Author Archives: Richenbaum Fotchenstein

About Richenbaum Fotchenstein

Richenbaum is a guy who refuses to grow up, yet still finds the time to be a half-assed computer scientist, despite the fact that constantly trying to relive one's youth is an increasingly time-demanding profession.

Review: Sundered

sunderedAfter I tried out Jotun on Sir Merriweather‘s recommendation, I knew I had to get this game too. Sundered, the latest entry from Thunder Lotus Games, promised to be a fast-paced, extra-challenging Metroidvania with some amazing looking hand drawn animation and environments, all set in a bizarre world that seems to be the product of dumping sci-fi, fantasy, and Lovecraftian horror into a blender, and I think it delivered quite well on that promise.

What really sets Sundered apart from other Metroidvanias, I mean aside from the amazing visual design, is the difficulty. Combat is pretty difficult early on, there are a good deal of nasty traps and hazards lying around, and health potions are extremely limited. You can only survive by gathering enough shards to increase your stats and become tough enough to survive the increasingly difficult enemies in your way. It may sound a little bit like a Dark Souls type of game, and sometimes it does kind of feel that way, but it differs from that formula in a few significant ways.

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Not very friendly looking, but this is actually a beneficial ability shrine

There’s good news and bad news about the shards (not souls!). The good news is that you never drop or lose the ones you’ve collected in any way. You always keep everything you earned, so dying doesn’t feel quite as painful as a Souls game. The bad news is that there are no checkpoints, save rooms, bonfires, etc, of any kind. Each time you die you’re sent back to the starting room, which is also where you can spend your shards, and you’ll have to run all the way back to where you were, with the only help being any shortcuts you may have unlocked along the way. Oh, and did I mention that the environments partially randomize every time you die, so that a good chunk of the rooms you visit are never the same? Well, now you know.

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NOW WE KNOW!

The combat is very different from your standard Metroidvania or Souls game too. There’s no time for taking it slow and cautious here. Enemies come at you at completely random times and in massive, aggressive waves, leaving you no time to think. You’ll need to act quickly, staying in constant motion to avoid the many incoming attacks and to make your way towards the higher priority targets, which are usually some kind of deadly long range types like laser snipers or wizards. I won’t lie to you, it is extremely difficult at first, especially when you get to the first major boss, who absolutely is going to slaughter you many times. You’re going to die a lot for a while and it will probably become a bit frustrating.

However, if you can make it through the first 1/3 of the game, you will have pretty much climbed to the top of the learning curve and once you’ve finally gotten into the rhythm of things and begun to pick up some of the more advanced abilities, you finally start feeling more powerful and confident, and you will likely find it all becoming easier and easier from there on. Don’t get me wrong though, you’re still going to have to work for that win, with all the furious finger power you can muster.

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You’re already dead

Another feature worth mentioning is the ability upgrade system. Throughout your journey you’ll find these elder shards which you can either bring to an ability shrine to corrupt an active ability, which gives you a fancy upgraded ability, or you can bring them to the furnace and destroy them, which will give you a large reward of regular shards and unlock a small new branch on your skill tree that contains some extra stat increases and a single new passive ability that can be unlocked.

Not only does this offer some interesting options in terms of character ability and playstyle, but this choice will also end up changing not only your ending, but which of three final bosses you’ll face too (one for going all corrupt, one for going all resist, and one for a mix of the two). This is a pretty good incentive to replay it again someday and in new and different ways as well.

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Sorry for the lack of action shots. It’s hard to take a screenshot when 20 guys are biting your face.

Now, there are some performance issues going on here, though there has already a patch that seemed to help with them a bit. The game has pretty long load times and you may experience the occasional stutter or even a few crashes. This is unfortunate, but ultimately it doesn’t change the fact that this is an extremely fun and well-produced game.

The only thing that would potentially stop anyone from enjoying this game is that nasty difficulty level. This is something that’s going to turn a lot of people off and probably prevent it from being any kind of mainstream blockbuster, but…if you’re someone that’s up for a challenge, this is absolutely one worth seeking out and conquering.

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Review: The Last Door

coverThe Last Door is actually technically two games, as it was released episodically over the course of two separate standalone seasons, but as they both make up a single complete story, let’s just call it all The Last Door for simplicity’s sake.

Anyway, The Last Door is a point and click adventure game by The Game Kitchen (developers of the upcoming game Blasphemouswhich you may have heard of by now).

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Alone in the dark! Wait, wrong game.

This is a very Lovecraftian adventure, where you end up having to do a good deal of detective work in order to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of an old friend, which naturally involves a bizarre cult and unspeakable supernatural beings. In typical Lovecraftian style, it focuses more on building an atmosphere of dread over what strange things lie waiting for you in the various dark and treacherous locations you explore, rather than jump scares or overt images of creatures and gore.

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Come on. What’s the worst that could happen?

You’ll be told many haunting stories, investigate many scenes of terrible death and destruction, and hear many discomforting noises coming from writhing things hiding in the shadows, but you almost never actually witness any of it directly. It’s a credit to the designers and writers that these methods are so effective at creating a creepy atmosphere, especially when the graphics look like they’re straight out of the VGA era of PC adventuring (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

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HAIL RABBIT LORD, ALL-MIGHTY RABBIT LORD!

However, while there are many well-made set pieces and scripted events, more than enough to keep things interesting throughout the eight episodes, I must say that I didn’t find the characters or the core plot particularly memorable. The two characters you play as do a lot of questioning and listening, but don’t have much substance themselves, and the motivations of the secret cult are nothing you haven’t already seen before. Still, it manages to be a compelling game anyway. The well-crafted atmosphere manages to carry it surprisingly far. Not far enough that it will become one of my new favorite horror and/or adventure games, but enough to make the experience a satisfying one that makes me look forward to Blasphemous even more.

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Review: The Dream Machine

boxcoverOh, I have been waiting seven years to finally play this game. The Dream Machine is a point-and-click adventure that was released on an episodic basis, with its first episode coming out in 2010 and the conclusion finally just arriving in 2017. It features a fascinating plot about the physical exploration of dreams, but the really interesting thing about it is that not only were the characters and environments entirely made up of clay, cardboard, and some other assorted household items, but this was all done with just a two man design team and only using Adobe Flash.

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I wish my dreams looked this good.

This is another of those games where screenshots can’t even do it justice, because as nice as it looks in a static image, that’s nothing compared to how impressive it all looks in motion. The sound design is very impressive too, with so many little aural details that help breathe even more life into these already amazing environments. You can really tell why this ended up taking 7+ years to develop. The level of artistry on display here is breathtaking, really.

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What could possibly go wrong?

The writing is quite nice as well. You play the part of Victor Neff, who discovers strange goings-on in the new apartment building that he and his pregnant wife just moved into. The kind of strange goings-on that are soon found to be the result of the landlord’s strange experiments with a machine that allows people to enter and explore other people’s dreams. This is a bizarre enough premises as it is, but the further you get into The Dream Machine, the deeper it starts digging into some deeply personal and twisted aspects of the human psyche in some surprising and complex ways, to the point where it starts ever so slightly tipping over the line into psychological horror territory.

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Guess where you’re about to go?

It almost never actually displays outright graphic content though. For the most part, it manages to create enough tension and unease through ideas and the outlandish dream environments (although…there were one or two little parts near the end that people will probably find a bit gross).

Speaking of those environments, again, they go far beyond being just pretty little pictures. The level and puzzle design also becomes increasingly surreal and complex in their design. You may find yourself in a dream world whose physical locations can be entirely re-ordered and altered by finding and placing photographs in different places on a wall, or a world that requires you to change to different sizes to enter and/or solve certain areas in it, and you might even have to find a way to cross over to one person’s dream from inside another’s.

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Quick, figure out how to stop dream-tentacle-mom!

It’s not as tricky as it sounds though. Sure, there will be a few parts that you’ll almost certainly end up having to look up help for, because it wouldn’t really be a point-and-click adventure game without at least a couple overly obscure puzzles. Most of the time the solutions feel very intuitive and natural though. It may start to feel a bit intimidating in the later chapters, which are noticeably larger and more complex than the previous ones, but their tasks are perfectly manageable with enough time, patience, and thoroughness.

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Oh, this place looks nice and peaceful. I’m sure it’s fine.

Anyway, The Dream Machine is just a truly impressive feat of video game storytelling and design that somehow manages to be simultaneously charming, disturbing, and thought-provoking. It’s an absolutely top-notch adventure game that I would go so far as to call entirely essential for any fan of the old point-and-click genre, so…check it out!

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Review: Final Fantasy XV

81WyEyShisL._AC_SL1500_The previews and the demo for the long-awaited Final Fantasy XV made it one of the most anticipated Final Fantasy releases in quite some time (even if I didn’t actually get around to finally playing it until eight months after it came out), but could it possibly live up to all the hype that seemed to promise a return to greatness for the series? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that question. This is one of those divisive games that you’ll either love or hate depending on what you want from your games, so I’ll just tell you what I took from it and maybe it’ll help you figure out which side of that fence you think you’re going to fall on.

So let’s start with the bad news. The bad news is that the story and the story-based missions, with a few rare exceptions, are pretty uneven and undercooked. You should know that something’s wrong right off the bat when the game starts by telling you that your father, the king, was killed and your country was overthrown by an evil empire, and conveys this information to you through a phone call and a newspaper. Oh, did you want to know exactly how this took place, or who this evil empire is, or who this Cor fellow is, or what the deal with your fiancee Lunafreya is and how and why she has the vitally important magic ring you need, or why her brother is apparently the commander of the military for the evil empire and has it out for you, or what all this business with royal magic, the crystal, and the demons plaguing the planet are? Well, too bad. You should have watched the prologue movie, Kingsglaive (not included)!

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Just try not to think about the details while you’re out there stabbing horses and stuff.

Luckily I had heard about this movie and watched it beforehand, so I knew most of the answers to these questions (although apparently I missed the fact that there was also a free anime mini-series released online that I was supposed to have watched beforehand too), but I can only imagine how vague and thin the plot must seem to anyone who jumped in without that introductory info dump. The game continues on in this fashion for quite some time, with barely a trace of a story in sight, which even then only really continues the same notion that you just need to keep gaining more power so you can go back and beat up that pesky evil empire, who is really evil because…reasons. You’re eventually clued in to the motivations of the villain, but not until the game’s just about over, which is about the only time there starts to be any new plot movement again.

The story missions themselves are one of the weakest aspects of the game too, most of them feeling very basic and restrictive compared to your adventures in the open world. You may have heard stories of the dreaded Chapter 13, where you’re trapped in an area without your standard weapons and your team, and end up running down dark, empty corridors and dealing with unpleasant forced stealth sections for so, so much longer than is at all necessary. Supposedly this section has undergone massive patching since release after so many fans complained about it, and even now it’s still the worst part of the game by far.

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The few story missions that had big boss fights against summons were nice though.

The characters are as hollow as the plot too. While your team isn’t outright unpleasant, and is certainly more likable than some previous Final Fantasy characters (Tidussssssssss!), they aren’t much more than flimsy anime stereotypes. There’s the semi-brooding leader, the strong one, the brainy one, and the dumb, kind of annoying one. There really isn’t much in the way of character development beyond that for anyone until the very end.

The many side quests throughout the game are also almost entirely lacking any kind of story to them. They are as basic as can be, and it was clear that no effort whatsoever was put into giving any of them any real purpose, other than to continue to help boost your power and wallet. It’s just a bunch of “Go here, kill this”, “Go here, pick this up”, and then “Ok, now do that thing ten more times until this quest chain arbitrarily ends”.

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“Smokers are jokers!”

So…at this point it probably sounds like I really hated this game, doesn’t it? Well, don’t be so hasty, I still have to tell you the good news! The good news is that the open world section, which makes up the majority of the game, is absolutely amazing. It’s one of the most beautiful looking game worlds you’ll ever see and is just bursting with a huge variety of exotic locations to explore. You will most likely forget all about that big red story mission marker on your map, because you’ll be too busy scouring the map for all the little towns full of new shops and side quests, and deciding whether or not you should try to fight all these strange new creatures you keep coming across, and finding new fishing spots and getting lost in a frenzy of surprisingly fun serial fishing, and clearing out one of the various dungeon areas, and so on and so on.

There’s just so much ground to cover, so many sights to see, and so much content filling it all that even the most thorough of explorers will probably still never see quite everything there is to see. Whether you’re walking, riding a chocobo, or driving your fancy multi-mode car around, there’s always something to do, even if you weren’t looking for something. It’s a truly impressive feat of both visual and world design, even by Square-Enix standards.

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Can you overcome the ultimate fishing challenge?

The combat system is also extremely fun, so much that I didn’t even mind the lazy design of the piles and piles of side quests, because I was just having so much damn fun slaughtering my way across the countryside (though I understand that this may not be enough for some people). From the point warping system, to the various limit break powers, to the huge variety of weapons and gear, to the surprisingly complex magic creation system, it just never got old to me. In fact, I got so wrapped up in things that I went through over half the game without even really exploring just how detailed the magic system was, finally realizing that I could have been creating much crazier spells if I’d been using all those catalyst items I’d been hoarding.

The day/night and sleep cycles help add even more variety to things too. Creatures that are extremely difficult for lower levels start coming out at night, so until you’re much more powerful, you’ll have to take care in how you go about your journeys and carefully plan when and where you’ll be sleeping. Resting not only entirely heals your party and moves the clock to morning time, but it’s also when your gathered experience will be added to your character so you can level up. This is where you’ll find you have to make some choices, as you can decide to head to a nearby campsite to sleep out in the wild, which is free and gives you the option of cooking special meals that’ll give you various buffs and bonuses the next day, or you can find a town with a hotel, which cost money, but give you a bonus experience gain multiplier that rises depending on how fancy the place you stay is.

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Or you can just wander around on top of random rock formations finding hidden treasures. Whatever.

The game is also nice enough to let you come back to the open world at almost any time, even when you’ve found yourself whisked off to a strange new country by a story mission, you still have the option of teleporting back to carry on with your open world business. You can also continue on after the main campaign is over too, if you want to wrap up anything you left unfinished or tackle some of the crazy post-game content.

There’s actually quite a lot to do even after you’ve beaten everything in the main story and done every single quest you could find during that time. There are the high level hunts, including the mountain-sized Adamantoise, who is hyped as the most difficult enemy in the game (but really just has the most health and takes the longest to kill), as well as another new quest chain that makes you face off against some really tough new bosses to win some fancy new weapons.

There’s also a series of eight “super-dungeons” that are locked away inside a bunch of the dungeons you visited during the main game, which you can only get into afterwards. Each one gets increasingly difficult, leading up to a rough 100-floor dungeon packed full of nasty Tonberrys and such, and an even nastier final dungeon with only 60 floors, but no usable items allowed.

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Hanging out with Leviathan

AND there’s also an extra super secret dungeon that you can only get to with some tricky flying, which has no enemies in it and is just an insane puzzle/platforming maze of doom that I never would have expected to see in a Final Fantasy game.

Point being, there is a hell of a lot to do in this game. I finally finished, having cleared out the majority of things to do (aside from the extra obsessive stuff like catching all 100 different types of fish, even though none of the fishing quests require it), at around 112 hours. I don’t think I’ve spent so much time on a Final Fantasy game, and had so much fun doing it, since the original PlayStation days. While the story issues will most likely keep Final Fantasy XV from replacing anyone’s pick for “favorite Final Fantasy game”, it’s still a step in the right direction and it gives me hope for the future of the series.

Before I go, let me drop a few closing tips regarding this fine game:

  • For you 4K people out there, be aware that you have to manually enable HDR (and possibly change the performance selector) in settings to get the full power of the crazy graphics.
  • Also, you can download A King’s Tale – Final Fantasy XV, a pretty fun little retro themed beat-em-up, for free on PS4 and Xbone
  • Finally, if you’ve already played FFXV, check out my spoiler-packed rant about the meaning of the controversial and unusual ending of the game HERE and let me know what you think!

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Review: Monster Bash

bandicam-2017-06-29-23-56-48-914.jpgMonster Bash was one of those early 90’s games by Apogee, former king of weird PC platformers and shoot-em-ups. I think this was about the last game like this that they did before they became 3D Realms and started doing nothing but first person shooters (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Monster Bash tells the thrilling story of Johnny Dash, whose dog has been stolen by the evil Count Chuck, a powerful, vampiric leader of the undead who I guess has nothing better to do but kidnap all the local cats and dogs for…reasons.

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Who exactly put these signs here?

You’ll have to slingshot your way through a slew of creepy locations, none of which you can escape from without finding and rescuing every pet first. This is all looks and sounds rather simple, but don’t let Johnny‘s silly pajamas fool you, this game actually gets pretty difficult pretty quickly. There are a lot of strange and deadly enemies trying to stop your progress, but that’s not really the biggest problem for Johnny. No, the greatest challenge is making your way through the maze-like levels without killing yourself on the many, many spikes, water pits, and various other traps, all of which deal out pretty heavy amounts of damage.

There are occasional health refills and extra lives to be found if you take the time to find them in the many well-hidden secret areas scattered throughout each stage, but you’ll need to be careful here as well. Health refills give you your entire life bar back, but their rarity means that you have to be careful to not touch them if you don’t need them yet, or you might end up in trouble later down the line.

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Just a quick trip to hell to save a few cats and dogs.

Oddly enough, there’s no way to see how many lives you have left either. You just have to assume that you’re always on your last one and try to get through each level without losing any lives that you haven’t regained before the exit. In fact, you really should probably just play this on Easy and/or use the +5 lives cheat (press Z+F10!), or you’re going to be replaying levels a lot later on, to the point that you may become too frustrated to continue.

Also to be found in the many secret areas are many secret skulls and candy pick-ups. These are all entirely optional and only serve to add to your score (which is also strangely absent from the UI). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hunting these things down anyway though. Finding all the cleverly hidden secrets in this can be pretty fun and satisfying, despite the lack of any real rewards.

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I don’t even know what this place is. Some kind of evil lumber mill?

Also worth mentioning are the interesting backgrounds and monster designs/animations (disclaimer: the screenshots here appear a little smoother than the game actually is due to me using the high quality filter in DOSBox, which does some automatic edge smoothing). The sound and music are also very nice for their time, with fittingly satisfying monster and monster death noises and some really catchy midi tracks.

Overall, it’s not exactly an essential title that everyone should immediately rush out and play, but it’s a nice little classic DOS platformer that is quite effective at scratching that particular nostalgic itch, should you ever find such a need arising.

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“Now I’m in the stew. Oh poo.”

 

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You like Castlevania, don’t you? Part III

Super_Castlevania_IV_North_American_SNES_box_artSuper Castlevania IV finally brought Castlevania to the 16-bit world and did quite a fine job of it. Konami really went all out with this one, taking advantage of every bit of the Super Nintendo’s new technology. The backgrounds are highly detailed, animated, and often multi-layered. The vaunted parallax scrolling is also applied to the level in some interesting ways, making for some great background effects and that one very cool, but very short, level where the rooms start rotating.

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Manual whip control. The greatest new feature that you’ll never use.

Once again there’s a killer soundtrack too. I probably say that about just about every Castlevania game, but man, they just have some really good soundtracks, and this one is one of my favorites out of all of them.

Beware though, this game gets ferociously difficult in the later levels, with some very nasty platforming segments, and a final level that throws four super tough bosses in a row at you. At least they give you a password system though, so you don’t have to do it all in one sitting.


21305_frontCastlevania Bloodlines is an unusual, but enjoyable entry in the Castlevania series. This time you’re in the early 1900’s (over 100 years after the previous games…and all of the sequels, which went right back to the 1800’s), facing off against…Dracula’s niece? I didn’t know Dracula even had a brother. He isn’t mentioned at all here, but I’m just going to assume that his name is Giuseppe the Impaler.

Anyway, it’s a decent game, with some nice visual design and music like usual, but I can’t help but get that feeling that this was another outsourced title. There are so many weird little changes and so few recognizable enemies that it feels slightly out of place.

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LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO THE CARPET! BAD DOG!

It feels like an odd step backwards too, after Super Castlevania IV. While it’s still a perfectly enjoyable and well made game, it can’t help but feel a little clunky and clumsy compared to all the fancy enhancements in the previous game. You can also choose to play as some random new guy with a spear, but I don’t know why you would really want to do that in a Castlevania game.


250px-Dracula_x_(j)_frontThe next game in the series was Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo, a.k.a. CastlevaniaRondo In Blood. This one only came out for the PC Engine, a.k.a. the Turbografx CD, and only in Japan. An English port was released overseas, Castlevania: Dracula X, but our filthy Eastern consoles hadn’t quite reached that level of CD-ROM gaming yet, and so we ended up with a pretty dumbed down version of the game.

Many years later we would see The Dracula X Chronicles on PSP, which was much more similar to the original version, but was still very different, having been completely remade using 3D graphics. I had always heard that the original was the ultimate version, but never had a chance to play it until the modern wonders of the internet once again graced us with a translated copy.

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Because you won’t be able to understand the complex plot otherwise.

Now I finally understand. You can really see the resemblance to Symphony of the Night here (which was a direct sequel to this game, not Bloodlines, as the incorrect translation in the beginning of Symphony claims). The visual style and CD music are both amazingly similar to Symphony, though slightly less polished. The gameplay is a lot more complicated than the linear SNES version, with multiple secret paths to be found in each level, that lead to alternate levels and bosses, and a few secret maidens to rescue. There are also some anime-style animated cutscenes with full voiceovers, though these are a bit goofy.

I must say, I really do much prefer this version to either the port or the remake. It’s no Symphony of the Night, but it was a much more exciting next step for the franchise than the Super Nintendo port had led us to believe back in the day. It’s definitely a version that’s worth playing if you can get your hands on it one way or another. Turns out that the full Rondo in Blood is actually unlockable on the PSP game, so I guess I’ve actually had it right here and ready to play since uh…*looks it up*…2007?!? Oops!


Thus ends another episode of You like Castlevania, don’t you? Tune in next time for Symphony of the Night with a twist, trying to force myself to play and enjoy Castlevania 64, and more!

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Review: Slayaway Camp

IMG_1980Another mobile game? Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Slayaway Camp suckered me in by promising me piles and piles of puzzles, all with the theme of being goofy eighties slasher movies, and I’m pleased to say that it did not lie.

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Just like that Game Boy game where you moved the boxes around! You know…the one with the boxes!

Underneath all the blood and guts lies a very classic slide-the-block-around puzzle, the likes of which we’ve seen many times before, though I can’t seem to actually think of the names of any that I’ve really played and enjoyed.  Things start off relatively simple, with you having to navigate your killer through little mazes in order to pick off all the victims and then slide into the exit, but things get surprisingly complex the deeper you get into the game.

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JUST CLOWNIN’ AROUND!

You’ll soon find yourself having to deal with fires, pits, police, cats, victim escape doors, teleporters, and many more tools, traps, and obstacles, which turn these little maps into really complicated procedures. Things can get pretty nasty in the later levels especially, but there’s a rewind button that lets you avoid having to redo whole levels from scratch, as well as a built in hint system to exploit if you need it. You’ll have to spend a little gold for a hint, or a bit more cash if you want to be shown a full solution, but don’t worry, it just uses regular old earned-in-game currency and not some kind of awful special dollars that you have to pay real money for. Or you can just blow all your gold on unlocking new killers and kill animations, all of which are entirely cosmetic and optional.

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Even space isn’t safe from your wrath!

All of this takes place across ten “videotapes”, the game’s version of chapters, each with a different theme and killer, ranging from a summer camp, a theme park, high school, and even outer space. Each tape has around 10-13 normal levels and 3-5 “deleted scenes” bonus challenge levels that open up after you’ve completed a tape, for a combined total of almost 200 levels. That’s a hell of a lot of puzzles for only $2. It’s not the most mind-blowing gaming experience, even by mobile standards, but it’s a solid bit of fun with a pretty huge amount of content for its humble price (and It’s also available on Android and PC too).

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