Figment – Linux, Mac OS X 10.12, and Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Figment Title Screen
Figment Title Screen

Figment is an action adventure game with puzzles, released in 2017. It was developed and published by Bedtime Digital Games. In Figment you play as Dusty who is on an epic quest to restore the health of the mind he inhabits.

Figment begins with a family in a car driving through a stormy night. It sounds like a daughter in the back of the car is taunting her dad while he’s trying to focus on the road. Then out of nowhere the father yells, “Oh crap!” foreshadowing the impending crash that takes place immediately thereafter.

But my scrapbook!
But my scrapbook!

After the crash scene fades out, another scene fades in where Piper, a friendly flying companion, comes to wake Dusty up and get him ready. It seems Dusty is a protector and adventurer that has gotten rusty with disuse. He holds on to his scrapbook, likely filled with memories of adventures past, and is preparing to make himself an intoxicating beverage to enjoy.

While Dusty is away collecting ice for his beverage, a nightmare comes to steal his scrapbook. He begins to wake up to the fact that things are not all right with the mind, as Piper had been trying to tell him. Dusty then begins his quest to get his scrapbook back.

Consume Endurance Neurons to replenish health.
Consume Endurance Neurons to replenish health.

I’m not doing appropriate justice by my description of the narrative. Playing Figment made me realistically feel and experience emotions that few games ever have. With many games I sympathize with the characters as they make their way through the story, but with Figment the voice acting and body language of the characters combined with the musical score stirred serious empathy within me.

I felt genuinely hurt that Dusty had his scrapbook stolen and was treated unfairly. I felt genuinely bad for the nightmare who stole the scrapbook telling Dusty, “Eventually, we all lose everything!” to justify his actions. Piper makes me want to do what I can to help fix things when she nervously states, “Something’s totally messed up in the mind!”

Collect Endorphins to level up your hit points.
Collect Endorphins to level up your hit points.

My wife’s aunt suffered a terrible car wreck a few years ago that left her with a traumatic brain injury. For many months after the accident it was frustrating to sit by her bed side and see her reliving nightmares and grasping at incomplete overwhelming thoughts while we could do little to help. Figment puts you right there inside a mind, struggling for survival, and makes you feel determined to set things right.

The combat is typical hack and slash. Dusty has a life bar, and he can take only so many hits before he must respawn at the nearest checkpoint. The life bar may be replenished using Endurance Neurons, green glowing balls that spin around trees throughout Figment’s game world. Picking up enough Endorphins will extend your life bar, providing you an extra hit point.

Dusty must fight some diseased creatures like these Barf Rodents here.
Dusty must fight some diseased creatures like these Barf Rodents here.

Dusty and Piper travel together through the mind to fight fear and sickness, stoke creativity, and recontain the nightmares into their proper place. As they journey they find memories they can use to piece together and recollect the person of the mind they inhabit. Dusty starts off as an uncaring jerk, but as he picks up more endorphins he begins to turn back into his former heroic self.

When I finished recording my first impressions play through, my wife asked me if I had fun playing. I sat for a second and thought about it and then answered honestly, no. Thus far Figment has been a dramatic, poetic, artistic, incredible game steeped in symbolism, but not really fun.

Fighting the first nightmare.
Fighting the first nightmare.

I plan to continue playing Figment till I complete it. There seems to be so much depth to the story that I want to see how it turns out. The character development, musical score, and vivid artistry combine to make an epic such that it feels I have a duty to see the story through to its conclusion. While it may not be “fun,” there’s no game that has grabbed so much of my attention lately as Figment has. In many ways Figment goes beyond fun to provide a moving experience very unique from any other game I have played thus far.

Splasher – Linux, MacOS X 10.12, and Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Splasher Title Screen
Splasher Title Screen

Splasher is a two-dimensional puzzle platformer released in 2017. It was developed by Splashteam and published by Playdius. Gameplay reminds me greatly of Jazz Jackrabbit 2 and Super Meat Boy.

Splasher begins with your main purple-haired character scrubbing the floors at Ink Corp – very similar to the plot of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. While he’s cleaning he happens to peer into a room where experiments are being done. Inside the room a mad doctor is injecting one of his fellow cleaning technicians with a substance that turns them into a potato. Scared by the scenario unfolding in front of them, your main character understandably gets the heck out of there and level one begins.

Red Ink is sticky and provides gravity.
Red Ink is sticky and provides gravity.

The first level introduces the controls and serves as a basic tutorial on how to play the game. Splasher is the kind of platformer where you have great control in moving your character mid-flight. The character moves fast and the platforms and character seem small in comparison to other platformers I have played. This made the controls take a little getting used to.

After completing the first level, the player is transported to an overworld map where they may enter the next level or go back and replay a previous level. It is possible to do a speed run on previously played levels to beat your previous time. By examining the speed run mechanic, it appears there are 22 levels in Splasher.

Yellow Ink makes you hop.
Yellow Ink makes you hop.

Through the first three levels that I have played, I have been able to deduce that there are two types of ink. Red ink sticks you to the surface it’s on and provides gravity for you to walk across when on a ceiling or wall. Yellow ink makes you bounce around like you’re dancing with flubber on your feet. Water can be used to clean ink off of surfaces.

The player first receives a water gun. Eventually it appears the player receives the ability to shoot red and yellow ink from their gun, but I was not able to unlock this ability within the first three levels. Shooting potato creatures with water makes them explode and helps the player progress.

Get 700 yellow to free a friend.
Get 700 yellow to free a friend.

The player receives a yellow substance from eliminating enemies from the game. If you can accumulate 700 units of the yellow stuff you can free your comrade locked in the cage at the end of the level. Similar to Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, you can rescue or “accidentally” kill fellow Ink Corp employees as you are working your way through each level.

The specialty Splasher brings to gaming is its fast paced puzzles that must be solved for the player to progress. Checkpoints are available between each puzzle within a level so the player isn’t forced too far back when they fail. However, it is clear the greatest satisfaction Splasher offers is in getting good enough to jump from puzzle to puzzle completing the level in the shortest time possible while achieving the greatest score.

Level Selection Overworld
Level Selection Overworld

Splasher appears to be a decent game for puzzle platformer speed run enthusiasts who enjoy a challenge and love competing against their past scores. Given that Splasher is a single player game, I am surprised I didn’t encounter an online leader board so individual players may see where they rank in worldwide rankings. It feels ridiculous for me to continue trying to beat my own score, but working my way up a rank and knowing I am Xth out of Y players worldwide pushes me to keep trying to get better.

A Story About My Uncle – Linux, Mac OS X 10.9, and Windows 8 Game First Impressions

A Story About My Uncle Title Screen

It has been some time since you saw your uncle Fred. He is the adventuring type, and once again he has gone off on an adventure, but this time for longer than usual. Because you are curious, you sneak into his house and see if you can find clues about where he’s gone. While there you find an adventure suit, just like the one he takes with him on all his adventures, but this is a special one sized just for you.

You try it on and play with the contraptions you find in his observatory. You find an interesting switch and flick it on. The dome of the observatory opens and you find yourself slingshotted out into the stars.

The Adventure Suit is waiting.
The Adventure Suit is waiting.

A Story About My Uncle is a first person action adventure game. It was developed by Gone North Games and published by Coffee Stain Studios. It was released in 2014.

I have seen reviews say A Story About My Uncle is a parkour simulator, but I think that is selling it short given its rich story that I’ll get to in a moment. The player can run and jump by holding down the shift key or hitting the space bar key respectively. The player’s adventure suit can do much more, such as an increased jump when holding down on the right mouse button.

This is what a save beacon looks like.
This is what a save beacon looks like.

The suit also has a powered grappling hook that can be used as a tractor beam to pull the player toward an object that is relatively close to their current position. Those who have used the grappling hook in Team Fortress mods or other first person shooters will likely understand the mechanic. If you haven’t, just think Spiderman.

An obstacle course of floating islands is provided for the player to cut their teeth on in their quest to finding their uncle Fred. It was great fun jumping from platform to platform in the strange jungle cave. I am typically afraid of heights, and I struggled with that fear when first playing A Story About My Uncle. But the game is very forgiving.

Just hook and weeeee!
Just hook and weeeee!

Your suit will protect you from all falls. The only thing dangerous concerning falling is falling into liquid since the suit is apparently too heavy to float. At least at the beginning of the game there are quick save beacons on nearly every surface. Just get in close proximity to one of these brightly lit beacons and your game will quick save. It’s easy to start over whenever you fail. In no time you’ll be able to bound around the game world handily enough to keep up with the story.

I had originally thought based on the vast empty world and the quiet and secluded ambiance that A Story About My Uncle would be a game in which I would find myself alone. The same adventure formulas used by classic adventures like the Myst and The Journeyman Project series seemed to be in play here.

Nice to meet you, Maddie.
Nice to meet you, Maddie.

I was playing in a dark room late at night with headphones on and out of no where I heard a voice say, “Hello, who are you? You’re not from here.” I just about jumped out of my seat. But as it turned out this friendly voice appeared to be attached to a friendly creature who knew my Uncle Fred. Maddie was her name and she gave me a tour around her village once I got there.

After her quick tour she went on ahead to talk to the village elder, Samuel, for me while I went to take a look around the village and Uncle Fred’s tent. There in the tent I saw that Maddie had drawn a picture for Uncle Fred. After finishing looking around the village I am supposed to meet Maddie and elder Samuel at his dwelling.

The village people.
The village people.

At this point I’m not sure what to expect next from A Story About My Uncle. It is following the predictable formulas I have come to expect from good adventure games while simultaneously throwing me quite a few curve balls thus far. The characters I have encountered seem charming and it feels so good to be swinging like Spiderman through a world of peaceful amphibious creatures. However there has to be some dark mysterious conflict somewhere. The story would not ultimately be compelling without it. Thus far the story telling has been too rich and the tension is building too great for there not to be some impending drama.

Awwww.

The player’s character is narrating in the future as a bedtime story to his daughter, so perhaps the story won’t get too out of hand. I’m really excited to see where it goes. In real life, I got sick with some kind of winter crud. Whenever this happens I usually pick out a simple turn-based Japanese role-playing game with a heavy but linear plot that I can mindlessly mash buttons to. It was refreshing to pick up A Story About My Uncle as it gave me the perfect mixture of fun non-complex action with a heavy dose of engaging story. I’m looking forward to reviewing this one once I have completed it soon. It would be great if there were some grappling hook universe out there I could escape to just to play video games in.

Epistory: Typing Chronicles – Linux, Mac OS X 10.11, and Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Epistory: Typing Chronicles Title Screen
Epistory: Typing Chronicles Title Screen

Epistory: Typing Chronicles is a hack and slash role-playing typing (yes, role-playing and typing) game released in 2016. Epistory was developed by Fishing Cactus and published on the Steam platform by Plug In Digital. It was also published DRM free to Humble Bundle and is featured in their Humble Bundle Trove for Humble Bundle Monthly subscribers.

Excited about starting a new engaging adventure, I browsed through a list of games I had not yet played and saw the title Epistory.

“Epistory, like epic story?” I thought. “I should give this a try.”

I loaded up the game and saw the complete title, Epistory: Typing Chronicles.

“What? This is a typing game? Like Mario Teaches Typing or Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing? This is going to suck.”

I resolved to give it a chance and started the game. The game begins with narration.

Once upon a time. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

My head was in my hands. They took a line from a classic Charles Dickens novel without directly alluding to the meaning of that line in its context. This is going to be painful.

There was a girl. And she rode on the back of a great fox.

Ok, that’s better, could we have just started the story with that? Please tell me more.

Don't tell me what to do, I'll use the W, A, S, D keys if I want.
Don’t tell me what to do. I’ll use the W, A, S, D keys if I want.

Epistory begins with a young blonde girl mounted on a very red fox. It is recommended from the start to use the E, F, J, I keys for movement in lieu of the W, A, S, D keys typically used for movement in most PC games since they are closer to the center of the keyboard for quicker typing speed. I spent over an hour trying to get used to navigating with the E, F, J, and I keys. My biggest issue was that while the E, F, J, and I keys are recommended, the W, A, S, D keys are still mapped, so accidentally touching the D key (which is beneath the E key) sends you in the wrong direction. When I finally switched back to using W, A, S, and D for all of my movement, Epistory became so much easier to play, so I recommend using W, A, S, and D from the beginning.

First combat, first blood.
First combat, first blood.

Therefore, using the W, A, S, and D keys, the player navigates through the world as the story is told. Despite the rocky start, things only got better and more impressive from there. Epistory feels like any other role-playing game where you’re navigating through and exploring a fascinating, colorful world. When an obstacle is encountered, the player must type out a word to remove it. Whenever a word is typed, the player receives experience points. Chaining words in rapid succession, the player can score combos to get a greater number of experience points. Once experience points have been sufficiently accumulated, the player levels up and can choose how to spend skill points to unlock new player skills.

You will encounter real enemies on your quest with real words. Large words.
You will encounter real enemies on your quest with real words. Large words.

Pressing the space bar will show the player all of the words in their immediate area they can type for points. Whenever a word is successfully typed, a magic bolt is fired by the girl and her fox at the object that had the word. As the game progresses enemies will approach the player and can be defeated by successfully typing words to eliminate the deadly creatures.

Epistory reminds me of Diablo.
Epistory reminds me of Diablo.

One direct hit from a creature will kill the player, and Epistory does not start at the lowest vocabulary like other typing games do. The words employed have meaning in relation to their objects. All are real dictionary words and rarely repeated as the game progresses, keeping play fresh. This is not Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing or Mario Teaches Typing. No one is going to help you find home row in this world where evil roams. Playing Epistory is more like playing Diablo as a Ranger class, but instead of clicking the mouse button to shoot your bow, you are typing to do so. I am a software developer by trade and have been told I am an excellent typist, and I still find Epistory to be challenging. This is a good title for adults and those who feel their typing skills are up to the task.

Puzzles are well integrated and increase in difficulty.
Puzzles are well integrated and increase in difficulty.

I have played through the first two boss fights thus far and have actually really enjoyed myself. The story, though a little scattered, has gotten better and more engrossing. The music is superb, but not overwhelming. It sits in the background and supports the story, helping engross the player while not drawing too much attention to itself. I was pleased to find increasingly difficult puzzles to solve and in game art items to collect throughout the world. At times while playing I caught myself saying, “Wow!

Epistory Level Up screen.
Epistory Level Up screen.

Epistory is now on my shortlist of games I hope to complete in the near future because I want to see what happens next. It has thus far done a phenomenal job striking a balance between challenge and fun to compel me into wanting to continue to play. I don’t recall ever having played an edutainment title as enjoyable as Epistory: Typing Chronicles.

Gremlins, Inc. – Linux, Mac OS X 10.11, Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Gremlins, Inc. Main Menu
Gremlins, Inc. Main Menu

Gremlins, Inc. is a computerized board game designed by Alexey Bokulev and Sergei Klimov produced under the Charlie Oscar Lima Tango Interactive Entertainment brand. It was published in 2016 by The Merchant Guild of Rund to the Steam platform. It appears to be fully multiplayer, where players may play online competitively individually or in cooperative teams, or locally competitively individually or on teams as well. It appears the game may be played by 2 to 5 players. There are ladders that track player statistics that may be climbed. There appear to be plentiful mods to customize, enhance, and extend the base game, and the game appears to have been consistently updated since its release.

Players may play as one of five classes of character: the Explorer, the Manager, the Gambler, the Collector, the Thief, or the Damned. I am not yet certain as to the strengths or weaknesses of the various classes since I’ve only ever chosen the random character option. Hovering over each one should give a description of their strengths and weaknesses.

Players are dealt six cards each at the beginning of the game. As these cards are played or otherwise discarded throughout the game, they are replenished immediately from a random deck. At the beginning of the game, all players may discard as many cards as they wish from their hand to be redrawn prior to playing their first turn.

Character Selection Screen
Character Selection Screen

Each card has a name and unique game art that make them easily remembered and identifiable at a glance once you get used to playing. The Gremlinopedia contains an index of each card and what effects they have to be referenced by the player when needed. All of this information is also present on the cards themselves within a players hand.

The number in the upper left hand corner of the card is the movement number. Cards may be played to move around the board or they may be played to execute the card’s action, but never both. Once a card is played for movement or its action, it is discarded. When played for the card’s action, the card must be played on the spot that it corresponds to. A picture of this spot is located on the bottom left of the card. A description of all of the spots on the board is included below. Some cards have an added action effect when played. These cards will have a gear icon located at the upper center of the card. Hovering the mouse pointer on this icon will reveal text that explains the card’s effect when played.

The Gremlinopedia for referencing card effects and game information.
The Gremlinopedia for referencing card effects and game information.

There are numerous Gremlins, Inc. game boards to play on, and none of them that I have seen are fully linear. Be careful to check the arrows on the board to plan your movement. On the board I first played on, there was a primary loop to travel counter-clockwise around in a circle that was fairly low risk. This primary loop had loops to the unique game spots connected to it, so traveling around this loop would provide a player access to those spots. However, there are also places within the primary loop where the player may take short cuts or move to a different place in the loop entirely. The player must take into account the risk versus reward when choosing their particular path. Paths with high reward usually come with high risk, while paths with lower reward come with a lower risk.

The most important and precious resource in the game are the general game points. At the beginning of each game, the game host decides how many game points will be played to. In the game I played, the number of game points was 20. This means that the first player to reach 20 game points would win the game. The number of game points a player has is shown in the middle of a green gear next to their player portrait on the main game screen. Wherever game points may be added or subtracted from the player in a game, they are represented by a gear.

Discard and redraw any number of cards prior to first turn.
Discard and redraw any number of cards prior to first turn.

There are also votes that may be collected or lost while navigating the board. Whomever has the most votes when elections are called becomes the governor. It’s good to be the governor. Governors don’t have to pay any resources when landing on a bribe spot.

Pitchforks are another resource. The more pitchforks you have the more notorious your reputation which counts for something. Be careful that you don’t have the most pitchforks though as some of the nastier misfortunes target the most evil player in the game. Then there is the + and – resources. The – resource is used to pay off the police when landing on a police spot and pay bribes. Money, or G, is the common currency of the game.

Many cards require G to play on their respective spots. When G is required to play a card, the amount required will be shown in the upper right hand corner of the card. The more powerful the card, the more costly it is to play. Unfortunately for the player who likes to plan ahead, G is what is most often increased or decreased in all of the in game events around the board which makes the amount of it in your purse at any time highly volatile. Getting a high power card that requires around 1000G to play made my mouth water since it would pretty much settle the game if I were to successfully play it. So I would plan out how to get to the other side of the map to play that one card and save enough G on my way there to spend it solely on that card. I tried three separate cards like this in the game I played and each time there was something that made me lose enough of my money to keep me from playing each of those three cards. This was even with me being the governor for around 80 percent of the game. The fluctuation of G in my coffer was a strong signal that Gremlins, Inc. is as much a game of chance as it is a game of skill. Randomness is hidden by the complexity of the game, but is still present in full, frustrating force and compounded by the actions of each player added to the game.

Game board used in my first play through.
Game board used in my first play through.

Common Spots:

Bribe – Looks like a dollar bill with a G in the middle. When passing this spot, a player must pay -, when landing on this spot double – is paid. If the player cannot pay the full amount, they pay whatever they have and receive pitchforks. The governor doesn’t have to pay when passing or landing on any one of these spots.

Gamble – Looks like a die with a heart, club, and spade on it. When landing here a six sided die is rolled. If a one is rolled, a misfortune occurs. Rolling a two subtracts 50G, while rolling a four or a six will add 50G or 100G to a player’s purse respectively. Rolling a three subtracts a voter and adds a pitchfork, while rolling a five adds two voters.

Income – Clearly a money spot. When passing this spot you get money, or G. When you land on it you get double G!

Misfortune – Signified by ominous red face. Passing this spot curses the player with a random misfortune. Landing on it allows a player’s opponent to choose one of two misfortunes that will befall the player.

Police – Looks like a police sergeant’s hat. When landing here a player must pay – or there is a chance they will be arrested.

Risk – When you land on a risk spot, a six sided die is rolled to see if any misfortune is caused to your player. Prior to the die roll, the player is offered the option to buy insurance for 20G. If accepted and a misfortune occurs, it will be directed toward other players instead of the rolling player.

Tribune – Looks like a bullhorn. When landing on one of these spots you can address your voters. A six sided die is rolled to determine the effectiveness of your speech.

Unique Spots:

The Astral Plain – Looks like a hot air balloon. When landing here a player may choose to skip one turn to lose two pitchforks and draw their choice of one out of three cards from the deck.

The Bank – Signified by a gold G. When landing here a player may spend G based on their + amount to increase + by 10.

The Casino – This spot looks like a dart board. Here a player may roll a six sided die to win or lose an amount of money wagered from their purse. Rolling a 1, 2, or 3 causes the player to lose 100G, 50G or 25G respectively. Rolling a 4, 5, or 6 causes the player to gain 25G, 50G, or 100G respectively.

The Court – Signified by an icon of an angry looking judge. When landing on this spot a player may pay 40G to take a vote from any player of their choice.

The Dump – Looks like a worn out boot. When landing here a player may roll a six sided die to dig through the junk. rolling a 1 causes the player to lose one voter. Rolling a four, five, or six, causes the player to gain 10G, 20G, or 30G respectively. Rolling anything else has no effect.

The Jail – Signified by a grid of bars. Many in game actions can send a player to the Jail. Upon entering the Jail, the player rolls a six sided die for the number of turns they will stay in the Jail. At the beginning of each turn spent in the Jail, the player may choose to engage in good behavior, be neutral, or engage in bad behavior. Good behavior helps you get out of the Jail quicker, but bad behavior increases your notoriety and jail experience while potentially adding turns to your sentence. Choosing neutral allows a player to walk the line between the two.

The Inferno – Looks like a pitchfork, seems a lot like hell. Appears to be the home of evil. Cards related to the Inferno tend to boost your player’s pitchfork resource number.

The Office – Signified by a blue hand. A player may sell 1 voter for 100G on this spot.

The Marketplace – Signified by a green moneybag. When landing here a player may sell one of their precious game points for 200G if they wish.

The Plant – Signified by a golden gear on a green background. When landing here a player may skip one turn to receive 50G and lose one pitchfork if they so choose.

The Treasure – It looks like the game designers attempted to depict a yellow diamond icon for this spot, but I spent my whole first game thinking it looked like a yellow heart. The player may roll a six sided die to see how much treasure, or G, they receive. There is no losing on this space. Rolling a 1 wins 10G, 2 wins 25G, 3 wins 50G, 4 wins 100G, 5 wins 150G, and 6 wins 200G.

Gremlins, Inc. appears to be more a game of overall strategy as opposed to methodical tactics. Because of all of the probabilities of success and failure on each turn, it makes more sense to come up with a winning method of playing the game that works best in most cases than to tactically plan out each move many moves into the future. A player can plan a general strategy that provides them success a majority of the time and refine their strategy to eliminate those things that cause a loss of resources a plurality of the time. Focusing on the big picture is key.

Gremlins, Inc. is a fantastically complex game. It’s the kind of game I always wanted to play as a kid but one I know I would never find anyone who would want to play it with me. If you are not a fan of complex games, don’t let that statement completely scare you away. The computer takes care of most of the complexity, it’s just the player’s job to understand what they want to do and figure out the best path to winning. It’s wonderful that the game designers have created such a game of vast complexity that is relatively simple to play and provides an interface through which to connect to other fans of complex board games worldwide with no real language barrier.

My wife beat me.
My wife beat me.

I found no evidence of unwholesome material in Gremlins, Inc. There is no violent or sexual content nor bad language that I encountered. It may be a game too advanced for younger children to understand, which could make it frustrating for them to play and for those who play with them. I would say if someone can easily play Magic: The Gathering, they should be able to handily play Gremlins, Inc.

I can’t wait to play more Gremlins, Inc. My wife and I both enjoyed our first play through and are eager to play as a team competitively to see how high we can rise on the leader boards. If you are a fan of complex board games, I highly recommend you get this game.

Deponia – Linux, Mac OS X 10.7, Windows 7 Game First Impressions

Deponia Title Screen
Deponia Title Screen

Deponia is a point and click graphical adventure game developed and published by Daedalic Entertainment. It was released in 2012 first in Germany then translated into English from German later. According to Wikipedia where I researched the game, “Deponie” means “landfill site” in German, which is where the game gets its name.

In Deponia, the player plays the role of Rufus, an adventurous rogue who wishes to leave the junk pile town of Kuvaq he finds himself in to start life anew in the glamorous city of Elysium. He has everything all planned out; nothing could possibly go wrong. The game begins with a brief tutorial on the game mechanics, but those familiar with graphical adventure games from the past several decades will have no issue getting up to speed quickly.

Packing List for Rufus' Escape
Packing List for Rufus’ Escape

Following the tutorial and some intro music and game credits, the first task the player must accomplish requires helping Rufus pack his suitcase for his trip to Elysium. Perhaps this was the actual tutorial since you cannot leave the house Rufus is in until you collect all of the things that are on the packing list. Game introductions like this leave me feeling claustrophobic and are off putting. It served to reinforce how the game is played and what general puzzles I could expect, but seriously failed to scratch that world exploration adventure itch I typically play adventure games for. This beginning packing scene is worse than the one in the beginning of Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders.

Rufus is an unsavory character. He’s pompous, arrogant, gross, and seems to care little for those around him. During the tutorial I found myself rolling my eyes thinking this would be another mediocre graphical adventure that would receive a mediocre first impression. As the game progresses, however, I came to realize that Rufus’ character was calculatedly created by the game developers and meshes extremely well with the other characters throughout the story. The voice acting turns out to be quite superb and the characters feel like they have a depth I would not have expected from just a few short hours of gameplay.

How Not to Talk to Your Most Recent Girlfriend
How Not to Talk to Your Most Recent Girlfriend

It was initially frustrating to play as Rufus because next to nothing Rufus feels compelled to do in Deponia is something I would ever do myself in real life. While playing as a despicable character it makes sense that you would be required to do despicable things and think in despicable ways. Thankfully, plucky comedic karma is in full array in Deponia and it is satisfying to see Rufus get paid back in full for his negligent and ridiculous actions.

Deponia does not appear to be a good title for those who enjoy seeing linear progress across a clearly defined story line. The plans Rufus makes fail, catastrophically, which changes the direction of the game at every turn and keeps the player on their toes not knowing what will happen next. Very frequently I’ll feel like I’ve done something unsavory that messes things up for a character in the game that I wish I could undo, but clearly the game was designed to be this way. It appears it will be a bumpy roller coaster ride from start to finish and it’s meant to be enjoyed for what it is.

Chess Knight Movement Puzzle Mini-game
Chess Knight Movement Puzzle Mini-game

Once Rufus has packed his suitcase, he must load his belongings into his escape pod and configure the escape pod in such a way as to make his escape. Once this has been accomplished, there is a mini-game puzzle that must be completed in order to aim the pod at the track for when the regal carrier from Elysium goes by. This particular mini-game is similar to chess puzzles using the knight piece where certain moves of the knight are restricted in the player’s objective to move the knight toward a desired position on the chess board. It appears difficult mini-game puzzles can be skipped by those who would rather not spend too much time thinking through them and are eager to progress the story instead.

After solving or skipping this first mini-game puzzle, Rufus has a run in with his ex girlfriend Toni, lights the fuse of the rockets that will propel his escape pod and does his best to make his escape. His plans don’t turn out as expected, of course, but he finds himself on the Elysium craft. There he sees a fair lady from Elysium named Goal distraught about a conspiracy and being threatened by some unsavory figures among the Organon. Rufus does his best to rescue her, which includes dumping garbage on her head and pushing her out of the garbage chute. In response to his tragic blunder, the villains kick him overboard as well and he falls back into the town of Kuvaq from which he had been attempting to escape.

Kuvaq Town Center
Kuvaq Town Center

It is at this point that the game finally opens up to more thorough exploration. It turns out Goal was picked up by the town’s people and is being attended to by the local doctor, Gizmo. When Rufus goes to visit her, he finds her asleep and unable to awake. Gizmo sends Rufus to go get some extra strong coffee to get her to wake up. When Rufus brings up his dilemma with Lonzo the local bartender, Lonzo reveals his secret project to build a massive machine from ancient documents he has scavenged called an espresso maker. At this point it is revealed that Rufus needs to collect all of the items in Kuvaq needed to make espresso to use to wake up Goal.

Thus far Deponia plays very similarly to classic point and click adventure games from the 1990s. If I had to place it on a spectrum I would say it is funny like The Secret of Monkey Island, but more crude like the movie Spaceballs. It appears to be around the same difficulty as Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers thus far.

I have experienced many of the same nostalgic feelings playing Deponia as I had playing adventure games growing up, both entertaining and frustrating. While thus far I have always been rewarded when I progress in the game, there are places where the game seems to drag on and on in getting to the next pleasurable scene. I have found myself hovering my mouse pointer over every pixel I can to see if I missed any secret item I can use to progress just like I did with the most frustrating adventure titles when I was younger.

Apparently that is an espresso machine.
Apparently that is an espresso machine.

As far as adventure games go, Deponia appears to be of moderate difficulty, which might make it more difficult to approach for younger or less experienced adventure game players. I also wouldn’t recommend this game be played by younger children if for no other reason than Rufus is a horrific role model and I would be tempted to whack my son if he ever started acting like him. It’s all a joke in the game; Rufus and the world he inhabits is so bizarre and strange it works well in fantasy, but would just be annoying in real life.

It surprises me how much I have really warmed up to playing Deponia. I think this one will be on my list of games to attempt to complete this year because I really want to see how it all turns out. With all of its flaws, it’s still proving to be quite addictive and supremely entertaining. I think I would recommend Deponia to any hardcore adventure game fan, and anyone else who is very laid-back, patient, and loves what is thus far a well crafted story.

140 – Linux, Mac OS X 10.8, Windows 8 Game First Impressions

140 Title Screen
140 Title Screen

140 is a two-dimensional puzzle platformer with fat beats in which you play as a geometric shape. The game appears to be very minimalistic. The title screen boasts a flashy title with the title’s synthesized chiptune melody pounding in the background. When the player presses the enter key, the title screen melts into the stage selector where the player’s character is represented as a square in the middle of the screen.

When moving across a surface in the right or left direction, using the right or left arrow keys, the player’s character becomes a circle. The player may jump by pressing spacebar. Any time the player’s character is moving through the air it becomes a triangle.

Stage Selection
Stage Selection

A stage is selected by attracting colorful hovering circles and guiding them to these half-circle slots they fit into. There appear to be four stages to the game, unless there are other stages not represented by the first stage selection screen. Once a stage is completed, the player is brought back to the stage selection screen to fight a boss before they may move on to the next stage.

All of the moving platforms and obstacles in 140 move to the rhythm and beat of the chiptune soundtrack that plays throughout each level. The color schemes change as well based on the completion of puzzles throughout the levels which must be completed one at a time in order to progress. Falling into static or other deadly obstacles instantly kills a player’s character, but the player resurrects at the beginning of each save point liberally strewn throughout the stage, so the game is very forgiving. Thus far, I have found no permanent save game feature. Holding down the escape key exits the game.

In 140, rhythm is everything.
In 140, rhythm is everything.

In my first playthrough of 140 I made it through the first stage, beat the first boss, and completed a decent portion of the second stage. The stages are vivid and colorful, the music is topnotch and somewhat nostalgic. It makes me feel like I’m playing a modern Atari ST or Amiga game. The boss fight following the first stage played more like a Space Invaders style side-scrolling shooter, not at all what I had expected from playing thus far, but great fun none the less.

First Boss, Fight the Static!
First Boss, Fight the Static!

Perhaps when I beat 140 I will see the ending credits, but I decided to lookup more about the game on its Wikipedia page. 140 was developed independently by Jeppe Carlsen and released by Carlsen Games on Steam in 2013. Double Fine Productions has published versions of the game on consoles. At the time this article was published, 140 is currently included among the titles offered in a special Double Fine Productions Humble Bundle sale. For those who are subscribed to Humble Bundle Monthly, 140 is currently included in the Humble Bundle Trove.

Since 140’s graphics and sound are limited to geometric shapes and chiptunes respectively, this is a great title for children to play. Its initial difficulty is light allowing the player to learn the rules of the game while the difficulty does ramp up as the game progresses. There is no requirement to be literate to enjoy 140 as I have found no words or numbers to speak of outside of the title screen. The game is also DRM free and can be played across many of the devices I have.

Stage 2
Stage 2

I really like playing 140 and I’m looking forward to beating it. I have it loaded on my son’s laptop and I’m waiting for him to discover the shortcut for it on his laptop’s desktop to see what he thinks of it. Donating whatever you want to on the Double Fine Productions Humble Bundle sale for charity right now will unlock Mountain, 140, and Thoth. 140 alone is worth more than the minimum spent.

Xenonauts – Linux, Mac OS X 10.10, and Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Xenonauts Title Screen

Xenonauts Title Screen

It was in the summer time, likely 1996. My best friend was an only child and seemed to have a great knack for talking his mother into buying him computer games from the bargain bin section of whatever store they happened to be shopping in. During this particular week, he and his mom were shopping at Tuesday Morning and he was able to purchase a game neither one of us had ever heard of, but the box cover sure looked interesting. It was a game for MS-DOS and because of its outrageous memory allocation requirements, he couldn’t figure out how to get it to work with his family’s computer system. Since both of his parents worked full-time, he came over a lot during the summer, and one day he brought the game with him to my house to see if I could get it to work on my system. After building a special custom boot disk to boot into a favorable DOS environment to run the game, we both experienced our first contact with the game called X-COM: UFO Defense.

Select Your Main Base

Select Your Main Base

X-COM: UFO Defense is a strategy game, developed by Mythos Games and released in 1994 by MicroProse, that combines real-time strategy with turn-based tactics. The player is tasked with creating and managing the global defense force protecting Earth from hostile invasion by extra-terrestrials. The player must spend their budget wisely purchasing aircraft to intercept and shoot down UFOs. They must hire soldiers to go on missions to eliminate the threat of downed alien spacecraft and to retrieve valuable alien technology. And they are also responsible for hiring and managing scientists to research new technologies to create weapons comparable to the ones the aliens carry.

Intercepting UFOs

Intercepting UFOs

Xenonauts, a game developed and published by Goldhawk Interactive in 2014, seems to have been created to recapture the same vein of nostalgia I had from when I used to play X-COM: UFO Defense with my best friend in the mid-1990s. The game developers state that the game is not meant to be a clone of X-COM, and it is not, but the spirit of that original game is certainly alive and present here. Gamers who played X-COM: UFO Defense will feel at home when selecting their beginning base site, managing their initial base, sending planes out to intercept UFOs and sending out a team of soldiers to investigate a UFO crash landing site.

Close Encounter Shot to the Face

A Close Encounter Shot to the Face

When playing through Xenonauts for the first time, I noticed it seemed to appear very spartan for the year it was released. No cutscenes or rich animations were employed, and I have been unable to find an actual tutorial on how to play the game as far as I can tell. With X-COM: UFO Defense a player had to rely on the manual. Without the manual it was easy to lose very quickly. Maybe Xenonauts was designed to cater to the more mature PC gamer who is used to reading a thick manual to get the most of their strategy game’s mechanics. There are tool-tips that pop up the first time a player accesses any new screen, however, so the player doesn’t have to fly completely blind. I realize having had played X-COM: UFO Defense as a child, I am not much of a newcomer to the genre, but without reading a manual or following a tutorial, I was able to intercept two UFOs and successfully complete my first mission to retrieve alien artifacts from my first downed UFO. There is also a Xenopedia that serves as an in game online help resource while playing.

UFO Secured

UFO Secured

Upon further research, it appears Xenonauts was actually the product of a Kickstarter campaign that was able to raise the sum of $154,715 from 4,668 backers according to Wikipedia. This is an impressive amount, but far from the budget of a AAA studio. With this information to place things in perspective, what the developers of Xenonauts were able to accomplish with this game is impressive. The musical score is complex, easy to listen to, and fits the atmosphere of the game. The sound effects are rich and fit within their contexts as well. While the animations and graphics are simple, no extra imagination is required on the part of the player to discern what they are looking at on the screen at any given moment.

Research Alien Technology

Research Alien Technology

Goldhawk Interactive allowed partial access to the Xenonauts source code which resulted in the creation of Xenonauts: Community Edition, a mod for the Xenonauts game. Those with a retail copy of Xenonauts can apply the community edition mod to expand and enhance their Xenonauts game experience. I’ll try to add another article covering the community edition mod at some later point.

I had a lot of fun briefly playing Xenonauts today, moseying down memory lane. The GOG summer sale just started today. Those that visit GOG.com before June 6th can download a free copy of Xenonauts to play themselves. This is a good game. I’d recommend getting a free copy before the promotion runs out.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders – FM Towns Game First Impressions

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders Title Screen

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders is a graphical adventure game initially released in 1988 for MS-DOS and later released to the FM Towns system in 1990. Developed and published by Lucasfilm Games, it is the second game after Maniac Mansion to use the SCUMM engine developed by Lucasfilm for use in most of their adventure games during the late 1980s and throughout the end of the 1990s. This makes Zak McKracken an interesting adventure title. While it has many of the elements and style of future adventure game classics such as Full Throttle and the Monkey Island series, it’s also a little rough around the edges and lends itself to brute force trial and error gameplay on the part of the player, a feature of most adventure games of its time.

Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was one of those games that fans of LucasArts adventures had in their collection generally solely because it was a LucasArts adventure game. The LucasArts catalog would be provided in any retail boxed copy of LucasArts games such as The Dig or Maniac Mansion II: Day of the Tentacle. Flipping through the catalog, knowing how much fun it was to play the other titles, gamers would see an ad for Zak McKracken and couldn’t resist given that it was, “From the makers of The Secret to Monkey Island!”. That’s how I wound up playing this game as a child.

While the word that sums up my memories of The Secret of Monkey Island was, “Amazing,” the word that sums up my recollections of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was, “Fun.” I remembered it wasn’t as colorful, having been developed in EGA 16 color mode, but it had that Lucasfilm/LucasArts feel to it that made it charming and the aliens were funny. I saw the game on sale on GOG.com a while ago. I had to get it to complete my collection of these graphical adventure games from this era.

I don't want to work here, please fire me already and get this game over with.

I don’t want to work here, please fire me already and get this game over with.

I have been on a Linux kick recently given that my Windows computer has been occupied with running my business software that hogs all of its system resources. Closing all of my business applications to run a game and then opening them back up again when I’m done playing is cumbersome. Plus, I have always been a fan of the underdog operating system since I first used Caldera OpenLinux in 2001 when I installed it on one of the first computers I built. I’d like to spread the word of which games work and how well they work so other would be Linux gamers can be informed.

The SCUMM engine lent itself to being easily ported across multiple system architectures back when Lucasfilm was releasing their games on Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, IBM PC, FM Towns, and other systems. Today an application called ScummVM, which can be found at www.scummvm.org, offers a virtual machine environment to play these games across multiple modern platforms: Windows 10, macOS, Linux, and many others. ScrummVM is used by GOG.com as the basis for running Lucasfilm/LucasArts adventure games downloaded from their site.

The ScummVM Menu for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders

The ScummVM Menu for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders

Running the installation script from GOG.com for Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders was as easy as running a game setup program on Windows. Make sure you run the installation script without root permissions though or it will lock you out of being able to access your game once installed. A convenient link was added to my games menu that I was able to click on to run the game. ScummVM popped up and offered me two versions of Zak McKracken to play.

I blindly chose the first option and started the game. This was not the Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders I remembered. The colors were way richer. Zak looked much different, and the title theme music was incredible! It was like discovering a whole new game I had never played before. Were my memories of the past so faded? How did this happen?

It's the Two-Headed Squirrel!

It’s the Two-Headed Squirrel!

In Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders, the player assumes the role of Zak, a tabloid news reporter who hates his job and would rather be writing novels. The game begins with Zak whining to his boss that he’ll never get a Pulitzer prize writing “sleazy” tabloid articles when he is assigned to go to Seattle to investigate rumors of a two-headed squirrel attacking park goers in Washington State. Meanwhile, the aliens in a secret room are using a machine sending pulses through the global telephone network that are slowly making the population of Earth stupider so they can take over the world. Gameplay begins after the initial cutscene with Zak McKracken complaining to his boss. The player is then in control of Zak McKracken in his apartment preparing for his plane trip from San Francisco to Seattle.

Once again, the game looked far different from what I remembered. Not only were the graphics crisper and more vivid in color, but the expressions on Zak’s face and that of his boss were different from what I recalled. When I played the MS-DOS version I remembered it playing out like more of a sitcom, whereas this new Zak seemed way too serious and incredibly obnoxious to me. I seriously wanted to see him get fired by his boss, “Oh, you don’t want to write my ‘stupid’ tabloid articles? Fine, get out!” It was at this point that I noted something was certainly not right.

The aliens and their stupid machine. It has an effect on them too.

The aliens and their stupid machine. It has an effect on them too.

The two options of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders offered via the ScrummVM from the GOG.com download are for two different ports of the game. The second option was the MS-DOS version that came out in 1988 that I fondly remembered, while the first option was the FM Towns remake with 256-color redrawn graphics along with new and improved sound. It is amazing how a change in the graphics and sound of a game will influence my opinion of a game.

One would generally expect that better graphics and sound would lead to better gameplay. While the intro theme is indeed better and objects are easier to see and interact with in the FM Towns version, there are so many aesthetic design mistakes that make Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders fall from being a classic to simply bearable retro graphic adventure. After playing it for ten minutes, the first thing you will want to do is kill the sound. Anywhere you go while in San Francisco, which is where you will be for the first 30 minutes of the game if you haven’t played it before, you’ll hear obnoxious white-noise traffic sounds with a random police siren mixed in constantly at the same volume whether you are out on the street or in your own apartment. Be careful if you pick up the phone in your apartment. Make sure you have any phone number you wish to call ready to dial, and don’t dial it incorrectly. Leaving the phone off of the receiver makes the most irritating beeping noise until you figure out how to pick up the receiver and get it hung up again. Getting to the airport to fly out to Seattle is a welcome, quiet change until you hear the airplane noises from being in the airplane.

I wonder how much clean water this plane has.

I wonder how much clean water this plane has.

While spending time in the airplane was actually the most fun I had while playing in preparation for this first impressions article, it takes way too long to fly from place to place. To pass the time I would go to the plane’s lavatory and turn on the sink, press the flight attendant’s call button, and open the overhead carry-on compartments while in flight. I never noticed the little annoying details when I played Zak McKracken as a kid. Maybe games today do a better job of quickly getting to the important gameplay.

Playing through the first portion of Zak McKracken and The Alien Mindbenders is like reading through the beginning of a novel that is slow to ramp up. People tell you its a good story if you stick with it. There are a few humorous spots that keep you somewhat engaged, the aliens seem like they would be plucky adversaries, and there is the potential love interest named Melissa that haunts Zak’s dreams. All of these things lead up to a potentially good adventure if the player can keep the desire to see it through. With so many other graphical adventure games to play, and with this one’s sounds and artwork being so abrasive, it might be awhile before I come back and complete this one.

Owlboy – Linux, Mac OS X 10.13, Windows 10 Game First Impressions

Owlboy Title Screen

Owlboy Title Screen

Owlboy is a puzzle, platformer, two-dimensional free movement shooter released in 2016 for the Steam platform. It was developed and published by D-Pad Studio. With a rich though linear storyline like you might find in a JRPG, Owlboy blends many genres and integrates game mechanics from many types of games.

Owlboy follows the adventures of a mute owl by the name of Otis. Given Otis’ disability, he is bullied by his peers and has a hard time living up to the standards of the town leaders. Overcoming disability and standing up to bullying may turn out to be a theme throughout the game.

The game begins with the player flying around the village of Vellie getting to know the villagers and serving as a look out for pirates. The villagers inform Otis of a troublemaker who has been plaguing the town. Eventually the player explores to the point where the bully owls frighten and intimidate Otis. The local tinkerer named Geddy comes to Otis’ defense and they team up to explore together. At that point Geddy becomes part of the player’s party and Otis can pick up Geddy to fly him around.

Pew Pew, Take that Troublemaker!

Pew Pew, Take that Troublemaker!

Otis flies around using the W, A, S, D keys. Geddy has a pea shooter than can be used to shoot at enemies and objects. It is particularly effective when shooting anything that is wooden. The player uses the mouse to aim and the left mouse button to fire. Most of the game controls are well labeled on screen whenever they may be used to interact with the environment.

After all of the villagers have been greeted and another owl has been saved from bullying, Otis and Geddy encounter the town troublemaker and chase him down to a cave where the real game begins. The first area is fairly simple to navigate and serves as a tutorial to help the player learn all of the game mechanics and get used to the style of puzzle solving that will be expected later.

Spin to Break Rock, Not Wood

Spin to Break Rock, Not Wood

Geddy can be picked up and flown around and is useful for firing on enemies. His pea shooter kills most enemies I have encountered thus far and annihilates dry old tree trunks. When not carrying Geddy, Otis can use a spin attack that can only stun enemies, but can also be used to break rocks which are impervious to the Geddy’s pea shooter. It is in this area that the player learns the strengths and weaknesses of each character’s abilities. Similar to Super Mario Bros. 2, health is boosted and restored in Owlboy by pulling produce out of the ground and eating it. Whenever I have encountered something growing out of the ground, I have found it best to go ahead and eat it to get a larger health bar.

The First Boss

The First Boss

The first boss wasn’t as easy as I tend to expect a boss to be immediately following a tutorial. There was a good deal of trial and error as I worked to determine which character needed to fire in what way in order to cause the boss damage. I don’t recall seeing any health bar for the boss to indicate how much damage was being dealt, nor was there any particular difference that I could detect in the flashes that came from shooting the boss with Geddy’s pea shooter and using Otis’ spin attack.

It eventually became clear however that the first boss had armor in the front that could not be penetrated. It that had to be kicked off using Otis’ spin attack from behind. Then once the armor was off, Otis’ had to be carrying Geddy in order to shoot the boss with the pea shooter. Once I figured out the pattern, defeating the boss wasn’t at all hard, but definitely provided evidence for an interesting game going forward.

Throwing Geddy into a stone wall. This is fun.

Throwing Geddy into a stone wall. This is fun.

Upon defeating the boss, the player gains an artifact that allows them to press a button to transport Geddy to Otis’ location from wherever he happens to be. This is an extremely helpful mechanic as I was worried about losing him throughout most of the game leading up to the first boss. In many games any companion received must usually be handled with care. In Owlboy it appears you can slam Geddy against any wall or throw him off cliffs with great comedic slapstick relief and he will come back with no issue. Geddy looks fragile, but he can take a real beating.

Once Otis and Geddy get back to town after chasing the troublemaker and defeating the boss, they find the village riddled with pirates. The pirates seize an artifact that will help them attack the capital of Advent and they leave to do so. Otis’ mentor Asio leaves with the village professor to warn those at the capital while Otis and Geddy are tasked with going to the ancient Owl Temple to discover if there is a way to defeat the pirate fleet with the old owl technology.

Sky Pirates!

Sky Pirates!

Owlboy’s graphic style is reminiscent of 32-bit platformers released in the mid to late 1990s. The parallax looks phenomenal. The sound is what I would expect and suites the story. In many ways Owlboy is a typical puzzle platformer that delivers everything I would expect in a predictable manner. But just when I guess where I think it is going, it has so far surprised me with a little twist here or extra unexpected depth there. This also seems to be a good title for adolescents. The content so far seems safe while the challenge provided is worthy and not too easy. The game is rated E10+ by the ESRB, so I’ll leave that to parents to decide. I certainly have enjoyed playing Owlboy thus far, and look forward to continuing the adventures of Otis and Geddy again soon.