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Review: Kerbal Space Program

May 05 // Jordan Devore
Kerbal Space Program (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: SquadPublisher: SquadReleased: April 27, 2014 (version 1.0)MSRP: $39.99 This is a game built to last. There are people out there spending hundreds of hours playing, learning, and teaching Kerbal Space Program and I'm not talking about some miniscule group of superfans. It's the kind of game that, whether you like it or not, comes creeping into your mind when you're supposed to be off doing literally anything else. It's contagious. There are a lot of deep, dense systems at play, and getting a handle on even the basics (knowing apoapsis from periapsis, prograde from retrograde) necessitates a commitment to learning real-world science and game mechanics before it "gets fun." I mean, sure, cobbling together a rocket, to use that word loosely, is enjoyable. At first. But then I came to realize what was possible in this sandbox and grew restless, forever in search of the next self-set milestone. However much effort you put into Kerbal, you'll get exponentially more back. Early on, you're met with one humbling experience after another. I went into the tutorials all bright-eyed and cheerful before the overwhelming reality of physics (my most dreaded subject in high school) came crashing down on me. The game's cartoon alien astronauts, the Kerbals, are a welcome sight. Their oddball expressions and mannerisms help warm up what would otherwise be a cold, calculated simulation. Not long into a training mission, one of them told me the job at hand "should be pretty easy even if you're not a famous rocket scientist like myself." Not a moment later, there I was, licking my wounds and wondering why that Kerbal had turned my home office into a house of lies. I'm not sure I've ever failed a videogame tutorial multiple times before. This is confidence-shattering stuff. My first hour or so is a blur by now, but I took notes along the way. "Intimidating homework," I summarized. Reading instructions, re-reading them, trying to do what they describe, failing, then repeating the process and inching slightly closer to success -- this is how it goes. Until, suddenly, it clicks. Bliss. [embed]291550:58433:0[/embed] The first time my rocket lifted off correctly, I cracked a smile and laughed with astonishment. It was joyous. Incredible. Then the thing started spinning out of control and the Kerbals trapped inside were doomed. I knew it, but did they? Those poor, brave, totally naive little green men. Upon failing the lesson, my instructor said he wasn't expecting disaster to strike. Personally, I had been counting the seconds. It gets better, though. You, the player, get better. On Twitter, I was told to seek out community-made guides and I'll echo that advice. The in-game tutorials aren't nearly as clear or hands-on as I would've liked, and a lack of grammatical polish didn't make using them any easier. Walkthroughs and wikis might as well be mandatory. There are folks out there like Scott Manley who are producing exceptional videos, and I'd be so lost without them. The simple act of watching someone else solve a problem -- escaping the atmosphere without burning an obscene amount of fuel, matching a distant vessel's orbit, saving a Kerbal lost in space (sorry!) -- can be enough to give you that edge. Thankfully, constructing rockets is simple. You drag individual components onto a 3D stage and snap them together. It's not quite building with LEGO bricks, but given the game's complicated subject matter, it is surprisingly close. Which parts you select for your ship and in what order, however, can be overwhelming. That's more of a problem in Sandbox mode, where you're given total freedom with a vast list of similar-looking pieces, than in Career mode, where new technology trickles in as you grow your space program from the ground up. Another surprise: the controls are, relative to learning astrodynamics, not too tough to figure out. The user interface is initially confusing, what with all of the gauges and that intimidating navigation ball to monitor, but Kerbal Space Program makes smart use of the keyboard. Cobbling together a bunch of ships and finally getting one of them to orbit the Earth-esque planet Kerbin for the first time is an awesome feeling. As in, awe-inspiring. It's a big milestone -- one I won't soon forget -- but there are countless more to tackle. You can switch to a map of space to track your vessel's trajectory and set up maneuvers to reach, say, the Mun (moon), or an asteroid, or make the journey back home. Actually, you can do whatever you want -- this is an open-ended game, after all -- but maybe don't sprint before you can crawl. For me, there is such a thing as too little structure in games, and for that reason I found myself switching back and forth between Kerbal's Sandbox and Career modes. The latter has a tech tree and jobs for you to take on. Newcomers will find its scope far more comfortable. As you gain science points by conducting research in the field and transmitting the data to your base (or physically bringing it and your spacecraft back safely to Kerbin's surface), you'll unlock access to more advanced gear. As you complete jobs -- testing specific parts at certain speeds and altitudes, or taking tourists on a ride without killing them, for example -- you'll get funds to upgrade your space program. A third mode, Science, rests in between Sandbox and Career. You'll still have to earn new parts by collecting science points, but, unlike Career mode, you won't need to worry about your space program's money or reputation woes. There are also several standalone scenarios, some of which were created in collaboration with NASA (get this game into schools!), that bypass the whole planning and building process and put you straight into an active mission. They're a great worry-free practice environment. Outside of those core modes, there are numerous mods to tinker with. The game has attracted a passionate, talented, dedicated community of players and creators. Even if the developers at Squad stop supporting Kerbal Space Program with new content and polish updates, I'm convinced this game will still be relevant a decade from now. My main fear of simulation titles is that I'll get bored. But, come to think of it, not once was I bored with Kerbal Space Program. I may have felt confused, and irritated, and hopeless at times, but those setbacks were fleeting. My desire to improve remains steadfast. Even the smallest accomplishments feel like massive victories, and once you experience that euphoria, you won't want to quit. Watch your ambition soar. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Kerbal Space Program photo
Science doesn't screw around
I might have never touched Kerbal Space Program had it not been offered as a review assignment. What a tremendous shame that would've been. From a comfortable distance, I had seen enough of this hardcore rocket-building and ...

Goat Simulator DLC photo
Goat Simulator DLC

GoatZ DLC brings fire-breathing zombie elephants to Goat Simulator


Also includes boring human zombies
May 05
// Alissa McAloon
Zombies are coming to Goat Simulator and absolutely no one is surprised. The zombie-filled GoatZ expansion calls itself "the only survival game on Steam that isn’t in Early Access," which is only a little untrue. ...
Portal Pinball photo
Portal Pinball

That Valve/Zen Studios collaboration is Portal Pinball


Now you're plinking with portals
May 05
// Darren Nakamura
The teaser is less than a week old, and now we have some more details on the collaboration between Zen Studios (best known for its pinball games) and Valve (best known for not developing Half-Life 3). It's not the excellent p...
Free Sims Update photo
Free Sims Update

The Sims 4's May the 4th update brings free Star Wars costumes


Sick of this joke yet?
May 04
// Alissa McAloon
And to think, I almost made it the entire day without hearing a "may the fourth be with you" joke. EA is celebrating everyone's favorite non-holiday by releasing a free Star Wars-themed update for The Sims 4. The update ...
Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter photo
Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter

Yooka-Laylee hits all stretch goals in less than a day


Expect simultaneous release on all planned platforms
May 02
// Darren Nakamura
Developer Playtonic Games must be sitting pretty right about now. Two days ago, the 3D platformer Yooka-Laylee revealed its official name. Yesterday, it launched a Kickstarter campaign with a base funding goal of about $270,0...
Royals photo
Royals

'You have died at 30 as a lowly peasant and will be forgotten'


And we'll never be royals
May 01
// Jordan Devore
That headline -- quite the game over message, huh? Royals, a new game from Threes designer Asher Vollmer that is not at all like Threes, pins itself as "an optimistic peasant simulator." You set out to become a king, a queen,...
Not a Hero delay photo
Not a Hero delay

Not a Hero delayed for a frame-rate upgrade


2D cover-based shooter slides to May 14
May 01
// Jordan Devore
I feel like one of the few remaining people on staff who hasn't tried Not a Hero, the upcoming action game from OlliOlli studio Roll7, but that's fully on me. There's a demo! Publisher Devolver Digital has sent word that the ...
Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter photo
Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter

Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee now on Kickstarter


Hits funding goal in just 40 minutes
May 01
// Darren Nakamura
It has been a whirlwind these last couple days for Yooka-Laylee. We have known about "Project Ukulele" for a while, but just yesterday we learned its official title (with googly eyes in the logo and everything). Today, the t...
Chroma Squad photo
Chroma Squad

Run the Japanese superhero TV studio of your dreams in Chroma Squad


Out now for Windows, Mac, and Linux
Apr 30
// Jordan Devore
Chroma Squad, the game about running your own Japanese superhero television studio, is now available on Steam, GOG.com, and the Humble Store for $14.99. What a cool niche. This is part tactical role-playing title, part manage...
The Weaponographist photo
The Weaponographist

In The Weaponographist, the hero is cursed with constantly breaking weapons


It's okay though, because he's an asshole
Apr 30
// Darren Nakamura
Doug McGrave is a hero, but only for the right price. I guess that actually makes him a mercenary. When he comes upon a town in need with little coin to offer, he scoffs and is off. Naturally, an old woman curses him, so tha...
Elsinore Kickstarter photo
Elsinore Kickstarter

Elsinore takes Shakespeare's Hamlet through a time loop


Try not to end up face down in a lake
Apr 29
// Darren Nakamura
There is something about Hamlet that inspires creators to want to adventure through it. First there was Ryan North's chooseable-path adventure book To Be or Not To Be, now there is Elsinore. Maybe people want to change the o...
Newgrounds turns 20 photo
Newgrounds turns 20

Flash game portal Newgrounds turns 20 years old today


Now I feel old
Apr 25
// Darren Nakamura
These days, Tom Fulp is probably best known for his work with The Behemoth, behind games like Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers. Way back in the day, I knew him as the guy in charge of Newgrounds. I spent a ton of time (proba...
Little Devil Inside photo
Little Devil Inside

Little Devil Inside Greenlit, gameplay details slip out


Please be as good as you look
Apr 22
// Zack Furniss
Little Devil Inside's sudden appearance on Kickstarter was a pleasant Early April surprise. What isn't a surprise is how quickly people supported it on Steam Greenlight. Steven had a hard time tempering his excitement&nb...
Legend of Kay Remaster photo
Legend of Kay Remaster

Does anyone remember Legend of Kay?


If you do, is it a classic?
Apr 22
// Jed Whitaker
Legend of Kay is a 3D platformer action-adventure title starring Kay, a cat who uses his claws in "meow-tial arts" as well as weaponry to fight evil gorillas who have been oppressing cat kind. So the game is about a species w...
Starbound update photo
Starbound update

New Starbound update adds pets and teleporters


And what else? I don't know; SLIME!
Apr 21
// Darren Nakamura
It seems like these are being pushed out more frequently now. The last stable update to Starbound came out about three months ago, but before that it had been nearly a year. That said, this update seems much less substantial ...
Metroidvania photo
Metroidvania

This cute Metroid-like hits all of the right notes for me


Environmental Station Alpha
Apr 21
// Jordan Devore
Here I was ready to call this the cutest little Metroid-like and then Holmes reminded me of the darling Minitroid. That helpful son of a... Actually, the point might stand -- I'm really feeling Environmental Station Alpha. T...
Snakebird photo
Snakebird

You had me at 'Snakebird'


An apple a day keeps the Snakebird at bay
Apr 21
// Jordan Devore
A snake that is also a bird. Snakebird. How utterly adorable. The creator of Nimbus is back with Snakebird, a game about contorting narcoleptic creatures through 50-some puzzle worlds. It's releasing super soon: May 4, 2015 ...
Circa Infinity photo
Circa Infinity

I'm trying to wrap my head around Circa Infinity


With marginal success
Apr 21
// Darren Nakamura
At a base level, I think I understand what's going on in Circa Infinity. While on the outside of a circle, the player character needs to get to a wedge to move inside. While on the inside of a circle, the player character ne...
Insomniac Games photo
Insomniac Games

Slow Down, Bull is a strange one for Insomniac Games


It's on Steam, for starters
Apr 20
// Jordan Devore
When I think of Insomniac Games, a few titles come to mind: Ratchet and Clank, Spyro the (pre-Skylanders) Dragon, and Sunset Overdrive. The studio's new game, Slow Down, Bull, is not like those -- it's a smaller project for S...
Desktop Dungeons photo
Desktop Dungeons

Desktop Dungeons gets new free content, mobile versions incoming


New classes, new quests, and a daily challenge
Apr 20
// Darren Nakamura
Reminder that Desktop Dungeons exists is not what I needed right now. Last time I played I got really into it, to the point where I needed to quit cold turkey in order to enjoy other aspects of life, like eating solid food o...
Sunset photo
Sunset

Snoop on the sidelines of a '70s revolution in Sunset


Releasing May 21, 2015
Apr 17
// Jordan Devore
The more I read about Tale of Tales' new game Sunset, the more curious I become. Amidst a brewing revolution in South America during the 1970s, players will inhabit a housekeeper as she cleans an apartment each week and optio...
Crypt of the NecroDancer photo
Crypt of the NecroDancer

Crypt of the NecroDancer exits Early Access in a week


Full release on April 23
Apr 16
// Darren Nakamura
It has been a while since we were first entranced by the "why hadn't anybody done this yet?" rhythm dungeon crawler Crypt of the NecroDancer, and now it's finally in the home stretch. After a nine-month bout in Early Access,...
Play this game photo
Play this game

Fun four player fighter Lethal League coming to more platforms


Play this game
Apr 16
// Steven Hansen
I got introduced to Lethal League by Ben Pack, who did our review of the unique fighter last year. Up to four players mash a ball around the stage. The ball gets faster and faster after each hit and is the only thing that ca...

The original Kickstarter game, High Strangeness, is set for release on May 6

Apr 16 // Alessandro Fillari
High Strangeness (Linux, Mac, PC, Wii U [previewed])Developer: Barnyard Intelligence GamesPublisher: Midnight CityRelease: May 6, 2015 "As the original amount was for $1500, it's been a passion project for us," said lead developer Ben Shostak. "We've been working on it all that time since, but eventually along the way, we got picked up by Midnight City and they were able to help us get it finished up and with the art assets and other resources. We had a successful Steam Greenlight, and now we're ready for release next month." Initially taking place in middle America, a mild-mannered teenager finds that his home has been invaded by creatures resembling shadows. Soon after, he's transported to a mysterious world connected by two parallel dimensions, and after coming into contact with an ancient artifact, he's able to transition between the dimensions, which resemble 8-bit and 16-bit interpretations of the new world he inhabits. Using gadgets and several artifacts he uncovers, he begins his quest to unravel the mystery behind the shadow creatures, while trying to find his way back home. Understandably, I was a bit confused by their labeling of High Strangeness as a 12-bit adventure game, but after playing the game, it became quite clear. The main character is essentially trapped within a videogame that's having difficulties trying to reconcile its place between the between the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming. Hence, the 12-bit label. As the in-between, he's able to transition to different eras, while taking advantage of the unique visual styles, along with the physics and AI parameters of the respective eras. Similar to The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past or Secret of Mana, action takes place from an overhead view in real time. In addition to his graphical transition ability, the hero will have access to a wide range of abilities. Starting off with a flashlight, which doubles as a melee weapon, he'll gain new gadgets and abilities such as firecrackers, which can be thrown at enemies and used to destroy weak walls to find new areas. When our hero defeats foes, he'll acquire crystal eyes which can be used to spend on upgrades in the character menu. Similar to action-RPG titles, you'll be able to focus on particular traits and attributes, and build your hero out to your liking. While at first glance, it seems to be one of those titles trying a bit too hard to relive the classic era. But thankfully, the "meta-ness" of High Strangeness is much more than simple style. The transition between the bit worlds is totally by design, which will change up enemy A.I, puzzle solving, and exploration. Think Light and Dark worlds from A Link to the Past, but with videogames. For instance, 16-bit world features eight-way degree of movement, while the 8-bit world has only grid based movement. In some cases, enemies will appear more menacing and more difficult in 16-bit mode, but switching over to 8-bit mode will severely limit their attacks and movement. Moreover, certain clues and obstacles will only be present in the 8-bit areas. During the Easter Island level, I was able to see traps hidden in the ground in the 8-bit world, but for the 16-bit world, the extra graphical power allows the traps to be more well hidden. I know, it's so meta, right? And it totally works. I was kinda geeking out during my session, as it was a pretty neat nod to how self-aware it is the style and limitations of the era. It was cool seeing 16-bit versions of the common enemies, these clothed monsters with tentacles, turn into these somewhat harmless and neutered looking enemies in the 8-bit world. By the way, that friend that inspired the developers to put themselves out there on Kickstarter was Rich Vreeland, also known as Disasterpeace. Along with Dino Lionetti from Cheap Dinosaurs, Disasterpeace has also contributed some music to High Strangeness. The score is totally a love letter to the classic era, focusing heavy on chiptune arrangements that are pretty catchy, but also very exciting and ooze style. I spent a nice amount of time with High Strangeness, and I could tell I only scratched the surface of what it has in store for players. There are many dungeons and locations to explore, each with a 8-bit and 16-bit rendition, and there's even a section where you'll play as a talking cat for some reason. It sounds so ridiculous, I know it'll be really awesome to see unfold. I'm a bit of a sucker to have a game be so self-aware of its genre, and the medium itself, and High Strangeness is certainly shaping up to one of those titles that'll not be fun to play, but also to examine for the number of references and nods to the classic era. It's been a long time coming, and to finally see the original Kickstarter game project reach the finish line is pretty exciting. Granted, it's been about six years, but better now then never, right? They've made good on their commitment to the fans, and it's shaped up to be something quite special.
High Strangeness photo
A super-meta jaunt through through 12-bit gaming
Ever since the big Kickstarter boom of 2012, there's never been a short supply of developers looking to get their next title going through crowdfunding. From metroidvania action-RPG titles referencing the golden years of game...

Samorost 3 photo
Samorost 3

Samorost 3 looks like the surreal point-and-click adventure of my dreams


That world design is something else
Apr 15
// Jordan Devore
The last time I wrote about Samorost 3, I expressed surprise and delight that Amanita Design was making another one of these charming point-and-click adventure games. Today, a year and a half later, I could do the same -- I ...
Awww heck yeah! photo
Awww heck yeah!

Invisible, Inc launching May 12, PS4 version in development


Awww heck yeah!
Apr 15
// Steven Hansen
I love Invisible, Inc. I gave it a game of the year award despite it being in Early Access. Well that's all done with. The excellent stealth-strategy game -- yes, you read that right, read the preview here -- will officially...
Metro Redux photo
Metro Redux

Metro Redux irradiating Macs on April 16


я не говорю по-русски
Apr 15
// Joe Parlock
In the grim future of Moscow, 2033, people have taken to the underground like rats to avoid the devastation up above. Hunger, disease, infighting, mutants, ghosts; life in the tunnels is rough. People barter for goods with am...
Kickstarter woes photo
Kickstarter woes

Development on Kickstarter-funded Midora paused


Feature creeeep
Apr 13
// Jordan Devore
[Update: So this is odd. "After much debate and thinking, Midora's development will resume soon. A Kickstarter update explaining why and Early Access news are coming soon."] Midora, a crisp-looking action-adventure title fr...

Review: Titan Souls

Apr 13 // Steven Hansen
Titan Souls (PC [reviewed], Mac, PS Vita, PS4)Developer: Acid NervePublisher: Devolver Digital  Release: April 14, 2015 MSRP: $14.99 Titan Souls is simple. Its art is in pixels and you wouldn't need much more than an NES controller to accommodate its two-button layout. One button serves as a run (hold) and roll (tap), the other shoots and retrieves a lone arrow. That's some pared down resource management: one. The land is in ruin with pleasantly varied color palettes. The goal is to kill all the monsters guarding fragments of the Titan Soul so you can put it back together. Groups of titans are sequestered around checkpoints in various themed areas and you'll have to walk around a bit to stumble on them. You might not even hit them all because you don't need to kill every titan to beat the game. I am sitting at 16 slain and a nice credit sequence, but no unlock of the conspicuous "TRUTH" achievement that seems to hint at more story resolution than is otherwise present. Mostly though it is a game about killing monsters -- yetis and brains and treasure chests and cursed predecessors -- with your one arrow, which you can retrieve by picking up or by holding down the shoot button and calling it back to you. Of course, you can't move while doing this, which makes it a dangerous tactic, but it is also a necessary way to use the arrow sometimes. [embed]290383:58146:0[/embed] Shadow of Colossus was about endurance, down to the grip gauge. Here, a fight can be over in two seconds, either in your favor or the AI's. This is not about endurance as much as it is relentlessness. About trying again and again and again. Because when enemies are killed in one hit (some take work in exposing weak points), they need to hit hard to compensate. I killed a few titans on my second try. Seconds of effort. Others took a couple dozen tries. The last two made up the bulk of my 306 deaths and it was a thoughtlessly loosed arrow that brought me to the credit sequence. Aside from the last two fights and maybe one other, I found it quickly obvious what to do -- shoot it in the brain, shoot it in the butt. Winning was dependent more on execution than puzzle solving, though there are some inventive uses of your bow's recall power. The one, two seconds of swelling music before somber death or quick success is almost farcical. The brief, but cumulative, walks back to the individual bosses, even from nearby checkpoints, kind of became a nuisance. What would've been nominal loading stacks in rapid succession (compared to the immediate "one more try" return of an Olli Olli or Super Meat Boy). Titan Souls, with its arcane aesthetic and sweeping music, plays at being a moody and thoughtful piece, but it is a punishing, reflex-oriented affair and I'm not sure why boss fights couldn't have just restarted in the boss lairs. It disincentives and punishes death, but in the most annoying way, and walking up the same seven seconds of path over and over after death lacks the tonal poignancy of, say, Shadow of the Colossus's treks between golems. Trying to realize boss patterns a couple seconds of life at a time takes patience. Completion unlocks Hard mode, which is still kicking me around (no more smooth second try victories thus far) as well as Iron (one life) and No Rolls (or run). You can toggle any or all three of these settings on for a more brutal time, but hamstringing myself, leading to more deaths, just exacerbates the problems of unnecessary loads and walks back to bosses.  My normal difficulty run through, save for some exasperation at the final two titans, did make for good pacing. Death or victory come quickly because, for the most part, the titans are designed to leave you few opportunities to win. Running around and staying alive isn't an impressive feat because you're no closer to winning. The moments of opportunity are designed to put you in harms way -- surely killing you should you miss the shot -- doubling down on an intense thrill. The quickness with which these things kill you leaves you always feeling unsafe. That you often have to stare down these charging killers, like drawing an arrow against an oncoming train with a baseball-sized weak point, is exhilarating. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Titan Souls review photo
In the shadow of Shadow of the Colossus
I've always clamored for the all-boss-fights game. Shadow of the Colossus, an inescapable inspiration here, did it right and others have done it wrong, like Prince of Persia (2008), but I love the idea of removing fluff encou...







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