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Recent reviews by Audish

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13 people found this review helpful
2.7 hrs on record (2.2 hrs at review time)
It’s a pretty good time to be a fan of finding tiny hidden objects, honestly. Hidden Folks appeared to usher in a small new wave of finder games, distinct from their cousins of the hidden object genre in their focus on traditional Where’s Waldo-style searching. Some games have stayed closer to the Hidden Folks mold than others, and one look at Hidden Through Time will tell you where this title falls. But the addition of a level editor and user-created level sharing make this one an entirely different beast, even if the gameplay remains firmly in the pocket of its predecessor.

Hidden Through Time’s gimmick is, unsurprisingly, seeking out specific people and objects in different time periods. The base game is spread across four eras, including the Stone Age, ancient Egypt, the medieval era, and the wild west. Each era contains six or seven levels designed around a theme, like hunting dinosaurs or a jousting tournament. You’ll have a bevy of targets to find in each, from unique folks to tiny critters, towering monuments to a single vegetable. These are often tucked away behind other objects or hidden inside houses you can open up, and with the scope of some of the levels they can blend into the landscape quite easily. However, each item to find has a short text clue if you mouse over it on your list, which generally gives you a very good sense of its whereabouts.

You could also just click rather wildly on the landscape, if you like. It won’t accomplish much in terms of finding items, but it will produce a wonderful array of sounds an animations. One thing that Hidden Folks spoiled me for in these games is its high level of interactions, where virtually every object and surface gave its own charming, unique sound effect and often animation. Hidden Through Time smartly follows this example, granting all sorts of grunts and squeaks and squishes to the many things you can click. The interactions here aren’t so varied, mind you. Only a few structures like houses and tents open up, and some chests can be searched, but mostly you’re getting cute sounds for clicking around. With how cute the whole game is, though, that’s really enough to keep me happy.

It’s a good thing this one carries so much charm, too, because it takes some serious shots at you with its challenge. Hidden Folks could get pretty hard at times, thanks in part to its monochromatic presentation, but Hidden Through Time gets downright devious with some of its item placements. Plenty of levels ask you to find slightly different rocks from the others scattered across the map, or tiny carrots tucked into piles of pumpkins, or green bottles nestled in tangles of vines. Some of these border on the absolutely absurd, and while I wouldn’t call any impossible, they tend to be notably harder than what you’ll find in similar games. The text hints help, of course, but they can only help so much when you’re looking for an arrow stuck in the ground at a particular angle in a field of arrows.

The other pitfall games like this face is how their replay value suffers once you work through the levels once. Sure, the pyramid and castle scenes are lovely to look at, but once you know the trick to finding things, there’s not much left to do. Here, though, the developers smartly added an incredibly intuitive level editor and sharing service to allow players to keep the fun going indefinitely. All of the game’s assets are there for you to arrange into your own devious puzzles, and sharing them with the world is as simple as a few clicks. The online library of user levels is vast, so once you tire of the few dozen levels in the base game, you have literal hundreds more to choose from. Don’t expect the same quality from all of them, of course, but people do seem to take this seriously enough to make plenty of really fun levels.

This is ultimately a very familiar game for folks who have already sought out some hidden types, all the way down to the art style. I won’t deny that the lush colors and details are quite captivating on their own, but I couldn’t help but compare this to Hidden Folks the whole way through. Fortunately, the addition of user generated content really sets Hidden Through Time apart in a way that hugely benefits its replayability. The main game is still a quality, if challenging, series of puzzles to work through, and it’ll be hard not to do so with a smile on your face as you see everything these little people get up to in their kooky eras.

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!
Posted September 10, 2020.
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17 people found this review helpful
4 people found this review funny
3.1 hrs on record
Nature has many ways to warn outsiders of danger. It could be a dog baring its teeth, a lion roaring through the jungle, or a crab the size of a battleship waving around a battle axe. In most cases, these natural warnings are answered with backing away slowly, but for that last one, you’ll want to respond with your own giant crab and lightsabers, or possibly guns. That’s the premise of Fight Crab, a colorful, chaotic brawler that pits crabs from all walks of the infraorder Brachyura against each other in brutal combat. Between the wild weapons, the bizarre locales, and the absolutely insane escalation of the campaign, this hard-shelled brawler promises plenty of fun within its notably narrow scope.

Surely you didn’t come to a game called Fight Crab looking for a story, and indeed all you’re going to get here are vague allusions to becoming the king of all crabs. That’s accomplished by beating the bajeezus out of any crustaceans in your path, of course, through a series of battles strung together into a campaign. From tidepools to avenues, restaurants to freezer cases, you’ll face every variety of crab imaginable and then some, armed with knives, clubs, swords, shuriken, flails, rockets, shotguns, and more. Your battles are not to the death, but until you or your challengers lie helpless on your backs, and proceed until you have bested the true king of crabs in fantastic fashion. To explain any further would be to spoil the awe-inspiring conclusion of your journey, so instead we’ll talk about the road to becoming the crustiest crustacean around.

I wouldn’t call Fight Crab a full QWOPlike, but the controls are definitely designed more for pratfalls than precision. The analogue sticks on your gamepad control your crab’s claws, with the triggers extending that claw to strike and the shoulder buttons clenching them to block. With skilled maneuvering you can perform uppercuts, parry blows, and grapple your foe, but for the first few hours you’re just going to be flailing wildly and hoping you land more lucky hits than the enemy does. It’s honestly a pretty deep and detailed combat system that can be mastered, and will require a bit of prowess to get you to the end of the campaign. But it’s also plenty of fun to swing wildly at crabs, pick up beer bottles and smash enemies off of dinner tables, and generally just stomp around like a big angry crab with a katana.

There’s a surprising number of weapons and wieldable… things in the game, which can be found in stages, taken from your foes, or purchased between battles to carry into combat with you. Weapons get fanciful real quick, with legendary weapons like Excalibur or some JRPG favorites appearing alongside more conventional nunchaku and guandao. The money used to buy weapons can also unlock new crabs to play as, each with their own stats and capabilities, and then to level those stats up for the more difficult later battles. You’ll even gain super moves in your journey, special techniques that borrow from the likes of Dragon Ball in the best possible ways. Helpful tutorials unlock alongside your new capabilities, concisely educating you in the ways of energy beams and divine blessings.

The sum of these parts is a thrilling, hilarious brawler that goes beyond the obvious hilarity of the screenshots. I had a genuine blast battling through the campaign, and the final fights were exactly what you think of when you apply the term “epic” to this outing. The charm of flailing around with giant, deadly crabs never really gets old, but the content does rather run out of steam after you beat the campaign only two or three hours in. From that point you can work on the blisteringly hard Extra stages, try to beat the campaign again on hard, or try to find someone in the world to play online matches with you. It’s a real crime that Fight Crab didn’t take off as the next big esport phenomenon, but regardless of the injustice done, I wouldn’t pick this one up for the multiplayer.

If you were a fan of Ace of Seafood or any other sort of off-kilter battler out of Japan, you’ll definitely enjoy Fight Crab. It’s a more polished and engrossing package than Ace or its predecessors, though I won’t deny the placeholder-looking UI is still a thing here. This one ends up being far more viscerally entertaining than other games of its ilk, but just for not a terribly long time. A bigger campaign or more game modes would have given Fight Crab longer legs, but the time you spend with it is still guaranteed to be quality. Really, I know you’ve always wanted to have a katana duel with a spider crab in a shadowy alley, and it’s not like you can look anywhere else for that kind of magic.

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!
Posted September 2, 2020. Last edited September 2, 2020.
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7 people found this review helpful
1.0 hrs on record
Review copy provided by developer

The simple joys of finding hidden things have sustained me well into adulthood, from Where’s Waldo books and word searches to hidden object games and figuring out where the hell I left my glasses. There’s a small but burgeoning genre of hidden object games on Steam now which are not the “traditional” hidden object games of bizarre plots and clicking animal silhouettes in old sheds. No, these newer games like Hidden Folks and now Wind Peaks take us back to those beloved Where’s Waldo books, giving us a visual list of items to find in lush, animated environments. Wind Peaks in particular seems to be leaning on the richness of its graphics, because the limited story and interactive elements hinder a bit of its potential charm.

There’s nothing scouts love more than going on camping trips (I assume, I never was one), and our plucky little friends here have made their way to the wilderness of Wind Peaks. In their haste to explore, though, they’ve lost a few of their essentials like flashlights, shoes, and garden gnomes, so it’s up to you to track them down and click them back into possession of the troop. The environs of Wind Peaks are vast, though, and some items may have ended up behind rocks, bushes, or the flaps of tents. You’ll also find odder things in the woods, like ancient carvings and towering idols that portend ominous presences. If you can help the scouts navigate the entirety of their trip, you might just find out what those presences are.

You’ll see some obvious influence here from the likes of Gravity Falls and other sources of charming weirdness, but don’t read too far into it. Each scene in Wind Peaks is very much finding a small collection of doodads to progress to the next scene, with a few oddities sprinkled here and there. The real weirdness doesn’t pop up until you finish the last scene, which is the game’s biggest failing on a number of levels. For one, all of the scenes up to that point are very similar forest areas, with a few houses in one and a lake in another, so just when it seems like the game is taking a big turn, it ends. The other issue is that the end comes only 10 scenes in, which you can easily get to in less than an hour. So, not only is Wind Peaks short, it ends right before it really gets going.

The searching and clicking is fun enough, but even that’s a step back from the likes of Hidden Folks, sadly. Very little of what you see in Wind Peaks is interactable even just in producing sound effects, limited to just select bushes and rocks to push aside, and the characters themselves. That limits a lot of the game’s charm, though it certainly doesn’t detract from the gameplay. And what there is is just fine, of course. Ultimately Wind Peaks feels like it should be pushed more as a prologue or first episode than its own thing, considering how much it builds towards something that’s not even in the game. I love the art, and the finding is certainly fun enough, but it ends before it makes good on any of its more interesting promises. I’ll definitely be looking out for more entries in this series, and you might want to do the same before taking this first step, honestly.

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!
Posted August 20, 2020.
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36 people found this review helpful
3 people found this review funny
13.1 hrs on record (10.7 hrs at review time)
Before we get into it, I need you to know exactly where I’m coming from on this game. X-Wing was a formative part of my gaming life, a huge influence on the kinds of games I would grow to love. In the mid-nineties this was the dream for young Star Wars fanatics like myself, a technical simulator that put you in the cockpit of your favorite Alliance starships right from the films. It was also brutally hard and absolutely unforgiving at times, something that didn’t feel entirely out of place with our Nintendo-hard console games. But the world has come a long way since then, and the X-Wing Special Edition has not, in terms of both gameplay and technical issues, which leaves me with a game I love dearly that I would not recommend to anyone else.

Welcome to the Rebel Alliance! You have been accepted as a fresh rookie pilot into this rag-tag fleet of good troublemakers, just as they’re starting to pull their forces together and make some serious moves. The original three tours of duty in X-Wing start prior to Episode IV and follow their own story through the destruction of the first Death Star. Two expansion tours are included in this release of the game, the first covering the escape from Yavin and the second detailing development of the B-wing. Along with these expansive campaigns are dozens of historical and training missions for the different fighters you can pilot, and loads of cutscenes and briefings between to really flesh out that feeling of being right in the Star Wars universe.

What truly made X-Wing such a landmark game, besides the sheer novelty of piloting ships from the movies, is the detail apparent in the simulation. This game hails from the long-lost heydays of flight simulators, when technical complexity and accuracy made a title a top seller across all genres. X-Wing strikes an excellent balance between simulator proficiency and fun by leaving your ship’s power management up to you, giving you ways to divert power between weapons, shields, and engines to best handle the situation at hand. Beyond that you’ve got the vastness of space and loads of TIE fighters and capital ships to blast in battles that make the most of the era’s limited ability to render detailed vessels or large fleets. You’ll be escorting diplomats, locating and recovering prisoner transports, and dogfighting plenty of fighters to make your way through each campaign.

Like I said, it’s a dream come true for a Star Wars fan, until you start reaching the game’s more infamous missions. Some are perfectly fine, sending you in coordinated attacks with wingmen and mixed fighters against diverse threats in multi-stage engagements. Then, all of a sudden, you’ll be sent to disable transports, destroy their escorts, and dogfight the reinforcements while covering allied ships, all in a lone Y-wing. The gulf between thrilling and infuriating missions is so wide, I almost have to believe different people designed them with no feedback between each other. It doesn’t help that a single laser blast breaking through your shields can cripple your entire shield system or knock out your flight controls, all but guaranteeing your demise. Missiles are also intensely difficult to avoid, and entire wings of TIE bombers or gunboats will have no qualms about launching an entire salvo at you at once, when only two or three mean instant death. And unlike later games in the series, dying or being captured by the Empire is a game over for your character, unless you feel like wiping your score and progress toward medals to continue.

X-Wing’s difficulty was always a bitter pill to swallow for the sake of satisfying space battles, and time has only made it harder to stomach. Here in the hell year of 2020, the rough graphics and lack of basic quality-of-life features like matching throttle speed to targets or even being able to see them more than two clicks out are a tough sell when you have modern space sims to choose from. Worse still are the many technical issues that plague the different versions of the game. Ignoring Classic which is just Collector’s CD-ROM edition with fewer features, you have a tough choice between the Collector’s and Special editions. Special obviously looks better with actual 3D-accelerated graphics, but the controls are intensely fiddly (sometimes refusing to even acknowledge my keyboard exists), the 2D graphics have been redone in a darker, fuzzy style, and nearly all the music is missing. Collector’s edition is a more charming, robust experience but is painfully behind the curve graphically and suffers from crashes and scripting errors during missions.

Even if time had been kinder to X-Wing, the game itself is simply no saint. It breaks my heart to say it, after dozens of happy hours in it during both my childhood and recent times, but I really can’t recommend it to newcomers. Veterans who already learned to adjust to unfair missions and technical messes know what they’re getting into, and are surely ready to recapture that nostalgia. For everyone else, though, it’s going to be a long, tough road to glimpse what was so great about this game a full 25 years ago. If ever there was a Star Wars game deserving of a full remake, it’s this one, because even for me it’s hard to stick with it now. Here’s hoping TIE Fighter and the later games aged better, at least.

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!
Posted July 29, 2020.
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10 people found this review helpful
4.7 hrs on record
Review copy provided by developer

The original Receiver was a bit of a revelation, putting the emphasis of an FPS on the gun handling itself, rather than the story or combat. I say “a bit” because there wasn’t a whole lot of story or combat appended to releasing slide locks and spinning cylinders, just enough to keep the whole thing weirdly engaging. Receiver 2 doesn’t stray far from this proven setup, focusing on better graphics, more guns, and a form of progression layered over the highly technical gunplay. It’s a good step forward, making more of a game out of what worked in Receiver, even if it loses a little of that fever-dream magic that worked so well the first time.

An apocalyptic event called the Mindkill is bearing down on the world, and only the specially-trained Receivers will be able to weather the threat. You are one such Receiver, trapped in an endless sprawl of apartments, warehouses, and rooftops with deadly drones. Hidden among the killbots are cassette tapes containing the lessons needed to train up your mind tech and survive the Mindkill. Obviously you’ll need to survive the turrets and drones first, and for that you have your trusty sidearm. Only by learning the intricacies of gunplay and selectively disabling your foes will you be able to reach the tapes and attain a greater understanding of the threat facing you. And if you’re clever, you might just learn the truth about the whole framework surrounding your training, too.

Receiver 2 is bound to be very different from most FPSes you’ve played, more akin to a survival sim than a run-and-gun romp. You begin every session in an indistinct location with a pistol and a few bullets for it. Don’t bother pressing R to reload it, because each gun has a litany of buttons for ejecting magazines, releasing slide locks, cocking hammers, and more. There are separate commands for pulling the slide (which ejects the chambered round) and checking the slide to see the chambered round. You’ll even need to manually insert rounds in magazines when the run out, which requires you to first holster your gun to free up your hands, except if you tap holster instead of hold and the gun is loaded and the safety is off you will absolutely shoot yourself in the leg. Just like real life!

This exacting approach to gun handling comes from a place of respect and safety rather than idolization, and the tapes you find make this clear. While many of the cassettes reference the ethereal Mindkill and mind tech, others provide actual history lessons on firearms and practical real-world safety tips. It’s a big swing in tone from the first game’s minimalist vaporwave numbers station madness, but it works in the context of a more defined setting and higher-fidelity world. In addition to cassettes and much-needed resources like bullets, magazines, and flashlights, clever players can find floppy disks with records and accounts from other Receivers as they undergo their own training. The randomly-assembled sprawls of offices and hallways have a remarkable number of ledges you can scramble your way around, and some of the secrets are pretty revealing to the odd setting you find yourself in.

Of course, you’ll be using those handling tips and extensive interactions to shoot things, namely drones. The foes in Receiver 2 are similar to those in the first, split between stationary gun turrets and flying taser drones. These might not sound like the most thrilling opponents but just like with your firearm, these machines are modeled with such exacting detail that every encounter is unique. Each piece, from the motors to the batteries to the sensors to the armor plates, can be damaged and destroyed, leaving the target in all kinds of states. If you shoot out the sensor on a turret it’ll still operate and just be unable to find you, while if you blast the ammo box it can see you but not fire, unless it already had a round chambered from previously spotting you. The complexity of the damage model provides all the variety necessary to keep the game compelling, especially when you include the new special variants you meet in later cycles.

It’s just as compelling a package as the original game, punched up with more content and much-improved graphics. The only aspect that ever gives me pause is the pseudo-roguelike progression, where you must collect tapes across five levels of increasing difficulty. If you die before collecting all of the randomly-scattered tapes, you must go back and repeat the previous difficulty. While this certainly raises the stakes, it can be frustrating to repeat the same challenges again and again when you’ve made it past them before, and doubly so if you make a blunder just after dying and have to repeat two of them. Death can come swiftly thanks to new enemy variants, the painfully lethal fall damage, or just holstering too quick and shooting yourself. There are also new tapes that folks might object to, both for gameplay and thematic reasons, that you can thankfully turn off entirely.

Still, there’s more to the progression than there was in the first game, and the added punitive elements don’t detract so much from the game if you’re diligent. From one perspective, it simply offers more opportunities to try out different guns in different situations. That’s really the heart of the experience, learning to master the deep weapon handling and damage modeling with the same expertise that a sharpshooter would in the real world. Obviously the skills don’t translate but there’s a definite gratification in gaining that sort of proficiency, and the moments when you’re able to eject a magazine, load a fresh one, and knock out a charging drone are simply incredible. Receiver 2 takes more patience than its predecessor, but rewards it with more mysteries, discoveries, and satisfying action.

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!
Posted July 22, 2020.
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20 people found this review helpful
19.2 hrs on record (8.9 hrs at review time)
It’s fascinating to track the evolution of fighting game franchises across their history. None stay static for long, always developing new systems and adopting new styles to appeal to new fans and keep their die-hards appeased. The King of Fighters is a series just as long-lived and storied as Street Fighter, though it took this one until 2016 to finally break into full 3D (please don’t bring up Maximum Impact). It’s admittedly a rough move, especially following something so breathtaking as XIII, and not one entirely to its credit. However, the game wrapped in these awkward polygons is some of the best beatdown fun you can have in the series.

KOF games always center on the eponymous tournament, a gathering of martial artists from around the world to determine the true patriarch of all brawlers. This year the clash is hosted by a burly Russian fellow named Antonov, clearly looking to line up some suckers for him to personally knock over so he can keep his self-appointed title. But something is amiss, beyond the usual apocalyptic deities and shadow armies of previous seasons. It’s something so beyond the pale that a gaggle of new fighters have been drawn to the tournament, including Nakoruru, all the way from the ancient battles of Samurai Showdown. There’s no question that this mysterious force will have to be dealt with, and it will no doubt fall to the strongest contenders for the title.

Anyone who’s played a KOF before (or any fighting game, really) has seen this before, it’s an 8-round tournament that ends with a boss you expect and one you don’t. The stand-out this year is the sheer number of characters in the mix, more than double what was offered in XIII. Sixteen teams of three, plus the bosses, form the 50-character roster, which can be mixed and matched freely to form your deadly triumvirate. Series regulars like Kyo, Iori, Mai, and King are here, as well as common faces missing from the last game like Chang, Choi, Angel, and Ramon. The newcomers are a particular mob of oddities as well, from the new headliner Shun’ei, the unnerving Xanadu, the charming Luong, and the frankly baffling Sylvie.

With so many characters to pick from, coupled with the steep learning curve of XIII, this might seem like an even harder game to get into. But it’s quite the opposite, thanks to some significant changes on the gameplay side. Compared to the previous entry, movement feels much more fluid, and special moves have far more leeway to key in. There’s also a new Rush combo all characters have that only requires you to connect with light punches to crank out an impressive super combo. With these changes and additions, it’s surprisingly easy to pick up any of the game’s characters and put up a decent fight. Make no mistake, there are still insanely complex and demanding combos to learn here, and the Mission mode will drill them into you if you have the patience, just like before. What’s important is that the skill floor to simply get through Story mode or put up a fight online is so much lower than in previous entries.

So then this might sound like a dream come true, the perfect KOF entry for newcomers and veterans alike to enjoy. Again, it’s not quite that either, and this time it’s because of the visuals. Fighting games have come a long way in their own styles, especially in series like Tekken or Mortal Kombat. SNK’s big shift to 3D here is nowhere near those, unfortunately, and honestly can barely hold a candle to the delicious 2D sprites of XIII. The character models of XIV feel low-budget to varying degrees, oddly smooth and shiny in some places and stiff or artificial in others. It varies by character; some like King and Benimaru look decent, while others like Kyo and Mary barely look like themselves. She’s DLC but I want to call out poor Vanessa in particular, who’s a wiry mess compared to her normal lithe self. The backgrounds and UI fare the same, with some bizarrely low-res elements and a general lack of polish on the graphical level.

If SNK could somehow make a new fighter that looked like XIII and played like XIV, I have no doubt it’d be a smashing success. KOF XIV is some of the most fun the series has ever been to play, but having to see your favorite characters in such a poor state takes a little wind out of those sails. It’s a great fighter, make no mistake, especially if you’ve been curious about the series and never knew where to break in. The feature set is admittedly basic, with just Story, Online, Missions, Practice, and a few challenge modes besides. There is an extensive gallery with art from throughout KOF history, though, which has been more than enough to keep me plowing through Story mode. Overall it’s a game I wish I could recommend more strongly, given how much good, solid fun it is to jump in and beat people up. Just don’t expect the visual care or polish of its peers when you dive in.

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!
Posted July 9, 2020.
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67 people found this review helpful
1 person found this review funny
14.8 hrs on record (6.8 hrs at review time)
Early Access Review
I’m not here to debate what is and isn’t a game, especially when the creator themselves describes their creation as more of a toy. What I’m here to do is tell you why it’s good, or perhaps why I spent seven hours of my weekend playing it. It’s true that Townscaper lacks the goals or action of what you’ll usually find on Steam. But what it offers instead is an incredible amount of creative control to build adorable towns as familiar or fantastical as your heart desires. This does something that no SimCity or builder has ever done, really, which is simplify the creative process down to single clicks of the mouse, and produce wonders of incredible scope and scale from them.

Townscaper is a town-building toy, I believe we’ve established that already. When you load into the game, you’re greeted with a vast expanse of water. Clicking anywhere will produce a tiny piece of paved ground. Clicking the ground again will construct a tiny house atop it, in the selected color on the left. You can expand the ground a significant distance by clicking around the water, and make buildings pretty much as large and tall as you like. That’s it, that’s all you do. With this simple interface, you’re free to build islands and towers and castles to your heart’s content, just by stacking building pieces atop each other with but a click.

Now, the reason this works so well is because of how the game puts the buildings together. You’re not mashing blocks together into weird shapes, after all. No matter what you do in Townscape, it’s going to look good because the system dynamically adjusts your structures by what you place. So, a single click makes a tiny house. A click on its roof makes it a two-story house. Clicking next to it makes it longer. You can turn your buildings into arches, give them steepled roofs, build elevated walkways atop them, suspend them in the air with pillars, and so much more. Certain combinations of elevations can produce steps, and boxing in a section of ground with houses creates gardens. There’s so much to do here that you can spend hours just exploring the possibilities, without even cracking into your magnum opus.

This is the beauty of Townscaper, the fact that you can’t go wrong. Everything fits together, and everything is designed to look good while doing it. And if you don’t like how something comes out, you can unmake it just as easily with right-click. The game is full of wonderful dynamic details like postboxes, shrubberies, clotheslines, and birds. Literally everything you do is going to be amazing, and I know that for a fact because I turned my children loose on it and they made amazing islands and towers with no coaching whatsoever. This is an unparalleled tool for creation, allowing people with any degree of skill or coordination to make towns they’ve only dreamed of, and to have fun doing it. I never realized how specifically I needed this in my library, and now that I have it, I honestly can’t stop tinkering.

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!
Posted July 6, 2020.
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103 people found this review helpful
2 people found this review funny
17.8 hrs on record
In the gaming world, the best we can often hope for is a decent story layered over solid mechanics. It’s a regrettably necessary concession, since good gameplay and good narrative are both so hard to achieve even in isolation from each other. But that means the truly great games, the games that define genres, can be those that marry their story and mechanics in natural ways. These are the games where reading a note about a character’s life makes you realize you have an ability you never thought to try, or using a scanner in a novel way reveals an important piece of the tale. These are games like Outer Wilds, where the entire experience is so expertly crafted at every turn, that you can easily forget you’re playing a game at all as you get pulled into the incredible interactive narrative that unfolds around you.

On the tiny planet of Timber Hearth, the inhabitants have discovered space travel and taken to the stars. Blasting off from rickety platforms in their wood and iron landers, this budding team of explorers are intent on uncovering the mysteries of their corner of the universe. And mysteries there are, like the twin planets that act as an hourglass, or the strange comet that swoops past the sun, or the fragments of a lost world on the fringes of the system. You are the newest astronaut to join their ranks, but something is amiss on the day of your first lift-off. Not all the secrets to be found in space are so benign, and when your first day ends, it will be clear that something must be done about it. Determining what to do, though, leads to a tangle of enigmas far older than your space-faring species, and further-reaching than you could ever imagine.

The magic of Outer Wilds is in solving a mystery that spans your entire solar system, and the less you know about it going in, the better. If you’re at all interested in this title, if what I’ve said so far intrigues you even a little, stop reading here and dive right in. Everything about the experience is predicated on how you’re free to launch from Timber Hearth to any location in the solar system. You have no explicit mission goals, no quests to track or indicators to show you where to go. A brilliantly-integrated tutorial in your home village both educates you on your tools available and provides you a few plot threads to follow up on, and from there everything is up to you. The solar system is small enough that you can get anywhere in just a minute or two, so if you’re particularly intrigued by that glowing molten moon or a strange bright spot deep in space, you can check it out at any time.

Why this works is the greatest achievement of Outer Wilds. Anywhere you go across the solar system, you’ll find important hints and clues to the greater mystery at work. The obvious places to land and explore will point you in the direction of less obvious places, and the deeper secrets will provide insight on the ultimate answers you’re looking for. My first few flights were whirlwinds of revelations, finding ruins in one location that indicated an answer to their puzzle on another planet, and finding an even bigger puzzle to unravel on my way there. These are not just secrets about the story but revelations about the game world itself, revelations that will reveal new capabilities you always had and never realized. It’s almost like an even more elegant Myst, where you could theoretically finish the game on your very first trip to the stars if you stumbled across just the right places at just the right times and approached them with just the right mindset.

Because that’s what progress is in this game, changing your perspective and mindset. You don’t unlock new gadgets or find upgrades for your spaceship. All you need to do to get through Outer Wilds is to observe and learn. The tools provided to these ends are extremely useful and fun to use in their own rights, and every important detail you learn is arranged in your ship’s computer to see the connections between them. Just going back over everything you’ve found can be a thrilling experience for the sudden epiphanies you may have while connecting the dots. It’s a game built around eureka moments, and to its credit it has some of the best I’ve experienced short of something like Baba Is You or Return of the Obra Dinn. And it does it without being even as explicitly a puzzle game as either.

As amazing as the seamless joining of narrative and gameplay is here, it’s worth noting that the moment-to-moment gameplay itself is still something special. You have an incredible amount of freedom to jetpack around or maneuver in your spaceship, and with the solar system and planets so small, this mobility gives you a certain sense of power in exploring. Gravity wells and Newtonian physics are in full effect here, allowing you to execute daring orbital maneuvers or just skim the surface of planets yourself, like long-jumping around a tiny world in Super Mario Galaxy. For anyone who struggles with orbital mechanics, there’s also a pretty effective autopilot system for your ship, though it won’t take into account other bodies in space like, say, the sun. The clear interface and momentum indicators make it easier than ever to understand what you’re doing in space, though, so Kerbal-style disasters shouldn’t be that common for anyone.

With such a polished, robust experience from the moment you start, there’s really not that much to complain about. It is worth noting there are some rather harrowing parts of the game, with one in particular playing on the terrifying unknowns of deep space. This can be a very scary game at times, and on many levels, so be prepared for that. Honestly it’s a very emotional journey overall, as the writing for what you’ll discover about present and past societies can hit pretty close to home. My only real gripe with the game was a very specific one with the endgame sequence, and how one of the things you have to do can go very wrong and foul up a bit of the narrative tension, but this is hardly something that should give anyone pause about the game.

The simple, evocative 3D art style meshes well with the warm, homey sort of feel much of the game goes for, and is even more effective when turned against the player in those moments of fright or tension. It’s the sound design, though, that really goes the extra mile to give Outer Wilds a sense of identity. The soundtrack is nothing short of extraordinary, featuring perfect ambient and atmospheric selections for every moment of the game, and the sound effects make even putting on your space suit or pulling out a tool feel like a big deal. This is the total package in a way few games are: a carefully considered and constructed narrative informed by its gameplay and vice-versa, a vast world of inter-connected mysteries and revelations, and an emotional tale that is a joy and a wonder to work through every step of the way.

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!
Posted July 3, 2020. Last edited July 4, 2020.
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54 people found this review helpful
2 people found this review funny
1.7 hrs on record
I hope everyone here understands that surrealism is about much more than just mashing a bunch of weird ♥♥♥♥ together. Plenty of aspiring indie games wither away from a lack of unifying vision and a clear feel, while games like this thrive in the universe they create. Tales From Off-Peak City is the kind of surreal that works, the kind that you feel in the small crevices of your brain and hear echoing in bones you don’t know the names of. It’s weird because it can be and because it has to be, and even so it manages to tell a story that’s both utterly bizarre and oddly familiar in places. For a supposed anthology series, this is definitely a strong start out of the gate.

You arrive at the city by boat, ferried by a commanding woman and a quiet man. A flood has washed away much of the neighborhood you’re landing at but that’s okay, because the pizzeria still stands and you need the saxophone hidden within. Caetano Grosso was once a master musician, but gave it all up to sling pies in this run-down borough. Your benefactors want his sax, and they’ve given you an in as the next delivery person for the shop. So begins your adventures on the corner of July and Yam, cooking pizzas, delivering meals, listening to the dark history of the city, and navigating pitfalls both metaphorical and physical on your way to securing the instrument.

Tales From Off-Beat City is a first-person adventure game, with only a single button for all of your important interactions. You can pick up items, turn handles, and advance dialogue spoken at you all with left-click, and that’ll get you through all your deliveries and detective work. I won’t say too much about the structure of the game but you’ll generally be making pizzas to fill the orders that come in, delivering them and talking to the customer for a bit, then puzzling out what you can about your objective before moving on to the next delivery. The events that occur as you go about your odd business seem fixed, so don’t expect much in the way of choices or branching paths here, and the aforementioned puzzling is an extremely simple affair.

That’s not to say this is a simple game, of course, only that the gameplay taking you through this fever-dream of a town is really secondary to the experience itself. Off-Peak City is a very different world from ours, filled with sentient buildings and giant dogs and still people with very relatable problems. The orders that come in will ask for pizzas that “consider beyond that which is in front of me”, leaving the actual recipe to your interpretations. Deliveries reveal all sorts of strangeness with the residents and also leave a profound impact upon them, and they also call down some attention that you’re probably not going to want. There are a lot of stories here to unearth, and while most of them are not particularly deep as stated there’s clearly a lot of symbolism here, and the central mystery of the pizzeria goes to some really neat places.

Along the way you’ll find additional ingredients to add to your prep station, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that some of these are a bit outside the norm. You can also buy a camera with some spare cash and find different rolls of film for it, which give your photos all kinds of strange effects. Neither of these things are necessary for finishing the game, nor is teasing out stories from some of the side characters scattered around the neighborhood. But all these things help give the game additional depth and texture, and tease out the length to a cozy two hours or so. Judging from the achievements there are also special conversations you can get by being in the right places at the right times, and I can only imaging what oddities are shared if you can swing that.

The main thing here is that the look and feel of Off-Peak City just work. It’s a surreal aesthetic with some genuine thought behind it, guiding the bizarre book titles on shelves and persistent cow imagery and lo-fi jazz pumping through speakers found in the strangest of places. It feels like playing through an old subversive 90s cartoon or falling into a modern art exhibit, and that feel dovetails nicely with the tale of loss and mistrust being told here. The experience is linear and won’t last you too long, but it’s absolutely worth it for the creativity on display. Tales From Off-Peak City is a compelling start for this surreal anthology, and begs many questions about what could lie ahead.

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!
Posted June 29, 2020.
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91 people found this review helpful
2 people found this review funny
7.1 hrs on record
Retro FPSes have made a huge resurgence in recent years, buoyed by the success of titles like DUSK and AMID EVIL. The tricky part is that those games recognize both the strengths and weaknesses of their inspirations, building on the former and dodging the latter. It’s not an easy thing for indie developers to do, but the creator of Project Warlock was able to deftly maneuver those pitfalls to offer something truly special. Building off of some of the simplest FPS designs, this throwback shooter dials up the style and chaos to capture the best of its genre.

Not even the store page bothers much with the story of this one, so I won’t either. You’re a warlock, you hate evil, and you have guns. 60 stages of monsters, demons, aliens, and assorted baddies stand between you and the source of darkness itself, and all of those things happen to be allergic to bullets. Your arsenal of shotguns, machine guns, launchers, and cannons will be put to the test by the monstrous hordes, but upgrading guns and complimenting them with magic will make you a fearsome force indeed. Only by wading through the viscera of your foes and slaying their grotesque commanders will you reach the goal of your quest, and subject the evils of the world to your will.

I think that might be more poetry than you’ll get from the DOOMish between-episode splash screens, but the story is just an excuse to send you to dungeons and hellholes to exterminate everything. Each episode of 12 levels has a theme like “castle” or “ice” or “hell”, with levels bundled together into small clusters of two or three to complete at once. Between these clusters you return to your workshop to upgrade your weapons and unlock spells with points you find, and raise your stats and earn perks from leveling up. It’s always nice having gratifying character progression in any game, and here it gets you more health, more ammo capacity, and weapon upgrades like burning shrapnel shotguns and supersonic rockets. I should also mention that the “warlock” aspect of your character is a bit of an afterthought. Magic is quite powerful, but you’re much more of a gunslinger with spells than a sorcerer with guns.

No matter what tools you use to frag your foes, there will be no end of foes to frag. Levels have dozens upon dozens of enemies to battle, in all sorts of combinations and arrangements. The episodes have unique enemies from each other to match their themes, and while none of their behaviors are particularly ground-breaking, they offer a wide variety of approaches to combat. In particular, some creatures do different things depending on how damaged they are, while others have no compunctions about harming other enemies in their quest to annihilate you. Combat itself is simplified by the levels being essentially flat-elevation maps akin to old Wolf3D, but even on a level playing field there will be huge arena battles and tight corridors to navigate while taking on powerful beings. And the weapons feel incredible to use, a little weak on the sound side but absolutely devastating in how they splatter or incinerate their targets.

If anything, your overwhelming arsenal might make the game a bit too easy. I played on Normal and died I think twice the entire game, and one of those was from falling into a pit. Part of the problem might be how much of the upgrade points are hidden away in the game’s ridiculous quantity of secrets, meaning the main game has to be balanced for players that get very few upgrades. Fire upgrades especially can delete even the biggest foes, reducing them to ash before you even see their other phases. This extends all the way to the bosses, massive 2D beasts that can be chumped with liberal applications of fire or explosives. They also look a bit funny as enormous sprites that always face you, though that’s an artistic decision I fully support. Common enemies have absolutely incredible animations and the whole game is beautifully bold and chunky, so I’ll accept some awkward bosses in exchange.

The most important part is just how focused Project Warlock is on being fun over all else. There are no awkward puzzle levels or super annoying enemies, just a classic reliance on collecting keys and pushing buttons to open doors you already passed. Those levels are always full of squishy enemies to bleed out all over the place, leaving very few lulls in the fast-paced action. Honestly it feels like the most action you can wring out of this older FPS style, an elevation of a genre that had mostly been left behind aside from corner cases like Bunker Punks. In the same way that DUSK improves on Quake and AMID EVIL improves on Hexen, Project Warlock takes the gameplay of Wolf3D to newer, bloodier, and more thrilling heights.

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!
Posted June 26, 2020.
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