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Puzzle Games

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...
Final Fantasy Pazudora photo
Final Fantasy Pazudora

Final Fantasy x Puzzle & Dragons crossover unveiled


HNNNNNNNNG!
Feb 20
// Kyle MacGregor
GungHo is now collaborating with Square Enix to unite the worlds of Final Fantasy and Puzzle & Dragons. That's about all we know at the moment, but we'll update you when there's more to tell. Final Fantasy x Puzzle & Dragons [GungHo Online via 4Gamer]
Pazudora: Super Mario Ed. photo
Pazudora: Super Mario Ed.

Puzzle & Dragons: Mario Bros. Edition is damn sexy


GungHo gives us another peek at its upcoming role-playing puzzle game
Feb 20
// Kyle MacGregor
Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition, the exciting new collaboration between Nintendo and GungHo Online, is coming west this May and I really couldn't be more excited. As a longtime "Pazudora" addict, it's somethi...

Very Quick Tips: Pokémon Shuffle

Feb 19 // Chris Carter
General tips: Do not feel compelled to spend money. The game will always be there if you decide to wait and come back. There are multiple mechanics meant to entice you to spend cash on the spot, like the Great Ball and the "just five more turns for one Jewel" prompt after a failed level. Resist, and know that any stage is doable with a lucky combo. If you're going to spend money and can't help yourself, buy Jewels and cash them out immediately for Hearts if you want to play a long session. Don't be tempted by Coins -- you do not need them unless you really want a specific Pokémon and have tested whether or not the catch percentage is high. As a general rule you are only going to want to spend Coins on the time extender (Moves +5), priced at 800c. Since you get 100 Coins per win, the way the game is paced is that you'll do five or six manageable levels before getting to a tougher encounter -- perhaps something that limits you to only three turns, or a foe with tons of health. On that note... If you encounter a really tough stage, give it "two tries" before you spend any Coins, Gems, or further Hearts on it. What I mean by that is within two attempts, you should be able to assess the situation and decide the best course of action. Are you close to beating it? Buy the 800 Coin turn extender for that session. Do you need more firepower? Go catch some Pokémon in previous stages and return. There's no need to waste five Hearts brute-forcing a tough level. When you match, try to look for combos, but if you aren't that advanced yet just look for "swap matches." What I mean by that is look around at the space where the piece you are swapping starts and try to see any potential matches. That way when you switch the piece, it will create two matches in one turn. Mega Evolutions are a huge deal in this game. They can clear out entire lines and eliminate obstacles like steel or wooden blocks in an instant. For stages where enemies have powers, try to get your Mega Pokémon buffed up at the start. Enemies generally throw out their nastiest powers later in the round, and if you're ready early, you'll have a defense. Speaking of Mega Evolutions, at first it can be confusing as to which Pokémon actually triggers it. It's always the first in line in your party, but you may not always remember that. Unless there's a weakness involved, always use the same Pokémon to differentiate the icon. I personally always have Mega Sableye out, because I remember his creepy gem-eyed face. "Check in" daily by hitting the button at the bottom left of the screen. You'll get a small currency bonus.
Pokémon Shuffle tips photo
Or, how to not get screwed as badly by microtransactions
Pokémon Shuffle has an under-handed microtransaction system that heavily relies on making you wait to play, unless you pay. But for some of you, casually picking up five games per day will be enough, and there is some fun to be had when you wade through all the nonsense. Here are some tips to help you stay free.

Review: Pokemon Shuffle

Feb 19 // Chris Carter
Pokémon Shuffle (3DS)Developer: Genius SonorityPublisher: NintendoReleased: February 18, 2015MSRP: Free, with microtransactions (the bad kind) To dispel the notion that Nintendo is entering entirely uncharted territory, it has already done free-to-play -- to great success, actually. Rusty's Real Deal Baseball was one of my favorite games of 2014, and implemented the scheme in an incredibly unique and very Nintendo way. Although I'm not a big fan of Steeldiver: Sub Wars' gameplay, the model is fantastic. What the company has done with Pokémon Shuffle is a complete 180 from its past triumphs, and frankly disappointing given that it's a child-oriented IP. I don't know if Nintendo, its board members, Genius Sonority, or The Pokémon Company is to blame, but any way you slice it it's not good. Presentation-wise, Pokémon Shuffle seems innocent -- it's vibrant, and all of the enemies you fight are represented by floating heads with no 3D effects to speak of. The general setup of the game is fantastic as a puzzler. It's a match-three, no mistake about it, but it's fast-paced and some stages are actually difficult (more on this later). It's remarkably easy to pick up since there are few restrictions as to where you can shift tiles. As long as you can make a match of three or higher, you can use your stylus to drag and drop. If you happen to get multiple matches in a row and more drop down to form more matches, you'll make combos. That's basically the gist, and it works. Most levels require you to defeat the enemy by scoring a certain amount of points within a certain turn limit. There are some nuances, like the ability to use different types of Pokémon to do more damage by way of a weakness system. Also, certain monsters will have specific powers like the "Power of Four" attack that does more damage when you match up four or more tiles. Some characters can even Mega Evolve, which gradually fills up a gauge while matching that monster, and unleashes a power move the rest of the game. It adds a bit of edge to each match, because you'll stop to think every so often and decide whether or not certain matches are worth it. [embed]287855:57404:0[/embed] That pick-up-and-play surface mixture with complex depth is fun for the first 10 or so tutorial stages, then the free-to-play gating starts. Initially, Pokémon Shuffle will graciously allow you to play the game, granting you "Hearts," "Jewels," and "Coins" freely. Wait, what? Three currency types? Yep, it gets very sticky from here on out. The core currency is Jewels, which function as the premium element and are available for purchase for $0.99 each, with a small discount for bulk shopping. You can exchange Jewels for Hearts, which let you play one level one time (win or lose), or Coins, a sub-currency that can buy one-use (of course) power-ups. The main problem with Shuffle derives from the Heart system. You'll start off with five at first, and then you'll have to wait 30 minutes for each one to refill, up to a maximum of five. To give you some perspective, levels generally take 30 seconds to one minute to complete. So after three or so minutes, you're waiting two and a half hours to play five more. Even if you only pick it up once per day it's still a tough prospect to swallow. But that's not the worst part. Power-ups are presented in such an underhanded way that they trump waiting for Hearts on the sleaze scale. After each level is completed, you have a chance to catch the Pokémon in question. At first your catch percentage is generally high, weighing in at 75% or more -- so catching that Charizard makes you feel good, but even if you don't catch it, spending a Heart to try again doesn't feel like a waste. As time goes on however, I've bottomed-out on common-level Pokémon at 3%, at which point my jaw actually dropped. After a capture failure if you happen to have 2,500 Coins handy (that's a ton, as each win only gives you 100 Coins), you can spring for a one-time use Great Ball, which enhances your chance slightly. It doesn't even guarantee success. Let me say that again -- some common-level Pokemon will have a 23% capture rate even if you literally pay for an item that costs roughly 75 cents in real-world money. It's outright disgusting when you think about it, especially since people are going to want to catch their favorites. If it happens to be anything under 50%, good luck to you. There's also insult to injury once you realize that you spent a Heart replaying a level to try to catch a Pokémon with a low percentage, only to find out that you have to wait over two more hours to truly try again. Oh, and each Pokémon has a miniature experience/level system too, so if you want to grind to increase your level for some of the tougher Expert or later stages, that's more Hearts. It's absolutely maddening. At one point I was having a lot of fun playing the game since I had purchased some Hearts. I blew through some stages and it was a blast. Quickly, I realized that I was playing Pokémon Shuffle, and the energy system kicked back in. I guess Nintendo thought that I didn't need to play for more than 30 minutes and needed a break. Nintendo allows you to gain extra currency by way of StreetPass, which I did test, but the gains are minimal. At best, you'll get to play an extra 30 minutes or so per day if you live with another 3DS owner before it's back to the waiting game. The other issue is that pretty much every power-up is oddly expensive outside of the clear-cut best value 800 Coin turn extender, which feels like a win button in some cases. No Play Coin support is another missed opportunity. Anything truly enjoyable about the game is ruined by the microtransactions. Apparently Nintendo is doling out random events, like the ability to fight Mew for three weeks after launch. I absolutely rocked him, and blew the challenge out of the water on the fifth attempt, using up all my allotted Hearts. It was a rush. I was greeted with a 30% chance to catch him with a Great Ball. I said to myself, "Why even try? Why even get excited at the prospect of catching a rare Pokémon when the game is literally pay to win?" Expert (EX) levels seek to mix things up by allowing unlimited moves in exchange for a time limit, but they follow the same principle -- you do a ton of work, beat the stage, and get nothing out of it outside of a paywall. In the interest of disclosure, I made it to level 100 (Nintendo states there are 160 in all), and used $4.99 of my own funds to purchase Jewels to continue playing. I didn't replay very many levels to see if I could recatch Pokémon, because frankly, it felt like a waste of time. I'm not inherently against free-to-play in the slightest. I actually have felt inspired to spend money on games I was having fun with, and many games like Dota 2 and Path of Exile actually feel legitimately free, with a purely cosmetic shop. The system can work. Maybe I sound like I'm trying to bargain with the devil, but if Pokémon Shuffle had even a 15-minute-per-Heart timer it would be a much stronger experience. For now, if you really want a 3DS Pokémon puzzle game, buy the flawed Pokémon Battle Trozei instead for $7.99. It's basically the same thing, but you can actually play it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher ahead of launch. No microtransaction payments were provided.]
Pokémon Shuffle review photo
Micro-mon Mega Evolved
Nintendo takes on the world of microtransactions with Pokémon Shuffle. What could go wrong? A lot. 

Pokemon Shuffle photo
Pokemon Shuffle

Pokémon Shuffle's microtransactions are even worse than I thought


Initial impressions
Feb 17
// Chris Carter
I just obtained my review copy for the upcoming 3DS match-three puzzler Pokémon Shuffle, and man, is it rough to get on-board with this microtransaction scheme. If you want the full rundown of what to expect you c...
Captain Toad photo
Captain Toad

What the hell?! Captain Toad has a spin attack!


RIP Tips & Tricks
Feb 16
// Jordan Devore
Have you ever pushed through an annoying sequence without realizing that you were in fact "playing it wrong" and failing to grasp a concept or mechanic? I am guilty of this, but I'm struggling to think of an example newer tha...
Symmetry photo
Symmetry

Some haikus about free puzzle platformer Symmetry


Permission to write every post like this?
Feb 15
// Darren Nakamura
Flash game on NewgroundsLike VVVVVVSuperficially Mirror imagesForm platforms on either sideClimb to the portal Push boxes aroundAvoid deadly laser beamsFlip the gravity
Alphabeats photo
Alphabeats

Teddy Diefenbach's Alphabeats is up on Steam Greenlight


Slurp up the Alphabeats soup
Feb 13
// Darren Nakamura
Last year when Alphabeats was originally announced, I lamented that it was only on iOS, with no word of an Android release. Though it might not have ever released for the superior mobile operating system, it looks like the r...

Depression Quest co-creator looks for what's hidden in Disorder

Feb 13 // Patrick Lindsey
In his 1974 essay What It’s Like to Be a Bat, Thomas Nagel summed this up perfectly. It’s basically impossible to ever really understand what another person is going through on an internal level. The best we can do is derive a close approximation as filtered through our own experiences. This is why, some four decades after their rise in popularity, pretty much the only subject videogames haven’t been able to adequately address is mental health. Depression is nefarious in that it’s insidiously difficult to describe it to someone who hasn’t had that experience themselves. Through a cultural history of failure to understand mental illness, the accident of our own common lexicon, and the private nature of personal health, we tend to collectively conflate depression with being "really sad." This fundamental misunderstanding, almost more than the illness itself, can serve as the biggest obstacle to people living with depression. Thus it makes sense that we try and communicate this essential experience through the more abstract means of art. Disorder (Swagabyte Games, 2015) is far from the first game to explore issues of mental illness. In fact, videogames as a medium have historically had a field day with depictions of mental illness and all the subdued and horrific forms it can take. Up until about five to ten years ago, mental illness was a topic mostly left to horror games, and some problematic tropes came with it. It is only recently that depression has been explored for what it truly is; an utterly mundane if completely pervasive aspect of life. Explaining the effects of depression can be as frustrating as it is fruitless. Rather than trying to overcome this expository hurdle, Disorder attempts to convey the feelings brought on by mental illness visually. Depression is an invisible illness; those afflicted appear normal to the uninformed observer while simultaneously roiling internally from a miasma of chemical imbalances. Thus the world of Disorder is itself set in two ostensibly similar yet fundamentally different “worlds.” This metaphor extends to the game’s very design. Disorder takes the form of a platformer; perhaps the most mundane, nonthreatening, and common type of videogame there is. It’s only when the player comes up against a (literal) wall, unable to move forward, that the hidden world of Disorder shines through. In order to solve puzzles and progress through levels, players have to switch between the “normal” and “disordered” worlds - the former represents the perception of a mentally healthy person, and the latter being a visualization of what the world can look like through the eyes of someone living with depression. The disordered world (I refuse to call it a “dark world”) is drained of color, the lush landscapes repainted a bloated and bruised purple. Formerly innocuous platforms and bounce pads turn into malicious fanged crawling insects, and pathways that were previously available close off. Players complete platforming puzzles by switching back and forth between worlds, in later puzzles often during mid-jump, and grabbing “marbles,” the game’s collectible. (The protagonist explains the marbles’ presence by stating they were a favorite toy of his younger brother, though the temptation to view it as a “lost marbles” reference is as prominent as it is inappropriate.) There is a narrative to Disorder, but it’s as obtuse as it is insignificant. While the developers have designed a devilish series of dynamic platforming challenges, the plot, not to mention its primary delivery method, is anything but. Players labor through multiple jumps, only to reach an area where they are drip-fed bits of narrative through on-screen text. While the story being conveyed is tragic and personal for the person who wrote it, it’s hard to get invested since it runs so contrary to the pace of the rest of the game that it becomes difficult to emotionally invest. That’s not to say that Disorder is a bad game. Far from it. It’s clear it was made with an incredible amount of care and a genuine desire to bridge the gap between those who have experienced depression and those who have not. Its biggest issue is the same as that shared by the majority of other games that have attempted to tackle the subject: it wraps itself up in too many layers of metaphor, either too afraid or unconcerned to deal with the subject matter it presents directly. It’s clear that Disorder is an important game for the developers. Like all art, it exists as an attempt to process difficult events or feelings as much as it does to entertain. But it would be difficult to play through the game and come away with a genuinely in-depth understanding of what depression is about. It rubs up against that age-old conundrum: how can you describe what a strictly internal phenomenon is like through solely external means? Games have been heralded as the new medium of our generation due to the inherent “show-not-tell” capacity mechanical systems can evoke. While Disorder embraces this strength of the medium in some capacities, when it comes to delivering the narrative in a way that players can latch onto and identify with, it sets this goal aside. As a personal statement, Disorder is a beautiful and obviously heartfelt game about loss and coping with understanding. As a piece of art with an intention to communicate nebulous and difficult feelings, it falls flat.
Disorder  photo
A new game from ScrewAttack about clinical depression
All art, or indeed even all communication, is a process of connecting with others through shared experience. Whether we’re trying to express a specific experience, or conversely, reveling in the knowledge that there's ...

0h n0 photo
0h n0

0h n0: another simple, free, Japanese logic puzzle


Companion to 0h h1
Feb 13
// Darren Nakamura
Late last year I was turned on to 0h h1, a free digital version of the Japanese logic puzzle Takuzu. Developer Martin Kool of Q42 is at it again. 0h n0 is another adaptation, this time taking the puzzle Kuromasu and giving it...
Mighty Switch Force photo
Mighty Switch Force

Mighty Switch Force! makes the jump to iOS with a funky trailer


Well that was sudden
Feb 10
// Chris Carter
WayForward sent me an interesting note today -- Mighty Switch Force! is coming to iOS in the form of Mighty Switch Force! Hose it Down. Wait, what?! This isn't going to operate just like past entries though, as it is not a t...

Review: Unmechanical: Extended

Feb 10 // Darren Nakamura
Unmechanical: Extended (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], PlayStation Vita, Xbox One)Developers: Talawa Games, Grip GamesPublisher: Grip GamesReleased: January 30, 2015 (Xbox), February 10, 2015 (PlayStation)MSRP: $9.99 In Unmechanical, players control a mute robot that propels itself using helicopter blades attached to its head. Getting around is a cinch, as simple as pointing in a direction and letting the little rotor rev up to go. The rest of the controls are similarly simple. There is basically one other thing the robot can do: activate and deactivate a tractor beam in order to pick up, carry, and drop objects. The simplicity creates an elegance in the gameplay. With only the abilities to move about and grab objects, the focus is placed on the puzzles and the silent narrative. Unmechanical could theoretically be played with an NES controller. That it manages to feel like a full experience with that limitation is impressive. The puzzles run the gamut from mundane (repeat patterns of Simon-like colored lights) to clever (combine an eye hook, a metal beam, and an electromagnet to open a passage) to obtuse (exercise the four color theorem without being told that is the goal). Fortunately for the latter, there is an in-game hint system that can provide some guidance. [embed]287402:57241:0[/embed] Sections of the underground world are broken up and walled off such that the items necessary to find a solution are never too far away, but even then, I spent a fair amount of time floating around aimlessly, sure that I had missed something. About half the time I just hadn't considered all of the possibilities. The other half, I actually did skip an entrance or an item in the dark, unsaturated environment. Though they can obscure puzzle solutions, the visuals are impressive in a way. Despite the muted tones and general lack of color, each of the areas is visually interesting, marrying machinery, electronics, and hard earth together. Some of the images shown here are the exception to the rule, standing out with bright light to starkly contrast the rest of the mechanical dungeon. The environments also help to tell the story of the unnamed robot. Unmechanical relates its narrative entirely without text or speech, instead relying on puzzle outcomes and background scenes. A lot is left open to interpretation, and some questions remain unanswered. The story behind the new episode found in Extended is easier to follow. Two robot friends are hanging out, one gets sucked underground by a terrible machine, the other follows in a rescue attempt. It plays on more traditional videogame tropes, providing a clearer, less thought-provoking narrative. The puzzles found in the Extended portion are some of the best of the bunch, with fewer throwaway challenges and smaller arenas to cut down on second-guessing. In the time after the original release, the developers got a good sense of what worked well and what didn't, and it shows in the design of the new episode. In that sense, it is a bit of a shame. Extended is stronger than the original game taken as a whole, but it is a fraction of the package. Where Unmechanical takes a good weekend evening to get through, Extended can be completed easily on a weekday afternoon. Still, I would rather a game be strong throughout than overstay its welcome, so the length isn't Unmechanical's biggest issue. The main problem is the variable quality of puzzles throughout the adventure. Some require critical thinking and creativity while others are retreads and slight tweaks of puzzles seen in other titles. Overall, Unmechanical: Extended is a cute little experience. The stories are told in a way that takes at least a little bit of effort on the player's part. For those willing to put that effort in, and the effort to get through the puzzle rooms, escaping from the tiny robot gulag is a worthy way to spend a day. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Unmechanical review photo
Electric boogaloo
Unmechanical has been available on iOS and PC for a few years now, but we at Destructoid have sadly neglected it for all that time. I have even personally looked at emails, thought "that looks neat," and then put it in the ba...

Shiftlings photo
Shiftlings

Shiftlings follows two space janitors as they try not to be F.I.R.E.D.


Flattened, ignited, robo-murderized, electrocuted, and dismembered
Feb 09
// Darren Nakamura
Usually, puzzle platformers feature a single protagonist, as the player guides him through environments filled with perils. In some cases, as with Ilomilo or ibb and obb, two are tethered to one another by the common goal of...

Review: The Escapists

Feb 09 // Chris Carter
The Escapists (PC, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Mouldy Toof StudiosPublisher: Team17 DigitalReleased: February 13, 2015MSRP: $14.99 If you've ever seen the intro to Kenan & Kel, that's basically how Escapists works. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to escape from prison by any means necessary. Whether you're Shawshanking it or divining an elaborate Michael Scofield-esque Prison Break scheme, the prison is your oyster, as the game is very open-ended in nature. It's a puzzle game, plain and simple, with old school JRPG-like menus to boot. Using said menus you can pick up new gadgets, combine and craft, and check your statline. You won't find a party with varying sets of skills though -- you'll have to escape all on your own, using the tools found within the prison and nothing more. The tutorial is basically an elaborate ruse, providing an interactive step-by-step guide on how to break out of the intro lockup. It feels really easy at first, until you enter the first real stage and realize that pure entropy is the name of the game. Guard and prisoner routines are entirely different, there are more people to worry about, the vents aren't automatically open like they were in the intro, and so on. There's so much going on at all times. The top portion of the screen basically functions as a ticker, showing you what activities you are expected to attend, including lunch, exercise time, and any and all job requirements. Nearly all of these have a small minigame of sorts, and boost your stats just like a classic NES Final Fantasy would. You can also converse with inhabitants and do favors like giving beatdowns for cash, or call upon favors yourself. Conversely, you can also be on the receiving end of a beatdown or get fired from your cush job. When that happens you may find yourself losing some advantage you had previously gained, like access to the laundry room where you work, which would have allowed you to snag a guard's uniform. You'll also be able to move about the prison freely if you have the tools to unscrew vents, and the power to move furniture around to get to hidden areas. The crafting system is fairly in-depth, but thankfully provides you with recipe lists once you've concocted the item of your choice. Hiding items is a key part of the game, but shakedowns can screw you if you aren't careful. To add to the madness, you can visit other cells to overhear conversations, and random events like riots will happen around you. The game can get pretty insane, and each playthrough is inherently different. Escapists is fun when you win, and fun when you fail. It's a joy to slowly figure out what works and what doesn't. While everything may not go according to plan and you might wake up in the infirmary bed with a terrible headache, the game is fairly forgiving with your follies. All your items are going to be confiscated after "death" and progress on certain activities is reset, but you can't really "die" in the traditional sense. I'm half and half on this design decision because while it does make the game easier, it makes failure less maddening -- just pick yourself back up and try again, sans menu clicks. The main problem I had with Escapists is that there is barely any emotional connection present throughout the experience. While it was often funny, presenting hilarious situations or dialogue reliant on specific inmates, you'd be hard pressed to feel anything else if you aren't a hardcore puzzle fan. A lot of gamers are going to get plenty of satisfaction over flushing items down the toilet or going through the paces of normal prison life while they search for vulnerabilities, but a lot of the mundane routines are just that -- mundane. Some of the later prisons (a Gulag, a medium security location, a jungle compound, a rough Federales prison, and a supermax) will test the resolve of some of the greatest strategy enthusiast due to their complexity. I'm sure that within due time there will be min-max oriented strategy guides out there detailed every exploit and the "fastest" or "best" way out of each scenario, but the entire point of the game is to come up with your own plan and see it through. It's kind of like Monaco in that sense, another polarizing game I adored. The Escapists is a game for a certain kind of player. If you love the idea of getting thrown on a desert island and figuring out how to survive for days on end, you'll probably enjoy it. If you find that prospect trivial, knowing that a lot of that time will be spent doing menial tasks, you may not enjoy it. As for me, I think I'm going to go back to Escapists for quite a while whenever I need to brush up on my puzzle skills simply because of how open-ended it is. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Escapists review photo
Aw here it goes!
Kenan: Kel, I'm going to need some chicken wire, some beeswax, a rooster, a few rolls of toilet paper, and a 5-Iron. We're busting out of prison today! Kel: Aw here it goes!

Renoir photo
Renoir

Monochromatic puzzle platformer Renoir coming to PC


Stop me if you've heard this one
Feb 06
// Darren Nakamura
Okay, we have seen grayscale puzzle platformers before, but the film noir style is still largely underused in the gaming space. Renoir wants to fix that. I'm down with the idea, but developer Soulbound Games has a long way t...

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