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Gamebox 2.0: Games of July 2020

It’s getting extremely hot out as Summer 2020 is officially in full swing so crank the A/C and take a look at the games we tried. We took on Slappy and his minions, went guns blazing in the old west, explored the mind in some dream worlds, escape a room from the comforts of a tabletop, and more in our collection of reviews.

Goosebumps: Dead of Night (Zach): If you’re like us, Goosebumps is burned into your DNA from growing up in the 90s.  There have been quite a few games based in the spooktacular world of RL Stine and the latest is inspired by the recent movies.  Goosebumps: Dead of Night, from developer Cosmic Forces, puts you in the shoes of a character named Twist, who must help RL Stine (Jack Black) defeat the evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy, who has escaped his book and plans on unleashing evil across the entire world using a nearby Tesla tower.  Stine has been trapped in his typewriter, so you’ll have to do the leg work and track down and stop Slappy while avoiding creatures from the book series, like the Werewolf of Fever Swamp or those pesk lawn gnomes.

The game starts in the vein of something like Outlast or other first-person horror games.  You have to sneak around RL Stine’s house, avoiding monsters and trying to find 10 missing pages from Night of the Living Dummy to try and return Slappy to his book.  You’ll also journey into the conservatory and encounter Dr. Brewer from Don’t Go in the Basement and finally, you’ll get help from Nikolai Tesla himself and climb the Tesla tower to stop Slappy.  The first part of the three is probably the best part of the game as there’s some decent tension as you try to hide from the various ghouls and Jack Black’s Stine is making some humorous commentary.

The other two parts of the game lean much more into puzzle solving and, while there are some decently fun puzzles to solve, they lack the spooky atmosphere and family-friendly scares of the first part.  The final chapter at the Tesla tower also introduces a coil gun, which you use to zap gummy bears and take on Slappy for the final encounter but the shooting mechanic feels terrible and the gun constantly needs time to recharge.  Combined with a slow maze you have to traverse, the last chapter is a bit of a slog to get through.  The game is also incredibly short and you can probably beat it somewhere in the range of 1 1/2 to 2 hours but it is designed newer gamers who may have not played many first-person horror games before.  It’s definitely not worth the current price of $39.99 but if you can catch it later in a sale, it may be worth checking out if you have some nostalgia for Goosebumps.  It’s out now on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam and it’s coming soon to Nintendo Switch.

Superliminal (Chris): Perception is key in Pillow Castle’s Superliminal. This first-person, puzzle title bends reality by how the world is perceived. I had been following along Superliminal’s development and initial release on the Epic Store back in November, and it has made its console arrived on the Switch this July. Superliminal puts the player as an unnamed test subject for SomnaSculpt dream therapy program. The program is run by Dr. Glenn Pierce and an automated AI, the Standard Orientation Protocol, and they guide a test subject in a lucid state to explore a mind blending reality. As the program ventures deeper into how reality is shaped, will the test subject get a new viewpoint on life?

The gameplay features the clever use of forced perspective; objects can change size based on how near and far they are viewed than they are physically placed. It’s a very clever mechanic that plays around the idea of physics and realism. Puzzles are solved by moving and rotating objects around, making solutions look correct than making things fit naturally. It takes only a few trials to get the sense of control and depth the game offers. Movement is smooth and it’s easy to interact with objects, but a rare physics glitch could unnecessarily send an object flying around.

Graphics are on the minimalist side, giving more of the focus on the perspective mechanics than how beautifully cheese should render in certain lighting. Its a totally fine aspect to be toned down when it comes to this type of game. All the art and music have an eerie sense of cleanliness that makes the player unease when stepping into the next room.

Superliminal follows in the footsteps of Portal and the Stanley Parable. It mixes some logic challenges and retrospective commentary, with some meta-jokes thrown in for laughs. The game is short but sweet, showcasing a variety of different challenges before they get too repetitive in my opinion. No doubt this title will have its own cult following, with people debating on how the game’s direction should have gone. But I think everyone will agree that it’s a neat puzzle title that deserves a play through to experience. Superliminal is now available on the Epic Store, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and soon to be on Steam.

The Innsmouth Case (Zach): If there is anything I’m a sucker for, it’s Lovecraftian text adventure games that throwback to stuff like Choose Your Own Adventure books.  The Innsmouth Case, from developer RobotPumpkin Games, is the latest game to take its cues from Lovecraft lore and puts you in the shoes of a private investigator who takes a case to find a missing girl in the beachside tourist town of Innsmouth.  As you might expect, you’ll encounter a lot of weirdness on your trip, from fish people to Old Gods to cultists who wish to sacrifice you in your hotel room.

One of the major things that separate The Innsmouth Case from other similar games is its sense of humor.  The game is full of wacky descriptions and your PI character is a bit of a smartass and your choices are usually varying levels of snarky or humorous.  The game also has a fantastic, cartoony art style that you’ll see as you progress through the story at the top of the “book” you are reading and there will usually be some sort of animation or facial expression changes as you interact with the characters of the town.  There are tons of different options and lots of endings, both good and bad, and you can do multiple playthroughs to try and see how things work out differently.  Another twist on the typical Lovecraftian game is that things are set in the modern-day, so there are lots of humorous and timely jokes about the present day to go along with all the bizarre happenings going on.  The game is out now on Steam, iOS, and Android and Steam has a demo if you want to check out the game before you buy.

Colt Canyon (Zach): From developer Retrific and publisher Headup, Colt Canyon takes the roguelike genre in the Wild West.  Bandits have kidnapped your partner and your gunslinger character has to set out on a quest to rescue them.  The game features a very striking, minimalist retro art style and you play from an overhead perspective.  Your main goal is to make your way through each screen and eventually take on the boss of the area before moving on.  You unlock numerous gunslingers, each of whom starts with a different starting weapon but you can find all kinds of weapons either picked up from fallen foes or hidden around the levels.  You have to scrounge the levels for bullets, as they are not only for shooting but for buying items as well from vendors you find.

The game uses a twin-stick style control scheme and you aim your gun with the right stick, which draws out a targeting reticle. It takes a little bit to get used to exactly how the shooting works in Colt Canyon but once you get it, the game is a fast and furious action game where you’ll be blasting desperados and exploring the levels for secrets and supplies. There is also a stealth mechanic though and you can get far if you can figure out how to quickly sneak up on and take out enemies without them being aware. When you die, you can either immediately restart or go back to the main menu and pick a different gunslinger.  Being a roguelike, each run is different and the levels, enemies, and environments will all have randomly changed. The game is also playable in co-op if you want to grab a partner and get into some shootouts.  If you played Adult Swim Games’ Westerado, Colt Canyon has a similar feel but it jettisons most of the story and RPG mechanics of that game for pure, fast-paced action and it feels and plays great once you get the hang of the mechanics after a run or two.  It’s out now on Steam, GOG, Xbox One and Switch if you want to grab your six-shooters and head into the frontier.

Waking (Chris): Stuck the realm within dreams and nightmares, a comatose person battles to find where they stand in the afterlife. Waking is an imaginative action-adventure title developed by Jason Oda and published by tinyBuild. Waking has Dark Souls inspired game mechanics but has a story that is trying to tailor itself to the player. Asking for certain details about the player, the game will make representations of the memories and loved ones to aid in the gameplay.

The player is given the role of a comatose patient, whose soul is taken to an afterworld by Somnus, the God of Sleep, to decide their fate. This strange realm holds past memories and choices, aiding the player to reflect on their life. But the afterword will voice their own opinions, encouraging the player to be at peace with death or prove themselves worthy for a second chance at life.

The gameplay is set with third-person controls, focusing on nimble character movement and combat. Creatures and guardians are tasked to keep the player from reaching their goals. The player has a few basic melee attacks and a telekinetic ability to toss around an assortment of objects. Attacks and abilities cost currencies called Neurons and Hope. The player has to juggle the usage to be in combat, but at times this can be frustrating since it seems like there is never enough to feel effective. Neurons and Hope can run out and make combat feel like punishment.

Waking is an ambition indie title that explores philosophical concepts but loses momentum by the game design. There is emotional weight in Waking, if the player is truly emotionally invested there is genuine impact. There are some great concepts behind the game. However, it gets muddled by unpolished aspects. It’s an experimental title with some flaws, but can be a unique experience for some. Waking was released on June 18th for PC and Xbox One.

Exit The Game: The House of Riddles (Zach): There are a ton of different games that try to replicate the escape room experience at home via a tabletop game and Exit the Game, in my opinion, is easily the best franchise in that genre.  One of the newest titles is The House of Riddles, which leans toward the slightly easier side of the series as a 2 out of 5 on their difficulty range.  The setup for the game is that you are supposed to meet your fellow detectives at a mysterious house but, when you arrive, your friends are nowhere to be found and the door locks behind you.  You have to make your way through three different rooms set up by your detective friends, each filled with puzzles, to escape.

I won’t spoil any of the puzzles or their solutions in case you want to check it out for yourself but there is a fantastic variety of challenges to take on.  A lot of the other games in this genre lean too heavily into math problems or secret code deciphering but the Exit series and specifically this entry has you doing all kinds of different challenges, which keeps things fun and fresh as you move through the game.  Some of the puzzles may require dexterity, optical illusions, or even physically contorting your body and the puzzles are all incredibly clever and satisfying to solve.  The Exit games also have a fantastic mechanic to the solutions where, when you think you have a solution, you will turn the correct digits on an including decoder wheel.  The wheel will give you a numbered card and that card will tell if you are right and can progress or that you have the wrong answer and need to keep working on the current problem.  The other unique mechanic is that the Exit games are designed to be played once and then disposed of and you’ll be cutting cards and coloring in certain things to get some of the solutions.  If you can’t get out to an escape room during these crappy pandemic times, this is the next best thing.  The Exit games are available where ever board games are sold but you can get The House of Riddles specifically here on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2VQjNWv

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