Short Stories and Steam Reviews #4

Short Stories

I wrote my first sci-fi story a few weeks ago, called Eyes That See Across Time. It’s pretty easy and fun to write sci-fi, if you just look at the world’s current problems and then completely blow them out of proportion.

I’ve also been working on a few horror stories like Bury My Body. I’ve noticed I tend to write out several versions of my horror stories until I get the version that I like.

There’s also a series of fantasy stories I’ve been writing, inspired by Christian gnosticism, apocryphal scripture, the Devil, and related subjects. My favorite entry so far is The Birth of Lucifer.  🙂

You can read more stories in my Writing section!

 

Steam Reviews

This will probably be my last blog about Steam games unless I write one final summary later. I’ve discovered I don’t really care for some of the most well-known indie games like Super Meat Boy, Hotline Miami, Don’t Starve, Spelunky, Terraria, VVVVVV, etc. Even popular games I’ve reviewed like LIMBO only hold my attention span for a limited amount of time. It’s mostly been strange, innovative new games like To the Moon and Her Story that have impressed me.

Only a few traditional style video games like Nidhogg have truly stood out. And maybe a few others…

ror

Risk of Rain is a simple looking game with surprisingly deep mechanics. You basically start out in a random place in each level and begin fighting off enemies, which get stronger as time progresses. Getting money to buy upgrades becomes a key factor to survival. It can be a bit disorienting deciding what to spend your money on while fighting off enemies. I occasionally wish the shops were separated into enemy-free sections like most games. But of course that wouldn’t really fit the gameplay, which wants you to make quick decisions.

I love the soaring guitar solos that drive the soundtrack. This game has some of the best music I’ve encountered in an indie title, and reminds me of the early Sonic soundtracks.

With the overly simplistic art style, it’s taken me a while to get into the game. But I’ve discovered it can be a lot of fun. Sometimes I feel the game could use a function to zoom the camera in. The player character appears way too small on screen, as well as the enemies. Sometimes I feel like I need to squint to see the details. It feels like the exact opposite problem that early mobile games had. Mechanically, the game has very broad appeal. I just wish it had better graphics! But I recommend the game nonetheless.

aquaria2

Aquaria is a relaxing side-scroller that takes place underwater. The most interesting feature is the ability to play notes and melodies that affect the surrounding environment. The game has a well-produced story with a voice actor that guides you through the game, speaking for the main protagonist’s perspective. The camera zooms in and out depending on the situation. There’s a neat recipe system that lets you cook with items you find. The game rarely becomes challenging enough to frustrate you.

The gameplay and atmosphere occasionally reminds me of The Little Mermaid areas in Kingdom Hearts, but with better music. My only real criticism is the game doesn’t have much variety. The game also really needs an auto-save feature, as well as a brightness feature. In the end, it’s a nice change of pace from the trend of very difficult side-scroller games.

valdis

Valdis Story: Abyssal City probably has the best graphics of any 2d game I’ve seen on Steam. The characters and enemies are all beautifully animated. The levels all have lush and vibrant colors. None of the areas suffer from mismatched color palettes like many indie games. The sword attacks feel very satisfying to use. Boss battles are challenging but not impossible. The magic system gives you a lot of interesting powers, which thankfully aren’t difficult to incorporate into fighting.

The game also has beautiful music. I personally find the story to be tedious and distracting, but you can skip through it. As a whole, the game is truly impressive. I would say this is one of the most polished 2d platformer games available on Steam.

bleed

Bleed turned out to be way more difficult than I expected. Gameplay can be very mentally and physically demanding, since you’re having to move, aim and shoot all at once. The checkpoints are the biggest saving grace for the gameplay, since it’s easy to die from a random mistake. The difficulty of the level design is fairly uneven, with some places feeling too easy and others feeling way too hard. The game desperately needs an auto-aim feature.

You can select the difficulty on each level, which is a nice option that keeps you from getting stuck in a particular place. You can also have a second player join in, which is nice and retro. The pixel art graphics are accompanied with pretty standard chiptune music. The levels are nicely drawn but the characters and enemies could be a lot more polished.

Bleed also has one of the cutest main menu screens I’ve ever seen, with the lead character at her desk writing, drinking a smoothie, and other idle animations. This is another game I can only recommend to those who are exceptional at 2D platformers. This game is either a daydream or a nightmare, never in between.

crypt-of-the-necrodancer

Crypt of the NecroDancer‘s most defining feature is undoubtedly the ability to choose your own soundtrack and watch the game synchronize itself to your music. The game is good at syncing up to anything in 4/4 and usually 3/4. Unfortunately odd meters make it go haywire, which rules out a lot of my favorite songs. The custom music system really needs a shuffle feature, since the songs you choose for early levels and the main menu quickly get old.

The upgrade system is a lot like Rogue Legacy, where you have to play the game many times in order to become strong enough to reach the deeper levels. The now-standard structure of 4 worlds, 16 levels is obviously a nod to Diablo and Spelunky. The dungeons are randomly generated (of course they are). Playing in sync with your favorite music is a novel feature but gets old rather quickly. Sometimes it feels unnatural, and I simply want to play to my own rhythm.

Maybe this game is only for people with dance pads. Or is it made for mobile phones? It’s hard to tell. The graphics are pretty bland and unspectacular. I’ve spent over 7 hours playing the game on Steam and I still can’t recommend it unless it’s on sale.

jotun

The graphics in Jotun are phenomenal. The camera zooms out when you encounter a monument or boss, which helps give you a sense of the world’s tremendous scale. Boss encounters can be pretty intimidating when you’re just a tiny dot on the screen. This can sometimes be annoying however, as it’s easy to lose track of where you are.

The voice acting is in Icelandic, which lends a rare, authentic feel to the game’s world. The soundtrack is also very good. It often takes the subtle approach, blending ambient noises with soft splashes of violin and droning echoes. Jovial and mysterious harp melodies are common. The ominous horn sections often remind me of Diablo’s darker moments. The music becomes more exciting and percussive during boss battles, while retaining a very orchestral sound.

The loading times in between areas can be pretty long (about 10 seconds), which is one of the biggest drawbacks of the game. I’ve also had to deal with some seriously frustrating bugs, like dying after beating a particularly difficult boss. The combat is way too slow for my tastes. Your “quick” attack takes about 1 second to execute, while your strong attack takes about 3. I often feel more like I’m fighting against my character’s slow timing, rather than the enemies or bosses.

And as nice as the voice acting is, I sometimes wish there was an option for English vocals. Since I can’t look away and receive the information audibly in my own language, I have to watch the screen before the subtitles fade. It’s a bit awkward when I’m just playing casually. The feeling is not unlike watching a foreign film.

Overall though, the game is pretty neat. If you like RPG games I recommend Jotun, it will definitely leave a strong impression on you.

 

More Reviews

Steam Reviews #3: Outland, Dust: An Elysian Tail, VVVVVV, Vertical Drop Heroes HD, Waveform, Her Story
Steam Reviews #2: Nidhogg, Super Crate Box, LIMBO, Alpha Runner, The Sun and Moon, The Beginner’s Guide
Steam Reviews #1: INK, Downwell, You Have to Win the Game, Rogue Legacy, Tallowmere, EDGE, To the Moon

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Try to find me in Daniel Linssen’s game, Twitter Island!  🙂 Add me on Twitter too!

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About Dylan Franks

My name is Dylan Franks, and I'm a game designer and musician. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. View all posts by Dylan Franks

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