Monster Crown Review: The Unfortunate Paper Birthday Crown

Monster Crown was developed by Studio Aurum, an independent development team composed of lead developer Jason Walsh and designer/writer Shad Schwarck, along with their music team. According to the game’s Kickstarter, Monster Crown was a project developed in their free time in early 2016, before being Kickstarted in 2018, and finally released in 2020. 

In a world where monsters and humans coexist, Monster Crown places the player in the shoes of a bright 14-year-old, living in the countryside with their parents. After helping their Dad with some errands, and showing promise as a budding monster tamer in the process, the player receives a starter monster from a magazine personality quiz. New friend in tow, the player sets out to befriend more monsters and travel across the continent.

Go godless abomination, I choose you!
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Milk Inside (Outside) A Bag Of Milk Inside (Outside) A Bag Of Milk Review: Long Title Is Long

Developed by sole creator, Nikita Kryukov, (the second game has assistance by other people for cutscenes and other aspects, but it’s still Krukoy’s show), Milk Inside A Bag Of Milk Inside A Bag Of Milk and Milk Outside A Bag Of Milk Outside A Bag Of Milk (referred to after this point as Inside and Outside) are self-aware horror visual novels/ point-and-click adventures games about an unnamed girl (people on Steam seem to call her Milk, so that’s what she will be called) dealing with an intense reality. Milk is like if the protagonist from the game Song of Saya was instead played by Lain from the anime Serial Experiments Lain; this plucky but tired looking kid  sees the world in only blacks and reds, like she’s never stopped playing the Virtual Boy, and everyone looks like a Trevor Henderson cryptid. Not a lot happens in these games but also many things, including tough subjects like suicide and child abuse, happens in these games. Because both games are  so short, they should be discussed together.

What immediately stands out with Inside is a mechanic where instead of picking Milk’s actions or commands, choices are instead given to a voice inside Milk’s head. Many of the options while talking with Milk are often antagonistic and sometimes mean, like Milk is an annoying child the player has to babysit while they get milk from the corner store. Which, as the titles suggests, is literally the entire scope of Inside, travelling to get milk for Milk’s mom. Inside is spent building up or tearing down Milk’s emotional confidence and wellbeing while  getting her to stop going off on math formula tangents and just buy the damn milk. She can tolerate some of the player’s bullying, but cross her enough and Milk will restart the game. Milk is dealing with some heavy stuff at home and Inside works as the prologue.

Secret Little Haven Review: Can’t Leave The Desktop

Developed by Victoria Dominowsk, Secret Little Haven follows Alex, a trans teenager who escapes her life of social pressure from her lonely dad by talking with friends online. Alex also spends a lot of time on the fan forums of her favorite show, Pretty Guardian Love Force, a thinly veiled Sailor Moon homage, called PGFans. These forums are where Alex feels she can better engage with people, unlike how she struggles to communicate with classmates at school or her childhood friend Andy. It’s difficult to discuss Secret Little Haven’s rather intense plot past this point, as exploring Alex’s personal life and friend associations  comprise most of the game.

Secret Little Haven involves maintaining multiple different conversations with Alex’s PGFans friends, usually discussing different aspects of the show they like. This ranges from discussing fan art to full chat role-play sessions. When things get heavy in one chat later in the game, it creates a  weird parallel where Alex is casually role-playing her Pretty Guardian Love Force original character in another. This conceit replicates a certain mood shared by people in the late 90’s when it involved their interests and the social circles  connecting them. This is an experience I know other people  have but it’s not something I am personally familiar with, as I do not engage with fan spaces on this level. It works as a  late 90’s time capsule of anime fandom, including jokes about fansub tape trading.

Desktop cats will save us. They will save ALL OF US.

Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ Review: Thicker Than Water

Content warning: as per usual with Nitroplus CHIRAL’s works, Togainu no Chi is a game that explores various dark themes, including sexual assault, sexual slavery, nonconsensual body modification, and drug use. While not as dark as parts of DRAMAtical Murder or roughly 70% of the content in Sweet Pool, please use your best judgement before proceeding.

Way back in ~2006 as a last bastion middle-school Xanga user, I stumbled upon someone who made a custom blog layout with the background being a sad-looking anime guy clutching bloody dog tags. Within the same year, I was perusing Photobucket for pictures and ended up stumbling upon CGs from a game I would later learn was called Togainu no Chi. At the time, I was drawn to the character designs (and very ignorant of the saucier content), so the game’s existence has been present in the corners of my mind for a while. Now, thanks to JAST Blue finally putting an official release out, I can finally tackle this oddity.

Togainu no Chi ~Lost Blood~ (“Blood of the Reprimanded Dog”) was originally released back in 2005 as Nitroplus CHIRAL’s debut boy’s love (BL) title. Like many other Nitroplus CHIRAL titles, the game also received various console ports that probably cleaned up some of the game’s more explicit content. Despite the game’s age and reputation as a debut title, TnC seems to be rated pretty highly amongst other BL games and even other Nitroplus CHIRAL games.

Gee Rin, how come your mom lets you have TWO boyfriends?
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Here Come the Mystery Teens! Review: Looking For Someone Else’s Spooky Inheritance

Let’s Plays by themselves are not usually things I really watch or get into unless the people playing them are already someone I enjoy from a different venue. It’s probably a para-social deal, where I would rather listen or watch people I already discuss video games, art film, or the novels of French writer Marcel Proust. For example, I have watched a bunch of Youtuber Pikasprey’s Let’s Plays because he plays a lot of games he discusses in video essays or reviews, usually Pokémon fan games, 2-D Castlevania, or indie horror games. Press Buttons N Talk is another Let’s Play channel I started watching because I enjoy voice actor Sungwon Cho’s channel, as he reviews a lot of board games. Sungwon hosted Press Buttons N Talk with his friend, Alex Mankin, the sole developer of Here Come the Mystery Teens!, a meow-and-click adventure. Segue way, provided!

Here Come the Mystery Teens! follows the titular Mystery Teens: useless leader/walking TinTin reference Duke Douglas, high energy Sunbeam Song, macho but levelheaded Mugsy Malone, serious and regal Valorie Violet, and coward Larold Leremy. The Mystery Teens are assigned to enter the mansion of late eccentric millionaire Oscar O. Oswell’s and retrieve a painting for a family member. Instead of playing as any one of these kids, control is through their cat (named by the player and will now be referred to as Sabre, in reference to the cat companion from Dragon Quest V). Sabre’s main method of communication is through meowing, which lets them talk with the mansion’s Ghost Tricklike ghosts to solve puzzles, thus helping the Mystery Teens finish their assignment.

Also our faces. Please help us find our faces.

Smile for Me Review: Smile Puns Don’t Bring Happiness

Developed by Gabe Lane and Yugo Limbo, the two people behind publisher LimboLane, Smile For Me is a 2019 point-and-click adventure game. After visiting Dr. Habit’s GeoCities website inviting unhappy people to their facility, called The Habitat, the Flower Kid is woken up by a puppet show hosted by Dr. Habit. Dr. Habit explains that the Habitat is for sad and lonely people to learn how to be happy again, but as the game goes on, it seems its only a happiness created by Dr. Habit . Flower Kid is going to have to help the other twenty-two patients at The Habitat find their own happiness and escape Dr. Habit’s big plan.

What sets Smile For Me apart from other point-and-clicks is that all player interaction is in first person. While most of the traditional puzzles often found in these kinds of games are still present, such as  finding a key item for a person or using a tool to progress, direct player interaction is different. All of Smile For Me is set in one large sky-box, where you walk around a 3D world with everyone else being a stuck-in-place 2D avatar. It’s similar to interacting with characters in the overworld segments of the Danganronpa games. Flower Kid has to nod yes and shake no to directly communicate with the other patients. Point-and-clicks are traditionally sprite-based 2D games, where each location is blocked off by a screen transition. Smile For Me restricts areas with locks and chains, but the entire game is in one location. Flower Kid is forced to engage with the other patients at Dr. Habit’s pace. They get tired at the end of the day and if they don’t return to their talking cowboy bed, Dr. Habit will get mad and Flower Kid loses half of the next day to sleep in.

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Many of the video segments are just Dr. Habit narrating over analogue footage of flowers or other wildlife.

Rakuen Review: Calling Home

FYI, due to some screencapping issues with the game, I’m using the images from the game’s Steam page.

Rakuen is an RPG Maker adventure game created by Laura Shigihara. Shigihara is a singer, songwriter, and soundtrack composer who has contributed music to various games, including Melolune, Plants vs Zombies, To The Moon, and Deltarune. Rakuen is the first game created and developed by Shigihara and was released in 2017.

Rakuen follows the story of a child only known as the “boy”. Stuck in a hospital for certain reasons (and wearing a cool paper samurai helmet), his greatest joy comes from his mother’s regular visits, when she reads him his favorite book, Rakuen. The tale of Rakuen described a mystical fantasy forest under the charge of guardian Morizora, who can grant wishes. One day, the book goes missing, and after slipping away to the guarded-off and worn segments of the hospital, the boy confronts a mysterious old man named Uma, who has been stealing various items from the hospital. Uma reveals that Morizora’s forest is real and demonstrates that a magical door between worlds can allow the boy to travel there. The boy and his mother make their way through Morizora’s cave, where they find the guardian of the forest is sleeping and can only be awaken by activating runes tied to various individuals – the forest dwellers who are alternate versions of various hospital denizens. To awaken runes, the boy must learn about the problems these individuals experienced, help guide them along, and obtain their songs.

You’re only in this cave at the beginning of the game, but it sets a strong tone for the rest of the game.
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Pizza Game Review: Not Half Baked…I’m Sorry…I’m Sorry

Humor in video games often feels hit or miss. Like most fiction, humor shows up at least occasionally in all kinds of games. For example, the Uncharted games try and fail at humor by thinking that having each of their characters quip back and forth (or even to themselves) is funny and endearing. Possibly worse is when you have games, like the otherwise enjoyable Guacamelee!, where a lot of its humor was using super dated (even at the time) internet reaction memes. There are parody games, but parody can only go so far. Honestly, outside of Okage: Shadow King and its humor centered on how goofy a lot of JRPGs plots are, the only other true comedy game I can think of is the visual novel Pizza Game.

Developed mostly by writer and programmer Plasterbrain, with help by her brother JelloApocalypse who designed the characters and directed the voice acting, Pizza Game is described by Plasterbrain as “a shit-post game, but a fully sustainable shit-post game”. Basically, what if someone made a full-length nonsensical otome visual novel, with none of the nonsense of games like the hour-long KFC dating sim? Pizza Game prides itself on its intentionally misspelled sentences and its parade of pretty unpleasant smoochable men. From the top, there is passive aggressive coffee shop owner with a dark past named Chris, rude tech billionaire who is almost definitely a serial killer named Mr. Arimnaes, an ironic and twisted skater named Warped Lamp, a bland but otherwise harmless pizza shop owner named Keenarnor, and whatever the hell Sensei is.

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This entire exchange is magical.

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The Longing Review: Decorating to Distract From Being Deep Underground

THE LONGING Presskit

The Longing, developed by German animation and video game developers Studio Seufz, centers on a rock king’s last-ditch effort to stay in control. The king does so by reserving the last of his energy to create a tiny Shade creature (who will be simply addressed as Shade from now on) to wake him up in 400 days once his power has been restored. Shade is not given much instruction beyond some reminders about how they shouldn’t wonder to far from their underground palace, so Shade must find something to preoccupy the wait. Or better yet, preoccupy the longing.

Looking like a cute combination of a Heartless from Kingdom Hearts and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, but drawn by Edward Gorey, Shade’s average day follows the same few patterns. They can explore an area to look for either an escape from their role as a living alarm clock or locate items to make their living space cozier. These items range from classical literature to read, paper to draw dark but occasionally deeply metaphorical pictures, and  enormous decorative crystals. This early exploration lasts for about an hour or so before Shade comes up against a few key obstacles, like a stalactite that won’t fall for a week or moss that hasn’t grown yet. Shade also walks slowly. Like super slowly. And so, The Longing reveals itself as an idle game.

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Shade is a mood. Example 1

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103 Review: Never Leaving The House

103 is a Kickstarted walking simulator and puzzle game developed by Australian group Dystopia Interactive. First person seems to be Dystopia Interactive’s marmite and toast (hacky Australian joke is hacky), as both 103 and their only other game, Make A Killing, share this predilection for protagonists without faces. Mystery should be 103’s real title, because solving said mystery is half of playing 103. Lily is an overly imaginative individual whose night out with friends ends abruptly and the player must piece together what went on, and potentially what went wrong (I went into 103 narratively blind of this premise and now you know more than I).

Playing 103 involves walking through a cozy house, filled with stylish 1910’s Alphonse Mucha posters and adverts with drinking skeletons, in order to find…something? From the beginning, after quickly turning down the camera’s sensitivity because it was giving me motion sickness, 103 does not inform the player of anything. A blonde mannequin is present, often found finding value in staring at mirrors or enjoying the rain visible through the house’s sole window (which is honestly rather calming), and only she and the game’s patchwork bear mascot are the navigational devices. Those arrows drawn on the carpet? Totally worthless.

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Have they been here long?

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