Video Game Review: The Swapper [PS Vita/PSN]

The Swapper [PS Vita/PSN]

The Swapper
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS3, PS4, PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U
Genre: Puzzle platformer
Developer: Facepalm Games & Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Price: $19.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: August 5, 2014

The Swapper is a puzzle-platformer that just oozes atmosphere. Originally released for the PC last year, this Facepalm Games adventure received overwhelming praise from critics and fans alike. This week, the ever-prolific Curve Studios is set to introduce this indie hit to a whole new set of gamers via the Playstation Network.

Set deep in space on a seemingly abandoned space station, The Swapper places you in the role of a lone explorer who is trying to make sense of the situation. The feeling of isolation here is undeniable — you are just one person alone in a massive, eerie location. Shortly upon arrival, you gain access to a mysterious new weapon, dubbed the Swapper, that gives you the ability to create clones of yourself — up to four at once. At first it appears to be a neat little tool, but soon it’s clear that it may have some unexpectedly heady consequences.

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PS Vita Game Review: MouseCraft

MouseCraft

MouseCraft
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS3, PS4, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Puzzle adventure
Developer: Crunching Koalas & Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Price: $14.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: July 8, 2014

Don’t let its uninspired name fool you — MouseCraft is not related to Minecraft (or Warcraft, Starcraft or any other “crafts”). The latest release from popular indie publisher Curve Studios is actually a puzzler that plays out like a hybrid of Tetris and Lemmings.

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Titan Attacks! [PSN: PS3/PS4/PS Vita] Review

Titan Attacks!

Titan Attacks!
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Windows, Mac, Linux
Genre: Arcade Shooter
Developer: Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Price: $13.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: May 6, 2014

Curve Studios has been on quite the roll lately. Over the last several months, they have brought popular indie hits such as Stealth Inc, Thomas Was Alone, and Proteus over to the Playstation Network. This month they have dabbled into the retro world of arcade gaming with Titan Attacks!.

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Video Game Review: Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

Proteus
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC and Mac OS)
Genre: Open World
Developer: Ed Key, David Kanaga, Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Studios
Price: $13.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: October 29, 2013

Labeling Proteus as a video game is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, it is playable on gaming systems (the PSN release is cross-buy for both PS3 and Vita) and there are a handful of trophies to obtain, but that’s about where the familiarity ends. This is more of an experience, one completely unique in the world of gaming.

Proteus is all about exploration from a first-person perspective. Every new “campaign” places you near a randomly-generated island, and your only task is to explore it as you see fit. There is no proper end goal or set destination — what you get out of your experience is entirely up to you.

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

Every island is filled with hills, trees and mountains. Leaves float through the air, flowers sway in the wind, the sun rises, the sun sets. It rains, it snows. Small animals — which resemble frogs and rabbits — hop through the forest, hitting musical notes every time they hit the ground. You can’t really interact with them, but you can chase them until something else catches your eye.

Walking throughout the vast, colorful island produces new sounds with nearly every step. Ambient music plays in the background, creating a beautifully tranquil atmosphere, and different areas change the tune in ways that only enhance the mood. It’s as if you are traveling through your very own musical forest in which even random objects alter the soundscape.

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

The pixel art style used for the graphics provides a surprisingly lush environment. The visuals, while decidely retro in appearance, actually work quite well in creating alluring scenery. The vibrant colorscape certainly helps in this regard, as do the changes in weather and seasons. Watching the snow fall during winter is especially serene.

A single trip through the island and its seasons can be completed in an hour or less. However, each visit provides an entirely new experience, so this isn’t exactly a one-and-done endeavor. For the Playstation Network release, the inclusion of cryptic trophies strengthens each playthrough, as the descriptions are vague enough that it can take some serious thinking to figure out what to do.

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

All of this culminates in a truly special, fantasy-like adventure. The $13.99 price point is a bit steep, but if you have a good imagination and are willing to step outside the boundaries of conventional gaming, Proteus may be just what you’re looking for.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC, Mac OS X and Linux)
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Superflat Games, Curve Studios
Publisher: Superflat Games
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: September 24, 2013

In a world where most modern horror games rely heavily on action and frantic combat, Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is a breath of fresh air. This is a game that manages to crank up the suspense while providing an intense, creepy atmosphere, all while being presented in a pixelated 2D environment.

The game tells the story of You, an unnamed protagonist (in his words, his name “doesn’t really matter anymore”) who is seemingly the lone survivor after a disease wiped out the rest of the population. Tired of being stranded in his apartment, he decides to head out in hopes of finding someone, anyone, who might still be alive in this post-apocalyptic world.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Of course, our hero isn’t really alone. Just outside of his apartment, he finds a truly repulsive, faceless monster whose presence is punctuated by piercing static and muted screams. Initially armed with nothing but a flashlight, the only way to get past this ghastly creature is to hide in the shadows and attempt to sneak past it. This is a common occurrence, as the monsters become more and more frequent in their appearances. Eventually, you’re able to get a gun, providing an alternate method to deal with enemies, but ammo is so scarce that it is often best to be as stealthy as possible.

Much of Lone Survivor takes place in the dark, and strategic use of the flashlight is necessary in order to find your way around. Again, supplies are scarce, so it’s best to conserve the battery. This can make it tricky when scoping out an unfamiliar location, as even the slightest glimpse of light will cast the creatures into a frenzy, chasing you until you reach a new room.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Perhaps even more frightening than the relentless enemies is the rapidly deteriorating mental health of the protagonist. In order to stay in good (or at least acceptable) shape, you must eat often while also getting a proper amount of sleep. There are food items scattered throughout the in-game world, some good (fruit salad), some bad (squid on a stick), but all are beneficial for keeping your stomach full. There are no health bars or other HUD reminders — the only way to know if you need to sleep or eat is through random text prompts. Wait too long to do either and you will begin to hallucinate, which is never a good thing. You can also talk to plants and stuffed animals to keep your sanity, and if you play your cards right, you might even be able to befriend a *real* cat.

The frequent reminders to eat and get some rest only add to the already riveting tension, and with a possibly insane protagonist, it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s merely in his head. As such, the game has an intriguing cerebral element, becoming something of a psychological thriller in its own right.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Now, while the game absolutely succeeds in providing a haunting atmosphere, it does have some noticeable issues with its core gameplay. For one, there is a lot of backtracking. In order to save progress, you have to frequently go back to your apartment and rest, although this is helped somewhat by teleporting mirrors scattered throughout the building. Many of the doors are also locked at first, requiring you to explore and find their keys in order to get through them. This can be a tedious affair at times, especially when you find yourself going back and forth between the same two locations. There are also concerns with the game’s combat, as using the gun feels clunky and occasionally unresponsive. The gun can be aimed in three directions, but it’s difficult to actually fire off a good shot in the way you want to. This does make enemy encounters even more disturbing, though it feels like kind of a cheap tactic to do so.

Still, flaws aside, this is a very unique horror experience that is an especially excellent fit for the PS Vita. As the Director’s Cut, this is the definitive edition of Lone Survivor, and it includes new locations, dialogue, music, endings and even a New Game+ mode. The campaign can be finished in just 3-5 hours, but multiple playthroughs are warranted in order to discover new endings and learn more about the game’s narrative. As such, there is a solid amount of value here for horror buffs. Just make sure to play this in the dark and with headphones on… if you dare.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark
System: PS Vita/PS3 (crossbuy) [also on PC, Mac, Linux and Android as Stealth Bastard Deluxe]
Genre: Stealth puzzle platformer
Developer: Curve Studios
Distributor: Curve Studios
Release Date: July 23, 2013

Stealth Inc has the distinction of being a stealth game that doesn’t really play like one. Most stealth games move at a laborious pace that requires sneaking around, waiting for guards to turn their backs, and hiding until the coast is clear. In Stealth Inc, there is still a lot of lurking in the shadows, but the game moves at a much brisker rate than you might have come to expect.

It’s also one tough bastard.

Stealth Inc scraps the idea of having a plot in favor of just throwing you — an unnamed “clone” — into action. This clone, with an appearance not unlike a South Park character, is forced to undergo a series of tests presented by an unknown overseer. This mysterious figure mocks the test subject when he dies by writing words of belittlement on the walls, but he also shares the occasional helpful tip to get through a tough area. These random blurbs help lighten the mood, a much-welcomed diversion from the difficult gameplay.

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita, 2013]

Split into eight chapters of ten levels each, the main campaign offers bite-sized puzzle-platforming action. In theory, each level can be completed in anywhere from 30 seconds to just a couple minutes. In reality, these can take much, much longer, as a lot of trial-and-error is required to solve the myriad of puzzles thrown in your direction.

In order to progress through an area, the clone must hack computers and push switches, all while dodging security cameras, lasers, patrolling enemies and other hellish contraptions. Each level is well-designed and offers generous checkpoints, but many of the puzzles are real head-scratchers. Certain areas can be incredibly frustrating — there were multiple times where I needed to step away just to clear my head — but there is a huge sense of accomplishment in solving some of the trickier bits. In other words, patience is required, but those elusive “Eureka!” moments make the grievances worth it.

In many ways, Stealth Inc reminds me of the highly-regarded indie title, Super Meat Boy. The fast-paced platforming action is very similar, right down to finding hard-to-reach optional items in clever locations. The stealth aspect adds a refreshing twist to this tried-and-true formula, and the brief levels make this an easy game to pick up and play.

Stealth Inc. [PS Vita/PS3]

One major plus is that there is a lot of potential for replay value here. For the extra-adventurous, each level can be replayed in hopes of getting the desired S-Rank high score. These in turn can unlock new levels and bonus suits, the latter of which can help shave off precious seconds in a time trial. There is also a nifty level editor, though unfortunately user-created levels cannot be shared at this time (the developers have stated that this feature will be patched in soon).

This game also has the benefit of being a Cross Buy title, meaning that one $9.99 purchase grants you access to both the PS3 and PS Vita versions. For this review, I focused entirely on the Vita experience, and this type of game is perfect for on-the-go action.

Stealth Inc offers plenty of bang for its buck, and its stealth-tinged gameplay is unique enough to make it stand out in the ever-expanding indie market. It helps to be a glutton for punishment with this one, but those who stick with it will find this to be a very gratifying experience.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)