Sky Rogue

Blast through the air in a minimalistic flight game/dog fight game.

I like to beat games before I write about them. I have not beaten Sky Rogue, but I’m gonna write about it anyway. This is because I don’t think I’m going to beat it anytime soon.

Sky Rogue is a minimalist flight sim and dog fighter, where you select from a set of colorful planes, load them out with enough weaponry to wipe out a small country, and then proceed to blow up repeatedly when you fail to accurately estimate the distance between you and the ground. Or you and the hanger you’re trying to bomb. Or you and the two enemy drones with chainguns. Or a surface to air missile turret.

Your experience may vary.

What I’ve learned primarily from Sky Rogue is that I am very bad at flight sims, even those of the most simplified kind, and even if I can usually finish a run of a roguelike, Sky Rogue demands a level of execution that I currently don’t have. If I beat it at some point in the next week, I’ll update this article.

So, what’s the loop then? As the name would suggest, Sky Rogue is a roguelike. The roguelike element is primarily present in the set of unlockable planes and weapons. While unlocking equipment is permanent between runs, the upgrades you purchase with cash for your planes and gear are not. There are two main resources:

  • Tech, which persists between runs and functions as a sort of exp for unlocking more equipment/planes.
  • Cash, which is lost and death and is used to upgrade gear during a run.

As far as roguelike elements go, it’s pretty minimal. Missions and environments are randomly generated, and upgrades are lost on death, but you don’t really have to scavenge for parts or weapons. Destroying enemy structures and planes during a mission grants cash, which can be spent on upgrading the planes or equipment of your choice. Most of the upgrades I’ve seen so far have been primarily numerical, i.e., extra capacity, damage, or targeting range. This meant I usually just upgraded whatever gear I was using, instead of being forced to adapt my run based on pickups.

In addition, you can fully heal and re-arm at any point during a level by returning to base (as long as you haven’t completed the mission), so there’s not as much resource conservation as there might be in something like Dead Cells or Slay the Spire.

So we have a roguelike with permanent unlocks and weapon configuration, free health refills, and a wide selection of gear. In theory this would be easy, which brings us to actual gameplay: flying your plane around, and in my case, into things.

One of the things I was hoping to find in the itch.io racial justice bundle was exposure to a bunch of games and mechanics that I wouldn’t otherwise engage with. I’ll be honest, I mostly expected to find narrative games, dating sims, that sorta stuff. Instead, I’ve gotten my ass repeatedly handed to me on each of my runs of Sky Rogue. I’ve gotten about half way through what I think consists of a full run, and I’ve gotten to the first big “Boss” once. It wrecked me.

If I had to give any advice to anyone else tempted to play the game as the result of this review, it would be the following:

  1. Turn off arcade mode. While it might feel better at first, it ultimately prevents you from flipping yourself over, and doing other tricky flight things.
  2. This game is probably better with a flight stick. I wouldn’t know. I don’t own one.
  3. Spam the flares.

Sky Rogue is $20 on itch.io, and Steam. The team does have a little blurb noting that if you buy it on itch.io, they get more of the money, and you can still get a Steam key if you buy it there.

As 2020 continues to be some sort of Twilight Zone or Tales From The Crypt anthology of garbage, stay safe, wear a mask, and take care of each other. I’ll update this article if I ever beat Sky Rogue.

Quadrilateral Cowboy

I started Quadrilateral Cowboy on Sunday, and finished it Tuesday. “Well then,” you might be wondering, “If you finished the game so long ago, why don’t you have a post about it up?” To which I would replay “Great question, theoretical fictional person who most likely does not exist outside of my head, but also somehow reads these posts and has an internal sense of how many articles should be posted on this blog per week. I’ve been wondering that also.”

I really like Quadrilateral Cowboy. I think you should play it. However, I’ve had a very hard time trying to figure out how to tell you that, because Quadrilateral Cowboy is supremely weird.

Quadrilateral Cowboy is made by Blendo games, a smaller indie dev that has an aesthetic of strangeness, and a catalog of other games I haven’t played. I’d say this aesthetic might honestly be the biggest thing that would prevent you from picking up the game, because it gives off a very “indie” vibe which I honestly sometimes confuse with entries in the “Move Around and Look At Things That Tell a Narrative” genre.

Some people call these walking simulators, but honestly, I don’t think that’s realistic. Death Stranding simulated walking, as did QWOP and both those games were hard.

So, if you get past the aesthetic and into the game, congrats! The game only has one other small ask of you: to learn a semi-fictional command line programming interface along with a variety of other programs/mild programing, and to be able to execute these with speed, precision, and accuracy.

As such, the game’s primary audience appears to be the coveted overlap of “People who are comfortable engaging with narratives and designs featuring non-traditional protagonists and stories” and “People who are willing to learn fictitious scripting languages and solve fairly tricky and convoluted puzzles.” I’ve provided a visual aid below in the form of a Venn Diagram I’ve titled “QuadCowboyMarketShare.png”

It’s the bit where the circles are touching. I should also note that I’m most definitely in that overlap.

Okay, so you’ve survived this extended intro bit. What is Quadrilateral Cowboy, and why should you play it? Well, primarily it’s a puzzle/heist game. But it has some of the most fun tools I’ve ever seen in a game like this, and they are some of the most satisfying things to use I’ve ever gotten in a video game.

You’ll unlock additional bits and pieces as you go through the game, but the primary way of interacting with the world short of just walking around and grabbing things is your Deck, a portable laptop-esqe chunk of hardware that allows you hack open doors, turn off guard lasers, and other functionality. And when I say hack, I don’t mean some lame minigame. I mean “telnet door2.open(3)” style stuff. Hope you like the command line!

There are other tools you’ll get as time goes on, but I’m gonna focus on the two other big ones. The Weevil, a very small remote control robot that can be used to sneak into areas that you can’t fit through, and the Autocase, the most satisfying gun to use that I’ve ever seen in a video game. More on the Autocase later. Let’s talk about the Weevil first.

Just like above, you don’t get a remote control for this thing. You’ll need to plop it down, pull out your Deck and micro-cctv monitor, and then use a series of commands to find and connect to it. Then, you’ll be able to instruct it to walk around, again via the command line, turn left and right, and jump. You might be thinking “That sounds difficult and mildly frustrating,” and you’d be right! Which is why getting it to do what you want is so satisfying.

On a side note, of the two minor gripes I have with the game, one is related to the Weevil, and more specifically, the fact that many situations where you use the Weevil feel a bit too “designed” to be solved in that manner.

Of course, then there is the Auto-case. What is the Autocase you might ask? Why is it great?

The Autocase is my favorite item in the game, and I feel like could sell the entire cyberpunk theme to the game on it’s own. It’s a command line controlled, remote deploy-able, briefcase packaged gun. And it is awesome.

The Autocase doesn’t feel like it suffers from the same problem as Weevil of being designed to solve specific problems. To give an example, sure, you can use the Autocase to just shoot things open, but you can also use it set off triggers and various other things that you would be able to do by hand, but remotely. And this sets up some exceedingly satisfying moments where you remotely can remotely blast buttons to open doors, shatter glass to jump down and escape from an airship, and remotely trigger an emergency release to launch something skyward.

If I have any gripes with the game, it’s that it feels short. I want to play more in this world, and more with these tools. But it also means that the game only feels like it drags a little toward the end, where it introduces a few new mechanics, only to more or less throw them away afterward. These levels were some of the least interesting, at least for me.

Quadrilateral Cowboy is a short game, and I still couldn’t quite tell you the plot, but it’s a fun game, and more importantly, it is a game. You can buy it on itch.io, here, or on Steam here. It looks like the normal price is about $20? The price does feel a little high, but its fun, weird, and worth playing. And if you don’t want to pay that much, wait for a sale. It’s definitely worth $10.

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.

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.

Risk of Rain 2

A roguelike that is a lot of fun, but is mostly just a shooter with random gear if you don’t bring friends.

I was gonna pass on writing about Risk of Rain 2, mostly for two reasons. One was because it has been out for forever. Then I went and checked, and its actually been just a bit over a year.

Huh. 2019 and 2020 have been really long haven’t they?

Then I didn’t have anything I thought was interesting to say. So.

So, some background if you haven’t played. Risk of Rain 2 is a sequel to Risk of Rain except not really. Risk of Rain was a 2D side scrolling game, and Risk of Rain 2 is a 3D third person shooter. Both are rogue likes, but the difference made by third D in 2 is pretty massive. The gameplay loop is something like this: start a game, pick a character, run around for loot while trying to finish the level. If you do finish the level, congrats! Proceed to a new level with more death and loot. When you die, and you will, rinse and repeat, but now you might have unlocked some new stuff.

Now do it again. And again.

One primary advantages that Risk of Rain 2 has over its predecessor is that the net code actually works this time, which makes playing it in multiplayer much easier, and also brings up the big thing I find interesting about the game: I think Risk of Rain 2 is actually a better roguelike in multiplayer than it is in singleplayer.

Here’s why: in singleplayer, there are very few situations where you actually get to make build defining choices. Unlike Immortal Redneck, pretty much every single item you might find or pick up is good. Outside of a few edge case items you get with a special currency that holds over between runs, no item is even a side grade. The worst an item can be is useless. It’s never going to really penalize you.

This matters because in Risk of Rain, the primary thing that is going to kill you is time. As a run progresses, the difficulty of the game ticks up, scaling the damage, health, etc, of bosses. So in order to get the most out of a run, you more or less want to be constantly pushing forward. You don’t really want to spend time farming money or items on a given level, because that will just make things harder in the long run, and the benefit of a single extra item doesn’t outweigh the time it took to get it. Instead, the game plan usually becomes scoping out a few items you can grab quickly, fighting the boss fast, grabbing those items, and charging ahead.

So again, in singleplayer, here’s what will happen: you’ll just grab every single item you can get your hands on. A given item won’t make you worse, so there’s no reason not to.

But in multiplayer, suddenly the builds become important. There are two reasons for this. One is that a fantastic item for one class might be at best mediocre on other. Everyone having a little bit of attack speed might not be as good as one person having a ton. And some items just stack poorly. So now when you open chests, the question being asked is no longer “Should I pick this up?” to which the answer is always “Yes,” it becomes, “Is this item more effective on me, or on my teammates, and if so, should they commit time to coming to grab it?”

I’ll give an example: Bustling Fungus. Bustling Fungus is a fairly straightforward item. When you stand still, after about 2 seconds, a field around you will appear, and will restore health to the source of the field, and any friendly allies standing in it. As a player, standing still will get you pulverized, so Fungus hot trash most of the time.

Unless you play Engineer. The Engineer puts down turrets have two important properties when it comes to Bustling Fungus. First off, the turrets function as if they have copies of all the items the Engineer, and… they never move. So the Engineer with Bustling Fungus suddenly becomes able to place down self healing turrets that also heal allies who just stand near them, even if the ally is running around. Suddenly the Fungus is pretty good.

The second thing is this that the number of items per player in a game of Risk of Rain 2 is mostly linear. So if you’re in a one player game, let’s say you get about 4 total items per level. Well, in a 2 player game, you’ll get about 8 total items per level. And either of the players can pick those up! Before, your build was likely to be pure luck of the draw, but now you can plan with your teammates to put those items where they’ll do the most good. Some like Bustling Fungus are straightforward, and some are more complex, but the increased variety and choices means you have a much bigger pool to try to build out of.

In either case, I think the key takeaway here is as follows: Risk of Rain 2 is pretty great. Steam says I’ve played almost 60 hours of it, so yeah, I like. But perhaps more important, if you do decide to risk those rains, bring some friends. It makes the game much more fun, and makes the building aspect much more strategic.

(Or you could just unlock and use the Artifact of Command, which lets you pick which item you want from a given tier, but I’m not counting that here.)