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Gamebox 2.0: Games of December 2020

By Zach

Well, we finally reached the end of the hellish year known as 2020. But at least the world of video games had been pretty great so far. For this month’s Gamebox 2.0, we checked out a few titles to help us pass the time until 2021 arrives. We got to virtually pilot giant mecha in Altdeus: Beyond Chronos, took a wild west adventure in El Hijo, investigated goofy World War II occult happenings in Nine Witches: Family Disruption, survived a brutal 2d world in Unto the End, and turned a small business into a money-making machine in Startup Panic. Check out our reviews below.

Altdeus: Beyond Chronos (Zach): Out now for all Oculus platforms, including Quest 2, Quest, and Rift, Altdeus: Beyond Chronos comes from MyDearest Inc. and is a sequel to their previous game, Tokyo Chronos (although I don’t believe you need to know anything about that game to play Altdeus).  You step into the shoes of Chloe, a synthetic human genetically engineered for piloting massive, 400 ft tall mechs called Machia, which are used to combat mysterious and deadly entities called Meteora.  The Meteora have destroyed the surface of Earth and humanity exists below ground in a sanctuary that is designed to resemble Tokyo.  A Meteora killed Chloe’s best friend Coco and her only driving force is revenge.

If you’ve ever wanted to be fully immersed in an anime, Altdeus: Beyond Chronos should scratch that itch. You are fully enveloped in the various settings and the interactions with the various characters are extremely immersive as well.  Most of the game is in the style of a visual novel, so you are either hearing inner monologue from Chloe or having conversations and choosing dialogue options.  There is some light puzzle-solving where you may need to find a certain object to progress the story but it’s mostly told automatically and you are just clicking to progress.

The best part of the game, to me, is when you actually get into the cockpit of the Machia to battle the Meteora.  The cockpit feels like you are in a massive geodesic dome and it has some Pacific Rim vibes as you are joined by an AI named NOA (who is also a Hatsune Miku style idol when she’s not in battle), who helps you with the functions of the mech.  There is some fun but simple gesture-based action to perform to get systems online and activate weapons but it feels pretty cool to do every time.  Unfortunately, these segments seem to be pretty sparingly doled out compared to the dialogue and exploration segments.  I’m also not very interested or familiar with too much animes, so the way the story plays out, while well present like it is, this plot isn’t really in my wheelhouse.

The tone veers wildly between intense melodrama, over-the-top action, and wackiness but if you enjoy that about anime and are into the game’s vibe and tone, you’ll probably be really into being fully enveloped in the world of Altdeus.  There’s stuff like an anime style opening title sequence with a catchy j-pop song that really gives you the feeling of living an anime.  There are multiple endings and tons of story to explore and you can replay and make different decisions to see everything the game has to offer.  If you are into anime and own an Oculus headset, Altdeus: Beyond Chronos is probably worth checking out but if you aren’t really into anime, Altdeus is anime as hell, so you may want to look for a different VR experience.

El Hijo (Chris): Developed by Honig Studios and Quantumfrog, and published by HandyGames, El Hijo – A Wild West Tale is a dazzling western told through color visuals and clever stealth mechanics. The story takes place in the untamed west, where settlers worked hard and bandits freely intimidated the land. The game follows the titular hero El Hijo, a young boy who has been left in the care of monks by his mother after outlaws burnt his family home. However, the secluded monastic lifestyle is no grand adventure. So El Hijo sets off to find his mother, overcoming any obstacles with his wits and some toys.

El Hijo’s gameplay focuses on stealth and puzzle-solving mechanics in a 3D isometric world. El Hijo must carefully sneak across tricky terrain, filled with people that wish to stop the little hero. Adults will chase and catch El Hijo if seen, so being quiet and unseen is key. El Hijo can move in the shadows to creep around unsuspecting adults and hide in various spots to avoid detection. El Hijo is not completely alone on his adventure. His pet bird can fly around to give a peek at what’s around, highlighting interactive spots and patrol paths.

However, many passageways will be blocked off by people. The players will have to find a way to create some opportunities to sneak by. Luckily, there are a few useful resources available, like rocks and toys to create strategic distractions. Tossing these special objects will attract attention to certain spots for a brief moment. This opens up chances to move around before everything returns to normal.

The simple stealth mechanics work nicely with the visual style. The hand-drawn graphic gives El Hijo lots of charming appeal. The plot unfolds in colorful animated cut scenes, letting the characters tell the story than a narrator. This works well to give the game a fun, universal design for all ages to play and enjoy. El Hijo works best as a family-friendly title that should give some young players a fun challenge to their minds thinking. El Hijo was released on December 3rd, available on the Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, and Steam.

Unto the End (Zach): Unto the End comes from developer 2 Ton Games and publisher Big Sugar.  The game is a cinematic platformer and you play a warrior who sets out on what seems like it should be a simple hunting trip but he ends up falling through the snow into a mysterious and deadly subterranean world full of traps and savage creatures.  The game expects you to be very deliberate and thoughtful with your actions.  If you try to just hack and slash and run your way through the game’s dark and brutal world, you will not make it very far.  The game has an extremely in-depth combat system that asks you to watch your opponent and anticipate the attacks. Then counter and then press the attack. You have a wide array of blocks, dodges, and counters at your disposal and a pro-tip are to definitely utilize the “Sparring Practice” available when you reach the safety of a campfire. There is also the option to lower the difficulty of combat if needed.

Along with fighting enemies, there are also plenty of traps and environmental dangers to overcome.  You can lose your sword and have to manually pick it back up and you have to make sure you pull out a torch when entering dark areas.  Your character also starts bleeding if he takes damage from traps or combat and you can quickly bleed to death if you don’t slow the bleeding with herbs and eventually heal the wounds at a campfire.  You can collect various materials from dead enemies and other items littering the world and you can craft things like new pieces of armor to help protect yourself and last longer.  The game reminds me a bit of something like Out of this World or Flashback with its deliberate pace and the way you have to learn from mistakes to progress slightly further than the last time you died.  If you are looking for a challenge along with a brutally beautiful world to explore, definitely check out Unto the End. It is out now for out now on PS4, Xbox, PC, Stadia, and Switch

Startup Panic (Chris): When a software company pushes one employee to quit their job, a new exciting start-up business will spring forward to reach stability in Startup Panic. Developed by Algorocks and published by TinyBuild Games, Startup Panic is a business sim title that puts the player in the role of the owner of a bare-bones startup. However, this startup is beginning at the absolute bottom. After working for a cold big corporation, the player sets off to create their own company, working out of their home and on a tiny budget. Each project can lead to success or totally ruin the momentum of the company. It will take time, good management, and some luck to get this small start-up into a booming business.

The core gameplay is designed around building up a business, improving the employees, and generating a steady income stream. This all starts with a good website that will attract visitors and generate a tiny revenue. Later on, there will be more opportunities to gain more work thru contractors, business friends, and associates. Before each project, stat points are divided into three categories to focus on a particular feature. Technology, Usability, and Aesthetics. There are a number of required points to use and a limited amount to divide the points into each of the three categories. But each project will look to have more of a certain feature that will either need more points or an employee with certain skills to increase the chance of a great customer approval rating.

For the first few work, the only employee is just the owner and you will have to do every task yourself. These projects will be setting up the company’s website and creating marketing materials. Then later When the startup begins to pick up and more clients are interested, more opportunities will be available. However, bigger projects have more requirements and that’s when things will get complicated and competitive fast.

More lucrative work needs required people and stats. The player has to go thru the process of hiring job candidates, match them with good work objectives, and address their concerns. Each worker has a salary requirement and special traits that can be helpful or harmful to the company. One employee might be cheaper than others but have a negative trait. Or an employee can be budget-friendly but has no experience points in one particular stat.

The cost of running a business gradually increases with every new project and employee brought on. New equipment and furniture can be bought to improve workplace morale, and so can time off. Giving employees and yourself a vacation, training, or bonus pay can help their productivity, at the risk of affecting the company’s budget. But overworking and bad management is what caused the startup to be formed in the first place, so it’s wise to reward good workers occasionally.

 

Startup Panic tosses in some curveball challenges. This will either spark up competition or add some strange events to change up the pace. At certain milestones, former associates and competitors will speak to the player, striking up business deals or adding pressure to the work. In one situation, the player can bribe an employee of a competitor for insider secrets, be friendly with the competitor, or completely ignore the whole thing. The player will make critical business decisions that have consequences on how the startup will succeed.

Overall, Startup Panic is a great casual simulation title with simple and organized management systems and charming graphics. The story is interesting and self-aware. Anyone that has worked a 9-5 office job can relate to how they would be the big boss in charge. The humor is great with nods to techie and nerdy references. The retro visuals are enjoyable to see while flipping thru menus. Especially the spirit details of objects and characters having fun personalty to them. Startup Panic is a good title that works well for people that enjoyed Game Dev Tycoon and are looking to run their next company again. Startup Panic is now available on PC thru the Epic Game Store, and iOS.

Nine Witches: Family Disruption (Zach): Coming from developer Indiesruption and publisher Blowfish Studios, Nine Witches: Family Disruption feels like a throwback to classic adventure games like those that came from Lucasarts.  During World War 2, a unit of the Nazi army focused on the occult unleashes an ancient curse in an attempt to turn the tide of the war in the favor of the Axis forces.  The Allies dispatch occult expert Dr. Alexei Krakovitz and his right-hand man Akira Kagasawa to Norway to investigate what happened and stop it from destroying the world.  Alexei is a quadriplegic but can astral project himself and enter locked areas and communicate with the dead.  Akira can fight enemies and actually perform actions like picking up items and unlocking doors.  You switch back and forth between the two characters and have to figure out who is the best one to solve the puzzles and progress the plot.  The game has classic adventure game gameplay as you pick up items for your inventory and talk to various wacky characters to get clues and solve puzzles.

Despite the World War 2 setting and occult aspects, Nine Witches is extremely wacky, maybe too much so for some players.  There are constant fart jokes, characters piss themselves and all the characters are quirky and weird, as is the setting of the Norwegian town of Sundae.  Alexei and Akira seem to be fairly serious and normal, so that provides a fun contrast to everything happening around them.  If you can get onto the game’s level as far as it’s humor, you’ll find an extremely solid, old-school adventure game.  The puzzles are clever and Alexei’s astral projection ability adds a fun mechanic to many of the puzzle solutions.  Once you get to Sundae, there are various locations to explore and you’ll have to travel around between them to progress and some areas will be inaccessible until you solve a puzzle in a different area.  If you are into old-school Lucasarts style games and don’t mind a lot of crass and wacky humor, Nine Witches is worth checking out.  It’s out now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.

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