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Two Cent Review: Neon White

When I first saw Neon White, I was almost in disbelief. Wedged in the middle of a Nintendo Direct back in February of 2021, Neon White’s reveal trailer showed off a stylistic version of heaven where sinners compete to win a spot in heaven. Featuring Machine Girl’s signature breakbeat music, flashy card-flippin, gun flingin’ gameplay, and a well-dressed main character voiced by Steve Blum, the game had my attention almost right away. 

Now that it’s out, Neon White may well become my game of the year. That is to say: Neon White is fucking amazing.

It’s almost unreal to think of how I felt about Neon White upon starting the game versus where I stand now. Because as excited as I was for Neon White initially, the game hardly received any sort of media coverage prior to its release. Generally when games get announced by big companies before subsequently being shoved out the door one day with no marketing behind it, I get worried. Worried that a game may not be as great as its announcement would have you believe. Or worse… completely devoid of promised features. 

Luckily that wasn’t the case here. Any anxieties I had about Neon White being yet another indie attempting to stand out faded once I saw that introductory cutscene. As a lifelong fan of anime, I can’t help but turn my attention to any well animated, tightly crafted intro sequence. Shortly afterward, I was plunged (quite literally I might add) into a story I was not at all prepared for. 

One full of colorful characters who are fantastically voiced and a complete joy to be around, save for some anime tropes I could do without. Each character in Neon White has their own unique quirks, speech patterns, motives, and more for you to become accustomed to. Whether that’s for better or for worse is entirely up to you. 

Whatever your opinion may be, know that Neon White has all sorts of fantastic twists and turns in store for you over the course of its roughly 10 hour run time. Well, roughly ten 10 hours if you just go for the end credits. Going for the game’s “true” ending could easily double your playtime. 

This would be an issue in most games, especially for people who have limited time to play games in the first place. Thankfully Neon White offers up some of the best gameplay I’ve experienced in a long time, and it does it while respecting your time. I’m certain anyone who gives it a chance will say the same. 

Neon White is a speedrunner’s next best friend and also their next short-term arch nemesis. It earns the best friend title thanks to this game’s obvious focus on speedrunning and pinpoint accuracy. It then proceeds to become an enemy after you realize that Neon White feels so good to play, you’re likely to eat the whole thing up in a week. 

What I think amazes me most about the entire thing is how these two aforementioned relationships come as a result of a gameplay loop that really shouldn’t work as well as it does. On paper, the idea of a graphic novel first person shooter with short levels that can be completed in a variety of ways using cards that are actually guns that can be discarded for increased mobility options seems like something that shouldn’t work. Upon execution however, it becomes apparent that these systems have been finely tuned to perfectly compliment and coexist with one another. 

Going into Neon White, my biggest worry was that the core gameplay would be too convoluted to keep my interest. Either that or it would be too complicated for many people to even bother with it. Thankfully the devs struck a great balance between card variety and limitation so as to not overwhelm the player. 

And if Neon White’s story and gameplay were the gifts under a hypothetical summertime Christmas tree, then Machine Girl’s fantastic score would be the paper used to wrap these goods. This soundtrack features two album’s worth of breakbeat after breakbeat, all of which feel right at home alongside everything else in Neon White. Since my time with Neon White, I’ve routinely found myself revisiting the soundtrack both while working at home and while driving around in my car. If nothing else has sold you on the game yet, I sincerely hope this single paragraph does. The music is THAT good.

All together, I think all of this makes for a truly memorable and one of a kind experience. It’s rare that such a near flawless gem plops on out of the mines that are the current gaming space, but Neon White is an exception. A finely crafted game with hardly anything worth complaining about is something that’s become much less frequent in gaming. Thankfully Neon White came along to rekindle my optimism for what sorts of new and exciting games we can expect from developers moving forward. 

If there’s one game you check out this year, make sure it’s Elden Ring. But after that, consider giving Neon White a go. If anything I’ve said in this review has even remotely spiked your interest in the game, then I have the utmost confidence that you’ll enjoy your time with it. Just… remember to take breaks if you decide to go for 100% completion. Your thumbs will thank you. 

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Two Cent Review: Sable

(Sable is available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, and Microsoft Windows.)

Review copy provided by Indie Game Collective.

“Gaming as an artform has been a not-so-hotly-debated topic that’s existed since its inception in 1873. Over the decades, many scholars have spit-balled a variety of often controversial takes on the subject. Take Cher for example (who hasn’t aged a day, by the way). During the Great Gaming Prohibition of 1919, Cher advocated furiously for gaming to remain legal for all to enjoy.

She had argued that video games gave people an opportunity to interact with art in a way that wasn’t possible before. As a matter of fact, her argument as to why gaming shouldn’t be outlawed was so moving, the board of directors for INSERT COUNTRY NAME HERE ultimately decided to reverse the prohibition.

From there, the rest is history. Cher was able to use the media attention she received to her advantage, eventually becoming a world renowned singer. Gaming was given its own branch of government, and art was taken seriously once and for all. The world then knew peace, and a golden age of prosperity for humanity began.”  

-Kevin James, Gaming Historian (circa. 2009)

I want to tell you about a game I played recently called Sable. This was actually one I’d initially hoped to review when it launched in late 2021. Unfortunately at the time, the game was plagued by a few minor (yet somehow majorly annoying) bugs. Thankfully Sable was patched shortly after. Now the bugs I had previously encountered are nowhere to be seen. 

And now I can melt over this game properly.

Sable sets itself in an almost post-apocalyptic setting reminiscent of Mad Max meets Star Wars. Nomadic tribes live in isolation from one another, occasionally gathering in city hubs to barter with one another. The people of the land all wear masks as a representation of their purpose in life. Machinists, who build landspeeders called sand cutters, speak the ancient tongue of technology. Suffice it to say, Sable’s setting has a lot going for it. 

As a coming of age story, the game follows the adventures of a young Woman named Sable during a pilgrimage of self-discovery. Her quest will take her to a wide range of desert locales, where she’ll meet a wide range of interesting characters. Many of whom will provide opportunities for Sable to help them in one way or another. In return, many of these people will give you a talisman of sorts. 

Many of these relics are directly tied to whatever task Sable completes as well. So helping a cartographer rewards her with a cartographer’s talisman, helping a merchant rewards her with a merchant’s talisman, and so on. When three of a specific talisman have been acquired, Sable is able to craft a mask of her own (sort of), ultimately culminating in her rite of passage to adulthood. It’s a simple premise that does well to set the stage for the journey. 

Beyond the game’s opening and closing sections, Sable is fairly non-linear when it comes to progression. Its sizable open world allows for freedom of exploration that reminds me heavily of 2017’s Breath of the Wild. Sable may not compare in scope, but it’s still full of all the climbing, puzzle solving, and oddly comforting intrigue that made Breath of the Wild so fun. 

Sable’s game world is so full of different and exciting things that it excels in the craft of getting the player to stick around for “just five more minutes”. But I also think it draws the player in with its uncompromising commitment to creating and maintaining its unique atmosphere. If I had to give a comparison, I’d probably say Journey, which hits many of the same emotional beats. Making a game that’s equally as isolating as it is comforting is no easy balancing act, but it is one I think Sable’s developers aced. 

It’s also nice to see a game utilize a unique art style popularized by the late French artist, Jean Giraud. You may know him as Moebius. 

His signature style was prevalent throughout the 1970’s and beyond, both in sci-fi and in the general media. Almost dream-like in presentation, Moebius’ work was full of surreal, abstract imagery, which, when mixed with one of a kind color schemes, made for a hypnotizing series of works. His art was so iconic in fact, he’d even go on to contribute storyboard and design concepts to many well-known projects, such as Alien, and Tron.

And now I can officially scratch “give an art lesson in the middle of a review about a niche indie game” off of my bucket list. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. 

So let’s talk about Sable’s gameplay now, because it’s something you’ll be doing from start to finish. That is the whole point of games after all. Though, I’m not sure there’s as much “playing” going on in Sable as there is “walking from place to place while being entranced by the aforementioned atmosphere”. 

There are larger quest chains for you to tackle, though these are few and far between. One of the highlights for me was a quest I picked up in the early hours of the game. There’s this town called Eccria, and it’s possibly one of the first places you’ll visit on your journey. I won’t go too into the specifics of what happens here, but just know that you’ll be expected to do some A Grade detective work in order to solve a classic case of who-dun-it. 

Outside of these major questlines, Sable’s gameplay loop remains the same throughout its 7 to 10 hour runtime. Most of your time will be spent going from one location to another, solving not-so-challenging puzzles or asking locals for ways to make money so you can buy parts for your sandcutter. 

There are a wide range of ways to whittle away the day in Sable, though I’d argue much of it boils down to the same rinse and repeat formula. And while it’s certainly something I have my gripes with, it’s such an inconsequential thing in the grand scheme of my experience with Sable that I can’t help but overlook it a bit. 

Because when I think back on my time with Sable, I’m not reflecting on the last puzzle I solved, or what the most recent audio log said. Instead I think about the moments in-between these moments, where I found myself staring off into the starry night sky. The moments where it was just me and my sandcutter in the isolation of the desert, with nothing but the sounds of Japanese Breakfast to kill the silence. 

These moments allowed me to reflect on my own life choices in life. It gave me a window to look back at my own history. To view the steps I had taken to claim a mask of my own. Which was made even more enlightening by the realization that I’ve yet to pick a mask. At this point, I’m not sure if I ever will either. Perhaps, not too unlike Sable’s journey, I’ll continue to wander until I’ve found a future worth wearing a mask for. Or, perhaps, the mask of the wanderer has inadvertently been chosen.

Because it’s about the journey, not the destination. 

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.