“Synonymy is a non-profit, educational word game narrated by Richard Dawkins in which players are challenged to find the paths between random words through their network of synonyms. By taking the synonym of a word, and then a synonym of that synonym, and so on, you can ultimately arrive at any other word in the English language.”
It is rare when I’m impressed by a word game, and I love word games. The Steam demo is also a good example of a tastefully crafted demo, so please take note.
It’s become a joke to talk about Cave Story and Dark Souls when describing other games, but in the case of Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, I’d be remiss not to: the series has never been shy about its influences. In Reverie, the fourth game of the Momodora series, rdein has done a fantastic job joining the simple charm and tidy aesthetic of Daisuke Amaya’s little masterpiece with the methodical combat mechanics and level design of From Software’s Souls games. The result is something of a “perfect” Metroidvania, which feels neither meandering nor linear, frustrating nor dull. And it’s easy to see why rdein considers this to be his best-looking and most polished game yet: out of all the many beautiful animations and effects in the game, there’s not a single pixel that seems out of place.
In this bustling age of indie game development, it can be refreshing to see a title that shows restraint in its design without being minimalist or abstract. You’ll love Reverie if you enjoyed any of its influences. At this year’s Summer Games Done Quick (going on right now), it produced one of the marathon’s most heartfelt and inspiring runs:
The Rocky Balboa-esque boxing theme and pixel art are what got me to try out Punch Club, a management game from Lazy Bear Studios. On the surface, the idea of moving direct control away from the fighting seems like a bad one, but it’s satisfying to see your training pay off as your character punches, kicks, and blocks on his own. Outside the ring, it’s all about efficient management of time and money – you want to spend each day training and sparring to improve your chances of winning, but your character also has to buy food and gym membership, which means taking on construction and pizza delivery jobs to make ends meet. Making things more difficult is the fact that your three main stats – strength, agility, and stamina – actually drop a little bit at the end of each day. Just like in real life, it takes sustained work to keep your physique in good shape.
The biggest problem with Punch Club is the skill system. When I played the game, its three main build paths were very imbalanced. Initially, I went with a strength build, called the Way of the Bear, and found halfway through that I had hit a wall against the agile opponents whom the game heavily favors. The intent behind strength characters is that they get fewer opportunities to punch, but can end matches quickly if they can string some hits together. In practice, unless your agility stat is comparable to your opponent’s, you probably won’t land a hit at all. The Way of the Tiger, on the other hand, allows you to focus solely on agility and a little bit of stamina, learning counterattacks that use your opponent’s strength against them. The supposed weakness of agility – damage potential – ends up not feeling like a handicap at all. And the stamina-focused Way of the Turtle is apparently even harder to succeed with than Bear.
It’s a shame, because the interplay between the resource management and fighting works well fundamentally. If you were given more interesting and well-balanced choices in terms of designing your character and his (or even her?) story, it could have found a permanent home on my phone (where I think this game is best-suited). As it is, one time through is enough for me.
It’s a bird! It’s a snake! It’s Snakebird, a challenging new puzzle game from Noumenon Games, the creators of Nimbus! (Would you believe that I get paid absolutely nothing to write amazing lead-ins like that?) Your goal in each level is to get one or more colorful snakebirds to the exit using their unique anatomy, which lets them twist, turn, and balance on a single segment of their long bodies. Collecting fruit will extend the birds by one segment, making it possible to reach new areas but also easier to get trapped. And you’ll get stuck or killed plenty of times in this unforgiving game – even levels that look relatively contained can be confounding, with plenty of pitfalls, spikes, and small spaces to contend with. Being pretty bad at puzzlers, I can barely make it out of the first area myself, but at least that means there’s plenty of time for me to appreciate the lovely landscapes and wonderful little details.
Thankfully, Noumenon has included an undo feature to make the trial-and-error style nature of Snakebird less frustrating. Personally, I would have loved to see a mouse shortcut for undo given how often you use it, but it’s a small gripe for what seems to be an attractive and unique experience for fans of hard-won puzzle games.
Version 1.0 of Kerbal Space Program, the premier game from independent Mexican studio Squad, has achieved liftoff.
Kerbal Space Program has been under development now for over four years, and this final update before leaving Early Access brings with it some of the most requested features yet. The aerodynamics model has been completely overhauled, making atmospheric flight more realistic – and more challenging, with the addition of re-entry heat. Additionally, interplanetary prospecting and off-world mining have also been added, allowing players to establish mining colonies to gather and process the mysterious “ore” into fuel. And the kerbals that will be stationed on those colonies will no longer all be unisexual: Female kerbals have arrived. Finally, in addition to a collection of new and polished spaceship parts, Squad has also gone through and added interiors to every manned part, allowing players to take a more immersive look through the eyes of their brave kerbal explorers.
Whether you are a veteran kerbonaut, or you’ve never played the game, right now is a fantastic time to check out Kerbal Space Program. Even as version 1.0 leaves the launch pad, Squad is busy planning future updates, with more features, more learning, and more exploration.
It’s easy to be wary of high-concept indie titles based around some quirky concept like time travel, gravity, teleportation, guns that shoot science instead of bullets, etc. When they work, of course, they work marvelously, like Portal, Braid, Antichamber, The Swapper, Fez, or any of the best puzzle platformers. But there’s no denying that there is a glut of gimmicky imitators in the genre, and more often than not the concepts, no matter how interesting they sound on paper, are stretched thin across never-ending tutorial levels. So despite Capybara’s strong record it was with some trepidation that I embarked on Super Time Force Ultra, the updated PC version of their time-traveling run n’ gun Super Time Force (which won Microsoft’s first-ever IGF “XBLA Award” for a publishing deal on Xbox 360 and Xbox One).
Thankfully, STFU shrugs off the stereotypes quickly and easily, and while the game is certainly unique and innovative, it has the frantic pacing of a good run n’ gun that is not found in most puzzle platformers. On top of that, there is an element of light tactics that strangely enough reminds me of Sega’s 1988 cult classic arcade game Gain Ground. It’s a mad idea that I would not have been brave enough to work on, but I’m happy that Capy was.
In what is hopefully part of a continuing trend, Crimzon Clover has been released on Steam as Crimzon Clover WORLD IGNITION, giving PC players around the globe easy access to one of the best doujin bullet hell shoot ’em ups. Originally released in 2011 at Comiket 79, the game was largely created by one person: Yotsubane, also known as the Cave superplayer Clover-TAC. From there, its popularity led to an enhanced edition on Taito’s NESiCAxLive, a digital download platform for Japanese arcades, followed by this recent port to Steam.
In Crimzon Clover you have two main attacks, a rapid-fire shot that fires straight ahead and a lock-on shot that creates a quickly-expanding circle around your ship, targeting every enemy it touches for a powerful homing laser attack. On top of that, there is a third button, called the Break Button, which does different things depending on the status of the Break Gauge. Destroying enemies fills up the gauge and if it’s filled above a certain threshold, hitting the button fires a bomb that clears bullets. If the gauge is completely full, however, you enter a “Break Mode” where your firepower and scoring ability are increased dramatically for a limited amount of time. During Break Mode it’s also possible to enter a “Double Break Mode” that ups everything (including enemy ferocity) even further, turning the screen into a page from a Magic Eye book.
Fans of Japanese shoot ’em ups already know about Crimzon Clover and this port, but it’s also a great introductory shmup that is polished and offers a lot of modern conveniences like tutorials and novice modes to help new players get accustomed to the brutal level of difficulty. Plus, the relatively simple, memorization-free scoring system and sheer destructive firepower at hand should be enjoyable for veterans and newcomers alike. If I have one complaint, it’s that the graphics veer toward the garish and it is often hard to find your ship’s tiny yellow hitbox amidst the sludge of bullets, stars, and machinery. But it could be argued that this eye-bleeding quality is part of the game’s appeal. In any case, at $10 on Steam, it’s never been easier to play this previously obscure jewel of the genre.
Following a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised nearly double its $48,000 goal, Thomas Biskup has been working steadily to bring his legendary roguelike ADOM to a generation of players that might be more familiar with “roguelikelikes” and “roguelites” than the genre that inspired them all. First released in 1994, ADOM (full title: Ancient Domains of Mystery) is widely considered to be one of the “Big 4” defining roguelikes, along with Nethack, Dungeon Crawl, and Angband. An incredibly expansive and challenging game, it’s remained relatively obscure to mainstream game players, due in no small part to its ASCII graphics, closed source, and lack of updates past 2002. With this renewed development, Thomas seeks to remedy that (although as far as anyone knows, the source will remain closed).
A lot is planned for ADOM and a lot has already been done: a lovely graphical tileset, sound, a mouse-driven UI, and new monsters, items, quests, classes, and more. You can experience all of these in the current public version (1.2.0p23), which also includes a new tutorial mode. It’s also on Steam Greenlight, where you can vote for it and help get it released on Steam as a paid, “deluxe” edition alongside the freeware game. The price of ADOM on Steam has not yet been settled on.
It’s great to see the creator of one of THE classic roguelikes throw his hat back in the ring. There are many good reasons why these games have had such a strong and long-lasting influence and hopefully people who missed out on them the first time around will take this opportunity to try one out.
Village-building simulator Banished was recently released on Steam, GOG, and the Humble Store.
From the website: In this city-building strategy game, you control a group of exiled travelers who decide to restart their lives in a new land. They have only the clothes on their backs and a cart filled with supplies from their homeland. The objective of the game is to keep the population alive and grow it into a successful culture. Options for feeding the people include hunting and gathering, agriculture, trade, and fishing. However, sustainable practices must be considered to survive in the long term.
Frozen Endzone entered public beta toward the end of last year. This futuresport uses the same turn-based system that was implemented so well in Frozen Synapse, the creator’s first game – instead of players taking discrete turns, there is a planning phase before both players’ moves are executed simultaneously. The sport behind Frozen Endzone bears some small resemblance to American football, with robotic athletes running and passing a ball to reach the endzone, although obstacles (both hand-crafted and randomly-generated) are present on the field.
Mode 7 is planning all the single and multiplayer features that are expected of such a title, but are counting on a successful beta period to help them achieve these goals. So if this type of game sounds like your thing, you should take a look – the developers clearly know what they’re doing with fast-paced tactics titles.