Categories
Gaming Mobile PC Reviews

Review: Runescape

Developer/Publisher: Jagex
Platforms: PC, Mobile
Genre: MMORPG
Rating: N/A
Price: Free-to-play/Memebrship- $10.99

 

 

 

Runescape is an online role-playing multiplayer game based out of Cambridge, England, and winner of multiple Guinness world records including largest free-to-play, most users, and most original music tracks. Runescape comes in two forms; the current graphically impressive version driven by a grand narrative, or the Old School Runescape version where graphics aren’t as impressive, but before the game was streamlined. 


Content Guide

Spiritual Content: This game has demons, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and magic. Magic serves as a way to fight, transport the player, or make items. There are also gods in the game, each representing a virtue or a vice (i.e. wisdom, justice, chaos, war). Christianity is not a religion, and there is a “big three” god order, each one being known for wisdom, power, or balance. 

Violence: The game is set in medieval times. Swords, staffs, and bows are the main method of combat. Being a point-and-click based game, fighting involves taking turns to attack. Combat is very clean, no blood or gory content. 

Language: The game itself is clean. Threats from NPC’s can be clever but never graphic (i.e. “You will rue the day you stepped into my castle!” is as bad as it gets). The players, on the other hand, will try to use profanity over text. Fortunately, the game has a chat option to block profanity.

Sexual Content: There is no sexual content in the game. Player costumes options contain two piece swimsuit designs, which is the most revealing attire.

Drug/Alcohol Use: Alcohol references are excessive, and use is often required in quests. A barbarian village requires drinking an entire keg before you join their clan. Sometimes, you make “hangover cures” to help NPCs clear their heads to progress in quests, or give a few to another to get them to reveal vital information. Smoking or drugs do no exist in the game.

Other Negative Themes: Being a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired game, lots of choices are left up to the individual. Additionally, the developers craft a story with their environments as well as with the NPCs and monsters, so images of the game may contain blood in caves or crudely drawn symbols for dark magic practices. Though the graphics are cartoonish in style, this never feels threatening, nevertheless, those elements exist and are hard to avoid.

One skill called Thieving lets you do just that—but only on NPCs. You can loot stalls and NPCs’ pockets, pick locks on treasure chests, and join a thieves guild and a band of pirates, all depending on your sleight-of-hand stat. 

Positive Content: There are as many churches in the game as there are taverns. You have a skill called Prayer, which is a point system that helps buff your character or protect the player from harm. Learning to rely upon heavenly powers to aid in your adventures and hardships is an interesting mechanic I’ve seen in few games. The points are restored at a church by praying at an altar.

As mentioned before, each god represents a virtue or a vice. It’s clear that the characteristic of balance is the most effectual virtue according to lore. And while this “Guthix” (the name of the god) is not Christianity’s God, it serves as a perspective to challenge our personal view of God. What is our God? What is He the God of? Is God the god of love, of hope, of justice, of grace? And is he also the God of power, of endurance, of judgment, of justice? And the answer is yes. God is a being that loves us deeply and intimately, and deals out justice and judgment to our neighbor. 

Isaiah 55:8-9 Is a famous for the Lord flexing. His ways and thoughts are much higher than our own. And for this reason we receive some beneficial advice in Proverbs to not “lean on our own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5-6). 

Review

I was introduced to Runescape back in 2004. I quickly became enraptured by its charm and the imagination of its creators, Andrew and Paul Gower. This was also my first MMO experience, but after trying World of Warcraft and others, I found myself not liking them because of Runescape‘s easy-to-manage interface and more creative world.

Runescape is a 3-D point-and-click game. In a fully 3-D environment, doors are opened by clicking on them, Banks are used by clicking on the teller, items are picked up by clicking them, etc. The character, however, only gets around by being told where to go via click, and the camera is restricted in how close it zooms in and out, or move up and down. Other MMOs are built around players moving freely with keyboard controls and total control of moving the game camera around, and that is the first major difference between them and this game. 

It’s next major difference is how compatible it was to nearly every computer when it first released in 2001. Whether you had a hand-me-down from your grandparents or the newest innovative hard drive from Bill Gates himself, Runescape once ran on any internet browser. That is where it received much popularity. It’s brand new content being released for free also didn’t hurt.

Since 2007, the game has become too large, and now must be downloaded. It is still a cut above games like Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft which take hours to download, whereas Runescape takes minutes. In 2018, the push to mobile became successful, and Jagex ported their Old School version to phones, thus keeping Runescape accessible nearly everywhere.

Everything is a skill to earn by your own making. From cooking to fishing, cutting wood, making crafts, mining, and fighting, all of the skills have a symbiotic relationship with one another (excluding Dungeoneering—a beast of its own). With the proper knowledge of locations and monster locations, you don’t need to buy anything.

Okay, you may need to buy a bucket…

There are fun options for the player-vs-player. You will find a capture the flag challenge called Castle Wars, a 15-on-15 scrimmage. There’s a one-on-one Duel Arena, as well as the infamous Wilderness where anything goes. Any number of people may attack you there, and subsequently you may attack any number of people. It’s a deep place filled with mysterious monsters and things, offering a look into what it used to be. 

For the player that wants to work with other players and fight against challenges or huge monsters there’s a bit more for them. From a three-headed king dragon, the larger than life queen dragon, and the multiple armored dragons in between, to a giant space elephant, an inter-dimensional chaotic elemental, and god emissaries locked in eternal combat, there are challenges in every pocket of Gielnor offering great reward behind greater risk.

One of my personal favorites is the Barrow Brothers, six brothers who have become ghosts dwelling within their graves. There’s a chest hidden underground beneath them housing treasure, and the reward is greater depending on how many of the Brothers you take out. 

The world becomes accessible based on skill levels. The higher your skills go, the more you’re able to do and see. However, the game allows you to take risks. Recommendations are just that: suggestions. It’s easy to break MMOs down to numbers: if your numbers are higher, you’re better. And while Runescape is partially a numbers game, it does more than to provide choices for problem solving.

The epitome to its gameplay lies in puzzle-solving. If you look up a guide to any of their quests, you won’t find just one, you’ll find many. You’ll find a guide where one guy had max stats and gave his list for armor requirements, or you’ll find a guy at level 16 Macgyver his way to the quests’ completion. It really feels genuine; you didn’t finish the quest like everyone else and you may have had help, but it came down to you in the end. I once finished a quest way under level because a friendly stranger made the way for me. No guide could have told me that would happen. This is all because the developers went for the most open-ended scenario imaginable.

That is what really intrigues me about this massive MMO: how the game’s direction is driven by the stories. When something new comes out, it’s partially for exploration, or a new skill, or monster, but the emphasis is on how it fits into the narrative, and what it means for the whole at large. Back in 2007 they updated their graphic engine, the combat system, but most importantly, the Age. From Age 5 to Age 6 in their established time period, this new age brings about the return of the gods. Now, if you activate any questline, you’re prompted to know where this quest falls in the storyline.

Finally, there are two different versions to try, and each one of them has taken a step in different directions in terms of lore and gameplay. Thanks to this, different lands exist where other might be in comparison to each version. Which is better? Well that’s a question the community at whole still struggles with. I believe it was a good call for Jagex to keep two different versions alive. It keeps a…“balance” so to speak for the players.

The new version allows the game to upgrade and grow and evolve. Providing new ways to level up faster gives adults like myself a chance to experience the new content locked behind stat requirements.

On the other hand, the Old School version keeps the games nostalgic look alive, makes it compatible for phones, and also gives them the freedom to explore more avenues of creativity that a single version would forbid.

At its root, Runescape leaves the decision up to the player, and what kind of player you want to be. Unlike World of Warcraft Alliance or Horde option, you choose if you even want to be affiliated with a faction to begin with, or change midway. Most decisions to align with a faction are verbal or cosmetic choices. The choices you make don’t affect the entirety of the quests, it only offers different dialogue.

I’ve spent nearly fifteen years playing this game off and on. My stats aren’t impressive, but my quest completion is nearly there. That’s how I like to play. Others have max stats and may have nearly no quests completed, and that’s how they like to play. 

Others have made their own restrictions to challenge themselves further. I haven’t even mentioned the Hardcore Ironman that is a one death, game over mode that only the coolest and the baddest play (I don’t have one). All of that is possible through one game. Runescape is a game tailored to the gamers, by a company that is consistently listening. Try and find that somewhere else.

Categories
Gaming Reviews

Apple Arcade Overview

Earlier this month, during their iPhone 11 Keynote, Apple also announced the release date of September 19th for their biggest gaming initiative to date: Apple Arcade. Much like Xbox Gamepass, Apple Arcade allows users to download and play as many games as they want on up to 6 total iOS devices; all for just $5 a month. This plan can be shared with up to six family members for the same low price and none of the games included will feature any form of in-app purchase (IAP) or micro-transactions. Apple Arcade titles can be played online or off once downloaded, and you can pick up and play on any iOS device (including Apple TV) with saves shared between devices. Mobile gamers can now even sync a PS4 or Xbox One controller to their iOS device via bluetooth.

Anyone who signs up via the Apple Arcade section of the app store will get their first month free. Interested mobile gamers only need to sign up with their existing iTunes/Apple account to gain access to the 100+ games that will be added to the service between now and the end of this year. No announcements have been made at this time on the number of games that will be added and how regularly players can expect to find new titles on the service. Out of the 53 games that are currently available, I personally had the chance to try a handful of them for myself. Now that we have the details out of the way, let me tell you about my experience with the service after having the entire weekend to dive into all Apple Arcade has to offer.

What immediately stood out to me was the sheer variety of the games offered. This is a far cry from the typical shovelware that plagues the App Store (or Steam for that matter). Though a lot of these tiles, like survival-strategy title Overland for instance, are currently available for purchase on other platforms at their standard retail price, Apple Arcade offers a great way for interested gamers to try out the full game before they commit to a purchase. I only played Overland briefly, due to some control issues with the touch screen, but I feel like the game would be best played on PC. However, I probably never would have considered picking it up if I hadn’t tried it first on Apple’s new gaming service.

Overland is an interesting game but the shoddy touch controls took me out of the experience. A controller is recommended for those wanting to dive deep into this one.

The trouble with some of the games on this service is that when playing on a phone like I was, the touchscreen doesn’t always register finger taps, as was the case in Overland. When I went to confirm an action on my turn, such as moving or picking up a can of fuel for the road, I had to first tap once to select my choice, tap again to confirm it, and then tap once more just to make sure. What ended up happening though is that I would click anywhere outside of the box designated for me to select my choice which took me all the way back out to the main game and forced me to re-do that process all over again. With a controller, this would not be a problem at all. Unfortunately, I was not able to test the service with a controller at the time of this writing due to some Bluetooth connection issues.

A few bumps in the road aside, I really like where Apple is going with this service. There are even some current games that are exclusive to Apple Arcade, like the sequel/spin off Exit The Gungeon. This time around, the game is played on a phone or iPad in a side scrolling fashion as the Gungeoneer rides an elevator down a rapidly collapsing Gungeon, while avoiding enemies and bullets along the way. Dodge Roll has incorporated an excellent control scheme for phones here. Simple swipes on the right side of the screen control where players dodge in the environment, while swiping on the left side of the screen moves a character left or right. Firing is handled automatically and instead of picking up guns, the player’s starting firearm transforms over the course of their play-through and will get stronger and stronger as they plummet further down through the Gungeon.

Rayman looks gorgeous and actually plays more like a traditional platformer than an endless runner.

Fans of platformers shouldn’t feel left out as Rayman Mini is here. What feels like a simple endless runner turns out to be so much more as clever timing and wall jumps can be used to change Rayman’s momentum and direction in any level, allowing players to reach hidden collectibles as they race through levels gathering lums. With three different characters and various costumes to unlock (yes, ALL are unlockable through gameplay) Rayman Mini should keep fans entertained for awhile.

Grindstone is a unique puzzle RPG with an art-style that looks like it was ripped straight out of Adventure Time.

However, the one game that has kept me glued to my phone since I first tried it has been Grindstone. It looks like a cross between any cartoon one might find on Cartoon Network and something like Puzzle Quest. Players are tasked with literally slicing through same-colored monsters trying to create chains of 10 or more enemies to generate grindstones which act as currency and also allow for chains to be extended to rack up even more points. There a three goals to every level which include killing a certain number of monsters, unlocking a chest that appears on the board after defeating the enemy that holds the key, and then killing the king that appears. The caveat here is that chests can only be opened after obtaining the key and killing the specified number of monsters to open it. Also, to defeat the king and get his crown, players must form a chain of at least 5 like-colored enemies that match the king’s color. While players can move on through the exit door at any time by forming a chain leading up to it, completing all three goals will yield the best results in each level.

Blue Prints are earned after completing some levels in Grindstone and they unlock new gear that players can equip to make clearing levels easier.

These exist in the form of blueprints which provide the player character with armor to defend against enemy attacks and other hazards that can cause damage, potions that cost grindstones to refill, and even different weapons and special attacks to make it easier to clear each level. I have easily put over a dozen hours into this game already and have no intention of stopping soon. Its great for long sessions or for playing a few levels before bed. I highly recommend it to fans of puzzle games and the animation style of Adventure Time as that is what the character designs remind me of most.

Overall, Apple Arcade is an entire TNT crate of bang for your buck. While Gamepass is the best deal available for console gamers, fans of mobile gaming would be remiss to skip out on what is beyond a shadow of a doubt the best bargain for gamers on iOS. If you’re tired of being nickel and dimed in every freemium game that pops up on the App Store (and there are A LOT) then look no further than Apple Arcade, which provides mobile gamers with a console-level gaming experience for literally a fraction of what they’d pay for some of these titles on other platforms. Its a veritable buffet of eclectic indie titles and a great way to try some games out before committing to a purchase on iOS or any other gaming platform. Parents will find much to love here as well as none of these games have anything over an M rating, so there is fun to be had for the whole family!

Categories
Gaming Mobile Reviews

Review: Assassin’s Creed Rebellion

Developer: Ubisoft

Publisher: Ubisoft 

Genre: ActionRPGPuzzle

Platforms: iOSAndroid

Rating: T (Teen)

Price: Free-to-play

 

The release of Assassin’s Creed Rebellion is not the first time that Ubisoft has made Assassin’s Creed mobile games, but this is the first time that they have done things right on the mobile AC titles. As a long-time AC fan, I greatly enjoy playing Rebellion and I can see that it will stay installed on my phone for a long while. 

Content Guide

Violence: You are playing as multiple assassins, who use various abilities to assassinate targets. Characters are all in chibi style,  and there is no blood or gore involved in gameplay. 

Spiritual Themes: The templars are spiritual leaders who are at high leadership of church hierarchy in the medieval setting.  

Positive Themes: Teamwork among different characters and abilities are highly valued and recommended. You won’t be able to achieve full stats if you don’t adjust your team building accordingly. 

Review 

Who could ever have thought Ubisoft would develop an AC game with cute chibi style? It turned out pretty attractive to the eyes! All the assassins characters are cute and adorable in their own ways with various appearances, abilities, and roles. Let’s dive into the game and see why Rebellion works so well. 

In this game, you start with choosing a name for your brotherhood, and then you recruit a couple of assassins for tutorial missions. The mission will gradually ease you into the introduction of roles, combat, interface, and building systems. Everything is very easy to follow and player-friendly. 

Aguilar de Nerha is your starting shadow assassin, and he will be the main pick for many missions in the early levels. He can perform free running and assassination with his hidden blade. You will need him to climb through obstacles and eliminate enemies in silence. Tariq al-Nasr is another assassin who you will unlock very early, who fills the a role of DPS. He is good at dealing lots of damage to enemies in 1:1 fighting. Hamid al-Jasur is great for disarming traps and unlocking chests. Do be careful because each assassin has its own strength and weakness, so it is necessary to fully understand are good at before sending them on missions. 

The chibi art style is wonderful and they all look very adorable. The music is fitting and easily recognizable as coming from other entries in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The story involves the typical conflict between the templars and the brotherhood, but it is more attractive due to the chibi storytelling. 

You can build and expand your brotherhood from ground up. More room construction options become available when you reach certain levels of your brotherhood, which can be gained by completing missions. Each room has different functions and are not mere decorations. For example, the training room can help your assassins level up faster, the weaponsmith, armosmith, and workshop can create new gear to boost up your assassins’ power stats, the treasury provides extra money, and the intel room is your to-go place for receiving missions. 

Just like many other games with missions, you can collect extra rewards by completing daily objectives and achievements. It is a great way to level up or to collect materials for building brotherhood and recruiting new members. When you reach level 8, your brotherhood will unlock a new wing, and you can unlock more building options till level 20. Special events are also available from time to time. Some events require higher power stats and some require certain levels of brotherhood to unlock. The game developer definitely has plenty content to keep you busy for a long while. 

 

The shop is an option for people who want to skip the hard work and to get to the rare items quickly. You can get free rewards every 3 hours, so if you are very diligent you will receive tons of free items in no time. However, if you don’t want to wait every 3 hours, the game constantly reminds you that a special deal is available for you to purchase with real-world money. I personally did not find any needs or urge to buy anything for me to continue playing the game at all. And through my gameplay experience, I can tell you that you can play and enjoy the game well without spending a cent.  

You recruit new assassins to your brotherhood by unlocking them through DNA fragments or buying them from the shop. Some missions provide DNA fragments as a part of their rewards. It takes a bit of luck to get a great drop, but that is part of way that the game encourages you to spend real-world money. 

Helix credits, rift tokens, intel tickets, and coins are the currencies of Rebellion. You can use them to speed up your training, join special events, attend missions, build rooms, and create gear. I never ran out any of the currencies during my whole playthrough; I had plenty of left over even after finishing all I wanted to do each time. I appreciate the developer being generous on this. 

Overall, Assassin’s Creed Rebellion is a very fun game on mobile for both AC fans and casual phone game players. I will definitely recommend you to give it a try and hope you will enjoy the game as much as I have. 

 

Categories
Gaming Mobile PC PS4 Retro Reviews Switch Xbox One

Review: Axiom Verge (PC)

Developer: Thomas Happ
Publisher: Thomas Happ
Genre: Adventure, Platformer, Metroidvania
Platforms: PC, PS4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Wii U, iOS
Rating: E for Everyone
Price: $19.99

I try to focus on reviewing games that have been released in the past two years, but here I am writing about Axiom Verge, a game released in 2015. While we at GUG occasionally compose reviews on older games, a key motivation for staying relatively current is that doing so fulfills part of our mission to educate Christians on how to safely consume pop culture (with a Biblical worldview). Yet, the with the advent of Nintendo Switch becoming the industry’s port-machine, dozens of games have had their mindshare renewed.

Axiom Verge was re-released on the Switch in the fall of 2017, so some could argue that I am still behind the ball. Nevertheless, after digging this game out of my backlog during a recent vacation, I felt compelled to write on it. I am pleased to report that Axiom Verge is an excellent homage to Super Metroid, because I would be ashamed to recommend a bad game even for a good cause.

Behold my ulterior motive: I want to inform our readers that the son of developer Thomas Happ, Alastair, developed Kernicterus after his newborn’s jaundice was not properly treated. Because of this as an indie developer, Happ has depended upon the success of Axiom Verge to pay for his child’s medical bills ranging in the tens of thousands of dollars. In a generous gesture rarely seen from businesses, Badland Games, publisher for the console versions, has been donating 75% of its profits for this game to care for Alastair.

Thomas Happ, wife Chloe, and son Alastair

This is the kind of story that makes me want to buy Axiom Verge twice. I certainly would like to see all of our readers buy it. If this introduction did not provide enough motivation, then perhaps the remaining contents of this review will.

Content Guide

Axiom Verge is designed with PG audiences in mind. I do not recall any specific content that would prevent me from allowing my children to play unsupervised. Pacifists should note that shooting is a core mechanic, but targets simply vanish upon death.

Review

At a remote science facility in New Mexico, researchers Trace and Hammond conduct an experiment that reminds me of the the Black Mesa experiment that precipitates the events of the original Half-Life game. Likewise, Trace’s experiment backfires, and the laboratory explodes. He awakens in a rebirth chamber, seemingly Bioshock style, where a mysterious voice instructs him to find something useful in the next room. It is the Axiom Disruptor, an alien weapon that behaves like an omni-tool. Trace proceeds through the Metroid-like labyrinth while shooting everything that moves. Eventually, he encounters a monstrous robot revealing its name: Elsenova. She is the source of the voice that has sporadically guided Trace from the beginning. Before shutting down to save energy, she informs him that he must activate a power filter to save her life. After our hero fulfills her request, she discloses what she knows about his situation.

What is a good guy quest without a bad guy to defeat?

I have yet to play a bad Metroidvania. Accordingly, Axiom Verge carries on the tradition of maintaining the apparently infallibility of the genre. Remarkable with this title in particular it provides a story with intrigue. Rarely do games lean more in the Castlevania direction of the “Metroidvania” genre in terms of story, often relying on minimalist or emergent narratives. Axiom Verge is littered with lore for those looking for depth in their stories, alleviating players from piecing together the story as the Metroid formula typically dictates. The distinct personalities of the individual “Rusalka” like Elsenova ensure that Trace never feels alone, and their characterizations keep things interesting with every dialogue exchange. The plot twist particularly generates some palatable tension since Trace is a pacifist forced to violence in self-defense.

By the time it is all said and done, this screen is going to be jam-packed with weapons, upgrades, and power-ups.

The number of non-mandatory weapons that one can find in Axiom Verge rivals the arsenals seen in games where shooting is all there is to do. Of course, this genre necessitates platforming and puzzle-solving, so the selection of armaments here is astonishing. The size of projectiles, range of weapon, and damage dealt are all upgradable properties given the appropriate appropriate power-ups. As with Dead Space, I appreciate games where the default weapon remains relevant from beginning to end; all other weapons must be discovered. The initial Axiom Disruptor is more than adequate, but I eventually dropped it for the Hypo-Atomizer, a weapon that is difficult to describe because it spawns additional projectiles as it moves in a line  across the screen. I find the Voranj appealing because of how it bolts across the screen in a cascade of lightning. The Lightning Gun all but breaks the game, and yet, it is still my favorite weapon due to its homing properties. For heavy cross-screen firepower, I whip out the Ion Beam, which behaves like a heavy laser.

Being upgraded is exciting!

Another key aspect of gameplay in Axiom Verge concerns its radical approach to traversal. Anticipating at least a double-jump or a wall climb, I was bestowed an augmented jump, Axiom Verge at first grants a launchable remote drone that can be used to explore areas too small for Trace, essentially functioning like the Metroid morph ball. Later, this drone can be used as an anchor point for Trace to teleport. But well before that, he will find a lab coat that allows him to “glitch” through walls, causing intentional artifacting on-screen that reminds me of playing video games on the NES when they would crash. The Address Disruptor, or “glitch gun,” is not only used to clear impassible, malfunctioning terrain, but it can also “glitch” enemies; this can transform swarm generators into healing machines, convert enemies that shoot lasers to hurt the player into lasers that hurt the environment, or drastically reduce the danger that an foe poses so that they become more manageable. The ability to “glitch” things intentionally is one of the coolest mechanics that I have seen, hitting me right in the nostalgia.

The Glitch Gun is the coolest weapon concept since the gravity gun in Half-Life 2.

Of course, I do not long for the days when my NES games would crash, but Thomas Happ recognized such events as something older (ugh, did I really just acknowledge that?) gamers would remember. Because we do not remember NES glitching fondly, he integrated them in a positive light. Happ’s prescience does not end there; rather than conform to the trend of pixel art in indie games, he achieves an impressive blend 16-bit graphics with 8-bit sound effects. Some of the animations, I am certain, would have only been possible on 32-bit software. And, as much as I appreciate the artwork of Ayami Kojima of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night fame, the artwork of characters such as the Rusalka Elsenova is simply astounding. Encountering each is a spectacular treat, making me lament that common enemy encounters were as detailed.

For some reason, this Rusalki reminds me of the Oocca in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Its name, after all, is Oracca.

I manage to forgive the fact that enemies are more reminiscent of NES sprites than SNES ones because the game’s music is worthy enough to belong a list of all-time great OSTs. Anyone who can listen to the opening few seconds of “The Axiom” without nodding their heads when the bass drops at the six-second mark simply lacks a soul. Those paying close attention can hear small traces (he he he) of “Brinstar” in Trace Awakens.” “Vital Tide” could be a direct sequel to “Inner Darkside,” an all-time great. I certainly was not expecting the kind of range that the South Asian sound samples that “Inexorable” provides. “Amnesia” conveys its name precisely. Those who did not get enough of leitmotif from “The Axiom” at the title screen can feast their ears on “The Dream.” I could go on, but how many songs does one need to determine that the OST is excellent; I would prefer to end this paragraph with “Cellular Skies as it is simply the best song in the entire ensemble.

Oh, the irony.

Anyone reading this review not convinced that they should buy Axiom Verge are likely looking for reasons not to. There is potentially one, but it is a feeling that occurs only in the very late-game. Because it lacks the Nintendo-easy feature of pinging the next location to progress in the game should players fail to add percentage points to map exploration of items collected, there were times in my final two hours when I did not know or remember what to do or where to go. I ended up backtracking a lot, which disrupted the pacing. While seeking the next objective, I ended up discovering many weapons that I had previously missed, such as the flamethrower, but because I was in the last phases of the game, these discoveries dispelled the immersion—certainly the assumption—that in a Metroidvania, everything I collect is essential to beating the game. Instead, this game simply provides more options for taste; I prefer everything serving a specific purpose.

I do not know if I should be intimidated or impressed by Ophelia.

Here is the best part about Axiom Verge: Tom Happ developed this entire game by himself! Consider that there are games like Destiny or Fallout 4 or 76, developed by massive teams, and they still fall short of the mark. Happ performed the coding, drew the art, composed the music, and drafted the script all by himself, and the end result puts AAA efforts, let alone other indie developers, to shame.

Phew!

[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B073ZWT5SQ,B073ZYTG23,B073ZTMJJY,B01M2ZIHOJ]

Categories
Gaming Mobile PC PS4 Reviews Switch Xbox One

Review: Dandara (PC)

Artwork by cute_nightmare_

Developer: Long Hat House
Publisher: Raw Fury
Genre: PlatformerAdventure, (Metroidvania)
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Mobile
Rating: E for Everyone
Price: $14.99

I would have never even heard of Dandara except that I had been patronizing on a message board full of individuals who were trading information on black creatives with some hashtag from earlier in the year that I do not remember. Dandara is of Brazilian origin, developed by a team of two, João Brant and Lucas Mattos with a few other supporting hands periodically involved. I recommend reading Long Hat House’s developer blog to see how the game began as a Unity project in 2015. Whether or not players will wish to add it to their libraries will depend upon how they feel about its balance issues. 

Of all the Metroidvanias that I have played, this one most acutely executes my expectations for the genre as an “adventure platformer.”  For Dandara, the question of balance is the determining factor concerning whether or not players will wish to add it to their libraries.

Content Guide

From the womb of Creation, a savior is born.

Dandara is a game lacking content that would give the majority of gamers pause. The protagonist attacks by charging energy similar to “ki” in the Dragon Ball saga, then shooting it in short projectile form. There is no blood, no profanity, no references to sex, and to my recollection, no direct references to drugs or alcohol.

Dandara promotes what I believe to be an intensive, though clandestine, Christian allegory. I speak about this at length in “A Savior is Born.”

Review

Developer Long Hat House’s minimalist, taciturn approach to storytelling frustrated me for a week after I had finished the game. Dandara commits to a poetic narrative approach, not unlike an oral history, when I prefer straightforward narratives. For the longest time, I could not make sense of the story, save for Dandara‘s serendipitous appearance to save the salt of the world from fading into oblivion due to the arrival of an oppressive alien race that wants to subjugate the planet. 

I conjecture that Dandara designates the permeation of technology as a threat to the human condition. I noticed that during several encounters with individuals granting me new abilities, these persons are found in environments that hold the humanities in high regard. Literature, history, music—even save points encompass the simplicity of a simple tent and campfire, even at the heart of an alien ship. The concentration on the natural extends to the very core design of Dandara as a character. Her fierce afro compliments her brown skin—Long Hat House is indubitably familiar with colorism in Brazil, so their intentionality is commendable. 

Dandara does not provide a reason for why the titular heroine navigates the world of Creation by bouncing from platform to platform rather than walking. This method of movement feels appropriate, however, given the surreal disequilibrium of the often tumbling environments. Up, down, left, and right, sometimes become arbitrary prepositions in the world of Dandara, providing for an astoundingly delightful experience. A wonderful OST featuring songs such as “Dandara’s Purpose,” and “No More Singing Birds,” enhances the effect. “Once a Beautiful Horizon” in particular echoes the splendor heaven.

To accommodate irregular angles, the camera favorably rotates and zooms where necessary, providing better viewing angles for gameplay purposes. Thankfully, most obstacles are fair, and enemies are primarily stationary, but this does not mean that my sessions were struggle-free. Dandara’s range of motion and aiming patterns are radial, limiting how far she can jump or shoot. Because of the evasion and odd attack patterns of certain enemies, Dandara will sustain unavoidable damage, leaving her suspended in mid-air rather than attached to a surface; charging a shot while in this state treats players an animation that I wish I could manually activate: Dandara’s hair and scarf wave in futile resistance to the intensity of her focused light beam attack in DBZ-like fashion. This, combined with her animations when aiming for jumps in the radial grid, strongly appeal to my tastes for hand-drawn artwork. I only wish there were more frames of animation like seen in other games such as Sundered, but with a difficulty more fierce and true to the roguelike. 

A sample of radial aim.

Treasure chests found during exploration may yield single-use power-ups that heal or fill Dandara’s energy meter used for special attacks, but players cannot purchase these treasures in shops. This means that it is possible to never unlock any of these chests unless players intentionally explore while looking for them; it is also possible to completely exhaust these sparse resources without an opportunity to replenish them.

The “Pleas of Salt,” the game’s currency, are used in exchange for upgrading Dandara’s health, energy, and power-up potency at camps. Therefore, not only are power-ups limited, but they have to be upgraded so that they are useful in the late game when a single hit from enemies deplete several hearts at a time. The problem with salt, or rather, the game itself, is that all salt reserves upon Dandara’s death are left upon soul suspended in the are from where she died. In this way, Dandara is yet another game borrowing from Demon’s Souls mechanics. But unlike Demon’s Souls, one can find souls, or in this game, salt, in the aforementioned chests, which do not regenerate to replace the salt when one fails to recover Dandara’s body should players die again from an unsuccessful soul retrieval. If there was an achievement to lose 30,000 salt over the course of a playthrough, I would have earned it while chasing after the 20,000 salt reserve achievement. Imagine beating a boss in Demon’s Souls and continuing on to the next boss and dying without ever spending the souls for upgrades and then dying twice without recovering the body. Because there was no way for me to recover all that lost salt, I proceeded into the final stages of the Dandara while underpowered, and the once-fun Metroidvania turned into a grind, completely shattering immersion and pacing. Not even the sublime “dream world” could recover the fun that was lost.

M. Bison???

After a time of adjusting to the change of pace from the standard Metroidvania, players will find themselves flying through corridors like an anime ninja, but the difficulty spike after the first boss feels like a kick in the teeth! I do not mind a helping of NES era-hard, but I think Dandara could have used some minor tweaking in the balance area of its gameplay. Nevertheless, this game offers an interesting change of pace from your run-of-the-mill Metroidvania. Movement offers miniature puzzles where players are challenged to find the correct angles while dodging incoming fire from the enemy. While the ubiquity of the Dark Souls death mechanic vexes me, I welcome games that offer a good combination of story and gameplay. It is unfortunate that a game like Dandara takes as many risks as it does but remains relatively unknown because it launched around the same time as Celeste did earlier in 2018.

This section of the game is so hard, I never got further than further than this screen. The boss of the game was easier!