Thursday, July 30, 2015

Circus Reviews - The Consuming Shadow

This review was written about an earlier version of this game; newer features have since been added and are not mentioned in this review.

This review has been edited since its original posting.

I'm not ordinarily much of a WASD game player, nor a survival horror player. But I do like the works of Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw quite a lot, and in my completely unobsessive followings of his website I found that he was creating a new game called The Consuming Shadow. It came out a couple days ago, with a launch discount on a special edition that included his two published novels, Mogworld and Jam, both of which I've been meaning to read. Plus, I was kind of vaguely hoping for another game to critique while I wait to publish the Cursed Sight review. And maybe it would be useful for the Internet to have the perspective of a survival horror shooter WASD game thing from someone who almost never plays any of those. And maybe I have writer's block on those games I'm supposed to be working on. Sigh.

Your protagonist is a possibly crazy man who, through dubious and randomly generated means, learns that a god is trying to invade the world, the effects of which are seen through a shadow spreading throughout the land. You have sixty hours to figure out which god is invading, learn how to banish it, and make it to Stonehenge, the site where you must perform the ritual that will save the world. Along the way, you must find clues to help you along your journey, save towns that are about to fall to the shadow, help your fellow terrified civilians, carefully manage your limited resources, and somehow keep yourself sane, lest you fall victim to your own gun.

The core of gameplay is wandering around dungeons killing monsters and searching for the clues you need to successfully identify and banish the invading god. Clues can only be found in dungeons, and they appear randomly; you may find five clues in one dungeon and none in the next, so sometimes you'll be depending on the smiles of the random number god. Combat is rather difficult and punishing, and there's no way to avoid it; your sanity meter takes a hit if you leave a room with monsters still alive in it, and sanity is a precious resource that is tough to restore; lose too much sanity and your button prompts will occasionally turn into an option to kill yourself, which then forces you to, as Yahtzee himself would say, press X to not die. (Or, you know, click the mouse.) The most effective way of fighting is with a gun, but ammo is tough to find. Relying solely on melee attacks means you'll almost certainly take a hit to your health. Spells are effective but decrease your sanity a bit when you use them. All of the above means you'll die. A lot. Again and again.

Thankfully, dying doesn't completely reset everything. After each death, you gain experience points, and with each level, you can place another "birth star" before each game, which grants you boosts to stats like health, sanity, car speed, lockpicking, and more. You also keep diary pages and monster info that you've found. This and some dialogue from the protagonist implies that each timeline is actually happening, and the protagonist is in a kind of Groundhog Day Loop until he banishes the god correctly, which kind of makes the whole constant insanity thing make sense.

Also, remember that time limit I mentioned? It comes into play in a big way. Real time is in effect in the dungeons, but it goes a lot faster when you're traveling. Searching for supplies, taking random side missions, helping people out...These all take time, and things won't be good if you run out of it.

I feel like I've spent a lot of time talking about the game itself and not my own thoughts on it, but there's actually a lot to this game. The story is well-developed, if hard to get to thanks to the previously mentioned combat system, and the multiple different mechanics work well. I personally had a bit of trouble with the controls at first, but I'm not used to games where I have to try moving and shooting with the keyboard at the same time, being mostly a player of visual novels and Gamecube. The soundtrack and graphics are both perfectly functional and fit well with each other, although I didn't find anything to write home about.

All in all, I don't know if I am this game's target audience. I find it very challenging, almost to the point of extreme frustration. I think that the difficulty level is going to be a big turnoff to most people and I wouldn't blame you for getting angry enough at the game to quit playing. But if you can stick with it, it's an interesting experience with a good story and plenty of replay value. I am still playing through it, if only to see what happens if I can one day manage to make it to my objective successfully. Most of the time, though, I end up with this...

The Consuming Shadow is available on the Humble Store and on Steam.

Final verdict: At times the game is too punishing and unbearably difficult, but a well-written story and a ton of replay value may make The Consuming Shadow worth it to the right player.

The Consuming Shadow is developed by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Circus Rambles - On reviews that I want/need to do

The next planned review is Cursed Sight, as I am about to receive my Kickstarter backer copy. I intend on doing the review before the game officially launches and then publishing the review on launch day.

And to follow...A list of games sitting in my Steam library, with whether or not I may review them.

Games currently in Steam inbox that I have not touched

- Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus
- The Cat Lady
- Chantelise
- Choice of Robots
- fault: milestone one
- Fortune Summoners: Secret of the Elemental Stone
- Journal
- L.A. Noire
- Law & Order: Legacies (because LAW & ORDER IS FUCKING AMAZING)
- The Novelist
- Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale
- To the Moon

Games I am interested in reviewing

- Analogue: A Hate Story
- The Cat Lady
- Choice of Robots
- fault: milestone one
- Journal
- The Novelist
- To the Moon (contingent on me being able to get through it; I didn't really like A Bird Story)

So...we'll see. I have trouble going through the Steam backlog, it turns out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Circus Reviews - The Dark Side of Red Riding Hood

Being a person who likes deconstructions of commonly used stories, I'm a big fan of what one might call "fractured fairy tales". Straight fairy tales are kind of plain and dull. Mixing up those tales and applying dark twists, or even just reality, to them...That makes them a lot more interesting.

As you can probably figure out from the title and the screenshot, this game starts out with the story of Little Red Riding Hood. You are given a basket by your mother and told to go through the forest to Grandmother's house, and not to stray from the path. Of course, that can't be all there is to it...

Looking at this game, I'm immediately reminded of The Path by Tale of Tales. Both feature the same basic plot, both are rather deceptive at first glance, and both will give you a so-called bad ending for following directions and staying on the path. But while I may have some issues with The Path and with its developers, I can say that it accomplished what it set out to do, and it handles the story of Red Riding Hood a lot better than this game does.

There are six unique endings to The Dark Side of Red Riding Hood: the aforementioned bad ending where you go straight to Grandmother's house, and five endings that you get by taking five respective side paths in the forest. For a game with multiple endings, the experience feels quite linear. The path you take is the only thing that affects your ending, and there isn't anything to do outside of getting each ending. Also, while I mostly like the endings themselves, most of them have no connection to what you did to get them. Two ending paths in particular, the first and fourth, start out identical, the only difference between them being the path you took before getting to Grandmother's house...but then they end up going completely different ways. And the bad ending you get for not straying from the path kind of just cuts off early, with what happens afterwards left up in the air.

The artwork is nice enough; I like the style of the cutscenes in particular. The soundtrack is only a few tracks, but I like all that I heard, and the game is kind enough to fade out tracks at certain points so it doesn't get too terribly repetitive. And there are good ideas here; if the game had fleshed out its story more, I feel like it would have been quite enjoyable.

On the whole, though, the biggest issue is that there's just not very much to this game. There are six different endings, but the way to each one is very short, and there's nothing else to do besides just go and get them. That, and the endings themselves don't fit well with what little you do in game, and tend to be rather inconsistent. You find out a rather important backstory detail for Red in one of the endings, but it doesn't factor into the other endings much, and it really should. One ending has another previously unmentioned character show up, but there's no word on why he showed up in only that ending and not the others. It feels like a bunch of pieces for a game instead of a game.

So in the end, I didn't really find the game to be worth it. It won't take up very much of your time if you want to give it a try; you could probably have all the endings within fifteen minutes. Maybe you'll just leave it open for the music like I'm doing right now. But the gameplay is disappointingly absent, and there just isn't enough content to keep me interested.

In fact, I think the most interesting thing is this shot here...

The Dark Side of Red Riding Hood is available for free download in English from the translator's blog, or in the original Japanese from Charon's website.

Final verdict: Despite good visuals and a lovely if small soundtrack, The Dark Side of Red Riding Hood has almost no gameplay or storyline, and is simply too little to sustain itself.

The Dark Side of Red Riding Hood is developed by Charon and was translated into English by Terriball. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Circus Rambles - On at least being able to write something today

Tried to write for all my ongoing projects today...and it was a total bust. Nothing wants to happen today. Sigh. :( I've had plenty of days like this before...They suck a lot.

So basically, I just wanted to post SOMETHING today and not feel like a complete failure. Probably will feel such anyway. Eh.

I dunno. I have a whole bunch of ideas for games I want to make after these ones, games that I want to polish up enough to be commercial releases...And yet, actually starting them is really hard. All the personal life stuff going on right now doesn't help in any way, either.

I guess the only thing to do is try again another day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Circus Reviews - The Mirror Lied

I may or may not have mentioned before, but I have a liking for dark and depressing stories. I think I find them more realistic, or maybe I just have a harder time relating to happiness. Whatever the case, today I bring you a dark and depressing story...probably. Maybe. It's hard to say.

You play as a little girl named Leah, who seems to have been born without a face. She wakes up alone in a large, relatively fancy house with no exit. And that's...about all you're told. Your objective, if you could call it that, is to wander around the house going through everything and trying to figure out what on Earth you're supposed to be doing, why you're alone, why you can't leave, what is going on...

I can't exactly call this a puzzle game, although there are some small puzzles to solve in order to progress the storyline. There are little colorful arrows that pop up telling you where to go, and extremely cryptic and creepy phone calls will give you hints every so often. Even if you go in with no idea of what to do, a playthrough will probably take around twenty to thirty minutes. The simplicity of the gameplay extends to the soundtrack, which is made up of a couple variations of one track. It's a very nice track and I like it a lot, but I can see it getting repetitive quickly.

Where this game excels is the mystery of its atmosphere. The literal blankness of your face and the pages of the books on the shelves...the plant in the main room that constantly needs watering...the world map on which continents disappear...It all meshes together very well. There isn't much in the way of story, at least not that you're told, but you get the impression that there's a huge one hiding behind the scenes.

If you're not a fan of abstract, experimental games, then this game is not for you. If you're not a fan of games that don't explain everything, then this game is not for you. I admit that The Mirror Lied isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. It's an introspective game, one that gives you a lot to think about and doesn't answer questions very easily, or even at all. I feel bad being so light on story details, but the truth is that you're not really provided with many. It instead chooses to leave things up to the player's interpretation.

(Without wishing to spoil...I personally think apocalypse. Or something like that.)

So if you think you can handle thirty minutes of interesting if confusing gameplay, followed by you scratching your head in bewilderment, then give this a quick run. Come up with your own ideas as to why things are the way they are in this game. In a story where all interpretation is left up to you, there are no wrong answers.

The Mirror Lied is available for free download directly from the developer.

Final verdict: A short and entirely baffling game that sets up a great atmosphere and inspires a lot of thinking about its world, The Mirror Lied is an interesting experiment that is worth the small amount of time it takes to complete.

The Mirror Lied is developed by Freebird Games. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Circus Reviews - Venus Meets Venus

Before the whole game-writing thing, I wrote a lot of poetry. I still write it, although not quite as much. But I love to read it, too. I tend to prefer my stories darker and gritter, which reflects in both my writing and reading. So what better game for me to play than a dark and gritty story filled with sorrow and written with lots of poetic prose?

Venus Meets Venus follows a disillusioned college girl named Lynn who struggles through studies and sleeps around at the local bar. One night, she meets a girl named Macy and finds herself oddly drawn to her. Her attraction doesn't go away when Macy reveals that she's transgender, but it does complicate things, as this is a culture with which Lynn has no experience. That plus alcoholism plus standard relationship issues breeds a whole bunch of problems for the new couple. And, after all, the game warns you that this isn't a love story.

The characters are pretty much limited to Lynn and Macy. Lynn is not necessarily what I'd call a likable protagonist, exactly, but she does feel very real. She's not doing so well in her studies; she sleeps around in bars to try and get some measure of fulfillment; she's not entirely sure of what she wants. In short, she sounds like someone you'd meet. Macy quickly gives off the impression of being very likable but also hiding something. Her being trans...I wouldn't say it's handled gently, not exactly. But it is handled realistically from what I can tell. (I fully admit not being hugely knowledgeable about this subject.)

The actual interactivity consists mostly of clicking on words or phrases in order to read side scenes. You can skip them and just continue through the story, but the backstory is just as worth reading as the main story. With a text-based game like this one, you obviously have to have pretty strong writing to hold things up, and on that front this game delivers. The prose pulls no punches whatsoever; your main characters' relationship ends up getting pretty fucked up, and the game doesn't shy away from telling you that. Poetry is often mixed in with the prose, mostly as a way to punch you in the gut, and it works quite well. In addition, at the beginning of each chapter, the game compares stages of a relationship to numbers. It was mostly good as well, although at times it felt...not really gimmicky, but a bit unnecessary. Like too many of something.

The whole time, everything is building up to an explosion of sorts. While not wishing to spoil the ending, I must admit that it took me completely off guard. I guess I had a certain thought on how the ending would go, but that thought turned out to be incorrect; how it really ends may surprise you.

I feel like I'm running a bit shorter than usual, since I don't have any art or music to talk about. But this game doesn't really need it. It's simple and bare and it gets its job done very well. Getting through it is difficult in the best way. Very highly recommended. Just don't go in expecting a happy story.

Venus Meets Venus is available to play for free on

Final verdict: A stark and realistic portrayal of a tough relationship, Venus Meets Venus combines careful prose with painful poetry and creates an amazingly touching picture...but, of course, not a love story.

Venus Meets Venus is written by kaleidofish. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Circus Reviews - Slaughtertrain

For people searching for new visual novels, I like to recommend browsing the Lemmasoft forums. It's where I've found some nice games, including some I've reviewed, such as Those Without Names and Fairly Dangerous. Even without deliberately looking, you might find something interesting, as I did today when I went to check the unread posts for the day.

Slaughtertrain bills itself as a "randomized violence adventure" and also as a parody of the movie Snowpiercer, and both those counts it is quite correct. You are a rider on a post-apocalyptic train, in the last car, the steerage class, where you eat bugs and slime and bemoan your terrible existence. One day, the conductor at the front sends his soldiers all the way down to your car to kidnap your grandfather due to his previous experience as a professional clown. Now you're on a mission to rescue him, and the only way to do so is to make it to the front of the train.

Each car you enter is randomized, with everything from boy band cars to herbal remedy cars to spa cars. You're generally given three options on how to get through the car: slaughter everyone, steal bombdrugs (which appear to be...bombs crossed with drugs), or trade ten bombdrugs for safe passage through the car. Your choices can vary; if there are no enemies in a room, such as in the one pictured above, you'll have a different first option, and you obviously can't trade bombdrugs for safe passage if you don't have enough of them. At the top, you're also given an illustration of your current weapon, the number of bombdrugs in your inventory, and an overview of your health, which can range from "unnaturally healthy" to "completely fucked, health-wise", and going too long while wounded will end your game.

I hate the movie Snowpiercer. It is ridiculous and makes no sense, in a bad way. And yet, this game is ridiculous and makes no a good way. There are tons of potential rooms; your given options may not do what you expect; the random number god is pretty much the only thing keeping you alive on your journey. And that's awesome. Every playthrough is different. You can't just rely on one option to get through everything; some rooms will throw curveballs at you, and a choice that worked out for you ten times previously will suddenly fail. There are three different difficulty settings that alter the number of cars you fight through, and I strongly recommend not jumping straight to the highest one.

Normally a text-based game is low on the images, but this one has a nice set of illustrations depicting your blood-soaked inventory weapons. You start with a random one and can acquire a new one somewhere along your journey (and you probably want to). There isn't much soundtrack; it's mostly a train on tracks, except for in a few significant rooms. But it all fits the aesthetic nicely.

Above all, I have to compliment the writing. It doesn't take itself seriously in any way, and coupled with your incredibly hammy protagonist (who is very good at violence, a fact he will never let you or anyone else forget), it makes for a fun journey.

So give this game a quick play if you've seen Snowpiercer and want a more out-there parody of the whole concept. I think even if you haven't seen Snowpiercer and are just a fan of randomness and violence and interactive fiction games in general, you'd still like this. It's a fun and interesting way to burn a few minutes, and it has plenty of laughs along the way.

Slaughtertrain is available to play in browser or for free download at

Final verdict: A hilarious parody of a rather lackluster movie, or possibly of interactive fiction games in general, Slaughtertrain presents a great atmosphere amid a whole bunch of laughable bloodshed and makes short work of the general tropes of a heroic quest.

Slaughtertrain is developed by Plus Ultra. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

General Development Update #4

Yumi-chan's Wonderful Cake Shop

Writing progresses slowly.

IFComp 2015

I am entering IFComp 2015! For those who don't know, it's a yearly interactive fiction competition. I have until September 28 to write my marvelous game. I don't want to give away too much, but I'll probably eventually start teasing bits of it.

For more information on IFComp, visit their website.


I now have a Patreon page! You are not under any obligation whatsoever to donate, but if you want to take a look, click here.

To close things out, a little Patreon promo image made by Black Rabbit Illustrations and edited by me: