[Phantom Trigger on Steam]
I enjoy “walking simulator” games. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was one of my favorite games the year it came out, and while I found Firewatch a disappointment, that was primarily due to the story, not the actual gameplay. So when I saw that a “walking simulator” about being a blind girl was on sale, I didn’t hesitate to buy it. I picked up Beyond Eyes last week when it was on sale, on Steam. It is normally $14.99, and I believe I paid around $3 or $4 for it.
After playing the game, it turns out that’s $3 or $4 too much, if you ask me.
Beyond Eyes is a great example of an interesting concept held back by gameplay that desperately needs a few extra layers of polish. The concept of controlling a blind child and only being able to “see” what they hear, is an excellent concept for a slow-paced adventure game. To some extent, Beyond Eyes executed this concept very well, particularly in the earliest parts of the game. Hearing a bird in a tree, and seeing the bird pulse out of the white blindness as it chirped was a pretty neat mechanic.
At first, these sound effects acted as guides, figurative lighthouses in the white blindness. Rae, the protagonist, eventually finds a stray cat that she names Nani (Nah-nee). As stray cats tend to do, Nani runs away. The opening of the game is Rae simply walking around a pretty garden, looking for where Nani ran off too. The garden served as a good training grounds to learn how the white blindness works: it fades away based on proximity, and gradually fills-in behind Rae, as if her memory of exactly what was where is fading. It’s neat at first, but as the game drags on, it becomes a major annoyance.
The problem is that the white blindness isn’t consistent. In some areas you can turn around and see the trail you took to get to where you currently are, in other areas the white blindness closes very closely behind you, making it very difficult to figure out where you are in relation to anything. One of the latter levels has Rae walking through the rain and it’s almost impossible to gain any sense of where she is. Her slow movement speed is understandable, since she is blind, but when you’re walking around very slowly and have no idea where you’re going, the charm of the game quickly wanes.
I was content with the fact that, for the sake of the experience, I was being forced to walk so slowly with such limited visibility. I dealt with the frustration of walking into countless fences or other barriers that I did not know were there until I literally bumped into them; I tolerated being strung along through the experience because I was supposed to care about a feral cat and a blind girl who should have known better than to stand mere feet away from exploding fireworks; I ignored the fact that the game features “memories” of the girl visualizing Nani doing something in an area we (the players) have never been to; or that no one (there are other humans around) even tried to help the little blind girl who was wandering around on her own. I put all of those issues aside for the sake of trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes for a few short hours.
But it’s rather….immersion breaking….when the game suddenly takes control of Rae and WALKS HER ACROSS ROCKS IN A RIVER. I was literally removed from the perspective of Rae, just so Beyond Eyes could give me a good view of this little blind girl walking across river rocks. There is no way she could have known those rocks was there. So she’s either faking being blind or the developers just stopped caring about consistency. I’m leaning towards the latter.
That river scene was the point I decided that Beyond Eyes was one of the most poorly thought-out games that I’ve played in recent memory. As I said, Beyond Eyes is based on a very interesting concept to explore in a video game, but the developers absolutely floundered in their delivery of translating that concept into an entertaining experience. I literally cannot figure out why the developer thought that the inclusion of that river scene was in any way appropriate after making me walk, literally blind, through a rainstorm for the past twenty-minutes. That one scene single-handedly ruined everything that came before it, and anything that came after it. It made no sense, it invalidated the entire game.
Clearly, I am not happy with Beyond Eyes. I’d ask for a refund, but since it takes two hours just to walk out of the tutorial (hyperbolic, but you get the point), I guess I’m out $4.
[[Not Recommended]] Beyond Eyes is about a child who stood too close to fireworks, was blinded, and doesn’t understand that a wild cat is probably not going to want to be her pet. The game’s core mechanic is only neat for a short period of time, then it stops being fun and is quite literally a handicap to the amount of enjoyment you could have experienced in this game, had it been made with some extra consideration and care.
This game was reviewed using a retail copy of the game that was purchased for the purpose of this review.
[Re:Legend now on Kickstarter]
The dragon’s lifeless body fell right onto the exact spot where I laid the foundation of my town. As I watched the dragon’s body clip through the Keep, a sense of relief washed over me. Not relief for my townsfolk, whom I had just saved from a fiery demise. No, not for them, but for me.
With the slaying of that dragon notched on my archers’ scoreboards, I had done everything there was to do in Kingdoms and Castles….and I had just hit the six hour mark.
Technically, I hadn’t done everything…there were some Steam achievements leftover for hitting certain population milestones, which would take a lot more downtime than I was willing to pump into Kingdoms and Castles. So, more accurately, I had done everything there was that was worth doing, in the game.
Kingdoms and Castles started out as straightforward, town-building, strategy game. With around two-dozen buildings to construct, everything had a clear purpose and their functions alongside the other buildings made sense. There were no obscure rules to learn, or elaborate game mechanics to keep track of. Wood, stone, food, and population were the only major things that needed monitoring; adequate water coverage (either from coastlines or wells), citizen happiness level (boosted by the presence of churches or taverns), and smart guard tower placement (to defend against invaders) were the only other facets of the game that necessitated the most attention.
There are a handful of other resource systems that need monitoring, but those that I mentioned represent the core of the game. As far as strategy city-building games go, they don’t come much simpler and easy-to-play than Kingdoms and Castles.
The game’s graphic style mirrors that simplicity. Featuring peg-like peasants, the game’s visual appeal comes from watching the dozens or hundreds of peasants scurrying around doing their duties. Once open housing is available, peasants will randomly “move in” to your town and they will automatically pick up on any available task that needs doing. It was fun to zoom out and watch the town in action. Watching the peasants all hopping around doing their own jobs reminded me a lot of watching tiny fish in a fish tank. For awhile anyway, it was quite a relaxing time.
Unfortunately, as pleasant as it was to watch…I could only watch so much before I found myself rapping my fingers on my keyboard, awaiting progression. Once I had read all of the little tooltips for every building there was to build, and had a basic understanding of what a good city layout in Kingdoms and Castles should look like, I had very little else to do as I waited for more citizens to move in, or for more resources to be collected.
Occasionally a viking raid would arrive, and while they increase in strength over time, they’re easy enough to repel that a few archer towers will do you just fine for the first hour of gameplay. They show up, slowly make their way into your town, steal resources and peasants, and make their way back to their boat. If you kill all the vikings you get to keep your resources, if not, you lose all they managed to snag on their way out.
Dragons would also show up, but their presence was a complete joke. The dragons would fly in at random times and mostly just float above my city. Perhaps the dragons in these lands had some sort of amnesia, because they acted more like butterflies than dragons. Only occasionally did they every drop a fire-blast or two down onto my town. Sometimes they never even flew near my town to begin with.
But I finally encountered a dragon that flew right through the heart of my city. After being pelted by arrows for a good half-minute, it was over. The dragon’s body vanished as it fell into my Keep, I breathed a partially-annoyed sigh of relief, and my peasants scurried on, unaware that their lives were about to end forever.
Kingdoms and Castles wasn’t a bad game in that it was broken, and it was even fun for a short time, but after I killed that dragon and I unlocked the achievement, I resigned as Lord of [Tom Already Forgot What He Named His Town] forever. I just can’t recommend Kingdoms and Castles; the game was not fun enough for long enough, and gave me absolutely no reason to play it all over again.
Not recommended. There just wasn’t enough variety of things to do to keep my attention past an hour or two. Feels very much like a stable, early-access release, rather than a full retail game. I will monitor Kingdoms and Castles for major developments and update this review as necessary.
Epic Brew reviewed this game using a retail copy purchased by the reviewer. Trailer and screenshots taken from GOG and Steam, respectively. Epic Brew is not affiliated with either.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is coming to Steam on July 18, 2017. Developed by Prideful Sloth, Yonder is about saving an island from the depressive grip of the Murk, a mysterious energy that is sapping the land of happiness. Through questing and exploring in a beautiful, open-world environment, players will collect tools, gather resources, manage farms, and help the island return to its former glory, with the help of the equally mysterious island spirits known as Sprites.
My ship was caught in a fierce storm, and I stood at the bow, helpless against the ravaging seas. Thunder crackled in the sky, waves crashed around me, and then everything went black. I assumed that I was dead. “Good grief, Tom,” I thought to myself, “three minutes into this game and you’ve already managed to drown the little fellow.” Then my screen faded back into focus and relief washed over me. Aaerie, the spirit guardian of the island I washed up on, decided to give me a second chance at life.
Yonder is an adorable, friendly for all ages, game. The main aspects of Yonder are exploration and crafting. Players can purchase and customize farms and collect resources from their animals and crops as well as gather resources from the environment. The resources can then be traded to townsfolk to help complete focused objectives.
Compared to its contemporaries, Yonder is a fairly shallow game. Obviously geared at younger gamers, the crafting system in Yonder isn’t as complex or item-dense as I expected it to be. With that said, in addition to being shallow, the game is, at times, vague; it can be tedious to try and figure out how to craft/find a certain resource (where are you, Glue??). Yonder just always felt like it was created for children who have loads more free-time to gallivant around in a video game, than I do. Which is fine, but not necessarily what I am looking for in a game.
Almost every quest in Yonder is a fetch quest. “Go collect X of this resource, and Y of that resource, then bring them back here.” If it weren’t for how gorgeous Yonder’s island is, and how fun it is to explore that beautiful wilderness, I wouldn’t view my time with the game as favorably as I do.
Tucked away into every corner of Yonder’s island are treasure chest with cosmetic goodies or rare resources. Lost kittens are the game’s collectible and every biome has its group of missing kittens to find. Exploring the island is very worthwhile and I always found myself wondering, “Hmm, I wonder what’s just around that corner?”
Lots of people seem to want to compare Yonder to Stardew Valley and Zelda. It’s neither one of those games. It lacks the depth and replayability that Stardew Valley has, and while it’s a pretty, open-world game, the land is vacant of enemies to battle or puzzles to solve beyond finding a particular resource needed to complete a quest. In Yonder you simply gather, craft, trade, and collect. Rinse and repeat.
I’m going to go ahead and recommend Yonder; it’s not a bad game, and the things I disliked about it are based on my personal taste, rather than about the quality of the game. Ten hours in the game and I found nothing mechanically wrong with Yonder. I’m happy to say it’s a very solid game and Prideful Sloth certainly have created something to be, well, prideful of.
Recommended for: young gamers and players looking for a kind-hearted, calm game to explore for a few nights.
Not recommended for: players looking for the excitement of Zelda or the depth/replayability of Stardew Valley.
The developer provided Epic Brew with a copy of the game for the purpose of this review.
In unison, myself and three friends sprinted across the field. Our rifles, our babies, rocked back-and-forth in our hands as we ran. There was no soothing lullabies for these babies though, just profane outbursts at the reckless, last-minute maneuver we were forced to undertake. You don’t need to be schooled in military theories to understand that a daytime jog across an open field with hostiles around, is a bad idea.
But we had no choice.
The game was corralling my friends and I into a randomly selected area like little fish in a lake that’s slowly drying up. If we didn’t make it to that area, our health would drain until we eventually died. We decided to move from the safety of a treeline in order to move into a cluster of cabins at the outskirts of a larger town. We estimated that the game would shift the playzone to end in the large town, so we wanted to move through the cabins before assaulting the town, which we also estimated was already occupied by like-minded players who just happened to get their first.
The only problem was the giant field we had to cross in order to get to the cabins.
About three-quarters of the way through the field, our hopes of safe-passage were sundered by the sounds of bullets whizzing in around us. Shots echoed in from the treeline that we had run out from. An enemy squad was hot on our six. The dirt around my feet kicked up as bullets pelted it, and my friend took a solid shot to the shoulder just a few yards ahead of me. A bullet clanged off of the frying pan I had dangling around my waist. We dashed behind the first cabin we came to, putting it between us and our attackers. We made it.
We spread out into the cabins and hunkered down. As my injured friend bandaged up his wound, the other three of us turned our sights back across the field, toward our aggressors. The cabins had plenty of windows to peek out from, so we kept to the shadows and used the game’s third-person camera to pan around and look out the windows.
Now it was time to turn the tables.
They would be forced out into the field when the game shifted the playzone our way; if they stayed put, they would die.
Sure enough, a few moments later, my friend called the coordinates. I checked my compass and shifted to a window that looked out in that direction. Three little shadows were trickling down the the treeline, about an acre away from the exact area we had just run out of. They passed out of the trees and began their assault on our position.
My friend opened up with his suppressed assault rifle, his shots were drowned out by the rest of our rifles, and the occasional puttering sound of my friend’s submachine gun. The enemy squad was caught out in the field. One by one our bullets found them and they collapsed into the field.
“Insta-kill,” my friend said over voice-coms, signaling that the player he shot just died instantly, indicating that there was no one left in his or her squad to revive them. With one less enemy squad to worry about we reload, quickly check the cabins for supplies, and begin planning our next steps.
All of this happened in under two minutes.