52 Reviews liked by rainfrog
Alright, I've been playing for a couple days since launch. Here are my initial thoughts:
tldr; pretty standard gacha game with pretty graphics and standard predatory monetization.
Nikke is developed by Shift Up, who made Destiny Child, a flashy lottery machine of a gacha game with a Persona 5-esque aesthetic. They are also currently developing Stellar Blade, formerly known as Project Eve, which if you don't remember is the game whose trailer everyone made fun of for having an absurdly sexualized main character in a serious dystopian setting. This game has a very similar setting to that game, by which I mean it's basically their own take on NieR:Automata, in which the earth is ruined and taken over by robots and humans send sexy android women to fight them. I like to imagine the developers played Nier and was like, "what if this game had more 2B booty and less philosophy?"
The art and character designs, which is what most people care about, are admittedly cool looking. The sexy military outfits remind me of Azur Lane, but instead of the nautical theme, they're going for a tacticool aesthetic, kind of like Girls' Frontline. However, compared to Girls' Frontline, the characters here are thiccer (by which I mean more voluptuous) and more overtly sexualized. There's also (currently) not nearly as many lolis as Azur lane, so that's a plus. Ideally we would have no lolis, but you know how the audience for these types of games are. The Live2d art is honestly amazing, it has the same high level of quality as Destiny Child. Unlike Destiny Child though, they actually bothered to put some gameplay in here, so props to the dev team for making something like an actual video game this time around.
The gameplay itself pretty simple: you just tap and hold to aim and shoot, and release to reload and take cover. It's very similar to an arcade shooter and very simple to operate. Apparently it was designed to be playable with one hand. Not gonna make the obvious joke here, but I really do like the idea of one-handed gameplay ever since I encountered it in Earthbound. However, it's not nearly as handy here since, like most gacha games, you can just full auto most levels if your team's strong enough, though manually playing's admittedly fairly fun due to the flashy effects. Also, I like that they use full-sized character illustrations for the combat instead of chibis. A lot of other gacha games use deformed chibi sprites for combat which I always thought was dumb, so good for them for not following that trend.
The story is ok. They're going for some darker emotional beats, and balancing with dumb anime humor. There's some ideas I'd say they ripped straight from Nier, such as virus corruption and memory erasure, and I'm fully expecting a similar turn in which you find out the machines are actually more intelligent than you thought. The writers managed to put a little bit of interesting intrigue in here though, so I'll see how it turns out. The full voice acting also definitely helps. There are a couple of fun side characters, like the S&M couple - always like to see positive portrayals of BDSM. Not really sure how I feel about the flamboyantly gay comic relief character though. I'm not familiar enough with Korean media to know how homosexuality is usually portrayed but I assume it's not great.
Alright, so now for the gacha bullshit. Rates are ok, it's 4% for an SSR. Hilariously enough, there's currently 9 Rs, 9 SRs, and a whopping 44 SSRs, so they really want you to roll for that waifu. The gems you can earn in game feel a little tight currently, similar to the Fire Emblem Heroes launch in my experience, where you're constantly scrounging around for gems so you can pull that sweet, sweet gacha. But maybe that's just how all these games feel on launch, idk.
Speaking of money, the whale fishing is absolutely hilarious in this game. So if you didn't know, "whales" are players with highly disposable income who spend an absurd amount of money on gacha games. I'm exaggerating but the idea is they basically make up like 1% of the playerbase but 90% of the revenue, so developers are always looking to milk them for all they're worth. If you're a normal person, you should probably only buy the $5 30-day daily gem supply. It's the same as the $5 monthly blessing in Genshin Impact, in that it's by far the most bang for your buck microtransaction in the whole game, nothing else even comes close.
If you're a whale though, your options include: a $20 seasonal battle pass, a $20 campaign pass that gives gems for completing story levels, limited time packages (available for 2 weeks after first playing) that range from $1 to $100 dollars, various daily, weekly, and monthly packages that range from $1 to $100, gem packages (with first time double bonuses of course) that range from $5 to $80, and various level up specials of increasing cost that last 2 hours after reaching certain commander levels. I know this level of predatory monetization is basically standard for these types of games at this point, but it still surprises me when a game like this is so brazen with it. I know people always say this but please, for god's sake, if you have a gambling problem, do NOT play gacha games, because holy shit this is awful.
Anyway, I'm a sick freak, so I'll keep playing for a bit. In general, the production values are certainly high, but people might be put off by the aggressive monetization, so we'll see how long the game lasts.
Update: Alright, as of the first Christmas update (Dec 2022), I've stopped playing this game. The microtransaction bullshit was just getting way too much, man. This might actually be the worst I've seen it in a gacha game (besides Destiny Child lol). Also, the game kept crashing for me, even on Bluestacks which was weird. I thought for sure they'd fix it eventually but the crashes still kept happening even a month after launch, which was very annoying. It's kind of a shame, though. Like I said before, the story isn't actually complete trash, there's some stuff there, I think. The Christmas story, for instance, was actually pretty sad, I quite liked it. But I figure the time I would have spent on this game will now be spent on better games that aren't hounding my wallet. So for anyone still playing I would honestly say you're better off uninstalling and just staying away from gacha in general. It's just not good for you, man.
i NEED to smoke a blunt with this fish
Death Road to Canada
The Oregon Trail holds educational value beyond its initial use in classrooms. Although it would be misleading to claim that it's a roguelike, it offers a glimpse at the foundation laid on the genre's feet. Judging it as a roguelike isn't possible because it lacks most of what the genre is known for. It's not procedurally generated, the terrain is mainly flat and navigatable with relatively few quirks, and there isn't exactly a process of learning not to die. In video games, the importance of death is typically a mixed bag. It's hard to argue whether or not the medium treats it with more dread than a television program or novel would. In my review for Shadow President, I spoke of the interaction games provide you and the consequences presented. To summarize my entire piece enough to be relevant, a lot of the impact of interactive media depends on how far away you are from the black box where the developers hide most of their tricks. With roguelikes, that distance is not an agreed-upon aspect. Death is the barometer used to gauge the quality of the space taken within boundaries. If death comes too quickly to account for, it's too far away from the black box. If it's too easy to avoid, it's too close. You can see something of growing pains for this in The Oregon Trail. The infamous phrase 'You have died of dysentery' indicates this; control over the fates of your travel buddies is not programmed into the game and tends to spread upwards until you're met with a customizable Game Over screen. Should you finish your trek with relatively few hitches, it's all too likely that at least one individual on board passed away on the trip. Restarting is an integral part of the experience. There's no purpose in simulating the hardship of such a journey if death always means the end. Judged as a roguelike, The Oregon Trail only has charm in its sparse visual aesthetic if we're talking about the Apple II version. The original version doesn't have that going for it. Viewed as a potential progenitor for some of the indie space today, The Oregon Trail is a fascinating piece of digital history.
With that in mind, I'm brought to a specific question: what value do modern interpretations have? Remakes vary in quality (1) (2) (3); parodies like You Have Not Died of Dysentery or Super Amazing Wagon Adventure don't amount to more than cute novelties. The answer to that question can be found in attempts to mimic the genre that The Oregon Trail partially inspired. I nominate Death Road to Canada as my game of choice for this answer.
If Death Road to Canada's name isn't a dead giveaway of its overall tone and attitude, its music is. Opening Organ Trail: Director's Cut, you're met with a track that blends adventure with caution. It doesn't invoke horror, but it provokes a feeling of weariness that gives credence that it isn't parodic. Within the first minute, you're given a gun and told to shoot down a wave of oncoming enemies. The process is slow and nerve-wracking, building a silent tension purely through the mechanical process of letting a shot off. The sound of adventure is lost in the music, replaced with an overbearing uncertainty. Opening up Death Road to Canada, you wouldn't be given that interpretation in a heartbeat. The opening song, aptly named after the game, packs a get-up-and-go feeling at odds with the premise of an undead being. The next song on the soundtrack, Zombonita Beach, elaborates on this, providing a pleasant and relaxing soundscape worthy of its title. Throughout your expedition, you'll run into random characters—some are randomized, and others are iconic. These iconic characters run the gamut from parodies of pop culture icons like Elvis and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the absurd like dogs.
All of this might lead you to assume that Death Road to Canada is in the same camp as Super Amazing Wagon Adventure; however, its sillier aspects belie a lot of the tension that lies under the surface. The Oregon Trail may not have been overtly a roguelike, but this is. For the most part, deaths are avoidable. Strategies can be formed, and I've played this enough to have a general sense of which paths will lead to the least harm to my party. Not every decision is obvious; some situations will play out like the lesser of two evils. But taking cues from The Oregon Trail, loss is not always something you can duck. You only have control of four resources: food, which is used as currency, and ammunition for pistols, rifles, and shotguns. You cannot ration the food you currently have and do not get to decide how your medical supplies are used. Your best characters may not always be the most healthy, and when the game inevitably forces you to put them into action, this can be used against you. Cars run out of gas and can break down, leaving you vulnerable until your party occurs across a new one. Most of what Death Road to Canada does is unique to the Oregon Trail formula. But it has enough of a footing in the classic material it's riffing on for it to be amiable in its effort to bridge a gap between two distant generations of game design. We are past watching a wagon move as engaging gameplay, and in hindsight, the stops made along the trek make it memorable. The value of interpretation is that both being recontextualized manage to be thrilling without feeling like an exhausted retread. It helps to hammer home an appreciation for where we were at a certain point but does so without being overly nostalgic or sentimental. Calling Death Road to Canada a piece of history is over-selling it, but as a way of understanding digital history without having to resort to people who were "there," it's worthy of the comparisons I've made thus far.
What bumps my score from four stars to four-and-a-half is multiplayer. This game is a genuinely enjoyable time with friends, granted they're in the mood for something this whacky—and you're playing on the mode that lets you start with four people if you're playing with more than one other person. I didn't realize that was an option until recently and having had experience trying modes that aren't the four-player one with four people in the room, it's the best way to ensure that a game of this doesn't get derailed by two people who don't want to wait for someone to show up. When you get everything set up, it's an outrageous experience that few games of this type provide, and it heightens the best of what's on offer.
If modern interpretations of The Oregon Trail were as fun as this, emulated version of the Apple II version would have less novelty.
A Little to the Left
As time goes on I've learned to appreciate engaging casual games that don't require intense focus. Small adventure games that only take a few hours to beat, relaxing puzzle games that don't really have an ending, and anything in between are fun to enjoy and veg out on. It's the same effect for me as binge-watching a show. A Little to the Left tries to be that. It has engaging puzzles and serotonin-squirting organization puzzles along with cute visuals, but it does come with issues.
The game's puzzles start out fairly simple. There are around 75 puzzles in the main game with 365 daily puzzles. Puzzles start out with just straightening photos on a wall, putting cat toys in a basket, arranging a dinner set, aligning colored pencils in a certain order, stacking rugs, etc. These first dozen puzzles are relaxing and really give you a taste of what this game could be. Yes, I said could be as the game quickly ramps up the abstractness, and even with a full-on guide and accessible hint system in the game it still doesn't make sense. The arrangement puzzles are the absolute worst. These are abstract shapes that don't snap together but instead are arranged in a specific pattern. The patterns usually make no sense since the pieces are so far apart. These puzzles will frustrate most players and lead you into a false sense of relaxation and simple organization and stacking.
That's not to say I don't like a challenge. One puzzle has you sliding a mirror to the left and right and arranging the objects according to the reflection. Another has you stacking cat food cans in colored columns that match. These puzzles were enjoyable. My favorite was the organization puzzles. Put all the junk in the correct cubbies. That's a lot of fun with the process of elimination. Sadly, there are only about four of those puzzles and I wanted more. The difficulty is all over the place, but it's the artificial difficulty. The puzzles are just so obscure sometimes that most people may quit the game.
I also found the snapping system pretty broken. Sometimes you place an object in the right spot and it will snap into place and make a faint ding sound. However, abstract pattern puzzles require two symmetrical objects in the same spot in the scene before they will snap into place. This hinders progress as there are no tactile hints that you are making progress. There is a hint system that shows you the solution by erasing and uncovering. This was nice as I would try to just erase one part and still be able to solve the rest on my own. However, even the hints sometimes make zero sense.
Thankfully, you can still move on with the "Let It Be" system that skips the puzzle for you. There are some puzzles that have two or more solutions such as sorting from highest to shortest, then by color, and then by matching an image on the same object. While the first solution may seem easy to spot the additional solutions can be insanely abstract and obscure. I really tried to solve as many as I could on my own, but in the end, I solved maybe a quarter of the puzzles by myself. There were just too many that were frustrating or I felt I wasn't making any progress. Some were just me overthinking the puzzle, but some were just poorly designed.
The visuals are cute. It has a pastel minimalistic look. Lots of colored pencils, charcoal, and watercolor art designs. The music is great and relaxing to listen to in the background it's just too bad the game isn't as relaxing. In the end, A Little to the Left is misleading in its first dozen puzzles and quickly ramps up the abstractness and obscurity too much requiring too many puzzles to be skipped. The most enjoyable ones are too few. This isn't a bad game at all. There are fun puzzles peppered throughout the bad ones, and the overall cat aesthetic is enjoyable with great music.
It's a comfortable game, but as somebody who played this game while it was still in early access, I kind of expected the final release to have more to it and also fix some of the bugs and bizarre design choices that have been here for over a year now. This game's initially really relaxing and cozy, and admittedly it makes for a great background thing to just mindlessly play while listening to podcasts and audiobooks, but I really wanted more levels like the early houses and neighborhoods, and less of the increasingly bizarre and outlandish stuff towards the end.
The developers seemed to think people wanted levels that were bigger in scale and not just, more places. I wanted more houses, backyards, hell just let me go powerwash a sidewalk. Places like the subway and the underground bathroom are way too big and genuinely become frustrating. It's frankly the biggest issue I have with PowerWash Simulator, because for a game that should be relaxing, it feels like I spent way too much time having to do literal pixel peeping and randomly spraying surfaces that should be clean. I shouldn't be confused wondering why something's not clearing, waving my mouse around wildly for that one pixel of the bar to clear up, and just suddenly having the game tell me it's now clean even though I have no clue what I missed.
Also for these being powerwashers, they sure are all terrible at actually powerwashing. I already knew from the early access builds of the game that saving your money and trying to get the Prime Vista PRO as soon as possible was basically essential for the sake of saving time and sanity, and even despite it being the endgame "strongest washer in the game," it's more than frustrating how you basically can never use any nozzle other than the yellow one, sometimes the green one, and on occasion the red one because of a surface being incredibly stubborn to clean off. The Triple Tip Nozzle was added for the final release version of the game, and very quickly I started only using that for cleaning because it was just objectively better than all the other nozzles, and there were still rare occasions where it wasn't good enough. What the hell is the point of the other powerwashers in the game when the endgame best one still struggles with cleaning?
And frankly, I really don't care for the story and as mean as it sounds, I kept wishing for an option to just straight up disable the message pop-ups on the side from the clients. Their dialogue is mostly meaningless and distracting from what's supposed to be a cozy atmosphere, and at actual worst the game dares to obliterate that atmosphere by having clients that send you actually genuinely annoying and distasteful messages, like the client for some of the carnival levels that tries to score and judge your cleaning work, or an entire subplot with a town mayor doing suspicious stuff and making you deal with the aftermath of protests against him. What the fuck?
It really sucks because as much as I'm complaining, I genuinely want more of these kind of mindless cozy games that you can play on the side while listening/watching other things. FuturLab almost had something on their hands with this, but bigger doesn't mean better and I honest to god would've been more than happy with just a game where I got to powerwash houses and their neighborhoods. When the game's simple and to the point, it just works. But as soon as it starts sending you off to the bigger places and the story starts moving in weird directions, it almost entirely veers off the deep end. I'd like to hope that either content updates or a sequel could do something more with this, or even more ideally mod support but FuturLab has always seemed very quiet and dodging around the idea even back in early access, so who knows.
an entrancing moonlight dance between post-modern naturalism and mushy sentimental romanticism, this is unexpectedly great! for a free-to-play game with very modestly priced DLC that more than doubles the game's length, the depth and quality of writing and interaction here is seriously impressive; on multiple occasions i was genuinely struck by the little things the game picked up on and developed in interesting ways for both the player character and cove. when a character in step 3 commented on how i normally behaved one way but shifted that behavior in certain contexts, or how i would have the pc express outward disinterest in formal engagements but would have them throw themselves into them when they were presented, i was surprised and suddenly introspective in a way that felt extremely complicatedly real in a way i've scarcely seen from a game like this.
it's also a bit more thorny and dramatic than initial impressions might seem: while the game maintains a positive tone (in particular the adults around you are always supportive of whatever developing gender or sexual identity your character might have in a way that is nice but also feels like the part of the game most in tune with the wholesomecore aesthetic it sometimes toys with) and it's never going to spring something truly shocking or upsetting on this pleasant boat ride, you can choose to steer various scenes into rougher waters, if you so desire. some of my favorite scenes were a result of me choosing to do this, playing into the image i had built up of the player character being insecure and socially awkward in often kind of mean and selfish ways.
it's for this willingness to get real and dive into the friction it's scenarios present that the childhood segment ended up as the highlight: overall Our Life is a game about maturity and how people change, and starting off with a bunch of kids who are in turns deeply immature in very real ways and honestly bratty unpleasant is maybe the most unique and singularly well-realized part of the game. the rest of it is good too, with the teenager segment sagging a little bit maybe compared to the others, but for reasons i've talked about elsewhere I think it's the best part of the game and is instrumental to what makes it work. later scenes and conversations only work as well as they do because of the important groundwork laid down earlier, building to quiet, naturalistic crescendos of personal reflection and emotional development. the developing physical intimacy between the player character and cove on the romance route is something i found particularly powerful, as it's one of the few areas where the game puts it's foot down and had my character be realistically too emotionally immature to really get it, and when the two do eventually find a place that works for them, it really got me! our life understands i think that total comfort is ultimately suffocating: to truly appreciate how warm it is under the covers, you have to spend time away from them.
it's not going to be for everyone: i find myself wishing it asserted itself to the player a little more than it did: being able to manually customize cove's personality and appearance somewhat between steps feels like a step too far in player agency, and i'm glad that you can just choose to ignore that because it doesn't feel like the right way to engage with the game. in general, the game isn't particularly interested in challenging the player, which is fine, but it does mean that i can see it totally washing over some.
for me though, it was a surprising delight. there's a sequel in the works that seems to be aiming for less of a specifically romantic frame with more than one central character of interaction, and that has me seriously excited. cove is a really well-rounded character but i was surprisingly enamored by the entire cast, and a game that felt more able to explore that wider cast might have landed even better. very excited to see what comes next from this team!
Meaning is an inherently limiting concept. There's only so much you can do when you're limited to just blunt concepts - ones that you need words to explain, linear ideas proselytized to people. Art with meaning is fantastic, but art without meaning can be beautiful. Yume Nikki is a profound example of that.
There's not much to say about Yume Nikki that hasn't already been said, which pains me a bit. Yume Nikki is an ethereal set of listless atmospheres, ones you traverse with no particular aims in mind. You explore the dreams of a young girl and experience the sights and sounds. To concern yourself with their meaning is to miss the point. Yume Nikki is a game that is simply about the act of seeing these things, of existing in this world.
Sure, there are cases to be made for things in the text being important focuses. I mean, a version of Madotsuki is literally shown hiding in a closet at one point, which is ripe for queer reading. There's also the game's fixation on car accidents, with an entire character becoming mangled when you show her a stop light. I think that the very act of applying meaning, though, misses the point of what makes this so special.
This is not a game that is to be understood, it is a game that rejects the premise of understanding entirely. It is a game of exploring these landscapes, and taking them in and acknowledging them, but not ruminating on them for very long. To do so removes them of the mystique that they gave us in the first place.
The dream diary eludes understanding.
I played this a few months ago and have been turning it over in my mind ever since. And seeing as there are no other reviews on the site yet I guess I'll finally take a crack at putting my thoughts into words.
Saving You From Yourself is a game about the gatekeeping trans people face when getting hormone replacement therapy. The game puts you as a therapist who must decide if a trans woman is "trans enough" to start HRT. I wish I could say that it goes without saying that the idea of someone being "trans enough" is ridiculous and wrong and transphobic; that someone thinking about gender things and coming to the conclusion that they are transgender is enough and should be enough to get the medical care they want/need. But unfortunately, society is by and large cruel to us and thinks that making trans people "prove" their trans-ness in increasingly mean-spirited and arcane ways is actually good-hearted and caring. My issue with where this comes up in the game is that it leaves most of that up to you. The game simply presents with you the choice to give HRT or withhold it with little to no commentary on the choice you make. So, from that angle it isn't necessarily a game that I would suggest to any people who don't know about the process of trans healthcare but are willing to learn. And certainly wouldn't suggest it to people unwilling to learn. So the game doesn't feel like it could be any sort of educational tool to point out something wrong in society. But it also isn't something that I can look at as a trans woman and feel like there's much value in playing this. I am already extremely aware of how shitty the healthcare system is and how it's a fucking gauntlet that I'm surprised anyone is able to get through at all. So I wouldn't recommend any trans people play this, either.
The one thing that I think is thoroughly positive, though, is that the game does show the perseverance and the endurance of trans people and the trans community. We put up with a lot of shit but we're still here. We still exist. We care for one another in ways a lot of the world seems incapable of. No matter how unkind people may be, we are still here and we will always be here. And that absolutely rules.
All that being said, I think messy art deserves to exist and that it should exist. And this definitely falls into the category of 'messy art'. I am glad that this exists. I'm glad that this was a game I was able to play. Hell, I'm glad that this is able to be on Steam. I'm glad the creator was able to make the thing they wanted to make. But I'm not sure if I actually enjoyed it.
It's a messy game so maybe it's fitting that this review is a bit of a mess. I have no idea what rating to give this because, depending on when you ask me, it could be one star or it could be five stars, so I'll just give it a "I'm glad it exists" out of five.
This really holds up quite well. Feels like it's from a totally different era of indie games where they were devs were translating what used to be ambitious flash games to full releases that felt like passion projects.
The core gameplay of this is still fun. Setting stuff on fire never really gets old and the combos are a great way to get you to experiment and drive your progress. Some objects and combos are definitely much cooler than others where as some are just blatant fodder to help get you some quick cash. It can be a little disappointing when something cool sounding just ends up burning with zero fanfare.
Also man does that fire still look really damn good!
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