Metroidvania-lite Meets Cooking Game Magical Delicacy July 16th!

Befriend a Divers Cast of Characters, Explore the Cozy Harbor Town of Grat, and Cook Mouthwatering Meals This July

Erie, Pennsylvania (June 4, 2024) — Preheat your ovens to 350oF, set up your mise en place, break out your grimoire and get ready for a scrumptious and wholesome adventure! Today, Whitethorn Games — publisher of inclusive, accessible, easy-going games including APICO, Calico, Botany Manor, and Lake — and solo-developer sKaule are thrilled to share that their upcoming Metroidvania-lite-meets-cooking game Magical Delicacy is coming to Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox — available day one with Xbox Game Pass — on July 16, 2024. 

Check out the Magical Delicacy release date and Nintendo Switch announcement trailer

A wholesome adventure set in an enchanting world, Magical Delicacy invites you to play as the young witch Flora, who travels to the adventurer’s town of Grat to grow her magical skills and fulfill her dream of becoming a fully-fledged witch. Upon arriving, she takes up shop to cook meals and potions for the diverse cast of characters, from the charming townsfolk and mysterious travelers to forgotten figures of legend and masters of their craft. As she traverses the cozy harbor town, she’ll discover the stories of the townsfolk and learn that there is more to Grat than meets the eye. 

Collect an assortment of inspiring ingredients from shops, foraging through the town, and by growing them in your garden, cook up a storm in your upgradeable kitchen using a variety of tools and deliver your meals to fulfill the orders from hungry townsfolk. Explore the unfamiliar town of Grat, learn new ways to traverse, discover secrets, and experience a unique and witchy world one dish at a time.


Key Features of Magical Delicacy include:

  • Collect new recipes and ingredients through trade, questing, growing vegetables in your garden, and exploring throughout the town of Grat. 

  • Learn an extensive cooking system, allowing for flexible, creative choices to fulfill even the oddest orders.

  • Build the kitchen of your dreams by commissioning new equipment to help you create even more delicious dishes.

  • Experience a wholesome linear story filled with witchy wonder and intrigue, with many optional encounters and free play opportunities.

  • Traverse a 2D platformer inspired by Metroidvanias, gain new abilities, reach new areas, and unlock shortcuts.

Magical Delicacy is coming to PC via Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One and Series X|S on July 16, 2024. Magical Delicacy will be available day one on Xbox Game Pass.


Accessibility features for Magical Delicacy can be found here: https://whitethorngames.com/magicaldelicacy/accessibility

To stay spellbound, be sure to follow Magical Delicacy on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram, and visit the official website. Follow sKaule on Twitter and their official website.

Keep up to date with Whitethorn Games on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitch, join the official Whitethorn Games Discord, and visit https://whitethorngames.com.


About sKaule

Based in Hamburg, Germany, independent developer and illustrator Steven Kaule (sKaule) has been making games since 2014. They strive to create works that blend artistic beauty with fun and enjoyable gaming experiences, that can be enjoyed by everyone. Magical Delicacy is the solo developer’s first commercially released game. Learn more by visiting skaule.com.

About Whitethorn Games

We’re an indie game publisher focusing on pleasant, easy-going games, including APICO, Botany Manor, Calico, and Lake. Our games can be played in pieces, require no special skills or knowledge and are accessible enough that anyone can pick up and play. We’re believers in accessibility, inclusion, and widening the audience that gets to play. We like to consider ourselves the defenders of easy games. While our games might challenge you, they’ll respect your time, they’ll make sure you can play, and most importantly, they’ll never punish you. Learn more at whitethorngames.com


Article by: Susan N.



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Highly-anticipated Once Human releases today on PC

Supernatural multiplayer survival game now available on Steam and Epic Games Store!

GUANGZHOU, China – July 9, 2024 – NetEase Games, the online games division of NetEase, Inc. (NASDAQ: NTES, HKEX: 9999), is delighted to announce that the much lauded free to play post-apocalyptic open world survival game, Once Human, is releasing today at 2pm PDT (10pm BST, 11pm CET). As the fifth most wishlisted game on Steam, Starry Studio’s Lovecraftian epic is officially available on PC via Steam, Epic Games Store and Once Human official website. This news comes hot on the heels of the latest Steam Next Fest, that saw Once Human become the most played demo of the event. With the official release, Once Human is also revealing some major updates including new crossover events, narratives, region and deviations, as well as welcome gifts and rewards to players.
 
Once Human Official Launch Trailer: https://youtu.be/V5diJ2YKIwo?si=rZQq_eQFNCnQiAoI
 
 
To download Once Human: https://bit.ly/4arfDI0
 
Experience this supernatural open world for free
 
Once Human is free to play and will immerse players in a thrilling, post-apocalyptic setting in which they join forces with other players to fight for survival and unravel the truth behind the ongoing cosmic invasion. Build sanctuaries, conquer terrifying enemies and see if you still hold the answer to what it means to be human. 
A mysterious extraterrestrial substance known as Stardust has contaminated the Earth, the planet has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic state and life, as we know it, is transformed into a twisted nightmare. It's up to you, the Metas, to shape the future of humankind, whether you venture alone or forge alliances with fellow survivors.
 
Explore a Vast Open World Teeming with aberrant creatures
 
On your journey to uncover the truth behind the apocalyptic horrors, feel free to join forces with other players to face the unknown and fend off rivals. Engage in heart-pounding battles where tactics, teamwork, and instincts are the keys to victory. Explore five regions, five factions and over fifty types of deviants across more than one hundred Strongholds as you traverse the huge open world expanse.
 
Immersive design and unique monsters
 
Experience top-tier visuals and cutting-edge 3D technologies like dynamic weather and ray tracing as you discover a world inspired by SCP Foundation, Lovecraftian Horror and post-apocalyptic aesthetics. 
Encounter unique “Anima” monsters like the Wanderer, a walking bus roaming the land, or the Ancient One, the flying beast beloved by many players already. Capture Deviations to assist your survival as you further immerse yourself with the Fitness System, Limb-based Combat System and Sanity System. 
 

Explore the open world your way


Sanctuaries can be built anywhere in the wilderness and decorated however you like. Stash your hard-earned treasures behind walls and protect them with an arsenal of defensive weapons – anything goes. Unleash your creativity and let your imagination run wild!
 
Open world survival and multiplayer elements are combined in Once Human, with the world able to support for up to 4000 players. Each player can influence the game world in real time as you choose to form alliances or wage war on other players.
 
Main storyline, diverse region, side quests and deviations
 
The main storyline progresses to the "Blackheart" region, where players will encounter new enemies and uncover more secrets of the apocalypse alongside a multitude of new open-world side quests are available. Even more deviation-capturing tasks will be offered in Lowe, including Identity V and “Paper Doll” from the Onmyoji series.
 
PvP mode: Highway Pursuit
 
This brand new PvP mode offers up special reward-vehicles, providing attacking players with valuable loot if they seek it out. However, entering the vicinity of each vehicle will enable PvP, so players are advised to take caution when others are nearby.
 
Official gifts and rewards
 
Both pre-registered and new players can earn a variety of rewards. Pre-registered players can claim the AKM skin "The Call of the Giant Octopus," a Meta's Cap, a piece of furniture, and a pair of Dragon Fist Gloves, new players can complete missions or invite friends to join in order to receive gifts including cosmetic items and accessories – so be sure to join the official release to benefit from a host of rewards!
 

To learn more about Once Human, visit:

 
Official Website – https://www.oncehuman.game/
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About NetEase Games

 
NetEase Games, the online games division of NetEase, Inc. (NASDAQ: NTES and HKEX: 9999), is a leading global developer and publisher of video game IP across a variety of genres and platforms. NetEase Games’ development and publishing slate include titles such as Knives Out, Harry Potter: Magic Awakened, and Naraka: Bladepoint, and partnerships with major entertainment brands such as Warner Bros and Mojang AB (a Microsoft subsidiary). NetEase Games also supports the growth and development of its innovative global studios in Canada, Europe, Japan and the United States. For more information, please visit https://www.neteasegames.com/
 

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 Article by: Susan N.



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Team17 Digital signs a new partnership with Spellgarden Games

July 10th 2024 – Team17 Digital has today announced that they’re working with German based Spellgarden Games. This partnership will see Team17 Digital publish a new IP by the indie studio, known for their ‘apeeling’ and extremely cute shop management game Sticky Business.   
 

Ann Hurley, General Manager, Team17 Digital, said: "We're delighted to finally reveal this team up and looking forward to bringing the developers new IP to Gamescom. We believe fans of Spellgarden Games and the genres they excel in will be excited when they find out what this game is all about."
 

Kathrin Radtke, Programmer & co-founder “We're thrilled to partner with Team 17 to bring our next game to life. We can't wait to tell you all about it soon. Expect magical things to happen!” 

  

To stay up to date with Spellgarden Games and exciting upcoming reveals, you can follow the developers on X and join their Discord.  

###
 


  

About Spellgarden Games

Spellgarden Games is an indie game studio based in Ludwigsburg, Germany. 

The founding members had worked together on previous indie projects and decided to combine their powers into their own studio in 2022. Their first release Sticky Business was a delightful success, exuding their desire to create cozy games that spark creativity in their players. 

 

About Team17 Digital

Founded in 1990, Team17 Digital is a leading developer, video games label, and creative partner for developers around the world. Part of Team17 Group plc, which floated on AIM in 2018, Team17 Digital has an extensive portfolio comprised of over 140 titles, and fully encapsulates the spirit of independent games. Team17 Digital’s portfolio of multi-award-winning and award-nominated in-house brands include Hell Let Loose, Golf With Your Friends, The Escapists, and the iconic Worms franchise, alongside its games label partner titles, including the award-winning games Blasphemous, Greak: Memories of Azur, and Overcooked! franchise. Visit www.team17.com for more information.

 

Article by: Susan N.



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Try and Stay Alive When Tales of Fablecraft Launches July 23

New Launch Trailer Highlights How to Not Die When Adventuring

Mythas, July 9, 2024 - Today, Riftweaver announced that Tales of Fablecraft, the virtual tabletop RPG proudly made by humans, will launch into Steam Early Access on July 23. The announcement was accompanied by a release date trailer celebrating the most important–yet difficult–aspect of any RPG… trying to stay alive.

 

At launch, all players will be able to download and play the full Road to the Starfall Festival Adventure for free, with the option to purchase additional premium adventures, dice skins, and player token skins. Additional Adventures will be added for purchase over time, and clever GMs can create homebrew content, ensuring endless adventures in this magical land.

 

Tales of Fablecraft features all the fun and excitement of your favorite pen and paper or virtual tabletop game, but without all the messy upkeep. Skill checks and dice rolls are simple and streamlined, and the game handles all the math in the backend so all you have to worry about is reveling in the sweet, sweet crits. The game also features an innovative and comprehensive GM Guide, empowering just about anyone to run a fun, successful adventure with minimal prep time. Finally, a tool that boosts the confidence of GMs!

 

Today’s PC launch is just the beginning, though. Later this year, Tales of Fablecraft will begin supporting Android and iOS tablets. We plan to add mobile device support in 2025, so get ready for even more ways to enjoy this magical adventure. 


 
About Riftweaver

Riftweaver is an independent game studio on a mission to make TTRPGs more accessible to all. Our first product, Tales of Fablecraft, is a virtual tabletop RPG designed to be easy to pick up and play with your friends, no matter your experience level.

 

Article by: Susan N.



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Food Truck Simulator now available on Nintendo Switch


Food Truck Simulator, a game from the makers of the best-selling
Gas Station Simulator, is making its debut on Nintendo Switch. The
simulator allows you to run a food service business on wheels. The
release date on Nintendo's console is set for July 2 this year. Food
Truck Simulator was previously released on PC, PlayStation 4,
PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.


Food Truck Simulator is a title developed by the Polish studio DRAGO
entertainment, the creators of, among others, Gas Station Simulator.
Ultimate Games S.A. is responsible for developing and releasing the game
on consoles.


In Food Truck Simulator, players can test themselves in a world that
combines culinary and business. The main theme in the game is running
your own food truck. The player takes over the family business, thus
gaining the chance to rock the business, gain customers and become the
king of food trucks.


The title offers gameplay that comprehensively captures the mobile food
truck business. Thus, the player must try to prepare an optimal menu and
cook and then sell products. At the same time, however, you also need to
take care of the condition of the food truck and get to the chosen location
yourself.


In Food Truck Simulator, varied city locations, a large selection of tools, as
well as a wide base of recipes await players. The simulator also has no
shortage of random events that affect gameplay.


The release date for Food Truck Simulator on Nintendo Switch is set for
July 2, 2024.

 

Nintendo Switch Trailer:

https://youtu.be/U5PIpZMzo6k

On the Nintendo eShop:

https://www.nintendo.com/store/products/food-truck-simulator-switch/

On the PlayStation Store:

https://store.playstation.com/concept/10010192

On the Microsoft Store:

https://www.xbox.com/games/store/food-truck-simulator/9ph79v6fc1sj

On Steam:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1160920/Food_Truck_Simulator/


Basic information:

Title: Food Truck Simulator 

Genre: simulator, arcade, indie, economic, recreational 

Developer: DRAGO entertainment, Ultimate Games S.A.

Publisher: Ultimate Games S.A.

Language: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese,
Russian, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Spanish
number of players: 1

File size: 2.3 GB

Release date: 2.07.2024 (Nintendo Switch), 23.4.2024 (PlayStation 4,
PlayStation 5), 16.01.2024 (Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S), 14.09.2022 (PC
Steam)

 

Article by: Susan N.


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Riven - PC (Steam) Review

Riven by developer and publisher Cyan Worlds Inc.PC (Steam) review written by Susan N. with a copy provided by the publisher.
 
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes




Wow. Riven. It's been redone and it is beautiful. And I can't believe I'm back here again.

Let me start at the beginning. I know you have questions and I can't answer them because there is no time, but suffice it to say Catherine is in trouble. I have to send you back to the world that you may have been to before. Back to Riven. But things have changed since 1997. And I can't send you back with a way out, so I'll have to send you with this book to trap Gehn. Now please, take this and save my wife and stop Gehn before it's too late. I must finish my work. Go. Please.



Back Story Time!


Those of you who are not familiar with the famous series of Myst, you will be undoubtedly confused about the introduction to this review. For everyone else, you may be smiling because I tried to spin my introduction like Riven begins. I did this deliberately because I, like many people, played all five games in the 90s. Myst is the first of the five games and at that time I became enthralled immediately in this world. 

Myst is a game that people hold in high regard because it kicked off the puzzle game genre in a way that no other game could. It spawned games like Riddle of the Sphinx, Starship's Titanic, The Crystal Key, and a whole host of others usually published by a company named 'The Adventure Company'. After I played Myst, I became hooked on all of those sorts of games, but none of them seemed to engulf me in the universe quite like this little single CD-ROM game did. When Riven released a couple years afterwards, I immediately grabbed it. This five disc game was the only one that I remember being that large. 

To make a long story short, Riven was the single hardest puzzle game out there. Part of that was due to the fact that internet access was limited and somewhat costly. Playing anything on dial-up and 2600 Baud Modems was a challenge, to say the least. There was no cloud gaming to hold your save files, so they had to be contained on the computer directly. Plus, CDs and DVDs had their limitations. But aside from the ease of guides and walkthroughs of today's games, back in the 90's, we had to figure things out on our own. To further the difficulty is that Riven is not a linear game. There are plenty of titles that have a straightforward narrative, but as I said, Riven is legendary because it did not follow that kind of system. The remake holds true to that same concept. And while they made the color marble puzzle - the reason why this game is the hardest of the series - simpler, it has been changed in a way to be more challenging. And suffice it to say, we spent *months* on the color marble puzzle back in the day. (Admittedly, it makes sense now but back then I didn't understand the logic of the puzzle. Younger me was definitely not a mastermind.)


Story


When you first begin Riven, you are in a relatively dark room with a man who is writing profusely in a book. At this point you have no idea what he is writing nor why it is more important for him to finish what he was doing before he even addresses you. Once Atrus does look up to speak, you're met with a sense of confusion, wonder, and perhaps bewilderment, as he stresses the importance of a few tasks you must complete. He asks you to save Catherine as she has been trapped in Riven. He tells you that the world of Riven is unstable and the issues with the place cannot be fixed. Finally, he tells you that under no circumstances should you give his father means to escape. You will have to trap him there. 

Oh readers, this burden is rather heavy for the beginning of the game, but it is relatively familiar given the nature of the 'good' ending of Myst, its predecessor. So, we save Catherine, trap Gehn, and get out of there post haste. Simple enough? *cackles* Oh no. Oh no no no dear reader. 

Upon entering Riven, you awaken in a prison cell with some gentleman talking to you incomprehensibly. He's clearly surprised that someone is in the cell. Perhaps he even hopes that you will be the answer the people are looking for. But before you can try communicating with him, he's knocked out from behind and dragged away. Your savior is gone. To make matters worse, the man who clearly took out the person speaking to you says nothing as he takes the linking book from you and then breaks a lever that is a couple of meters away. Then he leaves you there to wonder what the &*^%$% just happened. And also, why did he break the lever to begin with? This is a question that has no answer at this time.


So here you are, in a world you are unfamiliar with, sent by someone you barely know, and surrounded by people who speak an entirely different language from your own. Let me tell you lovely readers that it is a whole other experience when you are in a place where English is not the primary language spoken. Anyways, you might be asking what you're to do from this point on. And that would be an excellent question but the whole point to the Myst series is to figure it out as you go along. There is no rhyme or reason to how you get to important places and without the limitations of prohibitive loading times between discs, you are free to roam as you may in this spectacular 3D environment.

Much of the storytelling is told through various notes that you find at different points. These notes often give clues to puzzle solutions or they spark the 'A-HA' moment when a solution becomes apparent to you. Aside from these notes, there isn't a straightforward way to get to the end. Part of the main appeal of the series is to fiddle with buttons and levers until everything starts to make sense. The journey is greater than the solution in this case. And Riven allows you to figure things out at your own pace. So long as you get Catherine and yourself out of there, everything will be fine. Hopefully.

Puzzles

Since Riven is not told in a linear way, I can't just ruin the experience by giving solutions or talking about the brilliance of the puzzles themselves. What I will say is every puzzle can be logically figured out. For instance, the clues to solving a puzzle is often not in the same location as the puzzle itself. In fact, you'll be traveling between the five islands often. As you see more of the D'ni culture and language, the society's dynamics become more clear. When you start to see subtle clues in various places, the story of Riven unfolds.  


Another point of note about Riven, and any game within the series, is that to solve some of the puzzles it is much easier to have a notebook and pen handy. So far, I have several pages of notes connecting symbols and numbers together. These become integral to Riven as well as future games in the series. And strangely enough, the D'ni language itself follows a pattern. It may not be readily apparent but everything you see that is awe-inspiring and different is likely meant to assist with a puzzle somewhere. You just have to find them. Hence the importance of a notebook. 

Something that is worth mentioning is the idea that many of the puzzles cannot be brute forced. Each puzzle has a solution that will logically make sense or the solution will be plainly found within the notes you find throughout the game. Even the hardest puzzles can be solved with some note taking, whether that is done in game or out. While the in-game notebook is not perfect when scribbling non-sensical symbols, it is a system that was highly used in the later games. Anyways, I will not be spoiling any of the puzzle solutions, but I will say that it is important to be highly observant. Trust me.

Audio and Graphics

First let's talk about the audio in Riven. It is masterfully done. While the music itself may be sparse in areas, the sound effects make you feel like you are physically transported to this foreign world. The birds will chirp happily, strange creatures will protest when you get too close, and the water effects make you feel like you are standing right there. What's really interesting about the audio in Riven is that a lot of the sound design from the original game was used in this remake. It's a little bit like revisiting an old childhood home after its been repainted and lived in by other people. The memories are still present but the visuals are vastly improved upon.

On the topic of graphics, much of Riven had to be redone from the ground up. As a subscriber to the newsletter, I can tell you that taking a 2D point and click adventure game into a fully 3D space was no easy feat, but Cyan did it. Yet, while the visuals of familiar places are drastically improved, there are some short comings with updating the game to modern standards. The only failing with respect to the graphics are the animated representations of the original actors from the 1997 version. It makes sense that Cyan would take this approach because there are unfortunately some actors who have sadly passed. While I understand the decision to use animation in place of real actors, the visuals negatively impacts the beautiful world behind them. Unfortunately, the performance of the animations doesn't sell the urgency as much as a real actor would, but the good news is that this is one of the few flaws of the game that would otherwise be perfect. 


The only other negative point to bring up is some of the water effects. In most cases, it is beautiful and realistic. Paired with the impressive audio to add the immersion of Riven, the water effects are breathtaking; that is until you see a few gaping holes in the water animations. Though it doesn't take away from my enjoyment of the game, these holes were quite obviously glaring. I can only hope that this is only an issue with my graphics settings.

Final Thoughts

Riven is beautiful. It is brilliant. It is a masterpiece that stands the test of time with its updated graphical design, slight puzzle changes to be friendlier for players, and audio that still provokes a ton of nostalgia. I cannot even begin to describe how much both Riven and Myst have shaped my love of puzzle games. Riven in particular frustrated me as much as it fascinated me back in the 90s, and it now fills my head with a sense of wonder and nostalgia at the same time. In fact, this particular series has shaped my love for puzzle games so much that I have often dreamed about having a Myst room in my ultimate home. Complete with the dagger. (A dagger which inspired a physical purchasable replica that I sadly wasn't able to buy.)

Riven is filled with familiar images that nag at my brain as I recall aspects of puzzle solutions but not where to find them or how to get there. It has kept me on my toes the whole way through while causing me to once again stare into space as I did as a child. And in 2024 the game has been brought to life for a new generation of gamers to experience for themselves, which is amazing. I can only hope that it is enjoyed without modern gamers using a guide to complete. Suffice it to say, I have so much praise for Riven that it receives a 9.5 from me!



Score: 9.5 out of 10

Article by: Susan N.

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Atari Announces Expanded Edition of Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration

Atari and developer Digital Eclipse are excited to announce a significant expansion to their acclaimed 2022 release Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection. The new version, entitled Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration Expanded Edition, adds two new timelines and 39 games to the playable Atari retrospective. The game will release October 25 on PC, Switch, Xbox One and Series X, and PlayStation 4 & 5, and the Atari VCS this holiday, including a physical release on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5.

The physical release will include a Steelbook version for Nintendo Switch, which will come with Atari 2600 art cards, miniature arcade marquee signs, an Al Alcorn Replica Syzygy Co. business card, and a Steelbook case. The standard version will retail for $39.99 USD, and the Steelbook will retail for $49.99 USD.

The Wider World of Atari timeline, which includes 19 playable games and eight video segments, takes a series of deep dives into stories from Atari history, showing how Atari continued to influence creators and fans over the decades.  New interviews, vintage ads, historical artifacts, and more have all been researched and presented with Digital Eclipse’s signature style. Highlights from the new timeline include a deep dive into Stern Electronics' robot-blasting Berzerk; unusual and underappreciated innovations and hidden gems from the late 1980s; a spotlight on the artist Evelyn Seto, who helped create the iconic “Fuji” Atari logo; Pong creator Al Alcorn explaining the birth of Breakout; and an exploration of the fan base’s role in discovering unreleased prototypes, creating “homebrew” games, and preserving Atari history.

The First Console War timeline, which includes 20 playable games and half-dozen video segments, tells the story of the first major console war in the gaming industry between the Atari 2600 and Mattel’s Intellivision. The team at Digital Eclipse curates an exploration of the rivalry, including Mattel’s quixotic decision to create games for the competing Atari 2600. Highlights include a selection of M Network games, including some fan-favorites; a mix of Atari and M Network sports games, and some rare Atari 2600 and 5200 prototypes. New interview features include former Intellivision game director Don Daglow, M Network programmer Jane Terjung, Activision’s David Crane and Garry Kitchen, homebrew programmer Dennis Debro, and historians Leonard Herman and Mike Mika.


The new timelines and games will be offered to owners of the original Atari 50 release as DLCs later this year.


Stay up-to-date on all things Atari and retro-pop culture by following on Facebook, X (Twitter), Instagram, YouTube, and join the community on Discord.

 

Article by: Susan N.



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Astrune Academy - PS4 Review


Astrune Academy by developer Exe-Create and publisher KemcoPS4 review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher. 
 
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Astrune Academy is a cute little title with a real nostalgic kick back to old-school RPGs. With a colourful cast (elementally coded) and a storyline that was equal parts corny and compelling, Astrune Academy surprised me with how much fun I had playing through it. This wonderful adventure, brought to us by our friends at Exe-Create and Kemco, is sure to provide you with a fun distraction.

Astrune Academy follows the adventure of a group of students at the local prestigious magic academy. The tale is that of three young girls looking to make their way in the world and to graduate in order to become renowned magicians. Unfortunately for them, their world is one of strife, as not only are they at war with another group of people called the Horians, but there are demons and monsters that infest the land. Needless to say, not everything can go perfectly as planned, and the girls are drawn into a conflict that will have long lasting implications.


Now, Astrune Academy is a pretty interesting title, as it brings a lot of old school RPG feelings along with some interesting mechanics together. First of all, it's done in pixel art sprites and RPG maker style locales, invoking the nostalgia. The combat itself, and some mechanics implemented into the game, make it feel a little fresher and can help keep battles and exploration from getting stale or aggravating.

As you explore the world of Astrune Academy there are many interesting sights and people to see. As a turn-based random encounter styled game, Exe-create has decided to implement a few things to help keep players immersed in the world. In most areas, both towns and dungeons, you can explore for hidden paths and chests to collect items. Sometimes equipment, sometimes consumables. In dungeons and on the world map you can also find mana points. These mana points help with the use of talismans, one of the greatest mechanics I've ever seen added to an RPG like this. Essentially you've got three talismans, and each represents an encounter rate. One is for a default encounter rate, one is every step (basically a pixel or two) you get in an encounter, and one that reduces encounters, or basically eliminates them if you've interacted with a mana point. As an added bonus, mana points also increase your characters' stats.


There are sidequests to be found, thankfully indicated in your world map if one is available, stores and locales to explore, and people to meet. During the course of this, you'll be getting into many a fight. Combat is speed based turns, with skills having a modifier to increase or decrease wait time. Now, basic attacks have a chance to combo with other characters, but you also have skills you can use, both physical and magical, as well as character specific special abilities. Character specific abilities are a really cool aspect, and each is so different from the others that they really pop out well. For instance, one character can summon a demon to fight with you on the battlefield, while another gets a turn limited "super mode" where all their magic skills get enhanced.

Now, after you win a fight you can get a few things, in addition to experience and money. You can get tonics, skill coupons, ice shards, or premium currency crystals. Now, I know what you're thinking with that last one, but hear me out. While the game is set up like something you'd see on a mobile platform with daily, weekly, and monthly tasks, and it is available on mobile, that doesn't mean you're limited to those, either for "premium currency" or just completing tasks. For example, if a daily task is "defeat 40 enemies", and you defeat 80? It gets turned in twice and returned to your mission list as "defeat 40 enemies" again. Most repeatable style missions do this, and are indicated as such when viewing missions. Completing a set number of missions in each "short, moderate, long" mission category will give you a chunk of premium currency which you can exchange for items or purchase game modifiers (such as increased exp or gold rates). Now, keep in mind these chunks of "premium currency" are earned every time you complete a set number of missions, and are not time gated. There is a daily roulette you can spin though.


So, let's talk about the rest of those after battle items. They're all used for upgrading characters. For instance, tonics will increase certain stats, the skill coupons increase skill level, which also gains levels when used, and the ice shards are used for upgrading a specific character's special abilities. There are also other ways to increase character abilities as well, whether it's on a per character basis or for the full party. Now, I should point out that there is a really high level cap, but you unlock that in sections. When you hit a level cap that isn't the final one, you can bank experience that will take effect on the next battle after breaking the current level cap. Level caps can be broken at the meteor gym by completing a three part fight. 

A handy implement you get taught about fairly early on is the mini warp device. Essentially, this let's you drop a one-off teleport point that will let you warp to it until you put a new one down, or the storyline makes it unusable. You can also choose to auto-complete battles if the enemies are weak enough, although you only get the rewards, not the mission progress for the premium currency tasks.

Before we wrap up, I'd like to take a moment to say that I really liked the style Astrune Academy presented. From the pixel sprites while on the map and in battle, the old-school RPG format, the character portraits (and how you can swap between normal and battle modes), the engaging storyline and characters, to the really well done music, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Astrune Academy. As a wonderful added bonus, it's actually much longer than I expected given the appearance of the game.


Astrune Academy is a great RPG with some really nostalgic vibes with some common amenities thrown in. It has a neat cast, a good combat system, and a good soundtrack. I highly recommend taking a look into Astrune Academy, and hope you have as much fun with it as I did!

Score: 9 / 10

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The Talos Principle 2: Road to Elysium DLC - PC (Steam) Review


The Talos Principle 2: Road to Elysium by developer Croteam and publisher Devolver DigitalPC (Steam) review written by Susan N. with a copy provided by the publisher.
 
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

In a surprise twist of events, Devolver Digital announced The Talos Principle 2: Road to Elysium DLC on June 7th, and the moment we found out about it, we just HAD to have it. The DLC expands upon the story and the puzzles used in the base game. Not only do we get an in-depth look at some of the characters from the base game that 1K is introduced to, but the puzzles are more challenging than before. As we were told prior to the release of Road to Elysium, there would be three separate areas to travel in order to complete various puzzles like we did in the simulations before. And the reason there are separate areas is because we get to learn about more than one of the characters through someone else's eyes. Overall, the journey through the DLC is nothing short of amazing. Let's take a look at why that is.


General Thoughts

The way the initial menu is designed with The Talos Principle 2, Orpheus Ascending, Isle of the Blessed, and Into the Abyss struck me. But each one follows a different character, so it makes perfect sense. As such, each location has its own independent save file so that you can change areas if you get stuck. That said, if you are going to change locations, be careful, because each area has its own independent story and difficulty level. 

Orpheus Ascending is different from what I expected because unlike the base game where we learn about the civilization of robot humans through 1K, this time we are tasked with going into a simulation to fix a friend - Sarabhai's - broken mind. If I'm honest, I was the least invested in this particular story for a couple reasons. For one thing, it felt out of the blue because we were trying to save Sarabhai, but he was unknown to us in the base game. Secondly, I was also not thrilled for the first batch of puzzles, which I'll talk about in the next section. It wasn't that the idea behind this area was bad or anything, it simply felt out of place in comparison to the other two DLC areas because what we received were a bunch of puzzles that revolved around one specific mechanic. It didn't provide the same challenge, nor did it seem to fit the pacing of the stories being told. I simply didn't connect with this part of the game like I did with others. 

Upon loading the Isle of the Blessed, I was met with a nice cutscene with several of the characters from the base game. Up until this point, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't see any of them again. Out of the three locations, Isle of the Blessed is, by far, my favorite in terms of storytelling, puzzles to solve, secrets to discover, and general traversal of the area. It is also set in the present day where the other two areas are not. Anyways, in this area, you follow the story of Yaqut and Miranda who have now been dating for a while. After 1K was able to solve all kinds of puzzles in the base game, Yaqut decides to try his hand at them while on the beautiful Caribbean Isles at an art resort put on by a guy named Barzai. And it is here where the real meat of the game lies with a jaw dropping 30 levels (24 main ones, 3 bonus puzzles, and 3 golden puzzles). Despite the relative ease of the base game, the DLC cranks up the difficulty in a way that is steady and rewarding.  


Other reasons to love the area is the presence of staples found in the original game. For one thing, the computer terminals make an appearance, adding to the history of this society. Although, there is no snake to defeat or anything, there are some great nods to the first and second games with familiar names like Doge and Purple! Another throwback to the first game is the presence of the QR codes. Most of them spout quotes by important persons. There is at least one that seems like gibberish, but can be run through a hex to text site revealing the hidden message. Like with Talos 2's base game, there are hint sparks that can be used when you get stuck on a puzzle and while you hunt for these, you can find some memories and cute Easter eggs. Go find the crabs. Trust me.  

The final area Into the Abyss is the most evil location in the whole game. When I said the developers cranked up the difficulty, I wasn't joking. My brain has already exploded trying to solve any of these puzzles. You might be asking why, but that's because when you step Into the Abyss, you are put in the shoes of Byron on *that fateful day* in The Talos Principle 2. Not only was it challenging to solve any of the puzzles, but it was difficult to confront the demons and anger of Athena. Yes. Even in this trippy zone you will find a variety of memories that were often rage filled and raw. It's quite a step off the previous train.  


Puzzles

Let's talk about the puzzles in the Road to Elysium. The first area introduces us to the concept of beam breaking. It's a bit of a difficult concept to explain, but I think fundamentally the easiest way to define beam breaking is to intensify one color over the other. You do this so that the correct color connects to the correct receptacle by interrupting the color you don't want. I know, that may seem like a weird concept, but it's an integral idea to understand for use in future puzzles. And because Orpheus Rising focusses so heavily on teaching this one concept, I found these puzzles to be the least enjoyable to solve. Once I was able to complete the puzzles in this area, I felt relief going into the next one because it had a lot more substance.

In Isle of the Blessed, there are more puzzles to solve that use other tools we've been introduced to before like the RGB Converter, for example. The area is separated into three sections, red, blue, and green which can be completed in any order you desire. Unlike the base game where many of the puzzles were on the simpler side, these puzzles use your knowledge of various tools to pass each one. Your goal is to get to the Hexahedron, and those puzzles were something else entirely. 

The Hexahedron

After activating all three zones, the beams unlock the door to get onto the Hexahedron, and it is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. Like the Megastructure in the base game, this place has some rather intriguing puzzles to solve. Most of them were not overly difficult to grasp, and often they revolved around looking carefully at the design of the puzzle. The size is meant to obfuscate some of the key elements, but it is quite simple to complete. Just make sure not to accidentally drop a connector off the structure while upside down. Thank goodness for checkpoints is all I have to say about that. In the end, it didn't take me as long to finish the Hexahedron as some of the puzzle did to get onto the structure, but I felt elated with the end.


Into the Abyss is an area which I don't have a ton to say. It's hard as heck. Why do I say that? Because I haven't finished a single one of these puzzles yet. I have wandered around the area a little and I've interacted with a couple of memories and a computer terminal. While I thought these would serve as a nice distraction for the difficulty increase, the memories that I found were brutal (more on that later). Now, I've attempted to solve a couple of these puzzles, but for some reason I have struggled more than I thought I would. Like previous challenging areas, I assumed I would be successful at a couple of them, but that is not the case. Yet. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the challenge, but these puzzles are going to take some time to get through. This place will not take me down! *Ahem* Anyways, let it never be said that Croteam can't deliver devious trials for any die hard puzzle fan. Take that for what you will.

Story

Road to Elysium tells the story of several different characters. It begins in Orpheus Ascending where you are sent to put Sarabhai back together as he struggles with the concept of love. You are playing as 1K during this journey to the past, and while the story was touching, I didn't resonate with it as much as I did with the other two parts of the DLC. Sarabhai is not a character I recognize and I wasn't certain what to expect at this point. Although, we are reminded of what happened to New Alexandria which is only mentioned by Alcatraz a couple of times in the base game. I didn't dislike my experience with this particular story, but I felt ambivalent about it. Sure, it was nice to reunite two people in love, but there wasn't a strong enough connection for me to feel anything other than conflicted.

It should be noted that Isle of the Blessed isn't just my favorite area in terms of the puzzles to solve, but because of the story's throughline. Yaqut is the character that you play this time around and he has decided to try to prove himself to Miranda by solving puzzles like 1K. Through your time in the Isle of the Blessed, Miranda reassures you that you are special whether you can solve puzzles or not. You get to solve a conflict between a couple of characters and you get a pleasant ending when you finally beat the Hexahedron puzzle. The blooming love between these two characters is beautiful and touching. And at the same time, you get to sit down with other characters and ask them how they feel about the expedition and about other people. Once again Melville made me laugh at multiple points when speaking to her. Even though the main story revolves around Yaqut and Miranda's relationship, the other characters still had some agency and personality. And there are threads of other stories to unfold in the future in what I hope will be another DLC or whole game. Overall, the Isle of the Blessed made me happier than a crab. 



Into the Abyss is the last area and it has a tumultuous and difficult tale to tell. From the purview of Byron, you go back in time to the moment that surprised us all in the base game. He has to deal with a lot of demons in the Abyss. It turns out while 1K was trying to figure out how to save Byron from his predicament, Byron had his own trial to pass. The narrative in this area is much more brutal, not just in terms of the puzzle difficulty, but in terms of the heavy feelings that Athena harbored. Byron was able to see/hear/experience the anger and anxieties that Athena had about herself being the founder and learned why she left New Jerusalem in the first place. What a story.

Concluding Thoughts

I always find it difficult to evaluate DLC content for a game because it is hard to find how much content is worth the cost. And Road to Elysium is well worth the price in my books. There is a ton of story that builds from the base game and from the principles of the first game, along with some of those philosophical questions I love. This DLC has at least 18 hours worth of mind melting and heartwarming content. All of our favorite characters are present like Melville, Athena, Cornelius, and Alcatraz. I found that I connected with all of them more than before. Plus, the developers did us all a favor by deleting the bombs out of their computer systems. Thanks for that.



In short, The Talos Principle 2: Road to Elysium is a spectacular experience with so much to offer. We contemplate large philosophical questions, solve wild puzzles, and confront tough issues. It is a game best enjoyed by puzzle lovers and we need more of these. And more cute crabs scenes. Yep. That's what I said.  

Score: 9 out of 10

Article by: Susan N.
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