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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spiritfarer is one of those games that I liked more and less than I expected at the same time. As a management game, it was … ok, I guess. The pacing was weird and frustrating. However, thematically and as a series of character studies, it was brilliant and heart-wrenching, and so much more powerful than I was anticipating.
You are put into the role of Stella (and her faithful companion, Daffodil), who have just being their tenure as the Spiritfarer – an entity responsible for rounding up spirits, and delivering them to the Everdoor. More importantly (and taking up the bulk of the gameplay), you are also helping them finish up whatever they need to do (or have done) before they can move on to their final rest.
I spent about 24 hours with Spiritfarer over the course of a couple of weeks, and that took me to the credits. There are things you can continue to do after the game ends, but I don’t know if I’ll go back. I only had two character stories left unfinished, and if I’m being completely honest, I actually wish the entire game was about half as long.
The art and music are lovely, the writing is excellent overall, and the characters are artfully depicted. But the mechanics of the game means that character development comes slowly as you muddle your way through fulfilling requests. For me, because some stories felt so drawn out, it lessened the impact.
That’s where the management flaws come in. Gathering resources can be tedious – traversing the map is especially slow early game, and resource nodes are limited and will need to recharge. You will need to get currency (Glims) as well as resources to perform upgrades to your ship which are needed to open up areas of the map, as well as increase the size of your ship and unlock additional blueprints. In case that’s not enough unlockables for you, you also need to collect Obols from the spirits in your care to deposit at shrines for new movement abilities, which allow you to go to previously inaccessible places.
It’s a lot, and it feels gargantuan what to prioritize because you just want to figure out where to get the one thing you need to move a quest along.
If you are comfortable with a some tedious and oh-so-slow gameplay, the emotional payoff is immense. I fully admit there were tears, and twice as many times when there were sniffles. Spiritfarer doesn’t just tug on your heartstrings – it ties them to a truck and steps on the gas.
If you are comfortable with the pervasive death theme, the slow pace of the game, and a story that’s told more through character development than plot, Spiritfarer is probably worth your time, but I hesitate to say that it would be enjoyable. There are a lot of things that this game does well, but – at least for me – fun never really entered into the equation. I was absolutely captivated and invested, but I don’t know that at any point, I was actually enjoying the gameplay.
I’m going to start out by admitting that I’m feeling just a little bit guilty on this one. For #FightingGameMonth, I may have adhered to the letter of the law by choosing Injustice: Gods Among Us as my game for the month, but ooh boy, did I tweak it to the point that I skipped out entirely on the spirit of the thing.
First off, although as far as I’m concerned, I completed the game (there were credits!), I only played the story mode content. I’m not overly experienced with fighting games in general, but I don’t even know that most of them have story modes. Then, I did this to the difficulty settings:
Yep, not just easy. Very easy. Do you know what happens when you play on very easy? You can finish the entire game without successfully executing a combo as long as you mash enough buttons. I was pretty attached to this plan already, but then I attempted the tutorial.
That’s right – I finished the game, but couldn’t get through the tutorial. Playing with the keyboard wasn’t too bad, except that it didn’t always register all my key presses – I assume I could have futzed around in Windows settings to make it so pressing three keys at the same time wouldn’t cause a problem, but I figured I’d try to play the game with a controller instead.
My oh-so-cost-effective controller that I bought despite not liking controllers, generally speaking.
Real talk: I was no more successful with the controller than I was with the keyboard, but at the difficult level I selected, it didn’t matter. Leaving the tutorial and entering the story mode proper was like rolling back down to the absolute bottom of a the difficulty curve. I turned a fighting game into a really basic hack-n-slasher.
And I enjoyed it.
I would say that story mode was probably 60% cut scenes, 30% fight sequences, and 10% weird little Quicktime-style events. The story was passable, even as someone whose knowledge of DC Comics is almost entirely based on a cross-media enjoyment of all things Batman. It really didn’t matter that I didn’t know much about the majority of the characters, especially since the story was focused on a parallel universe concept.
All told, reaching full completion of story mode took me just under four hours over two play sessions. Even on very easy, the last few fights were a little rough (and I had to retry a single fight after switching back to keyboard and putting my hands on the WRONG DAMN KEYS).
I’ve definitely played games I enjoyed less, but nothing about the story wowed me enough to want to figure out the game play, instead of just faking my way through it.
The Danganronpa series – and V3 in particular – are really hard to talk about in any meaningful way without spoilers. In fact, to go any further into the meat of the game other than the basic premise has the potential to ruin the experience for someone who hasn’t played yet.
In fact, I managed to inadvertently spoil myself twice during my play through, so I fully understand how annoying that is. So I’m going to keep this free of spoilers for the characters and the plot line, and focus more on my relationship with the series as a whole, and some of my issues with the mechanics of this game (as well as its predecessors).
The Danganronpa games are part murder mystery visual novel, and part friendship / dating simulator, with some very twitch action sequences, which as far as I’m concerned, plays as oddly as it sounds. In each installment, you have a group of teenagers with memory issues that need to figure out who they are, why they’re trapped together, and how to deal with the evil teddy bear who wants them to kill each other.
Each game is divided into three separate segments that alternate throughout the story, as well as periods of pure VN exposition. Player choice is limited to who you choose to spend time with during the daily life segments, and how much effort you want to put into figuring out (and obtaining) gifts for those characters. Investigation segments have no fail state – in fact, the game will prevent you from moving on until you’ve found all the necessary evidence.
The class trials are where that evidence gets put to use, and get progressively more difficult mechanically as the game progresses. Although these segments are my favorite parts, they can also be the most irritating, as they require a level of skill that the rest of the game doesn’t (although turning down the difficulty for the action portions should give you far more time than you’d ever actually need).
It was a little over a year ago now that I dived into the world of Danganronpa for the first time. Initially, I was drawn to it because of the “stranger in a room” conceit – I love well told stories that start with this premise, and Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was extremely well-reviewed. Despite not being a huge fan of the aesthetic, and in truth, not really enjoying a good portion of the elements of the game, I still charged through the twenty-odd hours of game, being dragged along behind a whirlwind story, and mostly unconcerned about the other elements.
I only managed to wait a couple of months before similarly devouring the sequel Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, putting in about 25 hours over the course of a week. As with many successful sequels, it was more of the same, with minor improvements, and with the outlandishness kicked up a couple of notches. The things that didn’t impress me from the first game were still key to the game’s completion, but I was so invested in the plot, it was – at most – a minor inconvenience, providing me with an opportunity to catch my breath in between the parts I found more interesting.
After I finished it, I tracked down the “third episode” anime – I wasn’t ready to be finished with the story, and according to the fans, this was the next step. Once I finished watching that, I was more or less content with that being the end of the story.
I knew there was a third game, I poked around enough to learn that the ending really divided the fanbase, and I decided that – especially considering the $40 price tag – it wasn’t something I needed to play, and so, I mostly put the Danganronpa universe out of my mind until the Steam Summer Sale, when I decided to get Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony for about $12.
I have spent 26 hours in the last five days with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, and in a lot of ways, it’s my least favorite of the series. However, part of the reasoning for that is how deeply uncomfortable the game made me in places, and for me, that’s a sign of a successful piece of art. It doesn’t matter if you love it – what matters is that it makes you feel something.
It may seem obvious – of course a game about teenagers being forced to kill each other as a mystery game is going to be at least a little bit uncomfortable, right? Well, having seen this exact setup twice before now, the game has lost some of its shock value. It wasn’t the plot twists either – if I could get this far in the series without expecting plot twists, I clearly hadn’t been paying attention.
In fact, I would say that, as a video game, DV3 plays well into its own established tropes. There are characters you’re supposed to love, and characters you’re supposed to hate. There are mysteries of all sizes to be solved, and sometimes the player will feel clever, and sometimes they won’t, but in the end, they’ll get the answers they’re looking for. None of this is subverted.
So what was it about Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony that actually made me squirm in my seat? It was the offhand background commentary, the stuff played off for laughs. Although the game is around three years old at this point, there are several moments that feel especially poignant as someone living in the United States in 2020. One or two references felt absolutely like foreshadowing of current events, and although my logical brain realizes that in a lot of ways, that’s a result of the writers throwing a lot of things at a lot of walls, it still broke me out of the in-game universe and sent me back into my own reality.
In all three games, there have been characters I felt were solid, some of them almost in spite of their unlike-ability, while others were just painfully absurd, but overall, I felt as if the characters in the third game were the least interesting when taken as a group. This meant for the first half of the game, I was less invested in the outcomes of the cases than I otherwise might have been. Sure, I wanted to know what happened, but I didn’t much care about the victims or the murderers, which for me was definitely a weak point, and if I hadn’t been invested in the universe as a whole, I might not have continued playing through what – for me – are the dull parts, and just read a plot summary on the internet somewhere.
I wouldn’t classify myself as a hardcore Danganronpa fan – to be honest, I have never even poked into any of the bonus modes that unlock at the end of each game. For me, when the story is over, there isn’t any point in continuing to play, because I play for the mysteries. Still, I was satisfied with the game as a whole, and the ending didn’t ruin anything for me, rather, I appreciated it for what it was and how it fit into the themes of the game as a whole.
Although I’ve often played games with dating sim elements, I think this is the first game I’ve played where I went into it thinking about it as a dating simulator, if that makes sense. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but in more ways than one, for me at least, Purrfect Date fell short.
Here is the most frustrating thing: I made one mistake, and my only recourse if I want the “true” ending is to replay the entire game. Now, the game was only four hours long, but that’s an awful lot of rereading just for .. a cut scene? Some exposition? I don’t know, and I don’t expect I’ll run through the game again to find out.
There is no going back to a save point, no replaying single chapters. There isn’t even a fast replay option; you’ll need to page through all the dialogue, even if you don’t re-read it. If you only want to play the game once, chances are you won’t get the best ending.
Putting that (admittedly not so minor) gripe aside, I liked the game well enough. Although I was disappointed in the inability to date more than one character simultaneously (once you pick a date, that character is locked into that choice for the duration of their chapter), I did enjoy the distinct personalities of all the date-able characters.
That said, the “game play” portion of the game felt very forced. After every three events, you need to rest (and if you forget, the game will remind you). The only reason I could fathom for this mechanic is to toss in an achievement (and potentially an “ending”) for completely ignoring the mechanic, but it’s another thing I really don’t feel compelled to go back and check out.
I managed to successfully romance each character, and I felt like the “correct” response was always pretty obvious. A successful romance, however, only requires 2 of 3 correct answers, so if that’s your main goal, you can actually afford to make an error.
I got the happy ending in five of the six chapters, and I found those resolutions satisfying – an “awwww” or two might have even escaped my lips.
I really hate saying that I walked away from the game feeling very meh, because almost all the pieces were really well put together. Normally, I can overlook a clumsy element or two when everything else feels right, but for a narrative driven game, I feel like a second full play through in which I need to only make a singular different choice is too much of an ask.
While I like a game that is built with an eye toward replay value, I think Purrfect Date swings for that, but misses, and that miss makes it far less appealing for even a single play through. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of great stuff here.
It may have taken choosing an extremely short title for #PlatforMonth, but I managed to finish up Type:Rider in just over two hours!
If you’re looking for a platforming challenge, this isn’t it. If you’re looking instead for a lovely romp through the history of typography (or even if you just appreciate a clever use of letters as art and some pretty graphics), then you’re in the right place.
True confession: I didn’t push myself playing this game. I did make it a point to get all the asterisks, but I skipped over any letters I couldn’t immediately see a way to get to. I didn’t hunt down the ampersands either, but I grabbed a couple that I practically bumbled into.
I assume that one or both of these things are required to get to the “bonus chapter”, so I did not manage to unlock it. However, I actually started to struggle on the final chapter, and although I enjoyed my time playing Type:Rider, I didn’t feel an overwhelming pull to go back and try to hunt down all the collectibles.
For a budget game (full price is just under $5), I think Type:Rider was a worthwhile experience, but it probably will only appeal to a very niche audience.