Gamebox 2.0: Games of September 2019

The fall season is upon us but there’s no slowdown to games hitting console, PC and more.  This month we got to explore the gorgeous pixel art dungeons of Children of Morta, got into some old school beat ’em up fights in Fight’N Rage, commanded a team of renegade cops in Rebel Cops and more.

Children of Morta (Zach): Coming from Dead Mage Inc, Childern of Morta is a rogue-like dungeon controller that follows the heroic Bergson family.  The Bergsons have been the guardians of Mount Morta for centuries but an ancient threat called The Corruption has returned and is turning the mountain and the creatures that inhabit it into nightmarish abominations that threaten the entire world.  The Bergsons have to brave the various caverns and dungeons of the mountain to recover three ancient gems that can power a magical crystal beneath their home that can let them go to the source of The Corruption and stop it once and for all.  After a prologue sequence, the main gameplay loop has you picking a member of the Bergson clan and then entering a dungeon and trying to fight your way through and defeat the area’s boss.  If you are defeated, you are teleported back home before you die and then you can use any skill points and gold you acquired during the run to put into upgrades and new skills and then dive back into the dungeon, although each time the dungeon is different.

The combat is classic hack n slash in the vein of something like Diablo and you have a basic attack, an evade to quickly dodge enemies and then each family member has special skills specific to them.  The first character you play as, the patriarch John, has a sword as his main weapon and gets a shield that can be upgraded to hurt enemies on contact and then can get more special abilities, including a rain of swords from the sky.  While you are in the dungeon, you can collect all kinds of different power-ups that may grant you temporary boosts to speed or power or new abilities like the ability to call in a dragon or unleash a black hole.  The skills in your skill tree are constant but any special abilities, charms or other enhancements are only good for that run and, if and when you die, you will have to find new ones during your next run.  The game plays fast and brutal and you really need to learn your chosen character’s abilities and capabilities to survive the hordes of enemies.  You’ll start out with John and his daughter Lucy but eventually, you’ll unlock more of the family and you should be able to find one who matches the way you want to play.  The game is absolutely stunning looking in addition to playing fantastically.  The game’s looks are a mix of jaw-dropping, hand-drawn pixel art and frame by frame animation for the characters and it’s constantly one-upping itself on beautiful vistas or amazing environments.  The game also does a great job of getting you invested in the Bergson family, as each time you return home, you can explore around the house and there are little vignettes available at different times that give you more background into the characters, all delivered by a brilliant voice-over narrator.  If you’re a fan of dungeon crawlers or rogue-likes, Children of Morta is a must-play and probably one of the best-looking examples of those genres ever made.  It’s out now on Steam and will be on PS4, Xbox One and Switch on October 15th.

Devil’s Hunt (Zach): Coming from 1C Entertainment, Devil’s Hunt is a third-person action game in the vein of Devil May Cry where you play as boxer Desmond who, after a series of consecutive low points in his life, decides to commit suicide and finds himself in Hell.  He takes up Lucifer on an offer to return to Earth as an executor, collecting the souls of wicked men for Hell and eventually discovers he’s a key factor in the war between Heaven and Hell and must choose a side to fight on.  The game is a bit simplistic, at least for the first few chapters, where combat is only on two buttons for a light or heavy attack and you have a sort of reflect button to block enemy blows.  As the game opens up, you start to unlock abilities that can go on the face buttons if you are using an Xbox controller and there’s a skill tree that lets you spend the souls you’ve collected to upgrade and unlock new powers and abilities.

One strange control quirks in the game is that when you are not in combat and walking around the levels, there is no jump button, all of the climbing, clambering and other movement is all done with one button.  You go up to a context-sensitive area and press the button and Desmond will do whatever action he needs to get past the obstacle and progress.  It’s not bad, per se, but it’s just kind of strange and it feels a bit weird when literally every other game in this genre gives you multiple buttons for movement. The game has a pretty cool look and the environments and creature designs are cool and well detailed but I got some very Heavy Rain vibes from Desmond and the rest of the human cast in both look and voice acting, and not in a good way.  Desmond is a pretty boring, generic protagonist, he kind of feels like a 90s video game character, like the guy from Painkiller or something, and definitely does not have the charisma of other characters in this genre, like Dante or Bayonetta and most of the human characters, in general, are just kind of ugly looking.  If you are looking for combo heavy combat and engaging traversal, Devil’s Hunt will probably disappoint you but I found it still pretty interesting despite that and it’s a decent, more budget-friendly entry in the third-person action genre.  It’s out now on Steam and is coming to consoles soon.

Rebel Cops (Chris): When a town is in the pockets of a powerful mob, one squad of cops go beyond the laws to deliver justice.  Weappy Studio and THQ present a turn-based RPG in Rebel Cops and is set in the same universe as This is the Police. This is a spin-off from the TSTP series but focus heavily on the tactical combat elements. This time around, players will lead a small group of cops that try to root out a criminal empire from the rural town of Ripton. Viktor Zuev and his men have their hands in almost activity in Ripton, corrupting even the police force. One group of cops go off the grid and wage guerrilla warfare to take back the town.

Players will begin their fight slowly, carrying out simple raiding missions or eliminating key targets to cripple Zuev’s operation. The turn-based combat has a steep learning curve that punishes simple mistakes. There isn’t a standard health meter, but four main hit points that can be attacked. A shot to the hand disables weapons. A shot to the body puts a target down and begins a bleed out timer. A shot to the leg halts movement. A headshot instantly kills the target. Enemies are a bit difficult in the beginning levels, scoring direct hits even when the cops are placed behind cover. It further pushes the urge to complete side missions and stealth approaches as much as possible.

The plot is interesting but could have used more character development to draw in the audience. There aren’t many interactions between the squad members, making a handful of generic fodder that makes no impact on the story. There’s a neat respect system that affects how Ripton views the cops. Trying to avoid violent confrontations and making an arrest brings praise and small perks to upgrades and allies. But going for a stone-cold approach keeps the enemies fearful.

Rebel Cops is a fun experience that gamers can spend hours playing. There are minor areas that could’ve been expanded, such additional voice-over work and character development. However, the solid tactical gameplay and visual presentations make it hard to put down. Rebel Cops was released on September 17th for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.

 

Fight’N Rage (Zach): Fight’N Rage comes from Blitworks and Seba Games Dev and it’s an absolutely awesome throwback beat ’em up.  Taking inspiration from the classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, Fight’N Rage has you battling through its various stages as one of three characters cut from the classic archetypes of those old school beat ’em ups.  F. Norris is a ninja who seems to be the all-arounder, Ricardo is a massive bull who definitely the Mike Haggar of the group and is powerful but slow and Gal is a scantily clad martial artist who is fast but weak.  The world of Fight’N Rage has been invaded by an army of evil animal mutants and their traitorous human allies and you have to battle your way to the mutants’ leader and stop him before he takes over the world and kills all the surviving humans.

The game is pure old-school arcade radness where you make your way across the screen, battle a group of enemies and then move on until you reach a crazy, gigantic boss.  Unlike a lot of games in the genre, you get some branching paths, even right at the beginning of the game, and you can replay the game to see completely different levels and explore more of the story.  The enemy variety is fantastic and the groups are always an interesting mix that makes you constantly have to think and not just mindlessly button mash.  One fantastic upgrade to the old school games it’s inspired by is that the enemy clearing special move, which in games like Final Fight would drain some of your health as a cost for using it, now has its own meter in Fight’N Rage, so you can use it with no health cost when it’s full.  If you use it again before the meter is back full though, you’re going to lose some health.  There is a ton of variety to the combat and you can rack up all kinds of combos and experiment to find all kinds of different moves for each character.

One minor gripe is that you cannot pick a new character if you get to the Continue? screen, so you are stuck with whatever character you chose unless you start a new game.  When you get a game over, you earn a number of coins for your score and you can use those coins to unlock new modes in the game, new costumes for the characters or new characters for the Battle Mode that is built into the game as well, which includes all the normal enemies plus bosses.  You can also bring in two other friends for three-player co-op.  The game looks amazing with killer pixel art and great animations for all the characters and the soundtrack by Gonzalo Varela is fantastic as well.  The soundtrack is mostly rocking metal but there is some chill jazz and Spanish music sprinkled throughout as well.  Fight’N Rage is an amazing tribute to old school arcade beat ’em ups and definitely a must-play if you are a fan of that genre.  It’s out now on Switch and Xbox One and it’s coming soon to PS4.

Azure Reflections (Chris):  The cute yet brutal, long-running bullet hell series Touhou Project comes to steam in Azure Reflections. Developed by souvenir circ. and published by Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc. / UNTIES, Azure Reflections is a side-scrolling shooter that has magical girls duck and dodge a barriage of projectiles while firing off their own special attacks. Shrine Maiden Reimu Hakurei and magician Marisa Kirisame return to defeat corrupt spirits, evil witches and other demonic beings.

Azure Reflections is a departure from the vertical shooter, changing the presentation to a horizontal perspective and adding a faster combat ability against bosses. Players will have to deal with waves of enemies, avoiding bullets and collecting power-ups. The new attack, Danmaku Rush, allows players to clear objects on-screen with an explosive magical attack. A successful Danmaku Rush on a boss will force them to change into the next form of attacks.

Overall, Azure Reflections is fun for bullet hell enthusiast and for long-time fans of the series. The game can be played in single and co-op story mode, with a new boss rush mode recently released. The gameplay is challenging, so don’t like the anime art style fool you into thinking it will be easy. Bullet hell games require a focus on figuring out attack patterns and quick movement. However, it’s a rewarding experience to overcome waves of enemies and take down a boss with a flawless attack. Azure Reflections was released for PS4 and Switch last year and came to Steam on this September 20th.

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