Niche (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.59
Where To Get It: Steam

Niche, a turn-based strategy/simulation game about keeping a clan of animals alive, is, on the one hand, an interesting one, with subtle details and features that make you think. On the other , it’s also a game which could do a better job explaining how to play it.

Ready to move onto the next island in story mode. Firstly, I don’t *have* to, that’s part of the fun, and secondly, those flowers are the teleport field. In case that wasn’t clear.

Briefly covering gameplay, depending on whether you play story or sandbox mode, you are either a single animal that travels islands looking for… Well, family, at first, or a mated pair of critters on an island type (and difficulty) of your choosing, simply looking to live your lives as best you can. Each critter only has a limited amount of energy (actions) with which to do things like cut grass for nest materials, mate, gather food (Be that by gathering fruit, killing animals, digging up tubers, or the like), and, at the end of each day, food is eaten, going down the pack order. Anything that can’t eat dies. Anything that gets sick and doesn’t get better dies. Anything that tries to tackle something it can’t handle dies, and anything well out of its element (Say, deep water) will probably die. Finally, compatible animals can be invited into the tribe with food, and you can have a chance of flipping the genes on animals that mate, changing your children into… Well, different children.

So far, so sandbox, and, once you get into it, it can be quite interesting. It’s visually consistent, with a clear, friendly looking style, and similarly, there is clear visual representation of the different traits. Unfortunately, the game does not tutorialise all that well, so you’re going to be doing a lot of exploring and fiddling (and probably failing) before you’re going to get anywhere. Some quick tips include that the bottom left buttons are act (paw), check DNA (the DNA twist), Select Mutations (the wider DNA twist), and family tree (the trio of animals.)

Niche is definitely a game packed with information to parse.

Is it worth it when you get into it, though? Myself, I somewhat like it, as it’s something I haven’t really seen much of since Reus… A chill game which, yes, does have consequences if you screw up, isn’t the friendliest game out there (Ahh, Reus. I still have a love/hate relationship with those 36 remaining achievements, all bastard hard to unlock), but is also, in its way, low pressure. Nature, after all, finds a way to survive, and I don’t mind going back to see if, maybe, just maybe, this time, I can make it work, and nobody has to worry about digital watches anymore. Bigger snout? Yes, I’ll be able to sniff out those lovely roots and berries better. Bigger claws? Ahhh, yes, that’ll do nicely, I can dig, and if any of those mean Bearyenas pop up to try and eat any of us, then we’ll be able to take them on in future. But wait, why is my clawed little child sick? Ah. Two of the same immunity gene, making them more susceptible to a certain illness! Damn youuuu, nature!

A few days later, half my tribe is sick, but the rest has survived, thankfully. Albeit clawless. Boo.

In summary, it’s a game that very much depends on replayability and experimentation for fun. Which, personally, I don’t mind coming back to now and again. If it could tutorialise a little better, then it would be a pretty good, relaxing, sandbox game. As it is, it’s an at least alright, not quite that friendly sandbox game.

BEARYENNAA, BEARYEENNNA, OOH, IT- doesn’t quite have the same ring as Snake, but yes, they’re quite deadly.

The Mad Welshman appreciates that, one day, his creations will rise up and supplant him, taking their rightful place as the inheritors of Earth. In the meantime, the Bearyenas work.

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Princess Maker 3 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where to Get It: Steam

Well, this is technically a Going Back, but, since the game has now been released in the West, localised where previously it… Wasn’t, it’s in one of those interesting grey areas. Which, honestly, is a good segue into how I feel about Princess Maker 3 compared to Princess Maker 2. In places it giveth… And in others it taketh away…eth.

The Fairy Queen, both plot device and save/load feature.

Princess Maker 3, while by no means the most recent title in the series (I’m pretty sure we’re at 5 right now) is once again the tale of a single parent father figure who is given a small child by supernatural agency, and told to make them a Princess… Or at least, do the best they can. Just like the rest of the series, you do this by assigning study, work, and rest periods, buying things for your child, talking to them (Greeting to talk normally, Gentle to be uplifting, Strict to be stern), and generally really trying to earn that #1 Dad Coffee mug. Or pulling a Gendo Shinkicker, and raising your child badly. And yes, like other Princess Maker games, there are Bad Ends.

Beyond that, though, it feels very different, and, in some ways, a lesser game. Some of it, I’ll freely admit, is purely my own feeling. I don’t like the fairy butler, I’m used to Cube, the demonic butler. But other things are a lack of clarity. Wait, that’s the calendar? I added an entire year’s worth of study before I realised that what you’re actuallly doing is setting a week or two (hitting the B key to see how it affects your Budget in the calendar screen), swapping between the three categories, before finally hitting right click, watching it play out, and occasionally stopping things to have a heart to heart with my dear daughter. Who became a spoiled teenager. Although the achievements assure me she’s going to make a fine Southern Fairy Princess… Er, if I do some things it’s not told me about. Meanwhile, I liked that I could customise said Dad to more of an extent (now giving him a profession.)

Oh, damn, I missed the boat on a second Summer vacation!

Meanwhile, no more adventuring. It’s just working, studying, talking, and the addition for Princess Maker 3… Rivals. My darling girl is quite right to be weirded out by these individuals, one dimensional nerds whose only goal in life is to pick someone who seems to be about to best them in classes, pick on them until they either give up or are bested, and then, as a result of being bested, they… Become besties with my daughter? It’s very confusing. Part of this is because the game is less clear in how it presents information, part of it a general problem with lifesim games in general, which have not received as much designer attention and learning as other genres. And this is, after all, an older example of the genre.

It’s taken several years to build this building, but by god, we did it!

Is it a bad game? Not… Really. It does its job okay, it is, in some ways, a more focused game than Princess Maker 2, and in others, it’s a less clear game than the previous installment. I honestly hope that we see the rest of the series hit Steam, as, from a design standpoint, it is definitely an interesting game, in a largely underexplored genre. But it is definitely a game of its time still, and it shows, in accessibility issues such as hard to read text and unclear tooltips. So pretty much a straight port. As such, if you’re interested in lifesim games, go in with the caveat that this is, pretty much, a straight port of a game from 1997, with all this implies.

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Academagia (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.99
Where To Get It: Steam

When it first came out, Academagia wowed people in the lifesim world with ripping yarns about life in a magical school. Now, the Steam version of Year 1 has hit, and the question has to be asked: How the heck is it?

Well, let’s get a thing out of the way first: If you do not like reading, then Academagia is not for you. Reading is, in fact, the majority of what you do in Academagia. And when you aren’t reading, you’re thinking of ways to have adventures while not skipping class, or what the heck to do. Because there’s a lot to explore, and considering a single playthrough can easily take a night away, it can at first be difficult to get into. It is not, it must be said, a terribly friendly game in a sense, as, while the character creation tries to explain things, it can often involve going back and forth between elements before finalising your character.

A swotty swot planning how to swot swottingly.

So this review is going to take the form of advice, if you like reading, how Academagia can be played a little more enjoyably.

Firstly, yes, you can go back and forth on character creation steps. You have points to spend on backgrounds and things, but you can go right back to stats if ideas present themselves. I often go for the Gift of Libraries, because I’m a swotty swot wot swots n wots, but you can be the child of a pirate, an athletic nobleman, the school gossip… There’s a lot of options, and at first it may seem like a mountain. Pick a path, get comfortable with it.

Read what things do as soon as you know about them. Academic success, for example, isn’t always dictated by the subject, but also by general exam discipline, knowledge in a secondary subject (Forging things, for example, is considered useful by Enchanters), and, of course, the odd spell to help you bone up.

The Steam version lets you resize and move panels. This is not advertised, but can be incredibly useful, especially when your specific resolution means that occasionally, it looks like you have a 0 in a subject, when actually, you’ve maxed it out.

He’s a *sneaky* little swot too, you can tell by the fact he’s maxed out his Glamour (Illusion) magic!

You have more options in dealing with a situation when you have a clique of friends (Kinda like a school gang, in a sense), but it’s by no means the only way forward, so if you feel like playing a loner bookworm (Hi), you can do so.

If you’re not a big fan of classical music, you can turn it off. Sadly, faces are pretty much set, and by college.

When it comes to skill chances, green text is good, blue is okay, black is 50/50, red is less than good, and purple is almost-no-chance. But just because it’s green… Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good choice. Sometimes a green choice is a “Get out of event” or “I choose to fail”, rather than a good thing.

So, essentially, that’s Academagia: There’s a lot of reading, but if you take your time with it, you can read a mostly charming, branching story involving a boy or a girl at a magical public school. I’ve fought pirates, settled arguments between ghosts, survived innumerable prankings (Including some jerky jerkface casting a love spell on someone I’d never met in school before… Asshole) , discovered the real history of the Day of Dragons, and, every now and again, seriously broken school laws and somehow gotten away with it. I’ve always had an exotic familiar, and sometimes, that’s been… Awwwh, not Craig!

Thankfully, my little swot’s familiar is Clarisse this time, a classy winged lady.

It’s okay. I’ll learn to appreciate him over my year in Academagia. I always bond well with my familiars. <3

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