red herrings that let you see into rooms you can’t access yet. Some can be ludicrously frustrating, like the sealed door I backtracked to after getting the item to open it, only to find another door sealed with a different item right behind it. ESA is more than happy to let you battle through tough rooms and overcome brutal platforming challenges for absolutely no gain, discouraging exploration through a combination of high difficulty and poorly-signposted gates.

I won’t lie, this game felt like it hated me for the first few hours, and I still find myself getting heated from time to time in ways that most platformers don’t affect me. But I kept going, buoyed by the many things ESA gets right. The mystery is meted out to you on terminals and takes several surprising turns, especially as you learn just how varied the biomes on the station are. Several of the upgrades like the hookshot and dash can (and must) be used in very creative ways, giving you unprecedented mobility if you can master them. I also found the atmosphere very compelling, even if it does lift from classic Metroid to a hilarious degree and the pixel art tends to be so lo-res it can be hard to tell exactly what you’re looking at.

I’m a little hesitant to give this one any sort of strong recommendation, but ultimately I’ve found Environmental Station Alpha to be one of the more compelling metroidvanias in my library. It won’t be compelling for everyone, owing to the steep difficulty curve and how obnoxiously it pushes it. But even as painful as some of those challenges are, I can see they’re smartly designed and make finding your way in this game more gratifying than in most. You’ll need to overlook a lot of shortcomings here, make no mistake, but the highs tend to be a lot higher than the lows are low, and for the creepy sci-fi adventure being offered here that’s good enough for me.



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Skrevet: 15. februar.
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I’ll be honest, I’ve been avoiding this one. I picked it up around its original release because I’m a pretty big fan of the developer’s previous game, Spaceport Hope. The pitch is good, the game looks expansive, and so I had high hopes for digging deep into External Visions. But it didn’t take me long to start running into roadblocks to my enjoyment, more and more until I decided to put the game down for awhile. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for an off-beat metroidvania, I thought. I’ve tried to get back into it several times since then, and each time has only solidified what I already knew… It’s not me, game, it’s you.

External Visions ostensibly takes place in the mind of a regular everyman struggling with depression. His battle has turned his mental landscape into an actual battlefield, rife with grotesque monsters and oppressive entities. If he is to have any chance of escaping his pain, you’ll need to guide him through the vast halls and labyrinths to do battle with the beasts that inhabit them. You’ll meet some helpful folks along the way, presumably positive parts of his psyche or memories of people that have survived the darkness. Ultimately you’ll be questing for a whole little society in here, which only makes the stakes higher.

Again, it’s a good pitch for a game, but the mind is forever a perilous place to place your game. Surrealism and symbolism aren’t as simple as putting cracks or mold on your floor tiles, after all. Every part of the game’s design needs to be informed by the decision to set it in an unreal place, making sure to consider the meaning of every enemy placement, color palette, and sidequest. To put it bluntly, External Visions doesn’t do that. You know this is all inside your character’s mind because people tell you, not because there’s any clear symbolism that reveals his traumas and coping mechanisms. There’s also no significant character development OUTSIDE your character’s mind, which gives less context and less reason to care about whatever happens INSIDE it.

That wasn’t even what hung me up on the game, though. External Visions plays like a solid enough metroidvania, giving you a vast map of interconnected rooms to explore and items to find among them. However, your primary means of overcoming obstacles is not in the items you collect, but in weapons you essentially borrow. There are terminals all over the game with numbers 1, 2, and 3 on them. Each is a ranged weapon with a special purpose, like 3 which fires yellow blasts that solidify into blocks you can jump on. You must find a terminal to use that weapon, and you can only use one at a time. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, those terminals are not terribly numerous. So to solve many of the puzzles in the game, you’re going to be backtracking just to pick up the weapon you’re supposed to have at the moment.

It’s an absolutely inexplicable design decision, and one that kills the pacing of the game. I’ve absolutely had moments where I had a choice between two weapons, picked one, and progressed for 5 or 10 minutes just to reach a roadblock I should have picked the other for. It’s hardly the only issue with the game, either. The difficulty is all over the place, starting out even enough for the first hour or two and then spiraling out of control from the library. Controller support is limited and may require manual bindings to get it working, and some of the choices for sound effects can seriously grate after awhile. These are mostly small complaints but the add to the big ones in a way that’s hard to ignore.

I know a lot of heart went into making this game, which is why I hate having to describe it in these terms. But there’s no getting around it, External Visions doesn’t come together in a satisfying way. The core themes are not as fleshed out as they need to be, and the core gameplay has serious deficiencies that make it hard to stick with. It makes it that much harder to see decent art direction and level design go into such a flawed game, but no matter how much I want to enjoy it, I can’t. I hope this title has been a learning experience for team BitClub, and that their next game is every bit the success I wanted this one to be.



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Skrevet: 14. februar. Sidst redigeret: 14. februar.
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I’ve taken a lot of chances on indie games solely because of their visual style. That’s what led me to try games like Pocket Kingdom and Submerged, a mixture of art and atmosphere that evokes very specific feelings or memories in me. I couldn’t resist giving Forward to the Sky a go for that very reason, looking like something that lands square in between Studio Ghibli and Skies of Arcadia. But I know as well as anyone that it’s always a gamble when you pick up a game based on screenshots, and this one was a bust. As much as it may have nailed an aesthetic that I really appreciate, it certainly didn’t take any inspiration from better platformers or adventures.

I won’t go too deep on the story here, partly because uncovering it is a major thrust of the progression and partly because there’s not much depth anyway. The sky tower was once an important source of magical crystals for the world, but a none too neighborly witch moved in and cut off the supply for a better part of a century. The tower drifted away under her ownership but now it’s back, and a spry little princess with a poofy dress and a bigass sword is looking to seize the means of production. But not all is as it seems in this airborne edifice, and it becomes clear right from the start that the witch is hiding a greater secret. If the princess can survive the journey up to meet her, she might get a little bit more than she bargained for.

The story is told in very brief still scenes between levels, but there’s a catch. One of the magical properties of the crystals here is recording memories, and as you bash enemies and statues for the precious gems you’ll unlock more of the tale. Functionally, this means you have to collect all 100 crystals in a level to see the full scene and keep up with the story, and while they’re not exactly hidden it means the game is geared way more towards completionists. It’s also worth mentioning there’s a lot of dialog between the princess and the witch during levels, and it assumes you’ve seen the whole story scene leading into that level. This can get a little awkward if you’re not keeping up with your collecting, but not as awkward as the intensely amateur-hour voice acting.

Crystals are squirreled away in statues off the beaten path and in the bodies of rather adorable skeletons that you’ll spar with periodically during levels. Each kind of skeleton pretty much has one attack and goes down in a couple hits, so fighting them is just a matter of clicking in their direction. You have two stiff combos that will dispatch just about anything, and while they’ll get some hits on you from their own stiff attacks, you have so much health you can laugh it off. Outside the combat you’ll be scaling a big stone tower, or at least the fragments of it. Levels are really collections of rooms and platforms floating in the big blue sky, and while they might look vast and complex there’s really just one main path through each level. Take a peek at obvious platforms and you should find all the statues, and don’t bother exploring little ledges or archways because they’re just for show.

It’ll take you about 15-20 minutes to get through each level, and there are six to tackle. They tend to have different gimmicks like spinning fans or gusting winds but every single mechanic and hazard feels either poorly-implemented or janky to work with. There are mystical breezes that push you around but the glow that marks them is far too subtle, and the aforementioned fans have finicky hitboxes. More important than any of this, though is that levels are just boring. There’s not enough going on, not enough to see, and so little to the plot and combat that Forward to the Sky really lacks any kind of hook whatsoever. I could easily beat this in two hours but when I realized I was dozing off during fights in the fourth level, I knew it was time to stop.



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Skrevet: 13. februar.
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It’s always strange to see a game that sets up the foundations of solid action and then fails to capitalize on it. Seraph certainly ticks all the right boxes to build out something special, between its hands-free aiming and aerial acrobatics and procedural levels and upgrade systems. And I can imagine that, for the first little bit, you’ll get a kick out of hopping and flipping and blasting demons with little effort. But as the levels tick past and the enemies hardly change and the action only becomes more time-consuming, I can see folks wondering if and when the game’s actually going to go somewhere. I know I did.

Seraph awakens in a sort of prison pod, deep in the bowels of some high-tech facility. That’s not the only prison binding her, though… she’s an angel of the heavenly host, but bound to a mortal body and too weak to break free. Her mission is to return to the lands of divinity but there’s the little matter of a horde of demons occupying the many halls between her and freedom. Fortunately there are plenty of guns lying around, and Seraph has plenty of angelic fury to power them with. As she begins ventilating the many spawns of Satan she’ll converse with other survivors and entities within the facility, each with another piece of her checkered past and uncertain future to share.

Narrative is always a focus of mine, so it was doubly disappointing to have an interesting setup for the story that turned out to be squandered. Right away Seraph is bombarded not just with the limitations of her imprisonment, but the bombshell that she herself summoned the demons that have laid waste to the base. Instead of really examining that in any depth, she simply chugs along as an unwavering, hard♥♥♥♥♥♥♥protagonist who grumbles at dissenters and loudly declares the righteousness of her crusade. It seems every time a potentially interesting character is introduced, like the friend of the body Seraph is inhabiting, that potential is dumpstered in favor of more stern grousing and dismissive proselytizing.

I doubt you’re here for a heavy narrative anyway, but there’s a good chance you’ll find the action just as lacking. Again, Seraph starts out with great promise on this front, offering fluid movement, a double-jump and air dash, and the good sense to shoot at anything close and infernal. The vaunted automatic aiming works quite well and takes a lot of the pressure off controlling your lithe angel, allowing you to focus on dodging attacks and zipping about the room as you whittle down your foes. But past the first few rooms that whittling is going to take awhile, as any weapon besides your starting pistols has very limited ammo, and your pea-shooters are just that unless you pump everything you have into upgrading them.

Even when the combat isn’t just about watching health bars inch downward, there’s simply not enough variety to carry the thing. I’ve seen maybe five different demons in my 90 minutes of running and gunning, and each has only one or maybe two attacks. Levels challenge you to either destroy monster spawners (which means more of the same) or a boss, which is just a larger base monster with additional randomized attacks like “shoots fire” or “shoots purple things”. You’ll find materials scattered across the stages to give yourself passive bonuses or build gear, but weapons are just added to the random drop pool and everything else is just passive bonuses. You can make new powers but I didn’t even get enough junk to try them out.

All Seraph really needed was more variety to its gameplay, but even with the fluid movement and shooting I was falling asleep at the controls. You’ll be killing the same monsters over and over and just taking longer to do it the further you go, in levels ironically randomized the same ways. I won’t knock the graphics or sound design, it feels like a very polished game, but one devoid of anything to compel you on to the end. I would love to see a more fully-realized game from these developers, one that does something with the story and mechanics that has a hint of dynamism or progression to it, because Seraph is not that game.



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Skrevet: 12. februar.
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Review copy provided by publisher

Story is a bit of an optional feature in puzzle games. Some of my favorite puzzle games have none at all, and even classics like Professor Layton keep the plot and puzzles almost entirely separated. Pocket Kingdom surprised me because on the surface it looked to be an assortment of very pretty puzzle rooms and little else. But those rooms are populated by an entire society of characters ready to explain the history and workings of their little world. You’ll be getting equal parts brain-teasers and world-building here, and you’ll need to be paying attention to both to get the most out of this challenging title.

Burly adventurer-for-hire Tim Tom has taken a job to bring back photos of the mysterious Pocket Kingdom, a floating island of legend. Turns out the easy part is finding it, because Tim plants his airship into the side of it and now has to find a new way off. But no one who lands on Pocket Kingdom leaves again, thanks to some mind-bending enchantments the slumbering god Yumo placed on the place. No matter which direction you go, you end up back where you started, so most of the folks that ended up here decided to stay right where they are. Not everything is so cut and dry in the kingdom, though, and there may yet be a way back home for Tim if he can penetrate the many mysteries of gods and men to be found here.

None of that is exaggeration, mind you, and the many NPCs you meet will helpfully explain it all. Pocket Kingdom (so-called because it is said to exist in “Yumo’s pocket”) is an array of a hundred or so rooms connected by doorways, ladders, and portals. Any other means of egress, like stepping or falling off the edge of the screen, just loops you back around to the other side. This is both a major plot point and gameplay mechanic, and I have the utmost respect for any game that intertwines the two. Right from the start the characters you meet explain both the rules and the setting, building it up as a fully-functioning society you’re trying to escape with different figures and factions to deal with. It almost feels like Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky except populated, which is something I’m surely not alone in wanting for ages.

Interactions with NPCs are pretty simple dialogues, though you’ll need to keep track of who offers what items for trade and who sends you to do what. Your map and diary are both useful for this, with the former marking key item locations (and allowing instant travel after a certain point) and the latter spelling out all the important plot beats. That leaves you free to focus the majority of your brain power on the puzzles, which you will surely need and then some. The mechanics of Pocket Kingdom mean you’ll have to approach puzzles from more than just a 2D perspective, keeping in mind how the screen wrapping will affect you, the crates you push, and the traps you contend with. As if that wasn’t enough, the game also introduces gravity flipping and switch-operated platforms early on, which multiplies the complexity to an incredible degree.

Pocket Kingdom is the kind of game that can easily get too tricky to finish, depending on how well you acclimate to the mix of mechanics. It doesn’t appear to be a long game, around three to four hours, but getting stumped on a puzzle or two can balloon that out or put you off the game entirely. There’s a wonderful story to unravel here, set in a picturesque fantasy world of warm pixel art and soothing music, but you’ll have to tackle some devilish rooms to see it all. For my part, the setting and richness of the experience is more than enough reason to get lost in this one, and as long as you’re aware of what you’re getting into, I’d encourage you to do the same.



Did you enjoy this review? I certainly hope so, and I certainly hope you'll check out more of them at https://goldplatedgames.com/ or on my curation page!
Skrevet: 11. februar.
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Review copy provided by developer

I’ve never made a platformer, so I don’t actually know how hard it is to get the movement and responsiveness just right. There are platformers that absolutely nail it, like Dead Cells and Hollow Knight, and there are plenty of others that don’t. Catmaze falls closer to the latter category, a game where everything is going to be a bit looser than you might like. It’s the kind of thing that normally puts me off of a game, but here I am writing about it after hours of adventuring. Honestly, that’s because there’s so much to see and discover in Catmaze that even loose controls couldn’t shake me off the trail.

Young Alesta lives on the edge of civilization with her magically-inclined mother, training to be an accomplished witch herself. The countryside is crawling with evil spirits and angry gods though, and as it tends to happen in these things tragedy strikes Alesta and she decides to strike back. To get back what she’s lost, she has to track down one of the few beings that knows the way to the world beyond, and it just happens to be a cat. There’s a lot of ground to cover between her and her fuzzy objective, though, with plenty of beasts to battle, deities to deal with, and villagers to visit. Alesta will need to solve quite a few mysteries of her mythical lands, and some of them may lead right back to her.

This may look like another cutesy pixel-art adventure, but the tone of Catmaze is often at right angles from its art style. The entire game is steeped heavily in Slavic myth, pitting you against everything from animated mushrooms to mysterious kikimora to Chernobog himself. And if you’re unfamiliar with Slavic myth, it can get about as dark as the grimmest fairy tales do. There’s a lot of tragedy to unpack in this story, and not just Alesta’s. You’ll meet kids lost in the woods looking for medicine for their sick parents, siblings pitted against each other in a contest for divine favor, and even an man cursed to have his very joy sucked from his body. Some fairly dense dialog delivers all this drama to you in a way that I didn’t appreciate at first, but there’s a scene late in the game between three deities that actually pulled at my heartstrings a bit.

Even if you’re not super invested in the story, there’s a bucketload of gameplay to get invested in. Alesta’s world is pretty massive, with hundreds of rooms to explore, and the way you’ll have to visit NPCs and backtrack to certain doors makes the scope reveal itself in a very gradual way. Your map for this is terribly useful, marking not just doors and save points and fast travel rooms, but also key plot beats and upgrades that you can get once you obtain a new power. It made it so I was never unsure of where to go, despite the massive, meandering map, and it was also that much easier to revisit places I wanted to check out with my new powers. You’ll want to do as much exploring as possible too, because there are some really neat locations and side stories to find if you’re looking hard enough.

Your powers usually come in the form of familiars, which you can equip two at a time. Your melee familiar will be something like a cat or a bat that whips around you to swipe at things, forming you main mode of attack. In contrast your ranged familiar requires mana to use, but launches fireballs or freezing bolts or crawling spiders that can clear or create paths through tricky areas. You’ll have consumables to use and necklaces that provide stat boosts, along with an entire page of key items that will take a little attention to figure out how to use. Generally you won’t find many mobility powers, but the interesting familiars (and the stories some of them come with) more than make up for that.

This does mean you’re not going to have much more than a double-jump to work with, so folks used to dashing or rolling around might be disappointed. Alesta moves at a fairly brisk clip, but she can and will get knocked around by the foes you face. This is where the looseness of the game I mentioned plays in, because combat is quite the mixed bag. Once you get your familiars upgraded they can do rapid damage, but the hit detection between you and your enemies is spotty enough that you sometimes take contact damage when nothing even appears to touch you. The timing of hits to animations seems a little off as well, so keeping your distance and leaning on your ranged familiars is often a good call. Items explode out of enemies when you beat them but picking them up isn’t instant, and if there are any pits or pools nearby you can expect most of your spoils to vanish into them.

Everything ends up feeling just a little bit off in Catmaze, from the combat to the dialog (and the weirdly sexy portraits) and even the upgrades, since it uses the Cave Story-style of gathering experience to level up your weapons but you lose it when you get hit. There are enough little bits of jank to annoy more sensitive players, but I was able to power through on the strength of everything else. It really is a fascinating, unique story with all the mythological creatures to deal with, and there’s so much to find once you get a good spread of familiars that explorers should be very happy with how much time can be spent looking for secrets. You’ll need to find them all if you want Alesta to have any shot at a happy ending, and that should last you at least 7 or 8 hours of adventuring. With a little more polish Catmaze could honestly be an all-time great, but as it stands it’s still a fine entry in the magical end of the genre.



Did you enjoy this review? I certainly hope so, and I certainly hope you'll check out more of them at https://goldplatedgames.com/ or on my curation page!
Skrevet: 11. februar.
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The beauty of the indie game scene is that you can have entire games built around a single gimmick, and they lean into them so hard they become something special. The Floor is Jelly is exactly what it says it is, and it’s not just something that shows up from time to time in levels. Every solid surface in the entire game is not actually solid, but is instead wibbly-wobbly jelly for you to spring off of. It affects your movement, the layout of levels, the background details, and even makes some of the world-specific themes possible. And that’s the mark of a solid game (ironically enough), having a foundation you can build out further features from, even if it is jiggly-wiggly jelly.

We’re skipping the plot synopsis here because about all you get is what’s in the title. You control some kind of dollop or flower petal or fortune cookie, I don’t really know but whatever it is really wants to get from point A to point Somewhere Else. The levels you pilot your blot around are connected by open windows, so generally your goal is to get from the start to the window leading to the next challenge. Sets of levels are connected to hubs, and once you complete all the sets the door to the next hub will unlock. There’s no narrative reason for any of this, but with this much jelly laying around it’s not like you need to worry about narrative.

This is essentially Super Meat Boy with kinder, more gelatinous levels. You can move at an incredibly brisk pace (almost too brisk), jump pretty high, and can cling to walls. Those are all the tools you have to get you to the window of egress, but of course the nature of the world is going to be a huge factor here. Whenever you jump or land, the landscape undulates from the force, and you jiggle right along with it. On flat ground this can be used as a trampoline to launch you to great heights, and on walls it can wing you across significant gaps. And of course the jelly mechanics go deeper than that, challenging you to slam into jellied floors hard enough to warp them around spikes or bend far enough to let you through a window on the other side of what would normally be a solid wall.

You’ll be working with the jelly mechanics on literally every screen, and while it obviously takes some getting used to it also facilitates some really entertaining maneuvers. But this quaint little title has far more surprises in store than just that. Each of the worlds or level sets or whatever you want to call them have their own themes, and the further into the game you get the more creative they become. Early levels start you out with high jumps and some spikes to deal with, but then introduce levels that rotate, maze-like sets where you collect ribbon-like spirits, water that reverses your vertical momentum, and a blisteringly clever set where platforms are dotted lines and phase in and out of existence when you leap on them. I won’t spoil where this all goes by the end but there is a meta factor that starts to play in, and the levels only become more surprising.

It’s not designed to be a hard or punishing game thankfully, probably to balance out the learning curve on the jelly physics. You’ll probably get through the whole thing in about two hours, and there are some devilish secrets to turn up if you’re so inclined. It’s a very simple package though, without much in the way of options or even controller support and no extras of any kind. Instead, all the quality here is in the core experience, expressed with clean lines and bold colors, and backed by an expert soundtrack that nails the atmosphere of each and every level theme. It’s the platforming that you’ll focus on here, and it’s good enough to hold it for those precious few hours. The Floor is Jelly makes the most of its gimmick, and builds upon that to offer a short and sweet course of platforming ingenuity.



Did you enjoy this review? I certainly hope so, and I certainly hope you'll check out more of them at https://goldplatedgames.com/ or on my curation page!
Skrevet: 9. februar.
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