Spectrum (Switch Review) – It’s a Blob of Fun

The Switch is rapidly growing into the to-go console for platform games, and Spectrum is one of them. Set in an abstract world of vibrant colors and shifting shapes, players can enjoy eighty levels of pure, zen-like platforming. The game has four ‘worlds’, each with their own unique environments and obstacles. The minimalist art style was pleasing, but the color scheme a little too glaring for my tastes. It does improve as the game progresses, the palette shifting to darker colors like purple or orange.

Beginning levels are a cakewalk, training wheels to get unfamiliar players accustomed to the controls. It’s a little tedious if you’re used to platform games, but they’re short enough that you won’t get bored. That said, levels gradually become more challenging, some even requiring multiple runs to complete. I didn’t expect the spike in difficulty, but it’s not unwelcome. Compared to the starting levels, things get more fun from the second world onward. Depending on your tastes, this is either a good or bad thing.

The player has three objectives. Finish the level within the time limit, remain unharmed, and gather all the orbs. Fulfilling the objects is entirely optional, and there is zero punishment for not completing one, or all three. If you’re competitive and want a rival to outscore, you can do so by checking the leaderboards. For players who aren’t interested in speed runs, Spectrum also allows you to take as much time as you need to beat a level. I thought this was a nice touch, neither completionists nor casual gamers will lose out.

The gameplay is fun and annoying in equal amounts. You control a wispy, three-eyed tadpole that can jump and dive indefinitely. Navigating levels tests the player’s reflex and sense of timing with ever-shifting death traps in the form of brightly colored platforms. Anything colored can harm you. Dull colors take one-third of your health, while bright ones’ end in instant death. In addition, collecting orbs will replenish your health bar, and this can alleviate tense situations if your blob is one touch away from extinction.

Level design is decent with some repeating gimmicks. Despite this, each level has enough differences that the game doesn’t feel too repetitive. There were platform puzzles I really enjoyed, where I needed to keep my three-eyed blob suspended in mid-air as I sped through the space between rippling, revolving patterns.

If there’s one thing I found lacking, it’s the music. I think the game could have benefited from a more varied soundtrack, but as it was, I didn’t find any songs particularly impactful. They suited the aesthetic but started to get on my nerves if I failed a level one too many times.

All in all, Spectrum is a competent platformer, a good choice for people looking for something to tide them over before the next big release. However, the Switch’s eshop price might be a problem if you’re on a budget. If you want a meaty, challenging platformer with a plot, this game will likely disappoint. But if you’re interested in an entry-level platform game with tight controls and don’t mind dipping into your wallet, then Spectrum might interest you.

Gates of Horn and Ivory – What If…

What would your life be like if you ended up in a coma right now? Would your family be the same, or would they be changed? Gates of Horn and Ivory is a simple game that takes you through Jack’s immerse experience in his comatose state after a car accident driving his wife and daughter to the hospital. Jack ends up in a dream-like world where he runs around searching for sparks of light to guide him out of his state. If he collects all the sparks of a specific color, he can gain new abilities which are needed to wake him from this nightmare. Meanwhile, his family still lives on, and he knows because he finds items that are scattered around the world, small clips of his wife talking to him, explaining to him highlights of important events. 

The game is filled with numerous puzzles which can only be solved through working out riddles and finding hidden clues throughout the world. Some problems are much more difficult than others, and some are simple enough that you don’t even need to find the solution to beat them. These puzzles unlock new areas and allow you to see more flashes of light which will, in turn, unlock more mysteries.

The beauty of this game is it isn’t just limited to the story. The artwork is impressive; awe-inspiring can only describe the background. The fluid movements of the dangling chains and moving steps work perfectly in time with the rhythm of the music as well, very light and peaceful, that can also have moments of suspense mixed randomly in.

Gates of Horn and Ivory is a beautiful game that teaches a valuable lesson about life and how we seem to always forget about how magical it is. Also, the devs have decided to have a small contest with the game’s release. There will be a speedrun competition starting on September 7th until the 30th, during this time the game will be on for a 30~% Discount and you can submit runs to speedrun.com to enter the contest. The best run on each category will receive a key for the game to give to a friend, and anyone who participates will receive 50~% off of their next game, TBA this year.

Yodanji (Switch Review) – Bite Sized Supernatural Fun

Yodanji is a dungeon crawler rogue-like that’s perfect for short breaks. Select your Yokai, a term referring to traditional Japanese monsters of supernatural origin, and descend into a brutal every changing dungeon to face off against vicious monsters.

You get exactly what the game says on its tin. A challenging but straightforward RPG that’s great in small doses, the perfect game to pick up and play when you’re suddenly hit with a bout of restlessness. There are three modes, Yokai Hunt, Yokai Picnic and Challenge Dungeon. There’s a tutorial mode where you learn the basics, the ins, and outs of dungeon crawling. Regulars of the genre might skip it, but I recommend playing it as the game’s UI doesn’t explain much at first glance.

In Yokai Hunt, your goal is to go through the randomly generated dungeon to collect three scrolls to obtain a new monster for your collection. Once you unlock a new Yokai, you can use it in your next attempt to tackle the dungeons. Yokai Picnic is a slightly more accessible version, useful if you want less of a nail-biting experience, or want to complete your monster collection just a little quicker.

I spent the most time with Yokai Hunt. I’m one of those players who obsessively lust after completing a collection, so it didn’t come as a surprise. I had lots of fun trawling through the depressing, cavernous dungeon floors, either carelessly exploring the environment or cautiously creeping to the next room, hoping to find loot and not the angry maw of a disgruntled monster. Procedural generation gives the game good replayability; you never know what you’d encounter or experience in each run. Scrolls also provide lore for different types of Yokai, nuggets of information hidden for the player to discover.

The Challenge Dungeon is a mode where your playthrough has the potential to be never-ending, finishing only if your Yokai dies. I felt like the encounter rate was significantly higher in this mode compared to the others. Everything else is identical to Yokai Hunt, however. Leveling up is done by killing a Hitodama, a spirit, giving you points to unlock skills unique to each Yokai. The game typically has one in the room you first spawn in, a nice boost which levels the playing field against other monsters.

Yodanji is challenging. Not only because of how difficult it is to kill monsters, but also due to the hunger mechanic and the fact that finding good loot is extremely luck based. As your Yokai explores the dungeon, it gets hungry. If it doesn’t eat for a short period, it goes from Peckish to Famished. The punishment for having a hungry monster is steep, energy and health will remain as it is and will not be replenished. This can be a killing blow, especially if you lack items to get rid of this debuff.

I think this mechanic adds an unnecessary amount of pressure; it’s always a rush to find loot because you’d never know if the next few levels are completely devoid of items. I typically did find enough food or items for my Yokai, but there were several playthroughs where I couldn’t find anything at all, leading to my unfortunate death. There are no alternate tactics to overcome this, relying on luck is all you can do.

The UI can also be finicky. When you unlock a skill, you have to use the directional controls of your d-pad to use them. It’s a little troublesome, primarily because after you unlock them, the only way to identify them is by the icons shown at the corner of the screen. When you’re battling against another monster, missteps are easy to make. There were quite a number of times I pressed the wrong button and ended up using the wrong skill in the heat of the moment. I get mildly annoyed when it happens, but it isn’t that big a deal once you get used to the game. It’s easily circumvented if you keep your wits about you.

Overall I think Yodanji is an excellent offering for its price. It scratched my itch for a dungeon crawler, and though it isn’t a meaty RPG, it does an excellent job of keeping you occupied for a short while. Having it on the Switch is exceptional as well since the game can be enjoyed in short bursts. An exciting indie title that’s worth trying out if you’re a fan of Japanese themed games or Japanese games in general.

Dead Cells (Switch Review) – A Definite Must Buy

Back in January, I reviewed the early access version of Dead Cells. At that point in time, the groundwork had already been set, the game already boasting of addictive combat and a beautiful art style. The only thing giving me grief was the minor bugs and crashes that plagued my time with it. Despite hearing of numerous early access horror stories where games released unfinished, bugged beyond repair, there was no doubt in my mind Dead Cells would not be one of them. The problems I’d listed would be fixed upon the full release, and I was definitely correct about that.

What renewed my excitement for the game was news of a Nintendo Switch port. Fast forward to Mid-August when the physical release hit the shops in my area, I managed to snag a copy since I pre-ordered. After playing nearly ten hours on the Switch, I’ve completely fallen in love with the game again. The ability to pick up and play whenever I have free time is such a treat for a game like this. Dying is just practice for the next run and I easily get sucked into playing longer than I would on the PC.

In Dead Cells, you play a prisoner who cannot die. Your background is shrouded in mystery, you do not know how you came to be or what your goal is. As you try to escape prison and fight your way through monster-infested towns, you’ll slowly discover what happened to the denizens once living there. When I played the game during early access, there wasn’t much of a story. Even after it’s full release the story elements are still extremely light, told through clues you discover in various levels.

If you’re looking for a epic story or evocative tale with brilliant characters, look elsewhere. The focus of the game is ultimately its gameplay. However, I’m a fan of this style of storytelling, where the player uncovers parts of the mystery piece by piece and slowly puts them together. Things get clearer the longer you play. Different areas have different clues, they revolve around how the land was infected by a Malaise, documenting the King’s descent into madness.

The port is fantastic. I was worried how it would hold up, but it turned out better than I imagined. It’s not perfect, there are moments when the game visibly lags and stutters, but those moments last one to two seconds at most. It occurs in places one would expect – like when entering a boss room, or when you face off against a horde of enemies and use multiple items. That’s the price of portability, but it’s one I’m willing to pay.

Graphics wise, details aren’t as crisp, but the art remains lively and gorgeous. Most importantly, combat and gameplay are still buttery smooth. Controls are tight and responsive. I can dodge a hail of arrows and leap to the next platform without missing a beat, then leap back and freeze enemies before turning them into crushed ice. Dead Cells remains challenging especially when you first start out. Getting into the groove of things takes time, and many many deaths. My advice is to stick with it and try not to get frustrated, if you fail, put down the game and try again later. Blindly rampaging never gets you far.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with weapons and skills. With the ‘Cells’ you collect from enemies, you can unlock weapons that are put into rotation you can discover during each playthrough. My go-to style when I play is to have at least one item that lets me freeze enemies in place and another that deals passive damage when I can’t attack. This works exceptionally well for bosses. Their attacks can be quick and vicious, you can’t always depend on your main weapon to deal damage or you’d be rolling and ducking for at least an hour.

Investing the ‘Cells’ into upgrading health flasks and gold reserves is also important. It is a tremendous help in the earlier stages when you’re still fumbling about, extending your playthrough for a little longer. Collecting Scrolls can upgrade your character’s stats: Brutality, Tactics, and Survival. After completing each level, you can choose to get additional skills in a safe room to further your character build. Enemies seem to scale to your level, meaning the more scrolls you collect, the tougher they get. Translation, don’t get cocky because you will get your ass whooped.

The game’s procedural generation is a double-edged sword. Each time you die, you spawn at the start of the dungeon and have to fight your way through the same areas and bosses. Though levels aren’t the same, it can start to feel repetitive once you get several hours in. This feeling can get especially keen if playing for several hours in a row. If you’re a gamer who doesn’t like grinding for gear or loot, Dead Cells might test your patience. Still, the addictive nature of its combat keeps making me come back and it might be the same for you.

Overall, this is a fantastic port of a phenomenal game. Dead Cells should have a permanent place in every Switch owner’s library.

Descend into Dungeons – UnExplored

Descend into the depths of the Dungeon of Doom and complete your quest: steal the Amulet of Yendor from the fearsome dragon and make it out alive. Make your way deeper into the dungeon while fighting off the monsters and creeps that live there. Gather jewels and artifacts son your way to become a wealthy adventurer upon success, or to become a treasure trove for the next adventurer who stumbles upon your corpse. UnExplored is a roguelike game that makes good use of the term, with the minimal armor and slight movements, you truly feel like your life’s on the line in every room.

Right from the start you are given different options on game mode, anything from the basic easy/medium/hard, to a gold rush, a creature killing, and a timed mode. The games different modes all have high score boards which show the farthest you’ve gone each time and ranking how much gold you’ve returned with. Once you start the game, you are greeted by a shop menu, I recommend buying a couple items here, you’ll have slightly less gold coming out of the dungeon, but while inside it will help tremendously.

Once inside the dungeon the only ways out are to survive or to die, preferably the former. You will have to explore large caverns in order to find exits leading down and items to help you later on. Some of these items are weapons, others could be mysterious scrolls and potions that will not reveal themselves until you use one, some are good, like magic mapping which reveals the entire map, some are not good, like pain, which can deal enough damage to kill you twice over.

The enemies you will come across are not going to be easy, although most will go down with just a single hit, some, like the ogre, will be a brutal battle where you need to move in to strike and then retreat so as not to get hit by its enormous club.

The game has a good story to follow through the books you can collect and read throughout the dungeon, but it also has some very interesting special modes which enrich the story even more. In the timed mode, you are tasked with bringing down an evil cult and you must do it before they summon an ancient demon, your time starts as soon as you spawn and then it’s a race to find the exits and defeat the evils below.

Aside from gameplay, the graphics are very good and fit the theme of the game well, they are very simple and allow for a lot of imagination on what certain things can be. The music in the game is also very peaceful, it is soft but can pick up very quickly when enemies are nearby.

Unexplored is an amazing game and I highly recommend picking it up on the switch with a link placed below, it is also available on steam, which I will also link below. However, this review has been done for the switch version, if there are any differences between the switch and the steam versions I do not know about them.

 

 

Nintendo Store

Steam

Devious Dungeon (Switch Review) – A Knight’s adventure

Devious Dungeon is a slick, medieval focused action platformer, with five unique dungeons and complete level randomization. The player assumes the role of a Knight, sent to dispatch the monstrosities that have invaded the catacombs beneath the kingdom at the order of the King. Overcome fowl beasts and misshapen monstrosities to become the true champion!

Platform games are tricky things. On one hand, there are games which grab my attention and leave me hooked. On the other, there are those which leave me stewing in misery and never feel fun, no matter how much I play. I’m happy to report that Devious Dungeon fits into the former category instead of the latter. My time spent with the game was short but it satisfied my craving for an action platformer with its tight controls, cool pixel art style, and just the right amount of challenge.

It is a delicate balance to keep levels hard yet fulfilling, I find this holds true especially for platformers. Depending on the developer’s vision, the act of keeping players from throwing up their hands in an impotent rage could be considered a feat in itself. If you’re looking for a hardcore no holds barrelled platformer, Devious Dungeon won’t be for you. However, if you haven’t played any sort of platformers or dislike extremely challenging games, I’d say this is right up your alley.

There are 65 levels for you to test your platforming mettle. Level randomization ensures each level will be unique, peppered with a nice variety of enemies such as Goblins, Skeletons, or Executioners with a wickedly sharp axe. The goal of each level is simple: Find a key to unlock the portal in order to progress. There is an incentive to go exploring, you might luck out and find enough treasure to make a hoarding dragon jealous, or an item which gives you a nice EXP boost.

The game’s level randomization is not without its cons. It seems like a great idea on paper, but it doesn’t work out so well in reality. There are five kinds of worlds a level can be set in, differing in scenery and enemy types. There is an element of surprise when you don’t know what kind of world you’d be thrown into next.

Unfortunately, I would often find myself trawling the same looking levels for fifteen to twenty minutes. The setting of an icy dungeon teeming with enemies feels thrilling at first, but when the subsequent levels consist of the same tiles, decorations, and enemies, it’s hard not to grow weary. The game tries to break up the monotony with Bosses, but it doesn’t quite erase the dissatisfaction of playing through four or five same-y levels.

But the game’s shortcomings are minor. Something I really liked in Devious Dungeon, was the upgrades system. It’s rare for a platformer to give me solid a sense of progression but that was exactly what this game did. The more gold/treasure you collect, the more equipment you can purchase. Along with potions and amulets, armors and weapons also permanently increase your character’s stats.

Other than the ultimate goal of reaching the 65th level, there are quests in place to keep your coin purse filled, rewarding you for say, ‘Killing 5 Goblins’ or ‘Finding 2 keys’. The rewards make it easier for players to continuously upgrade to newer, better equipment without needing to slog for it.

Devious Dungeon is definitely a must own for any Switch owner. It is the perfect game to occupy yourself between big releases and is worth every dollar. If you don’t have a Switch, fret not, because the game is also available for the PS4 and PlayStation Vita. There’s no reason not to buy it!

Burying the Dead – Graveyard Keeper

Ever wonder what it would be like to be in complete control of a graveyard? How it would feel to have to prepare the bodies and to eat chunks of their remains? Not the last part? Well with Graveyard Keeper you can do all of the above! Graveyard Keeper is a management sim game where you are the person in charge of running and taking care of a medieval kingdom, but it isn’t by choice. Your character was on his way home one night when he was struck by a car and killed, when he awoke he was in a medieval land and was told he would be in charge of the graveyard. After that it delves into how to maintain your graveyard, how the bishop will be ranking your graveyard, and the town nearby where you can have new shovels made, or get a drink at the bar.

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The game is energy based, meaning any action you do will cost you energy, but the good news is that you can regain the energy fairly easily. All you need to do to regain energy is cook some food, once the food is cooked and eaten you can get back to burying corpses. How you corpse part works is a little odd though, you are brought a corpse to bury, but first you have to bring it to the morgue and do simple surgery on it (remove parts of the flesh) and only then can you bury it in a grave. The bishop will visit you from time to time and give you a “style rating” on the graveyard, your style rating determines the types of graves and decorations you can have in your graveyard, which in turn raises the style rating even more.

The games tutorial is somewhat lacking in information, it gives you all the knowledge you should need to play the game, but doesn’t go very in depth on how to apply that knowledge. But aside from that there should be no trouble with learning how to play the game with no understanding of how management sims actually work. The music and sound effects in the game are also very good, they fit the theme and are quite appealing to listen to. As for the graphics, they chose to use a type of pixelated graphics, not so far as to be 8-bit, but not a stunning realism. That works out for it though as it allows for you to focus more on the matters happening in the game as oppose to the graphics accompanied by them.

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All in all the game is fun to play and it has a good feel to it. I hope to see a lot of excitement following this game release.

Get the game here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/599140/Graveyard_Keeper/

Grab your kids! – 60 Seconds

60-second warning before the bombs drop! Hurry- grab your kids, grab your wife, they’re dropping bombs up in here! Quick, grab some water, grab some canned food, grab your grandad’s rifle. You’ll be dead in a week if you don’t! No time for hesitation! Where is Timmy?!?! He is in the garage, throw him into the blast shelter. We need…. Bombs about to drop! Quick in the shelter or I’ll be toast as well. It is a good thing this was just a test, there were so many more things I could have grabbed. Well, that is until the tutorial is over. Can you survive a nuclear catastrophe?

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When a real bomb drops, who knows who will make it? You may not even get your whole family to a place of safety. Now not only would you have to survive in a cramped metal coffin, you’d have to deal with the loss of a loved one. In one minute, could you have all of your needed supplies to a place of survival? What do you grab? Even the simplest thing could lead to your demise, like a map. I mean in today’s world of smartphones, who has a map? With all these different things on your mind, “60 seconds” brings these aspects into a presentable format. A scary one at that.

Day one. All of us made it down to the shelter. In a distant life, we barely remember stocking this place with a radio and some other gadgets. It smells like mold and it’s tight. Some of us will be sleeping on cans tonight but at least we’re all safe. We barely had time to grab all of our necessities, but we have some cans of food and some bottled water. No need to worry about any robbers or the like, we have grandad’s shotgun. Now, at this point, the game has changed from a 3D grab everything run and gun to a still scene that is only narrated through a journal. The story is what makes this game replayable.

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However, after the initial rush is over it can be pretty dull after more than one play-through. The concept is great, attempting to survive in your fallout shelter. The rules are simple as well. Stay alive, and keep at least one adult alive. So in some regard, it is more worthwhile to send your children out to the waste because there is no penalty for losing them. If your adults die, then you lose. This aspect of the game can be pretty unrealistic because, in my mind, I wouldn’t want to lose my children.  Also, if you haven’t grabbed enough food, don’t fret, send someone to find some.

You can send one person at a time on an adventure that you don’t get to see but is narrated by your journal, and they can scavenge for supplies. The realism of the wear and tear on these members are shown when they return. There is also noticeable changes in members of your bunker as they need water and food. You’ll go days and days just continuing to maintain your rations, and hope that the military will save you. The radio and the map are the most important things for this to be successful. So which is it, will the military save you, or will you die?

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Marie’s Room – A Tale of Two Friends

Have you ever walked into a room and been immediately hit with a memory of a past event taking place in that very spot? Was it a good memory? A happy one? Or maybe a dark, and horrific one? The game Marie’s Room takes your character, Kelsey, through a memory trip twenty years into the past. A time when her only fear was her friend’s feelings. This title is a first-person game that takes place entirely in one house, or more specifically, one room. The room belonged to your best friend, Marie. Your goal was to locate an old journal but the nostalgia brings you back in time with eloquent visions. You begin to see her room as it was 20 years ago on the night of a disturbing occurrence.

As you walk around the stunningly created room interactable items start to make themselves known. Each item contains its own part to the grand-story and will help you better understand the troubles that Marie and Kelsey went through. The game creates a very deep depth to the story, giving even the most indistinct of objects meaning, something that we, as a society, don’t really do. As the plot progresses you can tell that something isn’t quite right. Masterfully created, the story starts to build with small hints that keep you on the edge of your seat while fitting pieces together in your head.

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Overall, the game only takes about a half-hour to complete. It’s a very short, but very compelling game that grasps you in right from the start and keeps hold of you until the very end. Aside from the story, there are many smaller details that were put into the game to further deepen and enrichen the story. Some examples being the empty bottle on the windowsill or even the random book on the table. Marie’s Room urges you to seek out those small, inconspicuous items.

Marie’s Room was created by a team of seven people, which is a spectacular feat. The story feels genuine and the characters are relatable. The graphics in the game are proportionate to the story-type. The items that can be interacted with blend in, which was a design choice that I found perfect for building the world. You can even hear faint noises between dialogue. Small things you would hear from a person shuffling through a room. This game is perfect for anyone who loves indie games and is ready for an amazing, heart-tugging story.

You can get this game free here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/648390/Maries_Room/

You can also check out the development process here:
https://www.kennyguillaume.com/blog/