Posted in Gaming, Steam Challenge

Steam Challenge: Back to the Future: Ep 1 – It’s About Time

Game: Back to the Future: Ep 1 – It’s About Time
Time Played: 3.5 hours

So far, I’ve made good on my goal to try out a new Steam game every week this month. I put this one to a vote, and Back to the Future: The Game turned out to be the choice. I warned that if this was picked, I’d play through the entire series of 5 episodes to stay consistent with the game’s story. So, that’s what I’ve been doing.

The only other Telltale series I’ve ever played is The Walking Dead. It’s actually the series that turned me on to Telltale games, and one I enjoyed quite a bit. Since that was my entry point to their story-based games, it’s hard not to compare Back to the Future to The Walking Dead, especially considering they were released within a mere 2 years of each other.

What Is It?

If you’ve ever played a Telltale game, you already know what to expect from Back to the Future. If you haven’t, consider it a story-based point-and-click adventure game with a few mild thinking puzzles. Paint that with a solid coat of Back to the Future references and characters, and you’ve got a good idea what this series is like.

Now, while I grew up during a time when Back to the Future was a brand new thing, and I knew several people who were big fans of the movies, I was never a crazy fan myself. I appreciated the movies and understood the appeal. But it wasn’t actually until the whole “Back to the Future Day” in October of 2015 that I sat down and watched Part 2 and Part 3 for the first time. Oops?

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Anyhow, if you are interested in this game for the Back to the Future vibe, you won’t be disappointed. The game does a pretty great job in the writing department and in portraying the iconic characters the way you’d expect. Some reviews noted that the game almost feels like a continuation of where the movies left off, and I wouldn’t argue against that.

Impressions

Again, it’s hard to not compare this to The Walking Dead, which feels like a baseline for Telltale games now days. That’s not to say Back to the Future is bad, but the first Episode is not quite as polished as The Walking Dead game experience.

The UI is a bit clunky and something you’d see in a much more dated game than 2010. And, for some reason, it kept forcing my monitors (both of them) into a significantly lower resolution every time I played. These weren’t game-breakers, but did color the experience.

While the voice acting and writing were top-notch, the stylistic graphics bothered me a bit. The graphics weren’t bad, they were just… different. They went with these big, expressive CG versions of the characters, and sometimes it felt as if I was playing a claymation cartoon. For some reason, the lip syncing animations really liked to focus on showing the characters’ teeth. (I don’t know why that’s a detail I noticed…)

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I suppose given the source material and goofy tone of the game, this wasn’t out of place. But I can’t help but wonder what the game would have felt like in a more streamlined comic-booky style, like they presented with The Walking Dead. Maybe as I play this series longer, the style they chose will grow on me.

While I did enjoy the story and the puzzles, sometimes I felt certain scenarios dragged on longer than they really needed to. Due to the wonky UI, I’d forgotten that the game had an inventory system halfway through it, which got me hung up on one of the puzzles.

There was, thankfully, a Hint feature that was really only helpful to tell you the answers. The game tried to offer subtle, logical suggestions for hints, but I’d usually already figured out that much of the puzzle by the time I was turning to the Hint feature for help.

I groaned anytime I had to make Marty cross the town square, which, given the nature of one of the scenarios, happened often. The game prompted me to use mouse and keyboard to make him run, but it either didn’t work in my game or I fail at gaming, because I never managed to get him to move above a slow, crawling walk.

On the other hand, there were some very inventive scenarios, especially closer to the end of the game. I felt like they were finally getting into the flow of things just as the first Episode came to an end. They’ve certainly earned my anticipation towards Episode 2, which I’ve installed for this week’s Steam Challenge.

Recommended?

yes

If you enjoy Back to the Future, good old-fashioned point-click story games, and don’t mind slightly dated visuals, you’ll probably enjoy this!

Posted in Gaming, Steam Challenge

Poll: Choose My Steam Challenge – Nov Week 2

So, as I reported earlier this week, one of my goals is to try a new Steam game from my backlog each week. I had a suggestion from Dahakha’s comment on this week’s review of Oxenfree: Why not let you guys choose my game for next week!

This is a great idea! I spend so much time trying to make up my mind “what to play” when I do this, so now, I can put that in someone else’s hands. Also, this will help keep me accountable — I’ll be more likely to stick to my goal if other people had some input in it.

Note: The Steam Challenge doesn’t mean I’ll finish the game, but that I’ll try it out and play it until I get my fill. There may be a few exceptions to this, which I’ll note below.

Game List References

Posted in Gaming, Steam Challenge

Steam Challenge: Oxenfree

Game:  Oxenfree
Time Played: 2.6 hours

As I mentioned in my goals post for this month, I had a conversation about Steam gaming the other night, which reminded me of the old Steam Challenge I issued myself over three years ago. The interesting thing is that though I actually own almost three times the number of games now than I did back then (cringe), I’ve been able to keep my percentage of games played lower than it was back then, too.

Still, it’s not enough, so I set a goal to try at least one new Steam game once a week. Last night, I decided to start with a game I’ve actually had installed on my computer for a while — Oxenfree.

I’ve heard a lot about this game, and I think I picked it up as part of a bundle sometime back. I’m glad that I decided to try it — I know for sure this is one of those shorter story games that I’m going to finish. I just need to know what happens!

What is it?

Oxenfree describes itself as:

Oxenfree is a supernatural thriller about a group of friends who unwittingly open a ghostly rift. Play as Alex, a bright, rebellious teenager who brings her new stepbrother Jonas to an overnight party on an old military island. The night takes a terrifying turn when you unwittingly open a ghostly gate spawned from the island’s cryptic past. How you deal with these events, your peers, and the ominous creatures you’ve unleashed is up to you.

I kept telling myself that I’d just play this games for a short time, then go back to Switch gaming… but it didn’t happen that way. I picked up Oxenfree and was sucked into it for a good chunk of the night. Totally time not wasted.

I’d not call it a horror game, though there were plenty of unsettling and creepy moments throughout. The story is well-written, mostly playing out through your choice of dialogue with one or more of the group of teens who came to the island. This was the most fascinating part of the game to me — and what gives it replayability.

Conversation System

The game description notes: “An intelligent conversation system that changes the story and your relationships based on every decision”

I saw that sometimes, the other characters had pop-up bubbles over their heads of Alex (main character you’re playing) or the other characters. It was a very Sim-ish way to indicate that something said or done has changed their opinion of you… though the game never really indicated if that was a good or bad change.

These conversations often played out as you naturally progressed through the world. You could stop to listen and respond if you wanted, or you could just have the characters walking along since everything is voice acted (quite well).

Art Style

I can’t talk about this game without lauding the art style. At first, it seems a little odd since the game is always panned way back, not affording you a close look at the characters as they interact. But the further I got into the game, the more I realized it just worked.

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The backgrounds feel hand-painted 2D, with lots of lush and atmospheric locations. The characters, in contrast, seem to be 3D. But, somehow, the two styles mesh just fine due to the lighting and the animation of the character models.

Special effects are used sparingly, which calls all the more attention to when strange things do start to happen. Sometimes, it can be as subtle as an off-colored light. Sometimes it’s right up in your face as things start to warp and become really freaky.

Gameplay

Gameplay is mostly walking, conversing, collecting and exploring. There’s a tiny few puzzle mechanics, but these are so mild I’d toss them in the exploring bucket.

One of the cool mechanics of this game is the use of radio frequencies to communicate with, and sometimes release/control, the supernatural influences on the island. Everything from the history of the island, to saving your friends from spiritual possession, and accessing locations on the island, are locked into this mechanic, which I felt was really well designed.

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I’ve read this is a pretty short game based on story alone (there are things to collect and explore, of course) – somewhere between 4-5 hours in length. This feels about right as I’m almost at 3 hours, and feel as if I’m just entering the “second half” of the game’s story, maybe even moving in on the ending.

Overall, I really appreciate what Oxenfree is trying to do through dialogue and exploration, and plan on setting aside some time to see this story through!

Recommended?

yes

Posted in Gaming, Steam Challenge

Steam Challenge: A Bird Story

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Game: A Bird Story
Time Played: 1.2 hours

A Bird Story is an experimental interactive story brought to us by the same folks who did To the Moon. Both are successful games built on the RPG Maker platform, and focus more on telling a story than the RPG elements.

In fact, 100% of A Bird Story is… story. The whole experience unfolds without a single word. The times you do have control over the main character – a young boy who seems more fascinated with nature and art than his day-to-day world – it’s just to move him from one story point to the next.

This is a very short game-story. It was meant to be. But it does what it sets out to do, which is give the player an  emotional, and sometimes trippy, look into this boy’s life and a specific incident that became the center of his existence for a time.

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It’s hard to tell how much of this is real and how much represents the imagination of a child’s fantasy. These elements blend together seamlessly, and the player must just set aside expectations and go with it. This is a good thing, though, as nothing in the story is so unbelievable as to detract from the story’s goal.

My one beef was that pressing the F12 key, which usually produces a screenshot of a game in Steam, instead paused the game. So that kept me from screenshotting my experience along the way. Instead, I’ve provided screens from the promotional materials on the net.

The story itself was solid. It had sad moments. It had funny moments, including a Benny Hill run through the doors scene. And while it was touching and well-crafted, it’s not unlike other stories where a child has to grow and make a hard choice to set something he loves free. It ends pretty much how you’d expect.

It does seem that this story has a connection of sorts for another upcoming story, Finding Paradise. From the screens, it seems to be more along the lines of To The Moon.

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The final screen of A Bird Story, showing the protagonist growing up.

Recommended?

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Depends

So, the big question to ask yourself is… is 1 hour of endearing story worth the price of the game (I admit, I got mine during a sale)? I won’t discount the time and effort that went into making it, but this certainly won’t be a game-story for everyone. And it doesn’t look like it’s a requirement for understanding the story of their next game.

However, if you just want to support Freebird, and you enjoyed their previous game, please do! As someone who has dabbled with RPG Maker, it’s neat to see story experiments like this. I hope they continue to do well!

Posted in Gaming, Steam Challenge

Steam Challenge: Seasons after Fall

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Game: Seasons after Fall
Time Played: 7.2 Hours (Complete)

It’s been a while since I’ve worked on posts for the Seam Challenge, where I endeavor to play games in my Steam backlog. I chose this one because it was a gift from Almonihah this past Christmas and I was super curious what it was about. I’d never heard of it before he gifted it to me, and I know he had his reasons to think that I’d like it… turns out, he was right!

What is it?

Seasons after Fall is a game of pure whimsy and wonder. Those are the only two words I could use to describe it — it hits all of the right buttons for me.

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On one hand, it’s a gentle platformer puzzle game. I say gentle because you really can’t die in this game, and there’s no punishment for the very rare times you can/do fall somewhere you shouldn’t.

On the other hand, it’s a cleverly immersive story narrated by two different characters with lovely voice acting. The story is woven into the adventure, completely voiced as you move through the game, and sometimes in short cutscenes, so you never need to stop what you’re doing as things unfold.

Gameplay

You are an (still as of now unknown) entity that has been summoned to the Forest and dropped into a world that’s painted as lovely as any storybook fable. You are given the body of a fox to explore and traverse the lands, and wow… animations and motion are so fluid! It’s simply a joy to romp and leap as your little fox!

The game is not a sprawling one. You have four large zones to explore, made up of a few smaller zones. But clever level design makes it so that when you travel back into them, new secrets are unlocked, making areas larger than they seem at first.

This is done through the use of the power to change the seasons, which your little fox unlocks through the course of the story. The puzzle mechanics and the world change around you as you manipulate the seasons.

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For example, changing it to winter will freeze ponds and water spouts, allowing you to use them as platforms. Summer will melt that water, but allow vines to grow, opening up other areas. Fall will wilt the vines, but cause mushrooms to appear, creating other platforms.

This may sound complex, but the game does a very good job of easing you into learning mechanics, and you see them over and over again, just in different locations. Changing the seasons is as simple as a mouse-click, and there’s no power meter or anything, so you are free to explore everything as much as you like.

Story and World

I have to give a whole section of this to the story and world. Both were subpurbly crafted with a strong vision that brought everything together. Even the music is perfect, often falling silent when you’ve already cleared an area, only to play again when you’ve unlocked the way forward.

The world design is whimsical, but not over-done. Its lovely art style holds on to natural realism, so you’re not going to see candy-striped trees or fanciful castles. The thing I love most about the story is that you are blind to the truth from the outset and dropped into this world.

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The story unfolds through two voices, as I said before, but not all is what it seems. It’s up to you to determine which character is reliable… and to unravel the truth of what happened to make the forest as it is. Only then can you set things right!

Overall

I actually did complete this game, which says a lot for it. I spent time looking for all the dreams, and managed to get the full “good” ending. I unlocked most of the achievements during my playthrough, with the exception of finding all the flower beds — but that’s mostly there for completionists.

Some of the puzzles can get pretty tricky, but most of them aren’t that bad. I did have to look up guides about three times when I got stumped during the playthrough, but I’ll say that I completed about 97% of the game on my own.

Recommended?

yes

Yes! A wonderful, whimsical romp through a gentle puzzle platformer. If you enjoy this type of game, or you adore the idea of playing as a fox, don’t miss this one!

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Posted in Gaming, Steam Challenge

Steam Challenge Milestone: More Than Half Backlog Played!

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I’d like to announce that for the first time since I started the Steam Personal Challenge in 2014, I have now gotten my backlog numbers to under 50% not played. That means I have officially more games that I’ve played than not played!

Considering the overall number of games I own now has almost doubled since then, knocking my percentage down from 71% to 49% really makes me feel good about my backlog. Of course, doing some culling and game binging this week has really helped with that.

Stats as of Jun 27, 2014:

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Stats as of Jun 24, 2015:

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Stats as of today:

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And there’s no way I paid that much for all these games. Steam sales FTW.

 

Posted in Gaming, Steam Challenge

Steam Challenge: Culling Time

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Let’s face it. Many of us have ended up with games in our Steam backlog that we’re just never going to play in any serious way. When we go to pick out a game to install, our eyes just brush past this title, not even considering it. We may not even remember where it came from – likely part of some random bundle somewhere.

I have several of these — I feel a little bad about it because I know someone put love and time and money into developing them. They’re probably not bad games, but they are just not for me.

I’ve found that, in particular, platforming and shooter games fall into this category. There was a time and place where Mario was my gaming life, back in the NES era. But as I’ve gotten older, my hand-eye coordination isn’t what it used to be. I’ve learned that casual platformers are okay, but anything beyond that becomes frustrating and just not worth my effort anymore. I’ve never been into FPSs… though I have some exceptions, such as with survival games like 7D2D (though I still mostly melee in that).

So, these games sit on my Steam list, forever unplayed, and heavily skew my Steam calculator results. This weekend, I decided that was enough of that, and decided to start culling the list of games I’m just probably never going to put real time towards. I did this by installing the game, playing enough of it to count towards a playtime, then uninstalling. In my defense, I played each game to the point where it either got frustrating or tedious to me in some way.

Here’s what I got. If you’re interested in any of them, click their image to go to their Steam page.

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Godus Wars

Earlier this year, the devs working on Godus decided that rather than add battle into their original game, they were going to split their game into two games and sell them separately. This seems to be a trend lately. All this did was add another separate title to my backlog, darnit!

I already talked about how I felt about Godus, and I haven’t actually tried playing the original just yet. So, chances are, playing the battle version was not going to be my cup of tea.

Outcome

This one was a little clunky. I’m not sure why the game had to open two windows to run one game, for example.

It wasn’t terrible. The aesthetics were nice, and the sculpting aspect (which I knew I’d like) was also nice. But I’d rather be spending my time on a more polished strategy game.


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Hell Yeah!

I… don’t even know where this came from. Probably a bundle somewhere. You play as the snarky rabbit prince of Hell… and things just keep getting quirkier and more colorful from there. It’s about as strange as it gets with a bit of puzzling, a bit of platforming, and a lot of unorthodox, disrespectful humor.

Outcome

This game… is actually pretty fun. It takes nothing seriously, and it managed to get me to play all the way to the point where I beat the first boss to complete stage one. This is going to be weird, but I’m actually going to recommend you try it out if you find it on your Steam list and you have a taste for something different to play some weekend.


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Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

Alan Wake makes me cry. It’s such a neat story (about a writer), but the game’s mechanics are just too annoying and difficult for me. Long before I stared this blog, I actually beat the first Alan Wake, which I chronicled on my Tumblr. But I couldn’t have done it without cheats that gave me unlimited life and ammo, and that’s what makes me sad.

Outcome

The story fascinates me, and I love that it really does seem to refer back to the original game often. But about the third fight in, the game decimated me, reminding me why I played the previous game with mods. This game is just not going to happen, no matter how much I’d like to see the story. Maybe I’ll watch it on YouTube one day.


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Super Meat Boy

Yes, I knew what I was getting into before I fired up this game. Any game that describes itself as an “infamous, tough-as-nails platformer” is not for me. I played until I hit a stage where I died more than 10 times… then I gave it a rest. That took me all of 7 minutes. 🙂

Outcome

If you love tough platformers, this game is right on spot. With a controller, it played fluidly and responded well. I like the mechanics, I just don’t have the patience and time to hit my head against a wall because I can’t make pixel perfect jumps.


The One That Redeemed Iteslf

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I actually put some time into this game a few years back. But I must have been playing offline, because Steam didn’t pick it up. Like the other games I was attempting to cull yesterday, I loaded this up to play a few rounds just to get some time on it before I uninstalled.

Only… that didn’t happen.

This game has been vastly improved since my first attempt to play it (when it was likely in early access). I still died over and over and over, but this time, I was able to start unlocking new classes new gear and slowly make it further and further into the game. This turned into one of those “Just one more generation” things, and before I knew it, I put 2.4 hours on the game yesterday afternoon.

I have plans to revisit it. Too addicting!


This is not the end of my culling list by far. I’ve set up a Steam category and started moving the games I mean to cull into it. I hope to get a little time each night to knock one or two off my list so that I can get my backlog looking a little more manageable. I’m also refraining from picking up and activating any Steam bundles in the future. 🙂

Do you have any games you’d consider to be “culling” games on your Steam list? What do you do with those?