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Gamebox 2.0: Pixels, Parks and Pinball Edition

With last week’s E3 presentation making us drool over the upcoming titles in the future, we return to the games of the present and checked out amazing titles to hold us over right now. This month Gamebox 2.0 reviews; we went old school pixelated fox, took a shoot out into the skies, overcame platforms by way of pinballing, and balanced beasts in a virtual world on our mobile devices.

Yoku’s Island Express:  (Zach)  We played it at PAX East but Yoku’s Island Express arrived a few weeks ago on Steam, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One from Team 17 and it’s an extremely delightful and fun platformer that has the very unique mechanic of using pinball as your main way of getting around the world.  You play as Yoku, a cute little beetle who arrives on Mokumana Island to be its new postmaster but finds the island on the brink of destruction as its island deity was attacked by an unknown force.  Yoku has to travel the island and get the help of three island leaders, who together can heal the deity and save the island and, to do this, Yoku bounces on bumpers and gets launched by flippers on the boulder he’s attached to. The pinball mechanics work great and you really do need to know how to manipulate the ball and target shots in order to progress and the game also has Metroidvania elements as Yoku gains new abilities that allow him to get to new areas and reveal more of the massive island map. The art style is fantastic and there are tons of weird and wonderful island residents to meet and plenty of side quests and collectibles to gather along side the main mission.

There have been other games that put platforming stars like Sonic into a pinball game a la Sonic Spinball but those games locked you into a traditional pinball board. Yoku is a massive world where there are distinct “tables” but you’re never locked in and you have the freedom to explore every nook and cranny of the island.  There’s really nothing else like it out there right now and it’s definitely worth checking out.

Jurassic World Evolution: (Zach) There have been a ton of Jurassic Park/World games over the years, a few of them good, most of them weird and terrible.  Jurassic World Evolution is one of the, if not the best games ever based on the beloved franchise.  Coming from Frontier Developments, who picked up the baton of theme park simulators from the classic Roller Coaster Tycoon series with their own insanely in-depth park creator, Planet Coaster.  I will admit, I tried but couldn’t get into Plant Coaster just because I was too overwhelmed by the granular levels the game provided.  It’s awesome that you can adjust things down to the tiniest level on your rides but I just didn’t have the time to dig in.  JW Evolution cuts back on the minute details but you still have tons of options for how you want to try and create your own dinosaur park.

You are the new head of operations for INGEN and, in one of the many cool touches of the game, you’ll be building parks on each of the five island that make up the chain alongside Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna and as you complete missions and level up, you’ll unlock a new island.  You’ll start in the pleasant Isla Mantanceros, which poses no real environmental dangers and already has most of the infrastructure you need in place and you’ll learn the ropes of running a dinosaur park, with balance being the key factor.  You have to make sure that you have enough things for the guests to be interested in, like viewing galleries for the dinosaurs and shops and restaurants, while also making sure you have operation buildings in place like the ACU team that tranquilzes and transports rogue dinosaurs, power stations and rangers who go out in jeeps to make repairs and heal your animals.  You also have to send teams out around the world to dig up fossils and then extract the DNA to be able to create your park’s main attactions and you can eventually do the insane genetic modification that gave us Verizon Wireless presents the Indominus Rex.  Also needing balance is three different factions of INGEN, Science, Entertainment and Security, each of whom can give you missions to complete but doing a mission for one faction will most likely lower your rating with the others, making things more difficult with them later on if it gets too low and they could even sabotage the park if you ignore or fail them too many times.  Each faction has a character head you’ll be interacting with and there’s also a sleazy INGEN corporate stooge along with familiar faces like Ian Malcolm, Claire Dearing, Dr. Wu and Owen Grady, all except Owen voiced by their movie counterparts (Goldblum is the highlight, which should not be surprising) and one minor complaint is that the voice actor for Owen is hilariously terrible and not even close to Chris Pratt’s vocal stylings.

The game looks incredible, especially the dinosaur models and it’s a thrill the first time you create a new dinosaur and let them loose into an enclosure and you can click and follow them around or commandeer your ranger’s jeep and go take some pictures of them for extra money.  There are great weather effects as well, especially on the islands that are more prone to destructive tropical storms and there’s some great ambiance in the park as well.  You’ll hear announcements for new attractions and buildings overhead and if things get too crazy and you have to open emergency shelters, you’ll hear warnings in both English and Spanish.  There have been previous park builder games based around JP before, most notably Operation Genesis from 2003 but this is truly the game fans have been waiting for since the first movie where you can build your own Jurassic Park/World however you want and try to succeed where Hammond and INGEN failed in the movies. It’s out now on PC, Xbox One and PS4.

Wizard of Legend: (Zach) Wizard of Legend came out last month from Contingent99 for Steam, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One and it’s a fast paced, brutal new rogue-like action game.  You play as a young wizard who is looking to take on the “Chaos Trials”, the ultimate test of a wizard’s skills that barely anyone has ever completed fully.  To complete them, you’ll have to fight through three areas based around the essential elements of ice, fire and earth and take on the master of each of those elements.  One of the main hooks of the game is the extremely customizable combat system, where you are able to purchase cards that contain various magical attacks and abilities and you can make a “hand” with whatever skills you want.  So, for instance, you could shoot fireballs but also have the ability to launch an ice wall.

You can also collect artifacts that will give you various boosts or different effects but, much like the Souls games or other rogue-likes, you don’t really know what the effect of each item is until after you buy it, although most of the ones you’ll find in the hub before taking on the trials seem to be positive.  The combat once you get into the Trials is brutal and will require some pinpoint dodging to dodge lasers and arrows and there’s also some bullet hellesque spells from some of the more powerful enemies.  Each time you enter the Trials, the layout and enemies are different and you won’t even start in the same area every time.  If you like tough, brutal, fast paced action in a rogue-like, fantastic pixel art wrapper, definitely check out Wizard of Legend.

Sky Noon: (Chris) The Western sci fi FPS Sky Noon by Lunar Rooster and Reverb Triple XP is a spin on tradition shooters and western classics. Instead of the usual gritty and moody cowboys that have traditional, on the ground shootouts, in Sky Noon you take the fight into the air. Lunar Rooster introduces a fun aerial FPS that focuses on fast movement and skillful shots. Players will have use of their grappling hoots and lassos and a collection of air power guns that pushes opponents away from the stage. There are no health meters here, but instead players must be ring outed. It creates some very intense engagements where the tide of battle can switch at any shot, throw or boost. There is a story to the world of Sky Noon, two grounps known as the Minutemen and Cartel are battling for water as the town they are occupying is drying up and creating floating islands to draw water from the clouds in the skies. Tensions between the Minutemen and Cartel finally reached a boiling point, and now the two are at war.

New players will start with a default character and unlock cosmetic options as they progress in the game. Weapons and equipment are randomized in battle, with starting weapons and equipment being random also. That way, everyone is at a even playing field at any player rank and the gameplay is solely based a on player’s skills (and some luck). As of the first early release, there are four maps and four game modes. Each of the maps that feature wide open spaces to zip around, tight choke points to avoid and lots of hidden opportunities to strike at opponents. The four modes are; Free For All, where players battle it out to decide who is the best; Cart, players are split into two groups and must guide a cart into their base; King of the Hill, players must occupy a spot on the map to earn points; and Team Elimination, two teams must eliminate each other.

The gameplay is fresh and exciting, and definitely challenges your gamer skills. I had a great time grappling next to an opponent, lassoing them closer to me, then launching them into the air with a blast of my air shotgun.
The action is family friendly, and an enjoyable title to play to take a break from the realistic shooters out on the market.
Lunar Rooster has been developing Sky Noon since 2016 and has impressed gamers at SXSW, Play by Play, Unreal Dev, PAX East and many more. If you are interested in testing your itchy trigger fingers and think you have what it takes to own the skies, then check out Sky Noon now. Sky Noon was released Jun 14th, 2018 on Steam.

Cultist Simulator:  (Zach) Published by Humble Bundle and developed by Weather Factory, Cultist Simulator is an extremely interesting and unique game where you try to unravel Lovecraftian secrets and form your own cult.  The game utilizes a system of cards and you’ll unlock different hubs that represent actions like Study or Dream and you’ll play cards in those hubs to unlock more cards and more hubs.  Things start out fairly simply but it quickly ramps up and you’ll have to keep track of various timers and make sure you are monitoring things like your health and money along with researching and studying arcane knowledge.  It’s sort of a like a “clicker” game like Adventure Capitalist but much more complex.

Luckily you can pause at any time and assess the situation which helps but you will probably die a lot and there is a lot of experimentation and trial and error required, especially as the game lacks any sort of tutorial.  If you do manage to progress far enough, you can start your own cult, gather followers, learn ancient rituals and summon powerful entities but all of that will also most likely get you noticed by police, investigators and other hunters.  If you die before completing your goal, the next run will be as a descendant or someone close to the previous character and you can choose from three options for an occupation that will give you different boosts to start the next run.   If you like board games and can juggle multiple things at once, Cultist Simulator is a very unique Lovecraftian adventure.

Hellbound: Survival Mode:  (Zach)  Coming from Saibot Studios after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Hellbound is a throwback to 90’s shooters, most obviously Doom, and they have a Survival Mode demo that’s up for free on Steam right now that lets you see what the game will play and look like as you survive waves of enemies.  The game is fast and smooth, just like you would want from a throwback shooter like this and will force you to dust off your circle strafing skills.  The enemies and environment look great and it almost has a Claymation/Harryhausenesque look that I really dig along with some solid Doomesque music.  You’ll pick up some standard weapons like a double shotgun and rocket launcher and while they aren’t fancy, they definitely have a satisfying feel and get the job of blowing enemies into gibs done.

The main game will have a full single player campaign as you play as the bad ass demon killer Hellgore and it’s in development right now and is looking to release sometime next year.

Fox n Forests: (Zach) Coming from Bonus Level Entertainment, Fox n Forests is another game we checked out at PAX East that released last month and feels like a throwback to SNES era action platformers.  You play as Rick the Fox, who is kind of an asshole, but agrees to help restore the seasons to their proper time, as they have gone out of whack and are causing all kinds of issues in the forest.  Rick is imbued with the power to control the seasons while on his quest, allowing him to switch between two in any given level, like spring to winter, and it’s the key to progressing through each level, as some areas are inaccessible in one of the seasons.  Rick is also armed with a crossbow that he can gain various bolts for that give him different shots, like triple fire, that also tie into targets around the world that open up new paths.  The graphics are fantastic, as is the music, and really feel ripped out of the 16-bit era.

The one complaint I have so far is that there seems to be quite a bit of backtracking, as you’ll have to visit previous levels to collect enough gems to unlock the path to progress.  If that element wasn’t there, I would be fully in but, as is, I’m slightly less enthusiastic about the game, especially because it’s pretty much right out of the gate where you are forced to go back.  Everything else besides that though is top notch and if you don’t mind backtracking and want to relive the 16-bit era of games like Magical Quest, Actraiser, etc, Fox N Forests is out on Switch, PS4, Steam and Xbox One.

Ghostory: (Zach) Ghostory is a mind bending puzzle platformer from RigidCore Games.  You play as a traveler who goes out of the frying pan into the fire as, after barely escaping from some vicious wolves, he drinks from a cursed pond and becomes a ghost.  A friendly old woman nearby offers to make you a potion that will cure you but it requires ingredients from the nearby cave system, which you become trapped deep within.  The cave is full of switches and levers that control moving platforms and turn on and off other platforms and your main goal in each level is to collect keys and get to the exit.

The thing that moves Ghostory from tricky to diabolical is the fact that you have to keep track of your backpack, as it cannot travel with your ghost form, so you need to really plan where you will place your backpack while throwing switches and figuring out your path and then collect it so you pick up the keys you need.  The first level or two is pretty simple to ease you into things but it quickly ramps up with keys, switches and platforms of 5 or 6 different colors.  The game has a fun sense of humor with lots of puns and a simple but charming pixel art style.  If you are looking from brain busters, Ghostory will definitely give your gray matter a workout and it’s out on Steam.

Omega Strike: (Zach)  Omega Strike arrived last week for PS4 and Xbox One and turns Contra/Metal Slug style run and gun action into a Metroidvania style adventure.  The evil Doctor Omega has enslaved the world with his army of genetically mutated super soldiers and a small resistance group is the only thing that can stop him.  You control a three man team of Sarge, Bear and Dex and you can flip between them at will and you’ll have to in order to utilize each of their unique skills to progress and find hidden areas (Bear can push boulders, Dex can double jump, Sarge can roll into narrow passages).

You can visit a hub that provides weapon upgrades and health items for your inventory and you’ll gain new skills as you beat the various bosses that will let you get to previously unreachable areas in true Metroidvania fashion.  The look of the game is fun and has a cartoony pixel look that is reminiscent of Mercenary Kings, which also put a new spin on the old school run n gun genre to mixed results.  Omega Strike is much more straightforward than Mercenary Kings and sticks to it’s Metroidvania roots with a large, interconnected world to explore and maps and save points to keep track of your progress.  There’s no shortage of Metroidvania games out there but Omega Strike’s Metal Slugesque look makes it stand apart and it’s a solid and fun entry into that genre.

Forgotton Anne: (Chris) Ever wonder what happens to the lost things people lose on a daily basis? The game developers at ThoughLine Games have a theory. Created by an indie team in New Zealand and published by the Square Enix Collective, Forgotton Anne is an adventure plathformer that is inspired by the films of Studio Ghibli and games like Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. Forgotton Anne focuses on Anne, a human girl that has been living in an magical parallel universe called the Forgotten Lands. It is home to forgotten objects that wait to be remembered and brought back to the normal universe. Anne is an Enforcer, someone who policies the living inanimate objected called forgotlings. These forgotlings are random items that have been given life by the power of anima, and is the energy force that powers everything in the Forgotten Lands. Players will control as Anne as she is awoken by the sounds of an attack conducted by rebel forgotlings, and Anne sets out to restore order. Using her mechanical wings and her anima control glove the Arca, she investigates the rebels and their true purpose. There is no direct combat to the game, instead the players must solve puzzles and interrogate suspects to progress through the city. With the Arca, Anne can absorb and displace anima from machinery, opening up passageways or silencing forgotlings. However, Anne’s words and actions have consequences. Players can make decisions that make Anne appear compassionate or cold, effecting the citizens of the Forgotten Land perception of Anne. Make peaceful actions and calm choices, and the forgotlings will be happy to see Anne. Be aggressive and authoritarian, and the forgotlings will speak ill of Anne.

This whimsical game features hand drawn artwork, stunning cityscapes, and a beautiful orchestral score by the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra. The whole gameplay experience feels like an interactive movie. The immersion is pretty deep with very few tutorials, hints and hand holding. The gameplay and cutscenes blend well together, keeping the pace moving very quickly between interaction segments and narrative explanation. Forgotton Anne has lots of detail in the background, with radio news describing Anne’s efforts in the city and murmurs of forgotlings talking about Anne. Forgotton Anne is a pleasant and relaxing game experience that should definitely not be forgotten. Forgotton Anne was released May 15th for PC, Xbox One and PS4.

Beasts of Balance: (Zach) Switching things up to the tabletop, Beasts of Balance is a game that combines some truly gorgeous physical pieces with an app on your mobile device of choice that has you creating your own unique world of creatures with Jenga style balancing gameplay.

Syncing the game’s base to your device, you place the animal pieces on the board and they appear in the app.  As you add other creatures, they appear as well and you then start adding other pieces to create hybrids or give them an energy boost based on the element you add.  If the pieces fall, you only have a few seconds to rebuild or else the volcano of your little digital island explodes and it’s game over.  The pieces are truly works of art with a stylish look and great feel and heft and there are tons of different ways to stack and experiment and you can buy expansion packs to add new creatures and elements as well.  The base game is $100 but you definitely see and feel the quality of the package.



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