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ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! Review

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Few games thrive to be like the original.  Sure, plenty thrive to be as influential or popular as the original, but in the case of the ToeJam & Earl franchise the goal is to literally be just like the original.  This is a fact that franchise designer Greg Johnson knows all too well as he’s seen any delineation from the formula of the first game fall short.  As you can read in my recent retrospective, Johnson along with various teams has been trying to give the fans what they have consistently asked for: a new version of that unique Genesis roguelike from 1991.  I’m happy to say that if you are one of these fans, or even if you’ve never touched a ToeJam & Earl game before, you’re in for a treat.  Back in the Groove takes the magic of the original title and enhances it in various ways while also knowing when to keep things consistent.

ToeJam and Earl are two funky rapping aliens that “borrowed” the Rapmaster Rocket from their planet of Funkotron to go joyriding.  Along the way the duo, along with friends Latisha and Lewanda, accidentally travel through a black hole and crash land on the mysterious planet of Earth.  In ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove! you are tasked with selecting one of the four friends along with the original version of both ToeJam and Earl from the Genesis iterations as you collect all 10 pieces of the Rapmaster Rocket and get home to Funkotron.  In a hybrid exploration and survival isometric action game, you utilize presents with unique abilities to navigate the enemies and traps in multiple levels that are either fixed or randomly generated.  Yes, as I said, ToeJam & Earl is back.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 28, 2019 at 9:00 am

Iron Crypticle Review

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Tikipod continues its quest to release all of it’s games to the Switch and I’m sure my whinging at the developer on the internet for a full year had everything to do with it. Iron Crypticle is next up for players and once  again Tikipod has knocked it out of the park, or maybe the crypt in this case.

Set in the land of Cryptonia, the royal treasure consisting of giant golden fruits, vegetables, and the princess have been taken, leaving a large gaping hole in the floor. It’s up to the lazy kings guard (who sort of let this happen in the first place) to jump down the hole and save the day. Iron Crypticle doesn’t take itself too seriously and you will undoubtedly chuckle at various moments including the merchant cat and the games final ending, which of course I won’t spoil here. I highly recommend you check out the “ledger” which is a sort of codex of all the items you collect in the game where the developer has taken the time to give a humorous description for practically everything you see (there may also be an achievement in it for you if you make the effort).

Iron Crypticle is a top down twin stick arcade shooter with roguelike elements that takes influences from a few old arcade favourites including Ghouls’N Ghosts, Smash TV, and even Bubble Bobble.

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Written by jamalais

February 18, 2019 at 11:00 am

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom Review

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Developer: Game Atelier                             Publisher: FDG Entertainment 

Monster Boy is the spiritual sequel to the Wonder Boy franchise, a series Sega has left dormant since 1994. These games were hugely important to me growing up and hold a very special place in my heart. I probably love the Wonder Boy series how people love the Zelda series except without dressing up as one of the characters (real chain mail is expensive). For me it has been a very long wait for a sequel spiritual or otherwise. We have since seen a few re-releases of the previous games on multiple digital platforms. In 2017 developer Lizardcube gave us a beautiful remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragons Trap. Originally we were going to see Monster Boy release that same year but developer Game Atelier decided to halt for a final year to polish up the gameplay and completely redo the graphics. Its been almost five years of development for the team, was the wait worth it?

On booting up the game you’re greeted with an impressive anime style cutscene which gives you a preview of the enemies you will be fighting and the animals you will be playing as. The song playing is also awfully addictive and it hasn’t left my brain since I heard it at E3 this year.  You play as Jin, a young chap with blue hair whose uncle appears to be up to no good changing the people of Monster World into animals as well as having a potential drinking problem. It’s not long into the story when your Uncle turns you into pig dressed in pirate gear (a nod to my favourite NPC in The Dragons Trap). You soon learn that to lift the curse you need to collect five magical orbs scattered across various dark corners of Monster World. The story comes with a few twists and turns and inevitably ends up as a typical save the world type tale. What makes this story stand out however, is its sense of humour. All the characters speak with text boxes including Jin himself and won’t shy away from making a witty joke about the current situation. Right up to the games darkest turns it was hard not to laugh at some of the games witty attempts at humour. The story is straight forward to follow and doesn’t really get in the way of your adventuring. Should you need to repeat sections of the story the game does allow you to skip them.

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Written by jamalais

December 7, 2018 at 11:00 am

Call of Cthulhu (2018) Review

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The works of H.P. Lovecraft are a great source for horror with the cold American East Coast being a predominant backdrop for the mysteries of the sea, secret cults, ancient gods, and of course the fragility of the human condition.  I’ve always felt these works lend themselves to the written word much better than other media due to the way Lovecraft tends to portray things with suggestions of the indescribable and the subjective way a person’s perspective can twist reality.  This is also why in gaming form I find the pen and paper RPG Call of Cthulhu captures the essence of these works because the entire game is much like its source material: interactive works of written (or scripted) fiction.  The challenge faced with video games the challenge of taking the themes of Lovecraft and turning them into a form of gameplay that is both realistic and enjoyable.  While a few attempts at Call of Cthulhu – a name that is used more for its notoriety and less for an actual connection to the short story – have been made, no studio has really been able to nail the gameplay part.  No matter how much I respect the old Infogrames adventure games or Dark Corners of the Earth, all of the Call of Cthulhu titles require caveats when recommending them.  As much as I had hoped developer Cyanide’s Call of Cthulhu game, based on Chaosium’s aforementioned pen and paper RPG, would break the mold it fails to overcome the gameplay challenge yet again.  Fortunately it oozes the dark and twisted world that is so unmistakably Lovecraft that you may excuse the gaming faults for overall experience.

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 30, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Council Episode 4: Burning Bridges Review

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If you have not read our review containing the previous episodes, it’s highly recommended as it’s not only referenced, but we may not discuss many of the mechanics present in previous episodes.  This was to prevent redundant comments and move directly into the changes in the current episode.  Eventually the link above will serve as the location for all episode reviews.  This review contains no spoilers.

Going into episode 4 of The Council I had absolutely no expectations.  The story was stagnant, the character development was marred by writing away plot holes with twins and the supernatural, and the gameplay was almost flat out boring.  I had grown tired of Louis and this fun alternative take on history because it seemed like the development team was out of ideas.  What started as an experiment in alt history along with a modern take on the adventure genre had become a series of fetch quests surrounding a main, but rock solid, puzzle with all plot points stressing answers to “a mystery.”  I didn’t think there was anything developer Big Bad Wolf could put in as an explanation that would live up to this fabled mystery.  In that regard, I will admit I was wrong, because Episode 4 throws you a massive curve ball and begins to answer questions left and right.  Events transpire at a lightening pace compared to what we’ve seen previously and some major events are given out like candy.  It also was apparently a good time to introduce a whole new mechanic that seems to heavily null some of the old mechanics, and the confrontation system has become a minefield for your usable resources.  The whole game was dialed up to 11 and it all seemed rushed out, which I’m betting it was.  While I have to admit I enjoyed playing through Episode 4, it’s frantic attempt to get things back on track came at the expense of it’s largest asset: the previous episodes no longer matter.

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 1, 2018 at 11:00 am

The Council Episode 3: Ripples Review

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If you have not read our review containing the previous episodes, it’s highly recommended as it’s not only referenced, but we may not discuss many of the mechanics present in previous episodes.  This was to prevent redundant comments and move directly into the changes in the current episode.  Eventually the link above will serve as the location for all episode reviews.  This review contains no spoilers.

In many ways I consider the third episode of a five episode series to be the moment of truth.  It seems episodic titles are doomed to have weaker second episodes because of the natural arc of plot and character development, but typically you get a twist and/or climax in the third episode that redeems everything.  While The Council definitely follows this formula, it was disappointing to see that while the story takes some drastic new turns, what you actually play is the same old song and dance.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but it surely wasn’t yet another trip through the mansion followed by a huge dump of exposition and concluding in a long obtuse puzzle…again.  Regardless of those expectations, that’s exactly what I received, which has me weary of future episodes and frankly a bored in the current one.  I didn’t even play this episode a second time, there seemed to be no need.  If you’re not fully invested in the overall season before going into this episode, it’s probably best you stay away for now.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 30, 2018 at 11:00 am

Unravel Two Review

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At E3 2015 a shy developer named Martin Sahlin walked onto the Electronic Arts (EA) stage and announced his passion project Unravel, developed by Coldwood Interactive. This would be the first game to be part of the “EA Originals” program, where EA helps fund small independent game projects and allows the developer to keep all the profits (after repaying the funding and also publishing/marketing budgets). Despite how you personally feel about EA as a company this is proof that sometimes there is heart even in a big corporation like EA. While the internet would take note of the developers nerves and fragile presentation for the time it felt real and it was clear Unravel meant a lot to Sahlin. In all honesty I would struggle to talk in front of a large audience even if it was about something you loved.

Unravel was a cute, puzzle-based platformer where you play a character made out of wire and yarn. The game had beautiful music that moved me in ways that I rarely experience in games. I guess it was made even more unique and special to me because the reception for Unravel wasn’t favourable across the board. My partner loved watching me play Unravel too. I loved Unravel so much that in preparation for my wedding in 2017, I decided to make 112 Yarny dolls myself in accordance with the number of guests attending (another game inspired decorations but that’s a tale for another day). We knew a sequel was on the way, EA had reported it had been successful, and the developers were already at work on it. My partner and I would theorize what the sequel would be like, with the biggest wish on the list being the inclusion of local co-op; this seemed to be the best evolution of the series. E3 2018 rolls around, Unravel Two gets announced, and both my wife and I leaped for joy. Then we leaped a second time because it was revealed the game was available on the day of announcement and includes co-op. I was so eager to purchase the game I refreshed the Xbox One store page six times as well as switching the console on and off again twice just so I could purchase and download it. I rarely get this excited for a game on launch.

Its taken me a while to get to the actual review of Unravel Two, but I felt the above paragraph was important as it discloses how much the original game meant to me and additionally how difficult it was to write the following review.

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Written by jamalais

July 5, 2018 at 11:00 am

Vampyr Review

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Being a vampire isn’t at all what I imagined. After falling victim to the embrace I awoke with all knowledge of who I had been in my past life.  In my previous life I was Dr. Jonathan Reid and my area of medical study was both in hematology (the study of blood) and trauma surgery.  I was a risk taker and had achieved renown and contempt for my tactics in transfusion.  This all assisted me in getting a job at the Pembroke Hospital, a London-based institution that has a reputation similar to my own, and attempt to help the people there. That’s right, I’m helping humans get medical attention and curing what ails them.  It is the year 1918 and the city is plagued by the aftermath of the Great War, which still wages on, and the Spanish Flu is taking more lives every day with increased effectiveness.  On top of all of this monsters roam about the streets at night, and not just vampires either.  In these times the relationships you establish are key, the politics of both the human and vampire world are always a consideration, and it’s fair to say something apocalyptic may be afoot.  This is Vampyr.

The newest game from studio Dontnod, known previously for Remember Me and Life is Strange, is going all in on the skills it has developed for in the past and combining them into an open world action RPG that leverages story to propel things forward.  Whereas quest givers and NPCs can be seen as somewhat throwaway or in the least dismissed after their vignettes, no one in Vampyr is forgotten after you meet them unless you will it so.  The beginning of the game will introduce you to nearly a dozen characters, each with their own story, background, thoughts, opinions, and connections to other characters.  Getting to know everyone is an arduous task that will surely make up the first two to three hours of your game, but fortunately all of the pertinent details you receive are kept organized and available to you in your notebook.  Unlike other vampire tales, every person you meet is key to the continuation of your story and will assist you at getting to your next goals, just not necessarily the way you might expect.  Along the way you will open up more districts to the point that your cast is roughly 40 characters that you should consistently manage the health, relationships, and well being should you need them in the future.  And trust me, you may need them in the future.

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Written by Fred Rojas

June 4, 2018 at 5:00 pm

The Council Episode 2: Hide and Seek Review

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If you have not read our review of Episode 1, it’s highly recommended as it’s not only referenced, but we do not discuss many of the mechanics present in both episodes.  This was to prevent redundant comments and move directly into the changes in Episode 2.  This review contains no spoilers from either episode.

It has been nearly two months since the premiere of The Council, which has now returned in its second episode Hide and Seek.  In my previous review I said that I was optimistic about the future of this new interactive fiction, but sadly I have to report that this sophomoric effort has me wavering.  The initial episode bombarded you with plot, characters, and mechanics that both fascinated and daunted.  This is to be expected, it’s an introduction, but sadly this episode doesn’t even make good on some of the concepts introduced in the first.  That’s not to say the core design is absent, just that it feels like a padded experience relying far too much on the ebb and flow of your build and points than with an intriguing plot or well thought out puzzles.  I also didn’t like that this chapter leans heavily on classic adventure game mechanics, a genre I personally despise due to your need to basically read the developers mind, and was mostly absent from The Mad Ones (episode 1).  Probably my biggest concern coming into Hide and Seek is that almost none of my decisions from The Mad Ones seemed to have much of an effect.

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Written by Fred Rojas

May 15, 2018 at 11:00 am

Extinction Review

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Right now video games are in an interesting shift. Multiplayer titles are coming under more scrutiny, so simply throwing a bunch of people into an online situation without a solid gameplay foundation will likely fail. Single player experiences have an even larger problem in that the high price point of a game requires these titles to be a difficult balance of length, story depth, and mechanics. Then along comes a game like Extinction, a mechanics-heavy single player action game that mainly focuses on taking down massive ogres called Ravenii that are trying to destroy your kingdom. Gameplay is king and the goal is to get you so enthralled in mastering the task at hand that you are compelled to return on a regular basis. If this is starting to sound similar to various mobile titles that have hooked us all over the years, it’s because the same concept is employed here. Whether or not that’s substantial enough to justify a full priced game is definitely going to be in the eyes of the beholder.

Comparisons will surely be made between Extinction and Attack on Titan, especially considering the way you take down massive enemies is essentially the same.  You will target various limbs, removing any armor present first, and eventually fill up a gauge that allows you to decapitate a Ravenii.  Beyond that the comparison doesn’t really hold up because Attack on Titan was all about a catapult mechanic that was the central focus in movement as well as attacking the large titans.  In Extinction you are given more of a puzzle that requires you to juggle outside factors during your battle.  There are minor enemies on the ground that can be dispatched, citizens that can be saved, and a town that you must try to keep intact all while keeping the one, or multiple, Ravenii at bay.  This is in addition to the different ways in which to combat the armor they wear, some of which is very straightforward to destroy and others that I have yet to figure out.  Armor is one of my larger gripes about this game because it does such a great job at introducing you to many of the different types and then just throws the most difficult your way without so much as a hint of what to do.  The game is also kind enough to tell me what I’m doing wrong, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what I’m supposed to do right.  This isn’t a deal breaker – although I will concede I’m two missions away from completing the 50 mission campaign – but I really hate when a game gates your progress for arbitrary reasons.  Beyond that developer Iron Galaxy definitely employs the “keep it simple, stupid” mentality of streamlining both controls and the skill tree.  This was a welcome change of pace when compared to the over-complicated mechanics I experience in many games of late, especially the larger scale indie titles.  There’s not much more to the game beyond that, it’s an endless series of skirmishes between a talented warrior and a bunch of big ogres, but man is the combat so enjoyable that I keep coming back.

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in PC/Mac, PS4, Reviews, Xbox One

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