Helltaker – Short and Sweet

This review is more in the form of a rambling recounting essay than anything else, but as per Gametrodon editorial standards (i.e. my own self enforced and designed standard that applies to myself), I’m gonna save some reading time. Helltaker is really neat, and it’s free. You can get it here. Now, back to the stories.

In Ye Olden Days, otherwise known as the 2000’s, I did not have a computer. Or to be more precise, I did not have a computer you could play games on. My family had a desktop mac, that eventually succumbed to the ravages of time, but even if the operating system had been compatible with PC gaming at the time (it wasn’t), I still wasn’t allowed to use it to play games.

Instead, any computer gaming I did at that point in time either took place at my friend’s house, or the library. And in both cases, I mostly ended up playing various weird random flash or other web browser games.

Looking back at it now, I suspect that most of the sites that I played on were primarily rips, and copies, stealing games off other sites, and then uploading them on their own. But at the time, I didn’t know this. All I really knew is that I could go to those websites, find something, and then just play it for hours.

When I see people talking about independent games these days, I don’t often hear people mention those early flash games and weird browser hybrids. Things like Minecraft, Binding of Issac, and Cave Story are pretty easy to point at. But for me, there was a massive amount of weird shit that I played that is more or less lost to time, and the fact that I can’t remember their names.

I say all of this as a lead-up to discussing Helltaker, because as a game it reminds me of those small, strange little flash games. It’s short, sweet, and polished, with a few hidden secrets. You won’t be playing it for years to come, and you’ll finish it in a day. But it sticks with you.

There’s not much point in talking extensively about Helltaker’s gameplay, as it’s a fairly simple/straightforward puzzle game where you need to get to the exit (Demon Girl) before you run out of moves. There’s also another part of the game that subverts that a bit, but most of your time in the game will be spent on the puzzles.

Also, Modeus best girl.

One of the demons from Helltaker.

BULLET ♥︎

Yes, the ♥︎ is part of the name. I honestly have to wonder how that will impact discoverability.

(Ed Note: At time of writing, BULLET ♥︎ is currently live on Kickstarter. The version reviewed is an excellent implementation on Table Top Simulator. You can play that here. In addition, I ended up backing the game at the premium level, which is like 60 bucks, and the Kickstarter has been funded. As you might guess, I like the game, so if you’re coming in here expecting a totally non-biased opinion, you’re not gonna get it. I will include a few of my friends’ criticisms of the game, to try to provide a slightly more balanced view, but a neutral post this is not.)

I like Bullet♥︎. For anyone wondering, yes, the heart is apparently part of the name. No, I don’t know why either. Lets just talk about the game shall we?

Bullet♥︎ as a game is intended to be modeled after shmup style games like Touhou or Jamestown. While it does this at least aesthetically, I’d say the actual gameplay sometimes ends up feeling closer to a fighter, but I’ll talk about that in a bit.

The game is played in 3 minute rounds. Each player has a board representing their character, with a grid of circles on it. At the start of a round, you have a bag full of incoming bullets with numbers and colors on them. Your goal is to not let any of these incoming bullets hit you by reaching the bottom of the grid.

While you have basically no ability to control the placement of individual bullets, you do have the ability to clear them off your board using patterns, and to move them around using actions. This is the meat of the game: trying to set up efficient patterns, and make decisions all while on a fairly hard time limit.

This of course brings up one of the first complexities with Bullet♥︎. The game requires players who are used to playing games. It can be very easy to mess up and misplace, and the fact that everyone is playing at once means that pausing to ask questions about how something works, or to consult the rulebook can’t really happen. This makes it easy to misplay. (It also makes it easy to cheat, but let’s be honest, if you’re playing board games with cheaters, you need new friends anyway.)

In addition, because of this simultaneous play, Bullet♥︎ doesn’t have a large amount of inherent player interaction, especially in multiplayer games. While we never tried out the boss rush mode, Bullet♥︎ is mostly categorized by silence and quiet. This may or may not sit well with your play group.

If this all sounds like I’m being harsh on Bullet♥︎, the thing is that despite this, I’ve convinced multiple people to play it with me. I’ve played the solo mode, something I have never done before for a board game, mostly because I wanted to get better. There are very few board games I want to be good at. I like winning, but I almost never try to get better at them. Bullet♥︎ is a game I want to be good at.

I called the game a fighter up above, and that “I want to be better” is why. There’s another reason, and it’s playing the game 1v1. In 1v1, Bullet stops being purely a chaotic frenzy, and instead turns into a slightly more balanced duel. I found myself trying to predict what sort of bullets would mess with my opponent, saving patterns and bullets to set up bigger attacking rounds, and generally playing the game more like a fighter than a puzzle game.

Overall, I really enjoy the game. It won’t be a match for everyone. The game doesn’t have a huge amount of interaction between players in a way that feels massively meaningful, and the rules can feel intimidating at first.

But Bullet♥︎ is fun, and really, that’s what matters to me.

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.