Category: Reviews

Abyss of Neptune Review

Developer: Abyssmal Games, Synodic Arc
Publisher: Synodic Arc
Music: Abysmal Games
Platforms: PC (Steam)
Released: 27th April 2021
Genre: Survival, Horror

You’re in the infamous Bermuda triangle, sent by Divers Investigating Various External Signals (D.I.V.E.S. for short) to check out a strange signal in the depths of the ocean. The voice of the AI, D-NA is robotic, and comforting, guiding you through your tasks. It’s hardly routine of course, as you are encouraged to gather dynamite and then use said dynamite to blow up an entrance in an underwater cave.

And as you enter the cave, well, I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to realise that caves and explosives don’t mix. You are cut off from the outside, and radio doesn’t work through solid rock. So, now truly alone, you have to continue your investigation into the mysterious signal. And this entire, mysterious, massive underwater facility you have found yourself trapped in.

Abyss of Neptune is a survival horror game that takes place entirely underwater. With a hidden story, freaky monsters, and a fair bit of fear, all wrapped up with a beautiful and rich environment, it’s easy to become submerged in this game.

Abyss of Neptune has a few mechanics to worry about. Other than being able to swim in all directions, and getting the hang of the floaty controls, you of course have to keep an eye on your health and oxygen levels. It’s easy at the start, less so as you progress. Doors and machines within the mysterious facility are often damaged, missing parts, or need power. So there is a fair amount of minor repairs, and battery-seeking you need to do. But I think one of my favourite things is that there are puzzles. They’re small, and not too challenging to solve, but the room you’re in is eerie, dark, and there’s a strange sound that keeps getting closer.
Getting my hands on a harpoon was reassuring to a degree, but the number of bolts you have for it is limited, and using a harpoon isn’t the easiest thing on the planet. If you stay calm you can manage, and I didn’t find myself panicking much, but I definitely was on edge.

So you have to make your way through a partially functioning, maze-like facility that is deep underwater and filled with overgrown coral, damaged machinery, and the remains of the people who used to occupy it.

And the monsters of course.

But you can hide in lockers, so that’s not too bad.

There is a lot of visual atmosphere to this game, with dark rooms, foreboding shapes made of coral and destroyed equipment, and strange, eerie sounds. But, I understand this might not be the most popular of opinions, but I found it soothing at times. The sound of water bubbling, and my movement through the water, combined with the visuals of my air bubbles drifting away from me with each exhale was kind of relaxing. Probably not what they intended, it is a constant reminder of the fact that you’re very much underwater, and the quiet doesn’t help, so if you have some fears of cave diving, spelunking, or deep water, this probably isn’t the game for you.

I haven’t finished this game yet, and I understand it to be a rather short game, with about 2-3 hours of gameplay. But I’m a cautious scaredycat, so it is taking me a little bit longer than that. But I am really enjoying the atmosphere, the amount of detail the team put into this game, and the usage of less-is-more in appropriate areas. I love finding the remnants of emails from the people who worked in this facility, and piecing together what happened. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it is fun. And they’re not dragging out unnecessarily, which I really appreciate. It would be very easy to stretch this out for hours longer under the guise of forcing the player’s mind to work against them, but that can be boring and exhausting. So I enjoy the pace it has set. It’s a good balance for a small game.

And, this is the thing that gets to me, this game is free. Is it perfect? No! No game is. But it’s well-made, has a great atmosphere, and a good balance between suspense, puzzles, and action.

So, why not dip your toes into Abyss of Neptune?

Beyond Blue Review

Developer: E-Line Media
Publisher: E-Line Media
Music: Curated Playlist
Platforms: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows, Linux and Mac
Released: 17th April 2020
Genre: Adventure, Educational, Simulation, Indie Game

“Beyond Blue takes players into the near future, where they will have the opportunity to explore the mysteries of our ocean through the eyes of Mirai, a deep-sea explorer and scientist. She and her newly-formed research team will use ground-breaking technologies to see, hear, and interact with the ocean in a more meaningful way than has ever been attempted. The game features an evocative narrative and exploration of an untouched world.” – E-Line Media Game Description

Beyond Blue is evocative and heartfelt in its design. E-Line Media have a statement that says, “Inspiring Players to Understand and Shape the World.” And that is exactly how I felt about Beyond Blue. This wonderful ocean research game was inspired by Blue Planet II and you really do feel the passion and love for the ocean throughout its narrative and educational aspects.

You as the player Mirai love whales and spend time with a family of sperm whales with their new born calf Andrea. You follow Mirai on her personal journey above the water as well as her professional life underwater where she hosts live streams called OceanX Streams, collecting samples from the ocean floor, tracking marine life and of course discovering the mysteries of the ocean. All this to help educate the wider world about the “blue heart” of the planet.

There are in total 8 dives each one lasting anywhere between 15 minutes and upwards of 45mins depending on how much you like to explore. Mirai has her home base which is a futuristic submarine that she returns to examine findings and complete reports. It’s also where Mirai contacts her sister back on land where she is trying to help support her sister in taking care of their grandmother. This ties closely to the research Mirai is conducting on a family of sperm whales, the pod has a new mother and daughter duo whose family also consists of a grandmother.

Beyond Blue is so educational that while I was playing, I learnt that sperm whales live in family units and that the females will stay together forever while males will leave until they are of breeding age. Sperm whale females build strong and lifelong bonds with each other and those bonds will transcend generations. Grandmothers will pass on valuable knowledge to their younger family members. Mirai intends on studying the baby sperm whale well into adulthood and throughout her life to understand more about the species.

The voice acting is fantastic, all the characters really come alive with the phenomenal voice work of Anna Akana (Ant-Man), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (Pirates of the Caribbean III), Ally Maki (10 Things I Hate About You), and Mira Furlan (Babylon 5). These talented actors really help bring the educational elements of Beyond Blue to life.

In between dives quotes from researchers, marine biologists, oceanographer and underwater explorers also known as aquanauts appear throughout the game. There is also this incredible video feature that you unlock throughout the game that is called ‘Ocean Insights’ which are a series of short videos from the real world based around real scientists sharing their love for the ocean, it’s secrets and most importantly sharing their discoveries about our natural water world.

The great thing about these Ocean Insights is that the videos you unlock usually relate to something you have discovered on a recent dive. Honestly unlocking these little mini educational videos was my biggest driving factor for completing a dive. I wanted to hear more from people like Dr. Sylvia Earle the founder of Mission Blue and resident explorer for National Geographic not to mention a bunch of other awesome National Geographic residents you get to hear from.

When exploring in game I found the mechanics to be surprisingly intuitive and the UI Hud to be so smooth an effective. Beyond Blue is considered to be an indie development however the player movement and visual design would suggest a much bigger production. It might not be high graphics but it certainly doesn’t need to be with such a smooth interface and wonderfully designed player movement.

I did have a minor issue with loading a saved game however, when I first logged back in after taking a break the game froze when I selected ‘continue’ so I did unfortunately have to get task manager involved to close the game and start up again this time opting to load a previously saved game instead. I’m not sure if this is an issue isolated to windows versions of the game or my PC just sucks but keep that in mind if you stumble across the same problem.

The music gives off ethereal ocean vibes while diving, creating this really paced atmospheric energy peacefully guiding and encouraging you explore further into the depths. When you are onboard the sub however you get this exceptionally curated playlist of ocean inspired music from a variety of different artists as well as the ability to unlock more tracks throughout game play.

Beyond Blue is touching, awe inspiring, educational, and also a challenge for us to rise to the occasion and protect this vulnerable underwater world. There is so many wonderful things to appreciate about our little blue planet and its vast seascapes and Beyond Blue has done an exceptional job of bringing the ocean closer to us so that we may learn and engage more with our ocean environment. If you are lover of the planet, get Beyond Blue you will almost certainly learn something and experience the vastness of our oceans.

Pokemon Shuffle

Developer: Genius Sonority
Publisher:
Nintendo & The Pokémon Company
Music:
Tsukasa Tawada
Platforms:
Nintendo 3DS, Android & iOS
Released:
18th of February 2015
Genre:
Single Player Puzzle Game

Pokémon Shuffle is a puzzle game similar in its mechanics to Candy Crush or Bejewelled. Players must battle against different types of Pokémon. During each fight you may bring up to four support Pokémon with you. Here comes the match thing with other thing mechanic, you must match three or more of the same Pokémon to each other, either in horizontal or verticals lines when that happens damage is dealt to the Pokémon you are battling. The higher number of Pokémon you can match in a single move the more damage you deal and the faster you knock out the wild Pokémon. It also helps if you can have support Pokémon that are super effective against the Pokémon you are battling. For example, bring water types to battle a fire type will deal more damage. You progress through each stage by defeating Pokémon and capturing them. You have a higher percentage of capture at the end of each round based on how many moves you have left. There is a limited number of moves you can make for each battle. So, if you have 10 moves and you KO’d in 2. Those left over 8 moves will be added to your likelihood of Pokémon capture. And that Pokémon can be added to your collection and brought with you to other battles. After all that you get in-game coins and Pokémon gain EXP.

All the Pokémon in Pokémon Shuffle are from Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, Unova, Kalos and Alola regions. Meaning that there is also Mega Evolutions and Mega Stones that you can acquire from battling trainers as well. Players can unlock expert levels as well. Which will limit you not only by move count but also by time. The Pokémon up for grabs in the expert levels are more rare and definitely more sought after. Pokémon Shuffle operates on a free-to-play system which basically means that everything is free up front but if you want addition features you must pay. In relation to Pokémon Shuffle, you are required to have hearts to attempt a stage. Now you only start with 5 and you must wait a certain amount of time for one heart to recover and so on. You can purchase more hearts and you can also purchase power-ups, such as extra moves. Mostly however if you didn’t want to pay you don’t need to you, you get login bonuses and daily challenges as well as special limited-time stages to try out.

Pokémon Shuffle is very cutesy in its art style making my think of Animal Crossing there is also a childlike nature to it making it very safe and appealing to young kids. I do find the game to be very repetitive at times and other times I find it really addictive making me want to reattempt a battle to capture a Pokémon. The further you get into Pokémon Shuffle the more patience you need to not spend money. So, if you are someone with the tendency to spend on mobile games, I’d be careful with this one.

The soundtrack is simply delightful each stage you progress through provides a new sound for each stage theme. It’s almost as if each stage has music to mimic certain Pokémon types which is really cool. There are also many traditional Japanese instruments throughout with classical Japanese drums and rhythm. There is also sweet melodic guitars and ukuleles to enjoy. Tsukasa Tawada has done a fantastic job of making gaming music that does what it should, set the scene and not irritate you when it loops.

I have to say even though Pokémon Shuffle doesn’t have the greatest online ratings and despite it being a pretty old game now, I don’t think it’s aged badly. I love Pokémon and almost any game that somehow incorporates that universe will suck me in. It’s definitely a great game for the train or to fidget with. I love the daily login in systems because it keeps me going in to attempt some more stages and if you want to spend money sure and if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I’ve had a great time with Pokémon Shuffle because I got the itch for having to Catch Em’ All.

Don’t Starve Together Review

Illustrated shield with Don't Starve Together Carved into it

Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Music: Vince de Vera and Jason Garner
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, macOS, Linux, Microsoft Windows
Released: 21 April 2016
Genre: Survival, Indie, Action-adventure, Multiplayer

Narrative

Don’t Starve Together is the standalone multiplayer expansion of the wilderness survival game, Don’t Starve. It’s refreshing to see an expansion game that stands alone and doesn’t require you to purchase the original game in order to play it. In fact, Don’t Starve Together is the only Don’t Starve game that I’ve ever played.

When it comes to story, Don’t Starve Together is bursting with narrative threads and character arcs. Don’t Starve Together is a continuation of the storyline from the original Don’t Starve. But don’t worry if you haven’t played the first game because the story is not immediately consequential to your experience as a player and anything you need to know can be found on the wiki pages or on the plethora of YouTube videos out there.

Game Play

I’m sure if you’ve been paying attention to any of my previous reviews, you’d remember that I am notoriously bad at survival games. And I mean, die in the first two minutes bad. That’s because most survival games don’t take the time to walk you through all of the different mechanics and expect you to actually survive. Unfortunately, I can’t remember if there was a tutorial for Don’t Starve Together because I don’t think I got one.

A screenshot of the game don't starve together

The first time I played this game was way back in 2016 when it was initially released, and I was playing with a friend. It did not go well and I did not enjoy my time. I’d attribute most of this to the fact that I’m bad at survival games and the person I was playing with had also never played before. There weren’t nearly as many resources for the game as there are now. Despite all of that though, the game is pretty forgiving. I’ve managed to survive an entire season.

Unlike its prequel Don’t Starve, Don’t Starve Together lets you play with others. Which is the best part of the game. You get a lot of control over how you make your worlds, how many friends you want to play with, and what mode you want to play in. You can play in Survival, Wilderness, and Endless mode. Each of those modes is fairly relaxed with Survival being the default mode of play. We played in Survival mode and it’s kind of difficult to find some resurrecting stuff, but mostly I’m a very cautious player and so I’m a bit too scared to explore far on my own. This means that playing in a cooperative manner gives me the best chance of enjoying the game.

Music

Full disclosure, I love music, but I don’t hear a lot of it while playing and because I had to be able to communicate with my other players, I wasn’t really able to hear much of the music. Oh, the wonders of being a Deaf gamer. But what I did hear, I really enjoyed. Like almost every other game you will ever play, the music gives you some good cues as to the situation you’re in. Like when I attacked some creature and the music switched from the idle, perpetual motion to more intense ‘battle’ music I knew what was up. I also really appreciated that there were visual cues on-screen for when I was being attacked because I legitimately couldn’t hear those sorts of things.

Overall Experience

I love Don’t Starve Together. I think it’s the one survival game that I know I will come back to because it’s such a lovely way to have some fun with friends. The art style is gorgeous, the gameplay is forgiving, and there’s so much content that you won’t be exhausting the game any time soon. It’s a game that’s been in my game library for a long time, but one that I haven’t had too many people to play with. I would definitely recommend getting a few friends together that can afford to get the game or already have it and spend a day just playing and surviving together. There’s a lot to craft and learn. I haven’t even been able to dip into the recipes yet. I can’t wait to get to that part of the game, because I’ve really been enjoying the crafting aspect of the game.

We played on PC, but you can also play on PS4, Xbox One, Mac, and even Linux.

Shelter 3 Review

Developer: Might and Delight
Publisher: Might and Delight
Music: Retro Family
Platforms: PC (Steam)
Released: 30th March 2021
Genre: Adventure, Indie

You are Reva, an elephant with a new calf, and your matriarch, the leader of your herd, needs your help. She is old, her eyesight is failing, members of your herd have been lost. And now, with a young calf and a small herd, you now must use her memories to reunite with the rest of the herd safely. The decisions you make will dictate your journey, your patience and bond with your herd will keep you safe. But it’s not easy, a slip in judgement, rushing at the wrong moment, or neglecting the needs of your herd will make your journey challenging.

Shelter 3 is a 3D adventure game, with a gorgeous artstyle that reminds me of a patchwork quilt, branching paths, and a beautiful insight into the life of an elephant, and the responsibilities she may have.

Shelter 3 takes a different approach to previous Shelter games, where instead of focusing on a single member of your family, instead you must guide and look after your herd, with the memories of the old matriarch to help your decisions. You have the ability to sprint, knocking fruit out of trees, sensing the environment around you, calling your herd into a protective formation, and to feed your calf. But you also have the ability to pluck flowers to carry with your trunk, play in the water, sharing joy with your herd. All these maintain the health of your herd, and their happiness.

The old matriarch will guide you to landmarks, and once you read that landmark she invites you to listen to her stories and her memories, deciding on the next landmark on your journey. You have a couple of options, with differing dangers and challenges. Fog, crocodiles, a maze of stones, dangerous ravines, swamps that threaten to drag you down. You’ll have to navigate them all.

And if you make the wrong decision, rushing through a river at the wrong moment, putting your herd in harm’s way? Well… I lost my calf that way, the hearts of the herd breaking. But I couldn’t just stop, I couldn’t just restart. My calf was not my entire herd, and so I had to continue, thinking of what I should’ve done.

This is not an action-packed game however. It is very slow-paced, linear, but I suppose that makes sense for a game about elephants retracing the paths of the past. There were minor interactions with the environment and my herd, but I really wish there was more I could do. Perhaps give them the flower I had plucked, or spray them with water. It felt very much like the journey was just about me, and not my herd.

I greatly enjoyed the music, the layered instruments, chords, and melodies replicating the quilt-like effect of the world in audio form. The music warned me of dangers, letting me know when it was time to be on alert. It immersed me in storms, beautiful rich plains, the paths I explored, the moments of joy my herd expressed.

Shelter 3 is a beautiful game, I cannot deny that. Visually unique and gorgeous, with layered textures that reminds me of a quilt. And the story starts out nice and simple, with wanting to reunite with the rest of the herd. Having lost members of the herd along the way, I felt resolved to see it through, to bring the herd to safety and security, the old matriarch telling me about how beautiful it would be.

And when we finally made it, the joy I felt seeing her old body rush forward with excitement was also met with sorrow as the realisation hit. She was reunited, and so happy, and it was beautiful. But it was also a story of loss, and life after death. The understanding that death comes for us all in the end, and sometimes it comes swiftly, with only snapping teeth as warning, or it comes quietly and peacefully, like coming home.

Monster Hunter Rise Review

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Music: Satoshi Hori
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows
Released: 26 March 2021, 2022
Genre: Action role-playing

You are a new hunter in the beautiful, but small, village of Kamura. Your task as a hunter? To hunt the biggest, baddest monsters that roam this world. But that’s not all, you are also tasked with protecting this village from a devastating event called the rampage. Where a dozen monsters, bigger and badder than the one before it, descend upon Kamura in a furious siege. And you have to not only repel it, but also discover the cause of the rampage in an effort to put an end to this ferocious stampede.

Monster Hunter Rise is the newest game in the Monster Hunter series, with a semi-realistic 3D artstyle, detailed gameplay and mechanics, and a lineup of monsters who will challenge you, while managing to be distinctive from other games in the series.

Monster Hunter Rise at its base is just like every other Monster Hunter game. That is you are a hunter, and you hunt monsters, each unique and with its own set of behaviours and abilities. You can choose from 14 weapon types, such as a hunting horn, great sword, hammer, dual blades, bowgun, or sword and shield, just to name a few. Once you complete the hunt, you get rewards such as money and points, and resources from the monster you just carved. And you can use these rewards to make extremely cool and helpful armour and weapons, and upgrade your gear.

Monsters do not have a health bar in this game, and instead you will have to rely on visual cues to tell you when it’s exhausted, close to death, or if it’s about to do a particularly brutal attack. So you have to be observant, learn about the monster, and adjust your gear and approach to achieve a successful hunt.

Monster Hunter Rise also has some mechanics unique to this game, such as the addition of wirebugs, which creates wires that can help you pull off devastating abilities, hold onto monsters, and even allow you to ride the monster, controlling it for a limited time. Another unique feature is the rampage, where a stampede of monsters attacks the village, and it’s up to you and some brave NPCs to push them back before they can get through the giant gate. You have access to special, heavy-duty weapons, such as cannons and ballistas, to help, and when the gong is hit it gives everyone a surge of power, allowing you to go toe-to-toe with some of the more brutal monsters in the rampage.

And outside of the rampage, there is the mystery behind the cause of the rampage. And solving that mystery will mean having to face, you got it, more monsters.

The music in these games have always been rather epic, and quite beautiful. And Rise is no different, including some beautiful singing from characters in the game. When the language is set to Japanese, you are introduced to poetic singing with the introduction of the monsters, like the game is telling you a story. And the audio experience can be extremely helpful during your hunt. Your characters will shout call outs, warning you when the monster is targeting you, but also telling your teammates when you’re in trouble, reloading your bowgun, or taking a health potion. It’s not essential, but it is helpful, especially if you and your friends aren’t using microphones.

I have been playing Monster Hunter for about 9 years now, and I’ve always enjoyed how over-the-top, challenging, and kinda goofy the games are. And I really got to enjoy the multiplayer aspect with the release of Monster Hunter World, and that hasn’t changed with Rise. Rise has streamlined a lot of the mechanics from previous games, making it less daunting. There are still a lot of areas that have me looking up guides to understand, but you can enjoy the game without it. The hunt itself still has a lot of details to think about and consider, and to hopefully turn to your advantage. I’ve had my friends find a stinkmink to lure another monster to our target, so that the resulting turf war would soften them up a bit.

I would advise making your way through the singleplayer village quests first, as that introduces most of the monsters, mechanics, and features of Rise, and they’re not too challenging. It’ll also introduce you to the ‘big bad’ monster. But once you are ready, jump into the hub quests for the multiplayer experience, and prepare for a wild ride. Whenever we felt things were getting a bit easy, boom. We’ve been mauled by a tigrex and someone just rage quit.

So what do we do? Have a break. And then try again. Craft a special hunting horn that looks like a cello but gives us earplugs, bring out some flash bombs and poisoned food, and get a bit smarter about our hunts.

And then once we succeed, cheer and pat ourselves on the back and go check out what cool armour we can make now, so you can get back to the hunt.

Hey, we’re monster hunters. What else are we going to do?

Carrion Review

Developer: Phobia Game Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Audio: Cris Velasco
Platforms: Switch, Xbox One, Window, Mac & Linux
Release Date: 23/7/2020
Genre: 2D Action Platformer

Carrion is made for those who have, in one way or another, wished to unleash their inner Mr Hyde. And a warning to the wise and not so wicked, if you dislike the creepy, or are triggered by pixelated gore, the spatter and squelch of viscera, screams of terror, or unleashing the horror within… you are probably not going to be into this.
In Carrion, you control the hive mind of a symbiotic colony of an antediluvian ancestor to the tubifex worm, resulting in a cyclopian monstrosity of Lovecraftian horror. Basically, you’re a mass of prehensile tentacles and teeth bent on freeing yourself from the scientific dissection of your biomass.

Commonly, this game is described as reverse horror. Instead of playing the protagonist hiding from the horror as it stalks through the facility seeking freedom, you are the horror.
After breaking from your containment, you stalk your captors, ripping and tearing apart the available flesh to absorb as precious biomass. The biomass you will need to protect yourself while searching for the genetic skills of your kin scattered the of throughout the facility.
Towards those that dare fire upon your amassed power, you will revengefully return to chew on their corpses for the audacity of attempting to damage your majestic abomination.

Or maybe that’s just me…

What the developers at Phobia Game Studios really got right was the weight and movement in the game. The feeling of throwing doors, grates, vending machines, and human torsos come with a satisfying inertia and the added benefit of distracting – or even dismembering – your human opponents. This satisfaction also extends to the effects of your size on your movement as well.

Your own movement is also hypnotic. The worms that make up your body constantly move and shift, slinging out to fling you, swing you, and catch you. And while the movement looks complicated, it controls remarkably well.

I played on PC, and if you have ever played a shooting game, you know that your hand need not move from that position. The mouse controls your movement and prehensile tentacles while your left hand activates skills and levers, the latter of which are many.

Carrion is at its core a linear game pretending to be metroidvanian. The aim is to move from area to area, with you unable to traverse to the next without a new genetic skill. To reach the next save point, lever, or destroyable terrain piece, you are required to solve little puzzles or battle the different types of security intent on annihilating you.

And did I mention there is no map? You will have to rely on your own unique awareness and memory, a special little trap for overthinking completionists and people to took so long between gameplay that they forgot where they were up too… not that that happened to me.

Visually, the pixel art is perfect for the transitions between the clean, bright scientific active compounds, the rusted and disorderly industrialism, and the luminous greens and blues of botanical cave systems. It also means the game can live between the super realism of our imagination and the disbelief of pixelated abstraction, allowing for a modicum of separation between you and the horrors you commit. This is especially relevant as the game play actively covers all the interacted environment with a visceral palette of reds and purples as you course through them.

Acoustically, the game does balance the need for horror elements to the environment without overdoing it. So, while the screaming and whimpering of the cowering humans is ended with the crunch of cartilage and bones, there are no wet slaps of tentacles as you traverse. Instead, a pleasant soft carolling of schwips as your weight-bearing tendrils flail about to find purchase. The atmospheric soundtrack, composed by Cris Velasco, matches the horror theme perfectly. The tension-filled tracks, rather than filling you with dread, instead drive you further into the carnage as you lay waste to all before you.

Overall, Carrion is not a long game, and manages to find a place in the truly short list of games I’ve actually finished. The game’s length means it sits comfortably between learning how to utilise all the skills, and not overstaying its welcome. If you are looking to speed run this metroidvanian world in your first playthrough, I don’t think you’re going to get much satisfaction out of Carrion. However, if you choose to relish the screams, take revenge on those that hold you back, and take your time to work through the puzzles like the Dexter you always knew you were, then I think this sinewy tale might just be for you.

It is no wonder this game won the 2021 BAFTA’s Game Awards Best Debut Game and was nominated for best original property game.

Trashed Review

Developer: Josh Presseisen
Publisher: Crescent Moon Games
Music: Josh Presseisen
Platforms: Steam
Released: Early Access – 17/February/2021, Planned Release – early 2022
Genre: Adventure strategy

Garbage disposal and management is a problem that has plagued us for years, and it continues to be a problem far in the future, on a planet far, far away. Hundreds of ships dump their rubbish on some far-off desert planet, leaving bags of waste, plastic lawn chairs, and who knows what else.

And you, the newest hire, are tasked with solving this eternal problem: how to make all this trash go away?

Trashed is a strategy game about garbage management and disposal. With a chunky, 3D artstyle, your long flowing blue hair, and more than a few guns under your belt to take care of some problems you might run into, this is definitely a game meant to challenge you. And maybe overwhelm you, just a bit.

So, the main goal of Trashed is to dispose of garbage, and manage the waste and pollution it causes. A ship will come by about once every minute (or an in-game hour) to dump rubbish at a marked site. This can very quickly develop into a gigantic pile, with garbage bags just rolling all over the place. You need to move that garbage into an incinerator. You have a helpful robot that manages to push some bits of trash into an incinerator, and you can pick up a piece of garbage, and toss it in yourself. But you will not be able to keep up. And each bit of rubbish burnt will affect the air quality.

Thankfully, you have more than a few tools to help you out. As you earn money, you can buy a garbage blower, to move several pieces of rubbish, and blueprints to build more incinerators, air purifiers, solar panels, batteries, recycling machines, grinders (for the giant pieces of garbage that will get thrown onto your head by yet another ship), and more, including conveyor belts, which quickly became my favourite thing in the game.

In addition, you progress by picking up bounties from the office, requiring you to process a certain amount of garbage, or to kill some of the local creatures who will rock up to cause some trouble.

Of course, you can purchase various weapons to help you.

It’s addictive, it’s satisfying to optimise your dump site, to set it up so you only need to worry about some wayward rubbish. There are cutscenes with voiced characters, for some reason they’re all from Texas. I named my helpful robot Marvin. I love him. He gets stuck sometimes but he’s doing his best.

The music is pretty minimal, and there is a lot of silence in the game. The creatures I run into make some weird, alien-like sounds that makes me a bit nervous to hear. The sound of the ship arriving is overwhelming, and I’m glad to hear it go (mostly so it stops making a mess of things). It’s really satisfying hearing the constant sound of garbage being recycled and burnt, it tells me things are working. More music would be nice, but I find myself zoning out a lot, so I’m not too bothered.

There is one thing to note however, this game is in early access, and at the time of writing this review, in pre-alpha. There are a lot of bugs, there is only a portion of the planned content in the game, and I wasn’t able to actually complete the tutorial. My playthrough could be described as playtesting. This is not a finished product. But the content it already has, and the gameplay so far, is enjoyable. When I get past some of the worst bugs, and I get used to the rough controls, I found myself playing for hours. I had a playthrough where the bounties glitched out, so I couldn’t progress through the game, but I had so many conveyor belts, and you have never imagined air could be so clean.

I am looking forward to seeing this game continue to develop, and to revisit it over time. And I can’t wait until the team goes ‘Yup! That’s a finished game!’. Because my heart needed a garbage management game that takes place on an alien planet.

Grow Big (Or Go Home) Review

Developer: Quarant Inc.
Publisher: Quarant Inc.
Music: Quarant Inc.
Platforms: PC (Steam and Itch.io)
Released: 19 December 2020 (Ultimate Edition)
Genre: 2D puzzle

Your name is Bruce, the greatest gardener of all time. A master of balancing the needs of a plant, protecting it, cherishing it, coaxing it to its full potential. Your skills are so legendary, stories of it reach across time and space, revealing another one of Bruce’s skills; the ability to travel through time. How else are you supposed to keep pot plants alive in an ancient Egyptian tomb?

Grow Big (or Go Home) is a 2D gardening puzzle game, with simple mechanics, a quick pace, and levels that quickly become quite challenging, it has stuck in my mind like a series that I know I should enjoy, but really makes me work for it. And at the end, I’m not sure if I actually enjoyed it, but I sure am thinking a lot about it.

Grow Big (or Go Home) is quite simple. You control Bruce, and you need to use a watering can and mirrors to give indoor plants enough light and water to grow. You’re put into a room ( sometimes a house, sometimes a tomb, sometimes a spaceship), with a number of plants in pots. You don’t have a lot of time, just until the end of the day, represented by sunlight through windows moving across the room from left to right. Using mirrors, you redirect the sunlight from the windows towards the plants, and using a watering can that you need to refill after each use, you water the plants.

It’s not that simple though. The sunlight moves quickly, so you need to move the mirror around. If the plant is hit by sunlight for too long, it will catch on fire, so it takes one use of the watering can to put out, or later you can use a fan to keep the plant cool I guess?

You often have more than one plant to look after, but you only have one mirror and watering can. So it becomes a balancing act, trying to give each plant everything they need, without them catching on fire, or being knocked over. There are simple obstacles to work around, like walls or furniture. I have rarely gotten so frustrated by a tree.

It gets really hectic, really quickly, and even with a dash ability, I found myself having to redo a level more than a couple of times until I found the method that worked best for it, or at least worked well enough for me to progress.

It also doesn’t help that some things you need to figure out yourself, like the bar next to the plant (is it a water bar? Does it need to be green for the plant to grow? No? Or no now the plant is on fire).

The game has a sort of theme song, themed to whatever the room theme is. Christmas? You get a fun little tune with bells. Halloween? It has more of a spooky tone. Ancient Egypt? More horns and drums! The music is all related, but they’re quite unique as well, with a bit of a flourish that is unique to the theme. On some levels it’s quite relaxing really. In others… less so. The rest of the sound experience is pretty satisfying as well, I enjoyed the little clicks of putting things down and picking them up, and the ‘plant is on fire’ sound is one that is immediately recognisable.

I liked Grow Big (or Go Home), but I’m not sure if it likes me. You can only progress to the next level by earning 3 out of 5 stars, so I found myself doing the bare minimum to move on. I found out you can unlock outfits though, so I did go back to try again and again. It is challenging, but frustratingly so, and I didn’t really get that sweet sweet dopamine hit when I hit 4 stars or higher. It’s not all that satisfying, and some control and design choices made me want to stop playing a lot of the time, but stubbornness kept me going. And for that, I will say it’s a good way to spend some time.

But why haven’t these people ever heard of keeping plants by the northern side windows?

Progressbar95 Review

Developer: Igor Uduslivii aka icoeye
Publisher: Spooky House Studios
Audio: Composer – Gemfire (Andrei Scerbatiuc)
Platforms: Mobile and Windows
Release Date: iOS/Android: Summer of 2019, Steam 8/9/2020
Genre: Simulator/Arcade/Casual/Experimental

While away from my aging beast of a computer and staying with family, I found myself listless and avoidant of the games I had brought along to play on my Switch. So, like any sane person, I started trawling the Google Play store for a game. A game that was not bogged down with ads and provided some escapism from this family trip without draining the rural wifi, or relying upon non-existent mobile connectivity… and for the low, low price of freemium. This is how I came upon today’s game, Progressbar95.

Some things really bring out the nostalgia in me. I thought the sound of a dial-up modem, or the smell of warm chipsets would be the only things that could bring me back to my childhood gaming world, but Progressbar95 brought out a new one in me.

I never thought I would hear that warming computer rattle sound again, the click as the cathode ray tube monitor started up, and while the start-up sounds have been changed, they are still reminiscent of the operating system … of your choice…

Yes, not only can you relive the operating system ending in 95, but you can go as far back as inserting a floppy disk in the A:\ drive and loading your DOS operating system. You can also push forwards to the questionable choices of the present, and even sideways to operating systems you may have only ever heard of. And for those of you who had fancier parents than I, you can even unlock the other operating fruit’s systems as you progress.

So why am I dancing around the names of the systems? Because that’s what Proagressbar95 does… there will be no glass filled wall holes or fruit-based names found in this game. Instead Wista, Largehorn, and Bar OS will tickle that nostalgia nerve within.

The progression of this operating system sim occurs through a range of casual arcade minigames, the premise of all being the collection of segments to complete the infamous loading bar. The points you receive award you with computer part upgrades that you need to then move to the next operating system.

The first core gaming loop to gain these points is to collect the completed blue segments as they fall from the top of your screen in the ever-diminishing space in your loading bar. All while avoiding pink errors, yellow fragmented particles, red system errors, complicated pop-ups, mines, electrical surges, occasional lasers and the omnipresent and always helpful Clippy. These are all available in the unlockable difficulties of Normal, Relaxed, Hardcore, and Custom, as well as the random bonus stages reminiscent of galaxy zooming screensavers and The Matrix’s computer interface!

But be not afraid of the many popups and system errors that will drain the heart tally at the top of your screen. You can occasionally fall back on the minigame fixes with Defrag and ScanProgress to assist you with errored segments and blue screen of death system errors. All with appropriately long cooldowns.

As you level up your skill by filling your load bar, your progression will unlock more minigames that take you deeper into the rabbit hole of nostalgia.

A selection of these being; ProgressSweeper, a mine-finding game similar to another sweeper game you may have heard of, with a double layered twist; Progress Defender, a tower defence version of the base game where you work to block the persistent Clippy and protect programs generating loading progression segments; Progress Commander, where you need to react to make sure to accurately move a command in time to build your loading column; plus so many more, and with current development schedules, even more are coming!

Other ways to get points can be found by finding dead pixels on the screen, or lady bugs in programs, shutting down the operating system when you finish your playtime, mini puzzles, and a DOS simulation. This is one of my favourites, as in this DOS sim Command/DOS aficionados can find hidden cheat codes and bonuses in randomized file systems and match 5 HEX puzzles, plus the ability to explore the programming files and all that entails.

Finally, there is also Bin. Bin is your Tamagotchi-esque pet who needs constant reassurance, petting, and cleaning. Cleaning this pet daily rewards you with a nice chunk of points, especially if you fill them with folders from the previous day of DOS based files. Plus seeing them grow in happiness is its own reward.

However, this game would not be the joy it is without the nostalgia that glues it together. What immerses me in this game and makes me rave to my wife about resurfacing old memories, is the soundscape changes that match the game’s visual changes. A DOS based operating system would not seem accurate without hearing the A:\ drive clunk and grind away loading up the blue visual base, and the near constant whir of fans and hard drives in the background. I was almost disappointed when I reached the point where I managed to get solid state drives removing the need for the background hum, and then with joy did I see a popup asking if I wanted to keep it.

It’s the accuracy of these and the mouse clicks, the sounds marking the opening and closing of basic user interfaces, the alert tone of system crashes and associated hardware shutdowns, all of these makes the game feel close enough to the old experiences allowing one to wallow luxuriantly in the joyous nostalgia.

Now I experienced most of this on my PC, as once I returned from my rural family visit I wanted to explore this game through my other everyday screen. This means I generally missed-out on the pop-in advertisements and pay-to-progress elements that are built into the mobile version of this game. However, I did not find that my freemium experience was intruded or overwhelmed by these monetisation methods, and for those that do find issue with this, there is an ad-free price point available to purchase.

There are also a few bugs in the Steam version. Earlier in my game time (<20 hours) I was unsure if the game glitches were intentional or not, because, as we all know, operating systems can be very buggy. But as I put more time into the game, I was not too sure. Despite this, Progressbar95 has a great fan-based bug reporting system with constant developer updates and regular game expansions, so I can only see this game bettering over time.

So, if you are like me and remember fondly the days of A:\ drives, Windows upgrades and DOS commands, I would recommend downloading ProgressBar95, because at whatever price point you choose, the memories that this game revives are worth the price of entry.