Quick Look – Operation Tango (Humble Choice – May 2023)

Although I am – for the most part – a single player game kind of person, I will admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for two player co-op where communication is key. Operation Tango was a game already on my radar, but my typical puzzle-gaming co-op partner and I were unable to get anything scheduled, so I convinced my (somewhat reluctant husband to play through the first couple of missions with me. According to IsThereAnyDeal, this is the first time Operation Tango has appeared in a bundle, and it retails for $19.99.

I feel like I need to start with the one thing that Operation Tango does better than a lot of two-player, co-op required games. It does not require both players to purchase the game in order to play. As long as one player owns the game, they can direct their friend to install the free Friend Pass, and invite them to a game. Achievements are not available for players using the friend pass instead of the full game, and the person who owns the game needs to create the session, but otherwise, it allows the second player to engage fully with the content.

You’ll need to decide which of your team is going to play as the agent, and which as the hacker. I left the choice up to my husband, and he picked agent, and I was relieved. I expected that meant that I was going to be the one primarily working my way through databases and checking out security cameras, while he dealt with the actual threats, but there are definitely some places where even the hacker needs to be fast on their feet. Each mission starts with a little scrap of story, and then you’re each dumped into your side of the mission and you need to start figuring things out. You work your way through a sequence of objectives, and hopefully don’t get each other killed.

However, if you do, the penalty for death is almost nothing. You’re brought back to the precise place that you failed (or as close as you can be without getting caught in a failure loop), and any puzzles you’ve already completed stay that way. I feel like this cuts way down on the potential for one or both players to get frustrated, and I really appreciated this design decision.

I also liked that a lot of the information is randomized – you can’t just memorize the answers and speedrun your way through the game. If I was too slow in entering a code, it would always be different the next time. Which maybe drove my husband a little crazy, as he had to keep dodging lasers in order to access the terminal and read me the code, but it definitely adds replay value, beyond that of playing from the opposite perspective.

There are seven scripted missions, and an additional challenge mode, so if you’re satisfied with playing only a single role, you could be done with this game in half a dozen hours. The puzzles are also a bit on the simple side from a “figuring things out” perspective, so dedicated puzzle gamers might feel like the game is too easy. I personally don’t consider either of these things to be a negative – in fact, this would be a pretty good introductory experience to this type of game for someone who doesn’t have a lot of puzzle game experience.

Having played through the first couple of missions, this is definitely a game I would go back to. It’s a nice pick-up for a Humble Choice offering, but it’s really only going to have value for someone who has someone to play with, as there is no matchmaking of any type in the game. It’s been discounted to below $10 on various platforms, so there’s maybe not enough value here to pick up the bundle solely for this title, but if you’re grabbing the bundle anyway, and you have a willing friend to play with, you’ll likely get a few hours of fun out of it.

Quick Look – Owlboy (#Maytroidvania)

I had such high hopes for Owlboy. I didn’t necessarily think I would finish the game, mind you, but I thought I’d get further than I did. I’m trying to gently ease myself into more platforming games, but the big appeal for me with this title was that I expected to not have to worry about the persnickety jumping parts. I was playing a character with wings. Although I also sometimes have problems with flight in games, Owlboy is 2D, so I was sure I could handle it.

I did struggle a bit with the combination of flying and shooting at stuff, but I worked my way through the first dungeon area without too much trouble. However, upon exiting, I was greeted by a mechanic I hadn’t even considered – a segment of the game where you were expected to be stealthy.

But flying around avoiding the lights wasn’t too bad! In fact, for almost the first 90 minutes of the game, it really felt like something within my capacity. Until, in the Owl Temple, I encountered gnomes.

If you guessed it was another stealthy bit, well, you’d be spot on. Gnomes have terrible eyesight (meaning they only see a tiny circle of space around their bodies), but really excellent hearing. What that means from a gameplay perspective is you cannot fly. They will run as fast as their little gnome legs can carry them to the sound of flapping wings.

And did I mention that touching any of those vision orbs lead to being one-shot killed? No? Well that’s exactly what happens. And since Owlboy is a checkpoint-based save game, rather than a save anywhere game, I got very frustrated very quickly.

Of my just-shy-of-two-hour playtime, I’d say probably a quarter of that was spent trying to get through the god-awful gnome area. I have no idea if I was ever even close to escape. I’d figured out a good chunk of the path, but it felt like sometimes, when I just barely tapped the button to jump, the game registered it as a longer press and there were my wings, and then I was gnome-food.

Really, it’s too bad, because I was having a lot of fun with it up until that point. Maybe there was something I missed that would have made it easier? I don’t know, but I tried long enough to make me want to shelf the whole game. Chances are this wouldn’t be the last area with this kind of frustrating (at least for me) gameplay.

Quick Look – Dungeons & Jewels

A couple of months ago, I revisited both 10,000,000 and You Must Build a Boat and I remembered how much I like a good old fashioned match-3 game with a little something extra. I spotted the recently released Dungeons & Jewels during Puzzle Fest last month, and although the discount wasn’t much, I don’t mind throwing a five at this type of game every now and again.

If you don’t care for match-3 gameplay, there’s nothing here that’s going to change your mind. It’s a dungeon crawl where you need to match a certain color in order to damage your enemy. In the screenshot above, you need to match any 3 (or more) white tiles to beat up that adorable little rat. Each time you make a match in the default game mode, your enemy will move one step closer. When it reaches you, you’ll take a hit of damage. Lose all your health, and it’s game over, so it’s important to get the right matches fairly quickly.

When you reach an enemy with multiple hearts over their head, you’ll need to make those color matches one right after another. If you can set it up so they cascade in the same turn, great, but back-to-back is good enough. The deeper you get into the dungeon, the more complex the matches needed becomes.

At the end of each floor, you’ll find a treasure chest with something inside that changes the game play a little bit. You’ll also unlock abilities that can be chosen at the start of a new run to suit your personal play style. I’ve been a huge fan of the club since I unlocked it – matching club tiles (which appear regularly throughout the run) will stun all enemies on screen for one turn.

There are four classes to choose from. The warrior is the easy turn-based option, where the skeleton is more challenging. If you prefer your matching to require speed, the rogue and the revenant change the base gameplay so that the enemies move based on time, not after you take a turn. A successful run shouldn’t last more than 20-30 minutes, and the variety of unlocks and gear drops makes for a reasonable amount of replay value.

Dungeons & Jewels is a pretty serviceable attempt to combine match-3 gameplay with roguelike randomness, and I enjoyed my time with it quite a bit. Although some might feel like it’s a little bit barebones, it’s got solid gameplay and is fairly impressive for a freshman effort. Currently, the developer plans to release more content in the form a free DLC, which is pretty generous, considering the price.

Quick Look – LIMBO (#PlatforMonth)

Here I am, sneaking in my thoughts on LIMBO on the next-to-the-last day of the month, when I actually played the game on the very first day. I kept thinking I would go back to it, and play some more. I didn’t quit because I was frustrated (thanks to keeping a walkthrough open on my phone while I played) but clearly, I also didn’t find the game compelling enough to return to.

Maybe it’s just that as I get older, it gets harder for me to get invested in games outside of my preferred genres. I’m still a huge fan of pure puzzle games, and I keep trying to convince myself that puzzle-platformers are adjacent enough I should be able to play and enjoy them. I think the key difference – for me – is that puzzle games almost always give you all the information you need about how the game works, even the ones which keep adding mechanics to increase the difficulty as you go. Puzzle platformers often rely on the mechanic of having to figure out how the game works as part of the puzzle part. You have to fail in order learn, and I’m not a big fan of forced failure.

I did think the art style was amazing; it’s truly impressive what can be done with a grayscale color palette. Otherwise, I was pretty lukewarm on the whole experience. I gave the game a little less than an hour, and in that time I made it just shy of the 1/4 mark. I just … I wasn’t having fun. The puzzley bits I managed to figure out myself felt super obvious and easy, and the ones I needed to consult a walkthrough for felt, in comparison, to be needlessly obscure.

And sometimes, games just don’t hit for me. This is a well-loved game, and I’m certainly not going to try to say that the more than 25,000 people who gave it a good review on Steam are wrong. It just wasn’t the right game for me at this point in time. Will I try again? I may. There was enough that intrigued me that I might blitz through the entirety of the game when I’m in a different state of mind.

Quick Look – Here Comes Niko! (#PlatforMonth)

Full disclosure: Here Comes Niko! is a game I never would have purchased (and certainly not at its asking price of $24.99). It’s a rare platforming game that draws me in as I’m not very proficient in the genre, but this was in a bundle I bought around the holidays, and I always at least look at the descriptions of bundle games to see if they’re something I might like.

The store page description of Here Comes Niko! definitely made it sound like it was right up my alley, despite the genre. And it is indeed cozy, but I’m not entirely sure I would have classified it as a platformer, myself. Instead, it felt more like a collectathon puzzler, which just happened to have some platforming mechanics to it, which just made it all the more appealing to me.

You play as Niko, the only human in an anthropomorphic animal world, and you’ve just started a new job as a professional friend. What does that mean? It means everywhere you go, you find someone who needs help, and help them. On each island you visit, there’s a handful of folks who have a problem, and also, have a coin burning a hole in their pockets. Collect enough coins, and you’ll be able to ride the train to the next island.

Folks who come in expecting a tight platformer are going to be outrageously disappointed by this title, however. The platforming is super floaty, unpleasantly floaty even. However, for players who are more interested in a cozy, combat-free collectathon experience, Here Comes Niko! just oozes charm. Each island is full of folks to chat with, puzzles to solve, and minigames to beat.

There’s plenty of things to collect on each island, and exploration is delightful, but some of the activities feel a little rough around the edges. The fishing quests, in particular, are outrageously irritating, and although I completed the one on the first island, I can see myself skipping them going forward if there are enough other coins to be earned. And normally, I love fishing in cozy games.

I feel like you get a pretty solid idea of what you can expect in the first few minutes, and if that gameplay loop works for you, you probably have a fun 6-8 hours ahead of you. Personally, I liked it more than I expected to, but that’s really because it leans heavily into the cozy and not very much into the platformer. On one hand, this is absolutely a game I can see myself going back to in short bursts until I’ve completed it, but it’s also not the type of game I feel compelled to fire up every time I have a few free minutes.

Quick Look – Founders’ Fortune (Humble Choice – April 2023)

I have a long wish list on Steam, and I’m still surprised when something on there shows up in the Humble Choice. Of course, that wish list has an awful lot of city builders and colony sims, since those are a couple of my comfort genres. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to take a look at Founders’ Fortune this month. This colony sim with a cartoony aesthetic retails for $21.99, and this is the first time it’s appeared in a bundle according to IsThereAnyDeal.

I’ve loved city builder games for as long as I can remember, and colony sims since I bought Rimworld when it released on Steam back in 2016. At first glance, Founders’ Fortune looks like a pretty casual take on the colony sim genre, but it’s graphical style is most definitely a trap. So is its rather meager tech tree. I initially dove in on the normal difficulty, expecting to make mistakes, of course, but I wasn’t really expecting a challenge.

I was wrong. I was very very wrong.

Time passes very quickly in Founders’ Fortune, so your colony is going to be in for a really rough time if you spend too many early game days figuring things out. You are only given two colonists to start, and there are way too many tasks that need doing to mismanage them. In order to attract other people to your colony, you will need to build a bonfire, which is easy, but also fulfill enough of your current colonists’ wishes to hit a satisfaction threshold. The wish system, to me, felt ripped directly from later iterations of The Sims, and once I mentally made that comparison, I couldn’t shake it.

Probably my biggest gripe trying to learn the game is that the “tips” which tell you how to play the game seem to disappear into the ether once you’ve viewed them. I’m used to games in this genre having a huge help screen with all kinds of little details, but Founders’ Fortune expects you to immediately commit to memory the way things work. I am frequently guilty of clicking through pop-ups before I’ve fully processed what they say, and I found myself unable to add any further colonists to my initial colony because I glossed over the tool tip of how to interact with newcomers. Oops.

At this point, I elected to re-start on the easiest difficulty option, and promised myself I would pay better attention to the tutorial-style pop-ups.

My second attempt was definitely better, but I also picked a sub-optimal starting location. Since I was still mostly trying to get a feel for the game, I just rolled with it, but I very nearly ran out of food since there were no apple trees in a reasonable range, and I didn’t get my farms producing before spring ended. The seasons could really use a couple more days.

As your colonists do the same job, they will start to gain ranks, which you will need to spend on further perks. A lot of this is fairly unintuitive, and I have to admit I still don’t understand if the benefits of being able to wear a master outfit is worth the two points and the hassle of making them. It is clear, however, that once you have enough colonists to allow them to specialize, there’s a definite upside to doing so.

Your colonists also get reward points as you fulfill their wishes, which you can spend on additional traits, use to get rid of negative traits they might have come with, or to slap a band-aid on if they’re sick, hurt, or just really grumpy. These seem to be fairly easy to come by, at least in the early game, so it’s probably best to use them to buff up colonists early on, since that seems to be the point where most colonies will either succeed or fail.

I have yet to get far enough to see how the other systems actually impact gameplay. There are traders, which probably are useful, and enemy tribes, which I’m guessing are somewhere between mildly irritating and completely terrifying, depending on the difficulty you choose and how much effort you put into weapon production. There is also mod support, and around 50 mods currently available on the Steam Workshop.

All in all, I’m not sure yet how I feel about this one, and I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t given it enough time and attention, or if I just am unwilling to admit I don’t care for it because I really want to like it. I also haven’t had a lot of experience with games that feel simultaneously like they’re overly complicated and utterly bare-bones. Right now, I’m leaning in the direction of it being okay, but not terribly impressive. If you like colony sims (and are okay with the overly cutesy aesthetic) then it’s worth a spin if you’ve already decided to pick up this month’s bundle for some of the other titles, but as implied by it being the 8th title in the bundle, it’s unlikely too many people will pick up this month’s choice primarily for this title. That said, the total cost of the bundle is only about a dollar more than the historic low for Founders’ Fortune, so if you’re really interested in this one, and have at least a passing interest in at least one other title in the bundle, it might be worth it for you.

Quick Look – Sun Haven

I bought Stardew Valley right when it released in 2016, and I’ve put a lot of hours into it since then. I’ve dabbled in other farming-focused life sims in the meantime, but nothing really grabbed me in the same way. By the time I started my most recent playthrough, the game had been updated a handful of times, with a new end-game goal – reaching perfection. Having now completed that milestone as well (both in a solo save and co-op one), I haven’t really had the urge to go back to Stardew, but I’ve kept looking for another game that might scratch the same itch while also giving me something new to accomplish.

When I picked up Sun Haven, it was very very early in the Early Access process. I played for about two in-game weeks before deciding that – at least for me – the game needed far more time in the oven. But I was interested enough not to refund it – instead, I put it back on the shelf to wait for a full release.

About a month ago, that 1.0 finally dropped, and the timing couldn’t have been better. My co-op partner and I were just finishing up the game we’d been playing, and we were both ready for some farming. Right from the beginning, it’s clear that Sun Haven isn’t going to be a carbon copy of Pelican Town.

Which is not to say that a lot of the mechanics don’t feel familiar, as a Stardew fan. You find yourself with a plot of land, some rudimentary tools, and a handful of seeds and then, more or less, allowed to proceed in whatever manner brings you the most joy. That said, Sun Haven leans hard into the RPG side of things with skill trees and so many quests (both trivial and … not so trivial) you might get overwhelmed if you’re the type of player who can’t stand to let a quest fester uncompleted.

Of course, co-op night is only once a week for three hours, and I decided to start a fresh solo save as well, to acquaint myself with the parts of the game (i.e. mining and combat) that I tend to spend a lot less time on in co-op, which has also given me the opportunity to screw around some without worrying about messing up the co-op save. I am pleased to report that I – mostly – haven’t managed to screw up my solo save either, although I never have any significant amount of money for more than a day or two. Seeds are expensive!

I’ll admit, it’s been a bit frustrating at times. There are bugs. Lots of them. Thankfully, none have seemed to be game-breaking thus far, but it also means the game sometimes feels unfinished, despite being advertised as 1.0. While I’m nowhere near the end of the “main story” myself, I’ve read the reviews that say that it ends too abruptly. There are things in the game that seem to serve no purpose at all, at least, none that I’ve found yet, and – perhaps most irritating for me personally – there is no easy way to keep track of what items you have yet to donate to the museum without going through multiple load screens to look at the collections.

Sometimes, I think the characters in Sun Haven lack a lot of the personality and charm of the residents of Pelican Town, but I’m still early in the game, so it’s possible I just don’t know anyone well enough yet. It also might be because there are what feel like dialogue glitches – characters you’ve done multiple quests for will sometimes act like they’ve never seen you before. There are currently 15 romance-able characters, although there are some you’ll need to progress the main quest quite a ways before you meet.

Although some of the game design choices completely baffle me, I still can’t seem to stop playing every time I have a few free minutes. I am deeply appreciative of the ability to change the speed of time (the default is 20 minute days, but 30 feels far more comfortable for me), and the fact that if you need to exit the game midday, you can with the only penalty being whisked back home rather than returning exactly where you left off.

Farming game fans who aren’t put off by the chibi-style of the characters will likely get far more entertainment out of this than one would expect for a game with a $25 pricetag. There’s a lot going on, and it’ll take most players in-game years to work their way through all the content.

Quick Look – Monster Crown (Humble Choice – March 2023)

There’s no question about it – Pokémon is a cultural phenomenon. Even if you’ve never played a single Pokémon game, you can probably identify one or more of it’s signature creatures. And like every other type of game that makes a big impression, there will be many who try to make a game just as good – or better, even – than the original. Monster Crown is another creature-collecting RPG which is heavily influenced by the Pokémon games, and because of this, I might be the absolute worst person to be taking a look at it.

This darker, more mature creature collector has a retail price of $19.99, and will take around 13 hours to complete the main quest, according to HowLongToBeat.

Despite being of approximately the right age to have had a Nintendo childhood (or at least, Nintendo teenagerhood), I did not grown up in a console kind of home. Sure, I occasionally dabbled in Super Mario Bros or Duck Hunt while visiting friends, I didn’t own my first Nintendo console until the Switch, and the only Pokémon games I’ve ever played were Pokemon GO! on my phone, and New Pokémon Snap, which is definitely not a creature collector or an RPG.

So why am I always trying to get into creature collection RPGs? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Maybe it’s the fact that the people in my life who love them are so passionate about them. Maybe it’s just because I want a horde of cute little monsters to help me take over the world. However, the fact remains that, other than a lingering infatuation with the Siralim series of games and a mighty obsession with pet battles in World of Warcraft, I have bounced hard off of every creature collection RPG I’ve ever played. This is why I was not the right person to take a look at Monster Crown, but also why I couldn’t stop myself.

The monsters are better than the maps, by a mile. Maybe two miles. Seriously, the map is awful.

The world of Monster Crown is dark and dangerous, and humans have only managed to survive by making pacts with monsters, who will fight for you in exchange for … random fruit you pick for them, I guess? I’m not sure what else people really have to offer. You are the child of farmers, who have their very own monster to help out with farm work and keep the bad things at bay. Since you’ve shown interest in monster taming, your father gets you a comic book with a short quiz on the back cover, and a week later, your very own starter monster is being delivered right to your door. Seems safe.

Mmm… what could possibly go wrong here? NOTHING I’m sure.

Your mother is, probably quite rightly, concerned, but your dad hands you a map and a gift for the ruler of the nearest kingdom, and sends you out into the scary world in order to drop off his bribe. Um, ok. My new puppy friend is adorable and all, but I’m not getting much in the way of warm fuzzy feelings here.

Here I am absolutely about to attempt to pick a fight I am in no way ready for. It ended pretty much the way you’d expect.

Mind you, I’m already a bit grumpy at the keyboard controls. Surely it must be possible to make a game controller friendly without relying on the right hand on the arrow keys, left hand is for Z and X scheme that makes me dislike a game from the get go. If you’ve been playing a variety of genres with a keyboard for any period of time, I feel like this is never the control scheme you want. Maybe most folks play these types of games with a controller, even on PC, but at least the keys are re-bindable.

Combat is typical of the genre. You choose which monster to take into battle, and then your monster and the wild monster take turns trying to beat the snot out of each other. There’s a permadeath option for those hard core monster tamers, but it is off by default, thank god. You can swap to other active monsters on your team anytime it’s your turn, and if you want to add a monster to your team, instead of throwing a ball at it, you simply offer it a pact to either accept or decline. I didn’t get far, by all the monsters I offered pacts to took them.

There are wild monsters pretty much everywhere, and this is good, because you’re going to need to battle pretty much all of them to level up your team to a point where you have any prayer of beating the boss monsters. Or I could be just bad at this type of game, and most folks will triumph without issues. One or the other.

Most of these games give their critters elemental designations, but Monster Crown elects to use an even more obtuse system of adjectives. Thankfully, there are only five types, and they’re color-coded, so if the descriptors aren’t working for you, you can just make a cheat sheet with the colors. Someone please tell me I’m not the only one who makes cheat sheets for these types of games?

All in all, at least for me, it seemed … fine … if you’re into this sort of game. It felt very much like the idea of old style Pokémon I have in my head, which I realize is a terrible indication of any kind of quality since I absolutely no not of which I speak. But the bottom line is, I was bored. I felt like it was going to take forever and ever to get anywhere, especially since any attempt to flee an unwinnable battle puts you back at home, with a whole maze full of monsters to navigate through over and over again.

It certainly didn’t feel like a game that would drive someone to purchase this month’s Humble Choice, although it might be a nice bonus for creature collector fans who hadn’t gotten around to picking this one up and who cannot get enough of sending monsters to do their fighting for them.

Quick Look – Rogue Lords (Humble Choice – March 2023)

It seems like every other game that blips across my radar lately is waving the “roguelite” flag. My personal experiences with them have been mixed, at best, and yet I keep trying. I selected Rogue Lords to look at from the March Humble Choice for a few reasons. First, the aesthetic is very much up my alley. Secondly, I was hoping for something new to play in short bursts on the steam deck. Thirdly, well, is because no one else picked it.

In this dark fantasy turn-based roguelite, you play as the devil, leading his disciples across the land to get rid of all those pesky demon hunters and get some revenge. It has a retail price of $24.99 and an overall Steam rating of Mostly Positive at the time of this Quick Look.

Although I had hoped to play Rogue Lords on the Steam Deck, I didn’t think to check about compatibility until after the fact. It’s unsupported. However, since quite a few unsupported games seem to work just fine, I thought I’d give it a whirl. Unfortunately, on default settings, the cut scenes were broken. By this I mean there was voice over, and subtitles, but no pictures. Rather than tinker, I decided just to play this one at the PC (although for those who prefer to tinker, it has a ProtonDB Rating of Platinum, and reportedly works just fine with ProtonGE).

After the introductory expository cut scene, Rogue Lords forces you into a fairly lengthy, unskippable, and super hand-hold-y tutorial. Now, I like a tutorial. I don’t even hate a mandatory tutorial. But I detest a tutorial that doesn’t let you make a single mistake all the way through, and then dumps you into an unwinnable battle. Which is precisely what this one does.

The main takeaway I got from the tutorial level is this. You are the devil, and you have a limited (but rechargeable) amount of power which you can use to cheat. And I do mean cheat. You can recharge your disciples abilities. You can fill up their resource bars. You can steal buffs from your opponents or slide your debuffs onto them. The game is actually designed expecting you to cheat early and often. I feel kind of personally weird about cheating, even in single player games, for myself but when the it’s part of the game design? I actually think I kind of like it.

It makes sense, after all. You’re the ultimate bad guy, sending your bad guy minions to do bad guy things. Why would you follow the rules if you didn’t have to? However, if that mechanic makes you feel icky and you think you’d prefer to just not use it, you’re best off skipping the game entirely. I’m not 100% sure it is mandatory, but I will tell you this – it feels mandatory.

Otherwise, this is a neat twist on a very old formula. You have action points that you can split between any of your characters. You start out with five per round, and abilities generally cost 1-2 points. Action points refresh to full between turns, but your abilities don’t – if you want to use something more than once a battle (spoiler, you absolutely will want to use something more than once a battle), you’ll need to recharge that ability. Each character comes with a “recharge” ability that costs action points to use – I found myself using Dracula’s most often since it recharges everyone’s abilities, or you use your cheat currency to do it one ability at a time.

As you can imagine, this doesn’t have a fantastic effect on pacing, and the pacing is already not great. In what I can only assume is an attempt to make players appreciate the art, you need to lumber manually through each map section. Story segments (indicated by an open book on the mini map) feature oh-so-slow scrolling text with voiceover. You can click to make the text appear instantly, and there’s a way to turn off the voiceover if you’d prefer to read, but it’s also really easy to accidentally get too clicky and skip the story segment all together. Not that I did that. Not more than once anyway.

And while the tutorial map had a reasonable amount of nodes, the first actual map seemed to stretch on forever. So many encounters. So much walking. If you’re looking for a short session roguelite this is not it. In fact, it looked like there was no way to save during a run (a personal pet peeve of mine in roguelites), so I ended up frustration quitting when I realized that there was no way I was going to have time to completely the whole map in a single sitting. I can understand no manual or autosave during an actual combat, but not anywhere during a whole run?

Except that the game does save, presumably upon entering a new section of the map. It just doesn’t tell you that anywhere.

While there are more things I like so far about Rogue Lords than not, the things I found annoying I found really really annoying. I do appreciate that there is a difficulty option (and yes, I’m playing on Apprentice, which is easy, and yes, I’m still not having an easy time of it), but I would have preferred more customization than “easy or normal”. I cannot fathom how they came to the decision that RP walking through each map segment, completely with impassable terrain features, was a good idea.

On the other hand, the cheat mechanic is fun, and – at least for me, who’s not a huge roguelite player – unique. The art and sound design is great. There are unlockable characters, but the three you start with are all functionally different enough to not just feel like Generic Bad Guys. If you’re patient, and a fan of turn based strategy, dark fantasy settings, and just being plain evil, this might be worth a few hours of your time.

But if you’re expecting a fast-paced roguelite, one that’s tough but fair, this isn’t likely to scratch that itch.

As for value, this isn’t a title that’s seen many deep discounts (and none at all on Steam itself), so if this one has been on your wish list, it might be worth grabbing the bundle for, and definitely if there’s at least one or two other games that strike your fancy. That said, it is a second row title, which is where they tend to drop all the niche indie games, so if there’s nothing on the top row that’s appealing, Rogue Lords isn’t the type of game that’s going to carry the bundle on its (admittedly very very evil) shoulders.

Quick Look – Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel (Humble Choice – February 2023)

I really want to like horror games, but since I never enjoy them as much as I want to, Humble Choice is a great way to check them out. Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel was the horror offering in February’s Humble Choice, and I volunteered to take a look at it for our group review. This survival horror / walking sim / puzzle game is an interesting mashup of genres that retails for $29.99, and has a playtime of around 12 hours according to How Long To Beat.

I’m not sure what it is about hotels that make them such a popular setting for horror (and horror-adjacent games), but yet again, I find myself playing a rousing game of “where’s the next key” in Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel. The protagonist is a journalist named Roberto, who has come to the St. Dinfna Hotel to investigate a series of strange events plaguing the town. After a week of getting absolutely nowhere, you wake up one morning to find your room has been ransacked, and there’s a strange note from someone you don’t remember, but who seems to know you.

I played for just under an hour, and would have liked to continue, but I got seriously motion sick from playing, and probably stuck it out longer than I should have looking for a save point that didn’t require epic amounts of backtracking. Oh, did I not mention that this – like many games in this genre – operates on a save point system? Because of course it does. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend diving in unless you have at least 20 to 30 minutes to commit; there’s a prologue and a some story bits before the save system even becomes available. This is probably fine for most people, but I wish it had been clearer, I almost quit out shortly before this assuming it was a checkpoint system.

Anyway, motion sickness issues notwithstanding, the atmosphere and sound design is really great. Inventory management originally looked like it was going to be a pain, but it soon became clear that it was well handled here. Items disappear when used if they’re no longer necessary, and you can find bags as you explore that increase the number of inventory slots you have available. Documents & other notes don’t take up space you’ll need for usable objects, and although some items need to be combined before they can be used, it didn’t feel like you needed to wait too long to find all the parts you need to make a complete item.

Now I’m not a survival horror aficionado, but the mechanic of looking through the camera to see into another time felt fresh to me, but some may find it irritating because it does slow the pace of the game somewhat. But I don’t think Fobia – St. Dinfna Hotel is meant in any way to be fast-paced. You’re expected to look at every piece of paper, and open every drawer and cabinet, and the longer you linger, the creepier it all feels, but there’s nothing rushing you along other than your own fear.

While there aren’t standard difficulty settings, there are some pretty robust accessibility options, but I didn’t manage to get to the parts of the game where most of them would apply. I was particularly interested in the ammo assistance – when it comes time for the shooting to start, I tend to subscribe to the “spray and pray” method of dealing with whatever awful things are trying to murder me. Unfortunately, changing around the graphical settings to try to ameliorate the queasiness didn’t do much for me, but they might work better for others.

Maybe it doesn’t all pan out further in, but if you’re picking up the February Humble Choice, and you like horror games (and aren’t prone to motion sickness from first person perspective), I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a cool concept that seems to be mechanically sound, if a little bit plodding, and the story was shaping up to be pretty interesting as well.