Legend of Grimrock, Tearing Out RPGs by the Root

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Before all the cutesy, fluffy shit that inhabits most RPGs these days, before Final Fantasy and JRPGs had infested every corner of the genre, there were dungeon RPGs.  And they weren’t the Diablo-style one-button RPGs that breed tactical laziness; that’s right tactical fucking laziness.  Diable RPGs are allow for a wider range of motion and strategy, so you can hem enemies in with firewalls and nuke them with fire or something.  Tactics requires the careful execution of a concerted attack effort.  A small group of doomed warriors in a massive dungeon have a solid understanding of tactics.  They know if they break ranks and get isolated, they are doomed.

The first and last of these types of games I ever played was Eye of the Beholder, a game we played on SNES.  In the game, you play a group adventurers exploring the sewers of a place called “Waterdeep” to cleanse some ancient evil.  We did not understand the alignment system although we often chose whatever we wanted and joked about it like kids.  When we were in the game, we never got the gist of how to play.  We would throw our gear at enemies since it was the only way we knew to deal damage.  Eventually it got to where we were disrobing and throwing our clothes, desperately trying to kill the foes.  That never ended well… But we were idiotic 8 and 9 year-olds.

Grimrock makes a lot more sense to me.  Controls are easy and you barely need a tutorial.  Just click around, left click picks up an item and releasing it mid-screen will throw that item. Right-click to attack or to throw a weapon.  Everything is a pretty straight-forward RPG style and this makes combat more exciting, too.

Wait! I left the garage door open!

Wait! I left the garage door open!

When you start the game, your characters are assumed to have performed some transgression against King and country.  The vague nature of the opening titles leave you to think you could have raped the Princess all the way down to eating the last piece of strawberry cheesecake.  Doesn’t matter.  You’re fucked and they push you down a hole.  Best part is, at the top of the mountain Grimrock your crimes are all forgiven and you are free.  But the only way down is to descend into the bowels of Grimrock.  Oh, by the way, no one has ever fucking survived.  That’s ok, I don’t usually come for the accommodations anyway.

Down in the dungeons, you have to navigate labyrinthine corridors filled with unspeakable monsters, like giant snails, gargoyles, mushroom herders, little magic-casting mushroom guys, undead soldiers etc.  Each creature adds its own challenges to combat, and one should consider combat a feat akin to dancing.  If you just take two warriors and attempt to plow through, axes and swords swinging, you will end up a dusty pile of bones.  Many enemies are able to out-number you, out-damage you or can take a hell of a lot more punishment than you can.  Did I mention you are all prisoners?  Yea, this means they pushed your ass down in the pits with aught but your chapped asses to defend yourselves.  As you progress you’ll find the sparse weaponry left behind by other bands of hapless adventurers, so you’re not exactly a keen-eyed fighting force armed for rigorous combat.  The most common early ranged weapon is a rock while the most common melee weapon early on is a fucking torch.

When enemies come at you, the best thing to do is to lure them off one at a time where possible.  As they round corners you can stab them before back-pedaling toward an open area.  As you back pedal, you can throw rocks at them and ready up a spell.  Spells are a devastating way to deal damage, but you can’t unlock spells with the spellbook until you find the appropriate scroll, which can be frustrating.  Once you get them, though, they are profoundly useful.  Be careful, too.  If someone in your party dies, you’re all fucked.  Sure, you can keep going, but you’ll be needing the full group throughout the game.

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I'm eating at Denny's...

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I’m eating at Denny’s…

Character customization is excellent, and you can choose between human, minotaur, lizardfolk and insectoid.  I usually pick two humans, a minotaur and a lizardfolk.  I like having two rogues, as this allows me to have a ranged rogue and a dps rogue.  You know, for extra damage for the rogue since rogues prefer it from behind.  Then there is my mage, human female full of glorious spellcasting magery, and likely the smartest of the entire group.  Finally, I like to take a tank, too.  That is my minotaur.  He has a trait called headhunter where he gets extra damage for collecting skulls.  Finally a use for those useless collectible items!  I also use the minotaur for a pack animal, since they also get major strength bonuses.

The ambiance is terrific, and you get the sense of an ever-present evil throughout the game.  All the time some dark whispers can be heard in your ear, muttering in a chthonic  language some horrid curse, luring you deeper into the dungeon.  The music in the title screen also brought a tear to my eye the first time I heard it and filled me with the glee of a glorious adventure.  Throughout the game there is little more than ominous noises.  Sometimes you can heard the groan or squeal of some distant creature lurking about, waiting for its next meal to come trundling down the corridors.  There is also the fantastic element of eating whatever food you find lying all over the ground, like some kind of mad baker was damned to imprisonment here and he found some magical means to leave bread everywhere.

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn't make it too far either...

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn’t make it too far either…

One of the things this game does really really well are secrets.  Notice how the walls are all constructed of a similarly-colored, moss-grown mortarless masonry?  Well, every once in a while you will see a chink in the stone or a brick out of place.  Click that shit!  Somewhere nearby a door will open and permit you access to a secret room and you’ll get some badass loot, much needed food or a magic scroll!  It takes me back to the old days of Wolfenstein 3D and Thief: The Dark Project where you had to just run along the walls at a certain angle to open secret doors or cut down every wall-hanging you could to unlock secret doors.  I find the best way to search for secrets is to stand in the corner of a room and look from afar.  Secret switches are pretty obvious if you know what you are looking  for, but they can often be just as easily over-looked, so stay sharp!

Probably the only thing that bothered me about this game was the straight-forward manner of the enemies.  This game could be very well served by some wall-lurking enemies that you don’t see until you are right up on them.  Granted, the current combat system would make that a tad difficult, but putting in enemies that climbed out of grates as you walked by or changed from statues into flesh and blood foes when you walk past them would make this spooky game into a fantasy-horror adventure.  Don’t mind my little intrigues, though.  This game is worth every cent you can throw at its creators.  It is a load of fun in a genre that I have not seen since I was disrobing for battle.  On Steam this game is an overly-reasonable 14.99$, but wait there’s more!  This game has a community of dungeon-dwellers who create new content and new levels and games with the map editor of Grimrock!  It’s fucking fantastic.  And THEN you have Legends of Grimrock 2 to look forward to!  Just in time for Halloween!  You can pre-order it now!  Screw trick-or-treaters!  Crawl the dungeons and unlock the treasures within!

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Introducing Dakota and Project Shadow

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Most people haven’t heard of Living Dream Entertainment, and for good reason.  This is another group of gaming idealists that have a vision defining, for them, the perfect game.  So far everything I have heard and seen out of these guys is impressive, despite things being in an early phase.  To be honest, they remind me of Elysian Shadows Team in the sheer audacity of their project and what they want to accomplish.  People should know who they are and what they are planning because it will be something really special when it is finished.

Living Dream Entertainment is a small independent game development team working on a game called, A Shadow’s Tale, through a process they call Project Shadow.  I wasn’t too sure why there was such a distinction between the two, but I have come to understand that Project Shadow will also invite players and fans to contribute to the finished game itself.  No seriously.  You can make a quest, a character, customize their style, how they fight, who they are: nearly fucking everything.  Check it out here!

Dakota Barrett, founder of Living Dream Entertainment, was happy to answer some of my questions about themselves and the game they are creating.  So who are these people and how did they come together?

“Originally my team started out as many indies do: a group of friends with a common interest.  That team died over about the course of two months and got down to just me.  Around this time I was getting some money in doing odd jobs and I started to contract freelancers.

“First there’s Riley, our character artist.  Her job is to draw the busts of characters that you see in dialogue, and often everyone else’s work is based around her creation of a character.

“Then we have Tony, who seems to be the favorite of the public, which is rightly deserved because the guy has a lot of talent. His concept art has a unique style.

“Devon worked with us on and off for several months before becoming an official member of the team.  He does our code work and makes a lot of my crazy ideas come to life.  He’s the reason we’re able to push an outdated program like RPGMaker into the modern age.

“Elbert does our sprite art and animation and he’s really good at it.  We spent four months going through dozens of applicants for the position and it wasn’t until I met Elbert that I knew I had the right guy.

“Saad is our composer and most recent addition to the team.  Unlike everyone else, I wasn’t actually looking for a composer at the time.  Saad was just interested with the project and sent in a sample of his work.  I loved it so much that I included it in our announcement video of Project Shadow and asked him to join our team.

“I run social media, talk to journalists, run the business and all the legal work that comes with that, and I make everyone’s work show up and coordinate in-game, creating the world for the player to enjoy.  But at the heart of it all, I’m a designer and writer.  All the stories, dialogue, and gameplay mechanics start off as ideas in my head.  I have about three gigabytes worth of just notes alone.”

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Yep, the skill is visible.

So this is already a strong team of talented individuals with a common purpose.  From the teaser trailer for the game itself, I know I got a strong impression.  So, if Dakota is the main drive and energy behind this game, what brought him into gaming and games development?

“Throughout my childhood I played a lot of games through frequent visits to BlockBuster when it was around and you could get a game for a week, which was perfect for me because I usually binged a game until I beat it.  I’ve played all sorts of genres from big AAA titles to the little indie teams, but I think where I truly fell in love with games was with role playing games like Final Fantasy IX and X, Knights of the Old Republic II and the original Fable.

“As I entered adulthood I started to bind my passion for games with my passion to write.  I tried out a few development programs, such as Unity, Blender or Game Maker, but the one I settled with was the one that best served my roots as a gamer, RPG Maker VX Ace.  It’s a pretty simple program that could allow even a child to make a game but over the time I had it I started to find how to push it further and further and when I started to really see the potential with the program I started working on the very early concepts of A Shadow’s Tale.”

Projects of passion are often rare gems, because they are so hard to attain.  When such a project can be made possible, they often turn into impressive entries in a genre and even in a field of art.  The biggest obstacle is often money, and that can kill a project before it ever even happens. How has A Shadow’s Tale gotten its funding so far?

“It started out as a birthday/graduation gift.  I was the first in my family to graduate high school, which isn’t much of an accomplishment, but it was something.  So I took what was likely meant to be the means of buying a car and put it towards making a game.  When that ran out, I started funding the project with what I could from my paycheck, which to this day is  just a part-time, minimum-wage job, so progress has been slow.  Our goal is to crowdfund with the community we’ve built up, but we’re not quite ready for that just yet.”

Each game has its own draw, something makes it stand out.  What are the features of A Shadow’s Tale that will really set it apart from other games of its type?

“Simply put it’s how the game is designed overall.  It’s not meant to be a retro throwback to the games I and others grew up on, it’s meant to be Living Dream’s first step in showing what the industry is capable of producing.  Though it’s an open world RPG, it takes inspiration from all sorts of games, old and new.

“To be more specific I would say the focus on your actions is at the heart of the gameplay.  In many games that I enjoy, like the Mass Effect series, you get to make choices that change the universe you play in and could very well cause your experience to be completely different from all your friends who played the game.  But if you look back, almost all these choices centered around dialogue.  The hundreds of people and monsters you killed didn’t change anything and where you went didn’t really matter as long as you completed the main goals of the game.  With our game we’re putting a focus on what you do, as with reality it’s not so much what you say that affects others and who you become, but what you do.”

So what is the complete vision for the game itself?

“As I hinted at earlier, our goal is to deliver not just a game but an experience; one you’ll look back on for years to come as I have with the hundreds of hours lost in the universes of RPGs.  A world in which you grow attachments to the characters as if they were truly your friends or your enemies.  One where your actions changed the world.  I believe that what people want is their actions to matter.  For something we did to have an affect on the world, be it big or small, to know we made a difference in other’s lives.

“That’s my goal for the game at least, for Project Shadow itself you could say it’s the same thing but in the real world.  I want our community to truly feel like they had a part in making the game without handing over the files and expecting them to make sense of it.  That’s why we’re allowing the community to co-design elements of the game alongside us.”

Whoa. Badass.

Whoa. Badass.

That is a lot to shoot for, so the game itself has to measure up to this, helping the player insert themselves into and influence the world in a noticeable way.  What are some of the mechanics of the game and how will they facilitate this?

“I would say our combat system is probably the most interesting mechanic of the game outside of the responsive world system.  RPGs have been going back and forth between the blood pumping excitement of live action and the tactical thinking of turn based combat.  They both have their benefits and downfalls and I believe we found a unique way to combine the two.

“In the game the controls are rather simple: WASD to move and spacebar to interact and use skills.  Now that second part is the key to shaping combat.  When you press space, a wheel of icons displays over the head of the player.  This wheel technically consist of dozens upon dozens of interactions and skills, but since that would be a pain to cycle through, we’ve made it contextualized; depending on what you’re facing, it will only show what makes sense with that person or object.

“As with the rest of the game, this was designed to give the player a choice in how they go about getting past enemies.  In a sense it’s more like a puzzle than straight up combat.  You could go around in stealth taking enemies down one or two at a time.  You could break, throw, or burn objects to cause distractions.  Use skills or dialogue to manipulate people, or straight up fight your enemies in turn based combat.  Even the turn-based combat itself is designed to give you challenges through three gauges, health, energy, and fear.”

What games have you played an liked?  From there, what games can you say have influenced A Shadow’s Tale?

“I mentioned the RPG genre before and some games that are a part of it, but I pull my inspiration from all types of games.  I enjoy simple and quick RTS games like the Command and Conquer games or Halo Wars, which I still play on occasion.   Shooters like Destiny and some MOBAs have also left their mark.

“Two games which probably have the biggest impact that aren’t straight up RPGs are Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  They both have RPG elements but they’re almost entirely based around quick combat in first person.  Both of which I focused on stealth and I had great joy is crawling in air vents only to come out and beat someone to death with a refrigerator (Yeah I’m probably a bit too violent).  This approach of deal with enemies how you want was really enjoyable and that can be seen in our own combat, though it isn’t a straight up choice between stealth and action.”

I love these emblems.

I love these emblems.

What can you tell us about the Kickstarter?

“We will be doing crowdfunding, but it won’t be through Kickstarter.  That is why we’re creating Project Shadow which works like the crowdfunding with Star Citizen, this sort of build over time instead of all at once approach.  Except our design is not so much to keep raising more and more money and add more to the game so much as we want the community to be a part of the design with us and get to see right away what their money goes to.  When you contribute hundreds of dollars it’s not really fair you have to wait months to even start to receive what you paid for and it’s usually physical merchandise and not the actual game itself.

“Instead with Project Shadow you choose what you want to co-design such as a character.  Once you’ve selected what type of character they are, where in the world they live, and what the character consist of we’ll get to work with you within a few days and start fleshing out the details so that the artist can truly bring your character to life and you get to watch the whole thing happen.  If you want you can share it with the world too, just avoid any spoilers.”

Awesome!  Well that is good to hear.  I will be interested to see how this community develops!  What can you tell us about the contest?  Where do people participate?

“We’re giving the community a chance to co-design a character prior to the fundraising of #ProjectShadow.  Now usually you would cover the cost of your character, but this time around I’ll be covering the cost for the winner.

“So how do you participate?  All you have to do is write us your idea for a character and we’ll select our favorite and start working with you on bringing it to life.  All the details and guidelines can be found here, which I recommend you read thoroughly if you want to win.  One last note: unlike with Project Shadow, you won’t be choosing the character type.  Instead, we selected one for you that is one of the more interesting and costly to make.  Out of the character types (basic, advanced, keeper, friend, faction member, faction captain, and major) this one is a faction captain, which is a mini boss as your enemy or a faction-related quest giver as an ally.

“One of the key features of Project Shadow (actually the entirety of Project Shadow) is that it allows anyone to be a part of the creation of a game.  It’s really great in that you get the benefits of coming up with ideas and seeing your creations come to life without having to deal with the stress of actually being on the team and hoping the game does well because your livelihood depends on it.  You get to create whoever or whatever you want that fits within the fantasy world we have created, and in doing so you get to share it with the world and at some point experience it in game as well.

“We may not be doing the crowdfunding now but you can still join in by getting in touch with us.  Tweet us @LivingDreamEnt, or use #ProjectShadow on Twitter.  Or you can email us at, livingdream3r@gmail.com

“It’s really important that you do because even though it’s not giving us the funding we really need to make the game it shows us the community is ready for this and they want to be a part of it.  The sooner we see that people are ready for us and we too are ready for them the sooner we can get this started and start to build a world together.”

The vaulting halls of the Hunters' Guild!

The vaulting halls of the Hunters’ Guild!

Awesome!  Personally, I am really looking forward to this community event.  Living Dream Entertainment is taking on a whole new approach by getting players and fans involved in the creation of the game itself.  As the game is developed, players will get to have input on what gets added and it will be, in more ways than normal, our game.  A game that we don’t all just love and play, but a game that we’ve all given input and some of even helped to design!  Dakota also wanted to leave a special message to followers and fans:

“Thank you for reading this article and please follow us and share us with friends!  This Project is entirely based around a community we’re beginning to build, and we encourage every one of you to participate and get involved!  If you like our art share our DeviantArt account.  If you like what we’re doing on YouTube, share it.  Don’t be afraid to contact us at anytime because we’re here for you and we’ll get back with you as soon as possible!  Please consider following @crotchetygamer and his blog.  He’s a great guy and amazing with words!”

This interview is based on an email correspondence between myself and Living Dream Entertainment.  The conversation has been lightly edited for flow, coherence and grammar.

Valley of the Dead Pre-Releases

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Before any gets clever, I am not asking about the dinosaurs; I am referring to a mass extinction event going on within the confines of digital media.  Early Access games are out there and comprise a large part of Steam.  I have nothing resembling exact figures, but it feels like there are at least 5 unfinished games on steam for every complete title.  Want a more solid idea of how many there are? Early Access is its own searchable category on Steam.  It contains such prestigious titles as The Forest, DieselStormers, Galactic Civilizations III and others.  The three I will be discussing today are those shown above: Towns, Terraria and Stomping Lands

What is Early Access?

Once upon a time there was a magical viking who had an idea for a video game.  You can mine and mine and mine, build a house, a fortress a town, farm, breed animals and fish.  You’ll be able to use portals to travel to other dimensions and work magic.  Monsters will come out at night, but you can defend against them!  And in the End, you’ll fight a dragon!  This game was slow to catch on at first, but once kids and gamers found it, they fell in love.  It rapidly became one of the most popular games of all time, spanning generation gaps and giving everyone something they loved.  This was the first instance of an unreasonably popular early access game.  It was called Minecraft.

Since then a number of companies have vied to create an early access hit like Minecraft.  Steam has been the most successful in its push, encouraging devs to submit their games for rigorous vetting by Steam’s community through Steam Greenlight.  Once the games have been selected, they are allowed to provide an early version of the game at a reasonable price for purchase.  This was awesome at first, but then Steam became progressively more inundated with games that aren’t finished.  And worse than that, some games die in this public-run games incubator.

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This is a brief description from Steam’s website about what early access is and here is a link to their complete explanation about what all of that entails.

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Many people are familiar with this title.  The idea is that you start a small, 16-bit town of sprite people and then guide these people through building a town.  You can do all kinds of fun things from farming and animal husbandry to combating foes.  You can also create a little stairwell down to the mines below.  Of course, these mines are filled with all nature of foul monsters, so you need to attract heroes to your town to battle the enemies and delve deeper.  By doing this you can get better materials to build with and make a fabulous town!

So how did it die?  Sales.  In a lengthy post on the Towns official forum, gamedev Moebius went into detail about why Towns is no longer being developed.  Hardly news, this post goes back to May 2014 and details his reasons.

“When I signed up for working on Towns I was told that we sell a minimum of about x copies/month of the game. I agreed to work on Towns for 15% of what would remain after removing all the taxes and the Steam fee. Xavi and I agreed that this would be a fair amount, and I still think it is.  After getting used to the source code and publishing the first new version of the game, we talked about the agreed payment and it turns out that the sells are getting down rapidly. So we are now selling less than a third of the x copies a month, loosing about 33% of sells per month.”

Yea, that is the most of it.  The game wasn’t selling anymore and the most of the money to be made there was lost in the initial rush of sales.  By the time Moebius was conscripted, it was too late.  If you keep reading that little post by Moebius, down at the bottom they make some spectacularly upsetting statements.

“Xavi and I were talking about a possible Towns2. At the moment this is just in an idea stage and we can’t really say if he, I or eventually Ben have the time to create a Towns2. As faithful fans of Towns we would of course reward you in some way, when/if the new game is released.

“A new game will give us the following advantages:

  1. we can implement all the cool things that are not possible at the moment due to how the core mechanics works in Towns 1
  2. we can also rise attention as this is a completely new game and a successor for once great runnning game
  3. this will also make it possible to have a financially sound basis for a long development of Towns2

“I want to end this post by thanking you for reading this and for all your support in these two months. Again I’m sorry that we had to pull the plug right here, but I sincerely hope you can understand why we had to make that decision right now.”

So let me get this straight.  Not developing the game anymore because of a decrease in sales, so the money isn’t there.  Got it.  Now we are considering a Towns 2 as a sequel to this farce?  What the fuck?  I mean at least they were open about saying the idea is just a way to get more money out of the game, but how do you make a sequel to an unfinished game?  Granted, there have been 2 updates to the game since this post, but they were the only two updates to the game since September 30, 2013.  So fans of the game are left with an occasionally updated title that is a testament to what could have been.

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I am pretty sure this title is older than Towns, but there is a reason I am listing it here.  Terraria is a game where you build 2D houses and dig in the ground for stuff.  At night evil monsters come and try to kill you.  God what the fuck is with all the similarities here…

Back in 2012 the developers of Terraria declared the game had received its final update and that it was “time to move on”.  In this PC Gamer article, it is explained that one of the developers even went to work on Starbound with Chucklefish, which, for lack of a better term, is Terraria in space.  In my opinion, it seems like CF stole the developer for this game to prevent it competing with their own game.  Shady horseshit.  Despite the developers apparently jumping ship, the game is still receiving updates on the Steam store, which makes it seem like the whole “boo hoo we’re ending the game” thing was a cry for help.

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Now we’ve got this game, The Stomping Land.  I was originally planning to review this game, but I spent hours in-game and realized how much it sucks when you play it alone.  To give you an idea, when I first came in, I was a naked caveman.  I was on a beach for about a couple seconds when an idiot burst out of the underbrush riding a raptor and hurling bolas.  Someone else was trying to stop him from killing me, and I managed to use the terrain to conceal my escape.  Crafting was boring and you couldn’t stash your shit except in a box, which you dragged along behind you.  It was utterly unfinished, and now I read THIS horseshit.

Apparently the game has gotten no updates in months, which really got Kickstarter backers nervous.  The company also went radio-silent for a while too, but they came out and said that they were switching to Unreal 4.  That is not so bad, but with the game itself being pulled from Steam, everyone with that game in their library – myself included – shat many bricks of frustration.  Of course, before Alex Fundora, SuperCrit founder, announced the engine change, he effectively disappeared for two months!  Tumultuous, scary shit.

So what does all of this mean for Early-Access games?  Tread lightly.  Many of these games are financially on the ropes as it is, so a heavy measure of trepidation is urged in investing.  Buying these games isn’t you standard I give you money you provide a product, it is literally a form of speculation similar to stocks trading;.  Certainly it is not nearly as volatile or risky, but you might not get your 20$ for that game back, nor might you get a finished game.  It might be a sign that all of these games attempt to emulate Minecraft’s basic structure despite adding new elements to their games.  Just like so many other MMO’s attempted to emulate World of Warcraft’s success and died trying.  In some of these instances you even have games that died and came back from the dead, which gives a new meaning to the term “zombie-game.”

I spoke briefly with my friend Dave about these types of games and he echoed the same frustration that many long-time gamers feel.  When you buy a game, you want a finished product.  You don’t want to play a game up to the point where the bugs are too much to handle and then have to put it down.  Sure, there will be more content later, but it will trickle in; then you’ll log on each time to experience that new content, effectively experiencing the finished game in pieces until the finished product feels as worn and old as the other games in your library.  It is irritating and many of us just want to play a finished game.

Some people seem to be over Steam Greenlight and similar services altogether, but just how many I am not sure.  VG247 had a pretty interesting article back in January 2014 about Greenlight closing, which might not be the complete answer, but I am not sure that too many people would be upset about it.  What are your thoughts about early-release games?  Join me in a discussion about it on Crotchety Gamers United!

Skyling: Garden Defense; Rhymes, Rhymes EVERYWHERE!

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Sometimes a game is way too much fun and you must talk about it to everyone, the puzzles were tough and the enemies strong I was grabbing fruit all the day long, kitties I’d lift and sluggy balls chuck I would stop rhyming but my brain’s deeply fucked, I’m sure that a comma each statement can’t end, forever this review in rhyming I’ll spend, so I’m just going to type and cut out the crap, so no one feels the sudden and undeniable urge to stab me in the fucking throat.  Just.. one sec… rhyming sickness is tough to break, but I have to focus cause this review’s at stake…  GODDAMNIT!!!

That is the format of the tutorial for this game.  At first it’s adorable but after a while it becomes creeping and insidious, invading every word that you speak.  Your character’s Bloom and her toes are magic, and everywhere you walk a patch of green grass grows.  The goal?  COMPLETE WORLD DOMINATION!!!!!  Sort of.  Actually you have to spread verdant giddiness throughout this skyborne garden that was taken over by the blight monsters, which rendered the Skylings’ garden a barren wasteland.  There are several types of them and I didn’t see them all, but if I kept playing I would have been rhyming for the rest of eternity!  Or at least until someone rightfully stabbed me in the spleen without a medically logical reason to do so.

Skyling 2014-09-07 21-08-21-09

Don’t let her fool you… Beneath that whimsical smile lies the unburdened soul of a psychotic killer. Or just a vegan.  Interchangeable, really.

So, as stated, Bloom walks around each little square and spreads the green grass everywhere, which, in turn, brings the garden back to life.  There are little, dead gardens surrounded by dirt paths and as you surround them each with grass and flowers, they grow right back.  Each garden then shoots out a crop of fruit.  Considering how fast they come out, these people should put up warning sirens during harvest season, or else someone is flying off the skygarden.  Then again, it would help to cull their numbers.  Fruit doesn’t last forever, though, and the next challenge after regrowing the gardens is collecting the fruit before it rots away, without getting caught.  And the blight bastards make it tough as shit,  cornering you until you shrink into an insignificant little nothing.  One of the best games I’ve seen out of itch.io, this game’s exceedingly whimsical is likely to entertain women, children and lyrical leprechauns the world over.  Not to mention the puzzles really are tough as shit.  You’ll often start off in the only safe little corner of the board and you have to navigate the monster hoard.  I didn’t make it too far in the game, but I still had fun all the same.

Sky kitty don't care.  Sky kitty don't give a shit.

Sky kitty don’t care. Sky kitty don’t give a shit.

The first monster you run into is the stone ogre.  These guys have purple horns and only walk on stone and if you don’t pay attention they’ll get you alone and kill you in a corner; this happened to me way too many freaking times!  But since they have a set path they’re pretty easy to outsmart, but they are fast; so try not to find yourself in too many games of ‘step off’ chicken with these guys.  This is where you see the enemy plodding along his stone walkway and you just want to get that last couple squares covered.  Then you turn around just as you finish and run back toward the enemy to get back to the safety of the one smooth square that is close and you’re not immediately blocked from.  A more adorable game has not made me scream with as much frustration.

Sluggies are the orange ooze monsters.  These guys eat everything they can find but you can pick them up if you come from behind.  (wink wink nudge nudge)  But seriously, get behind them and you can pick them up and chuck their gooey, orange asses off the skygarden like a bizarrely adorable episode of american gladiators.  What?!  They made nerf wars look like the most epic thing ever!  When I say they eat everything they can find, I mean they erase your little green patches, and if they break the grass surrounding a garden, it wilts and dies again.  This can be remedied by just walking over the square again, but it doesn’t yield more fruit.  It’s just fucking annoying.  Luckily, these orange guys serve as your most offensive weapon.  If you manage to grab one of the sluggies, you can launch them at other monsters, rather than into the wild blue yonder, and it kill them both, scoring you some points.  This is especially useful if you missed some fruit and need to recoup the losses.

Bats are a fucking nuisance, but they can usually be avoided.  If they catch you, then you can’t move.  This lasts just long enough for you to get caught by a monster and lose, so be mindful.  My best tip is to get to a smooth square if you see them coming at you.  This way you won’t get bowled over by the fucking stone ogres.  Additionally, don’t go anywhere without a kitty to take the blows to its fat, useless body.  It’s asleep, it won’t mind.

The final foe is what I call the gaping maw for two reasons.  I didn’t get far enough due to rage quitting to see these guys.  The game isn’t impossible, just a really really tough piece of enjoyable gaming.  Seriously, it’s deceptively hard.  They lure you in with carefree music and little 16-bit graphics, but then you have to get the last fruit on the giant fucking q-bert level!  Perhaps I was just caught up in the horrifying memories of rage-quit I had on that game, though.  The other reason is that the monster is literally just a yellow mouth.  I am terrified of what it does to you and refuse to speculate openly.  Probably just hunts you down and chews on your bones.  Yummy magical bones.

This fucking level was harder than shit, if I played any longer the dev's throat I might slit.

This level was tougher than a limestone shit, if I played any longer the dev’s throat I might slit.

You aren’t without allies though.  There are the kitties.  Best part is, they are about as fucking useful as you might expect they would be in a war against bio-diversity strangling monsters.  They lay there and purr innonously as they sleep, the little fuckers.  The title screen is just a menu with a purring kitty reclining in the ‘g’ and if you listen for hours you’ll realize that’s the same sound your soul makes as it’s torn from your shrieking mortal coil.  I would just kick them off the skygarden, honestly, but they have uses.  Bloom grabs these guys nonchalantly and plops them down on switches proving that cats basically have one purpose: dead weight.  Throwing them on switches usually has the effect of triggering a pillar to pop out of the ground, which causes monsters to be corralled away from you.  To be fair, however, these cats can also be used as obstacles, and I have used them to turn a charging stone ogre.  See, at least the ogres care about kitties.  Then again, with only one eye, they have no depth perception, so a cat might just look like a purring, vibrating ball of fluff.  That would make me reconsider my path of trudging in a heartbeat.

All-in-all this is a really fun game.  Great pixel art and upbeat music help to give this a really cute atmosphere that is perfect for children and childish adults alike.  The controls can be a non-responsive on the keyboard, but not enough that you can’t get used to it.  Also, there is no ‘save’ outside of the standard level-by-level advancement.  If you’re caught by monsters, you have to restart from a clear board.  It drove me fucking nuts, but it also makes you really think about what you do.  Be warned, though:  this game is full of rhymes and is hard as fuck, so when asked about it your face will fall into a pale countenance, steeped with horror.  In a thin, wry voice you’ll caution “they were everywhere!  In the bushes, in the trees!  If it wasn’t for the kitties, I would’ve never made it out alive!” A paltry 0.98$ on itch.io, I wonder how itch stays in business giving such crap rates to well-made games.  For more info on the game and its developer, check out Mighty Studio’s site!

Elysian Shadows, Preview of 2D Paradise

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You backed it on Kickstarter and now it’s happening.  We were excited about the mechanics, but what about the elements we’ll all fall in love with?  Who are the characters? What are their struggles?  What is their world like?  I wanted to know, and Falco Girgis and the Elysian Shadows Team agreed to tell me.  So what’s behind the game?  Find out with the Crotchety Old Gamer!

I am excited as anyone about playing this game, but who will be our window into the world?  Who is the main character of Elysian Shadows, and what drives him?

“The main protagonist of ES is named Julien. He is the son of two famous “diggers” who were well known for their research of the ancient ruins scattered throughout the land of Elysian Shadows. Julien grew up traveling with them on numerous expeditions and learning about the different ancient cultures of the past. He was well on his way to following in their footsteps as an accomplished digger, when the two mysteriously wound up missing during an expedition. An adolescent Julien was then sent to live with a family friend, the local museum owner, where he grew up despising the ruins that claimed his parents. Rather than exploring them with a passion and thirst for understanding as he had in his youth, he now scours them for a means to survival, plundering and looting their treasures just to make ends meet. 
Julien has virtually no motivation to take part in the party’s quest in the beginning. He is thrust into the action by necessity rather than choice, and it’s initially the other party members who drag him along on the journey. For Julien, this is a quest of personal growth. It’s him having to come to terms with his traumatic past and face the ruins that caused him so much pain, and his struggle to reignite a long-lost passion that died along with his parents. Julien’s character represents crawling back up and trying again after suffering an extreme loss or emotional defeat. Whether this be a metaphor for learning to love again after heartbreak or learning to try again after seeing your dream project crushed on Kickstarter. Heh heh.”
Julien and the other diggers have to rely on physical weapons when excavating ruins because magic is a power reserved exclusively for the religious. While the technology for Julien’s time is not particularly advanced by today’s standards, many of the weapons and artifacts the player encounters within the ruins from civilizations long past are far more advanced than those found in his own time. The diggers and the scientific communities rely on these kinds of manufactured and uncovered weapons for combat while the religious are strictly magic-users. But what if Julien and his friends somehow discovered a way to use magic as well?”
Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound...

Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound…

Julien, like most people, is dealing with a  secret pain.  His struggle might be unique to himself, but each of us has our own climb from the bottom.  Each of us has a cave of terrible darkness and untold treasures unique to our souls that we must brave before we are free to be who we are.  Joseph Campbell wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces, which concerned itself with the way characters like these resonate in each of us.  What about the world, though?  What is the story told by the world Julien and his people will inhabit?
“Elysian Shadows is a world caught in constant conflict between magic and technology. Magic is associated with faith and the religious. Technology is associated with scholars, scientists, and explorers who have turned away from The Creator’s divine gifts in an attempt to better understand the world around them. The technologists are seen as heretics, while the religious are seen as sheep, following blindly. Julien and Eryn, who both work for a museum, are sent on an expedition to uncover a valuable artifact for a new exhibit. The two quickly find more than they bargained for in the ruins. They stumble upon a discovery that thrusts them into the middle of this mounting conflict between magic and technology, forcing them to unlock the mysteries of ancient civilizations and prevent their own people from sharing this fate.
The storyline of Elysian Shadows was heavily influenced by the moral dilemmas of our own technologically advanced society, especially with recent advances in bio-engineering. With stem cell research, cloning and the human genome sequence, science challenges religion on a fundamental philosophical level. Science is beginning to encroach upon powers that many people argue are reserved exclusively for God. Do we have any business modifying our genetic make-up? Is it moral to alter a fetus before its birth? Is it wrong to artificially produce life in a laboratory? Science claims that these advances could drastically benefit all of humanity, while religion claims that we are meddling with things that we have mo business meddling with. We wanted to create a story that was more than just a superfluous JRPG experience. We wanted something that would make the player think; something that would engage them intellectually and emotionally.”
Lovely vistas!

Lovely vistas!

Elysian Shadows seems like it will strike a chord that resonates with our own lives, possibly even a few nerves, but who would we be if art never asked hard questions?  And how we answer these questions are part of what make us individual from one another.  Our varied ways of thinking and how those come together for a common goal are part of what has made America what it is today: a center for all people to share ideas freely, and sometimes those ideas reach back out to the people that created them.  So how will the characters accompanying Julien contribute to the game?
“Julien is initially accompanied by the lead female protagonist, Eryn, who is a tech-savvy university student. Eryn helps her father run the local museum, showcasing various exotic and mysterious artifacts from the surrounding ruins. While Julien’s past has rendered him jaded and disinterested in discovering the secrets of these ruins, Eryn explores them passionately in hopes of uncovering their secrets often dragging Julien along for the ride. She is a strong-willed tomboy and often the most level-headed and responsible member of the party with a ruthless pragmatism. 
The two adventurers find themselves in the company of one of Eryn’s professors after his lab is ransacked and his research is destroyed ( presumably because he was getting too close to a breakthrough with his work ). While Professor Rand is brilliant, he’s also infamous for dysfunctional antics and living a life of excess. His peers in academia generally disapprove of his hedonism, but they are often forced to concede to his genius and gift for piecing together puzzles. Rand serves as a non-traditional guide for the party, and he is well-versed in the ancient ruins and their technology. Unfortunately Eryn finds herself having to guide Rand just as much throughout their journey, keeping his arrogance in check and ensuring that his decadence doesn’t get the party deeper into trouble along the way.”
...And when you look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

There is a big adventure out there for us

Allies and enemies and what separates the two is a major point of reference in how each of us live our lives.  It says something about who we are and what we want.  Note that Julien is already surrounding himself with those that spend their time largely concerned with the ruins, the very thing that he blames for the loss of his parents.  This means that, despite his feelings on them, somewhere they are still very much a part of him, maybe even one he wants to love again as it would be the only emotional link back to those happy days of youth exploring with Mom and Dad?  Eventually he will have to face those emotions, and his friends will be the ones to help.  So, what about the game itself?  How will each of these characters actually work together?  I was allured by the claims to an inventive new system for skills and jobs – How will these systems work and how will they be reflected in each character?
“It’s actually a mixture of two different systems. We ran into a kind of design dilemma early on when we were dreaming up skills and abilities for characters. On one hand, we wanted each character to have their own unique feel and play style. We didn’t want every character to feel completely interchangeable, and we wanted to give each their own innate strengths and abilities. But on the other hand, we are huge fans of job and class systems, and party customization is something we very much wanted to do with Elysian Shadows. We really wanted to give the player the freedom to customize their party as they see fit.
So we wound up with a hybrid system where each party member learns their own unique set of skills and abilities during combat and storyline progression. They each have their own unique skill trees and pools that are independent of the other characters, which is how we intend to make our characters unique and interesting. Then  each party member can be assigned to a certain class wherein they unlock class-specific skills and abilities. This allows the player to really fine-tune their party, offering a considerable amount of strategic freedom within the combat system, while still allowing us to create unique and interesting characters.”
Giant swords and power help, too!

Giant swords and power help, too!

This means the class you choose for each character determines what role they will play, and allows you to dictate how the party reacts to challenges.  Alongside this, one character might have access to certain elements within there skill tree that other characters simply cannot get to – the same way Falco and myself might both become developers, but we would end up using those skills to completely different ends and learn different, though equally useful, methods of making games.  Well, damn, I am glad I contributed to the Elysian Shadows Kickstarter!  Of course, there are still 5 days left to contribute to the ES Kickstarter, but what about those that miss the opportunity?  How much will they have to pay and what outlets will the game be available on?
“Since we’re targeting so many different platforms with completely different indie markets and economies, we can’t really set a fixed price point across each. The price of ES will most likely be adjusted so it’s comparable to other indie games available on each platform. Currently, digital copies of ES for Steam and OUYA can be preordered for $15 through our Kickstarter. This also includes our development tools, ESTk and ESGamma. The standard edition of Elysian Shadows for the Dreamcast will be $49, which includes a professionally produced jewel case, color instruction manual, and pressed disc thanks to our publishers at Watermelon Corp. The game will look like a 100% legit Dreamcast release picked up from a commercial retailer back in 1999. You will also be able to choose between PAL, US, and JAP style packaging so ES will match the rest of your DC collection no matter what region you’re in!”
Painstaking attention to detail, thorough skills and class systems, complex characters and a complex storyline balancing the the beliefs of a world against the pain of one kid: Elysian Shadows is going to have something for everyone, and a little extra to boot.  I have never been this excited for another modern retro game; not Shovel Knight or any other mainstream title.  Elysian Shadows, however, is more than just a modern retro 2D RPG: it is our modern 2D RPG.  More than just this game, I look forward to the ripple effect that this game will create and how that will resonate across the industry.  Here’s to hoping it contributes to some interesting developments all the way around.  But whether or not it does, either way, it’s going to be an awesome game!  As always, you can check the Elysian Shadows website for more about the game!

Haunt the House: Terrortown, Murderous Spiritual Mayhem!

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Not since Haunting starring Polterguy has there been a game this indirect about its approach.  In Haunting, you play a ghost who was recently rendered spectral by a careless family of fucktards that killed you while skateboarding, so you make it the purpose of your afterlife to rectify a vendetta against them.  Terrortown’s ghost is more of a motiveless malignancy that likes to kill people and scare the ever-loving piss out of them.  At least Polterguy had a purpose, granted his manifestations were exceedingly more graphic.  But he never killed anybody!  This adorable little ghost has a bloody, murderous core.  No wonder it can’t move on.

Everything in Terrortown starts in the clocktower in the middle of town, where the ghost lives.  After a brief tutorial on possessing and manipulating objects in the environment, you are set loose on the town like an apple-cheeked Mongol set on destroying families and lives.  A couple things of note in the clocktower, though.  During the tutorial, what they teach you possession with is a bell, of which there are nine, plus the one you possess.  There is also a large, out-of-focus painting that looks like it was painted in a JRPG with the bloom turned down.  More on these later.

The adorable little tent is where the ghost hatches his devious and bloody schemes.

The adorable little tent is where the ghost hatches his devious and bloody schemes.

Calling this game a puzzler is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, since the only puzzle you are solving is how you will drive terror into the hearts of the town’s citizens.  I would call this more of a strategy game, considering you are tasked with manipulating circumstances and individuals to reach a specific outcome indirectly.  The ghost in this uses possession to its advantage.  By possessing the various elements of the environment, you are able to manifest the fears of people in the things around them.  Now the things you can make people see depend on the level of fear in the atmosphere.  At the base level – relaxed – everyone is milling about in “thumbs-up-asses” mode.  Starting from relaxed, you will only be able to move furniture or swing chandeliers, rattle bars, etc., but once you start to creep people out, the fear level rises.  Increase it to perform higher profile scares and soon you will have people leaping out of windows to escape the house.

Once you have the fear levels up to fever-pitch, people are twitchy if not outright terrified.  You are performing bizarre and ostentatious scares, people are running around terrified and the general populous is jumping out of window to escape.  Revisiting the bells in the clocktower, each level has a few haunts that get bloody.  Several people in the game are asking for it, seemingly pretending nothing is going on, and the scares you perform near these guys get them fucking killed.  This is where the ghost gets murderous: it’s already sucked the happiness and fun out of a room faster than Carl Sagan at a confirmation party, now you’re going in for the kill.  Each person you assassinate gets the esteemed position of haunting the fucking belltower with you, circling a bell themed after their purpose in life to haunt them forever.  How wonderfully sadistic.

That's right, shifty motherfucker, just mind your own business.

That’s right, shifty motherfucker, just mind your own business.

The goal of this game is to get everyone out of the public places.  Once this goal is accomplished, you win!  Seriously, though that is it.  There are 4 locations to haunt and you are done.  This is a little frustrating, but I get the feeling there is more to come.  At least there better be.  Even though the game is 4.99$ on Steam, I have played other, cheaper games that are, in fact, full and finished.  Don’t get me wrong, this game is great, especially since I was such a big fan of haunting on Sega Genesis, but it literally feels like you finish the first level and it’s over.  I have had farts that lasted longer than this fucking game, regardless of how awesome and adorable it is.  The only thing that takes a long time to finish with this title is figuring out who the last fucking person in the goddamn museum.  I had to look up a walkthrough to figure that shit out.  Overall, it is a fun game and worth some money, but until they add ore content to the title, it will always feel short and incomplete.  And if they charge for DLC, I will pitch a bitch fit.

Nuclear Throne, SHMUP Both Exciting and Frustrating

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Vlambeer is a Dutch game developer, and their stylish little Shoot-em-up, Nuclear Throne, is on my list today.  Better known for their works published through Devolver Digital, I am curious to see what their independently published projects look like.  While this title needs a little time to grow on you, it still has a certain charm and will definitely appeal to lovers of SNES and NES shooter titles like Smash TV and Contra.  Be warned though, this game is hard as fuck.

When you start up Nuclear Throne, you’ll be greeted by a badass theme that sounds like a fusion of western-style acoustics with post-apocalyptic metal influences.  It stopped me more than once at the above screen, and almost seems too awesome for this game, but it blends with the style perfectly and given what the game goes for, it is definitely perfect.  It’ll fill your ears and get you pumped up as you choose a character in the select screen, which portrays them all sitting around a campfire while one plays the guitar.

Each of the characters has its own benefit and special move, which is activated by right-clicking, but be careful since some characters have cons.  I will list them in order. Fish is a fishman who gets more ammo than the others and can dodge roll. Dodge roll is really useful in situations where you need ammo and have to traverse a field of fire to get to it.  Crystal is a sentient crystal that has extra HP and can morph into a giant crystal for increased defense.  Later, crystal can get a teleport ability with this. Eyes is a blue alien-looking creature that can see in the dark and pulls pick-ups toward him with telekinesis.  Melting is.. uh.. a sort of amorphous creature. He has shit HP, but gains XP faster than the others.  After death he can also use explosive revenge, but I found that thoroughly fucking useless since there are no extra lives.  Plant is a plant that moves faster and can grow snares to slow enemies. Y.V. is a one-eyed triangle reminiscent of illuminati symbolism that gets a higher rate of fire and can use an ability called Pop pop.  I tried using it, but I couldn’t figure out what it does.  Steroids is a muscle-bound character who starts loaded in each new level is less accurate, but can dual wield similar weapons.  Robot is a robot and he gets better tech drops and eats guns.  Eating guns is one of my favorite abilities by far.  Chicken is a samurai-chicken that starts with a katana, is hard to kill and makes everything go into slow motion upon right-click.  Once chicken gets to 0 HP, his head flies off and his body can keep shooting until it dies, too.  Gruesome, but kind of funny.  I also managed to unlock rebel, who has extra defense and can call allies into battle in exchange for HP.  There is one other character I was unable to unlock.

I brought marshmallows, but they upset Melting.

I brought marshmallows, but they upset Melting.

After selecting a character, you are thrown right into a chaotic arena full of enemies.  At the start you get a simple revolver to suit your slaughter-oriented needs, but that will be quickly replaced by a vast array of weapons from a screwdriver all the way up to a flame shotgun and more.  Grabbing a melee weapon in a “shoot-em-up” might seem like bringing a screwdriver to a gun fight, but that is only because it’s exactly what you’re doing.  In Nuclear Throne, however, it isn’t such a bad idea, really.  I mean, you don’t have to reload melee weapons, so if you are working with a character that has comparably lower ammo, it might not be bad to have up your sleeve.  Your inventory, however, will only accommodate two weapons, so choose wisely.  Luckily, some weapons draw from different ammo types, but given all the ammo drops look the same, there is no telling what you pick-up.  Since there is no weapons inventory screen or anything more complex than weapon 1 and weapon 2, there is no way to tell how much of each type of ammo you have.  It can be a bit frustrating, but it doesn’t fucking care.  The weapon mechanics in this game are intentionally bare-boned so you don’t have anything to distract you from the HORDES of fucking enemies that want to wallow in your blood and render your corpse a charred shell.

Tearing through hordes of enemies is fun, but, as I said, you will want to mix it up.  New weapons do just that, and they come in a healthy variety, packaged in chests throughout the game.  Walk over a chest and it pops open, press ‘E’ to equip a weapon.  Experimentation will help you survive in this, but watch your ammo.  Aside from just chests, there are also EXP canisters.  Originally I thought they were giving me ammo, but they leave a bunch of green shell-looking objects.  Everyone drops these, but noticing they did nothing for my ammo supply I wondered what the fuck they were for.  Eventually, I leveled up after collecting the green bits, so that solved that fucking mystery quicker than a bunch of stoners with a microbus and a mutated, talking great dane.

Did I just see Beetlejuice?

Did I just see Beetlejuice?

Between levels of play you will level you character by choosing a new benefit.  Sometimes these give you more ammo, help you heal, make you faster etc.  The best ones, however, enhance your special ability.  Personally, I like guns for breakfast, so I choose Robot fairly often.  Taking the appropriate skill will allow you to gain more nutrition from guns, healing you more and, I think, providing more ammo.  Each of the skills follow, too, but figuring out the related image is, at times, a matter of artistic interpretation.  The spinning black and purple vortex you see isn’t the door to Narnia, by the way.  Once all your enemies lie beaten and broken, a sucking hole pops up and whisks you off to the next level.  This can be frustrating, so I advise exploring the level as much as possible before killing everybody since this can prevent you from finding all the pickups in the level.  Missing XP canisters can seriously debilitate you for future levels, and dodging bullets becomes half the focus of the game.

Murder on a massive scale is often one of the best things to happen in the dark!

Murder on a massive scale is often one of the best things to happen in the dark!

This game is hard as hell and I couldn’t find a variable difficulty level.  Your choice of character will dictate the level of the challenge, but the massive number of unrelenting enemies make this game truly challenging.  Factor in the drop-off of everything you might accidentally miss after killing the last enemy, and you can see how I only made it up to level 6 after hours of play.  A lot of restarts, yes, but the game makes it easy to restart with the same character, so this is not one you are meant to beat in one sitting.  After drilling away at it, you will find combinations that work for your style of play and get you further and further.  The most aggravating element of this game is the fact that there is no fucking save!  Initially I was mad and wondering why the fuck you would damn your player to infinite restarts, but then I remembered that Dungeons of Dredmor originally had you play through the entire game before you could reload from a death.  Granted, you could at least save after you exit, but when you died your saves were all deleted.  Nuclear Throne doesn’t even possess that decency, and feels like a really well put-together flash game, which makes it a little more disappointing that it appears on Steam.  It is fun, though.  Overall, a good game, just a little too aggravating and definitely a title made for those who got through any of the original Contra games solo and without cheats.  It also has a unique charm that cannot be denied.  Its graphics are fun and don’t lend themselves to over analysis.  They harken back to the old age of 8-bit gaming where it was difficult to even tell what you were seeing at times, but it doesn’t detract from gameplay.  Gameplay is smooth and fast-paced, if missing any form of gaming respite.  Since it is early-access, I can definitely say that this is a game worth buying at its 12.99$ asking price,  even if just to see where they end up going with it.