A Short Hike
A Short Hike is a bite-sized exploration game about a bird trying to make it to the top of a mountain. The game takes place on an island, and you can either walk, fly, or climb around. Flying and climbing uses up feathers, so exploring around and picking up more feathers by either finding them or earning them from the island’s inhabitants will allow you access new parts of the island.
This review can really begin and end with the title: it’s a short hike. If you go straight for the peak, it will take you no longer than an hour or two to get to the top. It’s the game’s simplicity, however, that makes it so charming. You simply hike up a mountain, and even that it isn’t required. There is a whole island to explore with people to talk to and objects to pick up and interact with, but everything goes at your own pace and leisure. It’s actually quite refreshing to have a game that doesn’t tell me what to do, and instead offers me activities that I do or not do if I want to.
Beyond the options to do activities are, of course, the activities themselves. The main one is climbing the mountain itself, though it can’t be done immediately. You need to pick up enough feathers to get past some of the hurdles in the way like broken bridges and a wall to climb. Feathers can be picked up in a multitude of ways, but the way I found most fun is with interacting with the island’s inhabitants. There are those who want to race, those who want you pick up items for them, those who want to play games with you, and many more, and each character feels unique and fun to be around. My favorite character is a frog who sits on a beach and asks for a shovel. After you give him the shovel, he creates sand castles, and leaving and coming back to the area will result in the frog making more castles and talking about the ways he wants to rule over it. While the game can be a short hike, the island offers a lot of people to hang out with, and I think they are worth your time.
If you give a frog a shovel, it will build a metropolis.
While I still left some stuff to do on the mountain, I decided to only put in a few more minutes after scaling the mountain and call it at just shy of two hours because I didn’t want this game to be a chore about getting 100%. While that would be a negative in other games, the beauty of this game is that it allows me to put in as much or as little time as I want. A Short Hike is a game that feels like a vacation from other games, and while I could’ve done more and maybe should have for this little chunk of text, I would much rather play this game on my time then go beyond that. I think this is a fantastic bite-sized indie, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a few hours to kill.
Twelve Minutes is a top-down adventure game about a man stuck in a time loop just moments before he and his wife are threatened and killed by a cop. The game takes place within a small apartment only consisting of three rooms, and the player can interact with various objects within the house as well as talk to the wife or cop. The goal is to find out why the cop is accusing the wife of murder as well as deal with the cop.
This game hooked me in enough to play through the entire thing in one sitting, but I say that with some hesitancy. I think it’s important to separate the story from the game, as I think Twelve Minutes has a great story that left me wondering what’s around each corner while at the same time also having frustrating gameplay. I am a fan of time loop stories as I think there is a lot of possibility with them, and I am a huge of Outer Wilds so I could see its potential in the games space, but I found myself wishing I experienced this game as a movie rather than a game.
The story, and the game as a whole, is centered around three people in a small apartment. While this laser focus means limits to possibility, it allows for greater focus on characters, which I think benefits this game. This game brought in A-list actors for the voice work, and I think it pays off as they do a great job at bringing these characters to life. There are a lot of situations that can play out with a wide range of emotions as well as the overall change in mood the husband goes through as he becomes more experienced with the loop, and I think it couldn’t have been done with lesser voice acting. Also, while in the realm of audio, the music in this game is solid as it is reminiscent of suspenseful thrillers films of the past. The story in this game is also great, as peeling back the layers of why this cop is here and seeing the skeletons start coming out of the closet for all three characters is truly what kept me going from beginning to end. The one place where the story fails is with the endings. I only experienced a few of the endings, but the ones I did experience were full of holes in regards to who’s who, especially around the cop. Also, the big twist at the end did catch me off guard, but it also felt a bit outlandish compared to the rest of the story as well as a bit unoriginal. Still, even with the faults in mind, the story is what kept me playing for four hours straight, and I think the game is worth playing for that alone.
What does he want? Why is he accusing the wife of murder? Why is the carpet from The Shining?
Where this game fails for me, however, is the time in between story. While it’s fun to move around the apartment and test out different paths on how to get through situations, I found that this is where the small setting and cast of characters is to the game’s detriment. For starters, while I quite enjoy the voice work, the dialogue options lowers the quality of the dialogue as choosing different dialogue options would often reset the tone of the conversation, which doesn’t quite work with voice lines. As for the time loop, the game feels rather strict with what path to take to advance the plot, and I found some of its puzzle elements unbelievable like needing two pieces of evidence to convince the wife of the time loop or that pressing the light switch in the bedroom a second time will knock someone unconscious due to bad wiring. Also, as I put more time into it, I found myself wanting to play out certain situations but couldn’t. For example, why couldn’t I just tell my wife to act asleep in the bedroom and then shock the cop with the faulty light switch? Not all of the gameplay is bad though, as Twelve Minutes at least knows when to speed up the parts that need to be sped up. Phone numbers can be instantly called instead of being forced to memorize them, convincing the wife of the time loop becomes easier as time goes on, and setting up certain situations that results in me just waiting for the cop to show up will fast forward time. Also, sleeping on the bed will speed up time and walking out to the hallway will reset the loop, so having those options is nice as well. While it’s fun to play around with what can be done, I found the gameplay largely frustrating, as trying to solve the puzzle felt like trying to squeeze through a bottle neck rather than a constant discovery of something new.
Not every game needs to be “fun,” but I think what makes video games unique from other mediums is interactivity, and I think a game being at least engaging or something that couldn’t really be done in other mediums is important. Twelve Minutes feels like it could’ve easily been a film, and I would’ve preferred it that way. It isn’t a bad game, as I really enjoyed its story and characters, but I also think its major caveats keeps me from loving it as much as I should. I think it is perfect as a Game Pass game to pick up and play in one long sitting, but I would go in with tempered expectations.
West of Dead
West of Dead is a top-down action rogue-lite about a dead man formerly named William Mason as he traverses through Purgatory. The game takes place in a western setting and features a cover-based system, procedurally generated levels as well as voice work by actor Ron Pearlman. Rogue-lites are a dime a dozen these days, so if one wants to stand out, it has to offer either incredible gameplay or a new twist to the genre. This game offers neither, and while I don’t think it is a bad game, I also believe there are better rogue-lites out there than this one.
I believe the most important thing you need to know about this game is how heavily inspired this title is by Dead Cells. It’s a rogue-lite with metroidvania elements unlocked as the game progresses, the starting room displays all the items unlocked, in-between each level is a room for refilling health and the health flask as well as spending a currency (earned from defeating enemies) on permanent unlocks like new weapons and abilities, there are upgrade stations used to either upgrade health, weapon damage, or ability damage, there are branching paths on what level to go to next, and so on. While I remember Dead Cells having quite a bit of complexity to it in regards to level design, secrets, unlocks, and progression, however, I found West of Dead to be quite the opposite. I think there is an appeal to simplifying Dead Cells down to its basic components, but I also think this game loses some of its replayability as a result, as I found my time with the game short, starting to get a little bit repetitive, and lacking any incentive to return.
While a lot of the DNA of Dead Cells can be seen here, how the character gets around to killing foes isn’t. West of Dead is a twin-stick, cover-based shooter, and its top-down nature means segmented rooms instead of a more free-flowing 2D environment. In regards to the combat itself, it can prove to be a bit clunky and overwhelming at first, especially in the tighter rooms. Once I got my head around it, though, I found its combat rhythm of shoot, use abilities, cover, and roll around to be fun. There are also some neat mechanics around combat. Cover can break but will eventually regenerate, rooms are dark and you can’t lock onto enemies in the dark until you interact with lanterns hanging from the ceiling, enemies have an audio and visual indicator of when they will attack, each level has a unique element to it like enemies who can swim underneath the ground in the bayou or sniper’s nests in the town, and there is agency over the loadout as any combination of weapons and abilities can be done. One complaint I have with the combat and abilities would be how slow it is to use the health flask, though I found myself hardly ever using it throughout my time with the game, so it wasn’t as much of an issue.
Cover helps a lot with fighting baddies.
As I progressed through the game and started getting deeper into the levels, I of course encountered boss fights, which unlocked metroidvania-like abilities to reach new places. None of the boss fights I encountered were all that difficult or memorable, but I actually found what came after the boss fights to be better. In the later stages of the game, more and more outlaws start showing up, which are mini boss fights against a human-like enemy. The outlaws don’t really evolve all that much, but I enjoyed fighting them the most because they most resemble a one-on-one PvP match compared to all other enemies and bosses. Speaking of bosses, the final boss, while neat with with its fighting tactics, wasn’t all that hard. It did, however, make me beat the game a second time just with the difference of picking up three burdens, which are temporary damage debuffs. I thought it was a pretty lazy way of getting an extra hour out of me, and I think the game should’ve at least made the debuffs permanent. Still, at that rate, I could’ve kept playing to unlock everything, and at least it didn’t reset all of my unlocks.
One of the big market features of this game is voicework by Ron Pearlman, which I guess leads into the story side of this game. Yes, Ron Pearlman does voice the main character, though his lines are for his inner monologue instead of a dialogue and his voicework is more about attaching a coarse voice to the character rather than acting on any range of emotion. What I found weird about his voicework, however, is that none of the other characters have voices, as they speak through text. What is also weird but in a good way is its setting, mixing spiritual with western and adding a great-looking cel-shaded art style and dark color palette to satisfying effect. There isn’t much of a story going on here, but there is a small drip-feed of backstory. While I think the way they drip-feed this story is neat, I found each piece of the character’s origin to be too short and vague to paint any picture of the character or his motive to find a way through Purgatory other than a preacher killed him for some reason and he wants revenge.
While West of Dead is a fun game with a cool setting and fun combat, I find it hard to recommend over other, better rogue-lites like Hades or Dead Cells. I would check out other rogue-lites first, but if you are done with those game and looking for another game to sink your teeth into, then I would go ahead and check this game out.