Implayed (Episode 37): The 39 Steps

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I hadn’t heard of this game before I saw it in my Steam list. Turns out it’s a bit of a spy thriller book turned into a visual novel sorta game. I haven’t played much of it, but the few scenes that I have played have proven to be enough to have me hooked.

See, I’ve been watching these videos from The Great War, a channel on YouTube which has started chronicling the first World War on a week by week basis just as it happened 100 years ago. Obviously, the series starts in July 1914, as you get the context of what would become wartime Europe and how the events lead to the start of what was thought would be a short war.

The game sets itself a bit earlier than that. Still in 1914, but this time in the London of May, sometimes sunny but mostly wet, grey with rain. You play a thirty-seven year old chap who was participated in a war back in Africa, continued mining diamonds for De Beers there, and eventually came to the England in search of something to do. Speaking of De Beers, the diamond industry is quite an interesting beast, and you can read more about it here. It’s an older article (from 1982), but it’s a great piece of investigative journalism.

Voiceacted scenes like these really help immerse you in the story

Voiceacted scenes like these really help immerse you in the story

Anyway, this strapping chap you play as doesn’t find London as fun as most other people do, and decides to go back to Africa unless something turns up. And, being a novel adapted into a game, of course something does. An American spy barges in and tells you he’s faked his death to escape some ne’er-do-wells who have pinpointed his location. You play along, despite considering him a madman. What novel would it be if you didn’t?

Anyway, his story checks out, but that doesn’t stop his enemies from pursuing him, and it falls upon you to finish his mission. Are you hooked yet? I was. I’m intending to read the book now. Or maybe I’ll skip that and simply play the game to the end, despite some of the gripes I have with it.

See, there are no resolution options. The only way to play windowed (which I prefer) is by pressing Alt-Enter. The controls are a bit awkward, despite only requiring mouse prompts. You can go through text by spinning your mouse cursor, but who does that? You can also just click. I have no idea why they tell you to spin in the tutorial. My main problem is with the right click. If you click that, it puts you back in the menu. Resume and you are placed at the beginning of the current chapter, with unskippable cutscenes between there and where you were at.

The character you play is a war veteran, but he's not the typical badass

The character you play is a war veteran, but he’s not the typical badass vidya character

They’re relatively minor gripes compared to how the game treats its interactive novel species though – you are railroaded through the story but still get to explore some of the stuff that you see, rummage for items that may provide clues or more background story (of which there is quite a bit, considering the historical context), as well as interact with certain items via mouse gestures. I’m not sure if there is any more gameplay to it than that, but there isn’t any puzzle element to it that I have seen. It’s a rather casual game that way, but it conveys the information you need at your own pace and with rather gorgeous presentation, with various lines of voice acting throughout.

Would I recommend 39 Steps, the game adaptation of John Buchan’s eponymous story? If you want to play a game, probably not. But as a novel experience (see what I did there?), I wholeheartedly do.

You can get it here.

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Implayed (Episode 36): 140

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I’m going to get the bad parts out of the way first, because there isn’t much. 140 has a bad name for a commercially available game. Many people don’t know about this game (probably because of the name). Dying is quite a bit more disruptive than it probably should be, considering it’s a game in which you die a lot, but that’s subjective. Frankly, that would be pretty much all I have to complain about this game.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll be gushing a bit. It might be disgusting.

The game is much better in motion

Looks much better in motion, I promise

140 is an abstract platformer, where you control a shape. You’re a square when you’re standing still turn into a circle when moving to the side and into a triangle when you jump. It makes sense in the context of the environment you play in, and it’s easily readable. There is no text (except for the 140 shaped things on the title screen). You don’t need any text to learn how to play it. It’s intuitive and assumes you have a brain. As you go through the game, it will assume that you learn rather quickly, and it won’t shy away from killing you.

This is how death looks like, alongside static sounds

This is how death looks like, alongside static sounds

There’s also the other big thing about the game – the audio design. It even won an award from IGF for it, and it thoroughly deserves it. The audio actually becomes a necessity in order to complete the game, as the environment elements are perfectly timed with the music, allowing you to pick the exact time when you are supposed to do that perfect jump to avoid getting smashed by the staticky squares. As you move through the levels, the music changes and gets added to, giving the game a rather diverse flow and mood. The abstract visuals also add to that, giving the impression of a rather trippy yet precise excursion into the fundamentals of how a game can interact with music or have the music interacted with via gameplay.

Static means death in this game

Static means death in this game

There’s another big thing I’ve noticed about the game – it has a deep respect for your time. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, although it may feel a bit short to some people considering the hour it takes to finish. The deaths are distruptive, yes, but you generally get the gist of what you have to do in a small amount of time, and unlike some other puzzle games (I’m looking at you 0rbitalis), it feels satisfying when you figure it out. There is also no trial and error, which is great. It also fits with the fact that once you finish the game, you get to play it again, only backwards and without checkpoints (I’m never ever going to be able to do that).

It’s cheap, it’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s a bite sized experience which made me smile.

Play it.

Implayed (Episode 35): 10 Second Ninja

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I didn’t know much about 10 Second Ninja before I installed it today, but I was pleasantly surprised (since I was expecting one of those flash-like collection of minigames). It’s a short story about a blue-clad ninja and a robot Hitler.

Yeah. Also Nazi robots!

Yeah. Also Nazi robots!

Now that that is out of the way, along with the funny cutscenes between worlds, let’s talk gameplay. The game is a simple platformer, only involving a very small number of buttons. It’s a sidescroller, so you can only go left, right, do a double jump, slash with your sword or throw a shuriken. You only have three shuriken. You are then tossed into various levels where you have to eliminate all enemies, but with a twist. Ten seconds to comply. If you manage to complete the level within ten seconds, you pass. If not, try try and try again. And you will do so, because that’s not enough – you have to do it as fast as possible, as every level has par times that really leave no margin for error in order to get the coveted 3 star rating you want.

Using the sword is very satisfying

Using the sword is very satisfying

Here’s also one of the more annoying decisions the dev has made with the game – in order to unlock the world’s boss fight and move on, you have to have a certain number of stars attained. It’s harder than you might think, but the fact that most levels would take you about 4-6 seconds to complete means that it makes sense to have a concrete wall like that in your game progression. It’s rather old school that way. The game rewards you for being skillful, and if you stick with it, you feel the difference it makes in you trying harder and harder to complete a level in that 2.44 second mark you need so much to get that three star rating.

You have to work for those three stars

You have to work for those three stars

I haven’t managed to complete the game though, despite trying a bit hard to – got to the last world and when I saw I still needed to get 4 stars to move on, I simply gave up. I will probably get back to it, because it’s really fun. It’s very Meat Boy-ish in how you really want to reset every time you mess up, or sometimes before you even mess up, due to a twitch in your reset finger. You might want to hold one over it, even if I sometimes press it instead of slashing with the sword.

The game looks functional, and extremely readable. I think that’s also by design, since it is important to be able to see what you’re doing. The cutscenes are funny and work fine in the aesthetic. For some reason Robot-Hitler bleeds. The music is awesome and puts you in the mood to go fast.

It all boils down to making a plan and then trying your hardest to execute it to the best of your ability, and then crying when noticing the fact that there’s people on YouTube speedrunning the game in its entirety in about 5 minutes.

But it’s fun! A lot of fun. I recommend it. Also floating Robot Hitler.

Implayed (Episode 34): 0RBITALIS

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Note: Still in Early Access.

For some reason, wherever I look, I see only praise for this game. I can see why – it looks great with its minimalist design, watching objects orbiting other objects always looks nice, and the sound design is rather amazing – but I simply don’t think it’s that great as a game. I suppose it’s because I don’t exactly like games like Angry Birds, where all you have to do is put do a little something and then see the result, but in this case, the design is taken quite a bit to the extreme.

That doesn't really look like much of an orbit

That doesn’t really look like much of an orbit

See, 0RBITALIS is a game where you basically shoot a bullet on a certain trajectory using the mouse. In order to pass, your projectile has to “survive” for a certain amount of time, depending on the level. A level is a 2D plane of a space system, with different variations, like different numbers of planets, suns and satellites, all in stable orbit. Problem is that you’re the only thing on the plane which cannot have a stable orbit, despite you trying again and again; it doesn’t jive well at all with it trying to be a puzzle game. Once you find the game become a bit stale, it does throw a bit of a curveball by adding astral bodies with strange properties, like repulsors or off-and-on suns, all of which (as far as I know), don’t really exist in real life. That’s fine, but they also wouldn’t work within the context of the gravitational system you have to shoot your projectile in. That is also fine, as the level doesn’t have to make sense in a game, but then there’s the design of the game.

See, in a puzzle game, there’s usually a process you go through in order to extract the fun from it. It generally requires you to work for the fun a little bit. There’s different kinds of puzzle games, of course, but even if you talk about a light puzzle game like Bejeweled, you get satisfaction from doing matches and randomly getting cascades. If you go into something quite a bit heavier, like SpaceChem, for instance, the fun comes from figuring out the deterministic outcome in order to complete the level. Hell, games like Peggle or Angry Birds work because you get multiple tries to get it done, and it’s flashy and satisfying when you do. 0RBITALIS takes the control scheme of Peggle and tries to sell you the satisfaction of figuring out the puzzle from SpaceChem. When it works, it works fine. The problem comes up when you simply click in the window after being alt-tabbed and you get a clear by accident. After trying to get the level done by trying it 15 times beforehand.

My best result

My best result

See, because you have a time limit to reach in order to pass the level, it’s usually much easier to finish missions by simply trying to avoid having a stable orbit in any way and spoofing the game by picking trajectories the developer wouldn’t expect. Doing that is fine in many puzzle games, but in this it simply feels cheap and random. I never got the satisfaction of finishing any of the 0RBITALIS puzzles because I just thought that I would be just as effective clicking randomly on the screen.

I suppose that doesn’t make the game very much justice, especially considering that the game is simply just not for me. I also suppose there’s something to be said when a game like Kerbal Space Program, which simulates orbital physics quite a bit more accurately than this, is actually easier to get an orbit in than in 0RBITALIS.

The map in the last picture, on the leaderboards. There's also a SpaceChem-like score statistic

The map in the last picture, on the leaderboards. There’s also a SpaceChem-like score statistic

Anyway, if you are interested in a relaxing game both looks and audio-wise, with a very simple control scheme, you’ll probably like 0RBITALIS. If you’re, well, me, you probably won’t.

Implayed Special (Episode 33): osu!

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I’m going to come out and say this up front: I am absolutely terrible at this game. Now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you how great osu! is. First of all, it’s a rhythm game – you play by the music. If you’re not that great at keeping a beat (like me, maybe?), then you’ll probably not be that great this game (like me). You might, however, be great at this game (unlike me), because pretty much everybody else but me is better at rhythm games than I am.

You click on things in succession.

You click on things in succession

The main way of playing osu! involves the mouse – it requires you to click on big round buttons at certain times as they come on the screen, right as the beat comes up. There’s occasional buttons that have you hold the button down and follow a certain path as it comes on the screen. There’s also a wheel that you have to click and spin your cursor around as quickly as possible in order to clear and get extra points. That’s about it. Despite this wealth of game elements, the game is deceptively tough as nails. Most of the songs that come with the game (which is free) involve a tremendous amount of beats per minute, which translates in a lot of buttons to click in quick succession on the screen. This leads to a very quick game where catching the flow and going with it becomes paramount if you want to be successful and get a better mark than a B. You get score depending on how precise you were on your timing, and you get punished pretty heavily for missing any of the beats. Miss enough and you have to try it over again.

Sometimes you have to spin a thing around

Sometimes you have to spin a thing around

Get into the groove and hit all the notes and you’ll feel like a god who can do no wrong. Hit all of them and you’ll feel dejected, kinda like me. You will, however, improve, and with repetition you’ll get better and better at each and every song, which are nicely sorted for you in the playlist. The playlist itself starts out rather small – you are encouraged by their website to download individual songs or beatmap packs in order to expand it. You can also make your own beatmaps if you are so inclined or if you want your favourite songs get some beatmaps. What I’ve noticed on the website is that most songs there involve copious amounts of anime, nightcore or dubstep remix tracks. Not exactly my sort of songs, but I can see why the game revolves around them – they’re really the only kinds of songs that have the beats per minute necessary to make sense with the game’s design. There are other game modes in the game – you can play a platter game where you have to catch fruit that falls from above, there’s a keyboard game where you have to press 7 keys in the rhythm of a note bar (that one feels hard as hell), there’s also another mouse game where all you have to do is press mouse buttons as they come from the right. It’s all deceptively simple, and deceptively difficult because of the speed.

Sometimes you have to hold the mouse down

Sometimes you have to hold the mouse down

There’s also multiplayer, and a whole multiplayer lobby system where everybody who is logged in shows up. I haven’t played much of it, but the head-to-head mode is just single-player with a score comparison. It’s nice enough, I guess, but there isn’t anything special about it. All in all, it’s a rather special kind of game, especially good for people who enjoy rhythm and music. I do enjoy both of those, but I suck at osu! You can play it for free from here: https://osu.ppy.sh/p/download. It requires an account. The game also looks a hell of a lot better in motion than while stationary. so screenshots don’t really do it justice.

Implayed (Episode 32): Back To The Future: Ep 5 – OUTTATIME

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Here’s the Implayed of episode 1. 

As I said last review, this is going to be the fifth and last in the 5-episode series of Telltale’s Back To The Future. Again, I won’t go in-depth with gameplay as it is the exact same thing as the last one. I will however go into a few story spoilers about the last episode to set the scene for this one. You have been warned.

SPOILERS for EPISODE 4!

The ending of episode 4 saw us in a little row with the alternate timeline doc, who seems to have changed his mind about Edna and her plight. We’ve made Edna break up with young Emmett by messing with their relationship though, so Edna’s not particularly happy about that. Emmett has a flash of insight when he’s contemplating his failed relationship next to the clock tower and becomes his old self, obsessed with science and solutions to his old rocket car conundrum. That’s where we leave off for episode 5.

SPOILERS for EPISODE 4 ENDED!

We find ourselves in 1931 again, as Marty wakes up after having slept in, understandably after not having slept after 4 long episodes (save for a few unconscious episodes). Young Emmett has his new project nearly done, and ready for the science expo, though he still requires you to bring him a crucial part. We take it and take off, on our trusty skateboard, all the way to the highschool, the site of the expo, but bump into old Doc.

Ah, yes, the Chronometric Clock. It measures time twice.

Ah, yes, the Chronometric Clock. It measures time twice.

Doc seems fine at first, but, *gasp* he blames you for everything, explaining that all the bad in his life came from him taking up his life of science. He tries to take the crucial part away from you, but the part flies away. Of course it does. So you have to chase it around a little bit until you catch it again, at which point you crash into the expo.

The expo exposes you to a bit more busy work, as Edna has the police enclose Emmett’s invention. You have to dig up some dirt on Edna, and for that you have to play around with the sciencey and futurey things around the expo as hilarity ensues. There’s actually some clever puzzles around here, followed by an extremely dull labyrinth section, which wasn’t difficult – it felt like padding.

From there on, it does pick up – you get a nice climax to the story, as well as an entertaining cliffhanger ending featuring a lot of Michael J. Fox cameos, but there’s a problem with adventure games like this and the climax part of the story. Due to the game not being timed in any way, unlike the newer Telltale adventure game titles, you can be left wondering what to do next in the climax part of the story. That feels very off. It’s like getting extremely close to an orgasm and stopping flat wondering what to do next. It’s not because you don’t know how to thrust anymore, but because the hole changed positions, so you have to find it before you continue your thing. It’s weird and kinda takes you out of the moment.

The moment does feel like Back to the Future, but the game series’ age and budget shows itself clearly here. It’s not the most detailed series, despite the small things that harken back to the movie series. The characters’ stylized look makes for a good likeness and fits the rest of the visuals. The voice acting is top notch for pretty much the entire cast, with Doc reprising his role throughout the entire series and Michael J. Fox coming up for a few cameos in this episode. Marty’s voice was done by an extremely good impersonator.

Hoverboard cameo

Hoverboard cameo

All in all, if you loved Back to the Future, you’re probably going to enjoy this series as well. It’s about 4 years old at this point, but it still holds up, more or less, mostly due to the great voice acting and stylized look. The controls could use a bit more polish, and I did run into a couple of bugs, one of which had me restart the game back in episode 2 I think it was. The other one was minor – Officer Parker would talk to me about an item even though he wasn’t there anymore.

It feels rather fitting to talk about this series of games now, in 2015. It’s the time when the pair comes to the future, where there’s self-tying shoes and hoverboards! Speaking of self-tying shoes, we’ll actually have that. Apparently we’ll have hoverboards too, but they aren’t what I think of when I think of the movie hoverboard. They’re heavy as hell and only work on copper. They’re also really noisy.

I guess it’s finally time to put the series to rest (unless they’ll think of bringing it back sometime).

Implayed (Episode 31): Back To The Future: Ep 4 – Double Visions

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As I said last review, this is going to be the fourth in the 5-episode series of Telltale’s Back To The Future. Again, I won’t go in-depth with gameplay as it is the exact same thing as the last one. I will however go into a few story spoilers about the last episode to set the scene for this one. You have been warned.

SPOILERS for EPISODE 3!

I haven’t actually finished episode 3 (unlike 4), but I did get most of the way through, and I read up on the ending online. Marty does enough offences in the new timeline’s 1985 to get himself an audience with Citizen Brown himself, whom he convinces about the negative impact Edna had on his life. Because of this, this timeline’s Doc listens to Marty and decides to fix the time machine which Marty totaled in the last episode, but the pair gets caught by Edna and they have to go through the Citizen Plus program in order to get brainwashed.

SPOILERS for EPISODE 3 ENDED!

Well there's your problem!

Well there’s your problem!

This episode starts out in the Orwellian 1985 timeline, but it doesn’t sit there for long. You break out of the facility alongside Doc and traipse out back to 1931 to break young him and Edna before they decide to be together forever. For this reason, we get to meet a few characters from the other episodes, which is a nice touch. There is however a problem that I’ve noticed with this episode – there’s a hell of a lot of busywork expected of you to do.

The puzzles aren’t exactly difficult, though they are somewhat inspired by Back to the Future, but they’re mostly just annoying because they take a long time to do. In one instance, you have to use certain objects in order for Doc to feel differently. After that you need to press a button. Every one of these actions takes you through a short animation. A short yet unskippable animation. You need to go through this sequence of actions five times every time you want to do this entire puzzle. Unless you follow an FAQ, you’ll probably go through this multiple times, or you might mess it up, then you have to do it all over again.

It feels an awful lot like padding and, again, busywork.

Well this certainly brings me back.

This certainly brings me back.

On the other hand, you do get an alright twist, and a nice setup for the finale of the series which we’ll get into – next time, on Implayed. Finally.

Now, it’s not that I don’t like the games, they’re rather nice, and I like Back to the Future. But it’s about time I got to cover something else on here.

Here’s the Implayed of episode 5.