Call of the Sea from Publisher Raw Fury and Developer Out of the Blue
Walking sim/puzzle game with a great story that is well told (if you take the time to explore and find all of the clues and notes and read the resulting journal).
A walking sim/puzzle game set in the 1930’s.
You play as Norah Everhart, who was born with a strange disease that causes black marks on her arms and hands and will eventually lead to the same slow and painful death that her mother suffered. Norah and her husband Harry have been unsuccessful finding a cure with the doctors. So, Harry sets out on an expedition to try and find a cure himself. After many months, Norah receives a mysterious package and a letter sending her to where Harry’s expedition took place. She sets out to this strange but beautiful island in the South Pacific in search of Harry who has gone missing and this is where our story begins.
The island is filled with secrets waiting to be discovered. During Norah’s adventure on the island she will discover many things about the island, Harry, and herself. She will have to find clues to solve the many puzzles on the island. You explore by walking around, interacting with, and picking up items. You can discover clues by picking up photos, papers, and items left in the many camps spread out over the island. Not everything you find will be necessary to solve the puzzle in front of you but they do all add to context and flesh out the story.
The game is broken down into 6 chapters each taking place in a different part of the island. Each level has a unique look and feel that enhances the story very nicely in addition to providing visual variety and interest. The puzzles in the earlier levels are easy compared to the later ones. As the game goes on the levels become larger and start adding verticality to some of the challenges. They do not hold your hand at all and discovering the clues is mandatory for the later puzzles since a pure trial and error method would take hours. Luckily, once you pick up a clue it gets added to your journal so that you can refer to at any time.
The journal is broken down into 2 parts: Notes and Log. The Notes area holds all of the clues you picked up and will be referred back to often for the puzzles. The Log area is where Norah journals about everything that is discovered along the way, her thoughts and feelings, and is a large part of the story of the game.
The game’s writing is great, Norah feels like a real person but, some of the journal entries had minor issues with spelling or grammar. This might come down to a translation issue as the developers are not from a native English speaking country. The game has 2 endings each with their own emotional push. They did a good job laying the groundwork for either ending to make sense and seem right for the character. One of them really hit us in the feels.
Our biggest complaint about the game is Norah’s movement speed; it is a little slow. Even when “sprinting” her movements are slow. Since the game is part walking sim you will spend a lot of time “running” back and forth across maps that are sometimes pretty spread out trying to solve the puzzles. We would have loved the current “sprint” speed to be the normal walking speed and sprinting to be double that. An autosprint option would’ve been nice too since you’ll have to stop and start repeatedly to interact with items but that’s probably getting a little nit-picky.
The artstyle is hand drawn and cartoony. The music and sound effects are well done. Our only critique is the way the background audio changes abruptly when crossing the threshold from one “area” of the map to another. A more gradual fade from one ambient soundscape to another would’ve helped the environment to feel more seamless. All of the voice over work was great.
Call of the Sea is available on Xbox, Windows and Steam.
Risk System from Publisher and Developer Newt Industries
Photosensitivity warning. Challenging but enjoyable retro style shmup with a couple of interesting mechanics.
In the distant future of A.D. 2149, a race of energy parasites have taken over mankind’s technology and are using it against them. The main character is Alys. She is piloting an experimental ship, the RSK9, and is on her way to prevent the extinction of mankind.
This is a challenging, side scrolling, shoot ’em up (shmup) with a twist. Like most shmups you need to kill the enemies, build up your meter for a special attack, and avoid enemy fire. The twist is the risk reward system they’ve introduced. Narrowly avoiding enemy fire allows you to absorb energy from their attacks. This supercharges your normal weapon and will fill your special attack meter much faster. There is an autofire option that is turned on by default. It will only fire when an enemy is in front of you which lets you focus on controlling the ship and avoiding attacks. We recommend leaving this turned on though there is an option to turn it off if you really want to.
Your special attack, “Barrier Breaker,” does a lot of damage to all of the enemies on screen and gives you temporary invulnerability. Powering it up as fast as you can will help a lot, especially on the more challenging levels.
The ship’s movement feels sluggish compared to some other shmup’s. Fortunately, they have a Barrel Roll maneuver for quick vertical movements. This helps to compensate for the otherwise reduced mobility. One button will have you barrel roll up and another to barrel roll down. It takes a little bit of time to get used to it, but once you do you’ll use it all the time.
Each of the levels ends with a boss fight that is very challenging as each attack from the boss does a lot of damage. These attacks are difficult to avoid but not impossible. You can also time your special just right to be invulnerable and avoid damage that way. Each boss has a different pattern that you will need to learn if you want to defeat them. Luckily, there is a good checkpoint system. When you die you are seamlessly respawned at the boss so you don’t have to replay any of the level. This rapid restart helps you learn their patterns.
After completing a level you are given a letter rank and the choice to retry for a higher rank or to continue to the next mission. To get maximum rank you essentially need to complete the level without taking any damage. It looks like there is an alternate ending if you achieve S rank on every level but we were unable to achieve this during our time playing the game.
The game has a retro pixel art style. The sound effects and music help capture that old school feel of playing hard shoot-em ups in the arcade or on the original consoles. We also really enjoyed the nod to the Metal Gear series that happens pre and post boss fight.
The game has a photosensitivity and seizure warning that is well deserved. It does have an option to turn off screen shake which helps a little. While our reviewer doesn’t have issues with photosensitivity they did find that there were a few times that it was hard to stare at the screen.
Overall it’s an enjoyable but challenging shoot em up.
Risk System is available on Xbox and Steam. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.
Kick it, Bunny from Publisher and Developer DillyFrameGames
More bunny kicking things around and trying to solve block puzzles. Bunny redesign potentially the stuff of nightmares.
This is the next game in the Kicking Bunny Series of games from DillyFrame. They’ve made a change to the character design of the titular bunny and this time around you will be kicking around tetris-esqu puzzle pieces to rotate and place them on a puzzle board in the specified shape.
All of the puzzles are stone figures that have been destroyed. Your job is to rebuild the 50 figures by kicking the pieces back together and rotating them into the correct shape. Most of the puzzles/figures are animal themed. You will have to travel all over the large open world as the puzzles are scattered all over the map. As you complete each puzzle a large green check mark will be placed on it when you view the map. This is very helpful for knowing which ones are still left to be completed. While traveling around you can take a break from the puzzles to play a game of soccer or sit in a chair and relax for a bit.
There are several other animals in the world that you can interact with. Some of the animals are friendly while others are not. The not-so-friendly animals can be a bit of a pain as they will come after you and kick you randomly. When you are kicked you are pushed back and stunned making you unable to move for a few seconds. This can be annoying when you are trying to complete a puzzle and get attacked by an alligator, or a hippo comes and kicks a puzzle piece out of its way.
For some reason they’ve redesigned the main character. The bunny has less comical proportions now and is a more “natural” color. But its face is a bit scary like something from a childhood nightmare. Fortunately, when you’re playing the actual game you don’t see your character’s face much since you’re primarily behind him looking at where you’re kicking the puzzle pieces.
Some of the puzzles can be completed in about 5-10 minutes depending on the player. While others can take upwards of 10-15 minutes, again depending on the player. Luckily there is the option to “restart level” which comes in handy if you overthink the puzzle and just want to reset it.
The kicking mechanic can be a little tedious at times at it doesn’t always do what you want it to or expect it to. For puzzles like this, we would prefer a top down view and directly selecting and manipulating the puzzle pieces instead of navigating a character around them and kicking them around.
Overall the game is enjoyable for what it is as the puzzles can be challenging but still accessible for gamers of all ages.
Kick It, Bunny is available on Xbox and Steam. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.
Clumsy Rush from Publisher RedDeerGames and Developer NerfGame
Couch co-op game of reverse-tag with cartoon hippos racing to a finish line. Variety of different physics mechanics and obstacles. Good for young gamers.
A competitive couch co-op party game for up to 4 players. You play as a Hippo. Your goal is to grab the crown and race to the finish line while wearing it. Sounds easy right? Well, not so fast, buddy. There is only one crown and everyone is trying to get it. Opponents can charge each other and knock the crown off to steal it. But you can’t charge while you’re wearing the crown or it will fall off on its own. This makes it a little bit of a challenge to avoid the attacks of the other players.
There are also a lot of different obstacles on the path. And they change every time you start a new race. Some of these will slow you down or speed you up or push you around. They can be used to your advantage to speed up or slow down your opponents or to help you dodge an incoming attack.
There are 27 different Hippo outfits present in the game for each player to customize their character. This helps distinguish one player from another on the screen. It looks like more skins might be added to the game in the future as the outfit screen has a “…” at the end of the list hinting at more to come.
The standard controls for movement took a while to get used to as the triggers are maps to your character’s feet. Moving requires you to have some rhythm when attempting to move in a straight line. Luckily, the game has another control option using the left thumbstick to move your Hippo which allows you to easily control your movements. With the original controls we found ourselves spinning instead of going straight when we tried to go fast until really getting the proper rhythm.
There are several different game modes to choose from. These are more like modifiers then truly different modes. They add ice, reverse your controls, or make you bounce off anything you bump into just to name a few variations. New game modes are unlocked by completing races. This helps keep interest levels up and build excitement for what the next unlock will be. There are a couple of game modes that are unavailable if you are using the thumbstick control scheme instead of the default one.
Most of the games are kinda short and can be completed within 1-2 minutes depending on your choice of controls and how aggressive your opponents are.
The graphics are bright and colorful in a cartoon style that will appeal to young gamers.
Clumsy Rush 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.
Johnny Rocket from Publisher Restless Corp and Developer HEDE
Decent 2D platformer. Minor issues with hit detection. Great hand drawn art style. Very short completion.
Side Scroller Shooter Platformer
You play as Johnny Rocket, who has been tasked with defeating the “Evil Forces” aka Nazi’s. There are a total of 3 levels that you will make your way through. Each of the levels ends with a boss fight. The boss fights can be challenging at first as each of the bosses have a special attack that can kill you in a few seconds. Once you are able to figure out their attack patterns you can easily avoid their attacks.
New enemy types are introduced pretty often. There are soldiers wielding pistols, machine guns, and heavy machine guns on a turret, as well as attack animals, aircraft, and even UFOs. The new enemies add a little more challenge to the levels as they each have their own attacks you will need to counter or avoid.
Most of the levels are pretty standard; kill the enemies, avoid the traps, and get to the other side. There is a small section in the second level where Johnny jumps into a plane and you get to show off your 2D-aerobatics skills. This was great to see as it was a new mechanic being added to the game but it was way too short clocking in at only about 2 minutes of game play. We would have loved more time in the plane or other vehicles.
The game leans into toilet humor as each level starts and ends with your character on a toilet. Your health is measured in toilet paper rolls and picking up a roll will refill your health.
The game does have some difficulty spikes. Enemies are able to see and shoot you as soon as they appear on screen. Most of them have machine guns and will damage you several times before you are able to shoot them. Hit detection could be better as we ran into a few issues where Johnny would get hit before seeing the shot or enemies taking more hits to kill than they normally would. You will die often due to these issues. Luckily each level has several checkpoints and they are spaced out pretty often. This helps with the frustration of dying as you will only need to replay a small amount of the level.
There are 2 difficulty levels to choose from, Normal or Hardcore. Hardcore is no joke as it is a 1 hit kill. Add that with the other issues and hardcore feels unplayable at times.
The artstyle is a 2D comic, hand drawn, black and white and is by far the best part of the game. It is very animated in a cartoony style. They also added a fun little “character idle” animation that gave us a chuckle.
The game is rather short and can be completed in under an hour depending on player platforming skill. Overall it’s a decent platformer with an interesting hand drawn art style but really short.
Johnny Rocket 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.
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.