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Gamebox 2.0: Games of June 2023

As we head into the summer, sometimes you need to stay inside and beat the heat with some video games, and we got to check out several new games this month for the latest Gamebox 2.0.  We played the “most extreme” 90s shooter ever made with Slayers X, took up Mjolnir as Tiny Thor, got caught in a spooky time-loop with Homebody, did our part against the Arachnids in Starship Troopers: Extermination and more.  Check out everything we got to play this month below.

Tiny Thor (Zach): Coming from Asylum Square and Gameforge 4D GmbH, Tiny Thor pays homage to classic 16-bit action platformers from the SNES and Genesis era with some fun new twists.  As the title suggests, you play as a kid version of the God of Thunder, who is celebrating his birthday and Odin’s gift of the hammer Mjolnir when he learns of various threats to Midgard and the other realms and heads out to try and become a hero and stop them.  The game starts out like a standard old-school platformer where you run and jump and can kill enemies by jumping on them but shortly into the game when you get Mjolnir is when the game gets infinitely more interesting and fun.  Thor can throw Mjolnir to kill enemies but you can also carefully aim it and it bounces around the levels and off walls.  This adds lots of fun takes on puzzles as you try to get Mjolnir into just the right spot and adds tons of great wrinkles into combat, like bosses that basically turn the game into Arkanoid or Breakout where you need to constantly bounce Mjolnir to score hits and break objects.

The game’s graphical style perfectly captures the feeling of old-school 2D platformers but doing things with the amount of animation or enemies and objects on the screen that the developer back in the 90s could probably only dream of.  The sprite work is excellent and Thor and the other characters have lots of charm and personality.  The music is also excellent throughout, also nailing the feel of classic games but doing something unique as well and definitely working to help keep the game fun and exciting.  Tiny Thor is overall excellent with inventive and fun gameplay and fantastic art and music.  If you are a fan of classic 2D platformers, Tiny Thor is a must-play and it’s out now on Switch and PC.

Cook Serve Forever – Early Access (Chris): Prep, chop, and plate as you create delicious-looking meals in the next serving of Cook Server Forever. Developed by Vertigo Gaming Inc, Cook Server Forever is a casual cooking sim that takes all the mechanics of cooking to be simple button prompts. By following a series of commands, raw ingredients get assembled into mouth-watering dishes. The star in the kitchen this time around is Nori Kaga, an amateur chef that wants to make it to the stardom of culinary fame. But she’ll have to work her way out of a food truck and into the spotlight. Each dish served will push her to the goal line, but she’ll have to fast and careful in and out of the kitchen if she ever wants to be the best.

The Cook Serve gameplay is usually known for its quick-time event-like inputs that control the cooking process. In the previous installment, button prompts will alter based on the current cooking method and require different button sequences. However, CFS has gone to a more simplified approach with basic rhythmic prompts that easily prepares food at a higher pace. Instead of multiple buttons, the game mostly uses directional buttons to point in different orientations to complete the inputs. Some sequences require double taps, holds, and opposite inputs, but the degree of mastery isn’t the same as in the last games. Completing a shift cooking grants perks that can slightly boost ingredients values to become tastier dishes or increase the difficulty to cook, but earn a better experience reward. Mixing and matching the randomized perks can help run particular tough shifts. Players can are familiar with the previous games can easily add more difficult perks to challenge their cooking abilities.

What the game lacks in complete button memorization, it makes up for in story and character development. Nori Kaga’s world is a fun fusion of cultures and coloration. The bright and colorful world blends many eye-catching designs and characters that all share a common passion for food. The characters are fun and diverse and are brought to life by a great cast of voice actors. At times the game feels like an anime, with bubble dialog and dramatic flair for silly reasons.

CSF is in early access but mechanically feels complete. There are multiple levels to try out with the current build, but the roadmap for the long term is to add more characters and a new progression cycle to determine whether Kaga has complete shifts. If you are looking for a relaxing arcade-like cooking sim, Cook Server Forever is packed with great visuals and quirky characters to keep you entertained. But don’t stare at the food for too long, you’ll get distracted. Cook Server Forever Early Access build was released on May 15th and is available on PC.

Replikator (Zach): Coming from Ratalaika Games and R_Games, Replikator is a top-down, twin-stick roguelike that is out now on all platforms.  You can on the role of a mercenary hired to head into a space station that was conducting scientific experiments before going dark.  Your mission is to explore the station and figure out what happened.  Your squad features a variety of characters, including a talking raccoon, and you can choose any of them at the start of each run.  They all have different stats, so you can play each one and figure out which one matches your skills and playstyle.  If you have played games like Enter the Gungeon, Replikator should feel pretty familiar, as you move with one stick and aim with the other and move through different rooms, battling enemies and avoiding traps and hazards.  There is a variety of weapons to find throughout the stages and you can find blueprint pieces on each run that will unlock additional weapons in the arsenal.

Along with your weapons, the characters all have the ability to dodge roll and also have a unique skill that you can utilize, like the standard soldier character being able to go invulnerable for a few seconds.  There are also perks that you can find throughout each run and you can use the accumulated credits you earn in each run to buy permanent upgrades that will persist from run to run.  The game uses procedural level generation, so each run into the space station will be different than the one before.  Replikator doesn’t really do anything that you haven’t seen before in other run-and-gun roguelikes but everything it does, it does extremely well and it plays fast and smooth.  It might not have the personality of something like the aforementioned Enter the Gungeon but if you are looking for a solid roguelike shooter, Replikator is one to check out.  It’s out on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and Steam.

Slayers X: Terminal Aftermath: Vengeance of the Slayer (Zach): From Big Z Studios and No More Robots comes a spin-off from the brilliant 90s internet simulator Hypnospace Outlaw, Slayers X: Terminal Aftermath: Vengeance of the Slayer. Amongst all the perfect parodies of the 90s/Geocities era of the internet was the personal page of Zane Lofton, a true “edge lord” whose page was full of ridiculous comics starring himself, ridiculous opinions and humor, and auto-playing nu-metal music from bands named things like Seepage.  The in-universe mythology is that Zane was also creating his own shooter in the style of Doom and Duke Nukem but it was never finished.  Now in the present day, the adult Zane rediscovered the source code, finished the game and this is the result.  Much like how Hypnospace Outlaw perfectly captured the charming awfulness of 90s internet browsing, Slayers X is a perfect parody of “boomer shooters” and nails the aesthetic and attitude of a 14-year-old boy who grew up in that era.  The game stars Zane as the ultimate bad-ass billionaire mercenary sorcerer who must battle the evil “Psyko Sindikate”, who is attacking Zane’s hometown of Boise, ID.  It’s a hilarious blend of large scale and small scale, as the threat is global but Zane can only imagine places like the local fast food place or the discount store for the maps.

If it was just a joke, it would be interesting but short-lived but Slayers X is also a really good “boomer shooter”, playing fast and furious and fans who grew up with the shooters of the 90s will feel right at home.  The maps, even though they are hilariously normal locations, are actually interesting as well, with massive open areas full of secrets and a sense of exploration that makes the game more than just a one-trick pony.  The weapons are also interesting as well and are as fun to use as they are hilariously named.  Zane starts out with dual pistols but can find a wide variety of other weapons, including a gun that uses glass “sharts” to become a shotgun/flechette gun and the “S-Blade” that charges up with magical energy as you kill enemies.  The humor probably won’t be for everyone but if you understand the aesthetic and vibe it’s going for, it is brilliant in its stupidity and crassness.  Even if you never played Hypnospace Outlaw, Slayers X is still a fun and ridiculous throwback shooter that will have you laughing at its ridiculous but engaged by its gameplay.  It’s out now on Steam and Xbox via Game Pass.

Starship Troopers: Extermination – Early Access (Chris): It’s time for a bug hunt as the Deep Space Vanguard troopers fight back the Arachnid threat in Starship Troopers: Extermination. Developed by Offworld Industries, the team behind the military shooter Squad, comes an action-packed title that every Starship Trooper fan has waited for since the 1998 movie. Extermination is an FPS that mixes fast-pacing shooting with tower defensive mechanics. The game revolves around the troopers moving from objects across a map and establishing defensive structures. It’ll be a tough fight against the endless numbers of bugs, but with the right tactics and technology, these troopers can put the fighting odds in their favor.

As of the early access release, up to 16 players have the chance to form a squadron of soldiers as they take the fight to the Arachnid planets. Players can take one of three units: Bastion, the heavy-armed but slow-moving unit. Hunter, the jetpacked and agile unit. Operator, the team medic, and the ammo supplier. A good mix of units can greatly make tough fights fairer and without the need to panic and run, but the enemy is designed to swarm and overrun. No one class truly can run into the heat of combat without support. The Hunter can be first to head into a fight, but won’t be powerful enough to take down bigger enemies alone. The Bastion has the firepower to cut down oncoming enemies but needs a steady supply of ammo. The Operator has to stick close to others but lacks the speed or defense to take out multiple enemies at once.

Team base building is an interesting mechanic to do with multiple players. Early phases of a round don’t require a lot of base building to complete the objectives. Depending on the game mode, you either are running and holding positions or escorting supplies back to a main base. However, every round ends with a big horde standoff that requires everyone to be on the defensive. Hopefully, some base structures were made ahead of time and properly placed to make this part easier. If not, it’s a mad dash to assemble enough walls and turrets to make a last stand.

Extermination feels a little dated with its level designs and repetitive loop to unlock equipment but manages to provide great frantic and fun gameplay. The Early Access showcases a lot of terrifying encounters when taking on enemies and the reliance on good teamwork. This is an ideal game to play with friends, but there is room to jump in with strangers and have a blast. Hopefully, there are more updates to bring in more ferocious enemies and weapon unlocks, as well as a new game mode to mix things up. Starship Troopers: Extermination was released on May 17th and is available for PC.

Homebody (Zach): Coming from the Game Grumps and Rogue Games, Homebody is the follow-up to Dream Daddy but tackling a completely different tone and genre.  In Homebody, you play as Emily, who is heading out to a remote cabin to view a meteor shower with friends she hasn’t seen for a long time since leaving her hometown and moving to the big city.  While at the cabin, a mysterious killer starts stalking the group and “kills” Emily, but she finds herself back at the moment she arrived at the cabin and no one else seems to realize anything is wrong.  Emily has to unravel the mystery of what’s going on and solve the various puzzles and mysterious devices around the cabin.  The game is designed with the aesthetic of a PS2-era horror game and if you’ve played stuff like Clock Tower, the game seems to nail that vibe (the killer in this game is very similar in design and movement to Clock Tower’s Scissorman).  There’s a really creepy atmosphere in the game, especially when the power goes out and the killer starts stalking the house, and it’s disturbing to see him kill your friends right in front of you.

The time-loop mechanic is extremely well done and it does a great job of making you feel like you are progressing even though you are constantly being killed.  After each death, you get a cutscene that fleshes out more of the story or gives you a hint of what to do in your next run.  The house remains the same each time, so you are able to gradually learn the layout of the cabin, where all the puzzles are, and what you need to do in each run.  There is a time mechanic where the killer appears at the same time each night, so you know how much time you have to solve the next puzzle before you have to try and avoid the killer.  Your inventory carries over between runs as well, along with any clues and information you found, so you can immediately run to the next puzzle without having to do the same thing over and over again.  The story and characters are also well done and interesting, especially the writing for the dialogue.  You really get the sense of the history between all the characters and each of them has a distinct and unique personality that you’ll discover throughout the game.  If I had one minor complaint, it’s that game’s controls are modeled on classic tank controls, like RE, and it can be a little disorienting and frustrating when you have to reorient yourself when the perspective changes but you have the killer breathing down your next.  Since death is actually a benefit in this game, it’s not a major issue but you may have some runs that don’t last as long as you would like because of controls.  Homebody is an interesting and unique horror game that will keep you engaged with its clever puzzles and great writing and characters and you’ll want to keep going to unravel the mystery of what is going on.  It’s out now on Steam/Epic Games Store, Xbox One and Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.

Layers of Fear (Zach): The Layers of Fear series has been terrifying gamers since 2016 and now Bloober Team has released the definitive version with the reimagined new entry in the series.  Incorporating the original Layers of Fear along with Layers of Fear 2 and the DLC, Layers of Fear (2023) brings the series together into one gorgeous-looking and unsettling package as you explore multiple stories of different characters, like an artist obsessed with creating his ultimate masterpiece, no matter the cost.  There is a new storyline exclusive to this new Layers of Fear, The Writer, which follows a horror writer who wins a trip to a remote lighthouse as a way to fuel their creative juices.  If you played and enjoyed PT, the beloved cult favorite “playable teaser” for the lost Silent Hills game, then you will enjoy Layers of Fear, as it looks and plays like that horror game.  You experience the game from the first person and make your way through incredibly rendered, detail-filled environments that constantly shift and change as you progress.  As you make your way through the levels, you will encounter various puzzles that will need to be solved before moving on.  Some of them are as simple as finding a certain object but others utilize the mechanics and environment in interesting ways, like in The Artist storyline, there’s a sequence where you need to look through easels in certain ways to make new objects appear.  The shifting environments also factor in thematically, as the character you are playing is usually collapsing psychologically, so the shifting and decaying environments match their mental state.

There is some light combat as some monsters manifest and you will need to expel them using a light source, like a lantern or flashlight a la Alan Wake. It adds a bit of tension to some of the puzzle segments as you need to keep the enemy at bay while trying to find the solution but it’s not the most interesting or dynamic combat.  The game does have a “Safe Mode” for those who just want to experience the story without the threat of dying and putting them back a bit as far as progress.  The game is absolutely gorgeous, fully utilizing all the snazzy current tech like 4K, HDR and Unreal Engine 5 and the lighting and shifting of the environments is incredibly well done.  Rooms will be pristine when you walk in and then decay around you and you want to progress to not only find out more of the story but see what new trick or environment the game will pull out next.  I only dabbled a bit in the original Layers of Fear, so most of this reimagining was new and exciting but if you have fully explored the previous entries, this might not be as interesting.  If you’ve never experienced the series and enjoy atmospheric horror games with interesting environments and clever puzzles, then this is definitely the version of Layers of Fear to experience.  It’s out now on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X

Toodee and Topdee (Chris): Shift reality to save the world in Toodee and Topdee. Developed by dietzribi, Toodee and Topdee is a mix of 2D Platforming and Top-down puzzle solving mechanics. A coding error in the universe causes realities to merge and break, leading two heroes to be chosen to save all of existence. Players take control of both Toodee and Topdee, each from a different realm that acts and behaves in a unique matter. If you can’t tell by the puns of the titular heroes, this game centers around perspective shifting. Together, they will switch to alter their shared reality and straighten out the world before it’s too late.

The gameplay of Toodee and Topdee uses classic mechanics from their respective genres. Toodee like the name, moves in a two dimension rule like a classic platformer. He can jump and bounce but is limited to his tiny physical strengths. Topdee has full range to move in eight directions and can lift and place objects freely. Levels consist of enemies and objects that have to be avoided and require the teamwork of both characters to make it to the exit point. Topdee can shift objects into place, but Toodee can pick up the key items. Switching characters makes the other temporary shift into a holding position, which also lets them take no damage. However, the enemies and layout are deadly in both realities, so it’s not like one has the true advantage over the other.

Toodee and Topdee bring something unique and fun to the Top-down puzzling but feel a little unbalanced with the 2D platforming. The boss battles are great to show how to two genres work together, but the regular stages don’t offer the same sense. You spend the most time with Topdee understanding the puzzles and then quickly running with Toodee to reach the end. However, this was the experience of playing alone, but it can vary for players in co-op mode, where each player controls each hero. Once the perspective-switching mechanic wears off, the great artwork and silly plot are still there to entertain. The strange character designs and quirky personalities make it rewarding to continuously play to see what happens next. Toodee and Topdee have big scaled boss fights that skill-check the players, making sure they understand everything the game has thrown at them so far. Toodee and Topdee is a great title to tackle and complete for any gamer.

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