Quick Look – The Magister

I feel like mash-ups have become the next big thing in indie games. Take two (or more) genres of games that seem to be popular and smoosh them together. Sometimes, it works, but more often, it’s kind of a disaster, where none of the elements are particularly compelling on their own, but they also don’t fit together well enough to become something new and fresh.

I’m pleased to report that, at least for me, The Magister is a pretty successful mash-up. It takes one genre that’s already a bit of a mash-up – the card battling roguelite RPG – and adds a detective spin. I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up anytime soon, but it showed up in Fanatical’s Deckbuilder Bundle, which is still available as of the time of this post for a little more than another week.

Do not expect to win on your first play through. Not because of the difficulty; The Magister starts you off pretty easy as far as combat is concerned. Rather, it takes a little bit to figure out exactly how you go about solving the mystery. Sure, you absolutely can lose by failing in combat repeatedly, but you’re far more likely to miss things (or put them off too long) because you have to juggle a lot of different plot lines in order to discover everything you need to make a definitive accusation.

You play as one of three randomly generated Magisters, each which will have a different focus (Physique, Intelligence, and Guile) and a different flaw. I’m only two play throughs in, and I feel like the flaws are definitely under-balanced – some feel like they’re far bigger obstacles than others. As you progress through your two week investigation period, you will have the opportunity to pick up additional skills, and you aren’t restricted to the skill tree you start with, but you won’t get a lot of them, so you are never going to be able to get all the skills you want in a single playthrough. Some skills are pretty straight up buffs, others will change the way you approach battles or investigative sections of the game.

Battles are turn-based, but they move faster than I expected. You will have opportunities to recruit allies, but the only character you will have direct control of at any point is your magister. Some battles are unavoidable, but you may be given an opportunity to sneak past an encounter, or to talk your way out of it using Tactical Diplomacy (which is a different card game, only this time you have a limited number of turns to convince the other party).

In combat, you not only need to make sure the enemies die and you don’t, but you need to be aware of the time cost of cards. Each card you play that has a time cost will delay your next action by that amount of time. If it seems like a lot of things are happening in between your turns, it’s probably because you’re using a lot of time-cost cards each turn. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; after all, if you pull all your heavy hitting cards in a single hand, you don’t want to send them to the discard pile! Still, it’s a quirky kind of system, and I think I actually prefer it over a more traditional resource management structure.

In between battles, you are going to be looking for clues, doing favors for the townsfolk so that they will confide in your, and managing your finances. Run out of money, and you might be sleeping in the stables! Each area in the world that you interact with will advance the time of day, whether that be by talking to people, buying and selling items, completing a quest, or doing an optional objective. You only have two weeks to solve the case, and if you haven’t picked up enough evidence, even accusing the right person isn’t going to give you a win.

Successful runs will unlock higher difficulty levels, and although I’ve really enjoyed my first couple of play throughs, I don’t know how much of a rush I’m in to make the game harder than it is on the starter difficulty. I plan to spend a little more time learning the ins and outs of the different skill trees & flaws, but I did manage to succeed in my second play through (although not with 100% conviction). The story isn’t particularly compelling – in a lot of ways, it reminds me of the game Clue, due to the procedural generation. Still, it’s an enjoyable couple hours of mystery solving, and I’ve probably already gotten my money’s worth out of it.

Wrapping Up #SimulatorGameDec

Considering that it’s December, which is normally my month of absolutely nothing going according to plan, I really went hard on this month’s Community Game-Along theme. However, as the latter half of the month was pretty scattered, what with all the holiday shenanigans taking up a good chunk of time, I managed to play more games than I got around to writing about.

Earlier in the month, I posted some Quick Looks at The Good Life, Spellcaster University, and Planet Zoo. Since then, I have put some time into three more Sim games, so this is going to be a three-in-one quick look to talk about each of those a little bit.

I feel like it makes sense to combine these three particular games because they all fall into that subset of simulation gaming – Chore Simulators.

House Flipper

Hours Played: Just shy of 12.

House Flipper has been on my wish list for quite awhile, and is the main reason I didn’t pause November’s Humble Choice. The game starts you with some small repairs and renovations, and as you make money, you can use that buy houses. Then you can completely renovate those houses to your taste before “flipping” them, but if you’re trying to appeal to specific clients for the purpose of completing achievements, you’ll have to pay close attention to what they want. When you auction a property, it always goes to the highest bidder, so if you’re a completionist, that’s a lot of customers you have to cater to.

However, I found the that deeper I got into the game, the less fun I was having. I liked the quicker jobs missions, and eventually, there aren’t any more. I really liked all the mechanics of cleaning, repairing, and painting, but I hated picking out and placing furniture. In a last ditch attempt to bring back the magic, I picked up the Garden Flipper DLC.

This had precisely the opposite effect. I appreciated (finally) being able to mow the unruly lawns, but almost every other mechanic was either tedious or annoying. I didn’t like planting, I hated gravel, and I basically stopped weeding once I realized the lawnmower could handle almost all of them.

I did like the skill unlocks and that they were related to how much of a specific sort of work you had done. There’s a good sense of progression, but once the jobs dry up, and you’ve acquired all the skills, I couldn’t find much reason to keep playing. That said, a dozen hours isn’t terrible even if I never revisit it – which I probably will.

Viscera Cleanup Detail – Santa’s Rampage

Hours Played: Just under two.

Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage is a Christmas-themed DLC level for Viscera Cleanup Detail, which is usually about cleaning up after alien and monster attacks.

However, in this festive level, you’re cleaning up Santa’s workshop after he finally snaps. There are so many dead elves, but there are also a lot of really clever bits of not-so-hidden story here.

Unlike a lot of chore simulators, this one is heavily physics influenced, so you actually have to think about how you move, and where you hold objects you’re carrying. Most items are disposed of by throwing them in the fire, but if you accidentally (or not so accidentally) toss something explosive in one of those boxes, the consequences can be pretty serious (and also pretty gross). If you bump into a mop bucket, you will spill it, and if you drop some … biological waste … it’s going to splatter.

Viscera Cleanup Detail is a game that I wander back to every now and then, and although I enjoy my actual playtime, I almost always walk away unsatisfied. No matter how well I think I did, I always seem to miss enough to have a poor performance review. That said, this might be a new holiday tradition for me, so I’ll likely be back at it next December.

Power Wash Simulator

Hours Played: Over fifteen with no sign of slowing down.

True confession – I had Power Was Simulator on my wish list figuring I’d pick it up when it drops to bargain bin prices because I didn’t see the allure, but so many people who I generally think of as having good taste have been raving about it.

And thus, one of my friends who likes to play Steam Sale Santa with me nabbed it for me for Christmas. I wanted to try it right away, because if I really hated it, I didn’t want to waste someone else’s money and I knew I could return it.

… I have barely touched another game since Christmas Day.

Now Naithan (another person who I think of as having generally good taste), liked House Flipper more than I did, and Power Wash Simulator considerably less. It’s imminently logical – out of all the chore sims I dipped into over the past couple of weeks, it has the least interesting premise on paper.

Over the last couple of days, I have really gotten sort of introspective about why this one is proving more satisfying and having more staying power than the others, and I’ve pinpointed a few things that are really working for me (and as always, your mileage may vary with these points).

First & foremost, I adore the sound of this game. You might be expecting some happy little tunes, but what you actually get is a little bit of ambient noise appropriate to the location where you’re working, and a whole bunch of glorious water sounds. There’s a reason that you can buy a lot of different recordings of moving water in all its forms – moving water is a very relaxing sound. Once I put my headset on and turn the volume up, the chaos of everything else just disappears in the soothing sounds of flowing water.

(For those who aren’t as big of a fan, there are no critical sound cues that make listening to your own music, a podcast, or an audio book a poor choice.)

Secondly, watching things go from dirty to clean in a predictable manner (and without all the accompanying aches and pains that deep cleaning brings in my actual life) is super satisfying. I do admit the basic tools you start with make things a little tedious, and two of the spray heads are borderline useless no matter how good your equipment is unless you like washing the same area four or five times, but it isn’t long before you can be buying equipment and upgrades that improve the experience quite a bit. I tackled the first few scenarios kind of willynilly, but I have now fallen into a comfortable process for tackling different sorts of jobs.

This has had the bonus effect of greatly decreasing how much time I have to spend on a 99% clean level looking for the last few spots of dirt I’ve missed. I did really appreciate the less-than-1-percent leeway you get on each individual item requiring cleaning, because you cannot end a job prematurely – you’re there until every tiny item has been checked off your list.

Which brings me to the last thing that makes Power Wash Simulator work for me – you have a discrete set of tasks that must be completed. You can choose which nozzle to use, whether or not to use soap, and the order in which you choose to clean, but you need to clean it all, and you need to clean it well. There is no real lose condition. You’re not timed. You won’t be penalized with dripping filthy water if you choose to clean the roof last instead of first. You can hit TAB at any point and the game will show you all the dirt remaining on the level. There is no question of being able to complete the task you’ve begun.

And maybe this is a result of being someone who’s been living with a chronic illness for awhile, but knowing that I absolutely can finish the thing I have started, even if I have to walk away 20 times, even if I only have five minutes to wash something, is incredibly fulfilling. Even if it is just fake chores in a video game.

… did I mention you can save at any time? I love games where you can save at any time.

I find that I don’t want to play for more than an hour or two at a time – which isn’t anywhere near enough time to complete some of the levels – but I also find myself dipping in an out whenever I have a few minutes throughout the day. I can make meaningful progress, whether I have five minutes or fifty.

Now, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the concept, I realize that I’m a lot closer to the target market for this game than probably most gamers, so I’m not sure I’m the best person to explain why this weird little game is appealing to so many people. What I can say is that it’s a pretty excellent example of it’s genre, not overly bloated, with upgrades having significant benefit, but almost never feeling mandatory, so there’s no hard punishment for choosing a “sub-optimal” upgrade path.

Quick Look – Planet Zoo

I procrastinated on picking up Planet Zoo for quite awhile – partially, because I expected it to show up in a bundle eventually, partly because Frontier Developments adores dropping a million piecemeal DLCs, but mostly because I suspected I wouldn’t actually like it, even though I really wanted to. I’m about five hours in now – getting full stars on the three tutorial scenarios, and full stars on the first actual scenario – and I am afraid I was right. The game is great, but I don’t much like it.

I have a lot of trouble with spatial relations, both in real life and when it comes to video games. Building things from parts that don’t just snap together tends to cause a lot of frustration for me, and because Planet Zoo really exists around assembling components in your own way, there’s a big part of the game that I feel ill-equipped to deal with. It does have Steam Workshop support, and you can download just about any kind of something you might need, however, sorting through to find items that don’t require DLC you don’t have might feel overwhelming. For me personally, I just want the game to give me some basic blueprints for whatever I might need. Sure, it obviously could be better if I customized it, but give me something I can plop down that my animals, staff and/or guest are going to find acceptable and let me move on.

It is pretty, though, and the basic mechanics feel good for the most part, although I admit to getting absolutely flummoxed by where to adjust something a time or two while playing. There’s a pretty heavy focus on both education and conservation, which is great. However, like Planet Coaster before it, it leans heavily into letting you build something that looks really great to the detriment of the actual management side of things. You’re given more money than you need for the basics, and I was never losing money for more than a few minutes at a time at any point.

I’m not saying I would never revisit Planet Zoo, but for the time being, the itch is scratched and my curiosity is satiated. Honestly, if I had a little less freedom in setting up my zoos, I think I’d probably still be playing. However, despite the game telling me I was successful, my hodgepodge of ugly exhibits certainly didn’t impress me.

Quick Look – Spellcaster University

I fully admit that a big part of what I enjoy about gaming subscription services is the opportunity to try out things that intrigue me, but that I don’t actually think I’ll like. Rather than keep them on my wishlist forever, I will play them on Game Pass or Utomik, and then move on. But sometimes a game surprises me, and Spellcaster University definitely surprised me.

The reason I thought I wouldn’t like it all that much is that, like every third game released in the past two years, there’s a card mechanic, and I am so over card games. Otherwise, it sounded right up my alley – you manage a magic school, building classrooms and services, hiring staff, and creating houses to focus the studies of certain students. Meanwhile, you need to make nice with various factions, and you’ve got to work quickly, because the Forces of Evil are coming, making it necessary to move on to a new location and start again.

In campaign mode, at the end of each level, you will be awarded a spellbook to use in all future levels, the strength of which depends on how many quests you were able to complete in the previous level. You will also get a new curse, which makes things more difficult. The seventh time you do this, you need to complete a series of quests to defeat the Forces of Evil once and for all. Or at least for 274.5 years.

There are five difficulty levels, five game speeds, and challenge rules that you can mix and match to customize your experience. I played on the standard difficulty (Sorcerer), but I decreased the game speed in order to have more time on each level, and it was still challenging to try to knock out all the necessary quests. I’m just shy of 14 hours in, and have not yet managed to beat the campaign. If you fail the final scenario, however, you are given the option to replay just that level, however, I elected to start over with all the knowledge I’d gained from my previous playthrough to see if I could set myself up for success a little bit better.

It’s a quirky take on your pretty average management game fare. As I suspected, the card mechanic is my least favorite part. When you have adequate funds or mana built up, you can draw three cards from the respective deck, and choose one to keep. On the upside, it’s not actually a deck-building mechanic, rather just a vehicle for some RNG. On the downside, it’s a lot of RNG for a management game. Often, I would need a specific classroom or service, and I just couldn’t seem to draw it (or obtain it through other means). On one level, I couldn’t manage to get my hands on any of the Arcane magic classrooms, so for the majority of the level, I wasn’t producing any Arcane mana. Naturally, it was a level where more than one of my quests required me to use Arcane mana, so it didn’t work out so well for me.

Each of the available decks have an assortment of card types. Early in the level, you’re probably going to want to focus on classrooms, but you can pull decor items & pets that provide unique buffs, as well as items that buff students once they reach a certain proficiency in the related schools of magic, and cards that will improve your teachers. Pets & decor can only be placed in certain places in your available rooms, whereas items are just dropped on the school and then given to students as they earn them. Teacher items are applied to their classrooms rather than on the character sprite. If this was well explained in the tutorial, I missed it.

If that was all Spellcaster University had going on, it would probably be enough. However, there are still a couple more mechanics. During play, you may get a quest that will open up a dungeon. When you travel there, you can take four students, and progress through until all your students die (which isn’t great for your school’s reputation, by the way) or until you decide you’ve gone far enough. Each level you progress adds to the threat level, and makes the encounters more difficult. Initially, I was really bad at dungeons, so I stopped doing them for awhile, but once I got the hang of it, I realized they could really be beneficial. Dungeon encounters can reward just about any card you could get from any deck, as well as gold, mana, prestige, and reputation.

There are items you can receive for your school that will grant you reagent cards at random while you’re working on everything else. Once you have three different reagents, you can combine them in the cauldron to create a potion. There are potions that grant each type of mana, potions that grand gold, potions that grant prestige, and a couple of other utility potions. In most levels, potions probably won’t be your focus, but eventually, you’ll run into factions that pretty much require you to work with potions, so it’s worth learning what combinations do as early as possible in each playthrough. Potion recipes are randomized at the start of each campaign, so it’s not possible to go into a new campaign knowing what combinations make which potions.

Students will eventually graduate, assuming they survive that long, and you will have the opportunity to see what career they pursue after graduation. Every student that graduates has a chance to reward you with resources and prestige, and if you are displeased with the future a student receives, you are given one chance to reroll. On most levels, one of the quests you’ll have is to have a certain number of students graduate into a certain profession. While that quest is active, any student who meets the qualification of that profession will automatically be placed there, which was a welcome change to the many parts of the game play that require a certain amount of luck.

Spellcaster University is a fairly solid management game, with a lot of customization options, but it isn’t without its flaws. I’ve found myself frustrated a few times, but it’s compelling enough to keep bringing me back. I initially played through Utomik, however, it is also one of the games available currently through Prime Gaming.

Quick Look – The Good Life (#SimulatorGameDec)

Since I like mysteries, life sim gameplay, taking photographs, and adorable animals, I thought The Good Life would be a slam-dunk for me. Honestly, the game has good bones, and all the pieces should work really well together. After five hours of playtime, however, I am put off by awkward controls, unsatisfying photography, unlikable characters, and an absurd amount of mechanic bloat. I don’t expect this is a game I will be going back to.

The player character is photo-journalist Naomi Hayward, whose signature phrase seems to be “A GODDAMNED HELLHOLE” and I am so very tired of hearing her say that already. She’s been sent by her employer to uncover the mysteries of Rainy Woods, the self-proclaimed “Happiest Town on Earth”, somewhere in rural England. I think the big mystery is supposed to be about how the townsfolk turn into cats & dogs at night, and I would apologize for the spoilers, but it’s also in the first paragraph of the game description on Steam, so…

If you’re already thinking, ok, this is a little weird, I’d draw your attention to the fact that this game was developed by the same person who made Deadly Premonition, and then tell you – it gets weirder. It doesn’t just embrace its weirdness, it wears it like a badge of honor.

Then of course, there’s a dead body.

The Good Life leans heavily into adventure game tropes, which by itself, I don’t have a problem with. The Good Life should feel free to be an adventure game if that’s what it wants. However, it gets in its own way over and over with non-adventure game mechanics that are, at best, distracting, at and worse, suck every drop of fun to be had right out of the game.

There’s a lot of focus on earning money – via quest completion (both for townsfolk and for your employer) as well as from taking photographs that align with popular hashtags and uploading them to social media. Hey, a need to have money to pay of a ridiculous amount of debt is a great motivation. The problem here is twofold. One, some of the “life sim” aspects mean you’re spending money faster than you can make it (you’re going to need a lot of food, and I’ve already had to go the doctor multiple times to cure ailments), and two, quest items and necessary camera upgrades are prohibitively expensive. If you’re the type who just wants to follow the story and do quests, well, too bad, because you need to spend an absurd amount of time doing things to make pennies, and most of those pennies will probably go back into buying food so you don’t pass out from starvation.

Also, at least in the early game, traveling around the map is going to eat up a huge chunk of your day. Your home isn’t so much far from the action, but it is somewhat awkwardly placed, and is the only place you can manually save. You can conserve your financial resources a bit by cooking items you find or grow in your garden, but if there’s a way to store pre-made food in your inventory to eat while you’re on the other side of the world, I haven’t discovered it. I found myself frequently wandering away from the active storyline in order to go home, eat, sleep, shower, and check my email. Which is annoying in and of itself, but the main story will occasionally drop you into “urgent” quests, which is bad because you don’t know when they’re coming, and some are rather long. If you haven’t recently refilled your needs meters, you may find yourself stuck and having to revert to an earlier save.

But the final straw for me is that I really am tired of listening to my player character. One of the last sections I played through has her screaming “YEAH BABY” over and over to the point where I almost turned the sound off. There’s another character who shows up way too often for my taste who just screams “LOBSTAH!” over and over and I hate him. I think you’re supposed to hate him, but not enough to want to turn the game off.

Look, I’d like to solve the mystery of Rainy Woods. I really would. Even though the humor is very much not to my tastes, I am fascinated by the world that’s been built, but not fascinated enough to have to jump through all the assorted hoops that are in my way. There are a lot of hoops, and the end of each play session had me more frustrated than entertained.

Quick Look – T-Minus 30

Sometimes, I really like a game with a hard time limit. In T-Minus 30, you have 30 real time minutes to harvest resources, develop an infrastructure, and build as many rockets as you can to get people off the planet before it gets destroyed. You’re not going to save them all. You’re not going to even come close.

Including the one tutorial level, there are 10 different scenarios that, honestly, play just about the same; although I have yet to replay any so I’m not sure if they’re static or just themed. You can also generate custom maps. No matter the map you’re playing on, you have the exact same goal – build as many rockets as you can. The real longevity of the game comes from the scenario ratings – the more people you save, the more stars you get at the end of the level. There are even leaderboards if you want to see how you measure up to other players.

Unlike a lot of city building & resource management games, speed matters in T-Minus 30. It’s not a relaxing game, but the game play loop is satisfying, and I found myself desperately clicking as time ran out to try to save just a few more people.

Quick Look – PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness (#VNNovember)

It’s been over a week now since I tried out PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness. I kept procrastinating writing about it, though, because I tried to tell myself I was going to go back to it. However, I’ve now accepted that, while it absolutely might be a great addition to someone who loves the anime it’s based on, it’s just not really for me, as someone completely unfamiliar with the constructs of the universe.

While you’re not exactly thrown into the middle of a story, the game doesn’t feel like it makes any attempt to introduce the player to the setting. Maybe that’s intentional – the character I chose to play as has a very specific sort of convenient amnesia. She can still function within the world, knows the rules of this society and her job, she just doesn’t remember anything about herself. It didn’t feel like that was any sort of attempt to allow the player to imprint themselves onto the playable character – I think that the protagonist’s story would have resolved on some level in the course of playing through the story. But it’s an odd set-up – if the character isn’t invested in herself, how is the player supposed to care?

I played through the first full chapter. I liked the procedural-ness of the game – making decisions about how to investigate a case with the risk of a wrong choice getting someone killed. But I couldn’t get past feeling detached from the setting. While it seems obvious that the characters would have a full understanding of the society they lived in, and their roles within in (weird-ass amnesia notwithstanding), I would have liked something like a “previously on” to get me up to speed.

Clearly, I’m just not the target market for this particular anime spin-off. It’s just unfortunate because even in my short play time, I could see how this could have come together to make it more enjoyable for newcomers. I have a soft spot for almost all media that revolves around solving a mystery, but I couldn’t chew my way through so much weirdness to get to the meat of this one.

Quick Look – Call of Cthulhu (#HorrorGameOct)

I’m not really sure what I was expecting from Call of Cthulhu, and by that, I mean, what kind of horror game I thought it was going to be. So far, it seems to primarily be a point & click adventure without inventory puzzles (thank god), with a smidge of RPG mechanics, and some really annoying stealth sections tossed in for flavor.

Thankfully, it’s also creepy rather than being full of jump scares, which I don’t love. It captures the 1920’s Lovecraftian vibe fairly well, putting you in the shoes of a detective on the edge of ruin, taking the case no one else wants because it’s either that or drink himself to death. I’ve completed the first four chapters (the first of which is little more than a very basic tutorial with some story sprinkled in). In all honesty, I’d probably be about halfway through the game by now, but I have hit that point that most horror games seem to rely on – the “solve puzzles in a dark space while trying not to be seen by anyone” section.

If Call of Cthulhu was a “save anywhere” game instead of one that is checkpoint save only, it might not be so awful. If I had ignored the instruction at the beginning of the game to adjust the brightness until the image on the left was barely visible, it might be more tolerable. As it is, the game is not really built around stealth, and I cannot see anything and am sure that using my lighter in most places in the chapter would just get me caught sooner. I absolutely intend to dive back into it, but I am also very sure that this is a roadblock that’ll push completion out well into next month.

… not that I actually expected to finish before the weekend is out.

That said, I’m not sure that this game really benefits from any of its mechanics – the story would be just as well told in a walking simulator or visual novel. In an earlier chapter, I finally had to consult a walkthrough after failing multiple ways to complete an objective. I spent probably too much time poking around and figuring out all the pieces to a puzzle, only to fail a requisite skill-check at the end, and render all that effort moot, and it discouraged me from looking around for less obvious solutions than the most direct route. Now I feel like if there’s something that seems absolutely idiotic, that’s probably the easiest way to reach my goal.

And yet I’m enjoying it for the most part. It’s visually striking, the sound design is excellent, and the story is interesting, if slightly slower paced for all the pixel hunting and puzzle solving you need to do. I have not yet given up on touching everything the game will allow me to, because finding an item that’s useful or that increases a skill you cannot increase with character points is more common than you might imagine. The character voice acting is hit and miss, but thankfully, the player character’s actor did a really solid job.

I tend to buy a lot of horror games, but because I am an epic wimp in real life, most of them sit in my library unplayed for approximately forever. I’m glad to have taken the leap with Call of Cthulhu, because it’s the right kind of horror for me, and manages to avoid the majority of irritations I tend to feel when playing most point and click style adventure games. Looking at the control scheme, I did note there is at least the potential for combat at some point, but I haven’t encountered any yet, and while I appreciate the eventuality of being able to – maybe – defend myself, there’s definitely more scare in being armed only with a lighter and your wits.

Quick Look – Moonglow Bay

I’ve been keeping an eye on Moonglow Bay for awhile, but I really didn’t plan on playing it on release. I mean, I do love a cozy game, and collecting all the things, but fishing mechanics in games are really hit or miss for me. But when it popped up on XBox Game Pass for PC on release date, I figured I’d download it and give it a whirl.

I really really wanted to like it.

Although keyboard play is supported, I cannot stress enough that if you’re not okay with using a controller to play, you should probably skip it entirely. I’m not super experienced with controller layouts, but so far, the controller layout seems … fine. Not super intuitive, but I’m working with it. However, the keyboard controls are probably the worst I’ve encountered. It’s as if they were decided upon by someone who has never played any sort of game with a keyboard, and there seems to be no way to rebind anything. You also won’t be using your mouse at all, which might be a plus if you want to play this on a laptop with a trackpad, but it all felt really really wrong to me.

Since switching to controller, I’ve found it basically pretty playable, but that brings me to my second major gripe. I really don’t care for the art style. For the most part, I can overlook it, but all the little voxel/ Lego style people look pretty much the same to me. In a game where a big part is talking to the people in town, I feel like it’s less than ideal having them all look kind of blocky and bland. I fully admit this might just be a “me problem” but it has definitely sucked some of the joy out of playing.

You are tasked with saving the town by fishing and cooking, and then reinvesting the money you make back into the town. Apparently, your partner, who has recently been declared dead after going missing three years ago, was the only thing keeping the whole economy going. My first save suffered from the “cannot open map” bug that’s going around, so I decided to restart, and my second try was going reasonably well. Until I got stuck – literally – on the first “boss” encounter. I wasn’t overly grumpy about the weird spike in challenge to complete the first chapter, but 2/3 of the way through the encounter, my boat ends up unmovable, and reloading the save brings me back to the start of the area. Having to start over once wasn’t a huge deal, but upon realizing that I’d have to do it a second time, I decided instead to just close the game and move on to something else.

Across both saves, I put in about 5 hours, so I feel like I gave Moonglow Bay a fair shake. If it’s still on Game Pass in a few months, I may see if they’ve ironed out the worst of the glitchiness, but I’m also fairly comfortable saying that maybe this one just isn’t for me.


BARRICADEZ plays sort of like someone took a look at Craft the World and decided to make it a whole lot darker, slim down the craftable items, and get rid of some of the most annoying mechanics. As someone who has put over 70 hours into Craft the World, in spite of it’s many many flaws, I knew I had to pick this one up as soon as I discovered it.

Your avatar is a little robot, who has somehow ended up with what could quite possibly be the last human baby in the world. There are demon things who want to destroy it, but you need to do whatever it takes to keep the screaming little bundle of joy safe. Thankfully, you don’t also need to worry about meeting its normal, human-type needs, just keeping the baddies off of it.

For me, the tutorial was above average and didn’t overstay its welcome. It gives you a reasonable approximation of what is going to required from you during the main game. Collect resources and build up your base during the day, and hope it all lasts through the night when the zombies show up.

The story mode pops you into a randomly generated world with rudimentary defenses set up that will likely get you through your first few nights. Every day you receive a “report” on what to expect that evening, and for the first few days, you only have to worry about shoring up one side of your base. However, neglecting the other will have pretty dire consequences on the seventh night – I lost my first two games on night seven because I didn’t add nearly enough to the previously unbothered half of my base.

The game does give you option of replaying from a game over state while keeping your previously purchases upgrades (called engrams here), but I elected to start over twice, and the third time, having just barely been breeched, I loaded that morning’s autosave. This is not a roguelite; you are given multiple manual save slots as well as three rotating auto save slots.

It feels like choosing the proper upgrades early on can be critical – getting harvest bots online early will save you a ton of time in the gathering of basic materials. You also only start with the most basic beginner traps and walls, and all improvements have to also be purchases with your engrams, earned from defeating monsters at night, or occasionally from things you find while exploring the caves. You can pause time while building, but your harvesters and crafting machines will pause as well, and you cannot repair in build mode, so this is really only useful if you like to take your time building a crafty kill box. Which you probably will absolutely need eventually.

There doesn’t seem to be any actual manual combat – your traps and defenses need to take out the monsters when they show up because there’s very little you can do about it at that point. During the night, you won’t be able to repair things or build too close to where the creatures have already gotten. However, it can be a good time to make sure all your workshops, forges, and chemical labs are producing, and you can still reload your supply chests if you’re running low on ammo or trap fuel.

There are multiple difficult levels, and at least two separate challenge modes to be unlocked. Add that to the procedural world generation, and it looks like there’s a lot of replay value here if the mining, crafting, and tower defense loop is up your alley. About 10 hours in, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

However, the deeper into the game I get, the more I feel like some things aren’t well enough explained. It took me probably too long to figure out that steel bars come from putting iron bars through the forge a second time, and the deeper you get into exploring the caves, the harder it seems to be to do everything you need to do between nights. BARRICADEZ may not be the most polished experience, but it both looks and sounds great, and I’m finding it a lot of fun to figure out as I go.