Monday, September 5, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Shütshimi


Shütshimi
Capsule Review!

You can get Shütshimi at http://shutshimi.com/

Transcript:
Shütshimi is a retro-styled horizontal scrolling shooter whose action comes in ten-second increments. In between, you have a few seconds to pick one of three random modifiers - there are hats, different weapons, upgrades or downgrades, and various silly cosmetic effects. Everything is presented with tongue held firmly in cheek and the jokey descriptions for the modifiers and their unrelated icons make it hard to suss out what your options actually are in the few seconds available. It may have flowed better to simply apply a modifier at random and not bring the gameplay to a grinding halt every ten seconds. The shooting is fast-paced, but since the game can't do anything scoped greater than a few seconds, its bite-sized novelty-over-depth gameplay would probably have been more suited to mobile than to PC and PlayStation.

Monday, August 29, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Dragon's Crown


Dragon's Crown
Capsule Review!

See also the And in the game? comic.

You can get Dragon's Crown at https://www.amazon.com/Dragons-Crown-Playstation-3/dp/B007V9QKH0

Transcript:
Dragon's Crown is a 2.5D brawler with action RPG elements. You can play alone or via couch co-op, but the game is obviously tuned to favor online co-op - there are six different classes with varying specializations and it's valuable to have multiple archetypes present, but there's also a lot of very slow inventory and skill point management that only one local player can do at a time. You can round out your party with AI-controlled members, but they're mediocre and require their own fiddly management between dungeon runs. There isn't much depth to the story, characters, or world, but the art is distinctive and gorgeous. Although the 2D art in a 3D space presents some positioning problems, the combat mechanics are otherwise extremely well-tuned, and the boss fights in particular are varied and engaging. That's good, because you'll be seeing them over and over - there aren't that many dungeons, and you've got to grind through them repeatedly to progress. The experience has much more longevity when played with friends.

Monday, August 22, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: TowerFall Ascension


TowerFall Ascension
Capsule Review!

Why you don't want an online mode in TowerFall

You can get TowerFall Ascension at http://www.towerfall-game.com/

Transcript:
TowerFall Ascension is a fast-paced, very precise 2D arena fighter based on shooting arrows and head-stomping. A few simple moves are combined to create a lot of strategic depth and a high skill ceiling. There are also a ton of modifiers and modes available for varied gameplay, such as giving everyone bomb arrows or even taking arrows away completely, and there's a co-op campaign as well that pits you against a variety of enemy types. The game is perfectly balanced, since all characters play identically, though this also means you can't pick a character to get good at and there aren't varied matchups. It feels good to play and especially to pull off skilled moves, but it's hard to enjoy alone, with single-player serving really only to practice the skills you'll then use in multiplayer, so it's worth noting that there's no online play, though there are good reasons - see Why you don't want an online mode in TowerFall.

Monday, August 15, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Catherine


Catherine
Capsule Review!

You can get Catherine at https://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Playstation-3/dp/B004P7VGF2

Transcript:
Catherine is a game about a man going through a quarter-life crisis and, essentially, choosing between two women who represent commitment and freedom respectively. Gameplay alternates between the player character's nightmares, which are experienced as block-sliding climbing puzzles, and his waking life, experienced as adventure game-like sections with dialog and time-management choices and a pretty cool texting mechanic where you pick the mood of each sentence to send. The story features themes of maturity, fidelity, conformity, the need to move on and the fear of doing so. The game's atmosphere and visual design are great, but a lot of the rest of it feels clumsy. The middle of the story drags with the plot remaining static until you've climbed through enough levels. The implementation of the karma meter means choices matter both too much and too little, since you can't really change how most of the events play out, but you can easily be locked into endings that may have nothing to do with how you were trying to steer the story. Most frustratingly, the game doesn't end up having much of anything to say about the grown-up issues it raises - the endings tend to be wacky deus ex machinas that prevent the characters from having to deal with the consequences of their prior behavior. All in all, it feels like a missed opportunity and I would like to see a better attempt.

Monday, August 8, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Broforce

Broforce
Capsule Review!

You can get Broforce at http://www.broforcegame.com/

Transcript:
Broforce is an over-the-top 2D pixel art shoot 'em up that affectionately parodies action movies and the war on terror. It's very chaotic, with terrain that can be destroyed by gunfire and explosives lying around that can result in screen-clearing chains of explosions at the drop of a hat. A single stray bullet can kill you, which is mostly okay as this just means you switch to the next randomly-selected bro, which adds enjoyably to the chaos since the bros are fun and varied and it's entertaining to figure out how to be effective with each bro's particular power set. The problem is that you have limited lives, and it can be frustrating to have to replay a level because of the game's unpredictable destruction or because you got stuck with a very limited bro who just wasn't useful for the situation. Regardless, the game is best enjoyed with a friend so you can laugh at the chaos and silliness together.

Monday, July 18, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Clicker Heroes


Clicker Heroes
Capsule Review!

You can get Clicker Heroes at https://www.clickerheroes.com/

Transcript:
An idle game in which your stable of heroes kill monsters for gold. As I assume is true of most idle games, its structure is based on a series of concentric gameplay loops. First you're clicking monsters to kill them and collect gold, which you use to hire and upgrade heroes. The heroes make the monster loop faster, so after a while you stop focusing on individual monsters and instead use the constant flow of gold to manage your heroes, occasionally using their powers (which are on cooldowns of varying length) to make a lot of progress quickly. But despite being in the title, the heroes are just one of several loops - eventually you start "ascending", sacrificing your heroes to start over but collecting "hero souls" which you use to upgrade "ancients" that give you passive bonuses that make the hero loop faster. Then you start "transcending", sacrificing your ancients to start over but collecting "ancient souls" which you use to upgrade "outsiders" that give you passive bonuses that make the ancient loop faster. There are a couple of other mechanics, such as relics that are essentially another facet of the ancient loop and mercenaries which grant rewards on timers. And somewhat evilly, there are "guilds" that present a lightweight social obligation factor through daily "raids" that must be collaborated on to make any real progress. It can be satisfying, in a mindless way, to check in on your increasingly-huge numbers for a few minutes here and there. But ultimately, the game is a treadmill, doling out progression on longer and longer schedules. As such, the only way to win is not to play.

Monday, July 11, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Race The Sun


Race The Sun
Capsule Review!

You can get Race The Sun at http://flippfly.com/racethesun/

Transcript:
Race The Sun is an endless runner with a compelling atmosphere. Deaths are slightly too spectacular and flow-disrupting, but the mission-based unlock system means they are also the only way to get access to new mechanics - despite the game's continual navel-gazing about the inevitability of failure, failure is the only way to progress. As a result, the pacing feels slow and oddly forced - rather than honing skill on a well-tuned challenge, it feels like running laps in an incomplete game in order to earn the next piece. For example, the first few runs are guaranteed to be cut short by running out of time when the sun sets, because you have to unlock the pickups that extend your time by raising the sun - after unlocking them, I never again lost due to running out of time. Some runs later, I crashed because I went through what was obviously a gateway - but I hadn't yet unlocked the gateway mechanic. If the game didn't force you to spend so much time on an incomplete version of itself and if it were a little harder to die, the core gameplay and aesthetics would be great at creating flow.

Monday, July 4, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Lumines


Lumines
Capsule Review!

You can get Lumines at http://store.steampowered.com/app/11900/ or on the PlayStation, XBox, or iOS stores.

Transcript:
Lumines is a falling-block puzzle game where you must group like-colored blocks into rectangles to clear them away. Every so often you switch to a new song and corresponding visual skin, and the speed of the song determines the speed at which blocks are cleared away. Slower songs make it easier to rack up large combos, but also leave more time for the board to overfill and end the game. The puzzle gameplay is fairly straightforward and can actually be solved deterministically - once you know how to play, you can do so indefinitely until the blocks fall too fast for your reflexes to keep up. At that point, all that's really left is the atmosphere created by the songs and skins, which vary in different Lumines games and may or may not be to your liking.

Monday, June 27, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Little Inferno


Little Inferno
Capsule Review!

You can get Little Inferno at http://tomorrowcorporation.com/littleinferno

Transcript:
Little Inferno is a satirical game where you burn things to get money to buy more things to burn. It's a send-up of games that use compulsion loops and energy mechanics to keep players playing and paying, illustrating the unhealthy cyclic nature of the behavior they incentivize. It's implied that children are rewarded for burning things in order to keep them warm since there's a bit of an ice age setting in - but that this ice age is due to all the smoke in the atmosphere from everyone burning things. The interactions of the burning objects are entertaining and fire is pretty, but it's mostly a message game. After a few hours, there are some big surprises when it's time to deliver the moral, which is that you should break out of these loops and go do constructive things in the real world. For the right audience, this game is a wake-up call. For others, it's just a diversion.

Monday, June 20, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald


Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald
Capsule Review!

You can get Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald at https://crowscrowscrows.itch.io/dr-langeskov-the-tiger-and-the-terribly-cursed-emerald-a-whirlwind-heist or http://store.steampowered.com/app/409160/

Transcript:
Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist is a short exploration game that playfully deconstructs narrative power-fantasy games by casting them as elaborate stage productions and putting you backstage in one. Both the scale and the humor are magnified by the game leaving a lot to your imagination, keeping up a frantic pace during which a lot goes hilariously wrong, and setting up a few gags that pay off later leading up to an ironic ending. Don't bother with a second playthrough or with any of the things around the game - the achievements, patch notes, and a lot of things people say about the game online are all lies.

Monday, May 30, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: To Be Or Not To Be


To Be Or Not To Be
Capsule Review!

You can get To Be Or Not To Be at http://gamebookadventures.com/gamebooks/to-be-or-not-to-be/

Transcript:
To Be Or Not To Be is Shakespeare's Hamlet as a comedic choose-your-own-adventure. The text is clever and fun to read, as to be expected of writer Ryan North. I really enjoyed my first playthrough, where I chose the Shakespeare-official options to familiarize myself with the normal story. I wasn't able to stick with the game much longer after that, though, because the UX is inexplicably bad for repeat plays. Most visual novels have this stuff down but for some reason this game's engine doesn't use any of the standard assists - it doesn't mark which options you've already chosen, and you can't fast-forward through stuff you've already seen. That means too much time spent sitting through boring stuff and not enough time spent reading hilarious and awesome new stuff. You can also just buy this as a straight-up book, which might be better since you can flip around more easily.

Friday, May 27, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Splatoon


Splatoon
Capsule Review!

You can get Splatoon at http://splatoon.nintendo.com/buy/

Transcript:
Splatoon is a colorful third-person shooter with a strong and consistent punk aesthetic. The main draw of the game is the online arena-based competitive multiplayer which tasks you with painting the area with your team's color of ink and only incidentally with shooting up the opposing team members. Since you're essentially using water guns with fairly short range, combat is kinetic and intimate. There's a lot of clever and satisfying synergy in the mechanics: your score is determined by how much territory you cover in your own ink, but that ink also allows you to hide, travel faster, and restock your ammo. But there's an extended progression system that means you're never playing on a level field and it's ages before you can customize your outfit and loadout to any significant degree. Plus it features the usual frustrations of online multiplayer - you can get booted if the Wii U decides your connection isn't good enough, you spend a lot of time in the lobby waiting for enough players, and even when everything works your experience depends on the behavior of random strangers (and it always sucks to lose a match because you had an idler on your team). Bot matches would have gone a long way to rescue it, but are not available. There is a single-player mode, but it's totally separate - the progression is disconnected, you can't customize your character, and it's a much more Mario-like series of levels that uses a ton of mechanics not found in the multiplayer. There are a couple of arena levels that are a blast, but they are few and far between. All in all, I love the game's world, but this is not quite the game I want to play in it. For now, I'm just hoping for spinoff titles.

Monday, May 23, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: The Beginner's Guide


The Beginner's Guide
Capsule Review!

You can get The Beginner's Guide at http://thebeginnersgui.de/

Transcript:
The Beginner's Guide is a narrated exploration game which is also a meditation on a particular type of unhealthy fan/creator relationship, exploring themes of hero worship, difficulties of the creative process, and imposing our own meaning on others' work that reflects more on us than on them. It's a message game, aimed at an audience you may or may not be a member of, but either way it's skillfully done and you'll likely be thinking about the game long after the hour and a half or so it takes to walk through it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Gone Home


Gone Home
Capsule Review!

You can get Gone Home at http://www.gonehomegame.com/

Transcript:
Gone Home is an exploration game that has you exploring your family home to find out what's happened in your year abroad and where your mysteriously-absent parents and sister are. The story is told through objects, found messages, and a series of audio logs. The central arc is about your younger sister, but other relatives have stories too and they all revolve around the importance of being true to yourself and of finding people who accept you that way.

Where the game succeeds is in its characters and atmosphere - the people feel real, piecing together the narrative from environmental clues is fun, and the subtly spooky state of the house is used to great effect. Where the game fails is in its most game-like aspects - to properly constrain your movement, the house is set up in an implausible and immersion-breaking way requiring you to memorize lock combinations and get one key to unlock the thing containing the next key a few too many times. (There's also a ridiculous number of cassette players and phone books lying around.)

A lot of people have latched on to the gayness of some of the characters as what this game is about, but honestly that's incidental to the true theme of being who you are.

Monday, May 16, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Glitchhikers


Glitchhikers
Capsule Review!

You can get Glitchhikers at http://glitchhikers.com/

Transcript:
Glitchhikers is a meditative mood piece that for twenty minutes or so simulates the experience of a lonely late-night drive where nothing seems real but everything seems profound. The game is carefully crafted to create the right atmosphere - from the tail lights ahead that you can never quite catch up to, to the simplified and nearly-automatic driving that feels like highway hypnosis, to the dreamy insomniac quality of the radio music and DJ, to the slow heavy blinks of the player character. What really matters, though, are the conversations you have with your surreal passengers. Play at night with the lights off for the best experience.

Monday, May 9, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons


Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Capsule Review!

You can get Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons at http://www.brothersthegame.com/

Transcript:
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a puzzle platformer where you simultaneously control two brothers who must work together to navigate the environment and achieve goals. It isn't perfect - there are some learn-by-dying portions and the achievement design is awful - but it's really interesting and there isn't anything else quite like it. It's got dialog-free characterization, beautiful scenery and music, powerful atmosphere, and unique mechanics, some of which are actually used to convey story. It's worth your time, clocking in around three hours, but be warned that this is not a happy game. Death surrounds you and not everyone can be saved.

Friday, May 6, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Runner2


Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
Capsule Review!

You can get Runner2 at http://www.runner2.com/

Transcript:
Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a rhythm platformer like its predecessor. Your character runs automatically, you avoid obstacles and collect gold by jumping, sliding, kicking or blocking at the right time, and your actions affect the music. It expands on the original in several ways - the game is much prettier and has a bunch of characters and skins to unlock, there are more levels and many of them have branching paths, and most importantly there are now optional mid-level checkpoints. This greatly mitigates the frustration of restarting a longer level because of a single mistake near the end, while still allowing players the option of the original hardcore challenge. There are a few misfires - for example, a new post-level "bonus chance" mechanic that makes pursuing 100% completion much more tedious than it needs to be - but overall it's a bigger and better BIT.TRIP RUNNER, and still a great way to zen out as long as your reflexes are up to it and you can groove on chiptunes.

Monday, May 2, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Bit.Trip Runner


Bit.Trip Runner
Capsule Review!

You can get Bit.Trip Runner at https://totallychoice.com/games/bittrip-runner

Transcript:
Bit.Trip Runner is a rhythm platformer with an Atari 2600-inspired aesthetic. Your character runs automatically, you avoid obstacles and collect gold by jumping, sliding, kicking or blocking at the right time, and your actions affect the music. It's really good at creating flow, and to avoid breaking that flow, messing up causes the level to immediately restart. This works great for short levels, but the levels get longer and longer, meaning that it's increasingly the case that when practicing a difficult challenge, each attempt is preceded by a minute or so of platforming you've already mastered, which can get quite frustrating. Aside from that, it's a great way to zen out as long as your reflexes are up to it and you can groove on chiptunes.

Friday, April 29, 2016

ONE WRONG THING: Runner2


Don't give the player a "bonus chance" that's really just a chance to fail.

You can get Runner2 at http://www.runner2.com/

Other footage from:
Little Big Planet
NHL 16 (thanks, Senpai-Chan!)
Rock Band 3

Transcript:

Monday, April 25, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: DuckTales Remastered


DuckTales Remastered
Capsule Review!

See also the And in the game? comic.

You can get DuckTales Remastered at http://www.capcom-unity.com/ducktales or http://store.steampowered.com/app/237630/

Transcript:
DuckTales Remastered is a 2D platformer that's a remake of the NES original. It's lovingly-rendered nostalgia that holds up pretty well, with gorgeous character animation, beautiful soundtrack, and tight gameplay as you explore levels looking for treasure. A single play-through is two to three hours or so. The intro and finale levels, which were added for the remake, aren't as well-designed as the original levels, but those are all still there and quite fun. The difficulty settings are a bit odd and for most players I'd recommend playing on Easy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: SteamWorld Dig


SteamWorld Dig
Capsule Review!

You can get SteamWorld Dig at http://imageform.se/game/steamworld-dig/

Transcript:
SteamWorld Dig is a 2D mining and platform game with Metroidvania elements and a lightweight plot. You dig up ores to sell, find and buy upgrades and new abilities, and periodically have platform challenges and a boss fight or two. There's maybe a smidgen too much resource management, as your flashlight has a limited timer that resets when you exit the mine, and buying ladders or teleporters back to the surface uses the same finite resources used for upgrades, though there's enough that it's not really a problem. The game is superbly paced - new abilities, challenges, and environments come up just when you've mastered the old, such that nothing wears out its welcome.

Friday, April 15, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Analogue: A Hate Story


Analogue: A Hate Story
Capsule Review!

You can get Analogue: A Hate Story at http://store.steampowered.com/app/209370/

Transcript:
Analogue: A Hate Story is a visual novel about investigating a disaster that occurred on a generation ship drifting through space. There's a lot of reading as you dig through text logs and interact with AI NPCs to uncover the truth. The game is notable for presenting an incredibly fair and even-handed examination of moral relativism. It depicts a society that is horrifying and deplorable by modern standards, but at the same time is clearly made up of people who are just trying to do what they believe is right. There are a lot of characters and some pretty complicated family trees - more visuals would have helped keep them straight, but the writing is strong enough that it's still very easy to believe in these characters and to care about them.

Monday, April 11, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Super Meat Boy


Super Meat Boy
Capsule Review!

You can get Super Meat Boy at http://www.supermeatboy.com/

Transcript:
Super Meat Boy is a precision platformer with incredibly tight controls and jump physics. It feels really good to play - especially since the devs focused on stripping away frustration while still presenting a high level of challenge. There's no limited lives (outside of a few bonus levels), respawn is instant, and the levels are small enough that the goal is always visible. At least, that's how it starts. The levels get longer and longer and have multiple different kinds of challenges, but you still always respawn at the start of the level - meaning that the punishment and therefore frustration increase as you go. If the devs had stuck to their design goals, the game would be just about perfect. As it is, it's merely very good.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A quick note on DOCPLAYS

TL;DR: I've unlisted the older DOCPLAYS videos because they were terrible. If you'd already stopped watching DOCPLAYS, you may want to give the newer ones a shot - they're more about insight into design choices now.

I've often said that if you want to get better at something, do it in public, which is why I'm publishing two videos a week in 2016. Keeping up this pace forces me to experiment, learn, and grow, and one of the ways I've grown is by learning that my early DOCPLAYS experiments were flawed. The format I tried - live commentary as I play the game for the first time - doesn't use my strengths and I don't think that the results are worth watching. In fact, I've unlisted those videos from my YouTube channel. They're still accessible if you already had the URL, or via the embeds in the corresponding Pixel Poppers posts. But I want it to be the case that someone who stumbles onto my channel and clicks around finds only content that I'm actually proud to share.

The newest DOCPLAYS videos follow a different format: I play the game and write up some notes on the design, highlighting what works and what doesn't. Then I record new gameplay with that commentary. These videos take a lot longer to put together but it's worth it. If you stopped watching DOCPLAYS because the old ones were crap - I don't blame you. The new ones are better so give them a try.

I'm still experimenting so if you have any thoughts about what's working and not working in my videos or ways you think I could make them better, I'd love to hear them.

CAPSULE REVIEW: Thomas Was Alone


Thomas Was Alone
Capsule Review!

You can get Thomas Was Alone at http://www.mikebithellgames.com/thomaswasalone/

Transcript:
Thomas Was Alone is a 2D puzzle platformer with strong characterization that creates a lot of empathy, despite the cast consisting entirely of colored rectangles. This feat is accomplished through quite good narration of pretty decent writing, paired with evocative visuals and an incredible soundtrack. Some of the mechanics support the narration, though they never really reveal anything beyond it, and mostly just present competent puzzle platforming. Creator's commentary is also included and quite interesting, justifying playing the game a second time to hear it in context. Though be advised: the DLC is worth neither your money nor your time.

Monday, April 4, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: You Must Build A Boat


You Must Build A Boat
Capsule Review!

You can get You Must Build A Boat at http://eightyeightgames.com/you-must-build-a-boat/

See also the Capsule Review for 10,000,000: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r12oXPh5waA

Transcript:
You Must Build A Boat, like its predecessor 10,000,000, is a match-3 game with infinite runner and RPG elements, where obstacles and enemies must be overcome by matching the right kinds of tiles, and other tiles grant resources that can be used to purchase upgrades between runs. But there's a lot more spectacle and complexity going on between runs - you're expanding your boat, recruiting allies and monsters, traveling between different areas with different enemies and different bonuses and penalties active in the dungeons. It's better balanced and more engaging than 10,000,000 but still has the same design philosophy, where each run makes you better off for the next, and eventually you reach a satisfying end. If you only play one of them, play this one.

Monday, March 28, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: The Swapper


The Swapper
Capsule Review!

You can get The Swapper at http://facepalmgames.com/the-swapper/

Transcript:
The Swapper is an intriguing puzzle platformer that captures the feel of a Metroidvania but without mandatory backtracking, since every puzzle is solvable when you first encounter it. You don't gain new powers - you learn new applications, though the game doesn't provide much scaffolding to help you figure them out. The trophy design is terrible (there's one each for ten impossibly-hidden text logs that add basically nothing to the story) and the game would have been far less frustrating with an undo or brief rewind function. The story is less coherent than the mechanics, contradicts them in places, and isn't nearly as interesting as what the gameplay would suggest - many puzzles involve strategically killing your clones, which has great dramatic and thematic potential that goes ignored. But the atmosphere is very compelling and the puzzle design is excellent.

Monday, March 21, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Antichamber


Antichamber
Capsule Review!

You can get Antichamber at http://www.antichamber-game.com/

Transcript:
Antichamber is a first-person puzzle exploration game with a stark aesthetic. In this sort of plot-light puzzle game, the motivation to keep playing comes from a desire to see what interesting new mechanics and surprises will come next. Most of Antichamber's surprises come from subverting expectations about the nature of space and reality, such as by having hallways rearrange themselves when you aren't looking. To me, the results are largely tedious - it's not about being clever to solve problems that follow consistent rules, it's about the game designer feeling clever by deceiving you and often wasting your time.

Monday, March 14, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Pony Island


Pony Island
Capsule Review!

You can get Pony Island at http://store.steampowered.com/app/405640

Transcript:
A runner game inside a puzzle game with some less categorizable bits in between, Pony Island is a lighthearted 2-3 hour experience that pokes fun at shady game monetization techniques. Despite casting developers who use these strategies as literally the devil, it's much gentler than, say, Little Inferno's commentary on the same topic. Even Lucifer is shown to care more about whether people like his game than whether they sell their souls to him.

While a couple of specific characters in specific contexts address the player directly, the game is usually not about the player but a canonical player character instead. Hints about this character's identity and the game's backstory can be found by solving certain optional puzzles, but they are so thoroughly hidden and provide such little concrete information that they seem to exist solely to fuel a collaborative scavenger hunt among the game's players. The game itself does not suffer if you ignore them and it's not clear that it was worth including them at the cost of contradicting the fourth wall breaks, which include the game's most memorable and best moments.

Monday, March 7, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Entwined


Entwined
Capsule Review!

You can get Entwined at https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/entwined-ps4/

Transcript:
Entwined is a beautiful but incoherent game where you steer a fish and a crane down a tunnel through targets. Hit enough targets and the animals merge into a dragon which you fly around outside the tunnel for a bit, collecting color which you then use to skywrite briefly before moving on to the next level. The levels have different gimmicks, some of which are better than others - a particularly frustrating level has the tunnel targets move unpredictably while you're heading toward them. The game seems to want to say things about separation and togetherness, love and longing, but none of the mechanics support those themes all that well. It's fun enough and pretty enough and has good enough music that it's enjoyable as long as it lasts, but since it never really adds up to anything it ends up being pretty forgettable.

Monday, February 29, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Braid


Braid
Capsule Review!

You can get Braid at http://braid-game.com/

Transcript:
A puzzle platformer with gorgeous art and a beautiful soundtrack. Your main tool is the ability to rewind time, and several related mechanics are introduced over the course of the game. The various ways they interact force you to stretch your brain through a series of unbelievably clever puzzles, one or two of which will have you reaching for YouTube to understand what must be done. There is no shame in this. The story is ambiguous and usually disconnected from the gameplay - but when they do connect, the emotional punch is quite strong.

Monday, February 22, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: rain


rain
Capsule Review!

You can get rain at https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/rain-ps3/

Transcript:
rain wants to be atmospheric and moody, and sometimes - briefly - it is. Other times the game supplies unnecessary text narration telling you how to feel. The puzzle platforming nearly always boils down to finding the shiny piece of the environment and hitting the interact button, with the only added complexity being time pressure via instant-death enemies. Mechanics are introduced and then ignored instead of being explored and combined to create interesting situations. Bizarrely, the level design features many pointless dead-ends - until you beat the game once, and can then return to those dead-ends to find collectibles that ostensibly add context to the game's story, but don't really clarify anything and leave things just as vague and contradictory as before. It's an uninteresting way to lengthen the few hours of gameplay. (I mean, do you really want to explore the world again, after effectively being punished for it the first time? You do if you want all the trophies!) Still, the premise is cool, the aesthetics are consistent and enjoyable, and the soundtrack is pretty great.

Monday, February 15, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: HuniePop


HuniePop
Capsule Review!

You can get HuniePop at http://www.huniepot.com/

Transcript:
HuniePop is a match-3 dating sim, because why the hell not. The match-3 gameplay is surprisingly deep and compelling, while the dating sim mechanics are serviceable at best and feel rote and shallow by comparison. Their interactions cause some unfortunate implications, such as it being mechanically to your advantage to stop dating a girl once you've slept with her. The art is decent, the writing and voice acting give the girls distinct (if one-dimensional) personalities and the soundtrack is entirely forgettable.

Friday, February 12, 2016

DOCPLAYS: Hot Date


Hot Date
Let's Play!

You can get Hot Date at http://georgebatch.itch.io/hot-date

Monday, February 8, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: A Bird Story


A Bird Story
Capsule Review!

You can get A Bird Story at http://freebirdgames.com/games/a-bird-story/

Transcript:
A Bird Story is a well told and emotionally engaging short (an hour or so) story about a boy and a bird, wrapped in the language and logic of dreams and memories (and told with no dialog). But the sections where the player has control present such limited options and are over so quickly, it's not often clear why the game bothers with them at all - this might have been better served as a non-interactive experience.

Friday, February 5, 2016

SIDE EFFECTS: Rock Builds Character


Rock Band 4's character creator is... surprising.

Footage from Rock Band, Rock Band 2, Rock Band 3, and Rock Band 4.

Royalty Free Music from Bensound
http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music/track/happy-rock

Monday, February 1, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: To The Moon


To The Moon
Capsule Review!

You can get To The Moon at http://freebirdgames.com/to_the_moon/

Transcript:
To the Moon is an interactive story wrapped in the style and presentation of a SNES RPG. For folks with the right nostalgia, this is a very effective format and I personally would love to see more like it. The premise is compelling - you play as a pair of technicians who can rewrite the memories of the dying to grant them their life's wish. The characterization and aesthetic are quite strong and the writing treats the player with a lot of respect. The central mystery is answered fairly explicitly, but there are a lot of related questions and hints that do fit together and make sense but which the player is left to connect on their own.

Monday, January 25, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Crypt of the NecroDancer


Crypt of the NecroDancer
Capsule Review!

You can get Crypt of the NecroDancer at http://store.steampowered.com/app/247080/

Transcript:
Crypt of the NecroDancer is a rhythm-based roguelite where you maintain a multiplier by keeping your actions on the beat. This structure encourages you to rely on instinct and act quickly and is quite effective at creating flow - at least, it is when you know what you're doing. To keep your multiplier, you have to make split-second decisions accounting for a decent amount of complexity and variety in monster movement and attack patterns. Memorizing which color slime moves which way and so on presents a fairly steep learning curve. If you can stick with it long enough to internalize the rules, and if you enjoy the soundtrack, you're in for a good ride.

Monday, January 18, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: A Dark Room


A Dark Room
Capsule Review!

You can play A Dark Room at http://adarkroom.doublespeakgames.com/

Transcript:
A Dark Room is a text-based idle game from before those were everywhere, and for my money it's still the best one. Unusually for an idle game, it has an actual story with an actual ending. It presents a very coherent experience - the sparse visuals and writing, the mechanics that make sense on the surface but are really dark if you think through their implications, and the environmental storytelling of the post-apocalyptic setting that you explore in roguelike sections that spice up the gameplay all come together to create a compelling atmosphere.

Monday, January 11, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: Galactic Arms Race


Galactic Arms Race
Capsule Review!

You can get Galactic Arms Race at http://store.steampowered.com/app/249610

Transcript:
Galactic Arms Race is a 2D space sim featuring procedurally generated weapons. It's a neat idea, but it doesn't really deliver - most guns have very pretty effects but are not actually useful in combat. Dodging enemy fire and leading targets in frenetic space battles is always fun, but here it's wrapped in a generic quest system of the "Kill ten space pirates" variety and an overly complicated yet still shallow upgrade system. I'd rather play either a pure spacefighting game or a space sim where the rest of the experience has more depth and polish.

Monday, January 4, 2016

CAPSULE REVIEW: 10,000,000


10,000,000
Capsule Review!

You can get 10,000,000 at http://eightyeightgames.com/100000000-2/

Transcript:
10,000,000 is a match-3 game with infinite runner and RPG elements - obstacles and enemies must be overcome by matching the right kinds of tiles, and other tiles grant resources that can be used to purchase upgrades between runs. The game's best moments are when everything flows smoothly - you're chaining tile matches, blasting through obstacles, and racking up huge point bonuses. But even when things stop flowing, it's not frustrating - that's your chance to spend those resources and make the next run that much better. Notably, 10,000,000 has an actual ending - rather than trying to hook the player for as long as possible until the gameplay becomes dull and the player drifts off, as other games of this sort often do, 10,000,000 lasts just the right length of time to be satisfying throughout