The Cave

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Developer: Double Fine Productions | Released: 2013 | Genre: Platform, Adventure

This was much more of a platform game than I thought it would be. Descriptions of it led me to believe it was very much an adventure game with just a tiny bit of rare platform action required, kind of like some of the first polygon versions in the Broken Sword series. But platform action turned out to not only be quite prevalent, it also made the levels feel bigger than they really needed to be. The platform action was very light, as in definitely not difficult, but there was a lot of walking up and down ladders, jumping ropes, and pushing objects. It often felt a little overwhelming.

Three switchable characters had to be navigated independently, adding a lot of backtracking. Sometimes the two others automatically joined across certain level thresholds, but most of the time I was yearning for some kind of “recall party” or “follow me” function. The collaboration between them was quite good, though. There were lots of puzzles where two or three characters were required in different locations to make it work. Because of the big levels and the abundance of ladders and corridors, there was a long stretch between the few NPC that lined up what needed to be done in that particular area.

SiN Episodes: Emergence

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Developer: Ritual Entertainment | Released: 2006 | Genre: FPS

I didn’t really like this one all that much. Although I’m fully aware that I played it 9 years too late, it still felt somewhat uninspired. I played the original SiN and its expansion pack back in 2002 – didn’t John Blade used to come with snappy wisecracks? In the less then 3 hours it took me to complete the game, I think he barely said 10 confirming words. The level design was the typical oldskool linear style where the level itself sort of tangled into itself. That corridor or the room I barely saw past that fence or through that window earlier? I knew that eventually I was going to be there in 10 or 20 minutes.

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The worst part was the difficulty, though. It was not only rock hard, it was extremely punishing. I was never a fantastic FPS player, but this game certainly made me feel like the worst of beginners. The type of FPS where the enemies always hit you perfectly and drain a good chunk of health each time. Later, bad ass bullet sponge armor soldiers popped up with miniguns, just as I thought it couldn’t get much worse. About halfway through I had enough of that nonsense and turned on GOD mode. It’s funny, because the game did have two of the most intricate difficulty selectors I have ever seen.

Monochroma

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Developer: Nowhere Studios | Released: 2014 | Genre: Platform, Puzzle

This was one of those artsy platform puzzle games with a very distinct style and music. LIMBO was clearly the main inspiration, maybe too much so (it even started immediately too without a title screen) but it didn’t really bother me since it had its own industrial foundation and additional gameplay elements carrying a little brother. The little brother, who broke a leg early, added another layer of complexity to some of the puzzles and also tasted a little bit like the fantastic old PlayStation 2 platform game ICO. The side-scrolling graphics was mostly black and white with a hint of red here and there. Sometimes another color could be seen, like yellow for fire or hot metal.

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The gameplay had surprisingly long stretches of barely running and climbing, then a room with a puzzle to break it up. Typically of the sort with platforms to raise or slide along with switches. Darkness and rain was prevalent, and it added another gameplay element regarding the little brother. He was afraid of the dark and could only be parked temporarily below a strong ray of light from a lamp. Trying to drop him in the dark just made him shake his head. The big brother could run and jump higher without carrying him, so that could make a big difference in puzzles. There were also ladders to climb, ropes to swing or shimmy along, boxes and small wagons to push or pull, and buoyancy puzzles.

The Deer God

Developer: Crescent Moon Games | Released: 2014 | Genre: Platform, Adventure

This was one of those I pledged to on Kickstarter. I played about an hour of this game before I had seen enough. The retro pixel graphics had a wonderful depth of 3D parallax and the atmosphere was generally excellent, held up by weather effects and some nice music. It reminded me a little bit of Forbidden Forest on Commodore 64, and quite a lot of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.

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I was surprised about the level of complexity. Although the deer was mostly running and double-jumping, there were blocks to push, skills to put on an invisible action bar, even a quest about finding a monocle for an old man. I had to speed into bushes to see if it popped out of one. Speeding head on into things was also how most animals were killed. Hedgehogs, foxes, pigs, even human hunters – same attack. Or I could just jump over and outrun them. The deer grew older, the longer I went along without dying.

But dying is exactly where the game went wrong and I eventually didn’t bother to complete it. Although it did autosave here and there (mostly at the old mans huts) the distance back was way too long. At the end of the hour I continuously retried the same long trip half a dozen times, and I don’t consider myself all that much of a slouch when it comes to platform jumping. Okay, maybe sometimes, but not enough to warrant being punished by sending me that far back each time.

Version: Steam | Length: ~1 hour

Broken Age

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Developer: Double Fine Productions | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, Point & Click

I’m tweaking the format once again. Although I’ll keep it organized it in the same way as the last time, I’ll refrain from using headers to split up the review. I’ll also try to keep the smaller paragraphs in the minutia list only.

Here’s an adventure game that really succeeded in warming up and grabbing me in spite of a lackluster first impression. At first I thought it felt too much like a kids game. Bright colors, toys everywhere and a childish dialog. But as the first few hours passed by, not only did it manage to come up with a lot of great dialog, it also had that type of equivocal quality that Pixar animation movies also have – something of value for both kids and adults alike. The adventure game atmosphere became very solid across part 1 and 2, and the art style and animation was truly unique. In my mind there was no doubt about it – when compared to Broken Sword 5 or the Deponia trilogy, this was clearly the superior game. I didn’t even think I had it in me to like an adventure game this much anymore. I thought I had become irrevocably jaded.

As you can see in the screenshots, the art style truly was quite unique. It was also supported by a lot of excellent animations. Eyes blinking and gazing just like in Pixar movies (I love that stuff) and lots of extra details, such as only catching hold of a thing after fumbling around, almost dropping it. One thing I thought they overdid was the head scratching animation when choosing a dialog tree question.

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The engine scrolled with detailed parallax and also zoomed very frequently, sometimes excessively when entering a new scene. The music was fully symphonic and of equally high quality. Orchestral music. Voices were delivered by a lot of top actors such as e.g. Elijah Wood, Jack Black, Wil Wheaton and Jennifer Hale. All in all, the presentation was top notch. If I had to put my finger on one thing, it would be the zoom level of characters in cutscenes. It was close up, as if it wanted to cater for the tablet people. On my big widescreen PC monitor, this was a bit much.