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Gamebox 2.0: Games of May 2021

 

As things start to heat up for summer, we checked out a bunch of cool games that let us solve cyberpunk crimes, command mini armies, explore strange things happening in a small town. Read on to get our thoughts for Lacuna, Mayhem in Single Valley, Warpips, Partisans 1941: Back into Battle, Jetboard Joust, and more for this month’s game reviews in the Gamebox 2.0

Mayhem in Single Valley (Zach): Coming from Fluxscopic Ltd. and Tinybuild, Mayhem in Single Valley is an interesting spin on the classic adventure genre. You play as Jack, who is ready to leave his small town and troubled family life and go to college.  On the day he’s set to fly out, a catastrophic event causes toxic waste to contaminate the water supply and transform animals and people into radioactive monsters and Jack leaps into action to save the day (partially because he’s somewhat to blame for the disaster).

What’s interesting about the gameplay of Mayhem in Single Valley is that Jack doesn’t directly attack the enemies. Compared to the inspiration games of Legend of Zelda, there is no violent combat.  You can gather a wide variety of throwable objects and the key of the game is to figure out what items will distract or lure away the various creatures and then use that to sneak or run past. The interface for picking and throwing the various items is a little clunky. You may find yourself getting killed by an enemy because you couldn’t get to the correct item in time, which can be a little frustrating but you do get used to it. There’s a ton of other environmental puzzles to solve as well and various hidden items and collectibles to find too.

The game looks stunning with a visual style that combines a tilt-shifted perspective with pixel art and it also has a great soundtrack that you can increase and change up by finding cassette tapes around the world.  The game also has a great sense of humor and there are lots of weird and wacky side quests and characters to discover throughout the world.  If you’re looking for a classic-style adventure game that changes things up from a hack and slash style game, definitely check out Mayhem in Single Valley on Steam.

(Chris): Jack has been waiting all his life to leave Single Valley. He has a long list of chores to do, lives in a strange neighborhood, and is constantly surrounded by woodland creatures. But just when he is about to say goodbye to Single Valley, a chemical waste accident transforms the quiet town into a mutated nightmare. Fluxscopic Ltd. and Tinybuild present Mayhem in Single Valley, a 3D pixeled adventure title. Players control Jack, an average teen on a not-so-average adventure. His planned last day in Single Valley is turned upside down once the place is crawling with infected creatures.

Mayhem in Single Valley takes a lot of inspiration cues where it plays like a mix of a Nintendo game and a classic Lucas Arts title. The core gameplay focuses on platforming and puzzle-solving elements. The environments will be the biggest challenges. There will be big gaps, tall structures, and hazards to navigate thru. Key objects will be laid out in perplexing arrangments that have to be dragged and used to unlock passways around the map. But the mutated wildlife isn’t going to still and watch. There are enemies to take on, but they are mostly dealt with by distracting them and sneaking around. Combat will involve throwing objects to fend off enemies while trying not to get cornered into a tight spot. Jack can take three good hits and he’s toast. But the game is fast to respawn at convenient checkpoints.

With its charming story and great voxel art style, Mayhem in Single Valley is that fun title that slowly gets sillier on each level. It follows a lot of traditional stuff, but I was won over by the bizarre story and simple yet witty gameplay. Some levels are frustrating cause it takes a few minutes to be in sync with enemies and movement. But overall, Mayhem in Single Valley delivers on the fun, chaotic time it promises. Mayhem in Single Valley was released on May 20th for Steam.

Lacuna (Zach): Lacuna, from Assemble Entertainment, is a cyberpunk noir game where you try to unravel a series of events that could lead to an interstellar war if the truth isn’t found.  You play as Neil Conrad, a grizzled investigator for the Central Department of Investigation.  When an important off-world ambassador is murdered, Neil has to try and track down the killer and figure out what happened.  The game features a gorgeous pixel art style that oozes style and detail and every location you travel to is full of things to look at and there are layers to really add to the feel of being immersed in this futuristic sci-fi city.  In each location Neil finds himself in, he usually is given a “Sheet”, which is some sort of task that needs to be completed before you can move on.  The “Sheet” is usually related to the clues you are gathering and you will have to do things like gather evidence and then determine the most likely location where a sniper was or what the suspect you are tracking down looked like.  The “Sheets” start out fairly simple but they gradually get more and more complex and you’ll have to question multiple witnesses and gather evidence and then determine what the best answer to the current task is.  The game has branching paths, so you could be wrong and get sent down a completely different path than if you had determined the right answer.

There’s really no action in Lacuna as it’s really focused on investigating and solving the mystery it’s presenting.  You move around with the WASD keys and Neil can also enter an “investigation mode” that lets you highlight key pieces of evidence and points of interest.  You can also access Neil’s phone to see logs of every conversation you’ve had and to complete the “Sheet” for the given location.  You’ll also have non-case-related conversations and events that will change as the story progresses depending on how you respond or don’t.  For example, Neil is divorced with a daughter and you could potentially improve your relationship with your daughter if you visit and talk to her or cause irreparable damage if you ignore her.  If you’re looking for a gorgeous adventure with an interesting story and a fun mystery to solve, definitely check out Lacuna on Steam.

Of Bird and Cage (Chris): Developed by Capricia Productions and published by All in! Games, Of Bird and Cage is an action-adventure game that is uniquely told through a musical metal album. Think something crossed between a tellTale’s game and watching Repo!: The Genetic Opera. Of Bird and Cage follows Gritta, a young woman working in a small-town while trying to pursue her musical aspirations. She is held back by her crippling drug addiction and a group of abusers. That all changes one night when she encounters Bres Lupus, who relentlessly pursues Gritta for his own mysterious desire.

Of Bird and Cage has First Person controls that emphasize exploring thru the eyes of Gritta. Most of the gameplay consists of navigation around an area, looking for clues, and picking up key items. But the game doesn’t let the player linger, everything in this game is like a timed selection that is playing out to the music of the soundtrack. This game pushes the player to search for clues fast and be even faster to take on quick-time events. One great aspect is how the story unfolds thru the small actions made by the player, which will ultimately change the outcome of the plot.

The music score takes center stage in this game’s performance. There is are eleven featured musicians contributing to the soundtrack. The songs all share dark and violent themes, which are reflected by the narration and gameplay. The music is the glue that binds a lot of the experience together, but there are some major cracks that get thru.

While the game has interesting and experimental concepts, the gameplay has some issues. The game has interesting visuals designs but gives vague hints in a lot of the situational events. Finding key items is a trial and error process. It feels like the game goes out of its way to make sure you fail on purpose, making the player more frustrated to attempt levels over and over again. The game has a surprising amount of action sequences that are not naturally smooth to control. Combat selections boil down to mindless button mashing and the driving selections feel really archaic.

Capricia Productions has a fun formula behind Of Bird and Cage. I could definitely see what developers were trying to experiment with by mixing music, drama, and game design to make a unique title. It has dark atmospheric tones, a few catchy songs, and some diverse game selections. However, the game tries to cram too much and makes it seem unfocused by the end. I said it’s worth a look if you are a fan of the musical score first, and don’t mind the game designs to enjoy the overall experience. Of Bird and Cage was released May 20th for Steam.

Jetboard Joust (Zach): If you’re a fan of the arcade classic Defender you have to run, not walk, to check out Jetboard Joust.  An obvious homage to that Midway/Williams classic along with being a spiritual sequel to Skatboard Joust, a classic ZX Spectrum, Amstrad, and Commodore 64 game, Jetboard Joust sees you taking on the role of the Jetboy, who takes on the task of freeing the universe from a group of giant alien monsters that have taken over various planets.  Jetboy’s Jetboard has a basic gun but there is a wide range of weapons available to find throughout the levels.

The game follows the basic gameplay of Defender where you can scroll in either direction left or right and your main task is to prevent innocent civilians from being abducted and turned into mutants by the various villains on the level.  Once you survive the waves of enemies, you can proceed to the next level but instead of immediately going to the next level, you could take a stab at fighting a particularly tough enemy or enemies and unlocking the treasure room, which usually has some sort of important upgrade or a new weapon.  The game incorporates roguelike elements, so if you die, you’ll have to start at the beginning for a new run, although you can unlock Dark Souls style shortcuts to get to the later levels faster.

As you progress and defeat enemies, you’ll get a currency that you can use to buy upgrades to your equipment and weapons.  You also get to pick your path through the run and you can see what is available as far as potential rewards in each of the levels, so there’s a strategy to picking your path.  If you survive long enough, you’ll take on the boss of that particular run and then, if you defeat them, you can move on to the next planet.  The game is fast and fluid and while there’s tons of stuff happening on-screen, you usually feel like you are in control.  Along with the various weapons, Jetboy can also launch his jetboard forward in a powerful attack but you only get a certain amount of them, although there are pickups for more in the levels.  There’s also a mechanic where you can collect enemy jetboards before they disappear off the screen to replenish your shields and gain money, which is a key to surviving in each level.  The game also has a great art style that while each level is usually only one color, which seems like an homage to its classic computer predecessor, there’s a ton of depth and details and a ton of different enemies to encounter.  Jetboard Joust is out now on Switch, Atari VCS(!?), and PC.

Partisan 1941: Back into Battle (Chris): Alter Games and Daedalic Entertainment have given their partisans some new orders with Back into Battle, a DLC for Partisan 1941. This expansion adds additional challenges to the already stellar WW2 tactical gameplay set in a war-torn soviet union in 1941. You control a squad of rebellious partisans fighting to protect their homeland.

Back into Battle includes two new challenges to the game. Mission mode gets expanded by an additional set of seven non-linear maps that can be freely accomplished. These missions allow any of the characters to into the battle but the items collect do not carry over. There are also modifiers that increase the difficulty like fewer resources to collect, faster guards, and weaker starting stats for the partisans.

A big challenge comes in Heroic Defense mode, where up to four characters are pit against waves of enemies in the last stand fight. In this mode, all the characters are maxed out with their skills unlocked. This mode is focused on tactical gunfighting. Surviving waves is about placing the partisans in good positions, setting up traps, and laying out a cover fire. Resources will be scattered out and dropped by the enemy, and will need to be picked up to restock in the battle.

Back into Battle is a great addition to the fun gameplay that adds extended repeatability. This was a great complementary additional that lets players come back to try out different squad configurations and try out different character skills. The extra maps and Heroic Defense mode kicks the difficulty way up so you don’t just rely on stealth to get the job done. Gamers that enjoyed the original title should out this expansion. Partisan 1941: Back into Battle was released April 29nd for PC.

Warpips (Zach): Out in Early Access on Steam, Warpips comes from Skirmish Mode Games and Daedalic Entertainment and is a fantastic strategy game that puts you in command of a tiny army of soldiers as you set out to conquer your enemies.  In Warpips, you are given an enemy territory to conquer and it’s up to you how you want to proceed.  You have your initial foothold and then you expand and battle from there.  The enemy has a main base and the longer it takes you to get there, the stronger they will be when you eventually battle them.  The trick is that there are side areas that will probably add to the amount of time you are taking to get to the final base but it could also give you some potentially powerful units, so there’s a ton of strategy about how you proceed.  You can also see what enemies you’ll encounter in each area, which also adds to your strategy of progressing.  Before you attack each area, you’ll have to decide what units and weapons to bring into the fight.  The trick here is that if you use a unit or weapon and you don’t have multiples of that unit, it’s gone after that fight regardless if you win or lose.

Another aspect of the strategy of Warpips is deciding if you can win a fight with weaker units to save more powerful ones or blow them all and suffer the consequences later on.  You gain a reward after each victory and there’s also a black market where you can buy weapons and units but you can easily find yourself with basically nothing late into a game and will be basically deadmeat. There’s a huge variety of units, weapons, and structures you can build like the basic Warpip grunts to snipers to tanks to tear gas and missiles and a bunch more.  You don’t directly control the ground units but you can guide their strategy and can make them more defensive or aggressive but they will always try to march to the other side of the map to attack any enemy units in their way and the enemy base.  Your ultimate goal in each map is to blow up the enemy map while defending yours.

As you battle the enemy, you gain levels and you can use ability points that you earn to either add to the ranks of your units and eventually level them up, get some instant cash or add more slots for additional units.  Each unit costs a certain amount of money but you gain a steady amount throughout the battle.  Some weapons like missiles and a mini-gun, you can directly control and attack enemies and you can also build structures like sandbags for defense or oil derricks for more money generating.

The game has a great voxel/pixel style that feels a bit like a sort of 2.5D Broforce and it definitely has a lot of that game’s destruction and mayhem.  There’s constantly soldiers going down or vehicles and structures blowing up and there’s a satisfying amount of physics and reaction in the world when something like a missile hits and rumbles nearby structures.  When you blow up the enemy base you get a particularly awesome explosion that is a satisfying cap to a hard-fought battle.  Warpips is a great, addictive strategy game with a great visual style and tons of depth hiding within. Even though it’s Early Access, it plays great already and is definitely one to check out on Steam.

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