Disgaea RPG

I have mixed feelings on Disgaea RPG. The reality of it is that when you strip away much of flavor and art, it’s a fairly bog-standard mobile phone game. On the other hand, it’s also Disgaea flavored which means I’ve been playing it every day more or less non-stop for a week.

Yes, I know. I’m weak.

So, Disgaea RPG. It’s a mobile unit-collection RPG. In practice, this means that you spend most of your time playing the levels you have access to, grinding out the highest content you can when you hit a wall, and waiting for your energy to recharge (or running the item world) when you run out. And saving up as much premium currency as you feasibly can to roll gacha.

In terms of actual gameplay, you build a team of five units, then select and play levels. Units have a basic attack and a few abilities that require SP, which recharges over time…. and that’s pretty much it. There’s no grid system, and you only have a maximum of these five characters in your party.

If it wasn’t for the Disgaea theming, I’m not sure I’d still be playing. But since it is Disgaea themed, the flavor and ability to get a bunch of characters from the other games that I like (such as Valvatorez and Desco) is actually pretty neat. The polish on the art and animations is very solid, and I’d be surprised if the assets weren’t taken directly from the other games. The same is true of the background music, the voice acting, and story elements.

Unfortunately, outside of that, Disgaea RPG doesn’t do too much that most other mobile collection games don’t do already, from what I’ve seen so far. While some elements of the combo system are interesting (such as the way tower attacks are ported over), they aren’t interesting enough to force you to really think about what you’re doing at any given point in time. There have only been 2-3 fights so far that have even made me do anything more complex then “Use best attack I have access to, then keep using it”.

Outside of this though, the aspect of the game I’d say I enjoy the most is the story and character interactions. None of it has quite hit the level of quality I’d expect from a mainline series game, but even if it feels like glorified fanfic, it’s good fanfic. Etna planning on murdering Laharl is still funny, Fuka and Desco’s questionable teamwork is amusing, and Mao cackling maniacally is still fun.

Overall, Disgaea RPG is… fine. I think it’s enjoyable if you’re already a fan of the series, but if you’re not, there isn’t much there for you. It’s definitely carried by the setting and art. But there simply isn’t much mechanically that hasn’t been done in a mobile game before.

Of course, if you’re curious, you can grab it yourself. It’s free on the app store and google play store with in-app purchases. (The ratio of real world money to in-game stuff is pretty garbage in my opinion though.)

Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero?

You can do it, dood!

Ed Note: Images are from theSwitch re-release press kit.

“Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?” was re-released for Switch back in 2020, after originally being released on PSP. It’s a game that I first played on a whim, but grew to love and play religiously. And what with this being Disgaea Week, I figured now is as good a time as any to talk about it.

I was still in high school when I heard about its release, and while I thought the animation looked good, and the gameplay seemed cool, I knew nothing about the Disgaea series. Still, I grabbed it anyway, and on a cold day after class while waiting for the bus, a friend passed me his PSP and I was off on a journey where I learned the most important lesson in life: “Gotta be smart, dood!” 

Starting the game, you’re introduced to our expandable super cool hero, the Prinny, a penguin-shaped husk that houses the spirit of a criminal sentenced to hell. After a quick meeting with your master, Demon Lord Eta, you’re told someone ate her Ultra Dessert and that unless you and your fellow Prinnies get her a new one, you’re all dead. With this promise of an asskicking should you fail, Etna gives you a magical scarf, and it’s off to the races.

Take three hits, and it’s the end of the line dood!

 Once the story begins your UI shows you the main helpful info: your scarves, combo bar, points, a timer, and the total number of Prinnies left. The UI’s not overwhelming when playing and all of the elements are spaced out nicely, so you never have a moment where the action is covered or blocked. The game has a very roguelike feel considering how your Prinny can take three hits, and then they’re gone.

1000 Prinnies might seem like a lot, but they disappear quickly and watching the life counter in the bottom left adds a very fun sense of impending doom. I’ve always been a fan of watching the counter go down as I struggle, getting closer and closer towards the end but also getting better and better, learning boss and enemy mechanics.

Overall, the game is a very snappy side scrolling platformer, and it feels great; there are only rare moments where I felt like a death was due to confusing level design or weird controls. One thing to note is that the game changes perspective when you do an air attack from 2d to a pseudo-3d. This can be awkward at first, but once you get used to the perspective shift it can be helpful for platforming or trying to find hidden areas. 

For combat, your character has a ground slam attack and a sword slice that can be used at short range. The slash attack can be used on the ground or in the air which will cause your Prinny to float while the attack is active. 

Combat is simple and honestly that’s what I loved about the game. Prinnies are supposed to be a weak throw-away characters, and while they are (sorta) the hero of this story, you can tell they’re not traditional overpowered protagonists. 

Enemies and boss fights feel challenging but absolutely beatable. The level design is streamlined and makes it hard to get lost. Additionally, if there was ever a moment where I entered a boss room and didn’t immediately know how to complete the fight, a quick look around the room always guaranteed I knew what was needed to beat them. 

The music and voice acting is also a huge part of what makes the game great. The soundtrack has a very Nightmare Before Christmas/Disgaea vibe. It’s always very fitting for the level and really gets you bobbing with music. As for voice acting, the Prinnies have their go-to catchphrases that after 4 hours I found myself yelling as I beat enemies or made lots of progress: “Gotta be fast dood!” They all have an attitude and speech type that makes you want to help these doods.

Additionally, the supporting cast of demons and lords are hilarious and as an unassuming Prinny walking up to these powerhouses, you get amazing dialog as they ridicule you or even pay no attention. And when you end up interrupting, rest assured, it may end with you running for your un-life.

In short, the game is a great time. If you’re looking for something to pick up and play mindlessly for a few hours, or just laugh at all the crap the hero endures, only to see him finally succeed, it’s still worth it. It’s a simple joy to play and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. As I noted above, the game was released on PSP before, but your best bet at this point if you’re interested is to grab the Nintendo Switch re-release.

Disgaea 4 Complete+

God I love this game.

Ed Note: Images for this writeup are from a combo of the Disgaea 4 Complete press kit, and my own save file.

Disgaea 4 is, somewhat strangely enough, the first Disgaea game I played. Specifically, Disgaea 4 Complete+ for the Switch. As far as I can tell, the “Complete” part just means that they opted to include all of the additional DLC and scenarios that were added to the game after its initial release in… 2011.

10 years ago.

Okay, so we might be a teensy bit late on this one.

One of the best things about Disgaea is the ability to customize your hub world and move all the NPC’s you actually care about next to each other.

In any case, like the other games, Disgaea 4 primarily takes place in the Netherworld. The main focus of the story is Valvatorez, a previously incredibly powerful vampire and also arguably total idiot, who never breaks promises he makes. One of these promises involved an agreement to not consume human blood ever. Pretty much all the other side characters are great as well, including Fenrich, Valvatorez’s second in command, who feels like an inverse version of the traitorous vizier trope, and Fuka, a elementary school child who dies, goes to hell, and then proceeds to determinator her way through the Netherworld by refusing to accept her death.

Valvatorez, the vampire who doesn’t drink blood, and Fenrich, his loyal servant who would really like it if maybe he would again.

These games can be kinda weird.

The general arc of the game is Valvatorez’s staging of a coup against the current President of Hell, in an attempt to fix the problems the Netherworld is having, including lack of energy, an inability to handle the influx of guilty souls, and just general failure to… well, be hell.

Behold, the… grid that I don’t remember the name of.

Mechanically, this comes in with the Corrupternment and building placement map. As you advance through the game, you’ll unlock political titles, buildings, and other elements that give benefits to units placed within their area of effects on this grid. You can also pass bills and policies to boost yourself, your rate of EXP gain, unlock new units, make friends, and also just shake down senators for cash.

The general structure of the rest of the game is fairly straightforward, with both the Item World and Chara World in Disgaea 4 following a similar structure of being procedurally generated combat levels where you need to clear all enemies, with a few additional minor changes between them. The game also has Magichange, the ability to turn monster characters into weapons temporarily for your other characters to use (don’t worry, they get better), and monster fusion, which lets you fuse monsters into larger versions of themselves with better range and damage.

Is it really a Disgaea game if the stats aren’t measured in hundred thousands?

Overall, Disgaea 4 is currently my favorite of the games story-wise, if not mechanically. While the game’s art style and mechanics haven’t aged terribly, many of the UI elements and menus do feel a bit outdated at this point, and some of the connectivity features, like fights and pirate ship leaderboards, feel a bit dead. Despite all of this, though, the fights are still interesting, the grind is nice and grindy, and story and characters are still funny.

Okay, so maybe I’ve played a bit too much of this.

You can get Disgaea 4 Complete+ here for Switch, and here for PC if you’re interested.

Disgaea Franchise Week – Kickoff

Here we go dood!

This post inaugurates what I’m calling Disgaea week. Some of you may be wondering why we’re doing this. Is it blatant pandering? Is it because America NIS approved my press credentials? Is it because I love Disgaea and really want them to send me a review copy of Disgaea 6?

The answer has two parts. 1. How dare you question my journalistic integrity, and 2. Yes.

Yes to all of the above.

On the flip side, it also gives a good opportunity to talk about some of the things that are similar between the games, without having to rehash them each time I write about the series.

So lets talk about Disgaea. If I had to summarize the game series in one sentence, I would say: “Disgaea is a tactics game about unleashing your inner mechanics munchkin.” Of course, this ignore the great art, the really solid writing, and skips over all the actual mechanics. But I only had one sentence, so we’ll get to that in a bit.

If you’re not familiar with the series, the Disgaea games don’t necessarily have any continuity between them. Instead, it’s a franchise more in the form of something like Final Fantasy, where each game is a separate cast of characters and goals, but certain elements remain the same, such as the primary combat mechanics, character classes, and Prinnies. Prinnies are the souls of the damned, doomed to pay for their sins in the afterlife by being sewn into a penguin shaped costume and used as the servants/cannon fodder/meat shields/target practice dummies for everyone else in the netherworld.

I’m expandable, dood!

The mechanics of the games often consist of a few fairly nested systems, but the general core gameplay is pretty simple. You’re given a gridded map, a deploy point to move units out onto the map from, and a bunch of enemies you need to defeat to clear the map. The complexity of these maps ranges based on the game, and how you’re expected to beat the map. Some maps are effectively puzzles, requiring moving boxes/blocks around, or destroying various patterns. Some are just standard “Brawl your way across” fights. And some are a combination of the two, or exist to teach you to understand specific mechanics.

Of course, this is just for the standard levels included throughout the campaign. You can also go to the “item world,” which is a series of randomly generated challenge floors. Clearing each floor levels up the item that you’re currently inside, and you can also collect “Innocents” which are people that can be moved between your items, and equipped to your items. So, you can level up your items that you equip to your characters and also equip characters to your items that you equip and where are you going please come back.

And it’s this sort of systemic and mechanical orgy that defines what a Disgaea game is for me. Disgaea games are games where you can level up everything, and once you hit the level cap, you can reincarnate and do it again. They’re games that let you graft and move skills and Evilities (think passive Pokemon-style abilities) from character to character. They’re games where your skills gain experience separate from your character, where you can tweak every inch, and relevel a character over and over until the number on their stat bar is larger than the GDP of the entire planet.

Oh, and you can also go to the chara world, which is different depending on the game, but lets you adjust additional bonuses, and okay, I promise, I’ll stop talking about the systems for now.

Outside of this smorgasbord of interesting interactions, the other biggest thing I’d say the games have going for them are that they’re actually well-written and have voice acting that doesn’t make me cut the cables going to my headphones.

Most of the characters involved, especially the protagonists, are deeply flawed individuals in a variety of interesting ways. My personal favorite would have to be Valvatorez, the main character of Disgaea 4, who is a powerless vampire who could instantly become extremely powerful if he wished, except for the fact that he absolutely refuses to break his promises.

In either case, the key take away from this article is as follows:

  1. I really like Disgaea
  2. Disgaea is a tactics game about being a complete munchkin.
  3. NIS America please send me a review copy of Disgaea 6.
  4. This entire week is going to be me pandering to try to get that to happen.

So buckle up mother fuckers, because this entire week is about to a roller coaster ride of exploding penguins, exceedingly strange mechanics, vampires that don’t suck blood, and the other weirdness that makes up the Netherworld(s)!

Lets go Dood!

Assassin – 10 Years Later

One tradition my High School had was a game played by the seniors called Assassin. I’m sure this is a pretty common thing, but like most traditional games, I suspect it goes by a billion different names and variation, so here’s an what ours looked like.

For each team who wanted to play, they had to pay an entry fee of $20. Teams could have up to four people on them. The game itself was a water gun fight, where if you got hit with water, you were out. At the start of each week, each team was given another team to be their opponents. Your goal was to take out more folks on the opposing side than they took out on your side. There were also a series of rules based around when and where you were allowed to shoot people with your water guns (you couldn’t enter buildings without permission, couldn’t do stuff during school hours, and couldn’t do it on school grounds). In general though, the game should have been pretty simple.

The emphasis here is of course, on the word, “Should.”

In practice, the game tended to turn rapidly into a complete clusterfuck, in part because of the rules, and in part because of how the game was judged. Notable moments over the years included a player purchasing and using a ghillie suit, a car chase (no, really), the use of what I think was converted fire-fighting equipment as water dispersing item, and the head judge acting like a dumbass. I also heard a truck mounted pressure washer was involved one year, but I don’t know how true that was.

Let’s talk about the problems with judging for a moment, though. So, who was the judge? Which absolute fucking idiot decided that it was both a good idea to help run this thing, and to put them themself in a position where they would have to make calls about rules and behavior to a bunch of their peers competing for several hundred dollars?

Oh right. That was me.

To say the game of Assassin I ran went poorly would be an understatement. It would be like saying that there was a fire-related event at Notre Dame, or that people might currently be taking trading cards a bit too seriously.

The phrase “Unmitigated Fucking Disaster” comes to mind.

But it’s been almost 10 years (Jesus Christ it’s been almost 10 years, what the fuck), which strikes me as a good time to revisit this tradition, examine it, and try to figure out what I would do differently if I was to run it again, now that I’m 10 years older. And theoretically wiser. But mostly just older.

So if I could run the game again, what would I do differently?

  1. Take out the entry fee and prize.
    If I could only make one change to the game, this would be it. I’m not going to say that money is the root of all evil or any hippie bullshit like that, but it absolutely corrupts this game in particular. The entry fee means that pretty much however you make your ruling, someone is going to hate you, and it screws good sportsmanship over in a massive way. Talking of sportsmanship, this brings up the second problem…
  2. Remove the elimination aspect of the game.
    The bracket-based elimination is something that I look back on and die a little bit inside, purely from a game design standpoint. It’s one of the worst aspects of the ruleset. If you get eliminated early, you no longer get to play the game, which feels bad, and again, leads to folks wanting to argue hits and knockouts. Removing players is almost always bad design. Instead, it would make more sense to give each team a weekly score based on the number of members of the enemy team that they eliminated. That way the game could run for a series of weeks, and everyone would get to… y’know. Actually play the game. Which brings us to…
  3. Move combat exclusively to the weekend.
    Among all of the clusterfucks and problems in the game, the biggest one was the issue of legal knockouts. Is the parking lot school ground? What about the pavement? If you get shot coming into the school, but it’s before 8:00, does that count? If you’re at a “protected” school event, and you leave to kill somebody, is your kill legitimate? These are all questions that are up for debate based on your interpretation of the rules, and frankly, they’re not worth it.

    Instead, I’d want to move the game to remove all those restrictions, but played exclusively on the weekend, from 6:00 PM Friday, to 6:00 PM Sunday. If nothing else, it would probably make the teachers hate the game a bit less.

So, if all these changes were made, would the game be perfect? Would peace reign supreme? Well, not really. There were a lot of other problems, too, like rampant kingmaking, shooting people in cars, and how the game itself encouraged hiding in your house and waiting for the week to end.

And this brings me to the real problem: how the game was formed. The rules were cruddy because they were a stew of rules invented by a variety of people, including the people running and playing the game, the teachers who hated it, the parents who wanted kids to stop hiding outside their house at 4:00 AM, and the coaches who would have liked it if their student athletes brought water bottles instead Super Soakers to practice. The end result was a system where a variety of people had input, but no one actually had complete power over the rules, and as a result, they kind of sucked.

Especially if your judge is an idiot.

So instead of making minor rules changes, what if we tore the whole thing down? What if we started from scratch, and tried to design an event that would capture the fun tension, but without the actual occasional risk of physical harm, and complete disruption to everyday life? What would that look like?

Well, I have an idea. It’s called Secret Agent. And it’ll be in a post that goes up later next week.

Nuclear Throne

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about Nuclear Throne for like two weeks now, and each time I think that I’ll be able to figure it out if I play more of it. Then I go play more Nuclear Throne, and I don’t generate anything new to say about it.

Okay, so let’s talk about why I don’t think Nuclear Throne is perfect, and why I still think you should play it even though I’m about to complain about it a bunch.

To make a long story short, Nuclear Throne is so fun and I played it so much that I was able to make a list of the things that annoy me about the game. So let’s talk about the parts of this good game that drive me nuts.

  1. The Ammo System
    Nuclear throne has a bunch of fantastic guns that all feel super fun to use and handle in the game’s twitchy, fast paced environment. Unfortunately, the guns have a low ammo cap for how hectic the game can become. And I hate that. Often, instead of playing the game like a dodging run-n-gun, I found myself peaking out from behind corners, popping off a shot, and then hiding behind a corner again to conserve ammo. I just want to shoot things.
  2. HP and Damage
    This is a bit of a weird gripe, but here it is: The game does not telegraph at all how much damage various attacks from enemies do. This can become quite frustrating because it’s entirely possible to have a reasonable amount of health (say, 4 HP), and just die in one shot or by blowing yourself up by a surprise high damage attack. I just… find this very annoying. I feel like if I have 4 health left, I shouldn’t just die in one hit.

The end result is that Nuclear Throne ends up feeling like two different games: one where you run-n-gun-n-dodge, and one where you peak around corners with a crossbow, taking potshots and hoping nothing actually rushes you.

So yeah, I generally like Nuclear Throne. I think it’s pretty good. I don’t think it’s perfect. If you bought the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, you already own it, so you can just download it from there. It’s also just on itch.io for $11, and that feels like about what it’s worth.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

These are the same games that came out 14 plus years ago, with a better controller, and worse motion based gimmicks. If you liked them before, you’ll probably still like them now.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars has Super Mario Galaxy in it, which is pretty much worth the price of admission on its own. Okay, now to figure out what else to say so that this looks like a real article.

I’m not sure there’s much purpose in talking a lot about Super Mario 3D All-Stars, or at least the games in it. Like, it’s a collection games of which the most recent is 14 years old at this point. You’ve got Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. They’re the same as when they came out, and you can now rebuy them for your Switch for like $60 bucks.

What’s that, small voice in the back of my head? Assuming that everyone has already played these is mildly exclusionary, and maybe I should write about the actual content of the games anyway? Sure, if it keeps you from telling me that I should go fishing for rats with a hook and cheese in the alley behind my house, I’m all for it.

All three of these games are 3D platformers, and with some variations, follow more or less the same structure. There’s a hub world, which connects to side zones, each of which has a series of levels populated with either Stars or Shines, which you need to collect. When you collect enough, you unlock access to the next level. Different stars require you to do different things. Some involving navigating gauntlets of traps, some involve solving small puzzles, some require you to defeat bosses, and some are based on your ability to do one of the three things above as fast as possible before a timer runs out.

There. Voice in the back of my head quieted. So let’s return to the bits I want to talk about: each of the individual games.

I played a little bit of Super Mario 64, and to be honest, I don’t think it holds up well. The camera is wonky. I don’t love the controls, and I don’t have any special nostalgia for it, so I’d say that one is wash. This isn’t a remaster, so the graphics are Nintendo 64 graphics, which is to say they look bad. It might have been revolutionary for the time, but that time was over 20 years ago.

Next up is Super Mario Sunshine. I haven’t played any of it, mostly because I’ve been busy playing Galaxy, and I’m not sure if I’ll play any Sunshine, mostly because I really do not want to sit through the eons long opening cutscene. Also because so much of Sunshine is recycled boss fights against that weird goop piranha plant. Again, not a remaster, so I don’t feel too bad about that.

So, we’ve got two down, neither of which was great, but that’s okay because we still have Galaxy. And Galaxy is still godly.

So far, I’ve played Galaxy the most out of the collection. I’d say it holds up very well all things considered. While there’s some wonkiness at times with some of the sections that use motion controls, none of it was enough to make me want to stop playing the game. The music is still great. The graphics aren’t going to win any prizes for incredible technical sophistication, but they also don’t have to. The level design and worlds are all super fun, even if the movement feels watered down relative to other games.

The reality of it is at $60 for just Galaxy, I probably would feel like I got my money’s worth out of the games. But that’s partly because I never really got to finish Galaxy in the first place. I’m not sure that this collection offers a huge amount of value to anyone who has already played these games to completion before (unless you already love the genre, in which case I’m not sure you’d need this review).

So yeah. This isn’t a remaster. If you already liked Mario, want to play more, and somehow destroyed all your consoles except your switch, I’d say the game is a pretty good deal. If you don’t like Mario or 3D platformers, then skip it. This is the same game that came out 14 plus years ago, with a better controller, and worse motion based gimmicks.

Press Reset – Jason Schreier

A good book that you can get for free if you’re the first person to come to my apartment and ask to borrow my copy.

I think that if you have any interest in video games, it’s worth reading Press Reset. That shouldn’t be confused with implying that the book is fun read, or a good time, because it isn’t. This is a book primarily about what happens when you work in a industry where you can lose your job in a instant, because of decisions that you didn’t even make, even when everything goes well.

Okay, so with that cheerful introduction out of the way, lets talk about the book itself. Overall, it’s morbidly fascinating. Jason Schreier is the person I trust when it comes to talking about the video game industry and things related to video games. And while there wasn’t anything in the book itself that I found shocking or surprising, it does an excellent job of collecting a variety of stories from individuals at different levels of the process.

This brings up one of my two gripes with the structure of the book. After a little while, the chapters become somewhat formulaic: we get introduced to a brand new game company, learn about their history, meet a few employees, and then boom, it closes down. Sometimes it’s because of financial mismanagement. Sometimes it’s because games didn’t meet sales figures. And sometimes it’s because publishers aren’t interested in maintaining a studio with a key figure. The end result is like reading a series of murder mysteries where the only elements that changes is the murder weapon.

In terms of value to the reader, I think the book will be the most impactful to folks like myself who care a lot about games, but also who (perhaps fortunately) aren’t in the industry. At times, I find some of the explanation of common games and concepts to be a bit heavy handed (I know what Diablo is and what Microtransactions are Jason), if necessary, because not everyone who reads the book is going to be a game nut like myself.

My second minor gripe has to do with the ending structure of the book. The book ends with a light touch look at what might need to happen next to turn the game industry into a bit less of a meat grinder. Schreier does a good job discussing unionization, smaller scale contracting, remote work, and a variety of other possibilities, but doesn’t really take a stand on any of them. And that’s understandable. Schreier is a journalist, not a pundit.

Press Reset is $15.49 on Amazon. It’s also on Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, and free for the first person to come to my apartment and ask to borrow my copy.

MMORPG Tycoon 2

Lots of bone, not enough meat. Yet.

Okay, so let’s get the core of my opinion out of the way: MMORPG Tycoon 2 as it currently stands can be pretty fun, but it feels more like a creative playground than a simulator/tycoon style game. If you’re like me, and you are seeking simulation/tycoon games for the system interactions, I’d say wait on this game for the moment. If you’re not like me, and you just want a really cool imaginative playground of game, you still might want to wait, because I can’t tell if its going to stay that way, or turn into the heavy sim I was looking for.

Look at this. It’s incredible.

It does have the single greatest video game cursor ever though.

Okay, let’s talk about the game’s systems, before we get into why I don’t want to currently recommend it.

MMORPG Tycoon 2 is, as the name suggests, a tycoon game about making a MMO. You start with a blank world map of zones, and it’s your job to make it into a world that your little fake players will want to actually exist in. And also to not go bankrupt while doing it.

Ah, Kyle Land 2021.

This means installing the sorts of thing that every MMO needs, from quest-givers, to shops for equipment and taverns to log out in, to putting in zones that spawn monsters so that your players can grind to their hearts’ content. You’ll also have to put down paths, and set up bandwidth networks which power everything.

In addition to the world building, there’s also a massive amount of customization available. You have the ability to customize the looks of the player characters and NPC’s in the game, with what struck me as an impressive modular system for building simple character models. Buildings and other objects also have robust tweaking and modeling controls.

The in-game classes, NPC’s, and monsters also all share a pretty robust customization system that allows you to tweak their abilities, stats, and also make changes to their character models.

People with good taste and thoughtful design ideas can probably use the modeling system to make interesting and neat monsters and characters. I used it to make a 6 story tall hobo-plague doctor with floating arms that just runs around and beats people up.

Okay, so if the game has all of these features, why do I currently not want to recommend it? Well, while many of these systems exist, they don’t yet interact with each other in particularly interesting ways.

For example, take the bandwidth system. It’s completely decoupled from every other part of the game. You just put down bandwidth everywhere you have objects, and if they don’t have enough juice, you add more. There’s no real need to manage spikes based on player behavior, or other activity.

The same thing feels true of the classes and the monster balance. While you have have the ability to make changes to them, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t really influence the fake players’ decisions. While fake players have the ability to request buffs and nerfs, they don’t do much else.

Closer.

Finally, the weakest system in the game by far in my opinion is the versioning. This is effectively leveling up your MMO, and I dislike it for two reasons.

Reason #1. You don’t level up by getting subscribers/money, or by building out more content for your players. You level up just by placing objects down. If you look at some of the screen shots below, you can see that there are areas where I just smashed down a massive amount of objects because I needed to get my level ups. And also…

Reason #2. The benefits of leveling up are almost entirely numerical, i.e., +5 to loot or something. There are a few that give you more interesting and fun powers (Flight paths, PVP), but most are just… more numbers.

Even closer.

And these are the bones with no meat. The level up system is lackluster, but if the numeric benefits were replaced, or added to with a tech tree, all of a sudden they could become far more interesting. If player classes influenced player behavior more, there would be more impetus to balance them and tweak them. And if quest rewards changed a player’s likelihood to complete them, you could use quest rewards to influence player pathing and decisions.

Of course, these are all just the changes I would make, because I’m curious about what the game would look like as a “simulator” as opposed to a Sims-style creative expression toy, with some light simulation elements. And that’s where I run into my main problem with recommending the game in its current state.

Perhaps a bit too close. Yes, the crocodile is a player class.

I can see the game’s design going in one of two different directions, and it’s unclear to me which of the two it will take.

The first design direction that the developers might choose would be the route of a simulator, something with more in common with maybe Cultivation Simulator, or a pure RollerCoaster Tycoon sort of thing, with systems that govern fake player behavior, happiness, willingness to spend, interaction with in-game systems, etc.

The second possible design direction would be for the game to take a tone of something like Animal Crossing or the Sims. This version of the game would have less focus on the simulation aspects, but with more attention paid to your ability to customize and edit your MMO to be exactly the way you want it, much like building up a village in Animal Crossing or the joy of playing with Legos.

Thing is, I’m not sure that it can go both directions at once.

You don’t get anything out of making custom quests, quest names, or NPC’s other then the satisfaction of making something to annoy your friends with. Or crafting a believable mechanical world, but who does that?

The game currently contains more of the features related to the “playing with Legos” situation. Which is fine. But I suspect that the person who wants to craft a beautiful creation of a MMO doesn’t want their fake players to quit en-masse because they died too much to an angry herd of sheep. They don’t want to have to carefully build exact flight paths, and try to understand fake player behavior, or have to deal with managing the underlying data grid. They don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they need to slap together a higher level zone just to make sure they don’t lose subscribers who hit the previous level cap. They don’t want to be punished for building a dingy back alley in their city, just because they used spooky looking buildings in what the game thinks should be a “happy zone.”

The closest comparison I can draw to this is trying to get a highly rated island in New Horizons. Getting a high rating requires that you make a bunch of changes and follow a bunch of rules that may not mesh with the specific look and feel you’re aiming for on your island. And tying in mechanical progression to making those changes feels bad.

On the flip side, I don’t think the person who just wants play with the simulation/ant farm aspect of the system wants to be forced to put down individual cacti to make the desert area more “Deserty” so that players don’t quit over a lack of immersion.

Running won’t save you Inbae. Bob is coming.

And this is why I’m hesitant to recommend the game right now; there’s a lot of potential, but it’s unclear to me what direction this game will go in, so it makes it hard to know who to recommend it to. Will it remain a lite sim where the primary joy is something akin to Animal Crossing, that of building out and creating your own cool space? Or will it become something more mechanically heavy, but less focused on customization?

With that said, the game has a bunch of potential, and I encourage anyone who finds the premise interesting to add it to their Wishlist and keep an eye on it. It’s $25 on Steam, and as far as I can tell, that’s the only place to get it right now.

Didn’t Make the Cut

Some more things I was not impressed by or didn’t like much.

At one point, these posts were gonna be weekly or something. In any case, it’s time for another “Didn’t Make the Cut” AKA “Here’s all the things I either didn’t enjoy, or didn’t think were interesting.” So with minor further ado, let’s get into it shall we?

Ado: Social Justice Warriors and Kids were in the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, so if those two seem neat, you can check them out there.

Social Justice Warriors

In Social Justice Warriors, you play as someone arguing with other people online. Each time you finally defeat someone, you move on to arguing with a new person. Regardless of how many trolls you defeat, nothing actually changes, and you just waste your time.

It’s almost as if there’s some sort of message in the gameplay or something, but I don’t have anything else to say on this one. Also the combat is pretty boring. Next!

Kids

Kids describes itself as an interactive animation. If you want to buy it, it’s $3. Had I bought it for $3, I would regret not using that to buy a cinnamon roll instead. I guess a lot of other people find that it speaks to them, though? I dunno. I just don’t get it. Unlike….

Void Bastards

I do get Void Bastards, and what I get is that I don’t like it very much. Void Bastards is in theory a procedurally generated rogue-lite shooter, with a comic book graphic aesthetic. I would say that the “Shooter” part of that description is debatable, given that you never seem to have any fucking bullets. I’ve played 5 hours, and I have no desire to play anymore. The game’s mechanics just did not feel good, to the extent that they made everything else about the game more annoying.

Side Note: Void Bastards wins some sort of prize for single worst rogue-lite mechanic I’ve seen: Space Whales. You just die, because you clicked on the wrong node on the map? Why? Why would you ever add this?

That’s all for the moment. Planning to do some writeups on a bunch of Switch games in the future, including the somewhat difficultly named new “New Pokemon Snap,” so we’ll see how that goes.