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Gamebox 2.0: Games of May 2019

Our May brought us fresh flowers in the form of games to check out! In these latest reviews, we got to try a few titles that were ported to the Switch, checked out two TinyBuild games, and got nostalgic in reimagined cult classics. Plus we got to try out a few indie titles to round out our experience in this month of gaming.

Blood: Fresh Supply (Zach): Coming from Nightdive Studios and Atari, the 90s cult classic Blood is back for the first time officially on something other than DOS.  Hitting around the same time as Doom and Duke Nukem, Blood made its name from it’s over the top violence and a more horror/gothic tone.  You play as Caleb, a gunslinger who joined an evil cult but is betrayed by demonic master Chernabog and killed.  Several years later, Caleb rises from his grave and goes on a quest for revenge.  Like other classic PC FPS games, Blood is brutally hard even on the easier difficulty settings and things like checkpoints were nowhere near being a regular feature, if you die, it’s back to the start of the level.  One thing that definitely made and still makes Blood unique is its pace and arsenal.

Caleb starts out with a pitchfork and you’ll gain an assortment of weird weapons, like dynamite, flare guns, voodoo dolls, and aerosol can flamethrowers.  You’ll get more traditional weapons as well but the uniqueness of a lot of the weapons makes it so you have to be more deliberate and careful.  For instance, the flare gun sets enemies on fire but it takes a few seconds for them to ignite, so you have to shoot them and then still dodge their attacks until they burn.  Blood: Fresh Supply is enhanced for current systems but it’s basically the same game that hit in the 90s, full of ridiculous gibs, atmospheric midi tunes and great pixel based graphics.  There’s a new co-op mode in addition to the classic multiplayer and the game’s official expansion, Cryptic Passages, is included as well.  If you’re a fan of old school FPS games and have never played Blood before, definitely check it out, as it has a style and pace all it’s own.

Pandemic Express: Zombie Escape (Chris): When a zombie horde stands between a group of human survivors and an escaping train, it’ll be a battle to see who controls the express train out of town. Developed by Tall Boys Team and TinyBuild, Pandemic Express: Zombie Escape is an online multiplayer FPS that pits a team of human survivors against a horde of player-controlled zombies. As the survivors, players have to find weapons and resources to make it onto a train that is heading for an escape route. For the zombies, the players have to hunt down and surround the Humans until there is none left. If the train reaches the final station with Humans aboard, the Humans win. If the zombies manage to turn every Human into zombies, the zombies win.

In a world that has been ruined by zombies, humans are on the run from a growing number of zombie monsters. Communities that were once busy with life are now desolated and decaying. The survivors find themselves trapped in places where their own means of escape are trains that continue along with their automated schedules. Scattered in areas are weapons and vending machines that aid their fight. Survivors can find pistols, rifles, shotguns, and ammo in random locations. Vending machines that give health and ammo are placed at certain train stations. Zombies start as simple barbaric creatures that can melee and bite but can be upgraded to a powerful version over time. The basic zombies are weak against small arms fire and their true strength comes in taking on the survivors as a pack. Upgraded zombies have special perks that let them turn invisible, add a disguise or become a bomb. Zombies can use explosive barrels found in the area to hurl them at survivors and weaken their offensives. Killed survivors will become zombies and zombies that are defeated get brought back into the game with a small delay. As the battle continues, the survivors’ count will dwindle and the zombies will gain more members.

Pandemic Express: Zombie Escape mixes a game of tag with the frantic action pace of Left 4 Dead. The game starts with players being randomly sorted into the two teams, then a count down begins before the safe spawning zone becomes dangerous. The survivors don’t start with weapons and a few zombies will manage to score some easy kills. Some lucky players will find weapons early on, giving them a fighting chance in the beginning. The map can be explored to find better weapons and a few vehicles to drive, but the goal is to reach the train. However, getting on the train and staying alive is another thing entirely. The train will be chugging along, regardless of who and what is on it and this game is meant for online multiplayer and relies on decent teamwork to win. For either survivors and zombies, breaking off from the pack is generally a bad idea since there is safety in numbers. Survivors can lead others to safety and cover their backs, and zombies have a better chance to score direct hits when swarming the survivors. There is a menacing issue with having skillful teammates as survivors, then having them become vicious enemies once they turn into zombies.

Tall Boys Team and TinyBuild have followed the right steps to make their own fun take on a zombie action FPS. This version of the game is in early access development and offers only one map. But the level is open and has plenty of different routes to approach the train. There is a degree of freedom and chaos that lets the player experience the game in diverse ways. In one round, I joined a player with a truck and drove around the level collecting better weapons before we caught up to the train at the halfway mark. Another round, I was a zombie that ambushed players when they made a run for a gun at the opening location. The art style of the game makes it stand out from the typical gory shooter. Zombies look like a bit alien-like and the humans all wear an animal mask. There is a Euporean accent to the game that makes it offbeat but does not distract it from the gameplay. Gamers that are looking for a quick action game like Left 4 Dead will easily become a fan with this title. There are more levels planned for release and a few more additions once the game gets closer to the finished version. It’s available now on Steam.

Project Nimbus: Complete Edition (Zach): If you’re into Mecha properties like Gundam and you own a Switch, Project Nimbus is probably going to be right up your alley.  Set on an Earth that has ravaged by World War III, the surface of the planet is an irradiated wasteland and three new global factions vie for power on hovering nations and battle with mechs called Battle Frames.  The story plays out across all three factions in a way that reminded me a bit of how CoD: Modern Warfare would jump between different characters to show different sides of the story.  It feels like typical anime storytelling and it’s just enough to get you to the next mission but it probably won’t make you really engaged and the voice acting doesn’t help in that regard, being mostly terrible across the board.  Luckily, the gameplay mostly makes up for any story shortcomings, as it feels like an arcade flight simulator like Ace Combat mixed with the Zone of the Enders series.

Each mission you’ll be given control of a specific Battle Frame, from the highly advanced Mirai to a barebones prison guard unit and you’ll encounter various objectives that will feel familiar if you’ve dabbled in any sort of flight/combat sim, like taking out specific targets, surviving for a certain amount of time, escorting an important unit and more.  Each Battle Frame has vastly different weaponry but you’ll usually have some sort of machine gun and missile combo with additional weapons depending on the mech.  The missiles have the multi-target lock you have probably experienced in other games where you can sweep your reticle over multiple enemies and then unleash a swarm of missiles to take them down.  Advanced mechs like Mirai have a ton of other unique weapons, including drones, decoys, smart missiles and the classic mecha anime sword that you can use to quickly take out enemies.  It’s extremely fast and definitely feels like dogfighting in a fighter jet, just a fighter jet that also happens to have a giant sword.  In addition to the campaign, you can play Survival mode against endless waves of enemies and Warfront, which adds additional missions and objectives to Survival.  If you’re a fan of flight combat and/or mech games and have a Switch, definitely check out Project Nimbus for some great, fast, arcade action.

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action (Chris): The cyberpunk bartending simulator developed by Sukeban Games gets swift on consoles. Published by Ysbryd Games, the 2016 indie hit VA-11 Hall-A has arrived for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. This game has the player take on the role of Jill, a spunky young bartender working at the dive bar known as VA-11 HALL-A. Set in the dystopian future of 207X in Glitch City, Jill is surrounded by an interesting collection of characters that echo the different areas of society. Jill will encounter clients like media influencers, a struggling news editor, a robotic sex worker, an internet hacker and more as she serves them drinks. Being a bartender, Jill is in charge of giving her clients the best drinks to get them to relax. However, depending on the client’s taste and mood, they will share more details about their lives. Jill can shape some of the situations of clients with her drinks, helping or hindering their outcomes.

As a bartender, Jill has the duty to create a ton of cocktails for her clients. The game simulates the bartending activities down to combining five main ingredients. Recipes of every cocktail determine the amount of each ingredient and each cocktail has different alcohol strengths. Some drinks will be sweet and help the client feel happier. Some drinks will be more potent and let a client be more vulnerable to the conversation. Listening to the client’s request and gauging which cocktail to serve is key to exploring the background of every client. Some clients will be straight forward and tell Jill which drink they will like, and others will be vague and it will be up to Jill to figure out a drink that will work.

The story of the game follows a non-linear progression. Much of the story is told through the conversations between Jill and her clients.  Depending on how well the player has gained the trust of their clients, characters will reveal more details of their lives and open up different story paths. Glitch City has many secrets and every client that comes into VA-11 HALL-A has a tale. Conversations start like a regular interaction between a bartender and thirsty patron but will change based on their state of inebriation. Clients will reflect on their jobs and choices made. Each drink lets the client reach a new decision about their actions and eventually guide them to a conclusion.

VA-11 Hall-A is an interesting game that blends the storytelling of a visual novel with an arcade simulator of bartending. The concept is unique and solid experience, that feels like controlling an anime. The game has a small learning curve to get used to the mechanics. The controls on the Switch are a little sensitive to carefully click each ingredient, and one mistake means dumping out the drink and starting again. However, there is no time limit on making drinks and it lets you start again very fast. It only takes a few tries before the player has Jill whipping up cocktails with ease and delving deeper into this amazing story. It’s available now on Switch, PS4, and Steam.

Ride with the Reaper (Zach): Coming from developer Sergi Collado, Ride with the Reaper is an insanely fast-paced old-school style driving that game that seems to take inspiration from classics like Spy Hunter and Bump n Jump.  You’ll drive between different cities and the goal is to survive in the fastest amount of time, avoiding obstacles and not crashing.  Each level you’ll get 3 crashes and after that, it’s game over.  The main obstacles you’ll encounter are gigantic sinkholes that you’ll have to jump using special jump pads on the ground but you’ll have to hit some at certain speeds or else you’ll either overshoot into another pit or undershoot and not make it all the way across.  There are power-ups you can collect and you’ll encounter boss vehicles that you’ll have to quickly figure out how to defeat.

It’s definitely fast-paced and has that old-school look and feel but, it’s kind of too simple?  I feel like the classics it’s emulating had much more complexity, and they came out in the 80s.  Bump n Jump let you jump whenever you wanted and also had other cars to smash into while Spy Hunter had the machine gun and other gadgets, the weapons van and a wide variety of enemy vehicles.  Personally, there’s not enough here for me to warrant more than a few minutes of play.

Black Paradox (Zach): Black Paradox hit all platforms earlier this month from Fantastico Studio and Digerati and it’s a fantastic, neon-drenched shooter.  Playing as the titular Black Paradox, the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunter, you are on a mission to take out the various members of the Hellraisers, all of whom have a bounty on their head.  Black Paradox has a sweet ride that looks like a turquoise version of Matt Trakker’s Thunderhawk from MASK that can travel through space and you’ll get a wide assortment of weapons in addition to your regular guns to take down the swarms of enemies.  The game is a roguelite, so you’re gathering money as you progress through the levels and, if and when you die, you’ll be able to purchase some upgrades and weapons to take into your next run.

The game is definitely a bullet-hell style shooter and it will test your old-school side scroller skills if you decide to check it out.  Luckily some of the weapons you get are awesomely powerful and you can also build up a meter to unleash the Black Paradox move, which creates a dark copy of your ship and duplicates whatever weapon you currently have equipped.  The look and feel of the game is great and the soundtrack is some spectacular synthwave that is greatly appreciated.  If you’re in the mood for an old school shooter, Black Paradox is definitely one to check out and it’s available now on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows (Chris): When exiled inspector Cicero Gavar is invited back to the city of Ombre, he will uncover a conspiracy that would reveal the truth behind a raging civil war and force hidden figures out from the shadows. For the first time on consoles, Witching Hour Studios and Ysbryd Games present Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, a fantasy RPG that mixes fast paced tactical gameplay with an isometric perspective. The player takes control of Cicero Gavar, a former investigator that returns to the city of Ombre to assist on a missing person’s case. On his adventure, he will be joined by allies that have their own agenda and will push Gavar deeper into a greater connected mystery.

The gameplay has simplified controls that lets characters have a basic auto attack if enemies are within range. There are special attacks that require energy from a focus bar and have a recharge timer between each usage. These special attacks depend on the character and have a different elemental effect. Throughout the story, Cicero Gavar can collect all four element types, but his allies cannot. There is a mix of offensive attacks that deal in close and long range, and buffers that heal and defend allies. Having a good mix of skills lets players deal a great amount of damage without risking too many defensive capabilities.

The player can control a single character at a time, switching between party members on the fly. Combat is fought in real time, but there is an option to make a fight more tactical which pauses the battle and lets the player set up special moves. Each party member can set up individual strategies to know when to use certain attacks. Players can set up a chain attack to get enemies hit with multiple elemental attacks at once, giving a great edge in battle.

The world of Masquerada is colorful and immersive, with the story told through cut-scenes, background NPC dialogue, and notes to collect. The introduction chapter of the game gives just enough information about the characters and setting, but it requires a little digging through the notes for a complete picture. The game is very focused on telling a fantasy story that flows from each chapter and does not offer much filler in-between.

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a fun port for the Switch. The game does not offer much free roam exploration in the form of side quests or item hunting but it is a tight story told through great voice acting and fun visuals. Players go from fight to fight, building towards the next suspenseful reveal of the plot. There is some variety to approaching combat, but a good portion of the gameplay will be spamming certain moves until everything is defeated on screen. Harder enemies require some thinking and will actually challenge the player in how they managed their skills they have earned. Overall, gamers that enjoy a rich fantasy story or the beautiful graphics will have a good time in this RPG. It’s available now on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.

Swag and Sorcery (Zach): Coming from Lazy Bear Games, the developer that previously brought us Punch Club and Graveyard Keeper, and tinyBuild, Swag and Sorcery is a hybrid RPG and city/town manager.  The king’s magical suit is missing and you need to gather a team of heroes to scour the kingdom and find it before the king’s evil magician sets his own plan into motion to take over.  You’ll build up the village by upgrading and creating various stores and facilities and then hire a team of heroes and send them on quests to different locations.  Much like Punch Club, during the quests, you don’t have any direct control on your heroes and you can even leave the quest screen entirely and do something else while they win or fail.  You probably want to keep an eye on them though, especially if they are in a harder area because you can retreat and keep whatever loot you’ve found up to that point but, if your team loses, you lose all the loot they gathered up to that point.  The loot is essential to build your heroes armor and weapons and build and upgrade the town’s buildings.  If heroes are not on quests, you can place them into certain buildings and have them craft new materials or work on making armor and weapons and the gameplay loop alternates between crafting and upgrading and then heading out and making some quest runs to gather supplies to make better weapons and items.

The game has the same great art style and humor that the previous Lazy Bear games had and it definitely gets addicting sending your heroes on one more run because you’re so close to crafting a new sword or shield and, personally, I prefer the lighter village building here than the kind of overwhelming Graveyard Keeper and Swag and Sorcery feels like a solid middle-ground between Graveyard Keeper and Punch Club.  Besides the questing, there are also random events that can pop up and you’ll have to make a choice that you’ll either get rewarded or punished for and there’s constant objectives that you are building toward, getting a certain amount of items or crafting material or completing a certain objective in the quests.  There’s also a bizarre fashion show element (the “swag” part of Swag and Sorcery) where you can deck out your heroes and then send them to contests to be judged and hopefully win some gold and there’s a metagame where you can figure out the judge’s individual likes and bribe them with presents.  If you prefer more direct control over your RPGs, you may not be fully on board with Swag and Sorcery, because it actually feels like an extremely high-end clicker style game but the basic loop and the art style and humor are definitely enough for me and make it worth recommending to check out.  It’s out now on Steam.

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