Quick Look – Haven Park

Actually playing a game shortly after I purchase it is a new and interesting thing for me! Haven Park released on August 5th, I added it to my library on August 9th, and loaded it up to play the very same day. This has nothing to do with the game itself, however, it is certainly progress for me, and I felt it was worth mentioning.

I’ve really been kind of obsessed with cozy games as of late, and Haven Park absolutely fits the bill. You play as Flint, a wee duckling, who wants to help out his grandmother get their campground back into shape. It’s a nice, peaceful cycle of exploring, collecting resources, building amenities, and talking with the campers who arrive.

There are a handful of quests you will stumble across, but they don’t feel like busy work – they’re just things you would probably want to do anyway as you fix up the park. In fact, I found that actually finding adequate resources to build up the camp sites the most grindy part of the game – everything else feels well-paced and very natural. I’m currently about an hour and a half into the game, and I have yet to even find all the campsites.

As you explore, you gain experience, and as you gain experience, you level up and are allocated points to spend in skills that make maintaining and improving the park easier. The quick interactions with your guests remind me of talking with your neighbors in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but unlike in that game, progression is not gated by real time, and you could easily complete Haven Park in one long play session if you were so inclined.

So far, I’m finding it simple but pleasant, a fun story-lite place to wander around and tidy up. It’s satisfying, but there’s no risk of it ever becoming overwhelming or stressful, and would probably be a delight to play alongside a young child. Reviewers on Steam have also compared it to A Short Hike, a game I haven’t gotten around to playing yet myself.

If you’re looking for a long game, a difficult game, or a deep game, probably give this one a pass – there’s only about 3-4 hours of content here on a first play through, even if you are the type to aim for 100% achievements. Haven Park isn’t a lot, but what it is is pretty nice.

Quick Look – Ticket to Earth (#SciFiGameMonth)

Look, I know this isn’t the game I picked out to play for #SciFiGameMonth, but it’s super-duper-extra SciFi, so even though I still intend to sit down with Eliza sometime before the month is out, I’m counting this one anyway. Ticket to Earth is a turn-based RPG-lite with a tile matching mechanic that takes place on a non-earth planet in a strange dystopian world, with a fun comic book-inspired art style. That’s a mouthful, I know, but the way it all comes together, is so strange, and yet, at least for me, so enjoyable.

Bear with me here, because this is going to sound like a lot, but the game really does ease you into it gently. Each turn, you get two actions. The first type of action is movement, where you choose a color and can continue moving as long as there is another adjacent tile of the same color to move to – diagonals count. You cannot, however, backtrack. This not only moves you around the board, getting you closer to or further from enemies, it also adds damage to your basic attack, up to a cap determined by your equipped weapon, as well as charges up a special abilities based on the color tiles you’re transversing. The second type of action is well, an action, whether it be a basic attack, a special attack, or a healing or cleansing ability. There are other types of special abilities, for example abilities that provide buffs or debuffs or that change the color of nearby tiles, that do not use up one of your actions, and can be used at any point when they are charged. Each scenario will have a primary objective, and three bonus objectives. Initially, you start with one controllable character, but as you progress through the story, you will add more characters to your party, and be able to take more than one into battle with you.

Between encounters, there’s actually quite a bit you can do, again, doled out slowly through story-based unlocks. You can check the communications log, for information on what’s going on with characters you’ve met so far. You can upgrade or change abilities, purchase new weapons, forge gemstones and unlock talents, provided you have the adequate related currency to do so. The story is fed to you slowly between conflicts, and for me, feels just about right – you’re not getting bogged down in it, and since there is no voice acting, you can proceed through story beats as quickly as you can read; quicker, in fact, if you decide you don’t care about the story at all. Optional missions will pop up on the map from time to time, which are battles that aren’t required for story progression, but that you can take on in order to help your team get more powerful. Since I’m playing on the easier difficulty, I’ve mostly skipped over these thus far.

I’m about, and working on the second episode of the story. My party has grown to three people, which means there’s one playable character I haven’t met yet, since four character slots are shown. Individual battles aren’t overly long, so I’ve been playing this for an “in between” game when I only have a short period of time available. It’s not quite a coffee break game, but it’s also not unreasonable to play in increments of 30 minutes or less. I would say the weakest aspect of the game is probably the writing – so far, the dialogue ranges from fine to ridiculous, and the story is passable, but not memorable. If you’re not a fan of the combat style, there’s not really any good reason to push through playing this one.

Ticket to Earth was originally released in an episodic format, but all chapters are out now, so it’s a complete game, with an estimated play time of about 18 hours. Assuming that’s accurate, I’m not quite a quarter of the way through. The $15 price point seems pretty spot on, and the $3 I paid for it during this last Summer Sale was a steal.

Quick Look – The Almost Gone

There will probably never be a time when I’m not tempted by a game that is described as a narrative puzzle game, which is strange, because more often than not, I find them way too heavy on the puzzles and a little bit light on the narrative. I picked up The Almost Gone back in May when it hit 80% off, so I only spent a couple of dollars on it. Still, I wish I had liked it more than I did.

The Almost Gone is a story told in five acts of escape-room style puzzles. You’re granted small bits of narrative while examining your surroundings, and although it’s pretty likely that everything is going to come together in the end, completing each act left me unsatisfied. The majority of puzzles I encountered through the first three acts were logical, but there was definitely a lot of tedious back-tracking that needed to be done in order to figure some of them out without resorting to a walkthrough. In fact, the time I did need to resort to a guide, I was greeted with this:

For me, the progression just felt off. The puzzles didn’t really feel harder as I moved through, just more arduous. It bugged me to no end that the game only allowed you to zoom in on certain slivers of the dioramas, whereas I would have much preferred to control the zoom on my own. Mouse control also felt somewhat clunky, and I think the game is probably far better played on a touchscreen device than a traditional PC (although I can’t even fathom trying to play on a tiny screen, so that would be an issue).

The art and sound are both fantastic, and there was a moment when something seems to be straining to escape from the fridge that I found to be very very creepy. What this game gets right is the atmosphere, the mystery, but at least for me, the pacing was so bad, I couldn’t overcome it, and I usually really enjoy a non-linear story. This one was just a little too darkly tragic, a little too convoluted, and there wasn’t enough there for me to get invested enough to want to transverse seven or eight screens repeatedly to double check for whatever I might have missed that would have allowed me to move forward.

I’m not 100% sure I won’t return to it – it’s a fairly short game, and I bounced off in the middle of the fourth of five chapters. I kind of want to see how it ends, which I guess makes it interesting, but there wasn’t anything making it feel fun for me.


Bonus Blaugust prompt idea: Do you enjoy narrative puzzle games? Have you played a good one – or a bad one – recently you want to write about? What’s your favorite narrative puzzle game of all time?

Quick Look – Persona 4 Golden (#JRPGJuly)

I’ve been playing so many shorter titles over the past year or so, it feels a little bit weird to be doing a quick look when I’ve already put more than ten hours into the game. But that is, of course, the good news – I’ve stuck with Persona 4 Golden for over ten hours now, which means I may just have broken my long streak of bouncing hard of JRPGs in general. The bad news is – at least for me – there’s still a lot of game left to go. Using the game play length estimate from How Long to Beat, I figure I’ve gone through approximately 15% of the game.

I do feel like I’ve finally gotten a handle on why JRPGs generally don’t work for me: one thing they all seem to have in common is the pacing of the early game is painfully slow. I would estimate that I wasn’t given a meaningful decision or bit of game play for about the first three hours, and that’s a long time to expect a player to hang in there to find out if they even like the gameplay loop.

Thankfully, this time, my patience was rewarded because I do (mostly) enjoy the game play here, both the life-sim style and the turn based combat of the dungeons. You will spend quite a bit of time with the former, where you build friendships (which are referred to in game as Social Links) and improve your character’s stats. The combat sections are firmly tied to in game dates, so you cannot jump into them until certain story beats are met. However, there are a lot of other things you can (and probably should) be doing, so it rarely feels punishing to need to wait. In fact, due to some early game blundering around, I have felt a little rushed from time to time, and that’s even considering that there are parts of the game I’ve either completely ignored or have yet to figure out.

The visuals on the boss designs are absolutely delightful so far.

I still don’t actually expect to get through the entire game this month – but I’m starting to lean towards the idea that I will finish a play through of the whole story. I am playing through on easy, and am consulting a walkthrough to make sure I’m not irrevocably screwing up my save file, so I don’t think I’m going to run up against a point where I just cannot continue. Thankfully, save points are abundant enough that – for the most part – Persona 4 will work for me to fill in some of the smaller bits of gaming time I have.

Quick Look – Robothorium

I’ve selected 15 games that I’ve never played from my Steam library and committed to playing each one for at least 45 minutes this month. Robothorium is the fourth game I played from this project.

Robothorium – at least when you look at all its component parts – should be a really enjoyable game. It’s got a cool sci-fi plot, casting the player in the role of an AI fighting for robot independence from the people who wish to keep them enslaved. It’s got plenty of loot, and a decent variation in potential party members right from the outset. There are a handful of factions which will like you (or not) based on decisions you make throughout the campaign. There’s even crafting – or so I’m told, because an hour into the game, I haven’t unlocked the crafting system yet, although I’ve accumulated a whole lot of materials in my seemingly endless inventory.

My biggest problem is that it plays painfully slow. You will spend a lot of time moving from room to room, rolling the dice as far as dealing with traps & other interactables. The game lets you know the chance of success, but gives no real indication of why that percentage is what it is. While it’s possible I could have missed something, the game gives you a lot of icons indicating … something … but never really explains what they mean. This wasn’t really an issue for me, as I was playing on the lowest difficulty, but I could see myself being really annoyed by it if I were coming up against any real challenges.

I could even forgive that if the combat felt really satisfying, but it’s more of the same feeling of dragging oneself through molasses. Most of your available abilities add to your heat, and if you hit or pass 100 heat by using an ability, that party member will be forced to skip a turn to cool down. While this system is very effective at preventing you from just spamming each party member’s best ability, it also means that combat drags on forever.

It feels a bit ironic that I started this project because I was finding myself impatient with new games, and now I’ve played two back to back which were unusually tedious. I spent just about an hour with Robothorium, and I don’t see myself going back to it. An intriguing plot with interesting factions isn’t enough to make me push through overly long missions with unsatisfying combat, especially since there’s no way to save mid-mission.

Quick Look – Terroir

I’ve selected 15 games that I’ve never played from my Steam library and committed to playing each one for at least 45 minutes this month. Terroir is the third game I played from this project.

I know absolutely nothing about wine; I’m not even a wine drinker. But I do a bit about tycoon games & other simulations, and I’ve never really struggled with those even when I know nothing about the business they’re simulating. Not so with Terroir, but I’m not sure that more wine knowledge would have helped.

My first major gripe was that all the tutorials on offer are just text. While it’s great to have written information you can refer back to, there’s a reason most games teach you by having you do things, even if sometimes they hold your hand too much. I probably spent the first 10 minutes in game reading tutorials, and I retained almost none of the information contained within.

Thirty-one is a LOT of lessons before you’ve even started the game.

Going with the default settings, the game has a very very slow start indeed. You only have one field in which you can grow grapes, and during the growing season, there is very limited interactivity. Without any in-game guidance, you might miss your first harvest completely, but even if you don’t, your grapes are likely to be terrible. You start with extremely limited processing options, so bad grapes are really difficult to salvage, and unless you’re really good (or really lucky), your vineyard is going to be running in the red for several years until you manage to get yourself established.

It took a few years, but I managed to get a five star wine shortly before I would have bankrupted myself, but even still, I couldn’t see a point where I’d be able to turn a substantial enough profit to actually be able to do anything like improve my estate or accrue additional growing land. All of the figures seemed way off from a game play perspective, and when you add to that the fact that the actual game play loop wasn’t all that engaging, I knew my time with Terroir was just about done.

Still, I had to check out the chance & circumstance I earned from making a five-star wine – imagine my disappointment when I received less from this bonus than a single month’s maintenance fees! I do enjoy a very slow-paced game on occasion, but this one wasn’t just slow, it felt like I wasn’t moving at all.

Despite the fact that I ended my play session a mere five minutes short of my stated goal, I have absolutely no desire to fire this one up again.

Quick Look – Undead Horde

I’ve selected 15 games that I’ve never played from my Steam library and committed to playing each one for at least 45 minutes this month. Undead Horde is the second game I played from this project.

If you’re looking for a super serious, grimdark game about necromancy, Undead Horde is not that game. This is clear right from the beginning, when your character is broken out of his eternal prison by a wayward chicken, who you then kill, who you then bring back to un-life. It’s that kind of game.

In a world where all the undead have been imprisoned by the good paladins of the land, you are evil’s only hope for restoring the status quo. In the field, anything you kill is yours to raise and send out to do kill more things so you can raise more zombies. It looks like it should play like a fairly traditional ARPG, but the controls have definitely borrowed a bit from twin-stick shooters, which I found awkward using mouse and keyboard.

The graphics are more colorful than you might expect, but the game is also so silly, it works. The upper left shows your health, mana, XP, and a visual representation of how many minions you have in relation to how many you can have active at one time. There are fairly frequent portals which you can use to return to your crypt where you can endlessly summon minions from a series of statues that unlock as you kill enough of those types of enemies in the world.

There is also some loot, but it feels less impactful here than it does in similar games, because your undead minions are usually going to be the difference between successfully murdering a village, and having to run away, tail tucked between your legs. It’s sometimes awkward to make your way through the horde to stab a peasant or two, and at least in the early game, your mana is so limited it makes your non-resurrection magic feel nearly useless in a fight. It may get more interesting as the game progresses, as some of the early quests have you unlocking vendors for your sanctum which might open up more meaningful items.

Overall, Undead Horde is a charming little game that doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of depth to it, but it did hold my interest for about an hour before I felt like I needed a break. I’m not sure it’s anything I’m going to return to with a eye towards completion, but as I picked it up in a bundle, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth from it.

Quick Look – The Battle of Polytopia

I’ve selected 15 games that I’ve never played from my Steam library and committed to playing each one for at least 45 minutes this month. The Battle for Polytopia is the first game I played from this project.

First session playtime: 56 minutes. I completed three rounds during this time.

I have played a lot of Civilization across the years (and the iterations of the series), but otherwise, I tend to shy away from 4X strategy games because of the time commitment they usually require. So imagine my surprise when I fired up The Battle of Polytopia and discovered that the default play mode gives you a mere 30 turns to do your worst. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised how well this game scratches that “small bites” gaming itch considering it was originally created for mobile devices.

There are twelve different tribes to choose from in the base game, with another four that can be purchased. Each tribe starts with a different advantage, and on a different type of terrain. It sounds more complex than it is – I chose the Hoodrick tribe for my first game because starting with a ranged combat unit sounded super helpful, but for my remaining games, I went for random tribe. It doesn’t take long to earn stars – the currency you’ll need for terrain improvements, additional units, and technology research, so you can quickly take advantage of whatever tech your starting area seems most suited to.

In my – admittedly limited – experience, other tribes you encounter are pretty focused on the e(X)termination, and once I realized that and also got aggressive myself, I started having far greater success. Every mechanic in the game is super simple, and it’s nearly impossible to lose on the easiest difficulty. However, a big part of what gives this title replay value is chasing higher and higher scores.

The Battle of Polytopia isn’t a game I’m likely to grind away at – chasing high scores has never really been my thing – but it’s fun in short bursts, and I felt like I was getting it a little more with each game I played. There are a whole mess of difficulty levels & game modes that will help keep things fresh, and it does offer multiplayer, although I don’t expect that’s something I’ll ever touch. I expect it’ll be my go-to game for a little while for those times where I don’t have very long to play.

Going Nowhere During #WayForwardMarch

Well, at least I can say I tried, right? Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse looks absolutely adorable, but it’s way too platform-y for me. I tried with the keyboard; I tried with the controller. I thought that maybe – just maybe – I was going to be able to poke my way through at least a bit of the game. And then:

Yes, this was the screen that did me in – I could get up one platform, usually make it to the topmost one, but that jump to the one on the bottom right? That one wasn’t happening. Over and over I went into the water, and former genies apparently cannot swim at all. AT ALL.

So back to my library I went to see what else I could find.

Now, Bloodrayne Betrayal is also more platform-y than I tend to prefer, but it’s the style of platformer that says “Oh, you missed? Try again.” rather than “Oh, you missed? DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE.”

What’s going to kill you here is the combat, which hey, that’s to be expected when people are charging you over and over trying to kill you. At first, it didn’t seem like there were any sort of save points, although thankfully there were checkpoints aplenty for all the times I died. However, I eventually got through the entire first “chapter” in a single sitting only to be greeted with this.

Okay, okay, I get it, I’m terrible. I probably could plow through the game given enough time and patience, but I don’t see a world in which I’d get a passing grade on any of the chapters.

Since I had one more WayForward game in my library (and no, I have no idea how I have come to have so many games that are decidedly Not For Me in my library), and in case the third time was the charm, I decided to give it one more shot with A Boy and His Blob.

And this one is – without a doubt – charming. The opening scene is gorgeous, and both the art and the music are just warm and comforting, but man, this game tells you NOTHING. Not a thing. I kind of wandered around, looking for sparkles to indicate that I was going in the right direction, and trying to avoid the black slime critters that insta-kill you on touch. I found my adorable little blob-friend, and played a bit to try out the jellybean-inspired transformation mechanics.

Unfortunately, although this one leans more puzzle than platformer, I just couldn’t get invested. Cute will only take you so far, and I didn’t even know this was a remake, so no nostalgia for me. It plays slow, and I never was really sure why I was doing anything that I was doing. I didn’t feel clever, and I didn’t really care what was going to happen next.


While it’s possible I didn’t give any of these games enough time (all told, I spent about an hour and a half combined on all three games), my library is vast, and although I can see the appeal of all three games, none of them are the right game for me. I have completely stalled out during #WayForwardMonth, and I’m okay with that.

Quick Look – The Eternal Cylinder Beta

I can only assume the reason I hadn’t heard about The Eternal Cylinder until the day before yesterday is because it looks to be yet another Epic store exclusive title. I’m still in a weird space with the Epic Game Store; I don’t mind picking up their freebies, and I’d consider buying a game from them if I could purchase it at the Humble Store, since I already trust them with my payment information. However, it’d have to really be something I just couldn’t wait to play, because it’s rare I play anything during the first year it’s out anyway.

Still, when I received a beta invite for The Eternal Cylinder, I had no qualms about activating it and downloading it to try out. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous, if you’re into that alien, vaguely creepy vibe, it ticks off a whole lot of my favorite boxes. Exploration and puzzle solving, avoiding predators instead of engaging in combat, and gathering items to enable your creatures to evolve.

There’s a distinct post-apocalyptic vibe here – the game starts when you hatch, and you’re immediately running from a giant rolling cylinder that’s crushing absolutely everything in its path. You’re so small, and it’s so big, and it is honestly a terrifying enemy, and one you can’t do anything but run away from. I definitely ran into some issues early on with not understanding what the game was asking me to do, resulting in getting squashed beneath that giant rolling doom, but once I overcame that hurdle, I was absolutely fascinated with the world I found myself in.

The directions were fine, but my reading comprehension was lacking a bit.

I liked the way that the game teaches you how to play it by making you play, but I also felt a little rushed, trying desperately to find the next thing and just keep moving. Which I suppose is the best way to survive, when you’re a small creature who doesn’t understand their world and can’t fight back. Some of the creatures will eat you if they catch you, but it’s also not terribly difficult to avoid them either. You will find other Trebhum to add to your little family, and you can change between them as necessary to have different active evolutions. There are also places where you can upgrade your group, assuming you’ve been hunting down the required materials to do so.

I spent about an hour and a half in game, and I suspect that wasn’t even halfway through the teaching areas. The current beta runs through March 25th, and I’d like to take another dive into it, this time, taking things a lot slower and exploring more of the environment instead of just pushing through to the next story point. I’m definitely going to keep my eye on this one – I’m not sure how well the conceit will hold up over a lengthy game, but so far, it’s really enjoyable, and moreover, it’s got a damn interesting concept. What is the cylinder? What is happening to this world? And what can a little Trebhum, just hatched, be able to do about it all?