Sunday, March 11, 2018

CROSSING SOULS (PS4)


Crossing souls is an indie title developed by a small team in Seville (Spain). It combines several elements that make me want to purchase a game: Set in the 80s, featuring a group of teenagers (Goonies?), an indie developer, Spanish and cheap. So I decided to give it a try. I don´t repent it since they did more good things than bad. However there are some caveats for anyone tempted to buy it

Let´s start with the good things: The visual style is charming (a combination of pixel art and 80s cartoons), you get a lot of content for your money, the game mechanics principles are good (you can swap characters at will, each has some unique ability that forces you to use them all in not-too-difficult puzzles and exploration), and the spirit of those 80s teenage movies is well-represented (particularly at the beginning)

There were some things I found detrimental for the final quality: Even though the game only has 8 chapters, some felt as unnecessary padded. They didn´t help progress the story, characters or gameplay, it was more like "well, we need one more hour of gameplay so let´s get the player get lost in the woods for some time"

Also mixed feelings about the story: It starts very promising, homaging some movies I cherrish from my childhood and including plenty of pop references. But at some point they put all the focus on some (imho) not-needed Egyptian mysticism that only distances the player from believability, and loses touch from the world logic. This problem of stories that get crazy at the end happens from time to time in teams lead by story-crazy directors (maybe this was the case?), I call it the "Indigo prophecy" effect (if you played that game, you know what I´m talking about)

And one final thing: For a collectible aficionado such as myself, I found inexcusable the lack of replayability options when you finish. If you didn´t find all hidden secrets you need to start over again (not even sure if the ones I found are saved to your profile, even)

I believe this is the first game done by the team. If so, I think it´s very promising and I personally recomment it if you´re attracted to any of the elements I mentioned above. For future titles I hope they learned some lessons and I´m sure they´ll be able to achieve something remarkable

Sunday, February 25, 2018

HER STORY (iOS)


Her Story has been praised for its unique storytelling, and since it´s one of the aspects I´m commonly attracted to I purchased it for my tablet. Like I often do, I left it there for a year, waiting for its moment... which came in a recent trip

It is indeed new. Not even sure if categorize it as a game, since you just run queries on a simulated video database, looking for the clips that add new elements to the story. Some of them contain the highlights, and once you collect enough of them you´re given the option to resolve

In terms of mechanics I actually found the "game" a bit janky, since the tag system didn´t really worked for me, and you´re limited on a number of clips you can favorite. Also I couldn´t find a way to delete those, so I eventually have to use my mobile notepad to track keywords

The inclusion of real-life footage is a nice touch, not many games do that. It´s fairly short and certainly keeps you interested in the events behind, and since you need to extract them out bit by bit it felt a new territory to explore in terms of interactivity. If you are into new ways to tell as story - as I am - I strongly recomment it



Thursday, February 15, 2018

SPHEROIDS (PS4)


In short, Spheroids is “Pong meets platforming”. It´s an indie game made by a friend and former colleague, with a fairly small team. That´s where most of its merit falls, since it does look like it has been done by a bigger group of developers

Gameplay wise works smoothly: You jump and shoot a hook that destroys “evil balls”, tool that is later upgraded to allow swinging. Nothing in the game is really revolutionary but instead evolutionary, so the core systems feel natural by default. There are some mechanics to learn/master and enemy iterations, but nothing that requires much thinking. You just sit, play and enjoy without much trouble

You will find some story bits in between worlds, but don´t expect too much out of them. I don´t think the developers did either, they just provide an excuse for moving on, a quick chuckle and that´s all

The game difficulty is appropriate and generally well-tuned, with novelties here and there to keep your interest up. On the minus side I could have used some more checkpoints: Some sections where not necessarily difficult but became really tedious because you were forced to re-do a big chunk of the level multiple times

Being an 8bit kid, I found the visual style charming, mostly when the camera is distant. It´s a 4-5 hour game, which I appreciate since I can easily make that fit into my daily routines. Some may find the music a bit too-present, but I liked it. In short, if you like classic arcades with a twist you will enjoy Spheroids, and since it´s not expensive it becomes a great choice for any rainy stay-at-home night

Sunday, January 28, 2018

LUMO (PC)


One of my favorite games of all times is an isometric platformer (either Knight Lore or Head over Heels, not totally sure). Not because I still like to play them but because the fascination created on the teen me by those rooms full of secrets and the fake 3D effect

Partially out of nostalgia I purchased Lumo, another isometric platformer but a modern one released in 2016. I was somehow disappointed: Not by the game per se - which is actually a fair attempt to revive that genre´s glory - but because it stroke me with some huge issues those old games had and was never conscious of

Back in the 80s your perception of gameplay was different: You would normally assume the game was perfectly designed and balanced, and if you had problems progressing it was YOUR fault. That´s why a couple of issues inherent to isometric view vs platforming were not obvious to me:

The first one is the uncertainty about your character´s position. The camera angle doesn´t give you a good reference of the distance against (commonly deadly) world objects. This is even worst when mid-air, when your shadow disappears in most surfaces. Dying is common because of this

Lumo is affected by this as well. Platforming involves a lot of dying. Gameplay works fine when you have to move objects around the room or you have second chances, other than that you die a lot. It´s not too frustrating since you immediately respawn almost in the same spot, but it´s not for everybody´s taste

The second issue I noticed are framerate problems. In my MSX times I remember the performance of most games changed dramatically depending on the room you were. I never thought it could be done differently. Today I know the game was not optimized enough

Lumo´s framerate performance often drops for no good reason as well. Some big rooms with several enemies and particles run smoothly while some other small ones are almost unplayable. Seemed to happen randomly at different game sessions, which makes me think the game wasn´t bugfixed properly

Aside from the above, the game is enjoyable and offers a bunch of nostalgia references. Menus are sketchy and I could have used an option to "select chapters" enabling achievement hunters, but the overall game structure is solid and generally flows naturally to the next unexplored area. Since I tried some achievements while progressing I might have died more than I should, and in any case is not a long game. I believe it was done mainly by one guy only, which has A LOT of merit

In short, if you are missing those good old Filmation-style 8bit games, Lumo will give you the chance to have a good time

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

FAMILY GYMKHANA 2017


As every year in my family gathering, I organize a group activity for my nephews. It was originally a kind of gymkhana, then transitioned into a treasure hunt

However this year I tried something different, because I wasn´t sure if the weather would be favorable, and secondly because hiding the clues for the treasure hunt was a lot of work and the kids fully expected that to a point they looked for them hours before the event started

So I tried a small competition on a series of challenges: I asked for a couple of captains (generally the older ones), gave them a recap of the trials and asked them to choose teams among the rest of kids, and assign one “champion” per challenge. That would make the teams root for/against, and keep them interested

The trials themselves were easier to arrange than other years: Some were simplified versions of board games (Trivial, Pictionary, Brainstorming) or well-known party games such as the balloon race or beer pong. Every challenge rewarded a number of tokens to the team

By the end, each team had around 90 tokens. Somehow it balanced it itself, although I´ll admit some trials gave much more benefits than others. I asked them to participate in an auction, so they would bet on the gifts I had bought. I prefer this approach to just assign prices to each present, since an auction prevents “exploits” – I can see some gifts being too cheap or expensive when confronted to the kid´s real interests

One additional challenge every year is to update the rewards, since the kids are growing up and most of them are too old for child games. But if you tempt them with gift cards or apple/android credit then the interest increases. This year I gave them both Carrefour and Game credit, as well as mobile phone money

It went well, although there wasn´t much excitement for being a captain in the first place, and some trials/rewards were unbalanced. Also a bunch of gifts didn´t get much attention so I saved them for next year. But ey, it´s about kids having fun, so mission accomplished