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.

Operation: Tango

A very solid digital set of puzzle rooms with a vibrant 80’s spy movie/secret agent theme.

Author Note: Images in this article are from the Operation: Tango Press kit. It turns out getting nice images off a two player game on an ultra wide monitor is kind of a pain. I’d say they accurately reflect the look of the game.

Operation: Tango is a really cool asymmetric co-op puzzle game, where you play as one of two secret agents. And when I say “Co-Op,” I mean Co-Op. There is no single player option here. Good news is that you only need to own one copy of the game to play it with someone else on Steam, since they can just download the demo, and play the full game through that.

In Operation Tango, you and your friend take the role of two spies. One player is the Hacker, and one player is the Agent. The world has a “Futurist 80’s spy” vibe which is generally executed exceedingly well with bright colors, flashy outfits and locales, and clean UI for the puzzles.

Working together with your partner in anti-crime, you’ll need to make your way through a series of missions, each with a varied set of objectives and goals. While the game does require coordination and timing to be successful, not all puzzles are on timers, and even those that are tend to be generous, giving an illusion of intensity while offering far more time than might otherwise be obvious.

Because of its whole thing, most of the puzzles in Operation Tango that I saw don’t really fall into any single consistent pattern that can be used to describe them, outside of the idea of relying on asymmetric information. So I’m just going to go through a few that I remember and liked, to give a general sense of the vibe.

One mission has one player effectively playing an infinite runner while the other player feeds them information and call outs, while moving obstacles out of their way, healing them, and managing the rest of the interface. Others involve disabling security drones and cameras so that the other player can get by. There are a few re-used elements, such as lock picking, but those tend to amp up in difficulty as you progress.

My one big criticism would be that the game does suffer from a bit of a breakdown near the end. The last mission in the game is by far the weakest one in my opinion, and feels like the designers took 2 half finished missions and smashed them together to make a single level. To quote the person I played with, the finale felt like a worse version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and there’s a section in the previous level that is more or less just Spaceteam. With that said, the rest of the game is much stronger, and much more fun.

The game also doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to replayability once you’ve done a level as both roles. While the game does its best to randomize various elements of any given puzzle, once you understand the rules in play for a given puzzle, they’re mostly solved. Looking around to search for clues or ideas was the most enjoyable part of the game, and when you know what you’re looking for, it’s a lot less of a “Secret Agent” infiltrating a building, and more “Puzzle Speedrunning.”

Still though, Operation: Tango was one of my favorite demos from PAX East for a reason, and the full game feels like it delivers on the promise of the demo. Because of what the game offers, and because of the fact that only one person has to buy the game, I feel comfortable recommending it. If this article hasn’t persuaded you, I suggest you grab a friend, pull down the demo, and see what you think.

Good luck out there agent.

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.

Halo: Infinite – Multiplayer

The actual gameplay is great. Everything else feels half-baked.

When actually playing the Halo: Infinite multiplayer, it’s fantastic and an incredibly enjoyable experience. Everything that isn’t actually playing the game, though, kind of sucks.

Halo: Infinite is the 6th mainline entry in the Halo series. Or something like that. I guess we also have Halo: Reach, and Halo: MCC? But Halo: MCC is a remake, sorta, and Halo 5 should never have been released. So with a bit of creative math, we can pretend that Halo: Infinite is the 6th game. Whatever, I’ll probably edit this bit out later, so it doesn’t matter. The point is, Halo has been around a long time.

If you’ve somehow never heard of or played Halo, this next bit is for you. For everyone else, please skip ahead.

Halo Crash Course

Halo is a first person shooter, developed originally by Bungie, but the series is owned by Microsoft at this point. Currently the series is developed by 343 Industries. It has both multiplayer and single player components. For the purpose of today’s review, we’re just looking at the multiplayer portion. As far as first person shooters go, there are three main things that differentiate Halo from other FPS games: the health system, the guns/gunplay itself, and the generally higher time to kill. All three of these are somewhat present, so we’ll cover their presence and implementation in Halo:Infinite. We’ll cover them quickly here.

  1. Health System – Players in Infinite have two types of “Health:” these are Health and Shields. While a player has shields, all damage dealt is equivalent, regardless of where the shot lands. Bodyshot vs headshot makes no difference while a player still has shields, but the second the shields go down, headshots are meaningful again. Both health and shields start to regenerate after several seconds out of combat.
  2. Guns/Gunplay – All guns are not made equal. When a player spawns in, they either get an assault rifle and pistol in unranked modes, or the DMR in ranked modes, and 2 grenades. There are no loadouts or secondary options in Infinite. Instead, there are weapons spawns scattered around the map. The length of time it takes for a weapon to respawn ranges from fairly short, to a sizable portion of time for the game’s Power Weapons. Power Weapons have fairly low amounts of ammo, in exchange for being incredibly destructive and often being able to one-shot other players. They include the classic rocket launcher, and the sniper rifle, along with new additions such as the skewer, and cindershot. You can only carry two weapons at once.
  3. Time to Kill – Generally speaking, it takes far longer to shoot someone to death in Halo then it does in other similar games. Unlike games like Valorant or Call of Duty, where getting the drop means you just win the fight, engagements in Halo tend to be more prolonged events where you actually get a chance to respond.

Okay, so these are the main things that differentiate Halo in terms of gameplay feel from other entries in the FPS genre. Crash course complete. So now let’s actually talk about Infinite.

The Good Stuff About Halo Infinite

Price – The Halo: Infinite multiplayer is free.
Not having to pay any money for something is almost always good. Of course, it also means that the game is going to try to get it back from you somehow, but at time of writing their are no in-game advantages that can be gained by spending money.
Guns – They’re good, and they feel good.
It’s that simple. With the exception of the shotgun (which feels bad), and the plasma pistol (which has always been garbage), everything here feels good to use. The assault rifle isn’t trash for once. The pistol is solid as a secondary, and the new weapons like the Hydra have some cool alternate fire modes. The skewer is a rocket propelled crossbow. The cindershot fires big blasts of plasma. The ravager needs its shots charged, but has some really cool area denial options.
Maps – They’re all fairly solid, and feel good. They do get re-used a decent amount, but they all feel good to play on, regardless of game mode. There’s no map that feels unbalanced or completely broken.

The Bad Stuff About Halo Infinite

Maps – Not enough of them.
Wait, maps was just up above in the “Good Stuff Category.” Why is it here? Easy. There are currently only 10 of them. Three 12v12 maps, and seven 4v4 maps.

A friend said that Halo 2 shipped with like 20 or so. So why is this shipping with 10?

Performance – Long loading times are too god damn long.
Exactly what it says on the tin. It takes me just about 2 minutes to go from clicking the “Play Button” to the point where I can actually move around and fight someone. I have no idea why these load times are so long, and this is on a 1080, but it’s still annoying.

Playlists – There are only 3 of them.
Probably the biggest issue on this list, honestly. Right now, the only playlists that you can choose from are 4v4, 12v12, and ranked. And that’s it. No team slayer, no CTF. The only thing you choose is how many people are in a given match you queue into. Look, I don’t want to play Total Control. It’s a shit game mode. Let me opt out of it. Let me make custom playlists. Let fiesta be an actual normal game type instead of a special mode.

Cosmetics/Microtransactions – Price is high, grind is too.
This is the thing that’s gotten the most media attention and player frustration. Frankly, I think it’s the lowest priority item on this list. Yes, 15 dollars for a skin is stupid. Yes, 20 games per level in the battlepass was dumb. But these are all additional little flexes/addons. They aren’t where I would be focusing my efforts if I wanted to make Infinite more enjoyable right now.

Conclusion: I’m not quite sure yet.
Halo: Infinite being free is nice, but I found myself asking “How much would I pay for this right now?” and the answer is “Not fucking $60.” What currently exists really feels like a networking test, or a bit half-baked at the moment. Right now my advice would be something like this:

If you like Halo, download and play Infinite until you stop having fun with it, and maybe come back in a few months to see if the content and performance issues have been fixed. If you don’t like Halo, but want to play a Halo game/FPS, buy the Master Chief Collection instead. Yes, MCC is $40 for the full package, or $10 per game if you want to buy them bit by bit, but they’ve got the full single player campaigns, forge, and all the other good stuff that makes Halo… well, Halo.

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.

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).

Kyle’s Good Stuff Gamepass List

A list of Good Stuff you can get on Microsofts Gamepass Service.

Ah, Gamepass. If you haven’t heard of it, Gamepass is Microsoft’s “Netflix for games” service. After some jackass gave me shit for pre-ordering Back 4 Blood, saying that it would come out on Gamepass, and I could play the whole thing for like $10 instead of $80, I decided to see if there was anything else on the service I’d care about. And there is! In fact, my opinion is if you play more than 3 AAA games per year, it probably makes sense to subscribe Gamepass for a few months of the year.

So anyway, that’s what today’s thing is. A list of the good games on Gamepass that I’ve been playing recently, what each game is, what I think of it, and why you should play it. Some of these you’ve probably heard of, and some you probably haven’t. But anyway, let’s get into the list.

Ikenfell is a turn-based tactical RPG with quick time event-style minigames for attacking and blocking. (Think the Super Mario RPG sorta stuff.) Plotwise, the hook is that you go to a magic forest that has a wizard school in it to try to find your missing sister who was attending said wizard school.

Storywise, I thought it was amazing. The music was almost all really good. There was one boss battle where the music sort of took me out of the moment, but that was it.

With that said, the game is a little grindy. Unless you like the grind, I suggest turning on the game’s accessibility options or cheat mode to farm EXP, and then turning them back off for the boss fights, where the combat is the most interesting. The puzzles are also pretty good.

I love Psychonauts 2. It’s the best platformer of the year in my opinion. Psychonauts 2 is a puzzle platformer that requires a lot of outside the box thinking and trickery.

While it frontloads a lot of mechanics, I got used to them pretty quickly. The side quests feel amazing even when they’re just fetch quests. The Art style was mildly off-putting, but I got used to it after a bit. The story is also really good, and better then the first game in my opinion. While a lot of the gameplay returns from the first game, there are a few new abilities, including a time stop. There are also lots of new minigames. Finally, the pacing of new enemies is much better than its predecessor: there’s a new enemy each area, and a fairly good variety of foes.

If you do decide to pick up Psychonauts 2, I highly suggest you get the “Deal Double Damage, Take Double Damage” ability as soon as you can, because without it enemies can feel a bit tanky. Like trying to break a brick with a pool noodle.

Clustertruck is a fast paced 3d platformer. Unlike what the splash image might imply, you do not spend it smashing trucks into each other. Instead, you play a high-speed highway version of the floor is lava, except the only part of the floor you can stand on is trucks being launched at incredible speeds.

While I think Clustertruck has the best movement of anything in this list, I really don’t like how the abilities you use get unlocked. You have a trick meter that you fill by doing tricks and stuff. Except by the time I got to the final level, I had unlocked maybe half.

On that subject, I did not like the final level. It breaks a bunch of the conventions that the rest of the game set up, and not in a fun way.

Ed Note: We already have a full writeup on Hades that you can read here. As I don’t feel like retyping out 90% of that review, I’m just going to put two or three choice quotes from that article below, and call it good enough. Frankly, I think all the game of the year awards from…. everyone really do a good enough job.

“I have no criticisms.”

“The only roguelite that has ever made me want to keep playing just because of the strength of the story.”

“The characters and their relationships offer unique takes on the characters that you may already be familiar with, but will still be presented in a new light.”

So yeah, everyone loves it, and everyone but me has played it.

Sunset Overdrive is a action adventure game, with both third person shooter elements, and little bit of Tony Hawk movement. Its tone feels a bit like Borderlands.

This game came out in 2014, and it does sorta show. Character creation was limited, and all the characters look ugly IMO. But that’s the aesthetic. Graphics quality is fine for its time. The guns feel good, there’s a huge map to explore, and the characters are memorable and odd. There was one annoying child I wanted to run over a with bus, but after a bit, I didn’t want to run him over as much. So. Character development.

I do have two problems with it, but I have only played 5 hours so far, so perhaps these get alleviated? Anyway, here they are.

  1. It can be hard to find where resources you need for an upgrade are. There’s no radar or anything.
  2. I really don’t like the holdout missions where you have to protect some payload from zombies. In every other game with this sort of mission, you want to hold a position and mow them down. Since Sunset Overdrive instead wants to constantly be moving around to keep up your combo meter, the end result is the two systems clashing, and these missions feeling kind of junky to play.

So yeah, if any of these strike your fancy, you may want to check out Gamepass for PC.

Note: These were all played through Gamepass for PC. The editor to too lazy to check if they’re on all Gamepass for Xbox, because he doesn’t own one.