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Game Reviews

Two Cent Review: Quantum Conundrum DLC

I’m not surprised by this in the slightest, but the gameplay in Quantum Conundrum’s DLC is somehow significantly worse than the base game… And that’s saying something.

Here’s my two cents on both of Quantum Conundrum’s DLC.

Desmond Debacle
The first stop on our double DLC date (aww, look at us. How cute.) is at The “Desmond Debacle”, a series of six levels. If you don’t know who Desmond is, he’s a drinking bird that you come across numerous times during the course of the base game. He’s often used to solve timing centric puzzles, all while looking adorable in a tophat in the process.

Based upon this description then, it’d be natural to assume that a DLC named after Desmond would, you know, feature the titular bird.

He appears in two out of the six levels.

That’s a third of the entire DLC.

I don’t know about you, but if I was Desmond, I’d be pretty pissed right about now. Not only is my name and likeness being used to entice sorry suckers to shell out mere pennies on a Steam sale for this nonsense, but I’m actively watching my reputation go down the drain as a result!

Seriously though, this roughly hour long level pack is rough. This was initially indicated by the actions you take in order to access the DLC. It involves the immersive and revolutionary act of selecting the first level from a menu, a timeless tactic.

After a short loading screen, you’re sort of just…dropped into the first level, with the game expecting you to figure the rest out on your own. There’s no narrative set-up, no banter from your insufferable uncle, nothing.

The first few levels in particular felt as if they had zero room for experimentation. I actually had no clue what to do for a solid 10-15 minutes as I stumbled about, riding one floating box to another, in an attempt to find a single clue that could point me in the right direction.

Alas, I inevitably gave up and resorted to an online guide in order to get past it. Suffice it to say, I would have never found the solution on my own. It felt way too specific for my little pea brain to ever figure out on my own. So shout out to you, internet person who I can’t remember the name of. You single handedly saved my sanity on this one.

The Desmond Debacle feels devoid of character. There is next to no personality within these few levels, save for a few appearances by the bird in the big black hat. Add to that the narrow-minded level design and environments that make the base game’s burst with personality in comparison, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for one rough DLC. 

Ike-Aramba!
Quantum Conundrum’s second DLC also happens to feature a recurring side character from the base game as well. Sporting a name that would make anyone over the age of existing cringe, IKE-aramba sees you solving another set of six puzzles. This time, it’s with the goal of saving a helpless IKE, who’s found himself frozen in a block of ice and kidnapped by robots. 

IKE-aramba is the better of the two DLC on offer here. Not only does it set itself up with an admittedly loose premise (which Desmond Debacle lacked), but it also features much more variety when it comes to its level selection.

The levels are extremely hit or miss, featuring both some of the best and worst levels in all of Quantum Conundrum. This is easily the biggest issue I had with the DLC, and with the level list being as short as it is, the chaotic difficulty curve becomes that much more noticeable.

Thankfully, the majority of IKE-aramba’s levels allow for significantly more experimentation than what the previous DLC did. Sadly it never quite reaches the levels of its inspiration (there’s that Portal 2 mentioned again…), but it does its darndest to shoot for that goal anyhow. 

IKE-aramba may have left me cursing at my monitor on more than one occasion, but I actually enjoyed the majority of my time with this DLC. Aside from one or two levels, I think IKE-aramba features some of Quantum Conundrum’s best level and puzzle design, making it the better of these two bits of downloadable content.

Verdict
At the end of the day, Quantum Conundrum’s DLC offerings are nothing more than additional levels for fans of the base game to sink their brain-teeth into. Unfortunately this means that if the base game didn’t do much in the way of satisfying your elite gamer needs, the DLC won’t do much to change your mind. There are some moments of genuine enjoyment here or there, but you’ve gotta be ready to trudge through some stinky bog juice to get to those points. 

That’s a venture I do not recommend. 

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Review: Quantum Conundrum

Valve’s “Portal” series has always been near and dear to my heart. From the first foray into the physics based puzzling formula, to the generational classic that was its successor, this one of a kind series has supplied me with memorable experiences more times than I can count.

Imagine my surprise then when I learned about yet another reality-bending puzzle game made in the same vein as “Portal”. Here’s my two cents on Quantum Conundrum.

Released way back in good ol’ 2012, long before remakes and loot boxes seemingly dominated the video game space, Quantum Conundrum was released as a familiar but unique take on the Portal formula from industry vet Kim Swift. Developed by Airtight Games and published by Square Enix, this brain buzzing platformer saw the player utilizing dimensional shifts in order to solve puzzles.

These dimensions are essentially four unique states of reality, all of which carried a unique gimmick with them. From the Fluffy dimension, which makes even the heaviest objects light as a feather, to the Slo-mo dimension, which does exactly what you’d think it does. 


Unfortunately, these different dimensions only go so far in helping the game feel unique. I can’t quite pinpoint the reason as to why, but Quantum Conundrum consistently felt inferior to it’s spiritual predecessor when it came to gameplay. If I had to wager, I’d bet that the game feels more dull due to its focus on platforming to solve problems vs using physics to do so.

It’s a subtle difference, but a tremendous one when distinguishing these two games. Portal games always felt like they were multi-faceted, or that you could solve them in a variety of ways so long as you thought outside of the box enough. The variety in both problems and solutions were astounding. They didn’t focus entirely upon the simple aspect of platforming or navigating difficult spaces. That’s where I think Quantum Conundrum falls flat.

It feels a bit odd to compare these two obviously differing series, but I feel as though so much influence from Portal is on display in Quantum Conundrum. So to compare the two only feels natural, much in the same way that this game felt like it wanted to be a natural progression of the Portal formula. Sadly, I have to admit that this game is a severely inferior experience. 

Gotta be honest here, none of it feels like it was made with much love or care. The writing is consistently not funny, try as it might to convince you otherwise. The music, while whimsical, mysterious and upbeat, never does much in regards to wriggling into your ear spaces. As a matter of fact, the music teetered on annoying territory from time to time with how repetitive it could be. 

The environments consistently felt dull as well, with little to no visual story-telling going on during the game’s roughly 8 hour runtime. This issue was one that was especially prevalent within the latter half of the game, as the poor attempts at visual story-telling that were at least attempted in the beginning seemed to vanish completely. 

But none of that compares to the writing in this game, which was easily the weakest aspect of Quantum Conundrum. The majority of this game tries to be funny, but fails miserably at doing so. You know, it’s completely possible that 2012 me would have liked this game’s writing and found it’s dialogue to be humorous, but 2012 me is dead, so it doesn’t matter. 

2022 me is here and he dislikes everything… especially poor writing. 

This issue is further exacerbated by the performance given by your uncle’s voice actor. No, I don’t mean your uncle you just saw for a heated political discussion on Christmas. I mean, your mad scientist uncle that acts as this game’s narrator and also serves as a consistent source of pessimism throughout.

Seriously, this dude spends the whole game trapped in another dimension walking you through how to navigate his death palace mansion in order to save him, and all he ever throws your way are half-assed remarks. That’s the whole plot of the game by the way. Uncle trapped in dimension, now you go save uncle trapped in dimension. 

Spoiler alert for the end here by the way, but uh, even in the final moments of the game, you’re never thanked for saving your uncle’s life. Instead, you’re shown a short “cutscene” in which your uncle admits to being freed but now has to work on getting you out of the dimensional trap instead. No “thank you”, no sense of urgency, no nothing. 

Just a shitty feeling in the pit of your stomach for being a good person and saving someone’s life. 

Quantum Conundrum just sort of…ends after that interaction, seemingly leaving the game open to a sequel. Not too sure that we’ll ever get a follow up in regards to what happened to our main character, but maybe that’s for the best. I’m sure any dimension where the worst uncle to ever grace gaming doesn’t exist is one worth staying in. 

I wanted to like Quantum Conundrum, but I honestly struggled to get through this one. It’s definitely not one that I could easily recommend, unless you’ve already played Valve’s genre defining series, and are willing to overlook some serious shortcomings. I reviewed this game because I picked it up for $1 on a Steam sale and I still feel like my time was wasted.

Which is why I can’t wait to check out the DLC…

TO BE CONTINUED.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Review: Infernax

Infernax is a game eleven years in the making that sports a gritty, retro feel and a metal chiptune soundtrack. If those words I just said ignited the happy sensors in your brain, then I strongly consider seeing if Infernax is worth your time. 

Here’s my two cents. 

Infernax opens with a brilliantly designed tutorial, introducing you to things like its setting and the basics of combat. Beyond that, this opening section introduces what was easily my favorite aspect of Infernax: choice and consequence. 

Infernax is consistently asking you to make difficult decisions that alter the outcome of events. This extends into the game’s multiple endings as well, which helps encourage repeat playthroughs. I personally felt the endings lacked enough variety to incentivize going for them, which left me feeling undersatified. Repeat playthroughs are mostly here for those who want to one-hundred percent the game.

Or for those invested in Infernax’s world, which is put together with fairly noticeable attention to detail. This may be a love letter to retro classics of yesteryear such as Castlevania II, but its world still feels alive and lived in. Most of this is admittedly due to the choice and consequence nature of Infernax, but the game’s side quests help carry the experience as well.

While certainly nothing groundbreaking, the sheer volume of side questing available in Infernax genuinely surprised me. Now we’re not talking Skyrim levels of questing here, but we are talking about something that could easily increase your playtime by a decent margin. 

These quests are usually worth your time due to the variety and value of their rewards as well. Some may reward you with simple things like gold or XP, but others open up things like new quests or storefronts to purchase gear from. I consistently found myself stopping in each village to talk with everyone during my playthrough, as I was always curious what reward I’d receive next. Be careful doing this though, as some of these actions will lead to unforeseen consequences. 

Now as much as it pains me to admit, this is about all of the good I have to say on my experience with Infernax. But that doesn’t mean it may not appeal to you, so I’d strongly consider hearing me out before making your own call on the game. 

For starters, I want to talk about the topic of trolling the player vs wasting the players time. On the surface, these two things sound like they’re the same, and in many ways they do share overlap. In order to distinguish the two, and to help make my point easier to explain, I’ll bring up this little game that was just released called Elden Ring. 

You may have heard of it.

In Elden Ring, the game consistently, from the opening moments, does all it can to mess with the player’s expectations. Elden Ring then proceeds to maintain this theme throughout its runtime, building upon this philosophy again and again until the credits roll. In this scenario, “trolling the player” works because you, the player, know to expect it and to be ready to combat whatever’s around the corner. 

When looking at Infernax, a game I played immediately after my time with Elden Ring, I couldn’t help but feel slight bitterness. Bitterness at the way my time as a player was disrespected (God that sounds pretentious). 

This became apparent to me upon reaching a specific point in my Infernax quest where I had to do some guesswork in order to proceed. Only the issue here is failure to guess correctly leads to death and a reload at the nearest save point, sometimes resetting ten-plus minutes of progress. 

This wouldn’t be such an issue if I didn’t have to repeat this process numerous times throughout the game. Sadly that wasn’t the case in my experience, as this problem persisted until the credits rolled some six hours later.

There’s no issue with making a challenging game, or even a love letter to a classic title from yesteryear. The issue arises once you get to a point of wasting the players time for no other reason than to waste time or inflate your game’s playtime. 

It does make me wonder if the devs decided on this intentionally. It’s possible they made Infernax this way intentionally for the sake of preserving that “retro feel”. Unfortunately it was a major detractor when it came to enjoying my time with this one, so I felt it was worth mentioning. 

Beyond that, I think I could best describe the rest of Infernax as being inconsistent. The melee combat in this game leaves something to be desired, but the magic is fun as hell to use. The bosses, while unique and fun to look at, are boring to fight and offer little challenge. The world, while sprawling and diverse, rarely gives you any fun or unique platforming sections or enemies to contend with. 

It all ultimately left me feeling unfulfilled in my journey to rid the land of evil. 

While I wish there was more positive praise I could give to Infernax, this one really didn’t do it for me. There are multiple aspects that are appealing, such as it’s art direction, sound design, and focus on choice and consequence. Unfortunately these things don’t deal with much in the realm of core gameplay, which means I was left feeling bummed out during the majority of Infernax. 

If you’re a fan of true to inspiration retro throwbacks and hypotheticals where Undertale meets Castevania, Infernax may be worth your time. However, if you’re more like me and don’t necessarily care to play something that frustrates more than fulfills, maybe consider skipping this one. 

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Game Reviews

Potion Craft Early Access Review

(Potion Craft is currently available on Windows via early access.)

I think many of us are familiar with the concept of alchemy. It’s been used in the media time and time again. From the totally not-sad-at-all-at-any-point manga/anime Fullmetal Alchemist to some weird guy doing chemistry (that’s kinda like alchemy, right?) on television in the 90’s. It’s safe to say alchemy is often used to, ahem, stir up reactions in people…

Potion Craft is a modern example of this aforementioned concept. Thankfully, it does a decent job laying the groundwork for what could one day be the best alchemy simulator out there. Here are my two cents on Potion Craft’s Early Access release.

Image provided by Niceplay Games

Your time in Potion Craft opens with a short tutorial outlining the day-to-day tasks of the local potion brewer (that’s you). Pick ingredients in the morning, open up shop for the day, listen to and fulfill customers’ needs, repeat. 

There’s an almost criminal level of simplicity to the core gameplay loop, which is carefully counterbalanced by the tedious and tactful task of brewing bubbles. When a customer comes to you with an order, you’re given all the time in the world to fulfill it. So it’s off to the brewing board (not sure if that’s what it’s called but that’s what I’m calling it), a massive map of various potion effects eagerly waiting to be brewed. 

The actual art of creating potions is, as with most other things in Potion Craft, amazingly simple to get the hang of. Your goal here is to guide your potion icon to your desired effect’s icon on the board. Depending on which ingredients you throw into the cauldron, your potion could end up going one of many ways. Once you reach a spot you’re satisfied with, you pick a bottle for the concoction and finalize the brew. 

It’s a surprisingly basic system that looks more complicated than it really is.

Image provided by Niceplay Games

Which leads me to my biggest gripe with the current state of the game. That being, once you’ve crafted a few potions, you’ve…kinda crafted them all. Meaning that the flow of potion crafting hardly changes throughout the game. Sure, more specific effects are required for customer requests later in the Potion Craft, but they hardly mix up the core gameplay beyond adding artificial length to the whole thing. 

There is hope for depth to extend beyond the game’s namesake though. While the game’s current reputation system (which goes up when you do good deeds and down when you do bad) seems to have next to no effect on the gameplay, there’s certainly room for change. It would be awesome to see more consequences come from actions made in the game. 

Right now, entire quest chains begin and progress whether or not you actively pursue them. For example, one customer may ask you to brew a poison so they can kill their neighbors’ livestock. Even if you choose not to fulfill the customer’s order, they’ll still make subsequent returns asking for more game over juice. Seeing more dynamic quest chains in response to your choices to help specific customers would go a long way in helping diversify gameplay.

Again this is only one example of how Potion Craft could build upon its current systems. However I believe this growth philosophy could be applied to a variety of aspects within the game.

Image provided by Niceplay Games

Outside of the major aspect of not enough depth currently here for players to enjoy, Potion Craft gets nearly everything else correct. The medieval storybook artstyle helps the game stand out as something unique and distinctly deserved of a pre-bedtime play session. The music, while currently lacking in variety, is calm and tranquil enough to get you into a relaxing, near meditative state. 

Potion Craft may be a hard sell at full price in its current state, but give it some time for updates to roll out and I’m sure this sentiment will change. I picked up my copy during Steam’s Winter sale in 2021, which brought it into my library at around 20% off. While not a major discount, it did adjust the price enough to warrant picking it up. That said, Potion Craft is a welcome addition to an ever growing list of simulator games, and one that is bound to grow greater with each subsequent update.

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Game Reviews

Sun Haven Early Access Review

(Sun Haven is available on Microsoft Windows and macOS via early access.)

-REVIEW KEY PROVIDED BY DEVS-

Games with a heavy focus on lifestyle simulation have become a mainstay in the market. From Animal Crossing to Stardew Valley, My Time in Portia to Forager, these titles have all but flooded this once niche genre. It’s left many of us who grew up on these types of games longing for something new, with a fresh and unique take on the life-sim formula.

Thankfully, Sun Haven comes pretty close to hitting that mark.

If I were to get all “AAA Game Journalist” on ya, I’d throw the obligatory elevator pitch your way. “Sun Haven is what you get if you mix Stardew Valley with the visual style of Maplestory”. Thankfully, I’m not working at any major gaming firm that may still rely on corporate greed payouts or an arbitrary rating system to tell you what games you should spend your money on. That’s right, I’m freelance, baby!

Instead, I’d like to provide a more in-depth look at what separates Sun Haven from its contemporaries and why I think it’s worth your time.

For starters, let’s talk about what differentiates Sun Haven from any other life sim out there on the market: it’s emphasis on story. Sure, the story is nothing ground-breaking, and most of the narrative content can be completed in roughly 5-6 hours, but it helps give the game identity nonetheless. From the start of your journey, the story beats act as a guide to familiarize yourself with this enchanted world full of angels, demons, and furries. Eventually things do give way to being more open and reliant on choices the player makes as well, which was a pleasant change of pace. If you ever wanted to play a game with roughly 1.26% of Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s DNA within it, Sun Haven has you covered.

Beyond those few hours of story content are plenty of side activities for you to waste your day away with. Fishing, farming, mining, crafting, smithing, cooking, combat and more await you in easily one of the densest early access games I’ve ever played. Many of these activities are accompanied by a skill tree as well, which lends a healthy dose of role-playing and character building to the game. It helps make many of the more tedious, repetitive tasks feel more rewarding than they would be otherwise.

Is Maplestory chibi art making a comeback?!

There’s also an entire magic system. Did I mention that?

That’s right, you can live out your fantastical, uh, fantasies in Sun Haven by becoming the magic-wielding farmer you always wished you could be! There’s a plethora of spells for you to experiment with here, many of which are useful in various situations. For example, one spell allows you to push out a blast of energy like a forcefield, knocking back enemies who may be getting just a bit too up in your personal space. This is obviously useful in combat scenarios when you’re looking for a moment to catch your breath or assess a situation. It also serves a more practical use as well. You can actually use this same move to help clear large groups of minerals when in the mines, searching for copper or iron. This variety in the way some spells could be used was a definite highlight in the sea of Sun Haven’s many systems, and I’d love to see this design philosophy expanded upon moving forward.

There’s loads of customization as well. So much so that Sun Haven teeters on having almost too much customization at times. It’s not quite over that line (since it’s nearly impossible to have too much customization), but a few additions beyond what’s already there may well send it over the edge. Clothing, housing, farm layout, pets, mounts and more await you in the realm of self-representation in Sun Haven, which is an apprehensively welcome design choice in my opinion. Just… try not to get too lost in the style sauce. You may not ever surface again.

Sun Haven also features a large amount of quality-of-life features that I’d love to see in other games within the genre. For example, there is no stamina system to contend with in Sun Haven. This means that, aside from a small time constraint that plagues you around midnight every night, there’s no need to worry about how to go about your day. This was a more than welcome addition, as this sole point of contention was enough to dissuade me from ever trying Stardew again.

Snaccoons: This Realm’s Snorlax

There are few aspects of Sun Haven that could use some love and attention too, mainly in regards to the early portion of the game. While Sun Haven eventually opens up and becomes this sprawling, lived-in world, the opening hours of your journey do little to excite you for that payoff. Movement speed is especially slow, with no proper sprint or way to fast travel. These nuisances are eventually rectified, but in ways that felt more like a bandage than a treatment. Movement speed can be improved via specific skills on a skill tree, while the fast travel dilemma gets resolved with the power of purchasable mounts.

These solutions both feel out of place, with a substantial focus on grind in order to achieve any worthwhile results. Providing a sprint or increased movement speed option from the start would greatly help mitigate this issue. A proper fast travel system would also do wonders to help cut out the absurd back-tracking currently in Sun Haven.

Maybe consider adjusting the movement controls. As it currently stands, platforming in Sun Haven feels more like a chore than anything. Movement, especially while airborne, feels floaty and slippery, like a cloud of butter slipping through the sky. Hardly any platforming section feels enjoyable at this moment, though I’m hopeful future updates will address this issue as well.

Did I mention there’s dragons?!

Other core game designs could also use a revisit also, such as the side quest system. Nearly every side quest in this game amounts to nothing more than a “fetch this, deliver that” formula, which felt outdated nearly 10 years ago now. Some deeper variety in the quests could go a long way in helping to provide hours of enjoyment for the player. Instead of only providing quests such as “grow these crops” or “return this object”, maybe add some flair and depth. Things such as “build this” or “cook that” could do wonders when it comes to adding gameplay variety versus your standard fetch quest exclusive mission structure.

Sun Haven may still be in development, with a variety of growing pains to contend with, but what’s currently there is still more than enough to warrant keeping an eye on this project. There are a massive amount of characters to meet, locations to explore, secrets to uncover, and activities to participate in beyond what I mentioned in this first impression. Even after spending hours with the game for the sake of sharing my views on as many facets as possible, I’m still discovering new systems to dive into. It’s a mash-up of many things that make this once tiny genre so great, and I’m here for it.

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Game Reviews

Luna’s Fishing Garden Review

(Luna’s Fishing Garden is available on Android, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Nintendo Switch, and Mac.)

-REVIEW KEY PROVIDED BY DEVS-

If there’s anything in this world more addictive than the euphoric feeling of stretching out on a bed after a long day of working, it’s the incremental growth found in idle games.

Something about the very nature of an idle game is insanely tantalizing. It drips and oozes passive progress in a way that no other genre really does. Granted, this could either go the way of a stock that outpaces the rate of inflation or the way of a joke that refers to the pace a stock grows at.

Either way, idle gaming as a (admittedly redundant sounding) template to build upon is generally a good idea in my book. That’s why Luna’s Fishing Garden held such appeal in my little goofball gamer goblin brain.

You see, Luna’s Fishing Garden goes beyond being yet another simple idle game, where you upgrade items to watch numbers grow only for you to repeat this process ad infinitum. While it certainly contains it’s fair share of accruing passive gains, it also houses a fairly challenging fishing game.


A challenge which comes in one of two varieties: basic or advanced fishing.

Choose the former, and the game is a breeze to get through. It becomes a relaxing time to end your day with, where you can tend to a few crops, catch a fish or two, and end the night with a hefty sum of gold weighing your pockets down. This was certainly the way to play Luna’s Fishing Garden, in my personal opinion.

Choose the latter, however, and get ready to white-knuckle the ever living heck out of your controller of choice. There is a substantial increase in challenge once you bump up to the higher difficulty of the two, but it’s still a fair challenge all the same.

Regardless of which way Luna’s Fishing Garden is played, it lends itself as an enjoyable time to kill a few hours with over the course of a day or two. That’s my only gripe with the game, honestly. The fact that it was so short bummed me out quite a bit, as I was really enjoying the groove of things once it was all moving.

At 100% completion within 2 1/2 hours of playtime, it’d normally be a challenge for me to recommend something like Luna’s Fishing Garden, but this one’s an exception. For the price of a dang pizza (or two), you can get yourself a ticket to a serene slice of digital space to fish and farm till your heart’s content.

If you ask me, that’s one delicious deal!

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Game Reviews

Why Pizza Review

(Why Pizza is available on Microsoft Windows.)

-REVIEW KEY PROVIDED BY DEVS-

This is a game about people with long necks delivering pizzas.

Now that I have your attention, I want to talk to you about this game I played recently called “Why Pizza?”, because I feel like it’s one of the weirder things that’s been downloaded onto my computer (maybe I shouldn’t phrase it like that next time. Kinda sounds a bit off putting).

Why Pizza sees you taking on the role of your everyday pizza person as you dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge your way through oddly spaced corridors and perfectly spaced jumps. The real kicker of a twist on the pretzel pizza pie here is that you’re also sporting a long neck, which ends up making navigation much more difficult than it should be. Throughout my initial playthrough, I never found that the difficulty was raised by something like having a long neck on my ketchup-man.

In all honesty, I felt the first run through the game was uneventful and didn’t hold my attention all that well. Luckily, Why Pizza is incredibly short, sporting a run time of roughly an hour for the first play through. This meant that I was actually able to stay awake long enough to see the ending of the game before boredom had the chance to drown me in dreams. 

That isn’t where the adventure ends though, despite what you may think. Immediately upon completing your initial playthrough of the game, you’re granted access to new characters with even longer necks than those that came before them. This made the game substantially harder, and more tedious (I know this because I quit playing after a few levels due to rage), which wasn’t something I was hoping to run into. But that is what one should expect from a game that clearly pulls influence from the likes of Bennett Foddy after all.

“Thar’s diamond in them rocks!”

The control scheme was also all sorts of messed up. None of the button prompts matched what the inputs actually did, and I couldn’t find any form of remapping to mess around with. This was a pretty obvious port of what I’m assuming to be a mobile game, and it certainly shows.

Then there’s the music and sound aspect of the game, which was completely forgettable to me. I mean that as a genuine criticism. As I sit here writing out this review, the task of recollecting a single sound from Why Pizza is impossible. The only thing my brain keeps playing is the Robot Chicken theme song. 

I’ve long outgrown my enjoyment for intentionally difficult games with poor control schemes like the Flash games of yesteryear. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a place in my heart for things like the Katamari series, but the contrast between that series and this is night and day to me. Something about this didn’t quite hit the mark, which was a shame.

I had hoped for a fun way to relive my day job while sitting in a room illuminated by RGB lighting. 

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Game Reviews

Curved Space Review

(Curved Space is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and Xbox One.)

-REVIEW KEY PROVIDED BY DEVS-

It’s never fun having a highly anticipated experience fall flat on it’s face, failing to stick the landing you desperately hoped it would land. Such is the case with Curved Space, an admittedly heartfelt attempt at honoring the tried and true gaming genre of twin-stick shooters.

Now I will admit right out the gate that not everything in Curved Space is flawed. First impressions are important things. Nearly as important as snacks on a road trip, or blackout curtains in your bedroom window if you’ve found yourself living in a desert or a space station. Curved Space completely nails it in this department. Upon launching the game, you’re met with this aesthetically pleasing main menu, complete with some fantastically retro, synthwavey goodness. It’s good stuff, and threw me right into that arcade-esque mood of yesteryear.

Neon bullets and bugs abound!

I was quite excited to experience what Curved Space had to offer beyond it’s visually pleasing opening seconds, so I promptly chose start on the main campaign and was whisked away into what was sure to be a one of a kind experience.

…And that’s where my enjoyment with Curved Space ended.

I’m going to be honest here, the voice acting in Curved Space was not all too great. Upon hearing the game’s spoken dialogue for the first time, my expectations immediately lowered. They weren’t the worst I’ve ever heard in all of my gaming experiences, but it was still jarring enough to make me take a second to reassess just what exactly I thought this game was capable of pulling off.

The writing felt serviceable, but also fell flat here or there. When it came to the general dialogue, the story’s main protagonist’s personality came off as bland, flat and without depth. Outside of that, the writing was interesting enough to keep me going for a short while. Conversations about multiple realities and all that good stuff are abound here. Sadly, I never experienced how the whole thing wraps up, as I gave in to boredom long before then.

This comic book stuff looked pretty neat!

And we’re talking boredom born of one of the cardinal sins of games: poor gameplay.

As much as I tried to make it to the end of what was supposedly a 2-3 hour campaign, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The general controls of Curved Space were fine enough on their own, but fine doesn’t always mean good. It means fine, as in, it’s serviceable but it doesn’t really do anything better than other games out there. That often results in boredom within me after an extremely short period of time, and Curved Space was no exception to this.

Maybe some of this boredom and repetition could have been mitigated if Curved Space provided a larger array of objectives for you to complete. The variety of mission types here is abysmal, leading to repeating objectives just minutes in to the game. I’m not sure if the design philosophy here was to create building blocks that sit neatly together to build a more complex gameplay tower later on in the game or not, but that’s the vibe I got from this one. Unfortunately, I think the mark was missed there as well.

Space Donut.

I’m sure Curved Space will find a niche fanbase, as indicated by the numerous positive reviews I read prior to jumping in to the game myself. I can say with utmost certainty that I am not a part of that group, as Curved Space brought five cons for every pro it gave me. As much as it pains me (as my initial excitement for this one was quite high), I cannot recommend Curved Space as something that you may or may not enjoy. In my experience, this isn’t one that I would suggest to anyone save for Gen X dads who want to relive childhood through a modern lens.

However, if you do happen to fit that description, Curved Space might be the perfect game for you.

Categories
Game Reviews

Dodgeball Academia Review

(Dodgeball Academia is available for Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.)

Growing up, school constantly felt like a battleground. Many mornings were spent in preparation for the numerous attacks that were certain to catch me off-guard during my day. From the bathrooms with their soldiers of swirlies, to the walks home full of twists and turns in a labyrinthine neighborhood, nowhere was safe. On the flipside, there also wasn’t really any place that felt more dangerous either. Unless you found yourself on the dodgeball court.

That wasn’t a battleground, it was a fucking warzone. 

Now imagine how I reacted upon learning that there was a game all about the warm and fuzzy feeling that only a rubber ball to the face could provide. Enter: Dodgeball Academia!

Dodgeball Academia is what you get when you blend a sports game with the look of Gravity Falls, the “trainer” systems from Pokemon, the upgrades and customization of role-playing games, and the story-telling of a Saturday morning cartoon. Visually, it has an easily identifiable style, which is something that modern games are sorely lacking. The character designs especially pop against the 3D rendered background, while the vibrant and complimenting colors help to further bring everything together. These are characters and settings that I could easily see finding a home on a children’s cartoon network like…Cartoon Network.

So all is well and good in the land of initial appearances, but I think a lot of people know that first impressions aren’t always telling of what’s going on on a deeper level. Oftentimes it takes a moment or two for us to begin to understand a motive before we really get down to judgement. This reigns true, even in the world of video games. Case in point: once I began to actually play Dodgeball Academia, I realized that looks truly aren’t everything. The core content wasn’t something I could see myself staying with in the future.

The biggest reason for this was due to Dodgeball Academia’s story. I don’t personally think the plot of the game is bad, but I do think it was a story that didn’t quite mesh with me. The length of the story would wear on me from time to time, which led to many speed reads through the numerous lines of dialogue. The writing isn’t poorly done, but it is juvenile. You can tell that this story catered more toward fans of the shows that it pulled visual inspiration from, which admittedly let me down.

I did enjoy how Dodgeball Academia presented it’s story though. The narrative is portrayed in an episodic manner, with each chapter having its own plot while also carrying along the game’s main story. Each episode is only a couple of hours in length too, so being able to indulge in the dodgebally goodness in bite sized chunks was a breeze. There’s plenty of variety and creativity within these stories, which helps to prevent Dodgeball Academia from feeling too samey in it’s formula. I will say though that I do wish there was more time to breathe and explore between story beats. The game is fairly linear and doesn’t offer a huge variety of activities outside of some side quests and the occasional spot to grind some levels.

Speaking of levels, let’s take a moment to discuss the core gameplay here. I think Dodgeball Academia’s gameplay systems were my favorite thing about this experience (outside of taking in the visuals, of course). Once you spend a moment with the game, it’s easy to tell that Dodgeball Academia was built around the idea of being an homage to not just a PE class pastime, but to role-playing games as well. There are a plethora of systems here that are pulled from many classic RPGs which all come together to work in beautiful harmony. There’s your standard experience based leveling systems, items and gear to purchase, use and equip, enemies to run into if you’re looking to grind the day away, and more. To be honest, the core gameplay is a large reason why I nearly 100% completed Dodgeball Academia.

The game is also party based, with a large cast of characters that you can control through your journey. This helps with gameplay variety, by allowing you to access a plethora of differing playstyles. Granted they don’t differ in the way something like builds in Diablo do, but they still vary enough to offer the player a semblance of choice.

Everyone has super cool anime powers given to them by the power of a magical dodgeball as well, which further helps diversify the roster. For example, one character may harness the power of electricity which allows them to stun more opponents, while another may harness the power of fire, leading to many a crispy kiddo. I thoroughly enjoyed uncovering every character’s special power, from those that I played as, to those who you merely fight against on the court. It helped bring another level of personality to a game already bursting at the seams with charisma and allure.

Which I wish was the same for the music in Dodgeball Academia. Sadly, that’s not really the case based on my experience. While the game doesn’t have a particularly bad soundtrack, I can’t deny that it can get a bit grating on the ears after some time. In my opinion, the problem stems from a lack of variety in the music. Individually, these tracks almost all fit well with the overall look and feel of Dodgeball Academia. The issue lies within how often these tracks are used, and how rarely I was given a reprieve from them. The main hub of the game is accompanied by this tune where you have a guitar just going absolutely crazy in the background with it’s “wah-wahs” and “wee-woos”. I swear that song single-handedly led to me speeding through the game at a faster rate, which kinda saddened me. I was really looking forward to more variety in this one.

Look, Dodgeball Academia isn’t a perfect game. That’s completely fine, seeing as perfect video games don’t exist. But it is a well put together gaming experience that knows it’s influences and wears them proudly on it’s sleeve. There may not have been as much here to enjoy as initial impressions initially led me to believe, but not every game will fit every person. And again, I’ll reiterate this for the upteenth time: Dodgeball Academia isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s a really good game. A really good game for a select few: younger gamers and sports fans mostly. 

Regardless of which demographic Dodgeball Academia best suits, I don’t at all regret my time with the game. It was a nice throwback to the days of old, where every day meant putting my life on the painted white line in gym class. Where my classmates and I became not only friends, but comrades in a war against enemies that threatened the composition of all of our faces. It was a time I will forever be nostalgic for, and at the end of the day, I think I actually owe it to Dodgeball Academia for reigniting my appreciation for those times. For that reason alone, I’d say that the game is well worth your time, even if it doesn’t end up being your next favorite game. 

Categories
Game Reviews

Road 96 Review

(Road 96 is available now for Nintendo Switch and Windows)

Let’s face it: video games often pull from real life in order to fuel their narrative economy. Not only that, it’s also something that’s become increasingly common in newer releases. Maybe it’s because of my age, what with being in my mid-20’s now and constantly feeling like every action is one that could be judged politically. Maybe it’s thanks to our more-than-ever-before connected world where we’re able to share differing life experiences like never before.

Regardless of the underlying reason, I can freely admit that I find art imitating life in this scenario to be massively appealing. To see other’s interpretation of life events through the lens of an interactive work of art is something unique to gaming. There’s a sort of beauty to it all, and I think that’s why Road 96 appealed to me so much.

Get used to looking at that mountain. You’ll be seeing it often.

The premise in Road 96 is simple and to the point. You take on the role of a series of teens as they travel to the border of the oppressive, totalitarian country of Petria in an attempt to escape and find a better life elsewhere. What helps in diversifying this straightforward premise is an interesting cast of characters who you meet during your various attempts to flee the country. Building upon that further, Road 96 pushes forward an overarching narrative of an upcoming election waiting for the citizens of this oppressive regime. At first, the overall climactic event (or events) at the end of this roughly 8 hour adventure may not immediately seem apparent. However, it’s through the numerous encounters with the aforementioned cast of supporting characters that makes the entire story (and their roles in it) come together.

Now, there’s quite a noticeable (how should I say this) blemish on the entire story and how it’s given to the player to enjoy: that’s the visuals. This game has some of the most wildly inconsistent presentation I’ve been witness to in a while. I should mention that this game was made on a smaller budget and by an even smaller team of indie developers. It’s often not priority #1 of developers to make the highest quality looking game ever, which I understand.

I mean this in a purely critical sense and in an attempt to share my experience with you when I say this: this game often goes from great to not so great at a moment’s notice. So much so that I found it to be distracting at best and cringe inducing at worst. It’s unfortunate that so many emotional moments in Road 96 fall flat for this exact reason. On the flipside, if this is what a team can accomplish on a tight budget and as a first project, then my hope for future releases will remain bright.

At times, Road 96 looks great. Other times, not so much.

Unfortunately, the presentation’s inconsistency doesn’t stop at it’s visuals. Beyond hit or miss lip sync, stiff animation, and some goofy texture action, Road 96 is also guilty of sporting the occasional bout of poor voice acting. Thankfully, this isn’t something that stands out as much as the problems with the visuals do, but it was still distracting nonetheless.

Outside of the moments here or there with the visuals being less than stellar and voice lines being delivered in less than convincing ways, there is a tremendous amount of beauty to be found in Road 96. The environments and the variety of places you visit along your journey are beautiful mosaics of cell-shaded goopy oil painting goodness. The lighting used often helps these locations pop even further, and the fantastic use of Road 96’s soundtrack being weaved in and out at key moments helped bring it all together.

Speaking of the original soundtrack, it’s with great pleasure that I can tell you Road 96 has some fantastic music to help you feel all of the feels while trekking thousands of miles across the country. You’ve got all of the basics covered, from Jack Johnson-type acoustic upbeat jams to synthwave pop goodness that wouldn’t be out of place in the glove compartment of The Weeknd’s car. There is a great mix of music, with some of the songs quickly ending up on one of my playlists over on Spotify. If there’s anything that you explore more of before purchasing a ticket explore Road 96, it should be the music. It’s some genuinely good shit.

Country road, take me anywhere else but here.

Outside of gawking at the scenery presented to you along the variety of roads you’ll travel, Road 96 presents a unique hybridization of both the ever popular choose your own adventure genre of games (aka Telltale Games, Life is Strange) and the never know what you’re going to get randomness of roguelites (aka Hades, Rogue Legacy).

At the start of each attempt to cross the border, you’re presented with a few choices for a no name teen who you’ll play as. Once you decide on a character template, you’re whisked away on your journey. The trip often opens with you in a car or walking up upon a location where you run into one of the supporting characters. They’re generally dealing with some issue that calls upon you to help them resolve. Resolutions boil down to a minigame most of the time, which there’s thankfully a large variety of. In my time with Road 96, I never ran into a repeat minigame, which was a great thing to experience.

You’re also presented with numerous interactions that take place between you and Road 96’s cast of colorful characters. These conversations aren’t as deep or as impactful as I’d have liked them to be, but they were still great at carrying the story along. Thankfully there’s also a new game plus mode once you complete the story, so the option to go back and redo interactions in a different way while still maintaining all of the information you gained in a previous playthrough is available.

Stan and Mitch, Bank Robbers (in training).

Road 96 also mentions that it’s a procedurally generated adventure. That merit is technically true, but there’s been plenty of confusion surrounding it, so I’ll attempt to clarify. Road 96 is procedural in the way it presents it’s events, not so much when it comes to the game’s overall content. What I mean by this is that almost everyone will experience similar or even the same events during a playthrough of Road 96. The locations (at least from what I’ve seen) don’t generally vary much, either. What does vary however, is the order in which these events play out for each player. One player may start out in a truck with the charismatic John, while another person may start out roadside with the upbeat wizkid, Alex. In the end though, both players will more than likely still experience both events.

Personally, I don’t find much frustration in the fact that Road 96 isn’t as varied or procedurally generated as I initially thought it would be. This is due to the fact that the journey Road 96 asks you to take to reach it’s conclusion is one of intrigue. The characters (voice acting aside) are well written and interesting people, who I found enjoyment in learning more about. The numerous little minigames you play, from simple past times like portable Connect 4 to throwing bags full of money at a police officer in hot pursuit of you, are always fun to play. Then there’s that absolutely awesome soundtrack to help bring all of this together even further.

There are smaller enjoyments to be had here as well. I especially enjoyed seeing the world react to my choices, no matter how tiny the change may be. Finding varying ways to cross the boarder as my options became more and more limited was also a nice touch. Talking to citizens and asking for their opinions on hotly debated topics within the game world helped flesh Petria out as a lived in place. Being able to call the numbers on display on billboards, learning abilities that help you interact with things in ways you couldn’t before, etc etc.

Welcome to Hotel Petria. (Best not to stay too long.)

There is a copious amount of pure, unfiltered storytelling goodness to be had here. Further backing that storytelling is a wonderfully varied mix of gameplay in Road 96 that keep things from feeling stale, even after numerous escape attempts have gone by. These high points are occasionally marred by less than stellar presentation in both the visual and audio departments, but it was never enough to stop me from wanting to see what would happen next. There was always something new just around the corner, waiting to be discovered.

In that way, I think Road 96 is akin to many adventures people have taken where they get to driving and don’t even so much as glance at a map. Who knows? It may be a secret ingredient that all good road trips need. If it is, then I’d argue that Road 96 is a trip well worth taking.