Blaugust Reviews – Humble Choice January 2023 Edition

I’m filling in for the incomparable UnwiseOwl this month on summing up our group review of the offerings in this month’s Humble Choice bundle. Every month, when the bundle releases, a bunch of us get together on the Blaugust Discord and hash out which games we’re most excited about and divvy up the titles for us each to look at during the month. Some folks just take a quick look, and some really go all in, but we want to give you a jumping off point to help you decide if this month’s bundle is going to be worth it for you.

This month’s headliner title is DOOM Eternal. Magi from Indiecator had done a post on this particular game back in 2021. This is a title probably best played with a gamepad or controller, and has a somewhat spiky difficulty, but he found that all in all, it was a gory good time!

I personally took a quick peek at Tribes of Midgard, not nearly long enough to form a cohesive opinion on the title. This one requires you to be always online, even in single player, which might turn some folks off. So far, it seems to be an odd hybrid of survival and ARPG, but you’re dropped into the world with only your bare hands and your underwear and very little guidance. However, if you’re looking for a new co-op title, and you’re fine with a somewhat slow and confusing start, you might find this game right up your alley.

Stalking Vengeance of Cubic Creativity took a deep dive into post-apocalyptic RPG Encased. They spent around 15 hours exploring the world of this Fallout-inspired turn-based RPG, and felt that the world building & story was pretty good, but that the game got somewhat bogged down in a million little systems, each with their own tiny flaws. If you like exploring wastelands and complex character creation, and don’t lose immersion when you spot the rough edges, then this one might be for you. However, check your Epic account first – this one was part of their game-a-day holiday giveaway this past December.

Magi from Indiecator indie-cated that he was very excited about OlliOlli World – Rad Edition in his Humble Choice preview post this month. This skateboarding platformer requires a controller to play, which is kind of unfortunate for us dedicated keyboard and mouse players. However, this edition does include the season pass, and as such, is a pretty good value if this is a title you’ve been looking for a deal on.

Paeroka of Nerdy Bookahs dipped her toes into Grow: Song of the Evertree this month, but found it a little too slow-starting for her taste. However, I played this game shortly after it released in November of 2021, and really enjoyed it. This adorable, absolutely-no-pressure title won’t appeal to most gamers, but if cozy gaming is your jam, the cute-factor on this one might make it worth a try.

Conan Chop Chop was the one title this month that no one was very excited about. It’s a co-op action roguelike with an overly-cute aesthetic and a whole bunch of cartoon gore & violence. Reviews are mixed on Steam, and it has one of the lowest retail prices in the bundle at only $14.99, so this probably isn’t the game that anyone is grabbing this month’s bundle for.

I took a look at Hokko Life, which was the title in this month’s offerings I was most excited about. I could get past the uncanny valley of anthropomorphic animal friends, but I found the game play tedious. This might be a better fit for players that are super into customizing and decorating, but I found myself sleeping most of my Hokko Life away.

I also took The Serpent Rogue, the final title in this month’s bundle, for a quick spin. The art was fantastic, but I just didn’t gel with the gameplay. This action adventure title combines survival mechanics, puzzle solving, action combat, and picking flowers in an interesting way, but is light on the guidance and heavy on learning-by-doing. For the gamer that likes that sort of thing, this might be a nice addition, but again, probably not a primary motivator in grabbing this month’s bundle.

In the end, this bundle seems to be more of a miss than it might appear at first glance. If you really want Doom Eternal, which has a $40 regular price, or if you’ve been waiting for a deal on OlliOlli World – Rad Edition, then this month’s Humble Choice might be worth it for either of those titles alone. However, everything else feels like it’s really niche, and a mixed bag to boot.

If you picked up the bundle, and especially if Conan Chop Chop was one of your main motivators, please let us know what you thought!

Quick Look – The Serpent Rogue (Humble Choice – January 2023)

Most months, Humble Choice includes at least one quirky indie title that I’ve never heard of. This month, that title was The Serpent Rogue. The developers describe it as a botanical action-adventure, with a heavy focus on gathering and crafting. The Serpent Rogue has a regular price of $19.99, and according to HowLongToBeat, a playtime of about three hours for the main story line, although there’s quite a lot of extras stuff to do if one wanted to.

At a glance, The Serpent Rogue looks like it would be exactly the type of game I’d enjoy. It’s stunningly beautiful, the introduction is almost lyrical, and I was absolutely ready to dive into the grimdark world and start looking for all the plants I was going to need to save the world.

After a brief introduction where you learn how to sprint and not much else, you’re unceremoniously dumped into a world with very little guidance. Now, I realize that there are multiple schools of thought on how tutorials should be handled, but I’m a strong proponent of not having the challenge of the game play be about how to play the game. The first few minutes are fine, but after that, you’ve got a not-very-open world to explore, a bunch of stuff you can break open, and a journal full of quests you may not even realize you’re receiving.

I picked some berries, and used my portable research table to study them. I poked around some more, grabbed a couple of pumpkins that were just lying around. I figured out what it means to go fishing in this game. However, I was also frustrated by areas that told me I needed an axe or a shovel, but with no indication of where to obtain these starter tools. I muddled around for a bit, but by the third area of the game, I knew it just wasn’t going to click for me.

I did manage to die once, and I learned a few things from the experience. First, that you drop all your stuff, and if you die again before retrieving it, it’s gone for good. Second, if you see a little bag hanging from a tree branch, it probably has stuff in it that you want. In fact, on my first pass I had missed one such bag, and I’m guessing that was the thing preventing me from moving to the next area, but I can’t say 100% for sure.

You will need to worry about survival mechanics, like hunger and rest, and the game gives you very little guidance on how these systems work. You’ll run into the occasional NPC, who will speak in riddles. If you’re diligent in your explorations, you’ll find some books, that give you a little bit of additional information about the world (and ostensibly, clues to solving the puzzles within it), but I’d mentally checked out already. I didn’t think I’d signed up for a game where everything was the puzzle – I just wanted to pick flowers, make some potions, and make friends with the animals.

I feel like this game isn’t doing itself any favors with its marketing – someone expecting a somewhat chill gameplay loop will likely be frustrated, while someone who really loves being dropped, mostly unguided, into a weird world and left on their own to survive may be turned off by the game’s description. I hope that being featured in this month’s Humble Choice will help A Serpent Rogue find it’s intended audience, but I learned pretty quickly that I am not a part of it.

Quick Look – Hokko Life (Humble Choice – January 2023)

If you’ve ever wanted to play an Animal Crossing game, but without the restrictions that come from being tied to the real world clock, you might have given Hokko Life a long look. This cutsey life sim has a heavy focus on gathering, crafting, decorating and cute anthropomorphic animal neighbors. It retails for $19.99, but is available now as part of the January 2023 Humble Choice.

Much like I wanted to like Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch, I really thought I’d enjoy having Hokko Life to play on the Steam Deck. Sure, the fiddly decoration parts of the game are kind of lost on me, but I can zone out and chop wood for hours with the best of them. However, for several reasons, this one – at least for me – just wasn’t a good fit.

If you’re here for the story, you’re best off just stopping right here and finding a different cozy game. Basically, you fall asleep on a train, and end up disembarking in the town of Hokko. Since approximately four people live here, I’m not entirely sure how it got its own train station, but this is far from the last time Hokko Life will beg you to suspend your disbelief. You wander into the local inn, run by pink elephant Oma, who offers you her spare room for the night.

And then she offers you a free house.

There’s a catch, of course. The house is in a pretty serious state of disrepair, and you’ll need to gather up the materials to make it habitable. Okay, sure. So you chop some wood, throw it into a box, and bam, you’ve got a barebones place to live. It was about here, I started to think that just maybe, I’d bumbled my way into some sort of cult.

Now that you’ve fixed up on dilapitated house, well, maybe you might not mind fixing up another? I mean, since you’re here and all, besides wouldn’t it be just lovely to have some more neighbors? So I go through the process a second time, chopping wood, handing it over, and now Benny (the bunny, naturally) has moved in right next door in the house I fixed up … and got no compensation for, I might add.

It’s about this time that everyone starts asking you to do them small favors. You know, because these things would be nice to have but not nice enough for anyone else to want to do them. You build a bridge and plant some trees, and before you know it, a real estate agent has rolled up on Hokko to set up shop, and move people into the houses I am supposed to build.

Now, I don’t mind gathering wood. I don’t even – really – mind giving it away afterwards. But Rosa the real estate agent has other plans. Not only does she expect me to round up all the materials that go into the building of a new home, but she expects me to pay for the privilege of putting up new houses that I neither plan to live in nor to profit from? I don’t know about this, Rosa, but it’s an interesting business plan.

Almost 90 minutes into the game, and my prospects for making money look pretty dire. I’ve given in and built one house, rendering me flat broke. Now, my choices are to sell my gathered wood, or run around catching butterflies all day, which are worth about 1/100th of a cheap house in Hokko’s economy. My backpack is small (which necessitates running to and from the shop – complete with mandatory load screen) frequently, or sleeping in my sad little sleeping bag for about 20 hours a day, waiting and hoping someone in town is going to think of something else that would be so cool to have around, and hope they pay me well for doing it for them.

Hokko Life is incredibly slow, even among it’s contemporaries. It’s also a little creepy, if we’re being completely honest. Maybe if I were more patient, and more into the decoration mechanics, I would have enjoyed it more, but everything feels like crawling through quicksand, and yet, time also seems to pass so very very slowly in game. It’s a little disappointing, because this was one of the main reasons I picked up this month’s bundle, and at the end of the (very very long) day, it was a big ol’ bust.

Quick Look – TOEM

TOEM combines puzzle solving with photography game mechanics, and is one of the two things I was most excited about in December’s Humble Monthly. It does have a relatively short play time of about three hours and has a regular retail price of $19.99.

When I played the demo of TOEM a while back, I was expecting more of a straight-up photography game rather than a puzzle adventure, and I was a bit disappointed by it. However, something about it stuck with me, and I added it to my wish list around the time it released – I enjoy a good puzzle adventure, and I realized I would probably feel quite differently about it if I had gone in with appropriate expectations. In fact, I nearly picked it up during the Steam Autumn sale, so I was quite pleased to see it in the December Humble Monthly.

You play as a small critter who is leaving home to travel for the very first time. You take your backpack and a camera and little else – in fact, you need to earn your bus far by collection stamps from locals by helping them with their troubles. In each stop throughout your journey, there are no shortage of problems that need solving by someone with a vintage camera with dynamic zoom!

It is not necessary to solve every issue in every location in order to proceed through the game – in fact, in each place I’ve stopped, you only need to do about half of them to earn your next bus ticket. However, stamps aren’t your only reward for lending a hand – you will also earn clothing items (some of which are important as they unlock other opportunities during game play) and upgrades for your camera.

TOEM isn’t a particular difficult game, but it’s got a lot of charm, and that’s what it most likely to make you want to keep playing. While you will need to take a lot of pictures for other people, you have lots of space in your photo album for anything that might catch your eye. While there are plenty of things no one will ask you to photograph, many of the interesting things you’ll encounter will trigger some in-game achievements.

I’ve probably gotten through a little less than half the game, and while I don’t expect it to have a whole bunch of replayability, it is the kind of game I love to see in a bundle. I think if I had paid full price for this one, I would have been disappointed – it doesn’t feel like there’s enough meat to it to merit a $20 price tag.

I’m also not sure I’d advise picking up this month’s Humble Choice exclusively for TOEM, but if there’s even one other game you’re excited about, and you like puzzle games, it’s absolutely worth your time to take it for a spin.

Quick Look – Roboquest

After a good streak of months where I was at least moderately interested in one or more games from the Humble Choice bundle, the November offerings were – at least for me – kind of blah. I very nearly paused this one! While Roboquest was not the game that tipped the scales for me into leaving my subscription unpaused, it did look interesting enough for me to take it for a spin and talk about it a bit for UnwiseOwl’s monthly group review. Roboquest is an FPS rogue-lite which retails for $19.99.

I am nowhere near an FPS aficionado, but every once in awhile, I get the urge to just run around and shoot things. These fits usually don’t last terribly long, because despite being moderately competent with a (video game) gun, I don’t have much in the way of “avoiding getting shot” skills. When most people were blasting demons in DOOM, I was crawling my way through the dungeons of Daggerfall. It’s not unlike my experience with platformers, where I feel like I didn’t develop the requisite muscle memory when I was still young enough for it to stick.

So, Roboquest. The first thing you should know is that, while the game is still in Early Access (and has been for over two years now), and considering they haven’t yet announced the full release yet, it’s unlikely the developers will meet their “end of 2022” target. Now, I didn’t come close to playing through to completion, so I can’t speak to how “finished” it feels, but I can tell you, that it does feel pretty damn good to play – with some caveats.

I will say I very nearly bounced off the game before it even got started. It took me almost half a dozen tries to complete the tutorial level without getting dead … excuse me, knocked out. It wasn’t a problem of wonky controls, or overtuned difficulty, it was 100% a “I’m bad at this sort of game” problem.

I did, however, get faster at losing every time, which I suppose is its own form of improvement?

The good news is, once you get through the tutorial, which should take any moderately competent player approximately one try, you can change the difficulty settings. I immediately changed the difficulty setting to easy. After a couple of unsuccessful runs, I knocked it down again to what the game calls “Discovery”. As you can see in the screen shot below, this is story-mode for roguelites. I am particularly fond of the increased duration on health and currency pickups, since it seems like the only way I can successfully play is to hide around a corner and poke my head out to pick things off one at a time.

Having managed to appropriately tune to game to my level, I found myself having – pardon the pun – a blast. You are a friendly robot, rescued by what seems to be a child explorer, who found you and got you fixed up. Now, you’re her scout, taking out all the rather unfriendly robots hanging around, and seeing what’s what in this almost obscenely colorful post-apocalyptic world. The story is merely a picture frame for an awful lot of gunplay, and while I suppose it might get more involved as you proceed, it doesn’t necessarily have to. Its doing its job just fine, and for most players, it’s totally not what they’re here for.

Well, I think I’ve probably already convinced you that I am completely unqualified to tell you whether or not Roboquest is a good FPS. Let me also assure you that I am completely unqualified to tell you whether or not it’s a good roguelite! It does have unlocks and metaprogression, so I’m fairly confident that it is – indeed – a roguelite.

Each time you start a new level your weapon choices are randomized, although you can always elect to stick with the very basic energy pistol. Ammo or energy is only a concern (at least on the lower difficulties) in that you need to either reload or cooldown, but you never seem to run out. As you gain experience throughout your run, you will level up, unlocking random perks to choose from which you get right away, but enemies only drop loot in the form of currency, which you can use to make purchases mid-run in a break room or after completing a level.

Even on discovery difficulty, I was neither very good nor very fast, but at least I was finishing things.

Now, let’s talk about a few quirks of the game. First off, there is co-op, but it only supports two players, which I thought was kind of an odd choice for this type of game. Secondly, and this is probably not going to surprise most roguelite fans, there is no mid-run saving. The first couple of levels go fairly quickly, but if you’re doing well, you might be in it for a rather long haul, and there seems to be no way to skip levels you’ve beaten over and over and start further in. I expect both of these things to be fairly common genre conventions, but I really prefer to have at least one of the two; either the ability to save or to skip already completed levels. I don’t always have a lot of time to commit to a game in a single sitting, and when I find myself looking for a roguelite it is precisely because I want to be able to dip in and out as I need to.

Still, it’s a fun little romp, and I appreciate the extreme nature of the difficulty settings, which manage to make you feel somewhat like a god, if you’re okay with the idea that gods sometimes have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. As is typical for me, I feel like I’ve selected one of the “fun bonus” games to talk about, instead of one that determines whether most customers buy or skip.

…and that’s sort of by design, these weird little extra games are really why I almost never skip a month, even when the headliners are very much not for me.

Quick Look – Maid of Sker

It’s not terribly surprising that the October Humble Choice included a quirky indie horror game (in fact, it had two!), and yet again, despite being a giant chicken, I have volunteered to check out Maid of Sker for UnwiseOwl’s group review. Maid of Sker has a regular price of $24.99, a play time of around 5 hours, and the only DLC available is the soundtrack which can be purchased for an additional $4.99.

I am now, and will likely forever be, looking for the perfect horror game for people who are too afraid of their own shadow to play horror games. The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, when horror games are very good, they also tend to be very scary, as they probably should be. However, the flip side of this is that games that want to be horror without being terrifying really need to have something else to hold the player’s interest throughout. While I think Maid of Sker has a lot going for it, it misses the mark for me in both being a little too damn creepy for my taste, and with the story being drip fed oh-so-slowly to prolong the tension.

I considered choosing the “Safe” difficulty, but eventually settled on “Easy”, but I am must report that I, personally, did not have a relaxed playing experience. I also didn’t find any ammunition at all (nor did I find a weapon), and I would not call one single health item “plentiful”. However, in the interest of full disclosure, during the majority of my playtime I also had no use for either, as I was just creeping around an old hotel touching stuff.

You play as Thomas, who receives a letter from his intended that she is stuck at her family’s hotel and that weird things have started to happen. Since this story takes place just before the turn of the century – that’s the 20th century, not the 21st – you hop the next train to see her. You arrive at the hotel, and everything seems pretty much abandoned. The atmosphere is rich pretty much from the start, but navigating everything is torturously slow, and that’s before you start sneaking around. You’ll be spending the majority of the game sneaking around, just to be clear.

When you finally make your way inside, a telephone device begins ringing. On the other end is your beloved, who has barricaded herself in the attic. She tells you that her father and uncle have been corrupted by the darkness of the hotel, and tasks you with finding some musical cylinders, which all need to be played at once to break the curse. All is appropriately creepy and gothic.

As fantastic as the atmosphere and – dear god – the sound design are, I found the game play extremely lacking. You wander around the hotel, and although you’ve just been warned about being quiet, the game seems to want you to touch absolutely everything that makes noise. No, I do not want to touch that piano. No, I don’t want to pick up that music box. No, I do not want to ring that bell on the desk. I am supposed to be being silent.

Even the save points make noise! Touching the phonographs saves the game and – at least the first time for each – you are rewarded with a recording that gives you a snippet the family’s history. The save points are frequent enough that I only slightly resented not being able to save anywhere, and some of the recordings they contained made me wish for a very big club with which to take out these awful men rather than just sneaking around hiding from them.

I gave it about an hour, but for me, Maid of Sker was the worst of both worlds for me. It was very successful at ratcheting up my anxiety, which means it was doing that part of its job. But every time my objectives screen updated, I found myself thinking “No, no, I would not like to do that. I would like to get on the next train home, please. Or at the very least, let me run right up to the attic, not-so-bravely rescue my love from the attic, and get on the next train with her. Anything, really, but go down the rickety bloody elevator.” I might have been able to coast on adrenaline if there was less creepy empty areas you needed to navigate and either the story was coming faster or there were more notes and other collectibles to hunt for, but I was somehow simultaneously terrified and bored. Not a compelling combination.

I realize the image is very dark and hard to make out, but that’s right in front of the bloody elevator. I wasn’t making that part up.

I would also guess that for most people who like survival horror, this one would also miss the mark, except I would venture to guess they would argue it’s not scary enough. The game is slow paced, the stealth mechanics border on nonsensical, and even the store page tells you that the only ability you’ll get to deal with the enemies is a defensive one. I’d be surprised if this is the game that makes anyone choose to grab this month’s Humble Choice, and I would hazard that it would only appeal to a very very small subset of gamers.

Quick Look – Epic Chef

I’ll play just about anything where cooking is a major game mechanic. Epic Chef is part of the October 2022 Humble Choice, and while it wasn’t my top choice for the bundle, there was no doubt that I was part of the target audience for this one, so I volunteered to take a loot at it for UnwiseOwl’s group review post. The game has no DLC, and is regularly priced at $24.99, although it’s been marked down as low at $9.99.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room, shall we? Epic Chef has a very distinctive art style that may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It certainly isn’t my cup of tea. Every humanoid you encounter feels like someone took a 3D model and squished it. All of their heads are nearly the same size as the rest of their bodies. To me, it’s almost a bit creepy, which is unfortunate, because I like the look of just about everything else in the game, but man, the people just feel wrong.

But there is more to a game than the art, which brings me to the next thing I kind of feel like I should definitely talk about. Epic Chef desperately wants to be funny. It wants you to guffaw your way through the game. For me, the humor was hit or miss, but in the first hour, I encountered at least one gag that some people might find very offensive. If you’re uncomfortable with humor around religion (specifically Christianity), you might want to just give this one a pass.

Since I seem to have decided to take the tack of covering the game’s major cons first, I’ll wrap up with the thing that put me off the game – the save system. This is one of those games that only lets you save when you sleep, and to make that extra annoying, it restricts you from sleeping unless it’s at least a certain time of day.

This might not be so bad, but the days can be long especially as the game is still teaching you things. I lost almost half an hour of progress because I assumed that going to sleep would be the thing to trigger the save point. In fact, it appears that waking up triggers it instead, and on the second night, you will be woken up before a full night sleep so that the game can drop more plotline on you. Seeing as I’d been trying to save and quit for several minutes already, I exited the game and was brought back to the first full day of play – a day that’s full of little tutorial quests I wasn’t particularly enthused to have to repeat.

While I realize it’s a lot of potentially polarizing elements, there’s a pretty neat little life sim game here. You’ve bought a (possibly) haunted mansion in the town of Ambrosia, and in this weird little town, cooking is king. Not only is it one of the main ways of making money, it’s a pretty key component of settling conflicts. You’ll likely win your first cooking contest handily, but it will also attract the attention of the local culinary guild, who’ll pay you a visit and inform you that you’re required to pay a fairly steep registration fee if you plan to cook professionally – which you obviously plan to do!

In order to make enough money to pay the fee (and also, to get yourself a real bed instead of a wooden board), you can choose to grow crops, forage and gather, or do quests for the inhabitants of Ambrosia. If you’ve played farming-focused life sims in the past, the mechanics will all feel pretty familiar, although the cooking part is fairly unique, in that you’re looking to create synergies, stir at just the right moment to collect maximum flavor elements without sacrificing a scrumptious aroma, and taking care not to overcook anything. The explanations aren’t super-clear, but new concepts are introduced slowly enough that you shouldn’t get overwhelmed.

I don’t know if Epic Chef is a game I’ll be going back to anytime soon, mostly because of the stingy save points, because I’m of the opinion that any game that forces you play more than 15 minutes or so without an opportunity to save doesn’t fit my life. However, I was enjoying it enough that without this particular pet peeve, I probably would have stuck with it. Obviously, if you feel the same, this isn’t going to be your favorite game in this month’s Humble Choice, but if you’re okay with some vaguely unsettling character models, irreverent humor, and infrequent save points, there’s a fairly interesting game here.

Quick Look – Industria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Look – Shapez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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