game reviews

Never Speak to My Queen or Her Druid Girlfriend Again

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The Reigns: Her Majesty banner features the symbol of the enigmatic Lady of the Wood.

I came upon a link to Reigns 2 quite by accident over Twitter, on the very day it was released. I’d never heard of it before, not the game to which it’s a sequel. It was a fortuitous discovery for me, because Reigns: Her Majesty is exactly the sort of game I liked. I downloaded it the same day and was enthralled for hours. Though the game has a learning curve I was determined to get ahead of it, especially since it comes with many, many unlockable achievements.

The basic premise of the game is that you play from the point of view of a newlywed royal consort, who is called to act as helpmeet to a bumbling but mostly harmless monarch. Successful ruling requires appeasing many factions with incompatible desires, which appear in the form of four metrics for faith, popularity, power and wealth. Failure is lethal, and even being too successful is its own kind of deadly. I’ve found, for example, that by far the most common mode of death in the game is being crushed by the love of adoring crowds.

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Sweet Candy Adventures for a Rainy Day

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Title screen for Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet.

In preparation for my very first Yuri Game Jam, I found myself browsing some of the best-loved entries from jams of years past. The one that stuck with me most is undoubtedly Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet. This is a cute and quirky adventure with a mildly romantic tone. You play as Syrup, a self-proclaimed candy alchemist and the owner of the only mundane candy shop in a village occupied entirely by witches and magical creatures.

Syrup is an endearingly grumpy character, devoted to her discipline but a little lacking in social skills, and surrounded by an equally endearing supporting cast. Her best friend Pastille is her only employee, in charge of dealing with customers and all the aspects of managing a shop that Syrup herself just isn’t very good at, while she works in the laboratory, creating fanciful candies. She carries on a friendly rivalry with the witch Butterscotch and her familiar Toffee, who are also her best customers.

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Syrup meets the candy golem.

The plot begins when Syrup enters her workshop and discovers a stranger there, a girl made entirely out of gummy pink candy. Being the suspicious character that she is, she immediately assumes the candy construct is a spy sent by her nemesis, Butterscotch, to discover how she makes her fabulous candies. Butterscotch is vain enough to accept the credit for creating such a complex piece of magic, bringing a candy girl to more-or-less autonomous life.

How the plot progresses depends largely on the player’s choices, unlocking one of several endings based on Syrup’s behavior towards both her friends and her enemies. Some of the endings are sweet and hopeful, some of them are quite depressing, and a few are ambivalent. All in all, the theme of the game is more around friendship than romance, which perhaps makes it an odd candidate for a yuri-based game jam, but I found it to be just the right kind of heart-warming for me.

Being a completionist, I made a decent stab at pursuing all possible endings, even the aptly-named “candibal” ending. The bad ends bring the good ones into focus, although I wouldn’t recommend playing them all back-to-back. There is also one friendship ending that’s only attainable after you’ve already unlocked one of the other good ends, and it even happens to be one of my favorites.

You can download Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet through itch.io or play it online through your browser. The browser-playable version has a slightly different interface, but I found both versions very playable. For a better look at the game’s art, check out Nami-Tsuki’s Deviant Art account, or find the game’s music on Bandcamp.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth.

Little Alchemy is a little bit of a problem…

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Little Alchemy on mobile, night mode. You start with four basic elements.

It feels odd to get started on a game, at least two years after it was first published. Still, it’s not as though Little Alchemy is ancient enough to feel outdated or irrelevant, and I can gladly report that it’s every bit as enjoyable and engaging in 2017 as it probably was when it was first released. The only downside is knowing that it’s unlikely to receive any more updates. Once you’ve exhausted the 500+ existing alchemical elements and their combinations, that’s it. And given the habitual nature of the game, you might find yourself marathon playing it for hours at a time, and end up running out of game within a day or two.

Little Alchemy is a lightweight and fun alchemy simulator. Beginning with the four classical elements, it allows you to combine two elements to create a third, sometimes with additional byproducts. Simple as that. To my great delight, it can be played out of any browser through either the official site or indie game outfit itch.io, and also has a mobile version. After messing around with the browser game for entirely too long, I downloaded the Android app and lost several hours of potential sleep to it.

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Revisiting the Dark Parables Series

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Promotional image for The Swan Princess and the Dire Tree.

I’ve written before about the Dark Parables series of hidden object games. They’re great games and I revisit them pretty regularly, especially since I started them out by buying the standard editions and was quickly converted to the more expensive collector’s editions, which contain an impressive amount of additional content. I still haven’t completed my collection, which means I haven’t played all of the bonus games. Since my PC crashed and burned in March and I’m operating on a new laptop, I decided it was time to get back to the games again. New installments of Dark Parables come out reliably once or twice a year, and there had been two new games released since I’d last checked.

 

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Niche – an Eco-Romp to Give Linnaeus Nightmares

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The game’s full title is Niche: a Genetics Survival Game, and thank Darwin fish for that, because “niche game” is the worst Google search term in history.

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Niche opening screen. Image via niche-game.com.

Anyhoo. Niche is an eco-bio-something sim that charges the player with raising a pack of vague mammalian critters, collecting food, breeding, fighting off predators, and exploring their surroundings. The game world’s science is a biological grab-bag of sorts. Differently colored tiles represent different “biomes” with different physical characteristics. Each critter has its own genome, where some traits divide to dominant versus recessive, and others mix interestingly, like fur color. A “mutation menu” lets the player pick specific traits to introduce into their newly-bred nichelings, rolling the dice and letting the odds determine the outcome. “Immunity genes” exist to discourage consanguinity. Later in the game’s life cycle, “alpha/beta” status for critters was also introduced.

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Into the Maw of Despair – Sunless Sea: Zubmariner DLC

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A zubmarine docks in the port of Wrack, a city built out of shipwrecks.

The world of Fallen London was yet again enriched this month with the release of the long-awaited Zubmariner DLC for Sunless Sea. A stretch goal of the Sunless Sea Kickstarter campaign, Zubmariner promised to expand on the hints of sub-aquatic travel lore already present in Fallen London, and take players to a deeper and darker place than ever before. As the surface of the Unterzee already features sea-urchins from space who speak the language of stars, and a malevolent living mountain that’s can’t be permanently killed, it seemed a tall order. Still, the early promotional materials were intriguing to say the least, so as a KS backer myself I was very ready to be hyped.

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IFComp 2016 – Interactive Fiction Reviews

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The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation runs a yearly competition for interactive fiction called IFComp. Though it’s been flourishing for many years, I hadn’t heard about it before this year, and too late to be able to plan and execute a worthy submission. Still, nothing’s preventing me from browsing the 50-odd submissions and looking for something to catch my eye. As a novice to IF I’ve only had hands-on experience with a very few platforms for writing or playing it. IFComp, though, exposes a whole array of techniques and manipulations that I wasn’t previously familiar with. Needless to say, this affected my play experience significantly.

Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending – K.G. Orphanides

This was the first entry I played. Eight characters is a parser game, where commands can be entered in the text box or through navigation links. Some of the commands are helpfully explained in the in-universe manuals. Some are fairly intuitive, once you catch the trick of it – another effect of my being a novice player. I fussed for a long time over trying to open a simple chest before I learned to adjust to the game’s expectations.

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