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Gamebox 2.0: Games of October 2021

It’s the time for gaming to bring out the thrills and chills for the fall season. This month, we got our hands on some titles that let us get think tactically to search thru ruins or neutralize targets, played the Devil’s advocate as we raised hell, and took on a blazing inferno. All these game reviews and more for this month’s game review round-up in the Game Box.

Rogue Lords (Chris): The Devil spreads fear and bloodied bodies as he leads his loyal disciples in a war for revenge against humanity in Rogue Lords. Developed by Leikir Studio and Cyanide Studios, published by Nacon and Bigben Interactive, Rogue Lords is a turn-based RPG focusing on dynamic rogue-lite game designs. You take up the role of the Devil as he commands a pack of disciples that will disrupt villages and towns in New England in the 17th century. However, the more powerful the Devil and his disciples grow, the harder humanity will fight back. It will be a tough battle to fight, the Devil has a few tricks to get an edge.

The gameplay of Rogue Lords uses a mix of the traditional 2D turn-based combat that is broken up by selections of 3D exploration. At the start of the game, the Devil isn’t fully ready to take on all the strongest demon hunters, he must build back his influence and powers thru his disciples. The loyal disciples are a collection of famous monsters like Bloody Mary, The Headless Horse Man, Dr. Frankenstein, and Dracula, all will special abilities to aid in combat or chance encounters. Each time the disciples are sent off to go terrorize, they begin with basic stats and abilities and must grow stronger in combat, events that affect stats or wisely spending soul points. There are optional side quests and events that change gives disciples buffers or negative effects that will make things difficult.

The turn-based combat gameplay follows a traditional setup of two sides taking turns to attack one another or apply buffs. There are two types of attacks, ones that target Health points and ones that target Spirit points. Certain disciples lean heavier to one style of attacks, and will greatly affect enemy types that are stronger in Health or Spirit points. However, it is possible to radically change stats and abilities thru-out a run to suit the player’s style. Every combat event rewards soul points that can be exchanged with the Grim Reaper, who will sell abilities and equipment, as well as buffering abilities for a few encounters.

Since the Devil is not known to play fair, he can also push many events into his favor thru his diabolic essence. In combat, diabolic essence can be used to boost health and spirit points to the disciples and can reduce the points on the enemies. This can make it make a disciple become a tank or an enemy to become an easy target. Outside of combat, diabolic essence can increase the probability of certain outcomes for chance encounters, ensuring a choice is 100% successful. However, the diabolic essence is the most precious resource in the game as it serves as the Devil’s ability to command. When disciples take damage when they are in a vulnerable state in combat will pick away at the diabolic essence. And so will carelessly spending diabolic essence in encounters. If the diabolic essence meter reaches zero, that’s game over for the run and must start all over again.

Rogue Lord isn’t going to be easy for the casual rogue-lite player. The game throws a mighty challenge to survive a play thru without dying. Abilities and stats gained thru runs do not stack, and minor rewards for grinding don’t affect additional attempts. The only big reward is learning from mistakes and having better luck the next time. Fans of the rogue-lite, 2D turn-based games will find a lot of familiar ground in Rogue Lords, but the presentation will make it stand out a bit. The amazing cartoony gothic presentation gives is a fun vibe to be a force of evil. The disciples have great character designs with very animated motions and quirky voice acting. The devil narrator has a classic enchanting tone that makes it feel like you are playing a spooky story. Rogue Lord is a great title to pick up as the nights get colder and the dark gets extra scarier this time of year. Rogue Lords was released for Steam and the Epic Store on September 30th, with console releases coming in 2022.

Ruin Raiders (Zach): Combining elements of the Roguelike genre with tactical/turn-based combat, Ruin Raiders comes from Freedom Games and OverPowered Team. You control a squad of three Raiders, who head into the remains of a long-lost civilization in search of lost treasure and cool loot.  The ruins are guarded by various mechanical guardians and you will have to strategically use your squad to get past them.  If you’ve played anything like XCOM or Mario+Rabbids, Ruin Raiders will feel very similar.  You have your different levels of cover from full to half to nothing and you have a certain amount of movement points that you can use each turn.  Your squad can move a certain amount of tiles away and you can also have them dash to go further but that will more than likely use up your movement points for that turn.  You can also get different squad members with different weapons which have different amounts of ammo, power, etc.  As you progress through the ruins, you’ll find equipment and loot that you can equip to add items like grenades and health packs to your squad members and you collect currency to use when your run ends to upgrade the facilities of the Ruin Raiders outside of the ruins to help level up and unlock new squad members, weapons and abilities before starting another run, which is where a lot of the roguelike element comes into play.

The other element of Roguelike gameplay is the fact that each run into the ruins, they are completely different, so you can’t really learn the map or do the exact same thing you did before.  One complaint I have is that ruins themselves are kind of a boring environment and there are lots of times I would enter a room and there would be literally nothing to do in it, no enemies to fight or loot to gather, and it makes it less interesting than other games in the genre.  One nice feature is the ability to teleport back to any room you’ve already visited and that helps when, for example, you find a certain amount of keys and can warp back to the door that unlocks from finding them.  The battles are fairly solid although they are also pretty basic as well, especially if you played something as unique to the genre as Mario+Rabbids, which added a ton of movement options to the combat. Ruin Raiders plays out in a fairly straightforward way each battle with only the different enemy groupings and cover layouts mixing things up.  Ruin Raiders is a solid turn-based tactics game and the roguelike elements give it a somewhat unique gameplay hook but it definitely can’t live up to the big names in the genre, like XCOM. If you do decide to check it out, it’s out now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

Tactical Combat Department (Chris): When crime gets lethal, it’s time to get tactical in Tactical Combat Department. Developed by LukasH and published by Render System, Tactical Combat Department is an isometric tactical turn-based RPG. Influenced by fan-favorite games like XCOM and SWAT, Tactical Combat Department puts you in charge of leading a SWAT team thru various situations. You control the equipment, the tactics, and the actions of the team as they neutralize hostiles and secure civilians.

The gameplay follows a tactical grid-based system, where player movement and task cost action points. Moving long distances of spaces or performing actions like using equipment and using weapons, will use points. Each member of the team has a starting stat of 10 action points, which mostly be used to set up positions and prepare for combat situations. Each member can be equipped with a long-range rifle, a mid-range submachine gun, and a close-quarters shotgun, along with a secondary pistol and grenade. There are five members to control, so you can give them a good mix of weaponry, or for a more focused playstyle (i.e, shotgun squad).

There are a few options to make your weaponry a bit more silent, which reduce attack points and make it less likely to be noticed. But I found the shock and awe approach to be more efficient once the action gets pumping. There is a neat feature of having the SWAT team shout commands to reduce the morale of hostiles and civilians, which can eventually make them surrender. A surrendered person can be placed in cuffs and taken away from combat. This allows some peaceful options instead of burning thru ammo.

I did have a few issues with the game’s presentation. There are some touchy controls that make it easy to accidentally issue the wrong commands. I have hovered over the wrong option to detain a civilian trying to cancel an action, causing injuries and ultimately failing my mission. And sometimes it’s hard to figure out who is a civilian and hostile until it’s too late.

As of late October, Tactical Combat Department showcases a handful of ideas of where the final product will build towards. There are a few missions to play, each with a unique level design with randomly generated placed hostiles and civilians. The different methods to approach situations is fun, such as checking behind doors or busting them down for an early surprise. Hostiles will sometimes camp out, which will make players cautious about running blinding into unchecked areas. If you enjoy ambitious indie titles, Tactical Combat Department might be something to keep an eye out for your interest. Tactical Combat Department was released for Steam Early Access on October 14th.

Nuclear Blaze (Zach): From Deepnight Games developer Sebastien Benard, creator of Dead Cells, Nuclear Blaze is an action-packed 2d platformer where you play as a firefighter who arrives at a blaze with his team but quickly gets cut off and left on his own when he follows the inferno into a mysterious facility that runs on nuclear power and has many secrets hidden within.  As you progress through the game, you have to fight the fires and at certain points, you have to make sure all the fire in the area is extinguished before special red fire doors will open.  You have a number of techniques for using your hose from a straight-ahead spray to an upward spray to get higher points and a shield spray that protects you from fire and can also help get fires lower than you.  There’s lots of action and you’ll have to constantly deal with explosions and backdrafts but you gain various abilities and power-ups as you progress, like armor or a dodge roll, to help you survive the blaze.

The game has an awesome pixel look that definitely feels similar to the style of Dead Cells and you feel the impact of the explosions and backdrafts when they go off and come at you, requiring you to constantly be on your toes.  Your hose controls great as well and you never feel like you aren’t extinguishing exactly the area you want and it works quickly, allowing you to move through the levels at a satisfying pace and the control and speed of your firefighter and hose comes into play when you encounter rooms with specific panels or reactors that have to be extinguished in a certain amount of time.  The game is not a Metroidvania or Roguelike like Dead Cells was and you are progressing through in a linear fashion, although there are secrets to find if you poke around the edges of the map.  The mystery of the facility definitely keeps you interested as well and you want to keep pushing deeper to see what caused the fire and what this facility is hiding.  One unique feature of Nuclear Blaze is the Kids Mode, which Benard designed for his 3-year-old son and it completely changes the way the game plays to make it accessible to very young audiences.  With extremely responsive controls, a unique gameplay style, and an interesting mystery, Nuclear Blaze is definitely a game to check out if you like platformers and fighting fires.  It’s out now on Steam.

Tetris Effect: Connected (Chris): The mind-tingling Tetris Effect has finally arrived on the Nintendo Switch in Tetris Effect: Connected. This contains all the modern mechanics of Tetris and combines them with dazzling visuals and soul-southing music. Tetris Effect: Connected is a ported version of the latest edition of the Effect series, which gave co-op and competitive online and local multiplayer modes on top of the stellar single-player experiences. This new addictive Tetris gameplay, in its sleek and shiny presentation, has been perfectly packed to run on the Switch.

The single-player mode retains the Journey Mode, a series of mini-marathons of challenging levels with different visual and audio experiences. Levels are broken into five branches, each with a different tone that feels either very relaxed or frantic or somewhere in-between. The tempo of the music and the drop speed of the Tetris pieces will match the overall vibe of the level. The main goal is to clear a certain limit of lines for a level and will transit into the next level with any leftover pieces. Clearing lines generates a “Zone” meter that once activated, freezes the grid from moving and allows you to quickly drop pieces into place in hopes of clearing multiple lines. This is a handy mechanic to rack up high scores or a life-saving act to clear some needed space. Bad piece placement and misaligned setups will make it harder to survive. Failing to complete a level, you can restart the current branch or continue with a wiped-out score that will affect your overall grade for the zone.

The game really opens up for the multiple modes where you can either work together in Connected mode or get competitive in either Score Attack, Classic Score Attack, and Zone Battle. Connected pits three players against a “boss” opponent, where you clear pieces and send attack pieces to the boss opponent. As players work together building high chains, the team’s individual grids will temporarily merge into one super grid, which will let you help each out and create giant line clears. Score Attack and Classic Score Attack are a competitive race to achieve the highest score, but Classic Score Attack takes away all the modern Tetris mechanics and also swaps in the classic NES designs. Zone Battle allows the use of the zone mechanics which can be used to quickly build up combos to send attack pieces to the opponent or deal with the garage in your own grid. 

Overall, Tetris Effect Connected on Switch is an excellent title to play. The local multiple makes it easy to get into the head-to-head matches, and there is cross-play support to take on the world with a large community. Switch players can take on PC, Xbox, and PS players in all multiple modes. It does lack the original VR feature that makes the presentation more immersive, but the gameplay solid and the ease of a portable Tetris Effect makes it a must-buy for Tetris fans. Tetris Effect: Connected was released on Switch on October 08, 2021.

Despot’s Game (Zach): We played some other tactical games this month but Despot’s Game from Konfa Games and tinyBuild is definitely unique as you don’t directly control your little army of puny humans.  Dropped into a deadly dungeon full of bizarre and deadly enemies, you have a squad of humans that you can equip with a huge variety of traditional and more wacky weapons to battle your way through a roguelike map that changes after each run.  You start out with a squad of 4 humans and you head into the dungeon.  When you get into a room with enemies, your main job is to set up your squad in a tactical way and then start the fight.  Once the fight starts, you have no control over your squad and you just have to enjoy watching the chaos unfold.  After each battle, you usually will be able to buy more squad members and weapons and you can mix and match and get a team full of wacky characters from guys with swords, guns, and shields to magical mages, mad scientists, knock-off Sailor Moons, football players, pretzel chefs and more.  Each weapon has a number of unique stats and part of the strategy is definitely seeing what’s available and what will help your squad progress.  You also have to worry about food and if you get too low, you can sacrifice some of your humans to keep the others going, because with no food their strength and health is much lower.  One great aspect of Despot’s Game is that when a squad member dies, you get their item/weapon back into your inventory, so you don’t have to worry about losing a specific weapon you bought as you can just throw it onto a new squad member and keep going. There’s also an interesting system where each weapon fits a certain category and if you get enough of a certain type of fighter in that category, that category will upgrade, so it really helps to make you choose a variety of weapon types and classes for your squad.

The more your progress and the more squad members you get, the crazier and moreover the top the battles get and it’s super fun to try different weapon combos and strategic lineups to see how they work against the various enemies, who also all look super great and have a ton of variety.  In typical Roguelike fashion, along with rooms full of enemies, you’ll also sometimes encounter rooms with upgrades available to purchase or random events that offer you up a choice of how you want to proceed, the results of which can give you a boost or drastically hinder you.  There are also characters that you encounter that might want you to retrieve something and bring it back to them or complete some other mission to get a reward and the game has a great wacky sense of humor with references to pop culture, like an evil scientist asking you to retrieve a sample of the T-Virus.  After a run ends, you’ll unlock a bunch of abilities that will be available in your next run and you can choose a new opening squad and head back into the dungeon.  The look of the game is great with very detailed pixel art and great little touches for each specific class of your warriors and it’s definitely a game that you’ll find yourself playing for “just one more turn” much longer than you were probably expecting to.  If you’re into strategy and Roguelikes, Despot’s Game is a great and unique spin on both genres and it’s out now on Steam.

GodStrike (Chris): When the peaceful lands fall into darkness, a magical mask will seek out a vessel to embody its power onto its bearer to become the last guardian against the forces of evil. Developed by OverPowered Team and published by Freedom Games, Godstrike is a twin-stick shooter, boss rush, bullet hell title that puts the player into the role of Talaal and her bearer, as they fight to free their world from Talaal’s siblings. The game doesn’t use a traditional health system but uses time as a gauge for damage, special abilities, and battle efficiency. There is a time limit for each battle and taking hits or using certain abilities will deduct the time remaining. This really pushes the player to be as fast as possible, without making too many costly mistakes and actions.

Behind the bright and casual appearances of Godstrike, the game doesn’t hold back to be a challenge. The tutorial starts out at a slow pace to introduce the shooting and dodging mechanics, with a short stop to give you an idea of how special abilities will work. Then it drops you into the first boss first which will be surprisingly difficult, and a big leap for first-time visitors to the pits of bullet hell. Each boss fight has multiple forms that change attack patterns, each time spreading the fight to be all over the place. Luckily, dealing enough damage to the boss will drop energy orbs to refill special abilities and give you a slight aid when you need it the most.

Godstrike is definitely meant for the more devoted fans of the genre. The learning curve will make casual gamers feel frustrated with the first few levels, it’s a bold choice to give the tutorial boss such a difficulty curve to test the player so soon. But patient players that enjoy the experience of adapting and overcoming will enjoy Godstrike gameplay. Talaal attacks always seem to slowly chip away at the bosses but her attacks never get overpowered to break the balance of the game. If you are up for a little pain with your pleasure, check out Godstrike today. Godstrike is now available on Playstation, Xbox, Switch, and PC.

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