Mini-Review Roundup #5

The theme of this week’s roundup is disappointment! I hate to say it, but four out of five entries started out as fun and engaging, and then fell off a cliff. Sometimes it happened quick, sometimes it was apparent from the start, and sometimes it actually strung me along until the end where it all went to hell. Regardless, most of these aren’t what I’d call good, just missed opportunities at best. There is one gem among them though, and I’ve saved it for last.


Nautical Life

Buy a boat, decorate it, and go fishing around the world. Pretty good hook, right? Nautical Life is pretty conspicuously a mobile game, from the tutorial instructions to tap things to the inexplicable need to put aquariums and stereos on your boat to rank up. The actual gameplay though is fishing, a mini-game where you and the fish have randomly oscillating power bars and you have to click when you have more power than the fish. Fish can be sold or turned in to quest givers for money, money gets you better rods and boosts and furniture, and furniture ranks you up to unlock better stuff to buy. Oh, and there are boss fish that unlock new areas to fish in.

I really, really really like the setup for this game, and I was all in on becoming a master… fisherman (not gonna make the obvious joke, sorry), until I saw how the game was balanced. There are different ranks of fish, and the higher ranks have more power and also degrade your overall power meter faster. The way this shakes out is that pretty much any fish above your current rank is uncatchable, because even if you’re a savant at the mini-game your gains will be smaller and your bar will run out faster. I spent an hour grinding up normal fish to get a new rod, which made bronze fish go from impossible to easy, but silver fish were just as impossible as before. The next rod would take hours more to unlock and I’d also need to rank up for it, and honestly I can play a more engaging fishing game as part of Stardew Valley so I see no reason to stick with this.



Pilam Sky

Games let you fight in just about every other vehicle, why not hot air balloons? Pilam Sky is set in a world where Montgolfier was the greatest mind in aeronautics and everyone tools around in bulbous airships. That includes sky pirates, of course, who blacken the skies with their black balloons and threaten to overthrow the three nations of the continent. Choosing one flag to fly under, you manage an airship of workshops and hangars in between 2D missions to drive back pirate incursions. Your balloon handles, well, like a balloon and gets a swinging anchor and spears to attack with, along with guns that you have to buy ammo for. The gas bags and baskets of you and your enemies take different damage so maneuvering to where you can strike vulnerable areas is key.

I was really getting into Pilam Sky for the first bit, upgrading my balloon and working out the strategies of getting above and beside my opponents. But as the game wore on the missions got longer and longer, with wave after wave of pirates against my lone balloon. Sometimes I would get sandwiched between two and destroyed, or outmaneuvered and poked to death. The pirates slowly take over the continent and you have to find and destroy their base before that happens, but the final boss is an obnoxious robot you can’t beat without tons of ammo, and frequently glitches out in the way it moves. The whole ending feels incredibly half-assed with no music or proper wrap-up, and coupled with the frustrations of the late game it soured me on the whole experience.



Deadly Traps

If you’re going to make a challenge platformer, can you at least pretend there’s a reason to put your little avatar through hell? There’s no plot to Deadly Traps so I don’t know why my glowing shadow person has to scoot through 30 levels of Insanely Twisted Garbage World, and a little story might have given me the motivation to get through more than 5 of them. It might not, though, because Deadly Traps has taught me something very important about platformers: Not being able to stop your momentum in air or control the height of your jumps sucks. It especially sucks when plenty of traps involve weaving through floor and ceiling spikes or out maneuvering flying sawblades with irregular patterns. Add to that glitches like door graphics and mines not resetting on death and walls randomly stuffing up your jumps, and I can comfortably say this one is nowhere near the necessary quality for a challenge platformer.



Up and Down

Truth in advertising! Across the 100+ levels that comprise this title, all you’ll ever do is move your playing piece up and down on the board. Each tile has an arrow on it that will move your piece, so you’ll need to rely on natural movement to scoot left or right. The goal is to collect all the gems in the level without running into any traps, which is fine except you can only collect one color of gem at a time and some levels can have a hundred of the things. The pace of movement is incredibly slow and you can only shift about two tiles before the arrows force you around, meaning you’re going to be fighting sticky controls the entire game. No meta-progression or plot means you’re just hoovering up gems for the privilege of hoovering up more in harder configurations, and that’s not enough to keep me from peacing out after a few deaths on a particularly nasty level.



The Balcony

I enjoy physics chaos games when they’re done well, but that can be a high bar to clear. Fortunately The Balcony clears it, assuming you have a talent for chucking things around with the mouse. The city is in the throes of a crime wave and the only way to stem the tide is by dropping things off balconies onto the perps. Each level gives you a description of your target or targets, so some detective work may be involved in hunting them down. They might be standing, sitting, walking, or driving, but your job is to put them down with a well-placed chair or tackle box. You launch things by swinging them around with the mouse so precision isn’t going to be a factor unless you’re a savant with trajectories.

What happens in most levels is that you’ll find your marks, and then chuck the biggest thing you can at them and pray it lands true. If it doesn’t, might as well reset because you’re not getting them with a fork or a fish if you missed them with a refrigerator. You get star ratings at the end of each level based on how many objects you chucked and how much collateral damage you caused, but don’t worry about that because flinging stuff all over the city is good, stupid fun. The physics aren’t mindblowing and the presentation is only passable, but it’s a great little diversion when you just want to break shit.


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