I feel I don't praise games enough. I mean, I talked about To the Moon, but in general I just don't. I'm not really sure if it's something that anyone would want to hear. But some games I just don't think are yapped about enough, they just sit there being rather magnificent and glorious in their own special little ways, the brilliant, shining stars in a sky that's often too big for us to notice. And that's a big sky out there, big sky, and it's easy to miss some of them.
So let's talk about some of those games. Those games that could easily be overlooked.
That'll be the first. I always liked the concept of card games but I could never really get into them because there wasn't enough of a hook, there. And frankly, they were a bit too nerdy for me. As I'd said elsewhere, the hero cards all looked the same to me. When you have a typical fantasy setting, often the human heroes will look so much alike that you can barely tell them apart. Like rocks in a quarry, there might be minor variations but ultimately they're just going to be much the same. The monen will be scantily clad, and the men will either be wearing robes or ridiculous armour.
Well, I have to admit that one of the factions of Shadow Era is a bit like that, but thankfully, Shadow Era has others, and this is how it came to my attention. You can play the other faction available, and this faction is constructed of all sorts of crazy looking critters - including werewolves. That was enough of a hook for me. Now, I've never really sat down with a game like this before, I'd tampered, but it never really 'got' me. I was determined to give this one a look though because I liked the art on the shadow faction cards, I'm as simple as that, sometimes. I like art.
I don't know whether this is a testament to their development or whether it's always this easy, but within five minutes of sitting down with it, I felt like I was quickly getting the hang of things. Within an hour? I felt like I was playing like a pro. And here's the thing: There are cards with text on them, but they display the cards in an easy to read fashion, whenever a new card is laid down by your opponent, it pops up on the screen so you can read and understand all that it does before you dismiss it, then you can fully understand its effects on the rectangular card-laden 'battlefield.'
Choosing cards also results in magnification. It pops up a full view of the card, allowing you to admire its art and read what it does, and you can examine each card closely before either playing it, putting it back, or sacrificing it at the start of each round. Sacrificing is an interesting mechanic - sacrificing a card gives you resources, the more resources you have, the more you can do at the beginning of each round. Some people like to play fast and loose by building resources as they go, some like setting up defences and slowly building resources at the start of the round.
The game is essentially played with allies and items, items can buff you or your allies, you can also have weapons and armour - weapons allow your hero to attack. Now here's a fun thing: Many cards have abilities, including ally and hero cards. So that beam behemoth you just put down? It has a plasma burst that does four damage, you can use that and attack. Often, when I get three beam behemoths in a hand you'll hear me cackling like a madman. If you can manage to get a damage buff card in with them, then you can absolutely decimate with a group of them.
And yes. I have a group of beam behemoths that turn up frequently, along with those nasty werewolf buffs that turn them into machines of doom. I'm one of those players. Shadow Era players who've come up against one of those werewolf players who've ridiculously powerful allies, and even more powerful buffs, will probably be thinking how much they hate that sort of play. Yeah, I can imagine. I haven't played against too many actual people yet though as I don't have the confidence for it, I mostly stick to the AI opponents, so you won't be seeing my beam behemoths out there often.
There are a few special effects going on on the field and they're neat. Fireballs and arcane blasts will trigger, but largely it's abstracted, the card is the star and mostly it features around damned good looking cards. If this were a game where the cards were actual creatures and they were running around beheading each other, I may be put off by it a bit, but because it's an actual card game, I'm not bothered. It's a nice abstraction layer.
I wish I could sit down and play cards with people in games rather than having to chop their heads off. ...and now I'm reminded of how much I loved Diplomacy in Vanguard. I'd actually play a game based around that idea, I really would. So I have had some experience with this sort of thing before, now that I come to think about it, but it hasn't been too much. Though Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was hilariously entertaining, having dignified discussions with via 'discussion cards' with buff wolven warriors. I appreciated that.
...can I have another game where I'm a card playing diplomat? Does anyone want to make that?
Anyway, as it stands, Shadow Era has proved to be a lot of fun. It's easy to get into, and it's very accessible, they even have camera angles for the playing field and things like that, it's neat. I don't know if all card games are impenetrable or whether games like Shadow Era are more common. But if you find that most card games just blow your mind, and that you have no interest in them, then try Shadow Era. I think it'll just sit well with most people.
The presentation is there, the art is there, the rock music playing in the background and the incredible level of presentation eschews any outright nerdiness, and the friendly tutorial at the start gets you playing pretty quickly. I think that this is probably going to be the entry level card game for most people.
I like things like this, I really do. It's an action platform puzzler with lots of humour and loads of hidden collectibles. I admit, I've a huge weakness for collectibles, even if they become worthless. Blade Kitten? I don't think many people liked that one, but that's because they were just playing straight through, and it is a bit boring that way, the combat in Blade Kitten wasn't great. But exploring and looking for collectibles was.
In a lot of ways, Explodemon! is just like that, and that's either going to annoy you or you're going to be pleased by the thought. The combat isn't that great, it's a bit silly and involves exploding at people, but exploring the levels and looking for secrets is great fun. And it has a truly wonderful sense of humour. It might not click with you if you didn't happen to have played any (any!) of the console games of the 8- and 16-bit generations, but if you did play some of those, then you'll likely understand what some of the humour is getting at.
There's a bit of Knytt Stories to this, too. Not too much, but a bit. The way I'm double-jumping (sorry, explode-o-jumping) around the levels and seeing how high up I can get in various places, or what unexpected secrets I can find, reminds me a lot of Knytt. But Explodemon is a lot larger than Knytt, and the experience is a lot more action-oriented. Mostly though, it's about the collectibles. There will be shiny things which you can obviously get at, and there will be tantalising shiny things which you can't even begin to imagine how to get at. And there will be things where you have to use your explode powers to 'guide' objects through areas which you can't get into, since... uh, somehow you can explode through walls. Don't ask me to explain that, it just obeys the rule of fun.
Outside of the combat, which I feel is a bit fiddly, the controls are really, really tight, and it's not hard at all to learn how to explode jump, the timing of it comes easily, and it just feels familiar to anyone who's ever played a platformer. It just feels right, and that they've put a lot of effort into getting the controls just right.
And the humour holds up throughout. The NPCs are always great for a laugh, and ... Explodemon himself always talks like a badly translated 8-bit game. He is a living font for NES Metal Gear style dialogue.
Oh, and it's also kind of pretty at times. Not Blade Kitten levels thereof, but it's fine!
This, I feel, is the kind of game which you're either going to love or hate, and how much you do depends on how much you feel like hunting for shinies, all of the shinies, every shiny.
This was another one I saw via TotalBiscuit and immediately there were a few things I loved about it:
- It had enemies but at least you didn't have to handle them by being some gun-toting idiot.
- The hero is an everyman, he's also overweight, and this fills me with joy. I can't remember the last time I played an overweight guy in something. I appreciate that.
- The music... look, I can't convey this with words. Just click
- The voice actor is Duke Nukem sounding nothing at all like Duke Nukem!
- The art style is actually quite cartoony.
I went into this one at first expecting not to like it too much. I was worried it would be a mainstream-esque man-with-gun affair. Oh was I wrong. It is a man with a gun, but there's nothing average about him or his gun. It's a gravity gun, essentially, from Half-Life. This is, as TB said, all the gravity bits form HL2. But it's those as a side-scrolling 2.5D platformer. Do you remember how the flash portal game was a bit good? This is sort of like that, but better, as it throws lots of its own ideas into the mix.
And I find it impossible not to like the main character. I'm sorry, but he's eminently loveable, from his South-American drawl to his really, really corny puns, which he likes to make at every opportunity, despite them being puns you've heard a billion times before. He feels like a simple person, but one of those people whom we only tend to see in stories - simple, and with a good heart. And unless you play him that way, he's not a killer. Whether he kills or not is your choice, which immediately grants it acclaim in my book.
And really, it's his character that pulls it together and makes it work, you know the puns he's going to make and he makes them away, you might sigh, or chuckle, or do one then the other, and then you move on. This is an everyman trying to look out for the people he's come to think of as family, and doing it in the only way he knows how. It's a tale of an average person becoming a superhero without needing the aid of a radioactive spider.
And it appeals to me.
Rochard steps into the fray with aplomb and nothing really seems to faze him - it's just his job, and he wants to do his job really well. He's been on a station where everything has been falling apart for a time now, he's gotten into countless life threatening situations and learned from them, so by the time he actually meets something that wants to take him out, rather than just it happening incidentally due to his workplace being so naturally dangerous, he's perfectly capable of handling himself.
The puzzles often feel portal like in nature, too, which is also good. You have these light bridges and doors, some of which stop non-organic matter, some of which stop organic matter, so you can walk over some of these light bridges, and some you fall through, some you have to arrange blocks to pass as you may have seen in TB's video.
But you can just go watch that to get the gist of it, really.
I'm just saying that beyond that, I really like the feel of this game. It feels like although it's not really bringing anything mechanically unique to the table (although what it does have is polished), it's still doing something different. And I find it impossible to resist its charms.
(Another reason I think I've taken to Rochard is that, aside from the music, it just feels in ways like something plucked out of the past. Something that shouldn't exist today. If you look at the art that accompanies the track I linked... that's something that might have been on a game cover decades ago, but today? It's supposed to be serious, and yet at the same time it's just so completely, intentionally silly. Thank goodness for indie developers.)
So that's my post done, then. Take it away from there.