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Gamebox 2.0: Games of January 2023

2023 is here and we’ve started things off right with a few titles to pick up or to keep an eye out for when they get a full release later in the year. We tried a remake of the adventure game classic Colossal Cave, served up some fast food and crime in Definitely Not Fried Chicken, rocked out in the roguelike Power Chord, and more for our collection of reviews in the Gamebox.

Power Chord (Zach): Coming from Big Blue Bubble, Power Chord has arrived to for a rocking card-battling fight. We tried the demo at last year’s Pax East and got to play the full game and it’s even more metal and awesome than we thought it would be. A deckbuilding roguelike, Power Chord is set in a heavy metal world where rock n roll warriors battle demons.  When the demons reemerge in increasingly great numbers, a band of warriors needs to set out on an epic road trip to battle the hordes and reach the tower where a powerful sorcerer is the only thing keeping the full power of the demonic hordes at bay.

Each member of your team is based on a member of a rock band with a drummer, guitarist, bassist, and lead singer.  Each role is assigned a certain RPG role like DPS or healer and each character has cards unique to them.  Each turn, you draw cards and you have a certain amount of energy to spend on cards.  The cards can allow you to do things like attack enemies or buff/heal your bandmates and there’s a great synergy between many of them where you can buff a character with one character’s card and then use another card that is now boosted to attack or defend.  You can really build up some killer combos if you play strategically and there are plenty of options every turn for what actions you can take.

Adding to the strategy and decision-making is the fact that you can see the amount of damage that each of your bandmates is going to take after your turn.  You can then decide if you want to try and minimize the damage or let them take it and spend your actions on other cards.  Some characters can take the damage but others may not be able to handle too many turns without being buffed or defended.  The demons you fight come in a variety of styles. Each one requires a different tactic to take down, like targetting a specific demon first so he can’t cast any spells or buffs on the others.  After each battle, you decide your next step on a map and there are branching paths that can lead you to rewards and rest stops where you can heal or resurrect fallen enemies but could also have harder battles.

Since the game is a roguelike, you’ll go as far as you can in a run and, if you die, you’ll start over but you’ll gain experience and level up so that you can try and make it further next run.  The game has a great art style that evokes heavy metal albums but also stuff like Borderlands and, obviously, since the game is based on heavy metal, the music is also rocking and keeps the battles and blood pumping.  Power Chord is an awesome roguelike and worth checking out for fans of that genre and also deckbuilding card games like Slay the Spire or Monster Train.  Power Chord is out now on Steam.

Sonority (Chris): To help restore the health of her friend, one virtuoso adventurer sets off to find a mystical melody in Sonority. Developed by Hanging Gardens Interactive and published by Application Systems Heidelberg, Sonority is a casual puzzler title that incorporates musical sounds to solve situations. The game follows Esther, a young woman with a special ability to talk to animals and that has traveled to a remote region to find a healing melody to cure Batama, her bear friend. Esther finds the region mostly abandon and locked by ancient magic. She comes across a raccoon, a grumpy but helpful guide that directs Esther to explore and find the melody hidden in the area.

Sonority features a clever mechanic to set and arrange musical notes to complete obstacle puzzles. The game can display actual music scale notations (C, D, E, etc) or uses numbers to simplify visual cues. Located at blocked passages are magical sound portals that can listen and play back a musical note. Each note affects a change in the puzzle, such as raising a pillar to a certain level or rotating a set of stairs. The puzzles involve placing certain notes in the correct order and composing a small melody that correctly unlocks the blockage.

Early levels have Esther playing a pan flute and learning a handful of notes that show off what combinations turn or raise platforms. Later on, Esther will be equipped with more instruments and will have some puzzles with prefixed notes or portals that need manually moved. Some of these melodies will be many notes long that will take some trial and error to figure out. Scattered in every section are magical symbols that can be collected and used to unlock the lore of the region. Every section can be revisited and also shows how many symbols are left to be found.

While the causal and whimsical mechanics of Sonority is a great addition to the Switch, the game has a few optimization issues that sometimes gives the presentation a delay. Esther’s physics box can be off a bit, leading Esther to hover over platforms before it can be corrected. Or background animations can be slowed down and sped up. This doesn’t occur too often, but it does break the emergence of the gameplay. Sonority is a focused game that shows off its mechanics well and doesn’t drag out too long. Players that have a good sense of tone and scales can quickly adapt to the sounds, but the game is very approachable for players that have not taken music lessons. The puzzles are fun and increase in increments at a good pace. It feels rewarding to listen, experiment, and play the notes to figure out the right melody. Sonority is a soothing game that offers musical teasing challenges that anyone can drop in and enjoy. Sonority was released to the Switch on December 22nd and is also available on PC.

Colossal Cave (Zach): With legendary designer Roberta Williams reimagining it, Colossal Cave is back as a massive 3D adventure for PC, console, and VR.  Originally released in the mid-70s as a text adventure game on PC (designed by Will Crowther and Don Woods) as Colossal Cave Adventure, the game saw you spelunking into the depths of the Colossal Cave, looking for lost treasure, solving puzzles, and avoiding dangerous traps and enemies.  The new version retains the premise but fully fleshes out the cave into a huge 3D world where multiple paths lead out of each room and cavern and you can get lost for hours trying to explore all the various nooks and crannies.  It seems like you can keep going and going without running into a dead end or being forced to turn around, but you will need to find certain items to progress into different areas of the cave that are sealed behind puzzles or are being blocked by enemies.  Your main goal is to find as many treasures as you can and get them back to the surface in one piece, scoring points for finding them and more points if you successfully get them out of the cave.  In classic PC adventure game fashion, there is a maximum number of points that you can get in a run if you manage to find and complete everything.

Another really fun throwback to classic adventure games is the game’s narrator.  The original game was a text adventure, so it described each room with lots of descriptive text because there weren’t any graphics to display and show what the various caverns of the cave looked like.  The narrator uses the classic descriptive text but you hear it now when you enter new rooms or when you click on objects.  It really gives you that old-school adventure game look even though you are now in a fully 3D world.  Some modern quality-of-life improvements include the ability to have the game automatically create a map for you as you go, although you can go old-school and turn that off if you want to bust out the pencils and graph paper.  There are also multiple control methods, at least on PC, including mouse only and mouse and keyboard.

In a change from a lot of the roguelikes that are out there, Colossal Cave is the same every time, even if you die or quit a run, so you will know where everything is and what you need to do each time you start the adventure and your inventory will be retained if you die and have to resurrect.  Colossal Cave is a great reimagining of an important and beloved PC classic and it has seemingly hours of exploration available as you can plunge deep into the cave and you’ll never know what’s around the next corner or through the next tunnel.  The game is out now on PC, PS4/5, Xbox Series S/X, Switch, and Meta Quest 2.

Troublemaker: Rise your Gang – Demo Edition (Chris): Attending high school is a tough period for a young person to handle, but with the right friends and a killer knockout punch, it might be the most important place to find your footing in the world. Gamecon Team and Freedom Games have released a demo for their upcoming title Troublemaker: Raise Your Gang, a 3D action-adventure brawler. Troublemaker is set in Indonesia and puts you in the role of Budi, a high school student with a talent for fighting and getting into trouble. With a final warning about his behavior by the police and a promise to his mother, Budi has one chance left to make something of himself at the Cipta Wiyata Vocational High school. However, the high school has one brutal policy about helping its students fund their education. Each class must compete in a grand tournament to receive finical support. Students will bully, mug, and beat up each other, letting the strong pick on the weak. Now Budi must tackle school work and school problems as he has to take part in forming a gang to survive.

The demo of Troublemaker offers a brief playable prologue chapter of the game and a free-roam selection to try out some of the mini-games. The prologue gives an introduction to Budi and his situation and introduces the outlandish Cipta Wiyata and its students. The characters are ripped straight from anime and Asian teen dramas, with interesting nods to other video games. The prologue chapter gives a small preview of the seriousness of the plot but has the potential to ramp up the wacky levels.

Budi is a young brawler and showcases a few of his martial arts abilities in the first opening act. There are light and heavy attacks that have different speeds and ranges. Light attacks can interrupt opponents if they land and heavy attacks create more distance in the fight. There is a button that can be a parry if tapped or a block if held that is useful to quickly counter an attack or withstand a heavy blow. There is an attack strength meter that drains when the Budi repeatedly attacks and recovers when Budi takes a small break. The combat is designed to avoid being heavy on the button mashing, but the game has no targeting system to accurately line up an opponent, so you’ll toss out some attacks in hopes they connect in time. However, the special attacks and finisher move let Budi unleash fast and crazy moves. Once Budi builds up a large enough combo, Budi can show off a special that lets him throw a chair or wield giant gear like a bat. When an opponent has a little health left, Budi can perform a finisher that sends the opponent crashing to the floor. These moves are flashy and fun and feel a bit rewarding to earn.

Troublemaker is an ambitious title that will try to showcase a vivid pocket size open world with a lot of combat, mini-games, and drama. The latest demo gives a good stance on what the creators are aiming to make but still has plenty of areas to polish up. The realistic style 3D environment looks very basic and gets the job done, but some of the assets feel like a generation or two behind. The camera movement can be an issue in combat, hiding opponents a little off-screen or hovering a little too close to Budi’s back. Troublemaker has a promising future to be an indie hit for gamers that enjoy games like Sega’s Yakuza, but only time and updates will tell if that’s possible. Troublemaker: Raise Your Gang the demo is out now for PC for Steam and Epic Games.

Chasing Static (Zach): Featuring throwback, PS1 style graphics, Chasing Static is a new horror game from Headware Games and Ratalaika Games S.L.  Set in rural Wales, you play as Chris, who returned to his small hometown to bury his father.  On his way home, Chris is in a car accident and finds himself caught in a nightmarish scenario where a government experiment has gone wrong.  The villagers of the nearby village of Hearth have disappeared and the researchers on the project are being killed or are going insane by an entity that was being held in check by three “repeater devices” that are deactivated. Chris is the only one left who can reactivate the repeaters and get the containment field back up and running.  To aid him, Chris finds a device called the Frequency Displacement Monitoring Device that lets him follow static anomaly signals, which when traced properly will allow him to see glimpses of past events and piece together what happened.

The game is played from the first-person perspective and it feels a bit like Resident Evil, as you need to find certain items that will unlock more of the environment and help solve environmental puzzles.  Some items only appear if you manage to track down one of the past glimmers, so your scanning device is an incredibly important tool.  It’s usually a good idea in each new area to try and track down all the glimmers you can find, which will usually lead you in the starting direction of whatever you need to do to progress.  Along with the old-school graphics, the game plays and feels old-school as well, with not a lot in the way of hand-holding or guidance.  After the opening section, you pretty much have free reign to explore the pretty massive world and it’s up to you to figure out where to go first and what you will need to collect to proceed.  The key items are spread out pretty far and you will need to do some backtracking but the game has a feature where you can use bizarre phones to teleport between different locations, which helps cut down any frustration that might occur.  The voice acting is pretty great throughout and the game builds a creepy atmosphere as you find out more about what is going on. The old-school graphics do a good job of adding to the creepy factor and should appeal to fans of PS1-era horror like the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Chasing Static is out now on PC, PS4/5, Switch, and Xbox Series S/X.

Definity Not Fried Chicken – Early Access Edition (Chris): Welcome to Paradise City, a thriving community with eager consumers and plenty of shopping options. But underneath the facade of the flourishing populous, hides an underworld network of business fronts that need micromanagement to keep the cash flowing. Step into the role of a criminal entrepreneur in Definitely Not Fried Chicken, a business management sim developed by Dope Games and published by Merge Games. In this title, you’ll be in charge of setting up your own businesses to run restaurants, service, and retail shops, while covertly trading in illicit products. Management of a good business is never easy, and watching over an illegal one is going to be tough. It’ll take some smart planning and some risky tactics to make your own stake in Paradise City. 

In this early access build, the game starts off with a tutorial on running and managing a fast-food, fried chicken restaurant. Guided by a knock-off of a certain militant chicken spokesman, you’ll learn the basics of purchasing, placing, and planning a business. But just as quickly as that is done, you are dropped into a desperate situation to start your own underground empire with a side of revenge. The game will give you the land and some funding to start a cannabis farm, where you’ll have to hire workers to tend to the plants, fix up the workspace, and ship out the products to the customers. It’ll be tempting to buy up the resources and some extra stuff to get the production on its way, however, you’ll encounter rivals and business slowdowns that will redirect your funding.  This is where the profits and budgeting come in. For better equipment and services, where you’ll have to trade illegal goods to other businesses that’ll eat into daily profits but will greatly benefit over time. Occasionally, you’ll get a VIP order that has a larger payout but has a requirement like a time limit or a higher quality product. These clients will have you focus your resources to quickly meet those needs for the larger payout, but you’ll be a little vulnerable if you are not prepared. If requirements are not fully met, you don’t get a reward, even if you sent partial shipments. In the beginning phase of the game, it’s really vital to think if you can complete the order. Later on, you’ll have the chance to make other stores secretly sell your products for customers to direct purchases.

But making money is just one part of the criminal business, the other part is preventing others from stopping you from making more. As your empire grows, rivals will send out their goons to mess up your business and kill your workers. Attackers don’t play nice and they send a mean message for being the new fish in the big pond of Paradise City. Having multiple businesses seems like a good idea, but if you don’t have the resources to fully protect two or more at a time will leave you open for assaults. There is where trading comes into play and where you can make good use of your workforce as you scale up your businesses. Equipping security guards with good items and securing work areas helps to reduce the chances of a complete massacre.

While this build doesn’t fully give you all the options and creative freedoms to design your enterprises. As of January 25, there are some issues with glitchy AI and random items being dropped and frozen in place that will be distracting.  There is a lack of auto-save and save slots, so you’ll have to be careful of testing or experimenting with risky choices and trying to reload back to a previous period. However, the game has hours of gameplay to let you sink time for managing employee tasks and schedules, acquiring business licenses, and fueling the underworld economy. The pacing gives the player enough time to get comfortable with the different research trees and management systems to juggle between the legal and illegal money-making schemes. The voxel visuals are a fun choice to showcase the animated and violent humor of the game. This title is great for simulation fans that enjoy the frustrating but rewarding administration work and should be something to check out this month. Definitely Not Fried Chicken is on early access starting January 18th.

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