Review: Don’t Move (Android, 2014)


Shortly into STVR’s Don’t Move, I asked myself, “What in the world am I playing?”

Ten minutes later, I was like, “This is incredibly annoying… the point of this is what again?”

Half an hour of staring at my tablet, and I said out loud (quietly, since my wife was sleeping), “I’m going nuts, but I can’t quit now!”

Two hours and two playthroughs later, I concluded, “The message here is a good one.”

Don’t Move is a cautionary tale.  I doubt most players will see its ending, and those players are probably the types who aren’t completionists, don’t like grinding, or scoff at the thought of getting all of a game’s Trophies or Achievements.

I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle. I don’t have to get everything in all of the games I play, but there are certain ones that will totally hook me and not let go until I’ve seen all it has to offer.


Dragon Quest IX on the Nintendo DS is one such game. I put over 250 hours into it, farming Metal King Slimes and Gem Slimes for hours upon hours, maxxing out my job classes and working towards the game’s best and rarest gear.

I used online tools to get rare drops in dungeons and like the monster farming, spent weeks going through certain dungeons again and again to meet my goals.

I eventually got to the point in the game where I was happy with what I had, and so I stopped. I wasn’t even close to 100%, but the damage was certainly done! I stuck with it for that long because I was having fun. I mean, if it’s not fun, why keep playing?

Don’t Move asks similar questions and more in a deceptively simple way, and somehow, even with only the ability to move left and right, and requiring almost zero skill, kept me going all the way through. Twice.

The graphics are very basic and uncharmingly 8-bit, the music is repetitive, and the sound effects of you dying every second will absolutely drive you bananas. I can only remember a couple instances that required any sort of finesse or timing. Otherwise, you’re either moving left or right in a single room. You can practically play it in your sleep. It’s just not fun. Or is it?

That hint of doubt that Don’t Move raises is why this game is important. If all you did was walk a few steps and die, you’d probably turn it off after a minute or so. There’s no payoff or bridge to the next thing. However, the game presents goals. It has specific Achievements that can be earned. There are endurance-based ones that reward you based on distance, time, deaths, and medals. You can also level your character up just by moving, get new outfits, and if you’re persistent, see the game’s ending (and it does end).

But to what end? Or does that matter? Why do we do things in games we know are menial, but we do them anyway?


I’m reminded of the game I’m currently playing: Lego City Undercover. Just in this screenshot, you see that I’m going out of my way to collect a big piece of Lego to go build something later. In the background is a platform where I can use those Legos, earn a Gold Brick, collect money, and maybe unlock a character costume. On the right is a statue that I can blow up for similar rewards.

Don’t Move is interesting in that unlike Lego City‘s various tasks, distractions, and sidequests, everything you do in it is a requirement. If you don’t do them, you can’t progress. And so, against your better judgment, you go ahead and do them to see what happens next, no matter how arbitrary, boring, or absolutely pointless.

20141008_dont_move_02Without a glossy exterior, fancy production, or even good controls and gameplay to mask this “carrot on a stick” approach, you realize that what is happening here is borderline-illogical busywork designed to make the game longer. Sound familiar? You can probably think of a few games you’ve played in recent memory that felt the exact same way.

Do you need a game to be fun to feel satisfied when you reach the end? Does a game need to be challenging in order for you to enjoy it? Is variation in gameplay and locations key to keeping you interested in a title?

Don’t Move will make you ponder these questions and more, long after you reach its Game Over screen. For something to make me think about games like this is a sign of something worth looking at, no matter how painful the experience was to get there.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a dozen more pigs to go find in Lego City.

Overall: B


Backlog Blitz: The Games of August 2014


Where does the time go? I can’t believe it’s already mid-September! It was a pretty even month, even though I did buy more than I finished. However, a couple of the games I finished rank as some of my favorites of the year so far, so I’m OK with that.

All in all, I finished -2 for the month, but I’m still +6 for the year. Anyway, the format, as with previous updates, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-5, $56.50 spent):

  1. 20140916_ghg_ff10Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster (Vita, $20.00)
    I was pretty torn on this purchase because I do like Final Fantasy X — it was the last game in the series I ever finished — but I really don’t care for its sequel, X-2. There’s a part of me that wants to go back and play earlier entries in the series, though, and since I only finished this game once on the PlayStation 2, I figured playing it again in portable form on the Vita would be a good way to experience it again. My guess is most of it will feel new since it’s been over ten years.
  2. Chrono Cross (Vita, $5.00)
    Since this game was part of August’s sale on PSN, I added it to the library. While I like Chrono Trigger on the Super Nintendo more, there’s a lot to like in its follow-up, especially the music, which is just sublime. I remember not liking the more serious tone and slower pace of the game itself, which is common to many PlayStation 1-era RPGs, but like Final Fantasy X, I think playing it on the Vita will be fun.
  3. The Humble Mobile Bundle 6 (Android, $4.50)
    Another month, another quality bundle for Android users. This bundle includes Carmageddon, Combo Crew Special Edition, Duet Premium, Eliss Infinity, Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf: Full Game, Llamas with Hats: Cruise Catastrophe, Mines of Mars, Threes!, and Time Surfer. Worth the price of admission for Threes! alone. What a great game.
  4. The Humble Sega Mobile Bundle (Android, $4.00)
    Although I’m not a fan of playing games that aren’t specifically designed for touchscreens, this Sega bundle had quite the solid offering. When are they going to make a proper Out Run game for mobile? Seems like the perfect platform, don’t you think? Anyway, this bundle includes the following: ChuChu Rocket!, Crazy Taxi, Happy Sonic! Live Wallpaper, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II, Super Monkey Ball 2: Sakura Edition, and Virtua Tennis Challenge.
  5. Kero Blaster (PC, $8.00)
    From Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya — the creator of Cave Story — for only $8 on Playism, this one was a must-buy. Their website is a no-frills affair, so I didn’t feel all that confident making my purchase. I got my game, though, and started playing it shortly thereafter.

Games finished (+3, $26.00 value):

  1. 20140811_1001_spikes_review_4Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes (Wii U, $15.00, 20 hrs.)
    This was a very fun game, with surprisingly good presentation, multiple endings, and lots of different modes to play. Although some of it feels half-baked on the Wii U with no off-screen play and tons of audio glitches, it is still a robust game at its core that delivers a ton of bang for the buck, and is one of the most challenging titles I’ve played in 2014 so far. Recommended! Overall: A-
  2. Threes (Android, $1.00, 10 hrs.)
    Much better than the very similar game Eights, this one has great personality, intuitive controls, and that “just one more try” addictive quality that makes it a great play anywhere, anytime game for your phone. Overall: B+
  3. Volgarr the Viking (PC, $10.00, 40 hrs.)
    In my written and video review, I summed this game up by saying that it’s my favorite of 2014 that wasn’t released in 2014. It’s a game that truly respects the player’s patience, understanding, and perseverance, and it comes with my highest recommendation. And now I shall pray to the Allfather Odin that Crazy Viking Studios will produce a sequel. The world existing with only one Volgarr game would be criminal. Overall: A+

Only three and a half months left in 2014! I’m bracing myself for the holiday sales, but I feeling (cautiously) optimistic that I can stay above zero before 2015 kicks off.


Backlog Blitz: The Games of July 2014


After a huge drop in June, I nearly got myself back to May levels in July. I only bought one game, thanks to lackluster or nonexistent sales and a dry month at retail. I finished seven games, netting me a +6 total for last month. Anyway, the format, as with previous updates, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-1, $15.00 spent):

  1. Shovel Knight (PC, $15.00)
    Yacht Club Games’ Kickstarter success story looked terrific from the start, and the final product was met with tons of positive impressions. This was the only must-buy for me in July.

Games finished (+7, $113.00 value):

  1. 20140801_ghg_skShovel Knight (PC, $15.00, 10 hrs.)
    One of my favorite games of the year. Fantastic graphics, gameplay, and music to die for. Overall: A+

  2. Electronic Super Joy (PC, $8.00, 5 hrs.)
    A tough platformer in the tradition of Super Meat Boy, this game has awesome style, one of the best techno/trance soundtracks of any game I’ve played, and lots of humor. Short, but great. Overall: A-

  3. DuckTales Remastered (PC, $15.00, 3 hrs.)
    I enjoyed the NES game back in June, so I finally got around to playing WayForward’s remake. It has wonderful animation and Jake Kaufman’s soundtrack — who is the guy who also scored Shovel Knight — does a terrific job here. Too much story and some weird design choices hurt it. Overall: B-

  4. Eights (Android, Free, 10 hrs.)
    Recommended by a friend, this game is all about creating the number 8 and multiples of said number. Simple in concept, but difficult to master. I got over 5,000 points, so I considered myself “done” with it after that. I normally get around 1,500-3,000. Fun, but some bad control bugs hold it back. Overall: C+

  5. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Sega Master System, $5.00, 3 hrs.)
    Very different from the Genesis classic, but a very high-quality game for the old Sega console. Slippery controls and inexact platforming make certain sequences very frustrating. Beautiful graphics, improved bosses, and non-linear levels round it out. Overall: B

  6. 20140801_ghg_nr2NES Remix 2 (Wii U, $15.00, 43 hrs.)
    A sequel that improves upon the original in every way. Great challenges, better game selection, wonderful Miiverse intergration, and additional challenges make this one of the best games available on the Wii U eShop. Overall: A

  7. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, $60.00, 20 hrs.)
    My favorite Mario Kart game since the Super Nintendo days. Amazing graphics, buttery smooth controls, fun courses, and memorable music make this one of the year’s best. I would love to see more goal/challenge-based single-player modes similar to Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64 to really elevate the experience when you’re not online. Overall: A

Only five months remain in 2014. Summer’s usually slow for releases, so this was expected. If release dates stick, the holiday season could be rough. Very rough.

Anyway, here’s to staying in positive territory, and I hope you all have a great weekend!


Backlog Blitz: The games of May 2014


I stopped the bleeding (somewhat) in May. I bought 7 games and finished 6, so I was pretty happy about that. June is not looking pretty by any stretch of the imagination though — 9 bought and 2 finished with only 3 days left this month! — but I’ll hopefully be able to squeeze in one or two more before the year’s half over. Do or do not, there is no try, right? Anyway, the format, like before, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-7, $108.25 spent):

  1. 20140627_ghg_child_of_light_wallpaperChild of Light (PC, $12.00)
    Developed with the UbiArt Framework engine, I’ve been looking forward to this RPG ever since I first saw it. Getting around to actually playing it is proving to be a bit challenging, but it’s one of those games I know will be a wonderful experience, and wanted to make sure I bought it at launch.
  2. Tales of Symphonia Chronicles (PS3, $10.00)
    Sony had a good 50% off sale on PSN this month, and since I read that the original Tales of Symphonia was one of the better ones in the series, I picked this up. I haven’t played or finished a Tales game since Tales of Destiny on the original PlayStation, so I’m sure I’m in for a surprise!
  3. Sonic Hits Collection (PC, $7.50)
    Normally $30, I couldn’t pass up this nice discount on the Humble Store. It includes more Sonic games than you can shake a stick at: Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, Sonic 3 and Knuckles, Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle,  Sonic Adventure DX, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed: Metal Sonic & Outrun DLC, Sonic CD, Sonic Generations, Sonic Generations – Casino Nights DLC, Sonic Spinball, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episode 1, and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episode 2. Whew!
  4. Saints Row IV (PC, $10.00)
    Another 75% off title during May’s Humble Store sale. I never did get around to picking this up when it first came out — perhaps I was still feeling bitter about THQ’s demise — but I still have friends at Volition, so this one’s for them. If I remember right, IV was originally supposed to be DLC for Saints Row: The Third, so I’m curious to see how it holds up as a standalone product.
  5. 20140627_ghg_rogue_legacyRogue Legacy (PC, $3.75)
    75% off seems to be the sweet spot for me and most digital PC games. I remember my friends talking about this one last year, and I finally got around to buying it. It looks like just the kind of game I’m going to love and sink many, many hours into. Crazy-good animation and good, tight controls.
  6. The Humble Bundle: PC & Android 10 (PC/Android, $5.00)
    Another solid bundle to help build up my Steam and mobile gaming library. Good games, good cause. This one includes: Breach & Clear, Draw a Stickman: EPIC, Fieldrunners, Fieldrunners 2, Frozen Synapse, Galcon Fusion, Galcon Legends, Ittle Dew, METAL SLUG 3, Skulls of the Shogun, and Symphony.
  7. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, $60.00)
    I don’t buy too many games full-price at retail, but in this case, I couldn’t help it. I started playing it immediately, and it’s easily the best Mario Kart game since the original SNES version, particularly after my disappointment with Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS. I still have a lot to do and unlock in the game, but it’s been so much fun, and getting the free game (I selected Pikmin 3) was a very generous 2-for-1 gesture by Nintendo.

Games finished (+6, $83.00 value):

  1. Persona 4 Golden (Vita, $40.00, 60 hrs.)
    This was the main reason — perhaps the only reason — why I originally wanted a Vita. I loved
    Persona 3 Portable on the PSP, and wanted to play its sequel in handheld form. I had some problems with it, even starting over on the easiest difficulty, and it still took a very long time to finish. I think these games are just a bit too long for their own good, but they’re still a lot of fun with great style, music, and gameplay. Overall: B+ (Review Link)
  2. 20140627_ghg_tearaway_wallpaperTearaway (Vita, $40.00, 10 hrs.)
    I’m about to throw in the towel for the second time on
    LittleBigPlanet because of its awful controls, but Media Molecule got that part right with Tearaway. The camera isn’t very good when it needs to be, but the total experience is just beautiful and very original. It’s my favorite game on the Vita. Overall: A (Review Link)
  3. Monument Valley (Android, Free, 2 hrs.)
    Criminally short, but a totally essential game on mobile. Wonderful use of color, an atmosphere that will remind you of
    Journey on the PS3, and mind-bending design all combine to deliver one of the best games I’ve played this year on Android. Overall: A- (Review Link)
  4. The Room Two (Android, $3.00, 5 hrs.)
    The Room was a fantastic game, and its sequel is at least its equal, doing some things better and some things worse. I liked that it’s bigger, scarier, and of the same high quality that made the first game so memorable. However, making the game bigger means you have to move around more and get out of that zen-like dive into these puzzles that was so darn cool in the original. This makes puzzles more elaborate, but in a way, less intimate. Overall: A- (Review Link)
  5. 20140627_ghg_castle_of_illusion_1990Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse 1990 (PS3, Free, 3 hrs.)
    Just as good as I remember from the Sega Genesis days. Inspired animation, a classic soundtrack, and lots of gameplay variety. The game is short, and the controls feel a little too rigid, but at least they’re accurate. Overall: B+ (Review Link)
  6. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse 2013 (PS3, Free, 3 hrs.)
    They had the right idea with this one, and I think in the hands of a better developer, it could have been something truly special, proudly standing next to the original. It has nice art, music, and level design, but the atrocious controls, lousy hit detection, and mediocre performance make it an average experience at best. Overall: C (Review Link)

A -1 finish overall for the month, and I ended up $25.25 in the hole, which isn’t too bad. If I just had to pick one or two games to recommend to my readers, it’d be Tearaway and Monument Valley, two very unique gaming experiences that you won’t soon forget.


Backlog Blitz: The games of March 2014

It’s been a rough week. Even though every fiber of my being wants to just rest and resume business as usual on Monday, I think it’s important to keep things going here at GHG. Taking a break can make it that much harder to get back into it, and I know me: I’ve tried and quit a lot of things, so I can’t let that happen again.

Anyway, March was a good month. With only 5 purchases and a decent completion tally of 7 games, I pushed my total upwards a bit. The format, like January and February, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

20140529_marchblitzGames purchased (-5, $67.50 spent):

  1. 20140529_pokemonxPokemon X (3DS, $20.00)
    Tough to resist a good 50% off sale, and so even though I have never really played or finished a single Pokemon title, starting with the latest one is probably an OK place to begin. My friends told me to get X instead of Y, so get X I did.
  2. The Humble Mobile Bundle 4 (Android, $3.00)
    Although I’m getting to the point where I have most of the games offered by current Humble Bundles, I’ll still pick them up. This bundle included BADLAND Premium, Breach & Clear, Catan, Color Sheep, Gunslugs, OLO, Riptide GP2, Vector, and Zombie Gunship.
  3. The Humble Weekly Sale: PopCap (PC, $6.00)
    I bought the vast majority of these in a PopCap bundle for my wife years ago, but decided to add some of them to my library as well. Pretty good selection: Peggle Deluxe, Bejeweled 3, Bookworm Deluxe, Escape Rosecliff Island, Feeding Frenzy 2 Deluxe, Plants vs. Zombies GOTY Edition, Peggle Nights, and Zuma’s Revenge.
  4. 20140529_psplusPlayStation Plus (12-month, PS3/Vita/PS4, $35.00)
    It took me a long time to finally sign up, but a 30% off sale made me pull the trigger. This is only my second month with the service, but the free games alone across all three of Sony’s platforms makes this one of the best deals in gaming. It’s no wonder Microsoft had to bring out Games With Gold, to which Sony has already countered by increasing the number of PS4 games per month to 2 instead of 1 starting in June. How long this kind of great value can be sustained in anyone’s guess, so you’ll never see me complain about it.
  5. Thomas Was Alone: Benjamin’s Flight DLC (Vita, $3.50)
    As part of PlayStation Plus, I finished Thomas Was Alone (see below), and immediately had to purchase its follow-up DLC.

Games finished (+7, $44.50 value):

  1. SpellTower (Android, $1.00, 2 hrs.)
    This one’s a nice cross between Tetris and Bookworm. It’s a fun diversion that I still find myself playing while out and about, waiting for a table at a restaurant, or any instance where I need to kill a few minutes. While word games aren’t my favorite, it’s still very well-made with a number of different modes, multiplayer, intuitive touch control, style, and challenge. Overall: B
  2. Grand Theft Auto V (PS3, Free, 40 hrs.)20140529_gta5
    This is the first Grand Theft Auto game I’ve ever finished, and it’s easily one of the best games I’ve ever played. I was at first overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff you can do, but Rockstar has designed it in such a way that you almost always feel naturally led to the next activity. A wealth of variety, entertainment, and quality is in no short supply here, and each subsequent mission continued to blow me away. I have a feeling I’m going to be completely ruined on most other open-world titles from this point forward. Great characters, expertly designed missions, hilarious lowbrow gags, and the underlying technology driving everything in this game is impressive. It’s crazy to think that this is running on hardware that’s nearly 8 years old. Overall: A+
  3. Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC, $7.50, 30 hrs.)
    I had previously tried to play this two times, but for different reasons that weren’t related to the game itself, I stopped playing. After enjoying the open world of GTA5 so much, I wanted to go back and play this one before tackling the bigger Arkham City. I loved everything about it, especially the hand-to-hand combat, which is just so fluid and intuitive. I’m no Batman expert, but outside of the comics, this series is the best treatment of the license I’ve ever experienced. The in-game dialogue scenes are comically amateurish, which is too bad since the rest of the game is so good, but they don’t detract from what is an otherwise perfectly crafted action game with tons of collectibles and things to do. Rocksteady’s treatment of The Joker and Scarecrow are particularly memorable, too. Overall: A+
  4. 20140529_brokenageBroken Age: Act 1 (PC, $25.00, 5 hrs.)
    I hopped aboard the Broken Age train really late because for some reason, my Kickstarter backing didn’t take initially. No matter, though — this is a charming adventure game that leaves the player with one heck of a cliffhanger ending. It’s almost unfair. I remember reading about how backers thought it was too short and easy, but since I’m not the biggest adventure game purist and I can’t stand obscure puzzles, I found it to be just right. Most of the puzzles are pretty simple, but they’re also intuitive, and they’re not all easy: there were a couple that almost pushed me to look at a FAQ. Yes, it’s a short game, but not if you take your time and enjoy everything the designers put into it. It’s at its best when you’re left to just experiment with item combos and usage to see what the characters will say. They all have great dialogue that must have been a lot of fun to write.  The soundtrack is terrific, the art and animation are well-crafted, and it’s just a cool throwback to the type PC adventure games so many of us played in the ’90s. Overall: A-
  5. 20140529_batman_acBatman: Arkham City (PC, $7.50, 60 hrs.)
    I loved Arkham Asylum, and Arkham City delivered on the promise of a bigger world to explore, more gadgets, and lots of things to do. It had a nice Legend of Zelda vibe to its world structure and game flow. Its depiction of the Penguin, Ra’s al Ghul, and Mr. Freeze were fantastic, and although the story takes a Batman-like nosedive into predictable cliches at the end, I enjoyed the game itself just as much as its predecessor. Side missions were fun, and some of the Riddler trophies were downright diabolical. I loved that they were turned into puzzles themselves, taking some good timing and ingenuity to collect. Traversal in Gotham City was painless, and I really liked all the refinements made since Asylum, particularly to the combat. Keeping Riddler informants alive adds a nice layer of strategy to the mob fights, and it’s addicting grabbing all the subsequent collectibles. Although the size and length of the game inherently makes the story feel less refined and focused as Asylum‘s, I still thought this was as good a game as the first. Overall: A+
  6. Thomas Was Alone (Vita, Free, 6 hrs.)
    What a surprise. Included for free as part of March’s PlayStation Plus offerings, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I thought it was just going to be your typical minimalist platformer with some indie quirkiness thrown in for good measure, but what I got was one of the most charming and memorable games I’ve played in a long time. While it’s not the most challenging platformer — this isn’t Super Meat Boy — it’s still fun and provides a lot of rewarding gameplay. I found myself compelled to complete it primarily for its wonderful story and characters. It’s pretty short, even after going through it twice to listen to the Developer Commentary, but it’s worth every minute. I think that anyone who has even a passing interest in game design should play this twice. Overall: A
  7. Thomas Was Alone: Benjamin’s Flight DLC (Vita, $3.50, 1 hr.)
    The follow-up DLC for Thomas Was Alone adds some new characters, play control, and good narrative, but it is extremely short, and unfortunately (for now), doesn’t include Developer Commentary, which was one of my favorite features of the original game. It gave such valuable insight into Mike Bithell’s approach to both game and character design that it almost feels like the DLC is missing a limb. Still worth the cost of entry, despite its lack of length and features. Overall:

So that was March in a nutshell. It was thankfully a very light month in terms of how much I spent, and I was rewarded with some of the best games I’ve ever played. It will certainly be a tough month to beat!


Review: The Room Two (iOS & Android)

Note: The Android version was used for this review. Played on a Google Nexus 7 (2012) running stock KitKat 4.4.2.


Fireproof Games’ 2012 puzzler The Room is one of my all-time favorite mobile titles. It’s one of the best examples of touch controls used expertly to interact with marvelously conceived puzzles. Everything was wrapped up in an enigmatic, atmospheric package with terrific visuals and sound design. When I heard that a sequel was planned for late 2013 (iOS) and early 2014 (Android), I knew it was going to be a must-buy.

20140520_theroom2_2The Room Two takes the successful formula of the original game and makes everything bigger. You’re no longer faced with just one intricately designed device, but with several that are intertwined throughout larger rooms. This change in scope is the biggest difference from the first game, with most of the core mechanics remaining the same. Fans of the first game will feel slightly disoriented at first, but will be immediately at home with the layered, waterfall-like gameplay.

I liked the variety of environments from room to room, and each of them has a distinct and memorable theme. They get progressively scarier, and Fireproof does an amazing job making your hairs stand on end through effective visuals, sound effects, and music. This game is best played with the lights off, headphones on, and the volume up. The Room was a more mysterious experience compared to The Room Two, which unlocks a door into the world of pure horror, and does so with aplomb.

20140520_theroom2_3The puzzle design itself is very solid, with the tactile feel and satisfying feedback that made the original game so memorable. With the rooms being larger and with more areas for the player to experiment with, I found that it made certain sequences too drawn-out and unfocused, requiring lots of back and forth navigation and repetition to solve. The original’s up-close-and-personal approach was highly engaging, where I quite literally felt like I was hypnotically falling deeper into each of its beautifully engineered creations. Here, things have shifted a little more towards a traditional first-person adventure game, albeit with superior, intuitive puzzle design and logic.

In terms of other features, Google Play and Game Center Achievements are supported, but they are story-based. Since the game is linear, you will unlock all of them through normal play. Cloud saves are a welcome inclusion, since I did have to wipe my Nexus 7 recently. It was nice being able to continue my adventure without losing progress. With the relative fragility of hard drive and flash storage, this should be a standard, non-premium feature for any handheld or console, and I’m very happy to see it being used more often for mobile games.

In the end, The Room Two is a worthy sequel. It does what most follow-ups do, by taking a successful formula, polishing it, and broadening its scope. It’s a wonderful experience slightly undone by making the player move around each room so much, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best games available on mobile.

Graphics: A
Audio: A+
Gameplay & Controls: B+
Presentation: A
Value: B+
Overall: A-


Review: Monument Valley (iOS & Android)

Note: The Android version was used for this review. Played on a Google Nexus 7 (2012) running stock KitKat 4.4.2.

Screenshot_2014-05-19-09-11-14It was only a few years ago that premium mobile games were the norm and not the exception. They’d cost as little as a dollar, with some “expensive” ones being $3 or more. It was a great time, since we saw so many high-quality titles with terrific style, gameplay, and content across all genres. Some of my fondest memories include games like Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Tiny Wings, Real Racing 2, Infinity Blade, Groove Coaster, and Doodle Jump. 

Compared to what I was used to playing on traditional handhelds and consoles, these games were an absolute steal. A vertical shoot-’em-up like Dodonpachi Resurrection, for example, would cost upwards of $80-90 to import and play on a console, and to have it for a tenth of the price, fully translated into English? Shut up and take my money.

Fast-forward to 2014, and the mobile landscape has changed significantly. Finding games now that aren’t free-to-play takes more effort, and discovering them on the Apple App Store or Google Play can be a challenging game all on its own. That’s why running into Ustwo Games’ Monument Valley last week was such a special treat. I couldn’t even tell you how I found out about it, but I’m so glad I did.

20140519_mv1I immediate fell in love with its beautiful isometric graphics. Every level pops off the screen with clean lines, easily readable design, and a heavy M.C. Escher/Crystal Castles influence. Animation is extremely smooth, even on older hardware, and its expert use of vibrant colors make everything a wonder to look at.

Its puzzle-based gameplay possesses similar concepts that I played in Terry Cavanagh’s Naya’s Quest, without all the endless frustrations I experienced with that game. (Sorry Terry, I still love VVVVVV and Super Hexagon!) The tap and swipe controls feel great, character pathfinding works like a charm, and the visual and audio feedback given to the player throughout are very satisfying. There are no particularly difficult puzzles, though, which was slightly disappointing. On the other hand, seeing how your changes affect the world and then progressing through them is very rewarding.

Monument Valley‘s story is intentionally sparse and mysterious, and there were a few times that I was taken back to Thatgamecompany’s 2012 masterpiece Journey on the PS3. It keeps you wondering where things are going until the very end, and provides the player with a smile-inducing close to your adventure.

20140519_mv2Unfortunately, that end comes rather quickly, as the game is over in less than two hours. It seems especially quick here since it’s so easy to get sucked in and blast through it in one sitting. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I have always said I’d rather play a short game that’s excellent over a long game that’s mediocre. However, since there’s nothing else to do after the game is over, once you’re done, you’re done.

I think it would have been cool to incorporate some level of achievement system, like (a) stealth-based ones where you go through certain levels undetected, (b) find hidden collectibles off the beaten path, and (c) goals involving as few moves as possible. The framework is there, so it would be great to see ideas like these implemented in a future update or sequel to breathe more playability into what is already a terrific experience.

At $3.99, Monument Valley might be a little more expensive than your average mobile game, but this is no average game. It successfully melds a wonderful visual style with creative gameplay, and you can tell that the developers put their all into bringing this world to life in such a carefully polished way. Although I wish there was a little more to it, this game still comes highly recommended, and I can’t wait to see what Ustwo Games does next.

Graphics: A
Audio: A
Gameplay & Controls: A-
Presentation: A
Value: B-
Overall: A-


Backlog Blitz: The games of February 2014

I’m not going to lie — February was rough. Not just for gaming, but my wife and I were in the midst of selling our house and packing up all of our things. Stress was running high, and historically, I like to buy things when I’m stressed. The higher the stress, the bigger the purchase, so I suppose the fact that I kept all of my gaming purchases to just games is impressive. I have yet to indulge in any current-generation consoles or PC upgrades, which is a small miracle for anyone who knows me.

Anyway, February’s purchases and completed games are below. Format, like last time, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-9, $198.50 spent):

  1. Device 6 (iOS, $4.00)
    Quality, premium mobile games are unfortunately becoming a rarity these days as most developers find it more sustainable to go the more casual and/or free-to-play route. So, when I hear about a game like this, that is neither of those, I take notice.
  2. Bravely Default (3DS, $40.00)
    After enjoying the demo so much in January, buying this was a no-brainer. I had originally purchased the limited edition from, but they sent it to me in a padded mailer, and it got destroyed in transit. They sold out, of course, so I had to replace it with the standard version.
  3. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS, $34.00)
    I’d heard lots of great things about this game, and being a fan of the GameCube original, I finally pulled the trigger.
  4. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS, $35.00)
    I’ve never played any games in this series, and am curious to see what it’s all about. I’m worried that it will turn into a major time-sink!
  5. Danganrompa: Trigger Happy Havoc (PS Vita, $40.00)
    Described as a mix between Persona, Phoenix Wright, and rhythm/music games, that was a combination that sounded too interesting to pass up.
  6. The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC (PS3, $15.00)
    I declared The Last of Us to be the best PS3 game in my last Backlog Blitz update, so picking up the single-player DLC was essential, and as you’ll see below, that was the right thing to do.
  7. The Humble Indie Bundle 11 (PC, $4.50)
    Another great bundle that includes Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, The Swapper, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Guacamelee! Gold Edition, Antichamber, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, FEZ, Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians, and Starseed Pilgrim. I have most of these already, but that’s OK. It’s a good cause.
  8. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U, $23.00)
    I’m a big fan of the Super Nintendo series, and absolutely loved Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii. I was sold on this after seeing the first trailer and learning that David Wise was returning to score the soundtrack.
  9. The Room 2 (Android, $3.00)
    The original The Room was terrific (see below), and I have to see where the story goes next!

Games finished (+9, $222.00 value):

  1. Device 6 (iOS, $4.00, 5 hrs.)
    This is an interesting game that is mostly text-based, but makes effective use of sparse imagery and atmospheric sound. Its presentation and the way it has the player interact with it is very original, and the overall production value is nice. I found some of the puzzles to be too weird and obscure, though, and it was over quickly. Still worth checking out. Overall: B
  2. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3, $60.00, 10 hrs.)
    I’d originally beaten this back in 2008, but after finishing The Last of Us in January, I decided to replay this series again. I finished it on Hard, got all 61 Treasures, and came away still impressed with the game’s variety of locales, high energy, and trademark chemistry between the characters. It still looks good for its age, but the animation and texture work are dated, especially compared to Uncharted 2. Overall: A-
  3. 10000000 (Android, $1.00, 5 hrs.)
    What a surprise! This game’s mixture of classic match-3-or-more gameplay with an addictive RPG-like upgrade system make this a must-play. The old-school 8-bit style graphics are fun, and the game’s pacing is spot-on. It can sometimes be a bit confusing to focus on the tile board and the obstacles/enemies you’re facing up top, but you get used to it after a while. It was also over before I knew it, but for a buck, I can’t complain too much. Overall: A-
  4. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3, $60.00, 15 hrs.)
    Next up in my Uncharted playthrough was this one, and it was just as impressive as it was the first time I played it. It’s crazy how much Naughty Dog leveled up between the first game and this one. Like the original, I finished it on Hard this time and got all 101 Treasures, which took some time. This is definitely the best in the series, with amazing set pieces, technology, and vertigo-inducing exploration. Overall: A+
  5. The Room (Android, $1.00, 2 hrs.)
    Like 10000000, this was a pleasant surprise, and it’s a game I’d consider a “show off” piece for phones and tablets. It has terrific puzzle design that feels tactile and rewarding, all wrapped up in some beautiful 3D graphics and a slightly unsettling soundtrack. Be sure to wear headphones! It’s very short, but those few hours are highly satisfying. Overall: A-
  6. Around the World in 80 Days (Android, Free, 10 hrs.)
    This is another match-3-or-more game with various goals and item drops. It’s nicely done with pleasant art and smooth gameplay, and I got pretty far into it, but unfortunately, I ran into a repeatable crash that’s making it impossible for me to get past the China stages. Too bad, because it’s a good game otherwise. It was a Free App of the Day on last year, so it may just be an update issue. Overall: B-
  7. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (PS3, $60.00, 15 hrs.)
    I was pretty tough on this game back in 2011, because it just didn’t feel right. I thought the spirit of the series changed, as characters became more serious, the art style was different, and it just didn’t hit the highs of Uncharted 2. Hearing later that most of the team had been moved off to work on The Last of Us explained things a bit, but that’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re talking about one of Sony’s key PS3 franchises. It’s still a good game, just not a great one. And why they decided to try making Elena sexier is beyond me. Overall: B
  8. The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC (PS3, $15.00, 3 hrs.)
    Amazing. This is how you do single-player story-based DLC. It’s a stunning and very personal chapter that fleshes out a key relationship from the main game’s narrative. It’s short, but a must-play for any fan of The Last of Us. Finished on Survivor with all Trophies. Overall: A
  9. Tomb Raider (PC, $20.00, 25 hrs.)
    I went into this not expecting much, but I walked away completely impressed. Although the game suffers from a lackluster story, some amateurish voice acting, and a comically over-the-top villain, the rest of it is top-notch. The game’s open-world nature makes it a joy to explore, upgrades keep coming at you until the very end, and Lara Croft herself is a vulnerable, three-dimensional personality that you come to care for. Graphics and environments were impressive, and the gunplay was buttery smooth. In many ways, I like this more than most of the Uncharted series. Overall: A

Even though February was tough, I managed to play and finish just as many games as I bought, so I was pretty happy about that. There were some real standouts, and Tomb Raider in particular set me on a course to tackle some other high-profile open-world games, which I would dive into headfirst in March.


Backlog Blitz: The games of January 2014

Earlier this month, I shared the Backlog Blitz process that I’ve been using to track what games I’m buying and playing. While it gave a very basic overview of what it is and why I do it, I thought it’d be more interesting to dive into what actually makes up those numbers, my brief thoughts on each game, and some other statistics. I plan on doing this for each month of the year, so I should hopefully be caught up by the time mid or late May comes around.

Anyway, here we go with January. Format is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-1):

  1. The Humble Indie Bundle X (PC, $6)
    I love Humble Bundles for their value and high quality. There are lots of indie bundle sites out there, but none of them come close to the ones offered here. This one included BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, HOARD, Joe Danger 2: The Movie, Papa & Yo, Rues, Strike Suit Zero, Surgeon Simulator 2013, To the Moon, and Toki Tori 2+.

Games finished (+13):

  1. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U, $60, 30 hrs.)
    This game was just pure joy to play through. I’d say it’s the equal to the Super Mario Galaxy games on the Wii. It’s wonderfully varied, stars/stamps are fun to collect, and it runs smoothly at 60fps in 720p. It’s also full of inspired level design and perfectly responsive controls. It’s definitely my favorite game on the system, and is as good as platforming gets. Overall: A+
  2. Drill Dozer (GBA, $30, 20 hrs.)
    A 2006 side-scrolling platformer by Game Freak, makers of all things Pokemon. After playing the fun but uneven HarmoKnight last year (also from Game Freak), I decided to play this, and I’m glad I did! It’s extremely deep, and the treasure hunting in it was very addictive. Flying and swimming controls tarnish it a bit, but otherwise, it’s easy to recommend this. Overall: A-
  3. You Must Escape (Android, Free, 1 hr.)
    This is a pretty standard “escape the room” puzzle game. It contains a good number of rooms to solve, and most of the puzzles are intuitive. Some are a bit obscure, and the game itself isn’t anything special, but it’s still OK and worth checking out for free, especially if you enjoy the genre. Overall: C-
  4. The Last of Us (PS3, $60, 55 hrs.)
    My favorite PS3 game to date. It truly grabbed me and didn’t let go. It’s one of the rare times I’ve ever felt compelled to go through a game for every trophy, and although I skipped the multiplayer ones, I successfully collected the rest. It’s the most powerful gaming experience in recent memory, with solid gameplay that, while not extremely deep or revolutionary, supports the narrative perfectly. The world Naughty Dog has crafted here is just amazing to look at and explore, the soundtrack is haunting, and the acting is superbly top-shelf. Not to be missed. Overall: A+
  5. Forza Motorsport 4 (360, $37, 20 hrs.)
    This is my current favorite racing game series. It provides a good balance between arcade and simulation style racing, gives rewards to the player often, is graphically polished, and has powerful audio. The Top Gear contributions are fun, and the car selection is very good. Photo mode isn’t as good as Gran Turismo‘s, and I hate that it requires you to have Xbox Live Gold just to upload and save your own pictures. Still, it’s an excellent game with an abundance of content. Overall: A
  6. Crashmo (3DS, $9, 10 hrs.)
    The follow-up to Intelligent Systems’ Pushmo, this takes the familiar formula of that game and changes things up significantly by allowing you to now slide blocks sideways. It doesn’t sound major, but even early puzzles were giving me trouble due to preconditioning! Things really clicked later, and while I haven’t finished them all (I’m about 67% through it), I’m considering this one done. I’ll surely go back to it for months — if not years — into the future. Overall: A-
  7. The Beatles Rock Band (360, $60, 5 hrs.)
    My wife and I played this quite a bit back in 2009 (her on vocals and me on drums), but I decided to play Story Mode to see what it was like. I was pleasantly surprised by its quality, with great bits of Beatles history and trivia tucked away inside an excellently produced campaign. Very nice for a music game, and you can tell that the team that worked on this truly cared about the subject matter and source material. Overall: A
  8. Quell Memento (Android, Free, 5 hrs.)
    I made it about 70% into it, but I lost my progress as a result of my phone having to be replaced, so I stopped. It’s a well-produced puzzle game with good graphics and smooth, familiar gameplay. Hidden items and puzzles add an exploratory element to it. Perhaps after the sting of losing all my progress fades, I’ll give it another go. Overall: B
  9. Ridiculous Fishing (Android, $1, 5 hrs.)
    This is a fun game that puts tablet and phone tilt controls to great use. It’s pretty simple (and as the title suggests, ridiculous) in concept as you not just fish, but fling said fish up into the air to be shot out of the sky! I didn’t expect much from it, but it’s surprisingly deep with lots of upgrades, responsive controls, a funny story, and beautifully stylized graphics. Overall: B+
  10. Pet Rescue Saga (Android, Free, 2 hrs.)
    These types of puzzle games are usually OK, but this one doesn’t do anything particularly interesting, and lacks the smooth feel of Bejeweled Blitz or King’s own Candy Crush Saga. The animal designs are also not very good, and thus, I lost interest before too long. Overall: C-
  11. Bravely Default Demo (3DS, Free, 20 hrs.)
    It’s been called a better Final Fantasy than Final Fantasy, and after playing through this, I have to agree. It has a great combat system, lots of jobs to master, adjustable encounter and difficulty settings, a nice aesthetic, and an excellent soundtrack. It rewards players who put more into it with extremely powerful skill combinations that make the game almost too easy. It’s so fun though, so I figure most players will end up doing that. Overall: A
  12. Candy Crush Saga (Android, Free, 15 hrs.)
    King put some time into making this nice to look at, and its popularity isn’t a mistake. I stopped after 50 stages, since I’m not a fan of games that make you wait up to a full 24 hours before you can keep playing. You can pay to get through these, but I would rather these companies simply offer premium versions that do away with these annoying roadblocks. Overall: C+
  13. NES Remix (Wii U, $15, 5 hrs.)
    This has some good ideas, and there are challenges here that really do make you approach these old Nintendo titles differently, but the game selection itself is what hurts it. The developer Indieszero has put together a nice title that is smooth and polished, but there are better games out there to revisit. I had to support this, though, since they also made the excellent Retro Game Challenge for the Nintendo DS. Seek that out if you don’t have it yet. Overall: B-

In summary, January was a productive month, with some truly standout games on a wide range of systems. I barely spent anything, which is always a good thing when you’re trying to stay focused on games you already own. February ended up being a rougher month on the wallet, but it definitely didn’t skimp on overall quality.

To be continued!