Category: Reviews

Metamorphosis Review

Developer: Ovid Works
Publisher: All in! Games
Music: Ovid Works
Platforms: PC, PS4, XboxOne, Nintendo Switch
Released: 12 August 2020
Genre: Adventure puzzle

Ugh, you wake up with a hell of a hangover, you, Gregor, and your best friend Joseph had way too many drinks. But you’ve got work, and you need to go find your friend. It sure was nice of him to let you crash at his place. Now to go wake up your friend.

Except… the rooms are getting bigger… no, you’re getting smaller. Your body shifting, changing, suddenly you have more limbs, books tower over you, and your day becomes very surreal.

You’re… a bug.

And as you enter a letter, that is the least of your problems.

You must get to Tower for any hope of regaining your humanity. You must find and help Joseph, caught up in a trial for a crime no one will explain. Two very big problems, for one very small bug.

Your journey isn’t an easy one, with multiple pathways, colourful and bizarre characters, and a surreal, whimsical world, you need to find out why you were turned into a bug, what is going on, why is Joseph on trial, and what is Tower?

Metaphorphosis is a world inspired by the works of Franz Kafka, and it is a beautiful, detailed adventure puzzle game, with a hand painted aesthetic. You are Gregor, now a bug, and you need to figure out what is going on.

You’re a bug. So you get bug powers! If your feet are sticky you can climb up vertical surfaces. You have to get creative with how you can navigate the world, in some ways you’re very capable as a bug! You’re rather speedy, you can jump quite far, and walls aren’t much of an issue. But you are small, and it’s very easy to drown, miscalculate and fall to your death, or get crushed by a book. It’s very easy to get lost or overwhelmed by the sheer scale of things, but there is a helpful feature that allows you to get a fly-eye’s view of the world, allowing you to see your destination and goal, and to make your decisions.

You’ll have multiple paths, not just physically, but also with your decisions. Some are obvious, some are easier than others.

And the game has a lot of fun with the fact that you’re a bug and you’re bug-sized. Interesting pathways, unique obstacles, fun and creative ways to get around. There is a sense of wonder and joy as you navigate this world. I am reminded of when I was a child and I’d imagine being a mouse, sailing down the gutter on a ship made of leaves. And the world built at the bug level is delightfully detailed, populated with a variety of insects, speakeasies, and even its own form of government. Many of us are familiar with the frustration that comes with bureaucracy, don’t worry! It is well-recreated here. But even with all that, with everything that’s happening, you find yourself in a forest of mushrooms, or on a tiny ship sailing through the air, or surfing on a supply request form.

It’s beautiful, with a touch of magic and whimsy.

The sound is extremely immersive, you hear your own skittering, changing depending on the surface, the human giants around you chatting through walls, their voices garbled but deep, resonating through the walls. Machines whirring, drawers opening and closing, and a lawyer droning on and on, doing a great job at explaining absolutely nothing. It makes the world feel very big, and you very, very small.

The music is well composed, and a lot of fun, highlighting exciting moments, displaying the scale of the world. I would find myself feeling very nervous at times, as I felt exposed and vulnerable at times. The music contributed to that, but it also lent to the whimsical nature of this bug society you find yourself falling into. The wacky characters you’d run into, the things you’d see and experience.

I am not the biggest fan of bugs, but I found myself charmed and intrigued by the world Ovid Works had created. There was the human world that I was aware of, my best friend was on trial for something, and I watched the roadblocks and issues he went through. Gregor is invested in that world. But the bug world is just as intriguing, interesting, filled with vibrancy and character and wonder. And you have your own problems to deal with. So I found myself stressing about my tasks and trials, but also I just had to stop and look around. I wanted to observe and interact with this world. There were towns and groups and even a little cult to check out. Hidden areas, little secrets, a dozen paths to a single goal.

The world is so big, and so detailed, and it made me want to explore. The gameplay was creative, fun, and made me think and plot my path. And the ending… well, I’m not sure where you’ll end up, but it is one I want to revisit later. There are multiple paths, and I feel guilty about the one I took.

It’s kinda weird that as a bug you’d have so much control over what happens, it’s an awfully big responsibility. But the game makes you capable of it.

Fight Crab Review

Developer: Calappa Games
Publisher: Calappa Games
Music: DEKU
Platforms: Steam (PC), Nintendo Switch, itch.io/Booth (PC)
Released: 30-July 2020 (PC), 15-September 2020 (Switch)
Genre: 3D fighting game

You are a crab.

A simple crab, you find yourself thrown into the ocean with a single purpose, a single goal, and a single thought:
You must fight.

A 3D fighting game, Fight Crab takes you through battle after battle, flipping your opponents onto their back.

However, like crabs, your task isn’t all that simple. As a decapod crustacean, you must master control over your armoured body and 10 limbs. You not only battle in the ocean, facing other crabs, but you also take to the streets, castles, cities, determinedly focused on flipping every single opponent you encounter, whether they be crab, lobster, or otherwise.

But… does your tough shell hide a soft interior? Technically, yes! But emotionally, it’s all crab all the way through.

This is a fun, chaotic, broken-but-it-feels-right sort of game.

The game mechanics are cluttered to say the least, deliberately so. The controls make sense, and they’re easy to learn (it’s easiest if you use a controller!), but they’re difficult to master, and that’s part of the fun of it.

You’ll find yourself flailing your claws around, scuttling over obstacles, wielding anything your pincers can grab a hold of. Your body is a weapon, and so is your environment, and your enemy is also a weapon. The weapon your enemy is holding could be your weapon as well.

Punch your enemy, block your enemy, grab onto them, forcing them to yield to your crustaceous superiority. Who cares if you’re facing a lobster with a knife and gun, it could be your knife and gun if you’re crab enough.

You can level up your crab, perfect it’s form to your style. You unlock new crustaceans and weapons, and you also earn abilities and power ups. Are you ready to surge with righteous crab power, pummel your opponent, and then blast them away with pure, crabby energy? Well, you better be!

If at first, you feel you’re mashing buttons, that’s ok. Crabs also need to learn the ways of tactics, finesse, and controls. You and your crab will grow together. Soon you will be in sync with each other.

Outside, you may be human. But inside, emotionally, it’s crab.

Sound effects are standard for a fighting game, your claws sound satisfying, you can hear the energy of the blast as you’re blown away. There’s an announcer telling you your next opponent is arriving.

Now the music is good. It’s powerful, it’s futuristic, energising, and enjoyable to listen to. And it pushes the whole game experience to the limits. This is an absurd game, it’s silly, it’s like a joke that’s played seriously. And there were genuine moments when I thought ‘oh actually, that’s pretty cool’.

The music ties it all together.

I was a little nervous about playing this game, I have a history with our crustacean friends, and I worried I wouldn’t enjoy this game. I thought it would be too goofy, with minimal effort for a laugh. And the UI and menus reinforced that, they look very ‘serious’ but I couldn’t understand a lot of it initially. Parts of the game could’ve done with a lot more polish. So, I was a little apprehensive.

I am happy to say I was proven wrong.

I don’t know if it’s a great game, but it definitely was a fun game. And I am astounded by how well this was executed. The controls were easy to learn, the game actually automatically locks onto your target and manages parts of your controls so you’re not overwhelmed. You’re given so many weapons, power ups, and abilities that I just could not wait to use whatever it was I grabbed. It’s a tree? Ok! A coconut crab has appeared with a hammer? I’m not going to back down, onwards I go! A lobster with rockets attached to its claws? Who thinks of these things, this is brilliant! I’m having an absolute whale of a time. I can’t wait to crack open this sweet game at a party with friends.

Maybe the UI leaves me crabby, I felt like I was going crabwise with the layout and navigation of the menus, and maybe I felt like I was being thrown into boiling water with the battles as chaos reigned.

But that doesn’t matter much.

Because I am a crab, and I must fight.

Boomerang Fu Review

Developer: Cranky Watermelon
Publisher: Cranky Watermelon
Music: Paul Kopetko & Zorsy & Marskye
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC (Windows)
Released: 13th August 2020
Genre: Couch Co-Op, Local Multiplayer, Party Game

Ready… Set… SLICE!

Boomerang Fu is a slice and dice with your friends kind of couch co-op (that reminds me of fruit ninja, maybe that’s because of the fruit characters). With its cute little character design, you and your boomerang must face off other players to be the last one standing. Each round shows off engaging maps that you must manoeuvre in order to survive the wrath of a stray boomerang. This awesome game isn’t much on the story side of things and more of a party game that’s all about local multiplayer madness. Cranky Watermelon is an Australian studio that promised cute cartoonish food related characters and they definitely delivered on that promise, you can play as an eggplant, avocado, banana, a donut or even as a highly caffeinated coffee cup among other characters.

The game play is frantic and fast paced which is exactly what you want in a couch co-op. There are over 30 different maps that have a variety of different interactable elements such as traps, switches that open or close passageways as well as teleporters that can transport you across the arena setting you up for a surprise attack on an unsuspecting player. There are a few different modes with customizable rules just in case you want to slow things down or ramp it up. One of the modes involves teaming up with a pal to take on another group, there’s also a Golden Boomerang mode where you must hold onto the gold boomerang the longest to win each round.

When you first jump in you notice that the controls are really simple and easy to learn as there are only three buttons you need keep track of, dash, throw, and slice. As you play there are more mechanics that you get introduced to such as power-ups that stack together after each round. Some of the power ups are teleport, explosive, fire, ice, disguise, shield and many more.

Initially I was overwhelmed by this stacking of power-ups because I felt that I wasn’t clearly instructed on that mechanic and I thought that I might have to alternate between abilities that I gathered so I felt a bit caught off guard when an avocado not only threw an explosive boomerang but one that also split into multiple of them, thus ‘sliceploding’ me into oblivion.

Rounds last somewhere between 5 seconds and 15 seconds making this game one that requires focus in order to win the most rounds. Cranky Watermelon was inspired by games such as Overcooked, Towerfall and Love is in a Dangerous Space Time to give you an idea of what the experience is similar too.

Paul Kopetko not only developed this game but also had a hand in the music which has this futuristic, trap electronic music vibe that pumps you up nicely for some boomerang slicing action. My only negative comment to make is that the music is rather repetitive in game and after a while I found myself feeling a bit worn down by the high intensity, especially since the gameplay is already hectic enough, which I guess comes from the Overcooked inspiration.

Overall Boomerang Fu is the frantic, fun, and feisty little couch co-op that is ideal for any game loving household, especially if you enjoy kicking your friend’s butts on a game night. Boomerang Fu is also relatively affordable at a little over $20 of the Nintendo E-shop, I played on the Nintendo Switch and I feel this game is designed really well for console, so my recommendation is to play with either the Switch or Xbox One. I really enjoyed my time with Boomerang Fu and look forward too many more nights attempting to make fruit salad out of my friends.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on 19th August 2020

The Flame In The Flood Review

Developer: The Molasses Flood
Publisher: Curve Digital
Music: Chuck Ragan
Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch
Released: February 24, 2016
Genre: Survival

Flame in the Flood takes place in an apocalyptic world ravaged by a great flood. The focus isn’t on action, towering ruins or cool weapons, rather on nature reclaiming itself. Nature is your greatest enemy and ally in this game, propelling you down the river but trying to stop you every step of the way. You play as scout, a young survivalist, following a radio signal down a perilous river. You aren’t a fighter but have good survival skills to navigate danger and make what you need. Your only companion is your loyal (and near indestructible) dog Aesop, who finds resources for you, alerts you of danger, and even carries a secondary bag. Aesop can’t fight but also can’t get hurt so it’s a fair trade off.

It boasts vibrant visuals that overflow with a southern Americana aesthetic. The colours are rich and the shadows are intimidating. This style, with help from the soundtrack, creates a charming folksy setting that’s relaxing even when fighting for your life. Sometimes (usually during a thunderstorm at night) I would be unable to make out an area in the dark and an enemy would jump out. While annoying, it probably came close to the vision you’d actually have in that situation and it kept me on my toes. The animal designs are great, stylized, and threatening when they need to be. Though uncommon to meet, the designs for NPCs are full of character!

Flame in the Flood offers two modes of play, campaign and endless. Campaign has Scout searching for safety down river and will take around 6 hours, assuming you don’t die. The game does allow you to return to checkpoints when you die but these are pretty spread out, so you still feel the sting of losing progress. The game consists of either sailing down river or gathering resources from the locations on its banks. Thankfully, the game doesn’t have time to get boring because just staying alive requires managing so many things. Additionally, each world is randomly generated so each game is a different journey. Endless mode operates basically the same as the Campaign but with none of the story-beats and no ending. It’s best for people who want to achievement hunt or challenge themselves.

Flame in the Flood doesn’t offer a tutorial and just throws players into the thick of things. Mechanics are simple and don’t need an explanation, but it can take some time to work out how to deal with enemies and treat different conditions. While having a tutorial would certainly make things easier, discovering new ways to handle problems is one of the most rewarding parts of this game. Plus, what’s a survival game without a dozen deaths under your belt before you beat it?

There are seven things you need to manage in order to survive your journey: hunger, thirst, temperature, energy, sickness, injury and raft integrity. To improve one usually requires resources that risk/reduce another, creating the delicate balance key to survival games. It’s easy to keep track of everything on the HUD, they even included a portrait that shows how close Scout is to death.

The crafting system in this game is one of the best I’ve played with. There is a logical path from basic items to late game ones. The scarcity of items, and the risk of obtaining them, is well balanced throughout your journey. Some things definitely don’t work as simply as they should like, when checking the stats of a particular clothing item it needs to be equipped, not just in inventory. This would only cost me an extra second or two, but I found myself annoyed each time. Thankfully the few flaws were never enough to take away from my experience with this game.

The soundtrack for this game is incredible and stands out for being comprised of acoustic country songs with strong vocals. This soundtrack, created by singer Chuck Ragan for this game, is heart of this game. It would still be enjoyable to play with different songs but would not be the same game and would not be the same experience. I fell in love with this game in one of my earliest attempts. I was bleeding out, incredibly thirsty and clinging to life on a raft held together with string. I was disheartened and ready to give up, when River and Dale began playing bringing a thunderstorm with it. I collected the rainwater and sailed down the rapids to the next town with more supplies. I lived for many days after that and made it twice as far as my other attempts. These songs are hopeful, emotional and always kick in at just the right moment.

Flame in the Flood doesn’t offer too much story and that is usually what I look for in games. However, its world is so captivating that I had no problem feeling emotionally engaged. The story doesn’t offer much replay value but that’s what endless mode is for! If you’re a fan of the survival genre, you should definitely check it out, if you want a rich world to get lost in, you should definitely check it out, and if you want a beautiful acoustic soundtrack you should definitely check it out.

Reviewed by Maylee Flannery @MayleeFlannery on 5th June 2020

Superliminal Review

Developer: Pillow Castle
Publisher: Pillow Castle
Music: Matt Christensen
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Released: November 12, 2019 (Windows), July 7, 2020 (Others)
Genre: First Person Puzzle

Are you filled with feelings of self-doubt? Do you find yourself prone to minimizing massive dilemmas or for allowing the smallest problems to get blown completely out of proportion? At the Pierce Institute, our patent-pending SomnaSculpt technology provides safe and effective dream therapy while you rest in the comfort of our flagship clinic.

SomnaSculpt: We’ll make your dreams come true!

A first-person puzzle game, you play as a client experiencing dream therapy. Many are familiar with ‘dream logic’, where impossible things happen, strange rules are accepted, and you just don’t really know what could happen next. Superliminal is like that.

Doors appear and disappear. Objects can appear flat, but become 3D with just the right angle. Big objects become small, and vice versa. It’s a topsy turvy world, and within it you must solve puzzles in order to progress, with the friendly voice of Glenn Pierce reassuring you, and the less-friendly robotic voice of the orientation system coaching you, to guide the way. The environment is clinical, but friendly. Safe, interesting, and just a little bit silly.

Until… something goes wrong. And you find yourself solving puzzles not just to progress, but to escape, with the dream becoming more and more confusing, erratic, with the still-calm voice of Glenn Pierce trying to help you, but it comes with a sense of someone trying to keep a level-head while things go very, very wrong.

The main mechanic of the game is the utilisation of ‘forced perspective’. Real life examples include when people take photos of themselves with the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the background, staged in such a way that it looks like they’re holding it up.

In Superliminal, that is turned up to 11. If you pick up or place an object further away from yourself, it becomes bigger. If you move it closer, it becomes smaller. With this you can create platforms to climb up on, enter toy-like buildings, or even shrink yourself down, and vice versa.

You’ll find objects painted in perspective, or in pieces, and you have to align yourself just so in order to bring that object to life. Floors won’t exist unless you put something on it, sometimes objects will duplicate instead of being moved or manipulated. I had a particularly challenging time in a room with a giant apple. The game teaches you to look around, literally change your perspective, and knowing that you must solve each puzzle. Some are a bit easier than others, there’s a few rooms where I found myself walking around in circles, trying to find the moment when the solution would just click.

But sometimes I would have a literal headache, trying everything I could think of, wandering around, hoping for the solution to reveal itself. A couple of times I would solve it by accident, with a sense of ‘oh… that was it?’.

It is mindboggingly clever how they managed to execute these mechanics, and for the first few minutes I just played around, marvelling at it and all its possibilities. And for the most part it was utilized in really fun and clever ways. I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the game, into the dream, as things got more and more twisted, unpredictable, progressing and finding a way forward somehow while feeling like the ground I stood on was about to fall beneath me at any moment, like the crumbling edge of a cliff.

The auditory experience was at odds with the erratic world I was experiencing, but it kept me grounded. The music was relaxing, clinical, like something you would hear in the waiting room at the dentist. It was understated, easy to tune out, but it always reminded me that I, the player, was definitely within a clinic at all times. Trapped within dream therapy. That relaxing jazz music felt quite sinister as the game progressed.

In addition, there are sounds specifically for giving you a sense of scale. You’ll hear a cute little boop sound when you pick up or drop objects, however you’ll realise just how gigantic you made the object as the sound of it falling fills the room. It’s not when it hits the ground, it’s when it’s falling through the air. What does that sound like? Like a big thing falling.

I enjoyed playing Superliminal, it was a lot of fun, with a lovely, consistent artstyle that ties everything together, an impressive feat as you see how lighting, tone, and setting changes throughout the game. The usage of forced perspective as a mechanic is fascinating, and unique. I love unique, when it’s executed well. It didn’t hold my hand, the game already told me everything I needed to know to solve these puzzles. I started off curious and excited to even more curious and nervous when the tone of the game shifted.

But it felt like there could’ve been more. More depth, more symbolism, more story. It felt anti-climatic. But thinking on it further, the ending wasn’t bad, and I liked the message it presented. I finished the game feeling cheated. It’s all just a dream, right? But…I’ve been thinking, does that make the dream unimportant?

Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 5th of August 2020

Samsara Room

Developer: Rusty Lake & Cube Escape
Publisher:
Rusty Lake
Music:
Victor Butzelaar
Platforms:
Mobile (iOS & Android), PC (Windows & Mac)
Released:
20th April 2020 (Remake)
Genre:
Point & Click Adventure, Puzzle, Interactive Narrative, Escape Room

Where am I?
Is this the circle of life?
I have to find a way out.

Rusty Lake’s unorthodox escape room thriller Samara Room is unlike most games of this genre. It’s eerie, contemplative, and abstract. I should also mention that there is a shapeshifting, inter-dimensional, deep diving into a stream of consciousness theme in this one so, it can be a bit of a confusing rollercoaster. Set in 1935 following the events that have taken place in Rusty Lake: Roots (prequel game to Samsara Room), you follow William Vanderboom’s rebirth through an interesting reincarnation life and death cycle. Samsara Room features lots of different puzzles not seen in the original and shows lots of new narrative that fits in with the Rusty Lake series. Rusty Lake do an amazing job of directing you towards clues or a puzzle to solve, they also use a simplistic 2D art style that makes me think of magazine cartoon cut outs. The main plot needs little explanation because this type of game’s fate is determined by your own personal experience but due to the nature of the story and it’s bizarre experiences, I’m not even sure I can fully explain what IS happening.

From a gameplay perspective Samsara Room is relatively straightforward, you start off by climbing into a hole behind a painting and then you re-emerge into a world without gravity. From that point onwards you begin gathering information about your where abouts and how to get out of one room and into the next. This point and click style escape room feels more like an interactive narrative with some ‘thrillery’ vibes. Obviously the game is designed in a way where you must look for clues and things out of place that might guide you to the next stage of the narrative.

Samara Room is wonderfully designed, it really encourages you to think about what is happening whilst providing weird and strange scenes that you struggle to understand. Meanwhile you are not even paying attention to all the hours going by in real life because you become so engrossed in finding the next clue or item that might lead you to whatever creepy place you end up. If you do play this game without any context to previous Rusty Lakes games like I did you might find yourself very confused and it would appear to have no backstory or nothing to frame the narrative with. In saying that I still played the game all the way until the end because it was so interesting and odd that I had to know what happens despite not fully understanding its context. The reason for that is simple, Samara Room has a seemingly magical ability to pull you in with intrigue, holding your attention with confusing riddles that seemingly pulls you further into the mysterious mind of the Rusty Lake developers. There are also odd objects that you find in these rooms such as worms, feathers, the Sun, and the moon, even a dead person.

The combination of easy to use gameplay mechanics and hypnotizing music captivates you entirely. Victor Butzelaar’s composition is delicate using sparing strokes of piano keys and subtle atmospheric sounds for each room you enter. The music helps you concentrate on the scene at hand whilst simultaneously keeping you on edge. There are 15 other games by Rusty Lake & Cube Escape that are all part of this overarching series or sinister and peculiar themes, they are mostly free and deeply fascinating. Here is an order to play the games in from the Rusty Lake subreddit that might help provide some guidance for newbies.

I must say even though I had little understanding about what was happening originally and after further research Samsara Room is one of many doors into the mind of the developers Rusty Lake and Escape Cube. If you like a bizarre indie game that takes you on a journey into the unknown using symbols and analogies to depict life and death, I highly recommend this game and anything else that comes from the Rusty Lake series.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on 29th of July 2020

P.A.M.E.L.A.

Developer: NVNVYVE® StudiosYVE® Studios
Publisher: NVNVYVE® StudiosYVE® Studios
Music:  NVNVYVE® StudiosYVE® Studios
Platforms: PC
Released: 18th June 2020
Genre: Survival Action, Horror, FPS

You wake up from cryo-sleep, it’s dark, with flashing monitors. A gentle voice speaks out to you, from PAMELA, a benevolent AI, who explains. Her city, Eden, a utopia where petty crime was a rare event, has fallen. Her people infected by a horrific disease. They tore each other apart, tipping a paradise into darkness.

But you are her hope. A human free from the disease, kept in stasis, she has woken you up to find out what happened, and to put an end to it.

A first person survival horror game, P.A.M.E.L.A. forces you to keep moving, keep seeking, and to keep on alert. With the dark atmosphere, minimal information, and constant danger, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart.

P.A.M.E.L.A. will tell you the controls, and a bit about the items you find, but it doesn’t hold your hand. And it can be quite brutal. Every encounter could be your last.

With dozens of tools and resources you can find and utilise,it takes everything you can to survive. You’ll have to look after your thirst and hunger metre, but also the electricity in the buildings you explore. Resource management is an extremely valuable skill. You’ll also find yourself hacking, scavenging, hiding, and fighting. It’s a lot to keep track of.,

But even when you die, the respawn system allows for you to upgrade and improve your character. With time you can unlock new areas and their cryo-pods, so you don’t lose as much progress, and the game encourages you to keep going, with tantalizing bits of information giving you insight into what happened, and just who PAMELA is.

The audio experience is quite minimal, it’s very quiet, except for when it isn’t. That’s when I know it’s time to be cautious. Muttering and heavy breathing signals that I need to start coming up with an alternative route. Heavy metal footsteps make me jump, but these are more subtle sounds. I find myself relying on my ears more than my eyes at times. It’s a very tense experience. And the music that does play is to highlight the environment, and what you’re seeing.

Upon my first attempt, I was confused, overwhelmed, and just a little bit terrified. My first death was sudden, and took me by surprise.

During my second attempt, I had a better idea of what I was doing and what I needed to do. I went even further than before, and became more confident in my actions, but also more cautious: fighting was something to avoid. This death honestly hurt a bit, but I was determined to do better.

During my third attempt I had found my stride, figured out the pattern, and I was making speedy progress. Not all of it was lost, but I had to keep pushing forward to keep the game moving. I had set goals for myself, making more cautious decisions, even taking the effort to find a safer detour if an enemy was in my way.

I was having fun, enjoying the story, and I needed to find out what exactly had happened. I was hooked.

That’s not to say it is a perfect game, I ran into frustrating glitches with the UI, enemies pathfinding was laughable at times, and some minor controls would just stop working and sometimes I felt like I was play-testing.

But, it is a very compelling game, and I find myself thinking about it a lot. Bugs aside, it’s easy to see why fans of the game are so devoted to it. It’s interesting, challenging, and a very rich world, all for you to uncover.

Now, one of the things I’ve noticed is that the team are constantly updating this game. I actually had a very frustrating time with bugs on my first run, but within a week a lot of those bugs were resolved with an update. This is a studio that cares about the health of their game!

Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 15th July 2020

Wandersong

Developer: Greg Lobanov           
Publisher: Greg Lobanov
Music:
A Shell in The Pit
Platforms: PC (Mac/Microsoft), PS4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch
Released: 28th September 2018
Genre: Adventure, Platformer, Indie, Story Rich

The goddess Eya has grown bored and is planning to end the world and start anew. There’s only one chance to stop it, a brave hero foretold by legend – sadly you’re not that hero. In Wandersong you play as a bard, that I named Lute, who wants to save the world whether it believes in him or not. You might not have a big sword, but you’ve got passion and a song to share. Accompanied by the ever-pessimistic witch Miriam, you travel the world to find pieces of the mysterious Earthsong. This game is split into seven acts, each in a unique location for you to explore, with new mechanics to use and new faces to make friends of. The world of Wandersong is beautifully vibrant, crafted with bold colours and a cute 2D-style that feel like they’ve been plucked from a storybook. The world reacts to your presence (and more importantly your music) which makes it feel incredibly alive, flowers, leaves, and animals all dance along beside you. Unfortunately, the character sprites aren’t properly sized and have jagged edges when played on a large enough screen. This can be distracting but doesn’t take away from the overall experience and isn’t a problem if playing handheld. Beneath the cheery aesthetic and whimsical concept of Wandersong run deeper themes of self-worth, self-identity, and destiny. It is a game about fighting when there’s no chance to win, of being hopeful for the sake of hope itself.

Each part of the world has a distinct theme and different musical mechanics to explore it. You’ll be channelling ghosts one day and steering a ship with song the next. Discovering new abilities feels like a natural progression of the characters and story, rather than just ‘unlocking’ something. Through this, and a steady incline in complexity, it’s able to keep things interesting. Most of the game follows the structure of travel somewhere new, explore and meet people, solve the problems with music, and learn another part of the Earthsong. Wandersong does keep things fresh with a diverse cast of characters, a sprinkle of humour, and a lot of puzzles.

The most important tool you have on your quest is your voice which can be utilized through the song wheel, at almost any point during the game. The song wheel is basic and consists of different brightly coloured segments that each produce a different note. Not only do you use this to navigate the world but to solve problems, talk with people, cure monsters, and even name yourself. The stick on my switch sometimes felt too clunky to navigate this wheel precisely, but it didn’t take much away from the game.

Hidden throughout the world you will meet a mysterious figure named Mask who teaches you a new dance at every interaction. While not necessary for the story, it was nice to hunt him down during each arc. Once learnt, you can whip these dances out whenever you want. From an endless pirouette to caramelldansen, they will only enhance whatever scene they are used in. I really appreciated this feature when the story got particularly bleak, it’s hard not to feel better while dancing, and even harder when it’s a jaunty jig.

Puzzles come in two forms: copying a tune on your song wheel or using it to manipulate the environment. It manages to do a lot with these two concepts though. Copying a tune can happen as game of musical memory, a rhythm game or just a casual jam session. These puzzles aren’t the purpose of the game and so Wandersong is forgiving if you mess up in some way. The worst you will face is being reset to a nearby save point.  As a puzzle platformer newbie, I appreciated this, but some players may grow bored without a challenge here.

Wandersong promises a lot in its music-focused premise and does not disappoint. The OST weighs in at 160 songs spread over 3 albums, all of which was composed by A Shell in The Pit. Every song from the epic, to the melancholy, to the joyful are united by their gentle flowing sound and fit perfectly into the storybook world. Being able to sing along with the music really brought it to life, even if my timing was never perfect. Sound Effects were created by Em Halberstadt in close co-ordination with the soundtrack. Sometimes it’s hard notice the noises of the world but not because they aren’t worth noticing, they blend so well with the music that they can feel like another instrument in themselves.

Wandersong is a game where you aren’t the hero but that’s okay. It is an incredibly unique experience and one that sticks with you after you finish playing. The world is beautiful and uplifting, crafted by people who clearly cared about what they were making. It’s the perfect game when you’re looking for something a bit more casual or if you’re looking for a pick-me-up.  If any of this review sounded intriguing to you, Wandersong won’t let you down.

Reviewed by Maylee Flannery @MayleeFlnnery on 24th June 2020

Moving Out

Developer: SMG Studio, DEVM Games
Publisher: Team17 Digital Limited
Audio: Lenny Macaluso & Various Artists
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC (Windows & Mac)
Release Date: 28th April 2020
Genre: Action, Multiplayer, Couch Co-Op

The Smooth Moves Furniture Removalists Company hires you and your friends to move furniture. Moving Out is a game about, you guessed it, moving furniture out of houses with friends. Set in a small town featuring 30 main levels or removalist locations you must hone your ability to move things quickly and efficiently. Being a game heavily focused on cooperative play there isn’t too much story to dive into however the dialog between characters is rather comical, pulling out jokes related to how much they broke while moving or the irony of certain situations you come across. Moving Out has a similar art style to Overcooked with sweet 3D animated characters that strangely make me think of the children’s animated series Noddy Toyland Detective. It also takes loads of influence from the 80’s making this game feel a touch retro giving shout outs to 80’s films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Once you are well and truly in the game you discover the main objective which is – How fast can you move out? Using a tiers system consisting of gold, silver, and bronze, gold being the fastest time and bronze being the limit for progression (meaning must attain at least bronze on each level to progress further). There are also extra achievements for each level such as ‘don’t break ANY glass’ or ‘break ALL the glass’. From a mechanics perspective you must pick up appliances, tables, beds, and other such household items then carry them to your removalist truck. However, that is easier said than done (even in real life). Some of the items require you to have a second person to carry such as a couch or may be someone needs to distract a disruptive turtle that is running around preventing you from getting to the truck. Also, your player movement is not smooth, meaning it requires some concentration to get yourself where you would like to be, and not to mention the art of loading the truck is a game in of itself.

The controls are simple making it easy to learn and designed in a way that anyone familiar with consoles can get the hang of quickly. You must jump, grab, throw and even slap your way to victory. The game requires teamwork and coordinated planning to get the shortest times and obviously the more players involved the easier it is not to mention the strategy needed to deal with awkwardly shaped objects like L shaped lounges or pinball machines. In saying that more players can also mean more yelling!

As you progress further into the game you are no longer just moving people out of homes rather experiencing weird obstacle courses where you are trying to move items across sinking platforms or chasing chickens and pigs. Just as you start to get the hang of it the game throws a curve ball, similar to Overcooked in its design catching you off guard and increasing the level of strategy needed to succeed. My only point of criticism is I wish there was an online mode as it currently only allows for local play so if you’re looking to play with friends in different places I wouldn’t recommend.

Something that is really considerate is the ‘Assist Mode’ which gives you as the player to ability to choose which elements of play are too difficult if you are finding the game play too challenging and you’re simply not enjoying yourself. This may have come about from previous developments by SMG Studio such as Overcooked which had a pretty steep difficulty curve after a certain level.  This ‘Assist Mode’ is a really nice touch meaning that if you have friends or family that aren’t used to console games this allows things to be extra easy for those learning. I personally feel really cared for by the developers with this feature.

The soundtrack for Moving Out is always keeping you in a good mood. It’s really hard to be mad at your friends when you’re so busy grooving out to some awesome 80’s vibes. You may even recognise the songwriter Lenny Macaluso known for co-writing the song The Touch with Stan Bush in 1986. In 2019 Lenny joined forces with SMG Studio to deliver you the best body moving tunes while your moving homes.

All in all, it feels awesome when you execute a plan and achieve the time you set out for, or when you collaborate before attempting a level for the 100th time. Moving Out is moreish, and an exhilarating way to bond with housemates, provided you don’t swear at them too much. Moving Out is so much better than actually moving out and I recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed Overcooked or enjoys a classic couch co-op that anyone can play.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on 6th May 2020

A Short Hike

Developer: Adamgryu
Publisher: Adamgryu
Audio: Mark Sparling
Platforms: PC, Linux, Mac
Release Date: 5th April 2019
Genre: Adventure game, Indie game

It all begins with our main character in a car on their way to Hawk Peak Provincial Park. Our protagonist Claire, is an anthropomorphic bird who is going there to spend time with her aunt May who works as a Park Ranger. In the introduction scene we immediately notice something isn’t right based on the dialogue between the two characters. Once they have arrive at the park Clair sleeps the whole day, waking up late just like a teenager would. She gets frustrated that there is no reception as she is waiting for a very important call, so her aunt suggests she climb the highest peak in the park (Hawk Peak) to get reception. Deciding to go through with it, we now follow Claire as she explores the park meeting a range of characters all the while trying to make the hike to Hawk Peak.

A short hike is an animal crossing turned indie art-style adventure game. Being all about exploring the various areas of the park, finding items, completing quests and finding hidden treasures. All of this is tied into the progression of the game which is quite straightforward, get to the top of the mountain. What is stopping you? Because the hike is such a hard one, you have to collect gold feathers. These golden feathers allow you to double jump more, climb for longer periods of time or run for longer periods of time. So in order to complete the hike you have to have enough feathers. These feathers are either found, or bought in different ways.

My favourite part about the mechanics in this game is how they all tie in so well with the genre and the exploration elements of the game. While there are loads of things to talk about I would like to specifically talk about three things:

  • The way you traverse the level
  • How the level itself is built
  • The interactions with other characters

The way you traverse the level is by either running, climbing, gliding or jumping. While in the beginning of the game you are held back by the amount of gold feathers you have, all of these mechanics are still so very satisfying, with the whole experience behind the game being about hiking, the developers have managed to create a set of super satisfying ways to do that simple task of taking a hike.

One of the reasons that it is so satisfying is because of the level layout, essentially the lay of the land is like an island where the middle is the highest point but all around the place you are met with different vertical layouts. Because all of these areas to explore you find yourself going up and down and continuously find hidden areas with ease, this lets you feel like you’re on real life hike. Especially when you find little sections along the trail that you like, or you stumble across a nice view.

I also want to mention the interactions you have with the characters scattered around the level. Not only is the writing amazing, the characters are so diverse with so many of them having a variety of different dialog depending on when you talk to them not to mention how often. A Short Hike is lighthearted and easy to digest, leaving every conversation you have to be pondered about and not left with a feeling of confusion.

The sound in this game reminds me of a mix between Zelda and a modern pixel RPG. With the sound effects having a pixelated effect however the background music being fully high quality. While I do feel that the developers missed out on one point about hiking which to me is a big deal, is the silence, the feeling of bliss and pure nature that you receive. But I also have to say that they did an amazing job with the soundtrack, Mark Sparling crafted excellent audio that changes based on the weather, location and what the player is doing. Letting you feel both epic excitement as you make your way to the top. I especially like the lo-fi chill music when gliding through the rain.

If the review so far haven’t shown my excitement for the game then I don’t know how else I can. In my opinion one of the best games of 2019, I could spend hours dissecting some of the design mastery within this game and I implore everyone to try this experience. While most other reviews on A Short Hike agree with me, aside from condemning it for having a short story line. I think it’s alright, because the story is just the facilitator for the experience of taking ‘a short hike’ which they executed well.

Reviewed by William Haumann @William_Haumann on April 29th 2020