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  1. Game: Cats in Boxes Developer: LineartLemur Release Date: November 14 2019 Play the game in browser for free here! Genre: Action Strategy Shooter 2019-12-14_18-44-30_online-video-cutter.com.mp4 Cats in boxes is a bit different from most games I review, just because of how short it is, and, well, it naturally is since it's a game jam game. It would honestly be more appropriate to think of this game as a quick little flash game you find on all those free-to-play sites, especially since you can play it from your browser, which is a really nice touch. But that's not a bad thing at all! For a few minutes of your time, it's a fun little experience! It makes you think strategically as to when where and how to place and use all your units, without overwhelming you and giving you just enough of a challenge to keep you engaged. The artstyle had a very childish hand-drawn aesthetic to it, and it just adds to it's silly and nonsensical. The cats do look kinda off but for such a simplistic and short jam game, it really wasn't an issue for me when I was playing. If anything the style just grew on me as I played, it just seems fitting for such a goofy game. There's also a brief introduction storyboard type sequence which introduces the artstyle and the very simple story. The story is virtually non-existent, it's really just a mario type story, a simple motivation to add some quick context to what you're doing. There's also a choice to play as a "Hero" or "Villain". There's no difference between them gameplay-wise, it just gives you slightly different text to read at the beginning and the end of the game. The music of Cats in Boxes is equally simple. It's just one short looping sound bite, it got a little annoying for me towards the end, but ultimately it wasn't much of a problem. The music did all it needed to do, and without it the game would feel weirdly silent. The sound effects are equally serviceable, they never got annoying for me though. Now, while there's not much to say about visuals, story or music. The real fun of the game comes from the gameplay. The way it works is that you and the opposing team have a big fish you need to defend. Whoever has the fish with the most health left by the end of the round wins, and you move onto the next of 5 levels, where I enjoyed experimenting with different strategies to defend my fish. To defend, you have 4 different feline units, a shield using cat that can block attacks from enemy cats, a knife cat that can attack by charging with it's knife, a cat that can shoot tiny fish, and a healer cat. The really interesting mechanic that Cats in Boxes uses pretty well is how deploying units works, which is pretty much the one thing that makes this game a really fun quick experience. It allows for very interesting strategies to emerge and for you to think proactively in really unique ways! So anyway, yes, this is a very short review for a very short game, but I figured it was worth it for this unexpectedly well made jam game. So go over and give the game a try for a few minutes! Tell me what you thought of Cats in Boxes in the comments below! Thanks for reading!
  2. CROGGS

    KnifeBoy - A strange MetroidVania

    Game: KnifeBoy Developer: Karl Rune Peter Fredriksson Release Date: October 18 2019 Buy the game on Steam here! Genre: MetroidVania Adventure So! KnifeBoy! It's a weird-ass game (as you can see from its screenshots) made by Karl Rune Peter Fredriksson , it has a very strange atmosphere to it with surreal visuals and music that makes you feel like you're in some alien world and lends itself to a very unique experience, but beyond that, it's honestly just a mediocre MetroidVania. Now, I don't consider myself a huge fan of the MetroidVania genre, but if you put a good MetroidVania in front of me, I'll have a dandy ol' time. I grew up playing lots of games that had you accessing new areas with new abilities and stuff, like The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, and even more recent games like Shovel Knight I love finding secret areas with some kind of new ability or item I have. When done well, the sense of progression in these games feels very deserved and satisfying when you finally see what's behind those boulders you've passed like 50 times now. Doing this well isn't the easiest thing in the world though, a lot of things have to go right to have the player really get that feeling. What this game excels at though is the whole strange, surreal look and feel of everything. I really like games like this, games like LISA and artists like Jack Stauber, do an incredible job of just making people revel in the absolute chaos and 'what the fuck is happening' of it all, and at many points, KnifeBoy does just as well. Karl's creativity really shines through in a lot of really shocking and unexpected ways, nothing was off-limits, and he just did whatever the hell he wanted, and I just loved it. That said though, it did still suffer from a lot of problems. The visuals, which I can only describe as strange, is the first thing you'll notice. It has an admittedly amateurish feel to it, but that doesn't mean it looks bad, not at all! A lot of the visuals look great and fit the theming of the game perfectly! They create a chilling atmosphere of a weird alien world with intrigue and oddities everywhere. The game seems to have a solely comic book style to it at the beginning, it mostly retains this style, but noticeably diverges from this in many parts pretty effectively, only adding to the chaos of it all, with some assets being pngs of actual real-life rock faces, which I thought was pretty funny. The use of light is also used especially well to just keep building that odd atmosphere. The character designs are pretty much strictly comic book looking, which Karl's done a good job with! The designs themselves range from strange, to typical comic book supervillain, to gorey, to delightfully absurd, to sexual (if there's any rule 34 artists reading this, you'll have a field day with this game). The most confusing design of all though in my opinion is that of KnifeBoy himself, like, there's some pretty weird stuff in this game, but I still genuinely have no idea how Karl came up with the idea of having a giant blade coming out of a guy's forehead. It fits the weird theme of the game alright, but the giant blade as next to no real purpose, it's never used and rarely mentioned, with the only time it ever becomes relevant being with his spin attack and overdrive attack. And I've always wondered, how is going through doorways with his head? How uncomfortable is it to sleep? And wow that musta been hella painful for his mom. WE WANT ANSWERS KARL!... or at least I want answers Alright, anyway, the story in KnifeBoy is one thing that, at least the steam page seems to pride itself on, which is weird to me, because in my opinion, the story was probably the weakest part of the whole game. The biggest problem, at least for me, is how overwhelming the game is with introducing new characters, organizations, and places. The opening cutscene just name drops 8 different things within less than a minute, then just throws you into the world, and it continues to do this kind of thing throughout the game, making following the plot really hard. Or maybe I'm just a big dumb idiot who can't process more than 2 things at a time, I dunno, but that was my experience. Anyway, the plot basically comes down to "save girlfriend from the big bad", with an even more generic evil shadowy organization, which is anonymous for some reason, I thought it would be some social commentary about the dangers of hackers or something, but I didn't see any of that in my playthrough, the fact that the big bad is anonymous never plays into the narrative or gameplay at all during my playthrough, it could have just as easily been the lamp fan club or something. The ending was also really unsatisfying and made no sense to me, it just abruptly ends out of nowhere, with nothing being resolved and almost nothing being revealed. Something else that is supposed to add to the story are comic book pages which you can find throughout the game, which reveal KnifeBoy's past, and there is a full legitimate comic which serves as in interesting look into the past, and although it is at times unnecessary, not giving insight into the game itself, it is an interesting read. I just wish there was more done within the game since it was an admittedly boring change of pace to sit down and read an almost full-length comic. The game does shine with storytelling in a few spots, and it isn't usually with dialogue or cutscenes, but with the world itself, with boss designs, environments and secrets. Little sprinkles of lore that made me intrigued by who the bosses are and why they are where they are, it made me imagine what their stories could possibly be. My favourite character is actually one that you can only briefly meet twice, Karl Skandal, but whose personality, knowledge, location and design made him really interesting to me. The gameplay of KnifeBoy is pretty standard Metroidvania punching and jumping with some abilities thrown into the mix. However, the level design can sometimes be frustrating, with platforms being just too short to reach with a normal jump, but feel like overkill to use a double jump on. Then there are other platforms with spikes that are just awkward to get through. But the worst of this is the overworld, where unnecessary obstacles and platforms are just placed around at what looks like random, which makes going from place to place in the overworld frustrating and unsatisfying. The attacks are also pretty unbalanced and lead to some pretty repetitive fights, one ability you have from the beginning, the "overdrive" ability is treated like a super-powerful burst of energy you can only use a few times. But in practice, you have to be really precise with how you hit things with it, it forces you to stop making you unnecessarily vulnerable, and was completely useless in boss fights since it did just as much as your standard punch attack. The punch attack is also pretty overpowered, especially for your first attack given, you can stay suspended in the air for a while just by spamming the punch button and it seems to do more damage than the overdrive in boss battles, I always end up resorting to just punching since it's easy to control, does the most damage, has no cooldown and has a relatively generous range. Using other attacks and abilities you get just open you up to getting hit, with no benefit in damage, speed or controllability, with the dash you get near the beginning being a small exception. Overall, fighting just got boring for me, cause the best way to do it was to just spam the punch button with no strategy involved. On one other small note, there is a day/night system in KnifeBoy where certain areas are inaccessible during the day or night, this was just really annoying in my experience, and didn't add anything to the game. Although the game looks beautiful at night. Boss battles, however, were pretty fun, they were a highlight of the whole experience for me, boss battles in this game are a culmination of all the stuff I like about this game! Bat shit crazy stuff happening, you wondering what the lore behind each boss is with their weird designs and environments, fun and satisfying platforming, and secrets which, if found, let you straight up skip some boss fights. My only problem with them though is the same issue I was talking about in the last paragraph, they all just devolved to spamming the punch button, cause nothing else was worth the effort or risk. I also wish that bosses had more plot relevance, and had some build up so that I at least had an idea of who I would fight before getting there, but that's a relatively small problem. The music, OH THE MUSIC! The music is probably the most well-done thing in this game, I don't know if it's just my weird-ass taste in music, but, like 90% of the songs either fulfill their purpose perfectly in setting the atmosphere and feel of an area, or are just straight bangers. Karl can make you feel paranoid, scared, intrigued, excited, whatever he wants, the music in KnifeBoy is one of the reasons I kept playing and was excited and determined to continue despite all of its problems. Karl should definitely upload or release the soundtrack for the game because I would honestly add some of the tracks to my playlist. Now, the biggest problem by far in KnifeBoy is how unpolished and buggy the whole game is. Bugs were so frequent that I sometimes honestly wonder if Karl even playtested the game himself. From being warped inside of walls when going through doors, to straight-up losing abilities you need to beat the game forever for no reason, to parts of the map that are straight-up incomplete, to buggy and jittery movement on awkward terrain, to dying by going through doors, to being able to go through objects when paused, to being able to walk around on loading screens, to tons of grammar and spelling problems, to crouching being buggy, to certain abilities being buggy in certain areas. There are so many problems, I've had to restart my playthrough from the beginning 3 separate times because of softlocks to do this review. After losing an ability I needed to finish the game which I lost for good out of nowhere again, I even tried contacting Karl, which was very hard to do (open up your dms on twitter man pls). I needed to press F7 which brought the ability back for some reason? There was no way that I saw, that the player would know to do this, so, if unless you're lucky and know about the F7 thing, beating the game would literally be impossible, to no fault of your own. Overall, KnifeBoy is a really interesting game for its weird atmosphere alone, but doesn't really hold up otherwise, with its many problems outweighing the good things about the game in my opinion. My experience with KnifeBoy was frustrating and unsatisfying, but it definitely still has value in its unique feel, kick-ass music and occasional nice little moments. Tell me what you think in the comments! If you've played KnifeBoy, do you agree? Thanks for reading! You can follow Karl on twitter @KarlKaze
  3. Game: Shadow Developer: Grit Release Date: Early 2020 Play the demo for free on itch.io! Current Version: D1.15 Genre: Spooky open-world survival I've never been a huge fan of indie horror games, they usually rely very heavily on jump scares and are usually really boring and generic. Relatively simple games like Five Nights at Freddy's and Slender: The Eight Pages have inspired a lot of games copying only the most surface-level parts of these games, making games that have little to no effective atmosphere, or suspense. They decide to use an overabundance of gore, jump scares and a lot of pointless walking around, ignoring world-building, exploration and building that sense of dread and suspense only the best games can truly conjure in most players. And although Shadow is just a demo, in that simple 10-minute experience, this game never used jump scares or gore, which have become, in my opinion, very overused in games today, instead intentionally leaning more towards creating a sense of paranoia and an atmospheric unease in the player as they explore the island. With the developer, Grit promising to only expand on these ideas in the final build, with a bigger world, more things to interact with, and a smarter monster. The art style of the game is very simplistic and low poly, the style is executed well and looks professional. This simplistic style serves the game well, it was obvious to me what is what, making navigation and recognition very easy. This simplicity also made exploration, the main game mechanic, a lot more satisfying, as special attention has been paid to make sure each area of the island is distinct and can be told apart, with the easily accessible map only adding to this fact. This art style did take away from the suspense and dread I assume I was supposed to feel with the non-threatening textures and shapes around me, but it seems to be the feel the game is going for, and if that's the case, it does its job well there too. The game itself is very simple in what the objective is. You have to find green cubes to power a battery, which powers a boat, which lets you leave the island. Doing this just involves walking around the island and look for the many green cubes around the map. They can be found throughout the unique parts of the island, either behind rocks, in the middle of some trees, in a house, and on bridges. The fact that there are more cubes than you need to collect scattered across the map lead to each playthrough being unique, one person who plays might find the village, while another might never see that area, but find the winter area, or the rocky cliff, or the cabin in the woods, or the forest. Exploration is certainly rewarded here, and even thinking outside the box with one certain area. This also allows for multiple playthroughs, where you can explore the entirety of the island, this concept will surely be expanded on in the full version. My hope is that more varied and interesting locations will be added, where little pieces of lore may be hinted at through the environment and more interesting environments, or even more of a sense of direction when you first start, since when I first started playing and wandering around, I found myself getting bored, and almost had to force myself to continue. Having an engaging beginning is key to any game, and if not done right means that players won't see the majority of the game. One thing that this game has that many other similar indie titles lack is multiplayer! Multiplayer can be a great extension to your experience or alternative play-style, experiencing horror type media with friends transforms into a new comedic experience that only other people can offer. Combining this with a system that requires both people to work together can also amplify your enjoyment of the game altogether, but only when executed properly. And Shadow certainly doesn't do a bad job of integrating multiplayer! In single-player, your left and right hand have different functionalities, it would be quite difficult, or impossible to play without one of your hands. The game uses this concept and gives each player the function of one hand, therefore rewarding cooperation and staying together. This dynamic did a good job at mimicking everything single player does well, but with a friend (or maybe they're not a friend, I dunno who you play with). It also allowed for some fun, playful situations to ensue between me and my friend. It does, unfortunately, require you to have a controller, which not everyone has, limiting who can play multiplayer. There should be some other way to split the keyboard to accommodate a second player like a lot of flash games do. The monster that chases you is a basic generic monster with red eyes, the simplicity of the monster complements the simplicity of the overall game though, and its appearance alone makes it obvious that it is something to be avoided. It also has a weakness you can exploit, where you charge up a beam of light to temporarily stun it. This basic mechanic seemed fine enough at first, but as I played through the game more, I realized that the monster was unfairly hard to see coming at times. When I looked around me to see if it was near me, I sometimes wouldn't see it, even though it was relatively close, but it was facing away from me or behind a tree or rock or house, giving me a false sense of security, then suddenly dying to it without enough time to react. This got especially frustrating with closed quarters in the village, with me dying over and over and over with seemingly no way to stop it. Changes for the monster are planned for the final build though, so I'm definitely looking forward to that. Overall, Shadow is a game that's fun to play and has a lot of promise, with many of the problems in the demo planned to be fixed in the full version. I, personally am looking forward to the future of Shadow and what it'll have in store with these mechanics and the great sense of exploration Grit has already made, a more polished version of this demo with more content sounds awesome. Tell me what you think about the demo in the comments below! I know the developer would love all the feedback he can get! Thanks for reading! You can follow the developer on twitter at @GAMEdevOVER
  4. CROGGS

    Afterfall - An RPG Maker Gem

    Game: Afterfall Developer: AllyJamy Release Date: October 15th 2019 Play the full game for free on itch.io! Genre: Action-Adventure RPG I've always loved story driven RPGs with unique game mechanics like Undertale, Oneshot and the to the moon series. When done well, games in this genre can concoct an immersive and exciting world, with fun challenges and puzzles along the way. RPG Maker games do have many games like this, but I usually find myself having to sift through piles of games that can be filled with boring grinding and generic surface level stories and characters. Because so many other people have the same experience, RPG Maker games usually get a bad wrap for being lazy and boring. As an RPG Maker game, it's hard to overcome this stereotype and get the attention of gamers, especially with the increasing amount of games competing for your attention online. It's because of this stereotype that I like to give RPG Maker games a fair shot, and i'm glad I gave this game a play, because it blew me away right from the start with how it sets itself apart from the average RPG Maker game. Although it's not perfect, it still does a pretty damn good job at immersing the player into the tumultuous and intriguing world of Afterfall. The 4 years of work that went into this game definitely show. The game begins with a little bit of exposition explaining how you ended up on this alien world and pictures showing off the game's unique artstyle. You, like myself, might think that the art style is a little off at first, looking amateurish and incomplete, but the artsyle grew on me, and I came to really like it as the game went on. It's very simplistic, but gets the point across. Faces which appear in dialogue boxes aren't proportional though and distract from the expression they were likely intended to have, even being comically off at times. The lack of depth and shading can also make some objects and structures in the game look unnatural, and take away from the atmosphere being attempted. Some of the bosses and sprites which suffer from this problem can also totally take away the intensity or seriousness of a situation. But these problems are relatively small, and become less and less prominent as the game goes on, with majority of the environments and moments in the game still retaining a good amount of the emotional and atmospheric weight they need to provide a fun experience. But even where the art falters sometimes, the music consistently pulled me back into the game, with ominous, intense, fun and atmospheric music in every part of the game. I have absolutely no complaints about the music; it does its job very well and never got old. The game has two main mechanics that it uses throughout the game: exploring, and fighting. Both mechanics work virtually identically to your average Legend of Zelda game. You gain abilities and items which allow you to access certain areas, and you can swing or shoot a weapon at enemies that appear in the overworld - no turn based battles here! One thing Afterfall does differently with its exploration from Zelda though, is with scavenging. Your character in the game is a scavenger, and this fact plays quite well into the gameplay, with most items being things I've scavenged from the diverse environments I explored throughout the game, with a few quests needing you to go scavenging for certain items. This is usually a pretty straight forward and rewarding mechanic, but when searching vehicles, you have to check every single tile to make sure you scavenged everything from it, and you have to wait a few seconds at each tile to check if there's anything there. On screens with several vehicles, this can become very tedious and lead me to skipping several potentially useful items out of boredom. Apart from that, the scavenging mechanics encourage exploration, which is rewarded with several secrets that reward you with currency or rare items, or interesting new character interactions, which have some of the most interesting and compelling dialogue and characters in the whole game. I also found the fighting mechanic really fun! It's easy to understand, with the game teaching you how to use it seamlessly. With an easily understandable hotbar and weapon specs, it's easy to start engaging in fights, but it's very hard yet rewarding to master, which becomes especially true during boss fights which test you with mechanics you've already fought against before. My only complaint is how small the hitboxes are for bosses with large sprites. As someone who used to use RPG Maker in the past, the problem is understandable, but still caused some frustration when I had to experiment with each boss to figure out exactly where to hit them. In general though, both game mechanics are well done and satisfying, with a clear sense of progression making it all the more rewarding. When I first began playing Afterfall, I was pretty overwhelmed by how big the world was, how many characters there were to keep track of, all the little quests to keep track of, and all the lore and information about the world I was given at the start. I couldn't keep track of everything in my head without writing a lot of stuff down, even though that much information was not needed to understand the basic gist of what was happening plot wise in the beginning. The beginning of the game lacks focus in this way, and it made the game quite confusing up until I completed the first dungeon and was the part I enjoyed the least, which is a shame because the rest of the game afterwards is a lot better, and does not have this problem, meaning that some players might quit without even experiencing the good parts. All the extra lore and intricacies of the world should be left towards the end or hidden in secret areas for people who already have a solid foundation of understanding of the world, since after revisiting the beginning of the game after completion, everything made a lot more sense. Simply put, at the beginning, there are too many names, places, groups and characters to remember right out of the gate. After the first dungeon though, the game has a focus on certain characters and groups, making it much easier to understand what is going on. The quirky, compelling and relatable characters in Afterfall is one of its biggest strengths, especially towards the latter half of the game. Every character has something to say or do, from the key players to characters you only ever interact with twice. Their dialogue can range from funny, to mysterious, to heart warming, and left me having to question the character's true intentions, only adding to how entertaining it is to talk to the characters. However, there is the rare typo, although, they aren't major typos, and can easily be skimmed over or ignored. The only thing lacking about the characters is in their designs. Some of the characters look almost the same, and are not very distinctive or representative of their personality, with only a few exceptions. But despite these draw backs, the game had me regularly looking forward to engaging in dialogue. With some of the game's narrative moments having me at the edge of my seat, waiting to see what would happen next. Now, I had a blast playing this game, and although it has several small problems already, the most notable problem I experienced in almost every screen of the game were bugs. By far the most common bug in the game is collision problems with the tiles. I can't even count how many times I walked through a wall or window tile. This is still a pretty small issue, just like everything else I've mentioned since nothing I've found breaks the game, with the most major issues regarding this being boss battles where the main character and the boss go right through what were probably supposed to be obstacles like there's nothing there. But, despite Afterfall's drawbacks, for a free game made mostly by one person, it still shines through its unique world and characters which will only grow more and more enjoyable as the game goes on. I would definitely say that it's worth a play. Tell me what you think about this unique and interesting RPG in the comments below! Thanks for reading!
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