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Review: Black Future ’88

Developer: Super Scary Snakes
Publisher: Good Shepard Entertainment, Surefire.Games (China)
Genre: Shooter (SHMUP)
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch
Rating: T for Teen
Price:$19.99

When a video game sports the kind of “adult cartoon” artwork that I have not seen since the days when I accidentally watched Heavy Metal (1981) on HBO in the 2nd grade (hey, it was a cartoon and I did not know any better!), I take notice. Its pulse-pumping synth music, postmodern palette, and post-apocalyptic race to the death looked promising. Though the actual gameplay in the trailers did not appear to be to my liking, I would find that Black Future ’88 is more than meets the eye. 

The youngins reading out there, that last phrase is from a certain famous 80’s cartoon.

Content Guide

Fan artwork by DEL

The official ESRB page for Black Future ’88 is accurate. Though the game is a side-scrolling shooter, blood is practically non-existent except for a few background effects and references to blood or bleeding upon death. Guns are ubiquitous, but bullets are large and cartoonish. Most enemies are robotic, so there are few depictions of death at all.

Drugs do play a role, but they akin to the fictional kind in the Fallout world, serving as buffs. I also wonder if one item, a blood transfusion, is a reference to the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s. Players can poison their bloodstream, and only a transfusion or severe damage can clear the status ailment. 

Though rated T for Teen, I did not see anything that would warrant excluding Black Future ’88 from the collections of younger audiences. 

Review

Gotta run that gauntlet!

I frequently lambast shooters for their exiguous stories, but Black Future ’88 goes hard with its bleak yet vivacious setting. The year is 1988, and nuclear cataclysm has blocked out the sun; cold and unable to distinguish day from night, humanity has ceased to keep the time. Terminator fans may imagine the skull-riddled fields post-Judgement Day, but the game is set in a concrete jungle, or rather, a tower riddled with graffiti, overlooking the desolate landscape. It is as if the vegetation had never returned in Far Cry: New Dawn, and the Father’s monument has been encased within something more foreboding. Scale the fortress, beat the bosses, and loop the mission indefinitely until an inevitable heart attack ends the run. Why does Black Future ’88 include an 18-minute timer before issuing players a game over screen? Well how else can it simulate an arcade-style exigency?

Compounding the pressure of the 18-minute timer is that time is the most  precious currency in Black Future ’88. A specific merchant will refuse to open shop unless players “spend” up to 15 seconds to look at the wares. Passive ability upgrades siphon either 25 seconds or a full minute depending upon their rarity, though frugal gamers may try to survive on meager boss drops. There are ways to mitigate the countdown, but they range from rare to high-level solutions that do not become available until players have devoted serious time into the game. 

Some upgrades are cursed, which triggers more difficult enemy encounters.

Even so, I did not feel pressed during my Black Future playthrough. Plenty of other elements would kill me long before the timer expired. Along with the natural escalation of enemy difficulty as I ascended the tower, the in-game AI mechanic known as Skynet Skymelt would, in realtime, apply additional difficulty modifiers such as more enemies, stronger traps , or bounty hunter spawns should I fail to pick up money and item drops from enemies. Said traps generally did not pose problems, but a few saw blades on floors became a nuisance. 

Though the enemies are not all that remarkable in design, the gunplay is plenty amusing. Actually, the default loadout of my favorite character, Seagerist, packs a sword which I love to whip out for close-quarters combat and the possibility that I can find the passive allowing me to reflect shots. Her rapid-fire pistol is a weapon worth keeping, but there are plenty of gas-powered rifles, laser shotguns, grenade-launching handguns, to find. I fancy the rifles because of their “hitscan” and railgun-style strength, and the plasma-powered BFG-style weapon that requires dash/dodge charges to fire—power at the cost of evasion. 

Cursed foes glow red as though they are malfunctioning when in reality, they hit HARD!

Black Future ’88 borrows from several roguelites at its core. Like Rogue Legacy, the experience earned by the end of a run unlocks more features—passives, weapons, and even characters. Like in Binding of Isaac, one can select from several characters of marginal differences. Like Dead Cells, the game displays accumulated unlocks in the beginning hub location, though differentiating what is what, and what does what is not easy. The in-game wiki is useful for those who have the time to match the images with the descriptions; I do not.  

With the exception of Sioux, who is handicapped with poisoned blood to begin her run, I did not detect genuine differences between the characters.

All these elements put together make for a fun game, but the 18-minute timer hints to the fact that this game is not nearly as robust as the roguelites I mention in the previous paragraph. When I was a beginner, there were times when I would die early, but I would not become upset because the experience I accumulated always contributed to the next unlock—gradual progress. However, after I maxed out at level 54 in about five hours, there is little incentive to jump back into the game, knowing that I must invest a good five minutes into a run before I can get a good feel of my character’s build trajectory. 

Synergies are ultra-rare, but powerful.

Enemies are relatively unremarkable, but the bosses are worth a word. Juno and Jupiter are my favorites, specifically because of the music that plays upon their introduction. Beware of cursed enemies, or enemies who appear unstable, and deep red. They are the most dangerous, with their fast and plentiful shots. 

The in-game glossary is a must-have for figuring out what’s what.

While Black Future ’88 does not usurp Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon from its title as the best (and campiest) 80’s throwback, goodness it tries its best. Though I did complain that the game feels short on content, this criticism comes in the context of robust indie games of different genres. As far as shooters are concerned, Black Future ’88 is the best I have personally played in 2019, coming just in time to close out the year on a good note.

Review copy generously provided by Sandbox Strategies. 

 

 

 

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Gaming PC Reviews

Review: John Wick Hex

Developer: Bithell Games

Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment

Platform: PC

Genre: Strategy

Rating: N/A

Price: $19.99

Here at Geeks Under Grace, and among friends, I’ve become the resident John Wick fan. I was excited to see we’d be getting a full John Wick video game, not like the VR experience that came out a few years ago. With the announcement, we also learned that Bithell Games would be developing the game.

Knowing the vetted indie game dev Mike Bithell was behind the project was also exciting, because that meant we were going to get something very unique. Instead of giving us the Baba Yaga’s skillset in a close-quarters third-person shooter, we enter his mind in the tactical strategy of John Wick Hex. After my time with the game, I was right to assume it would be unlike anything I’ve ever played.

Content Guide

Violence: Players take control of John Wick, a deadly assassin. Gameplay consists of ranged and close quarters hand-to-hand combat. Players are strongly encourage to use firearms in the game and must use them to kill bosses. There is very little blood or gore to be seen, but when characters are shot, they violently react and scream in pain.  On a few occasions we do see some blood under the bodies of dead characters.

Review

The events of John Wick Hex take place long before the events of the three films—before he meets his wife. We are introduced to Hex, who has captured Winston and Charon of the Continental to claim his birthright. Troy Baker voices Hex while Ian McShane and Lance Reddick reprise their roles from the film. It’s always good to see actors hang on to their roles when licensed products are involved instead of stand-in voice actors. John himself is a silent protagonist in this game; that means no Keanu, but gives the player more agency in filling that role.

John Wick Hex has a unique cel-shaded art style that looks as if it came from a previous comic adaptation, but it’s completely original. It was the right choice for the developers to go for a stylized look to focus on gameplay instead of trying to achieve realism. The music also stood out and resembled tracks I’ve heard in the films. Austin Wintory composed the soundtrack, who is known for his work on games like Journey and The Banner Saga. The overall presentation is one of the many factors that help the game stand out.

As was stated in the introduction, John Wick Hex is a tactical strategy game. In each stage, I was tasked with planning my route through each area, deciding the importance of my actions, and which enemies to take out first. The ultimate goal of the experience is for players to feel as if they acted out a scene right out of a John Wick movie. For the most part, I believe the developers were successful in bringing their vision to life.

Gameplay takes place on a staggered grid. The main objective is to get from one side of a stage to another and take out enemies that stand in your way. As you follow the grid, you have a limited range of vision and a timeline at the top of the screen. The timeline reminds me of a JRPG in such a way that you must plan your actions around it, because it will keep you one step ahead. For example, you’ll know when an enemy is entering the room and can take a shot at them as they walk in. Actions are not turn-based like typical strategy games such as XCOM, but occur in real-time as your character moves similarly to Superhot.

I had a number of ways to subdue him at close range and eventually pick up his gun.

When an enemy is in your line of sight, you can either shoot at them or throw your gun. You can parry, strike, takedown, or push enemies that are within close range. Many of these actions are great for subduing an enemy while simultaneously keeping John on the move. I utilized takedowns to either help me dodge a bullet from another enemy or to move in towards them if I was too far away. The push action was great if I didn’t have time for a takedown and needed space to finish off an enemy. These close-quarter actions are a great way to authentically thread the gun-fu needle to give us the action that we get from the John Wick movies.

There are various enemy types to watch for in the game. Many of them vary on the kind of ranged weapons they use, but it is important to be on the lookout for the unarmed brawlers. Those are the enemies that aren’t afraid to get close and unleash a few strikes and takedowns of their own. There are also a few boss fights that occur, which can be even trickier since its required to get in close and stun them before any shots you take will do damage. There was enough difference in the enemies to keep me on my toes and stay aware of my surroundings.

These brawlers sometimes travel in groups.

One of my favorite features in the game is also one that needs work. After each stage is completed, you have the option to watch a replay of everything that you did. While its fun to see the mission play out in real-time, that’s also when the flaws show up. Fixed cameras across the stage layout will trigger as John moves through and will change as actions occur, so it can be tough to keep up with the action. What would greatly help with this issue is if we could edit the replays and decide the placement and behavior of the cameras. When viewing the replays, you also see how stiff the movement and actions are—due to the tactical nature of the gameplay.

Before each chapter is also a planning phase, in which you use an allotted amount of points to prepare. Points can be used to place a weapon or extra healing items in one of the stages. The other way to spend them is on modifiers that work in your favor and stay active across a whole chapter. Proper planning can be beneficial, especially if you end up having to heal often. Although, I made the mistake of not being conservative with my healing items and ended up in a boss fight without anything. I had a much more difficult time due to my failed planning.

The replays capture the best and worst moments of your run through a stage.

John Wick Hex can be very challenging, but the same can be said for others in the genre. I enjoy how it had me thinking ahead and to be more observant. Though I have enjoyed my time with the game, I lost interest at some point. The reason is likely because nothing changes after awhile. Following a few chapters, the formula becomes very “rinse and repeat” as I learned how to deal with all of the enemy types, and each boss encounter boiled down to the same strategy. The story doesn’t go anywhere very interesting, but it succeeds in being a reason for players to become one of the deadliest action movie assassins.

I didn’t come into John Wick Hex expecting it to blow my mind. I wanted a unique experience based on my favorite action series of the decade. Bithell Games has delivered on my expectations, but could fine-tune a few things to improve on the experience. The tactical gameplay ultimately helped me enter the mind of the titular character and watch the results play out as it would in one of the movies. For that reason, my time with the game was still worth-while.

 

Review copy generously provided by Sandbox Strategies.
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Gaming PC Reviews Switch

Review: Semblance (Switch)

Developer: Nyamakop
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure,
Platform: Switch, PC                               Rating: E for Everyone                         Price: $9.99

Semblance began humbly through South African developer, Nyamakop, which formed in 2015. The indie team consists of Ben Myres and Cukia Kimani. During the final year of their honor degree, they presented a small project game. The external examiner, Judd Simantov, ex-Naughty Dog, suggested the project become a full game. Its development would continue through 2016 while appearing at shows, festivals, and expos, as well as winning a couple awards.

Content Guide

Spiritual ContentWhile Squishy doesn’t interact with other characters during the game, the background contains interesting creatures that some could view as demonic figures.

ViolenceSquishy will repeatedly fall victim to environmental traps.  When this happens, he disintegrates or explodes, causing him to scream out in pain.

Positive ContentThere seems to be a Christian theme of restoration/redemption. Squishy’s world has become infected or corrupted by a disease (sin) and Squishy’s job is to set right what went wrong.

Review

Outside of Limbo, INSIDE, Bastion, and Shovel Knight, I’m generally not a fan of indie games. While I appreciate the care, design, and attention to detail the developers put into the game, I generally prefer a good action adventure game. However, Semblance has changed my mind.

With its minimalist art style, the storyline can only be pieced together by observing what happens in the opening scene of the game and when new worlds are opened up to explore. That being said, the world has been corrupted by virus and the only way to restore it is by the protagonist Squishy solving puzzles and collecting pink orbs.

Squishy is a playdough-like figure who can bend, push, deform, reform, and move many of the games platforms. In addition to Squishy, you’ll encounter several well-designed creatures silently observing the world. There is no exchange of dialogue between Squishy and the NPCs; however, that doesn’t mean Squishy is the only character because the environment is as much a character as Squishy.

We now turn to gameplay, which is the key component to this game. I’ve played many platformers both good and bad. Semblance is simply fantastic. It wonderfully job represents the platforming genre while propelling it forward with innovative design and interactivity. As mentioned you’ll be spending your time figuring out puzzles so if you can’t reach a ledge, bend a platform upward by jumping under it. If a jump seems too high make a slingshot with the environment by pressing into a wall and changing directions. If you need to climb to an area that unreachable by bending or slingshotting yourself upwards, make Squishy-sized impressions on the wall and hop up the indentions like stairs. If you’re like me you’ll be challenged by the puzzles and traps. Mistakes will be frequent, but don’t worry because Squishy has the ability to reform the platforms to their original state which means players will be able to try different approaches to puzzles.

I also found the games visuals, sound effects and soundtrack to be appealing. Visually the game is filled with muted hues of greens, pinks, blues, and purples giving the game stunning backgrounds. The music was inspirited by tribal drums, and flutes which fit the environment nicely.

However, all of these positive remarks doesn’t mean Semblance is perfect, as I experienced a couple of problems.First of all, I would occasionally struggle with the controls; they would become unresponsive, and Squishy wouldn’t move for several seconds. There were also times when my hands would be away from the controller and Squishy would jump, slide, and reform parts of the puzzle which would cause me to restart portions or puzzles in their entirety.

 

A second problem I discovered while playing Semblance was the camera. Throughout my play through, the camera would get behind or get ahead of Squishy. This would lead to making puzzles difficult if not impossible to complete. The only solution would be to reset Squishy, a mechanic which is present because Squishy will occasionally get stuck in the environment. Again this would sometimes result in restarting a puzzle in  portions or in its entirety.

Overall, despite the games flaws I found Semblance  to be enjoyable. A great bonus is the fact the game seems to be available at reasonable cost. If you enjoy platforming games, puzzle games, or are looking for something unique in games, I without reservation recommend Semblance.

Review code generously provided by Sandbox Strategies.
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Review: Milanoir (Switch)

Developer: Italo Games
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Genre: Shooter
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $12.99

If you’re a movie buff like I am, chances are that you’ve seen the biggest crime movies such as The Godfather and Scarface. These movies are highly revered by many, and others have been inspired to bring their own take on the genre. Quentin Tarantino is one of those directors that has adapted the genre into his own works, with Pulp Fiction being on of his most famous films. Milanoir cites Tarantino’s films and two movies called Caliber 9 and Almost Human as its biggest influences. This is a story of revenge in the dark world of crime drama—enter at your own risk.

Content Guide

Violence: Milanoir is full of violence. Perio, the main character is a hitman for a mob family. Players engage in shootouts between enemy Italian gangsters. Some scenes require the use of stealth maneuvers in which the player must sneak up on enemies from behind and choke them about. When a character is shot they fall to the ground, although there is blood in other scenes. For example, one cutscene is shown from an enemy’s point of view as he is being stabbed by the main character. In another, a child is shot; all that scene contains is a puddle of blood and a teddy bear fall out of a locker door.

A variety of guns are utilized throughout the game and many characters will even attack the player with knives. Molotovs are also present and will burn the player or enemy characters alive upon contact. A handful of vehicle chase scenes are present in the game and usually involve the explosion of these vehicles and obviously death to their drivers as a result.

Language: There is no voice acting in this game, so swear words are actually in text along with the rest of the dialogue. Words like f**ck, s**t, a**, a**hole, and d*mn are all within the game.

Drugs/alcohol: Some scenes do take place in a bar, but no one is seen actually drinking. Some characters are also seen holding lit cigarettes but not actually smoking.

Sexual Content: The first chapter takes places in an apartment complex that is used as a brothel, but nothing is seen until the final moments of that stage. When the main character enters a room in search of his target, a woman sits in the bathtub as another (the target) hops out of the bathtub bare naked. The first woman picks up a shotgun nearby and shoots at the player from the bathtub with breasts exposed. Due to the pixel art nature, the nudity within the game is not visually detailed. Genitals and nipples are not actually visible on these characters.

During one scene where the main character spends time in prison lies some suggestive themes. Due to the type of crime the character has committed, he sees some extra abuse from both inmates and guards. The guards take him to a vacant cell and take turns beating him, but towards the end of the scene, it is implied that he is sexually abused with a night stick.

Other Negative themes: I’ve had to reference this moment twice already within this content guide, so I need to go into more detail. At the end of a chapter, the main character finds his target, whose immediate family is there too. As Piero holds up the man and his wife, there is someone hiding in a locker. Perio tells that he will shoot if they don’t come out. He decides to shoot, and discovers it was a child. This is the reason for his imprisonment and some of the details mentioned above.

Review

Milanoir is a story of crime, violence, and revenge. As I explained in the introduction, it has taken inspiration of crime films from the past. Do not let the pixel art style fool you—it’s just as dark as the intellectual properties that have influenced it. Set in Milan Italy somewhere in the 70s, players take control of a hitman named Piero who works for a family in the Italian mafia. We are introduced to him as someone from a rival family attempts to take his life. The family begins to track down who was responsible for the hit on Piero, but things spiral out of control in such a way that drives Piero on a quest for revenge and bloodshed.

Though there were a number of things that made this game tough to get through, the story was one of them. It just felt way to dark for me; there were no story beats that led me to believe that there were going to be any redemptive qualities to this world or characters. I look at something like Max Payne 3—both a crime violent crime drama and also the story of a broken human being who seeks freedom from the sins of the past. Sadly, that is not the story that Milanior is trying to tell. There is nothing here that gives me a reason to feel for any of these characters and this dark world that they are living in.

The presentation itself was well designed—even if pixel art is so common within the indie community these days. The character design carries an exaggerated look that fits. It’s the detail in the environments I truly admire. There is much detail in the pixels and each area feels dense with the objects that are placed within each chapter. This creates a feeling as if the world had been lived in rather than bland or empty; rather than a video game-y open space to shoot bag guys. A great example is the stealth mission that takes place in a street marketplace. Ultimately, these environments do well in complementing the noir aesthetic of 1970s Italy. I’m always keeping an ear open for a good soundtrack in video games, and this one didn’t particularly stand out to me. Overall, the presentation as a whole is probably the strongest out of the entire package.

Gameplay is usually what makes or breaks a game for me, and Milanoir sadly falls into the latter category. The concept is great, but isn’t fully realized thanks to the aiming controls. This is a top-down shooter, but its not as simple as aiming with the right stick in the direction of your enemy. We are forced to move a crosshair around the screen, reload, and move our character in and out of cover all at once. I could see how these controls work on the PC version, but this makes for a frustrating experience on consoles. Not optimizing these aim controls hurts the reaction time and speed of aiming in a fast paced shooter that demands quick actions. It’s like trying to play a light gun shooter with a controller.

There were some fun shootouts I was able to handle, but the controls hurt the overall experience. There are some gameplay mechanics that did attempt to make things easier, but some are less common than others. There are a handful of different weapons and throwables that can be picked up. Rather than the default pistol, there is an SMG, revolver, and the molotov cocktail. These do change the dynamic of a shootout, but they only appear on occasion for specific scenarios. A fun mechanic to play with is the ability to shoot street signs; shooting these involves a bullet ricocheting off the sign into an enemy or two. The gameplay mechanics attest to the film influences, but it’s actually not all completely about the shootouts.

Milanoir operates on set pieces in a similar fashion that we see from third and first person shooters. Aside from the shootouts, we have vehicle chases and stealth sequences. The vehicle chases usually boil down to controlling a vehicle up and down a path while dodging and taking out enemy vehicles. I found this attempt to be admirable since most indie games of this nature don’t attempt such things. The stealth sections aren’t too difficult and are a nice change of pace to slow things down. These moments involve staying out an enemy’s line of site and choking them from behind when the opportunity arises.

Lastly, at the end of each chapter is a boss fight. These boss fights are almost puzzle-like in requiring a specific pattern for things to be done. The controls were responsible for hindering this experience as well, but these fights were intense and rewarding when I was finally able to beat them. Some of them are typical action tropes like a boss shooting at you from a moving van, or a rooftop fight against a boss in a helicopter. One of the more unique and intense examples is a bossfight against a guy who is trying to run the player over with a bus.

The more I think about it, the influences and Milanoir are reflected all the way down to its core. The aesthetic, gameplay, and story should all combine into a great action packed indie game—but they don’t. The controls alone are the reason that I feel Milanoir has shot itself in the foot. The problem is that they are the reason I cannot recommend this game to anybody. The story may be a little too dark, but I get it; that is something I could almost forgive if the gameplay was as fun and entertaining as I feel it could be. With the aiming, I could see the the controls being more intuitive with the precision of a mouse, but it just doesn’t work on console. If you still want to make this purchase, I would recommend the PC version; you’ll likely have a better time than I did.

 

Review copy kindly provided by Sandbox Strategies.
Categories
Gaming PC Reviews

Review: Where the Water Tastes Like Wine (PC)

Developer: Dim Bulb Games, Serenity Forge
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Genre: Adventure, RPG
Rating: N/A (but Probably M)
Platforms: PC/Steam
Price: N/A

 

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a game built on stories. You collect them, trade them, and grow them. It’s unlike any game you’ve played before.

I guess Alaska and Hawaii have no stories of their own?

Content Guide

Spiritual Content

It seems that the protagonist is dead, or at least stuck in some sort of limbo. He or she collects stories from across the country, and many of them deal with demons and the occult. Tarot cards are used to organize the stories you collect.

Violence

Your character usually doesn’t commit violence, but many of the stories told are violent in nature. Violent acts are described, but never seen. Some of the stories are graphic, and have depictions of blood and gore like decapitations and disembowelment.

Language/Crude Humor

There are R rated expletives scattered throughout the game, usually said in the stories told.

Sexual Content

A handful of stories mention sex and sexual acts. They are not described, but mentioned as an activity. Nothing is seen on screen.

Drug/Alcohol Use

Some characters smoke, some drink alcohol, and stories mention each.

Other Negative Themes

Depending on your leaning, there seems to be subtle but strong bent towards socialism. It’s mentioned a few times in the game, almost always in a positive light.

Positive Content

The game centers itself around the theme of folklore and how stories are told, and in doing so is educational. It also is a primer on American folklore, as some of the stories told are real ones we share as a society today.

Will educate for food.

Review

What do you get if you mix the serene nature of Journey, the atmosphere and themes of Over the Garden Wall, and the mechanics of Pokémon? You get a game called Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Of all the games I’ve played in my career as a gamer, this one is the most unique. I can’t think of another game on the market that feels quite like this one. Unique doesn’t necessarily mean good, but before anyone clicks “X,” this game is fantastic. It suffers from a slow build of momentum, but once you get the hang of things, it’s addicting and edifying.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine starts with you making a deal with a patron of dubious origin. After gambling away your word, your wolf-headed master tells you to travel across the continental United States to collect stories. He sends you on your way, and you’re left on a large map, with a knapsack and a dirty hat.

The map goes all the way from Maine to California, and each state has several points of interest to investigate. There are over 200 different stories to collect, but the game doesn’t give you any sort of time limit to do so. You’ll spend the majority of the game traveling to these points, which will put you through a quick narrative. There will be a few choices you can make in these scenarios that determine what story you get out of it (say, a scary story versus a love story) and then you move on and find another story to collect.

Not creepy at all…

The stories themselves are quite interesting. Many of them tell tales of horror, tragedy, as well as joy and fun. They’re all have the feel of American folklore to them, and traveling to different parts of the country will get you different types of stories. Stories in the northeast have more industrial undertones, whereas traveling to the southwest has more narratives from the Hispanic point of view. Where the Water Tastes like Wine feels honestly authentic, and often I find myself questioning whether some of theses stories were created for the game or actually pulled from some obscure part of American history.

What really makes this game exciting is how the stories evolve as you collect them. As you gather stories and share them, they spread and change. There are three levels: the original, the exaggerated, and the fantastic tales. Leveling-up these stories is important to finishing the game, since spreading higher level stories means netting higher level stories in return. The game really comes alive as the stories evolve, and is one of my favorite aspects of this game.

One of my favorite examples happened when my character was in the northeast, near New York City. He stopped and observed a man at night riding a horse. He asked me in a thick German accent whether I sad seen a cannonball fly by. After saying no, he rode away, and as he did, I noticed blood from a bullet wound running down his back. I told this story around Pennsylvania, and it got back to me in Dallas, but by the time it did, it was a story about a headless horseman riding around Upstate New York. And as I got closer to Los Angeles, the story was known as Ichabod and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.

The famous American tale of the great Mike Wazowski train.

Needless to say, I was quite excited when I met a man named Paul in Oregon who could fell a tree with one swing of his axe. I couldn’t wait to spread that tale around.

The game contains 16 unique characters that have their own stories to tell along the way, which can only be unlocked by telling them the fantastic stories you hear elsewhere. This is the main goal of the game. Your patron wants you to collect stories, but is most interested in the true stories these characters tell. Most of the story collecting will be for these sixteen. The game makes it worthwhile. Each character is unique, from a different era of American history, and a different region. Up near Boston, for example, is a World War I veteran, and I found a Vietnam-era hippie near Las Vegas. They are all fully voice acted, adding to the charm.

The game’s greatest strength, its uniqueness, is also one of its weaknesses. As mentioned above, because this game is so unique, there’s a deep learning curve, and this game doesn’t do a lot of hand holding. There’s a lot about the game that needs to be figured out by yourself. The stories you collect will be sorted in different categories based on tarot symbolism. There’s a logic to it, but it takes a while to figure out.The only other major issue is that there’s only one save profile. You have to play through the game or restart, though I hope the studio will patch this.

The artwork is scratchy and sketchy, and fits the atmosphere of this game, but the 3D overworld is a little lacking. The graphics don’t have to be good, but they’re PlayStation 2 level. And since a lot of time is spent in the overworld, making it look more appealing would help ease the time spent walking it. On the other hand, the music choices are great. Each region of the country has its own unique playlist that’s evocative and catchy.

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one. I once knew a man from Nantucket…”

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is one of the few games I would recommend to anyone, gamer or non-gamer. It’s fun and inventive, and actually teaches you something. I came away from this game edified, appreciative of the American culture, and perhaps most surprisingly, with a hunger for more. It’s a game that, while tough at first, won me over with its earnestness and charm. I will be playing this game for quite some time.

Review code generously provided by Sandbox Strategies