All posts by Keri Weston

My boyfriend got me into gaming on his Xbox One and Switch. Love adventure games and RPG's with strong female leads, and starting to explore the horror genre.

Big Farm Story Early Access Review – PC

This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions and scores are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.

Anyone remember a little game called FarmVille back in 2009?  That was the year I got my first iPhone; the year I joined Facebook, and the year I got addicted to not only cultivating my own farm but engaging with all the farms of my friends.  A lot has happened in 11 years.  I still have an iPhone, newer and bigger than my 3GS; I stopped using Facebook, and I gave up my virtual career in mobile farming.  Big Farm Story is trying to tempt be back to those greener pastures with their casual approach to farming, or more precisely extreme gardening…at least for as much as I’ve played.

Currently in Steam Early Access, Big Farm Story is more story than farming with a super-casual approach to what is more of a massive activity set than a proper game.  From my best judgement I’d say the target audience is pre-teens and senior citizens; perhaps kids can play with their grandparents.  Those expecting something as sophisticated as Farming Simulator (insert year here) can hop on their tractor and keep on driving.

Big Farm Story kicks off with an actual story where you, as a little girl or boy (you choose) are learning how to farm with your grandpa.  Jump ahead many years later and you get a mysterious letter from grandpa basically giving you the farm.  In the early access version of the game the letter was blank so I have no idea why I’m really going back to the farm.  Hopefully text will get added to that page in a future update.  Anyway, I return to the farm just after a big storm to find grandpa is missing and the place is a shambles; time to clean-up and fix up the old place and make it my own.  Thankfully, a fellow from a neighboring farm offers up some tutorial advice on fixing the well, planting crops, and getting started with my new life.

Big Farm Story is a totally addicting cocktail of progression and evolving quests, collectibles, side-stories, and endless exploration.  Your farm is just the central location in a substantial map of areas you will explore and re-explore through repetitive backtracking that somehow never feels repetitive thanks to new discoverable items that repopulate the scenery every time you pass through.  Farming quickly takes a backseat to the entire game flow, but I somehow managed to always keep my crops in rotation so something was always growing while I was out exploring the countryside.

In addition to the farmland you also inherited the old house which you get to fix up and decorate as you like with all sorts of furniture, plants, paintings, wallpaper, etc.  Later on you can even add-on and remodel the house with new rooms that can hold even more furniture and decorations.  Everything you do in the game earns you XP and as you level up you get to choose from three rewards (stickers) that will help you as you progress deeper into the game.  Many of these items unlock side activities that offer their own rewards.  You can dig up piles of dirt once you have a shovel.  You can chop logs into lumber with an axe and use lumber to make repairs or add onto your house.  You can mine rocks with a pickaxe.  You can fish with a pole, although you need special licenses to fish at night or at the nearby lake.  You even need a special book of mycology to safely hunt mushrooms.

There are markets and produce stands where you can buy seeds to plant and grow into produce that you can sell back to the merchant.  You can also shop for all those home decorations to customize your place.  Later on you will discover market contracts that require you to find a certain amount of certain items that will earn you greater rewards and special items.  The market resets daily (real time) and the more contracts you complete the more your market will level-up and increase its rewards.  As you can see, there is an endless cycle of regenerative content that continually repopulates the world around you.  There are always flowers to pick, fish to catch, stones to collect, lumber to chop, stones to mine, and many of these activities have simple yet fun reflex mini-games to add some interactivity, so you just aren’t clicking on stuff.

And all the while you’ll need to tend your expanding garden.  At first you can grow wild flowers, carrots, potatoes, etc., and as you level-up your crops can expand to more advanced items like garlic and strawberries.  At first you only get one plot of land that hosts four plants but one of your level stickers is the option to add more 2×2 plots to grow more at once.  Farming is relatively simple; you till the soil, pick and plant the seed and water it then wait the designated real-time for it to mature.  It does get repetitive as your farm expands and I would have enjoyed the ability to plant an entire 2×2 grid all at once just to speed things up.

A quest log helps you keep track of what needs to be done, and even though your primary quest is to find your missing grandpa there is plenty to do while you search, and the way these objectives string you along is crazy.  In one mission I had to find a missing boy who had fallen and injured himself.  After finding him I then had to find some plants for a home remedy which didn’t work so we needed to call the doctor but the bridge to town was washed out so I had to get an axe and chop enough lumber to fix the bridge.  After saving the day the family rewarded me with a baby chick but my own barn was still destroyed from the storm so that set into motion a whole new string of events just to make a home for a single baby chick, although I expect more animals soon.

A lot of the content and activities is heavily gated by your level and the stickers you have chosen when you level-up.  There are lots of social encounters with the neighbors and folks in town and you always seem to have 2-3 responses to any situation ranging from overly cheery and optimistic to bored and indifferent.  Somebody might ask you to fix something and you can respond with, “I’d love to help!” or “Gee…seems like everything is broken around here.”  I’ve never had the heart to respond in anything less than the most cheerful option, so I’m not sure if your attitude can affect the game.

As mentioned earlier, the map is large with your farm surrounded by the woods full of lumber and mushrooms, a nearby homestead, a neighboring farm, and a rather nice town with roads leading to currently blocked locations like Chestnut Meadow, the train station, and the Rusty Hook.  I’m not sure if those area are part of the story progression or to be added in during the early access period.  Seems like seasons and crafting are also coming in future content patches, but for now there is a nice time of day sequence that starts with a rooster crowing at dawn and adorable fireflies that come out at night.  The game doesn’t require you to sleep, so you can explore 24/7 but some activities like night fishing require a special sticker.

The graphics are gorgeous with a Nintendo Animal Crossing vibe.  You can zoom in to appreciate some nice details and animations including your pet pig that follows you around like a puppy digging up turnips.  There are rich and vibrant colors, cool lighting effects for various times of day, but still no rain or bad weather.  I’m guessing that comes with the Seasons update.  The UI is perfect with intuitive screens and menus and fun pop-up icons to interact with the environment. The background music is soothing for long durations and while there is no voice acting the characters do those simple audible emotes like The Sims.

Even at this stage of early access I can’t recommend Big Farm Story highly enough.  The game recently got a patch that made it even better and more complete, and for me the game has run flawlessly for nearly 5-6 hours of play.  The only way I would even know it was still in early access is when certain functions are locked out.  They may have even fixed grandpa’s blank letter by now.  I would love to have this game on my iPad because I could lie in bed and play this for a lot longer than I should.  Normally when I sit down at my computer to play a game I’m going for something more substantial than this, but there is something about Big Farm Story that inexplicably grabs you and suspends time.  The way they dangle that next quest/objective out there like a carrot on a stick is so insidious I find it impossible to stop playing, and if you love soothing casual adventures I think you’re going to love this game regardless of how green your thumb may be.

Keep checking back for updates on Big Farm Story as we will continue to update our coverage leading up to final release.

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Bee Simulator Review – PC

Originally reviewed November 15, 2019

The last game I played with a bee in it was Bee Movie Game back in 2007; the one based on the movie with Jerry Seinfeld. I had fond memories of that fun little game so I decided to take a chance on the new Bee Simulator releasing today for PC on the Epic Game Store. I had no idea what to expect really, but with the word “simulator” in the title I was thinking it was going to be some sort of strategy or hive-building simulation…something serious. Instead, I was treated to one of the most delightful, fun, charming, and even educational action-adventure games.

After a brief opening that discusses the history and plight of the bee we travel inside the hive to the nursery where we have just hatched. First thing is to name your bee (I chose Stinger), and while your name is never spoken it frequently appears in the subtitles. You’ll need to complete a brief tutorial that takes you outside the hive to this gorgeous meadow where you learn how to fly, collect pollen, and use your bee vision to analyze the various types of plants and the rarity of their pollen. Eventually you’ll get to meet the queen before heading out into the nearby park to experience some more advanced lessons like landing on sugary foods to build up your boost ability and racing through rings while avoiding obstacles and collecting power-ups.

While your bee seems to get along with nature, animals, and even humans, there are some workmen who have targeted the tree with your hive inside for demolition. The queen sends out scouts to find a new home while you are tasked with your normal honey production and pollen collection at the local zoo. This plays out in a huge open-world environment full of all sorts of mini-games, challenges, fetch quests, and endless collectibles. You’ll constantly being collecting pollen and returning that pollen to the hive to make honey. This, along with everything else you do adds to your knowledge points that all tie into the library and list of feats to expand the game’s wiki-like knowledge base. You can even customize your bee with some wardrobe updates. Most of the activities are delightful like the Simon-Says dancing game where you match a growing sequence of directional moves or the race to collect a certain amount of a certain plant before time runs out. There is a fighting challenge that is a bit unintuitive and the classic race-through-the-rings flying challenge that starts off fun enough but sadly breaks the game less than two hours in.

Now is where I will tell you just how much I loved this game, to the point where it was probably going to get at least a 4 if not a 4.5, but early on there is a critical path mission where you must catch another bee to get info. This mission occurred about an hour in for me – could be more or less depending on how much side stuff you do before that – but this mission is absolutely impossible to complete. I spent over 90 minutes on this single mission, initially on the Hard skill level before going into options and changing it to Easy (there is no Normal). On Hard I was able to do a single lap of the ring course but never came close to catching the bee. He’d eventually get too far away or I would miss too many rings. On Easy I was able to complete several laps, but again, never coming close to catching the bee so I could continue the story. I don’t know if the mission is broke or there is some nuance to this racing that I’m not getting. I typically crush ring racing games like this, so if there is some trick it’s cleverly hidden. I even had my husband try – he’s better than me – and he couldn’t come close to catching the bee either. Sadly, with this being a story mission Bee Simulator ended here.   Aside from the various challenges and mini-games there was nothing left for me to do.   After a combined two hours of chasing that bee it was clear it was never going to happen. I mean, seriously, this game seems to be targeting kids and I was playing on Easy – it shouldn’t be this hard. If the game gets some sort of patch to fix this mission I’ll certainly considering revisiting my review…I’d welcome the opportunity.

Bee Simulator is stunningly beautiful with gorgeous lighting and detailed environments for landscape and all sorts of animals, some of which come close to being photorealistic. The zoo is populated with all the animals you’d expect and flying near them will log them into your database for future reference.   The sounds of nature are perfect and there is some good background music that starts off way too loud – you’ll need to turn it down to 50% so you can hear the dialogue. The voice acting is average at best with people making all sorts of goofy voices like you would when reading a children’s bedtime story.

There is also a fun little split-screen co-op mode that lets you fly around in a few smaller areas exploring, collecting pollen, and challenging each other to the same mini-games from the single-player game.  It’s a fun diversion that might add a few hours to the main game if you have someone to play with.

I had a ton of fun during the first hour of this game, collecting all sorts of stuff, helping a squirrel find his mom, helping that mom find enough nuts to feed all her kids, helping a sick bee back to the hive, and doing a half-dozen dance-offs to get directions to rare flowers. I even got into a fight with a wasp. I’m not sure how much more varied content the game offers or what kind of new locations you might get to explore since I can’t continue the game, which makes it nearly impossible for me to recommend at this time. I really loved the first hour or so, and hope I can finish Bee Simulator some day soon.

Post Patch Review Update – December 19, 2019 by Mark Smith

Keri is on break until 2020, but I didn’t want to wait that long to update our review for Bee Simulator.  The game received a fairly major patch a couple of weeks ago that fixed several issues along with the mission race challenge that was prohibiting us from finishing the game.  Sadly, the patch didn’t really “fix” the issue, as three of our original four editors still couldn’t win this race, but at least now the game gives you the option to skip the race, which did allow us to complete the game.

Admittedly, what comes after this race was pretty much more of the same with slight variations to the mission themes.  There was a lot of pollen collection and then there was an adventure at a nearby amusement park and finally an epic quest to find a new hive clear on the other side of the park.  There were fun new characters to meet, and the introduction of the enemy wasps; the bullies of the park.  Bee Simulator managed to keep everything very pro-bee even to the point where you were allowed to sting only one (bad) human in the entire game.  All of the trivia and info on the load screens really make you appreciate these insects.  There is even a touching scene late in the game where a human actually helps a bee.

Once the story is complete the game opens up to a Free Flight mode where you can venture back out into the park and do all the various challenges and activities and find all the discovery critters for the Knowledge Museum.  I only unlocked a fraction while playing the story mode.  The various mini-games are a delight from the dance off to the combat to the various flight challenges and pollen collections.  Watch out for spiderwebs as the mini-game to escape those is especially tricky.

Bee Simulator is a delightful game offering a core storyline that will entertain as well as educate us on the importance of bees in our ecosystem.  I would have liked some more trivia panels as the ones we had seemed to repeat quite often.  Ask me how fast a bee flies or how many eggs a queen lays in a day.  I’ll never forget.   Seriously, kids and adults will find a lot to enjoy here, alone or as a family, or perhaps even in a classroom environment.  And even when the story is finished there are dozens of hours of content that will keep you busy as a bee.

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Lucid Dream Review – PC

I love adventure games of all types, but the classic point & click adventures have to be my favorite of all the variations out there.  Recently out of Early Access, Lucid Dream is now officially launched on Steam, and for those who haven’t already been playing let me tell you why you should.  Lucid Dream is a very authentic adventure filled with amazing art, emotional music, and a story so compelling it’s hard to stop playing this game once you start.

You’ll be playing as Lucy, a young girl confined to a wheelchair in the real world but finds the freedom and ability to walk around in the dream world, and this is where she must go in order to save her mother.  You are instantly sucked into the world of Lucid Dream with its stunning artwork.  Every background is a picture worth framing and little Lucy pops off the page with a design that reminded me of another little girl who travelled to Wonderland.  There were even moments and visuals that had me reminiscing about the Narnia stories.

The story is fantastic and loaded with plot twists and an ending that will have you reflecting on your experience long after the credits roll.  There is so much to do and so many places to explore.  Each new location introduces you to new characters with at least one main objective to complete along with numerous other puzzles along the way.  There are over 200 items to be found and used in the game, and while many of the puzzles are rooted in sound intuitive logic, I have to admit there were a few seemingly random puzzles mixed in that had me reduced to trial and error to stumble on the solution.  These didn’t ruin the game, but it was mildly disappointing in what was otherwise a near-perfect adventure game.  Thankfully, there is a hint system available unless you are playing on the hardest difficulty.

The pacing of Lucid Dream is perfect, and you are never swallowed up in pages of narrative or extended conversations.   There is an economy of exposition that gives you just enough to get started then allows you to make all the discoveries along the way.  Even the way the game plays is tuned for maximum enjoyment.  The UI is simple and the entire game can be played with just a mouse, making for a casual, relaxing experience.

Aside from a few random crashes and several puzzles with totally “unexpected” solutions Lucid Dream is one of the finest adventure games I’ve played on the PC this year.  It’s also a game perfected suited for mobile devices, and I would love to see this come out for my phone or tablet.  It’s a comfortable length, taking me a few days of casual play to complete, and while there are multiple difficulty settings I found no immediate compulsion to replay the game.  Thorough explorers should get all the trophies on their first pass, making this a good value for the $15 asking price.

Lucid Dream is a perfect balance of story and gameplay filled with dazzling imagery and immersive atmosphere and music.  The dream world moments are suitably surreal, which directly translates into creative level and gameplay design promoting discovery and creative thinking.  It’s a fantastic adventure that will appeal to gamers of all ages and skill levels and a game that should not be missed by anyone who claims to enjoy adventure games.

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Pit Blocks 3D Review – PC

Let’s be honest; Pit Blocks 3D is basically 3D Tetris dodging a copyright lawsuit, and thankfully you can’t trademark a concept because Pit Blocks 3D is by far one of the most engaging Tetris-style puzzle games I’ve ever played.  Despite its singular core gameplay of stacking various shaped interlocking blocks, the game offers a surprising amount of varied content including five multi-stage environments, each with its own captivating look and story; yes I said story.  I won’t go into too much detail on the specifics of each story – you can read all that on the Steam page – but I found it highly ambitious to even bother trying to fit in a narrative to a game such as this.

Each of the five chapters in Pit Blocks 3D offers its own clever twist on the standard block-drop puzzle concept, which is driven home with stunning backgrounds, boss fights, and even environments that fight back to stop you from solving these puzzles.  There are amusing stories behind each chapter, and while I found them unnecessary they did provide some contextual background for why I was doing what I was doing.  Things slowly build up in difficulty culminating in the Volcano level where you’ll encounter the ultimate challenge.  

Pit Blocks 3D offers three difficulty modes which directly affects the size of the blocks, and you can also set the size of the pit or let the game randomly choose these pre-game variables.  With this level of freedom in the setup along with the gorgeous environments and a soundtrack that covers multiple musical genres there is something here for gamers of all ages and skill levels.

The game requires excellent spatial awareness on the part of the person playing.  Things start off easily enough as the various shaped blocks slowly fall to the bottom of the pit, and Pit Blocks 3D plays much like any other Tetris clone until that first multi-dimensional block appears.  Despite the game being in 3D most blocks are of the 2D variety in that they only occupy one layer of the Z-axis, but there are some pieces that won’t simply lie flat, usually with a single square segment protruding up or down.  Its pieces like these that really make you think, since one mistake can ruin an entire layer of blocks.  Unlike traditional Tetris you really want to eliminate an entire layer as it fills rather than going for some crazy combo since winning a level is all about staying alive until the timer runs out.

Controls are a bit problematic; at least until it all becomes second nature.  You can spin the 3D wireframe pit and even zoom in and out, and you will need to do all of that to see the full shapes of blocks as well as find any obscure open spaces in your stack.  You can rotate the falling pieces around any of the X,Y,Z axis by using the X,Y,B buttons while the A button drops the block immediately.  The landing zone is always highlighted.  My only issue was that even after several games I was still having trouble remembering which button rotated which axis, which can be a problem in later parts of a stage when your stack is near the top and you don’t have time to correct mistaken spins.  I eventually got the hang of it, as the 3D nature of the game and the controls became instinctual about 60 minutes in.

I had a blast with Pit Blocks 3D, and for only $20 you are going to find countless hours of engaging and addicting fun trying to make your way through all the chapters then going back and trying to set those high scores on the leaderboards.  This is definitely a game that is easy to learn and nearly impossible to stop playing.   The stunning visuals and soothing music make it all that much better, and I could only imagine how much more interesting this game would be in VR.  It’s definitely worth your time and money now, and especially if you can find it on sale.

Molecats Review – PC

Molecats is a fun new puzzle game that reminded me a lot of Lemmings where you have a game character that is constantly moving forward and the only way to control them is to change their environment. In this case you do that by rotating entire sections of the level map that has been divided up into square tiles; some moveable and others locked. While getting your Molecats from the start to the exit is the primary goal it is also only part of the challenge, as you quickly uncover levels full of collectibles and non-lethal traps and monsters.

Part of the joy of this game and one of the reasons it will delight younger gamers is that there is no way to actual lose the game, but there are plenty of ways to do better, increasing that star score and earning bragging rights for finding some truly well-hidden secrets. At its core the game is brilliant in its simplicity while providing a scalable challenge suitable for the entire family.

Controls are simple enough, as the Molecats move forward at a steady pace until you tell them to run. Running not only speeds up the game but also allows you to bypass certain environmental elements that would normally trigger if they were walking; things like falling into shafts or triggering pressure plates. There is also a fast-forward function that speeds up the gameplay if you don’t want to suffer the Molecat’s leisurely pace, but don’t mistake this for running or try to use to shave time off the clock.

These Molecats also have the uncanny ability to stick to the walls and ceiling, creating some unique path-planning strategies as you rotate level tiles to steer your feline friends towards new parts of the level to collect mushrooms and other items before leading them to the exit. And yes; you are being timed, which just adds another competitive element to the replayability of the game.

The graphics are incredible charming with colorful level designs and adorably simplistic animation for the Molecats. There is a nice variety to the visual themes ranging from subterranean to sci-fi with great use of contrast and bright colors. The presentation is complete with some quirky music and sound effects including an oddly creepy “sigh of relief” noise the Molecats make when they reach the exit.

Your completion time will vary based on how good you are at solving logic puzzles, but you should easily get several hours out of Molecats and the game is virtually bug-free and tremendously fun and surprisingly challenging as you get further into the game. The difficulty ramps up in later levels and younger gamers may need some assistance in completing the game.

For a game that is impossible to lose, Molecats is certainly a challenge to win, but with adorable felines on a dedicated march to collect everything stashed about these maze-like levels, you’ll have a most satisfying puzzle-solving time ahead of you should you decide to venture into the subterranean world of Molecats. It’s brilliant in conception and marvelously executed, and in my opinion perhaps better suited for mobile gaming or even the Nintendo Switch, but for now I can easily recommend checking it out on Steam.

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Yesterday Origins Review – PC

Yesterday Origins is a new adventure game from veteran studio, Pendulo known for their expertise in the genre. When the game starts out you find yourself accused of nothing less than being “Satan’s son” and tossed into a prison cell suitable for the Spanish Inquisition. Your first task is to escape the cell and make it to the opening title screen using nothing but your wits, a half-dozen random items, and some exhausting conversation skills.

I’m no stranger to adventure games or solving puzzles so imagine my shock and embarrassment when I ultimately had to go online to seek solutions to this very first dilemma. But then after seeing what was expected of me I realized, “OH…it’s one of those adventure games.” You know the kind – with crazy off-the-wall solutions using MacGyver-style contraptions. My embarrassment was tempered by the fact that I knew I would have never figured out “that solution” in a million years.

Once you escape your cell and the title credits roll you find yourself in a more modern setting, now as a grown up version of John where it is quickly revealed that you are immortal but every time you die you come back with no previous memories and must re-educate yourself using cool tech tricks like a video phone message and your very own website. Think of it as “50 First Dates” only with much more history to be learned with each reincarnation.

Your gal pal, Pauline is also immortal but retains her memories giving her a casual disregard for death to the point where it’s easier to reset the biological clock with a bullet than to use some cream to remove those wrinkles under her eyes. Yes, that’s a minor spoiler and also the second puzzle that sent me Googling the web within the first hour of the game. And it doesn’t get much easier from there.

I certainly don’t mind a certain degree of difficulty in my adventures games, but Yesterday Origins seems to rely on a few core ideas; exhaust every last topic of communication, analyze every item and concept in your inventory, and fumble hopelessly around with all of your components to assemble the proper solution in the Sherlock Holmes-style puzzle solver screen.

Yes, Yesterday Origins borrows much from the recent batch of Sherlock games including zooming in and rotating people and objects to discover further info and clues. There is also the solution screen that slowly builds your solution by having you insert people or objects into component boxes, exactly like solving a case in Sherlock Holmes. It’s a pretty nifty mechanic and I can see why they borrowed it, but everything leading up to that point can often be an exercise in frustration.

Much of the time you are free to choose between John and Paulina, but it’s usually just about exhausting all the options rather than any intelligence to the game design. The game not only supports a gamepad, it nearly demands one as the mouse and keyboard controls are so awful you’d think this was a console port.   There are some nifty ideas in play with people and concepts being sorted to the right trigger while tangible items are accessed via the left. Combing things is usually just a matter of clicking them sequentially or accessing the environment followed by an item or person.

Presentation is outstanding and Yesterday Origins has a gorgeous cel-shaded art style about it rich in color and quirky charm. Some of the scenes were breathtaking and the entire experience reminded me of games like Broken Sword, and Dreamfall. While there were a few missteps in dialogue, most of the voice work was exceptionally well-acted and totally convincing.

Yesterday Origins is a nice length, clocking in between 10-12 hours (maybe longer if you don’t Google solutions) and loaded with original characters and interesting locations and events tied into real history. There is a lot of depth and backstory, even for the supporting cast. While you might get frustrated with the obtuse puzzles, you’ll never be bored with the story.

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Aero’s Quest Review – PC/Steam

It’s been a while since I’ve done a review so I thought I would ease myself back into the swing of things with what appeared to be a lighthearted puzzle-platformer.   Wrong! Don’t let those charming character designs and colorful scrolling backgrounds deceive you; Aero’s Quest is more platformer than puzzle and will test all of your gaming skills; even the ones you might not possess…yet. You’ll be playing Aero on his quest to save Ariella from the evil Andraus (back off Sarkeesian). You’ll get to explore and conquer 101 levels spread across ten different zones in your seemingly impossible quest for love and 13 Steam achievements.

Aero’s Quest isn’t shy in hiding its 90’s platforming influences, both in thematic design as well as brutal difficulty whether you are playing in normal adventure mode or battling the clock in speed run trials so you can dominate the leaderboards and brag to all your friends. Given the level of difficulty I was surprised at my own level of frustration, which was strangely absent. Every time I failed I knew exactly why. There was nothing cheap about my death and I almost always learned from it, so I was able to do better the next attempt. That’s the big difference between frustrating and addicting. I always wanted to try again.

I was comfortable with the control by the end of the tutorial even though it took me many more hours to master them. Making the most of power-ups is crucial to your success, and learning the lay of the land helps when you start having to do some Metroid-backtracking to previous areas. The puzzles in the game are surprisingly unique and varied but not terribly challenging; certainly nothing compared to the platforming skills required to navigate the levels.

The presentation is retro-chic with charming graphics that are certainly better than a lot of the 8 and 16-bit pixel-art games releasing this summer, but they still pay sprite-like homage to the classic days of NES and Genesis gaming. Animations are fluid and the controls are spot-on, which is an absolute must given some of the platforming puzzles. The sound and music fit the theme of the game perfectly.

The only stumbling block for Aero’s Quest is that it doesn’t get addicting until about two hours in, and casual gamers not up for the challenge may never get to that point. Once out of the tutorial the game begins to beat down your reflexes and ego almost immediately, but if you stick with it you will find a very rewarding and completely addictive game that you will not only finish, but likely find yourself battling for leaderboard supremacy on those Speed Runs.

It’s also worth noting that as of this review the designers have just released a significant update to the game that has tightened up the controls for gamepad players, allows for remapping of keys for keyboard players, and many other bug fixes and features like screenshots and trading cards. It’s refreshing to see some post-launch support for this budget indie title.

So if you are ready for a stylized trip down memory lane along with all the brutally challenging gameplay of those 90’s classic platformers, you will definitely want to check out Aero’s Quest now available on Steam for only $5.

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Dance Central Spotlight Review – Xbox One

First, I would like to apologize for the tardiness of my review for Dance Central Spotlight.  About two days after receiving my review code I fractured my ankle and, as you might imagine, was unable to play the game right away.   Once the wrap finally came off I had a bit of physical therapy, and my doctor even suggested that this game might be beneficial provided I wasn’t doing any crazy stressful moves.  I’m now back to 100% and while I cannot say for certain if Dance Central Spotlight is going to be the latest craze in PT, I can say it made my recovery a lot more fun.

So what exactly is Dance Central Spotlight, other than the latest stall tactic while we all anxiously await Rock Band 4?  For those that played on the Xbox 360, Dance Central was the premier dancing “simulator” that used the Kinect to track your entire body, unlike those Wii and PS3 games that used Wii-motes and Move wands to track your hands only.  I dedicated more hours than I care to admit to Dance Central back in its day, and even learned a few moves I was able to take to the clubs.  Dance Central Spotlight is the next-gen version of that franchise, only with a much narrower focus and perhaps a much smaller audience now that the Kinect has become an optional accessory for the Xbox One.

Harmonix learned from the last generation that the real money is in DLC, so their latest game is being sold as a digital marketplace title for only $10.  You get the core game and the first ten songs:

  • “Counting Stars” – OneRepublic
  • “Diamonds” – Rihanna
  • “Happy” – Pharrell Williams
  • “I Wish” – Cher Lloyd
  • “Royals” – Lorde
  • “Show Me” – Kid Ink ft. Chris Brown
  • “Talk Dirty” – Jason Derulo ft. 2 Chainz
  • “#thatpower” – will.i.am ft. Justin Bieber
  • “Titanium” – David Guetta ft. Sia
  • “Wake Me Up” – Avicii

The core game is broken down into two distinct parts; dancing and fitness, and since I was approaching this review from a medical perspective I decided to start with the latter.  You input your height and weight then select a difficulty level and set the timer for your session from 10-90 minutes.   If you are already doing the math then yes; if you are only playing with the core ten songs you are going to be getting some repeats if you choose a longer session.  Depending on the song, your workout may focus on either strength or cardio, yet oddly, I had no choice of the song being played.  At first I resented this loss of control.  Given the choice I would do a 60-minute workout to “Happy” alone.  The game uses the Kinect to track the number of calories you burn based on your movements, which is a lot more accurate than fitness games on other systems.

Of course the real reason you’re likely to buy this game is because of the dancing – it’s in the name after all.  The initial track selection is varied and popular (for the moment) and as you might imagine there is a growing library of DLC songs already available for $2 a track.  Doing the math, I found this method of marketing much more consumer-friendly than past Dance Central games that would have you paying $60 for the game that would come with 25 songs that you may or may not like.  Now, you can get 25 songs you know you will really like and still fall within that AAA title price ($10 + (25 x $2) = $60).  Of course nobody is forcing you to buy 25 songs so you can get off much cheaper.  The point is; Dance Central Spotlight is the game you want it to be.

The new dance mode strips away all of the clichéd storylines and lame mini-games and focuses on nothing but repetitious dancing.  After all, that is what dancing is; repeating to perfection.   This is where Spotlight excels.   The game is a patient and responsive teacher that allows you to interact with simple voice commands to learn specific moves and routines.  You learn these smaller segments then start chaining them together into full routines.  The entire process is quite rewarding and surprisingly, never got frustrating.  The more you play a certain song the more dances you unlock – eight per song, so you can get some serious mileage out of the core ten tracks.  I personally used the DLC as incentive to master the initial tracks, promising not to make a purchase until I had mastered at least one of the initial ten.

There is a wide range of difficulty suitable for dancers of all skill levels with choreography and dance moves to match – 200 routines and 2000 moves.  This allows you to grow with the game and provides you with many more hours of entertainment (and exercise) than you might imagine.   While most of my time was spent playing alone I did manage to coerce my fiancé to shed his inhibitions and try out the two-player mode.  The Kinect does a good job of capturing movement for two people, but you may have to rearrange your furniture a bit.

I was surprised actually at just how much I ended up enjoying Dance Central Spotlight.  While it might not replace my normal fitness regime it is still an entertaining title for music and dance lovers of all ages and easily scales itself to the desires and abilities of the person playing.   The new marketing scheme is genius, and if I ever do invest $50 or more into this game it will be with music of my choosing, which will only have me playing that much longer.

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Contrast Review – Xbox One

I visited Paris several years ago as a graduation present from my parents and it was a life-changing experience.   Compulsion Games new title (or at least new for the Xbox One), Contrast, is almost as magical as the real thing, presenting a unique portal to the past, a stunningly original and almost dreamlike look at 1920’s Paris that blends film noir inspired visuals and unforgettable music, but also turns light and shadows into key elements of tangible gameplay.

In Contrast you play as Dawn, the imaginary friend of young Didi, an imaginative and curious pre-teen whose mother is a local nightclub singer and father is a scheming con man looking for his next big score.   Didi has a bad habit of sneaking out at night to explore the city, which has gotten her mother in trouble with social services.  The game is set in a fictional, almost gothic-like European city where streets will inexplicably crumble away into an bottomless chasm for no other reason than to create a puzzle to solve.  Buildings exude a classic art deco architecture punctuated with Broadway style lighting creating a wholly unique film noir experience that, when combined with the exaggerated character designs could easily pass for a Tim Burton movie.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Dawn and Didi are the only physical beings in this universe.  Everyone else in the game appears as shadows, which allows for some unique interactions and visually stunning moments of storytelling.  Early on you’ll witness an argument between your mother and father as their shadows are cast, larger than life like a drive-in movie on the side of a building.

Contrast is mostly a series of puzzles that are entirely based on light and shadows.  The main game is pure 3D but when Dawn is in a well-lit area she can snap to the wall and become a flat shadowy version of herself.  This allows her to traverse a world within a world created from shadow and silhouette.   Dawn and Didi can actually contribute to the creation of this other world by moving light sources and various objects in the physical world to change the size, shape, and position of the shadows being cast.

It’s an entirely original and quite stunning concept once you experience the first two or three puzzles and realize the potential.  For the most part the puzzles are navigational, and the game throws in some cool moments where you have to quickly shift between shadow and reality to navigate dark patches, because without a light source Dawn will return to the physical world.   There are some cool timing puzzles like jumping across the shadows of patio umbrellas before they snap shut or riding the rising shadow of a hotel elevator as it slides up the wall.  One of the more challenging puzzles involves navigating the circling shadows of carousel horses as they rise and fall on the surrounding buildings.

The vaudevillian characters are few but surprisingly interesting with great voice acting and engaging animations, in a shadow-puppet kind of way.   The dialogue is engaging and I love the various unanswered lines of conversation between Didi and Dawn, and everything those two overhear in their adventures.  Being imaginary and a shadow provides for some great fly-on-the-wall moments, and you even get to star in your own shadow puppet storybook theater when you visit and try to repair a circus.  I was extremely impressed with the music including a lounge singing act early in the game – something I would easily listen to outside the game.

Previously released on PC and PS4, Contrast is finally available on the Xbox One marketplace for $15.   Compulsion Games has noted that this is “the tightest version of the game we’ve made”, which makes me wonder why they aren’t patching all of these “improvements” into the PC and PS4 versions.  I haven’t played the game on PS4 but I did play the first hour of the game on PC and from what I can tell there are no major difference.  The Xbox One does have some lingering load times but nothing too bad.   As far as audio and visuals, the two games are virtually identical.

I was already hooked on this game after my time playing on the PC and I always regretted not finishing; even more so now that I have finished the game and it only took me just over four hours to do so.  Contrast falls into the 4-6 hour category depending on how quick you are to figure out and solve its puzzles.  You can also race through the game ignoring all the collectibles, but finding and reading a lot of the material in the game really fleshes out the story creating a more immersive experience.   I was a bit upset that you are left with many unanswered questions when the game does end, but ultimately, it is an experience that is more about the journey than the destination, and one that anyone with a love of truly original puzzles set in a surreal 1920’s Paris landscape should investigate.

Screenshot Gallery

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