This may come as a surprise given my gaming pedigree but I never really got into the old Lucasfilm adventure games. It wasn’t a lack of interest, more that we were a MS-DOS/PC house and my friends who loved those games were all Mac families. So I stuck to my titles and they to theirs and so I was left to discover adventure games much later in life. I tell you this because I feel a lot of what should make Thimbleweed Park good is tied up in the nostalgia associated with those games. Don’t get me wrong, nostalgia is a completely valid thing to base a game on, however for those lacking the requisite history with the product/franchise/developer those same elements can be confusing, kitchsey or downright trite. Such is my experience with Thimbelweed Park, one where I can see a lot of what I know is likely to be a huge draw card for many but simply not for me.
Thimbleweed Park puts you in charge of a whole host of characters, ranging from two detectives who couldn’t be more different, to a young girl with aspirations to become a game developer and even a clown cursed to never be able to remove his makeup. The game starts off with the detectives investigating a murder in this sleepy town of just 81 people. What follows is a deep dive into the town’s history, how it came to be and why everything seems to hinge on a single dilapidated pillow factory on the town’s outskirts.
As the game was developed by the very same people behind all those Lucasfilm Games titles it should come as no surprise that its art direction reflects them to a tee. The art is perhaps a bit more detailed than its predecessors were with things like better shading being quite noticeable on comparison. Thimbleweed Part definitely leans more towards a stylized, cartoony feel rather than a pixel-art imitation of the real world which, again, is reminiscent of its spiritual predecessors. The simplistic graphics do belies a great amount of detail in some areas however, like the bookshelves (which in most adventure games would just be decorative) containing hundreds of titles in them. This is, of course, all part of the game’s core mechanics.
There’s nothing new or inventive about how Thimbleweed Park plays out and that’s very much by design. Long time fans of these specific kinds of games will be instantly familiar with the trademark grab-bag of verbs at the bottom left-hand side of the screen which dictate how you can interact with objects and NPCs. There’s your inventory which will contain a bevy of both useful and useless items, although which is which is an exercise left up to the reader. Every room is filled with details, some of which you’ll need to solve the current issue du-jour and others that will come in handy later. Indeed the structure of Thimbleweed park is done in such a way that there’s no dead-ends and no way for your character to die so you should (hopefully) never get stuck. Combine this with witty quips from all the characters, constant breaking of the fourth wall and not-so-subtle references to the developer’s previous employer and you’ve got a campy but interesting trip down memory lane…I assume.
As the game will tell you (if you listen to the pigeons, that is) Thimbleweed Park is a well designed adventure game in terms of mechanics and puzzle layout. For the first few chapters there’s always something to do and a pretty logical construction to all the puzzles. The inclusion of a to-do list for every character means that you’ll always have at least half a thought towards what you should be doing, even if it’s not immediately obvious. You will however still spend your time doing what you always do in these adventure games: trying a whole bunch of different item combinations and interactions until you finally figure out which one works. Of course once you figure it out it all makes sense, but the journey to that point can be quite frustrating at times.
Thimbleweed Park’s puzzle construction and layout might be both its greatest strength and weakness. Whilst it’s great to have a lot of avenues for progression having them early on can be something of a mixed bag. If you’re like me then you’re quite likely to chase down a bunch of red herrings that aren’t related to your current objective, just because they seem like obvious problems to solve. A good example of this is a puzzle in the diner which I cottoned onto very early on in my play through. Trouble with that was that puzzle didn’t need to be solved until right at the end of the game and so I ended up wondering what the point of it was, thinking I had wasted my time. This is in stark contrast to my general experience with adventure games (both new and old) which gate puzzles like that to keep you on track.
For people who really like to explore through everything though I don’t think this will be much of a problem. The amount of content in Thimbleweed Park is pretty impressive, putting the average completed play through at around 16 hours or so. For people like me though, those without the background in these titles or a deep interest in the story (more on that in a second) it can lend itself to frustration. This is why at around the 4 hour mark or so I gave up any semblance of dignity and headed for the walk through guides with reckless abandon. I do this because otherwise I’d be likely to quit the game in frustration and this way, at least, I can see how the story ends.
The story didn’t do much to grab me, unfortunately. Sure it’s refreshing to see a game not conform to the current norms for adventure games (both new and those in a similar style to this) but after a while some of those aspects start to lose its sheen. Breaking the fourth wall can be funny and thought provoking, but you can only do it so often before it becomes repetitive. The one-liners, repeated jokes and other story mechanics are good in moderation but that’s not something Thimbleweed Park has in large supply. I’m sure all these things that I’m mentioning as negatives are things that long time fans of these types of games say they love, and I’m not trying to take away from that. More I’m trying to show you what it looks like from an outsider coming in and, honestly, it just wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.
It probably doesn’t help that I didn’t really engage with the story past the first 4 chapters or so. The various character’s story arcs were only loosely coupled together which made their required co-operation to solve puzzles even more confusing. Again this comes back to the no-dead-end policy which, whilst ensuring the player can’t find themselves irrevocably stuck, means that certain things aren’t as tight as they could be. For me this appeared to be the story as the connecting elements just weren’t there to pull the whole thing together. Couple that with the items I mentioned before and the overall story experience just wasn’t up to the level that the hype surrounding this game would have you believe.
Thimbleweed Park is most certainly a game for the fans of the Lucasfilm Games series of years gone past, something which this old writer unfortunately let slide by. Had I not my experience of this game would likely be worlds different; a trip down nostalgia lane rather than a mediocre adventure game. All this being said though there is an inherit quality to the game, one that has obviously been shaped by the decades of experience by those who created it. So whilst it might be making my game of the year list I’m sure it’s going to be a delight to those it was made for: those with an inner child who still hold Lucasfilm Games in high regard.
Thimbleweed Park is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, iOS and Android right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with 7 hours of total play time and 55% of the achievements unlocked.
Taking a fresh approach to a long running genre is no easy task, especially in something as well established as the point and click adventure. I’m something of a fan of this particular genre (mostly because I grew up on them) having reviewed 4 titles in this particular category in this year alone. McPixel then, whilst fitting the basic requirements to be called a point and click adventure, feels like its in a category in all of its own thanks to its rapid place and numerous and often quite hilarious ways you can fail a particular section. Suffice to say that McPixel isn’t your run of the mill indie game.
You are McPixel, a slightly overweight man who’s given the job of saving the day in dozens of situations, all of which involve a bomb of some sort that will explode in less than 20 seconds. You’ll visit all sorts of environments ranging from the mundane like shopping centres and people’s houses to the fantastical, including choice locations such as a giant butterfly and various spacecraft. There are no second chances in McPixel either and should you click the wrong thing at the wrong time or in the wrong order you’ll find your surroundings blown to pieces and you’ll have to restart from the beginning again.
McPixel’s pixel art graphics are pretty rudimentary but I feel that’s part of the appeal. Whilst there’s been many games that show just how much you can do with pixel art style graphics McPixel’s are far more reminiscent of those which I grew up on and the ones that my friends and I tried fruitlessly to replicate within MSPaint. The crudeness just adds to the hilarity when McPixel does something that you can’t represent that well with such a simplistic medium and he ends up doing something that you can recognize but also get horribly confused by at the same time.
McPixel’s game play takes the form of a pretty simple puzzler in which you have to find the right way to defuse (or nullify in some way) a bomb that’s set to go off in 20 seconds. There’s only one “right” way to do this and whilst some times it will be the obvious answer like stepping on the fuse most of the time it will be some completely unintuitive answer that either involves you thinking in a decidedly random fashion or happening the solution by complete accident. Should you get the solution wrong you’ll be exploded in a blaze of glory and moved onto the next puzzle. You’ll come back around to it eventually which requires you to flex those memory muscles in order to not make the same mistake twice.
The bomb locations aren’t always obvious and it’s more than likely that you’ll spend a couple tries on particular puzzles just figuring out where the bomb is and which of the solutions doesn’t work as intended. This is part of the fun though as the non-working solutions usually fail in some hilarious and incomprehensible way, leaving the area around you devastated (although McPixel is usually fine, strangely enough). These jokes are actually part of the game play as once you find all of them in a particular section you’ll unlock yet another section that you can play through.
Should you manage to successfully solve 3 puzzles in a row you’ll be treated to a bonus round which apparently takes place inside a Nyan Cow. I believe the bonus round is the same puzzle every time (from what I can recall it was the same in the 2 times I managed to get it) and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the solution was. Considering that most of the later puzzles took me a couple tries just to understand fully what was going on it’s not surprising that I didn’t manage to solve it, especially considering how bizzare it was.
The weird randomness that’s woven throughout McPixel’s many jokes is where all the fun comes from. I can’t tell you how many times I went to do something that I was pretty sure of what the outcome would be only to be hilariously surprised by the result. The humour isn’t for everyone, especially for those that find crude/rude humour boring or unfunny, but I definitely found a lot to like in the 100+ panels that I played through. There were many, many sections that had me laughing out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, even towards the end when you’d think the jokes would start to get stale (they don’t, so long as you heed the warning at the start of the game).
It’s also a pretty bug free experience as I didn’t encounter any crashes or game breaking bugs. There was one particular section where things got a bit weird however which I haven’t been able to find out if anyone has had the same issue. In the elevator selection section you can choose from one of three sections by clicking on the elevator buttons. However when you hover over them, which you do to find out if you’ve beaten/played a section previously, it’ doesn’t line up with the sections you’ve actually played through. Hovering over the top button actually shows the “Locked” icon for the bonus section (which is actually the button to the right) but clicking on it will take you to the appropriate section. Nothing major and it was pretty easy to figure out but it seems like it would be a relatively easy fix.
McPixel is one of those little indie gems that comes along every so often that fails to comply to genre specific notions and is simply fun to play. The random, sometimes rude and crude humour was what made McPixel fun to play. This, coupled with the rapid pace and bite sized nature of all the puzzles, makes for a game that’s great just to pick up and play through a section whenever you’re feeling bored or want a break from whatever you’re doing. Considering that its now available on Android/iOS this means you can take it with you wherever you want and you can be assured that you’ll still be playing it for a long time to come thanks to the built in level editor.
McPixel is available on PC, Android and iOS right now for $4.99, $2.99 and $2.99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 1.5 hours of total game time.
Striking the right balance between making a game enjoyable and it’s relative difficulty level can be a rather tricky task. Way back in the dawn of gaming developers would often shoot for the high difficulty level simply because that meant people would play their game longer, even if that came at the cost of some enjoyability. It worked, for the most part, because I can remember becoming infuriated with many games yet still being unable to put them down, losing many hours to challenges that had long lost all meaning to me and all that remained was a desire to see it finished. They Bleed Pixels, the latest game from Spooky Squid Games Inc, feels like a homage to those days and if my reaction to it was anything to go by it’s a pretty authentic experience.
They Bleed Pixels puts you in a Lovecraftian world where you’re put in control of an anonymous (I couldn’t find out her name, at least) girl who’s dropped off at a home for troubled girls. It’s at this place she discovers a book, dripping in blood and pulsating with a decidedly evil red glow, that invades her dreams and twists her physical form into a purple skinned version of herself with claws for hands. She then has to battle her way past countless enemies and obstacles in order to reach the end and wake up from the terrible dream that is holding her captive.
As my long time readers will know I’ve got a bit of a thing for pixel art games, probably due to the nostalgia factor, and They Bleed Pixels delivers quite well in this regard. The art direction is great as everything has this eerie vibe to it, even when the music playing behind it is quite upbeat. This is only made better by the very satisfying explosions of pixels when you dispatch enemies (or yourself if you find the wrong edge of a saw) which fly across the screen and coat every surface they touch. Combined with the meaty foley that accompanies it They Bleed Pixels is quite a visceral experience for the eyes, ears and mind.
The core game of They Bleed Pixels is the tried and true platformer which seems to take quite a lot of inspiration from the Super Meat Boy style of games. The mechanics are quite similar: you can grab onto walls and slide down them at varying paces, you have a double jump so that areas that seem inaccessible actually are and as you progress nearly every wall has something on it that will kill you. Like all games in its genre the platforming sections start off simple and then ramp up the difficulty slowly which I believe is the key to cementing you in your seat as you die repeatedly to the same obstacle.
Unlike other platformer only titles They Bleed Pixels includes a combat system that makes use of only a single button for attack that can then be modified by the use of the movement and jump keys. For a game that obviously prefers a controller based scheme (most of the menus reference button A, for instance) I can see this working quite well, indeed Super Meat Boy’s developers recommend this as the conrol scheme of choice, but I ignored their advice and used my keyboard. Using these techniques, which are laid out for you in a tutorial, you can rack up big combos on your enemies which leads into one of the other game mechanics.
Unlike other platformers which have set check points or only save at the end of the level They Bleed Pixels has a meter at the top of the screen which fills up when you dispatch your enemies. The higher your combos the faster it will fill so the game encourages you to blast through as fast as you can in order to fill your meter faster. Once its filled you can then stand still to create a checkpoint however you can also risk it and keep going in order to push your score even higher. It’s a dangerous mechanism and more than once I found myself sent back much father than I would of liked just because I wanted to amp my score up.
For probably the first 2 dreams I was really enjoying the play style of They Bleed Pixels mostly because it felt like Super Meat Boy without the tendency to induce RSI. Sure there were a lot of tense moments but I never finished a level without more than a few dozen deaths, something which in Super Meat Boy just counted as the warm up. However as the game went on I found myself stuck on levels for up to an hour or more, throwing myself repeatedly at the same obstacles and seeming to get no where. Whilst I’d like to blame game bugs for it (and did for most of the time) after carefully watching what was happening I could only blame myself for what was happening, but that didn’t stop me from feeling frustrated.
I think primarily my gripe with the later levels comes from the repetition of challenges that the player has already beatn previously. If you look at the screenshot below and compare it to the second one in this post you’ll note how similar these challenges are (jumping from one side of a block to the other) and that particular challenge is present in nearly every level. There are also long sections where you’re basically doing the same thing over and over until you get to the end which doesn’t feel like a good challenge. Indeed it feels more like a punishment for not being able to execute the moves correctly which can happen quite easily when you panic and hit the attack button rather than jump.
Now don’t get me wrong, the game stands well enough on its own, but there was definitely a point where it transitioned from being a fun level of challenge to being just straight up insane and that’s where the fun started to rapidly drain out of it. I got to the last level, heck I was only about 3 screens away from finishing the game, but after spending a good 20 minutes or so on a puzzle and seemingly getting no where I just couldn’t bring myself to go back to it. I will take the criticism that I just wasn’t good enough to complete it (my performance in Super Meat Boy is a testament to how mediocre I am with these kinds of games) but even that knowledge won’t change the fact that I stopped having fun in the last couple hours.
For its genre They Bleed Pixels is an incredibly well polished title that will provide hours of frustrating enjoyment. Whilst I’m not into that whole achievement scene there are enough challenges listed to keep even the most dedicated achievement hunter mashing buttons for double, maybe even triple my play time. Whilst I might have lost interest in it right towards the end I can’t deny the overall quality of They Bleed Pixels, especially when compared to others in its genre.
They Bleed Pixels is available right now on PC and Xbox360 for $9.99 and an equivalent amount of Xbox points. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 7 hours played and 19% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve definitely developed a soft spot for Wadjet Eye Games over the past year or so. Whilst I skipped their last 2 releases (Blackwell Deception and Da New Guys) because they didn’t really tickle my fancy their other title, Gemini Rue, has ensured that I’ve kept a close on everything that they release. It was a couple months ago now I got an email from them about their upcoming game Resonance another sci-fi point and click adventure that caught my attention in much the same way Gemini Rue did. That combined with the few reviews I allowed myself to tentatively read was enough to sell me on the title, and many others it seems.
Resonance takes place in a world not too dissimilar to our own, being set around the same time. Throughout the game you will take control of one of 4 main characters: a scientist working with a brilliant professor on a new technology, a doctor who said scientist meets on the subway, a slightly renegade cop out to find the truth and a blogger (sorry reporter) who’s on the hunt for his next major story. When an explosion destroys the lab that the scientist is working for and mortally wounds his professor friend all 4 of their individual story threads come together as they try to find out the truth behind the accident.
It’s strange to think that this game has been in development for 5 years as at the time (we’re talking 2007) the idea of making a pixel art homage to the old adventure game genre would seem like a fool’s gambit. However Resonance has instead found itself quite at home with the current renaissance of pixel art titles that eschew modern graphics for a more nostalgic experience. Like many other pixel art games Resonance does not use a modern game engine as a basis, meaning that modern overlay effects like we’ve seen in titles like Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery and Lone Survivor aren’t present. Resonance does well without them however and if you’re a fan of the genuine old school adventure then their omission will be a boon rather than a bother.
Resonance starts off with you choosing your own path through the opening scenes of each of the main characters. This helps to provide some of the back story for all the main characters as well as serving as the tutorial for the main mechanics of the game. There’s really no denying that Resonance starts off quite slow in terms of story progression and I found myself putting it down just after I had completed this first section and leaving it for a day. The good news is that after that the story picks up pace quite dramatically and for the rest of my time with Resonance I didn’t stop until I got right to the end.
I can attribute much of this to the near seamless experience that Resonance presents. For most adventure games, especially ones that do not appear to be using modern game engines, the interfaces are usually clunky, the puzzles radically unintuitive and there’s usually a whole lot of back tracking through countless scenes to get that 1 item that you should have picked up but forgot to at the right time. Now Resonance isn’t completely innocent in this regard (something I’ll touch on a bit later) but overall the level of polish in the adventure game experience is incredibly high, rivaling that of its other Wadjet Eye titles. Considering its production time this is somewhat to be expected but we’ve all seen other titles where the same amount of development time leads to horrible things.
The inventory system is unique to Resonance featuring 3 distinct categories of items and information that you will use throughout your journey. The first is your Long Term Memory which basically functions as a replay device for key scenes that you’ll need to reference at a later date and is automatically populated for you. Short term memory on the other hand is populated directly by you by dragging items of interest into them which can then be used in conversations later on. The final section is just your regular inventory, holding all the items you’ll need to solve puzzles and further the story.
It’s a simple system on the surface but the kinds of puzzles it can create can be rather complicated. For the most part the things you have to talk to the NPCs about are usually in the room with you but there are several times when you need to mention something to someone and the only way to do it will be by dragging something into STM then travelling to them. Thankfully this isn’t often and I can only remember 2 times when I had to do some back tracking in order to progress further. Indeed the amount of back tracking required for the entire game was very minimal, something that definitely added much of my enjoyment to this game.
Unlike most other adventure games you can actually end up killing characters or stuffing up the game in a way which would make it impossible to finish it. Thankfully instead of making you reload your save game in order to fix the problem Resonance instead uses a Braid-esque technique of rewinding back time to a point just before the point where you failed, allowing you to retry the puzzle/section. This is by far the best solution I’ve seen to issues like this as whilst you can save whenever you want reloading a game, especially if you’re stuck at one section, breaks immersion completely. This rewind mechanic is a much better solution and definitely kept me playing much longer than having to reload saves would have.
The puzzles are, for the most part, quite intuitive if you grew up on these kinds of titles. Like all adventure games Resonance has its own way of doing things and this does cause some frustration initially as you struggle with rudimentary puzzles until you realize you’ve been approaching it the wrong way. I’ll admit that a couple of the puzzles completely stumped me at the time and had me reaching for a walkthrough guide to get me over that hump. I only did that a couple times however as for the most part the puzzles can be worked out with a little creative thinking (and possibly getting a coffee to take your mind off it for 5 minutes). My only quibble would be with the mouse based problems as Resonance’s mouse support seems to be a little iffy and can lead to some frustration when trying to complete some puzzles (the pad wiring one comes to mind).
Games like Resonance often rely heavily on the story to provide the majority of entertainment value and, whilst it doesn’t disappoint in that department, I found the game play of Resonance quite enjoyable. Indeed after the first hour which felt like a bit of a struggle I never once asked myself why I was playing this or thought to myself that I was just playing this for the review. The combination of polished interface and challenging puzzles is more than enough to carry this game along for its 6 hour duration. Of course the story doesn’t disappoint either, but there are some issues with it that bear mentioning.
Whilst the motivations of all the characters are quite clear, since you’re playing as them, there comes a point in the story where one of the characters radically changes their motivations. This is to serve as a turning point in the story (and is the basis of the major twist) however since you’ve played said character from the start, ostensibly since the point where they had said motivations, you would think there were some clues as to what they was up to. There were none however and the whole scene serves to open up several other plot holes that remain unanswered. It’s the same problem that plagued Heavy Rain and now, with my rose colored glasses firmly placed on the table, I can understand everyone’s frustration. Taken as a whole the story still works but they could have done a better job with the twist so it didn’t riddle the rest of the story with holes.
Resonance really was a joy to play, effortlessly capturing that nostalgic feeling of playing through its pixel art predecessors almost 2 decades ago. It feels strange for me to say that it was the game play that carried this game rather than its story as with games like this that’s never been the case, for me at least. It’s no surprise then that it has garnered very favorable reviews from everyone that’s played it and I’m glad that I can count myself among them. It might not be a flawless experience but Resonance gets all the fundamentals right resulting in an exceptional game that adventure fans will love and us nostalgic nerds will gush over for some time to come.
Resonace from Wadjet Eye Games is available on PC right now for $9.99. Game was completed with around 6 hours of total playtime, score of approximately 300 and 63% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve mentioned in the past that whilst I may have been playing survival horror games for a long time I’m not exactly their biggest fan. Sure some of the most memorable moments I’ve had whilst gaming have been in survival horror titles but they are very much the exception for me rather than the rule. Still I like to revisit the genre from time to time to see if there’s been any innovative changes that capture my attention much like the Nemesis did in Resident Evil 3. The latest survival horror game to cross my path came care of the latest Humble Indie Bundle and is called Lone Survivor. Thanks to my past wins with the Humble Bundle titles I figured it was worth a look in and gave it a full play through on the weekend.
Lone Survivor takes place in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a virus outbreak. You, only referred to as You for the entire game, finds himself as the lone survivor of this outbreak having a really fuzzy memory of the events leading up to this point. You start off in an apartment complex and whilst you don’t know much about it you do know that the place you currently live in is not yours. The game then follows your quest to get out of the apartment complex and hopefully escape the town entirely.
Like many recent indie releases Lone Survivor’s graphics are of the pixel art form, paying homage to the gaming roots that many of my generation will be familiar with. Additionally whilst all of the art is done pixel by pixel there are a lot of modern effects laid over the top. Indeed the engine feels like its more modern as unlike other pixel art games I’ve played recently it was able to scale itself out fully and play in full screen windowed mode. Whilst this isn’t a big factor in the core game it does show that this game is very well coded which is surprising considering the majority of the work on it was done by a single person.
Now I know I shouldn’t judge a game by its name but you’ll quickly find that whilst you character thinks he’s the lone survivor in this world there are in fact a lot of other people around. Whilst its debatable whether or not most of them are actually there since your character seems to flit between fever dreams there are at least 2 other people around who don’t appear to be part of them. There’s also the monsters, of varying types, that wander the landscape and if the assesment of You is anything to go by they are the final forms of humans who were infected by the virus.
I will level some criticism at Lone Survivor’s choice of showing you the monsters extremely early on in the piece. After seeing them the anxiety about what you’re coming up against is gone and instead you’re just left with another challenge to face. In fact apart from 1 all the monsters are shown to you in an initial safe setting, allowing you to get comfortable with how to deal with them before you have to. I may not enjoy survival horrors as much as the next guy but the good survival horror comes from tension and knowing what I was coming up against long before I had to took away any real sense of urgency.
The core game play is divided into two sections: point and click adventure and a simplistic combat system. The first aspect, a traditional point and click (although “move and X” is probably more appropriate here) is your standard affair sending you all over the place to gather up items in order to progress to the next stage. Quite a lot of this aspect is optional as the required items to progress are rather easy to come across and if you’re good at the combat you won’t need to be hunting around for food to restore your health. Indeed since there’s a not-so-secret mechanic to get you both unlimited food and ammunition this side of the game is somewhat moot but can be rewarding if you like hunting out all the little extra pieces hidden around the game.
Combat is similar to that of other point and click style games like Gemini Rue. You have a revolver which you can shoot at enemies and you can aim in 3 different directions: low, mid and high. Capping enemies in the head means they go down slightly quicker and shooting at their feet makes them back off for a little bit. Realistically the enemies are just organic progression blockers serving as another puzzle for you to solve. Given that you have essentially unlimited ammunition there’s really no point to not waste every enemy you come across since you’ll be back tracking a lot, especially if you want to seek out all the items.
It’s not said to you explicitly until you finish the game but there is a kind of score being tracked whilst you make your way through Lone Survivor. Now a little Googling will find you ways to improve said score but I felt kind of cheated when I found this out as if you play the game without doing any research on it you’ll be completely unaware of it until the end. Those optional things you can do then seem to take on a whole lot more importance rather than just being an ancillary part of the game. I hate to say it but the inclusion of achievements, if the game was integrated well into Steam say, might have made me feel more compelled to actually do these things without having to reveal the hidden score. Maybe I’m just feeling bitter because my score was pretty terrible, but I feel my criticism is valid.
I can usually put aside technical faults of a game if the story is good but for Lone Survivor I can’t feel I can make that concession. The disjointed nature of the story and the complete lack of relatability of the main character didn’t really make me feel anything for those people in the story. Since the whole thing seems to flit between what appears to be reality and fever dream sequences I can’t help but feel there’s some deeper meaning to it that I’m just not getting. It’s not the same as I felt with Braid though where speculating about it was an area of intrigue, I’m more than happy to leave this one alone.
Lone Survivor is a game that is equal parts good and bad. The combination of pixel art graphics with modern tweaks makes the game visually pleasing and the coding behind it feels top notch. I also enjoyed the choice of music for the opening and closing scenes as it seemed to be quite fitting for the scenes in question. However the game fails to be an actual survival horror with there being unlimited resources at your disposal and the threats in the game really posing little danger to you. There are some satisfying moments in it like when you figure out how to make coffee or complete a puzzle without having to backtrack for ages but apart from that I didn’t find much else to like in Lone Survivor.
It’s very possible that my gripes are the result of my bias against the survival horror genre and I can’t not recommend the game because of that. Since it’s part of the Humble Bundle the cost to trying it out is exceedingly low, especially when you get so many other great games bundled along with it. For me personally though I don’t believe I’ll ever play through Lone Survivor again to see the alternate endings as I just don’t feel that there’s anything else in it for me. Whether it works for you though is an exercise that I’ll leave up to the reader as I don’t feel my rating can truly reflect the game’s experience, even if I adjust for my internal biases.
Lone Survivor is available right now on PC for any price you wish through the Humble Indie Bundle. Total game time was around 4 hours with the Blue ending and a rating of F.
The renaissance that pixel-art styled games are undergoing currently, mostly thanks to the indie development scene, has produced some pretty spectacular works. Just last year I was introduced to Gemini Rue, a game that captured my primarily because of the nostalgia aspect. Of course the game stood alone in terms of game play and story, enough so that playing it didn’t feel like I was simply taking a trip down memory lane. It seems Wadjet Eye has a thing for pixel art styled games and late last year I was sent an email with a trailer for an upcoming game, To The Moon, from one of their partner developers Freebird Games. I’ll be honest when I first saw it I wasn’t particularly interested in playing it but after a strong recommendation from a friend (and watching the trailer) I thought it was worth a shot, even if it was just for the review.
You play as Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, two employees from a company simply called “The Agency” that specializes in memory altering technologies. This technology can be used to change events that happened in a person’s past which then allows them to alter the course of history within the patients mind. Due to the way this works it can only be performed on patients who a near death with the idea that they could have their memories altered to what they wanted and, upon awaking for the last time, enjoy that moment of fulfilment they longed for in life. Shortly after they would pass away. To The Moon follows a story of one patient named Johnny and his wish to journey to the moon.
To The Moon features some gorgeous pixel art scenes paying homage to the many games that used a similar style decades ago. Like Gemini Rue before it each of the scenes does an amazing job at evoking a certain atmosphere, something that plays a critical role in developing the characters. This goes hand in hand with the original sound track that was composed specifically for To The Moon and the combination elevates this simple pixel art adventure well above its expected station.
Like many games of its era To The Moon is primarily driven through character interactions that take place in the form of bite sized chunks of text that appear on screen. Initially the story works in reverse chronological order as you step back through Johnny’s memories in order to unlock his past and plant the idea of him going to the moon. It’s not a new plot mechanic but it was definitely an effective one, since all the characters can allude to the upcoming back story without it being hacky or cumbersome. Indeed the storytelling of To The Moon is what makes this game so compelling and every thing else in it is just ancillary to this purpose.
The game play of To The Moon is very simplistic, verging on the edge of being non-existent. This isn’t a bad thing, especially considering how good next-to-nothing game play games like Heavy Rain have been, just that if you’re the kind of person that enjoys the game play more than the story then To The Moon doesn’t have a lot to offer you. Indeed going into this I was worried that it was going to be another “combine this item with that item and use it there” kind of games, where most of the play time comes from constant iteration instead of enjoyable game play, but thankfully it’s nothing like that.
Between the dialogue scenes you’ll be put into control of one of the two doctors and it’s then your job to find a way back to another memory. This is done by finding a memento in the scene that links the current memory to one in the past. Once you’ve found that you then need to find memory links in order to unlock it. These usually take familiar forms, something which Dr. Watts remarks on during one of the scenes, but it’s basically a game of find the item on the screen. There are some puzzles that mix this up a little bit by throwing in dialogue options and asking you to type things but there’s not many of them, so the core game mechanic is pretty consistent throughout To The Moon.
After unlocking the memento you’ll have to prepare it in order to be able to jump back to another memory. This takes the form of a flip puzzle that you see above. If there’s anything of a game score to compare with your friends this is the only place you’ll find it as each puzzle has an “ideal” number of moves to solve it and there’s a running total of how you went at the bottom. Again these aren’t particularly hard with the most complicated puzzle still only requiring a single digits worth of moves so they’re more there to be a break from the motonity of the dialogue and the find the clue core game mechanics.
At the start I found it somewhat difficult to get into the story of To The Moon. The main characters, the two doctors, function as both the main protagonists in the story as well as being the comic relief. The comic relief sections felt boring and uninspired to me and at the start that’s what constitutes most of the story. After the first couple hours though its easy to put them aside in favour of the main story and on my second session I was instantly hooked back in. After a while though the story started to peter out a bit, with there being no solid plot developments for an hour or more. It was at this point that I got really worried and I got that horrible feeling in the back of my head that I was only playing this game all the way to the end for the review.
Indeed if there is one criticism I’ll level at To The Moon it is the disjointed pacing . There are some scenes that progress the story as much as 4 other scenes do which is what lead to me almost losing all interest in the game from about the half way to three quarters through mark. Whilst I don’t believe there are any excess scenes, indeed the story’s multiple plot lines do wrap up well, tying together some of the more dull scenes instead of having to go through the whole find the clues, unlocking the memento, do the puzzle routine could go a long way to ensure the balance between plot progression and player engagement is kept.
Having said that though it speaks volumes for a game that can turn from a boring slog to a heart arching drama almost at the drop of the hat. I can vividly remember sitting there, verging on the edge of giving up on the game when a couple key plot points were revealed to me. It was at that point that something happened to me that hadn’t happened with a game for a long time: I started crying. Not your typical single tear man cry, I lost it completely. I can’t say what it was that did it (to do so would ruin it and also render me an emotional wreck for the next hour, seriously) but suffice to say that once I had completed it I felt compelled to go and be manly for the next couple hours in order to recover. Working out the tears seemed to do the trick.
And that’s the reason why To The Moon is such an incredible story. Sure the game mechanics are simplistic and the pacing is troublesome but anything that can make me care about the characters deeply enough to bring me to tears at the end of it deserves every accolade that has been heaped on it. It shows that games as a story telling medium, no matter their game play or graphics, are joining the ranks of the traditional mediums. To The Moon is just another great example of a story transcending its medium, one that is a must play for anyone seeking a deep and engrossing drama.
To The Moon is available on PC right now for $12. Game was completed with around 5 hours total play time.
It’s been a long time since I played a good point and click adventure, but probably not as long as you think. It was only 5 years ago when Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was released and many of my friends told me that I had to play its predecessor, The Longest Journey, before I played through its sequel. I’ll admit at the time I wasn’t enthralled with the idea of playing through a point and click adventure that apparently had well over 40 hours worth of gameplay in it (rivaling that of traditional RPGs) but the plot hooked me enough to keep me playing right through until the bitter end. Gemini Rue brings back the point and click adventure and caught my attention due to its close resemblance to another sci-fi point and click adventure, Beneath a Steel Sky. With little more than a few screenshots and a recommendation from a friend I bought the collector’s edition of the game (which I’m still yet to receive) and dived right into this neo-noir world.
You start the game as Azriel Odin, a Boryokudan (a large and brutal crime syndicate) ex-assassin looking for his brother who’s been taken captive. Your quest starts on the planet Barracus, a mining planet that’s fallen under control of the Boryokudan, waiting for one of your former colleagues Matthius Howard. When he doesn’t show you begin your search by attempting to track him down. Simultaneously you also play the character Delta-6, a man trapped in a facility where everyone has had their memory erased including his own. Everyone is also subjected to training under the watchful eye of The Director, a disembodied voice that only speaks to you through the center’s PA system. You can switch between either character for most of the adventure although I chose to follow both as far as I could before it forced me to change.
The first thing that Gemini Rue should be commended for is its brilliant pixel art renditions of the various places you’ll visit. Whilst it might be a far cry from the graphics that computers are capable of generating these days it speaks volumes for a game when its able to invoke a certain mood and feel about an area when working in such a limited space. I’ll admit this could very easily be my sense of nostalgia doing quite a lot of the work for me but still the menu screen of Gemini Rue invoked that same sense of foreboding that I got when I first started up Heavy Rain.
The gameplay itself deviates slightly from the traditional point and click adventure genre. Whilst most of the interactions are your typical affair of finding which bit to click on or what item goes with what there’s a few elements that have been added in to break up the monotony of playing hunt and peck for hours on end. Most notably is the inclusion of combat and the potential for your character to die. There are several gun battles in the game and failing to execute them correctly will see your character dying, sending you back to the last checkpoint or place that you saved. Additionally there are a couple points where should you not complete a task quickly enough you will also end up loading up from your last save point. These both serve to add tension to an otherwise blasé genre that’s usually content to let you take as much time as you need without the threat of imminent demise.
Thankfully Gemini Rue avoids the traditional trap of point and click adventures that suffer from inventory overload. Whilst there are many occasions where you won’t be able to progress without a specific inventory item you’ll never find yourself at a point where you have to backtrack or reload a previous save in order to get an item you missed on your first pass through. Additionally the inventory is quite small with the most items I was carrying at any point in time numbering in the single digits. The communicator is also a nice touch as well, basically serving as a portal to other characters whilst also automatically picking up on critical pieces of information when you come across them.
Even though Gemini Rue deviates from the point and click formula of old I still think that fans of the genre will still find a lot to love in this indie title. Many of the puzzles require lateral thinking and there’s enough easter eggs¹ in the game to keep you coming back to the same locations again to see if there’s an unexplored area that you might have missed previously. Of course there are also the traditional frustrations of the genre as well sending me to look up a game guide on 3 occasions when I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to do next. Most of the time though it was just not mousing over a certain location to see an item was there, so I’m sure the game could be easily completed without the aide of a guide.
Of course the real hook to this entire game is the story. As the game plays out and more information becomes available to you the story begins to take twists and turns that you just wouldn’t expect. Things I was certain of early on in the story began to change rapidly as the story progress with everything ultimately turning on its head as the story rampaged towards its final conclusion. Whilst I only played the game in fits and bursts over the first few days the last 3 hours of the game had me firmly planted in my seat, anxiously clicking my way through. The end is satisfying whilst still leaving it open ended enough should Wadjet Eye games consider making a sequel to it.
Gemini Rue is one of those games that uses its chosen medium expertly to deliver an extremely powerful cyberpunk story. Whilst the point and click adventure might not be as popular as it was a decade ago this game shows that it can still be used to deliver a compelling game. If you’re a fan of the neo-noir cyberpunk worlds like Bladerunner and Neuormancer then you’ll love the dark futuristic world that Gemini Rue lays out before you.
Gemini Rue is available right now on PC for $14.99 from Wadjet Eye Games. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 7 hours of total play time.
¹My favorite of these was the Cowboy Bebop easter egg. Which is rather fitting considering the setting of this particular game 🙂