review, videogames

Get ready for more adventures with fan favourites Reimu and Marisa in the latest Touhou game to be translated to English. Touhou Mechanical Scrollery combines a few game styles with action scenes, RPG elements and visual novel storytelling.

The game will start you out playing as Reimu as you run through the tutorial. There are quite a few sequences here to go through as you learn the controls. You will absolutely need a controller for this game on your PC. The in-game prompts match the Xbox controls, so this is your best peripheral option. This is a flying game and I must admit the way it works does feel a little unnatural at first, but as you get used to it and start learning to dodge incoming bullets, it does make sense.

After getting used to the controls on some easy enemies, the difficulty ramps up and you will have to start dodging bullets while managing your weapon and laser attacks on the machines. Close range attacks charge up your long range attacks, so there is a balance to be struck between the two, keeping the battles challenging and interesting, instead of spamming one button.

The story is told through a visual novel style and it’s a nice touch as speaking characters are highlighted and have subtle breathing motions instead of a static sprite. After meeting a few characters that serve as your shop NPC’s, Reimu and Marisa will have to solve a mystery of transforming books and mecha spiders creeping around forests! As mentioned you will start out playing as Reimu but you will also be able to play as Marisa later on.

Once you reach the main story you can choose a difficulty for each level, but also go back to replay them at a harder setting, as you become more skilled. Harder difficulties will yield better rewards, allowing you to craft upgraded gear much faster. Some items may only drop from a particular enemy, so make sure to hunt down the right one.

The music is good and has that traditional Japanese sound, which suits its setting of magic and mystery. Touhou is one of those long running series that is quite special, as so many creators have envisioned it in different ways. Its humble beginnings were in the 90’s and a mainstay of the franchise is that it comes rich with Japanese folklore, cute character designs and catchy tunes, all of which you will find in this new game.

I’ll admit this is my first time playing one of the games, but the characters have a strong presence among anime internet culture, so they are quite familiar to me. Touhou Mechanical Scrollery has been made by Phoenixx Inc, a small indie studio of fans with a passion for Touhou Project. While you may not be getting the most polished game engine, there is still a lot to love, as the gameplay is quite fun and you can take on challenges at your own pace. I certainly was not disappointed and enjoyed this game quite a lot.

review, videogames

Dungeon Defenders Awakened is a tower defense game, with RPG elements. It takes place in a magical medieval world with ghouls and goblins to defeat. You can play solo or with team mates as you progress through a variety of levels, while upgrading your gear and stats.

At the title screen there’s some cute 2D animated sequences that have a moving comic book feel, that will introduce you to the characters and story of the game. The 3D graphics in the game also reflect the bright colours of a comic, with a nice blend between a cel shaded style and smooth textures.

When you jump in, the tutorial is fairly short and goes over the basic controls of the game and the phases. If you are familiar with the previous Dungeon Defenders games, you get straight into the game fairly soon. However, if this is your first time playing a game from this series, the HUD is very informative and all abilities are clearly labelled with their corresponding keys. There are 4 classes to choose from (Huntress, Monk, Squire and Apprentice). I chose the Apprentice, the magic class.

Gameplay basically goes between Build Phases and Combat Phases. In the Build Phase you can place your defensive items, equip new armor and upgrade your skills. What I really like about the skill system is that you can experiment and aren’t locked into your choices. You can simply press the minus button to take the points back and allocate them to another stat.

The Combat Phase is where the action happens, monsters will spawn from various doors around the arena. As you can’t be in all places at once, it’s important to have set up your defenses in the previous phase on each path that leads to your Crystal. You can run around the arena to battle enemies as they try to attack your defenses, but most of all you must protect your Crystal as destruction of this will end with you defeated. You can also place more defenses in the combat phase if you have enough to purchase them. Combat is fairly straightforward and depending on what character you chose, you will have different abilities.

When you have beaten all the waves you will go the Summary phase and you can review your collected XP and money, as well as the time it took to beat. After you have beaten Stage 1 you can go back to the Tavern. There’s some target dummies in here that you can try out your abilities on with a handy DPS counter, so you can mix and match your weapons, armor and stats to see what works best outside of actual combat. When you have the inventory open, the game will recommend better armor, marked by a green thumbs up. In the early stages of the game you aren’t able to buy anything from the NPC’s in the Tavern. But it’s worth it to start picking up items and selling them so you have money for later on.

Once you are ready to continue on to Stage 2, a few features will now be unlocked. Such as difficulty where you can change to easy if you are still trying to learn the game, or go for something more challenging if you are a Dungeon Defenders veteran. At this point multiplayer also opens op and other players will be able to join your games.

Picking up armor in game is a little annoying as you need to be the right distance/angle from the item and then press E. I’m a lazy gamer, so I turned on Auto-Loot, which you can find in the Options menu under Gameplay. However it doesn’t seem to activate right away and didn’t work the way I expected it to, only seeming to loot items when I advance phases, rather than when you run your character over them. The need to be overly precise with the looting is probably the only gripe I have with the game.

Dungeon Defenders Awakened is a pretty solid game, the hybrid between tower defense and action RPG works quite well and I’d recommend it to fans of both these genres. The gameplay is fun and difficulty is scalable to your skill level, making it flexible for solo or multiplayer play.

review, videogames

Obey Me is self described as a “holypunk brawler” so get ready to mash away at those buttons while you fight against mutant monsters in an all out heaven vs hell war!

The game opens with not much information about Vanessa, the character you play. After some clunky dialogue with a big boss and a secretary, it then lands you into one of those awkward frenemies dynamics as our two main characters finally get a scene. To be honest, I’m not really feeling endeared to these characters.

The cutscenes have still frames with voice acted dialogue, sort of like a throwback to 90’s games and comic books. But for all the lengthy dialogue, I don’t feel like the game has told me much, as most of it is just bickering between the characters. I want to like them, their visual designs are great. Their script however, is not.

Unfortunately for me the game story did not hold my attention too well, as I look for deeper stories and mysteries these days, I was not really feeling compelled to move forward into another cliche scene.

Obey Me is an action game, so the gameplay is fairly straightforward. Attack, Heavy Attack, Ranged Attack, Warp. However, the game insists on annoying tutorial pop up screens in the middle of combat, which really ruins the flow. The same goes for every new item pickup and power up. Finally getting past all the jargon and into the action without interruption is a relief. Some enemies die with satisfying splat piles and explosions, which is always fun.

As you advance through the game there are a myriad of abilities to upgrade and combos to unleash, as well as teaming up attacks with your hellhound partner Monty. This game supports offline co-op so you can have a friend jump in to play as well. This functions quite nicely as you can quickly toggle co-op mode on and off via the pause menu. Monty is somewhat tethered to Vanessa and cannot advance the game screen, he will warp back to her if you wander too far. It also seems he has no health bar, so your younger sibling isn’t going to hold you back when you give them player 2!

This game has that dark and gritty setting that is lit up by neon colours, it’s like a love letter to Diablo and the 90’s edgelord genre in general. The character designs have a very western comic book feel to them and if you are really digging this game, there is also a short comic book series available! While this game does look visually nice it does have a bit of frame rate loss making action scenes feel a bit choppy sometimes, but not every player will notice this.

If you are looking for a fresh button masher that feels like a throwback to the 90’s with couch co-op play, then this game will probably scratch that itch. This is not a groundbreaking game but sits in its chosen genre just fine.

review, videogames

“Stela is a cinematic, atmospheric platformer about a young woman witnessing the final days of a mysterious ancient world.”

If you love monsters, mystery and breathtaking landscapes, you’ve come to the right place! Stela is a side-scrolling platformer which has you puzzle solving, running, hiding, climbing and strolling through scenery so wonderful that it would make a great picture on your wall.

Stela has such beautiful landscape design that I could go on about it for hours, it’s full of soft colours and picturesque scenes, that at first, lull you into a feeling of relaxation. But as you run out into the world, a strange eerie feeling begins to grow. The music begins to build and your suspicions grow about the state of the world you have just found yourself in. Before you know it, you’re running for your life and trying to solve platforming puzzles under pressure! I must admit I was not ready for the change in pace and was quickly flustered. In contrast there are still slower styles of gameplay mixed in, as other scenes will have you stealthing your way past threats, but these are just as heart pounding.

This game does not have a traditional tutorial, so use the quiet early scenes to get used to the controls. Your character will automatically climb things if you press the direction towards the object, which sometimes does not work in your favour if you are trying to grab and drag it instead. The jumping action is what I would call ‘floaty’ which allows you a little leeway in landing safely on your mark. If you fall from great heights you will die, so be careful!. In the early levels, the objects you can use have a common trait of a primary red color adorning a small detail such as a string or a light. But once you’ve escaped the first farm area, it becomes much more subtle, so be on the lookout for objects you can push, pull, pick up and climb on if you are stuck!

I love a good monster movie but I must confess that horror games do take a toll on me and I can get quite jumpy. I do prefer to play games like Stela in shorter sessions because I’m a coward. Thankfully the autosave feature in Stela is excellent and you will start right back at the section where you exit the game (or died) instead of having to re-do a whole zone. Which is great when you need a time out to calm your nerves or to think over a strategy for a difficult part. I wouldn’t say this is a completely terrifying horror game but it’s definitely got a creepy vibe that will delight fans of the supernatural.

The storytelling in this game is like a silent film, there’s no dialogue. There’s no cutscenes but the sweeping landscapes and foreboding scenes you see unfolding around you tell their tale. When playing this game I’m reminded of the sense of atmosphere I got from other games like ICO and Journey, that also quietly tell a story through visuals. The music to the game equally sets the scenes and adds to the air of mystery and fuels your fear in those intense moments.

Stela is an interesting and challenging game coupled with gorgeous artwork. If you are a fan of art driven games and spooky stories, then you should definitely try this out.

review, videogames

Kana Quest is a cute and fun puzzle game to help you learn Japanese! It is available on Steam for PC.

Kana Quest will start off with a few tutorial rounds and then you’ll be into the main game pretty quickly. The aim is to solve puzzles by matching and chaining sounds, very simple in design but actually quite challenging! You can listen and learn the sounds of a kana symbol by clicking on the block. You will then match them according to sound by dragging similar ones next to each other. As this is a puzzle, you must solve it in as little turns as possible to earn the best rank. You can also replay a round to try and beat your own score. To start with, there are 8 puzzles available and to unlock new levels, you will have to earn a certain amount of coins by winning with a gold or silver ranking. Gradually new kana will be introduced the further you get and puzzles will become harder. To continue on to a new set of puzzles, you will need to drag the screen from right to left, which I found wasn’t entirely obvious once I had completed the first world of puzzles.

Kana Quest has pixel style graphics that are reminiscent of the 16 bit era of video games. Immerse yourself in vaporwave styles with a lovely use of colors, gradients and pixel dot shading that make you feel like you’re playing a Sega Mega Drive. The backgrounds of the worlds where you’ll be puzzling through have Japanese landscapes to match the theme of the game. There’s an overall nostalgic feel to the artwork which I really love.

To match the graphics, the music has that retro chiptune vibe that will make you feel like you’re playing an old console from the early 90’s with blends of traditional Japanese sounds. The music is fairly relaxing and won’t interrupt your train of thought as you try to concentrate. However if you do find it too hard to hear the kana pronunciations over the music, you can adjust the levels of music, effects and voices to your liking.

I would like to note that the game has not specifically pointed out that Japanese has 3 different “alphabets”. Hiragana are the main kana for writing Japanese words, Katakana for writing foreign words and Kanji are single kana that are a whole word rather than individual sounds. This game will have you tackling both Hiragana and Katakana!
If you are a complete beginner to Japanese, it may help you to write down each new kana you learn in the game and practice writing them over a few times. In the options menu is a handy Hiragana Table for referencing all the kana. Clicking on each one of these will sound it out but also show you the correct stroke order for writing in the top right box. This is valuable information for a beginner, as practicing writing will also solidify your memory.

Alternatively you can completely switch the chart to Katakana mode instead. If you want to practice your Katakana in the games puzzles this can be switched on via the Options section by checking the Katakana Enabled box.

This is a great supplementary game to your Japanese studies as it really challenges you to remember the sounds, as it will probably have you chanting them out loud to see how your intended puzzle solution works before using up those precious turns! Plotting out your puzzle on a piece of paper is a good opportunity to practice your kana writing skills as well. So keep playing and practicing and you’ll be on your way to mastering Japanese!