‘Rayman Mini’ Review

Rayman is a long-time running series that has earned its street cred over the years. I only started playing them as recently as Rayman Legends on Xbox One, but something about the games really caught my attention. Rayman Mini on Apple Arcade made me hopeful that it would be another whimsical adventure full of fun moments. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for Rayman Mini to disappoint and frustrate me as much as it did through its artificial feeling barriers and cheap feeling controls.

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‘Butter Royale’ Review

Butter Royale, freshly posted to Apple Arcade as of January 24th, is a heck of a surprising game. Perceptive purveyors of the Apple Arcade platform may have noticed a significant battle-royale sized hole in the platform before Butter Royale’s release. Developer Mighty Bear Games has done an excellent job with the game, creating a completely safe environment for younger audiences to enjoy the genre inspiring so many Fortnite-alikes. Butter Royale is certainly a promising new entry to the Apple Arcade platform!

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‘Kings of the Castle’ Review

Released on Apple Arcade on January 17th, Kings of the Castle is a solid and enjoyable first-person parkour game. The pitch for Kings of the Castle is straightforward – it’s a multiplayer parkour racing game, like if Mirrors Edge met Mario Kart. Or more accurately, since this is Apple Arcade territory, imagine the ramping speed of Hot Lava with the competitive racing of Sonic Racer. Continue reading

‘Pilgrims’ Review

Amanita Design, the game development team behind Machinarium and the Samorost series, have always been producers of non-traditional adventure games. To quickly summarize them, one might say they are known for following their own rules when making the weird point and click adventures we all keep falling in love with. The latest game released by the team, Pilgrims, seems to be another great entry in their library.

One of the self-imposed rules all the games released by the team so far is that there can be no comprehensible dialog, spoken or written. This means Pilgrims must establish player objectives and tools without telling us what they are. Unlike most non-verbal games, which would use camera angles and other visual cues to give players an idea of what to do, Pilgrims keeps things pretty open to interpretation. The most direct the game gets is when speech bubbles containing an item appear, to indicate something a character currently has or wants. How to get the item, or even if it’s worth getting, is up to the player.

In practice, Pilgrims can be completed in less than fifteen minutes. But with all the different ways players can reach the ending, this calculates to a game of a decent length. It was pretty fun thinking of different ways to be creative to reach the goals that I was setting for myself by assuming what the game wanted me to do. Unfortunately, with this wide openness there comes a lot of potential for wasted time. I think the most perfect example of what I loved and disliked about Pilgrims comes from a helluva story about my first playthrough.

To make a long story short, I ended up helping a Devil kidnap a Priest and sent them both to the underworld. But this didn’t affect my main objective at all, from what I could tell. A completely unnecessary condemnation, an arbitrary arbitration of a man’s soul. The funny thing is it was all done by me just combining random characters and inventory items, all up to the point where the priest is tied up and being carried away by the demon. I had very little idea what would happen at first, and as I was more successful and it all dawned on me, my opinion on the game cemented.

Pilgrims was a pretty fun game. It doesn’t do as much with its animation as the team’s previous game, Chuchel, but everything came together much stronger. Games like these that are so dang close to perfect make me feel very positive for the future of adventure games.

Played on Apple Arcade.

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‘The Hex’ Review

The Hex is the sort of game that pulls me in to confound and amaze me. It’s this weird little mashup of genres that is the newest labor of love developed by Daniel Mullins Games, creator of Pony Island. To describe the Hex in detail would spoil many of the exciting twists and turns the game takes, so I apologize to readers for not going into in this review. Spoilers, the game is a tightly designed and enjoyable experience.

The Hex is a series of short stories; for each main character there is a game genre that is explored and commented on. As the narrative progresses, we go into different worlds to play short segments in different playstyles. One world is a platformer, another is a turn-based RPG. It’s impressive that scenes in The Hex can be so massively different in playstyle and tone from each other, but always recognizable as consistent to the full game’s aesthetics.

I found the dialog writing to be relatively unimpressive, as a comedy it felt inspired by Rick & Morty at times and would sometimes get a slight chuckle out of me. Mediocre humor aside, the main story and its twists and turns were certainly intriguing enough that I was compelled to see much of the story in the game. What is so impressive to me about the game is that it received such a strong following that fans spent months to find a secret ending that was hidden in another tiny Steam game altogether.

It would be a mistake to dismiss this game after looking at its bobbleheady art and initial gameplay. It would be a mistake to stop playing this game before getting to the end and seeing all its mechanical and story twists and turns. Heck I think it would be a waste to stop playing this game before seeing the secret ending that forum users spent months working towards.

Readers can buy The Hex on Steam.

A Pleasant Trip to the Oceans in ‘Abzu’

Aquarium fans are in for a treat with 505 Games’ published sea exploration game, Abzu. Developer Giant Squid takes us on a journey through their game in a “walking simulator” style reminiscent of ‘Journey’ from thatgamecompany. The twist here is that we’re swimming through a series of levels that are each designed to portray parts of Earth’s oceans.

Despite the change from hiking shoes to flippers, the game still behaves like a traditional walking sim – explore each level to find a small list of collectibles, while experiencing a cinematic narrative. Abzu is very good at not telling the player much as there is not a single line of dialog throughout the entire experience. But this isn’t a game about interacting, it’s about observing. And holy heck do we get to see a lot of cool fish!

I don’t have an exact number of how many species of fish appeared in Abzu, though I can imagine there are a lot. And they all were animated to swim like they would in the wild! It’s this crazy amount of detail that makes me so excited about this game. It’s the sort of experience that makes me hope that some day I will be a dad or an uncle or anything really, just so I would be able to share the experience of playing this game the first time.

My biggest concerns and disappointments come from the bits of Abzu that try to be extra dramatic. At one point we find abandoned deep-sea mines, which you would think would tense up the situation. All they did was slow down the player character for a couple seconds and make a loud noise and bright flash. While I understand not wanting to make the player go back to a checkpoint, I feel like this compromise could have been avoided by not including the dang things.

Before and beyond the frustrating explosives, I found Abzu genuinely a pleasant experience. I enjoyed seeing all the takes on different sea creatures in Abzu’s cartoony art style. Personally, I think the nautilus was the coolest, but that’s only because I couldn’t find any cuttlefish. I definitely will recommend Abzu to fans of walking (swimming) simulators, as well as casual gamers with an interest in aquariums or marine biology.

Readers can find Abzu across a whole bunch of storefronts, including Steam, Xbox, and PSN.

‘The Turing Test’ is a Well Crafted Puzzle Factory

I played through The Turing Test recently through Xbox Game Pass, and I’ve been thinking about it since I finished it. The visuals of Turing Test featured an industrial theme, with everything you see feeling factory produced. The most unique looking puzzle areas you see are just rooms with different colored lighting. Every few puzzle levels we will encounter a human-inhabited room which usually looked a bit more lived in, with notes and personal items scattered about.

The plot of the game is straightforward – we are trying to reach the end of this maze to find our crewmates. As we progress through each of the puzzle rooms, we get to hear our player character, an astronaut named Ava, will talk to TOM, our computer friend about the difference between humans and artificial intelligences. 

The story is interesting, because it has almost nothing to do with the puzzles. The idea is that yes, you can switch between controlling Ava as a traditional first-person game, or as TOM who can only see through the eyes of security cameras or drones. But honestly, this whole story that’s established of the team on Europa and human morals? It could be replaced with a completely different story, and no one would know.

I feel like that’s part of the good and bad with the Turing Test. It’s versatile, like a mass-produced product. You can take it apart and exchange some of the lighter stuff, but the bulk of the experience will still be strong. Bulkhead did a great job on the puzzles here, and I’m excited for their future.

Played on Xbox Game Pass.

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‘Immortal Redneck’ is a Roguelite with a Short Fuse

Immortal Redneck by Spanish developer CremaGames is delivers a fairly solid first person shooter in roguelite package for better or worse.

The title of Immortal Redneck is deceiving – hearing it some might presume the game to have the humor of classic comedy My Name is Earl or comedian Jeff Foxworthy. What I experienced was a bunch of repeated one-liners that barely even registered as comedy. The premise is that a Kansas man who loves guns has been turned into an immortal mummy. Each life will see him rampaging through Egyptian styled pyramids filled with monsters until he is killed and reborn in the sarcophagus just outside danger, rinse/repeat. It’s a pretty boring story to set up some real solid game moments.

The gameplay loop consists of exploring each room, killing its baddies, and going up any staircases to the next floor. Players will want to collect gold from dead enemies, as between active lives they can purchase small stat upgrades to their character. There is a decent variety of weapons, powerups and modifiers, but I didn’t feel like I had enough time experimenting with any of them. A shooting range would be nice! I also despised the fact any powerup or modifier I touched would automatically activate and ruin my in-progress run.

A lot of the running and gunning was definitely fun! I especially enjoyed leaping across floating platforms with my shotgun to dodge and shoot flying skull monsters. Sometimes I did struggle with the mechanics of aiming with the default pistol. Redneck had a good speed to him that sometimes felt a little much for the smaller rooms.

Immortal Redneck is a fun time killer that never quite nails down what it promised to be. I would recommend buying it in a sale, and perhaps playing it between games that require much more of a commitment.

‘Chuchel’ is an Intense Dose of Pure Adventure Gaming Goodness

Chuchel by Amanita Design is yet another confirmation that the development team behind Machinarium and the Samorost series is incredibly talented. This is a game where everything on offer is this pure dose of refined comedy with no wasted sound or visual. Everything exists to deliver jokes or game design, or both.

Back in 2012 I awarded Botanicula, another game from Amanita Design for best audio design of that year. Chuchel takes it a step further. Every character has their own unique sounding gibberish or incoherent mumbling, which mixes with the random seeming sound effects of the background into this perfect Looney Tunes styled cacophony of music and incomprehensible language.

Chuchel does well with its puzzles in a way that continued to surprise me. It felt like the developers limited their toolset of game mechanics, but expanded on what they could do every other minute. At one point we were using the basic point and click controls to play an homage to Pac-Man, while another scene showed off the game’s wordless but emotional conversations between characters.

Each of the game’s rooms took at most five minutes to solve, each having its own characters and slight twist to mechanics. I’m not usually a fan of games that offer room escape puzzles, but Amanita Design managed to make a delightful experience.

I definitely will be recommending Chuchel to any fan of point and click adventures and fans of classic cartoon tomfoolery. It bums me out that the developers seem to be having a hard time since their decision to change the main character’s color scheme, so I’ll be rooting for them and buying their next game soon as they’ll sell it to me.

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Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure Review

Originally posted to IndieGamerTeam.com in July 2017

Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is a deceptively emotionally complex adventure game. It introduces itself as a story about a boar named Viktor, who after years of service to the Austria-Hungarian Empire, has grown tired of being a poor nobody. Viktor is a nasty little boar of a person who kicks and screams at everyone who makes him unhappy in his life. Viktor is convinced that with his experience as a peasant, he has the know-how to become Emperor, and sets out to take the throne after the game’s short introductory cutscene.

While the art style mimics the look of a cheap children’s cartoon, the subject matter of the game is tricky to label. After all, having your main character introduce the setting of the game as a world where “all stereotypes are true” is an awfully bold claim. (Editor’s Note: Oh, this is gonna end well…) This is a game attempting to balance racist jokes with insight, something we don’t see in most media these days. While playing the game, it often felt like we weren’t seeing the developer mocking minorities, but instead they were poking fun at their and Viktor’s small world views.

As the game progresses, we meet a wonderfully bizarre cast of caricatures based on real world cultures and famous writers of the early 1900s. Each character is voiced in a Banjo-Kazooie style where real voice actors record imitations of noises or accents with no audible words being said. The amount of work Studio Spektar put into the huge list of ridiculous characters is impressive, especially for such a small studio. Just after the tutorial we’re introduced to the following cast of characters:

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  • A kilt wearing “Jewish Scotsman” dog who alternates each sentence between using a Hebrew term or Scottish accent
  • A toga wearing, deeply philosophical, alcoholic Greek frog
  • A turban wearing Indian rhino who knows even more about poverty than Viktor
  • A Japanese rabbit girl riding a mech, who adds overly complicated emoticons to every sentence

These are just a few examples of all the characters you encounter in the game. There is a long list of unique people that will abuse or manipulate Viktor through a number of varied locations. I’m sure a lot of people would call this game ignorant or even hateful in its mockery of cultures. Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is a game that is so thoroughly filled with heart, jokes, and detail that I don’t think it’s fair to make a quick judgement to dismiss it or its creators.

Aside from the details of the writing, Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is quite a strong adventure game. Puzzle rooms are small and brisk to work through, and with most puzzles offering a good challenge. There is even a hint system, where Viktor calls his buddy Martin – an owl smoking a hookah pipe in the bath who claims to be psychic. Viktor will have the choice to ask about specific obstacles in the game, and Martin will respond with a joke or some advice that the player usually can make sense of to solve the immediate puzzles.

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That said, I did run into an issue with one ridiculously complex puzzle that had me stuck for quite a while. I definitely recommend keeping a guide handy, but truthfully, I say that about every adventure game. I definitely recommend fans of the adventure genre to give Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure a playthrough. With its unique art style, wide range of characters, and some damn funny writing, this might be one of my favorite adventure games in a long while.

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Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure was developed by Studio Spektar

Point of Sale: Steam

Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure is available for $11.99 on Steam.

A review code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this article

Sam has awarded Viktor, a Steampunk Adventure The Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval. 

Sam Adonis is passionate about a number of things, least of which include indie games, disability advocacy, and his MMO addictions.