Category: Reviews

Evolution: Climate Review

Developer: North Star Digital Studios
Publisher: North Star Games
Music: North Star Digital Studios
Platforms: Steam, Android, iOS, boardgame
Released: 2016 physical, 2019 digital
Genre: Board Game, Card Game, Deckbuilding, Strategy

Here we see a watering hole, a source of life-giving water, an essential site in these harsh environments. All sorts of creatures, big or small, must drink water. Unfortunately, that means competition is fierce for the limited resources that are available, and where there is prey… there are also predators.

Evolution is a card-based board game, where you strategise to make the most of multiple mechanics in order to keep your species fed, strong, and numerous. And with a digital version available, and the new Climate expansion that introduces a changing climate, it’s a challenging, but beautiful, experience. For this review, I’ll be focusing on the digital version of the board game.

Gameplay and the mechanics are rather straightforward. Your species gather at a watering hole, and there are other species there as well. You must establish a source of food, give your species traits that will help them gather, or distribute food, protect them from predators, or give them the upper hand if things get a bit dicey.

And then, once you make your decisions, you’ll have to watch it all play out, as the opposing species have also made their decisions. You may lose members of your population when the food runs out, or you might come out strong. And at the end of the round, you must use the knowledge you have gained in order to give yourself the upper hand. At the end of the game, points are tallied up based on how much food you consumed, the size of your population, and the number of traits you used. Highest score wins!

It’s actually quite a lot to take in, with the traits you have available, and the multiple stages to each turn. Thankfully, there is a nice tutorial to teach you the rules of the jungle, holding your hand to start with before letting you toddle off on your own evolutionary journey. Which is perfect for me, with every board game I often need a round or two to get the hang of things, and I prefer a tutorial to a written list of rules. But trust me, you’ll be on your own soon enough.

The campaign can be pretty challenging, with new cards and abilities being introduced. You can decide to become a predator, or remain a herbivore. Perhaps you’ll make your species climb trees, keeping them out of danger. And once you’re faced off against 3 other species, you’ll have to learn quickly, and put in quite a lot of thought. But if you feel that the game’s AI isn’t challenging enough, you can take your species online, and face off against real life players, who are interested in driving your species to extinction. Adapt, overcome, survive.

And then that brings me to the Climate expansion. Now, you are progressing through time, experiencing vicious cycles of burning heat and freezing ice ages. Now, instead of focusing only on the other species, you also have to take the climate into consideration, using a number of new traits to help you survive, such as heavy fur to protect against the cold, and the nocturnal trait, to avoid the heat. It’s an extra challenge layer to what can be a challenging game.

Now, this is a beautiful game, and it is a digital version of the board game, which has some of the most gorgeous art, in a vibrant watercolour style, that I have seen in a long while. However, they do need to fill in some blanks to translate it to a digital space, and that has led to some inconsistent art styles, and areas of the user interface looks unpolished, especially compared to when the actual board game art is used. And at times there were parts of the tutorial that also lacked polish. But at least when you’re done with the tutorial you’re done. The art… you kinda have to keep looking at it. For the most part you can tune it out, but it’s a bit jarring at times.

The sound experience also feels like it’s been subjected to that same lack of polish. It’s not bad, the music is fine, and there’s some fun little sound effects to compliment the gameplay, but I honestly just put my own music in the background.

Overall, I quite liked Evolution! It’s nice to have this beautiful, fun board game in digital form, and it lets me play it without having to rely on the conflicting schedules of my friends. The watering hole maps are pretty and dynamic, and when I’m focusing on my next move it’s nice seeing the environment adjust to the decisions being made in game. I did not touch the online portion whatsoever, which I intend to change in the near future. Initially I found it more challenging than I expected, and I had to get into the ‘how to crush my enemies’ mindset pretty much immediately. It’s just that there are a lot of ways to open the game, and a lot of ways for it to play out. Which is part of the fun.

Climate definitely adds an extra layer of challenges, with lots of opportunities for clever strategies, without it being hard to learn. It’s a precarious balance that Evolution has mastered. And it’s a great way to spend an afternoon, or an hour. And I do get a bit of a kick out of turning my peaceful herbivore into a ferocious predator that’ll decimate the opposing populations. But be careful! It’s hard to keep carnivores fed when there’s no one to feed on. Just a little tip from my mistakes.

Project Winter Review

Developer: Other Ocean Interactive
Publisher: Other Ocean Group
Music: Bob Baffy
Platforms: Steam, Xbox, and coming soon to the Playstation & Switch.
Released: 24th May 2019
Genre: Hidden Role, Survival, Strategy

Have you ever dreamed of a game that combines the survival genre and the classic hidden role board game Werewolf? If so, you share my weirdly specific dreams and I have the game for you! I bought Project Winter on a whim but quickly found myself engrossed by it. It’s an online game that came out just over 2 years ago and created an admittedly small but dedicated fan base.

In Project Winter you are stuck in a frozen landscape and have just received warning of an incoming blizzard set to tear apart everything in its path. Good news: you can single a rescue vehicle to come save you. Bad news: the equipment you need to signal them is broken.  Good news: you aren’t stranded alone, and many hands make light work. Very bad news: two of your fellow survivors are traitorous and want you dead. A typical game has eight players, two of which are traitors, and the rest are survivors. Along with your personal and team goals, you’ll have to maintain your heat, hunger and health. If you don’t make time to gather food and warm yourself by the fire, you’ll be easy prey for traitors. But if you spend too much time on this, you’ll quickly raise suspicion in your more productive teammates.  As well as your team, you’ll also be assigned a role with unique abilities to help you traverse the wilderness. There’s something for everyone whether you’re analyzing crime scenes as a detective, busting bunkers solo as a hacker, or even reanimating the dead as a scientist.

The survivors must escape before the match timer runs out and they freeze to death in the blizzard. To do this they must complete two repair tasks, phone for help, and reach the escape vehicle. Specifics vary to keep games interesting, but tasks can be anything from collecting resources to cracking ciphers. All the while they must survive traitors, dangerous wildlife, freezing temperatures, and their own paranoia. Traitors spend their time slowing down survivor progress, sabotaging objectives, sowing distrust, framing innocents, and picking of people traveling alone. They have a direct communication line with each other and can access stashes of strong gear littered through the world.

When you first pick up Project Winter, it can be a little overwhelming with all the things to consider but there’s a quick tutorial and a collection of simple role guides. If you’re like me though, and refuse to play a tutorial under any circumstances, it doesn’t take that long to get the hang of things. Turns out death waiting around everyone corner is a heck of a motivator to learn! Don’t be alarmed by the looming threat of death, if you do die you aren’t necessarily out of the game. Dead players observe the game as a ghost. They can’t communicate directly but can assist their allies or freeze their enemies. This is one of the things I loved most about Project Winter. Not only do players get to participate the whole time but they still play an important role. Ghosts can save lives, take lives, out traitors, frame innocents, and loads more. The one downside is you always have an audience watching your most embarrassing deaths.

There are two modes of gameplay beyond the base. A simple and streamlined version that’s good for learning the ropes or just a quick match. Also, a DLC mode of play called blackout that incorporates demons, magic and more which shakes the original rules up and keeps things fresh for seasoned players. There’s also continued support and engagement from the developers with consistent events and updates plus a consistent rotation of cosmetics.

No matter what mode you’re playing, sound is key while playing Project Winter and is your best defense against most danger. Footfalls, traps being placed, bears, crates being opened, alarms going off, weapons, combat, objectives, wolves, I could go on. Everything has a distinct sound that fits the world well. All sounds, including the voice chat, are delivered based on proximity which creates the perfect environment for mistrust to breed – with eight people split across a large map, stories will conflict, accusations will fly, and if you’re not careful – no one will hear you scream.

Finding a match online is surprisingly easy. Project Winter doesn’t have a huge player base, but it does have dedicated fans. You do not need to use the voice chat to play Project Winter, but you will be limited if you choose not to. I’ve been through the full range of online voice chat experiences and thankfully Project Winter stacks up pretty well in that department. I’ve found it to be an overall positive, friendly, and welcoming community to play with. There’s a lot of fun to be had playing Project Winter online but if you’re lucky enough to wrangle a group of eight together – playing with friends is extra special. There’s just nothing else like being framed and getting chased through the wilderness by a mob of your closest friends. My friends and I talk about these matches well after they’ve ended, laughing about stupid deaths or cunning plays.

If it seems like I’m reviewing this game just in hopes that more people will start playing on the Australian server, that’s not the case, just a bonus. Project Winter takes the some of the best bits in my favorite genres and creates a unique and engaging online experience. This game deserves more attention and I hope someone reading will see the appeal and give it a go!

 

 

The Long Dark – Review

Developer: Hinterland Studio Inc.
Publisher: Hinterland Studio Inc.
Music: Sascha Dikiciyan, Cris Velasco
Platforms: PS4, XB0, Switch, Steam, Epic Games
Released: 22 September 2014
Genre: Survival

Maybe the apocalypse doesn’t come with a bang, with a virus that mutates out of control, hordes of zombies walking through the streets.

Maybe, the apocalypse comes quietly. With a storm that takes away the power, closes off roads and train tracks. It comes quietly, but surely, as the nights grow longer, and the days become colder, and the people grow hungry.

The Long Dark is an exploration survival game which delivers. With a beautiful, 3D paint-like art style, brutal environments that you need to explore to obtain food, clean water, tools, and medicine, and every danger that mother nature could throw at you, plus some, your solitude will become comforting, the roaring wind will make you despair, and you will have to balance every decision you make.

With multiple game modes, a story mode, and various challenges, there is something for everyone, from survival tourists who just want to check out what’s what, to hardcore survivalists, who are prepared to do whatever is needed to claw through another day.

The Long Dark is not an easy game, and that is reflected in every aspect of this game. You’ll find yourself in the northern Candian wilderness, basically alone. It is freezing, the weather changes from cold, sunny days, to brutal blizzards that you can get lost in, completely disorientated. With a night-day cycle, you’ll have to manage your time effectively, finding time to rest, but also finding time to FIND a safe place to rest. There are dangers around you, such as dangerous terrain that you can injure yourself on, frozen lakes where you’ll have to watch your step. And unusually aggressive bears and wolves, who will find you and hunt you down. You can scare them off if you hold your nerve, but you do not want to get into a fight with them.

You’ll have to maintain your health, exhaustion, body temperature, energy levels, clothing, and so much more. Scavenge for resources and tools, learn how to create snares, simple medicines, repair your clothes, and even craft warmer gear. This game made me track rabbits, find their grazing spot, set up a snare, capture them, and then make the decision to kill it with my bare hands. It doesn’t help that they’re pretty cute, but that rabbit could be the reason I make it to the end of the day. I could scavenge a deer killed by wolves, but that puts me at risk myself.

I get so excited when I find a toilet, because that means free drinkable water right away! I don’t have to gather wood, build a fire, melt snow, and then boil the water to make it safe. I can just grab fresh water right away. I managed to find a gun, a lucky find, but without bullets it’s just dead weight. Should I ditch it so I can carry more food? Or should I hold onto it and my one bullet, in case I’m not careful enough and run into the bear?

There are many game modes and difficulty levels, so if you want an easier time, you can have that! If you want to spend 30 days gathering supplies and barricading yourself before a bear arrives to hunt you? You can also do that. You want to be cursed by a spooky skeletal ghost monster? Well, you can do that too.

The music is minimal, but the audio experience feels as cold, solitary, and distant as this game feels. It’s really quite sobering to have had a difficult day finding food and wood, and to return to your little shelter as darkness falls. You can’t afford to start a fire, so you rest and wait in the dark, with the wind howling outside, the sound grating and exhausting. In those moments, I felt like how my survivor must feel, hoping for the glow of sunlight.

Your footsteps crunch through the snow, a thud can be heard nearby as a deer is startled, darting away. Was that a growl? Or the wind? Wings flutter, letting you know that perhaps a corpse is nearby. You look up to find crows circling. Is the body an animal? Or a human, like you?

It’s all connected, the sounds tell you so much, and you become so attuned to it, a soundscape being built around you. It’s not essential, but sometimes it’s the only warning I get before realising I wasn’t looking around myself often enough, and a wolf is sprinting towards me.

I adore The Long Dark. It can be difficult, challenging, and frustrating. Sometimes I’ll choose a specific game mode, to explore the story and piece together what happened to cause this town, and the communities, to fall apart. Sometimes I feel like figuring out just how long I can survive. How far I can go before I can’t go any further. The impending bear mode sounds easy enough, 30 days to prepare, but just making it through those 30 days is difficult enough, and as each day counts down to the big showdown, my anxiety will grow. And when the day arrives, I better be ready one way or another.

If you feel like you could be ready, then this just might be the game for you.

Wingspan Review

Developer/Designer: Monster Couch/Elizabeth Hargrave
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Music: Paweł Górniak
Platforms: Board Game (1-5 Players), Windows, Mac, Switch & Xbox
Released: September 17th 2020
Genre: Board Game, Card Game, Relaxing Strategy, Turn Based
Age: 10+
Playtime: 40 – 70mins

Wingspan comes in two forms a physical board game, which it’s most known for however it is also known for its video game on Steam that simulates the physical game. First off, I’ll read to you the description on the back of the box. “You are bird enthusiasts – researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors – seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your aviary.”
Wingspan is a card driven, engine building board game that has a medium level learning curve that is why it is recommended for players aged 10 and up. This game is lavishly designed and produced with brightly coloured boards, over 150 cards with stunning pastel illustrations of birds and habitats alike.

You also have a bird feeder dice tower that you assemble which is simple to do so, custom wooden die, cute little eggs and all the rule-books, appendix and other forms of paper are all this wonderful water proof fabric to protect the integrity of the pack. The game is visually charming, it inspires a relaxing environment and a pleasant state of mind. Wingspan is considered in the top board 10 games of 2020.

Now Wingspan is a game where you are trying to do one of two things that you determine before you start playing. You could go the points route or the goals route to determine a winner. Points is just how many points can you accumulate from each round from things such as; eggs, bonus cards, cache food, end-of-round goals achieved and tucked birds. If you were to go the goals objective points are less relevant unless those points are to build towards achieve set goals. For example; the player with the most eggs in nests or the player with the most birds in this particular habitat.
The game is played out over 4 rounds each round giving you less turns as you go. Such as first round you have 8 moves, second round 7, third 6 and so on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each player is given a personal player board at the beginning of the game that is segmented into three different habitats; forest, grasslands, and wetlands. Each habitat has their own unique set of abilities and activating a habitat will grant you bird powers such as; the grasslands will mean you can lay eggs; forest is for obtaining food and the wetlands to draw more bird cards.

For every bird you play onto the board they will most likely have their own unique powers. Which is listed on each card. Those unique powers will only be triggered when you either play the bird for the first time or every time you activate that habitat. On each card is also listed the wingspan of each bird, that’s where the game title comes in.

Now there is a lot to get into with Wingspan and the layers of strategy can get quite complex. Maylee and I took about 45 mins to get the initial handle on things before we started playing actual
rounds. We did also find that the rules around how the bird feeder worked a little confusing. I did eventually figure out how it was supposed to work (thanks YouTube). So, my advice is to reference some player tutorials online if you get stuck.

In saying that when you get the physical game inside the box you receive a 30% off the digital edition of Wingspan on Steam. Which sits around $20AUS. I started playing the tutorial in the digital game and it is the exact same game as the physical one, there are no differences other than the platform. The tutorial helped me get a better handle of the game and definitely felt more hands on. Also, the digital game is just as visually stunning and the UI is easy to follow, nothing is cluttered and you get to hear all the bird sounds of each bird you play not to mention cute little animations bringing to life all the cards from the physical version.

Accompanying the digital version of the game is a soundtrack by Paweł Górniak titled My Realm that you can also purchase as a DLC from the Steam store. The music is cinematic, relaxing and filled with wonderful string and wind instruments taking you on an adventure into the wildness. Whether that be in a calming meadow, wondering the grasslands or exploring the treetops Paweł does a wonderful job of transporting you there with this exquisite composition.

My time with Wingspan is only just starting, as I convince my family and friends to get in on this bird loving action. This game is peaceful, awesomely fun, competitive and invites you to appreciate our natural world. Which is something I think we always need to do.

 

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?