Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Saving the world, one shard at a time - Heroes of a Broken Land

Here's a game that kind of slid under the radar. An RPG made almost entirely by one person, Andrew Ellem. Heroes of a Broken land wasn't crowdfunded or heavily hyped prior to release. It just showed up on Gamersgate as an early access title one day and was a game in one of their Indiefort bundles. It went on to be fully released, and eventual showed up on Steam after several months of being stuck in Steam's Greenlight system. It's actually kind of surprising how humble this game's origins are, as I'd expect a large RPG made by a single person to have more of a history to it.

Heroes of a Broken Land starts with a simple premise: you are one of a council of mages that used to rule the world, using the worlds crystal heart to bring in an age of peace and prosperity. Unfortunately while the council were good leaders, they weren't perfect. They're personal flaws corrupted the heart, causing the world to explode, reducing it to a series of floating shards. As the only surviving wizard on said council, your job is to restore the world one shard at a time, using the people living on each shard to raise an army of heroes to help you. It's a simple set up that works an an excuse for the game play.
The game starts with a long intro cutscene.
At it's core, Heroes of a broken Land is a RPG with some strategy elements. you start by picking your wizard, who gives a small bonus, such as extra attack strength or MP to all of your heroes, as well as making your first 4 heroes, rolling their stats and picking from one of 4 starting classes. From there, the game starts on the overworld, along with your starting town. You actually have to develop towns in this game, choosing structures to build like weapons and armor shops, stables which let your heroes travel further on the overworld, or an adventurers guild which sells basic skills. Each town however, only has room for so many buildings, and you'll need to convince others to join you to get more space to build. These towns also act as your center of operations, attracting heroes you can hire, allowing you to form parties to explore the world, and storing heroes you're not currently using. They also need to be defended, as monsters roam the overworld, and they will eventually attack your town if you don't send out a party of heroes to deal with them.

The overworld is also full of dungeons, which is where most of the action takes place. Dungeons take place in a first person perspective and actually work a lot like in many old DOS RPGs, with grid based movement and a fixed, forward perspective. The dungeons, like the overword are randomly generated, with the type of dungeon having some effect on it's layout. For example Labyrinths consist entirely of twisting passageways with no rooms, while towers are several stories tall, with each floor somewhat smaller than your typical dungeon. Some dungeons can even require two more more parties to complete, with each party having it's own section to explore, including switches to open the way in another parties section.

Enemies aren't randomly uncounted, but can be seen roaming the dungeon. You get a bonus in combat if you can flank or get behind them, though given the layout of most dungeons, it's unlikely you'll be able do this if a group isn't already facing away from you. Combat in the game is turn based and fairly straightforward, with each character able to chose wither to attack, use an ability or use an item. Interesting however, is that targeting in the game is automatic. you don't get to pick who each character attacks. Instead characters attack according ot what side their on, left attacks left, right attacks right and the the front row has to be defeated before you can strike at the back. Some abilities can mess with this, targeting the entire group or a random enemy. It has an interesting effect on party formation, as you'll want to make sure you haven't put all of your heavy hitters on one side. Interestingly, the AI seems to follow roughly the same rules, Though they can target any row they like.
Combat is turn based with enemy targeting handled for you.
One of the things the game does really well is making for interesting choices, with a lot of stuff bing randomly generated and by extension out of your control, you have to learn to work with what your given. Heroes not only have random stats, but random abilities as well such as being smart or clumsy or even Fae blooded, how good or bad this is depends on the hero's class. Wimpy isn't too big a deal on a spell caster, but the attack penalty is a problem for fighters. What kind of heroes you get also depend on what towns you have, if you want a lizard for example, you'll either need a lizard town, or hope you come across one in a random event.

There's also special structures that can appear on the overworld these structures can teach heroes new abilities for a price, including ones they can't access normally. In the game I played I had a colosseum near my main town, allowing me to spend gold to increase my heroes HP and defense I also had schools of fire and earth nearby, allowing me to promote mages into sorcorers, as well as teaching anyone I want fire or earth spells, This allowed me to not only teach my mages spells they might have missed in favor of picking different spells, but if I had the gold I could teach them spells before they'd normally learn them. Finally, you can eventually have up to six parties of six heroes each to manage, and you'll have to consider which parties should be exploring and which should tackle what dungeon or group of monsters.

Finally, the game comes with a good number of options, not only can you pick the size of the game world, from a tiny world you can complete in a few hours to massive worlds that would take weeks to handle, but there's separate difficulty sliders for various parts of the game, from how much gold you can find, to how many monsters wander the overworld at any given time, giving you a lot of flexibility in setting up the kind of challenge you'd like to face. Though for those who'd rather not tweak things that much, there's still several preset difficulty levels.
when not managing towns or exploring dungeons, you'll spend time exploring the overworld.
Graphically, the game is a weird mixed bag, The towns and intro are actually quite nice looking. Character portraits and enemy spites are also decent, looking a lot like something out of the old DOS RPGs that influenced this game, then even extends to the overword with all it's little icons an pixelated terrain, though sadly there's not a lot of variety here as the overworld only has a few different terrains to use, and there's only one icon for wandering monsters that I've seen. dungeons however, are a bit of a let down, They're in 3d, but made of flat shapes with low-res textures slapped over them, it gets the job done, but it's not all that great looking.

Sound and music is also a mixed bag. What sound the game has gets the job done, but there's only a handful of sounds, mostly used in combat. The game tends to be very quiet when your not fighting, save for the music. The music meanwhile is actually really good, consisting entirely of piano pieces which are honestly nice to listen too. The only problem is that while the soundtrack is good, there's only about three songs and this is a game that you could readily be playing for hours. You'll be hearing the same music a lot while playing the game, and this lack of variety means you may find yourself quickly growing bored of it.
Each town only has so many slots to place buildings in, choose wisely.
The game also suffers form a few flaws, it's nothing game breaking, but I encountered some mild problems with dialogue boxes and the game's UI can have some trouble displaying equipment with long names. One of the big problems though, is the game isn't the best and presenting information. It's mostly small stuff, for example I don't know exactly how much HP or MP the various healing and mana potions recover, at least not without using them first, and you can't check with a skill does unless you're currently able to use it or selecting it on the level up screen, though skill books at least give you a quick description of what they do. It's annoying, but you can at least learn these things as you keep playing.

A bigger problem would be managing your heroes. You can have up to 6 parties of 6 heroes, That's 36 heroes to outfit. While the game cuts you some slack in this manner; inventory is shared across all heroes and you don't need them to be at a town to buy potions and equipment. There's no easy way to see what equipment is best for who or a breakdown of everyone's status or who you've been teaching what skills. If you want to change everyone's equipment or check skills and status, you'll need to check it group by group and hero by hero, which can get tedious once you start growing past your second party. To the game's credit, there's at least a town screen so you an see how many slots a town has, how much gold their pulling in and what buildings they have.

To be fair though, this is a massive game made almost entirely by one person. The only help he had was a world and character artist and a monster designer, listed on the game's credits page. it's honestly impressive a game this big was made by that small a team, and without any sort of kickstarter or crowd funding I'm aware of. So while those problems exist and are annoying, it's kind of understandable. That said the game has seen some extra development post-launch, with new content added and some bugs fixed, so if we're lucky one day they'll have a chance to fix this stuff. As it currently stands? This is an RPG with oldschool influences that makes great uses of procedural content. If you like the idea of exploring a random world, saving towns and fighting monsters while managing an army of heroes, this is definitely a game worth checking out.

Heroes of a Broken Land developed and published by Winged Pixel Inc. It is available on Steam, Desura and Gamersgate. It's homepage, which includes a demo is available here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The peanut butter must flow! - Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages

So, crowdfunding. With the rise of sites like Kickstarter, and indiegogo, using crowdfunding to fun a game has been fairly popular with indie developers over the past couple of years. This has come with some problems, naturally. I won't name names, but I'm sure at least some of my readers can think of one or two projects that completely failed to deliver, been abandoned, or otherwise had something terrible happen to them. But while bad things do happen, there's also a number of games that could only really exist because of it.

One of those games would be Ring Runner, a very ambitious game, mixing top down shooting and space combat with a lot of customization options, that was in development for several years by a very small team, only two or three people from what I've read, based on a novel they wrote. It's the kind of game that would have a difficult time seeing the light of day without Kickstarter. Fortunately, they managed to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, making a bit over $27,000 and managing to release the game in July of 2013. So what are we looking at.

Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages takes place in a far future, where earth has been blown up, and an empire called the Consortium of the Inner rings rules the galaxy. Also hanging around the galaxy are sages, strange being who can warp reality. The game's story starts with you waking up in a medbay, with no memories and part of your brain scooped out to make room for an AI that's been lodged into your head, which as the game notes might explain the amnesia. It also turns out your a sage and a lot of the universe kind of has it out for you because of that. The story itself is surprisingly long and detailed and actually did a good job of keeping my interest the whole time I played. Though there is a lot of world-building and terminology to absorb and keeping track of it all can be a bit confusing.
Welcome to the galaxy, it's a bit weird out there.
The game's story also has something of an oddball sense of humor. While it doesn't shy away from pop-culture references, the game is fortunately not solely reliant on it and the story takes some very odd turns, such as a part of the story that sees  you working in a company obsessed with DVORAK keyboards, or one that sees you bullying what I can only describe as space hillbillies, living in a space trailer park, by killing their pets. Said pets being robotic weapons turrets. over all, While the main story is fairly serious, there's a lot of silly moment and I honestly chuckled at a few point.

At it's core, Ring Runner is a top down, 360 degree space shooter. You fly a ship in various levels from a top down view blowing up other ships and trying not to get blown up yourself. It's a simple game at it's core and the basic mechanics work just fine. I should note that your ship has some inertia to it, it'll keep floating in the last direction you moved in, even if you're not actively thrusting, and doing things like turning or reversing can take some effort as your engines need to overcome that inertia, if you've played the old Atari game Asteroids or anything like it? It's a lot like that. Flying can take some getting used to as you get a feel for how all of this works. The game does help you by giving your ship breaks though, allowing you to slow and eventually stop your ship fairly easily. It's useful for if you get knocked around by terrain or another ship and need to reorient yourself.
The game has a lot of ships, and you can customize the load-outs for each one.
While the core gameplay is very simple, there's a lot of complexity in ship customization. to start, there's a good number of ship hulls to choose from in this game, broken down into various classes. These include things like casters, who use a lot of powerful charged weapons, rogues, who have access to cloaking devices and can deploy decoys to confuse enemies, and grapplers, who favor close range weapons and can even grab and throw enemies and objects in the level. There's even hybred hulls that can mix the abilities of the various classes. from there you can load the hull with various weapons and abilities and there are a lot of them to choose from. Better still, it's not just the usual lasers and homing missiles, some of the things you can use are pretty unique. you can summon turrets to help you fight, make giant energy rings that slow down enemies caught inside them. There's even an ability in the game that involves firing a missile without actually launching it and riding it for a speed boost that ends in an explosion that damages nearby enemies. There's a lot fun stuff to use this game.

Customizing the ship is also pretty simple, Every hull has various nodes, each one has some slots that you can put things in, There's a lot of node types, with some mostly used by specific classes. but the game does a good job of keeping things manageable as clicking on a node shows only what you can readily install to it. Each hull also has a list of bullet-points listing it's main features, so you can get a good idea of what kind of ship it is all all of the equipment comes with a description of what it does. Unfortunately there's no way to readily test a ship outside of actually flying it in a mission.

There's also a shop you can get new equipment from, using money you earn in the campaign called Plex. The shop starts out fairly well stocked, and more stuff unlocks as you complete campaign missions. There's also research, which is rather weird. Instead of picking something specific you pick a category to research, and there's no cost it it except time, usually an hour or two. You don't need to run the game for research time to pass either, in fact you can start research, come back to the game a few hours later and find it's been completed multiple times while you were gone, unlocking several things in the process, though playing the game helps the time go faster, reducing it depending on how much Plex you earned in a mission. You can even do paid research, which doesn't unlock anything, but gives a good amount of Plex when it finishes. It's worth noting you can buy things that haven't been researched yet, it simply costs more, so there's no need to use research if you find the system too weird.

It's also worth noting that you can buy items that are unlocked for free by playing the campaign, and the game warns you when you're about to do that. It's actually a nice touch, as you don't have to worry about accidentally buying stuff you can unlock, but still have the option to just buy it if you'd rather not do things that hard way.
you can purchase new gear in the shop, or check on how your research is doing.
Graphically, the game is fairly nice looking. obviously, as a 2D game set in space, there's not actually a lot to the levels themselves, mostly it's simple asteroids or debris when you're not in open space, though the game also includes some unusual stuff. The space trailer park I mentioned earlier is exactly that, a trailer park floating in space. There's also cities, race tracks used for a few missions, etc. They look decent enough when they crop up, as do the ships themselves, though the games somewhat zoomed out view makes them kind of small.

What you'll be seeing a lot of however are the backgrounds, and they're honestly quite impressive, not just a simple star field, you'll see nebula, distant planets some of them even have stars fairly close, enough to cast a glow over the current level, though that does make things look a little foggy in my experience. Meanwhile, weapon effects are about as varied as the weapons themselves, from massive missile barrages to glowing energy balls, weapons and abilities all look very unique from each other, which is impressive consider there's about 400 of them.

The game also has a nice soundtrack. Very spacey and synth heavy. it fits the game nicely, with a mix of fast, energetic tracks for combat and slower, more thoughtful ones for cutscenes and slower moments in game. it has a decent amount of music to boot, which is good as this is a roughly 20 hour game. Sound meanwhile, is also well done, much like with the graphics, there's a good number of sounds to go with all the weapons and abilities you have access to, making large battles nice and chaotic, and while there's no voice acting, the sound that accompanies thet being displayed is unique for several characters, to help them further stand out. Overall this game looks and sounds very nice.
The game's backgrounds can be very pretty.

The game unfortunatly does have a few flaws, the first is that the game can bee fairly slow. You actually have to go through quite a few missions before you finally get to start choosing what ships to use and making load-outs for them. It's longer still before the game opens up and lets you pick what missions to tackle yet. though I'll note that while the game is somewhat non-linear around the middle part of the story, it's not a sandbox. though at 20 hours long, you'll at least have a lot of time to enjoy it when the game finally opens up.

the biggest problem are the menus. The game's menus are nested, with parts opening and closing on screen as you access them, the problem is navigating them is  clunky, the game often locks your mouse to them and collapsing a menu with the mouse can be surprisingly difficult at times. worse still, the menus are fairly spread out, with some options and bits of information requiring you to dig down though several stages of sub-menu to look at them, this actually makes designing a ship load-out very slow when you have to keep looking up what the various parts you have do.

In the end, what we're looking at is a game with a nice, long campaign, and a good amount of replayability in the from of extra challenges on almost every mission, and the inclusion of some extra modes that can be played in online multiplayer if you have some friends to play with. More importantly, this is a very unique game, the result of years of development by developers who  clearly loved what they were doing. There's honestly not much like it out there and it's worth a look almost on that alone, even if the game can be a little rough around the edges.

Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages developed and published by Triple.B.Titles. It is available on Steam, GoG and Desura. It's homepage, which includes a demo and direct purchasing option is available here. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Man Vs. Dungeon - Din's Curse

NOTICE: This review used a copy of the game that includes the Demon War expansion, your experience with the base game many vary.

So, awhile back I reviewed Depth of Peril (you can read that here) A... well I went on about this a bit in the Depths of Peril review but, Diablo Clone. That had a few rough edges but brought in some interesting ideas, namely managing a covenant, diplomacy and competition with other covenants, and a living world that doesn't simply wait for you to act. Well, as it turns out the developer wasn't quite done with some of these ideas yet, and decided to make a new game based in the same world.

Din's Curse follows a simple set up. In it you are dead and while they don't go into details your character was to put it mildly, something of a massive jerk. Seeing this Din, champion of the gods has cursed you with a second life. Doomed to wander the world forever, your job now is to redeem yourself by traveling the world, saving desperate towns from monsters and the forces of evil. It's an interesting enough setup, though nothing really comes of it as your placement in Din's Post-Mortem Community Service Program is mostly just an excuse to make with the killing and looting.
Saving the world is nice. But a legendary longbow is better.

At it's core, gameplay in Din's Curse is a straight forward hack and slash affair: pick a class, buy supplies form town then go into the dungeon and start killing stuff for loot and XP. If you've bene playing games like Diablo and Titan Quest it's nothing you haven't seen before, though Much like with Depths of Peril, the game does throw a few twists into the formula. one of the first and most obvious being classes.

In Din's Curse, you have several classes to pick from, mostly fairly standard. You have your big tough, warrior, your spell casting wizard, even a sneaky, trap laying thief. Each class has three skill tries and like in Depths of Peril, the trees are somewhat flexible, having no prerequisite for skills outside of stronger skills costing more skill points to unlock and level up. you even get 3 skill points per level, and even skill that would be considered 'late game' don't have a massive initial cost. So unlocking a later skill only means saving up for a few levels, or spending some money to untrain a few points.

You also get some special challenges to pick from; like only being able to equip gear of a certain quality or better, having no minimap, finding fewer magic items... There's even  one that kills you if you fail to save a town, which makes things interesting if you combine it with hardcore mode: Death is permanent, and failing to save the town means death.
Skills in this game have no sill or level prerequisites to use, giving you some flexibility in building your character.
Outside of normal classes however, Din's curse gives you the option to make a hybrid classes.A hybrid class allows you to pick only two skill trees instead of the normal three a regular class gets. However, those two skill trees can be from any class in the game. For example, you could take the mage's ice magic tree and mix it with the Warrior's Weaponmaster tree. This would give you a character who can pin an enemy down with freezing and slowing spells so he can better beat them up with a sword or axe. There's plenty of combinations to choose from, and if you're feeling like a challenge, you can even pick two trees from the same class. Which I know is possible because I tested it, and not because I had a moment of stupid and somehow managed to pick two trees from the same class without realizing it. Really. I mean that.

Diplomacy unfortunately is gone from the game, instead the dynamic world has been reworked and expanded upon. In Depths of Peril, the living world was interesting, but outside of a few really nasty events didn't have much consequence. If a monster killed a vender, it'd be replaced eventually, a thief stealing goods was annoying but he'd go away eventually if nobody killed him first. In Din's Curse, this dynamic world is now very much set against you. almost every event that happens is meant to make things worse for you and since losing too many people in town can cost you the game, there's more urgency than ever to try and keep things under control before the town is overrun with bad news. This game is very much you Verses the world, and the dynamic aspects of it are much more noticeable thanks to this.
Hybrid classes give you a lot of options to choose from, here's me picking two trees from the same class.

One thing that did carry over from Depths of Peril was the graphics. The game appears to be using the same engine and a lot of models and textures seem to have been ported over from the first game, though things might have been touched up slightly. The game also mostly takes place under ground in dungeons, with no outdoor exploration, and the game seems to handle the underground better. The dungeons are somewhat more interesting than the outdoors of the previous game, though as this game came out in 2010, things are still looking a bit dated.

Music and sound is about the same as the last game as well. The soundtrack is slightly better this time around, it's a bit louder, a bit more noticeable and does a good job fo getting you ready to go dungeon diving, though it's still mostly background filler. It keeps things from being too quiet, but it's nothing that's interesting or stands out enough to have you seeing out the soundtrack. Sound is also much the same as last time: doing a great job of grabbing your attention when something important happens, and monsters make noise to let you know they're there, Everything does what it needs to. But nothing that really stands out on its own.
The game uses a lot of the same graphics as Depths of Peril.
Finally, there something that's not quite a flaw, but more of a warning. The game's pacing can be a bit too frantic at the start. In fact this is not an easy game when things are played normally and being a new character doesn't help. Fortunately you an adjust how fast the game's quests and other dynamic events progress, and I'd highly recommend slowing everything down for your first few towns until you have a few levels under your belt and some idea of how things work. You'll take a small XP penalty for it, but early on being able to actually complete quests and save towns will make up for those losses.

In the end, What I said about Depths of Peril still applies here. If you don't like games like Diablo or Torchlight, this likely won't change your mind. But it's worth if you like those games and want to see somthing different, granted, the lack of diplomacy and a covenant to manage makes it a little less unique than Depths of peril was. but the new focus on you fighting against the world makes the game's dynamic world far more noticeable, and hybrid classes give you a lot of options to play with.

Din's Curse was developed and published by Soldak Entertainment. It is available on Steam, GoG, Desura and Gamersgate. It's homepage, which includes a demo and direct purchase option is available here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

To one who'll stand and fight - A Valley without Wind 2

So, a few weeks ago I reviewed A Valley without Wind (readable here). In that review, I mentioned how the game had a bit of a troubled development, seeing the game undergo many changes leading up until release. This went so far as to see the game still receiving changes after release, eventually reached a point where Arcen decided to do the following: They were going to take a lot of the ideas and improvements they had in mind for the game and use it to make a sequel instead. This sequel would then be sold in a bundle with the original game and this would be the only way to buy the games, they would not be available separately. Finally, to be fair to all the early adopters and those who brought the game before the sequel came out. The sequel would be given to these people free of charge.

That brings us  to where we are now, so how did the game turn out?

A Valley Without Wind 2 takes place in the same setting as a Valley Without Wind. A world named Environ where reality has shattered, resulting in a strange world made of various places form different time periods. A valley without wind 2 however, only takes place on a single continent and introduces a twist to the set up. The Ilari, strange living stones that help guard humanity and the glyph bearers never showed up on this continent. Worse yet The resident overlord, Demonaica has an Oblivion Stone, making him and his followers functionally immortal. Fortunately, your character is part of a resistance effort that's managed to get into Demonaica's ranks and get an oblivion stone themselves, giving you a chance to fight back and hopefully take down Demonaica for good.

Again like in the last game, this is mostly an excuse for the gameplay, but it's still a fairly unique setup.
You know you've got a bad job when it's only your first day, and you're already plotting to kill your boss.
At it's core, A Valley Without Wind 2's gameplay is very similar to the first game, you explore a randomly generated 2D world, pushing back windstorms and gathering things to strengthen your character. Although compared to the first game, things are far more focused. Each tile on the world map only has one map to play through, and there's far less in the way of side areas. As a result each area feels more like a level in a traditional platform game rather than a large open area to explore. Each area also has an obvious goal, usually taking down the wind generator at the end of the level, though some special locations give you bosses to fight or terminals to hack.

Also gone form the game are the random spells and enchantments. Instead, your character can pick a class from a random list, split into 5 tiers that decides what spells they have access to. There are a lot of classes in the game, about 50 and which ones you get to pick are randomized each time. Not only will you not see the same classes every game, but they'll be put in random tiers each time, meaning a weak tier 1 class one game could end up a tier 5 in the next. There's also equipment, which gives various bonuses and sometimes penalties like less movement speed in return for extra attack damage but you can only have one piece of equipment at a time and it breaks after you take enough damage, so it's not as big a deal as enchantments were in the last game.

Missions have also been removed from the game. Instead the game has special locations you can visit going to these places and completing the levels there awards you with various things. Windmills for example, level up your character, giving them access to more perks. There's also caverns, which give perk tokens, unlocking more perks to pick form when you level up, which give small bonuses like extra health or movement speed. finally there's robotic research facilities which give feats, which unlock special abilities like double jumping or the ability to shrink to fit through small spaces.
instead of finding random spells, you pick mage classes, like the ones shown here.
A new addition to the game is your resistance, unlike the last game where you had a single, protected colony, here you have resistance members, these members can be ordered around on the overworld and can do things like gathering food and scrap, building new buildings (which costs scrap), like farms, shelters and clinics and recruiting new members found on the world map. You're not really building a permanent settlement in this game, as structures can be destroyed and your resistance members will constantly need to move to either to other things or get away from danger. Instead structures are more of a temporary solution. You build them, get as much use from them as you can, then abandon them once things get too dangerous.

Speaking of danger, your main problem in the game is Demonaica himself. The overworld is turn based, with a turn passing every time you destroy a wind generator and purify some more land. as turns pass, monsters will come out of Demonaica's keep to attack your resistance members and destroy structures. and your resistance members have to deal with them, you can't just go fight them yourself. Eventually Demonaica himself will emerge and he's quite nasty, not only does he summon more monsters and cast spells like blizzards over the landscape. He's invincible, and will instantly kill any resistance member he encounters. You lose the game if all of your resistance members die, so it's in your best interest to hurry on doing what you need to beat the game once he shows up.
You can issue orders on the world map, but ultimately it's up to your resistance members to get things done.
A Valley without Wind 2's graphics are a major improvement over the first game. This time, Arcen handed the job of graphics over to Heavy Cat Studios and they came up with a nice, hand drawn graphics style. A lot of enemies form the first game have been given a new look. Environments look more distinct from each other, with more detailed tiles and backgrounds, characters are more detailed and better animated overall and everything works together, rather than oddly clashing like in the first game. Where the fist game could be downright ugly, this is a major improvement.

The game also has a pretty sizable soundtrack, though notable it doesn't sue much if any chiptune this time. A lot of the tracks are remixes and rearrangements of stuff from the first game, and it all sounds better for it, of particular note is the game's title track "to one Who'll Stand and fight" It's somewhat rare you get a vocal track in in an indie game, and it's also one of the first times Arcen games included one. Though it would become something of a tradition for them, with a lot of their later games including at least one vocal track. overall the soundtrack is very nice, though again I don't think the soundtrack on Bandcamp is the complete soundtrack.
Graphics are much nicer this time around, and the assets work nicely together.
In playing the game I did encounter one notable flaw: The game would pause for a few brief moments whenever the games music had to change or restart. it was annoying, but didn't cause me to much trouble. In reality, the games biggest flaw is more about preference. You see, A Vally Without Wind 2 fixes a lot of things, but for every thing they fixed it seems something had to be taken away. Mage classes allowed for a much better control scheme, especially for gamepad users, but less freedom in developing your character. Level design is much cleaner and better focused, but there's much less exploration. Fighting Demonaica and his followers gives the game a clear goal and much better direction overall, but the game is no longer endless, in fact, you can lose now, and is no longer a sandbox. While I'd argue the game is better overall, I can understand people preferring some of the features of the original game despite it's flaws

Overall, A lot of what I said about the first game applies to the second: If you can handle some of it's stranger ideas, A Vally Without Wind 2 offers a massive amount of replayability. That said, while it has to drop a lot of stuff to do so, the sequel cleans up a lot of the first game's rough edges and is far more accessable as a result. That said, the two game come bundled together so if you're getting one game, you'll have the other and as well give it a shot while you're at it.

A Valley Without Wind 2 developed and published by Arcen Games, LLC. It is available on Steam. It's homepage, which includes a direct purchasing option and demo is available here. It's soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pac is back - PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX+

Over the years, Plenty of companies have tried to revive or reboot their old IPs, most readers would likely be familiar with 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, or possibly Shadow Warrior in 2013. This isn't limited to older PC games however, as plenty of arcade games gave been given the same treatment. Frogger got a 3D sequel in 1997, along with Centipede in 1998. Battlezone somewhat famously got rebooted as an action/RTS game in 1998 and there was even a not very well received Yar's Revenge game in 2011. To top it all off, as of this writing Atari has Asteroids: Outpost on Steam Early Access. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that someone would eventually try to re-imagine Pac-Man.

Well... to be honest Pac-man's been a lot of different games over the years, but... Look, it's Pac-Man, one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time, he's honestly kind of hard to write an intro for.

PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX+, which I'll be calling Pac-Man CE from here on out, is a sort of re-imagining of the original Pac-Man, taking the games basic mechanics and using them to make something new. At it's core it plays a lot the original Pac-Man, You're given a maze full of pellets you need to eat, while avoiding ghosts that chase after you. There's also power pellets you can eat, that give you the ability to eat the ghosts. Being an old arcade game, there's not a lot to it.
While things look different, a lot of the basics are still here.
Pac-Man CE however, changes things slightly. to start, Mazes in Pac-Man CE are split in half, when you clear one half, a bonus item appears in the other. Eat that, and the half you just cleared is removed and a new one put in it's place. since the maze constantly refills itself this way, there's no need to stop the action to reset things like in the original game, allowing the game to fly at a steady pace with almost no breaks in the action.

Another big change is the ghosts, While the four that chase you around the maze are still there, there's now also several ghosts dotting parts of the maze, they're sleeping and won't normally chance you, but when you pass near one, it wakes up and starts to follow after you. After that, and new ghosts you wake up will get in line behind it, until you've got a giant spectral conga line chasing after you. It's actually a big part of the game, as your goal while clearing out the maze is to get as many ghosts chasing you as possible. Once you think you've got enough of them, you can grab a power pellet to eat the whole line for a massive score bonus.
most of the game is spent building up a line of ghosts, like the one seen here.
Outside of the power Pellets, the game offers a couple of additional tools to help deal with the ghosts. The first is a sort of bullet-time effect. Whenever you get near a ghost, the game visually draws your attention to it, while also slowing the game down, giving you several seconds to try and move out of the way. alternatively. There's bombs. Bombs are an extremely useful tool that when used, send all ghosts back to their base in the center of the maze. you're not completely out of the woods, as the line that was chasing you will be on our tail again in a few moments, but it's a life saver when you're cornered and need some extra breathing room.

For the most part the game is pretty simple: Move back and forward between both halves of the maze, eating dots and getting ghosts to chase you so you can eat them for massive points, all in the name of setting as high a score as possible within the time limit. The game manages to get a lot out of this too, with several unique mazes to play on, each with 5 and 10 minuet modes to play on. The game doesn't stop there however, and includes two additional modes. There's time trial, which has you eating a certain number of bonus items as quickly as possible, and ghost combo, which only counts how many ghosts you can eat in a single combo. Both force you to rethink how you play the game as score doesn't matter in these modes.
Passing near ghosts causes them to wake up and chase after you.
Graphically the game neon, very neon. There's several different graphic modes you can pick from, ranging from classic, pixelated sprites to smooth shapes, some modes make the maze walls look slightly raised. There's even a graphics set based on the old Pac-Mania arcade game and if you have the DLC for it, sets based on Rally X and Dig Dug. Whatever you choose though, all of them have the same things in common: plenty of Bright, glowing neon colors. add in all the flashing effects and visual cues that pop up during play, and you've for a bight, visually exciting game to look at. Interestingly, the graphics are split between both the maze itself, and the characters, and you can mix these however you want, There's even a color option that changes a graphic set's colors between various options, giving you a surprising amount of control over the look of the game. Although sadly this flexibility doesn't extend to the DLC graphics. If you use a DLC set, you have to use both halves of it together, no mixing and matching.

The game uses mostly club and dance remixes of various themes from old Pac-Man games, which fit with the games neon look nicely. There's several tracks available and you can pick what song you'd like to hear for each game, Though again, the DLC sets force you to use all of a DLCs assets together. it's all very bouncy, energetic music that fights the fast paced nature of the game nicely. honestly, between the thumping music and neon colors, this is practically a rave party in video game form.
The DLC includes some extra graphics options, like this Dig Dug set shown here.
The game does what it sets out to do well enough, and there's a lot of content to keep someone busy, but despite all of this, there is one thing that slightly disappoints me with the game: There's no classic mode. It would of been fun if I could play some classic, oldschool Pac-Man with these new graphics and music and it's slightly disappointing that I can't. Though with that said I guess I can understand why, as it's not the real focus of the game and the developers were likely trying to get away from the old formula.

With all this said, what were looking at is an amazing score attack game, with a high replay value, thanks to having plenty of mazes and modes, each with their own ranking system and global online high score tables to compete on. It's easy to pick up and play in small sessions and those who like to really master their games have a lot to dig into. more impressively, Pac-Man CE manages to successfully take a simple game like Pac-man, and turn it into something completely new while still being readily recognizable as a Pac-Man game, making this a game worth looking into.

PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX+ was developed by Mine Loader Software Co., Ltd. and published by Namco Bandai Games. It is available on Steam. It's soundtrack is available on iTunes.