Mini Motorways Review (PC/Steam)

These motorways might be mini, but they’re big on gameplay!

Imagine a brand new portable gaming device with almost no buttons at all. Just a massive touch screen and nothing else, running on its own proprietary operating system and only featuring downloadable games designed specifically for it, no cartridges or discs at all. Sounds absurd, right? Surely nobody would buy something like that. Well, it already exists, and has for over a decade: the Apple iPad.

This iconic touch-screen tablet, while mostly marketed as a device focused on productivity and functionality, has been used for gaming ever since its release in 2010. Like it or not, the iPad is technically an unconventional handheld gaming console, made easily accessible for casual gamers in households and offices across the globe. Early titles like Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Infinity Blade and Plants vs. Zombies HD proved that touch screen mobile devices could produce gaming experiences to rival that of dedicated handhelds. In the following years, many iOS games even achieved critical acclaim: Monument Valley, World of Goo, and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (pictured below) to name just a few.

Years later, the obsession with mobile gaming still hasn’t stopped thanks to New Zealand developers Dinosaur Polo Club, the minds behind the puzzle strategy games, Mini Metro (2015) and more recently, Mini Motorways (2019). These simplistic, heavily-stylised, minimalist games make the mundane – traffic – into a mesmorising procedure through vast interconnected networks designed from scratch by the player. What starts off as a simple concept soon becomes increasingly complex!

So how does an iOS/Apple Arcade game like Mini Motorways with a casual style of play and heavy use of a touch screen translate into a dedicated PC experience? Far better than you’d think! Read on in our review that’s hopefully a bit more entertaining than sitting in traffic.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review

Concept

When sitting in gridlock, have you ever wondered how you might be able to get home, to work, or to your destination just a bit quicker? Maybe with a more direct route, some extra roads, or possibly even a high-speed motorway to reduce your commute? Well, Mini Motorways will help make these thoughts a reality! By taking control of metropolitan networks from around the globe, the player has the opportunity to turn this disorderly drive into a highly-organised mesh of roads and motorways at the click of a button.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
Is this what it feels like to work for LA city council?

The game is divided into themed maps, each of which are based on a real-life location. You’ll have the option to build networks connecting huge cities like Tokyo, Beijing, Los Angeles, and many more. They also feature distinct geographical landmarks like rivers and coastlines that make the level not only more authentic, but add an additional level of challenge when building your network.

Gameplay

What might seem like a mundane and complex concept is stunningly simple and oddly-satisfying. The game will slowly introduce you to its gameplay mechanics through a short step-by-step tutorial, which clearly explains the key concepts of the game. The goal is simple: the player must connect coloured houses to similarly coloured destinations by adjoining them with roads by which the cars may travel. Cars must collect pins from their destination, and collecting a pin counts for a single point. As time progresses, additional houses and destinations will begin to appear, making the commute more complex.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review Gif

More cars on the road will require additional means of managing the traffic. After each week of gameplay (which is the equivalent of a couple minutes), the player will be given additional resources: roads, traffic lights, roundabouts, bridges, and most importantly, motorways. By utilising these different structures, the flow of traffic can be made smoother and more efficient, which becomes necessary when the small map begins to expand a sprawling city.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
You’ll be able to build a sprawling network within minutes!

Eventually, pins will be popping up rapidly around the map. Failure to collect enough pins in time will set off a timer on a destination, which will slowly build up unless cars navigate to the pins. Once the timer is full, the level is finished, and the score is calculated by how many pins are collected. This is then automatically uploaded to a worldwide leaderboard to challenge thousands of other players.

Visuals

Clean, crisp, simplistic and minimalist – perfect words to describe the unique visual aesthetic of Mini Motorways. Though initially suited to handheld play, this visual style looks incredibly pleasing on PC, with its straight lines, curved highways, and intricate matrixes of roads. What the game lacks in detail it makes up for in style, with each map having a distinct colour palette and design reflective of its geographical location. For example, when playing in Tokyo, a light shade of pink is used to resemble that of cherry blossoms, and building roads through its trees will result in puffs of pink leaves.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
At times it’s almost hypnotic to watch.

It most certainly retains all the visual cues of a mobile game despite no longer having any touch screen aspects. Clicking to place and remove roads and other structures both looks and feels intuitive. The game becomes most visually satisfying once a detailed mesh has been created, with hundreds of tiny cars flitting about efficiently.

Audio

One of the most respected composers in the world of ambient videogame music is responsible for the sounds of Mini Motorways: Disasterpeace. Known for creating the music of games like Fez, and Hyper Light Drifter, it should come as no surprise that the tracks featured in this game are relaxing, hypnotic, excellent background music. There are no particular melodies that will grab you, as the music is entirely procedurally created, and reacts based on your own actions in the game! The songs generated are rhythmic and structured, varying with the scale of the traffic and gameplay, and could easily be listened to on loop for hours. Combined with the soft hum of traffic, the sound of Mini Motorways is a satisfying ambience to accompany the overall experience.

A short snippet of procedurally-generated ambient music.

Extras

Several additional features have been added with a focus on accessibility. Players have the option to remove particular animations, adapt controls, and adjust visuals based on their preference or needs. For a game as simple as this, it’s a nice option to include these added elements where many others would omit them.

Mini Motorways PC Steam Nintendo Switch iOS Apple Arcade Review
As if the game wasn’t already challenging enough.

Additionally, to keep you coming back for more, the game also includes daily and weekly challenges. These are changes based on existing maps – for example, the week in which I wrote this review had a Moscow challenge, which allowed unlimited roads but no motorways and a limited number of bridges (making the entire map incredibly challenging). These slight changes surprisingly make a dramatic difference to the gameplay.

Conclusion

Mini Motorways is a simple concept designed for a touch screen but elegantly adapted for PC, and retains every element of its captivating procedurally-generated gameplay with little to no compromise. What may seem simple on the surface has significant depth and will appeal to those who relish in high scores, trying their hardest to make it to the top of a leaderboard. More casual players too will receive plenty of enjoyment from Mini Motorways, though may already have had the option to play it on their handheld devices and there is no advantage to playing it again on PC. This is a game that can easily be enjoyed by anyone, so it’s worthwhile that those without iOS devices can finally try it out.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of simple, procedurally generated gameplay.
  • Love trying to get the high score? This game is for you.
  • Crisp clean graphics and relaxing ambient soundtrack.
  • If you never had the chance to play it on iOS.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Have already played it on a handheld device.
  • If you prefer more complex strategy games.

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.
Mini Motorways is also coming to Nintendo Switch in Q1 2022.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX Review (Nintendo Switch)

The cult classic SEGA platformer is back and isn’t kidding around.

It’s the year 1985 and videogame consoles have begun to infiltrate living rooms across the globe, marking the beginning of what many now refer to as the “Console Wars“. Nintendo was at the forefront of the industry and Super Mario was quickly becoming a common household name thanks to its simple yet addictive platforming gameplay. So what was rival SEGA to do? Give up entirely, or create an iconic platforming game of their own as competition? It wasn’t until 1991 when the Blue Blur first raced onto our screens, so who was responsible for keeping SEGA and their Master System relevant during this highly competitive period?

It was just some Kidd.
But not just any Kidd, Alex Kidd.

Whoever did the box art really must have a passion for graphic design.

His debut was in 1986 with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, a side-scrolling 2D platformer featuring an expansive world, brutal difficulty, and neat upgrades like motorbikes and helicopters. Did Mario have a motorbike? No? Didn’t think so. Thanks to the popularity of this initial game, 5 further Alex Kidd games were released for SEGA systems during the following 5 years. However, 1991 marked the birth of Sonic the Hedgehog and thus the death of Alex Kidd. SEGA had essentially killed off their own character by turning their focus to another.

Alex Kidd briefly appeared in a Sonic comic

Alex Kidd had sadly faded into obscurity. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Gaming history became legend. Legend became myth. And for 30 years, Alex Kidd passed out of all knowledge…

…until, when chance came, the Kidd ensnared a new developer.

Thanks to Merge Games and JanKenTeam, this classic platformer has been revived, revitalised, and re-released on almost every console currently available! But how does a 35 year old platformer hold up by today’s standards? Is it as thrilling as it was decades ago, or has your fondness for the game been clouded by nostalgia? I’ve never played the original, no kidding, so it’s about time I get stuck into Alex Kidd in Miracle World for the very first time!

Plot

Many centuries ago, on the planet Aries, there lived a boy named Alex Kidd. For seven years he lived on Mt. Eternal studying Shellcore, an ancient art that makes one strong enough to break rocks into pieces. Kidd would even put Mike Tyson to shame with his punches! One day, as he was leaving the mountain for his spiritual homeland, he encountered a dying man who told him that the peaceful city of Radaxian was in grave danger. Before taking his last breath, the man gave Alex a piece of a map and a medallion made of Sun Stone.

What is it about old men in caves sending little kids on quests?

Alex soon learns of an evil villain by the name of Janken the Great who has overthrown the king and captured the king’s son, Egle, and his fiancé, Princess Lora. The task of rescuing the kingdom from the wrath of Janken rests upon Alex’s fists, and so he ventures toward Radaxian to defeat the three Generals and overthrow Janken to end his tirade on the Kingdom.

There are plenty of interesting characters throughout Alex’s journey, and for an 80s platforming game, Alex Kidd has far more plot than I would expect – even more than most modern games in the genre!

Gameplay

You’ve played a platforming game, right? Surely you have by now, it’s been like 40 years. Well, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is quintessential retro platforming almost unchanged, and those who have played the original game will feel as if they’ve travelled through time.

The game is split into 17 separate levels, each with a distinct theme, environmental hazards, plenty of enemies, and even some puzzles to help keep Alex’s brain as big as his fists. Each level will see Alex running, jumping, and pummelling his way towards a delicious item of food at the end of the level (you can choose between Onigiri, Burger, Fish & Chips, or a Spanish Omelette). Alex is armed with a deadly punch, numerous upgrades, and added abilities which can be purchased along the way. He’s gonna need all the upgrades you can get too, because Alex can only take a single hit!

Scissors paper rock is the only way to settle a score.

Certain levels also feature special vehicles like a helicopter, motorbike, and plane, during which the game briefly turns into a basic side-scrolling shooter. Most levels also feature a traditional boss fight at the end, and others instead end in a best-of-3 match of Jan Ken Pon (that’s scissors paper rock for all you non-weebs out there). It’s simple and fun platforming gameplay for the most part, but with a major criticism…

Alex moves like he’s been coated in detergent.
He’s slippery, floaty, and just all around awkward to control.
Like a well-oiled machine that’s been oiled just a bit too much.

I’ve played many platformers in my time, hundreds even, from the most iconic like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong Country to the difficult and obscure like VVVVVV or Syobon Action. Never before have I encountered a platformer whose controls I loathed quite like Alex Kidd. When trying to make precise jumps over a chasm, or even just walk up to an enemy so you can wail on it, the sheer slipperiness of the controls can make this an unnecessarily frustrating ordeal. It’s just blatantly unenjoyable at times, and I couldn’t help but blame the game for many of my failed attempts.

You’re going to make Alex die. A lot.

But I did persist through the controls, and eventually became slightly accustomed to their awkwardness. Inevitably the game became more enjoyable, and by the very end I found myself overall happy and satisfied with the experience despite these drawbacks. However, many players who do not persist through the first few levels may find themselves quitting entirely out of sheer frustration.

Visuals

While I found myself at war with the gameplay on numerous occasions, it was the visuals that kept me coming back time and time again. Some players might fondly remember the basic 8-bit graphics of the original some 35 years ago. Well guess what? They look like complete trash now. So what have Merge Games done instead? Created a brand new, gorgeous, highly-detailed pixel art style that perfectly captures the charm of every single level, character, and detail throughout the entire game. It’s without a doubt one of the most attractive platformers you’ll ever encounter. This becomes even more apparent when swapping back and forth between the DX and original visuals, which can be done as easily as pressing a single button!

Hmm, I’m not sure I can see the difference…

Having played both in handheld mode and on a big ol’ 4K OLED TV, I can confidently say every single aspect of the game looks brilliant on either. Even the simple, vibrant cartoony design of the characters really pops and seems to suit the rest of the visuals perfectly. Honestly, I would recommend playing this simply based on visuals alone.

Audio

Like 8-bit visuals, chiptunes too are a thing of the past. While Alex Kidd DX has not done away with them entirely, the majority of the iconic tunes have been rearranged, recomposed, and performed acoustically by a freelance composer and sound designer by the name of Bibiki Garcia. His arrangements of the old chiptunes sound refreshing, vibrant, and incredibly upbeat. Using mostly acoustic instruments like guitar, ukelele and mandolin, as well as melodica and simple vocals to convey a pleasant, childish and carefree style, the soundtrack has been completely modernised and is an absolute pleasure to listen to.

The music for the first level, Mt. Eternal.

Interestingly, some parts of the game retain the chiptune audio aesthetic. Most boss fights and intense moments revert to traditional chiptunes with a modern touch of drum and bass added. It’s a nice homage to the original music, and contrasts with the lighter, more upbeat sound of the overworld.

So what’s new?

Of course some quality of life changes are needed for a 35 year old game – we’ve all become accustomed to things like save files, extra options, and accessibility over the last few decades. Thankfully there have been a number of changes in DX to bring Alex Kidd into the modern era.

Firstly, the option of infinite lives is available from the very beginning, a necessary feature for the vast majority of those wanting to complete the game. I tried several times to play without this turned on, but found myself needing to resort to it in order to progress through many difficult areas. It’s a lifeline that makes the game overall much more enjoyable. Each level also has numerous checkpoints and a save system whereby you can easily drop back in to the level where you’d left off, a luxury that was not available in the original for obvious reasons.

As mentioned above, the graphics can be reverted back to the original at any time with the press of a button, and though there’s no real gameplay advantage to this, it’s a nice touch for those who might have grown up playing the original. Once completing the game in full too, you’ll also unlock Classic Mode which is as close to playing the game on a Master System as you’ll get without blowing the dust off an old cartridge. Though strangely I feel like the controls in classic mode are more precise than DX.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that Merge Games have done a truly brilliant job in modernising this classic SEGA game and bringing it into the hands of a new generation of gamers. While those who played it all those years ago are bound to get a nostalgia kick out of DX, the decades I’ve spent playing polished platformers have spoiled me and as such there were many aspects of Alex Kidd’s gameplay that felt imprecise and tedious. Luckily, other aspects of the game such as its beautiful pixel art visuals and upbeat, rearranged soundtrack kept me hooked until the very end. While it’s not a perfect game, it’s a passion project that’s clearly been made with love for a game that is near and dear to those who grew up playing it.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve played the original and have nostalgia for it.
  • Gorgeous pixel art makes your eyes happy.
  • You’re always up for a challenge.
  • Need some upbeat music? Kidd’s got you covered.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Slippery, imprecise controls often become frustrating.
  • Feels unfairly difficult at times.
  • Many other better side-scrolling platformers available.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

Death’s Door Preview (PC)

Reaping souls ain’t much for the Crow, but it’s honest work.

UPDATE: we have now published a full review for Death’s Door, so be sure to check that out here if you’d like a comprehensive overview of the entire game. This articles covers only the preview, which is approximately 30% of the game but still a good snapshot of what to expect from the rest.

Devolver Digital have certainly garnered a reputation for being one of the best indie videogame publishers in the business. Their madcap approach to advertising and promotion coupled with handpicked creative and often unusual games has caught the attention of gamers from around the globe since their inception in 2009. And, like a fine wine or a delicious block of parmesan shaped into a game controller, Devolver only seem to get better with age.

Just a few of the excellent games from Devolver.

To add to their already vast library of published titles, earlier this year the team announced a game by the name of Death’s Door, an intriguing hack & slash following the tale of a soul-collecting crow set in a stylish gloomy world. Created by Acid Nerve, the two-person team responsible for Titan Souls, this immediately grabbed my attention thanks to its unique visual style and its avian protagonist and characters. Thankfully, the kind team at Devolver have provided me with a preview build to explore this entrancing world well before its launch on the 20th of July.

So what awaits behind Death’s Door?
Let me open the door a crack and give you a peek into the preview.

Premise

Office work can oftentimes be monotonous, and that’s no exception the Crow, who lives life by the clock, punching in on a daily basis and delivering the harvested souls of those who have died. Every day is much the same in this bleak and monochrome office, but a bird has to make a living, and so he sets off on his usual daily task to collect the next assigned soul on the roster.

*Not an actual screenshot from the game.

However, this routine task doesn’t quite go according to plan…
Upon collecting the next assigned soul, the Crow [STORY DETAILS REDACTED] and when returning to the office, it’s made apparent that the Crow’s own soul may be in danger unless actions are taken to fix what has just occurred. Venturing back into the bleak landscape to seek a solution, he just so happens to stumble upon…

Though inconveniently (but convenient to the plot) the door is locked, and the key to opening it lies in collecting the three Colossal Souls belonging to the Tyrants of the kingdom: a cursed witch, a mad king, and a vicious beast. Only by opening Death’s Door may the Crow complete the mission he has been tasked with. And so the Crow’s journey begins…

Gameplay

The game takes place across a sprawling map that is accessed through doors in the office-like hub world. By entering these doors, the crow is thrust into new locations full of souls ripe for the harvest. In design akin to Dark Souls, maps are vast and intertwined in clever ways, with shortcuts aplenty and secret locations that effortlessly link back to one another. Even though the preview build only showcases 5 of these areas, I was fascinated by each and wanted to explore every single corner to satisfy my own curiosity. Environmental puzzles will hinder the Crow’s progress throughout these area, and while most are simple, they are rewarding and offer more of a challenge when simultaneously trying to fend off hordes of enemies.

After exploring the main area, the map eventually branches off into smaller, more intricate locations that have the feeling of a traditional dungeon and reminiscent of Zelda titles. In the preview build, exploring the Ceramic Manor (the Urn Witch’s Mansion) involved collecting several keys, solving small puzzles in each room, fighting challenging enemies, and collecting the souls of four deceased crows to unlock a door and progress. After unlocking this door, the Crow gains the ability to fling a fireball, allowing access to a deeper area of the dungeon and then to the boss that awaits menacingly at the end. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the dungeons of A Link to the Past or Minish Cap in this design, but this is truly a compliment to the gameplay.

The first dungeon’s puzzles involve lighting fires.

Combat

Harvesting souls is not without its dangers, and as such the Crow is equipped with weaponry to help on this treacherous quest. Three melee weapons were made available in the preview build (sword, daggers, umbrella), and two ranged attacks (bow, fire spell). Attacks can be chained together in swift movements, and when coupled with ranged attacks and well-timed dodges, become a fluid barrage that at times made me feel as if I was playing Hades again. Collecting souls while progressing can be spent back at the office to upgrade the strength of attacks, the speed at which they can be performed, or other stat boosts that assist the Crow during combat.

Though I only played for just over 2 hours, by the end of the preview build I felt proficient in the combat and was able to take down the final boss without taking any damage. Restoring health during combat is not an option either, as the only way to do so is by planting seeds at particular pots and then consuming the bloom that sprouts from them. This means that every enemy encounter must be done with caution to avoid losing health unnecessarily.

Visuals

Interestingly, the game’s design and visual style seems somehow both charming and unnerving. The isometric view and detailed environments occasionally appear like miniatures or scale models, and the design and animations of the Crow are cute and at times juxtaposes with the bleak surroundings. Enemies feature a cartoonish yet grotesque appearance, and the design of some characters is just straight up hilarious, including a cast of characters whose heads have been replaced with pots by the wretched Urn Witch.

I love this character as much as I love soup.

It’s a lovely looking game and its eye-catching environments like detailed dioramas definitely had me pausing to appreciate the Crow’s surroundings on numerous occasions. There’s a lot of attention to detail, and at times this is even incorporated into some puzzles, which will require you to closely analyse for hidden clues. Though this has just been a taste, I’m excited to see the entire world in the full release shortly!

Audio

I’m a sucker for a good soundtrack. So how does Death’s Door hold up in only this short example? Well, the world of Death’s Door is bleak, so too should be its music. Each track in the preview build has a certain sadness to it, mostly featuring piano with light orchestration and ambient background effects. This obviously intensifies during enemy encounters or boss fights, becoming more frantic and fast-paced, but never seems to stray from an overall feeling of melancholy. Here’s a snippet of the music from the Ceramic Manor, the first main dungeon of the game:

What’s next for Death’s Door?

It’s hard for me to pass judgement on a mere preview of the game, but of what I’ve played so far, I’m eager for more. An intriguing world, smooth combat, and attractive visual style definitely make Death’s Door a game you’ll want to keep your eyes on like a hawk (or a crow). It releases shortly on July 20th for PC and Xbox One/Series S/Series X, and I’ll absolutely be playing the full version as soon as I can get my claws on it! Keep an eye out for the full review which I’ll be posting closer to launch.

You can find out more about Death’s Door below:
https://store.steampowered.com/app/894020/Deaths_Door/
https://www.devolverdigital.com/games/deaths-door/
https://playdeathsdoor.com/

Scarlet Nexus Review (PlayStation 5)

Plug in your brain and dive into the Scarlet Nexus in this brand new anime game.

For as long as there has been anime, there have been tie-in videogames. These date back to as early as the 1980s in which early Japanese animation paved the way for the popular media format. The iconic film Akira, and series like Lupin III, Yu Yu Hakusho, Fist of the North Star, Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop all received the tie-in game treatment. This tradition of tie-ins gained momentum throughout the ’90s and still continues today in which modern anime are adapted into videogames, many of which manage to achieve critical acclaim.

Some have have sought to reverse this concept, making anime series based off videogames. It’s not a new concept by any means, as popular titles like Street Fighter, Mega Man and most prominently, Pokemon, have spawned animated adaptations. It only makes sense that a game created with such an animated style would make for an eye-catching and engaging animation to attract different audiences to the series.

But how about taking that concept one step further – creating a videogame that IS an anime? New series have begun to blur the line between videogame and anime, and that is certainly the case with BANDAI NAMCO Studio’s brand new IP, SCARLET NEXUS. A videogame that not only looks, feels, sounds and plays like an anime, but is also being released almost simultaneously alongside a SCARLET NEXUS animation. We’ve finally come full circle.

So for those wanting the anime experience without the need to commit to 700+ episodes, does Scarlet Nexus manage to deliver an authentic gripping sci-fi/brainpunk anime series condensed into an action-RPG? Well, plug in your brain and dive in, because you’re about to find out.

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review Kasane Yuito

Story

The story begins with what is the most important choice in the game, the player is prompted to choose between male character Yuito Sumeragi or female character Kasane Randall. Depending on which character is picked will vary the perspective on story dramatically, though they do run parallel to each other and overlap on numerous occasions. Honestly, these two distinct stories have enough individual content to have been divided into two different versions akin to Pokemon (maybe something like SCARLET NEXUS and AZURE NEXUS).

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review Other Naomi
One of the horrific Others.

Playing as your chosen protagonist, you begin as a lowly recruit to the OSF – the Other Suppression Force – a group of highly-trained and specialised soldiers tasked with defending the metropolis of New Himuka (which is basically a fictional Tokyo). Members of the OSF are revered within society, as they possess unique psyonic abilities they can utilise to fend off the “Others”, interdimensional monstrosities who manifest in the Extinction Belt in the sky and wreak havoc upon the earth. The sole purpose of the Others are to pursue and kill humans and consume their brains, and the origins of these hideous creatures are initially unknown but are explored through the game’s story.

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review General Karen
The badass generals of the OSF, one of whom is called Karen. How unfortunate.

Within the first few hours of gameplay dozens of characters belonging to the OSF are introduced, each of whom belong to several unique teams that carry out regular missions to pursue the Other invasion. Eventually Yuito and Kasane become squad leaders, each with a team of their own that you’ll interact with throughout the story, though their stories soon diverge and will again reunite at a later point with vastly different motivations.

I cannot discuss in-depth many aspects of the story without spoiling it significantly, though I will say the game has far more beneath the surface than it seems once you explore past the initial anime clichés. Political motivations, corruption, betrayal and deceit feature heavily as some of the themes at play in Scarlet Nexus, and there are multiple plot twists that will take most players by surprise.

Gameplay

The gameplay is divided into three main aspects: Story Phase, Rest Phase, and dialogue/cutscenes.

Story Phase is exactly what the name would imply: it’s the portion of the game that focuses on the main story. Taking control of the main character and their squad, you’ll be heading out on important story missions that involve exploring locales, defeating enemies, solving simple environmental puzzles, and inevitably duking it out with a boss at the end of the phase. Once the boss is defeated, you’re given more insight into the story and the characters around which it revolves. It’s a completely linear, simple experience, which though repetitive is still satisfying thanks to the game’s characters and combat.

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review Hyper Speed
Using hyper-speed on an abandoned highway during the story phase.

Each new area in the story phase features distinct Other foes that will often require use of different abilities to dispatch, and you’ll be faced with waves of these enemies as you explore. Defeating these enemies will steadily accumulate XP which automatically improves character attributes and allows the player to spend points on a skill tree to improve the main character’s combat abilities. There is also some incentive in exploration, as going out of your way will reward you with collectible items and materials that can be used to upgrade weapons, create gifts for your team members, or unlock unique cosmetic items.

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review Brain Map Abilities
Unlocking more of the brain map will help considerably during combat.,

Rest Phase is Scarlet Nexus’ version of the “Social Link“, providing conversation and insight into characters through light-hearted interactions. The squad base (which feels strangely like a college sharehouse), is where the characters regroup after a mission and relax after a hard day of slaughtering Others. During these segments characters will be able to interact and strengthen their Social Links bonds which will in turn provide incredibly helpful added bonuses during combat. Using materials gathered during the story phase you’ll also be able to create gifts to help level up character bonds a bit faster. These interactions are initially amusing, but quickly lose their novelty, as each bond conversation is essentially 5 – 10 minutes of small talk and become very tempting to skip.

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review Kasane Kyouka
Attempting to make friends in one of the more rest phase interactions.

The rest of the game is comprised of cutscenes and dialogue that are focused almost entirely on story, which is intriguing and unravels over the 30+ hour journey. At times it feels exactly like watching an anime, and at other times it’s more like reading an interactive manga. Thankfully these sections are far more interesting than the rest phase interactions, and are likely to keep you engaged and keen for more snippets of story.

Combat

Going into Scarlet Nexus completely blind and spoiler-free, I had little idea of what to expect from its combat. From previous experience I’ve noticed that most anime games generally seem to fall within the category of turn-based combat, or generic fighting game (with some exceptions). In this case, however, Scarlet Nexus has gone above and beyond with some of the most gripping, fluid, fast-paced and enjoyable combat I’ve ever encountered in an action-RPG.

Playing as one of the two main characters, most of your main combat abilities are focused on psychokinesis, the ability to control objects with your mind and use them as weapons against the enemy. Discarded items can be flung as projectiles, trains can slam into and destroy enemies instantly, or environmental ornaments like chandeliers can be flung around like a deadly spinning tops. Using psyonic attacks will deplete a meter which can be refilled through weapon attacks, all of which will slowly deplete the enemies’ break gauge. Once the enemy has been broken, a finishing attack can be performed which will unleash a devastating move that will either completely destroy the enemy or remove a large chunk of the bosses’ health. Though that’s really only the surface of the combat.

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review Special Move
Using a powerful finishing move on a downed Other.

Combat really ramps up when you get other OSF team members involved. As you progress through the game you’ll have several other recruits added to your squad, each of whom have a unique ability that can be used both inside and outside of combat. Activating their ability applies a modifier to your own skills, such as turning you invisible, giving you super speed, duplicating yourself, or adding elemental attacks. What initially starts off as a fun mechanic becomes engrossing when you unlock the ability to apply 2 or even 4 of these modifiers at once. You’ll be able to decimate enemies in seconds thanks to the abilities your team-mates confer. Turning invisible and activating hyper-speed to 1-hit KO an enemy with a sneak attack is supremely satisfying.

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review Brain Field
Activating the Brain Field is always satisfying.

Finally, the most satisfying element of combat doesn’t appear until you’ve dived deep into the game, when the ability to activate the Brain Field is finally unlocked. Plugging in and entering a space beyond reality, your attacks become overpowered and amplified, and can be used to quickly overwhelm the enemy. This is accompanied by a distinct visual sequence that transforms the world around you. Though this must be utilised with caution, as Brain Fielding for too long will be harmful to your character and can even kill them completely.

Visuals

Quite possibly the most anime aspect of Scarlet Nexus is its visuals, particularly in regard to its character designs and animations. Models for characters are clean and crisp, especially when playing on PlayStation 5 where the games runs at 4K and a buttery 60fps. Despite being rendered in 3D, the game achieves a character style that feels authentically anime, and the designs of the characters emphasise this with their varied characteristics, hairstyles, physiques and weapons. Each character during combat has distinct attacks and colours – these look great and help the player to distinguish which character is making an action or active in combat.

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review Akihabara
Just going for a walk around Akihabara New Himuka.

While the cutscenes too look excellent and are well-animated, it’s disappointing that the majority of the game is presented as bland static scenes with character panels overlayed. It’s a simplistic way to convey character interactions, but just not particularly engaging, especially when you’re made to sit through lengthy scenes of exposition. Thankfully there is always a skip button available if you’re finding a conversation to be bland or tedious.

Scarlet Nexus PS5 PlayStation 5 Anime Visuals Combat Review
Most interactions are static with character overlays like this.

Most of the environments unfortunately are nothing to write home about, and occasionally feel quite generic. When out on missions you’ll explore locations like factories, abandoned quarries, mysterious libraries, suspicious research facilities, and overgrown highways, often revisiting these areas on several occasions. It’s not that they look bad, but they’re just not impressive or eye-catching. This is made even more obvious when you’re exploring the city of New Himuka, which looks comparatively brilliant with its hustle and bustle of neon lights and busy walkways.

Audio

Unusually, the composer Hironori “Guts” Anazawa, isn’t known just for his contributions to videogame music. Though he has prepared and composed music for prominent games like Pokemon Sun/Moon, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and Daemon x Machina, he’s also responsible for music heard in the anime Prison School, and featured in multiple Japanese TV commercials. An interesting and varied portfolio!

The music he has created for Scarlet Nexus presents a plethora of genres, spanning multiple musical styles. With songs consisting of synth/electro through to lounge/acid jazz, J-pop and hard rock, all the way to industrial metal, there’s something here that will appeal to almost everyone. Tracks feel distinctly futuristic fitting with the game’s setting, and music ramps up in response to your combat, increasing both the pace and pitch when certain abilities are activated.

This track gives off Persona 5 vibes, good thing too, because you’ll be hearing it a lot!

Thankfully a game featuring a truly colossal (and sometimes overwhelming) amount of dialogue also features some excellent voice acting performances. When beginning the game you’ll be given the option to pick between English/Japanese voiceovers, which is a nice touch for an anime-style game and will satisfy subtitle purists as well as dub heathens. Having played exclusively in Japanese, I can vouch for the quality of the Japanese cast, who could easily convince you into thinking you were actually watching an anime. The quality of these voiceovers certainly helps during some of the arduous dialogue.

Conclusion

Thanks to its intriguing story and truly excellent combat, Scarlet Nexus offers one of the better original anime game experiences in recent years. Although the game achieves some phenomenal highs and will almost certainly appeal to those seeking brilliant sci-fi action, there are unfortunately many moments where interactions and excessive dialogue feel like bland filler episodes and will tempt you to skip them entirely. Thankfully the enjoyment of the more important parts of the game vastly outweigh its drawbacks, and overall anime fans would be foolish to avoid Scarlet Nexus because of this. Bandai Namco have created a brand new series that I’m already eager to see return, even to the point where I would happily consider playing through the game once more to experience the other protagonist’s perspective.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of anime, particularly those with an emphasis on sci-fi/action.
  • Truly brilliant combat system that is engaging and fast-paced.
  • Intriguing story with numerous unexpected plot twists.
  • Colourful cast of characters.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Excessive dialogue can be tedious and bland.
  • Gameplay can feel repetitive at times.

A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights Review (PC)

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain (of death)?

Love it or hate it (and many do hate it!), the word “Metroidvania” is one that has become widely used across the videogame community. An amalgam of Metroid and Castlevania, this portmanteau describes a specific sub-genre of action/adventure videogames that feature 2D platforming, role-playing game elements, and vast interconnected locales that promote exploration and backtracking. Popularised by iconic genre-defining games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this style of gameplay has since become a staple of many modern games within the indie scene.

Though the origins of the genre arose in the ’80/90s, this group of games is now more popular than ever. Indie titles over the last decade have solidified the Metroidvania (sorry, I’ll stop using that word now) as one of the most prominent and admired: games like Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, Dead Cells, Guacamelee!, and Ori and the Blind Forest just to name a few. Any self-respecting indie studio nowadays seems intent on releasing a game to compete with the ranks of these celebrated titles. And just when I thought I had seen them all, I discovered the most engrossing action/adventure game I’d encountered since I delved into Hallownest

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, published by Binary Haze Interactive, a new player in the indie scene, is a dark fantasy 2D action RPG releasing on PC, Nintendo Switch this month, and Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PS4 and PS5 later this year. At first glance this might just seem like another gloomy, gothic adventure inspired by the likes of those that have preceded it, but assuming that would be grossly underestimating the experience on offer in Ender Lilies. So how does a game so clearly inspired by others hold up against the source material, or sometimes even surpass it? Well, it’s time to dive into End’s Kingdom and the endless deluge that awaits…

Plot

In Land’s End lies a fragile young girl, lost and alone; a White Priestess awakens to discover the entire Kingdom has fallen and its inhabitants now afflicted and corrupted by a fowl Blight that has scoured the entire land. Greeted with the muted, soothing sounds of raindrops, the Priestess ventures further into a ruined cathedral to discover a downpour inundating and infecting all those that it touches: the Rain of Death. Though not truly alone in this ruined world, the Priestess is accompanied by the soul of one who in life strived to protect her, a valiant knight whose spirit joins her on this journey to unravel the mysteries that await.

It is the task of the lone Priestess to explore the source of the Blight, face those who have suffered from the ceaseless rain, and purify their souls so that they may find peace. Through the act of purification, the foes whom she faces may be redeemed and join her side to aide her quest. In the style of the Souls games, snippets of story are pieces together through character dialogue, depictions, and discarded notes that lay amongst the dilapidated ruins. What initially seems like a cliché gothic storybook evolves into an engrossing, entrancing setting that simply begs to be explored.

Gameplay

If you’ve ever played one of the games that belongs to this sub-genre, you’ll feel immediately familiar with the gameplay of Ender Lilies. Exploring an intricate, sprawling map with distinct locales, environmental puzzles and littered with secrets and collectibles feels as thrilling as the first time I ever played Symphony of the Night. Before you awaits a corrupted world divided into regions each featuring unique enemies, bosses, and blighted to purify, and feels as through you’re stepping into a 2D Kingdom of Lordran. In a style of game with such a heavy emphasis on platforming, the controls during running, jumping and dashing feel like second nature, and both the character and enemies have a distinct weight and momentum to their movement.

Google Maps isn’t going to help you here.

Throughout the Kingdom you’ll encounter the discarded corpses of those who have succumbed to the blight – some of whom may take you unaware in ambush, or others that lay menacingly in wait the end of foreboding arenas and hallways. Defeating these foes will allow the Priestess to purify them, and in turn their spirit will fight by your side. Collecting these souls will expand your repertoire of skills, adding elements like a double jump, dash, swimming, ground slam, all elements that will help unlock new areas that were previously inaccessible. It’s typical action/adventure fare that offers a means of player progress, but executed cleverly in a way this does not seem dry or uninspired.

Taking a moment to rest.

With systems that feel akin to Hollow Knight, the player may pause at benches and swap their equipped souls to ones that are more suited to particular area. Treasured trinkets may also be gathered on your adventures and equipped to enhance your abilities, though these will take up equipment slots that may be expanded by discovering necklaces scattered throughout the Kingdom. In another similarity, the player’s health can be restored by pausing in a solemn moment of prayer, which is useful when exploring but leaves the Priestess vulnerable. Prayers can be replenished not through combat, but by discovering white lilies that grow in even the most horrid, desolate environments.

Combat

It is truly difficult to put into words the flowing combat of Ender Lilies, which is some of the most responsive, intuitive, and enjoyable combat available in a game of this genre. What initially feels slow and awkward becomes a fluid combination of attacks, skills, dodges, and special moves that are easy to learn but difficult to master. An almost infinite repository of combat skills and attacks are on offer thanks to the spirits the Priestess purifies throughout the game, each of whom adds a new weapon to the arsenal. Whether you’re a player who prefers a swift onslaught of attacks, keeping your distance through ranged attacks, or a barrage of slow-but-heavy destructive moves, the combat can be customised to suit your liking.

If you want to survive in the blighted Kingdom, you’ll need to be observant, as each enemy has a distinct set of choreographed moves with tells that will alert the keen eye to the next incoming attack. By watching the movements you’ll be able to perform carefully-timed dodges and parries, allowing you to quickly counter and break the enemy. This becomes even more important through the inclusion of a stamina/stagger meter, which can be depleted through steady attacks on an enemy, leaving them wide open. Chaining together a series of uninterrupted attacks to tear down the stagger and then the health bar of a difficult boss is the ultimate feeling of satisfaction.

Wait a sec, I didn’t think this was a bullet hell game?

Although the environments and regular enemies can at times pose quite a challenge (especially when you are locked into arenas where blighted knights must be defeated before progressing), it is the game’s bosses that capture the true essence of Ender Lilies’ combat. The sheer variety of bosses and the skill required will put even seasoned players to the test, especially when the boss you thought you had just defeated transforms into a gargantuan, disgusting Eldritch abomination with twice as much health. There is no doubt that many of the foes you face will require numerous attempts, but the inevitable defeat of a boss is an experience that will have your heart racing by the end of the encounter.

Visuals

Combining the magnificent and the macabre, I do not exaggerate when I say that Ender Lilies is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous games I have encountered thanks to its detailed and distinct environmental art. While obvious nods to the likes of Castlevania and Hollow Knight appear throughout the Priestess’ journey, such as resting and saving at distinct benches scattered throughout the Kingdom, the game manages to create a truly beautiful, gothic-inspired art-style unlike any other game I’ve played. Each new region presents with it a unique visual aesthetic, while maintaining the overall art-style of the game which feels like playing a morbid fairy-tale.

Detailed environments, while bleak, are a pleasure to look at.

The visuals are at their best when elements of beauty can be found within even the darkest, most grotesque settings. While standing upon a mound of skulls, a serene light engulfs the scene and washes over the character. A darkened and lonely bedroom offers a brief respite and moment of comfort in an otherwise violent and dreadful deserted castle. Colossal cathedrals loom in the background and frame the boss fight occurring in the foreground – you’ll often be distracted to admire the sheer detail within all of these environments. Though enough of me trying to explain how beautiful the game can be, here’s some screenshots that speak more than words:

Audio

The music to Ender Lilies has been composed entirely by Japanese indie group, Mili, who have created songs that feature in anime like Goblin Slayer and Ghost in the Shell and rhythm games like Cytus and DEEMO. Few words are more fitting when describing the music of Ender Lilies than melancholy. The game’s sombre sounds of solo piano and haunting ethereal vocals echo throughout its disturbing environments, and sound as though they offer a fleeting glimmer of hope amongst the dark and daunting world. Songs will vary considerably based on your surroundings – heavy rain in open areas will dampen the track and remove its vocals, whereas the same song played indoors will be calming and detailed, adding extra layers of audio that were not previously present.

The theme of The White Parish area.

Overall the soundtrack features 50 tracks and a colossal 144 minutes of music, which is a massive amount for an indie game. There’s a lot to love about the music to Ender Lilies and I’ll likely be listening to it for weeks to months to come.

It’s also worth noting that the person responsible for the game’s sound effects is Keichi Sugiyama, who you might not know by name, but you’ll certainly recognise the games he is responsible, notably Rez, Daytona USA, and Rule of Rose. His experience in sound design is certainly reflected in the quality of the game’s audio, particularly in its frequent use of rain, water, and numerous audio cues that add to the overall experience.

Conclusion

Combining a bleak yet entrancing world with expansive exploration and seriously satisfying combat makes Ender Lilies one of the best in the genre, and in ways surpasses the games that have inspired it. Every moment throughout its 10 – 15 hour journey is captivating to say the least, and the game has taken me completely by surprise in what I can comfortably say has been one of the finest games I’ve played so far this year. If you consider yourself a fan of games like Symphony of the Night and Hollow Knight, you would be doing yourself an absolute disservice by not playing Ender Lilies. This is a game you must play.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’d consider yourself a fan of games in this genre.
  • Challenging and satisfying combat that never feels unfair.
  • Truly gorgeous art style, environments and soundtrack.
  • Interesting world that is intriguing to explore.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You struggle with challenging combat and swift dodging.
  • Not a fan of platforming games.

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.
Find out more about Ender Lilies here: https://www.enderlilies.com/

Shantae (GameBoy Colour) Review: Nintendo Switch

How does the Half-Genie Hero’s debut hold up after almost 20 years?

WayForward, an independent videogame developer and publisher based in California, have certainly made reputation for themselves over the last decade. Though the company was founded in 1990, it’s not been until the last decade that they’ve become a common household name. Memorable titles like Ducktales: Remastered, Aliens: Infestation, and most recently River City Girls have well and truly proven the studio’s knack for creating modern side-scrolling games and keeping this retro genre alive.

River City Girls Nintendo Switch
Kyoko and Misako fight for their boyfriends in River City Girls (2019)

However, one WayForward series stands hips and shoulders above the rest. I’m of course talking about the entrancing, belly-dancing, eponymous Half-Genie Hero: Shantae. Conceptualised in the mid-’90s during the boom of Nintendo’s killer handheld, the Gameboy, it wasn’t until the end of the console’s life cycle that Shantae made her debut on the videogame stage. In a bold move, the game was developed entirely for the GameBoy Colour and released in 2002 after the launch of the GameBoy Advance, a choice that game director Matt Bozon says contributed to the game’s poor sales.

Shantae Art Nintendo Switch
Shantae’s stylish character design definitely put WayForward on the (treasure) map.

Despite its poor sales performance, the original Shantae is widely-recognised as one of the best games released for the GameBoy, and it pushed the hardware to its limit. Additionally, gaining quite a cult following, it has become one of the most valuable games on the handheld, with original boxed copies occasionally going for upwards of $3000USD. Almost 20 years since its inception, WayForward’s flagship character now boasts five separate entries and over 3 million sales across the entire series. An incredibly impressive figure for a series that initially struggled for financial success!

Shantae Gameboy Color Colour Prices
Screw BitCoin, I’m going back in time to tell myself to invest in Shantae.

Now in collaboration with Limited Run Games and Modern Vintage Gamer, WayForward have revived the original Shantae title, republished, enhanced, and ready to dance on Nintendo Switch. This means that for the first time ever, all 5 games in the series can be played on a single console! So forget about taking out a personal loan to secure a copy of the original Shantae, because for a mere $10 it’s time to step back in time to one of the best GameBoy Colour games ever made.

Shantae Dancing Sprite Gif

Plot

Scuttle Town is a peaceful abode by the sea, bordered by a vast desert and inhabited by a cast of quirky characters. It’s also home to a mystical Half-Genie who lives not in a bottle, but in a lighthouse. However, that peace is soon interrupted by the nefarious lady-pirate, Risky Boots, who catches wind of a ancient technology recently unearthed in Scuttle Town: the Steam Engine. With the ability to produce an immense amount of power, Risky will stop at nothing to make this mystical invention her own, and whisks the dangerous device away for her own selfish plans.

Shantae Ret 2 Go Nintendo Switch
Shantae is always ret2-go!

As the self-appointed “Guardian Genie” of Scuttle Town, it’s up to Shantae to get Scuttle out of trouble! In order to thwart Risky’s plans, Shantae must recover the four Elemental Stones, each of which can be used to harness a unique power that can run the steam engine indefinitely. Spread out across Sequin Land and protected within ancient labyrinths, Shantae will need to uncover her hidden genie powers to obtain the mythical items and put an end to Risky’s escapades once and for all.

Gameplay

This initial entry in the series introduced a style of gameplay that has helped define all the other Shantae games that followed it. A unique blend of side-scrolling adventure, platforming, exploration and RPG elements combine with clever animal transformations making for a GameBoy experience unlike any other. I’d go so far as to say this is some of the most ambitious gameplay you’ll find on the console, and thanks to this it has aged incredibly well. The game takes place over three main areas: the overworld, dungeons, and towns, splitting the game into three distinct styles of gameplay.

Exploration: Spread across a sprawling map, there’s a vast world to explore in Sequin Land, which at times sometimes feels a bit overwhelming due to its impressive size for a GameBoy game. Each location has distinct enemies, platforming challenges, and environmental puzzles that you’ll need to overcome by using abilities that are acquired throughout the game. Using her hair as a weapon, Shantae will also need to fend off enemies spread throughout the overworld.

Shantae Overworld Gameboy color Colour Nintendo Switch

With a day-night cycle, numerous hidden collectibles, and expansive exploration, you’ll spend the majority of your time trekking the overworld in between its dungeons and towns. This can occasionally become bothersome, as the technical limitations of the GameBoy mean the screen is only capable of displaying a small portion of the area, and considering Shantae at times controls like a floating brick, you’ll often fall into obstacles that you have no way of predicting or avoiding.

Dungeons: Four major labyrinths appear during the game, each containing one of the four Elemental Stones. These are comparable to dungeons from early Zelda games, which feature a unique ability that will need to be utilised in order to progress. Through the mystical power of dance, Shantae can transform into one of four creatures: Monkey, Elephant, Spider, and Harpy. By rescuing the dungeon’s genie and unlocking a new transformation, you’ll be able to gain access to new areas and solve puzzles in order to progress. Then, at the end of each dungeon awaits a large boss that often also requires clever use of the transformation. These dungeons are entertaining, satisfying to solve, and in my opinion the overall highlight of the game.

Shantae Transformation Elephant Gif Nintendo Switch
Transforming into an elephant lets Shantae smash through obstacles.

Towns: These laid-back areas are the most entertaining aspect of Shantae, featuring colourful characters and incredibly amusing dialogue. By chatting with NPCs you’ll obtain not only snippets of information to aide Shantae on her quest, but also some legitimately hilarious conversation. Each town also contains a shop to purchase items like potions and weapons, a bath house to restore your health, a Warp Squid (for fast travel), and generally some form of optional minigame that can be played to accumulate currency. It’s a nice change of pace and some of the most unique presentation in a GameBoy game.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Color Colour Zombie Caravan Joke
The Zombie Caravan is my personal favourite and is packed full of hilarious dialogue.

Visuals

When playing Shantae, there’s one key fact to remember: this is a port of a GameBoy game. While the newer Shantae games feature gorgeous, vibrant, detailed graphics, the original somehow manages to achieve this despite the technical limitations of the hardware at the time. Character and enemy sprites and their animations are detailed, environments are colourful and packed full of detail, and the towns offer an impressive over-the-shoulder view unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game of this era.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art
The pixel art is particularly eye-catching.

WayForward managed to create a unique visual aesthetic drawing influence from both The Legend of Zelda, Aladdin, and real life Middle-Eastern Culture. This game’s visuals have formed the foundation of the series as a whole through its distinct art style and iconic character design. For players wanting to appreciate this further, there’s the inclusion of a bonus art gallery which features plenty of interesting concept art.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Art Gallery

Audio

At the time of its creation, the music of Shantae was composed by a mostly-unknown video game musician, who had actually dropped out of school to take up game music full-time. Having made soundtracks for only a handful GameBoy games, WayForward recruited the young musician and in doing so unknowingly helped create one of the most prolific VGM composers of all-time: the now legendary Jake Kaufman. Best known for his incredible music to Shovel Knight, Jake’s distinct chiptune style shines through every track of Shantae, which features many songs that have been used throughout the entire series.

Despite being a mixture of blips and bloops coming out of a Gameboy, the soundtrack has a distinct Middle-Eastern sound, as if being played by an 8-bit oud. It’s appropriate for the setting, catchy as heck, and honestly never gets old, which is important considering GameBoy tracks often have very short loops.

So what’s new?

Although the game is mostly unchanged, the Switch port makes several welcome improvements that help this near 20-year old game feel just a bit more modern. Save states are available, meaning that at any time the game can be paused and saved/loaded, which makes some frustrating areas much less tedious. I found myself not using it much, but it’s a welcome addition for those not accustomed to retro games. There are also several added visual options allowing the game to be played at a native resolution, with a sharp filter, or with an LCD screen effect layered on top.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Visuals Sharp LCD Filter
Sharp filter (left) and LCD filter (right).

The entire game now also includes the “GBA-enhanced” version, which features improved colour palettes and an additional “Tinkerbat” transformation that can be unlocked, allowing Shantae to fly. These all come as welcome additions, but do not add any massive enhancement to the overall gameplay.

Conclusion

Considering this piece of GameBoy history would have previously cost you almost $1000 to own and play legitimately, a mere $10 feels like a bargain to experience the first game in this brilliant series. Though the gameplay at times may feel clunky and frustrating to control, there is a wealth of enjoyable content in Shantae that ensure you forget any of its shortcomings. Not only is this an incredibly charming, amusing adventure introducing an iconic cast of characters, but it’s also a sheer technical marvel when you remember that it was designed solely for the GameBoy Colour. Although it might not be Shantae’s most outstanding performance, fans of the series and retro gaming alike would be foolish not to at least give this excellent Switch port a go.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art Dancing Sprite

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of the Shantae series and want to explore its origins.
  • Retro platformers are up your alley.
  • Gorgeous pixel art and catchy chiptune soundtrack.
  • Satisfying dungeon design akin to older Zelda titles.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Dated gameplay compared to the rest of the series.
  • Controls are at times clunky and frustrating.
  • Won’t appeal to those not fond of retro games.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Mighty Goose Review: Nintendo Switch

Let loose the Goose of war.

Videogames where the player takes control of an animal are not a new concept. Whether it’s gliding through the sky in games like Eagle Flight, stalking through the streets of Japan in Tokyo Jungle, wreaking ragdoll havoc in Goat Simulator, or sprinting across open fields while leaving a trail of gorgeous flowers behind you in my all-time favourite game, Okami, animal games feature in almost every genre. Even triple-A titles like Sonic the Hedgehog and Crash Bandicoot are widely popular series where the player assumes the role of an animal.

Then, in 2019, a small Australian developer named House House released an animal-themed videogame that absolutely took the world by storm. With a cheeky waddle, a startling honk, and wily waterfowl antics, it was an experience that stole the hearts of gamers much like its feathered protagonist stole a town bell. I’m talking about none other than Untitled Goose Game. The quintessential example of an animal game; this perfectly captured the distinct traits of a goose and allowed players to wreak havoc upon a quaint English village. However, after playing it, this got me thinking: why aren’t there more games where you play as a goose?

Untitled Goose Game Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch

Well, my question has been answered above and beyond all expectations thanks to the other goose game: Mighty Goose (available on PS4/PS5, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch). This brand new indie run n’ gun title developed by Blastmode, is not only a guns-blazing game where you play as a bounty-hunting space goose, but it’s the closest experience to Metal Slug outside of the classic arcade series. Considering Metal Slug has been as good as dead with its last main release now over 10 years old, a massive tank-shaped hole has been left in my heart. But you know what? This game just shoved a goose right into it.

So how exactly is a goose similar to a slug? You’re about to find out.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Gif

Story

You are the galaxy’s number one bounty hunter. Samus Aran? Not quite. Defending the universe and thwarting evil is no easy task, and that’s why you play as the only one who can get the job done: the Mighty Goose. In a chubby goose-shaped space craft and a drop pod resembling a goose egg, no mission is too dangerous for this brave hero. The story is delivered through short snippets of dialogue between characters (and the occasional honk from the protagonist), but the main goal is to take down an Interstellar Flying Fortress known as KOLOS and the king who controls it.

Void King Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch PC Xbox One PS4
Void King roasts the goose before enjoying a roast goose.

With the aid of his companion, Regular Duck, this daring goose must explore treacherous landscapes, rescue valuable allies, and form a team capable of taking down the evil Void King and any foe that stands in your way. At times the story is quite amusing, but this is by no means a game you’ll be playing for its deep narrative.

Gameplay

This is where the goose is at its mightiest. This is the ideal example of snappy, responsive, satisfying run n’ gun gameplay. If you’ve ever played a Metal Slug game, you’ll feel right at home with what’s on offer in Mighty Goose. You’ll be blasting hordes of enemies with a barrage of bullets and piloting overpowered armaments through 9 different levels, and fans of the genre are likely to love every single minute.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Boss Fight
Now it’s the Goose doing the roasting.

Simple controls and a mild level of difficulty make this gameplay easily approachable even for those completely unfamiliar with the genre. Exploring each level lasts approximately 10 – 15 minutes and features a mixture of platforming combined with hectic onslaughts of enemies. Power-ups are plentiful, which are dispersed throughout each level and provide new weaponry (machine guns, rockets, lasers) or vehicles that can be piloted for extra fire-power. The game also features a Mighty Meter that charges up during combat and can be activated once full. Mighty Mode unleashes the sheer fury of the goose, making the player will become invincible for a short period of time and upgrading the current weapon to quickly decimate all enemies on screen.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Metal Slug
Metal Slug Goose

Progressing through the game will unlock optional upgrades that can be equipped in the armory after each mission. These include secondary weapons (reflector honks, chonker bombs etc.), new companions to assist you during missions, and abilities like double jumps or extra ammo. Using these wisely will make combat dramatically easier, and once you become comfortable with these additional skills, you’ll be chewing through enemies quicker than a duck chews through a piece of bread.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Combat

The game is certainly at its most thrilling during the massive bosses, which quite literally allow every level to go out with a bang. Seasoned players will be able to beat these with minimal challenge, but they’re each incredibly enjoyable, frantic and fast-paced fights packed with explosions. Activating the Mighty Mode at the perfect time and blasting through the boss’ health bar is incredibly satisfying and leaves every level on a high.

Visuals

Equal parts comical and epic, Mighty Goose features a stylish and detailed pixel art with vibrant colours, exceptional attention-to-detail, smooth animations, and explosions aplenty. It’s an absolute pleasure to look at, and the design of each level and boss is distinct and stands out from the rest. UI and menus also have an aesthetic not unlike an arcade game, and the entire visual feel of the game takes clear inspiration from the likes of Metal Slug while applying its own unique goose-themed aesthetic.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch PC PS4 Xbox Graphics Visuals

Slow-motion sequences will randomly trigger during intense battles, and the occasional massive goose head (pictured above) will launch across the screen with an echoing honk. Visual touches like this certainly add an amusing style to the already attractive experience. Having played the game in 50% handheld and 50% docked mode, it performs exceptionally on each and the visuals work incredibly well both on the small and large screen.

Soundtrack

As stylish as its visuals is the game’s pumping synth soundtrack. Composed by Dominic Ninmark, who has created soundtracks for several other indie games, his music is a delicious side dish to accompany this main course of goose. Most of the tracks feel as if they’ve been plucked from an ’80s action movie and then compressed into an arcade machine. They’re high-tempo, catchy, and fit the arcade style gameplay perfectly. At times it even feels like you’re listening to songs that might have been featured in Kung Fury – that’s a massive plus for me.

Conclusion

Albeit short, with 100% completion possible in as little as 3-4 hours, Mighty Goose offers a thrilling experience with joyous gameplay in a succinct, action-packed adventure. You don’t have to be a dedicated run ‘n gun fan to enjoy the game, as difficulty is forgiving and simple enough for anyone to easily pick up and play. However, if you are a run ‘n gun fanatic, this game is a must-play and will likely have you grinning ear-to-ear with subtle (and not so subtle) references to the iconic series that inspired it. My only criticism is that extra content is lacking – multiplayer (which would have been perfect!) is lacking completely, and once you’ve completed all the levels there is little incentive to keep playing.

Mighty Goose Nintendo Switch Xbox One PC PS4 Cool Gif Riding

So, why should you play it?

  • Are you a fan of Metal Slug? Then this is a no-brainer.
  • Wanting to try out a run ‘n gun game? This would be a great place to start.
  • You’re after a short, punchy action game that’s just plain fun.
  • Gorgeous pixel art and design.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • No multiplayer and you’d rather play a game like this with friends.
  • You prefer games that offer endless hours of gameplay.

A review code for Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.
Some footage included is from the Xbox One version of the game.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Announced for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch

You’re really gonna dig this game.

Strictly Limited Games brings an awesome and addictive platformer from the 80s – from legendary developer TOZAI – to PS4 and Nintendo Switch! Retro fans need to prepare themselves for a real challenge. Spelunker HD Deluxe will be available as Limited and Collector’s Edition for pre-order from Sunday, June 6th midnight (CEST) at the Strictly Limited Games Shop! The digital version for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 will follow in Q3 2021 by ININ Games. 

Dedicated retro game fans might remember the original game, which was first released for Atari 8bit computers back in 1983. Or also the PS award-winning “Spelunker HD” that was released for PS3. And now Strictly Limited Games proudly presents Spelunker HD Deluxe coming with awesome fresh graphics and a new game mode!

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

A variety of game modes and many different stages will provide players with a lot of challenges on their way to seek out the mystery that lies in the depths. All of the modes can be played as single player, but they are also supporting online multiplayer with up to six people and offline multiplayer with up to four people allowing the players to explore the caves together!

  • Adventure:
    Players can explore 100 stages by fighting and jumping their way through enemies and obstacles
  • Competition:
    The best cave explorer wins! In this mode, players can compete with their friends
  • Championship:
    The name says it all… This mode includes another 100 super-difficult, challenging stages that seek for real cave exploring experts
  • Endless Cave NEO:
    In this mode, players can compete and see how far they get in endless, randomly generated caves

Whilst exploring dark caves and avoiding getting beaten by the dangers that lurk in the depths, players can enjoy a fresh visual appeal with new 3D assets and a realistic cave atmosphere, accompanied by a catchy, memorable soundtrack. But those who prefer to keep it classic, will also get their money’s worth – the well-received “Classic Mode” that was also included in the PS3 version will still be available in Spelunker HD Deluxe. So retro fans can enjoy beautiful nostalgic pixel graphics and 8-bit sound for the original Spelunker experience like back in the early 80s.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

Players that are ready for a real challenge can get themselves an awesome limited Edition at the Strictly Limited Games Shop.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Limited Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Booklet
  • Individually Numbered

The Limited Edition is available for €29.99 and limited to 2700 copies for Nintendo Switch and 1500 copies for PlayStation 4.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Collector’s Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Collector’s Edition Box
  • Spelunker Figure
  • Glow-in-the-Dark Sticker
  • Flyer
  • Large Reversible Poster
  • Soundtrack
  • Level Guide
  • Booklet
  • Individually numbered

The Collector’s Edition is available for €59.99 and limited to 1300 copies for Nintendo Switch and 700 copies for PlayStation 4. If you’re wanting to secure a copy, before sure to keep an eye on this link for when the pre-orders go live, as they won’t last long: https://store.strictlylimitedgames.com/collections/spelunker

void tRrLM();++ //Void Terrarium++ Review: PS5

This is one void you won’t want to avoid.

Mystery Dungeon” is a phrase that most gamers likely associate with the Pokemon series. These highly-emotive spinoffs are critically acclaimed by fans for their combination of entrancing narrative with randomised dungeon-crawling gameplay. Though the term has become synonymous with the Nintendo franchise since popular titles like Red/Blue Rescue Team and Explorers of Darkness/Time/Sky, its origins stem from a genre of games that predates Pokemon by several years.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of Sky
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky (Nintendo DS, 2009)

Pioneered by Chunsoft, the series was conceptualised as a Dragon Quest IV spinoff known as Torneko’s Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon, released in 1993 exclusive to the Super Famicom in Japan. Playing as the game’s money-hungry merchant, Torneko (known also as Taloon in Western releases), the player is tasked with exploring randomly-generated dungeons to find valuable items to expand your store and fend off monsters that might hinder your progress. A reliance on randomisation and challenging difficulty created a roguelike genre now widely recognised as the Mystery Dungeon.

Shiren the Wanderer Switch
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (Nintendo Switch, 2020)

Series like Final Fantasy, Etrian Odyssey, and most notably Pokemon joined in with popular Mystery Dungeon spin-offs. An original IP known as Shiren the Wanderer was even created from the ground up as a game focused entirely on this style on gameplay and now spans multiple entries from the Gameboy to the Nintendo Switch. Now almost 30 years since its inception, a new Mystery Dungeon title emerges, seeking to fill a void in the dormant subgenre: Void Terrarium.

Originally released on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, this new title from NIS America (who somehow manage to pump out obscure JRPGs at an alarming rate!) has made its way onto PlayStation 5 in the upgraded ++ version. So is this roguelike worth your time, or should it be avoided at all costs? Read on and find out!

Story

Civilisation has collapsed. Humanity is on the brink of extinction. The world has fallen under the grasp of a highly-contagious toxic fungus that infects every living organism. In a desolate scrapyard nestled deep in the underground ruins, a lone robot awakens. Trudging through the barren wastes now long abandoned by humans, the robot stumbles across a dormant figure, a young girl asleep on a bed of fungi: Toriko.

Void Terrarium PS5 Toriko Robbie
A fungus among us.

In a comatose state with mushrooms protruding from her body, the robot focuses its entire efforts on revitalising the weakened girl and nursing her back to health. A goal that could possibly lead to the restoration of humanity. However, the harsh environment will not make this easy. Even the very air Toriko breathes is a toxic fume, slowly depleting her life. To protect the girl, the Robot must create a safe haven in which she can finally recover: a Terrarium.

With the help of a discarded CRT display known as the FactoryAI who acts as your guide, Robbie ventures into the wasteland to retrieve items to construct the terrarium and allow Toriko to survive. This bleak post-apocalyptic setting conveys a melancholy narrative of despair, tragedy, and against all odds, hope. Playing as the robot, affectionally named Robbie, the fate of humanity rests upon your cold shoulders.

Void Terrarium PS5 FactoryAI
FactoryAI is super cute and helps to motivate you.

Gameplay

Ever played a mystery dungeon game? Well, if you have, you’re going to LOVE the gameplay on offer in Void Terrarium, as it will feel immediately familiar. All the staples of the genre are here: randomised locations consisting of numerous levels, punishing roguelike difficulty, and a massive pool of items, abilities and upgrades to keep every run fresh. The only difference is you play solely as Robbie, so there’s no backup when things get tough; it’s all up to you.

The main task of the game is to obtain items to construct the terrarium, all of which are found deep within isolated locations of the wasteland. You’ll be given a short briefing as to where the desired item is located before you’re dropped into the dungeon on your lonesome. Starting at level 1 at the beginning of each area, you’ll need to defeat enemies in turn-based combat to progress your stats, unlock new skills, and have more of a chance of making it to the end goal.

Void Terrarium PS5 dungeon
Most of your time will be spent exploring the randomised dungeons.

Exploration and combat is simple and takes place on a grid, and enemies can be defeated through various means: normal attacks, skills, weapons, and items (like grenades or bombs). Areas will become increasingly difficult as you progress, requiring you to unlock permanent upgrades to improve your chances to delve deeper. It’s an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop that had me returning time and time again, as I told myself “just one more run!” before I inevitably forced myself to go to bed. Each playthrough will unlock new items that can be constructed to furnish the Terrarium and in turn provide minor permanent stat boosts or skills that can be equipped.

Void Terrarium PS5 abilities
You’ll unlock new abilities and stat boosts as you level up.

That sounds pretty simple so far. Just exploration and combat. Easy, right? Not quite.

Robbie is a robot, and doing as robots will do, they run off electricity. Every movement, attack and skill within the wasteland consumes energy which is displayed on the screen. Run out of energy and you’re pretty much done for. This must be closely monitored and recharged by picking up batteries that are dropped at random by foes, or through use of particular unlockable skills. Batteries can be scarce and will force you to manage your energy wisely.

To complicate things further, Robbie must also look after Toriko at all times. Through the use of the Pet Nanny (a Tamagotchi-like device), Toriko’s hunger, health status, boredom, and even toileting habits must be closely monitored and managed accordingly. If she falls ill while out in the wastes, you’ll need to head back immediately to prevent her imminent demise. This becomes incredibly tense when you’re towards the end of a gruelling dungeon only to hear the tone of the Pet Nanny alert you to return to Toriko’s side. It definitely adds deeper complexity to the game’s exploration as you micromanage not only your own, but also Toriko’s wellbeing.

Void Terrarium PS5 Toriko Petnanny
I recommend not letting the Pet Nanny get to this state.

Visuals

When booting up the game, don’t be lured into a false sense of aesthetic wonderment. The 2D hub world looks absolutely gorgeous, there’s no doubt about that. Beautiful hand drawn art, vibrant, lush greens upon a dark, bleak background all set the mood of the game. Even the attention to detail of the terrarium in which Toriko is contained is impressive and beautiful to observe. Sadly, this is not at all representative of the rest of the game’s visuals.

Void Terrarium PS5 Art
The Terrarium becomes visually captivating once new items are crafted.

Once you’re exploring the dungeons, visuals become basic, bland, and feel mostly uninspired and repetitive. It works for the style of the gameplay, as it helps to visualise where Robbie and other enemies are placed on the grid and the map, but this is not a PlayStation 5 title that you’ll be playing for its graphics by any means. There’s a stark contrast when you return to the hub world to be again greeted by the gorgeous, eerie aesthetic. It would have been brilliant to see some of the art-style somehow incorporated into the dungeon crawling gameplay.

Audio

Where the game’s visuals at times feel bland and repetitive, the soundtrack by Hajime Sugie manages to create a soundscape that feels perfectly crafted for the game’s setting. In a score that is primarily electronic (how appropriate), Sugie utilises ambient tones and robotic noises of beeps and glitches to craft a unique style that is both melancholic and entrancing. I’d happily listen to the Terrarium theme for hours on loop (in fact, I probably did, as I put about 30+ hours into the game, several of which were spent in the Terrarium).

The dungeon music, though repetitive, fits perfectly with the style of each area. A swampy wasteland sounds completely different to infected warehouse sounds completely different to a robotic factory. It’s impressive how music like this can manage to reflect the game’s visuals almost better than the visuals themselves. An impressive accomplishment for the composer!

Extras

Completionists are going to have a ball with this one. As you progress through the dungeons, you’ll unlock various blueprints for items that can be taken back to the Terrarium and crafted. These consist of furniture and decorations for the Terrarium, clothing and accessories for Toriko, and skills and unique modules that can be applied to Robbie. There’s enough unlockables to keep even the most avid collectors occupied for 40 – 50+ hours of gameplay.

Void Terrarium PS5 unlockable furniture
Why craft a Wooden Stool when you can sit on a perfectly good rock?

Outside of the main story, dungeons and collectibles, there’s not much else to keep you coming back for more. Towards the end of the game you’ll be given access to an endless dungeon that will allow easier procurement of items, but it doesn’t quite offer the infinite gameplay of many other roguelikes.

Conclusion

Going into Void Terrarium, I had no idea what to expect of the game, and throughout my 30+ hour journey into the fungal wastelands, I’ve been convinced that this is a sleeper hit. Simple yet addictive gameplay with satisfying micromanagement, numerous upgrades, and a compelling story make this one of the best Mystery Dungeon games I’ve encountered. Fans of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon or roguelikes in general should do themselves a favour and dive into the infected wastes – as gross as that sounds, I guarantee you’re going to enjoy it.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve previously played and enjoyed other Mystery Dungeon games.
  • The randomised gameplay of roguelikes appeals to you.
  • Enjoy Tamagotchis? Well this game has one!
  • Plenty of items and abilities mean no two playthroughs are the same.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Can’t stand repetitive gameplay? This game isn’t for you.
  • Retro-style grid-based exploration/combat likely won’t appeal to those wanting a modern game.

A review code for PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

Essays on Empathy Review: PC

empathy | ˈɛmpəθi | noun “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”

Deconstructeam – maybe you’ve heard the name? Based in Valencia, Spain, this close-knit indie game developer consists of three key members, known for creating intimate, emotive narrative games, now in collaboration with Devolver Digital. Weaving stories with important messages conveyed through experimental formats, the studio has been widely-recognised for their games, “Gods Will Be Watching” (PC) and “The Red Strings Club” (Nintendo Switch, PC). While many of us play indie videogames on a daily basis for enjoyment, challenge, or entertainment, how often do we truly gain the opportunity to delve deeper into the motivations and thoughts behind the creative minds that concoct these experiences?

The Red Strings Club Nintendo Switch
Cyberpunk narrative adventure game, “The Red Strings Club”.

This is where Essays on Empathy fills a void. Through a hybrid format of videogames and short video documentaries, the player is taken on a journey into Deconstructeam’s past and present through 10 unique, individual standalone experiences. From a game as simple as picking the right book for a birthday present, all the way through to heart-wrenching human relationships and painful emotional experiences, there is one concept that flows through each game in this collection: empathy.

Accompanying each experience is a 10 – 15 minute dissection from the developers, who explain their creative processes, motivations, and most importantly, the messages and challenges behind the game’s creation. When consumed by a gripping videogame, it’s too easy to forget that these are all experiences for which real people are responsible, something Essays on Empathy expertly emphasises.

So what exactly are the games on offer in this captivating collection?
Let me break it down into its ten components:

Underground Hangovers (Genre: Metroidvania/Platformer)

If you had to leave a mysterious planet tomorrow would you: a) go to sleep at a reasonable time to ensure you don’t miss the only rocket off the planet, or b) have a massive party, wake up with a throbbing hangover, and miss the only rocket off the planet? Well in this case, the unfortunate party from Underground Hangovers chose the latter.

Underground Hangovers Essays on Empathy PC
The “Dual-Hook” makes for some interesting (and occasionally frustrating) platforming.

In what feels like the odd game out in the collection (as it’s far more focused on gameplay), you’re tasked with collecting enough ore to rebuild a rocket to make your way off this desolate planet. Though a simple game initially made for a Game Jam in 2015, it features some creative platforming puzzles that feel right at home in the genre.

Supercontinent Ltd (Genre: Cyberpunk/Narrative)

Bold, atmospheric, gripping and clever. Supercontinent Ltd is a narrative-heavy cyberpunk experience that will leave you thirsty for more. Playing as Brandeis (a character who also appears in The Red Strings Club), this game revolves around the use of ancient technology: a landline phone. Through use of a voice modulator (VOMOD), Brandeis makes phone calls to unravel the plot behind a mysterious organisation on the evening of their plan to overthrow the police force.

Supercontinent Ltd Essays on Empathy PC
Landlines really are ancient technology now.

With its engaging dialogue, gloomy pixel-art aesthetic, and ambient synth soundtrack, this game oozes style from every pixel. Impressively, Supercontinent somehow manages to achieve more character development and world-building in thirty minutes than games like Cyberpunk 2077 do in their entire narrative. Thirty minutes well spent.

Behind Every Great One (Genre: Drama/Narrative)

Riding on a high from Supercontinent, I jumped straight into the next game. I was not prepared for what I was about to feel. This game is, at times, mentally and emotionally difficult to play. Interestingly, the developers too discuss how difficult this game was to create. If you’re not in a good headspace, I would approach Behind Every Great One with caution. It will make you feel like absolute shit.

Behind Every Great One Essays on Empathy PC
Victorine’s life is a dull, unfulfilling loop.

You play as Victorine, the housewife to Gabriel, who is a renowned and celebrated artist. Living in his shadow, life has become a monotonous repetition of household chores and meaningless attempts at activity devoid of passion, interspersed with frequent anxiety attacks. The story becomes progressively more depressing as you delve deeper into the characters’ broken relationship and expectations of Victorine. It’s a highly emotive and confronting game that is not for the faint of heart.

Eternal Home Floristry (Genre: Narrative/Flower Arrangement)

An injured hitman loses his arm in an attack and is forced to seek refuge in the house of a florist called Sebastian, with whom he builds a relationship during their short time together. Learning the art of flower arrangement and the messages the blooms convey, Gordon is able to delve deeper into his own emotions and relationships. A highly emotive narrative that explores raw human emotion and the fragile elements that reside within even the most harsh exteriors.

Eternal Home Floristry Essays on Empathy PC
A truly beautiful narrative.

My favourite in the collection. Several times it even had me on the verge of tears. An impressive feat for a game that can easily be completed in half an hour. Though the game may be short, choices based on your flower arrangements will dramatically affect the outcome.

The Bookshelf Limbo (Genre: Point-and-Click)

Simplistic and charming; more of a minigame than a proper standalone title. Pick a comic book from the shelf at a bookstore to purchase as a birthday present for your father! This game was created as a birthday gift alongside a friend of the developers and features amusing cover art, genre stereotypes, and mocking of internet trolls.

The Bookshelf Limbo Essays on Empathy PC
The first game I’ve encountered that’s essentially an interactive birthday card.

Zen and the Art of Transhumanism (Genre: Sci-Fi/Narrative)

Pottery meets Cyberpunk in a genre mash-up I never thought I’d encounter. As a new member of a human improvement workshop, you’re tasked with creating body modifications to fulfil your client’s needs. By handcrafting differently-shaped mods, you’ll be able to enhance certain physical traits and oblige the wishes of the often-selfish humans.

Zen and the Art of Transhumanism Essays on Empathy PC
I need this one!

Another incredibly stylish game with an odd concept – this intriguing pottery-crafting gameplay re-appears in The Red Strings Club as a major gameplay mechanic. But does crafting your body into the ideal traits really lead to true fulfilment?

Engolasters January 2021 (Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure)

In my opinion the least-enjoyable game in the entire collection. Set in the real life small mountain town of Engolasters, the protagonist (whose son has just run away from home) stumbles across extra-terrestrial life which offers to bestow great power. She must make a choice to save her son, herself, or unravel the secrets that lure her into the unknown. Afflicted by a wound and slowly losing blood, players must manage their life, phone battery, and car fuel while exploring the frosty overworld. The overworld is vast, empty, and lacking in direction, which led me to become easily frustrated.

Engolasters January 2021 Essays on Empathy PC

11:45 A Vivid Life (Genre: Point-and-Click)

The most interesting concept out of all the games: what if your skeleton didn’t belong to you? This simple point-and-click game explores the topic of body image and acceptance. By stealing an x-ray machine and fleeing to the country, the protagonist discovers more about herself by looking inside. Literally. X-rays reveal implants, evidence of past trauma, and pieces that seem mismatched and out of place. Once located, any foreign body parts must be forcibly removed through the use of pliers or scalpels. Not for the squeamish! Players can choose dialogue that will vary the consequences of the story, weaving an entertaining, introspective narrative with a stylish visual aesthetic.

11:45 A Vivid Life Essays on Empathy PC
Plenty of amusing dialogue in this one.

Dear Substance of Kin (Genre: Horror/Adventure)

For a moment I could have sworn I was playing something straight out of Bloodborne! This title is melancholy, chilling, and is dripping with disturbing atmosphere like a blood-soaked cloth. Exploring a decrepit and dilapidated town, you are the Coppersmith, an immortal artisan who harvests the organs of townspeople in exchange for fulfilling their requests through blood magic. By interrogating the residents, you can perceive their selfish desires and choose to either fulfil or sabotage them.

Dear Substance of Kin Essays on Empathy PC
The colour palette and pixel art create a morbid style.

Dark and brooding narrative alongside macabre art and music make this one of the most memorable titles in the collection, and leaves me thirsting for more. The inspiration behind this title is particularly interesting, as the creator draws upon a method that you’re unlikely to expect. Watch the documentary to find out!

Des Tres al Cuatro (Genre: Comedy/Narrative)

The main feature of this collection, a game that translates to “Three for a Quarter” (e.g. something of such poor quality that you can buy three of them for a single quarter), also the name of the comedy duo that you play as during this game. Garza and Bonachera are two halves of a failing comedy act, two lovers, and two grown men struggling for success, stumbling over the hurdles of their passions and their relationship. The story here is particularly personal to the developers, as it emphasises the harsh reality of making a living off of a creative pastime. Conversations between the characters are deeply intimate and allow the player to dive beneath the surface by revealing the characters’ inner thoughts on a separate area of the screen.

Des Tres al Cuatro Essays on Empathy PC
Many mature themes are discussed between Garza and Bonachera.

Gameplay is incredibly creative and unlike anything I’ve played, combining aspects of deckbuilding games with comedy dialogue, allowing you to attempt to earn coins to improve your deck. Cards will either build upon a joke, execute a hilarious punchline, or fail miserably and embarrass yourself in front of an entire crowd. Not only is it fun to play, but many of the jokes are legitimately amusing and it’s quite satisfying to be able to slowly improve your confidence with each show.

Des Tres al Cuatro Essays on Empathy PC
Easily some of the most creative gameplay you’ll come across.

Des Tres al Cuatro is, in my opinion, the best game in the entire collection, as it offers the perfect balance of innovative gameplay and insightful dialogue, and is an experience that is enjoyable every minute from start to finish. If you’re interested in Essays on Empathy, it’s worth it just for this alone.

Conclusion

A vast amount of passion has been poured into crafting these short but powerful games, which becomes even more apparent while watching the developers discuss each title in their respective documentaries. Thoughtfully reflective, introspective and emotive, Essays on Empathy is 50% videogame, 50% documentary, and 100% heart. If you’re the kind of person who plays videogames not only for enjoyment, but for deep narratives, important messages, or artistic expression, then this is an essential experience. And really, couldn’t everyone benefit from just a bit of extra empathy?

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of emotive narratives.
  • Looking for creative indie games? Go no further!
  • Gorgeous pixel art and equally gorgeous music.
  • Strong LGBTQIA representation will likely appeal to those within the community.

So, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Certain games may be best avoided if you’re not in the right headspace.
  • Not a fan of narrative or text-heavy games? Then these probably aren’t for you.

Essays of Empathy is available now on PC via Steam.
Find out more about the game here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1586880/Essays_on_Empathy/

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.