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.
In Rays of the Light from Publisher Sometimes You and DeveloperNoskov Sergey
Intriguing backstory for those that take the time to find it. Fantastic use of sound design and visual elements to create the atmosphere. Relatively short walking sim/puzzle game.
An Atmospheric Walking Adventure
In a post-civilization world you find yourself in the decaying remains of an abandoned school. Nature has started reclaiming the building. This is where the game begins.
The world is empty and you are alone… or are you? This is where the atmospheric adventure starts taking you into dark areas with only a small flashlight to illuminate the way. You need to explore the building and side structures to find a way out. While the game is in first person and you do carry around a pipe, there are no enemies, combat, or jump scares to worry about. The pipe is just for prying open doors. Seems like it should be a relaxing walking sim, right? Wrong. The tension is built with a great sound design that creates a really spooky ambiance layered with other sounds like footsteps and lockers/doors being opened and closed. This combines with moving shadows and other things just in the corners of your vision as you look around giving you that super creepy feeling that you are not actually alone.
While searching the building you will spend some time in above ground areas that are partially lit by the light coming in through the windows. In contrast, the underground areas are very dark adding more tension and some navigational challenges. It is easy to get lost as some of the areas feel like a maze in the dark with only a lighter and flashlight to find clues leading to the way out.
While exploring the world you will find items to interact with or pick up. Some of these will be needed to solve the puzzles. You’ll also see a lot of writing on walls and blackboards all over. The puzzles can be challenging as there is no hand holding and it’s easy to miss a clue in the dark. We also found that you have to be very close to objects before you can tell if they can be interacted with or not. This made things a little more time consuming and we would have liked to be able to tell from a greater distance what is interactable and what isn’t.
One of the things you can pick up is notes scattered around the world. The notes provide backstory for what happened to everyone and the state of the world. The backstory is intriguing enough it makes you want to check every possible spot that a note could be just to learn more about what happened.
The game is on the shorter side and can be completed in under 2 hours depending on how lost you get when trying to find the clues to solve the puzzles and navigate through the maze-like areas.
There are two different endings depending on how much time you spend in the light. We thought this was an interesting mechanic but we don’t recommend trying for the low light ending on your first playthrough.
Overall it was an enjoyable game with an interesting story. A little too dark at times though as even with the brightness turned all the way up it’s easy to get lost in the darkness.
In Rays of the Light is available on Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo Switch. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.
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.
Active Neurons 3 from Publishers Sometimes You, Usanik STD and Developer Nikolai Usachev
Good puzzle game with great features, accessibility options, and enjoyable soundtrack.
Active Neurons – Wonders of the World is the third and final installment in the Active Neurons series. Being the third installment in the series it has most of the game mechanics from the previousgames as well as several that are new to this one. Like the previous games, new mechanics are introduced to the puzzles at a regular pace to keep them challenging and keep things interesting. A few of the new mechanics that we really enjoyed are one that lets you swap places with another square, another that gives you the option to turn some blocks on or off (both add a whole bunch of challenges), and a mini puzzle inside the level that locks off an area until you solve it.
One of the best new additions is the Step Back button which lets you “rewind” your moves. There is no limit to the amount of moves that you can rewind and you can do it all with the press of a button. This allows you to make a mistake without having to restart the entire level and is especially helpful during the later levels as the puzzles will require a lot of moves to complete.
Like the previous 2 games, solving the puzzle requires moving an energy block to the goal 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 and solve the puzzle.
If you get really stuck on a puzzle there is the option to see the solution. This option has been present in all of the games and is one of the many staple mechanics to the series.
The game is broken down into 2 areas; the “Wonders of the World” which spans from the Great Pyramid of Giza to the Lighthouse of Alexandria (BC), and the “New 7 Wonders of the World” which covers from the Colosseum to Christ the Redeemer (AD). The New 7 Wonders of the World is where the difficulty really ramps up with new mechanics being introduced. Sometimes you’ll need to combine a few mechanics to solve the puzzles. There are 140 puzzles to complete between both areas.
They brought back the colorblind mode accessibility option from the first game. Sadly, the monochrome mode from the first game was not part of the comeback. The colorblind mode is extremely useful and we recommend using it whether you’re colorblind or not as it adds icons to all of the interactive blocks making it easier to know what each of them does.
There is a great relaxing soundtrack that comes in handy when you start to get frustrated with the harder puzzles. It works well with the minimalistic art style.
Overall the game is enjoyable, the puzzles are challenging, and it’s a good ending to the series. Since there’s not really a “story” you don’t need to have played the previous games to enjoy this one.
Active Neurons 3 – Wonders Of The World is available on Xbox, Playstation and Nintendo Switch. 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.
Butterfly from Publisher Xitilon and Developer Grin Robot
Very basic platformer. Issues with the controls and a few other things. At least it’s short.
A puzzle platformer where you play as a caterpillar on their journey to become a butterfly. You will make your way through 40 levels on your journey collecting the many flowers scattered around the levels while avoiding hazards.
Unlike most platformers, this game does not have a jump mechanic. Instead, you can fall and bounce off other objects like bees, selectively marked blocks, and blocks floating in the water. You can only bounce off each object one time. They disappear after being bounced on. You will also use tubes to move around the screen. New mechanics are introduced as you progress to keep a sense of challenge and interest.
Most of the puzzles are very simple to figure out. The “puzzle” is really all about planning your moves before getting too far into the level. Path selection is vital to successful completion. Fortunately, resetting the levels is quick and easy since it’s highly likely you’ll need more than one attempt to get the order right on your path selection and on later levels to get the timing and control right on some of the more difficult platforming parts.
The controls made the game harder than it needed to be. There is no option to use the D-pad which means you have to use a thumbstick for all movements. There is also an issue that causes your character to stutter at times when moving. This became a big problem on some of the later levels that required precise platforming.
The gameplay area has a 4:3 aspect ratio which leaves a large amount of screen real estate empty on modern displays. Between the aspect ratio and the graphics, we were reminded of gaming back on Windows 3.1.
We ran into an issue on a later level that was game breaking making it impossible to complete the level. Since there is no level numbering or level select we’re not really sure which level this was. We have reported it to the publisher who advised that they will be releasing an update that should make the level completable shortly after release if not on day 1.
Update 01-30-2021: The game breaking issue we ran into on the later level has been patched and the game is now able to be completed.
Butterfly will be available on Xbox. A digital copy of this game was provided to SimpleGameReviews for the purposes of reviewing the game.