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Gamebox 2.0: Games of January 2022

It’s a new year and we have new games to check out for this month’s Gamebox 2.0. We got classic Resident Evil vibes in a compact form in Heaven Dust 2, hack and slashed with a high-tech mech suit in Blackwind, fought aliens and undead in Mushroom Wars 2, used camera powers to solved puzzles in Filmechanism, and more. Check out our reviews and thoughts below.

Heaven Dust II (Zach): Coming from Indienova and One Gruel Studio, a two-man development team, Heaven Dust II pays homage to classic Resident Evil and other survival horror games as you find yourself in a research facility overrun by zombies and other horrible creatures.  You gather weapons and supplies and solve environmental puzzles to progress and the puzzles are very RE in that you are doing things like finding pieces of statues to open new doorways or finding fuel to power a generator to open a door.  There are quite a few really clever puzzles, like having to count the spurts of a fountain to get a key and there’s tons of exploration on the increasingly large map.  It seems like you’re always progressing or finding some new hidden area and the game does a good job of keeping what your main objective is as you explore.

Combat is simple but effective as you can target the zombies and then, if you wait for a second or two, the targeting reticle will move up their head so you can try to take them down quicker with headshots.  The game throws some curves at you with enemies that have an armored head or body, forcing you to really target a specific area.  The enemies can also really overwhelm you at times and you get some good nerve-wracking moments as you try to escape from a group of zombies while trying to reload your weapon or, worse, facing a group and running out of ammo completely.  There are some good jump scares as you enter rooms and you don’t really know what is inside until you pass through the door frame.  In true RE fashion, you can pick up gunpowder and bullet casings to create your own ammo and you can combine gunpowder types to make new types of ammo.  There are also the classic herbs that you can combine and use to heal along with less frequent but more powerful painkiller kits.  The game has a great look, especially the environment, and is packed with details and it does a great job of hinting and showing areas that you can’t reach at the current time but makes you want to figure out how to get there later.  The only main nitpick I would have is that the isometric view sometimes hides doors that you can enter, so you may not know there’s a room you need to go into and that the movement of your character feels a bit sluggish, even when sprinting, and turning and targeting feels slow at times.  Neither of these issues is enough to not recommend Heaven Dust II, especially if you’re looking for an even more old-school survival horror experience than the recent remakes of RE2 and RE3Heaven Dust II is out on Switch and Steam now.

(Chris): Awaking in a laboratory and surrounded by the undead, a zombie fighting survivor must find an escape before it’s too late. Heaven Dust II is an isometric survivor horror title developed by One Gruel Studio and published by Indienova. This Resident Evil/Biohazard-inspired title has brought over the tense mechanics of resource management and brain-teasing puzzles into a pocket-size experience. But don’t let the cute graphics of Heaven Dust 2 fool you, the mutated and undead will overwhelm you if you are not prepared. Players follow Steven, the original survivor of Heaven Dust, who finds himself in another zombie-infested situation. After his experience from the first game, Steven is wiser and more deadly than ever. Arming himself with powerful weaponry and his wits, Steven sets off to find an escape from a ruined city.

The gameplay of Heaven Dust II puts Steven on a series of fetch quests where he will be searching around for key items. He will encounter a horde of enemies along the way, which can be dealt with at the cost of supplies. Like Resident Evil, resource and inventory management is key to keeping a healthy amount of ammo ready for tough encounters. Enemies are targeted at their strongest points and will gradually focus on vulnerable spots. This might be fine with three or fewer enemies slowly moving towards you, but this can be chaotic with more.  If you are not careful to check all possible places enemies can move from, it is possible to get encircled quickly. Items have an easy-to-find spot glow and will take up a slot in the inventory. They are also conveniently marked on the in-game map if you can’t pick it up at the time. Items can be stored at safe points and are linked to other locations, so you don’t have to do major backtracking.

Heaven Dust II strikes a great balance with the restrictive isometric views and the intense gun battles. You can’t storm into fights and pick off shambling enemies, eliminating the horror aspects of the game. It takes a few adjustments to approach tight corners and darken rooms to figure out if that area is safe, which worked fine for my experience. I always prefer my survivor horror games to make me uneasy about venturing into the unknown, unaware of what I would face around the corner. While the plot is a generic mad science gone wrong story, the levels and notes found in the game really build up the world. The design worked great to entice more exploration and take my time to explore the areas. Heaven Dust II works really well for gamers that enjoyed classic survival horror and are interested in seeing how One Gruel Studio did their own take of it. Heaven Dust II arrived on Switch on January 5 and is also available on Steam.

Filmechanism (Zach): Coming from Chemical Pudding and Phoenixx Inc.  Filmechanism is an extremely clever new puzzle game with a deceptively simple mechanic.  You play a character named Rec, who is an anthropomorphic camera character who has lost his precious golden film canister.  You progress through the different worlds in search of the golden film and in each stage, you can collect other canisters of film that will give you one “snapshot”, which saves the state of different objects in the stage.  At any time, you can restore the world to that snapshot, which puts anything that may have moved back to the position it was in when the snapshot was taken.  So, for instance, if you take a snapshot of a block and then move the block when you restore the world, that block will move back to where it was before you pushed it.  You’ll use this mechanic to move platforms into position to make jumps, move obstacles out of the way, press switches, and more.  The game adds additional snapshots via different colored film canisters and you have to keep track of when and what you took each snapshot of.

The game makes you think about where everything is at the start and the key is figuring out the correct moment you want to take the snapshot.  Too early or too late and you’ll restore things to an unwinnable screen.  Luckily, the levels are fast and furious and there’s an instantaneous reset button if you get stuck.  Each world you play through has a set level of normal stages that you must complete to progress but you can take on Hard and Hell difficulty levels if you want in each world as well.  The game has a simple but colorful old-school style to it and catchy music to help drive your puzzle solving.  It’s one of those games where you may sit down to just play a few stages but you’ll find yourself pushing for “just one more” and play for much longer than anticipated.  The game is out now on Steam and Switch.

Deluded (Chris): A mysterious hit and run case leads a detective on a trail of twists and turns in Deluded. Developed by indie studio New Idea Games, Deluded is a crime-solving FMV title that puts you in the role of the unnamed lead detective. The detective’s new assignment brings him to a murdered victim of a hit-and-run crime scene. Along with his partner Susan, the detective must gather evidence and interview suspects to unravel the mystery of the crime. However, the detective has a mystery of his own that may come back to haunt him.

The gameplay is a mix of interactive movie-watching with point and clicks experiences, plus minor quick-time events. New Idea Games tried to go for a storytelling experience, rather than a usual point-and-click experience. Events of the story are played out while interjecting short interactive selections. Most parts are to choose dialogue options, and a handful of times is to point out interesting items. The main objective is to collect evidence through the events, hopefully gathering enough to figure out the killer. The game does favor more of the movie watching than the playing. And when you do interactive, it can feel a little unbalanced. Gathering evidence feels like a timed event, with a limited number of choices to make before a scene will play out. There isn’t a prompt or indicator, so you’ll guess when you lose out on finding clues.

While the actors and story try their best to emulate a generic American crime drama, the experience feels rough from the awkward dialogue and camera cuts. It does not get to a 3DO FMV level of cheesy, but it gets close at times. The game has a frantic pace for a detective genre. The plot tries to jam in so much by the second act that raises many questions and provides barely the minimum to answer them. It is hard to recommend this title to FMV fans since the story doesn’t get super silly to be funny and the interactive isn’t in-depth for an action fan. But for gamers looking to give want more experimental titles a chance, then give Deluded a look. Deluded was released December 6, 2021, for Steam.

Blackwind (Zach): Most hack and slash-style games have a fantasy theme but Blackwind from Blowfish Studios and Drakkar Dev put you in a highly advanced mech battle suit for a sci-fi battle against aliens.  You play as James Hawkins, who has been placed into an experimental “battle frame” by his scientist father when their starship is shot down by hostile aliens.  James has to make his through the research facilities and the planet’s hostile surface world to try and find his father and anyone else who may have survived.  The game plays from a top-down perspective and your battle frame has both melee and shooting attacks that you can mix and match between.  As you progress and level up, you can gain special abilities and increase the damage and speed of your regular attacks.  The game kind of feels a bit like a Diablo-style game and it even has “dungeons” where you have to find keys, power on generators, and other environmental puzzles to progress.  I’ve seen lots of complaints about the camera but it didn’t seem too bad for me playing on my PS4 Pro on a TV and the game looks pretty great especially the dust and lighting effects.  The voice acting and story are a little rough and it’s somewhat generic and uninteresting, so the gameplay is the main draw with the combat being mindless but fun, and the attacks, especially the melee, feel pretty great with a solid sense of chunky impact.

You’ll face a variety of organic alien enemies and mechanical enemies like turrets and you can execute the alien enemies if you get their health down to a certain point.  There are also some massive bosses to battle.  Along with combat, there are some platforming sections, which is where the camera may cause the most issues as you may not be able to see where to go next and there was a point where I got stuck for a bit because I didn’t realize I could jump up on a certain piece of terrain.  It’s a bit simplistic compared to other top-down action/adventure games but the setting and fun combat make Blackwind worth checking out.  There’s a demo on Steam if you want to check it out there but it’s also out on pretty much everything else including Xbox Series X and One, PS4/PS5, GOG, Switch, and on Mac via the App Store.

Mushroom Wars 2 (Chris): Pint-size tribes battle to control the forest in Zillion Whales Mushroom Wars 2. Initially released in 2016, the causal real-time strategy title has arrived on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. The original Mushroom Wars simplified RTS mechanics for anyone to pick up and play. Battles are fought with opposing forces generating soldiers to invade and occupy territory. Fighting enemies is focused on overwhelming structures instead of directly attacking targets.  The proficiency to winning fights is carefully timing which structures to take and outmaneuver the enemy.  This sequel expanses on the uncomplicated mechanics while introducing challenging new features. There are hero units with extra skills that can turn the tide of battle, new structures that can be upgraded to change resource management, and new modes to play.

The single-player campaign in Mushroom Wars 2 follows the story of each of the four tribes: Shrooms, Grims, Proteus, and Shii’Moris. Each tribe has hero characters that have special abilities that can be used after powering them up in battle. When enemies soldiers are defeated, their souls will charge up a meter that will unlock one of four hero abilities. These abilities give a boost to stronger defensives or powerful attacks. Units and buildings are upgradable by converting certain buildings that increase multipliers. Villages generate more units, forges increase a unit’s stats, and towers that auto-attack enemies within their radius. Maintaining a good number of units and buildings will increase morale, which affects the overall performance of the army. High morale will give units a boost in stats and the marching speed of units. This places an important factor when you want to rush a certain location to quickly overwhelm the opposition. However, miscalculation of the number of units to take over a structure can result in more losses than morale can handle.

Mushroom Wars 2 has a great formula of easy-to-under mechanics with challenging mastery.  The campaign does a great job of introducing the different heroes and their skills. After a few play thoughts, you can find which character types you prefer and how to find advantages in battle with them. Early levels start small and quick, but later levels require more skill to generate units and build to withstand more aggressive attacks. The co-op modes allow two teams of two to battle it out. This adds a fun element of mixing heroes to play up the strengths in a fight. Mushroom Wars 2 is a great title for newcomers to get a taste of RTS without pouring hours into learning the basics and is a great competitive title to play with friends. Mushroom Wars 2 is now available for PC, mobile stores, Xbox One, Switch, and PS4.

RPG Dice: Heroes of Whitestone (Zach): Coming from Wimo Games, RPG Dice: Heroes of Whitestone brings a mix of tabletop gaming and turn-based RPGs to your mobile device.  Available on Android and iOS, RPG Dice finds you assembling a team of heroes to fend off an army of Orcs and other nasty creatures who are threatening the peaceful realm of Whitestone.  Probably the most unique feature of the game is the board game/dice rolling element.  Each level has a unique board and you roll dice to progress and try to land on objectives.  You are trying to land on certain spots but other spots you land could hold treasure, resources, or a battle.  You can also get cards that can help you move to specific spots instead of rolling.  It might be a bit frustrating to some players if they aren’t immediately landing on the objective spaces but it does make the game more unique and interesting than just mindlessly progressing from battle to battle.  The battles take place in a classic turn-based RPG style and you can bring up to five heroes into battle, three on the front line and two in the back.  There’s quite a bit to keep in mind for battles including what enemies are on the opposing side and which heroes will best match up against them in the game’s rock paper scissors style of character traits.  There’s also a ton to do with your characters, including leveling them up, equipping gear, and adding dice that you collect to their skills.  Every time you select an action on your turn, there’s an attack dice that rolls and, depending on the dice you attached to that skill, you can get special attributes like poisoning your enemy or healing your characters.

The game has a fun art style that calls to mind stuff like Fortnite or Skylanders and there’s a wide variety of cool and interesting heroes to collect.  There are also fun references to fantasy classics like Lord of the Rings and there’s just a general lightness and humor to the story and characters.  One thing that might turn off certain players is that there is a lot of mobile free to play trapping here, like special “hero packs” you can buy and lots of different currencies that you can pay real money to get more of and it also has the daily, weekly and monthly goals that the game wants you to try and complete by logging in every day along with special limited events.  It’s not too intrusive and you can play and progress at a good pace without the need or feeling that you need to pay to keep playing or to progress.  You get plenty of scrolls that will summon a random hero and you can level up your favorites quite a bit before you run low on the gold currency need to level them up.  Outside the dice and board game elements, it’s similar to games like Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes or Marvel Strike Force, so if you weren’t a fan of those games, you probably won’t be into RPG Dice either.  It seems like a solid and fun free-to-play mobile game where you can mostly ignore the pay elements if you wish.

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