The Nope List – October 2019

The monthly Nope List will chronicle the games that I tried out during a given month, but for whatever reason, they just didn’t click for me.

This month’s Nope List was made up of one game from Utomik, four from XBox Game Pass for PC, and two from my own library.

We Happy Few – Even for me, even for Hallotober, this was dark. It looks great, but it wasn’t particularly fun to play, and I just wasn’t feeling it. If it eventually finds its way into my library on the cheap, I might give it another go, but mostly, I just confirmed that this isn’t a game I want to spend serious money on.

Equilinox – I think this one was done in (perhaps too soon), by awkward controls. Every time I tried to look closer at something, I did the wrong thing, and it was just wholly unintuitive for me. No idea if or when I’ll give it another go – I can push past bad controls and UI when I’m really enamored with something, but having to plant grass and flowers on a blank canvas didn’t blow my skirt up.

Felix the Reaper – It looked and sounded great, but it wasn’t enough to keep me struggling to meet all the metrics on ever level. Just because I can memorize a series of moves and then replay levels doesn’t make it an enjoyable use of my time.

Ghost Cleaner – Like Peggle, but way less fun. It’s not awful, but it’s not all that good either.

Death Mark – I probably would have really enjoyed this, but I played for over an hour before hitting a place where I could save, and I somehow failed to save, and decided I wasn’t into it enough to play that first hour over. Ugh. If you’re not going to let me save anywhere at anytime, at least put the save points reasonably close together.

Creature in the Well – It just didn’t click for me. It’s a neat idea, but other than a neat gimmicky sort of combat, there just didn’t seem to be any reason to play it.

Prey – I don’t even have an excuse, y’all. Unless “I am bad at video game sometimes and kept dying a lot” is an excuse. I considered restarting and lowering the difficulty a notch or two, but … nah. Maybe some other time. On story mode.

Yet again, none of these games were so wretched I want to warn others off of them (and I have played some truly awful games from time to time), but for one reason or another, they weren’t for me, at least not at the time I played them.

Once I own a game, I usually give it a few tries to hold my attention before banishing it to the meh category of my Steam library. Games sampled on a subscription service might get another shot if I continue my sub or if they show up in a bundle, but I’m unlikely to purchase them in the future.

Quick Look – Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Look – Night Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Over: Yoku’s Island Express

Yoku’s Island Express is another game that I probably wouldn’t have picked up on its own – at least not for a long time – when it showed up in the August 2019 Humble Monthly, I figured it was worth a shot. As someone who isn’t particularly good at pinball or platformers, I didn’t go in expecting a whole lot.

But after roughly 7 hours, I managed to finish the main story of the game (despite my save file putting me a mere 37% completion), and for me, that qualifies as a satisfying game experience, especially considering how low my skill threshold is.

It was a near thing, too, because of this stupid vine filled with flowers I needed to spin around on. Out of my seven hours of play, it’s no exaggeration to say that at least two of those, I spent trying to get up to the top of this vine. For three days in a row, I would play for more than half an hour, just trying to make all those jumps and failing over and over. Finally, I told myself that if I couldn’t make it up during that play session, I was done.

Clearly, I just needed an ultimatum.

Otherwise, I found the game to be not terribly difficult, although I started playing with the keyboard, and since keys are NOT remappable, found myself using my Logitech controller instead. The pinball mechanics felt a whole lot more natural using a controller’s trigger rather than the left and right shift keys (which my brain thinks of as interchangeable, so I’m sure that was part of the problem).

That said, if something wasn’t absolutely required to progress, and I couldn’t figure it out within a few minutes, I just moved past it. Completionists might struggle more, but I decided early on that I would be happy if I could get through the story.

I did consult a walkthrough a couple of times in order to figure out where I needed to go in order to obtain a couple of required upgrades, but mostly, I muddled around a lot. Sure, I’d point myself in the direction of a quest, but if I got off track and ended up at the other end of the map? I would explore a little before trying to get myself back to where I needed to be.

Overall, I thought Yoku’s Island Express was clever, and generally felt good to play, but it isn’t going to end up on a list of my all-time favorite games anytime soon. In fact, it’s not even my favorite pinball-centric game (that title would have to go to Rollers of the Realm, which I enjoyed immensely). I doubt I’ll be re-visiting it for another play through, or even to seek out achievements and a higher completion percentage, but I definitely enjoyed playing.

The World Next Door – A Demo that Opened My Wallet

The demo of The World Next Door is short – if you pick up on the core game play loop fast enough, you could be done in 15 minutes. I died a few times, so it took me 20.

Still, that 20 minutes sent me right back to Steam to toss them some money for the full game while it’s on a 70% discount.

I’ve reached a point in my life where a game being short is no longer a point against it. Low playtime with limited replayability is fine by me, as long as it’s reflected in the pricing, and the current discount more than compensates for a 4-5 hour play time. But is it fun?

Yes. Yes it is.

Well, at least I think it is, but I like match-3 games of all sorts. This one is a little more frenetic than most, and includes a dodging mechanic (which I didn’t really get the hang of during the demo and was probably a good part of my handful of deaths).

Spells are cast by standing on a group of three or more tiles and activating them. No aiming is required – your spell will head towards the nearest enemy. You can also tether a single tile to you and move it to a new location. It sounds easy, until you realize that the enemy isn’t constrained by the board and will be firing at you the whole time.

There is very little planning going on, and a whole lot of hustle. The green tiles that are vaguely heart shaped will heal you, so if you find your health getting low, you still can come back, as long as you move fast.

The control scheme isn’t accessible from the main menu, only the pause menu, so I spent a little time smashing buttons that did nothing. The keyboard choice of Z X C Space was a little odd, but not uncomfortable once I knew what keys did what. That said, if you’re comfortable with a controller, it feels like that’s what the game was designed for, and is likely somewhat easier to play that way.

The art is lovely, the concept is delightful (why yes, I WOULD like to take a trip the world of magic and mystical beings!), and the combat is fun. Reviews on the game’s Steam page point to the story being the weak part of the game, but since it’s lovely to look at and fun to play (and oh, did I mention, on sale for $3?), I can forgive a less-than-stellar story.

As an added bonus, for folks who like this kind of thing, after beating the game’s story mode, you can play local versus with a friend if you have two controllers.

I’ve already added this gem to my Steam library, and am looking forward to seeing all of what The World Next Door has to offer.

Goodbye, Humble Monthly. Hello, Humble Choice.

It’s been over a year since Humble Bundle sent out surveys to feel out some customers about adding additional tiers to their Humble Monthly subscription. Today, they announced that Humble Monthly is going to become Humble Choice before the end of 2019. Since the early unlocks for November have already been announced, that seems to imply that Humble Choice will begin with the December 2019 bundle.

The tier structure they’ve come up with is … interesting, to say the least.

So, let me break this down for you.

If you have an active Humble Monthly subscription, you will be grandfathered into the Classic plan when Choice launches. You keep paying $12 a month (or whatever it comes out to for whatever multi-month plan you currently subscribe to), and you get 10 games a month, Trove access, store discount. The primary change for you is that there will no longer be “hidden” unlocks, which I am taking to mean that you will still be able to pause a bundle after the games are revealed, but prior to claiming any keys.

However, if you want to keep the classic program, you can only pause, because if you cancel at any point, you will never be able to subscribe at the classic tier again.

For non-current subscribers, the options are a little different. The Lite plan costs $5 a month, and gives you Trove access and a small store discount. The Basic plan costs $14.99 a month, and you only get to choose three games from each month’s options. The Premium Plan is $19.99 a month, and even then, you’ll STILL have to pass on a game every month, because the top tier subscription only allows you to select 9 games.

If you are currently cancelled, and think that you might want to lock in the Classic plan, I wouldn’t advise waiting to see if you get a new batch of early reveals. Excluding the Lite (which is basically a subscription service to the Trove), every other tier is going to cost more and you will get less than if you lock into the Classic tier now.

Now, I’m a little grumbly about how not consumer-friendly this whole Classic tier is, but as someone who has only skipped two months of the Humble Monthly since I started my subscription back in August of 2016, I’m going to ride it out. I don’t know how long the pause window will be every month, but you can bet that Humble Bundle is counting on the fact that people will forget to pause when there’s nothing of interest.

Edited to add: The part of this I am most curious about, if we’re being honest is the “unlimited” access to published originals and betas. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out – will all Humble Published games be available to all non-Lite subscribers as DRM free downloads? Steam keys? Of are they just going to jam them all into a choice bundle? Does this apply to already released games? We shall see how it pans out.

For me, the possibility of getting Forager and Crying Suns as part of my sub is too good to pass up, and I’m sure there are many other Humble Bundle published games that I’d be interested in as well.

Quick Look – Felix the Reaper

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

… and me, plenty of time to feel frustrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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