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Road to Guangdong Review

Road to Guangdong from Publisher Excalibur Games and Developer Just Add Oil Games

Driving Simulator + Visual Novel Mashup. Decent story but would have been more enjoyable without the poor driving sim.

A Visual Novel and Driving Simulator

The main character is Sunny.  After her parents passed away, she was given the family‘s cherished restaurant by her Aunt (Guu Ma). Before she takes over the restaurant she needs to visit other family members and ask for their guidance and maybe their secret recipes too so she can attempt to revive the once thriving restaurant. To accomplish this you will set out on a driving adventure across the province of Guangdong in the 90’s with her aunt in Sandy which is the family’s old run down car. It needs a lot of maintenance and TLC just to keep it on the road which is going to be one of your primary tasks.

While driving with your aunt you can have a conversation with her. This makes the time spent in the car a little more realistic and enjoyable. You can do a few things in the car like turning on the headlights at night, turning the key to start the car, and even changing the radio station. If there is a song playing that your Aunt doesn’t like she will let you know and even change the station herself if you don’t do it first. The music is good and fits the time and place and is relaxing during the frustrating driving sections. Some trips seem to drag on and require several stops to fill the car’s gas and oil. We would have loved more stations on the radio as there were only a few songs being played on each and with the amount of time you spend in the car you will hear them over and over again. 

The driving mechanics could use some work. Getting from one location to another takes more time than it should. You’ll spend more than half of the game in the car just getting to the locations. While in the car you will need to keep the car in working order. To do this, you will have to make stops at scrap piles and garages to pick up and replace parts when they start to wear out and you’ll have to keep refilling the gas and oil. They did a good job capturing the experience of driving a POS car that has to be kept under a certain speed or it will overheat and has to stop often to repair parts and top off the oil just to keep it running. The amount of time you will have to spend dealing with the car gets in the way of enjoying the game unless you’re a sadistic weirdo that enjoys that sort of thing. 

There is an element of in-game economy introduced with the scrap piles and garages. You can pick up parts from the scrap piles and sell them at the garages to make some money. You will need this to afford the cost of the car’s maintenance. Unfortunately, participating in this economy is both required and subject to additional load times and inconvenience. Each time you stop at the garage each area (fill up gas/oil or buy/sell a part) requires separate load time. This really slows down the gameplay as you will need to do this a lot.

You will be visiting 6 locations during your adventure, there is a map that pops up and lets you pick your next destination. The driving is very linear as you will be driving in a straight line during your time on the way to your destination. The only deviations are pulling into a garage or scrap pile or stopping on the side of the road because you ran out of gas or oil (hopefully you packed some extra last time you were at a garage). 

The writing is the best part of the game. Once you get to your destination the game switches from driving sim to visual novel. The conversations that happen in this portion feel natural and at a few times hit you in the feels as you start to feel for Sunny and the situation she has been put in. When speaking with people and family members you will have several responses to choose from. At times you will need to change areas to speak with someone else to unlock another choice. Keep in mind that your choices and decisions matter as once the conversation is over it’s over. If you leave a location and attempt to return some of the areas are no longer available to access. The conversation controls felt a little odd as you would use one button to select your choice but a different button to continue the conversation. 

The worst part of the game was all of the driving. The time involved with maintaining the car was excessive and the load times required for interacting at the garages really killed the momentum. The driving controls are simple as you only have gas, reverse, and a thumbstick to steer yet somehow the mechanics were still kinda bad. The only positive here is that your car doesn’t seem to take damage when you inevitably run into something.

The artstyle is colorful with low poly characters and backgrounds. The simple graphics work fine since you will be more focused on the story.

Road to Guangdong is available on Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Playstation and Steam. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.

I, AI Review

I, AI from Publisher Sometimes You and Developer Satur Entertainment

A grindy shmup

A vertical shmup

You play as an AI that gains self-awareness and escapes the lab that created it. During the escape you possess a spaceship and take off. Using this spaceship, you need to make your way through an enemy army to reach a stargate.

There are a total of 20 missions you will play through on your way to the stargate. Most of the missions will end with a boss battle where you have to defeat a large heavily armed battleship. The other levels will end with your ship flying into space and onto the next mission.

After killing the enemy ships they will drop blue energy which is the ingame currency. You can use it to upgrade your ship in several different ways and to purchase superweapons for the ship. The superweapons do a lot of damage but have limited ammo. You can refill your superweapons’ ammo by finding pickups after killing enemies or destroying asteroids. You can also find repair kits for your ship’s armor the same way. The asteroids can be shot to be destroyed but they don’t cause any damage to your ship if you fly into them. So, you can literally just push them around if they’re blocking your line of fire to the enemies.

Since you will be traveling through space, most of the levels have the same background (space with parts of large machinery or ships added here or there). Sadly, when upgrading your ship it doesn’t change the appearance at all. We would have loved to see it change when adding rockets or upgrading the weapons or armor. It’s nice to be able to see your ship look badass when you’ve upgraded it to be badass.

After completing a mission you are ranked on a three point scale.  If you are able to kill all of the enemies and collect all of the energy you get a 50% bonus to the energy collected. If you die in the level you will lose half of the energy/currency you collected before dying. This added a little bit of risk/reward to missions. 

You are able to replay missions at any time to try to increase your rank or just to grind some more currency to upgrade your ship. Sadly, you will need to do some grinding to upgrade your ship’s main weapons and rockets just to keep up with the challenge. 

New enemies are added every few levels to keep the difficulty up. Some of the enemies look similar to others but with a different attack pattern. You will need to upgrade your ship’s main weapons and rockets just to survive. Depending on the upgrades you choose and how much you grind for currency it is possible to make yourself overpowered.

We would have loved the option to remap the buttons in the game since “shoot” was mapped to one of the triggers instead of the way most shmups map shooting to a face button. However, with the auto-fire feature enabled from the options menu, this was less of an issue. Auto-fire actually lets you play the game one handed at times if you don’t want to use the superweapons that are mapped to the face buttons.

In the audio department, the “AI” voiceover work could have been better. There was an effect added to try and make it sound more “computery” but we didn’t think it was as successful as they wanted it to be and the overall voice acting itself could have been better. 

The sound effects are good and fit the game. They did a great job adding the option to control the volume for music, sound, and “The sound of the main gun” separately. This was a great choice as you will be hearing that sound effect constantly and we found the clicking sound of the main gun to be a bit annoying.

Overall the game was enjoyable but the grinding for currency to upgrade your ship felt mandatory just to stay alive in the later levels.

I, AI is available on Xbox, Nintendo Switch and Playstation. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.

My Aunt is a Witch Review

My Aunt is a Witch from Publisher Sometimes You and Developer Graven Visual Novels

An interesting expansion on the typical visual novel genre. A little slow to start out but it picks up.

A Visual Novel with some Point and Click elements.

The story is told from the perspective of a boy named Thomas. He was sent to live with his Aunt by his dad and stepmom. Shortly after getting to his aunt’s house, he discovers that she is a real witch who has a talking cat and a bunch of magical things laying around the house. Thomas takes on some of the household chores learning about magical items and making potions. This is where the story starts. 

After spending some time in the house, Thomas starts to see and experience the magic and plans on becoming a master potion maker as well as an apprentice to his aunt. During his journey you will meet several interesting characters and have to complete quests and a few puzzles. You will also have a few locations that you will visit and get to explore.  

After a while, the visual novel adds some point and click game elements allowing you to take control of Thomas and explore the house. You will be provided with check lists that Thomas will need to complete with items located all over the house. This house might not be the safest place for a child to be left alone to explore. There are interesting ways that Thomas can die while looking around the house. We recommend saving often as there is no auto save and if you die without a save you will need to start the story over. Since there is no way to skip the text, dying without having a save is a time consuming mistake. We would have liked to have some form of checkpoint auto-save feature in the game.

During the visual novel parts of the game they did a great job letting you easily know who is talking by having a nice easy to read graphic above the text box. Each of the characters have their own text colors with a cute little graphic on them making it easy to tell them apart.

The backgrounds and environments are well done with a colorful anime art style that works well, looks good, and fits the story. Some of the conversations will have a small amount of animation in the background. It has a relaxing original soundtrack with well done sound effects that help the immersion and keep you interested in the story during some of the longer conversations.

The story is pretty straightforward with a few interesting parts. There are some pacing issues in the first half with some of the conversations dragging on and needlessly describing in detail things that are pictured on screen. In the later half of the story several characters are introduced at a pretty fast rate. This is where the story starts to come alive and pick up speed.

When you enter the point and click part of the game and take control of Thomas the controls become very important. It wasn’t always clear what button needed to be pressed so it took some time to get used to the controls. Holding a button on the controller will show you which items you are able to interact with. A glowing star displays over the items making it easy to see what you can and cannot interact with. There are times that the on screen user interface will be blocking an item you need to interact with and you will not be able to see it unless you hold the show active objects button.

There is an option that will pull up a book of all the previous text in case you missed something that was said. This is a helpful feature in a visual novel as it is easy to click the next text button a few to many times and miss something. 

We really enjoyed the point and click parts of the game and would have liked to see more of this. There are some minor spelling and grammar issues that pop up in the story but they can be overlooked as it does not happen often.

My Aunt is a Witch is available on Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch and PSVita. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.

Active Neurons 2 Review

Active Neurons 2 from Publishers Sometimes You, Usanik STD and Developer Nikolai Usachev

A great sequel with fun new mechanics, nice soundtrack, and challenging puzzles.

A Logic Puzzle

This is the sequel to Active Neurons (Review Here ). There are more puzzles, new mechanics added to the game, and a great new soundtrack. 

We noticed several changes/improvements from the original Active Neurons. Previously, all of the puzzles were single screen. Now, some puzzles will require you to move to a second screen which adds a bunch of new challenges. Solving the puzzles now comes with a bigger animated explosion that provides a very satisfying feeling. We also noticed that some of the options available in the first game are not present in this game; namely, Color Blind mode and Monochrome mode. This is a let down for those that use these accessibility features. Hopefully they’ll be added in a future update.

The soundtrack is great with lofi beats to keep you relaxed when struggling with a puzzle. They’ve also added an RGB sound graph across the bottom of the screen that visualizes the soundtrack. During our game play the background music cut out at one point for several minutes. Quitting and reloading seemed to fix it. 

Much like the first game solving the puzzle requires moving an energy block to the goal(s) located elsewhere on the level. Once you press the direction you want the block to move, it will continue in that direction until it hits an obstacle. You will need to use these obstacles along with portals or the walls around the edge of the screen to help you maneuver through the level. 

There are over 150 puzzles to enjoy and several unique game mechanics are introduced as you progress through the levels. As you make your way along this journey you will discover the 12 greatest inventions of humanity and reflect on the power of human thought. Once you complete the 10 levels for each invention you are provided with information about the invention. We really liked these nuggets of knowledge gained along the way.

If you get really stuck on a puzzle there is the option to see the solution for the puzzle at the press of a button. That was present in the original game and returns for the second game. It’s really nice for those that are impatient or just really stuck to be able to keep moving through the game. There is also a convenient reset button which restarts the puzzle in a second or 2. This got a lot of use for us especially in the later levels where mistakes cannot be recovered from. If you like the challenge of actually figuring things out for yourself, be careful when restarting levels as it is easy to accidentally select the solution button instead of the reset button. Fortunately, you can stop the solution from completing even if you accidentally click it.

It is a very enjoyable gameplay experience. The puzzles start out pretty easy and increase  the difficulty at a nice pace while steadily introducing new mechanics to keep the game fresh. 

Much like the original game there is little to no replayability after completing the game. If there is a 3rd game we would love to see leaderboards, challenges, or time trials added. Some would consider it a good thing that these additions aren’t present while others may find they miss having a reason to replay levels and the ability to compete with friends and strangers.

Active Neurons 2 is available on Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.

Task Force Kampas Review

Task Force Kampas from Publisher Eastasiasoft and Developer Casiopea Wave

Fairly short and straightforward SHMUP with good boss battles. A few missed opportunities that could’ve enhanced game play but still enjoyable for what it is.

A vertical shoot em up

Task Force Kampus is a vertical shmup. There are 5 different pilots or characters to choose from, each with their own bonuses. 2 of the 5 pilots are unlockable characters. You’ll need to complete the game for one of them and get enough coco collectibles (more about these later) to unlock the other one. The pilots all have their own individual and interesting looks but you only see the pilot when selecting it at the beginning and they all fly the same ship just in different colors. While the different options for pilots and their bonuses are great it seems like they missed an opportunity to add additional layers and options to the game by not allowing you to choose your ship or giving the ships any stat differences themselves.  

The screen has been split into 3 equal parts with the gameplay in the middle part and the sides left completely blank. Both Task Force Kampas and Red Death (previously reviewed HERE) are from the same Publisher Eastasiasoft. Both games seem to waste a lot of screen real estate but this may be a side effect of the need to limit the width of the play area in a shmup.

The game has an interesting mechanic that gives you hp regeneration for your ship if you can hold off on firing or taking damage for a set amount of time. It appears that hp regen delay is different for each of the pilots. This stat would be nice to know when choosing your pilot.

There are 3 bosses you will fight while working your way through the game. The boss battles are enjoyable and they appear to each have their own theme songs that play while fighting them (some of the songs are better than others). Each of the bosses has a movement and attack pattern that can be figured out pretty easily. Once you catch onto the pattern you can see where to position yourself on screen to avoid taking damage so you can hang out there and heal up. If you’re able to figure out the pattern the game is pretty short and can be completed in about 10 minutes depending on player skill. 

Meteors and enemies have a chance to drop the in-game collectible, Coco, when destroyed. A coco is a golden dinosaur. These collectibles add to your score and if you collect enough of them you will be rewarded with a flying coco wearing a helmet that is tethered to your ship who will attack enemies. These are also what you need to collect enough of to unlock one of the pilots as a playable selection.

There is a High Score leaderboard present in the game and it does have stats showing how many wins, deaths, and most cocos collected. Another missed opportunity here, the leaderboard is local only and only shows the top 3. We are glad they included a leaderboard so we can see our stats but would have loved to see it as an online leaderboard to be able to compare scores with friends and globally. 

Task Force Kampas is available on Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita and Nintendo Switch. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.

Active Neurons Review

Active Neurons from Publisher Sometimes You and Developer Nikolai Usachev

Relaxing music, challenging puzzles, excellent accessibility options

A logic puzzle

Each puzzle is contained within a single screen. You’ll need to move an energy block to the flashing goal located elsewhere on the screen. Once you press the direction you want the block to move it will move until it hits an obstacle. To solve the puzzles you will need to use these obstacles or the walls around the edge of the screen to help you maneuver through the level. 

There are 120 puzzles to enjoy and several unique game mechanics that are introduced as you progress through the levels. The idea of neurons and the neurological pathways through the brain and body are represented through the menus and level selection format. Completing puzzles fills a neuron and when the neuron is full you get to progress to the next set of puzzles. 

The Brain levels are where you start and are a good introduction to the game’s mechanics. After the first section they start to introduce various obstacles, some of which can kill you. This gives the player the opportunity to get familiar with how to move around and solve the puzzles.

Once you’ve progressed far enough and are making your way through the Body, the levels start to become very challenging and can be failed from your first move. That may sound odd but for most of these levels your block begins from a location in the middle somewhere that can never be returned to since your block will always travel as far as it can until it runs into something. Luckily you can restart any level if you find yourself stuck or put yourself into an unsolvable position. The level reloads in seconds which is great and keeps you playing.

If you get really stuck on a puzzle there is the option to see the solution for the puzzle at the press of a button. That is a nice option to have and is conveniently located right beside the restart button. If you like the challenge of actually figuring things out for yourself, be careful when restarting levels as it is easy to accidentally select the solution button instead. 

The soundtrack is great and relaxing with mellow tunes. This was a good choice for helping players stay cool when the harder levels lead to frustration from repeated failure.

There is a color blind option as well which was great to see and really well done. It adds icons to all of the interactive blocks letting you know what each of them does. It makes it very easy to know what will happen when you hit the blocks. We actually preferred playing with this feature turned on just to make it easier to see what effect all of the blocks would have. 

There is also a monochrome mode if you want to use it. This makes all the blocks shades of grey instead of different colors. You can pair monochrome mode with color blind mode so the icons will still appear.

The majority of the game can also easily be played with just the left thumbstick with occasional presses of the A button. This and the above mentioned colorblind mode make it very friendly for anyone with accessibility needs.

The game is very enjoyable. It scratches the puzzle itch and makes you feel good when you figure out a difficult puzzle. Once you have completed the puzzles there is little to no replayability as there are no leaderboards, challenges, or time trials. Some would consider this a good thing while others may find they miss having a reason to replay levels. 

Active Neurons is available on Xbox One, PS4, PSVita and Nintendo Switch. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.