Never Alone – Kisima Ingitchuna

Data Break Up
Game: Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Platformer
Developer: Upper One Games, E-Line Media
Publisher: E-Line Media
Release Date: Nov 18, 2014
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Controls: 7/10
Level/Puzzle Design: 6/10
Sound: 9/10
Story: 9/10
Replay Value: 6/10
Community: N/A

Never Alone is an action-adventure puzzle platformer in 2.5D that will take you through a wonderful folk story told by the Iñupiat (Alaska Natives) through the ages. While I’m not familiar with the story itself, so I can’t speak for how close it is to the original or how well adapted it was, I can say it is (at least in so far as I played it) definitely a very beautiful story, with gorgeous graphics and sound effects/music to match.

Visually, the game is striking. Playing it… it leaves a lot to be desired.

In Never Alone you switch between two characters: a young girl named Nuna and an Arctic Fox, who go in search of the source of a neverending blizzard in order to stop it and save her people. The puzzles are fairly average, and the controls for the game aren’t what I would call the most comfortable ever but they are also not too bad (WASD, space, and a couple other keys)… when they work. For you see, as beautiful as the game is, the performance leaves a lot to be desired.

It took 4 levels of menu to reach the detailed video settings, and even at its lowest, it performed poorly on my computer. This is rather undesirable, particularly when your introduction to the game involves being chased by a polar bear who likes to glitch back and forth when performance falls, and having to jump lots. Failure to run from it or jump properly results in your death and having to begin from the last checkpoint. Or, you know, glitching the game and running as an invisible form until you reach the fox and then running on and on and having to restart yourself because that’s clearly getting you nowhere…

The game does have many glitches and annoyances. Walls are sometimes impossible to jump onto, the camera can become uncomfortable, the fox can become a little bit unhelpful, you may fall forever from the map, and you will die because of all of these… a lot. It’s one of those games that when it works, it’s a wonder to play for the story and visuals, but when it doesn’t you just want to flip a table and never touch it again.

Never Alone Kisima Ingitchuna Review

If you manage to get through the entire eight chapters, you will be rewarded by unlocking the entirety of a documentary on the Iñupiat. What little I managed to unlock of it looked both interesting and very well done, but as beautiful as the game was, the annoyances were much greater than my desire to watch the documentary.

All in all, for the story, looks and sounds, and the documentary, as well as the obvious interest in making more people aware of the Iñupiat, I would like to rate this game higher; but the amount of times low performance and glitches caused my death ended up bumping it down quite a bit. If you have a low specs PC I would definitely not recommend you try it. If you have a decent PC you may still get some glitches, but if you’re interested in the story, it might be worth seeing if it works.

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DreadOut

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title DreadOut
Platform: PC
Developer: Digital Happiness
Genre: Survival Horror / Action / Puzzler

DreadOut is a third-person Puzzle/Survival Horror game by Digital Happiness. In it you take on the role of Indonesian teenager Linda, who was on a school trip when not-so-suddenly her group becomes trapped in an old, creepy, abandoned town.

Sounds familiar? Surely it’s the starting point of many a game, but the kind of horror DreadOut brings out is one of my favorites. You see, here you’re not hiding from invincible monsters, you’re not running away, and you’re not (really) fighting the ghosts (technically speaking). If you’ve ever played Fatal Frame, you’ll be quite familiar with the play style and ambiance of DreadOut, for Linda is armed only with a camera, and that is all she has to fight off the apparitions and, yes, solve puzzles.

DreadOut is comprised of three different acts (0, 1 and 2), each a bit different than the previous one – act 0 serving as a sort of glimpse as to what to expect, Act 1 setting the pacing, and Act 2 completely changing the pacing you’d gotten used to; all acts follow the same storyline; and while in essence the story might not be out of this world in originality (despite the twists and turns taken and the stories within stories), and while the ghost design might not be anything too different (even if they’re unique to Indonesian lore), the game gets plenty of cookie points for being in a different setting and full of ghost (and thus, cultural) lore.

Controls in the game are fairly simple: You run (stamina dictates you need a break every so often), you walk, you interact with doors and objects, pick items up, and use your phone’s camera to snap photos, solve puzzles, and defeat ghosts. And also to illuminate really dark areas, too. Linda has a ‘sense’ which helps her find all these things, when a blue vignette appears you’re near a puzzle, item or secret, while if it’s red, it means there’s an enemy near.

Although the graphics and textures are a tad dated and will not give an AAA game a run for its money, they’re still fairly decent, and the characters are attractive enough to look at that you won’t be put off by their faces every time they turn around. Despite this, the general ambience is quite good, and succeeds in making you forget that it’s a game and giving you that creepy feeling every survival-horror abandoned town and building should have. The voice overs are pretty good too, something I was pleasantly surprised with. The music is really good – it’s not always creepy, but it’s still good, and in the parts where it is creepy, it succeeds at it. The game also makes use of silence and sound bites to make you on edge, like playing soft, creepy laughter or crying when you least expect it, managing to create something that truly has you on the edge of your seat.

This is the kind of horror I like, the type that’s more psychological and situational than just jump scares and loud noises, and while DreadOut does have a few jump scares, they’re not quite as obnoxious as the ones utilized in most horror games.

If you’ve never played Fatal frame before, this is how the “fighting” aspect works: All “fighting” is done through the camera. You point it at the evil spirit and snap a few shots, which damages it, and it eventually disappears (unless it’s invincible… then it’ll just leave you alone for a little while). DreadOut has added to this where you don’t just have to snap, but some of the tougher spirits actually have specific weak spots for you to find. I do love this style of gameplay, but I found the ghosts to be a little less scary than the ambiance of the place, and a bit more annoying. It seemed like it took too many shots just to get rid of one simple ghost, so once the initial scare wore off, defeating them was more of a chore. The slightly cramped spaces also made for tricky fights sometimes, becoming particularly annoying during boss fights, making it hard to find their weak spots. At least in Fatal frame when they rushed at you, you had a last-chance shot that made more damage than the others, and a bit more time to run around and find a comfortable spot to snap from. Not so much in DreadOut, where there’s no last-chance shot and less space to run around before the ghost charges at you again. This might work for a more hardcore gamer, for me it didn’t work quite so well.
I feel like the potential in these type of camera-only games isn’t on the fights themselves, and thus they should be easy enough the get past without infuriating you, which doesn’t mean they can’t require some kind of tactics. This, more than anything, is what made it less enjoyable for me than I had anticipated.

I will say, however, that every fight was different from the last, so the originality put on it was really nice to see. When you die in DreadOut you don’t fail. It’s not game over and start over… when you die you enter “limbo”; a dark area with a light ahead of you. You run towards the light, and start back at the spot you were at. Usually with the ghost right besides you, and barely enough time to get your bearings between the animation and lifting the camera before it charges. This is both a cool concept and kind of annoying, as every time you die the length you have to run to reach the light is longer. You can make the length you have to run fixed in settings, though, which I took advantage of.

The puzzles are rather difficult. Sometimes it takes a lot of random snapping of photos and pondering to figure out what to do… which is actually rather good, except when there’s ghosts around making you nervous. Sometimes they were a little too puzzling though, where I would find the blue vignette and walk around and snap shots at everything in the hopes something would yield a result, and couldn’t find what it wanted me to do at all.

If there was one big thing I didn’t like about this game, I would have to say it was the lack of a save-when-you-want feature. The game auto-saves at several parts and does so as well when you exit, which is wonderful and useful for the average gamer, but -and while I appreciate such things- I would also have liked to save at a point I decide without having to leave my game to do so. I also found the save on exit not working all the time, as twice I had to re-do a (short, but still annoying) section when I went back to my game.

There were a few minor bugs through my play-through; the game would sometimes lag a bit (at random times, not because it was particularly loading anything) and the camera would sometimes “snap” back at a weird angle (I feel it might have been because of the lag, but it seemed like it did it at random times too), but none of them were game-breaking bugs.
And speaking of loading, the loading times could certainly be improved on, as they get a bit too long.

The game has a few items to collect through your play and several documents (besides every ghost encounter filling your ghost lore book with interesting tidbits and stories), as well as some Easter eggs; you can also unlock some outfits to wear during replays. There’s also two endings to this hidden gem, which was quite nice.

All things considered, you can tell that despite the dated graphics, the developers have put a lot of thought and care into the game, and you really have to appreciate that. I think this is a solid horror game that does the horror part very good, but falls just a little bit short at the gameplay aspect – at least for my personal taste.

Overall I’d highly recommend it, particularly if you’re a fan of Fatal Frame or similar styled games, or if you like horror games but are tired of jump scares.

 

Overall Rating: 8 /10

In Verbis Virtus

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

 

Data
Break Up
Game: In Verbis Virtus
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie, RPG
Developer: Indomitus Games
Publisher: Meridian4
Release Date: Apr 3, 2015
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  6/10
Graphics: 8.5/10
Controls: 8.5/10
Level/Puzzle Design: 7/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Story: 7/10
Replay Value: N/A
Community: N/A

 

Review

Notice: A microphone is required to play this game. Also, nerves of friggin’ steel.

Welcome to a land of magic. You are a wizard in search for a strong, ancient power for reasons I will not spoil; but to get to it, you will have to explore the temple, solve its puzzles, and battle unspeakable evil! That last part is more annoying than exciting, by the way.

In Verbis Virtus is, in essence, a fantasy RPG halfway between puzzle and action. Do not that you are required to own and use a microphone in order to play this game, for that is the whole point of it. As a wizard, you will be doing the spell casting via voice commands. That’s right, that means the game depends on a voice recognition system. That could only bode for fun and frustration, right?

But lets take it one thing at a time! Because in order to play the game, I had to be able to open the game, which in itself was a puzzle. I have no idea why, but the game alternated between crashing and freezing; probably something related to the resolution.
On the upside, In Verbis Virtus has a “safe” mode that opens it in a window on super low res. On the downside, that it has a safe mode because you may need to use it to get into the game is kind of a sad state. Once I was able to start it without crashing, the game ran fairly well only getting a bit choppy when entering a new area for the first time that day.

Visually, the game is quite stunning. even in low settings it didn’t look as bad as other ‘better’ games do, so there’s something to be said for that. The music was really nice too, and what voice acting there was (to show you how to pronounce the spells and in cutscenes) was… I wouldn’t say good, but it wasn’t bad either. The ambient sounds left something to be desired, however, though they weren’t too bad. The fire for some reason sounded fairly similar to the critters, and while I’m guessing the idea of keeping a semi-constant critter-like noise in the background was to keep you on edge, it became annoying as you couldn’t be sure when they were actually coming for you unless you’d been in the area before.

The game mechanics are pretty nice. Controls are basic: you jump with space, move with wasd, use mouse to aim and look around, shift to run – there is no ducking, however. In order to cast the spells, you interact via voice. Just aim your mouse at something, click and call out the spell name, and release your click. The spell will be cast. To stop the spell, right click. There are checkpoints that auto-save when passing a chapter, and save points spread out through the game, not nearly close enough to what I’d normally like, but not too far apart either. I just like to save every time I accomplish something, I’m obsessive like that.

Surprisingly, the voice recognition system works fairly well, and it has plenty of ways to be used. In the game options you can choose to cast the spells in English or the made-up language of the game, Maha’Ki, I went back to try them both (though my original playthrough was in Maha’Ki) and both worked pretty well. There was the occasional moment where a spell wasn’t cast, which included times such as slightly panicky, rushed casts for getting my ass kicked by enemies, the infuriated “I’ve said it three times already, would you please cast it??” rushed casting, and the “I clicked after I started casting” casting. But overall the spells cast 99% of the times, and when it didn’t, it was user fault.
Within the voice recognition options you also have the choice to record your own words for the spells. Now, I didn’t try this, but I can only imagine it can be great fun, and it’s a neat option to have.

As for the puzzles themselves, some are easy, some are hard, some are really not overly intuitive kind of hard, but for the most they were fairly good. Until, that was, you reached a timed puzzle. Really now, why would you do that to me? Is casting and running and casting while running not hard enough that you have to put the time limit so that we barely make it?
There was quite a bit of backtracking to be made from some of the puzzles to other parts of it, which would have been much less annoying without the critters roaming around, but I can overlook that since they had pretty scripted areas in which they appeared and paths they followed, so they were entirely predictable.
All in all, I was pretty content with the puzzles except for the timed ones, and then I was a slightly less happy camper until that was over.

I knew there’d be some fighting when I went into this game, I just didn’t expect them to be that annoying.

Now, your mileage might vary, but I feel like the greatest downfall of this game is precisely that: the fighting. Ahhh… what can I say about it other than I completely hated it, and it got me stuck in each encounter I had to the point where I didn’t get to finish the entirety of the story because of it. I got completely stuck, not even because I didn’t know how to beat the bad guys, but because they were so friggin’ annoying, and casting while trying not to die while trying to time something else was just not my thing. The very first fight you encounter is not just a fight, but a bit of a timing puzzle as well, and I seriously spent way too long trying to pass it, to the point where more than once I considered quitting right there. I didn’t. I quit further ahead, but I still quit.

Could this game have done well with fighting? Yes, if enemies had been defeatable via actual fighting spells, as opposed to trying to make them puzzly-difficult for the sake of making you use the several spells. Now, don’t get me wrong, while it could have been “fun” to fling an enemy across a room with my spell to stun him before putting a fire ball on his face (note: you get a fire spell, and then an explosion spell, not a fireball spell, making it even more annoying), you can’t really base the entire experience on the player’s timing skills with juggling 3 different spells in a moment of heated combat. Particularly if the enemy isn’t even a boss.
I feel like maybe if casting spells hadn’t been dependant of you clicking, calling out, then releasing the button to get it to actually cast, and it would have just recognized voice commands without the need of any clicking (and unclicking) in between, it would have made things much easier and I wouldn’t have been quite so frustrated with it all.  I can see where they wanted to go with the fights in terms of creativity, I just feel like it wasn’t well handled, or just… didn’t belong in this particular game.

As it was, most the fights I came across were just annoying and brought down the entire experience for me.

Bug wise I didn’t come across anything very obvious, except for the problems I had getting it to start and the occasional crash which happened mostly when I started a game, usually before I even loaded a save. But there were some crashes after as well. They really added to the frustration.

There’s little else to be said about In Verbis Virtus, I wish the puzzles would have been more open, giving you a chance of using various of your spells in order to complete it creatively, instead of “here is this rune or button, so this thing requires this particular spell while you stand in this particular spot.” (The fights suffered from this too; certain enemies required certain particular series of spells, except for the occasional one “easily” defeatable with fire, which still took two spells.)
You don’t need mazes and hours of backtracking to make good puzzles, you just need to give the user more creative ways to solve it in a single room.
I also wish there would have been a “no monsters” option, it would have made my experience much more enjoyable. I could’ve probably done with just the critters and a final boss at most.

In all, Indomitus has made of In Verbis Virtus a pretty decent puzzle/adventure game with a really, really excelling voice recognition system and with lots of potential to be had that, for me, was ruined by the forced fights.

TL;DR: Good game, decent puzzles, lots of fun with voice spells! Did not like the fights at all (your mileage might vary – they’re more annoying than difficult and I lost patience fast), got stuck because of them, ragequit for my sanity. XD
Would I pick it up again? Probably, but not anytime soon.

Overall Rating: 6/10

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2
Platform: PC
Developer: NeoCore Games
Genre: Action / Adventure / RPG / Hack ‘n SlashNeocore games.

I have a special spot in my heart for Van Helsing I, thus I was very excited about trying out Van Helsing II.

The story picks up where Van Helsing I left off — The little town of Borgovia needs help, and monster hunter extraodinaire Van Helsing is there to aid it. Helping the resistance do what they must to get the city back and fend off the monsters; should you not have played the first installment at all, or if it’s been long since you touched it, the introduction video does a good job of recapping the important bits and summing up what’s been going on.

If there’s one thing to say for Neocore games it’s that they do pretty neat cinematic cut-scenes, very nice and artistic, that give you a distinct feel of watching a movie – unfortunately, even the cut-scenes can sometimes be a little bit too long when they’re put in between the action. The voice actors chosen are excellent at their roles; and the chosen depths, tones and infliction the cast uses throughout the game suit the characters very well; helping immerse you in the world. Along with the lovely visual and voices, the game has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in an ARPG, fitting the mood and slightly dark atmosphere of the game, atmosphere that is slightly uplifted by the many humorous lines and various pop culture references that are to be found throughout Van Helsing II, as it was in the original.

The graphics improve a little on Van Helsing I, but in my opinion they still seem to lack some optimization. Despite my computer being the recommended setup for the game, and despite being in low settings, I had the exact same problem with the game I did during my play-through of Van Helsing I … LAG. From the get go the game is just a little bit slow, and after about an hour or more of playing the game would become really slow and laggy, sometimes even freezing up for a few seconds if I continue playing. And this was in the single player campaign. It was also noticeable during loading screens – loading the game takes just a little too long sometimes, particularly during the initial loading screen.

Despite that, and jumping into the actual gaming aspect, Van Helsing II can be a delight to play. Right off the bat you’re given the option to either import a character from Van Helsing I or play with a new one which you can start from level 1 or from level 30 with a pre-designed one, which is great for trying out the different classes and builds; the difficulty of the levels also accommodates depending on which starting point you choose, so you’ll still get the full experience without finding it “too easy” just because you chose to start at level 30 instead.

I chose to start anew so I could get a fresh look at the game, plus, it’d been a long while since I’d last played the original, so a refresher course wouldn’t hurt. When starting your get you get to choose between three classes: Hunter, Thaumaturge or Arcane Mechanic. The classes are all quite different from each other, and each one has a very ample skill tree (and choice of auras) to pick and choose from, so everyone is likely to find a mix of powers and skills that suit their playing style perfectly. Personally, my favorite character is still the Hunter, though the other two can be fun to play too. My only regret in the system would be that I’d like for a bit more customization options outside the skill tree (maybe more visual variety), yet in the end it doesn’t make much of a difference.

Once you make your character you’ll also have access to the options menu (why you don’t have access to this before that is beyond me), which gives you plenty of chances to remap keys and change audio and video options. Some of these require you to relaunch the game to go into effect, which is a bit annoying as it takes long to load.

Katarina is once more with you during the game. I like the companionship and the role she plays in the overall story and gaming aspects. She can carry stuff, you can send her out shopping, and you can pick how she will behave during fights (ranged, melee, aid only, etc), all of which is pretty neat. They also have great chemistry between them, making you feel less lonely during the map runs.

The monsters are all well designed, with a fair variety to them and interesting looks and powers. The game has various difficulty modes ranging from casual to hardcore, and you can switch them at any time, yet I noticed that it seems a bit unbalanced regardless of what difficulty mode you’ve chosen: either the enemies are far too easy or far too hard, all in the same map and mode.

The story is fairly linear and simple, but it’s also intriguing; the characters are interesting, and the questing follows the same vein of its predecessor. The tower defense mode also returns, improved, and you can now send captains to do some of those quests for you, which is a nice change in pace (as I’m not particularly fond of defending things, I’m more into destroying them). The downside of this is every so often they interrupt your questing with information, “demanding” you get back to take care of a situation or another (you don’t really need to drop everything to do as they ask, and I believe you can turn this off, but the interruption is annoying nonetheless).

The first time you’re thrown into the fry -meaning the tutorial and the very first city-defending section- I found it all a tad confusing and frustrating. During the tutorial there were some pop ups that went by just a little too fast for me to read – it was only a couple, yet it was bothersome enough as I couldn’t really remember what all did and was. During the city section I had problems finding my way until I got used to the map indicators again, and then I had a bit of troubles finding some of the more out-of-the-way stairs and elevators, and choosing which answer would be correct for what I wanted to do; however, once you get past that area, the gameplay goes pretty smoothly, and if there was one thing I did appreciate it was that, while there were many things to learn, at least the main interface didn’t look cluttered.

The game offers witty dialogue and, when questing, allows you yo choose from two or three answers. I like being able to choose when talking to characters (though most of the time is just the two typical ‘yes’ or ‘no’ disguised in a colorful fashion), however it suffered from the same all the ‘choose your answer’ games suffer from: none were clear. An answer did not quite mean what I thought it would mean which made me miss a quest (for instance, on Saving Bryan had two answers that were very similar but different in tone, and I thought the second option would also give me a chance to end the conversation and go look for him, but it didn’t and it sent me elsewhere with that mission failed). I was rather annoyed to have some missions failed or postponed (or even denied completely from trying them later) simply because the option I chose still included some form of “give me more time” or “I can’t right now” but it ended up cancelling the quest instead and the quest indicator disappeared. I had the same with a quest where I could either destroy a totem or find a relic, and when I refused destroying it initially but then changed my mind, I couldn’t go back and destroy it, so I was forced on the second quest path.

After the first chapter you get to have a “pet”; a chimera you can either send to fetch stuff for you, or summon into battle. This is quite handy, and the chimera is quite adorable (in the way giant, angry beasts are adorable, I guess). It even chases around little animals while in the lair.

The areas you get to visit are quite beautiful in their steampunk, dark way; the outside world is beautiful, the attention to detail is obvious in them, and even though the maps are linear there are also plenty of side quests and secrets through them. And indeed, Van Helsing II is full of secrets which you might not find on your first play-through, so the replayability is fairly high.

Aside from the slowness and lag in singleplayer, the only bug I really encountered was when attempting to assign skill points to Katarina. In order to apply points to the skills on the top most left hand, I had to place the pointer at a very specific pixel right under the + sign or it wouldn’t let me press it at all. The rest of her skill buttons worked normally though, and the bug disappeared when I switched from windowed mode to full screen.

My multiplayer experience left a lot to be desired, in that I could not join any games and no one could join mine, so I couldn’t test it. Neocore’s support is very friendly and patient, however, and they’re likely to help if you run into any troubles. Plus they’re very active in the community, which is always good.

In brief, I truly enjoyed playing Van Helsing II, but I would mostly recommend it either to fans of ARPGs, or those who enjoyed the other installments of the series. New players might find the learning curve for it a bit too steep, and those who aren’t familiar with the story might not find it as interesting. To anyone new to the Van Helsing series, I would probably recommend they start with Van Helsing I instead of II just to familiarize themselves with the story, gameplay and mechanics of the game.

 

Overall rating 7.5 / 10

Cross of the Dutchman

Data
Break Up
Game: Cross of the Dutchman
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie
Developer: Triangle Studios
Publisher: Triangle Studios
Release Date: Sep 10, 2015
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Controls: 9/10
Level/Puzzle Design: 5/10
Sound: 8/10
Story: 6.5/10
Replay Value: 3/10
Community: N/A
Review

Cross of the Dutchman is an action RPG based on the “true story of the folk legend” of Pier Gerlofs Donia. Is it historically accurate? I don’t know. Does it follow the legend? I also don’t know, I had not really heard of the tale until I played the game. I do know, however, that the game is rather short. And it couldn’t be otherwise, for as it follows the story of Pier, it has a clear beginning and clear end.

The game has the looks of a rather typical RPG, but it lacks all the extra customization of one. Even comparing it to rather linear games, this one is particularly so. It was clearly geared to tell a somewhat interactive story more than it was to be a full on game. The maps are average, the quests are not atypical of RPGs, even if they do follow the story, and there’s nothing overly challenging in it (except maybe when it lagged on me during mob areas). Was it fun to play? Yes, but it had nothing to make it stand out except that it’s based on that story… There are no skill trees, though you purchase ‘upgrades’ for your skills and switch between them, there are upgrades for health and such, but little else worth mentioning.

The graphics are simple but nice. I wasn’t particularly fond of most of the cartoony art style (though I did like the general art), but it wasn’t bad either, and effort was clearly put into it to portray it as accurately to the time and area as possible. The music and sounds were pleasing enough, and overall the game ran fairly nicely; the only time I encountered problems being during a couple sections in which there were too many enemies and it lagged some on my computer.
Controls are simple (mostly you’ll only be using the mouse), but I found the obstacle-avoidance a bit sketchy. Combat (which is quite basic skill-spamming) was a bit clunky as well, because it’s difficult to aim your hits properly and often times you’d end up hitting air repeatedly. Cross also had some slightly interesting stealth-like areas (though the game doesn’t offer an actual stealth engine); it wasn’t too hard to get through them (but it was annoying to get caught) and made for a bit of a variation, which was rather nice. Just don’t expect it’ll be full on take-cover type of stealth.

The story itself was good, though as I mentioned before I can’t really compare it with the real story/folk legend. The dialogue was rather poor, however, sometimes I felt like it was trying too hard to be funny.

All in all Cross of Dutchman is a nice, simple game. It was easy to grab, play for a bit up to another checkpoint, and then go do something else, so I think it’s a good game for casual players as well as for those who will want to sit through all 4ish hours of gameplay in one go. However, it doesn’t go beyond average, and I don’t think it’ll be satisfactory for people who don’t care about the story, which is the strongest point of the game.

Recommended: Yes, but I wouldn’t expect too much out of it.

Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan
Platform: PC / iOS
Developer: Artifex Mundi
Genre: Action / Casual Adventure / RPG

Part 2 of the Grim Legends series, Song of The Dark Swan is another wonderful Adventure and Hidden Object game from Artifex Mundi. I own and have played several of their games and I have to say, they’re my favorite in the genre. They just know how to mix story, art, and game-play wonderfully. So, needless to say, I was quite excited to be able to review one of their games.

In Song of The Dark Swan you step into the shoes of a healer gone to see a queen about her illness, only to have the queen be accused of dark magic. The healer must then set off to save two Kingdoms by undoing a family curse, finding the missing heir to the throne, saving the queen and finding the true dark sorcerer; and all of this in one day!

For those unfamiliar with the gameplay of these type of games, and particularly the  Artifex Mundi ones, the mechanics are quite simple. In between story parts you will find several different game-play methods: Point and Click areas in which you will have to find small items in the environment for later use in puzzles; Puzzles, such as sliders, arranging puzzles, find-a-piece puzzles, follow-recipe puzzles, and the sort; and finally Hidden Object puzzles, in which you’re presented with a heavily packed screen full of items from which you’re provided a list, and you must find them in the picture. What I love about this developer is precisely this: they don’t just stick to hidden objects or slide puzzles, they mix and match and offer a great variety through the game.

You only need your mouse to play these type of games, and they usually don’t require high grade computers, either. Artifex Mundi is particularly good at this, their games tend to work in even the lowest end computers I’ve owned. The videos might get a bit choppy if you’re not in a decent rig, but I have so far only had that problem with one of their games, and this one wasn’t it.

And, before anyone asks, no, you don’t need to have played Grim Legends 1 to understand or follow part 2. They follow a similar theme, but they aren’t the same.

Let’s move along to the actual game!

Song of The Dark Swan doesn’t disappoint in terms of music and sound effects. The music suits the atmosphere perfectly, it’s beautifully eerie, truly giving you a feeling of being in a fantasy land touched by dark magic. The sound effects are quite pleasing to the ears, too. The voice acting, however, is hit and miss. It’s not bad, the voices are pleasant enough, and the intonation fairly good, but there was something lacking. It’s still improved plenty from the last games, however. Particularly, I was bothered by the sounds the fairies made as well as the children voices. The rest were fairly good.

Artifex Mundi is wonderful at their game art; as far as the world goes, the art is amazing! It’s full of small details and truly brings the world to life. I always enjoy going to new locations and discovering all the effort put into each and every piece – be it nature or indoors. It’s also very colorful and bright, even in the darker themed games such as this.

Characters, however, can be a bit hit and miss. Most are pretty beautifully rendered, but then you’ll have the slightly odd face or odd pose during cut-scenes, and they can get just a bit creepy. Still, their games hold some of the best artists I’ve seen.

Song of The Dark Swan is the same in both aspects. The world is represented in magnificent detail and it really helps bring it to life, especially if you take into account some things in the backgrounds are partially animated; the characters are fairly well done, particularly when static, but some are still better rendered than others. What differentiates characters in this one is that they’re more paint-style art than in their other games, and I found I rather liked the change.

The cinematic scenes have certainly improved plenty from past games, making the cut-scenes pleasant to watch and just short enough that you really don’t see the need to skip them – unless that annoying fairy is talking.

In Song of The Dark Swan, like in their other games, the world is full of little collectibles. In this case small symbols throughout the different areas. Some are easy to spot, some much harder. It makes for an interesting challenge to find them all!

The story itself is quite nice. It’s short and simple. It’s been obviously based off a fairy tale, but still manages to spin a story of its own; it has hints to background lore and legends within the story itself to give it depth, too, which is always a plus in any game, and makes the story engaging. There are darker parts to the story as well, but ultimately you get a relatively happy ending, and I do love my happy endings.

As for the game-play itself, I missed the ability to switch a puzzle for a mini-game from previous games, but it was also an option I used only when an item was particularly hard to find, so in the long run it wasn’t really that much of a drawback.

However, I enjoyed the variety of puzzles offered; in fact it seemed to be a bit more varied than in their previous titles. It’s one of my favorite things on this developer’s games, and Song of The Dark Swan didn’t disappoint. I also quite enjoyed the ability to have companions – the first time this was introduced in one of the developer’s games I fell in love with the idea as it added not only a friendly little creature with you, but a second level of challenge where you had to ponder just where the little animal might be of use. Here I could use not only one, but more, and that was pretty awesome. On the downside, even when replaying the game on expert mode, the companions made little sounds to hint where they could be used, which was slightly annoying.

There were a lot more locations to visit than in previous titles, which made me happy, and the developer has the wonderful habit of offering quick-travel if you’ve visited those locations, something I honestly love them for because the more locations, the more confusing it can get to get where you’re going. There was also less of a need to backtrack through maps, usually whatever you needed for that ‘chapter’ could be found within the map world.

There was also more interaction which characters and more parts where you had to uncover the story of the curse, which was done through finding golden feathers. I really enjoyed those little flashbacks, the art was pretty and the story in it was interesting.

Song of The Dark Swan had a better balance between puzzles and hidden object scenes. I guess depending on what you like this could be good or bad. I found I didn’t mind it.

The achievements are not too hard to get, which was both pleasing for me as a casual gamer, and yet slightly bothersome as someone who likes the challenge. There should be about 30 of them for you to gather though, so you won’t be bored.

As for the difficulty of the game, the puzzles aren’t overly difficult, and if you’re used to the developer’s games they will not be much of a challenge for you, as they’re not the hardest I’ve encountered in their games; but they’re pleasing puzzles nonetheless.

In a whole, the Collector’s Edition with its bonus story takes about 5 and a half hours to beat, perhaps a bit more if you’re a completionist. It’s an enjoyable fairy tale type story with enjoyable puzzles that are sure to please casual gamers, though I doubt even expert mode would challenge seasoned players. It would also make a great introduction to anyone just looking into starting with hidden object type of games.

Song of The Dark Swan is definitely recommended in my book!

 

Overall Rating: 9/10

 

Fairy Fencer F

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

 

Data
Break Up
Game: Fairy Fencer F
Genre: RPG, Turn-based
Developer: Idea Factory , Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Release Date: Aug 4, 2015
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  8/10
Graphics: 10/10
Controls: 8/10
Level/Puzzle Design: 7/10
Sound: 9/10
Story: 8/10
Replay Value: 7/10
Community: N/A

 

Review

Step in the shoes of Fang, a lazy young man who, through the miracle workings of destiny, becomes a fencer, charged with gathering furies and removing the seals of the Goddess, who has been at war with the Vile God for centuries, both of which are now sealed away in another world.

Fairy Fencer F is a typical JRPG, that means there’s quite a bit of talk, and a bit of grind. It’s also a console port, and as such, it has some peculiarities.
My first time opening the game I got an error that said:

"videocard.cpp (279) : DXFAIL : E_FAIL"

Searching the forums for a solution provided no help, but a quick google search turned up the answer. All I had to do was  “兼容模式,兼容模式是XP SP3,现在已经运行了五个小时左右完全没问题。”
Oh, did I forget to say the answer was  on a Chinese site? I meant, “Compatibility mode, compatibility mode is XP SP3, now running about five hours no problem.” Or so google translate said. As it turned out, aside from activating compatibility mode, I also had to execute the file as admin. After that, it was a pretty smooth ride!

Fairy Fencer F is basically a turn-based RPG with beautiful anime-styled art. When you’re not dungeon-crawling, you have a view of static maps and Visual Novel styled conversations with other characters. When you are dungeon crawling you get those same anime characters in 3D view. You only see the party leader until you enter a battle, and you can only choose so many of your friends to battle with you.
Battles are turn based, but not static. You can move freely around a predesigned circular area of reach (and sometimes enemies will be outside this area), which gives you a sense of freedom despite the limitation, something move-by-places or only-x-steps type of turn based games don’t give you.

The sound and voices are very nice and very fitting to the whole anime/fantasy theme, and I’m particularly fond of the song used when you use “fairize”; it reminds me lots of the songs in Persona 3 and 4. By the way, did I mention you can choose between English and Japanese voices? Because you totally can. It had my heart right then and there.


Goddess revival

Now, I’ll try to explain this as best I can. Basically you play as Fang, a Fencer, that is: a person who can wield Furies, which are weapons that contain fairies that add powers to the weapon/wielder. Your job is to go out and search for more furies – each one you get will grant you a new fairy. You can add these to your own weapon as “resonance” to make it stronger and give you some extra stats. The fairies you’re currently using gain experience along with you and level up. Fairies are also ranked – the rank is used to remove the seals (swords) on the Goddess/God. While the story tells you to remove the Goddesses’ seals, after the tutorial you can choose to remove the Vile God’s seals as well, which is a neat touch! Each seal removed successfully adds different boosts/stats to the fairy used to remove it, which in turn adds it to you if it’s the one you’re using as resonance. Fairies that aren’t currently being used in your weapons can be stabbed as their fury forms on the world map in order to provide various boosts, buffs and debuffs in the nearby dungeons (for instance, earn more exp, or gold, or drop rate… ). Since you can stab more than one fury into the ground, you can get quite a few boosts while on a single dungeon.

You have combos for physical attacks which you can customize, and you can at a fly switch between three different ones while attacking by simply pressing one key instead of another, all comfortably close by. Because you have so many ways to affect stats and boosts, the system ends up being quite flexible and enjoyable to play with.
It’s a very interesting concept and I feel like I don’t do it justice explaining it thus briefly.

Saving is done through specific spots while inside a dungeon, or at any time within the world/city maps. While in the city you get to speak with a lot of characters and take up quests that can give you some prizes and can also be repeated (indefinitely, as it seems). The quests are fairly typical, but quick to get done, and go along with what rank you are. You can also craft some items to help on your journey. There is some romance in this game.

Because this was a console port, the controls at first can be a bit awkward (for instance, you can’t use esc to exit menus, you must use backspace; you can use the mouse too, but it’s really more of a hassle than using only the keyboard); however, once I grew used to them they were actually very sensibly placed and quite comfortable to use. I ended up using just the keyboard all the time.

I do wish the game was free-roaming rather than turn based, and the fights do get a tad repetitive after a while, making the fighting aspect of the game feel a tad like a grind (the unskippable power cutscenes and “fairize” cutscenes can get a bit annoying after the first few fights). However, the story is nice and full of funny moments and the characters are cute and extremely likeable, all of them with their own personalities, doubts and insecurities.

The game really makes you want to collect all the fairies and remove the seals to see what will happen, keeping you hooked with the story. It also offers a New Game Plus + mode upon completion, which I always love but haven’t yet reached. Fairy Fencer F is a delightfully long game (with 30+ hours if you’re playing through just the main story line, and over a 100 if you’re going for completion), but from what I’ve seen so far I’m confident in recommending this game to everyone who is into JRPGs.

 

TL;DR

Definitely recommended for JRPG (and anime) fans: great music, great art, complex yet flexible stats system, some romance, some ecchi, some grinding, and 30+ hours of fun.

 

Lost Lands: Dark Overlord

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title Lost Lands: Dark Overlord Collector’s Edition
Platform: PC
Developer: FIVE BN Games
Genre: Adventure / Action / Puzzler

Lost Lands: Dark Overlord

Developer Five-BN Games brings us Lost Lands: Dark Overlord, an adventure/hidden object game in which you take the role of Susan, who must rescue her son from the evil forces that have kidnapped him and taken him to another land to… use him for evil means, as usual.

This is a fairly typical hidden object styled game, and as such, both story and the general logic behind some of the puzzles and items to acquire follow a similar path (and thus, similar downfalls) to most other games of the genre: meaning it’s nothing original and logic flies out the window half the time.
That said, Lost Lands: Dark Overlord is definitely a bit above the average HOG game, and definitely on a good path.

Let’s start with the audiovisual. The background art is really nice; they pay plenty of attention to background details, and most of the areas are really beautiful. The models and characters are pretty decent, but them, as well as the voices given to them, suffer from lack of expression. The characters ‘smile’ by hardly moving their mouths in an upward fashion, the mother’s re-encounter with her son goes only as far as a half heartfelt “Oh, jimmy.” and overall it’s just not the best. However, it’s also not the worst I’ve encountered, and you can kind of tell there was an attempt at giving some sort of emotional intonation to the text.
The cutscenes were alright too, though there were a couple ‘transitional’ ones that I’m not sure were really needed. The music was nice, soft enough that I was not bothered by it, and seemed to fit the setting.

The game has various difficulties: Easy/normal/hard plus a slightly custom one as you can select how fast or slow hints take to recharge and what you want ‘help’ with or not, which was a really nice addition.

Once in, you’ll find it also has many collectables to find throughout the areas in the main story, all of which were quite easy to spot – I’d think this lowers the replayability quite a bit, as completionists will surely not miss them on the first play through and thus would have no reason to go back and replay it.

There are several things I really enjoyed about it:

  • It has a decent map system with fast travel – clicking on a map location takes you straight to it. The map also has the typical hints of where something needs doing and where you are, as well as an added hint of where you haven’t found a collectable yet (but only if you play it on easy, normal, or custom with those selected).
  • There was a little ‘pet’ you find that helps you with getting certain items. I always enjoy when they add little companions because it somehow makes you not feel so ‘alone’.
  • The customization choices for the difficulty (which I took full advantage of).
  • The great variety of puzzles.

Though most of the puzzles were a little too easy, I did enjoy playing through most of them. Lost Lands: Dark Overlord has a great variety, having only a few hidden object scenes (a couple by list, a couple by shape), some ‘logical pair’ scenes (flower with vase, etc), and puzzles ranging from slider to swapping to connecting and rearranging, to repair and/or reassemble the machine and a few recipe-based “make this item”, which I really like… It kept the game fresh not to have too many repeats.

Another interesting feature was that, in some of the puzzles where you first needed to find everal of an item, you would usually find most of those together in one single location. Some you still had to find separately, of course, but not having to find every single glass shard of a stained window, for instance, was actually quite nice.

Something I would have liked to have was for more of the ‘press things in a specific order’ puzzles to have the ability to put the little piece of paper with the order nearby to see it as you could in some of the rearranging puzzles. It got a bit tiresome having to open the book every time if you couldn’t recall the order.

The hidden object scenes were also rather easy, as some of the items stood out a bit too much (I seriously ended up getting at least half of them without even reading the list first).

There were no outstanding bugs through my gameplay, though my game did crash once (when I tried to switch from full screen to window in the middle of the game) and froze another time (for no reason whatsoever). Fortunately, it seems to have a pretty sturdy auto-saving system for I went back both times exactly to where I had left off and I was able to play on without major issues.

There was one thing that was a bit bothersome though, and that is: when you start the bonus chapter, on the initial sequence when she dreams about being needed, her hair is longer than on the main story; yet when she’s going through the portal and afterwards her hair is shorter again (and she’s wearing other clothes, too) as the cutscene was clearly reused from the main storyline. While I can see why the scene was reused, it was a bit of a sloppy thing that removed consistency in the storyline.
I’m also confused as to why the initial dream sequence seems like it’s setting up the bonus as a horror story when it’s not, haha. Maybe that last was just me reading too much into it, though.

I was lucky to get the Collector’s Edition to review. As usual, these come with a bunch of unlockable extras (wallpapers, concept art, etc), the choice to replay puzzles 8without having to replay the entire game), as well as the main story + bonus story (in which you go back to help some underwater beings from being extinct). The main story is fairly short, and the bonus is even shorter. With just around 3 hours of gameplay between both, Lost Lands: Dark Overlord might not be challenging or overly original, but it’s still fun to play.

I’ll be looking forward to see how they improve on future releases!

Overall Rating: 7/10

 

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Sea
Platform: PC / iOS
Developer: Cornfox & Bros.
Genre: Action / Adventure / RPG
Release Date: March 17th, 2015

In Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas you start your gameplay as a young man who wakes up to find his father gone; he disappeared after going in search of a monster known as Oceanhorn. With only your father’s notebook and your mother’s mysterious necklace as clues, you set off in his search and thus begins the adventure.

Oceanhorn is a very nice casual action/adventure RPG, complete with puzzles, which is quite reminiscent in many ways to Legend of Zelda. The gameplay revolves around you finding clues from NPCs, battling monsters, solving puzzles and collecting keys and treasures from the different islands around the vast world while you search for your father and discover more to the story and lore of the place. The story and lore might not be too in-depth, but it’s deep enough to keep you going through the game.

As I understand it this game was first made for iOS and then ported to PC, and although the port and game play are smooth enough that you might not have realized it, you can tell it was meant to be mobile by the way certain things work – such as in moving the world map, sliding the menu and other specific touch screen features.

Although the developers lean to the simplistic side, the game’s graphics are beautiful: bright, colorful, and they feel quite alive. There is something definitely cute about all the characters you encounter and the sights are gorgeous. The way all islands are a bit different, each with their own little biome, some even with weather, adds interest to the gameplay and makes visiting each one a slightly unique experience. This spontaneous element helps keep it from being tedious.

The music was also wonderful, fitting to the world and the islands. The voice acting was a bit hit and miss, but for the most it was pretty good. I just wish the main character would have spoken, too.

The camera I found a bit annoying at first, as it’s not free roam; you can only move it a little bit left and right, but I got used to it quickly and it did not hinder my enjoyment in the end. The camera follows you during boss battles too, which was both extremely helpful (as it did not get in my way), and extremely dizzying when my main strategy was “back up in circles and wait for an opening”.

Having tried both ways I can definitely say that the game plays a lot better with a controller, still, I used my keyboard through most of my play through without any major issues. The key distribution is decent enough and, if I’m not mistaken, you were able to rebind certain keys.

Starting up the game for the first time I could see the menu was simplistic, which was good and fitting for the game; but I was not overly pleased with the windowed mode option. The only option available was “Windowed (borderless)”, which was… still defaulting to full screen as I could not even change the resolution for it (but I could change the resolution for full screen). However, I read the developers were working on this. I’ll be happy to see the option to use regular windowed mode to play it, hopefully in different resolutions.

The world, as I already mentioned, is quite large. You get several islands to explore, but the islands must be unlocked first by talking to NPCs. If you’re not paying much attention to what they say, it’ll be easy for you to get a bit lost on which of two (or more) options you’re supposed to go to first in order to follow the main story line; still, at most you’ll need to do some backtracking. The game has a few tutorial bits (conveyed to you through little signs and pop ups), yet some things were still learn-as-you-go, such as how to deal with the world map.

To travel from island to island you sail a ship. I quite liked the idea of this initially – there’ll be monsters to shoot at and boxes to sink. Once more I was reminded of Zelda with this. The first couple of trips are quite nice, however, it soon becomes a bit bothersome to go from island to island, even once your ship gets upgraded to sail faster. I think it might have been much more entertaining if we’d been able to steer the ship ourselves (auto-pathing and steering both as options would have been fantastic!). This would have made it more interactive than just sitting there and shooting at things. It’s not much of a challenge to get to your destination though, just like the majority of puzzles are not much of a challenge either. They’re good, but they’re simple: perfect for a casual gamer such as me. Yet if you’re into hard, challenging puzzles, you might find oceanhorn a bit disappointing.

Interacting with items was fun: everything that could be hit or bumped into would wobble, which I found was super cute. You could even bump into people (as opposed to getting stuck by running into them), a little detail that I quite love in games. The way interaction with picking objects worked though was a bit annoying, since the attack button would suddenly serve the function of picking and tossing an object if you were near it; thus, if you were in the middle of slashing your sword away at an enemy and walked by a rock, you would end up getting the rock instead and thus getting hit by the enemy. That you could not walk off large cliffs to your early death was also quite nice and a little feature I was thankful for more than once. Be careful if you choose to go swimming in the ocean, though, as your character will quickly run out of stamina and drown.

The fighting system was quite easy to get a handle of, and I found myself thankful for the little auto-target while defending, at least most the times. Sometimes it would lock me into the wrong target though and leave me open to a second attacker I was more interested in defending myself from. I liked the way the character leveled up, but it was a bit odd that his leveling did not modify the way his hits affected monsters. Stuff that took 3 hits to kill would still take three hits on level 1 or level 5. It wasn’t too troublesome as the enemies are easy to defeat, but I thought it was a bit odd. Even though you can explore the islands, the game is rather linear, needing some interactions to happen first before you can unlock others.

The mini-bosses require a bit of strategy, but are also not overly challenging once you get the handle on them. Once again this makes it good for casual gamers and the younger crowd, but those seeking challenges might not have as much fun with it. In whole, the game offers you just about 10 hours of gameplay to finish it without any side-questing or aimless exploring, and some 4-6 hours more if you’re a completionist.

Oceanhorn plays quite nicely in older PCs and I kind of like the way things spawn on your screen as you come closer to them, slowly popping into the map with their little bouncy animation. It adds to the overall cartoony cuteness of the game. It also helps that it has an extremely small size (at ~380mb) so it’s quick to install and start playing it.

I heard some talk about crashes and bugs, but to be honest I did not experience any such. At most I experienced a bit of lag when video sections began or ended, but that was about it and it and it did not occur all the time. The game was truly fun and a delight to play. If you’re looking for a relaxing, casual RPG, I definitely recommend it!

 

Overall: Highly recommended!

The game is available on Steam