Game Over – If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers (#JustOnePercent 90/100)

Developer: Dead Idle Games
Release Date: September 21, 2021
MSRP: Free with optional supporter pack ($3.99)

Given the size of my gaming library, it probably isn’t very surprising that I don’t often hunt around for free titles to play. I’ve picked out a handful of free titles to play as part of this project, and I’ve been mostly pleased by the quality of these games. In fact, I’ve had more success overall with games that are freely available for download than I have with some of the bargain basement paid titles I’ve picked up over the past several months.

If you enjoy point and click adventure stories, gothic horror, and pixel art, you should go and immediately download If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers. The game is fairly short – I finished in under two hours – but it’s very well put together. I played on my Steam Deck, and there were only a couple of parts where it was fiddly with having to manually activate the onscreen keyboard, and two instances where the item I was trying to find was almost too small to see on the reduced screen size.

The game is set on a train where people who don’t seem to know one another at all are exchanging stories of the last things that they remember. Clearly, this is not your average train trip; in fact, it appears to be some sort of masquerade affair, as the characters are all masked. As you play through each character’s flashback, you learn a bit about their backstories.

To say too much more about the story would definitely spoil the game, so I’ll refrain. However, I do want to make clear, this is, in a lot of ways, a horror game. There are a few very shocking scenes, and in a couple of places it’s almost unbelievably gory considering the art style.

The game play is pure classic point and click adventure, full of puzzles and pixel hunting. Unless you have a good memory, there are a handful of places that having a pen and paper (or taking notes in another window) will come in handy. There are no wild adventure-game-logic leaps you’ll need to make, but you most definitely will benefit from touching everything you can and keeping track of the information the game gives you.

If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers is the first title from Dead Idle Games available on Steam, but their two prior games can are available on Even with such a compact story to tell, I think the game certainly could justify a small purchase price, and there is an option to purchase a supporter’s pack to give a few dollars to the developers. Overall, this is a pretty solid title for a two-person team, and worth a play through for anyone who enjoys dark adventure games and has a couple of hours to dedicate to it.

SteamDB estimates that If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers has been downloaded between 24,800 and 68,300 times on Steam. More impressively, it’s only gotten a small handful of negative reviews. These few folks have pointed to rather trite writing and a recycled plot, as well as pacing issues. It is ranked 138 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Guild of Ascension (#JustOnePercent 89/100)

Developer: WhileOne Productions
Release Date: September 21, 2021
MSRP: $14.99

Guild of Ascension is not a game that was on my radar until it was given away as part of Prime Gaming back in April of this year. Even still, I wasn’t too enthused – “Tactical-Action-RPG with rogue-like elements” feels like someone took a bunch of buzzwords and mashed them together without any thought of how that would actually play. Now, having played it, I feel like it missed on almost every front – it’s barely an RPG, and there isn’t much of anything tactical about it. It’s a grid-based action combat dungeon crawler that would be probably far too easy if it didn’t get in its own way so much.

The game starts you off with two characters, and the only “customization” you get is choosing a starting weapon. I selected a bow, and a sword & board, which meant passing on the hammer. I don’t gravitate towards melee pretty much ever, and I would have liked to see a magic user or a stealthy choice. The tutorial is overly long without actually teaching you much, but I figured it’d start to make sense as I went into the tower and fought actual battles.

Instead of quests, you have “requests”, which you will likely complete without even trying. When you first enter a tower run, you are deposited in a campfire area, which you can return to at any time to use potions, eat food, and consume your experience points in order to level up your character. When you level up, you’re given the choice of improving aggression, defense, or taking a balanced or custom route. I wasn’t invested enough to play around with custom point distribution, because by the time I spent experience for the first time, I’d already figured out that the difference between winning and losing basically was going to come down to correct facing.

There was nothing that I liked about the combat, and since that’s the majority of the game, I wasn’t having a very good time. The game recommends a controller, but I decided to stick with keyboard and mouse. I don’t think I would have found the mechanics any more engaging using the preferred input method. Moving around the board is done with WASD, and basic attack is on left click, with charged attack on right. Once you do enough of these two types of attacks, you can use the Shift key to switch to special attacks, which did considerably more damage, but I kept forgetting existed.

The monkey wrench in the works is that the combat is still turn based, and the turns are a set length of time. Getting into position quickly is key – you can only aim ranged attacks in a straight line, and if you must be facing your target. I lost count of how many times I ran into position, forgot to turn around, and then fired my heavy attack at absolutely nothing.

Although most rooms in the tower are combat encounters, you will occasionally find merchants (who sell you upgrades called Privileges for a currency called Whishes), random events, or “challenge” rooms which aren’t challenging in the least. Wander around enough, and you’ll eventually find a key, which is used to unlock the boss room, allowing you to complete the floor. I stuck it out until I managed to kill the boss for the first time, but I already knew I wasn’t digging the gameplay loop, so I saw no reason to do it all over again, but a little bit harder. I didn’t even make it a full hour, but I’d seen all of this particular title that I wanted to.

For me, Guild of Ascension just didn’t work. I can’t point to a single part of the whole that I found to be above average, and with no story to speak of and weak narrative, there was nothing to compel me to continue on. Even loot didn’t feel rewarding – opening the large chest after an encounter should have been exciting, but I found the Privilege system underwhelming, and that was mostly what was in those boxes. Everything about this one felt like it was trying too hard.

SteamDB estimates that Guild of Ascension has sold between 820 and 2,300 copies on Steam. Those aren’t great sales numbers, but most of the reviewers liked it enough to recommend it, so it’s a genre mashup that works for some gamers. It is ranked 3691 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Industria

Today I’m going to talk a little bit about Industria, a game I added to my wishlist after playing the demo during PAX Online in 2020, as part of Unwise Owl’s group review of the Humble Choice for September 2022. Industria has no paid DLC, and retails for $19.99.

Despite having been on my wish list for quite some time, I knew I wasn’t in a big rush to pick up Industria. While I have nothing against a four-hour game, twenty dollars seemed a little steep to me for such a compact experience. Sure, the game’s store page makes it sound like a really interesting setting for an FPS, but the demo I played a couple of years ago was rough around the edges, and there wasn’t anything about it that made it a “must buy” for me. However, when it showed up in September’s Humble Choice, I jumped at the chance to be the one to give it a whirl.

Now, first person shooters aren’t my bread and butter by any means; they’re more of an occasional indulgence. When all the pieces come together, it’s a genre I can get pretty invested in. Industria has a pretty unique concept – going on a search for a missing person in a dangerous parallel dimension. However, a significant part of the early game relies a little to heavily on environmental storytelling, and doesn’t really get you invested. Then, the pacing is so very slow, and the combination meant that it just couldn’t hold my attention. If you’re only giving me four hours of game, I want to be all in right from the start.

A little more than half an hour into the game, I found myself stuck on a puzzle, and I had yet to encounter a single enemy that I had to deal with. Which is probably best, because despite picking up multiple ammo types, I also hadn’t managed to locate a gun yet. Now, I’ll allow for the possibility that I might have missed a weapon pick up; being unsure of where the game was leading me, I tended to just pick a direction and go that way until I couldn’t, but I feel like if a game is being billed as a shooter, it shouldn’t be squirreling away your first chance at a ranged weapon down a dead end corridor somewhere. You should either start with a gun, or trip over one pretty damn quickly.

I may have been a little more patient with a longer game, but knowing that playing through the entire game was going to be a fairly short affair, I found myself pretty irritated pretty much from the start. Was the lack of direction an oversight, or a deliberate choice in order to pad an extremely short play time?

Then there are the puzzles. Now, I normally don’t mind a puzzle or two in a game, even when they feel a little out of place, so they didn’t immediately turn me off. The first couple were simple enough, tiny speedbumps on the way to blasting my way through the story line.

But just as there is the first whisper of actual danger, I found myself needing to get through a gate to turn on some steam engines to power an elevator to (maybe) get to the person who ostensibly just saved my life by shooting a couple of robots. Having to hunt around for the correct chemicals to mix to be able to remove the rust on the gate mechanism was already tedious, and I had a recipe for that. Trying to figure out how to get the engines running with no instructions and no real feedback from the game was the last straw for me.

I wanted to feel the tension of being lost in a strange unknowable place. I wanted to care enough about the man I was searching for to press through the frustrating bits. I wanted to have the opportunity to shoot some baddies. That was when I realized the only thing I didn’t want to be doing was fixing the stupid steam engines, and I closed the game. I don’t expect I’ll go back to it.

Not only can I not recommend purchasing this month’s Humble Choice for Industria, I don’t even think I can in good conscience say it’s worth an install if you already plan to buy the bundle, at least not if you’re looking for a heart-pounding shooter with a good story. But if you’re looking for a slow-paced walking sim with passable graphics, questionable lighting choices, and spotty sound design in which you may have to – eventually – shoot at something, well, then this might be exactly the game you’re looking for.

Quick Look – Gamedec (#JustOnePercent 88/100)

Developer: Anshar Studios
Release Date: September 16, 2021
MSRP: $29.99

I struggled with whether or not to include Gamedec as part of my project games, but not because I didn’t want to play it. Rather, I knew this was a game that I really wanted to be able to focus on – I was jazzed enough about this one that I backed it on Kickstarter in 2020.

I am a big fan of the concept of combat-free RPGs in general, and although I’m often not very good at them, I love the narratives that tend to be built around playing as a detective. Your character in Gamedec make his (or her) living navigating virtual worlds. The introductory mission is a missing persons case, of sorts. A teenager is trapped in a virtual world, and you need to figure out how to get him out.

It took me a little more than an hour to completely screw up my first case. The tutorial is great for the workings of the actual game, but doesn’t give you all that much in the way of hints about the world. You need to learn through trial and error, and I have no doubt I made a lot of errors. Sure, it’s possible that the opening missions could be a “destined for failure” story device, but I really believe I could have made better choices. I plan to go back and start over and make better choices.

Character creation is very basic. Name and pronouns don’t seem to have any effect on gameplay, but origin and values do have an effect. I saw a handful of times where having selected the “Low City” origin gave me specific dialogue options; I have to assume that choosing the opposite “High City” origin would have a similar impact. Your values selection determines your starting value in the game’s four stats, called aspects, which are used to purchase profession perks.

Your profession perks will have a pretty hefty impact on the conversations you’ll have throughout the game, and conversely, the conversational tacks you take will dictate the professions available to you as you play through the game. Aspects tend to build up rather quickly as you interact with people both in the real world and the virtual one. Although it may be tempting to try to save up your aspect points for certain perks, it also feels like having perks is pretty vital to being able to truly dig into the case your working on. It’s an interesting system that I’m looking forward to exploring more deeply as I proceed through the story.

Gamedec gives you a lot of leeway in how you approach your job, and that leeway includes the ability to make incorrect deductions if you don’t (or can’t) get people to tell you the truth about the things you want to know. But while you can be wrong, the game seems to prevent you from being wrong in anything but very specific ways – the things you know unlock certain pre-determined deductions for you to choose from. It’s sort of a simplistic system, but it prevents you from just barreling through the story or just falling into major plot points. Some folks will probably find it annoying, but I appreciate the idea to maintain narrative integrity.

How Long to Beat indicates that playing through Gamedec will take most players less than a dozen hours. While I’m unlikely to play the game in its entirety more than once, I’m already feeling the tug to restart to see if I can do a better job of getting at the truth of what’s going on in my first case, and hopefully have a more successful result. While this text-heavy cyberpunk RPG won’t be for everyone, it’s pretty much exactly what I had been hoping it would be so far.

SteamDB estimates that Gamedec has sold between 19,400 and 53,500 copies on Steam. Overall, reviews are pretty positive, with the majority of negative reviews citing an exposition heavy latter half and a confusing ending. It is ranked 1818 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Shapez

I’m diving back into Shapez, a game I played about 10 hours of back in August of 2020, as part of Unwise Owl’s group review of the Humble Choice for September 2022. Both the base game and the Puzzle DLC are included, with a MSRP of $14.98 for the package.

When I’m playing games for fun, I am not an optimizer. I know for a lot of people finding the most efficient way to play is part – if not all – of the fun of gaming. I am not wired that way. Knowing this about myself has mostly kept me away from the type of games where optimization seems very much to be the point of the game, despite the fact that I am drawn to precisely the sort of puzzle-light game play that automation games tend to excel at.

One of the things that initially drew me to Shapez (formerly known as is that there are no real consequences to getting it wrong. There are no real limitations on how you build at any given time. Initially, you get extractors, which pull out the shapes, and conveyor belts. Extract the shape onto the belt, extend the belt into the hub, and wait for the numbers to click upwards to unlock the next mechanic. Yep, the beginning of this game is exceedingly simple, and you might even think you’re playing an idle game. I promise, that feeling won’t last long.

However, new mechanics are doled out a pretty decent pace – not so fast you’re likely to get overwhelmed, but also not so slowly as to bore the player. Each time you fulfill an order to the hub, you’ve completed a level, and each level will ask for even more of a more complex shape. If you’re not the type to click buttons for the sake of clicking buttons, you might miss out on the secondary set of goals, which you will want to work on in order to upgrade the different parts of your factory.

You don’t ever receive any kind of quest or notification for your potential upgrades, but clicking on the star in the upper right hand corner of the screen will show you what you need to send to the hub in order to unlock more efficient technology. When an upgrade is available to you, the star will turn red with a number in it indicating the amount of upgrades you’ve qualified for. You can play for quite awhile ignoring this entire mechanic, but eventually, the level quest is going to not be for a discreet number of shapes, but for a number of a particular shape per second, and that will be a whole lot less painful if you’ve been keeping up with your upgradeables.

One of the things that makes this game great for folks not too familiar with automation-style games is that there are almost no limits on the player. There is no money, so mistakes don’t cost you anything but time. You can keep revising your production areas and conveyor belts to increase production or decrease wasted space. There are not an overwhelming number of tools, but there’s enough variety in the requested shapes to keep things interesting for a while.

Since I’ve played last, several new levels have been added (which I still have yet to get to in this playthrough, unfortunately), as well as the paid Puzzle DLC. I expected to enjoy the DLC as much, if not more, as the base game, but it fell a little bit flat for me. The “tutorial” section is actually the entirety of the developer created content for this DLC, and consists of 20 pretty easy puzzles.

However, if you really like optimization puzzles – either playing them or creating them – this DLC might be perfect for you. It seems pretty well populated with user created puzzles, so you could potentially get quite a few hours out of this additional content. If you wanted to try your hand at creating puzzles, then it’s definitely worth the price.

While I have already more than gotten my money’s worth out of Shapez and I would highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in factory building or optimization games, this is definitely not the game to purchase this month’s Humble Choice for. The base game had dipped as low as $3.99, with the DLC having a best price of $2.99, so a savvy shopper could already have this in their library for less than $7. However, if you’re on the fence, this is precisely the type of solid indie game that might push you to pick up the bundle.

Quick Look – Gas Station Simulator (#JustOnePercent 87/100)

Developer: DRAGO Entertainment
Release Date: September 15, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

At this point, it seems like you can find a simulator for just about anything you might feel like doing, no matter how mundane it might seem. In truth, Gas Station Simulator wasn’t a game that particularly excited me, and I expected to dutifully put in an hour and then forget I owned it. Although I enjoy simulators, it’s rare for me to find one I can’t seem to put down.

Now, the start of the game isn’t particular compelling, even compared to your average tutorial-style introduction. You’re presented with tasks one at a time to get your new gas station restored and running. You’ll take the boards off the doors and windows, get the power hooked up, and clean up the sand pile blocking your fuel pumps. Some of the early tasks feel pretty tedious, but you see progress pretty quickly.

You get a pretty steady supply of emails, which can be referenced at any time if you forget how to do certain tasks once you’ve completed them the first time, but mostly, the computer is used for scheduling deliveries, ordering supplies, and upgrading your station. As you progress, more mini-game style activities are added to the things you need to do whenever the station is open – so far, I’m pumping gas, ringing up snacks and drinks for customers, and fixing flat tires and broken mirrors for customers, in between accepting deliveries, keeping the place clean, and unlocking new parts of the station.

I was surprised how completely sucked in I was once I had a bunch of stuff to manage. I’ve just upgraded my gas station to level three, and I am desperately hoping that hiring an employee or two is in my near future. You see, there’s a reputation system, and the number of tasks I have to personally manage is teetering on the edge of untenable. For a simulation game, it feels more-than-occasionally frantic, and I am concerned I’m on the cusp of things starting to get frustrating.

Overall, I thought the game made running a gas station out in the middle of the California desert pretty interesting. The mini-games are more satisfying than irritating (although I don’t much love the one for painting over graffiti). If you’re the type that thrives on customization and decoration, there seems to be tons of options, but I’ve been doing the bare minimum and focusing on making money and upgrading my facilities. I can make it pretty later, if I decide to.

For me, Gas Station Simulator was probably one of the more successful of the recent batch of simulation games I’ve been trying out, and I’m likely to return to it when I have a little less on my plate.

While I still think of simulators as a niche genre, SteamDB estimates that Gas Station Simulator has sold between 291,900 and 802,800 copies on Steam. It was also included in the August 2022 Humble Choice bundle, but those still feel like pretty high sales for a simulator. It is ranked 755 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – I Am Fish (#JustOnePercent 86/100)

Developer: Bossa Studios
Release Date: September 16, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

I’ve played quite a few project games since the last time I threw the towel in before hitting the end or an hour of play, but I found I Am Fish to be precisely the kind of frustrating which meant that the longer I played, the harder it would be to find anything positive to say. Now, I don’t believe it’s a bad game, but it’s a very very bad fit for me personally.

I’m not a huge fan of platformers to begin with, and the types of levels in 3D platformers I find the most intolerable are the ones where your character is on or in some sort of ball. Other than the initial bit where you’re supposed to learn the controls, I was a fish. In a ball. Throwing my house off of things and dying among shards of broken glass.

I was averaging a death every two minutes, and that’s not taking into account the tutorial section and the intro cutscenes. Or the fact that the game seems to linger eternally on your little fishy soon-to-be-corpse struggling for air after you manage to roll off of something. In fact, I only stuck it out as long as I did because the first mission has you rolling towards the ocean. I thought that maybe I was going to be able to swim if I could just get through that tiny little portion of the game.

Then my fishbowl washed up on shore, and I was fish-napped by two kids. I knew then there was more rolling in my future and I was unwilling to keep on rolling.

On the upsides, checkpoints are fairly frequent – at least in the first level they were. The graphics are bright and colorful, and the controls felt responsive at least to my unpracticed hands. While I’m not sure what possessed someone to make a game focused on some of the most universally disliked 3D platforming mechanics – balls, and I’m guessing eventually, underwater levels – it seemed to me like the game was structurally sound. It just wasn’t the right game for me.

SteamDB estimates that I Am Fish has sold between 23,400 and 63,500 copies on Steam. It was also included in the June 2022 Humble Choice bundle. Reviews are mostly positive, although a few people pointed to repetitive gameplay and frustrating mechanics as reasons against recommending it. It is ranked 384 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Playing Catch Up in World of Warcraft Before Dragonflight Drops

I had forgotten how much time playing a MMO can take up – it’s been less than a week since I reactivated my subscription, and I’ve already got over 24 hours into the game. I guess I really was ready to come back. Of course, I hadn’t anticipated my old raid group running short this week, and pushing to get caught up to the bare minimum of raiding requirements over just a couple of days took a significant time investment.

For the most part, I enjoyed the Zereth Mortis campaign far more than I did the Korthria one when that was current. I managed to complete all seven chapters in a couple of days, and then spent a little extra time there finishing up the achievements required to fly in the zone. I know that flight in World of Warcraft can be a pretty divisive topic, but from a time-saving stance, I’m never not going to jump through hoops to get into the air again as quickly as I can.

While that’s a not-insignificant amount of content I’ve already managed to consume locust-like in just a few days, I’ve realized that a lot of what I had hoped to get done is probably a bit ambitious, considering that the general consensus is that we have less than a dozen weekly resets before the expansion releases.

On the upside, it doesn’t seem like there’s much that I won’t be able to go back to after the new expansion. On the downside, history has shown I never really get around to doing the old stuff. Sure, I’ll knock out a few things here and there, but for the most part, once an expansion is over, it gets increasingly unlikely I’ll revisit that content.

Bearing that in mind, my content completion wishlist for the next few weeks looks a little something like this.

Twisting Corridors & Other Torghast Achievements

Of all new things in the Shadowlands, Torghast is the one I most expect to have its associated achievements relegated to legacy status in Dragonflight. There’s a lot of nerdpoints here I don’t have, and some pretty fun rewards from some of them, including multiple mounts. Getting all of these achievements will probably take a pretty significant time investment, but having run a few floors the other night, I feel like it is probably more about time than challenge at this point, which in all honest, are my favorite type of achievements.

Covenant Sanctums

While I set myself up well to be able to complete all of the covenant related content with a max level character in each of the four, I’m fairly certain there’s just not enough time left to get everything I’d hoped to finished. I do plan to make sure I’m rotating time between each of these characters to farm up as much anima as I can in hopes of at least getting all the upgrades finished up. Mounts are usually a pretty good carrot at the end of the stick for me, so I probably will poke at each covenants special a bit even when I outlevel it, but I’d like to make at least some (if not all) of the cosmetic & “fun stuff” anima purchases over the next couple of months.

Leveling Alts

Every single expansion, I set myself the goal of having one character of each class at max level, and each expansion, I never quite make it. In fact, I think the period before Shadowlands is where I came the closest, even after not playing for most of BFA, with only two classes below level 50. With the Threads of Fate option, the 10 levels that Shadowlands covers isn’t a particularly large time investment, so I’d like to set a bit of time aside to get a few more characters up to 60.

Other than the priest, who was my main for a time in MoP, most of these characters are fairly new for me, and they’re classes I’m not particularly drawn to. However, I plan to prioritize the ones who will give me access to professions I’m currently missing on my more often played characters. That means the priest, demon hunter, and warrior are the most likely to see level 60 over the next couple of month.

Maintenance Tasks

This is the one I least want to work on, but will most improve my experience going forward. All of my characters who have existed through multiple expansions have a pack rat problem. Much like in real life, I never want to get rid of things I may want or need later, even if – at the current moment – I cannot fathom why I may need or want those things. The more I play a character, the more likely that a look in their bank will give me palpitations. I really want to make a concerted effort to make all of this more manageable before there’s a new expansion, full of new profession related materials and things to loot, but man, I am not looking forward to this part at all.

As always, I am setting goals for myself that I know are overly ambitious, and I’m still passing over a lot of things I would either like to do (because they’re fun) or I would like to have done (because I want whatever shiny is at that end of a particular rainbow). But it does look like I’m going to be playing for a bit, which means a Dragonflight purchase is probably in my future, since the first months of an expansion are probably my favorite part of the whole cycle.

Quick Look – Kraken Academy!! (#JustOnePercent 85/100)

Developer: Happy Broccoli Games
Release Date: September 10, 2021
MSRP: $17.99

My experience with time loop mechanics in games continues to be all over the place. Just over the last few months, I’ve had one experience that was fantastic, one that was downright awful, and now, I’ve played a bit of Kraken Academy!!, which has just left me feeling kind of meh.

I did get off on the wrong foot a little with this one, as the contrasting art styles of the actual game space and just about everything else in the game definitely was a turn off for me. I know a lot of people really like low-poly pixel art, but I’m not one of those people. I can overlook it sometimes, when the rest of the game is solid enough, but having to be constantly reminded that this game could have had a far more aesthetically pleasing style just made me resent walking around the game world. And I did a lot of walking around the game world.

The storyline is pretty out there, without actually really reaching the level of being comedic. Your parents have dropped both you and your sister off at Kraken Academy, a run down shell of a “school” divided into four clubs, where it seems the students do just about anything except go to actual classes. The character you play as is part of the music club, and one of your fellow club members invites you to a costume party in a couple days time. Only problem is, you don’t have a costume! So she sends you to the nearby lake, because of course that’s the best place to find a costume, right? Or at least a giant monster that tasks you with saving the school – and the world!

Apparently, there is a traitor somewhere on campus, and they’re planning to destroy the world by Thursday. All you need to do is solve the problems of four students – one per club – to release the spirits of the school to help fight off the coming apocalypse. Maybe also find out the identity of the traitor. But since there’s no way you could possible do all that in just three days, you’re given an amulet that rewinds time.

The accessible parts of campus – at least during your first loop – aren’t overly large. In fact, I think the pacing was probably the biggest issue that I had with the game. I felt like I had too much time for how little I knew, and there were very limited ways to speed things up. There are, however, a lot of side quests, but several of those seem to be blocked off behind time loop progression – I feel like I scoured all the available areas, with no signs of the required items. Sure, I might have missed something, but it seems unlikely that I would miss everything.

The three day cycle culminates in the costume party, which once you enter the area, stops the clock. You can take as long as you need to figure out what you need to do to free a spirit before you rewind time. I had planned to play completely through the first loop of the game, but partway through the mission, I felt stuck. I know there’s an item I need to retrieve, but I’m not quite sure how the game intends for me to do so. Did I miss something I needed to bring into the area with me? Did I miss something already in the area? Do I already have what I need in my inventory but I’m just not clever enough to figure it out? I have no idea.

I considered looking for a walkthrough to just get through it. The idea of having to replay the first three days if I missed something was irritating me even without knowing whether or not that was the case, and it was at that point I realized that this particular game just wasn’t working for me in any way.

There are quick time events throughout the game, but for me, they didn’t add to the experience. I set them to easy, so it’s not that I was struggling. Rather, it felt like the developers thought they needed something to make the game more game-y, but this just takes the game’s glacial pace to somewhere ever so slightly more draggy. I don’t much care for games that feel like the play time has been padded, and you can see the padding sticking out all over the place in Kraken Academy!! – there’s some interesting stuff here, but it takes far too long to get anywhere near it.

SteamDB estimates that Kraken Academy!! has sold between 8,500 and 23,300 copies on Steam. It has gotten only a handful of negative reviews, so my opinions definitely aren’t the popular ones. It is ranked 384 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – The Artful Escape (#JustOnePercent 84/100)

Developer: Beethoven and Dinosaur
Release Date: September 9, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

Going into The Artful Escape, I really had pretty much no idea what to expect. If I had a million years to make guesses, however, I don’t think I ever would have come up with anything close to what it is. It’s part coming of age story, part psychedelic platformer, with musical Simon-style mini games. Even after an hour of play, I still have no idea how to feel about it, because for me, none of the elements are strong enough to recommend the game by themselves, but when you put it all together, it’s really something rather strange and lovely.

Since I’m playing this one through XBox Game Pass, I’m playing with keyboard & mouse at my desk. However, it’s a “controller recommended” game, and it’s easy to see why – some of the key press combinations you do pretty frequently are a bit awkward on keyboard. Unfortunately, the game is currently listed as being Unsupported on the Steam Deck (which, I think for me would be the absolutely perfect vehicle for it), although there are reports of it working well on ProtonDB.

While the opening tutorial section of the game is outright dull, it picks up pretty quickly. And by picks up, I mean gets super duper weird but in all of the best ways. Both the writing and the voice acting is very well done, but the art is where The Artful Escape really shines. In fact, I’m grateful that most parts of the game aren’t too challenging, because I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve stopped to just gawk at the scenery.

I think I’d like to go back and play more of this one – it will likely take less than five hours to finish – but it’s days on Game Pass are limited, as it’s already listed in the Leaving Soon section. At that length, it doesn’t bother me much that it feels very gameplay-light, but if you’re looking for something that has stimulating or challenging game play, you should probably give this one a pass. However, if you’re intrigued by the trippy aesthetic and a bit of an exploration of strange worlds and personal identity, this one might be worth putting on the wish list, or playing through on Game Pass before it’s gone.

SteamDB estimates that The Artful Escape has sold between 19,400 and 53,500 copies on Steam. Reviews are almost all positive, with the few negative reviews primarily focusing on lack of game play elements. It is ranked 341 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.