Quick Look – The Serpent Rogue (Humble Choice – January 2023)

Most months, Humble Choice includes at least one quirky indie title that I’ve never heard of. This month, that title was The Serpent Rogue. The developers describe it as a botanical action-adventure, with a heavy focus on gathering and crafting. The Serpent Rogue has a regular price of $19.99, and according to HowLongToBeat, a playtime of about three hours for the main story line, although there’s quite a lot of extras stuff to do if one wanted to.

At a glance, The Serpent Rogue looks like it would be exactly the type of game I’d enjoy. It’s stunningly beautiful, the introduction is almost lyrical, and I was absolutely ready to dive into the grimdark world and start looking for all the plants I was going to need to save the world.

After a brief introduction where you learn how to sprint and not much else, you’re unceremoniously dumped into a world with very little guidance. Now, I realize that there are multiple schools of thought on how tutorials should be handled, but I’m a strong proponent of not having the challenge of the game play be about how to play the game. The first few minutes are fine, but after that, you’ve got a not-very-open world to explore, a bunch of stuff you can break open, and a journal full of quests you may not even realize you’re receiving.

I picked some berries, and used my portable research table to study them. I poked around some more, grabbed a couple of pumpkins that were just lying around. I figured out what it means to go fishing in this game. However, I was also frustrated by areas that told me I needed an axe or a shovel, but with no indication of where to obtain these starter tools. I muddled around for a bit, but by the third area of the game, I knew it just wasn’t going to click for me.

I did manage to die once, and I learned a few things from the experience. First, that you drop all your stuff, and if you die again before retrieving it, it’s gone for good. Second, if you see a little bag hanging from a tree branch, it probably has stuff in it that you want. In fact, on my first pass I had missed one such bag, and I’m guessing that was the thing preventing me from moving to the next area, but I can’t say 100% for sure.

You will need to worry about survival mechanics, like hunger and rest, and the game gives you very little guidance on how these systems work. You’ll run into the occasional NPC, who will speak in riddles. If you’re diligent in your explorations, you’ll find some books, that give you a little bit of additional information about the world (and ostensibly, clues to solving the puzzles within it), but I’d mentally checked out already. I didn’t think I’d signed up for a game where everything was the puzzle – I just wanted to pick flowers, make some potions, and make friends with the animals.

I feel like this game isn’t doing itself any favors with its marketing – someone expecting a somewhat chill gameplay loop will likely be frustrated, while someone who really loves being dropped, mostly unguided, into a weird world and left on their own to survive may be turned off by the game’s description. I hope that being featured in this month’s Humble Choice will help A Serpent Rogue find it’s intended audience, but I learned pretty quickly that I am not a part of it.

Quick Look – Hokko Life (Humble Choice – January 2023)

If you’ve ever wanted to play an Animal Crossing game, but without the restrictions that come from being tied to the real world clock, you might have given Hokko Life a long look. This cutsey life sim has a heavy focus on gathering, crafting, decorating and cute anthropomorphic animal neighbors. It retails for $19.99, but is available now as part of the January 2023 Humble Choice.

Much like I wanted to like Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch, I really thought I’d enjoy having Hokko Life to play on the Steam Deck. Sure, the fiddly decoration parts of the game are kind of lost on me, but I can zone out and chop wood for hours with the best of them. However, for several reasons, this one – at least for me – just wasn’t a good fit.

If you’re here for the story, you’re best off just stopping right here and finding a different cozy game. Basically, you fall asleep on a train, and end up disembarking in the town of Hokko. Since approximately four people live here, I’m not entirely sure how it got its own train station, but this is far from the last time Hokko Life will beg you to suspend your disbelief. You wander into the local inn, run by pink elephant Oma, who offers you her spare room for the night.

And then she offers you a free house.

There’s a catch, of course. The house is in a pretty serious state of disrepair, and you’ll need to gather up the materials to make it habitable. Okay, sure. So you chop some wood, throw it into a box, and bam, you’ve got a barebones place to live. It was about here, I started to think that just maybe, I’d bumbled my way into some sort of cult.

Now that you’ve fixed up on dilapitated house, well, maybe you might not mind fixing up another? I mean, since you’re here and all, besides wouldn’t it be just lovely to have some more neighbors? So I go through the process a second time, chopping wood, handing it over, and now Benny (the bunny, naturally) has moved in right next door in the house I fixed up … and got no compensation for, I might add.

It’s about this time that everyone starts asking you to do them small favors. You know, because these things would be nice to have but not nice enough for anyone else to want to do them. You build a bridge and plant some trees, and before you know it, a real estate agent has rolled up on Hokko to set up shop, and move people into the houses I am supposed to build.

Now, I don’t mind gathering wood. I don’t even – really – mind giving it away afterwards. But Rosa the real estate agent has other plans. Not only does she expect me to round up all the materials that go into the building of a new home, but she expects me to pay for the privilege of putting up new houses that I neither plan to live in nor to profit from? I don’t know about this, Rosa, but it’s an interesting business plan.

Almost 90 minutes into the game, and my prospects for making money look pretty dire. I’ve given in and built one house, rendering me flat broke. Now, my choices are to sell my gathered wood, or run around catching butterflies all day, which are worth about 1/100th of a cheap house in Hokko’s economy. My backpack is small (which necessitates running to and from the shop – complete with mandatory load screen) frequently, or sleeping in my sad little sleeping bag for about 20 hours a day, waiting and hoping someone in town is going to think of something else that would be so cool to have around, and hope they pay me well for doing it for them.

Hokko Life is incredibly slow, even among it’s contemporaries. It’s also a little creepy, if we’re being completely honest. Maybe if I were more patient, and more into the decoration mechanics, I would have enjoyed it more, but everything feels like crawling through quicksand, and yet, time also seems to pass so very very slowly in game. It’s a little disappointing, because this was one of the main reasons I picked up this month’s bundle, and at the end of the (very very long) day, it was a big ol’ bust.

Quick Look – Against the Storm

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of hours lost in city building games – I don’t think it’d be a stretch to say it’s one of my favorite genres, and I’m glad to see it getting a bit of a resurgence. However, I am quite particular when it comes to city builders. I don’t like too much conflict – I’m interested in supply chains, not building armies. However, I’m also not a huge fan of when they lean too far in the other direction – there has to be some sort of problem to overcome, otherwise you’re just playing an economic sim or managing infrastructure.

Although I was a bit apprehensive when I saw it was being marketed as a roguelite, which is a term that’s starting to mean less and less the more people slap it on random games. However, Against the Storm plays exactly how I would expect, given the roguelite label, and the randomness as well as the brevity of the scenarios make it impossible to optimize your way out of all the fun.

The Scorched Queen has enlisted you to explore the lands surrounding the Smoldering City, and to brave the Blightstorms to fill orders for much needed resources. In doing so, you must balance the needs of your townsfolk with the requests from the city, as well as manage the hostility of the forest and the Queen’s impatience. Not every explorable tile has the same resources, and you will only be given access to a limited base supply of building blueprints – everything else must be unlocked in the course of the scenario.

It’s A Lot, but the tutorial is gentle and truly holds your hand through the early bits. In fact, it may be a bit too gentle, as I managed to completely fail my very first time out on my own, but I learned from that and did better the next time. Although one thing I don’t think the tutorial mentioned is that successfully completing Deeds in each scenario is also a source of meta-progression – many just give you extra experience, but several unlock some pretty key buildings for some of the biomes. I mean, you can go to the Marshlands without having unlocked the mine, but I don’t recommend it.

The other form of meta-progression comes by way of making upgrades to the Smoldering City itself. No matter if you succeed or fail a given scenario, you will take away some amount of currency for city upgrades, and you will sometimes stumble across upgrade materials while playing as well. Higher difficulties reward more currency, but theoretically you could never leave the lowest difficulty and eventually unlock all of these upgrades – it would just take a very very long time.

It’s the settlement exploration loop that keeps me playing just a little bit longer, however. Once you have chosen a location, your starting caravan of settlers, and your embarkment bonuses, you’re plopped down into a very tiny segment of the map with only a warehouse and a hearth pre-built for you. You will always have some basic buildings available to build (a woodcutter’s camp, a stonecutter’s camp, a harvester’s camp, as well as a couple of basic production buildings, and some low-level crafting options), and you have the option to choose from a selection of blueprints almost from the moment you load in.

However, jumping the gun could end up spelling your doom here – the game doesn’t take into account what resources are available on the map when choosing your blueprint selection, so it may be better to hold off until you’ve explored a bit of the map and wait until you see what the city is going to task you with accomplishing. In some of my early maps, I definitely accepted orders that I had no possible way of fulfilling. However, any time you’ve built up a bunch of choices, either in blueprint selection, cornerstone selection, or order selection, the game will force you to choose from the available options before it will show you the next set. This means, sometimes, you just have to take a gamble and hope it works out.

Just in case this isn’t enough randomness yet to appeal to roguelite fans, there are currently four playable species, all of whom have their own wants and specializations. You get to choose your starting caravan, so you will know at the outset one to two of the species who will be available on a given map, but you won’t know which one you won’t see until you’re in the scenario. Workers have a stat called Resolve, which can be increased by meeting their needs, and is decreased by both regular and random events.

The blightstorms are always an issue, and the years are made up of three seasons. Each map will give you some buffs during the first season, Drizzle, and some debuffs during the season of the storm. On the lower difficulties, you can bumble through a bit, but planning your activities around the seasonal cycle definitely increases the likelihood you will succeed.

Whether you win or lose in a given scenario is a bit of a race between two opposing forces. On the left, you have a blue bar which tracks your reputation points. These points come from completing orders, clearing dangerous or forbidden glade events, or from keeping your settlers happy. On the right, there’s a red bar tracking the Queen’s Impatience, which steadily ticks upward until you do something (like completing an order, or sending resources back to the city) to bring it down. If the red bar fills up before the blue one, you’ve failed that level.

There’s quite a bit of variety in each level, and I’m sure I probably haven’t even scratched the surface, both in trying to explain it all, and in actually playing with all the systems that are available. Still, the base game play loop of cutting down trees to explore new glades, filling orders, accepting new settlers, building production buildings to exploit resources as you find them, and trying to keep the fire going at all times is addictive. There are some great quality-of-life things here that you don’t always see in city builders; for example, most buildings can be moved, which means that once a given resource node runs out, you can just scoop up your building, workers and all, and move it close to the next node.

And you absolutely have to explore, however, each glade you open up increases the hostility of the forest, and you have very little idea of what you’re going to find in each location. The larger glades are marked as either “Dangerous” or “Forbidden” and those will have an event that will need to be dealt with, or there are likely to be unpleasant consequences. Some just require labor and the fortitude to withstand whatever debuff the event causes, but most are going to require an infusion of resources that you may not have or be able to easily access, which is a big part of the risk.

Against the Storm is still in Early Access, and won’t be in full release until Q2 of 2023, but the developers have been steadily pushing out updates every couple of weeks. Personally, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth, and I expect to play quite a bit more before wandering off to do something else. It’s compulsively playable, and has a ton of content already for a $20 retail price.

Quick Look – TOEM

TOEM combines puzzle solving with photography game mechanics, and is one of the two things I was most excited about in December’s Humble Monthly. It does have a relatively short play time of about three hours and has a regular retail price of $19.99.

When I played the demo of TOEM a while back, I was expecting more of a straight-up photography game rather than a puzzle adventure, and I was a bit disappointed by it. However, something about it stuck with me, and I added it to my wish list around the time it released – I enjoy a good puzzle adventure, and I realized I would probably feel quite differently about it if I had gone in with appropriate expectations. In fact, I nearly picked it up during the Steam Autumn sale, so I was quite pleased to see it in the December Humble Monthly.

You play as a small critter who is leaving home to travel for the very first time. You take your backpack and a camera and little else – in fact, you need to earn your bus far by collection stamps from locals by helping them with their troubles. In each stop throughout your journey, there are no shortage of problems that need solving by someone with a vintage camera with dynamic zoom!

It is not necessary to solve every issue in every location in order to proceed through the game – in fact, in each place I’ve stopped, you only need to do about half of them to earn your next bus ticket. However, stamps aren’t your only reward for lending a hand – you will also earn clothing items (some of which are important as they unlock other opportunities during game play) and upgrades for your camera.

TOEM isn’t a particular difficult game, but it’s got a lot of charm, and that’s what it most likely to make you want to keep playing. While you will need to take a lot of pictures for other people, you have lots of space in your photo album for anything that might catch your eye. While there are plenty of things no one will ask you to photograph, many of the interesting things you’ll encounter will trigger some in-game achievements.

I’ve probably gotten through a little less than half the game, and while I don’t expect it to have a whole bunch of replayability, it is the kind of game I love to see in a bundle. I think if I had paid full price for this one, I would have been disappointed – it doesn’t feel like there’s enough meat to it to merit a $20 price tag.

I’m also not sure I’d advise picking up this month’s Humble Choice exclusively for TOEM, but if there’s even one other game you’re excited about, and you like puzzle games, it’s absolutely worth your time to take it for a spin.

Quick Look – Aspire: Ina’s Tale (#JustOnePercent 105/100)

Developer: Wondernaut Studio
Release Date: December 17, 2021
MSRP: $12.99

If you’ve been following along with the #JustOnePercent project over past 10 months, I’m sure it won’t be a huge surprise that I’m wrapping it up with a game I hadn’t even considered until a couple of days ago. Although I don’t usually go for platforming games, I do like to dabble in non-combat puzzle-platformers from time to time, and I picked up Aspire: Ina’s Tale in a Fanatical build-your-own-bundle back in August. By that point, however, I felt like I’d already gone so far over my goal schedule-wise. Since then, I’ve dropped a handful of games I planned to write about for one reason or another, and I decided to squeeze this one last game in before wrapping up the project.

Aspire: Ina’s Tale is not a very long game – HowLongToBeat lists an average playtime of about two and half hours for the main story, and there’s at least one walkthrough that professes to be the entire game with all achievements completed that clocks in at under two hours. If I continued playing, I expect it would take me at least twice that – my puzzle-platformer skills aren’t very well developed, and during the hour I played I was stumped a handful of times and needed to consult a walkthrough. For people more conversant in the genre, however, the game probably borders on being too easy.

On the upside, it’s absolutely beautiful, with impeccable sound design. You play as Ina, a girl who somehow became the Heart of the Tower, who awakens after a knight breached the Tower. She seems to have no memory of where she is, or why she’s there, or even what it means to be the Heart of the Tower, and she has decided that she wants to return home to her village. In order to do that, she must make her way through the tower’s ruins.

Like most puzzle platformers, this game leans heavily into the puzzling half, and the platforming, at least in the first quarter or so of the game, is really pretty simple. Things react in much the ways you would expect, which is good because you won’t get a whole lot of instruction. Like most platforming titles, it probably plays far smoother with a controller (although the store page lists only “partial controller support”). I found some of the keybinds a bit awkward, but not awkward enough to attempt to change them, but holding down Z to push or carry an object while moving was a bit uncomfortable.

Although there is no actual combat, there are some sections where you will be confronted with an enemy you need to outmaneuver, either by running away to a place where they are unable to follow or by confronting them with something that they cannot stand. In the case of the creepy spider monster you encounter early on, it is unable to go into any sort of illumination, so it can be blocked or pushed back with a light source.

Aspire: Ina’s Tale is far from my perfect game, but I found a lot here to be appreciated. It’s a beautiful, if somewhat melancholy experience in an intriguing setting. I have yet to encounter anything too mechanically difficult to keep me from progressing, and someone more conversant in puzzle platformer logic likely wouldn’t even need a walkthrough. Still, it’s a little pricey for such a short game, but if the aesthetic is appealing, it might be worth an evening if you’re able to pick it up on sale or in a bundle.

SteamDB estimates that Aspire: Ina’s Tale has sold between 3,000 and 8,300 copies on Steam. It’s gotten very positive reviews, with the handful of folks who didn’t care for it citing abstract story telling, lack of variation in its puzzles, and the short length as points against it. It is ranked 1641 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Wytchwood (#JustOnePercent 104/100)

Developer: Alientrap
Release Date: December 9, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

I was pretty excited about Wytchwood after playing the demo back in October of 2021, and I ended up picking it up pretty near full price shortly after it released. I do this thing pretty often where I buy something, and then forget all about it until months or years have gone by because my attention span is nearly non-existent, but this time, I deliberately decided to wait so I could play it for this project. In a way, I guess the joke was on me – I could have played this months ago since I’m now four full games past my goal!

The main gameplay loop of Wytchwood is heavily crafting focused. You used to have a Grimoire, full of crafting recipes, but a goat (who isn’t actually a goat) has chewed up most of the pages, so as you explore the world, you’re going to need to use your Witch Eye to inspect things you find and figure out how everything works all over again. This is part of a pretty lengthy and epic quest you’re on, but it’s how you’re going to be spending most of your time – collecting reagents, combining them from your Grimoire, and using the things you make to – you guessed it – collect more reagents to make more things.

In order to really get into Wytchwood, you’re going to need to like exploring, and be really okay with backtracking. After a short questline that serves as a tutorial for the rest of the game, the world really starts to open up, and no matter which part of the main story you choose to pursue first, you’re going to need stuff from everywhere you have access to. The maps aren’t overly large, and you’ll probably unlock the fast travel option between them fairly early on, but you will be running from one end of the world to the other trying to nab that last ingredient.

Because of the way the learning functions, you may not realize you needed something from the area you were just in until after you’ve already gone somewhere else. You may know you need something that comes from the fields to make something you need in the swamp, but until you use your Witch Eye on the target in the fields, you may not realize that in order to gather the thing you need, you need to have already crafted something to make it possible to gather it, and that thing – most likely – will need an ingredient from back in the swamp.

You do have a handful of basic, reusable gathering tools, but a lot of the time you need crafted items to get something you need to craft something else. On the upside, there seems to be no inventory limits, so there’s no reason not to grab absolutely everything when you have the chance. This won’t completely mitigate the need-to-backtrack-constantly problem, but it will certainly help.

As long as you enjoy the main loop, everything else about the game is pretty great. The quest texts and dialogs are well written (and frequently amusing), and the art style is quirky but fantastic. Even the music is pretty chill and soothing. The controls are simple, in fact, the game could easily be played with just the mouse, although you can absolutely move with the keyboard and Wytchwood has full controller support, if that’s your preferred way to play.

The game does have a clear ending, and HowLongToBeat estimates it’ll take a little more than 10 hours to get there. From what I’ve seen so far, there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful choices to add replay value either. That could be either a pro or a con depending on what you like to get out of your gaming purchases.

SteamDB estimates that Wytchwood has sold between 28,000 and 77,000 copies on Steam. Review have mostly been positive, with the negative reviews mostly focusing on the tedium of running back and forth and the lack of excitement in the crafting system. It is ranked 224 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Huntress: The Cursed Village (#JustOnePercent 103/100)

Developer: Makivision
Release Date: November 26, 2021
MSRP: $5.99

You would think, based on the sheer quantity of match-3 titles out there, that match-3 was a very popular genre, but as they fall under the umbrella of “casual” gaming, I find that most people who consider themselves to be into video games barely consider these to be video games at all. I’ve always had a soft spot for these types of games, though.

It’s rare, however, to find match-3 titles where the gameplay loop itself isn’t pretty much the only thing to recommend them, and Huntress: The Cursed Village doesn’t have much else going for it. The gameplay is interesting enough, but the story is threadbare and the writing is absolutely painful.

You play as the Huntress, who returns home to find that her village (with her father inside of it) has been cursed, and she will have to puzzle fight her way through many levels to lift the curse and save the village. Not exactly a new or interesting story. However, the mechanics are just varied enough to keep you on your toes – depending on the type of curse on the level, you’re going to need a somewhat different strategy to clear enough obstacles to proceed.

Making a match of four grants you a bomb tile, and making a five match gives you a chain tile. On certainly levels, like ones that have ghosts as pictured above, you will need those special tiles, as those are one of only two ways of removing the obstacles from the board. Other hazards will just require you matching on or next to the affected tiles, like the bats, pictured below.

The other method of clearing these problem tiles is by using your spells, which charge automatically as you make matches. The first spell will eliminate any single tile on the board (triggering a bomb or chain tile, if that’s the one you choose). The second clears a horizontal line of your choice, and the third will randomly take out a whole bunch of tiles. The more destruction a spell provides, the longer it takes to recharge.

As you proceed through the levels, each building you need to de-curse will culminate in a level that requires you to deal with all of the obstacle-types you’ve seen individually, while trying to make matches on pink colored tiles. If you run out of viable moves, have no charged spells, or the entire screen becomes pink colored tiles, you will lose the level. However, as soon as you clear the requisite number of afflicted tiles, the level will end with a prompt to banish the monster, but these monsters just won’t stay gone.

Huntress: The Cursed Village seems to be a competent match-3 title, with interesting and varied mechanics. It’s somewhat challenging, and has 77 levels which rotate between the five monster types. It also is pretty reasonably priced, and is a decent value for fans of the genre, as long as they’re okay with the weak framework.

SteamDB estimates that Huntress: The Cursed Village has sold between 120 and 330 copies on Steam. There have been almost no reviews, but the few it has gotten have recommended it. It is ranked 3804 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – French Crime (#JustOnePercent 102/100)

Developer: French Crime
Release Date: November 25, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

Note: Up until a few days ago, this game was called PCI: Public Crime Investigation. Earlier this month, it was temporarily made unavailable for purchase on Steam, but purchasing was re-enabled with the game’s title changed to French Crime. I was unable to find any information about the reason for the change after the game had been out for most of a year.

Choosing to cover French Crime for this project was a no-brainer, and was one of the more expensive titles I picked up with that in mind. Sure, I probably would have grabbed it eventually anyway, but I’ve been a pretty big fan of crime-solving FMV titles in the past, and this one includes six different cases at two difficulty levels.

Well, I guess technically it includes four cases, as the first two cases can be played for free via their website or their app, but if you want to be able to save your progress and have your score appear on the rankings board, you’ll need to create an account to do so.

I’ve now played through the first case – Phantasm – which is estimated to take about 90 minutes, but I finished it in just over an hour with only a single error towards the end of the game. Unfortunately, mistakes – especially in the later parts of a case – will drastically impact your score. The first question you answer correctly nets you 5 points, and the second 10, and so on. However, missing a question will not only cause you to lose points for a wrong answer, but will reset your cumulative answer score to 5 points again. It seems like getting right answers is the only thing that effects your score – if there’s a component related to time, or the questions you ask in interrogations, it’s not clear.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Although all the text of the game is in English (and there does not seem to be anywhere to change that), all of the dialogue in the FMV segments is in French, with English subtitles. Now, my French is super rusty but – at least as far as words I recognized – the translation seemed to be very solid.

The concept, of course, is borderline absurd. Budget cuts have led to police understaffing, so they are just letting anyone sign up to solve crimes. I honestly would probably have preferred if they didn’t go for the easy excuse and just let the game be a game. You’ll be dropped right into Phantasm via text message.

A few notes: there is realistic gore when you’re looking at crime scene photos, and again, there doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid it. I suppose they figure it’s to be expected if you’re trying to solve a murder. The first case has some fairly explicit elements to it – at the risk of being spoilery, the woman whose murder you’re investigating worked for an escort service, and while there’s certainly nothing here that’s pornographic, there’s definitely some images and evidence that is very sexual in nature.

What was a bit disappointed, however, is that you really don’t have to figure anything out for yourself. At least in the first case, the game gives you all of the information you need, right up until it’s time to send the file to court for sentencing. Then you have an abundance of evidence, some of which is critical to making your case, but most of which is extraneous. Choose your culprit, make sure to include the evidence that implicates them, and request a sentence that fits the crime.

If this sounds like something you might enjoy, I would highly recommend trying out the first case (provided you’re ok with a bit of blood & that it gets a bit racy). It is an appealing package for me, as a big fan of crime fiction & police procedural media, but if you’re looking for something that’s really going to strain your brain, you’re likely to find it a bit dull, and it does require an online connection at all times.

SteamDB estimates that French Crime has sold between 620 and 1,700 copies on Steam. Reviews have been almost entirely positive, with the few negative reviews mostly complaining about the third party account requirement, which is no longer true of the steam release. Still, those dire sales means that it is ranked 2603 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Toy Tinker Simulator (#JustOnePercent 101/100)

Ok, I know I could technically be done, but I’m going to finish out the month since I still have a handful of really cool looking games already in my library that fit the project!

Developer: Turquoise Revival Games
Release Date: November 20, 2021
MSRP: $12.99

Some genres just seem to be especially attractive to indie developers, and it feels like [Mundane Activity] Simulator has been really gaining popularity over the past couple of years. If there’s something you think you might like to try your hand at, there’s probably a simulation game for it! Unfortunately, the playability of these simulation titles varies wildly, which is why you get a handful of breakout hits, and the rest kind seem to be pretty much doomed to obscurity.

I feel like Toy Tinker Simulator missed that spark of originality that tips this kind of game from niche to mainstream, but it definitely sticks the landing for playability. The gameplay loop of taking on the job, disassembling the toy, working on the individual parts, and then putting the whole thing back together is very chill. There is money (which is needed to buy supplies & equipment), and experience (which opens up more advanced jobs), but neither one matter very much. Once you have picked up a few pieces of equipment, which your start up cash will more than cover, most beginner toys only need a few dollars worth of supplies, and each job will pay far more than you’re spending.

In fact, Toy Tinker Simulator feels positively un-fail-able. If you like your simulation games challenging, this one won’t be at all satisfying. The game won’t allow you to make mistakes – a toy that has not been completely disassembled cannot leave the workbench. You can’t choose the wrong color paint or use the wrong tools. The game will give you the proper steps for each job you take on, and you won’t be able to deviate from those in any way.

While this makes playing a completely stress-free experience, it also disallows any sort of creativity. Maybe there will come a time in the game play loop where you’re required to use your best judgement, but it isn’t in the first hour or so of game play. This makes a game that while, not completely unsatisfying to play, isn’t particularly exciting either. I personally don’t mind this sort of simulator, but I can see how a lot of folks would find it tedious and boring.

I didn’t encounter anything that felt like a bug, and although the controls are a little floaty, no precision is ever required so it doesn’t actually matter. The sound effects are fine, but don’t really add anything to the experience, and I wasn’t impressed with the music. After my first short play session, I played without sound – this game would be a good candidate for something to keep your hands busy while listening to podcasts, audiobooks, or even watching a show on a second monitor. I didn’t fall madly in love with Toy Tinker Simulator, but I really can’t find much to complain about either.

SteamDB estimates that Toy Tinker Simulator has sold between 4,300 and 11,900 copies on Steam. Reviews are mixed, as many players wanted more realistic gameplay and a whole lot less tedium. It is ranked 6963 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Factory Town (#JustOnePercent 100/100)

Developer: Erik Asmussen
Release Date: November 17, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

If you like city builders with automation, super cute graphics, and have almost infinite patience & time, well, then Factory Town might just be your new favorite game. Ok, so I may be going a little harsh here, but as someone who does really like city builders with automation, and is fine with all my workers looking like Weebles, I found that this game tried my patience. Not solely because there appears to only be two settings (paused or unpaused) for the passage of time, I played for well over an hour on the first introductory campaign scenario. See, I built myself into a corner, as it were, and needed to restart because I couldn’t figure out how to unbuild something.

When I did it again, I was bound and determined to find a way to get rid of the part that was mucking everything up, and if you go into the build menu under tools, there’s a “remove block” button, which will take out a section of path or conveyor belt. There’s also a different option to remove a resource, allowing you to get rid of anything in your way that you didn’t put there. I feel like these are very basic things in this genre, and they should not be hard to find.

Which is to say, there may also be speed settings, but those I did not find.

The tutorial is actually pretty solid, but it takes quite a bit before you can get to the “factory” part of Factory Town. You have to grow your town big enough to unlock your first research level, and you have quite a few steps of research to do before you can build the most basic wooden conveyor belt. Everything prior to this point requires you to have a little worker weeble to harvest resources, and bring them either to a production building, storage area, or shop. If you are, say, turning wood into planks, you’re then going to want another worker weeble to pick up the planks, and then take those where you need them to be. If, like me, you tend to build in tight little clusters to minimize walking time, you are going to be screwed when it comes time to build those automated stuff movers. You just won’t have any space for them.

In the end, I did manage to complete the first scenario with a single, sad conveyor belt. It was a frustrating start for me, who wouldn’t have minded if workers were all I had, so I can’t imagine how annoyed an factory-focused player would have been. The fact that it’s pretty economically simplistic might be either a pro or a con, depending on a player’s taste, but the absolute density of the menus is not doing this game any favors.

This probably isn’t a city builder game I’ll be returning to, although I’m a big fan of the genre. I have many far more user friendly city building games sitting unplayed in my library, and without the ability to (easily?) increase the game speed, I found myself bored pretty much any time I wasn’t frustrated. This is a game that should have been for me, but there are some quality of life features I’m not willing to do without in this type of game, and the obtuseness of the build menus was a big turn off as well.

SteamDB estimates that Factory Town has sold between 73,000 and 200,600 copies on Steam. From looking at the reviews, I’m clearly in the minority here – it’s gotten almost no negative reviews. It is ranked 357 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.