Sky Rogue

Blast through the air in a minimalistic flight game/dog fight game.

I like to beat games before I write about them. I have not beaten Sky Rogue, but I’m gonna write about it anyway. This is because I don’t think I’m going to beat it anytime soon.

Sky Rogue is a minimalist flight sim and dog fighter, where you select from a set of colorful planes, load them out with enough weaponry to wipe out a small country, and then proceed to blow up repeatedly when you fail to accurately estimate the distance between you and the ground. Or you and the hanger you’re trying to bomb. Or you and the two enemy drones with chainguns. Or a surface to air missile turret.

Your experience may vary.

What I’ve learned primarily from Sky Rogue is that I am very bad at flight sims, even those of the most simplified kind, and even if I can usually finish a run of a roguelike, Sky Rogue demands a level of execution that I currently don’t have. If I beat it at some point in the next week, I’ll update this article.

So, what’s the loop then? As the name would suggest, Sky Rogue is a roguelike. The roguelike element is primarily present in the set of unlockable planes and weapons. While unlocking equipment is permanent between runs, the upgrades you purchase with cash for your planes and gear are not. There are two main resources:

  • Tech, which persists between runs and functions as a sort of exp for unlocking more equipment/planes.
  • Cash, which is lost and death and is used to upgrade gear during a run.

As far as roguelike elements go, it’s pretty minimal. Missions and environments are randomly generated, and upgrades are lost on death, but you don’t really have to scavenge for parts or weapons. Destroying enemy structures and planes during a mission grants cash, which can be spent on upgrading the planes or equipment of your choice. Most of the upgrades I’ve seen so far have been primarily numerical, i.e., extra capacity, damage, or targeting range. This meant I usually just upgraded whatever gear I was using, instead of being forced to adapt my run based on pickups.

In addition, you can fully heal and re-arm at any point during a level by returning to base (as long as you haven’t completed the mission), so there’s not as much resource conservation as there might be in something like Dead Cells or Slay the Spire.

So we have a roguelike with permanent unlocks and weapon configuration, free health refills, and a wide selection of gear. In theory this would be easy, which brings us to actual gameplay: flying your plane around, and in my case, into things.

One of the things I was hoping to find in the racial justice bundle was exposure to a bunch of games and mechanics that I wouldn’t otherwise engage with. I’ll be honest, I mostly expected to find narrative games, dating sims, that sorta stuff. Instead, I’ve gotten my ass repeatedly handed to me on each of my runs of Sky Rogue. I’ve gotten about half way through what I think consists of a full run, and I’ve gotten to the first big “Boss” once. It wrecked me.

If I had to give any advice to anyone else tempted to play the game as the result of this review, it would be the following:

  1. Turn off arcade mode. While it might feel better at first, it ultimately prevents you from flipping yourself over, and doing other tricky flight things.
  2. This game is probably better with a flight stick. I wouldn’t know. I don’t own one.
  3. Spam the flares.

Sky Rogue is $20 on, and Steam. The team does have a little blurb noting that if you buy it on, they get more of the money, and you can still get a Steam key if you buy it there.

As 2020 continues to be some sort of Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt anthology of garbage, stay safe, wear a mask, and take care of each other. I’ll update this article if I ever beat Sky Rogue.

Night In The Woods

Brutal, honest, true and rending.

Per Gametrodon editorial policy of not burying the lede, I think Night In The Woods is really good, and that you should play it. It’s closer to, say, a point and click adventure game than anything else. While the game might describe itself as a platformer with a few puzzle elements, I suspect these mechanics won’t really challenge anyone. Actually reading the dialog in game was more challenging, not because it’s bad, but because it was so real and accurate that I wanted to close the game and do something else. That might just be a me problem though.

The character interactions and character writing is hands down the strongest part of Night In The Woods. While I don’t want to go too far into the plot, the player primarily controls Mae Borowski, a college student who returns home after dropping out. Her hometown of Possum Springs felt to me like a sort of old town that’s falling apart. A majority of the game is spent traveling around and interacting with her old friends, citizens of the town, and her family.

I think that Night In The Woods is the best written game I’ve ever played. I think it’s better written then Gone Home, and far more human, despite the fact that the characters are all semi-anthropomorphic animals. While I wouldn’t say it achieves the same mesh of narrative and gameplay that defines Celeste, or maybe even Undertale at points, I think the characters, interactions, and world utterly nails the feeling of being there.

It’s hard to discuss Night In The Woods without spoilers, so I think I’ll save that discussion for a second article that I’ll talk about below. I find the game is strongest when it’s handling interactions and friendships, and while the meta-narrative story of the town that sits over it feels weaker, I wouldn’t say it ruins the game. The end also starts to drag a little bit, but I have to wonder if that was a deliberate choice.

If you enjoy games with a highly narrative edge, you should play Night In The Woods. If you want to see what the best writing in gaming looks like, you should play Night In The Woods. That’s not to say it’s a game for everyone. If you play games purely to experience new gameplay mechanics, or to relax, then it may not be for you.

Night In The Woods is $20 on Steam, $20 on, and it looks like every other console as well. But like, if you want to buy it on Switch or something you’ll have to go find it digitally in the store yourself anyway, so I don’t see any reason to bother linking to those places.

Take care of yourself during this very strange time.

Ed. Notes:

I had an extended bit about not burying the lede, only to realize that by writing that intro itself I was burying the lede, and as such, defeating the point of talking about how we don’t bury the lede. It was about pirates and it was great.

Overland – A Game by Finji

I’m going to start by saying that I generally like Overland. Several paragraphs from now, I’m gonna tear the game a new one, but overall, I like it. I hope it makes back its development cost, and I hope Finji as a company makes more games. Overland is good, interesting, and even if it’s not great, it was a solid use of a Sunday afternoon.

This article will contain spoilers. Some for Overland, and some for Hayao Miyazaki’s NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind. You have been warned.

So, Overland is a turn based tactics game that at first glance feels similar to XCOM, but after a few hours, I’m inclined to call it almost more of a puzzle game. Fighting enemies is almost never the best option. This might sound a bit unusual for a tactics game, so lets get into the mechanics to explain why that is.

Each level has a very simple goal: get your car to the end of the level. To do this, you simply need to turn on your car, and drive it off the board. This is pretty simple, except it usually won’t be what you actually want to be doing. Instead, its more likely that your merry crew will leap out like a bunch of clowns, and proceed to run around the level, searching for gas, rocks, first aid kits, broken bottles, and weapons and other gear.

Rocks are apparently very scarce in this apocalypse.

The biggest thing you’ll be searching for is gas because you need it to fuel your car, and by proxy, your apocalypse road trip. Between levels, you’ll drive across the country, choosing to stop at various places, and any amount of travel requires gas. Should you run out of gas, you’ll find yourself playing a bonus level, where you will have to find some more gas. And when I say bonus, the primary bonus you’ll get on these side levels is the chance to be stabbed in the face by some incredibly angry rocks while you attempt to refuel.

Even if you for some reason strike it rich, and have gas to spare, each zone has a ending level with a blockade, and for these you are forced to get out of your car to clear the path ahead. This means breaking down barricades, rocks, and other things while you try to have enough space to run your car through. Unlike many games, your car is not an indestructible slam machine, and ramming anything in an attempt to clear it out of your way is far more likely to damage or destroy your car. So instead, you’ll have to get out, and move things around by hand/axe/improvised molotov cocktail.

So now that we’ve talked about the general gameplay loop and structure, let’s talk about one more detail that plays into why I’d consider the game to be more puzzle than tactics game: enemy AI and the action meter.

Your survivors have an action meter, and this drains from doing almost anything on a turn. Moving? That drains meter. Making an attack? That drains meter. Searching an object in front of you? Drains meter. Turning on your car? Drains meter. Driving said car? Drains meter. The only thing that doesn’t drain meter is swapping items you have on the ground, and between your characters when they stand next to each other. What this means is that unlike something like Fire Emblem, you can’t necessarily move up to an enemy unit and attack it the same turn, because if you moved far enough, you don’t have meter to spend for the attack. So where you have your survivors and what they’re doing is critical. You don’t have actions to waste. Oh, you can only take two hits without gear, and taking one hit makes your character almost useless, halving the amount of actions they can take on a turn.

So what about Enemy AI? Well, it’s very simple. Most enemies have one action. On their turn, they will use this action to move toward the closest source of noise. If they are within range, they will attack instead. Some enemies have two actions, and they can move twice, attack twice, or move an attack. There are a few other enemies that behave differently, but generally speaking, the different ones aren’t inherently aggressive, instead being able to res downed enemies or call in reinforcements.

This is the extent of enemy AI, and this brings me to the last key point about gameplay: killing an enemy will almost always alert additional enemies, who will burrow up from other areas of the map after one or two turns and join the fight. So where does that leave us?

Putting this all together, you get a game where the enemy is easy to predict, but impossible to permanently remove from the board and the player’s characters are incredibly fragile, with very limited actions. These mechanics pull together to create a tactics game where you’re far more likely to want to kite enemies around and distract them, than to actually try to kill them. Movement is a puzzle to solve, not a fight to win. It’s not about killing enemies, or clearing a board; it’s about getting enemies to go where you want, when you want, so you can desperately siphon gas out of an SUV. It’s about looking at the board, and trying to think a few moves ahead, and improvising when/if something goes wrong.

Okay, so, I generally like the gameplay. I really like the art. I think the music is pretty good. Why don’t I think it’s great then?

So lets drive into the spoiler seas to get into this: the narrative meshes miserably with the gameplay and the rest of the game. It fucking sucks. The ending feels like a massive cop-out, and to top it off, it’s not even super original as a concept. When I talked Elevation in a previous post, I noted that because of the story, we don’t have to know why the main character is losing weight. The supernatural aspect of it wasn’t important to that story, but it is important to this one, and the game utterly fails to give any sort of conclusion or ending. After traveling across the entire country, you reach the ocean… and that’s it. There is no reason given for the alien creatures you’ve seen to exist, or explanation. You’ve just reached the end of the world. Credits roll.

So here’s the thing: the idea of some sort of semi-alien ecosystem that is slowly covering the world and making uninhabitable for humans has been done before, and its been done better. NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind has this, and it has a much better payoff: the discovery that at the heart of the spreading corruption, the world is slowly being remade and purified from the destruction caused by humanity and during an event called the Seven Days of Fire, which more or less destroyed the entire planet, and all of industrialized society. This is a bittersweet realization as well, because the implication is that humans might either destroy the planet again once it regrows, or that humans might not be part of this regrown world. The planet will survive without us. I wouldn’t call it happy, but it is…. satisfactory. It lets us know that regardless of how the story of our characters ends, there is still hope afterward. That something will continue.

The ending of Overland doesn’t give that whatsoever. I know it could be argued that the journey is more important than the destination, but still. It’s even implied that the entire reason your party of strangers is doing this is to try to get an answer. To see if there is anything left. And not only do they not get it, the player doesn’t get it either. Some games make you want to continue playing so that you can keep diving into the secrets and hidden lore of a world. Overland is the first game I’ve played where I actively want to keep playing the game for the gameplay, but find it actively hard to do so, because no matter what I do, the story ends the same. The world ends. There are no answers. We reach the end of the line.

This is the big thing that frustrates me about Overland, but there are a variety of minor things I find annoying as well. For starters, you can’t do anything out of combat. Someone’s injured, and you have a medkit? Better wait until you’re surrounded by murder crabs again before you pull that out. Run out of fuel, but have a full container on the roof? Better find a scary alleyway to refuel. Why fix your car in the middle of a wide open road when you can do it next to exploding rocks? It feels punishing for no good reason, and it pulls me out of the story the game is trying to tell. The game even has a moment where everyone sets up around a small fire, and talks about what they want to do next, and you can move items around on that screen, but you can’t use them.

In addition, while the game looks amazing, the UI is obtuse and frustrating. There is an option to undo your previous move, but if your move triggers an event, you won’t be able to do this. Misclicking and having someone end up in the wrong place happens a lot. You also can’t rotate the camera fully, which makes seeing a map tricky, and can make it frustrating to place a character exactly where you want them. You can’t tell if something can be interacted with or not until you go right up to it.

Overland is available on iOS and PC. For iOS, it’s on Apple Arcade, and if I was to recommend where to play the game, I feel like it would fit well on mobile. On PC, it’s usually $25, but there’s a sale as I write this on Steam for $15.

I would not pay $25 for it. I would definitely not pay $15. Overland feels like a $10 game to me for what I got out of it. And while it’s beautiful and very enjoyable at parts, my end feelings on it were dissatisfaction, and a lack of closure.

If you like puzzle games, and have an afternoon to spare, Overland might be worth it. But if you pass, you’re not missing anything amazing.

Book Review – Elevation by Stephen King

This post will be full of spoilers, at least to an extent, because discussing this book without discussing spoilers would kinda defeat the point for me.

If you might want to read the book on your own, or like Stephen King, or have been press ganged into reading these posts to review the grammar and style of them, so as to make your friend’s blog appear more professional, this would be a good time to stop. Close the web browser, go buy a copy of Elevation from your local book store, and read it. It’s less then 150 pages total. It won’t take long.

Did you read it? Yes? No? Did you like it? Don’t answer, you can’t. The internet doesn’t really work like that.

I don’t consider myself a particularly good writer, or a particularly good reader. I like to tell stories, but they’re quite simple and crude.

In addition, I think trying to define art is also kinda pointless. I suppose the closest I could get to it would be that good art makes you feel something.

Both books I’ve read by Stephen King have made feel something. One was The Shining, a book which made me feel real terror, to the extent that as someone who has absolutely zero belief in the afterlife, I thought I saw ghosts afterward.

Elevation made me bawl my eyes out.

It’s the story of man who discovers that gravity seems to be slowly losing its effect on him. Bit by bit, his weight approaches zero, and he recognizes that when it does, to an extent his life will be over. While this is interesting, and supernatural, it’s not really what the story of Elevation is about.

Elevation is the story of a man who knows he is going to die. Specifically, it’s a story of what he chooses to do with the time that’s left to him. And what he chooses to do is simple enough. Eat candy. Patch things up with his neighbors. Finish one last big project. Find someone to take care of his cat. Go running. Enjoy what it means to be alive.

It’s also notable what he decides to not do with his time. He doesn’t try to patch things up with his estranged wife. He doesn’t really bother with selling his house, or getting his affairs in order, or anything. He doesn’t let himself end up in some sort of experiment, or as a medical case study. Perhaps finally, he recognizes that he doesn’t want to live his life without being able to pet his cat, or while trapped in his own house. He sees the end that’s coming, and he chooses how he wants his life to finish.

If you go into Elevation expecting a story about some mysterious sci-fi weightlessness in a small town in Maine, you will be disappointed. That isn’t what it is. It’s story about being human, and accepting the end that sooner or later comes for us all, and doing the best we can with the time we have left.

Reventure – Video Game Review

Reventure is not worth it. Now let’s spend too much time talking about why.

The Stanley Parable came out just about nine years ago, and so I don’t feel like I’m really spoiling anything by talking about it… but yeah. If you don’t want The Stanley Parable spoilers leave now, because in order to talk about Reventure, I want to talk about The Stanley Parable.

If you were to look at screenshots of the two, it would be hard to think they’re related. Reventure is a 2D pixel art side scroller, and The Stanley Parable started as a source mod, and as such, it’s fully 3D modeled in a nice 3D environment. However, I’d consider the intention of the two to be very similar: to subvert the players expectations of how stories are told.

Video games are on the whole, fairly linear. Unless you’re playing a game where the “Story” is created by interlocking systems, such as Dwarf Fortress or Rimworld, the narrative arc of the game is pre-created. In some cases, you might have games with a good or bad ending, or even something like Undertale where you have two massively divergent stories that are told in the same game. Even something like Mass Effect, while allowing the player a great deal of choice, doesn’t necessarily allow the players to change where the story goes. You can choose how to climb the mountain, but as long as you keep going up, you’ll end up at the top.

The reason I mention this is because both The Stanley Parable and Reventure feel like they’re trying to subvert and exploit this fact by creating endings for every single thing the player can possibly do. In the case of The Stanley Parable, part of this is played out via confrontation with the narrator, who grows increasingly frustrated with Stanley, and also the player, based on if they choose to ignore his instructions or advice. While the actual gameplay of the The Stanley Parable is very linear, it works because of the narrator, and the narrator’s response to everything you do, while at the same time having a very weird set of meta-narratives going on.

The one specific ending I want to talk about in the The Stanley Parable in relation to Reventure is the Countdown Ending. The Countdown ending is the most grim, as it ends with the player being put in a room, a countdown to a nuclear explosion ticking down, as the narrator mocks the player for thinking they have the ability to escape, while the room is full of buttons, levers, and doors, and all sorts of other things to interact with. The interesting thing to me is that the mockery and derision isn’t directed at Stanley so much as it is at the player of the game themself, and mocking them for thinking there is still a way out of the situation. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t replay the area multiple times, finally trying to use cheats to figure out how to win.

The truth of the area is the following, though: there is no way to stop the countdown, and no matter what you do, the game will end with the player dying. It’s an incredibly frustrating and aggravating sequence, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it fun.

I mention all of this, because there are a ton of moments in Reventure that feel like this, except I don’t think it’s intentional this time.

So, now that we’ve written way too much about The Stanley Parable, lets talk about Reventure. Reventure wants to do something similar, in that it wants there to be endings for everything. Kill the king? That’s an ending! Kill the guard? Another one! Kill the wise old man who gives you a sword? Yet another!

These are the gimmicky and slightly less than clever ones. Reventure also has one other really promising mechanic, so lets talk about that: scattered around the world are items. Because you are a hero, you want to pick them up. However, each item you pick up drops the maximum jump height on your character. If you pick up 5 at once, you get another ending where your character just gets squashed under the weight. So instead, you have to be clever. Do you really need the shield? Is there a way around without bombs? Is picking up the nuke (No, really) actually going to do anything for us this run?

For me, this was the most fun part of the game. Trying to solve this massive routing puzzle, to actually “beat” the game. I’d also say this is where Reventure starts to fall apart: as you start to learn and pick apart the systems at work in the game. The game has quite a few items, a grappling hook, a darkness stone, a time whistle, bombs, a sword, a shield, but very few of them actually get used if you’re trying to “beat” the game and save the princess.

So what does this mean? Well, it means a few things. One, unless you know what you’re going for with a run, runs start to feel very samey, and you can easily end up in what feels like an adventure game. What if I stab this guy? What if I wait here? What if I jump here? Etc, etc. And for many things, the answer is, “Actually, nothing special happens if you do this.”

I have one other big gripe with the whole game, and it has to do with the game failing at its core premise. What makes The Stanley Parable work is that it really does anticipate everything the player could do. Jump out a window? We have dialog, and a hidden area. Press a button several hundred times? Yeah, we made an achievement. Stand still at the start? We can see you. The whole premise of the game, that someone is really watching, that someone is really paying attention works because of that detail.

Reventure does not have that. I’m going to use a single encounter to illustrate this: the one with the dragon underground. There are several ways to interact with the dragon. You can kill it, love it, try to fight it, try to fight it with a flame proof charm or shield, or both.

Trying to do any of these things, though, ends the run, including, and this is important to me, killing the dragon. What happens if you do this? Well, the game tells you that “Oh, you starved to death since you didn’t have a way to get out.” Here’s the thing. It does this even if you bring the grappling hook. It does this EVEN THOUGH there is a secret passage that launches you right to surface almost immediately near the dragon. It ends if you try to fight the dragon, if you kill the dragon, and if you bring a bunch of gear and try to kill the dragon.

This is where the game fall apart for me, because it makes something very clear: the dragon is not an obstacle to overcome, it’s a end point to be reached and interacted with. And all of a sudden, all the clever thinking feels very pointless. Most items in the game are straight up useless or worthless, and the reduction in the player’s jump height is almost always a terrible trade for whatever benefit the item gives. It’s not about trying to find a clever way around puzzles, it’s about picking up a few random things and using them and seeing what happens.

This is the part where I stopped playing Reventure. Steam says I have about 66 of the 100 or so endings you can apparently get. After I stopped, I looked up a few more to see if I was missing something great. And honestly, I don’t think I am. (Many of the endings are just silly Easter eggs, like, “OMG, it’s the Fortnite Battle Bus,” and such.)

Now, you might be wondering, if I don’t like the game, why did I write so much about it? Here’s the thing: Reventure feels very promising at first. The whole idea of, “Hey, not all gear is good, try to figure out how to use it to solve the puzzles, and beat the game, with lots of variable routes” is fun. But when you realize that most of the items are more or less red herrings, finding new treasure becomes boring. Exploring starts to feel pointless, because you won’t find anything that will be interesting or help. And the game’s insistence on having so many stupid gimmicky endings means you end up playing the same sections of the game over and over.

Reventure felt like some sort of grand puzzle when I started playing, but looking at it now, it feels like some sort of old point and click adventure game where the solutions are obtuse and annoying.

I would not recommend Reventure. Go play The Stanley Parable instead.