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Simulators

Demo photo
Demo

American Truck Simulator has a hefty demo


Join the convoy
Feb 10
// Jordan Devore
Are you suited for the trucker lifestyle in these fine United States of America? I won't let you spend another fidgety night in bed pondering that burning question. You deserve a refreshing slumber. You can find some much-nee...
Cities: Skylines photo
Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines' snowy expansion drops Feb. 18


Send in the plows
Feb 03
// Jordan Devore
I've seen snow only once or twice this year, and even then, it didn't stick around for long. Meanwhile, Brett is regaling us with tales about how he's just now venturing out of his snowed-in house for the first time since Sun...

Review: Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories

Feb 02 // Alissa McAloon
Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories (Android, iOS [reviewed], PC)Developer: NatsumePublisher: NatsumeReleased: January 13, 2016MSRP: $9.99 This is the first time a traditional Harvest Moon game has released for mobile, and I was honestly surprised by how functional the controls were. There are two different ways to interact with the world -- talk mode and farm mode -- but both control by tapping and dragging your finger across the screen. Even in farm mode, there's no need to switch between tools; tapping a plot of farmable land automatically uses whichever tool is appropriate, be it a hoe, watering can, or fertilizer. The downside to this is it's easy to accidentally till a circle around the plant you're trying to water. That's not the biggest problem in the world, but it is entirely the reason the neat rows of seeds I tried to plant look like a drunken art project. As with any Harvest Moon game, Seeds of Memories starts when your character, a young traveler, decides to settle into a small town and transform an abandoned farm into a productive, fertile homestead. After a quick tutorial, you discover that the townspeople have lost some of their memories and, by making some new memories of your own, you can help them remember.  There's a few good fishing spots, a mountain to explore, and a town filled with various characters to chat with. If you're familiar with this series, you'll find it easy to quickly slip into a daily routine of farm chores, foraging, and potential spouse romancing. But for those in need of a little more motivation, there is a list of memory milestones that represent different accomplishments to be made, from celebrating a townsperson's birthday to upgrading your house. Chasing down all 150 memories helps introduce more direction into a game that is otherwise somewhat aimless.  It isn't hard to find busywork, but after a while it becomes difficult to find a reason to keep playing. Even with all of the memories and events to experience, Seeds of Memories simply lacks the personality and charm past titles have brought to the franchise. The townspeople never seemed interesting beyond their comically exaggerated accents. Bonding with characters is necessary to unlock new seeds and further the story, but it always felt more like a chore than anything else. Toward the end of my time with the game, I just stopped visiting the town entirely except to purchase livestock or seeds.  Seeds of Memories has the all promise of a solid Harvest Moon title, but it fails to develop those features into anything substantial. Its forgettable storyline is somewhat redeemed by how well the actual farming side of things works, but that alone isn't enough to make it worthy of your time.  [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.]
Review photo
Better off forgotten
I've been religiously playing Harvest Moon games for more than half my life. The addiction started when my dad bought Harvest Moon: Back to Nature for our PlayStation back in 2002. I remember racing home every day to play it...

Pro Tips: American Truck Simulator

Jan 30 // Patrick Hancock
Always remember to use your blinker 100 feet before turning. When driving down a steep downgrade hill, you should shift into a lower gear than one you would use to go up the same grade. You can avoid highway hypnosis by not focusing on a single object for more than two seconds. Remember to turn off your high beams when you are within 500 feet of another vehicle. Good drivers, according to the California manual, look ahead 12 to 15 seconds. This could be up to a quarter mile at highway speeds! On wet roads, reduce speed by one-third. Because we all know how much it rains in California. When backing up, turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction you want to move.  To go along with that, always back in as straight as possible. Correct the wheel as soon as drift starts to occur. Pull forward to make corrections when needed. Stopping distance = perception distance + reaction distance + braking distance. When well below the speed limit on a highway, turn on your hazard lights to warn vehicles behind you.
Truck Sim Tipz photo
Be a lean, mean, money-making machine
There are a lot of dangers out there on the road and a lot of things to keep in mind if you're going to carry cargo across state lines in the United States of America. I mean, they don't force drivers to take CDL tests for nothing!  So, being the helpful guy I am, I've decided to lay out some very important tips and tricks for anyone looking to perform well in American Truck Simulator.


Review: American Truck Simulator

Jan 29 // Patrick Hancock
American Truck Simulator (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: SCS SoftwarePublisher: SCS SoftwareRelease Date: February 3, 2016MSRP: $19.99  Euro Truck Simulator has quietly worked its way into the lives of many gamers over the years, myself included. I'm not sure why or when I thought I'd enjoy it, but I'm certainly glad the decision was made. These types of games are many things for many people; some enjoy the serenity, others enjoy the realism, and I'm sure there are those who turn their trucks into a replica of Darkside from Twisted Metal and ram into anything that crosses their path. For those veterans, American Truck Simulator is more of the same but in a new region. Calling it "American" seems a bit disingenuous at the moment, since players can only drive through California and Nevada. That's a lot of area to be sure, but hardly represents America. Many will envision a coast-to-coast trek from New York to Los Angeles, or traveling on Route 66 from state to state, but neither of these are possible at the moment. I say "at the moment" because, like Euro Truck Simulator before it, players should understand that they are buying into a platform. Nevada is technically free DLC at launch (and is included in this review), and the development team is working on Arizona as future free DLC as well. As of now there's no definitive DLC roadmap, but SCS Software has stated that "it will take us years to cover the continent," if it is financially viable. For newcomers to the series, or those simply curious as to how this is a real thing, here's the deal. Players assume the role of an American truck driver, making cargo deliveries in California and Nevada. Early on, taking jobs from various companies, using their trucks, is a steady income. As profit increases, players can afford their own trucks and even hire other drivers to carry out jobs. There are only two trucks available at the moment, which is a bit of a bummer. There are, of course, plans to add more, but as of now there are a Kentworth T 680 and a Peterbilt 579. There are variations of the two and plenty of  customization options, which help make them stand out more, but it's still only two models of truck at launch. Drivers will also gain experience and level up as deliveries are completed. Upon leveling, stat points can be distributed to categories like fuel economy, long-distance deliveries, and unlocking new types of cargo. As if making an expensive delivery wasn't nerve-wracking enough, think about delivering explosive or chemical cargo! Increasing these statistics will net the player higher rewards for completing assignments under those categories. The benefits are very detailed to the player, allowing them to make informed decisions when leveling up. While driving, it's important to remember the rules of the road. Running a red light will result in a fine (damn red light cameras), as will speeding. While Euro Truck Simulator utilized speed cameras, here in America things work a little differently. Cops are constantly on patrol, and if caught speeding near one, a fine will instantly be deducted. There's no car chase or even getting pulled over, just cop lights and sirens and $1,000 removed from your bank account. Along the way, players may need to stop for gas, rest, get weighed at weigh stations, or get repairs. These must be done at certain locations and have corresponding meters on the HUD. The biggest concern with these is the time invested, since each assignment has a window in which the recipient expects their items to be delivered in. Just a heads up: if you're driver starts yawning, stop at a rest station! The traffic AI seems to be vastly improved in American Truck Simulator. Cars will stop early at intersections, making those wide turns that much easier. They also rarely pull out in front of your giant truck barreling down on them, though I have had that happen once or twice. Hell, they'll even slow down if your blinker is on to let you move over! Well, sometimes. There are a few different control methods, ranging from very simple to complex. Steering can be done with the keyboard or mouse, and of course the game supports both console and steering wheel controllers. I found myself most  comfortable with the Steam Controller and gyro controls. The biggest gap between the simple and the complex is changing gears manually, though even at its most complex it's not exactly a "hardcore" simulator. There's definitely a lot to manage, especially for me, but people who were looking for more depth in this entry won't find it here. Is it difficult? Well, it's as difficult as you want it to be. Making the controls complex is an easy way to make the game more engaging. Personally, I think the most difficult aspect is parking. When delivering cargo there will be three options. The hardest option yields the most experience, and will ask players to pull some fancy backing up and maneuvering in order to place the trailer where it needs to go.  The second option is much more achievable, while the third option is to skip it entirely and earn no bonus experience. It's a great to be able to say "you know what? I really don't feel like parking this explosive gas tank right now." To help pass time, a good amount of radio stations are available to listen to while on the road, and it is also possible to input a personal music library by relocating some files on your computer. I enjoyed listening to some classic rock stations while "working." I must say, listening to Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" while driving a big rig at night into Las Vegas is something that will stick with me probably forever. That's in part due to the beautiful engine. The scenery is quite a change of pace compared to the European scenery, which helps make this feel like something fresh, despite the mechanical similarities. Cities are also fleshed out more and feel more "alive" than ever before. Google Maps has been used to help create a realistic recreation of the Golden State, so many areas will be immediately recognizable to those familiar with them. Yes, players will begin to see repeat storefronts over and over again, but it hardly detracts from the overall immersion. American Truck Simulator caters to a wide array of people. There's something to be said for the serenity of cruising down a highway at night and obeying all the traffic laws. It's also a great opportunity to enjoy some audiobooks or podcasts while somewhat-mindlessly growing a trucking enterprise.  Those looking for vast mechanical or design improvements in the series won't find them here. The map is relatively small, considering the size of America, but the tradeoff is worth it: the scenery is fresh, accurate, and varied, while cities feel much more realistic. With two trucks and two included states, and another one on its way, American Truck Simulator is an investment into the series' future, but it's not a steep one and easily earns its value with what is already presented. So, while it may not be possible to go from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, it is possible to go from Oakland to Sactown, the Bay Area and back down. And that's just fine. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
American Truck Sim Review photo
California love
I live in New Jersey, so I think I know a thing or two about California. After all, I've listened to plenty of N.W.A. and Tupac, plus I've seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Oh, and I've been to California a whole lot to visit my brother and for that one E3 I attended. Does this make me an expert? Yes. Yes it does.

American Truck Sim photo
American Truck Sim

I think I want to play American Truck Simulator as Jack Burton


This can only end well
Jan 28
// Jordan Devore
American Truck Simulator is out on Steam next week, and we have Patrick on point for the review. That's all well and good. But lately, he's been coming into our staff chat with what I have decided must be hip trucker lingo, a...
Way to the Woods photo
Way to the Woods

That deer game that was developed by a 16-year old is being published by Team17


Good for him
Jan 28
// Chris Carter
Anthony Tan has a lot to be happy about. In addition to gaining lots of media attention for his game Way to the Woods, partially due to his young age (he's 16), Team17 (developer of Worms, publisher of Yooka-Laylee)  has...
Hitmanime banned photo
Hitmanime banned

Yandere Simulator is the latest game banned from Twitch


'Hitman but anime. Hitmanime' - Jonathan
Jan 21
// Jed Whitaker
The controversial stalking and murdering game Yandere Simulator has been banned from being streamed on Twitch, joining the likes of BMX XXX, Hatred, and Second Life. This isn't all that surprising considering YouTub...
Prison Architect console photo
Prison Architect console

Prison Architect heading to PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One


Time to jailbreak your console
Jan 20
// Darren Nakamura
After a long stint in Early Access, Prison Architect finally saw its full PC release late last year. Wasting little time, developer Double Eleven is now porting it to consoles. It should release in spring on PlayStation 4, Xb...
Cities: Skylines' Snowfal photo
Cities: Skylines' Snowfal

Next Cities: Skylines expansion buries you under a blanket of snow


Cities: Skylines' Snowfall expansion
Jan 19
// Steven Hansen
Paradox and developer Colossal Order are smart to couch bigger Cities: Skylines expansions in visually transformative ways because, much like when the day/night cycle was added in After Dark, damn do these snow-kissed cities...
Story of Seasons photo
Story of Seasons

A sequel to Story of Seasons is coming to Japan this year


Not-Harvest Moon 2
Jan 12
// Alissa McAloon
Story of Seasons, also known as that one Harvest Moon game that isn't actually Harvest Moon, is getting a sequel in Japan this year. Like the original, Story of Seasons: Good Friends of Three Villages is a 3DS ...

The adorable Slime Rancher might be the next big indie hit

Jan 06 // Jed Whitaker
Slime Rancher (PC [previewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: Monomi ParkPublisher: Monomi ParkRelease Date: TBA 2016 Beatrix LeBeau wakes up on the Far, Far Range ranch a thousand light years away from Earth and has decided to make a living by wrangling slimes. Using a trusty vacpack (read: vacuum gun), she'll suck in wild slimes, fruit, vegetables, chickens, and plorts (aka slime poops).  When starting your first day (time passes a minute per second in real-world time), you'll have a bare-bones ranch with multiple plots on which to build corrals for your slimes, gardens to grow fruits and vegetables, coops for chicken-like hen hens, silos for storage, and so on. Most of your time, however, is spent exploring off the ranch for different types of slimes. They range from basic pink slimes to cute cat-like tabby slimes to glowing phosphorus slimes that only come out at night.  Capturing slimes feels similar to using the vacuum from Luigi's Mansion, only in first-person; it is rather simple yet satisfying. Coming across your first group of wandering wild slimes with joyous smiles on their faces is exciting. I found myself saying 'awwwww' out loud more than once during my time with Slime Rancher -- more so than probably any game I've played. While Pokémon and Harvest Moon have their moments of cuteness, Slime Rancher simply oozes it. [embed]331847:61746:0[/embed] Ranch management isn't cheap. To earn money, you'll be collecting plorts from slimes, both wild and those stored at your ranch. Slimes produce plorts when fed their preferred food source. For example, pink slimes will eat anything edible while tabby slimes will only eat meat. Once plorts are collected, you can sell them in the market via a machine stationed in your ranch. The device shows the current prices for each variation of plort and whether the price has risen or fallen recently. Plorts serve more than one purpose, however. If you feed a slime a plort from a different breed of slime, it will grow larger and develop features from the other species. For instance, feeding a pink slime a plort from a tabby will make it grow a tail and two ears. These combination slimes will eat both food sources their original species would eat, and always produce a plort from each species when fed, so you can get two plorts for the price of one. Feeding a combination slime another plort from a third species results in a monstrosity known as "The Tarr." These are evil black slimes that have rainbow streaks running through them, much like you'd see in motor oil in a parking lot. The Tarrs will eat other slimes whole while their terrified faces look at you as if to cry out for help. Should you venture too close to The Tarr, you'll also be attacked, though your health regenerates after a short time. There are two ways to take care of these evildoers: suck up and shoot water on them, or suck them up and shoot them into the nearby ocean; you're only a few feet away from it as the ranch is located on one of a series of connected islands. Even though Slime Rancher is still only considered pre-alpha by its developers, I found myself playing it for hours. There is already a ton to do. Each corral can be upgraded with various functions such as high walls, auto-feeders, and plort collectors. Music can keep the slimes from getting agitated and trying to escape their pens. At one point, my tabby slimes stacked on top of each other and jumped in my hen hen coop and ate all my hen hens! Naughty slimes. A silo can be purchased to store fruits and vegetables, as well as an incinerator to destroy things you no longer need. In the alpha, everything you can collect is of some use. Not only can you upgrade your corrals, gardens, and coops, but you can buy two extensions to your ranch: one is a cave and the other is a forest-like area, each with more spots for building. There are also character upgrades such as health, a jetpack, and stamina. Daily orders are available that ask for specific items and slimes to be deposited which, upon completion, reward you with valuable plorts, slimes, and edibles. Slime Rancher is adorable. The graphics are also on point, especially when you consider it is running on Unity and looks similar to and as good as Team Fortress 2. The music is calming, reminiscent of some of the ambient tunes you'd hear in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, while the gameplay feels totally original despite being part of a genre that has existed for years. The game is expected to launch on Steam Early Access soon, but if you want to experience the in-development pre-alpha builds now, you can do so by pre-ordering at the official site for $19.99. While that might sound steep, there are already hours worth of enjoyable content in the current build with the promise of much more to come.
Slime Rancher Preview photo
My impressions of the public pre-alpha
After seeing some brief gameplay of Slime Rancher, I instantly thought, "I feel like this is going to be the next big thing and I need to get my hands on it stat." I'm very excited to tell you that I believe I was right. Afte...

Review: Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star

Dec 22 // Caitlin Cooke
Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita) Developer: MediatonicPublisher: Devolver DigitalMSRP: $9.99Released: December 15, 2015 (PC), December 22, 2015 (PS4, Vita) Like the first game, players roleplay as a female human in a world full of talking birds. However, unlike the original Hatoful Boyfriend, Holiday Star mostly takes place outside of the school walls -- at mansions, convention centers, and even all the way to far-away dream planets with mountains made of pudding. Rather than focusing on romance, the plots revolve around mysteries and other oddities. Holiday Star contains four connected episodes, all of course extremely inane and silly as you’d expect from the series. In the first of the four, Christmas trees are mysteriously disappearing and it’s up to you and the rest of the town to figure out what’s happening. The second episode follows a mysterious bird who has a penchant for talking cryptically, and the last two end on a trippy dream to the Holiday Star itself, lead by an unhinged king and his dream citizens. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for the dating sim that was part of the original Hatoful Boyfriend, you may be disappointed. Holiday Star treads far away from the romantic bird roots to focus more on themes of danger, mystery, and the absurd -- probably focusing on the later even more so than the first game. Most of the storylines have delightfully twisted, nonsensical plots which fans of the series will appreciate. The game also borrows themes from Phoenix Wright with an occasional “OBJECTION” or “HOLD IT” here and there. Sadly, the delightfully absurd nature of the game is overshadowed by the fact that Holiday Star isn’t really a game at all. There are very few choices ever presented, making it a true visual novel more than anything else. For most of the chapters, it takes a good 15-20 minutes going through the dialogue until a decision point appears -- and even then the choices are a simple “do this or that” or “go here or go there” with usually two options presented. What’s more frustrating is that when story choices do appear, often there is only one right answer. This means that if an option is chosen incorrectly, it’s an instant game over -- and because there’s an insane amount of dialogue, it’s unlikely that you would have a backup save in the right place. Decisions don’t pop up until a good ¾ of the way into some of the chapters, so it becomes extremely birdensome to progress unless you save often. The run-on dialogue is made even more painful by the lack of music or background noise. There are only a few holiday songs that pop up from time to time, but for the most part the dialogue runs on for so long that the music loops, making the game seem even more hollow. It’s sad to say, but I can only recommend Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star if you’re either a) extremely bird to death over the holidays, B) extremely drunk over the holidays, or ideally, c) extremely both. Fans of the original game may enjoy seeing the same birds in new situations, but the lack of any choice or gameplay (even compared to the first) is just downright owlful. Those looking for an actual game may want to sparrow themselves the pain. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Hatoful Boyfriend review photo
One was fine but toucan be a problem
Everybirdie who’s anybirdie has found some kind of joy in Hatoful Boyfriend -- the strange yet alluring romantic bird simulator that stole the hearts of gamers and avians around the world. We’re graced this holida...

Hot phone Date photo
Hot phone Date

No Friday plans? How about a Hot Date (with a dog)


MERCILESS pug speed dating sim returns
Dec 18
// Steven Hansen
I covered and played the heck out of the MERCILESS pug speed dating sim Hot Date when it was released this summer, but maybe you didn't. So already we're doing good: reminding you of a cool game you could be playing right now...
The Long Dark photo
The Long Dark

The Long Dark shows off its story ahead of early 2016 launch


'Don't let this new world break you'
Dec 16
// Steven Hansen
I've been interested in The Long Dark, and artsy flourish in the open world survival simulator mold, since it launched on Kickstarter two years ago. It has since been released on Early Access, and even got a major update ear...
Disaster Report 4 Plus photo
Disaster Report 4 Plus

Disaster Report 4 Plus is looking real nice on PS4


I'm glad it's back
Nov 27
// Ben Davis
Disaster Report 4 Plus: Summer Memories received its debut trailer and some shiny new screenshots today. Developer Irem previously announced Disaster Report 4 for PS3 back in 2010, but it was delayed and then canceled shortly...
Nintendo photo
Nintendo

Story of Seasons hits EU, AUS, NZ in January


Finally!
Nov 21
// Kyle MacGregor
Story of Seasons, the farming simulation formerly known as Harvest Moon, is sprouting in Europe on January 8 and across Australia and New Zealand the following day, Nintendo just announced. For more on the game please check out our review and recent interview with XSEED's Ken Berry.
Yandere Simulator photo
Yandere Simulator

Read erotic manga to up your seduction game in Yandere Simulator


Killing Japanese school girls
Nov 19
// Steven Hansen
It's been a bit since we checked in on Yandere Simulator, the Hitman-like stealth game "about stalking a boy and secretly eliminating any girl who seems interested in him, while maintaining the image of an innocent schoo...
Delay photo
Delay

RollerCoaster Tycoon World pushed to 2016


The ride never ends
Nov 13
// Jordan Devore
The results are in from the RollerCoaster Tycoon World beta, and Atari has decided to delay the game to early 2016. Previously, it was supposed to be out for PC on December 10. With this specific beta, Nvizzio wanted to showc...
BeatNiks photo
BeatNiks

Harmonix just released a music-powered virtual pet called BeatNiks


Beans, beans, the musical fruit
Nov 05
// Darren Nakamura
Harmonix sure has diversified in the past five years. Sure, the studio just released Rock Band 4 and it focuses on interacting with music in all of its games, but with stuff like Chroma and A City Sleeps, it has gone further ...

Review: Kingdom

Nov 02 // Steven Hansen
Kingdom (PC [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Noio, LicoricePublisher: Raw FuryMSRP: $9.99Released: October 21, 2015 (PC); 2016 (Xbox One) Kingdom takes the sprawling, granular nation-building of games like Civilization, stripping labyrinthine menus down to a button press. As a randomly generated King or Queen atop your horse, you can walk left or right, and sprint for as long as the horse's stamina allows. Otherwise, the only thing you can do is drop a coin from your purse.  You're versed in this simplified building with a brief tutorial section that encourages you to start a camp fire, hire two peasants (one coin recruits wandering souls into citizenship), buy a bow, buy a hammer, and build a wall on either side. Whichever citizen picked up the hammer will start building the wall while the archer starts shooting game, which will net you coins. Kingdom is completely hands-off from there.  It's possible to wander too far left or right by the time the first night hits, at which point you might get attacked by a crowd of malevolent, No-Face-looking creeps that'll bop your crown off your head and snatch it. So your kingdom goes. You didn't even last a night. Each run becomes as much about experiential learning, figuring out the systems, and this is where Kingdom shines. Deciding on the proper allocation of funds, or learning little tricks like rushing far into the wilderness to scare deer back towards your archers (they're worth three coins to the rabbits' one) for early gold gain. But then you've survived long enough to realize farms are the income-generator of the future and stock up on scythes. You've expanded so far there are hardly any deer left, anyways. [embed]318616:60960:0[/embed] While these moments of clarity are appreciated, Kingdom's hands-off approach can frustrate. I went weeks into a run (the day and night cycle is very quick) and expanded considerably, but the goblins' nighttime raids -- particularly the huge waves that occur every five nights -- kept utterly destroying my facilities, stealing my citizen's tools (removing them from their job) and coins (reverting them back to peasants, who need to be re-recruited for a coin). Later I would realize that it's because I didn't invest in the shrine I walked past deep in the woods (I couldn't afford it), which would grant my kingdom the knowledge of masonry and provide a host of stronger wall upgrades and the like. But while the inscrutability can grate, the biggest problem is the simulation not holding up to its scope once you've puzzled everything out. Kingdom's simplification eventually impeded me more than the massive night raids that early on feel somewhat unearned, like an asshole shaking your Etch-a-Sketch. Archers not stationed in towers, for example, all pool behind the nearest wall at night to shoot at incoming enemies. This means that once that one wall goes, you could lose clusters of dozens of archers, while all the other walls the enemy waves will slowly tear through are only protected by lone tower-mounted archers. And while it becomes apparent immediately there is a need to put yourself behind the kingdom's walls at night, the archer AI (and, later, knights) will frequently get themselves picked off by not being home before dark. Archers will often bunch of inappropriately, too; I've had had double the amount of archers on one monster-free end of the kingdom while the other was under attack. Once you know exactly what to do, the beginning bit of building out your kingdom feels pretty rote. Start with the next-furthest walls to get the inner set for free. Travel far left or right to make sure the masonry shrine is close, and probably the one that strengthens archers, too, or you're screwed. Hope that you don't get a weird load out where there's just no wildlife early on and no way to make money (happened once). Eventually I would consistently get to a point where I constantly had way more gold -- the sack literally over-flowing, coins falling into the river -- than I could use, yet still couldn't make any quicker headway on successfully "beating" the game because of the bottleneck caused by a lack of citizens and the quick day/night cycle compounded by my expanding kingdom length and limitations on the horse's stamina. You recruit peasants from outlying campsites, but expansion in either direction can destroy those sites, decreasing your stock of recruits. Plus, each site will only net you two folks per day. It can require a ton of time to replenish your forces after a big wave, thanks to flying enemies that can permanently kill citizens, just to have it happen again five days later. It takes some precision and failure to avoid a Sisyphean set up, but by that time the building becomes rote, the exploration is gone, and it becomes simply a gorgeous set of systems you're minding like a bean counter, except they're jumping beans. The lack of precision, then, caused by the stream-lining that is so laudable, becomes frustrating. While learning certain things feels like honest revelation, I too often felt like I was playing against the game, like when I'd force mounted archers out of their towers by starting new construction on them, because mounted archers won't hunt to generate profit, even though it becomes obvious there are no daytime threats. Or when I would try to start a new project nearer the city center to distract my engineers who were blithely heading out into the unprotected night into a swarm of pickpocket goblins to work on a further out project because I mistimed how long it would take them to get the cue and start walking all the way across the kingdom. Kingdom very cleverly reduces a complex genre down to something digestible, but that same simplification struggles against its later scope. When your land grows too wide, traveling end to end becomes a chore (it can waste entire day/night cycles), while getting to that point requires gaming somewhat imprecise AI. Losing it all after an hour basically means re-doing the early game the exact same way and finding a point of divergence, say, at the 50 minute mark that previously undid you. It's too much retreading as the simulation naturally caps how quickly you can return to prior strength regardless of accumulated knowledge. When all the arcane is teased out and the seams obvious, not even the beautiful score and gorgeous pixel reflection in the river can encourage me to execute the precise, efficient moves that would lead me to victory.  But while I wasn't so interested in mechanically performing the "correct" blueprint of success after I figured it out, the journey towards acquiring that knowledge was still worthwhile. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nothing lasts photo
My horse, my horse...
I can remember building sandcastles in San Francisco's wonderfully-named Ocean Beach when I was young, armed with just one bucket with an embattled parapet mold to give the formations that distinct "castle" look, and another ...

Tycoon photo
Tycoon

Planet Coaster looks like my kind of theme park sim


In development at Frontier
Oct 22
// Jordan Devore
I'm not sure where I was on June 16, but I wasn't here reading Darren's post about Planet Coaster. In fact, I'm only now learning about the game. It looks like a treat for management sim fans. While Atari is putting out a new...
Wet photo
Wet

Tacky old porn sim fluffed for PC re-release


What the hell, 1998?
Oct 19
// Steven Hansen
I dislike this art sooo much. It doesn't look like an anime at all. But seriously, at least aim for Heavy Metal, right? This is 1998. Leisure Suit Larry did a better job 10 years earlier on noticeably more restricted tech. He...
Cowmiya photo
The Joy of Localization
The original title of this article was "XSEED named a cow Swag Lady," which is also true. There are several cows in Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale, a cute and leisurely little RPG, if my brief time with t...

Gabe Newell photo
Gabe Newell

There's a Gabe Newell Simulator on Steam


Is this eligible for The Game Awards?
Oct 13
// Mike Cosimano
There's a Gabe Newell Simulator on Steam Early Access and it costs seven American dollars. The entirety of that sentence should be enough for you to make a purchasing decision, right? For what it's worth, I think a Gabe Newel...
The Sims Pokemon photo
The Sims Pokemon

This fake crossover of The Sims and Pokemon actually looks fun


Can it be real?
Oct 12
// Chris Carter
The Sims gets a lot of shit. Sure, it has DLC and expansions coming out of the rafters, but historically, the core games have been pretty decent -- outside of the latest iteration that stripped out a ton of features of ...

Cities: Skylines After Dark exposes the sexlessness of being an incompetent planner

Sep 28 // Steven Hansen
[embed]312756:60532:0[/embed] 17:28 I dragged one of our cat trees -- the one with the abandoned dumbbells weighing it down -- and set a pillow in front of it so I could sit in the middle of the living room, closer to the TV. I do not have my contacts in or the energy to put my contacts in. I am sitting on an inflatable, portable seat one might take to sit on bleachers in a stadium and my lower half is wrapped in a throw blanket. My feet tap at the entertainment center and I worry I will turn the Xbox One on. Fuck. I actually just turned the Xbox One on. This isn't even even a joke (not unlike much of my humor). I started writing fearing I’d forget whatever fevered nonsense was my dreamt-up angle and I just kicked the fucking thing on. Jesus. I am a slightly less put-together city planner than whomever drew up the East Coast. 17:36 The newsfeed in the new "After Dark"-tinged menu reads: "Problems Loading/Creating Cities? Click Here for the Solution!" After turning the Xbox on I am anticipating problems and feel like preemptively asking for the solution. 17:38 All my strength is going towards not choosing the "Diamond Coast" map for a new game because its "Suitable area for building" is 69%. I already can’t figure out which map best represents Tokyo or remember what "boreal" means. Google tells me. Google also tells me Diamond Coast is a place in Ireland, which I bet is a lot like Japan, so that’s why I have picked it after all (and not for the 69). 17:43 Oh my god the tutorial text is so small. 17:45 Building roads and also not drawing penises with the roads, a good start. 17:49 Oh god, not only are there curved roads, but there are elevated roads. This has become roller coaster tycoon. This is not like Japan at all. I have built an enormous ramp to nowhere, to the end of the known world. Oh god, there are tunnels, too? I tried to connect a tunnel to the outside world but it’s just a half-mile dead end under the outlying freeway. And it connects to a giant series of roads in my town. I thought this would work. 17:55 It’s nighttime now and it looks very ominous. The people are wanting for every single basic necessity: power, water, waste treatment, internet, a fancy cheese shop. It is a miracle they found their way into town at all. The elevated road to nowhere is lit up, dotted on both side with street lamps, but they are not plugged in, there is no power grid. They must be getting power by much more arcane means. 18:06 Japan is clean and forward thinking. I erected a wind turbine. A water pumping station and sewage treatment plant sit on the fraction of coast I have available, far from the inept roads and angry citizens. I think I correctly put the waste dumping bit down stream so as to not feed them poop. The water pipes and those two facilities make an amateurish rhombus. Nighttime again and the wind turbine glows in the distance away from civilization next to...palm trees? I do not think Ireland has palm trees and I do no think that Tokyo has palm trees, but my childhood home in San Francisco did have a giant palm tree in the backyard. Things don’t always make sense. My citizen’s thirst and high-maintenance demand for electricity sated, I zoom into this mess to hear dogs barking and birds chirping. It almost resembles a suburb, just drawn up by a child with limited spatial awareness and even less Lego blocks. The "needs" bubbles hovering atop each household look like guns. No, citizens. You are supposed to be Japan, not America. Cease this gun lust. 18:13 Those were not cartoon guns; they were sewage pipes. I have messed up the sewage. Peoples' homes are filled with shit. 18:21 I fixed it. I forgot to supply power to the sewage treatment plant. Unfortunately by the time I did it was in the most roundabout possible way and I ran out of money. I do not know what is more ominous: 1) the game’s zoomed-out soundtrack or 2) the din of suburbia when you zoom into multi-level blue homes and the lives of little people who don’t know their lives are being governed by an idiot who turned the Xbox on with his foot and has a quarter-mile, below-ground tunnel leading to a dead end. The streets look like the Windows 3D pipes animated screen saver or a badly played game of Snake. 18:29 The sound design in this game is terrifying. The commercial district is a roar of trucks and storefront shutters. The yakisoba joint advertises "tasty noodles" but that is a lie. It has no water running to it as I have run out of money. The game is warning me of bankruptcy. It offers me a $50,000 bailout with 0% interest, 0 monthly cost. If only real life would be so kind. I reject it. I would rather let my citizens suffer than accept charity. 18:42 I tried to continue the road to nowhere and bring it down into a new industrial sector and, good lord, look. Cars are driving up it now and doing impossible 180 degree turns and I feel ill. 18:51 I have reached a population of 500. I am a "Little Hamlet," in that I too am poisoned by inefficacy and unable to avenge Tokyo by making it in this video game. My state is rotten. 18:53 I consider building a hospital across from two landfills. 20:01 Someone has died. I have built my first cemetery. I bleed money. I have taken as many loans as possible. I cannot seem to build enough firehouses. My city burns. Businesses demand more educated workers. It asks to build public transport, but I am poor. I raise taxes and people riot. My city of 3,500 does not have the glorious neon of Tokyo. The endless high rises and suffocating streets and touts and steep stairwells. My citizens tweet hashtags unironically, like morons. 20:12 I build a cemetery (for real this time; the bodies must have been rotting) and hundreds of green smiley faces erupt from local residences. Same. My city of 5,000 is a far cry from Tokyo's 13.35 million. And, as evidenced, I am not so competent to tell you how dramatic things like setting different daytime and nighttime budgets for utilities go on to affect your success. Really, I don't think Cities has ever been too challenging, as it has twice now accommodated my complete lack of forethought and neighborhood building by way of penciling in the margins and connecting with carets and arrows. But the day and night cycle itself is quite beautiful and the additions like prisons, taxis, bus terminals, bikers, and international airports all work towards making a more robust simulator helping you build whatever nightmare town your heart desires. Me, I'm going to dip into the mod sections and recreate High Planes Drifter.
After Dark impressions photo
More like 'shitty planning'
And here I thought being a public official would get me laid. It turns out any clout built up by being the sole city planner gets et up when the citizens' homes are filled with sewage because of your incompetence. Having just...

Review: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Sep 22 // Ben Davis
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (3DS)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoRelease Date: September 25, 2015MSRP: $39.99 Happy Home Designer puts the player in the role of interior decorator as an employee of the Happy Home Academy. It's your job to listen to clients' requests, fulfill their needs, and add your own bit of flair to their home designs. There are more than 300 villagers in need of decorating advice, and Isabelle will visit with requests to design public facilities around town. Each villager request will have a special theme to follow pertaining to their vision of an ideal home, such as "a tropical resort," "a forest of books," or "a bamboo playground." They'll bring along a few pieces of their favorite furniture which must be used in the design, but the rest is up to you. Design their yards, the exterior of their homes, and of course the inside as well, and try to fit the theme to make the clients happy. Isabelle will also drop by occasionally with requests to design larger public spaces, such as restaurants, schools, hospitals, and more. Many of these buildings have multiple rooms to decorate, each with their own set of requirements. These were the most fun for me, because I got to use items which I never wanted to use in my own home in previous Animal Crossing games, and the layouts were a lot different than what I was used to working with, so everything felt new to me. [embed]311329:60430:0[/embed] Every new request adds new items to the catalog of furniture at your disposal. Any of these new items are sure to make the client happy, although ultimately it really doesn't matter too much. They will be pleased as long as the furniture they brought along is used, and it's actually not possible to say that the house is finished until those items have been placed, so there's really no way to make any of the clients unhappy. This was the most disappointing thing about the game to me. I was hoping to be graded on my designs, with the ability to make clients happier with more thoughtful interior decorating skills or upset if their house turned out to be a disaster. In reality, they'll be just as happy if you take time designing a beautiful house as they will be if you walk in, unpack their boxes, and say that everything is finished without adding or moving anything at all. It's terribly unsatisfying, but I suppose it does give players the freedom to play however they like without the fear of upsetting any of the villagers. Fortunately, your designs can be graded by other players if you choose to upload them to the Internet via the Happy Home Network. Houses and public facilities can be rated by four different categories: cuteness, coolness, uniqueness, and the "I'd live here!" factor. If you find an interesting design online, you can visit that person's house to walk around and check it out before giving an assessment. It's a pretty neat feature and a good way to get some feedback, but it's not quite the same as having the game score your designs. That being said, designing rooms is still super fun, and easier than ever to do. Just drag, drop, and rotate furniture with the touch screen, add more items from the catalog, duplicate items with the L and R buttons, drag unwanted stuff to the trash can, and voila! No more slowly pushing and pulling furniture into place (but you can do that too if you want). Also, there are no bells to worry about, so the only limit to the amount of items which can be added to a room is the space afforded by the floor plan. Decorating rooms in Animal Crossing has never been simpler. There are also options to add ceiling fixtures, create your own custom designs, have Cyrus refurbish stuff, add background noise other than music, and more which can all be unlocked with Play Coins. Once a house or public space is finished, you're free to go back and visit it whenever to hang out with the residents or offer a remodel (although public spaces can only be remodeled after they have all been built). Villagers who have been helped already can be found walking around town, and new potential clients can also be found wandering around with thought bubbles above their heads. Finished public spaces will also be used by villagers, and their roles within the buildings can be chosen by the player (meaning you can decide which villagers are customers or employees). Happy Home Designer features support for amiibo cards. The game includes one amiibo card to start with, and more can be bought in packs for $5.99. The cards can be used to design homes for special villagers who wouldn't normally come by as clients. I got Lyle's card, for example, a higher-up at the Happy Home Academy, so I got to decorate my coworker's home. The cards can also be used to summon villagers to public spaces, so the town can be populated by all of your favorite villagers. That's essentially all there is to Happy Home Designer. Just design homes and admire the finished projects. But even for such a simple idea, I still find myself going back in to see which villagers are looking for a new home and how interesting their theme sounds. It's strangely addicting, and designing homes for some of the more offbeat villagers like the mad scientists, wrestling fanatics, and criminal masterminds is really fun. I just wish they had built in some kind of grading rhetoric for how well your designs resonated with the clients. There has always been a grading mechanic for your own homes in previous Animal Crossing games, where the Happy Home Academy would award points based on how well the furniture fit together, how everything was arranged, and so forth. It's strange they would scrap that idea for a game built entirely around the Happy Home Academy, but that's the way it is. I would recommend Happy Home Designer for anyone who really enjoys designing and decorating virtual spaces. If finding the perfect furniture for your house in Animal Crossing was your favorite part of the series, then you'll surely get some enjoyment out of this game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Animal Crossing review photo
Comfortable living
Animal Crossing's home design feature was actually the thing that got me hooked on the series in the first place. Back when I was addicted to building houses in The Sims, one of my friends came over for a visit and broug...

Disney Magical World 2 photo
Disney Magical World 2

Disney Magical World 2 is pushing the Frozen property pretty hard


Much to my chagrin
Sep 19
// Chris Carter
So, Frozen. I must be one of the only people on the planet who doesn't like it. I mean, I love Elsa -- it's about time Idina Menzel and her amazing voice got the respect she deserves -- but the rest, including most of th...

Monster Hunter Diary contains pure silliness, with plenty of cats

Sep 18 // Chris Carter
Diary DX is very much like Animal Crossing, or in a more relevant but more obscure comparison, Disney's Magical World. It's part simulator in the sense that you can roam around talking to other Palicos in the Monster Hunter universe, but the end goal is to participate in a bunch of mini-games located within each micro hub. The hub itself is made of different spokes, with the ability to fast travel instantly with the tap of the bottom screen. Palicos are front and center here, inhabiting each realm and going along for the mini-game rides. During my time with the demo I was able to play two such micro-games -- a pig race, and a Patapon-like sidescrolling adventure sequence. The former sees players betting on pig-riding Palicos, with the power to control a single rider, jumping over logs and other obstacles in the race for first. It's simple, and not something I'd likely want to do more than a few times in total. The Patapon bit was a tad more enjoyable, as it provides options as you follow a set path, like the choice to eat a mushroom, ignore it, or harvest the ingredients -- likewise, enemies can be approached with a stealth or combat option. For the most part, this seems really geared towards Monster Hunter fans, and it's something that the younger audience would enjoy more than a seasoned veteran of the franchise. Monster Hunter Diary DX was recently released this past week in Japan, with Mario and Tom Nook costumes. There's still no word on a localization, but it might be possible if the series continues to sell like gangbusters in the US.
Monster Hunter Diary DX photo
Did I mention the cats?
Monster Hunter Diary DX for the Nintendo 3DS is a silly game. That much is evident from watching the series of commercials presented on a nearby TV screen at TGS, which shows a variety of cats in a variety of different k...


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