Downwell Review: A Leap of Faith Worth Taking (PC, iOS, Android)

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As Downwell begins, you find yourself in control of a nondescript white humanoid, lounging in a state of relaxation.

Perhaps he’s lying on the bench, or sitting against a tree, or perched, legs dangling over the edge of a well. Press a button and he jumps to life. You can hang around at the top of the well as long as you’d like, but you’ll find there’s nothing to do, nothing with which you can interact.

Downwell never explicitly tells you, “Jump into the well to begin the game” but you know that’s what you have to do. I hope it’s a leap of faith you’ll take, because Downwell is one of the best – and most unappreciated – games of 2015.
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Distance – PC Early Access Review

 

I’ve always preferred my racing games more on the arcade side of the sim/arcade dichotomy. Racing games aren’t particularly high on my list of favorite genres but there have been some over the years that I’ve spent considerable time with, such as F-Zero, Wipeout XL, and Burnout 3: Takedown.

Distance, a new PC title available via Stream Early Access, feels not unlike the unholy spawn of those games, but with a focus on solo survival racing with a liberal dash of the Tron aesthetic. Oh, and a twisted, insane track designer and even crazier community making free tracks through Steam Workshop and included track editor.

About that Early Access tag: I generally don’t advocate buying Early Access titles, but based on the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Steam for this title, I gave it a shot anyway. I’m glad I did. If the developer stopped working on this game today, I’d still feel I had gotten my money’s worth.  Why?

Let’s start with the game’s visuals.

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PC Gaming: The Return of the Couch

Until recently, local multi-player gaming – meaning playing games with your friends, on your couch – had become almost the exclusive domain of the videogame console. Have friends over and looking to game? Grab your Playstation, XBox, or Nintendo. This isn’t to say that PC gaming isn’t multi-player focused, but rather that the expectation there was that players were battling online, not against their friends.

In a nutshell: PCs were for the desk, consoles for the living room.

A number of factors have started to change this viewpoint, so much so in fact that some of the best local multi-player games to come out recently have been on the PC, not the console. With Valve pushing couch PC gaming with their Steam Big Picture mode, Steambox initiative, and Steam Link streaming box, I expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future. The ever-shrinking form factor of the PC now lets PC gamers pack components that far exceed the capability of today’s consoles into a console-esque form factor.

If you already have a PC or a PC streaming device connected to a common area in your home where you can game with friends, you may be looking for some games designed to play with friends, perhaps with a range of gaming experience.

Even if you don’t, though, you may be surprised with what you can do even with non-gaming PCs.

Today, I’ll give you four of my picks for the most enjoyable competitive local multi-player PC games, including:

  • Starwhal
  • Towerfall: Ascension
  • Lethal League
  • Nidhogg

Continue reading PC Gaming: The Return of the Couch

Wolfenstein: The New Order Review – A Surprising Rebirth

The original Wolfenstein 3D on PC occupies a special place in my personal pantheon of gaming. Growing up, we weren’t allowed to have gaming consoles in our house – a problem I rectified as soon as I had a job and a car and could buy my own without permission – but we were allowed to play games on our family PC. When my brother and I were small children, this meant playing Commodore 64 games, but as we got older this expanded to Sierra and LucasArts adventure games, and eventually, to Wolfenstein 3D.

Given a somewhat limited ability to actually purchase games, Shareware games made up a big part of our catalog, and we’d often play the free parts up to the pay wall (for games that had one) over and over again. I can’t remember how many times I played the same levels on Wolfenstein 3D, but I  can tell you that when I played the “hidden” level in Wolfenstein: The New Order (an Easter Egg that has you replay the first level of Wolfenstein 3D) that I knew where all the secret pushwalls still were, 22 years later.

Wolfenstein 3D was, in its original incarnations, pretty much a story-free, visceral shooter, widely considered the game from which all other FPS games followed. In a world of regenerating shields, co-op campaigns, multiplayer supremacy, can Wolfenstein rise again?

If nothing else, it sure looks prettier these days.

2014:

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1992:

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Continue reading Wolfenstein: The New Order Review – A Surprising Rebirth

Transistor Review: Function Over Form

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Before I talk about Transistor, I find it necessary to talk about Bastion, because my feelings about one directly inform my opinion of the other. If you absolutely can’t stand the idea of having to read a little bit about Bastion, skip ahead to “Transistor: Overview” down below.

Revisiting Bastion

 

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I played Bastion as part of the XBox Summer of Arcade promotion in 2011, and before the first level was over, I was in love. I obviously wasn’t alone, as the game’s sales have exceeded two million copies as of this year across multiple platforms including Windows, XBox 360, and iOS.

The game’s setting, a sort of post-apocalyptic western/steampunk/fantasy hybrid, is exceptional. While the graphics are basic, the art style and execution of the game’s visual design is superb, and in fact this is exactly the type of game that will still look good ten years from now.

The voice acting by Logan Cunningham is in the upper echelon of all such work across the canon of videogames.

And, the music by Darren Kolb is outstanding. This is a game with songs you absolutely will remember after the game is over. There’s a haunting but beautiful thread that runs across many of the tracks, and it has a musical style that would not be out of place in the anime Trigun, which itself was a sort of Western/Steampunk hybrid, or perhaps Firefly.

 

 

The only area where one might say Bastion was average?  Gameplay and mechanics.

Bastion is a competent, but relatively shallow, Action/RPG hybrid with more emphasis on action. There’s nothing wrong with how the game plays, but neither is there anything new or particularly exciting.

  Continue reading Transistor Review: Function Over Form

Should You Buy It? One Finger Death Punch (PC)

Should You Buy It?  Score:   Yes!

Just getting that out of the way, because every minute you don’t own this game is a damn shame.

What is it?

One Finger Death Punch is an insane indie PC game available on Steam.  The best way I can describe it is that it is an on-rails beat-em-up.  Imagine you’re standing in place while an army of ninjas moves at you on a 2D plane, riding people movers that may speed up, a non-stop parade of goons just waiting to be beaten upon the head, neck, and face.  Oh, and they’re all stick figures.

That’s One Finger Death Punch.

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Should You Buy It? Luftrausers (PC Mac Linux PS3 Vita)

What is it?

Luftrausers is a retro, arcade-inspired shmup in which you get to play the most badass fighter pilot of all time.  Developed by Vlambeer (creators of Ridiculous Fishing) and published by Devolver Digital, the game is available for PC, Mac, and Linux as well as the Playstation 3 and PS Vita.

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Ready for Takeoff

There’s something very special about the flight mechanics in Luftrausers.

Continue reading Should You Buy It? Luftrausers (PC Mac Linux PS3 Vita)