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Gamebox 2.0: Games of December 2019

As the year comes to a close, we played through one final batch of games for 2019. We delivered some punishment in Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, experienced the thriller She Sees Red, achieved some high scores in Pinball and our first VR reviews with Path of the Warrior and Shadows of Gargantua. Read about everything we played in December below.

Path of the Warrior (Zach): For Black Friday, I finally jumped into the world of VR and got an Oculus Quest and have been digging into the various experiences available for the system.  One of the best games I’ve played so far on the Oculus was actually surprise dropped during the recent Game Awards, Twisted Pixel’s Path of the Warrior. Putting you literally into an old school beat ’em up in the vein of Final Fight or Streets of Rage, you have to fight off waves of punks by punching with your Oculus controllers and/or kicking with the face buttons.  You move around with the stick in your left-hand controller and it can take a bit to get used to that feeling but it didn’t take too long for me to be dodging around and beating the crap out of bad guys (and almost punching my wall at one point).  There are tons of interactive objects you can grab and use to beat up bad guys and you can also grab them and throw them into interactive hazards.  There are colorful bosses to battle as well and fun minigames to play in between missions.

The art style is fantastic and the music has a great, rocking old school feel as well.  If you played any previous Twisted Pixel games like Splosion Man or The Gunstringer, you know they have an extremely fun sense of humor and that is all over Path of the Warrior as well.  If you have an Oculus Quest or Rift, Path of the Warrior is a must-play and it really makes you feel like you’ve been dropped onto the streets of a 90s beat ’em up (you’ll also probably work up a sweat as well, so keep a towel handy).

EarthNight (Chris):  When humanity is taken over by dragons and menacing creatures, humankind leaves Earth behind to be overrun by its new invaders. Humans now live in colonies in spaceships, but two daring warriors descend to Earth and fight to reclaim the planet in EarthNight. This auto-runner platformer comes from indie studio Cleversoft and boasts a ton of creative talent. From the hand-drawn artwork, the rocking soundtracks, and the addictive gameplay, Earth Night delivers a fun game experience that was worth the wait.

EarthNight features two playable characters, Sydney and Stanley, who both share a similar control style and have unique abilities. Sydney has different dash mechanics and can summon a demon to aid her, while Stanley has extended jump distances and carries a sword. The gameplay is slightly different for each character, but it all comes down to the player’s preference for how well they control the runner.

The game offers a randomly generated level design, with different ways to approach each level. Each level has the player stomp out enemies, collect loot and take out a dragon before the player runs out of health or the dragon shakes the player out of the sky. The game offers one shot to complete the whole game in a gauntlet of stages, but each playthrough stacks experience to further upgrade the next replay. A game over brings the player back to Sydney and Stanley base, where their treasures can be turned into upgrades.

Experiences gamers can master the basics within a few playthroughs, but can still be tested by increased difficulties. Newcomers will have the chance to gain new abilities with repeated playthroughs, making the game a little easier to play. The gameplay only suffers from offscreen placements where the player moves slightly faster than the camera and often crashes into an enemy. A wider camera view or an indicator of what’s ahead could improve this issue, but it’s only an annoyance that does not take away from the full experience.

Cleversoft delivers on a casual auto-runner that checks off all the needed mechanics to make the game approachable for all types of gamers. The art and music accents the fun gameplay, and helps set itself apart from looking like a cheap mobile game. The game has great repeatability, and worth a look from gamers looking for something different this year. EarthNight was released on December 2nd for Steam, Switch, and Apple Arcade.

Swords of Gargantua (Zach): Swords of Gargantua is another VR game that has been out for a bit but just recently they had a huge update called Tessaract Abyss, which added an adventure mode to the game.  Swords of Gargantua is an arena combat game where you battle enemies either solo or with up to three friends in co-op.  Tessaract Abyss adds a massive rogue-like adventure to the game, where you try to delve as deep as you can into the Abyss, battling increasingly more difficult enemies while you gain new skills and weapons.  You can upgrade weapons and also choose your path, as each arena usually leads to three different floors you can head to next.

There’s a wide variety of weapons you can wield and it’s one to one motion with your VR controllers of choice.  You can dual wield swords or go sword and shield, nunchucks, axes, whatever fits your combat style.  You move around freely with the stick in your left hand and can rotate the view with the right-hand stick but you can also obviously look around 360 as well since it’s VR.  There’s a dash move that seems pretty important but it’s a little finicky to pull off, at least with my Quest, as you have to hold down a shoulder button on the controller and then move your head in a direction.  It’s kind of awkward and I preferred to just try and block and parry enemy attacks.  The combat feels pretty good but it’s not quite as good or solid feeling as something like Vader ImmortalSwords of Gargantua is a solid combat game in VR and the new mode adds a ton of gameplay and replayability to the game.  If you have a group of friends who also have VR headsets, it is definitely worth checking out if you want to dive into some dungeons and see how far you can go.

Story of a Gladiator (Zach): Story of a Gladiator is a 2D arena combat game from Brain Seal Entertainment that should let you live out your inner Spartacus.  You play as a common man in the time of Ancient Rome who has lost everything but gets a shot at destiny in the gladiator arenas.  There are three different campaigns based on where you choose to have your gladiator hail from and then you battle in a series of increasingly difficult fights.  Things start fairly basic but quickly ramp up to have heavily armed and armored legionnaires, deadly beasts, and various arena hazards, like pits.  Your goal is to defeat all the waves of enemies to move on to the next battle but you also want to try and beat the fights with most of your health intact, as the higher your health, the more stars, experience and coins you earn.  The coins allow you to buy new weapons and armor and experience allows you to level up and unlock new skills.

There’s a bit of a grind as you will probably have to return to older battles once you level up to try and get more stars and experience, especially if you just squeaked through before, and some of the fights can be brutal if you try to take them on without the proper weapons and skills.  As you move through the campaign, more and more shops unlock around the city of Rome, letting you gain permanent boosts and gain the favor of the gods to get an advantage in the battles at the cost of some of your gold.  The look of the game is really cool and combat is simple but strategic, requiring a lot of blocking and timing of attacks.  If you can string together multiple kills, you can build up the crowd’s favor and they will start giving you food for health or throwing rocks at your enemies to temporarily stun them.  The game is out now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

Pinball FX3 – Williams Pinball: Volume 5 (Chris): The lights and sounds of classic pinball action from Zen studios has a new board for pinheads to try this month. Pinball FX3 has a new Williams collection with three fan-favorite boards from the 90s; Tales of The Arabian Nights, Cirqus Voltaire and No Good Gofers. The dazzling boards of yesteryears are fully rendered with enhanced animations and graphics, crisp audio and extended challenges.

The three pinball boards emulate their classic look and feel while bringing the modern aspects of the Zen Studios pinball engine. Tales of The Arabian Nights follows the classic stories of One Thousand and One Nights, and features an evil genie that will taunt the player. There are fun upgrades to give the ball some power and lots of targets to aim for. Cirqus Voltaire is a rockability circus setting with the player complete circus acts and taking on the ringer master.  The board has pretty approachable to score big points and doesn’t have too many difficult shots. It’s pretty satisfying to bash the ringmaster with a barrage of shots and watching the head sulk back down. And lastly, No Good Gofers is a fan favorite for people that loved the 1980’s Caddyshack. The player is a golfer being taunted at by two gofers while trying to sink golf shots. The board has a few obstacles that will undoubtedly ricochet ball around, making for a fast pace experience.

Williams Pinball: Volume 5 is a great package of fun diverse boards and showcases the skill of some creative pinball designers. Fans of FX3 will be eager to add this volume to their collection. Unless they already have one of these machines in their house somewhere. Williams Pinball: Volume 5 was released on December 10th for Steam, Playstation 4, Switch and Xbox One.

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin (Zach): It’s been a pretty great year for fans of old-school shooters.  We previously got Ion Fury and the return of Blood and now we have Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. Coming from 3D Realms, KillPixel Games and 1C Entertainment, Wrath runs on the classic Quake engine and puts you into a bleak world of ancient ruins where you have to hunt down and kill the Guardians of the Old World.  Your character, Outlander, is armed with a wrist blade and you gather an arsenal of classic shooter weapons, including a pistol, shotgun, machine gun (that shoots wooden stakes) and more.  Being an old school, Quake-style shooter, the gameplay is fast and brutal and you’ll face off against hordes of vicious enemies.

All the weapons have a secondary attack and the enemies drop plenty of ammo, so you can feel free to let loose with your arsenal and turn the enemies into bloody 90s gibs.  The levels are massive and have tons of hidden areas and paths to explore, although sometimes it’s not quite clear what you are trying to do or where you are trying to go but it seems like if there are still enemies to kill, you are the right path.  There’s also “Soul Tethers” that you can collect and use to save your progress and return to the point you activated the tether if you die.  The world is a brutal, dark fantasy world that will probably be familiar to fans of Quake but also has a bit of Hexen or Heretic in there as well.  I think of the three big retro-style shooters that came out this year that we got the chance to play, I think Ion Fury is my favorite but Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is still a great throwback and if you are a Quake fan, you definitely need to check it out.  It’s out in Early Access on Steam, where you can check out the first two levels of the first chapter and the development team is working on putting out new content in the future.

She Sees Red (Zach): FMV games have been having something of a renaissance in recent years with even Netflix getting into the interactive thriller genre with stuff like Bandersnatch.  She Sees Red comes from Russian developer Rhinotales and follows a detective as she tries to piece together a series of murders in a nightclub and tries to figure out what the endgame of the killer truly is.  Much like the aforementioned Bandersnatch, your input into the story is to choose between two different choices at certain points, and then the story will branch off from there.  That’s basically all the interactivity you’ll experience with the game, there’s no quicktime events or puzzles to solve, which may possibly make it to simplistic for some gamers but it’s also trying to be an interactive short film first and foremost.

There are four possible endings and just over 60 different scenes, one playthrough takes about 40 minutes or so and you’ll see about 25 of the scenes, so the game encourages multiple playthroughs to see all sides of the story.  The FMV footage is extremely well-shot and professional looking and the acting is solid throughout, especially the cocky confidence of the lead female detective (although I highly recommend playing with the language in the native Russian with English subtitles, the English dub is pretty atrocious).  It’s not particularly mind-blowing or unique as far as a crime thriller goes but it’s a solid way to spend an hour or two if you are into that genre.  It’s available on Steam and also iOS and Android, the big difference being price.  Steam is $7.99 and the mobile versions are $2.99.  Considering how short the game is, I might recommend the mobile versions over Steam but that’s all up to you.

Don’t Die, Minerva! (Zach): Don’t Die, Minerva! comes from Xaviant Games and it’s a rogue-like twin-stick shooter that features a setting that brings to mind Tim Burton or The Haunted Mansion that is definitely a breath of fresh air for the genre.  You play as 11-year-old Minerva, who discovers a haunted house deep in the woods.  She’ll have to fight the house’s ghosts to survive but luckily she has a powerful flashlight that can defeat the various ghouls and stuffed animals that become helpful partners in battle.  Being a rogue-like, each run into the house starts Minerva with a basic flashlight and usually her monkey stuffed animal, who throws bananas at enemies in range.  As you progress through the various rooms and halls of the house, you can find better equipment and essences, which can imbue your weapon and partner with various elemental effects.

If you can survive long enough, you can reach a safe point where you can trade any essence you’ve gathered in to gain permanent skill upgrades and there’s also a shop where you can purchase new equipment.  The gameplay is classic twin-stick shooter mechanics, you aim with one stick or the mouse and move with either the other stick or the WASD keys and you’ll face a range of ghoulish enemies, some like bats try to swoop in and attack while others attack from a distance.  You’ll also encounter more powerful versions of each enemy at times and some enemies give boosts to others, so you have to try and take them out first.  The game has a very fun spooky look and feel and there are homages to classic horror movies like The Shining sprinkled throughout but it generally feels like you are fighting your way through the halls of The Haunted Mansion.  The game is in Early Access on Steam and if you are a fan of rogue-likes or twin-stick shooters but have gotten bored with typical fantasy or sci-fi settings, definitely give Don’t Die, Minerva! a look.

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