Defend the Rook - PC Review

Defend The Rook
by developer One Up Plus Entertainment and publishers Goblinz Publishing and Maple WhisperingPC review written by Hayden with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Defend The Rook by developer One Up Plus Entertainment and publishers Goblinz Publishing and Maple Whispering bills itself as “a roguelike tactics board combat combined with tower defense elements.” Beyond operating on a grid and being turn-based, however, there really isn’t much roguelike here - no permadeath or procedurally generated endless dungeon levels await us here. Instead, Defend The Rook welcomes players into a series of playing fields that strongly resemble chess boards with terrain blocks, and gives them control of exactly four moveable pieces - the eponymous castle-like Rook, and three nameless heroes known simply as the Warrior, Rogue and Sorceress.

Gameplay is turn-based, with no timers or other restrictions to hurry the player along on the default setup. Each piece can move and attack by default, and the player can use a few off-board actions to help their pieces and hinder opponents. The player wins by surviving through multiple waves of enemy pieces, and loses if the enemy manages to destroy the Rook - simple, straightforward and easy to grasp conditions.

While some of the off-map actions the player can perform can place static AI-controlled towers, traps and barricades, there are never enough of these provided that any meaningful portion of the map can be turned into a maze like a true tower defense game. To further drive home the point that this is not a tower defense game, barricades and towers placed by the player are open to attack by enemy units - a direct difference from most tower defense games where the attackers mindlessly shamble like cattle between the players walls.

One Up Plus’s game design hits an interesting note in how they have made the player’s pieces synergize together. Each piece starts with at least one special effect, and more can be unlocked as the player progresses. Often, these effects are positioning-dependent - like a character healing adjacent static structures (towers, barricades) when they end their turn next to them - which gives a refreshing extra layer to a game that would otherwise risk devolving into “move next to the enemy, smash, end turn, repeat”.

My only gripe with this system is that the abilities show up quite quickly at the start of the game and aren’t easily referenced on the game board, making it harder for a player to learn how to use their pieces to their best advantage. If this was a deliberate design choice, it isn’t one that I personally agree with, but it admittedly does force the player to pay close attention to what they are doing and rewards those who can hold onto a mental list of all the conditional abilities their pieces have.

The art style and UI design for Defend The Rook is generally quite clean and pleasant to look at. The majority of the player’s time will be spent looking at the chessboard-like battlefield in an isometric view, and a few issues inevitably spring from this style. Most notably, pieces and terrain can occlude items ‘behind’ them from the player’s perspective, and while the front piece turns translucent when the player mouses over the occluded piece, it is still possible to miss seeing a small enemy piece behind a larger sprite, or having the normally visible stat block hidden out of the player’s view. Given that the playing field is of quite limited size this isn’t often too bad of an issue as it is less likely the player will have lost track of a piece moving into an occluded position, but it is still an item worth noting.

In summary, Defend The Rook leans successfully into a mix of movement and interpiece synergies to keep players engaged with its turn-based action. Don’t expect the classic tower defense tropes of militarized mazes and mindless hordes of minions, however, as this plays more as an evolution of chess than a tower defense game. Good for players who want a lightweight tactics game, but avoid it if you are just looking to watch hundreds of peons march into your custom-built meat grinder. Overall a fun game to play, but I doubt it will make a lot of player’s ‘best of 2021’ lists as few of its features really stand out with a “wow” factor to make it truly memorable.


Defend The Rook leans successfully into a mix of movement and interpiece synergies to keep players engaged. Don’t expect the classic tower defense tropes of militarized mazes and mindless hordes of minions, however, as this plays more as an evolution of chess than a tower defense game. Great for players who want a lightweight tactics game, but avoid it if you are just looking to watch hundreds of peons march into your custom-built meat grinder.

Score: 7 / 10


Become the Sleuther in Sherlock Holmes Chapter One with Various Investigative Techniques!

19 October 2021 - Kyiv, Ukraine + Dublin, Ireland
| With just over a month before the release of Sherlock Holmes Chapter One, developer Frogwares is continuing their series of deep-dive showcase features of the core mechanics of the game.

This time around, we delve into the heart of what makes Sherlock the master sleuth, his detective skills, and what normally goes into solving a case.

Sweep for clues: Finding clues at the scene of the crime is detective work 101. In SHCO however, know that you can miss crucial clues and the game won’t hold you back. It’s up to you to decide when and if you have everything.

Suspect identified: Every case needs a suspect. How you identify them early (correctly or incorrectly) plays out on how the suspect will treat you going forward.

Use a disguise: The locals don’t wanna talk to you? Well, no surprise - you’re new to the island and not to be trusted. But maybe a clever disguise will trick them into trusting you. Acquire various outfits throughout the island and then use your intuition and clues to figure out what disguise to put on to start getting answers. The game will never tell you what disguise to use so expect a few snide remarks if you put on the wrong outfit.

Look at this evidence: Got a piece of evidence you think someone really ought to know something about? The Evidence Pinning system lets you take any clue and present it to any person to see if they know something. With the right evidence in hand and some sound logic of who to ask, you should come out with an answer or two.

Piece it all together: The Mind Palace is where it all comes together. The clues you have uncovered will be here and let you string together your theories of what really went down. Whether you are right or wrong is all down to you as the game won’t block you from making the wrong choice.

A one-man judge and jury: On the island of Cordona, not everything is equal, so what constitutes a crime to some might be right in the eyes of others. It’s up to you to decide. Make your judgment based on what you believe is true and right and live with the consequences.

Sherlock Holmes Chapter One will be released on PC (Steam, Epic, GOG), PS5, Xbox Series X/S on November 16th, and later for PS4 and Xbox One. All pre-orders come with a free copy of Sherlock Holmes Crimes & Punishments and additional in-game content.

Article by: Susan N.


Sands of Aura - PC Preview

Sands of Aura by developer Chashu Entertainment and publisher Freedom GamesPC preview written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Having gone from interested people's wish lists into Early Access last week, Cashu Entertainment and Freedom Games' Sands of Aura is an open world Soulslike making me think that maybe From Software's Elden Ring could pull it off. Starting small before the whole world opens up on seas of sands, this is definitely one to pay attention to going forward.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for this is that the developers have been very active in order to get everything smoothed out. From the first pre-release version that I sat down to over to the version 1.02 that I'm basing this preview off of, it's only become more stable and smoother to play on each iteration.

So what exactly is Sands of Aura? Sands of Aura is an open world action adventure Soulslike without the burden of an RPG. Currently there is no leveling up your characters, instead, you'll have to get around certain situations by improving your gear or by "gitting gud". Obviously wanting to take the gear approach there's going to be more than enough customization in order to make up for not having core stats that you can improve upon.

Following along with the theme of customization, what really impressed me was Sands of Aura's weapon creation. Instead of needing to run around for weapons and hope to find something that suits you before wasting materials on upgrades which are rare enough at the moment, you make your own. Do you want the tip of a sword or the head of an axe? What kind of body do you want for your weapon? Each of these choices will produce something different from light swords and bastard swords over to a two sided glaive. It’s neat and I appreciated having it all up front and also the developers attention to feedback as the basic weapons are now so much easier to make in order to figure out what works for you and what you actually want to upgrade.

Taking that level of customization further are the following two options. For your weapons, it’s possible to customize them with elemental runes that let you do some pretty awesome area of effect attacks, dashing effects and elemental damage for a limited amount of time. Picking up Fire, Ice and Thunder in your first dungeon, you’ll be able to find more from your enemies as you begin to explore the world so it’s possible to have multiple weapons with different elements instead of replacing the element in your current weapon which will break it. Better to have more than to have less, especially in a world that’s entered its twilight.

The other customization ability is to add runes into your armor sockets. Armor piercing, faster movement speed, more armor, higher critical rate chance, each of these has its own time and place in your adventure. As you explore you’ll find new armor sets and what I found interesting wasn’t that they didn’t give you more or less armor, instead, they gave you different bonuses while equipped such as the first set will give you two seconds of additional armor for every dodge maneuver you perform. It’s different but at least like your weapons you can also upgrade them as long as you have the materials for it.

Putting all of that aside though, Sands of Aura once you leave that first cavern that you start in and the world opens up to you is just amazing. It has people, it has real quests, and unlike most of the Souls games, the world even while falling apart under seas of sands feels alive. Leaving your island for adventure and setting sail, you aren’t stuck going to one place, you can go wherever from the top of a belfry tower for a mid boss fight where you can hire an NPC to help down into some unknown graves where it’s super dark and you can die by simply stepping off the boardwalk into poison. Other places look like fortresses with giant staircases with loads of enemies just waiting and the thrill of seeing them as you sail by is enough to make you want to stop to see if you can’t indeed take them on and win.

It’s a great design and it only continues to offer up more as the developers incorporate feedback. If I had to list complaints, there would be two. The first would be that any time that you walk into a new space, the camera is facing your face instead of behind you in order to see forward. You constantly have to turn the camera around each and every time. The other would be that while combat feels like it has impact, there are moments where you’ll be hitting an enemy and they’ll be flinching but then they swing and hit you and there’s nothing you can do about it as you were swinging while they were flinching. If an enemy is in stun lock, they shouldn’t be able to hit back without some indication.


Finally, I’m just looking forward to seeing where Sands of Aura goes from where it currently is as I’m certain that it’s going to be a hell of a ride with its open world approach to the Soulslike formula without relying on RPG like mechanics in order to make it work.

Score: N/A


Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars - PS4 Review

Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars
by developers Idea Factory, Compile Heart, and Tamsoft and publisher Idea Factory InternationalSony PlayStation 4 review by Richard with a copy provided by publisher.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Nin nin. Nin nin. Toki- hold up, I'm getting my references mixed up. Either way, it's time for another collaboration spin-off title from the Neptunia franchise, this time it's ninja themed with Senran Kagura! With all of the fourth wall breaking jokes of the Neptunia franchise, combined with the ninja "physics" of Senran Kagura, it's time to bounce on in to a world of shinobi in Neptunia x Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars.

In Neptunia x Senran Kagura the four Ninja Goddesses, or Neptune and her fellow goddesses, are the four strongest ninjas of the Compa style ninja arts, fighting for Heartland (Compile Heart) against the ninjas of Marveland (Marvelous) who are the four lead ninjas of each primary faction in the Senran Kagura titles. Every night it's a 4v4 battle as the Senran Girls attempt to destroy Heartlands share crystal. All this changes however when one day a mysterious flying ship bombards them as they're fighting on top of a roof. Mechanical NINJAs then descend, and Heartland and Marveland are beset by the Steeme Legion led by Yoh Gamer and Tetsuko.

In terms of gameplay, Ninja Warriors is closer to Senran Kagura than Neptunia. You can bum around in town, browsing the market for equipment and items, managing your equipment, chatting up the townsfolk etc. Once you are prepared, you head into the field by selecting a stage from the world map. You will then begin combat in a 3D action style gameplay. Off you go to run around the field with a partner you can switch between, defeating enemies to open magical barriers, collecting treasure chests, and maybe fighting a boss at the end of the stage. You'll earn exp from defeating enemies, and will level up increasing your stats.

Each character has a standard attack combo, four ninja arte slots, as well as ranged weapons, kunais and shuriken. You can dodge, block, jump, and run, although most of those will use your stamina gauge. The stamina gauge will deplete as you perform actions, and will regenerate slowly over time, by attacking enemies, or in large chunks if you get a perfect guard off. Using ninja artes will take a set number of bars from the stamina gauge, and can be chained in a combo of up to four. Characters also have access to a super move if you can fill the gauge up, as well as an "elemental drive" mode, which can be activated for a set period of time, but provides benefits such as health regen or not flinching.

Something that may be of interest to any of you is that ranged weapons can actually be extremely powerful in certain scenarios, so don't neglect them. They have a set ammo capacity, but will recharge fairly quickly over time. Also, for those familiar with the Neptunia franchise, you may notice that apart from Neptune, the other three goddesses are using different weapons than you may be used to (Editor's Note below). As you're playing through the game, you will collect spirit gems and talismans. Talismans can be equipped as accessories, and spirit gems can be placed in a grid to give passive bonuses, such as periodic healing or increased damage output. The spirit gems come in different levels, and if you get two of the same you can combine them into a higher level gem. The gems can be put into a grid where certain arrangements will provide bonuses.

After you've completed a stage, you can return from the world map to explore, earn more exp, and collect any chests you may have missed. As you progress a little into the game, you unlock a minigame called "Peaches and Cream Meditation" where you use the controller motion sensor to balance on a giant peach. Succeeding gives a stat bonus for the next three stages to you and your partner. It's an interesting minigame that has three difficulty options with better bonuses the harder the difficulty. You can also accept requests from the local shrine, where you be sent straight into the field when you accept the request. Some requests can only be unlocked by talking with the townspeople.

After you manage to finish the game, you get to unlock "Yomi Training". This is a pack of 8 sets of 3 stages each that have set restrictions on the stages, and you have to go through all three in one go, where your health and drive uses carry over between the stages. Completing all 8 unlocks a final challenge for you to face. Pro tip, the challenge in the top right is probably the easiest. These stages give a nice post game challenge, and while some of them, one in particular, made me almost throw something for real, they tend to be a good test of skill.

I am pleased to announce that Ninja Wars combines both the musical styling of Neptunia and the Senran Kagura franchise, in a wonderful combination of traditional Japanese themes and newer electric guitar. The characters also have new 2D models that are well illustrated, although the Senran cast does look a little off, especially Homura who looks cross-eyed half the time.

Ninja Wars is a pretty solid game all around, although it does come with a few…quirks, let's say, that can be rather frustrating. Enemies can, and will, attack you off screen and flinch-lock you given the opportunity. The evade has… mixed usefulness, and it is generally better to guard most attacks, especially since perfect guarding negates damage taken. The game did lag at times, although it happened rarely, and surprisingly not when there were a bunch of enemies on-screen. Fair warning as well: the game is short. It only took me about 10 hours to finish 90% of the quests and the main storyline. There is a little more due to the post game content, but it is purely optional. Combat will get a little repetitive, so you may want to play periodically, but the game is short enough that you don't really notice it. There also aren't a whole lot of enemy variations, as there are largely just a bunch of palette swaps for more enemies.

Editor's Note - PY

Overall while fun to play, I did have a discussion with Richard about the weapons chosen for the four Goddesses of Gamninjustry. For Neptune, hands down worked as it is literally her usual weapon type of a Japanese Katana. For Noire, while her usual Western European rapier blade would have been out of place, her dual Sai were well designed and she had a great move set to go along with that weapon type. Where I found things not working as well were with Blanc and my favorite Goddess Vert. I found that their weapons didn't quite jive with their characters as a hammer or a Kanabo would have been great and in theme for Blanc and a spear or a Naginata for Vert. I eventually settled in with NepNep and Asuka for the rest of the adventure after having tried everyone as a partner to Neptune.

Overall, Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars is a pretty fun game. The combat largely takes after Senran Kagura with Neptunia themes and felt really smooth. The plot is fairly cliché, more than I was expecting for a collaboration spin-off, the side scenarios were pretty funny, and it was all in character. The illustrations are nice, the music is all great, and the stages don't take too long to finish, so it doesn't start to wear on you too bad. While the game is incredibly short, the post game content is a nice challenge.

Fans of either Senran or Neptunia will be able to get a kick out of Neptunia X Senran Kagura: Ninja Wars.

Score: 8 / 10


Disciples: Liberation - PS5 Review

Disciples: Liberation
by developer Frima Studio and publisher Kalypso MediaSony PlayStation 5 review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Disciples: Liberation is the latest entry in the long-running series and has thankfully made its way onto consoles as well as PC (check out Pierre-Yves' preview). It is the type of strategy / RPG hybrid that I find it incredibly easy to sink oodles of hours into, and thankfully Disciples: Liberation makes that an enjoyable experience for multiple reasons.

The story starts off in rather typical fashion, following our heroine Avyanna from her relatively nondescript beginnings to becoming the focal character in a dark fantasy story that touches on a variety of different themes. Those familiar with the prior Disciples games will recognize some names mentioned here and there, but this is a standalone title simply set in that world. However, the beginning was a little rough for me, as I’m not a seasoned veteran of the series and the early focus was on the characters and less the world building. There’s always that fine line to straddle between too much exposition and helping new players not to be confused, and admittedly during the first few hours I fell mostly into the latter category.

It helps however, that the characters are interesting and I like that this is not a linear game. Your choices do have an impact on the story and your related characters, and that greatly helps the replay value here. Interacting with your companions can impact romantic storylines as well as unlocking new abilities. It makes investing in the characters worthwhile both form a narrative standpoint as well as a gameplay one.

Speaking of the gameplay, it's an interesting mix of elements. Exploration is handled in real-time, where you come across some light puzzle elements here and there (throw this switch to open that gate, those kinds of things), encountering roaming patrols and so on as you seek out your quest endpoint. Combat is a turn-based affair, on a hex grid where you have to spend action points to move around and issue attack commands.

Sometimes there are elements on the battlefield that do things like heal characters, but mostly the focus is on baiting enemies into terrible positioning. Avyanna’s best friend Orion is key to this during the early stages as she assumes the role of tank to draw people in, while he is a rogue who can go invisible and get behind an unsuspecting opponent. Once you have an enemy pinched, you can deal much more effective damage.

Early on these battles are pretty challenging, and as you get new characters with different abilities than you’re used to, there is a bit of a learning curve to be had there as well. Given the turn-based nature of the tactical combat, the pacing of the game can be quite slow. Thankfully as your group becomes stronger, if you encounter easier battles there is an insta-win Conquer option that I was grateful for. As you gain more characters and once Avyanna starts to grow in power (except for her, each character only uses one piece of equipment. She can be fully decked out though as well as learning spells), the battles become more manageable. One of the areas of focus with Avyanna is her skill trees, which there are three flavors of. That leads to trying to decide between heavily specializing or being a jack of all trades.

One of the other aspects of progression that I really enjoyed is the city of Ylliana. You discover blueprints along the way and start to harvest from several different types of resources. Just like the storyline and developing Avyanna, Ylliana can also be grown in a variety of different ways. These will impact the types of troops you can recruit and your ranking within different factions can impact their efficacy. The four legions are the undead, the damned, the empire and the elves. Similar to Avyanna, you can choose to be specialized or broad, leaving you to decide between stronger units of one type or more variety to handle a wider range of challenges.

In terms of the presentation, the visuals are solid if not always spectacular. In typical fantasy fashion, you have some attractive character portraits and some notable landscapes along the way. The musical score is fitting if not the most memorable I have ever heard, but the songs compliment the sound effects and visual nicely and create a convincing package. I often found the characters more interesting than the world. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the writing – which was adequate but seldom struck me as great – or just my inexperience with the series. 


Disciples: Liberation is a very enjoyable fantasy game that mixes turn-based combat with real-time exploration and a smidge of simulation / city-building. It can be a risk trying to balance these different elements, but kudos to the development team for striking a satisfactory balance. I really enjoyed my time with this game and it is pretty easy to sink a few dozen or so hours into it. Fans of strategy / RPG titles will find a lot to like here and should definitely give Disciples: Liberation a look.

Score: 8 / 10


The Lightbringer - Switch Review

The Lightbringer
by developer Rock Square Thunder and publisher Zordix PublishingNintendo Switch review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate over the years it’s the variety of high impact adventures alongside the more low-key and relaxing ones. The Lightbringer by Rock Square Thunder falls squarely into this latter category creating a fun and easy to get into bite sized adventure perfect for winding down at the end of the day or over the weekend.

People, because of course we did, made a mess of things and with the guidance of your sister, it’s up to you to remove the corruption that’s accumulated on the monoliths that used to bring light to the world. It’s a premise that has been used many times before but it’s an easy one to put into place in order to get the adventure going. Set up in a series of bite-sized stages, there are several “worlds” to explore as you find the light shards required in order to purge the corruption from each stage's monolith.

Each bite sized stage will take up to no more than about ten to twenty minutes all depending on how far out of your way you go in order to collect both the light shards and the other collectibles. Built as a puzzle platformer, I appreciated that you could move the camera around as while running and jumping in certain angles were much easier than others. It's a personal preference but having this option is huge at times.

The other reason that I appreciated being able to move the camera around is some puzzles require you to really look around to figure out where to go and sometimes all this would take is to remember to actually look around. Not everything will always be in view and maybe just by moving your camera view to the left or the right you’ll see that there’s another ledge, or, you’ll notice there’s no floor and jumping over that ledge would lead to jumping off the stage. I may or may not have done that several times before it “looked” like the floor continued and it did, just not in the one spot where I jumped which I could then see after rotating my camera slightly.

Other than running and jumping around though, the rest of the puzzle elements are kept simple enough and are never overly complicated as titles nowadays tend to get. Moving boxes or pushing levers is done by simply moving into them, there’s no need to press and hold a button or mash at a controller button to move it forward. It’s one less thing to think about when running around collecting light shards or perhaps the gear to make the levers move.

Even combat for the most part is simple enough. Equipped with a boomerang instead of a sword as your protagonist chose what they wanted out of the weapon’s shop, you'll battle slimes big and small in order to restore the light to the monoliths. Maybe one thing that could have been made a bit simpler just because of the level designs especially when walls were involved would have been the armored slimes. These things were just unfair at times to go up against and a waste of time if you had to actually dispatch them. Unlike a lot of others, these armored slimes required you to hit at an exact spot behind their helmet and often the boomerang would ting off the side. Sure eventually you can run and jump or dodge over, but when there’s no space and you HAVE to defeat them? It just felt like it took a little away from how well designed the rest was.

Finally, boss fights I felt were fun, but maybe a bit too repetitive. All you needed to do was to get the boss’ health bar down to zero but often the rinse and repeat patterns to knock you off of where you need to stand or make you dodge or get the angles just right, felt forced. Unlike the lighthearted fun puzzles that the stages provided, these just felt out of place and I found that they could have benefited from maybe a more puzzle-like design to take them out than simply making it a pure hit until they are dead styled affair.


Overall though, The Lightbringer by Rock Square Thunder is a light hearted and maybe even entry level adventure for those thinking of getting into the style or for veterans needing something low key for an afternoon. Soft and bright colour palettes with an easy to pick up gameplay, it's a relaxing game if you've been needing a break from forty hour adventure or daily grinds.

Score: 7.75 / 10


Echo Generation - XBSX Review

Echo Generation
by developer and publisher CococucumberMicrosoft Xbox Series X review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

It's the middle of summer, you're getting ready to make a movie with some of your friends based off of a script you wrote. You wake up, your mom tells you to hang out with your sister or forfeit the rest of your summer allowance. So stealing a traffic cone for your sister to get out from in front of the TV, the two of you and the house cat set out on an unbelievable adventure making you wonder what the hell is really going on in this town.

Seriously though, what the hell is up with this town? Echo Generation by Canadian developer Cococucumber is an RPG set in a small town plagued with… everything. Aliens, ghosts, killer puppets and racoons which will easily show you not to mess with their territory, this town has it all and you'll get to experience all of it over the course of a few days of your summer vacation.

With Halloween just around the corner, Echo Generation is perfect for it as it easily hits light and fun vibes before going totally creepy in a Stranger Things kind of manner and it all just fits together. Featuring a pair of siblings as your protagonists, this adventure quite literally will bring you from one event to the next without really missing a beat as it's all for some reason natural to those experiencing it. I mean they are aided by the talking house cat as a party member...

There are a few immediate notes that stood out for me in the demo earlier this year as well as in the full release. Graphically, Echo Generation uses a voxel base which is generally seen in more open worlds when developers want something more fleshed out than a pixel look as they happen to be a bit more versatile when going for that more “blocky look”. Unlike these more open world explorations with monsters or environmental terrains exploding and then showing the ground with the remaining pieces, this adventure uses it for visual appearance alone in a set isometric view. The graphical approach works really well though. Whether from your more human looking human NPCs to killer monster puppets, aliens or giant destructive mechanical beasts, everything looked like it fit and the voxel approach gave it just that little bit more realistic oomph in a world that is very far removed from reality.

Aiding the visuals for presentation is the second big item and hats off to the musical talent behind this adventure as there's music for every type of fight in the various environments. From big mechanical monsters to secret government agents really looking like a famous duo (Reno and Rude even if it was probably meant for Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones), there's a track for it. This makes each boss or story based fight feel unique from one another as while I love a good boss track, never knowing what you’re in for was something of a treat. The other part of this treat is that the music also seemed to fit the mood of the environment as well as the type of foe you were facing off against. Again, hats off for that.

Now getting into a bit of what worked both really well and at times not, is the exploration. While the events pushing the story work really well as they are all intertwined fetch quests in order to get what you need set up for your movie production, getting to those points is not always the smoothest process. Split between the suburbs, downtown, the forest, the farmland and the side of the highway with a few branching areas here and there, the overall space that this adventure takes place in is not very big. That part is not an issue as there will be lots of running back and forth trying to figure everything out. What doesn’t work so well on this though is that there’s no real way to keep track of anything and you often don’t really get hints as to what you should be on the lookout for.

There are perhaps two things that I would have liked to have. The first, would have been a journal to keep track of what’s been done and what items could potentially be used for what. The second, would have been a map of the area to know how it’s actually all interconnected as while you do unlock shortcuts after a while, there is no fast travelling and if you don’t know what you need to do, you’ll be combing through each and every area to figure out what you missed. Oftentimes? It may already be in your hands but you didn’t know it or know how to use it.

It wasn’t the end of the world as I did finish my adventure with almost everything to be obtained in under twelve hours, but a lot of that time was spent running around trying to figure out where to go, what to do, and then potentially grinding for experience as combat can be rather unforgiving and this town? After a few beatdowns several bad guys stop coming out to play a la Dark Souls 2. So grinding for experience isn’t exactly easy making you really have to know the ins and outs of your party and their skills as items cost money, and with no bad guys, there’s no money, so if you want to really keep moving you’ll have to backtrack a lot to the three beds around town in order to fully heal up.

Combat itself though? Stupid amounts of fun. Not a single attack in anyone's repertoire from the protagonists to their companions (the house’s cat, robot, dog, raccoon, alien jackalope) is straightforward and it’s entirely a hands-on experience. From the standard attack over to throwing ninja stars, shooting hockey pucks, throwing wood axes or rubbing a balloon for a static attack, everything has its own input sequence. Pressing a button at the right time, making a star fall into the right basket, pressing the right sequence of buttons on the controller, moving a reticle into the right space, and so on. If you want to do real damage, you need to pull off these sequences otherwise you’ll never win. Think of it as a 2021 version of Sony’s The Legend of Dragoon.

To keep things interesting, as all attack patterns require input, so do the defensive ones. Whether single attack or party wide, you’ll have to perform an action in order to reduce the amount of incoming damage. For the most part, it’ll be hitting the button at the right time as it’s kept simple enough. Other times though, for gatling gun styled attacks, you’ll have to press a sequence of buttons and hope to not get it wrong. For super large foes, there can even come a time where you have to literally move the party out of the way or risk getting crushed. It really is stupid amounts of fun once you get into it as it always manages to keep you in the action instead of have you sit in a passive role and hit “A” repeatedly to attack until the enemy is dead.


So overall, fans of RPGs, fans of the occult, fans of aliens, ghosts and crazy science experiments, I would seriously recommend checking out Cococucumber’s Echo Generation especially over Halloween which is the perfect time for this kind of story. Well written dialog and an interactive and engaging combat system supported by an amazing soundtrack, this is going onto my Game of the Year list.

Score: 8 / 10


Age of Darkness: Final Stand - PC Preview

Age of Darkness: Final Stand
by developer PlaySide and publisher Team17PC preview written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Having just been released into Early Access, PlaySide's Age of Darkness: Final Stand is a real time strategy (RTS) with a single goal. Survival. Starting off with nothing more than a home base, an RPG like hero and a couple standard units, the clock immediately starts to tick down to your destruction against a horde of incoming Nightmares.

Set as a single player experience, the moment that you start the race is on. Deceptive at first with some bright sunny landscapes and a quite serene area that your forces call home, your base is in the literal middle of the map and it is surrounded by nightmares. Always just outside of your field of vision in the fog of war, you can send out your hero unit to start leveling up and clear out the way for things that you're going to need to build and keep safe.

For anyone who's played an RTS, you should feel right at home. You have your home base and you have your supply chains. Simplifying things a little bit, most of the resource gathering is handled by the output setup instead of having to build units to go and gather the resources. Lumber mills, farms and quaries need to be set up around the resources that you wish to gather and then your townsfolk will handle the rest. As long as you have enough of them to handle the work of course.

With the incoming darkness, nothing is easy. To get more townsfolk you’ll need to build houses. To build houses, you’ll need wood. To get wood, you’ll need townsfolk. To get more townsfolk, you’ll need food. To get more food you’ll need to build a farm. To build a farm… you get it. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s one that may take a few rounds to get right and even then, it’ll still be the luck of the draw to see what kind of environment that you start off in. Is it wide open and the trees are far from the base? Are there any ore deposits close by? How’s the land for food gathering? Each of these small things compound and when you constantly see the clock ticking down from day to night, you really need to get a move on and learn how to get set up fast.

So with the above all in mind, there’s a bit of a false sense of security as nightmares really just mill around in the sunlight before becoming a bit more aggressive at night. Here I was thinking to myself, that’s not bad, I can handle this, I just need to build a wall, research how to make giant light sources to help see better at night and set up a few archers in the towers and have the foot soldiers head out if needed. Easy. I wish. So with the giant catch-22 above, there’s also the added element that more people need more food and more housing but those people are what you need to train soldiers. So on top of resource management to keep upgrading and building defenses, you also have to worry about making sure you can train more troops as once the clock hits “zero”, the true nightmare known as the Death Night begins.

I was not prepared for my first horde. At all. I had a few walls in place, I was still trying to figure out the best way to place things in my base, hell, I didn’t even have extra fighting units. I probably should have run the tutorial. That said I survived somehow but seeing what was out there? There’s a reason that they are called Nightmares. Going through a few day and night cycles to start building up your base and training troops, you’ll soon get a warning that a crystal is unstable which thankfully tells you about where it is on the map allowing you to bolster defenses in the direction of that area. Ticking down to zero though, once that crystal breaks all hell is let loose and those few milling Nightmares in the fields become a true horde with a single purpose, your destruction.

If the sheer amount of numbers coming down and crashing against your defenses wasn’t enough, and it’s terrifying just how many enemies can be showcased on the screen at a time, you also have to deal with a debuff of sorts. Having first been hit with a malicious Price of Loyalty, my military unit upkeep was increased by 2 gold per unit which in the beginning isn’t so bad, but as time would move on it could have been much worse later on. If you survive though, this curse disappears and you can choose a blessing to help yourself out. 10% chance for units to do double damage, all new buildings cost 15% less resources or seeing a crystal a day earlier to give yourself even more time to plan. Each type of blessing is worth reading through and some will be more useful than others but being able to have a blessing instead of just stacking on the curses was nice.

From here, things quiet down a bit until the next Death Night and you go about doing it all over again. You keep gathering resources, keep adding to your military, keep expanding your borders and pushing forward and it’s exhilarating as you don’t know if you’re even going to survive the next night. That’s what makes Age of Darkness so damned good. It’s a hardcore survival real time strategy that will truly test you over time and whether or not you survive is entirely up to you. You can’t blame the system or the AI for being “broken”, you can only blame yourself for not properly using the time that you had properly, not building a proper defensive perimeter, not building backups to fall back to.

It’s a learning experience and there’s still more to come. Currently only one hero unit is available with another coming in the next future as well as higher difficulty modes and while there may be some small things that I would like to see done, for the most part I wouldn’t change what I’ve had the chance to sit down to. It all comes down to meticulous planning on a ticking death clock and you have to decide just how pretty your base is going to look or how functional it can be as things like lumber mills and farms cannot have overlaps in the areas that they are using to gather resources. This can make it quite hard at times but I enjoyed that it added to the challenge set out in front of me.

Finally, one thing that took me a few sessions to notice, and I’m certain it will change, but I loved that by opening up Age of Darkness, I was already at the main menu. Ready to go. There were no loading screens, no pre-credits, no splash screens, just the main menu ready to go. I think a lot of people could potentially learn from this and have the credits listed close by and such but it was refreshing to just click and go.


While just having kicked off its Early Access, PlaySide's Age of Darkness: Final Stand is a brilliantly designed hardcore real time strategy survival experience. From building your base to trying to hold off the incoming hordes crashing against your walls, those looking for a challenge need look no further and fans of real time strategies will find plenty to love here.

Score: N/A


Song in the Smoke - PSVR Review

Song in the Smoke
by developer and publisher 17-BitSony PlayStation VR review written by Nick with a copy provided by the publisher.

Song in the Smoke is an interesting tightrope act that blends different gaming elements together quite effectively. Exploration is a major component, and the survival aspects are well-balanced, creating an immersive if occasionally unpolished experience.

Right off of the bat, the prehistorical setting is one that resonated with me. It’s not quite fantasy in the typical sense (there are some odd creatures), but it has a primitive nature that lends itself to the lush vegetative visuals. Like many virtual reality titles, it’s best to take the visuals with a bit of a grain of salt. Look too closely and you start to see muddied textures and faux walls that limit truly open exploration, but if you’re willing to operate from a couple of steps back and take in the visual style, Song in the Smoke is engaging.

At its core, Song in the Smoke is a survival game. The crafting system is what drives most of the titles in this genre, and Song in the Smoke is no different. It’s not the most complicated system I’ve come into contact with, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those who really love intricate crafting systems with a ton of depth might come away feeling slightly disappointed, but at least for my enjoyment it was just about perfect. You have a loop of finding things, making things, eating and sleeping while exploring stages for three Song Stones that are used to summon the boss beasts that are your gateway to the next level.

Because the crafting system is more about the number of items that can be made and not necessarily a series of “make item A, then use that and another made item to create item C, which then is used as a component to item W”… the pacing is assisted by not really having to worry about these deep, laddered crafting systems. That said, one of the cooler aspects of the crafting system is how it makes use of virtual reality to make things a bit more hands-on, from sharpening sticks or crushing herbs. However, this is a survival game at its heart and one of the biggest challenges you face has less to do with the actual tasks as your limited inventory. Keeping a camp fire going at night is not all that hard in and of itself – there’s plenty of viable wood about, but your limited inventory means you’re not carrying three dead trees on your back as you make camp.

The hunting, gathering and sleeping mechanic is a careful act to balance, because in these types of games I can often feel myself feeling frustrated with how artificially cheap the limited resources can feel at times. That was seldom the case for me in Song in the Smoke. While admittedly the survival genre is not my favorite, the fact that I enjoyed Song in the Smoke as much as I did attests to how I found the systems challenging, but fair the majority of the time. It helps that there’s no hard timer pushing you through the stage each day. This can lend a bit of a grindy element to the overall loop by the time you hit some of the game’s later stages, but I appreciated that I seldom felt rushed. I tend to be thorough in my games (I’m a grinder in JRPGs, personally), and I appreciated that Song in the Smoke allowed me time to really improve my camps. There’s a lot of repetition here, but because I was enjoying my time, I was alright with that.

While the sound effects were pretty solid all round, the music was largely forgettable. Visually the presentation is interesting, as I mentioned earlier. Character models can look a bit rough at times, with animals like panthers and wild boars moving a bit stiffly, but setting up camp on a high cliff and looking around the environment was pretty exciting most of the time. The rough edges aren’t just found in the presentation though, as the lack of checkpoints will have you manual saving often (or suffering the consequences). Hunting animals is another exercise that while fun, really puts a drain on your time and resources and while it’s obviously important, feels just slightly out of balance with the rest of the game’s tug-of-war as well. It doesn’t help that the combat feels a bit rough around the edges as well, with animals moving in strange, sometimes jittery fashion. The actual number of stages is rather modest, but given that I had a tendency to fully explore them all, that was not a real concern for me.


Song in the Smoke is an excellent survival game that creates a genuine sense of dread as you manage your resources and explore often unforgiving environments. The setting is interesting, and while the visual textures can suffer a bit at times and the actual combat was a bit off for me, the sense of discovery while exploring new places was an immersive thrill.

Score: 7 / 10


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