Category Archives: Uncategorized

I Got Fraps’d

So a while back (about a year and half ago) I wrote a short piece about my review writing process. In that piece, I mention using Fraps for screenshot purposes, partially because it works with almost all games and partially because I’ve just gotten used to it. It works with almost all games, but I’ve had exceptions; for instance, most HTML-based games ignore Fraps entirely. So generally, what I do before I start a review play process is test my setup: Play with the frame counter a little, take some quick test shots to see if everything’s working as intended.

Generally, I do this test process before every game.

I spent most of this week playing Masters of Anima. Really did my best to try and get through the whole game before review time. Guess what I forgot to check.

This is one of those nightmare scenarios. Except it’s all too real.

What I’m going to do is this: Without screenshots of the early game, I can’t do my traditional full review, which relies heavily on reconstructing my experiences after the fact. So tomorrow I’ll write basically only the second half of the review, and stitch that together with quick Steam screenshots I grabbed a little earlier — not quite enough for my liking, but the alternative is replaying the entire damn game, and that’s no alternative at all.

Not the kind of post I’d wanted to make after last week’s grandiose slip-up, but I guess 2018 makes fools of us all. And by us all I mean me.

Indie Time Flies When You’re Having Fun Land

…hmm? Oh hey, what are you guys doing back so soon? I appreciate the enthusiasm, but I generally only post on Mondays. So unless you were really banking on me having unexpected inspiration, showing up on Wednesday or whatever day it is right now seems uncharacteristically optimistic.

What do you mean, ‘it’s Monday again already’? That doesn’t make sense. I posted the previous review like, yesterday. And then I decided to boot up Stardew Valley again, for the first time in like a year. But just to check out my old farm. And maybe look at some of the new possible farm layouts. That’s it!

What do you mean, ‘you played like thirty hours of Stardew Valley last week’?

What do you mean, ‘you were well aware of the effect this game had on you last time, and could have known in advance that it would drain all your time and energy, leaving you stranded on the couch in a drawn-out attempt to synchronize crop cycles and give jars of mayonnaise to everyone in town’?

What do you mean, ‘this particular framing device loses power through repeated over-use’?

What do you mean, ‘chickens are great and Shane should hug them mo’ — no, actually, I totally get what you’re saying here.

Okay, okay, for real though: I got sucked into Stardew Valley, meaning I don’t have anything to review this week, and I apologize. This might mean I needed some time away from playing games through a critical lens, but I still try to be more up-front about these things. Springing it at the last minute isn’t cool.

In lieu of a new review this week, a fun thing you can do is re-read my old Stardew Valley review, which still pretty much stands — up to and including the part where it attempts to claim all my free time, everywhere, forever. Given that this review was written on launch, though, you’ll have to mentally append the following new features:

  • Shane now has a proper character arc, meaning he actually has personal development beyond the tidbits that were teased.
  • You can now marry Shane.
  • Shane can come live on your farm and look after chickens all day instead of having to slave away at a soul-crushing, life-draining job at the megacorporation supermarket that nobody in town likes and everyone resents existing despite being unable or unwilling to boycott it until such time as you fulfill literally every demand of the community market fairies.
  • This game actually has some confusing messages re: Late-stage capitalism, come to think of it (see also: Linus’ whole deal).
  • There are four new farm types to pick from, which is pretty cool — not only do they look meaningfully different, but each one emphasizes a different skill set over ‘just farming’: There’s a Forest Farm for foraging, a River Farm for fishing, a Mountain Farm for mining, and an After Dark Farm for posting things you don’t want to have on your main fighting monsters.
  • Emily also has a character and romance arc now? I guess?

    And if that’s not enough Stardew Valley for you, or alternatively, if you’re worried direct Stardew exposure will have the same effect on you as it did on me, might I recommend taking a look at the online Stardew Valley plot planner — a game that at this point in time I think I’ve played even more than Stardew Valley proper?

    For real though.

    This got wordy for an apology post. Anyway, to summarize: Stardew Valley still rules. Sorry for not having a proper review up. I’ll have something for you next week.

    Always romance Shane if given the opportunity.

    – Jarenth

Indie Cultist Simulator Land

So. Those of you who pay attention to this space (a number somewhere between two and ‘several thousand people’) may have seen that I posted something this time last week, wherein I claimed to be delayed by E3 and promised that I would, and I quote, “try to have something up for you as soon as I can manage”. And then a week of stone cold silence ensued. What happened?

Cultist Simulator is what happened, as anyone who follows me on any kind of social media might have spotted. Weather Factory‘s magnum opus grabbed my brain by the folds and refused to let go: I started playing somewhere late Sunday last week, and eight days later I have a little over 50 played hours clocked. Hell, that Sunday itself I only intended to take a quick look, and ended up playing until 3 AM or so.

This is not going to be a traditional Indie Wonderland review. For one, Cultist Simulator doesn’t really lend itself well to my review style. If I took you through the first play session blow-by-blow, my mechanical spoiler counter at the start would have to read for the love of god, don’t read this review. Moreover, for two, Cultist Simulator is a… particular game. Not niche, per se, but… challenging to grasp. I don’t know if I have the confidence to try and pull apart what parts ‘do work’ and ‘don’t work’, either ‘as intended’ or ‘in general’. Hell, I’m not even sure still why it is that I like it so much as I do. I do, obviously, just…

So, I’m doing something different. Instead of reviewing Cultist Simulator in this space, I’m going to be talking about Cultist Simulator. I’ll explain why (I think) it appeals to me, and what that says about the larger game. I might try to drag some points of praise or criticism out of the whole affair, if such points seem to present themselves. It’s going to read slightly more like the ramblings of a madman than usual, but then again, I feel that might be appropriate this time around.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, as low as I could manage. Mechanical, ditto.)

(Game source: Backed it on Kickstarter.)

After the break: Cultist Simulator, Or: Down I Go…

E3 Delay

Heya folks. Got a little wrapped up in poking fun at E3 the last few days, which impeded writing efforts. I’ll try to have something up for you as soon as I can manage.

Cheers,
– Jarenth

Indie Wonderland: Safe House

One of the neatest aspects of doing this repeated indie game reviewing gig over the years is that it’s exposed me to tons of games I wouldn’t otherwise have seen or played. It’s part of the reason I started the whole thing, really. And this has only gotten better as I got onto a few indie game review mailing lists, meaning I semi-regularly get announcements in my inbox about dates and review opportunities for games that, from my perspective, just sprung into being fully-formed.

Case study: Labs Games‘ recent Kickstarter success Safe House, a game about building and managing an undercover spy headquarters. Tell me that doesn’t sound potentially very cool.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, high.)

(Game source: Developer review key.)

After the break: Safe House, a game that was tricky to find online, since both that combination of words and ‘labs games’ yield a range of possible results.

Indie Non-derland: An Odd Realization

So there’s no Indie Wonderland this week. And the reason for that is weirder than usual.

I’ve been playing One Bit Beyond‘s The Swords Of Ditto, a cute and colourful Zelda-esque about delving dungeons and beating evils over many successive generations. It has interesting theming, both in the immediately visual way the world is shaped (ex. the ‘Toys of Legend’) and in the underlying story that slowly emerges as you recover more and more logs. As well as some other stuff.

The problem is that I think there’s more to this game than I’m currently getting. Without getting too in-depth, on a surface level, I started getting a little bored with The Swords Of Ditto in my second run. It’s mechanically not very tough, and the heavily-lampshaded repetition starts to grate soon. But all the same, it’s very strongly implied that there’s supposed to be more: That all the repetition and the strange game design and the heavy lampshading is leading to some sort of breaking of the mold. If that does happen, it has the potential to be very interesting.

I just haven’t found it yet.

So, in a fairly unprecedented Indie Wonderland move, I want to give The Swords Of Ditto another week. If there is something more, I’d feel bad about writing what’s essentially an incomplete review. But if I can’t find what I’m thinking to find in two weeks time, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s ‘really’ there or not.

Check back in next week for the exciting conclusion!

– Jarenth

Much Punch-Do About Nothing

Hey readers. Jarenth here.

You know how all reviews are inherently subjective, because all reviewers are their own people with their own views and biases describing their own experiences with a game, each played in unique and irreproducible circumstances? Everyone’s different, everyone likes different things and experiences things differently — that sort of thing. There’s an argument that more skilled and practiced reviewers can step over that subjectivity to try and address game on a more ideally objective level, and it’s an argument I subscribe to, but still: There’s only so much you can do to step away from your intrinsic self.

I learned the hard way this week that I don’t really have a lot to say about fighting games.

‘I enjoy playing terrible characters that nobody likes for comedy value’ isn’t really a cutting observation.

My idea for this week was to say some interesting things about DRAGON BALL FighterZ, Bando Namcai’s long-awaited ‘it’s pretty much the cartoon distilled to only the cool fighting’ game. And, sure, here’s a thing I’ll say about it: They definitely nailed that aesthetic right on the goddamn head.

Down to the smallest details.

More to the actual point, I can see how a reviewer with more subject matter expertise could place DRAGON BALL FighterZ in the ecosystem of its peers. It’s a team-fighting game, which seems to invite comparison to games like Marvel vs. Capcom. It focuses on simple, quarter-circle-based special moves, making it more Street Fighter and less Mortal Kombat. And a significant distinction between novices and masters lies in the ability to string together long manual combos, something I also remember doing myself in Tekken (Tag Tournament, if we want to be specific).

It also allows you to play out wildly improbably scenarios, which I remember from Soul Caliber.

And that’s it. That’s the extent of my fighting game knowledge. What’s a BlazBlue? I don’t even know.

So yeah. Let’s call this week’s theme a lesson: Good idea, poor execution, highlighting the importance of recognizing your own limits. We’ll be back to normal next week with a game I can talk a bunch about, since it involves convoluted puzzles, giant robots, and messing up timelines beyond recognition for fun and profit.

Which, again, is *also* something you do in this game.

Spring Time Break Time

Hey everyone, it’s Jarenth. Hope you all had a happy non-denominational springtime-related holiday weekend? May your days have been filled with personally satisfying degrees of casual leisure, spiritual significance, and/or chocolate eggs.

I chose to spend my limited free time this week hanging out friends, family, and babies in lieu of playing indie games, so I bet you know where this announcement is heading. Regular service should resume next week.

Ninja Blues Writers Room: Jarenth

Hey readers. No normal review this week, sorry: It was the kind of week where I had very little time to play new games. Regular service should resume next week, assuming the universe is up for it.

Because I try to never leave you empty-handed, in lieu of a review I decided to this week write something that was requested in comments a few weeks back: An overview of / insight into my writing process. Behind the curtains at the sausage factory, so to say. I don’t know if this is of interest to any of you, and I have to stress that there really is no game review in the proceeding — I know, that’s something I would do, but I promise it isn’t. If you’ve ever wondered how I go about producing the content that I do, though, I guess today’s your lucky day.

After the break: Keep on reading, you strange soul you, for a look at all my writing secrets.