We're getting into some really good games today, so please read on to find out more about them!#11 - Red Bow
Welcome back to the world of Stranga Games that we explored earlier with My Big Sister and Just Ignore Them. This is another 8-bit pixel style horror game, and happily it is closer in theme to My Big Sister, which I enjoyed fairly well. This one also seems a bit Ghibli-inspired as you play as a young girl traversing a series of nightmares filled with odd monsters and creatures that all seem to have some connection to a red bow or ribbon. Again, the artstyle and music is very nice for this game, and I feel that it accomplishes what it set out to do. One thing I didn’t mention in my previous Stranga game reviews is that there are a few typos and awkward phrasings that come up in the text and dialogue of the game that may be a bit immersion breaking and can detract some from the game. Other than that though I thought the story was pretty interesting, and I really liked the way the game handled multiple paths and endings. Altogether, Red Bow was a fun, short experience, and if you enjoy horror games and pixel art, you might like this one!
I will say upfront that The Messenger is one of my favorite games of this year. The core of the game play is an homage to classic 8-bit and 16-bit sidescrolling platform games, primarily Ninja Gaiden. You play as the titular Messenger, a ninja whose village was destroyed by demons. After receiving a scroll from a legendary hero, your quest is to carry it across the lands and deliver it to a far-off mountain to save the world from evil. As you proceed, you get new powers and abilities, as games in this genre are wont to do, but the controls never feel too complicated, which is a gripe I have with a lot of action games. The story unfolds and you learn more about the world and the role of the Messenger, which I won’t spoil here, but the game does manage to have some pretty surprising twists. One of my favorite parts is the boss fights, which are all distinct and sometimes even briefly jump to a different game genre, like the one that’s similar to a sidescrolling shooter in the vein of Gradius, or the final boss of the free (!) DLC, which is probably my favorite one in the whole game. The graphics are sublime pixel art, and the music is amazing; I’ve listened to the soundtrack outside of playing the game which I feel is high praise indeed. The game is also full of charming dialogue, and a pretty great story overall. The game plays really nicely, and if you like sidescrolling platformers or Metroidvanias, I would highly urge you to give The Messenger a try.
This game was a very novel experience for me. It labels itself as an ARG (augmented reality game), and the way that reality is integrated into the game is by having you search the Internet for real world concepts, historical people and books, and so on. Each puzzle gives a snippet of text as a clue as well as some pictures, while a voiceover reads an audio clue or something thematically related to what you’re trying to find. Then, with a little Google-fu, you hopefully are able to find a keyword that you’re able to enter into the game to progress further. As you proceed through the game, the story of people experiencing trouble with sleep and disturbing dreams, one young woman in particular, unfolds through a series of journal entries and medical charts set up on fictional websites for the purpose of serving this game. The puzzles themselves are very fun, and I especially liked the tying of real world concepts together with the story in the game. There were a few things I knew about coming into the game, but a lot of concepts that I learned about as I dove into Ahnayro’s mysteries. The pseudoscientific elements of the game really reminded me of the Zero Escape series, which is a series of visual novel adventure games, and one of my favorite video game series of all time, and that might be part of the reason this game engrossed me as much as it did. Some of the puzzles in this game were very challenging, and there were a few places where I got stumped and inexorably stuck. Fortunately, there are forums for the game, and folks there are pretty good about giving hints and nudges without outright spoiling the solutions, so I was able to figure everything out myself, just with a bit of extra help in some cases. The feeling of satisfaction when solving a particularly difficult puzzle in this game can’t be understated for those who enjoy a good enigma. I know that this kind of game probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you enjoy trying to piece together information and searching on the Internet to find the missing pieces sounds appealing to you, I’d urge you to give Ahnayro a look.
Helltaker is a free puzzle game that seems to have taken on a life of its own online following its release, most likely because of its inclusion of cute demon girls. In this game you play as the titular Helltaker, and in each level you have a limited number of steps to move, push rocks, fight enemies, and walk over spikes, trying to get to the room’s demon girl in time. I first saw a friend playing this game and was so intrigued with trying to figure out the levels myself that I downloaded it right away. Some of the levels are pretty challenging, but with enough trial and error you can hopefully figure out the right path. I went into the game without much foreknowledge, so I was surprised by how short it was. It’s a dozen or so levels that can be finished in a couple of hours, which I was of course ok with, with my affinity for shorter games. So, it was just a quick little romp through Hell, solving puzzles and adding demon girls to the Helltaker’s harem. I like sokoban-style block pushing and movement puzzle games, so that nature of this game really spoke to me and the free price point and short playtime sealed the deal. I think this is the developer’s first game, but if that’s the level of quality we can expect, I’m looking forward to more great games in the future!
This is another Rusty Lake game, like the ones I catalogued in the last post, and as I’ve come to expect from them, this game is also filled with bizarre point-and-click puzzles in a surreal environment. As the name implies, it is ostensibly about Saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth found in Indian religions. The game takes place in a single room, and unlike other “escape the room” games, in this instance you “escape” by being reborn into other entities such as a fish or lizard, giving you new perspectives on the room and new puzzles to solve. There isn’t as much of an overarching plot in this game as in the other Rusty Lake games that I covered (or if there is, it’s obfuscated enough behind symbolism that it went over my head). Instead, what we get is a fairly straightforward point-and-click game, or at least as straightforward as a game where you reincarnate into a worm and crawl down a man’s throat can be. There’s not much else to be said about this game, but if you enjoy others in its vein, you’ll probably like this one just fine.
Join me as I work to complete 50 different games in 2020, and detail my experiences along the way!
08 Jul 2020
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07 Jul 2020
Let's keep trucking along with the next set of 5 games I played this year!
As I mentioned briefly in my intro post, I used to play a lot of web-based Flash games -- I’ve played almost every game with achievements on kongregate.com. One series of games that I had enjoyed was the Cube Escape series from developer Rusty Lake, a series of very surreal point-and-click adventure games. So when I found some Rusty Lake games on Steam, I was excited to try them out, and to be able to throw a few dollars to the developers whose work I had enjoyed for many years. Rusty Lake Paradise definitely keeps the surreal and bizarre tone of the other Rusty Lake games I’ve played, including some body horror, weird rituals, and odd monstrosities. Despite all that, it’s never too scary; there aren’t really any jumpscares to be found here, just a sense of foreboding and psychological horror. In this game, you return to the island Paradise where your strange, cult-like family lives, after the death of your mother. The game is broken down into 10 stages, each representing and themed after one of the 10 Plagues of Egypt. The puzzles are pretty good; there were only a couple of points where it wasn’t obvious what object to use where, but it was solvable with some trial and error. This game is a bit unsettling, as if David Lynch directed a video game, but if you’re a fan of point-and-click adventure games, Rusty Lake Paradise is one to check out!
7/10#7 - The Test
The Test is really only a game in the loosest sense of the word. I was apparently in the mood for more unsettling psychological horror after Rusty Lake Paradise, so I picked up this game to give it a try. The Test is kind of like a personality quiz you’d find on a trashy website, except the questions quickly devolve from somewhat normal to weirdly invasive and creepy. I believe this game was made in RPG Maker, but really the only interactive elements are clicking on the answers to questions, so there isn’t much to be said for graphics or gameplay. This game is an interesting experience, and even normally it’s only about $2. If you can get it on sale it’s a neat little diversion for 30-60 minutes, but again it’s not much of a game so don’t come in with super high expectations.
I really was just continuing the theme during this block of games with another Rusty Lake title. This one, as you may guess, takes place in a hotel, where 5 anthropomorphic animals are checking in for their week-long stay. Each day you attend to one of the guests and help them with whatever trivial problems they’re having, and each night there is a dinner and one more guest is found missing… This game definitely keeps up the trademark themes of unsettling psychological horror, and weird point and click puzzles. Like Rusty Lake Paradise, most of the puzzles are solvable without a guide, which is always good in an adventure game like this. However, I found this game a bit more disjointed than Paradise, mostly due to the fact that all of the puzzle rooms were self-contained and you can do them in any order (though there is a “correct” order to get the best ending), so the game doesn’t quite flow as well. That said, I still enjoyed it and would recommend this game as well to fans of point-and-click adventures and/or creepy psychological games. Enjoy your stay!
missed messages is a very short visual novel available for free on Steam. It tells the story of a college student trying to get her studies done, and deals with themes of depression, self harm, andI feel like this game is able to handle these topics maturely and responsibly, while still remaining short and sweet. It’s been a while since I’ve been a college student, but I think that even in its short playtime, this game gives a pretty realistic glimpse into what it’s like to be at that crossroads of like, trying to determine your hopes and dreams and where to go next, and how to deal with things getting overwhelming. Like Another Lost Phone, which I covered last time, this game isn’t really “fun” per se, but it is still an engaging and thought-provoking experience. If you want to experience a range of emotion and introspection, give missed messages a try; it’s free and shouldn’t take more than an hour of your time!Spoiler (click to reveal)suicide.
Finally as we round out this set of games we get a little levity. I saw a streamer friend of mine (catholicguiltt on Twitch) play this game and its sequel a while back, and I immediately knew that I wanted to play this game myself. Frog Detective, as this game is more colloquially known, is about an anthropomorphic frog who is, well, a detective. In this case, Frog Detective must investigate an island owned by a sloth that is supposedly haunted by ghosts. This game is very silly and lighthearted, with a colorful cast of animal characters and a lot of goofy dialogue. The gameplay is pretty simplistic; walk around and talk to people, and try to find the items everyone’s looking for in a series of trade quests. However, that gameplay, coupled with the simple graphics, really adds to the game’s charm. There isn’t really a challenge here, but it is a fun and relaxing game to unwind with for a couple of hours. I highly recommend it if you like cute, silly fun!
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06 Jul 2020
Hi all! As promised, here I am with the first 5 games I completed this year, along with my thoughts on them!
Pony island is a very interesting experience. While ostensibly about the titular sidescrolling game-within-a-game, it very quickly devolves into metagaming and puzzles as you try to break into and destroy the Pony Island game. I guess the game is technically a horror game given its themes, but I never found it overly scary, more of a psychological experience. I liked the aspect of piecing together what was actually going on behind the scenes of the game as you progressed further into it. Half of the game is made up of sidescrolling “run-and-gun” levels that are constantly being changed up with new enemies, graphics, and game mechanics to keep things fresh. The other half consists of puzzles where you have to traverse through pseudocode by using blocks to move a key through the lines of code until it reaches the goal. Throughout all of this, you learn about the true nature of Pony Island and try to put a stop to it. I found this game to be entertaining and engaging, and just the right length to be fun without overstaying its welcome.
The Spiral Scouts is a puzzle-adventure game with a crude sense of humor. Like, really crude. Like, every other line of text contains some sort of innuendo about bodily functions, sexual acts, etc. Even as someone who tends to have an immature sense of humor at times, it is a bit much. Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about what this game does well. The puzzles in the game are really good; they’re the right level of challenging where you can figure everything out without a walkthrough, but it may still take a few moments of thinking and puzzling to figure some of them out. I really struggle to see who the intended audience of this game was, though -- I feel like a lot of puzzle game fans would be turned off by the crass humor, and those who would enjoy the game’s humor are too young (or at least immature) to not appreciate the more challenging puzzles. I played through this game because I really enjoyed the puzzles, but if 90% of the dialogue was removed or changed, it would make the game better, as unfortunate as that sounds. However, the art and music in the game was good, using a flat, Paper Wario-esque aesthetic that I quite enjoyed. So overall it was a positive experience, as long as you can turn your brain off and mentally skip past the cringeworthy dialogue.
7/10#3 - My Big Sister
I’ve really been getting into indie games a lot lately, for a multitude of reasons. One of the big reasons is that they tend to be inexpensive, so you can try out a game that looks interesting for only a few bucks. My Big Sister was one such game that piqued my interest while browsing through the Steam store with its 8-bit pixel horror aesthetic. At its core the game is about a little girl dealing with monsters and witches, along with her big sister (invoking some pretty typical sibling rivalry). However, as you progress into the game, you learn that there is more to the story than what you see on the surface. The 8-bit art and music works pretty well here, and adds to the game’s charm. It is apparent that the author was inspired by Spirited Away and other Ghibli films (there is at least one blatant My Neighbor Totoro reference), and it does manage to capture some of their charm, with the young protagonist experiencing the world of the supernatural. There are several endings to the game, and it’s not readily apparent how to get all of them without some guidance, which is a big drawback because there is one “true ending” that neatly ties up the plot and explains everything, while the others may leave the player with nothing but confusion. I would recommend playing through this game once on your own, and then looking up a walkthrough or guide to ensure that you can see the true ending if you didn’t experience it. Overall, I enjoyed My Big Sister, and I’m glad I took the plunge on this mystery game based on the interesting-looking 8-bit horror aesthetic!
This game is a sequel to a game I’d played last year, A Normal Lost Phone. The premise of both games is similar; you find yourself in possession of someone’s phone, and by digging through the phone’s contents you try to determine who it belongs to and what happened to them. If that sounds too invasion of privacy-ish for your tastes, you can technically end the game by wiping all the phone’s data at the beginning, but if you want to experience the full narrative of the game, you have to throw morals to the wind and plunge into all of the personal details on a stranger’s phone. The first game dealt with, so I was prepared for heavy subjects coming into this game as well. From a gameplay perspective, I would put this somewhere at the crossroads of puzzle game and narrative fiction, as the majority of it is reading through text messages, emails, etc. while trying to figure out passwords and codes to be able to dig deeper into the titular Laura’s life. I don’t know if it’s right to call games like this dealing with serious topics “fun”, but it is certainly an interesting and thought-provoking experience. I really enjoy the way this game (and its predecessor) are laid out such that you slowly peel back layers to learn more about the person who lost the phone you find yourself in possession of. Though these games deal with the experiences of fictional people, they describe things that people in the real world go through every day, and if nothing else I feel that playing through these stories develops one’s sense of empathy and make you want to be a better person to all you meet. I know they certainly had that effect on me, so I’d recommend trying these games out if you get the chance.Spoiler (click to reveal)a trans teen trying to find her identity while struggling with transphobia and homophobia from family and friends
8/10#5 - Just Ignore Them
This was another game by Stranga Games, who made My Big Sister -- I got a few of their games in a bundle and deceased to play this one after enjoying My Big Sister. Unfortunately this game was made earlier and isn’t quite as polished. The controls were a bit clunkier and the story was kind of weak. The game begins with a boy who, at age 8, has been seeing monsters and other supernatural beings in his house. One night, his mother, who has apparently been giving him the titular advice, disappears amidst a flurry of paranormal activity. The story then jumps to 20ish years in the future and that’s where it stops making a lot of sense. I feel like My Big Sister worked pretty well because the protagonist was looking through the world with a child’s eyes, where monsters and witches are real, tangible threats. But having a twentysomething who has been plagued with monsters his whole life and just goes along with it is somehow a lot less believable. The puzzles and adventure sections in this game are fine, but the overall plot, and especially the ending, made so little sense as to break immersion from the game. Fortunately it was a pretty short experience, even though I did need to play it all the way through a couple of times to collect all of the achievements. I’m glad I started Stranga’s oeuvre with My Big Sister, because if I had started with this one I probably wouldn’t have continued on.
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05 Jul 2020
Hi there! I’m Ethan, and welcome to my new adventure! While I typically hang out more on the “board” side of this site, with the situation we’ve found ourselves in this year, I’ve been doing a lot more video gaming over the past few months. As we hit the middle of the year, I realized that I had finished 25 games so far this year, and I thought it would be a fun goal to try to complete at least 50 games by the end of the year. Along with this, I decided to detail all the games I’ve finished and compile my thoughts on them in a series of mini-reviews. While I often write board game reviews with my wife over at www.twoboardmeeples.com (shameless self-promotion), video game reviews aren’t something I typically do, so this will be a foray into new territory for me.
About me as a gamer:
I have been playing video games for the better part of the past 28 years or so. From educational PC games to Sega Genesis and Playstation to flash games and Steam, I’ve run the gamut of consoles and genres, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I like and what I don’t like. I really like puzzle games, adventure games, visual novels, RPGs, and the occasional side-scrolling platformer. I’m an achievement hunter and completionist; as such, I like games that are on the shorter side and/or have a distinct end. So while I like some roguelike games that have a clear goal you’re working towards, endless games where you’re just trying to survive as long as possible like Don’t Starve are not my favorites. Graphics in games aren’t super important to me: I grew up playing (and still enjoy) the ASCII-based Rogue, so as long as it doesn’t detract from the gameplay, I don’t much care what a game looks like. That said, I do greatly prefer pixel art and 2D graphics over the super-realistic 3D models seen in a lot of modern console games, just because it’s what I’ve experienced most and am more familiar with. I also don’t care for most first-person games (especially first-person shooters) or competitive multiplayer games; I’d rather have a single-player or co-operative multiplayer experience. Having said all that, I do like to consider myself an omnigamer, and I’ll try most anything once, but I just wanted to lay out my preferences and biases upfront so you know what kinds of games to expect me to cover.
My vision for this blog:
As I mentioned above, my goal is to play at least 50 games to completion this year and detail my experiences with them. These will be mini reviews with my thoughts and recommendations, keeping in mind my game/genre preferences as I’ve laid them out here. I don’t put a lot of stock in numerical scores in reviews, but I will try including a score out of 10 here as shorthand for how much I enjoyed the game. Still, I would recommend reading the text of the review to get a good sense for what the game’s all about and whether you think you would like it. Since I’ve already completed 25 games so far, I plan to release a post every weekday this week with a new set of 5 games. Then, going forward I’ll plan to post every time I complete 5 more games, up to (and possibly beyond) 50 games! Be sure to subscribe to this blog if you want to get notified when there are updates. See you tomorrow morning for the first game round-up post!
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