Developer: Awaken Realms Digital Release Date: May 27, 2021 MSRP: $19.99
Deck-building roguelites are far from my favorite genre, but it feels like they’re very popular, at least if you’re going by how many get made. I usually am put off by the amount of constraints put on the deck-building part of the game, and annoyed by the randomness of the roguelike parts. Both of these irritants are present in Tainted Grail: Conquest, but there’s something about the atmosphere of the game that kept me playing longer than I needed to.
Set in the world of Arthurian legends, your character is part of a group of refugees who have settled in a land where the Wyrdness is all around. After a bit of introduction, accompanied by some beautiful artwork, you meet a creature who tells you that you’ve been saved from death (sort of) and put into a world between time in order to help save others and rebuild from some catastrophe that isn’t really explained at the outset. Initially only one class is available to play – the Wyrdhunter – and with very little preamble, you’re dropped into the world to try to conquer the monsters of the world and save others who are in the same state as you.
This will not happen quickly. In fact, I think it took until my third run to save my first villager, the Blacksmith. At this point, Runestones come into play. Runestones are slottable items that give benefit to your character through that run, but do not persist through death. The more villagers you rescue, the more options you have for preparing your character when starting out, but having to constantly restart with very little carrying over may frustrate some players.
Combat is pretty standard deckbuilder fare – you have limited energy per turn, and can choose your actions from cards that are randomly drawn from your deck. As you win fights, you gain experience and levels, which allow you to add more cards to your deck and choose more perks for your character. I did appreciate that mousing over your opponents allow you to see what types of things they do, and the icons that tell you what they plan to do on their next turn; I rarely felt like I was defeated by not understanding my opponent, only by not having the tools available (or the skill to use them) to be victorious.
I found I started enjoying the game significantly more once I’d done enough with the Wyrdhunter to unlock the second class – The Summoner. Although still not my preferred character archetype, I vastly preferred playing with minions and magic than with a big sword, and I feel like the game does itself a disservice by not allowing the player to select a starting class of their choice from among the three schools (melee, magic, or ranged damage). Although the Summoner starts with a lower base health, having minions to soak up some of the damage meant that I emerged healthier from most encounters, and was able to progress further, as healing availability mid-run is extremely limited.
I personally find it hard to engage with story in roguelites, because it trickles out oh-so-very slowly, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the gameplay of Tainted Grail: Conquest. I played for a little more than two hours, and only managed to rescue two villagers, and didn’t even come close to being able to beat the first boss. While this snail’s pace meta-progression is probably really great for people who like to get a lot of playtime from their games, for me it doesn’t take too long for it to feel tedious.
SteamDB estimates that Tainted Grail: Conquest has sold somewhere between 111,900 and 307,800 copies on Steam, which feels like really good sales numbers in an over-saturated genre. It is ranked 274 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.
I’ve never been one for console gaming or handhelds. I dithered back and forth about getting a Nintendo Switch for so long, someone else made the decision for me and gifted me one. I liked it, but the idea of rebuying games I already had on PC frustrated me, and in the end, I used it far less than I had hoped I would. I toyed around briefly with streaming games from Steam to my iPhone, but I just didn’t find it to be a good way to play – I wanted a Nintendo Switch feel with the abundant library I already owned.
So when reservations opened up for the Steam Deck, it was an absolute no-brainer for me. Even if they’d made their original release estimate, I had plenty of time to save up. Less than an hour after reservations went live on July 16th, 2021, I’d secured my spot in line for the mid-level device. On April 28th, 2022, I received notification that my Steam Deck was available for purchase.
I paid for it that afternoon, and received my shipping notification on May 2. When the FedEx truck showed up on Thursday, May 5, I met the driver on the side of the road. I didn’t want that box sitting on my porch for even a second. It was a package I’d been eagerly anticipating for the better part of 10 months.
What Comes In The Box
A lot less than you might think. There’s a USB-C A/C adapter, which is the permanent plug kind, and not detachable. If I want to connect my Steam Deck to my computer (say, to transfer screenshots), I’ll need a separate cable. Or if I want to use it plugged in or charge it in one of the 86 spots in my house that I don’t have access to a wall plug, but instead to a USB hub. Or if I want to get a battery pack for it. It seemed like a bit of a weird choice, to be honest, and is probably my least favorite thing about it.
There’s also a really nice, solid case, and then the machine itself. Oh, and a piece of paper with the following instructions: (1) Plug in, (2) Turn On. No other documentation. I realized printed manuals are not really a thing anymore, but I miss them.
Of course, there were patches right out of the box, and it was a good few hours before it was fully charged and ready to use. Logging into my Steam account was a breeze, and initially, I left all the settings on default. I’ve since turned off adaptive brightness, and nudged down the default max frame rate slightly because I really, really cannot tell the difference. That seems to have made a huge difference in my biggest complaint; battery life seems to have improved significantly with those small changes
I’ve installed a good handful of games so far, a few of each that are Verified, Playable, and Untested (which is the majority of my library, but that number is slowly ticking down each time I check it). I’ve decided – at least for now – not to mess around with anything that Valve has decided is currently unsupported. Although there’s a few games that I think would be great on handheld that fall into that category, I don’t feel like choosing games that someone has already decided don’t work right is the optimal way to enjoy my time with the Steam Deck.
As for what I’ve actually played on it thus far, the answer is – not much.
The first game I tried out was Loop Hero, which is listed as Playable. I initially found it really difficult to read the font, but quickly remembered there are in-game options to change the font, and using anything except the default was a vast improvement. It was a crash-course in using the touch pad – I hadn’t considered just how much “click & drag” that game entails.
Although I don’t plan on going outside of the Steam interface to do any messing around, I did manage to use the Deck to stream a non-Steam game that I had added to my library while on my PC. I played a bit of The Wild At Heart, which I downloaded from the Humble launcher, and added to my Steam library via the install location. Though you cannot directly copy files over this way to have the game on the Steam Deck and play it on the go, streaming from my PC to the handheld was a near perfect experience, with only one noticeable moment of lag in about an hour or so of play. Since I mostly plan to use my Steam Deck in my home but away from my desk, I absolutely plan to use this workaround on some games I own on other platforms (like Itch.io and GoG) where I’ve had success in the past adding games from them to my library.
I fully intended to try a bunch of different titles out over the next week or so, but just about every time I’ve picked up my Steam Deck, I’ve found myself working on yet another playthrough of Bugsnax. I do not need to play through the game a third time, although I appreciate getting those sweet sweet achievements on Steam now too. I am finding that it’s a good way to learn the controls – it’s a game I’ve played very recently with mouse and keyboard, so translating that knowledge is actually teaching me a thing or two.
Now, not having a lot of experience with handhelds, and just slightly more with controllers, I’m maybe not the best person to talk about this, but everything seems to work just fine. The trackpads are going to take some getting used to, but they seem very responsive, the thumb sticks behave the way I expect, the buttons all work fine, as does the D-pad. There are four buttons on the back that can be programmed, but I’ve just mostly ignored them and let the machine decide what the buttons do in any given game. I’m finding that going in with very little expectation of what the buttons should do has served me well thus far, and I keep forgetting that it’s also a touchscreen, because I haven’t felt like I needed to use it.
The sound that comes out of the machine is perfectly adequate, but I also had no issues pairing it with my Bluetooth headphones. I haven’t attempted to connect any other peripherals to it, nor have I bought any sort of dock or USB-C hub for it. I did splurge on a package of screen protectors, and a couple of USB-C cords as well as a couple of USB-C to USB-A adapters. My first attempt at using one of those cords to charge it didn’t actually work, but I was trying to charge it through my bedside lamp. The cord works ok in the USB-C port of my power strip at my desk, but I get a “slow charge” warning. For now, the plug it came with seems to be the best option for passthrough play, and if I attempt any lengthy gaming sessions, I’ll certainly want to be plugged in.
I’m still not 100% sure exactly what types of games I will gravitate towards the most – I had intended for it to be a way to play some of the more casual titles in my library on those days that sitting at my desk was particularly hard for one reason or another. That may still be where it sees the majority of its use, but I can see myself doing some more “serious” gaming on it once I get a better handle on all the controls. It’s certainly not going to replace my PC, but it’s a very nice little side machine.
Will it be a machine that makes me fall in love with platformers? Probably not, but I expect I’ll at least need to try some out eventually.
I’m definitely glad I bought it (and glad that I got it delivered, on time, and with no issues), but a few major changes in my circumstances over the past few months have meant I’m not spending as much time with it as I had expected to. Firstly, I’m moved into my new space, which means I’m in a quieter and more comfortable space for my gaming time already. Secondly, I started a little blog project a few months ago, which means I’m playing a little bit of a lot of games, and given the amount of time I’m spending both playing and writing about these games, I want the simplest way to have screenshots available.
(I have learned how to take a screenshot on the Steam Deck, I’m just not sure what is the best way to move them to my PC for writing. Right now, it seems like A Process, and I’m just not feeling it.)
Overall, I don’t think I can say that it’s absolutely everything I wanted it to be – but it’s better than I really expected, and it’s hard to complain about that.
Developer: DigiTales Interactive Release Date: May 20, 2021 MSRP: $15.99
Full disclosure: If Lacuna hadn’t been part of the December 2021 Humble Choice, I never would have given it a second look. Although I like detective games in general, I don’t play too many point and click adventures. I’m really not a big fan of pixel graphics, and I really don’t care for reading in a pixel-heavy font. I also tend to avoid sci-fi plots, even if it’s fancied up by a bit of noir. It just didn’t really look like a game that was going to do it for me.
Well, an hour and forty minutes in, and I’ve completed the first act, and had to force myself to stop playing in order to do a Quick Look. I guess that’s what I get for making assumptions and putting things off until the last minute.
After a short prologue (which I really really hope has more relevance later), you are put into the shoes of CDI Agent Neil Conrad, who is pretty much a typical noir protagonist in a futuristic world. Your agency has been tasked with protecting a diplomat, and while you are off-shift, you get a call telling you he’s been assassinated in the villa where he was staying. You rush over to meet up with your partner Gary to try to figure out what happened and who is behind it all.
As you examine evidence, interview witnesses, and draw conclusions, your cell will be invaluable. Not only does it store a log of everyone you talk to, and every clue you examine, it’s also where you submit your findings via multiple choice sheets. Getting to the right answer should be simple enough, provided you don’t miss anything, which could be easy to do depending on the choices you make while investigating.
Of course, the interface also provides some clues to the player as well as the player character. If you’ve missed a clue somewhere, you’ll see a question mark in your interface, indicating that you haven’t quite found everything you should be looking at.
I personally wasn’t overly invested in the big story, but if you are, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about the world by downloading news stories from terminals. However, I was hooked on the smaller stories, and the moral quandaries Agent Conrad finds himself in at just about every step of the investigating. I’m not sure if you get all the clues regardless of whether you decide to follow your heart, or just follow protocol, but whatever path you choose, you’ll be committed to it. Lacuna has a single autosave system, so there’s no going back if you feel like you might have missed something.
That’s a quirk I thought I would really dislike, but it certainly adds to the atmosphere and the feeling of actually being a part of a high stakes investigation. Save points are frequent enough that they won’t make you feel as if you’re being held hostage, but with a three act structure, and a story that is likely to last somewhere around 5 hours, I’m not sure how eager I would be to dive in for a replay. Multiple play throughs look mandatory, however, if you’re chasing achievements, as some seem to be completely contradictory based on binary choices.
It’s definitely an interesting take on the adventure game formula, and the detective gameplay is compelling enough (if not overly challenging). It’s listed as being playable on the Steam Deck, so I may finish up the story that way, provided I don’t find the pixel-font too difficult on the eyes on a smaller screen. I definitely want to see how the story ends, although I don’t anticipate too much difficulty with the whodunnit portion – being thorough should be all that it takes to solve the crime.
SteamDB estimates that Lacuna has sold somewhere between 21,200 and 58,200 copies on Steam. Although I didn’t think I’d care too much for this one, I’m going to join almost 95% of reviewers in giving it a thumbs up. It is ranked 264 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.
Developer: DoubleMoose Games Release Date: May 20, 2021 MSRP: $14.99
I’m just going to come right out and say it – I likedGoat Simulator. It’s wildly outside my typical gaming genres, but I was surprised by just how much there was to do in the game, and how little of it was required in any way. So when I originally played the demo for Just Die Already back in June of 2020, I was anticipating more of the same.
If it hadn’t been part of the 2021 Yogcast Jingle Jam Bundle, I might never have given the game another thought. Since it was already in my library, I decided to give it another chance – it certainly wouldn’t be the first time I enjoyed a game more upon revisiting it. Sometimes, whether I enjoy something has more to do with my current state of mind and mood than with the quality (or lack thereof) of the game.
Disclaimer: At least of one of the screenshots I’m going to be including is heavy on the cartoon gore. If that bothers you, you might just want to skip the rest of this post – just know, you’re really not going to enjoy the game either. Cartoon gore is most of what it has going for it.
There are four playable characters to choose from, and they seem to only differ in appearance, so choose whichever one it will bother you least to see maimed over and over. You’re likely to cut off a hand (or worse) before you figure out how to get out of the room you’re locked in at the start of the game. Once you manage to enter the retirement home proper, you’ll find you’re still locked in. The only way to escape is to get yourself thrown out. It’s not terribly difficult, but it might be awfully gory, and by the time you’re tossed out on the street, you could be missing an appendage or two.
Which is, pretty much, a big part of the game. At its core, Just Die Already is a ragdoll physics sandbox. Shortly after being removed from your former living arrangements, someone hands you a “Bucket List” – completing objectives on your Bucket List will unlock cosmetics and usable items. It may also grant you tickets, which you’ll need to collect at least 50 of if you want to hit up a vending machine for a retirement package to Florida.
This isn’t a game you’re going to be playing for a deep, meaningful story that will stay with you. No, this is a game you play when you want to see cartoon old folks broken and bleeding in new and interesting ways. You can respawn anytime you want, or you’ll automatically respawn if you run out of blood or removable body parts. Which is to say, you’ll be dead (or nearly so) quite often. Everything in this game wants to break you.
In fact, there are certain places you cannot access unless you’re missing the correct limbs, and if you want all those tickets and cosmetics, you’ll want to go everywhere. There are some definite puzzle components, not just in how to maim yourself correctly to get past locked doors, but as you visit new areas, new Bucket List items get added to your journal, and figuring out how to complete the tasks does have some definite puzzle-game vibes.
For me, the puzzle parts and the collectible parts were not enough to compel me to play through the game. I felt like the floppy controls were the complete opposite of what I would want in a physics based puzzler, and the “humor” of it all just wasn’t to my taste. Watching granny drop trou and urinate on a live wire just doesn’t do it for me. I found I was frustrated more often than amused, and for me, that’s just not a recipe for a satisfying evening of gaming.
SteamDB estimates that Just Die Already has sold between 31,200 and 85,900 copies on Steam. Reviews seem to indicate that most people knew what they were getting into, and they were there for it. It is ranked 2333 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment Release Date: May 14, 2021 MSRP: $29.99
I seriously considered skipping over this one entirely. I still haven’t gotten around to playing the original Subnautica, although it’s been in my library since its inclusion in the Humble Freedom Bundle, back in February of 2017. However, since the description led me to believe this is an expansion of the universe rather than a direct sequel, and since the game was available as part of XBox Game Pass, I decided I’d give Subnautica: Below Zero a chance to sell me on underwater exploration and base building.
There are four difficulty levels to choose from. I knew I wanted to check out the story, so that ruled out Creative. I’m starting to think I maybe only like the idea of survival games, and I often find that managing hunger and thirst is the least compelling part of the gameplay, so I decided to go with Freedom, although I appreciate that there’s multiple ways to play this one based on what the player finds appealing.
The story sets you up to go looking on an arctic alien planet for your missing sister. This isn’t a sanctioned rescue op; you have no support and you’re pretty much on your own after your shuttle crashes. Thankfully, the underwater drop pod deployed in time, and that will be your initial home base from which you can start collecting resources, fabricating new items, and unraveling the mystery surrounding your sister’s disappearance.
The beginning of the game is very slow – you’re not given much for guidance, and you lack even the most basic tools needed to survive underwater. I think the early game exploration would have been less tedious if I didn’t have to swim to the surface every few minutes to replenish my air. Between that, and 3D navigation not really being my strong suit, the first half and hour or so was painful.
Once I started discovering the resources I needed to make a scanner and a survival knife, things started to pick up. I was then able to use the knife to obtain the materials I needed to make a basic oxygen tank, which is still an agonizingly small amount of air. I was starting to explore further from base, when unexpectedly, a sea monkey got all grabby hands and took my scanner. Another took my knife. I needed to head back to my pod to make new tools, and I managed to completely lose track of the place I had been where the story was starting to actually progress.
While I can see why this series of games is pretty much universally liked, I don’t think I will personally be going back to either game. I definitely struggled a bit with some motion sickness, although I didn’t spend too much time adjusting settings to see if I could do anything to mitigate it. Really, the turn off for me was the navigation and the O2 management – I was just getting turned around to easily when I surfaced, and I 100% acknowledge this is a me-problem and not a flaw in the game.
Subnautica: Below Zero is probably the most commercially successful game I’ll look at for this project. SteamDB estimates it has sold somewhere between 1.29 and 3.55 million copies on Steam. Over 90% of the reviews are positive, and it’s easy to see why – it’s a beautiful, captivating game. It just wasn’t right for me. It is ranked 188 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.
Developer: Henagames Release Date: May 20, 2021 MSRP: $1.99
Polyville Canyon is a game that should, in theory, check a whole bunch of boxes for me. Bright, colorful color palette? Check. Chill gameplay? Check. I get to build things? Check! I used to play a lot of pure city builders when I was younger, but I bounced pretty hard off of both Cities: Skylines and the most recent Sim City. Still, I felt $2 wasn’t too much to gamble to find out if the genre still held appeal for me.
I feel like the answer to that is – kind of.
I chose story mode, which dropped me right into a tutorial, and man, the Polyville Canyon tutorial is lengthy for a game that basically has you plopping down roads and buildings. There’s no infrastructure here that you need to worry about – even roadways are mostly cosmetic, since they give your people (which the game refers to as Neighbors) a place to wander around. Everything you want to place costs money, again, except for roads, but you have a regular income supply in the train, as well as rewards for completing tutorial & neighbor missions throughout the game.
Experience points (XP) come quickly and easily as well. Each time you level up, you gain access to new buildings, new neighbors, and new customization options for existing buildings. Everything you place can be moved without penalty, customized for free, or sold for a little less than what you paid for it. It’s a very low-key take on the city building formula; there are goals & money, but if you run out of either one, all you have to do is wait. It’ll come.
There’s a first person view, if you want to wander around the town you’ve build, but there’s not much to do there either except click on the Neighbors to “meet” them. This enables you to see what special perks they bring to your town, and to watch a rather adorable little greeting dance.
Once I completed the tutorial, and unlocked Neighbor requests, I started enjoying the game a bit more. This will likely come as a shock to no one who knows me at all, but I like structure and goals. Building things for aesthetic reasons will always interest me less than building things because someone asked for them. Which is what, in the end, made the game a bit of a miss for me.
But there’s not much to complain about in Polyville Canyon; the sheer simplicity means that you pretty much get exactly what’s being advertised. It might be a hard sell if you don’t care for the art style, but if the idea of building a cute little walkable town without needing to worry about traffic jams, or zoning, or poring over spreadsheets, it’s absolutely worth the pick-up.
SteamDB estimates that Polyville Canyon has sold between 2,100 and 5,700 copies on Steam. Almost everyone who reviewed it liked this peaceful sandbox, and it is ranked 1196 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.
Developer: Balancing Monkey Games Release Date: May 13, 2021 MSRP: $19.99
I had been following the development of Before We Leave long before its release. I picked it up during the Steam Summer Sale last year, and, as I have a tendency to do, immediately forgot I purchased it. When one’s library gets to a certain size, it’s a thing that happens.
The appeal, at least for me, was this was a combat-free city builder. It’s a genre I really love; I like building and researching and managing production chains, but most of these types of games end up leading to periods of conflict, and I find the combat in them to run the gamut from tedious to game-ending. There are plenty of games out there that I’m sure do combat in this genre brilliantly, it’s just not why I play this type of game.
At first glance, Before We Leave might appear to be a medieval city builder, but it’s actually post-apocalyptic, and there are remnants of a former civilization scattered about. As you progress through the tech tree, you’ll be able to gather resources to make repairs to the things that were left behind and use them yourself. The initial tutorial island guides you through what you need to research in order to be able to repair a nearby ship, which will enable you to strike out for other islands, with different biomes and resources and artifacts.
The first couple of hours in most city building games are usually just spent learning the systems and information available to you, and that’s also true here. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I also feel like it does most things in a manner similar to most games in the genre. You’re learning the details, not the concept.
I think this would be a game I would really love, except for one thing: roads. The game uses hex grids and the maps are fairly small, so roads feel like they take up a lot of usable space. If it were just about movement penalties (or not getting movement bonuses), it might not be so bad, but pretty much everything in the game needs to be connected to a road. When you consider there’s also things like forest titles (which are your renewable source of wood), and biomes where crops can only be grown in a few places, it doesn’t take long to start resenting every inch of space that roads are taking up.
Outside of that one gripe (which I’m sure I would learn how to manage better with time), I found myself really liking just about everything else about the game. The art style is charming, and the music is good overall (although it started out with a track that was less music and more people mumbling which I could have done without). The tech tree makes as much logical sense as tech trees ever do, and the idea of giving buildings bonuses based on what they are next to seems like it will add a great additional layer of strategy.
I also really appreciate the range of playstyle options available. When you create a new game, you have quite a few settings you can tweak to your liking. If you’re looking for more challenge, you can decrease the number of resources available, or increase the rate of pollution or building costs. If you just want to chill out and watch your citizens work and explore, you can make that happen. There are also a handful of challenge-style scenarios, recommended only for players who’ve become familiar with the game, but they’re not locked behind anything, so you can even start there if you’re so inclined.
Pacifist city builders might be a bit of a niche genre, but SteamDB estimates that Before We Leave has sold between 20,900 and 57,500 copies on Steam. It was also part of the February 2022 Humble Choice, and it is ranked 2474 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.
Developer: Power Struggle Games Release Date: May 7, 2021 MSRP: $12.99
Usually, I am drawn to simulation style games because they can be the ultimate kind of chill experiences, and I prefer a relaxing game to a stressful one almost all of the time. However, over the past several years, we’ve started seeing more dystopian job simulators showing up in the indie games space, and although I haven’t played too many of them, the only one that came close to the level of pressure I felt playing The Invisible Hand was when I briefly checked out Papers, Please.
Of course, I don’t think too many people think about professional stock trading as a relaxing job to have. The Invisible Hand has, at least for me, the most anxiety-inducing introductory cut scene of anything I’ve ever played. You’ve got the trade screen in front of you, text boxes are popping up all over your screen, all the stocks are falling fast, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
I was actually relieved when my onboarding session for a new job at Ferios Capital consisted of one of those multiple choice quizzes morality quizzes. The right answers were even pre-selected for you (and I still managed to botch it before I realized that). All the while, your new boss is telling you how much the job is not really about following any of these rules; rather, expect to do whatever you can get away with that makes you the most money. I particularly appreciated the difficulty option that lets the game choose your difficulty and not tell you. As soon as I clicked confirm on that, I realized I was all in for Daytrader Anxiety Simulator.
In reality, the game does a pretty decent job of introducing you to various stock market concepts one at a time. I’ve never been in a financial position to play around in the stock market, and in truth, I was never really all that interested in it. I cannot imagine doing this as a career. I absolutely understood the entire time that I was only playing a game, but man, watching things I spent virtual money on not go the way I was hoping and trying to decide if I should wait it out or cut my losses actually had my heartbeat going a little fast.
As you progress through your career, the game repeatedly pits you against other employees, with a profit target you must meet before your competition or be fired. And someone gets fired most days. Cutthroat isn’t a strong enough word for FERIOUS Capital. Still, in case you haven’t realized that this is NOT a happy place to work, you’re reprimanded by your boss for keeping a personal photo on your desk. It’s all about the money, honey, and everything else is just a distraction.
I’ve probably said it a hundred times on this blog, but I don’t particularly enjoy hard games. I managed to work my way through two promotions, but I can’t say at any point I was having fun. I couldn’t even let myself root for the playable character (who you know almost nothing about) because everything about the job and the company and even your friend who got your foot in the door felt profoundly icky. Which I think was the point, so good on you Power Struggle Games. I may not have liked anything I was feeling while playing, but The Invisible Hand definitely made me feel things. I’m not sure what draws people into dystopian job sims when so many people are living dystopian job realities, but any time that playing a game really affects you, that game has succeeded.
SteamDB estimates that The Invisible Hand has sold somewhere between 5,700 and a 15,700 copies on Steam. Reviews are Very Positive overall, and it is ranked 2451 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.
Developer: Goblinz Studio Release Date: April 29, 2021 MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: I messed around with Legend of Keepers for a little bit last month when I noticed it was available on Utomik, and much to my disappointment, I didn’t immediately love it. I almost decided not to revisit it for this project, but there have been many games that I didn’t much care for the first time I tried them and then, upon giving them a second look, really clicked with them.
I think the initial disconnect for me was between the game’s store description and the actual experience I had while playing it. I usually associate dungeon management gameplay with building things; that building component is pretty much completely absent from Legend of Keepers. Instead, the layout of each dungeon is pre-determined, usually containing two trap rooms, two monster rooms, a spell room, and a boss room. The tutorial level contains only one of each.
Each battle week starts with a preparation phase. During this time, you can inspect the heroes who will be showing up to plunder your dungeon. You choose which traps to place in trap rooms, and which monsters to place in monster rooms. Spell rooms and boss rooms are unaffected by preparation; you can choose which spell to use when heroes arrive, and the boss is always the “playable character” of the scenario, which in the first level is Maug.
However, most of your in game “weeks” will be spent doing other things. Usually, you have a choice between two or more options, most of which are potentially beneficial, provided you have the resources to take advantage of them. Resources are primarily gained when you defeat a party of adventurers – you get blood for killing them, tears for scaring them off, and gold regardless of how you deal with them. I admit that I might be Doing It Wrong, but I feel like you cannot possibly gain enough resources to take advantage of all of the opportunities presented to you.
That was just one of my frustrations, however. Your creatures and traps only level up through opportunities, not through use, which felt a little weird to me. Pouring resources into training can be frustrating, because monsters take morale hits when they die (and they will die). If you don’t take them out of rotation before their morale hits zero, they’ll suffer burnout and be unusable for 10 weeks, which means you can just keep throwing your highest level monsters out there without consequence, and you won’t be able to level up too many monsters with the amount of gold you’re bringing in unless you’re particularly lucky.
I understand that a critical component of roguelite games is failing repeatedly to gain persistent advantages, but unless you’re really unlucky (or playing really poorly), a failed run will probably take upward of an hour. I just wasn’t enjoying the game play loop enough to dedicate that kind of time. I think I perhaps would have enjoyed this more if it weren’t a genre mashup – the tactical strategy component would have felt more satisfying if I felt like I were being set up to succeed rather than to fail.
Of course, I didn’t find the difficulty sliders & settings until I was almost through my entire run, so perhaps dialing some of that down would have positively impacted my enjoyment. For the most part, I don’t like my games too hard, so having these options is fantastic; I just wish they’d been a little more upfront with them as you cannot adjust any of these things mid-run.
I lasted 38 weeks, which means I lost on the final battle. Which is pretty much what I was expecting.
For players looking for a tactical roguelite experience with a side of management, I can see this game being a great pickup. There seems to be oodles of content, including two paid DLCs (with a third announced for this summer), and multiple free updates since release. However, if you’re overly put off by randomness that can either doom or save a run, you might want to give this a pass – it does you no good to understand what you need to do if you can’t acquire the tools to do it, and I can see that definitely being a problem more often than not due to the sheer variety of creatures and traps in the game.
I played this game through Utomik – the version available there includes the first DLC Return of the Goddess. If this one showed up in a Humble Choice (or another bundle), I would most likely add it to my library – after my second play session I felt like I was on the verge of getting it, and I’d love to play around more with the customization options. It felt like a really well constructed game, I’m just not entirely sure this genre mashup is what I’m looking for.
SteamDB estimates that Legend of Keepers has sold somewhere between 65,200 and a 179,400 copies on Steam. It’s currently on a half-price sale, which may account for it’s fairly high concurrent player count. Reviews are Very Positive overall, and it was easily in the top 5% of Top Sellers in 2021. Still, the negative reviews it has gotten hurt its overall rank, which is 1517 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.
Developer: Mens Sana Interactive Release Date: April 30, 2021 MSRP: $1.99
Island Farmer is the middle child in Mens Sana Interactive’s minimalist farmer series of games, and eschews the logic elements of the other two games. Instead, this game is part jigsaw puzzle, part memory game. The game shows you what your island farm should look like, then you hit play and the pieces get scrambled so that you can click and swap to put it back together properly.
It’s as simple as it sounds, but the graphical style is lovely. It’s a low-stakes Zen sort of experience; there are no timers and no move limits. When pieces are put back where they belong, they sparkle lightly. If you can’t remember exactly how the level should look, there’s a picture button at the top of the screen which will show you an overly of the properly arrangement. It would have been nice to have a distinct sound effect for when a tile snaps into the correct spot (rather than the generic one that you hear every time you complete a swap), and the sparkle effect could be a bit more noticeable, but if you like the concept, there’s really nothing here to dislike.
Steam achievements indicate that there are 28 levels, eight of which were added after the game’s release. I was in no rush, and completed about half that in a little more than an hour, so you can expect the entire game to take somewhere between 2-3 hours, depending on how quickly you work, and how good your visual memory is. That seems reasonable enough for the low price point. It’s not deep gameplay, but Island Farmer is a lovely experience, and a perfect coffee break sort of game.
SteamDB estimates that Island Farmer has sold somewhere between 4,100 and a 11,300 copies on Steam. It’s rated Very Positive, with the handful of negative reviews mainly complaining that the game isn’t something other than what the description indicates. It is ranked 735 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.