Category Archives: artwork

If you play Pikuniku, you’ll get free money (not really)

With a name like Pikuniku, you’d think this game would be harder to explain or some kind of Pokemon offshoot, like Hey You, Pikachu!. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Weird, for sure, but weirdly simple, and I’m sitting here smiling just thinking about it. Before you read anything further, I highly suggest you put this game’s soundtrack from Calum Bowen on.

Right, so…Pikuniku is an absurdly wonderful puzzle-exploration game that takes place in a strange but playful world where not everything is as happy as it seems despite all the bright colors and bouncy tunes. You play as a “monster” from a cave and must help out a number of peculiar characters overcome struggles, uncover a deep state conspiracy, and start a fun little revolution in this delightful dystopian adventure. Down with robots, as they say, and don’t let the free money bit fool you; when it comes to money, nothing is ever truly free.

The main thrust of Pikuniku is its platforming, which I can liken to things like Night in the Woods and LittleBigPlanet. A bit floaty, but you can still get to where you need to go and, if not, try jumping on a tree, cloud, or citizen for extra reach. After that, there are several light-hearted puzzles to deal with, but none of them are overly complicated, and the same can be said of the boss fights, which are fun and easy, grandiose even, and that’s all good. I’m not a huge fan of splatformers–I just started to play Celeste, and I don’t see myself getting too far up that mountain–and sometimes I just want to jump around in a relaxing fashion and explore the world leisurely without being chased by some nightmarish monster or having to have super reflexes when it comes to pressing buttons and landing on teeny-tiny platforms.

As the red “beast,” you can run, roll, and kick things, and the animations for all these actions are smooth and hilarious to see happen. Plus, you can put different hats or cosmetics on the main character to change its look and perform specific abilities, such as the watering can hat that lets you water flowers to reach new areas via jump-pads. There are coins to collect, along with trophy statues and small scenes involving bugs, but all these are just that–collectibles. The world is full of fun characters to interact with, ranging from web-spinning spiders to round worms to people that look like they came straight off the pages of the Mr. Men books. The dialogue is goofy and enjoyable, and it is worth chatting with characters just to get a vibe for how they live in this world, and you’ll occasionally get a dialogue choice though it definitely doesn’t make a big difference overall.

Alas, I did not get to try out the co-op mode of Pikuniku, but that’s okay, as I can only imagine it being slightly frustrating considering the somewhat non-precise controls for steering your character and hitting rocks around. But it’s there if you want it. The main story mode is only a few hours long and pretty linear, and I played through it in multiple phases, usually pausing after a boss fight; a part of me wanted to go back and find all the hidden collectibles, but I didn’t get a sense that anything would truly come of it…so I’ll leave those for others to gather up. I wonder how many hats you can get, too.

As it currently stands, Pikuniku is one of my favorite games of the year so far. It’s delightful. It’s quirky and embraces its strangeness, and I love that. Don’t be surprised when it shows up on my end-of-year GOTY list.

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Cyberpunk romp Technobabylon shines with futuristic style

I desperately want to play Unavowed, but I have other point-and-click games from Wadjet Eye Games in my collection to get through first, along with nearly a  bajillion indie downloads from itch.io that all look super neat, such as Robin Morningwood Adventure and The Librarian. However, for this post, I’m talking about Technobabylon, which came out in 2015 and is a substantial reworking and expansion of James Dearden’s trilogy of freeware games that debuted back in 2010. I never tried them then, so this is all new information to me, but clearly Wadjet Eye Games saw something special in them initially.

Technobabylon is set in the city of Newton in the grand ol’ futuristic year of 2087. In this world, genetic engineering is the norm, the addictive Trance has replaced almost any need for human interaction, and an omnipresent AI named Central powers the city. CEL agents Charlie Regis and Max Lao are investigating a serial killer calling himself the Mindjacker who is tapping into the neural wiring of seemingly ordinary citizens, stealing their knowledge, and leaving them dead. Yikes. On the flip-side of this, an agoraphobic net addict named Latha Sesame might be the next target. However, Charlie’s past comes back to haunt him, and he and his partner find themselves on opposite sides of the law, with Latha’s fate stuck right dab in the middle.

Gameplay is your traditional, old-school point-and-click affair, and that’s perfectly fine. I know what I came here for, loving just about everything about previous works from Wadget Eye Games, namely the Blackwell series, Gemini Rue, A Golden Wake, The Shivah, and, heck, even Two of a Kind. You’ll acquire items into your inventory, combine them in strange ways, or simply exhaust dialogue options until you start making things happen. Technobabylon features multiple protagonists, and each one also has access to different bits of technology, such as the Trance or logging into Central. This helps open up options for puzzles while still keeping everything within the same system…though I fear it could become overwhelming down the line.

Speaking of that, there’s a ton of world-building going on here in Technobabylon. It’s seemingly a mix of things like Blade Runner, Black Mirror, and Ghost in the Shell…though I’m not sure how successful it is everywhere. For instance, I don’t fully understand how the Trance works, nor do I grok what “wetware” ultimately is or does, but maybe the point isn’t to fully explain everything happening in this dark, somewhat desolate future. You believe it works as they say it does and go with it. I also may not have paid as close attention to some bits of dialogue, so perhaps the fault rests on my shoulders.

I’m currently somewhere in chapter three of Technobabylon and am enjoying it greatly. I’ve only used an online walkthrough now and then after I felt like I had truly exhausted all my options, and the solution often makes me feel slightly stupid for not figuring it out on my own first. Oh well. That’s how some of these point-and-click adventure games go, I guess. If you miss picking up one single item, you are doomed, like I was for not finding the mag coil before entering Mr. Van der Waal’s apartment, which left me flustered on how to get the dang pistol out of the bloody Jacuzzi. And I do mean bloody.

I’ll keep plugging away at Technobabylon, though it seems like a longer game to get through. At least once I’m done I can move on to other point-and-click adventure games in my collection, many of which have been waiting patiently, for years, for me to…well, point and click on them. We’ll get there, I promise.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #11 – Storyseeker

A strange, quiet place
With talkers, whisperers, ghosts
Explore leisurely

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Bandido wants you to stop a prisoner from escaping

I’ve never been to prison, and I hope to never go to prison, but there is a small piece of me that fantasizes about pulling the greatest prison escape, one that would make Alcatraz Island weep. Bandido, designed by Martin Nedergaard Andersen and put out by Helvetiq, is not actually about escaping, but rather preventing a prisoner from seeing blue sky and green hills ever again by blocking all passageways, forcing him back to his cell to continue counting the days.

To begin a game of Bandido, you place the Super Card. which is the one showing the prisoner in jail with multiple exit points, in the middle of the table, shuffle up the remaining cards, and deal three cards to each player. That’s all there is to begin the game, and I appreciate that, especially when things like One Deck Dungeon, Fallout: The Board Game, and even Friday take a good amount of organization to set everything up before you can begin playing.

On each player’s turn, you’ll place one card down so at least one tunnel is connected to an existing tunnel and then draw a new card. The one main rule is that you can’t block off any of the tunnels with walls when you’re placing a card; everything has to fit and connect. Only cards showing a dead end, represented by a circle and a hand holding a flashlight, can truly end a good-going tunnel. That said, there are a couple of other cards that basically form a loop that connects multiple tunnels together, and those too can block tunnels off. You win if you’re able to block all of the tunnels, and you lose if there are any open tunnels by the time you’ve gone through the deck or if you are unable to play any more cards.

In terms of complexity, there’s really not much to Bandido. The only strategic decision you ever have to make generally involves when to branch out to avoid cutting yourself off and when to tighten things up so that you can try to narrow multiple paths of exit down into just one or two manageable ones. This isn’t always easily done based on the cards in your hand and requires some table talk to try to figure out the most effective card placements. You can play it solo, but Bandido is better with more people, because it is more of a cooperative game that really makes you care about the outcome as a group. Sometimes you need to be aggressive and say things like, “Oh, don’t play a card there, I have a perfect one for it next turn.”

I tried playing it solo a few times, never winning a single game. Then Melanie and I played it twice the other day, winning the first game where the Super Card had only five exits, and losing horribly the second game with six exit options. Still, it is a good amount of fun, and the game is quick to set up, quick to break down, and small enough to fit in your pocket. The only real problem, much like Okey Dokey, is that is takes up a lot of table space, especially once the tunnels begin to get out of hand; a few times, we had to shift all the cards down on the table to make room for more growth, and that’s a touchy process, trying not to mess up the placement of all the cards in play.

Bandido isn’t a big game, but it doesn’t want to be. The rules are relatively simple to follow, and because the cards have no text on them, anyone can quickly learn how to play and see what to do next. For that, I really like it, and hope to stop the titular criminal from breaking free the next time we play it.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #5 – The Doll Shop

Desolate village
Dolls are family, secrets
Charmingly creepy

And we’re back with these little haikus  of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Just Desserts is the sweetest, tastiest card game

I’ve been on a real solo board/card gaming kick as of late, mostly because I’m used to playing by myself and I can probably only convince Melanie to join me on these larger-than-life games, such as Fallout: The Board Game or A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, so many times. I know it is not her thing, and that’s perfectly fine. However, when I saw Just Desserts in my local gaming store, I thought this might be a good one for us to play. It’s all about eating yummy food, specifically desserts. The game is recommended for two to three players, but I think three or more is the best way to go. Two players is fine, but less cutthroat.

Just Desserts comes from Looney Labs, which is the company that makes five thousand and thirty-two Fluxx variants each year. That’s an estimate. I have a copy of Zombie Fluxx from years ago and tried to play it once or twice, not really enjoying it all that much. Or maybe I just didn’t understand all the rules swapping around. I also have a copy of Retro Loonacy from them, which has yet to be played, but I love the artwork nonetheless.

Anyways, Just Desserts is a sweet, delicious card game all about serving some very picky guests at the cafe you work at. No soup, no salad, no main dish… all they want is dessert, and I can understand where they are coming from. I mean, over the Christmas holiday, I probably ate more cookies than anything else, along with a few peanut butter trees from the good ol’ boys at Reese’s. You’ll have to compete with your fellow waiters to serve guests their favorite goodies before someone else gets to them first.

The rules are relatively simple and easy to explain. Each player starts with a hand of three dessert cards while three guest cards are placed in the center of the table; each dessert card shows one to three tastes that it satisfies, such as chocolate, fruit, or pastry, while the guest cards show what they crave, as well as what they refuse to eat, such as veggies or peanuts. On your turn, you draw a dessert card, add a guest card to the table from the deck, then take one of three following actions:

  • Serve (and claim) one or two guests by discarding one or more dessert cards to give them what they want (while avoiding what they don’t want); also, if you give a guest their favorite item, which basically meets all their desires, you get tipped with an extra dessert card.
  • Draw one more dessert card.
  • Discard as many dessert cards as you want, then draw that many cards from the deck to refill your hand.

At the end of your turn, discard guests from the table so that only one guest of each “suit” is still waiting to be served; however, you can consider this guest heading out the door, but still in play to be claimed…until another guest card is discarded on top of it. You win Just Desserts if at any time you’ve served three guests of the same suit or five guests of different suits.

I absolutely love the art in Just Desserts, which is done by…I’m sad to report, I don’t know. I’ve tried searching online for the artist, but am having no luck. Please, if you know, let me know, and then we can all know. Each dessert card looks delicious, even if it is a dessert that I don’t want to eat. The guest cards are goofy and fun to look at, and each person looks unique and truly stands out from one another. My only quibble is that the font on guest cards for their favorite treat is small and hard to see from a distance when you have them in the center of the table. The gameplay is loose and casual, but fun, and there are variants you can use to make it more aggressive, such as stealing other player’s claimed guests, but we haven’t tried these yet.

I’m excited to play more Just Desserts in 2019 and have even ordered copies of the two tiny expansions–Just Coffee and Better with Bacon. They don’t seem to mix up the gameplay too much, but rather add more dessert cards and characters to please in your cafe. Fine by me. I love both coffee and bacon.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Q*Bert Rebooted

This will be a mighty big shock to some of you, but I have never played the original Q*Bert. Well, now I have, but you know what I mean. When I’d go to arcades at my local shopping mall, which is now mostly barren of any signs of life, I’d focus more on things like The Simpsons, X-MEN, and Mortal Kombat II, and even then, games like Pac-Man and Centipede seemed too retro for my blossoming tastes. Shame on me. I mean, Q*Bert isn’t some holy grail, but it does feel like a solid piece of gaming history, one that everyone should at least experience once.

Q*Bert Rebooted is a package of two games. It contains a port of the classic arcade game alongside a new playing mode that uses hexagonal shapes, increasing the number of possible movement directions to six. Woah, boy. Additionally, the rebooted mode features new enemy types, including a boxing glove that punches Q*Bert off the levels and a treasure chest that tries to avoid him as if he hasn’t showered for days. The game has five different stage designs spread across 40 levels, which contain three rounds and a bonus round for collecting gems; you have five lives to complete all four parts. Those gems can be spent to unlock different skins for the Q*Bert character, and completing levels multiple times while reaching specific time and score goals awards you with stars that enable access to more levels.

As with all early arcade games, the core concept is fairly simple. Q*Bert begins each level atop a pyramid of cube platforms from an isometric perspective. By hopping up and down and across, he changes the color of every square he touches. Your main goal is to color in all the squares; once you do, you’re off to the next stage. However, getting in the way of this goal is a variety of enemies, such as red balls that drop from the top of screen, along with a pink snake who chases after our leading orange blob. There are also non-lethal enemies that will go over squares Q*Bert has already touched, returning them to their former color. Also, you can fall off the side, losing a life, which leads me to…

I hated the controls in Q*Bert Rebooted. I would start with using the analog stick on my PlayStation 3 controller, but then occasionally switch to the directional pad. Both often resulted in me jumping off the side of a hexagon, which was never my intention. Sometimes I wanted to go left, but it would make me go left-up. I never felt super confident moving around the board. Also, the sound Q*Bert makes when plummeting to his death is beyond upsetting. Try7ing to jump on the floating discs to the side, which bring you back to the very top of the level, became a giant risk every single time.

Still, I am glad I finally got to play both the original version of Q*Bert and the rebooted one. The music is super catchy, and unlocking skins is always fun, especially when you can play with fun versions like Q*Zard and Q*1000. That said, with many arcade games, it’s not gonna stick around with me for too long. See ya down the hexagonal road, Q*Bert.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.