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Game Reviews

Curved Space Review

(Curved Space is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and Xbox One.)

-REVIEW KEY PROVIDED BY DEVS-

It’s never fun having a highly anticipated experience fall flat on it’s face, failing to stick the landing you desperately hoped it would land. Such is the case with Curved Space, an admittedly heartfelt attempt at honoring the tried and true gaming genre of twin-stick shooters.

Now I will admit right out the gate that not everything in Curved Space is flawed. First impressions are important things. Nearly as important as snacks on a road trip, or blackout curtains in your bedroom window if you’ve found yourself living in a desert or a space station. Curved Space completely nails it in this department. Upon launching the game, you’re met with this aesthetically pleasing main menu, complete with some fantastically retro, synthwavey goodness. It’s good stuff, and threw me right into that arcade-esque mood of yesteryear.

Neon bullets and bugs abound!

I was quite excited to experience what Curved Space had to offer beyond it’s visually pleasing opening seconds, so I promptly chose start on the main campaign and was whisked away into what was sure to be a one of a kind experience.

…And that’s where my enjoyment with Curved Space ended.

I’m going to be honest here, the voice acting in Curved Space was not all too great. Upon hearing the game’s spoken dialogue for the first time, my expectations immediately lowered. They weren’t the worst I’ve ever heard in all of my gaming experiences, but it was still jarring enough to make me take a second to reassess just what exactly I thought this game was capable of pulling off.

The writing felt serviceable, but also fell flat here or there. When it came to the general dialogue, the story’s main protagonist’s personality came off as bland, flat and without depth. Outside of that, the writing was interesting enough to keep me going for a short while. Conversations about multiple realities and all that good stuff are abound here. Sadly, I never experienced how the whole thing wraps up, as I gave in to boredom long before then.

This comic book stuff looked pretty neat!

And we’re talking boredom born of one of the cardinal sins of games: poor gameplay.

As much as I tried to make it to the end of what was supposedly a 2-3 hour campaign, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The general controls of Curved Space were fine enough on their own, but fine doesn’t always mean good. It means fine, as in, it’s serviceable but it doesn’t really do anything better than other games out there. That often results in boredom within me after an extremely short period of time, and Curved Space was no exception to this.

Maybe some of this boredom and repetition could have been mitigated if Curved Space provided a larger array of objectives for you to complete. The variety of mission types here is abysmal, leading to repeating objectives just minutes in to the game. I’m not sure if the design philosophy here was to create building blocks that sit neatly together to build a more complex gameplay tower later on in the game or not, but that’s the vibe I got from this one. Unfortunately, I think the mark was missed there as well.

Space Donut.

I’m sure Curved Space will find a niche fanbase, as indicated by the numerous positive reviews I read prior to jumping in to the game myself. I can say with utmost certainty that I am not a part of that group, as Curved Space brought five cons for every pro it gave me. As much as it pains me (as my initial excitement for this one was quite high), I cannot recommend Curved Space as something that you may or may not enjoy. In my experience, this isn’t one that I would suggest to anyone save for Gen X dads who want to relive childhood through a modern lens.

However, if you do happen to fit that description, Curved Space might be the perfect game for you.

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Game Reviews

Dodgeball Academia Review

(Dodgeball Academia is available for Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.)

Growing up, school constantly felt like a battleground. Many mornings were spent in preparation for the numerous attacks that were certain to catch me off-guard during my day. From the bathrooms with their soldiers of swirlies, to the walks home full of twists and turns in a labyrinthine neighborhood, nowhere was safe. On the flipside, there also wasn’t really any place that felt more dangerous either. Unless you found yourself on the dodgeball court.

That wasn’t a battleground, it was a fucking warzone. 

Now imagine how I reacted upon learning that there was a game all about the warm and fuzzy feeling that only a rubber ball to the face could provide. Enter: Dodgeball Academia!

Dodgeball Academia is what you get when you blend a sports game with the look of Gravity Falls, the “trainer” systems from Pokemon, the upgrades and customization of role-playing games, and the story-telling of a Saturday morning cartoon. Visually, it has an easily identifiable style, which is something that modern games are sorely lacking. The character designs especially pop against the 3D rendered background, while the vibrant and complimenting colors help to further bring everything together. These are characters and settings that I could easily see finding a home on a children’s cartoon network like…Cartoon Network.

So all is well and good in the land of initial appearances, but I think a lot of people know that first impressions aren’t always telling of what’s going on on a deeper level. Oftentimes it takes a moment or two for us to begin to understand a motive before we really get down to judgement. This reigns true, even in the world of video games. Case in point: once I began to actually play Dodgeball Academia, I realized that looks truly aren’t everything. The core content wasn’t something I could see myself staying with in the future.

The biggest reason for this was due to Dodgeball Academia’s story. I don’t personally think the plot of the game is bad, but I do think it was a story that didn’t quite mesh with me. The length of the story would wear on me from time to time, which led to many speed reads through the numerous lines of dialogue. The writing isn’t poorly done, but it is juvenile. You can tell that this story catered more toward fans of the shows that it pulled visual inspiration from, which admittedly let me down.

I did enjoy how Dodgeball Academia presented it’s story though. The narrative is portrayed in an episodic manner, with each chapter having its own plot while also carrying along the game’s main story. Each episode is only a couple of hours in length too, so being able to indulge in the dodgebally goodness in bite sized chunks was a breeze. There’s plenty of variety and creativity within these stories, which helps to prevent Dodgeball Academia from feeling too samey in it’s formula. I will say though that I do wish there was more time to breathe and explore between story beats. The game is fairly linear and doesn’t offer a huge variety of activities outside of some side quests and the occasional spot to grind some levels.

Speaking of levels, let’s take a moment to discuss the core gameplay here. I think Dodgeball Academia’s gameplay systems were my favorite thing about this experience (outside of taking in the visuals, of course). Once you spend a moment with the game, it’s easy to tell that Dodgeball Academia was built around the idea of being an homage to not just a PE class pastime, but to role-playing games as well. There are a plethora of systems here that are pulled from many classic RPGs which all come together to work in beautiful harmony. There’s your standard experience based leveling systems, items and gear to purchase, use and equip, enemies to run into if you’re looking to grind the day away, and more. To be honest, the core gameplay is a large reason why I nearly 100% completed Dodgeball Academia.

The game is also party based, with a large cast of characters that you can control through your journey. This helps with gameplay variety, by allowing you to access a plethora of differing playstyles. Granted they don’t differ in the way something like builds in Diablo do, but they still vary enough to offer the player a semblance of choice.

Everyone has super cool anime powers given to them by the power of a magical dodgeball as well, which further helps diversify the roster. For example, one character may harness the power of electricity which allows them to stun more opponents, while another may harness the power of fire, leading to many a crispy kiddo. I thoroughly enjoyed uncovering every character’s special power, from those that I played as, to those who you merely fight against on the court. It helped bring another level of personality to a game already bursting at the seams with charisma and allure.

Which I wish was the same for the music in Dodgeball Academia. Sadly, that’s not really the case based on my experience. While the game doesn’t have a particularly bad soundtrack, I can’t deny that it can get a bit grating on the ears after some time. In my opinion, the problem stems from a lack of variety in the music. Individually, these tracks almost all fit well with the overall look and feel of Dodgeball Academia. The issue lies within how often these tracks are used, and how rarely I was given a reprieve from them. The main hub of the game is accompanied by this tune where you have a guitar just going absolutely crazy in the background with it’s “wah-wahs” and “wee-woos”. I swear that song single-handedly led to me speeding through the game at a faster rate, which kinda saddened me. I was really looking forward to more variety in this one.

Look, Dodgeball Academia isn’t a perfect game. That’s completely fine, seeing as perfect video games don’t exist. But it is a well put together gaming experience that knows it’s influences and wears them proudly on it’s sleeve. There may not have been as much here to enjoy as initial impressions initially led me to believe, but not every game will fit every person. And again, I’ll reiterate this for the upteenth time: Dodgeball Academia isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s a really good game. A really good game for a select few: younger gamers and sports fans mostly. 

Regardless of which demographic Dodgeball Academia best suits, I don’t at all regret my time with the game. It was a nice throwback to the days of old, where every day meant putting my life on the painted white line in gym class. Where my classmates and I became not only friends, but comrades in a war against enemies that threatened the composition of all of our faces. It was a time I will forever be nostalgic for, and at the end of the day, I think I actually owe it to Dodgeball Academia for reigniting my appreciation for those times. For that reason alone, I’d say that the game is well worth your time, even if it doesn’t end up being your next favorite game. 

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Game Reviews

Road 96 Review

(Road 96 is available now for Nintendo Switch and Windows)

Let’s face it: video games often pull from real life in order to fuel their narrative economy. Not only that, it’s also something that’s become increasingly common in newer releases. Maybe it’s because of my age, what with being in my mid-20’s now and constantly feeling like every action is one that could be judged politically. Maybe it’s thanks to our more-than-ever-before connected world where we’re able to share differing life experiences like never before.

Regardless of the underlying reason, I can freely admit that I find art imitating life in this scenario to be massively appealing. To see other’s interpretation of life events through the lens of an interactive work of art is something unique to gaming. There’s a sort of beauty to it all, and I think that’s why Road 96 appealed to me so much.

Get used to looking at that mountain. You’ll be seeing it often.

The premise in Road 96 is simple and to the point. You take on the role of a series of teens as they travel to the border of the oppressive, totalitarian country of Petria in an attempt to escape and find a better life elsewhere. What helps in diversifying this straightforward premise is an interesting cast of characters who you meet during your various attempts to flee the country. Building upon that further, Road 96 pushes forward an overarching narrative of an upcoming election waiting for the citizens of this oppressive regime. At first, the overall climactic event (or events) at the end of this roughly 8 hour adventure may not immediately seem apparent. However, it’s through the numerous encounters with the aforementioned cast of supporting characters that makes the entire story (and their roles in it) come together.

Now, there’s quite a noticeable (how should I say this) blemish on the entire story and how it’s given to the player to enjoy: that’s the visuals. This game has some of the most wildly inconsistent presentation I’ve been witness to in a while. I should mention that this game was made on a smaller budget and by an even smaller team of indie developers. It’s often not priority #1 of developers to make the highest quality looking game ever, which I understand.

I mean this in a purely critical sense and in an attempt to share my experience with you when I say this: this game often goes from great to not so great at a moment’s notice. So much so that I found it to be distracting at best and cringe inducing at worst. It’s unfortunate that so many emotional moments in Road 96 fall flat for this exact reason. On the flipside, if this is what a team can accomplish on a tight budget and as a first project, then my hope for future releases will remain bright.

At times, Road 96 looks great. Other times, not so much.

Unfortunately, the presentation’s inconsistency doesn’t stop at it’s visuals. Beyond hit or miss lip sync, stiff animation, and some goofy texture action, Road 96 is also guilty of sporting the occasional bout of poor voice acting. Thankfully, this isn’t something that stands out as much as the problems with the visuals do, but it was still distracting nonetheless.

Outside of the moments here or there with the visuals being less than stellar and voice lines being delivered in less than convincing ways, there is a tremendous amount of beauty to be found in Road 96. The environments and the variety of places you visit along your journey are beautiful mosaics of cell-shaded goopy oil painting goodness. The lighting used often helps these locations pop even further, and the fantastic use of Road 96’s soundtrack being weaved in and out at key moments helped bring it all together.

Speaking of the original soundtrack, it’s with great pleasure that I can tell you Road 96 has some fantastic music to help you feel all of the feels while trekking thousands of miles across the country. You’ve got all of the basics covered, from Jack Johnson-type acoustic upbeat jams to synthwave pop goodness that wouldn’t be out of place in the glove compartment of The Weeknd’s car. There is a great mix of music, with some of the songs quickly ending up on one of my playlists over on Spotify. If there’s anything that you explore more of before purchasing a ticket explore Road 96, it should be the music. It’s some genuinely good shit.

Country road, take me anywhere else but here.

Outside of gawking at the scenery presented to you along the variety of roads you’ll travel, Road 96 presents a unique hybridization of both the ever popular choose your own adventure genre of games (aka Telltale Games, Life is Strange) and the never know what you’re going to get randomness of roguelites (aka Hades, Rogue Legacy).

At the start of each attempt to cross the border, you’re presented with a few choices for a no name teen who you’ll play as. Once you decide on a character template, you’re whisked away on your journey. The trip often opens with you in a car or walking up upon a location where you run into one of the supporting characters. They’re generally dealing with some issue that calls upon you to help them resolve. Resolutions boil down to a minigame most of the time, which there’s thankfully a large variety of. In my time with Road 96, I never ran into a repeat minigame, which was a great thing to experience.

You’re also presented with numerous interactions that take place between you and Road 96’s cast of colorful characters. These conversations aren’t as deep or as impactful as I’d have liked them to be, but they were still great at carrying the story along. Thankfully there’s also a new game plus mode once you complete the story, so the option to go back and redo interactions in a different way while still maintaining all of the information you gained in a previous playthrough is available.

Stan and Mitch, Bank Robbers (in training).

Road 96 also mentions that it’s a procedurally generated adventure. That merit is technically true, but there’s been plenty of confusion surrounding it, so I’ll attempt to clarify. Road 96 is procedural in the way it presents it’s events, not so much when it comes to the game’s overall content. What I mean by this is that almost everyone will experience similar or even the same events during a playthrough of Road 96. The locations (at least from what I’ve seen) don’t generally vary much, either. What does vary however, is the order in which these events play out for each player. One player may start out in a truck with the charismatic John, while another person may start out roadside with the upbeat wizkid, Alex. In the end though, both players will more than likely still experience both events.

Personally, I don’t find much frustration in the fact that Road 96 isn’t as varied or procedurally generated as I initially thought it would be. This is due to the fact that the journey Road 96 asks you to take to reach it’s conclusion is one of intrigue. The characters (voice acting aside) are well written and interesting people, who I found enjoyment in learning more about. The numerous little minigames you play, from simple past times like portable Connect 4 to throwing bags full of money at a police officer in hot pursuit of you, are always fun to play. Then there’s that absolutely awesome soundtrack to help bring all of this together even further.

There are smaller enjoyments to be had here as well. I especially enjoyed seeing the world react to my choices, no matter how tiny the change may be. Finding varying ways to cross the boarder as my options became more and more limited was also a nice touch. Talking to citizens and asking for their opinions on hotly debated topics within the game world helped flesh Petria out as a lived in place. Being able to call the numbers on display on billboards, learning abilities that help you interact with things in ways you couldn’t before, etc etc.

Welcome to Hotel Petria. (Best not to stay too long.)

There is a copious amount of pure, unfiltered storytelling goodness to be had here. Further backing that storytelling is a wonderfully varied mix of gameplay in Road 96 that keep things from feeling stale, even after numerous escape attempts have gone by. These high points are occasionally marred by less than stellar presentation in both the visual and audio departments, but it was never enough to stop me from wanting to see what would happen next. There was always something new just around the corner, waiting to be discovered.

In that way, I think Road 96 is akin to many adventures people have taken where they get to driving and don’t even so much as glance at a map. Who knows? It may be a secret ingredient that all good road trips need. If it is, then I’d argue that Road 96 is a trip well worth taking.

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Game Reviews

New Pokémon Snap Review

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch

Pokémon Snap is one of my favorite games on the N64. One of the most unique games in existence, it tasked players with using their problem solving skills and quick trigger finger to take the best pictures of Pokémon that they possibly could. To this day, I can’t think of a single other game that’s combined puzzle solving, first-person shooting, and quick reflexes all at once. Now, over two decades later, Nintendo has finally released a sequel, appropriately called New Pokémon Snap and it was absolutely worth the wait!

You play as a new research assistant, helping Professor Mirror and his band of generic anime characters in their efforts to learn more about the Lental region while hunting down the mysterious illumina Pokémon, previously tracked by a famous explorer. New Pokémon Snap is, at its core, identical to the N64 title in many ways. The main objective in each level is to ride through an environment on rails, taking the best pictures of Pokémon possible, with the professor scoring your images at the end based on factors like size, positioning, and pose. Aiding in this effort are the various tools unlocked along the way- food to attract Pokémon, a scanner to unlock new details about the environment, illumina orbs to activate special behaviors in the Pokémon, and the Pokéflute getting them to dance. The gameplay loop of going through levels, finding different Pokémon, and unlocking new types of poses with the tools is just as addicting as before.

There’s also a few new mechanics to keep things fresh. First is the addition of a star rating. Each Pokémon has 4 different star levels of pictures to take. Each of these is counted separately from one another and given its own score, so while getting a super-rare action shot of a Pokémon will net you four stars, a well-shot picture of the same Pokémon will usually be worth more points. This mechanic is novel, but it does take away some value from the tougher shots, so it might have been better for each star rating to automatically give higher scores, but also have higher thresholds for getting diamond stars. There’s also the addition of research levels, unlocking new Pokémon and routes in the same environment after getting enough points. It’s cool seeing how different setups in the same environments can change the gameplay, with a maxed out level often being seriously tricky to reach without the help of a guide.

However, there are some issues. While the game is beautiful overall, many of the textures in the environment can be GameCube-level resolution, standing out amongst the otherwise well-designed levels. And the pop-in and low framerate in some areas is really distracting. There’s also the addition of illumina spots, where players will need to figure out how to take pictures of gigantic Pokémon throughout a single level. While additional routes will have more Pokémon, the first run throughs are often incredibly long and boring since you can only show one picture per Pokémon to the professor at a time. Which brings me to the worst offender in the game- its pacing. The game really wants to convince players that they got their money’s worth out of their purchase, stretching what should have been a 6 to 8 hour campaign out to 12 or more. For one, players don’t unlock the speed boost until the very end, meaning that until then they’re stuck at the slowest speed on additional runs. And those runs will be necessary since each star rating still counts as a picture of a single Pokémon, meaning that at least 4 runs are needed to get every kind of shot. The game definitely should have allowed players to at least show the professor one star rating per Pokémon, but instead forces the player to replay the same levels over and over again.

With all of that said, New Pokémon Snap is still an absolute joy of a game on the whole. Despite the repetition, it’s guaranteed to have you coming back for more and making a new discovery is always worth the effort. I’m glad the series is back and can only hope that it doesn’t take another 20 years for the next game to arrive.

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Game Reviews

Speed Limit Review

(Speed Limit: Arcade Edition is available for Playstation 4/5, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One/X/S)

REVIEW KEY PROVIDED BY DEVS

When I hear the words “Speed Limit”, it becomes very difficult to not want to drop everything at that exact moment, book it to the nearest sources of movies in my vicinity, and request an immediate showing of the 1994 box-office hit, “Speed”. One could potentially think then, using the combined powers of deduction and assumption, that I would thoroughly enjoy a fast-paced, high-octane indie game with an ever-shifting set of genres working alongside one another.

That’s what one could potentially think, right? What if I told you that that theory was instead quickly thrown out the window shortly after my first experience with Speed Limit? Here’s my review.

The opening moments of Speed Limit reminded me of the classic flash games of yesteryear. Where you’re given minimal context to anything at all, feeling like a deer caught in the headlights of a plot-free semi-truck barreling right at you. Upon start-up, we’re greeted by a scene of a train ride, with our main character just being a train passenger, passengering about. Moments later, some disheveled, shady as heck looking dude makes their way onto the frame… before keeling over dead. They drop a gun into your lap as they slowly become “aliven’t”, and now you’re the most wanted criminal to ever exist. Better get to running.

What follows is an hour long journey through a variety of different gameplay styles, accompanied by a constant climb in both speed and difficulty. While the game starts you off on foot, pushing you through train-car after train-car at an infuriatingly slow pace (seriously, this guy moves at a snail’s pace), the speed picks up considerably every few minutes. You’ll go from running around in the comfort of your Shoe-baru’s (ha ha) to driving a convertible, to piloting a helicopter, to manning a fighter jet, etc etc. It only keeps going from there.

Now, I’ll be honest with you: On paper, all of this stuff sounds really, really cool. I can’t think of anyone who would argue otherwise. (Maybe an old person, but they’re old so their opinions don’t matter.) Upon execution however, I think a few major missteps were taken, and the end result suffers greatly because of it.

Speed Limit‘s first short-coming became apparent almost immediately after start-up. The second after we’re shown the plot set-up and assume control of the protagonist, it becomes rather obvious that our character moves at an infuriatingly slow speed. Now, maybe this is simply a design choice. It could feel painfully slow as a way to further drive home that feeling of the metaphorical speedometer constantly climbing during one’s playthrough. Sadly, I don’t think it actually works all too well within the confines of the game.

If that wasn’t enough to get me feeling like this wasn’t a good start to the experience, Speed Limit‘s controls in it’s opening moments certainly did the trick. Testing the game on both keyboard/mouse and an Xbox One controller, I found the controls to be pretty hit or miss. I struggled to clear the first area simply because my character would begin to look up while I pressed right for him to go forward. This is an issue because having the character look upward slows him down to an even slower pace than he was already going, making you a near effortless target to take out.

That frustration is taken to an even higher level upon reaching the second phase of the first area. After a short period of running from train-car to train-car, we’re moved to the top of the train where we now have to contend with killer platforms (in addition to the enemies who were already shooting at us). Navigating this area was a nightmare, as the game repeatedly refused to take my inputs into account, smashing me into walls or causing an untimely make-out session with a barrage of bullets.

To top off this cake of conundrums, we have my final gripe with Speed Limit: it’s cameras. Some of the camera positioning in this game is… fine, even great at times. But that’s only sometimes. Outside of those moments, the camera is the worst thing about this game. Having to redo sections of a game due to control issues is something I can tolerate, to an extent. I cannot, however, tolerate a camera that’s been set-up to make me fail.

The first time this becomes apparent is during a chase scene across a waterway, with arches you have to fly through to avoid colliding and, you know, dying. The space you have to clear is pretty small, and you have to be nearly pixel perfect with your movements in order to avoid scraping the walls of the arches. I love pixel perfect movements in games, but only when I can see them. If I can’t see what I’m doing, and have to rely solely on assumptions and luck, that’s a bad thing in my opinion.

This isn’t the only time the camera is an issue either. A later section in the game asks you to control a fighter jet, which I thought would be freaking awesome! It wasn’t. It was nausea-inducing. It’s use of a tunnel-like rotating camera set-up brought upon immediate motion sickness. Bad enough to get me to “nope” the heck out of the game and look away from my monitor. That rarely ever happens.

I went back to revisit Speed Limit a few days after my initial experience, to see if these issues still persisted or if I was being a bit overly-critical in my analysis of the game. The issues still persisted, and they were even harder to overlook on my second playthrough. Maybe it was because I had tried the “normal” difficulty instead of “easy” like I did the first time, but my patience for Speed Limit‘s short-comings was practically non-existent. Which sucks because I love the premise of the game, and was really hoping to enjoy the experience. The pixel art graphics are full of character and charm. The soundtrack had me tapping my foot along to it the entire time. So…

One could potentially think then, using the combined powers of deduction and assumption, that as a fan of both arcade games and genre bending works of programming, I would recommend Speed Limit as a product. However, contrary to potential belief, this is one I cannot suggest based off of my personal experience. As much as it pains me to do this (as it always does), I’ll be giving Speed Limit a verdict of DEFINITELY NOT WORTH ANY PRICE.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Review: Carto

Video review can be found here.

(Carto is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Mac, and Xbox One.)

I find maps to be one of the most boring things on the planet known as Earth (as well as other subsequent planets with civilizations that also utilize the power of “maps”). I understand the practicality behind them, and you won’t catch me doubting their importance any time soon. Still, stating my appreciation for maps isn’t suddenly going to lift them from the trenches of boredom. They’ll remain down there forever, sloshing around in the grimy boredom sludge as it bubbles and broils deep within a metaphorical well. Nothing could possibly ever make maps remotely interesting in my eyes. Nothing, except for a video game with a primary mechanic focused mainly on all things “mappy”.

Here’s my two cents on “Carto”.

Story

The premise in Carto is fairly straightforward. There isn’t much room for ambiguity here, on account of the fact that this tale is practically a children’s bedtime story come to life. You take on the role of an adorable cartographer in the making named Carto, as she travels from land to land, searching for her grandmother. Why is she searching for ol’ gamgam? Because Carto has this power that allows her to rotate pieces of the land around her by moving pieces on this map jigsaw puzzle thing, which inadvertently leads to her and her gammy getting caught up in a thunderstorm and subsequently separated from one another. Look, I know it doesn’t make much sense, alright? I get that. It doesn’t help that major story moments are shown through still images either. But at the same time, the game isn’t a non-fiction piece, and it still conveyed it’s messages well enough for me to understand, even if the on-screen action is lacking.

That isn’t to say the entire game is devoid of dialogue though. It’s honestly quite the opposite. This game has a fairly decent roster of side-characters for you to talk to, learn about the world from, and even adventure with. The writing that brings these characters to life is consistently light-hearted, while managing to maintain a strong focus on family, culture, and tradition. It was something I was quite appreciative of, as the light-heartedness reaches beyond the dialogue. It’s found throughout the game and the game’s world. There are no combat sequences in Carto. There is no primary antagonist to contend with. No darkness to banish or end of the world to stop. Personally, I haven’t had such a laid back experience since I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons when that came out. Go at your own pace, combat-free titles aren’t something we see very often in modern day gaming, so I found it to be a refreshing change of pace. 

I didn’t watch the credits roll on Carto at the end of my roughly 5 hour playthrough and immediately reflect on my past life choices or the greater impact of culture and tradition on the societies that form and surround themselves with them. What I did feel, however, was a fairly decent sense of accomplishment for completing what turned out to be a rather challenging puzzle game.

Gameplay

Now let’s talk about gameplay, because it is, without a doubt, the central focus of Carto. As I mentioned in my introduction to this review, Carto’s primary game mechanic is it’s map. Or maps, I guess I should say, since Carto will take you through a variety of levels neatly disguised as different locales. We’ll touch more on these locales once we reach the “presentation” section of the review (that’s the next section coming up), but for now, let’s talk about the map itself. 

See, this map is a special map. It’s a supah dupah vernacular spectacular bad bitch map. It’s a “sell your gold laced glass eye and your hair follicles for good measure” type of map. This map is going to not only allow you to rotate pieces of it like a jigsaw puzzle whenever you want, it’s going to allow you to do so much more. It’s going to allow you to help worms eat dirt, organize a library that may or may not contain the knowledge of everything that has happened and/or will happen, cook a live bird through the power of volcanic ventilation, play Tetris with glaciers, and much more. To say that Carto’s use of it’s primary mechanic is imaginative and consistently enjoyable would be an understatement. This game is practically the Mario Odyssey of maps. (I never thought I’d see the day where I’d say that in a review.)

That isn’t to say the games puzzles are all enjoyable or of consistent quality, either. There were sadly a few obstacles I came across in my journey that brought my progression to a halt and required the use of a guide. I’m happy to inform you that this only happened twice throughout my playthrough, though in a 5 or 6 hour game, having two roadblocks impede progression can feel rather substantial. It didn’t ruin my experience with Carto or anything of that degree, but I did still find it to be worth noting anyway. 

When you aren’t playing Beyblades with map pieces, the only other thing you’ll really spend your time doing is conversing with people. Talking with everyone in any given level is oftentimes vital to progression, as well reminding you where to go if you ever forget your current objective. If you aren’t one to enjoy text-based games devoid of any voice overs, with a focus on world building and character relationships, Carto may not be for you. If you are into those things however, Carto may be worth adding to your video game wishlist, as it supplies dialogue in droves. Not at the level of say, Disco Elysium or Pillars of Eternity, but still enough to where you’ll easily spend a few hours in this game solely on reading. 

Carto sports a unique mechanic that helps it stand out from the crowd of generic, by-the-numbers video games constantly fighting one another for a chance to suck your wallet dry like a mosquito buzzing around in the middle of the Everglades during summertime. It’s a mechanic that’s utilized in enjoyable and creative ways, oftentimes leaving me excited to know what gimmick would come in to play next. However, if Carto were any longer in it’s runtime than what it actually is, I think I would start seeing diminishing returns on my experience to time invested ratio. I also think that while the story-telling and world-building are nice touches, I could have done with a little bit less of it. Dialogue is fine and all, but it’s not something I really expect to see in a puzzle game. So, my patience with conversations tends to be a bit shorter in those situations. 

Still an enjoyable experience from a gameplay standpoint.

I think that’s a great way to summarize Carto as a complete package: enjoyable. The story-telling is enjoyable for what it is, the gameplay is enjoyable despite its flaws, and…

Presentation

The presentation is absolutely adorable, from it’s hand-painted aesthetic down to the design of Carto herself. This game absolutely nails the feeling of visuals reminiscent of a children’s bedtime story, with its centralized color palettes brimming with vibrancy and it’s textured surfaces that help the environments “pop” ever so slightly. Though I was initially worried about a potential lack of environmental variety, I was happy to have those doubts quickly squashed upon visiting my third or fourth locale. Carto starts in somewhat monotonous woodlands but eventually gives way to underground tunnels, deserts, tundras and more. I enjoyed the variety of places Carto journeys through during her quest to find her grandmother, which is a sentiment I initially didn’t think I’d walk away with. 

There isn’t too much to comment on in regards to the games music and sound. While Carto does have a simple, unobtrusive soundtrack, I couldn’t help but occasionally feel annoyed by it. Namely in the moments where I was stuck, but also in moments containing puzzles with more complex solutions. Hearing a few tracks for longer than I would have liked didn’t sit well with me, but aside from this happening on a few occasions, the soundtrack is serviceable, if a bit forgettable.

Sound effects are also fairly generic, with nothing really standing out here, either. The key difference between the sound effects and the soundtrack of Carto being that the former didn’t ever annoy me during my time with the game. As was the case with the soundtrack, sound effects here are serviceable, but they aren’t anything to write home about.

Like the other components we’ve previously discussed, the presentation in Carto is enjoyable, save for a few short-lived occasions. It may not personally be my cup of hot lava, but it works decently within the confines of Carto, which is sometimes all you can ask for when it comes to presentation in video games.

Verdict

Carto is an enjoyable game for both map-lovers and map-deniers alike. Though it’s gameplay may suffer from a lack of variety, and it’s story and presentation leave something to be desired, there are still plenty of things here deserving of your time. There are just the right amount of puzzle mechanics to warrant playing Carto, while an endearing art style helps give reason for enjoying this game passively, be it with a friend or via your favorite content creator. It may not be perfect, but it is perfectly deserving of a verdict of “Definitely Worth Sale Price”.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Hob

(Hob is available is for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows.)

Oh boy, we’re back at it again with yet another 3D platformer. This week, we take a look at Hob. Why’re we taking a look at a game that came out in 2017? Because there has yet to be any interesting releases in 2018. But then again, it’s only the second week of the year, so I don’t really expect there to be much going on regarding game releases. Either way though, Hob was a fun game to play through and review, even if it did frustrate me more often than I would have liked. Is it worth full price? Here’s my Two Cents.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Submerged

(Submerged is available for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and iOS.)

Here’s a game I was asked to review. It’s a combat-free, open world indie adventure game from 2015 called Submerged. For being a couple of years old now, it surprisingly isn’t a bad game. It isn’t perfect, by any means, but it’s still a nice indie game to play if you enjoy Assassins Creed, Journey, or even Abzu. It’s good, but is it good enough to be worth full price?!

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: World of Final Fantasy

(World of Final Fantasy is available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita, and Xbox One)

This week, I take a look at a game that celebrates my favorite video game series of all time. World of Final Fantasy is the accumulation of all the things that make Final Fantasy what it is today. It’s a mix of Final Fantasy meets Pokemon, and it’s finally here for PC. So, is this game worth full price?

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Skylar & Plux (Adventure on Clover Island)

(Skylar and Plux is available for PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, and Xbox One.)

3D platformers are one of my favorite genres in all of the kingdom of gaming. Ratchet and Clank, Jakk and Daxter, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Croc, Ty, the list goes on and on. Sadly though, this games seemed to vanish completely for a good ten years or so. Luckily, we’ve seen a bit of a resurgence in 3D platformers in 2017, and for the most part, they’ve been decent. Is Skylar and Plux, a modern day 3D platformer inspired by the games mentioned above, worth your time? Yeah, I guess so. Here’s my Two Cents!