Didn’t Make The Cut – 12.25.2020

I spent part of this weekend in what I have come to think of as a public service, pruning and hacking my way through through the massive glut of games that is itch.io Racial Justice Bundle. While some might devote this time of year to giving to the needy, feeding the hungry, and other such charitable pursuits, I stayed home and played video games.

Phrased like that, it seems slightly less heroic doesn’t it? Hmm. In any case, here are 3 of the things I played this weekend, and links to the incredibly high quality stream in which I played them. These are all games that didn’t grab me enough for me to really want to continue playing them past around an hour, and I also don’t have enough to say about them to write a full article. So here we gooooo.

Catlateral Damage

In Catlateral Damage, you are a cat, and you must destroy as much stuff as possible within the time limit. You can jump, and you can bat things left and right. And that’s it. That’s the entire game. It’s a cute concept, but it doesn’t feel super well executed. The controls are fairly floaty, and the things you whack around don’t feel like they have much weight to them. Personally, I also really dislike the art. I think these cats are incredibly ugly… and yeah. The game just didn’t feel great, or look good, so I did a single run playthrough and then called it a day for this one. It’s short and chaotic, but I didn’t find it particularly satisfying or fun to play.

From Orbit

If you told me that From Orbit was an early access game, I would believe you. In fact, after writing that sentence, I went and checked to see if it was on Steam, and it is, but it isn’t early access. Where Catlateral Damage has an interesting premise, From Orbit feels like it got to the next stage of making a good game, which was having interesting mechanics. But it kind of falls apart there because then they didn’t really make anymore game. For example, the idea of having your workers being able to shift form based on what you want to use them for is cool! But then it sorta falls apart.

My biggest gripe, though, has to be that you can only have 4 units (5 if you count the spaceship which you can’t actually control), which is strange for a game that bills itself as an RTS. By this standard, playing as Meepo is an RTS.

My other big gripe is that the resources you gather on a given planet are also the resources you use to buy upgrades to improve your dudes, ship, and unlock abilities. So yeah, you could build a auto-miner, if you’re willing to lose 60% of the haul from a planet, or you could just do the whole thing manually. Oh, and the enemies you face are dumb as bricks. (I do like the flashing red outline you get for your units letting you know they’ve pulled agro.)

Everything else I can gripe about with the game is pretty small. The game doesn’t follow standard RTS controls schemes, you can’t queue commands, you can’t make control groups, attempting to select a unit automatically centers the camera on it, even if what you wanted to do was move it where you were looking BEFORE you selected it.

The stream is here, and the itch.io page is here.

Quiet As A Stone

I have a link to the stream of playing Quiet As A Stone here. I say “Playing” but honestly, “interacting with” might be a more accurate summary. My notes for the game have the following:

  • Experimental Photography Simulator
  • Rather Pretty
  • More like playing with actual rocks thana game

Here are some screenshots of Cragthor the Mountain Titan, the only thing I really did in the game before getting bored and quitting it.

Behold his majesty.

I have a few more games I’d like to do writeups for before the end of the year, so keep an eye out for those. One of them might be Depth of Extinction, which is this neat procedural XCOM/FTL style thing.

I’ve linked the names of the games up above, so if one of these looks like your cup of tea, you should go take a look. At the time of writing, I think From Orbit is actually free.

Middle of the Pack

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

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

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

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

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

Airships : Conquer the Skies

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

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

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

Midboss

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

WitchWay

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

Haque

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

IN CONCLUSION

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

Loot Rascals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All filler, no killer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrap-Up

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

Minit

Minit doesn’t utilize its unique mechanic effectively, and with that stripped away, it isn’t anything special.

Minit is well made, but I didn’t actually have fun playing it. The art and music is good, but the actual gameplay never delivers on the presumptive core mechanic. There. With that out of the way, I can now make a random introductory paragraph that only serves to set up the rest of the article.

After all the chaos that has been the last few weeks, I’ve finally returned to the itch.io racial bundle in search of gems and weird experimental stuff. And so I downloaded Minit, played it, and now I’m going to write this article. Like I mentioned above, I didn’t really enjoy Minit, but I need to describe the game’s core mechanic first in order to explain why.

Minit itself feels like it’s 2D Zelda inspired. You pick up a sword, venture around looking for treasure, and slowly get upgrades and equipment that allow you to progress further around the world. Oh, and you can pick up hearts to increase the number of hearts you have.

The unique mechanic, though, is that the game is played in one minute increments. At the end of 60 seconds, your character dies, and you spawn in again at your starting point. However, any progress you made in the world remains.

The minimalistic art style is neat though.

And this is my biggest problem with Minit: it barely ever uses this 60 second loop to do anything interesting. Instead, it just forces you to go fast, and to restart over and over again. There were three instances in the game that I saw where the loop was actually relevant. One is a character that doesn’t show up until the last 10 seconds of the loop that you need to talk to, one is plant that you water to grow between loops, and one is an NPC that talks slowly, so you need to talk to him at the very start of a run to see his full message. And that’s it. Not the most exciting things in the world.

Everything else in the game works completely independent of this 60 second loop, and it can turn things into a bit of a slog. While the loop does help by resetting puzzles that you can accidentally make unsolvable, it means that when you start wanting to explore or search for things, you’re on a timer. When you try to fight anything, you’re on a timer. There was one point where I spent several lives just walking around and dying because I missed a small set of stairs that were visible in the wall, and as such, I wasn’t sure what to do next.

I can’t recommend Minit, and I especially can’t recommend it at its $10 price tag. The game is very short, taking me just about 2 hours to beat. It doesn’t do anything interesting with its unique mechanic, and with that mechanic stripped away, it’s a very simple Zelda-esque title. If for some reason you still wanna buy it, here’s the link to itch.io, and it’s also available on Steam.



Odd Realm

Odd Realm has promise, but just isn’t finished yet.

I really like Odd Realm. I’ve played a bunch of it prior to writing this review, most likely 10-15 hours and I want to be able to recommend it… Right now, I have two big reasons I can’t, and a few small ones. If you already own the game from the itch.io racial justice bundle, or some other event, you should play it. But if you don’t own it yet, you may want to wait until a full release.

Odd Realm is a colony builder, and has the most in common with Dwarf Fortress. You pick a starting race, pick a place to start, and then proceed to try to keep your settlers alive. Doing so requires making sure they have water and food if you picked humans. Or they might require chambers in which keep their animate bodies forever functional, if you picked the immortal skeleton race. Y’know. Normal stuff.

I mentioned two big reasons I can’t recommend Odd Realm just yet, and they are the following: First, the game is buggy. And second, it feels fairly content-lite compared to its obvious inspiration of Dwarf Fortress.

Let’s talk about the bugs first. 95% of the time, the game runs smoothly. I’ve had no crashes, or straight failures, even if I have had points where stuff gets a bit laggy for a moment.

5% of the time, something weird will happen and the game will just die. I’ve listed a few examples below.

  1. Settlers decide that the most fascinating thing to do is to all simultaneously move back and forth onto a resource deposit zone, instead of doing anything else you might want them to do.
  2. Settlers get stuck in the move action, and refuse to actually move.
  3. Settlers move jerkily and refuse to take any additional actions.
  4. Settlers don’t move resources to appropriate resource deposit zones.
  5. Production queue of items, and information just absolutely dies.
  6. If you make the mistake of digging underwater, prepare to watch as your game slows to an absolute crawl.

The problem isn’t that these bugs are common. They really aren’t. The problem is that they absolutely destroy the game when they occur. I was having a hard time writing this review, so I fired up the game to try to figure out what I wanted to say about it, only to spend more time trying to figure out why I could no longer manufacture glass panes, and spend an hour or so trying to fix the issue.

To the developers’ credit, they seem to be aware of this issue, and fairly active on their Discord in requesting sessions and save states to try to patch the problems, but right now, having your entire fortress just blow up because of of a stupid bug feels real bad.

The second big issue is that the game feels very content-lite at the moment. There are only 4-5 types of ore, and they all function more or less the same, but with better stats. The same thing feels true of most of the plants you can grow. There are only a few pieces of gear, a few spell books, etc. Some types of stone can be used for making roofs, but not for anything else. Right now, once you have rooms set up, there just isn’t a lot to do.

There are a bunch of other little things that I find annoying, like not being able to tell settlers things like “Stay in here, don’t go outside” and the number of random events being exceedingly limited. But these are all minor.

This is why I think if you don’t already own the game, but find it interesting, you should wait until release. Many of the bugs and glitches will hopefully be ironed out. And hopefully they’ll also be a lot more to do. But right now, Odd Realm is a bit buggy, a bit frustrating, and still unfinished.

P.S. If you do have Odd Realm, play the Ancients race instead of humans. They are way more fun.

Didn’t Make the Cut #2

Another week or two, another set of games that just didn’t hold my interest long enough for me to give them their own full article.

Welcome to Didn’t Make the Cut #2, where we continue our way through all the games in the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle that just didn’t want to make me play them. The ordering here doesn’t reflect anything other than how interesting I thought they were. These are all the things that just didn’t keep my interest long enough to warrant a full article.

Extreme Meatpunks Forever

I can’t write an entire article about Extreme Meatpunks Forever because I didn’t play the game for longer than like 20 minutes. I feel like this was a fair shake, but I really wasn’t feeling it.

Like, here is the summary of the game from its itch.io page.

A visual novel/mech brawler about gay disasters beating up neonazis in giant robots made of meat.

Heather

Which is. I dunno. I think you can probably read that and decide if the game is for you or not.

My one sentence review of the game would be this: the game feels like a playable Zine. The game feels very cobbled together. The backgrounds are ASCII, the characters are single images, and the writing wobbles between really neat sci-fi and dialogue that doesn’t include things like capitalization and punctuation.

This one just wasn’t for me.

Music was fucking banging though.

Walden

I can’t find my notes for Walden, but more or less, it feels like a very light survival simulator.

There’s a type of game that exists which is biblical or religious, and they tend to exist in order to try to get you interested whatever religion or such they’re selling. The problem is, they tend to be made by people who are religious first, and game designers second. The intended result is usually to use the game like the lure on the end of those deep sea fish, where the fish’s jaws metaphorically represent joining whatever cult made the thing in the first place.

Usually they’re not very successful, because the other fish (game companies) have far more exciting lures, and those fish jaws only represent things like microtransactions and loot boxes. And I guess the risk of becoming a pathological gambler is better than becoming a member of the Mason family?

Regardless, Walden feels like a game made by that sort of person. Except instead of trying to convince you to give them your life savings and move to a commune in Pripyat to be one with the Everglow the Light Mother, the designers of Walden seem to want you to read the book that inspired them to make the game. If this was their goal, I think they kinda succeeded.

I’m actually fairly curious about reading Walden (the book) now. Maybe avoid it if you’re afraid of “transcendentalist philosophy.” (Apparently that’s what the book’s about. I just stole this from Wikipedia, so I hope it’s right.) Still not gonna play any more of the game though.

If you’re still interested in Walden, you can find it here.

Art Sqool

In Art Sqool, you walk around a weird world and draw things, given instructions and graded by what I assume is Microsoft’s mascot Clippy’s brother who got into hard drugs instead of software development. You can pick up more brushes and colors in this world, but that’s it. It’s not really a platformer in any typical sense. It’s mostly just exploration across the “Campus,” which gives the impression of what a wasting illness called “Clipart” would look like on skin.

Whenever I’m playing through these games, I like to take some brief notes that I can review later in order to give thoughtful, detailed opinions. For example, this is what I wrote about Extreme Meatpunks Forever.

-At least it’s a game
-Not a very interesting one
-Seems like it’s mostly visual novel
-I do not care about these characters
-Some aspects of the worldbuilding seem cool
-Rad Music

My Dumb Review Notes for Meatpunks

“Now wait”, you think. Isn’t this bit supposed to be about Art Sqool? Well yes, dear reader, it is. But I present those notes as an example. Let’s now look at the notes for Art Sqool.

-This ain’t a game
-Why does this exist
-Remember kids, when making games, don’t forget to include gameplay
-I hate this

My Dumb Review Notes for Art Sqool

Now, given that all interactive visual media can be more or less considered a game, and after discussion with someone else, I’d like to present the following quote.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a definition for art that wasn’t stupid. Generally speaking, when a person constructs a thought-machine of this kind, what they’re actually trying to do is determine what isn’t art.

Jerry Holkins

And to be fair the same is true of games. Saying that something is or isn’t a game is arbitrary, and as such, I’m willing to concede that the first line of my notes is wrong.

In a secondary non-concession to the fact that this is still my article to write, I’m not linking the game here. I think it’s stupid, bad, and I loathe it. Fuck Art Sqool.

That’s all I got for today. Until next time.

Beacon

You can pass on Beacon. You will not miss anything. This entire article is just me being grumpy about every aspect of this poorly designed and carefully made exercise in frustration.

I wanted to like Beacon. I really did. But overall right now, given that the game isn’t even finished, I can’t recommend it. So what is Beacon, why might you want to play it, and why should you avoid it?

Beacon is a top down real time isometric roguelike. It’s interesting if nothing else for actually not being 2D, despite the fact that the player doesn’t have a jump, and the whole game takes place in 3D environments. Interesting isn’t the same as good though, so we’ll come back to that later.

So why shouldn’t you play Beacon? Well, for starters, the game isn’t actually finished. Currently you can play through about six stages, and then the game just kills you at the end, because there isn’t anything else there. Secondly, it seems somewhat unstable. It took me less than 10 runs to get to the end of the current final area in the game. The only reason it isn’t a lower number is because the game crashed on a very good run early on, and forced me to restart.

Let’s say you don’t care about these reasons. Well, Beacon does very little that’s actually new. The game plays like a Frankenstein of mechanics. Each run starts by selecting the DNA you’re going to use for the run. This includes things health, stamina (yes, they’re two different things), armor, crit, luck, and I stopped caring because there are too many of them. This is followed by the DNA being sequenced, at which point any DNA mods you got are applied, and DNA has a chance to mutate, which permanently changes functionality of your character during the run. You arm might split open and replace your melee attack with a sonic projectile. You might get the ability to…. lifesteal while set on fire. Or maybe your legs just become pus-filled blobs that leave a trail of slime whenever you dash. It doesn’t really matter though, because:

1. Most of these end up playing the same, and

2. You’ll get multiple runs with those pieces of DNA, after which they die, and you can’t use them anymore.

I couldn’t see a pattern in which specific mutations actually occur, so I couldn’t, for example, use DNA to build a fire-based build, or anything. Also, some mutations are just boring. I had one that just massively decreased crit, on DNA that I had picked to increase crit.

Cool. So, since that’s done, let’s actually play. Each level is randomly generated, but ends up following a pretty similar pattern. Throughout your run, you’ll pick up DNA to use for future runs, guns, side equipment, sidearms and grenades.

Taking a step back for a minute, weapons are one of the few things that feel like they’re done correctly. Many of them are quite interesting (bone boomerang gun) and extra weapons can be recycled for ammo mods, which give a permanent boost for the rest of the run to your remaining weapons.

Grenades are worthless. I don’t know why they’re in the game, and I don’t know why you’d use them. They’re boring, pointless, and hard to aim.

Okay, now let’s talk about pickups and auxiliary. I don’t know which one is which, and I do not care. All you need to know is that the game lets you have one of each, and the grouping of items in these slots makes no sense.

For example: an item that gives you a chance to fully reload your magazines on kill, as a passive. Or a 5-use boost jump. An item that caps your health at 75, but gives you permanent health regeneration. Or a 10-use of a set of daggers that lifesteal if you hit with them.

There is literally no reason to ever pick up the consumables instead of the passive boost ones, the passive are just that much better. Also, unlike guns, these can’t be recycled for ammo mods. You can destroy them to get a single extra grenade. Hooooorayyy.

This brings me to my biggest gripe with the game overall: the art.

Beacon has beautiful art, but it’s almost entirely counter productive to the actual gameplay, i.e. being a fast-paced run and gun roguelike. The readability of the screen is garbage. Everything is done in a sort of low poly style, but instead of making it easier to tell whats going on, it’s messed up with tons of unnecessary detail, lighting, and other graphical crap. My favorite example of this would be the fact that slime and acid look almost exactly the same, but one is simply an armor reducing debuff, and the other is a DOT that can kill you.

Oh, and speaking of death, the game has insta-deaths. Falling off a ledge won’t kill you, but if you make the unfortunate error of somehow ending up on top of a bunch of spikes, that’s it. Run over.

There are good moments in Beacon: the dodging can feel nice, the weapons are cool. But the game feels like a bloated Frankenstein monster. It tries to do too much all at once, and ends up a playing like someone tried to make an ice-cream shake by going to a variety of fast food joints, ordering a small milkshake at each, then taking them home, shoving them into a blender, straw, cup, lid and all, and then just lighting the thing up. Drinking this shake means that sometimes you’ll get strawberries and chocolate, and sometimes you’ll get strawberries and small shards of plastic.

Also, the game is cakewalk fucking easy. You’ll spend more time being annoyed at trying to figure out where you need to go than you will in interesting fights.

I feel bad about tearing things to shit.

A Mortician’s Tale

Short, interesting content, more akin to a visual novel. Very little gameplay or player agency.

I picked up the Racial Justice Bundle at least in part because I wanted to expose myself to a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t otherwise play. I also started this blog mostly to recommend games to other people. (And to like, pretend to be a game journalist, but same difference.)

This puts me in a bit of a bind regarding A Mortician’s Tale. Aspects of the writing for the game seem extremely strong and well thought out, but as a game, I’d say it’s far closer to a visual novel. The gameplay, at least as far as it’s present, has almost no player agency. I’ll talk about why I feel this way in a moment, but my overall verdict on the game would be this:

A Mortician’s Tale as a game is likely to appeal to individuals who like short, experimental things. The game took about 45 minutes to an hour for me to complete, and that was while reading most of the in-game emails from NPC’s. It has very little replay value outside re-reading text. Unless you have an curiosity for the subject matter (death and funerals) or experimental indie projects, I don’t think you’ll enjoy it.

Despite all that, it’s worth noting that I didn’t put the game into a “Didn’t Make The Cut” article because I did find it fairly interesting and thought-provoking. Let’s talk about that, and also, a brief warning: this article is about to sorta reach that point that most online recipes do, where it says very little about the actual thing you came to the article for (game stuff) and a lot more about the author of the article.

There are three main sections to the game: Preparing Bodies, Attending a Funeral, and Reading Emails. I’m just gonna go through em real quick in that order.

Preparing Bodies is the majority of the “gameplay”-like aspect of A Morticians Tale, and it’s pretty similar in execution to something like Trauma Center: Under the Knife or maybe Cooking Mama. You have a variety of tools that you use in order to accomplish things, but the main kicker is that you actually cannot screw this up. Like, the game will not let you use a tool incorrectly, or at the wrong point in time.

On the one hand, I get it. If you make a death-positive game about the importance of what happens with people after they die, letting the player poke a smiley face into the body of a teenager who killed himself might not fit the tone.

On the other hand, it means that the extent of actual gameplay in the game is limited/non-existent. While being guided through the actions of preparing a body is interesting, the fact that there is no real need to focus or learn anything. After the first body, I more or less just clicked and went as fast as possible, because you don’t actually have to learn anything, and the game doesn’t let you screw up. Anything interesting in this section of the game is limited to learning about the process that is used to prepare a body to be displayed.

Next we have Attending the Funeral. I found this to be a weaker part of the game, as it mostly consists of listening to 4-5 people talk in discussions that are less than a paragraph, and then leaving. Here’s why I’d consider it weaker.

I’ve been to maybe five or six funerals, most of them before I was 18. Almost all have been generally Christian as far as funerals go, but the people in them are fairly different. Off the top of my head, here’s a short list:

  1. Grandparents
  2. Classmate
  3. Family Friend
  4. Tutor/Neighbor
  5. Family Friend Relative

I mention this because the reasons for these deaths widely varied. Some of these people were very old. One had a long term fatal illness. One was a suicide. Another was in great shape, went for a run, and was killed by a heart attack.

My point would be this: regardless of the death, or the expectation and preparedness for it, funerals are incredibly emotional. A Mortician’s Tale never captured any of that emotion for me. Regardless of who has died, it’s hard to not end up overwhelmed at least a bit, whether it be from loss, or from empathy for those who have lost of a loved one.

This brings us to the last part of the game, reading emails. I would say that this is one of the strongest parts of the game in terms of writing, but again, it doesn’t actually allow any interaction or choices. It’s more like a neat sort of creative writing.

There’s a bunch of interesting stuff here regarding the death business, the up-sell of funeral packages, and the whole concept of as death as an industry. But none of it is actual gameplay.

I already gave my verdict on it up above, but while I wouldn’t recommend the game to people who are solely looking for a game, it’s still interesting as an experience. Also, I’m pretty sure it took me longer to write this article than it did for me to beat the game. So, yknow. Not sure what that means.

Until next time.

A Short Hike

Be a bird, climb a mountain, fly around and stuff.

A short hike is a fun, simple collect-a-thon in which you try to climb to the top of a mountain. It has a very Animal Crossing aesthetic, and the actual gameplay often reminds me of Breath of the Wild. It takes maybe 3-5 hours tops to “Finish” the game, and it probably has some repeatability, but more for exploring the island, and less for mechanical challenges.

Also, I almost didn’t play it, even after downloading it, because I’m an inverse elitist, and kinda assumed it was a Firewatch-esque game novel.

Whoops.

A Short Hike is well named. You’re quickly introduced to the main character, her aunt who she’s staying with on a small island with a mountain in the middle, and okay, now you’re playing the game. There is a given reason for having to climb the mountain, but it’s not really that important in any way.

The game is played from a top down isometric perspective, like Animal Crossing, and a decent amount of time spent trying to get to the top of the mountain is going to to be spent looking for various items, golden feathers, and other interesting things. The general structure of gameplay is, “Follow a trail, hit a roadblock, find a way around the roadblock, or start exploring,” or at least I think that’s what the structure is supposed to be. My gameplay structure was more, “Follow the trail, find something interesting, get distracted by it, search around, find some treasure, chat with some folks, and then remember that technically, I’m supposed to be climbing a mountain.”

I have one big gripe with the game, and it’s that the flight controls are a bit cumbersome. Looking at the game afterward, I suspect it’s because the game might be intended to be played with a controller, instead of mouse and keyboard, but it can make some of the bits near the end a little tricky.

Lemme explain what I specifically mean. A Short Hike has a locked camera, and said camera seems to shift when you enter certain spaces/move through a given zone. This isn’t a problem while walking, but when you’re flying/jumping, if you pass through one of those barriers, the game has a habit of re-orienting your bird, and all of sudden, your inputs make the character fly in a different direction then intended. This can also be tricky if you’re trying to land on top of things far below you. It’s my only real issue with the game, and I suspect it might just go away if you use a controller.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with A Short Hike. It’s a few hours long, and it’s $8, which seems about fair to me. You can buy it on Itch.io and on Steam, and it was part of the Racial Justice Mega Bundle on itch, so if you bought that bundle a bit back, you already own it! And you should play it!

With 2020 continuing to be the winner of year it is, it was nice to just fly around a chill island and have a good time. Take care of yourself, and stay safe.