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    boxart
    Game Info:

    Prevent the Fall
    Developed By: D.W.S.
    Published By: D.W.S.
    Released: Jul 31, 2017
    Available On: Windows (supports VR headsets)
    Genre: Action, RPG
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single-player, multiplayer through online or LAN
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you D.W.S. for sending us this game to review.

    Note: This review of Prevent the Fall is the non-VR version.

    The urge for adventure; the dangers of the unknown can get anyone’s heart beating. The chance of finding fame and riches is enough for most people, while others are tempted by knowledge or power. Whatever it might be, there is one thing that’s for certain — not everyone comes out alive.

    Prevent the Fall is a dungeon crawler RPG that is reminiscent of hack-and-slash games (the Diablo kind), but with an over-the-shoulder view as opposed to the top-down view. Prevent the Fall starts off with a simple tutorial explaining the controls and the mechanics. On the keyboard is the standard WASD movement, LMB to attack with your right hand, RMB to attack with your left hand. The Q and E keys are to swap your left-handed and right-handed weapons, while the number keys 1-6 are to use the specific weapon’s abilities. The controls can feel a bit clunky as there is a buffer between actions that occurs when performing an attack. If you strike, and then press another attack before the previous animation is over, your character will do the next action. Because of this, it’s not a good idea to spam actions in case trouble comes your way as you will be stuck doing the next action or two before you can move. The game supports controller options, but the controller feels weird due to special attacks being used by a combination of the trigger buttons and one of the three face buttons. I personally prefer the keyboard and mouse.

    After the tutorial is complete, you are sent to a small tavern where you have the following options: talk to the owner to spend talent points, accept missions, change settings such as resolution and brightness, or talk to Johnny the Merchant to buy and sell goods. Before a mission is selected, there is the option to re-roll the mission (as missions are actually chosen at random), decrease the mission’s level by three from your current level, or increase the mission's level by five from your current level. Higher leveled missions yield better rewards, but also stronger enemies. The increased levels are also fairly imbalanced as there are certain enemy types that will heal faster that your damage output, even when you reach max level.

    Prevent the Fall
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Captures the dungeon-crawling setting well; simple and to the point in its execution; you can re-buy any items you’ve previously sold to the merchant at any point
    Weak Points: Can get repetitive due to enemy types feeling samey and lack of missions; magic is blatantly overpowered compared to melee; no “end-game”
    Moral Warnings: Lots of magic usage by both the player and the enemies; dark magic specifically is implied to be powered by Satan through flavor text; undead enemies such as zombies and skeleton warriors; some instances of blood

    You can buy or sell items from Johnny the Merchant with the gold obtained through doing the missions. He’ll sell you weapons such as swords, axes, maces, war hammers, daggers and elemental staves. He also sells armor pieces such as helmets, armor plates, and rings. Most of the items he sells can be obtained through drops in the dungeons. What I really like about Johnny is that when you sell him a weapon or armor piece, he will hold on to it forever. That is a really nice concept as I’ve re-bought certain items that I have previously sold to him.

    The rather simplistic talent tree option is where you get to allocate your talent points. You gain talent points every time you level up, but also from certain drops such as tomes. The max level is level twenty and from levels one through twenty are around 300 talent points. As this is not enough points to level up all of the paths, it is in your best interest to focus on one or two trees. It is theoretically possible to max out your character through the use of tomes, but tomes are random drops from enemies. As your abilities are assigned to the various weapons, the talent tree acts more like stat buffs. The three talent trees are defensive, melee and magic and each tree contains things such as increased health, stamina, or mana regeneration, or chances of special effects such as bleed, stun or critical chance.

    In combat, your character can wield weapons in his left or right hand. Some weapons can only be used in the left hand, such as shields and healing staves, and some weapons can only be used in the right hand, such as war hammers. There is some strategic placement in attacking (even more so in the VR function as you can purposely aim for headshots), and some enemies may block melee attacks from the front, but once you get good enough weapons, armors, and stats, you can brute force your way through most situations. Unfortunately, a lot of weapons are really only different from the skills that they give you. All melee weapons swing the same with their basic attacks, and most of the melee based abilities don’t seem to have (notable) additional effects. Even though you can equip one of each melee weapon, it comes down to what melee weapon deals the most damage.

    Staves thankfully have a bit more variety and effects than the melee weapons. Some of the staves’ basic attacks are projectile-based, while others are hitscan. Most have an area of effect (AoE) attack and some have special moves like the wind staff, which can use fog to disorient enemies. Magic is also hilariously overpowered as many magic skills have AoE effects, auto aim, and low cooldowns so particularly tough enemies can simply be kited endlessly as your character is faster than the slow-moving mobs. Enemies are also unable to block magic of any sort and also have special effects such as roots and damage over time.

    Prevent the Fall
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 58%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    With the large variety of weapons, I would have thought that enemies would have strengths and weaknesses, but the only enemy I noticed this for was for the phoenix-type enemies as they are immune to fire attacks. Prevent the Fall features a lot of enemies, and enemies get replaced the higher leveled you are, but most of them feel very samey. 90% of the enemies in the game simply rush at you and attack with claws, weapons or teeth with no additional effect. There are a few enemies that use damage over time (DoT) effects at their disposal, some that use magic, and certain enemies that root you in place, but that’s pretty much it. Even the bosses simply feel like bigger standard enemies with bloated stats.

    Missions are displayed in various objectives such as “defeat this creature,” “retrieve item,” or “scout the area” in randomly generated areas. The "scout the area" mission in some layouts seems bugged as I’ve had the quest complete even when I didn’t explore the entire area. This is basically the entire game, doing these missions through areas such as castles, sewers, caves, and towns. There seems to be no end game either as I thought there would be. I assumed that once your character reaches level 20, there would be some kind of climatic final boss to await you, but that is not the case. The only thing changed is that the end game enemies will show up such as bloodskins, dragons, and draks, and it just cycles through the same eight or so areas, indefinitely. Once you get all the achievements, there really isn’t much more of an incentive to play.

    The graphics at first seem pretty good, but that was when the brightness (gamma) settings were at default. When I turned up the brightness so that I could see certain items, it occurred to me that the graphics aren’t good, but they do their job. There is one very annoying visual glitch when a chimera is attacked with fire magic. Prevent the Fall honestly looks like something that could have come out in 2005, and even so, if too many effects happen on screen (like when using magic), slowdown can occur. The music is nothing to write home about; it fits the setting, something you would expect to hear from a fantasy-type game. There are only a few tracks in the game so it can get quite repetitive. The music for the tavern is rather nice as I am a sucker for the piano.

    In terms of morality, Prevent the Fall has lots of magic usage, used by both the player and the enemies. Some staves use the power of necromancy to summon zombies. In flavor text for one of the necromancer staves it is heavily implied that the staff "is powered by Satan… maybe.” There is also more flavor text that states that one of the weapons “uses the power of Hell itself.” As it is a fantasy game, skeletons, mummies and zombies are common enemy types. Blood is also shown in the game through attacking and being attacked. The blood is not all that noticeable, at least to me.

    Prevent the Fall manages to be an okay game, in fact one of the most okay games that I’ve played all this year. Even with its repetitiveness, simplicity and jank in some areas, I had some mindless fun with it. I haven’t played a game in quite some time where I could just turn off my brain and go through the motions of mowing down enemies while listening to a podcast or video. Prevent the Fall is rather cheap, and seems to go on sale quite often. If you’re looking for an in-depth experience, go look elsewhere as Prevent the Fall is not that type of game. If you want some cheap simple entertainment with friends for a few hours at a time and don’t mind the usage of magic and supernatural enemies, you may want to slide this into your wish list so you’d get notified when it does go on sale. It might be worth a shot if you have a VR headset on hand, but from what I've seen in videos, most of the issues present in the game will still be present in the VR mode.

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    boxart
    Game Info:

    Project Nimbus: Complete Edition
    Developed By: GameTomo
    Published By: GameTomo
    Released: May 16, 2019
    Available On: Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Sci-Fi Mecha Action
    ESRB Rating: Teen (Language, Violence)
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    Price: $19.99

    First, I would like to thank GameTomo for this review key.

    All gamers who like high-flying action and aerial dogfights have almost certainly heard of Ace Combat, the series that lets you have dogfights in a plane with other planes. The developers behind Project Nimbus figured they'd make their take on this basic arcade game premise, only they'd do so with an anime-style plot and robots.

    The story is that after World War III in the late 21st century left most of Earth unsuitable for human life, most of the more well-heeled survivors escaped to floating cities supported by orbital elevators. The rest of the planet that couldn't manage was left with the ruined remains. Meanwhile, while those major factions in the orbital cities fight over what's left from the surface, those caught in the middle are angry enough they want to start another war as revenge.

    In practice, the gameplay is like a mix of Ace Combat (all levels are aerial dogfights of some sort for the most part) and a diet-Armored Core (you use robots to fight, but they cannot be customized). Combat involves yanking and banking your machine through the skies, switching out to different weapons as needed to take out enemies. Aside from some brief intermissions to set the tone of the plot, this is the meat of the main campaign. There are some other game modes where you can fight alternate campaigns for the other factions and try to survive in any randomly picked machine from the cast, but the gameplay remains the same in all of them.

    Project Nimbus: Complete Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good sci-fi premise; easy to learn gameplay
    Weak Points: Minimalist gameplay options
    Moral Warnings: Some mild profanity like d*mn and h*ll in a few dialogues; Military based violence in the context of a war fought between bipedal flying machines

    Graphically, this title is based on the enhanced PS4 port scaled for the Switch, and since I played on a handheld Switch, I found the details scaled rather well to portable play, though the graphics don't exactly push the Switch to its limits either. Stage backdrops for the levels do carry a nice futuristic post-apocalyptic Earth feel right out of a mecha anime, and the character design leans in the same direction. In particular, if you are a fan of things like Mobile Suit Gundam, you'll find a lot of mech designs will feel very familiar.

    Controls are not overly difficult, with the control sticks used to control movement while the buttons operate various weapons. There are not very hard to learn, but a beginning player will want to take some time orient themselves; anyone not a veteran of aerial dogfight games will be thrown for a loop until they get used to the controls. There are very limited options for adjusting the controls, and while they are not bad by default, your hands will cramp during particularly intense combat.

    Music is something right out of a mecha anime, and much like the graphics, there is some vaguely Gundam style music that sets the tense combat tone. Voice acting is about the same as a decent if not outstanding English dub of an anime, and none of it is particularly grating, though some voices seemed a bit muffled at times. Sound effects are nothing special but do the job of setting a mecha sci-fi style aesthetic.

    Stability is of little concern. I noticed no particular framerate issues even during heavy combat, and while load times are a bit slow at startup, the game itself loads acceptably otherwise.

    Project Nimbus: Complete Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 7.5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Morally speaking, this title has some minor points of concern.

    Violence is not too severe. You are piloting a machine against other machines, generally implied to be piloted unless stated otherwise. You are usually doing so out of reasons of self-defense and proper orders that are given you by your chain of command against legitimate military targets, and there are no remains of downed opponents after they are dispatched. Language remains fairly decent most of the time, a few h*ll and d*mns here and there and a rare case of b*st*rd or two, but nothing worse.

    Sexual content is nigh non-existent. Despite the anime-inspired aesthetic, there is practically no inappropriate display of flesh and all the female characters are wearing appropriate outfits. This game is a hard Sci-fi story, there is no occult or supernatural influences. Culturally and ethically, you are a uniformed combatant of your faction's military acting under proper authority.

    Overall, I found it an enjoyable if not too deep aerial dogfight game with robots that should prove decently entertaining for its price tag. None of the moral issues are too severe, any teenager or older would be just fine with this title.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Protoshift
    Developed by: Reflextions
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release Date: January 15, 2016
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Action
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: not rated
    Price: $1.99 

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    Protoshift is a very simple game involving a black square that is moved via the mouse and it cannot leave the game window or touch any object within it.  The tutorial level will explain the basics and go over the three power-ups and how they each last five seconds.  The clock will slow down the movement of the obstacles while the snowflake will make you smaller and the shield will make you invincible.

    Even though I just gave you all of the information provided in the tutorial, you’ll still have to complete it to unlock the first difficulty level: Hard.  One you launch the difficulty level the clock will start ticking and you’ll have to keep moving to avoid touching any of the rotating blocks.  Initially you’ll increase in a level for every fifteen seconds you stay alive.  After you reach level five, you’ll get a Steam achievement and unlock the next difficulty level.

    Protoshift
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging gameplay; great sound track!
    Weak Points: Broken Leaderboards; can be beaten easily if you have top notch reflexes
    Moral Warnings: None!

    In total there are ten Steam achievements and the first one will be earned after completing the tutorial.  There are other achievements for getting to level five on Hard, Very Hard, and Futile modes.  I was able to get to level five on the Hard and Very Hard modes and up to level four on Futile on my first play through.  Unfortunately, my age got to me as my wrist couldn’t take much more.  (Mark 14:38b)   On my second play through I was able to reach level five on futile after a few tries.  I like how that stats show you the number of deaths and power-ups you have accumulated.  

    Besides potential carpal tunnel issues, the game has a warning about flashing and dizziness inducing visuals.  They are not kidding around here.  If you have motion sickness you may want to skip on this game and just buy its awesome soundtrack instead which sells for $2.99 on Steam.  

    Protoshift
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability -2/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The Futile difficulty is the most intense with a spinning and flashing screen.  It’s also the most lenient on the seconds needed before going to the level.  You only need to be alive for five seconds to advance to the next level.  However, it’s much easier said than done and the chances of finding a power-up are slim in this mode.  

    While there is leaderboard support, this feature was broken at the time of this review.   It’s a shame since I was hoping to see how I stacked up against other players across the world.  Perhaps it’s best that I don’t know, but still this feature should be functional.  Another glitch that I noticed is that the black square seemed to allow slight touching of the objects before triggering the collision detection.  

    Issues aside, Protoshift is a fun little game that had me trying and trying over again to reach level five despite my wrist begging me not to.  It may not hold your attention for long, but the regular price is a low $1.99.  Even if the game isn’t your cup of tea, the soundtrack is worth picking up regardless.

     

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    boxart
    Game Info:

    Red Dead Redemption II
    Developed By: Rockstar Games
    Published By: Rockstar Games
    Released: October 26, 2018
    Available On: PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Action-Adventure
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Red Dead Redemption II is a prequel to the wildly popular Red Dead Redemption. Preserving the feel, the gameplay and even some of the characters, RDR2 feels like a comfortable extension to the universe of the original game.

    The player takes on the role of Arthur Morgan, an outlaw and loyal second-in-command to Dutch, the leader of a gang of outlaws and associated hangers-on as they hide from authorities after a botched caper in the town of Blackwater. Some of the members of the gang will be familiar to players of the first Red Dead Redemption, including the main character from that game, John Marsden. The gang is regrouping and most of the side quests undertaken by the player are done for the purpose of helping the gang recover its strength and, ultimately, the money that was lost in the disaster and remains hidden in Blackwater.

    The game controls are essentially the same as the first Red Dead Redemption and are, for the most part, comparable to other FPS or over-the-shoulder games. The Dead-Eye feature is retained, allowing the player to slow time while placing one or more precise shots on targets. The mechanic of using the 'X' button (on PS4) to control the horse's speed has also been retained, much to my personal annoyance. Two Red Dead Redemption titles in and I STILL don't have the hang of it. Most of the controls are context driven and the game does a reasonably good job of reminding you which button does what in its context as you play. Hopefully you have good dexterity to play this game; some of the menu/item use controls have you flexing your hand in a way you're not used to. Overall I find the controls somewhat clumsy and difficult to get used to.

    Yes, this being 2019, the game has to have some form of crafting. You can make bait for fishing, bait for hunting and camping supplies and so on. Harvesting materials consists mainly of finding herbs picked from the local plant life. This even includes tobacco.

    The biggest feature of the Red Dead Redemption games, for me, is the feeling of authenticity in the environment. I'm not an expert in the history and culture of the American Old West, but the game feels believable and realistic, at least to someone who doesn't really know enough to nitpick anyway. It's the details. When a horse rides through the muddy streets of a town, it leaves hoofprints and kicks up mud. Wagon wheels do the same. Get into a fistfight? That mud's going to end up on your clothes. Shoot a deer and throw it over your shoulder to carry it back to your horse? Yeah, the blood's on your jacket now. Stamina core low? Take a nap. Riding over terrain? Those tree branches and bushes will smack you if you ride through them, and your horse won't be too thrilled about it either.

    Sometimes the realism actually starts to make the game feel a bit overloaded. Maybe Red Dead Redemption II is too realistic for some players. If you don't eat and sleep regularly, Morgan will start looking thin and gaunt. His beard grows out, so you'll have to shave it periodically. Pay attention to the temperature outside, too. If Morgan isn't dressed warmly, he'll start suffering the effects of the cold. The same happens if he's overdressed for the heat. Sometimes the temperature can vary fast, so you can carry extra outfits in your horse's saddlebags. Been in a few gunfights? Time to clean your weapon or its stats will suffer. You'll need gun oil for that, which means a trip to the general store... Oh, and you'll also need to pay attention to your horse because yes, his needs matter too. Feed him, brush him, pay attention to his stats.

    Red Dead Redemption II
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent production quality, graphics and sound; relatable and believable characters
    Weak Points: Awkward controls; occasional glitches
    Moral Warnings: Violence, language, blasphemy, unethical behavior, mild sexuality, very mild occult.  No kitchen sink though.

    This is what I mean by the game being maybe a bit too real. If you're not interested in the immersive feel of a game like this, these details will become annoying because some are unavoidable. You don't have to do much crafting, but you had better maintain that weapon. If, on the other hand, you've been looking for an "Old West Simulator" then this is definitely the game for you. It's as close to Westworld as you can get in 2019.

    Getting into trouble with the law is still a part of the game, and a frustrating money sink. Committing a crime like robbery or murder will quickly result in a posse arriving on the scene to investigate if there were any witnesses. Morgan could kill the witness to prevent them from alerting law-enforcement though. Armed deputies will arrive and attempt to kill Morgan if he's still in the area. He can choose to fight or flee. Once law enforcement is alerted, the bounty on Morgan's head rises. Having a bounty on your head isn't much of a problem at low amounts, but the higher the bounty gets, the more aggressively Morgan will be pursued by bounty hunters. The option to pay off the bounty does exist, but it's a very painful money sink. To do it you just travel to the nearest post office, and you can pay off the bounty.

    There's a ton of mini-games in Red Dead Redemption II as well. I'm not only talking about the obvious games-within-a-game like Poker and Dominoes. There's also things like fishing, which can be done from a beach or on a boat. Yes, there's actually a scene where Morgan goes fishing in a boat with two other outlaws and the three of them chat and tell stories for as long as you care to keep catching fish. Listening to the men chat actually made it a little more interesting to just wait around to get a bite. The dialogue writing is quite good.

    The features of the combat system are fairly standard with the usual abilities to run, take cover, shoot, reload, etc. Morgan can rapidly switch between weapons during a fight which I found incredibly useful. The combat AI isn't bad, and can sometimes be frustratingly good at flanking so stay alert and use the mini map.

    The sound feels real and has all the details to keep up with the level of detail shown visually in the world. The voice acting quality is excellent and really helps bring the characters to life. The ambient music, heavy on the harmonica and strings, fits right in and felt like the perfect background score when riding alone on the plains of the Old West.

    Unusually, multiplayer doesn't ship with the base game. There is an online add-on for Red Dead Redemption II but it costs extra. So far community feedback on it doesn't seem to be very good. There's also a community feature that allows players to show off screenshots and communicate with other players, apart from any multiplayer play. It's an interesting fusion between video gaming and social media, though I didn't personally find it to be very useful.

    Red Dead Redemption II
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 4/10

    Overall the game plays smooth and beautifully on PS4. I did occasionally see odd glitches like a beer bottle hovering in midair (it fell to the ground and shattered when Morgan walked into it) or the horse would have a hard time making its way to a hitch. There are also times when Morgan needs to pull out a lantern to see in the dark, which is supposed to happen automatically. It failed for me a couple of times, and with no method of manually deploying a lantern this got pretty frustrating. Other than that the game felt very stable.

    In terms of morality, Red Dead Redemption II is a strange animal. Arthur Morgan is, first and foremost, an outlaw. He runs with murderers, thieves and prostitutes. At the same time, it isn't always necessary to play him that way. The game does have an honor system in which honorable acts, such as helping strangers in trouble or being friendly to strangers, will increase honor while breaking the law decreases it. That being said, the honor system is skewed. Contributing money and valuables to Dutch's gang brings the player honor, but keep in mind that's still aiding a gang of outlaws. There's no being a "good guy" in this game. Certain quests are required to advance the story, and those can involve jailbreaks, train robberies, etc.

    Sometimes that can get very uncomfortable. In one early quest, for example, the player is forced to stand outside while an ally is inside a house brutally murdering a man and his wife just to recover his favorite pistols. The player can do absolutely nothing to interfere and can't even enter the house while this is happening. All one can do is stand outside and listen to the wife's screams as she's being murdered. Morgan does express disapproval of that but he does nothing more than complain about it. In another scene Morgan has to collect on a debt and has no choice but to try and beat the money out of the man, who is sickly and frail, right in front of the man's wife and child. Morgan expresses a distaste for this sort of thing, but he still has to tolerate it if you want to complete the quest.

    Most of the time though, there's a choice of whether or not to use violence. It's unavoidable in gun battles, but during roleplay-type scenes the player can often choose whether to kill or spare a potential victim. That said, the game definitely wants the player to kill. If the player breaks a law, they'll have the law after them and a bounty on their head unless they kill the witnesses. It's also incredibly easy to kill somebody in an unarmed fist fight. What's the point of using your fists then? It could be that the character has just fallen unconscious, but witnesses will still report it as a murder.

    Sexual morality is handled a bit oddly in this game. This is the Old West so yes, expect to find 'working girls' in the saloons, but Morgan can't actually make use of their services. This feels like a feature that may have been intended for the game but was canceled, because when one of them propositions Morgan, the player can choose to either simply decline, or decline and be a jerk about it. There's no way to accept or do anything else. Now, there is a way to have a weird and awkward scene by buying a bath in some places, where a woman washes Morgan in the tub while making small talk. The way she moves her arm is somewhat suggestive and the scene feels like it goes on forever.

    The language in this game is fully R-rated and definitely not for the kiddies. Expect to hear all the common swear words. Unfortunately, they do seem quite comfortable with the usual blasphemous expletives and use them often. Occasionally Morgan or the characters he's with will sing, and sometimes the songs can get a bit bawdy.

    The violence in this game is exactly what one would expect. Shootouts, beatings and stabbings all happen but it usually isn't too graphic. Shooting at someone produces a light red mist when they're hit. Morgan does show signs of being beaten up though when he gets involved in a fight. Bruises, blood and dirt all show on his face and take a while to fade. Disturbingly, this gang of outlaws seems to delight in the violence at times, and nearly resorts to castrating a captured prisoner to force him to give up information.

    Red Dead Redemption II

    There's also gambling, in that the player can sit in on games like Poker, played for in-universe money.

    Believe it or not, there's some degree of occultism in this game. It's in rare, hard to encounter niches in the world and almost feel like easter eggs, but it is certainly possible for Morgan to encounter ghosts, an alien cult, a time traveler and even a vampire.

    To round out the picture Morgan can drink alcohol, and in at least one story quest gets completely blackout drunk and yes, the player is controlling him the whole time. It's a long scene too, where Morgan exhibits a variety of embarrassing behaviors and even winds up in a fight where the player has to choose whether or not to murder a beaten opponent. Of course there is chewing tobacco, cigarettes, cigars and pipes. There's also cocaine chewing gum, although I'd give that one a pass since in real life history in about this period, cocaine was believed to be a healthy product to use and wasn't illegal at the time.

    Religion also feels a bit oddly handled. Church buildings exist but cannot be entered. One of the characters in the band of outlaws is a preacher but more often than not he's drunk. Jesus Christ clearly existed in this world, though as far as I can tell it was mainly for the purpose of having His name used in vain.

    Oh yes, and graverobbing is a thing too. From a church graveyard.

    Is Red Dead Redemption II a good game? Well, in terms of production quality it's excellent. Clearly this is a game that has been well crafted and intelligently put together. A lot of attention has been lavished on it to make it feel as real as our 21st Century understanding allows it to be. Is it Grand Theft Auto in the Old West? I wouldn't go that far. Morgan's behavior does matter and there is a definite sense of right and wrong, even if it's somewhat bent to benefit the conscience of the outlaw gang. Would it be harmful to youngsters? It depends on their age and maturity, I suppose. The game doesn't try to promote the outlaw lifestyle as a good thing, and yet it is presented with a romantic, almost nostalgic feel to it. The language is definitely not for the kiddies. I'd boil it down to saying this: Red Dead Redemption II is an entertaining game and is fun to play, but offers very little in terms of spiritual uplift.

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    boxart
    Game Info:

    Red Game Without A Great Name
    Developed by: ifun4all
    Published by: ifun4all
    Release Date: January 19, 2016
    Available on: iOS, PS Vita, Windows, Mac, Linux 
    Genre: Action
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Number of players: Single player
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you ifun4all for providing us with a review code!

    In a Steampunk world filled with red backdrops and dangerous contraptions, a lonely mechanical bird must fly and deliver mail for its creator. In each of the sixty levels there are optional gears to collect along the way. There is often barbed wire or other obstacles nearby to avoid.

    The self-propelled bird is constantly moving and generally goes from left to right. However, its direction can change if it flies past a steam blower. The bird will continue to go in the direction it was blown until it goes past another blower or reaches its cage at the end of a level.

    Red Game Without A Great Name
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging game that will push you to your limits and keeps track of how many times you have died
    Weak Points: Experienced a few rage quit moments as the timing and controls are difficult to master
    Moral Warnings: Mechanical violence

    Your goal is to help keep the bird safe.  While the mechanical bird is defenseless, it does have the ability to teleport.  It’s your job to teleport it away from harm.  You have to move fast because if the camera pans past the bird, the level's death counter will go up.  Yes, each of your bloodless deaths are counted.  There are no check points as that would make this game too simple. 

    In the beginning, the levels are easy to complete flawlessly by collecting all three of the gears without dying.   As more obstacles are introduced, your chances of getting a flawless completion drop dramatically.  Besides barbed wire, you’ll encounter walls that have to be crumbled with a power-up beforehand, jagged windmills, and moving platforms covered with spikes.

    While the Vita touch screen worked for the most part, there were times that I felt my deaths were not deserved.  Most of them were however.  If you don’t like to die in games, then this may not be one for you.  While fun in small doses, this game has caused me to rage quit it a few times.

    Red Game Without A Great Name
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The shadow graphics are nice and ran great without any performance issues whatsoever.  There are many layers in the background and some of them are animated with moving gears and so forth.  The color scheme matches the game’s silly title perfectly.

    The music is pleasant to listen to, but it’s not calming enough for me to not get frustrated with the numerous deaths I have accumulated.  The sound effects are fitting with bird’s screeches with each death or the wing flapping noise when it successfully teleports.

    In the end, Red Game Without A Great Name is a reasonably priced game that will both entertain and frustrate you simultaneously.  It’s fun in small doses, but as the difficulty ramped up, I could only make a few attempts at a level before calling it quits.  If you enjoyed the Green Game TimeSwapper, you’ll probably like this game as well. 

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Risk of Rain 2
    Developed By: Hopoo Games
    Published By: Gearbox Publishing
    Released: March 28, 2019 (Early Access)
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action, Roguelike
    ESRB Rating: Rating Pending
    Number of Players: up to four players co-op
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Back in 2014, I came across a 2D roguelike called Risk of Rain, developed by the small team of Hopoo Games. It was and still is a very enjoyable, yet very janky and broken game. Even with the numerous issues that the game has, some that were unable to be fixed due to the engine of the game, I ended up putting hundreds of hours into the game across the five years of me playing it. It helped that Hopoo Games supported their game as best they could over the years and thus developed a niche and passionate community. Of course with the announcement of a sequel in development—I was raring for more Risk of Rain action.

    Its announcement was also the subject of controversy. Hopoo decided to change the sequel from a 2D action roguelike to a 3D action roguelike. Instead of controlling similar to a platformer game like Risk of Rain 1, Risk of Rain 2 controls more along the lines of a third-person shooter. Many people, including myself, were very suspicious as to how the overall style could translate into a radically different field of view. Hopoo stated (paraphrased) that “they felt they did all they could with the 2D style of Risk of Rain, so we decided to try out 3D.” With the game getting a rather surprise announcement of Early Access at PAX East, and by Gearbox Publisher no less, it was time to see if this rather daring design choice would work in Hopoo’s favor.

    The main premise of both games is to find the teleporter in each semi-randomly procedural level, and go to the next one as enemies try to kill you, and the boss that spawns because of the teleporter. Risk of Rain 2, like its predecessor, makes an interesting take on the roguelike genre. As time increases in the game, a separate difficulty from the one chosen at the beginning called scaling difficulty increases alongside it. There are the standard difficulty choices that one can choose, with each one’s main difference being the speed of which the scaling difficulty increases. For example, if one chooses the Rainstorm (normal) difficulty, the scaling difficulty will take around ten minutes to reach the next notch, while on Monsoon (hard), it will only take six. There are other more subtle differences among the chosen difficulties as well such as the achievements you earn.

    Achievements serve great importance besides bragging rights. They also unlock items and characters so it’s best to play all the difficulties at some point. The controls are rather simple. Keyboard controls are the standard WASD for movement and M1/M2 for your primary/secondary skill. The shift key is for your utility skill (which is typically movement based), the control key is to sprint, and the R key is for your special skill (which is typically an offensive skill). The space bar is to jump and E is to interact with chests. Every character controls the same but plays as different as they can due to their unique weapons and abilities. The first class you start with is the Commando who’s playstyle revolves around shooting a lot. All of his abilities have him shoot his dual pistols a lot whether it is rapid fire or piercing shots. As of this review, there are about six classes in total, ranging from the bow-wielding Huntress to the melee-based Mercenary who uses a katana.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  A great effort into translating the feel of the game in a 3D setting; excellent soundtrack; fulfilling and fast-paced gameplay either alone or with friends; lots of secrets to be found
    Weak Points: The overall concept of the sequel is built more along the lines of co-op so playing solo isn’t as balanced as the original game; minor AI issues; multiplayer being client-side can mean your run can end prematurely
    Moral Warnings: Violence, there is a bleed effect that is attributed to some items; the Artificer class uses some sort of techno-magic; one item, the "happiest mask" grants a small chance of spawning ghosts when enemies are defeated; the blazing enemy variants have curved horns, giving a demonic-looking appearance; there are shrines or temples that you can offer sacrifice (of money and lifeforce) to

    Items augment your abilities and are a very important factor in increasing your strength. They augment all kinds of factors such as movement speed, the ability to heal faster or damage output. There is no limit to how many items you can hold, and multiples of the same items also stack so collect as much as you can as often as you can (as long as you are playing solo of course; items are not shared among players in co-op). Items can be obtained in various ways such as opening chests, obtained from defeating bosses or using 3D printers to sacrifice a set amount of items for a set item displayed. Equipment can sometimes be obtained as well as these powerful items are actives and are used via the Q key. There are exclusive items that can be obtained through the use of lunar coins, which are a special kind of currency that is carried on through subsequent playthroughs.

    The sense of power can definitely be felt as progress is made. After a while, you may start to get that sense that you are unbeatable, but cockiness is a surefire way to receive a full-course meal in dirt and gravel. No matter how powerful you become, it is still very easy to die almost instantaneously. With the scaling difficulty, enemies start off rather simple and few in numbers. This won’t last for long as they will increase in numbers and intensity. Elite versions of some enemies will start to spawn, different variations of enemies will appear such as the “blazing” variants which cause a burn type of damage over time (DoT) if they hit you or if you touch them. Even the very bosses that you have been fighting will start to spawn as normal enemies. Did I forget to mention that the bosses can spawn in multiples and some bosses also have variations? This game gets very intense and hectic and will keep you on your toes constantly—just the way I like it.

    For the readers who have played the predecessor I’m sure the main question that has been ringing in your head is “Well does the game translate well into 3D?” I can say yes—at least for now. As Risk of Rain 2 is still in an alpha state, they can, unfortunately, screw it all up in the final release. Something that I have seen far too many times for Early Access titles, especially in multiplayer-centric ones. As a person who put in more hours into Risk of Rain 1 than most games of this decade, it feels very different but all very familiar too. The visual style even translates well into 3D using low polygon graphics with a unique blend of shades and colors. Your character also displays most of the items collected on itself, which can range from super cool to unintentionally hilarious. The items, abilities, and equipment from the previous entry work nearly the same. I don’t know how exactly they were able to do what they did. However, the group at Hopoo are a very talented bunch of individuals.

    The music of Risk of Rain is extremely good, and it was done all by the name of one man: Chris Christodoulou. I always find myself going back to his work. In Risk of Rain, he perfectly captures the sense of being on an unknown planet among beings that you are unfamiliar with. The subtle calmness of exploring matched with the blaring intensity of strings and percussion when the teleporter activates and everything starts to get serious. Words aren’t nearly enough to describe, so I feel it’s better if you listen to it yourself.

    Risk of Rain 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 5.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As Risk of Rain 2 is still in Early Access, there are bound to be issues present. Most are very minor in nature, which is very surprising considering the monumental task that they put upon themselves. There are some things such as going out of bounds if you end up becoming too fast, and certain enemies not acting the way they are supposed to. It holds up well as the only time I started to experience a slowdown on my mid-high range computer build was when more than half a dozen bosses were on the screen shooting off their fireworks display simultaneously. Other minor issues are that the game was built more alongside co-op than single player, so the solo experience is slightly less balanced against it. After the two-hundred minute mark (which is well above three hours) enemies start to have an irregular spawning, whether it's too much or way too little. Multiplayer is client-side, so if the hosting player ends up quitting, they ruin the whole experience for everyone else.

    Risk of Rain 1 was never morally concerning outside of bleed effects from items, the whole shrine aspects where you can offer money for items or a percentage of life for money, and violence—the same goes for its sequel for the most part. Outside of the previously mentioned points, the Artificer is the sorcerer of this game and utilizes what is basically "magic" to her beck and call. One unlockable item, the "happiest mask" grants a small chance of spawning ghosts of the defeated enemies to fight by your side. Encountered throughout the game, there are blazing enemy variants that have curved horns—giving off a demonic-like appearance. There are logs that exist that are obtained from collecting items, unlocking classes, and sometimes dropped from enemies. I haven’t unlocked all the logs that the game has available but from what I’ve seen outside of some dark imagery, there isn’t much to consider in that aspect. (However, I am not saying that it doesn’t exist so keep that in mind.) As new items, characters, and logs will be added in future updates I do not know how long this statement of mine will stay true.

    Hopoo Games could have simply made Risk of Rain 2 the same as the former entry and ship it out as such. Many people would have been happy with that, and I most certainly would have been among that group. They decided to do something that not a whole lot of developers attempt. Hopoo wasn’t satisfied with making the sequel more, they wanted to make it better. Risk of Rain 2 is an excellent game made by a passionate group that might just be masters of their craft. Loads of secrets to find, the unique playstyle of characters and random places of spawns, teleports, and items make every attempt feel different giving dozens of hours of replay value. It’s fun to play by yourself and even more so with a group or with friends. If you liked the first entry you owe it to yourself to buy this sequel. If you have a tight-knit group to play games with or simply love multiplayer games, get it now—there are plenty of others to play with. It’s hard to say whether or not the end product will be better than the previous entry as comparing an alpha build to five years of progress and updates isn’t exactly the fairest comparison, but if they continue to do what they are doing, they may just exceed that plateau.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Rogue Islands
    Developed By: Big Fat Alien, Blue Sock Studio
    Published By: Keystone Games
    Released: September 12th, 2017
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Action Adventure, Shooter
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single player
    MSRP: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Keystone Games for sending us this copy of the game to review!

    Rogue Islands is a first-person shooter and survival game. It features a gnome druid who must survive harsh environments on several procedurally generated islands. While there, you must gather food, fend off enemies, uncover powerful crystals and ultimately close the portal to the demonic realm in hopes of eventually defeating the Lords of Torment. You have to be careful though because the game is unforgiving and it's easy to die and lose your character forever.

    I'm not a fan of the Minecraft-esque graphics, the permadeath, the survival aspects and especially the fact that the build on Steam is not the fully realized version of the game. The most recent developer update mentions that the team is focusing on the console version at the moment, and any additional development would be " reworked into this PC version where it's feasible". It goes on to say that the Steam version is "a complete and fully playable game". After playing this version I agree, but it's hard not to wonder what else they had planned.

    Rogue Islands draws heavily on Minecraft; the first sentence of the "About Game" section on Steam says, "If you think this is Minecraft, think again!" To me, it doesn't bode well that the first thing you feel you need to say about your game is that it's not just another Minecraft clone. The art style can most succinctly be described as Minecraft-esque. The graphics have the standard cartoony cubes with low resolution textures. They have ramped up many other visual aspects. The lighting and water effects are much more advanced than the terrain and character models. I'd say they use a bit too much lens flair, but that's just me. Special care was also taken on the spell effects; they are satisfyingly sparkly and explosive.

    Rogue Islands
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Large islands; Great procedural generation; RPG elements
    Weak Points: Hunger system; Enemy variety
    Moral Warnings: Heavy use of magic; Demons

    The sound is adequate overall. The music is a mix of light and upbeat tunes with the occasional dark beat to add to tense moments. Most of the sounds are 8-bit inspired but the effects themselves are way too complex for something that would have appeared on a Nintendo. They're fine, and they suit the overall feel of the game, just a bit of a nit-pick on my part.

    Rogue Islands features procedurally generated islands, full of: resources, enemies and a boss. The environment is your number one enemy as you'll often find yourself starving and poisoned, trying desperately to find some food. It succeeds in being a difficult game. The combat is first-person and predominantly shooting. I wasn't really expecting this, given the fantasy Minecraft veneer. The keyboard and mouse controls are fine and I had no issues once I found the button mapping. I tried the controller briefly, but found it slow and clunky to use, so I switched back.

    The primary gameplay loop is: choose an island, explore the island, gather resources, try not to die, upgrade your spells, kill the nightmare, repeat. This is fine in theory, but the game is challenging, even on easy mode, so you get stuck in the "try not to die" part often. Anything you learn from early deaths about the locations of monsters and resources is pointless, because they're all going to be in another spot when you load that island again. The islands are large and the procedural generation is good; there's a lot of variety between the islands. I never found common spawn points for food or resources so it always felt like a treasure hunt. Through the repetition I learned about different monsters and how to upgrade my spells, but every moment just feels like a rush to not die and do everything over again. Some people will enjoy this aspect; I found it frustrating. The story is extremely minimal and gives a barebones justification to go from island to island in order to save your friends.

    Rogue Islands
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 2.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There's an elaborate crafting and upgrade system where nearly every item can be upgraded. That's not to say that there's a deep upgrade tree for everything. You collect spirit dust from killing enemies and then you can use that to upgrade everything except food. Personally, I focused on upgrading my spells so that it didn't take 10+ hits to kill the most basic of enemies. There aren't a lot of different enemies. So they're easy to learn, but lacking in variety.

    The game relies heavily on its magical elements. Casting spells is a core part of the game and you have to engage with it if you want to get anywhere. Also many of the enemies are described as demons. All of this is done in a very cartoony manner though; fantastical magic and demons in a Minecraft world.

    I'm split on Rogue Islands as a whole. I like some things about the game including the challenge and the sense of exploration. The lack of enemy variety combined with the constant need for food hinders my exploration greatly. If you look at the game more as an action-style shooter with other elements mixed in, you will most likely have a great time. I expected a shallow Minecraft clone experience but found something much deeper and honestly more frustrating. If you love roguelikes this is a game you should check out; if you don't then it's tough to recommend.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Rogue Stache
    Developed by: WubsGames
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release date: January 6, 2017 (Early Access)
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Action Platformer
    Rating: M for Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, and Language
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $4.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media is a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thank you, Black Shell Media, for sending us a review key!

    Eye-based aliens have attacked a spacecraft to steal the crewmembers' facial hair. Please, please do not make me spend more time on the setting of this roguelike. The main character will jump, shoot, dash, and shoot through four groups of four levels (each group ending in a boss fight) before progressing to the final boss room. This is a short game, and this is not a weakness. Indeed, the longer the levels go on - certainly if one replays them - the more obvious it becomes that there is little meat on Rogue Stache's bones. There were moments when the mechanics of this simple game combined, almost perversely, to give me an exciting experience. Even then, the tension was based on the hope that, maybe this run, I would finally beat the game and be free of my obligation to play it.

    Rogue Stache is, as the name implies, fascinated by facial hair of all kinds. Enemies sporting multi-color mustaches have a higher health pool than average. The player character picks one of several mustaches and beards, each of which grant bonuses and debuffs. Hats, crafted randomly with tokens picked up in levels and boss fights, add similar effects. Every five levels of experience, the player is given a choice of random stat upgrades. Any variety Rogue Stache has comes from these various buffs and debuffs. Some raise your speed, health, or fire rate; others grant bonuses to your in-game super mode, Stache Power. Stache Power charges up as you kill enemies, and unleashing it gives your weapons unlimited ammo and increased fire rate for a short duration. Upon level 5, you might be given the chance to upgrade Stache Power to make your character invincible for the duration. This is the kind of upgrade that feels like it really should have been in the base package.

    Rogue Stache
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Weapons feel powerful; short, gratifying loop of experience and power-ups
    Weak Points: Repetitive level design; repetitive enemy design; repetitive weapons; repetitive music; uneven controller support
    Moral Warnings: Lots of blood and gore; "hell" as a swear word; killing of humanoid zombies

    This is because enemies are cheap in almost every sense. There are not very many of them, so their cheap assets are copied and pasted with almost no variety in all levels. Some enemies are dropped out of the boundaries of the procedurally-generated levels. But several enemies are cheap in the sense that they kill you very quickly with little chance to fight back. These enemies tend to come in swarms, either of piranha-like flying...things or floating, high-health, exploding eyes. As is typical for the genre, death means restarting from the first stage, at level one, with whatever base upgrades you have unlocked. There is something to be said for making a roguelike difficult, but the difficulty should contribute to the game in some way. In Rogue Stache, the cheap enemy swarms primarily give you a reason to use invulnerable Stache Power; without them, you'd be in little danger of death. There'd be little danger, that is, until the final boss that spams its small chamber with beams like it's in Ikaruga without giving the player room to maneuver. Suffice to say that I never enjoyed engaging the enemy while playing Rogue Stache. One boss must have felt similarly indifferent because, despite having "flame" in its name and appearing in promotional material shooting a flamethrower, it never spurt so much as a spark at me.

    A surplus of weapons attempts to spice up the game. Different weapons fire in arcs, fire rapidly, pierce enemies, and so on. There are a good number of them, and some are particularly well-suited to certain enemy types. For example, the flamethrower kills the flying piranha things quickly. For another example--uh.... Hm. No, that's all I've got. Certainly many weapons are more powerful than the starting pistol, but, again, I wouldn't say they are particularly enjoyable to use.

    I alluded to fun in the opening paragraph, and a particular combination of mechanics will explain why. Killing enemies raises experience until a level up. Leveling up gives your character back full health. Some enemies are cheap nigh-insta-killers. Stache Power kills enemies quickly, thus giving experience quickly. The most exciting gameplay loop I experienced was getting knocked to almost zero health while just shy of Stache Power. I would then need to carefully snipe enemies until the power fully charged. Once it did, I would trigger it and jump invincibly and gleefully - yes, Rogue Stache made me feel gleeful - into a hoard of cheap insta-killers and paste them against the walls with abandon. My goal was not so much to clear the way as to hit the next level to regain full health. These experiences required a little bit of tactics, which surprised me in a game so determined to go down like stale sugar cookies otherwise.

    Rogue Stache
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 52%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 4/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Keyboard and mouse control rarely gave me problems. In fact, I often accidentally performed dashes and wall jumps that turned out better than whatever I had planned on. The gun follows the mouse cursor anywhere on screen, allowing you to line up shots on enemies as they come around walls. My time with the Steam Controller was more problematic. The aiming reticle was reluctant to follow my thumb, and controller mode locks the reticle in a tight radius around the main character. Perhaps a different controller would have better results; then again, the Steam store page does advertise "full controller support."

    If you need a reason not to play, the game is incredibly bloody and gory. Bodies and eyes bleed and blow apart. Fleshy appendages dart across the screen. It's not highly graphic, exactly (it was hours before I realized that the melee weapon is a knife instead of a shovel), but it is very red. The only voice acting comes from the main character shouting, "Oh, yeah," and "h*ll yeah," after a kill or weapon pickup. On occasion, such as in Steam Trading Cards, the word bad*** makes an appearance.

    Rogue Stache is in early access. I understand that it feels short and repetitive, and it has the basic mechanics to enable a fun shooter-platformer in the future. Unfortunately, the enemy types and level variety to turn this game into something fun have yet to be created. That may happen, that may not. In the meantime, the highest praise Rogue Stache earns is that, whatever else it is, it is not pretentious.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Rogue State
    Developed By: LRDGames, Inc
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: October 16th, 2016
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Action, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: T (Violence)
    Number of Players: Single player
    MSRP: $12.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media was a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    Rogue State is a political simulator where you are the leader of the newly created People's Republic of Bemidji. As the newly crowned Glorious Leader, you have to appoint cabinet members, manage the budget, engage with ambassadors of foreign nations, and perform other governmental functions. As you rebuild your country after its revolution you'll encounter random events that pose difficult decisions that will affect the lives of the people in your country, or your relationship with global powers. How you run the country is entirely up to you.

    I really enjoyed the opening cinematic to the game, even though it's a essentially a slideshow. The artwork is nice, the voice acting is compelling, and it does a good job of setting the stage for your first day on the job as Glorious Leader. After the cinematic goes dark, the game loads and you're met with low quality, ugly character models, stunted animations and a user interface where every item is too big. The background and 2D artwork is nice, but it's hard to appreciate them when the character models are a pseudo-3D mess. The characters wouldn't be so distracting if they didn't do so much walking. Glorious Leader has to physically walk around the office to each station before you can access the different parts of the game, like policies and building projects. Also whenever you meet with a foreign ambassador you, and them, have to walk over and sit down to talk. The animations are only a few frames long and very jerky. The game would be better off if Glorious Leader was part of the background, just sitting behind the desk.

    The sound quality is better than the animation, but that's not saying much. The best thing I can say about it is that it's adequate. The voice acting in game is worse than the opening cutscene. All of the voices sound vaguely robotic; it can be distracting at times.

    Rogue State
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Breadth of political content; high replay value
    Weak Points: Low quality and unpleasant graphics; shallow gameplay
    Moral Warnings: War; religious faction reduced to fundamentalists

    The crux of the game is its political and managerial simulation. In that regard the game really comes into its own. There are a variety of factions in your new republic to keep happy or risk a coup. You also have to negotiate foreign relations with supportive and hostile nations. The biggest strength of the gameplay is the random incidents that occur. The game is split into 60 turns. During each turn you are allowed up to 4 actions. After you've depleted all the actions or you decide to the end the turn a random event occurs and you're given a number of different choices as to handle it. Sometimes a foreign nation invades, but other times you find a surplus of natural resources you didn't know existed. I really have to commend the developer's devotion to replay value here; no two playthroughs are going to be alike. With a hard cap on 60 turns (you'll rarely meet the end) there's no shortage of ways this game can play out.

    None of the different political spheres is very deep; for example the policies section simply has sliders for various things like public transport, religious holidays and market restrictions. When you move one of the sliders it shows the effect that policy change has on the different factions within your country as well as the budget. If one of the factions starts to hate you then it can lead to a coup, so you want try to keep everyone at least somewhat happy. There's no penalty for drastically changing policies every turn. After every few turns you give a speech to the country and you get to choose different phrases to use throughout; these phrases affect the political factions in different ways.

    Rogue State
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 91%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The most confusing and worst parts of the game involve the intelligence and military. Once you've built up your country a bit, you get access to intelligence gathering. You can spend money to research certain intel on allies or enemies. This intel is extremely expensive and doesn't have a big enough of an effect to justify the price. I have to admit that I wasn't able to really understand how the military aspect functioned. There's an overhead map where you can control the units you've built up, but you can't see the enemy units. Also, the number of units you have at any one point doesn't seem to have any effect on how much damage your buildings take. After a few frustrating attempts, all future playthroughs were mostly peaceful.

    Rogue State is a government simulator and thus war and threats of war are commonplace throughout the game. You can choose not to go to war, but in rare instances, due to random events and past choices, it's inevitable. There is a single religious faction called Fundamentalists. I found it extremely reductive to lump all the religious interests in the country into this one group who has vaguely religious policy goals. For example, they enjoy state sanctioned holidays but don't like loose restrictions on gambling and alcohol. The Fundamentalists are given equal importance to the other factions, but that means that if they're angry enough, they'll stage a coup, which isn't a great look.

    I was reminded of the marvelous Tropico series while playing Rogue State, as both have you taking the reign of a burgeoning banana republic as it makes its way in the world. However unlike Tropico this game lacks depth and charm. Putting aside the differences in genre, there's just not much to each aspect of the government you're able to control in Rogue State. The random events at the end of each turn make each playthrough unique, but they wrestle control of the game away from the player and put it in the hands of the random event generator. If you think you'll like this kind of government management gameplay then this game is a good pickup for the price, just don't expect a ton of depth.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Rupert and Riley Shipwrecked
    Developed By: MadFrog Studios
    Published By: MadFrog Studios
    Released: May 10, 2019
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux
    Genre: Side-scroller
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $4.99

    Thanks to MadFrog Studios for the review copy!

    Rupert and Riley Shipwrecked is a side-scroller that is fairly family-friendly with its’ cartoon art style and largely non-violent gameplay. The game was decently challenging in some segments and had some issues. Overall, I found it to be very entertaining.

    Rupert and Riley is composed of 5 different islands with 4 levels in each. At the end of the 4th level there’s a bullet heck boss fight. The game is pretty short with about a 2 hour completion time but levels are varied well with each introducing new mechanics and new environments.

    Rupert and Riley Shipwrecked
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Clean art; great gameplay for the most part; kid friendly in nearly all aspects
    Weak Points: Boss fights require an amount of precision that doesn’t work very well here
    Moral Warnings: Shooting fish; level with whales kissing

    Your goal is simple. Collect colored fish in the order shown at the top of the screen. Your “gun” shoots out a bubble to track a fish, and you float it up to the boat above. Fish are aplenty but due to random generation you can end up with levels being impossible to finish because a certain color fish wasn’t around. To make things more difficult there are a variety of enemies and traps. Jellyfish will slowly swim towards you and big sharks will shoot cannons. You’re given a small pea shooter to combat these. Sometimes there will be obstacles in the way. You’ll have to use area-specific abilities to blow up mines, pull large blocks out of the way, and break crystals. The core gameplay loop is simple enough but has some decent mechanical depth and wounds up being quite addicting.

    The biggest flaw is the boss fights. It is expected of the player to dodge somewhat precise bullet patterns and attacks. The issue is that the character is large and moves slowly, so dodging bullets doesn’t feel very smooth and it’s difficult to position yourself correctly. The level of difficulty is higher than it should be with these fights and for the wrong reasons.

    Rupert and Riley Shipwrecked
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The art is fantastic. It feels like you are playing through a cartoon show with its bright colors and well-done animations. Sometimes I had a bit of trouble telling what was a background and what wasn’t, but aside from that I love the artwork. The music and sounds have a very childlike feel to them and compliment the cartoony art-style perfectly. The controls are a tad complex and have full controller support and fully rebind-able buttons. I didn’t encounter any bugs during play and the game ran smoothly.

    Shooting various enemies with a gun that shoots small blue pellets is common and you have an arsenal of weapons like grenades and missiles. When things die they show no blood or gore and just simply break apart with a ‘crack’ sound. There was one level where there were several whales kissing above the water. The dialogue had no bad language in sight.

    I absolutely recommend Rupert and Riley Shipwrecked. I didn’t expect it to be such a childish game when I picked it up, but I’m very happy I did play this and think it could be one someone younger could enjoy. The issues mentioned are prevalent but don’t hinder the game enough to hurt my opinion of it much.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Sairento VR
    Developed by: Mixed Realms Pte Ltd
    Published by: Mixed Realms Pte Ltd
    Release date: December 21, 2016 (Early Access)
    Available on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
    Genre: Action
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Version reviewed: 0.3.7p1
    Price: $24.99

    Thank you Mixed Realms for sending us this game to review!

    Sairento VR is the first title to be released by Mixed Realms, a small studio based in Singapore. Their goal is to make a must-have VR ninja game. By the looks of this early access game, they are on their way to reaching that goal.

    There’s not much of a story so far and in order to know what’s going on you’ll have to go to the game’s website or store page. This title takes place in Japan in the near future. You’re a cyber-ninja and a member of a group called the “Silent Ones”. Members of this group are trained in the long forsaken code and martial skills of ancient samurais and ninjas. Many of your comrades have become infected with a nano-virus and have turned against you. Besides taking them out, you’ll need to uncover the source of their corruption.

    A story mode and multiplayer connectivity are promised to be included in the release version, which is set for the fall of 2017. The developers have been very active in patching this game and release a couple of updates a week. While the early access version is well polished and entertaining, I can’t wait to see what the final version will offer.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun gameplay and smooth controls
    Weak Points: No story yet or much variety in enemies 
    Moral Warnings: Violence and bloodshed

    The controls are tight and when you launch the game you’ll be asked to calibrate your standing height, crouching height, and hip position.  Grabbing the guns at my hips and katanas behind my shoulders felt both accurate and satisfying.  While dual wielding pistols is fun and all, I found that I tended to stay alive longer when I stuck with wielding katanas.   Unfortunately, not all of the enemies can be reached with the katanas alone.  For the floating fan-wielding geishas, you can use guns, bow and arrow, or throwing glaives.

    Movement is pretty good and you can get around with the teleport system.  Double jumping and wall running are both possible.  I did not experience any motion sickness while playing this game.  I did break a sweat though!  

    Sairento VR
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There are various mission types and they range from eliminating all of the enemies, to staying alive for a certain time period, to surviving a set number of enemy waves. The amount of damage you take and experience you earn depends on the difficulty level you choose. You can play on easy for less damage and experience or increase the damage to level up faster.

    Besides earning money and experience in levels, you may also walk away with some pretty cool enchantments and upgrades for your weapons. After clearing a level of samurai warriors, robotic soldiers, or sumo wrestlers, be sure to open every treasure chest before heading back home.
    Like any good samurai game, you can expect violence and lots of it. There is plenty of bloodshed and every swing of your katana will get the blood flowing out your opponents despite their semi-robotic state. Most of the enemies are adequately clothed. The Sumo wrestlers do show some skin but it’s heavily tattooed.

    If you’ve always dreamed about being a ninja, Sairento VR is the closest you’ll come to it. I must warn you that you may look pretty goofy to outsiders while playing this game though. It’s well worth the $25 early access price and is getting timely updates from developers that listen to their user base. If you like action-heavy and fast paced VR games, then look no further than Sairento VR.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Severed
    Developed By: DrinkBox Studios
    Published By: DrinkBox Studios
    Released: September 22, 2016
    Available On: 3DS, iOS, Vita, Wii U
    Genre: First-person action adventure
    ESRB Rating: Teen – Violence, Blood
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $14.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thanks to DrinkBox Studios for sending us a review code!

    The Wii U’s gamepad controller is a novel piece of hardware that has gone largely unused in a lot of the system’s games. Even first-party Nintendo games can shirk its abilities, relegating it to a map or an item menu shortcut, assuming they don’t just ignore it altogether. In late September, in the Wii U’s lengthy twilight, DrinkBox Studios ported Severed to the system, making obvious use of the gamepad – and using it extremely well.

    Severed is a first-person action adventure that could be described as a cross-section between Zelda and Grimrock. You play the role of Sasha, a young woman who wakes up in her backyard after a sudden attack to find that she’s missing her mother, father, brother, and right arm. After meeting a shady but seemingly benign being who gives her some encouragement and a sword, Sasha sets out into the unforgiving wilderness to find her family.

    The main draw of Severed is the combat: using the stylus, you draw on the screen in the direction you want to attack. You eventually get a charge attack and three pseudo-magic abilities to use, but the base stays mostly the same throughout. Preventing such a simple system from becoming boring, however, are the enemies, who take a page out of Skyward Sword’s book and require quick, accurate attacks to both avoid their defenses and deflect their attacks. The monster variety is impressive, with each type acting differently; even when the game pulls out the classic RPG maneuver of palette-shifting an earlier enemy, their appearance and abilities significantly change and don’t feel like rehashes. It helps that the controls are extremely responsive and the enemy hit detection is near-perfect, leaving you fully in control of the length and direction of your slashes.

    Severed
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid, engaging gameplay; near-flawless presentation
    Weak Points: Little to no penalties for failure; might be a little on the easy side
    Moral Warnings: Blood, gore, and body horror galore; unsettling atmosphere; one minor curse (bad*ss)

    One-on-one, these encounters are rather easy – but Severed rarely pits you against one enemy at a time. Sasha can and will get surrounded by enemies, usually up to four but rarely as many as seven or eight at a time, and none of them are shy in attacking. While fending off one four-armed monkey might be trivial, taking care of two of them while dealing with a fast-attacking four-headed bird and a giant eyeball that slowly but surely grows in size and danger is considerably more harrowing. This is where Severed’s combat truly shines, as more complicated encounters require quick action and a solid strategy to manage each enemy at the same time. By the end of the game, facing down four high-end monsters at once can be quite a trial, and is always satisfying to beat. Later in the game, enemies come with one or more buffs that give them heightened stats, health regeneration, and/or increased speed, further increasing the difficulty as you progress.

    Part of the reason the combat feels so rewarding involves the upgrade system. Sasha can increase her abilities, ranging from straight damage increases to quicker mana recovery to leeching enemy health on every strike; this requires a certain number of monster body parts to unlock. While some can be found in giant vases scattered throughout the game, most will come directly from the source. Performing well in combat – as in, not being deflected or damaged – will raise Sasha’s focus meter; when full, every defeated monster for that encounter will give you a small window to slice their limbs off. Each enemy has a different body part to collect, from arms to eyes to tentacles to giant jawbones, and require precise slashes to hack off in the time allowed. Ending an intense encounter with a flurry of slices and becoming surrounded by limbs is rather gruesome but undeniably entertaining.

    The Grimrock half of the game has you navigating segmented rooms and looking around for pots to smash, levers to pull, or other light puzzles to solve in order to proceed through the game. While the puzzles never get particularly difficult, they flow well, never overstay their welcome, and offer a low-stress reprieve from the combat. Each level has a dozen or so “secrets” to find, though as every one is displayed on the map with a huge green question mark, they’re not quite secrets as they are optional puzzles to gain items. Some of these get quite clever later in the game as well, requiring some planning and exploration to complete.

    Severed’s presentation ties the experience together, and the game would be half as enjoyable without it. The art style is simple, with mostly flat and saturated colors, but it stays consistent and gives the world a dark, eerie quality that’s both fascinating and slightly disturbing to explore. The music, while not quite soundtrack worthy, adds atmosphere and variety to the different levels and manages to not ever become irritating to listen to on a constant loop. Overall, the game is enjoyable to look at and listen to throughout, and both the art and music combine to create a genuinely interesting world.

    Severed
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 75%
    Violence - 1.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The story of the game doesn’t venture too far outside of finding Sasha’s family, but what few characters appear are more compelling than they really have any right to be. Sasha doesn’t speak a single word, but her reactions to events, along with the odd third-person cutscene, flesh her out decently enough. You’ll interact with two characters repeatedly throughout your journey, and you steadily learn more about them as the game progresses. You might not think a fat bird with two mouth-heads would be all that great of a character, but he’ll (they’ll?) quickly grow on you. The story is minimalist, but done right: adding to the game, but not getting in the way.

    The visual cues, sound effects, and game mechanic introductions, however, carry the day. There are no text tutorials; you learn by doing, and the game trusts you enough to recognize what you’re doing right or wrong. Every new enemy is fought alone at first, letting you become familiar with it before throwing it into the mix. Monster attacks are clearly telegraphed with an unmistakable sound effect and a bright red glow, and the sound effects in general give great feedback: deflected attacks, severed limbs, timed puzzles, and the like all have obvious audio cues. Perhaps best of all, however, is the monster indicators: these circular icons are always visible and clearly communicate enemy type, health, and time before they attack. These clear indicators, along with some trial and error to determine which attacks can be deflected and which have to be prevented, give the game no artificial difficulty – your successes and failures are your own.

    If there’s any major criticism to be had, it’s involving difficulty. Battles can get out of hand if you get flustered, but a skilled player will rarely, if ever, die. When and if you do, however, you’re simply put back at the last autosave – and the game autosaves every few rooms or so. You’ll never be put back farther than the encounter that defeated you, and the game never takes anything from you upon death, making failure a mere annoyance at best. Some gamers might enjoy the low-stakes approach, but it creates little incentive to do well outside of the look and feel of it. Outside of the difficulty, there’s the threat of repetition in the gameplay, but the variety combined with the brisk five-hour length does enough to combat it. Finally, the game’s replayability is questionable, though certainly not absent; the game’s open to low- or no-upgrade challenge runs, but outside of that it’s about as replayable as the average Zelda game – if you like to run through those multiple times, Severed will be a similar experience.

    As you might have guessed by now, there are a ton of moral issues to talk about. The violence is the big issue: outside of the severed limbs, enemies killed without a full focus meter explode into bloody chunks. Sasha’s stump, wrapped in blood-stained bandages, is visible on the pause menu throughout the game. Most of the violence is against monsters, and you never attack any humans outside of sparring with your mother in a flashback at the start of the game, but there are some humans you find whose fate is, quite literally, not easy on the eyes. To increase your health and mana, you collect heart and brain pieces – and proceed to eat the completed organ piece by piece. The general creepy atmosphere is just icing on the cake: while never outright scary, it can get a little unnerving at times. Also, one of the in-game achievements is titled “bad*ss” – though it’s the only example of crude language in the game. Simply put, this game is not for children.

    If you can stomach some hefty body horror, however, Severed is absolutely worth looking at. With tight controls, simple but varied and engaging gameplay, and a well-designed world, Severed is a game as good as any on the Wii U – and at $14.99, it won’t even cost you an arm and a leg.

    -Cadogan

     


  • Developer - SCEI Publisher - Sony Computer Entertainment
    ESRB Rating - Teen for Blood and Fantasy Violence

    You can tell at once that Shadow of the Colossus is an unusual game. In fact, pretty much everything in this game is quite unique in its own right. For one thing, you’ll face a total of sixteen enemies in the entire game. I’m serious. Not even so much as fodder in between these sixteen enemies. Just sixteen enemies. Of course, if you’ve seen anything about this game previously, you probably know why there are only sixteen enemies. It’s another unique aspect of this game: The enemies are enormous. The term 'colossus' the game uses to describe them is a gross understatement of the sheer scale of these monsters. Just look at the colossus featured on the cover of the game or in the above screenshot (see the little you on his sword thing?). And yes, you’ll have to kill each and every one of them.

    But first, let’s cover why you’re here doing this in the first place. You start off as a wondering Asian-looking guy that’s managed to somehow stumble upon a mysterious, magical sword. At first, all he really knows about it that it’s cool looking (well, at least I think so), but he’ll come to know more of its secrets in due time. A woman close to him (whether it’s a sister, a girlfriend, or whoever it's left unexplained) has recently died, and he’s looking in a new, mysterious land for answers on how to bring her back to life. As he enters this land, he comes across a magnificent, glowing temple (of light, no less, which explains that glowing). Upon entering he encounters an unseen, mystical being speaking in an ominous voice. This god-like character informs your character that the sixteen statues lining the sides of the temple’s interior must be destroyed in order for the woman to be brought back to life. But there’s more to it. According to this being, the statues can’t be destroyed by any weapon made of man (sure a few hundred pounds of dynamite won’t do the trick?), but instead \'life-size versions\' of these colossal statues roam this land. If these colossi are killed, than their counterpart statue will also be destroyed. Normally, these colossi also can’t be killed by ordinary weapons of man, but apparently that’s the cool thing about your particular sword: It can. And with that you’re off. You’ll have to wonder this mysterious, new land searching for these sixteen colossi, and defeat each one of them in order. (Unfortunately, you can’t take them in an order that you choose.) At your disposal, you’ll have your trusty horse Argo, your magical sword, and a bow and arrow. And…that’s pretty much it. You’ll have to utilize each one of these items in special, specific ways along with the game’s interesting new 'grasp' mechanism to bring each colossus to its knees or to get yourself to its weak spot(s) so you can deliver the coup de grace with your sword.

    How The Game Play Works

    It’s quite intriguing to fight these battles. As you probably guessed, just random damage to them will not be anywhere near sufficient to bring these beasts down. (Think about it – It’s like a fly trying to attack a human.) Each colossus will have something special about them that will serve as an obstacle to defeating them, and half of your job is figuring out how to get past these obstacles. Then you have to figure out the unique way to reach the one or more weak spots. You then stab each spot with your sword until either the colossus is dead or until the spot no longer becomes a weak point.

    One thing in particular will be used in this puzzle/mountain climb, and that is the game’s new 'grasp' mechanism. To use this, you press R1 to grab onto a surface (or sometimes a ledge). If you have grabbed onto a correct surface (like a stalk of vines or a patch of fur on a colossus) your character will crawl Spiderman-style along it. Since almost all colossi have fur or edge-lined armor (or a mixture of both), you’ll need to use this mechanic to climb to their weak spot (which is usually found on the head). But if you think this is all there is to it, you’re in for a rude awakening. You think that that colossus you’re trying to kill is just going to stand there and let a little pest like you try and climb up him? Well, would you let a spider or something just crawl up your leg? The colossi generally try to shake you off. While this doesn’t necessarily knock you off, it does stop you in your tracks as your character has to struggle to keep his hold. This is more than a gimmick, because the amount of time you’re able to use your 'grasp' ability is finite, and the more your character is shaken, the less time you’ll have to reach your destination or a “rest stop”, which is normally a type of makeshift platform built into the colossus’ armor where you can replenish your strength without losing your progress. If your 'grasp meter' runs out (it’s represented by a circle in the corner of the screen which slowly is depleted of its color), then your character is then knocked off, and most of the time that means starting your climb over. While this mechanic can get annoying sometimes, as the times when your character is 'shaken' are usually out of your control, it does make for some intense moments, as you desperately make a last grasp (no pun intended) for your destination before losing your grip.

    A little while ago I referred to the obstacles each colossus has which hinder you from starting your climb. For the most part, this is also as unique to each colossus just like the actual paths themselves. However, they occasionally get a little repetitive, as many of them simply use their heights to your disadvantage, forcing you to basically just find a way to reach a point to start climbing up their bodies. Still, this is somewhat remedied by the fact that they individually have a few deviances. The rest though are actually quite unique in the way they make you approach your enemy.

    The most interesting colossi are the ones that use their environment as an obstacle. For example, one boss favored swimming underwater. I had to figure out a way to get him to surface so I could grab onto him (and then have a wild ride underwater). Another colossus flew through the air, and I had to get it to lower to a level where I could ride full-speed on my horse to make a daring leap onto its wings. Yet another was a snake that blazed trails underneath the ground, only popping out its eyes to see where it was going. I had to ride Argo full speed on this one also, this time twisting around on the saddle to yank off a shot at the creature’s eye, which would cause it to careen out of control into the wall, bringing the rest of his body to the surface. These kinds of battles are most interesting because of the way they are presented. They really have an epic, cinematic feel to it, making you feel like you’re going all-out in an intense adventure rather than feeling like a simple puzzle-solver, which is where some of the aforementioned \'super-size\' battles tend to falter. Shadow of the Colossus takes about ten to twelve hours to complete the first time through. There’s also reason to go back again at least two more times to complete additional game play modes. One is the super-hard difficulty, which retains the upgrades you got from your first play-through (you get your health and grasp limit increased after each defeated boss) but makes a few subtle changes to the battles to toughen up the colossi. Another option is to go and essentially play through all the battles again in a time-attack mode of sorts, where you try and defeat each colossus in the allotted time. This is a bit more appealing, as you are awarded a few neat (though a bit gimmicky) upgrades to use in the mainstream game. And that is the final replay option: Play through the game just like in the super-hard difficulty mode with all your upgrades (including the time-attack ones) but keeping the standard difficulty level. All in all, you’re looking at some serious potential game play time for a single game purchase, provided you can get into it.

    Shadow of the Colossus

    Visuals

    At the beginning of the game, as your character rides on his horse across a bridge seemingly infinite in length, you get a glimpse of the world that Shadow of the Colossus takes place in. You see at once that, just like the colossi previously mentioned, this world is incredibly enormous in scale. As you play, you’ll discover that this is easily one of the largest in-game worlds on the Playstation 2, and even on all the current-generation consoles. All this land would be meaningless if it was repetitive, largely the same, and/or relatively ugly, and SCEI took appropriate notice. Everything about this world is beautiful, and the environments are diverse. There’s jungles, mountains, grasslands, deserts, enormous waterfalls, plains, rainforests – you name it, it’s probably in there somewhere. And all of it is very detailed, lush, and appropriately colored. There’s plenty of architecture scattered around this land, and they follow the crowd: Humungous and artistically-beautiful.

    The animation is incredibly fluid in every aspect. The larg, hulking colossi lumber around with force, the water and air colossi move fluidly, your character moves with a nice bout of clumsiness (hey, not all of us move with grace of heroes), and the horse animations for Argo are flat-out some of the best I've seen in any game on any system. This area of the game isn’t perfect, however. For one, some of the environmental textures can get a little low-res at times, even for a PS2 game. Second of all, the character models are really pretty ugly. I’m not talking about the colossi, but rather the few human characters that show up in the game. Unlike pretty much everything else in the game, the models look pretty bland and lacking in detail. It occasionally sticks out like a sore thumb. Also, the faces on the characters don’t animate very well, so any emotion that is tried to be expressed during cut scenes aremostly missed by the player.

    Audio and Music

    There’s not too much sound to be heard in Shadow of the Colossus, but what you do hear is usually well-done. There’re small, ambient noises typically found in nature as you wonder the countryside, adding to the atmosphere of the game. The music, while mostly subtle, is well orchestrated. Other more blunt sound effects fit in nicely, such as sword clanging on different surfaces, Argo\'s galloping hooves, and your character’s footsteps on grass or on stone. The voice acting is where it fails here. Just like the lack of character animation, the voice acting simply cannot properly convey the emotion the game is trying to show. However, this isn’t so much a problem with the actual quality of the voice acting itself, but rather that it’s all in a foreign language (presumably Japanese). This forces the player to read all the captioning. Personally, I felt this reduced the effect of the drama being played-out.

    It’s Not All Perfect

    While most of the game places out like a well-done Zelda-style title, there are a few points where it falters, and prevents Shadow of the Colossus from achieving true greatness. This goes beyond the few smaller points I’ve already pointed out, and instead seem to have real negative effect on the playing experience. First off, there’s the game’s system of how you travel the game-world. Large as these colossi may be, the world is still big enough where finding them can still be a pain. Unfortunately, the game’s solution isn’t really much of one. One of your sword’s abilities is to focus the sun into the direction of your next opponent. While this sounds pretty neat, it simply doesn’t work very well. It points you in the straight direction of the colossus, but leaves it completely up to you of how to navigate the maze of trails leading there. And as I’ve found out the hard way, you sometimes have to wonder somewhere completely out of your way to find a path to the colossus. The world is simply too big for you to be finding little paths without a proper navigational system.

    One-third of the total game play time can be attributed to travel, and the majority of the reason why is because you’re having such a hard time figuring out where to go. Second, the controls, while intriguing in concept, don’t always deliver. For one thing, the grasp meter is simply used to much. A part of the traveling involves platforming, where you sometimes are jumping from one ledge to another. The game’s grasp mechanic is used to full effect here. You have to position your character in the exactly right direction, simultaneously let go of R1 and press the jump button, and then hit R1 again at the right time to grab hold of your target ledge. While this does seem to add a bit of realism, after playing with it I think it’s simply too complicated. I’ve needlessly missed of a lot of jumps that should have been easy to make because I got twisted up trying to perform the dance of hitting all the right buttons at the right times. A simpler system found in a more traditional platformer such as Jak & Daxter probably would have worked a lot better for the game’s platforming segments.

    Third, there is the ending of the game. It’s got a few good twists in there, but ultimately I felt unsatisfied and disappointed. It didn’t quite have the finale you’d hope for in an epic game of this caliber, and some of the segments were plain dumb. Basically, the developers were trying to give you some interactivity during these final moments of the game’s story. Again, it sounds good in theory but fails in practice. They give control of a new colossus appearing only in the final scene to kill some people, but the control is so clumsy that it’s impossible to get anywhere near. Also, there is another point where your character is being pulled by a suction force, and is trying to hang on for his life. You use your grasp mechanic to hold on to a ledge to try and stop from getting sucked in. I see that the developers tried to add some suspense of 'can you hold on?' but it doesn’t work, mainly because by this point your grasp meter is so large that you can hold on for several minutes (an eternity in game time) before losing hold. I appreciate that the developers were trying to give some interactivity, but these segments detracted from the experience of the finale and were best left as cut scenes.

    Finally, what is probably the worst problem with the game is the camera. There’s not much good to say here. It pretty much just plain fails. The default positions are hard to work with. While riding Argo, the camera typically puts you and the horse to the right and more towards the top of the screen, giving you a nice view of the horse’s rear end. Sounds a little crass, but it’s the way it is, and it gets annoying. Other times, when you try and use the game’s rip-off of the Z/L-targeting system of Zelda fame, the camera gives you a nice view of the colossus, but removes you from the screen, so you can no longer see where you’re running or if you’ve, say, run into some sort of obstacle. And if that weren’t bad enough, the game pretty much eliminates most options of manually reorienting the camera. No matter how much you shove that right analog stick to the right to reposition the camera angle to where you want, it simply likes to stay behind you. So forget it if you want to take a look behind you while you’re running, or to the side, because unless you’re a master of constantly manipulating controls without losing attention concerning the action at hand, the camera is just going to automatically reposition itself to a behind-the-back view. This gets extremely frustrating.

    Shadow of the Colossus

    Appropriateness

    I’d say that for the most part Shadow of the Colossus is a pretty clean game. The biggest things that Christians have to worry about are the references to a different god controlling the world, as well as a few elements that appear almost demonic in nature. They aren’t anywhere near the caliber of games like Doom 3 or Resident Evil 4, but it’s worth noting. Also, when your character stabs the colossi, there is a large spray of non-realistic blood. The game, as I touched on a moment ago, takes place in a fantasy setting, though there’s only a little magic actually being used by the player or by any enemies the player is confronting. There is no language or sexual content whatsoever to speak of, nor any kind of social prejudices or law-breaking that I could discern. On a positive note, there is a bit of a positive moral lesson in the game, as the game gives a parallel of sorts to the lesson of not messing with the occult.

    Overall

    Shadow of the Colossus is a good game. It's artistically a masterpiece, and has a really great concept that for the most part plays out well. There are a few disappointing stinkers however with the game play, camera, and control that prevent it from achieving true greatness.

    Final Grades

    Game Quality

    Gameplay – 16.5/20 Some of the methods towards defeating colossi get repetitive, as a good portion relies on simply size to challenge you. Also, the game ending is disappointing, with failed attempts of interactivity that end up killing the intensity of the moment.

    Visuals – 7/10 For the most part this game is strikingly beautiful, with magnificent and lush environments and wonderfully-designed architecture. However, it suffers from low-caliber character models and a horrid camera system.

    Audio – 8/10 There are many subtle sound effects that really add to the atmosphere of the game, and the more blunt effects still sound appropriate. The music is quiet but well-orchestrated, but the voice acting lacks drama due to the fact that it’s in a unfamiliar dialect.

    Control – 3/5 It’s largely a hit-and-miss here. For the most part, the new grasp mechanic works well in adding to the player’s strategy of tackling the colossi monsters. However, its implementation as a platforming mechanic ends up being too complicated.

    Stability – 5/5 Nothing to speak of here. Speaking in this context the game is well-polished.

    Appropriateness

    Violence/Blood/Gore – 4/10 You are killing pretty realistic-looking (meaning not cartoonish) fantasy monsters. When delivering a critical blow, which is a powerful stab, blood (it’s pretty non-realistic, but blood nonetheless) sprays out like a geyser from the wound.

    • Killing non-human, fictional beings (-3.5 pts)
    • Blood spraying (-2.5 pts)

    Foul Language/Sexual Dialogue – 10/10 As Truthseeker put it, ESRB didn’t catch anything, and neither did I.

    Sexual Content/Nudity – 10/10 There’s absolutely no sexual content whatsoever in the game, and the only female character in the game is fully-clothed and can’t really be called immodest at all.

    Occult/Supernatural – 5.5/10 The player uses a little bit of non-aggressive magic to (supposedly) help guide his way to each of his battles. The world is controlled by a supernatural being very similar to a god, and there are a few moments that seem a bit demonic in nature (though displayed as evil).

    • Game takes place in an environment with minor occult references (-3pts)
    • Fairy tale type magic is used in game by player (-1.5 pts)

    Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 10/10 There are no social biases or prejudices. The main character is in this quest purely to save a person that he loves, and not for selfish reasons. There is no crude material or lawbreaking in the game as well. Bonus Points – Plus Three The game delivers a parallel to the theme that one should not be messing around with the occult or other un-Godly witchcraft-like activities, as they only lead to negative consequences. Game Quality Total – 39.5/50 Appropriateness Total – 39.5/50

    Final Total – 79/100

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shatter
    Developed by: Sidhe
    Published by: PikPok
    Released: March 15, 2010
    Available on: Linux, macOS, PS3, Windows
    Genre: Action, puzzle
    ESRB rating: E (mild fantasy violence)
    Number of players: 1-2
    Price: $9.99 (Steam); $4.99 (Mac App Store)

    One of the earliest video games ever created was Breakout; a simple game where you control a paddle and bat a ball into a wall of collapsing bricks. The game has been remade and reimagined many, many times over the years. Shatter is no exception to this tradition, but it has enough variation to keep it from getting dull.

    Just like with Breakout and pretty much all the other clones, you control a paddle and have to keep a ball on the field. You slide back and forth in order to reflect the puck-like ball. If you miss the ball, you lose a life. One of the main differences in this game is that you have a way to control gravity, or the wind, or something. You can click the mouse button to pull objects to you, or the right mouse button to push them away. But be careful! If you get hit by something other than the ball or a power-up, your paddle will be stunned for a couple seconds. You also can generate a shield for a short time, or unleash a “shard storm” to send particles flying across the screen – a handy move to use when facing off against one of the bosses.

    Shatter
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of action; different gameplay modes to unlock; sharp graphics; good music; new mechanic added to a familiar genre
    Weak Points: Controls take a bit to get used to
    Moral Warnings: None!

    There seems to be some semblance of a story, but it is just as surreal and strange as the rest of the game. You seem to be some sort of cyber-security machine in a virtual world, and you have to navigate a series of 10 worlds, each of which culminates in a boss fight. It really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but the story isn't the main point of this puzzle game. The action is busy and sometimes you have to really pay attention – otherwise, it's easy to lose track of your ball amid all the other objects flying across the screen! In some levels, the attraction / repulsion commands are much more effective in controlling the ball than maneuvering your craft. To really master the game, these controls need to be utilized as well.

    Shatter
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics are sharp, with a high-tech look to them reminiscent of the way Hollywood sometimes depicts cyberspace. The music also has a rapid techno beat to it. There is no voice acting, but there don't seem to be any living creatures inside this virtual world, anyway. The controls are sharp and responsive, but a bit awkward when using the mouse and controller. Fortunately, it's possible to reprogram the controls to a button configuration that is more comfortable. It also is possible to use game controllers with the game (and if playing a two player game, I recommend it). In addition to the story mode, there are other gameplay options, such as an endless mode and a boss rush. Online leaderboards allow you to compare your scores with others. For Steam players, achievements can be unlocked. There even is a co-operative, endless multiplayer mode, where two players can help each other to destroy bricks and other obstacles.

    For those that enjoy Breakout and its many variations, Shatter is a fun entry to the collection. It's many levels and styles grants it an abundance of replay options. From a moral standpoint, it's squeaky clean. For $9.99, you really can't go wrong with Shatter.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Shining Resonance Refrain
    Developed by: SEGA
    Published by: SEGA
    Release date: July 10, 2018
    Available on: PS3, PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Action RPG
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol
    Price: $49.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you SEGA for sending us this game to review!

    Shining Resonance was originally released on the PlayStation 3 in Japan back in 2014. Four years later it was re-released as Shining Resonance Refrain worldwide and also became available on the PS4, Switch, Xbox, and PC. Upon launching the game, players will be given the choice of playing the Original or Refrain mode. Refrain mode adds two new DLC characters (along with their romance options), night-time missions, and new dialogue. As a new player to the series, I opted for the original game mode which was recommended through my internet search. There are two difficulty modes: Casual and Standard. You can change difficulty levels mid-game if desired.

    The game begins with a young man, Yuma Ilvern, who has a unique trait. The spirit of the most powerful (Shining) Dragon resides within him. The Empire seeks to extract it from him forcefully and tortures him in prison while trying to do so. The kingdom of Astoria has been at war with the Empire for quite some time and it’s pretty much in a stalemate. Both sides are siding with dragons to gain an edge over the other and both seek the help of the Shining Dragon to end this war once and for all. The first chapter out of eight in this title focuses on rescuing Yuma from the enemy’s prison.

    At first, Yuma isn’t much of a fighter and fears the power residing within him as he has trouble controlling it once he unleashes the Shining Dragon. With the help of his newfound friends, he can learn how to fight, properly harness the Shining Dragon’s power, and save the world as he knows it.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting characters, good (partial) English voice acting; excellent sound track
    Weak Points: Not fully voice acted; some grinding required
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence and magic use; language (*ss, sh*t, d*mn, p*ss, h*ll); sexual references/dialogue; option to date male or female party members; revealing clothing; alcohol and drunkenness; prejudice 

    Each of the party members has different weapons, fighting styles, and force/magic abilities. Most of their weapons are called Armonics which originate from the Shining Dragon and resonate with other dragoneers in battle. In town, you can pay to tune their weapons to change their elemental affinities and perks.

    You can change the party’s position and Yuma isn’t a required character. In fact, I highly recommend rotating all of the characters to make sure nobody gets left behind level wise. You can only have four active party members at a time. Whoever is in the first position will be the conductor for the B.A.N.D. songs which have great perks that temporarily decrease the enemy’s defenses or increases your party’s attacks. As your party attacks the BPM gauge will increase along with magic points slowly regenerating.

    As you’re exploring there will be campsites where you can save your progress and camp to revive fallen comrades and replenish your health/magic points. If you have the ingredients handy, you can use alchemy to concoct various potions and weapon aspects/power-ups. There’s a wide variety of aspects that can increase character stats such as health, magic, vitality, luck, defense, and agility. Other aspects nullify ailments like confusion and paralysis.

    Like many RPGs you’ll have the option to accept side quests which usually reward you with items needed to synthesize aspects and potions. Be sure to talk to your party member in town and it will increase your bond with them and sometimes they’ll hand you useful items if your affinity with them is really high. You can invite both male or female characters to chat with in the evening while everyone else is sleeping. After a few late night chats you may get invited for a date around town to strengthen the bond even further. After several successful dates a character may give you a heart trait to indicate their affection towards you. There are multiple endings and before the final battle you can pick which character you want to settle down with.

    Shining Resonance Refrain

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 53%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 4/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    Though I didn’t fully max out relationships with the male characters, the late night chats and walks around town usually involved talking about females and (lack of) dating them. Some of the female characters wore revealing outfits and one, in particular, had some very suggestive dialogue. As you get to know the characters, story sequences will unlock for them and they are quite entertaining to watch. Sadly, they’re usually not fully voice acted, but the dialogue is still great regardless. Most of the time you’ll get character traits after the story sequences and these can be assigned to the characters to increase or change the bonds between the various party members. If everyone gets along, there will be a better chance of fully supporting each other in battle instead of rivalry.

    Dark elves are perceived as untrustworthy in this game. Though there is prejudice, it gets sorted out and I like how that is handled in this title. There is a form of religion that borrows Catholic verbiage, but it is depicted as power-hungry and evil. Both the good guys and bad guys tend to use a fair amount of foul language. At least one character gets drunk in this game. Lastly, there is violence and magic use.

    Battles are in real time and if Yuma is in his dragon form, you will not be able to access items like health or magic potions. I found it best to have two healers and two tanks in my party for boss battles. The enemies on the map will level up as your party does and they are excellent for powering up your least favorite/useful party members.

    Some of the boss battles are back to back so you may have to conserve your B.A.N.D and dragon transformation until the second or even third battle in some cases. In the seventh chapter, there is a tough multi-battle that has to be completed with only two members. Be sure to fully stock health and ether potions before triggering a boss or story event.

    I can’t compare the other formats, but Shining Resonance Refrain looked and ran great on the Switch. I really enjoyed being able to play this game on the go. The visuals didn’t have any noticeable slowdowns, even during the intensive boss battles. When present, the voice acting is top notch. The background music is exceptional as well. In the end, I really enjoyed my thirty-five hours into this game and recommend it to those who don’t mind the moral issues and enjoy JRPGs that involve a little bit of grinding at times.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Slain!
    Developed By: Wolf Brew Games
    Published By: Digerati Distribution
    Release Date: March 24, 2016
    Available On: PC, Linux, Mac OS X, others coming soon (PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Action
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $12.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Digerati Distribution for sending us this game to review!

    Slain! is a 2D sidescrolling action game using pixel art meant to inspire nostalgia for fans of Castlevania, Altered Beast, Ghouls and Ghosts, and other Gothic side scrolling games of that era.  It was an unusual Kickstarter in that the game was already in development for eighteen months, but they wanted to get the word out, and get some final funding to get it out the door.  After significant delays, it was finally released in March.  But it was a total disaster.  Sound effects were broken, controls were broken for keyboard users and far from fluid for the rest of us, enemies gave little feedback when hit, fonts were unreadable, and more.  And the metacritic scores as of this writing reflect this, with an aggregate score of 39/100.  After playing for a couple of hours, I simply got frustrated, and decided to wait for the first patch.  

    While not all issues have been ironed out, Slain! went from a nearly unplayable mess to an imperfect but enjoyable action game with excellent pixel art.  The game’s font is also greatly improved, and some nasty typos were resolved.  They also added some instructional screens, and give you hints as to the enemies’ weaknesses as well.  There are more visual cues now when you are damaging your opponent, and helpful audio cues as well.  It is a required level of polish that has an amazingly detrimental effect when missing – but is mostly there now, thankfully.  

    Slain!
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very nice pixel art; action is entertaining once you get the rhythm; massively improved after the first and second patches
    Weak Points: Music gets a bit repetitive after a while; game was a mess upon initial release; short
    Moral Warnings: Blood literally dripping everywhere, with lots of gratuitous gore; naked woman hung as a decoration in a few places, with full frontal nudity; word ‘hell’ used; lots of undead enemies, dragons, skeletons, witches, and more

    There are a few basic attacks, by simply mashing the attack button.  There used to be a decapitate button, which could be used to recover a small amount of mana points, but it was pretty tricky to use consistently.  I rarely found it worth the trouble.  Now, there is a dedicated block button, and if timed correctly, you can counterattack, which does an instant kill in many cases, and gives you mana just like the old decapitate.  Much better!  Mana can be used to power two attacks: a ranged attack and a mana bomb.  The bomb is very effective at close range to bosses, and empties your mana meter.  The ranged attack comes in handy here and there.  Of course you can jump, and there's a backwards dash that is useful.

    The basic plot premise goes something like this: The hero, Bathoryn, has been awoken from his slumber, and has to once again defeat some evil by liberating the six great towers from six overlords.  You have a large sword as your main weapon, and eventually unlock two other elemental variations as well.  Certain monsters are weak against various elements, though I never found myself using the starting weapons once I had the other two.

    Slain!
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 54%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 4/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Slain! claims to have around ten hours of gameplay, but honestly, I beat it in around three.  I'm not sure where the other hours come from, though it could simply be that I'm pretty good at this kind of game.  But in any case, it's not as long as advertised on the label.  (I have five hours listed in my Steam profile, but two of those are from before the patch.  I lost all progress and had to start over when the patch was released.)

    Being a dark and Gothic game, appropriateness issues are more or less to be expected, but it has to be said: this game has a LOT of blood.  Literally drops and streams of it in many places.  It is a very dark game in many respects.  When you get smashed or stabbed by various in game traps, it is gory and disgusting.  As previously mentioned, you can decapitate enemies, and their heads do go flying afterwords.  Enemies include lots of undead like skeletons and ghosts, and others like witches and dragons.  The backgrounds also consist of dark things, and there are a couple of areas with full frontally nude females, with no details left to the imagination, within the limits of pixel graphics.  Protip: If you are considering any game on Steam and are unsure of the graphical sexual content, go to the store page, click on 'View discussions', and then 'Screenshots'.  You will see all you need to know there.  People always post the shots that appeal to their basest instincts.  The word 'hell' is also used.

    Slain! is an interesting, if flawed action platformer that is thankfully still being worked on and improved as a result.  The pixel graphics look really great, and the music, while at times a bit repetitive, is overall pretty good for heavy metal fans.  Without the full frontal nudity or excessive blood and gore, it would be easier to recommend.  

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Slime-san
    Developer: Fabraz
    Published by: Headup Games
    Release Date: April 7, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Action, Adventure
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: unrated
    Price: TBD

    Thank you Headup Games for the review code.

    I have nothing but respect for speedrunners.To be able to find frame perfect jumps and move with such perfection, it's exquisite for me. I usually don't watch let's plays for games, but you should try watching a speedrun of your favorite game. It makes you look at it from a whole new perspective. That's why I am certain that Slime-san will be a speed runners paradise.

    Slime-san puts you in the role of a simple and cute slime monster. One day, while walking through the forest, a gigantic and monstrous worm chases him and his bird friend, swallowing them both whole. The worm's body has survivors, a working city and even an arcade. If you try to escape, however, its acid will chase you throughout its body. To get back to his family you'll have to run, jump, and slide through hundreds of stages.

    Slime-san
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A great platformer, you'll learn by simply playing the game. 
    Weak Points: The game may be repetitive to some, soundtrack is boring.
    Moral Warnings: Not much unless worm guts offend you.

    The big thing for Slime-san is its gameplay. It’s a pure platforming game that introduces new elements in each stage. You have two timers: one tells you how fast you must beat the level to gain a trophy, and the other one tells you how long you have until the worm's acid comes after you. The stages can vary from scrolling stages to boss battles. The uvula boss battle was especially challenging: I didn't know they wore headphones. 

    Visually this game is a lot of fun. While some people might think it's a cop out to appreciate it because of a pixel art style, I feel Slime-San pushes itself enough to set itself apart from other pixel style games. The biggest strength of this game is the pacing. While speed running games are not my thing I still felt very motivated to keep progressing. By introducing new mechanics naturally throughout the stages without annoying hand holding, I didn't feel any frustration each time I died. Once my skills improved, it felt great to move on to the next stage. Not a lot of games do the naturally teaching thing anymore. 

    Slime-san
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 9/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The negatives in this game will depend on who you are as a gamer. The soundtrack also tries to capture that bygone age of video game music, yet it feels repetitive and boring. Aside from the boss battle themes, I usually preferred to keep my own music on. The town is cute, but its novelty wears off really fast. Aside from the shop that provides different skins for Slime-san that make his mechanics different, the novelty of the town wore out fast. Any other shop is either for cosmetics or extra challenges. The only thing that kept me interested was the arcade that had different mini games. You have a mode where you can check on his kids while he's trapped in the room though it doesn't add much to the game. While the game's story is simple and clean, the town and the thing with the kids could have been boiled down to cut scenes and menu options. The game may be repetitive for some gamers. 

    Despite the potential negatives, this is a game that can help you improve without holding your hand. File this one down as a give it a try kind of game.

    Aside from the fact you're traveling in worm guts, you won't find much offensive material in this title.  Slime-san is a game that will test you and improve your skills. Reunite children and slime with Slime-san.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Space Overlords
    Developed By: 12 Hit Combo
    Published By: Excalibur
    Released: February 25, 2016
    Available On: Windows, PS4, PS3, VITA
    Genre: Action Adventure
    ESRB Rating: E10
    Number of Players: 1-4 offline, 1-4 online 
    Price: $7.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Excalibur for giving us a review copy! 

    Space Overlords is a video game that puts you in the shoes of one of several characters in your quest to decimate all opposition that stands in your way for interplanetary domination. The game goes through a basic tutorial for each character to get you acquainted with their combat style and feel. It took me a while to realize I actually needed to grab my controller as my keyboard was clearly not working. After getting up and grabbing my PS4 controller, I got to work destroying the civilization that became the focal point of my irritation. After the tutorial you're sent off to kill some more denizens on the next planet.

    The gameplay in the single-player campaign got rather stale afterwards; just stomping around on buildings, tanks, and slamming your robotic fists into jets. The story was so lackluster, in my opinion anyway, that I just started scanning for what kind of words they had used simply for the review on this site. Otherwise, it was something I just wanted to skip through as my character had been placed on one side of the screen while the person he was talking to was on the other. I had gone through a few more missions to see if there was a boss battle or something on the final planet, and there wasn't. I only then found out I had another set of planets to conquer, which was to be expected.

    Space Overlords
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: World builder, simple gameplay, linear story
    Weak Points: Gets boring, repetitive gameplay, forced controller usage
    Moral Warnings: You're destroying entire cultures and civilizations on their home planet to make them surrender and serve you

    I decided to try the planet creator within the system and, honestly, it was the most fun I had with the game. I got to name my own galaxy, I got to build a planet with varying ecosystems and ground types and oceans. I also got to edit the landscape and infrastructure as well as the planet's mission type. It was a very engrossing process that was overall entertaining for me to do; not only did I get to put the work into crafting a planet I got to destroy it as well! The planet builder gives you a wide variety to choose from. You have desert planets, ice planets, water worlds, among others. A drawback to this is that planets in real life aren't necessarily one biome for all. Even within our own solar system we see some sort of variety in the wastelands on Mercury, Mars, and other solid planets within our solar system.

    I hopped onto multiplayer, it was entertaining for a little bit. I died a lot, but I die a lot in other multiplayer games. After I started to get the hang of dealing with other humans I started to get bored again with the lackluster gameplay. It again fell to simple and repetitive controls and motions. I opted to leave and finish up this review having gathered all the necessary material to write it thoroughly.

    Space Overlords
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 9/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 66%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    So there is this whole thing with mass genocide being the primary focus of the game: you rampage about the planet destroying buildings and people for various reasons, but all boiling down to them not wanting to join you. You have to destroy enemy forces, which when you attack them there is visible blood splatter, implying that you did in fact kill them. This game does swear every now and then, but nothing more than "damn" or "hell". All in all, the gratuitous genocide is more-so implied than actually shown. You destroy people's homes as if they were ants in an anthill.

    Its gameplay was certainly a mixed bag; on one hand I had fun crafting my planet from the options they gave me but on the other hand the game itself became rather stale and lackluster overall. I'm sure it's a fun game to some people, and I think if you were looking for something to kill ten minutes you might consider it a nice little time killer. It's a game that is intended to allow people to smash everything in sight, if you're looking for something with more depth this is not the game for you.

    Personally, as a lover of all things mecha, I would not recommend this game.

    -Dabuddah453

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    SpiritSphere
    Developed by: Eendhoorn Games
    Published by: Eendhoorn Games
    Release date: January 23, 2017
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Action
    Number of players: Single-player, 2 or 4 players locally 
    ESRB Rating: not rated
    Price: $7.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Eendhoorn Games for sending us a review code!

    SpiritSphere is an interesting mashup between Zelda and Pong.  Your objective is to get the sphere into your opponent’s goal area.  Instead of using paddles, you can use your character and power-ups to block the sphere from going into your own goal.  

    There are many different characters and they each have different attacks and special abilities.  When you win a match, you’ll earn coins and you’ll lose thirty coins for each loss.  Coins can be spent at the fountain to unlock new characters and spheres.  Many of the spheres are themed like coin and item ones that drop those items more frequently than normal.  There are also elemental ones like the fire sphere that shoots fireballs towards your opponents when hit.  Last but not least is a potato sphere that speeds up as it bounces off the sides.    

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun mashup of two classic games; local mutliplayer
    Weak Points: Can only have an even number of players; no online play
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; magic use; Baphomet is an unlockable character

    If you’re playing by yourself, you can practice your moves against the AI and even try out the squash mode which has completely different rules.  The squash mode is turn based and if you hit the sphere when it’s not your turn, the opponent will get a point.  The goal is to not let the sphere hit the back wall. No matter which single-player game mode you play, the first team to three points wins.  There’s a tournament mode where you face off against ten randomly picked levels and opponents.  There are three difficulty levels to choose from and the AI on easy was challenging enough for me.

    The mandatory tutorial teaches you how to use your primary and special attacks along with the dash ability, which comes in handy to make a last ditch effort from letting the sphere into your goal.  Some levels have grass that you can cut down with your sword and uncover power-ups that will be useful.  There are shields that will have the sphere bounce off of it a few times before going away.  There are bows and bombs that will stun your opponent for a couple of seconds. 

    Accessing the basic tutorial is possible from the game’s main menu, but activating the tutorial on squash mode isn’t easy to do.   I made the mistake of clicking through it too fast and being utterly confused and wondering what I was doing wrong to lose every time.  Since I didn’t want to reset my progress, I scoured the internet and found the gameplay basics on the game’s indiedb update page.  

    SpiritSphere
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Sadly, that’s not the only time I was confused while playing this game.  A couple of my kids wanted to join in and play a multiplayer game with me.  Connecting various gamepads worked well enough, but for the life of us, we couldn’t figure out why the match wouldn’t start.  We selected our characters, the map, the sphere type, the number of rounds we wanted to play, and then tried every button combination we could think of to start the game.  As it turns out, the reason we could not start the match was because we had an odd number of players and this game requires either two or four players to start the match.  There is no explanation or an option to add an AI player for those who have an odd number of players.  

    SpiritSphere is relatively clean for children to play.  There is some magic, but it’s pretty tame.  Unfortunately, in the latest update, the Baphomet character became available which is a goat headed idol often associated with occultism.

    If you don’t mind those issues and enjoy classic games like Zelda and Pong then SpiritSphere is worth playing.  The single-player mode is fun, but multiplayer is where it’s at if you have an even number of players to go against.  As of this review, there is no online game play, but there are several Steam achievements if you’re into those.  The price is a reasonable $7.99, but it has been on sale before and is worth keeping an eye on.

  •  

    Developed by: Rare
    Published by: Nintendo For: GameCube
    Learning curve: 10 min.
    Rated: T for Animated , Mild

    Imagine playing a game where you get to be a little fox-man, who has a ship and a crew of other animal-people. You return to the Lylat System after an eight-year anniversary of the mighty Andross. Your friend Falco has left your crew, leaving you with a crew of only 6 total. However, while doing a routine patrol, you receive a distress signal from Dinosaur Planet. Some lame excuse or another is made to make the legendary Star Fox get out of his arwing for once, just to look around. This is when Krystal is introduced, a game character who kinda looks like a blue fox. Krystal is trying to save the planet from the evil General Scales, an imposing lizard guy who could bite anyone\'s dad in half, no matter who else\'s dad he\'s bigger than. Then imagine an army of evil dinosaurs called SharpClaw, a whole bunch of dinosaurs right out of Land Before Time, and a cool staff with magical powers. You have to use this staff to save all of the different dinosaur tribes from the tyrrany of General Scales and his Sharp Claw. Now, imagine it as if it were real. Yes. It\'s that good.

    Graphics

    Nothing short of beautiful. Fox\'s tail has individual hairs that react separately from the rest of his tail, the water effects will blow you away, every detail in the game is paid attention to. You know how in games, when the game goes to a movie, the movie generally looks a lot better than the actual game play? Um, ya, there is no difference. The game also supports progressive scanning, and if you don\'t know what that means, don\'t worry about it. Just know that it\'s cool. The constant changing from night to day to night is a little annoying, but when it does this, the colors of everything outside change accordingly. It truly is amazing. Shadows... particle effects... reflections... refractions... almost.....too.......much!!!!!

    Game Play

    You actually start out in control of Krystal, the foxy (forgive the pun) blue e from Cerinia, a planet which was doomed long ago. This is the first of not enough flying missions, but there are still quite a few. Krystal\'s magical staff is her sole weapon, but she is adept at using its powers. Of course, no matter how good with it she happens to be, she looses it like first thing, so don\'t be all excited. Then she gets imprisoned in this big crystal thingy, and soon after you get control of Fox as he finds the staff in the Thorn Tail Tribe\'s (anklosauri) village. Yay for you. Still, all great books and video games start out kinda slow. There are great puzzles in this, so stick with it if at first you get a little frustrated. Also, with Fox having the staff, you can do some really awesome combos. Like! you can jump up in the air, slash down, roll to the side avoiding a swing from the Sharp Claw you are fighting, stab him in the gut, twirl your staff, hitting him maybe 15 times, then finish him off with a charge of the staff and smack him in the face. There are others, too, and it doesn\'t take a lot of effort to pull off other ones. The characters are not flat, the plot intriguing, the visual glory invigorating, it is just an all-around fun game to play. Replay value is rather small, though. The ending is rather disappointing, too, however beautiful. I thought so anyway, but most people won\'t, especially Fox fans.

    Control

    About what you might expect for a 3rd person adventure, but the first person view has a surprisingly high sensitivity, although I would change the auto-centering. You might be able to, I\'m just too lazy t o try. Think about Zelda for 64 with a big staff instead of a sword. The C-buttons are your inventory, which you can set to the Y button for quick access. When you slowly walk up to a ledge, you fall and catch yourself by one hand, but if you run you can jump. The staff abilities are the funniest part of the game, and you can use all the really fun ones anytime in the game, but there are a few that are specific to certain kinds of puzzles. You also have a little Triceratops following you around the whole game, except towards the end and in the beginning. His name is tricky, and is the most annoying part of the game, however he is useful. You can tell Tricky to do things like dig, breathe fire, or find secrets. You can also hit him with your staff a lot, which is fun because he eventually spits fire at you. You can also get a ball to play catch with him, but ! it has no purpose but to have fun and change his color. If you\'re all into the aesthetics, ball away.

    Sound

    Ummmmmmmmm, it\'s good I guess. I\'m not really one for the sound of games, I usually listen to the radio instead while I\'m playing. The sound effects are good, and the music is very Nintendo, but it didn\'t make me turn down the FM. However, one cool thing is that the dinosaurs have their own language, which is explained in the book, and it is kinda cool to hear them speak it. The language is just a mixing up of the english alphabet. Still, it is cool.

    Appropriate?

    Totally family friendly I think. The only questionability I found that some MIGHT object too is : Krystal\'s clothes, use of magic, scary-ness of the RedEye Tribe (for younger viewers who couldn\'t handle Jurasic Park). That\'s seriously about it. The rating says fake or something, but I honestly don\'t remember any at all. Unless I missed something at the end.

    Final Ratings

    Game Play: B+ Sound: C Graphics: A+ Appropriateness: A- Control: A

    Overall: 86%

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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