Fore Score

Fore Score is a multiplayer minigolf game where you and your fellow players build out the hole by placing extra obstacles and items onto it. If you’ve ever played Ultimate Chicken Horse, the concept will seem pretty familiar. Starting with a simple and plain course, after each round you and your friends are given a selection of objects to choose from, and to then place to make the course harder.

I like a lot about Fore Score in theory, but it practice I have quite a few problems with it. There’s no single thing it does wrong, but none of it’s mechanics feel super satisfying. I also have problems with the games other systems.

Good luck ever making this shot without being ground up by the buzz saw.

Lets start with the simplest one: the mini-golf. Fore Score uses a 2.5d view for most of the golf, and you can’t apply any direct level of lift to the ball when you hit it. However, many obstacles are 3D, or launch the ball into the air. This makes it a sort of awkward hybrid of the two. The camera is also permanently locked, which again, makes judging certain shots very hard.

Why is the camera permanently locked? Well, it might be because the game doesn’t offer actual networked multiplayer. Instead, everything is a form of couch co-op. The game does support Steam Remote Play, which I have mixed feelings on. On the one hand, it does mean only person has to own the game, but it also means that if you aren’t the host, you better hope your connection to the host is stable, or you might miss the critical shot. Given that limitation though, it makes sense that the game wouldn’t want to let every player randomly rotate the camera for everyone whenever they want, as if nothing else it would make obstacle placement a confusing mess.

The only good way to describe the obstacles is mediocre. There are several obstacles that are just reskins of each other, and boring reskins at that. Of the remaining ones, there just aren’t too many. There are several that will kill your ball and force a respawn with hitboxes that probably aren’t wrong, but are difficult to judge because of the 2.5d view.

There are a variety of blocks similar to the domino block in that they just fill two squares, and don’t do too much else.

Fore Score isn’t unfun, it’s just not as good a golf game as Golf With Your Friends, or as much of a route-builder as Ultimate Chicken Horse. If a game is going to stick with my friend group, it needs to either offer something unique, or be better then other stuff we already play. And Fore Score doesn’t succeed at that.

With that said, there have been some quality of life patches, so perhaps it will get better. If you’re still interested, you can find it here on Steam, and an early alpha here on itch.io.

You shouldn’t play The Cycle: Frontier

This is less a review and more of a public service announcement. I was recommended The Cycle: Frontier several months back. Maybe not so much recommended as someone told me they were playing it. I asked them if it was good, and I got told “It’s like Escape From Tarkov,” which didn’t answer my question. In retrospect, that might have been a warning sign.

But it was free. How much did I have to lose?

The answer is “5+ hours of my life.”

Why do I hate this game? Well, a lot of reasons actually! Funnily enough, they’re not the same reasons most negative reviews on the Steam page offer. Those reviews have issues with the massive numbers of hackers, and the claim that the game’s secondary map is imbalanced. The hacker complaint actually somewhat surprised me, as Cycle Frontier has very invasive anti-cheat.

Anyway, I have my own reasons for hating this game. In order to explain them, I need to explain Cycle Frontier’s gameplay loop.

In Cycle Frontier, you are a “Prospector” who gets airdropped from outer space onto some planet. Your goal is to collect as much garbage loot as possible, get to an extraction point, call down a shuttle, board the shuttle, and survive until it takes off.

Of course, the other players are also trying to do the same thing. One of the big differentiators between this game and something like Hunt: Showdown is that all players aren’t spawned in at the same time. More players can drop in whenever. And as you might guess, it’s a lot less work to just kill other folks and take their stuff, than to try to find loot yourself.

Let’s start with my first problem with the game: the loot. Loot in Cycle Frontier is visually difficult to actually spot, so much so that every lootable item has a glowing sheen effect that plays on it. I’m assuming they did that so I’d be able to tell that this random alien shrubbery is loot, and this one is scenery. In addition, there’s no “Take All” option, so each time you open a crate, get clicking.

Loot is also incredibly uninspiring. It’s all random trash and garbage that gets used as part of inane upgrade trees to… give you more stuff with your daily login rewards. Oh, I’m sorry, they’re called “Crates” and they’re on a timer, but they’re pretty much just daily login rewards. And perhaps most importantly, you know what you won’t find as loot ever? ACTUAL WEAPONS.

And this is a problem, because you can’t get weapons except by buying them. So forget about just dropping in naked, scavenging what you can find, and making do, because you won’t find anything. Backpacks and weapons almost entirely seem to only drop from other players. In my time playing, I’ve never seen a single one that didn’t appear to come off a corpse.

Of course, this all starts to make sense when you realize you can “insure” your gear to get it, or its equivalent value back in credits. Just spend a bit of your Premium Currency! Because of course this game has premium currency. And while there is a way to earn some of it in game, again, it’s tied to the daily crate system.

Now all of this might be tolerable if the game’s gunplay mechanics were incredible, and genre defining, but they’re trash. On multiple levels. Let’s start with the game’s AI enemies.

There are enemies in games that are “Bullet Sponges.” I wouldn’t describe enemies in Cycle: Frontier like that. The enemies in Cycle are the fucking Bounty Wipes best value, soaks up more than the competition of damage absorption. This is to presumably make up for the fact they’re braindead, with all the tactical sense of a rock. I’ve had more exciting tactical engagements trying to get a cat into its carrier so I can take it to the vet.

But again, this is more “large annoyance” than fundamental problem. Bad loot, obnoxious progression, perverse incentives for combat engagement, and bullet sponge enemies are all individually frustrating, but on their own, are not the death toll for a PVP shooter.

However, bad sound design is. And Cycle Frontier has the worst sound design I’ve encountered. I’m not a big audio person, so I can’t give a good technical explanation of why it sucks, but I can give a few notable examples.

Whenever a player is dropped into your map, they’re sent down in a drop pod, and it makes a large sonic boom sort of noise. This would useful, except that it’s pretty much omni-directional, and gives no info about where it came from. In one game, I heard something like 13 of these in a row, and I have no idea if it was 13 players or a sound bug.

In another game, I was crouching around when another player used the audio wheel to talk to me. Based on the sound playing, I assumed the player was located above me, and hid in a bush. However, after waiting a decent while, I saw them emerge, look around, and then scuttle off. Where had they been located? Maybe 30 meters behind me in the same small strip of river.

Another really obnoxious one is how the movement audio plays. If you move, the audio plays the full stepping clip, except that the clip is LONGER than taking a single step forward. So if you move and stop, there will still be sound. This all gives the impression that there’s someone around you, even when you’re completely alone.

The sound design is the nail in the coffin of Cycle: Frontier. It takes something mediocre, and transforms it into something effectively unplayable. There are other annoyances and frustrations, but it could be argued they are part of the game’s design. But a game where you can’t hear your enemy coming has no business being a hardcore PVP FPS.

Holocure

Holocure is a Hololive-inspired fan game in the shape of Vampire Survivors. If you haven’t heard of Vampire Survivors, it’s a 2D roguelite where you try to survive as long as possible. If you’ve never heard of Hololive/Vtubers, I’d suggest this video by Gigguk. While some of the specifics are bit out of date, the general coverage and explanation of virtual idols is handled really well.

If you’re already into Hololive, Holocure is a fantastic sort of love letter to the talents, and the fandom around them. All the enemies are mascots of the HoloEN branch, and all the items are in-jokes, or reference to various moments from Hololive history. The level of care put into everything is fantastic. I watch a lot of Hololive content, and so perhaps unsurprisingly, I also enjoy Holocure quite a lot.

That said, even if you have no idea what Hololive is, or don’t care to learn, Holocure is still worth checking out for its core gameplay. So let’s talk about that!

You start by picking a character to play as. There are 11 characters, 5 of which are unlocked from the start, and 6 of which can be unlocked with an in-game lottery system (don’t worry, it doesn’t use real money). After this, you’ll pick a game mode. Currently there are two modes, Stage and Endless. In Stage, your goal is to defeat the boss that spawns at 20 minutes, and in Endless, your goal is to just survive as long as possible.

Regardless of which mode you pick, you’ll get dropped into a large field, and the game actually starts. Enemies will spawn in, and move toward you. If they touch you, you lose health. Lose all your health, and it’s game over. When you defeat an enemy, they drop exp. Pick up enough experience, and you’ll level up and get presented a choice of several items and weapons.

This is as good a time as any to cover the aforementioned systems. Each character starts with the first level of their unique weapon, but can hold up to six more. Weapons fire automatically. Some fire in a direction determined by the player, and others fire in a completely random direction. This is actually a good thing, because you don’t have to spend as much time aiming, and can just focus on dodging everything being thrown your way.

In addition to weapons, there are also items and passives. Each character has 3 unique passives they can level without taking up a slot, and 6 items slots. Items have various passive abilities, for example, one gives regenerating shielding, and another buffs your damage if you go an amount of time without being hit.

The end result is that each run of Holocure feels different, while still giving a fair amount of agency in choosing between the various items and weapons that show up to pick from.

As a fangame, Hololive doesn’t cost anything, and you can download it on itch.io here! The game also has an official twitter here, and a larger content patch is expected later this year, sometime around September.

Garfield Kart – Furious Racing

Ed Note: We’re working to capture some images of the game, but my ultrawide doesn’t really work well, and the existing press kit images aren’t from the PC release! So those will be up on this writeup later this week.

The bar for franchised game tie-ins is a moving target, but it’s rarely above sea level. Often, it spends time in the Mariana Trench. I’m lucky in that the franchises I love started as games, so the games are usually pretty good (or in the case of Pok√©mon, “Yes, it’s the same thing, but I bought it and it was okay the last 5 times so I guess I’ll do it again.”)

There are exceptions, of course, coughMagic:Legendscough but on the whole, I don’t actually play many games based on “Things I liked when they weren’t games.” I’m much more likely to buy a shirt because you wrote Undertale on it in comic sans, than I am to buy a game because it has LeBron James, or Rick and Morty in it.

All of this is a lead up to say that my expectations for Garfield Kart – Furious Racing were low. Very low. And while the game does exceed my expectations, the fact that it doesn’t crash constantly and runs on my Ultrawide monitor at all is already miles above what I expecting. My expectations were right next to the funny looking fish with the glowing bulb attached to its head.

Garfield Kart – Furious Racing is a a cart racer based off the Garfield comic strip: the fat orange cat who hates Mondays, loves lasagna, and made its creator Jim Davis a fortune. As a child, I actually liked Garfield if only because a cartoon where the cat actually wins made me happy. A a teenager I thought it was incredibly stupid, and not actually funny. But a stronger understanding of how syndication works, and how easy it is for a comic strip to get kicked from a paper at least makes me respect the effort it must take to tell 20+ years of mildly inoffensive “jokes” and not upset anyone.

Anyway, the theming is skin deep. Garfield Kart is fairly straightforward cart racer. If you’ve ever played any Mario Kart, you’ll pick it up quickly. If you haven’t played any Mario Kart, well, it’s a cart racer, so you’ll pick it up in like 5 minutes tops anyway.

Mechanically, Garfield Kart isn’t hugely technical. Press a button to go forward, toggle your drifts on curves to get a mini-turbo, and hit item boxes for consumables. The consumables range from a lasagna (a single use speed boost), to two variety of pies you can throw at your enemy (one type homes, the other type you have to aim). And it wouldn’t be Mario Kart without an item to royally screw the first place player. In Garfield Kart, that’s the UFO: a trio of three alien spaceships that fly ahead on the course, lay down tractor beams, and grab the first person to pass through.

Strangely enough, the UFO is fairly good for illustrating perhaps my biggest gameplay gripe with the game. Once a player ends up in first place, it’s incredibly difficult to catch them. A lot of the speed loss in Garfield Kart comes from crashing into other carts, and once you get ahead, it’s incredibly easy to just chain mini-turbos. And because of how item rolls work, it’s unlikely that the second place player will get the red shells homing pies they need to close the gap.

Outside of that, we have the actual racing tracks. Garfield Kart has 16 tracks, all of which are fine. There’s a fair amount of asset reuse between them, but that’s not really a big deal to me.

What is a slightly bigger deal to me are the bugs. Garfield Kart is mostly stable, but has a fair number of bugs. In the 10 hours I’ve played, here’s a sampling of what I’ve seen: 1. Item display from item boxes not updating, and showing you as having an item after you’ve used it. 2. Cart collisions acting inconsistently. 3. Netcode resulting in other carts clipping into you, and launching you through the ground. 4. Hitting geometry at weird angles can easily result in carts getting stuck tilted up at 90 degrees, and unable to move. 5. AI getting permanently lodged on rocks.

Garfield Kart isn’t a bad game. It’s effectively just a low budget Mario Kart clone with a more boring theme, fewer tracks, and less polish. And while I would normally say “Just go play Mario Kart,” what sets Garfield Kart apart is its price point and system.

See, Garfield Kart regularly goes on sale for about a $1.50, a price at which you can buy 10 copies, send them to all your friends, and have an amusing cart racer to play with everyone for under $20. Compare to Mario Kart 8, which is $60 for the game alone, and another $50+ for each controller, and all of a sudden Garfield Kart is an absolute bargain.

So yes, while I do recommend Garfield Kart, it’s a conditional recommendation based on having 3-4 other folks to play it with, and spending about as much as a Snickers bar per person on the game itself.

h8machine Demo

This writeup is about the demo for an indie game called h8machine, a card game based around the idea of internet arguments. The name is presumably a reference to everything modern social media has become. Before I talk more about h8machine though, I want to talk about a very different game: Binding of Issac.

Image of two blurry faces, one a red angry emjoi, the other a robotic one, sitting above the text h8machine.
Even the game’s splash art has that uncomfortable poorly-trained-neural network feel to it.

Binding of Issac, if you haven’t played it, is a roguelite themed around the idea that you’re an abused child who has escaped into the basement. You’re trying to avoid being murdered by your mother, who is hearing a voice telling her to kill her son. There’s a lot more to it than that, and it drags a lot of mechanics and ideas from the OG Legend of Zelda games. But it’s not the mechanics I want to talk about here, it’s the theming and aesthetics of both of these two games.

As you might gather from my description above, or from looking at the Steam page for 30 seconds, Binding of Issac could likely be described as gross or crass. Many enemies and mechanics are poop or urine themed, and the whole thing is deliberately repulsive. I’m not writing this to argue that you shouldn’t be offended by these things, but more to note that the theming of Binding of Issac likely turns off a variety of players who would otherwise be very interested in it. Binding of Isaac is carefully crafted and well made, but it’s a multilayered chocolate cake, carefully frosted to look like a massive turd.

So why am I talking about this in relation to h8machine? Well, h8machine gives off a very similar to vibe to me based on what I’ve played, and seen of the demo. That vibe being “Something very careful and clever, with the theming and flavor of bathroom stall graffiti.”

Instead of child abuse and fecal matter, though, h8machine themes itself around internet discourse. Your resources are emoji. Every enemy has a procedurally generated anime avatar, and all the cards are questionable internet arguments. Even the Steam page and description of the game have the tone of a cringe worthy copypasta.

Underneath all of that, though, I found the demo fairly engaging and interesting. The game bills itself as a sort of real time card game, with the maplike progression structure used in Slay the Spire and Inscryption. Instead of collecting individual cards, you collect “personalities:” sets of cards that you can run up to 3 of at a time, combined with offcolor/filler cards to make up your deck. You burn cards to generate resources of the same color, and try to construct your engine to wipe out your opponent before they complete construction of their own engines.

It’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever played, but it did convince me to keep an eye on it.

If any of this sounds interesting, I suggest you try to the demo, which you can find here on Steam. I honestly don’t know if h8machine will end up being good, but it feels created with the intention of being a good game, and not just being shock material.