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.
Castle of No Escape 2 from Publisher Xitilon and Developer D. E. X. Team
A retro styled rouge-lite dungeon crawler and a solid improvement from the first game. A little short but enjoyable with a simple story.
This, like the previous game, is a Rogue-lite Dungeon Crawler with a 6×6 grid of rooms on each floor and 6 floors to explore.
Castle of No Escape 2 is more than just a sequel by number. It’s got a lot of great additions and improvements from the first one. The graphics have been updated adding new character models, backgrounds, and enemies while keeping the pixel art style. The chip tunes soundtrack has also been updated with new songs that add to the haunted castle atmosphere.
A story has been added to the game along with an intro explaining what is happening and why you are going into the castle. The story is a little short but does a good job setting the mood for your adventure.
The rooms are now massive compared to the first game. You can and will have to move through the rooms fighting off enemies, opening chests, and avoiding traps. The look of the rooms reminded us of the dungeons from The Legend of Zelda on NES. The enemies are able to move and will chase you around trying to kill you. There are a handful of different enemy types each with their own attack patterns and some of them have powers. After a little bit you will be able to figure out the enemies’ attacks and the best way to avoid them. Opening the chests comes with a bit of risk as enemies can hide in the chests and pop out when you open them.
There are several new additions to the game over its predecessor. You have 3 characters to pick from at the start with 3 more unlockable if you meet the secret requirements for them. Each of the characters has their own attributes like the first game but unlike the first game they play very differently as they have their own attacks. This was a great improvement to the game as it makes you want to try each of the characters to see which one will best fit your play style.
Some of the new mechanics in this game are fire pits that can damage you and ice on the floor that causes your character to slide around. They also expanded the in-game economy to include gambling. You can use your coins on a slot machine or play the shell game (like 3 card monty but with a ball under shells). There is still the same shopkeeper from the first game that you can purchase potions from and they added a second merchant who will sell them cheaper (if you can find him). You can also find a blacksmith to upgrade your armor.
It is still a rogue-lite game so dying will make you start over with nothing. The Castle is randomly generated which does make the exploration feel unique each time you enter.
They put in a lot of effort to capture that retro look and feel throughout the game. There is an old school password system that allows you to start with higher gear and some of the artifacts already collected. They also have a game manual that you can access from the options. The manual is great and for those who remember the old game manuals; it really captures that nostalgic feeling.
Castle of No Escape 2 is available on Xbox, Nintendo Switch and Steam. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.
Castle of No Escape from Publisher Xitilon and Developer D. E. X. Team
Minimalistic but fun retro styled rouge-lite dungeon crawler. Pretty standard fare but enjoyable nonetheless.
A Rogue-lite Dungeon Crawler
You start on the first floor of a mysterious castle. It has a top down view of a 6×6 grid. You move around the grid trying to find stairs to access the next floor. There are a total of 6 floors you can explore. All of the rooms on the floor are covered with questions marks making it a surprise for what could be hidden under it. You discover what is in them when your character moves over the room. While exploring you will come across monsters, books (some of which can curse you), chests, artifacts, and a shopkeeper. Each of the artifacts you collect will give you a buff that will help you explore the castle (warning: if you die, you will lose all of your buffs and have to start over from the beginning).
When you run into an enemy you have a few choices, you can fight the enemy using your weapons and magic, or flee. This adds a little bit of risk vs reward element since killing the enemy can reward you with coins but the risk of dying carries a steep penalty. Some of the enemies will attack you as soon as they see you. This can be a little frustrating in the beginning since running into a few enemies in a row can end your game fast.
Like most Rogue-lite games once you die you will start over at the beginning with everything in new random places and none of the upgrades you had previously acquired. The loading time between each of the games is very fast and after you die you will be back to playing in seconds.
There are 3 characters to choose from. Each has their own attributes. These are easy to read and understand by pressing the listed trigger or bumper button. There is a bonus 4th character that you can select by pressing the other unlisted trigger/bumper. However, since the 4th character is hidden you are unable to see their attributes before selecting it. Sadly all of the characters play the same way. They are just a skin and attribute change with identical attacks and spells.
You can purchase potions to refill your Strength, Intelligence, or Dexterity from the shopkeeper using the coins you find. We suggest using your coins on the strength potions as they will keep you alive longer.
They also introduce a light mechanic to reveal some of the rooms around you. This helps you avoid enemies or find valuables on the floor. The primary method for this mechanic comes in the form of flares. Keep in mind you have a limited amount of flares and can easily run out of them. Luckily, you can find replacement flares in some of the rooms. If you are really lucky you will find the lantern which does the same thing as the flares but without having to consume them.
Sadly there is little to no story in the game. You need to collect the elements before the Demon Nikolai finds them and destroys the world. It’s a little reminiscent of Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet since the boss has a large gauntlet on and is trying to collect 5 stones.
Castle of No Escape is available on Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Steam and Windows. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.
Smart Moves from Publisher Xitilon and Developer grin robot
It’s a fun retro looking puzzle game with a good amount of puzzles and can be played one handed.
A turn-based puzzle game
You move around the level opening the chests scattered throughout attacking or avoiding enemies and traps. Once you open all of the chests the level ends whether you defeated all of the enemies or not.
All of the levels are contained on one screen and laid out in a grid. Your character can move left, right, up or down one square at a time. Once an enemy has been alerted to your presence on the level they will attempt to hunt you down. There is an exclamation mark animation that appears over the enemies heads to let you know they have been alerted. It reminded us of the old Metal Gear games. The enemies can only move when you move, with every move you make the enemies that are on the hunt will close in on you. You can consume a turn by using an object on the level (the chests, barrels and others) instead of moving to skip a turn and force the enemies into attack range. You or the enemies can attack each other when standing on a neighboring square. If you get attacked by an enemy or hit a trap, it’s a 1 hit kill; game over.
After completing the first few worlds you will need to start planning your moves ahead of time. You’ll need to count out the turns to either avoid the traps or lure enemies to trigger them, and determine when is the best time to use the objects to consume a turn without moving.
There are 8 worlds with 8 levels per world. You have the option to take a break from the world and levels you are playing and unlock another area at any time. You do this with the keys you get after completing a level. It is always nice to see that option as some levels will frustrate you and make you want to stop playing. Having the option to take a break from that one and play another was a good choice. We found that if we got stuck on a level for a while taking a break to clear our head and coming back later helped us beat the level that stumped us.
Like most puzzle games it starts out with easy simple puzzles letting you get the hang of the controls and mechanics. After the first few levels the difficulty starts to ramp up. Checkpoints are added on the levels and other mechanics get introduced. We ran into an issue with the checkpoint system. The checkpoints are in static locations on the levels and can be picked up at any time, if you get yourself into a bad spot (having enemies around you) and collect a checkpoint it can put you into a no win situation which will require you to restart the level losing your progress. After dying you do have the option to load from checkpoint or restart the level. Both reloading checkpoint and restarting the level are tied to single buttons. These can be triggered without the prompt even showing up on screen. This has pros and cons. On the plus side, if you realize you’re stuck in an unwinnable situation you can quickly reset with the press of a single button. The bad part is you can easily hit the wrong button accidently and lose progress. The reloading and respawning times are very fast. This comes in handy since you’ll be using it a lot on the later levels.
The game has a retro look and feel with easy controls as the movement of the character is done with the d-pad or a thumb stick. It is possible to play the game one handed which is great to see as it allows the game to be more accessible for all gamers.
Smart Moves is available on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.
Sweet Witches from Publisher Drageus Games and Developer LumenSection
A challenging platformer that is a little repetitive with a cutesy cartoony art style
You play as a witch. Your objective is to plant flowers on all of the designated plots while avoiding enemies. To plant the flowers you’ll need to walk or run over the plots scattered all over the levels. There are enemies that will get in your way and try to stop you from completing your task. Bunnies are the only enemy that will eat the flowers you plant making you replant the flowers. You will need to climb ladders to get to the different platforms and reach all of the plots. The enemies can climb the ladders too and as you progress through the game you’ll encounter some enemies that can move between the platforms without using a ladder.
But, never fear, you can fight back! Some of the enemies you will be able to defeat with your magic hat, but others can only be defeated by using an item. On these bigger baddies your hat will only stun them. These items come from magic boxes that look like presents. You can only open one present at a time so you’ll have to use that item before you can pick up another one. Eventually, enemies won’t be the only danger you have to contend with in your quest to beautify the world with flower gardens. They also introduce environmental hazards that must be dodged while still dealing with the other enemies.
There are 50+ levels and 5 unique world’s to make your way through. There is also a bonus level at the end of each of the worlds that gives you a chance to regain some lost lives/hearts.
There are 3 game modes in the Campaign; Arcade, Adventure and Custom. Arcade mode is the hardest by far. You start with only 5 lives and no continues. Adventure is the recommended mode for new players since it lets you continue when you lose all of your lives. Custom lets you change the speed of the enemies, add more starting lives, and turn on or off Friendly Fire. When starting the campaign you are able to pick one of two different good witches. Each has unique hat attacks and special spells.
After completing the campaign you are able to replay it with your choice of two bad witches. It’s not just a simple skin change, they have their own attacks and spells and instead of planting flowers, you’re pulling them out. Some of the enemies will be different (most notably, the bunnies that eat flowers are replaced by baby chickens that plant them) while others stay the same.
On some of the levels it can be difficult to see where you need to plant the flowers as the block representing the plot looks similar to the platforms (the platforms themselves often have multiple different kinds of blocks for decoration). This can result in having to search for the missing plot to plant the last flower. The second version of the campaign is a lot easier in this respect since the flowers are much more obvious than a simple change in block color. We found a more methodical approach to completing the levels was helpful for avoiding a lot of repeat and searching. Killing all of the bunnies or chicks straight away is also a must.
The challenge increases the further you progress with the addition of new enemies that move faster, have ranged attacks, or can change platforms without using a ladder. They also add some new level mechanics like mud slides that slow you down, ice blocks that speed you up and can cause you to slide right into enemies, and darkness that lowers visibility and field of view.
The only co-op option available at the time of this review is couch co-op. We would have loved an online option for both co-op and versus mode. In Versus Mode you can play against each other with up to 4 players. Unfortunately, since this game is couch co-op only, this mode won’t be available unless you actually have a 2nd player. There are two game types in Versus mode (Timed and Deathmatch). There are a few options to turn on or off the enemies.
It’s worth noting that there is a game breaking glitch that also happens to be tied to an achievement. If you try to use your special magic spell and attack the Momma/Queen cat that is spawning kittens your game will freeze and crash causing you to lose your progress and have to start the world over again.
Overall the game is fun and they did a good job with the pacing of new enemies and mechanics to steadily increase the difficulty but some may still find it repetitive as you are still doing the same thing over and over again.
Sweet Witches is available on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.
Neighbours back From Hell from Publisher HandyGames and Developer THQ Nordic
A little like Home Alone meets Punk’d in claymation style cartoon graphics. Overall it’s enjoyable but can become repetitive.
The opening starts out with your horrible neighbours making your life a living hell and when they finally go too far, it’s time for payback. You play as Woody, the star of a prank show aimed at pranking your Neighbour. You break and enter into your neighbours house and go through their stuff to locate items to use or combine to prank and torture him.
Each episode will have a minimum number of pranks that must be successfully completed in order to finish the level. There is also a maximum number of pranks possible in each episode so you can choose which ones to do to meet the minimum requirement or the extra mischievous player can complete them all. The pranks are tracked at the top of the screen. There’s a slot for each completed prank and a checkered flag over the minimum requirement to finish the episode. The slots are filled with a gold medal when your neighbor discovers each prank.
All of the items you will need to execute your dastardly deeds are located somewhere in the house. You’ll need to explore and search different objects to find items to use and discover what you can potentially interact with to use the items on.
Some of our favorite pranks were putting a fake shark fin on a remote control submarine and having it scare the hell out of him, replacing a ping pong ball with an egg so he hits the egg into his wifes face making her beat him up for it, and adding miracle grow to a watering can making the plant grow and bite him.
There are several episodes to play through. In the beginning you’ll only be able to access two floors in his house. As the season progresses this expands to four floors. The additional floors add to the level of difficulty as you will sometimes need to pick up items located on the top floor and bring them to the basement to lay the trap all while trying to avoid the neighbor. If he finds you he attacks you and beats you up and then you reset but you don’t lose your previous progress. If he finds you three times, he beats you to death and you’ll have to replay the episode from the beginning.
As you progress through the seasons the locale will change from his house to various locations as he travels on vacation. Talk about holding a grudge, you’re stalking this guy around the world as he travels on vacation with his family just to get back at him for being an asshole neighbor and score some ratings for your prank show.
Some items will have a “mini-game” that you have to successfully complete in order to interact with them. If you fail the mini-game it alerts your neighbor and he’ll come investigate. If he catches you he’ll beat you up so you need to run away fast or hide in one of the hiding spots provided on the map to avoid getting caught. If you manage to avoid getting caught, you can pay attention to his alert meter to know when he’s given up the chase and returned to his normal routine making it safe to come out again.
Some levels require a little more stealth than others. They’ve provided a stealth mechanic that you will need in order to avoid waking sleeping animals or family members. It’s easy to use and only requires you to hold a button to tiptoe around the room. If you wake an animal it will alert the neighbor just like failing a mini-game but waking a person will result in you getting an ass whooping from the sleeper.
The artstyle is a fun cartoony look that reminds us of claymation a la “Wallace and Grommet”. They do a good job clearly showing which objects are interactable and what you can do with them through the on screen graphics.
All in all the game is enjoyable. They do a good job introducing complexity and challenge with the larger maps and different locales but the basic objectives remain pretty much the same so it still tends toward repetition.
Neighbours back From Hell is available on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.