Perspective – Black Simulator

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Choose the right clothes.

Don’t make eye contact.

Seriously, don’t make eye contact! It freaks folks out.

All you’ve got to do is run a couple of errands.

You can do this, right?

My first time playing developer Justin Fox’s Black Simulator, I got distracted by the TV in the in-game living room. The option to play “dat Tekken” made me curious. So I chose the option to play… which ended up taking the rest of my day. Game Over.

My second run through the game, I decided to go take some bread to my grandma. In the process, I made some white people mad by looking in their direction (which is a no-no, apparently). I then got mugged right outside my grandma’s house, which left me in my underwear. Grandma wouldn’t talk to me until I put some clothes on. So, I made the decision to run back to my house and get some clothes. Somewhere along that route, the game glitched–I became invisible!–and I had to restart.

What am I playing?

A few weeks ago, Justin Fox (whom I’ve interviewed before) contacted me about writing on Black Simulator. He gave me a code and asked for my perspective. The word perspective is key in discussing Black Simulator. As the perspective in the game, though viewed through the lens of satire, is radically different than my own day-to-day perspective as a white male.

The Steam description for Black Simulator reads:

A SATIRICAL MINI GAME where you spend the day as a black man (er “Blackmenn” if you prefer) on your day off. You must run 3 errands without getting shot or arrested by the Police! Depending on various choices your experience will differ either slightly or drastically with multiple playthroughs.

Avoid the dangers of the PoPo Meter – Police suspicions increases with certain choices of attire, and behavior!

I.G.N.A.N.T Meter, the rage is REAL – Attempt to avoid responses to rude people that may lead to someone calling the cops on you!

T.O.M Meter – Attempt to maintain street cred even though it can be SERIOUSLY unhealthy to do so!

Multiple ways to end your day off! With peace, or bullets.

Blackness awaits!

Survive a day, in the life of a black man, without getting shot or arrested by the police. Sounds easy, right? After my initial experience with the game, I’m not so sure when an errand to grandma’s house ends with me getting jumped.

Am I allowed to say that this game leaves me puzzled? That the overall experience feels foreign?

Maybe that is the point?

I need to play more.

You can find Black Simulator here, for $3, on Steam.

Review: Mutazione

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I have trouble writing about games I actually like. My excuse–yes, it is an excuse–is not wanting to spoil the experience by too much thought. Mutazione is one of those games for me, a game where I’m like, “Yeah, that was good.”

Mutazione‘s Steam page describes developers Die Gute Fabrik’s game as:

A mutant soap opera where small-town gossip meets the supernatural. Explore the Mutazione community as Kai as she cares for her ailing grandfather. Discover magical gardens, new friends & old secrets. They can survive an apocalyptic meteor strike, but can they survive their small-town drama?

Mutazione is a chill adventure whose story ruminates on loss, love, and finding a way forward from past tragedy.

I enjoyed running around the island, listening to the subtle wind chimed soundtrack.

I loved seeing Kai’s relationship with her grandfather blossom over time.

Sure there are some soap opera-like elements that I did not like, or at least, I did not feel rang true for me. But beyond those drama bits, the story’s supernatural and mysterious threads propelled me forward–much like Oxenfree did… but this is totally different than Oxenfree–.

Mutazione captures those slow summer days. Days spent with family, friends, and magical gardens? More so days spent:

  • Collecting seeds / gardening
  • Enjoying conversations, with friends, that last late into the night

Mutazione is a game about healing; a game about moving on from the past. Moving forward with new hopes, dreams, and most importantly, new friends.

5/5 – I loved my experience with Mutazione via Apple Arcade.

Title: Mutazione
Developer: Die Gute Fabrik
Platform: PlayStation 4, Windows, Linux, macOS
Reviewed On: iPad / Apple Arcade
MSRP: $19.99

Review by Bryan Hall

The Concert
Up in the trees.
Mutazione - Boat Trip
Floating
Mutazione - Meteor
Secrets
Mutazione - Saying Goodbye

Press Start – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All

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This week, I picked up the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy on the Nintendo Switch. Tab and I love this courtroom drama series filled with over the top characters and entertaining word play. We decided to start with the second game in the trilogy, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All, as Tabitha had already completed the first game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo DS), long ago.

Last night, we completed Episode 1: The Lost Turnabout.

Phoenix Wright himself.
Phoenix Wright, doing his thing.
The witness.
Just a typical courtroom.
The Prosecutor.
The Judge.
There are worse crimes than murder...

Note how the witness reacts when accused. Nothing abnormal to report here.

This first episode turned out to be a sad story of someone being killed just because of their uniform. Spoilers. 🙂

Video Game Mechanics That Need to Go – Quick Time Events

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Rushing into a bunker, I found myself surprised by a soldier wielding a knife. I quickly think, “Gotta press the square button just right to defend myself.”

Oh no, I failed!

Quick time events, like the one from Call of Duty: WWII above, need to go. There has to be a better way to create player tension than mashing a button/performing a swipe of the joystick perfectly.

Press Start – Call of Duty: WWII

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Call of Duty: World War II opens against the backdrop of the D-Day invasion.

As the Higgins boat ramp drops into the water, your fellow soldiers are mowed down where they stand. Blood and bullets are flying everywhere! We’ve all seen this moment in history play out in such movies as Saving Private Ryan and even video games such as Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. For some reason though, Call of Duty: WWII makes this moment in time different. There is a human angle present, in a Call of Duty game, that I haven’t felt in a long time.

Advancing up the beach, I died over and over again. Somewhere between 10-20 times, I was killed by German bullets. The game kept telling me to crouch, which I did, but I failed to realize that the game wanted me on my belly to avoid enemy fire. Once I figured out that I could run and then hit the deck, I was good to go. But in all of my dying, I got thinking about the soldiers who didn’t make it that day.

By the end of my part in the D-Day assault, my character is told that he did a good job. He survived. And then the camera pans down to the blood on his hands.

My only complaint with Call of Duty: WWII so far is that I am finding it hard to tell my squad mates a part. Underneath helmets, characters unintentionally become “Random White Dude #1”, “Random White Dude #2 with Glasses”, and so on. I am hoping that as I continue to play, that I’ll be able to tell the guys a part. Onward and forward!

Gender, Politics, and the Media We Consume

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Voltron: Legendary Defender

Wyatt and I loved watching Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender. Who doesn’t like a little space magic mixed with sword-carrying robots? In the midst of Voltron’s fight against an evil galactic empire, the show reveals that one of the characters is gay. This sudden character relationship fact hadn’t been hinted at for over six seasons. Suddenly Season 7 premieres and Volton’s leader, Shiro, is in a relationship with another man named Adam (shown via flashback). The show never mentions Shiro’s relationship again until the series finale, when Shiro and Adam kiss in the closing credits.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is an amazing show that disappointed me by injecting gender politics into something aimed at children.

Last year, I powered through Sayonara Wild Hearts on Apple Arcade. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a music-based action game (see video above) where your protagonist fights against past loves/relationships. The game’s finale has you kissing former flames instead of killing them. Wyatt happened to be sitting next to me as the kissing started:

W: “Are you playing as a boy?”

Me: “Nope.”

W: “So did two girls just kiss?”

Me: “Umm, maybe…. yeah.”

Life went on, and I didn’t make too big of a deal about that scene. I had read/heard online that Sayonara Wild Heart’s story was open to interpretation but why the sudden gender moment? All my love for Wild Hearts died as I felt as if the fourth wall had been broken by gender politics once again.

Mutazione

The other night, I was playing Mutazione on Apple Arcade. During one of the in-game conversations, the protagonist admits to another character that she likes a fellow female classmate of hers. The two of them exchange notes to one another via their lockers. This isn’t a game ending revelation to me, but I got thinking about what the developers worldview is. Nothing sinister… but definitely foreign from my own worldview.

I told Wyatt recently that the Bible is clear on homosexuality (it’s a solid no). But that does not mean we have to treat others poorly nor use others relationship preferences as an excuse not to love them.

Hollywood and even game developers continue to increase LGBTQ representation in the media we consume. We, as Christians, need to continue to be a voice in the Internet wilderness. Proclaiming that God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that none shall perish but have everlasting life.

Press Start: Mutazione

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I started playing Mutazione, via Apple Arcade, over the weekend. So far, I’m enjoying the chill adventure game vibes mixed with a mysterious story. I can’t wait to see how this one wraps up.

From Across the Net – “Final Fantasy XV, Joy, and the Pandemic”

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Final Fantasy XV is one of the only Final Fantasy games I’ve ever beaten. I loved this bro-trip so much! Reading this piece on Final Fantasy XV, Prompto, and joy makes me miss spending time with these guys.

One of the ways that Prompto expresses his joy is through photography. He snaps pics of Noctis comically falling down, goofy faces of the crew, and moments he and his friends are the happiest together. Right before confronting the final boss, knowing that there’s a good chance that none of them may survive, Noctis asks to look at these photos one last time and takes one with him. I like to think that he needed that photo to get him through the roughest bit.  We don’t often realize how valuable joy is until we’re in the darkest of times, but that’s when it shines brightest; joy reminds us what we’re fighting for.

You can read more here

Quick Review – Pikuniku

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Pikuniku could be one of the best games I’ve played in a really long time. There is something about:

  • The movement mechanics
  • The goofy yet dark story
  • And the brevity of the overall experience that speaks to me

Wyatt enjoyed it too!

If you are looking for a solid distraction with heart, look no further than Pikuniku.

5/5 – Pikuniku is a solid distraction with heart.

Title: Pikuniku
Developer: Sectordub
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Windows, Linux, Mac
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
MSRP: $12.99

Review by Bryan Hall

Press Start – Celeste

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Hidden in the mists of gamer hobbyist culture, the Temple of Git Gud was known as a place of brutal honesty. If a new convert could not make the cut, they were immediately told to, “Git good and try again.”

Over and over, a new convert would be beaten into submission with those words.

Life by life.

Death by death.

Level by level.

Until one day one progressed further than before, only to die again. In failure, those dreaded words would be uttered once more, “Git good and try again.”

There seems to be a genre of difficult games. Games built upon dexterity and perfection; games built upon imprinting moves into muscle memory. Ori and the Blind Forest was one of those games for me. Celeste, developed by Matt Makes Games, is another game of this genre. A genre built upon not just seeing the solution to the platforming puzzle but being able to execute that solution with perfection.

Git Gooder

The developers of Celeste try to frame death as a learning device, not a penalty. A subtle shift in thinking for games of this genre.

And yet, everytime you load up the game, there is your total player death count staring at you. (Ignore the photo below, I have far exceeded 386 deaths by now.)

I struggle over my lack of progression in Celeste. I can spend 10-15 minutes on a single screen. Where I can see the solution to the platforming puzzle but lack the dexterity to pull off the required moves.

Is challenging myself with continual punishment fun?

Is fun even a part of the equation anymore?

I press on in Celeste, pushing myself to git good but questioning why.

Review: Bubble Bobble 4 Friends

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Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, developed by Taito, is a game all about dragons! Bubble blowing dragons, that is. Whether playing in single player mode or couch co-op (up to 4 players), players navigate their cute dragons through a series of stages that feature:

  • Bubble Combat – As a bubble spewing dragon, you can trap your enemies in bubbles. Said bubbles can then be popped in an effort to gain combos, which increase your score.
  • Bubble Platforming – Why use bubbles just to trap enemies when you can use them to reach new heights? Bubble Bobble 4 Friends allows you to create your own bubble platforms, which your dragon can use to float upon.
  • E-X-T-E-N-D Bubbles – While traversing stages, you can collect lettered E-X-T-E-N-D bubbles individually. Acquired letters grant your dragon upgraded bubble powers such as lightning and bomb bubbles.

The Good

  • Controls are simple and easy to use.
  • Being able to create a bubble to ride on, bubble platforming, is a neat gameplay mechanic.

The Bad

The decision to create a couch co-op game, where players share a single life pool. As a father who plays games with his son, I can say that life sharing is a massive no-no in a multiplayer game. Thankfully, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends overcomes this bit of ugly design with unlimited continues. The catch though is that if you decide to continue, you will lose all points earned up until that point in the game. This is not a game killer, for me, but could be for the casual audience this game seems to be aiming for.

Note: Wyatt reminds me that invincibility also becomes an option when you’ve died too many times against enemies/bosses.

The Ugly

  • Anytime a player gets hit, they are put into a bubble and their dragon starts crying out for help, “Help me!” This cry drove Wyatt and I nuts! I am thankful that the developers thought to include a way to turn down the voices in the options menu.
  • Length of game versus game’s cost seem at odds with each other. However, a downloadable content expansion will be released later this year that could help with game length.

Once upon a time…

…there were dragons. Cute, cuddly, dragons who threw up bubbles from their mouths. They didn’t lick things like a Yoshi. Instead, they captured/tortured their enemies with clean, clear, bubbles. The End.

Wait, I mean, this is not the end. But in the end, Wyatt and I played quite a bit of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends. The entire time we were playing, we kept thinking the game reminded us of a Kirby game. Maybe it has something to do with the overall design aesthetic? I am not sure. But for us, we couldn’t get past comparing Bubble Bobble 4 Friends to Kirby Star Allies (see our review here). You see, we’d much rather be playing Kirby Star Allies.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends isn’t necessarily a bad game but an okay game. One we both agree we won’t be playing any further. Good night and goodbye sweet dragons.

3/5 – While we love the unique bubble platforming mechanic, we believe there are better co-op games to play than Bubble Bobble 4 Friends.

THE END FOR REAL!!

Title: Bubble Bobble 4 Friends*
Developer: Taito
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
MSRP: $39.99

Review by Bryan and Wyatt Hall

*Bubble Bobble 4 Friends was reviewed using a code provided by PR Hound.

Review: Hidden Through Time

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Hidden Through Time, developed by Crazy Monkey Studios, is a game about finding things. The levels progress through different periods of time such as:

  • The Stone Age
  • Ancient Egypt
  • The Middle Ages
  • The Wild West

Players hunt down objects, with the help of subtle clues, in order to move forward in history.

The Good

We recently had grandma and grandpa over to visit. While they were over, we decided to play Hidden Through Time together. Sitting around the television, we hunted objects through not just one but eleven levels. Grandma was super good at finding things. Who knew?!? By the time we were done, she said that she really liked the game.

Wyatt also enjoyed using the level editor (see video below). He says:

“Just say that I liked it… that it was good… that it was awesome!”

He notes that the object placement could be better when duplicating the same object. For example: A player goes to place a tree. Hidden Through Time allows you to place one tree and then forces you to go back to the object toolbar to select another tree before placing.

Wyatt and I also liked:

  • The hand-drawn design aesthetic.
  • The levels being in color, unlike Hidden Folks (which we’ve played on iOS).
  • How the controls feel dialed in, making movement around the map and the ability to zoom in and out a breeze.
  • The gibberish language the characters speak when poked.
  • How well Hidden Through Time plays in a group.

The Bad

  • Object hints, at times, do not make sense.
  • Size of objects often makes them harder to find than they should be—I hate eggs!—.
  • Load times between the main menu screen, level selection screen, and individual levels can take a few moments.

The Ugly

  • Hidden Through Time needs an overall hint system for those times when you are super stuck. This is more of a suggestion than a game destroying experience. We, as a family, haven’t gotten stuck in-game yet.

Conclusion

Wyatt and I have enjoyed our time with Hidden Through Time. This is a perfect game to play individually and as a family. The music is relaxing and does not annoy—as a parent, this is important—. We recommend this game to others looking for a digital Where’s Waldo experience.

5/5 – A great game to play as a family or while hidden away in the bathroom. Seriously, just go hide in there, the kids don’t have to know!

Title: Hidden Through Time
Developer: Crazy Monkey Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android, Xbox One, Windows, and iOS
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $7.99

Review by Bryan and Wyatt Hall

*Hidden Through Time was reviewed using a code provided by EvolvePR.

What do you do when you feel beaten down by a game?

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I kept playing through the same sequence in Ori and the Blind Forest the other night. There were times where I would make significant progress; there were times were I would explode in a ball of light instantly. No matter what though, I couldn’t make it through this particular sequence.

So I did the thing that I had long fought against doing, I lowered the game’s difficulty from normal to easy. Filled with stupid shame, I battered my platforming skills against Mount Horu once more. But changing the difficulty only made the enemies easier! The platforming was still stinking hard! I felt mad. I felt angry. I felt ashamed for lowering the difficulty. Someone with my level of video game experience, at this stage in my life, shouldn’t have issues like this.

In my discouragement, I realized that I was super tired. I could feel the wave of emotions wash over me from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. So much uncertainty… no one sure of what is going to happen next. I tweeted out asking:

What do you do when you feel beaten down by a game?

No answers. But I know the answer to this question: You Quit. You put the controller down. You try again another day.

I played Ori some more the next night. I breezed through the section that had been giving me trouble. My skills were intact! Weird to have a video game discourage me enough to confront my emotions. Thankful for the reminder that sometimes we need to quit, rest, and tackle things again another day. I will beat this game. We will get through this crazy virus situation, toilet paper shortages and all.

Press Continue – Ori and the Blind Forest

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10 minutes here… 15 minutes there.

Ori and the Blind Forest

I have been slowing working my way through Ori and the Blind Forest on the Nintendo Switch. What I’m loving is how I can make a small amount of progress, save my game, and then come back to it later.

I need to figure out how to capture my own video on the Switch.

As of this week, I have made it to the Forlorn Ruins. The game is now throwing upside down/gravity platforming mechanics into the mix. I can’t wait to play more.

What have you been playing?

On My Radar – The Red Lantern

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This looks fantastic! An adventure with Aloy (Ashly Burch), some doggos, and the wilds of Alaska. Check out the trailer below.

All I can say is if a bear does indeed try and touch one of my dogs, my fury will come forth as a raging volcano. A fury that will not just end with one bear’s death, but all the bears deaths… for all time.