Indie Workshop #3: Accelerated Delivery

Welcome to the third installment of Indie Workshopwhere I take a look at some of the games of aspiring Indie developers and give them a honest review while also attempting to give them a little exposure.

I truly encourage you all to get involved with the Indie games featured here and check out the developers – they work long and hard to bring you what potentially may be the next generation of video games, so its worth your time supporting them!

This game review is an exclusive, and has never been reviewed before. I hope you enjoy!

Top Secret Packages – An Accelerated Delivery Review

main-menu

When I was approached about the possibility of reviewing a game about boxes and their movement from one area to another, I couldn’t help but wonder if the entire concept was perhaps a little simple – how on earth was I going to create a fully fledged Indie Workshop review based upon a game who’s solitary objective is “move X amount of boxes from point A to point B”? Any normal game would have proved me right and I’d be sitting here right now telling you a very different story to the one I’m about to tell – but I didn’t play the “moving box simulator”. I played Accelerated Delivery.

Accelerated Delivery is a 3D puzzle game developed by Indie game group Two Button Crew. Originally created by Jonathan Fischer under the moniker Core43, “Box Factory” (as it was then affectionately known) became a group project when Two Button Crew combined forces with Jon and programmer Alex Van Liew to forge the Two Button Crew that has put out Accelerated Delivery in its completed form today. Although their story is a long and sometimes complicated one, Accelerated Delivery’s base concept has always been the same – control machinery in the environment to move boxes to an end-zone and complete the level. Lose too many boxes to the hazards below and you fail, starting the level over anew. Its a lovely little concept that is deceivingly difficult at its core.

tutorial

Accelerated Delivery offers a basic tutorial for beginners, and optional controller support for those more accustomed to gaming with a third-party controller.

The game starts with a very basic tutorial option and helps players to find their feet before the game begins proper. One thing Accelerated Delivery does very well is guide you through its opening levels without holding your hand – it teaches you the ropes, but there’s still room for failure. Its the best kind of learning curve that doesn’t rely on tutorial menus opening every 20 seconds and interrupting fluent and constant game-play.

As the controller of the machinery around you, you must activate specific sections throughout in order to guide the boxes to their eventual destination. This starts out relatively easy, with the use of only one or two buttons to guide a singular box to its inevitable end, but before you know it, you’re dealing with 7-8 buttons at a time, multiple boxes of different colours that need to be delivered to different locations, and even boxes that explode and must actually be disposed of in order to gain points. Its fast and frantic, but never verges too close to pandemonium that you feel like you’ve lost control. Additionally, each level features its own score tracking system which adds a level of re-playability and competitiveness to the affair – meaning you may find yourself using the game’s level select functionality to try and best your friend’s best runs and outdo each other more often than you’d care to admit.

"Good, but could I do better?" is the thinking that drives Accelerated Delivery's re-playability.

“Good, but could I do better?” is the thinking that drives Accelerated Delivery’s re-playability.

Rather than the aforementioned intrusive tutorial messages popping up throughout, Accelerated Delivery features a “guide” of sorts in the form of your voice-acted boss. He’s frequently dismissive of your abilities as a machinery operator, sarcastic and humorous in his approach. He narrates the story and provides guidance in the most convoluted manner possible, and whether you’ll appreciate the voice acting depends entirely upon your sense of humor. The game plays just as well without it as it does with it, and the developers have provided an option via the pause menu to remove the voice acting if for some reason you decide it isn’t really your thing.

On that note, the audio and visuals in Accelerated Delivery are something to marvel at. The soundtrack suits the game down to the ground and really helps to add to the overall feeling that if you lose a box, its going to have consequences somewhere down the line. The visuals meanwhile, are incredibly aesthetically pleasing and rarely do they detract from the objective at hand – they’re something beautiful to look at, but they’re not so distracting that you find your eyes hurting while you play, or an inability to focus on what you’re meant to be doing. Kudos to the art guys for their excellent work in Blender, because some of the hazards such as the lava look practically alive and dancing, and that really is some kind of accomplishment.

The environments really are captivating.

The environments really are captivating.

Game-play itself is fluid and the mechanics work exactly as you’d expect them to. In particular, I was very impressed by the box physics – drop them from a significant height and they’ll bounce, threatening to be lost in the void below before settling down and putting that particular mini-heart attack to rest. Get hit by a particular piece of machinery at a funny angle, or get caught between two walls because of your bad timing, and the box threatens to wind up being flung back a few steps – adding more precious seconds to your ever-increasing time. Very rarely have I ever felt such deep concern for an inanimate object as I did with Accelerated Delivery’s cardboard boxes – but because of the way their physics function, you’re constantly left with the feeling that these boxes really are delicate and subject to a swift reckoning if you’re not careful with them.

That having been said – I did run into one or two minor issues while playing Accelerated Delivery that, while nothing serious, did make me wonder “what if?”. Firstly – and probably more to do with my personal preferences – even though you have the ability to move the camera, I do somewhat wish that the option was there to zoom in even closer. On some of the bigger puzzles, it can occasionally be difficult to see where your boxes are and that’s when a quick “snap-to” zoom in would be really beneficial.

Secondly, and slightly more of a concern; during one of the later levels, I’d been playing the level for roughly 10 minutes and I was in the process of moving five or six boxes at once, when they all got clogged in a corridor and would no longer move along the conveyor belt. I had to push another two or three boxes behind them before I eventually managed to get them to budge, but by the time they did move, they were threatening to put an end to my fairly lengthy run, and I did end up losing one or two boxes in the avalanche that ensued. It probably won’t happen to 95% of people who play Accelerated Delivery to its conclusion, but for the 5% that do have to restart a 10-12 minute run, it will be a minor frustration that they will inevitably remember.

The blockage in question.

The blockage in question causing me some significant difficulty.

Despite this though, Accelerated Delivery is a nice game to play that requires some proper hard thinking and strategy to complete in the most efficient manner properly. My initial thought was to call it a “decent time-waster”, but I’m almost ashamed to now admit that because Accelerated Delivery is deserving of so much more. Rather than button-mashing or speed-running your way through it, Accelerated Delivery demands you take appropriate time to learn it’s ways and then use what you’ve been taught to achieve the best possible scores and figures. The game is fresh and keeps adding new challenges and puzzles all the time, and you can’t help but continue attempting it regardless of how frustrating the previous level might have been.

I haven’t used my brain so much in a video game since I played Portal 2, and that is a massive credit to Accelerated Delivery. Its a game that will have you scratching your head and playing long after you’ve completed it, trying to top your best scores – it takes puzzle-solving to an entirely different level,  fantastic in its approach, and beneath it all, just one question remains;

Do YOU have what it takes to handle with care, and, more importantly, will you be able to tear yourself away regardless?

Title of Indie Game: Accelerated Delivery.
Most appealing quality?: The sheer meltdown your brain will have when more and more buttons get added – and the feeling of achievement when you manage to nail it perfectly after 10 tries.
Most disappointing quality?:  Aside from the few minor issues I had, Accelerated Delivery does what it does with gusto. Its difficult to fault it.
How much did I play?: I played up to the 6th level for this review, and plan on returning to complete the entire thing before the week is out.
How much does it cost?: Accelerated Delivery is currently available for $5/£3.26 directly from the developer’s store and is worth every penny – support an extremely promising Indie developer and earn yourself a really nice puzzle game in the process. Alternatively, try the demo, featuring six levels, for free!
Where can I find it?: Information regarding the game can be found at the developer’s website.

Accelerated Delivery is a 3D puzzle game created by the minds at Two Button Crew, available now on Windows. You can follow Two Button Crew’s progress with Accelerated Delivery via Twitter.

All reviewing content, including images, is used with consent of the developer. A massive thank you to Two Button Crew for all their help throughout this review and a particular thank you to Alex Van Liew for his help.

Thanks for reading this post! If you enjoyed it, remember you can bookmark this blog or follow me direct from a WordPress account. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter here for updates.

If you have any comments, post them below or get in touch with me via Twitter.

Indie Workshop #2: Lenna’s Inception Review

Welcome to the second installment of Indie Workshopwhere I take a look at some of the games of aspiring Indie developers and give them a honest review while also attempting to give them a little exposure.

I truly encourage you all to get involved with the Indie games featured here and check out the developers – they work long and hard to bring you what potentially may be the next generation of video games, so its worth your time supporting them!

This game review is an exclusive, and has never been reviewed before. I hope you enjoy!

An Adventure to Call Your Own – A Lenna’s Inception Review

intro-lenna

While playing Lenna’s Inception in preparation for this review, I stated to a friend of mine that, had I been playing this game without the prior knowledge of the developer being an Indie, I would’ve never thought anything different – it plays like a major developer’s creation despite still being relatively early in it’s development. I think it says a vast amount about Lenna’s Inception and its developer, Tom Coxon, that a game can come across so professionally done when it is the Indie development of just one person.

Lenna’s Inception is an Indie RPG adventure by aforementioned developer Tom Coxon. It is not Coxon’s first foray into the world of development, but is slated as his first “commercial Indie release” (Coxon previously released an app called  xkcdViewer on Google Play, which has now hit over 200,000 total installs). The game itself begins as you, the player, takes on the role of Lenna as she searches for a number of various artifacts to save the world from its impending doom. The Prince has been captured, and the Chosen One has been overthrown, leaving average joe Lenna to collect the artifacts necessary to send the evil back to where it once came from.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because it follows a very similar plot and design curve to another very famous game of the same style – The Legend of Zelda. When I first begun playing Lenna’s Inception, in fact, I could not help but notice the similarities between it and Link’s infamous journey through the land of Hyrule. There’s a lot of influence here and its apparent, but I want to make a clear definition between Lenna’s Inception and the adventures of our little hero in green; firstly, and one of the main things that also makes Lenna’s Inception such a blast to play, is its procedural generation – every play-through of Lenna’s Inception is randomised, and you begin in a different area each time you play, meaning you never know what’s going to be around the corner the next time you load it up.

Adding to this intense randomisation is the ability to add perma-death to your play-through. When you die normally in Lenna’s Inception, the game will offer to restart you at the beginning of the dungeon, albeit with your map still filled out as it would be had you never died. With perma-death on however, every play-through is a one-shot deal; die and you start the entire thing again. Its a nice little feature that adds some replay-ability, as you never know where you’re going to end up or what challenges you’ll face that may cut your run drastically short.

lenna-skeleton

The game has this lovely pixel-y design that brings back an instant rush of nostalgia.

There is a slight drawback to the randomised design of Lenna’s Inception, and that is the variation in its difficulty. Its nothing that really takes away from the game too drastically, and once you get your feet wet everything becomes evident, but my first play-through saw my life rather short-lived as a group of gelatinous fiends cut me down rather swiftly. On my second play-through, things went much smoother and I managed to get to grips with how things worked before I encountered any real challenge. Its not a major defect, but its something worth considering as some gamers may be thrown off by a slight variation in the difficulty level. Call me picky, but I just wish there was some sort of “non-randomised” area at the beginning to serve as a tutorial and allow users to find their feet before they were thrown into Lenna’s Inception proper.

That having been said, Lenna’s Inception does feature both an extensive document (think of it as an instruction manual, if you will) as well as tutorial pages throughout the game that help newer users get used to how the game is played. Lenna even carries a manual in her inventory that can be referred back to at any time for almost all of the game’s items and actions should you need them. Its a small detail but its very helpful if you forget how a certain function is supposed to work and its that little extra attention to what a player might need that stand out in an Indie title.

instructionscreen-lenna

The tutorials are sufficient to help you around Lenna’s world.

One thing I have to admire about Lenna’s Inception is its variation. Throughout the game you will encounter puzzles or certain areas which require you to use specific items which you have gathered to solve. It allows the player to step away from the adventure/combat side of things temporarily and use their brains in order to proceed. Not only that, but the quirkiness of the game is quite something. Sure, you have your typical, “to-be-expected” items that you find in almost every game of this type such as a bow or bombs, but how often does the jump function come in the form of a spring? Found a fire spell in order to cast fireballs? Too typical. In Lenna’s Inception, you’re going to be using Prometheus’ lighter instead. Did I mention one of the bosses – affectionately named Cuddles – is also a giant kitten? Oh yeah. Around every corner is something weird and wonderful, and finding them is half the fun.

Oh yes. There will be chickens.

Oh yes. There will be chickens.

The soundtrack is nice and suits the style of the game well, too. Its pretty simplistic right now, mainly consisting of a singular track that plays throughout your dungeon treks, with a separate tune for the boss fights. Tom has informed me that there are plans to further improve the soundtrack, but for now it does the job just fine (and I can’t stop humming the main theme to myself). There are options to turn off music (F5) or sounds (F6) if one so wishes, too. Again, attention to detail pays dividends.

I feel at this stage I should state two things – one; this game was created by just one person, similarly to my previously reviewed 2x0ng. This is one heck of a game that is bug-free and entirely playable from start to finish, and its all the work of just one guy. Second – the game is still being worked upon and will feature even more content when its finished. RPG elements and a greater expansion on the story, along with an over-world and stores for Lenna to make use of the coins you collect throughout the game are just some of the plans Coxon has for the game, and its looking to be pretty damn incredible already. Despite the fact its not finished, I still had a blast playing it and that’s a testament to Coxon – making a game playable and enjoyable to the last minute when its not even complete is one hell of a task, but he pulls it off with aplomb.

They say variety is the spice of life, and Lenna’s Inception has it by the bucket-load.

Lenna’s Inception wears its influences on its sleeve, but does it with such charm and grace that it feels more like a homage than a rip-off. It is a game in it’s own right though, and does what it does excellently. I have to give credit to a developer who can make me think of one of the biggest and most well-known franchises in the world with a game that isn’t even fully complete yet, and further still suck me in so much I couldn’t stop until I’d watched the credits roll.

Sure, Lenna’s Inception isn’t finished just yet, and there are particular areas (such as the soundtrack and story) which could use some polish – but that is something which comes with time, not due to any lack of care by the developer. In a year or two’s time I plan to play Lenna’s Inception again, because I know I’ll probably love it then twice as much as I love it already, and that’s saying something.

Lenna’s Inception has the potential to be something much greater than the sum of its current parts – and I’m excited for it. Its not very often I play an Indie game so early in development as this and have more fun than I’ve had with some “major releases” I’ve played recently, but Lenna’s Inception got me. Somewhere between the kitten battle and the war of the chickens, it got me.

And I love it. I absolutely love it.

Title of Indie Game: Lenna’s Inception.
Most appealing quality?: Right now, the sheer humor the game possesses. The potential is vast too, I can’t wait to see where this is going.
Most disappointing quality?: I would’ve liked a little more story, but that’s something that comes with time and, currently, doesn’t detract too much from the overall game as it is right now.
How much did I play?: I played two playthroughs, one was very short-lived – I finished the entire game and saw the credits roll on my second.
How much does it cost?: Lenna’s Inception is currently completely free.
Where can I find it?: Lenna’s Inception can be downloaded directly from Coxon’s website.

Lenna’s Inception is an RPG adventure game created by Tom Coxon, available now on Windows, Linux and Mac. You can follow Tom and his progress on Lenna’s Inception and all his other projects via his Twitter. You can also find Lenna’s Inception and all his other projects via his website.

All reviewing content, including images, is used with consent of the developer.

Thanks for reading this post! If you enjoyed it, remember you can bookmark this blog or follow me direct from a WordPress account. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter here for updates.

If you have any comments, post them below or get in touch with me via Twitter.

The Generation Game: A Rogue Legacy Review

— This is a spoiler FREE review. Only characters are mentioned. 

For generations, my lineage has battled that monstrosity – the castle defeated each and every one of them, leaving their descendants – their children – to take up the blade in their place. Nobody could understand where it’s strength had grown from, only that it was inhabited by beasts of terrible and ancient power. Now, I have slain those four presiding creatures; I – the 95th warrior in a long line to be tossed willingly into the fray. I stand before great golden doors, which no doubt seal away the most unimaginable evil of them all – but I must not fail. Thousands of years of training and experience, handed down throughout my family, have trained me for this. I shall not fall. This… This shall be my Rogue Legacy.

It stands as testament to how well built and truly engrossing a game is when you find it difficult to tear yourself away from it long enough to write a review that, honestly, probably won’t do it enough justice. Such is my feeling for Rogue Legacy, the latest game from Cellar Door Games, a self-declared roguelite action platformer – a game that, for the past few days, I’ve been struggling to find words to describe.

For those of you unfamiliar with the roguelite tag, it is derived from the term “roguelike”. Roguelike commonly features aspects such as level randomization and permanent death – a good example would be another game I reviewed recently, Don’t Starve. Roguelites, on the other hand, differ in that they do not feature permanent death in the same manner, but rather only a temporary death or some form of “other” life. Rogue Legacy tackles this issue by allowing you to be “reborn” as the descendant of the last character you played as. You may inherit some of the traits of your parent, but your progression throughout the randomised castle is lost – you retain only your gold which you can use to purchase gear and upgrades which consequently stick with each of your characters as they die and get picked up again as their son or daughter. Its a delightful mechanic that means you never really “die”, you simply shift perspective.

The story of Rogue Legacy is somewhat built around this mechanic, too. You begin the game (and play the tutorial) as a knight. The knight visits the castle in hopes of finding a legendary cure buried deep within that can save the king of the land from a fatal wound that will eventually kill him. Although you see very little of this knights’ story after the initial first few minutes (and to avoid spoilers I’ve cut most of it out), you discover a total of 25 journals scattered throughout the castle randomly that tell of the horrors and battles the knight faced in order to find the secret and come face to face with the truth. It is a truth that you, after besting the game’s four area bosses, will have to come to terms with too. Its an excellent line of narrative too – there only for those who care, but deep enough to drag you in if you do.

One of the many journals that narrate the game throughout.

The base concept of Rogue Legacy is very simple, and – I feel – can be described in four words;

  • Try
  • Die
  • Buy
  • Repeat

You see, Rogue Legacy isn’t a game that you can simply run head first into, slaying all four of the bosses immediately, and claiming your victory after two hours of playing. In fact, any of the four bosses are quite likely to massacre you at first – and you will die. Oh, you’ll die over and over. But death, as stated above, is not the end of your lineage. The gold you’ve earned carries over, used to develop a slightly stronger character, with whom you can tackle the castle again. It slowly drags you in; every single time you leave the castle with 1,000 more gold than before, or manage to get that piece of equipment you’ve been hunting forever, you get dragged deeper – because Rogue Legacy might not be a game you can win in a few hours, but its also a game you can’t put down either.

Each character you play with has their own class, magic spell and trait(s), which can lead to quite the humorous experience if you wind up with specific mixes. For example, a mage who has daggers as their spell but is Ambilevous will cast their spells backwards, making them effectively twice as difficult to land. A barbarian – characters that deal lesser damage but have vast HP stores – may wind up with Dextrocardia, which means their HP and MP bars are switched. All of a sudden, you’re a barbarian with 200HP, but with a mana pool bigger than most mages. Or perhaps you’ll draw the short straw, and simply wind up playing the game upside down, or in black and white? Some traits are beneficial, some are detrimental, and some are just plan whacky – but half the fun is trying to overcome these traits in order to amass the most gold possible every single run.

An extensive upgrade tree ensures incredible replay-ability – and there’s even a little surprise for those who reach the top of the castle…

Its because of this whacky variation in traits and classes that Rogue Legacy never quite feels like the same game each time you play it. I may jump on and play a game as a trusty Paladin with no bad traits or defects – sturdy, reliable, and always ready for a long castle run – and wind up hitting 40-50,000 gold in a singular run, but then the next game get stuck with a mage who has Dwarfism and Alzheimer’s (which removes the map completely) and die in the second room because of a particularly brutal mob of monsters. This variation really helps to pump some great life into the game – if you feel like changing it up, just pick a class you don’t normally play (out of a choice of three random classes when you die) and see how far you can get before the castle overwhelms you.

While we’re on the topic of enemies – they vary vastly in appearance, size and lethality. You may find you slay the mighty Grey Knights with no trouble whatsoever, but just when you think you’re safe to plunder another room with just 100HP, that picture you thought was simply hanging there harmlessly will spin around and kill you in one hit, ending your spree. Here-in lies my one grumble with the game, too – some of the enemies are capable of shooting a stream of projectiles your way, and on later difficulties and stages, the game changes from an action-platformer into a bullet-hell from room to room. I’ve been in areas where I’m struggling to just find a gap between the hail of projectiles being fired at me from every angle – it certainly adds some strategy to the game as you have to think about which enemies you eliminate first, or which character’s capabilities might best suit certain challenges you face, but it can get a little grating when every room presents you with a swift smack in the face from varying projectiles.

Uh yeah… Your guess is as good as mine as to what’s going on here.

So you may glance at the picture above and think “How on earth can you enjoy this, Fully Avenged?!” – well, I’m not a sadist, that’s for sure, but I can tell you there’s something incredibly satisfying about clearing your way through most of the dungeon, getting that boss down to 25% of his health, only to watch your character crash and burn, the blade of his sword buried in the earth before you and the villainous boss laughing as you die, only to pass on your worldly belongings to your descendant. Why? Because you know if you’d just had that one more strength upgrade, or that one better piece of armor, you probably could’ve cracked it – you would have defeated him. That’s the thought which drives Rogue Legacy home, and as simple as it may seem, its kept me hooked for well over 20 hours of game-play.

So you spend 10 hours working your way through the four bosses, you thwart them and move on to the final boss. You annihilate him, and watch the credits roll before seeing the end-screen telling you how many children you lost in your crusade and how long it took you. Game over, right?

Wrong.

Rogue Legacy introduces New Game+, which introduces several new gameplay elements which drag you right back in again. For one, you can find those higher, more sought-after pieces of armor that you’ve been looking for, and you’re going to want them, because the difficulty of the game gets bumped up every single time you complete a New Game+. Yup, they keep stacking. You also get a % increase called Bounty on how much gold you earn, which increases every-time you complete a New Game+, allowing you to continue upgrading and competing with the increasingly difficult game. I’m sitting at New Game++ right now, and I cannot wait to continue onward until I eventually hit the cap.

Every time you think Rogue Legacy is about to slip up and release its grasp on you, it shows you a new piece of gear, just across that enemy littered hallway, or a fairy chest which typically contains shiny new runes to improve your character even further. “You want it. You know you want it”, it will whisper, and you will answer, because hording and gathering becomes like crack in this game, and its the only way you’re going to nail those bosses time and again. Let yourself slack for five minutes; let yourself get comfortable, and think you’ve finally worked out how to beat the enemies and speed-run it, and the game will swallow you whole. You will die, you will learn, you will adapt. Such is the way of Rogue Legacy – but it does it so well you can’t help but go back time and again for more.

My final statistics for my first play-through of Rogue Legacy.

It took me 95 characters; 95 playthroughs before I cracked it, and god knows I can’t wait to get back to it for more. There are still classes I’ve barely scratched the surface of, and I know that Rogue Legacy will rise to challenge me time and time again, presenting me with new challenges, bosses that are stronger than ever before, and a castle that will destroy me at every corner given half the chance.

When it boils down to it, though, my story at the start of this article is just one of potentially millions. I spent most of my play-through as the barbarian and hokage classes, but I could just as easily of been a mage, or an assassin, or a lich. All of these options are available, its just up to you to find which one does it for you.

After all, this isn’t an adventure into the unknown; this is a journey you will fight with countless ancestors behind you, until you finally slay that final boss in the name of every character that’s came before and failed. This is much more than just a fight to the end.

This is your Rogue Legacy.

Should I play this title?: Yes. Rogue Legacy is addictive, charming and timeless in the best possible way.
Most appealing quality?: The way it constantly drags you back in. I haven’t been able to put it down since I started.
My personal rating: 10/10. Some occasionally irritating bullet-hell-esque rooms are not enough to drag this gem down. Flawless.
Price at time of writing: You can pick Rogue Legacy up from Steam for £11.99/$18.38. Alternatively, you can pick it up direct from the developer’s website for £9.78/$15. UK citizens should be aware that banks may charge additional fees if American/Dollar transitions are made through their bank accounts.

Rogue Legacy is a roguelite action platformer by Cellar Door Games, available now for PC.

Thanks for reading this post! If you enjoyed it, remember you can bookmark this blog or follow me direct from a WordPress account. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter here for updates.

If you have any comments, post them below or get in touch via Twitter.

A Night in the Woods: Don’t Starve Review

Ahhh, the great outdoors. The fresh air, the picturesque sights; free of any noise and pollution, just me, myself and I, enjoying a singular moment with nature. Well, me and that pig in the house over there. Oh, and those bees that chased me off earlier… And… Did that tree just move? Oh dear.

Let me begin by saying that rather than hold your hand on a whimsical journey through the forest, Don’t Starve would rather rip said appendage off and leave you all alone, limbless, to fend for yourself. This game is brutal, and I mean brutal as in you’re dropped in the middle of a wood somewhere, with absolutely no equipment, no tutorial, no information as to what the hell is going on, and all you’re told is this: don’t starve.

If you like a tutorial with your games, something that tells you “push A to do this” or “mash Z to fire that”, I’m afraid Don’t Starve doesn’t really indulge in your desires. Outside of the small hints the game gives you with what components you need to build certain items, the game really does expect you to go at it on your own. This is absolutely fine if you’re the sort of person that is used to playing a game like this – I’m looking at you guys out there who start a game on the hardest difficulty with absolutely no assistance at all – but for the rest of us out there who like a little bit of a casual beginning, it can be a little bit daunting to find out you’re really not getting any help with this adventure of yours.

While we’re on the point of casual, maybe we should look at this in a little more detail. I don’t mind things being difficult (I can put my big boy pants on when I need to!) but sometimes a game gives you such little direction it verges on insanity. Let me share with you a moment from my first play-through – I had little clue what I was doing, but I figured I should probably gather some of the items from the nearby environment. This carried me so far – to my 3rd day, in fact. Surviving two nights, I felt relatively comfortable to stray a little further from what I had established as “base camp”. I stumbled upon a nest, with a rather pretty egg sitting inside it. The hoarder in me told me I must have it – and two minutes later I’d discovered why it sometimes wasn’t wise to take things that didn’t belong to me. Thus came my first in a long line of deaths, and in any given AAA title, picking up that egg may have resulted in you promptly to the “continue?” screen, but not so with Don’t Starve. You die, you lose everything. It is brutal. I feel I should keep reiterating that point.

This attractive lady introduced me to the harshness of Don’t Starve’s world.

One thing that Don’t Starve delivers in spades is subtlety. On my current play-through, I spent a good deal of time just wandering without any specific base, munching on anything I could find to stop myself from spiraling towards that inevitable fate of starvation. One of the things I had chosen to eat was a variety of mushrooms I’d found laying about – they were colorful, and they looked like they’d do my character a whole world of good. In fact, they healed me by an acceptable amount and helped to fend away the hunger that bit longer, plus it wasn’t like I could afford to be picky. It wasn’t until a few days in I realised my sanity was steeping towards the side of dire. It was only then I realised that the mushrooms, while restoring my HP, were slowly making me go crazy. In an absurdly intelligent manner, Don’t Starve teaches you a lot not only about the world Winston, the protagonist, inhabits, but also about the one we’re living in right now. Don’t always take things for face-value, it might wind up screwing you over at a later date.

For those unfamiliar with the premise of the game, while “don’t starve” is essentially the main goal of the game, you also have a HP bar and a sanity bar. Losing all of your health inevitably leads to your death, while your sanity bar draining means things begin to blur and you slowly steep further into insanity, to the point of hallucinating. Its a harrowing experience, but it makes the survival aspect of the game that much more brutal (you knew it was coming, folks).

The clock (very top), sanity bar (top), hunger bar (left) and HP bar (right) are really all that matters in the world of Don’t Starve.

One of the risks with a survival game like this is that fingers begin to get pointed – the comparisons to Minecraft, Terraria, and other games of a similar style begin to get thrown around ad nauseum. However, there’s something just that little bit special about Don’t Starve; its that special kind of strange and weird – the most beautiful kind. Pigs live in houses and you’re forced to live in the woods. There are nods to “people that have come before” dotted all around, such as skeletons, and regardless of how full the world actually is, you never really stop feeling helpless and abandoned. Its magical, really, in a twisted sort of way. Minecraft might have creepers and the occasional spider, but literally everything in this world is trying to kill you, and honestly, most of the time it doesn’t do a half bad job of it either.

Now I know at this stage you’re probably wondering if it really is as hard to survive in this game as everyone makes out – the answer is yes. One thousand times yes. The reason I’ve been using the word “brutal” religiously throughout this review is because it is the one word I can honestly think of that fits the world of Don’t Starve better than any other.

If you’ve gone into the game head first and don’t set up a basecamp soon? Well, you might last 5 days if you’re lucky. Got a little bit of knowledge after dying a few times, realised a fire pit is quite critical to survival? You might last 15. But the magnificent thing about Don’t Starve is that it doesn’t just throw one challenge at you and once you’ve overcome it, that’s endgame. Every time you think you’ve got it cracked, the game throws another curve ball your way. Its ruthless, but damn, is it fun. There’s a learning curve to the whole thing that just makes it an excellent experience, because dying doesn’t mean you’ve lost – it means you’ve learned more for the next time you play.

Yeah, even your own fires can bite you in the ass.

In a world of games that take you by the hand and lead you through every single tunnel-vision level they have in their repertoire, Don’t Starve is truly a breath of fresh air and isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. This is a game that exhumes so much ruthlessness and depth that it really is the first game I can say that dying is a learning process. You lose absolutely everything when you die, and although your physical possessions and progression are gone, the experience you’ve gained is not. In a word so desperate to end you, experience is really all you’ve got to keep you going, and y’know what? That’s beautiful, because the depth keeps you going with that experience constantly. Two hours into the game I managed to get my hands on the science machine, and really felt like I was beginning to get somewhere. Then the game dumps a set of new challenges on me, and I discover I’ve only really scratched the surface, even though it feels like I’ve been trying to survive forever.

I played Don’t Starve for a fair amount of time before dropping this review, and regardless of that I feel as though I’m doing it a disservice because I’m not really sure how much experience is really “enough”. The game rewards your efforts at survival with new characters, packed with their own traits that makes surviving that little bit more interesting, and every corner you turn around, there’s a new pitfall waiting for you.

In the end, I suppose everyone will have a different experience with Don’t Starve. Its a game that is relentless to the core, but rewards those who keep persevering regardless. From the first time I took an egg that didn’t belong to me, I realised this was a game that wasn’t going to take it easy on me – and that sometimes its rewarding to have your ass kicked.

Don’t Starve will eat you alive – and you’ll love every single minute of it.

Should I play this title?: Yes. Don’t Starve offers up a unique challenge and a depth I’ve not seen in video games in quite some time. Although if you’re not a fan of difficult games, it might not be for you.
Most appealing quality?: The feeling that you’re never anywhere close to finished. Nobody likes a game that’s over before its even begun. Don’t Starve will be rewarding time and time again.
My personal rating: 9/10. A cheeky 1 point knocked off because I feel the only thing that could make Don’t Starve potentially even more fun is co-op mode – two friends working together (or potentially fighting) for a stark lack of resources is an incredible opportunity that I unfortunately feel was missed here.
Price at time of writing: Don’t Starve is currently available at 20% off in the Steam sale for a reduced price of £9.59 – snatch it up while you can. Normal price is £11.99.

Don’t Starve is a survival adventure game by Klei Entertainment, available now on Windows, Linux and Mac.

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An Update In Regards to Game Review Layout

Hey guys, I hope you enjoy the Little Inferno review that’s just been posted up – you may have noticed at the end of the review I’ve included a new feature which basically allows me to sum up the review in a way that makes it much easier for you to decide whether or not the game is worthy of your time. (I’ve also added this feature in to my previous Thomas Was Alone review, so check that out too!)

Every review from now on will (hopefully) feature a segment the same or similar to what is displayed below;

“Should I play this title?:
Most appealing quality?:
My personal rating:
Price at time of writing:”

These four questions allow me to summarise, fairly easily, some of the most critical aspects of a game and hopefully give you guys a better idea of exactly what you’d be looking at should you decide to purchase this game for yourself. A few points;

  • The ‘should I play this title’ segment is both based off of my review and, consequently, my feelings having gone over it twice in my mind. Obviously being my opinion, this may differ to others but it is what I personally think my response would be to an average joe should they ask me.
  • The ‘price at time of writing’ field will most commonly feature the price of the game where it is “typically” associated with or derived from the most. For example, with Thomas Was Alone and Little Inferno, I included the price from Steam as this is the place most people will likely purchase it from and also the place I got my copies from.
  • If there are any sales/deals on games that I review around the time that I review them, I will try my best to include them in the review. Unfortunately I cannot keep my eye on games all the time, so don’t be surprised if four months after I write a review, a game goes on sale and I don’t highlight it.
  • Finally, these four questions are what feel should cover what you guys need to know about the game, but if there are any specific questions regarding the game you’d like answered, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as quick as possible. I’m also open to feedback on this particular section so if you feel something could be improved, let me know.

That’s all from me for now, but thank you for taking the time to read, and a late Happy Independence Day to some of my friends across the pond! I hope you had a great one.

Take care everyone, see you next time!

– FA.

From the Ashes: A Little Inferno Review

A fireplace, a wooden block, a letter from a mysterious stranger, and the ability to light things on fire with the click of your mouse. This is not the introduction of a game that wants you to do things by the book. Indeed, in Tomorrow Corporation’s 2012 puzzler Little Inferno, very little is as it seems.

If you looked up the word “quirky” in a video game dictionary, I’m almost certain that Little Inferno would be sat there next to it, all bug-eyed and vague. This puzzler doesn’t have any dots that need to be connected, or boxes that need to be moved; in all truthfulness its probably not even a “puzzler” at all – at least not in the sense most people would expect a puzzle game to be. No, in Little Inferno, fire is quite literally everything.

The story weaves itself throughout the game-play almost seamlessly and is a very curious take on an apocalyptic setting, set in a world where snow and frost are constant and cold weather has consumed everything. The Tomorrow Corporation (yup, the developers of the game are also the company in the game) have made quite a name for themselves with their “Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace”, which the inhabitants of the world of Little Inferno use to keep themselves warm from the harsh weathers outside. Again, this story is not something that is forcibly told to you as soon as you sit down to play the game, but rather is delivered incredibly eloquently through a series of letters.

These letters are sent to you from one of three main, defining sources. The first is Miss Nancy, the CEO of Tomorrow Corporation, who regularly messages you in regards to your fireplace and is about as close as Little Inferno comes to “a tutorial” of any form. Secondly is the player’s neighbour, a curious girl who also owns a fireplace named “Sugar Plumps”. Sugar Plumps regularly messages the player in regards to their fireplaces, and her bubbly, childish personality really helps to add some innocence to the world of Little Inferno. Finally, we have the weatherman, who “floats above the chimney-stacks” in a balloon, providing a regular weather forecast of the town below.

Sugar Plumps certainly adds a unique edge to the world of Little Inferno.

The main game-play elements, then, revolve around several “catalogs” containing items which the player can buy with in-game coins. The player then proceeds to burn these items, which in turn return more coins and so the game-play continues. While items can be bought and burned individually, there are also “combos” for combining specific items and burning them at the same time for a special surprise, and some of the combinations are quite genius in their design. For example, an early combo entitled “Movie Night” requires you to burn Corn on the Cob and a Television together at the same time – burning the corn causes it to turn into popcorn, and as such, movie night is born! There are a total 99 of these combos scattered throughout the game’s seven available catalogs, and while finding all of them isn’t critical to finishing the game, it adds an extra kick for completionists like myself.

This is the beautiful mirage that Little Inferno paints for itself; I went in paying for this game with the thought that I was buying a puzzle game with a story about burning objects – I had no idea what really awaited me. The first catalog leads you through a selection of objects that are cheap and easy to burn through, and before you know it you’re burning things in rapid succession, and slowly unlocking new catalogs…

Oh… What’s this? A cat you can set on fire… And people dolls that act just like normal people…

Then this happens:

Indeed, as the game drags on longer and longer, certain mysterious things begin to pop out at you. Some of the things you can purchase to burn just jump out as slightly odd – and without ruining too much, there are one or two plot twists that certainly turn the story right on its head. Little Inferno takes what should be a puzzle game with an interesting mechanic, and mixes it with mystery and a slight horror/thriller theme at times to really create a game that sits apart from its peers in the puzzle word. The art style is beautiful also, and really lends itself to the overall theme of the game, while the audio is subtle and delicate, only present when its ever really needed.

If it feels like I’m leading up to a big “but” though, I’m afraid I am. Do not get me wrong, the story, art-style and just general overall feel of Little Inferno made me love it – for a few hours. Unfortunately, just like watching a real fire slowly burn everything to a cinders, the allure and mystique can only grasp you for so long, and before long the monotony of the grind begins to set in. Its something that can plague the best of puzzle games – too much of the same mechanic and things just begin to drag.

What starts out as a journey to try and combine as many items as possible while occasionally receiving a letter from a friend soon becomes a monotonous task of “buy X and Y and Z and just hope something comes from it when you burn them”, and if you’re like me, doing that until you reach all 99 combos kinda takes the biscuit. Unfortunately, the mechanic doesn’t do a lot to draw the length of the game out, either. I sat down and played Little Inferno for two sittings, and finished the entire game (with all 99 combos) in five hours. A neat little twist at the end helps to keep things interesting for the latter half, but really, it does feel like a bit of a one-hit wonder.

Cramming the fireplace with as much as you can and then lighting it all to try and grab combos becomes more common than it should have to be towards the end.

What we’re left with, then, is a puzzler with a gimmick; a very clever gimmick that provides some good entertainment, mind you, but a gimmick none-the-less. The story holds strong for the entirety of the game, although I do feel at times there were pretty large gaps to pad the game out to be a little bit longer. Overall though, Little Inferno provides just enough for it to be a worthwhile purchase to those puzzle game fans out there looking for something a bit different to the ‘norm’.

Tomorrow Corporation warns you at the start of the game to never play with fire; but just this once, I think we can let it slide.

Should I play this title?: Possibly. If you’re a fan of puzzle games, I’d recommend giving LI a try, but if you find you get bored easy with monotonous tasks, this one might not be for you.
Most appealing quality?: The story is something a little bit different, and very quirky. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.
My personal rating: 7/10. A nice little game, worthy of playing if you can get over the occasional monotonous grind of simply burning everything. Let down by its short length and somewhat high selling price.
Price at time of writing: £6.99 [Steam]. Relatively expensive for what the game offers; try to pick it up in a Steam sale or somewhere else for a little cheaper.

Little Inferno is a puzzle game available now on PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U and iOS.

As always, thanks a lot for reading guys – your likes, shares and comments are always appreciated. See you soon!

– FA.

[Source: IGN – Little Inferno First Cutscene/Trailer]

Cubes Are A Man’s Best Friend; Thomas Was Alone Review

When I set my controller down after a play-through of Valve’s massively successful Portal 2 sometime in the summer of 2012, it bemused (and to an extent, amazed) me that so much story could be packed into a box. A box has no emotion. No feeling. No place in the realms of “story”, and yet, incredibly, Valve had got me. The box I refer to, of course, is the infamous Companion Cube. A square with a love-heart that doesn’t have a single line of text or audio throughout the Portal series, and yet incredibly manages to be one of the most successful icons in gaming today.

Simplistic yet powerful when incorporated into the story of the Portal series.

I’d like to begin this piece by saying that I’ve played many games that can claim to have far more “developed” characters than what a cube may be considered to be. Take Infinity Ward’s latest effort, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, as an example; a game that featured some of my favourite characters of any FPS I’ve played, and they still couldn’t manage to hold a torch to a singular cube.

Its with some level of disbelief, then, that when I sat down to play Mike Bithell’s 2012 game Thomas Was Alone a few weeks ago, that I found myself engrossed in a story based solely off the journeys of not one, but an entire group of cubes.

Beginning life as a Flash game in 2010, Thomas Was Alone is a story based upon a computer mainframe. Within this mainframe, the AI, or artificial intelligence, has gone on the fritz, and given life and personality to multiple cuboids. What follows is a platforming adventure quite unlike any other. Centered around the antagonist (I never thought I’d be calling a cube that) “Thomas”, each cube has their own powers that make them unique. For example, Thomas is a relatively average cube that can jump a medium height, but cannot fit through gaps that the smaller cube “Chris” is capable of fitting through. However, Chris is only able to jump half the height of Thomas, and requires Thomas’ help throughout the game to help him reach higher ledges. “John”, by comparison, is a tall, yellow rectangle that is able to jump much higher than Chris or Thomas, but is incapable of fitting through most gaps the game presents him with.

Some of the characters from Thomas Was Alone. That’s right, I said some.

Stick with me; I know this is sounding bizarre.

So I know by now you’re thinking “Hang on Avenged, these are just cubes that jump around platforms. How on earth can there be any sort of personality behind that?”, and without the expert narration of comedian Danny Wallace, I’m almost certain that Thomas Was Alone would be half the game it turned out to be. The mechanics are fine, the game-play is great, even the background ambiance is perfectly okay; in-fact nothing in Thomas Was Alone is particularly bad, but its Danny Wallace’s amazing voice acting that bring the characters to life. Chris is no longer a stumpy red cube, but is instead a know-it-all that believes Thomas is a big-head. Later in the game you meet a character named “Claire”, who, at first sight is simply a large, blue square. You soon learn however, that Claire is capable of moving through water – something the other cubes cannot. This brings a whole new edge to Claire as a character, as she believes herself to be a superhero, able to save her fellow cubes from the perils of the water by ferrying them across.

Claire in all her glory.

What turns Thomas Was Alone from your typical 2D platformer to a true work of art, then, isn’t the art style. It isn’t the audio direction. In honesty, even the game-play, while addictive and interesting, isn’t really anything we’ve not seen before. It is the characters, and the bonds you will inevitably form with them throughout your adventure (and you will, trust me) that truly creates an unforgettable experience. Whether its listening to the inner workings of Chris as he valiantly tries to look better than “that guy” Thomas to impress a fellow cube, or watching Claire chime away as she ferries her fellow cubes from point-to-point, gloating mindlessly to herself, it is this aspect that truly allows Thomas Was Alone to transcend its peers and become a platformer that deserves to be experienced by players of all ages.

They say that big things come in small packages, or in this case, a band of unlikely cubes. It may not have grandeur landscapes or a soaring soundtrack, but when you’ve got charm and grace by the bucket-load, is all that really necessary? Take the time to welcome a few more cubes into your life, and you never know; they may just become your companions too.

Should I play this title?: Yes.
Most appealing quality?: The characters are memorable and incredibly well filled-out.
My personal rating: 10/10. A flawless platforming game while it lasts.
Price at time of writing: £5.99 [Steam]. Worth every penny, although I have seen it for cheaper.

Thomas Was Alone is a 2D Platforming game that is available now on PC, Mac, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.

All content is used with the consent of Mike Bithell.