Game Over: Yoku’s Island Express

Yoku’s Island Express is another game that I probably wouldn’t have picked up on its own – at least not for a long time – when it showed up in the August 2019 Humble Monthly, I figured it was worth a shot. As someone who isn’t particularly good at pinball or platformers, I didn’t go in expecting a whole lot.

But after roughly 7 hours, I managed to finish the main story of the game (despite my save file putting me a mere 37% completion), and for me, that qualifies as a satisfying game experience, especially considering how low my skill threshold is.

It was a near thing, too, because of this stupid vine filled with flowers I needed to spin around on. Out of my seven hours of play, it’s no exaggeration to say that at least two of those, I spent trying to get up to the top of this vine. For three days in a row, I would play for more than half an hour, just trying to make all those jumps and failing over and over. Finally, I told myself that if I couldn’t make it up during that play session, I was done.

Clearly, I just needed an ultimatum.

Otherwise, I found the game to be not terribly difficult, although I started playing with the keyboard, and since keys are NOT remappable, found myself using my Logitech controller instead. The pinball mechanics felt a whole lot more natural using a controller’s trigger rather than the left and right shift keys (which my brain thinks of as interchangeable, so I’m sure that was part of the problem).

That said, if something wasn’t absolutely required to progress, and I couldn’t figure it out within a few minutes, I just moved past it. Completionists might struggle more, but I decided early on that I would be happy if I could get through the story.

I did consult a walkthrough a couple of times in order to figure out where I needed to go in order to obtain a couple of required upgrades, but mostly, I muddled around a lot. Sure, I’d point myself in the direction of a quest, but if I got off track and ended up at the other end of the map? I would explore a little before trying to get myself back to where I needed to be.

Overall, I thought Yoku’s Island Express was clever, and generally felt good to play, but it isn’t going to end up on a list of my all-time favorite games anytime soon. In fact, it’s not even my favorite pinball-centric game (that title would have to go to Rollers of the Realm, which I enjoyed immensely). I doubt I’ll be re-visiting it for another play through, or even to seek out achievements and a higher completion percentage, but I definitely enjoyed playing.

Game Over: Transference

In an effort to eke out every last bit of value of the free Uplay+ trial, I decided to load up Transcendence tonight. It’s a weird little game, and probably a really fantastic VR experience, but if you’re okay with non-linear storytelling and drawing your own conclusions in a creepy atmosphere, it’s probably worth a play through even without a VR headset.

The whole thing took me about 90 minutes from start to finish – I missed a couple of audio and video logs, but really, this isn’t a long game any way you look at it. There are no fail states, and every puzzle can be solved via trial and error – in fact, that’s how I managed to solve many of them.

It was dark, and creepy, with a couple jump scares and a lot of little details that will likely leave you with a very bad feeling in the pit of your stomach. Don’t play this looking for a happy ending, or to have all the loose ends tied up neatly.

For me, the experience was worth the time, but I think that the asking price of $25 borders on criminal, because there is absolutely no replay value here except for the most dedicated of completionists. I might even go so far as to say there’s very little play value – there’s very little to be gained from actually going through the game yourself versus watching someone else play it – at least from a non-VR perspective.

Transference is a neat little experience – if you’re going to subscribe to Uplay+ anyway (or if you want to squeeze it in just under the expiration like I did), but if you’d rather just watch, pop yourself some popcorn and fire up the video below.

The entirety of the game, in movie format, thanks to Gamers Prey.

Game Over: Ode

Click here if you want to check out my first impressions!

I realize how long it’s been since I first loaded this game up, and I can assure you that for most folks, this is probably a single-evening kind of game. I am not most folks.

If you don’t tend to wander around, the levels can be completed in a fairly linear manner in about 30 minutes. Each level adds a few new mechanics, pretty seamlessly, which is wonderful and I suppose would keep it from getting stale for some. I really just wanted to touch everything to see what it did – does it light up? does it make a sound? does it blow me halfway across the map?

Each level is gorgeous in its own way, but I think the last one – with its many colored spotlights – was probably my favorite. And although I’d really like to chalk it up to getting quicker to figure things out, the last one might have also been the easiest.

And then, just when I thought it was over:

There’s a super short collect-em-up bonus level – no puzzles, just grab all the orbs you can. And it’s Christmas-themed, right down to the music!

I think the most telling thing I can say about Ode is that, despite having completed it, I absolutely intend to buy it when my Uplay+ runs out. It’s something I can see myself replaying from time to time when I just want to kick back and relax, and for $5, the game is a steal.

Game Over: Little Dragon’s Cafe

  • Time to Complete: 31 hours, 17 minutes.
  • Achievements Unlocked During Normal Play: 18/21
  • MSRP: $59.99
  • Price paid: $6.99 (for one month of Utomik)

I feel like I need to start off saying that I really enjoyed playing Little Dragon’s Cafe, because hoo boy, do I have a million nitpicks. The game worked great, it was super relaxing (even during the “stressful” busy parts), but there were a ton of things that I feel would have made the game even better.

Until now, the way I have been making games is to make the game system first, and then add in characters and all the meat of the game afterward,” he said. “For Little Dragons Café, I worked on this backward where we thought of the characters and the story and the art style first, and then decided how to turn all that into a game.

Yasuhiro Wada – from an interview with CJ Andriessen on Destructoid

I loved the art style, and mostly really liked the characters, but the one thing I can’t give Little Dragon’s Cafe any credit for whatsoever was the pacing. After the prologue, the chapters felt so very slow. And there were a lot of chapters.

It seems a little disingenuous to complain about busy work in a game that, let’s be honest, is at least 75% busy work to begin with. Scrounging around for recipe fragments and cooking ingredients was a lovely, chill experience, but it wasn’t anything exciting. But there were far too many days which served to only be a short cutscene, which added almost nothing to the story, with instructions to further the story by going to sleep.

The other thing that threw the pacing off – at least for me – was the process of raising the dragon. The first three stages of your dragon’s life happen fairly quickly, and then you’re stuck in adolescence for what seemed like forever. At that point, you did have the entirety of the island to explore (minus one small “end game” zone), but that also meant that there were blocked off recipe fragments in a lot of places, taunting you, that you couldn’t get until your dragon reached adulthood.

I feel like Little Dragon Cafe would have been a smoother experience with a couple of small tweaks. Having four rarities of about half of the ingredients made the total number of ingredients wholly unmanageable, considering there are 160 unique ones to begin with. Due to the extreme limits of the fertilizer system (only getting one per day with a max carry of 9), it was really rather useless for targeting specific higher rarity ingredients, and actually using the ingredients was just a guarantee that you’d have to change your menu often.

The relative rarity of a few certain key ingredients was also pretty annoying to deal with. Rice was used in a lot of recipes, but only came in two base varieties. The same with flour, which was used in even more recipes than rice. Early on this was fine, but as you progressed through the story, and your cafe got more famous (and therefore busier), there was no way to keep up with the demand for these ingredients, so you ended up with a rather lopsided menu that used very little of either.

Finally, while it was very handy to have a garden right outside your cafe, the fact that you had absolutely no control over what grew there made it far less useful than it otherwise could have been. The more ingredients you found in the wild, the more variety your garden produced, meaning that you basically got an insignificant amount of a lot of different ingredients.

The cooking mini-game was fine – I didn’t particular look forward to cooking new dishes, but I also didn’t struggle to get four to five stars on most anything I cooked. I am grateful that the ability to change your menu while out in the world was available, because in the latter half of the game, I sometimes found myself needing to change my menu multiple times a day as ingredients ran out. My cafe employees did a lot of slacking off, but unless I was near the end of a chapter, I found I could basically ignore it, since there was no financial incentive to make the cafe run smoothly provided you met the satisfaction metrics for a given chapter (and if you didn’t you just needed to spend a few days getting satisfaction up before the next story beat would start).

With no fail state that I could find, Little Dragon’s Cafe is a respectable low-key game that can be played in bite size chunks (frequently, I’d play two or three days in about 30 minutes). It’s a little annoying that two of the remaining three achievements I have yet to unlock require playing past the end of the story, and I’m still undecided whether I’m going to prioritize finishing those up. I suppose it depends on how much I find I miss playing.

I would recommend Little Dragon’s Cafe for fans of the genre, but the odd pacing and grindiness of the game make it hard sell (at least on PC) for the asking price.