The Journey Down: Chapter Two Developer: Skygoblin Publisher: Skygoblin Reviewed on:PC Price: $19.99 USD For fans of:Grim Fandango or the thought of a West-African inspired Caribbean noir adventure.
*This review is notably shorter than Chapter One’s, simply because I didn’t want to spend more time than necessary repeating myself on gameplay elements and influence, and wanted to avoid spoiling the all-important narrative expected from a sequel.
When I reviewed The Journey Down’s opening chapter a few weeks ago, my primary takeaway was that it had all the makings of a point-and-click classic but lacked any form of actual adventure. Its West-African influence could be felt deep within its character design and the late Simon D’souza’s beautiful composition, but Chapter One’s bite-sized run-time, inconsistent voice-over quality, and never-ending fetch quest certainly hindered my overall enjoyment.
I’m happy to report that Chapter Two wholly improves upon its predecessor in every regard. It’s twice as long, allowing for more character engagement and world building. There’s more variety in the backdrops, though most of the game is still spent exploring dimly lit alleys. D’souza’s jazz, funk, and reggae tunes continue to elevate the experience to a higher level, eliciting the perfect emotion given the backdrop or circumstance. Voice-over fidelity has also improved tenfold, Port Artue’s inhabitants are far more interesting to converse with, and there’s an actual adventure taking place with sky pirates, murder, conspiracy, shootouts, and jailbreaks!
Thimbleweed Park Developer:Terrible Toybox Publisher:Terrible Toybox Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Linux, Mac via Steam & Mac App Store, Android (coming Oct. 7th), iOS Price: $19.99 USD
Those of you who grew up gaming during the point-and-click adventure boom in the 80s and 90s likely have fond memories of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick’s Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones, and Monkey Island titles. If you spent many a night pixel hunting as a pirate or shamefully microwaving hamsters, maybe even watching The X-Files or Twin Peaks in the process, then you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on Terrible Toybox’s new small-town adventure, Thimbleweed Park.
With an ensemble cast, a pixel aesthetic, and plenty of verb-using gameplay, the duo of Gilbert and Winnick aimed to make Thimbleweed Park feel like “opening a dusty old desk drawer and finding an undiscovered LucasArts adventure game you’ve never played before,” when they took to Kickstarter in 2014. After spending about a dozen hours with the PlayStation 4 version I can confidently say they’ve succeeded in their vision, but does a game that banks this much on nostalgia appeal to a brand new audience?
The 2002 adventure classic Syberia was a pleasant surprise when I played through it for the first time a few weeks ago. I was totally engrossed in Kate Walker’s evolution from a New York lawyer in a small French village to a woman trading the life she once wanted for the mere chance of adventure. Syberia captured a steampunk, automaton-filled world full of colorful characters and memorable locales, and concluded in such a great way that I wasted no time diving into the 2004 sequel.
Severed Developer: Drinkbox Studios (Guacamelee, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack) Release Date: April 26, 2016 Price: $14.99 Available on: PlayStation Vita (reviewed) In a Nutshell: Fruit Ninja, if it were made by Guillermo del Toro.
While many on social media are convinced that the Vita is dead, developer Drinkbox doesn’t seem to think so. After their insanely popular luchadorvania Guacamelee took PSN by storm in 2013, the team decided to tackle Sony’s handheld and develop an exclusive title for its small, yet rabid fanbase. Was it worth the gamble? That’s entirely up to Drinkbox to decide, but after spending a chunk of time with their new first-person dungeon crawler Severed, I can say with confidence that it’s definitely worth playing and could very well be the last great exclusive the Vita will ever see.
In Severed, you play as a one-armed warrior named Sasha who explores a haunting world in search for her missing family members. Along the way she’ll take on challenging bosses, adorn their armor to gain new abilities, and use her living sword to sever (hence the name) the limbs from defeated enemies in order to empower a variety of offensive and defensive skill trees.
Though she’s missing one of her extremities, Sasha is more than capable of holding her own in battle. Using the Vita’s front touch screen, you’ll swipe and slice monsters in one of the most engaging combat systems I’ve had the pleasure of playing in an RPG — especially a dungeon crawler. There’s no combat menu to flip through, just you and the tip of your finger delivering well-timed parries, charge attacks, and activating in-combat spells and abilities.
Every grotesque enemy has their own combat patterns to learn, be it keeping an eye on their attack meter in an attempt to parry, or knowing which parts of their body are even vulnerable at times. It’s not uncommon to find yourself surrounded in battle either, but thanks to Severed’s excellent pacing I was more than up to the challenge. I had learned that a certain four-armed monster could take 3 slices to each side before they switched their defensive position. I knew that another needed to have their fungal armor removed in order to reset their attack timer. It was just a matter of juggling all of their nuances simultaneously, and doing so was exhilarating.
While it was simple enough for me to memorize basic attack patterns, I didn’t grasp the benefit of patience and turtling in the early goings. Landing a series of successful attacks without interruption fills Sasha’s focus meter, and defeating an enemy while the meter is full allows you a brief moment to sever their limbs and use them for extremely valuable upgrades. If your focus meter isn’t full, you’re essentially defeating enemies with no real purpose. There’s no EXP system or level gains, after all. That being said, it’s important to strategically direct your attacks at multiple targets in order to reach maximum focus, and then deliver the killing blows.
Severed doesn’t shy away from overwhelming you in battle with multiple enemy types — all of which can vary in attack speeds and appear with all sorts of nasty buffs that made my hands sweat. And although Severed is, indeed, a challenging game, it’s a fair one. The more I battled an enemy, the more I understood it. The combat is so fine-tuned that I knew every mistake I made was my own. It wasn’t a cheap attack, or a subtle tell, it was me not switching targets in time or getting too cocky for my own good. Was I frustrated at times? Sure, but never once did I feel overwhelmed to the point where victory seemed unobtainable.
Even after succumbing to the same boss fight a handful of times, I came back with a better understanding of its attack patterns. For instance, the first boss is a crow golem that’s invulnerable while in its golem form. Once that became apparent, I hung back and parried attacks until its weak spot became exposed. Ah ha! Gripping my Vita as tight as I could, I used this opportunity to swipe as wide and as fast as humanly possible, delivering a barrage of slashes before it assumed its golem form once again. Just when I thought I had it figured out, it summoned a flock of crows to the battle in an attempt to draw my attention away. Contending with the golem and his pals simultaneously was a rush, and I eventually got him down on the fourth try.
Outside of combat, exploration is done in first-person, which is an aspect widely used in popular Japanese dungeon crawlers like Etrain and Stranger of Sword City. Where others in the genre use dungeon crawling as a way for players to grind EXP and strengthen their party members, Severed breaks it down to its most basic functions: exploration and puzzle solving.
There are plenty of unique corridors to wander, but many of the game’s secrets were hidden down alternate paths that required abilities obtained later in the game. I’d see the same star shape etched on walls time and time again, and when I eventually acquired blind magic to see beyond them, I immediately felt the need to backtrack in search of hidden brain and heart pieces (consumed to increase maximum health and mana pools).
Improving upon the recognizable art style used in Guacamelee, Severed is absolutely gorgeous. The world is described by the developers as nightmarish, and after battling strange creatures in poison filled rooms capped by orifices adorned with teeth, I’d have to agree. There’s monsters with multiple appendages, swarms of floating eyeballs, and some really crazy (and shocking) moments that far exceeded my creep-factor expectations. It really is a beautiful game, and the vibrant visuals work wonders in tandem with Severed’s dark themes.
There’s very little Severed does wrong. The combat is engaging (although tiring at times), Sasha’s tale is brooding, and its world is imaginative and memorable. The only thing working against the game is the Vita itself, though not from a technical standpoint — don’t worry, Severed runs great. I mostly play my Vita laying down, but since the handheld has a bit of weight to it I found it near impossible to hold the console above my face in one hand, while using the other to furiously slash and swipe my foes to tasty wet chunks. It just wasn’t happening. I had to either set the Vita down on a flat surface, gripping it in my left hand while slashing with the right, or find a comfortable spot on the couch to sit and play as I imagine normal people do.
Even then I could only play in short 1-hour bursts to avoid rubbing my fingertip raw or getting motion sickness from the first-person exploration segments. I’m not sure if it’s the transition animation from room to room, or the simple act of spinning around in first-person, but it definitely brought about a sense of nausea or a minor headache if I tried to press beyond the 1-hour mark.
This may seem like a mindless complaint to some, but it’s a sentiment echoed by Polygon’s Justin McElroy in his review and IGN’s Miranda Sanchez in hers. Like me, these are people who play a lot of video games. This rarely happens, and it’s a shame that it did with Severed because it’s such a fantastic game. I wanted to see where the game went next, so I was okay spending a week on a shorter 5-6 hour game I’d normally smash in one session, but I felt these were complaints worth mentioning.
Nausea aside, Severed is an extraordinary game that I can’t recommend enough to the Vita crowd. And although I enjoyed the way it used the Vita’s touch screen, this is a game I can easily see transitioning to mobile devices, or even PC using a mouse. Drinkbox deserves the widest audience possible, after all.
*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I did spend a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if it’s worth playing.
Full disclosure: This review was done using a PlayStation Vita copy of Severed provided by the game’s developer, Drinkbox Studios. I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers and constructive feedback to hard working developers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.
Version played: PS3 Played for: 12 hours, finishing the campaign at 79% collectables. No multiplayer.
With many of the official gaming sites and bloggers setting up their Game of the Year 2013 lists, one game seemed to be on their lists that I still had yet to play through until recently – the reboot of the iconic Tomb Raider franchise.
I’ve read and watched plenty of reviews and while many seem to be singing songs of praise, I’ve run across a fair share of negativity concerning the overall plot and its linearity. Tomb Raider has been sitting on my shelf since April so I finally sat down to give it the ol’ college try. Is the majority right in stating that Tomb Raider is, indeed, Game of the Year material, or is it just another case of over-hyped AAA mediocrity?
I’ve been reading for years about how Mirror’s Edge is a fantastic game with an amazing art style and plays like a first person shooter where you hate to actually shoot things. Every time I visit a Gamestop and peruse the used section I always pick up the box, look at the back, fail to contemplate how a parkour simulator could be fun and put it down. Today, my curiosity made me its bitch.
First, the art style. Ho-lee-shit! The movements, the soundtrack, the cel-shading. I’m in love. The two-tone color scheme and the sense of speed and height are perfect! Running to the edge of the rooftop, wall-running to the next and leaping over a fence before sliding under ventilation system and disarming a ‘blue’ in slow motion always gives that sense of style that so many games lack. Levels gain intensity at a breakneck pace and slowing down means giving up, but mama didn’t raise no bitch. Faith is an awesome heroine and Mirror’s Edge has that kind of futuristic punk rock style that I loved so much about Jet Set Radio.
The control scheme definitely took some getting used to, especially for something that seems so simplified in the tutorial level. The further I get in to the game, the more I’m having to rely on on-the-fly platforming where I just have to trust my instincts and take the flying leap off the side or 180-jump to escape the ‘blues’. Sometimes I get a little pissed when I’m doing so good, only to barely miss a ledge because–in my state of panic–I jumped a tad too early.. but that’s okay because the death animation is delicious.
From what I’m gathering, Mirror’s Edge is a short game and that fits perfectly with my lifestyle at this moment in time. I generally favor RPG’s or games that keep me around for a while, but with things being a bit hectic I can appreciate the shorter games like this or DmC: Devil May Cry. Games that I can pick up and play for an hour and not worry about losing the story. I’m glad I finally talked myself in to picking up Mirror’s Edge, I’m just regretting I didn’t do it sooner.