If there’s one thing that Wadjet Eye Games does well it’s sci-fi point and click adventure games. I can remember seeing the trailers for Gemini Rue and just getting swept up in it, loving the idea of revisiting a genre I hadn’t touched in the better part of a decade. Their next release (although not developed by them) in Resonance managed to continue the trend, invoking that same nostalgic feeling whilst also bringing some solid game play that reinvigorated the genre. When I was approached to preview Primordia (and subsequently given the chance to play it before it came out) I was beyond excited and today I bring you my first day 0 review of Wadjet Eye’s latest game.
Primordia is set in a post-apocalyptic future where you play as Horatio Nullbuilt, a robot who’s found himself stranded in the middle of a vast desert with a ship called the UNNIIC. It doesn’t seem like he’s particularly unhappy with his current situation, having spent his time salvaging the wrecks in the nearby vicinity to build his companion Crispin Horatiobuilt, but that’s all thrown into disarray when a strange robot forces its way into his ship and, after shooting Horatio, steals the central power core dooming Horatio and Crispin to die when their charge runs out. Of course this will not stand and this begins your quest to find your power supply and see the mysterious robot brought to justice.
Like all of Wadjet Eye’s previous titles Primordia is brought to you in brilliant pixel-art form bringing the great level of detail that we’ve come to expect from them. The colour palette is distinctly post-apocalyptic future, favouring muted shades of everything interspersed with bright neon glows every so often. Like Gemini Rue before it this really does convey a certain mood as even when other characters greet you cheerfully you can’t help but shake that feeling that something is still amiss, something fundamental. Coupled with every line being fully voiced acted Primordia is exactly what I had come to expect, a pretty good achievement to say the least.
The core of Primordia is your tired and true point and click adventure. Each screen is essentially a mini exploration game where you’ll spend countless minutes pouring over every detail, hovering your mouse over each section to see if it lights up with text that indicates you can interact with it. Unlike other games which make interactive parts obvious by highlighting them Primordia gives you no such luxury, instead forcing you to use your eyes and mouse in tandem to discover each and every interact-able part. For some this will be an exercise in frustration but for those of us who revel in this genre it’s all part of the fun, at least for the first 10 minutes or so on every screen.
Like all point and click adventures Primordia follows the traditional game sequence whereby you’re given free reign over a particular section, being able to walk/click/interact as much as you like, but in order to progress you must solve some kind of puzzle that’s blocking your way. This usually takes the form of finding out which items work with each other which can then be used on said blockade in order to progress further but there are also challenges that rely on you being able to decipher riddles and logic puzzles. Cleverly such puzzles aren’t brute forcible like they are in many similar titles, giving you a couple tries before you’re sent away in order to find another way to solve it.
What I really love about Primordia, and indeed any of the more modern point and click adventures, is the revamps of the inventory system that take away much of the tedium that was present in their ancestors. Primordia has your typical inventory, which can get rather cluttered towards the end, but it also includes a “datapack” which stores critical information that you glean from the environment and NPCs. Gone are the days when you had to rely on pen and paper or solely on your memory in order to figure out the solution to a puzzle which is an absolute godsend. It can also function as something of a red herring too, providing you with information that’s not relevant at all, which adds some challenge back in.
Another great improvement is the use of side kicks, in Primordia’s case Crispin, as hint machines that can help you get unstuck if you’ve been struggling with a particular puzzle. The clues aren’t always helpful, indeed many times asking Crispin what to do results in snide remarks or things I had already thought of, but there were many points where I found myself simply unable to think of new ideas. It was at this point that Crispin could jump start my brain again which I was really appreciative of given the lack of a walk through guide that would do the same.
I have to admit that the first half of my time spent with Primordia was one of frustration as there were many puzzles that I just simply couldn’t manage to figure out in a decent amount of time. Eventually I figured out that I just needed to take a break from it at this point and upon returning would usually be able to continue on. However towards the end something just clicked and all the challenges started to make sense. It might have been dumb luck, indeed there were some puzzles I solved by simply clicking the right item on the right place at the right time without even thinking about it, but I still feel that there’s a certain mindset you need to be in. Once you get it though Primordia becomes immensely more enjoyable.
Of course the main reason I play games like this is for their stories and Primordia does not disappoint. Things are slow going at the start, mostly because its just focusing on you and your companion, but the lore and back story of each character slowly builds around you until you get to a point where you realise you’re in the depths of something that’s far bigger than yourself. The way it morphs from a simple story of “get my power core back” to a full blown political conspiracy story really engaged me and the last 2 hours I spent with this game just seemed to fly by. I get the feeling there are alternate endings as well, meaning I don’t think I’ve explored every option yet, which means there’s even a bit of agency granted to the player. That’s pretty rare for this kind of game.
Primordia is a fantastic game and it was everything that I had come to expect from Wadjet Eye Games. The art work is great, the characters vibrant and believable and the puzzles, whilst frustrating at times, are incredibly satisfying when you manage to complete them without any outside help. I could really go on but the fact is that you’d be much better off just playing it as the story is what makes this game so enjoyable and I’d rather not spoil it for you here.
Primordia is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was approximately 6 hours.
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.
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.
I’m something of a sucker for pixel art games. It’s probably the nostalgia factor that does it for me, harking back to a time when it was my brother and I eagerly hammering away at the latest game we’d got usually after an intense begging and pleading session with our parents. At the same time I think the medium has evolved past what it was back then as it used to be the only way in which you could do graphics for games. Today it’s more a tool of choice as decent level graphics is well within the reach of even the smallest independent studios. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is yet another independent release that has chosen the pixel art route for their point and click action adventure, one that I had heard much about but only got around to playing last weekend.
You are only known as The Scythian, a stranger to the lands who’s been sent to accomplish a woeful errand. What that errand is and your motivation for doing so is left up to the imagination and the first session of Sword and Sworcery instead focuses on teaching you the basics of the game and setting up the few NPCs you’ll meet along the way. They’re rather unimaginatively named Girl (a Girl), Logfella (a guy who cuts logs) and Dogfella (a dog). Your first mission sees you summit the Mingi Taw (a local mountain) and retrieve a book known as the Megatome, a powerful spell book. From there you continue on your woeful errand following the will of the almighty cursor god.
The artwork of Sword and Sworcery is a curious blend of good old fashioned pixel art highlighted with more modern artistic effects. The modern aspects fit in well though being used mostly as emphasis in order to portray something in a certain way. Additionally any UI elements including things like the overlays and title screens are done in a non-pixel art way giving the seemingly retro game a modern feel when played. I’m no pixel art purist so the blending of the new and old styles of computer art work well and don’t seem to be at odds with each other like I thought they would be at first glance.
Much like Botanicula before it Sword and Sworcery has put a lot of effort into the music and foley that backs the core game play. The starting scenes serve as a kind of audio test to make sure that your sound system is working correctly as whilst none of the puzzles really require sound you’re missing out if you don’t have it on. For me though it was the music more than the foley this time around that did it for me as the music felt original whilst the foley felt like it might have come from a stock sounds library. Still it’s not like they’re terrible, just that the music was the standout of the two audio aspects of the game.
The core of Sword and Sworcery is a good old fashioned point and click adventure with a heavy aspect on exploration. Sword and Sworcery actively encourages you to click around the screen to figure things out and after a while also has you swiping around the place to see if things will react. As a seasoned gamer I find it somewhat interesting that players have to be told to explore, it feels like second nature especially to someone who grew up on such titles, but I can see how this game would be frustrating to someone who had never encountered the genre before. This was perhaps more likely for Sword and Sworcery as its initial release was on the iPad, home to the casual gamer who’s usually not terribly familiar with traditional game conventions.
The puzzles are, for the most part, pretty straight forward and can usually be uncovered through clicking and swiping around wildly should the answer not hit you immediately. Unlike its point and click ancestors Sword and Sworcery isn’t a game that relies on you finding all the required items and then rifling through them in order to find which one unlocks the next section, which I was very grateful for. There are definitely more innovative ways to make puzzles rather than throwing out all the pieces randomly and having you attempt to find which piece goes where at what time and Sword and Sworcery does so in a way that’s both fun and challenging, for most of the time at least.
Whilst I was able to get through most of the puzzles without too many dramas there were a couple occasions where I got stuck. Now this wasn’t the usual thing of not completing a certain puzzle (this was the dark moon trigon part if you’re interested) but after breezing through all the puzzles I was then left wondering where to go next. After clicking around everywhere I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to go and it wasn’t until I randomly clicked on a little ledge by accident did I find how to progress further. I’m fine with hiding puzzles in plain sight but if a player has been stuck on something for more than 10 minutes it usually means the puzzle logic isn’t entirely clear as the developer thinks it is. I’m also willing to admit that I’m just thick and couldn’t see the clues but as far as I could tell it wouldn’t be obvious to most (and judging by the Steam stats on the game I’m one of the very few, 7% of people in fact, to have actually finished the entire game).
Combat is a very simplistic affair, something that’s a trait of adventure games everywhere. If you don’t go stray too far from the predetermined course that the game has plotted for you it’s unlikely that you’ll see combat more than 5 or so times throughout your play through. However when I misinterpreted what one of the NPCs said I was treated to quite a few of the combat encounters as I struggled to get back on course. This wouldn’t have been so bad had the combat encounters not been near identical, serving as just a time waster rather than an actual challenge.
The same can be said for the boss fights as whilst they’re all slightly different they are for the most part the same. You’ll do the same Zelda: Ocarina of Time style tennis match with each trigon until they decide you need to do it again but faster this time. After that its the same series of quick time events (bar 1 which is unique to that boss fight, the only real difference in any of the fights) making sure that you press your shield at the right time whilst swiping away anything that gets close. The whole thing would’ve been made a lot more pleasurable if the game had mentioned that you could press and hold the shield to regen health, something that wasn’t revealed to me until I was out of health replenishing mushrooms and had to start the boss fight on 1 star of health.
I could forgive all these quibbles should the story have been interesting but I just couldn’t get into it. One of the biggest aspects of the game is that it has built in Twitter integration, allowing you to tweet any section of dialog. This means that all lines are less than 140 characters and I felt the dialog suffered because of this. It also didn’t help that it swung wildly between tongue-in-cheek style humor and actual meaty dialog, ostensibly because the humorous parts were meant for Twitter whilst the other sections weren’t. I felt the Tweeting thing was clever at first but later on it became painfully aware that it wasn’t a novel way of integrating social media it was just another way to market the game, one that was paid for by a terrible story.
All together Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery felt like it had equal parts good to bad. The final 15 minutes or so were quite enjoyable, probably the most enjoyable of the game, but it was preceded by several hours of samey combat, puzzles that were not satisfying and a story that felt like it was built as a marketing engine rather than an actual story. I really wanted to like Sword and Sworcery, I really did but the glaring faults (not least of which was the “wait 2 weeks to get the next trigon bullshit”) distracted from it so heavily that I can’t really recommend you go ahead and buy it, unless you’re a die hard point and click fan with a support the indies streak.
Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery is available right now on iOS and PC for $5.49 and $7.99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 3.2 hours of total play time and 64% of the achievements unlocked. I also managed to get the #honest achievement with cheating as well, just don’t set your clock back until you finish the game.
The Humble Indie Bundle has been my source for many independent games that I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. The pay-what-you-want model works spectacularly in the instance and I’ve always paid a lot more than the average so I get all the extra goodies. It was then without a second thought that I ponied up for the most recent release which was primarily for the release of Amanita Design’s Boatanicula, a curious little platform game that just beams with cutness from every angle.
Botanicula puts you in control of a quintet of characters, all of which appear to be either a seed or young form of some kind of plant. The opening scenes paint a picture of a tranquil, happy life of all these disparate species coexisting together on a giant tree. However a spider like entity threatens every living thing that dwells within it, sucking the very life out of every thing that it touches. The quintet’s hope lies within a single seed that they’re endeavouring to plant before all life on the tree is inevitably wiped out and the adventures that entail along their journey.
There’s something to be said for games that make the most of their chosen medium and Botanicula is one that does this to perfection. Every panel is abosolutely gorgeous, brimming with vibrant colours and soft glow effects that are very visually appealing. Unlike point and click adventures of times gone past Botanicula doesn’t make interactive sections obvious by colouring them differently which, whilst slightly irksome at the start, gave all the scenes an even visual feel without any jarring distractions. This is only surpassed by how the scenes evolve as the player interacts with them, bringing ever more life into them the more you dared click.
Coupled with this gorgeous visual art is an equally impressive arrangement for the music and foley. Instead of using typical sound effects Botanicula uses the human voice for nearly everything and I’m pleased to say it does so to great effect. There’s something joyous about clicking around on the various plants and insects only to have them respond with a cheerful sound or have the character’s speech be a long sentence of nonsense that’s aptly portrayed by a thought bubble above their head. I think this was by far my favourite aspect of Botanicula as I’ve never had so much fun listening to people make funny noises.
At its heart Botanicula is a point and click adventure with all the puzzle solving gooddness that comes along with it. Like all good games in its genre the puzzles start off pretty easy, usually being simple hunt and peck type deals with an over-arching goal of collecting x of something in order to progress to the next level. Afterwards they start to ramp up in the difficultly level slowly eventually getting to rather complicated puzzles that even left me guessing for a good amount of time. For the most part they’re pretty enjoyable and quite satisfying when completed but there are a few issues that plague them.
Now I’m not sure if this was because my desktop resolution was larger than Botanicula was able to display (as evidenced by the black borders around the screenshots) or something else but interaction with it was sometimes a little gummy. Whilst it was quite responsive to regular clicks on interactive objects anything that required some kind of movement with the cursor was plagued with unpredictable motion. One such puzzle was to get push a nut out a hole in order to knock a key down and attempting to do so was not an exact science with the nut reacting unpredictably. I can see how it might be better on a tablet when you don’t have a cursor to contend with but with a mouse and its ever-present presence on the screen I found myself having to come up with other solutions when precision movement was required.
Apart from that however the puzzles were pretty much all good with the only stumbling block being myself. For the most part it was lack of attention that usually caught me out, sending me on a wild goose chase for 10~20 minutes while I tried to find the last thing to progress to the next level. I did use a walkthrough guide a couple times when I started to get frustrated but for the most part the game was easy enough to get through whilst still providing a good challenge.
After playing through Botanicula I came away with two very distinct feelings about the game’s target audience and where they should be headed in the future. Whilst adults will find much to enjoy in the world of Botanicula I can’t help but feel that this game would be so great for kids as everything seems to fit the bill for this being an amazing game for them. The vibrant colours, extraordinarily cute characters and playful soundscape seem perfect for something to delight kids with.
Botanicula also feels like it would be very much at home on a tablet like an iPad or Android equivalent. Indeed my one gripe, the iffy mouse pointer control sections, seems like it would be a non-issue on a tablet platform. This also plays somewhat into it being a great game for kids as well as I know many parents use their iPads to keep the kids quiet on long journeys. To their credit Amanita Designs has said that an iPad version is already in the works and I’ll be very eager to see how it fairs in comparison to its PC cousin.
The story of Botanicula, whilst simplistic, is ultimately sastifying. Even though there’s no actual dialog you still get a feel for all the character’s personalities and quirks. The conclusion is predictable but it’s still worth seeing through to the end just for the fun of it.
Botanicula shows the reason why I continue to spend money on the Humble Indie Bundles without putting much thought into the games that I’m buying. My hit rate with unresearched titles has been quite high and I’m glad I can count Amanita Design’s latest release amongst them. If you’re a fan of point and clicks or just well executed games then Botanicula won’t disappoint and I couldn’t hesittate to recommened it.
Botanicula is available on PC, OSX and Linux right now for $9.99. Game was played entirely on the PC with 3.3 hours played, 75% of the achievements unlocked and a final score of 108/125.
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 🙂