Quick Look – I Am Fish (#JustOnePercent 86/100)

Developer: Bossa Studios
Release Date: September 16, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

I’ve played quite a few project games since the last time I threw the towel in before hitting the end or an hour of play, but I found I Am Fish to be precisely the kind of frustrating which meant that the longer I played, the harder it would be to find anything positive to say. Now, I don’t believe it’s a bad game, but it’s a very very bad fit for me personally.

I’m not a huge fan of platformers to begin with, and the types of levels in 3D platformers I find the most intolerable are the ones where your character is on or in some sort of ball. Other than the initial bit where you’re supposed to learn the controls, I was a fish. In a ball. Throwing my house off of things and dying among shards of broken glass.

I was averaging a death every two minutes, and that’s not taking into account the tutorial section and the intro cutscenes. Or the fact that the game seems to linger eternally on your little fishy soon-to-be-corpse struggling for air after you manage to roll off of something. In fact, I only stuck it out as long as I did because the first mission has you rolling towards the ocean. I thought that maybe I was going to be able to swim if I could just get through that tiny little portion of the game.

Then my fishbowl washed up on shore, and I was fish-napped by two kids. I knew then there was more rolling in my future and I was unwilling to keep on rolling.

On the upsides, checkpoints are fairly frequent – at least in the first level they were. The graphics are bright and colorful, and the controls felt responsive at least to my unpracticed hands. While I’m not sure what possessed someone to make a game focused on some of the most universally disliked 3D platforming mechanics – balls, and I’m guessing eventually, underwater levels – it seemed to me like the game was structurally sound. It just wasn’t the right game for me.

SteamDB estimates that I Am Fish has sold between 23,400 and 63,500 copies on Steam. It was also included in the June 2022 Humble Choice bundle. Reviews are mostly positive, although a few people pointed to repetitive gameplay and frustrating mechanics as reasons against recommending it. It is ranked 384 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Kraken Academy!! (#JustOnePercent 85/100)

Developer: Happy Broccoli Games
Release Date: September 10, 2021
MSRP: $17.99

My experience with time loop mechanics in games continues to be all over the place. Just over the last few months, I’ve had one experience that was fantastic, one that was downright awful, and now, I’ve played a bit of Kraken Academy!!, which has just left me feeling kind of meh.

I did get off on the wrong foot a little with this one, as the contrasting art styles of the actual game space and just about everything else in the game definitely was a turn off for me. I know a lot of people really like low-poly pixel art, but I’m not one of those people. I can overlook it sometimes, when the rest of the game is solid enough, but having to be constantly reminded that this game could have had a far more aesthetically pleasing style just made me resent walking around the game world. And I did a lot of walking around the game world.

The storyline is pretty out there, without actually really reaching the level of being comedic. Your parents have dropped both you and your sister off at Kraken Academy, a run down shell of a “school” divided into four clubs, where it seems the students do just about anything except go to actual classes. The character you play as is part of the music club, and one of your fellow club members invites you to a costume party in a couple days time. Only problem is, you don’t have a costume! So she sends you to the nearby lake, because of course that’s the best place to find a costume, right? Or at least a giant monster that tasks you with saving the school – and the world!

Apparently, there is a traitor somewhere on campus, and they’re planning to destroy the world by Thursday. All you need to do is solve the problems of four students – one per club – to release the spirits of the school to help fight off the coming apocalypse. Maybe also find out the identity of the traitor. But since there’s no way you could possible do all that in just three days, you’re given an amulet that rewinds time.

The accessible parts of campus – at least during your first loop – aren’t overly large. In fact, I think the pacing was probably the biggest issue that I had with the game. I felt like I had too much time for how little I knew, and there were very limited ways to speed things up. There are, however, a lot of side quests, but several of those seem to be blocked off behind time loop progression – I feel like I scoured all the available areas, with no signs of the required items. Sure, I might have missed something, but it seems unlikely that I would miss everything.

The three day cycle culminates in the costume party, which once you enter the area, stops the clock. You can take as long as you need to figure out what you need to do to free a spirit before you rewind time. I had planned to play completely through the first loop of the game, but partway through the mission, I felt stuck. I know there’s an item I need to retrieve, but I’m not quite sure how the game intends for me to do so. Did I miss something I needed to bring into the area with me? Did I miss something already in the area? Do I already have what I need in my inventory but I’m just not clever enough to figure it out? I have no idea.

I considered looking for a walkthrough to just get through it. The idea of having to replay the first three days if I missed something was irritating me even without knowing whether or not that was the case, and it was at that point I realized that this particular game just wasn’t working for me in any way.

There are quick time events throughout the game, but for me, they didn’t add to the experience. I set them to easy, so it’s not that I was struggling. Rather, it felt like the developers thought they needed something to make the game more game-y, but this just takes the game’s glacial pace to somewhere ever so slightly more draggy. I don’t much care for games that feel like the play time has been padded, and you can see the padding sticking out all over the place in Kraken Academy!! – there’s some interesting stuff here, but it takes far too long to get anywhere near it.

SteamDB estimates that Kraken Academy!! has sold between 8,500 and 23,300 copies on Steam. It has gotten only a handful of negative reviews, so my opinions definitely aren’t the popular ones. It is ranked 384 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – The Artful Escape (#JustOnePercent 84/100)

Developer: Beethoven and Dinosaur
Release Date: September 9, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

Going into The Artful Escape, I really had pretty much no idea what to expect. If I had a million years to make guesses, however, I don’t think I ever would have come up with anything close to what it is. It’s part coming of age story, part psychedelic platformer, with musical Simon-style mini games. Even after an hour of play, I still have no idea how to feel about it, because for me, none of the elements are strong enough to recommend the game by themselves, but when you put it all together, it’s really something rather strange and lovely.

Since I’m playing this one through XBox Game Pass, I’m playing with keyboard & mouse at my desk. However, it’s a “controller recommended” game, and it’s easy to see why – some of the key press combinations you do pretty frequently are a bit awkward on keyboard. Unfortunately, the game is currently listed as being Unsupported on the Steam Deck (which, I think for me would be the absolutely perfect vehicle for it), although there are reports of it working well on ProtonDB.

While the opening tutorial section of the game is outright dull, it picks up pretty quickly. And by picks up, I mean gets super duper weird but in all of the best ways. Both the writing and the voice acting is very well done, but the art is where The Artful Escape really shines. In fact, I’m grateful that most parts of the game aren’t too challenging, because I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve stopped to just gawk at the scenery.

I think I’d like to go back and play more of this one – it will likely take less than five hours to finish – but it’s days on Game Pass are limited, as it’s already listed in the Leaving Soon section. At that length, it doesn’t bother me much that it feels very gameplay-light, but if you’re looking for something that has stimulating or challenging game play, you should probably give this one a pass. However, if you’re intrigued by the trippy aesthetic and a bit of an exploration of strange worlds and personal identity, this one might be worth putting on the wish list, or playing through on Game Pass before it’s gone.

SteamDB estimates that The Artful Escape has sold between 19,400 and 53,500 copies on Steam. Reviews are almost all positive, with the few negative reviews primarily focusing on lack of game play elements. It is ranked 341 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Tiny Robots Recharged (#JustOnePercent 83/100)

Developer: Big Loop Studios
Release Date: September 9, 2021
MSRP: $3.99

I probably wouldn’t have bought Tiny Robots Recharged – after all, it’s free-to-play with ads on mobile, and in all honesty, it’s probably far better suited as a mobile game than a PC game. However, it was given away with Prime Gaming in October of 2021, less than a month after its release, and I admit that I don’t look too deeply into Amazon’s freebies past clicking “Claim Game”.

Tiny Robots Recharged is a diorama point & click puzzler. Although there’s no visual indicator for what can and cannot be interacted with, I never found it too difficult to figure out. Each level has three bright blue batteries to collect, as well as one more traditional style puzzle to complete. The levels are timed, and when you finish them, you’re awarded stars on the basis of how fast you completed them.

This isn’t really the kind of game you play for the story – although there is the barest whisper of a plot here. Your friends have been kidnapped, and you’re on a mission to save them. Every so often, a level is marked as a “boss” level, and although the puzzles are slightly more involved, and the visuals look more menacing, you never are in any real danger throughout.

The traditional puzzles are hit and miss. Each level has a screen which you interact with to activate the puzzle. Some are incredibly simple, like the Simon-style memory puzzle, or the one where you move a circle around a grid that only stops at walls. At least one puzzle type, I still have no idea what the game expected me to do – the two times I’ve encountered it, I’ve used the “skip puzzle” button since nothing I do seems to have any effect on the board state. A brief description of the puzzle type would have really come in handy here.

There are forty-nine levels in the story portion of the game, with seven of those being boss levels. Tiny Robots Recharged also has two other modes. The first is the puzzle room, where you can just solve a bunch of the traditional puzzles which increase in difficulty as you go. The other mode is called Outrun, which gamers of a certain age might recognize as a 3D Frogger game.

While I enjoyed the story mode, especially the cutesy 3D art style, I don’t feel pulled to continue playing, and unless you get really into the Outrun mode, I don’t anticipate it being particularly replayable. It’s fine for what it is, but there’s no denying the mobile game feel of it all.

SteamDB estimates that Tiny Robots Recharged has sold between 200 and 700 copies on Steam. The few reviews it has are positive, but it seems likely the the combination of being free-to-play on mobile devices and a large-scale giveaway less than a month after release didn’t do its sales figures any favors. It is ranked 2415 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – Milo and the Magpies (#JustOnePercent 82/100)

Developer: Johan Scherft
Release Date: September 7, 2021
MSRP: $1.99

Milo and the Magpies is a game that I almost passed over entirely after playing the demo back in 2020. Partially it was because I struggled with figuring out what I was supposed to do, but I admit, part of my hesitancy was that I basically expected the game to be priced far above what I would have been willing to pay for it. However, when I spotted that it was half price during the most recent Steam Summer Sale – and that the full price was only two dollars – I decided to give it another chance. I’m glad I did. It was a short, but very lovely experience.

You play as Milo, a cat on his way home across the rooftops – it’s just a normal day until you get scared by some birds, and have to abandon the roofs and make your way home through the yards of the neighborhood. Each area is it’s own chapter – you need to figure out how to get across the yard safely by manipulating things in the environment, solving some puzzles, and avoiding the magpies which seem to be trying to hinder your progress.

The backgrounds are detailed and beautiful, but they ended up making me switch over to my PC, rather than playing on the small screen of the Steam Deck as I had planned. It was hard to see all the details on the Deck, and the details very much matter. You are only occasionally allowed to zoom in on things, so at least for me, this was a game much better suited to a large monitor than a handheld system.

It’s also not always readily apparent what you can and cannot click on, nor is it obvious what clicking on things will do. For example, instead of moving Milo to a place of your choosing, clicking on your kitty avatar will cause him to move in a scripted pattern, which may have be nowhere near where you wanted him. This wasn’t a problem once I got used to the idea, and took my hints from those movements instead of trying to solve puzzles independently.

There are “secrets” to be found in each chapter, and I managed to get a few, but I’ll admit that I didn’t spend much time hunting for them. I would have liked to see an in-game hint system rather than being directed to a video walkthrough or the game’s Discord, and in the end, I settled for a text guide from the Community Hub on Steam when I found myself stumped, which was less often than I expected to. Overall, there’s only a couple of obtuse puzzles – most of the game makes sense, at least in that “adventure game logic” sort of way.

If you like adventure games, and you’re looking for something charming and (mostly) family friendly, Milo and the Magpies might be right up your alley. There is one scene which small children might be frightened by near the end, and there’s one pretty blatant drug reference in one of the yards you pass through, so bear those things in mind if you plan to play alongside children. The whole game probably won’t take much more than an hour to complete, but it’s really a very lovely hour.

SteamDB estimates that Milo and the Magpies has sold between 34,200 and 94,100 copies on Steam. Reviewers have almost all recommended it, and with the gorgeous art, adorable main character, and low-risk price point, it’s not hard to see why. It is ranked 38 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Kitaria Fables (#JustOnePercent 81/100)

Developer: Twin Hearts
Release Date: September 2, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

Kitaria Fables is actually a game I picked up during the most recent Steam Summer Sale, because it looked adorable and like it’d be a great fit for the Steam Deck. I’m kind of a sucker for a game where you save the world, but also take care of your home & your farm. Make no mistake, it is absolutely adorable, but man, it’s a chore to play.

The story is fairly generic. You are a soldier tasked with protecting the citizenry of Paw Village from the monsters that have started coming back, years after they were believed to have been permanently defeated. You were given this specific assignment because your grandfather once lived in the town, so conveniently, you get to live in his house. Very early on, you’re introduced to a sage who gives you a book to read, and in this way, you discover you come from a line of magic wielders, but since magic has been outlawed, what’s a small kitty soldier to do?

My answer was shooting fireballs at things, while retrieving relics from dungeons and putting down the monster uprising.

This would probably be a pretty great little game, except for one thing. Absolutely everything about it feels like it exists solely to pad play time. You don’t gain experience and level up like in traditional RPGs – instead, you grind like mad for obscene amounts of materials to craft weapons and armor and spells and anything else you could possibly thing of. This is the only way you get stronger, through gathering materials and crafting.

I may have been able to get on board with the grindiness of it all, except for one thing. The walking. Dear god, the walking. There are – very limited – teleportation shrines available, but even the walk from the town shrine to your home to sleep feels like it takes an eternity. Add in the loading screens between each and every small map segment, and it becomes very tedious, very quickly. Most places you go will necessitate walking through several areas, which of course are full of monsters, and it wasn’t long before I was attempting to just stroll right past pretty much everything because it was all taking far too long.

Even the farming elements are nothing to get excited about. It’s just more side content in a game that feels like it’s already got more side content than anything else. Sure, you can grow things to gain the good will of the townsfolk, or to cook things to replenish your health, but it’s not all that interesting, and if you like breaking boxes, you could probably just buy food throughout the entire game and not feel the hit to your wallet.

While the art & music is good, everything else about Kitaria Fables is bland. It’s not a game that will leave a bad taste in your mouth, necessarily, but rather one that feels like you’ve eaten nothing at all.

SteamDB estimates that Kitaria Fables has sold between 18,100 and 49,800 copies on Steam. More players were happy with this title than not, but negative reviews tend to focus on the excessive amount of grinding required as well as a not-very-coherent storyline. It is ranked 3141 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Lake (#JustOnePercent 80/100)

Developer: Gamious
Release Date: September 1, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

Generally speaking, I like short games, and I like storytelling that’s not too heavy-handed, so Lake should be a perfect fit for me. How Long To Beat estimates you should be able to everything the game has to offer in less than 8 hours. Considering this game – at least the first hour of it – is super light on mechanics, I was surprised to find myself wishing it had less, rather than more.

The year is 1986. You play as Meredith Weiss, a computer programmer who is visiting her tiny hometown for the first time in 22 years – at least that’s the impression I get from the reaction of the townsfolk who I’ve met thus far. It seems like you’re doing a stint as a volunteer mail delivery driver, taking over for your dad who is on vacation. Casting aside the ludicrousness of this as a premise, it seems to be a pretty charming conceit.

Unfortunately, the majority of your game time is going to be spent driving your postal truck around. Sure, there’s interactions with the townsfolk, and some (mostly expository) time spent in the evenings, but mostly, you’re driving. In Lake, small town is an attitude more than a geographical reality – the houses are pretty spread out, and for me, the driving made what should be a very chill game kind of stressful. Sure, there doesn’t seem to be any real chance of hitting other cars or any kind of penalty for parking in the middle of the road, but I would have really loved some sort of autopilot mechanic, so that I could just watch the scenery go by and listen to the radio instead of worrying about keeping all my tires on my side of the road.

Now, this isn’t surprising, as I’m not a fan of driving in video games to begin with most of the time. While I appreciate that there’s a message here of how sometimes, it’s good to just slow down, I was finding myself wishing for any way at all to speed through the majority of the game play so I could get to story, and despite liking a lot of the game’s aesthetics, I knew I wasn’t going to to be able to power through the irritating parts of this one.

Edited to add: Apparently, you can “autopilot” via the map, or utilize fast travel. I didn’t notice either of these options in my time playing, but just knowing that it is possible is encouraging and might push me to revisit the game.

SteamDB estimates that Lake has sold between 42,000 and 115,600 copies on Steam. Thankfully, most players didn’t dislike driving a mail truck nearly as much as I did, and the reviews have been very positive overall, although even some of the recommended reviews include the word “tedious”. It is ranked 828 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Cloud Gardens (#JustOnePercent 79/100)

Developer: Noio
Release Date: September 1, 2021
MSRP: $17.99

When you have a library as large as mine, you sometimes (read: almost always) forget when you bought a game. I had assumed that I bought Cloud Gardens around the time of its release, however, when I went into my account details to confirm that (and find out how much I paid for it), I discovered that I was only sort of correct – I picked it up in 2020, shortly after the early access release for just over $5. The game spend just under a year in early access, going into a full release in September of 2021.

Now, I did play a bit of the game when I first bought it – about 16 minutes, according to Steam, and what I remembered from that experience was only that I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the game, and I remember feeling like I had to be missing something. Even in EA, people loved this game. I should have loved this game. The idea of making little dioramas with growing things in them sounds delightful.

Unfortunately, two years later, and I still don’t get it.

On each level, you start with a seed. Plant the seed, and then place debris around it to encourage it to grow. As you progress through the levels, you unlock different sorts of placeable objects for the sandbox mode, and different types of seeds. Once your plants reach a certain growth level, you can harvest the flowers, which allow you to purchase even more seeds. In the lower right hand corner of the screen, there’s a percentage indicator to let you know how much more growth you need to progress to the next level.

I think that the game expects you to keep adding seeds each time a new one become available, making objects placed further into the level effect the growth of multiple seeds, but I often found myself so caught up in trying to oh-so-gingerly place the objects so they wouldn’t fall off the edges of the world, or crush my already growing plants that I wouldn’t notice my seed availability indicator light up. This often resulted in need to restart levels, as I would run out of placeable items long before I achieved the required amount of growth.

Cloud Gardens is features a pixel art style and a color palette that’s both relaxing and really beautiful, and the sound design in phenomenal. The physics of placing objects feels realistic, but I often wished it was a little less so – the maps are small, and I struggled with the camera both with a controller and with the mouse, so often an object I though I was placing just right would topple over. Placeable objects come in groups, but I couldn’t see anything that indicated how many groups you had left to assist with planning.

While it’s lovely to look at, and watching your plants grow out of the wreckage is very satisfying, for me, it lacked the a-ha! moments of a puzzle game, and was too nitpicky to feel like a really good sandbox. Which is why I think I still just don’t get it – I feel like this is meant to be a relaxing puzzler, but nothing to me felt puzzle-y enough.

SteamDB estimates that Cloud Gardens has sold between 33,600 and 92,300 copies on Steam. Although it may lack the wide appeal of more traditional games, its target demographic has really liked it, and reviews are almost universally positive. It is ranked 116 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Game Over – The Big Con (#JustOnePercent 78/100)

Developer: Mighty Yell
Release Date: August 31, 2021
MSRP: $14.99

I’m not sure what exactly is driving this wave of 90s nostalgia, but The Big Con is here for it, and goes all in. Full of neon colors, and almost-but-not-quite point-and-click adventure tropes, you play Ali, a high school student who is supposed to be on her way to band camp, but instead embarks on a crime-spree road trip to save her family’s small video store from a mobster who wants to sell it to a big corporation. You and your new partner have just a few stops to come up with nearly $100,000, which is an awful lot of money for a teenager just learning to pick pockets.

I’ll be honest, as far as mechanics go, The Big Con is nothing special. There’s the pick pocket mini-game, where you need to click when the indicator reaches the small colored section of the bar. Hit it at the wrong moment, or take too long, and you get caught. Get caught three times, and you’re going to be rewinding video tapes. Yes, you read that right. The punishment for failure is having to rewind. Unfortunately, this doesn’t clear anything – anyone you failed to steal from is still going to be suspicious of you, and if you want that loot, you’re going to need to find a disguise and try again.

You can – however – turn on an option to auto pickpocket, which relieves the game of a bit of tedium and annoyance, but also the only real game play mechanic in the whole game. Everything else is rummaging through trashcans, talking to people to find out what they want, and figuring out how to get it for them. The puzzle elements are not particularly challenging, and most of the time if you just touch everything you can, you’ll eventually get what you need to move forward.

The game isn’t overly long, if you aren’t trying to do absolutely everything. All in all, it took me about four hours, and even that was perhaps a bit long for the story it’s telling. And make no mistake, the story is the reason to stick around. Sometimes I’d get a moment or two of feeling very clever when I managed to find the thing I was looking for, and use it to extort the maximum amount of cash from my mark, but mostly, I was routing for Ali to foil the mobster and save the video store.

It certainly didn’t hurt that the entire premise gave me big Empire Records vibes.

All in all, The Big Con is a charming little heist story, albeit not a very challenging one. If you like light puzzles, neon colors, and the vibe of the mid-90s, you will likely enjoy this one. Completionists might find the single save system to be a bit frustrating, as if you miss something in an early level, your only recourse is to delete your save data (which you can do from the options menu) and start a fresh playthrough. I enjoyed the game, but not enough to want to replay the entire thing for nerdpoints.

SteamDB estimates that The Big Con has sold between 6,100 and 16,700 copies on Steam. It’s a niche title, but because the description is pretty upfront about what to expect, there’s been almost no negative reviews. It is ranked 175 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Tinytopia (#JustOnePercent 77/100)

Developer: MeNic Games
Release Date: August 30, 2021
MSRP: $14.99

City builders were one of my go-to game genres for a lot of years, but for awhile now, I’ve been really struggling to find one that scratches the itch of the early iterations of the Tropico series, or going even further back, the old Impressions city builders. It seems like either they’re far too casual (like Polyville Canyon), or they’re laser focused on realistic infrastructure and traffic issues. When I do find something comfortably in the middle – and Tinytopia definitely falls into that category – it seems like the developers can’t resist adding a quirky mechanic that sucks the fun right out of the concept.

Now, the mechanic in Tinytopia sounds great in theory. As you proceed through the levels, you unlock more basic buildings, and you use blueprints to upgrade them to better versions. Place down a single store block for a level one store, but place two next to each other, and you’ve just made a level two store. For the first couple of buildings, this actually is really fun. It’s a neat idea, watching your buildings snap together and turn into something new and different.

At least for me, it got old real fast. You only “learn” blueprints after you initially create them, and the interface which shows you how to build the next level of something is less than idea. You get a little ghost outline of what you need to add, and even if you have the “snap to object” setting turned out (which apparently needs to be turned on again each time you move between scenarios – please just give me a toggle!), it isn’t always as simple as it’s made to look.

So I figured maybe I’d just jump into sandbox mode for a bit, and just play around with how pieces fit together until I felt like I really got it. Unfortunately, that idea was foiled rather quickly.

Of course there’d be unlocks. Why wouldn’t there be unlocks?

I managed to fail a handful of scenarios by getting caught up in the loop of wanting to figure out all the evolutions of the buildings, and failing to consider, well, anything else. There’s a nifty “move building” button, but there’s a price every time you use it. There also doesn’t seem to be any sort of undo button, which I feel like this game really could have used.

In time, I probably could have learned my way around the quirks, but as a new player, it all just felt very frustrating. Which is too bad, because I really liked the aesthetics of the game – I found the cutesy art style delightful. It’s probably a title I will revisit if I really have a hankering for something a little off the beaten path in the city building genre, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was more than a bit disappointed that I didn’t find it more intuitive.

SteamDB estimates that Tinytopia has sold between 3,300 and 9,100 copies on Steam. Although I didn’t fall in love with, reviews have been very positive. It is ranked 1128 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.