Categories
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”.

Categories
Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Hand of Fate 2

(Hand of Fate 2 is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, and Linux.)

Dungeons and Dragons. Magic the Gathering. Yugioh and his boi Dark Magician. What if all of these things were smooshed together into one game? What would that game look like? How would it fare? I set out to answer these questions today, as we take a look at Hand of Fate 2. This game is a mix of ideas pulled from various card, board and fighting games. But does it all work together, or is it all just a waste of time? Find out on this week’s episode of Two Cent Reviews.

Categories
Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Pony Island

(Pony Island is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.)

Living inside of the Aarcadee Arcade, I’ve seen my fair share of issues in both hardware, and software. But I have never, in all of my years, seen something like this. Pony Island was a game I received back in 2016, but I never had the chance to play it. Now I wish I could go back in time and never pick up this game. The amount of horror and dark imagery I saw tucked within this game’s internals has changed me for life. While it was a memorable time for certain, I can’t really say I would recommend you put yourself in my position. Unless you really want to play a game that will stick with you for years to come.

Categories
Game Reviews

Two Cent Video Review: Doki Doki Literature Club

(Doki Doki Literature Club is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.)

This week, I took a look at a visual novel my roommate recommended. Believe it or not, this game may actually warrant being added to your October Spookygame Backlog. I don’t want to give too much away, so the review doesnt go very in depth, but just know that if you’re a fan of horror, this game is more than likely something you should play. We had Undertale as a cult hit back in 2015, and now we have a cult hit in video games for 2017: Doki Doki Literature Club.

Categories
Game Reviews

Two Cent Review: Cuphead

Video review can be found here.

(Cuphead is available for PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Windows & Mac.)

Imagine an alternate universe, where 1930’s Disney cartoons have access to a time machine. They take that time machine, climb aboard, and head for the 80′s. The 1980′s. Upon arrival, they meet this cool video game named Contra. Contra, Steamboat Willie and friends quickly become best pals and decide to do acid one day together. In their LSD soaked haze, they end up sleeping together and have such an odd looking baby by the end of this completely realistic scenario that everyone who sees it cant help but be intrigued. That baby would be Cuphead. A game about two anthropomorphic cups named Cuphead and Mugman. The two walking, talking, living, breathing ceramic coffee containers end up signing a contract with the devil (not like in a record contract sort of way, but more of like a “sell your soul” kind of way). In the contract, they agree that in exchange for keeping their souls, Cupdude and Mugman must collect the souls of others who have made a similar deal with the devil and didn’t pay up.

This game is firetruckin’, fingersuckin’, fistfuckin’ fantastic to look at. The A E S T H E T I C of it is so eye catching, so mystifying, you can’t help but look on in awe, and wonder “how does something like this exist? How have we not seen this sooner?”. The visuals invoked one of my favorite feelings a person who feels can feel: Nostalgia! It’s happy. It’s joyful. It’s warm and vibrant. It’s violent as hell and I didn’t realize until reviewing this game how graphic cartoons from that era actually were. Some of this shit is straight up nightmare fuel. Everything here is hand drawn, and you can tell that some serious TLC went into the art of this game. It certainly shows. Now lets talk about the music and sound for a second. Do you like brass? Huh? You like brass? You like jazz?! Well get ready for some bombastic brass blown by barotone boys. This game’s soundtrack is like a California hillside in the middle of August: Lit. Every track is bouncy, full of BRASS, energetic and fits the level associated it. Even going as far as to giving each individual boss it’s own epic showdown track. I like that shit. I love that shit! And I think you will as well. The sound here is somewhat harder to critique, however. I’m not sure if I like it all that much. I think I do, but the game weaves the sound effects in and out so well that sometimes they almost seem to disappear into the background music entirely. But I think that’s what they were going for, honestly. The game has this mono sound to it, remenicent of how games on the Gameboy sounded. It certainly fits the style of the game, and adds furthermore to the A E S T H E T I C that Cuphead practically oozes. All together the music and sound effects all come together quite nicely, and even though it may sound odd at times, it fits the game well. Therefore I’d have to say that the presentation here as a whole is pretty top notch. We’re talking about some hella primo stuff here. Careful: It’s Hot!

Cuphead is primarily a boss rush game, bit it has a few gun and run levels sprinkled throughout as well. There’s a central overworld you explore, which opens up more to the player as the stages presented are completed. This game is hard, too. Like Kakuna spamming Harden hard. We’re talking some grade A level diamonds hard. It took me upwards of an hour and a half to complete just one boss fight. Not all of them took me that long, but all of them did leave me with a feeling of tremendous accomplishment upon completion. And that, to me at least, is worth the patience and concentration that some of these levels require. You also have the option of playing with one or two players. I live alone in a hut far off the coast of Madagascar though, so I had nobody to co-op with. Therefore I won’t be commenting on that topic. The gameplay is smooth. It’s slick, and responsive. Some platformers perform like a rental car that’s been around more than your local corner prostitute. Others perform like a sweet, sexy new ride you just purchased off the lot. Cuphead falls into the latter here, most definitely. The controls are simple enough, although they’re layed out somewhat uncomfortably on the controller. You have a button to shoot, a button to dodge, a button for your super ability, and a button to jump. Both movement and aiming are bound to the left stick, which for me, took a bit of getting used to. Once I got it down though, the game played very well. I was able to react in time to most attacks, and the ones I couldn’t avoid were usually followed up by me realizing how easily that damage could have been prevented. The game allows for a bit of customization as well, which becomes practically essential once you reach the later stages. You can equip a primary attack, a secondary, as well as a charm that allows for things like instant parrying or momentary invincibility when dashing. This adds a nice layer of depth to the game that isn’t overly complex or gimmicky.

I love this game. Everything about it to me is what I never knew I wanted in a game. Since it was announced at E3 a few years ago, I’ve had my eye on it. And so have thousands of other people. Now that it’s finally out, I’m more than happy to say it was worth the wait. The guys, gals, and any fourth demensional beings that worked on this game should give themselves a pat on the back. What they have created is something quite close to a masterpiece. It’s rare that I play a game that makes me want to revisit it after completion. There’s something about the setting, the warm, nostalgic vibe it gives off, and the retro gameplay found in Cuphead that envokes the feeling of childhood in me. I’ve more than enjoyed my time with it, and I’m going to keep enjoying it after this review. There’s a good chuck of content to eat through, and it’s all more than reasonably priced at a mere $20. 

Would I recommend it? Would I recommend Cuphead? Oh most certainly. I’d even go so far as to say it’s: Definitely worth full price.