Game review: Donut County for Android

Completely unrelated to the proper review, I’d like to mention that I got Google Play Pass to see if it was worth the subscription, and so far, it is not. The first game I tried, Party Hard Go, kept glitching and popping up a developer’s debug menu warning of a bunch of unplayable sounds. This happened so frequently in the first level that I just deleted the game and moved on. Almost everything else I’ve tried has turned out to be the free shovelware prevalent on Google Play, but with ads disabled and all the microtransactions made free. And you know what? They still aren’t fun games.

It was in the midst of rifling through unsatisfying titles that I remembered Donut County, a game I’d meant to play, but that got pushed to the back of my mind in favor of larger games. First I searched to see if it was part of Play Pass, and it was not. But it was only €4.29, and that’s cheap enough that if I didn’t like it, at least I didn’t have to be angry about losing too much cash. I’ll drop spoilers right now and admit that I liked it quite a bit.

Donut County is a game told in chapters. The first is a prologue set in the present, while many chapters speed forward to the future and tell their parts as flashbacks revealing the slow destruction of the town. The final chapters return to the present, culminating in a final chapter with not one but two boss fights, and then there’s a prologue of sorts added to the closing credits.

So, what’s destroying the town? I don’t want to spoil too much, but it involves a racoon and an app that summons holes. You move the hole around to collect small objects, causing the hole to grow, and the larger it gets, the bigger objects you can collect. This escalates in every level to taking people, their cars, and their houses. (In many cases this includes the surrounding rock formations, warehouses, and even a skyscraper.) Continue reading

Game review: Vampire Survivors on Steam

You know, I honestly did not expect to go this long without reviewing anything, but as I’ve mentioned before, a series of crises month after month left me with no free funds to buy new games. It wasn’t terrible for me, as I’ve got maybe a hundred old games to keep me entertained. But it’s been hell on my poor blog, and my dipping interest in my TBR pile hasn’t really helped matters much. (To be clear, I am trying to read. I just keep hitting points in each book where I add them to the Did Not Finish pile, and I don’t review what I can’t finish. In my mind, it isn’t fair to the author for me to go in swinging with a half-formed opinion.)

Anyway, the gaming sites all released their Game of the Year lists, and Vampire Survivors kept popping up. I wasn’t sold on the sales pitch given by most writers at launch, but when it showed up on so many lists and is apparently crushing the most played lists on Steam and consoles, I figure maybe there has to be fire under all that smokey hype. I went to Steam and saw it was on sale for 3.99, and I thought, Hey, if it sucks, it’s only 4 euros, so there’s no need to be angry about not liking it.

So how do I like it? Let me give you the short version first: I just unlocked all of the in-game collection to get the final character, Queen Sigma, and tonight I’m buying the DLC to keep playing. Yeah, it’s good stuff, y’all. This is a rogue-lite where every round can only last 30 minutes before you’re booted back to the main screen. (Although later on you can turn off that timer if you want.) But it’s that short “bite-sized” chunk of gaming that inspires so many late-night “just one more run” sprees. Every run can unlock something new, or provide its own unique challenge, so the temptation to keep dipping back in for “just one more” is super strong.

Without knowing the developer, in early playing I imagined some programmer at Konami going into a meeting and pitching a new Castlevania game during one of those down times when Dracula was still sleeping off his last Belmont-induced defeat. Said programmer pitched it as such: “The survivors of Dracula’s last attack must clean up all the roaming monsters infesting their lands, and to do so, they’ll level up a bunch of weapons and become walking bullet hells!” Then the Konami execs said, “It’s too crazy and will never work. Get out of here! Baka!” So the programmer left the building, turned around, and yelled, “I’m not crazy, and I can make it work! It’ll sell like chocolate dorayaki! You’ll see! Kusou!” (That last curse being uttered because they looked around and realized that to all the gathered observers, it looked like he was shouting at the building, and thus was thoroughly insane.) Continue reading

Versus series: 3D Fallout brawl…out

I need to apologize for the lengthy delay getting this entry posted, as it was finished last month as a Word file. said file has been sitting on my desktop, hidden in the clutter of game tiles, often overlooked and forgotten as I search for what to play next. Then yesterday, I was starting to think of my next review when I thought, Crap, did I ever post the Fallout battle? I did not, so here we are.

For me, the Fallout series (or at least the 3D iterations of the series) are kind of like Borderlands 2. I don’t really like the overall story, and a lot of the details “under the hood” annoy me. So why would I play them? Well, it’s because I like how the shooting feels.

Both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas were games my husband bought to play on our Xbox 360. I remember trying Fallout 3 for the first time, entering Megaton, and meeting Mr. Burke. As he was offering caps for killing an entire town, I told him to leave. He said he would, and then he just sat there, staring at me. I pulled out a 10 millimeter pistol and shot him in the forehead. He immediately stood up and shouted, “Uh, you’ve got blood all over my suit!”

I shot him six more times in the head before he died, and then I shut off the game and walked away for almost a year. Mr. Burke is not wearing an armored helmet. He does not have a metal plated skull, but the damage of a Fallout gun is so pathetic that a fedora can count as effective armor.

I would later bounce out of the game again for side quests that made no sense, for the godawful way Karma works (or doesn’t, in so many cases), or for random bullshit like VATS firing all of my selected shots through the doorway behind the gun instead of the target just two inches in front of the barrel. Continue reading

Versus series rematch: Dark Souls DLCs

I actually had another versus match planned between Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4, but I was still debating who gets the win on that trio. At the same time, I’ve been continuing to play through the DLCs of the Dark Souls games when it struck me that for as much as I love the vanilla games, I mostly just suffer through the DLC to get the extra loot.

I think it comes down to the design philosophy that goes into balancing the main game versus the ones used for end game content. The directors want to keep your character on the back foot in the DLC, so everything, even little minions do massive damage. You’re feeling confident coming off a well earned win against The Nameless King and his giant thunder turkey and yet, the moment you step into The Dreg Heap, pathetic crawling imps rise out of the ash and with a weak ass swing lob off half your health. The very first boss is a pair of demons, and when they both fall, one rises for a second phase fight. Doesn’t matter which one you kill, they both have massive super attacks in their second phase. Where you were dishing out 500 points of damage per swing of your OP weapon of choice, suddenly it’s only doing 100, and that Demon Prince is damn near one-shotting your character with every attack.

I think in most cases, the developers wanted you to do the DLCs co-op. The number of minions and the sheer density of them suggest that they didn’t want players to go it alone. For instance, in Ashes of Ariandel, there’s a forest with over forty soldiers as well as some dire wolves and a few giant warriors just to sprinkle a little extra pain into the mix. Frequently, once one enemy is alerted, it starts a train of new arrivals, and as a single player experience, it’s frustrating to have killed twenty enemies in a single area, only to turn around to see three more running up to join the fight. Continue reading

Versus Series: Dark Souls Remastered VS Dark Souls III

Welcome back to the second installment of the Versus Series, which will be pitting Dark Souls and Dark Souls III head-to-head to determine the superior Souls experience. Unlike the first entry in this series, today’s competition is more difficult to point to a clear winner. To make a proper comparison, I started both games with the Thief class before pivoting to magic casting. I did this to get access to the Bandit’s Knife, a dagger that does bleeding damage and is so fast that it can get in three attacks before most enemies and players have a chance to react. As for using magic, I mostly didn’t until well into the mid-game runs, when I finally got access to the real heavy hitting pew-pew. That’s the sweet spot where the saying “magic casting is Dark Souls on Easy Mode” actually becomes true. Before that, playing as a magic caster is like asking for a handicap in both PVE and PVP.

Before I start, I’ll answer the inevitable question: Why did I not include Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin? The simple answer is, I just don’t like it as much as the first and third entries. I’ve racked up over 600 hours playing it on PC and PS4, so I’m not saying I hate it. It’s just that I’ve logged thousands of hours in the first and third entries, and I just keep coming back for more. That claim isn’t hyperbole, either. My Steam copy of Dark Souls Remastered has 922 hours logged. Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition has 451, and that’s not including my time on the Xbox 360 version. My PC version of Dark Souls III has 1,117 hours logged, and I played almost as many hours on PS4. By comparison, Dark Souls II has only 347 hours on Steam, and maybe half that for the PS4. Again, I don’t hate it. I just don’t love it the way I do the first and third games.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I played the series in reverse order, being initially intimidated by all the discourse about how hard FromSoftware’s games are. I avoided Dark Souls and the second entry because I didn’t feel like being abused for being a mediocre gamer, but I was convinced to try the third thanks to a video by James Stephanie Sterling. In it, they argued that the games weren’t as hard as the hype made them out to be, and what’s more they were incredibly fun and rewarding. So I bought the game the day after that, going into it blind just to see who was right. Continue reading

Versus Series: Fallout Shelter PC VS Mobile

While I haven’t been playing many new games lately, I have still been playing a lot. To give an idea how much, I had to buy a paint pen to redraw the button letters and symbols for both my PC controller and my PS4 controller because I wore the old ones off. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to play newer games like Elden Ring, either. It’s just that right now, my PC’s graphics card can’t handle newer games, and the bare minimum card is priced just a hair over 700 euros. (Thanks, crypto-bros.) On the PS4, I’d have to get PS-Plus, and we’ve managed to have a financial disaster every single month for a year and a half. The latest is an eye infection that almost blinded my dog, and who now needs weekly visits to the vet to make sure she won’t need surgery.

So…no PS Plus, and no money for a graphics card has me playing my older games, quite often to answer random questions that I hadn’t considered before. For example, what happens if I “kill everyone” in Fallout New Vegas? (The answer is kinda meh, as lots of NPCs respawn after a set number of days, doing anything even remotely nice breaks each faction’s karma system to the point where they don’t react to being massacred, and Mr. New Vegas doesn’t have any scripted content for the rapidly vanishing population aside from Benny, Mr. House, and Caesar. Even the ending is broken, with the narrator praising The Courier for building a “truly independent New Vegas” before the faction montage proceeds to list all the casualties.)

This kind of experimentation led me to start playing certain games together to answer the question, which is better? For this first entry in the series, I got started playing Fallout Shelter on my phone, and after a couple days, I wondered how it compared to the PC version. One download and two rage quits later, I have an answer, and…the results may surprise you.

Continue reading

Game review: Dwarven Dungeons (Android/Netflix)

When Netflix announced plans to release mobile games as part of the standard subscription service, I got a little excited that finally, I might find some curated games without ads, in-app purchases, or annoying gameplay meant to coerce me into buying items to speed up the game. I’ve now played 6 games, and with few exceptions, I’ve dropped them all the same day I installed them. They may no have ads or in app purchases, but they are all still set up to run almost exactly like freeware games. I expected a similar result for Dwarven Dungeons, mainly because it’s an idle clicker, and I tend to lose interest quickly in games that pretty much play themselves. Instead, I stuck with this game for around a week and a half before rage quitting and deleting it.

In theory, it’s not a bad game, and even makes some improvements on the idle clicker formula. The story goes that a great evil had invaded the homes of the Dwarf kingdoms, and now five brave warriors have volunteered to reclaim their lost homes. That’s the whole plot, and gameplay is similarly easy to explain. Each of the five dwarves is armed with a pick axe  and a weapon. The pick axe is for busting rocks, and the weapons are for the monsters rooming the halls of each dungeon. In order to progress to higher levels, the dwarves need to be leveled up with gold, minerals, new weapons and new armor, which are found in every dungeon by breaking open treasure chests. Lastly, in addition to weapons, each dwarf has an elemental spell that can be upgraded to extend its reach as well as multiplying the damage it can do. The dungeons are randomly set up with a number of rows that must be cleared, at which point you can choose to press a button to go to the boss, or keep mining for gold and loot to raise your team’s power levels.

That’s the whole game right there. It’s a dumb premise, too. This great evil you never face decided that the best use of all this subterranean real estate was to pack it full of rocks, the occasional monster, and random treasure chests full of loot only fit for his enemies. But hey, game logic rarely tries to make even a lick of sense, so let’s just run with it. Or crawl, mostly, because the pace of every dungeon dive quickly turns tedious. Continue reading

Game review: Salt & Sacrifice for EGS

Salt & Sanctuary was one of my favorite 2D games in a long time, so much so that I bought it again on the PS Vita and played through all the classes again after beating the game 12 times on the PS4 version. When the sequel Salt & Sacrifice was announced, I was ready to join the hype train until I watched the trailer, and then I commented, “Looks good, but hunting mages is kind of a big step down from fighting actual gods, isn’t it?”

When it finally arrived on the Epic Game Store, Salt & Sacrifice proved to have deviated wildly from being a Dark Souls inspired platformer to borrowing heavily from another genre. Most folks are comparing it to the Monster Hunter series, which I don’t know because I bounced hard off of two separate games. But the new formula is also a bit like the God Eater series, which I had a better time getting invested in. I’d also compare it to the free-to-play Suda51 slugfest Let It Die. Whether you can get into this mage hunting labyrinth will depend entirely on how willing you are to indulge the daily grind lifestyle.

The way it works is like this: first, you hunt a named mage with a specific set of themed skills. They start out with the elements you would expect, with a pyromancer and a cryomancer being your first options. Then the game adds a hydromancer and an electromancer before tossing in venomancer, aereomancer, necromancer, and so on and so forth. After you defeat the named mage one time, somewhere in their starting area will be a shrine to unlock a slightly stronger nameless mage hunt of the same kind, and finding a Tome of Fate in the area unlocks Fated Mage hunts, which are like randomly generated daily hunt lists.

“But why would I want to keep hunting the same mage over and over?” You ask. Well, killing each named boss unlocks a set of armor and weapons specific to their class. So you’ll want to harvest icky bits from each mage to make the equipment that strikes your fancy. Additionally, mages have the potential to drop Pyrstones or upgrade materials that take all equipment from “cute but useless” to “workable instrument of death.” There is, however a huge but on farming pyrstones coming later in the review, much bigger than mine and my hubby’s combined, and that’s a whole lotta but, let me tell you. But first, let’s cover the basics: story, setting, and controls. Continue reading

Game review: Control for Steam

“Oh, boy, another review from Zoe,” you say. “How much did she hate the game this time?”

Well, in a plot twist you may not have seen coming, I LOVED Control. I was dazzled by the graphics, the story, the characters, the gameplay; everything. Is it a perfect game? No, but those don’t really exist. Is it a great game? Yes, absolutely, and barring a few complaints, I’m putting this beautiful beast firmly in the “need to play again” category.

Let’s start with the plot. Your character is Jesse Faden, a young woman guided to the offices of the Federal Bureau of Control, a Men in Black government organization full of the finest conspiracy theories, to search for her brother. The FBC took him years ago, and Jesse is ready to search for him inside their home base. But she’s shown up just in time to catch the middle of an invasion from extra-dimensional aliens who have possessed most of the staff and are using the FBC headquarters as a staging ground to invade the rest of the planet.

Jesse is aided by a silent partner, a mental hitchhiker who she frequently talks to while running through the halls of the FBC HQ. At first, I thought she was talking to me in some kind of fourth wall experiment, but the real answer of who the partner is is slowly revealed, and it’s a great bit of storytelling. Continue reading

Game review Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech for PC

OOOoooh boy, this game, y’all. I’ll be honest, I several times thought about just walking away from it, but then I remember I needed to review something, and I’ve already dropped something like 40 mobile games for being utter shit. Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech isn’t utter shit, and for long spans it was even somewhat enjoyable. It’s a bog standard RPG story about friendships and family wrapped around a card game, and I do like card games.

But you know what I don’t like? Games that randomly introduce absolute bullshit mechanics to give them the illusion of challenge because they couldn’t think of anything else to do. I’m talking about enemies who can kill player characters with one hit, or others who can instantly recover all of their health, dragging an already agonizingly long fight to double or triple the time they take to finish. There’s monsters who can hit all party members for half their health, meaning the next turn has to be spent guzzling expensive health potions instead of playing cards. Half the time, they’ll just cast the same spell again. It’s almost like they only have two cards in their deck.

All right, let’s set that aside. First things first, here’s the story. The game starts with two friends, the wannabe knight hero Armilly and the aspiring mage/alchemist Copernica, wandering outside their village to search for the great MacGuffin, conveniently leaving them unaware that the Void army is burning their homes to the ground and kidnapping the Heroes Guild to make way for unleashing The Behemoth and thereby destroying the world. As usual.

Upon returning to town, they pick up their childhood friend Galleo, a recluse living in his mother’s basement who serves as both a tank and a healer while also acting as that one guy who’s always complaining about doing any of this crazy adventure stuff. Later on, the trio are joined by wandering ronin Orik, who has a mysterious connection to the villain of the story, and then by twins Tarah and Thayne, orphans who are presented as thieves, but mostly serve as backup mages and healers. Continue reading