All posts by Nick Coffman

The Pathless Review – PC

The Pathless knows that you’ve played Breath of the Wild. Its stunning visuals and fully orchestrated soundtrack scream the influence of Nintendo’s beloved series, so much so, that you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as the latest entry in The Legend of Zelda. The looks and sounds may drag you in, but the feel, specifically the fluid motion of the protagonist, will drive an arrow through your heart and drive you to explore every nook and cranny of its vast forest map.

As a master archer, you are tasked with saving an island from a dark curse that has corrupted its inhabitants. It’s nothing new to adventure games, but that doesn’t cheapen the overall experience. The story is minimalistic with an occasional cutscene and exchanges of dialogue. Developer, Giant Squid, decided to let the world tell its own story. Bodies around the world provide a small glimpse into the island before your arrival. On one occasion, I read about the slaughter of a whole monastery. To my surprise, I happened upon that monastery and those who would call it their final resting place. Later on, I would find myself in the skeleton of a giant lizard, who just so happened to swallow a temple. It’s small moments like these and the fact that you can miss them that make the island feel alive.

This island is huge, spread across four biomes that include a thick jungle, vast plains, and the deepest snow valley I’ve seen in a game. As you traverse villages, ruins, and other structures, you’ll work to avoid the area’s boss, as they hunt you in the shape of a giant red orb. These moments are scary. While I never had one interrupt a puzzle, there would be a few times where I would be caught off guard while admiring something in the distance. Getting caught starts a difficult-to-win stealth section. There isn’t much lost if you fail these sections, so they’re only mildly annoying.

I originally was worried that traversing each area would be tedious, as the archer is only equipped with a bow and her eagle companion. I could not have been more wrong. Your character is given boosts that can be filled by shooting talismans spread around the island. The inclusion of auto-aim makes moving around the island fluid and easily the most fun to be had in the game. Your eagle adds depth to the movement, giving you boosts into the air to help gain access to new areas. There’s also the pet button. Time and time again your eagle will be corrupted by the darkness of the world. The only way to heal her is with pets. While it is a small addition, it gives you the opportunity to slow down and take in the environment around you.

You have one objective with each area, beat the boss. To do so you’ll have to find numerous lightstones around the island. With no world map or markers present, you will rely on spirit vision to help you find your way. Spirit vision (think detective view from Arkham Asylum) gives you hints on where to find stones. With the lightstones in hand, you’ll liberate the three towers in each area and then will face the area’s boss. This loop in each area can get repetitive. The discoverability can help break this up a bit, but if you’re streamlining to get through to each boss, you’ll likely feel some fatigue. This ultimately doesn’t take away from the awesomeness that is the boss sections.

Each boss fight is broken down into three sections. The chase, the fight, and the finishing blow. If you can only experience one moment in The Pathless, please let it be the chase. As you enter the final lair of an area, the boss takes off and you are forced to give chase, using everything you’ve learned and the talisman around you to stop and corner the big chicken. With the chase, I don’t hesitate to draw comparisons to Wander climbing giants in Shadow of the Colossus in reference to the scope and the awe you feel in the moment. Each fight also evokes more Zelda comparisons, especially from Majora’s Mask in reference to the darkness and the warped state of each boss. The fight and the finishing blow for each boss bring something interesting to the table, but they fail to live up to the excitement brought on by the chase.

The Pathless makes you want to run through its world as fast as you can. It also makes you want to stop and take in as many moments as you can. I say do both. And dang it, pet the bird!

Growbot Review – PC

Take the art design of 2010’s Ilomilo and marry it to the point-and-click adventures of the yesteryears and you’d end up with Wabisabi Play’s Growbot. A biopunk space story, Growbot follows Nara, a sentient robot (a growbot) in training to become captain of her own space station, as she tries to save her station from unknown attackers. Nara’s daring rescue ensues through a traditional item-based puzzle solving adventure, that while beautiful and filled with lore, runs a bit short and leaves you wanting, just a little more.

Award winning illustrator, Lisa Evans, has poured her heart into the look of Growbot. Every room adds to the intrigue of the world she has established, from the station’s green areas in the interior garden to the Coral Grief and its colorful underwater world, there is something guaranteed to catch your eye. Adding to the charm, the original soundtrack scored by Jessica Fichot, captures the mystery and wonder surrounding you.

Going pound for pound with the visuals are the station’s characters and their designs. Creatures like the Light Sprites and the Geologists will immediately give you Pikmin vibes, which is never a bad thing. The standout though is easily Starbelly, the hologram yeti that is obsessed with space jam (actual jam, not the nostalgic cash grab from Warner Bros.) If you couldn’t already tell from Starbelly and Coral Grief, Growbot is humorous, and that humor, just like its looks and musical score, is charming as hell.

There are plenty of puzzles to be had in the four hours you’ll spend with the game. The closest the game gets to a fail state simply puts players back a few steps, so nothing overly aggravating. Puzzles aren’t too complicated but there were a few instances where I wasn’t sure what to do. Most of the time I simply just missed an item in the area or overlooked something in my inventory.

There were a few occasions that left me scratching my head regarding exactly what I had to do to solve a puzzle. For example, toward the middle of the game there is a puzzle that requires you to activate the cloud system by gathering three sources of energy. Seems simple on its surface but retrieving one source required me to grab a gear, activate a windup car, stick a Light Sprite in the car, and let it drive around. I discovered this by accident and had found nothing prior that indicated this solution.

Another interesting puzzle element is the Flower Arranger. Through combining musical notes, all assigned to specific flowers, you can design shield keys for locked doors and special shields that complete specific objectives. The special shields are a fun twist but are only used to advance the story. Locks that required shield keys popped up sporadically and only felt like they were there to slow my progress. It was an element of the game that felt great to do the first time but started to annoy me the further into the story I got.

I won’t get into spoilers about who is attacking the station or why, but Growbot is a story about overcoming inexperience and understanding what you’re capable of. Nara is a likable protagonist with a sense of humor. She also proves herself resourceful and worthy of the captain title she is pursuing.

At the game’s start you find a trainer handbook, filled with useful information. Taken in all at once though, that information can be a bit overwhelming. The lore that it offers feels like it could have been better presented in conversations between characters, coming out naturally in the world, instead of all at once in a cheat sheet, which would give players a better sense of discovery as they explore the station.

The biggest issue I have with Growbot is that it just ends. After the final puzzle, there are some dialogue choices between characters that led me to believe that I was in for a few more puzzles. Instead, the game hastily wraps up all story beats with a cutscene. Growbot’s strengths are in the beauty of it’s world and its characters. Jumping to the end and ripping the players out of the world just feels like a disservice to the world and its characters.

Growbot’s sense of wonder and mystique will leave you wanting more, and in that is the biggest problem with Growbot. With only a handful of hours and a breakneck-paced ending some players may feel like they’re not getting their twenty-dollars’ worth. That said, if you’re on the hunt for a new point-and-click adventure or looking for some eye candy with some humor, Growbot will pleasantly surprise you and leave you saying, “May I have some more?”

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Unpacking Review – PC

Cardboard boxes and uncertainty fill the floors of your new apartment. You’re already exhausted from filling boxes, loading them into a truck, driving to your new place, unloading the truck, and now you look at the empty walls and shelves, overwhelmed with the task ahead of you. Witch Beam’s Unpacking wants to take the stress out of moving and for the most part, it succeeds.

Unpacking is a puzzle game with no timers, no fail states, and no to-do lists. You’re presented with a furnished room and simply have to unpack the contents of numerous boxes. That’s it. Once you’ve unpacked, you’ll move on to the next level and the cycle begins again.

Sometimes the game will not like your placement of certain items (IE a toaster on the counter). This can be frustrating, especially when there are items in multiple rooms that may be “out of place.” The fixes are usually quick, but for a game going for a relaxed experience, I was surprised that things were out of place. On the flipside, the game does use this mechanic in an interesting way to tell you something about the main character during one of the moves. I went from annoyed to enjoying this aspect. It had challenged my expectation and made me realize I wasn’t moving myself; I was moving a character.

You go from unpacking a single room to an entire house over the eight stages in the game. The nameless character goes through the usual transitions in the moving metamorphosis; her first childhood room, her college dorm, and a return home after a breakup, just to name a few. If there’s one thing I needed more of in Unpacking, it was time between moves. I’ve never finished unpacking and said, “Can’t wait to do this again.” Upon finishing a level, the game takes a photo of one of the rooms and saves it to a scrapbook before transitioning to the next level. One level in particular ends with a cutscene. I can’t help but think additional cutscenes would help break up the levels, especially when you find yourself unpacking a lot of the same things multiple times.

There’s a small amount story in Unpacking, but a lot of it is communicated through the items you dig out of boxes. Just like the main character, you’ll grow attached to the stuffed pig after unpacking it for the nth time. This is where Unpacking shines. This dumb pig has no value, yet it’s found a home everywhere the main character has called home. You’ll reflect on your things (like a stuffed bear named Fred that has made numerous moves with you), all the thing’s you grown out of, the things you hold onto (Fred), and what they say about you.

The pixelated art design is relaxing and each living space feels unique. At one point, you move in with a partner, and the space feels alive. You search for space for your things, but you don’t want to invade or overstep with this move. Some of your items may find a home among your partners things. Others will be stowed away, in hopes of returning to their glory in a later move. In the case of the yoga mat and dumbbells, those will always be stowed away (let’s be honest). Players with a keen eye will recognize some of the pixelated DVD covers and game box art. Small details like these really help add to the overall experience and place each move into a time capsule.

The soundtrack by BAFTA award-winning Jeff van Dyck is the perfect complement to the art design. It’s relaxed and reflective (the complete opposite of van Dyck’s previous work in the Total War series). Can I be honest though? If there were ever a “Podcast Game” Unpacking would take that title.

Some additional bells and whistles include stickers which can be placed on the screen at anytime and a picture mode with numerous photo formats. One particular standout is the automatic GIF generator. Following a level, you can create a GIF of a room you just finished unpacking. In later moves, it’s limited to a single room, but it’s such a cool feature, it gets a pass on that.

With no stakes, no complicated mechanics, and a bunch of fun features, Unpacking is a game I can see in anyone’s Steam library. A game there for when you need a pallet cleanser from work, life, and all the demands from other games.

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Silicon City Review – PC

Silicon City looks in the face of modern city builders and says, “Not for me”. Instead of going for depth, like Cities: Skylines, or honing in on a theme, like Frostpunk or Surviving Mars, Silicon City decides to embrace the 90s city builder esthetic. Gone are the extensive highway systems and deep resource management, and in their place is the classic grid-based mechanic of your parents’ city builders of yesteryear. It’s a decision that will welcome new players to the genre, while turning grizzled vets away to look for something else.

Players new to city builders can plop on the training wheels and learn a thing or two in the story mode. Played out through four different scenarios, players learn how to properly zone their cities, how to run power through their populous, and how to make your city more attractive to new Silizens (you read that right, silizens not citizens). These scenarios are a great jumping-off point and only take about thirty-minutes to complete. In addition, Polycorne has included weekly challenge scenarios for players to compete in for the top spot on leaderboards. In this prerelease build of the game, there was only one additional scenario, but hopefully more can find their way into the game after release.

The fun in Silicon City comes in planning and building your city. Players who have been to the party before can jump in with classic mode (or sandbox mode) and get started. Depending on your PC, your city’s starting land mass can go up to a 256×256 grid. Players can also raise the difficulty, giving them less cash starting out and lessening the immigration rate into their city. Playing through on easy and normal

Starting from scratch, you’ll zone for residential areas, build roads, and create a power source. Once you’ve attracted silizens, you’ll need to zone grids for companies so they can find work. Silizens, just like many regular citizens, tie their happiness to their work. The happier your population, the more likely you are to grow. Objectives will give you things to build towards and give you an idea of what your city may be lacking. One such objective had silizens approach me with a petition for a decrease in the residential tax. Another challenge had me lowering taxes for farmers (These silizens really hate taxes).

As you attract more silizens, you’ll level up and gain access to more buildings, but aside from the public service structures, I found it hard to tell how later buildings were affecting my city, outside of giving my silizens jobs. The different park buildings offer some visual variety, but I could not readily tell you how a skatepark across from a residential area was making a difference in my city. A highlight of Silicon City’s buildings is the News Center, which offer breaking news live. The only breaking news I received in my time with the game were building fires, but it was nice to see how this one building was making a difference in my city.

In my time with Silicon City, I did not have many issues with traffic. My biggest population peaked at two-thousand and even trying for traffic jams, through building numerous crosswalks and destroying other routes, I failed to yield any. Quick side note; the bulldozer, which is hot keyed to F, doesn’t always properly shutoff after destroying a structure. I found myself accidently destroying buildings and losing process at a financially trying time for Beef City.

Your population is fickle, and you will lose silizens. There’s a Twitter stand-in where you can communicate directly with silizens, but it’s delivery of information is limited. You can look through happiness and work data, and the numerous informational maps Silicon City offers, but even with that information, I spent a lot of time wondering why I was losing silizens, when overall happiness was in the upper-90%. Using the maps to narrow down trouble areas, I would try to increase work in an area or add a park, but that addition offered no resolution. Most times the answer is to just expand out and hope the silizens show up and stay.

About Silizens, players can zoom in and watch these cute little monolith characters going through their day. As soon as you click on one, a human avatar for that silizen appears on their social media page. Marketing for the game leans heavy on the silizens, why not continue to do so in the game? You can track everything about every single silizen. Their work, where they live, and even the path they take on any given day. This information is a welcome addition, but once the ball gets rolling, it’s hard to keep track of any given silizen.

Polycorne recently put out a roadmap for additional features coming to the game over the next year. By the end of 2021 they promise a political career feature, silizen micromanagement, and more buildings. Building up to the end of early access in 2022, Polcorne hopes to have added a statistic system, mod support, and a multiplayer component. For those looking for a deep experience, look elsewhere. For those looking to get their feet wet with a city builder and find the likes of Cities: Skyline overwhelming, Silicon City is a great jumping-off point.