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Gamebox 2.0: Games of March 2021

Spring is on the way and along with rain showers and blooming flowers ther is, of course, more new games to play. This month we pointed and clicked in the world of Cyanide & Happiness, acted out fight scenes in tight spaces, managed our way to the top of the drug trade, and more.  Check out our thoughts on some of the games we got to check out this March below.

Cyanide & Happiness: Freakapocalypse (Zach):  From the world of the popular webcomic, Cyanide & Happiness: Freakapocalypse is an old-school point-and-click adventure game in the style of old Lucasarts classics like Sam & Max and filled with goofy characters and humor.  You play as unpopular high-schooler Coop, who is just trying to survive the jungle of teen life and work up the courage to ask his crush to the prom but a massive nuclear explosion wipes out most of the town and leaves Coop having to survive in a world full of mutants and former classmates.  The game is very classic in its gameplay, you walk around environments, talk to everyone, gather inventory items, and solve puzzles.  The puzzles are fairly straightforward and logical and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of trial and error or trying to decipher the exact, bizarre solution the developer had in mind.  Along with the main quest to push the narrative forward, Coop can also come across various side-quests that can be completed to explore more of the world and meet more of the strange, but hilarious residents of the high school and town.

The game features some fantastic art that captures the Cyanide & Happiness style that fans have come to know and love along with full voice acting that brings each character to life.  There are tons of strange and hilarious dialogue options (including the fact that Coop can ask everyone if they want to go to prom with him) and it’s worth talking to everyone just to see what happens.  The environments are also beautifully realized with tons of fun background details and hidden jokes, although one minor nitpick is that some of the areas you need to explore are in the foreground of the screen with no indication of what that room is, so you do need to do some memorization about where each hallway or pathway leads and where you need to go for each puzzle.  It’s nothing too complex but you may be going around in circles slightly at the beginning of each new area until you learn where everything is.  If you’re a fan of the humor and art style of Cyanide & Happiness and are into point-and-click adventures, Freakapocalypse is a must-play and even if you aren’t too familiar with C&H, if you like funny adventure games, it’s worth checking out for that as well.  It’s on Switch and PC (both Steam and Epic Game Store).

Cartel Tycoon (Chris): It takes power and ambition to survive the criminal underworld, but good management will allow a cartel to thrive in it. Moon Moose and TinyBuild invite gamers to build and manage a narcotic empire in Cartel Tycoon. Echoing the setup of other management sims, Cartel Tycoon focuses on organizing a cartel as it expands its influence in the drug trade. From handling the manufacturing, transporting, and protecting of drug products, directing a cartel needs smart business decisions, respect, and fear.

Cartel Tycoon is set in a fictionalized Latin America country in the 80s. Greed and corruption rapidly brought criminals into great wealth and power from the narcotics trade. Taking up the role of a kingpin, you direct the development of major aspects of the drug operations. You will be building farms and labs to create drugs. Routes will have to be established to transport the finished products and bring in a cash flow. The money will have to swap hands and you need business fronts to keep suspicious eyes away.

The supply and demand of drugs will force other cartels to compete for their chance to control the drug trade. Rivals cartels will protect their territories and will try to outmaneuver your operations. You have to build a solid team of underlings to protect your business and lead the charge in fights. Special lieutenants can be recruited with skills that will boost certain areas of combat or production. However, loyalty doesn’t come cheap and will require some work to maintain their service.

In this early access version of Cartel Tycoon, only Story and Sandbox modes are playable at this time of review. Story mode follows the rise of the Cuchilla y Cristal cartel. The player gets into the shoes of Cesar Garcetti, a desperate man that happens to find himself in the service of the cartel. Taking orders from the senior kingpin, Garcetti learns the ropes of running a drug trade. Sandbox mode unlocks all the story mode restrictions and gives the player the freedom to build their empire as they see fit.

Obviously if you are a fan of TV shows like Narcos or Breaking Bad, this is the fun chance to try to become a kingpin. Cartel Tycoon is a fun and frustrating balancing act that is very polished and challenging. Maintaining a cartel is no easy task, as a slow down at any branch could mean the end of it all. A risky business decision like raising drug prices, not paying enough bribes, or keeping a lieutenant happy will have great consequences. For an early access game, the detailed art, sound, and gameplay offer a great experience to immerse players with the current build. It’s definitely worth checking out for gamers with an eye for business and a taste for crime. Cartel Tycoon was released on March 18th on PC for Steam, GOG.com, and the Epic Store.

Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four (Zach): Combining the exploration and perspective of a series like Diablo with the character summoning and deck building of Magic the Gathering, Cardaclysm is an interesting spin on the action RPG genre from Elder Games and Headup.  You play as a dark sorcerer who was tampering with magic beyond your abilities and you accidentally unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse onto the world.  Nowhere near strong enough to send them back where they came from, you have to build up a deck of cards and abilities to have a shot at defeating them.  The game plays out in an isometric perspective as you move around the procedurally generated levels.  When you encounter an enemy, you go into a turn-based RPG style perspective but you use cards from your deck to unleash spells and summon creatures to fight for you.  You have a limited amount of energy and what sets the card battling apart from games like Magic is that Cardaclysm seems fairly front-loaded to the first move or two, at least at the beginning of the game.

You usually have enough cost for a couple of creatures or a creature and a spell but unless you have a creature or card that regenerates energy, you don’t have mana building up like Magic or Hearthstone.  If all your creatures are defeated and you have no energy left for more, the battle is over as the enemy will attack and kill your sorcerer in one hit.  This makes the battles fairly quick but I definitely prefer the gradual increase in Mana of games like Hearthstone, where you can strategize and decide if you want to send out a bunch of weaker creatures or save up for one big creature.  Here, if you send out one big creature and use all your energy if it gets defeated, you are kind of screwed.  If you die, you come back for a new run but you lose any cards you collected during that run.

One interesting gameplay addition is that, when you reach the end of the stage, one of the Horsemen will arrive on the map and start to chase you.  Early on, fighting them is virtually impossible, so it becomes a desperate run to the exit before they catch you.  Eventually, if you survive enough runs, gain enough energy and find enough powerful cards, you can fight them and your ultimate goal is to defeat all four Horsemen.  The game has a cool art style and the creatures are familiar types from other games but have enough of a unique look to keep things interesting.  You can combine duplicate cards into more powerful versions too so, for instance, if you have two wolf cards, you can combine them into one powerful Ice Wolf. Cardaclysm is an interesting mash-up of rogue-like gameplay, Diablo-style exploration, and card battles and if you are into any of those, you can check it out on Steam.

Get a Grip Chip (Zach): Coming from Redstart Interactive, Get a Grip Chip is a fantastic platformer that throws back to games like Bionic Commando while still maintaining a lot of modern sensibilities.  You play as Chip, a cute little robot who works in a factory assembling other robots.  When one of his fellow robots gets a wayward gear embedded into its head, it goes haywire and takes over the factory, forcing Chip to spring into action and try to stop him and save his fellow robots.  Chip has a magnet on his head, which he can use to grapple onto various nuts and bolts around the factory and swing his way through levels.  The swinging feels great pretty much from the get-go and it’s easy to learn the basics but like most great games, you can really get a feel for it and go for some advanced maneuvers and increase your clear time.  There are also 8 “battery bots” that can be rescued in each level and a certain amount is needed to unlock all the levels in each of the factory floors.  Along with the basic swinging, Chip also needs to use his magnet to unlock doors and pull switches and each level has a great flow and usually some sort of mechanic that it iterates on throughout, like a level full of platforms that move on a path and launch Chip between them or a level full of platforms between saw blades that need to be avoided.

The game has a great mix of colorful environments and the cartoony look of Chip and the other robots and everything is driven by a fantastic soundtrack that evokes almost old industrial video music or elevator music but mixed with great modern sounds.  There are 30 levels to explore and each world ends with a super thrilling and tense “chase” level where Chip has to escape from a new danger unleashed by his evil foe and these levels do a great job of incorporating all the lessons and mechanics from the previous levels into a final test before you can move on.  The game is pretty generous with checkpoints and the controls are so solid and tight that almost every time you die, it never feels cheap and definitely feels like it was something you screwed up.  If you are into platforms with a grappling hook mechanic that is challenging but not masochistic, Get a Grip Chip is definitely worth checking out on Switch and PC.

Fights in Tight Spaces (Zach): Coming from developer Ground Shatter and publisher Mode 7, Fights in Tight Spaces will let you see if you can think like an action hero in the vein of John Wick as you strategically battle foes in small rooms.  You play as a secret agent working for an intelligence agency dealing with threats around the world.  There are different missions to take on and each mission is a rogue-like style collection of rooms that you need to fight your way through, with branching paths that let you choose which environment you want to fight in.  Each environment offers up different obstacles to work around but they are all, like the title says, tight spaces that will put you in constant contact with the enemies.

Fights in Tight Spaces is a turn-based strategy game that utilizes cards to perform all your actions, even movement.  Your agent has a certain number of action points he can use in each turn and each card has a cost associated with it, so you have to decide if you want to use all your points on one big move but be stuck in the same spot or do a smaller attack and then move out of the way.  There’s a variety of punches, kicks, and throws along with a variety of movement options, including shifting around an enemy.  You can see where the enemy is going to attack and you can use your cards to not only attack the enemy directly but also maneuver and shove them around so that they attack each other.  Along with basic fighters, you’ll slowly encounter enemies with firearms and enemies who attack when any movement crosses their path, forcing you to adapt and change up your strategy.

Certain moves also require a combo meter, which you build up as you attack enemies but lose as you take damage, so using advanced moves requires you to be very strategic. There are a certain amount of enemies in each stage and they all won’t appear at the same time.  As you defeat the first wave, you can see where the new enemies will appear, allowing you to move and get into position for your attacks.  After defeating them, you gain a new card for your deck as a reward and you can also watch the fight take place in real-time, which is a cool feature but seems like it might need some more adjusting to make it look more cool and dynamic.  A lot of the moves do result in a flash cinematic view and the whole game has an awesome Superhot style aesthetic with white environments and red enemies.  The game feels like you are choreographing an action movie fight and if you’re into strategy games, it’s an awesome game that’s definitely worth checking out.  It’s currently in Early Access on Steam and Game Preview on Xbox One and Series X.

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