Mini-Review Roundup #8
The prodigal series returns, nearly a year after our last installment! The Curator Connect offerings never stopped piling up, so I’m covering five games straight from the developers that I’ve touched on in my Friday variety streams. There’s only one good one in the bunch, I’ll warn you, and I’ve saved the best for last. But as always, the failures can be just as interesting as the successes in how they drop their respective balls. Expect more mini-reviews in the coming months, and be sure to check out our Twitch channel every Friday at 9pm PST for more weird, wild stuff from the indie side!
First impressions are always key, and Smart Cube makes a good one with its crisp, clean aesthetics. The white and colored cubes seem polished to perfection, and when you come across pools of water or flower beds the level can take on an almost idyllic presence. It’s a great way to pose a first-person puzzler, and I entered into the trials with plenty of optimism. The challenges I faced seemed creative enough as well, allowing you to pick up and place cubes and jump pads like some kind of Minecraft challenge map. The solutions seemed logical, and the mechanics clear.
But doing what needed to be done proved to be a whole other matter. I first noticed it when trying to platform across some narrow pillars, in that you have no air control. Once you’re airborne, you’re going whichever direction you threw yourself. That may be realistic but it can easily become a source of frustration when so many other first-person games give you at least a little freedom to shift around in midair. And it’s horribly compounded by the slippery hit detection near edges which will have you slipping off platforms you should be safe on, and fiddly controls with the cubes that never get fully explained. The real dealbreaker though was a jump pad that simply failed to function and kept dumping me in the same pit over and over and over. In the end it doesn’t matter how pretty your puzzler is, it matters how it plays and Smart Cube has some of the dumbest controls I’ve ever seen.
FINAL VERDICT: Thud
It was a night like any other, burning through cigarettes at your night guard posting when suddenly you hear a commotion. Something’s afoot at the old abandoned school, and you’re not about to let a bunch of Soviet punks trespass on your watch. Inside the school you chase the troublesome youths, until you are interrupted by a strange, bestial man with an axe. Escaping his clutches you begin to find mutilated bodies around the school, and run afoul of another man brandishing a pair of meat cleavers. You try to find the children again but they’re naught but ghosts, so you piece together a torso of body parts to retrieve a key to the lab where the electrolytes are waiting to be sublimated.
Uventa does indeed go off the rails after the third or fourth key hunt, but understand it was never fully on them to begin with. The controls are sluggish and sticky, there are loads of collectibles to find but you can only hold one key item at a time, your inventory is useless, and your phone and flashlight cut out whenever the plot requires them to. The men stalking you have pathetic AI, able to see you a mile away but unable to path to you if there is anything between you and them. All together it forms a shallow indie horror attempt you’ve surely seen a hundred times before, but with an extra layer of jank and jumbled story.
FINAL VERDICT: Barf
Comics and Lovecraft go together like… Lovecraft and anything else, really. Cosmic horror in the unspeakable, tentacled vein can work in any medium, but it’s not easy to capture that sense of despair and terror that made Lovecraft such a household name. Lovecraft Quest is a prime example of those troubles, a short adventure into a dungeon of mazes and familiar puzzles gussied up in the trappings of deep ones and elder gods. Told with faithfully purple prose and passable comic book art, your unfortunate character is tossed about on a shipwreck and deposited at the entrance of a mysterious dungeon, which he of course must explore.
The next 30 to 40 minutes will be spent navigating mazes of rooms peppered with ridiculous instant-kills like bottomless pits and shoggoths. Clicking randomly will surely result in death, so prepare for plenty of backtracking as you use Minesweeper logic to navigate to the stairs ever downward. You’ll need to solve some banal sliding block puzzle or rotating switch thing to open the door, of course, and you may pick up some of the game’s few collectibles if you’re diligent in searching rooms. There’s a neat escape sequence but other than that it’s bog standard puzzles all the way down, along with absolutely bizarre encounters like killing Dagon, great lord of the deep ones, with two pistol shots. That should tell you everything you need to know about how Lovecraft is applied here, and between that and the boring gameplay, there’s no reason to bother.
FINAL VERDICT: Boo
It’s always interesting to witness the birth of a genre like survive the night games. Five Nights at Freddie’s not only ushered in a new wave of tense management sims, but also iterated heavily on the formula with its own sequels. That’s what makes titles like Haunted Hotel here so disappointing, that if anything they’re steps back from the games that spawned them. In this grim-ass hotel, a ghost (it’s really just the grim reaper) is going around murdering guests, and you have to keep as many alive as possible from midnight to 6 am. There are eight guest rooms, your room, and the hallway, and you eject the ghost from any of them by turning on the light. Simple, right?
I mean, it pretty much is, and three nights of that doesn’t amount to much. You of course have limited power to keep the lights on, so you have to use a scanner in each room to see if the ghost is even there. If you’re looking at the hallway, several rooms get marked to check when the ghost vanishes. That saves you the trouble of checking every room, but there’s no foolproof way to keep people from eating it. Also, you lose a huge chunk of power every time someone dies for no good reason, which just makes those first few inevitable losses all the more frustrating. In a genre already crowded with sequels and creative riffs on the theme, this one is squarely in Why Bother territory.
FINAL VERDICT: Dead
Shmups need a good hook to stand out from the pack, and Earth Atlantis definitely brings that to the table. Featuring a sketched, sepia-toned style that makes clever use of both 2D and 3D graphics, this one is sure to be eye-catching. It mixes up the gameplay, too, dropping you into the post-apocalyptic ruins of a flooded Earth (friendly reminder that climate change is real) to pilot your tanky submersible in hunts against mechanical beasties. The depths are swarming with robotic prey, and your job is to hunt down as many big bosses as you can.
It’s more of a score attack thing than most shmups, eschewing levels and progression for an open map full of targets to take down. A few are active at once, and new ones spawn in as you take down the old, so you’ll have your fill of bosses to battle and power-ups to hunt in between. The map will take some getting used to, though, choked with girders and debris that turn it into more of a maze than it really should be. Still, there are enough bosses and ships to hunt them in to last you a good long while, as well as a Hunter mode to unlock that surely changes the gameplay up somehow. For a compact shmup of a very different stripe, this one’s definitely worth a look.
FINAL VERDICT: Ship-shape