Cook Serve Delicious 2!!

I’ve talked about how I dislike Cook Serve Delicious 2’s lack of food upgrades, meaning that every food type comes in right away with every recipe unlocked, which makes it impractical to slowly memorize the input combos for certain order types and thus necessitates hunting for each ingredient one at a time. There’s still a finite number of recipes per food type and they still all have unique names (I think – due to the impracticality of actually using this information, I haven’t thoroughly checked), so you can still memorize them all, but it would require dedicated study and this is a video game, not a business venture. If I’m going to be doing work, I have much more profitable and/or artistically satisfying ventures to be working on.

But Cook Serve Delicious 2 also has a number of improvements over its original. For starters, its menu is vastly expanded. Whereas the original had not quite forty different food types, the sequel has more than I can count and I estimate somewhere in the low hundreds. The limited food types meant that there were only a small handful of themed menus you could create: You could run a diner, an Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, and a fancy restaurant. Also technically a concessions stand, but only because you have very few menu slots at low levels so corndogs, pretzels, soda, and popillas could fill up the whole thing. In Cook Serve Delicious 2, the hundreds of menu items mean it’s possible to have dozens of different themed restaurants, as indeed the game comes with thirty-three different pre-made restaurants.

Cook Serve Delicious had a few special challenge levels – catering jobs, Iron Chef challenges, the doom recipes of the ancient chef ninjas – where you had to cook a specific menu, focused on just one or two foods. Whereas the main game allowed you to assemble your own menu guided by various factors, mainly centered around increasing buzz to drive more traffic to your restaurant and thus allow you to make more money in a single day (but also have to serve more customers in the same amount of time, driving up difficulty), these missions were specific, set challenges. Cook Serve Delicious 2 massively expands this concept with its thirty-three pre-built restaurants that you can work shifts in, often 10-ish shifts total. Each restaurant has a theme, and the menu for that restaurant steadily expands and the buzz steadily increases as you go up shifts. The menu doesn’t expand just by adding new food types, however, but first by cycling food types out while keeping just three or four entrees on the menu, making it easier to learn as you go, and only slowly expanding to a full menu of six entrees (along with usually some number of side dishes, although since the way the mechanics work a greater number of side dishes makes things easier, the more difficult shifts are usually no sides, entrees only, Final Destination).

And while the removal of upgrades has made it impractical to memorize the menu thoroughly enough to get even a bronze medal on all the shifts, the game also added Zen Mode, which gives you an infinite timer to fulfill all orders. Much like my cunning strategy for beating Hollow Knight’s hardest challenges, this lets me engage with the challenge up to the point where I’m no longer having fun, and then turn about 90% of the challenge off and coast through the finish line (silver and gold medals are disabled on Zen Mode, but I was never going to sink in the triple-digit number of hours needed to get silver on all 350-ish challenge levels).

I think the lack of upgrades does CSD 2 a huge disservice because of how rough it makes the early game. Getting to grips with the more complicated menu items is very annoying early on, and the strengths of the game don’t really show themselves until you’ve gotten past that frustration embedded in its primary gameplay loop. The original had an elegant solution to this problem that the sequel has ditched for no reason, which is too bad, because once you muscle through that issue, it really is a major upgrade on the first game.

Far Cry 3: Is Buck Immune To Bullets?

About halfway through Far Cry 3, the main plot has an arc where you have to save the last unsaved (and surviving) hostage, Keith, from Buck the rapist hitman. In order to do this, you have to help him find some legendary treasure of the Chinese fleet of Zhang He, one captain of which apparently broke off and settled on the game’s Rook Islands, enslaving the natives and building big old Chinese monuments for a while before Zhang He caught up with him and destroyed his little fiefdom to send a message about desertion.

It’s a cool Indiana Jones style plot. Seems better suited to a side quest rather than the main quest, since shoving it into the main quest means that you have to have Buck, a hitman who has one of your friends held hostage and also has a teacher/student fetish, thus justifying his exposition dumps where he tells you the history of the ancient ruins you’re raiding while still maintaining enough menace to be a plausible threat. In fact, the level of menace Buck’s given is really overdone (not to mention kink shame-y and homophobic, but that’s a whole other thing), seeing as he confronts you in person like five different times and, being the start point for a main story mission, you will almost certainly be loaded for bear every time you talk to him. He bullies protagonist Jason Brody into playing along with his schoolteacher fetish, calling him “sir” and other ego stroking.

Jason bristles, but never to the point of doing the obvious thing: Aiming his shotgun at Buck’s head and explaining to him how MAD works. Particularly since it isn’t even mutually assured destruction: Jason can kill Buck at-will (Buck has a gun tucked in his pants, but Jason has a shotgun or an assault rifle or something in his hands whenever he walks up to Buck, because it’s a first person shooter), and all Buck can do is have one of Jason’s friends killed in return. And even that requires Hector, Buck’s lackey on the other end of the phone, to go through with it after the maniac who’s killed a minimum of a half-dozen pirates (and that’s being very generous with assuming the vast, vast majority of kills are non-diegetic – if we take gameplay literally, the number is most likely 200+ and Jason regularly fights entire squads of enemies and wins) blows Buck’s head off, picks up the phone, and says “hey, I killed your boss, do you still want this ancient Chinese treasure, or should I just hit up the contacts who gave me the precise location of three of my other friends to track you down?”

And then when (inevitably) you do kill Buck, it’s with a quick time event knife fight. I’m pretty sure the idea is that you’re supposed to really despise Buck so that you kind of follow along with Jason’s journey from regular guy to player character, but the problem with this is that the player character switch gets flipped at the end of the tutorial, like eight hours before you meet Buck. The way the geography of the game is set up and the way Ubisoft open world games work, I’d gone through the pirates of the entire north island like a scythe by the time I met Buck, and he still acts like he holds all the cards. I can buy that having Keith at gunpoint in an undisclosed location is enough to coerce Jason into cooperating with the treasure hunt, but Jason doesn’t even try to threaten Buck with any of the military grade weapons he hucks around.

HuniePop 2 Is Bad

HuniePop 2 is bad, and that makes me sad.

I’ve talked before about how HuniePop 2’s cast is 25% intentionally grating and pathetic, which gave me an uneasy sense that this game is made for people who are both horny for and contemptuous of women. I get the impression the creators were nudged into this – the greater plot is about sexing some sex demons into satisfaction so that they don’t destroy the galaxy, and this “only your dick can bring satisfaction to the gods” set up is very straight-male-centered, sure, but that’s not a bad thing for HuniePop to be. It’s not Mass Effect or…I dunno, whatever’s currently popular in AAA, I haven’t really given a fuck for like five years, but these huge tent poles need as broad an audience as possible to make back their massive costs, and thus they aspire to saturate gaming culture for at least a few weeks following their release. Companies that make the pitch that every gamer should be playing or at least talking about their game are inherently making decisions about who “every gamer” is and can be held accountable for that. HuniePop isn’t like that. It’s a niche indie game, and should be leaning into that niche. HuniePop 1 was, despite a token option to play a woman, just as laser focused on the straight male experience as HuniePop 2, and I liked HuniePop 1.

But now that they’re making a cast based on fan feedback and requests, HuniePot has churned out a game that, at least partly, views women as annoying and pathetic. Now, it’s still less than half of all the cast who’s like this – I think Abia’s nymphomania is annoying, but the game doesn’t seem to be trying to push her as a nuisance the way Lilian and Suki are clearly intended to be grating and Candace is very intentionally a moron. Lola’s new outfit (she’s a returning character from HuniePop 1) is badly a mismatch for her personality, but her personality has survived and her sense of initiative and ambition have always made her one of my favorites. Nora’s doing what she has to in order to scrape by and her resilience (cartoonishly one-note though it is) is admirable. Ashley’s unashamed hedonism is fun.

But it’s also got a bunch of annoying little shits, and you are supposed to date and ultimately fuck all of them in order to win. Lilian in particular is not only a nuisance, but also feels like the fantasy of an extremely divorced man who dreams of dating teenagers in spite or even because of the huge gap in maturity.

The game’s advancement system is also much worse, even more so than I realized in my original post on the subject. Having 4 different types of XP to juggle mostly just adds annoying busywork – you can never run out of time (unless you’re going for a specific achievement, which the game doesn’t even let you track without manually counting the game days), so you can always go and farm up the specific type of XP you’re lacking. But also, all XP expenditures are now tied to the random items that appear in the shop. This means that whether or not you’re able to upgrade a specific stat depends on whether or not relevant items have spawned and in what numbers, but nothing stops you from blasting through a day to reset the shops if you really want to upgrade one specific stat and the shop didn’t give you anything (or not enough of a thing) to advance it.

The date gift system is also much worse because now gifts are attached to specific girls rather than being tied to your inventory. On the one hand, different girls respond better to different token types, so it makes sense to create a build for each girl that targets the token types they get bonus points for and ignores the tokens they give reduced points for. If this was a system that allowed you to assign a specific build to each girl and load it in automatically when on a date with that girl, it’d be an improvement. But assigning a gift to one girl means you can’t then assign the same gift to another girl (and it’s not like this is a realism thing – these gifts are bought with magic love fairy XP and can be regifted to the same girl any number of times because we’re playing fucking HuniePop, not anything with pretensions of being a remotely grounded relationship sim). So in order to have reliable access to gifts that do broadly useful things, you have to wait for twelve copies of them to come out of the roulette machine and give one of them to each of the twelve girls in the game.

And my entire build in HuniePop 1 was built on early gifts that produce a ton of sentiment (used to activate gifts) followed by later gifts that produce extra turns or affection (the score used to determine if you win). About a quarter of the way in, and HuniePop 2 definitely seems to demand similarly optimized gift builds, but assembling such a build is far more tedious because you either have to do tons of busywork swapping the appropriate gifts out of one girl’s inventory and into another’s for every date (and you have to remember to steal all your important gifts back before you leave a date, because you can only access the inventories of girls in the same location as you), or else you have to buy a dozen copies of all the relevant gifts. And some of the more powerful gifts don’t seem to exist anymore. Maybe the game is trying to push players away from a broadly effective omni-build like multiplier-maximization followed by a gift that trades your multiplier in for raw points, the latter of which can be deployed on your last turn for 25%-ish of the points needed, which is frequently enough to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

But since the cast is so dense with annoying characters, I don’t care enough to play long enough to find out. Cook Serve Delicious 2 switched up the way its recipes worked in order to add new features while simultaneously removing the upgrade system that made learning new recipes fun, and that made getting to grips with its new systems a frustrating slog, but CSD 2 was still a fun game with a fun theme so I put up with it long enough to get good at the new systems. But HuniePop 2 is a game driven by dialogue and match three games, and a big chunk of its cast have miserable dialogue and I don’t want to relearn how to do whatever new strategies are supposed to be the key to success for its match three. The game has been officially banished to Regrets.

It makes me sad. As horny as HuniePop 1 is, it’s weirdly kind of wholesome about it. Your goal is to take ten to twelve (depending on how many secret characters you unlock) women on amazing dates until they fling their clothes off out of overwhelming lust at your match three skills. It’s ridiculous and it knows it’s ridiculous and your progress towards victory is marked by the increasingly less-clothed pics the girls text you, but the primary means of interacting with the game world is to show people an absolutely enchanting time and that’s adorable and cozy. HuniePop 2 being bad is like if a Stardew Valley sequel came out and not only were the mechanics about 20% more frustrating for no reason, but it also had weird blood and soil undertones that read like the developer is trying to court a fascist segment of the audience without being so overt about it that they lose everyone else.

HuniePop 2 Tries Too Hard To Be Different

HuniePop is the best match-three game by a huge margin. Match-three is a genre that normally relies on time pressure, blindly finding matches as fast as possible to cover the screen in particle effects as little gems or fruits or whatever explode and sound effects chime in panicked celebration, and the game’s difficulty is balanced so that you’ll usually get about 90% of the score needed to beat the level and they can offer to sell you an extra ten seconds to push you over the top.

HuniePop takes that jangling set of plastic keys and turns it into a real game by giving you unlimited time but a fixed amount of turns and more flexibility in how far you can move a token to make a match (you can move a token as far as you want along a row or a column, but not diagonally or by making turns, which puts much more of the board in play). Then it ties the whole thing together with an in-game upgrade system that makes victory near-inevitable yet allows you to challenge yourself by winning with as few upgrades as possible, bolts on some character-driven with a cast that’s middlingly shallow individually but also large and diverse enough to carry the game despite the somewhat one-note nature of most of the individual characters, and then adds anime boobies.

That last feature is in some ways utterly bizarre, drastically narrowing the potential audience for the game, and yet I think it might be less mad than it is genius, because the anime boobies audience definitely exists and is absolutely ravenous and yet rarely served by any game with any selling point beyond “there are anime boobies.” A game that had both anime boobies and actual gameplay was able to pick that audience up and walk away with it (I mean, not really – the whole HuniePop series has all of three games in it (one of which barely counts), and that’s hardly draining the hikikomori slush fund to the point where no one else is making sales, but it could if there were enough of them).

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Far Cry 3: Surprisingly Good Witch Game

Don’t read more into the title than it’s saying. Far Cry 3 isn’t a good witch game – but it is much better than you’d expect.

Drake Hollow had witch themes to its gameplay but very little witchery – there was no botany, your familiars serve as quest ATMs and nothing else, and the relationship between crystal magic and buffs is strained by the way it relies more heavily on building a camp full of lobster tanks and pinball machines than on finding crystals for magic power. The Serpent Rogue had a really good alchemy system (and alchemist gameplay is pretty well identical to witch gameplay in terms of the actual game mechanics), but was balanced for such intense resource pressure that experimentation was frustrating and building up ingredients was tedious.

And then there’s Far Cry 3, casually getting 80% of the way there without even really trying. In Far Cry 3, you can gather four flavors of herbs and convert them into various syringes to get buffs. Your standard health potion requires one green herb, an enhanced health potion requires two green herbs and one blue herb, a boost to hip-fire accuracy requires two red herbs and one yellow herb, and so on. The different herbs tend to grow in different biomes, so blue herbs are always found underwater, green herbs are found in thick jungles while yellow and red herbs seem like they grow in more sparse areas, and so on. All of them are found in sufficient abundance that it’s not hard to keep stocked up most of the time, and in any case your primary means of interacting with the world is gunfire, not herbalism, so if you do run out it’s an inconvenience but not a soft game over.

Far Cry 3 does have two flaws holding it back from being a witch game besides the presentation issue that you are definitely not playing any kind of witch. First, the recipes are given to you at certain story points, not unlocked through experimentation. You don’t sit down at an alchemy bench and try sticking two green and one blue herb together to see if it does anything, you just get a certain ways into the story and the greater healing potion recipe just appears in your crafting menu without explanation. Second, the game doesn’t seem to want to give straightforward buffs to things like weapon damage. The herb crafting is dabbling in survival mechanics, not proper magical witchery, so this might be an appeal to realism, except that you have syringes that seal up your bullet wounds and make you fireproof, so it doesn’t seem like that much more of a stretch to have a syringe called an “adrenaline booster” or something and have it increase damage.

There’s even mechanics related to animals, although these ones aren’t nearly so close to what you’d want in a witch game as presented. Indeed, they’re not even great for a survival hunter kind of game, i.e. what they’re supposed to be. As you uncover sections of the map by climbing radio towers, little animal symbols are stamped in various places. Different types of animal hides are required to increase the number of weapons you can carry and your ammo capacity. Exploring the island to find out where animals live is pretty witch-y, doing it to hunt them is pretty survival-y, and doing it to hunt them by unloading a PKM light machinegun on them feels like I’m playing a wealthy mid-life crisis simulator, so, uh, part of the mechanic for evocative gameplay is there, but they didn’t quite stick the landing. In fairness, there is an option to use a bow and there’s even some gentle nudging to do so, since the bow is silent and thus doesn’t alert nearby animals, making it easier to shoot several of them and stock up on materials. Problem is, the bow takes a weapon slot, you unlock weapon slots by harvesting animal hides, and depending on how you feel about LMGs, shotguns, and sniper rifles, the bow is plausibly priority 4 and won’t become a part of your arsenal until you’re nearly maxed out anyway.

A lot of Ubisoft games have copied the hunting mechanics from Far Cry 3 (I say “copied,” but Assassin’s Creed 3 came out at almost exactly the same time, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if people were sharing notes between the two teams, there’s no reason to think the Far Cry 3 team originated the idea and AC3 was copying), but I don’t remember the herb-gathering gameplay so much. I didn’t get super far into any of the other Far Crys, though, so maybe I just didn’t bother with the mechanic and then forgot about it? I’ll see when I get to Far Cry 4+. In any case, it’s about what you’d expect from an Ubisoft mechanic: Easy, evocative, and fun, but held back from greatness by how overly hand-holdy it is.

The Serpent Rogue: Well That Was Disappointing

The Serpent Rogue is a game where you play a plague doctor looking fellow and gather up herbs to brew potions. Its systems are all pretty solid except for one fatal flaw: The resource pressure is obscene to the point that the game is stifling.

The potion system is pretty cool. Each ingredient is tied to a keyword, which can be a noun like “vitality” (read: health) or “age,” a verb like “add” or “remove,” or a quantity like “five” or “ten.” If you arrange the ingredients such that they spell out a proper function, you get a potion that does that thing. So, “add five vitality” is a healing potion, “remove five vitality” is a damage potion. Neat! You can also craft weapons like axes or torches or shovels, but these do relatively little damage over your bare fists, much less than crafted potions, and require metal ore resources that are (at least in the early game) hard to come by. So, okay, damage potions are the way to go. You’re an alchemist and you should be brewing your way to victory.

The game’s first boss has 120 HP. Damage potions deal 10 damage each (presumably there’s stronger potions in the game, but I didn’t find any quantity ingredients higher than ten in the three hours I played). So you need to smack him with twelve damage potions while avoiding his attacks or else rapidly recovering with healing potions. So that’s twelve ingredients each of “remove,” “ten,” and “vitality” minimum, plus probably you’ll want two or three extra “ten” and “vitality” to brew up with “add” for healing potions. I forget what “remove” and “add” were because I never seemed to run out of them (one of them is berries, but I forget which or where the other came from), but “vitality” are aloe and “ten” is fish bones. Aloe grows wild out in the dangerous wastelands, and fishbones can be harvested by getting worms out of stumps, then using worms to catch fish.

This is exactly the witch-y gameplay I wanted out of Drake Hollow, with just one problem: You can’t harvest worms and aloe until they regenerate. Using all of the worms a stump produces at once to catch as many fishbones as possible might give me exactly twelve if I’m lucky, but usually it’ll give me slightly less, and then there’s nothing to do except wait for more. Aloe is even worse, because it mainly grows out in the wasteland full of hostile monsters, which means you need to either whittle the random mobs down with your terrible melee attacks or else use damage potions to clear them out and hope that you get enough aloe to balance out your expenditure. There’s other systems for getting pets and allies to help you fight, but they’re very fragile and still require you to expend the same resources you’re trying to gather in the wasteland, so they face the same problem that you will potentially lose resources on net.

I spent three hours exploring the game, figuring out how the potion brewing system works, and then banging my head against resource limitations trying to amass an arsenal. The first part was fun, but the second part was obnoxious. In addition to the frustration of accumulating potion ingredients, it’s also difficult to keep food topped off, which makes everything worse, because the only way to speed up the regeneration of herbs is to sleep, which drains hunger.

Axes and other tools break too quickly, food runs out too easily, and finding the ingredients to brew up enough potions to be effective is all way too frustrating, which is too bad, because this game did all the work of making a great alchemy RPG, but then provided maybe two-thirds of the resources to use those systems.

Drake Hollow

Drake Hollow is a survival-explore-y kind of game where you are some kind of YA protagonist. It’s really not clear how old you are, the overall proportions are cartoon for a teenager and your talking raven mentor calls you “kid,” but the “your mundane life is not going so well” scroll through the protagonist’s texts mention bills being due, which suggests someone who’s at least in their early twenties, and who knows how old the talking raven is. The basic plot setup is that you follow a talking raven through a portal to another dimension because you just might be the chosen one destined to save them from evil, and upon arrival you get your chosen one-ness confirmed after about twenty minutes. I don’t read a whole lot of YA anymore – does this still happen a lot in YA books? Or is this the work of someone who grew up on 2000s YA books and is now unironically recreating them long after their moment has passed?

Regardless of how up to date with current trends the plot is, it’s a functional vehicle for the gameplay, and the gameplay is okay. The combat is a barely competent (but still competent) Dark Souls-y blocks-and-dodge-rolls kind of thing, but the resource pressure for building the camp is surprisingly intense. Early structures fall apart almost instantly so you have to sprint for level 2 of the tech tree to get permanent shelter and steady access to water supplies, and you do not have a whole lot of time to muck about before your home base starts running out of food or water, constantly pushed to explore and harvest, especially with the additional time pressure provided by the raids.

The world you’ve been isekai’d into is Drake Hollow, inhabited by little plant people called drakes (no particularly draconic feature, so I have no idea why they went with that name) who are being terrorized by an off-brand Heartless shadow plague called aether under the command of something called the Terminer, who is a 17th century witch hunter twisted by dark powers and carrying on an endless hunt for the witch what used to keep this place running properly until she died and it all went to pot. Her familiars have called you in to finish her ritual to kill the Terminer.

You explore new islands to rescue new drakes, clear the islands of aether to free up supply chains, harvest resources to build buildings and keep your drakes taken care of, and save more drakes, putting additional supply pressure on your camp, requiring more buildings (and that you continuously feed in resources that your buildings can’t produce on their own, most notably, food – you can have farms, but they don’t produce seeds, so you must constantly go out and find more seeds). The off-brand Heartless show up to raid you periodically, so you have to defend your camp from being beaten up. So long as you keep your inventory of weapons up to par with the current strength of the Heartless, there’s no need to upgrade your camp defenses, as the Heartless will never attack in such numbers that they will deal significant damage to your resource buildings before you can run around and smack them all. If you have no defensive buildings whatsoever, the Heartless usually manage to smack two or three buildings down each raid, but replacing them is a minor hassle, not a major setback. It is, however, very satisfying to build a bunch of drake bunkers surrounded by walls and just hang out while the drakes pincushion all the Heartless with blowdarts.

Continue reading “Drake Hollow”

March Humble Choice

Back on schedule! The March Humble Choice dropped on the 7th, and if all goes as planned, this post will be going up on the 8th. What’s in the box?

BioMutant is a post-apocalyptic kung fu RPG where you play as some kind of hyper-intelligent mutant raccoon. It kinda looks like someone looked at the basic concept of Rocket Raccoon, i.e. a mutant raccoon who’s ferocious in combat, and decided to make an entire video game about just him. I am definitely on board to give it a try.

Jurassic World Evolution 2 is the sequel to a game I kinda liked but never finished, because that is how I used to play basically all video games. I’ll go ahead and toss the sequel into the backlog, but I’ll make a more final decision about whether or not to actually bother with it after I’ve played the first one (or especially if the first one gets banished to Regrets).

Edge of Eterntiy is a sci-fi/fantasy anime-aesthetic game that’s probably a JRPG? I have similar reservations with Edge of Eternity as I had with Encased: I like this genre, but do I like it so much that I will still want more after I get through all the famously spectacular headline games? Like Encased, I’ll toss Edge of Eternity into the backlog just in case the answer is “yes,” but there might be a purge coming sometime in the future if I wear out on this genre.

I was just recently thinking that I’d like to get Hero’s Hour sometime, but with the shockwaves of the OGL crisis hitting my income in February, I’ve really had to consider even $5 purchases lately. And now here it is in a Humble Choice I paid an annual subscription for like eight months ago. It is a strategy game in the same very broad genre as Heroes of Might and Magic, but the details of the mechanics are very different, with the individual battles happening in realtime and with minimal intervention from the player, placing the emphasis much more firmly on the turn-based strategic/logistical gameplay (the individual battles seem like they could probably be resolved with a three-second calculation, so there’s some risk that the spectacle will wear out its welcome, but I’m game to check for myself).

Please, indie games, I am begging you, stop making Roguelikes. I love the aesthetic of Rogue Lords. I would’ve been super happy to play this game for 5 or even 10 hours. If it were a proper RPG promising me 35 hours of new content over the course of a single campaign, I would be even happier, but if the devs just don’t have that much content in the budget, then fair enough – give me the 5-10 hours. The Tim Burton-esque vampires-and-demons aesthetic will not carry me through 35 hours of repetitive Roguelike gameplay. I would’ve played this game if it were shorter!

Demon Turf is also in the “looks neat, but it’s too long” category, although in this case that’s only because it only looks kinda neat. As far as I can tell, the devs didn’t stretch their game out with mechanics designed to wring the longest possible playtime out of the smallest amount of content. It’s just a game for people who think a cutesy demon aesthetic platformer is a good way to spend 30 hours of their life, and I am not in that demographic.

Golden Light is a procedurally generated dark comedy survival horror Roguelike where there’s a talking bicycle and it’s super funny, you guys, just trust me, it’s hilarious, bro, come on. The marketing talks a lot about its comedic tone but doesn’t tell a single joke. Well, it does have a list of things you can eat or throw in the game that includes “Meat Apple,” “Fat Lips,” and “Corrupted Fetus,” so I guess the joke is that it’s all edgy and transgressive and stuff? A casually transgressive bite can make a joke pop, but it’s not a punchline by itself. This game’s sense of humor sounds interminably dull and it’s a Roguelike, because nothing punches up humor like seeing the same content slightly remixed dozens or hundreds of times.

As Pokemon steadily decays, a number of indie games are trying to step into the void. Monster Crown is one of those, and they’re one of the ones that’s growing up with the audience, presenting a darker story of sadistic rulers and looming tyranny. The aesthetic is pretty similar to gen 3-5 Pokemon, though, which seems like it’d be kind of jarring. I wonder how much of this comes from people who cut their teeth on mods? In the context of a modding scene, you expect to see large chunks of the game to be recycled from the original, which means new assets have to be made to match the old ones, so the aesthetic is set in stone unless you’re doing a total conversion. Under those circumstances, I’m perfectly willing to tolerate an aesthetic/story tone mismatch. Monster Crown is a new game with new assets, though, so if it’s a darker story, then how come it still looks like regular Pokemon? It’s a poor imitation of the Pokemon style, too. The game doesn’t seem to have much else to sell itself on besides being a darker take on Pokemon and it doesn’t seem to be doing either of those things especially well, so definitely giving it a pass.

I’ve also backed up to February to get Witcher: Thronebreaker after all on recommendation from a friend. My reason for vetting it out was pretty flimsy to begin with. I’m happy to use even flimsy reasons to vet games out of the backlog in general on the grounds that running out of games in my backlog is not much of a threat right now but letting duds pass my filters to waste my time with a bad game happens semi-frequently, but if the game comes recommended then that tips it over into the backlog.

Or at least, I’m going to try to get Thronebreaker. Something’s gone wrong with the CD key, so it might end up out of the backlog on grounds of technical difficulties.

Not counting Thronebreaker (yet) or Hero’s Hour (which I was excited to play, dove right into, and turns out it doesn’t have a campaign so it only took me two hours to “beat” by completing a duel scenario – I’ll probably play more of it, but there’s no particular endpoint to strive for), that brings me up to a surprisingly manageable 171. I’m still hovering around 170, but like I was back in December, but given the circumstances of January and February, that’s probably a good sign.

February Humble Choice

Bonus round! Two posts this week as I get us caught up to February.

I found Pathfinder: Kingmaker to be a huge disappointment. It uses Pathfinder mechanics, and yet it’s clearly designed to be played in realtime, with combat encounters so incredibly dense that they begin to drag even in realtime and which are absolutely interminable when turn-based. The game demands a pretty steep level of min-maxing even on lower difficulties and its controls suffer from unintuitiveness born from the fact that they’re aping a tabletop game normally conducted in spoken language where having twelve options each individually very niche didn’t mean you started running out of intuitive places to put the commands on a keyboard. Pathfinder is also a system that goes hard on complexity to try and wring as much engagement out of playing one character as possible, a system which translates poorly to running a full party of six. Its popularity kind of baffles me, since I’m pretty sure it reached beyond the core Pathfinder audience.

The game in the Humble Choice isn’t Kingmaker, it’s Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, but seeing as I didn’t like Kingmaker, I’m not bothering with Wrath of the Righteous, which was a weird AP to pick to begin with. While that one encounter hasn’t ruined it for everyone forever, it’s not a super popular AP overall, either (and OwlCat wisely chose to omit that encounter completely, but you’d still expect the fact that it has Paizo’s worst writing ever in it to factor into the choice of that AP over the many others in Paizo’s library). Kingmaker is Pathfinder’s most popular AP by a country mile, but after that I would’ve gone with Rise of the Runelords or something.

I swear I am not taking the piss when I say that Fallout 76 is part of the Humble Choice. Fucking why? They do offer it in a package with Fallout 1, so if I didn’t already have Fallout 1 I’d probably claim that one and just never install Fallout 76. I’m baffled why they bothered adding Fallout 76 at all, though.

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is an isometric take on the Witcher. I’ve already got three Witcher games, though, and I don’t feel a powerful need for a fourth that’s incongruent with them. This is a nitpicky thing to disqualify a game over, but I’m trying to lean on being more selective in order to keep the expansion of the backlog as limited as possible to games I will most likely enjoy.

Othercide has a very cool black-and-white noir Sin City-ish aesthetic that I really dig. It’s some kind of tactical RPG about superpowered all-female hero squads called Daughters fighting spooky monsters of some sort or another. Details on the plot are thin, so this game is selling itself to me on pure aesthetic, and if it were 5-10 hours long, that might’ve been enough. How Long To Beat says it’s 20-30 hours, though, and I don’t like the aesthetic enough to give it that much time.

Shady Part of Me is some kind of puzzle-y sort of game where you control a little girl and her shadow, and the shadow can interact with the world in some kind of way. It looks kinda cool, but I don’t much like puzzle-y sort of games.

Scourgebringer is a “fast-paced free-moving roguelite platformer” and has already committed the twin sins of being a Roguelite and not capitalizing Roguelite. It’s named after the game Rogue! That’s a proper noun! Words derived from proper nouns retain their capitalization, that’s what nationalities are capitalized!

But also, while the game looks kinda fun, I’m really over Roguelites as a mechanic. If you view a long playtime as a positive, then Roguelites are a great way to stretch limited indie resources to make a game 10-20 hours long. But I don’t want your indie game to be stretched out to 10-20 hours long! I would greatly prefer an all-thriller no-filler 2-5 hour game that nails its premise in one evening and then gets the fuck out of my backlog before I have a chance to get bored with it.

Fobia: St. Dinfna Hotel needs to see me after class about that title. Not only is the first word spelt wrong, but the name in that title looks suspiciously Welsh. It’s about exploring a spooky hotel with monsters in it, and its first several animated .gifs and accompanying explanatory text describe an investigative game that almost looked like it was in the Why Did Silent Hills Have To Die?! genre, but apparently you do have at least some ability to shoot monsters with a machine gun. I’m getting flashbacks to Industria a bit here: A first-person shooter with a mechanical focus on resource scarcity and a strong emphasis on its atmosphere and aesthetic. Industria wasn’t good, and Fobia’s longer, too, at twelve hours compared to Industria’s five. I’m putting Fobia in the backlog, but I’m also planning to play on the lowest difficulty available and drop it at the first sign of frustration. No muscling through an annoying puzzle or combat encounter in the hopes that there might be a solid experience under the rough edges, I tried that with Industria and all it did was waste an extra two hours of my time.

Five Dates is an FMV romantic comedy about a guy having zoom calls with potential dates because I guess some television-y types got super bored during the pandemic and had to figure out some way to keep their careers on life support through lockdown. Fair enough as a career move, but it holds no interest for me.

This has brought me up only to 172 games, although I’m also opening up these bundles much later in the month than usual, so I might still be at 172 when the first Tuesday of March rolls around and offers up a couple more games.