Game Over – Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces (#FashionGameJune)

For me, one of the best things about casual game sequels is that you know what to expect, and that’s going to be more of the same. After all, most casual game developers just keep doing the same thing once they figure out what works.

Not so with Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces, and as far as I’m concerned, the innovation here is definitely to the game’s detriment. Approximately half the levels function very similarly to the first game – you’re given styles, a few models, and a whole bunch of clothing, and you have the make the best outfits. Sure, some of the styles are even more outlandish than in the first game, but that’s fine.

The addition of male models & their associated styles was fine, for the most part. Most levels that had male models had them exclusively, so the game play was pretty much identical. It did get annoying in the late game when there were multiple genders of models in the same level, but without any corresponding increase in the amount of clothing available – more than once, I had to use multiple shuffles just to get enough pieces to fully dress a model, regardless of style, and I felt like the concept was cool, but it was poorly thought out from a play perspective.

What didn’t work for me was the new photo shoot levels.

No longer are you able to hover over the style types to get more details – you need to remember all the hallmarks of the styles and find the models that best match them. The timer on a lot of these photo shoot levels is super tight, and the models are often stacked up, meaning if you’re not careful, you may snap someone you didn’t intend. On the upside, the required scores aren’t too challenging, so you still rarely need to replay unless you’re going for perfect scores. I actually got irritated each time one of these levels cropped up, which they do far too frequently.

Overall, the second entry in the Jojo’s Fashion show series looks like an upgrade, but definitely wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to play. Every time I felt like I was getting into a groove, the rules would change, and it just wasn’t fun after awhile. Although my final play time was super close to that of the first game, it felt a whole lot longer, and not in a good way.

I know that I played all three games in the series many years ago, but my time with Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces has discouraged me from even trying to track down the third game. I wish the developers had believed in the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Game Over – Seasons After Fall (#MetroidvaniaMay)

I don’t know that I’ve ever played a game with so many aspects I thought were absolutely spot on, and yet walked away strangely unsatisfied. Seasons After Fall is absolutely beautiful to look at, the soundtrack is haunting, and the voice acting is spot on. The story is sparse, but it was enough to make me want to see it through to the end. Unfortunately, once I passed about the 25% mark, I realized that in spite of all that, I really wasn’t enjoying the game play.

Now, I’m pretty much always willing to consider the fact that it’s just me, especially when dealing with a game outside of my preferred genres. I haven’t played all that many metroidvanias, mostly because precision platforming is not my thing, and combat while platforming is even worse. In fact, one of the main reasons I chose this game to play this month is the fact that there is no combat and the platforming is very, very forgiving. It seemed like that would make it a good choice for an ultimate noob to the genre.

But after spending four hours with it (on this playthrough – I previously completed about 1/3 of the game before wandering off), I’m not entire sure who this game is meant for. It’s not really story-focused, the puzzles are often frustrating and obtuse, and the platforming – and there’s a considerable amount of it – is super floaty. Normally, when I miss jumps, I know it’s my fault. In Seasons After Fall, even the same exactly jump feels different each time you need to do it, and I can’t imagine how frustrating that would be for a player with some actual skill.

On the upside, there are absolutely no fail states – although I did hit a couple of points where I briefly believed I’d screwed up in a way that there was no recovering from. More than once, I needed to quit the game in order to reset a mechanic I’d messed up. This wasn’t a deal-breaker, once I learned about it, but it did lead to a little bit of frantic Googling.

At about the halfway point, I found myself a walkthrough, and finished the game with that open on my second monitor. Figuring out puzzles wasn’t satisfying – I wasn’t feeling clever, I was feeling cheated by mechanics that were never really explained. I did really appreciate ability to change the season at will – watching the world change when switching between seasons made me smile almost every time. However, I feel like it was used so often in the exact same ways and became so repetitive, it couldn’t be considered a puzzle; it was just a set of powers that enabled you to get around the world.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit grumpy when the credits rolled and the game basically told me “OH SO CLOSE, BUT NO!” and I realized that if I really wanted to finish the game, I still had more to do.

In order to reach the actual ending, I need to backtrack for a missed achievement, which added probably 20 minutes to my play time. I’m not sure why I missed it initially – I believe I was already using the walkthrough at that point, but since I took a two week break between the first 2/3 of the game, and finishing it up, I couldn’t recall if I just couldn’t make it work, or I blew it off, figuring it didn’t matter all that much. As it is, I finished up with 19/21 achievements, but I have absolutely no desire to go back and complete the two I missed while playing.

(Incidentally, just over 16% of players finished through the credits, but only just 12% bothered to get to the real ending, so clearly, that was annoying to at least a few other people, too.)

I don’t know – I guess I just don’t know who this game would be a hit for. It’s too frustrating to appeal to people who aren’t really fans of platformers, and far too simple to appeal to fans of the genre. The basic mechanics are super simple, but the more puzzling-focused sections are poorly explained, tedious, and unsatisfying, even when I did figure them out without the walkthrough. I guess if, like me, you don’t mind using a walkthrough or consulting a video now and again, and – unlike me – you’re a fairly competent platformer, it might be a lovely, brainless way to spend an evening or two. I honestly don’t know anyone I could wholeheartedly recommend it to.

Still, I’m not unhappy that I finished it.

In retrospect, I don’t know that it was necessarily a great choice for #MetroidvaniaMay. I definitely think it qualifies, since there a large map, divided into discrete sections, and you need to acquire your seasonal powers in order to unlock further areas. However, since you unlock them all pretty early in the game, all the backtracking after that point is just to find new objectives rather than opening up any actual new areas. And maybe that is the real problem with Seasons After Fall – it overstays its welcome.

Game Over – Best Friend Forever – #DatingSiMonth

Put dogs in something, and I’m going to at least be interested, if not immediately grabbing my wallet. So despite not being a huge fan of dating sims in general, I knew from the minute I first heard about Best Friend Forever, I’d need to give it a playthrough eventually. I played the demo during one of the Steam Game Festivals last summer, but I only got around to actually picking up the game a couple weeks ago.

Now, I read reviews before diving in, but logically, I would think that adding management aspects to a dating sim would increase the length. Not so here. A full play through took me just under two hours, and really, there wasn’t much I could have done differently to pad out that time. This is fine if you’re the type of person who replays dating sims multiple times to romance all the available characters, or to hunt for any bits of story the first play through might have denied you.

Unfortunately for me, picking a different dog to adopt holds more interest for me than pursuing a different romance route, and the dog choice is mostly cosmetic. The character I chose to date for my play through was the only one who felt right – in part due to my personal tastes, and in part, because there are only six characters to choose from! While I think it’s absolutely fantastic that you can choose your gender, and it doesn’t lock you out of any of the romance paths, none of the other characters really appealed to me, even if I were to disregard gender. It sounds like I’m complaining, and ok, I am, a little bit, but I was absolutely satisfied with the story route I chose. It was a great romance! There just … isn’t much left for me after playing the game through once.

For anyone hoping for deep management mechanics, you won’t find those here. Training your dog is simple, as is caring for them, once you figure out how the fiddly bits work. The interactable events during story blocks are a neat addition, but it really does amount to a bit of flavor. Now, it’s a flavor I like a lot, but there isn’t a whole lot of strategy going on here unless you’re chasing achievements or have your heart set on your new pooch graduating at the absolute top of his or her class. I’m sure it’s possible to fail puppy parenting classes, but I think you’d have to work a whole lot harder at that than you do at succeeding.

At first, you might think that motivation points are going to feel restrictive, but that wasn’t my experience – of course, I wasn’t feeling out different romanceable characters, so someone else might find it unpleasant not to be able to pursue every possible encounter. I appreciated that I needed to make choices, although the ability to spend time with everyone every week certainly would have increased the play time, but I think that would really be detrimental to the pacing.

My only other gripe would be the plot point you’re hit with after the second major event; I’m not sure what I was expecting as far as resolution for it, but it felt kind of cheap to toss in a moment of “bad things just happen sometimes” if it wasn’t a mystery that would end up being solved.

Best Friend Forever isn’t a perfect game, but it was a nice way to spend an evening. I likely won’t return to it unless it gets significant upgrades or DLC, so I’m glad I waited for a discount to pick it up. If you like dogs, dating sims, and a mostly light, fun story, I don’t know there’s much else out there that quite scratches this itch.

Game Over – Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker – #DatingSiMonth

It’s not too often that I spend over ten hours with a game that I have such mixed feelings about, but Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker was equal parts compelling and irritating, but I just kept going back to it. I won’t even get into all the things that – at least in my opinion – it gets totally wrong about dating. I really want to mostly look at it from a complete play-feel perspective.

Although I chose this to play for #DatingSiMonth, I was expecting it to be more of a management game, and in that, at least, I wasn’t disappointed. The management aspects were a little more complex than I think they strictly needed to be, but I suppose if you consider the fact that human compatibility is super complicated, it makes sense. Each person who walked into the dating agency was one of ten different “types”, with a job, three interests, three preferences (for gender, hair, and eye color), and had a set of five traits (each one selected from a pair of opposite traits), as well as an affluence level, guilty pleasure, and bad habit. Of course, the game didn’t throw all of this at you at once – thank goodness – but by the end, there was a lot to juggle, and despite having unlocked the entirety of the little black book, it often felt like there wasn’t a good match to be found.

I think that would have all been fine, though, except for the fact that a lot of the determination of whether or not you were ultimately successful was in the hands of luck. Quite a few of the mini-games were infinitely game-able (I admit to using my phone’s calculator to determine tip percentage a few times), but some were just plain random, even if you knew what result you wanted – and oftentimes, I had no idea what I should be crossing my fingers to hope for. One of the mini-games you might encounter on a date required you to guess if the next card drawn would be higher or lower – something I would have found irritating even if it wasn’t tied to an event about flatulence. I’m sure some folks would find it funny, but for me, it managed to be both frustrating and uncomfortable.

It took me just under 11 hours to go from the employee ID on the left to the one on the right, and although my level steadily increased, my reputation was all over the place as I failed to make good matches, sometimes due to my own questionable judgement, but more often because a mini-game went wrong, or the Love Handle wouldn’t give me the topics I wanted my clients to discuss. Several times, I was unsure if I made a mistake or if the tip given to me about horoscope compatibility was misleading – many times I was pretty sure I had made a good match, astrologically speaking, but that wasn’t at all how it played out.

To be fair, I didn’t really deep dive into all the available systems – I mostly chose to ignore the gifting mechanic, and I didn’t do too much with client makeovers. I did unlock all the agency upgrades for those mechanics, but they weren’t all that alluring, and cost money I preferred to use on more upgrades. I did not manage to unlock all the available restaurants while leveling, but other than requiring nicer restaurants for more affluent clients and satisfaction taking a hit if you sent the same couple on a second date to the same place, there really didn’t seem to be a whole lot of point to it.

I did enjoy the fact that, after matching a couple successfully, you’d get a letter from a previous client letting you know how it all worked out, but for me, it was mostly flavor, not really adding any new information to what I already knew about the clients when I paired them off. Sometimes I got lucky, and a match that shouldn’t have worked did, but when they later broke up, I took a small rep hit (although far less of one than I took when I was unable to match a client and they took their business elsewhere).

There is a new game plus mode, once you finish the campaign and complete the final challenge. You’re sent off to start a new agency, but you keep all your unlocks and your reputation. In fact, you’re going to see many of the same faces in your little black book, despite the conceit that you’ve set up shop in a new town. For me, there’s no real reason to keep on – I feel like I’ve seen the majority of the game had to offer on my first play through, and this isn’t one that’s going to inspire achievement hunting.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker more than I did with the game I chose to play for last years #DatingSiMonth, but it also wasn’t enough to make me a fan of the genre. In fact, I definitely preferred the strategy and management aspects to the paper-thin story, but I definitely would have gotten more out of it if I was into the tone & humor of the game as well.

Game Over – Donut County – #PuzzleGameMonth

The simplest way to explain Donut County is probably that it’s like a Katamari game, but in reverse. Instead of becoming a giant ball of everything you’ve sucked up along the way, you play as a hole, which gets bigger and bigger the more things that fall into it. Mostly, this means navigating a level and finding items to gobble up from smallest to largest. Mostly.

There’s a story here – a silly nonsensical thing, which honestly, is kind of expected when you’re playing a game about dropping things in a hole. What I didn’t expect was the small, clever puzzles that were sprinkled throughout. On one level, you need your hole to be far bigger than the items you can absorb seem to make possible, but once you put two bunnies in the hole, they start reproducing, greatly increasing the surface area you have to work with!

The art style and sound design are lovely, the gameplay is satisfying, and really? Overall, Donut County is a fantastic (if very short) experience. It took me about 90 minutes to complete, although I missed some achievements along the way. The only stumbling block for me personally was the “boss fight” at the end; even though the characters basically TOLD me it was coming, I was unprepared. Still, even failing it once had it’s own reward.

No, my only real gripe is that the $13 price point seems a little bit steep for a game with limited replayability that you’ll finish faster than the runtime of most movies. I was gifted this title during the Steam Winter Sale 2020. If it sounds like something that you’d get a kick out of, I’d absolutely recommend it if you can grab it on sale.

Game Over: Fort Meow (#PuzzleGameMonth)

After trying out Outer Wilds, and finding myself incapable of landing a spaceship, I went completely off-script for #PuzzleGameMonth and fired up Fort Meow, a short physics-based puzzler in which you build a fort to keep some pesky cats out of your lap while you read through your grandfather’s journal. It’s every bit as weird as it sounds, but strangely satisfying to play. Different types of cats will effect your fort differently, and it after the initial few levels, I felt like I really needed some trial and error to figure out exactly how all the pieces worked together with the variety of enemies.

I’ll be frank, the story wasn’t great, and the whole game took about two hours from start to finish, but exploring the house to find new, interesting items for your fort was kind of great, and actually building your fort felt almost as good as watching it get destroyed. Early on, you’re restricted to common items, like armchairs and mattresses, but the further you progress through the game, the more interesting and game-changing the items became. I was particularly fond of the items like the toaster, which made cats fall asleep and not do damage, or the yarn launcher, which decreased the damage done by cats who had been hit by a ball of yarn.

There’s some additional play value in the “Challenge Mode” that unlocks after completing the game proper, but I found myself satisfied after completing the story mode. This one has been hanging out in my library since it was part of the Yogscast Jingle Jam back in 2018, and I probably would never have gotten around to it if I hadn’t been looking specifically for a puzzle game that I could play through in an evening.

Game Over – MMM: Murder Most Misfortunate #VNNovember

MMM: Murder Most Misfortunate was part of the Groupee’s Be Mine 33 Bundle in March 2018

I won’t sugar coat this – I fully expected MMM: Murder Most Misfortunate to be more annoying than enjoyable, but decided to give it a whirl anyway because of a single idea – you can frame absolutely anyone for murder and get away with it. Building a convincing murder mystery is hard enough; building one where it can be made to seem that all suspects are equally plausible is really a feat.

While this might not be the most compelling visual novel, in my opinion, it succeeds in what it’s set out to do. It’s a compact little story, with characters that are pretty one-dimensional, and with a fairly unlikable protagonist. You have the option of playing a timed game, but honestly, the 75 minutes you’re allotted is more than enough – I had seen everything the game had to offer prior to the alternate endings with more than 30 minutes left on the clock.

You play as Miss Fortune, a rather unpleasant woman who has been widowed nine times. Clearly, you’re not entirely uncomfortable with death. You are attending a society function in an old country manor in need of repair when your host winds up dead. Worse, the murderer has decided to frame you for the crime.

There is some investigation necessary in order to find the clues you’ll need to either unmask the true murderer, or at the very least, to pin the crime on someone else. However, the pixel hunting is minimal and generous – bringing your mouse anywhere near an object of interest will allow you to interact with it. You can talk with all the party guests from the start, but finding certain objects, or completing other conversations will open up additional dialogue paths.

The entire game is voice acted, which is a nice touch, and the story holds together, despite being a bit sparse. I didn’t have too much difficulty figuring out the “true” ending, but I made it a point to play through all the other options as well, as it required minimal backtracking in order to do so. All told, I playing MMM: Murder Most Misfortunate for about an hour and a half, and walked away satisfied with the experience.

Game Over – Aviary Attorney #VNNovember

Aviary Attorney was part of the March 2018 Humble Monthly

When I was a child, choose-your-own-adventure books were the hot new thing, and I read gobs of them, over and over to see all the different storylines. I mention this only because it’s the closest parallel I can think of to visual novels. When they’re good, you absolutely want to play them over and over to see the results of all the possible choices you could have made.

Infer from this what you will, but if Aviary Attorney had been much longer than it was (I spent about two and a quarter hours on my playthrough), I probably wouldn’t have even finished it once.

It’s unfortunate, because the things it does well, it does very well. The artwork is lovely, and the sound design does a fantastic job of pulling together the serious with the silly. The writing, although a little pun-heavy for my personal taste, is inoffensive, and carries the plot along unobtrusively.

However, I felt that the mechanics of the game were at odds with the concept, and it really ruined the entire experience for me.

I certainly won’t claim to be an expert on the visual novel genre, and I realize that genre conventions as a whole are starting to slip away as developers continue to play with genre mash-ups, looking for the next hot combination. In this particular instance, I felt that the concept of tying the ability to make the “correct” choices in the VN portions to the adventure-game conventions of visiting the proper locations and successful pixel-hunting for clues detracted from the experience, and was an unsuccessful genre-blend here.

With everything being tied to a timer, if you missed something in a location, you either needed to reload a previous save, or be comfortable with the idea you might be missing a key piece of evidence when it was time to go to trial.

Some people might enjoy that the game allows you to make mistakes and the need to deal with the consequences, but I found it discouraging. In multiple cases, I knew the answer, but couldn’t prove it because I had failed to pick something up along the way. As a result, I was left blundering around for three attempts to choose the correct evidence, which I did not possess due to making an error in the investigation phase. I was not even give the option to back out – I had to progress through handing in three completely irrelevant pieces of evidence.

In a lot of ways, I felt as if Aviary Attorney intended to set the player up for failure, and while that might fit the darkly comedic narrative being presented, for me, it just didn’t feel good. Doing everything right in the first case was no more satisfying than doing everything wrong, and it just got worse from there. It’s unfortunate, because there was a lot of potential here, but it was wasted – too much time was wasted trying to be a point-n-click adventure, and it left me woefully under-prepared for the main course.

Game Over: Dead Rising 4

At the end of every month, I sit down and try to figure out what I’m likely to play over the next month, install a bunch of stuff, and write up my Nerd Girl Goals entry. Then, almost as soon as I hit post, I load up something completely random and play the hell out of it for a couple of days.

I decided that I needed something sort of brainless to keep me from refreshing election results every fifteen minutes, and fired up Dead Rising 4 with seriously low expectations. I then proceeded to play through the entire story in two days (granted, on the easiest difficulty). I dabbled briefly in the Frank Rising DLC, and then went back and started replaying for collectibles, which I almost never do.

I played for about 15 hours across three days, and let me tell you, I’m pretty sure my low expectations are precisely why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Many of the defining characteristics for the series were completely discarded for the fourth game – gone are time limits, escorting survivors, and finding workbenches in order to create combo weapons. Psychopath boss battles have been toned down into completely optional maniac fights. Frank West is back, but he too feels like a shadow of the guy we met back in Dead Rising, although I think I enjoyed the camera mechanics a little bit more in this one. The side characters and overarching story is probably weakest here as well.

Although it sounds like there’s no actual reason to play, here’s what kept me glued to the keyboard. Play the game is fun. The weapons are still great, playing dress-up is still great, and watching zombies explode in a variety of ways is still pretty great. The humor is … okay, it’s weaker too, but it’s still an enjoyable experience.

I really believe that if the exact same game was released without the Dead Rising title attached, it would have been a solid 7/10. Nothing mind-blowing, not a “must play”, but a solid game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. As a sequel, I can understand why fans hated it – having played the previous titles, without a doubt it feels watered down.

Story Mode complete in just over 10 hours. I wouldn’t have minded a few more, to be honest.

What I was a little grumpy about was the story DLC: story-wise, should have been the final chapter of the main game, but gameplay-wise, was just freaking awful. The concept sounds far better than it plays – you play as a zombie, a pretty damn strong one, but after 10 hours of flashy weapons, scratching and punching people felt kind of … weak. And, as an added bonus, the timer mechanic comes back, and it felt – at least to me – tight. I wasn’t enjoying it, so I stopped playing and watched the ending on YouTube.

Game Over – Alan Wake (#HorrorGameOct)

I finished the last main story episode of Alan Wake a couple of days ago, but I really felt like I needed to sit with how I felt about the experience as a whole before I could really talk about it.

You see, there were a lot of things about the game I really liked. The sound design was fantastic. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to point to anything in the atmosphere that detracted from the experience rather than added to it. Still, I overall found the whole package somewhat unsatisfying, and for what it’s worth, I don’t think I realized how underwhelmed I was until the very end.

Now, obviously, I don’t want to ruin the game for anyone who hasn’t gotten around to it in the past eight and a half years, but it’s actually a common complaint I have with fright media – the story is captivating, and then it’s over, and the ending either resolves nothing or is so far fetched, it cheapens everything that came before. I’m not going to tell you which type of disappointing ending this one was.

It didn’t help that – for me – I think this game would have been better as more of a walking simulator. Other than being story-focused, it often felt like the game wasn’t sure what it was trying to be. Although I could appreciate the theme of burning away the darkness with the flashlight before being able to take on enemies, I found the process to be rather tedious, and at the same time, more difficult than I expected while playing on the easiest difficulty. By comparison, the “puzzles” almost weren’t worthy of being called puzzles, they were so simple and obvious.

Most of the time is spent collecting ammunition and batteries, wandering around lost in the wilderness, and moving oh-so-slowly to the next story beat. I did like the idea of the special messages you could illuminate (and they helped me through a few map navigation challenges), but I already said that Alan Wake had the window dressing on lock.

My other major issue was with collectibles. I usually love collectibles. I love poking around and seeing what neat things I can discover. But when I’m basically being hunted, and dealing with limited resources and confusing maps, I’m not going exploring. I decided early on that if I spotted collectibles, I’d grab them, but I wasn’t going one step out of my way for them.

My final verdict on Alan Wake is this – it was a great concept, with great atmosphere, that was let down by some odd game design choices and an unsatisfying ending. There are two “bonus chapters” that I decided against playing because I found the last chapter so very frustrating that after the resolution of the main story, I had no desire to continue on. I spent a little over 8 hours playing the six main story episodes on the easiest difficulty.