Distraint: Pocket Pixel Horror

   DISTRAINT: Pocket Pixel Horror- screenshot

Distraint is a pixel 2D sidescrolling horror game by Jesse Makkonen. It’s quite an achievement of a game to have been made in just 3 months, and it’s also rather trippy in parts – which in this case works in its favor.

Before I get on to the actual review, I should specify: I played Distraint on mobile, but I know it’s also available on Steam. Not having the steam version, I’m not sure if there are any big differences between the two except for the free android version having ads. The ads were unobtrusive enough, but they were unskippable little videos, so they were a bit annoying in that sense. I only encountered them when reloading the game, though, so it wasn’t a big issue.

If there are any other differences, well, just keep in mind I’ll be reviewing the android version.

With that out of the way, let’s start: Distraint is a pretty minimalist looking horror game. The interface is kept nice and simple on the android version. Two arrows and three comfortable buttons (one for action, one for inventory and one for the menu) are located at the bottom. Since it’s a side-scroller, that was a very comfortable way of handling moving about the map.

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I first went into it. The visual of the game, to me personally, was both appealing and unappealing; I wasn’t overly fond of the sprite design, however, their quirky looks gave a new level of creepiness to the story that I didn’t expect. The backgrounds and settings, were beautifully done and most eerie to travel through, making the experience a pleasure.

The story revolves around Price, who guided by greed, seizes various properties from some people in order to gain partnership on the company he works for, a company led already by three very creepy, very shady guys. Along the way guilt and remorse eat away at him and he begins tripping all throughout. Or so it would seem. The game has very weird, very out of the blue moments, but unlike other horror games of the type I’ve reviewed, in this one it actually works in its favor. The very few jump scares (more like startle-scares) were mostly predictable, but not obnoxiously in your face, and also lend themselves to an eerier gameplay rather than just being there for a cheap scare.

Cover art

Which leads me to the sound, as some of these scares were things like a ringing phone. The sound, music and ambiance wise, was wonderful. The creepy music played throughout was perfect for the game, for the weirdness of it, there were, however, a few sounds that looped annoyingly or that were too loud for my taste compared to others.

But looks, story and sound all formed the perfect little creepy vibe to keep you on your toes the entire time, while still touching on your emotions, and truly making you care for at least the main character and the first two people he evicted. The third one… not so much. Even the very few “timed” events that were around were perfectly easy to complete without ripping your hair out… which leads me to the puzzles. The puzzles were simple but fantastic – perfect for a casual player, but perhaps it won’t cut it in that aspect for people who want a bit more difficulty. There is, however, a decent amount of backtracking and the damn character will not run. That is usually one of my major complaints on horror games that involve puzzles that send you backtracking through maps and maps: a lack of the ability to RUN.

You make me sad, developers. You make me sad.

Other than that, the game is fantastic. A true horror game indeed, which relies not only on the cheap scares but on some actual psychological aspects and on a great ambient. The ending is heart-touching, and I completely loved my play-through of it.

Definitely recommended if you’re into horror!

4.5/5

Advertisements

Hide and Seek: Story of Dorothy

   HideAndSeek[Story of Dorothy]- screenshot

Hide and Seek: Story of Dorothy by TabomSoft is a little horror puzzle/RPG for android. Except for the obvious backtracking required in it (like in most puzzle games, really), the game is fairly short (10 to 15 minutes per floor if you know what to do, with 5 floors and then some extra backtracking), which is not bad considering that it’s currently free (if you play it with ads).

You play Dorothy, a little girl who fell asleep in the closet while playing Hide and Seek, and now seems to have forgotten why she was there to begin with. A weird premise to be sure, but it’s a quick horror game for mobile, so I decided I’d try not to be as judge-y of it.

I, of course, promptly failed.

Despite its two endings, a lot of things don’t make sense in the story to me. Yeah, yeah, I hear those of you who liked it: “You like to be spoon fed the story.” Nope, I like stories to be clear. I guess you can interpret things a couple ways, if you’re into that; to me most of those ‘open’ stories (if it’s what it was intended to be) seem more like just writer laziness.

All the same, the story is not bad in the terms of horror games, even if it does get a bit challenged by the poor translation at certain parts throughout it.

But let’s forget about the story for now, we’re here to be scared, right?

The game has that pixel-RPG vibe of RPG Maker games. I’m not familiar enough with the horror assets of it, but I did quite like the art, sprites and the tiles used throughout. Dorothy was pretty adorable. Ambiance wise, the game took you from normal to eerie to black and white badness as you progress through the floors, and it did gave it all a bit of a gloomy, eerie feeling, so thumbs up for that.

Moving through the game is easy-peasy; you have the four movement buttons to the left and two buttons to the right (action and inventory). You interact with objects by walking up to them and pressing action, making text choices, and using items from your inventory.

The puzzles weren’t horribly difficult, but again, one or two included reading and you needed to do some slight extra job figuring out what the translation had meant. It wasn’t the worst translated game I’ve encountered, however, so it was still mostly understandable. There are more than a few timed scenes (chase scenes) which, if you know me and timed events, you will know I didn’t like them at all. Not only were they cheap tricks to get your heart pumping without using actual horror, but the monsters looked ridiculous.

   HideAndSeek[Story of Dorothy]- screenshot

The game has a gimmicky mobile item: hearts, which you lose every time you die, and you unfortunately lose hearts often because it has even some traps throughout. You replentish times every so many minutes of gameplay though, so no big deal. There are also clocks, I assume they grant you more time during chase scenes, but I didn’t try them, so I wouldn’t know.

You save on grandfather clocks which are placed rather generously through the game, a much appreciated feature considering it’s, as I mentioned, scattered with traps. I couldn’t decide if I liked these or not. They were quite interesting, though frustrating, and once you knew they existed they were rather easy to spot if you were paying attention. But the first couple felt like just cheap tricks to piss you off, so I was a bit torn.

There are various characters through the game, however, except for three of them (and then “mom” and “dad”) they didn’t bother to name any, and they are all called A, B and C. It was kind of a lazy move.

There were some problems with it though, with the save games disappearing, so save often and in more than one spot, just in case.

As for the ads, they were rather bothersome. I had some at the top which I was able to easily ignore after some playing, but the ones popping up when you lose or try to hit to go back are just cumbersome, so watch out for them.

All in all, I rather liked the game for the looks of it, but the unclear story and the gimmicky chases and silly monsters knocked a few stars out of it for me.

Is it scary? Meh. Skulls are scary… right? No?

Would I recommend it? I think you’d have fun if you’re into quick horror games, but if you like a horror game with substance, look elsewhere.

2.5/5

SIM – Sara is Missing

   SIM - Sara Is Missing- screenshot

Sara is Missing (SIM) is a horror sim game for android (which can also be played in PC and Mac). I have to give the developers kudos for their originality: the entirety of the game is played through a phone interface, making you able to get a bit more into the story. Advisable to play it at night, of course, to be fully into it. Sadly it happened to be daytime when I played it, so it wasn’t –quite- as horrific and immersive.

The premise of the story is simple: You’ve found Sara’s phone, and the AI in it requests you help find and return the phone to her. To achieve this you must go through her phone – photos, emails, texts, videos, etc – and make various choices along the way, as well as interact with people she knows (and those she doesn’t, too).

The game’s graphical interface is pretty good: the graphics are well designed and truly make you feel like you’re in a phone OS, the use of your own phone back button makes it easier for you to feel like you’re really on her phone and not yours, the videos and images and sounds are pretty spot on and make it seem like a phone from a real person as well. What I’m not so happy about is the AI, though I suppose you need someone guiding you through.

At set times through the game you will be allowed to interact with people. Sometimes ‘real’ people, sometimes just the AI, and you can choose from 2-4 choices throughout. Unfortunately, as with most choice type games, I found the choices way too limiting. Sometimes your choices would just be three different ways to ask what was going on, instead of saying something different, and that’s not really much of a choice unless you’re also adding a personality engine to your game.

These limited options were just there to guide you in the one single direction, and the only real divergence was whether you accepted something or not (and sometimes not accepting wasn’t a choice if you expected to continue with the game), and the fates of a few and ending you got from a few poor choices.

There was another part I didn’t much enjoy, I don’t want to spoil much, but you are asked to make a choice between two people (it’s a fairly typical horror after all), however, because at first it phrases it one way, and then rather than offer you the actual option it goes on babbling and phrases it another way, if you fail to read through the inane babbling after when you just want to make the darn choice already, you might end up making the wrong choice. As I did. Which just pissed me off.

SIM is original and immersive in the technical aspects, but the story was rather lame. I could not really find the curiosity or desire to help find Sara with the limited content (or just because some AI asked me to, instead of maybe say… her mother texting me, or friend, or someone actually invested in her well-being), and I certainly didn’t care to pick for many of the choices that came after since I hardly got to interact with any of the people she knew, so I had no attachment to their well-being. Which in turn made the whole game a bit pointless since you’re probably supposed to want to find and help people…

The inability to interact with whomever I wanted whenever I wanted was kind of annoying too, having to wait for prompts to interact with others was boring, and this is why I end up giving this one such a low rating despite its originality.

2.5/5

Burn Your Fat With Me: Virtual Love, Real Fitness (for Girls)

   Burn Your Fat With Me! FG- screenshot

Because what motivates every girl to lose weight is, apparently, fat-shaming! (Hint: Not really.)

Burn Your Fat With Me is an Android and iOS app created by Creative Freaks, a Japanese gamification company with clearly zero girls testing their “for Girls” apps.

Known as, and hereon addressed as BYFWM for short, this game is basically an Otome Visual Novel that is supposed to encourage you to work out so you can shake off those love handles and get fit. Does it accomplish that, though? And does it work as a visual novel on the side?

Well…

When I saw this on the app store I figured, why not? I want to get fit, I like visual novels, how bad can it be? It seems to be pretty popular in Japan, there must be a reason why.

And it’s not that bad, but it’s also not good. I’d call it more of a great idea with rather poor execution as far as choice of wording went, because fat shaming, my dears, does not work for everyone and should NOT be used as a way to get you to lose weight.

The story isn’t great – you’re basically going through various guys that are “dream guys” that you will eventually need to make choices on to end up dating one. And yet, while they’re cute and dreamy, they’re also totally insulting towards you.

I’m not even kidding. The first character greets you with a very friendly (this is sarcasm, if it doesn’t register) call of “fattie” and shames you into losing weight. Huh? Wait, was this supposed to motivate me or make me want to slap someone?

Creative Freaks call this “moétivation.” (Because they’re “moe” and “motivating”, get it?) I call it “you call me fat once more you gonna regret it.”

Other than the poor choice of dialog and manner of approach to weight loss, the game isn’t bad. It’s a typical Otome VN, with typical options and a poor storyline – which no one cares because you’re there for the dating aspect of.

Adding the fitness aspect, the story guides you through either a certain amount of sit ups, squats or push-ups (in real life, too), or a certain amount of them in a set amount of time. Unfortunately, this is terribly easy to cheat on because all you have to do to make it count is tap the screen. Each tap corresponds to one full action (so, one full sit up, or squat), and the only cheat-prevention they have is a notice for you not to cheat because “you’re tapping too fast.”

You can’t advance chapters if you don’t meant a certain amount of these actions; this forces you to go into “practice” mode, where you can pick if you want time limits or not and, as long as you’ve unlocked it, which type of exercise you want to do. This gives you points (although in my experience so far it’s a weird way of counting them, as not all count all the time) which in turn unlock the new chapters. I suppose this is the part that makes you motivated, except you could just as well sit there and tap the screen doing nothing if you were really motivated for the story but not for the fitness.

I somehow don’t think that’s what they were going for, though. 😉 Meanwhile, you’ll still get insulted by the jerks- I mean, characters, regardless.

Onto the technical parts: the graphics are super lovely, the guys are indeed pretty cute when they’re not opening their mouths to insult you, and the voices are professional and so, so nice. You can choose between English and Japanese, and, of course (as with many other free apps), you can purchase additional voice packs and outfits for the characters to wear.

Now, I reviewed the app for girls because that is the one I downloaded (you know, me being a girl and all), but they have an app “for guys”, too (just look for BYFWM without the “for girls”), in which you can date girls. While I haven’t downloaded it, I have seen some of it and the app actually seems a lot nicer and encouraging for the guys. Hmmm. I wonder why (this is also sarcasm).

Overall, I really liked the idea of the game and the way it worked, and was ready to give it a high score even though the cheat prevention was quite weak. What really makes it lose lots of stars is the approach to weight loss via shaming, because that, Creative Freaks, is how eating disorders are born.

Recommended only if berating and shaming are encouraging to you rather than triggering, otherwise steer clear.

Fallout Shelter

The mobile game Fallout Shelter is now free on PC as well, and being the fan of the series that I am, I decided to give it a try. Now, as a disclaimer: I love the series, but I’m not a diehard fan, which means I don’t know each and every detail about it, and thus I won’t be commenting or comparing anything story wise (not that there is much story) nor between games.

“That said, Fallout Shelter is not an RPG but a casual game, and as such, you’ll find little to no story here beyond following the setting of the rest of the franchise: Post-apocalyptic, vaults, raiders, and surviving (in the vault)”

The game is pretty basic rooms/survival when it comes to mobile and strategy/building games. You are the Overseer for a vault number of your choice, and your job is to ensure the vault runs smoothly and he survivors that arrive thrive, and expand the shelter for more of them. For this, you need to make sure they have three basic resources: power, food, and water. You have various rooms you can build, each bumping up different things.

“Placing key dwellers with special skill sets in specific rooms is the key to success”

Some will give one of those three things, others will attract new survivors, others will bump up storage or train your dweller’s SPECIAL skills – which yes, they do exist here, and they do have some purpose

Each room requires a particular SPECIAL skill, and the better you place your dwellers (the one with the highest SPECIAL in the matching room for it), the better the room will perform.

“You can upgrade or destroy rooms, put them together, drag dwellers between rooms, and you can even use the bedrooms to make dwellers procreate”

Rooms can also be ‘rushed’ for the resources, but there is a chance you might fail, and failure means one of the random failure scenarios will occur: fire, rad roaches, raider attacks, etc… these also may happen at random during gameplay. The more you expand and the higher level your dwellers are, the more chances of such things happening.

“You can send your dwellers out for quests and loot, and there is a (very high) chance they might die out in the open if you don’t equip them properly”

You have pets, weapons, clothes that you can equip everyone with, and items you can take apart for parts to craft weapons. There are caps, of course, earned by rushing rooms successfully, completing quests or game goals/objectives, exploring, and leveling dwellers. You can upgrade rooms to better their performance time.

“The better you handle things, the happier your dwellers will be in the vault”

All in all, for a casual game, it has quite a bit of attention to extras and depth, but like most casual games –even the ones that do have some- it’s lacking in story. I do think fallout Shelter will please people who are into a bit of strategy, as room placement and dweller placement is very important.

“As far as interaction with dwellers go, other than drag them around, you have little control over them”

Even putting a man and woman in the same room does not always guarantee they will get along enough to procreate. They do have little speech bubbles when you zoom in which are cute and funny, but also heavily repetitive. They do, however, let you know the status of how your expected couple is going – if things are going well or not.

“As far as graphics went, I loved it!”

The animations were cute, the characters were as expected, the rooms were surprisingly 2.5D, and the detail of what you saw changing when you move the map around was extra sweet. Sounds, music, effects, it was all awesome as expected.

“That said, fallout Shelter has all the obvious downsides of casual mobile games…”

Being a port, I found clicking and dragging dwellers to be a bit hit and miss. Often after quickly switching between dwellers in a room one would get stuck and I would be unable to pick them back up without reloading the save.

“The game still offers in-game purchases for boosts and caps. This isn’t game breaking as you can still play normally without purchasing anything. But you’d think Bethesda of all people could afford to make the entire game free”

On that same note, sometimes I would try to drag the map and end up accidentally picking someone up, as both left and right click serve to do the same things, apparently. This made it particularly annoying if I didn’t notice in time and accidentally ended up switching someone… more so if that someone happened to get stuck right after.

“Accessing the help was annoying as it required browsing through it by clicking and dragging”

The wait time to get things done, when playing on PC, is annoying. I’m not going to be opening and closing a game every three hours because I have absolutely nothing else to do while waiting for children to grow up or a birth to happen in order to keep playing. I’m also not going to leave it open in the background- particularly as, for a casual game, Fallout Shelter slowed down my pc as it had so many animations going at once, and on top of that, required none other than Bethesda’s own launcher to be installed and running at the same time.

This is particularly annoying as even if I were to leave the game and come back, I still feel like I’ve not advanced any and I mainly just come back to re-assign people and then leave it again. It’s not something I find overly encouraging to keep coming back to.

“The game also has as requirement that your system be 64bits. Beats me as to why, but if you’re still not on it, then tough cookies”

And the worst of it all, which made me bump down one whole star, and which I’ve already briefly mentioned and is amusingly enough not related to it being a port: they force you to install and use their own launcher. Why. Just WHY? How many launchers should a person have installed because you all want to be “unique”? You don’t attract people to your platform by forcing them to install launchers. You attract them by making GREAT games.

That said, it is a great game with a lot of depth for a casual build and survive game, and whether you’re a fan of the franchise or not you are sure to like it, but it’s still not something I think I will be coming back to too often.

Castaway Paradise

 

Data
Break Up
Game: Castaway Paradise
Genre: Adventure, Casual, Indie, RPG, Simulation
Developer: Stolen Couch Games
Publisher: Stolen Couch Games
Release Date: May 19, 2015
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  6/10
Graphics: 5/10
Controls: 6/10
Level/Puzzle Design: N/A
Sound: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Replay Value: 2/10
Community: N/A

 

Review

Castaway Paradise is sold as an RPG, but really, the only RPG element I see in it is the questing. I would compare it more closely with a social game or even a mobile game than any actual RPG. There’s no enemies, and no story beyond “You’ve washed up on the shore of this island and now you can help the people rebuild and make it your own home”.

The menu is lacking in the same way mobile and social games are, there’s no sliders for volume, just mute or unmute things, no windowed mode options, though alt+enter provides you a window the exact same size your resolution.

Starting the game, the music was decent, but repetitive. What sound effects there are are also rather typical of the kind of game. I also wasn’t completely sold on the graphical aspect of the characters, which is an undecidedly blocky 3D version of animals/humans, but I did like the aspect of the island/items/everything that wasn’t characters and clothes. The clothes designs were cute, but I still didn’t like the characters shape, which really ruined the looks of the otherwise cute designs.

On Castaway Paradise you can take quests from the villagers, farm crops, catch fish and bugs, shake trees, plant trees and flowers, cut trees, pick up weeds and trash to clean up the place, dust off cobwebs, upgrade buildings a couple times and decorate the island and your home, and then some I probably forget. There’s also a bank that will allow you to earn some extra money for using it, as well as a mini stocks market that’s not really too difficult to use at all. You can also unlock new spots to visit on the island, which isn’t overly large to begin with.
It’s all rather nice, and I appreciate that it has something more to do than just plant crops or just do quests, but it doesn’t feel terribly fulfilling until you start decorating the island and your house.

The crops and things you plant have a timer on them, as with all social games, which means you can’t play when ‘you’ want but have to wait around until the game decides the crops are ready.
Some of the tools have a ‘stamina’ meter, a certain amount of times you can use it per x time, that refills overtime. This goes away when you reach level 15 and become “VIP”, which was their way of removing the need for micro transactions. This also unlocks more shop items, cheaper items (“discount”) in the shop, etc.

The game does have something kind of addictive to it, and I did enjoy my playthrough, which is why I recommend it, but despite it, it ends up being boring and, at the risk of sounding redundant, repetitive. Why? Well…

Starting by the fact that the quests are all the same: plant x of this, pick y of that, take this to z, talk to w; rinse and repeat as there’s only so many characters. The rewards they give (xp, sometimes items and pieces to unlock new areas of the island, and gems/money) are not really worth the time. The money you make from them sometimes ends up being more than what you need for the quest – for instance: Decorate the island, where you have to place two chairs that are worth three times as much as the reward. Granted, you can pick up and resell if you only want to finish the quest, but you only get part of the money back.
The quests can also not be cancelled, at least not that I’ve seen, thus you’re stuck with either gathering enough money to buy the things they want you to get so you can finish the quest (or waiting however many hours for crops when you want to play NOW), or gathering enough money to pay off to “fast finish” the quest, which is also kind of expensive. Since you can’t really preview and accept or reject the quests, and since you can only have 3 going at a time, it gets really boring.

Planting and selling crops also doesn’t shield much money when you take into account some of the crops take 11+ real time hours to be ready… on stage 1. Some have more than 1 stage, though you can choose to pick them while they’re smaller rather than let them grow to its fullest.

Meanwhile, upgrading the buildings and purchasing things is quite pricey in comparison. It’s not impossible, but it’s kind of annoying. In the long term, it almost seems more worth it to stand by the stocks and wait for them than wait for crops and do quests, and neither turns out being overly fun after the first few rounds. Even catching bugs or fishing, which are the most interesting aspect, get tiresome.

There is a little annoying ‘bug’ that if I try for my character to go somewhere else while it’s running an animation, it will get “stuck” in that direction and when it stops doing the animation it will walk the way he was looking instead of the way I’m telling it to, but it’s hardly game breaking. I do, however, wish you could stack things to do (so do this, then water crops, then come over here kind of thing).

On the upside, the game has some free DLCs that add a bit of (shop) content, and they also run events. They have leaderboards for the collectables/bugs/fish you catch, and it is kind of a cute game, all things considered, but it is the kind of game you go onto for an hour or two and then get tired with.

Recommended: Yes if you like social games and don’t mind it being terribly repetitive after the first few quests (which I guess you don’t, if you like social games ;) ).