Sunday, December 7, 2014

When you play it, you'll shoot bricks - Hyper Princess Pitch

It's December, the holiday season, Christmas is in a few weeks, with the new year right behind it. the snow and cold means it's a good time to stay indoors and play some games. It also means idiots like me running stupid little blogs nobody reads are required to review Christmas games. Well, I say that but the truth is I've got a good Christmas themed game, one that I like to play for a bit each year and while my medical issues mentioned in my last post prevent me from readily playing and reviewing games for the time being, I figured rather than close the year here on that, I should try to put aside some time and pull myself together to give this game a review.

Hyper Princess Pitch is a top down action game based on an old action games like Smash TV, or the old DOS Operation: Carnage, which the developer says this title is a remake of. I'll admit I have never played operation Carnage and am not very familiar with it. but I don't think that's too important to enjoy the game, just under stand that this is a fast paced, arena based top down shooter and you'll have a good idea of what you're in for.
When a game starts with a scene like this, you know you're in for one hell of a ride.
The game has a simple story. you play as Princess Pitch who, along with her legless, jet powered cat named Catstrike, head to the north pole to rampage through the factories of Mecha Santa in an attempt to stop Christmas, because she never got any presents. while the story is mostly just an excuse to run around shooting things, I have to hand it to developer for coming up with a completely insane story that sets the tone for the rest of the game.

Gameplay in Hyper Princess Pitch is fairly simple. Each of the games stages are broken into several rooms, each room being a sort of set piece, with waves of enemies that swarm into the room that you have to defeat to move on. An interesting feature is that while the game boasts about 70 rooms to paly through, you don't see them all in one game, instead each room can have multiple exits, leading to each stage having several branching paths. it leads to a good amount of replayability as it will take several playthroughs to see all the rooms.
enemies like to attack in huge swarms
To clear the rooms, you have several weapons at your disposal. Starting with a basic gun that shoots bricks. Yes, bricks. you also have a rainbow gun that shoots bouncing projectiles, and an ice gun that has a short range, but can destroy some projectiles. There's also several powerups, giving you temporary access to abilities like spread fire or extra movement speed, or even an airstrike from your cat Catstrike to clear out large waves of enemies. while there's only a few weapons and powerups, each one feels unique and nothing feels redundant or useless.

The game also has plenty of enemies to fight. from killer elves and tops, to trains and sleighs armed with cannons, some rooms even have unique or rare enemies not readily found anywhere else in game. this culminates in the boss, which are as crazy as the rest of the game, wither it's a massive robot elf or cat headed tank, each boss is massive, filling most of the arena and takes some effort to bring down. there's also what happens when you beat the bosses that While I won't say what happens as I think it's best if you see it yourself, I will say it involves a lot of explosions and is fitting over the top for a game like this.

Some rooms like this, offer some unique challenges
The game uses pixel graphics and while it is Christmas themed, it handles it in a slight unusual way. This is a Mecha Santa we're dealing with and the game's graphics reflect it with you fighting off elves and Santa hats in giant metal factories. graphics for the most part are simple and fairly clean, every thing is nice and colorful, and simple enough that the details don't detract from the frantic action on screen.

The sound in the game is fairly retro, all bleeps and bloops that fit the game nicely, and don't become annoying when the action gets heated, there's even a few lines of voice acting which are suitibly over the top and fit the tone of the game nicely. The music however, is easily the games greatest strength. interestingly, Hyper princess Pitch does not use Christmas music, but instead has an original score that consists of some rocking chiptunes that while somewhat short, are a lot of fun to listen to and back the action perfectly.
Each stage ends in a fight against a large boss
The game surprisingly doesn't have any major flaws. i haven't encountered any bugs, helped by the fact that the developer still supports it, releasing a new patch about once a year or so two tweak things. The game even has two separate executables to make sure it's compatible with as many systems as possible, which is amazing given this game is a small freeware Christmas game. The game is fairly short, but is built around replayability with local high scores and multiple difficulty levels to play through. Plus it's free, meaning it's not like you're paying anything to start with.

Overall. If you want a good game to play around Christmas time, this is it. it's fun, crazy, highly replayable, and is freely available for download. It's even a very small download, only about 20mb zipped. so there's very little reason not to go and give this thing a try.

Hyper Princess Pitch was developed and published by Remar Games. It is available from the developer here. it's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A small delay

Just a heads up. on top of the holidays, I am currently dealing with some medical issues, nothing major, but it's keeping me away from the computer, which in turn means I can't readily  play and review games.

I do have one game I'm hoping to review for this month. But past that I'm not sure I can do much else until things improve. Expect things to be slower than normal, if not outright stopped until then. Hopefully I'll be back to normal in January.

My apologies for things suddenly grinding to a halt like this.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The first part of one of Falcom's biggest series - Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

If there's one trend I would of never seen coming in gaming, it's Japanese RPGs on PC. outside of stuff by indie devs, JRPGs had been content to stick to consoles and handhelds, but lately there's been a trickle of them showing up on Steam and there seems to be a slowly growing interest on seeing more of them on PC. enter The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. the first part of a trilogy, itself part of a much larger series. This game had initially seen a release in North America on the Playstation portable, with no sign of the second and third games being released until last year, when XSEED announced not only is a translation of the second chapter in the works, but it, along with the first chapter, would see release on PC.

Trails in the sky is about a pair of characters named Estelle and Joshua, and their attempts to become what are known as Bracers, basically adventurers for hire. As you might expect, this seemingly simple task ends up anything but. I should note that there is a LOT going on in this story, not only due to it being a fairly long game, but because this is the first game in a trilogy, so the game has to lay out a lot of ground work for the later games. Fortunately, while there's a lot of information to chew through, I never found the game very hard to follow. It helps that the game has some wonderful characters and a good sense of pacing: The story is serious and treated as such, but there's enough humor and lighter moments to keep thing from getting too straight faced for it's own good.
You will meet several characters in your journeys, some weirder than others.
At it's core, the gameplay for Trails in the sky should be fairly familiar for anyone who's played a JRPG before: you travel a very large world, solving various quests and fighting in turn based battles. it's worth noting however, that battles battles have a bit more to them than a typical JRPG, rather than your party and enemies lining up to trade blows, battles take place on a grid that characters can move around on. This changes things form a more typical JRPG because you can't simply attack, you have to be able to reach enemies to hit them, also spells take some time to cast and while many can simply target a specific area, some have an area of effect need to be targeted, forcing you to think ahead to where enemies might be in the next few turns when deciding where to aim them. at the same time, some enemy attacks can be avoid by using your characters turn to move out of the way. It forces you to think about how the battle is going and not just constantly attack, pausing only to use the occasional healing spell or item.

Another thing that stands out in the game is orbments While the game does have various pieces of equipment your characters can wield and wear, orbments are how you really customize them. Each character has an orbment with several slots you can put what are called quartz into. These quartz have various elemental values and the total value of the quartz decide what spells the character has access to, on top of that, the quartz themselves can have various stat bonuses or penalties on them, as well as extra bonuses like decreasing the casting cost of your spells, called arts in this game. it's actually a fairy complex system, where slots can require certain types of quarts, and there's lines that decide how your quarts various values are added up. fortunately it's easy to come to grips with once you've tinkered with it for a bit, and the game has a built in magic list so you can see what values you need for what spells.
Battles take place on a large grid
On top of a lengthy main quest, the game also has a number of side quests. From the bracers guild in any town you can pick up any of a number of side quests that range from finding lost items to exterminating dangerous monsters to delivering items.  Fortunately, these side quests are not your typical MMO-style 'find x items' or 'kill x monsters' quests, some of them involve various puzzles, and even the simplest of them: exterminating dangerous monsters' have specific encounters for you to deal with and aren't just random monsters. There's even some hidden quests if you're willing to explore and not just rely on what's in the guild. It helps break up the main quest and gives you a good reason to explore the world beyond what's strictly necessary.

It should also been noted that the game has a very large world. While there's only five major towns to visit, there's plenty of side areas and smaller villages to explore. each chapter of the game takes place in a different section of the world map, and exploring any one of them can take some time. Exploring is also well rewarded, as useful items are often hidden off the main path. This size however, does come with one drawback. The game has no fast traveling, and you're often required to travel between several distant locations. Granted, the game world isn't as large as a full blown sandbox game like Skyrim, but it's still a lot of ground to be stuck repeatedly traveling through.

There's a lot of ground to cover in this game

Graphically the game is pretty decent, the game uses 3D graphics mixed with sprites that appear to be based off 3d models, everything looks nice, textures are nice and colorful, and hte game world is nicely detailed without becoming cluttered. The only major fault I noted is the animation for some of the 3D objects in the game seemed a bit choppy, but otherwise there's nothing to really complain about.

The game's sound is also decent: Everything sounds like it should and while the game doesn't have much voice acting beyond a few lines used in battle, what's there is done well enough. The music, is actually very nice. Falcom is known for producing some great soundtracks and this game is no exception. Though I should note for those who know of Falcom mostly through Ys and are coming here from that series, this game is an entirely different beast so sorry, no rock music to headbang to.
Attempting to take items form the same chest twice has interesting results
Overall I would highly recommended this game if you like RPGs, JRPGs in particular. it's a very large game that took me over 40 hours to beat, and even then I missed quite a few things, the story is well told and the characters are very likeable. As I've said before there seems to be a recent trend with JRPGs showing up on PC and out of all the games involved, this is one of the ones to get.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was developed by Nihon Falcom and published by XSEED and Marvelous USA, Inc. It is available on Steam and GoG. It's homepage is available here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gravis Gamepad Not Incluided - MURI

NOTICE: please excuse the windows borders in the screenshots. the game had some issues with me taking screenshots and this was the only way that didn't upset it.

As someone who plays a lot of indie games, I see a lot of 'retro' homages. lots of games with chiptunes and pixel graphics meant to mimic old 8 or 16 bit systems, usually the NES and SNES. I don't mind this, and some games manage to do an amazing job with mimicking the look and feel of these older games but I prefer it when developers decide to base them game on something more unusual. For example, 80s DOS shareware games.

MURI is a platform game about the disappearance of Mars, the game actually has more story than you might expect for a simple platform game, told through cutscenes at various points through the game. it's not a massive story or an insanely complex one. That said, since a big part of the story is finding out what's actually going on, I can't give any actual details for fear of spoilers. I will say however, that the story felt like something out of and old 80s anime, which does a good job of fitting with the retro tone of the rest of the game.
cutscenes like this tell the story
Gameplay is fairly simple. This a classic run and gun platform game, you job in each level is to simply find the exit. levels however are fairly open. you do have to explore a bit as the exit isn't always simply to the right. even when you do know where the exit is, exploring is still worthwhile as levels can be full of side passages and hidden areas which include powerups and extra lives on top of bonus points. there's also a cell hidden in each level, which you can use to get extra powerups to help fight the boss at the end of each episode. So it pays to thoroughly explore each level.

Each level also has plenty of enemies, and there's a good variety of them in game. ranging from wall turrets to combat robots to tiny flying drones. Each enemy can come in several variants, these variants are not only tougher than the original enemy, but have extra abilities like jumping or shooting. to fight them, you actually have a decent selection of weapons. Weapons are mostly straightforward but get the job done nicely, wither it's rapid fire or a spread shot. Some of the later weapons however, can have some interesting abilities, such as a laser that splits and bounces off of walls.
you can even bounce off enemies Mario style
Each episode in the game ends in a boss battle, and the boss battles are pretty good. They're nice and big, take some effort to beat, and finish off each episode nicely. boss stages are also where the cells I mentioned earlier come into play. Before the boss you're presented with some doors blocking the way to various powerups and the cells unlock them, meaning if you managed to find some cells in the episode, you can get some extra help with dealing with the boss. it's not required as the bosses can be beaten without having any cells, but it's there if you need it and a good way to reward exploration.

While MURI is a solid platform game, it's greatest strength is easily how well it captures the look and feel of an old DOS game, the game is broken up into episodes, each of which is played separately and you can tackle them in any order, just like in old shareware games. The game's story feels like something out of that era and the gameplay does a good job of supporting this. If you've played any older DOS games like Commander Keen, Duke Nukem 1 and 2, or Bio Menace This game will feel very similar. it even has keyboard only controls, no mouse input, though you can use a gamepad if desired.
Each episode ends with a boss battle like this one.
Graphically, the game mimics the look and feel of dos games perfectly, The game uses large sprite graphics with a minimal color pallet like an old EGA game, the game can even be made to run at 16 frames per second and when run this way it looks exactly like an old DOS game. If it wasn't for the 2013 copyright, you could readily pass this as something from the 80s, it does it's job that well.

The game's sound is authentic as the graphics, which is both good and bad. It's PC speaker only which fits the game perfectly, Everything sounds exactly like what you'd expect from an older game and nothing is out of place. This is great, but it does have one major drawback: the game is fairly quiet due to a lack of a soundtrack, there's a small tune played for the title screen, but that's it. What you here fits the game perfectly, there's just very little to hear.
Levels are fairly open, and readily reward exploration

The game has a few minor flaws. Namely, weapon selection is automatic and can't be controlled by you at all. the way weapons work makes this mostly a non-issue, though it's a touch annoying if you wanted to use a specific weapon to save ammo for later. The other problem is the game is short. I beat all 4 episodes in one sitting and that took about 2 hours. It would of been nice if there were a few more stages, though the inclusion of high scores and multiple difficulty levels does give a decent reason to play through the game multiple times. Finally, and this is just a personal thing, the game does not have a demo, as the game is based on old shareware titles, it would of been great if there was a shareware demo of the first episode, and the lack of one feels a bit like a missed opportunity.

In recommending this game I'll have to note that what you get out of it depends a lot on where you're coming from. If you grew up playing those old shareware games, this game is an awesome throwback that's definitely worth picking up. If you didn't, it's still a solid game that could be worth a playthrough, but you might find it hard to appreciate what the game is doing.

MURI was developed by Ludosity and Remar Games and published by Ludosity. It is available on Steam.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Beware of the blob... - Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal

This is a game that somewhat defies description. On paper Creepr World 3 a tower defense game, except your towers can readily move. It would be realtime strategy, except the mechanics are nothing like a typical RTS. If I had to call it something I'd Say it a Tower Defense/RTS hybrid but even that might not be quite right. Whatever it is, we're clearly dealing with a unique game.

Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal actually has a fairly complex story about humanity's fight against an invading force called the creeper which is which takes the form of this strange blue slime that spreads to cover entire worlds. What exactly the stuff is and what it's doing are a major part of the story, and there's more here than I would of expected. As always I can't give much in the way of details because of spoilers, but I will say the game takes place a very log time after the first two games, and covers a lot of what happened since then. There are some references to the first two games, but you don't need to have played them to make since of what's going on here.
From this map, you can choose what mission to take on next.
Gameplay in Creeper World 3 is fairly simple, from your main base, you build weapons to fight back the creeper, and to power them you need to build collectors, which generate energy and help build a network which you need to transmit all that energy through. your main objective on most maps is to clear a path to the emitters the creeper is coming from, allowing you to build nullifiers to destroy them. and to do that the game gives you a lot of options. on top of simple lasers you can use mortars to blow small holes in the creeper, or use aerial units to get at distant areas. you can even build ore mines to produce anti-creeper, which can hurt creeper but won't damage your buildings. The whole time you have to carefully manage your power. try to build too much at once or don't have enough collectors making power and you'll have brownouts, slowing everything down as your base struggles to meet the demand.

The creeper itself is an unusual enemy, like I said before it's basically slime and it does act like a liquid: quickly running down hill or pooling in ditches or valleys to create deep pools of the stuff. The terrain makes a huge difference as trying to clean out a pool of Creeper is very different from trying to fight uphill against it. In fact terrain is a big part of the game, unlike other strategy games, the creeper doesn't make units or plan attacks, it just spreads. How it spreads depends entirely on the maps layout and how you choose to fight it.
Terran has a huge effect on how the creeper acts
The game comes with several game modes, on top of the main campaign there's two additional areas called tormented space and the prospector zone. These areas contain extra missions, complete with their own campaign map that slowly unlocks new missions as you beat previous ones. There's also the Dial Map Device which acts as a random map generator, the generator allows you to tweak several properties to effect how maps are generated, and you can even save and name generated maps to share them online with other players, or readily play other maps that players have saved. There's even a map editor for making your own maps, as well an in game browser for easily downloading and playing user maps. Put simply, there's a lot of content to this game.

In fact, the amount of content this game has is worth mentioning. Between the campaign, tormented space, and prospector zone, there's easily hundreds of missions here. Add the map generator and user maps, and you've got virtually unlimited missions, this would be overwhelming except the game handles it in a simple but rather clever way: The bulk of the content is optional. The main story campaign is actually quite short, it's only about 16-17 missions and can be beaten in only a few hours. meaning if you just want to beat the game and see the ending, it's not all that much of a slog. If you want more, there's all the content you could need, and you can readily take or ignore almost all of it.
This is a map of the prospector zone, each one of those stars can contain several missions.
The game has a nice soundtrack, it goes for more of a sweeping, orchestral score and while there's only a few tracks, they're all nice to listen to and fit the game's overall theme of fighting against impossible odds quite nicely. Sound is somewhat minimal but effective. It's mostly the sound of weapons fire, backed with the occasional whoosh of things flying up or down from orbit, backed up by the occasional beep or siren to warn you of something important, there's no ambient sound or anything like that, but that's fine as when missions heat up the sound of weapons fire becomes almost constant. Everything works and there's nothing to distract you.

The games' graphics seem to somewhat favor form over function. Unit designs are somewhat simple with a nice, clean UI that's easy to read. The layouts of some levels can be interesting but for the most part this game seems to be designed more around being readily readable than pretty, and it succeeds at that. Units are brightly colored to stick out from the terrain and it's easy to see what's going on at a glance.
Small maps are difficult in this game, as the creeper can quickly overwhelm you.
Surprisingly I haven't encountered any major flaws with this game. The only real bug I encountered is some lag when changing menus but other than that I didn't encounter any major technical issues. The worst I can say is that in playing the game, I found some of the units to be mostly useless to me, and I tend to focus on the same small handful out of what's available, though how much of that is due to my play style vs, how the game was designed I couldn't tell.

overall I'd say Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal is a game worth having. It has a really unique take on tower defense, and with almost limitless content, the game can readily last as long as you want it to.

Creeper World 3 was developed and published by Knuckle Cracker. It is available on Steam, Gamersgate and Desura. It's homepage, which includes a demo and direct purchase option is available here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Not Half Baaaad - Escape Goat

Escape Goat has a little history to it, it started life as an X-Box live indie game, and from what little I've heard it was a decent success there, enough at least to see a PC release, and later a sequel. While the game was well praised it seems to have fallen off the radar somewhat. as of this writing no curators recommend the original, and the sequel only has 2, one of which is the game's publisher. sounds like good material for here.

Escape goat sees you as a magical purple goat - yes, really - trying to escape a prison with the help of a small mouse, rescuing sheep around the way. to do that, you'll have to travel through about 50 some odd levels. each one a puzzle that takes up a single screen. The game is actually somewhat non linear here, levels are grouped into different areas, and you can tackle these areas in any order, with more areas unlocking as previous ones are cleared.
your ultimate goal is the rescue sheep, like this one here.
Another interesting thing about the levels is they consist of a lot of moving parts. puzzles mainly revolve around hitting switches or holding down pressure plates to rearrange various parts of the game world. Part of what stands out about this is that things don't just move, there's gears and pulleys and other things to show how and where things move, it can get very complicated and it's pretty neat to see large sections of a level move a shift about as you try to solve them.

Alongside the goat you control, you have a mouse. The, which you can summon and un-summon at any time can climbs up walls and across ceilings, as well as fit through tiny spaces and activate most buttons and plates. There's even a powerup in some levels that give you the ability to swap places with him. The little guy actually allows for a lot of possibility in lever design and the game makes full use of him without making things overly complicated.
swapping places also destroys whatever is between you and the mouse
The game also has a surprisingly good difficulty curve. While the game might seem like it's insanely hard and rage inducing, that's actually not the case. The game starts out fairly simple, saving the crazier stuff for late game when you have a better idea of what you should be doing, and most levels don' rush you much, given you all the time you need to look things over and think about how to tackle them problem. The exception to this are the post game levels, which is where the devs pull all the stops out in favor of some utterly brutal challenges, but since they're fully optional, there's no need to really worry about them. They're there if you want that extra challenge, but easily ignored if you don't

The game also has a custom level editor which allows you to make your own campaigns, I'll admit I didn't tinker with this very much so I can't really comment on useability, and unfortunately the game doesn't have any sort of built in level sharing. I was however, able to find a forum here where people can share levels, and while there's not a lot on it, there's enough to help extend the game a bit.
Levels also contain various traps, such as the one I've fallen into here
Graphically, the game goes for a simple but effective 8-bit aesthetic. Graphics are nice and colorful and everything is readily recognizable, and there's a decent amount of detail to the artwork. Overall I might have seen better pixel graphics elsewhere, but what's here is pretty decent and at worst is perfectly serviceable without being ugly.

The music however, is incredible. The game has an incredible chiptune soundtrack. While the soundtrack only contains a handful of songs, each one is well done and very catchy to listen to. It's easily one of the games biggest strengths and I highly recommend at least giving it a listen at the Bandcamp link below
Explosive crates and barrels can take out enemies for you, or yourself if your not careful
As good as the game is however, it does have one major flaw: it's short, VERY short. I beat the game, doing all levels except the bonus levels, in just under 2 hours. You could likely beat this game in a single sitting if you wanted. it's unfortunate, and it would of been nice if there was another set or two of levels in the main game to play through. Though what's there is VERY good. Also, as of this writing the game is only $4.99, which is a perfectly fair price for a game this length.

Overall, Escape Goat is a perfectly solid puzzle platformer with a difficulty curve that keeps the challenge just right. While I'm told the sequel is even better (and I may yet play and review that somewhere down the road EDIT: I finally reviewed it here), I'd say the first is still worth a playthrough. At the very least? The soundtrack alone makes it worth getting.

Escape Goat was developed and published by MagicalTimeBean. It is available on Steam, GoG and Desura. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp. It's homepage, which includes a direct purchase option is available here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Some Crap Curator

So, readers might be away of steams curator program, which lets people start groups to recommend games that show up in a curator section of user's home pages?

Well, after a little talking amongst friends, I've decided to throw my hat in, you can find my page here.

I'll be using the steam curator both to recommend games I cover here, as well as other games I can't or haven't gotten around to yet that I think deserve a mention. Much like the blog, my curator recommendations will be leaning a bit towards older and more obscure titles, So if you like what I'm doing here and you're interested in finding some good hidden gems? feel free to go follow it on Steam.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This game kicks ASCII - SanctuaryRPG

NOTICE: This review is based on the free version of Sanctuary RPG, and does not account for content added in the Black Edition, which was not available at the time this review was written.

As I've said before, one of the reasons I started this blog was to steer people towards interesting games that have flown under the radar, and when it comes to being both interesting and under the radar. a retro text based rpg that's not on steam would be a hard thing to top.

SanctuaryRPG is very much a weird game, a text based RPG that plays with a keyboard only. You'd think it was a VERY old game from the early 80s or even the late 70s, but it was actually made in 2010. It's not quite a roguelike thought it takes some inspiration from them. The closest comparison I can think of is old BBS door games if you've ever played any of those: text only, turn based, and based mostly around menus.
I wasn't kidding about the text. This is the entire title screen
As an RPG, the game gives you a surprising amount of options upon starting a new game. On top of choosing a race or class, of which there's plenty of both, you also get to choose what kind of game to play. You can choose if you want permadeath or not, or to play a survival mode which has you keep fighting battles until you die. Your choice has some minor effect on the game outside of difficulty. playing without permadeath gives you a slight penalty to item drops, and you can't unlock augments, which are small bonuses you can pick on starting a new character.

The gameplay is based heavily around navigating menus. You're given a list of the actions you can take at any point, and go from there. Want to visit the blacksmith? Chose the blacksmith option to bring up the menu for it. Crafting? You've got an option for that. Need to check your stats? Character menu. Since the game is purely keyboard based, it helps keep the controls nice and simple. There's not really any commands to remember, just look at the menu, tell the game what you want, and off you go.
you'll be seeing a lot of menus like this in game.
Combat in the game is also menu based, and it's surprisingly good. Combat is based off chains of attacks and focuses on managing resources. Many attacks cost mana, so you need to avoid running out, though you can readily recharge it by choosing to reposition instead of attacking, at the same time, you might need to reposition to break an opponent's guard or use a turn to break free of a bind. There's also special options like focus or grapple that can show up under certain circumstances. This keeps combat interesting; you have to consider your options fairly carefully, as if you just spam attacks you could get penalized for missing a grapple opportunity, or find yourself unable to reposition when an enemy is charging you.

The game also has some other options outside of normal combat, you can run a tavern to gain gold and experience, there's an area that occasionally creates random dungeons, basically a string of harder than normal fights in return for a prize, and there's a crafting system. As you play, you'll gain various materials you can use in a crafting minigame, the result of which decide how powerful the resulting item is, though the item is unfortunately still somewhat random. You can choose the base type, like a weapon or armor, but not exactly what kind of stats it'll have. you even have a crafting skill that levels up independently of your main level, there's more than enough here to do outside of the usual fighting.
The crafting minigame lets you make new items, though the results are somewhat random
Graphically... well, technically the game has no graphics as it's all text based. That said the game uses a lot of ASCII art and colored text and despite how primitive it is, it's very nice looking. The game manages to throw in some little animated sequences for some things, and many screens have some sort of art to accompany them. Even when the screen is mostly a menu, the game includes various boarders and windows to organize things so it's not just a wall of text to read. The end result is a game that's not half bad looking despite how primitive the graphics are.

The game also has a pretty nice soundtrack, it's all chiptune music that goes along with the retro text aesthetic nicely. The music makes heavy uses of square waves and is just a little scratchy so it sounds like it's from an older game. The battle themes, which you'll likely be hearing most often, are all very catchy and fun to listen to. The Game's sound is very minimal, but is a lot like the music, most of it is small jingles that play for certain events, but what few sounds are actually there are somewhat scratchy and low quality, overall the game really nails the look and feel of older games.
Enemies can have random modifiers, that change how they fight.
The game also fortunately runs very well. I didn't encounter any real bugs and since the game is text based, there's virtually no system requirements. The main problem I have with the game is there's no inventory for equipment, when you find new equipment, you have to equip or salvage it for crafting materials right then and there. Also there's no mouse support. I realize that's likely going against the game's retro ideology, and to be honest the game works just fine keyboard only. It doesn't NEED mouse support, but as the game is all menus it'd be nice if I could simply click through them. Call me lazy I guess.

In recommending this game, I have to admit that it leans somewhat on it's gimmick. This is a game that sells itself on using ASCII art and chiptunes in an age of 3D graphics. To it's credit however, it's not purely reliant on it. Underneath all that text and keyboard-only interface is a surprisingly good RPG that manages to accomplish quite a bit within the limitations the Devs put forward. Plus, as of this writing the game can be downloaded free off their homepage and is pretty cheap everywhere else so by all means, give this thing a spin and if you like it? Go buy it, it only costs a dollar or two.

Sanctuary RPG was developed and published by Black Shell Games. It is available on Desura and directly from the developer. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp. it's homepage is available here.

An upgraded version of SanctuaryRPG, called SanctuaryRPG: Black Edition, is available on Steam.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Richard Conway, Hat Fancier - Gunpoint

Originally I wasn't going to cover this game, it seemed somewhat popular, got a lot of good press, a number of my friends own it. It seemed to be doing well enough that my poking at it would be redundant. That was until I saw the developers post on Twitter: roughly 0% of Steam owners actually own Gunpoint. Granted, Gunpoint could still be pretty successful, Steam is REALLY big after all, but still at 0%? I figured no harm in poking at it, right?

Gunpoint is a very unique game, it's a 2D stealth/puzzle game, with hacking elements and heavy film noir influences. The game starts with you getting accidentally involved in a murder, and quickly grows from there. The story is actually very well written and certainly kept my interest throughout the game, thought it was maybe a little hard to follow. It doesn't take long for the game to start throwing twists at you and while the results can get kind of confusing, it certainly made for a fun ride.
Every mission starts with a briefing, and you can chose some of Conway's dialogue
The game is at it's core a stealth game in a 2d perspective. You make your way through buildings, avoiding guards to reach an objective, then make your escape. The game manages to keep this interesting through two major mechanics, the first is the Bullfrog trousers. On top of climbing and sneaking around, You're character has the ability to jump several stories high, and can readily smash through glass or tackle guards with a good pounce. It opens up a few options for how to handle problems: can't open the door? maybe you can jump through a window.

The other major feature of the game, is the Crosslink. Easily the game's biggest feature, the Crosslink allows you to remotely rewire things. Need a door open? Wire a light switch to it and flip that to open it. Can't get to a light switch? wire a motion detector to it and wait for the guard to pass through, you can even wire multiple things together so that triggering one object sets off several others. This is where the game get's a lot of it's challenge from as the game is less about sneaking around and more about finding a good way to wire the building up.
In Crosslink mode, you can you can readily rewire objects in the game.
On top of the Crosslink there's also several upgrades you can get, either with upgrade points or money earned by clearing missions. Several of the upgrades are fairly straightforward, such as allowing you to make silent landings or quietly break through glass, others allow for some new abilities though, such as the ability to rewire guards guns or wire electrical sockets to things to electrify them. it opens up some new options later in the game, though I admit I got through it with minimal use of them.

The game also comes with a level editor. I messed around with ti a little bit and out it's surprisingly easy to use, all you need to do is drag and drop things into place to build you level, the game will even wire things up properly for you: put a security panel near a door and it will automatically link the two. It's fairly easy to make a working level though there are a couple shortcomings, namely, everything in the editor comes at a fixed size, with no apparent way to resize things, there's no way I saw to set up things like pre-mission briefings, which would of been nice for making user campaigns. Still, what's there is easy to work with and more than enough to make some good levels, and thanks to the game having steam workshop support there's already plenty of user made levels readily available.
Conway is capable of making some very large jumps
Graphically, The game uses pixel art though it's not trying to be retro, or at least not advertising itself that way. Instead everything is nice and detailed despite how relatively small everything is, and the art style is clean overall. I can readily see what everything is even in the dark, and I saw nothing wrong with the graphics as a whole. At it's worst, this might not be the kind of game to praise for it's graphics, but there's nothing falt out bad about them.

The soundtrack to gunpoint is exactly what you'd expect: a moody, jazzy soundtrack that perfectly fits the Noir setting of the game. Each in-mission track comes with a slightly more electronic version that the game transitions to when you're in crosslink mode. it fits the game perfectly and is pretty nice to listen to on it's own. meanwhile the game's sound is somewhat minimal, mostly just gunshots form guards or the sound of breaking glass, but what little is there is well done.
Several upgrades are available in the in game store.
The game does however, have one major flaw. It's short. VERY short. While there's a ranking system and multiple ways to handle missions to encourage some reply, the main story is only about 3-4 hours long at most, The story manages to make the most of it and doesn't feel rushed, but it feels like there wanted to be more. for example, you do get to make a few choices throught the game that have at least some effect on the story, and it feels almost like the story is going to be fairly non-linear with all sorts of branching mission paths, but it's not. There's one set of missions, and that's it.

Overall, while the game is very short and feels like it wanted to be something bigger, it's still a very good game, the story is entertaining, even if it can be a bit confusing at times, and the crosslink is a very unique mechanic that's fun to mess around with. if you like stealth or puzzle games, consider picking this up.

Gunpoint was developed and published by Suspicious Developments. It is available on Steam. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp. it's homepage, including a demo can be found here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Good, The Bad, and The Steampunk - Steamworld Dig

Steamworld Dig started life as a downloadable title on 3DS, and was later ported to Wii U, Playstation 4/Vita and PC, given upgraded HD graphics and some platform appropriate features along the way. As a game it's a little hard to describe as it takes some ideas from a somewhat random set of games, though the results are undeniably unique.

Steamworld dig is a Metroidvania style platform game, mixed with bits of dig dug and Minecraft or Terraria. Gameplay is based around digging downwards through a semi-randomly generated world in search of ore, which you can use to get upgrades that allow you to explored deeper underground leading to more upgrades for more digging for more upgrades and so on. All of this is accompanied with a simple story, that starts with your robot hero taking over a mine in a old western ghost town out in the desert.
The town is pretty empty when you first arrive
when you're not digging, the game also has a lot of side caves you need to visit to progress in the game, along with a few side areas you can visit for extra resources. These caves focus more or platforming than digging and as a platformer the game is decent. while it's not as good as a straightforward platformer, the game was able to provide a few interesting puzzles and challenges in the caves and there wasn't anything broken or frustrating about the mechanics, though it's clear the game is more focused on digging than traditional platforming.

You'd expect a game about digging downwards to be fairly boring, But Steamworld Dig manages to avoid this. There's plenty of traps and enemies hiding underground. At first it's nothing but the occasional set of spikes in the ground or small critter wandering about but as you get deeper, the game gets steadily more complex as you end up running across things like acid, or explosive barrels. right until the end of the game, you'll be constantly coming across new things to deal with in your quest for more money, so things never get old.
There's all sort of creatures hiding underground.
Of course, all the cash you earn by selling ore in game has to go towards something. and while most of your major upgrades are found in the caves underground, there's also plenty of upgrades to buy in stores on the surface. the upgrades are mostly straightforward things like more health and better pickaxes, or enhancements to things you found in the caves. They are however useful to have and there's also a lot of them, enough that by the time I beat the game there was still some things left to buy. The game also includes some consumables, things like ladders or dynamite that can help with your efforts underground. I didn't use them very much but they were a major help the few times I did.

Graphically, the game is very nice looking, graphics were improved from the original 3DS release and looks perfectly fine on PC. They even did a surprising job of making areas in the game look unique and interesting despite the majority of the game being spent basically looking at dirt.
There are plenty of upgrades to buy with the cash earned in game.
The music in the game is somewhat sparse but does it's job nicely, the title theme to the game fits the game's western setting. The rest of the music is atmospheric, and fits the lonely, almost desolate feeling of mining at an old ghost town nicely. There is a soundtrack available on steam, and while the music fits well with the game, I'm not sure it's the kind of music you can readily listen to on it's own outside the game.

What the game really does well however, is it's sound. this is a game about steam powered robots and everything clangs, whirs and hisses exactly like you'd expect it too. Underground you'll hear dirt crumbling as it's dug away or the rumbling of boulders as they fall into place. Everything is crystal clear and sounds exactly like it's supposed to. This is a very nice sounding game.
The game starts with a nice animated intro
 Everything in the game works properly and I didn't encounter any major bugs. The game does however have one major problem: It's short, very short. I beat the game in just over 4 hours. The game does manage to make the most of this time however, as it felt like there was plenty to do in game, and it quite the trip to reach the end, but it would of been nice if it could of done just a little bit more.

Still, despite it's short length I'd say the game is worth a playthrough. It's a very unique title with it's mix of digging, upgrading and platforming and while it only took a couple of hours, it managed to readily keep my interest the whole time. if you get a chance and want to try something a little different, definitely consider giving it a try.

Steamworld Dig was developed and published by Image and Form. It is available on GoG, and Steam. It's soundtrack is available on Steam. it's homepage can be found here.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

To boldly blow up where no man has blown up before - Terminal Velocity

A straightforward arcade space combat sim. Terminal Velocity sees you in the pilot's seat of a powerful space fighter craft with the mission of blowing up everything in sight. There's a story presented in some splash screens and mission briefings in game, but it's honestly nothing important and like in a lot of older action games just serves as a cheap excuse to make things explode.

Terminal Velocity definably leans more towards arcade than full on simulation. The game doesn't care much, if at all, about the finer points of flight you can even find random powerups and weapon pickups scattered around the levels. this is not a bad thing as the game thrives on being fast paced, with little downtime in missions as you frantically fight off swarms of enemies in a hail of laser fire.
The game will see you fighting over several different planets.
As a flight sim, this is definitely a game that demands a joystick. while there are options to play with a mouse or just a keyboard, the game honestly works best with a joystick and plays wonderfully using one. Unfortunately, since this is an old doss game and I'm using a new joystick, I couldn't figure out how to make the game recognize all of my axes or buttons properly, and the game's config only seems to recognizes  4 buttons and a simple x and y axis. fortunately as the game is a fairly simple arcade game this isn't any real problem, the game ran just fine with what I could do and doesn't need a really advanced joystick, though thous of us who have the extra buttons or axis to spare might be a bit disappointed by this.

The Game's action takes place over the surface of various planets and to it's credit the game has manage to make levels fairly interesting, while there's plenty of open space to fly in, levels will see you flying through canyons, attacking military installations, or fighting off weapons turrets set on raised platforms. it's enough to keep things interesting and not just feel like you're flying through so much empty space. Also helping with this are the Tunnels.
Tunnels provide an interesting change of pace from the normal dog-fighting
A good amount of the game involves flying through tunnels found throughout the stages, shooting down enemies and barriers that block the way or dodging various obstacles. There's actually quite a few different obstacles and the game makes good use of the fact that you can readily control your speed in flight, going so far as to slow to a crawl to wait for an opening if needed. The tunnels can also come in various shapes and sizes, going so far as to allow for large underground rooms to dogfight or face bosses in. It's not as detailed as something like say, Descent, but it's enough to keep things interesting.

The music in game is unfortunately not very interesting. It sounds like the game wants to have a thumping techno or rock soundtrack but doesn't really have the teeth for it. Music tracks consist mainly of a simple beat with little else and audio quality isn't all that great, though that might simply be due to the game's age as it came out in 1995. It's not bad enough to make me rush to shut it off, but overall the music is just sort of... there.
Each planet ends with a large boss fight such as this.
The game's sound is fortunately is a lot better. Everything sounds like it should from weapons fire to explosions. Sound is nice and clean and manages to hold up well when things get frantic, making battles sound nice and chaotic without getting too noisy. Overall it does what it needs to and there's nothing to really complain about.

The games graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. The game boasted cutting edge 3d graphics when it came out and it does show, each planet you'll be flying over has it's own look, enemies have unique designs and there's even CG cutscenes for travel between planets. The problem is since it's an older game it hasn't aged well, everything's now fairly pixelated and particularly the CG cut scenes look really primitive by today's standards. This creates a problem as enemies and objects at a distance are reduced to unrecognizable dots until you get fairly close.
cutscenes like this play between missions as you move from plant to planet.
Outside of what I mentioned above the game surprisingly doesn't have many flaws. I didn't come across any real bugs and the worst thing I did encounter was likely the not very interesting music. The game does exactly what it set out to do and most of my problems with it are more a matter of the game aging rather than something fundamentally wrong with it.

That said, I'll have to note that the game is both simple, and fairly short. there's not a lot to it and the game is only a couple of hours long at best. Though for a game this simple it's probably for the best. This is not a game with a lot of deep features or complex gameplay, it's just you flying your ship around making things explode and it's very good at doing that. Well worth a look if you want something nice and simple you can quickly jump into, but those who want their games more complex should probably look elsewhere.

Terminal Velocity was developed by Terminal Reality and published by 3D Realms. It is available on GoG.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A headbang worthy RPG - Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Here's a game with a bit of a lengthy history. Ys: The Oath in Felghana - It's pronounced "eese" by the way, sounds like ease - is a remake of the older game Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, a platform/rpg that was released to several different systems in the late 80s/early 90s, readers might be familiar with the SNES and Genesis/megadrive ports. The remake was originally released on PC in Japan, then improved upon and ported to the PSP and released in North America. Some time after that, the original PC version was translated and released on Steam, which is the version I'll be looking at.

At it's core, The Oath in Felghana is a top down action rpg, though I should note the game leans much more towards action than RPG, there is equipment in the game and you do gain levels, but stats are somewhat simplified and there's not a lot in the way of skills or spells to unlock, you do gain new abilities throughout the game and certainly grow stronger, but the game isn't very big on customization.
The game has a nice looking intro
The game has a decently sized world to explore and Interestingly, despite the game not being a platformer like Ys III was, the game is still somewhat broken into stages, there's a small overworld connecting several distinct areas you'll have to travel through, and they're all fairly different, from mines to old ruins to castles. There's a little backtracking, usually for secrets, but for the most part things are pretty linear as you visit each area of the map in turn.

Each of the areas you visit has at least a couple bosses and the bosses are where the game really shines. bosses in this game are big, most have several phases they go through as they're damaged and are very hard to beat. Most of the game's difficulty comes from these bosses and while they're hard they're also fair, while they don't seem to follow a fixed pattern, it's possible to learn each of there attacks and they do a decent job of telegraphing things, there's no real cheap shots and losses are usually the fault of the player. Fortunately, if you do lose the game gives you the option to try the fight again so you can try as many times as you need to take them down.
Bosses are big, impressive, and very difficult to take down
Despite the game moving from a platformer to a more top down perspective, there's still some platforming in the game which is a bit of a mixed bag. To it's credit, the game handles the plantforming well enough, and the few sections that heavily rely on it switch to more of a side view to better handle it. The game isn't horrible with it, thought at least one late game dungeon involves a lot of vertical climbing that can prove slightly annoying. It never got horrible and everything works more or less, but the game isn't really built for platforming.

The game has a fairly basic story, though they do a good job of telling it, this is helped by the game's size, it's not a large game and doesn't try to be: I beat it in a little over 6 hours. While this means the game is short it also means the game doesn't waste time or try to stretch itself out with needless padding. You won't find any forced plot twists or derailing side quests because the game needed an excuse for another dungeon. The game does exactly what it needs to do to tell the story it wants to tell and nothing more and the story rolls along at nice quick pace as a result.
almost every character has a name and a portrait, many are introduced with large ones as seen here.
Graphically the game is pretty good. Each area of the game world looks distinct and everything is at least decent, thought somewhat primitive, likely due to being a several years old PC game. Most of the characters are sprite based thought they look to be based form CG models, and outside of some pick ups dropped by enemies, many of which are unusually small, everything is readily recognizable world geometry is a bit simple but there's still a few nice looking areas to be had, such as the bridge leading out of town.

The games strongest point just may be the music. Falcom is noted for have some amazing soundtracks to their game and this is no different. Despite the games fantasy setting, the soundtrack is more than happy to break out the electric guitars and rock the hell out, This is a surprisingly headbang worthy soundtrack as you'll find out almost immediately upon entering the games first major dungeon, and it only gets better from there. Annoyingly, there doesn't seem to be any readily available version of the soundtrack, at least not digitally. Thought the game's music files are kept in .ogg format, so you have that at least.
While primitive in areas, the game still has some nice views like this.
The game's has very few flaws that I'm aware of, I didn't encounter any real bugs, and most of the problems with the game are more opinion rather than anything really wrong: it's a very hard game, even very easy difficulty can prove a challenge at points, and it's short. on the other hand it's a proper challenge and it doesn't doesn't waste time, taking exactly as long as it needs to do what it wants to do and no more. Outside of my issues with the platforming sections mentioned earlier, there's nothing here bad enough for me to have any major problem with it.

Overall I'd recommend the game. However, there is one thing I need to make note of: The steam version of the game is based off an older PC version, and not the more recent PSP version, while I'm not familiar with the PSP version, I've read that it includes features like New Game + and voice acting that aren't available here. So while the steam version is good, you might want to consider the PSP version instead if that's an option to you.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana was developed by Nihon Falcom  and published by XSEED. It is available on Steam.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Someone get the glue and scotch tape! - Shattered planet

NOTICE: This is a port of a free-to-play android game. The PC version, which this review is based on is not free-to-play, but has had it's microtransactions removed.

Roguelikes are very difficult games, there's a lot of stats and skills to keep track of, a large list of commands to deal with, and all sorts of situations that can very quickly get you killed if your not careful, made harder by the fact that that death means starting all over from square one. It's not an easy genre to get into.

Shattered planet is a roguelike that does things very differently, the first thing to come to mind is its control scheme. The game has a one click control scheme that lets the entire game be played with the mouse. Want to move? Click on where you want to go and the game does the rest. Attack an enemy? click on it. use an item? click on it, then if needed, click on what you want to use it on. It's a very easy game to control, and being turn based, there's no need to worry about not clicking fast enough.
The start of a typical dungeon floor. your support is generally not much more helpful than this.
The other thing that immediately sticks out is the games progression system. Unlike most roguelikes, you do not level up by defeating enemies and gaining experience points. Instead, you gather scrap metal that's sometimes dropped from enemies, but can also be found laying around the dungeon floor. this scrap metal can be used to buy permanent stat upgrades that stick with you between games. There's also a little strategy to this, as you can find vendors that take scrap metal in the dungeons, so you have to decide if you want to use it to buy something to help this game, or save up for those stat upgrades, which do get more expensive as time goes on. On top of scrap metal, you also gain crystal, which is slightly harder to find, but lets you do other things between trips through the dungeon like purchase equipment or extra supplies to take with you.

On top of your character there's also your research level. This game has what's called a datalog, it starts out empty, but tracks every last thing you encounter in it. The first time you beat an enemy? Find a new piece of equipment? encounter a new type of terrain or random event? It's logged in the datalog and as you discover more stuff your research level increases, granting you things like new classes to play as or new vendors to visit on the ship between games, of course, these benefits help you better progress in the game and thus discover more things to go in the datalog. The datalog is fairly large at over 300+ entries, and filling it makes a nice long term goal to work towards while playing.
The datalog starts empty, but everything you encounter gets added to it.
The game is also surprisingly fast for a roguelike, you're typical game last only a few minuets making it a very east to squeeze a game or two into a fairly short session. A bit part of the reason for this is the blight. The blight is this purple terrain that's spreads throughout each floor of the dungeon, starting from the same spot you do. Once the blight fully covers a tile, standing in it deals damage, and it will even send enemies after you once it's big enough. while there are ways to slow it down or stop it completely on any given floor, these ways aren't always readily available. The end result is your encouraged to be quick about finding the teleporter leading to the next floor and no spend too much time exploring the area.

Finally, the game comes with a few game modes, on top of the default explorer mode, which has you traveling through as seemingly endless dungeon, there's a handful of extra challenges that are harder than normal, but see you going through a dungeon of fixed length. There's also daily mode Every day, you get a challenge to travel through a 10 floor dungeon with a fixed set of equipment, and you're only given one chance to beat it. These extra modes give the game a good bit of re-playability, giving you opportunities to discover new things for the datalog, as well as acting as a good challenge for characters that have been upgraded considerably.
New discoveries help raise your research level.
Graphically, the game is very nice looking. Everything is colorful and detailed, with a very clean art style. Items and creatures are readily identifiable, and they did a good job of varying the tile sets to keep terrain interesting. There's not a lot of animation as the game is turn based: most of the game just has everyone standing around waiting to make their next move, but what animation there is is nice and smooth. Overall it's a very nice game to look at.

Sound in the game is good. There's not a lot of sound in the game, but what sound is there works, everything sounds like it sound and there's nothing odd or out of place. Music in the game is very good, it's atmospheric and fits the tone of exploring the broken remains of the planet quite nicely. it's nice to listen to and given the lack of sound helps keeps things from being too quiet.
The ship is where you get ready for your next trip through the planet.
The game does have a few flaws, namely the games simplicity is a double edged sword it's simplicity makes it easy to get into and play, there's very little to learn and while the game has a good amount of content to it it doesn't actually demand much of your time. This is a game you can readily play without having to set a lot of time aside for and that's honestly really nice. The problem is it's simplistic. There's no skills, no crafting, no stat points or even many stats at all, if you're coming from a beefier roguelike, there's not a lot here.

Overall I like the game despite how simplistic it is, and will likely still be playing it every now and then for awhile yet. I'd say it's worth a look but you honestly need to know what you're getting into. It's a fun, simple game that's easy to get into. Great if you're new to the genre and want something simple to start with, or just simply want a lite roguelike to play every once in awhile. but if you're a hardcore rogue fanatic looking for something to replace Dungeons of Dreadmor or Sword of the Stars: The pit with? you might want to look elsewhere.

Shattered Planet is developed by Kitfox Games. It is available on Steam. It's homepage, which includes an option to purchase directly from the developer, is available here and it's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I've never been a hero and I've never been a mage - Betrayal in Antara

So, here's a game with a bit of a weird history. Betrayal in Antara is the kinda-sorta sequel to Betrayal in Krondor. By that I mean it's not really a sequel, but when the developers lost the rights to make another game based on Riftwar series of books they decided to instead make a similar RPG using an improved version of Krondor's engine and an original setting. Thus Betrayal in Antara was born. Then they got the rights back and the real sequel Return to Krondor was released, making this game's existence awkward at best. On top of that the game got pretty badly hammered for not being Krondor, but in my experience it's not that bad.

Betrayal at Krondor is an RPG, and a really oldschool one at that. It's one of those old RPGs where you have to worry about things like food and sleep and there's a lot of stats to keep track of. and there's a lot of factors that go into your stats. fora start, you do not level up in this game or have typical stats beyond HP, instead, you have various skills that increase through use or studying. Studying is actually in interesting feature, you're allowed to select up to a few skills on each character that they'll study, causing them to slowly increase over time as you rest and wander around, however, the more skills you select, the slower the process. The game even lets you change how much time is spent studying each skill so you can study say... 3 skills, but have the studying favor one over the other two so it rises faster. It adds a bit of strategy as you have to think about who needs to focus on what and there's no obvious 'right' answer.
There's a lot of info to track in this game
Magic is another interesting part of the game as you have no MP, instead everything is cast via HP, and the only way to regenerate HP is by camping, staying at an in, or spending a turn resting mid battle. Some spells can even be powered up at he cost of more HP and makes combat with mages an interesting balancing act. you need to make those spells count and really think about when to cast and when to rest or wait a bit. even amongst non-mages the rest mechanic can be important, as your skills take penalties according to your current health and stamina. A beaten up fighter will have a harder time dealing out damage and avoiding hits than one at full health. Surprisingly, the AI does not seem to cheat with this from my experience: enemy mages are damaged by their own spell casting and most enemies seem to be easier to deal with once you've done enough damage.

The game is decently written but bit of a slow burner. The story starts with the man character Aren discovering they have magic powers, and having to wander across half the game world to seek training. there's a decent bit of world building here and talking to NPCs and paying attention will show lots of plot threads and small side stories to get involved in, but the main story doesn't really pick up until around chapter 3-4 which is a good ways into the game. Actually, speaking of side stories, I should notice that the game involves a LOT of side quests, in the process of reviewing this game I managed to get myself a good ways into it and am pretty sure I have missed a LOT of content, if you're not using an FAQ, it could easily take a couple playthroughs to see everything the game has to offer if you're not through.
Cutscenes are given in this storybook format.
That said, since the game is oldschool, it's also fairly hard. Your party at the start is very weak and you'll likely have to rest after every fight for quite a ways into the game. The game does have difficulty levels, along with the ability to automate certain parts of the game like studying. Even then though, the game can be fairly tricky, characters don't die when they hit 0 hp, but recovering them takes expensive temple visits or a LOT of healing items. gold is somewhat tricky to come across and on top of rations, equipment can degrade which does reduce it's stats, and needs to be occasionally repaired or replaced.

Another tricky thing is tracking information: The game does have a full world map and local area map that keeps track of your current position, and you can even place markers on it to track the location of npcs and stores, or have the game do it for you, but there's no quest log. I was able to play well enough without one, though I'm sure it'd be better if I manually tracked stuff. The game honestly leaves it up to you to figure things out yourself. It's great that the game doesn't hold your hand but the lack of info can be a bit annoying. There were times where I wasn't sure if a conversation I had was quest related or just random fluff, and there was times where I didn't have a clear picture of what I needed to do next. Given that the game has a very large world to explore and no easy fast travel, not knowing where to go can be a bit worrying.
combat is turn-based and takes place on a hex grid
 Graphics are probably the games biggest weakness. The game was released in 1997, but as a windows 3.1 game, and it suffers from it. graphics are washed out, pixelated, and grainy, and while there is a huge world ot explore, it's not very interesting to look at. most of the game world is perfectly flat with no interesting terrain. I know as an older game it's not really going to look good by today's standards, but the game was graphically primitive for when it came out and time wasn't any kinder to it.

Sound is a bit of a mixed bag the main problem is the game is quiet, very quiet. Outside of the title and battle themes, There's virtually no music to speak of and minimal sound, not even footsteps, making your long trek through the gameworld a weirdly silent one. On the other hand? The voice acting actually isn't half bad, there's even songs you can hear in many of the the games inns and they're not half bad. What few sounds there are at least functional. I haven't heard anything that made my ears bleed, it's just a lot of the time, there's nothing to hear.
This flat stretch of land is what most of the game world looks like.
 I did encounter a few bugs while playing the game. The game suffers from some heavy terrain pop in as it loads sections of the map, and I once had a section fail to load properly, forcing e to reload an earlier save. I also had a battle that I had to redo several times as it kept crashing the game for some reason. The game fortunately makes an autosave before every fight, though it's a good idea to manually save every once in awhile in case something goes wrong. Fortunately, outside of those two incidents I actually encountered very little in the way of actual bugs. most of the games major problems are the hassles and inconveniences you'll have to deal with like the lack of quest journal mentioned earlier, but that's more a result of the games old-school origins and is pretty par for the course at that.

The game got a bit of a bad rap at release and I'll admit there's defiantly better RPGs out there. But overall it's honestly not that bad. The mechanics are solid and the story gets pretty interesting once it finally gets rolling. The game is fairly cheap and even comes with Betrayal at Krondor these days so at the very least? Buy it for Krondor, but give this a shot while you're at it.

Betrayal at Antara was developed and published by Sierra On-Line. It's available on GoG.