Inscryption

An incredibly interesting deckbuilder that takes the 4th wall and uses it as cardstock.

Let me save you a lot of time. Go play Inscryption. Here’s the game’s homepage. It is very good. That’s not to say I don’t have problems with it. I actually have one very large problem, but I’ll get to that later. Once you’ve played the game, obviously.

It’s okay, I’ll wait.

……………..

You finish it yet?

>NO, I haven’t bought it or started it.

>NO, but I started Inscryption .

>YES, I finished Inscryption

Your move.

Orna

Orna is an interesting augmented reality game, with an focus on the “Game” bit.

Orna is an augmented reality game in the general vein of Pokemon Go. Where Pokemon Go is heavy on the augmented reality and sometimes forgets to be a game, Orna remembers that AR games are supposed to actually be… well, games. In general, it functions as a semi-procedural RPG. There are monsters to fight, dungeons to explore, quest givers, inns, and shops.

You can filter what shows up on your map by what you’re looking for, including only showing enemies, or only showing larger bosses.

Like Pokemon Go, you have a sphere around you that dictates what you can interact with, and if you want your character to move, you need to move around in real life. The game world is overlaid on top of a world map, and you tap nearby things to interact with them.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Orna and most other augmented reality games I’ve seen is that Orna is focused on being a game. While combat starts out as a fairly simple affair, leveling up gives you the ability to unlock and switch between additional classes. The higher tier classes give access to additional skills, abilities, and skill slots, letting you bring more moves into battle.

For example, earlier in the game I had a thief who turned into a magic wielding wizard. I would buff myself up to be able to dodge attacks, then just stab people a bunch. After a while, I found that not having access to elemental abilities was making it harder to defeat certain enemies. So I switched over being more of caster.

Before I stopped playing, I’d rebuilt again into using physical damage, but casting low-mana cost spells to apply elemental damage of various types to my attacks, while trying to lock the enemy down with sleep and other status effects. This only worked because I’d unlocked a high enough tier class to bring in about 8 spells to battle, and ran a pet that had a chance to heal me each round, so I could just focus on damage and status effects. So there was quite a lot of build variety available to me.

You start out with just two skill slots, but you get more as you unlock higher tier classes.

The end result of all of this is a reasonably in depth system that, oddly enough, illustrates something to me that I hadn’t thought about too much before. Why do so many Augmented Reality games lack in-depth mechanics? The answer, I realized, is because outside of all this combat, you are at least in theory supposed to be playing this game while wandering around outside. In games with in-depth combat mechanics, combat actually requires attention and planning. Trying to play Orna and not walk into people/traffic/road signs is actually pretty tricky.

Instead, I often found myself pausing my walk in order to finish combat encounters or larger boss fights. Orna includes an auto-attack system to get through fights while not paying attention, but using it tended to result in me getting my ass handed to me. A level of attention and focus was necessary to actually win.

Most of the game’s secondary systems also run into a similar problem. There are dungeons, which are a longer gauntlet of battles, and you can’t pause or anything between. There’s the arena, where you face off against other players’ builds controlled by the AI. Both of these can be a bit tricky, and require you to actually be careful with your moves.

On the flip side, there are some systems that encourage moving around, at least a little bit. You get quests through daily random quests, from quest givers, or from other sources. Some quests just ask you to “explore” and walk a certain distance. In addition, there’s a territory capturing system that gives you bonuses for a time period for beating the mini-boss controlling an area.

No, the blue currency isn’t premium, it’s Orns, used to create various buildings and unlock new classes. But you can’t buy it with real money.

You can also construct various different types of shops and buildings to provide additional passive income, and other boosts and benefits. Some of these buildings can be seen and used by other players, while some can’t. But if you want you can choose to make the public ones private. In theory, this would let you wander around and discover other players’ structures, but in practice, I mostly just built everything in one place, and never left that area.

There are a bunch of other systems, including upgrading items, socketing gems into items, fishing, and various multiplayer raids, but I haven’t played around with them enough to really know what to say.

Look, this photo of my gear is just here to pad out the article.

And that’s a general overview of Orna. An interesting augmented reality game without excessive microtransaction bullshit, but which is sometimes a bit hard to play because of how many mechanics and systems work. Or at least, difficult to play while not getting hit by a truck.

If Orna sounds cool, or you want to play something that requires you to walk around a bit and isn’t Pok√©mon Go, you can find Orna on the Apple App Store and Google Play store if you just search the name. If you’re not sure, there’s more info on the game’s webpage here.

Deltarune – Chapter 1 & 2

So, Deltarune. I think it’s very good.

Deltarune is a turn-based RPG. It’s made by Toby Fox, the creator of the darlingest of indie darlings, Undertale. There are a large number of similarities between the two games, including rad as hell music, incredibly weird yet cohesive stories, and bullet hell gameplay mechanics for dodging enemy attacks.

They’re also both games that at least to my mind are much richer if you go into them with no spoilers. As such, if you enjoyed Undertale or games like Earthbound, I would encourage you to grab your gaming machine of choice, and download Chapter 1 & 2 right now. They’re free, and they’re available for PC, Switch, and PS4.

Now, it’s possible that this isn’t enough information for you. You want to know more about what you’re actually getting into. So this next section of the article is for those of you who are either on the fence, or not as interested. Perhaps you played Undertale and it never grabbed you. Perhaps you’ve had your fill of weird internet humor. Perhaps you’re tired of listening to Megalovania. Whatever the reason, I’d still suggest you check out Deltarune.

Deltarune is still just as weird as its famed predecessor, and the music is in my opinion just as good. However, Deltarune’s combat and ACTION system are vastly improved over those of Undertale.

One of Undertale’s primary selling points was that you didn’t have to kill anyone. You could play the game as traditional turn-based RPG with grinding, attacks, and murder. But you could also play through the game by choosing to talk and interact with enemies, and then SPARING them, ending combat without defeating them.

How the story unfolds if you choose to spare enemies is one of the most unique parts of the game. Unfortunately, choosing to spare “trash mobs” quickly becomes tedious after the first time you fight that type of enemy. Combat encounters in Undertale are fairly simple. Combat starts, and on your turn as a pacifist, you select various options in the interaction bar to try to butter up or calm down your opponent. Whenever they attack you, you play a bullet hell dodging mini-game to avoid being hit. While this is fine for bosses, it quickly becomes a boring for the other fights. Every type of normal enemy has the same sequence each time to “beat” the encounter.

But this writeup is about Deltarune, not Undertale. Deltarune still allows you to be a pacifist, but without making the encounters boring. There are a few new mechanics that solve this problem, as well as some general ways that combat encounters have been made more meaningful than they were in Undertale.

The first new mechanic is a system called TP. When enemies attack you in both Undertale and Deltarune, you play a short bullet hell sequence. This sequence varies wildly based on the enemy, but the general rule is: don’t get hit. Deltarune adds the TP gauge to these sequences. It’s used for various special actions and magic attacks including healing, and it fills by being just barely close enough to not take damage from attacks.

The second new mechanic is that pacifist actions also occasionally have their own mini-games associated with them. They’re nowhere near as elaborate as the bullet hell sequences mentioned above, but they’re more fun than simply choosing options on a menu like in Undertale.

And finally, you now have multiple party members to use. Some of the more interesting encounters in the game play with how pacifist options work differently for each party member. And this makes sense because some of your party members are… shall we say… “Less Inclined to Non-Violence” than others.

(Looking at you Susie.)

Deltarune keeps the parts of Undertale that were already loved by pretty much everyone (including the strange story, bizarre art and animation, and music that goes so much harder than it needs to), but just makes them more fun to experience.

I highly recommend you play Deltarune, or at least what’s out so far. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Author Note: Images are from the IGDB because I was too lazy to take screenshots while I was playing.

Princess and Conquest

I bought this because I was kind of horny, and frankly, the money could have been better spent.

Princess and Conquest is “unique.” That’s not the same thing as good. I cannot come up with a single simple way to describe it, so I’m choosing to go with Pornographic Action RPG with Political Simulation elements. From what I’ve played so far, I would not recommend it.

I don’t really consider this blog to be “Family Friendly,” but I also don’t currently provide a way to easily opt out of seeing 18+ content. For that reason, I’m not going to provide any in-depth level of analysis of the game’s sexual content. That’s not to say I won’t talk about it, but there should be nothing in this blog post that will make anyone upset or hot and bothered.

General Concept

So, what is Princess and Conquest? Well, at the base, it’s an open-ish world RPG. After a brief tutorial that explains a few of the general mechanics, you’re tossed out into a large open world map. From here, you can whatever you want, as long as whatever you want consists of wandering around, exploring areas, having casual sex, and taking quests to complete for Swirlies, the game’s currency and XP. Combat is done in a sort of real time action RPG thing, where you can switch between members of your current party on the fly. Each member has their own equipment, stats, and abilities. Some have access to magic and projectile attacks, while others don’t.

This isn’t a static open world. There’s a day/night cycle, and time is constantly passing, during which the various kingdoms will declare war on each other, send armies at each other, and generally cause the world to slip into absolute chaos. You can choose to intervene in these fights for one side or another, in order to push the balance of power a given direction. Doing this also gains you affinity with the Princesses you aid, allowing you to convince them to stop trying to murder their neighbors and whatnot.

If you’re reading all of this, and thinking “Okay, that actually sounds kind of neat, and I’m horny and want to play this” pause that thought for a moment. Because Princess and Conquest is, as far as I can tell, made in RPG Maker.

I do not know why anyone would ever choose to make a game with real time combat and open world mechanics in RPG Maker. In another post on this site, I wrote about No Delivery, and noted how the game was impressive for utilizing the engine in interesting ways, and taking advantage of some of its quirks for neat effects.

Princess and Conquest does not do that. Instead, it takes an engine that was primarily built for single player traditional semi-linear turn based RPG’s and uses it for a game that relies primarily on simulation and real time action combat. While it’s impressive that they were able to get it to do this at all, a large number of the mechanics just feel terrible.

The worst one by far is combat. Switching between characters on the fly is incredibly floaty and feels laggy. The hitboxes for the player weapons can feel absolutely miserable, compounded by the fact that many enemies can deal damage on contact. One of the bosses can’t be damaged, even with projectile weapons, unless it is faced directly head on; otherwise projectiles just phase through. Another boss is be able to land hits while in its theoretically “Vulnerable” phase, in addition to not actually taking damage when attacked. In another instance, because of how projectiles were handled, I attacked, missed, and then couldn’t use the projectile again because it was still traveling and hadn’t been cleaned up.

I’m not sure where this part of the article will go, but I’m just gonna write it anyways. I also want to apologize for the relatively lower level of quality in this portion of the article. Sex, and by extension, porn, is complicated topic for a variety of reasons. Frankly, I don’t have desire to do a deep dive analysis and criticism of a $12 Steam game’s portrayal of fantasy sex. Just like I don’t feel like reviewing random videos on Pornhub. If that was what I wanted to do, this blog would have a different name, and likely a higher readership.

Sexual Content High Level View

For a brief bit of context: I’m a straight man. I’ve done some stuff. I would not consider myself particularly “Vanilla.” I’ve seen a fair amount of weird porn, and weird porn art. I’ve had sexual relations with both genders. Okay, context and perspective set? Good. Back to the game.

My primary issue with Princess and Conquest is that it doesn’t offer adequate ability to opt in or opt of the sex/sexual activities. In the time I’ve played so far, I’ve seen content and situations that I suspect would make some players highly uncomfortable. However, there is only one form of controllable interaction, and it’s not broad enough to cover what the game offers.

My secondary issue has to do with the nature of sex in Princess and Conquest. While I consider the above topic to be more of a general statement regarding sexual content, this next one is more of a personal opinion. Sex within Princess and Conquest is almost universally encouraged, as is getting characters that the player has sex with pregnant, through two mechanical benefits. First, having sex has a chance to get an egg which grants more party members, potentially a party member of a hard to find “race” or with better stats. Second, having sex with an NPC will increase the affinity the player has with the Princess character of the same race as the NPC. One of the player goals is to try to avoid massive chaos and breakdown, and affinity points are used to convince people to stop waging war. Since affinity points can otherwise be difficult to get without pissing someone else off, in order to prevent a world war you kinda have to fuck everyone you come across who is interested.

Okay, so enough of that. Again, please don’t take this as some form of full analysis of the game’s sexual content, or my views of sex. The above are merely my two major problems with how the game handles its pornographic content and mechanics.

Okay, so, back to the rest of the game. I have a bunch of smaller problems outside of sex and combat. Here’s a short list:
1. The game is buggy. Most of the time, these bugs don’t do too much. Sometimes, as I discovered to my incredible annoyance, they crash the game. And because of how the save system works, have fun going back to your last save.
Author Note: I actually went back and played some more of the game to get screenshots/see if I was being overly harsh. Then the game crashed.
2. Obtuse systems. The game wants to have a level of political strategy and simulation, but good luck understanding how population growth, eloping, or any other system works without the Wiki, because the game will not tell you. Or Tea Parties! Because I read the wiki, and I still don’t understand how Tea Parties work, or are supposed to work.
3. Frustrating map design. This wouldn’t be as bad if it wasn’t somewhat accentuated by the game engine, but the map design. Dear God, the map design. I want to make something clear. If you have game with a zone-based map, and you leave or enter zones by pressing in a given direction, DO NOT FUCKING MAKE IT SO THAT YOUR MAPS SPAWN THE PLAYER IN A LOCATION WHERE IF THEY PRESS THE BUTTON THEY USED TO LEAVE THE AREA A SECOND TIME, IT BRINGS THEM BACK INTO THE ZONE THEY JUST FUCKING LEFT.
4. Quest system weirdness. I do not like that I cannot have more than one active quest from the adventurers guild at once. I do not like that quest descriptions can be weirdly vague about what you need to do to complete them. And I absolutely hate the quests where the descriptions don’t actually give information about what you need to do to progress the quest.

So that’s Princess and Conquest. A unique concept and set of game mechanics using a game engine absolutely not intended for them, with not great, but functional results. For what it counts for, the writing and porn (from my mildly kinky straight male perspective) is decent, but does not mesh comfortably with the game’s mechanics. Currently, I do not recommend the game, and short of them rebuilding the entire thing in a game engine that can gracefully handle their design decisions, I likely will not ever recommend the game.

Content on these links is NSFW. If for some reason, you still want to play the game after all of this, you can find it on itch.io here or on Steam here. You’ll have to sign in though, as again, this is an adult only game.

Lucifer Within Us

Really good, but way too short.

Lucifer Within Us is very good. It’s an incredibly interesting deductive reasoning puzzle game that takes place in a world where exorcists (of which you are one) solve crimes. It is also very short.

This makes it kind of a problem to recommend. Here’s the closest metaphor I can come up with: Lucifer Within Us is a piece of fudge from that really nice bakery that you don’t go to, because even though the fudge is the most delicious thing in the world, it’s $12 an ounce. The fudge is delicious and incredible, but the money to fudge ratio is incredibly high.

So, first a brief overview of mechanics, and a screenshot, so I can reduce the number of words I have to write. Like I mentioned above, in Lucifer Within Us you’re an exorcist for the Church of the worship of Ain Soph. The first murder in over 100 years has just occurred, and you need to find the culprit, and name the demon possessing them. You do this by gathering evidence and interrogating witnesses to the crime.

Oh and also if you catch them in a lie, you can delve into their mind with divinely imbued powers and see into their soul, revealing possible motives for the crime.

You’re given access to the crime scene, and the witnesses. You can search the crime scene for physical evidence, and talk to the witnesses. Each witness gives you their version of events, which can be played out over a timeline. However, because it’s just their version of events, almost everyone will be hiding something about what actually happened. You’ll need to call them out on their contradictions and omissions to determine the truth.

Being able to scan through the timeline is a really cool mechanic.

Okay, first let’s talk about the good stuff.

Lucifer Within Us is an incredibly unique puzzle game/deductive reasoning game. There are a lot of things that can be complimented about it. Its unique blend of cyberpunk and faith. Its general art direction for its characters and world. The 3D models look like old school Runescape, but they suffice, and the art for the demons and characters reminds me of Hades. Look, this is the part where we say nice things about the game, okay? I do not give a shit that the 3D models are basic. It doesn’t matter. The transitions, effects, and everything else easily makes up for it. The mechanics are incredible, and I’ve never seen another game that works like this one does. I love the parallel timeline for suspects. The process of actually solving the crimes, in 2 hours of straight puzzle solving, hit a “Adventure Game Bullshit” moment only once. That’s a high fucking bar.

As a brief aside: talking about Lucifer Within Us is going to require spoiling either one of two things: the specific plot and details of the game, or the specific number of “levels” in the game. I’m choosing to spoil the later. The reason for this is since Lucifer Within Us is a narrative based puzzle game, I think more would be lost by revealing narrative and plot details than the other info.

And when I say short, I mean short. My own steam achievement list lets me estimate the game at being just over two hours in length. My playtime says that the game has 4 hours and 20 minutes on it, of which just under half was spent getting every achievement just so that I was sure that I hadn’t missed anything. I had not. This is compounded by the fact that it offers almost no replayability outside of the aforementioned achievements, which don’t add that much.

“Well” you might be thinking. “Perhaps he used his incredible reasoning skills and logic to speed through the game, without appreciating properly.” To which I reply, 1. Haha, funny joke implying I have skills and reasoning and 2. No. No it’s not. It’s because there are only 3 levels.

The length (or lack thereof) is compounded by the game’s ending. I have mixed feelings on it, and I’m not going to go into details here, but the last portion of the game feels as if Lucifer Within Us suffered from a massive cut in scope at some point in production. I’ve actually emailed the devs in the hope of getting an interview, because I really want to know what’s going on. The game ends with what amounts to PowerPoint presentation and a massive lore dump, despite the rest of the game carefully avoiding heavyhanded storytelling.

No, really.

Look, I’m gonna be honest. I do enjoy novelty and unique events. Would I refund the game currently if I could? No. It was $12. I’m always happy to see people pushing the envelope of neat game mechanics and design. Much of the writing and subtle world building present in Lucifer Within Us, along with the mechanics, is top notch. It is premium, grade A, good stuff. But I’d be lying the game’s ending didn’t disappoint me. I was just starting to get interested in the world, and then lore dump plus credits roll.

If you prize unique mechanics and storytelling over content length, I can recommend Lucifer Within Us. But if you’re expecting something that takes you more then a couple of hours to play through, you’ll likely be disappointed. It’s available on Steam, and also here on itch.io.

Ed Note: We reached out to Kitfox about trying to set up an interview to ask some questions about the game. I was going to add/include that as part of this writeup if it happened, but it’s been over a week, and I haven’t heard anything yet, so for now review will stand on it’s own.

Bloodborne

Note: The images in this article are from the press kit for Bloodborne, and the game’s concept art. Capturing screenshots from Bloodborne is annoying, and I’m not sure that a bunch more images would do too much for this writeup.

I like Bloodborne. I think it’s very much worth playing. With that said, writing about Bloodborne is hard because there is so much that I could write about. Almost every aspect, from the technology, to the multiplayer, to the art, to the story, to the lore, to just the design and mechanics could have more than its own article.

This article will not be digging into any of those topics to the level they might deserve. My end goal for anything I write for Gametrodon is to convince you, the reader, that a game has something interesting about it that makes it worth playing and engaging with.

In the case of Bloodborne, the game is 6 years old, and exclusive to the last console generation on PS4. I don’t think it really needs someone to advocate that it’s a unique experience, or a good game. The world already knows that it’s both those things. So instead, I’m going to advocate playing the game for folks who might have thought about playing it, but were put off by the game’s somewhat notorious pedigree and difficulty curve. It’s an article directed at… well… me. Me from 70 hours of Bloodborne ago.

First, a little bit of history for those who might not be familiar with Bloodborne, or why the game has the reputation it does. Bloodborne is made by From Software. If you look them up on Wikipedia, you will see the following quote.

FromSoftware, Inc. is a Japanese video game development company founded in November 1986 and a subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation. The company is best known for their Armored Core and Souls series, including the related games Bloodborne, Sekiro, and the upcoming Elden Ring, known for their high levels of difficulty.

Wikipedia

“Known for their high levels of difficulty” is the key phrase here. FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series is responsible for naming an entire genre, the “Soulslike” game, in the same way that we get phrases like “Metroidvania.” The “You Died” screen is infamous.

At least in my case, this reputation meant that I had almost no interest in any of their games, despite the fact that they are almost universally praised on every level. This is because I think I misinterpreted “Hard” as “Unfair.”

It is not very difficult to make a game that is very hard to beat. Two examples I can think of would be Kaizo mods/levels for Super Mario Games, and the “I Want To Be The Guy” series. In the case of Kaizo, the difficulty often comes from requiring both near perfect inputs and an absolutely massive chain of them, all while having an almost perfect knowledge of its game. On the other hand, “I Want To Be The Guy” simply puts the player into situations where without knowledge about what is going to happen, the player simply cannot succeed, such as platforms that move when you try to jump on top of them.

Bloodborne’s difficulty doesn’t come from anything like that. Bloodborne doesn’t rely on cheap shots or perfect mechanics to make things difficult. Instead, the difficulty comes punishing you heavily for mistakes or misplays. But almost every time I died, much like with Spelunky 2, I understood why I died. Bloodborne wants you win. It’s just not going to give it to you for free.

Here’s an example: in an area that feels about mid-way through the game, there’s a large rolling log trap that if it hits you, will pretty much just instantly kill you. While this might seem like bullshit, there’re a few important elements about the area that make me view it as incredibly smart game design instead. The first element is that the trap is located incredibly close to one of the game’s respawn points (lanterns), and after only two enemies, making it incredibly easy to get back to your corpse after the trap kills you. The second is that when you look at the area, you’ll see that the trap is actually only triggered when you run across a large button directly in the middle of the road.

This means that after you spot the trap, it’s very easy to avoid it, travel deeper into the marsh, and then get killed by a second trap that’s almost identical.

So why is this first trap important? Well, because to my mind, it’s actually very generous. While deaths in Bloodborne can be punishing, this one isn’t. The purpose of the log trap near the respawn point isn’t to unfairly kill the player, it’s to introduce the concept of the trap to the player, to show the player what it looks like, what happens when they trigger it, and to warn the player that this is an element that might still be encountered farther on. In essence, it’s actually functioning as a tutorial.

The same is true of many of the enemies. Some of the enemies that can combo you to death are first encountered in areas that are either actively detrimental to the enemy, or very near respawn points. And for almost all enemies in the game, choosing to run away and simply not fight them is an entirely valid option.

Bloodborne is not unfair. It asks you to think, and to actively work to defeat it, but it’s rooting for you the whole time. If the pedigree and rumors have made you skip it, or some of the other games made by FromSoftware, I urge you to reconsider. Bloodborne is incredibly satisfying, and worth playing, and if you persevere, you can and will beat it.

And the sun will rise.

Author Note: A brief story for those that aren’t convinced. After beating Bloodborne, I found myself wondering if I’d actually gotten better at the game, or if the game’s small incremental stat buffs, weapon improvements, and other systems had made it so that I eventually made progress without improving. So I made a brand new character with the lowest stats, didn’t take any of the free weapons offered, and replayed the first portion of the game.

A section that took me about 8 hours initially only took me 2 hours with the new character. Two bosses that initially took me over 10-15 tries each took only 3 tries each with this incredibly weak character, and I was using a garbage weapon that I found on the ground and I’d never used prior to this run.

MicroMacro: Crime City

Zootopia with a more realistic police presence.

If Where’s Waldo, Richard Scarry’s Busytown, and Frank Miller’s Sin City had a threesome, the end result would be Crime City. That pretty much sums up MicroMacro. I like it.

“But that doesn’t actually explain anything about the game.” You say. And you’re right! But it does give me a great chance to act like I’ve actually read Sin City, and seem more cultured then I am. (I haven’t.)

So let’s have Mr. Cat explain the game for us instead. I’m sure he can help us with-

Oh dear. I guess I’ll have to do it instead.

Poor Mr. Cat. He’s yet another victim of Crime City, a lawless wasteland of blackmail, assassinations, and robbery.

MicroMacro is a hidden object/character game. Much like Where’s Waldo, you’re looking for small details in a crowd of faces and scenery, and like Busytown, it takes place across a adorable town of cute animal people. Unlike Busytown however, the city has the general tone of hardened noir. It’s filled with call girls, gun stores, fetish clubs, corrupt politicians and open air farmers markets.

This massive map makes up the titular crime city. You “play” the game by picking out case, and then going through the challenges each case offers. For example, in the case of Mr. Cat, the first step is to find the unfortunate victim. Cases are rated by how difficult they are to solve, and made up of steps. Almost all steps asks you to say “where” on the map a specific event in question occurred. The whole map has a grid system on it, so the location of an event can be referred to as A5, somewhat like battleship. (There are some exceptions to this, but I’ll cover them in gripes, because they’re related.)

As you advance through each step in the case, you’ll get more information about the crime, the perpetrator, and the motive. Requests can involve being asked to find murder weapons, trace the route taken through the city by someone involved, and occasionally trying to locate the corpse of the unfortunate individual.

Generally speaking, MicroMacro feels pretty fair as far as these things go. In the three cases I played through, there were no instances of adventure game logic or complete bullshit in play. There was one moment of some things being very cleverly hidden, but not unfairly.

With that said, I do have two gripes with the game. One is fairly minor, and it’s the fact that the game has somewhat limited replayability. This isn’t super surprising. It’s like complaining that Waldo doesn’t rehide himself each time you open the book. I think this concern might be a bit alleviated by the fact that once you finish all the cases, there are actually a few small bonus cases that aren’t included. You can find a few of them here on the game’s website, and get another one by signing up for their email list.

The bigger gripe is that the game has no good way to check your answers to a given question, without seeing the actual answer. This can be a bit frustrating, because if your group makes a guess, whoever checks the answer effectively doesn’t get to play for the rest of that request. There are also a few rare situations where the answer isn’t a battleship style grid reference, but a chain of events you’re expected to list off.

These are minor though. I like MicroMacro. I think you could probably even play the game on your own if you really wanted too, but it would be less fun than doing it with friends gathered around a big table. If this made you curious, you can find a demo of the game here, and you can likely find the game itself at your friendly local game store.

Eternal Return

I was going to write about Bloodborne this week, but I don’t want to write about Bloodborne until I finish it. And because Bloodborne is (surprise!) really fucking hard, I haven’t finished it.

So instead, we’re writing about Eternal Return, a F2P BR SURVIVAL MOBA from Korea, and presumably the apex of trying to cash in on every single gaming trend from the last ten years. At least they’re not trying to sell me NFTs. And it’s actually pretty good! From a gameplay standpoint, I mean. Everything else is… present. Y’know. It’s there.

Games start with you picking a character and starting weapon. You can swap out your weapon, but I haven’t found myself in a situation that calls for that.
In any case, once you’ve locked in your character, build, and starting zone, a countdown ticks down and the game starts.

Eternal Return’s map is static, with the same zones and layout each time you play.

Given that describing the game’s genres is a good 4 acronyms, let’s just go through them and take note of what mechanics from each genre are present. Starting with the MOBA/ARTS, or whatever other acronym you want to use for the Defense of the Legends genre.

Eternal Return is played in a top down isometric perspective. You move by clicking where you want your character to go, and the camera remains more or less locked on your character, though you can temporarily move it to look around with the mini-map. You have health and mana (which they call SP), equipment, and an inventory.

Yes, equipment and inventory. Unlike most MOBA’s, and like most survival games, these are two separate things. For your equipment, you have a set of slots that allow you to equip one of each item type (Weapon, Armband, Legs, Head, Accessory, I don’t remember the last one). You can carry more items, but they don’t actually give you stat buffs while they are in your inventory. You also mostly won’t be using your inventory for gear, you’ll be using it for… crafting materials.

Yeah, so following the survival genre, you spend a lot of time rummaging for things. Look for necklaces in cardboard boxes. Look for cardboard boxes in trash cans (No, you can’t pick up the cardboard box that the necklace was in, that’s different). Combine them to craft a shank, or just a jean jacket with spikes. Combine a rock with a glass bottle to create… broken glass. Craft broken glass with glue to create…. a glass plate.

No really. Look.

Was there seriously no better way to get a piece of unbroken glass?

The crafting is (mostly) less tedious then it might sound. Once you select your build, the map will tell you what items in your current zone are needed for it, and what you’ve already picked up. Since each zone has a separate set of items, and the game also has an autoloot function, this makes it fairly easy to figure out what you want to grab at any given point in time.

So, we’ve covered the MOBA, and the Survival game, which leaves us with the Battle Royale bit. Yes, there’s an another entire genre here. The only way to win in Eternal Return is either be the last person, or the last team standing. While this is pretty standard, and has the normal amounts of mental math of, “Do I fight or flee here?”, there’s one big tweak to the formula.

Most Battle Royale games have some sort of shrinking map that slowly closes in, and deals damage if you stay outside of the safe zone. Eternal Return has its own twist on the formula. Remember those zones I mentioned up above? As the game progresses, sets of zones get marked off to close. A two minute timer ticks down, and once that timer hits zero, the zone is closed off.

But not quite. See, you can still enter those zones. You don’t take damage, or lose life. Instead, you have a timer that ticks down each second you’re in the zone.

And if this timer hits zero, your head just fucking explodes and you die.

Now, you’re probably thinking “Wait, that just seems like a minor twist” on the whole “Collapse the play area to force the players into conflict” mechanic. And you would be right, if it wasn’t for how the end game works. Eventually the whole map becomes a death zone. At this point, whoever has the most time left in their bank can win without killing anyone as long as they can outlast their opponents.

The other interesting thing about it is how it opens up movement and routing. In most Battle Royales, leaving the safe zone is certain death, but in Eternal Return, if you find yourself losing a fight, running into a death zone can be a valid tactic. Even if the player fighting you is stronger, they’ll have to spend time to actually continue the chase, putting themselves at a disadvantage in the late game, which they may not want to do.

Okay, so that’s enough nice things about Eternal Return. Lets talk about all the annoying bullshit, and frustrating things about the game.

Starting with the minor stuff, the moment to moment gameplay of fights feels heavily inspired by the sort of twitch/micro movement of League of Legends. While this is neat if you like League, if you’re a Dota player like me, if you don’t play those games, I imagine it can feel a bit frantic and annoying. This is entirely taste based, which is why it’s the most minor.

Next up, the characters you play as. They are incredibly dull and boring. They feel like a series of characters pulled from random first draft webtoons. Their background has the flavor of a one-shot tabletop RPG character, with none of the interesting bits or quirks. I can’t tell if this is the result of garbage localization, but it feels like it might be.

I want to be clear: Leon’s background is possibly the best written of anyone’s in the game, if only because the idea of someone taking the “Are you winning son?” meme of a father walking in on their child crossdressing and making that into the lore for a character is at least a little funny.

Finally, all of the out-of-game UIs and menus suck. Why can’t I do anything while in queue? Why does queueing for a solo match require me to create a 1 player party? Why does trying to create a build suck so much, and why do builds only allow single item paths?

Oh, and on the subject of crafting: there consumable items you can craft (food and traps), but you can’t add these items to your build. You have to add them to your build queue in game after you’ve finished other items. I’m sure pros memorize what secondary items they’ll need and how to craft them. But maybe I should just be allowed to have secondary crafting targets added.

These are all minor gripes though. They won’t stop me from playing the game. The next two problems are bigger and straight up frustrating.

If you queue for a game, have the queue find a game, and then decline the game, you get a shadow ban from matchmaking. To be clear, the game doesn’t tell you that you’re shadow banned. But this has happened to both me and a friend, and the next time we tried to queue, we sat in queue for over 40 minutes without finding a match. We eventually then gave up because we had better things to do with our days. So if you… oh, I don’t know, queue for solos, have a friend hop on, then decline the queue, then queue for duos, you won’t be able to play because now you’re shadowed banned.

The biggest problem that I have with Eternal Return, though, is how hard it is understand why you lost, and to learn from your losses. Fights are small, twitchy, and complex affairs, and tend to be over in under a minute maximum. And when you die, you get kicked out to the menu. You can’t spectate your killer, or watch them to see if they win. Did you die because you overcommitted? Because you missed skill shots? Because they had food to heal, even though you both had large amounts of damage? Did you just get outplayed? Because it’s just a bad matchup? I don’t know, and there’s no way to find out by playing the game.

To my mind, this is the single biggest flaw of Eternal Return. Almost every other Battle Royale offers death spectate. Most MOBA’s have replays. Eternal Return has nothing. Just a single look at the scoreboard, and good luck, go play another game!

So yeah, that’s Eternal Return. Apparently it’s a big hit in Korea? It’s free to start, so if the mechanics sound interesting, I’d say check it out. You can download it for free on Steam here.

Author’s Note: Also, there are a few systems in the game I didn’t cover, like CCTV’s, and various EXP and weapon types, but I’m not sure they add enough mechanically to be likely convince someone to play the game.

Author Note: If I hear one more person refer to the art style of game as “anime” I will cut a motherfucker. The game is Korean, from Korea, made by a Korean studio. The art style is closer to something like Tower of God, or another Webtoon style thing. Just because none of the women in the game have heard of pants, and all the men have sparkle eyes doesn’t fucking make it anime.

Editor’s Note: Okay but, like, it’s definitely anime. Are you telling me that the guy on the left isn’t straight out of Naruto?



Tanto Cuore

A deckbuilder that will have you collecting anime maids, and also judging looks from anyone who sees you playing.

I like Tanto Cuore and I’m not afraid to say it. Many of the mechanics feel like a upgrade over Dominion, and while it doesn’t have some of the variety of Ascension, it does avoid the randomness. If you haven’t played either of those games, that’s okay. I’ll talk more about the mechanics in a bit. But first, a brief diatribe.

Something I thought about while preparing to write this article was the fact that I have different standards for when I feel like I can write about a game based on format. For board games, a single full play session is usually enough for me to feel like I can offer an opinion. On the flip side, I’ve recently played like 40 hours of Bloodborne, but because I haven’t beaten the game, I don’t feel like I can offer thoughts yet.

It’s an interesting dichotomy, and it would be relevant to the rest of this article, because while I’m playing the digital edition of Tanto Cuore, the game itself is a board game. So even though I haven’t beaten all the single player levels, or even a majority of them, I’ve played several more rounds then I might have if it was a standard board game. At the same time, I would usually feel a bit weird reviewing a game with only five hours played.

The key phrase here is “would usually.” Because 98% of the human population is going to decide that they don’t want to play Tanto Cuore after the next sentence:

Tanto Cuore is a deckbuilder in which all of your cards are anime maids.

Have we scared off the normies with this photo? Good.

Cool, so yeah, now that no one else is going to read the rest of this article, let’s get going, starting with a short definition of the deckbuilder genre.

If you haven’t played a deckbuilder before, they generally work something like this: each player starts with a simple deck of cards. On your turn, you play those cards to take actions, and generate resources to buy more cards from some form of central supply to add to your deck. Cards you buy or play go into your discard pile, and when you run out of cards to draw from your deck, you shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your deck again. Unlike a traditional collectible card game like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering, with deckbuilders you create your deck each time you play the game. You start from scratch with the same deck of simple cards each time you play.

The goal of Tanto Cuore is to have the most victory points at the end of the game, because of course it is. Now that we’ve talked about the most boring part of the game, let’s move onto the maids cards.

Tanto Cuore has four types of cards. There are love cards, general maids, private maids, and events. Of those four, private maids and events are the simplest to explain, so we’ll start with them.

Private maids don’t go into your deck. Instead, they go into a scoring zone. When you buy a private maid, it enters your scoring zone, and until you buy another private maid, or something else special happens, you can use its ability. They also tend to be worth victory points at the end of the game. While the abilities can appear small at first, they tend to be mechanically impactful.

Events also don’t go into your deck. In fact, they don’t go anywhere related to you at all. When you buy an event, you play it onto another player, or one of that player’s maids in their private quarter. Events tend to either disable abilities, or be worth negative victory points.

Of the remaining two card types, the simplest cards are Love cards. Love is the currency you use to hire maids, and love cards can be played without spending any resources. In any other game, these would be called “Gold” or “Money.” But yeah, here it’s Love.

Which brings us to the last card type: the maids themselves. The maids are the most complex and as such covering them all in detail isn’t possible. Instead, I’m going to give a general overview of the sort of things they do and how they get used.

There are three resources that you have on your turn. They are Love, Hires, and Servings. Love is used to pay the cost to get maids. However, in addition for each maid you get, you also need to spend a Hire. The last resource, Servings, actually has two uses. You can spend Servings to play maid cards, but you can also use them to send specific maids to your scoring zone. Doing this removes the maid from your deck, but allows it to potentially also score bonus end game victory points.

It’s this mechanic that I think really makes Tanto Cuore stand out to me as a different from other deckbuilders in a meaningful way. Almost all deckbuilders have some form of victory point card that sits around and does nothing, or cards that are useful in the early game, but clog your engine in the late game. In Tanto Cuore, many of those cards are actually your primary method of scoring. Colette Framboise is the best example of this. You can spend two Servings to remove her from your deck, which scores you points. And since your deck starts with only 10 cards, removing her can vastly increase deck efficiency.

So, now that we’ve finally finished talking about Tanto Cuore’s mechanics, let’s talk a bit more about the digital version of the game, since it’s probably the easiest version of the game for you to currently get your hands on (and forcefully gift to your friends in order into guilt them into playing with you).

Overall, I think it does a fairly good job as a digital port of a physical game. While some things do feel a bit barebones, none of those are the actual game itself. There’s also an extensive singleplayer mode/tutorial with a variety of levels that seems to unlock foil versions of the cards as you clear the levels will completing various objectives. The video and audio sliders actually work really well, and the game has ultra-wide monitor support for some reason. Protip: After launching the game, go in and just… slide that slider for voices all the way off. Thank me later.

I do have one gripe with the digital version of the game though: as far as I can tell, there’s no way to see a list of all the cards in the game. See, at the start of each game, you pick several different maids to be placed into the central buy row. The rest of the cards aren’t used for that game. But this means it’s entirely possible to start a game and see a few cards you haven’t ever seen before. It’s not a massive annoyance, but I really wish there was an in-game card browser, or like… a PDF.

So yeah, that’s Tanto Cuore. A really cool deckbuilder about collecting maids that none of your friends will play with you, either because you had no friends before getting the game, or you won’t have any after trying to get them to play it. Remember kids, Settlers of Catan and every other Euro-game that promotes colonialism and hyper capitalism is a-ok, but god forbid you have skimpily dressed anime women. That’s simply a bridge too far.

Tanto Cuore is $10 on Steam, $42 on Amazon on the physical copy, and apparently like $1800 for the Japanese edition? Yeah, I don’t know either. It’s good though, and worth playing (although probably not for $1800).

Arknights

A mobile tower defense game where you run a PMC of anime furies. No wait, it’s cool, please come back.

Arknights is a mobile tower defense game. It commits some of the sins of mobile games in general, such as a gacha system for acquiring your “towers,” and an upgrade system that requires you to loot an entire RadioShack worth of gear to do anything. That said, it does enough unique and interesting things as a tower defense that I want to write about it, and I recommend it.

There’s a funny story about how this article wasn’t actually going to be an article about Arknights. It was going to be a list of some of some phone games that I’ve been playing. Part way through writing that list, I realized that I had written two paragraphs on Arknights, and nothing for the others. Then, when I tried to write about those other games, I realized that my reasons for playing them were, in no particular order:

  1. To collect fox girls.
  2. Because I’m desperately starved for anything pinball related.
  3. Sunk cost fallacy.

Arknights was the only one that I was actually playing because it was fun.

That’s not to say the game itself is perfect, by any means. As I mentioned above, I have problems with it. First, you have to roll what amounts to a slot machine in order to permanently unlock your units. Second, powering and leveling said units requires a shit ton of time. And the third, the game’s general story and lore is on par with Dota: Dragons Blood (which is to say, a mess).

But it does a bunch of other stuff right. For one, I really its “Stamina” system. Like many mobile games, Arknights has a Stamina system where you have to spend Stamina to enter and play a given stage. Unlike most mobile games I’ve played, if you wipe on stage, or choose to quit, it refunds a portion of that stamina. While this would be fine by itself, the bigger portion of this is the “Plan” system.

Plans are a parallel resource that refills to 30 at the start of each day. Plans can be used to enter a stage without spending any stamina, but you won’t get rewards for beating the stage, nor will beating it actually count as clearing the stage. In essence, they function as free “test” runs. If you haven’t played many games with a stamina system, their purpose might not be apparent. Plans allow you to constantly make attempts on content you’re stuck on, but without any risk of “wasting” your precious Stamina until you’re sure you can beat the level.

I really like this because it makes it into much more of game. You’re encouraged and enabled to try multiple strategies and ideas against levels you can’t clear. Instead of being punished for failure, you can practice and end up feeling 100% sure you’ll clear a level. You can safely try cheese and other weirdness to pass a level with no risk other than your time.

Actual Arknights levels tend to be structured similarly to normal tower defense levels. There are entry points where enemies spawn, and will follow a path to get to an exit point. If an enemy makes it all the way there, you lose a life. Run out of lives, and you fail the level.

That’s where a lot of the common genre tropes go out the window. You can’t just put down as many towers as you can afford. Instead, you can only have up to a given number of your operators on the field at any one time. Most operators can also only either be placed on ranged or melee tiles, based on their type. Once you place an operator down, you can’t move or reorient them without retreating them, waiting out their redeploy period, and then paying an increased cost to place them down again.

Almost all operators have a skill or talent of some kind. These range from stat buffs, to summoning a shadow clone copy of themselves, or just nuking the area around them.

And you will want to move them. The cost to deploy an operator is different from character to character, so you’ll often want to start by putting some of your cheaper units that generate additional deployment points into play, only to remove them later to free up space in your unit cap. And even if an operator is knocked out, after waiting out their redeployment, you can use them again on the same map. Did an enemy get past your defenses? You might find yourself having to toss someone down to block them from getting to the exit. Figuring out when to retreat unit, and when to play them is a big part of managing enemy aggro. Because of this system, Arknights is the only single player tower defense game I’ve ever played where I’ve straight up put units into play knowing they’ll die just to stall for time.

The enemies are also a bit more unique. While many of the starter enemies are standard, the game pretty quickly introduces some really neat types. Here are a few in no particular order:
Sentinels – A weak flag waving enemy who isn’t that big of a problem… except the second you shoot him, he goes into alert, buffing the rest of the units on the maps. Perhaps more interestingly, they tend to travel in routes where they ignore going toward the exit, and instead go on a grand tour of the rest of the map.
Grudgebearer – Grudgebearers start in Standby mode, which means unlike most enemies in tower defense games, they won’t attack. Even once they start moving, they won’t hit you. Unless you hit them or one of the aforementioned Sentinels, at which point Grudgebearers turn into giant tanky balls of pain. Figuring out how to aggro them in manageable ways before they all wake up is a neat challenge.
Maintenance Drones – Just because something shows up in the enemy list doesn’t mean it’s actually a threat to you. Take these very helpful little fellows. Of course, just because they’re helpful doesn’t stop your units from opening fire, which will be a problem, because you really want these guys to activate sanity restoring beacons. Why? Well…
The Entire Sea Terror Family – Have you ever wondered what what trying to fight the deep ones would look like in a tower defense? Well, worry no more, because now you can! And by “Can,” I mean you can watch your units go insane, and get stunned from trying to deal with any of the enemies from this archetype. Hooray!

There are civilians you’ll have to try to stop from getting butchered, leader enemies that will blast half your operators with a grenade launcher, and then cheerfully pull out a shiv when they get into melee range, and cloaked little shits who don’t care if you block them. They’ll just wander on past your entire defensive line if you can’t damage them down quick enough.

And that’s just a little taste of the enemies. There’s an equally large set of interesting map mechanics and setups. My personal favorite are maps where you can set up your units to just straight up shove the enemy into pits or off rooftops. But there are also maps with air vents that can boost or weaken stats based on if you’re facing into the wind or away from it, maps that let you maze like a more traditional tower defense with massive bricks, and even maps where your units are constantly being fired on by ballistas.

I will finish this Under-Tide furniture set someday.

There are some other subsystems, including an upgradable base, daily challenges, and some semi-survival raid-like sort of things, but they’re all additional modes and features, so I’m not going to talk about them here.

So yeah, that’s Arknights. A neat mobile tower defense game with a bunch of cool mechanics and enemies, and some less cool decisions around getting new operators. But overall, some really nice twists on the format.

Ed Note: Rate up is a lie.