Eximius: Seize the Frontline

Today, I am the fifth dentist.

I like Eximius, and generally speaking, I’ve enjoyed playing it. I think at $30, the price feels high, and I’d have a much easier time recommending it if it was like $10, or had some sorta bulk pack for multiple copies, because it is most definitely a game that is way better with friends. On the other hand, given what it took to get the game finished, I kind of get why they’re charging $30 for it.

My summary for this game is, “Today, I am the fifth dentist.” In my group of friends that I roped into playing the game I am the lone dissenter, the only one who enjoyed the game.

Like, the only person.

I’ve attached a video of about an hour of gameplay from a Twitch stream. I was gonna grab screencaps and stuff from the stream, but the quality at 720p felt too low. If you’re on the fence about the game, you’ll most likely get a better opinion of watching me play for a bit than from screencaps. Unfortunately, I also forgot to unmute my mic while streaming, and didn’t mute my friend, so you’ll get to listen to his lovely voice performing half a conversation.

Whoops.

My friends disliked this game enough that, at first, this article was gonna be about why you shouldn’t buy Eximius. But this is my article, and until one of my friends offers to write their own, telling you why you why they regret buying the game based off my stupid opinions, this article will remain the sole source of Gametrodon truth.

Okay, so let’s start by talking about Eximius actually is, for starters: Eximius is a combo RTS/FPS, played between two teams. There are five players to a team, with one player taking the role of the commander, with the ability to build structures, command AI troops, and get a top-down view of the battlefield, like a classic RTS. The remaining 4 are officers, with the ability to run about, shoot people, and generally cause all kinds of chaos. These other four can also have AI troops of various types assigned to them, and can give said troops fairly limited commands. (Gripe #1: I really wish you could actually order your troops to either stand in specific places or leave them somewhere to call them in later.)

You can assign general infantry troops to your officers, but you have to control special troops yourself. There are two factions in the game, AXE, and GSF, which stand for something I can’t remember, but all you really need to know is that the GSF are your typical generic future military dudes, with access to mortar and machine gun squads, infantry and engineers, and a few fairly typical vehicles. (Gripe #2: Vehicles can’t be manually controlled or ridden in by players, and have a tendency to get stuck between various things, due to questionable AI parking. On one notable occasion, I saw a tank sort of leap across the map after clipping into terrain.)

AXE, on the other hand, are more of your “future tech” faction, complete with outfits that make them look like something from Warframe, with smooth Exo-skeletons, and crisp weapons. They also get Ironguards, which for all intents and purposes you can just read as “T-1000 Terminator Units,” massive hulking exo-suits equipped with miniguns, that can just mulch 90% of unencamped infantry they come across. They have a selection of vehicles as well.

Let’s talk about one more thing before we get into why I like the game, and why my friends do not: the general structure of a game of Eximius.

There are two ways to win a game of Eximius. The first is to destroy the enemy base. This is easier said than done, because even if you’re crushing your opponent, their base is surrounded by 7-8 very high powered cannon encampments.

The second is to run your enemy out of supply points. More than likely, this is how you’ll actually win. Both teams start with a predefined amount of these points, and you take points from the enemy team by killing their units while they control less Victory Zones than you do. Different types of units are worth different amounts of supply.

In addition to the Victory Zones, there are also Resource Zones, which give either money, ammo, or power. Money is your base resource used for buying most units, with power used for buildings and other higher tier stuff. Ammo is used for activated abilities, like airstrikes, repair drones, and troop drops.

The end result of all of this is that you spend a lot of the game either holding points, trying to hold points, or pushing in to hold points. What I heard from other folks was that the game felt like Battlefield in that respect, except again, minus a lot of the polish you get on something like Battlefield. It’s not always the most thrilling thing in the universe.

And I don’t disagree with them. The hitmarkers that show up when you get shot are really subtle, and not necessarily enough to figure out where you’re being shot from. There’s also no difference between being shot with shields (HP that regenerates over time and out of combat) vs unshielded. There’s also no tracer rounds on most weapons, meaning that if an opponent is hiding in a bush, you can die before figuring out where they are.

They also had issues with some of the games economy system and power division, with the commander role feeling far more impactful to then the officers. And I can’t really disagree with that either. Officers really only have the ability to run around, capture points, and shoot stuff. You can’t use extra money you get to do things like call in buildings or extra ammo, so it’s fairly easy to get to a point where you are effectively just burning cash as an officer because you can’t have more than your cap.

And on the subject of the commanding/commanders UI. It’s not great. I would mark it as passable. I suspect my friends would go with awful. It disregards a lot of standard conventions for RTS controls (No shift queuing actions,), the action bar isn’t standardized across units, (infantry has an attack move, but vehicles don’t) and it can just be a pain to use. (You can’t assign officers to control groups for example.)

So the end result if you feel the same way they do is that it’s a game where you spend a lot of time either trying to hold a given location, getting into unclear gunfights, and being shot or blown up by encamped morters half a mile away when you round a corner.

On the other hand, I actually like trying to figure out how to break defenses, hold points, and stall for time. The fact that you can have gunfights with “winners” where neither person ends up dying is interesting to me. The mechanics of death, having to buy up your loadouts each time you revive, along with being able to use AI troops as cannon fodder/distractions is neat.

The big differentiator for me is that every conflict in a round has costs associated with it. While the moment-to-moment gameplay might feel similar to other shooters, the gunfights themselves feel more meaningful in the bigger picture.

Sneaking into a back line to capture Resource Points and harass the enemy’s economy, or trying to hold a point while fairly outnumbered until resources arrive are things you can do in other games, but in Eximius they have meaningful impacts on the rest of the war taking place, instead of being separate skirmishes. Where and when you choose to take fights is just as meaningful, if not more meaningful, than winning them. It’s not another shooter where if your K/D is greater than 1, you are a credit to team.

And that’s why I like it. There are a lot of elements in the game that could be improved, but they haven’t stopped me from enjoying the gunfights, trying to be sneaky, or desperately rushing in to try to salvage a win. The game does a really good job of creating organic set pieces and exciting clutch moments, and the fact that you’re playing against other humans makes it that much more fun. When you get to the end of round, it’s possible to look back and figure out what you needed to do differently, or what you could have tried instead.

Eximius is an ambitious indie game, when all is said and done, and more importantly, I find it fun. I might not be in the majority here, and there are definitely a lot of areas that the game could either use some improvement, or some hardening. But even in its current somewhat janky state, I enjoy playing, and I’m likely to continue playing it. I do wish I had more people to play it with, but y’know. Taste is subjective.

What are we playing? – March 2021

We got up to some shit this month…

I’ve been playing a surprisingly large number of games over the last two weeks, so I figured I’d just toss out what I’ve been playing recently. Some of these might get longer writeups, some might not, as there have been a lot of duds as of late.

Here’s the run down.

Magic: LegendsTLDR: It kinda sucks.

Possibly the highest profile game that’s gonna be on this list, and also the biggest dud, in my opinion. I saw someone describe it as “More fun to watch other people play than to play yourself” and I disagree. It doesn’t seem particularly fun to play or watch.

The whole thing just seems cheap and plasticky. If nothing else, it kind of made me want to play Path of Exile again. I’ll give it credit for having exactly one interesting mechanic, in that it is an ARPG where you build a deck of cards, and after you use an ability it goes away until you get it again. In theory, this forces you to play around your hand. In reality, of the few hours I played, I didn’t really feel it.

Armello – TLDR: I wish the gameplay was as good as the collectible in-game dice.

Steam says I’ve played like 12 hours of Armello over the last few weeks, and I’m gonna be honest, I know exactly why that is. See, Armello has what I’d consider to be hands down the best digital dice that I’ve ever seen, and I want them. And the game rewards you with random lootboxes that give you dice after you play multiplayer games. So I tend to log on, try a multiplayer game, not get any super cool dice, and repeat.

For anyone wondering why I haven’t talked about any Armello mechanics, it’s because I can’t say that I love the game itself. It feels really random, and also seems to have a massive kingmaker problem in the late game, which ends up being pretty unsatisfying.

Eximius: Seize the Frontline – TLDR: I like it. None of my friends do.

I like Eximius, and my friends don’t, and more on that when I do the full writeup on the game. But yeah: it’s an RTS/FPS hybrid that’s kind of janky, and maybe doesn’t have a lot of the polish it needs. But I still like it.

Move or DieTLDR: It also sucks.

On the one hand, I think Move Or Die is garbage. On the other hand, it cost three dollars, and friend bought it for me, and said friend was in the group of folks that I convinced to drop $30 on a indie FPS/RTS hybrid shooter which they did not like. So yeah. We played Move or Die for an hour. I don’t think it’s very fun.

Legion TD 2TLDR: $20 Warcraft 3 Mod, but I like it.

I just keep playing this game. A “campaign” mode just got added, but given what campaigns have been in other games, calling it a “single player tutorial” seems more accurate, or maybe a “challenge mode vs the AI.” Legion TD 2 is sorta like Dota for me, I just play it, enjoy it, and it’s purely on the moment to moment decisions you make in game, nothing else.

Shovel Knight: King of CardsTLDR: It’s the best. And $10.

Easily the most fun game on this list. I feel like King Knight might have the best controls and movement of all the characters in the Shovel Knight series, but that might just be me. This mode also has a card game, with collectible cards that you can win, and unlock. So… yeah. If you want to know more about Shovel Knight in general, you can read our writeup here. But King of Cards is just great, and honestly might get its own article in the future at some point.

That’s all for now. If you’ve been playing something interesting you think we should check out, feel free to hit us up on Twitter, or more likely given that anyone reading this blog knows us personally, hit us up on Discord.

Shovel Knight – Treasure Trove

Shovel Knight isn’t a frosted brick.

Ed Note: This writeup is based on finishing the Plague Knight and Shovel Knight campaigns, but not King of Cards, Showdown Mode, or Specter of Torment.

Shovel Knight is great.

The sentence above pretty much sums up my opinions on Shovel Knight, and part of me is really tempted to just leave it at that. The other part of me thinks that a little more explanation is needed. The problem with said extra explanation is that I’ve been having a really hard time trying to put my finger on why Shovel Knight is so good.

Yes, Queen Knight. Normally it would be King Knight. The game has gender swap options which I turned on for this save file, along with custom pronouns that aren’t linked to the selected body type. I don’t think I have anything valuable to say on this feature, as I’m the most cis straight white wonderbread looking motherfucker you’ll ever meet, but it’s cool to see that it’s there.

Okay, so while I stall for time on that, let’s talk briefly about what Shovel Knight actually is: it’s a platformer styled like the platformers of yore. The game itself has a structure similar to Mega Man, where you’re given a set of levels to pick from, and need to clear them all to continue to the next set of levels.

There are some optional mini side levels, and also some enemies that show up and roam on the map, kinda like Hammer Bros from Super Mario. The levels themselves are all pretty varied, with each one having a general theme, and about 3 or so different mechanics regarding the platforming itself. At the end of each level, you’ll fight a boss: an enemy knight and member of the Order of No Quarter. Levels also have hidden treasure, relics, and other good stuff in them.

These GIFs are way more laggy than the game is. Shovel Knight actually runs silkily smooth, and I never experienced any slowdown while playing. At least the GIFs give a good look at the style and palette of the game, I guess. Honestly not sure if I should keep them.

This is just for the Shovel Knight and Plague Knight campaigns, by the way. It looks like the Specter Knight campaign is like a separate sort of thing? And King of Cards has an entire extra board game that you can play? This game has a lot of stuff in it…

Oh, right, I’m still supposed to be writing a review. Well, through the magic of “writing,” in the time between the block of text above, and this one, I went back and played a bunch more to try to put my finger on why the game is so much much fun, and I think a lot of it comes down to movement.

See, everything about Shovel Knight is pretty great. The music is banging, the art feels incredibly fitting and clean, the story is simple but really good, but to me, a lot of those elements are just window dressing. That doesn’t mean they’re not important, but they’re the frosting on top. Even if you frost a brick, it’s still a brick.

But Shovel Knight isn’t a brick because the art, music, and story are all built on top of a solid core of movement, and equally importantly, levels and areas that utilize that movement effectively. Bouncing from enemy to enemy, digging up piles of treasure, and dodging and reflecting projectiles all feels fun and responsive. And the levels are all laid out in ways to give you both tricky platforming challenges, and satisfying instances of pulling them off.

Okay, so unrelated: if this game had come out in like the 2000’s, would tons of folks have Knightsonas on their Deviant Art pages, instead of “X The Hedgehog” sonic recolors? It’s interesting to think about. Like, the game provides built in sprites, recolors, etc, for each of the characters in the game. And the gender swaps mean that you could make just about any Knightsona you’d want.

And this is the cake under Shovel Knight’s frosting. It’s not particularly flashy or obvious, but it’s the base of everything else in the game. It’s what makes the boss fights fun and enjoyable instead of slogs, it’s what makes the platforming fun instead of frustrating, and it’s what makes it so that when you fail, you want to go again.

And, dear reader, let me let you in on a little secret: I called Shovel Knight a bit of a throwback up above, but I’m not sure that’s entirely honest, and that’s to Shovel Knight’s credit. While the game mimics the style of older games, it doesn’t copy their mistakes. There is no traditional game over, and while dying makes you lose money, you can always try to get it back. You can reset levels if things go too incredibly wrong and you end up strapped for cash. The game’s hidden items are purchasable with the gold you find if you’re unable to actually discover them in the level they’re located in, albeit at a slightly higher price.

This, I think, is the best thing I can say about Shovel Knight. It embodies the heart and feeling of those older games, without committing their sins. It mimics their style, without aping it, or being a cheap copy. And it manages to stand out and be joyful to play in a genre with countless competitors.

To just play through the base game won’t take you very long, but it has a lot of potential for speed running, mastery, and secret hunting. Personally, if you think you might like the game I’d suggest buying the Treasure Trove edition, which has all the campaigns and such in it. If you want to try it cheaper, you can buy the base game for $15.

Shovel Knight is six years old at this point, making me perhaps the last person to write a review of it. But I hope I’m not the last person to play it, because it deserves a lot more than that.

P.S. Okay, still thinking about the idea of Knightsonas. I kinda love the idea of an alternate universe where instead of people wearing fursuits, we have an entire subculture of folks who dress up in a pixel art style heavy plate mail and helms, with ridiculous weapons.

Kunai

It is a video game that you can play, and some of the art is good. This is the end of the nice things I can say about Kunai.

I don’t love Kunai. I wouldn’t recommend it. But I played 8 hours of it, so I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try to get a review out of it. And yes, that was enough to finish the game.

Okay, so this bothers me even after finishing the game: are the helmets just made to look like monitors? Why do robots and humans look so similar in this game?

If I was asked to summarize Kunai in a sentence, it would be something like “Kunai is fine.” That wouldn’t be entirely accurate, though, because if I tried to make it longer, it would be something like “Kunai is on average fine, or slightly mediocre.” The key word there is average, because there are a few areas of the game that take advantage of Kunai’s strongest point: the expressive and expansive movement of the player character, Tabby.

See, Kunai is a platformer/roguelike, or at least that’s what it wants to be. It never quite feels like that, though. When you revisit zones, it’s because you’re required to backtrack through them. There are no items that you find that aren’t clearly in the main story path. Many of the zones feel fairly linear, and don’t actually require much exploring.

What Kunai does do well are your actual movement options. Between the titular Kunai, a late game dash, rockets, SMGs that can be used to gun float, and otherwise just fairly solid controls, Tabby is a lot of fun to run around with. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t play into this as strongly as it could, and many of game’s zones either don’t take advantage of it, or feel like they actively punish it. Moving too quickly gets you killed, and outside of one area, you never really get to just ricochet around.

Zen Mountains, one of the few really good areas in the game, has lots of small platforms and big open areas to jump around in.

There simply isn’t anything that Kunai does that I haven’t seen other games do better. It would be easier to recommend Kunai if the sum of its parts was greater than its whole, or if it collected a bunch of different mechanics into a game for the first time. But there are other games that take everything Kunai does, story, exploration, movement, art, music, and knock it out of the park, whereas Kunai just limps along. Like, if you want to play an expansive indie metroidvania, just go play Hollow Knight. The gameplay is much better, the game is longer, and Hollow Knight actually has a good story.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the story briefly: Kunai has a story, but it feels rushed and incomplete. There are plot points that feel straight up skipped over, for example a relationship with the villain that’s hinted at, but almost completely ignored the entire game. Nothing ever comes together or makes sense.

We’re part of a rebellion against something, but it’s not clear what we’re rebelling against? Or why? Or why the villain is doing any of this? It’s frustrating because much like Tabby’s movement, the game sets up a very interesting-looking situation, only to never quite utilize it fully.

Swinging your sword to bounce bullets back at an enemy is cool… but gets boring kinda quick.

The game feels like it had heavy cuts to its intended gameplay. For example, there’s a bit where you help power up a giant mech. You put in the power core, see it turn on and… all it does is fly you to a new area, where you do a gauntlet of enemies, then fight the final boss. It’s an incredible letdown.

I feel bad for tearing into Kunai this much, but the only reason I have so much to complain about is because the game feels like it has untapped potential. There’s a fantastic movement system handicapped and hamstrung by mediocre zones and levels. There’s a story that starts out interesting, kneecapped by too little explanation in some parts, and far, far too much in others. Combined, the game just isn’t satisfying to play, and can actually be rather frustrating.

I hope the game makes back its development budget. I hope TurtleBlaze gets to make a second game that doesn’t feel as rushed. There’s a lot of potential here, and a few things that are done quite right.

But there aren’t enough of them for me to recommend this game. If this review didn’t turn you off, you can find Kunai on Steam, and on a few other consoles.

Ed Note: Images are taken from the Steam Store Page. I just don’t have anything really valuable to add with screenshots of this game to be honest.

The Pokemon Card Kerfuffle

Right now, something very interesting is happening. So what am I talking about? Is it the global pandemic? The fact that we’re finally making progress with immunizations? The massive change in working remote or working from home? Or perhaps it’s the new presidental administration.

Well, no. Those things are all happening, but I’m talking about the fact that the cost of buying sealed packages of Pokemon cards has almost doubled or trippled in price. In this writing/video/whatever, I’m going to talk about why I think that is, and why I think a lot of people have the wrong idea. For those already familar with the Pokemon Trading Card Game, or TCG as it’s often shortened to, skip ahead a bit to the reasons. For everyone else, I want to provide a little bit of quick background.

Background on the Pokemon Trading Card Game
Pokemon, for those who might not know is a global media franchise that started as a video game, and at this point has branched out into almost every conceivable product you could imagine. In terms of popularity, Pokemon is often quoted as the most profitable franchise in the world, above things like Star Wars, or Marvel, or Micky Mouse.

The Pokemon Trading Card Game is a collectible card game. For the purpose of this discussion, it’s not important to know too much about it, except for two brief things.

The first is that cards are released in “Sets”. You can think of them like seasons of a TV show. Each set has a specific number of different cards in it, at various rarities. The second thing to know is that a single “Set” may contain multiple copies of cards that are mechanically identical, which is to say when used as part of game, they function exactly the same, but they have different artwork. Here’s an example, with a card named Charizard V. The first image is the normal version, the second is the full art version. The full art version is much rarer. Finally, there’s a shiny version, the one that’s black. It’s actually from a different set, but we’ll talk about that later. The key point here is that from a gameplay standpoint, all of these cards are identical, and there is no in game advantage to using one over the other.


And finally, a little bit of background on pricing. Generally speaking, a Pack of Pokemon Cards retails at $4.00 MSRP(Mass Suggested Retail Price, IE, what a Target/Walmart will sell the product for on release.) for a single booster. A booster box, a collection of 36 boosters, retails at about $140 dollars, but generally speaking, when a set releases, it’s not hard to find a booster box for $90 to $100 dollars on either eBay or Amazon. There are also Fat Packs. These tend to retail at $30 to $40, and contain 10 booster packs.

One other quick thing to note: Buying products at MSRP for those of us who are addicts enthusiasts is fairly rare. We usually have connections, either with stores, or online distributors that, as mentioned above, sell below MSRP.

End of Background

All right, so with that background out of the way, lets get into the current state of things, by looking at how much booster boxes cost for several of the last few sets of cards.

NamePrice – USD
Battle Styles (Not released at time of writing)$147 eBay, $160 Amazon
Vivid Voltage$197 eBay, $208 Amazon
Rebel Clash$150 eBay, 190 Amazon
Darkness Ablaze$172 eBay, $180 Amazon
Sword and Shield$200 eBay, $190 Amazon


Keep in mind, these are all products with an MSRP of $140, and that generally speaking only ever cost $80-$90 dollars in reality.

Now, people who already follow the scene might notice something missing here, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

NamePrice – USD
Shining Fates Fat Pack (10 Packs) $100 to $150 eBay, $123 Amazon
Champions Path Fat Pack (10 Packs) $100 on Amazon, $95 on eBay


Now for anyone who plays the Pokemon Trading card game, I’d like to make a brief note: I bought a playset of all non-reprint cards in Champions Path. It cost me $133. That’s 4 copies of every single card in the set, that hadn’t printed before.

So, whats going on here? Why are these booster packs so expensive? What happened?

And for anyone who thinks “Well, thats just capitalism” here’s the offical statement from pokemon.com. So clearly, they’re not in love with this either.

Ed Note: And why would they be? As they’re the publisher/distributor, they don’t make extra money if the price people are willing to pay goes up, if they’re not the one setting the price.

I have two general guesses here, one for the first set of cards, and one for the second. They overlap a bit, but lets start with the ones above.

So, lets talk about the dates here. While the official announcement on the site has been updated since then, articles about the announcement start showing up on Feb 11th.

So why is this date important? Well, because Feb 11th is the day right before the start of Chinese New Year.

For anyone who hasn’t had things manufactured in China, Chinese New Year is effectively a full shutdown period. And this year, it won’t be over until Febuary 22nd. It’s a public holiday, and a very big one, and you can expect factory shutdowns for approximately two weeks. So, what that actually means is that factories will likely be shutdown until February 26th, the day I’m writing this article.

Now, despite what we might believe, even global megacorporation’s are limited by the laws of reality, including the fact that if you want to ship this stuff via boat from China where it’s printed, to the rest of the world, you’re going to be looking at a timeline of about 3 months.

With this info, we can start to make some guesses about what’s going on here, and to make some predictions involving future timelines. But before we get into that, lets talk about three more parts of this perfect storm.

Charizard, Coronavirus, and the 25th Anniversary

This year is the 25th Anniversary of the Pokemon Franchise. As part of this, there’s been a general marketing push with things like a Post-Malone concert, Katy Perry, and other things that I think might have pushed Pokemon a little bit more into the limelight then it might have been otherwise. I don’t think it would have been hugely noticed if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re all stuck at home, with no ability to go anywhere or do anything. But a large portion of this push has probally pulled up a bit of nostalgia.

And this brings us Charizard. Charizard is a large fire dragon Pokemon. It tends to be one of the more visible and identifiable members of the franchise, and it also has the interesting distinction of being one of, if not, the most valuable mass market card ever available. Currently, base set shadow-less Charizard’s go for $5000 to $10000. And perfect ones can go for over $200,000. And currently, many of these sets that have just released feature Charizard’s new form, Charizard VMAX. This is the first time this Pokemon has been featured on a card.

And finally, we have coronavirus. Parents are staying home from work, and trying to entertain kids. Large numbers of people are on unemployment or furloughed, looking desperately for anything they can use to get a bit of extra money or scrape by. And we’ve had a wave of publicity about how profitable scalping can be recently with things like graphics cards and game consoles.

Oh, and one more thing.

Most Pokemon Cards are effectively worthless.

You won’t hear most collectors say this, and you won’t hear it brought up often, but it’s a simple fact that should be acknowledged. When you buy a sealed pack of Pokemon cards, odds are that the price of buying the cards in the booster pack are lower then the price of buying the cards individually. Even for the most recent sets, commanding ridiculous prices, the common/uncommon/rare cards in those sets go for 5 to 20 cents. It’s why I was able to buy a full playset of these cards for $133. The only cards worth over a few dollars are the hyper-rares, cards that present in less then 1-3 sealed packs, and of those, only the full arts and alt arts are really worth cash, and those tend to be present at about 1 in 36 rates, and NOT EVEN ALL OF THOSE ARE EXPENSIVE.

Buying sealed Pokemon Cards is a gamble, and statistically you will not get your value back. For kids, to whom every card is special, this isn’t a huge problem. For adults, who can just buy the cards they want, this shouldn’t be a problem, unless you really like gambling, and opening boosters.

Which a lot of folks do.

Lets put these pieces together, and see what happened.

So here’s what I think might have actually happened, based on the things I’ve laid out above. From this point onward, we’re venturing into purely speculation. Pretty much everything I’ve put above is a verifiable fact, and I’m more then happy to fix them if folks find errors.

  1. Coronavirus and Shipping Delays result is less cards being generally available then usual, in addition to smaller game stores suffering heavily from the lack of foot traffic, leading to less orders of product in general.
  2. Hype around the 25th anniversary of Pokemon leads to a higher level of brand awareness, along with the fairly lucrative scalping that we’ve seen previously last year and this year.
  3. A set of cards is printed at a very high rarity, of a Pokemon with a history of being fairly collectible, and commanding obscenely high prices, and knowledge of this begins to leak out.
  4. The incredibly low rate of actually getting this card leads to everyone involved who wants the card, from scalpers to collectors buying up as much of the product as possible for a chance of getting it.
  5. This becomes public knowledge, and now even folks who weren’t interested are getting involved in the hype, or trying to get stuff before it sells out. Effectively, what we saw with toilet paper before.
  6. The simple realities of production in China, combined with Chinese New Year, international lockdowns, and all of the above means that there is no easy way to rapidly increase supply of product on a quick timescale.

So where does that leave us? Well, I started writing this article on the 26th, and it’s now the 15th. The prices of most sealed products show no sign of slowing down. And the simple reality of what it takes to manufacture more cards mean that we’re still likely several months out from increased supply. If we assume that TPCI (The Pokemon Company International) decided to try to increase supply as of the date that they made the official announcement of being aware that consumers were being hit by shortages, they still wouldn’t have started production until 2/26.

And since boats can only go so fast, we likely won’t see any difference in supply for at least the next three months, meaning that speculation, hoarding, and other junk will likely continue until June/July, as just having something showing up at port doesn’t mean it’s available to buy.

This is my personal theory. I don’t think YouTube personalities opening cards, or folks posting on Twitter caused this. I think it’s a combo of a heavily impacted supply chain, hype, and chaos.

So until that time, enjoy, and buy singles if you’re gonna buy at all.

Atomicrops

A solid top-down roguelite, sharing more in common with something Binding of Issac than, say, Stardew Valley.

I like Atomicrops. I have played quite a bit of it, done quite a few cleared runs, a bit of achievement hunting, and I’ll probably keep playing it even after I write this review for a bit. Like the synopsis says, it’s a really solid roguelite. There are a few areas of the game’s design I disagree with, but they feel more like choices, not flaws, and if you like games like Binding of Issac, or presumably, Enter the Gungeon (Okay, I haven’t actually played much Enter the Gungeon, but that’s what it reminded me of), I feel like you’ll enjoy Atomicrops.

Cool, so now that I’ve put the lede first, let’s actually talk a bit about the game.

I’ve tried and failed to write this article about Atomicrops several times now, all with the intention of having it out and ready this Wednesday Thursday Friday. Given that I started it writing it about a week, you would think this would have been easy. And it would have been, except for a tiny problem called “I thought Atomicrops was going to be high paced twitchy version of something like Stardew Valley, and not a roguelite.” Second disclosure: I’ve never played Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon. Slime Rancher is probably the closest I’ve ever come to a traditional chill farming game.

So yeah, I went in expecting an entirely different genre of game. In both you can acquire farm animals, grow plants, and get married, but what that means in terms of actual mechanics is incredibly different, as are your goals. In something like Slime Rancher, you’re free to play at your own pace. Even if you lose all your health, there really isn’t a game over in any traditional sense.

Dating consists of giving a character roses, a secondary currency you earn from… harvesting roses. Also, all the pairings are gender irrelevant, which is neat. Also, Atomicrops is the first game I’ve ever seen where polyamory is an actual item/upgrade.

In Atomicrops, if you lose all your health, you die, and you’ll have to start fresh. There is a secondary currency used for small, permanent upgrades called cornucopias, but most of said upgrades are pretty minimal.

Here’s a brief overview of the anatomy of an Atomicrops run. The goal of an Atomicrops run is to simply survive all 4 seasons, and then to beat the final boss in the nuclear winter season. Each season consists of three days. Days have a day/night cycle. During the day, crops you’ve planted are invincible, and cannot be harmed. At night, they can be eaten/attacked by various enemy types, and waves of enemies will spawn in to try to attack them. On the night of the last day of a season, you’ll have to fight a boss.

What you’ll notice, though, is that I haven’t described anything that would require you to actually engage in agriculture. With one fairly big exception, “winning” doesn’t technically require you to farm crops for Cashews, the game’s currency. You could, in theory, just spend every day doing nothing to run out the day timer, fight through the waves at night, and rinse repeat your way to victory. This would theoretically mostly work.

So why go into the trouble of growing serpentine roses, potatoes with more eyes than most monsters from the Cthulhu mythos, and excessively overexuberant peas? Well, growing and harvesting crops gets you Cashews and score, but it also feeds into your end of season meter. And secondly, it lets you buy and upgrade weapons.

Based on how much you harvest during a season, you’ll get various items and boosts. Just surviving might not be enough to keep a run going. It’s also how you get the outside-of-run progression currency, cornucopias.

Let’s talk about the weapons in the game for a second, because one of my big gripes relates to them. Almost all the weapons are cool, powerful and fun. They have single path of upgrades that give them more damage, and also boost their utility. (For example, the flamethrower can water crops after getting enough upgrades.)

They also have a chance to break after you complete a day, requiring you to get a brand new one. And when I say chance, I’m talking about a something like a 98% chance by default on most characters. There is a character that can bring it down to a 48% chance, which is still pretty high. (This decreases as you unlock post-run carryover upgrades. Regardless, break chance is never a happy number.)

So here’s why I consider it a gripe, and not necessarily a flaw: having powerful weapons to take on the end of round bosses isn’t strictly speaking necessary, but it does make them much easier to fight. Trying to take on giant mechs, UFO’s, and a spider the size of a house with a literal peashooter is incredibly difficult. So you’re motivated to save up a pile of cashews to buy and upgrade a weapon prior to a day in which you’ll fight a boss, which means you’ll need to farm, which means you’ll need seeds, which means you need to explore, but harder areas have tougher enemies, so you’ll need a better weapon for that, too….

You get the point. Weapons breaking is a core part of the loop of the game, forcing you to go fight for seeds, upgrades, and farm animals, along with one-use powerups (pigeon scrolls). You do this by leaving the central area near your farm, and clearing out camps of marked enemies. Once you clear a camp, you get a reward.

Once you gun down all the bunnies, you get to pick an upgrade from the locked boxes.

The point is, though, if you could just upgrade a single weapon, and keep it through a whole run, the system would fall apart pretty quickly, and kill a lot of the pressure that the game generates.

Outside of that, I really don’t have any big gripes about Atomicrops. The game also does one thing really well, though kind of subtlety. So I wanna call that out, and talk about it a bit.

Atomicrops handles item effect stacking and resolution really well. A variety of the passive pickups you get have effects like “When X occurs, Y occurs,” and the game handles it super gracefully. As an example, there is an item that causes weeds to do a blast of damage to nearby enemies when cut down. There’s also an item that causes killing enemies to cut nearby weeds. If you end up getting these together, shooting and killing a nearby enemy can turn into a wonderful chain reaction of exploding weeds and shredded enemy packs.

From what I’ve seen, this works for almost every item combo that you would expect it to in the game. Farm animals can trigger items that would proc based off their respective text, and so on. And it’s what makes Atomicrops such a good roguelite. You’re given a limited amount of items to choose between during your run, and spotting and knowing about various synergies can make or break a run. Some items can seem lackluster at first, such as the ability to harvest weeds for small amounts of cashews, but combined with rapid weedcutting, tractors, or chickens, can turn out to be incredibly useful.

Atomicrops is an incredibly solid run and gun roguelite. It’s not perfect. There’s a fairly limited number of bosses, and the game’s controls can be frustrating at times. But the fantastic way that synergies are handled, the number of builds that can be created, and how weapons that are just fun to use (even if they break way too easy) make it sort of sleeper hit for me. It’s not the game I was expecting, but it’s honestly probably more fun than what I thought I was getting into.

(Oh, and the art for each of the irradiated fruits and veggies is also great. Weird without being Binding of Issac levels of discomforting.)

Atomicrops is $15 on Steam or the Epic Games store, and a bunch of other consoles I won’t list here. This review is based on the PC version. Friendly reminder that even if you do loath Fortnite and the stupid dances it has made the youth partake in, EGS gives a higher percentage to developers than Steam.

Loop Hero

Whelp, this is gonna hurt.

Ed Note: We received a review copy of Loop Hero prior to release. The only condition we were given was not to release the review until after the embargo for the game.

So I mentioned a while back that I was gonna try to get a copy of Loop Hero to review. And to my surprise, the whole thing actually sorta worked. I’ve been playing it for just under about two weeks at this point. And right now I wouldn’t recommend it.

That probably sounds kind of strange, so let me give a little bit of context here: I’ve played about 30 hours of Loop Hero. After about hour 25, I said “Fuck It” and modified a few configuration files to give myself effectively infinite resources, bought out the rest of the tech tree, and went back to playing the game.

So when I say I wouldn’t recommend Loop Hero, it’s not that I haven’t had a good time with various parts of the game. The opening few hours from the demo were very good, enough to make me want to get the game. The last few hours after cheated to unlock everything were also much better.

The middle 25 hours were one of the most painful, grindy slogs I’ve ever tried to push through, and I ultimately gave up, and cheated. I would not have even tried to power through them if I hadn’t been given a review copy, and felt like in order to actually write a review, I needed to see the entire game. I would have just uninstalled the game, and called it a day.

So let’s talk about the game’s mechanics a bit, in order to explain why I struggled to enjoy myself.

I’ve seen Loop Hero described a lot of different ways, including: idle game, auto-battler, and rougelite. I’m not sure any of these labels quite sticks for me, but it is a game where combat happens automatically, and you as the player don’t have any input over what your character actually does.

What Loop Hero does give you input on is the items your character wears, and the the world they travel through.

As the name might suggest, a Loop Hero run consists of, well…. loops. Each run starts with a blank world map, as pictured below.

And as a run proceeds, you’ll get two types of drops from enemies. Gear, which works exactly how you think it would, and cards.

We’ll quickly talk about gear first. Characters have a limited number of gear slots, and the three classes each use slightly different types of gear, with a few things in common. This doesn’t actually matter, because once a run starts you’ll only get gear that you can equip.

All in all, there isn’t anything in the gear that feels super special or innovative. It isn’t bad, by any sense, it’s just nothing that you haven’t seen if you’ve played an ARPG before. Vamp, attack speed, crit chance, crit damage, etc. Higher rarity gear has additional stat rolls, again, much like a traditional ARPG. Unlike a traditional ARPG, once you put a piece of gear on, you cannot take it off, and any new piece of gear replaces it.

One of my few minor gripes with the game has to do with the fact that the UI display for gear isn’t fantastic, and it isn’t additive. This is fairly minor though, and not actually a big deal.

My second gripe with gear is that as far as I can tell, it’s completely random. I couldn’t find a way to influence the rolls that I got, and as such, it turns into a crap shoot. You either get gear with stats you want, or you don’t. A string of bad luck early can absolutely ruin a run, even if you make all the right decisions, and it’s one of the things that makes the game feel like less of a rougelite to me. So since you can’t influence gear, the extent to which you can do anything with it is just making quick judgement calls on if you should swap your current gear for something new.

So let’s talk about the part of the game you have a bit more influence on: the cards that make up the map.

Cards are (mostly) all from a pool that you choose beforehand. This is the deckbuilding aspect of the game.

Of the different categories, you’re required to have at least a certain amount of cards selected. And while this is purely a guess from my side, it at least feels like the cards have different drop rates.

Individual cards have rules about their placement and effects. I want to look at two cards, the Mountain and the Grove, as examples.

The Mountain is a fairly straightforward card. The more you play of them, the more HP your hero gets. One thing the mountain also does that the game does not tell you, is that after you play 10 mountains or rocks, it will spawn in a goblin camp at a random location near the road. So, after you’ve played 9 mountains, you may want to reconsider playing a 10th unless you want to add another problem to the map for yourself. In addition, you can only play the mountain on spaces at least two places away from the road.

The Grove is even simpler. Every 2 in-game days that pass, the Grove will spawn a Ratwolf enemy, which will either stay on its current tile, or move left or right. It can only be placed on the road.

Now how do these cards interact with each other?

Well, uh. Actually, they don’t.

In fact, a surprising number of the cards in the game don’t interact with each other, or at least don’t interact in interesting ways. And this brings me to my first big problem with the game: Basic Terrain Tile configuration isn’t actually all that interesting or exciting. At the same time, it’s what you’ll be spending a majority of a run doing.

The game has about 26 cards to build your deck , and almost none of them interact with each other in particularly interesting ways. In fact, only one of them really has a large number of interesting interactions: the River card. It’s also one of the very last things you’ll get access to.

And I think this is my primary problem with the game: the “Loop” of Loop Hero isn’t one of interesting runs, where you have to solve tile placement puzzles. It’s a game of perpetual grind, where you make tiny amounts of incremental progress via upgrades, gear and other small stuff, while hoping this is the run where you get the gear you need to kill the boss.

I have some other gripes with the game as well, but they’re ultimately much smaller things, and changing them wouldn’t change how I feel about the game.

There are a lot of good things about Loop Hero. The art is gorgeous, the game has a bunch of text display options, including a dyslexic setting, and the soundtrack is solid.

The core gameplay, though, of a roguelike auto-battler never really clicked for me. The game felt far more like an idle game by the very end. And that’s not what I was hoping for from the demo. I was hoping for a different type of roguelite, one where you build the world instead of just fight it, a game where learning about the interplay of mechanics, and not just farming and numbers was the key to success. And while Loop Hero might be one of the more complex idle games out there, it’s not quite the roguelite I was hoping for.

Loop Hero is available here on Steam. I should mention that at time of writing, the game has been rated “Overwhelmingly Positive” by other people who’ve played it. So I may just be the odd-man out here. But right now, unless you’re looking for an idle game, I wouldn’t recommend it.