enfrdeitptrues

Platformer

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    A Hat in Time
    Developed by: Gears for Breakfast
    Published by: Humble Bundle
    Release date: October 5, 2017
    Available on: PC, Xbox One
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: Up to two
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence, alcohol and tobacco reference
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Gears for Breakfast for sending us this game to review!

    A Hat in Time was successfully Kickstarted in 2013 by raising nearly $300,000 which is substantially more than its original goal of $30,000. Because of the huge fundraising success, many stretch goals are available in the release version including split screen co-op, new game +, and two bonus chapters that will arrive later as free DLC.

    The main character in this game is dubbed “Hat Kid” because she really doesn’t say much and she wears hats. Each hat she can equip grants her an ability. For example, the starting top hat will show her where her next objective is. This is handy when looking for someone of importance or locating one of the missing timepieces needed to get Hat Kid’s ship running again. The five worlds currently available are sizable and offer plenty of opportunities for exploration. Why focus on the storyline when there are so many areas to explore and orbs to collect?

    Just in case you're wondering, the story is pretty basic. Hat Kid was peacefully flying in space when a mafia thug demanded that her ship pay a toll. When she refused, her ship got damaged and lost its fuel, which comes in the form of shiny hourglasses. These hourglasses landed on various planets and are quickly picked up and cherished by the inhabitants. Hat Kid must go through many obstacles to collect all of her missing timepieces.

    A Hat in Time
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Charming and fun platformer game
    Weak Points: Game didn't launch properly one time
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence with some blood; gambling; drinking; smoking; ghosts; minor language (sucks)

    You’ll find many green orbs scattered around and they are used as currency to buy various badges that grant Hat Kid unique abilities. One of the badges I bought drew in orbs automatically instead of requiring her to make physical contact with them. Because a Kickstarter goal was met, there’s a voice mumble badge available as well. I enjoyed the voice acting and didn’t see a need to change it. The background music is composed by Grant Kirkhop who scored Banjo-Kazooie, one of the games that inspired A Hat in Time.

    Other inspirations for this game include Super Mario 64 and Psychonauts. Like these classics, Hat Kid will have to climb, jump, double jump, and perform all sorts of maneuvers to survive the various enemies and bosses. In the beginning, Hat Kid can only jump and then attack while in the air. It doesn’t take long for her to be reunited with her trusty umbrella to whack some sense into mafia thugs and other bad guys. Some enemies require combo attacks and the bosses take many hits before they go down. Other enemies require stealth, so you'll have to stay out of their vision zones.

    The boss battles are pretty intense and their attacks get harder to dodge as they get lower on health. Unfortunately, Hat Kid doesn’t have many hit points. Thankfully, health drops occur in the battle if you can get to them fast enough. Health orbs are available throughout the levels as well in case some of the unfriendly inhabitants get the better of you. There are other collectibles like vouchers which are required for opening up safes with goodies inside of them. Treasure chests are easier to open if you can find them.

    A Hat in Time
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 79%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Each level also has some relics in them. If you combine the related relics in the space ship's hub, you'll unlock some new areas with time pieces to explore. The hub is very colorful and with all of the gadgets, it looks like a child designed it.

    Visually, this game is so darn cute. The worlds are both colorful and well designed. The bright visuals are bound to attract the attention of kids and, for the most part, this game is safe for them to play. Like many classic platformers, there is cartoon violence. There is a crime scene that shows a puddle of blood though. One of the levels requires infiltrating a mafia establishment, which serves alcohol and promotes gambling. If Hat Kid has the proper currency, she can gamble too. Some of the characters smoke. Lastly, there is a haunted forest level with ghosts in it.

    If you like classic platformer games, A Hat in Time is worth checking out. Don’t let the childish atmosphere fool you, this game provides plenty of challenge and even more opportunities to explore. The co-op mode is great if you have a friend nearby to join in the adventure. The Steam version will have user created content available through the Workshop. The asking price is $29.99 unless you were lucky enough to back it for $10-15 on Kickstarter.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    A Knight's Quest
    Developed by: Sky 9 Games
    Published by: Curve Digital
    Release date: October 10, 2019
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle Action Platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence, language, crude humor
    Price: $24.99

    Thank you Curve Digital for sending us this game to review!

    A Knight’s Quest is a throwback to classic action platformers from the nineties. The dialogue has many popular words like "radical", "bodacious", "tubular" which were used by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Although this game is colorful and has a pleasing art style, it’s not nearly as family-friendly as the Legend of Zelda games it’s modeled after. Sadly, it has other flaws that take away from the fun factor as well.

    You play as Rusty, a clumsy adventurer with a metal arm. On his latest adventure, he unsealed a crystal overlord that’s now hovering over his village. The mayor asks Rusty to locate the legendary heroes that specialize in wielding various elemental powers. As Rusty seeks them out, he will learn to master the wind, fire, ice, and time-stopping powers needed to undo the mess he created in the first place.

    Although this is an open world game, there are many inaccessible areas. One of which is a slime trader who will unlock inventory spaces for slimes that you can collect on your adventure. Until you meet him, prepare for not having enough space to carry many vital resources. In an attempt to free up space, I accidentally sold my pickaxe. Resources are also in short supply so be sure to destroy every barrel, crate, and clay pottery piece that you come across as they may have coins or other handy items inside.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Colorful visuals; funny dialogue; good background music
    Weak Points: Some dungeons are poorly lit; inconsistent controls when it comes to using the rail system; not enough inventory slots or resources available; not much of a gaming community to reach out to if you get stuck
    Moral Warnings: Bloodless violence; undead enemies; elemental magic use; language (d*mn, *ss); crude humor

    Like many platformers, you’ll have to jump onto and across various ledges, rocks, and columns. Not all of them are stationary either. Mastering wall running is another requirement. Later in the game, you’ll acquire some boots that allow you to glide on rails. The rails often have obstacles that you’ll have to jump over. Failing to do so may cause Rusty to lose his balance and fall off.

    Fortunately, when Rusty takes a spill he’ll be respawned (health bar permitting) with a little less health than before. Some of the rails have multiple paths and require you to jump between them to continue on your away. What should normally be a simple jump is way more complicated in this game. Often times Rusty would jump past the rails and fall to his doom. The respawns are generous until your character runs out health. When your character dies, he will respawn at the beginning of the area and any items collected since then will have to be re-acquired.

    Healing wells are nice, but not free. Thankfully, they can be used indefinitely free of charge after the initial fee. Until you leave an area, any defeated foes will remain that way. Unlike The Surge games, using a healing well will not respawn the enemies.

    There’s a good amount of variety when it comes to the monsters you’ll have to fight. Many of them are pallet swapped and only differ in color and elemental weaknesses. There are slimes, worms, skeletons, octopuses/squids, and bigger variants of them all. The bosses are pretty intimidating too. They’ll have different phases with a regenerated health bar. Sometimes enemies will have a barrier around them that needs to be disabled via elemental magic before you can do damage to them.

    As Rusty ventures out to find the legendary heroes, he will learn how to harness their powers himself! With each new elemental ability learned, Rusty will have to backtrack to formerly visited regions to see previously inaccessible areas. There are many timed challenges along the way that are very unforgiving and will take a lot of patience and perfection to complete. If you’re not a fan of being timed, you won’t like these very much.

     

    A Knight's Quest
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Races are also available and though they are timed, they usually have a little more leeway. Meteorite ore is given as a reward and it’s needed for upgrading your weapons at the town blacksmith. Townsfolk are not very chatty and often have repetitive bottled phrases like “I’m a slave to capitalism.” Quest related NPCs have funnier dialogue that’s often laced with curse words or sexual overtones. I have seen words like d*mn and *ss used.

    On a quest to assist four incapacitated guards, two of them had crude expressions. One of them complained that the heat was making him sweat off his “giggle berries.” Another guard was completely frozen and after thawing him out with a bomb, remarked that the frozen state gave him “shrinkage.”

    There are some mushrooms that will allow you to bounce off of them to access different areas. Before they let you bounce off of them they require some doodie/fertilizer to help them grow. Battling enemies involves violence, but thankfully it’s bloodless.

    As you attack enemies and talk to NPCs, they’ll mutter gibberish. The background music is much higher quality and fitting to the environments you’re in.

    For the most part, A Knight’s Quest ran fine for me. However, I have experienced several glitches that killed off my character on multiple occasions. If Rusty gets stuck, he may be killed off and will respawn nearby. I’ve also had a fighting glitch happen mid-battle and lost some health as a result.

    In the end, A Knight’s Quest is a fun but flawed game. When you know where you’re going, this game can be fun. If you get stuck, there are not many active online communities to reach out to for help. The game controls are disappointing and should have been fine-tuned a bit more before releasing. If you’re looking for a Zelda-like game for your children, you’ll want to look elsewhere as this title has crude language and juvenile humor.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    A Story About My Uncle
    Developed By: Gone North Games
    Published By: Coffee Stain Publishing
    Released: May 28, 2014
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: First-person platformer
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $12.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    A Story About My Uncle starts like most walking simulators: you plod slowly forward, listening to a narrator set the stage of the plot – in this case, it’s a father telling his daughter a bedtime story about looking for his lost uncle Fred. You can stop to take a peek at the surroundings, interact with a map for more details, but ultimately you’re on slow rails the whole time. You pick up a suit, find a transporter pad, and interact with the switch.

    Then, unlike most walking simulators, the video game starts.

    A Story About My Uncle (ASAMU for short) is an atmospheric, exploration-heavy first-person platformer. The “adventure suit” you pick up in the misleading prologue contains your main movement means: while you can jump normally with space and sprint with shift, holding right-click will charge a jump – releasing it while walking or standing will shoot you skyward, and releasing while sprinting will catapult you forward. A few moments into the first level, you’ll pick up the first of three power crystals, activating the suit’s grapple beam; left-clicking will latch the beam onto almost any surface and draw you towards it. Depending on the number of crystals you’ve found, you can have one to three uses of the beam before you have to land and recharge. You’ll also eventually find a pair of rocket boots, giving you a double-jump of sorts, propelling you in whatever direction you’re looking at.

    A Story About My Uncle
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Responsive, fast platforming; introduces new mechanics each level; achievements add longevity
    Weak Points: Story mode is short and easy; unskippable cutscenes; can clip through and get stuck in the landscape in areas
    Moral Warnings: Some science-vs.-spirituality themes in the plot

    While first-person platforming can be a huge disaster, ASAMU is as fluid as it gets. The controls are intuitive and responsive (and, in the case of keyboard and mouse, rebindable), the abilities are fast and intuitive, and you always feel in charge of your actions. It does take some getting used to – the grapple beam always pulls you toward your target, so you can’t just swing on a floating rock forever – but once you stop bashing your head on the scenery, you’ll be flying through the stages. You have a large amount of air control as well, turning the potentially-janky first-person platforming into a forgiving, if not slightly handholdy, affair. With the power crystals, boots, and later on grapple-recharging crystals being introduced in bursts, the whole game keeps things fresh through to the end. The only things slowing your momentum are the story bits, which revert the game into the walking simulator mode at the beginning; while you can walk by them, you still have to wait for them to finish before you can jump or grapple again.

    The level design resembles that from the first Mirror’s Edge: large but linear, encouraging exploration while keeping things satisfyingly limited – while an open world suits some genres, this isn’t one of them. The grapple is versatile enough to get you basically anywhere you can see, including areas that the developers didn’t intend; go too far afield, and you risk sliding off flat surfaces, clipping into the geometry, or getting stuck between polygons. Luckily, plentiful checkpoints ensure that such failures are a mild annoyance at best. There are two types of collectibles to find: points of interest, and data printouts. The former provide extra story details by way of the daughter asking a question, and are either on the beaten path or easily spotted from it. The latter unlock goofy effects, such as changing the color of your beam or making your grapple into a goat’s tongue complete with sound effects (these are the Goat Simulator guys, after all). The printouts make a Morse code noise and emit a yellow glow, but it doesn’t always help when it’s out of both audio and visual range far below an area that doesn’t look special.

    At first glance, ASAMU seems rather short, with the whole story being both very easy (your grapple path is clearly marked at every step) and rather short (a few hours at most). What adds to the longevity of the game, though, are the achievements. Each one of ASAMU’s achievements is exactly that – you won’t be getting any for power jumping for the first time or completing the prologue. While the time trial mode is obvious, and getting gold in each level requires rather extensive knowledge of the stage layout and your own movements, the achievements also point to perfect runs and grapple challenges. The first, of course, is to beat every level without falling. The second is to complete each stage in a limited number of grapples, which turns the game into more of a puzzler than a platformer. The grapple challenges, unfortunately, can only be done in story mode, not time trial, which means you’re stuck watching the cutscenes every time; you also can’t see either the grapple limit or your current count. It’s a nice feature as-is, but it could have used its own game mode along with the time trials.

    A Story About My Uncle
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 79%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4.5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    The game is a bit of a mixed bag graphically; it’s not the most impressive in terms of fidelity, but is still pleasantly crafted. The models of the frog people you interact with are low-poly inhabitants of the uncanny valley, but have some surprisingly good animations for the most part. The art style fits the world perfectly, and the environments look fantastic. Gone North Games took a page out of Valve’s book by having important areas subtly lit up, so you can usually always tell where to go, both to advance the tale and to find collectibles. The audio is, to be frank, barely noticeable, which in this case is a good thing. The music is atmospheric and subtle for the most part, but suits each area perfectly, at times even synching to the gameplay. The sound effects are believable and fitting as well. The same can’t be said about the voice acting, which is rather uniformly amateur, but it lends a kind of charm to a game about telling a bedtime story to a little girl.

    Thankfully, the game is one a little girl could play as well, with next to nothing to worry about. There is a somewhat-frightening giant worm at the end of one stage, and a science-vs.-spirituality aspect to the plot, but that’s the extent of it. It is worth mentioning that the story is more engaging than it seems at first glance – the alien language you see is fully translatable and, combined with the epilogue, makes this story about the protagonist’s uncle something more heartfelt than a simple lullaby.

    A Story About My Uncle, once the rough first impression is out of the way, is a solid game on its own right, with satisfying platforming and excellent control. It could definitely be improved, however; a sequel or two could propel it from a good game to an outstanding one. The $12.99 asking price may be a tad steep if you don’t fully commit to getting every achievement, but at this point, it’s commonly on sale and occasionally given away for free. Here’s hoping for more bedtime stories for Gone North Games.

    -Cadogan

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    A Valley Without Wind 
    Developed by: Arcen Games
    Released: April 24, 2012
    Available on: Mac OS X (reviewed), Windows XP (or better)
    Genre: 2D platformer, with some civilization management and RPG elements included
    Number of players: 1 offline, unknown online
    Price:$14.99 

    Thank you GamersGate for sending us this game to review!

    The world has been shattered – not just in space, but in time. Icy tundras can be found next to barren deserts and abandoned cities or toxic robotic graveyards. Amidst the ruins, certain people emerge to try and scrape together what they can to survive. Some of these people are called glyph bearers and have unusual powers granted to them. They need to use these powers to help others survive a wilderness filled with cruel monsters and sinister constructs, and to help them build a shelter against the effects of violent storms. If one glyph bearer falls, another will emerge to take his or her place.

    This is the world as it is depicted in the game “A Valley Without Wind” by Arcen Games. The player controls a glyph bearer through a setting which is largely a platformer game. The player will have to jump from ledge to platform – and even has a spell to create more platforms – to make it from one side of the area to the other. Of course there will be environmental challenges and enemies to defeat along the way.

    But that's just putting it simply. The player will also have to collect resources from the area in order to improve the wide variety of spells that they can develop. They can solve various quests in order to improve the settlement or to unlock new powers. They will run across bosses and “mini-bosses” that pose additional difficulty. They will discover occasional clues to mysteries, essentially helping to piece together the long-lost backstory of the game world. And they will have to use clever platforming skills and solve various mazes in order to complete the challenges presented.

    In addition to the platforming elements, there is a bit of civilization management as well. The player can obtain the plans to build structures on an overworld map which have a variety of effects, such as improving the settlement for the character's people or pushing back the relentless storms that plague the area. In this overworld map, the player can choose which area to enter next.

    A Valley Without Wind
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very flexible difficulty settings, randomization leads to different gameplay experiences, good music
    Weak Points: Complex game, mediocre graphics
    Moral Warnings:Magic use

    If you are getting the impression that this is a fairly complicated game for a platformer, you would be correct. I've just barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer, and haven't even gotten into the role-playing game elements or the challenges of defeating “lieutenants” in order to weaken the “overlord,” the central boss of each continent. The biggest factor to all this, however, is that the game is almost entirely random. The levels, the enemies, the location and types of quests, and even the player's starting characters are all generated randomly. Because of this, there are no walkthroughs to be found to complete the game. This aspect leads to a dynamic gaming experience that can keep the player guessing. 

    Arcen Games has gone out of its way to make the game really cater to the player's desires, too. The game features multiple levels of difficulty for different aspects of the game. For example, if the player enjoys puzzle platformers, but loathes being attacked all the time, they can crank up the difficulty for the platforming element while dropping the difficulty of the monsters. The player can even turn off the civilization-management aspects of the game if they want to have more of an action-oriented experience, if they choose. Best of all, the player can change the difficulty either at the opening menu screen, or at the settlement that he or she is trying to grow. If the player thought the last area was too difficult or too easy, they can simply change it before going to the next area. The new region will be generated with these changes, and the player can determine if it is more to his or her liking.

    With all the different elements to the game, it can be hard to keep track of everything that is going on. The game does provide helpful tool tips when a new gameplay element emerges, but there is still a lot to try and memorize. It can be dizzying trying to keep track of all the different goals, and sometimes it may just be best to play through the game and let the different achievements pop up as they occur, rather than trying for a specific target.

    Because of the way it is structured, the game is endless. Once a player is able to defeat the overlord of a continent, they can travel to the next one and begin the cycle again. In addition, if played on Steam, there are almost 100 achievements to unlock, and the game takes advantage of the trading card system on Steam as well. As an added bonus, when this game is purchased, Arcen Games will give you the sequel at the same time. The same activation code can be used to unlock both games – or even unlock the games on Steam, if you should happen to obtain the games from a different source.

    A Valley Without Wind

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The music has an interesting chiptune style combined with orchestra, and even rock, which makes an intriguing, memorable soundtrack. The music changes subtly to fit the mood of the current scene and flows very well. The sound effects also are top-notch. The graphics, on the other hand, leave something to be desired. Some of the smaller enemies have an annoying tendency of blending in with the background, making it difficult to tell if your character is being damaged by enemy fire or a creature. The screen has an occasional tendency to flicker whenever the character is moving (or falling) too fast. In addition, the graphics look like they were adapted from some of the products that can be purchased for 3D rendering programs like Poser or DAZ Studio – while this isn't inherently bad in itself, it does lead to a tendency to have the characters and scenery look fairly generic. I have had an occasional issue with starting the game – the game will sometimes hang during the loading process, and I would have to force-quit in order to get out. Restarting the game after such a hang never led to any issues, though, and the game didn't freeze during actual gameplay, either.

    Although there is a multiplayer element to this game, I was never able to find other people to play with when I attempted to use it. As a result, I can't report on how well the game works when there is more than one player on the screen, or if the game becomes player vs. player, or more cooperative, or both.

    From a moral standpoint, the game is pretty clean. Human characters wear conservative outfits or full bodysuits which protect them against various elements, so there are no nudity elements. The closest thing to nudity that I saw was a shirt that showed one of the contemporary woman's midriff. Enemies vanish when defeated (with some robots exploding into a ball of fire), leaving behind green motes that can heal the character and glowing “consciousness shards” which serve as the in-game currency. When your character dies, it may leave behind a “vengeful spirit” that will attack you if you visit that area again, but other than that, there are no undead creatures that I've found. There are some large crystal beings that are implied to be alien in some fashion that will help you in the settlements. And although the main character is implied to use magic, the source of this magic is never explained or defined – it may be magic, or mutant powers, or alien technology... who knows?

    All in all, “A Valley Without Wind” is an interesting experience. If you are the kind of person who enjoys a classic platformer experience – like the early Castlevania or Metroid games – you will probably enjoy the idea that this game can be played endlessly and never be the same. If you are the kind of person who wants an intriguing challenge and a fun blend of different game genres, then this may be a great addition to your library. However, if you prefer a game with a clear, beginning-to-end storyline or realistic, cutting-edge graphics, you may want to look elsewhere.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Aegis Defenders
    Developed By: GUTS Department
    Published By: Humble Bundle
    Released: Feb 8, 2018
    Available On: macOS, Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One.
    Genre: Platforming, Tower Defense, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild blood, Suggestive themes, Mild Language
    Number of Players: 1 offline, 2 players locally
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

     

    Thank you Humble Bundle for sending the game to review!

    Aegis Defenders is a pixelated, 2D platforming, tower defense game for up to two people. Later in the game, it gets very challenging if you're playing on your own. After many attempts at this particular level, I got someone to come help me and was able to breeze through the level playing in Co-op. Playing the game in single player can be difficult and frustrating at times. The best experience you can have with this game is playing with a buddy.

    The game itself is a good mix of platforming and tower defense. Each level will consist of you platforming though different terrains, gathering resources, and using light puzzle solving to help your characters move through the level. You will be at least controlling two people on your own, which means you will be switching between them a lot. This part of the game is not as frustrating as the tower defense portion of the level.

    Aegis Defenders
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun platforming, multiple characters, great local Co-Op gameplay
    Weak Points: Frustrating single player experience 
    Moral Warnings:Some cartoon violence, minor language, and mild blood

    There are secret items to collect and even bad guys to kill. Each character has its own attacks and special attack. There are color-coded doorways that allow only one character to pass, forcing you to switch characters to open up a gate. Often times you will get to the end of a level, where you have to stand on a switch to let another player though the gate, which then starts a tower defense game. Now you must defend against hordes of creatures and can be dangerous by just the number of enemies that can swarm you.

    The story isn’t all that interesting, though there is a twist later in the game. The story is told through cutscenes and often have an interactive element to them, in that you are given dialogue options which reward you with points to upgrade your arsenal of towers. It feels like there is a right choice in the dialogue options and you do not really get to roleplay. Bart and his granddaughter are Ruinhunters, and they scavenge in a world of Deathless(gods). The two other characters you unlock are more interesting to play, as one can shoot fireballs and the other can fling shuriken through multiple enemies.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 89%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The tower defense part of the game can get crazy while switching between multiple characters. You have a short amount of time to set up towers before each wave, but each character only has one tower they can build. You can upgrade them or sometimes if you build on top of a tower, it changes into something completely new. For example, Clu’s tower is a bomb that you can lay down, but if you build another bomb on top it becomes a spike trap. To build each tower for each character you will need to collect resources. It becomes hectic switching to each character, collecting resources, and building each character's towers in a strategic way. It can be done, but later on, in the game, it can become very stressful. This is where the local Co-op comes into play, making the game way less frustrating, as you do not have to worry about multiple characters, just the one you are controlling. You can split up tasks and the game just flows better.

    Morally there is some minor language used and there is some violence. You obviously destroy creatures in the game and while there is no gore, there is some mild blood that appears for a second after the creature is destroyed.

    Aegis Defense is a decent mash-up of genres. The game is cute with its pixel graphics and the platforming sections are great. It only gets frustrating in the latter half of the level where the tower defense starts. It’s unfortunate that the game is meant to be played with other people, as you may not have another person around to help. If you plan on playing this game solo remember that it gets brutal towards the end of the game.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Alwa's Awakening
    Developed by: Elden Pixels
    Published by: Elden Pixels
    Released: February 2, 2017
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you, Elden Pixels, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    The nation of Alwa has been under the control of evil for centuries. But now, a young woman from a distant land has been summoned to defeat the forces of evil and bring goodness and light to the world. Et cetera, yadda yadda yadda and so on.

    The premise of the game is almost cliché, but it fits with the theme. Alwa's Awakening is a homage of the NES era, with 8-bit graphics and electronica of that age. The game also reflects the difficulty of that era, with some surprisingly challenging areas near the start.

    Alwa's Awakening
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging platformer; good graphics and music; great replay value; a good homage to the NES era
    Weak Points: Some areas a bit too difficult
    Moral Warnings: Undead enemies; cartoonish violence; magic use

    Another aspect of the game are the “Metroidvania” elements, which are incorporated surprisingly well. As the heroine Zoe explores the lands, she can uncover new spells to use with her magic staff. These include creating green blocks that she can stand on, or floating blue bubbles. The game is designed so that you can find all of the power-ups even before defeating any of the bosses in the game. Not only that, backtracking is highly encouraged, as the different power-ups can give you access to areas that were impossible to reach earlier. In addition to the items you can find, you can collect small blue orbs, which are hidden throughout the game, and add to Zoe's power when fighting bosses. The game allows for a lot of replay value, especially for those who are determined to discover everything this game has to offer.

    The graphics to the game are cute in their 8-bit style. Even the little undead beasties have oversized heads and amusing expressions on their skeletal faces when they die. It's easy to tell what's happening in the game. The music fits the theme of the game wonderfully, adding to the atmosphere and mystery of the challenges without becoming annoying or overly repetitious. The controls are sharp and responsive, but I found that this game is easier when using a gamepad, rather than the keyboard. To my surprise, the game even responded well with my Logitech gamepad – which closely resembles the classic SNES controller in configuration, but tends to be completely nonfunctional in most games these days.

    Alwa's Awakening
    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 - 89%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The only real downside to the game are the challenging areas. Most of the rooms allow you time to think about the approach you want to take, and where to use your tools. Some of the areas will have enemies fire on you as soon as you enter the room, causing you to have to think on your feet. Combine the various monsters with an abundance of instant-kill obstacles (including running water) and you'll find yourself replaying several of the rooms – and boss fights – until you get it right. Zoe can take three hits from opponents before she dies, and although some enemies drop hearts to replenish her health, these drops tend to be few and far between. Fortunately, dying simply means one more addition to your death count, and you respawn at the last save point. You even get to keep any orbs, keys or power ups you managed to grab before your death, and doors you managed to unlock remain open. The longevity of the game may be questionable as well, since there is one Steam achievement that you can gain if you complete the game in less than two hours and with fewer than five deaths. However, to gain this achievement, you will have to either know this game quite well – which involves playing through it repeatedly – or be insanely good at platformers.

    On the moral front, there isn't a whole lot to worry about. There is the presence of undead, skeletal enemies, and spellcasting foes. But defeated opponents merely stagger backwards with a stunned (often comical) expression before disappearing in a flash of smoke.

    Alwa's Awakening is a homage to 8-bit era games, and nails everything perfectly in this regard. It's an intriguing mix to have a game that's so new, but feels so nostalgic at the same time. For those who enjoy challenging – but not impossible – 2D platformers, I heartily recommend adding this game to your library.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Anomaly 1729
    Developed By: Anvil Drop, LLC
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: December 30, 2015
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Third-Person Puzzle Platformer
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $9.99

    The world of Phiohm is vast and clean. Countless nanites shape its landscape and keep the world orderly, driven by a central intelligence. In general, Phiohm is calm, with few surprises and even fewer problems. But in a remote corner of this world, a being suddenly gains cognizance and becomes self-driven. For the 1729th time, an anomaly begins to wander Phiohm.

    Anomaly 1729 is a puzzle platformer that falls somewhere between Portal and a Rubik’s Cube. Taking control of the titular Anomaly 1729, a freshly-sentient robot that dubs itself Ano, you move through the atmospheric world of Phiohm while solving puzzle rooms presented by an omnipresent voice. The main mechanic involves rotation: using Ano’s “messenger” arm cannon, you shoot packets of blue or orange data. Striking the floating cubes suspended in the air rotates the entire room 90 degrees in the indicated direction – blue shots move the room in one direction, orange the opposite. While some puzzles restrict the room’s movement, there are usually one or more cubes representing each of the three axes of rotation. As Ano stays in place during these rotations, reaching the exit of each puzzle chamber requires proper positioning and forethought to either move the platforms to you or change gravity to make Ano fall where you need to go.

    The game slowly introduces a few more mechanics as you progress: platforms that won’t rotate with the room (and thus keep Ano in place as well), pads that repel or attract Ano depending on their coloration, fields that restrict your abilities, and so on. These additions are usually given their own section free from the other gameplay elements, allowing you to adapt to them alone before they’re integrated into the chambers. This is done through a series of hub areas; moving to a puzzle room requires solving a less intensive test, usually free of rotation, as a sort of preview to the main attraction. By the end of the game, the chambers are packed with so many elements that they become quite complex and require a lot of spatial awareness to piece together.

    Ano controls well enough, with the two mouse buttons firing the blue and orange shots and spacebar to jump. The jumps are a little floaty, but Ano gets more height than it appears and the platforms give significant leeway for error. In addition, you have a small amount of air control, so accurate jumping is rather easy. Ano does retain momentum from any source, which can be a little troublesome when jumping from moving platforms. Overall, Ano’s controls are simple and it’s easy to move around Phiohm – almost too easy, as the next point illustrates.

    Anomaly 1729
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Neat concept; most puzzles are clever and satisfying to solve
    Weak Points: Everything looks similar; easy to get lost; can get permanently stuck at times
    Moral Warnings: Game implies you’re hurting nanites every time you change something

    The room for error the platforming gives you, while making the necessary jumps forgiving, also allow for some serious sequence breaks. Each puzzle has an intended solution, but the travel time of your messenger shots, along with Ano’s air control, allows for what are likely unintentional results. Since Ano freezes in place while the room rotates, clever jumps, controlled falls, and well-timed shots can combine to skip large portions of a chamber. It’s hard to tell if this technique is an accidental quirk of the game engine or a purposeful system to reward players thinking outside the box. Either way, it’s both a blessing and a curse: cheesing out a puzzle that way can feel rewarding, but is an ultimately hollow victory – and doing it accidentally feels like cheating.

    The potential use of such possibly-illicit means of puzzle solving is exacerbated by the game’s main flaw: you really can’t tell where you need to go most of the time. Graphically, the game looks nice, being essentially a mix of Mirror’s Edge and Tron – most of the environments are solid whites, blues, and oranges, with bright neon lines cutting through the landscape. However, everything looks mostly the same; the first hub guides you to new locations by darkening where you’ve been, and puzzle rooms start and end with automated doors, but a lot of the middle portion of the game is a maze of white walls and blue pillars. Add to the fact that the game intends for you to climb above, run on top of, and jump between the walls, it’s a little too easy to lose track of where you’ve been and where you need to go.

    In addition, your actual goals don’t stand out too much and are easy to misplace. There are two object types to find in order to progress: the aforementioned puzzle room doors, and podiums. The podiums are half the size of Ano, and will either reveal story elements or manipulate the room in some fashion. Neither of them stand out from the rest of the world in any meaningful way: doors have glowing red or green text but are otherwise another part of the wall, and podiums have no discernible markings to draw attention. It’s even worse in the puzzle chambers, as trying to keep track of a tiny podium in the midst of spinning the room every which way becomes extremely difficult. Likewise, entrance doors don’t turn off or otherwise differentiate themselves from the exit doors, and it’s entirely possible to accidentally wind up back at the start due to losing track of which door you’re moving toward. A simple glow or neon marking on your targets would go a long way to keeping the player oriented, but as it stands it’s too easy to completely lose your way and wind up undoing progress by mistake.

    When they work, though, the puzzles are challenging and satisfying to solve. The rotational aspect of the game takes some getting used to, but eventually you’ll learn to see paths on the walls and ceilings, adding a refreshing layer of verticality. Taking your time and thinking through your moves is a must, as random rotation will get you nowhere most of the time. While most rooms are airtight in their design, a few have areas where you can get permanently stuck – in one case, a bounce pad tossed Ano short of the mark and down an inescapable hole, with no option but to return to the last checkpoint and start over. Overall, however, each puzzle is significantly different from the others, and the different platform types and restrictive fields make for varied gameplay.

    Anomaly 1729
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 77%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

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

    The game offers some semblance of a story, but it’s a little simple and moves too fast. When Ano awakens, he’s led by the “voice of Phiohm,” who calls himself Yuler. Ano makes it immediately clear that he wants to see all of Phiohm and what lies beyond, and Yuler guides him along. However, Yuler isn’t particularly consistent: one moment he’s encouraging Ano to explore and move on, but as Ano goes down the only path available to him, Yuler starts demanding Ano turn back and forget everything. There’s a brief moment when Ano worries that he’s hurting the nanites that make up Phiohm when he manipulates them, but there’s never an in-game implication of pain and the whole topic is dropped after the first hub area. At the final hub, Ano declares that he understands the purpose of Phiohm and the nanites; suffice it to say it would’ve been nice of him to share that information with the audience.

    In addition, the story is told in subtitles of a fictional language that is not translated for you at the start. Instead, the first hub world holds its own podiums which translate a few letters at a time. It’s a neat idea, and you don’t lose any vital information before you have enough letters to understand the text, but it’s entirely possible to miss one and go the whole game with an imperfect translation – the game makes these podiums rather obvious, but it’s still an odd choice. Later hubs have podiums that tell the story of another anomaly that came before Ano, and are much harder to find, especially with the aforementioned lack of visual cues. Even so, the conversations between Ano and Yuler are nice distractions in between puzzles, and the story overall adds more than it takes away – and you can simply turn the story off in the menu if you so desire. There are two endings, but the first is rather unsatisfying and skips the final puzzle, so it’s only worth seeing on replays. Upon beating the game, you can start over with your translations intact; it may seem strange to replay a finite puzzle game, but the variable solutions make it worth another playthrough.

    As mentioned before, the graphics suit the atmosphere well; the neon lines turn orange and pulse when Yuler is talking, which is a nice touch. All the neon strains the eyes after a while, though, and maneuvering the camera too close to a light source can mess up the rendering and make rooms too dark to navigate even after moving the camera away. Audio-wise, there are few faults to find. The soundtrack is made up of calm ambient music that turns more intense when in a puzzle chamber, and the sound effects are fitting and never grate on the ears. The song for the final hub is the only downside, as it contains a sound that can only be described as a sneaker squeaking on hardwood, which can get irritating when trying to figure out the final puzzles. Still, the majority of the songs are easy on the ears, and the seamless transition into and out of the puzzle variants is an aspect more games should use.

    Morally, the only aspect worth noting is the aforementioned nanite abuse, and even that is up for interpretation. Yuler insists the nanites are not sentient, but never denies Ano’s claim that he’s hurting them. Again, however, there is no indication that Phiohm’s nanites react poorly to Ano’s manipulation. Ano himself is disturbed by his potential assault, and cites it as one of his main reasons for wanting to leave Phiohm, so any violence is unintentional. Other than that, every aspect of the game is appropriate for all ages.

    In the end, Anomaly 1729 is a game with interesting ideas marred by some design flaws. The core of the game works well, and most puzzles are difficult without becoming too frustrating, but the ease with which important objects fade into the chaotic background makes some chambers more annoying than others. Still, puzzle game fans will likely get their money’s worth – though if you prefer your challenges two-dimensional, you might want to wait for a sale.

    -Cadogan

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun
    Developed by: ThirtyThree Games
    Published by: Gambitious
    Available on: Android, iOS, macOS, Switch, Windows
    Release date: February 8, 2018
    Genre: Twitch platformer
    Number of players: Single-player:
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for fantasy violence and comic mischief
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Gambitious for sending us this game to review!

    RunGunJumpGun was released on PC and mobile platforms in 2016 and has very positive reviews on Steam. It’s a perfect addition to the Switch’s library for those interested in raising their blood pressure on the go. This game prides itself on being brutally hard, yet it’s still fun and appealing at the same time.

    The story behind the game is that the sun is dying due to warlords collecting all of the Atomiks and replacing them with hysteria. Your job is to reclaim them and avenge the fallen race of aliens. Of course, the warlords won’t go down without a fight and have secured the Atomiks in rooms full of traps and weaponry to avoid.

    As the title suggests, your character can do three things: run, jump, and shoot a gun. However, you can only do one at a time. If you shoot your gun after a jump you will slowly fall due to gravity. Timing is key as you have to keep moving and avoid each and every obstacle in your path. While you can take a couple of hits, there are more opportunities to die than health points.

    ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Simple controls and fun gameplay; neat art style and soundtrack
    Weak Points: Crazy hard and frustrating
    Moral Warnings: Lots of bloodless deaths; some toilet humor

    The tutorial levels will teach you the basic controls. Your character automatically runs; pressing the left button will make them jump and the right button will fire the gun. The +/- buttons will bring up the menu and allow you to skip a level if desired. While tempting, future areas require a set amount of levels to be completed and a designated number of Atomiks to be collected.

    At the end of each run, you’ll be shown how many Atomiks you have collected and how many were available to reclaim. You can go back and redo any levels which have room for improvement. The tutorial levels have checkpoints, but many of the other levels don’t and it doesn’t take long for this game’s devious nature to reveal itself.

    Like many platformer games, you’ll have to avoid spikes. There are also turrets, saw blades, force fields, and flame throwers along with moving variations of these to contend with. Many of these obstacles can be destroyed with your gun if you time it right though avoidance is usually the better option.

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

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Patience is required to enjoy this game, as you will die many, many times. Thankfully, the deaths are bloodless. Aside from the given violence, there is some toilet humor as one of the aliens taunting you is dealing with stomach pains that turn out to be gas. Last but not least, prepare to be called maggot a lot.

    The 2D art style is pretty neat and I’m impressed with what this three person development team did. The pounding electronic soundtrack is good too and available for $1.99 on Steam if desired.

    The $7.99 asking price is the same as the PC version though the mobile editions are only $2.99. Since this game prides itself on its difficulty, only consider buying it if you enjoy crazy hard games. With that said I cannot deny its appeal or claims of being ridiculously hard.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Avocuddle
    Developed by: Ramez Al Tabbaa
    Published by: FistikTech
    Released: July 13, 2019
    Available on: Windows
    Number of Players: Single player
    Genre: Platformer
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Ramez Al Tabbaa and FistikTech for sending us this game to review!

    Avocuddle is a single player platformer game developed by Ramez Al Tabbaa and published by FistikTech. The story is centered around two avocado halves – AvoRa and Avolyn – that are madly in love. Players play as AvoRa, whose goal is to retrieve Avolyn back from the single guy who abducted her in his UFO.

    Upon witnessing Avolyn’s kidnapping, AvoRa was shocked and confused and had no idea what to do. Fortunately, Love Orbs were there to help. Apparently, they saw what had happened, and in an effort to help him out throughout the game, guide AvoRa to rescue his significant other.

    The journey to rescuing Avolyn is a long one, and along it are many obstacles and enemies that threaten AvoRa’s survival. Not all enemies can be defeated with a simple stomp; in fact, most of them have to be eliminated with one of the guns the player will find throughout the game. These guns are equipped using the numbers on the keyboard (1-9), and once they are equipped, they cannot go back into the inventory unless the player switches to a different weapon.

    The types of firearms vary, along with the range they bear, whether or not they have infinite ammo, and in other aspects as well. For instance, the Pulse Gun has unlimited ammunition, but very short range. The Blue Laser Machine Gun, however, is a long-range weapon with limited ammo. One thing remains consistent, though: For guns that require ammunition supply, it can be collected throughout the game inside of crates and other items, or it can be purchased at the Limon shop.

    Avocuddle
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cute art style; decent music; challenging
    Weak Points: Low-quality music loops; no way to save, no autosave feature; challenging; no controller support
    Moral Warnings: Blasphemy; blood spews everywhere when certain enemies are defeated; guns are almost always needed to defeat enemies

    When enemies are killed, they drop Limon coins, which can be used to buy items at Limon shops. Limon shops are scattered around the map, and they can sometimes be hard to find. But they are useful, because they allow players to purchase things like ammunition for their weapons, Medkits
    (restore AvoRa’s health bar when used), and campfires (an item that once placed cannot be picked up again that gradually heals the player when they stand near it).

    Luckily, often before dangerous areas, a magical lamp will be there. Magical lamps allow players, once activated, to come back to the lamp if they are defeated. To activate a magical lamp, AvoRa must simply walk by it.

    The controls in Avocuddle take a bit of getting used to, but after that point, they are like second-nature to the player. They must use A and D to walk left and right, shift to run, the space bar to jump and double-jump, mouse to aim guns, left-click to fire them, and I to open AvoRa’s inventory.

    In some places in the game, it may be necessary to push items out of the way in order to reach someplace. Not all items are able to be moved, but to push the ones that are, the player must simply move toward them. And, to push harder, the player can press shift while doing so.

    Movable items like wooden crates may not be the only thing that will make an obstacle of themselves. Walls might seem intimidating at first, but not when the player can climb over them. The player can climb up walls by performing wall clings and wall jumps. They must keep moving toward the wall and press space to do a successful wall cling. To perform a wall jump, they must do a wall cling and, continuing to hold the movement key (A or D), jump with the space bar.

    When the two avocado halves see each other, they might do what is called an “Avocuddle”, where they hug and talk about each other saying things like “I love you,” or “Oh, you’re the cutest avocado I’ve ever seen.” To skip these moments, players can press Q if they so choose.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The art in this game is usually bright and colorful, with a simple, yet adorable art style to accompany the vividness in color. Unless one of the avocado halves is sad or angry, everything is happy and blithe.

    The background music always matches whatever is currently taking place in the story. For example, when AvoRa and Avolyn’s relationship is suffering, melancholy music fades in. Otherwise, the music differentiates from time to time. The only problem is that the end of each song is an abrupt stop, rather than a smooth, continuous loop.

    In this title, sound does not only consist of background music, however. Actually, sound effects are quite significant in Avocuddle. Whenever the player walks, jumps, fires their weapon, hits an enemy, collects Limon coins, etc., a specific sound effect plays. As far as I can tell, these sound effects are of decent quality, but even if the player does not like or want to hear them, they can tune them out in the main menu.

    As far as moral warnings go, there are a few things that should be pointed out. Blasphemy is revealed early in the game, as AvoRa used the phrase “Oh my god. . .” Also, I found that when AvoRa kills a mine-like enemy that explodes upon contact, blood spews everywhere, including from the top of the screen. Another thing that I thought I should mention is that almost every enemy the player might encounter has to be defeated with a gun. But other than that, there were no other ethical issues that I noticed.

    I did, however, notice some punctuation, capitalization, and spelling mistakes in some of the dialogue. To illustrate, in one sentence describing one of the weapons I picked up, the Love Orbs told me this: “The Pulse Gun has infinit ammo.” I hope that these errors are fixed in the coming updates.

    I found Avocuddle to be a decently fun title, and to someone who is looking for a nice story game like this I would recommend it. I look forward to future games from this developer.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Awesome Pea
    Developed by: PigeonDev
    Published by: PigeonDev
    Release date: September 19, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $3.99

    Thank you PigeonDev for sending us this game to review!

    There’s not much of a story in Awesome Pea. According to the Steam store page, the main character, a Pea, is quite greedy and is willing to risk his life to gather every gold coin and diamond laying about on three islands. In total, there are thirty levels in this $3.99 title.

    Of course, the gold and diamonds are heavily guarded by bubble-blowing frogs, rotating spikes, moving saw blades, and ghost-like floating skulls. Unfortunately, the greedy Pea has no offensive moves, just the ability to jump and double-jump.

    Awesome Pea
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Inexpensive and cute retro-themed platformer 
    Weak Points: The antiquating effects are not accurate for the classic Game Boy look; inconsistent difficulty spikes; some cheap deaths; no checkpoints
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; one of the enemies is a ghost-like floating skull

    Though there are three islands, most of the ten Steam achievements can be unlocked before completing the first one. The difficulty is extremely hit-or-miss in this game. Some of the levels I’ve breezed through in 5 minutes or less while others have taken me many deaths and days to finish. The train level stumped me and my kids for several days and once I completed that level, I breezed through the next two in ten minutes or so.

    While most of my deaths felt deserved or earned, there are many that felt cheap or inconsistent. For example, there are lots of narrow platforms which have spikes on the sides of them or saw blades beneath them if you miscalculate their jump. If your body is 90% on the platform and 10% over the smooth side of a spike, that will kill your Pea. To add insult to injury, there are no checkpoints so you have to start at the very beginning of the level and try again. Or rage quit.

    Needless to say, I enjoyed this title in short spurts. I can’t deny that it’s both frustrating and fun as I keep coming back for more punishment/accomplishment. While this game oozes retro charm, the effects are inaccurate for a classic Game Boy which never suffered from CRT or television tube effects. If you’re not a fan of those antiquating effects, they can be disabled in the menu thanks to the 1.2 game patch.

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The sound effects are well done and I like the background chiptune music. The chip sound played for the Pea’s death is fitting and doesn’t get annoying despite hearing it quite often.

    Like many platform games there is cartoon-style violence as the Pea can be killed by water, spikes, bubbles, ghosts, frogs, and saw blades.

    If you like to speedrun, Awesome Pea has you covered as each level times you on how long it took you to complete it. Thankfully, there are infinite lives so you don’t have to worry about losing any progress. Once a level is completed you can advance to the next one or go back and improve a previous score. The asking price is a reasonable $3.99, but I have seen it as low as $1.59 during a Steam sale. If you like challenging platform games it may be worth picking up.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ayo: A Rain Tale
    Developed By: Inkline Ltd.
    Published By: Inkline Ltd.
    Released: November 9, 2017
    Available On: Windows, Andriod, iOS, and macOS
    Genre: Adventure, Scrolling Platformer, Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Inkline Ltd. for sending us this game to review!

    Sometimes we First World folks don’t know how good we’ve got it. Cars, computers, heaters, lotions - every kind of comfort we need and even what we don’t need are at our fingertips. All the while, there are countless communities who’d consider themselves blessed to have just a half decent source of food. Parents and their children there endure heavy labor just to live. Well, one First World game wishes to pay tribute to one such type of local hero. The kind of hero who braves treacherous miles everyday just to carry forty pounds of water back to their families. This is Ayo: A Rain Tale.

    Ayo: A Rain Tale centers around, well, Ayo - a little African girl. Morning has dawned, and it’s time for her to strap on her water pack. The clean water spring is far, but with positive encouragement from her mother and a magic bracelet from her grandfather, Ayo sets off through the burning sands. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be an uneventful trip, though. Strong winds, scorpions, malicious entities, and perilous heat stand between her and providing for her family. I want to give credit to Inkline Ltd. for what they’re trying to do here. Raising awareness for the very real sacrifices many African women and girls make to help sustain their loved ones is a noble intention. However, Ayo’s plot structure was very disjointed. Many story elements go largely unexplained. You don’t know why the bracelet is magical; why there’s some evil storm/spirit/bull that wants to kill you; why there are blue and yellow glowing boxes - Why? Why? Why? I especially don’t understand the presence of those floating, pygmy children. They fly in, spew open-ended lines, bestow abilities, then fly off. You don’t know what they are, what they want, nor why they’re helping Ayo. It made no sense, but that’s not the end of it. The story’s vagueness even undermined their message. Characters tell Ayo to ‘believe’. Believe in what? Believe in herself? Believe in some deity? They want Ayo to put her faith somewhere. I’d like to know where. It all just felt incomplete. That’s a real shame too, because I did see windows of stroytelling brilliance here. Elements rooted in real hardships, like the slow, screen-warbling dangers of sun stroke, were really strong. That was memorable. That was compelling. That reinforced Ayo’s tale because it breeded player empathy. Any attempts to shove some supernatural side to it was just clunky.

    Ayo: A Rain Tale
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Gorgeous Art-style; Identifiable Heroine
    Weak Points: Confusing Plot; Unrealized Gameplay
    Moral Warnings: Unclear African Spiritualism; Vague Philosophies

    Alright, Ayo: A Rain Tale’s tale is about as coherent as toddler scribbles, but a toddler certainly didn’t give it shape and form. This game’s colors just pop! Rich hues were cast across its canvas, creating some welcoming shades that are indeed pleasing to the eye. Hot pinks and lavenders on the briar bushes; light lined indigos for the storm spirit; tribal patterns on Ayo’s clothes; part of me wanted to reach in and touch. It’s also been a while since a game made me stop and enjoy its sunset. The music was fun too with its tribal drums and traditional chants. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but I certainly appreciated it. As for sound design, most onscreen interactions sounded natural, save for a few sound effects like crunching gravel while climbing clouds (try figuring that whole inexplicable-ness out). However, it’s still the visuals that were the most memorable. The one sin these visuals commit, though, is it blurred the lines between tangible objects and the background too well at times. More on that later. Sure, this game grossly pales in comparison to 2012’s hit game, Journey, which also featured a beyond gorgeous desert, but Ayo also applied African styling to its setting, giving it its own unique flavor. Identifiable looks can be worth more than its salt too. If you can’t get high-def, get personality.

    As a scrolling platform game, player controls in Ayo followed the tried and true platformer format. Keys ‘A’ and ‘D’ take you left to right with spacebar as your ‘jump’ button. Your journey encourages you onward from the left to the right side of your screen until you reach the end of each story chapter. Now, since a platformer’s fun factor depends so deeply on its controls, input responsiveness is crucial to a satisfying experience. It has to feel fluid and natural to climb rocks or leap gaps. Ayo, I’d say, mostly succeeded. Moving right or left was very on point, saved my bacon on several counts, but the ‘jumping’ part led to some frustration. The problem wasn’t responsiveness, though. Ayo would jump exactly when I told her to. However, her high arc/low distance ratio and sluggish ‘jumping’ animation felt too heavy and difficult to time right. I died many times in quick reaction sequences. That also brings me back to that ‘background props vs. active props’ problem. It’s kind of a big deal. If I can’t tell what I can or cannot stand on, how do the developers expect me not to die? It wasn’t always prevalent, but I grumbled on several occasions for reasons of dying due to leaping at branches that weren’t really there. Thank the Lord this game granted unlimited lives. You do gain extra movement options for Ayo as you progress, but don’t get too excited. They’re mostly passive abilities that activate on their own in set conditions. The ‘X’ key will be added in, though, and the double jump ability is a Godsend once you get it. On a side note, this game does have controller support if that’s what you’d prefer.

    Ayo: A Rain Tale
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Reaching water in Ayo is gonna take more than a long walk. There’s a puzzle side to its nature, provided by its mechanics. Most hazards kill you on contact. Thus, half of Ayo’s challenge is to avoid typical stuff like briar patches, pitfalls, and bugs. It’s not all that hard to be honest. I hated the lightning though - that inconsistent, may or may not home in, strikes in faster increments, and insta-kill you lightning. That I could do away with. Then there are these yellow and blue glow-ey box things you need to use to progress. (No, I have no idea what to make of them either. Just roll with it.) Both colors can’t be active at the same time, so you must swap them back and forth at opportune moments. This mechanic was trickier to handle, but not in an intellectual sense. Nine times out of ten, I knew exactly what to do after glancing at the boxes layout once. It was the wonky ‘jumping’ controls that made matters difficult. As a result, this whole feature felt ‘tacked on’. Because if I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished something by solving them, then it’s not intrinsically fun. It’s just another slow down I have to slog through. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me. I guess I just expected something a little more clever from this setup. That doesn’t mean it had to be hard. I just wished the creators took their setting to its fullest potential. Why not have our heroine need to find thick leaves to cover her feet with to travel over a searing hot patch of land? Or to find sharp flint to burn insurmountable brambles with? At least give problems that can be solved by something more engaging or culturally insightful than a ‘jump’.

    Spiritual African theming is no surprise in Ayo: A Rain Tale. I don’t know how closely related this game’s pseudo mythology is to actual African beliefs or folktales, but I know a non-Biblical environment when I see one. What appear to be sacred animal statues are used to grant you new abilities. The flying pygmy children and the stormy bull of rampage I’ve already mentioned. Ayo’s bracelet is magical and able to harness the ‘animal powers’ for some unspecified reason, and I’ve already talked about the game’s unfinished philosophy of ‘belief’. As for violence, the game is very tame. Harms that come Ayo’s way either knock her over or lead to a non-bloody death screen, where she simply passes out. That’s it.

    Ayo: A Rain Tale is not an unlikable game. Though it didn’t take full advantage of its setting, and the gameplay leaned on the easy side for my tastes, I didn’t consider it a complete waste of time. Not simply because it was lovely to look at, though indeed it is was, but because I wanted to see little Ayo through. She was my in-game motivation to succeed. Sure, she doesn’t speak a word. So, she has no traits that hint to any definable personality at all, but Ayo didn’t need it. She represents the harshness of an impoverished life met head on with hope and bravery out of love for her family. It’s a trait that reflects Christ our Lord and something I can get behind. I just wish the game’s spiritualism didn’t muddy the waters. “Every hardship you face in a positive light is met with positive relief,” the game quotes, but Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Apart from Him, there is no relief.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
    Developed by: Inti Creates
    Published by: Inti Creates (Digital) Yacht Club Games (Physical) 
    Release Date: September 29, 2016
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Action-Shooter, Platformer
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes)
    Number of players: Single player
    Price: $13.49

    Thank you Yacht Club Games for sending us a copy of the game to review!

    Just a little over two years ago, Inti Creates released their Mega Man inspired title for the 3DS known as Azure Striker Gunvolt. It was extremely well received and to much anticipation the sequel has now arrived.

    The story picks up some time after the last game. Gunvolt, having defeated the Sumeragi Group and stopped "Project Muse," is spending time healing and recouping with friends when a new threat emerges. A powerful organization of adepts from across the world known as "Eden" threatens to restart the efforts of Sumeragi and captures Lumen, the muse that is held within the young girl Joules. It's up to Gunvolt and Copen to defeat Eden.

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 allows Gunvolt or Copen to be selected at the main menu and their storylines play out differently. Copen returns from the first game and immediately seeks revenge against Gunvolt and every other adept in an effort to save his sister who was also kidnapped by Eden. Copen believes it's his mission from God to destroy all adepts. 

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging and engaging gameplay; Beautiful art style; 2 playable storylines.
    Weak Points: Bosses have cheap attack patterns; Levels can feel lackluster; Never felt like Gunvolt was getting stronger as the game progressed.
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence throughout the game; Sexual themes are prominent; Minor amounts of cursing.

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 plays virtually identical to the first game. As you move Gunvolt through linear stages, you'll once again have to "tag" enemies before using your Flashfield ability. Shooting enemies will tag them with metal rods, and by tagging an enemy multiple times, more damage will be inflicted when you shock them with Flashfield. A returning feature called Prevasion has now been made permanent rather than being relegated to an equip item. Prevasion nullifies damage Gunvolt takes once as long as he has energy called EP. EP drains whenever Gunvolt uses Flashfield and when it runs out he'll overheat, causing the EP bar to refill exponentially slower. By tapping down on the D-pad twice Gunvolt can refill the energy bar so long as he isn't currently overheated.

    Copen handles slightly differently when compared to Gunvolt.  Because he's human he doesn't have to worry about overheating like Gunvolt. He must dash through an enemy to tag it before he can unleash a stream of bullets to destroy it. In a way, Copen is like the reverse of Beck from Mighty No. 9. He can also jump diagonally off walls in a zipping motion. Despite their differences, levels are still completed in the same fashion as Gunvolt's.

    The story plays out over the course of 10 stages with each stage taking an average of 15 minutes to complete. Stages breakdown into three sections for the most part. You'll platform around the stage and defeat enemies until you reach a midpoint. These points are closed off rooms that requires the player to defeat a certain amount of enemies in order to unlock the door to progress. The next stretch will play out like the first with platforming challenges and baddies to shoot until you reach the end of the stage. A boss battle awaits at the end of each stage, and these encounters with Eden's adepts are incredibly challenging. 

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    Much like the Mega Man games before it, bosses jump or move sporadically around the screen and Gunvolt or Copen are practically guaranteed to take damage the first time you take one on. You'll need to keep an eye on your EP so that Prevasion will activate as well as dash at the right moments. When Gunvolt defeats a boss he'll gain a new type of gun, whereas with Copen, he'll gain a new ability from that boss also like in Mega Man. By using materials gained at the end of stages, the player can craft accessories for Gunvolt or Copen to equip. These can have numerous effects and it can be fun to experiment with new ones. Though, I never actually found enough materials to craft anything my first time through, making the whole crafting system feel unnecessary.

    The main reason you'll want to avoid taking damage is because of the Kudos system, which makes a return from the first game, allowing you to boost your score as long as you keep dealing damage and don't get hit. There are three modes by which Kudos can be handled: Gutless, Cautious, and Fearless. Basically Gutless keeps your Kudos even if you're damaged, Cautious takes three hits before Kudos are lost, and Fearless only allows one hit but are worth more. When a certain amount of Kudos is reached the background music will change. There are Kudos based challenges and it's not always easy avoiding damage throughout a stage. This provides a reason to replay levels to try and complete these challenges.

    Graphically, this is a real eye-pleaser. Character and boss designs are beautiful and certain areas of stages have immense detail. Cutscenes are definitely the highlight of the game. 3D is used incredibly well and adds the right amount of depth to stages. There's not much to say other than the game is gorgeous. The music is also well done, but it's nothing that will honestly stick with you after you finish the game. The sound effects in the game are also well used. Now because this game is dubbed entirely in Japanese, there are dialogue boxes that will clutter the already jam packed top-screen. To make things even more inconvenient, sometimes these conversations have nothing to do with what's currently happening on screen. Thankfully, the developers allowed players to turn off these boxes in the settings menu.

    Azure Striker Gunvolt 2

    Morally, there are some things to mention. Firstly, Copen believes God has chosen him to kill all of the adepts. This can come across as blasphemous. Another issue some may have is with the character Zonda. Zonda is extremely open about having both parts of anatomy and has the ability to split into two forms based on both genders. His forms are also depicted as highly sexualized. There is also a fair amount of violence to be seen, with some scenes even depicting blood. I wouldn't recommend this one for the kids solely because of Zonda's dialogue.

    Outside of the violent and sexual natures of the game there's a lot to enjoy in Azure Striker Gunvolt 2. The story doesn't last more than 4 hours, but with secret endings for both characters and difficult challenges to attempt, there's tons to do. This one comes highly recommended to Mega Man fans that were let down by Mighty No. 9. If you haven't played the first game and want to get into the series, The Striker Pack contains both games and is available digitally and physically.

    -Kyuremu

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Bard's Gold
    Developed and Published By: Erdem Sen/Pixel Lantern
    Released: August 14, 2015
    Available On: Windows, macOS, SteamOS, Linux, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita
    Genre: Arcade Platformer
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $4.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Pixel Lantern for sending us this game to review!

    A goblin has stolen the Bard’s Gold, a legendary treasure and family heirloom. The bard gives chase, following the critter through a magic portal to a strange land. That is all Bard’s Gold gives you for a story; as a love letter to an older generation of games, the story is relegated to the manual, and the gameplay takes center stage.

    Bard’s Gold is an arcade platformer with a few borrowed elements from other genres, namely RPGs and Roguelikes. The core of the game revolves around exploring one of the four different areas’ levels, searching for the exit door and the key it requires. Each area is filled with traps and monsters, which the bard is rather ill-equipped to deal with at first. You collect a steady supply of gems along the way, however, which can be traded for equipment at the semi-common shops found throughout the levels. Upon death or game completion, you can enhance the bard’s natural abilities with the remaining gems; unlike the shop items, these stay with you permanently.

    The bard is sluggish and weak to start, which unfortunately makes the game hard to get into at first. His throwing knives have little range and power, and nearly every creature outpaces him. Between the monsters and the many traps, some of which are well hidden, you’ll have to take it slow – but not too slow, as each room has a timer attached to it that, when expired, triggers fireballs to rain from the sky. While the source of some tension, it’s more of an annoyance, as clearing out the enemies becomes a tedious game of standing one level above or below, dropping/jumping to hit them with two or three daggers, then moving out of the way until they come back around.

    Bard's Gold
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Responsive controls; steady and satisfying character progression
    Weak Points: Very slow gameplay at first; little variety in level layout; occasional cheap deaths
    Moral Warnings: Light violence; cartoony undead monsters; can make deals with, including selling your soul to, a Grim Reaper-type storeowner

    The further you go into the game, the less this becomes an issue, as the gems you pick up from pots and defeated monsters give you access to upgrades, including different weapons, power potions, speed shoes, and the like. Given enough money, the weakling bard quickly becomes a powerhouse capable of tearing through enemies. Of course, if you get too cocky and bumble into a trap, you’re back to square one – death removes every item you’ve collected. You can buy a protective sphere to shield you from one hit, and a shield to protect your items from one death, but being too careless can be costly.

    Death is something you get used to in Bard’s Gold, but each one is avoidable for the most part. Traps can be hard to spot, but still have telltale signs that your eyes adjust to after some time. Enemies have different abilities that can surprise you at first, but are all easily identifiable by color, design, and/or sound. Death is common for the new player, but experienced ones can very well go the whole game without a single failure. The controls are very responsive, with every movement exactly as ordered, so death is always the player’s fault – mostly. Sadly, the bard can’t look up (though he can look down), and offscreen enemies are still active but are silent. There were a few occasions where an unseen slime monster spat a blob of acid that dropped from the sky onto the bard, with no warning or chance of avoidance.

    Upon the end of the game, a screen appears that allows you to pump whatever gems you have remaining into the bard’s skills, ranging from more starting lives to better attack distance to starting each game with an upgrade or three. As such, even if you are struggling with the game, enough time invested will ensure the bard strengthens enough to help out – though most abilities are locked at first, and require finding skill books in-game. Like the rest of the game, the rise to power is slow but steady, and coincides with player skill enough to feel like a reward rather than a handicap. It is important to note, however, that this end screen only appears on game over or game completion; quitting out from the pause menu gives you nothing.

    Once you’ve beaten the game, Bard’s Gold offers a few different ways to vary it up. Each world has a small selection of pre-defined, unchanging levels, offering a chance to memorize and speedrun the game for a spot on the integrated high score leaderboards. There are three difficulties; the two harder ones limit your starting lives and increase enemy health, but multiply the gems you receive. In addition, the hardest one has no checkpoints, requiring a start-to-finish run of the whole game. Finally, there is an item you can unlock in the shop that randomizes the traps in each level while doubling your point gain, offering a breath of fresh air if you’ve grown tired of the normal stages.

    Bard's Gold
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    The presentation of the game is high quality throughout. The pixilated graphics are crisp, clean, and generally well animated, with particular care given to the movements of the bard. There are only two resolution options, with one being miniscule and the other fullscreen; suffice to say, fullscreen is the way to go if you want to actually see traps, especially in the game’s darkened first level. The music is generally appealing, with each song fitting the world it’s in, but the two-minute loops can get tiresome after a while. Finally, the game runs smoothly, with no crashes or hiccups in sight.

    There are a rather surprising amount of moral issues to be found in such a simple game. Combat is prevalent, though only against fantasy monsters like slimes and robots and creatures like bats and worms. The enemies and the bard all vanish upon expiration with no corpses or blood – aside from a bleeding effect, which only puts a red droplet icon above the affected creature. The final world is a graveyard populated by cartoony undead, mainly skeletons and ghosts. Most egregious, however is the storeowner you barter with, being a Grim Reaper analogue. Along with the obvious issue of dealing with an avatar of death, the aforementioned item that randomizes the traps in each level is the bard’s soul, which he sells to the Reaper for a thousand gems. While never necessary, and indeed requiring a conscious decision to unlock in the first place, it’s still selling your soul for money and points, even if it makes the game harder.

    All in all, Bard’s Gold is an engaging little game with a decent amount of variety to it. The biggest draws are the solid controls and the player progression – if you can get through the sluggish opening, driving the bard from wimp to slayer is satisfying and makes the game enjoyable to come back to. With the game currently sitting at $4.99 on Steam, there’s little risk in picking it up – just remember to mind your step, watch your head, and keep both hands on your soul at all times.

    -Cadogan

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Battle Princess Madelyn
    Developer: Causal Bit Games
    Published by: Causal Bit Games, Hound Picked Games
    Release Date: December 5 2018
    Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Platformer
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone for mild fantasy violence
    Price: $ 19.99

    Thank you Causal Bit Games for the review code.

    I want to get something out of the way at the beginning of today's review. While I received the PC version to review I actually ended up buying the Nintendo Switch version of Battle Princess Madelyn. For some reason, my controller had a problem with attacking upwards whether I used my keyboard or controller. When I tested other games everything seemed to be working fine. However, from what I've gathered this bug is unique to me and no one else seems to have this problem. Most likely it is something to do with my computer setup. The controls on the Nintendo Switch version are excellent. With that out of the way, I can happily say Battle Princess Madelyn is a decent experience inspired by the famous Ghosts 'n Goblins series.

    Battle Princess Madelyn was inspired by a seven-year-old's wish to be in her father's favorite game, Ghosts 'n Goblins. An evil overlord kidnaps Madelyn's family and kills Fritzy, the family dog. With hope in her heart and the spirit of her slain companion following her, she goes on an adventure to slay evil and save the world. A lot has improved from when I reviewed the pre-alpha state of the game yet it didn't quite hit the mark of perfection I was hoping for.

    Battle Princess Madelyn
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great arcade mode; lovely art and music direction; great challenge
    Weak Points: Story mode seems forced and tacked on
    Moral Warnings: Slapstick cartoon violence; zombies and ghosts

    So you have two modes to choose from, Arcade mode and Story mode. In Arcade mode it's an experience similar to Ghosts 'n Goblins; you go through several side-scrolling stages, you beat bosses and you rinse and repeat until you beat the last boss and you save the day. In Story mode, you have branching paths, hub towns, larger levels to explore and more. You'll have quests that you can complete that will give you more items and upgrades as you progress through each level.

    The Arcade mode is where I got most of my fun. I enjoyed the experience and it lived up to its Ghosts 'n Goblins comparison. Stage design, music and enemy variety were all perfect. The story mode wasn't as good. The quests aren't very fun; most of them were fetch quests or kill this boss to get a thing. The weapons themselves, while fun to use, don't make for good quest rewards especially if you play through arcade mode first.

    Battle Princess Madelyn
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 3/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Story mode tries to design itself around “metroidvania” style ideas, exploring and searching for power-ups in absorbing, ambiance filled environments. It gets half of the formula right; the music is excellent and matches the ambiance of the stages. The enemies fit the environment of each stage and the stages themselves are well drawn, and it was fun just to admire the detail in the artwork. However, unlike games like Castlevania or Super Metroid, the story mode stages were boring to backtrack through. It was tedious to go back through stages that were arcade mode stages made larger, and the power-ups never felt worth it. In Ghosts 'n Goblins that didn't matter because weapons were for playstyle choices, not progression. You will see people get through that game with the worst weapons as a challenge. Yet when you make Ghosts 'n Goblins style weapons rewards for quest completion and exploration, you feel like you got cheated.

    There's not any serious moral concerns in this game. Magic isn't focused on and watered down to a video game gimmick. Yes, the game has zombies and ghosts but the supernatural element isn't played up for anything serious or influential.

    Despite a story mode that feels like it's tacked on to add more content to the game, Battle Princess Madelyn is a fun experience and I hope to see Causal Bit Games grow from here.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Beeftacular
    Released: Month day, year
    Developed By: Retrific
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: August 26, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Action platformer
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $2.99

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

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review key!

    Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness. Consuming rotten meat is even less advised – it’s more suited to disposal. Join a raw chunk of beef on its quest to remove the spoiled cuts and answer that age-old question: how do you like your steak?

    Not to be confused with another meat-related platformer, Beeftacular tasks you with guiding a living cube of beef around a progressively more complex series of mazes and obstacle courses to eliminate all the rotten meat within. Along with a standard double jump and wall jump, you have two means of attack: a short-range melee slash that pushes you back a bit and three spears. The latter fly in a straight line, though drop off after hitting a rotten beef chunk, and can be picked up again after use. In general, at least on the “experienced” difficulty, you have ten seconds to accomplish this, though a few levels will give you more – though rarely more than you need.

    Beeftacular
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fast-paced, decently varied gameplay; level creator with Steam Workshop support
    Weak Points: Clunky, sluggish menus; no way to preview a level; some stability issues
    Moral Warnings: Bloody meat trails and violence against sentient beef (though it can be somewhat disabled); mild language (d*mn) in a Steam trading card

    The levels start off rather simple, with a few enemies crammed into a tiny space, but soon get rather complex. By the end, you’ll contend with sprawling mazes filled with portals, jump pads, spikes, lasers, crossbow turrets, and crumbling platforms. Expect to die, and die often – though restarting stages happens near-instantaneously, and can be done at any point. Completing a stage presents you with your time and a host of other stats, most prominent being your position on the online leaderboards. That’s where the meat of the game lies: while the ninety levels will take you a good two hours to beat, re-running stages for the best time is actively encouraged. There’s also a full-fledged, easy-to-use level creator where you can make your own courses and share them through Steam Workshop; as of this writing, there are around 150 player-made levels, further adding to Beeftacular’s longevity.

    In-game, Beeftacular runs quite smoothly, keeping the fast-paced atmosphere – I did experience two crashes, one to desktop and one a frozen black screen, but these were isolated events. Your beef cube controls well enough, if a bit floaty, with both keyboard and controller options available. Both control options are fully re-bindable as well, so while the default keyboard layout commits the cardinal platforming sin of “press up to jump,” you’re not stuck with it.

    In the menus, however, all momentum ceases. Booting up the game forces you to sit through about ten seconds of unskippable developer and game logo animations. The menus themselves, upon making a selection, go through a lengthy process of closing the dialogue box, swiping it off the screen, and opening a new one, making simple option toggling a chore. There’s no way to preview a level outside of the low-resolution grayscale outline on the stage select screen, so you’ll have to fly blind for the most part. You also can’t return to the level select screen from the game itself; you either advance to the next stage, restart the current one, or return to the title screen and sit through the opening animations again. While these quality-of-life issues don’t directly affect the gameplay – aside from the missing level preview option, since it makes route planning near impossible – it bogs down the experience as a whole.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 9/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The presentation works as well as it has to. The stages themselves are rather bland gray, with breakable walls and weak floors having differing shades, but that’s mostly to let your beef cube paint it with red as it moves about – every surface it touches gets coated in raw beef juice, letting you see where you’ve gone throughout your attempts at the level. While not graphically impressive, the visual design lets all important bits of the level stand out, making hazards obvious at a mere glance. The sound effects work well here too, with the whoosh of crossbow bolts and the hum of lasers standing out clearly against the wet squelching of the beef’s movement. The soundtrack only boasts two songs, one for the menus and one for the stages, but both are oddly catchy and don’t distract from the gameplay.

    Morality-wise, the whole game revolves around blood and violence, though it’s closer to a prep kitchen than a crime scene. Stages do get extremely messy, and both types of beef leave a puddle on death. To its credit, Beeftacular come with a “sponge” skin, which changes the player beef to a sponge and the rotten meat to paint cans, turning the violence into a colorful game of “kick the can” instead. While in-game dialogue is both sparse and clean, an unlockable Steam trading card contains the description “That d*mn laser!”

    While marred by some quality-of-life issues, Beeftacular is a solid time attack platformer game. The lack of a detailed level preview hurts both casual play and its speedrunning nature, but the wealth and variety of stages, both official and player-made, give it plenty of content. Currently sitting at only $2.99, Beeftacular is a choice cut.

    -Cadogan

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Bird of Light
    Developed by: Roach Interactive
    Published by: Zen Labs
    Released: July 15, 2016
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux
    Genre: Puzzle platformer
    ESRB rating: E
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $4.99

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

    Thank you, Black Shell Media, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

    Cities can be terrible for those with health problems. When you've got asthma, the smog and polluted air can be a serious danger. There's nothing like living in the countryside and enjoying fresh air. When Tara, the protagonist of "Bird of Light" develops asthma, that's exactly what her parents do. 

    Take note that the wide open spaces don't go to the extreme of being suspended in the sky, though. The game consists of these floating islands and running along them. The goal of each level is to travel from the starting point, find the key, and then navigate to the castle. It's a simple concept, but adds a couple of interesting twists.

    Bird of Light
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting approach to the platformer genre; cute graphics
    Weak Points: Repetitive music; steep difficulty curve
    Moral Warnings:None

    Each level is divided into two parts. The first is the overhead map, where you can see the layout of the islands. From this point, you can add additional islands – wooden grids that connect the paths – to make a route from the start to the goal. By spending tokens, you also can reveal the location of the key and the eggs you can collect.

    The second part of the level is the actual run. Tara will run continuously, and you have no control over her speed. You can have her change lanes, turn left or right, reverse her direction, or jump. If she runs into an obstacle or falls off the islands, you can either restart the level or resume from one of the checkpoints you encountered during your run. (You also are treated to a scene of Tara sitting up in bed with a confused expression, which gives the implication that the game is all just a dream.)

    Completing the level will earn you one badge. Each level also offers two additional challenges – a speed run, where you have to retrieve the key and get to the castle within a set amount of time; and a "boss run," in which you have to collect all of the eggs in addition to the key and make it to the castle before too much time passes. In both cases, placing the wooden islands becomes essential, and sometimes the best solutions require different placements for each challenge.

    Bird of Light
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    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 cute and fun, which belies the fact that the game contains a surprising difficulty spike.  The running portion contains some tricky jumps which only get harder as the levels progress. Sometimes this can be mitigated by placing the platforms in different locations, but that bears the risk of failing to achieve certain goals within the time allotted. In addition to the challenges, the game fails to unlock achievements, both within the game and through the Steam platform. So despite its interesting and innovative approach, there are a few flaws in its execution. Also, the music is repetitive and not terribly impressive. 

    On the moral front there is little to be concerned about. As previously mentioned, Tara's "deaths" just consist of her falling with a scream, followed by a scene of her sitting up in bed. There aren't any other issues that come up that could cause any worries.

    Although a clever idea, Bird of Light can prove to be too difficult for younger players. Those who enjoy a platforming challenge or speed runs may find some entertainment in this game, and the $4.99 price tag makes it quite affordable. With the opportunity to get faster times with each of the 29 levels, there is significant replay value in Bird of Light. 

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition
    Developed by: Axol Studio
    Published by: Ratalaika Games
    Release date: August 18, 2016 (3DS)
    Available on: 3DS, Wii U, Windows
    Genre: Run and Gun, Platformer
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up (Fantasy Violence)
    Price: $2.99

    Thank you Ratalaika Games for sending us the game to review!

    The Black Hand of Fate, a terrorist organization, has constructed a secret base in a volcano in Antarctica and it's up to the Blasting Agent to put their plans to a stop. This is the story of Blasting Agent, and it's just as simple as its gameplay, which is a good thing.

    Blasting Agent is a well known game currently available on Kongregate, a site dedicated to smaller budget games. It was originally released in 2009, and was praised by many players. It has been generally updated to smooth and refine the graphics, as well as having new levels and new bosses added in to create the Ultimate Edition. The developers claim that this is the definitive version to play, and it's hard to argue with that.

    Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent level designs; The soundtrack is phenomenal; Crisp graphics and smooth animations.
    Weak Points: A little on the short side; No 3D.
    Moral Warnings: As this is an 8-bit shooting game, there's a minor amount of violence.

    Spread across six expansive levels, players guide the agent across multiple rooms eliminating the various robotic enemies that appear. They can either be shot or jumped on as means of dispatching them. Each level is broken up into separate "rooms" and in each room there are certain amounts of enemies to be defeated and gold to be collected. On easy mode, getting a 90% in both categories for a stage will unlock a power-up. Some power-ups include a dash for movement and the ability to double jump. At the end of each stage is a boss that must be defeated. They all have awesome designs, and no two bosses fight the same, which is a huge plus. Completing the game unlocks hard mode and it lives up to its name. Enemies have more health and deal more damage. The reward for getting 100% in the gold amount and enemy kills unlocks a costume for the agent. The costumes are merely cosmetic, but they each look awesome so I couldn't complain.

    Scattered throughout the levels players can find four different upgrades. Blue upgrades increase speed and range of the bullets, green increases damage, and red adds a spread functionality to the gun. There is also a health upgrade that will increase the agent's heart count by one. All of these are needed as the enemies and bosses become bullet sponges halfway through the game. Every door in the game acts as a checkpoint, and when you are killed you respawn with full health at the last door you entered. This can be utilized effectively to restore health after a difficult room simply by taking damage until the agent dies and respawning. The amounts of enemies eliminated and gold collected are saved at each door, so there's no need to worry about redoing anything if you use the doors this way. 

    Something worth mentioning is if you hold down the 'A' button to continuously shoot, you'll keep firing in the same direction, even if you change directions. To shoot in a different direction just release the 'A' button and you are free to move once more. This takes some time to get used to, but for the most part it's a great feature that should be utilized more in run and gun games.

    Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 95%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Graphically, the 8-bit style works perfectly on a handheld. Sprites are bright and colorful, and levels feel intricately designed without ever feeling too large. Bosses are large and take on an almost 16-bit appearance. They are much smoother looking than anything else in the game and they definitely stand out because of it. At the end of level three the agent is chased down by a giant robot, but unfortunately there's no music playing during the boss fight. This was the only case of a letdown in the game that I found.

    In the audio department, this has one of my favorite soundtracks for a 3DS title. Each song is unique and memorable. In a way, it reminded me of Cave Story. Not particularly in how the music sounds, but that each area has a new song that plays, and they all fit the environments perfectly. This is a soundtrack I may consider purchasing, it's that good. Sound effects are loud and crisp and do a great job exemplifying the action. Ambient sounds like wind blowing across the frozen surface of Antarctica in the first level really instills a sense of being completely alone. 

    As far as appropriateness goes this game is pretty harmless. Since every enemy is a robot there's really no need to be concerned about the violence. At the end of the day there aren't many things to complain about with Blasting Agent, aside from the overall short length of the game. Combining the right amount of difficulty, amazing music, and a visual style all its own, I highly recommend it. $2.99 is a steal for a game of this quality. The passion the developers poured into it can be seen and heard the moment you walk through that first door in level one.

    -Kyuremu

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Bob Was Hungry
    Developed by: Shorebound Studios
    Published by: Shorebound Studios
    Release Date: August 19, 2015
    Available on: PC
    Genre: Platformer
    Number of Players: Up to eight players online
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Shorebound Studios for sending us this game to review!

    Bob is a round alien that likes to eat. He was happily flying around in space and was running out of food until his ship crashed into a meteor and landed on a strange planet along with his dinner that he was about to eat.  Bob’s goal is to locate his dinner and ideally a condiment to go along with it.  

    Each of the one-hundred and seventy levels has a condiment and a meal hidden within it.  The meal is required to unlock the next level, but if you want to have your time recorded and the harder difficulty unlocked, you’ll need to collect the condiment too.  There are various Steam achievements for unlocking various meal combinations.  To earn these achievements, you’ll have to play each level several times over.  That wouldn’t be a big deal if the levels were not very challenging; however, Bob Was Hungry prides itself on being a difficult platformer.  

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Over 170 challenging levels and up to eight players can play through them together
    Weak Points: This  game prides itself on being brutally difficult; some graphical glitches
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    Many people compare Bob Was hungry to a 3D version of Super Meat Boy when it comes to difficulty.  Many of the obstacles in Bob Was Hungry are not visible until it’s too late.  With that said, I felt that many of my deaths were truly earned and that the level design is very sadistic indeed.  I wish I could tell you that there are check points, but there are not.  Each death means that you’ll have to start over from the beginning and re-grab the condiment that’s often difficult to get to.

    Most of the deadly obstacles involve spikes.  Clumps of spikes on the ground, spikes in the wall, moving spikes, spinning spiked wheels, and crushing blocks that have (you guessed it!) spikes all over them.  True to the platformer genre, there are plenty of moving, rotating, and crumbling platforms to jump across as well.

    Bob Was Hungry
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Deaths are celebrated in this game and there are Steam achievements for dying 12, 100, 1,000, and 10,000 times.  Fortunately, the deaths are not gory and simply show Bob breaking up into many pieces.  The graphics are very colorful and look nice.  There are five different worlds to mix things up a bit.  Bob will traverse though plateaus, caves, tropical and arctic zones, and even space!

    Despite dying a lot, I wasn’t too flustered and often laughed at my predicament.  My son laughed at his many deaths as well so I know that I’m not alone.  Perhaps the cheerful music helps calm the nerves.  The sound effects are minimal, but the death “thump” is very fitting.

    Due to this game’s difficulty and not knowing everyone’s patience threshold, it’s hard to give this game a solid recommendation.    It is cute and fun, but very difficult.  The asking price is a reasonable $9.99, but it has been on sale for as little as $0.50.  It’s definitely worth picking up on a sale and there is a demo to see if this game is a good fit for you.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Candleman: The Complete Journey 
    Developed by: Spotlightor Interactive
    Published by: Zodiac Interactive
    Release date: January 31, 2018
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4; partial versions on Android, iOS
    Genre: 3D Platformer
    Number of players: Single player
    ESRB Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you, Zodiac Interactive, for sending us a review key!

    Candleman is a fairy tale. It joins storybook narration to fantastical art design. The levels take you from a ship to a library to an enchanted forest and more. All this, as best I can tell, is in service to one thing: helping the player accept that they are playing as a bipedal candle. Candleman is pretty, and the story it tells is oddly uplifting. But if you choose to pick it up, do it for the gameplay. Candleman is the best 3D candle platformer ever, and it just might be among the best 3D platformers in years.

    The game opens on a candle looking at itself in a mirror and having an existential crisis. The narrator tells you that the candle wants to know why it exists and wonders if it can shine as bright as yonder lighthouse. Feel free to ignore the premise; Tolkien it isn’t. The important thing is the game’s main mechanic: your character is a candle that can burn for ten seconds total over the course of each level. Other than that, the candle can move and jump. That’s it.

    Burning is used for navigation; as you might expect, Candleman is a dark game overall. Each level contains a certain number of hidden candles that must be lit for 100% completion. Lighting all the candles grants the second half of the short poetic couplets used to name each level. I consider lighting all of these candles part of the essential experience. The levels might appear fantastical, but they are very economic in their design. If you find a nook, there is probably a candle hidden there. The challenge is in using the level’s unique gimmick to reach the candles. They serve the practical purpose of illuminating the levels, and most levels would be much shorter without them. This is not necessarily bad; as time challenge mode demonstrates, most levels can be cleared in less than three minutes when the player is focused purely on reaching the end. As someone who never speedruns games, I found two to three minutes an ideal length for a level in which I might mess up at the end and lose my wonderful time.

    Candleman: The Complete Journey
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent level design; smooth difficulty curve; good art and lighting design; consistently surprising use of light mechanics; well-positioned camera; story and time challenge modes offer very different experiences of the same levels
    Weak Points: The last quarter of the game is weaker than the rest; occasional keyboard control issues
    Moral Warnings: Ghosts, one of which can eat the candle; Candle can “die” due to crushing, falling, fire, and ghosts; Some frightening moments

    Lighting hidden candles is the skeleton of Candleman; the meat is the levels themselves. Candleman has twelve worlds averaging four levels apiece. The worlds are loosely grouped mechanically and thematically in sets of three, dividing the entire game into quarters. Without spoiling all the fun mechanics involved, I want to give a brief overview of the structure of the game. The first quarter introduces the basic mechanics and physics system, requiring the candle to push around platforms in water and adjust to the shifting gravity of a ship at sea. The game quickly sheds its thin veneer of physics simulation in the land of magical books and bottles of fairy dust. The second quarter is easily the most beautiful; the candle’s light is used to explore a colorful enchanted garden. Quarter three was my favorite, and quarter four, in a manner well-attested among great games, was the weakest.

    It would be hard to list all the clever ways the candle’s light is used even if I wanted to spoil them. (Except one thing showed in the game’s trailer: there are flying lanterns, like you might know from China or Tangled.) Sometimes plants will grow at your approach. Some creatures will fear—or chase—your light. Ice, water, and fire react to the candle in the same way they would in reality; it feels like there’s a real candle in the world of the game. Still, the strength of the game is the world-by-world gimmicks which never get old. At the halfway point, when I thought the game was out of ideas, it surprised me with a difficult mechanistic world followed by a magical mirror world.

    Whatever the world’s primary gimmick, the game makes sure you understand it before forcing you to use it under pressure. This classic principle of game design is used to great effect here. A potential downside of the carefully-graded difficulty curve is that the story never feels particularly challenging. It’ll make you think, certainly, but not for long. I was rarely stuck on a level. Even so, a completionist run of the story took me about six hours. For a video game, five to six hours is often considered short. In the case of Candleman, it felt about right. Note that this review is of the full version of the game as available on computers and consoles; currently, the mobile versions do not seem to include all worlds.

    Candleman: The Complete Journey
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - -10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I would be remiss not to praise Candleman’s camerawork. Since the dawn of the N64, the camera have been the worst aspect of many a 3D game. Candleman answers the problem by setting the camera angle and moving it for you as you go about each level. This ensures that you nearly always see what you need to. I can remember only two times that the candle was completely hidden behind level geometry. A fixed camera also mitigates the motion sickness I sometimes feel in 3D games after playing them for a while. The camera is not perfect, but it is very good.

    “Controls follow suit,” is what I really wanted to say. It’s almost true. However, Candleman is a port of an Xbox One game, and with porting typically comes bizarre issues. Candleman’s controller support is solid. It’s so solid that a controller shaves significant time off of challenge runs. A keyboard will get you through the game, but it will slow you down if you try to race with it. Also, on two levels, the keyboard controls got stuck, running the candle in one direction and off a ledge until I paused and unpaused the game. Like I said, a keyboard is sufficient to play the game. A controller is ideal.

    The game is nonviolent in general. The candle can “die” to any number of hazards, from fire to crushers to spiky plants to ghosts. One of the ghosts, if it touches you, makes a distinctive crunching sound as the candle disappears. It’s a little disturbing, though not as much as the only boss-like encounter in the game. You don’t fight; you run. Still, the boss encounter involves—mild spoilers through the end of the paragraph—a scarier experience with a lighthouse lamp than I thought possible. Technically it is a nightmare sequence. (Why not give the candle a nightmare sequence?) Nevertheless, the boss feels like it was designed by H.P. Lovecraft.

    As a game, Candleman is straightforward and does not overstay its welcome. It is not challenging; it is merely fun. The story about the value of one’s place in the world interested me more than I expected even as the game stumbled toward its lower-quality yet pretty ending. Afterward, the gameplay was enough to bring me to the time trial mode. If “3D platforming candle” isn’t enough to get your attention, perhaps “good 3D platforming candle” is.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Celeste
    Developed by: Matt Makes Games
    Published by: Matt Makes Games
    Released: January 25th, 2018
    Available on: macOS, PS4, Switch(Reviewed), Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Adventure, Platforming
    ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    *Note - This review was written before the free DLC was released featuring gay/trans pride flags* 

    Video games are a complicated type of media for storytelling. It’s nearly impossible to make the gameplay and story work harmoniously; most games try to create a great story and great gameplay, then mash the two together. In most cases, little would be lost story-wise from telling the game’s tale in a book or movie. However, there is the rare title that masterfully crafts the gameplay such that it tells the story, and allows for few spoken words. Celeste is one of those games, which couples mental healing with platforming that gets extremely challenging, to put it lightly. But what makes the story and gameplay flow so well?

    Celeste is a story about overcoming mental illness. Madeline, a Canadian young adult, wants to climb Celeste Mountain in order to prove something, though she isn’t initially sure what that is. The mountain is infamous for changing people’s lives, but it’s not immediately apparent why. After meeting an old woman who teases Madeline about her ambitions, Madeline begins her climb. She soon meets another traveler, Theo, who quickly becomes a significant character in the story. The initial climb is tough, but Madeline makes it, and soon discovers why the mountain changes people. As she approaches a mysterious mirror, Madeline’s negative traits are physically manifested into Badeline, who serves as the main antagonist for most of the game. Nevertheless, Madeline continues her climb.

    I’ll openly admit, I didn’t expect Celeste‘s story to be so moving, considering that a good story is atypical, if not unheard of, in the genre. So, having such a great story was quite surprising. In terms of dialogue and cutscenes, the game is relatively thin, yet it makes the most of the interactions present. All the characters felt important to Madeline’s quest and were well developed. Theo’s character helped serve as a foil and secondary protagonist to Madeline, while Mr. Oshiro and the old woman served as the knowledgeable and mysterious elders. The way Madeline’s conversations with these characters change as the game progresses is a story in itself, as it shows her overcoming depression and becoming stronger as a result. Celeste‘s story is the best the genre has to offer due to the parallels of the figurative and literal.

    The story also ties in to gameplay. Celeste isn’t needlessly hard; its difficulty serves as an obvious metaphor. Games like Super Meat Boy seem to just be hard for the novelty of it, whereas Celeste‘s reasoning makes it much more appealing to play for me. Of course, everyone is different, but the story isn’t obstructive to the gameplay, so it ends up being a win-win scenario for the designers. You can skip all the dialogue and story if you wish, which may be what some prefer to do (though I don’t recommend it).

    Celeste
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interwoven story and gameplay; Emotional, beautiful soundtrack; Stellar pixel art
    Weak Points: None
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon Violence; One use of the word "h*ll"

    Celeste‘s gameplay is centered around getting from point A to point B on a screen, but this is much harder in practice, of course. Every hazard will instantly kill Madeline, sending her back to the beginning of the screen. Madeline can move left and right, jump, climb and use a dash. The dash can be used once in the air or on the ground as many times as desired, and is the primary interaction with the new objects in each stage. Climbing is intuitive: Madeline can latch on to a wall she faces, but she can only climb for so long before becoming fatigued. Standing on a platform allows Madeline to regain her dash and lose her fatigue. Naturally, having two of the main movement options centered around solid ground means that often the challenge of the game is simply to reach a platform before Madeline loses her grip and plummets to her death.

    Celeste manages to create entertaining, challenging stages, each differentiated by certain techniques required for completion. These are always taught in a safe environment, but quickly require mastery for progression through the stage. There are a plethora of techniques to learn, but none overstay their welcome. The gimmick of each stage is self contained, which keeps gameplay fresh as opposed to convoluted. If one is playing a variation of Golden Ridge, for example, they can expect tangible clouds, high wind speeds, and green dash bubbles, which can be found nowhere else. Of course, the reaction abilities and movement skills developed throughout the course of the game serve as a unifying factor by being applicable everywhere, but each level is guaranteed to have its own twist on things.

    One benefit of this localized system is the aforementioned lack of chaotic gameplay and focus on skills, and the other is just as important. If you don’t find a stage’s technique particularly enjoyable, you can simply avoid it! I didn’t like the cloud bouncing, but I didn’t need to worry about impacting the rest of the game since it would stay within a single level. Plus, keeping each stage isolated means that the harder B-side and C-side variations of the stage can make the most out of the techniques present. Instead of saving the hardest dash platform challenges for the final level, they can be present in level 5-C, making each challenge variation memorable in its own way.

    Celeste greatly benefits from allowing player choice. Instead of forcing players to complete a linear series of challenges, the developers took the Super Mario Odyssey approach: when comparing the difficulty of challenges, the easiest 25% are the main story paths, while the intensity quickly increases in side content. The main story isn’t going to be a breeze for the best players either; there are 175 strawberries to collect, often sequestered behind a challenging screen. It’s great that even the main story has difficulty levels that can be created for yourself, since many games simply say that disgruntled top level players should simply wait for post game challenges. There’s even more than the strawberries, like the aforementioned B and C-sides. In each level of Celeste’s main story, there is a hidden challenge room containing a B-side cassette at the end of a rhythm based challenge. The B-sides use the same visuals and concepts as the A-sides, but are much harder. It’s somewhat like an alternate reality. If B-sides are still too easy, the C-sides for each stage unlock after finishing all the B-sides. There is also an 8th stage, called The Core, which has multiple prerequisites to play its A, B, and C-side. If all that isn’t enough, there’s also the golden strawberries, which require the player to beat an entire stage in a single run, or, in one case, beat a stage without dashing. This last challenge is infeasible to all but the most devoted, so I personally consider it a bonus as opposed to an actual goal. Also, the developers have announced that some farewell stages are coming soon. Whether these are D-sides or whole new levels, they were described as “very hard” by Matt Thorson, the game’s director, so I have high expectations. Clearly, Celeste has something for everyone with its level design, and that is both admirable and reasonable.

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

    Game Score - 98%
    Gameplay - 20/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

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

    No review of Celeste would be complete without touching on the presentation. As expected, the music and visuals are stellar as an individual entity and add to the narrative about mental health. Each stage in Celeste has a piece, which has a variety of movements that coincide with the events of the chapters. This makes the music dynamic, and enjoyable to listen to with or without the game. This variation also lets Madeline’s mood and feelings be expressed, which is important to the story, of course. The fast tempo of a chase scene leading into a moment of peace adds so much to the game, and makes the tracks memorable. In fact, I am contemplating buying a copy of the album, an honor reserved for only the best soundtracks. The B-sides have remixed versions of these tracks, arranged by guest composers. This makes each stylistically distinct, but the originals are still great.

    Celeste, like many other games, has a pixelated style, but that doesn’t stop it from being unique. The design of every character, trap, platform, and background is polished, and often breathtaking. From the snowy industrial scenes of the Forsaken City, to the joyous sunsets in Golden Ridge, every sight is visually pleasing. Like the music, the visuals change with the mood, magnifying its effect. When a brief ray of sunshine (literally and figuratively) glimmers down on the player, it’s a moment of jubilation, as the worst has passed. I loved the distinct styles of Celeste‘s presentation, and it will forever stick out in my memory.

    Celeste doesn't have many moral issues, even though it is a story about mental health. Madeline's deaths are simply shown as explosions of color, so it isn't very graphic. At one point, the word "h*ll" is used, but that is it for the language.

    Celeste is a masterpiece. Everything can be enjoyed at different levels; people can be analytical of it, or simply just play for the platforming. No matter how you derive enjoyment from it, Celeste won’t disappoint. The story is endearing, interwoven, and help people understand what the depressed must cope with and how they overcome it. This game shows how powerful of a literary tool video games are, not just an interactive movie. Climbing a mountain is one large metaphor, so it’s no wonder that everything in the game fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. Even if you play just for the challenge of the platforming, you’ll understand Madeline’s struggle, and through that, the story. It’s impressive how well Madeline’s depression and how she overcomes it is portrayed, since even those who never had struggles mentally will be able to sympathize will her. The soundtrack and visuals only further improve the game, exponentially increasing the impact of the story. Although everyone has their own preferences when it comes to video games, Celeste is a title everyone should play, and those who choose to will certainly adore it.

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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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