Operation: Backlog is getting a bit messy this time, but it’s all in good fun. As usual:
I’m going through my Steam list alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there. 15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game. Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.
I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows: Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now). This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise. This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.
One thing before diving into the new list, I forgot to mention Bret Airborne last time. It’s a nice little match-3 combat puzzler, a bit like Puzzle Quest, but with a curiously shifting battlefield. It’s not as deep as Puzzle Quest, but it’s a game I Recommend if you’re interested in match-3 puzzle game variants. (My current favorite is Gem Spinner 2 for a more pure puzzle game, and Puzzle Pirates Bilging is my gold standard for playability.) It’s an indie game, so it’s not the beneficiary of an enormous art budget, but the play’s the thing, and Bret Airborne is fun to play. I picked it up from the designer, so it’s not on my Steam list, but I wanted to mention it as I went through the list.
First up for the 15 minute treatment this time is Deadly Sin 2. I loved JRPGs as a teen, playing through all of the Final Fantasy, Star Ocean and assorted other goodies I could get my hands on. Chrono Cross is my champion there, but there are a lot of gems in the genre. Deadly Sin 2 is a RPG Maker game, one of approximately… a lot. It’s an indie game, so it’s not going to compete with the latest Japanese opus, but that’s OK. I picked this up in one of my bundle purchases somewhere, not as the prime motivator, but hey, I’ll take a look at it.
I did have to run it in windowed mode due to technical glitches, and it’s… teeny. 560×454 with the Windows frame. That’s not something I’ll ding it for, it just surprised me. It’s built around big-headed sprites and a walking grid, like FF2 or 3, but with the RPG Maker’s greater resolution. Combat looks like Dragon Warrior games of old, which is rather below what I care for, but plays more like FFX (turn-based, listing who is up in the next few turns) with a dash of WoW (threat, cooldowns). That’s kind of cool, actually.
I could nitpick the visuals, but the art that’s there is decent for what we’re dealing with, and it serves the story well enough. There’s not a consistent art style, but I suspect it’s leaning heavily on prepackaged tile art, so that’s not a surprise. It does amuse me that the main character is named Carrion. It seems like a warning… not quite “Dogmeat”, but a sly reminder of the fate of many young adventurers.
The character growth system takes a few pages from early WoW, with passive and active skills that can be improved by sinking points into them. The team is a trio of magic users (one “magic knight”, a cleric/fighter and a mage) and a bruiser/tank. That’s also pretty standard fare, but hey, it’s not going to be too hard to pick up and play with.
As a story-driven, long RPG, 15 minutes really doesn’t do it justice, but from the short time I took with it, I can say that it seems to be unremarkable but playable. Youngish hero and his friends caught in a war, take off on a quest to Save The World. Again, not something I’ll ding it for, but neither is it all that amazing. Maybe it opens up later on into something awesome, but I’m not sure I’ll bother. I don’t regret buying or playing this game, but I can’t give it any higher than a Remember rating. I love that middleware tools like RPG Maker XP exist so that these games can be made, though. It’s exactly the sort of thing I might have done in high school, if the tools were available then.
This is one of those games that might rate higher if I really dug into it, so if that’s something you’re willing to do, I can say that it starts off with the characters reacting to a crisis, and they are capable of handling it, so it does get moving without too much frontloaded padding. It might be awesome, it might be mediocre, I just can’t tell more than “generic JRPG with some modern twists” from the first 15 minutes.
Dear Esther is a weird sort of entry. I really like this “exploration game” for some reasons, mostly the visuals and the feel of the island. It has a good sense of place, and it really scratches my Explorer itch. At least, mostly. It’s certainly on rails, in a way, with a linear, directed path, and only a few little places to wander around a bit. Still, it’s great to look at and I took a lot of screenshots. I can’t find any of them now, that’s just my luck, but there are these three I had lying around (I’m not sure where they came from) that give a decent sense of the place.
There’s a middle section of the game in a weird cave, and for all its glorious detail, it’s a bit… silly. The story isn’t much to speak of, trying way too hard to be ambiguous and mysterious. Still, for a self-directed “art exhibit exploration”, Dear Esther is worth checking out. It’s not really much of a “game”, in that there aren’t really any choices to be made or obstacles to overcome, but it’s an experience I Recommend.
Another drive-by game is Defense Grid: The Awakening. I’m not a tower defense expert, but I like them on occasion. GemCraft is one of the lighter ones that I find I like, but Defense Grid has a bit more meat to it. I never did finish the game, but I had a fair bit of fun with it. It has a great art style, solid design, and a nicely paced learning curve. It’s a game I Recommend for fans of the genre, and it even serves as a decent introduction if you’re new to tower defense games.
I hadn’t played Demolition Inc. before this project, and I find that I like it. I’m a big fan of the crash events in Burnout: Revenge (a really great game, by the way), and this reminds me a bit of those. It’s simpler, a bit goofier, but still good fun.
You’re an alien, tasked with flattening Earth’s surface and “revegetating” it so it can be refurbished as an alien recreation area. You use a collection of tools to manipulate passers-by and cause all sorts of ruckus to flatten cities. It’s cathartic, ridiculous fun. The visuals aren’t anything incredible, but the stylized cartoonish work makes the whole silly premise work. Hyper-real visuals on this could just ruin the tone.
I give this one a Recommend rating. Setting up a destructive chain reaction just hits all the right mayhem notes.
And then we come to another game I’ve played long ago, but really, really love. The Dig.
Man, this is a great game. I consider it to be one of LucasArts’ masterpieces. The art, the animation, the story, the voice work, the character development, it’s all great. It’s a science fiction tale, starting simple and grounded, as it were, and then it goes way off into weird space. I don’t have any screenshots handy, but this is a game that I highly Recommend, whether or not you’re into adventure games.
Go get it and play it. If you have any interest whatsoever in adventure games, science fiction and/or LucasArts, you will be pleased with the experience.
Then there’s DiRT, a great rally driving game that is apparently no longer on the Steam store. DiRT 3 is, however, and it’s close enough. I did play DiRT 3 via OnLive shortly after that system came out (I was given a console and two games by my then-employers, NinjaBee), and I like that title better since it’s updated and upgraded, but DiRT is just good, non-clean rally racing fun. I Recommend it for anyone interested in driving games. It’s a bit more hardcore in its driving simulation than the excellent Burnout series, but it’s great fun and it looks really good.
GamesRadar has some good shots of DiRT 3 over here.
I love rally racing, at least, in video game form. I don’t have the skills to do that sort of crazy driving in real life, but man, it’s just fun to go careening about when there’s really not much at stake. It’s almost as much fun executing a tricky drive as it is flying off of the track. (Tangentially, MotorStorm Apocalypse on the PS3 scratches many of the same itches. I find that I’m a big fan of mayhem in my driving rather than strict simulation-like driving. It must be my Mario Kart roots showing.)
And then there’s Disciples 3: Resurrection. I really liked Disciples 2, even though it’s simple compared to my beloved Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, when it comes to tactical games. Still, give me a good game with strategy and tactics involved, and I’ll probably have fun with it.
This game is a bit like Disciples 2, in that it has great paintings and a nice, consistent art style, a strong focus on developing small squads instead of processing huge armies, and moving about on a world map. The 3D art isn’t always as good as the 2D art, but overall, it’s impressive. The intro was lengthy and the voice work isn’t all that impressive, but it’s skippable. The painted 2D art they use for the movies is really good, with a strong sense of style. 2D art has always been a strength of the Disciples games.
There are actually several Disciples 3 titles, and this one is built around the Undead faction. (It’s not my first choice for a faction, but it’s the game I picked up in a bundle, so it’s what I play.) As such, it’s a bit creepy for my taste, but I like that the design is more about a dusty and dessicated look rather than gory and horror-movie-schlock.
The combat is deepened a bit by the inclusion of a hex grid and unit movement, which is nice. In Disciples 2, you just had your party fight other parties, each lined up in a 2×3 grid for tactical considerations, but otherwise really simplified. Melee units attacked the opposing front lines, mages and archers could hit either front or back lines. The new hex grid opens up the tactical play a lot, and I appreciate that. It does mean that it’s trickier to protect the Undead magical units, since melee isn’t their strength, but that’s not a design flaw so much as it is a tactical consideration.
There’s also a new character progression scheme, a sort of skill tree/maze that reminds me of character progression in Allods Online, FFXII and FFX. That’s a nice addition to the series in theory, though I’m not sure how well it will play out, since there’s little indication of what’s really important and I didn’t see a way to respec if you decide to play differently.
I wound up playing it for almost a half hour since I really wanted to dig into the game. I’m not sure that I’ll spend a lot more time with it, if any, but it’s definitely something that I’d have played a lot of a decade or so ago when I had more spare time. I give it a Recommend rating, noting that it’s one of those deeper games that might not merit such a rating, but at first blush, it plays well and looks good.
Dream Pinball 3D was up next. It’s… a pinball game. I’m not familiar with all the pinball games out in arcades, but I did play my fair share of them in the 90s, and I like them. As near as I can tell, the tables in this game aren’t clones of real tables, so there aren’t gems like The Addams Family table, but the visuals are good and the table I played was designed decently.
Starting the game for the first time requires the CD key, and the interface isn’t kind to copy/paste, so that’s annoying, and a separate “activation” process, which you can bypass… sort of. You can start the game without activation, but only in “Demo Mode”, which means you can play one of the five available tables, and only for 5 minutes. Yeah, I didn’t even give it the full 15, since I don’t like putting up with that kind of stupid. It’s stumbles like this that make a first impression less than savory, even though the gameplay itself is good.
I’ll give it a Remember rating, since the activation thing really annoyed me, but if you’re into pinball games, it’s worth a look since the game design seems solid, so long as you can put up with the goofy admission procedure.
Droplitz is in my Steam list, and I remember it as a decent puzzle/tile game… but I can’t find it on the live Steam pages. It’s a decent game, worth trying if you’re a fan of puzzle games. It plays a bit like a simpler version of Puzzle Pirates’ Alchemistry. Nothing incredible, earning a Remember rating, but a good little diversion with a decent art style and game design.
Dungeon Hearts isn’t a game that I’d buy normally. I picked this one up in a bundle with other games I wanted. I’m not really a fan of games with a strong timing component with constant pressure, but this is a decent puzzle-clicky game. It’s certainly more fun than others I’ve played lately. There are combos and timing to consider, giving it more depth than just clicking on what shows up. There are some tactical considerations to deal with on the fly, so it has some depth.
I give it a Remember rating since there’s just enough there to make it more appealing than something like AVSEQ, but it’s just not my kind of game. It’s too reliant on twitchy reflexes, and I prefer slower gaming most of the time. You can move pieces around and manipulate the battlefield to make big combos, which seems to be key to really mastering the game, and you can use your attacks to delay the enemy’s attacks, so all in all, I think the design is solid. It’s just one of those games that I don’t care for because of what I want in games. “It’s not you, it’s me”, or something like that.
Dust: An Elysian Tale is a beautiful game, made almost entirely by one guy. It’s an indie darling, for good reason. It looks great, plays really well, and is good fun. The writing is good, the voice work is better than most games (indie or otherwise), the art style is consistent, and consistently good. It’s a solid platformer with good skill testing without being abusive.
At least, so far. Maybe it gets mean later on, but the early parts of the game have a good learning curve and a lead character that seems powerful and fun. His sword is sentient and talkative, and it has a guardian that can provide some seriously flashy firepower as all three characters combine talents.
There are lots of different items to gather, equipment to use, moves and combos to learn, levels to be acquired, and it even looks like some Metroidvania influence, with what looks like a tunnel, placed as a tease for future use, after learning some new tricks. (I’m not sure if that’s what the tunnel actually is, it just makes me think of that.) So, it looks like it combines some of the best elements of platformers, brawlers, Metroidvanias and RPGs, all with gorgeous animation and appealing characters.
I Recommend it. I haven’t played all the way through it, so it might be frustrating here and there, but what I played, I liked. A lot. I did play it with an XBox 360 controller, which seems to be a Good Idea, though it’s not the only way to play. It’s worth noting, though, since that did mean I wasn’t fighting to learn the keyboard/mouse controls.
Endless Legend was part of Steam’s “free play weekend” games, so I gave it a shot. It’s a game that I might pick up later on sale, since it’s a solid 4X game, and I do love those. It looks great, though it’s hard to get a good bead on how well it plays in just 15 minutes.
The game does have some introductory missions, which are helpful, but there’s just so much there to plow through that 15 minutes isn’t enough. I consider that a Good Thing, just like I did with The Banner Saga. There’s depth to the game, and I love that. I want to dig in, I just can’t at the moment.
…this is a game that I really want to spend more time with, though, even after cheating a bit and playing for a half hour, so I’m giving it a Recommend rating. This review I ran into gives me hope that such a rating is warranted. I did notice that the came connects to a server when doing the tutorials, so I hope it’s not one of those “single player online” backhanded DRM situations like EA loves to pull, but the game itself just seems like a perfect addition to my collection.
That’s it for this time. More than I expected to do, but at the same time, I just went through my backlog of Humble Bundle keys, and expanded my Steam collection by about 60 games, so I’m not really getting ahead, not yet.
Thanks for stopping by! Here’s hoping that there’s something here you find interesting. I realize that most of these games will be Old News to most of you, but that’s my life; behind the curve, but amiably so. See you next time!