Return of the Obra Dinn

Return of the Obra Dinn is a clever, unique idea, executed with distinct visual style and theming. But those three factors clash with each other, and while they do create a unique experience, for me it was primarily one of frustration and exhaustion.

Return of the Obra Dinn came out in 2018. It’s a mystery game combined with a logic puzzle. It got a lot of good press at the time. So I decided to finally play it this weekend. And I’m… frankly, I’m a bit underwhelmed.

I don’t give out scores on this website. Usually I just say if I think a game is worth playing. But I’d give Return of the Obra Dinn a grudging 8/10. It’s not a bad game, but it isn’t excellent. This is weird because Return of the Obra Dinn ticks all the boxes to be excellent, but is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

The premise of the game is simple. The player is an insurance claims agent sent to investigate the titular Obra Dinn. It’s a ship that was lost at sea and has just now returned to the shores of England with no passengers or crew. Your job is to determine the fate of everyone aboard. However, you are not empty handed. In addition to your own wits, a crew manifest, and some sketches, you also have a magical watch. Using the watch on a corpse transports you to a still moment in time/memory of when that person died.

Within the memory you can walk around, hear a snippet of audio, and also get some information about who else was present. Using this, you need to reconstruct the full series of events and determine the cause of deaths of everyone who started aboard the Obra Dinn.

Just a word of warning before you read any further. I will be spoiling the “experience” of playing Return of the Obra Dinn in the rest of this review.
I won’t be spoiling specific gameplay

There’s one thing I’m going to rant about regarding one single death, but outside of that, reading this review won’t make you any better at playing the game. But it will probably impact your experience of the game. So, last chance to stop now, and read about a mystery game I like more: Lucifer Within Us.

Okay, so I called Return of the Obra Dinn a grudging 8/10. That’s because it does everything in such a way that it should be excellent. It has a fantastic presentation and theme and a unique visual style. It has a decent story. And it has a unique game mechanic that I haven’t seen before or since. That means that this game is five years old, and no one ripped it off.

Tick tick tick.

But all of these things feel like they somewhat play against each other. Let’s start with the story. The story of Return of the Obra Dinn can be summarized as: a trading ship brought passengers aboard with a magical artifact. At one point, members of the crew tried to kidnap these passengers and escape on lifeboats, and steal the artifact. The artifact attracted mermaids, the mermaids killed some people, but then were knocked out. The mermaids were imprisoned back on the ship, more mermaids came to try to free them, but were killed. Then a Kraken was summoned to tear the ship down.

Which is fine EXCEPT, this feels kind of like paint-by-numbers Lovecraft. It plays counter to my level of interest in rest of the mystery. What’s the magical artifact? Why are the mermaids attacking it? How did the passengers get it? I didn’t get answers to these questions.

Instead I just got to figure out which crew member was killed by getting a spear through the head, and which one was killed by being strangled. That’s not actually as exciting as a mystical artifact.

It felt like attending a dinner party where someone is served their mother’s head, and then being asked to determine which table settings had the wrong fork.

Secondly, the story is experienced in reverse. Which means you get the big finale/setpiece of the Kraken attack first. Then everything else is a slower
boil. There was no building tension past a certain point, because you see how things end up pretty quickly. The ending/beginning serves to refocus the story, which continues to remind me of a Lovecraft paint-by-numbers.

Yes, this is very pretty. Yes, it is probably technically interesting. But it also makes details hard to make out unless you’re staring right at them.

The game has a excellent theme and rendering, being done entirely in only two colors, with minimal detail. However, this hindered my ability to actually “play” the game. Viewing a death memory requires you to interact with a corpse of someone who died at that point in time. While the scenes themselves are fairly straightforward in how they’re laid out, you usually experience them in reverse order.

This is frustrating, and it’s doubly frustrating when you want to view a scene in chronological order. On top of that, scenes also can take a bit to load. They play the audio clip once each time you enter the scene, but don’t let you replay it, so you have to load it again if you want a replay. It’s frustrating and difficult to navigate.

Side note: the game also doesn’t have a resolution setting. So I had to use Unity launch flags to play it on my Ultrawide, because of course I did. Small gripe, yes, but this is from 2018, not 2012. I should not have to do this.

You’ll notice I used the word “Frustration” a lot in the previous paragraph. For me, a thread of frustration carried throughout the gameplay. The game has a “Fate” system, where you enter how a given individual died and their name, and then once you have 3 correct, the game validates it, and permanently enters it into the record. As a result, in order to progress you need to solve the deaths of 3 crew members correctly.

In theory this is a cool system that prevents you from making random guesses. And it sort of does that, but the structure of Return of the Obra Dinn meant that in the later 75% of the game I found myself doing a bunch of guess and check, just throwing things at the wall to see what stuck. I might not know which Chinese topman was struck by lightning, but I know it has to be one of them, so I might as well just slam different names into the journal until one works.

The most frustrating thing for me was trying to figure out what was, and what wasn’t a clue. For example, one of the biggest hints you get at the start of the game is a set of drawings of the voyage of the ship at various points.

These drawings include everyone on the ship, and for some of them, there are clues in where they’re standing, and what they’re wearing. For example, crew members of certain nationalities are bunched together, or wearing similar outfits, or only certain ranks wear some specific attire.

I don’t understand why, in a game about identifying people and situations based on location and appearance, the developers decided to so stingily ration pixels. It’s not actually possible to identify who people are without right clicking them, and seeing their photo.

It also doesn’t help that some clues require you to look out of game. Maybe the game is made for people who are smarter then me, but I don’t what Formosa is. While I might know what an Italian accent sounds like, I don’t speak Danish, or know anything about Papua New Guinea. So perhaps if you’re European, and did well in social studies, the game is more straightforward.

The general feeling I had with Return of the Obra Dinn was frustration. Solving deaths in the later half of the game never had a “pieces falling into place” moment, where everything just clicked and made sense. Instead it was a perpetual slog of getting three more deaths, then trying to brute force my way via guess and check into my next set of deaths.

I also do want to direct some specific enmity at one particular death, and the only one I ended up looking up. This individual was attacked with a projectile spike, crawled away, pulled the spike out of their body and is seen leaning against a wall prior to their death. In other cases, these spikes have been quite lethal. So how did this person die? Well, according to the game, they were shot through a wall. Which I was supposed to figure out by looking at their corpse, back tracking 5 scenes, and then seeing who could have fired the bullet.

Have I mentioned that the game has an art style that makes it hard to see things? Things like small details, and exact outfits?

Looking back at it now, maybe what I’m supposed to realize is that the watch can only transport you to the moment of death, and as such, I’m supposed to be looking for the exact cause of death at that point in time. I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough for the game. But what I do know is that after 12 hours, I’m mostly just frustrated.

I didn’t have fun. The game doesn’t give answers for many of its open-ended lore questions. When I beat it, there was less catharsis than a “Well, at least I have something to write about this week.”

No, we shall not be.

Return of the Obra Dinn is a clever, unique idea, executed with distinct visual style and theming. But those three factors clash with each other, and while they do create a unique experience, for me it was primarily one of frustration and exhaustion. If you think you’re smarter than me, you can buy it on Steam here.

Tricky Towers

Tricky Towers is the bastard child of Tetris and a physics system. It’s also a ton of fun and great in multiplayer.

If I had to summarize Tricky Towers in one image, this is what I would use.

Artist’s conceptualization of Tricky Towers. Stolen from XKCD, by the eternally funny Randall Munroe.

Anyway, that would pretty much do it. Article over. You get the idea. Except that Tricky Towers has multiple modes, and is multiplayer, and… hmm.

Y’know, maybe you could read the rest of the writeup.

Anyway. Tricky Towers. Tricky Towers is kind of like Tetris in that it’s a game that consists of stacking tetronimos on top of each other. It’s unlike Tetris in that instead of lines disappearing when you fill them, they just sort of sit there. This is because your goal is different. Unlike Tetris, in which you try to clear the maximum number of lines possible, in Tricky Towers, you are trying to build a tower. (Okay, in most game modes, you’re trying to build a tower. More on the other game modes in a bit.)

Also unlike Tetris, where pieces are always aligned on a grid, you can move your pieces in half block increments. Oh, and there’s a physics system! And these two additions combine to turn everything into utter chaos.

Because there’s no easy way to remove placed blocks, you just sort of have to live with the consequences (much like how I’ll have to live with the consequences of how shit this writeup is!). Did a L block fall over? It’s now time to play some sort of warped sideways Tetris. Did a critical part of your structure just end up with a bit too much weight? Time to watch as your dreams crumble, and joy turns to ash. And also as your opponents build right past you!

Oh, yeah, opponents, and game modes.

Tricky Towers has variety of game modes, including single player, score attacks, and multiplayer. The first two are fine, but I don’t care about them much as I almost always only ever play multiplayer with friends.

Yeah, I’m sure you really did get a score that can only be expressed with scientific notation you cheating fuck.

Within multiplayer, there are multiple modes for games and types. Usually I play the Cup setting, which works kind of like Mario Kart scoring. You play a set of challenges, and get points based on whether you finished first, second, etc.

Within those, there are 3 different modes, somewhat analogous to tracks. These are Race, Survival and Puzzle.

Race is the most straightforward: be the first person to build a tower that reaches the finish line, and have it stay stable for 3 seconds. There’s some very clever design here as well, as the finish line actually moves toward the players. This makes it so even if you’re absolutely terrible, or the ratio of modern art to engineering embodied by your tower tends towards Jackson Pollock, the game will still end.

Survival is somewhat similar, except your goal is to just last the longest. In this game mode, whenever a block drops off the side of your tower, you lose a life. Lose all your lives, and you’re knocked out. It’s also possible to win by placing all 66 of your blocks before your opponents, but in the 12 hours I’ve played, that has literally never happened once.

Puzzle is the most unusual. Each player is given a starting block, and the same lineup of pieces, and the goal is to place as many of those pieces as possible, without going over a line. The catch is that if you drop a piece, the base of your tower is moved up, and when you place a piece that crosses the aforementioned line, it’s removed, and the number you placed beforehand is your final score.

Overall, these three modes in multiplayer are why I enjoy Tricky Towers. And the multiplayer is non-negotiable. I play a lot of games, but Tricky Towers is one of the few that everyone in my group will actually want to play on game nights.

Tricky Towers is $15.00 on Steam, but you can probably wait for it to go on sale, and get a few copies to play with friends for a bit cheaper.

Peggle Deluxe/Peggle Nights

Author’s Note: Between various things, this week has been long and not entirely productive. As such, this writeup for Peggle is somewhat phoned in. With that said, Peggle and the two games I mentioned yesterday are worth playing, but this writeup is somewhat content light.

I have a hard time writing a “review” of Peggle for the same reason I’d have a hard time writing a review of a jar of Peanut Butter. There’s a lot similarities between the two, mostly the fact that if you place either of them in front of me, leave, and then return several hours you will discover that I have consumed the entire thing, and upon asking for my opinion, I will respond with “It was pretty good,” and “Do you have any more?”

The point is, like peanut butter, I like Peggle, and I enjoy it, but I can’t quite tell you why. That won’t stop me from trying.

Some brief history: Peggle was published by PopCap games, back before they acquired by EA. I mention this not because “Ah, yes, the good old days” but more to give a sense of time, since that was back in 2007 when you could do exciting things like eat in restaurants. And also because the maximum resolution supported is not high.

This image of the menu is maybe 80% to scale.

So, if you expect things like “adjustable resolution” and “performance sliders” you may be about to have a bad time. Otherwise, let’s continue.

You might notice that this review has two games in the title, Peggle Deluxe, and Peggle Nights. And you might wonder why I feel confident in reviewing two games at once, and the answer is simple: Peggle Nights is effectively just an addon pack for Peggle Deluxe. Peggle Nights has new levels to play, and one new character. And that’s it.

The game has a variety of modes, including Adventure, which has you play through a series of levels as a character, duels, where you take turns with another player or a computer trying to get a high score, various challenges, and just a freeplay mode.

Outside of the challenge mode, though, the various levels play somewhat similarly. You click to launch balls, and they bounce around hitting pegs.

Green pegs give you a boost based on the character you’re playing, blue pegs give points, and the goal is to get rid of all the orange pegs. If you score above a certain amount of points, you get an extra ball, and if you get the ball to land in the pot at the bottom, you also get an extra ball.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’m just gonna post this GIF and call it a day, since that has to be worth at least several thousand more pictures.

Peggle is simple, enjoyable, and it’s incredibly compelling to going for a high score in a level, or to just try to beat it for the first time in adventure mode. It’s the same sort of pleasure as things like pinball, where it feels like a combination of skill and also just being at the mercy of the board, and as such you just keep playing.

Peggle is something like 15 years old at this point, but you can still find it on Steam and various EA stores if you’re interested, and I am out of effort to continue writing about it, so I’m just gonna end this post here.


I’m going to be honest. I chose to play through HuniePop purely to flex on a friend who thought that the game was “Too hard” and that “Most people couldn’t beat the first level.” For reference, this friend has beaten all three Dark Souls games, so my first impression was that they just really, really sucked at puzzle games.

Having now actually finished the game, I have to admit it was not as easy as I was expecting. But I still beat it, so suck it Kyle. Anyway, HuniePop!

HuniePop is sort of combination of dating simulator and match 3 puzzle game. I have some issues with the game’s implementation of both of these mechanics. But credit where it’s due, it did make me realize that I was about to forget a girlfriend’s birthday for the second year in a row. More on that in a moment.

Anyway, after a brief tutorial and introduction to the game’s mechanics by a sex fairy, you’re given a magic phone that that will let you locate girls you encounter and also show you information about how much they like you.

Hmmm… when you put it that way, it’s kinda creepy. Like, it’ll show you if they’re asleep, but you can’t go visit them or talk to them if they’re not already in a somewhat public place? I dunno. Anyway, that brings us to the first of the two main gameplay loops.

While HuniePop advertises itself as a match 3 game, there’s also a large portion of it that functions as a sort of memory game. Here’s how it works. After the tutorial, you’ll start off the first day, and you’ll go around talking to girls. There are four time blocks in a day, and the game progresses to the next time block when you choose to go talk to a different girl. These blocks are Morning, Noon, Evening and Night, and with some small difference for Evening and Night, they all function pretty much the same.

While you’re interacting with one of the girls, there are five actions you can take. You can buy her food, which increases the food meter, you can offer her a drink, which she generally won’t actually take you up on unless it’s already much later in the day, you can give her a present, or you can just chat with her. Food, alcohol, and gifts all cost Munie, one of the game’s two currencies, that you get by successfully completing dates (Editor’s note: just like in real life). Chatting with a girl gives you a small amount of Hunie, the game’s other currency, but lowers her food meter. Chatting is actually a fairly large portion of the gameplay loop, and she’ll either tell you something about herself, such as birthday, favorite season, etc., or she’ll ask you to remember something she’s told you previously. Getting these questions correct rewards you with extra Hunie, which is used to upgrade your stats, and increase the value of various tokens in the match 3 portion of the game.

It’s worth noting that none of these things actually make her like you any more.

In order to get her to like you more, you have to go on a successful date, and this is the match 3 part of HuniePop.

This is where HuniePop has some differences in genre from most other match 3 games. There are 5 different types of symbols, which each have a different mechanical effect:

Talent/Flirtation/Romance/Sexuality – These are the four symbols that build your affection meter. You need to fill this meter before you run out of turns to successfully complete the date. They’re the circular symbols in the image above. Each girl has a like, and a dislike. Matching the symbols they like will net you more affection, matching the symbols they dislike generally net you less. The other two types will just give a base amount.

Passion – The heart shaped symbols. Matching passion symbols boosts your passion level. Higher passion level gives you a multiple on the amount of affection earned from the four symbols mentioned above.

Sentiment – Sentiment tokens are the small teardrop cyan tokens. They give you energy in order to use your “Date Gifts” which are activated abilities. Abilities can range from permanently increasing the spawn rate of certain tokens for the rest of the date, to removing all tokens of one type from the board, to just replacing all tokens of one type with another.

The Bells I Can’t Remember The Name Of – They’re the bell shaped ones. You match these to get an extra turn.

Broken Hearts – If you match broken hearts, you will lose a large portion of your affection meter. You don’t want to do this.

I think this single gif is responsible for 90% of the bandwidth usage on this site…

While these mechanics are interesting, I have two big problems with them. The first one is how Broken Hearts feel to play with. Because you’ll try to avoid matching them, you’ll find yourself often with a very clogged board state, and it can be easy to have new tokens fall into the board, and set off broken heart chains. It’s frustrating, and it takes away some of the fun I’ve always had with match 3 games: trying to set up ridiculously long combos.

My second problem is a design decision that was made regarding how matches work. If you make a match that includes a set of 3 orbs going up, and 3 orbs over, in a sort of a L shape, with one shared orb in the corner, the game does not count this as a match of 5 orbs. In fact, it won’t count two of the orbs at all. It will just remove the highest match of three and remove the other two. It makes it much harder to set up certain combos. I just don’t understand why they made this choice.

So why do I think that this is a design decision? Well, if you successfully date a girl enough to get her to want to come home and fuck you, there’s a secondary mini-game version of the match 3 puzzle where you have unlimited moves and in that part of the game the L pattern does count as a full match.

Speaking of which, I think it’s time to briefly cover the “Adult Content” that’s present in HuniePop. There is… surprisingly little of it honestly. It’s there, but outside of some bare breasts, and six or so images, nothing ever reaches past the level of “Hot Babe Calendar.” It’s suggestive, but except for the aforementioned, not really explicit.

Overall, HuniePop is decent. It’s not amazing in any sense, but I did find myself continuing to play it, and trying to to beat it. The difficultly curve is a bit weird, with some unusual spikes, and there were a few challenging points. It’s better than I was expecting, and if it wasn’t for the pattern mechanics and Broken Hearts, I think I would have had a fair amount of fun with it.

HuniePop is available on Steam, and also GoG (You’ll need to be logged on Steam to see it though, because ADULT CONTENT). If you want to hit on anime girls and see breasts while also playing a weirdly difficult match 3, this might be the game for you. If you’ve got no interest in the game’s erotic theming, though, you’d likely be better off with another puzzle game. (I would personally suggested Beglitched!)