Throwback Thursday: Win 7 Days to Die on XB1 or PS4!

7D2D CoverWhile things have been crazy around the homestead for a while now, at least no one ended up going the ranks of the zombie horde. To celebrate, we’re teaming up with TellTale Games to give away copies of 7 Days to Die on Xbox One or PlayStation 4!

HOW TO ENTER
To enter, simply let us know what your favorite zombie-themed film, show or video game is in the comments section below. Please include your console choice (PS4 or XB1) along with your @Twitter handle as well.

Sample Comment
Plants vs. Zombies
@SplitpeaMarigold
Xbox One

THE FINE PRINT
Winners will be selected on Thursday, July 28th. All entries must be submitted by 4 PM EST/1 PM PST on Thursday. Please note that although anyone can enter you must be following me on Twitter to win.

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Wii U Review: Tumblestone

Spoiler alert: Matching three Tumblestones destroys them.

Spoiler alert: Matching three Tumblestones destroys them.

By: Matthew Striplen

The continued rise in popularity of mobile games has given birth to a new gaming genre: color matching games. With an emphasis on accessibility, these games make it possible for players to pick up their phones to play for just a few minutes. Tumblestone is the next game to follow in the footsteps of titles like Bejeweled and Candy Crush.

CONTROLS (5/5)

Tumblestone places players in the shoes of the Queen of the Nile, among others. She must maneuver around under the colorful Tumblestones to destroy them, using either the control stick or d-pad. The d-pad tends to be a bit more accurate, but the controls feel very tight regardless of your choice.

Also, pressing R/L instantaneously warps Queen to either the right or left side of the screen. This is very useful, as it enables players to execute more moves in a limited amount of time.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

Tumblestone‘s cartoonish aesthetic fits the lighthearted tone of the game. Everything is full of bright colors and round, friendly shapes. The Tumblestones themselves have strangely contorted expressions, possibly indicating their awareness of their impending doom.

Music stays under the radar for the most part, providing  ambient, relaxing tunes. A little more variety would have definitely helped shake up the repetition.

GAMEPLAY (4.75/5)

One morning, the Queen of the Nile awakes to discover hundreds of Tumblestones are running rampant. It’s up to her and her friends to discover the cause of the Tumblestone’s return and destroy them once and for all.

That’s pretty much all the story we’re given, though a handful of cut scenes provide a little more backstory and insight into the characters’ relationships. However, most of the writing is very forgettable and the jokes are forced. Although this game is clearly designed with kids in mind, throwing the adults a bone or two would’ve been nice.

Tumblestone‘s heart and soul is its gameplay. Matching three of the same colored Tumblestone destroys all three, but there’s much more than meets the eye. Instead of swapping neighboring tiles to match three in a row, the player can choose any three Tumblestones, but they must be closest to the player.

Players must eliminate the blocks in such a way that they clear a path to the next set. If you can’t complete a set of three, you have to restart the level.

Like Bejeweled and similar puzzle games, Tumblestone uses a simple mechanic and greatly expands it. The main story mode slowly introduces new gameplay elements, like indestructible blocks, generally after completing each world. If you get tired of the campaign mode, there are tons of other options as well.

Marathon mode features an endless stream of Tumblestones descending behind a glass barrier. Unlike standard play, this allows players to combine mixed colors, but at the cost of adding an extra row of Tumblestones and lowering the ceiling. If the Tumblestones reach your character, it’s game over.

Heartbeat mode also has an endless stream of Tumblestones, but this time they’re constantly moving toward you. It’s a race against time to destroy the stones faster than they appear. Again, if you incorrectly combine colors, extra rows of Tumblestones will be added.

Lastly, we have Infinipuzzle. This unique mode offers two styles of play, with or without the “modifier of the day.” Without modifiers, this mode has players once again facing a moving wall of Tumblestones, but instead of a continuous stream, the Tumblestones are broken up into groups separated by indestructible blocks.

All stones must be cleared before moving onto the next group. Enabling modifiers randomly places power-ups within the stones. The type of modifier depends completely on when you’re playing the game.

There’s one more mode I neglected to mention: multiplayer. Tumblestone features both online and local multiplayer, though the online community is currently a little scarce. Players have the choice of either a Quick Match or playing through the Modifier of the Day for online play.

If you can’t find a friend, players can use an AI instead, and wow, this AI doesn’t pull any punches. If you crank up the AI strength, it’s nearly impossible to win.

Tumblestone may look innocent enough on the surface, but blistering difficulty awaits. Although the game does a decent job of warming up the player, the delineation between a “normal” level and a hard one is always clear.

If you’re in it for the long haul, never fear. Tumblestone boasts an impressive amount of levels, which should last the player at least 40 hours.

OVERALL (4.75/5)

If you’re into match-three games, Tumblestone is one of the best the genre has to offer. With the shifting styles of play, this game will constantly keep you on your toes. The huge number of levels paired with the multitude of modes, including local and online multiplayer, are sure to keep players entertained.

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PC Review: The Way

Run away!!

Run away!!

By: Brian Gunn

The Way is the first game from developer Puzzle Logic, one it kickstarted back in 2014. It’s attempting to mine nostalgia from games like Flashback and Another World, while also being a bit more streamlined for modern audiences. Does it succeed, or is it only worth a go as a walk down memory lane?

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

The Way is sort of a mish-mash of genres ranging from adventure games to puzzle platformers, and thus suffers a bit from trying to serve too many masters. The basic adventure game stuff works well, and there’s some light shooting involved that’s somewhat satisfactory, but platforming leaves a little to be desired and feels imprecise at times.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

Pixel art will always have its detractors, but The Way might convince anyone that hates it to reconsider. The environments in particular are fairly gorgeous and imaginative in design once the story gets more and more involved in the alien world. It can sometimes be a little too heavy on details actually, with some areas fraught with danger that’s easy to ignore as you gawk at everything else.

Sound design is adequate. There’s no voice acting, and the sound effects themselves often feel like they could be more prevalent. For instance, you’ll encounter many enemies but very few of them seem to make any sort of sound, which does them no favors when it comes to being memorable. The music is well done, however, echoing many other mysterious alien world soundtracks in games but still managing to stand on its own.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

Humanity has advanced a decent amount in the world of The Way. They’ve visited other planets and even encountered obvious signs of alien life, and Earth seems pretty automated.

Our hero is one of the lucky few that got to study those alien planets, enough so that he thought they held the secret to eternal life. He never finished his research, however, and returned home. Eventually his wife died, and he decides it was time to return to the unexplored world in hopes to revive her.

While at first you’ll be doing some relatively mundane things like fooling security systems into letting your steal a spaceship, you’ll soon arrive on that alien world trying to suck out the game logic of each new area, which doesn’t always gel with how straightforward the start of the game is.

Most levels are presented as large open-ended puzzles where you’ll need to interact with objects in a similar nature to point-and-click adventure games. However, in order to solve all of them you’ll have to do your share of jumping and shooting as well.

While some areas are more transitional linear areas, the big puzzle levels are often fairly nonlinear in how you approach solving them. As such, once you’ve got all the pieces falling together, it’s incredibly satisfying.

Still, there are some design decisions that feel as dated as the game’s inspirations. Nearly all of the shooting gets old quick, especially the re-spawning enemies or tedious moments like needing to feed a man-eating plant another animal and waiting for just the right moment to do it.

It also gets too platforming heavy at times, particularly in the transitional areas or what passes for the game’s boss fights. With the game’s action-oriented mechanics not always being up to snuff, it can be easy to fail, especially in a game with one-hit deaths.

There’s a checkpoint system at least, but it bounces between being incredibly forgiving and re-spawning you right where you screwed up and exhausting where it makes you repeat several steps of a boss fight.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

The Way is a good attempt at bringing the Another World formula into the modern day, though it does have a few rough aspects as well. It’s gorgeous, has an engaging story and some clever puzzles, which should make the trip worth it for most.

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XB1/PS4 Review: Song of the Deep

Song of the Deep

Little ship in a great big world.

Developed by Insomniac Games, the revered team most recently behind the superb Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive, Song of the Deep probably received more publicity based on it being the first-ever title from GameTrust Games — the newly formed publishing wing of retail chain GameStop.

On paper, collaborating with a long-time developer seems like a smart way to test the waters, but is Song of the Deep strong enough to make a splash? Let’s dive in and find out (and see if I can’t mix in a few more aquatic puns along the way).

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

Without question, assigning a score to how Song of the Deep handles has to be one of the more difficult undertakings I’ve had across the hundreds of games I’ve reviewed. There are moments where the game completely infuriated me, whether it was the ceaseless push of the current or trying to navigate a bomb on a tether through tight spaces, and more than a few profanities were hurled. That being said, it never reached the point where that frustration outweighed the desire to continue playing.

Make no mistake, though, patience is a prerequisite because there are going to be sequences that will end in failure (and/or death) over and over again. And the vast majority of the blame for those shortcomings will trace back to the floaty underwater controls. Of course, that begs the question if tighter controls would’ve made the game too easy.

Combat and puzzle solving are the primary offerings, and you’ll use an ever-expanding repertoire of abilities to handle both. You’ll start with a basic claw that can strike enemies and grab objects, and you’ll add more from there: different kinds of torpedoes, searchlights, sonar, evasive capabilities and the ability to leave your makeshift submarine and swim around.

Outside of the general imprecision that comes from operating underwater it’s pretty easy to keep track of your abilities — there’s a hint of “other than that Mrs. Lincoln” in that statement — albeit with a couple of notable issues. Flipping between torpedo types (electric, fire, ice) with the right stick can be imprecise and charging up torpedoes for secondary usage didn’t seem to work consistently.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4.25/5)

Stylistically, Song of the Deep is very well done, mixing in fantastical takes on recognizable creatures beneath the waves. Much of the most interesting stuff takes place in the background, though, with enemy variety and world design not nearly as strong. That being said, there’s a mesmerizing quality to the colors and movement of the world that helps make it enjoyable to explore.

There’s serenity to the soundtrack that smartly complements the sense of isolation you feel as you pilot your tiny submarine through the vast ocean. The gentle narration fits as well. I only wish there would’ve been more sounds from the sea life.

GAMEPLAY (3.75/5)

After her father went out on his daily fishing trip and didn’t return, Merryn cobbles together a vessel to go looking for him under the sea. What she finds is a world of myth and legend, including the remnants of a lost civilization. As her search continues, she finds herself becoming caught up in helping others in an attempt to right a terrible wrong done long ago.

It’s a tender story, one with its share of highs and lows, and it does enough to get you to invest in Song of the Deep‘s metroidvania structure. As noted, you begin with a claw and grow your arsenal from there, unlocking new weapons and abilities along the way. Each of these has an upgraded mode to find — for example, basic lights give way to a version that makes certain creatures recoil — that will grant you access to previously unreachable areas.

There’s also plenty of hidden treasure, and that gold is then used to purchase additional improvements that, while not necessary for progression, will make your task easier. These include more powerful variants of the claw, reduced cooldown times and so on. Hull and energy boosts are also scattered about that allow you to absorb more damage and fire more projectiles.

While the metroidvania approach is largely engaging, Song of the Deep makes a few missteps along the way. For starters, backtracking can be quite lengthy, and the map can be ambiguous as to whether a particular gate needs to be approached from a specific direction. Warp points scattered about help to some degree, but more could’ve been done.

To that end, the inability to set a marker becomes an annoyance, as the labyrinthine world leads to all kinds of wrong turns. My solution: flipping open the map repeatedly. Being able to ping where I was headed from the sub would’ve been a better resolution.

Combat also has a very repetitive feel. Enemies typically emerge from the background, and they almost always engage in open areas so the encounters bleed together. Eventually I just started avoiding them unless I absolutely had to. Even the boss battles offer a pretty tight one-off of the fights you’ve been encountering throughout the game.

OVERALL (3.75/5)

As long as you can accept that there are going to be moments where you’ll battle the controls, Song of the Deep is worth immersing yourself in. That it only costs $15 makes it an even easier decision.

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PC Review: Duskers

Ron? Ron. RON!!

Ron. Ron? RON!!

By: Brian Gunn

Duskers is an ambitious new title from Misfits Attic, the developer known for A Virus Named Tom. That game didn’t make many waves on the indie scene, but Duskers seems poised to mark the developers as ones to watch.

CONTROLS (4/5)

Duskers is a very deliberately designed game, and one where the controls can sometimes feel a bit clunky yet seem meant to function that way. There are two ways to controls action, the first being through typing commands to your small squad of drones, instructing them to pick up items or hightail it to the exit. Alternatively, you can also directly control one drone at a time, which is useful for scouting and precise actions where the typing interface struggles.

Drones are a bit slow and clunky, and prone to getting stuck on things, particularly each other, and remembering all the typing commands can be tough as well. That’s the beauty of the game, however, as an alien attacks or meteors pierce the hull of the current level, maintaining your composure and not panicking at the relatively limited and imprecise controls are the true challenge when it comes to saving your little crew of robots.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4.5/5)

Visually, Duskers is a fairly simple game, though it nails what it is going for. Clearly inspired by ’80s sci-fi like the first two Alien movies, the main interface in the game is that of a dingy lo-fi computer. Everything is done from there, and it really helps sell the atmosphere of this lonely desolate world. When directly controlling a drone, the graphics are a little more modern but still manage to maintain the eerie ambiance.

Sound is used to similar effect. There’s no music in Duskers, nor is there any voice acting. The sound effects have to pick up the slack, and boy do they. From the constant hum of the computer to the sound of doors opening or alarms going off, each is important, and each silence ominous.

GAMEPLAY (4.5/5)

Something has happened. Something vague. Somehow, life as you know it has changed. There are no humans to talk to, and everything is dead except for the horrors that now stalk the carcasses of derelict spaceships. Adrift on your own ship and starting with just a few droids, players are tasked to pick up the pieces, explore this dead galaxy… and hope for answers.

While you’ll occasionally find computer logs about mysterious experiments and unknowable horrors, there’s not really much of a story to be found, and the focus is more on survival. You’ll need to manage fuel in order to jump between ships and systems, as well as scrap, which act as a currency to upgrade and repair your drones and ship.

And so you’ll need to decide which dead vessels are worth exploring, and how far in you want to go. This is largely a game of attempting to master the unknown, and learning to recognize when to stop being greedy and hightail it out of there.

Drones are your primary window into the outside world, and they can be equipped with all sorts of tools. You’ll often start with ones that do things like provide power to generators or tow objects, but eventually you’ll start getting things like a stealth field to play around with. These will let you explore more and more, though enemies are incredibly deadly so a sense of fear still permeates.

The typing system is the highlight of Duskers, and one with a decent learning curve. Expect your first few runs of this roguelike to end pretty early as you forget to close doors or send all your drones to the wrong area. Still, once you put some time into it, typing out actions becomes even more second nature than controlling the drones directly, and you’ll be able to pull off some advanced tactics like venting rooms into space that you think might hold enemies.

OVERALL (4.5/5)

Duskers is a unique take on the roguelike genre. It features an incredibly immersive visual identity as well as controls that are unlike many other games. It has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s well worth the effort to master.

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