Never Alone

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Developer: Upper One Games | Released: 2014 | Genre: Platform, Puzzle

This was a cute puzzle platform game with a small Eskimo girl and a white fox. It sometimes felt like it was inspired by both ICO and Limbo. It could be played either as a true co-operation game, or single player by alternating the two characters. The latter worked well enough on its own.

The game itself was a side-scrolling puzzle platform in very convincing icy landscapes with a cold blizzard sometimes delivering gusts of wind that made it necessary to crouch down. Jumping and climbing was very easy for a while, in fact so much that it felt like it almost belonged in the facile adventure genre.

It didn’t last – it became plenty challenging.

Without spoiling too much, I was fleeing an ice bear on several occasions, a bad guy throwing fireballs, there were cooperation puzzles, even swimming through tunnels. The girl soon got hold of a bola to throw at targets – like ice to break it down or fragile wooden boards – which was also the only use of the mouse to aim her arm in the direction she wanted to hit. Everything else were keys only.

Layers of Fear

Developer: Bloober Team | Released: 2015 | Genre: Adventure, Horror

This game was a mixed bag. It had a lot of clichés and was really too repetitive, but it was also pretty and atmospheric. It had enough of the latter to see my through to the end – about 3½ hours later.

It was a horror adventure that took place in a dark and of course haunted mansion. There were enough opening doors to mock it as being a door opening simulator, and it was also not very original. It reminded me of other horror adventures such as e.g. Outlast and even used the popular interactive gimmick of dragging the mouse to open doors and drawers.

It was quite linear and frequently used the trick of changing the rooms and hallways. There were too many jump scares and ghostly transformations, while actual puzzles were easy and far apart. This, together with the linear nature of the game with no real dying, made it feel like a haunted funfair attraction.

And it had an abundance of almost pitch black rooms.

What I did like about it was the idea of having to find six objects, each time returning to a small atelier to continue a painting with this object. The protagonist, which was a man barely visible in blurry mirrors, had a limp and walked to the rhythm of a heartbeat. After a stretch of uninspired hallways I also found a set piece in the office that suddenly turned into a vertical challenge hunting down ringing telephones.

This part even gave me vertigo – it was unexpected and made it worth persevering.

7/10

Event[0]

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Developer: Ocelot Society | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

That was a really cool game. Sure, it was pretty short – I completed it in about 2½ hours – but it was also very atmospheric and often fascinating. And to think I’ve postponed playing it for the longest time because I heard rumors about having to deal with a psychopathic computer AI. It made it sound like an excruciating experience. Like masochism – or sadism – however which way you want to look at it.

But it wasn’t like that at all.

Instead it was a sweet first person adventure where I sometimes had to talk to the computer AI, Kaizen-85, using oldskool terminals, in order to make it open doors, show logs, or move an elevator for me. It could get a little stubborn a few times, but it was friendly and usually approved of my request. That being said, I did decide to roleplay a very friendly and forthcoming attitude. Lots of asking using the magic word.

Gemini: Heroes Reborn

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Developer: Phosphor Games | Released: 2016 | Genre: FPS, Adventure

Time for something I haven’t played in a while – an FPS. The ironic part is the third letter in the abbreviation as there wasn’t much shooter about it on my part. Sure, I had powers, but I still missed a rifle like crazy.

The game took place in the Heroes universe but was its own story. I played Cassandra, a young girl entering an abandoned structure together with a male friend. Soon they discovered it wasn’t that abandoned after all. Her friend was kidnapped by a couple of soldiers, Cassandra discovered she had time shifting powers, and off I went searching for her friend – as well as some information about her past.

It was one of those game with powers getting more diversified and powerful as the 15 levels went by. In the beginning I could only shift between two time periods – the past (2008) where the facility was new and undamaged, and now (2014) where it was in ruins. Think Soul Reaver, only without any color filtering. Also, time shifting was not possible if the location was inside solid stone in the other time period.

Transistor

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Developer: Supergiant Games | Released: 2014 | Genre: RPG, Action

Imagine if you took an isometric action RPG with a smattering of Robotron, changed the action to be mostly like V.A.T.S. from e.g. Fallout 4, added great Art Deco parallax graphics, a sword with staccato comments, and atmospheric music that often have singing on top as well – and you basically have Transistor.

It took me about 6 hours to complete this one but I was seriously considering abandoning it after an hour or two. The combat was innovative and polished but was still problematic for me. The gist of the game is a turn-based part where you stack “functions” (abilities) in a limited queue and them fire them off with super speed, making you feel like The Flash. Then comes the sour part. The queue needs some time to recharge itself and you are extremely vulnerable as things are now real-time. Because of the huddling nature of the confined combat areas, it’s easy to get pummeled left and right, even when zapping around with a teleport ability I earned early in the game. This goes back to me wanting to kill as many as fast as possible, and if my queue doesn’t deliver enough damage, I may take too much damage in the real-time part. Emptying the health bar temporarily burns out an ability slot, forcing me to use other means of attacking. Burning out all attacks of course means death.

For most of the game, this system just didn’t click with me.

Botanicula

Developer: Amanita Design | Released: 2012 | Genre: Adventure, Point & Click

I absolutely loved this one. Irresistibly cute and easy on both ears and eyes. Made by the creators of the Samorost series and Machinarium, I controlled a small team of five weird inhabitants of a tree culture, walking along branches to solve puzzles or collect items for a broader purpose. The game is filled to the brim with hilarious animals animated in an even more hilarious manner, and the sound effects performed by humans match perfectly.

Each of the half dozen of levels consists of a large number of flip screens to traverse. Some of the screens just have weird creatures to interact with for entertainment, others would eventually reward me with an important item or open up a new passage. Pointing and clicking is not the only thing, I also had to nudge floating or swaying items. Sometimes I even had to choose one of my team members for a specific task. Everything is shown with animations or signs, there is no language involved in the gameplay.

The game generally felt easier than Machinarium, but some of the later levels had quite a few screens or items to collect, such as 14 chickens from small huts all over. The penultimate level contains a staggering amount of screens, so many that the developers felt it necessary to put helpful icons on each exit. There was a leaf in my inventory that functioned as sort of a map, but I didn’t find it necessary to refer to it.

Without spoiling too much, I only controlled one of five in the last level of darkness. There was one section here that kind of simulated a shoot’em up by alternating clicks on a floating character versus incoming enemy icons, but it wasn’t difficult. Not a lot of dexterity was required to get through this game.

It took me about four hours to get complete it. I got 104 out of 123 cards and 42 out of 53 achievements. Fraps wouldn’t grab any screenshots as it was essentially a Flash game.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Botanicula
2012 Amanita Design

4h 30m

3

2012-10-02
2012-10-04
10

Spate

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Developer: Ayyo Games | Released: 2014 | Genre: Platform, Adventure

Another Saturday, another shorty. This one lasted barely two hours and turned out to be one of those art games with more mood and style than gameplay. It was constantly raining hard, the grass was waving, and the 3D engine added multiple layers of surrealistic shapes. I was controlling an alcoholic detective yearning for his lost daughter, and he was narrating both this story as well as various findings on my way.

There are several good things to be said about balancing tough challenges with streaks of nothing to gear down, but this game felt like it was overdoing it a lot. The game was for the most part easy and only offered more or less dexterous jump puzzles. Sometimes a cannon had to shoot a seesaw to get it in position or I could fly a small airship for a while, pressing one button to thrust it upwards past the saw blades.

But then as a sequence of this was done, our hero was merely wandering along for minutes and minutes, no jumps, no nothing. Maybe a very long bridge or past a small town. This is typically where he started narrating a lot about his miserable past and how he deserved his fate. These passages were so long that it made the game feel like part platformer, part walking simulator. It was too much of a good thing.

Pneuma: Breath of Life

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Developer: Deco Digital | Released: 2015 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I spent this Saturday morning playing through this charming first person puzzle adventure game. It took only about 2 hours to get through it, but I was fine with that. I’ve actually been yearning for shorter games lately. Of course, the length depends on the genre but especially platform, puzzle and adventure games can easily overstay their welcome in my book. (Maybe it’s because I’ve completed so many of them?)

One thing that puzzled me about this game was a warning I was shown when starting it up. Fraps has been known to crash D3D11. Okay. I’ve been using Fraps as my loyal companion for years on end, snapshotting screenshots for hundreds of games without trouble – but that message was probably pointed towards video recording (which I almost never do).

Warning

Either way, the message felt out of place. It almost looks like a personal vendetta against Fraps.

As a first person puzzle it used the recent fad of having an eloquent narrator comment on a lot of findings, sometimes philosophizing his existence as the god he clearly believes he is. He reminded me quite a lot of the narrator in The Stanley Parable. Sometimes entering a room triggered a long debate which went on a bit too far, but for the most part he was entertaining. Especially towards the end, where he became extremely paranoid. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was certainly interesting.

DreadOut

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Developer: Digital Happiness | Released: 2014 | Genre: 3PS, Horror

It was really a shame coming from such a nice surprise as Lifeless Planet to this frustrating mess of bad design. If I could have gone back in time and told my older self what not to play, this would definitely have been one of them. DreadOut was a horror adventure that borrowed a lot from Silent Hill – even the dark style of the inventory, with big images of inventory items. The saddest thing is that the horror atmosphere was actually quite well done. Although cliche of course, it had just the right amount of disturbing dread and jump scares, supported by a marvelous ambient background sound.

The heroine, a teenager on a trip with her teacher and school mates in a car, used a smartphone camera and its flash to scare ghosts and monsters. A red vignette on the screen indicated that a spiritual being was close (sometimes invisible so the camera had to be held up to see it) and a blue vignette that an item or interaction was nearby. Being pummeled could lead to death, and this was shown as a limbo sequence running towards the light. To make matters even worse, some monsters were “camera bullet sponges” and had to be continuously snapshot. In between there were also mild puzzles and keys to find.

Lifeless Planet

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Developer: Stage 2 Studios | Released: 2014 | Genre: 3PS, Adventure

I really liked this one. No enemies to fight, just a lot of astronaut exploration in epic surroundings on a strange and alien planet. At first I thought it had much of the same style and atmosphere as Evolva meets the planet exploration levels of the first Mass Effect. Then later, as the epic alien structures arrived, I thought about The Dig too. The long stretches and most of the frequent jumping puzzles didn’t bother me as I like that stuff. And this game sure had a ton of it. There were a few sadistic exceptions, but most of the time it was a great fun jumping across enormous chasms on house-sized boulders.

The astronaut had a default double jump ability almost from the start. Tap jump, then at the peak tap it again to jet a bit higher. In a few selected areas of the game, a pressure bottle gave me a temporary jet pack boost, making it possible to cross wider chasms with about five timed jump taps. It felt just right and I loved most of those sections. I was always a bit sad when I got to the point where the game told me the extra boost had run out. Later I also got a mobile crane arm. A first person view then made it possible to grab an item and drop it elsewhere , or tap buttons out of normal reach with the crane claw.