Tag Archives: Adventure

Interstellaria Review

Every so often a game tries to wear multiple hats at once. In a giant stack. Trying to merge many different genres together. Sometimes this works very well. Sometimes it doesn’t. Or sometimes it works, but not as well as you might like it to.


PROS: Engaging, deep game play. Challenge. Humor.

CONS: clichéd storyline. Poor explanations of inputs, and rules to the player.

STAR TREK: There are a lot of parallels to the franchise here. Fans may want to jump in.

Interstellaria has a lot of genre elements in it. Point & Click adventuring. Strategy gaming. Space simulation. It takes all of these elements, and attempts to make a really delicious video game stew with them. At face value, it comes off as a rousing success. In practice, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Interstellaria starts with a short series of cinema screens that move the basic plot around. It’s years after a world war, corporations have taken over, and mankind heads to the stars. Where the threat of interplanetary war looms.

You start out as a randomized character, in a building. Your roommate kicks you out of your apartment, and you have to go looking for a job. the hunt takes you to a job on a freighter, where your space adventures begin. From here the game takes on elements from very early home computer space sims, and bits of FTL’s ship building. The ships allow you to place weapons, sleep chambers, warp core engines, tactical computers, and navigational computers around them. You can assign a role to each member of your crew. Captain, Engineer, you name it. You can also rename any of your playable characters. You can give them friends’ or relatives’ names. You can stick with the zany names the game generates. It’s entirely up to you.

The game has a lot of things to keep an eye on. You have to make sure you have enough crew members for each important role. Someone to pilot the ship. Someone for weapons. Someone for engineering. Think of this as an unofficial Star Trek game, and you’ll start to see the potential. Like the show, Interstellaria has you exploring the cosmos looking for new worlds to explore. When you discover a world upon landing (or crashing) on it, you can move your characters about searching for resources to bring with you. You can meet new characters, recruit them, and build your crew. The game will have you spending hours doing this. Discovering planets, life, and giving you a lot to do.

You’ll also have a number of encounters in space. Sometimes a hostile race will come along to destroy your ship. Other times you can hail them, and attempt diplomacy. The game has a lot of amusing dialogue trees during these moments as they lampoon a number of its sci-fi influences. Throughout the game you can also find items to enhance the statistics of your crew members. Some may give them faster speed, but cost more food consumption. Or let them stay awake much longer at the cost of another stat. The ships you command work very much the same way, and you’ll spend a lot of the game micromanaging the status of your engines, weaponry, and navigational computers.

During space combat you’ll also pull up an overhead combat screen where you’ll move your cursor around attacking enemy ships, as well as moving your own ship. This is where some of the game’s flaws start to crop up though. The game has a way of overwhelming you with the amount of things you need to pay attention to, and not directing you on how. Or more accurately not directing you on how with proficiency. There are text boxes that will pop up telling you to turn on weapons before you try to shoot them. There are text boxes telling you to move a guy to navigation. But it isn’t obvious just on how to do that. Especially when you start playing it for the first time. Even if you’ve played a handful of times it isn’t always obvious.

This becomes less of a problem if you get invested in the game. But for a lot of people, that means a lot of game time spent on training yourself to go through some seemingly archaic interfaces, and menus. Which isn’t fun to do. So it has the problem of hooking people from the outset. The game also has a number of small bugs. Giving items to certain characters can crash the game. For instance giving a robot character an item that uses food points, causes the robot to get hungry. Since the robot cannot eat, the game confuses itself, and crashes. On the surface, someone may say, “Oh it requires food. Robots don’t eat food. I can’t use this.” In practice you’ll have players who like to experiment, or players who don’t pay attention, and inadvertently discover these glitches. No game is bug free, and these bugs don’t completely ruin the game. But some of them will make you groan if you find one after sinking a lot of time into the game. So do save often.

The game doesn’t have quite the level of randomness of space roguelikes such as FTL. The map is the same, the instances are in much the same order. But the battles are randomized. The drawback is once you’ve discovered all of the planets you’ve seen most of the exploration portion of the game. But you might keep coming back for the battles, and ship building. But even with that being the case, many of the old space sims it pays homage to worked the same way. If you’re looking for a campaign you can take at your own pace this will still appeal to you. If you’re going more for a randomized builder it still might, though not quite as much.

In spite of its shortcomings I still recommend checking the game out. Especially for Star Trek fans looking for something that captures the spirit of the shows. It manages to be fun, if sometimes frustrating when learning what you’re supposed to do. But once you get past the learning curve it can be a blast. You can also be forced to start over too through your own ineptitude. So it isn’t a foolproof run once you have a handle on the star map chart. Your entire crew can die in a battle leaving you with no other option. It’s a challenging game. It’s worth playing. It just has some issues that keep it from reaching top warp speed.

Final Score: 7 out of 10.

Grim Fandango Remastered Review

I’ve said it before about other games, but it seems almost pointless to review Grim Fandango Remastered. It’s a good game. It’s a wonderful game. You’ve probably heard every big name from Jeff Green (of Computer Gaming World fame) to PushingUpRoses (of YouTube fame) sing its praises many, many times since it came out way back in 1998. So why bring it up again? Well, the recent re-release has had some time to simmer, and this might shock you. A lot of folks didn’t play it back in the day. Plus there are a lot of folks who weren’t around back in the day, and five of you may have somehow missed all of those other reviews, articles, and episodes.

PROS: The Lucas Arts classic adventure game in High Definition!

CONS: Not much replay value. Light on extras.

LAST OF THE GIANTS: Despite the critical acclaim, the original game didn’t sell as well as Lucas Arts needed it to.

Before delving into the game itself again, I’m briefly going to go over the extras. To be honest, Grim Fandango Remastered does not offer a lot in the way of extras, and bonus content. It doesn’t even offer much in the sense of settings in the PC version. You get a handful of sliders, and aspect ratio options. That is all. While this is a re-release of a fairly old game, this is pretty threadbare. The game was originally on PC, and while this re-release was shooting for the PS4 audience, the PC should have added some drop menus at the very least. Thankfully, one really helpful inclusion is the added mouse controls. Originally the game used a setup similar to Resident Evil’s tank controls. Those are still present in this version, but the mouse controls are much nicer. The game ends up feeling much more like the point, and click games that inspired it as a result. They’re not perfect, as sometimes you’ll want to go in one direction, and the game will think you indicated something else. It can be annoying, but it is a lot better than trying to navigate the game with tank controls.

If you’re insistent on using the tank controls, they’ll take you right back to the days of Resident Evil 2. They work exactly as you would expect.  You use the arrow keys to move, and a handful of other keys to perform functions.The problem with them is that going back to that scheme can feel very clunky. Particularly when trying to navigate around some of the objects. Even if it does give you the convenience of using a game pad or a keyboard. Still, if you prefer them for whatever reason, you’ll be happy they’ve been left intact.

Moving the mouse about the screen will pull up various icons when you discover an interactive object. One of them will have a description recited to you, another will be a command to take the item, while others will use an item. When moving your character with the mouse, you’ll just click wherever you wish him to go, and he will begin the long walk. Double clicking the mouse will cause him to run. Something handy to know when you want to get somewhere right away. This version also has much sharper graphics, and textures, which is great because you can see certain interactive items much easier. It also makes reading crucial text easier as the crisp resolutions are easier to see.

Grim Fandango tells the story of Manny Calavera (played by Tony Plana) who works in a travel agency in the afterlife. As a Grim Reaper, he has to get souls from the land of the dead to the ninth underworld. Clients who lived with enough virtue have more clout in the world, while those who lived pretty dastardly ones have very little. The worst of which are seen to have to make the journey on foot. Of course, Manny also has to deal with his overbearing boss who demands he turn high margins off of clients that are essentially loss leaders. Things get exciting, and terrifying when he manages to snag a higher ended client away from a coworker though, and that is when the game goes into high gear. The story has a number of twists, turns, involving mystery, and betrayal along the way. I won’t go into it here in case you’re one of the many who missed it in 1998. But there are tons of places online that go deep into the storyline if you want to see spoilers. Being an adventure game, I would advise against that, as the story is pretty much the point of playing the game.

Grim Fandango has a lot of great things going for it. It has hours of superbly voice acted audio to go along with dialogue trees. It has many well designed puzzles in it, many of which you’ll solve by accident. The game implores you to explore each area, at your leisure. Taking your time, checking out every nook, and cranny of every area. The game’s areas are laid out very similarly to Capcom’s Resident Evil. Each room is a huge pre rendered background, and you explore these rooms for items, puzzles or other characters to interact with. Sometimes the story will lead you to back track to somewhere earlier for something you may have missed. But it never feels tedious, or boring thanks to the addictive atmosphere. The game has a four act structure that you’ll eventually play through. The game is almost impossible to lose. So those worried about high difficulty need not worry. Adventure games of this ilk, are, and always have been about the narrative, the characters, and the world presented. The best of them will keep you invested with all of these elements. That’s why Grim Fandango is considered one of the best.

There are excellent performances from Tony Plata, Maria Canals, Jim Ward, Alan Blumenfeld among others, as well as a lot of creativity. The game blends a lot of Aztec folklore, with film noir to create not only a really fun story, but a really great aesthetic too. The game’s visuals are heavily inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead imagery, but has its own unique spin. Combine this with hints of Humphrey Bogart movies, and you have a winner. If you already own an original copy of Grim Fandango, there are a few positive reasons to pick up this remaster. First, (assuming you’re getting the PC version) you’ll be able to run it on a modern system natively. You won’t have to fiddle with DosBox emulation. Second, the improved graphics, and controls are a Godsend, that make an already great adventure game even better. The extras again, may not really do it for you, and again the lack of graphics, and performance options are a little bit disappointing. Nevertheless, with all of the improvements, and even some overhauls (some of the content was actually redone as it couldn’t be re-acquired, or imported properly.) it is still a title worth considering buying again. Especially if you are a big fan of Tim Schafer’s other major work.

For those who have never played this game previously, you pretty much need to experience it. Whether you buy the PC or PS4 version is immaterial. This game is almost essential due to the historical relevance, and its well deserved reputation in the realm of point & click, and adventure games.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Super Mario 3D World Review

One might ask “Why bother reviewing Super Mario 3D World?” Everyone in the gaming press pretty much loved it upon its release. It’s one of the best games on the Wii U, and one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary time for the console.  On the other hand, there are a lot of people who haven’t played it, and perhaps I can add something new to the discussion despite being late to the party on this one.

What you’ll love: The new power ups. The 4 player mode. MiiVerse stamp collecting.

What you’ll hate: Probably nothing. Though you might have wanted more sandbox levels.

Get on the floor: Bowser is apparently way into Disco.

Super Mario 3D World is easy to write off as the big brother of Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. Many did just that to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, as well as New Super Mario Bros. Wii U when those games came out. Despite the fact that they were both, and are very good games in the long line of Super Mario Bros. games. But to paint SM3DW with that same brush would actually be pretty far off of the mark.

Super Mario 3D World is actually more of a send up of every kind of Mario platformer rather than a strict 2.5D or 3D sandbox game. There are moments where you will have a sandbox or side scrolling experience. But most of the game’s levels are structured somewhere between the A to B design of Super Mario Galaxy, and the exploratory design of Super Mario 64. The game seems to cast the widest net this way, hoping to get not only long time fans of Mario, but lapsed fans, and new players as well.

All of the levels are fun, and in many cases addictive. As in every game since the Nintendo 64 era there are stars to collect in every stage. Every stage has a certain number of stars that need to be found in order to be able to play it, and most stages have three stars hidden within them. Some of which are a huge challenge to find, as they are well hidden. You’ll also need to use the gamepad’s touchscreen in a few levels, using it to open doors, pull out platforms, and more.

The game also uses its environments really well. Sometimes you will have to find a star in the background, and figure out a way to get back there to collect it. Other times there may be one that lies somewhere so far into the foreground you cannot see it. Some may ask you to risk your life to get them, and you’ll agonize over the logistics of how to do so without dying. Or sometimes there may be a time limit associated with it. The game tells you: “Hey, nab all of these green coins in 8 seconds.” To which you reply: “But there are Podoboos, Piranha Plants, and Goombas there.” The game then says to you: “Oh, sorry, I’m afraid you ran out of time. You’ll have to replay this level again if you want that Star.”

But you will replay that level. As well as all of the other ones. Because you will become a star fiend trying to get through to the end. Furthering the need to find secrets are the MiiVerse stamps in almost every level. These stamps don’t do much for you in terms of winning the game. However during your time with the game you can connect with other players for strategies, asking where a secret item is, or even just venting about your 43rd loss on Grumblump Inferno. When you do, you can use the stamps to illustrate your message to the other players.

Also coming over from MiiVerse is Ghost Data. This feature shows Mii’s from other Wii U’s during your time in a stage, playing that stage, as you are playing (Say that five times fast!).  This sometimes shows you how to find a star, or secret area because you can see what other players were doing when they played the stage you are currently in. The downside is sometimes on a difficult section you may find yourself paying more attention to the Mii than the stage hazards costing you precious lives.

Stages are laid out in worlds. Much like Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and the New Super Mario Bros. series there is a map screen you can explore. When you’ve gotten enough stars you can enter stages. At the end of every world is a castle stage with a boss. Defeat the boss, and you get to go to the next world. Rinse. Repeat. There are not only your standard stages in the worlds, but also Mystery House stages. These stages can give you anywhere from five to ten stars, and put you in a timed gauntlet of puzzles on par with those found in Valve’s Portal. There are also Captain Toad levels where you have to traverse  a fully 3D stage without the ability to jump while figuring out how to get the stars within it. Usually these have at least five stars to collect.

If all of that wasn’t enough, elements from previous map screens return. Super Mario Bros. 3 had Toad houses, where Toad would give you free power ups. They’re back. Super Mario Bros. 2  had a slot machine for 1-Ups at the end of every level. They appear on the map screen here. SMB3’s encounter spots are here too. So you may have to tangle with 3 Hammer Bros. one world, or Charging Chucks on another. New to the map screen are Sprixie houses, where a Sprixie will give you a free stamp.

Most of your favorite power ups from Super Mario Bros 3 return. Of course you’ll see the iconic Mushrooms, and Fire Flowers. But you’ll see The Tanooki Suit, Hammer Suit, Kurbio’s Shoe ( as a skate mind you but it’s here). The new attraction of course is the Cat Suit. This suit allows Mario, and the others to climb walls for secrets, break certain obstacles, and leap great distances with a pounce. There are also cherries. These clone your character allowing you to solve certain puzzles. You’ll also see a lot of glass pipes holding items, stars, and even enemies. These not only give you the ability to go further in a level, or lead you to secret areas, but some act as well crafted puzzle sequences.

You’ll also notice I said “Mario, and the others” in the previous paragraph. That is because the game also brings back Super Mario Bros. 2’s biggest feature: Pick the right character for the level. Each character can, of course complete any level in the game. However, some levels will be easier with certain characters. Almost every level has an item only one of the four characters can get without using an item. Some go as far as putting a switch in with the character’s face on it. Essentially letting you know you HAVE to use that character to see what that switch will do.

This also leads into the multiplayer co-op feature.  Super Mario 3D World can be played with four players for couch co-op. While it’s unfortunate there is no online co-op, the feature does lend itself well to party gaming. It has a very nice balance in terms of the risk of lone wolfing levels, or trying to really work as a team to get the job done. Each of you will get a different character: Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Princess Peach (Toadstool if you’re an old-timer like myself). Mario performs as you’d expect. Luigi tends to skid farther so he feels slippery at times. But he jumps significantly higher than the rest of the characters. Toad tends to run the fastest, but doesn’t jump very high at all. Peach can float for a short time, making her a nice option on stages with a lot of pits.  You can also play as Rosalina, (The mysterious character from Super Mario Galaxy, and it’s sequel) by getting enough stars to unlock a stage in a secret world.

If you, or one of your partners find yourselves too agitated by a certain part of a stage there are also the golden Assist Blocks. These allow players to essentially coast through, flying over the entire level. Beware though, if you use this feature even one time, it forever taints your save file with the inability to have glittering stars as reminder that you used it.

If by the end of the game you have enough stars you can open up secret worlds. Of course there is Star World, but there are even more beyond that.  If nothing else this game gives you more content than a lot of other games do for your $60.  Visually, the game is very impressive too. Nintendo’s artists always do an amazing job with character models, textures, and art in general but this game is gorgeous. It may not be to the level of a bleeding edge PC game. But even those obsessed with photorealistic graphics will admit that it still does look really good. It’s bright, it’s colorful, it’s a lot of fun to look at.

It’s even fun to listen to. Of course Charles Martinet is back, and great as always. But musically this game is also a joy. Every song accents what is happening on the screen near perfectly. While the story in the game is your typical Mario fare,  the music still goes a long way to making you care about what is going on even if it isn’t very deep. One stage features a very catchy New Wave song that plays while parts of the stage appear, and reappear in time with the song. One world map screen has music right out of a Roller Skating Disco movie. Other stages have grand orchestral themes. Other spots feature some Jazz.  All of it going a long way to help tell a tale about the four main Mario characters stopping Bowser from keeping fairies called Sprixies  captive in jars. Why does he want them held captive in jars? Because he wants to use their power to take over the world. Again.  For what has to be at least the thirteenth time.

It all comes together in a really great package that like all of the Mario games before it is indeed a must buy for any Wii U owner. It’s one of the most fun games to come out near the end of last year, and if you missed it, pick it up while you still can. Even if you don’t typically play platformers it’s a fun ride worth taking.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Deadlight Review

Adventure platforming returns in Deadlight.

PROS: Great visuals, gameplay, level design.

CONS: You’ve seen this story dozens of times now.

MAKE IT HARDER ON YOURSELF: Try to beat it without shooting any zombies.

As a gamer during the holiday season sometimes friends, and family may scrape enough together to get you a game or two. One of the more interesting games I received for Christmas 2013 was Deadlight. Released at the tail end of 2012, Deadlight is a survival horror themed game that shares an awful lot more in common with games like Another World (Out of this world), Flashback, and the original Prince Of Persia than it does those like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Eternal Darkness.

It’s almost jarring because the visuals in this game go out of their way to use the Unreal Engine to evoke that sense of dread seen in the last 15 years of survival horror. The storyline follows that of a gristly aging man named Randall Wayne who is searching for his family in the zombie apocalypse. It’s not the most original story in games or films especially in this current trend of zombie themed stories over the past several years. But to its credit, Deadlight does try to put its own spin on it toward the end. Throughout the campaign you guide Randall through Washington suburbs, cityscapes, underground caverns and more as he tries desperately to find his loved ones.

The game is displayed, and played in a 2.5D perspective. As I said near the beginning of the review, Deadlight takes its inspiration from early 90’s platform adventures built around trial, and error puzzles. The most notable of which is Another World. So much so that when you beat the game, you can find Eric Chahi’s name in the special thanks section of the credits along with Jordan Mechner’s. These were the creators of Another World, and Prince Of Persia respectively.  Like those games, Deadlight’s gameplay puts you into situations where you have to think about carefully timed jumps, plotted out uses of items, or causing distractions to solve puzzles. Most enemies have to be outwitted rather than dispatched save for a couple of epic sprinting sections that will bring back memories of escaping Combine forces near the beginning of Half-Life 2.

Miss a jump, and you may fall onto spikes. Time a roll wrong, and you may find yourself electrocuted. Fail to solve a puzzle in time, and someone you care about may die causing a game over.  There are also a lot of secret items, like diary pages, and scrapbook pieces you can collect to fill in some of the back story if you’re so inclined.

If it sounds like I’m calling Deadlight too derivative, don’t take that the wrong way. It does indeed borrow a lot of elements from its inspiration, but by no means does this make it a bad game. In fact, it does a pretty great job in its attempts to recreate that style of gameplay that has been relatively absent since the days of the Amiga, Super NES, and Genesis. It’s clear that the folks at Tequila Works loved those games, and were really committed to making a great send up of that gameplay.

Deadlight does make a few missteps along the way though. First of all, the PC version of the game has a very paltry configuration menu. If you play this game on a computer you will find one sole, slider devoted to quality. That’s it. Moving it left turns some of the effects off, while moving it right will turn some back on. You can’t turn on or off individual settings at all whatsoever. So those who really like to tweak games will be disappointed. Keyboard commands are there, but it’s clear that the game was meant to be played on the Xbox 360 pad. From the Microsoft game studios logo in the credits, to the 360 button prompts, to the references to Xbox Live, you will really want to play this on a 360 pad if you have one.

Deadlight tells its story mostly through cinema screens that are animated in only one or two spots. I know this is a growing trend in middle budget, and independent games. But in the case of Deadlight it really misses an opportunity to try to ape its inspiration. One of the reasons Another World was so great was because of how it could tell its story so well without a single line of dialogue. It used it’s environments, and players’ reactions to them to tell the story. Deadlight has some great environments, and to be fair most of its voice acting is pretty decent. But it doesn’t use them to their full potential. It would have been nice to see  more of the cinema screens replaced by the in-game sequences the game already uses to further back story in some sections.

Also I would have liked to have gotten to know the motivations behind the true villains revealed to the audience during gameplay. We are told that they are behind the zombies, and they have ulterior motives. But the game doesn’t really explore that back story very well. It does give us some insight into the past of the protagonist though, and so it does wrap up that narrative, even if it is a little abrupt in doing so.

In the gameplay department, it isn’t always obvious which ledges can be navigated or what objects can be moved. But those are indeed nitpicks. After a few times of dying trying to solve puzzles you’ll have that idea bulb go off, and make your way out. Finally, the game isn’t very long. Advanced players can make their way through the game in about three hours. The average player will probably complete it in about five. The game is a budget priced title, so this isn’t as bad as a AAA $60 title clocking in at far too low a running time. But at $15 some players may decide to wait for a discount.

Overall however, I really enjoyed my time with Deadlight. It isn’t going to be the most original title you’ll play. It’s story, and gameplay have been done elsewhere. But it is also a very well crafted game you can tell developers really poured a lot of effort into. The mechanics work great. The play control works great. The puzzles are put together very well. It’s just a really fun game to play through, and figure out. For anyone who wishes there were more Another World, Flashback, Prince Of Persia, or early Oddworld games to play, check it out.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.