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Gamebox 2.0: Games of April 2021

April showers have sprung fresh games for us to review. We strapped on our VR headset to get kills in Zombieland and swung like Spider-Man to stop an alien invasion. We got dropped into strange new lands with fun powers. We also hacked and slacked our way through feudal times. Check out all the games we unboxed and reviewed this April in the Gamebox 2.0.

Space Otter Charlie (Zach): Out on PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One, Space Otter Charlie comes from Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and Wayward Distractions.  In the future after humanity has abandoned the planet, otterkind decides to follow suit and manages to build a spaceship that sends a three otter crew into space.  Low on fuel, the crew has to scrounge various space stations and abandoned ships for supplies in order to continue their quest to find a new home.  You play as Charlie, who is the one that heads into the various locales for supplies and his main means of locomotion is jumping between walls in the low-g environments.

Charlie will travel until he hits another wall or obstacle but you also have a jetpack that you can use to navigate as well, but it runs out of fuel eventually and will require a recharge, so you can’t just fly through the entire level.  Charlie gains new equipment, like different lasers, and will have to solve puzzles and battle enemies to collect whatever his crew needs him to gather from the current locale.

The gameplay is interesting and opens up a bunch of puzzles and challenges that are different than your typical platformer.  Charlie can ride-on boxes and other obstacles, for example, and you can use your laser to shoot and guide whatever object you are on, which lets you bypass lasers or surveillance drones.  There is an evil AI called ARES that infests each locale and it’s hellbent on destroying all “rodents” with its robots and turrets.  Charlie can eat a sea urchin and go basically Super Saiyan, gaining absurd laser power and unlimited jet pack power, which lets you take on rooms that are jam-packed with enemies.  You’ll find the typical switch-based puzzles where you have to unlock and proceed through the level by hitting buttons and there are also keys that need to be collected on various levels as well.

The game has a fantastic cartoony art style and is full of personality like your buddy Build Bot doing a little dance every time he makes you a new piece of tech.  The closest comparison to something old school would be maybe a Solar Jetman with its unique, momentum-based movement and exploration of different intergalactic locales.  If you’re looking for a fun, interesting platformer, definitely check out Space Otter Charlie.

Smelter (Chris): The story of Adam and Eve gets a magical makeover in X-Plus and DANGEN Entertainment game, Smelter. When Eve is dropped out of the peaceful Eden, she finds herself in a dangerous land. Filled with menacing creatures, armed soldiers, and deadly traps, Eve is far from home in this strange new world. But luckily, she finds a powerful living suit of armor named Smelter, who grants Eve incredible abilities. Now Eve and Smelter will fight back a dark army and reunite with Adam.

At the surface level, Smelter is a 2D Metroidvania/Megaman X-style adventure game. The player controls Eve, who is enhanced by Smelter’s powers. Eve is a brawler, so combat is close and personal. You have to dodge attacks and bounce off walls to get within striking range of enemies. As Smelter grows stronger, Eve can access abilities to unleash combo attacks or navigate around the level easier. There are special trials in each level that will give Eve a certain condition to compete under, like sneaking around without getting spotted or a level filled with instant death traps. Completing these trails unlock rewards to further power up Smelter and help in later parts of the game.

Between stages, there is a top-down strategy mini-game in where Smelter is rebuilding his once-great empire. Smelter was a ruler of a kingdom that has lost control of their land, and with the help of Eve, starts regaining his rule. The player has control of Smelter, as he floats around to build structures, issue orders, and defend his land against invaders. Constructing buildings and maintaining servants and warriors takes resources, either gained by conquering enemy territory or collected by Eve. Smelter can fend off small waves of enemies by himself, but can quickly get overwhelmed if there isn’t enough support from his army.

The team behind X-Plus definitely nails the look and feel of a 16-bit era game. Spirit worked is great, with a ton of personality in animations. The music and effects are crisp and sound great. The 2D platforming offers a good challenge for gamers and the trials will test the player’s skills. The stealth trails in particular take a lot of experimenting to figure out. The retro design strategy mini-game is a fun break between platforming selections and shows off more of the world. However, there doesn’t seem to be a big consequence for doing the bare minimum, at least not in the few hours of gameplay.

The two distinct game modes and fourth-wall-breaking storytelling make Smelter stand out from being just a simple adventure title. The different game modes are enjoyable, but I wish there was more at stake on the strategy elements to make it more engaging. Nevertheless, the game packs a fun combo of game styles in a tight package.  Smelter is an interesting hybrid title that offers variety and charm to entertain gamers. Smelter will be available April 22, for Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Swarm VR (Zach): Coming from Greensky Games, Swarm VR is out on Oculus Quest and Rift and will let you feel like Spider-Man as you swing around with dual grappling guns and take down an alien invasion.  An evil alien race dubbed The Swarm has invaded Earth and the only hope is cocky action hero Marv, who swings into action with a pair of guns that let him grapple around and take down the Swarm head-on.

You have a gun on each of your hands and you use the Oculus triggers to launch a grappling hook and the grip buttons to fire.  It takes a bit to get used to the mechanics but there is a solid suite of training missions to get you into the basics and it doesn’t take too long before you are slingshotting around the environment, freefalling and shooting down with dual guns and then swinging back up at the last second.  Once you are used to it, the swinging and a grappling mechanic is incredible and you feel an amazing sense of speed and height but without, at least for me, any sort of motion sickness or discomfort (your mileage may vary and this might be pretty intense for your first VR experience).

You’ll travel through various environments and each level has a slightly different goal, whether it’s to survive a set number of waves of enemies or kill as many enemies as possible in a given time limit.  The game also does a good job of introducing new enemies that add new wrinkles to the game, like enemies that shield others or behemoths that launch missiles and need to be shot in certain weak points.  Grappling with one hand while blasting away with the other and then swinging super high and then free-falling with both guns blazing is one of the coolest experiences in VR that I’ve had so far and if you have a Quest or Rift, this is a must-play.

Bladed Fury (Chris): Developed by NEXT Studios presents an action-packed tale of revenge in Bladed Fury, a hack-and-slash adventure title set in China’s Warring States era. When Ji, a warrior princess, is framed for murder, she is cast as an outlaw in her own kingdom of Qi. Tian has taken control as a ruler and has taken Ji’s sister, Shu, as his prisoner. Seeking revenge, she finds help with ancient deities and a few companions. Armed with powerful weapons and deadly martial art skills, Ji battles her way back to her former home and save her sister.

Bladed Fury gameplay centers around fast-paced, combo-creating action. Ji wields two weapons, a pair of short swords for quick attacks and a gigantic broadsword for a slower, heavy action. Each weapon has its strengths and weakens, and need to be interchanged to really rack up bigger combos. Ji also has a magical shield that can reduce damage or parry attacks when timed correctly. Her shield will also stun certain enemies and make opportunities to build up combo attacks. Defeated enemies will drop soul points that can be used at checkpoints to purchase new skills and abilities. The game doesn’t have much of a grind to let players become overpowered too quickly as the levels are very linear and enemies don’t respawn in revisited areas.

Bladed Fury‘s main strengths are its eye-catching visuals and fluid gameplay. The character designs are amazing, it has a great Chinese mythology style that works well with the gameplay. The attack system feels natural, so it does not require much practice to string combos together. Bladed Fury is on the short side tho. The game is very linear and doesn’t have deep exploration. It feels like just when things are really picking up, the game is reaching the end. Although Ji’s journey is limited, the experience is very entertaining. Gamers won’t ming slicing and dicing thru way against hordes of baddies for their time. Bladed Fury was released to consoles on March 25th and is now available for PS4 & PS5, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

Viking Vengeance (Zach):  Coming from Lowpoly Interactive, Viking Vengeance is a Diabloesque action RPG where you play as a former Templar knight who rediscovers his pagan Viking roots and goes on a quest to save his people and prevent Ragnorak.  If you have Diablo or similar ARPGs in the past, Viking Vengeance plays very similarly.  You click or hold down the left mouse button to move and click on enemies to attack.  You gain abilities that can be activated with the QWERTY keys and gain upgraded skills, weapons and armor.  The unique gameplay aspect of Viking Vengeance is that you can build a meter and then call upon one of the Norse gods, like Thor or Odin, and your player will transform into that god for a short time, allowing you to wreak havoc.  You’ll get main quests along with a slew of side quests and there’s a large world to explore.

There are two different classes to chose from for your warrior, a melee fighter or a bow-wielding ranger, which is probably going to seem fairly restricting for fans of games like Diablo or Torchlight, where you have a ton of different classes to choose from and much more customization options.  The team behind Viking Vengeance is extremely small, so credit for even getting a game of this scale put together but there are rough edges all over.

The graphical style is a specific choice but I don’t really find it appealing at all and there’s lots of clutter with the menus and they feel a bit clunky and unintuitive.  There’s also stuff like making left Ctrl the key to bring up the upgrades menu and also the one you need to hold down to do a finishing move and you’ll more often than not bring up the menu when you are trying to kill an enemy.  There are some interesting ideas in Viking Vengeance but, for me, it’s not one I want to dig into when there’s stuff like a remaster of Diablo 2 and a new Diablo on the way or stuff like Torchlight.  If you check out the trailer and it looks interesting to you, it’s out now on Steam.

Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood (Chris): It’s a jazzy spin on the Red Riding Hood fable, with elements of Wizard of Oz in Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood. Developed by Devespresso Games and published by Headup Games, Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood is a point-and-click adventure title that follows Scarlet, a struggling musician that is trying to become a breakout star. Alongside her bandmates, Scarlet gain the attention of a record agent on their latest gig. Just when Scarlet is forced to make a decision that will affect her career, she is sucked into a strange tornado and dropped into the magical realm of Glome. Luckily, Scarlet finds mystical red regalia that grants her the powers of the legendary Red Witch. Now Scarlet sets off to return to her own world. while trying to stop Black Witch from ending her journey prematurely.

Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood focuses on a fun narrative experience while tackling brain-teasing puzzles. The game is plot-heavy, with characters exchanging dialogue every few moments. Scarlet is a southern gal that is charming and likable. She encounters a big cast of colorful characters, that will ask Scarlet to go on various fetch quests. These small quests involve looking around specific areas for items or clues and solving a puzzle. The puzzles aren’t too difficult, mostly logic puzzles that take a few moments to scan the surroundings for some hints.

The game has some sort of action sequences outside the puzzle elements where Scarlet can handle some enemies walking toward her on pathways. She can perform a dodge that lets her whirl around an oncoming enemy or use her wand to stun an enemy and a magical spell that lets her hide in plain sight. There is a crazed Wolf that stalks Scarlet thru throughout the game that has to be outrun or hidden from. It’s a mini rush of action that doesn’t make the walk from screen to screen seem too dull.

An interesting aspect is how Scarlet can choose her approach to certain problems. Puzzles can be avoided or skipped by talking to characters and making some narrative decisions. Helping or ignoring certain characters makes things easier or harder for future situations. This has longer consequences that create a few branching options, leading to multiple endings at the end.

While the game doesn’t offer deep mechanical gameplay, the overall presentation is really enjoyable to experience. Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood is an anime-inspired game with great visuals and a toe-tapping soundtrack. The artwork is crisp and appealing, with lots of fun designs. The jazz swing score is great and doesn’t distract from the puzzle solving. Gamers that are looking for a good fable story will find it in this Wicked Woods. Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood was released April 8 for PC.

Zombieland VR: Headshot Fever (Zach): Coming from XR Games and Sony Pictures, you can enter the world of Zombieland on Oculus Quest with Zombieland VR: Headshot Fever. You are one of the survivors in Zombieland taking shelter in the Silicon Valley mansion of your former boss when Tallahassee, Wichita, Little Rock, and Colombus arrive and save your butt from an attacking zombie.  The gang reveals that they have come to town to participate in the Zombieland Invitational, the inaugural sporting event where contestants run a course killing zombies and trying to get the fastest time.

The gang doesn’t believe you are ready for the Invitational yet, so they design a series of training courses to try and get you ready.  You run each course and try to complete each one in the fastest time.  Each member of the Zombieland crew has an objective to try and meet in each course, one will be just completing the course but others are to find hidden objects, don’t take a hit, only use a certain weapon and more.  Each objective you complete unlocks perks from that member and puts you one step closer to the Invitational.

There are a ton of zombie shooting games on Oculus Quest but Zombieland VR sets itself apart with the speed aspect.  It definitely feels more like a race than other zombie games and the game emphasizes speed and headshots.  Getting headshots, using the patented Double Tap technique, slows things down and builds up a combo meter.  The more accurate and quicker you can kill zombies, the faster you’ll get through the course. The game definitely wants you to try and run through each course multiple times to better your score and also try to complete each objective from the Zombieland game. Between courses, you can see Tallahassee for weapon skins and upgrades, and to change your loadout, see Colombus for achievement info and Wichita to head into the target range and practice your targeting skills.

The stylized look of the game gives the Zombieland gang a fun cartoony look but it’s abundantly clear that none of the cast is back to provide the voices, as none of them sound close to the movie cast members.  It’s not a huge deal but it is noticeable and will probably be a bit disappointing for fans of the movie.  The game does have the movie’s sense of humor and you’ll encounter various types of zombies that have unique names and abilities that throwback to Zombieland 2, which introduced a slew of different zombie types as things continued to evolve in the apocalypse.  Even if you played a number of zombie shooters in VR, the racing aspect of Zombieland VR sets it apart and it’s a fun, arcadey shooter that is worth checking out for fans of the movies or not. It’s out now on Oculus Quest.

Explosionade DX (Zach): A console remaster of their retro shooter Explosionade, Mommy’s Best Games recently released Explosionade DX for Xbox One, Switch and PS4.  A 2D shooter/platformer, you play as a nerdy soldier named Atticus, who is left behind when the rest of his squad heads out to face an alien invasion.  Atticus finds an experimental mech suit hidden on the base and takes it into the sewers under the base, where he finds a massive infestation of the invading aliens.  The mech is equipped with a machine gun and a grenade launcher, with your grenades being your most valuable tool.

The grenades not only kill enemies but blow up obstacles and walls, which is required to progress in each level.  You can also hold down the button to have them keep bouncing around the stage or you can shoot them and have them immediately stick to a wall and explode.  Your goal in each level is to reach a destructible goal at the bottom of the level, which you explode and then progress deeper into the world.  There are 60 levels and the game sort of has an old-school PC game vibe where each level is a distinct, single-screen experience.  You can zoom in and out to either get up close and personal with the action or zoom out to get the layout of the whole level and there’s a wide range of nasty enemies to battle, including some massive and grotesquely awesome bosses.

The game has a cool comic-book-style look that is all hand-drawn animation and a grungy look and sound.  The story, such as it is, does seem to be trying a bit too hard and your character is a stereotypical fat nerd who gets reamed out by his yelling commanding officer.  There are 60 levels in total and you can play them all in couch co-op along with tackling them solo.  The levels are extremely fast to get through, especially since you technically don’t have to kill every enemy and just have to reach the exit but you do get more points for clearing the stage and complete other objectives, like turning valves or destroying other objects, and there is also gold and other collectibles to find as well.

There does seem to be a lack of upgrades or different weapons, which feels a bit lacking compared to other similar games and can make things feel a bit rote after a while but the limit to only two weapons does add to the simplistic arcade-style the game is going for.  The fast pace and quick pace of the levels definitely feels like it could get you into that “one more level” mode and you could find yourself playing it for longer than you intended.

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