Category: Reviews

Long Live The Queen Review


Developer: Hanako Games, Ratalaika Games
Publisher: Hanako Games, Ratalaika Games
Platforms: PC (Windows, Mac, & Linux), Playstation 4, Playstation 5 Xbox One, Xbox Series, & Nintendo Switch
Released: 2nd June, 2012
Genre: Roleplaying Game, Political Simulation, Raising Sim, Strategy

The nation of Nova is a proud one, standing resilient for centuries under the rule of magic-wielding “Lumen” kings and queens. A recent tragedy, the loss of beloved queen Fidelia, has shaken Nova to its core and left the future uncertain. Now the people look towards young princess Elodie, not yet 15 years old, to navigate the country’s political chessboard and protect them from foreign threats.

The aim of Long Live the Queen is quite simple. Players take on the role of Princess Elodie, choose how she spends her weeks, and shape her into a strong leader before her coronation when she turns 15. Each week you’ll pick two classes for Elodie to attend (out of 42 options), decide how she spends her free time, and choose how she navigates interactions and events in the world. Your choices also affect Elodie’s mood. Your mood, in turn, affects Elodie’s studies – each mood giving bonuses and penalties to her progress in a handful of classes. With this premise, and the game’s sparkly pink aesthetic, you wouldn’t be blamed for expecting a cruisy ride. I thought the same thing, but then I died, and died, and died again. I was stabbed, poisoned, drowned, skewered, fried, drained, impaled, and many, many more…


The world of Long Live the Queen is both a labyrinth and a minefield, which you’ve been blindfolded and dropped inside.  At first it felt like the only way out was to brute force my way through the world, taking note of every failure so I could be prepared the next attempt. Thankfully, the more familiar I became with the world, the easier it was to predict the dangers on the horizon. I still died, a lot, but I was able to think several steps ahead and engage more deeply with the game.

If you want to fully uncover everything this game has to offer, you’ll need to play through multiple times. There are numerous paths to follow, secrets to uncover, relationships to build and epilogues to reach. Even when you make it to your coronation for the first time, you’ve likely just scratched the surface of the game’s rich world. Every character you meet has their own secrets and aspirations, tied to the game’s rich political landscape. Your father wants to guide you to become a strong leader and protect you from the dangers of Lumen magic but is bound by the same expectations of royalty that you are. Your mentor, the Duchess of Ursul, wants to lead you to your destiny as a powerful lumen despite the universal distrust she faces. Novan nobility all want something from you, money, titles, power, marriage. Worst of all foreign powers conspire from a distance with unknowable intentions.


It can be a little bit difficult to keep track of all this information. Unfortunately there’s no in-game log to check, which is probably my biggest problem with the game. I’ve heard some people kept their own log as they played through, but I was able to develop familiarity over my many attempts and accepted being occasionally frustrated. It does, at least, feature the option to skip dialogue you’ve already seen.

Developed by Hanako Games – Long Live the Queen Originally released on PC in 2013, and I played through it completely a few years ago but I was excited to pick it up again when it released to the Switch this July. I was worried it would be difficult to navigate the game’s detailed menus with Switch Controls, but I was delighted to find out it was equipped with touch screen controls. Disappointingly few games utilize this when ported to the switch – I hadn’t even considered it was a possibility! These controls are super helpful and make it easy to navigate Long Live the Queen’s complex menus.

There weren’t any significant factors that differentiated my experience playing on PC to playing on the switch. Except maybe that playing on the switch let me get extra cozy on the couch before experiencing another royal bloodbath. Long Live the Queen can also be picked up on Playstation4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox series X if you prefer one of those consoles.

Cat Cafe Manager – Review

Developer: Roost Games
Publisher: Freedom Games
Music: Sonya Vos
Platforms: Steam, Nintendo Switch
Released: 15 April 2022
Genre: Strategy, Simulation, Visual Novel

A ‘tail’ as old as time, your grandmother has left you her beloved cat cafe in the town of Caterwaul Way. In all her yarns, you’ve known about this sleepy little village, and the magic and joy it had given her. And ‘meow’ it’s your turn, you arrive at the address and find… an empty field and an old… pirate?

No, it’s just Bonner, a friendly fisherman who thought it would be best to inform you that unfortunately the beloved cat cafe has long since crumbled away. Just how long ago did your grandmother live here? But don’t get your hackles up, you have enough materials and resources to get a small little shack put together. Throw in a tiny little kitchen, and some… rough looking furniture and I guess you have a cat cafe! But you need cats.

Luckily some strays have turned up, and they’re super friendly. Add them to the mix and look at what they’ve dragged in. Customers! Granted, all you can serve is water but when you see their face light up as the cat you just found curls up in their lap, well.

I guess you can understand why your grandmother loved this so much.

Cat Cafe Manager is a 2D simulation managing game, in the most adorable, simple art style. You’ll be learning about what it takes to run and grow a cat cafe, eventually filled with a roster of staff and adorable little kitty cats. And you’ll also get to know more about Caterwaul Way, which is entirely populated by witches, fisherfolk, artists, vagabonds, punks, and cats of course! You’ll meet and bond with a cast of characters and learn about their relationships with each other, the village, and with the cafe. And you’ll learn about what’s going on in the woods.

Don’t worry about it. It’s not spooky.

Let me walk you through a day at the cafe.

Doors open, and customers arrive. They take a seat. Already we start to get feedback, with customers waving as they walk through the door, and a disappointed emote when they can’t find their favourite seat (or there isn’t enough of their preferred decor around).

You take their order, dash over to my little kitchen and put together their order. Some orders, like espressos and lattes, need a coffee machine. Others need a fridge and a chopping board, like sandwiches and salads. As you expand and grow your cafe, you’ll have to expand your menu too, which requires recipes, more ingredients, and specific equipment.

You bring them their order, they enjoy the order, and while they’re relaxing one of the cats hop onto their lap and curls up.

Some customers will have a favourite cat or two, but trust me, every cat is a winner.

Hopefully happy, the customer then heads on their merry way, leaving payment.

Now, the payment you receive depends on the customer. Vagabonds will pay with fabric, business guys pay with gold, punks pay with materials, fisherfolk pay with fish (obviously), witches pay with… nectar? And artists pay with gems (obviously).

You’ll need each form of currency in order to expand the cafe, buy decor and cat supplies, learn new recipes, buy new furniture. So if you have a specific goal in mind, you can adjust how you advertise to each type of customer in order to draw in specific currency. But there is one universal currency, and that is love.

After you meet a mysterious, ominous looking cat you’ll be shown the cat shrine, and you are urged to restore it. Why? You’ll find out in your own time, but the path to restoring the shrine is by love. Heart. Passion. You can select a project which will expand your cafe, unlock more furniture, allow you to house more cats, have more seats, and hire more staff. And with each project completed, the shrine starts to look just a little bit less wild.

Every customer has preferred themes, decor, food, drinks, and cats. Some cats will be naturally attuned to fisherfolk or witches. So to make everyone happy, you’ll have to keep growing. And it’s really satisfying watching that D rank at the end of the day gradually climb to a C, and then a B. I’m getting pretty close to an A rank myself.

It’s actually kinda a lot of work! So you need more staff.

You can go to the village noticeboard, where you can adopt out cats, or hire more staff. And as time goes on, you can train your staff, perfect for when you get hit with a rush of customers. They’ll get better and quicker at taking orders, small talk, making orders, cleaning up, and calming cats down. Just like a real cafe!

There were a few polish issues that were sometimes a little silly, like cats teleporting around the cafe, customers phasing through walls, just goofy little stuff that didn’t really detract from my overall experience. I did experience a couple of crashes, and occasionally there was some aspects of design that made it a bit frustrating (like my not realising that chairs needed to be set a certain way for them to work properly), but the team are really diligent, and would often fix these issues while I was asleep, and I could return to the game the next day with problems resolved. There are probably a couple of other little things that’ll pop up, but nothing ever really stopped me or made me want to stop playing.

Cat Cafe Manager has a lot of little details that I find really charming. The title screen is sweet and calm, sniffing out the village drama is a delight, and hearing the cats purr is so soothing. Hearing them yowl is less soothing, but the game delivers on those cafe noises. And spooky noises. And the little beeps and boops that bring life to a game. It’s understated, a bit relaxing, and if I wanted to play my lofi anime beats to run cat cafes I could.

There’s a few key things you should probably know about me. I love cats, I work in a cafe, I love cat cafes, and I really enjoy games where you build something and create resources to expand the thing you’re building. So when I heard about this game I grabbed at it with both of my… paws?

I’ll quit it with the puns. That was ‘A-PAW-LING’.

:D

Cat Cafe Manager is built up of so many things I love, so I was super excited to boot this game up and start my cat cafe adventure. Which is sounding like I’m building up to revealing I was severely disappointed, but I wasn’t. I liked Cat Cafe Manager! It was fun, I enjoyed the main cast revealing little parts about their lives to me, piecing together their upbringing, their problems and hopes and joys, and watching them grow and resolve things, with a little bit of input from their friendly neighbourhood barista.

It was nice to see the cat shrine grow and become restored, seeing more and more cats return. Bonding with the cats in my neighbourhood and cafe, watching them return and building trust with them. Watching the cats bond with my customers, and then getting the cats adopted to loving homes.

The game can be slow at times, really each day is about passing the time and calling your regulars over so you can talk to them. But there was a sense of pride with watching my cafe come together. Each day becomes another step towards expanding it, making it bigger and better, cultivating it to become a welcoming space to everyone who walks in.

Whether they’re a witch, punk, vagabond, fisherfolk, artist, or even a business guy. They’ve all got a place at my cafe.

Survive – Review

Developer: Juuso Hietalahti
Publisher: SANDBAY GAMES OY.
Music: John Leonard French
Platforms: Android, iOS
Released: November 11, 2016
Genre: Survival, Text Adventure

Right, so perhaps driving up to a lake 50 miles away from town in a terrible, awful storm wasn’t the best idea. Maybe I should’ve checked the weather beforehand. Maybe I should’ve let someone know where the heck I was going.

Unfortunately, I didn’t do any of that. And now all I can do is assess the situation, figure out what my next step is, and survive.

My car is totaled. Thankfully I’m fine, I’ve got a couple of bottles of water, some energy bars, a trash bag, a few other bits and bobs. It’s still pouring rain, the area I’m in is at risk of flooding, so I need to move. I at least have a vague direction to travel, but should I go towards the lake, or down this really muddy path?

Survive is a mostly text-based mobile survival game, with enough visuals to add to your immersion, and a surprisingly complex combination of mechanics, easy to learn, difficult to master.

So, Survive is fairly straightforward. You can select from a number of starting areas that promises differing levels of difficulty, whether it starts you further away from civilization, or the terrain will be more challenging. The items you start with varies, your starting condition varies, and even if you select the same starting point, no run is the same.

You take stock of what you’ve got, where you’re at, and what options you have. Which boils down to gathering wood or resources, tracking prey, building shelter, a fire, or raincatcher, crafting, and travelling. Each action takes up time, energy, body temperature, everything has a cost.

You’ll want to travel as far as you can, ideally during daylight. But you’ll need to find drinkable water, or create some. You’ll need to look for food, but you’re not guaranteed to find anything useful, especially in some areas. Raining and you’re starting to get dangerously cold? Shelter. Hungry? Your actions take more out of you. Repair your shelter, hopefully you can make a fire but, oh no. It’s raining! Of course you can’t make a fire. Maybe you should try to push forward, maybe you should stay put. You have to weigh up your resources, your actions, your options, what could go wrong if you walk, what could go wrong if you stay.

And just travelling isn’t straightforward. You’ll have a choice of paths, one may head in a direction that could offer more resources, but the other is supposed to head towards a road and you can travel a lot further, more quickly, on a road.

And night is falling, you probably don’t want to try to travel through thick forest in the dark. But it’s getting awfully muddy where you are, and the rain is pretty heavy.

Survival games can get pretty complicated, and text adventure games can be pretty hard to keep track of, and Survive does a pretty good job of balancing the two. With some simple visuals, a clear user interface, Survive streamlines some of the survival mechanics. For example, when you travel, you will always travel in the right direction, so you don’t need to draw up a map to keep track of where you’re going. Crafting is simplified, and your stats are kept to the essentials. But these decisions to make it more streamlined doesn’t necessarily make it a simple game.

There’s a lot of things Survive does that doesn’t really make it a true text adventure game. Images kinda get in the way of that, but it’s not overdone. It’s enough to communicate the game and events, it’s pretty minimal, and makes it easier to navigate and visualise. And one of the things it does is also create a soundscape with a bit of music. Footsteps when I’m travelling. Rain building up to a storm. It’s not much, but it makes me feel like I’m being told a story by a narrator who is getting really into it.

I love text adventures, ever since I was a wee little tyke with those choose your own adventure books, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But Survive leans enough into it for me to take in each word and build my environment in my mind, but to also make it clear what I have, where I am, and where I need to go.

One of my favourite things is that Survive is a really good game to play on a commute. A run takes maybe 10-15 minutes, so I can usually play a round or two on my way to work. If I have to abandon a run for whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like a huge deal. But while I’m playing it does take my entire focus.

It’s a game I’ve been playing on and off for a few years now, and it just seems to keep improving here and there. It’s easy to pick up, easy to put down, but in between it’s a joy to play and get my survival game fix.

And look, not a lot of games has a dedicated achievement when you make the very hard decision to eat maggots. So, Survive is just a perfect mobile game as far as I’m concerned.

Sonic Forces – Review

Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Music: Tomoya Ohtani, Kenichi Tokoi, Takahito Eguchi
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Released: 7 November 2017
Genre: Platformer

Doctor Ivo Robotnik is at it again.

World domination, chaos and destruction, with a crew of the baddest baddies at his disposal. Chaos, Zavok, Metal Sonic, even Shadow the Hedgehog. Of course Sonic is not one to back down from a fight, however a mysterious new figure enters the equation. Infinite the Jackal, wielding a gem called the Phantom Ruby, with powers that rival those of the Chaos Emeralds. Swiftly, Sonic is brought down and presumed dead.

Who is left to fight the dastardly Eggman? Knuckles and Amy Rose form the resistance, made up of a lot of familiar faces. And one not-so-familiar face.

Yours.

Or rather your Sonic original character.

Sonic Forces is an action-adventure platformer with levels designed around speed and quick reactions. With a combination of modern Sonic levels, and classic-ish Sonic levels, it is full of customisation options for your character, absolute bangers for a soundtrack, and I guess a plot? It is a game with some serious pacing issues, a mix of fun and frustrating levels, that doesn’t give you room to breathe. I am obsessed with it. And now you’re all going to hear about it.

At its core, Sonic Forces is a fanfiction, where your character gets to save the day, fighting side-by-side with Sonic the Hedgehog. It is cheesy, it is corny, it’s more than a little silly, but when your special combined attack is initiated by a powered up fist bump, you can only lean into it. You have to embrace it.

There are four different types of levels, and if you’re familiar with modern Sonic games you won’t have any trouble navigating them. Well, you might have some trouble, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

You have levels for modern Sonic to speed through, you have levels for your own character to navigate, there are levels for classic Sonic (who is adorable and fantastically round) that has all the elements of the classic Sonic levels, but with 3D graphics, and then you have combo levels, where you play with Sonic AND your character.

Modern Sonic levels play as you’d expect, with jumps, grind rails, and lots of enemies to smash through, switching from 3rd person view to side scroller view throughout the levels. Classic Sonic levels are purely side-scroller, with those classic obstacles you can expect.

And then moving onto the levels for your character, they’re quite similar to the modern Sonic levels, however your character has multiple unique abilities, some of which is dependent on the species you play as (you can pick a cat, bird, rabbit, and more). There are often some alternative paths through sections of the levels, and depending on what wispon you use (wispons being weapons based on wisps, that can give you a lightning whip, handgun, drills, and more), you’re given alternative solutions to the same obstacle. You also have a grappling hook, and in the levels where you play with Sonic, you can help him make some tight turns and swing across massive gaps.

Are these levels fun and satisfying? Sometimes! But often control is taken away from you, and I’m left wondering why they didn’t let me do more. Allow me to explain, you’re speeding through these levels, nailing the quicktime events, and then you launch yourself through the air. Surely this is the perfect opportunity for more quicktime events, or perhaps with a well-timed move I can navigate this perilous gorge. But no, the game takes control of these segments. There are a lot of scripted events in these levels, and they’re kinda cool, but it’s not a difficult game, and these levels aren’t long. Having 5-10 seconds of control taken away from me really adds up.

Speaking of quicktime events, sometimes the game doesn’t tell me what button I should be pressing. I see that dreaded circle shrinking, I’m supposed to press SOMETHING, I go with the most recent button I pressed and then Sonic is hedgehog stew.

There’s a lot of cool moments in these levels where I’m in the flow, I’m nailing it, Sonic and I are best buds freefalling past missiles, the music is absolutely hyping me up. Infinite is a pretty cool villain with the ability to create illusions, literally turning the world upside down. And your character has an arc of their own, going from a scared citizen to the rookie who faces up against Infinite himself.

But this game absolutely suffers from an incredibly rushed plot and levels that don’t feel finished. It’s fun, and it’s funny, but not in the way it was intended. I can tell that this was supposed to be a darker story, but they didn’t deliver it. I streamed this game for my friends and we had an absolute blast, but it’s definitely not because we took it seriously. A lot of the lines feels stiff and inorganic, and it’s not like I want to see Sonic miserable but he was tortured for 6 months and he’s delivering quips like this is a friendly PvP match and not like Eggman very actively almost killed him and destroyed the whole world.

And the final battle cutscene… all I can say is ouch. Again, I can see what they were going for but it falls extremely short. The number of shortcuts they used is obvious, and I just wish they took more time rather than just writing this off as a bone for the fans. At least put some meat on the bone.

However, the music is not where this game is lacking. There are a variety of themes and songs throughout the game, and a lot of it just got me extremely hyped up. It is so hard to be disappointed on a level when Sonic tells you ‘there’s nothing we can’t do together!’ while the song called Fist Bump starts to play and you charge up the most powerful fist bump in the history of fist bumps and you start screaming through the level and up a pyramid, blasting through everything in your way. The sound design is satisfying, I really enjoyed and appreciated the way that the level music would change styles between modern Sonic levels and classic Sonic levels, with those familiar synths playing. Even Infinite’s theme kinda rules, even if it’s cheesy and a bit cringy.

And I think that sums up Sonic Forces. Cheesy and a bit cringy. But it’s meant to be cheesy, and it is cringe, but it’s really fun about it, and this game is aimed towards a group of Sonic fans who know how to lean into it, and to just enjoy the wicked ride. Did I try to recreate my own Sonic OC? Absolutely. Did I also make a joke character who wears a hat that says gamer on it, ladder shades, and crocs? Of course I did!

I love Sonic Forces, I enjoyed it, and whenever I need a quick laugh, I load it up and play through a couple of levels with my friends. Are we supposed to laugh at Infinite having a temper tantrum? Probably not, but it’s so ridiculous you have to laugh. Is it a good game? Objectively: no. But I think it’s a great example of a bad game that is fun to play, and I don’t feel bad for enjoying it. Unlike a certain Sonic game released in a year ending with 6.

If you grew up enjoying Sonic the Hedgehog a normal amount, then I don’t think this game is for you. But if you need permission to just indulge your inner 9-year-old, here you go. Make your original character, become friends with Sonic, just go for it. Have fun.

Aer: Memories of Old – Review

Developer: Forgotten Key
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Music: Forgotten Key
Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch
Released: 25 October 2017
Genre: Adventure, Flight, Exploration, Indie

Every pilgrim starts here, venturing into the cave that shelters the shrine. Along the way giant tablets stand, carved with the words of the past, describing hopes and fears, legends and history. At the shrine itself you pay your respects, lighting the incense before the statue of a figure who holds a lantern in their hands. Your ritual complete, you turn to leave, only to realise that the lantern has started to glow. Bewildered, it floats towards you and you reach out to it, and once your hand clasps the handle you experience…

A vision of something terrible.

The cave starts to crumble and collapse.

And suddenly you are surrounded by ghosts. No… echoes of the past, revealed by the lantern, capturing a moment of fear forever.

As you flee the cave and the shrine, you find more of these echoes, these memories, and once you escape you find that you must continue your pilgrimage and find out why the lantern has lit itself for you.

Aer: Memories of Old is an exploration adventure game with puzzle and platforming aspects. With the ability to transform into a bird, satisfying flight controls, a vibrant, beautiful, minimalist art style, relaxing music that matches the mood, navigating this shattered world is enriching, satisfying, and never feels like a chore. Seeking out the history, discovering the events that led to this, and figuring out your part to play in it, is up to how thorough you are through your journey.

In a world that is literally shattered and broken apart, having the ability to fly is an essential one, and in Aer the flight system is beautifully managed. With a single button in the air you transform with a flourish, and spread your wings. With a few flaps of those wings you speed up, you can turn and bank, dive and rise. There can be a lot of distance between islands, with a lot of empty space, and you’ll be flying a lot. So it is fantastic that the act of flying feels fun, fast, and satisfying. I can look out for visual cues indicating speed boosts in the form of wind channels, bursting through clouds feels invigorating, and diverting my journey slightly to investigate a floating island with a memory on it only adds to my pilgrimage.

Throughout the world you’ll need to unlock shrines, some of which requires solving a puzzle unique to the shrine. There is minimal information, figuring out the puzzle is all up to you, but I only ever felt ‘stuck’ on one puzzle, and that was only because I accidentally backtracked. They’re pretty straightforward, but there is a diverse range of puzzles for each shrine, and for inside the shrine itself.

As you make your journey you’ll encounter tablets and scrolls that record events that have happened, and through these you’ll piece together the history of this world, and a bit of your own history. But what really brings these history lessons to life are the echoes, the memories you find in the world, throughout the whole world.

Indicated by little symbols, once you light the lantern the memories are revealed to you. Some of them are quiet moments between friends, past explorers witnessing something remarkable. A lot of the memories capture dark moments of history, of the deaths, fighting, fear, people trying to escape, people trying to fight back.

Weirdly enough, the memory of a death that got to me the most was of an accident. A mundane, unremarkable accident.

The history becomes humanised, and I spent a lot of time flying around finding more of these echoes. And as I progressed, the memories told a story of greed and darkness, and one woman trying to prevent the end. I won’t say anymore about it, as finding these for yourself is a huge part of the experience.

Now, if I need to find one thing to nitpick about, it’s the platforming. Auk as a character is designed for flying around, but as a human, she can be a little tricky with her jumps. At times there would be a delay between pressing the jump button and actually jumping, and sometimes there would be no jump at all. And it happened just often enough to be quite frustrating, especially when I’ve solved the puzzle but I can’t clear this 3 foot gap in the floor.

I would get over my frustration once I’ve cleared the shrine and I’m back in the sky though.

Now, moving onto the music. It is bright and dark, open and feels like taking a deep breath into your lungs, or suffocating like you realise you’re a creature of the air and you are deep within this island, lost and trying to trust your path. Within caves and shrines it feels sombre and humbling, with the right combination of eerie notes to keep you on edge. But when you take flight, and the sun is shining, the music turns joyful and vibrant.

It fits the game and the art style, complimenting in a way that isn’t overwhelming nor redundant. And often I find myself leaning forward in my seat as the organ-like notes play, and I realise I’m about to see something special.

I heard about Aer a few years ago and thought it looked cool, and then forgot about it until I came across it on the Nintendo store. I picked it up, installed it, and forgot about it again until the holidays when I suddenly had a lot of spare time.

And I just fell in love with it.

I think we’ve all had our daydreams in that boring class where we looked out the window and wondered what it would feel like to be a bird. And I feel like Aer fulfilled that fantasy quite well. But to have such a satisfying flight mechanic, and then to combine it with the memories and snippets of information that encourages you to explore, the two becomes a wonderful combination, and even if I found myself crossing the entire map multiple times, it was fun and relaxing, and a bit exciting at times. It encourages you to take your time and your path, and I found a lot of enrichment in that. It’s a short game, but well worth the afternoon I took to just look around.

LEGO Builder’s Journey

Developer: Light Brick Studio, Light Brick AS
Publisher: The Lego Group
Music: Hendrik Lindstrand
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X & S, iOS, PC (Windows & Mac)
Released: 20th December 2019
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure, Indie

Now you might be thinking, “Oh, a LEGO game similar to the likes of Harry Potter or Star Wars” well you’d be wrong this little gem is a small-time indie development that differs greatly from other games in the LEGO franchise. This story follows a father and son depicted in LEGO where they go on an adventure in a series of different stages using the ability of building LEGOs to reach their destinations. There are no subtitles or dialog to follow, simply the story is told throughout gameplay using its environment to illustrate each challenge and using beautiful level design to instruct the player how to overcome each stage.

There are many different levels with different themes, such as hoping along beaches, climbing mountains, navigating swamp lands as well as some dark industrial style levels. You play as both the parent and child using your third-party abilities to move LEGO pieces around the scene to help build bridges, steps, or make shift ramps to get each character to the end of the puzzle. Some levels are more difficult than others but overall, there is no incorrect way to solve them just the limit of you LEGO building imagination.

LEGO Builder’s Journey is a 3D puzzle platformer that is very kind on the player. LEGO is about building and creating solutions with your imagination and this block building brilliance allows you exactly that. With each puzzle you encounter you are free to move pieces where and how you like. With very intuitive block moving and placing mechanics the game feels smooth and intentional. As you progress through, levels can become a little more challenging with the introduction of sinking mud, larger gaps to cover, weight scales and not to mention some levels that involve making a skate track for your character to ride on.

I played LEGO Builder’s Journey on the Nintendo Switch and found the controls to feel really intuitive, you can even use the touch screen when in handheld mode, my only issue was that you have to use the A button to both rotate and place pieces. The UI is minimalistic and innocuous, I actually consider the UI to be my overall favourite aspect of the game it felt really kind on the user, it also felt totally natural when moving through the main menu as well as understanding narrative without any dialog. I found that the tutorial parts of the game where enhanced buy this seamless UI experience. The UI design is simply phenomenal.

There is exclusively one gameplay mode which is the story, with the PC version of LEGO Builder’s Journey has a couple more levels than the Nintendo Switch version if end up looking for more content, which could happen given that the gameplay time was roughly 2 hours in total. I must say that LEGO Builder’s Journey could definitely have benefited from being much longer as it was kind of sad that the moment, I was getting right into it, it came to an end. In saying that each moment that I did spend in game was well and truly worth it, don’t let the short run time deter you from this fantastic indie experience.

The sound design is calming and simple, using delicate sound effects for each object you interact with as well as nice clinks and clunks from placing blocks. The score of music that plays in the background is the best kind for unwinding after a long day. The composer Hendrik Lindstrand has provided a beautiful soundscape for you to drift away on, as you place LEGO blocks the music gently guides you on your journey and really adds to that feeling of imagination and wonder that we all know and love about LEGO.

I must say that LEGO Builder’s Journey is blocktacular and beautiful. With subtle and effective UI too delightfully calm music, it really is a short and sweet adventure. From around $20 on the Nintendo eShop and $30 on Steam it maybe a little steep so keep an eye out for when it goes on special. Despite how short the duration of play is I found the story captivating and each level I played I was spurred on by the beautifully directed relationship between child and parent. What is LEGO without a heart-warming family building relationship? At least this one you don’t accidentally step on any bricks in the middle of the night… OW!

The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth – Review


Developer:
Edmund McMillen, Nicalis Inc
Publisher:  Nicalis Inc
Music: Ridiculon (Matthias Bossi, Jon Evans)
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC (Windows, Mac, Linux), iOS
Released: 5 Nov 2014 (Afterbirth DLC: 30 October 2015, Afterbirth+ 3 January 2017, Repentance DLC 31 March 2021)
Genre: Shooter, Rogue-like

You are Isaac, a small naked boy.  

You enter a room.  It’s dark and the walls are made of flesh, there is a pile of poop on the ground in front of you and you cry on it.  The poop is destroyed and a coin pops out of it.  You will take that coin and use it to buy a jar of flies.  Later you will find a secret room where you can make a deal with the devil in exchange for severed parts of your dead cat which you will use to help you defeat a giant fetus.  

By crying on it.  

After defeating this foe you are rewarded with a placenta.  I’m pretty sure you eat it.  

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a shooter with rogue-like elements rendered in a pixel art style reminiscent of its flash game roots.  The game’s aesthetic draws heavily from Christian themes and iconography.  And poop.  So much poop. The game is like a bible study meets a third grader’s sense of humour.  

As the titular character Isaac you explore a maze of randomly generated rooms, picking up items and defeating monsters as you descend deeper into the basement and what lies beneath to escape from your religious mother who has been hearing the voice of god telling her to murder you to prove her faith.  

The game plays akin to a “bullet hell” shooter, you control Isaac and make sure to dodge enemies and their attacks while shooting back at them.  Well, crying at them.  Each floor of the run increases in difficulty as you go.  Each run of Binding of Isaac starts you afresh, and as you progress you can find various items that can help (or hinder) you.  Items can be either passive (which affects your stats or provides a certain effect like flight) or activated and fall into one of several categories.  

These can interact with each other to form synergies, giving each run a distinctly different feel depending on what items you found.  There are few things more satisfying than finding just the right combinations of items on a run that work so well that it feels like cheating, although on the flip side there are few things more frustrating than picking up an item that ruins your entire build.  

Whether you defeated the final boss or you died horribly, a new run is a fresh start: a new layout, new items and new possibilities.  But it doesn’t stop there!

No two runs are the same with new items, characters, levels, and challenges to unlock giving The Binding of Isaac pretty much endless replayability.  The game also has 3 DLCs available for it, each adding new modes, characters, items, enemies, achievements, rooms, and challenges. There is so much content available for this game.  

The music is an instrumental soundtrack with soft, chilling ambient music for each stage of the game which morphs into a more intense style for the boss fights. It really gives each level its own sense of place with the caves level having a damp and dingy vibe with its echoing splashes giving way to the feeling of empty and forgotten decomposition as you enter a secret room, the music shifting to give each type of special room its own theme.  

Whether you’re picking up a coin or a heart, crying onto a poop, or activating an item, The Binding of Isaac has a distinct sound effect for each. It is a beautiful, creepy, and at times disgusting-sounding game.  

I love this game.  The satisfaction of getting familiar enough with the item pools to know what item to pick and which one to skip, that manic glee when I get lucky and manage to create a build that is overpowered to the point where I can walk into a room and the enemies just die around me as I do nothing and the weird little pet things that I’ve picked up just obliterate them.  How it’s never too frustrating to die on a bad run because, “oh well, the next one will be different.” 

I can (and have) stayed up all night, lost in the ‘just one more run’ loop.  I have 1277 hours in this game as of writing this.  I’m going to go play it some more after I’m done here.  And I am fighting the urge to get The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth on Nintendo Switch so I can cry on poops while I myself poop.  

(Review provided by guest reviewer: Caroline Girdler)

Bright Memory: Infinite – Review

Developer: FYQD-Studio
Publisher: FYQD-Studio, PLAYISM
Music: Jeff Rona
Platforms: PC (Steam), iOS, Android, Xbox Series X
Released: March 25 2020
Genre: First Person Shooter, Hack and Slash

Have you ever wanted to work for a mysterious organisation with high-tech gear? Have you ever wished you could wield a futuristic laser sword? Do you want to sprint around, with pyrokinetic powers, a ridiculous amount of bullets, a bunch of guns (some of which can launch grenades, electric bullets, or just spray fire), while the world around you flies off into a black hole in the sky?

Are you ok with not really knowing what on earth is going on?

Then I got the game for you!

Bright Memory: Infinite is the expanded and complete version of Bright Memory: Episode 1. A first person shooter, with a lot of hacking and slashing, in a detailed and beautiful realistic world, Bright Memory is a fast-paced game that knows how to escalate, and escalate hard.

There’s a lot to this game, and yet, not that much at all. What I mean by that is that it’s pretty linear, you have a few weapons and abilities, and a handful of enemy types to face off against. However, there is a satisfying level of detail to the mechanics, from movement to the guns you use, and the environment you progress through.

 

So, your abilities? Well, you have a special sci-fi arm that lets you drag enemies towards you from far distances, and then you can just… explode that enemy with a flex of your hand. You also have a special sci-fi sword that can slice and dice your enemies like a hibachi chef demolishes a prawn. Your sword can also launch laser waves, making it a ranged weapon as well. You know, in case you want to switch up from your overpowered ridiculous guns.

You have an auto rifle initially, and eventually you unlock other guns, including an auto pistol that shoots electric bullets, and a sniper rifle. Each gun also has a secondary ability! So your sniper rifle can also shoot grenades. And your auto rifle shoots bigger bullets.

Bright Memory also gives you so many bullets all the time. And it is really satisfying switching between your weapons and just being this whirlwind of death and destruction. The audio and animation adds to this as well, so each attack and weapon feels weighty.

But that’s not all! You also have movement abilities, like double jumping, running along walls, telepor-I mean dodging attacks, blocking melee attacks and bullets with your sword. This game is going to throw enemies at you, and you’re just going to deal with all of them, darting all over the place, switching between grenades and shotguns and swords oh my. You can play frantically, recklessly, and with minimal thought. Sometimes you’ll have to be strategic, but there’s not much you can’t solve with a sword and a lot of bullets. And the ability to explode enemies with your mind.

 

All these abilities and weapons can be upgraded as you find relics throughout the world, encouraging you to do a bit of digging and crate-breaking.

 

And you’ll need those upgrades in order to face the storm ahead of you. Literally, you got called into this situation because there was an unusual storm happening. So of course you have to fly there with a futuristic plane with warp technology, which reveals the cause of the storm: an actual black hole in the sky. And of course we have to head right towards it because although we don’t really know what’s going on, General Lin and his army are there and apparently that means bad news.

Also, you get a car for one section of the game. It’s a really fancy car, and I felt bad driving it into tanks and stuff, but even driving through mud and bullets feels satisfying, and it’s only a 5 minute long portion of the game.

Have I mentioned this game knows how to escalate? You get called in to check out a storm, find a black hole, and you have to take out a bunch of regular baddies. But now there’s a… time rift I guess? And ancient soldiers are also fighting you. And sometimes giant statues, wild pigs, a guy who is on fire, and you’ll be fighting in the middle of flood waters, on the back of a plane flying directly into the blackhole, mountains, bridges, in a busted up cafe. I had to take a break, put down my controller, and just ground myself for a little bit.

 

I do have a few gripes. The game throws you into this wacky situation, and I just wish I knew more about it than the most bare-bones background information possible. Who is General Lin? Why is he here? What does he have to do with the black hole? How are we stopping a black hole? We keep going towards it like we know what we’re doing but the guy on coms is just like ‘we don’t know! Go check it out’. The game is pretty linear, it boxes you into one path and one path only. We have these movement abilities and a grappling hook, it would’ve been fun to do more with that and encourage a bit of exploration. The upgrade relics are right in the main path, so they’re not doing much exploration-wise.

The movement is also a bit janky. The wall climbs and jumps in particular. Most of the time it’s not something you’d really notice, but it does feel frustrating in some areas, especially when you have to pull off a slightly more challenging manoeuvre. It would slow me down a lot at times.

The sound adds a lot to this game, but only the environmental and action sounds. The thud thud thud of my gun shooting, combined with the recoil and screen shake is delicious. Hearing the rain and storm, the plane engines screaming is overwhelming. Straining to listen to the patrolling guards, so I can sneak up on them with a meat cleaver. It’s good! The voice acting? Dreadful. You have one of the bad guys laughing like a caricature, and not in a fun way. The other bad guy just sounds like he was told to mimic a James Bond villain, but he never actually watched a James Bond movie in his life. The only character with decent voice acting is Wake, and he has maybe 5 lines. I love him.

Now, here’s the main thing about this game, it’s actually really short. My first run was just over 2 hours long. My first run. Because this game encourages you to make multiple runs, not to explore different paths or outcomes or anything. Just to do the exact same journey, but with harder enemies, all your upgrades, and do it quicker this time. If you do, you might unlock some alternative costumes for Shelia! Like a, uhh, cheerleader outfit. Or a bikini. Would’ve been cool to have a skin that looks like the ancient warriors but ok.

But hey, it’s so satisfying to play that I do find myself thinking about making another run, see if I can improve my time. I just would’ve liked some variety, and the ending? Yawn. It was building up to something truly epic, and just as I was processing what was happening it… was over. And you’re supposed to just do it again. I do feel a bit cheated. I had a lot of fun, I’ll play it again, but it’s actually a lot of really awesome frosting on a pretty plain cake.

Witch It – Review

Title card for Witch It. It features a green witch wearing purple robes in a cutesy art style, riding a broom next to the title Witch It!

Developer: Barrel Roll Games
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Music: Barrel Roll Games
Platforms: Steam (PC)
Released: 22 October 2020
Genre: Multiplayer, Hide and Seek

You’re walking down a seemingly empty street, on edge. Mundane objects catch your attention, a candle, those barrels, maybe even that broken teapot. They’re not doing anything, but that doesn’t ease your nerves. Instead, you launch a chicken at a pile of crates. The chicken starts to crow.

One of the crates moves.

The hunt begins.

Witch It is a fast paced game of hide or seek, where the hiders are witches who can turn into any object within the world, and the seekers are hunters who are determined to save their village from dangerous magics. With an array of abilities, features, maps, hundreds of objects strewn across each map, and a fair amount of chaos, combined with a chunky and colourful art style, Witch It is a bit intense, a bit funny, and a lot of fun.

Witch It is a pretty simple concept. If you are a witch, you’ll have a bit of time to find a hiding spot. But not only that, you can also transform into any object you find. A painting? Book? Rock? Rose? A boat? No problem! You’ll just want to make sure you blend in.

If you’re a hunter, you must use potatoes to find and defeat witches.

But the game throws in a few mechanics that makes this game of hide and seek a bit more… hectic.

As a witch, your health bar changes depending on what you transform into. The bigger the object, the more health, but bigger objects are more difficult to hide naturally. Witches can of course fly on broomsticks, allowing them to reach high areas. But they are also capable of casting spells, one of which is to create a decoy object to fool the chicken.

Hunters also have a range of abilities. I’ve mentioned the chicken. If you find yourself in a library full of books and you don’t have enough time to throw a potato at each one of them, you can throw a chicken, and it will hone in on a disguised witch within a certain distance. It’s funny when you’re a hunter, it’s infuriating if you’re a witch.

In addition, you can utilise a ground pound attack that will damage any witches within a short range. If you’re facing a pile of identical jewels, it’s pretty handy. And of course you can unlock a grappling hook to allow you to reach those hard-to-reach places.

With these mechanics, a very cluttered map, half a dozen players, and a limited amount of time, a match can get pretty intense. As a witch, not only do you have to find the perfect object and the perfect spot, and place yourself perfectly to look as mundane as possible, you’ll need to time the use of your abilities to keep hunters away from you. And if you get caught, you need to think quickly. You might just be able to escape and hide again.

As a hunter, you only have so much time to find all the witches, and the maps you play in are very cluttered. You can run around hoping to spot something that looks out of place, or maybe even move just in the corner of your vision, or use your abilities to hone in on the witches. When there’s only a few seconds left, and the witches are taunting you, well, I ended up throwing a lot of potatoes.

The games are quick and engaging, whether I’m a hunter or a witch. It can be intense, stressful, exciting even. And with a variety of maps, including the ability to create custom maps using their in-game engine, it’s hard to get bored. And there are multiple game modes as well, as variations of the hide-and-seek premise, like trying to collect specific objects before the time runs out, or if you’re found as a witch you join the hunters to find the other witches. And you unlock cosmetic items to make your witch and hunter your own.

It’s not a perfect game, but the flaws aren’t stopping me. I would prefer a more immersive tutorial that wasn’t just video clips and an explanation. And it took me a bit of poking around to figure out how servers work. But these were things I ended up figuring on my own anyway with a bit of trial and error.

The music is a bit goofy, with sort of silly, spooky music that just adds to the fact that this is just hide and seek. And the sound of chickens clucking, witches cackling, hunters body slamming, it’s a lot, but it also becomes a bit scary when you’re hiding and you hear that chaos get closer and closer. But if I’m entirely honest, I wasn’t paying that much to what I was hearing. I was too busy holding my breath because I can see a hunter passing the shelf I’m hiding on.

Look, I enjoyed Witch It. I wish I could play it with friends because I just know that the banter, the good-natured teasing, and the outbursts would be just so much fun to listen to and experience. It is definitely a game with a lot of game night potential, with it being easy to learn, and creative ways to hide and keep yourself hidden, or coordinate your hunts. But even on my own, braving those servers by myself, it was still a lot of fun. I got to play some custom maps with no problem, join servers with a dozen players and servers with just a few.

It has a fun art style and satisfying graphics that scales well when I needed to adjust the graphics, with each game I got just a bit better as both witch and hunter, and I never found myself waiting around for ages for other players.

Witch It is a lot of fun!

Zombies, Run! – Review

Developer: Six to Start & Naomi Alderman
Publisher: Six to Start & Naomi Alderman
Platforms: Mobile (Android and iPhone)
Released: 2011, May 2015 (Free to Play)
Genre: Audio, Apocalyptic, Zombie, Survival, Horror

You’re on your way to Abel Township, taking a helicopter over the zombie-torn landscape. You’re bringing in supplies for the people who have set up a strong, defensive, base known as Abel, but you have another mission. Your helicopter pilot knows something is up, but before you can get into it, well, somebody fires a rocket launcher at you.

From the wreckage you run, your headset feeding you the voice of Sam Yao from Abel, the radio operator who will be your guide, and hopefully guide you to safety.

All you need to do is run.

Zombies, Run! Is an immersive story where you are the main character, with the story told as if you are in it, experiencing it yourself, broken up by your own music playlist of choice. Once you start, you don’t need to stop, you don’t need to look at your phone, and you won’t need to take a specific path or make decisions. A completely auditory experience that places you in this world that is so like ours, only filled with zombies, bad guys, quirky characters, and the voice of Sam forever guiding you. Load it up, pick your playlist, and go. Every step you take is a step closer to unravelling the mysteries and conspiracies that surround you.

Now, Zombies, Run! Isn’t like a podcast, it’s not like an audiobook, and it’s not like your traditional video game. Or a fitness app. It’s similar to all these things, but with award-winning writers at work, a full cast of unique and distinctive characters conveyed through voice acting, and a number of features to help you get immersed in this world, it’s perhaps the only constant that motivates me to move.

It’s really as simple as loading up a mission, picking my playlist, and getting a move on. There is over 8 seasons worth of story, with various storylines, mysteries, villains, friends, sometimes-friends, and look, even romance. Throughout your run you will ‘pick up’ supplies and materials, which you can use to build up Abel, and your music will play in between scenes. And often you’ll be chased by zombies, with a warning and the far-too-close sounds of groaning behind you, you’ll need to pick up your pace regularly to keep ahead of the horde.

Your first story mission involves you getting shot down out of the sky with a rocket launcher. Your second mission is a simple decoy mission to lead zombies away from Abel while the gates are stuck open. Your third mission? Well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. Various characters will come to your aid, help guide you, or maybe just decide that it’s weird that you got shot down and managed to survive, and you must definitely be up to something. You don’t give anything away of course, you’re the strong silent type, just a runner here to help. Maybe. The zombie apocalypse isn’t exactly normal, but you’ll find out just how strange it really is.

During my first run, I went as the sun was sinking. Dark streets, quiet, listening intently to the conversations that were taking place around me. AHH! Oh, just another runner, not a zombie. Phew.

Now, let me tell you a secret. I hate running. I despise it. It feels bad, it’s not fun, I’m really not getting better at it. I’m willing to bet many of you also feel the same way. Perhaps you prefer cycling, or a treadmill. Elliptical, rowing machine, weight training. Or walking.

You can still be an Abel Runner.

 

You can adjust the difficulty of each mission, so that you’re chased by zombies as often as you can handle, or not at all. GPS is the default way of tracking your movement, but you can also use a step counter, or even just set your pace, and the game will just adjust accordingly. For some of these settings, zombie chases won’t be enabled, but that’s fine. You can play no matter what your exercise of choice is, except perhaps swimming. It may go without saying however, wearing earphones while cycling outdoors, or any other exercise that requires constant awareness of your surroundings, is not recommended. But if you have a stationary bike, well, cycle your little hearts out.

The zombie story is not the only story! There are a dozen side-stories related to the universe, unique virtual races that will take you across the solar system, through mythological stories, and so much more. But perhaps my favourite minor story involves radio mode, where at the completion of each mission you’ll get to listen to Eugene and Jack chatter and banter like your regular radio hosts, who happen to be playing music from your playlist. After a really intense mission, hearing their lighthearted chatter is a nice break, and you get to learn more about the more mundane aspects of living through the zombie apocalypse.

And the final feature, you get to manage the base! It doesn’t actually affect your runs, but it’s a nice visual way of seeing how much you’ve accomplished. You get to see how the materials you’ve gathered have gone towards farms, wind turbines, barracks, and so much more. You can also track how much you’ve run, but I like a bit of city building.

Obviously, music is up to you! I have a few playlists, and the app works… alright with Spotify. You may need to adjust your settings to allow all the permissions to work together, but the app doesn’t know that you’re about to hit the hardest drop of all time. It is not afraid of interrupting your songs to throw story at you. And sometimes the music wouldn’t start up again once the scene ends. When I first started running it interacted a lot better with music saved directly to my device, but after a bit of tinkering it works most of the time.

There is a robotic voice for warning you of zombies on your heels, or to tell you that you picked up something. It’s a bit of an immersion breaker sometimes, when you have the passionate Sam warning you and then a voice saying ‘picked up a sports bra’. But this can also be changed, and I just have it set up to buzz a little when I pick something up. And the sound of zombies approaching behind you sounds awful, in the best way possible. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise up.

But in a scene, the sound experience is great. Initially they are finding their footing, but it’s always good. The soundscape they create, combined with the voice acting, audio effects, I feel a bit like I am in the middle of a movie. It can be extremely satisfying, especially when you get your hands on a rocket launcher yourself.

I love Zombies, Run! I got into it when it first became free to play, and you initially get unlimited access to the first 4 missions, and then a new mission is unlocked each week. I ended up subscribing for an annual fee, to unlock all the missions immediately. Totally work it, and you get a bunch of other bonuses.

But that’s up to you and how quickly you progress. You’ll still have access to simple supply missions, radio mode, and a new mission each week.

It’s not often that something makes me want to try running, and actually makes me feel kinda cool. I just wouldn’t recommend running after dark if you’re the jumpy type. Or just hop on a treadmill! It all counts.