Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Because Mario Party isn’t rage inducing enough on it’s own.

If you’ve seen Twitch at all recently, you’ve probably seen Fall Guys. If you haven’t, allow me to summarize it for you: imagine a battle royale game, but instead shooting each other death as teenagers, you’re all happy jelly bean blobs competing in Mario Party style mini-games to be the last person standing.

It’s simple, cute, and amusing, even if it isn’t particularly deep. Some of the mini-games are fun. Some of the mini-games are not as fun (looking at you Perfect Match). Some look like complete bullshit, but actually have some strategy like Tip Tap Toe.

Most the games are at least enjoyable, and the fun primarily comes from watching other players be launched, whacked, and otherwise smacked around, and also by being a winner. There are a few game modes that are legitimately great, like Hex-A-Gone, a multi level Tron style mode, where the last person to fall all the way to the bottom wins. Most of the team mini-games, like Soccer, Egg Collection, and Ball Rolling are also enjoyable.

When I was first writing this post, I actually had a bit where I was going to go into the worse game modes, and tear them apart a bit, but then a funny thing happened: see, with the exception of Perfect Match, most of the game modes are pretty good when the servers aren’t massively lagging. One particularly awful game, Tail Tag, is actually really fun when things like hit detection and stuff actually work.

I think Fall Guys is a ton of fun, and worth playing, but I have a few caveats to that statement. First off, I suspect there is a large section of individuals who just won’t have a good time. If you already hate stuff like Mario Party, or WarioWare, or just battle royale style games in general, you might wanna pass on this one.

Secondly, Fall Guys is a lot more fun with a friend. If you can get even one other person to play with, each game becomes less of a solo deathmatch, and more of a fun mess as you work against and root for each other. I had a lot of fun with the game on my own, but it’s undeniable that the joy of the game is dampened when every other character you beat or get beaten by is anonymous.

Fall Guys is $20 on Steam, and while it does have micros, they’re purely cosmetic, and not for anything you can’t get anyway.

Fall Guys will not cause you to look inward. It will not grant you peace, or force you to confront deep seated fears. But it’s fun. And when you are launched into space, or toppled into the void right as you jump because some rando grabbed you for absolutely no good fucking reason, it will give you something to be angry about other then the unmitigated nightmare that has been 2020.

The Ikai Demo

The Ikai Demo is fine, but currently it doesn’t do anything new. I’d like to see the full game do more with some of the potential it has regarding more interesting monsters.

God why did I download this.

Recently on Reddit, I saw a neat thread with a trailer for an Indie game called Ikai. It looked kinda neat, if a bit amateurish.

Then the devs linked to a demo that I downloaded and fucking god almighty, why did I do this.

If you want to play the demo in question, you can download it here. They also have a Steam page with a trailer and stuff on it here. (Side note: the designers don’t seem to speak English as a first language, and the Steam page and demo page have their wording a bit mangled. I didn’t see any evidence of this in the game itself; everything was well translated and clear.)

I do not like horror games. I do not play horror games. At one point in college while watching some friends play Alien: Isolation in the dark, the alien popped up, and freaked me out so much that I jumped up directly into the bed above, and smacked my head pretty hard.

I mention this because I’m not sure I’m the right person to review Ikai, even in this demo form. I do not want to seal the evil in this mask. I do not want to walk down the haunted hallway. I do not want to be in this temple whatsoever.

However, I feel obligated to play the demo, and try to finish it, because, a lot of effort clearly went into it.

So, having now finished the demo, here are my thoughts.

I really like the world that Ikai is trying to build, and I’m very curious about the story. If nothing else, it’s the sort of game I’d go read the wiki for, because I want know how things resolve.

Regarding the actual gameplay in the trailer, there’s not much here that hasn’t been done before. Open doors, search for things, draw some patterns, don’t get caught by the monster. This brings me to one of my biggest issues with the demo, the monster itself.

I’d call the monster in the demo “Fine” because there are a few things about it that are pretty great, and few things that are pretty “Meh.” For starters, this isn’t Alien: Isolation. The monster doesn’t seem super smart, and I had a hard time figuring out how it “Worked” mechanically, since as far as I could tell, it just strangled me to death if I got to close/if it saw me. The death animation was fine, if a little jump-scary, but I suspect since I had turned off audio at this point, if I’d been paying more attention I would have heard it. In another instance, the monster seemed to just spawn directly in front of me. I think this one was a bug.

Looking at the actual monster itself though, at least while it was standing still, kinda deflates it. Some of the animations are a bit janky. While in motion, or lurking from room to room, it radiates a sort of menace, but the second it stands still, or you get a good chance to look at it, the tension falls apart. In addition, while its design is really nice, its actual feel is pretty bland. It’s a large hulking thing that moves from room to room, looking for you, and kills you if it finds you. For how much the rest of the game plays into the setting, I would have liked to see the demo use some more interesting Yokai, rather then just having a “Big Scary Thing.” From a gameplay mechanics standpoint, I would have liked to have this thing be a bit more interesting, or have some sort of gimmick.

Overall, Ikai is fine, but I didn’t see anything in the demo outside of the setting and tone of the world that made it stand out from other similar sorts of games. Given the effort they’ve put into creating a non-standard world, I’d like to see them play with some of the gameplay mechanics they’ve set themselves up with. Creatures that can move from mirror to mirror, monsters that disguise themselves as objects, some more “fun” mechanics than what the demo has. Yokai are incredibly diverse, and if the game turns out to just be “Amnesia, but set in Japan”, I feel like they’ll have really squandered a lot of the potential design space to make some really interesting monsters.

A Hat In Time

Not my cup of tea, but maybe you’ll like it more than I did.

A Hat in Time came out in 2017, and I still haven’t finished it. It’s incredibly well reviewed, has a lovely community, and I still see fan art for it every now and then. It funded at 1000% on its Kickstarter, and could be considered one of the Indie darlings of that year.

I’m leading with all of this because I don’t really like A Hat in Time. I also don’t think this review should necessarily be a reason to not play it, but I still feel it’s worth pointing out. The other reason I’m writing this review is that I finally just deleted the game from my backlog on Steam, as I’m just not motivated to keep playing it, and I figured it might as well be worth noting at a bare minimum.

A Hat in Time is a collectathon platformer, a genre I’ve never really been super into. I’ve finished Super Mario Odyssey, but I never played any of the other games that it often gets to compared to, like Banjo-Kazooie.

For whatever reason, A Hat in Time just never clicked for me. I found the jumping floaty, and I found myself often having more frustration then fun. The fun cartoony aesthetic also just wasn’t my thing. When I’ve asked other people about it, some of the things I don’t really enjoy are things other players love. It’s interesting to see, and I think a good reminder of how diverse peoples tastes in games can be.

Regardless, A Hat In Time was not my cup of tea, but if you love games like Banjo-Kazooie, I’d say check it out. Maybe you can find the spark in it I missed. But for me, it just never clicked.

Project Winter – Skill Based Social Deduction

A social deduction game with actual game mechanics. I love it.

I really like Project Winter. I like it a lot. If those two sentences have persuaded you to buy it already, just click here. If not, keep reading. (I know the $20 price tag might turn people off a bit, but I’ve played over 300 hours of this.)

If I had to describe it in a single sentence, I’d call it a skill based social deduction game. So what do I mean by that?

Many of us have, at one point or another, played a social deduction game of some sort. Maybe it was Werewolf, or Town of Salem. Maybe it was Mafia at a party. Maybe it was Junta at another party with friends who were a little more intense then the Mafia friends, or maybe it was Secret Hitler.

One thing all of these games have in common is that when all is said and done, they come down to one big thing: convincing the other players, “No, I’m not the murderer,” and if you fail, you’re done for. This is not necessarily the case with Project Winter, because unlike all those other games, should you fail to be persuasive enough, you can choose to just fucking leg it into the great wilderness, and try to not die.

This for me is the biggest strength of Project Winter overall: it’s a social deduction game where the voice of the mob is quieted slightly. If you find someone standing over a corpse in the middle the woods, after hearing someone shout for help, there’s no amount of smooth talking they can do that will stop you from applying a sledgehammer to the kneecaps. Likewise, if you go off into the wilderness with two random people, and the second you’re out of earshot of the rest of the group they do a localized reenactment of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre starring you as the massacred, it doesn’t feel quite as cheap as, “Yeah, well, the Mafia picked you to die last night. Sucks to be you.” There are actual game play mechanics, actual movement, actual skills, strategies and tricks in play.

Okay, so now that I’ve written two paragraphs of fluff, what actually is Project Winter? Well, as noted above, it’s a 5-8 player social deduction/survival game. Of the starting players, 1-2 of them will be traitors, and the rest are all survivors of various sorts. The survivors have 30 minutes to complete two objectives, call in a rescue vehicle, and board the vehicle to win. The traitors just have to stop them. And this is where things get good.

Unlike the games mentioned above, Project Winter doesn’t progress via vote systems or orderly rules. The game play itself is in a top down isometric view, and the actual game play is more akin to Minecraft Diablo. You can craft items, harvest materials, open supply bunkers, and interact with objectives. Most objectives require you to complete a task of some sort to repair them, like placing a certain number of mechanical parts in them.

In addition many tasks will require multiple players to be completed. Most bunkers, full of the supplies you need to fix objectives, require 2-3 players to actually open them. The amount of supplies to fix an objective is almost always more then what a single player could carry on their own, and even if a single player can carry everything, it tends to require that player to drop a weapon, and to have every inventory slot filled. And you don’t run as fast while holding an item, and the lack of any means to defend yourself makes you a very tasty target.

I won’t go into detail on all the other systems in the game, but there are a bunch of great mechanics like local voice chat, and being able to swap clothes with dead players and disguise as them. The whole game is structured to make each round as fun as possible, and there are multiple ways to succeed, regardless of your role.

If you enjoy social deduction games, lying to strangers, or being hunted/hunting someone to death in the woods as you both slowly starve and try to survive, I’d highly recommend picking up Project Winter.

Nimbatus – Sumo Archetypes

Blasters – Boom Here It Comes

Blasters are the most simple and straightforward archetype. They have a incredibly simple plan: blast the opponent out of the ring immediately at match start.

Weakness: Just make sure you have some method of getting out of the way, and watch them launch themselves out of the ring.

Beyblades – Let It Rip

Beyblades are the second most common archetype in many ways. While they tend to be smarter than Blasters, they have an equally simple strategy: build up rotational momentum, and use it to keep the opponent from being able to occupy the center of the map. They tend to be big, bulky, and get going pretty fast.

Weakness: There are two things about Beyblades that can be exploited. The first is the fact that until they get spun up, they can be attacked pretty easily. The second is they are massive fuel hogs. If you can outlast a Beyblade, it’s possible to simply run it down to the point it won’t have fuel to move.

Authors Note: After writing this, I ended up encountering a bunch of Beyblades that couldn’t be outlasted, because they were 1. Massive and jammed full of fuel, and 2. Didn’t really start spinning until something got close/the circle closed. Against these, I think you just gotta try to punch them out of the ring before they get any momentum.

SurvivalistsGotta Drink My Own Fuel

Unlike the other archetypes, Survivalists don’t really have a plan to win. What they do have is a plan to not lose. Typically, they’re fairly small, fast and lightweight. Coupled with a few extra sensors, they try to just run quick loops around the edge of the Sumo circle, baiting various other types of drones to trying to knock them out, causing their opponent to launch themselves out when they do, or just outlasting a few others.

Weakness: Survivalists don’t usually have a plan to win, and their lightweight size makes them easy to punish with anything that tries to occupy the center.

SummonersWho Let The Dogs Out?

Summoners are easy to identify. If you go up against something that immediately detaches half a dozen mostly identical mini-drones at your ship, you’ve found a Summoner. Summoners use smaller mini autonomous drones to launch aggressive offensives via core seekers, and blast their opponent out of the ring. As the core isn’t attached to these mini-bots, they can move with impunity, and without the problem Blasters have, launching themselves out of the ring. This means that even if the first charge misses, they’ll turn around and launch themselves back again and again.

Weakness: Sumo, like all other modes, has a parts limit, and the parts spent on their minions means that the Summoner core itself tends to be far less protected then almost any other ship type in Sumo. If you can weather the attack of the little guys, they can be very easy to take out. In addition, because of their small size, hybrid builds with strong core ships that launch maybe just one or two summons of their own can easily push their opponents out of the ring.

PushersLets Get Ready To Rumbleeeee

Pushers are the most strategically straight forward, and in some ways, the most technically complex of all the Sumo drone archetypes. Their battle plan is simple: Line up on the opponent, and smack em. Unlike Blasters or Claws however, Pushers tend to be equally focused on defense, with some of their many sensors allocated to making sure that they don’t launch themselves out of the ring when they try to do so. While this sounds simple, it means that Pushers tend to require a lot of sensors, buttons, and logic to make sure everything fires and triggers when it should.

Weakness: Pushers tend to be solid, well made ships. The only real way to exploit them is to hit them hard, and keep them off balance. A Pusher that itself is getting smacked may not have the time it needs to set up a good angle on the enemy core, and if some of its sensors end up outside the ring, it can start to misfire its thrusters.

Claws Blasters Smarter Big Brother

Claws are a little tricky to identify. Usually, they look mostly like Pushers, right up until the bit where 75% of the drone decouples and charges your core at about a billion miles per hour. Unlike Blasters, Pushers don’t usually immediately launch. Instead, they have a variety of sensors and triggers that try to line up and hit with accurate shots. The launched claw itself often includes magnets or tricky geometry to increase the chance of a successful strike.

Weakness: Despite the extra sensors, Claws can be fooled, and usually if you can dodge the single claw strike, you can fairly easily win the match. Consider ways to jettison your core away from your ship if it gets hit, or mini-drones to try to bait the Claw into launching on bad targets. Against Claws that are only targeted on Cores, mini-drones can often just ram them, throwing off their aim, and disrupting their plans.

HybridsJack of All Trades, Master of None

Many ships don’t fall into a single one of these categories. They might have Beyblade-like cores, but launch mini drones. They might be Summoners with Survivalist bases. Or they might be Claws that turn into Beyblades. Whatever the case, Hybrids are usually pretty strong, incorporating several aspects of the designs mentioned above.

Weakness: They tend to share the same general weakness as Summoners. The large number of parts spent on multi-stage launches, mini-drones, claws, or other odd behaviors means that they have less parts to really commit to any single strategy. If you can weather their onslaught, you have a decent chance to take the win.

Nimbatus: Drone Constructor

Nimbatus is a “Meh” game, but a fun toy.

Cowards hide their opinions at the bottom of the post. I’m not a coward, so let’s get into it. I’ve played about 10 hours of Nimbatus. It don’t think it’s a very fun game. I do think that it is a fun toy. Let’s talk about Nimbatus, the difference between games and toys, and then I’m going to randomly share some related anecdotes.

The primary draw of Nimbatus is building and constructing drones. The mode you choose to play changes which parts you get to do this with. There are two primary modes, multiplayer, which is kinda badly named, and singleplayer. Within single player you have sandbox and survival. The gameplay of both of the singleplayer modes is pretty similar, the only actual difference being in sandbox, you have all the parts and can do whatever you want. It’s more or less like creative mode in Minecraft. I’d say this makes it pretty boring. In survival you do the same thing, except you start with only a few of the parts, and you have to earn more by doing missions and such.

I didn’t find either of these modes very fun, because the primary draw of Nimbatus is making drones. And neither of these modes actually requires you to do that. I found that for survival, I made a single basic drone that I slowly updated with with new parts that I got, but none of the missions ever required me to seriously redesign the ship. Most of the missions were fairly boring, and boiled down to one of the following: Kill a Thing, Shoot a Thing, Find a Thing, Pick Up a Thing and Bring it Back. That’s it. These are the primary missions you’ll be doing. When you complete a few missions, you’ll open up the ability to warp to the next solar system. At the end of the solar system is the next galaxy.

The loop is fairly simple: try to reach the next galaxy. You have a threat meter at the top of your screen, and if it gets too high, you get attacked by an enemy ship. However, this isn’t actually a fight or encounter. Instead a small cutscene plays, and you lose a life. Your ship has a maximum of five of these, and they can be repaired at junk stations. I’m assuming if you run out of lives, it’s game over.

In addition, because each time you deploy to a planet increases your threat meter, you don’t really want to waste effort deploying multiple times. So instead of making bunch of multipurpose drones, I primarily found myself making one big drone with drills, resource collectors and weapons.

Okay, so now that we’ve talked about singleplayer, which I found really dull because it didn’t actually require me to make interesting drones/ships, let’s talk about the multiplayer which I had a lot more fun with.

One big thing: none of the multiplayer modes are actually “Multiplayer,” at least in the sense that I expected. Instead, all of them require you to design automated drones that meet various requirements, and then pit them against other players’ automated drones. You will never actually control a live drone against another live human opponent. Personally, I think this is kinda lame.

There are 5 multiplayer modes, and they are as follows: Timed Racing, Sumo, Brawl, Race, and Catch. Of these, I spent the most time on Sumo, and a bit on Brawl. Personally, I think Timed Racing is pretty pointless. The other four modes all pit you against another player’s drone, in some sort of challenge. In Sumo, you try to be the last person in the ring. In Brawl, you try to destroy the enemy core before they destroy yours. In Race, it’s a race, and in Catch, you both try to touch a target before the opponent.

This is where I’d get into my core argument about Nimbatus being a fun toy, and a bad video game. Nimbatus plays like a toy, which is to say if you don’t enjoy interacting with it, it isn’t actually all that fun to use. The actual single player wasn’t interesting to me, because as a toy, it was like trying to use a single set of Legos to build something. While there’s some fun to be had in that, it feels very limited, especially knowing there are all these other great parts you could use.

The fun part of Nimbatus is having access to all the parts, and trying to build interesting or funky drones. Just within Sumo mode, I saw 8+ different general design patterns, all with different plans for how to win and different strategies. But everything about the single player mode discourages doing that. You are penalized for experimenting. You don’t have all the parts. The best part of the game, building drones, is more or less actively discouraged, and you’re expected to not take risks.

I’d also like to quickly note one other system in place. In the trailer, I saw a variety of ridiculous and crazy looking drones. There’s a part fee that gets applied to deploy a drone, based on how many components the drone has. So yeah, deploying your insane crazy super snake build in Survival will bankrupt you, at which point you might as well just go back to the simple jack of all trades ship I mentioned above.

As a toy, trying to build clever autonomous drones for the multiplayer modes is fun. Seeing other players’ clever strats, and trying to figure out both how they got their drone to do something, while also how to beat it was fun for me. But actually piloting drones in singleplayer was boring.

I have one other big gripe with Nimbatus, and it has to do with some of the parts. In Nimbatus, you have a variety of parts to use, including a large set of weapons, and set of items called “Factory Parts” that I think can actually print out additional parts and ships while a drone is displayed.

I say “I think” because you can’t use any of these parts in any of the multiplayer modes. You can use a small subsection of the weapons in Brawl, but you can’t use any ranged weapons, and you can’t use TNT. So, of all the blasters, lasers, shotguns, beams, and so on? You can ONLY use them in singleplayer. Same thing with factory parts. I get that for balance sense, it’s reasonable to not want to give access to those parts in multi. I really do wish though there was a unlimited or open mode that allowed me to send my bots against my friends with no locks on what could be deployed. I think that would be great.

Okay, so now, story time. Long ago in Days of yore, back when I was in middle school, I participated in a thing called Lego League. You were given a set of Lego Mindstorms robots, and then you were given a set of tasks and problems to solve. I only ever did one year, but I remember it quite fondly. I also remember our team, Deep Mind (named after the super computer in Hitchhikers Guide, which I was a bit obsessed with at the time).

One of the first things that we discovered early on while preparing for our challenges was the following: it is possible to complete a very large number of the tasks that were scored for points in the challenge by simply having the robot drive forward, push something into place, and then drive backward. Because WINNING, we decided to accomplish as much as we feasibly could via this system, and instead of spending our time programming the robot and making clever solutions to problems, we instead mostly just created add-on attachments that quickly and simply solved the given problem. Then, we pointed the robot in the right direction, and ran our brilliant “Go Forward and Then Come Back” program.

Overall, I don’t remember doing very well at the end of season competition. I do remember spending several hours on the way down trying to catch Girantina in Pokemon Diamond in the car.

The reason I include this whole anecdote is that the singleplayer parts of Nimbatus remind me of Lego League. Instead of focusing on experimenting, the constraints of the format led us to find the most efficient and rather boring way to solve the problems, and then apply it to as many other situations as possible. Instead of focusing on experimentation and creativity, we focused on WINNING. I think that was to our detriment. Nimbatus singleplayer survival feels the same way to me.

On the other hand, I also remember doing something rather similar to Sumo with Mindstorms at a day long camp/workshop/drop your kids at the library and then go do something you enjoy style event. In that one, there was one really good robot that someone had brought in, that was really well made and clever. I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to beat it, by trying strategies like “making part of our bot detach,” or “having contain a spinning windmill like shape that would, in theory, yank out of the some connecting wires on the opposing bot.”

I don’t remember beating that robot. I do remember having a lot more fun. For me, this is what the Nimbatus multiplayer modes feel like: trying to make something interesting and out-think the other bot designers. You need to understand what you want to do, and you also need to look at other drones and try to learn what they’re doing, and how they do it. For me, this was what made Nimbatus fun.

Nimbatus is on Steam for 15$. If you like building drones, trying to out think people, or simply just building lots of ridiculous crazy contraptions, you’ll most likely enjoy it for at least a bit. But the single player aspects of the game never clicked for me. It also bums me out that a decent portion of the parts and weapons can only be used in singleplayer mode.

Nimbatus is a fun toy. I can see myself coming back to it every now and then, and building something, much like legos. But there is a lot of effort and space that feels wasted, I wish the multiplayer was actually multiplayer, and it would be cool if there were more game modes. And I really wish there was true free for all, or actual multiplayer.

~JFW

I’ll be the roundabout.