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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
It wasn’t even a case of not liking the game – Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is great! Early in the month, I played through the first two cases, The Fate of Black Peter and Riddle on the Rails, and I fully intended to get back to it.
But World of Warcraft has really devoured all my gaming time this month, and it’s not like December doesn’t have anything else going on. I just never managed to carve out 90 minutes or so where I could really get deeply involved with a story game after completing the second chapter.
That was, in fact, the only complaint I had about the game. I’m actually really glad it required thinking and paying close attention to the story, but that also made it nearly impossible to take an extended break in the middle of a case. More than a day or two, and I’m fairly sure I would have had to restart any given case. That said, carving out a couple hours to play through a case isn’t at all an unreasonable ask.
I loved that the game allows you to … well, it lets you totally drop the ball. Each case has a right answer, of course, but it’s also really easy to overlook something and end up accusing the wrong person (or the right person for the wrong reason). You also have the opportunity to make a moral decision at the end of each case, and that will effect the way the final scene plays out. As with just about any adventure game, there’s some tedious backtracking and some pixel-hunting, but overall, I found those things mild enough to not detract from the experience.
I absolutely intend to go back at some point and play through the remaining four cases, but this just wasn’t the time for me to play something so heavily story-focused.
I bought Autonauts on at 75% off sale last holiday season, with every intention of installing and playing it right away. Instead, it sat in my library, uninstalled until recently – I had forgotten about it entirely until it showed up in the October Humble Choice. Then, just this past week, it was also in the Killer Bundle 14 on Fanatical, and I guess that was the thing that pushed me into finally giving it a whirl.
It’s an interesting concept – you build generic robots and then train them to copy your actions in order to automate production of your colony. The tutorial is kind of drawn out, and then you are tossed off the deep end without a rope. This isn’t me complaining because I don’t know how to program very well – although it’s true that I do not know how to program very well. I expected a learning curve there. Where I didn’t expect to struggle was in figuring out what the tools do, what kind of items go in what kind of storage, and so on.
I did hunt down a good guide (which actually helped more with the programming fiddly bits than anything else), and a pretty decent wiki, and that might have been enough to slow my frustration to a manageable level, but the colonist mechanic was a huge turnoff.
Colonists in Autonauts are vaguely creepy crying naked people who need you to do absolutely everything for them. In return, they give you “Wuv”, which is the currency you need to feed into the research station in order to unlock new tech. At first, it’s not so bad. Send one robot to feed them whatever you decided to farm for food, and another to collect the Wuv they drop.
But the game is designed around meeting ever more complex colonist needs, and as you level them up by doing so, the Wuv the drop gets larger. Which is great, because research costs also increase exponentially, but annoying, because you need a storage area for each level of Wuv, which means you need a robot to deal with each level of Wuv.
I absolutely hated the colonists almost from the get go. There’s very little in-game indication about what the colonists require at each level, and you either have to guess based on what new techs your unlocking, or look it up outside the game. It’s … not ideal.
It’s unfortunate, because I think there’s a really good game here, marred by some really questionable design choices. The art style is fine, the sound design would be fine if it weren’t for the ever-present sound of crying babies, but the gameplay annoyances are frequent, at least, they were for me. This might, in fact, be due partially (or even mostly) to my weakness in programming efficiently, but I’m not sure that that’s it. Obviously, level one bots need to have weaknesses, or why would you research the other tiers, but I think at the lowest level they have just a bit too little memory, and too small of an active area. It makes the early game drag in ways I don’t feel like it should.
There are three modes, Colonization, Free, and Creative, each of which has progressively less restrictions, and might solve a lot of my problem, but I’m not sure that taking away the need to research techs would make the game any more compelling for me. I’m satisfied with having put in a dozen or so hours for the $5 I paid for it, but I acknowledge that this one just might not be for me.
I was gifted a copy of Little Big Workshop during the Steam Winter Sale last year, and like most things I acquire during sales, it completely slipped my mind to actually play it until I spotted it in the August Humble Choice. Oops.
I went in with fairly low expectations – although there have been a lot of really great management / tycoon games, there have also been a lot of really really bad ones. This one is absolutely charming, but although I’ve played it pretty compulsively over the last couple of days, truth is – it’s not really anything special.
Little Big Workshop is different from a lot of management games in that it’s not scenario based. Although you have ample opportunities to upgrade your factory, the game never asks you to open a second factory, or take over a dilapidated building in another town. Where you start is, pretty precisely, where you’ll end the game. For some people that might be a point in its favor – for me, it’s a little disappointing.
If you include the tutorial, there are five sets of “milestones” for you to work towards. I have not actually finished the game yet (I ran out of money while working towards my fourth set of milestones, and decided to restart), but I’d hazard a guess that the whole thing could be finished in about 10-12 hours.
This might, in fact, be the most mediocre game I’ve ever played obsessively. There’s very little I can point to and say “This is bad.” I found a way to disable the things that annoyed me most – fixed camera angles, and ridiculous “events” that I found more frustrating than fun. The tutorial is 100% skippable and unless you’ve been away from the game a long time, there’s no compelling reason to do it more than once.
There are some really neat things here – I love setting up blueprints step by step to make the product fit the factory I’ve built. In fact, there are a lot of cool little details in the building of things. You can link identical workstations together with a billboard, and it automatically splits up tasks (mostly) efficiently. Storage areas can be pretty freely resized, you can add shelving for more space, and once unlocked, you can even attach storage areas to different machines to keep the things they need handy, or set one up near your loading bays for finished items only.
When I’m playing the game, I am completely engaged. When I step back from it, I’m not sure what kept me playing for hours. The aesthetic is fantastic. Everything else is just a little bit off what you expect from a good production management game, but not off enough to make it a full-on chore to play. Sure, your workers might be passing out because the break room is out of coffee or snacks, but someone else will just start doing their job sooner or later. They’ll be better after a nap.
I realize this is not exactly a rave review, and I don’t think the small bit of the game I have left to unlock is going to do anything to change my mind. It’s not bad for what it is – a first game from small team with a neat idea. It’s not meaty enough to be a truly great management game, and it’s nowhere near easy enough to be a good casual game. It occupies some weird in between space that I found strangely compelling, but once I’m done with it, I doubt I’ll recall it fondly. In fact, likely as not, I won’t really ever think about it again.
It’s a weird feeling to absolutely not be able to get into something that seems to be wildly popular. It’s even weirder when I know I’ve played (and really enjoyed) other games that are styled after more traditional JRPGs, such as the Siralim trilogy.
World of Final Fantasy was my second attempt a getting into the Final Fantasy universe by coming at it sideways. After trying (and failing) to get jazzed about the MMO so many of my friends absolutely love, I thought maybe dipping my toes into a cutesy Pokemon-inspired would be an easier introduction – I’ve enjoyed other critter battlers in the past, and let’s be honest, I needed something light after Danganronpa V3.
Well, I was right that it was cute, and that it’s a critter-battler. In World of Final Fantasy, your minions are called mirages, and from my (admittedly very limited) Pokemon experiences, the capture mechanic seems to be pretty similar. In fact, a lot of the mechanics seem to be similar, and I’m at least passingly familiar with how it all works.
I gave the game about two hours, and made it to the first boss battle. Part of me wants to complain that the game is needlessly complicated, but if I’m honest, I don’t think that in and of itself would have put me off from playing. I don’t mind a learning curve. I don’t even mind difficulty necessarily, as long as it’s of the “use your brain and maybe take notes” variety rather than the “smoosh buttons flawlessly and fast” variety. In fact, I though the little puzzle switches in the dungeons were perhaps the best part of the game I had seen yet.
I think the biggest turn-off, for me, is likely more of a port-to-PC problem than anything else. For someone used to mouse & keyboard play, the keybinds are terrible; the most egregious is probably the mapping of Pause to “B”. The pause screen is the only way to get back to the main menu. More traditional menu access keys (like ESC, Tab, or even F1) do nothing.
As someone who’s spent very little time with consoles over the years, I don’t use a controller for much of anything. I will break it out sometimes, but I’m not used to it, and I can’t indulge in extended play sessions while using it. While I understand the game was designed for consoles, and therefore needs to be controller-friendly, I’m not sure why it had to be quite so keyboard-unfriendly.
I also really disliked the “Active Time Battle” system – I was expecting something more classically turn-based, and felt like the combat was a lot of waiting punctuated by super-limited decision making. I understand that for all intents & purposes that early game combat is going to be simplistic, but the delay between turns felt like eons. There are different settings for the battle system, but after poking at all of them, I still found combat overly tedious to the point where I was hoping NOT to run into Mirages to battle.
For me, nothing was intuitive, and it just made it too hard for me to get into the game of the game, even though I thought that (at least so far) the characters were interesting enough and the story had potential. It looked and sounded good, but it played like I was being punished for playing it on the wrong system.
World of Final Fantasy was my last ditch effort to actually get into the meat of a JRPG for the Community Game Along. I didn’t have the opportunity to try out everything I had under consideration, but I did at least TRY to play a couple of other titles throughout the month.
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure was another game that probably works better with a controller, and I just didn’t find it engaging. Knowing that I was up against action combat and not loving the controls made me step back from this one after about 30 minutes.
Lost Dimension was so close to being a success for me, and because of that, is a game I will revisit in the future. Unfortunately, it’s another game with a very slow start, and with combat that I didn’t hate, but wasn’t exactly excited about either. The combination of psychic powers and the find-the-traitor mechanic are two things that really do appeal, I just lacked the patience to get to the good part.
I think my disconnect from JRPGs – even ones that are pretty universally loved – comes down to a problem with patience. I find that as I get older, as my library grows more and more bloated, and as the time I can dedicate to gaming seems to keep decreasing, I just don’t want to spend two or three hours to get to the good stuff.
I don’t want to spend my evening fighting the controls, desperately searching for a save point, or just plain not being all that interested in what I’m doing. My tolerance for exposition is probably at an all time low, which is frustrating because I like getting invested in a good story. I can respect the slow burn, but then I really need the game play to feel good to hold me over until I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
I’m not yet ready to shuffle the entire genre off to the nope list, but I still haven’t found that JRPG that makes me say “Aha! Now I get why people love this!”
I have a very mixed relationship with sandbox games in general – I love the idea of just going off and doing my own thing (and I frequently do in other types of open world games), but I am also likely to get bored or frustrated with too little direction. For me, the ideal is to have Things I Am Supposed To Do with no penalty for just not doing them.
So when No Man’s Sky came to XBox Game Pass on PC, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to satiate my curiosity. I really expected to bounce off of it in 30 minutes or less. What ended up happening was that I played for two straight hours, and decided that it was something I definitely would play.
Obviously, it wasn’t a game I played back when everyone hated it, and I since I had mostly talked myself into not liking it, I didn’t follow the updates too closely. There is more tutorial here than I was expecting – every time I think “This is it, I’m going to be on my own now.” the game teaches me about something else. Even better, there’s a thin thread of story behind everything you do, so it doesn’t feel like an endless tutorial, and at any point, you can just wander off and do whatever thing you might be interested in.
So far, I’m really enjoying just scanning random things on whatever planet I end up on. I’m not as into the constant need to manage my ridiculously limited personal inventory and flying my spaceship, but with more play time, one is getting easier while the other is getting more annoying. There is a full on creative mode I haven’t tried out yet, but I’m unsure if that will actually do what I want it to anyway.
Minor irritations aside, I find myself looking forward to each new story beat, and each new planet. Although I’ve had to deal with a couple of combat scenarios, so far there hasn’t been anything I couldn’t handle (even if I did handle some of it by going really fast in another direction). I can see spending hundreds of hours just seeing what’s around the next corner, uploading data on everything I come across, and steadfastly avoiding any multiplayer components.
Although I played a ton of point-n-click adventure games throughout the years, my recent relationship with them has been rather rocky. They move slowly by design, and in itself, that’s not a problem for me. But endless walking from place to place, pixel hunting, inventory puzzles, and the now infamous adventure game logic usually lead to me losing interest long before the tale is told.
But I couldn’t resist the concept of Pendula Swing, which drops you into a fantasy version of the 1920s. You play as Brialynne, a dwarven hero who has been living a quiet life on a private island after retiring from adventuring. However, that quiet life is about to be disturbed when she finds herself the victim of a robbery in which the only thing taken is her axe.
If you’re the type of person who avoids side quests, preferring to get on with the main story as quickly and cleanly as possible, I’m sorry to tell you that Pendula Swing is not going to be the game for you. As I was exploring the world, I tended to stop and speak with just about everyone, and that’s the kind of experience I believe the developers were going for. Nearly every character has a story, and those small stories teach you about the world that your character has opted out of for quite awhile now.
Your journal will track tasks you have done, and tasks you have encountered that you have yet to complete. Once you’re a ways into the game, if you find yourself really stuck, you can just visit a nearby phone booth to get put back on the right track, and thankfully, you can indeed travel by map. I’m also pleased to report that in my first two hours of play time, I have yet to encounter a single place where I needed to go pixel hunting or combine esoteric items in my inventory to progress the story.
In fact, Pendula Swing feels a lot like a genre mashup to me – while it’s definitely an adventure game, there are aspects that remind me more of a visual novel, and others that remind me of role playing games. I’ve only encountered a couple of places that felt like puzzles so far, but I have also run into a couple of folks who seem to be interested in dating my character, which isn’t exactly your standard adventure game fare.
There’s a lot going on here, and for some folks, the lack of a strong genre focus might take away from their enjoyment. Personally, I’m finding the whole experience absolutely delightful. I’m not sure how far into the main story I actually am, but according to my journal, I haven’t seen very much at all of what this lovely game has to offer.
In a time where I’m struggling to find something to hold my interest, the hours have just melted away while playing Pendula Swing. It was one of the first games from the Itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality that I fired up, and I’m already looking forward to Valiant Game Studio’s next title Kaleidocraft, which will be coming soon to Steam Early Access.