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Puzzle Games

Capcom photo
Capcom

Capcom pulls a bait and switch for newly announced Ghostbusters Puzzle Fighter


Wait, this isn't Puzzle Fighter
Apr 22
// Chris Carter
I was in the middle of dinner, eating some mashed potatoes, and someone texted me "hey, there's a new Puzzle Fighter coming out from Capcom." Holy shit! You're telling me that Capcom is resurrecting one of my favorite pu...

Review: MonsterBag

Apr 22 // Steven Hansen
MonsterBag (PlayStation Vita)Developers: IguanaBeePublisher: IguanaBeeReleased: April 7, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Suitably impressed with the trailer's art style, I was still a bit sure how the game actually worked until I played it. Levels are set up with a line of folks to jump between. Reaching Nia, always at the end, is the goal. Tapping left or right flits you across bystanders one at a time, but some are a bit more attentive, requiring you to pause and wait until they aren't looking your way. A series of unfortunate events en route to some kind of alien apocalypse in a narrative escalation reminiscent of Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack means you never quite reach Nia, even when you get to the end of levels. Complicating things beyond increasing sets of hungry eyes per level are certain puzzle elements that make use of V's telekinesis. Various items in the stages can be tapped on if you're in range and then thrown at the NPCs. This starts off innocently enough by fulfilling the character's desire as indicated by little thought bubbles. The angry old man who won't let you pass becomes amicable if you chuck something at the guitarist, causing the latter to throw his axe to the old man, who then shreds and chills out. Soon, though, you're sending spears through people, exposing their internal organs as further items with which to progress. Or beheading scientists to pass retina scans. Levels have a flow of, "get to the first accessible item without being caught, use it on an NPC, then get to whatever item that might've opened up." Only once did I find myself screwing up the combination that I had to restart a level, reaching an impasse without any interactable elements left. [embed]290782:58276:0[/embed] The difficulty, then, comes as more and more enemies are out to get you, which slows your progress as you have to wait for them to avert their gaze to get to one side of the level and often have to then make it back to the start. It can get a bit grating on wider levels, especially when enemies' -- in particular, the later alien monster things -- patterns sync up and you find yourself waiting longer and longer for smaller openings. Getting seen means instant death and regression to a checkpoint, which I occasionally wished were more frequent. Spicing up the puzzling elements are sections where speed is a necessity and those were the most frustrating, not helped by some additional, finicky uses of the Vita touch screen to rotate bits and pull levers. Requiring speed when the distance between two points of character-cover is so heavily watched meant I tried to force more openings with barely-desynced enemy vision patterns, which led to a lot of frustrating deaths. Later levels also introduce more abstract, more complex button-pushing puzzle elements that feel thematically distant and get away from the charming, cobbled together cause-and-effect puzzles that I enjoyed, like tossing lemonade on a thirsty girl or throwing an alien's flaming head to melt down a bigger alien. MonsterBag is a nice bit of light puzzles and charming slapstick, at least until the narrative drives it towards something more serious and mechanical that ups complexity and challenge, but almost feels like a different, less personable game. That backpack is one of the cutest characters in recent memory, though, thanks to its infectious grin and happy hiss, murderous tendencies be damned. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
MonsterBag review photo
Cartoon violence
Animaniacs was all trios and duos (and one solo sexy rat thing) playing off each other for comedy and I couldn't help but think of the Buttons and Mindy skits while playing MonsterBag. Mindy would toddle off into harm's way, ...

Final Fantasy photo
Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy bosses make an appearance in Puzzle & Dragons


Yay Cloud of Darkness
Apr 22
// Chris Carter
Puzzle & Dragons' crossover power cannot be stopped. In addition to Squall and Ace making their way into GungHo's puzzler, more Final Fantasy characters are invading the game -- specifically, a few final bosses. Clou...
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...
Pokémon Shuffle photo
Pokémon Shuffle

Pokemon Shuffle keeps on shufflin', adds Safari event


You can still redeem that code too
Apr 20
// Chris Carter
When you're allowed to play it, Pokémon Shuffle is pretty fun. The new Safari event is a good excuse to boot it up as well -- then promptly turn the game back off after your hearts wear off in a minute or so. Whil...
Steam photo
Steam

Chip's Challenge and its long-lost sequel are coming to Steam in May


I didn't even know there was a sequel!
Apr 17
// Jordan Devore
After finishing development of the classroom favorite Chip's Challenge, creator Chuck Sommerville got to work on a sequel and, two years later, finished it. But before the game was released, the rights were sold to a new owne...
Trine 3 photo
Trine 3

Trine 3 will use Steam Early Access to nail its new 3D gameplay


It's headed to PC first and other platforms later
Apr 17
// Jordan Devore
There are certain games I wouldn't expect to appear on Steam Early Access. Trine is one of them. The puzzle-platformer series has done tremendously well for itself on PC and consoles, and from what we've seen of the third tit...
Affordable photo
Affordable

Peep the three roles in the new Affordable Space Adventures trailer


Science Officer, Pilot, and Engineer
Apr 02
// Darren Nakamura
Affordable Space Adventures is coming out in one week, so developer KnapNok Games has released a new trailer for the cooperative sci-fi puzzle action title. In my time with it at PAX East, I found the use of the Wii U G...
Talos Principle photo
Talos Principle

A Serious Sam voice pack for The Talos Principle is weird and awesome


And free
Apr 01
// Brett Makedonski
The Talos Principle is a puzzler that requires deep and philosophical thought. Serious Sam is, well, it's pretty much the exact opposite. That's why it's so excellent that the latter will be doing voicework for the ...
Talos Principle expansion photo
Talos Principle expansion

The Talos Principle bringing more deep thoughts with Road to Gehenna expansion


Follow Uriel in a previously hidden section of the simulation
Mar 24
// Darren Nakamura
Players who took the time to really explore The Talos Principle might recognize the name Uriel. Though the base game is seen through the eyes of a particular simulation participant, evidence of others exists in the form of QR...

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker's amiibo functionality adds a small incentive to replay every level

Mar 21 // Chris Carter
[embed]289368:57872:0[/embed] Like the checkbox that appears after grabbing every crystal and completing the extra objective, it's easy to become addicted to filling out every entry. It sounds like an overly simplistic little thing, but it emboldened me to replay every map again and find that damn Pixel Toad. It's a nice way to get people to return, and it doesn't hurt that the core game is already great to begin with. Get a quick look at the functionality in the video above, and note that other amiibo function as power-ups of sorts, earning you extra lives with a tap. Of course, the best part about this particular amiibo mechanic is that Toad, the physical toy, isn't impossible to find. While retailers knew ahead of time that select exclusives wouldn't be replenished for weeks, if not months (I'm looking at you Target), Toad is readily available at every location I've visited. Heck, even his scalped price online is roughly $18, a far cry from the $60 or more asking price of the Trinity and other select rares to this day. I'm also a fan of the way Shulk was handled in Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, since you can replicate the amiibo bits by way of Play Coins and StreetPass. If Nintendo is going to add amiibo support in future games, it needs to either plan ahead of time if the figures are going to be retailer exclusives (Meta Knight's unique features in Rainbow Curse being lost to most of the market is still a tragedy), or allow unlocks through other means (no one is missing out not having Shulk for Xenoblade).
Captain Toad amiibo photo
Oh, and you can actually buy the figure too
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker launched its amiibo compatibility this week, and I've found a new reason to revisit the game. It's as simple as adding in a "Hide-and-Seek" mode, enabled by tapping the newly minted Toad amiibo ...

Pokémon Shuffle photo
Pokémon Shuffle

Pokémon Shuffle limiting Mega Lucario to a contest


Only 20,000 served
Mar 17
// Chris Carter
Pokémon Shuffle is a pain to get through without constantly playing the waiting game, but if you're keen, Nintendo has been running occasional events to net special Pokémon. The newest promotion is a contest to ...
Frankenstein photo
Frankenstein

Oh, didn't see you there


#GamesInOneScreenshot
Mar 16
// Jordan Devore
We got a review code in today for a hidden-object game called Frankenstein: Master of Death. Darren expressed tentative interest, noting that it looks "terrible and fun at the same time?" Naturally, I went to investigate. Please send help.

Magnetic: Cage Closed let me fling myself around with physics

Mar 13 // Darren Nakamura
Like most modern first-person puzzle games, Magnetic is broken up into several discrete challenge rooms. Everything necessary to find a solution is contained within and nothing can be brought in or taken out of a room, aside from the magnet gun central to the mechanics. One of the hooks that sets Magnetic apart is that each room is a cube, part of a large facility full of others like it. The cubes can move and rotate with respect to one another, but as a spectator on the inside, it isn't obvious exactly how. So a particular exit may lead to different rooms on separate playthroughs (or even within a single playthrough in some cases), depending on choices made. In the PAX demo, one introductory choice was shown. I was ushered into a room, stripped of my magnet gun, and placed in front of a big, red button. Will I press the button or not? (I pressed the button.) Guru Games said the later choices would hold more weight, dipping into morally ambiguous territory, but none were shown. [embed]288987:57763:0[/embed] The meat of Cage Closed will feel familiar to most puzzle fans. There are pressure plates to activate, weighted boxes to manipulate, deadly traps to avoid, and exits to reach. The magnet gun does bring its own unique gameplay to the table, thanks to the realistic physics. Not only do the magnets behave like real (extremely powerful) magnets would, but the Newtonian principles are at work as well. If the player tries to attract (or repel) something with a large mass, it's the magnet gun wielder who will move. This sets up some extreme platforming, where pointing downward at a magnetic plate and repelling can set up for some huge jumps. Pointing toward a plate on the wall and hitting the attract button can keep the player suspended over a dangerous chasm. The rooms can be completed methodically, but Guru Games is also building Magnetic to encourage speed running and other high-level play. The most difficult level in the PAX demo was one with an emphasis on speed rather than thought. It took a few tries, but I eventually was able to careen through the spike-ridden corridor and make it out the other side without being impaled. It took a bit of trial and error since it required rounding a corner and seeing what traps awaited in the middle of the jump, but it was manageable. Breaking up puzzle gameplay with something more skill-based lets different parts of the brain rest, though I can imagine it being a little frustrating for players hoping for a more singular experience in either direction. Both styles of play were done adequately in the PAX demo, and I hope a good balance of the two is maintained in the final release. Magnetic: Cage Closed is bringing its magnet-based puzzle platforming to PC later this month.
Magnetic: Cage Closed photo
There were some puzzles too
"It's not a gravity gun; it's a magnet." Guru Games, developer of Magnetic: Cage Closed, stressed this to me at PAX East. It works like a real magnet, with fields radiating out in all directions, rather than affecti...

Tumblestone is the most intelligent 'match three' game I've ever played

Mar 11 // Patrick Hancock
Tumblestone contains both single-player and multiplayer modes. I spent most of the time in the multiplayer mode, which was the most interesting balance of speed and wits that I have seen in a long time.  The idea behind the game is to clear the board of the colored blocks. To do so, the player needs to shoot three of the same color from the bottom of the board. So far, everything is pretty straightforward. However, doing this in the wrong order will result in no possible matches after a while, which then forces the player to reset the board and try again. Yes, it is important to be fast, but it is more important to be correct! In multiplayer, everyone has the same randomly generated board. From there, it's a matter of who can clear the blocks in the right order the fastest. This is possibly the only game of its kind that made me, in a competitive multiplayer match, stop and stand back to really think about my next move. I could hear other players rushing to remove blocks while my section of the screen was motionless, yet I wasn't panicking, just concentrating. [embed]288776:57720:0[/embed] Things only get more complicated when different variants get thrown into the mix. Wildcards, for example, add in multicolored blocks that can go with any color. However, each color needs to use one Wildcard in order to clear the board, so the player must then keep track of which colors have already used Wildcards and which ones haven't. Ty Taylor, the developer, said he wants to make it more obvious to the player as to which colors the Wildcards can be used with to reduce the stress a little. Another interesting modifier was Color Lock, which restricted the same color from being matched up back to back. Though it sounds simple, the puzzle layouts make it quite complicated. The Shot Blocker modifier throws a stone in the middle column that switches on and off with each shot. Knowing this, players need to plan out their shots accordingly, since pieces in the middle will not be available every other turn. Perhaps my favorite modifier was a more complicated version of Shot Blocker, though I can't recall the specific name at the moment. The mode placed a Shot Blocker in the column the player uses for three consecutive shots. So, if a player takes a match from columns one, two, and three, those become off limits after their respective shots. However, the fourth shot will remove the first Shot Blocker placed and move it to the column the fourth shot was in. If it sounds confusing, it is! But only at first. This mode really forces players to think ahead, and "speed" almost becomes an afterthought in this mode. There were even times where I forgot I was competing against other people right next to me! Each modifier forces players to think completely differently, and aren't hard to understand. After a few failed attempts, most players will realize exactly what's up and start going very methodically. Ty also mentioned that future builds may be able to mix modifiers together, which I don't even want to think about right now. A sense of progression quickly becomes noticeable. While at first I felt a bit overwhelmed by some of the game modes, it didn't take long to become acclimated and start churning out victories. It's a pretty great feeling to know where you messed up in a puzzle, then breeze through the first half only to stop and think three moves ahead before diving into the second half.  My time with the single-player components was limited, but there are plenty of options for those who will be going it alone. A Marathon mode is an untimed, infinite mode for those who want to go for high scores. A Story Mode is also included, with 360 puzzles in 12 worlds, each world introducing a new modifier and likely pushing that modifier to the limit. Oh, and for those curious, Tumblestone is just fine for red/green colorblindies like myself. I was worried at first, but not only does each color have a specific face on it, but the reds and greens are at a very different brightness (dark red and light green) and were easy to tell apart. In addition, choosing a wrong color to match with in multiplayer will bring up arrows pointing to possible correct options. Both the single- and multiplayer offerings in Tumblestone come off as incredibly substantial modes. The competitive multiplayer got really heated on the show floor, even with occasional pauses to go into a deep, zen-like thought. This was one of my favorite games of PAX East, and luckily it's headed to just about every platform out there later this year! 
Smart puzzle photo
From the creators of The Bridge
The first impression of a game matters a lot at PAX. If people aren't intrigued almost immediately, they may never play the game at all. My first impression of Tumblestone was "oh cool another match-three game." I don't ...

GDC VIDEO photo
GDC VIDEO

Final GDC DLC launches with massive bugs, Mountain Dew shotgunning


Daily Lunch Chronicles
Mar 10
// Steven Hansen
Destructoid has launched its fifth and final GDC Daily Lunch Chronicles and interim cameraman Mike Cosimano again screwed up the sound. Instead of letting him get cute with ragtime music and title cards like last time, we're...

Affordable Space Adventures is the Wii U experience I imagined in 2012

Mar 09 // Darren Nakamura
Affordable Space Adventures puts players in the role of space tourists, in control of a Small Craft™, a ship woefully underequipped for the perils of interplanetary exploration. It starts with only a flashlight, but gains new components over the course of the game. Early on the fuel-burning engine activates, and the explorers can get moving. As new systems come into play, they are controlled on the GamePad, referred to in game as the "heads down display" (heh). Some systems are binary; they are either on or off. Most have variable levels of power, from zero (off) to five (max). Success hinges on managing which systems have power at which times. For instance, pushing the thrusters' power up to the higher levels can allow for a quick escape but will overheat the engine if left for too long. Further on, the explorers encounter armed drones to circumvent. Though they are dangerous, their sensors are limited. Some detect heat, some detect sound, some detect electrical activity, and the most robust detect a combination of the three. Each ship component produces some amount of each, so the key to getting past the sentries is figuring out which systems are essential and which can be temporarily powered down or shut off. [embed]288785:57661:0[/embed] At this point, Affordable Space Adventures becomes a sort of puzzle game. It starts simple: if a drone senses heat and/or sound but the ship just wants to descend, then the trick is to hover above the danger zone, kill the engines, then restart it after passing safely by. Climbing through a similar situation would require the electric engine, which has a different feel to it in addition to producing different detectable effects. Later on, things get more complicated. Some drones can sense both heat and electricity, so players have to come up with clever solutions for avoiding detection or destruction. One section had us turning off the decelerator and coasting through a drone's area of effect. Another had me crank up the antigravity to gain upward momentum, kill the engines, then restore them just in time for my pilot to navigate us to safety. The game can be controlled by a single person using the GamePad, and it works fine, though it can get a little hectic coordinating the systems management on the touch screen with the piloting on the big screen. Where Affordable Space Adventures really shines is in two- or three-player cooperative mode. With two players, the one with the GamePad controls the systems and the flashlight while the other controls piloting, scanning, and firing flares. Almost everything players can do is interconnected so communication between teammates is essential. For instance, while the pilot is the one who activates the scanner, the engineer is the one who aims it. Adding a third player splits the labor further, adding a science officer to the mix. I was only able to play with two during my time, but even that was a great experience. It simulates the action on a spaceship bridge, where each person has specific roles and success comes from coordination and communication between teammates. Other games have done this, but Affordable Space Adventures is probably the most accessible of its ilk, requiring fewer players and just a single console. As a single-player or a cooperative game, Affordable Space Adventures makes excellent use of the Wii U GamePad. Any who like asymmetric cooperative multiplayer would do well to check it out. When the team works well together it can overcome some tricky circumstances. When the team doesn't work quite so well and the ship explodes and everybody dies, well, that's funny too. Affordable Space Adventures should be available on the Wii U eShop on April 9. The final price has not yet been decided.
PAX East photo
Better late than never
When Nintendo first unveiled the Wii U, my mind raced with ideas for games that could be created with the two-screen interface. A lot of the cool stuff that the DS did could be transferred to the big screen. Better yet, title...

GDC VIDEO photo
GDC VIDEO

GDC 15 DLC #4: Pita wraps, damn good fries and ragtime


Daily Lunch Chronicles
Mar 08
// Steven Hansen
We didn't have usual cameraman Kenny Redublo during our fourth lunch of GDC (see us dining with Dale here) and things went a bit awry. Our substitute cameraman Mike Cosimano had some fun with it, though, with some silent mov...
GDC VIDEO photo
GDC VIDEO

GDC 15 DLC #3: Japanese katsu curry with Dale


Daily Lunch Chronicles
Mar 08
// Steven Hansen
Look on ye hungry and despair. Familiar face Dale North joined us for the third Daily Lunch Chronicles (watch the last one here). Back behind the camera, Kenny managed to empty his plate before both of us while shooting, but...

Planet of the Eyes is a treacherous place for Polaroid robots

Mar 06 // Darren Nakamura
Indeed, the most striking element of Planet of the Eyes is its art direction. The vivid blues and purples and the sharp edges look amazing. In a conversation with Destructoid, writer Will O'Neill described the art design as retro futuristic, which is evident from the protagonist, a robot whose head resembles an old Polaroid camera. The planet itself is more organic, featuring the titular eyes on tendrils that just seem to want to watch the havoc. Early on in the demo, the robot finds an ominous audio log from a gravelly-voiced man. Addressed to the robot, it hints at the bot's function and at what the player might find on the adventure. It ends with an apology, perhaps in advance for all of the horrible deaths awaiting the robot. The environment is hostile, and survival requires the player to be alert. A lot has been put into making the traps feel ominous, where a pillar teeters for a few seconds before crushing the robot or the ground slowly sinks away. With enough wits, the player can react and push through, but the tension of an imminent death is special in its own way. [embed]288688:57638:0[/embed] The puzzle section featured fairly standard gameplay. I found myself pushing and pulling on objects to circumvent deadly obstacles, and sometimes setting in motion the very things that would crush or maim me. The more action-oriented half of the demo focused more on precision timing over bottomless pits or spikes that seem to take pleasure in skewering hapless passersby. It betrays slightly loose control, where the robot seems slow to respond at times. With constantly toppling platforms it got pretty dicey toward the end. Cococucumber has been quietly working on Planet of the Eyes for a couple years, and the studio is closing in on a final release. The puzzle platformer blazed through Steam Greenlight in just four days, and is set to come out in summer or fall of this year.
Planet of the Eyes photo
I always feel like somebody's watching me
Crash landing on an alien planet is the worst. There's hazardous flora, deadly fauna, and even rock formations that seem to have some sort of blood lust. That just piles on top of the existential crisis of being a robot with ...

GDC VIDEO photo
GDC VIDEO

GDC 15 DLC #2: Oily hamburgers and Cranberries


Daily Lunch Chronicles
Mar 05
// Steven Hansen
The second lunch of GDC was much messier than the first, which you can watch here. Today (well, two days ago, actually) we went with an American staple, the "Hammed Burger," so named for the first woman who ever went totally...

Review: Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars

Mar 04 // Darren Nakamura
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars (3DS [reviewed], Wii U)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoReleased: March 5, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Once again, various minis are scattered across stages, and they must touch all of the coins and get to the exit. The "why" of it is unimportant, it's the "how" that is the focus. Minis cannot be controlled directly. A mini will start walking forward once tapped with the stylus or if another mini walks into it. Most of the player's job is to manipulate the environment in order to allow the bots a safe path to the exit. To that end, there is a handful of tools at the player's disposal. There are girders that can act as platforms, ramps, and walls. There are springs that allow the minis to clear gaps or reach new heights. There are conveyor belts, lifts, and pipes that will move the little toys around the map. A tenet of Game Design 101 is to gradually introduce new elements to the player, never overwhelming but eventually creating something complex. Tipping Stars adheres to this idea strictly. Each world features a new environmental piece: the first level introduces it, the next few levels mix it with everything else, and the last few levels require the player to demonstrate mastery in order to move on. [embed]288509:57600:0[/embed] There are a few common threads that tie the worlds together. Each has eight levels. The seventh level always features a Mario mini holding a key and a locked exit. Not only does the player have to complete all of the usual objectives, but he has to have the robots lined up in the correct order, or else the keyless one at the front will just bump stupidly into the lock while the one with the key cannot access it. The eighth level acts almost as a boss encounter, where one mini becomes possessed and must be bopped with a hammer before the stage can be completed. It adds motion to the otherwise stationary puzzling of choosing which pieces go where. Despite the fact that Tipping Stars follows all of the rules of good game design, it lacks anything special to make it noteworthy. The puzzle design is straightforward to a fault. Solutions never require lateral thinking and as a result I never felt any sense of accomplishment upon completing one. Instead of making me feel smart it just made me feel mechanical, like one of the minis marching aimlessly ahead. Oh, I finished that puzzle. Onto the next one. That isn't to suggest that Tipping Stars is too easy. Some of the later levels (and especially the bonus levels) can be quite difficult. However, the difficulty is often in timing and execution rather than in strategy and foresight. For some puzzles, it's possible to see the solution but still muck it up by not poking the minis at exactly the right moments. The level editor from Mini-Land Mayhem! makes a comeback, with the expected incremental upgrades that come with the new hardware. Levels can be shared on Miiverse, and more player-created levels can be saved than before. Basic levels can be created right away, but a lot of cosmetic alterations and the higher level equipment must be purchased with stars.  Stars are the in-game currency, and are generally earned by completing puzzles. Higher scores earn more stars, but each level only grants up to three stars. The key to the economy is that it's not possible to gain enough stars to buy everything by playing the built-in levels alone. To make up the difference for some of the higher-priced items, stars can also be generated by playing user-generated levels, having one's own levels played, or by "tipping" another creator for particularly well-made content. The most commendable addition to Tipping Stars is the inclusion of cross-buy and cross-play. A purchase on either 3DS or Wii U will net a download code for the other, and saved levels can be transferred between the two. It's nice to see Nintendo testing out the idea, even if it's on a mundane title. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is not bad. It is essentially Mini-Land Mayhem! with visual and technical upgrades. It never instills any sense of wonder or accomplishment, and it often feels more like work than play. It's a very paint-by-numbers affair; for a puzzle game it doesn't actually require much thinking, only doing. It is a game that exists, and that's about as much as there is to say about it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Mario vs. DK review photo
Ż\_(ツ)_/Ż
A little more than four years ago, Nintendo released Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! on the original DS. It continued the series' focus on the miniature Mario robots, to the chagrin of fans of the platforming in the ...

BOXBOY! photo
Block buds
HAL Laboratories (Super Smash Bros., Mother) has been busying itself with a couple Kirby games recently, but it looks like someone over there had an idea for a lil puzzle game and rolled with it. BOXBOY! (already released on...

Review: Pneuma: Breath of Life

Feb 26 // Brett Makedonski
Pneuma: Breath of Life (PC, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Deco Digital, Bevel StudiosPublisher: Deco DigitalReleased: February 27, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Pneuma: Breath of Life begins aflutter with promise and hope -- not only from the possibilities of a game tackling this subject matter, but also from the point-of-view of the confused yet eager deity that's being guided. Surprisingly, he's not omniscient, an earmark of gods. He's on a path of discovery right alongside the player. That introspection is much more thrilling in theory than in practice. Pneuma is a puzzle game that relies almost exclusively on looking at things. Look at a symbol to open a door. Look at an orb to transport it from one spot to another. Don't look at a symbol to open a different door. Occasional interaction will be required, but the bulk of mind teasers are centered around the concept of proper camera orientation. It's a temporarily interesting way to introduce rudimentary problems, but Pneuma never evolves beyond that concept. Once complicated puzzles are added into the fold, the sheen wears off and it's mixed as to how well they work. The worst offender was a room whose constraints required that all floor tiles match, and they individually flipped either black or white when out of view of the camera. In essence, it required selectively isolating certain tiles outside the field-of-view so as to change only them. The solution to the puzzle was immediately apparent, but the execution was needlessly frustrating, feeling like an exercise in futility at points. [embed]288173:57519:0[/embed] The payoff for solving these puzzles (apart from more puzzles) is another short glimpse into the mindset of the god that's being controlled. For an infallible power, he's delightfully uncertain of absolutely everything, all the while trying to grasp the gravitas of the situation. Before long, the player will fall right in line and wonder too what this deity is truly capable of. The cadence to these sections makes Pneuma feel as if it's made up of two distinct (and maybe disjointed) halves: the puzzle parts and the parts where you listen to the god. The latter is undeniably the best the game has to offer. Even though Pneuma routinely tasks the player with logical thinking, it's the philosophical that's far more interesting. All of this is wrapped in a world that looks absolutely stunning. When this god created everything, he added a palatial touch -- one fit for a supreme being. The light reflects off the gold and marbled interiors in a way that somehow contributes to the overall regal sense of everything. The settings are relatively static, but Deco Digital did a fantastic job with what it made. However, impressive aesthetics and weighty mental gymnastics aren't enough to compensate for puzzle design that becomes a slog before long. It's a shame because Pneuma boldly asks questions about player agency, but in ways that are bogged down in tedium. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Pneuma review photo
Playing god isn't all it's cracked up to be
Pneuma: Breath of Life is, through and through, a creationist tale. There's no theory of evolution, carbon dating, or Darwinism to cause debate. It's one god and the world that he brought into existence mere seconds earlier. As it turns out, being the only inhabitant of a world is a dull affair.

Besiege photo
Besiege

Besiege brings its funny, sexual, weird medieval siege engines to Mac and Linux


Find one of each below
Feb 24
// Jordan Devore
AT-AT by Poroh I thought Besiege looked good based on the developer-made gifs and videos, but the game's community has elevated the title to new heights with its ingenious, often times so-wrong-they're-right medieval creation...

PC Port Report: Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty

Feb 23 // Darren Nakamura
Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty (Linux, Mac, Windows [tested])Developers: Just Add Water Developments, Ltd.Publisher: Oddworld Inhabitants, Inc.Released: February 25, 2015MSRP: $19.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit A lot of the heavy lifting was already done for the console version, but it bears repeating: Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty is a fantastic visual upgrade from Abe's Oddysee. The environments are all rebuilt and rendered in-engine, making the transitions between nearby areas smoother than the original. Seeing Oddworld in high definition is a treat. Loading times have been significantly reduced. Control is a little strange with a keyboard, at least for somebody who is more familiar with console controls. With full controller compatibility this wasn't an issue past my initial experiments to see how it works on a keyboard. There were some issues with listed button prompts when switching between keyboard and controller mid-game, but for my only complaint, it's pretty minor. The main point to note is that the PC port is technically competent; it is comparable to the PlayStation 4 version. I experienced no bugs, glitches, or even slowdown, which is great considering my rig isn't exactly state-of-the-art. [embed]288023:57455:0[/embed] Unsurprisingly, the Steam Achievements are the same as the PS4 Trophies, down to the artwork and descriptions. Steam Trading Card support is present, with Badges to craft and backgrounds to collect. A couple of the trading cards feature concept art unavailable in the console build. It isn't much, but it might be the one noticeable difference in the PC version. There is no Steam Workshop support, as Oddworld would have to be significantly tweaked to include user-created content. As a pie-in-the-sky idea, it could have been fantastic, but its nonexistence doesn't hurt New 'n' Tasty at all. Cooperative mode remains as bafflingly unnecessary as it has always been; it achieves the same thing that handing a controller to a nearby friend does. Alf's Escape, the piece of downloadable content released last August for New 'n' Tasty on PlayStation 4, is immediately available for PC. Altogether, Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty transitioned well to PC. Although it doesn't take full advantage of the platform, it has not lost anything in translation. If anything, the Steam version is a marginal improvement with a wider choice in control, the usual Steam baubles included, and a lower price tag. So I can breathe a sigh of relief. One of my favorite games from the late '90s got a great remaster last year, and it moved to my platform of choice without a hiccup. Oddworld has always been a dark, fantastic place to explore, and the upgrade to New 'n' Tasty has only made it more consuming.
Oddworld New 'n' Tasty photo
Delicious
Like Chris, I had my first taste of Oddworld when it was new, back on the PlayStation in 1997. Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus were two of my favorite titles from that era, so when Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty was announced, I was...

Review: Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore a Fedora

Feb 23 // Jason Faulkner
Hot Tin Roof: The Cat That Wore a Fedora (PC [reviewed], Linux, Mac)Developer: Glass Bottom GamesPublisher: Glass Bottom GamesReleased: February 20, 2015MSRP: $14.99 You control firefighter turned private investigator Emma Jones and her sidekick Franky, the titular fedora-wearing cat, as they begin a case involving a death and a missing will. That’s the intro; a phone call and you’re off. Emma and Franky are obviously great friends, but there's no establishing motive or history for their friendship to start you off with. This instantly removed me from the story because it turns the dialog into a huge inside joke. As the game continues you find out a bit about the two’s history, but by that point I was no longer immersed because it felt exclusionary, like I was hanging out with a pair of people who went to grade school together and constantly referred to things I was never a part of. The writing itself is of dubious quality. Some of it is genuinely funny and engaging, while other times it feels stilted and dull, as if the developers just needed more length to the script. Most conversations you take part in have at least a couple branching paths, but inconveniently you can’t switch topics while talking to someone. You have to finish your discussion, close the dialog box, and then go through the whole thing again until you reach the other branch you want to go down. With some branches being embedded in other branches it was a pain at times, especially for someone who likes to read as much dialog as they can in a game. The majority of your time in the game will be spent roaming the city searching for clues. This is really where the game both shines, and becomes incredibly frustrating. The city and interiors of buildings are great looking, and I really liked the 3D spin on the traditional “Metroidvania” setup. [embed]288062:57459:0[/embed] However, the omission of any sort of cartography took one of the things I really like about this game and made it into something that became more and more maddening as I played through. Imagine having to memorize all of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s map, but with turns and corners. So instead of know that to get to the Library you have to go right and up, you have to memorize, take a right turn, go right, take a left, keep left, and you're constantly going to new locations as you find more clues. Progressing through the game is primarily a case of using Emma’s non-lethal revolver to solve puzzles, and gathering clues from various locales and using the information gleaned from them to question people to find where to go next. The revolver can be equipped with various specialized rounds, bubble rounds to reveal hidden levers and areas, fire rounds to burn certain materials, knockdown rounds to knock things down and propel you through the air, and several others. The revolver must be changed out or reloaded individually by clicking to first remove them then clicking on the empty chamber to reload it with the selected bullet type. The biggest problem I had with the gameplay and probably the whole game is that it never really tells you anything. Sure Franky might give you hints at certain points, but I went almost the whole story without knowing you could just hold the “R” key to reload without having to click all four chambers, which was one of the things I found supremely tedious. A tooltip stating that fact would have saved me a lot of sighing. Hot Tin Roof isn’t terrible by any means, it just seems as though Glass Bottom Games had certain things it wanted to put in a game only to realize it had to actually make all those things fit together and the studio never really quite figured out how to make it flow naturally. The first part of the game definitely showcases their best work, and in contrast the latter parts of the game seem tedious with platforming sections and a marked departure from the humorous, exploratory tone of the initial sections of the title. My enthusiasm as I went through Hot Tin Roof slowly diminished until the only reason I felt compelled to finish it was for the mere sake of completion. There’s quite a bit of good stuff here, I loved the city and the 3D effects in it, and I would have loved to see it on a platform like the Nintendo 3DS where its playstyle would be more at home. All in all this game isn't a horrible experience, and for those that can get past the disjointed feeling of its various components there's a decent time here to be had. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Hot Tin Roof review photo
This is no Picasso
I’ve really been delving into the indie scene lately. There’s a huge amount of games coming from smaller development studios, and I’ve found a few that really impressed me. When I heard that a “crime n...

Review: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary

Feb 22 // Josh Tolentino
htoL#NiQ: The Firely Diary (PS Vita)Developer: Nippon Ichi SoftwarePublisher: NIS AmericaReleased: February 24, 2015MSRP: $19.99 First, to that bit about minimalism: htoL#NiQ has virtually no written or spoken dialog, or even text. Apart from some prompts explaining the basic controls and a brief crawl in the opening, players won't even encounter so much as a lettered sign in the background. The plot, such as it is, is delivered almost entirely in-game, via environmental clues and lightly interactive flashbacks.  The game screen itself is largely free of HUDs and icons, and combined with low-lit environments that flicker as if beaming from a vintage film projector, gives off a universally gloomy, unsettling aura that contrasts well with the cutesy character design. The flashback scenes are rendered in a totally different, isometric style that recalls older RPGs like Contact. [embed]287859:57450:0[/embed] Exploring this downbeat dystopia is Mion, a silver-haired waif with big eyes, a pair of branches growing from her head, and all the self-preservation instinct of a videogame lemming. Accompanying her are Lumen and Umbra, the titular fireflies and the only means by which players can guide Mion through the wilderness. Players can use the touch screen to move Lumen, with Mion following her Navi-esque companion wherever it goes. Lumen can also signal Mion to throw switches, push boxes, and other puzzle-solving interactions. Umbra, on the other hand, resides in Mion's shadow, and can only be controlled by shifting to an alternate dimension with a tap of the rear touchpad. From there, Umbra can move through shadows freely - including those cast by Lumen's glow - and interact with objects too far away for Mion to reach. Manipulating the environment and using the firefly duo to help maneuver Mion past various hazards forms the bulk of htoL#NiQ's mechanics. This all sounds simple enough, but the game in which these mechanics are employed is an artifact of what I can only describe as gleeful, knowing sadism. htoL#NiQ is one of the most difficult games I've ever played, and the bulk of my playtime has been spent dying, over and over and over again. That's not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as the last few years have brought a new renaissance for tough, uncompromising game design, but the type of pain dealt by htoL#NiQ is of a very particular type, one that's been justifiably abandoned by most modern titles. Simply put, this game trades in pure, trial-and-error frustration. Thanks to a combination of deliberately lethargic controls and deathtrap-obsessed level design, virtually no challenge the game poses can be passed on the first try - or the 48th try, for that matter. That's how long it took me to overcome just a single checkpoint in the second level, a checkpoint that, performed successfully, takes about a minute to transition through.  Since Mion can only be moved by moving Lumen ahead of her, a slight delay accompanies every movement, and Mion herself hits her top speed at "leisurely stroll", even when pursued by rampaging hellbeasts made of shadow. The awkwardness of using the touch screen and rear touch pad to control Lumen and Umbra can be alleviated somewhat by switching to an optional control scheme that uses the analog stick and face buttons, but the precision and sluggishness in movement remains. Worse still, some challenges demand precise timing to trigger environmental actions using Umbra, but the pauses that accompany attempting to switch to Umbra's dimension make that timing even tougher to nail down. Add in hidden enemies, barely-telegraphed hazards, instant death, and occasional randomized factors that cheapen every death, and htoL#NiQ ends up embodying a strange sort of videogame Murphy's Law: Anything that can kill Mion, will kill Mion. Several times.  To clarify, there's nothing wrong with deliberate, "slow" controls. As a fan of Monster Hunter and the Souls games, I can appreciate that style, and intention behind them being in this game is fairly clear. htoL#NiQ aims for the kind of dynamic that defined the likes of classics like Ico. The problem here is the decision to combine the tension of having to escort a helpless charge with such demanding level design. The stress of both having to keep the charge safe as well as perform feats of precision timing and speed is almost too much that would stand to gain the most from the game's low-key storytelling and unique aesthetic. Extending the comparison further, if htoL#NiQ were to be compared to Ico, the difference between the two in terms of difficulty would be akin to trying to shepherd Yorda through the Tower of Latria from Demon's Souls.   It simply isn't fun to have to redo every section just to pass - or replay certain portions perfectly just to access all the game's collectible flashback scenes (which form its most substantial narrative payoff), but then again, I did retry a single section forty-eight times in a row, so there may be something to htoL#NiQ, after all. The creepy atmosphere and interesting visuals were just enough to keep me hooked alongside its grim, intriguing story. And of course, there's the stubborn, bitter, vengeful thrill of finally defeating a game that's seemingly designed with the middle finger extended towards its players.  I won't lie: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary feels like an ordeal to play, but it is worth noting that historically, surviving an ordeal was often taken as a sign of being blessed by a higher power. That notion may appeal to some types of players, and it's they who'll find the fun in this gorgeous, cruel game. Everyone else should just hang back and ask how it went. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
htoL#NiQ Review photo
Oh Dear, Diary
No, that isn't an encoding error up there in the headline: "htoL#NiQ" is indeed this PS Vita game's title, and is essentially a very stylish way to type "The Firefly Diary" in Japanese. Whatever personal peculiarities led the...

Mizuguchi's 18 photo
Mizuguchi's 18

Rez, Lumines creator working on puzzle RPG '18'


Well, the art is great
Feb 20
// Jordan Devore
On a few separate occasions this year, I've been reminded that Rez exists and felt a flood of guilt after recalling how long it's been since I last played this ridiculously cool sequence (too long). A new Rez, or Rez HD on c...

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