Shovel Knight (Boss Fight Books)

I was excited to hear Boss Fight Books would be covering Shovel Knight. It’s rare to be able to get an inside look into what it takes to make a successful indie game.

Boss Fight Books publish a series of documentary-style books focusing on classic video games, telling stories on game development, game design, narrative and even personal gaming experiences. While previous books mostly focus on mainstream and retro games, one of their most interesting books was on the indie hit Spelunky, written by the game creator Derek Yu. Derek provided an insightful look into what it took to make a game by himself and his journey to finish his game. I was anticipating David Craddock would deliver a similar experience, and much like Shovel Knight the game, my expectations were exceeded.

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I really dig Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight was always an intriguing game to me, it was released in 2014 and got great reviews and had wide media coverage and even has an Amiibo I wish I had bought. I still think it’s strange that they released free expansions to owners of the game. When mainstream games have a season pass milking players for money and mobile gaming is filled with predatory in-game purchases, Shovel Knight was a breath of fresh air. Drawing inspiration from great 8-bit classics like Duck Tales, Castlevania and Mega Man, games that focused on game play. I was interested to find out more about who had made this game, what they had done to make it so successful…and why a knight with a shovel?

Yacht Club Games clearly had a passion and went to great lengths to make a game that evokes nostalgia but still holds up as a great modern gaming experience today. David L. Craddock explains how Yacht Club Games was formed, the difficulties they faced and goes into great detail on game design decisions and story elements.

I found it amusing that the in the chapter on the Kickstarter campaign they made it a point not to include the Yacht Club Games team but yet this book was focusing on them.

Craddock’s explanation of design decisions and game theory made me appreciate the work of Yacht Club Games even more. A key part of Shovel Knight is the checkpoint system, it was interesting to learn about the iterative process of designing this feature, how it was eventually implemented to reward risk rather than punish players.

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To break or not to break, that is the question.

I also enjoyed reading about the process of tuning the story around Shield Knight, during the NES era of games the goal of the game was often to rescue a helpless Princess. Yacht Club Games designed the character and created the story of Shield Knight to empower her rather than just be a helpless damsel called “Beloved”.

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Shield Knight, not just another damsel in distress.

This book is a great read and as cliché as it is, I couldn’t put it down. If you are a fan of Shovel Knight or indie game development you should read it.

After finishing the Shovel Knight book I’m now excited to go back and replay the game, after all…the only thing more fun than reading about the game is playing it!

Shovel Knight by David L. Craddock is available at Boss Fight Books or through Amazon.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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CrossCode

banner.jpgCrossCode is an incredibly fast-paced 2D isometric 16-bit styled RPG/platformer that’s heavy on puzzles. The game focuses on the story of an obscenely adorable amnesiac girl named Lea inside the MMO CrossCode. It deals with her personal story trying to remember who she is as well as trying to find a few people for a helpful stranger named Sergey whose patched into Lea’s visual and audio sensors. Think of him like a hologram that generally only she can see and hear, which totally wouldn’t make her seem batshit insane or anything.

Anyways, in game, the MMO is different from what we’re use to, instead of just logging into a computer and playing a character in a digital world created with 0’s and 1’s, this place is a real landmass. The world is on a Moon so the MMO world is a real place people could feasibly visit although that would be considered cheating and likely heavily against the law in their world. The CrossCode MMO world is therefore physically built, and ironically the places under construction are still called patches.

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Sergey, and Lea on a boat, tutorial time baby.

The entire player world is created of something called instant matter, a super lightweight material that fragile but fast and dissolves when it gets too wet. This includes even your avatar. They mixed the world with augmented reality in such a way that the augmented bits affect the world around you. Only those logged in or those wearing special headsets can see the avatar’s weapons; a set of dagger/sword like weapons and balls they throw. It’s weird and really cool to think about honestly. There are characters in the game who are real people and don’t have headsets, they can see your avatar and they also see instamatter boxes, your avatar can destroy the boxes by throwing balls at it, the person wouldn’t see the balls but would see the box suddenly poof into nothingness. It’s an interesting concept that explains why avatars are so fast, why they can’t swim, and why people don’t just leave the planet with them and wreak havoc in the real world.

Lea actually starts off outside of the game world which they call the Playground, basically it’s like a WoW elf waking up inside of a youtube comment section instead of on WoW, it’s not where it’s suppose to be, like at all. It seems Sergey put you on a ship to bring you back to the Playground, the ship is one of many that does work hauling stuff to the game world for maintenance. Here you’re given a tutorial and then introduced to the Playground; so that you aren’t labeled a cheater, you’re put into the last starter dungeon that everyone is suppose to do. You finish it and go on your way in hopes that the game will make you remember who you are.

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Smug Lea is best Lea.

Lea is a semi-silent protagonist, her speech module is broken as such she’s mute, however she’s given words on occasion that are hand coded into her avatar’s complex code by the ever… kinda helpful Sergey. When you’re given new words, it’s one, just one at a time most of the time. The speech module issue is known as a thing that happens in the MMO but is super rare in the game’s world, and because it’s so rare no one thinks of it, so everyone thinks Lea is just really quiet. It’s honestly comedic gold, almost every conversation becomes a joke at your own expense but it’s still great. Along with this I should also mention, everyone is technically a silent protagonist in this as there’s no voice acting, as such get prepared for a LOT of reading, it’s not just in cut scenes either, occasionally your allies will say stuff about landmarks or even enemies.

Combat can become extremely hectic, if you wanted you could kite all the enemies together on the entire screen and fight them all at once. I really don’t suggest that, I’ve done it by accident, it wasn’t fun, I died so… so fast. Anyways, you have a guard but it’s weak and is destroyed fairly easily. Instead it’s about dodging in and out of combat, attacking with melee when you can, or you can be like me and be a chicken shit who sucks at the game and you can uhh… yeah, you can smash your balls into their faces, yeah you read that right. Eventually the enemies get tougher, having elements they use, but you get stronger alongside them, gaining access to new elements with every major milestone in the MMO world’s story progress. However the process of fighting never really changes, you just get to attack enemies with what they’re weak against. Well if you’re smart anyways, I usually did the opposite cause I panicked… yeah… I said I sucked for a reason.

There’s two types of puzzles in the game and sometimes they mix together but usually not. The first is platforming puzzles which are all about you trying to get to a chest. These start out easy; eventually you have to go halfway across the map to find different areas to jump to, to get to a chest. All of the chests are worth getting though as many include amazing equipment or good to rare trade items. This is sometimes really annoying because there’s a couple large maps and you can get lost fairly easily even with the game’s map because it just tells you which large section you’re in instead of anything pinpointed. The second type of puzzles are elemental puzzles, these are the real deal. You typically need to throw one or more of your powers in a ball to power a switch. Later on as these become more complex and you have to use more powers. Often you have to use their unique tendencies like the fact that the electric power follows along walls, and the fire one causes steam, etc to solve issues in order to power the switch. These can get extremely complex looking, thankfully, though most of them are actually fairly simple once you know how to do them. But looking at them, oh man is it daunting. Many of the later puzzles also require pretty good timing as you have to create, open, and block different pathways while your powered up ball is moving towards its target. The timing bits can get a bit tedious if you’re like me and aren’t very good at them because often they require good timing and precision throwing of your balls and that’s just a lot to do all at once. Also because of how complex some of them look at first, they can get really hard to figure out and all you wanna do is bash your head against the table. I had to look up guides here and there to get through some of the puzzles because they’d introduce something new and none of it is explained which can make puzzles difficult to understand.

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Just a fragment of one of the many puzzles in the game.

There’s two types of puzzles in the game and sometimes they mix together but usually not. The first is platforming puzzles which are all about you trying to get to a chest. These start out easy; eventually you have to go halfway across the map to find different areas to jump to, to get to a chest. All of the chests are worth getting though as many include amazing equipment or good to rare trade items. This is sometimes really annoying because there’s a couple large maps and you can get lost fairly easily even with the game’s map because it just tells you which large section you’re in instead of anything pinpointed. The second type of puzzles are elemental puzzles, these are the real deal. You typically need to throw one or more of your powers in a ball to power a switch. Later on as these become more complex and you have to use more powers. Often you have to use their unique tendencies like the fact that the electric power follows along walls, and the fire one causes steam, etc to solve issues in order to power the switch. These can get extremely complex looking, thankfully, though most of them are actually fairly simple once you know how to do them. But looking at them, oh man is it daunting. Many of the later puzzles also require pretty good timing as you have to create, open, and block different pathways while your powered up ball is moving towards its target. The timing bits can get a bit tedious if you’re like me and aren’t very good at them because often they require good timing and precision throwing of your balls and that’s just a lot to do all at once. Also because of how complex some of them look at first, they can get really hard to figure out and all you wanna do is bash your head against the table. I had to look up guides here and there to get through some of the puzzles because they’d introduce something new and none of it is explained which can make puzzles difficult to understand.

Lastly for any of you who are like, tell us how you really feel. I put just shy of 118 hours into this game in around sixteen days. It’s music is beautiful, Lea is great, the characters are hilarious, and the story is a bit cliched but has some nice twists. The puzzles are phenomenal and can get really difficult, which I personally like and the combat is pretty fun even though I suck at it. Who needs to dodge anyways, you can always tank it or die. I fucking love the game and the devs are adding some more free content to it hopefully this year including a New Game+ mode, which I can’t wait for. They’re thinking of a paid for DLC in the future to continue the story which is highly enticing to me right now. Cause honestly I just really want more of the game right now, I put in that many hours but I still want more, it’s like a good book when you get to the end it’s never enough.

 

end banner.jpgCrossCode was developed by: Radical Fish Games

Point of Sale: Steam

$20.00: Girls with scars are badass, as says Lea.

 

AThe Seal.png review copy was provided by the publisher Deck13.

darkmikasonfire has awarded CrossCode The Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval

 

 

 

 

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Tetra’s Escape

Tetra’s Escapeis a pretty harmless family-friendly puzzle platformer after all: well-made, but nothing mind-boggling.  The “changing who you are” referring to the ability of converting your puzzle pieces into tetris-shaped terrain for Grey-Blob McNopowers (made up: again gotta spice things up somehow) to step over to get to the exit.  Let’s get into the details.

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There are 6 worlds to explore that very organically expand the transformations your pieces can make, the level layouts themselves (lava, ice, fall dmg), and trickier paths to 100% a level.  All you need to do to be a completionist in this game is collect the three stars scattered throughout your pathway towards the goal portal.  After collecting the last, you just need to backtrack a bit to pick up a trophy and you’re home free (btw later levels can prove challenging because you can inadvertently lock yourself out of picking up the trophy after picking up the 3 stars, so be careful!).  The visual aesthetics of the game are very cutesy and basic 3D models: after all, we are dealing with cubes and tetriminos.  The music; ok real talk, I was about to throw shade about the repetitive nature of the quirky stock music throughout the first few worlds.  However, the music does come to its own and throws in some decent chiptune and piano jams that impressed me; so just keep playing.

Other than that, I really don’t have too many gripes with the game: I do think if you are in the mood for a calming, casual play session, Tetra’s Escape is perfect just to knock out a few levels.  The one detail I was a bit irked about was that there is no way to step back and undo one action: it’s either you finish the stage, or you start all over.  The levels themselves are short enough for me to forgive it, but this is a simple quality-of-life change that I would love to see.  I think the Switch might be the best option for this sort of game, mainly because there’s no concern for graphical fidelity or framerate issues, and portability enables that pick-up-and-play life.

 

The Seal

Tetra’s Escape: Steam, Xbox One, Switch, PS4, PS Vita ($3.99-$4.99)

https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/tetras-escape-switch

Review copy provided to me.

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Guacamelee 2

I know a few reviewers aren’t always satisfied with a sequel giving you a very similar experience to the original, but my god even with the similar pacing, I adore this game.  It takes off straight after the original (even starting you off with an abridged version of the final boss from the first game!).  The game feels like it was designed to catch you up and give you access to nearly all the powers from the original game at a breakneck pace.  It gives the devs ample time to start adding twists to the original moves, and really flex their level design chops.  So even though I recognized the few special moves you unlock early on as carbon copies of the previous game, I always felt like the game’s interest curve was steadily climbing, and did not get bored.  But anyways that’s enough of explaining my basic impressions: let’s get to the meat and potatoes.

Guacamelee 2 is a metroidvania inspired by beat-em-ups such as streets of rage or even Devil May Cry.  It is very tongue-in-cheek with its plethora of references it showers upon the player, which can be seen as overtly pandering in nature.  But I never really minded too much: the game honestly has its moments where it satirizes the meme culture these days.  The game also revels in following tried and true gameplay beats, only to quickly subvert them with a quick and dirty gag.  One of my favorite gags from the original game, which I am glad they expanded upon in this game, is the chicken form.  The game very clearly emulates the feeling of Samus regaining her ability to use the morph ball ability, only to slap you in the face with “Hey guess what?  You’re a fucking chicken now, and you’re gonna love it”.  And my god did I love the Pollo form in this game for a few reasons.  The devs essentially differentiated the pollo form as a separate character from Juan, the luchador.  Well, perhaps I should make an apt comparison to the Echo Fighters from the new Smash Bros Ultimate: sharing many of the same basic attacks, dodges, and grapples, but with the smaller stature and different special powers.  Guacamelee 2 also includes a new tech tree that allows you to enhance your favorite aspects of the combat: stronger special moves? more Health and energy to spam special moves?  More power the higher the combo chain?  Lucha Libre grabs? Becoming the chicken you always wanted to?  Shout outs to my co-op bro, Devin, for convincing me to max out the Pollo Powers first – not a single regret all the way to the end of the game.

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Once you fill out a lot of these skill trees, you will start feeling overpowered, but the game still finds ways to keep challenging you.  In particular, there are so many challenge rooms scattered throughout the world (almost feel like Breath of the Wild Shrines), with 4 of those rooms being some of the toughest platforming sequences to bear for 100% completionists.

One of my favorite parts about Guacamelee 2’s level design is how it presents enemy layouts: the game will stop you at points and create very calculated spawn rates with a variety of enemies with certain shields.  These shields are colored a certain way, and force you to use your other special moves to take out the enemy: which helps the player stay away from spamming the b key over and over.  They even mix things up with combo puzzles involving manipulating the environment in such a way that enemies are forced to plunge themselves into spikes, and the like.  One thing I will say, is that the bosses in this game are a bit lackluster: they’re fun, but after a few cycles, they are pretty tame.  I do applaud the devs for making the bosses have very different approaches and weaknesses, but just relish in the hectic nature of the bosses’ last phase and soak it in.

I really don’t want to spoil any more of the game, because there’s something beautiful about allowing you all to appreciate the finely-tuned pacing that DrinkBox studios has crafted.  There is so much love put into the game: from the colorful and vibrant hand-painted look of the backgrounds, to the way the game seamlessly integrates platforming and combat abilities.  The game really forces you to be mindful of your entire moveset towards the latter half of the game, as you begin to string together special moves and precise jumps.  As I alluded to previously, the game now boasts for the first time up to 4-player co-op insanity!  I could sing the praises of this game for hours, but I still have a challenge room I need to tackle, so if you’d excuse me….

The Seal

Title: Guacamelee 2:

Multiplatform

Price: $19.99.

Publisher: Drinkbox Studios

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