A Hat in Time Review [Pixelkin]

Read the full review at Pixelkin

While I lack much of the fond nostalgia for the 3D platforming genre, I was completely enthralled by A Hat in Time. Its bright, cheery art and music, witty dialogue, and grandiose level designs instantly catapulted Hat Kid among the upper echelon of the late 90s Golden Age classics.

Simply put: A Hat in Time is the most fun I’ve had with a 3D platformer since Psychonauts.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

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Review – Mushroom 11 [Pixelkin]

A unique, fun, and very challenging puzzle-platformer in which you guide your amorphous blob through a gauntlet of hazards.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Walt Disney once said “Get a good idea and stay with it.” Many modern puzzle games have utilized a single brilliant concept to fuel the entire experience. Mushroom 11 is the latest of these innovative puzzlers with a unique and challenging growth mechanic.

In Mushroom 11 you play as a self-replicating amorphous green blob. A fungus, if you will. The blob constantly tries to stay the same size. It also needs to touch the ground or a suitable object in order to grow. Left click erases large chunks for rapid movement. Right click allows for smaller shape-building. Using these simple mechanics you guide your fungus through a gauntlet of platformer-style traps and hazards.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Review – Yoshi’s Woolly World [Pixelkin]

Charming, but also incredibly fun with brilliant level designs and a wealth of content, Yoshi’s Woolly World is my new favorite Wii U platformer.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

yoshi's woolly world

Yoshi has been destined for stardom since his first appearance in Super Mario World. He started his video game career as a power-up for Mario, but soon the lovable dinosaur starred in his own spinoff series of 2D platformers. These focused on his unique ability to eat foes and lay eggs, which can be used as weapons. Yoshi’s Woolly World combines this simple but effective mechanic with a beautifully realized art style and clever level design to create not only the best Yoshi game, but one of Nintendo’s best platformers in years.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Unepic

An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Francisco Téllez de Meneses

Publisher: Ninagamers Corp.

Release Date: October 2, 2011

rogues adventures final thoughts

Unepic has the unique quality of reminding me of a game I’ve never played. It feels like it utilizes a classic gameplay formula of meshing together elements of Metroid and Diablo in a 2D dungeon crawl, but I’d honestly never played a game quite like it. So while I lack any nostalgia for the gameplay, I found it inventive and interesting, despite some annoying difficulty spikes, immature, reference-filled writing, and a boring art style.

As you can quickly surmise from the banner image, our snarky hero is a modern day 20-something transported into a fantasy dungeon. He spends the entire first half of the game convinced that he’s taken some hallucinogenic drugs, and constantly spouts not-so-clever nerd-culture references at every opportunity. It grows tiresome a few hours in, and this is a 20 hour game.

rogues adventure

The one saving grace with the trite story (besides the surprisingly great finale and ending) is the shadowy creature that possesses the hero early on. Dubbed Zera, the shadow fails to possess our hero (who probably has a name but I don’t remember it at all) and winds up trapped within his body, becoming an unwilling companion to our adventures in the castle.

Zera provides a nice foil for our hero to play off of, as he’s constantly trying to get the hero killed so he’ll be freed. In one of the better nerd-references, their relationship is compared to X-Men‘s Xavier and Magento. Their respect for each other gradually builds over the course of the adventure, and by the end I grew to love Zera – murderous tendencies and all.

While the story isn’t exactly as captivating as even the relatively simplistic tales in Castlevania or Metroid (or even Diablo), the gameplay makes up for it. The dungeon is made up of individual rooms that take up a full screen. Each room is darkened and made up of multiple levels filled with ladders, platformes, and enemies. Lighting the torches along your way becomes critical, and a neat way to gauge your progress through each zone.

rogues adventure

The castle is divided up into over half a dozen areas, each with around a dozen screens, creating an impressively large dungeon. I actually found it just a bit too long as the overall gameplay and tactics grew repetitive toward the end – not to mention some rough patches where enemies grew wildly in strength and numbers. Damn the skeleton-filled catacombs!

Unepic leans heavily on the RPG aspects of the genre. Leveling up awards 5 skill points that can be pumped into various weapon and magic skills. The system isn’t very user-friendly, and it’s designed for those that want to min/max their characters by dumping everything into only a few skills to get the best abilities and wield the strongest weapons. Of course you won’t know which skills and weapons you’ll want, so it’s a stressful bit of planning ahead in the early levels. There is a side quest about halfway through that allows you to reset your points – a very helpful feature.

Each area has its own major quest that results in learning a new piece of magic. While some of the quests are fun and take you to different areas of the castle, it also leads to lots of backtracking. It also downplays the latter magic skills (Alteration, Protection) as presumably you’ve already put points into the early ones like Fire or Frost.

By the way, I went with a rogue/ranger type build, focusing on daggers, bows, and axes. A unique dagger I earned from a side quest carried me far, but eventually dropped them to focus on bows and axes. I found a late-game unique bow that absolutely decimated everything, and became my weapon of choice, along with some support from Fire and Healing spells.

rogues adventure

Backtracking is alleviated with an admittedly great fast travel system. Especially coming from Ori and the Blind Forest, which didn’t have one at all. Gates are scattered around the castle, usually 2 per zone, and teleport you to a central room filled with other gates.

In addition you can buy scrolls and spells that instantly take you to the merchants in each area. Quickly moving around the relatively large dungeon wasn’t an issue at all, though trying to remember which merchants sold what ability tomes was a bit annoying.

Limited animations and pixelated graphics are more than fine for a one-person indie project, but I was disappointed at the very limited palette selection throughout most of the castle. The individual room designs are nice, but so much of the castle is brown and gray that it grows repetitive after a dozen hours. Enemy types are also repeated to a high degree, with skeletons, snakes, and goblins making up a bulk of the foes I killed.

rogues adventure

Bosses fare a little better, taking a cue from the large, area-defining bosses of other metroidvanias. Oddly enough despite my haphazard skill management and character planning, I found most of the bosses quite easy. Zera helpfully warned me about each one, and most were slow with easily dodged attacks.

With better writing and a tighter, more varied focus Unepic could’ve been something really special. It’s still an impressive collection of genre parts all working together to produce a fun experience. By the final few areas I was definitely ready for it to be over, though I did very much enjoy the twist ending and interesting gameplay mode they introduce for the final battle. An interesting indie RPG experience that rewards persistence, exploration, and careful character planning.

rogues adventure

 

Pros

  • Solid 2D action-platformer gameplay with lots of loot and side quests
  • Rooms are well-designed and fun to explore and lighting mechanic works well
  • Fast travel system works incredibly well, minimizing backtracking woes and death penalties
  • Neat twist ending that introduces a last minute gameplay switch

 

Cons

  • Immature writing filled with references that are more miss than hit
  • Each area has the same basic structure, which quickly grows repetitive
  • Not enough enemy or art variety for the 20 hour length
  • Bosses are mostly slow and easy, while certain areas are annoyingly difficult

 

Final Say: An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness.

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Risk of Rain

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Hopoo Games

Publisher: Chucklefish

Release Date: November 8, 2013

Risk of Rain represents a bit of an anomaly amongst my backlogged games. I knew next to nothing about it when I purchased and subsequently put it on the schedule for Rogue’s Adventures. Two factors inspired my quick decision: a trustworthy friend played it and loved it, and it was published by Starbound developer Chucklefish. Say what you will about Starbound’s rocky development but I really love that company’s visual style, and they seem particularly attuned to 2D games that revel in retro-pixel art.

Risk of Rain is about as indie as you can get. It was developed by two college students and would go on to win the Best Student Game Award at the Independent Games Festival in 2014. A successful Kickstarter campaign in mid 2013 allowed them to expand gameplay features and most impressively, add an incredible soundtrack by Chris Christodoulou that absolutely blew me away with every track. Seriously I’m going to need to own this soundtrack.

When I started Risk of Rain I was completely lost. The intro clip shows a spaceship being taken over by a mysterious figure, and your character is unceremoniously dropped onto a hostile alien planet, armed only with the keyboard controls and your starting characters abilities. Note: I quickly switched to an Xbox 360 controller as the keyboard controls are inadequate are best.

I’ve played a ton of roguelikes before. In fact, a roguelike has made my Top Ten Games of the Year lists in each of the last three years: Dungeon of the Endless in 2014, Rogue Legacy in 2013 and FTL and Spelunky in 2012. Risk of Rain would have been in close contention with that company thanks to a perfect balance of time and difficulty, multiple playable characters with different abilities and an addictive learning curve and reward system.

Although you start over every time you die, like many modern roguelikes you unlock new things with every playthrough, helping take the sting out of dying and allowing each run to give you some progress. Numerous challenges can be completed like killing foes or reaching a certain milestone that unlock additional random items and characters. Items can be purchased in random treasure chests or dropped from boss monsters, most giving an insanely wide range of passive effects, such as freezing foes that touch you, healing you if you stand still and the very crucial shield that adds an additional health bar.

Gameplay is as intuitive as any 2D platformer, with a few important features. You spawn into a world as a tiny pixelated commando. A timer in the upper right begins counting up and updates your difficulty every five minutes, beginning with ‘Very Easy,’ and enemies begin spawning in. In the beginning you’ll face simple lizard-people and crabs that can be swiftly dealt with, but soon hardier and trickier enemies appear, like the imps that teleport to you or the spitters that fire a cannon shot out of their mouths. Each stage has its own enemy types, though future stages do rely too much on simple color palette switches and bigger stats on the same enemies.

Instead of giving you loot to equip, every character class has four unique abilities based on cooldowns. The commando is fairly boring with three abilities that fire his gun in a slightly different way and a fourth move that lets him dodge and roll forward. I found the first hour or so of the game a bit of a slog as the commando just isn’t very interesting to play as you rely on the same four abilities the entire time (plus the occasional activated item you can loot, but you can only carry one of).

Each stage (which are sadly not randomly generated, unlike every single other roguelike I’ve played) contains a portal that must be activated. Turning it on summons a gigantic boss as well as 90 seconds of constantly spawning enemies, creating a fun and chaotic climax at the end of each stage. After four stages (usually taking at least 30 minutes total) you can choose to go to the final stage or go through each stage again at the harder difficulty in the hopes to gain more experience and items. The final level aboard the ship offers a welcome new aesthetic, and opening each door amounts to several climactic battles throughout the stage leading up to the final, multi-stage boss fight.

Once I began unlocking additional characters the game really started to mesh with me. The Enforcer is instantly much more fun with a combination shotgun and shield. Using his abilities you have to become very aware of your positioning with the enemy and effectively time your shots. I also had a lot of fun playing the rapid-fire Bandit and the sentry turret/mine-laying Engineer.

It’s with the Engineer that I was able to actually beat the game, though with the major caveat that I was playing cooperatively with a friend at the time. Like Dungeon of the Endless, Risk of Rain seamlessly incorporates cooperative multiplayer into the action. We weren’t quite sure if the difficulty scaled to the number of players, and the on-screen action gets so chaotic in the later stages that it can be tricky to decipher just what the hell is going on – even dropping my 60fps in half during some particularly insane moments, and impressive feat for a pixelated game made in Game Maker.

While every roguelike has a fairly steep learning curve (many of which, I suspect, keep some folks away from the genre altogether), Risk of Rain utilizes it to dole out awards at a steady pace. Unlocking items allows them to spawn into the world and there’s no limit to how many you can hold (the passive ones; you can still only hold one active item). By the end of my winning run I had over two dozen various effects, and it’s fun to go through that classic RPG evolution of weak as a paper sack to god-like superhero in the space of an hour.

That perfectly balanced difficulty is what kept me coming back. The beginning when that first boss spawns from the portal you’re in awe, and probably going to die. Stick with it, unlock some items and purchase them from random chests and you’ll soon persevere, only to die in the next world, and then the next. Getting a little farther each time is addictive; unlocking challenges, items and additional characters with vastly different abilities and skillsets helps make Risk of Rain one of the best roguelikes I’ve ever played, and all that works perfectly well cooperatively (if you have the patience to set up port forwarding on your router that is).

If you can get on board with the tiny pixels on screen and scale the initial learning curve (and get beyond the lame starting character) Risk of Rain is a fantastic experience, and highly recommended for fans of roguelikes and hardcore platformers. Do and try and bring a friend or two as well.

Pros

  • Perfectly balanced roguelike
  • Constantly unlocking items and characters is a rewarding treadmill
  • Multiple classes offer vastly different gameplay experiences
  • Cooperative multiplayer works beautifully
  • Amazing soundtrack

Cons

  • Art style makes it difficult to tell what’s going on during chaotic battles
  • Keyboard controls are atrocious – use a controller!
  • Starter character isn’t very fun

 

Final Say: A hardcore roguelike platformer that rewards persistence and skill as much as random luck. Play cooperatively for maximum fun.