Category Archives: music

Not sure if Professor Fitz Quadwrangle’s nephew can solve this Quantum Conundrum

quantum-conundrum-gd-impressions

Here’s the radical truth: every time I scroll past Quantum Conundrum on my interminable list of PlayStation 3 games, most of which were acquired through PlayStation Plus, it scares the crap out of me. Not because it is from the horror genre, where jump scares and messed-up imagery reign queen, but because a song plays the fraction of a second you idle on its name. That song is this song, and, while catchy, it starts so suddenly that, depending on how high I have the volume on my TV, it’s like meditating in a quiet room unexpectedly rocked by a massive explosion. Or maybe I’m being dramatic and just whining about being scared easily. Either way, I want it gone sooner than later.

Again, this is not a horror game. It’s all about puzzles and using your noggin. You play as the non-speaking twelve-year-old nephew of the brilliant and peculiar Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. You’re sent to stay with Quadwrangle, who is unprepared for your arrival and deep in some experiment. Alas, the experiment goes sideways almost immediately, which causes Quadwrangle to become trapped in a pocket dimension. He has no memory of what went wrong before, but is somehow able to watch and communicate you. The results of the experiment leave portions of the Quadwrangle mansion stuck between four dimensions with alternate properties. It’s up to you to restart three separate power generators and bring back Quadwrangle safely.

Quantum Conundrum is a first-person puzzle game, much like Portal. That should come as even less of a surprise when you learn that it was designed by Kim Swift, the project lead on Portal. You’ll notice many more similarities between the two beasts: a wearable device to alter physics in a room, a silly yet omniscient narrator, and lots of buttons to push. By using Quadwrangle’s Interdimensional Shift Device, you can manipulate the objects around you by shifting any given room into one of four different physical “dimensions” at the press of a button. You must use these dimensions in varying ways to solve puzzles throughout the mansion and restore the power. There are four dimensions to mess with, though I only just got up to the third one: fluffy (makes things lighter), heavy (makes things heavier), slow motion (slows down objects in motion), and reverse gravity (self-explanatory). With these varying properties, pieces of furniture or safes become your best tools.

Puzzles aside, the writing is pretty funny. Every time you die, which seems to be most commonly from falling into an endless pit inside this mansion because videogames, you’ll see a darkly snarky death message about something you’ll never get to see now that you no longer exist among the living. There’s also a lot of books with punny titles to examine, as well as amusing paintings on every wall. I especially like the one of the dachshund that stretches across multiple paintings and walls. I do wish that Quadwrangle, as our constant narrator, offered more hints, especially after you spend enough time in a room and can’t figure out what to do next. I solved a couple puzzles already through sheer luck and tossing boxes/switching dimensions until everything lined up perfectly, but I know that technique won’t get me to the end.

At this point, I’ve only fixed the first of three generators in Quantum Conundrum, and I didn’t have to look up any puzzle solutions online. I consider that a great victory as I am–and I’m not afraid to admit this–not the greatest mind to ever walk this spinning planet. However, I do believe this is only because the puzzles start off slow and simple, and the more dimensions you gain access to, the more involved the solutions will become. Couple this with the sometimes wonky physics, like when a box you are carrying suddenly touches a sliver of the wall and freaks out, as well as the less-than-ideal platforming moments, and I’m worried that I won’t ever see Quadwrangle back in the real world. I’ll certainly continue to try, but this mansion might turn out to be more of a prison in disguise.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #8 – Spring Cleaning

2017-gd-games-completed-ludum-dare-37-spring-cleaning

Good morning, Roomba®
Time to clean, get all the trash
Side-splitting rewards

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #74 – The Quest for the Rest

2016-gd-games-completed-the-quest-for-the-rest

A far-out landscape
Choppy Polyphonic Spree
Songs, still uplifting

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #61 – Cosmic Song

gd-2016-games-completed-cosmic-song

Unite animals
In this colorful, aural
Retro countryside

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Rescuing a village of emotional fruit people is just what you do in Karambola

karambola-final-impressions-capture

Here’s a funny coincidence: I played Karambola, and then, the next day, ate some carambola, for the first time, as part of a fruit salad when visiting family for babies and a BBQ. I found the starfruit to be quite sweet, but maybe my taste-buds are off as I was the only one to think this. Others claimed it as bitter. To me, it tasted like a sweeter grape–no, not the cotton candy kind–and I am officially a fan. I’m also a fan of the point-and-click adventure-in-your-browser game Karambola, strange as it is, an artsy mix of bitter and sweet, a satisfying snack in the end.

First, if anything, Holy Pangolin Studio’s Karambola has reminded me of a great sin–that I’ve not yet played Samorost 3 this year despite totally saying I wanted to. These games swim in the same bizarre and silly point-and-click adventure pool where everything is all at once familiar and slightly unsettling. I mean, in this one, a flock of evil bird-thoughts–which I assume are standard endothermic vertebrates that happen to bring about unwanted thinking to those they encounter, like gray clouds hanging overhead–attack a village of peaceful and, might I add, emotional fruit people. Unfortunately for our titular protagonist Karambola, all of his friends scatter, lost to their own inner demons, and it’s up to you to bring them back via some smart if unconventional puzzle-solving clicking.

Each distraught villager is its own scene and puzzle, and some are easier to figure out than others, but all clues are directly in front of you, distorted or purposefully blurred, hidden in the environment for you to find. Still, everything is eventually doable with enough thinking and clicking, and you are then treated to a little animation of the emotional fruit-headed villager coming back to reality and happiness, color washing the screen clean. Then it is back to the Mega Man-esque level select screen to save the next downer, until all hope is returned.

Music and sound effects are vital to Karambola‘s storytelling, especially since you only get a screen of text at the start to explain the setup and then nothing more. Audio helps sell these villagers as villagers and sets the tone for each scene, whether it is the rhythmic lighting up of windows or muted guitar chords as a pinecone-headed figure cries into a wooden tube in the woods. A lot of the music is low, soft, clearly atmospheric, and it mixes strongly with the colorless, almost sketch-like artwork of the fruit people against the water-colored backdrops. There’s also a really fantastic little musical loop that plays when you click on the evil bird-thoughts to get a glimpse of unspoken story in their silhouetted bodies. Some of the bands on the soundtrack include Bird of Either and Avell, which are both new to me.

Lastly, some linkage. I know, I know…I just linked to some bands’ Facebook pages, but these are the more game-relevant ones. First, check out this interview with Karambola‘s creator Agata Nawrot. Second, give this oddball of a game a shot by clicking here and enjoying it in whatever browser you like to use. I played mine in Mozilla Firefox, for what it’s worth. Lastly, fruit flies are the worst, but evidently evil bird-thoughts are much worse, so don’t let your guard down. After all, there’s never been a better time to be playing videogames than right now.

Antenna’s quadrupedal machine searches for answers to loneliness

gd final impressions antenna game

The really dangerous part of playing numerous short, free indie games is that, if I don’t get to writing about them immediately, I forget a lot of details. They lose that initial woah impact, and my memory is not all that it is cracked up to be these days, and I blame knowing too many Game of Thrones family trees on that. For example, I completed Antenna a couple weeks ago and, other than a tricky puzzle involving matching rhythmic audio tones, I’m having trouble remembering much of what unfolded. Or maybe that’s exactly what LWNA’s Antenna is supposed to be–a mysterious adventure into the unknown, where the darkness hides the light, where you are just as lost as the quadrupedal machine you control.

In terms of story, it’s more of a question–am I alone? This is what our leading robot ponders and then sets out to answer. It scans the radio spectrum for answers, hoping to be heard, while also wondering if it is meant to be heard. There’s a lot of ambiguity to Antenna, and this is especially clear in some of the radio chatter you pick up, which hints at life elsewhere, but never stays long enough to prove the theory true. I’m okay with there not being a whole lot here, as it is, in this case, more fun to wonder than it is to know.

Yet here’s what I do know. The game has a simplistic, but stunning look, one that continues to impress me since the hey-days of 2010’s LIMBO. The forefront is all dark silhouettes and white pupils, and the backgrounds are misty, murky swaths of muted color. Just enough to make you believe there is more in the distance, even if you’ll never get there. Antenna‘s in-game world is not massive or that diverse, but you’ll move your four-legged tank beast across empty plains where radio towers grow, as well as underground, and your imagination will fill in the necessary gaps. I imagined this place as some failed project to build a station on another planet that all got left behind, with our little WALL-E wannabe left to keep things going.

Naturally, a large part of Antenna‘s world and mechanics revolve around sound, which comes from…Arddhu. Not sure if that is a person or company or magical lost city in space. Either way, make sure you have the volume turned up, though I did find a few parts of the radio static hard to listen to or just a wee bit too sharp for my delicate man ears. When not solving puzzles based around specific sounds, there’s a good amount of atmospheric, ambient sound, like drips of water on metal pipes or the cling-clang of the robot’s legs as it walks.

Interestingly enough, the game requires extensive use of a keyboard, as well as the mouse wheel, to be played. No controllers allowed whatsoever. Originally, I tried playing this in bed on my laptop, with no mouse, not realizing how essential it was to even begin the game. You’ll do a lot of holding in keys and pressing other keys simultaneously, and at one point it felt like a game of finger Twister as you tried to keep everything in place, but still do one more action. There’s also some puzzles to be solved, but they most involve finding a particular pitch or tone and matching it with another to turn on some machinery or move to the next scene. Alas, the game didn’t run great on my ASUS laptop, stuttering from moment to moment and dropping audio occasionally, but I was able to see the whole thing through regardless.

I don’t know. Antenna‘s a neat thing from newcomer studio LWNA, and it’s free, so I can’t not recommend you at least give it a try and see if the sensation of uprooting a tower piece by piece using the powers of your fingers and keyboard gets your senses all thingy. I mean, it did for me, but to each their own. I might not have picked up on the game’s meaning or subtleties, but I like its look and courage the developers have for dropping something like this out into the wild with not much behind it in terms of description. May we never be alone, surfing the airwaves, praying that someone else is out there doing the same exact thing. Though I’d be totally okay with being a spider-esque, tower-building robot.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #32 – Antenna

2016 gd games completed antenna

A machine ponders
Searches dark for sound, signals
Mouse wheel required

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

So many mushrooms to click on in The Sea Will Claim Everything

the sea will claim everything island

Sometimes I just want to read. Other times, I want to play, or, more to the point, interact. With people and animals and things. Cause and reaction is what I’m looking for, but the safe, casual kind. Don’t shoot me in the stomach and force me to find medicine to stop the bleeding. Instead, let me find some fish food for a hungry fishie that will make it smile. Well, after a panic-inducing, unpredictable weekend, I wanted to do both: read and interact harmlessly. Thankfully, there’s The Sea Will Claim Everything, a game which I’ve danced around revisiting lately. Well, the straw that finally broke the camel’s back is that it has now been released on Steam, and Jonas Kyratzes was kind enough to provide me with a free key since I already purchased the game back in 2012 from the Bundle in a Box promotion.

Allow me to quickly summarize what’s going on in The Sea Will Claim Everything. If I can, that is. You visit the Lands of Dream through a special window which allows you, the person reading this and playing the game, to see, travel, and interact with the various strange and fantastical elements of the Fortunate Isles. You begin in the Underhome, a biotechnological house unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Unfortunately, Underhome has been badly damaged by goons threatening to foreclose on it; they are so rude that they even cut up a nice rug. Your job is to help The Mysterious-Druid, who likes to simply be called The, get Underhome back to its healthy former self. However, along the way, you’ll end up on a larger quest to free the citizens of the Fortunate Isles from Lord Urizen’s political and economic oppression.

Strangely, when it comes to me and point-and-click adventure games, it’s always about getting to the next scene to see where things go. Brute-forcing through the puzzles to see what new characters pop up and grab more items for my ever-growing inventory. However, with The Sea Will Claim Everything and other works in the Lands of Dream, I prefer to linger, to absorb. Every screen is packed with flavor and things to click on, with my personal favorite being all the little mushrooms sprouting up in the Underhome. Verena Kyratzes’ artwork is colorful and pleasant, perfect for a storybook-like tale, and you should not take anything for granted–each individual flower has its own flavor text, as does every book and drawer and item at a merchant’s stall. Also, there’s evidently 700 collectibles to gather, so click, click, click.

Gameplay is mostly clicking and reading, and it doesn’t take long to realize that The Sea Will Claim Everything is roughly just fetch quest after fetch quest after fetch quest. Occasionally, you’ll have to find a recipe and create the item someone needs instead of simply finding it elsewhere in the world and bringing it back. I’m okay with fetch quests, as sometimes it is all I want, but I do wish that the quest log, represented as a single-page scroll, did a better job of showing your progress. For example, I need to make a special soup that will help heal the Underhome, and this requires gathering a number of items, but the quest log doesn’t show what I have and don’t have; instead, I need to pop back into my inventory, scan the list, and then figure out what is missing. Also, with so many people and strange names, it’d be helpful to list where the person is in the quest so that I can turn it in without having to scan every single screen in Port Darragh over and over again.

Since you’ll be doing a lot of sitting on a single screen/area and reading flavor text, dialogue text, recipe text, and dialogue text, a good soundtrack is a must. The music needs to not overpower your brain and get in way of the nifty characters and stories, but at the same time ground everything together, enhance it. Make you believe that this talking spider is part of the world. That this town of anthropomorphic creatures live lives and exist beyond your window view. I’m happy to report that Chris Christodoulou’s soundtrack is nearly perfect. Inspiring and mystifying, the songs fit the adventure. I do wish some were a little longer or looped more instead of repeating after a two minutes or so, especially when you are in a room for longer than that. I think my favorite is the piano-driven, calming “Plingpling Fairydust,” but the dark, beyond unnerving “Swamp Thing” is also quite special…for reasons.

The Sea Will Claim Everything is really the most charming oddball, and I’m looking forward to helping everyone I can on the Fortunate Isles, whether it is by solving a mysterious murder or giving them a cookie. It just might take a few more sessions. That’s okay. Those mushrooms aren’t going anywhere.

Longest Night’s stargazing results in emergent music gameplay

gd longest night final impressions

I’m really excited about Night in the Woods. I mean, yeah, I was excited before, after playing Lost Constellation early last year and seeing what these cute animal friends can get up to and the staggering amount of imagination and creativity to everything surrounding them and their antics, but now I’m even more excited. Unsurprisingly, this all stems from my recent dip into Longest Night, which is actually the first of the two supplemental experiences from Finji, though I’m tackling it second. You know I never like to follow anything by the book…unless it is the Metal Gear series in order of release.

Longest Night is less game and more short story. Or short stories, rather. Snippets of fake history. A gang of four friends–Mae, Bea, Gregg, and Angus–gather around the campfire and trace constellations in the dark sky, bringing to life these legends of old. It’s a classic tradition as part of “Longest Night,” which is equivalent to Christmas or the Winter Solstice in this world. It’s become a part of life, and the older one gets, the further from it they go, which is why no one around the campfire remembers how to make any of the constellations, something they used to do all the time as little kids.

To learn about these historical figures dripping with lore, like Ibn, the First Singer, Quinona, and Tollmetron, you have to trace matching stars to one another. Linked stars all share similar audio clues, so match all the chanting ones together, all the ones that sound like bells, and so on. It’s easy to figure out, if you know that you’re supposed to figure these sounds out. Honestly, I didn’t even realize you could click on them and draw lines to other stars; I thought the whole point of the game was simply to swipe your cursor around, making pretty tunes and enjoying the cackle of a campfire, but eventually I got the feeling I was missing something and started clicking.

Like I said, I spent far too much time simply losing myself in the stars, adding my own beats to the already catchy and, on purpose, looping soundtrack. I didn’t want to trace the rest of the constellations, knowing this dream would come to an end. Here, have a taste of my cursor-moving skills:


To be real, I don’t even know what Night in the Woods is about. I’m being ignorant on purpose; I want to be completely surprised, not just in terms of story, but also gameplay, much like I was going into both Longest Night and Lost Constellation. Sure, a part of me would like to see elements from these incorporated in the bigger adventure, like creating your own snowmen and music beats, but they could also scrap all of this and do something completely different, something totally unexpected, and I would still be content. From a few GIFs that I couldn’t help not look at, it seems like an adventure game with some varying and stylized action scenes here and there. Oh, and it looks gorgeous too. Lots of oranges and blues, falling leaves. Ahhhh.

Now that I’ve played both of Night in the Woods‘ supplemental side stories, all that’s left to do is wait for its final release. Which is somewhere in 2016. Until then, I’ll be staring up at the stars, humming along to a song that never ends.

Sound Shapes begs you to relax against it

gd impressions sound shapes blasteriods level

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been chiseling away at Sound Shapes. Its campaign is not extremely long, consisting of 20 levels spread across a handful of themed worlds, dubbed “albums” here, that can be completed rather quickly if one just kept at it. That said, I was in no rush, and I didn’t actually want the levels to end, as I found myself shuffling over to the game in times of stress and panic, when I need a moment to calm my nerves or just forget about the drama of the world. Not every level helps in this fashion, but the majority of this rhythm-driven platformer forces the player to relax, to lose themselves in drum-beats and cartoonish side-scrolling goodness.

For those that know, I did the albums in order, level by level, every few days or so, finishing up with the one featuring music from Beck. Yup, that loser, baby. His first track level is amazing, and I found myself knocked back by how good it was, fusing platforming with both music and vocals, creating yet a still dangerous environment to roll and jump around in. The same can be said of the previous albums too, though they all feel different, and not just because of the visual style or drum beats, but some levels are more about timing-specific jumping while others have you avoiding rockets or enemies. A handful of earlier levels are happy to let you stroll through with no obstacles, and they are just as enjoyable. Before I discovered Beck’s album levels, I was madly in love with the album designed by Capybara Games, featuring music from Jim Guthrie. Y’know, the folks behind the fantastically moody and unnerving Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.

Sound Shapes, from what I can tell, is twofold: basically, the straightforward campaign, and a level creator. Once you complete the game’s campaign, two other modes unlock, which play heavily into unlocking the majority of Trophies. That said, the “death mode” levels are extremely challenging, like late-game Super Meat Boy-esque, seeing as it took me upwards of thirty tries to beat the first take on this theme. I don’t know how many others I’ll go after, but I will try out “beat school” at some point, though I kind of feel like I got my fill of Sound Shapes. It sated, if you will.

Sound Shapes‘ gameplay is fairly straightforward. After all, this is a side-scrolling platformer, a genre that will never not be strong, where you can move your little eyeball critter and stick it to surfaces to climb or descend through the level. Each stage is packed with collectible circles that add musical components to the background soundtrack, such as an additional guitar lick or hi-hat tap. As you collect more, the level’s soundtrack evolves. Your goal is to get to the end and jump through the magical boombox. It’s pretty linear, but that doesn’t mean it is less magical as you watch a level’s geography twist and turn with the tunes, funneling you one way through its audio-video journey.

Unlike Super Mario Maker, which I have and have been tooling around with over the last week and will eventually do a post on, I have no interest in making levels for Sound Shapes. Zip, nada, none. Or playing others’ levels, if that is something you can do. I’m not sure, as I didn’t even dip into the level creator menu to find out. I’m not really sure why, but some games simply don’t entice me in the same way that Super Mario Maker has, or, if they do, they are a bit too complicated to figure out, like LittleBigPlanet 2 or any of the LEGO games. I’m sure there’s a ton of cool stuff being made–or was made–for Sound Shapes, as one can already tell from its mishmash of a campaign in terms of style and substance, but those twenty-some levels were all I needed. Truly, if I want more, I’ll just replay them.

Look, if you like music and games, you should play Sound Shapes. If you love music and games, boy oh boy, you should play Sound Shapes. If you’re a big fan of simplistic, forgiving platformer, at least until you clear the campaign, you should play Sound Shapes. That’s as best as I can sell it. I’m off now to listen to those three Beck tracks on loop, just because.