Category Archives: Review

Citizen Sleeper

I appreciate a game that hits from an unexpected angle, and that’s why I appreciate Citizen Sleeper.

In Citizen Sleeper, you play as a “Sleeper”: an emulated mind in a biomechanical body, desperately fleeing the corporation that owns your total being. You awake in a shipping container, near broken, starving, and alone. Well… not quite alone. The scrapper who found you is hesitant, but allows you to work with him for some meager pay and sleep in the shipping container. From there, you attempt to build what little life you can from whatever you can cobble together.

For the most part, the game is essentially a visual novel with some “diceplay” bolted on. Each morning, you roll up to five dice depending on the condition of your body, and then choose what actions to spend those die on. The numbers on the dice you spend correspond to RNG outcomes associated with the actions – a 6 is always a 100% positive outcome, whereas lower numbers can be as poor as 50% neutral/50% negative. In this way, you have some measure of control over actions, even though things are random. However, since your condition dictates how many dice you have in the first place, this is definitely a “rich get richer” slash failure cascade mechanic. Especially considering how you must earn money to purchase food (starving results in condition damage), earn money to purchase the drugs that repairs condition damage (you decay each day), and negative results can sometimes lead directly to condition damage.

If that sounds stressful… that is kind of the point. Probably.

Once you manage to get a toehold somewhere though, the ramshackle space station begins to open up. You can start spending dice on things other than immediate needs. Start socializing at the neighborhood bar. Chat up the noodle vendor. Start helping the mercenary stuck in the docks. Maybe utilize your quasi-AI mind to dive into the abandoned corners of station. Each encounter adds a splash of color to the otherwise bleak setting, both emphasizing how alone everyone is and yet how much a helping hand can change one’s trajectory.

The unexpected hit I got from Citizen Sleeper was the understated poignancy of the many offramp endings. There are quite a few different endings you can focus towards, but the nature of the game sometimes passively (dice rolls) and actively (wait periods) prevents you from just mainlining them. Which leads you to perhaps explore some of the other stories and meet other kindred spirits. And so there I ended up at the precipice of one such ending, a simple Yes away from escaping my fate on the station… and realizing that in so doing I would be abandoning everyone I met. That particular ending was not Good or Bad – you are not a Chosen One, you have no preexisting connection or responsibility to anyone, and the station and its inhabitants would have just grinded on without you.

But I was there. I was making a difference for people I could touch. And so I chose to continue doing so.

Now, granted, I also was interested in getting all the various storylines fully maxed out before choosing a preferred ending. Yeah, I optimize even visual novels. HOWEVER! I did actually get a pang of melancholy there, despite the fact that I had copied the save file to a separate location so that I could choose other endings without having the play the game all over again. I never did though. I completed all the storylines and chose to stay behind, until it was time to go with the family I made over the course of the game.

Overall, I recommend giving Citizen Sleeper a try on GamePass.

Mobile Review: Slice & Dice

Slice & Dice is a F2Try dice-based roguelike. You can play the first 12 “levels” for free, but it costs $7 to unlock the rest of the game.

On the face of it (har har), the game appears relatively simple. By default, you control a party of five traditional archetypes – Rogue, Warrior, Defender, Healer, Mage – who face an assortment of enemies. Each round, enemies will roll their dice and indicate who they will be attacking, assuming they survive.

Then your team will roll one die per class. Each six-sided die has different abilities on it as determined by that die’s class and any modifications due to items. If you like a specific die roll, you can “save” it by tapping and then reroll any remaining dice up to two times. After all dice are locked in, you then can use the dice to attack enemies, shield your team, generate mana for Spells, or a number of other unique effects. Any surviving enemies will then attack back. Then everyone gets to do it again.

After each successful battle, surviving heroes are healed to full, any defeated heroes return to life at half-health, and there are alternating rewards of class promotion or random item selection. For class promotion, two heroes are randomly selected to get promoted to one randomly selected option, and you decide which one does. For example, you might be able to choose between your Rogue and Cleric getting promoted to a Tier 2 version of those classes, but not choose for the Warrior to be upgraded instead, or choose between the 5-6 Rogue options. Similarly, with item selection you can choose between two options or go for a mystery roll if neither one works well for your setup.

If that sounds like a lot of randomness, well… it is a dice-based game.

After I understood the general shtick of the game and saw what sort of boss battles were available, I started losing interest. The game seems a bit simple, right? Plus, winning didn’t really seem to offer much progression. But that was when I discovered the Achievements and other unlocks. Basically, the game has 40+ achievements that all unlock something when, uh, achieved. Most of the time these unlocks are additional items that get added to the pool for future runs, but other times there are additional difficulties and new game modes. For example, with Custom Party you can choose to bring 5 Mages or some other mix of heroes, and Shortcut lets you skip the first 8 levels (although you get random items and promotions). The unlocks themselves are not always worth it per se, but they provide something to work towards and potentially discover some fun along the way.

Notwithstanding the progression element, the game feels very satisfying to play in the moment. I often feel the pull of “just one more turn” given how many micro and macro decisions you end up needing to make. Is 2 damage good enough, or do you gamble on a 16.67% chance of getting a blank in order to hit something better? Should you focus-fire the big monster, or take out the small fry first? Do you blow all your mana on trying to save one hero this turn, or let them die to push more damage?

Overall, I am extremely pleased with my $7 purchase and probably have logged 30-40 hours thus far. One of the achievements to unlock Speed Run leaderboards is to win Standard mode in under 45 minutes, to give an idea of average successful run length. I also highly appreciate the fact that the game is short interval-friendly, e.g. there is no real-time component and you can minimize the app without messing anything up. It is no Slay the Spire, but it’s a game that has come closest to scratching the itch.

Review: Final Fantasy 7 Remake

I completed Final Fantasy 7 Remake (FF7R) over the weekend. Astute readers will recall that this is a full two months since I originally purchased it. Considering how giddy I was when I started, you might wonder why it took that long to play through… approximately 25 hours of game. The reason? What I wrote about in my final paragraph of the first impression post:

Anyway, not going to let a little thing like a combat system interrupt my JRPG nostalgerbation. I am going to assume it gets better, or that I can change things around enough to make it so, or that it will not diminish the rest of the experience. Which would be quite the feat considering how much I am enjoying myself already just walking around.

Let’s just say the game devs indeed achieved that ignoble feat.

Before I get started, it is important to know that I love that this game exists. The original FF7 was groundbreaking in a lot of ways, including ushering in the era of mainstream RPGs, and seeing Cloud and Aerith and Midgard again is a goddamn magical experience to me. Looking at screenshots from the original game today makes you question whether your memories from 25 years ago are suspect. But watching the gang walk around the Sector 7 slums or the Shinra tower? The graphics on my screen right now in FF7R are what my mind saw back then, like some kind of reverse déjà vu.

I say this for two reasons. The first is to establish my inherent bias. The second is because if you are also a fan of the original game, I would suspect that you will feel similarly.

If you are not a fan of the original or never played it… well, it’s hard to recommend FF7R at all.

The short version is that the combat system is hot garbage. I thought I had been doing things wrong somehow, but nope, it’s really that bad. And by “bad” I mean unintuitive and punishing to a frustrating degree. I played the whole game on Normal difficulty, so perhaps things are better on Easy.

During combat you control one character (of up to three) and can run around, Dodge Roll, Guard, perform light/heavy attacks by pressing/holding X, and have a character-specific move with Y. You also have an ATB gauge with two segments that slowly fills over time, and fills more quickly when you attack or Guard against attacks. Once you have at least one ATB segment filled, you can cast a Spell, use an Ability, or use an Item. You also have Limit Breaks and the ability to use Summon materia on “bigger” fights. Sound good so far?

There are a few problems that pop up right away. For one, Dodge Roll is a completely useless noob trap – it convers no invincibility-frames and doesn’t move you faster than just running. Secondly, the ATB setup rewards momentum and punishes falling behind. For example, if you take a lot of damage, the only way to heal is… to melee more mobs until you can cast Cure or use an Item. Blocking will reduce damage and technically you can run around in circles to buy time, but in both cases you are praying to survive long enough to spend your one ATB action to heal. Your other party members have their own ATB gauges and could bail you out – you can either switch to them directly or remotely command them to use an action – but their ATB accumulates much slower than the active character.

Here’s the kicker though: your ATB actions can fail. The first time it happened, I couldn’t believe it. Cloud used his Braver ability to spin around in the air and bring his sword down on… empty pavement. The enemy had walked away, not even on purpose. All abilities have to specifically target a character, so this isn’t like I accidentally pressed the wrong button on my way up to melee range. There is no range-finder indication to suggest your attack will succeed or fail, so you just sort of hope for the best. Oh, and magic works the same way. Spells like Lightning hit instantly, but Blizzard has a sort of delay where an ice crystal spawns and then explodes – if the enemy has better places to be, nothing happens. Normally these differences would result in spells dealing more or less damage based on ease of use, but that’s not the case either.

By the way, surprise! Your characters can be interrupted. If you’re casting Cure, perhaps on yourself because you’re about to die, but get hit by whatever, the spell fails (!!), you lose the ATB charge (!!?), and even the MP used to cast it (!!?!?!). Technically enemies can also be interrupted in this way, but guess what, that typically requires you to be using ATB actions… which will probably be interrupted by whatever the enemy was doing in the first place.

I’m spending a lot of time on this because it really drags down the game. Simply put, combat isn’t fun, and only gets worse over time when you face enemies who are resistant to everything but particular elemental attacks. Dungeons are big, and while there aren’t random encounters per se, you already know there are dozens of fights you have to slog through. It got to the point where I would just Save & Quit right in the middle of a dungeon and play a different game entirely for the next week. Which of course makes it more difficult to get back into the game knowing you got this shit cake waiting for you.

What really galls me about this is how the devs split the baby. I could imagine an actual action-based combat system where Dodge Rolling was used to avoid attacks, you had to aim special moves, and interrupting was an important (explained!) mechanic. Instead, we have this pseudo-action nonsense.

[Fake Edit] As noted, I played the entire game on Normal. There is a “Normal (Classic)” mode available (along with Easy/Easy Classic) that I tried out for a few minutes after beating the game. Classic basically means your characters will attack, defend, and run around on their own with the player basically waiting around for ATB charges and deciding what Ability or Spell to use. While I would be curious how the AI handles some of the tougher boss fights, this did seem to be a viable option for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time mashing X. However, I can confirm that your characters can still be interrupted mid-action, Abilities can still miss when the target walks away during the animation, etc.

Everything outside of combat though? Great. Fantastic, even

I’m not going to talk about the story or anything, as I appreciated the fact that I somehow avoided spoilers for years. Suffice it to say, the Remake part of the title is not a misnomer, even if the main story beats are similar. Characters are expressive and interesting. I have heard some people complain about the voice actors, but aside from Barret (a faithfully recreated caricature) and Wedge, everyone else is perfectly fine or even great. Graphics are phenomenal, and Midgard really comes to life in a big way. Managing materia is just as fun as it was 25 years ago, even though your selection is somewhat limited.

Ultimately, I am glad that Final Fantasy 7 Remake exists. That it does is a validation of decades-long adoration on my part. It’s just a goddamn shame that the combat system is so bad. Not bad enough to prevent progression, but enough to dissuade me from recommending this game to people not already invested in the experience. This will hopefully change as the next two titles come out and the plot comes closer to fruition. At which point I would likely recommend just buying the Ultima(te) edition that has all the games at once.

Review: Windbound

As a connoisseur of sorts for survival and roguelike games, I had a sideways eye out for the otherwise poorly-reviewed Windbound. After getting the itch to replay Raft only to realize there was a final update coming soon, I decided to play something a least thematically similar. Realizing I got Windbound for free from Epic back in February, I downloaded and booted it up and went sailing.

Overall? The mixed reviews are earned, although I enjoyed my own journey.

The essential premise is that you wake up on an island with nothing to your name, after being attacked by a sea creature. After swimming a short distance to another island, you set off to collect resources, build a boat, and ultimately activate three mysterious pillars scattered across your circular map so you can be transported to the next chapter area. You have a HP and Stamina bar, with the latter decreasing at intervals until you eat food from creatures loath to give you their flesh.

The game is… well, fundamentally really simple. Not easy, mind you, especially if you play on Survival Mode in which a single death means starting back over in Chapter 1 no matter how far you progressed. But there are not a whole lot of different enemy types, or food options, or tech trees, or similar fluff. Enemies have maybe 2-3 moves and become straight-forward to dispatch once you have learned the tells. Later on, you unlock additional combat moves, some of which become required to defeat later enemies, but overall ends up making most combat trivial.

Having said that, combat is frequently very unforgiving. On the very first island, you can face off with a boar that has a standard sort of charge attack which takes off about a third of your HP. While you can dodge-roll, timing is critical, and you can get locked into animations if you aren’t careful. You can craft a sling and bow later on, but ranged damage even with the best gear/ammo is super weak and breaks enemy lock-on, which means Spacebar becomes Jump instead of dodge. The devs clearly intended you to dodge+attack or parry every move.

The sailing portion of the game was good fun. You start off building a canoe and paddling around from island to island, but eventually you can get bamboo or wood and construct larger craft with sails and onboard tanning racks and clay ovens and so on. Reminds me of Valheim a bit with wind direction being important, although I think you can be a little fancier in this game with “tightening” your sails and catching some forward movement even while slightly into the wind.

One element of persistent progress comes from collecting Sea Shards. These can be used to purchase Blessings at the end of each chapter, which then can be “slotted” on your character in the same area. Some are wildly more useful than others, and it is largely RNG that determines which ones are available. Early on I was able to purchase Ancestral Spear, for example, which means I always had a spear available that never broke. So, so many resources and inventory slots saved from not having to re-craft spears throughout my journey.

Ultimately, Windbound is an acceptable, free survival appetizer to hold you over for a better meal. It has next to no replayability, and I don’t actually recommend its punishing “survival” mode if you are just interested in progressing through the game. If you didn’t manage to snag the game for free already, there are dozens of better games out there that are of better value for your money.

Review: Per Aspera

Per Aspera is one of those games you can become obsessed with far beyond its actual quality.

Uh oh.

In short, the game is about terraforming Mars – a surprisingly crowded field these days. You are an experimental AI in charge of turning the red planet green, and must plan out a series of resource mines, factories, and resolve supply chain issues on your way. While you go through this process, you (the AI) will reflect on some of the philosophical ideas surrounding artificial consciousness, your role in terraforming Mars, and some political intrigue as major players swap out.

One of the reasons I don’t actually like the game is because it’s poorly paced. When you first start your journey, you have a single hub building providing minimal electricity, one worker rover, and some basic building materials. Your primary goal is to create a 2nd worker while acknowledging the existential threat of not having a Maintenance Facility, which is a building that’s required to keep everything else from decaying in the Martian atmosphere. One carrot, one stick. Okay. So what’s the path?

  • Worker Factory = Parts + Electronics + Glass + Aluminum (and Steel to construct)
    • Parts Factory = Steel + Aluminum
    • Electronics Factory = Silicon + Aluminum
    • Steel Factory = Iron + Carbon
    • Glass Kiln = Silicon
    • Aluminum Mine = Steel
    • Silicon Mine = Steel + Aluminum
    • Iron Mine = Aluminum + Silicon
    • Carbon Mine = Aluminum + Iron
  • Maintenance Facility = Polymer + Electronics (and Aluminum and Steel to construct)
    • Polymer Factory = Chemicals + Carbon
    • Chemical Plant = Aluminum + Steel
  • Solar Farm = Aluminum + Electronics + Glass

Basically, every fucking thing.

So you’ll start by building an Aluminum and Silicon Mine, then a Glass Kiln. This will get you far enough to place a Solar Farm or two, as your original landing hub won’t have enough juice to power many more mines/factories. Then you can get started on Iron and Carbon Mines to fuel a Steel Factory. And so on.

This entire time though, you have one single worker rover, which means it carries a single resource at a time to a location. Does something take six total resources to craft a particular building? That’s six trips. The game offers a speed boost up to 16x, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Didn’t realize he pioneered driving electric vehicles down tunnels.

To say that the game is a slow burn is an understatement.

Having said that, I did start feeling the coals after a while. As soon as you get that second worker, things accelerate significantly. The 3rd/4th/Nth workers pop out as soon as you build the corresponding Worker Hubs, and you can get busy planning your expansion across the Martian surface. Your growth is kept in check by building limits, which is tied to Tech trees, which is tied to Research Points, which is tied to hosting human colonist and keeping them alive with Ice and Food. A lot of things to keep you busy planning and expanding.

Of course, it all grinds to a halt again in the mid-game when you slowly realize that “choices” aren’t really choices. Goal: increase temperature at Martian polar ice caps to release frozen CO2. Looking at the tech tree, you see things like “Construct Satellite Mirrors” and “Aerobrake Comets” and “Import Greenhouse Gases from Earth,” along with some lesser stuff like Greenhouse Gas Factory. What isn’t immediately obvious is that the comet is a one-time deal, and the Mirror project only heats things up by about 20% of the total. You’re back to doing all of the things, this time limited by how many Spaceports you build rather than Worker rovers.

I did this.

And spoiler alert: there’s a third grind at the endgame, notwithstanding however long it takes to get a breathable atmosphere. The last two hours of my “playtime” consisted of me having the game run at 16x while I dicked around on my phone.

Ultimately though, I did stick around to the bitter end. Why? It’s hard to say. The existential musings were a bit basic compared with other titles, but they seasoned the stew. And this was a very, very long-burning stew. But perhaps in a cognitive dissonance sort of way, I began to really enjoy myself once I saw Mars starting to change. Once water appears, the game just feels different. You start needing to place Water Treatment Plants near the water, but take care that they won’t get flooded should you continue to pump up the water table. Some unique buildings require you to use craters rather than just placing willy-nilly, and that changes up how you approach base design and/or expansion.

I haven’t played many other sims like this, so I cannot really speak for whether Per Aspera is more worth your time than Surviving Mars or whatever else is out there. Hell, I’m conflicted as to whether it was worth my time to play Per Aspera at all. But I did play it for just shy of 30 hours in less than two weeks, so that’s worth something.

Review: Outriders

This past weekend I completed Outriders via Game Pass. The game is basically an over-the-shoulder, cover-based, arena looter shooter. Think 3rd-person Borderlands or Destiny.

…and that’s it.

No, really.

OK, fine. There were two interesting things going on that kept me playing to completion.

First, the story. Or more specifically, the main character’s “Renegade Shephard with Charisma as a Dump Stat” schtick. I’m not certain if the writers were trying to make the main character into a badass anti-hero and overshot the mark, but the end result is so bad it loops back around to good. I kept expecting to see an attempt on character growth, or becoming a leader, or any of the other tropes in the genre, but nope! Your character basically doesn’t give a shit about hostages, is painfully awkward when NPCs share their trauma, and is content shooting first and never bothering with questions.

As far as plot goes, it’s all grimdark trauma-porn, but not the fun kind.

The other piece that was interesting was the crafting mechanics. As a looter shooter, you get a lot of loot, of course. One thing you can do though, is deconstruct the items you receive to unlock the ability to add the special properties of that item onto another item. For example, if a gun Freezes enemies, you can deconstruct that gun and replace any future gun’s existing ability with the Freezing ability. Epic/Legendary items can have two properties, but you can only swap out one of them. Additionally, Epic/Legendary items have higher-tier effects, which you can place on regular items to make them more competitive.

Really though, only the concept alone was interesting. The actual looting experience was pretty terrible, on par with the foundational problems with Borderlands. You have levels, guns have level requirements, and enemies get exponentially stronger the further you progress. This means that whatever cool items you receive will be useless trash within an hour of gameplay, and you will be scrambling for green replacements for your purples soon enough. While the above crafting system lessens the blow a bit, it never feels great to continuously get weaker, and the drop from 2-slots to 1-slot is especially painful.

I completed the game’s story despite it becoming progressively less interesting, and then immediately bounced off the endgame loop in disgust. You are intended to go on repetitive sort of strike missions and face waves and waves of the same sort of enemies you have fought all game. If you play solo, you will die almost instantly outside of cover, and death resets the entire mission. It is clearly intended to be played in a group, but… why? Destiny 2 is mechanically better and Outriders is not an MMO wherein you might expect to rewarded in some fashion in the future. “Borderlands!” Closer, but the Borderlands series has additional DLC content and is much more kinetic and less swingy besides.

In any case, you don’t have to take my word on it: Outriders is still on the Game Pass.

Undertale, Overrated

Yeah, I said it.

Undertale is a cult favorite and Kickstarter darling from 2015 featuring meme-ready characters, NES graphics, and unique game mechanics. Your character has fallen down a hole into the underworld and now must contend with anxious monsters who need your soul to escape their otherwise eternal confinement. Will you leave a traditional trail of bodies and tears on your way to the exit, or will you embrace the spirit of determination and the power of friendship to spare all that you meet?

The very ending(s) depend on it!

It’s possible that I played Undertale too late. The retro graphics did nothing for me, nor did the retro graphics + modern game twists, as I played LISA back in 2015 already. While I did not know exact plot details, I also knew Undertale had a True Pacifist route that led to the best ending – knowledge which prejudges one’s own behavior in the game. Finally, I had already played games that also shifted in narrative tone and 4th-wall breaking, like Nier: Automata. If Undertale was my first experience with any of these things, maybe I would have been more impressed.

My major issue with Undertale though is that it is… not fun. When fighting enemies, they attack you via 5-6 seconds of Bullet Hell in which you move a red heart around a predefined box. It’s an extremely novel concept, and the things Undertale is able to convey through this mechanism is commendable. But at no point is it fun to do. Doing a True Pacifist run means you must talk to enemies instead of attacking them, which consumes several “turns” which results in you doing multiple Bullet Hell levels for each randomly-encountered enemy. True Pacifist also means you never level up or get more HP, so the game just gets progressively harder. Finally, if you get dangerously low on HP, you have to spend your turn using a healing item instead of talking, which delays the end of the fight and can mean you catch more damage than you healed and otherwise wasted your time.

Did I mention that you need to purchase healing items, using money that you receive from successfully navigating monster neuroses, thus potentially trapping yourself into a losing battle of attrition? Indeed, the only way I was able to complete the game at all was from looking up the solution to a puzzle that gave me an item that sometimes gave me free healing items. Supposedly there is also some armor you can buy to trivialize fights if you die enough times too.

In any case, the Venn Diagram of people who enjoy the plot of Undertale and those who like Bullet Hell games are likely two circles on opposite ends of the Earth.

There were some genuinely funny moments in the game, don’t get me wrong. But all I could really think about while playing was that Undertale did not respect my time. Which seems strange considering the game is like 9 hours long. Or perhaps that is expected when you know that every random encounter represents a possible permanent loss of player power (e.g. healing items or money to purchase more) instead of, you know, your character growing stronger over time. Technically you do find better equipment along the way, but that is really a bare minimum to keep parity with ever-stronger foes when you are stuck with 20 HP and losing a quarter of it each time you touch something.

Ultimately, I am glad I finished Undertale’s True Pacifist route. I understand that there are a myriad of alternative endings, including one which requires you murdering everyone you meet, but I don’t see the point. I sure as shit ain’t spending another 5+ hours on the endeavor when I already disliked combat.

Will do, Flowey. Will do. In fact, it’s already done.

Review: Fate Hunters

Fate Hunters is a deckbuilding roguelike in the same… well, not vein, but same circulatory system as Slay the Spire.

In truth, the game plays more like Dominion meets Darkest Dungeon – there is no energy, so you can play all of the cards in your hand every turn, but unplayable treasure cards can gum up your deck if you get too greedy. Monster attacks are straight-forward: they do the thing as what their card says, from left to right, every turn. After each boss fight, you are given the opportunity to leave with all your treasure cards or continue the climb, with each successive boss adding a multiplier to your treasure. If you die, that’s it, you get nothing.

And that’s the entire review. The end.

…I’m being kinda serious.

Some very evocative art

What I can say is that the game is very addictive in the just-one-more-fight way and feels amazing even though it seems low-budget. The card art is very Darkest Dungeon and consistent throughout the game. There is a fairly decent amount of cards available, including a half-dozen classes which have their own specific cards. There are also meaningful choices as you level and when you defeat bosses. For example, do you want to pick one of three random Fates (passive abilities) out of 20+? Or choose one of three Legendary weapons? Or choose one of three Heroic spells?

There is a fairly high variance in card effect quality which can lead to some swingy runs, but overall you are not likely to be shut out of possibly winning. And besides, as long as you get make it past at least one boss, you can just exit the dungeon with whatever spoils you happened to collect and try again.

As for the downsides? Well, the game is done and will no longer get any updates. Which is a real shame because there are a number of tweaks that could have been made to buff the weaker cards/abilities into usefulness. The nature of the game also lends itself to very specific strategies too – you pretty much have to always build a discard-themed deck given how treasures work. There is also zero story or lore of any kind, if that is important to you. The default price of $15 is extremely ridiculous.

But, honestly? It’s on sale for $3.74 right now and I have put in 18 hours already. If you are someone who enjoys deckbuilding roguelikes, it’s a no-brainer. Just be wary of using it as “filler” or a palate cleanser in-between other games, because every time I try and do that, it’s suddenly 2AM and I never get to the other game. Which is a pretty glowing review, now that I think about it.

Slay the Spire, Android Edition

The Android version of Slay the Spire is out. It’s $9.99 on the Google Play store, although you have to scroll down to find it.

And I recommend waiting a while before buying it.

It is indeed Slay the Spire on your phone. If you are not familiar with the game itself, well, you’re in for a treat. I’m sure there were other deck-building roguelikes out there before, but this one is so good that it has basically consumed the entire genre – anything new is basically “Slay the Spire but with X.” Being able to finally play this on my phone without streaming it or other nonsense is something I had been looking forward to for a while. In fact, I had been holding my Google Play credits from surveys for more than a year just to purchase it as soon as it popped up.

The issue is that it is a bad port.

It’s not just the bugs, of which there were many game-crippling ones (stuck on Merchant screen, continuous de-syncing, etc.). The Android port is just poorly designed from a UX perspective. Text is tiny and borderline unreadable, even with the “Big Text” option selected. Cards are shoved far at the bottom of the screen, which means half the time you try playing one, you end up minimizing the app – this behavior can be disabled via Android options, but I haven’t had any issues with Hearthstone like this. Perhaps the most frustrating though are the inconsistencies with selecting things. On the Reward screen, you have to double-tap to collect Gold, but a single-tap will select 2nd option (Potion or Relic), and your card reward requires you to click confirm. That’s three separate behaviors on one screen. Who designed this shit?

I’m also a bit salty when I straight-up lost a run right before the final boss because the wrong card was played. You cannot read the text on a card without lifting it up a bit with your finger, but lift it up too far and it will automatically be played (if it’s not specifically a targeted card). There is a “long press to Confirm” option in the Settings, but inexplicably that’s just for the End Turn button and nothing else. Incidentally, this lost run was the same one in which I accidentally skipped a Relic – the Select button became Skip after highlighting the Relic once – and then accidentally picked a bad choice in one of the “?” rooms because I was hovering my finger over the option so I could see what the Curse did.

Of course, by “accidentally” I really mean “because of dumbass UX designers.”

So, yeah, the thing I had been looking forward to for literal years was immensely disappointing. The lesson here is to don’t look forward to things don’t purchase things Day 1.

The Outer Hype, Also

I finished Outer Wilds last week. Finally.

/review over

As with its similarly named cousin, The Outer Worlds, I walked into this experience under the cloud of effusive praise. Polygon named Outer Wilds Game of the Year 2019 and added it to their Game of the Decade list (#25). Which… makes sense, I guess. It would be kind of awkward for a GOTY to not be good enough for the decade.

But if Outer Wilds is Game of the Year 2019, then 2019 must not have been a good year for games.

To be fair, there are a number of praise-worthy elements to Outer Wilds. The premise of a time-loop mystery is fairly unique (Majora’s Mask notwithstanding). The lack of any form of combat is similarly rare. The game does a really nice job of simply letting you jet around the solar system right from the get-go. The soundtrack is great and the visuals and setpieces can be breathtaking. In truth, there is a lot to like here. The fact all this novelty and ambition came from an indie dev with a dozen people is the commendable bow on top.

Setpieces are pretty crazy original.

It’s just that… the game isn’t for me. Or possibly you.

Everything was great for about two-thirds of the experience. Once you get the controls down, you can wake up from the beginning of the time loop and be orbiting any planet in the solar system within minutes. The impending supernova did grate on my nerves a few times, as it always seemed to occur when I was 90% done exploring a specific location, requiring me to make a return trip to finish up and then suiciding so as not to limit exploration time somewhere else. 

As with all videogames though, things escalated from there. Exploration started requiring some gnarly platforming, where failure often resulted in survival… but lost minutes, of which you only ever have 22. So it may as well have been death. Then the game required gnarly platforming AND specific timing. It wasn’t enough to discover where you needed to go for the next clue, you also had to be there at a specific timeframe.

Up to this point, I had been doing everything on my own. But when I encountered a particularly annoying timing puzzle I could not solve after repeated attempts, I was ready to abandon the game. As is often the case, when I broke down and looked up the solution, it was something that should have been obvious. But immediately following that one sequence were many more that would not have been obvious (to me) at all. Still later sequences require you to sit on your hands for 7+ minutes before getting the opportunity to finish navigating a hallway that becomes impossible to complete within 30 seconds of the window of opportunity opening. Who is this fun for?

I too recreated that one scene from Sunshine.

And that’s the $25 question. Or in my case, $17.80. And the answer is: Not me.

This should not have been much of a surprise. I don’t actually like Adventure/Puzzle games. Or more specifically, I abhor games in which you can come to a hard stopping point and flounder around not even knowing what it is the game is asking you to do. Can’t beat a boss? Gain more levels, or memorize its attacks, or try a different strategy. Can’t get into a locked room? Well, unless there are some movable statues right outside or a monster with the key, then good luck. There could be any number of reasons why the door is locked, up to and including the fact you aren’t supposed to go through the door. And when the solution ends up being “attach a probe to it and then wait FIFTEEN MINUTES for the entire structure to be sucked into a black hole and ejected out into space and then go through a different opening altogether,” I’m not exactly happy at the designer’s cleverness.

Nevertheless, I am glad I played Outer Wilds, if for no other reason than to see for myself as to whether it is a transformative experience. Again: not for me. I can see how it could be for some people though. Maybe. I’m not really sure, actually, because I find it difficult to imagine the sort of person who is capable of working through the entire game without a guide and also receptive to its underlying message. The guides I used didn’t ruin any of the details, but the experience itself gets a bit disjointed when you’re Alt-Tabbing every few minutes.

But if you are a fan of timed, Adventure platforming roguelikes though, you are in for a treat.