Category: Reviews

Aer: Memories of Old – Review

Developer: Forgotten Key
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Music: Forgotten Key
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch
Released: 25 October 2017
Genre: Adventure, Flight, Exploration, Indie

Every pilgrim starts here, venturing into the cave that shelters the shrine. Along the way giant tablets stand, carved with the words of the past, describing hopes and fears, legends and history. At the shrine itself you pay your respects, lighting the incense before the statue of a figure who holds a lantern in their hands. Your ritual complete, you turn to leave, only to realise that the lantern has started to glow. Bewildered, it floats towards you and you reach out to it, and once your hand clasps the handle you experience…

A vision of something terrible.

The cave starts to crumble and collapse.

And suddenly you are surrounded by ghosts. No… echoes of the past, revealed by the lantern, capturing a moment of fear forever.

As you flee the cave and the shrine, you find more of these echoes, these memories, and once you escape you find that you must continue your pilgrimage and find out why the lantern has lit itself for you.

Aer: Memories of Old is an exploration adventure game with puzzle and platforming aspects. With the ability to transform into a bird, satisfying flight controls, a vibrant, beautiful, minimalist art style, relaxing music that matches the mood, navigating this shattered world is enriching, satisfying, and never feels like a chore. Seeking out the history, discovering the events that led to this, and figuring out your part to play in it, is up to how thorough you are through your journey.

In a world that is literally shattered and broken apart, having the ability to fly is an essential one, and in Aer the flight system is beautifully managed. With a single button in the air you transform with a flourish, and spread your wings. With a few flaps of those wings you speed up, you can turn and bank, dive and rise. There can be a lot of distance between islands, with a lot of empty space, and you’ll be flying a lot. So it is fantastic that the act of flying feels fun, fast, and satisfying. I can look out for visual cues indicating speed boosts in the form of wind channels, bursting through clouds feels invigorating, and diverting my journey slightly to investigate a floating island with a memory on it only adds to my pilgrimage.

Throughout the world you’ll need to unlock shrines, some of which requires solving a puzzle unique to the shrine. There is minimal information, figuring out the puzzle is all up to you, but I only ever felt ‘stuck’ on one puzzle, and that was only because I accidentally backtracked. They’re pretty straightforward, but there is a diverse range of puzzles for each shrine, and for inside the shrine itself.

As you make your journey you’ll encounter tablets and scrolls that record events that have happened, and through these you’ll piece together the history of this world, and a bit of your own history. But what really brings these history lessons to life are the echoes, the memories you find in the world, throughout the whole world.

Indicated by little symbols, once you light the lantern the memories are revealed to you. Some of them are quiet moments between friends, past explorers witnessing something remarkable. A lot of the memories capture dark moments of history, of the deaths, fighting, fear, people trying to escape, people trying to fight back.

Weirdly enough, the memory of a death that got to me the most was of an accident. A mundane, unremarkable accident.

The history becomes humanised, and I spent a lot of time flying around finding more of these echoes. And as I progressed, the memories told a story of greed and darkness, and one woman trying to prevent the end. I won’t say anymore about it, as finding these for yourself is a huge part of the experience.

Now, if I need to find one thing to nitpick about, it’s the platforming. Auk as a character is designed for flying around, but as a human, she can be a little tricky with her jumps. At times there would be a delay between pressing the jump button and actually jumping, and sometimes there would be no jump at all. And it happened just often enough to be quite frustrating, especially when I’ve solved the puzzle but I can’t clear this 3 foot gap in the floor.

I would get over my frustration once I’ve cleared the shrine and I’m back in the sky though.

Now, moving onto the music. It is bright and dark, open and feels like taking a deep breath into your lungs, or suffocating like you realise you’re a creature of the air and you are deep within this island, lost and trying to trust your path. Within caves and shrines it feels sombre and humbling, with the right combination of eerie notes to keep you on edge. But when you take flight, and the sun is shining, the music turns joyful and vibrant.

It fits the game and the art style, complimenting in a way that isn’t overwhelming nor redundant. And often I find myself leaning forward in my seat as the organ-like notes play, and I realise I’m about to see something special.

I heard about Aer a few years ago and thought it looked cool, and then forgot about it until I came across it on the Nintendo store. I picked it up, installed it, and forgot about it again until the holidays when I suddenly had a lot of spare time.

And I just fell in love with it.

I think we’ve all had our daydreams in that boring class where we looked out the window and wondered what it would feel like to be a bird. And I feel like Aer fulfilled that fantasy quite well. But to have such a satisfying flight mechanic, and then to combine it with the memories and snippets of information that encourages you to explore, the two becomes a wonderful combination, and even if I found myself crossing the entire map multiple times, it was fun and relaxing, and a bit exciting at times. It encourages you to take your time and your path, and I found a lot of enrichment in that. It’s a short game, but well worth the afternoon I took to just look around.

LEGO Builder’s Journey

Developer: Light Brick Studio, Light Brick AS
Publisher: The Lego Group
Music: Hendrik Lindstrand
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X & S, iOS, PC (Windows & Mac)
Released: 20th December 2019
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure, Indie

Now you might be thinking, “Oh, a LEGO game similar to the likes of Harry Potter or Star Wars” well you’d be wrong this little gem is a small-time indie development that differs greatly from other games in the LEGO franchise. This story follows a father and son depicted in LEGO where they go on an adventure in a series of different stages using the ability of building LEGOs to reach their destinations. There are no subtitles or dialog to follow, simply the story is told throughout gameplay using its environment to illustrate each challenge and using beautiful level design to instruct the player how to overcome each stage.

There are many different levels with different themes, such as hoping along beaches, climbing mountains, navigating swamp lands as well as some dark industrial style levels. You play as both the parent and child using your third-party abilities to move LEGO pieces around the scene to help build bridges, steps, or make shift ramps to get each character to the end of the puzzle. Some levels are more difficult than others but overall, there is no incorrect way to solve them just the limit of you LEGO building imagination.

LEGO Builder’s Journey is a 3D puzzle platformer that is very kind on the player. LEGO is about building and creating solutions with your imagination and this block building brilliance allows you exactly that. With each puzzle you encounter you are free to move pieces where and how you like. With very intuitive block moving and placing mechanics the game feels smooth and intentional. As you progress through, levels can become a little more challenging with the introduction of sinking mud, larger gaps to cover, weight scales and not to mention some levels that involve making a skate track for your character to ride on.

I played LEGO Builder’s Journey on the Nintendo Switch and found the controls to feel really intuitive, you can even use the touch screen when in handheld mode, my only issue was that you have to use the A button to both rotate and place pieces. The UI is minimalistic and innocuous, I actually consider the UI to be my overall favourite aspect of the game it felt really kind on the user, it also felt totally natural when moving through the main menu as well as understanding narrative without any dialog. I found that the tutorial parts of the game where enhanced buy this seamless UI experience. The UI design is simply phenomenal.

There is exclusively one gameplay mode which is the story, with the PC version of LEGO Builder’s Journey has a couple more levels than the Nintendo Switch version if end up looking for more content, which could happen given that the gameplay time was roughly 2 hours in total. I must say that LEGO Builder’s Journey could definitely have benefited from being much longer as it was kind of sad that the moment, I was getting right into it, it came to an end. In saying that each moment that I did spend in game was well and truly worth it, don’t let the short run time deter you from this fantastic indie experience.

The sound design is calming and simple, using delicate sound effects for each object you interact with as well as nice clinks and clunks from placing blocks. The score of music that plays in the background is the best kind for unwinding after a long day. The composer Hendrik Lindstrand has provided a beautiful soundscape for you to drift away on, as you place LEGO blocks the music gently guides you on your journey and really adds to that feeling of imagination and wonder that we all know and love about LEGO.

I must say that LEGO Builder’s Journey is blocktacular and beautiful. With subtle and effective UI too delightfully calm music, it really is a short and sweet adventure. From around $20 on the Nintendo eShop and $30 on Steam it maybe a little steep so keep an eye out for when it goes on special. Despite how short the duration of play is I found the story captivating and each level I played I was spurred on by the beautifully directed relationship between child and parent. What is LEGO without a heart-warming family building relationship? At least this one you don’t accidentally step on any bricks in the middle of the night… OW!

The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth – Review

Edmund McMillen, Nicalis Inc
Publisher:  Nicalis Inc
Music: Ridiculon (Matthias Bossi, Jon Evans)
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC (Windows, Mac, Linux), iOS
Released: 5 Nov 2014 (Afterbirth DLC: 30 October 2015, Afterbirth+ 3 January 2017, Repentance DLC 31 March 2021)
Genre: Shooter, Rogue-like

You are Isaac, a small naked boy.  

You enter a room.  It’s dark and the walls are made of flesh, there is a pile of poop on the ground in front of you and you cry on it.  The poop is destroyed and a coin pops out of it.  You will take that coin and use it to buy a jar of flies.  Later you will find a secret room where you can make a deal with the devil in exchange for severed parts of your dead cat which you will use to help you defeat a giant fetus.  

By crying on it.  

After defeating this foe you are rewarded with a placenta.  I’m pretty sure you eat it.  

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a shooter with rogue-like elements rendered in a pixel art style reminiscent of its flash game roots.  The game’s aesthetic draws heavily from Christian themes and iconography.  And poop.  So much poop. The game is like a bible study meets a third grader’s sense of humour.  

As the titular character Isaac you explore a maze of randomly generated rooms, picking up items and defeating monsters as you descend deeper into the basement and what lies beneath to escape from your religious mother who has been hearing the voice of god telling her to murder you to prove her faith.  

The game plays akin to a “bullet hell” shooter, you control Isaac and make sure to dodge enemies and their attacks while shooting back at them.  Well, crying at them.  Each floor of the run increases in difficulty as you go.  Each run of Binding of Isaac starts you afresh, and as you progress you can find various items that can help (or hinder) you.  Items can be either passive (which affects your stats or provides a certain effect like flight) or activated and fall into one of several categories.  

These can interact with each other to form synergies, giving each run a distinctly different feel depending on what items you found.  There are few things more satisfying than finding just the right combinations of items on a run that work so well that it feels like cheating, although on the flip side there are few things more frustrating than picking up an item that ruins your entire build.  

Whether you defeated the final boss or you died horribly, a new run is a fresh start: a new layout, new items and new possibilities.  But it doesn’t stop there!

No two runs are the same with new items, characters, levels, and challenges to unlock giving The Binding of Isaac pretty much endless replayability.  The game also has 3 DLCs available for it, each adding new modes, characters, items, enemies, achievements, rooms, and challenges. There is so much content available for this game.  

The music is an instrumental soundtrack with soft, chilling ambient music for each stage of the game which morphs into a more intense style for the boss fights. It really gives each level its own sense of place with the caves level having a damp and dingy vibe with its echoing splashes giving way to the feeling of empty and forgotten decomposition as you enter a secret room, the music shifting to give each type of special room its own theme.  

Whether you’re picking up a coin or a heart, crying onto a poop, or activating an item, The Binding of Isaac has a distinct sound effect for each. It is a beautiful, creepy, and at times disgusting-sounding game.  

I love this game.  The satisfaction of getting familiar enough with the item pools to know what item to pick and which one to skip, that manic glee when I get lucky and manage to create a build that is overpowered to the point where I can walk into a room and the enemies just die around me as I do nothing and the weird little pet things that I’ve picked up just obliterate them.  How it’s never too frustrating to die on a bad run because, “oh well, the next one will be different.” 

I can (and have) stayed up all night, lost in the ‘just one more run’ loop.  I have 1277 hours in this game as of writing this.  I’m going to go play it some more after I’m done here.  And I am fighting the urge to get The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth on Nintendo Switch so I can cry on poops while I myself poop.  

(Review provided by guest reviewer: Caroline Girdler)

Bright Memory: Infinite – Review

Developer: FYQD-Studio
Publisher: FYQD-Studio, PLAYISM
Music: Jeff Rona
Platforms: PC (Steam), iOS, Android, Xbox Series X
Released: March 25 2020
Genre: First Person Shooter, Hack and Slash

Have you ever wanted to work for a mysterious organisation with high-tech gear? Have you ever wished you could wield a futuristic laser sword? Do you want to sprint around, with pyrokinetic powers, a ridiculous amount of bullets, a bunch of guns (some of which can launch grenades, electric bullets, or just spray fire), while the world around you flies off into a black hole in the sky?

Are you ok with not really knowing what on earth is going on?

Then I got the game for you!

Bright Memory: Infinite is the expanded and complete version of Bright Memory: Episode 1. A first person shooter, with a lot of hacking and slashing, in a detailed and beautiful realistic world, Bright Memory is a fast-paced game that knows how to escalate, and escalate hard.

There’s a lot to this game, and yet, not that much at all. What I mean by that is that it’s pretty linear, you have a few weapons and abilities, and a handful of enemy types to face off against. However, there is a satisfying level of detail to the mechanics, from movement to the guns you use, and the environment you progress through.


So, your abilities? Well, you have a special sci-fi arm that lets you drag enemies towards you from far distances, and then you can just… explode that enemy with a flex of your hand. You also have a special sci-fi sword that can slice and dice your enemies like a hibachi chef demolishes a prawn. Your sword can also launch laser waves, making it a ranged weapon as well. You know, in case you want to switch up from your overpowered ridiculous guns.

You have an auto rifle initially, and eventually you unlock other guns, including an auto pistol that shoots electric bullets, and a sniper rifle. Each gun also has a secondary ability! So your sniper rifle can also shoot grenades. And your auto rifle shoots bigger bullets.

Bright Memory also gives you so many bullets all the time. And it is really satisfying switching between your weapons and just being this whirlwind of death and destruction. The audio and animation adds to this as well, so each attack and weapon feels weighty.

But that’s not all! You also have movement abilities, like double jumping, running along walls, telepor-I mean dodging attacks, blocking melee attacks and bullets with your sword. This game is going to throw enemies at you, and you’re just going to deal with all of them, darting all over the place, switching between grenades and shotguns and swords oh my. You can play frantically, recklessly, and with minimal thought. Sometimes you’ll have to be strategic, but there’s not much you can’t solve with a sword and a lot of bullets. And the ability to explode enemies with your mind.


All these abilities and weapons can be upgraded as you find relics throughout the world, encouraging you to do a bit of digging and crate-breaking.


And you’ll need those upgrades in order to face the storm ahead of you. Literally, you got called into this situation because there was an unusual storm happening. So of course you have to fly there with a futuristic plane with warp technology, which reveals the cause of the storm: an actual black hole in the sky. And of course we have to head right towards it because although we don’t really know what’s going on, General Lin and his army are there and apparently that means bad news.

Also, you get a car for one section of the game. It’s a really fancy car, and I felt bad driving it into tanks and stuff, but even driving through mud and bullets feels satisfying, and it’s only a 5 minute long portion of the game.

Have I mentioned this game knows how to escalate? You get called in to check out a storm, find a black hole, and you have to take out a bunch of regular baddies. But now there’s a… time rift I guess? And ancient soldiers are also fighting you. And sometimes giant statues, wild pigs, a guy who is on fire, and you’ll be fighting in the middle of flood waters, on the back of a plane flying directly into the blackhole, mountains, bridges, in a busted up cafe. I had to take a break, put down my controller, and just ground myself for a little bit.


I do have a few gripes. The game throws you into this wacky situation, and I just wish I knew more about it than the most bare-bones background information possible. Who is General Lin? Why is he here? What does he have to do with the black hole? How are we stopping a black hole? We keep going towards it like we know what we’re doing but the guy on coms is just like ‘we don’t know! Go check it out’. The game is pretty linear, it boxes you into one path and one path only. We have these movement abilities and a grappling hook, it would’ve been fun to do more with that and encourage a bit of exploration. The upgrade relics are right in the main path, so they’re not doing much exploration-wise.

The movement is also a bit janky. The wall climbs and jumps in particular. Most of the time it’s not something you’d really notice, but it does feel frustrating in some areas, especially when you have to pull off a slightly more challenging manoeuvre. It would slow me down a lot at times.

The sound adds a lot to this game, but only the environmental and action sounds. The thud thud thud of my gun shooting, combined with the recoil and screen shake is delicious. Hearing the rain and storm, the plane engines screaming is overwhelming. Straining to listen to the patrolling guards, so I can sneak up on them with a meat cleaver. It’s good! The voice acting? Dreadful. You have one of the bad guys laughing like a caricature, and not in a fun way. The other bad guy just sounds like he was told to mimic a James Bond villain, but he never actually watched a James Bond movie in his life. The only character with decent voice acting is Wake, and he has maybe 5 lines. I love him.

Now, here’s the main thing about this game, it’s actually really short. My first run was just over 2 hours long. My first run. Because this game encourages you to make multiple runs, not to explore different paths or outcomes or anything. Just to do the exact same journey, but with harder enemies, all your upgrades, and do it quicker this time. If you do, you might unlock some alternative costumes for Shelia! Like a, uhh, cheerleader outfit. Or a bikini. Would’ve been cool to have a skin that looks like the ancient warriors but ok.

But hey, it’s so satisfying to play that I do find myself thinking about making another run, see if I can improve my time. I just would’ve liked some variety, and the ending? Yawn. It was building up to something truly epic, and just as I was processing what was happening it… was over. And you’re supposed to just do it again. I do feel a bit cheated. I had a lot of fun, I’ll play it again, but it’s actually a lot of really awesome frosting on a pretty plain cake.

Witch It – Review

Title card for Witch It. It features a green witch wearing purple robes in a cutesy art style, riding a broom next to the title Witch It!

Developer: Barrel Roll Games
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Music: Barrel Roll Games
Platforms: Steam (PC)
Released: 22 October 2020
Genre: Multiplayer, Hide and Seek

You’re walking down a seemingly empty street, on edge. Mundane objects catch your attention, a candle, those barrels, maybe even that broken teapot. They’re not doing anything, but that doesn’t ease your nerves. Instead, you launch a chicken at a pile of crates. The chicken starts to crow.

One of the crates moves.

The hunt begins.

Witch It is a fast paced game of hide or seek, where the hiders are witches who can turn into any object within the world, and the seekers are hunters who are determined to save their village from dangerous magics. With an array of abilities, features, maps, hundreds of objects strewn across each map, and a fair amount of chaos, combined with a chunky and colourful art style, Witch It is a bit intense, a bit funny, and a lot of fun.

Witch It is a pretty simple concept. If you are a witch, you’ll have a bit of time to find a hiding spot. But not only that, you can also transform into any object you find. A painting? Book? Rock? Rose? A boat? No problem! You’ll just want to make sure you blend in.

If you’re a hunter, you must use potatoes to find and defeat witches.

But the game throws in a few mechanics that makes this game of hide and seek a bit more… hectic.

As a witch, your health bar changes depending on what you transform into. The bigger the object, the more health, but bigger objects are more difficult to hide naturally. Witches can of course fly on broomsticks, allowing them to reach high areas. But they are also capable of casting spells, one of which is to create a decoy object to fool the chicken.

Hunters also have a range of abilities. I’ve mentioned the chicken. If you find yourself in a library full of books and you don’t have enough time to throw a potato at each one of them, you can throw a chicken, and it will hone in on a disguised witch within a certain distance. It’s funny when you’re a hunter, it’s infuriating if you’re a witch.

In addition, you can utilise a ground pound attack that will damage any witches within a short range. If you’re facing a pile of identical jewels, it’s pretty handy. And of course you can unlock a grappling hook to allow you to reach those hard-to-reach places.

With these mechanics, a very cluttered map, half a dozen players, and a limited amount of time, a match can get pretty intense. As a witch, not only do you have to find the perfect object and the perfect spot, and place yourself perfectly to look as mundane as possible, you’ll need to time the use of your abilities to keep hunters away from you. And if you get caught, you need to think quickly. You might just be able to escape and hide again.

As a hunter, you only have so much time to find all the witches, and the maps you play in are very cluttered. You can run around hoping to spot something that looks out of place, or maybe even move just in the corner of your vision, or use your abilities to hone in on the witches. When there’s only a few seconds left, and the witches are taunting you, well, I ended up throwing a lot of potatoes.

The games are quick and engaging, whether I’m a hunter or a witch. It can be intense, stressful, exciting even. And with a variety of maps, including the ability to create custom maps using their in-game engine, it’s hard to get bored. And there are multiple game modes as well, as variations of the hide-and-seek premise, like trying to collect specific objects before the time runs out, or if you’re found as a witch you join the hunters to find the other witches. And you unlock cosmetic items to make your witch and hunter your own.

It’s not a perfect game, but the flaws aren’t stopping me. I would prefer a more immersive tutorial that wasn’t just video clips and an explanation. And it took me a bit of poking around to figure out how servers work. But these were things I ended up figuring on my own anyway with a bit of trial and error.

The music is a bit goofy, with sort of silly, spooky music that just adds to the fact that this is just hide and seek. And the sound of chickens clucking, witches cackling, hunters body slamming, it’s a lot, but it also becomes a bit scary when you’re hiding and you hear that chaos get closer and closer. But if I’m entirely honest, I wasn’t paying that much to what I was hearing. I was too busy holding my breath because I can see a hunter passing the shelf I’m hiding on.

Look, I enjoyed Witch It. I wish I could play it with friends because I just know that the banter, the good-natured teasing, and the outbursts would be just so much fun to listen to and experience. It is definitely a game with a lot of game night potential, with it being easy to learn, and creative ways to hide and keep yourself hidden, or coordinate your hunts. But even on my own, braving those servers by myself, it was still a lot of fun. I got to play some custom maps with no problem, join servers with a dozen players and servers with just a few.

It has a fun art style and satisfying graphics that scales well when I needed to adjust the graphics, with each game I got just a bit better as both witch and hunter, and I never found myself waiting around for ages for other players.

Witch It is a lot of fun!

Zombies, Run! – Review

Developer: Six to Start & Naomi Alderman
Publisher: Six to Start & Naomi Alderman
Platforms: Mobile (Android and iPhone)
Released: 2011, May 2015 (Free to Play)
Genre: Audio, Apocalyptic, Zombie, Survival, Horror

You’re on your way to Abel Township, taking a helicopter over the zombie-torn landscape. You’re bringing in supplies for the people who have set up a strong, defensive, base known as Abel, but you have another mission. Your helicopter pilot knows something is up, but before you can get into it, well, somebody fires a rocket launcher at you.

From the wreckage you run, your headset feeding you the voice of Sam Yao from Abel, the radio operator who will be your guide, and hopefully guide you to safety.

All you need to do is run.

Zombies, Run! Is an immersive story where you are the main character, with the story told as if you are in it, experiencing it yourself, broken up by your own music playlist of choice. Once you start, you don’t need to stop, you don’t need to look at your phone, and you won’t need to take a specific path or make decisions. A completely auditory experience that places you in this world that is so like ours, only filled with zombies, bad guys, quirky characters, and the voice of Sam forever guiding you. Load it up, pick your playlist, and go. Every step you take is a step closer to unravelling the mysteries and conspiracies that surround you.

Now, Zombies, Run! Isn’t like a podcast, it’s not like an audiobook, and it’s not like your traditional video game. Or a fitness app. It’s similar to all these things, but with award-winning writers at work, a full cast of unique and distinctive characters conveyed through voice acting, and a number of features to help you get immersed in this world, it’s perhaps the only constant that motivates me to move.

It’s really as simple as loading up a mission, picking my playlist, and getting a move on. There is over 8 seasons worth of story, with various storylines, mysteries, villains, friends, sometimes-friends, and look, even romance. Throughout your run you will ‘pick up’ supplies and materials, which you can use to build up Abel, and your music will play in between scenes. And often you’ll be chased by zombies, with a warning and the far-too-close sounds of groaning behind you, you’ll need to pick up your pace regularly to keep ahead of the horde.

Your first story mission involves you getting shot down out of the sky with a rocket launcher. Your second mission is a simple decoy mission to lead zombies away from Abel while the gates are stuck open. Your third mission? Well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. Various characters will come to your aid, help guide you, or maybe just decide that it’s weird that you got shot down and managed to survive, and you must definitely be up to something. You don’t give anything away of course, you’re the strong silent type, just a runner here to help. Maybe. The zombie apocalypse isn’t exactly normal, but you’ll find out just how strange it really is.

During my first run, I went as the sun was sinking. Dark streets, quiet, listening intently to the conversations that were taking place around me. AHH! Oh, just another runner, not a zombie. Phew.

Now, let me tell you a secret. I hate running. I despise it. It feels bad, it’s not fun, I’m really not getting better at it. I’m willing to bet many of you also feel the same way. Perhaps you prefer cycling, or a treadmill. Elliptical, rowing machine, weight training. Or walking.

You can still be an Abel Runner.


You can adjust the difficulty of each mission, so that you’re chased by zombies as often as you can handle, or not at all. GPS is the default way of tracking your movement, but you can also use a step counter, or even just set your pace, and the game will just adjust accordingly. For some of these settings, zombie chases won’t be enabled, but that’s fine. You can play no matter what your exercise of choice is, except perhaps swimming. It may go without saying however, wearing earphones while cycling outdoors, or any other exercise that requires constant awareness of your surroundings, is not recommended. But if you have a stationary bike, well, cycle your little hearts out.

The zombie story is not the only story! There are a dozen side-stories related to the universe, unique virtual races that will take you across the solar system, through mythological stories, and so much more. But perhaps my favourite minor story involves radio mode, where at the completion of each mission you’ll get to listen to Eugene and Jack chatter and banter like your regular radio hosts, who happen to be playing music from your playlist. After a really intense mission, hearing their lighthearted chatter is a nice break, and you get to learn more about the more mundane aspects of living through the zombie apocalypse.

And the final feature, you get to manage the base! It doesn’t actually affect your runs, but it’s a nice visual way of seeing how much you’ve accomplished. You get to see how the materials you’ve gathered have gone towards farms, wind turbines, barracks, and so much more. You can also track how much you’ve run, but I like a bit of city building.

Obviously, music is up to you! I have a few playlists, and the app works… alright with Spotify. You may need to adjust your settings to allow all the permissions to work together, but the app doesn’t know that you’re about to hit the hardest drop of all time. It is not afraid of interrupting your songs to throw story at you. And sometimes the music wouldn’t start up again once the scene ends. When I first started running it interacted a lot better with music saved directly to my device, but after a bit of tinkering it works most of the time.

There is a robotic voice for warning you of zombies on your heels, or to tell you that you picked up something. It’s a bit of an immersion breaker sometimes, when you have the passionate Sam warning you and then a voice saying ‘picked up a sports bra’. But this can also be changed, and I just have it set up to buzz a little when I pick something up. And the sound of zombies approaching behind you sounds awful, in the best way possible. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise up.

But in a scene, the sound experience is great. Initially they are finding their footing, but it’s always good. The soundscape they create, combined with the voice acting, audio effects, I feel a bit like I am in the middle of a movie. It can be extremely satisfying, especially when you get your hands on a rocket launcher yourself.

I love Zombies, Run! I got into it when it first became free to play, and you initially get unlimited access to the first 4 missions, and then a new mission is unlocked each week. I ended up subscribing for an annual fee, to unlock all the missions immediately. Totally work it, and you get a bunch of other bonuses.

But that’s up to you and how quickly you progress. You’ll still have access to simple supply missions, radio mode, and a new mission each week.

It’s not often that something makes me want to try running, and actually makes me feel kinda cool. I just wouldn’t recommend running after dark if you’re the jumpy type. Or just hop on a treadmill! It all counts.

Monster Harvest – Review

Developer: Maple Powered Games
Publisher: Merge Games
Music: Maple Powered Games
Platforms: Steam, Nintendo Switch
Released: 31 August 2021
Genre: Farming Sim, Pixel Graphics, Creature Collector

You have grown tired of your life, and your uncle has offered you an opportunity. He once ran a farm you see, but he discovered a wondrous creature called Planimals. And as a man of science and botany, he has taken it upon himself to study these creatures. Planimals come from a fusion of slimes applied to growing plants, bringing them to life much like birds and possums. A town has sprouted around this discovery, leading to a lifestyle adapted to these Planimals and slimes. Slimes can be used as a form of energy, and the Planimals can fight for you, act as livestock, and are a loyal companion.

Now, it may sound kinda familiar, but Monster Harvest is a hybrid meant to fulfill a niche. A cute, pixel game, you have to restore your uncle’s farm, uncover the mysteries of this town, the slime, the Planimals, and the menacing group that seems hellbent on making sure you don’t know what’s going on.

Monster Harvest at its basic is pretty straightforward. Grow plants, fight slimes. Use the slimes on the plants and you’ll grow Planimals! And depending on the type of slime used, and the plant you apply it to, you get a variety of Planimals.

The one you’ll encounter first are Planimals that will fight for you. You can create a party of them, and explore the dungeons with them. You’ll encounter dangerous Planimals in there, but with a bit of strategy, you’ll defeat them, finding resources and treasures.

You’ll need to focus on farming in order to maintain your Planimals, and the fruits of your land will provide you with income. Essential for upgrades, new buildings, and new gear and seeds to grow, leading to new Planimals to discover.

You can also combine slimes together to create more powerful slimes to apply to your plants.

The battle mechanic is pretty straightforward, try to attack the enemy Planimal first with your sword and you’ll get the first hit in with your own Planimal. Once engaged in battle, you’ll have access to some attacks and abilities that you’ll use to fight. If your Planimal is knocked out, you get a resource from their… soul? Life essence? That you can use to upgrade the soil of your farm, allowing you to grow more powerful Planimals. But if your Planimal survives the battle, they’ll gain experience and level up. And you can continue through the dungeon, finding more ore and resources, and stronger Planimals.

Other townsfolk have also raised Planimals, and every Friday you can go to the recreation centre and battle townsfolk, raising your own rank within the town.

So, it sounds pretty solid. And I was interested in the concept, as Monster Harvest combined genres I enjoy. But it’s not doing it well.

The mechanics I described aren’t especially robust. Farming is fine, although the drain on my stamina is quite frustrating. Crafting recipes are unlocked as you level up, and to level up you need to farm, fight, or forage. And the stamina usage limits how much progress you can make. Granted, as you upgrade your gear, and earn enough to buy stamina potions, it becomes less frustrating. But it still takes a while to unlock crafting recipes that are actually helpful. It is fun unlocking and building new buildings, and planting as many seeds as I can afford, and seeing what Planimals I get throughout the seasons.

Battles… aren’t exactly exciting. You have one move unlocked to start with, and whoever wins depends on who strikes first. There is a bit of RNG, and some status effects to keep track of, but you’ll have to do that in your head, because there isn’t really a good UI. Oh no I’ve been poisoned! But I’ll have to remember that, I won’t get a little post-it note. You can’t heal your Planimals unless you sleep overnight, and you can’t switch Planimals around or run away in a battle.


I do absolutely love that the two top members of my Planimal party will walk around the world with me, following my character around.


But my biggest frustration is with the UI, and how this game communicates important things with the player. There is a tutorial… kinda. It just dumps EVERYTHING on you in one go, and you just have to remember that. And there’s not a way to revisit any part of the tutorial. There’s a device that I know I can put things into, but I have no idea what exactly I can put into it, and when I try it just tells me I can’t put this item I’m holding in.

There is a calender and I know that there are festivals. I’ll walk into town and its decorated for… something. And I can’t go into the dungeons while there is a festival. My uncle says I should go enjoy the festival. But I can’t find anyone or anything to do during these festivals. I wander around everywhere aimlessly before giving up and calling it a day.

I think I’m supposed to be able to cook, I can buy salt and sugar for cooking. I have no idea how to cook. And food would be so helpful for my stamina.

There’s a little clock icon at the bottom of my screen, right above my toolbar. It’s not a clock. Not a useful clock. It’s just there for decoration, which took me a while to figure out because it is animated. But it doesn’t mean anything.

And it’s kinda ugly. The game is quite pretty, but the way the user interface is designed is clunky. The font doesn’t fit, literally. Parts of the bars are hidden behind the decorative frames. Navigating my inventory is a pain, it seems to glitch out sometimes, the highlight square doesn’t fit, also literally, and while I play primarily with a controller, I switch to my mouse to move around my inventory and chests.

Music and sound is repetitive, painfully so. The pop sound from picking up things is satisfying, and it can be eerie to hear Planimals making their weird sounds in the distance, but the music is a very short loop. The audio experience means nothing to me except something to numb my mind. I put it on mute and listened to a podcast instead, which actually helped me stay focused enough on this rather shallow game.


I wanted to like Monster Harvest. I like the genres, and it’s quite a pretty game. I could play farming games for days, I love raising a party of creatures to bond with and work with. And Monster Harvest is those genres, it does deliver these things, but in an extremely unsatisfying manner. The entire time I was playing I just kept thinking of other games I could be playing instead.

Nothing grabbed my attention, I wasn’t invested, losing my Planimals didn’t really matter. Farming is alright, but I know a dozen other games that does it better. The story is alright, but it’s nothing new. I essentially predicted it within 3 minutes, but it takes forever to progress through.

There is one thing this game did really well though, and its the fact that a couple of my Planimals will walk around with me and follow me. I mentioned this earlier, but it helped my frustrations to look at my mutanko just standing there. He’s a little guy. I love him.

Black Skylands Review

Developer: Hungry Couch Games
Publisher: tinyBuild
Music: Hungry Couch Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
Released: Early Access – 9 July 2021, Estimated Release July – 2022
Genre: Top Down Shooter, Sandbox, Pixel Graphics

Your name is Eva, and you have woken up with all the excitement of a child with a day full of possibilities, joy, and adventure. Appropriate adventure of course. Your father has returned from a lengthy journey, bringing back treasures and wonders from far-away floating islands. And as you run around the Fathership, you are met with this rich, bustling town in the sky, airships travelling from town to city. Above you, sky-squids dart by, and far below you, the giant shapes of flying turtles, drifting by.

You are given your first weapon, a pistol that is barely more than a toy, you ‘borrow’ your father’s airship to retrieve your brother who has managed to get stuck in a box. Along the way you encounter a variety of characters from various backgrounds, all who lend you advice and a smile.

And finally, your family is together, ready to witness whatever it is your father brought back. Something wondrous, something never-seen-before, something…


One swipe from this beast, a panicked reaction. A death.

And everything changes.

Black Skylands is a top down pixel shooter, with bullet hell elements, an absolutely gorgeous world filled with layers of details that are changing and evolving. It has been years since that fateful day, and monsters are ravaging the skylands, and land and resources were already scarce to begin with. To make things worse, Kain, your basically-your-uncle Kain, is now leading bandits and controlling whatever islands they can get their hands on. And your father is gearing up for a desperate attempt to fix his mistake.

It’s up to you, your brother, and the allies you make along the way, to save not only the Fathership, but also Aspya. Your entire world.

There is a lot of detail to this game, a lot to do, and a lot to manage. It’s a top-down shooter, and obviously you have some weapons. An array of guns of course, but also a grappling hook (which is an essential when you live on floating islands in the sky), and with a handy knife, you’ll be equipped to go toe-to-toe with the roughest of bandits. Well, kinda. You’ll need to be strategic about your approach, and not be afraid to retreat. Some of the enemies you run into are pretty tough, and if you get overwhelmed by an ambush it won’t take you long to get crushed.

Gradually, you’ll find upgrades for your weapons, and be able to construct better armour and gear, making you better equipped for the challenges ahead. You can make similar upgrades to your airship, giving you the edge you need in those dogfights. More efficient cannons, a stronger hull, a larger hold, all helpful and essential as you make your way through the skies.

But these upgrades are difficult to work for. You’ll need resources, some of which you can find out in the world, such as wood or ore. Some need a bit more work than that, such as building a farm to grow food, flax, or cotton. Eventually you’ll need a way to process ore into useful metals. It can be a struggle, and often you’ll need to slowly fight your way through an occupied island to find more resources.

It’s a bit exhausting, but when you do clear these islands of enemies, you rescue people and get rewards.

And then you have to continue to defend that island, getting alerts when the rescued people need your help.

And when you’re trying to progress through the story, find and make resources, and fight for upgrades, it’s a lot of work! I sometimes feel like I’m trying to keep a classroom clean and tidy, but my 3rd year students have got their hands on glitter glue and have formed factions.

But you get stronger, you get smarter, you get new weapons and useful abilities, and there is so much to explore and see and interact with in this game that I can take detours from the main story to help out people you find along the way. I can find my grandfather and rescue the moths. Blast asteroids for coal, carefully chip away at the more formidable islands. Discover little pockets of beauty and history and story about the world of Aspya.

Perfect your shots, time your dodges right, and you’ll be able to face down some of the nastier monsters and baddies without too much trouble.

And if you do have trouble, you have your moth friend with you to whisk you away to safety, allowing you to plan and consider a different approach.

There’s a lot of sounds to this game, with immersive music that changes as you roam around floating towns and cities, run into danger, get a little bit too close to those occupied islands. It’s whimsical, beautiful, adding to the sense of wonder and adventure. It has some kinks to work out, with some jarring transitions, but it’s easy to look over. Especially when I discovered how many things I could break. There are few things more satisfying than smashing a crate and getting the jingle of currency in return.

You get the putter putter of your ship’s engine propelling you through the sky. The clank as you repair your airship, build new farms and facilities. It’s pretty satisfying!

If it wasn’t obvious, I love Black Skylands. I have not finished the game, I know I’m a while away from finishing the game, but it has sucked me in. I log off for the night and lay in bed considering how I’m going to approach that boss fight. I weigh up my upgrade options, trying to make the best decisions for my point in the game. The dialogue options are worth considering too, and I’m curious how the outcomes could change. There is so much in this game, so much to do and see and keep on top of, and then there is the fact that at the time of this review, it’s still in early access, with nearly a year of development ahead. This is a labour of love, passion, and care and it shows. Sure there are a couple of buggy quirks here and there but it doesn’t distract from the overall experience, which is that Black Skylands is a beautiful, hectic, busy game that requires patience and a cool head. And it’s probably the first bullet hell game I actually enjoyed.

Evolution: Climate Review

Developer: North Star Digital Studios
Publisher: North Star Games
Music: North Star Digital Studios
Platforms: Steam, Android, iOS, boardgame
Released: 2016 physical, 2019 digital
Genre: Board Game, Card Game, Deckbuilding, Strategy

Here we see a watering hole, a source of life-giving water, an essential site in these harsh environments. All sorts of creatures, big or small, must drink water. Unfortunately, that means competition is fierce for the limited resources that are available, and where there is prey… there are also predators.

Evolution is a card-based board game, where you strategise to make the most of multiple mechanics in order to keep your species fed, strong, and numerous. And with a digital version available, and the new Climate expansion that introduces a changing climate, it’s a challenging, but beautiful, experience. For this review, I’ll be focusing on the digital version of the board game.

Gameplay and the mechanics are rather straightforward. Your species gather at a watering hole, and there are other species there as well. You must establish a source of food, give your species traits that will help them gather, or distribute food, protect them from predators, or give them the upper hand if things get a bit dicey.

And then, once you make your decisions, you’ll have to watch it all play out, as the opposing species have also made their decisions. You may lose members of your population when the food runs out, or you might come out strong. And at the end of the round, you must use the knowledge you have gained in order to give yourself the upper hand. At the end of the game, points are tallied up based on how much food you consumed, the size of your population, and the number of traits you used. Highest score wins!

It’s actually quite a lot to take in, with the traits you have available, and the multiple stages to each turn. Thankfully, there is a nice tutorial to teach you the rules of the jungle, holding your hand to start with before letting you toddle off on your own evolutionary journey. Which is perfect for me, with every board game I often need a round or two to get the hang of things, and I prefer a tutorial to a written list of rules. But trust me, you’ll be on your own soon enough.

The campaign can be pretty challenging, with new cards and abilities being introduced. You can decide to become a predator, or remain a herbivore. Perhaps you’ll make your species climb trees, keeping them out of danger. And once you’re faced off against 3 other species, you’ll have to learn quickly, and put in quite a lot of thought. But if you feel that the game’s AI isn’t challenging enough, you can take your species online, and face off against real life players, who are interested in driving your species to extinction. Adapt, overcome, survive.

And then that brings me to the Climate expansion. Now, you are progressing through time, experiencing vicious cycles of burning heat and freezing ice ages. Now, instead of focusing only on the other species, you also have to take the climate into consideration, using a number of new traits to help you survive, such as heavy fur to protect against the cold, and the nocturnal trait, to avoid the heat. It’s an extra challenge layer to what can be a challenging game.

Now, this is a beautiful game, and it is a digital version of the board game, which has some of the most gorgeous art, in a vibrant watercolour style, that I have seen in a long while. However, they do need to fill in some blanks to translate it to a digital space, and that has led to some inconsistent art styles, and areas of the user interface looks unpolished, especially compared to when the actual board game art is used. And at times there were parts of the tutorial that also lacked polish. But at least when you’re done with the tutorial you’re done. The art… you kinda have to keep looking at it. For the most part you can tune it out, but it’s a bit jarring at times.

The sound experience also feels like it’s been subjected to that same lack of polish. It’s not bad, the music is fine, and there’s some fun little sound effects to compliment the gameplay, but I honestly just put my own music in the background.

Overall, I quite liked Evolution! It’s nice to have this beautiful, fun board game in digital form, and it lets me play it without having to rely on the conflicting schedules of my friends. The watering hole maps are pretty and dynamic, and when I’m focusing on my next move it’s nice seeing the environment adjust to the decisions being made in game. I did not touch the online portion whatsoever, which I intend to change in the near future. Initially I found it more challenging than I expected, and I had to get into the ‘how to crush my enemies’ mindset pretty much immediately. It’s just that there are a lot of ways to open the game, and a lot of ways for it to play out. Which is part of the fun.

Climate definitely adds an extra layer of challenges, with lots of opportunities for clever strategies, without it being hard to learn. It’s a precarious balance that Evolution has mastered. And it’s a great way to spend an afternoon, or an hour. And I do get a bit of a kick out of turning my peaceful herbivore into a ferocious predator that’ll decimate the opposing populations. But be careful! It’s hard to keep carnivores fed when there’s no one to feed on. Just a little tip from my mistakes.

Project Winter Review

Developer: Other Ocean Interactive
Publisher: Other Ocean Group
Music: Bob Baffy
Platforms: Steam, Xbox, and coming soon to the Playstation & Switch.
Released: 24th May 2019
Genre: Hidden Role, Survival, Strategy

Have you ever dreamed of a game that combines the survival genre and the classic hidden role board game Werewolf? If so, you share my weirdly specific dreams and I have the game for you! I bought Project Winter on a whim but quickly found myself engrossed by it. It’s an online game that came out just over 2 years ago and created an admittedly small but dedicated fan base.

In Project Winter you are stuck in a frozen landscape and have just received warning of an incoming blizzard set to tear apart everything in its path. Good news: you can single a rescue vehicle to come save you. Bad news: the equipment you need to signal them is broken.  Good news: you aren’t stranded alone, and many hands make light work. Very bad news: two of your fellow survivors are traitorous and want you dead. A typical game has eight players, two of which are traitors, and the rest are survivors. Along with your personal and team goals, you’ll have to maintain your heat, hunger and health. If you don’t make time to gather food and warm yourself by the fire, you’ll be easy prey for traitors. But if you spend too much time on this, you’ll quickly raise suspicion in your more productive teammates.  As well as your team, you’ll also be assigned a role with unique abilities to help you traverse the wilderness. There’s something for everyone whether you’re analyzing crime scenes as a detective, busting bunkers solo as a hacker, or even reanimating the dead as a scientist.

The survivors must escape before the match timer runs out and they freeze to death in the blizzard. To do this they must complete two repair tasks, phone for help, and reach the escape vehicle. Specifics vary to keep games interesting, but tasks can be anything from collecting resources to cracking ciphers. All the while they must survive traitors, dangerous wildlife, freezing temperatures, and their own paranoia. Traitors spend their time slowing down survivor progress, sabotaging objectives, sowing distrust, framing innocents, and picking of people traveling alone. They have a direct communication line with each other and can access stashes of strong gear littered through the world.

When you first pick up Project Winter, it can be a little overwhelming with all the things to consider but there’s a quick tutorial and a collection of simple role guides. If you’re like me though, and refuse to play a tutorial under any circumstances, it doesn’t take that long to get the hang of things. Turns out death waiting around everyone corner is a heck of a motivator to learn! Don’t be alarmed by the looming threat of death, if you do die you aren’t necessarily out of the game. Dead players observe the game as a ghost. They can’t communicate directly but can assist their allies or freeze their enemies. This is one of the things I loved most about Project Winter. Not only do players get to participate the whole time but they still play an important role. Ghosts can save lives, take lives, out traitors, frame innocents, and loads more. The one downside is you always have an audience watching your most embarrassing deaths.

There are two modes of gameplay beyond the base. A simple and streamlined version that’s good for learning the ropes or just a quick match. Also, a DLC mode of play called blackout that incorporates demons, magic and more which shakes the original rules up and keeps things fresh for seasoned players. There’s also continued support and engagement from the developers with consistent events and updates plus a consistent rotation of cosmetics.

No matter what mode you’re playing, sound is key while playing Project Winter and is your best defense against most danger. Footfalls, traps being placed, bears, crates being opened, alarms going off, weapons, combat, objectives, wolves, I could go on. Everything has a distinct sound that fits the world well. All sounds, including the voice chat, are delivered based on proximity which creates the perfect environment for mistrust to breed – with eight people split across a large map, stories will conflict, accusations will fly, and if you’re not careful – no one will hear you scream.

Finding a match online is surprisingly easy. Project Winter doesn’t have a huge player base, but it does have dedicated fans. You do not need to use the voice chat to play Project Winter, but you will be limited if you choose not to. I’ve been through the full range of online voice chat experiences and thankfully Project Winter stacks up pretty well in that department. I’ve found it to be an overall positive, friendly, and welcoming community to play with. There’s a lot of fun to be had playing Project Winter online but if you’re lucky enough to wrangle a group of eight together – playing with friends is extra special. There’s just nothing else like being framed and getting chased through the wilderness by a mob of your closest friends. My friends and I talk about these matches well after they’ve ended, laughing about stupid deaths or cunning plays.

If it seems like I’m reviewing this game just in hopes that more people will start playing on the Australian server, that’s not the case, just a bonus. Project Winter takes the some of the best bits in my favorite genres and creates a unique and engaging online experience. This game deserves more attention and I hope someone reading will see the appeal and give it a go!