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Gamebox 2.0: Games of May 2023

For the latest Gamebox 2.0, we got to guide people to the light in Humanity, explored a zombie-infested hotel in Propagation: Paradise Hotel, farmed in prehistoric times in Roots of Pacha, and more.  Check out everything we played this month below.

Humanity (Zach): In what will probably be a contender for the most unique game of the year, Humanity, from tha ltd. and Enhance, is a new PlayStation puzzle game that tasks you to take control of a god-like Shiba Inu and guide a swarm of people to the light, whatever that might mean.  Humanity gives you control of your dog avatar and you need to figure out how to use your various powers to guide enough people to the end goal (or eventually multiple goals) and clear the stage.  You can place icons that will force the humans to do actions like turn or jump and you need to experiment and see how each power affects their path and fine-tune it so the swarm of people reach the goal.  You also have to collect the Goldys, tall golden humans who will give you a bonus at the end of each stage and allow you to unlock upgrades and progress through the game.  You can eventually figure out how to get the Goldys on each stage but I do wish that progression through the game wasn’t directly tied to them and they were more of a bonus.  Losing a Goldy means you should pretty much just restart the stage.  You can progress through the stages in each chapter by just completing the goals but you can progress to other chapters without getting a certain amount of Goldys.

The one welcome feature is that you never have to worry about losing humans off cliffs, as they just respawn and start again at their entrance door in each stage.  This lets you get to experiment, placing icons for your powers and seeing how it affects the swarm for a bit and then either continuing to set up their path or trying something different.  You have a wide variety of powers and each stage gives you certain abilities you can use and you unlock new powers as you progress, including ones like being able to dive into the swarm and quickly get to different parts of the levels.  There are a wide variety of environmental hazards and setups to deal with, like massive gaps or climbable walls, and each stage makes you think differently to try and figure out the optimal path for your humans.  The graphic style is stark but effective and the sheer number of characters on screen is incredibly impressive.  We didn’t get the chance to play it in VR but I can only imagine how even more impressive that must be.  Humanity reminds me a lot of Lemmings or, to reference another Sony game, the new Clank puzzles from Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart where a stream of Clanks flow through a stage and you need to use powers to get them to a certain point.  It also feels like a throwback to PS1-era classics like Intelligent Qube which also had a very distinctive and unique visual style.  If you have access to the PS Plus Game Catalog, Humanity is available to check out there but even if you don’t have PS Plus, if you enjoy puzzle games, Humanity is a unique and interesting experience that is worth checking out.

(Chris): When humans need a guide to reach a new level of understanding, a clever Shiba Inu is tasked with directing the wandering masses in Humanity. Developed by tha ltd. and Enhance, Humanity is a third-person puzzle platform that blends hypnotic visuals with cerebral challenges. The player takes up the role of an unnamed Shiba In, who has been chosen to be a sort of manager for humans to follow. This Shiba Inu is tasked with helping humans with ascending into the next realm, uniting them in a new plane of existence. However, humans need directions to find their way. It’s up to the player to make sure that the flow of humanity doesn’t spill out.

Created by visual designer Yugo Nakamura, this title has minimalistic polygonal graphics that makes it relaxing to see and play. The gameplay focuses on casual puzzle mechanics that offer a lot of brain tenses to experiment and explore different solutions. The game is something like Pipe Dream and Lemmings, where a flow of moving people will endlessly go in one direction without instructions. The player has to issue different commands such as turning and jumping. The basic commands are simple to understand and the game does a great job showing you how to approach levels with a degree of freedom. There isn’t one master solution for every puzzle but you find ways to quickly utilize patterns.  Later on, some commands will have the humans follow the player and battle NPCs which are important in the surprising boss battle levels that add a nice action element to the pacing. There is an optional objective in almost every level to collect and lead golden humanoids called Goldys, which will give you bonuses if you collect enough of them. This adds a new challenge of figuring out the safe pathways to collect Goldys in one shot.

With over 90 levels to play and master in the story mode alone, there is a fun challenging, and rewarding gameplay to check out. But there are endless more levels to play in user generate levels that other gamers can create and release online for others to try. There is a ranking for level designs and how many people enjoyed levels like Mario Maker. As a visual bonus, this title can be played in VR to get really close to the challenge and take in all the surreal surroundings as you play. Overall, Humanity is a quirky puzzle title that throws relaxing imagery while testing your reasoning skills. Its casual, slow pace approach keeps the game from feeling overwhelming if you are stuck on a level. The game would be totally brutal if you were punished for every human that dived off a cliff. If you like charming titles like Katamari Damacy, this is the perfect companion game to throw up and enjoy. Humanity was released on May 15th and is available for PC and PS4/5.

Propagation: Paradise Hotel (Zach): Out now on Steam VR and Meta Quest 2, Propagation: Paradise Hotel is an excellent new VR horror game that will provide all the creepy scares you can handle in a headset.  Coming from WanadevStudio, who previously developed the Viking rhythm game Ragnarock, You play as Emily Diaz, a bartender at the massive Paradise Hotel.  A mysterious disease has infected most of the world, turning everyone into bloodthirsty zombies.  Emily and security guard Owen holed up in the Paradise’s kitchen, thinking they were the only survivors left until they hear a radio transmission from Emily’s twin sister Ashley, who is alive somewhere in the hotel.  Emily is determined to brave the dark, zombie-infested hallways and rooms of the Paradise to find Ashley and get out.  You play from the first-person perspective with full control of Emily’s hands and you move freely with your handset’s joystick.  The game has Resident Evil vibes, from the older and distinctive architecture of the Paradise Hotel to the tools and items you collect to solve puzzles and progress deeper and higher into the hotel.  There’s an excellent map available that will show you where you are and where you need to get to, with the only downside being that it’s pretty massive when it’s open, blocking most of your view.  You have a gun and a flashlight, and you need to collect ammo and batteries for each one respectively and, being VR, you need to perform more actions when reloading your gun than in a typical game, like ejecting the clip, slapping in a new one and racking the slide.  This adds realism and also tension to the game, as you’ll have to quickly reload when facing the zombies of the hotel.

The zombies look fantastic and appropriately gruesome and they are extremely horrifying when they pop up right in your face.  A lot of them are laying dormant and you have to carefully make your way around them and be aware that fighting one may draw more to your location.  There are plenty of unique zombies as well, including a pair of giant wrestlers who were guests of the hotel and the hotel’s former director.  The game has a similar vibe dialogue and plot-wise to Resident Evil, with Emily making constant remarks about what’s happening, although the voice acting is a little rough, although not bad enough to derail the game.  There’s been a lot of zombie games and horror games on VR but Propagation: Paradise Hotel is one of the best I’ve played.  The setting is fantastic with some truly grotesque zombies and the controls feel excellent and natural.

Murtop (Zach): Coming from Flynn’s Arcade and hiulit, Murtop is a throwback to 80s arcade games that feels like a lost classic from that era.  You play as a rabbit named Murti, who is trying to stop an invasion of moles and other vermin who are trying to steal her carrots.  Murti can dig like a mole and also has an endless supply of bombs that she can use to blow up her enemies.  Murtop is basically Bomberman mixed with Dig Dug, with gameplay elements from both.  You dig tunnels and try to outmaneuver enemies like in Dig Dug and you place bombs and try to catch enemies in their blasts like Bomberman. Also like Bomberman, you have to be careful that you don’t get caught in the bomb blasts yourself.  It takes a bit to get used to the way the bombs work, as they blow up the entire length of the tunnel you are in, but once you get the hang of it, Murtop plays incredibly fast and fluid and feels like the 80s classics it is emulating.

The 80s aesthetic extends to the visuals, which perfectly capture that Dig Dug style vibe, and the music, which is excellent arcade-style chiptune songs.  There’s even a fake ROM boot sequence when you first get into the game and a title screen with an attract mode that waits for you to “deposit” a coin.  You can even flip your monitor vertically, if that’s something you can do, and play it like a classic arcade cabinet and the developers are encouraging people to put it in an arcade cabinet.  There’s a local leaderboard so you can try to top your best scores or challenge friends to take on your score and the game goes for 256 screens, with a classic kill screen at the end of them.  If you love classic 80s arcade games, Murtop is a must-play as it perfectly replicates that era’s style while doing something new and fun with the gameplay.  It’s out now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! (Chris): The colorful bubble-popping series is back and ready to dazzle gamers with new exciting challenges in TAITO and Inin Games’ Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! The classic gameplay returns with a new story mode and multiple ways to play. The plot of the game picks up as the wizard Bonner has returned to the Rainbow Islands and has made the Miniroons uncontrollably bubble up the place. Now Bub, Bob, Peb, and Pab are back on the Rainbow Islands to help pop the bubbles and restore peace in the islands.

Everybubble’s core gameplay is a match-3 puzzle mechanic with different colored bubble pieces being launched into a grid of other bubbles. You eliminate bubbles of the same color by connecting three or more of them. You can place bubbles in near each other and connect them with some clever shots to build a chain reaction. You can completely wipe out a column by eliminating certain bubbles that connect a big cluster. All targeted bubbles either have to be eliminated before the time runs out or the bubbles reach the bottom of the grid.

The story mode follows Bub and Bob as they clear different areas of the Rainbow Islands. This can be played in a single-player or two-player co-op, which shares the same grid. There are multiple stages in the area, each with bonus EX stages that get unlocked by meeting certain conditions. The story mode features some enhanced mechanics with a companion that joins the main characters on their journey. These companions can swap out bubbles that you are holding to use for later and can also hand off a power-up that can be used for tricky situations. These aren’t necessary features, you don’t get bonuses for not using it. However, these abilities can greatly clear out trouble spots. The multiplayer features are also greatly expanded than ever before with 4-player versus mode and 2v2 battles. For the first time, 4 players can see who can quickly aim their bubbles and be the first the clear the puzzle. 2V2 mode has a team of two working together to eliminate bubbles without clogging up the others’ work.

There is a brand new mode that mixes Puzzle Bobble with another TAITO classic, Space Invaders. In this mash-up of game elements, Puzzle Bobble vs. Space Invaders uses the same puzzle-matching mechanics and adds the same moving and attack patterns as Space Invaders. Up to four players can try to quickly eliminate a moving wall of bubbles as it descends from the top to the bottom. Occasionally, the Invaders will shoot out an attack that will stun the player if they touch it. There are no bases to hide in and no rotating shots to make, so it’s all about fast pace bubble popping and dodging.

Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! Packs a lot of challenges and features that will surely entertain puzzle fans for hours. The story mode walks players thru all the basic mechanics. The first area introduces the basics of matching mechanics with levels that can be solved in a minute or less. A few levels later, there is a special power-up to obtain and new obstacles to plan around in the grid. It’s great for incoming players that have little or no experience with the title. The game really shines in the multiplayer features that let players battle it out in the vs. modes or team up to take on the Space Invaders. It’s a fun and chaotic experience that will test communication skills and friendships. Everybubble! is a must-have for Puzzle Bobble fans and is a delightful addition for any Switch owner. Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! was released on May 23 and has digital and physical editions, with collectors and limited editions provided by Strictly Limited.

Roots of Pacha (Zach): With a booth that drew notice with their ridable dinosaur at PAX East, Roots of Pacha, from Crytivo and Soda Den, is now out on Steam.  A farming sim in the vein of a Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon, Roots of Pacha is set in the stone age and follows a clan of ancient humans who are settling in their new home after undertaking a long journey inspired by their guiding spirit, Pacha.  You can customize your character and then proceed to interact with the other members of the tribe, explore the world and grow crops.  There are a ton of characters to talk to and you can build up your relationships with all of them via quests or simply interacting with them.  There is a running log of goals to accomplish and you have a certain amount of time each day to do whatever you want to progress those goals.  You also can discover “ideas” that can improve your clan’s society, like inventing a sundial or domesticating animals.

The game has incredibly charming graphics and writing that help make the characters interesting and easy to like.  The world is massive and you can go out and explore, finding animals, new plants to grow, other tribes, and many more secrets to discover.  I’m not really that into farming/life sims but Roots of Pacha is still pretty compelling and interesting, with its goals providing a constant thing to work toward and all the characters and story providing a reason to continue progressing.  There isn’t stuff like hunger or the elements to worry about, which is nice, and that helps add to the nice, chill vibe of the game, which is more concerned with letting you make the world your own and let you decide what objectives to pursue and how your clan will grow and change.  If you are into farming/life sims, Roots of Pacha is an incredibly charming and chill game that offers up a unique setting for the genre and some fun ideas and gameplay mechanics that make it worth checking out.

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