X marks the spot…hey! Wait a darn minute!

While I’m waiting for larger (and possibly duller) games to download, I headed over to Kongregate to pick a five-minute game to pass the time. Thankfully I found “It’s just TIC TAC TOE” whose label appears to reveal the actual contents of the game. It does. It is just TIC TAC TOE, with a bit of something else. That something else I’ll leave for you to discover, but give yourself a few minutes to enjoy this new take on a classic game…with the sound on, if you can.

I have no idea if I’m the winner…or if we’re all winners.

 

The colorful, calm complexity of the new puzzler, Colorzzle

With fifty stages, Colorzzle, the debut game from Darong Studio on Kongregate, is a completely satisfying puzzler. Moving blocks of color together in order to grow a variety of flora, Colorzzle is one of those calm puzzle games that slowly increase the level of difficulty without forcing the player into a wall of frustration. With a lovely soundtrack (that I still have playing in another tab as I write this review) playing Colorzzle soothed my soul on a wintry morning.

This is a spoiler, but I just wanted to you to know that I love you.

The levels progress smoothly and the introduction of new mechanics feels natural, with a level or two to get used to the new item and then a gentle incline for the more challenging areas. Colorzzle’s sound, design, and gameplay all fit together for a relaxing experience that at times, especially in the later levels, will surprise you with its challenge. The game is available for iOS, Android, and Steam, and you can try the first fifty levels at Kongregate right now. Beautiful.

Cube Escape is the rightful heir to Submachine and is so good, we don’t deserve it

With all the Steams and Switches in the world, it’s sometimes hard to remember excellent game areas such as Kongregate. Last night, desperate to shake the unyielding crawl of Fetch Games, I stumbled into their puzzle section and found “Cube Escape: The Cave,” which is the ninth installment of the Rusty Lake series. I now find myself having to go back and play the other eight. The detail of the games atmosphere and puzzles left me bewildered and disturbed, a phantom shadow here, an unfortunate recipe there, and all the while I was wondering how could these puzzles be so challenging without being annoying. There is more than narrative magic in “Cube Escape: The Cave”: there is developer magic as well.

You want so much to feed the doggy. Then you have to feed the doggy. Oh, no doggy, no.

The escape-room genre, recently and not necessarily to its benefit, seen a bump in interest due to the prevalence of IRL escape room games; either permanent locations or pop-up events have become common in the city-scape. Yet, the idea of heading into a room with a group of people (known and unknown) to find the clues and perform the tasks needed to escape seems completely antithetical to the genre. You are alone, in a room, and there are a series of puzzles you must solve to escape and that solitude is what makes solving the puzzles so essential, and urgent. The idea of solving a complicated puzzle with a bunch of buzzed bros from the Bowery feels so much like torture, more akin to the Saw franchise, than a successor to “The Crimson Room.”

My stopping point when I played through. I’ll return to this room when I have the focus it requires. Probably after lunch.

“Cube Escape: The Cave” gives me the same urgency and desperate need for immersion as “Crimson Room” and “Submachine.” I need to solve each riddle and I need to move on, either escaping completely or on to the next adventure. That there are eight other iterations of “Cube Escape” leaves me anxious for a long stretch of time where I can work my way through its labyrinthine story and solve all the puzzles (with the help from a hint or two, not gonna lie). And while playing at Kongregate allows me to save my place, I would have gladly started all over. I highly recommend giving this chapter a try (as it’s the only one I’ve played so far) and let me know if you have a favorite chapter in the series.

Well, hello Clarisse: This game has a lot of energy and hopefully a full version soon

When I came to write this review of Not Human Games’ “Clarisse,” I wanted to do a little checking to see if the game was still in development. It had been months since the developers updated information over at Game Jolt and very little action on the Steam Greenlit space as well. The company’s twitter feed did mention that “Clarisse” won a Better Narrative Design award at the Valencia Indie Summit so it appears that the game will still find a full release date. My conundrum was wanting to review this prologue chapter to the game because I truly enjoyed playing it, but I didn’t want to recommend something that was dead in the water.

This is also the feeling I have when I read a review of a game only to be given a link to their Kickstarter. Dang.

“Clarisse” is a point-and-click game in the classic style, with nice interactive play, challenging puzzles, and a compelling story line. Your role is Clarisse, an AI developed by and assisting a scientist with a lofty, if not secretive, mission: “No more wars. No more hunger. No more injustice.” The stakes are enormous for the success of this new technology, but quickly you see that your human assistant is suffering from some unknown ailment. The demo of “Clarisse” is relatively short, but the dialog and story set up are so entertaining that the end comes far too quickly.

Mr. Cat is watching and judging your performance.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but I will add warn you that after coming to the end of your play through, you may find yourself frustrated that you cannot play further. The character design is particularly well done, giving us a complex personality through the use of dialog and high-quality pixel art. The sound design is spot on and one of the most jarring moments for me happened before the game even began. After loading the game, I turned away from the title screen to make a note and I heard a scratchy sound and I turned back quickly. I’ll admit I watched that title screen for many minutes, listening to the different shorts and zzts as the image glitches out for a moment. I was a nice little effect on an oft ignored area of any game.

When it came to the actual puzzles in the demo, of which there are basically three, I was at a bit of a loss. Either I missed, or the game didn’t provide, clear instruction on what I was supposed to accomplish on two of them – one game reminded me of the old “Reflections” flash game from the early 2000s, so I was pretty clear on that one, though it stymied me for a time – and I ended up fussing about with selections and controls until I basically stumbled upon the solution. I cannot be sure if this is my fault or a lack in the demo itself, but the story and characters of the game are so interesting that I’m happy to put the blame on myself until the full version is released.

I didn’t know if the beeps should go fast or slow, in time with the flashes or not, up, down, right, left, A, B…I got it in the end, though.

In a final note, if the developers of “Clarisse” happen to find themselves in this swampy corner of the Internet, please finish the game soon, because any game company who adds the following to an update list, is a company I want to give my money to:

Mr. Cat is being alive, he is a sweet and adorable cat.

The 111th Soul makes me admit to the Internet that I’m a big, ole scaredy-cat

There’s a lot to like about “The 111th Soul.” Created by a solo developer, Ricardo Pratas, and available on Steam, the sound-design and immersive feel to the game give this a deep atmospheric tone. Playing with mouse and keyboard was a little weird for me, as the fluid movement paired with my mouse settings made me a little woozy until I got used to it. I acclimated quickly, though, and was immediately absorbed into looking through the creepy house, checking out items, walking through doors, all the while waiting for the bad thing to happen.

That’s the atmosphere of “The 111th Soul,” knowing that the bad thing is right around the corner, behind a door, in another room. And, Internet, I’m here to tell you, I’m a wimp. I was a little stymied looking for a box of

matches, but once I set one thing in motion, I started to quaver. When the first bad thing happened, I took a few steps back and decided to try the front door again. Nope. I went room-by-room, willing the developer to give me some in-game release from the dread that was slowly taking over. I went back to the bad thing and discovered the way forward and for a moment, I thought, “it’s just a game, Girl Adventurer. You’ve got Adventure in your name for cripes sake!”

The creepy photos and grandfather clock really tie the room together….tick tock tick tock.

I tried the front door again.

“Nooooooooo,” my internal monitor screamed as I approached one of two closed doors. I knew there were more bag things afoot and as I approached the end of the hallway, one of those bad things made a noise.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. I hit the ESC key and quit. I’m a scaredy-cat.

This should be more than enough recommendation to try out Pratas’ “The 111th Soul.” If you enjoy this kind of immersive, shuddering experience, I think you will not be disappointed. In fact, go play it for me and come back and tell me how much fun it was. I’ll be sitting here, cowering by the front door, ready to run.

Remember kids, arrows that go up, eventually come down

Ah, this game is too much fun. If I ever need a reminder of how bad my aim is in games, particularly side-scrolling games, this little bow-and-arrow shooter will put me in my place in no time. Feeling the need to play something new, I headed over to the Unity game room and found this little gem by Garakuta called (maybe) “Demon Attack [魔物討伐].” Here’s my advice, don’t let the large, red skull surrounded by small skeletons skulkily skulking in the sky distract you. For if you do you miss out on two things: one, the small skeletons hop down to the ground and git ya; and two, arrows you shoot up, can come back down on your head.  Head over and give it a try, if not to impress me with your mad bow skills, then to just sit there while the epic music plays in the background.

After lasting nearly six seconds, I let the music play in the background. There are a bazillion skeletons eating my face right now.

Get your errand-girl groove on with the fun Tales of Nebezem

Lost in a sea of adequate, but repetitive casual games from Big Fish, I decided to branch out a bit and look for some interesting games father afield. I’d been an avid player at Kongregate years ago and returned to see what was currently trending. Tales of Nebezem: The Golden Scepter was recommended to me early and it was spot on. This small RPG game was not only entertaining, but dang, it had a nice groove.

In fact, “Good Music” is one of the ways players have tagged Nebezem and trust me, it’s worthy of it. You play as Danu, a young girl in town who is quickly punished for having a big heart and a menace of a dog. To her credit, she only finds the dog at the start of the game, but the terrorizing terrier wreaks so much havoc so quickly she is immediately sent upon a quest(s) to make restitution to all of the injured neighbors. The collection trope is strong in Nebezem, but don’t let that dissuade you from playing. While every successive character may have a desire that Danu must fill to progress, the hopping music and easy game play make it difficult to stop playing this little gem. The game play is typical of an RPG game, though some of the puzzles are quite unique. I’ve yet to find the magical item that will make the chicken lay an egg, yet, if video games have taught me anything, getting a chicken to do something is damn near impossible.

Creator Beranek has also released a larger RPG game called Tales of Nezebem: Elemental Link. Set in the same world as the Kongregate game, this promises to be a much larger adventure, full of the same charm as the shorter game. After playing Golden Scepter I went ahead and purchased Elemental Link and look forward to playing and reviewing it soon.

Dord is Doughy and Delightful

There was no way to resist the puffy protagonist of NarwhalNut’s Dord when I saw him over at Game Jolt. It’s the bow tie. I’m a sucker for bow ties. This 2D puzzler certainly delivers the cute as you navigate the colorful world with Midy, the little ghost that wants to become a real knight.

Dord02
That berry girl is totally stanning Midy.

I’m still playing the game and while the objectives are clear, some of the puzzles are surprisingly challenging. Yet the music and visuals of Dord make the game nearly impossible to put down. Do you get the sense that I like this game?

Dord04
What do you mean I gotta defeat this bunny? Woook a his big ole eyes!

Dord reminds me of the pixely detailed worlds of early NES games and PC point-and-click adventures, and as those were my gateways games years ago, the aesthetic works on my nostalgia glands. Thankfully Dord offers a story line and game play that does not disappoint. Get your puffy little hands on it today.

Dord03
The wandering post-person, who reminds me of a kodama, allows you to save your progress. He is a little suspicious, though.

Moral Obligation in Don’t Take This Risk

I downloaded this game by Poison Apple Tales on a whim based on the screen shot of the menu. I had no idea what was in store for me, nor any idea what the game was about. Unless I’m on the fence about something, I tend to stay away from promotional material, letting my high-quality visual acumen be the judge of what game I will play next.

Thankfully, Don’t Take This Risk comes with a warning that gives me a glimpse into the journey the player is about to take.

DontTakeTheRisk02
It took me a while to click to continue.

After this, it goes without saying that there is a big trigger warning when approaching Don’t Take This Risk and I want to underline that here. I played through three times, the first two time I earned the same ending, #1, out of a possible nine. On the third play through, I earned ending #2. I wasn’t able to sit through ending #1 a second time. This game, in the early areas at least, is devoid of graphical distractions. It’s just you and another voice and this blackness erases any visual stimulation. The player and the character are connected only through language, verbal or written, and this makes for a more exhilarating experience. On the first play through, my heart raced a bit as I struggled to answer questions within the time limit, yet on the second, I found myself rushing through the character responses so I could get to a place to make a different choice. Still, after earning ending #1 again, I was troubled enough to take out my ear buds while the ending “happened.” Even the second time, the emotional work wore me down.

I can’t and won’t speak to the other options in Don’t Take This Risk, as I don’t want to lead you down one path or the other. Yet, if you do decide to play this game, please be warned that it deals with disturbing subjects such as abusive relationships and suicide. If those hit too close to home, feel free to take a pass.

I love killing chickens in Rogue Sphere

Another Japanese game over at Unity Room caught my eye. This one is Rogue Sphere from NinaLabo. I played the WebGL version, but there is also a version available at Google Play. This little rogue-like game took nearly an hour away from me this morning, even though I can understand a fraction of the instructions and game text.

RogueSphere05
I believe I’m supposed to make onigiri for him, but I apparently ate it myself.

The navigation is app-based, so there are no WASD or arrow controls, but that process became pretty bearable especially as you move from area to area – your character sprints through those passages. Each level has roughly four areas and after clearing the level of monsters – chickens, bats, snakes, blobs – you head to the stairs to take on the next level. Eventually when you clear you end up in a small town. The town boasts a modest shop where you can accidentally sell your shied because your Japanese is so terrible. You can buy food there too.

RogueSphere04
These are glowing plants of unknown (to me) purpose. They may be a save mechanic or they may just smell nice.

Rogue Sphere has small side quests as well, but I have no idea what they are about, save the onigiri one which, I believe, I totally failed. Language barrier aside, the game is quite fun, the tiny death squawks of the chickens making me laugh each and every time.

Knightin’ is more fun than familiar

I can’t think of what game I want to compare Knightin to. Some game, relatively famous, that has multiple top-down dungeons, a variety of creatures and delightful music. Legend of something, something. Well, it will come to me. However, that familiarity may be kinda the point for Knightin, an addictively fun and easy going game from Wolod and available at Itch. According to the site, the game won Pixel Day 2018 and rightfully so. Knightin appears simplistic visually, but once you start playing, you discover the details in those dungeons.

Knightin02
I like my swords like my men: super sharp and available in the first room. 

I was looking in the wrong place for the game play instructions. I only had to check out the dungeon floors to find out everything I needed to know – like using the space bar to open a chest (see image above.) If this has been done before, forgive my inadequate knowledge of the entirety of video game history, but that’s damn clever and I’m giving full credit to Wolod for doing it first and best. Well done!

Knightin04
There is also a solution to a puzzle on the floor. Can you see it? See those skulls? They’re not it.

I have only moved through the early levels of Knightin before stopping to write up this review because I feared I would be playing long into the knight, not due to my elite gaming skills, but due to the forgiving nature of the game play and the sheer nostalgic fun of it all. Give Knightin a try and if you love it, too, give Wolod a nice tip.

Farm Living is the Life for Me

I thought I was going to spend about five minutes playing this little farm simulator from kamihi over at the Unity Room, but 農園生活 (Farm Living) grabbed me for over a half an hour, at least. The entire game is in Japanese, so if you don’t have some basic understanding the hurdle to play will be higher, but if you trust yourself, you can probably muddle through. You play フィルミエ (Firumie(?)) – I’m adding her name in katakana so you can suss it out from the dialog — and you’ve decided to start living the farm life. You take out a loan for 35000 and you have a certain period of time (I didn’t catch how long) to pay it off with your labors.

FarmLiving02
You can see some of the items and crops available in this screen shot. Clicking on the character on the right allows you to harvest crops. Upgrading tools means using fewer hearts per activity.

I nearly made it, the game stopping when I was around 5,000, but the music and game mechanics – plus my desperate need to improve my Japanese – kept me hooked. Here are a few tips when playing:

  • You won’t be able to remove the boulders on your property, but in time you’ll be able to buy a tool that will help.
  • Try to sell your crops at the highest value you can. See the list on the left hand side.
  • When you click on a plot, the right-hand menu will show your available actions. New abilities and crops will show up there without ceremony, so keep your eyes peeled.
  • Keep an eye on your hearts (bottom left). Those are the number of actions you can do in a month. The blue button on the bottom (休み) means Rest and hitting that will move you to the next month.
  • Crops don’t appear to spoil – though there were a few messages that popped up that were too fast for me to try to read. Hold them until the price is higher.

Most of all, enjoy it. And no, I have no idea how to turn off the music. I didn’t spend that much time on the menu. But I enjoyed it, just as I thoroughly enjoyed Farm Living.

Rating: Try

Please Say Hi broke my heart and healed it again.

So good. So good.

I’m starting to think I have a thing for unconventional “games.” Please Say Hi is one of those visual stories that makes you slightly uneasy, not from dread, but from the familiarity of it all. The day in day out grind of the protagonist is eerily similar to one of my past corporate lives and I wondered, had I been rendered in 2D, muted hues, would I have looked much different?

 

please say hi 01
Me too, red-headed game protagonist. Me too.

Well, I didn’t have a fancy cappucino machine.

Please Say Hi should come with a trigger warning but staying for the after credit scene may release any pressure on that trigger. I’ve already said too much. It’s listed at Armor Games under “5 Minutes,” but take it a bit slow and get into this quiet story.

Rating: Buy, but it’s free so PLAY!

The Quiet Beauty of A Raven Monologue

RavenMonologue02

It’s not a game. You’re objective is to listen, not necessarily to dialog (there is none, though there is a wonderfully mournful song that plays while you watch. “A Raven Monologue” by Mojiken Studio is, per the description at Itch.io: “a short experimental silent story about a raven that does not know how to croak and his relationship with the people in the town.” The illustrations are masterful, part art deco, part Edward Gorey (my art critique game is weak) and compelling. The song by Christabel Annora is haunting and well-suited to the muted colors and melancholy undertones of the “Monologue.” I found myself drawn into this drawn world and heartsick when I had to leave. If you find the experience as wonderful as I have, please tip the creator the $3 to get the fan pack. These image will be decorating my monitors for a while.

Rating: Buy

Up is Down, Left is Where? The Night Henry Allen Died

I really want to love “The Night Henry Allen Died.” Everything about this browser game at Armor Games appeals to me. I love the isometric graphics. I love the music and sound design. I love the story. I love the whole idea of this game.

I just didn’t love playing it.

This is probably more about my own inadequacies than any of the game, but I found myself completely stymied by two things:

The controls: I’m not new to isometric gaming, nor keyboard gaming, but intuitively I found myself thinking that the upper-left direction was “up” and not “left” as coded for the game. There are only a few areas to explore but because my hand would not adapt to the game’s cardinal north, I found navigating terribly frustrating. This could also be due to the starting area, where the exit is found in the upper left.

The dialog: I’m all for a game that’s based solely on dialog, but I would have liked to see conversation choices that I had already run through eliminated, especially as you gain more information or meet more characters there are more items to scroll through. As with the movement controls, this is only done through the arrow keys and by the time I tap down to the newest topic of discussion, I’ve forgotten why I’m even asking.

Henry-Allen02
The moon probably kept hitting the left arrow instead of the up arrow and got lost.

I played one time last night after seeing it mentioned on Twitter. I went in with the best intentions and felt frustrated by the controls. I decided to leave it for the day and come back to it fresh in the morning. Unfortunately, I had the same issues, my right hand unwilling to reorient itself to the controls and the incessant down-arrowing to get past old dialog became stale quickly. I proceeded further than yesterday, but I can’t say that I found the second play-through better than the first.

“The Night Henry Allen Died” is a potentially interesting game, particularly in its story…goal(?), however some basic control issues keep it from being a more immersive narrative.

Rating: Try

Henry-Allen01
I wanted to stay, but…