Rusted Moss Demo

Ed Note: The Steam Next Fest had a massive variety of demos, and I couldn’t get to all of them. Fortunately, I’m not not alone. Today’s review comes from my friend Kyle.

The Rusted Moss demo has pretty much sold me on the game. I’ll do a full writeup on it when the game comes out. I’m really hoping it lives up to the demo. Let’s start with the plot.

The story starts out with a protagonist named Fern. Fern’s a changeling who appears human, and has a shadow named Puck. Your overall quest is to gather shards of Titania to return Fae (fairies) to the world.

The true spice that sets this game apart is the grapple hook you get at the start. It offers exhilarating movement as you swing through maps and combat. You can grapple enemies closer to you to blast, or hitch a ride from certain enemies to ascend to greater heights.

Hanging from the roofs while you rain down bullets on enemies is fantastic as well, and just feels amazing. Many Metroidvanias give you the various movement powers over time, with much of the fun traversal coming later on. Getting the grappling hook early simply feels good.

Gameplay features all the typical stuff from a modern Metroidvania. It’s a non-linear platformer, with progression through weapon or mobility upgrades to unlock more of the map. There’s also trinket system that allows you to customize your character’s playstyle. These vary from charged shots doing more damage, to doing more damage at low or full life, as well as damage over time effects, shields and more.

I’m hoping there are more than just damage modification trinkets. Those were all I found in the demo. However, since this was just a demo, it’s more than possible this is just a vertical slice.

One gripe I have with the game is that bosses at the start felt a bit bullet spongy. You can do some trinket combos to nearly double your damage, (Giant Chambers, Thorny Rose, Erosive Bullets) but this comes at the price of being only able to take a single hit.

In the demo there’s a really fun speed climbing challenge to get to the top of a mountain, as well as a mini-boss boss rush with a two minute timer. Both of these have leaderboards for fastest times.

Overall, I’m very excited for Rusted Moss. I’m looking forward to the full game, and hoping it lives up to the promise of the demo.

Top 3 Games To Watch

With Steam Next Fest completed, it seems like as good a time as any to talk about demos I played. My personal favorites were actually pretty different from what ended up on the most popular list!

Super Raft Boat Together describes itself as a multiplayer roguelike shooter. Technically, Super Raft Boat already exists, and the new part here is just the “together.” But I never played the original, so for me, the whole thing is new.

It’s a fun little multiplayer roguelike. Is it hugely innovative? No. Did I have fun playing it? Yes.

I’m going to fail to describe Inkbound correctly, but I still want to try, so here we go. Inkbound is a multiplayer roguelike. Its primary innovation is a turn based, real time combat.

Here’s how it works. In combat, all human players have an individual pool of action points, and can use that pool to move and take actions independent of other human players. These actions are resolved in real time, as they are taken. When all humans mark their turn as finished, all the enemy NPC’s take their turn.

Then the process repeats.

It’s a really cool system, and there are a bunch of other neat ideas and innovations here, that I don’t quite have time to cover or describe. The short version is “Inkbound might have something really special mechanically.” I’m very excited to see the finished game.

Deceive Inc is very interesting. I think there’s a non-zero chance I end up sucking at or hating the finished version of this product. That said, I played over 8 hours of the game, and I wanted to play more when the demo ended.

It’s a blend-in game that at least initially appears to be in the style of something like Perfect Heist 2. You’re a secret agent infiltrating a map, trying to ultimately collect a briefcase, and make your escape.

What the game doesn’t really tell you is that, in some ways, it’s more of a skill based shooter than a blend-in/deduction game. The time to kill is very high, and many guns’ mechanics are so intricate that they have a skill ceiling that I didn’t so much as scratch during the time I spent playing.

There are two opposing gameplay directions that the developers could take the game’s mechanics. Neither is a bad choice, but they represent two very different games. One is to lean heavily into the blending in, cautious stealth, and sneaking approach of something like Perfect Heist 2. The other (and current) direction is to lean into the gunplay/combat-based mechanics. This would result in a game that is closer to something like Hunt:Showdown. I don’t know how to recommend this game, without knowing the direction it will take.

The other reason I’m a bit hesitant on Deceive Inc is that I’m not sure how long the game will be up. Everything about it screams “Live Service” game. The history of interesting, but ultimately (financial) failures of live service games is documented pretty well, even just on this blog.

Quantum League. Knockout City. Darwin Project. Okay, I never did a writeup on that last one, but the point still stands. These were all interesting, creative games, with cool mechanics.

Now they’re all dead, and it’s not because they were bad games. It’s because their entire business model was based on getting a large playerbase and a level of revenue they never achieved.

Pokémon Scarlet

When I was in highschool, I had to write essays. These essays were graded on a rubric with a certain percentage of points for various categories. One of these categories was what could be considered writing “technical skills.” Things like grammar, sentence construction, and spelling mistakes as a whole contributed to about 20% of the essay’s grade.

As a result, I would never get higher than 80%, because regardless of how good any of my points, ideas, or concepts were, my writing was a complete technical failure.

In that respect, my high school essays have a lot in common with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.

The Worst Performing Switch Game I’ve Ever Seen

Pokémon Violet’s miserable technical performance is omnipresent across the entire game. Miserable pop-in, levels of detail so low that you can see polygons getting added onto character models, poor framerates, and slowdown are present in virtual every area of the game. Almost every object is also subject to animation-frame culling as well.

My personal breaking point for this was the game’s credit sequence. This game is so unbelievably scuffed from a technical level that it fails to smoothly display scrolling text on a screen.

I’m not going to harp on the technical problems of Violet after this paragraph, except for when they become relevant to other portions of the game. Games are made up of multiple components, and worked on by multiple teams.

Some teams did their job very well. Some of these teams may have done the best they could under extreme time pressure. Or maybe they’re just incompetent! I don’t know which one it was. My conclusion is the same.

Despite liking and enjoying Pokémon Violet, the game’s technical issues are so widely spread that I just can’t recommend the game.

Core Mechanics

I did a large writeup on Pokémon as a series a while back. If you’re not familiar with Pokémon games at all, I suggest you read that writeup before the next bit. It included a overview of structure the games follow, along with general coverage of the series’ mechanics, and some suggestions for where a new player could start.

Scarlet and Violet mark the series transition to a full open world from the previous linear routes and narrative path. Instead, the world is shaped like a large donut. Difficulty scales as you travel up either side of the donut, with the game’s finale taking place in the center.

In Legends: Arceus, the battle and catching system was very simple. In Scarlet and Violet, those systems have been rolled back to their more complex previous forms, and are still very good and very compelling. There’s no more tall grass. Instead Pokémon spawn into the world in packs, and running into them will start a battle.

Node-Based Story Structure

The story structure is also fairly different. Because of the game’s open world nature, there’s no single series of events, or path that’s really required. Instead, each story event is sort of a self-contained mini-event. There are three main routes for these events. Two routes have 5 events, and the gym route has 8.

I think these story nodes can be completed in pretty much any order. I’m not sure that’s the case, though, because I did all the ones that gave me travel upgrades first. It certainly didn’t feel like there was a required order to me.

That said, these events don’t dynamically scale. I left what could be considered the 2nd or 3rd gym fight to do last one. There’s something amusing about showing up with a team of level 60 Pokémon for a gym battle against level 25s. But it’s also a little disappointing that the game doesn’t utilize the nonlinear story structure to give different players a different experience based on the order they complete story battles.

Also, before I switch topics, the games story arcs are surprisingly good. From a purely story standpoint, Scarlet might be my favorite Pokémon game. Is it the greatest story ever? No, but it’s memorable and unique.

Thematically Vast, Visually Bland

The Paldea region is one of the areas where the game feels like it’s been held back by the technology. There’s an early moment where a character is supposed to be introducing the stunning majesty of the Paldea region, and we get treated to a set of panning views of… various green-grey plains.

It’s sort of sad-funny that sets the tone for what we’ll see in the rest of the game.

The game has a variety of areas, but outside of Pokémon variety, the areas never felt different. Looking back, I remember dry desserts, a large cave, some icy mountains, ocean-side towns, and a coal mine, but they all felt identical. The only area that left any sort of impact was a large cave that I wandered into under leveled, swiftly got pulped, and then booked it out of.

The Pokémon Cave Experience

I think the biggest issue is that Pokémon games have often been light on visuals. Instead, the tone of the zones was sold by the Pokémon themselves. Caves full of Zubats spring to mind. Lunatone and Solrock in Meteor Falls, or Skarmory in the ash covered zones.

However, because of how Pokémon spawning works, and the fact that it’s possible to ignore pretty much every encounter I didn’t want to fight, most areas ended up feeling empty. I could rush through them, and interact with nothing but story events if I so chose.

Some thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else

Pokémon is a broad franchise, and has its own subtypes of players just like other complicated and broad games. As such, there are some things I can’t comment on. I don’t know how well the game is balanced and plays for multiplayer activities, such as competitive tourneys, or the end-game raids. I also didn’t do much with the breeding post-game/shiny hunting.

Many of the gyms in this game have their own mini-game or side mode associated with them. One of the more standout moments for me was a game mode where you’re supposed to collect Sunflora, and bring them back to a central area. This puzzle was very clearly designed before being tested, because it required collecting such a large number of Sunflora, that they would lag the game, and pop-in if you ran too far ahead of them. The town with this gym challenge also had a windmill that had ridiculous animation culling. Both of these combined to make the whole area incredibly immersion-breaking.

The new Pokémon designs generally felt quite good, as did much of the general world design and writing. The Jiggypuff with sharp teeth that screams and bites you is one of my favorites.

Again, though, it’s things like the carefully crafted in-world advertisements and logos that end up feeling like they’re in sharp contrast to the generally poor technical quality of the rest of the game.

Friendly reminder that the Fairy Pokémon type is based off old-english fairies, and those things were public menaces.

The vengeful fairy with a giant hammer that just beats the shit out of you is also great.

In Conclusion

Pokémon Scarlet is a 7/10, but it gets that score, much like my high school English papers, for a sheer lack of technical polish.

If this was an indie game, I’d excuse a lot of these issues. But this is the largest media franchise in the world. Yes, Scarlet makes makes changes in story, structure, and world, but they’re all hindered by those technical issues.

There have been some rumors that Nintendo/Gamefreak are working on patches to improve performance, but I’m not holding my breath. And I’m not betting on these issues being fixed for the next game either.

Did I have fun? Yes! Would I play it again? Probably. Will I buy the next entry in the franchise? In the immortal words of Penny Arcade’s Tycho Brahe, “I am a consumer whore.”

Of course I will.

But I don’t recommend you buy it.

Steam Next Fest 2023 – 4 Popular Demos

It seems like a waste to talk about the Steam Next Fest after it ends next Monday. So instead, let’s talk about it now. Here’s what I’ve played, and here are my thoughts on the games. I’m gonna break each of these out into like 4 games per post, hopefully so things get some visibility.

The most popular game on the Steam Next Fest is effectively a battle-royale extraction shooter. Except instead of guns, you’re using medieval weaponry in the style of something like Chivalry or Dark Souls.

I also suck at it. Technically it’s an extraction game where you’re supposed to escape with loot, but I haven’t had that happen once. I tend to die to the basic enemies, and on the occasions where that doesn’t happen, I die to players. Maybe it’s a great game if you have hours to grind, I don’t know. I just know I’m unlikely to play more.

I was excited for VoidTrain. It looked fun, had a fun theme, and was multiplayer (something I heavily prize in games I can play with my friends). It’s also the second most played demo on the Steam next fest.

I don’t know how, because the demo ends after like 15 minutes.

And while it’s somewhat well polished, it has a massive problem: the game is Raft. It’s just in Raft in space on a train. And while some people like Raft, I’ve played 6 hours and hate it. I’ve never done a writeup on Raft because I don’t think I have much of value to say on the game.

Still, though, I’m a bit pissed that I downloaded 14 gigs for 15 minutes of gameplay. If you like Raft or survival crafting games, it might be perfect for you. I’m gonna stick to Minecraft.

When the Atomic Picnic demo loads up, you can see in the bottom left of the screen that it’s actually alpha 0.1. The game’s graphics are very much placeholders relative to the splash page, and it has some performance problems.

That said, unlike the first two entries in this list, I actually had fun with it, even in this early alpha incarnation. Would I play more? I’m not sure. It feels very similar to Gunfire Reborn or Roboquest being a PVE roguelike shooter. Both of those are fine games but I don’t like PVE shooters that much past a certain point. Still, I enjoyed the hour or so I played, which is more then I can say for a lot of these.

Based on time played, I beat the Elasticarts demo in about 10 minutes. It’s a co-op physics puzzle platformer. It feels like it wants to be something in the spirit of say JellyCar, but the issue I have with the game is simple. Physics based platformers feel like they need to depend on having consistent physics models and behaviors, and Elasticarts feels very wonky. The jump mechanic in particular feels really weird, and can sort of just launch you through the air.

Anyway, that’s the first four. More games in the next one. These might be a bit short, but hopefully something here piques your interest enough to check it out.

Devolver Tumble Time

If you search for Devolver Tumble Time, you find an article describing the games genre as “Puzzle and Monetization.” Presumably because this article was written with ChatGPT. Apparently, the AI that wrote the article thinks that “Monetization” is a genre of mobile game. And the worst part is, I don’t think it’s wrong.

This is evidence that there is no hell but Earth, and there is no devil but man.

Usually I’d include images of the game. Tumble Time hasn’t earned that, so here’s an unrelated panel from the manga series Chainsaw Man.

Okay, so the game for a moment. Devolver Tumble Time is a “Tumble Matcher.” I don’t know if that’s what the genre is called, but I know full well it’s not the first game to do this mechanic. The first paragraph here should give you a taste of how this review is going to go. This game will get the same level of charity from me that Salvation Army gets, which is say: FUCKING NONE.

(On a more serious note for one moment: the Salvation Army is terrible. Don’t give them your money or stuff. Okay, now back to talking shit about a bad mobile game.)

The game’s primary mechanic is that a bunch of objects fall down, and you match them. Unlike something along the lines of HuniePop, or Beglitched, there’s an aggressive timer. As such, it’s almost always best to just make any matches as fast as possible. Ultimately, this means just tapping the screen semi-randomly as quickly as you can. There are levels, and there are collectible characters, but the tumbling is the game’s actual “mechanics.” I won’t be talking about the mechanics again in this review because they (mostly) don’t matter.

The other thing is, that even though there is an aggressive timer, you can always watch a longer-than-10-seconds ad to get an additional 10 seconds f game time to complete the level. So as long as you’re willing to expose yourself to infinite ads, it is literally impossible to lose. Or if you just spend money. That also makes it impossible to lose.

I think Devolver Tumble Time is trying to be something of a parody of mobile games. Is it satire? Well, Jonathan Swift didn’t go out and eat the Irish, when he wrote “A Modest Proposal,” so I think not. And while it may be ironic that a “good” indie publisher is trying to profit off their IP back catalog by tossing it all together into a standard “good simple game mechanic wrapped in microtransactions for mobile” thing, that’s done by literally every triple A publisher in the world. So I don’t think it’s ironic either.

So, Tumble Time is trying to be a parody. But I’m not sure it’s a very good one. The tone of some of the writing has a light mocking touch to it, poking at the greed of capitalism in general, and a bit at mobile games directly. But the game is also engaged in everything it seems to be trying to poke fun at. There’s a big fancy $99 dollar package you can buy that unlocks everything permanently, but only appears after you pass certain levels that you don’t get any rewards for, because they get “stolen” by the capitalist character, because you didn’t unlock other special characters.

That’s not a parody. That’s classic “One Time Offer” FOMO with a ridiculous price tag. “Ah” you say. “But isn’t it poking fun at the prices and values of items in mobile games?” to which I say “Not really.” That button isn’t a joke. If I press it and enter my password, I’ll be charged $100 dollars.

I could buy 6-7 of the other games the characters are from with that money. I could buy every single Serious Sam game.

The same is true of things like the Daily Login bonuses. These are just tried and true tactics of habit building. Same with limited hearts system, which yes, I can buy infinite hearts for $3, but that’s still $3. And infinite hearts doesn’t unlock all the characters which I can still spend REAL MONEY to do.

Putting on a clown suit, and clown nose and going “Haha, look how silly we are, we’re so silly” isn’t making fun of clowns. It’s being a clown. Clowns are supposed to be funny. Likewise, putting a thin veneer of mockery over an in-app purchase, daily login bonus, or limited hearts system doesn’t make it parody. It’s still the exact toxic bit of design you seem to want to make fun of.

The design that Tumble Time is guilty of.

A friend called the game “Self-Aware,” which I think might be more accurate. But self-awareness and nothing else is a cop-out. Being aware that you’re an awful person, like being aware that you’re a terrible generic cash grab game, and doing nothing to fix it, doesn’t make you better.

So, fuck you Devolver Tumble Time. I actually quite like a lot of games Devolver publishes. The ones I don’t, usually just aren’t for me. But Tumble Time can go die a trash fire. It’s a greedy and manipulative exemplar of every issue present in mobile gaming. It’s self-aware, while not trying to do anything different, and that’s what cements its guilt.

If you want a good puzzle game, go play Beglitched. I refuse to link to Tumble Time here. It hasn’t earned it.