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.

Continue reading

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.


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

Video Game Review: Thomas Was Alone [PS Vita/PS3]

Thomas Was Alone [PS Vita/PS3]

Thomas Was Alone
System: PS Vita/PS3 (crossbuy) [also on PC and Mac]
Genre: Puzzle platformer
Publisher: Mike Bithell
Developer: Bossa Studios, Curve Studios (Vita/PS3), Mike Bithell (PC/Mac)
Release Date: April 23, 2013

At first glance, Thomas Was Alone doesn’t look like much. There’s a black background, a few blocks and some ledges. Hardly anything visually stimulating.

Yet here is a game that will have you hooked from the very first level.

It all starts with the narrator. British humorist Danny Wallace, who earned a BAFTA Award for his performance, is there to narrate every single one of the game’s 100 levels. Through his voice, he gives every block in the game a name and personality.

Thomas Was Alone [PS Vita/PS3]

There’s Thomas, the titular character, a red rectangle that is trying to make sense of the world around him. Soon he meets Chris, a short and stout orange square, and he is a particularly grouchy character. Later, Claire is introduced. She is a large blue square, one who is insecure but takes some great pride in helping others. A tall and thin yellow rectangle named John also enters the picture, and he loves to show off his high-jumping abilities.

These are only but a handful of the characters we are introduced to in Thomas Was Alone, and all of them are different-sized squares and rectangles. Sometimes a level will require you to use a few of them together in order to solve puzzles, while others only use one character.

Every level has the same basic end goal: to move the blocks to their appropriately-sized exit portals. Since each character has its own ability (i.e. Claire can float in water, John can jump really high), these specific traits must be taken advantage of in order to make progress. Most puzzles can be solved by using some variation of stacking blocks and using each other as a platform, and very few of the game’s levels actually present a real mind-bending challenge.

Thomas Was Alone [PS Vita/PS3]

However, it is this simplicity that only enhances the game’s ambiance. Combined with the glitchy, minimalist soundtrack, Thomas Was Alone is a laidback experience, perfect for when you just want to relax after a long day.

It’s rather amazing that a game so basic in concept can achieve so much thanks to good, quality writing. It’s hard not to be enchanted with Wallace’s witty quips about isolation, loneliness, companionship and artificial intelligence. If you had told me beforehand that I could get attached to a few blocks, I would have called you crazy. While sometimes I wish the game did have more of a challenge, the setting and overall charm makes this an easy one to recommend.


Video Game Review: Dyad [PS3]

Dyad [PS3]

System: Playstation 3 [PSN]
Genre: Racing, Puzzle, Shooter, Music
Publisher: ][
Developer: ][
Price: $14.99
Release Date: July 17, 2012

Every now and then a game comes around that defies classification. Such is the case with Dyad, an exciting new PSN downloadable title that blends together puzzle, racing, shooter and music elements while sprinkling a few drops of acid to the mix. For those infatuated with wild visuals and vibrant colors, this is pure psychedelic bliss.

It’s a bit difficult to actually describe Dyad, as it is one of those games that just needs to be played to understand. While perusing trailers and gameplay videos, I was more confused than anything. The flashing lights, frenetic racing and kaleidoscopic colors looked overwhelming, and I had no clue what was going on. From an outsider’s perspective, I suspect this is a common occurrence. However, as soon as I picked up the controller, everything just clicked.

Dyad has 27 levels, and the core gameplay has a similar theme throughout. Each stage takes place in a tunnel, and you control a squid-like character that can maneuver in the form of a circle. Various enemies and obstacles are presented off in the distance, and it is your job to manipulate these for your benefit as you frantically push forward. Each level has its own goal, and these help spice up the overall gameplay. Some early levels require “hooking” enemies together in order to boost speed, whereas others require the use of “lancing” in which foes are essentially consumed.

While the gameplay may sound confusing in text, the actual learning curve is quite simple. This is a textbook example of “easy to learn, difficult to master.” It’s possible to whip through the 27 levels in a matter of a couple hours, as all it takes to move onto the next is finishing a stage with a one star rating (out of a possible three). By getting the full three stars in a stage, a brand new challenge is unlocked in the form of trophy levels. In these, you are given a much more difficult goal to complete before time is up, with the reward being a trophy. In some of the later levels, it’s hard enough to get three stars, so completing many of these trophy levels can be an astonishing achievement in itself.

Since Dyad is a single player affair, any and all replay value comes in the form of beating these challenges while also trying to move up on the online leaderboards. Normally I don’t care about my online rankings, but I felt a tremendous sense of pride when I was able to finish a trophy level fast enough to be ranked sixth on the worldwide leaderboard. In that sense, it could easily get addictive to continually try to push your way to the top.

While the gameplay is impressively well-tuned, most people will be interested in Dyad because of its hallucinogenic properties. This is very much an audio/visual experience. While vivacious colors flash on screen, the game’s electronic music is perfectly synchronized with the action, creating something of a sensory overload. While screenshots give an idea of what the game looks like, the overall immersion from this is something that must be experienced. Many of the later levels move at breakneck speeds, creating a chaotic feel that certainly warrants the game’s preemptive epilepsy warning.

It is therein where Dyad’s biggest weakness can be found. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with the action on screen, especially as momentum builds faster and faster. There were a few instances where I resorted to button mashing until things slowed down a bit, and occasionally my character was moving so fast it was near impossible to play strategically. While a bit problematic for attempting to achieve high scores, these reckless segments are still thrilling, albeit not in the same manner as others.

Quite simply, I haven’t played anything like Dyad before. While it has throwbacks to other games such as Rez and Tempest, it is very much a fresh and unique experience. The frantic gameplay and polychromatic visuals aren’t for everyone, but for those willing to give it a chance, it won’t take much to get hooked. Dyad is one of the more intriguing titles to be released this year, and I am looking forward to seeing what designer Shawn McGrath comes up with next.


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

Video Game Review: Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

System: Nintendo DS
Genre: Emergent, Puzzle, Action
Publisher: WB Games
Developer: 5th Cell
Release Date: September 15, 2009

Scribblenauts is a perfect example of a game with tremendous potential yet unsatisfying execution. This DS puzzler presents a world full of possibilities, with the only limit being your imagination.

The goal is simple: you are given an objective, and you must find a way to complete this by writing in words, which then appear on screen in their physical forms. Let’s say, theoretically, that the “starite” (the item you need to get to) is on the other side of a lake. You can get there in a number of ways, of course. You could write in “boat” and take that across to the other side. You could get a pair of wings and fly over, or you could get a snorkel and swim across. This is a very basic example, but you get the idea.

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

There are a whopping 200+ stages in the game, evenly split up into “puzzle” and “action” stages. Puzzle stages require something to be solved, whereas action levels are more versed in side-scrolling platforming gameplay. Stages are ranked on a four-star difficulty system, so you have a good idea of how challenging a certain level will be. If that’s not enough, there is even an option to create your own level, or just mess around in a sandbox area and try out different words to see what they do. It’s incredible that 5th Cell managed to fit all of this into a DS cartridge, especially considering there are more than 10,000 words in its dictionary.

On the technical side of things, there is no doubt that Scribblenauts is impressive. Unfortunately, there are major issues that severely hamper gameplay. The biggest problem rests squarely on the control system. The main character, Maxwell, is a bitch to move around. You control him by tapping the stylus on screen, but he is very lackadaisical in his movements. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I tried to get him to move to a certain platform, only for him to fall off over and over again. It’s also difficult to pick up items and/or interact with them sometimes. There are moments where the “item taps” will register as an empty space, often creating situations where Maxwell falls to his death. This is all beyond frustrating, and it could have been fixed with a simple solution: just let the character be moved with the D-Pad! As it stands, the game only uses the D-Pad to move the camera from side-to-side. Everything else uses the stylus, which just doesn’t work as it should. Very disappointing.

Scribblenauts [DS, 2009]

There are also problems with the game’s vocabulary. While the sheer amount of words available is staggering, most of the puzzles can be solved with the same basic items. I found myself using the same words over and over again: jetpack, wings, cord. While the game begs for gamers to be creative, why would I want to take the time to type out something infinitely more complex, especially when the game rewards you for finishing a stage quickly? Simple, tried-and-true techniques seem to work best here.

Also, every word available comes in a one-size-fits-all package. There is no way to get a longer rope or a larger blanket. You have to work around the size that the game gives you. This causes seemingly logical solutions to not work at all, even when they should theoretically.

It’s a shame that Scribblenauts was released with so many inherent flaws. The concept is, frankly, brilliant, and it evokes powerful feelings to have the ability to write anything you want and have it appear on screen. There’s still a decent and playable game underneath, but I can’t help but feel that this game could have truly been something special. There is a sequel now available that claims to have improved controls, but I’m not sure I will bother with that one. As it stands, Scribblenauts is a technical marvel but a mediocre game.