Going Nowhere During #WayForwardMarch

Well, at least I can say I tried, right? Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse looks absolutely adorable, but it’s way too platform-y for me. I tried with the keyboard; I tried with the controller. I thought that maybe – just maybe – I was going to be able to poke my way through at least a bit of the game. And then:

Yes, this was the screen that did me in – I could get up one platform, usually make it to the topmost one, but that jump to the one on the bottom right? That one wasn’t happening. Over and over I went into the water, and former genies apparently cannot swim at all. AT ALL.

So back to my library I went to see what else I could find.

Now, Bloodrayne Betrayal is also more platform-y than I tend to prefer, but it’s the style of platformer that says “Oh, you missed? Try again.” rather than “Oh, you missed? DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE.”

What’s going to kill you here is the combat, which hey, that’s to be expected when people are charging you over and over trying to kill you. At first, it didn’t seem like there were any sort of save points, although thankfully there were checkpoints aplenty for all the times I died. However, I eventually got through the entire first “chapter” in a single sitting only to be greeted with this.

Okay, okay, I get it, I’m terrible. I probably could plow through the game given enough time and patience, but I don’t see a world in which I’d get a passing grade on any of the chapters.

Since I had one more WayForward game in my library (and no, I have no idea how I have come to have so many games that are decidedly Not For Me in my library), and in case the third time was the charm, I decided to give it one more shot with A Boy and His Blob.

And this one is – without a doubt – charming. The opening scene is gorgeous, and both the art and the music are just warm and comforting, but man, this game tells you NOTHING. Not a thing. I kind of wandered around, looking for sparkles to indicate that I was going in the right direction, and trying to avoid the black slime critters that insta-kill you on touch. I found my adorable little blob-friend, and played a bit to try out the jellybean-inspired transformation mechanics.

Unfortunately, although this one leans more puzzle than platformer, I just couldn’t get invested. Cute will only take you so far, and I didn’t even know this was a remake, so no nostalgia for me. It plays slow, and I never was really sure why I was doing anything that I was doing. I didn’t feel clever, and I didn’t really care what was going to happen next.

While it’s possible I didn’t give any of these games enough time (all told, I spent about an hour and a half combined on all three games), my library is vast, and although I can see the appeal of all three games, none of them are the right game for me. I have completely stalled out during #WayForwardMonth, and I’m okay with that.

Quick Look – Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments (#AdventureGameDec)

I had such good intentions this month.

It wasn’t even a case of not liking the game – Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is great! Early in the month, I played through the first two cases, The Fate of Black Peter and Riddle on the Rails, and I fully intended to get back to it.

But World of Warcraft has really devoured all my gaming time this month, and it’s not like December doesn’t have anything else going on. I just never managed to carve out 90 minutes or so where I could really get deeply involved with a story game after completing the second chapter.

That was, in fact, the only complaint I had about the game. I’m actually really glad it required thinking and paying close attention to the story, but that also made it nearly impossible to take an extended break in the middle of a case. More than a day or two, and I’m fairly sure I would have had to restart any given case. That said, carving out a couple hours to play through a case isn’t at all an unreasonable ask.

I loved that the game allows you to … well, it lets you totally drop the ball. Each case has a right answer, of course, but it’s also really easy to overlook something and end up accusing the wrong person (or the right person for the wrong reason). You also have the opportunity to make a moral decision at the end of each case, and that will effect the way the final scene plays out. As with just about any adventure game, there’s some tedious backtracking and some pixel-hunting, but overall, I found those things mild enough to not detract from the experience.

I absolutely intend to go back at some point and play through the remaining four cases, but this just wasn’t the time for me to play something so heavily story-focused.

Quick Look – Autonauts

I bought Autonauts on at 75% off sale last holiday season, with every intention of installing and playing it right away. Instead, it sat in my library, uninstalled until recently – I had forgotten about it entirely until it showed up in the October Humble Choice. Then, just this past week, it was also in the Killer Bundle 14 on Fanatical, and I guess that was the thing that pushed me into finally giving it a whirl.

It’s an interesting concept – you build generic robots and then train them to copy your actions in order to automate production of your colony. The tutorial is kind of drawn out, and then you are tossed off the deep end without a rope. This isn’t me complaining because I don’t know how to program very well – although it’s true that I do not know how to program very well. I expected a learning curve there. Where I didn’t expect to struggle was in figuring out what the tools do, what kind of items go in what kind of storage, and so on.

I did hunt down a good guide (which actually helped more with the programming fiddly bits than anything else), and a pretty decent wiki, and that might have been enough to slow my frustration to a manageable level, but the colonist mechanic was a huge turnoff.

Colonists in Autonauts are vaguely creepy crying naked people who need you to do absolutely everything for them. In return, they give you “Wuv”, which is the currency you need to feed into the research station in order to unlock new tech. At first, it’s not so bad. Send one robot to feed them whatever you decided to farm for food, and another to collect the Wuv they drop.

But the game is designed around meeting ever more complex colonist needs, and as you level them up by doing so, the Wuv the drop gets larger. Which is great, because research costs also increase exponentially, but annoying, because you need a storage area for each level of Wuv, which means you need a robot to deal with each level of Wuv.

I absolutely hated the colonists almost from the get go. There’s very little in-game indication about what the colonists require at each level, and you either have to guess based on what new techs your unlocking, or look it up outside the game. It’s … not ideal.

It’s unfortunate, because I think there’s a really good game here, marred by some really questionable design choices. The art style is fine, the sound design would be fine if it weren’t for the ever-present sound of crying babies, but the gameplay annoyances are frequent, at least, they were for me. This might, in fact, be due partially (or even mostly) to my weakness in programming efficiently, but I’m not sure that that’s it. Obviously, level one bots need to have weaknesses, or why would you research the other tiers, but I think at the lowest level they have just a bit too little memory, and too small of an active area. It makes the early game drag in ways I don’t feel like it should.

There are three modes, Colonization, Free, and Creative, each of which has progressively less restrictions, and might solve a lot of my problem, but I’m not sure that taking away the need to research techs would make the game any more compelling for me. I’m satisfied with having put in a dozen or so hours for the $5 I paid for it, but I acknowledge that this one just might not be for me.

Quick Look – Little Big Workshop

I was gifted a copy of Little Big Workshop during the Steam Winter Sale last year, and like most things I acquire during sales, it completely slipped my mind to actually play it until I spotted it in the August Humble Choice. Oops.

I went in with fairly low expectations – although there have been a lot of really great management / tycoon games, there have also been a lot of really really bad ones. This one is absolutely charming, but although I’ve played it pretty compulsively over the last couple of days, truth is – it’s not really anything special.

Little Big Workshop is different from a lot of management games in that it’s not scenario based. Although you have ample opportunities to upgrade your factory, the game never asks you to open a second factory, or take over a dilapidated building in another town. Where you start is, pretty precisely, where you’ll end the game. For some people that might be a point in its favor – for me, it’s a little disappointing.

If you include the tutorial, there are five sets of “milestones” for you to work towards. I have not actually finished the game yet (I ran out of money while working towards my fourth set of milestones, and decided to restart), but I’d hazard a guess that the whole thing could be finished in about 10-12 hours.

This might, in fact, be the most mediocre game I’ve ever played obsessively. There’s very little I can point to and say “This is bad.” I found a way to disable the things that annoyed me most – fixed camera angles, and ridiculous “events” that I found more frustrating than fun. The tutorial is 100% skippable and unless you’ve been away from the game a long time, there’s no compelling reason to do it more than once.

There are some really neat things here – I love setting up blueprints step by step to make the product fit the factory I’ve built. In fact, there are a lot of cool little details in the building of things. You can link identical workstations together with a billboard, and it automatically splits up tasks (mostly) efficiently. Storage areas can be pretty freely resized, you can add shelving for more space, and once unlocked, you can even attach storage areas to different machines to keep the things they need handy, or set one up near your loading bays for finished items only.

When I’m playing the game, I am completely engaged. When I step back from it, I’m not sure what kept me playing for hours. The aesthetic is fantastic. Everything else is just a little bit off what you expect from a good production management game, but not off enough to make it a full-on chore to play. Sure, your workers might be passing out because the break room is out of coffee or snacks, but someone else will just start doing their job sooner or later. They’ll be better after a nap.

I realize this is not exactly a rave review, and I don’t think the small bit of the game I have left to unlock is going to do anything to change my mind. It’s not bad for what it is – a first game from small team with a neat idea. It’s not meaty enough to be a truly great management game, and it’s nowhere near easy enough to be a good casual game. It occupies some weird in between space that I found strangely compelling, but once I’m done with it, I doubt I’ll recall it fondly. In fact, likely as not, I won’t really ever think about it again.

World of Final Fantasy and Other #JRPGJuly Adventures

It’s a weird feeling to absolutely not be able to get into something that seems to be wildly popular. It’s even weirder when I know I’ve played (and really enjoyed) other games that are styled after more traditional JRPGs, such as the Siralim trilogy.

World of Final Fantasy was my second attempt a getting into the Final Fantasy universe by coming at it sideways. After trying (and failing) to get jazzed about the MMO so many of my friends absolutely love, I thought maybe dipping my toes into a cutesy Pokemon-inspired would be an easier introduction – I’ve enjoyed other critter battlers in the past, and let’s be honest, I needed something light after Danganronpa V3.

Well, I was right that it was cute, and that it’s a critter-battler. In World of Final Fantasy, your minions are called mirages, and from my (admittedly very limited) Pokemon experiences, the capture mechanic seems to be pretty similar. In fact, a lot of the mechanics seem to be similar, and I’m at least passingly familiar with how it all works.

I gave the game about two hours, and made it to the first boss battle. Part of me wants to complain that the game is needlessly complicated, but if I’m honest, I don’t think that in and of itself would have put me off from playing. I don’t mind a learning curve. I don’t even mind difficulty necessarily, as long as it’s of the “use your brain and maybe take notes” variety rather than the “smoosh buttons flawlessly and fast” variety. In fact, I though the little puzzle switches in the dungeons were perhaps the best part of the game I had seen yet.

I think the biggest turn-off, for me, is likely more of a port-to-PC problem than anything else. For someone used to mouse & keyboard play, the keybinds are terrible; the most egregious is probably the mapping of Pause to “B”. The pause screen is the only way to get back to the main menu. More traditional menu access keys (like ESC, Tab, or even F1) do nothing.

As someone who’s spent very little time with consoles over the years, I don’t use a controller for much of anything. I will break it out sometimes, but I’m not used to it, and I can’t indulge in extended play sessions while using it. While I understand the game was designed for consoles, and therefore needs to be controller-friendly, I’m not sure why it had to be quite so keyboard-unfriendly.

I also really disliked the “Active Time Battle” system – I was expecting something more classically turn-based, and felt like the combat was a lot of waiting punctuated by super-limited decision making. I understand that for all intents & purposes that early game combat is going to be simplistic, but the delay between turns felt like eons. There are different settings for the battle system, but after poking at all of them, I still found combat overly tedious to the point where I was hoping NOT to run into Mirages to battle.

For me, nothing was intuitive, and it just made it too hard for me to get into the game of the game, even though I thought that (at least so far) the characters were interesting enough and the story had potential. It looked and sounded good, but it played like I was being punished for playing it on the wrong system.

World of Final Fantasy was my last ditch effort to actually get into the meat of a JRPG for the Community Game Along. I didn’t have the opportunity to try out everything I had under consideration, but I did at least TRY to play a couple of other titles throughout the month.

Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure was another game that probably works better with a controller, and I just didn’t find it engaging. Knowing that I was up against action combat and not loving the controls made me step back from this one after about 30 minutes.

Lost Dimension was so close to being a success for me, and because of that, is a game I will revisit in the future. Unfortunately, it’s another game with a very slow start, and with combat that I didn’t hate, but wasn’t exactly excited about either. The combination of psychic powers and the find-the-traitor mechanic are two things that really do appeal, I just lacked the patience to get to the good part.

I think my disconnect from JRPGs – even ones that are pretty universally loved – comes down to a problem with patience. I find that as I get older, as my library grows more and more bloated, and as the time I can dedicate to gaming seems to keep decreasing, I just don’t want to spend two or three hours to get to the good stuff.

I don’t want to spend my evening fighting the controls, desperately searching for a save point, or just plain not being all that interested in what I’m doing. My tolerance for exposition is probably at an all time low, which is frustrating because I like getting invested in a good story. I can respect the slow burn, but then I really need the game play to feel good to hold me over until I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

I’m not yet ready to shuffle the entire genre off to the nope list, but I still haven’t found that JRPG that makes me say “Aha! Now I get why people love this!”

Quick Look – No Man’s Sky

I have a very mixed relationship with sandbox games in general – I love the idea of just going off and doing my own thing (and I frequently do in other types of open world games), but I am also likely to get bored or frustrated with too little direction. For me, the ideal is to have Things I Am Supposed To Do with no penalty for just not doing them.

So when No Man’s Sky came to XBox Game Pass on PC, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to satiate my curiosity. I really expected to bounce off of it in 30 minutes or less. What ended up happening was that I played for two straight hours, and decided that it was something I definitely would play.

Obviously, it wasn’t a game I played back when everyone hated it, and I since I had mostly talked myself into not liking it, I didn’t follow the updates too closely. There is more tutorial here than I was expecting – every time I think “This is it, I’m going to be on my own now.” the game teaches me about something else. Even better, there’s a thin thread of story behind everything you do, so it doesn’t feel like an endless tutorial, and at any point, you can just wander off and do whatever thing you might be interested in.

So far, I’m really enjoying just scanning random things on whatever planet I end up on. I’m not as into the constant need to manage my ridiculously limited personal inventory and flying my spaceship, but with more play time, one is getting easier while the other is getting more annoying. There is a full on creative mode I haven’t tried out yet, but I’m unsure if that will actually do what I want it to anyway.

Minor irritations aside, I find myself looking forward to each new story beat, and each new planet. Although I’ve had to deal with a couple of combat scenarios, so far there hasn’t been anything I couldn’t handle (even if I did handle some of it by going really fast in another direction). I can see spending hundreds of hours just seeing what’s around the next corner, uploading data on everything I come across, and steadfastly avoiding any multiplayer components.

Quick Look – Pendula Swing: The Complete Journey

Although I played a ton of point-n-click adventure games throughout the years, my recent relationship with them has been rather rocky. They move slowly by design, and in itself, that’s not a problem for me. But endless walking from place to place, pixel hunting, inventory puzzles, and the now infamous adventure game logic usually lead to me losing interest long before the tale is told.

But I couldn’t resist the concept of Pendula Swing, which drops you into a fantasy version of the 1920s. You play as Brialynne, a dwarven hero who has been living a quiet life on a private island after retiring from adventuring. However, that quiet life is about to be disturbed when she finds herself the victim of a robbery in which the only thing taken is her axe.

If you’re the type of person who avoids side quests, preferring to get on with the main story as quickly and cleanly as possible, I’m sorry to tell you that Pendula Swing is not going to be the game for you. As I was exploring the world, I tended to stop and speak with just about everyone, and that’s the kind of experience I believe the developers were going for. Nearly every character has a story, and those small stories teach you about the world that your character has opted out of for quite awhile now.

Your journal will track tasks you have done, and tasks you have encountered that you have yet to complete. Once you’re a ways into the game, if you find yourself really stuck, you can just visit a nearby phone booth to get put back on the right track, and thankfully, you can indeed travel by map. I’m also pleased to report that in my first two hours of play time, I have yet to encounter a single place where I needed to go pixel hunting or combine esoteric items in my inventory to progress the story.

In fact, Pendula Swing feels a lot like a genre mashup to me – while it’s definitely an adventure game, there are aspects that remind me more of a visual novel, and others that remind me of role playing games. I’ve only encountered a couple of places that felt like puzzles so far, but I have also run into a couple of folks who seem to be interested in dating my character, which isn’t exactly your standard adventure game fare.

There’s a lot going on here, and for some folks, the lack of a strong genre focus might take away from their enjoyment. Personally, I’m finding the whole experience absolutely delightful. I’m not sure how far into the main story I actually am, but according to my journal, I haven’t seen very much at all of what this lovely game has to offer.

In a time where I’m struggling to find something to hold my interest, the hours have just melted away while playing Pendula Swing. It was one of the first games from the Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality that I fired up, and I’m already looking forward to Valiant Game Studio’s next title Kaleidocraft, which will be coming soon to Steam Early Access.

Quick Look – The Spatials: Galactology

I’ve always had a soft spot for any kind of game where the main objective is to build things to keep tiny characters happy, and outer space has been a popular feature of these games over the years. I cut my space-station building teeth on games like Startopia and Space Colony.

After (just barely) talking myself out of picking up Space Haven, I decided to instead dive deep into the back room of the library to see what similar games I might already be sitting on, and decided to put some time into The Spatials: Galactology to see if it would satisfy my need to make something functional in a not-of-this-world setting.

At this point, I’m about 9 hours in, and I’m on my fourth colony, so I feel like I can probably scratch the surface of a quick look. So what can you expect from your first couple hours of game time?

Inadequate Tutorials

I get it – not everyone loves tutorials, and I do appreciate the fact that all the tutorials in the The Spatials: Galactology are completely optional. Just click the X to close the window the first time it pops up in different screens, and do your own thing, if you’re so inclined. But if – like me – you don’t relish the idea of wasting a lot of time on trial and error, tutorials can be great.

The tutorials here are not great.

If you’ve ever played any similar sort of game, it probably won’t be too hard to figure out how to put up some walls, and drop some floor tiles, and install a bed. You’re probably not a stranger to doing research to unlock new build-able items, and there’s nothing particularly revolutionary here. Now, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing – it’s the flavor of these building games that differentiate them, and there’s no reason to keep inventing the wheel as far as I’m concerned.

But it’s the flair here that’s completely left up to you to figure out. Aesthetics come into play when building and designing rooms, as well as noise. Of course, better aesthetics cost more, and credits aren’t always plentiful. In my first colony, I made the erroneous assumption that bigger rooms automatically are better rooms – and in The Spatials: Galactology, that’s absolutely not the truth. If you can fit everything you need in a 2 X 2 square, go for it. Having empty space does not make for a more pleasant room, and in fact, those empty squares hurt you by reducing the relative aesthetic value of the decorations & facilities you do add.

None of this is explained adequately in the tutorials, and worse, I couldn’t even really find much information on how to build well in the games help section. My first colony was doomed by overspending on building, and being left in a position of having no real way to fix my finances because I’d ignored all the other things I needed to be focusing on as well.

A Lot to Pay Attention To

If you want to succeed, you’re going to need gobs of raw materials. In a lot of games of this type, you just buy raw materials from faceless traders. In The Spatials: Galactology you need to go out, explore nearby planets, build resource collectors, storage units, delivery centers and recruitment offices. The first two allow you to pick up resources from a given planet, delivery centers allow you to sell ONE type of item on that planet, and without recruitment offices, you’ll never get anyone applying to work on your station.

You will start off with two spaceships, and they’ll have crew assigned to them, but once you set up your initial nearby trade centers, you pretty much lose one of those ships to constantly running around picking up resources. In my second colony, resources were coming in much too slowly – I had built the required resource collectors, but ignored storage units, so each planet would only store up to five of a given resource at a time. It slowed my production (and therefore my profit) to a crawl, and since that wasn’t the only big mistake I had made, I elected to start over.

Staffing Issues

Another critical piece of information that was easy to miss (well, I missed it, so I’m hoping it’s easy to miss) was the increased demands of your crew once you start promoting them into specialist roles. While I expected they would want nicer quarters and higher pay, I did not anticipate that Diplomats would suddenly refuse to eat anything but dessert, or that Scientists would revolt if you hadn’t built a library and stocked it with books.

The good news is, that your staff will appear to work happily in their red shirts making minimum wage pretty much forever. Just because you can promote someone, doesn’t mean you have to. Keeping your staff un-promoted also enables them to do ANY job on your station. There are very compelling reasons to promote, but when in doubt, it’s probably best to err on the side of leaving them all at entry level. This was the second major issue that lead to my abandonment of my second colony – I had specialized staff that I was completely unable to satisfy. You won’t believe what these guys put in pizza (the only food an Engineer will eat).

Support for Multiple Management Styles

I know it seems like I’m really beating up the systems here, but trust me, if I thought it was awful, I wouldn’t have lasted long enough to write this post.

Although it took me a bit to figure it out, I am impressed with the range of options you have as far as management style goes. If you want to micromanage production, you have the option to create bills at any work station, and even assign workstation to specific staff if you choose. If you’re more laid back about production, you can set your stations to global and indicate how many of a particular item you’d like to keep in stock – when you hit that number, production will stop, and when you fall below it, it’ll automatically resume with no input from you. This is great for things like basic meals and purified water – you’re always going to need these items, but when you’ve got plenty in stock, your crew members are free to go do other things instead.

If you want to start specializing your workers from the get go, you can do that with manual priorities. Otherwise, leave priorities alone, and they’ll pretty much work on set tasks from most urgent to least urgent. You can manually pick up stock from the neighboring planets, or you can create an autopilot loop which will keep the goods rolling in at a regular clip.

You’re given a lot of leeway in how much energy you want to put into managing things, which is great, especially considering that it feels like you have so much more to do than your average base building game.

Goals, Quests & Random Events

There’s an ever evolving list of goals in The Spatials: Galactology. You are pretty much open to focus on whatever you like during play, but if you’re at a loss for what to do, checking the goals list might point you in a direction you hadn’t thought of. Mostly, these are very small rewards for hitting milestones you were likely to hit anyway, and in the early game, you will be getting goal notifications left and right.

There are also quests – usually one planet per system will have a quest for you at any given time. During the early game, there’s a good chance these quests will kill your people, and after a few massacres, I mostly ignore them. However, I expect once you start meeting new civilizations that don’t already love you, these are going to be a hugely important part of working on inter-species relations.

Then, sometimes, this happens.

This was the demise of my third colony. I was taking things very slowly – possibly far too slowly – and all of a sudden, evil robot overlords. Although the occasional drop into my station was handled without casualties, neighboring planets started to be invaded, breaking trade routes, and leaving me with no access to raw materials, without which I was ill-equipped to build a liberation force.

So, now, I’m working on my fourth colony. I’ve learned quite a bit about building effectively, station layout, and how to make money (hint: it’s tourism). There are definitely some things going on that feel like glitches – for example, despite having showers and soap, um, no one showers. Maybe they’ll start eventually. But the bottom line is – I’m really enjoying getting my tourist trap – I mean, colony – up and running like a well oiled machine.

If you’re the type who hates restarting, rebuilding, and figuring out things via epic failure, you probably want to give this one a pass. I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to do, and for a game with a retail price of $13 is kind of impressive. I’ve certainly already gotten more than my money’s worth – I paid $6.49 for the previous game and received this one for free when the developers decided to start over from scratch.

I know this has been rather lengthy for a quick look, and for that I apologize, but there’s just too much going on in The Spatials: Galactology to sum up quickly. It does have an early game that certain types of players will find frustrating, and you can easily find yourself up against a point of no return. It does lack the personality of some other colony / base builders, but it’s a solid play experience so far.

Quick Look – Distortions – #MusicGameMay

I picked up Distortions in a $4 IndieGala bundle back in March of 2019, added it to my Steam library because it looked cool, and promptly forgot all about it until I was looking for something to play for #MusicGameMay. Sure, reviews were mixed, but I can forgive a lot of rough edges on an otherwise lovely game. And watching the trailer, it looked like it was going to be absolutely lovely.

However, a little over two hours in, and I have to officially say I’ve given up. This was such an ambitious undertaking for a small indie studio (only four people according to the dev in a discussion thread on Steam), and knowing that, it’s not surprising that it didn’t completely come together. But what they did right, they did so very very right.

I was absolutely willing to trade a somewhat clunky character model for the breathtaking vistas you get throughout the game. I took so very many screenshots while playing because it was just that pretty. The music, and honestly, the sound in general, is also spot on, which made it easy to forgive the rough patches in the translation.

I went in being most concerned about my ability to keep up with the actual musical part of the game. I can’t sight read music, and my rhythm chops are … well … basically chop-less. However, once I overcame the initial awkwardness of the keybinds, even playing the violin felt good.

Unfortunately, not much else did.

Movement is mostly hindered by the constant perspective changes – from first person to third, then to top down, and occasionally even to 2D sidescrolling. The camera is adjustable, until it’s suddenly not, and control is wrested away (and given back) almost randomly. You can sprint when necessary, as long as it’s not necessary for more than a couple of seconds, because your character gets winded fast. It’s almost never clear where the game expects you to go next.

And yet, I wanted to keep playing. But as you enter into the second part (of how many, I cannot tell you for sure), all of a sudden, this linear adventure with light platforming and even lighter rhythm segments goes in a more open-worldy sort of direction, and I was lost.

I knew I needed to collect more music fragments to learn more songs, but I couldn’t figure out where I needed to go. Now, I have no sense of direction, so I fully admit this might be a me problem. I managed to navigate a section which I believe was the Shadowy Forest and unlock the ability to play notes in the wild to solve puzzles, but only narrowly. I bumbled around, eventually finding another song, but once I played it, I couldn’t figure out how to use the wall that it summoned. I was both flummoxed and frustrated and I knew I’d had enough.

Once I exited the game, I did something I almost never do. I went looking for a commentary-free play through. Sadly, I found that the same things that make Distortions un-fun to play also make it not terribly enjoyable to watch (not to mention, the need to pause the video when journal pages are discovered, since neither play through I found left them open long enough to actually read).

Usually, I have no qualms tossing a game a side when it isn’t for me for whatever reason, but this time, I’m doing so with a small measure of regret and disappointment. This could have been great – I think it would have absolutely found an enthusiastic audience if it were a more linear walking sim, maybe sprinkled with music puzzles. I want to read all the journal pages (and am actually considering picking up the reasonably priced DLC on offer to do just that).

I feel like the creators of this game had a very solid vision of how the story should be told, combining exploration, collectibles, puzzles, stealth, and platforming, but when it all comes together, it doesn’t hold up. It’s heartbreaking, because the art and the sound are so well done, and the story was – at least for me – compelling enough that I want to see it through, but I just can’t.

I will, however, keep an eye out for whatever Among Giants does next, assuming they don’t let poor reviews keep them down. And I may still watch the cutscene movie that YouTuber TheBlueDragon put together, and just relax into it and watch it an arthouse film in a language I don’t speak.

Quick Look – My Recommendations from LudoNarracon2020

This is part two of two of my quick look at LudoNarraCon 2020.

Looking over the list of games on sale for LudoNarracon2020, I was surprised by how many I already owned. Granted, many of those were from bundles – in fact, I can only think of a couple off the top of my head that I made a deliberate purchase of. Still, of the ones I have already played, there isn’t a single one I’d try to talk someone out of. However, I definitely had some that I enjoyed more than others, so these are my top 5 recommendations from LudoNarraCon2020.

The World Next Door

This is one I bought on a whim, played immediately, and played all the way through, but I was surprised to see it as part of LudoNarraCon. Sure, the story is very cool, but it’s the frenetic match-3 gameplay that really did it for me. I talked about it here a little after playing the demo, and for someone who likes both match 3 gameplay and a bit of speculative fiction, I’d recommend it without reservation.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

This is another game I played and wrote about back in October. I played this one on XBox Game Pass for PC, and even though I didn’t fall in love with the gameplay, everything else about the game really worked for me. So much so that when I spotted it for 75% off on the Humble store, I picked it up to go back and play around with at my leisure, and at its current price, I’d recommend it to anyone who is intrigued by the art of storytelling and is interested in the Depression-era setting.

Her Story

Her Story is a great game, but only if you go in almost completely blind. The real game here is the deductive leaps you need to make – figuring out what keywords are important and what is extraneous as you watch video clips of police interviews with the main character. It’s sort of a choose-your-own adventure movie, and you’re tasked with rebuilding the story from its component parts. The nature of the game means it’s not at all replayable, and best played in a single sitting, but it’s also a fascinating take on what video games as a medium are capable of.

Monster Prom

Monster Prom is a visual novel / dating simulation that requires some measure of strategy to get your desired outcome. Game sessions are fairly short, and there’s a good amount of replayability here. It took me a couple of passes to really start to get it, but the quirkiness grows on you, and it would be great for folks who like to hunt for achievements.

Night Call

My top recommendation, however, would be Night Call. Another game I played through the Xbox Game Pass for PC back in October, and was then thrilled to get in the February 2020 Humble Choice. Full disclaimer: I have only played through the first case (and plan to do so again when I go back to it), but oh man.

As much as I loved the detective work that was required, what really made the game for me was the random conversations of the passengers in your cab. It was a game I thought about long after I stopped playing, and for a gamer who likes both investigative fiction and slice-of-life stuff, playing Night Call is a no-brainer.

Is there a game featured in LudoNarraCon 2020 that you absolutely loved? One you hated? One you’re really looking forward to? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments, or let me know if you post about it on your own blog!

Part one of my Quick Look at LudoNarraCon2020 focused on the games I’m interested in buying and playing in the future. LudoNarraCon2020 runs through April 27th, although many of the demos & sales are available until May 2.