Botanicula

Developer: Amanita Design | Released: 2012 | Genre: Adventure, Point & Click

I absolutely loved this one. Irresistibly cute and easy on both ears and eyes. Made by the creators of the Samorost series and Machinarium, I controlled a small team of five weird inhabitants of a tree culture, walking along branches to solve puzzles or collect items for a broader purpose. The game is filled to the brim with hilarious animals animated in an even more hilarious manner, and the sound effects performed by humans match perfectly.

Each of the half dozen of levels consists of a large number of flip screens to traverse. Some of the screens just have weird creatures to interact with for entertainment, others would eventually reward me with an important item or open up a new passage. Pointing and clicking is not the only thing, I also had to nudge floating or swaying items. Sometimes I even had to choose one of my team members for a specific task. Everything is shown with animations or signs, there is no language involved in the gameplay.

The game generally felt easier than Machinarium, but some of the later levels had quite a few screens or items to collect, such as 14 chickens from small huts all over. The penultimate level contains a staggering amount of screens, so many that the developers felt it necessary to put helpful icons on each exit. There was a leaf in my inventory that functioned as sort of a map, but I didn’t find it necessary to refer to it.

Without spoiling too much, I only controlled one of five in the last level of darkness. There was one section here that kind of simulated a shoot’em up by alternating clicks on a floating character versus incoming enemy icons, but it wasn’t difficult. Not a lot of dexterity was required to get through this game.

It took me about four hours to get complete it. I got 104 out of 123 cards and 42 out of 53 achievements. Fraps wouldn’t grab any screenshots as it was essentially a Flash game.

Version: Steam | Length: ~4 hours

Spate

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Developer: Ayyo Games | Released: 2014 | Genre: Platform, Adventure

Another Saturday, another shorty. This one lasted barely two hours and turned out to be one of those art games with more mood and style than gameplay. It was constantly raining hard, the grass was waving, and the 3D engine added multiple layers of surrealistic shapes. I was controlling an alcoholic detective yearning for his lost daughter, and he was narrating both this story as well as various findings on my way.

There are several good things to be said about balancing tough challenges with streaks of nothing to gear down, but this game felt like it was overdoing it a lot. The game was for the most part easy and only offered more or less dexterous jump puzzles. Sometimes a cannon had to shoot a seesaw to get it in position or I could fly a small airship for a while, pressing one button to thrust it upwards past the saw blades.

But then as a sequence of this was done, our hero was merely wandering along for minutes and minutes, no jumps, no nothing. Maybe a very long bridge or past a small town. This is typically where he started narrating a lot about his miserable past and how he deserved his fate. These passages were so long that it made the game feel like part platformer, part walking simulator. It was too much of a good thing.

The Witcher 3: Pretty Pictures, Part 2

Check out the this gallery with the second half of more than 50 HUD-less screenshots from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This part contains screenshots from Kaer Morhen, Velen, and various islands in Skellige.

There should be virtually no spoilers in these screenshots – it’s mostly just Geralt and nature.

I’ve used a Jetpack plug-in for WordPress to show the gallery in a nicely tiled manner. If you’re reading this in an RSS feed, open the blog post in a new tab in order to browse the screenshots in a viewer.

Check out part 1 for the first half of the gallery.

The Gravity Gun, 45 Years Prior to Half-Life 2

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When Half-Life 2 was released in 2004, everyone was taken aback by the marvelous gravity gun – a beam weapon that could pick up and throw objects. It paved the way for a lot of awesomeness. Enemies could be defeated in entirely new ways and puzzles could be solved by stacking or moving stuff around.

In fact, the gravity gun was so ingenious that it has since been copied by many other video games. One of my personal favorites is Rochard from 2011, a side-scrolling platformer with an emphasis on puzzle solving. I have also seen similar gravity manipulators in e.g. Dead Space, Doom 3, and Singularity.

But did you know that Valve didn’t actually invent the gravity gun? To be absolutely fair, the honor of envisioning it should really go to the Belgian comics artist André Franquin – more than 40 years before Half-Life 2 was even conceived. Just take a look at this:

Spirou and Fantasio: The Prisoner of the Buddha

The Witcher 3: Pretty Pictures, Part 1

Check out the this gallery with the first half of more than 50 HUD-less screenshots from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Most here are from various mountain tops in Skellige.

There should be virtually no spoilers in these screenshots – it’s mostly just Geralt and nature.

I’ve used a Jetpack plug-in for WordPress to show the gallery in a nicely tiled manner. If you’re reading this in an RSS feed, open the blog post in a new tab in order to browse the screenshots in a viewer.

UPDATE: Since the creation of this blog post I’ve saved a few more HUD-less screenshots. Rather than just add to this one and make it bloated, I’ve decided to split it up into two posts with 26 screenshots in each.

Check out part 2 for the second half of the gallery.

The Witcher 3: Part 2

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Developer: CD Projekt RED | Released: 2015 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

So I finally completed the main story of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, including most of the question marks on all maps and the free DLC with side quests. It took me almost 99 hours and I reached level 35. Save games are available – see the top menu bar.

This is one of the best games I’ve ever played and I would recommend it to anyone interested in an open world RPG, regardless of whether you liked the first two games or not. Fantastic atmosphere, groundbreaking facial animations in cutscenes, a lot of great quest stories all over the places, and I also liked how I could get a lot better at fighting as time went by and I got used to dodging instead of rolling.

I remember wondering about the claims that The Witcher 3 made Fallout 4 look completely lacklustre in comparison, but now that I’ve completed it, I can certainly see it.

Screenshot

Boy am I glad that I played Fallout 4 before this one.

The Witcher 3: Part 1

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Developer: CD Projekt RED | Released: 2015 | Genre: RPG, Third Person

This may very well be the prettiest game I’ve ever played so far. The texture detail is really out of this world. The faces of the 3D models are extremely detailed, with stubble, pimples and birthmarks accompanied by realistic facial animation that fits the lines of dialog well. The clothes really look like clothes, whether it’s dry or wet from rain – it’s almost like I can feel its volume at times.

Graphically, this game sure is a feast for your eyes.

Screenshot

But as is typically me with big and complicated RPG these years, it didn’t actually grab me until the third session or so. It felt too overwhelming to begin with. Tons of screens, skills, inventory tabs, a tutorial that frequently paused the action, and words on the internet about enormous maps with a never-ending amount of question marks to find and reveal. I persevered because I knew it would be like this for me in the beginning and it turned out to be the wise thing to do.

Eventually it finally managed to grab me because of how meticulously it was designed. Although I didn’t agree with all of the gameplay mechanics, it was clear that the developers really tried to do their very best in many areas. If one part of the gameplay made me frown a bit, five other things made me grin like a child being offered an ice cream that needs to be held with two hands.

Especially the side quests have been really impressive so far. So many RPG pile this up with quests about acquiring ten bear asses, but in The Witcher 3 they are almost all interesting and varied, with lots of dialog and often a bit of detective work. Borrowing from games such as Rocksteady’s Batman series, I can turn on my Witcher senses (a fish eye effect then occurs) to spot evidence in red, examine it with comments, then perhaps following a red trail of footprints or a thread of smell meandering through the air. Surprisingly many side quests have this part built into them and it’s a nice digression from smacking monsters.

Completed: The Witness

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I finally managed to complete The Witness after six sessions. The last save game said I solved 359 puzzles, and according to Steam it took me 26 hours. It has a tendency to exaggerate, but somewhere in the early twenties is probably right. Only 7 out of 11 lasers needed to be switched on in order to enter the mountain and I decided to settle with that. I never had any intentions to be a completionist about this game.

Another good reason for not wanting to solve everything in this game is that I actually didn’t like many of the later puzzles. I never cheated or read any hints and I can honestly say I figured it all out on my own, but some of the puzzles were too difficult for me to find them fun. I really had to be on the nails of my toes with some of these. Especially inside the mountain the puzzles got really vicious, mixing existing rules with damaged or combined panels. Some where inventive, some very difficult to observe at all, and many were combined across smaller and bigger puzzles.

Screenshot

Without spoiling too much, I almost thought I found my final nemesis puzzle in the bottom of a big shaft inside the mountain. It was another one of those where several smaller puzzles were combined with a big one to make everything come together. I had such a hard time with that one that I actually had to draw the board and pieces on paper, cut them out, and spend hours puzzling them together at my dinner table. I imagine many other players would have given up here and found the solution on the internet, but I was very stubborn. I got this far and I wanted to complete the game without cheating. Eventually I did succeed in finding the correct combination of pieces, flipped the answer, and the door went up.

The Witness: First Impressions

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

After completing Pneuma, one of my friends gifted me this game on Steam – removing it from my wish list. He spoke of his endeavors in this game and it got me enticed. I installed and started it almost immediately and played it for more than 5 hours yesterday. Enough to dish out my first impressions about it.

I completed Jonathan Blow’s puzzle platformer Braid back in 2012 and have had an eye on his next game ever since. It seemed like quite a quantum leap from Braid – from a 2D platformer to a completely open world puzzle game in a pretty 3D engine. I didn’t care much for the pretentious story and ditto quotes in Braid, but the gameplay was truly awesome. It had so many time manipulating ideas that really surprised me by how ingenious they were. And just as I thought I had seen it all, Jonathan Blow managed to conjure up yet another fresh approach.

Suffice to say, I was very curious about The Witness.

Of course The Witness just had to be one of those modern games that starts immediately without a title screen, just like e.g. Limbo. You could say that as long as the spot is as secluded and safe as it is, but I don’t know. I’m probably old fashioned, but I actually like a title screen up front as the first thing.

Then again, ten years ago I didn’t care much for digital games and stubbornly wanted a disc in a box, and look at me now. Why waste shelf space on a box when you can have it on Steam?

So maybe in a few years, title screens will be the annoying thing.

The game started with very small baby steps indeed. Almost all puzzles seemed to be based on using the mouse to draw a line through a maze on a panel, and it started with the basic straight line, then an angled line, and so forth. Soon mazes appeared with dead ends, and the starter area made it clear how the panels turned on more panels through wires now lit up, meandering through the grass and over walls. So, lots of following wires and finding new panels with puzzles to solve.