Monthly Archives: June 2014

Game Review: Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, Episode 1

[tw: suicide mention, especially suicide by hanging, racism]

I don’t really get the whole episodic games craze right now. Yeah apparently The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us (and Telltale Games’ stuff in general) are the shit and everyone must play them, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s just like watching TV only you have to wait months instead of days for the next episode, that is, if the company even finishes the game at all.

Please note that this is just the review of episode one, next week I’ll do episode two. it’ll be just like doing recaps of a TV show.

Cognition is one of those games that kept popping up on my radar and I never paid it much attention until I realized it had a Steam demo, I tried it, saw that it was on sale at GOG.com, and thought “What the hell, I have $8,” and bought it. I’ve played some really crappy demos, but this one was solid and I definitely recommend it to get a feel for the game.

Here’s the setup: you are Erica Reed, an FBI agent, and your job is to catch serial killers. Each episode features a different serial killer. In episode one, Erica is on the hunt for the Hangman, a serial killer who makes their murders look like suicides.

Cognition is yet another point and click adventure game that seem to always end up in my library, and, in that respect, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. You can click on objects in the environment to bring up options to look at it, investigate it further, or use an object in your inventory on it. Cognition‘s unique feature is Erica’s cognitive powers. She starts with the ability to see past events, and as the game goes on she picks up a couple more powers: the ability to “project” an image of something that’s missing from a scene using objects related to that scene, and “regression” which helps subjects regain lost memories. Each power is color-coded (blue for seeing the past, green for projection, pink for regression) so you’ll always know which powers can be used on which objects. The trick is knowing when to use them. For instance, an early puzzle has you using precognition to cut a bunch of wires in the reverse order in which they were connected to disable a trap. The game is also not afraid to force you to think on your feet (with bloody consequences for failure) fortunately autosaves are frequent and you can save almost anywhere.

Cognition takes the other favourite indy game graphics style route and goes for comic book style graphics with few animations. The graphics are very bright and colorful, in-game animations are very fluid. The music does get a bit repetitive, but I particularly enjoyed the main theme, a melancholy piano piece.

I did have a couple issues with this first episode. The first is that the voice acting really is a mixed bag. Erica’s voice is tolerable, but Rose’s (the lady who runs the antique shop) is not. The dialogue can get really awkward at times, and the characters are the typical stock characters you’d find in any crime drama: the overbearing boss, the grouch in forensics, the nerdy tech guy, the magical black lady (yes, the game has a magical black lady) and apart from that last one, they’re not horrible characters, they’re just….typical.

The other major issue I had with this game was the lack of prompts. The game definitely doesn’t hold your hand and it requires you to read between the lines a bit, but oftentimes I didn’t realize I needed to do a thing because there was absolutely no indication whatsoever that it was something I needed to do (for instance, talking to a certain character to get a new gadget at a certain point). In a particularly frustrating moment, i had to interrupt what could have been an intense interrogation to hunt for items I needed that the game wouldn’t let me get before that point. Fortunately, the game has a hint system in case you get stuck, that said, the fact that I was stuck at a few points was more me not being observant than Adventure Game Moon Logic. This episode is also a bit slow, the very beginning is action-packed but then you spend most of the time wandering back and forth between locations looking for clues.

The other place the game fails is how it treats its black characters. There are three, one of the police officers working the crime scene who gets a few lines, Rose, who is the aforementioned magical black lady, and your boss, who promptly exits stage left for most of the episode. Seriously though, racist tropes are racist.

Overall, despite the presence of some fired old tropes, I liked the first episode of Cognition and I look forward to playing the rest. See you next week with a new episode!

Pagan Prosperity Gospel

There’s this rhetoric in certain corners of the Pagan/polytheist web that really bothers me. Originally I wasn’t going to say anything about it, but now I’m angry enough that I’m saying “Fuck that!” and I’m speaking out, because bullshit should be used to fertilize fields, not flung around willy nilly.

The subject I wish to discuss is what I and others on the net call the “Pagan Prosperity Gospel”.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the prosperity gospel, it’s a stance in certain Christian churches that says that if you have faith in God and give to Christian ministries, he will reward you with material wealth. The obvious issue with this brand of theology is that it implies that the poor obviously don’t have enough faith or, well, they’d be rich, of course!

Of course, it’s just this weird Christian thing and many other Christian leaders have denounced it as the bullshit it is, right? Surely there aren’t Pagans and polytheists advocating the exact same thing, right?

Well, you see, that’s the problem.

It seems like there’s a certain vocal group of people within our wonderful communities who think that if you were just devoted to your deities enough, if you just gave them 100% of your time and attention, if you just worked that much harder for them, you would be showered with all kinds of blessings and things would be wonderful.

In a word: NO.

In so many words:

Seriously, the fuck is this bullshit? How is this not spitting on every single polytheist from antiquity to today who sweat and bleed for their deities but are poor as dirt? How is that not ignoring the many, many other factors that contribute to poverty? How is that not classist as fuck?

No no no no no!

We do not need this in our traditions. If the majority of Christians denounce this as bullshit, we seriously don’t need it. We don’t need to take their bullshit, we have enough of our own.

Game Review: Path of Exile

I’ve been meaning to review this game for ages, and I kept putting it off because I said “I should beat it first,” but then that thing happened where other games kept piling up and I never got around to beating it.

Still, I think I’ve played enough to give a good review.

I’ll just cut to the chase. Do you like free to play games but hate that they’re all pay to win? Do you like action RPGs like Diablo? Are you one of the many gamers who was disappointed by Diablo 3? Did you like Diablo 3 but you need another game to scratch that itch?

My friend, Path of Exile is for you.

Path of Exile is a dark fantasy action EPG that looks and plays like a true Diablo clone. You play as an Exile, a person who has been exiled to the unforgiving continent of Wraeclast. You may have pissed off the wrong person, had the dumb luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or you might just be an asshole, whatever the reason, life as you know it is over, and you need to survive in a place where everything wants you dead.

Your first order of business is to create a character by choosing a name and a class for them. There are six main classes, and the classes all depend on three main stats: strength, dexterity, and/or intelligence. Since I love magic users,  I chose to play as the Witch class, which is the pure intelligence class. When you beat the game once, you can unlock the Scion, who is strong in all three areas.

From there, you’re dropped on a beach and need to fight your way to the nearest settlement. Combat is simply a matter of clicking things until they die. You know how this works, right? Click to move, click to destroy your enemies, click your way to victory.

Unlike in many other games of this type, Path of Exile uses a socket system for skills. As you complete quests and acquire tons of loot, you’ll come across skill gems: red gems give strength based skills, blue gems give intelligence based skills, and green gems for dexterity based skills. Each skill gem must be inserted into a socket of the corresponding colour in the armor or weapons you have equipped in order to use them. There is a skill tree (actually. more like a skill forest, seriously, it’s one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen) but you’ll only find passive buffs and stat boosts there. It’s a bit weird storywise (ie. if I’m a Witch, shouldn’t I just be able to use magic naturally?) but it does require the player to make some tough decisions: Do you take that great piece of armor with fewer sockets, or do you keep what you have? While you can get an item that changes the colour of the sockets, the reforging is random so it’s not the most reliable method unless you have the orbs to burn.

Health and mana regeneration is also handled a bit differently in Path of Exile. Remember how you used to stockpile so many health and mana potions in your inventory and they took up a whole ton of space? Path of Exile says “Fuck that!” and has you collect flasks which regenerate whenever you kill an enemy, so you no longer have to worry about dragging potions around.

Speaking of potions, Path of Exile has a barter system, so instead of exchanging loot for gold, you exchange items for other items. One of my favourite items is the Orb of Transmutation, an item that turns any normal item into a magical item, with random effects. I love playing around with these things, making my equipment badass through the power of randomness. (You can also craft items in a more controlled way by using a recipe or a different kind of orb, but I’m content with randomness.)

Since I mentioned bartering, I should mention the cash shop. Now I know what you’re thinking “Gef this is where you say that PoE is pay to win, right?”

WRONG.

Everything in the cash shop, everything that you can buy with real money, is purely cosmetic. So if you want, say, wings made out of tentacles, you can buy them in the cash shop. All these things do is replace the appearance of your regular armor, so you don’t get any kind of bonus, you just look really cool. You can also pay for different skill effects, pets that follow you around, and animations, but these are all completely optional. The ONLY thing you purchase that even remotely affects gameplay is more space for your stash (not your inventory, the place where you dump items you don’t want to sell and don’t want to carry around with you) but since I’m the type of person who likes to sell stuff I don’t need, I don’t really use my stash. Also I should mention that the game is solo-friendly. You can take on all the horrors of Wraeclast alone with no issues (that I’ve seen).

Let’s talk a bit about the environments. The levels are huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge and sprawling and full of things that want to kill you. The fire and water effects are really pretty. and combat is bloody. Did I mention the levels are huge? The one feature I really like is that the in-game map lets you know whether a level has a Waypoint (which lets you quickly travel to a level from a town) this cuts down on the time you spend wandering around looking for one when there’s none to be found. There are also a variety of monsters from zombies and cannibals and giant spiders to…….sentient ribbons? Okay, sire, let’s go with that. Although, truth be told, there are only so many ape-like creatures you can kill before it gets boring after awhile.

Just a random screenshot of one of the environments.

If I had one complaint, I would say that the game doesn’t force me to vary my strategy a lot, and I’ve been doing okay just spamming a strong area of effect spell like firestorm, even with enemies who are strong against fire attacks. One particular pain in the ass is that each level is randomly generated–including the exits out of the level–levels will “reset” every fifteen minutes, so if you die on one floor of a dungeon and it takes you more than fifteen minutes to return to that point, have fun looking for that exit again! (Although, exits are generally in the same area.)

In short, if you like games like Diablo and you want a free to play experience that is really free to play, go and download Path of Exile right now. Not only is it a great game, it won’t break your wallet. Isn’t it nice when game developers give us nice things and don’t charge through the nose for them?

Review: Sailor Moon Vol. #12 + Retrospective

This is it. This is the final review for the Sailor Moon manga series. It seems like I’ve been reviewing this series for years and I only bought the sets in January.

I love the cover for this one, btw. All the covers are great though.

Sailor Moon is on her own. Her friends and allies are being picked off left and right, and all she can do is seek out Sailor Galaxia for a final epic confrontation that will determine the fate of the galaxy and the cosmos.

No pressure.

This volume is basically one drawn out conflict between Sailor Galaxia and Sailor Moon. This is when the gloves come off and we see how much Sailor Moon has changed from the clumsy girl who really needed Tuxedo Mask to rescue her in her first few battles to a young woman with faith in herself and her friends (even when she’s scared out of her wits).

There’s really not much I can say about #12 other than the fact that it’s pretty much all action, all the time with a few brief pauses for origin stories, because who doesn’t love origin stories? And this time, the epic final battle actually feels epic (basically the opposite of how I felt the Nemesis arc ended). The chips are down and the cards are on the table.

I am so glad Kodansha got their act in gear and hired a translator who didn’t literally translate everything, because this volume could have been much more confusing. Again, I did notice some spelling errors, but overall, I’m relieved that at least the last few volumes were given the translation I’ve been waiting for since the very beginning.

So, since there’s not much more for me to say about #12, here are some thoughts after reading the entire series.

As I’ve said consistently (I just said it above) it’s such a shame that the translation was handled so poorly, especially for a series as popular as Sailor Moon. Seriously, this is why you don’t listen to the purists who think that everything must be absolutely as close to the Japanese as possible, because what you end up with is this mess.

Which arc was my favourite? I really liked the Infinity arc and thought that it had a very strong beginning. The Dream arc was also great, as we got to spend a bit more time with the Inner Senshi, and learn more about their dreams and plans for the future. I love the Stars arc, finding out about other Sailor Guardians all across the galaxy, although, why are there guardians of planetoids and satellites but no Sailor Sun?

Probably because she’d just steamroll over everything if she was ever introduced.

Well I guess technically Endymion is the unofficial Sailor Earth and Sailor Sun.

Other things of note, the box art for the sets is gorgeous and when you put both sets together it makes a full picture of the main cast. The stickers are adorable but I’m not going to use them at all (I have a thing against using feelies). I love the cover art for the individual volumes (although the third edition covers are absolutely gorgeous). Sadly, even if the third edition is translated into English, this will probably be the only version of the manga I will own, although I’d take a look to see if the translations are actually decent.

Overall, this is such a great series. I grew up with the characters through the anime and I met some characters for the first time while reading the manga. It’s just such a shame such a classic has been given such a lackluster translation, although apparently not the worst translation, which is actually pretty scary when you think about it.

Anyways, the lackluster translation was probably my biggest complaint overall. The art was great, and I definitely thought the storylines improved over time even though the format essentially stayed the same (ie. the Monster of the Week plots) there were enough variations to keep things interesting.

Honestly, even with the lackluster translation, this is still a great series and if you are the one person who likes magical girls and hasn’t bought this, I’d say it’s still worth a buy unless you want to wait and see if the third edition’s being translated.

Review: Sailor Moon Vol. #11

The finish line is in sight, everyone, only one more volume after this and it will be all over!

Volume 11 introduces us to the final arc in the series, the Stars arc. After defeating Queen Nehellania, the sailor guardians return to their normal lives, and Mamoru leaves to study at Harvard in America. Now is no time to rest on their laurels, however, as the arrival of a popular band heralds the coming of a new enemy.

This arc introduces us to sailor guardians who watch over heavenly bodies outside of the solar system, including the Sailor Starlights, guardians who caused some controversy when their season of the anime first debuted in some countries.

In terms of story, this arc does a much better job of not blatantly hanging a sign that says “obvious villain” over some characters’ heads. I was even pleasantly surprised during one reveal that I won’t spoil. It does return to the Monster of the Week format, but with a bit of a twist this time to keep things interesting and add some tension. Ironically, the thing that bothered me most were the Starlights themselves, particularly Seiya, like can you not with Usagi while Mamoru is away? I just didn’t really like them as characters. They were like three Mamorus when he was in jerkass mode.

The art is once again great and the translation is finally the quality translation it should have been since the very beginning, although I did notice some spelling errors. Still, compared to the mess of earlier volumes, I can handle a few mistakes. Overall this arc is great and once again, it’s really a shame that we’re only now getting a great translation.

Review: Sailor Moon Vol. #10

Oh look, another review of a volume of Sailor Moon.

Volume 10 continues and concludes the Dream arc, where we learn a little more about the Dead Moon Circus and their motivations, and the origins of Queen Nehellania’s curse on Elysion. This arc has been all about duality: dreams and nightmares, the Amazoness Quartet vs. the Inner Senshi, Elysion and Earth, and Dead Moon vs. Silver Millennium, and now we get to see how it all comes together in this volume.

Unlike the other volumes in this series, I devoured this one in record time because–insert the Alleluia Chorus here–Kodansha apparently got a new translator so the translation is MUCH, MUCH better (although it is kind of too little too late considering this is #10 of a 12 volume set) I didn’t have to pause and try to understand what they were trying to say. The characters finally started to sound like real people instead of automatons. It was just a great read and seriously why couldn’t they have just translated it like this from the start? About the only weird moment is in a scene from the past where the characters start speaking in Ye Olde Butcherde Englishe and the way characters are still saying “Queen” instead of “Your Majesty” is just really annoying. Still, it’s certainly a vast improvement from the tragedy every other volume has been so far.

In short, the story continues to be great, the art is great, and the translation (apart from a couple hiccups) is now great, it’s such a pity this series had to suffer from such a lackluster translation until now.

Game Review: Gemini Rue

[tw: racism]

If you pay any attention to my game reviews, you might have read my review about a little game called Resonance. This point-and-click adventure game revived my enthusiasm for the genre, even though the majority of games of this type still seem to operate on logic that only applies if you’re on the moon.

Gemini Rue is a cyberpunk point-and-click adventure game with a very noir aesthetic. You play as Azriel Odin, an ex-assassin turned cop who is searching for his brother. You also play as Delta-Six, a patient (read: prisoner) in a rehabilitation facility for criminals. The story revolves around memory and identity and at times it can get a little heavy-handed, but it’s still interesting if a little WTF at times.

The graphics are the same sort of pixel style as Resonance, but while the environments look great, I wasn’t that impressed by the character portraits, which were a little two pixel-y for my taste.

Environments are great, Character portraits are meh.

Gameplay-wise there are some interesting additions to the standard “click to move, click to pick up objects, combine objects” adventure game fare. Clicking on an object will bring up the Verb Interface, which consists of an eye icon (which looks at objects) a hand (which picks things up or manipulates them in some way) a mouth (obviously to talk to people) and a foot (to kick objects) as well as your inventory. When other characters team up with you to solve problems, you can order them to do things (like pick a lock on a door) although the co-op aspect is nowhere near as developed as Resonance.

The other interesting feature of this game is that there’s actual combat. Periodically, you’ll find yourself in a gunfight, and you need to use the WASD keys to move in and out of cover and the space bar to shoot. You can use Ctrl to take a breath and “concentrate”, and if you shoot them while the indicator’s flashing, you can pull off a headshot and kill them instantly. It’s not a particularly deep system, but it’s a nice diversion from puzzle-solving.

Speaking of the puzzles, the puzzles were very disappointing. Sometimes they were frustrating simply because I’d overlooked something (LOCK THE DOOR, YOU IDIOT!) but other times it was the game’s fault, either due to a pixel hunt, or just plain logic-defying puzzling akin to the vast majority of adventure games I’ve played (in particular, one puzzle that involved a plug that was veeeeery picky about how it wanted to be plugged in). There are some moments where you need to hurry up and complete a task, but there weren’t any really nail-biting moments like what I experienced while playing Resonance.

In other headaches, the game is set in a galaxy owned by the Boryokudan (basically the Yakuza) and most of the NPCs are Japanese, so why am I playing the gravelly voiced white guy with perma stubble again? (Another review claimed the PCs were all white, but if you look at the character portraits they tell a different story). The game is also pretty terrible when it comes to handling female characters. The one we hear the most about, Epsilon-Five, spends most of her time talking about how she’s so grateful to Delta-Six for saving her, which is bad enough without falling into the “submissive Asian woman” stereotype, Giselle, at least, seems resourceful even if she’s not the nicest person.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend Resonance over this game unless you really like cyberpunk stuff. It has a more diverse cast and the puzzles make logical sense.

Review: Sailor Moon Vol. #9

Are you getting tired of these yet? Don’t worry, three more volumes to go!

A lot of stuff happens in volume 9. In my last review, I mentioned the eclipse and the arrival of Helios and the Dead Moon Circus. This volume begins with an incident involving body-swapping and then segues into the more familiar “Monster of the Week” format.

This volume mostly brings the focus back to the four Inner Senshi, with each one getting their own chapter. As its name might suggest, the Dream arc is about dreams and nightmares, and we get to hear about each of the Guardians’ dreams and how those dreams ultimately grant them new powers.

Once again, Chibiusa’s struggling with the feeling that she doesn’t bring anything valuable to the group and trying to come into her own as a Guardian. I kind of thought she would have learned that lesson last arc, but apparently it didn’t stick. At one point, the action “cuts” to scenes with Hotaru and her three mothers, well, two mamas and one “papa” who also happens to be a woman. I’ll admit I was a little annoyed that it cut to fun times with Hotaru just before a particularly tense moment, but honestly these scenes were kind of cute so I don’t mind that much.

The one issue I had was that it seemed like the body-swapping was resolved very abruptly and the translation really didn’t help clear anything up. (See, this is why it’s important to have a good translation.) It’s another one of those plots that could have easily taken up a whole volume but nothing was really done with it (similar to when I discussed Raenef’s personality switch in Demon Diary).

The translation appears to be much better this time around, and once again there’s some great pacing, and some really tense, exciting moments. This volume is definitely a winner all around, definitely one of my favourites.

Stay tuned for #10!

The Thirteen Houses Project: Mandrake

[Once a month for the next twelve months, I will be doing a post on the 13th of each month based on one of the Thirteen Houses of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers from Kushiel’s Legacy.]

It’s Friday the 13th and a full moon, and because it’s the thirteenth of the month, you know what that means! It’s time for another entry in the Thirteen Houses Project.

This month’s House is Mandrake. Mandrake’s canon is dominance and sadism and its motto is “Yield all.” Unusually, we don’t learn what they hold occurred when Naamah slept with the King of Persis, but we do learn that they believe Naamah “chose her patrons like victims and whipped them to violent pleasures, leaving them sated and half dead”. At the Midwinter Masque during Kushiel’s Dart, the adepts are costumed as the Court of Tartarus.

When I started this project I had an idea for a topic for Mandrake but now that I’m almost finished it I can’t think of what to write at all, especially since, in my mind, Mandrake and Valerian are so intertwined that they’re two halves of the same coin. I have more headcanons about Valerian and Mandrake than I do for any of the other houses, or, well, every other aspect of the series besides the deities themselves.

So, for today, Mandrake’s lesson is about control and assertion. Mandrake House demands that its patrons give up control in its very motto. To give up control is something that frightens a lot of people, but that’s going to be explored in the next–and final–entry in the Thirteen Houses Project.

I have a confession to make, I am absolutely the least assertive person in the world. I’m very shy and withdrawn and I still find it difficult to look people in the eye. I get really nervous when calling someone on the phone for the first time, about the only place I feel free to express myself is the Internet, which is why this blog exists. People can say what they like about how the Internet is horrible and ruining everything, but for me, the Internet is the most comfortable way I have to communicate with other people.

A Mandrake adept, I imagine, is someone who, either naturally or through training, learns how to take control of their assignations. This is something I was never really taught to do, and I suspect this is true for many women. We are not taught to be assertive, we’re told that we’re being “bossy”, “bitchy” or “ball-busters”, even within kink, it’s often assumed that submissives are women, in fact books on kink are one of the only places where I’ve seen writers default to feminine pronouns when discussing submissive partners (rather than using androcentric or gender neutral pronouns). Even if it does accurately reflect the dominant dynamic in kink, it’s still pretty messed up when you think about it?

Mandrake’s lesson is a very hard one to learn, for me, maybe at this point it’s impossible to learn, at least, not without unlearning a whole slew of things. It’s tough to unlearn things that institutions and the people around you have pretty much drilled into your head from day one. This is something I discussed previously in the entry on Alyssum House. It’s interesting how I’ve essentially come full circle since then.

Next month marks the final entry in the Thirteen Houses Project, Valerian House! I’m excited that I’m close to being done, but in a way it’s kind of sad. Oh well, there’s still the Companions Project to do.

“Mandrake roots” by Spacedive (via Wikipedia)

Friday Triple Review: FTL: Faster Than Light, Noir Syndrome, and Trap!

[Note: The review of Trap! discusses rape. This does not affect the other reviews.]

In the interest of cleaning up my cluttered desktop. Seriously no one needs that many icons on their desktop. I thought I’d do a special review where I review three games at once. Also it saves me making three separate posts.

The first game I’d like to review is FTL: Faster Than Light. This  redundantly named game is a text-heavy roguelike/simulation game where you control the crew of a Federation spaceship carrying important data for your commanders. This isn’t a leisurely trip through space, however, as you are pursued by the rebel fleet and if they catch you, it’s game over.

I am a gamer who is very intimidated by roguelikes. Starting over fresh from the very beginning of a game if I die just isn’t very appealing to me. The punishing level of difficulty in many roguelikes isn’t really my cup of tea either. I love the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games, but although those games can be difficult (and I realize “difficult” is subjective) they’re a far cry from the difficulty of your average roguelike.

So I went into this game feeling very intimidated by it.

Gameplay is pretty simple. You spend much of your time looking at an overhead schematic of your ship. Each ship has several different systems (represented as icons on your schematic): you have your weapons and shields, your engine (which allows you to jump between points on the map), your oxygen (without which your crew will suffocate), a medbay, and more. You can assign crew members to different systems to give them a bit of a boost and also to have them on hand if one of your systems is damaged and in need of repair. Most importantly, you can upgrade your ship in a variety of ways, adding new systems and enhancing the ones you already have.

Progressing in the game is simply a matter of jumping from point to point on the map until you get to the jump point to head to the next sector. Each time you jump to a new point, a random event will occur. It could be a combat encounter, or you could discover new resources, you might even get a quest. While you’re jumping around, you need to keep an eye on your fuel, which lets you make jumps, missiles, which are a valuable part of your weaponry, and scrap, which serves as currency and upgrade points.

Combat is frequent and frantic in FTL, with you and the enemy ship both trying to target particular systems. This is where it becomes important to have a bunch of missiles, because while they can easily break through enemy shields (leaving systems open to damage from other weaponry) they’re a limited resource, so combat does take a bit of strategy. The game also likes to throw twists at you like enemy parties that invade your ship or environmental hazards like solar flares and asteroids.

The graphics are those 32 bit retro style graphics that so many indy games love, but it’s a very simple, uncluttered interface. I particularly like the background images of planets and suns. I love the music, it’s also kind of retro-y electronica that’s not as hard on the ears as it might sound.

FTL is a game about choices, and not just during the events. Since your scrap doubles as currency to buy more missiles, fuel, and upgrades, as well as upgrade points to improve your ship, you’ll often need to make a decision between buying a few more missiles or upgrading your doors to make it harder for invaders to assault your systems. Do you try and explore as much of the sector as you can, or do you rush to jump to the next sector? Be careful, because the rebel fleet’s closing in on you! Rarely have I felt the weight of every single one of my choices as I have while playing this game, and you know what? I don’t even care that every single one of my games has ended in death, because it’s just so much fun to jump back in and give it another go and hope I’m a bit luckier.

In sum, if you’re intimidated by roguelikes, you might want to try this game. If you love roguelikes, you’ve probably already bought this game. Also it was recently updated to the Advanced Edition, which includes a ton of content. It’s definitely worth the $1o price tag.

Next up, we have Noir Syndrome, a procedurally generated mystery game where you play a detective on the hunt for a murderer known as Anubis. Your job is to search for clues, identify suspects, and catch the killer before time runs out.

Noir Syndrome is a really simple game. You walk around different locations spamming the “Z” button until you find all the clues in the area. You need to be careful that you don’t spam too much, however, because you have to keep an eye on your character’s hunger (they can starve to death). In the course of your investigations, you can rob the mob or run around killing people as long as you have the bullets (most people go down in one shot) When you’ve gathered all your clues and compiled a list of suspects, simple process of elimination will help you find your culprit, then all you have to do is arrest them. It’s a really simple concept that makes it an excellent choice for a tablet gamer (it’s originally a tablet game that found it’s way onto Steam) or even as a quick party game. My only complaint is that while the suspects, clues, and culprits are randomized, the actual case (hunting Anubis) is always the same, which, TBH, gets a little dull after the first few tries, but that’s a hazard of developing games for mobile, I suppose. At times, you will find yourself with few clues and/or suspects, making it difficult to finger a culprit in time. One feature I did very much enjoy is Dinner Party mode, where the setup is that you’ve been invited to a dinner party where a guest has been murdered. The setup is just like the core game, only you just have the single location to deal with, and you also have to dodge guests who are constantly going crazy and whipping out guns from being cooped up in the mansion.

The graphics are….wait for it….retro pixel graphics….indies love those. The soundtrack is gorgeous. I swear someone spent most of the game’s budget on the soundtrack because the soundtrack is just amazing. It’s classy, it’s jazzy. It absolutely sucks you right into the game.

One last note, I’d highly recommend getting this for a tablet or other mobile device over getting it off Steam, because not only is the mobile version cheaper, this game was really made for on the go, quick play sessions.

Finally, Trap! is a free visual novel made with Ren ‘Py from DarkErotica Games. You can download it from their website here. (NSFW). Unlike many other games I review, Trap! will only take you, at the most, twenty minutes, but I think it took me about half that. The best way I can describe it is that Trapt is like playing a folktale, you play a protagonist (boy or girl, both named Chris) trying to find their way to their aunt’s house when they get caught up in a mist and end up in a forest where they encounter a mysterious individual named Rowan.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing really groundbreaking about Trap! gameplay wise. You read text, you make choices, you read more text, and your choices determine the ending (there are only two). What is interesting about Trap! is that Rowan can be one of three genders depending on what questions you ask and how you ask them. So far, I haven’t been able to get the third-gender option. The art is definitely different from the anime-esque art you usually see in Ren ‘Py games, I mean it’s nothing earth-shattering but it’s something different.

Unfortunately, because I can’t seem to find a game that does something interesting while simultaneously kicking itself in the pants, Trap! does unfortunately contain some rape via magical compulsion (where even if you say you are uncomfortable with having sex with them, they compel you to do it regardless). You can get around this by either enthusiastically consenting (the top option) or by simply avoiding Rowan’s bedroom altogether, but taking the second option won’t get you the second ending. Apart from that, there’s a NSFW-ish image of Rowan in the game (all the important bits are covered but they’re still showing a lot of skin).

If you’re looking for a quick, free game to play and the consent issues don’t bother you so much, Trap! is a nice diversion.