Shutshimi

With my last two reviews landing in the top ten on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard, I’m now worried that my readers will think I’m going soft. Or possibly that I’ve been replaced by my nicer, goatee wearing Mirror Universe counterpart. Neither is true. As far as you know. But really, I have a reputation to maintain here. So what I need is a game from a genre that is my least favorite. Something that looks like it’s been done a zillion times before. Something I can rake over coals and murder with my malicious words. I need a shmup.

So I picked Shutshimi, and it’s one of the ten best indie games I’ve ever played. Well, fuck me.

I should have known better. As many of you are aware, the original Wario Ware on Game Boy Advance is my personal choice for the best game ever made. Probably a sign that I have ADHD or something. But other games based around time crunches have also owned me, such as Pac-Man Championship Edition, Bejeweled Blitz, NES Remix, or XBLIGs Orbitron and Minigame Marathon. I’m wired for shit like this. And Shutshimi is essentially the Wario Ware of shoot-em-ups. Stages last ten seconds. Sometimes less, but never more. Between stages, you enter a store where you have a choice of three different items. The items have overly-long, elaborate descriptions (that are often not very helpful) and you have exactly ten seconds to make your selection. You fight a boss every few rounds, but only ten seconds at a time. And that’s pretty much the entirety of the game. And I call it a game only because it might be slanderous to call it what it really is: a drug.

Hell, it even looks like how you picture being on drugs.

Actually, going off this picture, maybe I’m on to something with the whole drug thing.

And an addictive drug at that. I have no love for this genre. I find the majority of shmups to be boring, samey, typically unambitious, and designed strictly to target those that are nostalgic for shooters. I’m certainly not nostalgic for them, and thus I’m not these games target audience. More over, shmups are the most high-risk genre for my epilepsy triggers, something I honestly haven’t minded up to this point. I don’t want to sound like I’m milking my condition.. even though that’s exactly what I’m doing.. but it’s a genre I do go out of my way to avoid. I skipped this one for weeks. I only gave it consideration to begin with because it came via Anthony Swinnich, a long-time Indie Gamer Chick fan, and because he put “The Switch” in it. In other words, they included an option that made this game more epilepsy friendly.

Ten hours. That’s how long I played Shutshimi the first time I booted it up. Shock doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about this. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. And it did it the same way Wario Ware did: simplifying the play mechanics, and then weaponizing them by throwing them at you in fast-paced, bite-sized chunks. Because the game is randomized, you really can’t count on anything. An item that does one thing will do a different thing the next time you see it. No two play-throughs are the same. The lightning-fast approach is only detrimental because the writing is so damn funny, you’ll want to read it all and simply can’t.

Oh, that’s not the only fault here. Shutshumi is one of those games that is so good, the mistakes it makes frustrates me to a greater degree, because they’re so fundamental they shouldn’t exist. The top of the list for me is the lack of variety of enemies. The opening enemies, the sharks and squids, are too easy to dispose of. It takes too long for newer, more challenging baddies to appear. It’s also too easy to get a feel for enemy patterns. I wish the ordering of enemies had been every bit as random as the items. If Shutshumi had gone for full-on random wackiness like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, I think it would have made the game stronger. Despite the awesome randomness of the items (which often determine the effects of the next stage instead of giving you a power-up), because the levels unfold more or less in a linear way, Shutshimi almost becomes too easy.

Not that I know how good I am. There’s no online leaderboards as of yet. When the game gets Greenlit on Steam, they’ll come, but that’s no help as of yet. My top score is in the 9,000 point range. I’m not especially skilled at this, but I don’t have to be good at stuff to enjoy it. If that were the case, I wouldn’t still be golfing. But without those leaderboards, the ceiling of addictiveness for Shutshimi is significantly smaller. I’m also annoyed that only the PC version contains the epilepsy switch, meaning I couldn’t play the XBLIG version. Me, Indie Gamer Chick! If you look up XBLIG in the dictionary, there’s a picture of me urinating on Sententia. I mean, I appreciate the switch’s presence, but why did only one platform get it? Epileptics play consoles too, you know.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that's a good thing.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that’s a good thing.

My other concerns are nit-picky. There’s no variety in the backdrops, except stuff caused by random item pick-ups that result in party effects or for the game to be shrouded in darkness (I’m guessing with epilepsy mode turned off, there’s lightning flashes for that section). And some of the items are just stupid. One of them eliminates enemies altogether for a single stage. Technically that helps you advance an extra wave for free, but it also means you score no points. Just a really bad idea. I also think the shotgun weapon is now my choice for least favorite item in a good game. Fucking thing is worthless.

I’m sure shmup fans will be appalled that this game, which is admittedly overly simplistic, is the only game of its breed to capture my imagination. But it did. For all of its flaws (most of which, oddly enough, seem to be due to lack of ambition), it’s the first game in a long while that I had trouble putting down. It took me an extra couple days to get this review up because I would go back to check something about it and end up putting in an extra hour or two of playtime. Shutshumi is such a breath of fresh air. A great idea, something that will hopefully kickstart a new era of creativity for a genre that often lacks it. It also proves that the best ideas are often the simplest. Shutshumi has not a single mechanic that hasn’t been done before. Every part of it is tired. But it’s how it used its mechanics that makes it special. They should show it off in game design classes. I commend the developers at Neon Deity Games. And I only call them developers because I think it might be slanderous to call them what they really are: a drug cartel.

Yep, I ran that joke into the ground.

xboxboxartShutshimi was developed by Neon Deity Games
Point of Sale: Xbox Live Indie GamesIndie Game StandHumble Store

IGC_Approved$1 noted that “the wacky smoking animal” stuff is getting tired. First the pipe smoking cat from Aqua Kitty and now a cigar-smoking goldfish? Give it a fucking rest, guys in the making of this review.

Shutshimi is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Solar Flux

Games such as Solar Flux rarely hold my interest for very long, so I was very surprised when I found myself in the last few levels of this 82-stage game.

Hiding from a flare.

Hiding from a flare.

Solar Flux is a space-themed action puzzler not all that unlike Angry Birds or Cut the Rope where you have objectives for each stage and are rewarded with skill stars the better you do. Here you’re saving dying stars by shooting plasma into them. You collect this plasma with your ship, which has limited fuel and which cannot get too close to the stars without the risk of exploding due to the loss of its heat shield.

A fun physics system plays a part in this game which has you holding orbit around planets, coasting around space while trying to use as little of your fuel as possible, hiding behind planets to avoid the intense heat of the stars, and riding the solar waves of the stars as you restore energy to them.

The game’s visuals are gorgeous for a game of this kind and the music is great, definitely feeling appropriate for the environment. The colors of the celestial objects are vibrant and stand out nicely. The music is soft and gives you a feeling of solitude as is fitting with the environment. Nothing looks or sounds cheaply done.

(At this point I should mention that for the most part I played the PC version of the game. I cover the differences between this and the Android version later. In short, they are essentially the same.)

A maze of asteroids.

A maze of asteroids.

All in all, the game isn’t terribly difficult if you’re only interested in seeing each level. If you’re after a full clear, achieving three stars on each level, you have a big challenge ahead of you. In most of these games, you only have one thing in mind: collect all the things or kill all the things with as few flying swine as possible. Solar Flux adds some variety and asks you to perform different tasks for various stages. The game may challenge you by requiring you not to use much fuel, not to lose X amount of your heat shield, or to complete your objective within a time limit.

I zipped through the stages, having only an occasional hang up that took more than a few tries to get around. The graphics are rather pretty, and I felt that the game makes good use of the controller, even though the tooltips suggest one use the keyboard.

I decided to try out the mobile version on my Nexus 5. The download is free; however, you only get a few stages at a time, and you MUST complete all of the stars for what few stages you do have in order to advance. Ads appear between every few missions, but at only a dollar to remove them, it’s worth the price if you find you like the game.

Coming from the PC version to this was incredibly difficult due to the controls; movement of your ship isn’t as intuitive as it is with the controller. It took quite a bit of practice to get the hang of it, but eventually things became fluid.

Between the two versions, I think the desktop version is the better choice both because of how it’s easier to control and because you don’t need to collect all three skill stars in order to advance. However, I do suggest trying out the mobile version first since it’s free. Think of it a trial version.

If you enjoy this type of game, I recommend picking this one up. Should you be one who is not into puzzlers, skip it as there’s probably nothing here that will change your mind.

solarfluxlogoSolar Flux was developed by Firebrand Games.

“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…” – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the subject of space.

IGTlogo-01

Solar Flux has earned has been awarded the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval by Miko.

Foiled

The mechanics in Foiled are astonishingly simple but not void of nuance. The game is good at being accessible while retaining an element of competitive play.

Oh, and it made me beat the shit out of my brother. And it made my girlfriend beat the shit out of me. Rare is it that a game can provoke violence from normally docile beings. I like to think that’s a testament to its quality.

The reasoning for these brutal shoulder punches, I imagine, is that the outcome of a match directly reflects upon a player’s skill. And when that skill has a lot to do with head games, and without the ability to blame complicated controls, losing a match can affect your ego. I’ll explain:

Players have only two attacks. Swipe, which is an upwards slash to fend off death from above and Dive, a jumping attack that causes the player character to plunge violently downwards. The foils idle menacingly, poised parallel to the stage, ready to hurt. If two foils collide, they deflect. If a foil touches the other player, they perish and the victor collects their soul.

At this point, a goal appears on-screen. The recently felled player spawns at the goal to defend it while their assailant attempts to reach that goal with the soul in hand. If they are killed, then they spawn at a goal and the roles are reversed. If a player reaches a goal, they get a point. If a player gets three points, they become a giant, invincible fencer who will obliterate their rival. They also win the round.

Win two rounds, win the match. The essence of simplicity.

Only, not. From the get go, the tension is high. Two players face off, unsure of what the other one will do. Through repeated rounds, they start to get an idea of how their opponent plays, but you can never rely entirely on the ability to read your opponent. And you have to realize that they are adapting to you as the matches progress, too. Even playing defensively is unnerving, as an offensive player, who will usually have to jump to be aggressive, can simply bait you into a missed swipe. They can land behind you, in front of you, atop you… and if you make a bad read, then you’re more screwed than my attention craving sister.*

The stages are extremely vertical, encouraging lots of wall jumps and climbing to reach the goals. The systems of the game cause the position of power to chaotically swing between the two characters. When a player falls, they stand stoic sentry over their rival, with a very desirable footing.

And that ability to frequently deny a point is amazing. You never feel entirely disempowered, and no matter how the game has played out, there always seems to be some sliver of hope to edge out a victory. 

Foiled represents a spectacular effort from first time developer, Gabe Cuzillo. I look forward to seeing what he produces in the future.

Oh, and it’s free. So find a friend and stop being a total lame-ass.

52756cdee4b0782c048c5ec0Foiled is available for free here.

IGTlogo-01Foiled has earned the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.

*that’s a joke. Sorry, Mercedes.

Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy by Cellar Door Games (the group responsible for “Don’t Shit Your Pants”) has done for me what few other games have done lately: kept me coming back for more. I don’t want to put the controller down until I absolutely must.



I was mostly in the dark about this game going into it other than a few friends exclaiming, “You have to get this game!” and their repeated yelling at me that I hadn’t yet done so when they later asked again.

The schtick for Rogue Legacy is that you’re endlessly throwing bodies at a randomly generated castle for loot to improve yourself for the next body you throw at the castle. You’ll encounter a variety of monsters, varying colored versions of those monsters with stronger abilities, and the occasional boss. Overall, the game has a very Metroidvania feel (honestly, what game doesn’t these days?), and it’s done rather well.

I get a kick out of how your character is chosen for each round.  You’re shown three characters to choose from, all of whom are the heir to your previous character. Each is given a random character class and different traits that include but aren’t limited to “nothing spectacular” (no traits), color blindness (game is sepia or black and white), baldness (your character is bald), dwarfism (half-sized), and gay (no physical effect, who’d have known?). This gives you a little bit of variety in each playthrough, and sometimes it gives you something very beneficial to support your game. Dwarfism allows you to sneak into small hallways, having a good memory shows where enemies are on your map screen, and suffering from coprolalia makes your character swear like Q*Bert every @!#?@! time they are hit. I can’t imagine anything more useful than that!



“Miko! How do you advance in this game if everything is random? This all seems a bit pointless.”

In your travels you may reach a boss and want to take it down but wind up dying immediately, or perhaps there is a chest with a special ability to earn but the challenge the game gives you to open that chest is a bit too difficult. Once you die, you’re given an opportunity to keep the same castle layout you just encountered but with a penalty that you’re only able to keep 60% of the gold you earn. You’re also not able to farm for secrets because those areas remain used. All of this is done in the name of balance or some other probably good excuse.

To advance your character you are given a tree of various skills and abilities to improve: More strength, increased crit chance, new character classes. It’s all the usual fare and not a very exciting portion of the game. This tree is where one of the problems with the game lies. The process of improving feels so damned slow and the cost of some of the upgrades feels too high to get anywhere. One could be having a bad streak of games or not find hordes of treasure, which will result in little to no advancement. To improve, you need to do well. To do well, you need to improve.



The music is about as bland as my taste in music. It’s nothing special or particularly memorable, but it suits the job and it isn’t annoying. What is frustrating is how the game teases you by giving you more songs to choose from if you stumble upon a jukebox in the middle of the castle but then immediately reverts to the old music once you leave the room. Why?! Troll jukebox, that’s why!

Rarely does a death in the game not seem like my fault. Controls are precise, which is something far too many devs seem to gloss over. Teleports will help you bounce around to far-explored areas, which is bloody fantastic, and the map screen is simple enough to read (assuming you didn’t wind up with a trait that leaves you map-less).

So far, the only thing to cause me to curse at my screen in anger or shake my controller in a fit of fury is when an enemy’s attack that shouldn’t be going through walls, does. It happens when a monster summons a fireball  as it hugs a wall and the game figures, “Eh, close enough,” and lobs that fireball at my face when I should be safe. Not cool, man!

Ultimately, for gamers who enjoy platforming, a bit of humor from a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and a challenge, I would suggest picking up this title. It’s good fun! Oh, and make sure you go into the game files and add a few names in there — yours and your friends’. Whenever my name randomly appears, I make sure to choose that character no matter how terrible her traits are. Vertigo, ho!

To wrap this up, screw Cellar Door Games for not providing me ample opportunity to use more colorful metaphors in my first review. This game feels really good all-around.

I take it back: There is one thing that’s bullshit. There is not one damned rainbow is in this game to take advantage of the “gay” trait. NOT ONE RAINBOW! That said, the game did randomly recreate me accurately, especially my Quantum Translocation.

title

Rogue Legacy was developed by Cellar Door Games.

IGTlogo-01$15 nets you this game and a chance to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Vertigo for a few minutes.

Rogue Legacy has been awarded the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval. Leaderboards for Indie Gamer Team are coming soon.

Papers, Please

There’s a John Steinbeck novel titled The Winter of Our Discontent that reminds me a great deal of Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please. That title is borrowed from a line in a Shakespeare play about an abysmal king, Richard III, who was about as immoral as immoral can get. After playing this game for several hours, I now have a newfound appreciation for just what that line means; the whole of this interactive experience is a “winter of discontent” to be sure, and begs the question: Is it possible to be a good man in a thoroughly corrupt society? From my experience here the answer is a resounding, “Nyet, comrade.”

PapersPleaseLogo-569x313

The title screen reminds me of the C64 classic, Raid Over Moscow. I wonder if that was intentional?

Set in the winter of 1982 against the bleak, grey backdrop of the fictional Communist nation of Arstotzka, the player is cast in the role of a “lucky” lottery winner who wins a job in the big city as an Immigration Inspector on the newly opened Arstotzkian border. It’s your job to inspect the various documents that people present to you to cross that border. If their documents pass muster, they can enter glorious Arstotzka. If not, you can send them packing back to wherever it is they came from. The more people you process in a typical work day, the more money you get. The more money you get, the more “luxuries” (e.g. food, heat and medicine) you can provide for your family, who always seem to be either sick, cold or hungry.

This is where the true madness and/or genius of Papers, Please sets in. Each day, you are saddled with new regulations and requirements that slow down the immigration process because you need to scrutinize each and every shred of information for inconsistencies. When that process is slowed down, you don’t make a great deal of money because you aren’t processing enough immigrants. When you don’t make a great deal of money, you can’t afford the things your family needs and then they’ll start dropping like flies.

Of course, various factions and individuals will offer you money to help their cause or look the other way when shady things are going down, but accepting those kinds of bribes have consequences and soon, the agents of the Arstotzkian government will be visiting you at work with rather pointed questions to ask.

Those stampers make an awesomely satisfying "KA-CHHUNK!" sound when you use them.

Those stampers make an awesomely satisfying “KA-CHHUNK!” sound when you use them.

And this is where my major issue with this game arises: Does what I described above sound like fun to anyone? I’m certain the dictionary definition of “fun” doesn’t include words like immigrationpassportgovernment officials or border in that definition. Of course, there have been morality choices in games before, but none have seemed as “real” or consequential (at least to me) as they do in Papers, Please. I mean, if I made a decision that pissed off Jack in Mass Effect 2, she doesn’t want to be my pal, and then she ultimately dies at the end of the game because of that, should I be upset? I can tell you right now that I didn’t shed a tear because it’s just a game … and she was a temperamental pain in the dick anyway.

What it boils down to, I suppose, is that Papers, Please blurred the line between a fictional game world and reality a little too well for my liking. Making the decisions this game forced me to make made me uncomfortable … perhaps because I remember the Cold War tales of Communist woe all too well and never was (and never will be, unfortunately) the commander of a kick-ass spaceship.

When it comes to overall presentation, I would swear this was a game that I was playing on a Commodore Amiga (or some other computer of that era) emulator. Of course, I know differently, but the graphics and overall gameplay definitely have that late ’80s, early ’90s vibe going on. And I don’t mean that in a negative way; I personally dig games with a distinctly retro vibe, but gamers of the last couple generations may not get it and be put off by that. Something else that should be mentioned regarding the presentation in Papers, Please is the music, especially the theme song, which is a crushingly sad tune, like something ripped from a Kafka-esque nightmare. I don’t know if it has a title, but I took to calling it “The Dirge of Endless Oppression.” It’s not particularly bad; it’s just goddamn depressing.

I have no mouth, yet I must scream...

I have no mouth, yet I must scream…

I played Papers, Please for about 10 hours and I, for the life of me, could not get a “good” ending. I was always going to debtors prison, getting arrested for other infractions, or my whole family was dying on me because I couldn’t consistently feed them, keep the heat on or get them medicine. And maybe that’s the point here. The point being that there are no good endings in this life…it’s just a relentless winter of discontent. I know that’s a very desolate outlook on things in general, but that’s the mindset this game put me in and, in case I haven’t made that clear, I don’t really like that. Ultimately, I play video games to have fun and escape the trials and tribulations of real life for a few hours. Being cast in the role of an early 80′s, Soviet Bloc immigration official is not my idea of a cracking good time.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Papers, Please is an important game, much like Gone Home, and it’s one that I think everyone should at least try because it does break some new ground in terms of game mechanics and narrative structure. It reminds me of some of the movies I had to watch while taking film theory courses in college: interesting in a classroom environment because you are seeing and learning different things, but not something I would seek out and enjoy on my own time.

If you think of Papers, Please as this generation’s Oregon Trail, but with intensely depressing Communist bureaucracy in the place of dysentery, you’ll do just fine. People should play this game more for its educational and historical value, but since many of today’s gamers don’t have the perspective someone of my age and/or generation has, they may enjoy it simply as a piece of entertainment, whereas I have a rather difficult time doing that. As an extension of those thoughts, I think both Papers, Please and Gone Home should be shown to all the asinine, irresponsible media types who constantly assail video games as over-indulgent, blood-spattered-kill-festivals, to let them see (and hopefully understand) that there are thought-provoking games out there. Alas, these thought-provoking games never have the marketing budgets that the over-indulgent, blood-spattered-kill-festival games have, so they tend to fly under the radar of the general public, which is obviously unfortunate for all of us who love and cherish the gaming lifestyle.

pp11Papers, Please was developed by Lucas Pope.

This game cost $9.99 in American swine dollars; I wonder what that works out to in rubles, comrade?

Papers, Please is available on Steam.igg 2

Papers, Please is Indie Gamer Guy approved and now hold the fifth spot on the Leaderboard.

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Gone Home

I recall seeing a trailer for Gone Home a few months ago and I thought then that it looked pretty damn cool. I filed it away in the ol’ memory banks, thinking that I wanted to play it when it eventually came out. Well, to my surprise it came out earlier this week and people have been raving about it. After playing it myself, I believe those raves are justified…to a point.

Meet the Greenbriar's. They have some skeletons hiding in their collective closets for sure.

Meet the Greenbriar’s. They have some skeletons hiding in their collective closets for sure.

I believe that more entirely narrative driven games where there are no weapons and no one dies like Gone Home need to exist if video games are to evolve, transcend and flourish as an artistic medium. One of the better comic book writers of the last couple decades, Kurt Busiek, was quoted as saying in regard to superhero comics, “As I see it the superhero genre is like a big field and we’ve built up this gigantic city in one tiny corner. Every now and then some visionary guy drives out of the city and goes off in a different direction, and everybody goes, ‘Look, look…you can do that,’ and then they drive in straight line right after him. I think the lesson that we need to learn from the likes of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Animal Man and the Lee and Kirby Fantastic Four, isn’t to say, ‘Look, there’s a new direction that can work,’ it’s to go off and find your own direction. We should try to explore as much of this big field as we can, instead of building another little suburb and then overbuilding it until nobody wants to live there either.” Just change what Kurt is saying about superhero comics to video games and you’ll get what I’m driving at here. Video games are becoming much like superhero comics: Stale. Boring. Overblown. Been there and done that. The AAA studios are overbuilding in the action/shooter genre. Even the indies are overbuilding in the puzzle/platformer and retro RPG genres. (Fuck, if I see one more goddamn indie puzzle/platformer somebody’s gonna get cut. No joke.) Even though I have some issues with Gone Home, I totally dig that it’s driving out of the overbuilt city and breaking interesting, new ground elsewhere. The entirety of the video game industry needs to wholeheartedly support and embrace games like this if it ever wants to be taken seriously.

OK, OK…I’ll step down from my soap box now and get down to the nitty gritty. Gone Home is essentially a first-person, point-and-click adventure/mystery game, which you can control with a gamepad or the keyboard and mouse, and it is set in the year 1995. You play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a 20-year-old woman returning home from a year abroad in Europe; although she’s returning to a house that she herself has never lived in. While she was away, her father inherited a spooky old mansion from his (possibly) insane uncle and the Greenbriar family (the father, Terrance, the mother, Jan, and kid sister, Samantha) now reside in this manse. There’s a cryptic letter from Sam attached to the front door which essentially tells you that no one is home, but not why no one is home. It’s now your task to investigate the house to find out where everybody is and just what the hell has been going on with your family for the past year.

Teenage shenanigans. Check...

Teenage shenanigans. Check…

As you slowly explore the imposing and graphically well-rendered house, you begin to piece together (by basically being a big ol’ snoop) the tumultuous events of the last year. You are also treated to narrated snippets from Sam’s journals (wonderfully voiced by Sarah Robertson) when you come across a relevant item or clue. Gone Home does a great job in giving you an almost voyeuristic peek into the Greenbriar’s somewhat dysfunctional lives. It also excels at setting up and adding tension (via various “red herrings”) to the overall mystery. But, where it shines the most is when it makes you feel like you’ve time-warped back to 1995. This is achieved through various pop culture references and household minutia. Case(s) in point, you come across several, fictional Super Nintendo cartridges in Sam’s bedroom and scores of VHS tapes in the family TV room with familiar movie titles I couldn’t help but smile at because I had a lot of the same damn movies recorded onto VHS tapes back in the day.

Where Gone Home falters in my estimation is in two rather large areas. First and foremost, the ending just lacked any real emotional punch for me. I was let down. I was 90% sure on how it was going to end and I really wanted and/or needed something with a little more resonance or grit to it as the ending here. Maybe that was part of it, that about half way through I pretty much knew how this was going to end (even though the aforementioned “red herrings” are flying at you fast and thick by then) and I was let down that it wasn’t something different? I’m not sure, really, all I know is that I had a pervasive sense of “meh” as the game concluded. I could say a great deal more about the ending of Gone Home here, but then I would have to tread into “spoiler” territory, so a longer, commentary piece on this game’s ending may be in order somewhere down the line.

Another family portrait? Hmmm...

Another family portrait? Hmmm…

Secondly, I completed Gone Home in about three and half hours and that’s only because I took my time and explored every nook and cranny of the house. That’s too goddamn short for a $20 game that realistically has no possibility for a sequel, DLC, multiplayer or any additional content whatsoever. This game should have been priced in the $5-$10 range. Pricing a three hour game at $20 is fucking outrageous and whoever decided on that price-point should be ashamed of themselves.

That being said, Gone Home is an important game and one that you should definitely play. I’m certainly smitten with it, but I’m not in love with it as several other critics seem to be. The narrative (up until the ending) is excellent, as is the time capsule, 90’s atmosphere. It’s hard to capture how it makes you feel in words; it’s really something you should experience rather than have me, or any other journalist/reviewer, explain to you.  So, go download a copy and live through the Kaitlin Greenbriar homecoming experience for yourself. You’ll be a better person for it.

gh3Gone Home was developed by The Fullbright Company.

At $19.99, Gone Home costs waaaaay too much for a three hour game with little to no re-playability.

Gone Home is available on Steam.

Gone Home is Indie Gamer Guy Approved and now holds the fourth spot on the Leaderboard.igg 2

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Shadowrun Returns

“Welcome back to the Emerald City Sprawl, chummer. I’d like to say that we’ve missed you…but then I’d be a misbegotten, Troll-shagging liar!”

~ The voice in my head of the badass Shadowrunner, DICKRAZOR, that I created when I was 17. Don’t you fucknuts judge me.

I’m going to get this out the way right up front: I love Shadowrun Returns. I love that it even exists. I love the fact that I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign that made the game possible in the first place. To borrow a phrase from the (in)famous 80’s boogeyman, Freddy Kruger, “What a rush…”

Unlike most though, I have a (fairly) long relationship with this series. I actually played the pen and paper RPG when it first came out back in 1989. I also played both the Genesis and SNES games that came out in the 90’s. Shadowrun Returns plays like a long-lost sequel to the 1993 SNES game, which was fantastic, and that’s another reason why I love it. (I skipped the Xbox 360 version that came in 2007 because turning Shadowrun into a FPS, Counter-Strike clone was a horrible fucking idea.)

I'm back in the Emerald City groove...

I’m back in the Emerald City groove…

Now, for the uninitiated, the basic premise of Shadowrun is that in the not-too-distant future the magic and creatures (elves, dragons, dwarves, etc.) of the old world re-awaken and are thrown into the mix of a cyberpunk, dystopian “new” world filled with crime, cybernetic enhancements and Matrix-like computer hacking.  A “Shadowrun” is the name for the covert ops and/or adventures that take place in this world, and Shadowrunners are the folks that carry out these ops. The Shadowrunners typically come in six distinct archetypes: Street Samurais, Adepts, Deckers, Shamans, Riggers and Mages, although cross-pollination between these archetypes is frequent and welcome in the Shadowrun universe. Get it? Got it? Good.

Beyond all the cyberpunk and fantasy tropes, the most interesting element for me is that the majority of the adventures/story lines in Shadowrun have a very pulpy, crime noir feel to them. Shadowrun Returns is no different, thankfully. The scenario that comes with the game, “Dead Man’s Switch,” is pure pulp fiction goodness. You’re contacted from beyond the grave (via a pre-recorded message) by an old friend who charges you (the player) with tracking down his killer. There are many twists and turns to deal with before you’ll reach the gritty finale…and a rather large payday awaiting you at that finale. There are also a several side quests that fall into the same “hard boiled” mold. Fortunately, the writing here is razor sharp, setting the tone of each encounter and location very, very well, just as a savvy Dungeon/Game Master would. If the narrative wasn’t top drawer this would have sunk Shadowrun Returns before it even left the harbor but, as I said, it’s quality stuff, so no worries.

Nice to see that police detectives haven't changed much in the future.

Nice to see that police detectives haven’t changed much in the future.

In regard to the gameplay, Shadowrun Returns is, again, distinctly old school. It is a tactical, turn based RPG that plays out in a 3D isometric perspective. As is standard in almost all RPG’s you can boost stats (with karma points rather than experience points), collect money, armor, spells and weapons. You can also recruit other Shadowrunners of varying archetypes (for a fee, of course…) to assist on the more hazardous runs. The mechanics are solid; the game plays as you would expect with few hiccups or glitches. It’s unspectacular, sure, but satisfying and familiar…like an old pair of slippers that are perfectly molded to your feet.

The overall presentation is nicely done, as well, but I do have a few quibbles here. The 3D backgrounds (and 2D character portraits) have a painterly and/or hand-drawn quality and they are gorgeous, rendered with great detail and truly give you the “feel” of the crumbling, dystopian milieu that Shadowrun Returns is set in. The problem with these beautiful backdrops is that they are in no way interactive, something gamers of this generation have come to want and expect. Hell, even I was like, “Well, that’s kinda lame.” Another disappointment on the “current gen expectations” list is that there is no voice work in this title at all, but the kick-ass, ambient/techno-ish soundtrack more than makes up for the lack of spoken dialogue. Also, the 3D character models are kind of weak; their animations are limited and the textures are a bit muddled. With such fantastic creatures that populate this world, it’s a damn shame that there aren’t more detailed and lively models to admire and manipulate. One other thing to note:  the character models pop in and out (i.e. disappear then re-appear) as your character moves and the screen scrolls to match his/her movement. I’m not sure if this was just because my computer was set at the highest settings the game will allow, or it’s a larger issue with the game engine itself. I saw a couple other people on Twitter mention this issue as well, so I don’t think it was my system in particular.

"The answer is out there, Neo, and it's looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to."

“The answer is out there, Neo, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.”

After about ten hours of play time, I was done with Shadowrun Returns. Too soon, yes, but all good things must come to that inevitable end. There is a rather robust and complex game/level editor that comes with the game itself, so I’m really looking forward to the user generated content (and the promised expansions from Harebrained Schemes themselves) that I’m sure will be coming in the not-too-distant future and will add almost endless value and playtime to this already super cool experience.

Did I mention previously that I love Shadow Returns? I did, didn’t I? Well then, I think you’ll love it too, especially if you dig cyberpunk, fantasy and/or role-playing games of any ilk, and what gamer worth his or her salt doesn’t dig those things on some level or another? Go buy it and play it NOW!

sr smallShadowrun Returns was developed by Harebrained Schemes.

For $19.99, Shadowrun Returns will give you happy dystopian dreams filled with orcs and elves and trolls and shit in the making of this review. I obtained my copy of the game because I was a Kickstarter backer.

Shadowrun Returns is available on Steam.

Shadowrun Returns is Indie Gamer Guy Approved and now holds the third spot on the Leaderboard. igg 2

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