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Review: Magic Duels: Origins

Jul 31 // Caitlin Cooke
Magic Duels: Origins (PC [reviewed], iOS)Developer: Stainless Games Ltd.Publisher: Wizards of the Coast LLCReleased: July 29, 2015MSRP: Free As its name implies, the story mode within Magic Duels: Origins centers on the early lives of well-known Planeswalkers in the series -- including Jace, Chandra, and Liliana. Each backstory is broken down into five chapters, which detail coming-of-age moments in their lives before becoming full-fledged Planeswalkers. Chapters begin with a short prologue and art piece which set the stage for the upcoming duel, and upon completion end in a similar vein. Battle Mode is the main attraction, containing the normal modes you’d find in any Magic game -- Versus battle (vs Human), Solo battle (vs AI), and Two-headed Giant (2v2). Solo battles come in three flavors -- easy, medium, hard -- however, you’re not able to select your AI opponent (the deck is random). It’s also unclear how the matching system works for the Versus battle system, since the servers were down the majority of the time and I wasn’t able to test it out. I also found it unfortunate that there are no extra fun modes present, as was common in the DoTP series (like Planechase or Archenemy), which I personally miss. In Origin’s free-to-play model, players collect coins via completion of Story and Battle duels or by shelling out cash. Coins are then used to trade in for booster packs, which are added to your overall collection. A single booster pack runs for 150 coins, which equals roughly $2.00 if you were to purchase the coins yourself. You can also buy coins in bulk at a discount, going all the way up to 7,500 coins for $39.99. Origins makes it surprisingly easy to collect coins -- completing a Planeswalker’s story (5 duels) is enough to get you a pack, or dueling a random human roughly 7 times could net the same amount. Quests, which are essentially achievements, rotate in and out and dish out coins when certain stipulations are met (for example: win two duels with a forest/mountain combo deck, put 20 +1/+1 counters on a creature, et cetera). After only a few hours of playing through some of the story, a few battles, and earning Quest achievements, I had enough coins to unlock 3 or 4 packs. I was surprised that the built-in cards were fairly solid (and a lot of new ones, to boot). Origins also features Planeswalker cards, an added layer of challenge which is also a first for Magic’s online games. It didn’t take me long to build some decent decks after opening a few booster packs, although with 251 total cards and only 6 cards in a pack collecting them all seems daunting. Deck-building has come a long way since the Duels of the Planeswalkers series was first introduced. In Origins, the two options are to build everything from scratch or to use the deck wizard. Building a deck from scratch gives players pretty much any freedom they need when building a deck -- it even has a nice filter system, allowing players to sort by parameters including rarity, type, and cost. Swapping cards in and out is pretty seamless, and I like that I could go through my booster cards to pick out the ones I want and have the game do the math and complete the rest of the deck for me. The deck wizard is much more restrictive, but probably the best option for brand new players. After selecting mana types, it walks players through three steps and explains which cards to choose along the way. Being a casual player who doesn’t really enjoy building decks, I actually found the deck wizard to be even more overwhelming than the “build from scratch” option. It’s oddly restrictive, as it doesn’t really give you much room to look at your available cards -- each step only displays a handful of cards to choose from at any given time. Although Origins has a number of viable options for deck-building, there were a few strange occurrences I noticed when building decks. When using autocomplete in the deck-builder, sometimes odd choices would be made -- for example, a lone forest land card would be slotted in when no forest mana was needed, or a card that calls for enchantments when none were found in the deck. Origins also makes it difficult to rebuild a deck if it was originally made with the wizard, as you’re not able to switch freely between modes. This means that if you get new cards in your booster pack that you want to add to your decks built with the wizard, you’re pretty much out of luck. My attempts to join a multiplayer duel over the course of two days were pretty much thwarted with network errors, which is a real bummer seeing how playing with actual people is the crux of playing Magic. I also found that occasionally the game would boot me out of the server entirely, rendering my account virtually useless. Hopefully Stainless will be able to sort out the server issues, as the game does not allow you to collect or spend coins, even in Story mode or AI battles. This is quite frustrating since the main purpose of the game is to collect these coins to spend them on booster packs and improve your deck. I also found it disappointing that you’re not able to earn coins via playing with friends. I’m assuming this is because it would be much easier to cheat the system, however, even giving small rewards via Quests, or a small amount of coins seems like it would encourage more friendly duels versus people taking advantage. Despite their servers not being ready, I feel Magic Duels: Origins brings the best of both worlds together, finally: a fun way to learn and play Magic with the competitiveness of collecting and putting together strong decks for duels in a fairly balanced system. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt, hoping that the server issues improve with time, but in the meantime playing through the story and battling AI is still entertaining. Those new to Magic will find it easy to dive in and learn the intricacies of deck-building, while more experienced players should finally have the customization and card variety they’ve been asking for. Nothing beats the real thing (playing in person) for a lot of expert Magic players; however, I feel like this is a big step in the right direction. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Magic Duels: Origins photo
Free-to-play done right
My addiction to Magic began with the first Duels of the Planeswalkers game for the 360 back in 2009. Although it had its shortcomings (mana tapping, anyone?), the DoTP series created an accessible way for new (or rusty) playe...

Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is now on Mac and Linux


Say Uruk-Hai to the new players
Jul 31
// Joe Parlock
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was by far one of the best games of 2014. With great combat, abilities, and a really interesting Nemesis system, I was really surprised by what I was expecting to be a pretty generic Batman: Ark...
Race the Sun photo
Race the Sun

Race the Sun is fantastic, fun, and free today on PC


Can't beat that price
Jul 30
// Brett Makedonski
They say that going solar-powered is a cheap and efficient use of renewable energy. Solar-powered endless runner Race the Sun is the most cost-effective it'll ever be, but for today only. Like the game, it's over when t...
Flywrench photo
Flywrench

Flywrench is flapping its way to Steam


From the makers of Nidhogg
Jul 30
// Jordan Devore
I know Flywrench more for its cameo in Super Meat Boy than its own game. You too? Let's be pals. Messhof is retooling Flywrench for a release on Steam (Windows, Mac) "in a month" and I'm so down for the Daedelus-curated sound...
FNAF dev is a nice guy photo
FNAF dev is a nice guy

Five Nights at Freddy's dev delivers motivational speech


Five Nights and seven bears ago...
Jul 29
// Jed Whitaker
Love it or hate it, the Five Nights at Freddy's series is a roaring success, and is surely raking in even more cash after the recently released fourth game. Developer Scott Cawthon has taken to the Steam Community forums to answer the haters and inspire his fans. 
Rocket League free map photo
Rocket League free map

Take a gander at the upcoming Rocket League map


Inspired by Utopia from SARPBC
Jul 28
// Patrick Hancock
Rocket League is taking off like a, well, rocket I guess. The simple complexity seems to really be jiving with a lot of people, and I couldn't be happier. As a big fan of Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars, ...

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...

OlliOlli 2 photo
OlliOlli 2

OlliOlli 2 [skateboard trick]s its way to PC this summer


We can't nail when it'll land
Jul 27
// Brett Makedonski
Up until this point, OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood has only shown off its sick tricks on PlayStation platforms. Impressive as they may be, developer Roll7 will soon prove the game has more up its sleeve than just PS4 a...
Steam photo
Steam

I miss Monkey Ball, so I'll probably play Polyball


Watch the trailer
Jul 27
// Jordan Devore
I miss Super Monkey Ball so much. Granted, I still have my copy, and I'm into Monkey Target now more than ever, but a proper new console game would also be nice, y'know? If it ended up being junk, I could always just return t...
Steam photo
Steam

A major Steam security flaw that made stealing accounts easy has been patched


The Steam Guard fell asleep at its post
Jul 27
// Joe Parlock
You know Steam Guard? The thing that’s supposed to give your Steam account more protection by using two-step verification? Turns out that was part of a major security bug, which allowed hackers to take peoples accounts ...
Sup Holmes photo
Sup Holmes

Sup Holmes sneaks a peek at the developer of Screencheat


Sup Holmes every Sunday at 4pm EST!
Jul 26
// Jonathan Holmes
[Sup Holmes is a weekly talk show for people that make great videogames. It airs live every Sunday at 4pm EST on YouTube, and can be found in Podcast form on Libsyn and iTunes.] [Update: We tried having N...

Woah Dave! is a success, Space Dave! coming soon

Jul 26 // Jonathan Holmes
You'd think that success was what motivated the studio to create Dave's all-new, upcoming outer-space adventure Space Dave!, but that's not actually the case. Jason went on to say he thinks "...Space Dave! would most likely still have happened even if Woah Dave! hadn't done well. The reason being is that MiniVisions games are largely driven, in all honesty, by us making games that we want to play ourselves. They're all kinds of experimental." "We're never sure if everyone else will be as in to these ideas as we are, but the passion on our end to make it is there, so we kinda roll with that. Also, probably worth nothing that Space Dave! is a surprisingly different formula, but still 100% a 'Dave' game." Choice Provisions is planning to reveal Space Dave! to the world at PAX Prime this August.
Woah Dave! photo
Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it
[Space Dave! Box in progress box art by GLIΓCH RIΓUΛL] Woah Dave! is a gaming underdog story if ever there was one. Inspired by his young son's passion of the original Mario Bros., developer Jason Cirillo's...

Review: Five Nights at Freddy's 4

Jul 24 // Nic Rowen
Five Nights at Freddy's 4 (PC)Developer: Scott Cawthon Publisher: Scott Cawthon Released: July 23, 2015MSRP: $8.00 The setup of Five Nights 4 intentionally replicates the design of the first game. The original cast is back, their avenues of attack directly mimic their first outing, and the general layout of your besieged room is the same, making this entry feel like closing a loop. But, this time instead of haunting a creepy knock-off Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, they're spooking up your home instead. There are no more security cameras to monitor, no more batteries to fuss over. You're just a little kid with a flashlight, scampering between the two doors into his room and whatever might be lurking in his closet (or right behind him). The type of sense you rely on has been inverted: instead of keeping an eye on things, this time you'll be listening for whatever is out there. When you creep up to a door you have to pause, wait a moment, and listen for any kind of breathing or noise in the darkened hallway. If you hear something, you need to shut the door as fast as you possibly can. If it's clear, shining your flashlight down the hall will ward off anything stalking towards you. If you're wrong though, and the monster is right there, and you shine your flashlight right into its toothy mechanical face, well, it's is the last thing you'll ever do. What this means mechanically, is that you need to absolutely crank up the volume to reliably hear things. Headphones are nearly required. Of course, the jump scare death animations are as loud as ever. Do you see where this is going? Sonic fucking boom. If you want to know if this game made me yelp, or jump, or spill my coffee and send me trudging to the kitchen for a roll of paper towels while I swore angrily under my breath -- yes, it did. Of course it did. It's a cycle of protracted periods of peering into the darkness and intensely listening to absolutely nothing interrupted with SUDDEN. LOUD. JUMP. SCARES.   [embed]296612:59683:0[/embed] It's an easy, dull, and obvious trick. The final refuge for a game that has run out of any other ways to scare people. Don't think of anything new and clever, forget introducing any kind of gameplay twist, or carefully establishing tension or mood. Just take the basic components, crank up the contrast, pump up the volume, and jam the severity. It's trite, lazy even. I'm not sure how the inevitable Five Nights at Freddy's 5 will be able to top this kind of “subtlety.” Maybe it will come with a pair of electrodes you attach to your testicles, so it can administer 5,000 volts of spookiness every time something goes “boo.” *BZZZZZT* What, did that make you jump? Sissy. There are a few other tricks. Monsters introduced in later nights operate with slightly different rules, and by the time the fifth night rolls around, you'll be sprinting all over the bedroom trying to keep things locked down. Unlike previous games though, the rules don't feel tight. Things are sloppier, with more guesswork and chance baked into the experience. When I died, I often had no idea what I did wrong. And if I'm being honest, when I succeeded I wasn't always sure why. Frustrating deaths and unearned victories are equally unsatisfying in their own way. The animatronics' logic was never clear enough to me to come up with a reliable strategy to keep them at bay. I supposed that could be intentional, a way of always keeping even seasoned players on their toes, but I think that's giving the design credit it doesn't deserve. More than any other Freddy game so far, I just felt exasperated and annoyed playing through Five Nights 4.   The emphasis on carefully listening for every creak and groan in the darkness isn't just a lame way to manufacture easy scares. It's also a way to ruin one of the greatest pleasures I've had with the series, namely playing the game with an audience. While others sneer at Freddy's for being pure Twitch/YouTube bait, I've always understood it. I get why these games are fun to watch because I know how well they play in the living room with a couple of spectators and rotating victims. There is a real joy in playing these games with someone else or two in the room to watch you screw up. To have a small chorus whispering “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit...” behind your shoulder as the tension mounts. Of having someone to exchange nervous glances with when the doors stop working and it's 5 AM going on 6 AM and there is just the tiniest chance that you might roll over to the next day before Freddy pops out and – “OH GOD HE'S IN THE ROOM!” Those were moments I missed while I played Five Nights 4. What I'd think about while I was all hunched up in my chair with a pair of headphones clamped on tight. The memories that made me feel like a traitor whenever I violently shushed anyone in the room who made even the slightest distracting peep. However you played the previous games, know that this Five Nights is purely for the lone wolves and streamers out there who don't mind strapping on their pair of overly-expensive, sound-canceling Beats By Dre. But enough about how I resent the bargain-basement scares and penny-ante tricks the game uses to provoke a response from you. Enough about how this game is profoundly annoying and deeply unimaginative on a mechanical level. As a person who has followed the series since its start, the most damning part of this boondoggle of a game is how it absolutely folds under the pressure of its own established narrative. After all the teasing and hints, the essay-length forum posts and amazing fan-made theory videos that manage to be more entertaining than the games themselves, the promise that THIS Freddy's will be the one to finally answer the series long-standing questions -- it completely flubs the landing. All of the world building and story momentum generated by the first three games lurches to a disappointing stop, like a wind-up car gummed up with carpet lint. Yes, the infamous “bite of '87” is finally addressed in Five Nights 4. But like so many smoke monsters and Cylon replicants, the mystery was always better than any answer the series could reasonably provide. You see it, say “meh” to yourself, and retroactively wonder what the big deal was in the first place. The fact that this kind of anti-climax is common doesn't excuse Five Nights 4 of its wet noodle narrative and limp “reveals.” If anything, all of those previous failures should have been taken as cautionary tales, the value of mystery should be known and respected by now. Some questions are better left unanswered. It doesn't help that the way the game wraps up heavily implies that the events it depicts should not be taken literally. Yes, the tired old “it was all a dream/nightmare, or maybe a metaphor, or like a weird trippy memory, I don't know” trope is dusted off once again, so nothing is particularly clear. That's without getting into how the chaotic mass of prequels, reveals, and reinterpretations the games have constructed now threatens to collapse into a superdense black hole of no-longer-giving-a-shit at this point. I almost broke out a whiteboard trying to figure out the series' mythology at this point. “Okay, so this game is set in '87 to see the infamous 'bite,' around the same time as the prequel events in Five Nights 2. But it's also BEFORE the murders of the children that haunt Five Nights 1 and what you find out happens with Springtrap in Five Nights 3. The Purpleman doesn't really have a role, but he does show up in a cameo. Wait, are the kids in the last cutscene the eventual murder victims? Oh god, I'm seeing spots. Is this a migraine, or am I having a stroke? Do I need to call 911? If I die, are they going to find my body splayed out in front of a computer with a bunch of crazy notes about Five Nights at Freddy's? Am I going to end up as some shitty urban myth about how Five Nights totally killed a reviewer?” This game is stressful in all the wrong ways. The now familiar Atari-esque mini-games appear between chapters to deliver their payload of exposition and spooks, but all the menace of those scenes has been lanced and drained by repetition. There is a new sort of mini-game between nights where you play Weeping Angel stop-'n'-go with an animated plush doll. Stop him on a specific mark and you can knock two hours off the next night. Let him get too close or run out of time and, you guessed it, JUMP SCARE! It's the one new addition Five Nights 4 brings to the table, and it feels like the shadow of a reflection of an afterthought. You don't need to play this game. Even if you've been invested in the series up till now, it's just going to disappoint you and rankle your nerves. The interesting gimmicks have been completely rung out of the franchise; this game is imaginatively bone dry. The louder, nastier jump scares that are left are just a crass attempt to try and distract you from the lack of innovation. The story, the ongoing mystery of Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria, and the strange goings-on surrounding it are best left to your personal headcanon or favorite fan theory. You'd be better served experiencing Five Nights at Freddy's 4 the way it was obviously intended to be enjoyed. By going on YouTube and watching some twenty-five-year-old, dressed like a fourteen-year-old, scream and cry his way through the game like a seven-year-old. The game truly has come full circle. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Five Nights 4 Review photo
This guest has overstayed its welcome
Well, it's been a few months, time for another Five Night at Freddy's game I suppose. I don't like to be cynical. I don't volunteer to review games, and pay for them out of my own pocket, hoping that they'll disappoint me and...

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Friday Night Fights - For Da Kids


Game with the Dtoid Community!
Jul 24
// Mike Martin
My tank is empty and it's been a rough week. Have some dirty limericks! Share your own below! There once was a fellow McSweenyWho spilled some gin on his weenie Just to be couth He added vermouth Then slipped his girlfriend a...
Five Nights 4 photo
Five Nights 4

Five Nights at Freddy's 4 released early


Surprise! But not really!
Jul 23
// Jordan Devore
The new and almost certainly not final installment of Five Nights at Freddy's has released a couple of weeks earlier than expected. It's available for $7.99 on Steam. Given the events of the last game, Five Nights at Freddy's...
Feist lives! photo
Feist lives!

Hot damn! Feist hits Steam soon and it looks phenomenal


I had feared the worst
Jul 21
// Jordan Devore
"Feist isn't dead! Aiming for a 2011 release." That was a headline I wrote in January of 2011 and, no, I wasn't talking about the singer. I was referencing an enchanting, long-in-development game about a creature who must esc...
KotOR II update photo
KotOR II update

Knights of the Old Republic II is now even better on Steam


New update, playable on Mac and Linux
Jul 21
// Jordan Devore
Aspyr has a real pleasant surprise for Star Wars fans today. The company released an update for Knights of the Old Republic II on Steam that helps ensure the Obsidian Entertainment-developed RPG will live on for another decad...
ESO photo
ESO

$12 Elder Scrolls Online deal returns in GMG Summer Sale encore


All 1,400+ game deals return as well
Jul 21
// Dealzon
Update: Interestingly enough GMG is limiting copies of ESO to 1 per customer. Remember that $12 ESO deal from 9 days ago? We sure do -- the game actually went "out of stock" halfway through the sale last week. (Yep, digital p...
Big Fish Legend photo
Big Fish Legend

Game on Steam rumoured to have been stolen by seller


All looks a bit fishy
Jul 21
// Joe Parlock
[Update: It appears as though this may well have been an unfortunate misunderstanding, as the save location on the version of Big Fish Legend available from Alawar actually mentions Igry.ru. This screenshot showing the locati...
Steam Early Access photo
Steam Early Access

Remember Pang? The Bug Butcher sure does


Calling all Buster Bros.
Jul 20
// Jordan Devore
Capcom's good old bubble-popping shooter Super Buster Bros. (Super Pang outside of America) lives on as the inspiration for The Bug Butcher, a newly-released game on Steam Early Access. As the butcher, you'll avoid attacks an...

Review: The Magic Circle

Jul 20 // Nic Rowen
The Magic Circle (PC)Developer: QuestionPublisher: QuestionMSRP: $19.99Released: July 9, 2015  The Magic Circle (the aforementioned meta-game inside of this real life title) is Ishmael “Starfather” Gilder's brainchild. The long awaited sequel to his beloved fantasy game 20 years in the making, mocked as vaporware by detractors and seen as the holy grail by his fans. A monochromatic fantasy world (that was a Doom-like sci-fi game for the first ten years of development) and probably the worst game ever made. Until you come along that is. Inserted into the game as a nameless play-tester, you see the drama play out in front of you. A world made of patchwork fixes and temporary assets while the developers, represented as giant floating eyes, loom overhead, changing things by whim. If the project wasn't already doomed by constant redesigns, oversized egos, and feature-creep, things take a surreal turn when something reaches out to you. Something that lives inside the game. Something that seems vaguely sinister, with its own agenda, an axe to grind against “the gods” as he calls the developers. What is it? A rampant A.I. that's somehow grown deep inside the mess of code? A machine spirit? You don't find out its exact nature until fairly deep into the game, and even then there is room for interpretation. What's important is what it shows you, how to get elbow deep into the guts of the code and rewrite it to your liking. How to use a simple but powerful editor to take the legs off one creature and stick them onto another. How to turn an enemy into a friend into an enemy of your other enemies. How to remake the world to your design. Then he sets you loose, a poltergeist in the programming, hacking in features, resurrecting cut content. Sometimes you play the part of a technological necromancer, finding content in the limbo of vaporware and dragging it back into the game. More often, you're Dr. Frankenstein, ripping bits and pieces off of creatures and stitching them back together to make your own beautiful little monster babies. The result has a pleasing effect, satellite dishes and broken bits of star ships poking out of the cliched castle walls of Ishmeal's would-be opus, an army of weaponized mushroom men following at your heel. Once the tutorials are over and the rather unorthodox premise established, the middle chunk of the game opens up into a sandbox that has you solving puzzles and indirectly slaying monsters by breaking all the rules. The flexibility of the editor, what you can do with a few swapped abilities here, a slight behavioral shift there, is astounding. Many of the puzzles (such as they are) can be solved in so many ways that I was almost always unsure if I did it the “right” way, or if I just bent and broke things until the pieces all fell where I hoped they would. I love that feeling, it's beautiful when games that are confident enough in themselves to not only let that happen, but applaud the player for doing so. There is a light tone to the whole affair. The various developers are chatty, with some great performances turned in from James Urbaniak (better known as Dr. Venture from the Venture Bros.), Ashley Burch, and others. There are audio diaries to discover, developer commentaries from a defunct version of the game to collect, and change logs detailing the carnage of the development process scattered around, all of which reveal not only what a comedy of errors The Magic Circle has become, but also the various neurosis and flaws of the team members. The comedic tone of the writing and performances feed right back into the gameplay. Silly decisions abound, like the developers (the real ones) always went with the fun idea rather than the easy or clear one. For example, there is no upper limit on how many creatures you can have following around you at once, so things can, and likely will, easily devolve into chaos as you walk around with a fire-spewing zoo trailing behind you. Similarly, there are no limits on how you can swap abilities so it's easy to make truly ridiculous creatures, like a flying demon puppy with a railgun mouth. But aside from the obvious circus-show of zaniness, there are tons of small jokes and clever winks. Little details like picking up copies of your own avatar to increase your health (represented by placeholder art that looks like a cylinder with arms). Being able to re-name every creature you hack so you can make your own fun. At one point I ended up changing the name of the game to “Duke Nukem Presents The Magic Circle” and I giggled at my handiwork off and on for the rest of the night. It's just fun to tinker around in. The objectives of the game are purposely vague -- you need to wrest control of the title away from its current creators, how you're supposed to accomplish that as a disembodied phantom inside the game isn't clearly laid out – but they don't have to be. Exploring the half-built world of The Magic Circle, this pitiful thing, marked with the visible scars of development notes, vestigial remains of deleted content still clinging to it, concept art hastily plastered over the seams, is the meat of the experience. One you wouldn't want to rush through even if you knew exactly what you were supposed to do. And one, that even with a healthy amount of goofing around and experimentation, is over too soon. The sandbox is tiny, and once the game enters its final chapters there is no coming back to it. While The Magic Circle has a compelling third act and some neat surprises to throw at the player (sometimes with the intent of harm), it's hard not to feel like the game is a little thin on the whole. While the central conceit is fun, you don't spend as much time playing with it as you'd hope. The runtime is already short, and a good chunk of it is taken up with monologues that occasionally veer into full on lectures as well as multiple epilogues. For a game that is about grand ideas betrayed by shaky execution, it's tempting to explain the lack of substantive content as more sneaky meta-commentary, but while the idea makes me smirk, I don't think it's good enough to give the game a free-pass. But The Magic Circle isn't just about the gameplay, it has a message. A whole lot to say about what it's like to make games in the modern video game industry. The stresses it places on people, the incorrect assumptions creators have about their work, and the untamed expectations of a judgmental audience. Despite being a commentary on the industry, The Magic Circle isn't gauche enough to single out a specific target. Ishmeal is a composite of several flawed, egotistical developers who are big on hype, hazy on details, and always ready to blame someone else for their shortcomings. There are shades of Molyneux in the mix, flickers of Cage, a sprinkling of Garriot, and a heady musk of Romero to round it out. Coda, an ardent fan of Ishmeal's former works who worms her way onto the team, represents the new era of the participant fan; The streamer, the wiki editor, the super-secret pre-beta fan tester, and all the good and ill that's come along with that shift. Her passion and reverence for the virtual worlds she's dedicated her life to is engaging and even a little familiar -- we're all enthusiasts around here. But, her obsessiveness and the sheer gall of her skewed priorities quickly become unsettling. Beneath all the fan-girl glee is a shrewd, nasty sense of undeserved entitlement and ownership, the sort of overly-invested fan that will send shamelessly ego-stroking love letters to a developer one day and thinly veiled death threats the next. Less well defined is Evelyn Maze, a former eSports celebrity who is unwillingly tied to Ishmeal's sinking boat through contractual chains (a clumsy way of explaining her combativeness while dodging the question of “why doesn't she just quit?”). She represents the “games are for playing” kind of gamer who has no patience for cut-scenes and a thirst for competition. A philosophy which directly collides with the “Starfather's” vision of a story-heavy RPG yarn with no combat. As Maze is the unofficial second-in-command of the studio's disorganized hierarchy (that seems to work like a hippie-commune as run by Joseph Stalin) her and Ishmeal's constant bickering results in a lot of flushed efforts and confusion on the part of the team, right in line with some of the horror stories we've heard about the industry the real world. And somewhere in there is you, simultaneously gawking at the car crash while pouring more gasoline on it. Are you just another player in this world? A different sort of creator? Are you sabotaging this whole thing, or just giving it the sharp kick it needs? The problem with talking about a game that aims to surprise is it's hard to get specific without ruining the experience. But I guarantee, in the near future a lot of ink is going to be spilled about The Magic Circle. The final third of the game goes to some weird places that demand to be dissected. The message is a little muddled, with so many accusing fingers thrust in so many directions that I'm sure different people will come to radically different conclusions of what it all means. But it's a message worth hearing, and a world worth exploring, if you care about video games and the people that make them. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Magic Circle Review photo
The medium is the message
The Magic Circle is a game set inside of a game, where you bend and break the rules to make it another game entirely. This is all in service of makings a meta-contextual statement about the game making industry and the tension between the creator and the audience. Still with me after that? Then you're probably The Magic Circle's target audience.

Review: Tembo the Badass Elephant

Jul 20 // Chris Carter
Tembo the Badass Elephant (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Game FreakPublisher: SegaReleased: July 21, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Tembo has a rather short little setup, and from there, doesn't really give you any further exposition until the very end. What you see is what you get in essence, which is a Rambo-inspired elephant laying waste to an enemy dictator, who controls the Phantom Force army. It sports a charming little visual style that reminds me of Regular Show and a few other Cartoon Network properties. It even has effects like a literal "BADA BADA" phrase appearing while dashing about, and despite the low key setup it's a very bright and loud game, mostly in an endearing way. The basic gist is that you'll be able to jump, dash, and float in the air momentarily like Yoshi, with the added ability to shoot water from your trunk. More advanced moves involve uppercuts, slides, butt stomps, and a cannonball dive spin with a bounce. As you progress you'll start to learn more nuances, almost like you're fitting Tembo through various keyholes with your moveset. There are no real explicit puzzles, but it sure feels puzzle-esque if you're going for flawless runs. For instance, select levels can be completed without losing any momentum whatsoever, and it's a blast to dash, dive-kick, and slide your way through the entire thing. There's even a modified charge that you can utilize by holding down the water button, which can put out flames while running. It's pretty much the perfect amount of depth, allowing newcomers to pick up and play Tembo while giving hardcore platforming fans room to experiment a bit. [embed]296063:59600:0[/embed] The level design is fairly open-ended, tasking you with finding hidden civilizations scattered across the map, and killing as many enemies as possible -- both of which have separate goals that are tracked. Mini-bosses and a few full-on Big Bads are peppered into progression, but I would consider it more of a traditional platformer than a real action game -- especially with how muted and easy these encounters are. There's many more instances of timing and running than fighting, which is something you mostly happen to do while jumping around. Game Freak keeps things exciting with hazards, well-placed enemies, and lots of explosions, which will keep you on your toes constantly. Tembo has 17 stages, which last a few hours -- if you play very well, that is. Now, here's where my big holdup is with Tembo -- gating. In order to progress past certain stages, you need to kill a certain amount of enemies. Each stage has a death counter of sorts, which requires you to rescue most of the civilians trapped within a level, as well as actually seek out and defeat most of the enemy forces. It incentivizes actually killing foes, which is neat, but it ultimately ends up causing frustration and forcing players to replay levels over and over. While it is cool that levels do split off into branching paths, several of them have points of no return. If you happen to just choose a particular path, you may be locked out of say, 50 kill points or so -- which can easily be the difference between unlocking new levels and being forced to replay. It's maddening in some cases, and at one point I was held back by six points. Now, I did like returning to some levels to try to "master" them per se, but that should be a player choice -- not something that gates main story progression. Tembo the Badass Elephant is a really enjoyable game at its core, but it can get tiring to replay the same stage five times over just to grind out a few kills to see the next set of levels. It's an odd design choice for sure, but most of you will probably enjoy dashing through unsuspecting Phantom Soldiers and butt stomping them into oblivion regardless. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Badass Elephant review photo
They drew first blood
When someone told me that the developer of Pokemon was creating an action platformer called Tembo the Badass Elephant, I knew I had to give it a shot. While a few of the design choices are a bit odd, they don't overshadow the sum of its parts.

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Friday Night Fights - Horses are Sexy


Game with the Horsetoid Community!
Jul 17
// Mike Martin
One day there was a promiscuous pony, and that little whorse decided to cross the road. He had heard someone shout "HAY!" and wanted to see who it was. The voice seemed to come from down an alleyway. The little whorse grew sc...
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Win one of 10 copies!
Thanks to our friends at Fugitive Games (Sorry I took so long Alex!), we have 10 copies of Into the Stars for you lovely folks to win! What is Into the Stars you ask? Here's the synopsis from the Steam page: "Take the role of...

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Deadpool

Deadpool is inexplicably back on Steam after it was removed a year ago


Ok, I'll take it
Jul 16
// Chris Carter
I was pleasantly surprised by High Moon's Deadpool game. Sure it wasn't the most polished action game, but it was mostly true to the character, and was a decent enough little romp. Then... it was gone. One day it just va...
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Five Nights 4 trailer

Five Nights at Freddy's 4 trailer brings the horror home


Check under the bed
Jul 14
// Nic Rowen
At the end of the the last Five Night's game, Freddy's Fright, the horror funhouse based on the infamous, and defunct, Freddy Fazbear murder-pizzeria burnt to the ground. It seemed like a fine place to wrap up the series -- ...
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1979 Revolution

1979 Revolution explores the Iranian revolution


And not from an American perspective!
Jul 13
// Steven Hansen
West Asia (the "Middle East") doesn't get great screen time in games. Mostly it's a setting for contemporary American war stories rather than for stories of the people who live there. 1979 Revolution changes that, setting yo...
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Sol Divide

Sol Divide makes the trek from PS1 to Steam


Console Classics
Jul 13
// Steven Hansen
Out of left field this All Star week: Sol Divide has come to Steam. Looks like an emulation of the PS1 port, and early user reviews suggest it works pretty good. But where did this come from? Well, the publisher is listed as ...
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Nep Nep Ahoy!
Our friends at Idea Factory International have been kind enough to hook us up with 4 copies of Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 2! 2 for Steam and 2 for Vita! How awesome is that? What is Hyperdimension you ask? Well here is ...

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Sup Holmes

High Strangeness sold better on Wii U than Steam


Sup Holmes every Sunday at 4pm EST!
Jul 12
// Jonathan Holmes
[Sup Holmes is a weekly talk show for people that make great videogames. It airs live every Sunday at 4pm EST on YouTube, and can be found in Podcast form on Libsyn and iTunes.] Two Sunday's ago on Sup Ho...

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