Review of Death Mark

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Screenshots can be deceptive. Based on Death Mark’s promotional images, I expected this horror title from Aksys Games to be a first person dungeon crawler. In actuality it is a visual novel with point and click adventure segments. Over the course of five chapters, which took me around six hours to finish, players take control of an amnesiac whose wrist has been branded with the titular Death Mark. At first glance said marking looks like a cool tattoo. Early on in the story however it is revealed that the Death Mark is a curse placed on the protagonist by a vengeful spirit. Unless he is able to rid himself of it, our hero is fated to die within the next few days. Regrettably for him, erasing the Death Mark will prove to be more painful than enduring a session of laser tattoo removal.

OVERVIEW

Death Mark’s hub world is a mansion that once belonged to a paranormal expert. The player controlled character is based there, as he is searching the estate for clues on how to cure his condition. His investigation hasn’t uncovered much, but on the plus side he does find a cute talking doll that resembles a character right out of Rozen Maiden. At the start of each chapter more victims, who have been cursed, show up at the mansion’s doorstep. They seek help with escaping the fate that has befallen them. Unlike the main character, who has no memory of his past, the visitors have some idea of where they got marked. They take the protagonist to said location, hoping that he can defeat the spectre that roams there. In theory, exorcising the ghost should purge the hex it cast on them.

By using the d-pad players can navigate each area. The levels available to explore include a sewer, an abandoned school and a forest frequented by suicidal folk. Crikey, this game is starting to sound like a Logan Paul simulator! Via the use of the analogue stick players can aim a flashlight, which is used to examine objects and pick up items. The inventory procured is in turn used to solve puzzles. Pretty standard stuff. Open a locked door with a key, use bug spray to kill bees that block your path and um, repair an elevator with condoms. Wow, I don’t recall MacGyver ever doing anything like that. Items are also required to defeat the phantoms you encounter. Every now and then the player is placed in perilous Life or Death situations. These come in the form of timed events, were an action needs to be selected from a multiple choice list of options. Picking the wrong response will result in damage and potential death.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Mark is a four out of five. If you enjoyed Corpse Party: Book of Shadows I imagine you will like Death Mark, as they both have similar gameplay. Don’t expect much in the way of animation, as this is one of those titles that relies on text and still pictures to tell its story. The main campaign has two endings to unlock. How each chapter concludes is determined by the choices made during the end of level boss fight. Overall I liked the cast of characters you partner up with, over the course of the adventure, and the game’s plot. Aside from the main mystery, of who cursed the protagonist, each chapter serves as a stand alone ghost tale. It’s interesting to discover the tragic origins responsible for birthing the creatures you are pitted against.

Anyone who is left wanting more, after the end credits roll, can purchase the two-hour DLC for a bonus chapter. This applies to the Vita version only. For some reason the other console releases come complete with the extra chapter. That may seem harsh, for long suffering Vita fans, but it all evens out, as the edition on Sony’s handheld is the cheapest to buy. In terms of scares Death Mark isn’t too terrifying. The developers try to make things creepy with sound effects and the odd jump scare, but none of it phased me. I only had to change my underwear two times. All that said, I would only recommend Death Mark to gamers who are in their late teens or older. Apart from the occasional gruesome death the game includes a few kinky images. These include a bondage scene involving plant vines, a picture of a naked woman who is covered in serpents and a spirit possession that causes one of your female partners to strip. Maybe that’s what Ray Parker meant when he said (ghost) busting makes me feel good.

Review of Harvest Moon: Light of Hope

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Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is technically not a Harvest Moon game. The team responsible for producing the classic Harvest Moon games of yore is currently releasing titles under the Story of Seasons banner. Natsume, the publisher who holds the rights to the Harvest Moon name, has meanwhile decided to continue the franchise by hiring lesser skilled developers to make new sequels. The situation reminds me of the time when Eidos and Sports Interactive parted ways. After the split, developer Sports Interactive lost ownership of the Championship Manager brand. This forced them to release new games under the guise of Football Manager. Eidos went off to make Championship Manager games in house and ultimately run the series into the ground.

OVERVIEW

When I say that Harvest Moon is now in the hands of less talented developers I am not kidding. Just look at this game’s graphics. The characters may look cute, but there is no disputing that these visuals are below the standard one would expect from a PS4 release. In particular the low-res buildings look especially bad on a big screen. Gameplay wise things aren’t much better. The farming on offer hasn’t advanced much from the rather basic Harvest Moon GBA game I enjoyed many moons ago. In order to grow crops one simply needs to plant seeds and water the soil on a daily basis. Fertilizer is only required if you elect to grow something out of season. Seems easy enough. I wonder why Zimbabwe had so much trouble with farming when Mugabe kicked out all of the white farmers.

Still, who cares about farming? In this game I didn’t find agriculture to be particularly profitable. Rather than sell produce I just gifted my veggies to the local townsfolk or cooked them into stamina replenishing meals. If you seek riches I would recommend foraging for seashells at the beach. Those things sell for a surprisingly high price. I also hear that mining for ore can be lucrative, although that venture requires some investment. To crack open the rocks that house gems one needs to first upgrade their trusty hammer. Later in the game you can also trade eggs, wool and milk by populating your barn with livestock. I like how you can name the animals you buy. My cow, lamb and chicken were christened Mooris, Baary and Hen-Tai.

VERDICT

My rating for Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is a three out of five. The game is inferior to rivals Stardew Valley and Story of Seasons in terms of content. Without too much trouble I was able to complete the four-chapter story within a couple of in-game months. Despite its faults I must however say that I appreciate the relaxing experience it offers. Rather than start the morning with fifteen minutes of meditation, I can instead turn off my brain by doing chores for quarter of an hour on Harvest Moon’s virtual island. Even if I have already saved the land, by repairing the isle’s mystical lighthouse, I still intend to continue playing the game for the foreseeable future in short bursts. There are plenty of trophies yet to earn and a mailbox worth of villager requests to complete.

Other activities I can look forward to are the monthly festivals. These events allow the player to partake in various mini-games, which include fishing contests and dog races. Thus far my pooch has managed to scoop the top prize, but I have fared less well in the angling tournaments. Most important of all I cannot conclude my Harvest Moon adventure without first getting hitched. From the five available bachelorettes I have my eyes set on the bespectacled doctor. She may not be the most attractive of the bunch, but she won my heart during the tutorial by generously gifting me tons of free cabbage seeds. When it comes to romance the ladies don’t have to do much to make me swoon. I’ll settle for any girl, providing that she doesn’t carry much emotional cabbage… um baggage.

Review of Battle Chef Brigade

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Match three isn’t just confined to puzzle games you know. Years ago, for example, we saw how HuniePop would simulate romantic dates via the mechanic of lining up like-coloured tiles. In a similar vein, cooking dishes in Battle Chef Brigade revolves around match three gameplay. The tastiness of the meals you prepare is dependent on how well one combos the various blue/green/red ingredients. Said ingredients are harvested in 2D fighting stages, where players need to slay beasts to procure their meat and yummy organs. How violent! The chefs in this game rival Gordon Ramsay when it comes to aggression.

OVERVIEW

In Battle Chef Brigade players assume the role of Mina Han, a teenage chef who has left her village in order to compete in a cooking tournament. Think Food Wars, set in a fantasy kingdom, minus the food orgasms. Mina’s participation in the contest is chronicled across six chapters, which will take the average person around ten hours to clear. The story shows how Mina ditched her family restaurant, fought against rivals and investigated a plague that is contaminating the local wildlife. Apart from the main campaign there are also daily challenges to tackle, where players can see how their culinary skills compare to others in the Switch online leader boards.

One of the reasons why I downloaded this title, for my Nintendo handheld, is because of the eye-catching visuals. Although the game’s animation would benefit from some extra frames, one cannot help but admire the gorgeous hand drawn graphics and character designs (that resemble The Legend of Korra.) Indie developer Trinket Studios has done a fine job of combining puzzle segments, which play like Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, with fun 2D combat. Mina hunts for food by using martial arts, casting magic and hurling daggers. I enjoyed the action, even if I cannot comprehend why Mina doesn’t forego bloodshed in favour of buying ingredients at the supermarket.

VERDICT

My rating for Battle Chef Brigade is four Michelin stars out of five. The game isn’t too difficult, but I can’t say that the simplicity ever got repetitive. Every match feels unique, as you can’t rely on churning out the exact same dishes all the time. Different judges oversee each encounter. If you wish to get maximum points, from them, Mina needs to tweak her menu to appeal to their distinct tastes. The game also keeps things fresh by introducing new mechanics on a regular basis, such as poisonous ingredients that explode when stirred. A toxic dinner, that detonates, sounds like something I would make in my kitchen. I suck at cooking, so when it comes to satiating hunger I stick to microwavable meals.

A gastronomic brawler sounds like a weird idea for a game, but somehow Trinket Studios have managed to make it work. My only grievance with Battle Chef Brigade is that the story is a bit short. Sadly there’s no multiplayer mode to extend the title’s shelf life or unlockable characters to encourage additional playthroughs. Perhaps that is something to consider for a potential future sequel? Either way, I can highly recommend Battle Chef Brigade to anyone who owns a Switch. The game is on the Steam store as well, so the PC master (chef) race can play it on their hardware too.

Review of Night in the Woods

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After funding several projects on Kickstarter, which never saw the light of day, I have given up on donating cash to that company. Crowd funding doesn’t always end in a disaster though. To their credit some people, who requested financial aid on that site, did make good on their promises – be it whipping up a batch of potato salad or developing quality software. One of the video game successes that spawned from Kickstarter is Night in the Woods from Infinite Fall. It’s a title that several of my readers have recommended to me in the past. My followers have great taste (they like my blog after all) so I heeded their words and decided to check the game out.

OVERVIEW

Mae Borowski, a twenty-year-old feline, is the protagonist of Night in the Woods. When the game begins Mae returns home in disgrace, after dropping out of college. In this narrative heavy adventure game players decide whom the young cat girl should hang out with on a daily basis. Mae’s chums include a gothic alligator, a homosexual teddy (I guess he is a “bear” in more ways than one) and a foxy delinquent. Just as Mae begins to reacclimatize to life in Possum Springs she comes across a severed arm. The gruesome discovery may be linked to a phantom kidnapper that she spots a few days later. Finding out who is responsible for these crimes will involve spending a night in the woods.

Anyone who watches Night in the Woods’ trailer may mistaken this game for a platformer, due to the footage of Mae leaping across power lines. Gameplay wise however I would liken this title to Oxenfree, as most of my playthrough involved conversing with NPCs. That’s actually more enjoyable than it sounds because the characters you interact with are written so well. Every now and then the chatter is interrupted by mini-games, which vary in quality. As someone who sucks at rhythm games I can’t say that the band practice segments, which play like Guitar Hero, appealed to me. On the flip side I liked the friendly knife fight and the sequence were you squirt mall shoppers with a fish-head fountain. Poor customers. Getting soaked by a fishy decoration must be a pain in the bass.

VERDICT

My rating for Night in the Woods is a three and a half out of five. I had a grand time playing through the eight-hour story and can see why so many critics showered the game with praise last year. Although I don’t share Mae’s passion for vandalism/shoplifting, she is a character I can relate to. Just like her, I have had to deal with the awkwardness of dealing with relatives after an unsuccessful stint in higher education. We both have also suffered the embarrassment of acting like fools, during social events, after consuming one too many brews. In my defence though, it takes more than three watered down beers to make me vomit up my tacos.

I can highly recommend Night in the Woods, unless you are one of those console owners who values gameplay over story. One complaint that can be levied against Night in the Woods is that traditional video game mechanics take a backseat to its witty banter, excellent soundtrack and stylish visuals. An argument could be made that Night in the Woods would work better as a cartoon series. It’s script, which should resonate with young adults and features weird dream sequences, reminds me of the animation MTV would put out back in the nineties. Ah, how I miss those days. Someone should build a time machine so I can journey back to that decade. If you are up to task start a Kickstarter and I will gladly pledge towards your DeLorean/Police Box construction efforts.

Review of Super Mario Odyssey

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Bowser has once again kidnapped Princess Peach. Despite the best efforts of Anita Sarkeesian, the video game trope of damsels in distress is very much alive and well. King Koopa plans to force the monarch into an unwilling marriage, which I don’t understand. Given the choice, I would rather be wed to the sexier Rosalina. Anyways, when royalty needs rescuing who do you call? If you answered Special Forces you would be mistaken. Time to hire a plumber me thinks. Mario sets off on a globe trotting adventure to save Peach and joining him for the ride is a sentient piece of headgear named Cappy.

OVERVIEW

Gone are the days when Mario would dress like a racoon and devour mushrooms to acquire special powers. Mario Odyssey sees Nintendo’s mascot steal Kirby’s talent of mimicking enemies, which he accomplishes by placing his hat on their noggin. There are tons of foes that Mario can possess with this new mechanic. Some examples that stood out during my play through include giant dinosaurs, yellow taxicabs, amphibians that ribbit and turtles armed with frying pans. Cappy can also be tossed to grab out of reach coins or to destroy objects from a distance. Wreck stuff by hurling a hat? Bond villain Oddjob would approve.

In terms of gameplay Odyssey reminds me most of Sunshine and Mario 64. Thankfully the abovementioned Cappy is a better companion than that detestable FLUDD. Levels are open world affairs where you hunt down Moons, which are the power source of the craft that transports you across kingdoms. As expected from a Mario title the platforming is solid thanks to the responsive controls. I was however a tad miffed that certain moves cannot be activated in handheld mode. Said advanced abilities require that you shake the Joycons. A decade since the Wii’s launch and Nintendo are still pressuring players to strain their wrists with unwanted motion interfaces.

VERDICT

My rating for Super Mario Odyssey is a five out of five. In a weird way the game reminds me of Bloodborne. Both titles are games that I had little interest in playing, only tried because they came bundled with the console and ended up loving anyway. That’s a surprise because I am no Nintendo fan boy. My dad bought me a Megadrive, during the height of the 16-bit wars, so I was conditioned at an early age to revile Mario. Not even adolescent brainwashing can make me dislike a game with such creative stages though. Adding to the charm are the colourful graphics, which prove that the Switch doesn’t have to be a technological powerhouse to rival its competitors in the visual department.

The soundtrack is top notch too, with my favourite tune being Jump Up Superstar sung by Kate Davis. I estimate that it took me around twelve hours to complete the main story. That may not sound like much content, but fear not because there are plenty of collectibles to discover in the post game. If exploration isn’t your thing don’t worry because Toad is willing to point you in the right direction in exchange for some gold. Super Mario Odyssey is a title that every Switch owner should add to his or her library. Good job Nintendo. I tip my hat (or should that be Cappy) to you.

Yono and the Celestial Elephants Review

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Around a week ago I treated myself to an early Christmas present by purchasing a Switch. Yono and the Celestial Elephants has the distinct honour of being the first game I beat on Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrid. It’s an adorable isometric adventure created by Swedish developer Neckbolt Games. The title plays a lot like classic Zelda, which is fine by me. Give me puzzle filled dungeons over destructible weaponry any day! Man, what were you thinking Breath of the Wild? Just when I was celebrating Fire Emblem’s decision to axe armaments with limited durability, you had to go and adopt that bothersome mechanic.

OVERVIEW

Yono and the Celestial Elephants stars a pachyderm infant who has descended down from the heavens with the aim of bringing peace to a fantasy world. Over the course of his five-hour adventure, Yono treks across the land quelling tensions that have brought the human, robot and undead kingdoms to the brink of war. Joining him on the journey are a mischievous redhead and an accident-prone monk. Just like in Zelda, the environments are peppered with pottery that can be smashed to acquire health and cash. Funds can be spent on skins to decorate Yono, such as the hilariously named Elephantom of the Opera.

Several of the obstacles impeding Yono’s progress come in the form of block sliding puzzles. Thankfully the brainteasers aren’t difficult so even a complete “Dumbo” can suss them out without too much trouble. Other challenges require that Yono use his trunk, rather than his head, in order to advance. He can for example unlock doors by blowing on a pinwheel or extinguish flames by dousing the fire with water. Later on Yono can strike distant targets by spewing peanuts out of his nose. In some areas he is required to melt ice via the consumption of chilli, which transforms his proboscis into a makeshift flamethrower.

VERDICT

My rating for Yono and the Celestial Elephants is three and a half stars. I think the game will appeal most to younger gamers due to its cute graphics, wholesome storyline and gentle difficulty curve. Legend of Zelda veterans may however find that the level design and combat is too simplistic for their tastes. For the most part enemies are ineffective and just stand there, as Yono stampedes them into oblivion. The bosses are thankfully more stimulating to fight against. Vanquishing the guardians will require that you memorize attack patterns and deduce the best method for breaching their defences.

Once the main campaign has been cleared there isn’t much incentive to revisit Yono. Completionists can tackle a few optional fetch quests and hunt down all the hidden life-bar boosting containers, but that’s about it. Depending on your budget you’ll have to decide if twelve quid for five hours of entertainment is worth it. Be aware that a PC version of Yono exists, so it may be possible to pick up that port on a discount during one of Steam’s sales. I personally am okay with purchasing the Switch release. My time with Yono was both fun and relaxing. I think the cost/length ratio of a title is irrelephant, as long as it makes you happy.