Quick Look – Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

For me, the biggest appeal of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine was in the concept of the “narrative adventure”. What I didn’t realize I was getting was a fantastic story-telling collectathon. After losing big at poker, you are tasked with wandering the United States collecting stories to pay your debt, and along the way, you’ll meet other wanderers like yourself and swap stories.

I kept an eye on it for awhile when it first released, and then it faded from my radar. When I spotted it on XBox Game Pass for PC, I knew I’d have to at least give it a shot to see how the concept panned out.

Let’s start with the things I thought were amazing. The voice acting in this game is top-notch. I am frequently guilty of pushing through dialogue as quickly as I can read it, but I found myself wanting to sit and listen to the stories rather than just reading them quickly. This is not a game you can play in the background – you are going to want to sit and take it all in. The music is also pretty fantastic, although with how slow you tend to mosey around the overland map, it does start to get a little repetitive when you spend too long in one portion of the country.

Then there’s the artwork in the stills. Simply stunning. So stunning in fact that when I started playing the game proper, I was a bit disappointed that wandering the countryside didn’t look better. It’s not bad, but it’s not up the quality I was expecting.

You should be aware that traversing the country is every bit as tedious as you might expect. You can whistle to walk a bit faster, but for me, it only served to distract slightly from the plodding pace. You can hop trains and hitchhike, but when you do so you lose control of how far you’re going to travel, making it easy to miss things along the way, and usually requiring you to backtrack significantly. I’m not sure how detrimental it is to miss stories along the way, but I had to walk back to revisit the major characters, so I picked up everything I could while I did so.

Also, the actual “game” mechanics feel poorly explained. Money can be obtained when you randomly search locations, or by panhandling or looking for work in major cities. This is important because travel will make you hungry and tired, and if you ignore either of those things for too long, they will kill you. In major cities, you have the opportunity to purchase items to refill your meters, or you may get lucky and find opportunities to rest or eat while looking for stories. If you get unlucky, and have no money, you may die. The first time it happened to me, I thought it was game over, but it’s not, so at least there’s that.

For me, the most frustrating part of the whole game is story swapping mechanic. The stories you pick up along the way are automatically sorted into categories and cannot be changed, and once you swap a story from a given category during a camping session, the other stories in that category are no longer available. There are plenty of categories, but you don’t know what types of stories your companions will request. Over the course of the night, you trade several stories, and I frequently struggled to match the requested type.

Stories may be scary, sad, hopeful, exciting, or funny. It sounds simple enough, but those categories have nothing to do with how the stories are sorted in the interface, and it’s not always easy to figure out which category a story fits into. I was really wishing that the game gave you some way to mark your stories once you discovered their category, but it looks like I’ll have to rely on trial and error and my memory.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine really does keep the focus on the stories, sometimes to its detriment as a game. You can expect to spend 15-20 hours to complete the game, which requires getting all four chapters from all 16 potential companions.

One last note for completionists: This game has an unobtainable achievement, so unless you’re willing to resort to a cheat, you will not be able to get 100% completion.

Quick Look – Night Call

Usually, I like to do these little write-ups just after playing something new so it’s all fresh in my mind. With Night Call, I deliberately waited until the next day because I knew I was going to be thinking about the experience for quite awhile after closing the game.

In Night Call, you play as a taxi driver in Paris who has just returned to work after nearly dying at the hands of a serial killer. Instead of just returning to work and getting on with your life, you are also trying to figure out who almost killed you.

I played through the first of three cases – The Judge – in about two hours. While the experience as a whole was really engaging, I have to admit that the “solve a mystery” portion was comparatively weak. In the course of the game, you come across clues which are added to your board at the end of each night. The game automatically connects clues to some suspects, and it cuts down on the amount of deductive reasoning needed. I faithfully checked on any investigative points that came up, and was fairly confident when I made my accusation, but it also feels like it’d be easy to miss important context and make the wrong choice.

But the most engaging part of the game is not the mystery. It’s in the passengers you pick up, in the conversations you have with them. Sometimes, the most interesting thing you can do is say nothing over and over and let them unburden themselves. I would have gladly played for hours, just picking up fares and learning about the people of Paris, and by extension, my character.

Night Call is a brilliant slice-of-life sort of game that’s bogged down by unsatisfying mechanics (like the need to stay profitable or risk losing your job), and limited by the scope of only three scripted investigations. I want to know more about the people without being bogged down by the tediousness of “discovering” a killer whose identity I already know from the first play through. I was hoping that playing all three cases would unlock some sort of endless mode, but that doesn’t seem to be an option.

I don’t expect Night Call to have broad commercial appeal and be wildly successful, which is a shame, because what it gets right is mind-blowingly good. The tiny epilogue you get after completing the Judge was flawless. I absolutely plan to play through the remaining two cases, and am still debating whether or not to purchase the game outright, as I discovered it on XBox Game Pass for PC. I definitely want to see more from this developer.

Quick Look – Felix the Reaper

Felix has it bad – he’s taken a job with the Ministry of Death in hopes of running into a woman who works at the Ministry of Life. But it isn’t all bad. Sticking to the shadows while making sure things go according the plan gives him plenty of time to perfect his dance moves…

… and me, plenty of time to feel frustrated.

This may be the first time I wished a straight up puzzle game was something else, like maybe a point-n-click adventure. Because I like Felix. I want to spend time with Felix. I want to watch Felix rocking out to his tunes.

Instead, what I’m doing is trying to manipulate the sun in order to stay in shadows while figuring out how to move objects, people, and animals just so to flawlessly complete a plan that no one actually explained to me, and I’m not really loving it.

Don’t let the decent-ish stats fool you – this was a replay of the very first scored level. My memorization skills are somewhat better than my actual puzzle solving skills apparently.

Until you complete a puzzle, you have no idea what your expected performance stats should be. Sure, you can move on even with zero stars … I mean, skulls … but if you like to perfect your levels, expect to play them more than once. I don’t mind timers in my puzzles, but tell me beforehand what my goalposts are.

The mission map made it difficult to tell for sure if the game shipped with four or five levels (as at least one “bonus” level needs to be unlocked via social media), and that doesn’t feel like a whole lot of game for the $25 asking price.

It’s really a shame, because the package is fantastic. I love the whole aesthetic: the art, the music, the voice over work. But the actually game play is a bit fiddly and awkward, and I feel like I spent more time pressing the hint button than anything else.

I played the first level via XBox Game Pass for PC, and despite everything I did like about it, I don’t expect I’ll be revisiting Felix the Reaper and his sweet moves anytime soon.

Quick Look – Flipping Death

I so don’t have time to game right now, but I really want to, so I keep trying to squeeze in a little bit here and there. Not from my library, mind you, but from Utomik, since there was still so much I wanted to try that after cancelling my sub, I had remorse and reactivated it.

Now, I’m bad at platforming games in general (although I do find that games billed as puzzle-platformers tend to be more forgiving), so I expected to nope out of this one in a heartbeat.

No such luck. I am hooked.

Shortly after dying in an unfortunate accident, Penny Doewood, still deep in denial, runs into Death. Death assumes she’s the temp he requested, and tasks her with taking over his job while he heads off on vacation. Flipping Death is silly and irreverent, and tricky – although the latter, perhaps for all the wrong reasons.

I don’t even play platformers, and I know that this one just doesn’t feel right. The controls aren’t great for Penny, and they get even more clunky when Penny is possessing someone. The upside is, the platforming parts aren’t hard at all, and there doesn’t seem to be any fail state.

I like games without fail states.

And in case you’re super extra clueless, the game gives you easy access to hints to progress all the way through the chapter.

I don’t know if I’ll finish this one (I’ve only finished the first chapter & I think there’s seven in total), but I’m going to poke at it some more. I’ll also likely keep abusing the hint system because right now, I just want to ogle some cool looking graphics and have a giggle or two.

Quick Look – Ode

This is going to be brief – even for a Quick Look – because although I’m sure there are the right words for the experience of playing Ode, I’m not sure that I know what they are.

If you want a beautiful, relaxing experience, and you took advantage of the Uplay+ free month, take a few minutes and give this one a download. Make sure you have the right language selected (mine defaulted to German, and I was very confused for a few minutes), and put on your headphones.

There’s a little bit of light puzzling, low-key platforming, but mostly, you float around and touch things. There are orange orbs you can collect – and they are useful – but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of fail state. There are only four levels (and you can’t save mid-level), so make sure you have the time to relax and not need to rush it.

Quick Look – Aven Colony

I’ve been itching for the next awesome city builder for awhile now, while at the same time, being stubborn about not wanting to learn a new city builder, which might explain why Aven Colony has been sitting in my library, untouched, since last October.

Sadly, at least for me, I don’t think Aven Colony is going to be the next great city builder.

To be fair, I’ve only given it about 90 minutes, which was enough to get through two SUPER basic tutorials and – I think – the first mission. I say that I think I got through it because there’s no big “You Did It” screen, but somewhere along the many many goals it threw at me, I managed to unlock the next scenario. Which implies to me that I beat it, but it was still tossing MORE objectives at me, so I’m really not sure.

And I think that – in a nutshell – is my issue with it. Give me a final goal, and let me figure out how to get there. There were a few curveballs, like, when out of seemingly nowhere, everyone started complaining about air quality, but I understand how these games work well enough that I frequently completed missions before they were even given to me. I know I need more food, more housing, more power. I now 100% understand what people mean when they complain about too much hand-holding, geez.

I’ll probably play another couple of scenarios, because it wasn’t completely un-fun, it just didn’t blow me away, and I assume the further I get into the game, the more challenge there will be in trying to manage all the systems. Aven Colony has some really neat ideas, but sadly, most of them are recycled from other games.

For the $10 I spent, I don’t feel like my gaming dollars were wasted, but I don’t expect I’ll put oodles of hours into it either. Maybe I just haven’t reached the point yet where everything clicks, and it feels amazing to get everything balanced just right. Maybe it’d be more enjoyable if I hadn’t been playing city builders since Caesar 3.

Quick Look – Deep Sky Derelicts

Deep Sky Derelicts is a game I’ve been eyeballing for a bit, but was hesitant to purchase because it sounds like a giant mishmash of genres that I like, but none that I actually love. I figured it’d show up in a bundle eventually, and I wasn’t really in any big rush, but since it was on Utomik (and I still have a few weeks left of the month I paid for), I figured I’d take it for a spin.

The Steam description sort of feels like it’s just ticking off boxes of things that are kind of buzzwords right now. Card-based combat? Check. Rogue-like elements (which I believe in this case means procedurally generated worlds)? Check.

It’s definitely turn based, and there are cards, but I don’t know about the whole “RPG” or “tactical” parts. There’s quests, and as you level, you can choose perks, but on my first play attempt, I hardly realized that your team was customizable, and other than swapping over one of my team members to a medic, I didn’t change any of what I was given.

Although “hardcore” was an option, I just automatically assumed that characters that died would be gone forever, and figured there was no point in getting attached. As it turns out, if any of your characters return to the station, those who perished can be revived (assuming you can afford it), and if your entire party dies, you can return to the autosave from your last station visit.

But my party didn’t feel at all balanced, so I thought I’d try again with a new set of characters. I felt like I was doing better the second time around, until I ended up completely unable to find the “main quest” objective on my first derelict station. By this point, I realized I just wasn’t feeling it, and that I’d given it a fair enough shake in two and a half hours that I could safely move on.

The art is what really drew me in. I love that faux comic book look it has, and I’ve been known to enjoy a turn-based RPG from time to time. The look of the game is, in my opinion, really amazing, right down to the comics-style lack of combat animations. Sadly, the sound design felt neglected to me – after the first hour, I took my headphones off entirely – I wasn’t hearing anything making it worth keeping them on.

My quick look impression of Deep Sky Derelicts was that it suffered from a lack of a real tutorial, and that nothing was terribly well explained. I don’t know that I would have liked it better if I understood it better, but I would have felt less like I had wasted my time. The start of the story didn’t lure me in, and I wasn’t particularly attached to my characters.

The game play was fine, if a little confusing, and it looked great, but there really wasn’t anything I saw in two and a half hours that made this a must play for me. It was fine, but with all the fantastic games out there, fine just isn’t enough to keep me playing.