Mento's May Madness: #12 - Puzzle Bots

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

13/05/12 - Game #12

The game: Wadjet Eye Games' Puzzle Bots

The source: The Indie Brain Pack, one of the many bundles in the Xmas 2010 Steam sale.

The pre-amble: Prolific Indie adventure game studio Wadjet, perhaps better known for the Shivah, the Blackwell series and (most recently) Gemini Rue, previously created this more kid-friendly escapade about a quintet of odd adventurous robots and their equally eccentric human inventors. Invoking that slightly misleading nomenclature of mine once again, this is an "episodic" adventure game where smaller, self-contained scenarios are presented individually without a persistent inventory carried over - rather, the puzzles are set up in more of a "Lost Vikings" style, where the player must use each robot's special talents to proceed.

The playthrough: This game was a breeze. But not necessarily in the pejorative sense; it had plenty of charm, even if it's the sort of charm you'd find in a well-crafted Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network show. In fact, there are many clues to indicate that this is a game intended for a younger audience - its goofy family-friendly jokes, bright and colourful artwork (and an oddly familiar animation style - reminiscent of Ctrl-Alt-Del, in fact, though with fortunately way less B^U expressions) and the afore-hinted simple puzzles that will even helpfully tutorialize each of the robot's special abilities before letting you run amok with them. So when I say a breeze, I mean a gentle, pleasant experience that passes all too quickly.

Yet again I'm faced with illustrating my experience with a game that's entirely a series of set-piece puzzles without wanting to describe those puzzles in any detail in case I spoil the solutions to any of them. I will say that there's some interesting applications for the robots' powers - especially where the aquatic robot Ibi (who pretty much has to solve every puzzle going on underwater) and the main protagonist robot Hero are concerned, since there's some variation in what they're able to do. Others tend to have one specific job, so it's usually obvious from the context when they're needed - if there's a cracked wall, you use the Bomb Robot and if there's a flammable item in the way you use the Flamethrower Robot, and so on.

I guess I can recommend this game if you've got kids around that you want to ease into the world of adventure gaming, or if you've always wondered what Mega Man would've been like if all the robot masters were gregarious and helped each other solve puzzles. Otherwise it's yet another slight Indie adventure from a developer that has plenty of more intriguing examples of the genre to show you.

The verdict: Beaten.

1 Comments

Mento's May Madness: #11 - Nimbus

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

12/05/12 - Game #11

The game: Noumenon Games' Nimbus

The source: The very first Indie Royale Bundle.

The pre-amble: More Swedish shenanigans with Nimbus, a game where you guide a ship through a series of obstacle courses. The ship has no means of self-propulsion, so players must use gravity and features of the surrounding environment to propel themselves all the way through to the exit.

The playthrough: I kind of liked Nimbus. It is slow to get started, though, with many of the early levels simply reiterating the game's core concepts of astutely manipulating the natural gravitational forces to glide through and past a myriad of spikes, trampolines, launchers, barriers and the keys that unlock them. The whole thing is presented with a very jovial and bright 16-bit manner, a deliberately retro feel that is emphasized by the dialogue-free introductory cutscene where a boy blimp (our hero) is separated from his girl blimp after she is kidnapped by a giant monster that mocks him before flying off with the boy in pursuit. You can't have a video game plot more straightforward than that.

Each stage has an equally straightforward goal, which is to simply reach the end. However, in the time I spent with the game (enough to clear the first world), I spotted a few Super Mario World-esque alternate exits and a set of collectibles that occasionally provide an additional challenge to a level. There's also the requisite time trials that connects to scoreboards both global and personalized with a player's Steam buddies. Beyond that, the game clearly still hadn't run out of things to show me, and I suspect that I'll even reach the point where I can make upgrades to the little blimp guy protagonist which will facilitate some faster times and new regions.

That said, I've already seen signs that further levels will get longer and more devious and will punish indiscretions by forcing you to repeat large swathes of what you've already seen. This issue seems to unfortunately be part and parcel of the game's central conceit in that some sections are only passable if you manage to gather a lot of momentum from the previous areas; without it there's no way you'll have the necessary speed to propel yourself over the obstacles ahead and you therefore have little recourse but to start over. The game hasn't become the super challenging hell that Super Meat Boy or Trials devolves into just yet, but when that difficulty spike shows up it'll probably kill any goodwill I have for the game. But, hey, I'm mostly speculating on a trend I'm seeing here. (Plus there's no way would dig a game like this unless it was bastard tough.) I'll be sure to keep with it until I reach that point, if indeed it ever comes.

The verdict: Will revisit.

4 Comments

Mento's May Madness: #10 - Machinarium

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

11/05/12 - Game #10

The game: Amanita Design's Machinarium

The source: The second Humble Indie Bundle

The pre-amble: Czech studio Amanita Design has made quite a few of their uniquely whimsical point-and-click adventures now, most recent of which is Botanicula. Their breakout hit, though, was this cute little tale of a rundown robot in an equally rusty berg of automatons that vary from largely apathetic to downright mean, with the backstory being revealed incrementally through Binding of Isaac-style animated thought bubbles. It's an adventure game that follows what I obfuscatingly coined semi-recently as "episodic" - each section of the game tends to be a self-contained zone with its smattering of puzzles, the solution of which grants you access to the next area with usually very little reason to go back.

The playthrough: This game is just delightful. But I knew as much, given this game's been out for a good three years now and became kind of unavoidable after it was given away in an early Humble Bundle. It's a little gross that I've only just got around to it, actually. Like Lume (probably bad form to follow one game with another just like it), the puzzles are a mix of adventure game "use X with Y" mainstays and the recently popular Layton-esque self-contained Mensa brainteasers, such as sliding blocks around or those friggin' matchsticks. There are no matchstick puzzles in Machinarium, but at least one of every other type of annoying set-up you might've come across in a Layton or Puzzle Agent. In Machinarium's defense, though, adventure games with these sorts of puzzles were still relatively fresh back then. It also has a neat little gimmick where the main character can extend or contract his telescopic body, giving him a higher reach and longer reach, respectively. Of course, he isn't exactly celeritous when stretched or compacted, leading to some annoyance when you accidentally click to the next area and the little dude interminably trundles along, happily oblivious to my frantic attempts to skip the walking animation.

Since this is another game I beat in a few hours with little else I want to say in detail about it, lest I spoil some of the puzzles, here's a bunch of earlier graphic adventures that Machinarium reminded me of in some way: Beneath A Steel Sky's general setting, a slightly dingy arcology that tends towards the up/down axis when progressing through it, rather than the usual length and breadth; Gobliiins' sense of humorous, dialogue-free European whimsy as well as quite a few timing-based puzzles; and, of course, the aforementioned Layton "manatee puzzles" - that is, the type of non sequitur IQ test bait that the game drops in your lap while trying to activate an electronic switch or what have you similar to Family Guy's non sequitur, largely context-free asides. I know it's reductive to say a game's little more than a composite of elements from its elders, but it's also reassuring, in a way, to know that the designers are clearly just as passionate about these games as you are. Wearing your influences on your sleeve isn't necessary a bad thing. Especially when the entire package is so uniquely presented.

Some more scandalous behind the scenes info: This entry was supposed to be about Magicka. But somehow my PC isn't good enough to run it at anything faster than an especially soporific snail's pace. You might even say it bork bork bork my computer. But seriously, I have no idea what's up since it looks as graphically intense as Torchlight, which ran just fine. Maybe it's all those spell physics. I think next time I do one of these PC gaming marathon features, it'll be games I have to run through DOSBox. At least I know my PC can handle those.

The verdict: Beaten like a copper-domed step-droid.

1 Comments

Mento's May Madness: #9 - Lume

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

10/05/12 - Game #9

The game: State of Play's Lume.

The source: Indie Royale's 2012 Valentine Bundle

The pre-amble: Ask me about Lume! But seriously folks, Lume is a point-and-click graphic adventure game with a strong Layton-esque focus on instance puzzles and an alternative energy theme. Help a kid called Lume power up his grandfather's eco-friendly house before he gets home. Simplicity itself. Perhaps unfortunately, since this game is also very short.

The playthrough: A little inside baseball here: I had a few problems getting the next game I was supposed to cover - InMomentum - running, because my graphics card was made in the early 2000s by immigrants or something. So I stuck that in the same category I have on Steam for games I bought while overestimating my PC's capabilities, alongside STALKER, Witcher and Sanctum, and got to work on the next game: Jamestown. Then I realised I've played Jamestown to death thus rendering it a pointless inclusion for this feature's purposes simply so I'd have a "J" game and it's not like the whole alphabetical device I'd been using until now wasn't already shot. So next it was King's Bounty, which had a 5gb install and was a little beyond the scope of an "install, play a few hours, uninstall" daily feature.

Why all this (additional) pre-amble? Because I beat this game in 30 minutes. It's certainly pretty, having a sort of cardboard cut-out aesthetic that occasionally segues into a quivering photo-realistic diarama model effect that looked pretty cool. It had a few Layton-type puzzles where I'd connect a bunch of wires by spinning around squares on a grid or have to work out the directions on a map, one completely obfuscating Fez-lite scenario where I had to ascertain a padlock code and one instance where I had to use an item on another item to get a third item, without realising I needed a fourth item by using the first item on the second item again. I don't know why I couldn't get both items after the same action, but ours is not to reason why, ours is but to point and click and want to die. To paraphrase Tennyson. As many video game blogs are wont to do. Cough.

Point is, though, I could very easily spend more time writing about this game than I did actually playing it, and that's probably crazy. If you got this game in the Valentine bundle, like I did, then it's not so bad. If you bought this game full price, despite it being shorter than most of the similar point and click adventures you can find for free on Kongregate/Armor Games (sort of a recurring realization for many of the games I've covered here so far) then that.. really kind of sucks for you, I guess.

The verdict: Well, I beat it, so... no, I won't be going back.

1 Comments

A Brief LP of a Potential Minecraft Killer

Hey folks, I'm interrupting the Steam monthly bonanza thing to hop on-board the cuboid MineCraft bandwagon. Now that a less sophisticated 360 version has come out - and been reviewed on GB even! In lieu of many other games! - I figured it was high time I stuck my unwarranted prejudices in my pocket and give that ol' trial version a run. You know, kind of recreating that fun everyone had with the Alpha back in the day? So I went onto UK XBLA and... they didn't have it. I guess because it takes longer to localize all that story content for Europe?

'Twas but a momentary setback for the "never say die" stalwart chap that I am, however, so I instead embarked on a quixotic quest to find something that was very similar to MineCraft - that could recreate that same mix of constructive fun and exploration wanderlust - yet was somehow both better and cheaper. Guys, I think I may have found it:

Welcome to MinePaint! This is my new world. Looks a bit barren here of course, but then it's only just finished generating all that beautiful whiteness to explore. Let's jump in!
So obviously the first thing you want to do is build a house to protect yourself from the elements (not to mention the many colorful monsters out there!) Since I don't have any sophisticated tools as of yet, my domicile is somewhat crude. We'll fix it later once we've acquired some decent materials!
So here you can see that I've dug a hole in my world and have already started mining a crapton of sweet ores. Most of it is brown and grey, as evident over on the right there, but I've found a smattering of rarer stuff too. Ahh, this game is really hitting up that kind of rush I get for discovery!
Note to first time players: Though the temptation to spend all your new resources on fixing up your crappy house is great (and unavoidable in my case, since I used up ALL my bluium!), you'll want to save it - especially early on - for practical improvements rather than cosmetic ones.
Well, look what we have here. The first visitor to my server! Hello there, neighbor!
Hey, mi casa es su casa, amigo! He seems content to wander around for now, so it's time to do some more mining. Look at all those minerals! I even have some super rare purplium now as well!
Now here is the real first improvement you guys should make: The crafting table! With this, you can add all sorts of useful items to your MinePaint world!
As you can see, I've built a cool-looking chair for sittin', a pickaxe to help me dig further down and RoboCop.
Wha?! H-hey, that's my purplium!
Quickly RoboCop! Apprehend that creep before he absconds with my precious minerals!
Oh God dammit. I guess I need to build some fuel for him something. I don't even know what the MinePaint formula is for babyfood. I'll check the official MinePaint wiki later.
Well, that's the first few hours I spent with this game. A bit of a rough time, but then you can't help it if the occasional criminal element sneaks into your world. Makes it more exciting, in a way. Overall, I've had a blast letting my imagination run wild here. I'll be sure to let you guys in on any big projects I decide to build! Until next time, toodles!

(Part 9 of May Madness is coming soon, you guys. Honest.)

15 Comments

Mento's May Madness: #8 - Hammerfight

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

08/05/12 - Game #8

The game: Konstantin Koshutin's Hammerfight

The source: Humble Indie Bundle #3

The pre-amble: Russian momentum-based flying tank duelling combat. Sounds kind of neat, right? Build momentum by spinning your weapon around your ship with careful flying and whack your opponent with it as hard as possible. Do this a sufficient amount of times before the opponent does this to you and you'll win the match - and continue the story, in the single player mode, which apparently involves a bunch of Middle Eastern civilizations warring with each other with these ridiculous machines.

The playthrough: Holy Christballs, is this game a clusterfuck. It's almost a glorious fiasco of a control scheme concept, sort of like Die By The Sword. In fact, I could compare this game to Die By The Sword all day and how they share that massive discrepancy between how the controls are clearly supposed to work and how reality will often have other ideas for overambitious coding. I hesitate it to call it a good game, or even a fun game to play, but it's weirdly entertaining to watch. This insanity is exacerbated with the incomprehensible plot of a young "Gaiar" tribesman attempting to ingratiate himself in the world of floating hammer fighting machine riders and the local giant worm-hunting guild, before everything goes to shit with some swarthy motherfuckers that suddenly appear with flying machines with giant serrated knives and gatling guns.

Frankly, as odd as all this sounds, it's nothing compared to how this actually plays. Because your blunt weapon has some considerable weight to it (since it's supposed to hurt when you spin them around into enemies) there's a lot of compensating for that weight while you try to guide the craft's flight around with the mouse. Everything is controlled by the mouse, including some secondary mode activated by the mouse buttons that I was unable to fathom, so it's not like there was some overly elaborate control scheme I was unable to get to grips with. The flying's very much more Flight Control than A-10C Warthog in terms of flight simulation complexity. It just all felt very wrong. Well, not wrong exactly, because I can believe that a helicopter with a giant hammer attached to it would probably control precisely as badly as the game's interpretation. Awkward's probably the word I'm looking for. Wait, I have a good comparison: Carmageddon 2 after you pick up that ball and chain power-up - anyone who knows what I'm talking about here now has a vivid approximation of how this game controls all the time.

As an added bonus, the mouse sensitivity remained maxed out after quitting the game, which meant I had to head into my Control Panel and tinker with it - after a few tries to line up the cursor without overshooting the right button - so that was fun. It's always a good sign when games mess around with your system settings and don't change them back. Always.

The verdict: I want to say "no", or perhaps "hell no", but I can't imagine I'll stay away forever; it's like some grand cryptic mystery of a game that demands to be solved, even if that way madness lies.

4 Comments

Mento's May Madness: #7 - Greed: Black Border

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

07/05/12 - Game #7

The game: ClockStone Software's Greed: Black Border

The source: Xmas/New Year Sale 2010/2011

The pre-amble: Joining such paragons of the Action RPG field like Alien Syndrome for Wii and, uh, Space Siege comes this Diablo-clone but in space from small Austrian studio ClockStone Software. Choose between three classes and do the usual Diablo business of exploring dungeons spaceships, killing zombies space zombies and finding treasure treasure.

The playthrough: I don't recall why I bought this game. I mean, I played both those hyperlinked games above and let me tell you, I'm not sure I could've been more underwhelmed. Less underwhelmed? Turns out this game is very much following in their extremely generic, tedious footsteps.

The first warning, in retrospect, was that the three "classes" you were allowed to choose from are only separated by how suited they are to close-, mid- and long-range combat with apparently little else to distinguish them playstyle-wise. Since I always play ranged types in this kind of game, I went with the "long-range" class, which turned out to be some sort of lady scientist with a plasma rifle. Escorting Lady Plasmalade through the first floor of the spaceship, which took almost two hours incidentally, I met approximately three types of enemies, four types of item drop and at least one poorly devised timing-based trap that ended up killing me almost a dozen times. I can't say that I was particularly impressed thus far.

Honestly, there is so little else to say about this game. Besides "it's not good". I don't doubt savvier minds than mine would've seen it for what it was from the screenshots and trailers and walked away. Maybe I thought the sci-fi Diablo clone had some steam (or some sort of futuristic super-fuel equivalent) to it, despite having been disappointed twice before by such a premise. Guess I'm not one for pattern recognition. Going off on a tangent for a moment, I'm not even sure what the point is of emulating a popular game so closely without augmenting the model with any sort of innovation of your own to set your game apart. Like, what was the plan, here? "People seem to like Diablo, maybe they'd enjoy a lesser version of the exact same thing"? If they're borrowing a pre-existing format to base their game on, designers really ought to work extra hard to make sure their product evolves or improves on that format in some way, otherwise everyone will invariably choose the more popular, more established option. But hey, it's not like this was the first Diablo knock-off to try their luck with nothing up their sleeves. I guess I could be a little more lenient. I guess. I'd say it was on par with similar games with higher production values, so that's a plus at least. I always like to end on a plus.

The verdict: No way, Horsey.

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2 Comments

Mento's May Madness: #6 - Frozen Synapse

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

06/05/12 - Game #6

The game: Mode 7 Games' Frozen Synapse

The source: The Frozen Synapse Humble Indie Bundle.

The pre-amble: A cyberpunk turn-based strategy game, in which the player is a sophisticated AI/human hybrid that has been acquired by a conglomerate to provide tactical support to their units in the field: mindless "vatforms" that are bred purely for armed combat that respond to your commands. At least that's what I was able to gather from the single-player Campaign. This is, at heart, a competitive multiplayer game where the goal is not just to maneuver your units into tactically-superior positions, but also predict the opponent's movements and respond accordingly.

The playthrough: Wow. This is one of those games that requires more than a few hours of your time, at least while you're still learning the ropes. You're given a suite of tactical options with your little wireframe cyberpunk dudes, including all sort of really specific commands like "don't shoot here, keep moving, turn around, engage the enemy as they pass by your covered position". Your units don't have any sort of higher brain function, according to the absurdly in-depth Gibson-esque backstory that appears to be entirely optional, so you sort of need to compensate for their basic programming in a few spots. It's fortunately not overly complicated to figure out the basic commands, but it starts getting deviously clever when you're required to accurately prognosticate on your enemy's movements. Allow me to explain:

When setting up your "turn" (that is to say, how the next five second increment will play out), you give all the units under your command a chain of directives: move here, aim in this direction, shoot that guy, etc. You can then hit the "play" button to see a preview of how the turn will play out. However, enemy units will just stand there in the preview and get themselves shot and just be generally passive. It's only when you commit to your plan of action that the enemies get to do all their fancy maneuvering and tactical trickery. More often than not, at least one enemy unit will do something you weren't expecting and you end up suffering a dead unit (or worse). It reminds me of Vandal Hearts II a little, where you'd enter all the commands in this vacuum of not knowing precisely (but eventually being able to guess) how the enemy's simultaneous turn will go; it was only after inputting those commands and watching both your turns play out concurrently that you see just how you managed to surprise (and get surprised in turn by) the opponent. It was a really cool feature of that game and I dig that it's being used in a slightly more cerebral virtual dystopian tale than VH2's rather hilariously poor take on the sort of medieval political perfidy that Final Fantasy Tactics and Game of Thrones are far more deft at handling. But I digress.

Despite my preceding endorsement, I'm not entirely sure this game is for me. I could never get into the Tom Clancy tactical shooters because I'd keep getting impatient and be forced to repeat whole sections of the game, frequently getting jumped by units I had no prior knowledge thereof - which I believe is largely the point, as you're supposed to be balancing cautiousness with direct action. I can definitely see the Hannibal-like appeal in a plan coming together, but getting there can often be too much of a chore spent in trial-and-error frippery. There's also the whole cyberpunk aesthetic as well; I've never particularly been into hackers and corporate espionage and "the grid" and all this ghost in the machine business, though it's certainly birthed some engrossing fiction in the past. Provided it stays the heck away from cyborg dolphins and Cookie Monster viruses, at least.

The verdict: In the "Maybe" pile. Its level of complexity needed more time to assimilate than the scant few hours I gave it.

6 Comments

Mento's May Madness: #5 - Eufloria

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

05/05/12 - Game #5

The game: Omni Creative Group International's Eufloria.

The source: I'd imagine some sort of bundle. No idea which.

The pre-amble: Eufloria is a.. I don't know what the kids call it these days. Tranced out? Ambient? Something fancy for "relaxing". It's an arty-farty flower simulator that's actually a generic RTS in disguise. Build spawners, send troops against enemy forces and take over all the nodes until you are the sole victor. But with seeds and trees and shit.

The playthrough: Remember how I said yesterday that I blessed my lucky stars that Delve Deeper turned out not to be one of those interminable RTS games I don't particularly care for? Well, karma must've remembered that time I butchered all those prostitutes, because Eufloria was next up and is as RTS as they come. Despite how meticulous the designers were in making the interface as soothing and stress-free as possible, it doesn't quite work in practice when you're frantically deploying tiny seed flyer things as they appear to every asteroid on the front line offensive to fight back a horde of enemy flora. I played the tutorial levels and a few of the "main game" levels, and while it's usually smart design to incrementally introduce new elements rather than drop them all on your head from the offset, it sure got old fast.

That isn't to say that this is a bad game. The main goal of this Steam backlog-busting exercise (besides attention) is to ascertain what's going on in all these mystery games that I've ended up with because they were the fourth or fifth game in an Indie bundle or something impulsively chosen from 's many generous giveaways. As such, while this is clearly not my kind of game and was never going to be as made abundantly clear during the reasonably fair shake I gave it, I don't doubt this is a well-crafted Indie RTS game that's worth a look if you're into this kind of format and want something a bit mellower than your usual expeditious xenomorphs, trundling tanks or odiously odorous orcs. But man, if I never play another game where I'm constantly compelled to build things and send them out to fight other, similar things in hour-long battles of attrition, I'd die content.

To end on a positive note, though, it does have a neat scientific concept forming the basis behind it, namely Dyson trees. I prefer Dyson spheres myself though, all jokes about loving balls aside. I wonder when that game's coming?

The verdict: No thank you.

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Mento's May Madness: #4 - Delve Deeper

01/05/12 - Amnesia: The Dark Descent12/05/12 - Nimbus24/05/12 - Chime
02/05/12 - Blocks That Matter13/05/12 - Puzzle Bots25/05/12 - Diamond Dan
03/05/12 - Capsized14/05/12 - Rhythm Zone27/05/12 - Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time
04/05/12 - Delve Deeper15/05/12 - Starscape28/05/12 - The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom
05/05/12 - Eufloria17/05/12 - Tobe's Vertical Adventure30/05/12 - Gemini Rue
06/05/12 - Frozen Synapse18/05/12 - Uplink: Hacker Elite
07/05/12 - Greed: Black Border19/05/12 - Zen Bound 2
08/05/12 - Hammerfight20/05/12 - Max Payne 2
10/05/12 - Lume21/05/12 - A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
11/05/12 - Machinarium23/05/12 - Avadon: The Black Fortress

04/05/12 - Game #4

The game: Lunar Giant Studios' Delve Deeper

The source: Thanksgiving Sale 2011

The pre-amble: Bilbo Baggins. Snow White. Willy Wonka. Where would these people be without dwarves around to do all their hard work? Cold in the ground, I'd wager. Or, I dunno, slightly more self-sufficient. Delve Deeper is a turn-based strategy game where you control a quintet of dwarves with the express purpose of spelunking into a mountain, gathering as much treasure as possible - either found lying around or mined out of the walls - and piling it up back at your camp for your glorious King to do a Scrooge McDuck-esque backstroke in. Teams of dwarves compete with each other for the highest score, fighting the forces of evil (and each other) for the biggest haul.

The playthrough: I honestly had no idea what to expect from this game. I was kind of dreading that it would turn out to be some sort of RTS/Tower Defense abomination, but the truth of the matter is that it's far closer to something like Carcassonne or Catan: The name of the game is resource monopolizing, with a strong PvP competitive element you'd find in those games and other board game adaptations. I don't think I even know if Delve Deeper is a board game (I do, and it isn't) but it definitely plays like one.

I decided to play what I thought was the easiest mission (turns out they're listed alphabetically, not by any sort of difficulty or complexity) and got to grips with the basics pretty fast. It didn't help that the adjacent player immediately aggro'd by burrowing into my neck of the.. mountain and started raiding my loot-laden returning dwarves. Oddly, I noticed a lot of the other computer players were dropping their excavation points in my area as well - I guess I should interrupt here to say that each turn begins with you digging out a tunnel in one "hex" of the game grid, using a Carcassonne-esque selection of different pieces at your disposal - yet I couldn't honestly figure out any disadvantage in having my busywork done for me. Maybe they were just psyching me out.

So in the end I actually ended up winning that game, though just barely. I got a smattering of high value relics thanks to my determination to dig straight down and the CPU players more or less left me alone after that initial scuffle. In fact, the middle two (of four) players ended up feuding amongst themselves, which didn't hurt my chances any either. Overall, it was a lot of fun, and something I can definitely see coming back to occasionally if I have an hour free and a hankering for more shiny loot and dwarf-on-dwarf violence. At least it was easier to pick up than Dwarf Fortress.

The verdict: Will revisit. I mean, it has a collectible side-quest and achievements left to get after all. A fool of modern game design, that's me.

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