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Okay, I will admit, I did not expect a Serious Sam spin-off like this. Top-down shooter? Natural fit. Platformer? Easy peasy. But an infinite runner? And you don’t even play as Sam? Now that’s unexpected, and after screaming and exploding my way through it, I can say it’s not unwelcome, either. Kamikaze Attack makes the most of its unusual premise, and offers you enough ways to run around and blow things up to keep you occupied for a few hours. It’s mostly the goofy style and the high-speed action that sell this one, and I’m here to tell you that both are extremely solid for what you’re getting here.

The exploding cat’s already out of the bag; you don’t play as our boy Sam in this one, you play as a headless kamikaze! Each of the 40 levels has you chasing after Sam, dodging or kicking obstacles and ordnance on your way to give him a nice, big, incendiary hug. Your double jump is the most obvious way to avoid danger but you can also kick, and continue to kick as you hold the button, which destroys or knocks away stuff in your path. This will very quickly build a rage meter though, and if it maxes out, you explode in a shower of untamed fury and meat. The gameplay, then, is balancing out kicking and dodging to survive the level and hopefully complete the bonus objective, which is usually smashing barriers or juggling bombs or the like.

Infinite runners live and die on their controls, and the two-button system in Kamikaze Attack is more than up to the challenge. Kicking resets your double jump, so you have a ridiculous amount of freedom to sail through the air on your way to explode Serious Sam. This translates into some awesome combo potential when you can chain kick a dozen missiles away or keep four bombs going from the start of the level to the end. It’s also a very loose game in terms of challenge. You have multiple lives to get through each short stage, and any time you lose one, a random 1-up pickup will almost surely appear ahead. I didn’t have to retry a single level to beat it, and in the endless mode, I almost had to try to die after approaching a million points banked. I don’t know if the difficulty scales so gradually that I didn’t notice, or if there’s just no difficulty scaling at all, but this is not a game you’re ever bound to get frustrated with.

You can pick some different heads for your headless kamikaze (sacrilege, I know), and they confer different bonuses that can help you manage your rage or speed, but I never really bothered with them. The 40 stages spread across two areas were fine as they were, getting longer and more complex with their obstacles as I went. It’s almost a shame that slowing down is considered a bonus or power-up, because you can get up to absolutely absurd speeds and that’s when the game is the most fun. Again, this isn’t going to be a huge diversion or time sink for anyone, Serious Sam fans included, but it has just the right amount of charm and the right balance of challenge and chaos to entertain for as long as you want to explode people.

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Skrevet: 27. maj.
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There are truly few things as gratifying as a well put-together metroidvania. The persistent popularity of the ancient Metroids and Castlevanias from which this awkward moniker was taken should be testament to that, but so many recent indie attempts have been just as captivating, if not moreso. Astalon definitely deserves a place among these modern adventures, with its gorgeous, detailed pixel art and creative upgrades. It’s got plenty of interesting design decisions that set it apart from others of its ilk, too, though not all of them may have been the best ideas. Still, there’s so much good about Astalon that I couldn’t help but dip into its bonus modes, even after taking the time to 100% the main game, and that’s something I don’t normally do.

Astalon Episode II (it’s doing a Star Wars thing, you didn’t miss anything) chronicles the adventures of Algus the mage, Kyuli the archer, and Arias the knight. In their post-apocalyptic world, the ancient ruins of those that came before are re-emerging, and a nearby tower has poisoned the water of our plucky party’s village. Together, these would-be heroes climb the tower to uncover the secrets of this blight. Inside they’ll find all manner of grim creatures serving the gorgons, great stone beasts sealed within. They’ll need a host of powers to overcome the challenges before them, and not all of these powers will come from mortal sources.

One immediate draw of this game is the many unique hooks it has for its story and structure. I had to mention the gorgons because they’re a new and creative adversarial force for a game like this, rather than vampires or demons or evil AIs. The continue and upgrade systems are also tied into a neat story element that gets introduced almost immediately; your buddy Algus has a deal with Epimetheus, the Titan of Death, who refuses to let the party die until the bargain is complete. He’ll even grant you new powers in exchange for the souls you hoover up while exploring the tower, what a guy! But really, it’s these elements along with the exciting discoveries you make as you ascend that helps Astalon stand out from other metroidvanias.

If you’ve played more than a few metroidvanias, I’m sure you’ve had that moment where you got a new power and it changed your very perception of the game world. Games like Hollow Knight and Axiom Verge do this, and I was pleased to see Astalon do it several times to great effect. There’s one particular power I got that I was not expecting at all, and it felt like it opened up the game in so many ways. It also helps that there are a vast array of secrets to find as you ascend the tower, none of them particularly torturous to find but some of them impressively expansive. This is a game that’s a pleasure to explore, especially if you’re keeping up with your character upgrades to ensure you can dispatch enemies quickly and efficiently. The combat in Astalon is thankfully quite good, and offers you several approaches to battle that are sure to include something that you’ll find fun.

I will say there are parts of this game that don’t quite live up to the others, and the big one for me is the map. Metroidvanias live and die on their map designs, because if you hate trying to get around the world, you’re going to run out of steam real fast. Astalon doesn’t have a bad map, and like I said, some of the secrets are really quite interesting to uncover. However, this is one of those games where the map might show three exits out of a room, but only two of those are connected. The tower is intensely maze-like, and several sections of it don’t connect like you’d expect they would. If you’ve ever played the middle child of Castlevania on the Gameboy Advance, Harmony of Dissonance, Astalon has a lot in common with the twisting castle there.

It’s also worth mentioning that the health system is a bit unusual, and while I won’t spoil it, I will say that it can be hard to recover from heavy losses. Coupled with the proliferation of traps like spikes in this game, I can see health being a frustration for some, though ultimately it never was for me. I was having too much fun teasing out the tower’s secrets for any of these complaints to really bother me, and I think that’ll be the case for most people who give Astalon a chance. It took me about a dozen hours to 100% complete a normal playthrough, and that opened up a whole host of bonus modes, included a New Game + that actually mixes up the map a little. With solid gameplay, unique hooks, and a gorgeous presentation, I can definitely recommend Astalon to anyone needing a new cursed tower to explore.

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: 23. maj.
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What a long and winding road it’s been to get here! The Serious Sam series started with The First and Second Encounters, two games that knew what they wanted to be: goofy, over-the-top FPSes helmed by a parody of the badass action heroes of the time. From there, the franchise stumbled through the awkward cartoonishness of Serious Sam 2, fell into the brown military shooter trap of Serious Sam 3, and finally emerged here. I’m happy to say that, of the main Serious Sam games, this one comes the closest to capturing the magic of the originals. In some ways it even tops them, though the myriad of technical issues and other design choices keep it from being a new high for the franchise. Nevertheless, if you want more of that Second Encounter goodness (and you’ve already played Siberian Mayhem), this is the sequel you’re looking for.

Not content with only having one prequel in the series, Serious Sam 4 is a prequel to the prequel. Before Sirius, before ancient Egypt, before Timelocks, we get Sam in his peak Earth Defense Force days. Teamed up with a rag-tag band of quippy soldiers, Sam is on the hunt for the Holy Grail, said to hold the key to turning back Mental’s forces which have all but conquered the planet. Starting in Italy, he winds a bloody path through Rome before heading out to the French countryside, and eventually finding himself in a climactic battle in Tunguska. Along the way, Sam will make new allies, lose some close friends, uncover some secrets of history, and suffer a shocking (maybe) betrayal. Also, he will shoot approximately ten thousand aliens, sometimes with rocket-propelled chainsaws.

Does that sound like a Serious Sam game? I know that last line does, but the rest? Serious Sam 4 is absolutely thick with cutscenes and dialog, way more than 2 or 3 ever aspired for, and it made something about this series abundantly clear to me. Sam is written better here than ever before, with witty one-liners, some self-aware humor, and also moments of drama and almost character growth. And honestly, I don’t need any of that. I do not need pathos in my Serious Sam game. I don’t need to meet a charming NPC and then watch them die and Sam be sad and angry a few missions later. I didn’t need that from Duke Nukem, or the Doom Slayer, or Caleb, or Dusk Dude, or anyone who’s game was there to let you blast aliens or demons or whatever. I can appreciate that Sam and his cohorts are written pretty well for the most part, but I also know now that I don’t want or need good writing in these games.

That goes double when you consider the quality of the cutscenes. Serious Engine 4 can pull off some impressive feats, but if it can make people not look like stiff, dead-eyed mannequins, this game doesn’t show it. Worse still is how textures are slow to load into scenes, often leaving characters delivering monologues looking like they were hosed down with Vaseline. This carries over to the gameplay, where textures will constantly be popping in and out of focus at all times, no matter how much or little is going on on the screen. When everything is loaded, Serious Sam 4 is a gorgeous-looking game, but the moment you turn your head, something is going to go all blurry. There’s also the matter of the maps, which are absolutely massive for some reason, and contribute to heavy load times between missions and cutscenes.

I will say, on the subject of maps, that the scope of some of the game’s levels is incredibly impressive. Not so much in the Italy and Rome sections, because there you’re mostly scooting around ruins and war-torn cities. But once you get to France, the game opens up in an incredible way. The ninth level of the game, A Breakfast in France, is something like 140 square kilometers of satellite-imaged landscape, which you can explore on foot or by motorcycle. There are certainly secrets to discover if you ride off into the countryside, and this space is used to great effect for some truly massive battles. Still, it’s not utilized as fully as it could be, and show off one of the chief flaws in SS4’s level design. You’ll find nooks, crannies, corners, and buildings everywhere in this game, so many that look like they should be hiding something, and yet, they aren’t. There are some hilarious secrets in this game, some of the best of the series, in fact, but finding them always ends up being far more tedious than it needs to be.

This probably doesn’t sound like a very glowing review at this point, but we haven’t talked about the action yet. Serious Sam has always had a bit of an issue with impact, I think. The battles have always been huge and the action has been hectic, but the guns often seemed to lack that extra oomph that weapons in, say, Doom or F.E.A.R. had in spades. Not so here. For the first time, Serious Sam is toting guns that feel powerful enough to take on armies. Bullets have impact and visual flare, explosions are huge and fiery, and enemies come apart in messy chunks at the slightest provocation. I want to take a moment to really appreciate the minigun in this one, which feels like you are unleashing a hail of divine judgment upon your foes. Spinning that thing up and sweeping a huge crowd of enemies kicks up so much dirt and blood, you would think you had just dropped them into a wood chipper.

Sam’s whole arsenal feels so much more powerful here, and it’s expanded with some recent and new additions like the rapid-fire explosive Devastator, a brutal auto-shotgun, and some more exotic fare like a rocket-powered chainsaw launcher. There are also gadgets, filling in for power-ups like Serious Damage, which you take with you and activate when you need an extra boost. These can be hilariously powerful, like time-slowing grenades and portable black holes, and are often earned from doing optional side missions on each level. These are clearly marked and offer some welcome additional action, usually with some kind of twist and clever dialog. Oh, Sam even gets a skill system that unlocks abilities like dual wielding and melee attacks on huge foes, though as I noted in my Siberian Mayhem review, dual wielding is so fun and feels so important to combat that I don’t see why it wasn’t just part of Sam’s normal repertoire.

If you’re seeking out secrets and side missions, Serious Sam 4 will take you over a dozen hours to complete, and for me, it was pretty much a blast the whole way through. The fights in this one are some of the best the series has ever seen (Siberian Mayhem aside), with some really clever mixes of foes and challenges. The levels look great (when the textures load), and the story is good, even if I would prefer the game without the drama. What’s really important here is that Serious Sam 4 represents a real move towards the action that made this series memorable. There’s a lot of The Second Encounter here, from the fights to the power-up gadgets, even to the three-act structure of the levels. I hope this means that Croteam has finally rediscovered how to make Serious Sam games like they used to, and their next entry will be more akin to a Third Encounter than another confuse sequel. Until then, though, this is about as good as the main Serious Sam games get past the originals, and if you can get past its issues, there are thousands of aliens here that blow up real good.

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Skrevet: 14. maj.
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One of the biggest questions I had when embarking on my runback of the Serious Sam series was, which versions of all these games do I play? There are no fewer than four releases of The First and Second Encounters on Steam, split between Classic and HD renditions and different wrappers. I spent most of my time with the stand-alone HD releases, but I was intent on seeing what all these other versions had going for them. Ultimately, I’m glad I did, because I would not have otherwise discovered that Fusion is your best bet for replaying the original Serious Sams. Besides being a moderate step up in quality over the HD versions, the wealth of gameplay, graphics, and accessibility options offered by Fusion, as well as centralized access to content and mods, makes this the preferred experience for the titles contained therein.

For context, Serious Sam Fusion was a project launched by Croteam in 2017 to unify all of the Serious Sam games on one platform. With the HD remakes of TFE and TSE made on the same engine as Serious Sam 3, it made sense to get them all under a single roof so that continued patching and modding would benefit all of them. However, development of the Fusion platform ended in 2018 as the team moved to focus on Serious Sam 4 as its own title. Additionally, there was never any effort to bring Serious Sam 2 under the same umbrella, though whether you’d actually hold that against Fusion is really a matter of taste. Despite the end of development for Fusion, though, these versions of TFE, TSE, SS3, and their associated DLC are the most stable and feature-rich versions you can find, having been continuously worked on long past their individual releases.

I’m not the guy to ask about the crunchy, techy details of games, but there’s a handy bullet-point list of features on the store page that breaks all that down for you. Fusion’s main benefit is a host of modern amenities and performance improvements, ranging from split-screen and controller support to 64-bit executables and texture streaming. The performance features in particular have a very tangible effect on the games, making them run smoother, look cleaner, and play better, all in subtle ways. Even Serious Sam 3, my least favorite of the main games, feels more appealing when running in Fusion. Textures load faster, quicksaving is seamless, and the movement has a more natural pace.

Add to this a workshop full of hundreds of mods, maps, and other content, and the value of Fusion as a platform should be quite clear. Just from the most basic user experience perspective, it’s really nice to load into one game and be able to jump straight to any point in TFE, TSE, SS3, or their DLC. I don’t have to unify my control or graphics settings across different versions, because it’s all right there. I’ve said before that I consider The Second Encounter to be the pinnacle of the Serious Sam series, and now I’m ready to say that this is the way that you should experience it.

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Skrevet: 11. maj.
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I made it pretty clear in my review of The First Encounter’s Classic version that there was still a place for the original alongside the HD remake. I expected to come to The Second Encounter Classic only briefly, to confirm the same conclusion. But this one hit different, in ways that I wasn’t expecting. There’s a lot more going on in this one than in the previous, and it’s a lot that’s easy to overlook if you’re just dropping in to smash some Kleers. I think it’s the increased depth, and also the distinctly sillier feel, that makes the HD version of The Second Encounter feel so different from this one. I’d also say it’s much clearer here that HD is the way to go if you want to play the best Serious Sam game, though this certainly isn’t the wrong way to experience it.

Once more, for the folks who’ve been asleep in the back: Sam’s adventures in ancient Egypt ended him up on a non-stop flight aboard a Sirian spaceship to Mental. But Mental wasn’t having that, and shot our boy down over South America. With his (currently) faceless assistant snarkily directing, Sam has to make his way across three antiquated civilizations to reach another relic that can propel him to the final showdown with Mental. There’s just a few thousand foes in the way, several of them colorful newcomers like the pumpkin-headed chainsaw boys. Sam’s got an updated arsenal in response, including some much-needed additions like a sniper rifle and flamethrower.

The very first thing that hit me when I loaded into a level here is how much closer The Second Encounter looked to Serious Sam 2 than I remembered. Unlike The First Encounter, which was mostly drab deserts and moody temples, TSE starts you off in a vibrant jungle. The HD remakes bring these games more in line with the realistic aesthetic of 3 and 4, but I realize now that originally there was a much clearer line between the Encounters and Serious Sam 2 in look and feel. As interesting as that is, though, this first iteration of the Serious Engine was not well-equipped for rendering tons of foliage and detail. The jungle here is much more of a muddled mess than in the HD version, and distant textures get stretched into unrecognizable blobs on mountains and structures. The same issues were present in The First Encounter, of course, but that game was designed more with those limitations in mind, while this one pushed the envelope.

Put simply, the HD version of The Second Encounter is much more of an upgrade over Classic than it was for The First Encounter. It feels more apparent in everything, down to the weapons, enemy models, and UI. Sure, you miss out on some of the visual continuity between this and Serious Sam 2, but is that really so bad? With so much going on in TSE, with battles being bigger, levels being more complex, and having more guns to juggle, the improvements to the graphics and interface make a huge difference here. I would never tell anyone not to play The Second Encounter, no matter what form it takes, but I will say that in this case, the HD remake is the clear winner.

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Skrevet: 9. maj.
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The Serious Sam concept is one that’s well-suited to all kinds of genres beyond FPSes. Really, there aren’t many games that can’t be improved with more guns and countless swarming, screaming, headless monsters. So it should be no surprise that when the Hammerfall developer came around with their own top-down Serious Sam shooter, it was a natural fit. Better still is the inclusion of some more modern mechanics, like dodge rolling and a skill progression system, as well as huge, detailed levels that lend themselves just as well to careful exploration as the old Encounters did. Even a few pain points in the design weren’t enough to stop me from blasting through this compact adventure and wish for more on the other side.

Framed as a fictional game-within-a-game, Bogus Detour tells the tale of Sam’s sudden deviation from his path in The First Encounter, as he follows the trail of an orcish commander in Mental’s legion. The path takes Sam away from Egypt, all around the Mediterranean, before ending in a high-tech moon base. As you might imagine, there are a few thousand soldiers, aliens, skeletons, and mechs in the way, and you’ll have an ample arsenal with which to address them. Missions will mostly see you collecting keycards to progress through the area, though some will have slightly more involved tasks like repairing a ship or hacking computers, something Sam is entirely capable of doing since it still boils down to collecting McGuffins or pushing buttons.

I’d like to focus on the additions first, because Bogus Detour has some neat upgrades over the mainline games. You’ve got quite a few new guns here (some fresh from Serious Sam 3) alongside old friends like the super shotgun and laser cannon. The Devastator replaces the grenade launcher as a sort of rapid-fire short-range rocket launcher. A railgun called the Eraser provides a very satisfying stand-in for the sniper rifle. There’s also a poisonous goo gun, a bouncing sawblade launcher, the literal, actual lightning gun from Quake III, and a few secret weapons that I won’t spoil for you. All weapons, new and old, are designed with top-down action in mind, and offer you a wide variety of deadly options for the massive melees you’ll be getting into. The nature of battle here, along with the proliferation of ammo, does mean that rapid-fire weapons like the minigun, laser, and lightning gun tend to have the most value, but you will definitely find uses for every armament you come across.

There are new enemies to test these glorious guns out on as well, and it’s here that I can start picking a few nits. All the main classics are here, from gnaar to kleer to good ol’ kamikazes, and they work great in their swarming 2D incarnations. They went with the Serious Sam 4 alien soldiers here, both laser-slinging footsoldiers and beefy commanders, who can take some serious punishment to dispatch. Newcomers include fishmen, some kind of cyber ninjas, giant man-eating plants, huge spiked turtles, and land mines. Those last couple are not exactly welcome inclusions, mind you, especially the blasted land mines. They’re used in almost every mission, are not visible (or destructible) until they’re close enough to hurt you, and can really mess up the pace of exploration.

I guess this is as good a time as any to get into my big complaint about this game, which is the encounter design. Let it be known that, overall, Bogus Detour (I keep trying to type Bogus Journey) is full of fun, chaotic battles that use its top-down perspective and diverse enemy lineup to the fullest. However, there are plenty of fights, probably at least one per mission, that are likely to frustrate you in some way. The most common issue is how much the game likes teleporting enemies in right on top of you, instead of at a manageable distance. This is a huge issue when kamikazes are warping in, because these enemies do not work as enemies unless you have some distance to address them at. 90% of my deaths in this game have been from enemies spawning way too close, with no way to blast or dodge away from them before being instantly exploded. Other issues include an over-reliance on insanely thick rocket-launching foes, fights in mine fields, an extended sequence where your only weapon is a sledgehammer (STOP DOING THIS, SHOOTER DEVS), and the final boss sequence which is tuned to just be the most annoying thing ever.

You’re gonna get frustrated playing Bogus Detour, is what I’m saying. But I’m also saying that you’ll have enough fun besides to forgive it. The levels are huge and lushly decorated, and really the whole detailed pixel art style is a fantastic plus here. I loved exploring for secrets, which often awarded stars used to upgrade different abilities, which are another fun aspect of the game. There’s some real creativity in a lot of the areas, with the ways they connect and how secrets are hidden behind different features and mechanics, and that was great to discover as I pushed forward through the hordes. It’s certainly not a perfect adventure, but Bogus Detour has more than enough sights to see and monsters to mash to keep you on this bizarre journey.

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Skrevet: 6. maj.
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Review copy provided by developer

I love building games, I love puzzle games, and the combination of the two have produced some of my favorite experiences to relax with ever. That’s right where Dorfromantik falls, with its genius combination of challenging mechanics and practically no pressure to get them right. It’s rare to find a puzzler that lets you engage with it entirely on your own terms, but you’re really quite free here to go as light or as hard as you want. There’s even enough to work with here where you can play rounds with any number of goals in mind, from chasing high scores to unlocking new tiles to just making the prettiest landscape you can manage. Any part of that would make a fairly compelling game on its own, but here, you’ve got a lot to look forward to no matter how you approach it.

I’m not even going to hazard a guess at why this one’s called “Dorfromantik”, as there are clearly no dorfs and no romance that I could find. Each run of this puzzler hands you a stack of hexagonal tiles with different features on each edge. You may find grasslands, towns, forests, rivers, farms, railroads, or a mix of elements on each tile. Your job is to place those tiles to form a landscape, ideally with as many matching edges as possible. It sounds a bit like Carcassonne but it isn’t, really. Outside of water and rail features, there are no rules about where you put anything. However, you gain bonus points and extra tiles for making “perfect” hexes that match their surroundings on all sides. Also, matching edges makes everything look nicer, and in a game this pretty, you had better be playing for aesthetics.

Some tiles also come with missions, in the form of numbered tags. These tags tell you how many of the tagged feature (houses, trees, fields, etc.) need to be linked together to complete the mission. If there’s a plus sign, you just need to link up at least that many features, otherwise you have to hit the number exactly to get credit. Tags can also come with little flags that give you a follow-up mission to close off the linked features. Completing these missions give you plenty of points and a lot of extra tiles, which is your main way to keep going. After all, the game ends when you run out of tiles, so the more missions and perfect tiles you complete, the longer your run will last.

I think it’s really important to recognize that the game never really pushes you to do any of this. There’s no pressure to place tiles perfectly, no unpleasant effects or alerts when you fail to match edges. The indicator showing how many tiles are left doesn’t do anything other than turn a bit pink when you get to the last few tiles, and it’s so unobtrusive that I sometimes forget to even check it. You do, however, get a lovely bit of fanfare when you do complete missions and perfect tiles, so it’s really only positive reinforcement here. If you build things way out, you’ll also uncover hidden tiles with unique features on them. Linking these up and completing their mission unlocks new challenges that are tracked passively as you play, like making giant forests or placing consecutive matching pieces. These in turn unlock new colors of tiles and even new features that can show up in your deck, so the game experience grows as you get deeper and deeper into it.

This is the beauty of Dorfromantik, that it has all these missions and challenges and mechanics going on, and still never demands you to engage with any of it. You’re absolutely free to start a run and just place tiles wherever you feel like, matching or not, until you run out. Some of the challenges like placing tiles without rotating them even encourage this in a way, giving you unique twists on the gameplay that you can take or leave as you like. This extends to the many game modes that have made it in with the full release, including several challenge modes, a custom challenge mode where you define your own rules, a hard mode, and, of course, a creative sandbox mode. Perhaps most telling of how much the developers want you to chill and enjoy the game is that, whenever you run out of tiles in a regular run, you are offered the chance to continue playing in creative mode.

I’m not sure a game so relaxing and low-key would work without a suitable look and feel, but Dorfromantik hits all the right notes there, too. The simple 3D tiles and animated wildlife do so much to provide a sense of comfort and familiarity, and the way some features like water morph along the edges to make more natural-looking lakes and rivers is a lovely detail. I especially like how the color palette of your tiles changes as you go further and further from the start in different directions. The sound effects are rich and satisfying, and the music is just the right kind of subtle cheer that this game needs. If it seems like I’m gushing about this game, it’s because I want everyone to have a title like this to kick back and relax with whenever they want. Cozy experiences like Dorfromantik don’t come along every day, and they deserve to be celebrated when they do.

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: 2. maj.
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Now, this is more like it. My disappointment in Serious Sam 3 didn’t leave me much hope for the quality of this DLC, especially considering the abject torment that is Legend of the Beast. But they found someone at Croteam who still remembered how the action in the First and Second encounters worked, and they let them loose on their current game. The result is three levels that do their damnedest to bring back the glory days of Serious Sam, complete with huge, open battles, a bristling arsenal, and plenty of destruction. There’s only so much you can do within the framework established by the third game, however, and you can’t get around the fact that you have to have the inferior Serious Sam to even play this little redemption arc.

So apparently, in the middle of Serious Sam 3, you have to activate two Sirian generators to get the Timelock going. I wouldn’t know, because Serious Sam 3 sucks. The premise of this DLC is that there’s a third generator or something that needs button-pushing, so Sam vanishes for like an hour and a half in the bad campaign to do some good campaigning. Dropping onto an Egyptian island, Sam must battle baddies and puzzle out ancient riddles to gain access to a McGuffin that then must be taken to another place, where… I honestly can’t believe I’m even pretending to recap the story in these reviews anymore. There are three levels, and Sam shoots many things in them.

And oh! What glorious shooting it is! The first level of Jewel of the Nile wastes no time in reassuring you with a wide-open island, destructible ruins, and wave after wave of baddies to blow up. You’re given shotguns, a rocket launcher, and the DLC-exclusive sniper rifle right away, along with plenty of ammo to take on the hordes however you want. It’s a magnificent return to form, echoed in the second and third levels with huge arenas and mixed armies of foes. The rest of Sam’s arsenal trickles in across the later levels, bringing back the glory days of melting Kleers with a ridiculous laser cannon. The challenge is tuned nicely, requiring you to watch all your angles for headless kamikazes and scorpion gunners, and take some time now and then to snipe a legion of harpies out of the sky.

There is no escaping the structure of Serious Sam 3, though, and there are elements that remain sadly mired in the present. Melee executions are hilariously unbalanced in both the base game and this, so some encounters can be thoroughly neutered by just mashing the kill button over and over. The maps are more open but still suffer from that 2000s terminally brown design aesthetic. And Sam certainly tries to be more entertaining in this one, but the attachment to the main plot in 3 keeps him from ever reaching his old heights. On the bright side, there are a few special additions in the DLC besides the sniper rifle, like a really fun mechanic to use in the final level and a towering boss that makes a fine capstone to the experience.

What you’re getting here is the action that really should have made up the majority of Serious Sam 3. Jewel of the Nile feels like the natural progression of the series through this era of gaming, instead of the awkward, stilted battles of the base game. It’s far from peak Sam, but it does recapture some of the old backpedaling magic. The real problem, then, is the scope and the access. Three sprawling levels is fine for a DLC mini-campaign, but the huge bump in quality over 3 really drives home how short it is. As for access, you have to have Serious Sam 3 to play this, the tiny good version of it. If you’re already saddled with it, there’s no reason not to pick this up and improve your experience. Otherwise, I’d have to say you’re better off skipping this entire period in Sam’s history, and revisiting the days when the battles were wild and the colors were free.

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: 29. april.
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I’ve tried. I really have, you have to understand that. I’ve built a whole new appreciation for the Serious Sam series as I’ve run them all back. When it’s good, like in the First and Second Encounters, it’s an absolute blast. And even when it’s middling, like in Serious Sam 2, it’s still entertaining enough to carve out a worthy place among other FPSes. But man, when it’s bad, it’s just the saddest thing. I had hoped that Legend of the Beast, that benighted DLC for TSE, would be the absolute nadir of the series. I’ve tried with Serious Sam 3, I really have. But nearly two hours in, fighting the same boring enemies in the same boring environments with no levity or novelty or end in sight, I just can’t do it anymore. This is barely a Serious Sam game, and the parts that really try to capture that magic are almost worse for how hard they fall on their face.

Have you ever wondered what Sam was up to before he hopped in the Timelock and warped back to ancient Egypt? Of course not, no one cares about the story here, but it does offer an excuse for more Serious action in a new setting. Prior to The First Encounter, the Earth is under siege from Mental’s forces, and Sam “Serious” Stone is on a mission to change the course of the war. A scientist in occupied Cairo has made a discovery that… look, it’s the Timelock, and Sam’s taking a roundabout, blood-soaked path to reach it. There are a few thousand of Mental’s baddies in the way, of course, and the only way through is with bombs, bullets, and snappy one-liners.

It’s not much of a sight-seeing tour, however, and that’s the first place where this fails to feel like a proper Serious Sam game. All the others had majestic setpieces to battle around, whether they be looming pyramids or flying fantasy castles. Serious Sam 3 feels like a victim of the times it was conceived in, a muddy brown shooter that drags you through endless ruined streets and alleyways. The only thing that reminds you you’re not playing a Call of Duty here are the charging Gnaars and Kleers mixed in with the all-too-human looking zombie soldiers. It feels like a huge step down from the opulent halls of Babylon or even the wild-ass planets of Serious Sam 2, to trudge through the same war-torn Middle Eastern city that every military shooter of the time was coughing up.

The action suffers in much the same way, sadly. Plenty of the old cast are here as mentioned, up to and including werebulls and scorpion warriors. But so much of the old Serious Sam formula is forgotten or transformed here, you can hardly go from the classics to this without severe whiplash. Hitscan enemies are far, far more prevalent now, cutting into a lot of the running and gunning that made Serious Sam so frenetic. Battles are not nearly as mixed or dynamic as before, usually pitting you against one or two enemy types in scaled-down quantities. Even by the time the game started throwing long murder corridors of foes at me, it only served to contrast how sad all the lead-up to the big battles was. Bosses show up every few levels, which is a nice touch, except that they’re either meatier versions of regular foes or gimmicks you have to run and hide from in frustrating sequences before getting the weapon you need to quickly bring them down.

Ugh, the weapons. Whoever thought that Serious Sam needed more grounded, realistic weapons should have been stuffed in a cannon. You start this game with a sledgehammer. No guns. A hammer. It’s nearly an entire level before you get a gun, which is a single pistol. And then it’s two more levels before you get a basic shotgun. By the time I tapped out, two hours in, I had just gotten the rocket launcher, the first Serious Sam-esque gun. It’s the same complaint I had with Legend of the Beast; compare this to any other Serious Sam game, and they’ve given you multiple shotguns, machine guns, and explosives within minutes of starting. I absolutely do not play these games to struggle with my arsenal, to stretch weak-ass pistol combat across entire levels. Maybe they wanted players to use the new melee execution system, but seeing the saddest, most janky animations play out over and over as I mindlessly mash the kill key isn’t my idea of a good time either.

Even the exploration suffers here, with your efforts to uncover hidden caches of goodies rewarded with a pile of +1 health pills or a helmet. I found no fun or interesting secrets whatsoever, and when I DID find something cool like a Serious Cannon hidden on a rooftop, I absolutely could not figure out how to get it. It doesn’t help that the dusty streets and rubble piles all look exactly the same, with precious few landmarks to navigate by. There are some puzzles here too, if you can call navigating around annoying auto-cannons to flip their switches a puzzle. The worst part was definitely an alien-infested museum, because this totally could have been an interesting, dynamic environment with multi-level battles and tons of secrets, and instead it’s a completely linear slog through identical halls where you occasionally push a button to rip the carapace off a badly-animated spider.

I’ve learned something important about the Serious Sam series from this game. Originally, when playing through the First and Second Encounters, I thought these games were intended to be a response to shooters of the time. I thought they were rebukes to deeper or more complex FPSes, focusing on wild action and zany secrets. But from 2 and especially 3, I can see how much they’re influenced by their contemporaries. Serious Sam 2 came at a time where bombastic, colorful shooters were in vogue, with lots of locations and vehicles and turret sequences, and that’s what we got. Serious Sam 3 hails from that dark period where FPSes were brown, gritty, and grounded, and it falls completely into that trap. Please, if you’ve read this far, go back and play The Second Encounter to see what this series is supposed to be. It’s been a lot of things, I’m sure it will be many more, but it never should have been Serious Sam 3.

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: 22. april.
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You really never know what you’re getting with short horror games. It could be a strong, slow burn, it could be ramping insanity, it could be understated atmosphere, or it could be something utterly incomprehensible. It’s the truly untamed lands of the horror genre, where anything can carry a game concept. Iron Lung is a definite stand-out in this space, a game that will take you less than an hour to work through, but will linger with you for quite some time. It’s also a testament to how much you can accomplish through sound design and expectation, because when you realize what the gameplay consists of, you’ll be shocked to hear that it’s still a terrifying adventure.

The premise of Iron Lung is seriously one of the best ever, and I’m not spoiling anything because it’s on the store page and in the opening splash when you start a new game. Decades ago, every star and habitable planet in the universe simply vanished, leaving behind only starships, space stations, and barren moons. The survivors have persisted off of stockpiled resources and the remaining light from now-dead stars, but the situation is entirely hopeless. However, they’ve recently discovered an ocean of blood on a remote moon. It’s not the first they’ve found, but there’s something mysterious lurking beneath the crimson surface that needs to be explored. That job falls to you, welded into a ramshackle submarine with no portholes and no hope of escape unless you complete your mission.

If that description didn’t set your imagination spinning and also make you a little bit sweaty, I don’t want to be your friend anymore. It’s a brilliant bit of world-building that also puts you into one of the worst situations imaginable, trapped at the bottom of a blood ocean and forced to plumb its secrets. The game itself takes place in your tiny shoebox of a submarine, with no windows or doors or hope. You have a map of the trench network you’re submerged in, with coordinates marked to investigate. At one end of your sub, you have controls that let you move forward, backwards, or turn, and a coordinate readout letting you know where you are. You’re basically navigating by math, picking out waypoints on your map that won’t run you into the trench walls, and watching the X and Y coordinates tick up and down as you sail the bloody seas.

The only other thing you have is a button at the back of your sub that lets you take a picture of what’s outside. You can use it at any time to get an idea of where you are, but the mission is to photograph all of the points of interest on your map. That’s the only interaction you get with your surroundings, and as you might imagine, it is used to excellent effect. Iron Lung is a very understated horror experience, letting the pacing and atmosphere do all the work of getting your imagination twisted into knots. There are some tense moments maneuvering your sub through tight corridors and listening to the proximity alerts ping, but the majority of the thrills come from what the game sets you up to expect, and then what happens. It’s a master class in horror design, and I won’t spoil any of it for you, because I heartily encourage anyone captivated by the premise to give Iron Lung a try and be terrified by the secrets of the blood ocean.

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: 20. april.
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