Tag Archives: Simulation

Q&A With Little Ricebowl Games

Continuing on with my efforts to uncover new games coming out of the indie community, another Kickstarter project I came across this week was a simulator RPG named The Kingdom of Gardenia. Under development at Little Ricebowl games based in Birmingham, the game put the player in the shoes of Roman, a former soldier who has come to Gardenia looking for work. Stumbling across a job advert for a groundskeeper, Roman applies and the game begins. The player must plant flowers, hunt food, and interact with the townsfolk by catering to their needs in accordance with what their favorite flowers are and what food they like to eat. Along the way, the game’s main story also starts to unfold the further the player progresses, which is somewhat unusual for a simulator game. My first thoughts were that not only does it encompass elements from Stardew Valley (which was one of the developers principal sources of inspiration), but Dark Cloud also sprung to mind to a certain extent as not only does have an element of simulator games to it as a georama game, but it also has a rich story as an RPG.

But eager to find out more about the game, I contacted the game’s core designer Paul Trochowski to get a clearer insight into the development of the game and what players can expect to see with the finished project. Here’s what Paul had to say about The Kingdom of Gardenia:

What were the influences behind your game? 

I got the idea for the concept of the game after playing Stardew Valley a few years ago. I’m a huge fan of the game and I really liked the notification about the train passing through town, which you then run towards, to see if it drops any packages at the station. This got me thinking about having a train station as the focal point of the game and the player getting excited about who would be getting off the train each day.

Going back to my childhood days, I was first introduced to gaming with the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. The art style and soundtrack were so iconic, and I loved the challenge of the boss battles with Bowser. I could never beat them as a child and I only properly beat the game recently when I played it on the Nintendo Switch! I’m working on a challenging boss battle for my game that will hopefully keep people coming back for the amazing satisfaction you can only get from beating a tough boss. There are also some adventure and puzzle-solving elements, inspired by games like A Link to the Past.

What has the developmental process been like?

I started out by learning how to make basic pixel art, I would sit with a mini laptop on my daily commute and draw NPCs, flowers and trees, a little bit at a time, then carry on in my lunch breaks and after work. Over time I realized I had enough content to start thinking about learning how to code and making the NPCs move around with some basic AI. I don’t have a background as an artist or a computer scientist, so learning both areas was a huge uphill battle for me, but also amazingly satisfying when I started to see things come together.

The game is based around a day/night cycle and train schedule, this became really difficult to put together with the more NPCs I started to create, as I found they would clash at certain points that I hadn’t anticipated and I would have to go back a re-work huge sections of their paths/timings. Each new visitor to the kingdom is a huge amount of work, but I’m planning on adding more visitors overtime via free content updates.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

I’m at around 80% completion at the moment. I had originally planned on completing the game by April, but unfortunately, I fell really ill with coronavirus and had to put the release back a few months. I’m running a Kickstarter project to help fund production costs and the release of the game.

Made in GameMaker Studio 2

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

I would have to say putting in the sound effects, the game doesn’t really come to life until you start investing in some better quality sound effects and tweaking the settings to improve the audio. I still have a lot of work to do in this area but hearing footstep sounds change when the player moves from wood to the path to grass is really exciting for me.

Another exciting moment was when a colleague from work did some playtesting for me. Seeing someone new play the game for the first time was a great buzz, and I took away a lot of great ideas for how to improve the gameplay mechanics and things that were missing that the player needed to get accustomed to the world of the game, like adding in a compass! At one point I had a message in the game that tells the player to head east, but I hadn’t put in a compass yet!

Where did the inspiration come from where the soundtrack is concerned?

My favorite game soundtrack would have to be Undertale, Toby Fox is a musical genius, I’ve listened to that soundtrack so many times and I never get tired of it. I used to play guitar in a local indie band, we had some minor success and got some national radio play, but it didn’t quite work out. After leaving the band, I really missed creating music and was looking for another outlet to start recording again. You’ll hear a lot of guitar in the soundtrack, I’ve tried to work in some sounds inspired by some of my favorite guitar bands, like Thin Lizzy and The Strokes.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development? 

Solving coding problems! The soil tiles took me a long time to work out, all the possible iterations of what happens to the surrounding tiles when you dig holes in the ground was a challenge for me, but it felt great once I’d finally solved it.

I also came across a number of frame rate slow down issues with collision checking for the trees, I wanted all of the trees to turn semi-transparent when you walk behind them, so you can see where you’re going. Some of the trees in the game are really big and there were way too many collision checks going on, but I think I’ve fixed it now. Interestingly. they decided to avoid this problem entirely in the latest Animal Crossing game. I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about the camera angle issues of not being able to see behind trees!

  

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How well has the game been received so far? 

A lot of people have shown interest in the Kickstarter project and given some great positive feedback to images and posts about the game on Instagram and Twitter. We have a small following at the moment, but I’ve been really pleased to see that people are genuinely getting on board with the concept of the game and eager to find out more about the story and the world of the game.

There has been some feedback too from fellow developers, who have warned me against putting a game out with such a stripped back, retro art style, insisting that I get a designer in to improve the look of the game. My motivation for continuing with this art style, which I know is going to be an acquired taste, comes from the overwhelmingly positive reception that Undertale received, despite the minimalist look of the game. There is something unique about a game that has been made entirely by one person, I’d be worried that the character of the game would be too far from my original idea if I get someone else to re-work all of the sprites. 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Initially, the game will be released on PC and then I’ll be looking at a Mac/Linux version before moving on to Switch. I might consider a mobile version after that, but porting to each new platform will bring significant challenges for me as a new developer, so I may need to get some outside help with this.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this? 

Making a game can at times feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall. You will come across design or coding problems that you feel like you’re never going to get past. But stick with it, come back to it the next day, and the next – don’t listen to people who tell you it’s not worth all the effort, there’s nothing more satisfying than solving problems that you previously thought were impossible. And when you’ve got something you’re happy with, which you’re ready to share with people, it’s a great buzz to find out that there are people out there who like your work and want to follow the project.

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

You can check out my project on Kickstarter: 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kingdomofgardenia/the-kingdom-of-gardenia

You can also follow the progress of the game through these links:

Website: www.kingdomofgardenia.com 

Twitter: @LittleRice_bowl

Instagram: @LittleRice_bowl

Facebook: @kingdomofgardenia

Youtube: Little Ricebowl

Do you have anything else to add?

I would ask people to please check out the Kickstarter page for The Kingdom of Gardenia and back the project if you like what you see. I’ll be working hard to finish the game and spread the word over the next few months. Thanks so much to everyone who’s supported the project so far!

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As always, I’d like to thank Paul for sharing his insight into this wonderful-looking game and hope you guys will check out the Kickstarter project as well as Paul’s additional links to more information about the game as development progresses. The Kingdom of Gardenia looks to be a particularly promising game in my opinion and I can’t wait to see what the finished will have to offer players. I’d also like to wish Paul and Little Ricebowl Games the best of luck with the project. 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Reus (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Abbey Games

Publisher(s) – Abbey Games

Designer(s) – Adriaan Jansens, Dennis Pullens & Nick Witsel

Programmer(s) – Bas Zalmstra, Maarten Wiedenhof, Manuel Kerssemakers, Dennis Pullens, Tim de Jager & Jacco Krijnen

PEGI – 7

Developed and self-published by indie developers Abbey Games, Reus is a unique type of real-time strategy game, whereby the player must create a world and influence the populace to maintain as peaceful a civilization as possible. Overall, I was extremely impressed with how original this game is, and I would recommend it to any fan of the strategy genre who may be wanting a much different experience than what they may normally be used to.

Graphics – 7/10

Making use of hand-drawn 2D graphics, I really like the conceptual design of this game. It gives it a deceptively innocent look about it, when in fact, it can become a wonderfully hectic challenge to maintain civility among the world’s people, and provide resources as and when they’re needed, and to not overdo it in any way. The game’s soundtrack can also add to this depth in deception, as it sounds very peaceful against a potential foreground of problems that muse be solved.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game puts the player in control of four ancient gods, who must be used to create different forms of terrain across the planet to allow for the development of civilization, and it’s expansion. The more food and gold mines the people are able to utilize, the more prosperous it’ll be, but more prosperous societies may become greedy and complacent, and be the subject of envy amongst other civilizations that may exist across the world, thereby increasing the risk of conflict between them, and affecting the level of peace throughout the land. Though it may not be the first game to introduce mechanics of the same ilk, as it does draw inspiration from strategy games such as Empire Earth and Sid Meier’s Civilization, it does it in a very different way to either of the aforementioned and provides a challenge unlike any other.

Controls – 10/10

As a strategy game, it is inevitably best played on PC, as it can be quicker to issue commands to the gods and carry out tasks as and when required through the use of hotkeys. But on consoles, it’s not unplayable; it’s still quite easy to get to grips with the controls, and the overall gameplay system. In fact, it can arguably be seen as a greater challenge playing a game like this on consoles. I felt the same way when I played Tropico 5 on PlayStation 4, and Reus is no exception in my opinion.

Originality – 9/10

To put it simply, I’ve never seen or played a game like this before. It’s 2D graphic design and unique way of playing makes it stand out from every other strategy game ever developed. It gives testament to how willing and capable indie developers are of creating new concepts for games of pre-existing genres. There’s been Don’t Starve, Five Nights at Freddy’s and Super Meat Boy to name but a few, and Reus is as every bit as innovative as those examples in my opinion.

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Overall, Reus is an enjoyable and insanely unique gaming experience that comes highly recommended by me. As a fan of strategy games, I had a lot of fun playing this title, and I’ve no doubt that other strategy game fans will feel a very similar way about it.

Score

33/10

8/10 (Very Good)

Tomodachi Life (3DS)

Developer(s) – Nintendo SPD

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

PEGI – 3

Dabbling into the life simulation genre (something relatively rare for Nintendo), Tomodachi Life challengers gamers to create their own world and inhabit it with a populace, who must be kept happy and kept on track to do such things as stay full, stay fashionable, realize their ambitions and find true love. Even though this game was hyped up something fierce, and Nintendo even went so far as to upset an entire community by not including the option to pursue same-sex relationships in the game (something I won’t condone in the slightest), I wasn’t particularly impressed with it.

Graphics – 4/10

Whilst most games that feature the miis as central characters don’t necessarily have much in terms of concept going for them, it seems to me like Tomodachi Life borrows elements from the likes of Wii Fit and Wii Sports Resort. And to me, the idea of a game having adopted elements from already generic-looking games doesn’t really bode well. The small pluses are that the game is well polished enough and the amounts of different foods and clothes offer a small level of variety in terms of visual presentation, but I don’t think anywhere near enough was added to keep it fresh.

Gameplay – 4/10

I think the same thing can be said for the game’s play too; a small amount of variety, but not enough to keep players wanting to play. I’d played this game all week, and found to become very repetitive very quickly. There is some value to playing it in that the characters can be made to say some funny things depending on their mood, and I did like the brief interspersions of turn-based RPG combat that can be experienced once the island’s fairground is unlocked, but other than that, I didn’t really find any deeper substance than that in terms of gameplay.

Controls – 10/10

As a simple, and at least relaxing life simulator experience, on a globally familiar handheld console, there was never going to be any kind of problem with the game’s control scheme, as this kind of games had been developed and published by other many times prior to the release of Tomodachi Life. I look at this game as basically being a glorified version of the Tamagotchi, and in all honesty, I found them harder to cope with back when they were the in things than I do this.

Lifespan – 10/10

Since there is no fixed lifespan, there is no worry about players having to worry about making conventional progress, and this is a game that can simply be picked up and played as and when. However, I think that without a great level of depth in gameplay, it’s somewhat safe for me to assume that there could be many players out there who would play the game for a couple of hours at a time for a few days, and then simply not touch it ever again, because in that time, they will most probably have experienced most of what the game has to offer.

Storyline – N/A (10/10)

Though there is no preset story, and only a basic premise behind Tomodachi Life, whereby different people’s lives can be led, that’s what makes the game unique in a sense. A lot of different stories concerning a massive variety of different characters can be told in a small amount of time, and there aren’t many games I think of off the top of my head, which incorporates such a system. The game also has a varied and sometimes wonderfully weird sense of humor to it as well, which I think adds a small level of artistic expression to the overall experience.

Originality – 3/10

The problem is that the system whereby the game’s story is encompassed is about the only original things this game has going for it in my opinion. There’s nothing overly unique about the gameplay, and though Nintendo may be relatively new to the life simulation genre, I would have thought they would be capable of bringing something new to the table to break the mold of previous games in the same category. I was excited about the release of this game after watching various trailers for it, but I now believe I was misled into thinking that this game could have been more than what it turned out to be.

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In summation, although certain aspects of Tomodachi Life save it from being a terrible title, I still feel that it’s a gaming experience unworthy of Nintendo. They have developed some of the greatest and most legendary video games to have been put out to retail, but I don’t feel that this stands out as one of the greater titles in their library by any means.

Score

41/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Theme Hospital (PC, PlayStation & PlayStation Network)

Developer(s) – Bullfrog Studios & Krisalis Software

Publisher(s) – EA

PEGI – 12

Theme Hospital is a simulator game, whereby the player must manage various hospitals by researching breakthrough medical advances, employing competent and committed staff, and of course, successfully treating as many patients as possible. The game is notable for it’s immersing gameplay and twisted sense of humor. If history has gone a different way, that humor may be seen as even darker by others, as the fictional and comedic diseases used in the game, such as Discrete Itching and Chronic Nosehair were put in to replace the originally planned inclusion of real-life illnesses into the game. While that does add some controversy, it was thankfully nevertheless tailored to be much more light-hearted and comedic, and most importantly, gameplay came first.

Graphics – 5/10

While comic relief is added in the game’s graphics through some of the comedic looks of some of the patients with ridiculous diseases, such as Bloaty Head, there was never going to be much else in terms of concept in a hospital simulator game. There are a few full-motion videos adding a bit more to the game’s comedic value as well as the darker aspect of its humor, but other than these small elements, there’s not much else to look at, unfortunately.

Gameplay – 8/10

Theme Hospital was one of the most addictive games I ever played growing up, and that level of addiction still holds up to this day the way I see it. I remember it was one of the first games that made me understand how something that could be seen as being mundane and repetitive in real life can be made to seem extremely entertaining. There have been many other games come and gone that have tried to replicate that feeling with the same level of success; indeed most recently, I’ve been playing the game Papers Please, which could easily fall under this category, but very few have succeeded on the same level as this game.

Controls – 10/10

The simulation and real-time strategy gaming genre had been long since perfected prior to the release of Theme Hospital, and so it was unlikely to begin with that there would be any problems with the game’s control scheme, and so there isn’t. Theme Hospital, though relatively difficult to master, is simple to get to grips with.

Lifespan – 3/10

The biggest issue I have with this game, however, is that there is a fixed lifespan, making the game very short-lived for one in its genre. The game’s main mode can be complete in less than six hours, and for a game that can be made to last an infinite amount of time, that’s almost unforgivable. Unlike Rollercoaster Tycoon, there doesn’t exist any kind of endless mode, whereby players can just build and maintain a hospital, and stick to it; they simply have to meet all the hospital’s requirements, and then move onto the next until the game is complete. That, in turn, also affects the gameplay, as this makes it a lot less satisfying to play than it easily could have been.

Storyline – N/A (10/10)

Theme Hospital doesn’t have any kind of established story or even much in the way of a basic premise; but nor did it need anything like that to be any more enjoyable. The only element of the story is in the game’s humor, which can make the ambiance of the game both funny and taboo at the same time, but otherwise, there isn’t much else to talk about in terms of story. There’s no need for the game to lose marks for not having something that it didn’t necessarily have to have.

Originality – 8/10

Simulator games had been around for some time prior to this, but this game was in a class of its own. It garnished a great level of popularity among players and is still unlike anything I’ve ever played since. It was instrumental in shaping a lot of my own personal viewpoints about gaming, and it’s my hope that more titles like this come along in the near future, with the same, or an even greater level of originality attached to it.

Happii

Happii

Overall, whilst it hasn’t stood the test of time, as well as other games of the 90s have, Theme Hospital is still fairly addictive and fun to play, and it’s dark and twisted humor and a great level of uniqueness has made it a cult classic, and I would still recommend it to anyone reading who hasn’t tried it yet.

Score

45/60

7.5/10 (Good)

The Stanley Parable (PC)

Developer(s) – Davey Wreden & Galactic Café

Rating – N/A (Discretion is advised)

The Stanley Parable has developed about three years ago, as an attempt by its creator, Davey Wreden to go against the kind of narratives typically found in video game stories; and my goodness, he accomplished that. It’s unlike any other interactive story I’ve ever experienced, in that it’s a lot interesting and open-ended. Though I wish a bit more could have been added in terms of gameplay to keep it a little bit more interesting.

Graphics – 6/10

Though the visuals can indeed seem extremely generic and dull at first, as the game progresses, they become thoroughly more varied and engrossing; taking place in factories, lush fields, and even Matrix-style computer rooms depending on which direction the player takes. The fact that there are so many places to go throughout the course of the game in itself makes for a fairly wide degree of visual diversity for a game that takes place mainly in an office building.

Gameplay – 4/10

The game takes on a first-person mode, but only containing a handful of things to do in-game. There are no enemies to fight or puzzles to solve; only the facility to go off in multiple directions, thus effecting what ending the player is treated to. As I said, I wish the developer had added at least a little bit more to make the gameplay that bit more enjoyable, but ultimately, it feels more like watching a film, unfortunately. It’s impossible for me to fully appreciate games that are made solely for the sake of art, and having next to no basis in viable gameplay.

Controls – 10/10

As a first-person with next to no other functions apart from walking, turning and interacting with certain objects and buttons, there was hardly anything the developer could have gotten wrong during the making, and so there aren’t any problems to address; so there is this positive to deduce, at least. If there had been any issues with the controls, then it would have inevitably led to me having major issues with this game.

Lifespan – 6/10

It will take roughly 10 hours for players to take each individual route and witness each individual ending since there are a fair few to discover; the only basis in gameplay this title truly has in my opinion.

Storyline – 8/10

The story is most definitely the greatest aspect of this game; no matter how confusing it may be to people after a while. It follows an ordinary many called Stanley, who is guided by the player through a series of different paths leading to different places with a plethora of different events unfolding; all the while being narrated by British actor Kevin Brighting. Aside from the surrealist goings-on that happens throughout the course of each playthrough, Brighting does provide an extremely good narration, and at times also even bring an element of dark humor, as well as breakings of the fourth wall.

Originality – 7/10

Though this game does have of the most unique stories ever told in a video game (indeed, one to go against other video game narratives by design), the gameplay remains largely unoriginal, and consequently, I can’t call it the overly unique game that many other critics have taken to calling it. It’s all very well and good to have such a strange story add to the game’s charm, but for me, the most important aspect in any game is the gameplay, and unfortunately, this title comes up short in that respect.

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To summarize The Stanley Parable is indeed an extremely strange game with an interesting story. However, for all the room there is in the game’s environment, it seems criminal to me of the developers to not add any more basis in gameplay that what there ended up being.

Score

41/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)

The Escapists (Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Team17

PEGI – 7

Different from anything Team17 have ever done before, I found myself fascinated with what The Escapists had to offer in terms of gameplay, but was disappointed to find how short a time one playthrough can be made to last. Set in a prison that the player must escape from with the aid of the other inmates, it also delivers an unusually light-hearted and comedic portrayal of prison life.

Graphics – 7/10

The visuals are extremely reminiscent of games in the 16-bit era such as EarthBound or any of the original Pokémon games. Whilst it could be viewed as a step back from the more modernized visuals from Worms Revolution or even Flockers to a certain extent, they still work fairly well to portray the aforementioned light-heartedness of the game’s overall atmosphere, and in turn, Team17’s subtly warped sense of humor.

Gameplay – 7/10

Overall, as well as being particularly different from most top-down 16-bit games of the way back when it’s also extremely satisfying to play for how short a time it can be completed in. There are quite a lot of side quests to do in between other missions allocated by other inmates. There is also quite a strong Minecraft influence throughout, as crafting items from collectibles is integral to the ultimate objective of the game, which is to escape the prison.

Controls – 10/10

As Team17 have worked with PC hardware since their founding, there is and never should have been any issues with the game’s control scheme; especially not with a game like this, since from what I can gather, must be one of the easiest control schemes to work on.

Lifespan – 4.5/10

As I mentioned earlier, for how much substance there is in gameplay, it is disappointing to think that one playthrough of this game can take an average of 7 hours to finish. I personally hate it when a game’s lifespan outlasts its gameplay value. I encountered this many times throughout the seventh generation, with the release of such games as Batman: Arkham AsylumDeus Ex: Human Revolution; and South Park: The Stick of Truth. Considering that this game would also have taken considerably less time and effort to develop than any of the aforementioned examples, it just makes it that much more unforgivable.

Storyline – N/A (10/10)

Again, in lieu of the tradition set by the developers, The Escapists doesn’t have a fixed story, but only a basic premise, whereby the player character, pre-selected by the player before the start of the game, must find a way to escape the prison in which the game is set in. Though I think it would have at least been interesting to have some kind of back story added to it to again possibly add even more to the game’s comedic element, I was happy to see that the game wasn’t at least marred down by any attempt to create any kind of singular narrative.

Originality – 7/10

Though there have been countless top-down RPGs over the years, from Pokémon to EarthBound to Final Fantasy to Chronicles of a Dark Lord, there is something about The Escapists that does set it apart from the rest. It differs in a negative way, in how short a time it lasts compared to most others, but in a positive way in that the gameplay and the objectives involved are drastically different, and doesn’t feel quite as repetitive without not being addictive at the same time.

Happii

Happii

To summarize, The Escapists is a pretty good game but could have done with lasting so much longer than it did. I feel that out of all the games that Team17 have made, whereby lifespan is largely non-applicable, I can’t help but feel that if the same had been applied to this title, in the form of some kind of endless mode perhaps, then it could have ended up being something particularly special.

Score

45.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Race the Sun (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 & PlayStation Vita)

Developer(s) – Flippfly

PEGI – 3

First appearing as a Kickstarter project, and having a budget of merely $20,000 attached to it, Race the sun is an endless runner game with a strong element of the Star Fox series attached to it, but like it, providing gamers with infinite replayability and a decent amount of challenge. Though I did find a couple of faults with the title, I did also find it to be pretty entertaining, and I would recommend it to any fan of the series looking for a new test.

Graphics – 7/10

For the small budget that this game had attached to it, the visuals were fairly well handled, and the limited textural detail allows for it to run pretty smoothly on consoles, with a sharp 60 fps frame rate. The best-looking element in the game is the sunset in the distance throughout each run of the game. It’s vibrant and captivating as well as pretty realistic. The biggest complaint I have is that not much more time seems to have spent by the developers thinking a little bit more about the conceptual design of the game since the surrounding scenery is largely bland for the most part.

Gameplay – 8/10

Though the main objective is to simply last as long in each run as possible, whilst collecting power-ups on the way to keep the sun from setting, along with items collected to increase the high score and maximum points multiplier, each run is kept fresh by giving players side missions, involving the fulfillment of certain criteria, which in turn, unlocks upgrades for the player’s ship, such as increased magnetic attraction to items or sharper turning. Despite the repetition, the game has the ability to keep players entertained for an extraordinarily long time and become extremely satisfying once the player has mastered the game’s basic mechanics.

Controls – 10/10

At first, I did think that the turning mechanics were far too stiff and that such a drawback was largely unnecessary. But once I acquired the turn upgrade, and when I realized that it was all part of the challenge, I quickly changed my perception o the game overall. There are no other issues with the controls to address and is a huge part of why it can become so incredibly satisfying to play.

Originality – 6/10

The worst aspect of the game is how little it is able to stand out among even games of its own genre. With Star Fox, for example, there are quite a lot of cultural references in its conceptual design, which were inspired largely by Japanese mythology. But with Race the Sun, the only cultural references that can be found are in the various different taglines that appear before the start of each run; one of which being “do a barrel roll”, referencing Star Fox itself. The gameplay does have a little bit of originality about it, but it’s easy to put this down to the developer’s limited budget, and they wanted to concentrate mostly on gameplay, which I am in favor of, so I don’t think it should lose out on too many points in this category.

Happii

Happii

Overall, despite its lack of conceptual design, Race the Sun is a pretty fun and addictive game to play. To me, it is a fairly good example of how a developer’s imagination can play a bigger role in a video game than however much it may have cost to make it.

Score

31/40

7.5/10 (Good)

Proteus (PC, PlayStation 3 & PlayStation Vita)

Developer(s) – Curve Studios

Designer(s) – Ed Key & David Kanaga

PEGI – 3

Recently made free to play to PlayStation Plus subscribers, Proteus is a game, which simply has players waling around an open world and not doing much of anything else. To me, it is an awful wretched game, whereby it’s biggest and most interesting talking point is in its development history; like many other games of its kind. Originally, Proteus was intended to be an RPG in the same ilk as Skyrim or Oblivion, but when the developers realized the extent of the work, which would have to been put into it to make that happen, they instead decided to make a game, which was in their own words “non-traditional and non-violent”. Even Sony insisted that more content be added to the final product before they ported it to PlayStation consoles, but the lead developer, Ed Key, admitted that he and the creators never attempted to steer the direction of the development of these features, adding only a minor facility to the PlayStation Vita port of the game. To me, Ed Key has made Proteus sound like the most half-hearted video game ever developed, and it was certainly made apparent to me whilst playing.

Graphics – 6/10

One of the few aspects I can give at least a small amount of credit for is its visual style. The scenery is made heavy use of pixel art and makes for a few things in the game to marvel at; though not a lot. There have been many more indie games that I have played and reviewed this year that have stood out to a much greater extent than this; games like Don’t Starve and Chronicles of a Dark Lord. There was much more thought put into the visual concepts of those two games than there was in this, and by that token alone, make this game pale in comparison; although the soundtrack to this game is also pretty relaxing and well done as well.

Gameplay – 0/10

As I stated before, Proteus is a game whereby there are no objectives or things to do but to walk around a randomly generated in-game open world. I’m all for open worlds in video gaming, but not empty ones void of things to do. It’s because of this that I even hesitate to call Proteus a video game. Some people have gone so far as to label it an anti-game, which many actually consider being controversial, but to the people who have coined that term, I say good call. The game makes for no entertainment as well as no replay value, and it’s a wonder to me why the developers ever bothered to release it at all.

Controls – 4/10

Though there aren’t a lot of faults with the game’s control scheme, the fact of the matter is there wasn’t a lot for the developers to get wrong, as the game makes use of only a few buttons on the controller. Aside from the movement being pretty stiff, the fact that there’s nothing to do in the game warrants little use for most buttons, which certainly by today’s standards is embarrassing.

Lifespan – 2/10

To complete the game’s one arbitrary objective of changing through seasons in quick succession before the credits roll will take about 40 minutes. But beyond that, the game will only last about as long as the player’s interest, which shouldn’t be any longer. My own personal interest didn’t even last long enough for me to want to finish it. The game can be finished multiple times in quick succession, but I only consider that t be part of the problem.

Storyline – 0/10

Not only does this game not have any kind of narrative attached to it, but there’s nothing in the way of a basic premise either. Nor did I find any kind of abstract or elaborate story elements open to any kind of interpretation whatsoever. It’s a shame that developers couldn’t even be bothered to add some kind of premise to the game to make it even vaguely more interesting than it turned out to be.

Originality – 0/10

This game is also in no way, shape, or form unique. Though the developers called this a non-traditional game, it doesn’t establish any warranted new video game traditions or break any boundaries of any kind. It lacks everything that a gamer would want in a game and introduces nothing new that a gamer may want to see in one.

Furiious

Furiious

In summation, Proteus is a catastrophic excuse for a piece of software that shouldn’t really be considered a video game; easily the worst game I’ve played this year so far. Even by the lead developer’s own admission, it’s a title that turned out to be less than what he initially wanted it to be. So in effect, it’s unfinished work, and credit should never be given for incomplete work.

Score

12/60

2/10 (Terrible)

Pokémon Snap (Nintendo 64)

Developer(s) – HAL Laboratory & Pax Softnica

Publisher(s) – Nintendo

Director(s) – Yoichi Yamamoto, Koji Inokuchi & Akira Takeshima

Producer(s) – Satoru Iwata, Kenji Miki & Shigeru Miyamoto

PEGI – 3

Pokémon Snap was one of many spin-offs to the Pokémon game series for the Game Boy developed during the fifth generation of gaming. The premise of the game revolves around taking pictures of wild pokémon, catching them all (and I use the term loosely) in a different manner to which gamers certainly would have been accustomed to at the time. This unique rail-shooter for me made for a lot of entertainment growing up, and it still holds up fairly well to this day, I find.

Graphics – 7/10

Featuring some of the best visual quality the Nintendo 64 had to offer, there are some fairly diverse settings as well as minimal in-game glitches; something, which had been a problem for the console early on. Though the frame rate can drop at times, especially in the opening cinematic, it doesn’t become enough of a problem to warrant too many complaints or to hinder gameplay, most importantly. But what I like most about the visuals is how the pokémon are portrayed throughout the game. The settings speak of how each type of pokémon adapts to all the different environments present, which in turn, provides a much more realistic representation reminiscent of conventional animal behavior. They portray the critters in a much more different manner than in any conservative game in the series that came before it.

Gameplay – 7/10

The game revolves around taking pictures of pokémon across the different stages of the game and unlocking each stage, whilst trying to rack up the high scores by taking the best quality pictures. It is very satisfying and fairly addictive to try and capture the perfect shot of each pokémon and to rack up as high a score as possible. But a major problem I found with this title was that there are only 63 of the original 151 pokémon present, purely to coincide with the fact that it was released on the Nintendo 64. And as a result, the game is somewhat lacking in substance. I think if the developers had included all 151 pokémon, then there would have been a lot more for gamers to play for, and in turn, a lot more call for different level designs and for more substance in general.

Controls – 10/10

Although there are no problems with the control scheme, it is also fairly unique in a certain respect. It does blur the lines somewhat between first-person shooters and simulation games and combines elements of the two to make for something pretty exciting, also being comparable to such future games Dead Rising and Beyond Good & Evil.

Lifespan – 6/10

Although it can merely 2 hours to rush through each course and unlock all the extra items used to take pictures of certain pokémon, there is quite a bit of replay value to be had in re-visiting each course and trying to capture as many excellent pictures as possible. The Wii Virtual Console version added even more with the inclusion of the facility to share pictures with friends. But after grinding through each course and collecting everything, it does become a case of racking up the highest score possible, but as I said earlier, I can’t help but feel there would have much more to it with the inclusion of all 151 pokémon.

Originality – 10/10

Pokémon Snap was and still is among some of the most unique games ever developed. The only games like this that have come along since are the likes of Fatal Frame. There was no concept like it at the time, and it’s a concept that has never truly been fully replicated since.

Happii

Happii

In summation, Pokémon Snap has been praised as a refreshingly unique game, and I couldn’t agree more. It comes highly recommended from me and will make for a good few hours of fun gameplay.

Score

50/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Papers, Please (PC & PlayStation Vita)

Designer – Lucas Pope

PEGI – 16

Described by its creator Lucas Pope as a dystopian document thriller, Papers, Please puts players in a most unlikely situation for a video game; as an agent of a passport office in a dystopian society. It’s one of these ideas for a video game that I take a personal interest in; those that may sound ridiculous and tedious on paper, but once put on a computer can make for something particularly special.

Graphics – 7/10

Though the visuals may not be cutting edge, it’s in their conceptual design where it truly stands out from a ton of different video games in general; let alone indie games. The color palette of the setting is very morbid and colorless, which to me, adds to the overall atmosphere and despair associated with an unfair society that the game is trying to perpetuate. It looks like something straight out of a newspaper, which also emphasizes its political aspect.

Gameplay – 8/10

The objective of the game is to process as many people into the country of Arstotzka as possible before the time runs out. People’s passports and other documentation must be checked to ensure it is valid and up to date. Any discrepancies can be inspected to ensure that the citizen in question in clear to enter the country, and if their discrepancy cannot be cleared up, they can then either be denied entry, or even detained, depending on whether they may be on a wanted criminals list, or in possession of weapons or contraband. For a concept based on what would in real life likely be an extremely repetitive job, it’s surprising how much suspense can be felt whilst playing.

Controls – 10/10

Since this is essentially a simulator game, the control scheme should never have come into question, since there have been countless games like it released beforehand; and so it doesn’t. The game depends solely on the pressing of icons using a mouse, very much like on a PC itself, so consequently, there are absolutely no issues with the game’s controls.

Originality – 7/10

This game deserves acclaim for being an independently developed video game, and yet, being able to stand out to the extent that it does among every other simulator game ever developed by some of the most familiar developers in gaming. People may have thought that Goat Simulator was unique, but Papers, Please offers players much more entertainment in a much more unlikely scenario.

Happii

Happii

In summation, Papers, Please is one of the best independently developed games I’ve found on Steam so far, and a game I would highly recommend. It may look morbid and monotonous at first glance, but beneath the surface lies an extremely entertaining game.

Score

32/40

8/10 (Very Good)