Source: Cashmoneys Price: £1.69 Where To Get It: Steam
Bards have quite the reputation in tabletop circles. They can and will romance anything, or at least try to, whether it’s advisable or not. And, due to their natural charm, this will often work. It gets them into trouble, sometimes fatal, as much as it provides rewards.
So, in essence, they’re human beings who aren’t aromantic.
Okay, okay, there’s more qualifiers and nuance than that, but yes, Bard Harder is simultaneously about one of the more out there examples of bardery (A lich, to be precise), and of their player’s struggle to ask the DM they like on a date.
It’s cute, it’s silly, and, overall, it’s a story about the importance of knowing the target of your affections, listening to them, and clearly communicating with them. It’s a visual novel in which most of the bad ends are due, simply, to not using the information you gather.
I’ll freely admit I didn’t gather all the endings. I just wanted the one. But it was the main one, and it was sweet. Aesthetically, it’s pretty nice, UX is pretty standard for a Ren’py work, but the music and visuals appeal, and the writing… I have to admit, I agree with the people who simultaneously spoiler and screenshot said lich screaming “WHY ARE YOU SO CUTE?!?”
If you want a short, appealing visual novel, this one’s a pretty pleasant one, although I would drop the content warning of “Kissing a skeleton.” Even I’m not sure how that one works.
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £30.99 (Soundtrack £3.99) Where To Get It: Steam
The game has the following CWs: Mentions of suicide, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, parental abuse, and human experimentation.
Hrm. Hrm, and other thoughtful noises.
Abyss of the Escape is a visual novel/escape room game, in which five girls are trapped, seemingly alone, in the ruins of FOUNDATION, an underground home for humanity after the surface basically got fucked. And shit’s not going well for them, not helped by certain things along the way, and the secrets and traumas each person has. It’s interesting, dark stuff.
It’s such a shame then, that it’s timeline implementation is awkward, and many of its puzzles are obtuse, some downright frustrating in their lack of information. I had to rely on hints for a fair few puzzles, and a few, in particular, I would not have found the solutions to without either pixel hunting, or looking the solution up. All I will say about that, if you play it, is that two numbers you haven’t lit up are hidden inside another, single digit number. It must also be said that some of the puzzles feel out of place for the situation.
Huh, big barrier in the garbage room? What purpose did that serve, except to arbitrarily separate the two characters involved for a dual viewpoint puzzle? Making tea? Good Doctor, I understand that you don’t want to let your daughter near your best tea, but an entire puzzle about tea making is only going to interest the tea fanatics. Who will then get turned off by the puzzle lock on the crucial ingredient. Although the last puzzle of that scene did fit the character of the Doctor.
And these two faults kind of taint the whole experience, which is a shame, because there’s some legitimately good writing in there, including the main twist. The rather heavily foreshadowed main twist.
Aesthetically, it works. Clear UX, some good illustrations, solid music, some good VA, and overall, as noted, good writing, because a good twist is foreshadowed, but even heavy foreshadowing works if it doesn’t quite make sense until the twist.
But yes, the awkward implementation of the timeline, some obtuse and sometimes arbitrary puzzles, they bring the game from legitimately good and interesting, to a cautious recommendation with heavy qualifications.
Timelines, VN devs. I’ll stress this and stress this until it sinks in. Timelines. They make our lives easier.
Source: Review Copy Price: £5.99 Where To Get It: Steam
Found thingumajigger type games can be interesting. When, that is, they properly open up. Or don’t tell a random person who found a random phone that they’re looking for a doctor who isn’t actually a doctor but travels through time and space.
Y’know, just normal found mobile game stuff, which wouldn’t result in the protagonist dropping the thing in the trash or handing it into a police station or… Look, there’s immersion breaking, and then there’s “everything about this feels wrong from very early on.”
None of the choices I’m given seem like something I would say in the situation. Some of the clues I’d like to pass on I can’t. I’ve been handheld for approximately 17 minutes (I’ll update as I go on.) For the first twenty minutes… I don’t feel like I’m solving anything.
It does, after this point, begin to open up. But… I still feel like I’m an observer of an observer, someone who’s more watching someone else click through a phone, listening to phone calls, talking to, as mentioned, someone who just casually mentions the Doctor like it ain’t no thing… A person I’m watching who doesn’t make sense to me. In fact, every time the Doctor comes up in conversation, I wince. Because, from the outside looking in, it feels so forced.
And, at times, I feel a frustration I haven’t felt in a long time. The frustration of having to go through all dialogue options to end the conversation in question, get back to the uploading of clues. And that’s forced in, most of all, when talking about the Doctor.
If they’ve bought the game, they know who the Doctor is. They know. They don’t need Petronella Osgood to forcefeed them.
It’s at this point that I feel I should point out that the history of Doctor Who games (and their quality) has been… Variable, but tending toward the lower end. Which is a massive shame, because it’s an interesting franchise, with some really memorable plots (and yes, some notable stinkers.) And yet…
It tries to jumpscare me, and I merely sigh. I see the staticky bits, and I tut, noting that this is not an epileptic friendly game.
And the mystery… After an hour or so, I stopped caring. I’m surprised I lasted that long, because apart from trips to jumpscare territory (and one unskippable video of a secondary antagonist, Mr. Flint), it… Didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. It was holding my hand for a fair few portions, and, honestly, it didn’t sell the concept it was trying to pull off at any point in that hour and a half. I come away disappointed, and the history seems on course.
I have more faith in Petronella Osgood than this, game, chatty though she may be…
Source: Cashmoneys Price: £24.99 (Expansion Scenario: £5.99) Where To Get It: Steam
I just keep finding cheerily dystopian games with guitars in, don’t I? Well, this one’s particularly cheery in its corporate dystopia, and is a metroidvania style deal in which your abilities allow you to explore the world more, see interesting beasties, and get yourself wrecked by them, so it’s not like I can complain. All I can do is eat the monsters that look rich. Or, more accurately, drain their mineral contents so I can make sweet, sweet traversal items and upgrades.
And, just like a metroidvania, there’s a fair amount of being lost, because, apart from shortcut points, you’re basically relying on muscle memory and a few upgrades to work out what’s what, and where.
So, first things first, the humour. Oh god, the humour’s on point, and it’s clear which rich asshole(s) Kindred corp’s head are inspired by. They shall not be named, for they are also namesearching rich assholes. But it’s pretty obvious, and oh boy are they smug, clueless jerks who’d rather throw money and people at a problem than use resources efficiently.
That’s our job, apparently.
Aesthetically, the game is pretty clear, with a clear, unobtrusive UX, cool alien designs that make the beasties in question instantly recognisable (along with other features, equally clear), and a broken world that feels awe inspiring at times to travel in. Musically, well, it’s good, it’s frontier western guitars, and yup, dystopian future with space-trucker guitars again!
This is not a bad thing. This is, in fact, a good thing. Equally good is the world. The pufferbirds are very satisfying indeed to feed to the grinding maws, to punt, and to generally bully, the creatures are, overall, well designed, big glowy weak points and all, and they feel like they belong in this screwed up, shattered world. Which, like your journey, is one big, long WHOOPS.
But it’s an enjoyable whoops that controls well, has some good acting (and some delightfully godawful adverts), a dystopian story that nonetheless made me laugh, and an ending that I saw coming a few hundred parsecs away, but still delighted me in the details. I found some of the later stuff and some of the bosses a bit of a drag, mainly because said boss fights were multistage, but also relied on maneuverability with limited healing, but overall, I found it well paced, and likable enough that I wanted to 100% complete before hitting that lever to take me back home.
And after I do, what I’ve found will totally be used safely for the betterment of mankind. Right?
Oh. Yeah. Comedic hellscape.
This review sponsored by CAMPING CUBICLE, the portable office cube with a coffee maker in-built, so you can feel like an office drone even in the farthest reaches of space, as you should!