Game Over – Eternia: Pet Whisperer (#JustOnePercent 32/100)

Developer: Shirakumo Games
Release Date: May 5, 2021
MSRP: $2.99

Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of visual novels, but every now and again, one is a bit off the beaten path and catches my eye. As someone who’s also a pretty big fan of animals, Eternia: Pet Whisperer seemed like it would be right up my alley, and when it was included as part of the Bundle for Ukraine, I decided I’d give a playthrough for #JustOnePercent.

There’s not much in the way of world building – you start right away by visiting adoptable pets in a shelter. You can always choose to check out your apartment, but there’s nothing to do there, so normally, you’ll be choosing a potential pet to visit with. The first day of the game doesn’t give you any options – you’ll be meeting Connie the Cockatoo. You can save the game from this screen anytime you like, and if there are no available pets you want to talk to, you can always skip the day.

There are six different animals (well, seven but the rats only come as a matched set!) you can choose to spend time with. Completely on script, the first storyline I finished was Brinda, the Border Collie. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a dog. There are no branching storylines in Eternia: Pet Whisperer, you’re participating in the story, but only in the most scripted of ways. Complete a pet’s storyline, and they agree to be adopted by you. Once you’ve adopted a pet, there’s a game over option, but it’s also when the whole thing gets pretty darned weird.

You see, the pets at this particular rescue were all part of a “failed” experiment. Which is why you can communicate with them – it’s a talent they have, not one you have. That’s not all. Apparently, these animals have also mastered the fine art of time travel, apparently solely so you can subvert the shelter’s “one adoption per household” rule, and bring all the animals back to your tiny city apartment.

Now, I definitely read faster than average, and adopting all 6 pets and getting to the end credits took me less than 40 minutes. It was a charming little game, but lack of meaningful choices seriously limits replay value. I would definitely recommend giving it a play through if you grabbed that bundle, however, as the art, music, and dialogue is all well done & interesting throughout, even if it is a little off the wall. All the animals have unique personalities, and if you do decide to adopt them all, there’s one fun choice you get to make about the post-game (which sadly, we don’t to see or play).

I ran into a couple of glitches with the game, but I am not sure if that’s because I added it to Steam so I could use the overlay for screenshot purposes. I played in full screen, and alt-tabbing out would cause the text and overlay art to disappear. You could keep clicking through, but there was nothing to see. I also had some trouble with attempting to change the font (although you are given the option of a few different ones), but there’s no text overlap or issues with the default choice. Thankfully, the game includes a skip button, which I made use of when I needed to replay the first 10 minutes or so, up to my first adoption scene.

Overall, I really liked the vibe of Eternia: Pet Whisperer, and would definitely like to see what this team comes up with when they’re not working on a Game Jam schedule.

SteamDB estimates that Eternia: Pet Whisperer has sold somewhere between 200 and a 700 copies on Steam. It looks to be a freshman effort from this team as far as Steam is concerned, although they have a handful of other titles on, and a new game coming in November of 2022. Every review on Steam has recommended this title, and it is ranked 2427 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – Machinika Museum (#JustOnePercent 15/100)

Developer: Littlefield Studio
Release Date: March 23, 2021
MSRP: $7.99

Machinika Museum is a short little puzzler in the vein of The Room series. All of the action – and by action, I mean puzzles – takes place in a single area, without any input from non-player characters. These games sink or swim almost completely on the quality of the puzzles – too easy, and people are either bored or feeling cheated; too difficult or obtuse, and people will feel like they’ve wasted both their time and money. I’m pleased to say that, at least as far as I’m concerned, this game walks that line perfectly. None of the puzzles felt unfair, even the very last one, that stumped me hard enough to go looking for a walkthrough.

The controls took a little getting used to, as the game is also available as mobile download so it was designed to be touch friendly. There’s a lot of click-hold-and-drag happening here. The Steam page indicates that the game has full controller support, but I didn’t have any trouble playing through with just the mouse.

Instead of being an escape room puzzler, in Machinika Museum, you’re a researcher at a museum who’s been left with a pile of alien artifacts that need to be figured out. Each package comes with a letter, but the letters are all moderately to heavily redacted, so you’re on your own not only to figure out how things work, but what they actually do.

You get a couple of neat tools to help you sort everything out. Use your 3D printer when you have something you really need more than one of, and your really neat electronic one-size-fits-all screwdriver for the assortment of really strange screws you’re going to come across. You even have an endoscope, which lets you look inside things provided you can find a small hole to get it in there.

Otherwise, there isn’t much of anything that’ll throw you off if you’ve played similar puzzles in the past. The game is divided into seven chapters, one for each item you’ll need to figure out. There were a couple of repeated puzzle styles, but the game relies heavily on the “look at everything” trope – if you need to enter a code or figure out a series of symbols, it’s a sure bet you’ve seen them elsewhere already.

I did hit a bug in Chapter Six that locked me from progressing, so I lost about 10 minutes redoing the beginning of that chapter, and the entire game took just over two hours to finish. There are no achievements, and no real reason to replay it. I probably would have passed this over at full price, but for the dollar I paid from Fanatical in one of their recent bundles, I have no complaints.

SteamDB estimates that Machinika Museum has sold somewhere between 6,900 and a 18,900 copies on Steam. It is also available through iTunes, the GooglePlay store, and Utomik. A niche title certainly, but reviews have been Very Positive, and it is ranked 857 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – Landlord of the Woods (#JustOnePercent 12/100)

Developer: Madison Karrh
Release Date: March 17, 2021
MSRP: $0.99

I am pretty much always down for a game that is An Experience – something short and oh-so out there. Landlord of the Woods is certainly an experience, although the story it tells is not one I can entirely relate to.

I’m not sure I’m buying into the whole idea of “you’re 25 and already you think, is this it?” but y’know, considering the state of everything, it might be more of a universal feeling than I realize. For me, twenty-five was a long long time ago, and while I’m not sure I’ve ever been the type of person that could be described as “optimistic” or “hopeful”, I’m fairly sure at that point I felt like the best was still to come. Anyway, the protagonist of this short tale is bored, and feeling a little disillusioned with the day to day. I guess I get that. That is, until you stumble across a job opportunity while surfing the internet.

And thusly, you apply to be the new landlord of the woods. When you get the letter at the end of a day of puzzling through the mundane tasks of your life, you leave all that behind to start over.

Your new job, collecting rent from an odd assortment of characters, doesn’t feel all that different from your old job, at least as far as game play is concerned. In fact, some early puzzles almost exactly duplicate puzzles from the beginning of the game. As the entire game took me just under an hour to complete, I have to believe the choice was a deliberate commentary – no matter the task, you’re still just going through the motions.

And make no mistake, it is bleak. The soundtrack is pleasant enough but a bit bland, the color palette is subdued, and the tasks are tedious. You need to collect four items from each of six tenants, and there isn’t a puzzle in the lot that you can’t solve by just blindly clicking on everything to see what does something. Once you solve each resident’s problem, you can move on to the next, but you should make sure you have all the rent items entered into your ledger before moving on (although it appears the game will allow you to collect partial rents or even no rent at all, there’s no compelling reason to skip out on the collection aspect as far as I could see).

I didn’t exactly dislike Landlord of the Woods, but it felt a little more heavy-handed and darker than I was expecting. The developer’s other title on Steam, a free to play puzzle game called Whimsy, is also described as macabre, so maybe that’s just her style. It’s not a terrifically complex game, but the manipulation of objects just feels good, and I didn’t encounter any significant glitches. As long as your comfortable with the subject matter, it’s a dark but charming way to spend an hour of your time. Just make sure you play all the way through to the very last puzzle for a somewhat unexpected ending.

SteamDB estimates that Landlord of the Woods has sold somewhere between 2,500 and a 6,900 copies on Steam. It’s rated Very Positive, has garnered only three negative reviews overall, and is ranked 486 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – Silent Earth (#JustOnePercent 9/100)

Developer: Fring Frang Games

Release Date: March 3, 2021

MSRP: Free

I’m going to be really upfront about this: Silent Earth sounds a whole lot deeper than it plays. It’s a short – very short – choose your own adventure story about a nameless colonist on a space station that has recently lost all contact with Earth. Even if the store page didn’t clearly tell you that it had five possible endings, it won’t take terribly long to figure out what those paths are and, if you wanted to, see them to completion.

The entire game is text on a flat background. The only options are fullscreen or windowed, and a volume slider / mute button for the background music. For me, the music was an acceptable volume, and pleasant enough if a bit repetitive.

I’ve never really gotten into text adventures. I came into gaming just a bit too late for their heyday, and I normally want more gameplay if I’m going to be sitting at my PC. For me, the story was a bit predictable and simplistic, almost more of a prologue than a complete game. Still, what was there was well written, and for the bargain basement price of free, it does what it set out do well enough, I think.

Most of the text is white, but there are blue words throughout, which can be clicked on to get a bit of extra information (in the case of the screenshot above, I clicked on “view” and got a couple short lines about exactly what the view was). Anything in red will progress the story, and it’s where you as the player chooses which path they want to take through this tale.

Being a fast reader, playing to completion of a single storyline took me a bit less than 15 minutes. All in all, you could probably squeeze an hour’s entertainment out of the game if you chose to replay to pursue all paths. It’s a bit heavy-handed in its message, but I found no flaws with the actual construction of the game – all the parts work just fine in concert with each other. It just wasn’t anything that appealed to me enough to keep playing after reaching the credits the first time.

SteamDB estimates that Silent has been added to somewhere between 200 and 700 game libraries on Steam. It has just a handful of reviews, a positive rating, and a rank of 5227 out of 10,967 releases in 2021.

Game Over – The Gunk

Coming off of a pretty significant binge of games where you clean things up, The Gunk seemed to be a good choice for something to ease me back into something, well, a little more game-like. I wasn’t completely sure about it going in – I’m notoriously bad at platformers – but I was pleased to discover that it leaned more towards story and exploration than either puzzling or platforming.

You play as Rani, half of a pair of down-on-their-luck space explorers who land on an unknown planet in search of marketable items. Your partner, Becks, is a little more grounded, focused on filling up the cargo hold, while the player character is more interested in exploration. The problem they both face is the gunk, a toxic slime that is sucking the vitality out of the planet. Conveniently, Rani’s power glove can suck up the gunk, clearing paths and reinvigorating the landscape.

It’s a fairly short game; I took just over five hours to complete it. The first half or so of the game is fairly simple, and if the story doesn’t manage to captivate you, there’s unlikely to be meaty enough game play to keep you interested. You wander around, sucking up gunk and resources, scanning the vegetation, and bit by bit, learn about this strange polluted planet.

When the landscape isn’t being smothered by gunk, it’s gorgeous. The platforming is basic, the puzzles aren’t terribly difficult to figure out, and the combat – at least in the early game – is barely combat at all. However, the game takes a sharp turn in the later chapters, and it goes from being almost too simple to a level of challenge that the first part of the game in no way prepared the player for.

As a result, the last couple of hours were a bit of a slog for me. Dying isn’t too punishing, thankfully, and despite it being a fairly recent game, I had no trouble finding a (text) walkthrough when I got stuck. In the final chapter, I honestly wasn’t having fun anymore, but with the finish line so close, I pushed my way through to the credits.

Overall, I felt like The Gunk was a decent little game, but could have definitely benefited from another balance pass. The easy parts are too easy, and the challenging parts feel too rough considering what came before.

So We Meet Again – Rusty Lake Hotel

I’ve found that, when starting a new project, it’s always good to start small. However, it’s also just a little bit embarrassing to start this series out by admitting I had never managed to finish up a game that takes less than two hours, end to end. So I guess I started very small indeed.

And here was the major problem for me. The last time I attempted to play Rusty Lake Hotel, I could not make the game save, no matter what I did. As a result, I ended up playing through the first couple of days multiple times, and never getting further along than that. This time, I went in with the intention of completing it in a single sitting if it still wouldn’t save for me.

Thankfully, somewhere in the interim, either the game got fixed up, or I got smarter, because it autosaved without issue.

Rusty Lake Hotel is a short, almost minimalistic point-and-click adventure puzzler. It’s also outrageously dark. You have been tasked with collecting the ingredients for dinner every night, and without giving away too much, that’s not as innocent of a task as you might expect. If you’re put off by cartoon gore in your adventure games, you should probably give this one a pass.

The focus is almost entirely on problem solving, and in order to find the problems, expect to click on absolutely everything you can click on. There is minimal dialogue, and the majority of the story is environmental. Each meal will require one mandatory and two optional ingredients. If you miss something – and it’s easy to miss something – you can proceed serving less than perfect dinners, or you can reset the entirety of the game. I would have liked the option to go back a single day at any given time, but even a complete restart isn’t too punishing due to the game’s length. Once you understand what you’re meant to do, each section of the game probably takes 10 minutes or less to complete.

There were a couple of puzzles that – at least for me – were really challenging even once I understood the idea of the thing. There is no in-game hint system, and once you enter a room at night, you cannot leave until you’ve gotten the required item. That said, for the truly stumped, a walkthrough isn’t difficult to find, and having to consult one a few times didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game.

I’m not entirely sure where Rusty Lake Hotel fits into the greater Cube Escape / Rusty Lake universe. If it turns out they cannot really be played in any order, then I’ll likely have spoiled something for myself because I’ve been, over time, collecting all the paid titles in the series.

It took me just under two hours to complete the game with all stars, including a couple of resets when I realized I had missed an ingredient. I managed to only miss a single achievement. As someone who enjoys a good puzzler now and again, I found the entire experience to be very satisfying, and I’m glad to have revisited Rusty Lake Hotel and played through to completion.

Game Over – Grow: Song of the Evertree

I am usually firmly in the camp of “wait and see” when it comes to new releases, and I didn’t actually intend to pick up Grow: Song of the Evertree the day that it was available, despite having been excited for it since I saw it while watching Wholesome Direct back in June. It just so happened, however, that my roommate tested positive for COVID-19 the same day that the game came out, and I made the snap decision to pick it up for myself as something to maybe keep me occupied during isolation.

… and then I proceeded to play it for almost 30 hours over the next 5 days.

Grow is kind of an odd amalgamation of genres, but what it most closely reminded me of was Animal Crossing: New Horizons, if you weren’t restricted by the real time clock. You can expect to spend the majority of your time catching bugs & fish, playing with woodland critters, breaking rocks, and tending to plants. You start out with a single World Seed, which once planted, is – frankly – a big old mess of a place, but after three in-game days of tending, expands, and after nine in-game days is fully formed, and I’d say more than half of my game play hours were spent tending to this world (and the others that open up as you progress through the story).

There is also two other types of games mashed up in here – a rudimentary city / community builder, and some exploration & puzzle style game play, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Zelda games. What you won’t find is any combat at all – in fact, one could argue that you won’t find any challenge at all, and obviously, that makes the entire game play loop unsatisfying for some.

While it’s true that nothing in the entire game feels particularly difficult, I still found it all immensely satisfying. The story is just enough to hold the disparate pieces together, but it’s not particularly memorable. City building is looking at a list of tasks and working your way through them. Some of the exploration focused puzzles might have had some modicum of difficulty, but the game shows you all your objectives in a cut scene upon entering.

… and I still couldn’t stop playing.

The only part of the game I didn’t particularly enjoy was the villager quests. None of them were particularly interesting – with only a couple of exceptions, they were all of the “Bring me this item when you get one” variety. These quests could pretty much universally be ignored, however, although a couple of town building checklists had a line item to fulfill villager requests, it seemed like you could always reach 100% happiness & progress the story without completing all the requirements.

People who are particularly drawn to customization & decoration will likely get even more from the game than I did – there are tons of cosmetics you will either stumble upon during caring for your Worlds, or that you can buy from the associated business once you’ve built it. For me, decorating and customizing houses was something I did because I was required to, and let me tell you, I ended up with some seriously ugly buildings because of it.

The contents of each World you create are dictated by the ingredients you use to make the seed, so Worlds aren’t really customizable in the way that towns are. The plants, rocks, logs, and weeds you gather in one World can be deconstructed in your home to provide you with new essences, and the essence balance of each World determines what kinds of essences you get back out. For a good portion of the game, I was lacking in several kinds of essences, until I realized that you need to have a balance of different types of Worlds to get a good selection of essences.

You also have the option to sell the items you collect to the Everkin (who you are introduced to fairly early in the story) for a currency you can use to purchase essences you are missing, although the game never explicitly tells you this. Vendor essence availability is both random and limited, so the earlier you can manage to get some diverse worlds working, the easier time you’ll have for the rest of the game.

In the very early parts of the game, resource scarcity might be a little annoying, but it doesn’t last. In the latter half of the game, I could buy anything or build anything I wanted, and I probably rushed the end a little bit. I did get 18/22 achievements just from playing normally, and the only one I missed that would have been grindy was making all the Perfect World Seeds. As someone who isn’t that into exploring, I know I missed secret areas, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game as a whole, and would provide more to do for someone who was into that sort of thing.

I don’t think Grow: Song of the Evertree is going to be a game for everyone, not by a long shot, and it’s certainly not a perfect game, but I found it to be completely satisfying. Give it a pass if you’re motivated by challenge, or if you get irritated by methodical, repetitive game play. For players who just want to make plants grow, pet animals, and chase bugs with a net in a pretty fantasy world, you will easily get your money’s worth from this one.

Game Over – Boyfriend Dungeon

Before I dive into this review, I want to say a few things. One, this might be the first time I’ve seen credits for three games in less than a week and I’m kind of flabbergasted. Two, I want to apologize because I was absolutely wretched about taking screenshots throughout this play, so this post is going to be a little image-light for me. Finally, THERE WILL BE SPOLIERS but I promise to clearly mark where they start – scroll past that point only if you are okay with being spoiled.

I am very familiar with the feeling of playing a game I think I’m going to like, and then not liking it at all. What I’m far less used to is playing something I expect to not like to satiate my curiosity, and then blowing through it in a couple play sessions. And that, friends, is how I managed to finish Boyfriend Dungeon the day after downloading it from XBox Game Pass for PC.

Of course, the majority of the appeal came from the bizarre premise & genre mash-up. What if some people could turn into weapons, and some people were Wielders, who could use those weapons, and what if you could make a little bit of cash beating up monsters in a mall instead of paying for therapy? What if we used this premise to make a game that is part dating sim and part action dungeon crawler? That’s Boyfriend Dungeon. I had to try it, and then I could not stop playing.

Make no mistake, this is a fairly short game. I didn’t chase every achievement, but I did max out each relationship path before embarking on the “point of no return” quest. It’s also not a particularly difficult game – I’m not great with this type of game, and I don’t feel like there were too many points even I found challenging. Overall, while I found the game to be pretty compelling while playing, as soon as I stepped away from it, my feelings changed more to a “Well, that was fine.”

I actually prefer my games pretty low on the difficulty scale (especially games, like this one, that really benefit from the use of a controller), so that didn’t bother me at all. I’m really not a huge fan of dating sims normally, so I’m not sure how much awkwardness is par for the course, but the vicarious embarrassment, which was nearly constant and pretty intense, wasn’t too much of a problem for me. Instead, what keeps me from feeling like this game was pretty damn good is that the pacing is downright awful.

The early game really made me feel like I was in for a damn long haul – everything felt so slow, despite being bombarded with information (and characters) that ended up coming to absolutely nothing. A couple hours in, I decided to check the expected game length on How Long To Beat, and was surprised that I was almost halfway through despite feeling like I just started. At that time, I had only met 3 out of the 7 dateable characters, and hadn’t proceeded very far in any of their storylines.

And then, Kitfox Games threw a cinderblock on the gas pedal, and the result is what feels like it should have been way more game crammed into a package that doesn’t fit it. I’m not sure why they decided to release the game at this point because it’s pretty clear while playing that there is stuff they either cut out or just haven’t added in yet. There are holes, and they’re easy to see while playing.

If you do not wish to be spoiled on any part of the game, stop reading here!

Early on in the game, the main way of gaining relationship points with your chosen weapon(s) is to traverse the dungeon with them. Of course, you’re not all that powerful early on, and when you run out of health, that run is over. If you make it far enough, you will unlock floor skips, but this is definitely a slow process, and it’s interspersed with unavoidable “dates” with characters who are not really part of the plot.

By about the midway point, you have access to a fair amount of money with which you can purchase gifts, as well as having unlocked at least some gift crafting recipes. This is about the time that relationship gain feels pretty satisfying, but that only lasts until the you max out your first relationship path. At that point, you’re granted an item which doubles all relationship point gain regardless of source. The same item also grants the ability to early points over each level’s cap. This means that if you hadn’t been giving out gifts previously, and you choose to start doing so now, you can practically skip multiple relationship levels with a judicious gift or two, or simply by progressing through the second (of only two) dungeons. Sure, you still get the interactions, but its a little jarring when date requests start coming back to back.

This ended up working to my benefit, because I had almost completed the game’s plot when I realized I had missed a person. A couple meetings, a couple gifts, and a few dungeon floors let me go from never having met the person to maxed out in less than an hour of game time. Which was for the best, but only because I was really out of things to do other than grinding for the sake of grinding. I was mildly concerned that I maybe I had rushed the game, but my character level didn’t slow me down any on the final boss fight, so unless the intent is to add more content, there’s no reason for the potential character level to be even as high as it is. This could potentially be a frustration for someone who wants to hit “max level” before finishing the game – there’s just no way that it’s necessary if you’re even moderately competent.

On top of that, there are a few character / story issues that are troublesome for quite a few players. One of the romance options doesn’t have a satisfying “good” ending, no matter what you do. The character who turns out to be the main antagonist is outrageously problematic long before you realize he’s the actual bad guy of the game, and not just a horrible person, and hooboy, the ending to that arc felt … really unsatisfying, as the game wants you to feel like that taking oneself to therapy is adequate punishment for kidnapping and mutilation in this world. Opinions seem to be more divided on the absolute utter lack of consequences to getting romantically involved with absolutely everyone; for me, I think what was lacking was the ability to communicate that fact in a lot of instances.

For me, by the midway point of the game, every time I the option came up with a new character, I chose a platonic route. It locks you out of absolutely nothing, and it soothed my conscience a little bit. Which also kind of leads into a personal issue I tend to have with dating sims, and I don’t know if this is a thing that happens with people who are bigger fans of the genre.

To me, it always feels like there are one, sometimes two, characters that are presented as the right choice, and the rest of them are just there to sweet talk you and wave a whole bouquet of red flags. Of course, in Boyfriend Dungeon, it doesn’t really matter if you choose one person or all of them – you don’t get your happily ever after, at least not within the game.

The main character arc was a little painful – you arrive in Verona Beach as a person of indeterminate age who has never so much been on a date. In no time, you’re the object of a madman’s obsession, and absolutely everyone is tripping over themselves to get next to you, including a 200 year old vampire, and a K-pop celebrity, because, I suppose, you are the main character. It was extra weird for me since the two main fears you’re fighting throughout the story are the fear of change and the fear of intimacy. It’s like, maybe you were never actually ready to date at all?

But then, even once you’ve conquered your fears, and destroyed the bad guy, you’re rewarded simply with a day on the beach and a plane ride back home. All the characters who have been declaring their undying love for you throughout the whole game are suddenly like “It’s been real, keep in touch, maybe we’ll see each other again someday, I guess.”

It’s a let down. I would have – at the very least – been able to choose one character I connected most to and gotten some kind of little epilogue of what happened with that relationship after the credits. The ending definitely needed something, because I was sitting there, shaking my head, thinking that’s it?

Maybe it’s a little too much to expect emotional authenticity and a satisfying resolution from a game that has living weapons and a datable cat (who is also a weapon).

I feel like I’ve done a lot of complaining here about a game I actually liked. It was weird and out there and the dungeon crawling – for me at least – was enjoyable, but probably would just be frustrating for someone who likes their combat more challenging. For the most part, the relationship candidates had interesting personal stories, and spending time with them, both inside and outside of the dungeons, felt good.

No, Boyfriend Dungeon isn’t a bad game, but it’s a game that feels incomplete. It’s a game where you can see the supports through the gaps in the finish. For me, the attempt to make everyone happy by letting you do pretty much whatever you wanted missed the mark. I wanted more meaningful choices. I wanted to be able to say the wrong thing and have that have lasting consequences. And maybe, just a little, I wanted someone to beg me not to leave.

Game Over – Alekon

I really think there should be a word for when you are simultaneously surprised and also not surprised by something. Because that’s absolutely how I’m feeling about blowing through Alekon in a couple of days. It’s not that I expected it to have more content, but more that I didn’t expect that I was going to be starting it up every chance I got until I saw the credits roll.

Borrowing heavily from – and throwing some occasional good natured shade at – the Pokemon Snap games, you are tasked with taking photographs of critters, which in the Alekon-universe are called Fictions, in a variety of poses. Initially, you are tied to a path, where you have full range to look around, but cannot move or control the speed at which you move. Capturing good photos will award you with Creativity, which is necessary to open additional islands where you will find more Fictions to photograph.

That part of the game play loop was pretty much what I was expecting, and what I was looking for. One of the things I did really enjoy that I wasn’t expecting was that, once you do what you need to in order to open three different paths on an island, and you traverse each one at least once, you are given the option to explore the island in its entirety in Wander mode. This is exactly what it sounds like – you have full ability to move around everywhere, with no time limits or limits on how many photos you can take. When you want to return to the hub world, you just click on any of the many portals scattered about.

Upon returning to the hub world, your photos are automatically sorted, and the best one of each Fiction in each individual pose is judged, and the points added to your Creativity total. After judging, you can click on any greyed out outline on the wall to get hints for what other poses you haven’t captured on film yet.

Additionally, once you photograph a Fiction for the first time, a copy of that creature appears in the hub world, and every single one of them will – eventually – have a minigame for you to play to obtain even more Creativity. The minigames come in a lot of different styles, and there were some that I tried once and said “Oh, no, no thank you” and moved on. It’s important to talk to the Fictions, though, even if you’re not really interested in the mini-games, because some of them do grant you additional abilities that you will need to complete puzzle sections throughout the game.

I completed the game without capturing every available pose, or completing every available minigame. In fact, I don’t even think I discovered every single Fiction. The win condition of Alekon definitely gives you some wiggle room to prevent the game from becoming overly grindy or frustrating. You can, however, finish up the game and then return to the hub world and resume playing mini-games and taking pictures, even though the game does its darnedest to make you think that you cannot.

The story was serviceable for a game that is basically about playing with a camera and meeting fantasy creatures & helping them with their problems. A couple of times I got stuck trying to figure out how to open a path, complete a mini-game, or solve an environmental puzzle, and since the game is so recent, there aren’t any real guides out there yet. However, stepping away for a bit and coming at it with fresh eyes always did the trick for me.

While I might not have minded another island or two to explore, I can also appreciate that Alekon didn’t overstay its welcome, and I definitely left more than a few things unfinished, so there’s potential for a bit more play time without replaying the game in its entirety. I spent just under 6 hours with the game, and almost every single minute I was delighted by the art, the music, the game play and the character design. It really is just a lovely chill little game, and I honestly think I might have been more satisfied overall with my experience playing Alekon than I did with Pokemon Snap.

Game (Almost) Over – Persona 4 Golden – #JRPGJuly

The good news is, I actually played a whole lot more Persona 4 Golden this month than I expected to. The bad news, however, is that I have reached a point where I don’t expect to actually finish the game. In a way, it’s sort of a shame to have spent almost 45 hours with it, but for me, there were just a few too many annoyances to get past, culminating in the solution to the Whodunit being wholly unsatisfying.

When a story is a twisty as this one is, there really is no good time to throw in the towel, because until the credits roll it’s always possible that unsatisfying story elements will slide into place in an epic A-HA! moment. In fact, when I last closed down the game, I didn’t intend to stop playing, despite being somewhat grumpy about the direction the story was taking. However, for me something had changed. Before the Big Reveal, I found myself playing at least a little every day, interspersed with a few marathon sessions when I wanted to see a particular story beat resolved before saving for the day.

Somehow, the appeal just disappeared. Sure, a big part of it was that I felt cheated by a major story point that – to me – made very little sense. But another, not insignificant, factor was the fact that I realized I was running out of time, and it was going to be impossible for me to do everything I still wanted to do. Being inefficient in the early game when I didn’t know any better meant that I just didn’t have enough slots of free time left to wrap up all the things I wanted to wrap up. I’m generally not a New Game+ player, so anything I couldn’t finish was going to stay unfinished, and that knowledge sapped my will to continue.

While it’s not that unusual for me to leave something unfinished, what is strange is actually deciding to do so, especially when it’s something I put this much time into. Did I get enough out of it? Yes, I think I did. There were characters I really loved, bits of story I really appreciated, and overall, I felt like it was a really solid game. I just wasn’t, necessarily, the right game for me. I tend not to pursue efficiency while gaming, and I’m not the biggest fan of time limits in a story focused game, even when they make sense inside of the plot, as they do here.