Roguelites are a familiar breed here at Qualbert – several of us are big fans of the genre and that was shown in my previous review of Orbital Bullet – a 360-degree spin on this type of game. There’s no shortage of roguelite games to play after a decade+ of popularity, so it takes a lot for one to stand out. Dreamscaper hopes to do that, spending a good year in Early Access before being prepared for a 1.0 release in August. So, how does it fare alongside its roguelite counterparts, with a higher standard set after 2020’s massive hit in Hades?
Relying on contextual clues and flashbacks, regards for plot in Dreamscaper are few and far between. With the majority of the game spent in a dream state, there’s only a few environmental interactions to gleam through to earn some plot details. The main character, Cassidy, is new to Redhaven, and will slowly venture out into it as she unlocks segments within her dreams, where the dungeon-crawling takes place. After bosses are vanquished, a vague flashback plays, revealing bits and pieces of what transpired to bring Cassidy to this point in her life. As the majority of the game is spent in her dreams and it could take hours for players to progress, it’s a struggle to see what you’re fighting for at points.
The environments within Cassidy’s dreams differ based on which section she’s in – from a wintery wilderness, to cityscape streets, to a Redwood forest, it’s fascinating to see a dungeon-crawler where the dungeon emulates real life settings. When you compare that to the dark, dank recesses of Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon’s fantasy surroundings, it’s a novel take on level design in this genre. The lack of face on characters is also a compelling design choice that gives the game a unique flair.
Anyone who’s cut their teeth on the combat of a roguelite will have a headstart in Dreamscaper. With the ever-present threat of losing your life in just a few hits, your moves are calculated and careful – you’re put to the test with scaling baddies between each level and you’re bound to die. This is where my favorite part of roguelite comes in – you can manage some upgrades to make subsequent runs a bit more do-able. Titles like Rogue Legacy and Hades capitalize on this, and I find these titles more accessible thanks to it. One can only get so lucky with pickups/loadouts and once you get into that sweet spot, you’ll ascend the gauntlet significantly further than you could before. While Dreamscaper doesn’t do much to forward the genre, it manages to do everything right and has the replayability factor down pat.
With a soothing accompaniment in the music department, Dreamscaper continues the trend of indie games having triumphant soundtracks. Fitting every occasion with ease, it’s no wonder the 53-track OST, composed by Dale North, is available alongside the game on Steam. As far as sound design within the action, every whomp, wallop, and whack with your weapons feels like it has weight. Snow crumbles on the ground with every step. Monstrous bosses intimidate with massive roars. The care given to this aspect of the game deserves plenty of praise.
So, why should you play it?
You crave a good roguelite that rewards you with every run.
A challenge doesn’t phase you and you don’t mind multiple runs.
Skill-based gameplay gets your adrenaline pumping.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
You dread a plot moving at a snail’s pace.
You’re discouraged by dying easily/at a moment’s notice.
You don’t have time to grind a bit for progression’s sake.
A press copy of Dreamscaper was provided courtesy of the publisher.
When emotions take control of you, take control of your emotions.
It’s weird to have been with a game series from its very start and to experience all of its twists and turns over the course of six years. DONTNOD’s Life is Strange captivated gamers that asked more of TellTale, those that wanted a non-franchise story told in an engaging, choice-driven fashion. I recall the terrifying wait of each chapter releasing with a few months in between with agonizing cliffhangers that kept my mind racing. Then, Deck Nine Games handled a prequel in Before the Storm, crafting exposition and building off the first game’s memorable characters to expand the LiS universe. Now, Deck Nine can deliver a full-sized game in the vein of True Colors, bringing back a fan-favorite from Before the Storm and exploring small-town Colorado in detail.
After a brief cutscene establishing the main character, Alex lands in Haven Springs, Colorado by bus. With several cuts to the scenery and a slow walk speed, the player gets to immerse themselves in the breath-taking sights the town has to offer. A flowing river passes under a bridge adorned with several flower arrangements. You then get the chance to take a gander at the river in the first of the game’s Moments of Zen: a cutscene where the character reflects on their journey and current thoughts as the camera cuts to their surroundings. Some of my own tears flowed along with the river as I felt like I was right there in an idyllic Haven Springs thanks to picture-perfect immersion 5 minutes after starting the game.
Aside from the standout environment, the graphics and visual performance are a big enhancement from previous iterations in the series. My biggest gripe with these entries was the motion-capture being janky and not how a human would naturally move, but this was completely remedied in True Colors. In conversation, characters are more expressive here, as well – eyebrows furl in anger and raise in delight, dimples show after a hearty laugh, and it complements the auditory side quite well in doing so. This is the best Life is Strange has ever looked, so much so that I’d love to lose myself in this small town in a free roam mode.
The audio design in Life is Strange: True Colors is masterful in just about every aspect. When we call it an indie soundtrack, it’s actually bands you’ve never heard of, while still being perfectly in-context with the game’s themes and tone. These accompany the fantastic sights in the Moments of Zen, and while the player has the option to bring them to an early halt, it’s worth hearing the whole song in almost every instance.
Voice acting is on point and makes characters feel like genuine people with a full gamut of emotions. You can hear the rage, the despair, the nervousness of characters whose minds are in disrepair. Wholesome characters have a homely vocal presentation, whereas suspicious individuals sound conniving and serve as a frustration point when they get smug with you. It’s thanks to precise vocal direction meeting talented voice actors/actresses that these characters come to life.
In addition, the sound design of the world is prime. There were a few moments where I confused the game with real life thanks to this attention to detail, such as a frantic knocking on the door sounded seriously realistic. Whether it was creaking floorboards, a purring kitten, or a gas-lit lantern running out of fuel, I was zoned in at every step. The only issue was that Alex’s dialogue trigger whenever she entered a certain area would result in me hearing her say the same thing 2-3 times once I moved to a specific spot – otherwise, the sound in the game is mechanically strong.
Gone are the days of waiting for the next episode of Life is Strange to release – True Colors has its full story available upon launch. Alex’s time in Haven Springs has enough suspense riding on each scene that when the game took a break to become a LARP (Live Action RolePlay) complete with a turn-based system, I felt the needed break somehow kept me even more immersed into the story. Choices really do culminate in the last scene as you’ll truly see who’s with you and who’s against you. With a tentative runtime of 10-12 hours, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome and provides enough of an experience to stick in your head long past the rolling credits.
Like the rest of the titles, Life is Strange is an adventure/point-and-click with the quirk that you can move around freely. Inspecting the environment is a must, as you can unlock interactions and new dialogue if you keep a keen eye out for what’s around you – for example, a birdwatcher struggling to locate an adverse aviary can do so once you find it and coax it in the right direction. These little interactions are summed up at the end of each chapter and compared against other players, so you can see the choices they made, too. I couldn’t imagine playing this game without viewing every possible thing around me – it’s excellent for attention-to-detail gamers that love exhausting their surroundings.
The best Life is Strange yet?
Life is Strange: True Colors gets everything right that the previous games got wrong. The voice acting is superior, the motion-capture is finally spot-on, the length of the title maintains a fast pace from start to finish, and the few bugs are getting squashed with post-launch support (none of which I experienced in my playthough save for the audio). After suffering a loss in the family soon before my playthrough, I knew I’d resonate with the grim moments to come – the cry count hit 5 before all was said and done thanks to gripping voice acting, cathartic payoffs, and a setting that I’d love to retire to. This is indeed the best Life is Strange game to come, and an easy GOTY candidate.
So, why should you play it?
You love a knockout soundtrack, sound design, and voice acting backing edge-of-your-seat climactic moments.
You crave characters that you will effortlessly love/hate with ample opportunity to help/hinder them.
You love a story that rewards going off the beaten path, trying new things to get different outcomes in subsequent playthroughs.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
You can’t be bothered to explore what’s around you in a game, and desire instant gratification instead of a slow burn payoff.
The $60 price tag may feel like too much for a 10-hour experience.
A press copy of Life is Strange: True Colors was provided courtesy of the publisher.
Valve’s newest headset brings virtual reality one step closer to reality.
Virtual reality, or VR as it is most commonly referred to, is not a new concept by any means. The idea of being completely immersed in a virtual space was conceptualised as far back as the mid 20th century, prior even to the existence of the home computer. With the first commercially available headsets made available in the early 1990s, it seemed like the work of science fiction where simply donning a headset could allow the player to enter another reality. Though it’s true that the applications of VR extend into areas such as training simulations, cinema, and even social virtual worlds, there is one area where VR has remained consistent, pivotal, and constantly advancing: videogames.
However, technical limitations have long held back VR headsets from achieving a true sense of reality. This is until recent years, where mass produced headsets coupled with the rapidly evolving technology of gaming consoles and powerful personal computers have finally managed to blur the line between reality and the virtual world. To be fully immersed in the world of a videogame is an experience like none other, and something that “flat gaming” (that is, games played on a regular screen) can never hope to achieve.
Having been invested in virtual reality for several years now, I’ve eagerly awaited a piece of technology that could truly take my breath away, or have me convinced I had left my living room entirely. Previous headsets, while incredibly entertaining and providing unmatched gaming experiences, would still regularly remind me of being firmly grounded in reality due to unwieldy controllers and unimpressive visuals. Though my most recent VR experience has begun to change my perception…
The Valve Index, manufactured by none other than Valve (the corporation behind Half-Life and Steam), is the latest virtual reality headset to launch in Australia. Released initially in 2019 for the US market, the headset is finally available for purchase in Australia next month, where the Index VR Kit officially launches available only through EB Games Australia. Alongside a hefty price tag, the need for a powerful PC, and several square metres of space, this impressive piece of technology provides the most definitive VR experience to date. So is the Index worth your hard-earned cash? Read ahead and find out.
What do you get?
The Index VR Starter Kit, which is entirely contained within a single hulking black box, is jam packed full of almost all the equipment that you’ll need to dive into virtual reality. Almost is a very key word here, because there is something absolutely vital that any player wanting an Index will already need at their disposal: a powerful PC. Before you even consider purchasing an Index, be sure to run the SteamVR Performance Test to give you a sense of how well your computer will handle it.
So your PC passed the test? Good! You now have permission to open the box, which contains:
Valve Index VR Headset – the most important aspect, of course. This fancy, expensive hat lets you play cool games and houses two 1440 x 1600 LCD screens for your eyeballs’ enjoyment.
Valve Index Controllers (x2) – you’re going to want to treat these with respect, because these controllers are an incredible piece of tech and a pair of them will set you back a whopping $499.95AUD. So make sure to secure those handstraps; you don’t want to fling these into your monitor.
Valve Index Base Station (x2) – they’re watching your every move. These tracking stations are able to visualise the headset in virtual space and will need to see it at all times. For dedicated VR enthusiasts, an additional two base stations can be added to expand your play area.
Power supplies, power adapters, and charging cords – if I had to estimate, I’d probably say you get about 10m of cords with the Index, so try to keep them organised. Each power supply also includes an Australian adapter that slots in.
Half-Life: Alyx (digital download code) – this is more than just a tech demo, this is the most impressive VR game ever made. With 12+ hours of immersive gameplay, exceptional use of the VR headset and controllers, and a thrilling adventure set just prior to the events of Half-Life 2, Alyx is an absolute must-play and perfectly demonstrates the capabilities of the Index.
It’s a considerable amount of gear and can be a bit daunting at first, but thankfully getting ready to use the Index is a smooth experience that requires minimal effort. Here are a few tips to consider when getting set up:
Display port – does your PC have one of these? Well, mine didn’t (it has a display port mini), so be sure to purchase the appropriate adapter prior to setting up your headset to avoid disappointment.
Power points – you’re going to need four of these at a minimum. One for your PC, one for the headset, and then one for each base station.
USB ports – the headset needs to be connected to your PC via one at all times, and spare ports are preferable as well for charging the controllers.
Space – an essential aspect of your setup. You’re going to need an area where you can stand and move freely with about 1 – 2m either side of you unobstructed. Set up in a cramped games room at your own risk, as I found out when I knocked several items off a shelf mid-game.
Downloads & updates – as soon as you’ve got everything plugged in and ready to go, be prepared for a multitude of updates. Literally everything needs to update, including the headset and controllers. It’s also recommended to pre-install SteamVR and even Half-Life: Alyx to avoid needing to wait for these to download (on rubbish Australian internet).
The quintessential piece of virtual reality equipment – wearing this headset will almost certainly convince players they’ve left their living room or office entirely. And the Index Headset is more than just a couple of screens and lenses; there’s an incredible amount of technology incorporated to provide as legitimate a VR experience as is currently possible.
Contained within the headset are two 1440 x 1600 LCD screens with a maximum framerate of 144Hz for silky smooth gameplay. These sit in the main body of the headset behind two lenses, which can be moved horizontally using a slider to adjust the inter-pupillary distance, a nice touch for fine-tuning the image. The combination of these particular screens and lenses allows for an immersive field of view, moreso than other headsets I’ve used previously, meaning that the gameplay fully wraps around you with fewer blindspots. Images on the Index are crisp and able to achieve a significant level of detail (if your PC will allow it).
Though it’s not all about the visuals – the Index achieves an impressive auditory experience too. Two built-in ear speakers sit raised just beside each ear to create a surreal suspension of disbelief. Easily adjusted into place within seconds, the speaker design creates a proper sense of 3D audio without any physical intrusion of headphones or in-ear earphones. Audio quality is impressive, with a sense of environmental space that allows the player to detect sounds as if they’re coming from any direction, and noise leakage is almost non-existent.
Finally, if you’re going to be wearing this unit on your head for hours on end, it’s got to be comfortable. My melon head stretched the index to its very limits! Thankfully, numerous adjustments allow the headset to adapt to suit players of all sizes. The size of the headset, angle of the screens, distance of the lenses and speakers can all be easily changed within seconds. During our play-testing we got the Gaming News Australia crew together to try out the headset, and adjusting it between each player took a matter of seconds. You’ll easily be able to play for several hours before the headset begins to become restrictive and uncomfortable, but fine-tuning the adjustments takes some trial and error.
With only a few basic buttons and minimalistic design, the simplicity of the Index controllers can be incredibly misleading. Despite how basic they appear, these just so happen to be some of the most technologically-advanced controllers you’ll encounter. However, the impressive aspects of the controller cannot be shown off in a gif, because it’s all under the surface.
Hiding beneath the sleek exterior are numerous features that aim to enhance the VR experience. By sliding the controllers onto your hands and fitting them into the hand grips, each hand is unknowingly mapped by 87 individual motion sensors. This allows accurate tracking of the position of each finger and any minute movements that are made. To deepen the experience, there is actually no need to “hold” the controller, as they comfortably attach to each hand and allow a completely open hand without fear of the controllers dropping. In addition to the motion sensors, the hand grip features a force sensor, which detects squeezing and grabbing inputs.
Tactile inputs are still utilised to complement the more advanced sensory controls. The analogue stick (though small) is smooth and easy to control, and the trigger and action buttons all have a satisfying clickiness to them. Each controller also has an oval-shaped track pad on its surface, which functions effectively as an input for scrolling and navigating in-game menus. While the ergonomic design can be adjusted for most players, those with bigger hands may have some trouble reaching the lower face buttons, as these can be awkward to reach.
Charging the controllers is as simple as plugging in a USB-C cable, no special docks or equipment required. Full battery life will last just over 7 hours of playtime, which is more than enough for the vast majority of VR sessions. They also charge quite quickly – getting to half capacity in around 30 minutes, meaning you won’t be kept waiting too long if they run out.
Bundled with every Index Headset is a download code for a game by the name of Half-Life: Alyx, the newest entry in the iconic sci-fi shooter series that helped Valve shoot to fame back in 1998. This is a tailored experience that has been designed specifically for virtual reality and a brilliant standalone Half-Life game on its own. Having played through the game in its entirety, I found myself regularly in awe of the clever gameplay mechanics, which showcase every single aspect of the Index to near perfection. Alyx is quite possibly the most polished VR experience to date, and an absolute must-play for fans of the series.
We tried out several other games to put the headset to the test, including rhythm games like the incredibly popular Beat Saber and the recently-released God of Riffs, both of which make excellent use of the controllers in a musical setting. Other notable games in different genres include Moss, Blade & Sorcery, and Vacation Simulator, all of which are unique VR experiences that are worth checking out. And if you’re looking for something more social, VRChat is easily the most popular service available where players can interact with each other using 3D avatars. It’s the future of socialising!
Strangely enough, one of the most impressive “games” is not a game at all, it’s SteamVR itself, which is more like a dashboard for loading up games. You can customise this to various different environments that are crafted by the Steam community. During my time trying out the headset, I turned my VR Home into “Bag End” from The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit and was able to explore through Bilbo’s iconic hobbit hole. The VR Home is also packed full of interesting Easter eggs, customisation options and virtual tools to keep new players entertained.
Before we wrap things up, there are just a few more points about the Valve Index that are worth mentioning. While the technology is evolving rapidly and this is one of the finest examples of virtual reality, there are a few limitations that hold the Index back from being a perfect experience:
Cords – be prepared for LOTS of them. While they are mostly unobtrusive and won’t significantly impact your gameplay, cord organisation is a must for any seasoned VR player, otherwise you’re likely to end up with an unsightly rats nest of cords on the ground (like me).
Space requirement – you’re going to be moving around during most games, so ensure that the Index is setup in an appropriate area. If you’re lacking in space, then VR may not be a viable gaming option.
Game library – while there are several superb VR titles and a growing number of creative uses for the platform, this is still a relatively new platform, so the library is quite small in comparison to regular games.
Price – the biggest limitation of the Index. The Index VR kit will set you back nearly $1900AUD, and players still need to have invested in a modern PC with the capacity to run the games. This is by no means an entry level headset and may be a hard purchase to justify for newcomers.
There is no doubt that the Valve Index is one of the most advanced pieces of gaming hardware that money can buy, and an incredibly impressive VR experience for newcomers and seasoned players alike. Clever design elements incorporated into both the headset and controllers provide the player with an unmatched sense of immersion that makes going back to regular games seem almost banal in comparison. The inclusion of Half-Life: Alyx makes the Index a near perfect experience to demonstrate the possibilities of VR and its applications within videogames.
While impressive, the Index is unlikely to be replacing traditional videogames any time soon. The need for a powerful PC in addition to a hefty price tag are both hurdles that will unfortunately limit many gamers from even considering the Index. The headset is clearly aimed at those already invested in the technology and suits this demographic as a worthy investment for those keen to spend the time in virtual reality. For those dedicated players, Index is a gaming experience like none other.
So, why should you buy it?
You’re a fan of VR and looking to upgrade from a lesser headset.
Accurate hand-tracking controls that allow creative and immersive gameplay.
You own a powerful PC and looking to put it to the test in new ways.
Fans of Half-Life will likely be blown away by Alyx.
Gameplay that blurs the line between reality and videogames.
But why shouldn’t you buy it?
Lacking the PC hardware to run games smoothly.
Requires adequate space to allow for a large enough play area.
Price tag means other cheaper headsets may be more appropriate for VR newcomers.
A Valve Index VR Kit was kindly provided by Valve for the purpose of this review.
I’ve been frequenting roguelite games ever since I first ran Rogue Legacy on my crappy laptop in 2013. The prospect of coming back to a game time and time again and getting something new out of it is the ultimate sign of replayability. With every impending death comes a gameplay tactic or two learned, increasing your chances of success in future runs. The genre is currently in a renaissance as Hades captured the hearts of thousands last year, earning the top spot of many GOTY lists. I have dozens of roguelites wishlisted on Steam that I’ll eventually get to, but for now, I’m keen to take a look at Orbital Bullet – one with a clever gimmick and a heap of polish despite it being in Early Access.
Getting into a roguelite is a bit of a challenge. There’s always a learning curve, a necessitation to figure out how the game operates, and how to make the most of a run before you’ll almost certainly perish – typically in the early-goings. Orbital Bullet gives you quite a bit of health to work with, but is home to blistering-fast enemies that are merciless. You’ll have to learn patterns and remind yourself to dodge just as much as shoot/pounce. There’s a welcome variety in enemy types, weapons, and skill trees, in addition to randomized perks, level layouts, and more to sufficiently provide the player with a new experience each time.
Combat entails both shooting your enemies with the option to bounce on them Mario-style. I found myself particularly loving the boomerang/bola gun, fitting in two powerful shots at the cost of one trigger pull. Mixing this in with ample traversal and getting around to dodging enough made for a strong run where I got through several biomes. Getting health refills after floor clears sure didn’t hurt, either! As far as roguelites go, Orbital Bullet is quite forgiving in how much damage you can take; this isn’t a bad thing, as I love feeling strong in video games.
Orbital Bullet‘s score is absolutely massive – the instant you get past the tutorial, it ramps into high gear. I’d love to have shared it in the video below, but my amateur nature tuned the game audio too low, so enjoy it within the announcement trailer above. As far as weapon sounds go, it’s pretty standard fare of bangs and booms – the music is the highlight here.
Opting for a cross between pixel and realistic aesthetic, Orbital Bullet boasts pretty colors and makes great use of them with compelling terrains. There’s a vast difference between biomes as you progress through levels, not just being the same thing nonstop. Bright colors accompany your shots and enemy clears, all moving along quickly with the refresh rate of your monitor (in my case, with 0 slowdowns at 144fps.)
So, why should you play it?
You enjoy visceral, tight action-platforming gameplay.
A bangin’ soundtrack is your ideal background to slaying doomed enemies.
You want a different experience every time you come to a game.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
The prospect of high difficulty/possible motion sickness puts you off.
Too much happening on-screen is a regular occurrence.
A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.
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. ZombiesHD 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
nocras is a name in the gaming industry you may not know, but one that deserves to be known. This individual is an environmental artist that has worked on the likes of Final Fantasy XIV, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and much more. Notable for grand-scale creations, nocras is an artist that 47k Twitter users follow closely, across language barriers and more.
nocras’ latest venture is TASOMACHI: Behind the Twilight. One look at screenshots and one may be in awe at the vibrant, elaborate environments broadcast straight from nocras’ vision. Thankfully, there’s more to it than just that, as TASOMACHI serves as a platformer/collectathon in the vein of Super Mario Odyssey and the like.
TASOMACHI tasks the player with navigating towns and collecting Sources of Earth to repair their airship. These are hidden in bushes, the ground, and in other hard-to-reach places, demanding the player to platform their way across town. Along the way, they will encounter shrines in the towns with four platforming challenges each. Once completed, the towns’ mysterious fog disappears and the cat-like villagers return.
Likely the most significant aspect of why TASOMACHI is moving copies is thanks to the mind of nocras. Together with developer Orbital Express, the atmosphere, inspired by a Chinese imperial aesthetic, is eye candy. It feels worthwhile to complete the shrines and make the towns look abuzz with no obfuscation from the fog, a true night-and-day difference. While architecture gets a bit redundant, the color scheme between towns sets them apart enough thanks to varying level design.
Another big draw that I didn’t realize until I took a gander at the Steam page was that Ujico/Snail’s House provided the music for the game. This musical artist is near and dear to me, as they provided the backdrop for some hilarious TF2 SFM videos, and can stretch from quirky bops to scenic jams across their discography. They delivered a standup job in TASOMACHI, providing ambient grace in exploration sections and upbeat tracks during platform dungeons.
Those looking for a relaxed time, look no further. There’s no combat in TASOMACHI: Behind the Twilight, and you’ll only lose a few seconds if you fall during a platform challenge. This laid-back pace will make it welcoming for casual players seeking pretty sights and sounds.
Unfortunately, there are still some pain points within this game. The movement is fairly tight, a necessity for platformers, but requires some getting used to since it’s so floaty. One ability you unlock, “boost”, feels miniscule and nothing like a dash you may see in games within the genre. Text and animation feels similar to some that I’ve seen in early-access/shovelware titles, but not jarring enough to be more than a nitpick. Worse off, I encountered a crash every time I attempted to load the third town. This occurred within a mere 2 hours of gameplay and near to game completion, so it truly hampered the mood. Here’s hoping this gets patched soon.
Nevertheless, there’s potential to be had with TASOMACHI: Behind the Twilight. It’s undoubtedly gorgeous, an aural pleasure, and a strong first solo effort for nocras. Perhaps the $20 price tag is a bit steep for the state the game’s in, as it currently sits with a “mixed” rating on Steam, but with updates, this could become something great.
So, why should you play it?
Relaxed, casual game to experience at your own pace.
Bangin’ soundtrack from Ujico/Snail House.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
Game-breaking bug in my build.
Some platform challenges are a bit too tough, and need to be skipped.
A PC code was provided for the purpose of this review.
Did you have a ball playing Katamari Damacy? Did you think Untitled Goose Game was a honking good time? Looking for another light-hearted, hilarious game? Then Say No! More.
Have you ever been in a situation where you just wanted to shout “NO!”? Can you imagine if you didn’t even have the option? If refusal was considered taboo? Where no matter what was asked of you, even the most tedious of tasks, you had to say “yes!” with enthusiasm.
Welcome to the world of Say No! More, a game that developers, Studio Fizbin, claim to be the world’s very first “NPG (No-Playing Game).” Through literally teaching the player to say “no” more, the game emphasises the power behind using this simple word that we too often take for granted. With its unique simplicity, quirky sense of humour, heavily-stylised visuals and superb voice acting, Say No! More delivers a unique experience I KNOW you won’t want to pass up.
So what makes such a simple concept so entertaining? Well there’s NO time to waste, read on!
It’s your first day at a new job, you’re one of three new interns hired to work for an unnamed massive corporation. Exciting, right? No.
Only minutes into the new job you find out there is a hierarchy that must be obeyed. And as a lowly intern, guess what? You’re the bottom of the ladder. Anything that is asked of you must be done with enthusiasm, in fact it’s impossible to refuse. But why is that? The word “no” does not exist. It has has been completely outlawed, banished and hidden from society.
Get your superior a coffee? Sure, that’s reasonable! Unjam the printer that your work colleague so kindly stuffed up? Rightio! Work unpaid overtime for the fifth time this week? Yes, I would love to! Even give up your adorable unicorn lunchbox because your supervisor forgot their lunch at home? Of course!
But this all changes when you stumble across a hidden tape above your dilapidated office desk. A tape containing a forbidden word that has been lost to society. In listening to this tape you gain a power that others in the world would not even speak of: the ability to say NO!
In possessing this unique newfound skill, the oppressed intern seeks to rise up and quite literally spread the good word. What follows is a plot that is not only hilarious, but at times meaningful and strangely heart-warming. What starts out as a simple concept, evolves over 8 chapters into something much more dramatic than I had ever expected from a comedy game.
But how do you say “no” more?
Before assaulting office workers and superiors with a barrage of refusal, you’ve got to look the part, right? The game begins with a detailed character creator, despite the very minimalist low-poly graphics. It feels like a combination of Mii Maker and creating a character in TheSims, allowing you to stylise your character’s facial features, clothing and accessories to be as exciting or boring as you wish. I went for a pretty generic salaryman look (that somehow looked a bit like Robert Downey Jr?).
After creating your character, you need to give them a voice. Impressively you can choose from shouting “NO!” in seventeen different languages, each with a feminine or masculine voice. The voice acting is in English, but this shouldn’t stop you from exploring all the different ways you can refuse someone! Definitely a nice touch. For your entertainment here’s a short clip of how to say “no” in the languages available:
Once you’ve created your character and chosen your preferred language, the game drops you into a story that takes place across 8 different chapters. Each is about 10 – 15 minutes long and is packed full of hilarious dialogue, amusing conversations between characters, clever easter eggs, and silly slapstick comedy. Levels follow a linear route akin to an on-rails shooter, but instead of firing bullets you’ll be blasting office workers with the sheer power of your words alone. This is simplistic gameplay at its finest and is approachable enough for literally anyone to play. Even my wife (who is usually terrible at games, sorry!) enjoyed it.
As you progress through the chapters, you’ll be given additional means of saying no. Certain situations may require you to respond with an angry, a lazy or a sarcastic no. To further humiliate your colleagues, you can perform actions like sarcastically clapping at them, laughing or nodding your head, all of which have certain situations where they are most appropriate. You’ll also be able to hold down the button to charge up a more devastating “NO” that usually causes havoc by launching the unfortunate office workers or inanimate objects that stand in your way. These are all clever ways of adding slightly more depth to a game that could otherwise be finished just by pressing a single button.
Though the gameplay in Say No! More is simple, its comedic delivery is where it truly shines.
I’m in no way exaggerating when I say that Say No! More is quite possibly the funniest game I’ve ever played. Throughout the few hours playing the game, the vast majority of the time was spent either in legitimate laughter or with a big cheesy grim on my face. The game is absolutely packed full of superbly-written clever dialogue, witty responses, and a satirical take on the office lifestyle (which I can really appreciate being an office worker myself).
A few snippets from the game, including a reference to some obscure monster-fighting RPG.
My personal favourite parts of the game are delivered in the form of motivational speeches. The tape which teaches you how to say “NO!” is actually delivered by a character that I can only describe as if Hulk Hogan became a motivational speaker. Levels will be scattered with excerpts from this character as you listen to more of the tape, allowing you to unlock further secrets of this powerful word bestowed upon you by your brawny teacher.
As you may have already noticed, the game employs a distinct low-poly art-style with vibrant colours and exaggerated animations. I’d say it has a similar aesthetic to Katamari Damacy, which in my opinion is a very good thing. Though detail is limited, this seems to fit well with the comedic style of the game and means the screen can be full of activity with little-to-no drop in framerate. The game performs well in both handheld and docked mode and looks vivid and visually-pleasing.
The soundtrack is quite simple, comprised of peppy, upbeat music that you might expect to hear in the background of an office training video. During the tape sequences however, you’ll feel as if you’ve been thrown into a workout video, as heavy riffs accompany “Hulk NOgan” yelling motivational lines at you.
While none of the tracks in the game will likely find their way onto your favourite game music playlist, the voice acting and delivery of the game’s hilarious dialogue is something worth writing home about. Every single word in the game is voiced, including all the office worker NPCs you’ll often fling out of the way without a care in the world. If you stop to listen to them you’ll enjoy short monologues that aren’t only amusing, but often also insightful.
So is Say No! More just another indie game on the Switch that you should ignore? NO! It’s a unique comedic romp through an office that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone thanks to its witty dialogue and simple, approachable gameplay. Surprisingly, the game also delivers a deeper message about the importance of being assertive and by the end you might even take onboard some of the life advice it provides. Completion will only take 2 – 3 hours and you’ll be laughing and smiling the entire time. I’m predicting this game will be quite a hit with YouTube “let’s players” looking to share a hilarious game with their viewers.
So, why should you play it?
You enjoy light-hearted games filled with humour.
Can’t commit to 100-hour JRPGs? Here’s a brilliant game that you could finish in a single sitting!
Work in an office? You’ll relate to this satirical take on the office lifestyle.
You’d prefer a game for sheer enjoyment rather than a challenge.
Needing to learn to assert yourself? Say No! More.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
Bland sense of humour? Don’t enjoy silly games? Maybe not for you.
There are NO other reasons not to play this game!
Say No! More launches TODAY for Steam, Nintendo Switch and iOS. You can find out more about the game here: https://www.saynomo.re/
A Nintendo Switch review code was provided for the purpose of this review.
To The Rescue! Finds its Forever Home on Nintendo Switch, Steam in Late 2021
A brand new indie dog shelter simulator game To the Rescue! launches later this year which allows you to run a dog shelter. Purchasing the game will also allow you to help real-life doggos, with 20% of all profits from the game being donated to animal shelters. As a veterinarian myself, I’m honestly pretty excited to try out this game!
Build a shelter and help stray pups find good new homes with loving families. Construct an ideal environment to meet the needs of man’s best friend and maximize their chances to be adopted. Caring for dozens of doggos is rewarding, but the mission has its share of challenges as well.
Every pooch has their own personality. It’s important to get to know each dog and find out what makes them unique. People have their preferences too, so learning what they’re looking for in a pupper is critical when making matches that will last a lifetime.
Between visits from potential pet parents, there’s never a dull moment. Shelters have plenty of mouths to feed and treating illnesses like kennel cough is always a concern. Then there’s logistics to worry about. It takes no shortage of supplies to keep the operation up and running.
Meanwhile, someone has to manage the finances and make sure to keep the lights on. Shelters need to be thrifty and make hard decisions. Hiring staff and dealing with investors is as much a part of the job as scritching Rex behind the ears and giving Fido belly rubs. There can be tough times, but at the end of the day helping dogs find their forever homes is always worth it.
“The challenges dog shelters and their volunteers face every day truly inspire us,” said Olivia Dunlap, co-founder, Little Rock Games. “It’s a setting we felt was ripe for exploration in games and we look forward to bringing this world to Nintendo Switch and Steam later this year.”
To The Rescue! will be available in late 2021 for Nintendo Switch as well as Steam on PC and Mac for $19.99USD. The development team pledges 20 percent of profits to pet shelters.