Blog Archives

Review: Don’t Starve

Game: Don’t Starve
Recommended price: $10
Metacritic Score: 79
Completion Time: 20-60 hours (variable)
Buy If You Like: Roguelikes that don’t kid around, amazing indie games

Pro tip: everything kills you.

Pro tip: bees will STAB you TO DEATH

Don’t Starve is a harsh, survival indie roguelike with dark humor, a fairly unique visual style, and a pointed lack of hand-holding. You control a man named Wilson who suddenly wakes up in the wilderness, is told that finding some food before dark would be a good idea, and then… you are on your own. From there, the basic idea is to scrounge for some carrots/berries while using available materials to craft torches, tools, traps, and other basic gear as you do your best to survive in a world that wants you dead.

Moving around and interacting with the world is surprisingly easy and intuitive. You can move around via left-clicking the ground/objects or by using WASD. Interacting with objects is done either with left-click or right-click. Pressing the Spacebar will cause your character to perform some context-sensitive activity, like start chopping a tree if equiped with an axe, pick up something if it is nearby, or attack an enemy. Combat is not particularly deep, but the “shallowness” combined with the roguelike nature of the game lends a tremendous amount of gravitas to battles. It reminds me of survival horror games that have clunky combat on purpose, to ratchet up the implicit difficulty.

Don't worry, I got this under control.

Don’t worry, I got this under control.

The default game starts you in Survival Mode, which is really more of a Sandbox mode. While there is not really an “endgame” in this mode, the game’s structure naturally (and ingeniously) lends itself to a sense of progression and escalating danger. Establishing a base camp is pretty typical and allows you to stockpile materials and research structures, making the maintenance of your Hunger, Health, and Sanity easier. On the other hand, resources generally do not regenerate very quickly, which forces you to forage farther and farther from your base camp with each passing day. And ultimately, the arrival of Winter will stretch your capacity to survive to the very limit, given how traditionally easy sources of food dry up (plants don’t grow, ponds freeze over). This is on top of an escalation of random hostile encounters by the Hounds, or other boss-level mobs.

Those in search of a more structured endgame can seek out Maxwell’s Door, a set piece randomly located somewhere on the map. Once entered, you are in Adventure Mode, tasked with surviving five randomly-determined theme worlds while collecting four Things in order to open the gate to the next world. Even if Don’t Starve consisted entirely of Adventure Mode, it would be enough to cover at least 20+ hours of gameplay. Especially given how the brutality of Survival Mode holds nothing to Adventure Mode worlds in which you are trapped in an endless Winter, or constant rain, or even a world with zero sunlight.

I'm pretty surprised myself, actually.

I’m pretty surprised myself, actually.

While I have been infatuated with Don’t Starve for quite some time, the game isn’t for everyone. Don’t Starve is extremely unforgiving, even in roguelike terms, where death is both easy to stumble into and results in a deletion of your save file. That said, while death is easy, it is almost always going to be due to mistakes you have made, rather than randomized deathtraps. Even if you get one-shot by a particular mob, that is only because you chose not to wear armor at the time, or because you were being reckless in not running away. Compare that to a game like The Binding of Isaac, where a white pill might randomly give a buff in one game and permanently reduce health in another.

If you are someone willing to play and lose dozens of hours of progress in a roguelike though (or cheese the system via console commands or making backup save copies), I cannot recommend Don’t Starve enough. It has style, it has substance, and it is receiving developer updates every 3 weeks (at the moment). It is simple to get into, impressively complex when you start planning ahead, and always engaging while you struggle to survive.

Review: Dungeons of Dredmor

Game: Dungeons of Dredmor
Recommended price: $10 (with DLC)
Metacritic Score: 79
Completion Time: 28 hours
Buy If You Like: Roguelikes, Turn-ish-Based RPGs, Indie Humor

Open door, immediately confronted with this.

Open door, immediately confronted with this.

Dungeons of Dredmor (DoD) is an indie roguelike RPG wrapped in a fluffy layer of humor and genre in-jokes. The goal is simple: navigate your way to the bottom floor of the dungeon and kill Dredmor. Along the way, you will explore rooms, evade traps (a LOT of traps), kill monsters, loot treasure, and level up.

The core of DoD is its extremely interesting combat/exploration system. Essentially, everything is turn-based: for every step or action you take, all enemies make one too. These “turns” occur instantaneously, so you are never waiting on some action on the part of the AI, which makes the action go as fast or slow as you want. This ends up feeling rather amazing, as it avoids the “spacebar fatigue” that accompanies other tactical games. This system ends up putting a premium on actions though, and it’s quite easy to get surrounded and murdered if you’re not careful.

The statistics part of DoD is intentionally obtuse – your six base stats affect 18+ other stats – but the “joke” belies a pretty robust equipment and talent system. When you first roll your character, you can choose seven different categories of talents, which either grant new abilities or a direct increase in stats as you spend skill points. For example, taking the Swords talent will let you get new abilities (not all of which require a sword), and perhaps some bonuses for using swords. There is a pretty huge number of talents though, and it’s entirely possible to pick a combination that simply won’t work. On the other hand, you could pick 6 warrior-ish talents and then grab the one that let’s you shoot fireballs. Armor generally decreases your magic ability, but it’s possible to either craft or come across armor that hurts it less.

Never been closer to the edge...

Never been closer to the edge…

DoD is definitely a roguelike (although you can turn off permadeath at character creation) and thus contains certain abilities/scenarios in which you are likely to die pretty quickly, if not arbitrarily. This is… dangerous, for lack of a better word, in a game where you can spend 22 hours on a single character exploring every room of each level (which you may want to do to stay ahead of the curve). Indeed, in the titular Dredmor encounter, I about died within three moves before I “cheesed” the rest of the encounter via judicious use of invisible mushrooms and the all-powerful ability to close doors.

At the end of the day, I spent 28 hours in Dungeons of Dredmor and could see myself replaying it again with another character setup, or perhaps after picking up the two DLC. It’s a fun game, perhaps a more cerebral version of Binding of Isaac, but where Binding of Isaac and FTL come out ahead is giving more focused gameplay with their permadeath. Had I lost my 20+ hour character, I probably would have quit altogether right there. Luckily for me, I didn’t, but I’d be lying if I said I did not make three backup copies of my savegame. So if this game sounds fun to you, I recommend turning off permadeath until you wrap your mind around the game’s many idiosyncrasies.

Reviews: A Valley Without Wind 1 & 2

Game: A Valley Without Wind
Recommended price: Bundle
Metacritic Score: 54
Completion Time: ~13 hours
Buy If You Like:
Metroidvania action platformers, infinitely long games

Art style reminds me of And Yet It Moves.

Art style reminds me of And Yet It Moves.

A Valley Without Wind (hereafter AVWW) is a procedurally-generated action-platformer in the Metroidvania style. The premise is that some unknown cataclysm has rent time and space, placing enemies like robotic mechs into Ice Age biomes. As a “glyph bearer,” your job is to scavenge materials from bombed out buildings, complete missions, and then take out the continent’s Overlord after killing off his/her/it’s lieutenants.

If all this sounds… strangely disjointed, that is because it is. The entire game comes across as more complicated (or simply arcane) than it has any reason to be. Basically, you jump around and kill enemies with ranged spells. The spells you have access to come from “spellgems” that you can either craft from materials you scavenge or earn via Missions. You also have several slots for enhancements, which are items you equip that have randomly-determined stats and abilities. For example, you might have a Foot enhancement that let’s you double-jump and have +20 mana, or Pants that eliminates all falling damage and gives +20 Haste.

Missions are one of the few things that give direction and meaning to AVWW, but after a while they too seem irrelevant. Essentially, Missions are a guaranteed way to acquire some particular thing, like a Spellgem. Missions themselves come in different types, such as Falling (character floats down long shaft avoiding enemies/spikes), Boss towers, Perfection (must restart if hit by any enemy), Rescue missions for additional survivors, and so on.

The problem is that not only is everything procedurally-generated, e.g. infinite in scale, there is not any real sense of progression. The “world” levels up after you kill an enemy lieutenant, but all that really means is that you need to re-craft all your Spellgems to the higher level to match the increase in monster HP. Finding stash rooms in buildings feels fun at first, but then you start to realize that the actual number of materials you need for any one thing is tiny. Alternatively, maybe you are missing just a single resource type and are forced to delve into dozens of buildings in order to find one inside.

But the biggest buzzkill for me was how absurdly limited the spell selection was. Once I found the most useful spell (and one backup of a different element type), every other spell was practically useless, which meant getting mats for them was useless, which meant pushing back the wind from new terrain squares (e.g. unlocking them) was useless, which meant farming the building to push back the wind from the lieutenants to access the Overlord and end the pain was useless tedious.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some interesting things going on in AVWW. The hybrid roguelike feature that is permadeath-but-you-keep-all-items made enemies feel threatening without punishing exploration, for example. Of course, the designers then made the decision that your avatar is a faceless nobody you have no attachment to, and the survivors are essentially reduced to extra lives with slightly (very slightly) different base stats. The granularity of the difficulty is extremely nuanced, allowing you to increase mob strength, platforming difficulty, or “citybuilding” complexity all independently.

At the end of the day though, I just did not feel particularly compelled by A Valley Without Wind. There is a vague sense of progression – defeating the lieutenants and then face the Overlord – but that never really trickled-down to the individual levels you were navigating. When the game comes right out and tells you to not bother exploring every nook and cranny for items (since the world is infinite), it makes you start wondering why you are looking for anything in the first place.

_____________

Game: A Valley Without Wind 2
Recommended price: none
Metacritic Score: 68
Completion Time: n/a
Buy If You Like:
Throwing money away, poorly implemented games

If only this was a meaningful choice.

If only this was a meaningful choice.

There are very few games which I simply give up on. Of those games that I abandon, it is usually due to either frustrating game design or simple boredom. When it comes to A Valley Without Wind 2, it joins that sorry company with the distinction of having both qualities.

If you have played the original A Valley Without Wind, the first thing you should know is that the “sequel” has really nothing to do with its (much better) predecessor. The formula has changed. Radically. The premise is that after infiltrating the inner circle of the Overlord Demonaica and being gifted with an Oblivion Stone (aka the Glyphs of the first game), you reveal your true intentions to fight the Overlord’s power. You do so by… running away.

Basically, you order members of the resistance to move around the overland map in a turn-based manner, constructing farms and scavenging scrap to build other structures while you unlock more of the map by destroying rain machines (evil versions of the Windmills). Each resistance member can move once a turn, and they will not actually perform any actions until the end of the following turn. The turns themselves are advanced only when you enter into one of the rain machine maps and destroy it. Before doing so, you are free to explore any of the maps to look for Perks or… no, that’s it.

If this sounds nothing like the Metroidvania of the first game, that is because it isn’t. At all. In fact, the platforming aspects of AVWW2 has taken a thousand steps backwards. You cannot aim with the mouse any more, meaning that you are firing spells in just (usually) the cardinal directions. Instead of your own custom spells, you have to choose one of five “classes,” which have a total of four spells that do not necessarily even cover a wide range of situations. On top of that, spells have a sort of “priority” system where your projectiles are almost always destroyed by enemy projectiles, unless you have some specific spell with a high priority in your repertoire. This might sound tactical, but it’s really not. All it means is that you jerk clumsily around the screen, spamming your spells in a few directions while plowing into a screen full of enemy projectiles.

This is not even getting into the fact that the random loot and equipment strategy of the first game has been cut off at the knees neck. You have exactly one “equipment” slot, with no inventory; if you pick something else up, it replaces whatever you had equipped. The equipment also degrades as you take damage, so it will eventually break on its own. While the equipment you find is still random, there is no strategy or even thought required. “Is this better than what I have/an empty slot?” If yes, equip. If no, skip. The only customization you have is choosing which Perks to use, which basically amounts to 1 of 4 different Perks per level. Do you want +10% jumping height or +1 Heart (even the HP has been dumbed down)? Then again, considering that the platforming aspect is practically nonexistent, the Perks don’t really matter.

The funny thing (in a sad way) about all this was that the turn-based part of the game seemed sorta passably fun. Monsters would periodically come out of the Overlord’s tower, and you have to position your resistance members intelligently to intercept them without getting overwhelmed (each deals damage equal to their HP to one another), while also not leaving valuable structures open to destruction. Plus, around Turn 14, the Overlord himself was going to come out and destroy everything in his path. From there, you had a few things you could do while on the run, and the race against time angle was kinda compelling too. The problem was that the platforming aspects necessary to advance the turns and beat the overall game were so comically bad.

Ultimately, I am not even sure who A Valley Without Wind 2 was even made for. Metroidvania fans of the original will encounter perhaps the worst, most boring platformer ever made. Strategy gamers might have some fun, up until they are forced to play the worst, most boring platformer ever made to advance the turns. And… that’s it, the entire audience. The game simply fails at everything it was trying to do, when all they had to do was do what they did the first time around. I am not sure what the designers were thinking when they made this game, but whatever it was, it didn’t work.

Winter is… oh crap

The night after the prior post, I made it to my first Don’t Starve winter.

The snow birds should have been a sign I was getting close, but they were a warning left unheeded as I wasted several days gathering the materials to build a bee box (for harvesting honey, of course). Bees don’t come out in winter though, and my crops were thinning out. Moves needed made.

Having found and “killed” a lureplant, I decided that I needed to set it up in a more tactically advantageous way. A lureplant is essentially a fleshy bulb plant surrounded by a field of eyeball plants with teeth. Par for the course in a game where Nightmare Fuel is a literal item needed to craft magic items. The surrounding eyeball plants can’t grow on rocky terrain though, so you can build a safe walkway to the bulb and harvest the meat and other materials that the eyeballs “eat.” The problem is that this world randomly has an incredible lack of rocks.

But, dammit, winter is coming.

Bad news all around.

Artist’s rendition.

I made the ~1.5 day trek out to the one location I knew had rocks, while nervously glancing at the freezing ice starting to cover my screen. Torches do nothing to assuage my growing frostbite, so I periodically set fire to bushes and trees near the road. Once I get to the rocks, I realize that I can’t actually dig up the terrain here – the difference must be rock vs rocky. What does “rocky” look like? Oh, shit, that’s a Tallbird that is attacking my walking treasure chest! Oh… but it has left its nest undefended with its beautiful, succulent egg…

Pro tip #1: a Tallbird will one-shot you without armor.

Pro tip #2: resurrecting at a touchstone, practically naked in the dead of winter, with all your items in a pile around a Tallbird nest, is not actually all that useful. Especially when a pack of Hounds just happens to spawn not 20 seconds later.

Pro tip #3: Life is full of emptiness and disappointment and despair.

Day 1? Let's start a forest fire and jump in a wormhole.

This random forest will feel my pain.

I started another two games after that, abandoning the first when my initial 10 minute search for gold was fruitless. The second game though… hey, I might be getting somewhere. Bees? Fuck bees. I got two smoking racks, a bird cage to transform monster meat into eggs, and have 8+ traps on top of the rabbit holes in a nearby field. I’ll look to survive this first winter, erm, first before upgrading my base with bees. Maybe dig up a few more berry bushes and plant them closer, although the fish in nearby ponds are more than enough to keep me sustained.

And that’s when I found it. Maxwell’s Door. Adventure Mode, aka Challenge Mode, aka a purpose greater than mere survival.

I have a very special set of skills...

I have a very special set of skills…

I’m coming for you, Max. You thought you could leave me to die in your hellish wilderness realm? I got news for you, boy: it’s you who are trapped in here with me.

Not for long though. Not. For. Long.

My Current Obsession: Don’t Starve

As I mentioned back in my Card Hunter post, it is pretty rare that I get 100% engrossed in a given game. The all-in immersion in a game’s delicious logical systems is precisely what I desire, but gaming today is typically focused on front-loading the fun, followed by a tapering off of stimulation. So color me surprised when I found myself playing Don’t Starve until 6am again, trying (in vain) to get myself prepared for a winter I have never survived long enough to see.

It's all inevitably down-hill from here.

It’s all inevitably down-hill from here.

In a nutshell, Don’t Starve is an indie survival roguelike. You wake up, get taunted a bit by the above-pictured guy, and… that’s it. As the Steam store description states:

Uncompromising Survival & World Exploration:

No instructions. No help. No hand holding. Start with nothing and craft, hunt, research, farm and fight to survive.

They’re not kidding. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of a particular mechanic… BAM! You get stung to death by angry bees.

Not a good way to go.

Not a good way to go.

If you die, that’s it, game over; your save file is erased. Occasionally there will be a sacrificial altar-looking thing, which acts as a one-time respawn mechanic. You can even construct your own Meat Effigy, which will also respawn you once… but you will have a lower maximum HP for as long as it exists. And keep in mind that you don’t resurrect with your gear – all of your shit is piled on the ground next to the giant spider nest or murloc Merm camp or swamp filled with giant tentacles or whatever nightmare area you died in.

And that’s another thing: there’s a sanity meter too.

But, seriously, Don’t Starve is one of the most brilliant games I have played in years. While I sort of feel like it’s still in beta (there’s a countdown until the next patch on the title screen), how all the game systems already interlock is astonishing. As you might imagine from the title, getting food is important. But actually getting enough food to survive is pretty easy. The problem is that actually foraging all that food will consume a large portion of your day, leaving you little time to explore before nightfall. You can’t just hoard food either, because it spoils. Even worse, no crops grow during the winter and the ponds freeze over and you can’t eat monster meat without going insane and… you get the idea.

This is how far I walked looking for Flint, one time.

This is how far I walked looking for Flint, one time.

What I find so engaging is how I feel like I’m… juggling. You know in RTS games like Starcraft (etc) when you’re trying to micromanage some battles and having your base produce more units and sending scouts out to look for expansions? I actually dislike RTS games that are structured that way – I can do any one of them well, but not all simultaneously – but Don’t Starve somehow threads that needle. I would spend a few days making food supplies, then trek out into the wilderness looking for more of a certain resource I was lacking, foraging when I could, and trying not to get too far afield. Then come back, craft some new feature in my camp, and then get attacked by Hounds and die on Day 22.

And I’m not even mad.

Each world is procedurally-generated, which means next time I might be able to locate an even better starting location for my camp. Or maybe I’ll run across one of those random set-pieces and get a huge leg-up on survival with the ready-made supplies there. Or maybe I’ll actually find that goddamn Maxwell’s Door again and be able to play the game within a game. Oh, did I forget to mention that? The base game is a sandbox, but you can do Adventure Mode (a story-ish game mode) if you walk through Maxwell’s Door. If you die inside though, you get booted back outside into the “normal” world and it’s forever closed to you on this world. Collect four mysterious items though, and you can jump to a brand new world with another Maxwell’s Door located somewhere on it.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, because none of us are likely to make it. As it says on the Steam page:

Randomly Generated New Worlds:

Want a new map? No problem! At any time you can generate a new living and breathing world that hates you and wants you to die.

One day, I will see the winter. And die horribly, no doubt. But seeing it will be enough. For now.

Maybe not so indie after all…

One of the points I made yesterday regarding Card Hunter’s potential was:

1) Card Hunter is not being made by some large corporation (even if their F2P pricing is similar);

It occurred to me later though, that I never bothered to check on the actual game developers. Who are these guys and gals, and how were they able to create such a polished experience even in this Beta state? As it turns out… well, let’s just say that they have some experience in this regard:

  • Jonathan Chey – co-founder of Irrational Games, director of Bioshock, producer of System Shock 2.
  • Joe McDonagh – Production Director and Peggle Studio Franchise Director at PopCap Games.
  • Dorian Hart – Veteran at Irrational Games; worked on System Shock I and II, Thief and BioShock.
  • Tess Snider – from Trion Worlds, programmed Rift.
  • Kevin Kulp – DM/game designer, worked at Wizards of the Coast, Green Ronin, and other places.
  • Richard Garfield – Design consultant. Created Magic: The Gathering.
  • Skaff Elias – Design consultant. Magic designer and founder of the Magic pro-tour.

So… yeah. Maybe this team isn’t so indie after all. I mean, when you have Richard fucking Garfield as a design consultant for your pseudo-TCG, that almost feels like cheating. Then again, I’m not particularly interested in having a hipster semantic war. Seven dudes with two consultants and no major publisher with suits to answer to? That passes the indie smell test for me.

P.S. For those just submitting their beta applications, it took me from May 11 to Jun 20 to get in.

Review: Terraria

Game: Terraria
Recommended price: $10 (full)
Metacritic Score: 83
Completion Time: 50+ hours
Buy If You Like: 2D Minecraft, procedurally-generated Metrovania platformers

WHY IS THIS SO FUN?! *sobs*

WHY IS THIS SO FUN?! *sobs*

Up until I started playing a few weeks ago, the entire mental space Terraria occupied for me can be summed up as “that 2D Minecraft knock-off.” I am not even sure which game came first, and it did not seem to matter: Terraria was just another game about digging for ore and crafting better pickaxes to mine for more ore. In only two dimensions.

After seeing an entire weekend evaporate in a flurry of clicking pixel blocks however, I am here to say that Terraria is not just a 2D Minecraft clone. It is an unholy union between all the addictive parts of Minecraft combined with legitimately entertaining Metrovania gameplay with a liberal dose of SNES graphical/musical nostalgia thrown into the mix.

Terraria starts out innocently enough, with your character equipped with a copper sword, axe, and mining pick. The beginning hours will be spent chopping trees, building your first crafting station, killing some slimes to turn their quivering innards into fuel for your torches, and so on. Much like Minecraft, zombies and other uglies come out at night which drives you to create shelter and then start digging underground for wont of something else to do.

C'mon, this is easily more explainable than the average Minecraft schennanigans.

C’mon, this is easily more explainable than average Minecraft shenanigans.

While it might not initially seem so at first, there is a surprising amount of depth (har har) to Terraria’s gameplay. While you are hunting around for Copper and Iron ore, you will of course encounter enemies in the deep places of the earth. You will also frequently encounter priceless clay pots of a forgotten age which can be broken and looted for coins. You will eventually start coming across chests filled with goodies/equipment, and even crystalline Hearts, which can be broken and then consumed to increase your HP.

As you hit certain milestones, the world around you changes. Once you have accumulated 50 silver pieces, a Merchant will hang around your house, provided you build a room for him to sleep in. Finding and hoarding bombs will cause the Demolitionist to start peddling his explosive warez. And once you surpass 200 HP, there is an increasing chance the Eye of Cthulhu (the first boss) will settle its gaze upon your growing hamlet.

Not only does all this progression feel natural, it is also addicting. Your hunt for better ores to craft better armor and weapons to make your life easier leads to encountering stronger foes and ever more secrets. While crafting is a lot less complex than with Minecraft – you can talk to the Guide to see every craftable item that a given ingredient can produce – it simultaneously feels a bit deeper. Hitting Diamond could be accomplished relatively quickly in Minecraft, at which point you were essentially in the endgame. Contrast that with Terraria, where the natural hardiness of your foes directs your exploration of the whole of the game map before culminating in a Final Boss… whose defeat unlocks the Hardmode version of your world, with new enemies and even harder bosses.

I... I'll see myself out.

I… I’ll see myself out.

Of course, all of this implicit progression leads to a necessarily more finite resolution. While there are quite a few different set pieces to play around with, you are probably not going to spend the same amount of time building castles and mountain fortresses here as you would in Minecraft. That said, my game clock read 53 hours by the time I finished off the last of the Hardmode bosses and crafted the final piece of my ultimate armor. I could farm these bosses a few more times for their exclusive material drops – who wouldn’t want to run around with a flamethrower? – but it almost seems superfluous at this point. What would be next? Would I reroll a new character in a new procedurally-generated world? I could. But I feel I have already mastered these mechanics, and would simply arrive at the same destination a bit faster this time around. Hell, I could even equip my new character with the flamethrower and best pickaxe in the game to further speed along the process. Or I could go play something else.

Overall, the only real regret I have with Terraria was having spent all the time up to this point thinking of it as just a 2D Minecraft. Both games share many similar qualities, but why would another instance of “cause one to lose all track of time” or “become obsessed with mining better ore” be considered a deficiency? Both games are fun, in slightly different ways. Indeed, I am not even sure which one I would recommend first to someone who has played neither. Show Minecraft first, and like me, you might be a tad disappointed in the more limited forms of customization and Terraria not quite comparing to the sheer scale of an infinite 3D world. With Terraria going first though, you run the risk of having the person balk at Minecraft’s lack of direction and flat sense of progression.

Yes, that's a lava moat below a lever-operated trapdoor.

Yes, that’s a lava moat below a lever-operated trapdoor.

In any case, having indie game companies force these tough choices on us when the AAA industry is falling over themselves pumping out derivative, 6-hour long sequels is ultimately a good problem to have.

Reviews: Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale; Deadlight

Game: Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
Recommended price: $5
Metacritic Score: 82
Completion Time: ~16 hours
Buy If You Like: Japanese indie games with funny localizations

Seriously, even a Lost joke?!

Seriously, even a Lost joke?!

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is a Japanese indie game localized in the Working Designs (RIP) tradition, wherein you take control of Recette as she turns her lonely house into an item shop to pay off her missing adventurer father’s defaulted debt. With the aid of the loan shark fairy Tear, you can either buy weapons, armor, and other goods at wholesale prices from the markets to sell at a premium, or hire out adventurers to go clear dungeons and sell those drops in your store. Time is limited however, and you must make each week’s increasingly crazy payment lest your home get repossessed.

I found the general gameplay and underlying mechanical tension surprisingly fun. Each day in Recettear is divided into four slices, which you can use to run your shop, spend going out shopping, or use two at a time to go through dungeons. I frequently found myself in interesting dilemmas: with the 80,000 payment due tomorrow, should I spend all four time slices to peddle my dwindling wares? Should I gamble that a dungeon run will net be some expensive “free” items, and that I still have time to sell them? Or should I actually spend money at the market in the hopes that I can recoup with profit before tomorrow?

These dilemmas even extend to the actual selling of items too, as you must decide what markup percent your customers are willing to accept. Shoot for the guaranteed 110%… or stretch to 130%? Finally, at random intervals the market for weapons/consumables/etc will either crash or spike, which can force you to sell at half price or lets you double your profits respectively.

Overall, I enjoyed the game while it lasted, or at least the first 8-10 hours. Defaulting on the loan actually leads to a Game Over screen, but you can start again at Week 1 with your full inventory, same adventurer levels/equipment, and same Merchant Level and other unlocks. While this makes beating the game an inevitability, you are likely to understand the underlying systems well enough to make beating the game a forgone conclusion before the end of Loop 2. For those who find themselves obsessed, Recettear does offer a quite a selection of post-game activities, including New Game+, Endless mode, and even Survival Hell mode where you have to keep making six-figure loan payments until you finally default.

If you want a unique, quirky indie game with an amusing localization, Recettear has you covered.

_____________

Game: Deadlight
Recommended price: Bundle
Metacritic Score: 78
Completion Time: ~3 hours
Buy If You Like: A less artistic LIMBO, or short side-scrolling puzzle games

Somehow, this is easier than walking around the electricity.

Dude… couldn’t you just walk 10ft into the background?

Deadlight is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer in the tradition of Out of This World or LIMBO, to use a more recent example. You control Randall Wayne has he navigates his way through a 1980s version of a Seattle zombie apocalypse on a mission to find his family. Amidst the frankly ridiculous jumping scenarios that Randall solves with Assassin’s Creed-levels of aplomb, you will frequently be harassed by zombies (or “Shadows” as they are termed here), which creates an extra level of tension and danger to the side-scrolling navigation.

It is worth noting that this game is stunningly beautiful; clocking in at 4.1 gigs, I suspect that the characters and environments are actually rendered in full 3D, with the camera merely forcing a 2D perspective. Aside from the graphics though, my comparison with LIMBO remains apt: Deadlight is an incredibly short game whose merits largely reside on the artistic side of the spectrum, rather than gameplay. Whereas LIMBO’s style accentuated the gameplay though, Deadlight’s more realistic bent strains credulity and breaks immersion in a few places. An example is in the screenshot above, where Randall had to leap from a building onto a series of cranes, then jump down to wire before launching himself over a barbwire fence. While platformers require a healthy degree of suspension of disbelief in general, I had a hard time getting over the fact that there is clearly a perfectly safe pathway not 10 feet in the background of that very screenshot.

Despite the immersion breaks, Deadlight isn’t a bad game – it is simply something I would not recommend picking up outside of a bundle. Even if you pick it up on a $5 sale as I did, the dollar-per-hour of entertainment is not particularly impressive.

Minecraft Beats CoD

As reported by Kotaku:

[…] Since Major Nelson has publicized the numbers, the most popular game on Xbox Live—this is according to unique users playing the game while logging into the service, not just those playing multiplayer—has always been a first person shooter. Gears of War. Halo. And, for more than two years running, something from the Call of Duty series.

That came to an end this past week, when Minecraft‘s Xbox 360 edition emerged as the most played game on the Xbox 360. Back in May, the title—a console adaptation of the PC game, sold over Xbox Live Marketplace, now—finally broke Call of Duty‘s stranglehold on the top two of Xbox Live’s most active chart, something not even FIFA, the world’s most popular sports video game, could do.

In the week of Oct 15, Minecraft took No. 1.

And, of course, one of the very first comments is “One overrated game tops another.”

I have not booted up Minecraft since the beta ended – not out of hipster snobbery, but due to having gotten my 100+ hour fill already – so I cannot really speak to the game as it exists currently. But let me just say: good goddamn job. Although there have undoubtedly been indie game successes before this one, I think the gaming historians of the future will look back and catalog indie games as being BM (Before Minecraft) and AM (After Minecraft).

Going from 1-2 programmers to knocking Call of fucking Duty out of the number one slot on Xbox Live is a success story for the ages.

Kinda makes me wonder whether this topical (MMO) sandbox debate has some traction. Is Minecraft just an Angry Birds, e.g. hugely popular in a self-contained way with few derivatives? Or is it more of an iPad phenomenon, e.g indicative of consumers being introduced to something they did not realize they wanted (like tablet computers)?

Start your betting here.

Great Timing

When I originally saw the MMO-Champion post about free SWTOR beta keys, I was excited. And, hey, I actually got a key! Oh… what? It’s a key to enter the drawing for a chance at downloading and playing a 20+ gig client for more than a day 1.5 weeks from now? Wow. I am still trying to imagine a scenario in which downloading a 20 gig game to play for 24 hours or less is not a thinly-veiled “fuck you.” I do not suffer under bandwidth caps, but there is absolutely a cap on my attention span and tolerance for bullshit.

That was a week ago. Last night at 3:23 am, I get the email talking about how I was magically selected for the upcoming weekend beta. I quickly click the link in the email, because apparently the speed at which you click determines the duration of the cock-tease. Fantastic, there is an error. Apparently SWTOR wants everyone who registered before a certain date to reset their passwords. I press the password reset button and wait for the email. And wait. And wait. It arrives at 4:29 am, having taken the equivalent of Pony Express speeds through the Internet tubes, about fifteen minutes after I went to sleep.

Today, I finally reset the password, and attempt to log on to redeem my weekend beta code.

Couldn't they spend, say, $5 million of that $300 million making a goddamn website that works?

Gee whiz, guys. With how concerned EA/Bioware is with a smooth launch, one would assume their goddamn website would be able to handle the traffic generated by the miserly metering of beta codes a week ago.

But you know what? I’m over it. If you notice down at the lower right of the screenshot, there is a Steam notification that Aquaira finished downloading. Aquaria and Crayon Physics Delux and Darwinia and other indie titles for $3.53 care of the latest Humble Bundle that went up today. Not to mention the next Indie Royale bundle will be going up on Friday, along with the inevitable Steam sales over Thanksgiving.

When I quit WoW, I was somewhat concerned about what I would do with all the time freed up by no longer doing daily quests, running heroics, playing the AH and so on. After all, when you averaged the ~7700 hours out it was in the neighborhood of 5 hours a day (albeit most of that encompassed when I was unemployed). What I discovered is that time gets filled up no matter what I do – there is never a time when I am bored for lack of games to play, blogs to read, or things to do. And so I am wondering if I will even have the time or inclination to fit in mediocre MMO gameplay propped up by social strings and glue anymore. Having friends is great; making friends is an awkward pain in the ass.

And unless/until SWTOR starts impressing me a lot more than it currently is, I may stick to the vastly cheaper, and amusingly better quality indie gameplay.