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Gamebox 2.0: Games of September 2020

Posted on September 18, 2020 by

Fall is here and that usually means a ton of games to get ready for the holiday season. So before it gets too cold to go outside, we shot fruit on the Oculus Quest, revisited kingdoms, fought as fan-favorite indie game characters, and more in this month’s Game Box.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (Zach): Kingdoms of Amalur originally hit PS3, Xbox 360, and PC in 2012 as the only game from 38 Studios, a video game company founded by Curt Schilling.  After the company went bankrupt, the rights to the IP actually reverted to the taxpayers of Rhode Island while Electronic Arts retained the rights to the original game.  THQ Nordic purchased the rights to the franchise in 2018 and now we have Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, a remaster of the game.  Despite all the complicated behind the scenes history, the actual game is a fantastic action-RPG with some incredible talent behind it.  RA Salvatore crafted the world and lore while Grant Kirkhope composed the music and Todd McFarlane worked on the art design.

You play as “The Fateless One” a soldier who is the only success from a gnomish experiment to bring the dead back to life.  Because of your resurrection, you are the only being in the world that is untethered to fate and you can alter the fate of other beings around you.  You become embroiled in the Crystal War, a conflict between mortal races and the immortal Tuatha Deohn, who are led by a power-mad Fae named Gadflow who wants to wipe out all mortal races in Amalur.

The game offers up a lot of freedom as far as how you want to play and you can freely switch it around at almost any time.  Unlike traditional RPGs that may lock you into a particular class at the start, Kingdoms of Amalur lets you switch around anytime you want by swapping around your equipment and armor.  You can be a standard warrior and put on heavy armor and use massive war hammers, broadswords, and shields but you could switch to lighter armor and daggers and play more like an assassin.  There are also destinies that grant you special bonuses and focus on a specific class but every time you level up, you can switch your destiny or pay a “fateweaver” to unbind your destiny before then.  You’ll most likely find one playstyle that suits you and you’ll focus your equipment, skills, and destiny to that style but it’s still fantastic that you are never fully tied to any one thing.

The combat also leans more toward the “action” part of action-RPG, playing more like a God of War although a bit more simplistic.  You have a primary and secondary weapon, which you can swap around whenever you want and you can learn combos and gain special abilities that you can use as well, like poisoning your blades or getting a Scorpion style harpoon to drag enemies toward you.  As you fight, you also build up a meter that lets you unleash Reckoning Mode, which lets you pretty much wipe out every enemy on screen and unleash a special quicktime kill on one that shows off a brutal God of War-style kill.

The world of Amalur is absolutely stunning and is one of the most beautiful and colorful worlds you’ll explore in an RPG and it’s packed with locations to explore and sidequests to take on.  There’s a bit of annoying loading every time you enter and exit buildings or areas but that’s a slight nitpick.  If you didn’t get the chance to play it back in 2012 or just want a fantastic action-RPG to dive into, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is definitely one to check out on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Bounty Battle (Zach): Out now from Merge Games and Dark Screen Games, Bounty Battle is a new 2D brawler fighting game that combines tons of your favorite indie game characters together to duke it out in Smash Bros style fights.  Featuring characters from games like Owlboy, Darkest Dungeons, Guacamelee, Astronauts, Jotun, Nuclear Throne, and more, there are 30 characters in total to battle it out with.  You should feel at home if you’ve played some Smash Bros, as each character has a regular and special attack button that is modified by the direction you are pressing when you hit it to offer up numerous different attacks and combos.  You also have the ability to put up a shield or dodge out of the way and your goal is to wear down your opponent’s health or knock them off the arena to be the last man standing, although there are obviously lots of different game modes and win conditions you can apply besides the regular stock battles.

Bounty Battle offers up some unique twists to gameplay with a couple of things.  First up, you can build up enough points to spawn a minion who will help you until you get eliminated and there’s also the bounty at the top of the screen that incentivizes targetting the top player to get more points for eliminating them.  You also can get penalized for spamming the same attack or technique, so it pays to constantly switch up your strategy and gameplay.

The game has a great art style that unifies all the characters but keeps their distinctive looks and personalities intact.  There’s also a wide variety to the characters and how they play, with some specializing in up-close combat while others are more long-range shooters.  With all the different characters, you’re sure to find at least one that matches your playstyle but it’s definitely fun to play with all the characters just to see how they play.  You can engage in a single-player tournament with any of the characters and you can also take on three friends in up to four-player local battles.  It’s definitely a fun, chaotic brawler and if you are looking for something that is similar to Smash Bros and also love indie games, it’s definitely one to check out on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Jessika (Chris): Tritrie Games and Assemble Entertainment invites you to step into the role of a Cybersleuth to uncover the mysterious death of Jessica. The player is a newly hired agent at Chem, a company that specializes in digital forensics. Chem’s latest client is Jessika’s mourning father, who wants to more about the events that lead to his daughter’s death. The player and a small team of investigators must collect and analyze digital clues to find the hidden truth kept somewhere online.

Jessika is a point and click adventure title that features FMV and some mixed reality elements. The player is a nameless investigator behind a computer screen, where the entirety of the game takes place. The computer has a messenger app, email client, and a decryption tool that will help unlock Jessika’s encrypted data. It is up to the player to look through text documents and media files for clues to unlock the files while keeping up interactions with the other Chem members and the client.

The highlight of Jessika is watching the video files of Jessika, which is treated like diary entries. The performances in the video carry a lot of emotional weight in-game and the lead actress does an excellent job to draw in the player. The videos and the other media files, are presented out of order and must be viewed a couple of times to understand the whole dark and twisted secrets of Jessika.

There is a sense of trial and error until the clues and hints finally move the game forward a bit. At times, the clues are obvious and can be instantly applied to a situation. Other times, clues have appeared in a previous time and need to be searched again to connect to the current situation. The other Chem members will offer support to look at files and will give positive or negative feedback on the player responses.

Tritrie Games was not afraid to look at abuse, racism, and mental illness and make the experience feel real to the player. This game explores some powerful themes that may put the player off. This quickly becomes the main focus and pushes aside the small subplots that are only lightly visited.

While Jessika has a creative premise and a decent beginning, the game does not engage the player much by the end. The investigating elements push curious players further into the story, but the game kind of plays itself. The adult content and meta gameplay experience are hard to recommend for unsuspecting players. However, Jessika works best for mature players looking for an immersive social commentary not found in typical games. Jessika was released on August 25th for Steam.

 

Deleveled (Zach): One of the latest games from The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, Deleveled is a deceptively simple-looking new puzzle game that will definitely break your brain in some clever ways.  You control two different squares that move at the same time when you move your controller’s stick back and forth.  If they connect on either side of a thin line, they’ll bounce each other up and down and the trick is to figure out how to manipulate the squares to get to the goal on both sides of the level.  Things start out fairly simple but you eventually have to deal with avoiding spikes and triggering a series of switches before the goals will open.

You can reset the levels at any time but your main goal is to complete the level on the first try to earn the maximum amount of bonus stars, which will help unlock new levels.  Your brain will definitely get a workout trying to figure out how to move the squares and not get one stuck or lose the momentum from the bounces and you’ll have to learn to do things like stick one square on obstacles to get one slightly ahead or move one square while the other is bouncing to maneuver past obstacles or get to a higher platform.  While it’s not the flashiest game out there, if you’re looking for a solid platforming puzzle game, Deleveled is worth checking out on Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.

Redneck Ed: Astro Monsters Show (Zach): Coming from 101XP.com and Humble Bundle is Redneck Ed: Astro Monsters Show, which seems like it took at least some inspiration from Cuphead.  Sharing a similar hand-drawn looking animation style, Redneck Ed puts you in the shoes of the titular character, who gets his face ripped off by aliens and lured onto an alien spaceship.  He’s teleported to the arena for Astro Monsters Show, a combat game show that pits creatures from different planets against each other.  Ed has to fight his way through the ranks if he wants any shot at getting his face back and returning home.

Much like Cuphead, the game is mostly a series of boss fights and arenas that you have to clear to progress.  Each area has multiple stages of difficulty and you must complete each one to earn enough stars and “likes” to progress further in the game.  Along with a boss or different waves of enemies, each arena usually has some sort of hazard or gimmick that gets trickier the higher difficulty you select.  During fights and after winning, you earn “likes”, which you can use to buy cards that give you new combat skills or you can buy upgrades to increase your health or inventory.  If you die, Ed regenerates and you can either immediately try the fight again or head back and buy some upgrades or try a different fight and come back later.

Unlike Cuphead, Redneck Ed is a brawler and Ed uses his trusty wrench to take down his foes.  You have the typical light and heavy attacks and you build up new combos and skills, like an air dash, that will help you take on the increasingly difficult fights.  If you’re looking for more platforming or don’t like the idea of constantly repeating battles, Redneck Ed may not be for you but if you’re into the difficulty and the grind, it will probably be right up your alley and it’s worth checking out either way just to see the crazy animation style and character designs, some of which feel like classic cartoons but others feel straight out something like Rick & Morty.  The game is out now on Steam.

Adventures of Pip (Chris):  When a princess is captured and a kingdom is threatened with chaos, can a simple red pixel square step up to the challenge to become a hero? It can, but it will need some help changing its form to get the job done. Tic Toc Games’ brings its pixel transforming title Adventures of Pip, to the newest generation of consoles. This 2D action, platformer puts the player in control of the titular Pip, a humble red pixel square in the Kingdom of Pixelonia. This Kingdom divides its citizens by pixel counts, where higher entities with more pixels live a leisure lifestyle, and the low definition, blurry pixelated subjects are the working class. However, when Princess Adeline is captured by Queen DeRezzia, Pip is granted the ability to transform his pixel resolution and answer the call to save the day.

Adventures of Pip uses a mix of classic and modern 2D platformer mechanics for the player to navigate and attack in the game. Pip can 3 different pixel forms: a single-pixel square, an 8-bit sprite with arms and legs, and a 16-bit sprite that wields a sword. Not only do the forms look different, but they each have unique abilities that are only available in those forms. When a single pixel, Pip is able to get into small spaces and avoid detection from certain bulky enemies. When in 8-bits, Pip is agile, able to wall jump and melee enemies. When in his 16-bit form, Pip is can break obstacles and enemies with a sword.

Pip can downgrade his pixel form at any time but requires a special power-up from a blue enemy to transform a pixel tier higher. The level designs focus on the Pip’s different abilities to overcome obstacles and enemies in his way. Many of the levels are cleverly set up to let multiple transformations be chained together. A red square Pip can get into a tight corridor, knock out an enemy, hit a blue enemy power-up, and change into a 8-bit Pip to wall jump. It’s a fun mechanic that gets introduced well and quickly becomes instinctive the longer you play.

There are 5 different areas to explore. Each area follows classic retro level themes: a forest, a swamp, a cave, lava, and a castle. Fans that hard mandatory ice or underwater levels should be relieved. Each area has 8 levels that will challenge Pip to explore and re-explore to collect rewards. Saving townspeople and collecting pixels money will unlock items in shops to increase Pip’s heart containers and weapon upgrades.

Adventures of Pip has a great concept that utilizes the pixel transformation well in most parts. Some levels are planned well to challenge the player, but some levels can feel repetitive. However, the boss battles are nice and testing the player’s skill up until that point. The plot is charming, with a good message about facing fears and believing in one’s self, classic motifs that build on Pip’s heroics.  Adventures of Pip is great for gamers young and old that appreciate the different pixel styles and the evolution of gaming over the years. Adventures of Pip is now available on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.

 

Shooty Fruity (Zach): It’s been out on other VR platforms like PSVR and Oculus Rift but Shooty Fruity from nDreams was recently released for Oculus Quest as well.  You step into the shoes of a check out clerk at Super Mega Mart.  Along with scanning in groceries for customers, you also have to deal with killer mutant fruit that is rampaging through the store by utilizing a variety of firearms.  The game features fantastic, arcadey action that really plays into the strengths of VR and you’ll quickly have to learn how to scan groceries in one hand while using a gun in the other and searching out incoming fruit.  As you scan more groceries, more of your arsenal is unlocked, and can customize your loadout so you get your favorite weapons quicker and there’s a wide range of weaponry to use, including pistols, machine guns, and shotguns.  There’s a great variety to the fruity enemies as well and different fruits may require a specific weapon for the best results, like the more powerful weapons on massive watermelons or the quicker weapons to quickly take out berries and cherries.

There are specific challenges in each stage and your goal is to get three stars on each one, although you don’t need to fully get all three on your first time through to unlock the next challenge.  Things get varied up by things like letting you only use one specific weapon for a level or changing things up entirely by putting you in a different section of Super Mega Mart like the cafeteria where you have to put specific food cubes on the correct trays.  The game has an extremely fun, cartoony art style and you’re constantly berated (and occasionally praised) by a sarcastic overhead announcer.  Elevator style music also seals the fun tone the game is going for.  If you have any sort of VR headset,  Shooty Fruity is an extremely fun shooter that offers up lots of wacky action and will make you look like a goofball the entire time you play.

The Eternal Castle Remastered (Zach): Available on Switch and Steam, The Eternal Castle Remastered from Playsaurus and TFL Studios is an incredible throwback to classic PC gaming but with thoroughly modern gameplay.  Inspired by a classic game called Eternal Castle from 1987, you are tasked with exploring different locations on a hostile planet in order to repair your crashed ship and restore its power.  The game features truly stunning CGA style graphics but done with a modern sensibility so that it feels retro but does things an old 80s PC could never come close to achieving.  The graphics create a brilliant sense of atmosphere from the creepy ruins of an abandoned church to a war-torn city, it all looks incredible.

The gameplay also calls back to classics like Prince of Persia or Out of this World but, like the graphics, it’s retro but modernized.  Those old classics were pretty stiff and deliberate with the way you moved and performed actions.  While The Eternal Castle Remastered feels similar, it’s all much more smooth and you definitely have more freedom and can work your way out of scrapes more easily than those older games, where you usually had to perform each set piece or puzzle perfectly.

Your character can utilize a mix of hand to hand combat or you can pick up various guns throughout the levels and the game is definitely also much more action-focused than a Prince of Persia or Out of this World.  You can find items that will give you new information or abilities as well.  There are a few puzzles where you have to manipulate the environment or solve a puzzle but there are many more shootouts and fights here.  There are also battles against bosses and they are all very different and fun.  You can play the game alone or in co-op and the levels feature procedural elements that randomize certain things that make each playthrough different.  The Eternal Castle Remastered is a gorgeous game with great, atmospheric worlds to explore and exciting fights and combat to experience and it’s well worth checking out.

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