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Review: Niko: Through The Dream

Jul 27 // Jed Whitaker
Niko: Through The Dream (PC)Developer: Studio Paint Publisher: Studio Paint MSRP: $9.99Released: July 10, 2015  A girl named Niko wearing wild face paint visits the grave of a passed loved one. She lays down and drifts asleep, when a tiny cute black creature with big bright white eyes sneaks into her mind and influences her dreams; or at least that is how I interpreted the opening pencil-drawn anime cinematic of Niko. The story is told subtly from then on via drawings found in-game and a post-credits cinematic, most of which lets you interpret it as you will instead of outright telling you what you just experienced, something I wish more games did.  Niko's minimalistic style makes beautiful use of the Unreal Engine. Most early levels are white and almost canvas-like other than shadows and a few a colorful pieces, and later on things get a bit more dark and eery. The soundtrack evolves alongside levels, starting bright and charming and eventually becoming chilling and tense. Rarely do game soundtracks feel so on point with what is on the screen and as memorable as Niko's, especially for a team's first game. Each level of Niko features a unique puzzle based on colors, shapes, platforming and even sounds. Most puzzles can be solved without much fuss, particularly for observant players as clues are usually hidden somewhere not far from the puzzles themselves. I'd be here all day if I described each type of puzzle, so just know the variety is enough to keep the whole adventure interesting.  [embed]296684:59697:0[/embed] Platforming puzzles aren't frequent, but when they do occur be ready to die a few times. Luckily, the checkpoints are really frequent and loading them is instantaneous, keeping frustration near non-existent. Niko aims to provide an enjoyable experience over one that tests your skills, and it certainly delivers. Nothing ever felt too difficult. Puzzles are mostly easy to figure out once you've got the logic down, though one of hardest puzzles is a platforming section where you turn into a ball. In ball form, the control scheme is vastly different: the view is top down, and if you're using a gamepad, the left stick moves the ball while the right stick decides the trajectory. Once I finally mastered the controls, I was able to finish the puzzles without much fuss, but it felt out of place in an otherwise beautifully-crafted game. Along the journey a few different characters come into contact with Niko such as cute black fuzzballs with eyes, and a giant white-masked black figure, both of which would feel right at home in a Studio Ghibli film. There is no dialogue in-game, but rest assured the characters are anything but flat. Over the course of the story, you'll see the masked figure evolve and convey emotions all without a single word of speech.  Niko only takes around five hours to complete, but those hours are time well spent. Completionists can seek out hidden collectable teddy bears that unlock Steam achievements, and a few other secrets along the way that will help extend the playtime a bit. The bears are often hidden behind some of the more difficult and rewarding puzzles, or just out of sight.  Beautiful levels with equally beautiful story, characters, and music come together to form one amazing puzzle adventure. Niko: Through The Dream is easily one of the best first-person puzzle games I've played, and a strong contender for my game of the year. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Niko Review photo
When Portal met Ghibli
First-person puzzle adventure gaming was reinvigorated with the release of Portal, and the genre has since become one of my favorites. The surreal Antichamber showed us how to think outside the box. The Unfinished Swan&n...

Journey photo
Journey

Here's what Journey looks like on PS4


It's still breathtaking
Jul 20
// Chris Carter
As part of the 2015 "PLAY" sale, Journey is going to be re-released on the PlayStation 4 tomorrow for $14.99 ($11.99 for Plus members). For the most part this is the same exact game most of you have already played, but ...
PS4 / UE4 Ethan Carter photo
PS4 / UE4 Ethan Carter

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks better on PS4 but runs worse


There are some frame rate issues
Jul 16
// Jed Whitaker
It hasn't been highly publicized, but the PlayStation 4 version of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was rebuilt from the ground up in Unreal Engine 4. The current PC version runs in UE 3. Due to the new engine, this mysteri...

Until Dawn still hasn't wowed me, but I'm intrigued

Jul 13 // Chris Carter
Until Dawn (PS4)Developer: Supermassive GamesPublisher: SonyRelease: August 25, 2015 This is largely the same experienced that's been teased for the past few years or so -- a horror movie simulator with stars like Hayden Panettiere, Rami Malek, Brett Dalton, and Nichole Bloom lending their likenesses and performances to the experience. As previously stated I played the first four episodes, which is roughly three hours, and enough time to ramp up the "horror" bit of the plot after three episodes of table-setting. Yes, this is very much an adventure experience similar to Indigo Prophecy and Shenmue, complete with mild exploration and plenty of quick-time events, so you can show yourself out if that's still not your thing. Until Dawn started its life as a Move game, but thankfully Sony has retreated on that device over the years, and it's now possible to play it with a traditional controller scheme or controller-based motion. After a cheesy intro explaining the butterfly effect (like no one saw the Ashton Kutcher movie here), Until Dawn places you a year before the current storyline, in a snowy isolated cabin in the woods. You'll learn of the tragedy that happened there through the eyes of the victims, which sets up the ensuing (and illogical) return to a year later, where all of the remaining friends attempt to move on with their lives. The key plot point here is that they don't know the deaths were actually murders, and they're setting themselves up for the same possible fate -- I mean, they should know, but this is a horror work after all. [embed]295431:59461:0[/embed] Visually, I actually dig the move to the PlayStation 4, and there are very little remnants of it being a PS3 game. I feel like with Arkham Knight we've finally started to move on in terms of fidelity, and I'm noticing the generational gap with each passing month. The setting is also sufficiently gloomy and impressive, but sadly, I experienced severe slowdown during some action sequences -- as in, sub-30 FPS -- something I hope is fixed in the final version. Gameplay mostly consists of walking around, picking up and manipulating items (like Resident Evil), and making choices that can either modify short-term conversations and actions, or long-term decisions that will drastically change the narrative, and perhaps even kill off major characters. Although I haven't gotten the full taste of this mechanic in just four episodes, it already feels far more impactful than any recent Telltale game. Telltale is great at telling its story, but that's just it -- it's its story for the most part. Until Dawn gives me hope that multiple playthroughs will be worth it. It's all very linear though, which I'm sure will scare some people away. There's very little in the way of exploration, to the point where at most, there's only one stray path (and it's usually obvious) to take beyond the other road that continues the story. QTEs, Until Dawn has 'em, and they're here in spades. Personally I still don't mind them, even if they're a cheap device when overused, so your mileage may vary here. As for myself, I found them to be entertaining and helped fuel the endearing cheese-factor of the package. And I mean that with sincerity -- this doesn't feel like a cash-in, but a proper love letter to horror in general, complete with a great atmosphere and creepy, ingenious camera angles. Cheesy it may be, but I actually wanted to find out more about the game's world, and that's where Until Dawn excels -- lore building. You can find totems that show tiny visions of the future (good or bad, but mostly bad), which eventually complete a little meta-narrative on the history of the surrounding area, and a possible curse that dates back hundreds of years. I also wanted to find out exactly who the assailants were and what their motivations are -- and I won't even spoil the insanely interesting meta-narrative with the always talented Peter Stormare. My gut is telling me that Until Dawn is going to turn out far better than the lackluster Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls, and having grown up with the adventure genre, I'm excited to see what it can dish out. I suspect like many horror movie staples, this one is going to be pretty polarizing upon release regardless of your opinion on these types of games though.
Until Dawn photo
Murder at Teen Mountain
I'm a sucker for horror, even if it dips in "B," heck, "C" territory. While I can turn off my brain and enjoy slasher and gore flicks like the Saw series (they walk the line of "so bad it's good" so well), more often tha...

The Magic Circle photo
The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle launch trailer pokes fun at games industry egoism


'Trailers are just lies set to music'
Jul 09
// Alessandro Fillari
Back in January, I had the pleasure of checking out The Magic Circle, a charming and funny adventure title that poked fun at the chaotic, often insane challenges of game development. There's a launch trailer to set the mood ...
Vanishing of Ethan Carter photo
Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has just turned up on PS4


In Europe anyways. He's still missing in the US
Jul 07
// Vikki Blake
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is headed to PlayStation 4 on July 15. A teaser tweet from developer The Astronauts last week hinted that the game was due in "weeks, not months", and they weren't wrong - the game turned up...
No Man's Sky photo
No Man's Sky

I'm finally starting to get No Man's Sky


Extended footage
Jul 06
// Jordan Devore
What do you do in No Man's Sky? Hello Games could spend the rest of its time leading up to release trying to answer that question and people would continue asking anyway. This "18 minutes of uninterrupted gameplay" from IGN ...

Into the Stars is an intense Space Opera, hits early access July 9

Jul 02 // Alessandro Fillari
Into the Stars (PC, [previewed], Linux, Mac)Developer: Fugitive GamesPublisher: Iceberg InteractiveRelease date: July 9, 2015 on PC (Early Access)Set in the far future where mankind has populated the outer reaches of the known universe, you take on the role of a captain for the last human ship carrying a most precious cargo. After a war with an alien race destroys the last colony of humans, you must lead the remaining survivors and your crew on an exodus through uncharted territory in order to find a new home in Titus Nova, located in the far end of the galaxy. Along the way, you'll recruit new crew members, trade with neutral alien factions, and wage an on-going struggle with the aliens that destroyed your home planet. With the fate of many lives in your hands, you'll have to make many tough decisions in order to secure the future of humanity, while also keeping your one and only ship in working order. The developers weren't shy about sharing their influences for Into the Stars. From Battlestar Galactica, to Firefly, Star Trek, and even Guardians of the Galaxy -- the folks at Fugitive Games wanted a space adventure that emulated the same wonder and awe from classic Space Operas, while injecting a tense and hectic atmosphere that gave players the sense that one wrong move could lead to disaster. Storytelling was an important area of focus for the devs, and while there aren't really any cutscenes or dramatic set-piece moments, the players will be able to create their own captain, crew, and ship parameters (with adjustable stats and areas of focus) from scratch -- giving them freedom in how they play and choose to forge their way across the galaxy.With an entire galaxy map to explore, you'll have to choose wisely where you want to guide your ship, as many different resources are consumed during travel, and dangerous foes might rear their ugly heads. Taking place on over 90 tiles shown on the galactic map, each space represents a sector of the galaxy that can be explored. Players can freely steer their ship within the tile and explore at their own pace. Each tile possess their own unique points of interests, planets, culture, resources, and other sources of intrigue. While some randomness comes into play, the developers wanted to give the entire universe a hand-crafted look and not rely on procedural generation to fill in the blanks. And the results are quite stunning. The visuals within Into the Stars are a feast to behold, and the work from the Unreal Engine 4 shows great promise. From soaring past gas-giants, derelict spacecrafts, to massive floating artifacts from alien cultures, there's much to explore within the galaxy, and it'll take more than one playthrough to witness all the visuals. Though be warned, spending too much time in a certain section of the galaxy will attract the attention of hostile forces that wish to wipe you out.Taking cues from titles like XCOM and FTL, the developers at Fugitive Games wanted to have a strong focus on crew and resource management while gathering resources and keeping ahead of danger. Your ship will need resources and a strong crew to keep flying, and in order to keep both on the up, you'll have to take risks and even make some sacrifices. When you come across planets and installations throughout your travels, you can send probes or Away Teams (a capable team of explorers) down to the point of interest to search for resources and valuables. Though bare in mind, these places can often be dangerous and result in some deaths or harm to your ship if things go south. During one instance, we sent our away team to a remote planet and found many valuable resources with no incidents. Unfortunately, our luck wasn't so great when we went to a derelict human spaceship. An accident occurred which resulted in the deaths of some crew. [embed]295154:59311:0[/embed]As a whole, Into the Stars is a game about taking risks. While some cases may call for the occasional space heroics, most of the time you'll have to play it safe. During planetary examinations, sometimes its better to send probes, which result in a mini-game where you mine materials. Though keep in mind, the lives of your crew and your cargo of human survivors are a valuable resource as well. While traveling in space, you'll come across merchants that may sell goods at the cost of valuable materials vital to the function of your ship. While giving away minerals may be easy, in some cases merchants may request some humans for the trade. It's a pretty grim prospect, and though it may be easy to turn down a request when its first presented to you, you might be in a tight spot and have to entertain the offer. By any means necessary, your ship has to make to Titus Nova, and you may have to make some decisions that could compromise your own captain's humanity.But what would any space opera be without epic ship battles? When you encounter foes that seek to raid your ship, or just want to wipe out what's left of humanity, you'll have to defend the vessel and command your crew in a battle of wits and instinct. Unlike other space-sims, battles take place in quasi-term based format within the confines of the ship. Within the bridge, you have a clear view of the attackers, and you'll have to simultaneously adjust shields, make repairs, and strike against the enemy when the time comes. Initially, I found the battles to be a bit confusing and somewhat dense. It's all in menus, and you have to keep track of different crew attributes and ship parameters to stay one step ahead of your enemies. When making repairs, your view switches over to the engine room as you monitor hull breaches and causalities, all while the enemies are still attacking. While the smaller foes can be easily defeated, facing groups of enemy ships and some of the more massive cruisers can result in somewhat lengthy battles.I was largely impressed with Into the Stars. While we're definitely seeing an influx of space-sims as of late, this title subscribes more to the technical school of thought, rather than the focus on action and explosions. While I admit I got a bit lost during some moments, and had to consult some tutorials, I found Into the Stars to be an incredibly ambitious game that seeks to install a simultaneous sense of dread and awe from players. Not many games can get me feeling nervous while traveling through a lush and colorful galaxy filled with rich cultures and places to explore. If you're looking for something a bit more introspective and technical for your spacefaring needs, then you'll definitely want to keep an eye on Into the Stars.Into the Stars - Early Access [Steam]
Into The Stars photo
Find a crew, find a job, keep flying
The Space Sim genre has been one of the most ambitious and sought after titles from developers and fans alike. Ever since the early days of gaming, there's been a desire to craft a title that allows for exploration across a s...

New retail indies photo
New retail indies

Tower of Guns and Ether One are coming to retail


Exclusive content for Tower of Guns
Jun 11
// Patrick Hancock
Tower of Guns, a delightful FPS roguelike, and Ether One, a beautiful adventure game, are going backwards in time and releasing in physical boxes this September. Ether One will have retail copies for PC and PS4, while To...
Edge of Nowhere photo
Edge of Nowhere

Insomniac's Edge of Nowhere is an Oculus Rift exclusive


Third-person adventure in the Antarctic
Jun 11
// Jordan Devore
During today's Oculus Rift stream, Insomniac Games announced a third-person action-adventure game, Edge of Nowhere, exclusively for the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset. Here's the teaser. "What appears to be a rescue mis...
Witcher 3 photo
Witcher 3

The newest batch of Witcher 3 DLC includes a quest and a Gwent set


Gotta collect 'em all
Jun 10
// Chris Carter
CD Projekt Red has committed to delivering some free DLC updates post-launch for The Witcher 3 fans. While they aren't spectacular (mostly small quests and cosmetic items), this is the exact kind of content that would be...

Adr1ft is going to give someone a panic attack

Jun 10 // Jordan Devore
Late last year, Brett covered Adr1ft and detailed its unlikely inspiration. What I saw and played at a pre-E3 event was much of the same content, only more polished. There was no puzzle solving in this initial chunk of game, only death. I strayed to investigate a distant lifeless body and the trip proved too lengthy. I suffocated. Horrible way to go, but my last sight, the earth, was majestic. Given how little of the game I experienced, I'm unsure what shape Adr1ft will ultimately take. Movement feels right, though, that I can assure you. Plenty of freedom, but not so much control that it's overwhelming. You have to be mindful of your surroundings. The sound design -- the stuff that actually makes gasping for air so damned horrifying -- is similarly great. Enthralling. I'd say I'm looking forward to playing the finished game but, well, I'm dreading it. Even without a virtual-reality headset, it's that nerve-wracking. Space doesn't need Xenomorphs to be scary.
Adr1ft photo
Stave off suffocation in space
I'm anxious about playing Adr1ft again. Every moment I spent with this lonely, immersive, surprisingly vivid game about an astronaut stranded on a damaged space station with an equally damaged suit was full of tension. Will m...

Abzu preview photo
Swim with the fishes
Decades of classical conditioning have trained us to abhor water levels. The likes of Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Ocarina of Time hold strained memories of great games gone awry, if just ever-so-temporar...

Inside photo
Inside

Limbo developer's follow-up 'Inside' sees a delay


For Xbox One
Jun 05
// Chris Carter
Developer Playdead has one released game to its name -- Limbo. But that one title has gone on to take the indie world by storm, and has since been released on nearly every platform known to man. For the past five years the st...
Might and Delight photo
Might and Delight

With art like that, I don't even care what Child of Cooper is about


Last night I had the strangest dream
May 26
// Jordan Devore
I don't know what to make of Child of Cooper, an upcoming PC game out of Shelter developer Might and Delight, and that's exciting. It's pitched as a "visual narrative that challenges aspects of normative video game storytel...

Review: Nom Nom Galaxy

May 22 // Chris Carter
Nom Nom Galaxy (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Q-GamesPublisher: Q-GamesReleased: May 12, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Nom Nom takes on the concept of capitalism head-on, with one major resource sought after across the galaxy: soup. You fill the shoes of an Astroworker on behalf of Soupco, a company hellbent on dominating the universe with market share. So hellbent, in fact, that you'll sabotage enemy competitors, and defend your base from deadly onslaughts. So a lot like real life. Jolly capitalism! It's a silly plot, but it sufficiently motivates you for the events that unfold over the course of the story. As for the gameplay, think Terraria. It's a platformer at its core, but it also features a hefty amount of exploration on uncharted planets, seeking out resources, building new structures, and battling the hostile inhabitants within. To survive you'll have to covet pockets of air and utilize weapons like a buzzsaw to chop up foes. The Astroworker also has a number of tricks up its sleeve, like the power to build ladders, and so on. It's pretty open-ended, even in story missions that have succinct objectives. Your ultimate goal in most cases is to build soup machines, gather ingredients, craft the soup, and then ship it out on soup rockets to the rest of the galaxy. A part of the HUD in the top-right corner is dedicated to tracking to your competitors, who are also working "behind the scenes" to ship out more soup than you. It all meshes with the story, and although it gives the proceedings a sense of urgency, it never evokes feelings of dread. [embed]292558:58618:0[/embed] Building out a base is often times an enjoyable experience, as you can design elevators to get around easier, and turrets to defend your base at specific chokepoints. Think of the latter strategy like defending the WWE Championship Belt -- sure, you're at the top, but now you need to keep it that way. It's definitely fresh and rewarding the first few times you do it, but by the 10th or so invasion, it starts to lose its luster. Exploration is often filled with new experiences, including boss fights, but base defense is usually a static affair. This is especially true in sandbox mode, where mission parameters cannot be met, bringing about an end to the cycle of repetition. In addition to the campaign there's also multiplayer on any given map, though I haven't had much success with getting it to work a week after launch on the PS4. Whether this is a result of poor netcode or a lack of community is up in the air, but suffice to say that you likely won't be enjoying this feature that often. There's also a selection of weekly challenges, from straight-up races to combat challenges. Races can feature gadgets like pogo sticks, and are actually pretty fun to play when you're not wrestling with the jumping physics. It's one thing to have weak jumps in an easy-going open world format -- another in a pinpoint-precision challenge. Since they feature online leaderboards and two-player co-op (four online if you can muster them up), they serve as a nice distraction. Nom Nom Galaxy isn't particularly exciting, but it's a whimsical little journey that does a decent job at world building. Despite the fact that people are probably clamoring for "more PixelJunk Monsters" as we speak, I'm glad that Q-Games continues to try new things. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nom Nom Galaxy photo
The great soup war
You really have to give it to Q-Games. With the notable exception of PixelJunk Shooter 2, it has tried something different with pretty much all of its releases, from slot car races, to tower defense, to music visualizers. Not every game is a smash hit, but they all have something unique to offer, including the newly minted Nom Nom Galaxy. 

Review: Til Morning's Light

May 21 // Chris Carter
Til Morning's Light (Android, Fire OS, iOS [reviewed])Developer: WayForwardPublisher: Amazon Game StudiosReleased: May 21, 2015MSRP: $6.99 At the start of the tale, Til Morning's Light feels like it's going to be a typical teenage adventure, with two "popular" girls and an outcast -- otherwise known as our hero, Erica. After being made fun of as a potential fan fiction writer, she's pushed into an abandoned mansion, and the door is boarded up behind her. Those are some pretty sick bullies! It gets even sicker when she realizes that the mansion isn't abandoned after all, and is actually inhabited by ghosts and gross insect-like creatures. Cue the Luigi's Mansion parallels. Armed with only a flashlight out of the gate, Erica will roam about, discovering the secrets of the mansion, filling in various bits and pieces as she goes. She'll go about this by wandering around, which is accomplished by simply holding the screen and moving towards a direction, or tapping where you want to go. Whatever feelings you may have towards touch controls, let me just say, they work wonderfully here. In fact, the entire game is filled with fairly inoffensive touch gimmicks, like rotating pieces of paper around to find more hints (a la Resident Evil), or flicking the screen to search pantries and the like. The whole affair is built upon a really fun atmosphere, as the characters (ghosts, mostly) you meet all have personality, and for the most part, are likable. Their personalities lack depth and the character building is pretty light fare, but it feels more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon, which a lot of potential players will dig. Erica jokes about there being a lot of keys to sift through though, but there's plenty of truth to it. You'll embark upon plenty of fetch quests, with a healthy mix of box puzzles (evoking more Resident Evil parallels) and basic problem-solving. For instance, one old-timey picture has a timestamp on it, which clues you in to the placement of the hour, minute, and second-hands on a nearby clock. If you find yourself stumped, you can pick up coins along the way, which can purchase hints, as well as items from an in-game store. Combat is another big part of the game, taking place on a rhythm-like stage. It's a lot like Elite Beat Agents (but less engaging), starting off with timed taps on the screen, then swipes, and so on. I like the idea in theory, but there's a lot of enemies to fight in the game, and since the battle system isn't super deep, it can occasionally feel tedious. It can get really tough even early on, and as the game states after booting it up, you'll probably want to use headphones. While the mansion isn't exactly open-ended and tends to be a tad too linear at times, you eventually will make your way to more interesting areas -- like the greenhouse wing, which features plenty of holes to dig up for hidden items. It's at this point in the adventure that you'll also unlock the Spectral Phone, which can spot hidden spirits in the wild, with 20 in all to find. That's about as deep as the exploration-angle gets, but it thankfully never gets to the point where it's straight-up dull. Think of a wheel with only one or two spokes on it, and you'll have an idea of what to expect. Til Morning's Light never really goes the full mile with any of its concepts, but they all mesh well together and the presentation is enjoyable enough. I don't think it's going to make headlines or change the horror game in any way, but it's a fun way to spend an afternoon and another respectable showing for Amazon's game division. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Til Morning's Light photo
Nancy Drew meets Luigi's Mansion
WayForward has stuck to doing what it does best -- platformers -- for most of its career. But every so often it branches off and does something a bit different, like Silent Hill: Book of Memories, and now, Til Morning's Light. As an odd mix of Luigi's Mansion filled with rhythm-based combat, it mostly works.

The Black Glove photo
The Black Glove

Ex-Irrational developers shelve The Black Glove


So long, space minotaur
May 11
// Jordan Devore
Steven told us about The Black Glove, a surreal first-person game from former Irrational (BioShock) developers, a couple of times. That was several months ago. The Kickstarter didn't make it. Determined, the team at Day for N...
PixelJunk photo
PixelJunk

More PixelJunk! Nom Nom Galaxy hits PS4 next week


As for PS Vita, 'never say never'
May 07
// Jordan Devore
Q-Games' Nom Nom Galaxy (previously PixelJunk Inc.) is coming to PlayStation 4 on May 12. The game is a meld of platforming, exploration, building, and base defense. Broadly speaking, players are on a mission to expand their ...
Noir photo
Noir

Noir adventure Blues And Bullets on track for an Xbox One release next month


Currently on Steam Greenlight
May 07
// Chris Carter
For some time now, A Crowd of Monsters has been developing Blues and Bullets, and episodic noir adventure game. It will take place in the fictional city of Santa Esperanza, 20 years after Al Capone has been imprisoned, a...
Myst show photo
Myst show

Tell your uncle! Hulu is eying that Myst TV show


Seriously, go tell him
May 06
// Jordan Devore
It sounds like that show based on Myst is one step closer to happening. Legendary Television has the rights already, with Evan Daugherty (Divergent) writing and Matt Tolmach (The Amazing Spider-Man) producing. According to De...

Double Fine Productions aims to rekindle the spirit of adventure

Apr 28 // Alessandro Fillari
"It seems like there's been so many people talking about adventure games, people crowdfunding new adventure games," recalled Tim Schafer, the founder of Double Fine Productions and game director on Broken Age. "It's just that everyone felt that it's okay to talk about it again. We don't have to talk about it like a dead genre anymore, people just throw that word around casually, like 'Oh, you're doing an adventure game?' -- it's become normalized now." With the renewed interest for adventure games in recent years, there's never been a better time to become invested in the once-dormant genre. There was a time when adventure titles were common, and full of optimism, but with a steep decline after the '90s, traditional point-and-click games seemed to have gone by the wayside. But recently, these games have seen a reawakening, thanks in part to developers like Telltale Games and Double Fine outputting a steady flow of titles. And with titles spread across so many platforms (including mobile), they're now more accessible than ever. The development of Broken Age, which is easily the studio's highest-profile project, has been a unique case to watch. Tim Schafer and the team aimed to create a title that was a true throwback to classic LucasArts titles like Day of the Tentacle, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango -- while also taking advantage of today's technology to illustrate visually vibrant and diverse worlds to explore. With the pretty positive reception the first act received last year, people have been anxious to get their on the final part of the game. During my session, I had some time to play the PlayStation 4 version of Broken Age along with Tim Schafer. Though I went in mostly blind, as I opted to wait until the full release was ready to play, I still had a wonderful time experiencing it this way. It felt great with the PS4 on a big screen, and adding to this was a sense of playing with a community that chimed in with thoughts and helped with clues for puzzles. It really added to the fun. Schafer hopes that players who've already cleared Act I will start from scratch now that Act II is out, as he believes many of the references and characters from the first half of the game may have been forgotten by players by now. Though the developers have launched other titles during the three years of Broken Age's development -- such as Grim Fandango Remastered, Costume Quest II, The Cave, and the beta for their second crowdfunded project, Massive Chalice -- firm interest has still been kept on their work for Broken Age. And with good reason. I mean, how many other games in active development have a film crew following them around recording all their successes and missteps for the masses to see? While they had the challenges of their own project to manage, they also had to deal with the high-profile nature of it following the success of the funding campaign. With everyone watching, the developers wanted to ensure they'd knock it out of the park with the completed title and not only live up to expectations but also to set a good example for the future of crowdfunded titles. Because whether they wanted to or not, they essentially became the people to follow and emulate. "We were like, 'We can't obviously walk away from [the Kickstarter project], we made a commitment to fans and to our backers," said the director of Broken Age. "It did feel like the beginning of something, and it did feel like the responsibility to not mess it up, because our game, our studio, and other people's games kind of were depending on it now, and if done well could lead to a whole bunch of things being funded, that couldn't have been funded otherwise. So we definitely felt like there was a lot riding on our shoulders, but we would've stuck with it anyway, because we always finish our games." The success of the Kickstarter certainly felt like a watershed moment for many. During my interview with Brian Fargo last year for Wasteland 2, the success of Double Fine's project sparked a lot of enthusiasm among many of the "old-school" designers looking to explore forgotten genres and franchises. In our chat, Fargo spoke about trust being the cornerstone of the relationship between developers and their community. And I definitely got a sense of that from my visit to Double Fine. There was not only a clear respect for the genre that many of the developers were returning to, but also for the many of backers and fans who have contributed to the title as well. For better or worse, however, the level of transparency has also contributed to scrutiny over the project. While there have been many successes with crowdfunding over the years, there are also many projects that missed the mark, or outright failed to deliver. During our talk, I felt that Schafer was humbled by the process, and even spoke honestly about their own stumbles with limiting content and details to backers only, leaving everyone else out of the loop. One of the important things they wanted viewers of the documentary to see is what exactly the process is like for game creation -- to give them an understanding of the challenges they often faced. "A lot of people make games, and they care so much about what they make," he said while discussing the challenges of development. "There are so many hard tradeoffs they have to make, there are features in the game they wanted but couldn't because there are these other things they wanted even more, and I want everyone to see that process, because I do think that when you ship a game everything you see in it is an active choice by someone, and it is, but sometimes it's a miracle the game got done. [...] I don't know if they need to think about that stuff, but I like to know that at least some people out there know how hard people work, how amazingly difficult or complicated problems are solved everyday, and all the choices they have to make while making a videogame." This definitely struck a chord with me. I'm inclined to think that there are many gamers out there who are unfamiliar with the actual process of game development, and assume many features and key aspects of development can be added in and removed as if they were text on a document. It felt very refreshing to see so much openness about game creation. Though that may be in part to due to the needs of transparency for operating a crowdfunded project, I found that it helped to not only give the developers their own chance to tell their side of the story, but also to humanize the actual process of game creation. While the added publicity of their project added pressure to make sure they did right by fans, it was the kind of pressure they were more than familiar with during their time on past titles from the LucasArts era and in recent years at Double Fine. Over the years, they've developed games that inspire a lot of love and respect from fans, and making sure they deliver was something that kept them on track. "It's definitely pleasurable to succeed and fulfill all those promises, and anyone who's kinda hoping we would fail, it's nice to hear their quiet tears in the night. If you listen quietly you can hear them cry into the night," Schafer said while joking about the messages they get from cynical commentators. "But we always have this pressure of trying to do things that the fans would like anyway, now that the fans are actually funding the game, so it's the same group. But you put that kid of pressure on you anyway so you'd make a good game."   With the complete Broken Age experience available now, this marks the end of a long and unique development period for the studio. Though it has still got another crowdfunded title in the wings, its first is now out in the wild, ready to be experienced by fans and newcomers alike. But as we've seen in the years since Double Fine's success on Kickstarter, there's no shortage of campaigns looking to reignite the same fire that only a few projects can attain. Schafer definitely believes the future is bright for crowdfunded titles. "I think crowdfunding is here to stay," said a confident Schafer. "I think when people realized you could get organized and make things happen that couldn't be made by the old gate-keeper system, I think that'll always be the case. [...] Basically I think things always go crazy on Kickstarter when there's a great story. I think we had a good story that was new, and also people were saying 'Here's this thing we wanted to happen for a while.' Like this new adventure game, and it hasn't happened, but we could fix that and make it ourselves -- and that's really powerful." "But there are a lot of other different kinds of stories, besides old-timers like me going back and doing the genre again. Just people doing projects no one has ever thought of before, but instantly want to happen, I think there'll be these spikes whenever that happens and continue to be more popular. I mean the things about crowdfunding will change and improve, but I don't think it'll ever go away." A good story is important. Whether it comes from a struggling developer looking to strike out on its own with a project that was rejected by countless publishers, or from a group of veteran creators seeking to return to a classic franchise all while doing it their way -- crowdfunding has inspired a lot of people with an idea to put themselves out there and hope to find others who share their vision, and to ultimately realize it. And with Broken Age out now, we're approaching the end of another story from the folks at Double Fine Productions. But as the genre goes, there are always more adventures to be had. It's not often you get to be a part of the revival of a once-dead genre that inspired many to create their own titles, bond with friends and family over the complexity of puzzles, or get caught up in heated debates about what the real ending is for contentious titles. As the name of the genre states, an adventure is an exciting and hazardous journey into the unknown, and the developers of Broken Age experienced just that with their first foray into crowdfunded game development. Regardless of how you feel about Broken Age as a whole, or whether the developers at Double Fine made the right choices, it's hard to deny that it all made for one of the most interesting development periods for a game in years. Whether you view Double Fine Productions as the underdog or not, it still made for an engaging story. And aren't those the ones worth telling?  
Double Fine interview photo
Everyone loves a good story
Who could forget the great Kickstarter boom of 2012? You remember, right? Out of nowhere, this website called Kickstarter suddenly became a focal point for established developers and indies looking to crowdfund the next big t...

Review: Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure

Apr 24 // Chris Carter
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (PC [reviewed], PSP) Developer: Nihon FalcomPublisher: Nihon Falcom (JP), Mastiff (US), 505 Game Street (EU)Released: December 25, 2004 (JP) / March 30, 2015 (US)MSRP: $9.99 From the very moment I booted up Gurumin I fell in love. It's so damn cheery and bright, and that old school retro spirit of adventure is alive and well. With its Dreamcast-style visuals, It brings me back to that whimsical era of gaming where gameplay and fun factor took precedent over all else. You'll play as a young girl named Parin, who sports a giant drill to fight off evil phantoms and help cute "monsters" (yep, monsters are good in Gurumin) who can only been seen by children. Parin is adorable, as she's not only a formidable heroine, but spouts hilarious dialogue at every turn, voiced by an enthusiastic Amber Hood. The entire game including the hub town gives me a big Brave Fencer Musashi vibe, which is a huge bonus for me. At the start of the narrative you'll meet a group of monsters as well as the core phantom group, led by a powerful prince. As the cast starts to fill up you'll find faces voiced by greats like Quinton Flynn, Dee Bradley Baker, and Tara Strong. Every character, good or evil, is memorable, and the campaign plays out in that wonderful storybook kind of way. [embed]290701:58290:0[/embed] Despite its cutesy veneer, Gurumin has a fairly deep combat system. It boasts charge attacks, timed combos, dashes, launchers and aerial raves, and a few more powers as you unlock them. One of the best mechanics is the air dash system, where you can constantly jump off enemies as long as you can lock-on. It's satisfying as hell, and the game gives you an ample amount of open and varied environments in which to test them out. It does have controller support on PC, but I have multiple issues with both the 360 and Xbox One controllers in terms of input lag on the game's menus. It's not a dealbreaker as the emphasis is on action, but it was annoying every so often when I wanted to save my game. It's a good thing Gurumin has a "save anywhere" scheme. It has a lot of the key elements you'd expect from an older JRPG like a world map and equipment system, but it doesn't go overboard. Getting to where you need to be is relatively easy, there's no grinding, and gear nuances begin and end with the head slot. But with these elements in place, it manages to elevate the game above your standard action title, especially when you start getting into some of the gear bonuses that compliment individual styles, like extra defense or leeching health. Gurumin hosts a lengthy 15-to-30-hour campaign, which has plenty of extras predicated on replay value, like multiple difficulty modes, extra sidequests, a new ending, and a hunt for every item. Thankfully, the additional difficulties alter enemy placements and tactics to incentivize multiple playthroughs. I wish there were something a little more out there beyond a few minigames, but it's more than enough to keep you interested for quite a while. I can recommend Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure to just about every action enthusiast out there. Outside of some antiquated elements dating back to the fact that it is an older game at heart, it dares to be positive at nearly every turn, and you won't be able to play it without a smile on your face. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Gurumin review photo
Monstrously fun
Luckily, growing up I had a lot of friends who were either from Japan or were heavily into eastern games -- so the opportunity to play imports, including the coveted Radiant Silver Gun, was always an option.  Gurumi...

Don't Starve Together photo
Don't Starve Together

Don't Starve Together adds Reign of Giants DLC for free


Still isn't out of its testing phase though
Apr 21
// Chris Carter
Don't Starve was released all the way back in 2013, but developer Klei Entertainment still isn't done with it yet. In addition to the Reign of Giants expansion/DLC in 2014, Don't Starve Together, a multiplayer game currently...
SteamWorld Heist photo
SteamWorld Heist

SteamWorld Heist developers offering Early Access-like 'Ambassador' program


Interesting
Apr 21
// Chris Carter
The turn-based SteamWorld Heist is currently in development by way of Image & Form, and it looks a lot different compared to SteamWorld Dig. The developer wanted to give us something "completely unexpected," and I think ...
Adventure Time photo
Adventure Time

Adventure Time goes 3D in Adventure Time: Finn and Jake Investigations


For pretty much every platform
Apr 21
// Chris Carter
[Update: check out the new video showing off some early footage.] Oh hey, another Adventure Time game. Wait a minute, this one isn't a 2D homage by WayForward or a weird free-to-play mobile game? It's a legit 3D adventu...
Charnel House photo
Charnel House

The Charnel House Trilogy pulling in to the station April 16


It's a game about trains. Prepare for puns
Apr 14
// Joe Parlock
If I were a smarter man, I’d be railing to fit as many train puns in to this news as is possible, but I will conduct myself properly and keep us on track. Richard and Alice developers Owl Cave Games will be releasing it...

Review: Affordable Space Adventures

Apr 04 // Patrick Hancock
Affordable Space Adventures (Wii U)Developer: KnapNok Games, NifflasPublisher: KnapNok GamesRelease Date: April 9, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Affordable Space Adventures is all about atmosphere. The entire game is dedicated to immersing gamers into the universe the developers have created, and it works brilliantly. The player (or players) are first shown an informational video by Uexplore, the company that creates and monitors spacecrafts. From there, any and all plot is revealed by simply playing the game. It immediately becomes obvious from the first level's surroundings that something has gone wrong and that you're now stranded on the planet Spectaculon. Luckily, according to Uexplore, Spectaculon has "no dangers*."  That is not the case. So, the only thing to do on Spectaculon is to explore, and hopefully find a way off the planet. The Small Craft™ is pretty banged up, but slowly starts to repair itself over time. As new things get repaired, a quick system message introduces how it works, and then it is up to the player to figure out how it helps them progress through the game's obstacles. Don't be fooled, there is story progression, but detailing any of it here would ruin it. It's all told through gameplay and a single ending cutscene and I can't comment enough about how the game never breaks its immersion.  [embed]289938:58054:0[/embed] Affordable Space Adventures is a true two-screen experience. The television displays the Small Craft™ and its environment, while the Wii U GamePad displays the ship's many systems. One can change the output levels of various ship systems like thrust, stabilization, weight, among others that become available as one makes progress. Each system has an effect on the ship's output levels of heat, electricity, and sound. This makes the player truly feel like a pilot, since many times these systems need to be adjusted on the fly.  One of the first things available, and perhaps the most crucial aspect of the Small Craft™, is the Scanner. Using the Scanner, players can scan alien artifacts to learn more about them. Specifically, what each artifact will react to. Some will react to sound, others to heat or electricity, some react to all three. To bypass the artifact, one can reduce their output in those three categories below a certain threshold, displayed on the GamePad. For example, if an alien artifact reacts to any level of sound or heat, players can begin to thrust, and then completely turn off the thruster before approaching the artifact to simply cruise by undetected. Alternatively, if one needs to do the same thing in a downwards direction, they can simply turn off everything, plummet downwards, and re-ignite the engine once their past the artifact. Just uh... be careful with that second one. The brilliant thing about Affordable Space Adventures is that it doesn't ever break its dedication and tell you how you should be using something. The initial system message makes sense within the universe, since it would need to tell pilots how to use certain mechanisms. The game never goes "Hey player! Why not try sliding on the ground past this enemy, with all your systems off? Great job!" It leaves them to their own devices and allows them to figure it out themselves.  The progression is flawlessly done. A new system on the Small Craft™ will be repaired, then a few levels will instruct you the extent of those systems and the various ways they apply to the world. Then, a new system will be introduced, and the cycle repeats. However, just like my math teacher used to say, nothing is ever left behind. Mechanics become layered on top of one another, forcing one to use what they learned previously in addition to the new mechanic. Naturally, the levels towards the end of the game will especially press players to utilize everything at their disposal to pass harder and harder obstacles. There is an easier difficulty available, but the standard difficulty is a good mix of challenge and progression. In addition to the difficulty, the design of the entire game feels just right. The temperature mechanic that is introduced later on does feel somewhat confusing compared to the others, but other than that every mechanic feels natural and easy to comprehend. Puzzles organically get harder with no discernible extreme spikes, so you should feel a strong sense of progression constantly throughout.  In multiplayer, up to two other people can join in and control different aspects of the ship. The game adjusts the responsibilities based on how many people are playing, but flying solo is easily the preferred method of play. Divvying up the responsibilities feels more like each person is playing a fraction of the game instead of adding a fresh take on the experience. Communication plays a large part, but it just doesn't add anything to the core gameplay. One individual in particular controls the scanner/flashlight, which is certainly an important job, but only controlling that is incredibly dull. Two players feels better than three, but both feel worse than solo play. Many of the puzzles are physics-based, and I did encounter some wonkiness during my playthrough. There were a couple of occasions where items got stuck and could not be moved, forcing me to restart the level. Luckily, each individual level is never too long and doesn't require one to repeat very much if something happens. The entire game will take people around five hours to complete, and there's hardly a dull moment throughout. The sound design deserves special mention here, since it really elevates the atmosphere to an incredible level. Sound is muffled/off when underwater, enemies creeping in have an especially eerie tone play, the bweeps and bwoops from the GamePad console are spot-on, everything feels and sounds perfect. A lot of what makes Affordable Space Adventure so endearing is the little things. For example, if it is raining or if you have just exited a wet situation, the Small Craft's™ windshield wipers activate. Or the fact that the player has to start the engine and all other systems manually if it has been deactivated for any reason. Even the loading screens are pages from the manual that comes with the Small Craft™, including Uexplore's mascot, Splory. All these small things go a long way to keep one interested. Affordable Space Adventures is a game that can only work on the Wii U. Its two-screen experience is exactly what the system was designed for and the result is a unique breath of fresh air that might actually force people to hold that breath in certain situations. The multiplayer doesn't pan out too well and there were some physics glitches, but this is a game that Wii U owners need to get their hands on. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Affordable Space Adv. photo
What a deal!
It isn't too often that a game makes great use of what makes a console unique. More often publishers and developers are looking to get it out on as many platforms as possible, which makes console-specific ideas feel tacked on...

The Perils of Man photo
The Perils of Man

New adventure title from former LucasArts dev comes to Steam later this month


The Perils of Man releasing April 28 on PC and Mac
Apr 03
// Alessandro Fillari
Last year, I got the chance to chat with the developers behind The Perils of Man, an episodic time-traveling adventure title from the minds of Bill Tiller and Gene Mocsy. With a pedigree of work ranging from classic adv...
SteamWorld Dig photo
SteamWorld Dig

Mining adventure SteamWorld Dig coming to Xbox One next


New Easter egg included
Mar 25
// Jordan Devore
SteamWorld Dig is worth investigating if you enjoy the super-fun drilling action of Mr. Driller but stink at the game or otherwise get overwhelmed before long. Image & Form is bringing its robotic Western adventure to yet...

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