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Gamebox 2.0: Games of June 2021

E3 2021 is in the rearview and while we’re looking forward to big games coming up in the fall of this year and beyond, there are plenty of games we got to check out right now for the Gamebox 2.0 for June 2021.  We got to blast our way through enemy forces as a gun-toting goose, command star fleets in VR, investigate a paranormal noir mystery, and more.  Check out our thoughts on all the games we got to check out this month below.

Eternal Starlight (Zach):  Taking cues from Ender’s Game, Eternal Starlight puts you are in command of the Terran Starfleet, defending humanity’s colonization efforts in a distant star system. The aggressive Kraya aliens are looking to wipe you out and you must gather allies and build up your fleet to stop them.  After taking on a small scout fleet of Kraya ships, you have a certain amount of days to complete other missions before a bigger and more dangerous fleet arrives to attack your outpost of Proxima station.  You have a wide array of missions available to take on in the time between battles with the Kraya and most of them progress a side story that will give you more information on the conflict and build up your reputation with other, friendlier alien species.

The missions usually involved defending a certain ship, wiping out the enemy, or investigating certain areas.  When you enter battle, you are in a virtual representation of space and are able to see all your ships, the enemy ships, and space debris like crystal formations and asteroids.  You can move around by gripping and dragging with your controller or hands, as it supports hand tracking, and you can zoom in and out as well.  You move your ships by actually grabbing them and then dragging where you want them to go or what target you want them to attack.  Your flagship has various special weapons that you can use and you can create formations and prioritize certain systems on the enemy ships.

If you’ve played games like Homeworld in the past, Eternal Starlight plays very similarly but the VR takes it to another level.  You had to use a combination of keyboard and mouse when playing something like Homeworld back in the day but the VR controls make things much more intuitive and engaging as you physically grab and move your ships and it’s just plain awesome to see little spaceships battling each other around your head.  The story is fun as well as you interact with various alien races and you get to engage with little Star Trek-like viewscreen conversations with them before and after missions where you have some limited conversation choices and you may luck into learning something or avoiding a fight altogether.  There are also lots of upgrades you can collect and between missions you can change your ship’s loadout and buy upgrades if you have enough resources.

The FTL/roguelike structure is extremely addictive and the missions play out fast enough that you definitely get into a “one more mission” mindset and will be playing for much longer than you set out to.  Along with the main campaign, there’s also a skirmish mode where you can create custom battles and play them out, unlocking more ships to use as you progress in the story.  Eternal Starlight is unlike anything I’ve played in VR so far and it’s a fantastic and fun space strategy game that is definitely worth checking out if you have a headset. Eternal Starlight is out now on Oculus Quest and various VR headsets through Steam from White Noise Games.

Might Goose (Zach): Metal Slug is one of my all-time favorite franchises and Mighty Goose from Blastmode and Playsim scratches that run and gun itch in excellent fashion. You play as the titular Mighty Goose, a cyborg goose bounty hunter who is taking on an evil entity known as the VOID.  Mighty and his support team travel from planet to planet taking down various VOID operations, freeing innocent civilians, and working their way toward a confrontation with the evil mastermind behind VOID.

Mighty Goose plays like Metal Slug or any other classic run and gun shooter with the addition of some special abilities that you gain as you progress through the levels.  Mighty Goose always has a dodge roll that is critical to avoid damage, as he’s invincible in the roll, and you can get things like bombs, a reflective honk, and more as a special ability. You can also gain a number of AI companions throughout the game, each one bringing a different ability and playstyle and you can have a friend team up with you and play as the companion in co-op. There are also different active abilities that you can activate but Mighty only has a certain amount of power you can allocate, so you have to figure out what powers work for your playstyle and turn those on.

There are tons of enemies to deal with throughout each level and you can build up a combo meter that will help get you a better grade at the end of each mission.  There are various kinds of grunts plus enemy vehicles and dangerous creatures and each level ends with a battle against a crazy boss.  Mighty starts out with a fairly weak pea shooter but you can get different weapons throughout each level, all shouted out Metal Slug style by an announcer, and they are similar to Metal Slug‘s weapons like the Heavy Machine Gun or Rocket Launcher.  If you have enough coins from defeating enemies, you can purchase weapons from the pause menu but they come up so frequently you shouldn’t need to rely on them.  If there’s one complaint about Mighty Goose it’s that sometimes the action on-screen can get too insane and it’s hard to see where enemy projectiles are and you are subsequently unable to roll out of the way in time to avoid getting hit.

The game is fairly generous with health as well but there are times where it seems impossible to not take damage with how much is happening.  The game looks and sounds great, with lots of fantastic animations for Mighty Goose and the enemies and some fantastic music that sets a proper tone at every level, whether more atmospheric and creepy when you are investigating a bug-infested mine or all-out rocking when you are attacking an enemy convoy.  If you love Metal Slug or any other type of run and gun shooter, Mighty Goose is an awesome entry in the genre that you definitely need to check out.  It’s out now on Switch, Xbox, PS4, and PC.

 

(Chris) Locked, loaded, and honking for destruction, Mighty Goose is an explosive action game from Blastmode, MP2 Games, and Playsim. Inspired by the fast-paced run and gun action classics, Mighty Goose puts the player in the titular role of Goose, a bounty hunter fighting against the evil Void King. The galaxy has been overrun by out-of-control armed forces and vicious creatures. Goose and his companions are ready to clean up the place, one bullet at a time.

Mighty Goose‘s gameplay follows the traditional 2D action control setup. Goose can shoot in 4 directions while moving, but as the added featured to dodge roll to avoid enemy fire. As enemies swarm the fire, launching attacks of their own, Goose will have to avoid the crowds and the firepower with a quick roll that turns him invincible for a few seconds. This life-saving move can’t be spammed and needs a recharge period, so it’s a balancing act of shooting and timing rolls in battle. Goose can collect different weapons, modules, and companions that will upgrade his battle abilities. Enemies will also drop coins that can be used to purchase emergency equipment and ammo via a service delivery from a smartphone.

When Goose destroys enough enemies, he will build up his mighty meter. Getting a full mighty meter will turn Goose invincible and boost his weaponry for a short time. This is handy to unleash on not just boss battles, but for any situation where there you have to deal a lot of damage very quickly. This game throws a ton of enemies waves, so it’s easy to build up the meter over and over again.

Mighty Goose nails the run and gun experience with great charm and flashy visuals. Blastmode and MP2 Games do an amazing job of leaning into the premise without losing any of the action experience. The musical score by Dominic Ninmark matches the tone of the game nicely, setting the mood for a gun blasting time. The devs knew how to honor the retro experience in their unique visual and should not be missed out on. Mighty Goose was released on June 5 for Switch, Xbox, PS4, and PC.

Fantasy Network Demo (Zach):  Coming from Raven Travel Studios, Fantasy Network is a new Metroidvania that is looking to release in full later this year but there’s currently a demo available on Steam that debuted during the recent Steam Summer Games Festival.  Fantasy Network is set in the kingdom of Holua where the beloved president is retiring.  Instead of having an election, the next president will be decided by whoever wins five talent competitions.  Your character is fired into the competition when their mother is kidnapped by an evil general, who was defeated by the president in the past and was exiled to a rival kingdom, which he took over by force.  The game plays out via a side-scrolling platformer and you have free reign to explore but your ultimate goal is to compete in the five competitions.

There seems to be some sort of item requirement tied to each competition where you’ll need to find a specific object before you can compete, like an egg for the cooking competition.  This will send you out to one of the different areas of the kingdom where you’ll battle creatures and try to find the object you are looking for.  There are all kinds of shops to visit and a bunch of different items, weapons, and armor to find and purchase as well.

The game has a very nice looking graphic style that seems to be inspired by something like Monster Boy and there are some cool 3D effects when you enter shops or move up and down streets in the city but some of the menu screens and other areas kind of feel like a mobile game.  The gameplay is decent but not great and it feels a little stiff and repetitive at times as you just wack away at enemies and makes platforming jumps and some of the areas seem like they might be going on for a bit too long and there are parts where you are climbing and can get hit and land basically where you started and you’ll have to make the climb all over again.  Another major feature of the game that feels like maybe it’s still getting worked on or will factor in more in the final game is the social media aspect.  Your character has a phone and you can download apps and leave messages about various topics where you can get tips or hints about things but it kind of feels disengaged from the platforming, like a life simulator and platformer was Frankenstein’d together.

There’s also quite a bit of grammatical weirdness that can probably get chalked up to the developers being from Italy but hopefully, stuff like that can get ironed out. Fantasy Network seems like it has potential but it’s a bit rough right now in the demo.  If things can get tightened up and its various ideas can be better integrated together, it could be something worth checking out later this year.

Cyjin: The Cyborg Ninja Demo (Zach): Looking to be out this fall on PC and getting funds on Kickstarter, there’s a demo of Cyjin: The Cyborg Ninja available to check out on Steam.  Developed by Aiya Games, Cyjin is similar to precision platform games like Super Meat Boy or Celeste but the major difference is that you only use your mouse.  You control Cyjin by aiming and clicking, which sends Cyjin zooming out until he hits a wall.  You have to jump from wall to wall and you take out enemies if they are in your path when you are zooming between walls.  The game gets tricky fairly quickly as it introduces things like buttons that need to be activated and powers for Cyjin, like a shield, that need to be activated mid-flight with the right click of the mouse that will let you avoid enemy bullets or deactivate enemy shields.

Despite the relative simplicity of the controls, it will still take a bit to get used to how Cyjin moves but once you get the hang of it, you can completely blast through areas as it all comes down to how fast you can click and how good your aim is, so it’s one of the fastest platformers I have ever played if you really get into the zone.  It has a simple but cool art style and some great music to drive you through each area.  If you are into fast-paced and more hardcore platformers, definitely check out the demo for Cyjin: The Cyborg Ninja and keep an eye out for the full game later this year.

ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights (Chris): When a dark magical rain engulfs a kingdom and transforms its inhabitants into corrupted creatures, a young priestess awakens to purify the land and restore her missing memories. ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights is a Metroidvania-style action title developed by Live Wire and Adglobe, and published by Binary Haze Interactive. Set in a ruined, gothic landscape, the game follows Lily, a young woman that is awakened with no memories of her past. She is one of the last White Priestesses that has the power to purify creatures of the Death Rain, a sinister magical power that turns people into undead beings known as the Blighted. Lily is aided by guardian spirits that will aid and protect her as she travels across a tarnished kingdom and finds the source of all the chaos. 

Lily isn’t a warrior and wields no actual weapons. Instead, she will summon guardian spirits to perform combat actions while she can maneuver around. At the start of the game, Lily has a guardian called the Umbral Knight who can perform up to three sword slashes when summoned. The Umbral Knight will be Lily’s main method to attack enemies and break obstacles. Along her journey, Lily will defeat bosses that will become purified and become summonable in combat. Each summons has a certain about of cooldown periods and usages, so it’s important to balance attacking and timing. Lily also has a dodge that lets her avoid damage for a quick moment and plays a crucial role in surviving countless enemy attacks. 

There are relics and experience points to collect that Lily will collect that will boost her stats. She can increase her health and abilities to become stronger to take on harder enemies. Levels have branching pathways and hidden collectibles that need multiple backtracking. Enemies spawn once in the area and only respawn after visiting a checkpoint to rest. It’s simple to grind a bit to level up Lily, but the game does not push for it. The gameplay really focuses on exploration and grinding for level stats is really a low priority.

The art direction of ENDER LILIES is the main appeal of the game. The gorgeous hand-drawn 2D art style is eye-catching and looks amazing with the grim set pieces. There is a lot of atmosphere in the backgrounds of levels, each leaving behind tiny fragments of doomed events and builds toward a foreboding narrative. The musical score is dreary and beautifully haunting. There is neat detail in how the sound changes when Lily is submerged in water that really immerses the experience.

While the game is nicely atmospheric, with plenty of enemies and huge boss battles to fight, the game’s combat system isn’t as deep as more action-oriented gamers would like. Lily’s combat takes a little patience to get used to and her guardian spirits sometimes lack the freedom to attack the enemies at the right angles. Enemies all have an attack pattern that should be memorized and ready to counterattack, but sometimes it feels a little slow. It makes taking on multiple enemies at once kind of frustrating. But the other aspects of the game make up for the casual approach to the combat.

Overall, ENDER LILIES is an enchanting game that will draw in gamers with its stunning visuals and simple mechanics. Some of the combat could have been tweaked for a more action-oriented audience but manages to feel balanced at the end. It’s a solid entry in the Metroidvania titles offers a decent challenge in a gloomy fantasy world. ENDER LILIES was released on June 22 for Steam and Switch, and coming to PS4 and PS5 on July 8th. 

Pecaminosa (Zach): Pecaminosa is a new action RPG from Badland Publishing and Cereal Games that puts you in the shoes of gumshoe John Souza.  A former cop in the city of Pecaminosa, Souza is now an alcoholic private eye who gets an unexpected visit from the ghost Charlie “Two Angels”, a mob boss that Souza killed.  Two Angels demands that Souza track down and capture or kill his former associates, which would let Two Angels be released from his spiritual roaming.  Souza takes the case and you travel around the city, gathering clues at various locales and tracking down where each of the thugs on Two Angels list is.  The city of Pecaminosa is extremely well-realized and there are unique and interesting locales to visit in various districts around the city.  The game has a great pixel art look that is detailed and plays up the noir feel and it reminds me a lot of the look of TinyBuild’s Punch Club.  After tracking down the initial person on Charlie’s list in a sort of extended tutorial, the city opens up and you can track down any of the leads in whatever order you choose.  There’s a mini-map that will guide you to where the next step of the investigation is, so if you get lost you should an idea of where you can go next.

Along with traveling around and investigating the leads, you’ll have various thugs and random creatures to battle as well.  Souza can use his fists and you can build up an arsenal of weapons as well.  The combat uses a dual-stick setup, so you can move with the left stick on your controller and aim with the right stick, shooting or punching with the trigger button.  It works well and there are some fun boss fights that feel like the game has switched into a bullet hell shooter or something like Smash TV.  There do seem to be some areas that you can quickly get overwhelmed, like a crypt crawling with spiders and zombies but for the most part, things are fun and manageable as far as combat.

One other minor complaint is the inventory system.  You have a limited number of slots available and if they get filled up, you either need to drop items and get them later or head back to your apartment and put them in your trunk, which can be a little tedious and usable items like cigarettes and liquor take up slots along with puzzle items like certain clothing and notes.  If the items automatically got removed after their use was done or if you had unlimited storage, that would make things much smoother but as is there will be some inventory fiddling involved with Pecaminosa.  The story is interesting and funny at times and the supernatural elements combined with the hard-boiled noir elements set it apart and make it feel more like something like Grim Fandango and the jazzy soundtrack perfectly matches the mood.  Pecaminosa is an interesting world to explore and if you’re looking for a pixel art RPG with some solid action thrown in, check it out.

Graven (Zach): Out now in Early Access on Steam, Graven is the latest FPS from 3D Realms and Slipgate Ironworks.  Feeling similar to classics like Hexen and Heretic, Graven is a fantasy-themed FPS where you play as an exiled priest who is out to cleanse the world of evil and track down his lost adopted daughter.  The current Early Access version of Graven puts you into the hub of Cruxfirth, a swampy town full of plague and horrific monsters.  You must find your way through the area, solving puzzles using stuff like magic, like for instance, burning away wood with a fire spell to access a new area.  Your main weapon is a magical staff that you can use to beat down the various enemies but you can find other weapons like crossbows and swords.

The game nails its atmosphere as it feels dark and foreboding and it has the classic throwback visuals that 3D Realms is known for and has used in other recent games like Ion Fury. The one complaint that I have, which may be a selling point for others, is that I got completely and utterly lost trying to figure out where to go or what to do.  Graven just sort of lets you loose after an opening Half-Life style ferry ride through the swamp and you don’t really have a clear objective or destination and I spent a lot of time wandering around trying to figure out where to go. That may be an intentional old-school design and there may be some players who love the lack of hand-holding but I would have preferred slightly more direction about what and where I was going.

I definitely appreciate the old-school style and gameplay but I don’t know if Graven is entirely my cup of tea. I greatly prefer something like Ion Fury, where you also get the old-school throwback but with a more straightforward level design and more action-packed gameplay.  If you want to check out Graven, it’s out in Early Access now on Steam and new quests, magic abilities, weapons and more will be added as the game progresses.

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