Radical Heights and the Risk of Chasing Trends

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

Recently, Boss Key Productions, the studio founded by Cliffy B., announced that they were working on a brand-spanking new game after the utter failure wrapped up into a 50-car pileup disaster that was Lawbreakers. When failing to ride on the Overwatch/Team Fortress bandwagon, they are now chasing the trends with Radical Heights, a battle royale-style game to compete with Players Unknown Battlegrounds and Fortnite. While they made sure to show that the trailer was using early footage of the game, it’s a terrible first impression. It looks lifeless and tired, with its “remember the wacky 80s” theme to everything. So, chasing one trend failed, why would you try that again with another? It screams of desperation, and Cliffy B. trying to chase trends. Like, I get it. Something came out and became super popular, and you want to try and one-up them. Competition is healthy, but on top of failing to deliver on your previous efforts, why would you try and go with the same strategy, but a different style of game? This just screams of a major risk that sounds ridiculous to me. I’m not a business major, but this feels like a bad move. It shows the danger and risk of chasing trends, or not being careful.

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I mean, we have seen what happens when trends get chased, and publishers are not careful. Do we need to be reminded how bad Battleborn did when it tried to get an upper hand on Overwatch? Say what you will about Overwatch, and it deserves a good chunk of the criticisms aimed at it, but people are still playing Overwatch. It had so much hype and pre-release positive word of mouth that it was just insane and sad for any other game to try to compete in the same genre at that time. Even when Battleborn was about to go free-to-play, which also killed Evolve and would kill Battleborn, a free-to-play multiplayer game called Paladins came out and took its thunder. It happened when for what felt like three years in a row, there was a slew of multi-player-only games coming out to try and one-up one another with new and interesting gimmicks. Examples were Evolve’s four-versus-one multi-player, Titanfall’s giant mechs, and so on, but no one really talks about them, unless it’s to bring up the sad states of those games.

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Remember when Halo, Gears of War, and Call of Duty were the biggest games on the market? Remember when the clones and industry pushed for this to be the only genre making profit? I can name multiple first person shooters that tried to dethrone those two. Haze, Homefront, Brink, Inversion, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and you get the idea. Remember how the clones came and went like nothing happened, and the publishers/studios suffered for it? Say what you will about Halo, Gears of War, and Call of Duty, but if I’m trying out an alternative to the fat cat of that genre, and it doesn’t work out, I’m going to stick to the games of that genre that know how to make it work.

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What seems to be the major problem is that people are trying to pull off the same success, but not try anything new or interesting. The reason why people love Dragon Quest Builders is because it adds in a story mode, better combat, and the colorful and charming world of Dragon Quest into the Minecraft mix. Silent Hill might have at one time competed with Resident Evil, but it did that because it went into a different direction with its horror going more psychological horror than just fighting monsters with little ammo. Fortnite is able to compete with Player’s Unknown, because it has a colorful art style, and isn’t just a battle royale game. Sure, more people care about the battle royale part, but still. Paladins is only being able to compete with Overwatch, because it’s a free-to-play version of that game style, and if people were getting tired of Overwatch, until the newest character came along. Darksiders, while being very much a Zelda-style game, was able to differentiate itself due to its God of War-style combat and fun art style. Wolfenstein The New Order/New Colossus and Doom 2016 were able to stand out among the flood of  Call of Duty clones, because they were offering something that other studios weren’t willing to offer much anymore for some unknown reason, single-player experiences.

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My point is, showing up on time is not the only thing you have to do. If you want to make a game like Fortnite, then fine, but give me a reason to check out your game. Do something that makes it different/better. If you are just going to be Fortnite, then I’m going to be playing Fortnite. It’s like how I am with the recent film, I Kill Giants. It’s very similar to A Monster’s Call in almost every single way, but I didn’t connect with I Kill Giants, and felt like I could have gotten this kind of experience by simply watching A Monster’s Call again. That’s why so many multi-player games, whether they are shooters or fighters, end up dead or expired by the end of the year. If they weren’t being able to compete or be as good as the kings, then I’m going to stick with the kings. I’m also pointing this out to the indie devs, because if I see another Metroidvania-style game or another roguelike that’s not stepping up to compete for my attention, then I’m going keep going back to the games that made them constantly fun to play.

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In general, will Radical Heights be good? It’s too early to tell, but as of right now, this feels like a terrible idea, and the studio doesn’t seem aware at how risky this is, when no one else is able to survive against the two big titans in this game genre. I don’t want them to shut down, but you would think a person like Cliffy B., with so much experience in the game industry, would, you know, not do this. Why not make a single-player shooter with some tight polish and fun gameplay? No one is competing in the single-player market, so the gap is big enough to make your game stand out. I hope for the best, but everyone should remember, simply getting your foot in the door is not enough. Prove to me that you are as good or better as the others, and do something that will make you stand out.

SXSW Gaming 2018

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

So, on March 15th, I went on the first day of SXSW’s gaming event for 2018. I was curious about how this event would turn out, because when I looked at the line-up of who was going to be there, I was concerned, because there were so few developers. Well, I bought my pass anyway, walked on down to the convention center, and, sadly, I was correct. While this was not a bad showing of games, it never felt like a true video game event. Sure, it had the massive amounts of PC multi-player gaming and streaming of League of Legends matches, but the “Indie Corner” of the show, was literally a corner. There were more stalls for PC tech, art and 3D modeling schools, table-top games, board games, and card games than actual video games. Why where there so few developers? I want to know, because if I didn’t play a couple of these games, I would have found my $25 that went to a one day pass a waste of money. I would have been mad. Still, it was a decent showing, and I found a couple of games worth talking about. I won’t be doing these in any order of favorite to least favorite, and I was able to play the demos all the way through.

Once Upon a Coma

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This is a 2D action/adventure/puzzle game developed by Thomas Brush, and his follow-up game after his fan-favorite Kickstarter hit, Pinstripe. You play as this young boy that has woken up in his small town, and all the adults have disappeared. It is up to you, with your daddy’s trusty shaving razor, to solve the mystery. The demo was fairly short with the main puzzles being getting your dad’s razor, and getting a fat kid unstuck from a well. The controls were simple with an attack, interact, and jump button. The lead character, Pete, controls a touch heavy, but he moves around fast enough. The graphics are lush, with soft evening-colored hues and gothic doll-like designs. The music is also well-composed by Thomas Brush himself. It matches the fantastical, yet unnerving atmosphere. The tone of the game has a little quirk to it, and while some of the darker tones will creep in, it still has a slight innocence in its humor and dialogue. I will be honest that my major concern with the game is the combat. It’s pretty simple, and while I’m not going to get or expect a Bayonetta-style experience, this was also the weakest aspect of Brush’s last game, Pinstripe. Still, I found the game to be charming, and I was apparently the first person at the event to actually beat it. I definitely recommend keeping this game on your watch-list.

 

AER: Memories of Old

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Next up for me was this 3D adventure/exploration game developed by Forgotten Key, and published by Daedalic Entertainment. You play as a young woman going through a rite of passage. After picking up a magical lantern, you then set off on a journey to explore your land, and find memories about the people before you.

This game’s biggest gimmick outside of its colorful and vibrant seafoam/water-colored minimal polygonal graphics, was the fact that to get to these floating islands, you need to transform into a falcon and get there. You will be interacting with certain villagers, animal deities, and solving simple puzzles. From what I played, a lot of this game’s strength was its majestic, if empty atmosphere, fun exploration gameplay, and gentle music. It made for a calming gaming experience, with a story that I was interested in. The only thing I didn’t like was that the flying controls felt wonky, because of the inverted controls. I don’t really need to say much else, because this game did come out last year, but I’ll definitely try and get in contact with the publisher and get a review code for my PlayStation 4. I would also love to see this game come to the Switch.

Yoku’s Island Express

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If I was making a list of what my favorite game(s) were from SXSW, this charming platformer puzzle game from publisher Team17, and developed by Villa Gorilla would be my favorite. You play as a dung beetle with a ping pong ball, and you traverse to an island for a mail delivery job, but then shenanigans ensue! When I first saw the trailer for this game, it simply didn’t look like a game I would enjoy. Not a bad game or anything, but something I would have no problem skipping over for another game. Surprisingly enough, I had a blast with this game! The controls were tight, and the pinball mechanics work very well. It can be a tad finicky at times to go where you need to go, but I never found myself frustrated as I explored these large and beautifully painted levels. These levels have a lot to do, and when I was done with the demo, I knew I didn’t do everything. I just hope the variety in activities within the levels is varied enough to not simply be repetitive. This was easily my favorite game from the event, and the biggest surprise. I can’t wait to get it on my Nintendo Switch.

Semblance

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Up next was the slimy, yet bizarre puzzle platformer, Semblance, by developer Nyamakop. You play as this blob that can jump, dash, and manipulate the platforms around you by dashing into them. Need to get to an item higher up? Then go under the platform and dash up into it to make the platform higher up. Need to avoid the green crystals and green beams? Then by all means, manipulate the platforms so you can avoid them. You can even manipulate your own body, like being flat, to get through tight places. This was also a rather short demo, and I ran into a bug where I got stuck on a platform. It was a charming demo, but I wish there was a bit more to it than just the platforming sections. Still, I enjoyed the game, and I can’t wait to see what the full game was like when it comes to PC and Nintendo Switch.

 My Memory of Us

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This adventure puzzle game, developed by Juggler Games, takes the story of two kids and their lives during World War II. The two kids, a brother and sister, have their own abilities. The sister can shoot stuff and run fast. The brother can sneak. You can also have the kids hold hands to stay together, and swap between them. You will definitely need to know how to solve each puzzle, and two of the puzzles I played required them to be separated. It was a tricky little game, but I kept playing the demo, because I was having fun. I also liked the 2D art style that reminded me of a bit of that Cartoon Network show Kids Next Door. I will say that the one part I didn’t like was the driving aspect. It felt unresponsive, and the obstacles that got in the way felt too close to one another. However, I was impressed, and I can’t wait to see how the full game turns out later for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. I also hope it comes to the Nintendo Switch.

Death Coming

And finally, we have the darkly comedic puzzle game from last year, Death Coming, by developer Next Studio. You essentially play death going around different locations, and basically reenacting Final Destination-style death sequences. You have a main goal of killing certain people, but you also have a meter to fill up to get a better ranking for all the creative ways you murder everyone. However, be careful. If you start killing a lot, the level will call in angels that will try and stop you if they catch you setting up a killing. The sprite work is solid, and everything has a cute look to it, even though you are brutally killing people. It’s more charming than creepy, and I know how weird that sounds. The levels I played had variety, in terms of how puzzle-like the deaths can be, and there is a definitely a good layer of strategy to go along with how you handle everything. I did find that you could easily screw yourself over if you are not careful, but I did find myself once again, having fun. It’s available right now on the PC and app store, and if you are into a bit of creative and murderous puzzle-solving, then definitely check it out.

I Don't Trust Third-Party Developers/Publishers

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

So, after 2014, I have been having a bit of a different mindset about third-party video game companies. I mean developers/publishers like EA, Square Enix, Capcom, Konami, Ubisoft, and you get the idea. What is this thought that I have been having? Well, to be upfront, I don’t really trust them anymore. I have grown to dislike them and the way they handle gaming.

I believe it started in 2014, because that was the year when third-party games were bombing left and right. Sure, a few slipped through the cracks and were amazing, like Shadow of Mordor, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Wolfenstein: The New Order, but those were few and way far between releases that were really hyped up, but couldn’t really deliver. This was also the same year we got games like Assassin’s Creed Unity, The Sims 4Destiny, The Crew, The Elder Scrolls Online, Dark Souls II, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XII, Sonic Boom, and when Call of Duty was starting to lose sales numbers (not enough to tank, but still noticeable). Ever since, third-party developers/publishers have been getting worse. I mean worse than they already were by that point in the gaming industry, but still. Something major happened during that point in time, and that sudden shift is still going on. There is just something about those companies that are personally not worth trusting.

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Yes, at the end of the day, video games are expensive, and these companies want to make money. They want you to buy the game, pay for the DLC, preorder special editions, spend cash on microtransactions, and so on, so they can make money to make more games. However, it does seem like it’s now more than ever coming at the cost of consumers and the overall quality of the games themselves. Consumers are forced to spend more, while getting lackluster projects or projects that were not as advertised to the public. Sure, projects change over time, and sometimes for the worse, but I feel like there is only so far that as consumers we can go before we have had it.

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Here are just a handful of examples. 2K’s Evolve was supposed to be the next big multi-player game from the developers behind Left 4 Dead. It had a cool concept of four players going against a fifth player that played as a giant monster that could evolve to become stronger. Unfortunately, 2K thought it was a good idea to put preorder offers up and multiple collectors’ editions before any actual gameplay was shown off. Once the game was released, if you didn’t buy any of the special editions, you were left with a slew of DLC that didn’t really do much to change up the game, and were more there to change the color of your gun. It didn’t help either that many players didn’t find the game that fun, and player bases dropped quickly after 2K went down the road of “DLC and Microtransactions make a game.”

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Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs franchise might have been saved by the pretty well received Watch Dogs 2, but the first game is going to go down in history as the game that pushed graphics first, and everything else came second. It was supposed to be the true game to launch next-gen gaming, but after the big surprise reveal, the game’s graphics were downgraded. After it was released, it was laughed at and ridiculed for being a rather mediocre experience. I don’t care if it does a good job at recreating Chicago, the game was still underwhelming, and didn’t live up to its promises. Assassin’s Creed Unity was the first big push for a co-op Assassin’s Creed experience, but what we got at launch, was a pretty broken game. That was on top of a game that also got riddled with microtransactions.

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Destiny was the next big game from the original Halo developers to be this big sweeping MMO-style first-person shooter with an engaging story and fun gameplay. What happened? The story was locked behind lore and backstory bits on a website, and Destiny was just an alright shooter. Nothing new, amazing, interesting, or to some degree, fun. Yes, it has probably gotten better after expansions and updates, but you ruined your first impression, and now everyone is hesitant to be hyped for Destiny 2, because Activision and the developers betrayed the trust of gamers and consumers.

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EA hyped Titanfall as the next big multi-player-focused shooter, by for some reason, making it a console exclusive to the Xbox One, and shortly after it was released, people realized that while the game was fun, there wasn’t much to it. They even had a season pass available to purchase before you knew what was in that pass. Due to this, the player base died off fast, and now, no one really plays it anymore, unlike other multiplayer games like Overwatch. EA then tried to pull the same stupid business plan with their acquired Star Wars license for a multi-player-focused Battlefront reboot. Not only was the game still priced at $60, but they wanted you to go and buy the $50 season pass that went with it at a total of $110 plus tax on a game with barely any content at launch. It may have looked downright amazing in terms of graphics, but when people are expected to drop that much onto a game they don’t know is good or not, that’s a problem.

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For newer examples, Activision has a whole saga of screwing over the intention and definition of what a video game remaster is supposed to be about with the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remaster. By hiding it initially behind the newest Call of Duty, you had to buy the new one to get this Remaster. Then they sold the multi-player content separately, and added microtransactions. Yeah, you can’t really call it a remaster when it doesn’t have everything in it. 2013’s Sim City reboot was a trainwreck at launch, since it needed to always be online, causing players to not being able to play the game. The funny thing is that a year or so earlier, a game tried to do that by the name of Diablo III, and it almost killed that game’s player base. So, why do something that can and will do massive damage to your game’s longevity? I don’t know, maybe the ones who decided to do such a thing were stupid and ignorant to the problem at hand. Hell, EA fired a social media person for telling a potential consumer who was concerned about the always online design basically “sucks to be you. Not our fault you have crappy internet.”

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And this is not even going deeper into the problems, like developers and publishers pushing graphics as the only thing that matters, going after certain genres too much, and not realizing why people like those genres, horrible PR nightmares, and putting in microtransactions into full-priced games that could break the balance. Heck, I could talk about how EA killed any potential and passion for the Mirror’s Edge franchise, releasing Titanfall 2 too close to its other big franchises, and how it doesn’t get why consumers don’t trust them. Square Enix killed Deus Ex: Mankind Divided with microtransactions that broke said polished difficulty and gameplay experience, while giving players a game that was considered good, but incomplete.

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It’s getting maddening to a point where they act shocked when games like Bravely Default and Resident Evil 7 prove them wrong with genres that the big companies thought were dead. Dishonored and the immortal Elder Scrolls: Skyrim show that single-player-only games can sell well when big companies are saying they don’t. It’s aggravating because these publishers and developers don’t take responsibility, or admit that they were wrong. Apparently, their pride is more important than a healthy consumer base. Do I even need to bring up how Valve, while slowly improving, is still dumping games onto Steam that use pre-brought assets, are made by volatile developers who can’t take criticism, and so on? It’s hard to feel like as a consumer, your time and money are being respected and handled well. I don’t want to trust a developer or publisher that lied about projects like Aliens: Colonial Marines. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen where publishers go too far, and games won’t sell that are full of the reasons why gaming is becoming such a chore. Instead of doing things that are pro consumer, they keep doing the opposite, and I’m losing my patience with them.

So, am I going to shrug them off forever, and not buy anything from them? Well, yes and no. Sometimes, no matter how rare, I will buy a game from third-party publishers. It’s mostly to support a brand or a developer. For example, I love Dragon Quest and will buy games from that franchise to support its western appeal. Nier: Automata was amazing, and was made by the fan-favorite Platinum Games. I want to support that developer because they have made games I love.

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So, what’s going on with my passion for games? It’s leaning more toward first-party titles, indie titles, and from time to time, I will buy a third-party title. I will use Gamefly to try out third-party games I want to try. Yes, third-party games are needed to keep consoles alive, but I’m starting to not really believe in that. People will go where the good games are going, and if they happen to be first, second, or third-party, then that’s just the case. I don’t plan on buying third-party games anymore, and would rather focus on games I know will be good, or try out genres that I wasn’t fond of, but am now because I have a console like the Switch. However, that is just me. If you like any of these games, or do trust or love third-party publishers or developers, that’s perfectly fine. I think there needs to be a push for better games and business ideals within the industry, and unless we stop buying the games, the publisher won’t listen. Maybe they will, like how many times EA made it clear about how many people complained about a lack of a single-player mode for the original Battlefront at E3 2017.  Maybe they will change, but as long as money talks, I wonder if they will ever change.

Thoughts On: The Sad Tragedy of Mafia III

mafia01 (If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

There is a great sadness when a game comes out, and it had so much hype and potential behind it, but then squanders all that good fortune and intrigue on a rather middling experience. Every year, we have a couple of games that do this, like 2016’s No Man’s Sky being the biggest example. However, for me, my biggest disappointment gaming-wise was probably 2K and Hangar 13’s Mafia III. You can tell that there was a lot of effort put into the game’s setting, dialogue, characters, and story. However, the rest of the game was not thought out or fleshed out enough to be on par with everything else.

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So, what happened, exactly? To me, it was like I said above; they focused too much one element, which was the story part. To give Mafia III credit, the story and writing of this game is superb. I was really hooked on the story, following Lincoln Clay as he got revenge on the Italian Mafia that killed his friends. You really feel engulfed in the time period of 1968 New Bordeaux, a reimagined version of New Orleans. The city itself has the New Orleans charm, but with a much grimier and non-progressive group of citizens. You can tell the studio did a lot of work to get the tone down, and write the kind of people you would encounter at this period in time. The actors are fantastic. You really believe that they are the characters they are portraying, and you get the chemistry and comradery between the characters you follow. In terms of an open world action game, it’s easily the most believable voice work I have had heard in a while.

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So, what exactly happened? This should have been a home run. Unfortunately, that focus on a good story, writing, and a believable open world set in the 60s took over priority, and let the gameplay and everything else suffer. While I wouldn’t call it an ugly game, it just doesn’t scream PlayStation 4, but more like a high-end PlayStation 3 game. A lot of the characters will also at times have a case of the Uncanny Valley where they look real, but then one off movement makes them creepy. While I didn’t personally run into any bugs or framerate issues, I knew when this game launched; there were glitches and performance issues run amuck, on top of the game taking up so much space on the console. It also took forever to install for some people, and I’m sorry, but that’s not okay, publishers and developers. You have to either find some way to have install times go faster, or don’t have such silly or annoying things happen when we pop in this game to our consoles or PC.

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The gameplay was so middling that it was aggravating. You can tell there is a good third-person action game in the overall gameplay department of Mafia III, but either they put in too much to do, testers weren’t putting up suggestions, or the designers were putting in only the bare minimum, in terms of how a third-person shooter is done these days. It’s not that the gameplay is broken or terrible, but it’s so average. How is the shooting? It’s pretty average. How is the stealth? It’s pretty basic and average. How is the driving? You guessed it, average. It doesn’t do any of these elements well, and it just leaves a forgettable experience gameplay-wise. Yes, you have memorable characters and missions, but when I don’t remember the fun gameplay attached to it, it feels hollow. It also makes for a soulless experience when the AI isn’t smart enough to come get you. It seems like this game’s definition of “difficulty” is putting swarms of enemies at your feet, and realizing that you are weak as Hades. You can’t take a lot of damage, and health items are not very abundant in the overall game. It feels like a half-baked third-person survival game with bland stealth elements. Yeah, you can argue Uncharted 4 didn’t push the gameplay enough, but it was well crafted and tight. I loved playing that game, due to the game and levels being memorable and fun. I also find it funny that the police are after you, but when they see a mass crash happen because of a dump truck not moving, they don’t go after the driver there. I remember in Grand Theft Auto V, where you could encounter random crimes happening, and you aren’t the one involved in them. It made the world feel alive and bustling. The world of Mafia III felt, once again, inconsistent. Some parts felt lively, but not in other areas.

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So, Mafia III started with promising ambitions, an interesting story, investment-worthy characters, and a setting with themes being tackled in a very O.J. Made in America-style documentary. Sadly, it’s all almost undone by combat that isn’t up-to-par with everything else. I guess to me, the moral story of this situation is to make sure the overall game is well-rounded, and not just one part. If it’s not fun to play, then why should I play it from beginning to end? Hopefully if there is going to be a Mafia IV, they learn from their mistakes, and make an even better game.

Thoughts On: SXSW 2017

thoughts01 (If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Once again, I went to South by South West this year for a day to see what everyone was offering. It was a pretty good showcase with a lot of great indie games, and Nintendo decided to drop by with their newly released console and a couple of demos for upcoming and already released games. I had a terrific time, and hopefully made a lot of connections with the developers and publishers there. As usual, I’m going to give you my thoughts on the games I played at the event. Here we go!

Nintendo Switch/Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

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I finally got to get my hands on the Nintendo Switch, and while I know it’s doing well in sales, some people are having some problems. I however was having a blast. At first, it was a bit weird holding the Switch, since I didn’t realize how thin it was. I honestly don’t have a lot of experience with iPad-style devices, so it was fairly new to me. After a minute of feeling it, and holding the undocked version with the joy cons on the side, it was pretty comfortable. I know I won’t be representing everyone in terms of how it feels, but it was a blast to hold. I have slender hands and fingers, so it didn’t feel clunky or awkward, like a lot of old handheld devices that weren’t the Nintendo Gameboy or SEGA Game Gear. As for the Switch port of Mario Kart 8, it ran great, and it was still the amazing Mario Kart experience that you recognize, but with a new battle mode with a lot of varied modes. I got into quite an epic match with another player playing a “keep away”-style mode. It had fantastic, and I even got to bring back a cool little hat. It was probably the greatest part of the event outside of the indie games. I will definitely pick up one of these Nintendo Switch consoles in the future. I’m just going to wait for a couple of more games to come out. Still, I loved it.

Mages of Mystralia

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This was the first indie game I checked out at the event after the Nintendo Switch stuff. Mages of Mystralia is an isometric action adventure game with RPG elements, being developed by the team of Borealys Games. You play as a young girl who one day finds out that she can use powerful magic, and must go on an adventure to save the land from an evil force. So, what makes this game stand out? Well, for one, the story is written by Ed Greenwood who famously wrote the Forgotten Realms world of Dungeons and Dragons. The second element that makes this action adventure game unique is the spell-crafting system. While it doesn’t sound new or unique, it truly deserves those two words. You get some base spells, but then essentially multiple augmentations to customize each spell and give them varying abilities, like raining ice from the sky, shooting multiple fireballs, dashing, making a decoy, explosive thunder, and you get the idea. You can do whatever you want as long as you find those items that will let you augment your magic. It’s a very creative system, and while you could go very basic with the customization, you can do some crazy fun and helpful things with the spells, too. I found this out by playing the tutorial sandbox mode before the main demo, and had a hoot and a half making new spells even if they didn’t really work. Now, you can’t spam them due to a stamina meter below your health, and the bigger the custom spell, the more stamina it drains. It regenerates on its own, but you don’t want to be fighting a boss with no way to attack it. I thought the graphics looked great, and it really gave me The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past vibes. And that shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that, since everyone is calling this game a mash-up of Zelda and Harry Potter. The music is also rather outstanding, with some great tracks done by the super talented Shota Nakama, who helped out with Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom hearts II.5 HD Remaster.

I can’t speak highly enough of this game. It was fun to play, controlled great, there were side objectives, the gameplay felt polished, and it was satisfying to play from the beginning to the end of the demo. As of right now, team launched a Kickstarter (they just got funded, but keep supporting them for the stretch goals) for additional funding to polish up the experience, and if they get more funding, they will maybe add in new features like a level creator. Still, if you can find some way to play this game, I highly recommend it. It’s coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. They are also going to see what happens, and release a version for the Nintendo Switch after the launch of the other platforms.

Sundered

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Now, as a precaution, I did back the Kickstarter for this game that was looking for additional funds to polish up the experience. Let me tell you, this was my next favorite in terms of indie games after Mages of Mystralia. Sundered is a 2D action game with the developer’s iconic 2D animation, as you go through a Lovecraftian hellhole to fight monsters and bosses. You have light and heavy melee attacks, a dodge, and a long-range-ammo-using weapon. The game is set up like many metroidvania-style games where you traverse large levels, gain new abilities, and fight massive bosses and hordes of enemies. When you die, you will use what you gained during the play-through, and upgrade yourself to be stronger, hardier, and gain new abilities. In the fuller version, you will have to choose if you use your abilities one way or the other. Do you want to be tainted by the darkness or not? The 2D animation is fluid, and I’m sure many painstaking hours went into the smooth movements and the hellish designs. It’s a beautiful game that really brings you into that world of madness and monsters. Unfortunately, I couldn’t try out a lot of the mechanics, but the game was still a fantabulous time. It’s coming out to the PC, PlayStation 4, and Vita first in July, and I’m sure more consoles will be on the horizon after said release.

Hollow Knight

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Yeah, the first three games on this list are going to have a pattern. Hollow Knight, the popular Kickstarter hit developed by Team Cherry, is a 2D action game where you play as this small bug called, well, Hollow Knight, as you travel across a dead world of bugs. It’s yet another metroidvania-style action game, in which you use special moves and combat to traverse the decrepit world. You gain something called Geo, the game’s currency, and like in any Dark Souls-style game, if you die, you lose it all and must re-obtain it after you beat the ghost that was your previous self. You also gain souls that are used to recover health. Expect the enemies to be tough, and bosses to be tougher, as this was probably the most challenging game I played at SXSW. The game’s graphics are beautiful, since everything is 2D animated like in Sundered. The world you live in is beautifully rendered, and you will wonder what happened to the world of Dirtmouth. The game is already out on Steam, and will be coming to the Nintendo Switch. And yes, it will also be heading to other consoles in the future, if the negotiations go well.

Crossing Souls

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Being published by Devolver Digital and developed by Fourattic, Crossing Souls is a top-down action adventure game about a group of kids in the magical year of 1986, in which they discover a mysterious item that can somehow let them see the dead. Each of the kids will have their own abilities, like a fast dodge, being able to push large objects, hover boots, climbing, and bomb-making. You will need to use each of them to win against the typical and the atypical enemies while solving puzzles and exploring your town. The game looks great, and its sprite art reminds me of Party Hard. Personally, everything controlled well and it was a lot of fun. I kind of wish there was voice work, since the game can be text-heavy, but the writing and characters do make it all interesting. If you like Stranger Things or shows with a retro vibe to them, then you will love Crossing Souls, since it’s one of those games that perfectly encapsulates that decade, and isn’t just a visual thing. The game is coming out this spring and will be coming to PC, Mac, Lunux, and PlayStation 4, and I’m sure more consoles in the future.

Night in the Woods

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This recently released Kickstarter hit is developed by Infinite Fall and published Finji. It is a 2D-exploration-heavy adventure game where you control a cat named Mae as she returns to her hometown to find quite a few things have changed. The puzzle-solving to me felt very simple, but easy to get into. I don’t have time these days to get into adventure or exploration games with obtuse puzzle-solving. However, that is what I got from what I played. Night in the Woods is a beautiful-looking game with a whimsical art style and a cynical yet amusing real world setting. From what I experienced, I only found one puzzle that kind of bugged me, and it was before you got picked up by the police. Even though I just played a tiny bit of this game, I fell head over heels for it. I hope it can come to other consoles. As mentioned above, it’s already out now and is available as of March 17th on PC and PlayStation 4.

 Katana Zero

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This is a neat little action game with a neo-noir twist by Askiisoft. You play as a samurai who lives in a grimy modern day world, where you must use your fast reflexes to get tasks done. Oh yeah, everyone dies in one hit. That means you do as well. The demo I played wasn’t very long, but I found the animation on the sprites to be expressive, and the combat to be satisfying to play. You really felt the weight of every move and mistake you made. Granted I don’t know what slow-motion (one of the game’s mechanics) feels like, but it was brutal. When you die, you start back from the beginning of the room you are currently in. It’s a game that does one thing, and does that one thing well. You even get this Telltale-style story element, where you can say this one thing, or wait for a different option to appear. I got to talk to the founder, and he said whatever you say in these sequences will change the outcome of each level. In general, Katana Zero is a fantastic action game that might have a bit of a puzzle twist in there due to how you tackle the levels. It’s being published by Adult Swim Games, and is, so far, just for PC. I haven’t seen any word on a console version yet.

 Striker’s Edge

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While there were a few multiplayer-focused games, I decided to check out the one that I first came across at the event, Striker’s Edge. Imagine if you will, the combination of dodgeball and throwing actual heavy metal weapons at people. Well, that is what you do in this game. You get into teams of two, and choose from a slew of characters as you try and beat the other team. The game’s art style is yet again very sprite-based, which seems to be popular among multiplayer-focused indie games, but it looks good, and doesn’t go overly simplistic with its designs. It’s a pretty intense and fun game to play when you have friends over. The developer Fun Punch is bringing this game to PlayStation 4 and PC.

Haimrik

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This was a surprise to me. I wasn’t originally going to play this game, but then I saw someone else check it out, and, well, I had to check it out for myself. Haimrik by developer Below The Game, is an action puzzle game where you travel across literal lines in a story, and solve puzzles by using the literal words beneath your feet. Need a torch? Then all you have to do is lift it from the word. Need to strike someone with lightning? Then all you need to do is lift up the word lightning, and case closed. It’s a cute game with a fun 2.5D art style and a dark sense of humor. It definitely stood out among the games at the event, and it’s going to be coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. I would highly recommend following this game’s development, and supporting it once it is released.

Legrand Legacy

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The final game I checked out was a Kickstarter success that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Legrand Legacy is a PlayStation 2-style RPG where you play as six different heroes that must save the land from an evil force. The combat was probably my favorite part outside of the nice graphics and backgrounds. If you have played any turn-based RPG like Shadow Hearts or Lost Odyssey, then you should be familiar with the game’s mechanic of timing a button press within a circle to do more damage. It also sort of plays like Suikoden, where everyone performs their actions at the same time, instead of just standing there and taking the damage. I love the fact that the developer went with the PlayStation One-style of RPG where you have 3D models, but beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds. It was a very good RPG that keeps the players moving, and I would definitely recommend checking them out and supporting them.

Well, that was my time at SXSW. I had a ton of fun, and I want to thank the developers big and small for being there, and showing off what cool projects are coming out! I will definitely be going back next year.

Thoughts On: SXSW 2016

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

SXSW 2016 was a blast. I was rather hyped for it, because last year was so good in terms of how many great games were there. The lineup of developers this year definitely did not disappoint with some of my favorite games at the event being total surprises. I will say though that it did seem like they wanted more board game and merchandise vendors, instead of more big and small indie developers, but then again, GDC was happening around the same week in San Francisco, so I don’t blame the absence of certain developers. I’m going to go through the games that I considered the best, so that means no games that are already released. Unfortunately, I didn’t get time to try out any of the PlayStation VR stuff, but I did get to experience one Virtual Reality game. Let’s begin.

 

Ray’s the Dead

Awhile back on my series of Kickstarter articles, I wrote about this awesome game being developed by Rag Tag Studios, and was excited to see them at the event. To no surprise, the demo shown did not disappoint. If this is the first time you have heard about this game, it’s pretty much a zombie version of Pikmin. You play as a newly risen zombie from the grave named Ray, who has the ability to raise corpses from the dead. An interesting part of the game is that you will play as Ray before and after he becomes a zombie. The controls were pretty well-executed, where you can shoot zombies at enemies to attack them, dig through holes to take down structures, or group up with them to avoid danger. I loved the cartoony art style, the constant references to 80s horror, and the funky music. It’s a fun game that PlayStation 4 and PC gamers should definitely be on the lookout for.

 

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows

This is an isometric RPG from the developers at Witching Hour Studios, and is being published by Ysbryd Games. The demo showed off its action-oriented combat that reminds me of an isometric Xenoblade Chronicles,where you can move in real time, but all of your attacks have cool-down meters. You can also switch between the three characters given to you.  The combat took a little bit of getting used to, but once I did, it was a lot of fun. The graphical art style that was inspired by French comics is gorgeous to look at, and the voice acting was top-notch. I can’t wait to play this game in the near future.

 

YIIK: A Post Modern RPG

Developed by Ackk Sutdios, and being published by Ysbryd Games, this was yet another promising RPG that was fun. The gameplay is basically a love letter to RPGs, like Persona and Earthbound mixed with a more interactive turn-based battle system. If you love games with more to their turn-based systems like Paper Mario or South Park: The Stick of Truth, then you will get how the combat system works. The art style was charming, and the writing was witty. It’s an RPG that oozes charm, and is another game PC, PlayStation, and Wii U gamers should grab when it’s released later in 2016.

 

Stikbold!

Developed by Game Swing, this is a multiplayer-arcade-style dodgeball game that is played from an isometric point of view. It has you playing as these quirky rectangular/square-looking individuals as you compete to knock each other out with a dodgeball, while avoiding traps and environmental hazards. Stikbold is a silly, fast-paced, and really entertaining multiplayer game. There is even a single-player mode that will be in the game. I just got to play the multiplayer mode, but I am really looking forward to this game, since I can see it being a popular game alongside other multiplayer-focused games like Gang Beasts. Speaking of Gang Beasts,

 

Gang Beasts

If you are a part of the indie scene, this multiplayer fighting game is not some obscure game, it’s one of the better examples of Steam’s Early Access program. You play as these doughy-looking individuals, as you wobble around trying to throw your opponents off the stage, or let an environmental hazard take them out. You don’t use typical fighting game combos, you punch, kick, headbutt, and carry your opponents to victory. I wish the controls were easier to understand, but this game can get so chaotic and wacky, that it doesn’t really matter. I also heard that they are working on some single-player content, which is nice since this game would otherwise fall into the same trap most multiplayer games fall into, with being just about multiplayer and nothing else. It was a fun game that really impressed me.

 

Song of the Deep

Song of the Deep is Insomniac’s newest digital-only game. It’s an action-oriented game, with a heavy emphasis on exploration. You control a tiny sub as you explore the dangerous depths of the ocean. I was a little concerned that the game was going to have really floaty and physics-based controls, but I was happily surprised by how fluid the controls were. No one should feel screwed over by an enemy attack because the controls were fighting against the player. I didn’t get to play a lot of it, but I liked the claw weapon and being able to grab onto torpedoes to make an offensive shield around you. I hope I can get a review code for this game in the future.

 

Enter the Gungeon

This new game being published by Devolver Digital is a top-down 2D dungeon crawler, but with a heavy emphasis on long-range combat. You go through randomized dungeons with enemies that shoot bullet hell-like attacks. Throughout the dungeon, you will be fighting off enemies, finding weapons, and can even encounter a shop to get more ammo and health. Your main goal is to find the boss in each dungeon and take it out. The game is tough! You definitely need to have quick reflexes, and the enemies can easily swarm you with bullets. The pixel artwork is charming, but I do think how you aim the gun looks a bit too much like Nuclear Throne, but that’s just me. If you are looking for a fast-paced dungeon crawler, you will definitely want to keep an eye out for this game if you are a PlayStation 4 or PC owner. It comes out soon, actually, so be on the lookout for it! Oh, and you get to choose different characters with varying skills and can play in co-op!

 

Rivals of Aether

This is another popular Early Access game, that if you are big into the indie scene, you already know about this upcoming Xbox One/PC game. It’s 2D Super Smash Bros. with animal characters and sprites instead of 3D character models. The characters felt diverse, and as usual, playing this game with other people makes for some intense and entertaining matches. I’m definitely keeping my eye out for this project to see if it comes out on other consoles.

 

Strafe

Miss the days of Doom and Quake? Want a first-person roguelike with intense action? Strafe by Pixel Titans is your game for those needs! From the demo I played, you start out with one of three weapons, and you make your way through each semi-generated level, and shoot anything that would look as good as jelly on the floor. This is another game that is definitely tough, and you need to keep on your feet unless you want to be the new pile of meat on the ground. If you love intense shooters, then you will be in love with this game.

 

Pollen

Pollen by Mindfield Games was the only Virtual Reality experience I got to try out since the other games that use VR were taken by large crowds. I was lucky to try this one. It’s a solid-looking first-person exploration game where you play as an individual arriving on a space station that is now abandoned. It was really cool to turn my head, and actually see the room around me by not just using the control sticks on the controller. The graphics were solid as well. My only real complaint was that there wasn’t much to do in the demo, and the slow framerate or pop-in of the level gave me a lot of motion sickness. I could still feel it a few hours after taking off the headset. It’s one of the biggest concerns that developers won’t be able to find ways around motion sickness to make playing with these headsets a long-lasting thing. It’s a cool gimmick, but I still am not fully convinced about the whole fad. Still, the game was impressive. Just wish there was more to it.

 

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

To round out my favorite games from the event, I have a game that quite honestly surprised me. VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel/bartending game where you talk to individuals, and serve them drinks that they need. You can make what the recipe asks for, or if you want to super-size it, just put double what the recipe asks for. It’s rather complex for a bartending game, and talking with the character in the demo was fun. The sprite work might be limited compared to more action-oriented pixel-focused games, but it’s well done. It’s honestly a nice surprise when you can find a game these days that surprises you, and this visual novel/bartender simulator was that surprise for me.

Even though the venue was smaller than last year, and I do blame it on GDC happening the same weekend, I still had a lot of fun. The games were satisfying, and seeing the upcoming Virtual Reality Trend was promising, if a bit motion sickish. I can’t wait for next year!

Thoughts On: Satoru Iwata and Child-like Excitement/Wonder

On July 12th, 2015, Nintendo of Japan President/CEO Satoru Iwata passed away at the age of 55. A great and influential man is gone from us way too early, and he will surely be missed. I wanted to talk about this specific topic for a while, about child-like excitement/wonder, because I feel like Satoru Iwata, Shigeru Miyamoto, and everyone at Nintendo represented that, and now due to Mr. Iwata’s passing, it’s a great time to bring this up. As a gamer, no matter how bad it can get for the industry, it’s important to keep this part of you going, and not let the cynical hate for certain companies keep dragging down your love for video games.

Why do I say that? Well, how cynical have we gotten with the gaming industry as a whole these past few years? Companies abusing DLC practices, under-delivering games that had huge amounts of hype behind them, season passes, ruining the potential for free-to-play to be a good thing, and so on. It’s been hard at times to feel like gaming can still be this fun hobby/job when it seems like companies don’t think of us as gamers but more like walking wallets filled with debit and credit cards. However, Nintendo never really felt like that to me. Whenever I would see what kind of announcement or what kind of game they were working on, I never saw or felt like they were thinking “What kind of game could we make to screw you out of money”.

Every time I watched their Nintendo E3 conferences or Nintendo Directs, I always got this positive vibe from them. It was as if they were thinking, “What kind of game could we make, and how could we make it fun for the player? How can we make sure they have a blast and an experience to remember?”  There are two quotes by Satoru Iwata that I want to use in this article because it sums up how I view video games. "On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer." The other quote is “Video games are meant to be just one thing. Fun. Fun for Everyone!” That really resonates with me, and is why I wish more executives of game companies would think like this. I get it, you have to be profitable and make sure you don’t go belly-up, but if that is the only reason you are making games, just to make money, then why are you even here? Sure, I like different gaming experiences, but I want to have fun! Fun has always been the number one thing I look for in gaming, and for good reason. Satoru Iwata and everyone at Nintendo knew that more than anyone. Satoru Iwata was such a great person. Charming, likable, funny, always knew how to put a smile on your face, and was a guy you could just sit down with and play some Mario Kart 64 or Balloon Fight. He might have made a few odd decisions in terms of business, but he was also a man that took a price cut on his paycheck to make sure no one got laid off. He always knew that even though you are running a game company, you have to have fun and show that you love what you do.  Another element I respected from him was that he embraced the internet memes made with his quotes and gestures, and ran with them. How many execs do you know have fun with the memes or the jokes the internet has made about you? How many execs make sure to use words like “fun” to describe their experiences? How many execs still had an excitement and wonder for what gaming could be?

Nintendo might have a few problems here and there, but Mr. Iwata always made sure to be positive, come out if something went wrong and address it, and had fun with his job. Satoru Iwata, you are already missed, and I raise my tear-filled glass of peach tea for you. Rest in Peace. Now then, if you will excuse me, I need to play some Earthbound. Thanks for reading.

Interview with Rage Squid, the Creators of Action Henk!

Back in March, I went to the SXSW event and met some very nice developers. One of them was Rage Squid. I got to play their Early Access game Action Henk, a 2D platforming/speed running game that reminds me of a combination of Joe Danger and Speed Runners. It was one of the best games I played at the event, and it is easily one of the best examples of how to do Early Access right. I got a chance to talk to these talented individuals and ask them some questions!

Cam’s Eye View: Where did the inspiration for Action Henk come from?

Rage Squid: It started a few years ago, when RageSquid got offered to show off a game at a local event. We happily agreed, even though we didn't actually have anything ready. We've always loved skateboarding and that feeling of momentum, so decided to go with a completely physics-based platformer. The ensuing gamejam resulted in the very first prototype of Action Henk!

Cam’s Eye View: Was making Action Henk this fun combination of Joe Danger and Speed Runners the original plan, or did Action Henk start out as something else?

Rage Squid: We've definitely always had a love for games like that, especially Trials. However, most of the inspiration comes from spending a lot of time skateboarding, and getting a good feel for momentum and speed. We really wanted to get that feeling transferred over into the game.

Cam’s Eye View: What made RageSquid want to do a 3D game instead of something 2D, which is what a lot of indie developers do these days?

Rage Squid: It's something that sets us apart from a lot of indie developers for sure, 3D art has always come naturally to us. We're simply not as experienced at producing 2D art, so it seemed obvious to roll with this and see how far we could take things! Nowadays, it's gotten easier to create 3D games too, thanks to tools such as Unity, which we happily make use of.

Cam’s Eye View: Where did the toy theme come from?

Rage Squid: Our artist Gabrian always loved very colorful things, but also wanted to go for quite a realistic style. Since toys are both real and colorful, things moved quickly from there. One of the team members actually bought a giant crate of Action Men, kind of our version of GI Joe, and we decided to fill our office with all kinds of toys from our childhoods. It looked quite a bit like the Action Henk playroom, and I'm sure a lot of that put us in the right mood during hard work! (http://www.ragesquid.com/press/images/security.png)

Cam’s Eye View: Did you consider going to crowd funded sites like Kickstarter before making the game?

Rage Squid: We actually have quite a low burn rate at RageSquid, and have been able to make Action Henk with a small core team and part-time help from a lot of friends. Before making the game, we managed to save some money with work for hire, giving us about a year to get started on the game. I guess we never really needed to do crowdfunding!

Rage Squid: What we wanted to get from Early Access was feedback from people actively playing the game, and community input to really help our speedrunning aspect shine. It's been great for us to figure out the things that work and the things that don't, all while the game is actually getting played by super supportive people!

Cam’s Eye View: With Steam’s Early Access having a rather infamous reputation for overpriced unplayable/unfinished games, and developers acting like a bag of sour patch kids towards negative criticism, was there some concern about putting the product on Early Access? Were you concerned about Action Henk, which is, by the way, one of the best examples of doing Early Access right, getting overlooked with all the rest of the content that gets on Early Access?

Rage Squid: We mainly think it's important to communicate clearly with our community, and be super open about development! Once people understand what they can expect, things seem to kind of run themselves. Other than that, we wanted to make sure Action Henk had a solid core and lots of replayability. That way we could start with a game that's actually small and polished, instead of something huge and broken. That way you can always expand, but the core experience will be fun from the start!

Cam’s Eye View: Since you have put your game on Early Access, and you don’t need to pick any specific examples for this, what would you like to see change about Steam Greenlight and Steam Early Access?

Rage Squid: I just hope Early Access slowly builds up a bit of a better name, and people come to realize there are really some gems in there! Other than that, it seems like Valve are taking things in a good direction.

Cam’s Eye View: What kind of game or games would you personally like to see less of getting on Steam/Greenlight/Early Access?

Rage Squid: The big and broken ones. ;-)

Cam’s Eye View: Any other Early Access games are you excited about?

Rage Squid: There's quite a few, but some of our recent favorites would be Besiege, Kerbal Space Program, and Gang Beasts! Rage Squid: Kerbal Space Program is a load of fun to play, and even teaches you things about space and physics without you even realizing! We love Gang Beasts because it's just a completely ridiculous slapstick brawler that's almost guaranteed to give you hours of fun with friends, and Besiege mainly for its beautiful art style and letting you build anything you can dream up! Cam’s Eye View: Since Action Henk is almost complete, have you gotten contacted by any publishers that would like to put Action Henk onto home consoles? What kind of projects could we see next from you all? Rage Squid: The game definitely lends itself well to consoles, and we've developed most of it with that in mind! We'll hopefully have more news about this in the future!

Thoughts On: Albino Lullaby

I have said in the past that I am not too fond of horror games in general, but I think the market has become oversaturated with horror experiences that are in the first-person. Sure, games like Outlast and Alien Isolation have shown the best ways to handle these kinds of games, but it seems like there has been no real innovation thrown into this genre. However, I always like to stay optimistic, and if I see one of these types of horror games, I am sure to check it out or keep up-to-date with the game. For example, last year, I tackled five different first-person view games that were mostly horror-based, but stood out to me due to how the game looked or how the set-up was executed. One of those games was Albino Lullaby. At the SXSW 2015 gaming event, I got to see the game in action, but unfortunately, didn’t get to play it due to how popular it was. It probably helped that they brought the demo that can be played with the Oculus Rift. However, the developer of Albino Lullaby, Ape Law, sent me a playable demo to check out and write about. Before I continue, I want to thank Ape Law for this opportunity, and besides a few concerns in terms of the game’s design and the style of game Albino Lullaby is, I enjoyed my experience. Consider this article a follow-up/Thoughts On: Albino Lullaby

The plot of the game puts you in the shoes of an individual who ends up in a car accident. You then wake up in this weird mansion-like building, with rooms that will shift and change when you press certain buttons. It is up to you to find out where you are, get out, and avoid contact with the mysterious beings of the building called Albinos. The best part of this game is the setting and the atmosphere. You don’t get too much told to you about where you are, or who owns the building you are in. It reminds me of a film that Tim Burton would make when he isn’t making live-action versions of “Dumbo”, but don’t get me started on that subject.

Albino Lullaby is a first-person horror game. You can walk, run, stealth your way through sequences of the game, and interact with the world around you. From the demo I played, you don’t really get a lot of items to carry around. You can find some notes that are scattered everywhere, and about a third of the way through the game, you will find these blue matches that can light up certain lamps to distract the Albinos that will want to capture you. Yeah, how about we talk about these demonic Tiki heads? You will encounter them during one point in the demo, but they don’t really start popping up until the last third of the demo. If you have played games like Outlast or Amnesia, then you should know what to do! Run and don’t let them catch you! At the end of the demo, you get a device called Buck’s Clicker, which looks like some retro-designed remote control. Unfortunately, you only get to use it at the very end of the demo. The overall demo took about 40 minutes to complete.

Graphically, I know Albino Lullaby is still in development, but it looks pleasant. I think it stands out from other horror games with its bright colors and interesting set-up. The game’s sound design and atmosphere were really engrossing. I felt pulled into the game’s world instantly, even though everything was blocky. Even then, some of the blocky elements of the setting were charming. If you are going to make a horror game, your sound design and atmosphere better pull you in.

Now, even though I enjoyed my experience with the demo, and again, I know the game is still in development, I have some concerns. Even though the setting and the creatures are very interesting, and not the usual kinds of monsters you see in these types of games, it is still a horror game that we have seen, in terms of design. It’s first-person, you try to evade monster/monsters, and the story is not spoon-fed to you through cutscenes. Granted, I didn’t see any obvious jump scares, and they have said they won’t rely on them to produce the scares. I like that, since it seems like most horror games that are in the first-person are designed to be played by big YouTube gamers who make a living screaming at jump scares. I just like the idea, and I don’t want people to shrug this game off because of other upcoming first-person horror games like Grave and Everybody’s gone to Rapture. I also hope that the story is intriguing, since this is supposed to span three different episodes. Will I be instantly hooked due to what tidbits of the story I found? Or will I be annoyed that the story was vague at best, and not a whole lot of thought put into it? I want Albino Lullaby to do well, but I have seen so many mediocre first-person horror games that were made for a soulless intention, or using an already preexisting intellectual property like Slenderman to rest on its laurels and not have to put too much work into the overall product, like in Slender: The Arrival. My final concern is that I wonder how they are going to stretch this out for three episodes. What kind of variation can we see from the gameplay given to us in the demo? Will there be enough substance to the overall product to warrant three episodes?

As a whole, I enjoyed my time with the demo of Albino Lullaby, and I think it has a lot of potential for being a good horror experience. It might not be my cup of tea, but I am glad I at least got to try it out. If you are at all interested in trying this game out, or want to know where you can get the first episode, you can go to Ape Law’s website and you are offered a couple of different preorder specials. You can either preorder just episode one, episode two, or get all three episodes; either way, you can get access to the demo. If you love first-person horror games and want to see something different, then I would recommend checking this game out, or at the very least, keep an eye on it.

Thoughts On: Games from SXSW Part 2

Here is part 2! If you have not seen part 1 of this series of articles, go here!

Action Henk

Since Sonic the Hedgehog has been doing pretty dang terrible, even with the success of Sonic Generation, it feels like we have to look at other games that can fulfill that need for fast arcade-style platforming, but cut all of the fat that holds Sonic’s games back. You know, like Action Henk and a game I may or may not mention after Action Henk. Basically, Action Henk is a 2.5D physics-based fast platformer. If you have played games like Trials or the Joe Danger franchise, then Action Henk is basically a continuation of those games’ ideas. You run fast along a Hot Wheels-style track, making sure you use your momentum to make those jumps, or slide on your rear to gain more speed to go through that loop. You will also be racing against other toy figures in “boss fight” races.

Honestly, I can see why people love this Early Access game. It’s simple, but satisfyingly fun and polished for a game in the dreaded sea of Early Access garbage. If you do have $10 to spare, or want a game to satisfy your cravings for another Joe Danger-style experience, then you should definitely check this game out.

Mekazoo

Take the best parts of Sonic’s fast-paced platforming, and combine it with the superb level design and challenge of the recent Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. That is what you get with this 2.5D platformer starring a bunch of mechanical animals. The game uses the fast-paced style of Sonic the Hedgehog, but the Donkey Kong Country-inspired levels compliment the speed, and make sure you are going at a solid pace while listening to very David Wise-inspired music. From the demo I played, I was a mechanical frog, armadillo, and kangaroo. Each of the three animals had their own special talents, like the frog could swing from poles and mechanical flies, the armadillo could go around loops and curved platforms, and the kangaroo could wall jump as well as jump really high. You will be switching between these animals quite frequently, and I have to say, this was a lot of fun to swing, roll, and jump through the neon-colored levels, while getting a little funky listening to the bongo drum beat in the background. My only real issue is that the kangaroo was a little harder to figure out than the other two animals. It took me two different days to find out how the animal actually works. Maybe I missed something, but I enjoyed playing as the frog and armadillo a lot more than the kangaroo. Other than that, this was a super fun game. It’s coming to PC and consoles in the near future, and if you love games like the already mentioned Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, then you should fall head over heels for this game.

Armikrog

I wrote about this game two weeks ago, and I was so excited to finally get to play this spiritual sequel to the famous adventure game, The Neverhood. The story centers on Tommynaught and his dog Beak-Beak getting stuck on a planet and being forced into a massive tower known as Armikrog. The beta build only allowed me to go through a very small chunk of the game. The only puzzles available were a simple find-a-lever puzzle, and having to use Beak-Beak to get through small areas. A fun little element added into the game is the fact that Beak-Beak is a dog, and any area he goes through will be colorless since, well, dogs are colorblind.

My only real disappointment with the demo was that it was short. It took me at most 10 minutes to beat the main puzzles that the demo offered. Granted, the puzzles showed me how the game will work, and if you have played The Neverhood, then you will be super comfortable with Armikrog’s design. Even then, I still had fun with what I got. I enjoyed my short time with the game, and it was a rather beautiful-looking game in motion. This is definitely one game to be on the lookout for later this year.

Chroma Squad

Okay, we are in the home stretch, and that home stretch will start with this tactical RPG that is a gigantic love letter/parody of shows like “Power Rangers.” Chroma Squad puts you in the shoes of managing a team of stunt people who are making their own “Power Rangers” show. The tactical RPG combat is pretty much the same kind of gameplay you see in a lot of titles like Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics. You control five characters on a grid-like battlefield, as you fight the evils goons and then fight a monster of the week villain. The boss I fought was basically a giant cardboard box with boxing gloves. It was hilarious, and reminded me of a lot of the crazier designs from the “Power Rangers” shows from the 90s, or the really old “Kamen Rider” shows like “Kamen Rider Super-1.” During the fight, you can turn into the “Power Rangers”, and use your individual abilities to take down the bad guys. As you beat down the goons and bosses, you will be gaining items to craft your own costumes and weapons. Outside of combat, you will need to make sure to keep your business in check and not go bankrupt. Oh, and of course, since this show is making fun of/paying homage to this popular show, you can also get into giant robot battles, and compete against other groups of players in multiplayer to fight for views.

This game has a lot to offer, and it’s by the same team who made Knights of Pen and Paper, a popular indie game on Steam. Chroma Squad is actually coming out on April 30th for PC, and for consoles during the summer time. This was one of the best surprises from SXSW, and you can count on me reviewing the game in the near future. Oh, and this is another successful kickstarter game, so yeah!

Super Slam Dunk Touchdown

Here we go with the last game on this list, Super Slam Dunk Touchdown. If you love games like Ice Hockey on the NES, and any arcade-style sports game, then this game will be for you. You can choose from different sports characters like a hockey player, a basketball player, and so on. Each of the individual characters has their own special abilities, like the hockey player can dash at opponents and knock them out for a few seconds. The main goal is, of course, to get to the other side of the field and score a point, whether it is shooting a puck in the goal or making sure that basketball makes it into the hoop. You can dash to tackle your opponents, or to get to the ball faster. You can even perform a timed button press to make a slam dunk. Seeing a hockey player do a slam dunk with a puck was rather hilarious. You can play with up to six people with two teams of three. Let’s say that the games can get quite chaotic and extremely satisfying.

Sure, it might be another sprite-based game, but it’s easily one of the most fun games I played with different gamers at SXSW. The game is currently on Steam Greenlight, and I think it is very deserving of your vote and money.

Thoughts On: Games from SXSW Part 1

I honestly mean this from the bottom of my heart that 2015’s SXSW’s video game scene here in Austin, Texas was the best I have ever seen. I think it was because a majority of the games that were there were the indie games, which I really dig. Sure, big budget games are still a thing, but if 2014 was any indication of how underwhelming the Triple A industry was, indie developers and the ones that appear on Kickstarter are going to be the next big thing. My favorite games were from the smaller teams, and the teams that appeared on Kickstarter. This article is going to go over my impressions of my favorite games from the event. Some of them might be ones that I have talked about before, but some surprised me, since they were normally from a genre I don’t play. I am also not going to go into any specific order, because even though I might have enjoyed one demo or beta build of a game more so than another, I love them all for very specific reasons. Let’s get started!

Bierzerkers

The first surprise of the event was Shield Break Studios’ Bierzerkers. This is a multi-player arcade-style action game where you choose from four different classes of Vikings, with their own styles of combat. Two of the examples were the sword and shield wielding Raider, and the keg hammer armed fat Drunkard. I know I am going to repeat this, but each of the four classes has special powers. For example, that Drunkard class can do a keg stand and have a fountain of booze spin around him, and can use that as a healing station when playing with other players. The combat, while more arcade in gameplay, still requires the player to pick and choose their attacks. Think of it as a cartoony version of Chivalry.

Graphically, even though I have just been playing the demo that the team brought to the event, I love it! I think games that are more artistically pleasing or more cartoonish should be used more often, since hyper-realistic graphics can only give you so much. I like both, but if you look at my video game collection, it’s mostly cartoonish-looking games. They just come off more attractive looking than games that look like Call of Duty or Battlefield.

My only concern is that when I talked to the developers, they haven’t really set up whether they will make this a free-to-play title or a digital download. If they do either, make sure to have enough in game content to warrant the price or the free-to-play model. Make a game first, and make sure it’s fun. Other than that, this was a really enjoyable surprise to me. If you are at all curious about the game, you can sign up for their alpha. I don’t normally play these types of games, but rest assured that whether Bierzerkers stays on PCs or comes to consoles, I will definitely be checking it out.

Darkest Dungeon

Out of all of the demos that were being shown off at the event, Darkest Dungeon probably was the most polished, and one of the most satisfying and most frustrating (in a good way) gaming experiences from the event. I have already written an editorial on the game itself, but I will give a quick summary about the overall game.

Darkest Dungeon is a 2D turn-based RPG with heavy dungeon crawler/roguelike elements. The main gimmick of the game is to travel through challenging randomized dungeons, while keeping the character’s stress down. If your party of varied heroes from clerics to bounty hunters stress out, side effects start to pop up that could help or hinder your progress. It made getting to some of the boss encounters rather difficult, since I had constantly gone into battle with the characters with no food, and a lot of them at their highest stress level. One side effect made a character that was good from long range move forward making him unusable, and another side effect attempted to keep everyone’s stress level down. However, even though this sounds extremely difficult, and maybe a bit too much to handle for a lot of gamers, Darkest Dungeon is a lot of fun. It might take some micro-managing and some luck to get past the dungeons, but you will have one of the most rewarding and beautiful-looking RPGs to go through. I even made it to one boss with some health and high stress levels, and was able to beat the him.

There is a reason why so many people love the Early Access form of this RPG. It’s polished, well designed, and while the difficulty degree might be cheap here and there, the game is definitely worth keeping your eyes on.

Jotun

Like Darkest Dungeon, I have written an article for this game, and I did an interview with the designer of the game so I won’t go into too much detail, but this was one of my favorite games that I played at SXSW. The summary of this action adventure game is that you play as a female Viking named Thora, who is stuck in purgatory and must take down the giant elementals known as Jotun to get into Valhalla. The gameplay is basically the top-down The Legend of Zelda games combined with the boss fight-focused Shadow of the Colossus. While you won’t be able to climb onto the giants themselves, you will still need to attack the Jotun, and get out of the way of their attacks. The demo I played only had the Ice Jotun that you have seen in the game’s newest trailer and in the advertising. The battle was exciting and really tough. With that said, I played this one boss fight so many times and died every single time, but had so much fun with it!

I think my only nitpick complaint is that I wish the dodge animation was a little longer in range, in terms of how far I moved when I rolled out of the way. It got especially hard to do proper dodges during the midway point where the ice turns black and movement is much more slippery. I know it’s ice, and it should be slippery, but I think having a much longer dodge roll would help out a bit more during the second half of the fight. If you love any of the games I described Jotun with, then I think you will love this game. For now, it’s coming to PC only, but the lead designer of the game, William Dube, said that they have plans to bring it to home consoles.

Salt and Sanctuary

From the creators of The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, and Charlie Murder comes Ska Studio’s newest game, Salt and Sanctuary. This is a 2D action game, with RPG and platforming elements that puts you in the role of a sailor that is shipwrecked on an unusual island. If you have played action games that had more “pick and strike” kind of combat systems like Strength of the Sword 3 or the famous Dark Souls series, then imagine those games on a 2D plane. You really can’t button mash your way through this game or else you will die horribly at the game’s bosses. You can choose from a multitude of characters, with different weapons like a sword or mace. I played the character with the shield and mace, and could wield both, or use both hands for the mace. The game also has a Metroidvania-style to its level design, where it wasn’t just a straight forward path to the boss. You can also gain items like health potions, or sub-weapons like throwing knives or bombs.

This was one of the most interesting looking games from SXSW. It had a very imposing atmosphere with the world looking like it has been covered in cobwebs, soot, and the bodies of warriors long gone. It’s basically if Dark Souls was flattened into a 2D format. I also like the art direction for the characters. They remind me of a gothic version of human Muppet characters.

The only concern I have is the balance in difficulty. I want the gameplay to be so that when I die, it’s because it’s my fault and not the controls or cheap attack patterns. If you loved any of Ska Studios’ past work like Charlie Murder or The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, then you should definitely be on the lookout for this game. It’s coming to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita as a timed exclusive.

Road Redemption

I was waiting quite some time to play this Kickstarter gem, Road Redemption. Think of it as the spiritual current gen version of those Road Rash games from the 90s. You will travel along dusty roads and city rooftops, taking down other bikers on the road. You can swing melee weapons at them, shoot at them, or if you are lucky enough to pull it off, push them into ongoing traffic. You will have to deal with other obstacles like falling cars, logs falling off the back of a truck, and the police. You can choose from multiple riders, and can even play as Shovel Knight, and when you gain cash from completing certain events, you can buy upgrades for your motorcycle.

Now, a lot concern that comes with games from Kickstarter that ends up on Early Access means it won’t be polished and will probably be a buggy mess. Luckily, Road Redemption misses the garbage pail, and ends up as a rather polished product with tight controls, satisfying combat, and it feels great to play. Sure, the graphics might not be super high-end, but when I play games like Road Redemption, the controls, and how satisfying the gameplay is comes first. The game is on Early Access, and it is really fun. If you miss playing games like the Road Rash series, and need something to wash out that awful taste that Ride to Hell: Retribution left in your mouth, then check this game out. It’s going to come to PC and home consoles in the future.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Thoughts On: Armikrog

You know what? I love talking about Kickstarters. I mean, I love talking about the ones that cover video games. My love for these Kickstarters honestly started with one lone adventure game, Armikrog. It was the first official Kickstarter I put some cash on, and I am so happy to see that such a game exists. Here is a little history. The game is being made by a studio called Pencil Test Studios, and is led by the famous artist, Doug Tenapel. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the guy behind Earthworm Jim, the universe of The Neverhood, and Boom Bots. So then, how about I finally give this game some face time and give my thoughts on Armikrog? Let’s get started!

The story revolves around Tommynaught, voiced by Michael J. Nelson of “Mystery Science 3000” and “RiffTrax” fame. Tommynaught ends up crashing on an alien planet along with his best friend/blind dog-thing Beak-Beak, voiced by the always entertaining Rob Paulsen. After said crash, they get attacked by the local wildlife, and are forced to take shelter inside this giant fortress called Armikrog. It is up to Tommynaught and Beak-Beak to find their way out of the fortress and get off this crazy planet.

Armikrog is an adventure game in the same spirit as The Neverhood. You will travel across this giant fortress as both Tommynaught and Beak-Beak. Tommynaught is, of course, bigger than Beak-Beak and can hold a multitude of inventory items inside him, as well as move heavier objects. Beak-Beak is smaller than Tommy, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and can go through areas Tommy can’t go through. You can apparently feed Beak-Beak a certain item for him to grow wings and fly around. Just like a lot of inventory-based adventure games, you will need to make sure you have what you need to solve the puzzles in this weird world. The types of puzzles in Armikrog include environmental puzzles, first-person puzzles, puzzles that affect more than one location, and puzzles that may not be required to finish the game, but will help engross you into the overall world that you are on. In the original Kickstarter, they talked about features that could be implemented into the Wii U version, like using Beak-Beak to see things that you can’t, or being able to use the GamePad to fix rails that are broken. Overall, it looks like this adventure game will be complex, and bring the player a good challenge with the puzzles.

How about we move onto the graphics? I love with a passion that this game uses claymation. I know we just got the recent Wii U hit Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, but you don’t see many games that have claymation as their art direction. It’s definitely worth using the word unique to describe this game’s claymation and art direction. The entire world is weird and has a sense of the unexpected in terms of what Tommynaught will find next as he traverses the massive tower. Of course, no world is complete without a soundtrack to envelop you even more into the game’s world, and who else to compose quirky and weird songs for the world of Armikrog, but The Neverhood composer and famous musician, Terry Scott Taylor. If you want to get some idea of what the potential soundtrack will be like, I would highly recommend looking up the soundtrack for The Neverhood or Skull Monkeys. It’s some of the strangest, but most memorable music you will ever find.

Now, I do have some concerns about the final product. For example, one concern is about the pace of the puzzles, and how the game should have fluid momentum to it without stumping the player too much, which halts everything. However, I will not talk about any of these concerns. You know why? Well, I will be able to play this game in the very near future at the SXSW gaming scene here in Austin, Texas. Since I am going to try the game out myself, I will move onto my final conclusion!

I don’t think I need to further explain my excitement for this game. I have put it onto my most anticipated lists from last and this year. It’s a game that stands out from the rest, from its art style to the overall vibe of the game. Make sure you prepare your PC, Wii U, or PlayStation 4 for this game, because it’s coming to all three systems with the help of Versus Evil, the publishing company behind Stoic’s The Banner Saga.  Grab yourself some Aardman stop-motion films, and be prepared to play Armikrog!

Thoughts On: Darkest Dungeon

 photo darkest01.jpg I realized that I haven’t done many Thoughts On in a while. It’s not because there aren’t upcoming games that I want to talk about, because there are, like Insomniac’s cartoony and personality-filled Sunset Overdrive, The Creative Assembly’s Alien Isolation, and a ton of indie games I would love to talk about, but I have had a lot on my plate and sometimes I can’t tackle them all in the time I have. Plus, I make lists so I can give my thoughts about games in a more focused way. However, if I have time, I will cover any game I can. That goes for the Kickstarter Shout-outs, and today’s Thoughts On about the grim RPG, Darkest Dungeon. Just like with Kickstarter Shout-outs, I don’t have time to cover everything, and I’m sorry I didn’t cover this game when it was on Kickstarter, because it’s honestly one of the cooler ideas for an RPG. Well, I personally think it’s one of the cooler set-ups for an RPG. Let’s not waste any more time, and light up our torches to explore Darkest Dungeon!

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The game is more about the set-up than an actual story and characters, so I will move onto the gameplay. It is up to you to gather a team of four flawed heroes of multiple classes, and travel across gothic-themed dungeons finding loot, killing monsters, and redeeming the heroes that take the risk to travel into the darkness of the dungeons, which reveal their fears and failings of their body and soul. The game takes place in the 2D, and the dungeons have the ever-so-popular rogue-like elements, with dungeons, enemies, and bosses being randomized. The playable classes include Plague Doctor, Highwayman, Hellion, Leper, Arbalest, Bounty Hunter, Jester, Crusader, Houndmaster, Merchant, Vestal, Occultist, Man-At-Arms, Grave Robber, and one more class designed by the guy who made a $5K donation to the project. Personally, I don’t know if I am willing to throw down that much cash for a Kickstarter, but that is beside the point, I don’t have $5K anyway. Each class with have the strengths and weaknesses, including the flawed morality. Once you have recruited your team members, you can then go into the dungeons. The combat in the dungeon is executed in a turn-based style with all party members and groups of monsters in a straight line, kind of like Paper Mario Sticker Star where all the enemies stood in a single file line. There is a lot of strategy to this design choice, since you will probably want to put your healers and spell casters in the back, and your melee fighters upfront, in a similar way of how you would strategize in games like Lost Odyssey. The biggest problem that you will have traversing the dungeons is not the monsters or the bosses you may encounter, but the torch that is at the top of the screen. That torch is a symbol of how dangerous a dungeon or section of the dungeon can be. The more it’s lit, the easier it will be to traverse. However, the less lit the torch is, the graver dangers, but bigger rewards will lie amongst the darkness. This not only helps set the difficulty level of the dungeon, but it also will result in how your party members act. This is a game about flawed adventurers wanting to redeem their moral fiber, and none of them are knights in shining armor. They will be afraid, they will have effects put on them, and they will go mad. It reminds me of Eternal Darkness, where the sanity meter would screw with you more as your sanity meter lowers. These adventurers are flawed, and you need to be prepared to heal those mental fears of theirs as much as their health, or else you could end up in a bad situation. This is a very interesting mechanic, but I have my concerns about it that I will talk about later on in this article. Outside of the dungeon exploring, you will be able to go to a town to heal up your party, tend to them, or recruit new party members.

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The art style is one of my favorite aspects of this upcoming RPG. It reminds me of the same art style used for the Hellboy comics made by Mike Mignola. I bet you that if I put the art style of both Hellboy and Darkest Dungeon together, you could swear they were made by the same person. Each has those unique design aesthetics of darker color and design of the creatures and the heroes. The music is both grand and ominous as you traverse the dungeon. The composer for this game is Stuart Chatwood, the mind behind Road Rash 3D, NHL 2002, and a huge number of the Prince of Persia games from Ubisoft from The Sands of Time to the 2008’s Prince of Persia.

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One of my only real concerns for the game is that insanity gimmick that the heroes will be afflicted with. I love the idea, but I hope it doesn’t become a huge annoying burden, instead of something that players honestly want to keep track of. It has to be balanced out once you go through the darker areas of the dungeon so you don’t get yourself screwed over before you can make any real progress. I really don’t like it when fun, but super-difficult games will make you feel like you have made no progress. Games like Rogue Legacy have this issue, where it seems like you die multiple times, and due to the difficulty, you feel like you aren’t making a step forward towards beating the game. I also hope the randomized nature of the dungeons doesn’t punish you if you pick out the wrong team to explore the dungeon with. There is nothing more infuriating than going into a level knowing you can’t do jack to beat it.

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However, I bet this team will do fine, because this game looks awesome. I love turn-based RPGs, and I love the art style and tone of the game. Like I said, the game has already been funded, and you can go to the game’s website to preorder it, which includes a $49 digital pack, which gives you access to the game, the alpha build, soundtrack, art book, journal, and map. Or if you have a huge hole burning in your wallet, you can spend extra for the $95 digital pack, which includes all of the above and a diorama. I wish they had a $15 or $20 preorder option for people who just want the game. It seems like this preorder style will alienate people who can’t afford the $49 or $95 version. Either way, I still think Darkest Dungeon should be on every RPG fan’s radar. So far, the only platform this game is coming out on is the PC, but with how the game looks, I think it would be perfect on the Wii U, due to the GamePad acting as the map and menu system for the game. They have shown interest in bringing it to the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita, but in my opinion, I think their screens are too small for such a game. Are you ready to keep an eye out this gothic RPG? Well, you should. You don’t know what might be lurking in the darkest dungeon.

Thoughts On: Final Fantasy XV

 photo fantasyXV01.jpg The Tokyo Game Show 2014 has come and gone, and there were a lot of great games shown off during the event. You had the prologue gameplay of Ori and the Blind Forest, a trailer for Bravely Second, the sequel to Bravely Default, Dragon Quest Heroes, more information about Bloodborne, the newest game in the Shining franchise called Shining Resonance revealed, gameplay for Tales of Zestiria unveiled, and there was so much more that put a smile on my face and made my wallet cry. However, the biggest reveals and the biggest showstoppers were probably Square Enix showing off Final Fantasy Type-0 HD and the upcoming Final Fantasy XV. It has been no surprise to anyone that the long running Final Fantasy franchise has hit a few stumbles after Final Fantasy X was released on the PlayStation 2. After that, the games that came out were either not up to par with previous entries, or were downright awful. So yeah, their past 13 years of game development have not been that great. Sure, they had their good games and underrated gems come out, but for their main Final Fantasy entries, there has been a dip in quality. Some people think that the more upset fans of the franchise are being too nitpicky, and shouldn’t hold the franchise with such a high pedigree, but I think that statement is flimsy at best and flawed at worst. I think if you found the more recent entries in your favorite long running franchise to be of lower quality, you would be upset. Luckily, besides a few questionable business comments by Square Enix, like the Tomb Raider reboot not being a financial success even though it sold millions of copies, they are slowly getting back to what made their games great and why millions of gamers bought their product. Their next game in the main Final Fantasy franchise, Final Fantasy XV seems to be a return to form of their old good game design philosophy. I know it sounds weird that I am praising this new game before it’s out, and I am probably gonna get a kick in the pants for some of my praise for the game, hey, I haven’t been this excited for a Final Fantasy game in years, and I am going to put in my two cents on the game so far.

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The story will revolve around a young man named Noctis, who is from the country of Lucis. On the day of a peace-signing over the game’s world crystals, an opposing country called Niflheim invades Lucis and attacks them, which results in Niflheim stealing Lucis’s crystal before launching their attacks on another country. It is up to Notcis and his all-male friends to retrieve the crystal, saving the world from another huge war. Of course, lines are crossed, and Notcis is forced to become enemies with Luna, a female friend of his, and I bet many other dramatic plot elements will pop up when needed. While the main cast is all male, and some have been comparing the cast to many interactive visual novels aimed at female consumers, the cast, from what I have seen in the trailers, feels more organic, and they click together better. The trailer from Tokyo Game Show 2014 especially cemented that opinion. I know there is some concern and criticism aimed at Final Fantasy XV that you won’t have any female party members, or as of yet have any, but personally, I am fine with the all-male party as long as their characters are good. Plus, I don’t think after the train wreck that was Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII and its sequels, anyone wants a female protagonist who was mainly an archetype of poorly developed character traits as the main hero for a while. There are female characters in the game, and one of them is even one of the main villains, so we will have to see if that’s enough.

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Final Fantasy XV has been described as a tactical-action-oriented-roleplaying-game. You will be in control of Notcis as your crew of attractive Japanese male friends travel across the land, fighting monsters, taking down the bad guys, and apparently driving around in the newest model car that is in this universe. The combat has been described as something you would see in Kingdom Hearts, Square’s other huge RPG franchise. Notcis will have the ability to swap between multiple customizable weapons, warp, and perform magic attacks that will drain the magic meter. Depending on the surroundings and the situation, you will need to team up with certain party members, and take down whatever challenge is in your way. You will be able to give commands to your characters, and since the other party members are AI-controlled, they will be performing attacks and action based around what I guess is their AI programming. The game was also going to have moments where you can climb larger enemies, take out their weaknesses, and be able to pilot certain vehicles and mechs, but I honestly don’t know if that is still in the game or not. Either way, I like what they have shown off in footage of the game’s combat system, and I hope to hear more in the near future.

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It is quite obvious that the game is beautiful in the graphics department. I always like to joke around that this is where half of the budget in any Final Fantasy game goes, because they are going make sure it takes full advantage of the console’s system specs. Sure, it might not be as up-to-date as how amazing a lot of PC games can look at the best graphical settings, but still, a good looking game is still a good looking game. The music is going to be composed by Yoko Shimomura, who also composed the music for Super Mario RPG, Parasite Eve, Live a Live, Front Mission, the Kingdom Hearts series, the Mario & Luigi RPG series, Radiant Historia, Legend of Mana, King of Dragons, and helped out with other games like Xenoblade Chronicles. You can definitely see that they got one of the best RPG composers of all time to do what will hopefully be a fantastic RPG soundtrack.

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Do I have any concerns? Of course I do! I wouldn’t be giving my thoughts on them if I didn’t have a single concern or issue. Since the rest of your party will be controlled by the computer, I hope they are not acting like morons, since that could make any battle more of an issue if they are not doing what you want them to do in battle. I also hope the game doesn’t go full-on anime melodramatic on us. I think with the recent releases of other RPGs like Ni No Kuni, Japanese developers are slowly starting to move away from appealing to the more anime-centric crowds, and are hopefully shaping the characters to feel more realistic.

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Overall, I am rather excited for this game, and I haven’t been excited for a Final Fantasy game in years. I love the franchise, but I couldn’t help, but think that Square Enix hit a brick wall in terms of what they thought we would like the Final Fantasy games and their games in general to be like. I am hoping that this game is going be amazing, and from what I have seen, it has the potential to be one of Square Enix’s best games of recent year. The game is set to release sometime probably next year with recent interviews saying that the game was 50-60% finished. If you want to try out the game, you can, next year when Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is released, which will come with a playable demo of Final Fantasy XV. It’s like how Dragon Quest VIII came with a demo for Final Fantasy XII. I hope Square can get back on their A game, and start pushing for different and better games that can appeal to everyone and not just a certain demographic. I hope you are listening, Square Enix, I want Final Fantasy XV to be fantastic!

Kickstarter Shout-out: Witchmarsh

 photo witchmarshbanner.jpg With downloadable games like Valiant Hearts: The Great War taking place in World War I, I think it is time that game developers start using different settings within the games they are creating. I think many gamers are getting sick and tired of the usual future, post-apocalypse, and modern day settings. I hope we can see more time periods like the roaring 20s. In fact, the 1920s is a time period you rarely see. Sure, some games use that time period like Laura Bow: The Dagger of Amon Ra, but that is the only one that I can think of off the top of my head. This is why I am happy to see this little Kickstarter game, Witchmarsh, an action RPG that takes place during the 1920s. How about we take a look and see why this game deserves a shout-out!

 photo witchmarsh01.jpg Strange things are happening in 1920s Massachusetts. People are vanishing and the local townsfolk are baffled. It is up to you and your team of private investigators to find out who or what is making these people vanish. Just be wary, something supernatural is in the air. The Kickstarter page promises that the clues you find and how you tackle each of the cases, on or off the story, will result in different outcomes. Make sure you put those detective skills you acquired from L.A. Noire to work, or else the characters in town will think differently about you and your detective agency.

 photo witchmarsh04.jpg Witchmarsh is an action RPG where you will take control of 13 diverse characters as you travel around the rural parts of America and other locations solving crimes and fighting baddies. The different characters run the gambit of abilities, from the enemy-tossing Moose (a bouncer-looking fellow), to the magic-using Guardian. The Kickstarter says that depending on who you choose to bring with you in your four-man party, their abilities can be used to find secrets hidden within the levels. The combat looks fast paced and exhilarating. Alongside the games’ combat, you have a deep customization system with how you level up your characters. You can pick individual perks to upgrade your stats. The game even takes a page from Guardian Heroes and Dragon’s Crowns’ playbook, where you can take a different path with each level. Witchmarsh will also have online multiplayer so you can play with your friends, along with stretch goals that include competitive online multiplayer modes.

 photo witchmarsh02.jpg Even though this game has sprite work for its graphical presentation, it looks impressive. Sure, the sprites might look like the ones used in another Kickstarter game, The Way, but the 13 different characters all look different, and have little details on their designs that I really enjoy, like the large chin of the Moose. The soundtrack is filled with jazzy tunes that are composed by Francisco Cerda. Indie gaming fans will know Francisco from his work on games like Jamestown and Gunpoint.

 photo witchmarsh03.jpg This game looks like it will be both ambitious in design, and fun in terms of the combat. It is on PC-only for now, but they have shown interest in porting the game to home consoles in the future once they get a few things worked out. Like I said above, I am very interested in this game due to the time setting, since you don’t see many games that take place during that period in time. You can still donate to the Kickstarter and if you are looking for something different with your action RPG, I recommend checking this one out!

Kickstarter Shout-out: Luna's Tale: Curse of the Forgotten Doll

 photo lunastale02.jpg One of the upcoming indie games I am currently keeping track of is Cuphead. I became interested in that game because of its great cartoony art direction that is styled after the animations that were around in the 1930s, like “Popeye” and “Betty Boop.” I am intrigued to see how the gameplay of a shoot ‘em up and a fighting game will mix, so I hope the game turns out to be a success. After delving into Cuphead, I decided to go on Kickstarter to check out if there were any other games that had a similar art style. That was when I discovered this game, Luna’s Tale: Curse of the Forgotten Doll. Now then, why don’t you read on about what I found out concerning Luna’s Tale: Curse of the Forgotten Doll?

 photo lunastales03.jpg The story revolves around a teenage girl named Luna, who is bringing her boyfriend, Elathan, over to her place for the first time. Unfortunately, another friend of Luna’s has something planned for when the two arrive. This friend is named Proserpina, a doll that Luna has had since childhood. Proserpina is filled with hate and jealousy over the fact that Luna has forgotten about her as time has moved on and Luna has gotten older. Once Luna and Elathan get to her place, Proserpina kidnaps him, and it is up to Luna to traverse through a childhood-inspired platforming world to save him! The story sounds simple, but I think what has been shown of the game’s world so far is where it will affect the player the most, in terms of bringing you back to that childhood nostalgia that we sometimes think about.

 photo lunastales04.jpg Luna is a hand-drawn-2D platformer. You will run, jump, and fight enemies and bosses throughout five different worlds. The gameplay shows that you can do the traditional “jump onto an enemy’s head and kill them” move, but will also have a rope swing, kickball, and fireball ability. This means that Luna will have some different forms of attacks so she isn’t too helpless when she fights off Proserpina’s minions. The developer has commented that they have been inspired by the greats, like Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island and Donkey Kong Country. It doesn’t hurt that the team making this game have experience from being at Retro Studios and Edge of Reality, two game developers here in my home town of Austin, Texas.

 photo lunastale01.jpg The hand-drawn presentation is one of the most charming aspects that this game offers. I love it when developers think outside the box to give the game an interesting look. It reminds me of games like Dust: An Elysian Tail, Odin Sphere, and like I mentioned, Cuphead. The game definitely shares some of the atmosphere from games like Puppeteer, where you know, it’s a childlike world, but it’s more like a twisted/dark version of a childhood wonderland. I mean, who doesn’t think those monkeys with cymbals are scary? The music also sounds so whimsical. They have a couple of samples of the game’s music up on their website, and I think you should listen to a few of them. You can tell they got a lot of inspiration from the likes of David Wise and Grant Kirkhope, two amazing video game composers.

 photo lunastales05.jpg I have my concerns about this Kickstarter, since as of right now, it isn’t even close to getting to its goal. They changed their pitch video, but I don’t know if it’s enough to show off why you should fund this project. It got me to donate enough for an early bird copy of the game, and it is coming to a majority of the consoles out right now including PlayStation 3, Wii U, PlayStation 4, PC, Ouya, and Xbox One. I know the trailer was a little rough around the edges, but it’s pre-alpha footage, so what were you expecting? I personally think this is one of the most charming games on Kickstarter, and it has some major talent behind it. What do you all think¬—looks like something you would love to invest in and play? I would personally do it since I would rather not have the vengeance of a childhood doll come after me.

(If you want to support this game on Kickstarter, here is the link)

Kickstarter Shout-out: The Way

 photo thewaybanner.jpg Back during the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis days, the cinematic platformer was a unique genre for the gaming masses. You had games like Flashback, Out of this World, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, and Heart of Darkness: games designed with the focus less on storytelling, and more around enveloping you in the game’s world. Sadly, because the designer wanted to create an atmospheric experience with more realistic animations, the controls and combat in these games often suffered. The whole experience became one of trial and error, as the creators of these games wanted you to experience the game exactly the way they intended. Understandably, not a lot of companies latched on to this style of game, and they went by the wayside around the late 90s. We may still get cinematic experiences like Heavy Rain and Telltale’s The Walking Dead, but there hasn't been anything like the cinematic platformers of the 90s...at least, not until now. Introducing today’s Kickstarter game: The Way.

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The game’s story centers on a guy who was part of a team of space explorers. He recently lost the love of his life, and he doesn’t fully accept this loss. After remembering some alien glyphs from one of his previous expeditions, he sets off to an alien planet to bring his loved one back to life. As far as storylines go, it seems to be a fairly simple one, but that might be for the best. If this game wants to succeed in bringing back the vibe of cinematic platformers, it has to have a story that isn’t in your face. It has to let you, the player, get enveloped by the alien world. We still want to care for the character in spite of the story not being in your face, so the developers have to tackle that correctly or else we won’t feel invested with the protagonist and his goal. This will definitely be a difficult goal to manage, but I bet they can balance out both main story elements and world immersion.

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The Way is, like I mentioned above, a cinematic platformer, which will require you to traverse across this alien world performing tasks and solving puzzles – but the Kickstarter also states that there will be combat in the game. Usually, the combat is pretty simple when it comes to these kinds of cinematic games, requiring you to do little more than duck down when needed, shoot, and make sure the enemy falls to the ground first; look up gameplay footage of Out of this World and Flashback to get an idea of what you might be in for. Your character will also obtain an alien artifact that will have multiple uses for the player, like being able to teleport, raise a shield in front of you, and telekinesis. The Kickstarter video has some footage of that artifact in motion.

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If you look at the game’s graphical presentation, it is all done in sprite work. I have read that gamers are tired of indie developers using sprite work for their games instead of full 3D polygonal worlds, but I think the sprites work. We have seen what 3D cinematic platformers look like, and they tend to look rather ugly – see the recent Flashback remake for example. Meanwhile, The Way is a very good looking game with healthy doses of bright colors, slick animation, and beautiful levels. The music from the trailer sounds very atmospheric, and the rest of the soundtrack will hopefully immerse you and make you feel alone while on an alien planet.

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This game has some promise. My only real fear is that the controls could be clunky rather than intuitive, forcing the player to fight with the game while he tries to play. It would be a shame if this game was difficult because of the stiff and delayed controls. The Way has already reached its funding goal of $15K, so there is no worry of this game not getting funded, but you can still help it reach its additional stretch goals for releases on iOS, Ouya, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and Xbox One. If you have wanted to help Kickstart a game that was different from the vast library of first-person horror experiences, sandbox MMOs, and Metroidvania-style games on Kickstarter, why not give The Way a try?

(If you want to support them, here is a link to their Kickstarter)

Kickstarter Shout-out: SUPERHOT

 photo superhotbanner.jpg Since shooters are one of the biggest selling genres in gaming these days, the gaming market is flooded with them. Unfortunately, it is getting harder to say why your shooter is different from the others. Sometimes shooters make their identity with either unique gameplay mechanics or having the focus on storytelling and enveloping you in a very atmospheric world. Recently, a shooter arrived on Kickstarter that already got a lot of publicity, but a little more wouldn’t hurt. This shooter is called SUPERHOT and read on to see why I am giving this game a shout-out!

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On the Kickstarter page, the team said that they want to give the player a story driven experience that isn’t in your face with the plot. This will probably mean that the game will be about the gameplay and enveloping you into the game’s world. However, no other details other than that are available. The main draw to this game however, is the core gameplay mechanic that you have probably seen before in games like Max Payne 3—time only moves when you move. This makes the game, while still a shooter, more of a puzzle due to how you take down the enemy while you stop, move, and shoot. They have a playable demo of the game so you can actually check it out without having to pay an entry fee to see if you like what they have made so far. The demo can be challenging because if you get shot just once, you’re dead. For me, it became a tense situation while having to take in consideration who I shot first and where I even turned my head. Remember, any move you make results in time moving forward.

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Speaking in terms of graphics, the game is very simple and some of the areas in the demo reminded me of the more corporate sections of the Syndicate reboot, but there is a certain charm to the look. Its simple style fits the game and I love the detail where you can see the bullet stream go right by you. Now, whether they expand on this look once the game is done, we will have to see. Maybe they will have other colored characters that do different things—like green or blue enemies who will have different attack patterns when they encounter the player.

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I like the idea and game mechanics this game is offering. I like the tense puzzle element and I feel like this will be one of those games that will be a popular favorite among gamers who want something different with their shooters. Like I said above the developers have a prototype out on the Kickstarter page and you should really check it out. The game has exceeded its $100K funding goal. So far, it is only for the PC, but who knows, maybe they will add console versions as stretch goals. How about you stop time and check this Kickstarter out?

Kickstarter Shout-out: Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom

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Since the Kickstarter scene has boomed with a lot of interesting projects, you have to really impress potential backers to get their attention. This usually comes down to either an excellent-looking trailer with some polished up gameplay or a solid description that really nails the idea that will make your game amazing. I have seen a lot of different Kickstarter videos that didn’t impress me because they spent too long talking about how the game designer has always wanted to make a game like this, how the big publishers have been disinterested with their idea, or the gameplay shown isn’t all that impressive. If you want us to invest in your idea, you have to bring it! For example of a proposal done right, I found out about this Kickstarter a few days ago and I have to say, this is one of the most impressive looking indie games I've seen on the crowd funding site. Let's check out Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom!

 photo shiness01.jpg On the Kickstarter page, they have a setup for the story. The entire game takes place on a planet called Mahera, where different races once lived in harmony, linked together by a spiritual energy called Shi. As time went on, the Shi energy started to deplete, causing the races of Mahera to go into an all-out war. In the end, the planet basically split into different floating islands and separated the races from each other. You will start the game off as a member of the Waki named Chado, who, along with his fellow Waki friend Poky, live on the floating Kimpao Island—until they accidentally land on Adom Island. You must find your friend Poky, and, of course, a deeper plot unfolds and you meet many allies as the story progresses.

 photo shiness02.jpg Shiness is an action RPG where you will travel across a multitude of islands, solve puzzles, and fight enemies in the overworld. One of the more interesting points of this RPG is that traversal across the game’s world and fighting will take place in the same area, like in Xenoblade Chronicles or The Last Story, with no cutaway to a static battlefield like in Ni No Kuni or The Last Remnant. It actually reminds me of BioWare's Jade Empire quite a lot. The fighting combat has been described as something you would see in something like Dragon Ball Z or Naruto.

 photo shiness03.jpg If you watch the Kickstarter trailer, the combat looks to me like something out of Cyber Connect 2’s Naruto fighting games or their other game, Asura’s Wrath, utilizing both martial arts and magical attacks. Outside of combat you will be solving puzzles using the different abilities you and your allies have. For example, Chado can summon a rock that can be used to keep buttons or panels pressed down, and if you level up enough, you can throw the rock and stun enemies with it before heading into battle. You can find out more about the combat system on their Kickstarter page; I don’t want to spoil too much.

 photo shiness04.jpg The game looks beautiful. Sure, it might look like if Don Bluth made an anime series, but it has an art style that separates itself from most of the Kickstarter RPGs being made. I also like the voice work within the game. The game will have its own made up language, and, from what the trailer has shown, the actors they got do a good job with said language. The game's music sounds pretty nice as well, with a very beautiful sounding main theme that reminds me of something from Nobuo Uematsu’s discography or from Joe Hisaishi.

 photo shiness05.jpg This looks like a promising RPG. Sure, the actual build that they are showing off might have been made over a span of three years, but hey, it’s an impressive showing. I also worry that the combat system might have some of more obnoxious parts of those Naruto fighting engines it was compared to, where enemies can be unfair and get very block-happy, but I'm going to try to remain hopeful about that being absent. The Kickstarter is asking for $100K, and, even with almost a month remaining, as of the writing of this article it already holds an impressive 70% of that. If you are interested in this game, I would check out the tiers they have to offer and maybe support them. While the game is only for PC as of right now, they just recently added a stretch goal as an effort to get it on the Playstation 4. What do you all think of this game? Looks like something you would enjoy?

(If you want to support this Kickstarter, check it out here!)

Kickstarter Shout-out: Popup Dungeon

 photo popupdungeon01.jpg A couple of weeks ago I visited my best friend in Seattle, and one day he, his friends, and I all decided to play Pathfinder, a tabletop RPG that I liked the idea of...but my first experience with it wasn’t the most exciting introduction to the game. I have seen many people play Pathfinder at local comic book stores, but I never found it all that interesting. Maybe it is because it feels like something that I have seen before, whereas I am always looking for something different if I am going to play a dungeon crawler of any kind. Whether the big change is the gameplay or the art style, you are going to have to impress me with what you are offering. As usual, I check out Kickstarter every week or so to see if anything that can catch my eye and well, at first, this done didn’t. This Kickstarter game is called Popup Dungeon, a paper craft style dungeon crawler that does throw a few twists into the normal formula. If you didn’t click on the icon to check this Kickstarter out and went by the image alone, it looked like another Minecraft style game. But let us delve deeper and see if you might be interested in the dungeon crawling world of paper craft that is Popup Dungeon.

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The game is being made by a team called Triple.B.Titles, and this will be their second Kickstarter project after Ring Runner, a space shooter combined with RPG elements. Popup Dungeon is all about the gameplay, allowing you to create your own weapons, characters, and abilities, mixed inside a dungeon crawler that also throws in tactical RPG gameplay reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics. However, there is a story to this game’s world. This is the description on the game’s Kickstarter page:

Long ago or yet to be, a Wizard from another world stabbed his tower into the side of the Earth like an immense dagger. It pierced into stone and time, deeper than anyone can ever dig. The only way in is through portals scattered around the world. These portals are disguised as enchanted board games, and they come with an invitation:

"Come, morsels. Your bodies do not interest me; it is human imagination which I invite into my domain. Only the greatest of you will reach the high spire of my lair, now buried deep in the roiling rock. And I will be waiting, fork in hand, to devour the banquet of your creativity with a side of wits." — Popup Dungeon Kickstarter

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The game boasts several features on their Kickstarter page, such as how the game is roguelike and has permanent deaths, procedural dungeons, hot seat and online coop, flexible party sizes, a variety of challenges, persistent gains, and even something that they call a dungeon master system. The game emphasizes that they will give you a lot of freedom in creating your own weapons, spells, and how your character looks. From what I have seen, it does show promise, but we will have to see how much freedom they will give you. Will it be the insane character customization from Dragon’s Dogma and Two Worlds II’s magic crafting system, or something of a lesser degree?

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The game’s art style and graphics look pretty good. As technology and graphical power improves, we, of course, want to show that we can make graphics that are as realistic as possible. However, due to that push for more powerful graphics, the more realistic looking games will start to show their age over time. That is why, in my opinion, art style trumps realism; if a game has an interesting art style, it will not suffer the same fate as most games do when time and technology move on. It’s the reason why games like Dragon’s Crown will age better than The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion or Grand Theft Auto IV. The paper craft style of this game gives it some personality and a slightly whimsical appearance as your character moves around in the dungeon, watching as the tiles and world around you forms the more you progress. The music also sounds great, with the composer being one Gabriel Lefkowitz, a man who has worked on films, TV shows, and video games. As you can see, Popup Dungeon has a lot of promise in the presentation side of the project.

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Now, whether you are interested in this kind of game will be up to you; I myself am not fond of too many dungeon crawlers, as they often have slow battles and a difficulty that makes the game unfair to go through. Regardless, this game's Kickstarter only has a few days left to reach its $80K Kickstarter goal and get funded for its PC release. For Wii U owners, there is a stretch goal where you can get this game on Nintendo's console. The current total that the game has funded so far is almost at $77K. I hope it reaches its goal because it seems like a fun game. I mean, come on, one of the weapons you can get is a laser gun that looks like something straight out of the 50s. Let us hope things pop for this interesting dungeon crawler.

(You can checkout their Kickstarter here!)