The Swapper

Developer: Facepalm Games | Released: 2013 | Genre: Platform, Puzzle

I played a couple of hours of this platform puzzle game with very little jumping. It was focusing on the story and the interconnecting puzzles, sometimes with more than one puzzle chamber available at a time. The goal was usually to obtain a few orbs from these puzzles to turn on something and proceed.

It had incredibly convincing graphics. Together with the overuse of blurry, out of focus surroundings and the strong echo/reverb on the sound effects, it made for a very dark and creepy atmosphere indeed. There were no monsters, but those from Aliens would have felt right at home here. No doubt about that.

Handcrafted art assets and clay was used to create the game levels.

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I could clone up to four versions of myself that moved like I did, and I could swap my point of control with the other mouse button. Pads had to be stood on, crates pushed, red lighting prevented swapping, cyan lighting prevented cloning, and magenta lighting prevented both. Sometimes there were also air shafts. These rules created puzzle chambers that were sometimes quite challenging. It was also not uncommon that I had to clone and swap in a timely manner, usually while the clone was in midair.

There was a light story where I sometimes briefly spotted another astronaut that said a thing or two, I could pass by strange stones that “thought” a few lines of text to me, and apparently it all took place onboard an enormous spaceship. However, I didn’t play much more than 1½ hours until I abandoned it. Somehow the game made me feel uneasy, like I couldn’t relax and have a good time when I played it.

Also, that spinning anti-gravity room reminded me way too much of my nightly dizziness attacks.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
The Swapper
2013 Facepalm Games

5h

2

2019-04-09
2019-04-11
8

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Firewatch

Developer: Campo Santo | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, Facile

This first person game mainly took place in a national forest in Wyoming in the late 80’s. As the bearded and mild-mannered Henry, I was assigned to my own watchtower. A lot of dialog was exchanged between him and his boss Delilah on a walkie-talkie. Sometimes she sent me out to investigate the origins of smoke or some other task, exploring the canyons, forests and lakes.

This game was really blurring the line between a walking simulator facile adventure and a proper one. It didn’t have puzzles and there was a lot of walking (even backtracking) but there was an evolving story, cliff sides to scale, ropes to rappel down from, and even later upgrades that would give access to previously blocked areas such as e.g. keys to a large cave or an axe to cut down a tree for walking on.

My watchtower was sometimes even broken into while I was gone.

I absolutely loved this game. It was totally my thing. It was relaxing, easy, the voice acting for Henry and Delilah was very professional, and although the paths in the valley was sometimes a bit fenced in by rocks and falling trees, it was still great fun exploring. I could check a compass to make sure I was going in the right direction, or look at a paper map (which gave me a touch of Far Cry 2 vibes).

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Sometimes I found a yellow cache box. The code was always the same – was a minigame shelved here?

The game started with a sad tale of Henry and his wife that develops dementia. This part was told via big, centered text and two choices for some of them. It reminded me a bit of the beginning of Pixar’s animated movie, Up, and it also had a subtle smell of Visual Novel.

In the watchtower, where the game began properly, the story evolved from looking for two littering drunk teenage girls, a pole wire being cut, calling in a forest fire that generated a lot of smoke in the valley, and discovering a weird surveillance of Henry and Delilah. The latter wound up into quite some tense dialog from especially Delilah, almost freaking out at times with paranoia.

Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the details here – but it was definitely never boring.

Apart from a tiny exception in the end, there were never any people to meet face to face. Henry had quite some body awareness with arms and legs shown while e.g. climbing. I did adopt a small turtle (it was cute), saw a raccoon (that Delilah accidentally spooked off on my radio) and got stung by a bee. I was even knocked out at one point, but I still didn’t see an animated face.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Firewatch
2016 Campo Santo4h 47m 2
2019-04-07
2019-04-08
9

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers

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Developer: Black Pants Studio | Released: 2012 | Genre: Platform, Third Person

This really was a paradoxical game for me – one I both loved and hated, all at the same time.

The game had absolutely charming art and sound. The graphics reminded me of a cute amalgamation of Borderlands and Psychonauts, and the music cassettes that could be picked up turned on the suitable band music. Tiny and Big had their grunts while the dialog was presented in black bubbles.

In short, Tiny was chasing Big who had stolen grandpa’s magical underpants.

The basic rules of the game was pretty simple. Climb and explore using three tools – a laser to cut up stones, a rope to pull towards me, and a sticky rocket mine to throw and detonate. To help with the pulling, I could also push like Lara Croft, only even bigger things. Cutting up stones was by far the most novel and ingenious thing about the game. A marker line could be twisted and then triggered for laser action.

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Corners could be cut for walking where jumping was inadequate, or big poles could be cut and then pulled for creating makeshift bridges. Fully fledged physics were part of the 3D engine, making it important to be careful about how things tumbled down. This part of the game was so much fun, and the pulling and pushing added the perfect extra touch. It made it easy to tweak and adjust for jumping.

Throwing rocket mines was less useful. Sometimes it could help shifting a wall or a pole, but to be honest, I think I could have completed the game without that tool.

I don’t think I have played a more vertigo-inducing game than this, or if I have, it’s sure to be in the top five along with the worst from the likes of e.g. Tomb Raider. The many vertical levels with thin walkways or tipped pillars often made me lift my shoulders.

This is the kind of game I’m not sure I would ever go VR for.

Parallax

Developer: Toasty Games | Released: 2015 | Genre: FPS, Puzzle

Played about 30-40 minutes of this one, enough to complete up to and including chapter B-4.

The game was actually well made and with a an interesting puzzle mechanic. Although in the vein of first person puzzle games like Portal, there was no gun. Only running, clicking buttons and jumping. Interactive buttons could flip round portal mirrors (of which only one side could enter the negative realm) or bridges. In chapter B, speed boost pads were introduced. No doubt other cute gimmicks were awaiting in the later chapters, but after B-4, I decided to abandon the game.

As mentioned, it wasn’t the game – it was me.

The game was monochrome (black on white or vice versa depending on the realm) and had absolutely no story whatsoever. This was just level after level of short puzzle areas with hovering walkways. It made it feel a lot like a “VR training” feature in an extra menu option of a much larger game, and I’m usually yearning for more than that in the games I play. A story, an atmosphere – some kind of an experience.

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I also had trouble creating a “mental image” of how a chain of flipped portal mirrors would open the way to the goal. I was afraid this might mean a lot of tedious trial and error awaiting in the later chapters.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Parallax
2015 Toasty Games

5h

1

2019-04-02
2019-04-02
8

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Night Shift

Developer: Brandon Brizzi | Released: 2014 | Genre: Driving, Adventure

I just completed the driving adventure game Night Shift. That was weird. Seriously weird.

It took me over two hours to complete it, which seems to be twice as long as it should probably have taken me. But it took a while to get used to the general weirdness and what the game really wanted me to do. It wasn’t just driving along the road – in fact, this was not about racing at all.

It was about getting the sun back.

The goal was to get a flame from each of six puzzle challenges which was made extra weird in the way I had to leave roads to find the next one. In between these puzzles there was a gray sphere showing the flames I had collected so far, rotating around it. Imagine finding this sphere first time with just one flame around it, knowing nothing about what’s going on. That’s how the game is.

It wasn’t completely void of tips, though. Sometimes a white ghost was standing around and if I drove close to it, it offered a light tip as a text line in the bottom of the screen.

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The challenges themselves typically revolved around lighting street lights with an extra strong beam of light from my first person car. I could also eliminate other ghost cars with this flashing. Glowing butterflies could be placeholder hints, and sometimes I had to align things in a way that never quite got entirely clear (this was the part where trial and error took over). There was even sort of a different realm that the game shifted to whenever I was out of battery power. This was also used in a couple of puzzles.

More power was obtained by driving close to white ghost trees.

Whenever I was on the “right track” the looping music samples built up to get the sensation of things rolling. Both the use of music and the car itself gave a solid 80’s vibe, and completing the game played an animated piece. This animation was very nice, but I had hoped I could have driven up the sun-rising road while watching the dawn grow stronger. I think that might have worked quite well.

The game was weird, the 3D engine with sprites was deliberately retro (it looked like it belonged in the mid 90’s) and the goals frequently confusing, but I could also see that the game had a certain charm.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Night Shift
2014 Brandon Brizzi

2.4h

1

2019-03-31
2019-03-31
6

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

MIND: Path to Thalamus

Read more “MIND: Path to Thalamus”

Developer: Carlos Coronado | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

This was a first person adventure game with more or less surrealistic vistas, and puzzles typically involving moving and dropping “nerve clusters” that looked a little like tumbleweeds. How to use these balls is actually a spoiler, so as always I will discuss the details of this in the spoiler section below.

It took me about 4½ hours to get through it and I liked a lot about it. Especially the way it looked. Just like Deadfall Adventures, the level environments and the graphics were definitely the high note of this game. A few levels were even so pretty it made me forget myself for a minute or two upon arrival. Puzzles were for the most part okay, but sometimes involved some traipsing – and there was no sprint button. It also had a smell like being a borderline mod for an FPS. It had a very basic title screen and there were glitches.

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But even so, I still had a good time completing it. The idea of using the balls was cute and made for relaxed puzzles, apart from a few overdone exceptions that I will mention in the spoilers. If I went back in time knowing what I know now, I would definitely play it again.

Grow Up

Read more “Grow Up”

Developer: Ubisoft Reflections | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, Platform

The sequel to Grow Home was much more of what made the first one so charming.

It was clear that although it was expanded in almost all directions, it was still built upon the same code base. Same climbing, same growing star plants, same graphical style, same rag doll animations. But where the first one took place on a small island and you grew one star plant into space, the sequel took place on a spherical planet with lots of floating islands around it, and four star plants could be grown.

However, growing star plants was not the objective this time around. M.O.M., the spaceship computer, had its parts spread all over the planet after a meteor storm, and I now had to find the crash sites. To help me a new assistant, P.O.D., could be used to view the planet from above, and it moved M.O.M. parts to a small moon using a magnet that I had to align like a seasoned oil worker.

P.O.D. looked like a satellite and sometimes also came with tutorial tips and observations.

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Crystals could still be found for upgrading abilities, but these abilities were now initialized by finding “tubs” with expanding red parts. It made B.U.D. more of an Inspector Gadget this time around. The dandelion was now permanent and didn’t lose petals. Rocket jumping could be improved with crystals to actually lift me upwards, and the glider could be expanded with a jet boost.

I could also become a rolling ball but I didn’t use that one much.

You could argue that these improvements made the game too easy, but honestly it was essential now that so much more landmass had to be explored. Without the ability to glide and rocket boost around without the help of growing star plants, it would have gotten stale fast. So it was all good with me.

Grow Home

Read more “Grow Home”

Developer: Ubisoft Reflections | Released: 2015 | Genre: Adventure, Platform

It took me just a couple of minutes past 4 hours to complete it, and I loved it.

Such a charming climbing game, with the low polygon style making for great vistas with almost all of the grown stems and floating islands in view. The goal in itself was simple – find red flowers on the massive star plant and grow them towards energetic islands. Connecting to all of these special islands would grow the mother plant itself. Reach 2000 meters and its main flower opens, grab a star seed from it and win.

Implementing this required a lot of climbing with left and right mouse buttons, which reminded me a lot of the old arcade game Crazy Climber to begin with. The robot in control, B.U.D., was essentially a rag doll and it made for deliberately weird climbing at times. Keep on rollin’, baby.

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A side goal was to find crystals growing on islands and in caves. This wasn’t just for collecting as it also increased my powers; jumping, a zoom-out camera, and a limited rocket boost. B.U.D. made cute winning sounds whenever I manage to grab a crystal. Another side goal was to drag plants, fruits and animals into one of the checkpoints for analysis. This gave more text to read about them in a data bank.

Cute, but not all that important. Crystals and growing was the main concern.

Helping with the climbing, I could also grab a dandelion and use it for floating as a parachute. The flower slowly lost its petals while floating, so it was a limited ride. Later a leaf could also be used for gliding, but I preferred the dandelion. Jump off an island, float back towards its side, then grab hold and climb.

Deadfall Adventures

Read more “Deadfall Adventures”

Developer: The Farm 51 | Released: 2013 | Genre: FPS, Adventure

This was an FPS from 2013 with puzzles to be solved by an ancestor of Alan Quatermain. It took place in 1938 in Egypt, Arctic and Mayan ruins, and usually together with Jennifer, a female partner. It was all very Indiana Jones. Together with waves of Nazis, it made it feel like Wolfenstein meets Tomb Raider.

It was also an unremarkable game in many ways, with a B-movie plot featuring cliché-riddled dialog and stereotypical characters. The fights were simple and predictable, but luckily also not quite as common as I expected. There were a lot of calm moments solving puzzles or finding treasures. The latter could upgrade my health, marksmanship or my flashlight, but it honestly didn’t feel like it mattered much.

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At the bottom line there were a lot of flaccid elements of this game to give it an equally mediocre score, but at least the level design was almost worth the price of admission. It wasn’t phenomenal – get up close and some circles were octagons – but from a distance, the environments actually looked quite nice.

But the game design wasn’t always solid. There were a lot of cutscenes without interaction for many levels, then about halfway through I suddenly had to hit keys and mouse buttons in what the game considered a typical QTE. That was late for this change of heart. Most puzzles were easy and took only seconds to solve through, but there were confusing exceptions where the solution was pretty obscure.

Same thing about finding the treasures for upgrading my abilities.

Forward to the Sky

Developer: Animu Game | Released: 2015 | Genre: 3PS, Adventure

Another really short game. This one took me about 1½ hour.

It was a third person jumping game with a little bit of sword fighting and puzzle themes. The anime look, with the princess protagonist and her silly bows, gave a few Final Fantasy vibes too. But this was a simple game with just six short levels, of which the sixth one was a boss fight in an arena. The fighting itself was incredibly basic. I could mash a button or click another to back off. That’s it.

Every level was a hotchpotch of blocks and stairs with puzzles mostly based on buttons and levers. The princess arrives on a balloon and leaves on one as she finds it, usually at the top. Enemies drop coins and I could get a lot more by smashing secret statues. If I dropped off somewhere, she whistled for the balloon to come grab and drop her off at the latest checkpoint. So far, so good.

What was not so awesome was what happened if the enemies got rid of my health bar. Level restart.

I bought this game expecting it to be a walk in the park. And for the most part it was. The smaller enemies were pushovers, but sometimes a skirmish included a few of their bigger brothers that required many hits to die, and they could get lucky and eat more than half my health bar. After the first three levels I decided not to let myself be frustrated by this and installed a trainer.

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Infinite health. No regrets. And peace at mind to concentrate on the puzzles.

Each level had its own gimmick. The first had spears and pushable crates, and the second had blades and spinners. Both took place in daylight. The third level went into nighttime and had windy loops and annoying draft paths that could push me off the edge. In the fourth level, pillars had to be spun around to send dots into crystals that regenerated solid matter to walk on. In the fifth, I could walk on big boulders.

As mentioned before, the sixth level was a boss fight in an arena. I can’t say how difficult it really was as I was still blessed with trainer ignorance, but it felt difficult. The fight had several phases and the princess antagonist shot all kinds of magic fires, crystals and beams, and some of it even seemed to be downright impossible to avoid getting hit by. I sure hope that fight had its own set of checkpoints.

There were a few other things from the basket of pain as well. The protagonist and antagonist had this thing about talking to each other all the time, and just as in games such as e.g. Bastion, I was far too busy with fights and puzzles to pay attention to any of it. The voice of the princess hero was also squeaky and made it painfully obvious that this really was a game for kids.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Forward to the Sky
2015 Animu Games1h 43m 1
2019-02-22
2019-02-22
7

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.