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 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.
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.
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.
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.