Tooth and Tail

Genre: RTS
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes

About The game

To get your attention right away: Tooth and Tail is a competitive indie RTS. The backstory of the game is revolution in an animal world: animals revolt against other animals.

The game essentially addresses the issue with most rts games, where high skill level is necessary to even start thinking about competitive play. The most radical change is that you can’t scroll the map freely. You control a commander unit that you can move directly (keyboard/mouse or gamepad), this unit scouts the map, orders the other units and places buildings. Here’s how it is handled: your initial building, gristmill, has spot for 8 farms. You have 3 farms in the beginning of the game. Each farm costs 60 food to build and produces 1 food per second. As game progresses, new gristmills on the map can be captured.

You can build defensive buildings, new farms or “lairs” for the animals. The lairs automatically produce soldiers (while your supplies last), and you can then order those units around either by commanding them all or by selecting a specific unit type. The unit commands are pretty much straightforward: button click can mean attack, holding the mouse button while highlighting the enemy makes everyone focus it, or running away and keeping the mouse button pressed means your army retreats with you.

In total, there are 15 unit types and 5 defensive buildings. You pick 6 of these in any variation before the multiplayer battle, thus adjusting your strategy for every battle separately.

Pros and Cons

At the state of the previous patch (1.0.3) – on my ranks it felt that the game has the “rush meta” – I could win most games by building small units, but I’ve checked out the tournament videos and they showed much more elaborate plays.
Overall, the game matches are extremely short and intense. I personally never had a game longer than 8 minutes.

The aesthetics are the strong point of the game. The pixel art is cartoonish, but once you think about this, it gets pretty brutal. It is implied that the animals eat meat of others, which adds a cannibalistic feel to the game. Some might tell you: Vladimir, wait a second, in the animal world it’s called “carnivorous”. To that, I can answer: “The animals in the game have anthropomorphic features, so you can’t distance yourself from looking at them from the human angle.” So in the end, the game that is light on the art implies heavier subjects, making a unique dark atmosphere.

The drawback to this is that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between walkable and unwalkable tiles. You’ll be getting stuck with your hero, simply because some places that seem to be passable turn out not (mostly in bushy tilesets, gets quite extreme in singleplayer, especially the mission where you have to free multiple squads of your soldiers).

All maps (even in single-player campaign) are generated randomly. That means that a lot of matches in single-player will be made easier if you get lucky. In competitive you can get screwed because of that, but it surprisingly does not bother you much: first, it teaches you how to adapt better. Second, if you are placed at a worse position than your opponent and lose: no big deal, it only took 5 minutes.

Summary

The strongest point of the game is the entry threshold: if you enjoy watching RTS games, but can’t get into competitive scene because those games require lots of concentration / time to get good, Tooth And Tail might be a good alternative. Since you control one commander, it takes the pressure off micromanaging tons of units / controlling the minimap / bases like crazy. You can start the games quickly, quickly win or quickly lose. The amount of strategies and possible plays still big due to unit variety and strategical decisionmaking (expansion vs offense). Overall, I can safely recommend Tooth and Tail to both RTS fans and people who are willing to get into the genre.

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Feature Image taken from the game store page, here

Vaporum Steam Screenshot

Genre: Dungeon Crawler / RPG
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: If you like Steampunk and/or enjoy Legend of Grimrock

About The Game

Vaporum is a grid-based dungeon crawler RPG in an original steampunk setting. It has this old-school dungeon crawling in first-person perspective. This is something you would encounter when playing the old Might and Magic games or the newer Legend of Grimrock series.
Your hero wakes up on an island in front of a mystic tower without any memory of who he is, what happened here and how he got here. Obviously, he decides to enter. That’s how the game begins.

Now, personally, the first thing I usually think about when I hear “dungeon-crawling” is turn-based, randomly generated level exploration. The game has neither: the levels are pre-defined and the combat happens in real time. The only thing that resembles turn-based gameplay is movement: you don’t get to move freely. Instead, the dungeon is split into tiles and you can move from tile to tile only. This constraint is done pretty seamlessly, so the movement limit won’t bother you.

The Gameplay

As I mentioned, the fights are in real-time: monsters have attack patterns and abilities, which you can remember and use to your advantage. When fighting the simplest ones – you can simply “dance” by moving forward one tile to attack and back one tile when they attack you, avoiding damage this way. The harder ones tend to move less predictably or have ranged attacks – so dodging will require considerably higher game expertise. This is where the game actually shines: you have a classical RPG-like inventory and levelling system, but those stats (depending on your chosen difficulty) are only an addition to your mechanical play skills. On higher difficulties, you can’t simply stand on one place, hit enemies and then use healing items. You’ll simply run out of repair kits and die.

The strong part of the game is immersion: the sounds fit the dark tower atmosphere well. The lightning is just about right: darker tones that allow you to see where are you going, but still make you feel like you are in the tower of evil. The level design supplements that: in this case you see how pre-defined levels have a clear advantage over randomly-generated content. You’ll be getting notes, “diaries,” that drive the plot forward. You’ll be hearing creepy noises while trying to figure out what happened. Levers, switches, keys – those are essential parts of your crawling experience. The puzzles that tower presents you are not complicated, but will still dilute the combat and give you some rest.

The game was marketed as “Legend of Grimrock” in Steampunk universe and it’s pretty much correct. Unfortunately, that also includes the flaws with camera controls. Turning happens by pressing the Q/E keys or holding middle mouse key and then dragging the mouse towards new direction. This is OK for exploration and puzzle solving. But in the midst of battle, this adds another set of buttons that delay your actions. One obvious solution would be to allow turning during the battles without keyholding, but alas, it’s not there.

Summary

Despite the high production quality, Vaporum definitely won’t be for everyone. Personally I find the mix between tile mechanics and real-time combat a bit awkward, but that should not deter you from the experience. If you enjoyed Legend of Grimrock – you are going to enjoy this game too. And because of the great immersion and skill-based, difficult combat, I highly recommend the game to legend of grimrock fans and those of you who look for more games in steampunk setting.

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Feature Image taken from the game store page, here

Galaxy of Pen And Paper Steam Screenshot

Genre: RPG
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Wait for the bugs to get fixed (but after that: 100% yes)

About The Game

Galaxy Of Pen & Paper is a spiritual successor of Knights of Pen & Paper, by Behold Studios. It’s a turn-based rpg game that features questing and battles. The setting is what makes it different from hundreds of similar games: the game takes you into the role of a DND player, seamlessly shifting you between the “real” world and the “space” world. At one moment, you see the game master and players actively discussing game mechanics at the table, and at the next – their alter-egos, questing through space, picking fights.

Pros and Cons

The game is packed with not-so-subtle references to other space series and puns. Writing and wordplay are the strongest moments of the game. That also means you’d need to read a lot: between battles, there are a plenty of dialogues and character interactions.

Combat is pretty straightforward: you have two battle lines on each side (3 characters on every one of them MAX). Characters take turns hitting each other. If you want to succeed in combat, you’ll have to take advantage between skill synergies. For example, you could learn a poison skill on one character, and a skill that gives attacks healing effect on the other one. Or the skill that burns poisoned enemies. There are quite a lot of combinations and that make the combat fun.

The good thing is that since you are playing as a GM and a party at the same time, you can often pick the amount of opponents that you are facing. If you get a task to defeat 4 enemies, you can split them into batches of two and fight them two times separately. The difficulty decreases, but the amount of rewards also goes down.

One new thing that has been added is space battle element. It’s a minigame that essentially involves ships throwing dice, accumulating action points that can be spent on healing/attacking. One thing that I could not find out is the way to upgrade the ship health: right as you get your ship, you get sent into optional quests that involve destroying other spaceships. There’s a catch though. You can not see the strength of the ships that you are going to fight. So when I encountered a starship with 400 hp, it quickly annihilated my 140 hp ship. This happened quite a few times. There was also no way to escape from the combat like this.

One thing that could be improved is the character progression UI. All of the skills are mixed in one box, available to see from the start, sorted by price. In my opinion, this is not a right approach, as it can get quite confusing. It’s also not so easy to distinguish between learned and not learned skills, since they all seem to be bundled together. It would have been easier to group the skills in some ways (passive / active? Class/generic? Group by effect?)

The other thing is bugs: the game have quite a good number of them. I could occasionally open the character window in inconvenient game moments and then never close it. Once I’ve started a class questline (and failed it), the savage stayed with my party and when I got another party member – it has been placed in the same position and essentially I had two characters in one slot during the combat.

Summary

Overall, $14.99 might seem like a steep price – but I say the writing and the immersive atmosphere are worth it. However, there are quite a lot of bugs, so I’m a bit hesitant. I genuinely had fun while playing it, but be prepared to encounter quite some bugs as you play. The different reviews of the game mention bugs of different severity and one of the encounered ones was quite severe, but not absolutely gamebreaking. If you don’t mind the bugs – I can recommend the game to all of the RPG fans.

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Feature Image taken from the game store page, here

Shio - Indie Game Reviews 2017 Steam Screenshot

Genre: Platformer
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes, if you are a fan of difficult platformers

About The Game

Shio is a platformer where your character jumps between lanterns to reach the unknown destination (which is gradually revealed to you by plot). If you have played “Ori and the Blind Forest” – remember the waterfall level? The one that did not have much checkpoints and was insanely hard to jump through? Yup, this game essentially evokes this same feeling, only gives different obstacles in much greater variety. You’ll often have to remember position/timing of every platform before you can succeed.

The Good

  • Great level design: each new mechanic is gradually introduced into the game. At first the jumping is trivial, but then it gives you much harder challenges that you have to complete using things that you’ve learned
  • Creative approach to obstacles: lots of variety that requires player to adjust his play style. Some notorious examples are lanterns that reveal obstacles for a small while, the ray that kills you if you stay in one place for too long, the platforms that you need to jump away from right before they disappear
  • The game is difficult, but because of that it is rewarding: you might want to smash your controller sometimes, but after 20 minutes of attempting the same challenge and completing it you’ll feel gratification. Completing the challenges is insanely rewarding
  • The graphics and style are captivating: the backgrounds are colorful and character animations are also well done.
  • Great ambient music that enhances level traversing experience

The Bad

  • If you are playing with controller: left stick is used for movement (the usual way), but for some reason if you press up or down – your character keeps moving left or right (depending on your previous direction I think). It might not seem like a big deal, but you’re probably going to instinctively press “up-right” when you are jumping right for example. This is when it will get tricky, as the system somewhat gets confused if you’ve been going left before. Worse news if you are used to pressing “up” when jumping, since the character will simply divert to previous direction. I had to switch to d-pad, which was ok, because it’s easier to avoid up/down buttons.
  • The door-opening lanterns are often unresponsive: they just don’t activate the same way as the ones that help you jump. You’ll often miss them at first because they seem to require different timing when you jump towards them (which will mess up your mechanical memory / control expectations).

Summary

Apart from controls (which are troubling but not unbearable), the game offers a great jumping/platforming experience. It’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy high difficulty games which require perfect performance from the player– this one might just be for you.

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Feature Image taken from the game store page, here

MegaSphere - Indie Game Reviews 2017 Steam Screenshot

Genre: Action / Platformer
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes

Disclaimer: the game is in early access, so a lot of things are probably going to change/improve. The review is actual for the 4th of May 2017.

In MegaSphere, your character is investigating why are the stars of Solar System are going dark. It is an action-platformer, where you explore massive randomly-generated levels with well-defined objectives and progression.

The Good:

  • Challenging difficulty. The game feels really skill based. When you die from the enemy attack – you know exactly how you messed up.
  • Plenty of weapons with different shooting patterns and tactical uses. Weapons can also be upgraded by putting special modules in the slots. I.e. reflection that makes bullets bounce from walls. Shooting also feels nice: the weapons you get at the start are by no means powerful, but it’s a great feeling when you hit something successfully and then finally destroy it.
  • Great lightning and particle effects: the backgrounds are dark, and they make a great contrast with explosions / other game effects, which are masterfully made. These are hands down some of the best effects I’ve seen in a 2d game.
  • The music and sounds are OK. Not exceptional, but not bad: music does not feel repetitive and gives a good background for playthrough.
  • Environment with destructive elements: some parts of the levels can be destroyed, there are also explosive crates which you can use strategically to damage enemies.

The Bad:

  • The beginning is a bit slow and somewhat boring. There’s a good idea about gradually introducing game features by continuously unlocking them to the player (dash -> gun -> upgrade menu -> codex -> map, etc), but right at the start you need to traverse large spaces without much stuff going on. It gets much better when you enter the second location though.
  • No pausing the game when you open codex / equipment window. It’s probably by intention, but it often prevented me from reading codex / equipping stuff when I felt like it.
  • Maybe a bit more explanation about how saving works? I.e. codex record about this: right now even if I reached the checkpoint before boss, died, then respawned at the same checkpoint a few times, then exited the game – I still get thrown one level back to the checkpoint there.
  • Navigation tab could really use a legend somewhere, because icons of the map are not really obvious (i.e. at least in codex, where weapons are described; the game could do the same with navigation icons: icon – description).
  • AI is sometimes easily fooled (especially with destructive environment) – but in all honesty it does not make the game any less challenging

Summary

I think the game got my attention by its difficulty. The no hand-holding approach definitely works here, making fights and exploration entertaining and victories rewarding. Due to this, I can strongly recommend the game.

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Feature Image taken from the game store page, here

Pinstripe - Indie Game Reviews 2017 Steam Screenshot

Genre: Adventure / Platformer / Puzzle
Game Page: Game On Steam
Should You Buy It: Yes

Pinstripe is a game about ex-minister who takes a journey through Hell in search of his daughter. If the original plot does not intrigue you, there’s some more to it: you really don’t know why the minister is there and what’s going on, other than your daughter has been kidnapped. Encounter quite eccentric characters, solve puzzles, jump on platforms, and fight enemies. All that in order to reach the wrongdoer who took your daughter from you.

Pros

  • Amazing Graphics: the lighting, the particle effects, the backgrounds, the surrounding
  • Responsive controls: if that was a simple puzzler – that would not matter much. But in Pinstripe, you also encounter enemies apart from puzzles and will have to do some shooting. I’ve played the game with the controller and suggest you do the same.
  • The plot is not obvious at first: as you go through hell, you continue encountering some clues that build the full storyline in the end
  • Great Music and Sounds that help you feel the atmosphere of the game
  • The points mentioned above transform it into a spectacular combination of game and art. This is hands-down the most captivating title I’ve played this year. It catches your attention from the first seconds and does not release it until you are done.

Cons

  • The game is about 2, maybe 3 hours tops. After you complete it – there’s the “plus” mode, but it’s the same story, only allowing you to buy extra items to make it easier. To counter that: You’ll probably have to play one more time if you want to see all the references and understand everything better.

Summary

Despite the short length, the game turns out to be a unique work of art. For some of you, 15 EUR for 3 hour entertainment might seem too much and I can understand. But it turns out to be a rare combination of both solid gameplay mechanics and immersive storytelling: the jumps between platforms / destroying enemies feel good, but it is never overshadows the most important thing: plot. It feels like an experience to live through and the game to play at the same time. Honestly, the game has so much going in these 3 hours that it feels totally worth it in the end. It is what it is: a sequence of breathtaking experiences that does not release you until you figure out the mystery in the end.

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Feature Image taken from the Pinstripe store page, here