Monument Valleys 1 & 2: What If Fez and Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker had Kids?

I had an inkling to play the Monument Valley games, but I didn’t go through with it because they were mobile games. One hour on them would mean one hour of iPad life, period. I recently regained interest in them when they were ported to PC, with new, upscaled editions that include all the DLC. So, yeah, here’s my review of Monument Valleys 1 & 2, assuming that they play similarly enough to justify a single review of both.

In Monument Valley, you are a girl named Ida on a quest for forgiveness. In Monument Valley 2, a young mom named Ro takes her kid to the valley so she can be a better mom or something.

So… these games are gorgeous. Each level has a unique look, with the only consistency being in the minimalistic, abstract, isometric style. The music is really calm and ambient, perfect for puzzle-solving. The music is also very dynamic, adding little bits of flair as feedback when you solve a part of the puzzles, and when you interact with the environment. The Panoramic Editions, naturally, have a lot of negative space, since they were originally designed for portrait oriented screens, but it feels like that this enhances the artstyle they were going for; the levels feel like parts of their own little universes, cut off from everything else. Sometimes, I sat back and soaked in the game’s whimsical atmosphere.

You might as well, since they are both quite short. Even with the added DLC, each game is easily doable in under three hours. Fortunately, unlike other big indie games of similar length such as What Remains of Edith Finch, the Monument Valley games are much cheaper when it comes purely to the proportion of content versus dollar. The Panoramic Collection Bundle is less than 15USD as it is.

In any case, the basic gameplay boils down to optical illusion-based puzzles. Some components in each level can be manipulated, as indicated by some little nubs or by having a faucet thingy attached to them. By arranging them just right, you can build bridges and open pathways straight out of an M.C. Escher painting. The mechanic starts off simple, but gets more involved as you go on. 

It sounds like the perfect game that requires inducing a migraine to beat, but it’s not. The experience with these games is really to be impressed by how well thought-out the levels are. Every single one of them feels iconic and memorable in some way, and boy, it must’ve been a real pain to program them. Most of the difficulty comes in just processing what you can interact with and going from there. The DLC chapters in the first game are probably the hardest, but even then, they aren’t too bad.

Overall, I feel like Monument Valley 2 is the better game. It has more of a story, and they really push the games’ artstyle in an even wilder direction. Things get much more abstract and weird. However, I almost feel like it’s the easier of the two. It might be because the game cared more about its story? I dunno, maybe I just got mad gamer skills (*sarcasm*).

Speaking of story, I might as well discuss the games’ narratives, or lack thereof. Similar to the aforementioned indie titles I’ve compared this series to, it doesn’t exactly take rocket science to understand what’s going on in either game. While light in dialogue, there are plenty of context clues that telegraph what the takeaway is, especially in the second game. Neither are groundbreaking, but you’ll probably cry if you’re the emotional type… especially in the second game. Gee, I wonder how much more ham-fisted I can be with the notion that the second game has a better story.

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Final Verdict for Both Games: 9/10

There’s pretty much nothing wrong with the Monument Valley games (he says as he gives them an imperfect score). They’re short, but are a better value than a lot of other games on the market. While they aren’t as puzzle-y as Baba Is You, they manage to be very novel in their own right. There’s no harm in giving them a try.

Slime Rancher: A Wholesome Management Game Draws Near!

I had known about Slime Rancher for a while thanks to StephenPlays’ First20 video he made years ago. I never watched the video, but it at least got me to acknowledge the game’s existence. And when I finally looked at its Steam page, I kind of wanted to try it. So, here we are. I just love making time management increasingly difficult.

Slime Rancher throws you in like cold turkey as you assume the role of Beatrix LeBeau, who runs a slime ranch in the Far, Far Range. Raise slimes and profit, basically. That’s it.

Like many games of its kind, Slime Rancher is complicated. The basic idea is to corral slimes, and feed them food to earn plorts, which are sold for money. However, you have to account for the many different slime types, as well as their behaviors and diets. Also, slimes can eat plorts, and eating a different type than their own turns them into a largo slime. These poop out plorts of both source types when fed, but eating a third type turns them into dangerous tarr slimes that can cause SERIOUS trouble.

The game doesn’t hold your hand, but in a good way. You get all the knowledge you need in your Slimepedia, and it’s up to you to figure out how to make all these different systems mesh. If you jump the gun trying to raise multiple types of slimes too soon, it’ll get ugly and high-maintenance. Also, if you place too many slimes without the higher wall and ceiling upgrade for their corral, they can pile up enough to escape pretty easily and eat your stuff (and each other’s plorts, creating more tarr). 

Fortunately, things really get going once you get cash. Spend it on various facility upgrades, as well as expansions of the ranch to allow more variety (and room) for slimes to be raised in. Essential upgrades include the jetpack, for exploring, and the ability to store and use water, ideally against tarr slimes. However, new upgrades seem to unlock completely at random. There are likely hidden prerequisites, but it’s not all clear what those are.

Exploration is the key here. There’s a LOT to the Far, Far Range. It’s full of presents, which are pretty useless as they only contain cosmetic items. The important stuff are the map stations and gordo slimes. The former is self-explanatory, but gordo slimes are large, stationary slimes that come in every type. Feeding them a lot of the favorite food of that slime type will give you important rewards, from keys to unlock new regions, to your source of fast travel from one region back to the ranch. While the world ends up being pretty small, there is a lot to it. The best aspect about it is that its design allows for sequence breaking in a lot of spots. With enough jetpack upgrades, you can fly up to the highest point in the level!

The lab opens up a massive portion of the game. With it, you can craft gadgets with Slime Science. These gadgets can place automated devices to find resources, and more importantly, the ability to create your own fast travel points for yourself and for items found while exploring. Simply deposit plorts and the various resources found with the automated devices into the refinery, and consume them in the fabricator to create your gadgets. Buy blueprints to get more rewards.

However, despite the “family friendly” tag on Steam, Slime Rancher can be tough. Not only will it be overwhelming at the beginning, but those tarr slimes are very scary early on. You can easily avoid them spawning on your ranch, but they can naturally spawn in the overworld (and I wasn’t willing to test if they can spread to your ranch from there). They can’t even be dealt with until you get the ability to store water, but once you do, they aren’t so bad.

You can disable them by playing the game in Casual Mode, but that doesn’t remove feral slimes. These guys will very aggressively hunt you down until you feed them something. Unfortunately, slimes are weird with acknowledging food. While not a problem on the ranch, since you can just vomit it into their corral and they’ll eat it eventually, but obviously feral slimes are a different situation. There were way too many times that I fired their preferred food directly at them, and had that food completely ignored, while I got bodied. Also, the Slime Sea is an instant death trap, and there are areas where you will have to platform over it. If you want a real challenge, play the game in Rush Mode, where you’ll need to be the best dang rancher you can be to make money fast.

In addition to a large world, there are side distractions, one of which is The Wilds. Here, you’re thrown into an area filled with feral slimes, and the entrance as well as the exit is in a random location. Collect as much of the special fruit found only in this area and redeem them for rewards to aid you in your ranch.

There’s also a fun challenge from this narcissist named Mochi. With her, you do a timed minigame where you collect lightning projectiles to shoot at an area-exclusive slime for their plorts. These plorts are automatically collected, and you turn them in for a lot of money as well as other perks.

The third and final side activity is the Slimulation. This is a virtual replica of the overworld. Vacuum up glitch slimes, which disguise themselves as regular slimes (but with Ditto faces), and as geometry that isn’t present in the real version of the world. After a while, glitch tarrs will appear to cause chaos. Once the exit portal appears, follow the guides to escape before you become a virtual snack. All glitch slimes are converted to bug reports, which are redeemed for an exclusive resource as well as other rewards.

The biggest problem with Slime Rancher is that completion, as is with most games like this, can be a hassle. While the map is good for your bearings, it’s not easy to find stuff in the world. Gordo slimes are marked off after you feed them once, and gadgets that you place get added to the map as well. But that’s it. Treasure pods—both unopen and otherwise—cannot be marked on here. In addition to a number of strange achievements, you must also earn a highscore in Rush Mode, which is a money-focused speedrun mode with a time limit.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Slime Rancher is an addictive and wholesome management game that puts a smile on my face. I already have the sequel wishlisted, and hopefully it’ll expand on the established mechanics to make something even better than this. I recommend it if you like management games like Stardew Valley.

Spiritfarer: The Ultimate Casual Game

I’ve definitely been getting a bit more into indie games lately (mostly because they’re relatively cheap), but most of the ones I’ve played are very much in the raw gameplay category. Of course, indie games are just as well known for being more “video” than “game”; as in, they fall into the realm of artistic and emotional experiences that have definitely turned the meaning of the word “videogame” on its head. From Journey, to What Remains of Edith Finch, Gris, and more, a lot of these are highly acclaimed and have brought tons of gamers to tears. I’ve watched people play a lot of the aforementioned titles, mostly from StephenPlays and his wife, Mal. While those games definitely presented themselves really well, I never cried over them. And honestly, it does kind of make me self-deprecate when I’m literally watching people break down in sobs and I… don’t. Basically, the crux of this long-winded preface is me thinking “What if it’s because I’m not playing these games myself? What if I need to be the one moving the character and pushing the buttons and looking at them from my own TV?” This is what’s led me to trying one of the latest emotional indie games, Spiritfarer. Well, that and the fact that you get to construct a cool boat in it.

In Spiritfarer, a girl named Stella suddenly awakens in the River Styx (or something). This creepy hooded guy named Charon looms above her, and says that he’s retiring from his job as the Spiritfarer. Stella, and her cat Daffodil, are given Everlights, which make them the new Spiritfarers. Their task is to find any spirit who isn’t ready to pass on and help them to pass on (which, in terms of gameplay, is to spoil them rotten until they’re happy). When they’re ready, she is to take them to the Everdoor, where they will finally join Prince in the afterworld, a place of never-ending happiness, where the sun shines both day and night. 

Normally, I discuss story, gameplay, and audio-visuals in that order. However, because of how Spiritfarer is, I’m actually going to discuss it in reverse, mostly because I want you to writhe in suspense over whether or not I—as the heartless machine I am—cried over the game’s story. For reasons I’ll get to throughout the review, the gameplay and story rely on how the game looks and sounds.

At a glance, Spiritfarer seems just alright visually. Indie games with hand-drawn art styles are nothing new, and this one looks no better than an American graphic novel (and if you’ve read my review of The Witch Boy, you’ll know how much I don’t care for that artstyle). However, you can’t truly appreciate Spiritfarer’s visuals without actually playing the darn thing, and lemme tell you… this ended up being one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever looked at. The colors are striking and vibrant, with beautiful lighting effects. The character design is fantastic, with every person having a unique and creative look. What really surprised me was the animation. Like I said, games done in hand-drawn style are nothing new, but I daresay that Spiritfarer has phenomenal animation. They know that good animation comes down to subtle mannerisms and minute details. And despite being a silent protagonist, Stella dynamically reacts to dialogue, which helps make her feel alive as well. Word of warning, though. Remember how old videogames loved giving you seizures? Something similar occurs in this game during specific scenes, such as when you welcome a new character to your boat.

The soundtrack is just as deceptively fantastic. As one of the few people who actually loved Zelda Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack, Spiritfarer’s was just as enchanting. It’s super chill (except at certain points, which I’ll cover later) and soothing. But unlike Breath of the Wild with having one overworld theme and then the final dungeon theme, Spiritfarer has several different themes. Sometimes, I’ll play as inefficient as possible just as an excuse to chill (that, and the fact that I’m never efficient in these kinds of games).

Regardless of what I end up thinking of the story, what made me more invested than anything was Spiritfarer’s gameplay, which will be discussed at length. In essence, Spiritfarer plays like a 2-D Raft, where you collect resources through various methods in order to craft facilities and structures for your boat. The system is pretty simple and intuitive, and you can place buildings anywhere within your boat’s space, since it’ll auto-construct ladders. The tricky part, especially early-game, is wrestling with the boat’s size. The various facilities come in wild shapes and sizes, and it’s as fun as it is frustrating to try and clutter it all together. Fortunately, there is an edit feature where you can freely move the buildings without having to dismantle and rebuild them. 

There’s also plenty of upgrades for your rig. You can go to Al’s Shipyard to increase the boat’s size, unlock new facilities, and a host of other things. One of the best aspects of this is that your quest menu will actually list the next upgrades, showing you what you need without having to go to Al’s just because you forgot what was required. You can also upgrade individual facilities, but you need to unlock those upgrades as they come. Stella herself also has upgrades. You earn Obols as payment from newly welcomed spirits, and by donating those to various shrines found throughout the world, you can give her improved mobility and whatnot. It gives the game a sort of metroidvania vibe, even though it really isn’t. 

So how do you get resources? Well, the main way is to visit various islands. Your map starts out pretty small, but expands as you explore further. And while you could theoretically shoot in the dark for a new island (especially on repeat playthroughs if you know where they are), you can also receive quests and random messages in a bottle that will mark out those otherwise darkened areas. Like Wind Waker, your boat actually needs to sail to it. And honestly, I think the sailing in Spiritfarer is better than in Wind Waker by a long shot. Once you start getting new facilities, you can kill the long sailing times by doing tasks (more on that later), fishing, or just straight-up relaxing. The ship cannot move at night, but that can be remedied by going to bed. Just remember to ring the bell just outside of your room to wake your guests (and also remember to never ring it unless the time display on the HUD has the bell symbol, especially not while they’re supposed to be asleep). 

Also unlike Wind Waker, there are a lot of resource gathering areas that regularly respawn en route (although you can and should go out of your way for them if you don’t have a straight shot to your next island). THESE are where things get fun. Despite the game not having any stakes or feeling of death, these special respawning zones (with the exception of collecting drifting crates) make resource collecting fun and exhilarating. From jumping around to collide with space jellyfish that live in random rifts in space-time, to letting yourself get struck by lightning to capture it in empty bottles, Spiritfarer somehow makes an adrenaline-pumping experience even though you can’t die. The soundtrack ramps up during these sections to make it even more fun. One of the best parts is that despite how “casual” Spiritfarer is, you are still rewarded for having intrinsic platforming skills, since you get more resources that way.

That philosophy extends to the facilities in the boat. Normally, the loom or the furnace are used like normal crafting tables, except you sometimes have to wait a minute for results. Here, you have to make them yourself. From playing a rhythm game to speed up plant growth to precisely cutting logs into planks, there are different mechanics for making various resources. Again, you are not straight-up punished for doing bad, but doing good gets you a bonus increase in results. They really keep you busy while the boat is moving. If you can’t stand the long journey (or don’t have any speed upgrades), you can sail to a bus stop (once unlocked) to fast travel around the world.

Cooking is done really well in Spiritfarer. At first glance, it seems like the usual “put ingredients in, get a thing, and slam your head against the wall trying every possible combination in order to get all the recipes”, but it’s a bit more than that. One thing I learned was that you could insert up to five of the same ingredient to get five that dish at once with the cost of more cooking time. Furthermore, your kitchen is a deceptively good source of coal because the sawdust you obtain from cutting logs can be cooked into it. There are also treasures that contain recipes so you don’t always have to brute force them.

SO… all of that covers what you can do on your way to a given island. How about when you GET to an island?! Sadly, the islands are hit-or-miss. Some are just flat albeit lovely plains, while others have a fair share of nooks and crannies. In any case, you will regularly need to visit these places to replenish your basic resources. Fortunately, the preview of it on your map will indicate if resources have respawned, which is a really nice touch. 

As expected from a resource collecting game, the platinum trophy is tied to obtaining at least one of every item in the game. These are presented to a lovely walrus named Susan, who is probably one of the best collector-type characters I have seen in any videogame. At certain milestones, you will get some great rewards, so stop by often.

Anyway, I’ve just talked about the faring part of Spiritfarer for about ten years but not the spirit part. Basically, you find wayward souls on various islands. A lot of people are dead in this world (for some reason), but the ones you want will have a silhouette over their heads. When recruited, they will begin to make the ship their own. As previously discussed, you need to make them happy.

The main way of doing this is to complete quests. This ranges from building new facilities (like their own private quarters) to going to particular areas of story relevance to them. You also have to worry about their moods. You’ll have to feed them regularly, keeping their individual tastes in mind. One of my gripes with the game is that the feed menu itself doesn’t show you their preferences, but honestly you just need to regularly look at their favorites (in the Mood tab) BEFORE you select feed. Unfortunately, they also fail to show what you’ve fed them already, making it an incredible grind to find their favorite dish. As far as I know, there is no trophy for finding everyone’s favorite food (and if there was then I missed it).

You also need to make sure you talk to them whenever an exclamation point or a random text box appears. Usually, it’s just a reminder that they’re hungry or have a quest; but sometimes, you get random tidbits of their backstory. You should pay attention to what they say, because if they talk about an unpleasant memory, it will decrease their mood, and you should respond appropriately by giving them a hug (yes that’s a thing in this game).

So, we’re finally onto the story. The story that many have said is emotional, heart-rending, and powerful. I’ll admit that I was impressed. The writing is phenomenal, with a lot of dry humor that somehow fits in well with the more emotional stuff. All of the characters have basic personalities, but are given more life by the excellent writing and emotive expressions. The game is great at building anticipation for releasing them, and the actual cinematics when that happens are breathtaking. 

And yet, I didn’t shed a tear.

There are some reasons that can be blamed on the game. While the writing is really good, a lot of the more nuanced aspects of the spirits’ character arcs are very loose. Heck, you won’t even be explicitly told exactly how they died. Also, you could literally just be checking on them while you make your rounds, and they’ll suddenly be like: “Let me share with you this traumatic memory!” I tried to pay attention for the most part, but it’s hard to pay attention while you’re trying to make sure everyone (including assorted farm animals) are fed, your windmill is actually rotating, your plants are watered, while also squeezing time to smelt ores or use the loom. This game was something that had to be left up to interpretation, but the Lily Update that came out early 2021 straight up tells you Stella’s backstory and each spirit’s role in the overarching story.

However, the blame still rests on me, and it probably has to do with my autism. I say that the characters are loose and interpretive, but that could easily be my inability to understand people. There are some aspects of the brain that completely elude our best neurologists to this day, which are part of some sense of “understanding” that I do not have. Most neurotypical people can probably read the lines of these spirits as it is, and piece together exactly what happened to them—down to their cause of death—with no problem. In fact, based on one of the patch notes I read, the fans knew more about one character than the devs themselves! Honestly, I feel jealous. Games like this are part of why I question if I like having autism. 

Regardless of what the exact backstories of these characters are, with Spiritfarer being a slice-of-life, they’re all going to amount to being a normal, realistic, human issue of some kind. People and critics seem to think that those are the most objectively and unequivocally fascinating narrative themes, but I don’t. I suppose you can blame my autism again.

Also, my impression has sort of been colored by the content updates. It’s not really the content of the updates, but the fact that they were announced when I was in position to beat the game. Since I wanted to play those first, I ended up waiting months for them. And as a result, a lot of the plot was lost to me. My clearest memories are the above passages that you just read, written while they were fresh in my mind (this review, consequently, took over a year to write to completion).

Beyond all I’ve discussed, there are still a couple of flaws with Spiritfarer. It’s nothing game-breaking, but I don’t want to sound like that guy who glosses over issues just to sound “right”. First off, while the game appears to be pretty open world, progress is deceptively linear. Usually, these kinds of games gate you from certain progression by just not giving you certain resources, and having you craft what you can in order to gradually find those resources. Spiritfarer is a lot more strict than that. The resource collection events, such as lightning and stuff, are tied to a specific character, requiring you to have them on your boat before you can obtain the resource. Also, certain regions of the game are locked behind specific boat upgrades. Those upgrades require a Spirit Flower, which is only obtained by releasing a spirit, making the game even more linear. This also, sadly, can make you look forward to releasing a spirit, which kind of kills the emotional value of the sequences. Other than that, some chests require blind leaps of faith to reach. There’s no punishment for missing, of course, but the lack of bottomless pits doesn’t make that kind of level design any less annoying.

It also gets grindy if you go for the platinum trophy. Fishing isn’t too bad if you can find the optional upgrade that allows you to catch even the most difficult fish in less than a minute. The problem is the cooking. If you don’t look up all the recipes, you’ll end up brute-forcing a lot of them. While most items take any of a given type of food, some are more specific. It didn’t make the game fun anymore, so I just gave up on it. Oh well, like Hudson Hornet said: “It’s just an empty digital cup.”

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Final Verdict: 9.65/10

Spiritfarer is one of the greatest casual gaming experiences of my life, and definitely one of my favorite indie games. It didn’t make me cry, but it’s something I will never forget. I’d try the other two games by this team, but they—in a stark contrast to this game—look rip-your-ass-off-difficult. Hopefully they’ll start working on a new project soon-ish? In any case, I recommend Spiritfarer if you like Stardew Valley and Edith Finch and stuff.

TOEM: The Actual Cutest Game of 2021

I’ve had to rearrange my lifestyle in order to make room for more videogames, and also, to be in a better financial position. As I’ve stated, numerous times, light novels and manga (with the exception of Viz) have no subscription service. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on those things, and that’s with prices almost halved by getting digital versions. By filtering out the stuff I can live without, as hard as that is sometimes, I can spare the cash on little games like TOEM on Steam.

In TOEM, you are a little bird cartoon fellow who wants to take a picture of the titular TOEM, whatever that is. He sets off on a journey to find it, and that’s literally it for the plot. 

The story is simple and pure; perfect Escapism. The writing is pretty grounded for the most part, but there’s still enough humor for it to be charming without coming off as try-hard. 

What drives TOEM home is the presentation. The grayscale style gives it a cozy feel, and the areas are very ambient, provided you don’t pay any mind to the empty void that surrounds you outside the boundaries of the game world. The soundtrack is beautifully relaxing and atmospheric. Plus, a really nice detail is that the main character is actually listening to it through headphones, and you can freely manipulate what music is playing in the pause menu.

The gameplay of TOEM is very simple. You use your camera to take pictures. The game makes it clear when it’s acknowledging a subject of the photo by showing brackets around it. Of course, there are many different things you need photos of. The biggest thing is the Compendium, which is basically an encyclopedia of different animals. Anything for the Compendium is given a snail symbol, which also has a check mark to indicate that you got it already. Every area also has a landmark that can have a picture taken, so get snapping!

To advance through the game, you must collect stamps in each area. To do this, you solve light puzzles by either finding stuff or presenting a certain photo. It’s pretty simple to figure out, but the annoying thing is that some tasks need stuff from all four areas. There are some surprisingly clever puzzles, but if you’ve played Baba Is You, then there isn’t much to worry about.

Getting full completion can be a bit tricky, but don’t get too hung up on getting it before the credits roll; in fact, you can’t, since you need to bring a photo from the endgame area to an older area for an achievement. The hardest one is probably the Cosplayer Achievement, which requires you to wear every clothing item. There’s no real way to track if you have all the clothing items in an area, plus some are in gift boxes, while others are earned from NPCs. You also have to take some photos of specific NPCs, who are indicated by shojou-style sparkles. If you did it, the photo will pop up with a glittering frame and artwork that looks nothing like the picture you took.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

TOEM is a short, sweet little game that you can play when you don’t feel in the mood to play the latest iteration of The Dark Souls of Dark Souls. I recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Baba Is You Is Fun And Insane

If you’re reading this, then I have managed to complete enough of this ludicrous indie puzzler to write a review of it. I had originally played Baba Is You on my Switch with my sister. However, time caught up to both of us, and since she got her own Switch with her data transferred to it (since we used to share mine), I could no longer play—or finish—Baba. Because I thought it was such a great puzzle game (with a LOT of bang for your buck), I had decided to get it on Steam, and play it over again (since we only got about less than a third of the stages done before). And, well, I both hate and love it to death.

There really isn’t a premise, nor plot to Baba Is You. Simply put, Baba is you. You is Baba. And Baba, who is You, wants to Win. That’s about it.

So, how does Baba, who is You, Win? It’s simple, really. Just touch the Flag, which is Win. However, some things get in the way, and sometimes, there isn’t Baba, nor a Flag. That’s fine, though, because that’s the whole point. Every level has an assortment of words that can be pushed like blocks, and… Okay, I should stop teasing since you probably read the description of this game already. Long overdue TL;DR: you form sentences that dictate the rules of every level.

This is definitely not the first game to be so meta, but Baba Is You is one of the best when it comes to this kind of gameplay. This simple idea branches out into an incredibly in-depth puzzle game that teaches you through level design. Every time you think you’ve seen everything, the game pulls something even crazier. 

The way to Win is for You to be touching the object that is Win. While Flag is most commonly Win, that can—and often has to be—changed. Baba doesn’t necessarily have to be You, either. You can be a rock, a crate, or the entire level, as long as the words are there to form that statement. Just be careful not to touch anything that is Defeat, or dislodge whatever statement dictates your existence, because that’s how you die in this game. Fortunately, a simple press of the X or Y button will begin to undo your actions, up to the very beginning of the level.

If the game sounds hard to you, that’s because it is. Word of warning, Baba Is You is NOT for people who have busy careers, unless you want to look at a guide. Figuring out puzzles on your own feels good, but that takes time, and we don’t have that much of it these days unless you’re a kid. In any case, Baba Is You’s puzzles are brutally mind-bending, and for the most part, ingeniously clever. The biggest battle is figuring out certain nuances with the game’s mechanics, such as what rules get priority when assigned to the same object; for example, something that is Defeat cannot kill you if it is Stop, Push, or Weak. The game also expects you to create some incredibly bizarre scenarios that completely disregard everything you understand about videogaming itself. Unfortunately, the difficulty is quite inconsistent. Either that, or it’s just a matter of how each individual thinks. I’ve had more trouble with some of the “normal” levels than some of the super-secret psychopath levels in the late-game!

Fortunately, the game is pleasing enough to look at to where it’s really hard to get mad. It has a very minimalistic pixel-art look that’s surreal and dreamy. Enabling the “wiggle” animations (or whatever they’re called) makes Baba Is You feel very cartoony and alive. The soundtrack is also very chill and atmospheric.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Baba Is You will probably be my favorite puzzle game of all time. I haven’t gotten 100% yet; thank the passage of time for that, but I at least beat it. Baba Is You gives you insane bang for your buck: 226 levels for 14.99 USD. If you like puzzle games, there’s no reason to not play Baba for that deal alone!

Copy Kitty: Megaman Meets Bullet Hell Meets Kawaii Neko-Chan

I owe 100% of my knowledge of this game to one of my favorite YouTuber/Streamers, ProtonJon. The game is VERY under-the-radar on Steam, but someone was able to donate for it during Jon’s 2020 BCRF Charity Stream. The game looked insanely fun, but brutally hard. I’ve played a number of games considered tough, but I have not bested them at their pinnacle. Copy Kitty may or may not cause me to hate myself.

In Copy Kitty, you are the kawaii cat-girl, Boki. She wants to be a superhero, but has to be content with the next best thing: a simulation game made by her uncle Savant. Only one thing left to do: blow up a LOT of robots.

This is a shooter-platformer, so the story is simple, really. But to be honest, who cares about the story in a game WHERE YOU BRING ABOUT CYBER-CARNAGE EVERYWHERE?! The thing with Copy Kitty is that Boki, well, copies the powers of defeated enemies, Megaman-style. Boki has limited ammo, but can replenish it by collecting more of the same drop from other enemies of that type. In addition to that, any of the three weapons you can have on-hand (with the exception of Solo Weapons) are automatically combined into another, more powerful weapon type. 

With this incessantly simple idea, Copy Kitty becomes one of the most intricate and insane shooters I’ve seen. The different weapon combos all have unique effects, all of which look ridiculously cool. Take time learning them because the game will require different combinations to get through certain stages. 

Of course, the thing I was worried about the most was the game’s difficulty level. The campaign is pretty balanced for the most part. However, the controls took getting used to for me. You’re locked into eight-directional aiming, and you cannot move and shoot at the same time. Even worse, your very helpful dodge ability cannot be used in midair. As someone who’s played a lot of games where you COULD do that, well… just be glad I don’t stream videogames.

But here’s the catch. What I described before was just the standard playthrough. Beating the game as Boki is just the beginning. After that, you unlock Hard Mode. It’s not just a harder version of the game, though; it might as well be a completely different game, continued directly after the main story. The stage layouts are the same, but enemies and bosses are way different. Hard Mode is, to put it lightly, push-you-to-your-limits-ridiculous. I haven’t even beaten it yet, and I probably never will.

And even if I did, I would have to do it again (along with Normal Mode) as Savant, who has his own unique playstyle! Seriously, the guy’s a savage! He has less health than Boki, but his perks more than make up for that little detail. First off, he can freely fly, which makes a lot of things (like a certain recurring miniboss) easier, plus his dodge is a lot better (even if it has a stamina meter). The problem is mastering his method of attack. Savant’s weapons fire out of a little window, which is manipulated by the player at the same time as Savant himself. Only two weapons can be combined, and it has to be done manually. To offset an otherwise lack of variety, the order in which weapons are combined produces different results. Depending on the weapon used, Savant’s window will either follow him, cling to walls, and more. Coordination (and a lot of mashing the B button to reset his window) is key to mastering Savant.

However, the game still isn’t done yet! There’s also Endless Mode, which is, actually, one of the more forgiving modes of its kind. Healing is pretty generous, and you can start from every five waves. There is a LOT to it, though. Each set of ten waves is contained within a specific biome, of which there are thirty-seven. Beat the biomes on Normal Endless Mode to unlock additional, harder variants with the other biomes. Also, try Pandemonium, where every enemy attack pattern is randomized. Plus, a rare enemy encountered only in this mode will unlock the secret 13th world in Story Mode.

If this game didn’t seem enough like capital punishment for completionists, then here’s more. There are also marathon and boss rush modes, which are self-explanatory enough. Also, every state of the campaign has a Target Damage limit, and not taking more than the indicated amount of damage gets you a gold star for the stage. Fortunately, this condition doesn’t exist whatsoever in Hard Mode, which still makes Copy Kitty more lenient than what you’d expect. And one more thing that I can’t dedicate to a new paragraph, the Steam Page implies there’s a level editor. I couldn’t find it; it’s probably locked behind some insanely hard prerequisite.

As far as looks are concerned, Copy Kitty is very appealing. Although the 3D textures look a bit bare-bone, the character designs are quite memorable. Plus, the sensory-overloading violence, especially if particle effects are set to the highest intensity, is extremely pretty. The backgrounds are very cool and cyber-y as well.

The soundtrack is very EDM-heavy, with some rock elements. Despite how little I care about either of those types of music, Copy Kitty’s soundtrack is solid, with good enough variance. The problem is that I consistently ran into a bug where the sound effects would just die, and I would have to lower the game audio to insanely low levels to barely hear them. And since I got so used to it like this, the occasion they came back on made the game feel really overwhelming and it was hard to concentrate. It’s a shame, since the sound effects are really satisfying. I’m new to PC gaming, so it might be a problem with my sound card (I know ProtonJon didn’t have that issue when he streamed this).

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Copy Kitty is a fantastic, replayable arcade shooter that’s well worth the money. Just keep in mind that, depending on how non-gamer you are, a lot of it could be above your paygrade. 

Garden Story: The Cutest Game of 2021?

A couple of months ago, I signed up for my own Steam account! I’m still learning Steam, so I don’t know how to find other users. In any case, my username is “WeebPleizGamezHere”; you’ll know it’s me because it has my same blog logo. Anyway, from the brief time I’ve been on Steam, I noticed that its discovery queue is perhaps the most accurate algorithm I have ever seen. For instance, it actually recommends things I might like that I would have never heard of! And one of those is Garden Story. It has everything I like, from whimsical graphics, to the satisfaction of restoring an area to—and beyond—its former glory. So without further ado, let’s talk about it!

In Garden Story, the lovely grove the game is set in has a problem known as the Rot. These are not adorable, marketable Totoro things from Kena: Bridge of Spirits, but rather an assortment of ugly gross things. They’re bad, and one young grape named Concord ends up shouldering the burden of having to restore the entire effing grove.

Immediately, Garden Story shows off that distinctively indie-game-like charm with its whacky, cartoon-like writing. Unfortunately, the story is pretty typical for the most part. It’s nice, and suits the game for the kind of experience it wants to be, but if you want your mind blown then Garden Story will fall short. The characters aren’t the selling point either. They’re likeable, but don’t really stand out as far as indie games are concerned.

Fortunately, it’s still easy to get lost and immersed in Garden Story‘s grove. Thanks to the simple and vibrant pixel-artstyle, and chill midi soundtrack, there is plenty of incentive to just relax. In fact, the Steam page for the game encourages doing just that!

But as relaxing as it is, Garden Story has plenty to do. Like in many games of its kind, you’ll be whacking stumps and rocks to gather resources to do all sorts of fun stuff. As expected, you progressively unlock different types of weapons to buy and use in combat. Every action consumes stamina, which needs time to replenish.

Before you think that this game is a shallow Stardew Valley wannabe, then read this paragraph. One way that Garden Story shakes things up is with different types of Dews. They mainly restore HP, but can have a wide variety of used effects. Also, weird orb thingies are scattered throughout the grove, and when broken with the proper weapon type, drop permanent stat buffs. The weird nuance with them is that some will say “Concord needs a stronger tool”, when in actuality, you can break them with a charge attack if the weapon is upgraded enough.

Another thing that Garden Story does is the Memory system. Concord will gain memories through fulfilling specific conditions, and an unlocked Memory can be assigned to his… hippocampus (or something?) to apply great perks, from stat buffs, to new combat techniques.

Building is… unusual in this game, and I mean that in both a good and bad way. The resources needed to craft buildable objects actually have to be stored in a chest. One nice feature is that Wood and Stone are essentially treated as currency, as they have their own compartments in which they can stack up to 9999 times. Unfortunately, built utilities can only be placed in limited locations. Planting crops is tied to specific spots as well, but at the very least, you only have to water them once, and can be left alone while they grow.

One of the biggest issues with Garden Story is no doubt its slow start. A lot of the rudimentary mechanics I’ve explained aren’t even doable until quite a ways into the story. Furthermore, you start off with two Stamina blocks, which is really gross. Upgrading Concord’s stats, especially his Stamina, is essential for the flow of the game, otherwise it’s a chore; I already dread the whiplash of returning to the grove with a new file (good thing I never have enough time for stuff like that). 

Inventory management can also appear to be kind of yikes. Items do not stack in Concord’s inventory. This can be alleviated by placing as many chests throughout the world as possible. However, items in chests can only be stacked fifteen times. And I don’t mean that you stack fifteen, and the sixteenth one starts a new stack; I mean fifteen of a given item type, PERIOD. But despite these very bad-sounding choices, Garden Story actually feels designed around these constraints. I honestly didn’t have a problem with inventory management as I thought I would.

Garden Story looks super simple and adorable, yet it caught me off guard several times. In addition to the limited Stamina early on, the enemies are deceptively annoying. Most notably are actually the super-basic regular blobs. When defeated, a core spits out, which needs to be struck to defeat the enemy for good. However, they bounce around and can damage you or inflict status effects. I’ve had a single one of these cores reduce me from full to half HP numerous times.

What I ended up enjoying the least was getting completion. Normally, games of this kind are tedious, but since Garden Story is so compact and streamlined, I figured it would be easy. And while completing the four libraries and finding all of Concord’s Memories is more than doable, maxing out every Village’s stats is the real problem. They cap at Level 5, and the transition to that from Level 4 is significantly longer than any other level gain. It doesn’t help that this will require repeat runs through the game’s dungeons, and the problem there is that it resets the puzzles AND bosses every time. Fortunately, upgraded weapons can make rematches go real fast.

But perhaps the biggest issue with Garden Story is that it doesn’t exactly feel rewarding to finish. There is a post-game, but all it gets you is the fifth and final Jar; nothing else changes in terms of content. Also, there are no Steam Achievements for things like completing libraries, maxing village stats, or getting all Memories. Furthermore, I’ve learned the coldest, hardest truth of all: that there is no Steam Badge for getting 100% Achievements in a given game.

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Final Verdict: 8.6/10

I’ve knocked games for being overly simple, but for some reason, I loved Garden Story from beginning to end, flaws and all. It’s one of those games that are just “nice”. I can’t really describe it any other way. One of the things that definitely offsets the game’s issues is its very reasonable ~11-15 hour length to finish. In the end, you’re the only one who can decide if you’d like this game. Now you know what you’ll be getting into.

Bug Fables Manages to Scratch that Paper Mario Itch… to a Point (Full Game Review)

Personally, I’ve always had a vendetta against indie games, not because I think a lot of them are bad, but because a lot of them are too inherently good, to the point where they can get away with having flaws. For example, many of them, such as Undertale or Fez, rely on unique aesthetics and gimmicks to stand out from the crowd (side note: ‘Megalovania’ is the most overrated videogame song of all time). Others, like What Remains of Edith Finch or Firewatch, completely disregard gameplay in order to appeal to raw human emotion in ways more intimate than most triple-A games. In addition to that, indie games having that inherent appeal of “the mom-and-pop business that does better than the corrupt, money-grubbing corporation”, and they sometimes have a better sense of what the market wants than actual triple-A companies. One example is the recent RPG, Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling, made to be a successor to the classic Paper Mario that we have wanted for over a decade and have yet to receive. Paper Mario: The Origami King is probably good for what it is (I heard mixed things), Bug Fables claims to be what the doctor actually ordered. Since it’s apparently pretty short (for an RPG), I decided to see how it measures up to classic Paper Mario.

In the kingdom of Bugaria, some ant queen lady wanted to find this MacGuffin called the Everlasting Sapling to become immortal. She failed, and so her daughter started the Explorer’s Association in order to hire adventurers to do the job for her. Three intrepid heroes, Kabbu, Vi, and Leif set out to find it and become heroes.

It takes only five seconds to see how influenced by Paper Mario this thing is. From the presence of Action Commands, to its art style, its writing, and… piss-poor inventory space, Bug Fables tries very hard to be the new Paper Mario. In order to find out if it succeeds, we need to cover one aspect of the game at a time (and, of course, compare them to Paper Mario).

The narrative is simple as all heck. In each chapter, you go to a dungeon, beat a boss, and get a thing. It comes off as predictable, but in actuality, does an admirable job of throwing curveballs at you. It is straightforward, though, and I didn’t really find it that gripping from a raw emotional standpoint. It has some cool lore, but I never found it particularly fascinating myself. What did surprise me was the cast of characters. The three bugs take advantage of all having dialogue (unlike Paper Mario with its silent protagonist), and use that to have a number of fun interactions with each other. 

But of course, Paper Mario fans care about the writing. Bug Fables‘ writing is definitely great. It even has a lot of characters muttering off-hand comments beneath the main speech bubble, just like in Paper Mario. The three main characters also share some chemistry that isn’t possible in a Paper Mario game (Best Girl Vi is especially a treat among the other characters). Unfortunately, the writing and characters don’t completely fill in the void for me. While both are great, there’s something special about the classic Paper Mario games, and even Super Paper Mario. Bug Fables’ doesn’t have anyone as lovable as, say, Koopa Jr., Pennington, Flint Cragley, Francis, and DEFINITELY no one like good ol’ Bowser. Additionally, the bug theming makes some character designs blur together for me.

Graphically, Bug Fables is beautiful. The game’s simple color palette and thick outlines scream that classic Paper Mario look; even the area transition paths have the same triangle pattern to them! Unfortunately, there isn’t much in terms of creative level design. I’m willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt in the event that there’s a sequel, but for now, the areas—while being creatively set in backyard objects like a sandbox and a tire—are your typical videogame biomes. Even the first Paper Mario, which had the most generic world, at least had something like the Toy Box. Eventually, Thousand-Year Door would go above and beyond by having places like a monochromatic forest with a Pikmin-related dungeon, an arena, and a luxury express train; even the main hub area is iconic for how slummy it is compared to other parts of the Mario universe. Bug Fables just doesn’t hit that nail on the head, except in the final area, but that place is unceremoniously short compared to Paper Mario final dungeons.

Furthermore, I didn’t find the soundtrack to be super amazing. It has a lot of great tracks, which feel retro in that uniquely indie-type way. But for me, they fall short of Paper Mario soundtracks, especially Thousand Year Door‘s. I get that it’s trying to be its own thing, but Paper Mario is so much more involved and varied than Bug Fables. I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is IMO.

Paper Mario is known for great puzzles, and Bug Fables steps it up a notch. At first, everyone only has one ability, but throughout the game, you get new powers which open up all sorts of possibilities. Unfortunately, there is one particular ability that I don’t like, and it’s Vi’s Beemerang. In theory, it serves as the Kooper or Koops of Bug Fables; you throw it, or hold it in midair and release it. Unlike Kooper or Koops, who only attacked left or right, the Beemerang can be thrown in eight directions. But due to the game’s own artistic style… THERE ARE ONLY FOUR DIRECTIONAL SPRITES FOR THE CHARACTERS. As a result, I found myself throwing it in the completely wrong direction at times, which bugged (HA) the living daylights out of me. 

Fortunately, Bug Fables excels with its combat, which has more depth than Paper Mario‘s system. The basic mechanics are the same: Each person has HP, TP which is shared, and MP used to equip medals (a.k.a. badges). Action Commands are a thing, and you’ll have to learn them from scratch regardless of your Paper Mario experience.

What’s most important is turn order. Each person gets one action in battle (unless you use field attacks to stun an enemy, in which case you’d get two attacks for whoever the leading character is), and you can attack in any order with B. Their position, from front to middle to back, is based on your formation in the field. Like Final Fantasy, people in front deal more damage and get aggroed by enemies, while the opposite is true for the back row. You can change your party’s turn order in battle as well. Oh, and a BIG improvement over Paper Mario is that anyone can Tattle (a.k.a. Spy on) an enemy; no need for that one party member who has no use other than to Tattle!

You will NEED to get used to manipulating who attacks in what order. A lot of your party’s attacks can exploit enemy weaknesses, such as using Kabbu’s horn to flip enemies over. There’s also the Turn Relay, which sacrifices a character’s turn to give someone else an additional one. However, one thing to be aware of is that a character’s damage output weakens if they have to attack more than once in a round (this also applies to starting out with advantage). Make sure you’re going to really benefit despite the decrease in power!

Another thing you NEED to be able to do is Blocking. The mechanic is just about the same as it is in Paper Mario: press A before an enemy attack lands and you’ll reduce the damage. Doing it with extra-perfect timing results in a Super Block that reduces the damage further. One good improvement over Paper Mario is that any party member who isn’t being targeted will turn transparent, making it easier to time your blocks. 

When it comes to the difficulty level of Bug Fables, ooooh… this is where it gets iffy. Right at the beginning of the game, you can obtain a medal called Hard Mode. It costs no MP to equip (thank goodness), but it boosts all enemies’ strength in exchange for more EXP and rewards. The game becomes VERY difficult in this state. You will need to not just get good at Blocks, but Super Blocks as well, otherwise, regular mobs will beat you within inches of your life. Bosses are… absurdly tough. They aren’t indie-game-tough, but they get an entire assortment of new moves and grant permanent buffs (I know because I accidentally beat a boss on normal and had to reload). The incentive is that beating bosses will earn you actual rewards beyond a lousy achievement, and these rewards tend to be really stinkin’ good. 

The big problem with Hard Mode is that the game’s own mechanics ends up making that medal shoot itself in the foot. Bug Fables has the same mechanics as Paper Mario when it comes to handing out EXP. When you’re considered overleveled, you only get one EXP per mob; i.e. per entire battle. The problem is that the game is NOT programmed to evaluate your level based on Hard Mode. As a result, I was able to reap the benefits of Hard Mode early on, but just by fighting enemies as they came, I became overleveled without grinding, and as a result, I’d end up going to main story locations, having to fight stressful battles against the mobs there, and getting NOTHING for it. Sure, the issue can be mitigated by equipping the Bug Me Not medal, which allows you to destroy enemies that are considered significantly weaker than you on the field, but it’s just plain stupid (and also dumb) that the high-risk-high-reward medal becomes high-risk-low-reward as a result of the game’s own mechanics. The only non-boss enemies that give you any EXP after a while are the rare Golden Seedlings. They function just like Amayzee Dayzees from Paper Mario; if they don’t run away, they can one-shot any party member from full health. 

Furthermore, leveling up just doesn’t do much of anything. Like in Paper Mario, leveling up allows you to choose one- and only one- stat gain in HP, TP, or MP. However, no matter how often you level up, it’ll never feel like enough. HP gains only provide one—ONE—Max HP to the party, and TP only gives three- THREE (MP is the same as Paper Mario’s BP). You need to use your TP-consuming skills, but it drains too quickly. You need HP to survive, because it doesn’t take long for enemies to do five to seven damage in a single attack (especially in Hard Mode). You also need MP to equip valuable medals, but you also need the other two stats! I get that the decision is supposed to be tough, but due to the overleveling mechanic, it never happens often enough. This really makes the game feel less fun to play. In fact, I hit max level before even starting the final dungeon, and I didn’t even grind except for money!

Another problem I had was with the Recipes. In Paper Mario, cooking stuff was definitely helpful, but you could still get by with just the Ultra Shrooms and Jammin’ Jellies that you find. Bug Fables doesn’t naturally give you higher-tier restoratives. Ever. You’re stuck with the lowest level healing items, and it is imperative to take them to chefs to make better ones. However, I just couldn’t figure out the recipes well; more than 90% of the combinations I would try would turn into Mistakes. For more than half of the game, my best healing items were Leaf Omelets and Glazed honey, which quickly became inadequate, especially on Hard Mode. While I wouldn’t mind trying every combination with brute force, cooking ingredients—naturally—destroyed them forever, even with incompatible ones. And with some rare items coming in finite supply if you don’t buy them off of sellers for an absurd amount of money, you’d have to save-scum a LOT to get all the recipes. Fortunately, the recipes that matter are learned naturally via quests, but they tend to be BIG investments. For example, one of said recipes is a collaboration between three different chefs that can be incredibly tedious to make. 

In the end, I didn’t enjoy it enough to do 100%. I did a good majority of it, but when I hit max level, I just wanted to be done (call me a filthy casual if you must). There’s even a whole children’s card game that I didn’t even bother with (it’s basically War meets Yu-Gi-Oh), as well as a casino area. I also didn’t dabble in the postgame whatsoever (so much for a Full Game Review, am I right?). There’s even what I presume to be a field ability that I never even obtained (whatever it is that lets you open wooden doors found throughout the game)! But like I said, I just wanted it to be done.

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Final Verdict: 8.4/10

I don’t care if one or one million people make a game; if it has issues, I WILL acknowledge them! Bug Fables is a great game, but it’s not perfect. And while it does nail some classic Paper Mario tropes, while also adding some interesting elements to combat, the risks-vs-rewards system with Hard Mode is a bit iffy. This game proves that only Nintendo can put out a 100% true, classic Paper Mario game, and we’ll just have to pray for the miracle of that happening. For now, Bug Fables is enough to tide us over (and lets hope it gets a sequel or five).