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Gamebox 2.0: Games of March 2021

Spring is on the way and along with rain showers and blooming flowers ther is, of course, more new games to play. This month we pointed and clicked in the world of Cyanide & Happiness, acted out fight scenes in tight spaces, managed our way to the top of the drug trade, and more.  Check out our thoughts on some of the games we got to check out this March below.

Cyanide & Happiness: Freakapocalypse (Zach):  From the world of the popular webcomic, Cyanide & Happiness: Freakapocalypse is an old-school point-and-click adventure game in the style of old Lucasarts classics like Sam & Max and filled with goofy characters and humor.  You play as unpopular high-schooler Coop, who is just trying to survive the jungle of teen life and work up the courage to ask his crush to the prom but a massive nuclear explosion wipes out most of the town and leaves Coop having to survive in a world full of mutants and former classmates.  The game is very classic in its gameplay, you walk around environments, talk to everyone, gather inventory items, and solve puzzles.  The puzzles are fairly straightforward and logical and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of trial and error or trying to decipher the exact, bizarre solution the developer had in mind.  Along with the main quest to push the narrative forward, Coop can also come across various side-quests that can be completed to explore more of the world and meet more of the strange, but hilarious residents of the high school and town.

The game features some fantastic art that captures the Cyanide & Happiness style that fans have come to know and love along with full voice acting that brings each character to life.  There are tons of strange and hilarious dialogue options (including the fact that Coop can ask everyone if they want to go to prom with him) and it’s worth talking to everyone just to see what happens.  The environments are also beautifully realized with tons of fun background details and hidden jokes, although one minor nitpick is that some of the areas you need to explore are in the foreground of the screen with no indication of what that room is, so you do need to do some memorization about where each hallway or pathway leads and where you need to go for each puzzle.  It’s nothing too complex but you may be going around in circles slightly at the beginning of each new area until you learn where everything is.  If you’re a fan of the humor and art style of Cyanide & Happiness and are into point-and-click adventures, Freakapocalypse is a must-play and even if you aren’t too familiar with C&H, if you like funny adventure games, it’s worth checking out for that as well.  It’s on Switch and PC (both Steam and Epic Game Store).

Cartel Tycoon (Chris): It takes power and ambition to survive the criminal underworld, but good management will allow a cartel to thrive in it. Moon Moose and TinyBuild invite gamers to build and manage a narcotic empire in Cartel Tycoon. Echoing the setup of other management sims, Cartel Tycoon focuses on organizing a cartel as it expands its influence in the drug trade. From handling the manufacturing, transporting, and protecting of drug products, directing a cartel needs smart business decisions, respect, and fear.

Cartel Tycoon is set in a fictionalized Latin America country in the 80s. Greed and corruption rapidly brought criminals into great wealth and power from the narcotics trade. Taking up the role of a kingpin, you direct the development of major aspects of the drug operations. You will be building farms and labs to create drugs. Routes will have to be established to transport the finished products and bring in a cash flow. The money will have to swap hands and you need business fronts to keep suspicious eyes away.

The supply and demand of drugs will force other cartels to compete for their chance to control the drug trade. Rivals cartels will protect their territories and will try to outmaneuver your operations. You have to build a solid team of underlings to protect your business and lead the charge in fights. Special lieutenants can be recruited with skills that will boost certain areas of combat or production. However, loyalty doesn’t come cheap and will require some work to maintain their service.

In this early access version of Cartel Tycoon, only Story and Sandbox modes are playable at this time of review. Story mode follows the rise of the Cuchilla y Cristal cartel. The player gets into the shoes of Cesar Garcetti, a desperate man that happens to find himself in the service of the cartel. Taking orders from the senior kingpin, Garcetti learns the ropes of running a drug trade. Sandbox mode unlocks all the story mode restrictions and gives the player the freedom to build their empire as they see fit.

Obviously if you are a fan of TV shows like Narcos or Breaking Bad, this is the fun chance to try to become a kingpin. Cartel Tycoon is a fun and frustrating balancing act that is very polished and challenging. Maintaining a cartel is no easy task, as a slow down at any branch could mean the end of it all. A risky business decision like raising drug prices, not paying enough bribes, or keeping a lieutenant happy will have great consequences. For an early access game, the detailed art, sound, and gameplay offer a great experience to immerse players with the current build. It’s definitely worth checking out for gamers with an eye for business and a taste for crime. Cartel Tycoon was released on March 18th on PC for Steam, GOG.com, and the Epic Store.

Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four (Zach): Combining the exploration and perspective of a series like Diablo with the character summoning and deck building of Magic the Gathering, Cardaclysm is an interesting spin on the action RPG genre from Elder Games and Headup.  You play as a dark sorcerer who was tampering with magic beyond your abilities and you accidentally unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse onto the world.  Nowhere near strong enough to send them back where they came from, you have to build up a deck of cards and abilities to have a shot at defeating them.  The game plays out in an isometric perspective as you move around the procedurally generated levels.  When you encounter an enemy, you go into a turn-based RPG style perspective but you use cards from your deck to unleash spells and summon creatures to fight for you.  You have a limited amount of energy and what sets the card battling apart from games like Magic is that Cardaclysm seems fairly front-loaded to the first move or two, at least at the beginning of the game.

You usually have enough cost for a couple of creatures or a creature and a spell but unless you have a creature or card that regenerates energy, you don’t have mana building up like Magic or Hearthstone.  If all your creatures are defeated and you have no energy left for more, the battle is over as the enemy will attack and kill your sorcerer in one hit.  This makes the battles fairly quick but I definitely prefer the gradual increase in Mana of games like Hearthstone, where you can strategize and decide if you want to send out a bunch of weaker creatures or save up for one big creature.  Here, if you send out one big creature and use all your energy if it gets defeated, you are kind of screwed.  If you die, you come back for a new run but you lose any cards you collected during that run.

One interesting gameplay addition is that, when you reach the end of the stage, one of the Horsemen will arrive on the map and start to chase you.  Early on, fighting them is virtually impossible, so it becomes a desperate run to the exit before they catch you.  Eventually, if you survive enough runs, gain enough energy and find enough powerful cards, you can fight them and your ultimate goal is to defeat all four Horsemen.  The game has a cool art style and the creatures are familiar types from other games but have enough of a unique look to keep things interesting.  You can combine duplicate cards into more powerful versions too so, for instance, if you have two wolf cards, you can combine them into one powerful Ice Wolf. Cardaclysm is an interesting mash-up of rogue-like gameplay, Diablo-style exploration, and card battles and if you are into any of those, you can check it out on Steam.

Get a Grip Chip (Zach): Coming from Redstart Interactive, Get a Grip Chip is a fantastic platformer that throws back to games like Bionic Commando while still maintaining a lot of modern sensibilities.  You play as Chip, a cute little robot who works in a factory assembling other robots.  When one of his fellow robots gets a wayward gear embedded into its head, it goes haywire and takes over the factory, forcing Chip to spring into action and try to stop him and save his fellow robots.  Chip has a magnet on his head, which he can use to grapple onto various nuts and bolts around the factory and swing his way through levels.  The swinging feels great pretty much from the get-go and it’s easy to learn the basics but like most great games, you can really get a feel for it and go for some advanced maneuvers and increase your clear time.  There are also 8 “battery bots” that can be rescued in each level and a certain amount is needed to unlock all the levels in each of the factory floors.  Along with the basic swinging, Chip also needs to use his magnet to unlock doors and pull switches and each level has a great flow and usually some sort of mechanic that it iterates on throughout, like a level full of platforms that move on a path and launch Chip between them or a level full of platforms between saw blades that need to be avoided.

The game has a great mix of colorful environments and the cartoony look of Chip and the other robots and everything is driven by a fantastic soundtrack that evokes almost old industrial video music or elevator music but mixed with great modern sounds.  There are 30 levels to explore and each world ends with a super thrilling and tense “chase” level where Chip has to escape from a new danger unleashed by his evil foe and these levels do a great job of incorporating all the lessons and mechanics from the previous levels into a final test before you can move on.  The game is pretty generous with checkpoints and the controls are so solid and tight that almost every time you die, it never feels cheap and definitely feels like it was something you screwed up.  If you are into platforms with a grappling hook mechanic that is challenging but not masochistic, Get a Grip Chip is definitely worth checking out on Switch and PC.

Fights in Tight Spaces (Zach): Coming from developer Ground Shatter and publisher Mode 7, Fights in Tight Spaces will let you see if you can think like an action hero in the vein of John Wick as you strategically battle foes in small rooms.  You play as a secret agent working for an intelligence agency dealing with threats around the world.  There are different missions to take on and each mission is a rogue-like style collection of rooms that you need to fight your way through, with branching paths that let you choose which environment you want to fight in.  Each environment offers up different obstacles to work around but they are all, like the title says, tight spaces that will put you in constant contact with the enemies.

Fights in Tight Spaces is a turn-based strategy game that utilizes cards to perform all your actions, even movement.  Your agent has a certain number of action points he can use in each turn and each card has a cost associated with it, so you have to decide if you want to use all your points on one big move but be stuck in the same spot or do a smaller attack and then move out of the way.  There’s a variety of punches, kicks, and throws along with a variety of movement options, including shifting around an enemy.  You can see where the enemy is going to attack and you can use your cards to not only attack the enemy directly but also maneuver and shove them around so that they attack each other.  Along with basic fighters, you’ll slowly encounter enemies with firearms and enemies who attack when any movement crosses their path, forcing you to adapt and change up your strategy.

Certain moves also require a combo meter, which you build up as you attack enemies but lose as you take damage, so using advanced moves requires you to be very strategic. There are a certain amount of enemies in each stage and they all won’t appear at the same time.  As you defeat the first wave, you can see where the new enemies will appear, allowing you to move and get into position for your attacks.  After defeating them, you gain a new card for your deck as a reward and you can also watch the fight take place in real-time, which is a cool feature but seems like it might need some more adjusting to make it look more cool and dynamic.  A lot of the moves do result in a flash cinematic view and the whole game has an awesome Superhot style aesthetic with white environments and red enemies.  The game feels like you are choreographing an action movie fight and if you’re into strategy games, it’s an awesome game that’s definitely worth checking out.  It’s currently in Early Access on Steam and Game Preview on Xbox One and Series X.

Everything Action at PAX Online 2020

Unfortunately due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, gamers weren’t able to get together for the annual PAX West or EGX expos but the two mega-conventions teamed up for an online event that was nine days of gaming via exclusive demos, virtual booths, four streaming channels, and more.

Since the disaster that was Comic-Con @ Home, most of the virtual conventions we’ve seen have been pretty excellent, although obviously no comparison to actually getting together with old and new friends in person.  PAX Online tried to bring as much of the convention experience to its website as possible and one of the things I really enjoyed and thought was done extremely well was the virtual expo hall.  The PAX Online site had a layout of the show floor like you see if you had a physical program or map at a regular PAX convention but you could click on the various booths and see what that developer and/or publisher had to offer.  You could see the games they were featuring and see trailers and get links to the demos if they were available.  It was a great way to try and replicate the feeling of walking around the expo hall and seeing what each booth has to offer and possibly discovering something new and interesting.  The show also had four different streaming channels going on that had a lot of what you might see at a regular PAX, including concerts, speedruns, panels with gaming personalities and professionals, wacky games, and more.  The fact that it was online also let things go on much longer than a normal con and you could stop by in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning and there was most likely at one interesting thing happening on a stream.

As far as the actual games we got to check out, there were a ton of demos that were available for the week that we downloaded via Steam, which had a special section all week similar to the layout of the PAX website which had games that have already been released on special deals and the demos for upcoming games.  Here’s what we checked out.

Alien Hominid Invasion: The latest game from The Behemoth, Alien Hominid Invasion is the follow-up to their PS2/Xbox cult classic Alien Hominid.  Set 16 years after the first game, the Hominid’s friends finally arrive to answer his distress call and launch an all-out assault on the FBI.  You can play solo or up to 4 players co-op and the game has greatly expanded from Alien Hominid’s straight forward, but brutally hard, side-scrolling run and gun gameplay.  You still run and gun but each level is open-ended and you can go in either direction, with your main goal being to complete a series of objectives and clear the area.  You have a map of different areas that you can progress through however you wish, with your ultimate goal being to take down the area’s base.  You earn loot that can give your Hominid different stat boosts and also give them wacky new aesthetics and you visit the hideout run by the Hominid’s kid allies to buy different items and upgrades as well.  The hominids have all kinds of different moves, including jumping on enemies and riding them around, burying into the ground to surprise and escape, and using a variety of guns and grenades.  It feels like The Behemoth took what they learned from Castle Crashers and applied it to their original run and gun game.  The game is still in development with no release date currently.

Cartel Tycoon: tinyBuild and developer Moon Mouse lets you unleash your inner Pablo Escobar with their upcoming simulator game Cartel Tycoon.  You take control of a cartel that has recently suffered a defeat at the hands of a rival cartel.  You need to rebuild the empire and take back what is yours.  The game is very complex even in the demo and there is a ton of things to take into consideration when building your drug empire.  You have to make sure you have enough farms to grow the raw product, warehouses to store the raw and finished products, labs to create the finished products, and supply chains to deliver the drugs to airports for shipment.  You also have clean and dirty money, taking territory back from rival cartels and trying to avoid attention from the authorities.  You really have to keep track of everything and make sure you are constantly adjusting to make sure things are running as efficiently and stealthily as possible.  I found it a little bit overwhelming but if you’re into sim games, this seems like one to definitely keep an eye on.  It’s out later this year on Steam.

Dandy Ace: Coming from Mad Mimic and Neowiz, Dandy Ace is an action rogue-lite where you take control of the dashing magician Dandy Ace, who has been captured into an evil magic mirror universe by his evil rival Lele.  The game is played from a top-down perspective as you try to make your way through each floor of the mirror universe and ultimately to a showdown with Lele himself but things change every time you die.  Dandy has a collection of magical cards that gives him a slew of special abilities and you can map them any way you wish as you collect them to the controller face buttons, which lets you customize your own attack arsenal however you see fit.  Dandy has things like a bubble that can shoot out and explode, causing damages to nearby enemies, a heart bomb that causes enemies to be friendly for a short time, rapid-fire cards, and more.  You can also earn modifiers that you can place onto any of the attacks you have to add new effects to them and you can swap that around at any time as well.  The game has a really fun anime-inspired art style and lots of weird and wacky enemies.  The game is out in February next year on consoles and PC.

Infernax: Coming from Bezerk Studios, Infernax seems like a brutally awesome throwback to games like Castlevania with a modern twist similar to something like Shovel Knight.  You play as Alcedor, a noble crusader who returns to his kingdom to find it overrun by demons.  You progress through the world in a Metriodvania style, exploring different areas and you’re cut off from certain areas until you have the proper skills or key.  The game plays very similar to the NES Castlevania’s, as you have a mace that can attack forward but it has a very satisfying level of brutal violence where you smash your way through enemies and get covered in blood.  You can buy new abilities and upgrades at towns and you’ll take on gigantic bosses that are introduced in excellent animated cut-scenes that really show off the grotesqueness in old school pixel style.  It seems like a great new Metroidvania but there’s currently no release date.

Justice Sucks: Recharged: Samurai Punk has a unique stealth/action/puzzle game coming soon with Justice Sucks: Recharged.  You play as a robotic vacuum cleaner out to avenge its family by taking on various 90s inspired villains in tons of wacky locations.  The demo puts you on a cruise ship being invaded by pink pop-band pirates and the main gameplay involves you trying to take out all the bad guys and protecting valuables from being stolen or destroyed.  Your vacuum can suck up items and shoot them to damage and stun enemies but you really do damage by hacking different objects and luring the bad guys into traps.  You can do things like overload a dance floor or explode an oven and this causes massive damage to any enemies around them.  When you kill enemies, you can suck up their meat and blood to power up different special abilities like a fast dash or turning into a humanoid form and delivering a massive punch.  Your vacuum can’t take too much damage if it’s spotted, so you also have to hide and move around the environment without being seen.  It feels a bit similar to something like if you ever played the Deception series of games or maybe a bit like Hitman where you figure out how to use the environment to take down targets but it’s definitely its own unique thing.  It doesn’t currently have a release date but it will be out on Steam.

Knight Squad 2: Coming from Chainsawsome Games, Knight Squad 2 is a Bomberman style party game where up to 8 players can battle each other either locally or online as medieval knights.  There are a number of different modes, including the last man standing that can be played as a free for all, duos or teams, a protect the payload mode, and an area control mode.  Each knight starts out with a sword but you can find all kinds of different weapons with power-ups that appear randomly throughout the match and there are also permanent buttons on the ground that can give you different weapons or upgrade one when activated.  The matches are fast and fun with a Halo style announcer calling out double and triple kills and you and your opponents all die from one hit.  Depending on the mode, you respawn at a designated start area or at a random area around the map.  It’s looking at a Holiday 2020 release on Steam, Switch, and Xbox One.

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes: Merge Games and Still Running are bringing a horror-action RPG to PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC later this year with Morbid: The Seven Acolytes.  You battle through a world full of horrific monsters, collecting different weapons and using a combination of guns and melee.  There is lots of lore to collect and NPCs to interact with as you try to unravel the mystery and history of the world.  Maybe it’s just me but I didn’t really click with this game’s controls and combat and it felt very sluggish and slow to me.  Combat never felt good and I was taking more damage than I thought I should have been from enemies, despite trying to dodge or block like the game wanted me to.  There’s a lot of games similar to this one, like Hyper Light Drifter for example, that has fast and fluid combat and Morbid just didn’t feel that good to me as some of those other games.  Maybe it will be better when it fully launches later this year but this was, unfortunately, my least favorite demo that I checked out during PAX Online.

No Place for Bravery: Coming from Ysbyrd Games and Glitch Factory, No Place for Bravery is, like Morbid above, an action RPG set in a brutal world overrun by demons.  Set in the land of Dewr, you play as a veteran soldier named Thorn who sets out on a quest to find his long-lost daughter Leaf and battles the evil monsters that have returned to the land.  That game has some great pixel art that feels similar to recent games like Children of Morta and the combat requires a lot of skill and focuses on parries, dodges, and precision strikes to end enemies.  It also has an excellent score with very Nordic sounding chanting and throat singing.  While it seems cool from a style perspective, the precision “final blows” result in a bit of a jerky flow to the gameplay, as the game constantly zooms in and out to show the kills and it gets a little annoying after a while.  You can also not do the precision kill and execute enemies instead, which you could do if you have a lot of enemies to deal with and kill them all after they are all left on the brink of death.  It seems like it will have an interesting story set in a cool world with some fun combat, so if you’re into this action-RPG, pixel-art style game, keep an eye out for it sometime next year on Switch and PC.

Pumpkin Jack: The perfect demo to check out as things start to turn spooky for the fall, Pumpkin Jack comes from Headup and developer Nicolas Meyssonnier and seems like a pretty awesome and fun throwback to games like Medievil, Crash Bandicoot and other 3D platformers from the PS1/PS2 era.  You play as the titular Pumpkin Jack, who is brought back to Earth by Satan to cause mayhem in the Boredom Kingdom and to stop the human’s champion, a mighty wizard, from stopping the Devil’s curse and returning things to normal.  Jack makes his way through cartoony and spooky levels, battling enemies with a variety of melee weapons like scythes and shovels and gets help from crows and owls, the former of which can help Jack by attack enemies.  Jack has all the standard moves of the classic platforming heroes, like double jumps and there’s all kinds of fun platforming and puzzle challenges to take on, some of which require jack to leave his body and travel with just his pumpkin head and tentacle-like vines.  It will be out later this year on PC and consoles.

The Riftbreaker: Combining top down action with base building RTS, The Riftbreaker comes from EXOR Studios.  You play as a Riftbreaker named Ashley, a scientist/commando that travels to other planets via an interdimensional portal and lays out a base of operations for cultivating resources and collecting information on local flora and fauna.  You directly control your mech suit and can equip a wide array of guns and melee weapons that you’ll need to fight off vicious local predators and you also use your mech suit to build up a base like how you would in a game like Starcraft, harvesting various materials and making sure you have enough resources to expand and upgrade.  You have to manage power and make sure you are generating enough power to power all your facilities and you also have to build up defenses like sentry guns and walls.  Although it’s not quite the same number of enemies at once, the wall building and swarms of enemies does feel a bit like the recent RTS They Are Billions and it’s pretty satisfying to be able to not have to rely on passively hoping your defenses hold and just wading in with a massive mech suit to take down the hordes.  The game looks gorgeous already just in the demo, with a stunning, colorful world full of interesting plants and creatures and it’s combo of action and RTS makes it definitely something to keep an eye on.  It’s sometime this year on PC, Xbox One and PS4.

Shing!: Shing! from Mass Creation Games is actually already out on PC and Steam but was a featured game for PAX Online and there’s a demo available on Steam.  A throwback to old-school brawlers, Shing! follow four different martial arts warriors who team up to take on a yokai invasion that is threatening the world.  The big thing that separates Shing! is it’s combat controls.  Instead of the standard face buttons for different attacks, you use the right analog stick on your controller and different movements and combinations of movements do different attacks.  You can do a circle movement, for instance, and your character will do a circular style attack.  The issue is trying to remember the different combos, especially in the heat of battle, and the game is absolutely relentless, throwing enemies at you with shields that need to be worn down, enemies with special abilties and smaller enemies that need to either be attacked downard or juggled up.  There have been a few games that have tried this analog stick attack style, think Rise to Honor on PS2 for example, and it’s never really felt as good or consistent as just a good old button press and Shing! is no exception.  The analog stick attacks combined with what feels like enemies that are straight out of an arcade game trying to steal your quarters makes it feel much more frustrating than it should be.  The sense of humor and character design also seems like it’s trying a bit too hard and trying to appeal to 13 year old boys.

There is No Light: There is No Light from Zelart and HypeTrain Digital is similar to Morbid and No Place for Bravery above as it’s an action-rpg set in dark, brutal world.  This time around, you play as a mysterious warrior under the influence of Baron Samedi who is sent to a world devastated by a global cataclysm and ruled over by the oppressive Church of the Great Hand.  You battle monsters and talk to various characters around the world and there’s a fairly in-depth conversation system that adds to your character’s karma, building it toward good or evil.  There are four types of magic and bladed weapons to use and you can swap between them, which can lead to combos like throwing a certain weapon out and then attack with another while it’s spinning and dealing damage to an enemy.  You also can build up a rage meter that can be used to unleash different powerful attacks depending on the weapon you have equipped.  The game’s look is pretty great, with fantastic pixel arts and truly dark and disturbing worlds to explore.  The demo throws quite a bit at you as far as the weapons and different combat techniques but I gathered that the actual game will take more time to give you more weapons and abilities.  The game is currently running a Kickstarter until October 6th, and the demo is still live on Steam if you want to check it out.

Hopefully we’ll back to regular PAX conventions next year but PAX Online was a great way to still get a lot of the fun at home while we all still deal with this pandemic.