Middle of the Pack

While looking for gold, I found silver. Better than finding lead, worse than finding gold.

Editor’s Note: this article was mostly written during the week of the 2020 elections. Then it wasn’t posted. Whoops.

Writing about games this week felt a bit like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, so instead of any big full reviews, I have bunch of thoughts on some things I’ve been playing, even if none of them really stuck with me.

Just think of this article as the digital equivalent of a list of abandoned animals looking for a loving home. Except in this case, I’m the one who abandoned them.

Okay, that fell apart pretty fast, but the core takeaway is just because I don’t like a game doesn’t mean you won’t. If you like the look of a game, clicking the name will bring you to the itch.io page.

Airships : Conquer the Skies

Of the games on this list, I think I liked Airships the most. Like the name suggests, it’s a game about building 2D airships and commanding them around.

Much like with other vehicle construction games I’ve played though, after a bit, I kinda just got bored/stuck. There are a bunch of single player missions and an auto-generated campaign with customizable difficulty to play through, but they didn’t grab me. I suspect a large part of the loop of construction games like this is either making small improvements and testing upgraded ships, or trying to build ships and ideas around a gimmick or trick.

Maybe it’ll be the game for you, though?

Midboss

If Airships was the game I liked the most, Midboss was the one I wanted to like the most. The pitch is simple: an isometric, turn-based roguelike where you can process the bodies of enemies you kill, learning and absorbing their skills. It just never really grabbed me, though, and after maybe 7-10 runs, I put it down and picked up something else. The body snatch mechanic is cool, but often runs turned into more tedious chains of trying to build myself back up after losing a valuable body, and being kicked out.

WitchWay

From what I played of WitchWay, it’s a puzzle platformer. You are a witch. You have a magic wand, and you can use it move blocks. Blocks have their own rules and twists on how they can be moved. And then I stopped playing. There wasn’t really a special reason for it or anything, I was just… done.

Haque

It’s a roguelike, in the classic sense. In both classic senses. Like, in the sense that the entire UI looks like it’s projected onto a CRTV, and also in that it’s a fairly standard procedurally generated dungeon crawler. Unlike everything else on this list, which I would say is the game equivalent of “Just Not For Me Thanks,” Haque’s graphics actively made playing the game harder for me (although they are incredibly on theme). There are sliders to turn off various effects and such, but even with those, reading and understanding the UI annoyed me too much.

IN CONCLUSION

I’d say they’re worth checking out if they sound like your cup of tea. I wanna stress that none of these were bad, so much as they never grabbed me. They’re good, well made games, just not for me.

Super Animal Royale

It’s 2D Fortnite for Furries. If you like any of the words in that sentence, you should probably try it, since it’s free.

Sometimes when I write “reviews” for this blog, I feel obligated to play a given amount of a game, or reach a certain threshold before I give my verdict. Then games come along that remind me that I write these articles because it’s fun, and also because when I’m asked “What do you do for fun?” “I write a blog,” is a more adult answer than ,”I think about Pokemon cards.”

The astute reader may note that for a Gametrodon review, it’s taking me a long time give my thoughts on the game, the mechanics, or if I even like it, but surprise! The actual summary was in the excerpt all along.

Super Animal Royale is 2D Fortnite for Furries. It’s free, you can download it here, it’s on Steam, and it’s generally pretty fun. There’s no pay to win bullshit or gacha, though there are a bunch of cosmetic microtransactions.

Is this enough? Can I now go back to wishing that Champion’s Path boosters were less expensive, and wondering why Shiny Charizard V is $400 dollars?

No? I should talk more about the game? Fine.

Part of the reason I don’t have too much to say on the game is that with a few exceptions, there’s nothing here I haven’t seen before. That shouldn’t take away from the game’s quality and polish, but all in all, you have a tiered weapon rarity system, a battle royale where you drop from a giant flying vehicle, a few different game modes, and a battlepass/exp challenge system that might have been copied straight from Fortnite.

Okay, so outside of all of this, the game does one VERY interesting thing that I haven’t actually seen before, and actually makes me think that more games should steal this system: the way it handles healing/health power ups.

In Super Animal Royale, you have a great big health jug. Instead of having bandages or potions, any health juice you pick up just goes into the jug. When you want to heal, you drink from the jug.

And that’s it! No more having to carry around 100 potions. No more having to figure out if you should carry 5 bandages or one Med kit, because the Medkit heals more, but can only be used once, and the bandages can be used on smaller wounds, but are much slower.

Instead, whenever you run over juice, it gets picked up, and added to your health jug.

I think more games should do this. Screw fiddly potion management. Just let me stuff all the healing items I pick up into my great big heal box, and whenever I need healing, I just take a big sip. It’s like Jungle Juice but for liquid bandaids.

Look, I don’t have too much else to say on the game. It’s free. It’s more or less Fortnite. If the screens looked interesting, or if the game looked fun, just go download it and play it.

PS: We streamed the game a bit. And by we, I mean me and another friend who I work on random projects with. You can watch it here if you want to know more about what the game plays like.

PPS: Oh, and the game has bots, which is something everyone who makes battle royales at this point should just do. Keeps the matchmaking time down, and means that even suckers like myself can get kills.

Loot Rascals

Good polish, neat mechanics, and some flaws that make it quite frustrating at times.

Ed Note: The game looks way better these screenshots might imply. Everything has a very nice vector art feel, a feeling that was absolutely destroyed by my image compression. Whoops.

I think you should play Loot Rascals. Generally, I’d say I like the game.

Has the lede been unburied? Am I now free to waddle forward and backward between comparisons to other games and ramble about dissonance? I am? Fantastic. Let’s roll.

First, a bit of context, and some info on Loot Rascals: it’s another game I grabbed from the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle. It’s a roguelike, but as far as I can tell, without any between run progression systems. A run consists of five or so levels (I’ve only ever gotten up to 3 before, so there might be more), consisting of randomly generated maps on a hex grid. You control a spacelady or spaceman that you choose at the start (same stats, different sprites), to get through these levels by fighting monsters. You have three stats, Attack, Defense, and HP, and monsters have one stat, Attack/HP.

I know what you’re thinking. No, it’s not a typo.

When you and an enemy occupy the same square you fight, with the time of day determining who gets to hit first. There’s a day/night system and manipulating this system and trying to land the first hit is a big part of the game. The math for combat works something like this:

If the player is attacking, they deal damage to the monster equal to the player’s attack. Player attacks deal damage equal to the player’s attack stat. Monster attacks deal damage to the player equal to the Monsters attack/HP stat divided by the players defense. If the result is less than 1, that value is the chance for the attack to still go through and hit. If an attack hits, it deals 1 damage.

The big takeaway I want you to make is the following: Any attack that hits has a CHANCE to inflict damage, even if the chance is very low. This is going to be important in a bit.

Okay, so we’ve talked about stats. We’ve talked about how they work. But how do you get them?

The answer, of course, is cards. Or card blocks. Your inventory looks like this.

Yes, I know, the Boot Helmet and the Orbital Bowls should be switched, but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time.

Cards in the main section give you stats. Cards in your stockpile on the right do not. There are a few other different types of cards, like the Chronoflange one, that don’t give any stats, but change rules about how the game works, and also elemental cards, that give access to special abilities, like setting things on fire, teleporting, or creating decoys.

So with all of this said, I have two big problems with Loot Rascals, and they have to do with randomness and telegraphing. Lets talk about the randomness first.

A lot of roguelike games use procedurally generated or random-esqe levels in order to increase replayability. Spelunky, Slay the Spire, and Binding of Issac are a few that come to mind. However, none of these are really random. Instead, they tend to follow certain patterns or rules regarding how they function, and those rules can be learned and exploited. Spelunky will always have a dog in the level. Each floor of Binding of Issac will always have a treasure room to find. Each floor of Slay the Spire ends in a boss fight. The levels for Loot Rascals though, appear to be almost entirely random, and occasionally this means you end up in starting locations that are simply bad, forcing you to take early hits and lose health just to access the rest of the map.

In addition, since card drops are almost completely random (certain enemies will always drop certain elemental cards, but I haven’t found anything of the sort for normal stat cards), you can spend a lot of time trying to farm card drops and get nothing, or you can get one or two good drops early, and use them to clean up an entire level. It’s frustrating, because it just ends up feeling like straight luck.

This feeling of randomness is also present in the damage calculation. Because of the way hit chances work, if you end up in a fight, and the enemy gets to attack you, there is ALWAYS a chance that they deal damage. It’s frustrating, because parts of the game can end up feeling very “Push your luck” as opposed to tactical decision making.

The second big gripe I have is with how the actions that enemies will take are telegraphed, and I’ll just be referring to as telegraphing from now on. Every enemy in the game has some form of movement pattern. The Ratmen will run away, Ogre will move every other turn, the half-horse/half-seahorse Horse Bro will flip combat sides… and I can’t think of any more to list, because I haven’t been able to actually figure out how they work. I have no idea how Bola aliens work, just that they go in circles. The game doesn’t give you any information about where Bounty Hunters will aim their next shot, or how a Webbers’ webbing actually works.

The thing is, because of the situations the game puts you into, it often feels like you’re supposed to have this information, and then make the best choice based on the information.

A few other minor quibbles: you can’t save in the middle of game. There are a bunch of disconnected social components that just don’t seem to work. I wish it didn’t feel like there was an optimal build for any given situation. It would also be cool if you had some ability to choose cards for your build.

Outside of all this gameplay stuff, the art is really solid, if a bit cute, and the voice acting was enjoyable enough for me to mostly not skip it. I liked Loot Rascals enough for it to get it’s own whole little writeup, and like I said at the top, I think it’s worth playing. But there were also quite a few mechanics that mostly just frustrated me.

Loot Rascals is $15 on Steam or itch.io.

No Delivery

No Delivery has flaws and problems, but there are some really interesting ideas played with here that I haven’t seen in an RPG before.

I like to open reviews with a discussion of whether or not you should play the game I’m reviewing. No Delivery makes my life hard, because that recommendation is conditional. I think if you’re someone who has an interest in game design and the extent to which you can design interesting systems within systems, No Delivery is worth looking at. If you just play games to… well, play games, it’s a little more complicated. I’ve created a simple test below.

  1. Do you like classic turn based RPG’s?
  2. Do you like body horror/squick?
  3. Did you feel that the ending to Lost and How I Met Your Mother were well done and satisfying?

If you answered yes to at least 2 out of 3 questions above, I think you might enjoy No Delivery. It’s $5.00 and you can buy it here. For everyone on the fence, or quite possibly attempting to get themselves off the fence, I’ve written the rest of this article.

Let’s start with the setting shall we?

Not pictured: dead guest in claw machine, creepy animatronics, cursed arcade machines, piles of trash and plates.

Theme-wise, the game is… fine. It’s okay. It takes place in a haunted/infested/might-actually-just-be-a-giant-perpetually-animated-building-that-breathes-life-into-inanimate-objects-within-it-because-of-a-satanic-ritual Chuckie Cheese inspired shithole.

ED NOTE: The autocorrect above just suggested that I correct shithole to shibboleth, which is… wow. Amazingly on theme, and also why is that in the dictionary?

It’s not that the theme is bad, it’s just that if I had to compare the general tone and aesthetic of the game, it would be the bastard child of Five Nights At Freddy’s and Binding of Issac. All of the attacks that give the “Nausea” status usually involve shitting on things. You kill a man by baking him in an industrial microwave oven. This is an accident, not deliberate. There are a fair amount of slashed up corpses and news articles about missing children and families. There are gift boxes that try to eat you, and you fight cursed/broken animatronics. The horror and humor is much less subtle, and much more Cronenberg then Stephen King.

I don’t love horror, I don’t love FNAF, and I played Binding of Issac in spite of the artistic theme. I’m not sure I’m the right person to be looking at No Delivery’s theme. So take this with a grain of salt: while the theme grabbed me, I never liked it or enjoyed it. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s surprisingly well polished for what it is, with death screens, dialogue, and sprites working together to bring that old-timey rotting corpse of a entertainment franchise atmosphere.

Now let’s talk mechanics. No Delivery is a fairly classic turned-based RPG, but with a few big twists. Your characters don’t level up, and you don’t construct a party. Instead, you are given a single random character, and each time you die (more on that in a bit), you get another random character from the pool of classes you’ve unlocked, and you continue on. In addition, there’s no mana or secondary resource. Almost all skills are powered by either health or items, and many of the items will give you other items when used. When you eat food, you’ll be given dishes and trash. Both can be sold for money, or used by attacks from some of the other classes (e.g., the waitress can throw dishes, and recycle trash). This can lead to some very neat resource engine moments, but often gets hamstrung by the way that the game’s dungeons, “Wrong Turns,” work. Outside of the leveling and items, it’s pretty classic “You take a turn, I take a turn” RPG stuff.

My biggest issue with the game’s combat mechanics is how party construction works, or to be more accurate, how it doesn’t. A large section of the game is spent running random dungeons, called Wrong Turns. You go from room to room, and some rooms have a chance to give you an extra Ally that you’ve unlocked, and add them to your party. While this would be fine, it’s entirely possible to go an entire Wrong Turn without getting one party member and the end result is a very screwed up action economy. I failed a boss fight several times before getting a party member with a stun, who I then used to stunlock and clear that boss without taking a point of damage on the next run. The biggest issue I have with the random party/lack of party is that it cripples the interesting engine mechanics I mentioned up above. Without a diverse enough party to use different items, many items you pick up will feel useless. (Looking at you Ammo, and by extension Batteries. I played 16 hours and rolled a Security Guard ONCE.)

The drowned waiter spends health for almost all their skills, but has no way of recovering it outside of items, or with any level of efficiency. The mascot though…
In theory, there’s some cool synergy between a class that can heal, and a class that must spend health as its primary resource, but because you never really know your party composition ahead of time, you don’t really so much get to “Build teams” as “Try to find some way to salvage your current situation before you’re eaten by a living trash compactor”.

The other thing to know is that once you clear a Wrong Turn, you lose the additional party members, and while there are a few other special party members you can get, they leave as soon as you’re no longer in the fights you’re expected to use them in. It’s kind of a bummer. The item transformation/resource mechanics are one of the coolest things about No Delivery, but they don’t get as much time to shine as they could.

There’s a lot of pixelated B-movie gore of this sort in the game.

So, if I don’t love the theme, and parts of the gameplay feel a bit hamstrung, why do I still think this game is very cool? Well, ultimately, it has to do with the engine the game is made in. Despite what it might be named, RPGMaker isn’t actually super easy to make interesting or good games in. Most of the time I’ve tried to make projects with it, I’ve either felt constrained by the engine, either mechanically or in terms of design space.

No Delivery utterly breaks that mold, though. Within what feels like almost entirely vanilla combat mechanics, it manages to build a really interesting item based resource system, even if it could be fleshed out a bit more. It manages to execute its “gross out” theme despite being built in a game engine that is made to create fantasy fluff. It even does some really neat things with enemy sprites, hiding information about them so that they appear as a single pair of eyes, but morph into a whole face when you select them as an attack target.

For me, this was the value of playing No Delivery: a reminder that really cool mechanics and systems can always be constructed, and that it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools. No Delivery is not the most polished or clean experience, but there are legitimately really interesting ideas and mechanics at play here. For an almost entirely one-person project, it’s impressive.

While I wouldn’t play through the whole game again, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how neat the item mechanics are, and wondering what else you could with them in if you expanded them.

No Delivery is $5.00 on itch.io, and if you purchased the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle a while back, you already own it. Do yourself a favor and play it.

Spelunky 2

Spelunky 2 will beat me before I beat it.

I like Spelunky 2. With that said, using cheese and shortcuts, and having played 55 hours, I’ve gotten to the final boss twice, and died both times. So I don’t think I’m very good at it. On the other hand, the stats for steam achievements say that only 5% of players have actually finished building all the shortcuts. Maybe the game is just hard.

Spelunky 2 is the sequel to Spelunky. (Surprise, surprise) Having only ever played Spelunky very briefly, they feel rather similar to me, but I suspect someone who has played both could give you an extensive set of differences. Spelunky 2 has the classic roguelike loop: start the run, acquire power-ups and items, then try to go as far as you can without dying. The game itself is a platformer, with the main character starting out with a simple whip, a jump, and a duck/crawl. And that’s it! These are the tools you have to get as far as you can. Let’s talk about that “As far as you can” bit.

With Spelunky, the game is broken up into worlds, each consisting of one or more levels. A level is procedurally generated, which shouldn’t be confused with “randomly generated.” Rather, you’ll get used to seeing certain patterns and setups, and certain blocks of rooms, but the way they’re connected or placed together changes from run to run, as well as what they’re populated with. In addition, each world is populated with different enemies and traps.

Which arrow launching trap will our brave hero forget to trigger in advance, and be shot by about eight seconds after taking this screenshot?

To beat a non-boss level, you just have to get to the exit door. This is easier said than done, because not only are the levels populated by enemies, traps and problems, they’re also full of gold, gems, dogs (Yes, dogs, we’ll talk about them later), altars, shops, and other things you might want. Your primary resources are health, which if you run out of you die, bombs for blowing up walls, and ropes for climbing down large depths.

So far I’ve mostly just talked about what Spelunky 2 is, and not really why I like it, or continue to play it despite being very bad at it. The reason I’m still playing is that in close to 30 hours, there have been maybe only one or two instances where I died because of what felt like actual bullshit. Almost every situation in which you lose life or die, you can look back at what led up to that point, and see how you got there. In my case, for example, it’s usually because I get greedy, and press my luck on something stupid that goes horribly wrong. None of my failed runs are because of bad luck, they’re failed because I made bad choices, and it means I have no problem starting another run, confident that this time I’ll do better. (This will usually turn out to be a lie.)

Yes, the game does have more then two biomes, but I hadn’t seen them when I was taking pictures for this article.

To try to illustrate this, let’s talk about pots in Spelunky 2. A pot is a small item that shows up pretty much everywhere. Pots break when things hit them, and you can also pick them up and throw them. When you break a pot, it can have a variety of things inside, including gems, gold, or various enemies. They’re incredibly simple in that regard, but the flow chart of how you actually end up interacting with them is far more complex.

Pots can be used to set off arrow traps like most thrown items, and kill weaker enemies, but they also can have loot inside. They’re single use, so if you throw them early, you might find yourself without another projectile weapon in the short term future. So when you find a pot, the questions you really should be asking are things like, “Do I have space now to break this safely, and grab whatever comes out if it’s a good thing, or should I pick it up and carry it until I need it? If I’m already carrying something else, should I just throw that at the pot? Can I just smash it with my whip and call it a day?” And because you’re doing this all very quickly, if you’re me, you will inevitably forget some part of this flowchart, and do something stupid, break the pot, and have a snake pop out that hits for one of your limited health points.

And almost every item and enemy in Spelunky 2 has this level of twitchy decision making around it. Did you fire the shotgun near a ledge, only to forget about the knock back? Enjoy being launched into a pit of spikes. Accidentally whip the dog? Hope you don’t have to use it to get past a arrow trap, since now it only has two life left. Try to drop a bomb down a shaft, only to forget you have bombs that stick to walls, and now you have about two seconds before the floor under your feet isn’t? Better move quick!

And because the game is random, you can’t just memorize your way though. You’ll really have to learn how objects and enemies work and interact, discover how items function, and then remember to actually use that knowledge. You can’t faceroll Spelunky. And while the levels are different, the objects are not. Pots and Rocks will always be thrown the same, arrow traps will always trigger, and enemies behave the same.

I really like Spelunky, but if you don’t like platformers, and you don’t like rougelites, and you really, really don’t like bashing down brick walls with your face, you may not have as good a time. I’d buy Spelunky 2 again, and for the $20 price tag, I’d say it was worth it.

Ed Note: There’s no online Co-Op on PC yet, which is kind of frustrating, so hopefully that gets patched in soon enough. Apparently it released super janky on console, so maybe we’re not missing much.

Phasmaphobia

Fun with friends, less fun just on your own.

This article has been rewritten multiple times. After playing 5 hours of Phasmaphobia, my conclusion was, “I hate it, and it’s buggy, dumb and boring.” I’ve now played 20 hours, and as you might guess I no longer hate it. That said, I have some problems with it. In brief, Phasmaphobia is fun to play with friends, but many of the mechanics are unintuitive (Wiki Ahoy!) and the game is still buggy. For right now, I’d only say it’s worth getting if you have a group of people to play it with.

Phasmaphobia is a ghost hunting game, except it follows more of a lite-simulation route than a gamey experience. You and up to 3 other people go out to a haunted location. Once there, you use the equipment you brought with you to try and find the ghost, and determine what type of ghost it is. You do this by walking around real slowly in a traditional first person view.

The equipment itself is all “traditional” ghost hunting equipment, such as EMF detectors, thermometers, cameras, sound sensors, and spirit boxes. There are also a variety of other things, such as crucifixes, salt, flashlights, smudging sticks, and ghost books.

The equipment addition menu. In Co-op, each player contributes gear up to a cap.

One thing to keep in mind is that not all ghosts respond the same way to all stimuli: e.g., some types will drop temperatures to freezing, while others won’t. Some are more active if multiple players are around, and some are not. Some give off EMF readings, and some just don’t. The main gameplay loop is to try to determine which type of ghost you’re dealing with based on the reactions you get from your equipment.

Between missions, you level up from surviving, and acquire cash based on your performance, taking photos of the ghost, and some other bonus objectives. This allows you to buy more equipment to hunt the ghost in the future. Equipment isn’t lost if you drop it/lose it, but it is lost if you die during the mission. While I think this could become annoying, I haven’t acquired enough cash for it to become a problem. Some of the other random players I played with though mentioned it frustrated them, and another mentioned that the “strat” is to have one person buy all the equipment, and then stay in the van, so you can’t lose anything.

If you’re a coward, you’ll spend a lot of time in the car, watching your friends die. LIKE SOME PEOPLE KYLE.

Oh, and you can play Phasmaphobia in VR.

I can’t group my problems with Phasmaphobia into one big overarching chunk or theme, so I’m just gonna list off everything about the game that annoys me.

Ed Note: I’ve edited the original version of this list. The list is accurate to my experience of playing the game, but I’ve updated various points with more information.

  1. The game has all the thrills and excitement of real life ghost hunting, which is to say none whatsoever. I don’t know who thinks wandering around a big ass building with all the lights off and waiting for something to happen is interesting. It really isn’t. If you’ve ever watched a ghost hunting show of some sort, you have seen the primary experience of Phasmaphobia, which is a bunch of folks wandering around a dark building, shouting things out, and then getting scared when the floorboard creaks. And because not every single type of ghost reacts to every type of equipment, and the limited inventory slots, it is entirely possible to search the entire building, and not find the ghost, and then have to go back and grab more equipment. UPDATE: While this is true at the lower difficulties, it’s much less true on larger maps, and higher difficulties where the ghost can begin hunting you much faster. The bit about equipment is also not true, as with more players and a strong plan of attack, you can sweep faster and move quicker.
  2. The controls are miserable. With mouse and keyboard, the ability to pick up and manipulate things feels extremely limited, and makes it very frustrating to do things like get cameras in good positions. I don’t actually know how to even light a candle in non-VR, since you can’t have a lighter and a candle out at the same time; you can only have one thing in your hand. UPDATE: You need to have the smudge stick out and press F while the lighter is in your inventory. You can also light them by using the lighter on a dropped smudge stick.
  3. The VR has one of the single worst movement implementations that I’ve ever seen in a VR game, and commits the number one sin of VR camera movement: You DO NOT have the player move in a way where the in-game camera moves, and the real life player stays still. This is how you make people sick. And this is exactly how Phasmaphobia does it. I wasn’t able to complete a single round before having to take off my headset and lie down for like 15 minutes, making Phasmaphobia the first VR game I’ve played to make me feel ill.
  4. The VR controls suck. This one honestly might be because I’m using a Vive, but the VR controls use the thumbpads for movement, and this includes just touching the thumbpads, not actually pressing on them. Every time I did so, the game started spinning me around or lurching me forward. I found it insanely frustrating. If you’re thinking “Well, just don’t touch the thumbpads,” I’d like to point out that you have to be able to move around, and in addition, because of the way you grip the controllers, you will almost always be touching the thumbpads.
  5. The game is buggy. If you try to load into a game, and the game doesn’t let everyone from your lobby load in, you’re gonna have to restart the game, and remake the whole lobby. Same thing could be said for the voice recognition. It’s cool, but it doesn’t always seem to actually, well, work. There isn’t really physics for any of the objects, and I’ve had situations where ghost types that are supposed to create freezing temperatures just… don’t. I’ve had situations where I can go into the building, shout myself blue in the face about the ghost, and have nothing happen. The second my two friends walk in, the ghost shows up, locks the building, and strangles one of them to death. This is for ghosts that the guide tells us are “Shy, and will only react to one person”. UPDATE: I’d say that some of this is still true, but the game has gotten updates that have made some things show up easier, and I’ve had less instances of crashes when attempting to load in. Generally speaking, the game feels much less clunky, but it also might partly be I know what I’m doing at this point.
The game assets and general vibe are honestly pretty “Purchased off the Unity store at best value” but I’m not very bothered by it. If you are the sort of person who needs nice graphics… this may not be for you.

So here’s the thing. Despite that above, I’m still playing and enjoying Phasmaphobia, but I feel like at least to an extent, it’s because I have a solid group of 2-3 other people to play with. Strategizing, planning, and looking for clues cooperatively is a really neat experience when it works the way it should, and the game is still fairly challenging for us with the larger maps. With that said, there are also still issues. Taking pictures of ghosts is incredibly hit or miss, running away from ghosts and hiding is kinda “eh”, and I honestly have no idea how crucifixes are supposed to work.

For the $14 cost of the game, I’d buy Phasmaphobia as long as I had a group of people to play it with, but if I was going in solo, I’d probably pass.

The ghost models are much more detailed than the player models, and because of the way they move, you won’t really have time to think of things other then “Oh fuck, oh shit”

Hades: A Game I Never Thought I Would Play

Hades has fun in spades

Let me preface this by saying two things: I’ve never enjoyed any of the roguelike/rogue-lite games I’ve ever tried and I’m also an extremely cheap person.

In the past I’ve tried games like Enter the Gungeon, Risk of Rain 2, and Immortal Redneck and just never enjoyed them. It might have been the lack of an interesting narrative, or of gameplay that really grabbed me. It’s also hard to justify spending $10+ dollars on these games when I could purchase other games I knew I’d like. So despite trying the aforementioned titles for a bit, I always ended up refunding them. Perhaps playing them for a bit longer might have changed my opinion about the games, but I don’t like forcing myself to try to have fun.

I’d been struggling to find a new game that I could put a good chunk of time into for about six to eight months. I’d end up in a loop of playing PUBG, Halo MCC, Valorant, and the occasional spree modding Skyrim, playing it for a bit, then forgetting about it. This was the loop I wanted to break free from.

Fast forward to September. I open up Steam, and a banner for Hades pops up. \ Greek mythology, fantastic artwork, soundtrack seems like a banger from the trailers, and “Overwhelmingly Positive” reviews galore! This looks like a great game! The trailer has me sold until one word pops up: roguelike.

Well, shit. It can’t be that bad right?

So I buy it, play it, die at the first boss, and refund it.

That could have been the end of it. But it wasn’t. I couldn’t get this game out of my head, (mostly because Steam kept slapping the banner in my face). So twenty-four hours after I returned it, I purchased it again, and decided to give it another shot. I’d just play it once more, I thought.

And then I didn’t stop.


The story of Hades is told through the interactions between the protagonist, Zagreus, the son of Hades, and those he meets along the way as he attempts to escape his father’s domain of the Greek Underworld. He has some, um, daddy issues and he would like to run away to Olympus. Yep, that’s basically the premise without any spoilers. Despite what my crappy synopsis might imply, the characters and story are complex and rich. Every character interaction either adds to the story, allows for character development, and/or is just plain funny. It’s exciting when you see a dialogue bubble pop up, informing you that someone has something new to say. The characters all have their own personalities, from the residents of the Underworld who want to keep Zagreus locked up, to the Olympian gods themselves, who are keen to see their nephew leave the Underworld and his father behind and ascend to Olympus. The voice acting is on point; as Yahtzee put it in his review, every character seems to be voiced by someone incredibly sexy in real life or an actor in a Bond movie.


The combat is incredibly smooth, responsive, varied, and so much fun. There are six weapons for you to choose from, once they are unlocked, and each comes with a unique play style and upgrades. Add to that the various “boons”, or power ups, presented by the Olympian gods and you have an incredible variety of builds you can use on any given run.

Each time you beat the game, you can increase the difficulty of your next run to not only be more challenging, but also increase the rewards you receive upon completing it. I found myself tinkering with different boons, weapons, upgrades, and difficulty modifiers a lot, with no intention of beating the game but just to see how viable the build would be.

Of course, doing so meant that I died, a lot.

Once you die, you show up at the House of Hades to be reprimanded by the God of Death himself, telling you that there is no escape. Eh, whatever daddy-o. All the resources that Zagreus gathered in the past run stay with him upon death, which you can use to increase his powers and abilities. This added RPG element ensures that you feel more powerful, more prepared for the next run. In addition, there are mini-story progressions and additional unlocked dialogues, even in death, which provides a small sense of advancement even in failure.

For all the praises that I’m rightfully singing for Hades, I wouldn’t call it perfect. The biggest issue I had was that once I found a working combination of weapon, boons, and upgrades, I found it fairly easy to beat the game by aiming to collect those boons and weapons. After my fifth or sixth run with the same build, it started to feel stale for me. Now this is partly own fault; I didn’t feel like trying to break out of a working formula, but I wished the game tried to encourage switching up builds a bit more.

Trying out a new weapon felt like a inconvenience at first, but you truly get to see how each weapon/boon combination handles different scenario better than another. For example, I primarily used the spear with an Athena/Poseidon boon combination which worked very effectively for the general mobs. However I found my DPS against bosses to be lacking. Switching over to the bow with an Artemis/Ares combination however, bosses simply melted. So it really does fall on the player to experiment in order to master each weapon and bring out its true potential.

If there is one word I can use to describe Hades, it would be refined. Maybe even polished. There is no aspect to this game that feels like it was added as filler, no element that makes me roll my eyes and curse the developers for a minor inconvenience. I cannot praise this game enough for what it is. Hades is right up there with Metal Gear Solid V and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as the best game I’ve played in 2020. It is smooth, it is engaging, and it is fun. And fun I believe is what matters most when it comes to a video game. Hades has that in spades.

Call it $20 very, very well spent.

Ed Note: You can buy Hades in a variety of places, including the Epic Game Store, and Steam. It’s also available on Switch, and I believe the other two consoles.

Didn’t Make the Cut – itch.io Racial Justice Bundle

All filler, no killer.

Another week, another set of games from the itch.io racial justice bundle. These are primarily games that simply didn’t get their own full article about them, either because there wasn’t really a lot to say (LAZAKNITEZ), I couldn’t play them (Troika), because I refuse to do so out of spite and dislike for the game (Oikospiel). Having said that, let’s get to the games

LAZAKNITEZ – PC/Multiplayer/Singleplayer
LAZAKNITEZ almost works for starting a trend of games with names that are nonsense words, until you boot up the game and realize that it’s just a very 90’s spelling of Laser Knights. And that’s exactly what the game is. You slide around a 2D plain, jousting on the back of your laser horse, and firing from your laser lance. I played this one for a few rounds and then put it down. It’s not bad. Just very light on things to do/see. Once I’d played a bit, and felt like I had seen most of the powerups, I was done.

Oikospiel Book 1 – PC/Singleplayer
I don’t like Oikospiel. I think that it’s stupid. It plays and looks like a fever dream made by someone who just imported every 3D model they could get their hands on into Unity and it should also probably come with an epilepsy warning.

Oikospiel is what you would get if you took Timecube and made it into a video game instead of a website. I have some questions for whoever made this game, and primarily they’re things like: “Are you okay?” and “Do you need help?”

TroikaPen and Pencil RPG
Mechanically, I didn’t see much in Troika that impressed me, but I also didn’t actually run a game. The initiative system seems neat, in which you randomly draw tiles from a bag and then whoever’s tile you drew takes a turn.

The flavor though, is incredible, and I honestly wish there was more of it. It has a very old-timey science fiction sort of vibe, and the closest thing I can think to compare it to is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, or perhaps the sorta of weird science-magic of The Wizard of Oz.

For example: the book has stats for a sort of snake that doesn’t sneak up on you, but instead offers reassurances and a well placed “It’s alright, I’m here now” in order to get you between its coils so that it might crush and eat you. The starter adventure in the book involves convincing a sentient gas in the elevator with you that you would really like it if it could take up a bit less of the elevator, on account of the fact that it’s drowning you. The stat block for a “Tea Set” gives you a bonus on etiquette checks as long as you have time to prepare tea for the person you’re trying to impress.

The reason that Troika doesn’t get a larger section to itself is primarily that since this is a website for reviewing games, and I haven’t run a game of it yet, I can’t review it. But definitely worth a read.

Wrap-Up

Nothing this week that really jumped out at me. I loathe Oikospiel, LAZAKNITEZ reminds me of the sorts of things I’d play for 20 minutes before switching to something else on sites like Newgrounds. Troika is a fun read, but I feel like it would be tricky to pull off without a party that was really willing to lean into the weird-wonderness. If playing these games is the art of separating wheat from chaff, this week was all chaff, no wheat. Take care, and I’ll put more stuff up as events warrant.

What We’ve Been Playing – October 2020

It turns out that actually writing “reviews” for games when you’re employed full time doing something that isn’t related to video games is actually kinda hard. Who would have thought? In any case, I’m gonna try to start writing these little lists of stuff I’ve been playing, or people around me have been playing. There’s no particular order or anything to it.

For me, a large portion of last week was spent in attempted extraction of wealth in Spelunky 2. Key word is “attempted,” because more time is spent dying painfully than getting gold, gems, etc. I’d love to write a review of some sort of Spelunky, but given that I’ve only ever reached the first boss after 20 hours, I’m not sure I’d give the best feedback.

I may be switching over to Crown Trick though, another game in which you loot roguelike dungeons, albeit not in real time, and also in a different set of two dimensions. I saw the demo for this at PAX Online, loved it, and I want to love the full game more, but the “One More Run, Oh Christ It’s 1:00 AM” of Spelunky 2 has kept me from it for the moment.

In the larger demographic of “People who aren’t me,” it seems like every other person I know is playing Hades, which is apparently pretty good? I’ll see if I can cajole one of those folks to give me a write-up for it. Supergiant made Bastion which I liked, Transistor, which I own and have never played, and then Pyre which I played a demo for, and now Hades. I’m just not sure I need another rogue-lite at the moment.

In terms of co-op-esque stuff, the Genshin Impact is still impacting, and there’s some Monster Hunter World shenanigans occurring, primarily in the Iceborne DLC.

Oh, and I guess Dota 2, and MTG Arena. But, like, we’ve been playing those forever. So yeah, that’s what is currently eating our time, and hopefully we’ll have write-ups for Spelunky 2/Crown Trick/Hades later in the week.

Genshin Impact

Free to play, more expensive then a trip to Vegas if you actually want to buy anything in game.

I’ve been wanting to write about Genshin Impact, but I’ve had a hard time doing so over the last week. This is because Genshin Impact might be the highest quality free-to-play game ever made, but discussing the game without talking about the monetization model would be crazy. It’s like discussing a tiger, without mentioning the teeth or claws, and just discussing its fluffy-wuffy tail. Let’s start with that fluffy tail though.

Genshin Impact is a free to play RPG for everything except your Nintendo Switch. It has cross-play for pretty much everything, and cross-progression for everything that isn’t a PS4. You can actually close the game on your PC, then open it on your phone, and just… keep playing. The same game. From where you left it on your PC. You can do cross-play between phone, PC and PS4. It’s incredible.

And when I say RPG, I mean RPG. You’re presented with a massive world to wander around, search for treasure and do quests in. There are world bosses, and hidden secrets, and all the good stuff. Mechanically, the game borrows a massive amount from Breath of the Wild. You can just climb up mountains and hills and walls, and you also get a glider fairly early on which lets you drift around.

The combat system is also pretty neat. You build a party of 4 characters, and as long as you aren’t in a Domain (Dungeon) or combat, you can swap characters out as you wish. Each character has a weapon type, basic attack, ability, and ultimate ability, all on separate cooldowns. Each character also has an element, and elements interact in various ways. For example, if you launch an Anemo (wind) character’s ability into an area with fire on it, it will Swirl, and create a fire tornado. Put ice onto a character affected by water, or vice versa, and that character will freeze. There are about seven of these elements, and in addition, things like walking through puddles will make both you and enemies wet.

There is a day night cycle as well.

These abilities can be used outside of combat to light torches, trigger pressure plates, and do other puzzly stuff. You can even use ice attacks to freeze and then cross lakes and oceans. Theres an entire quest line that requires you to take advantage of this to get to a hidden island that doesn’t even show up on the map.

Moments like this are Genshin Impact at its best. When you’re just running around, fighting monsters, climbing terrain, and discovering things, you might even forget you’re playing a free to play game, and if I had any gripes with the game as it is, it would most likely be that the climbing behavior can occasionally be a bit funky. You can climb all over every mountain, and every hill in the game, and there is treasure everywhere. Every mountain top has hidden collectibles, there are puzzles in every cave.

Okay, so now lets talk about the bad part.

If the moment to moment gameplay of Genshin Impact is Breath of the Wild, the meat of the game’s advancement system is classic mobile gacha. If you’ve ever played Puzzles and Dragons, Azur Lane, Fate Grand Order, or Dragalia Lost, you’ve seen this sort of thing before. You have Resin (Energy) which recharges over time and is used to collect treasure from world bosses and dungeons. These include advancement materials that are used to increase the max level of your characters and weapons, books that are used to upgrade their talents, and artifacts that can slotted in to give set bonuses, and extra stats.

You can spend in game currency to refill your energy, and honestly, as frustrated as some people are by Resin, I don’t take too much issue with it.

What I do take issue with is the drop rates and costs of the Wish system, the system by which you get new characters, and most of the higher rarity weapons. I refuse to call these micro-transactions, because there is nothing fucking micro about them.

ONE roll of the Wish system is 160 Primogems/Genesis Crystals. A SINGLE ROLL.

These are the prices, and after you buy the first time bonus, they change to this.

$Primogems / # of Rolls
0.9960 / .33
4.99330 / 1.83
14.991090 / 6.06
29.992240 / 12.44
49.993880 / 21.56
99.998080 / 44.89

So if you’re looking at this, and thinking, “This seems a bit expensive,” then yeah. It fucking is. But here comes the kicker: the drop rates are AWFUL.

The Wish system in Genshin has multiple different tables you can choose to roll against, usually called banners. For the featured character in a banner, the drop rate is 0.6%, or 3/500. The drop rate for an weapon OR character of the highest rarity is 1.6% total, or 2/125.

Ed Note: I think fractions do a better job illustrating how low this is, which is why I’ve included them here.

Keep in mind, a single roll costs $2.20 at its cheapest, if you buy the $100 currency pack. This gets you just over 44 rolls.

There’s also a pity system in place in which if you haven’t gotten a weapon/character of max rarity after 90 rolls, you will be given one. I want to point out that the real money cost of 90 rolls is just under $200. At this point, if you’re rolling on a featured banner, you will have a 50% chance to get the featured character. If you don’t, you’ll be guaranteed to get them at the next pity roll. Which means at this point, you’ll have to have spent over $400.

TLDR: If you want a FEATURED character in Genshin Impact, they can end up costing you $400 for a single copy of the character. In addition, the game has system by which characters are powered up for each duplicate you get of them. So getting a character to their max potential requires you to get receive them 6 times.

So yeah. That’s the state of Genshin Impact as of today, an incredible free to play game that is unmatched by anything on the market, with what I’m going to call “Macro-Transactions” that can easily total the same price of a new PS5 to get a single character. Play it. Enjoy the story, the anime bullshit, and the voice acting. Explore the incredible world, scouring every nook and cranny for treasure, and climbing every mountain.

But please don’t spend money on it.