Tag Archives: action platformer

Someone needs to push the reset button on Reset 1-1

Reset 1-1 is just one of the handful of games I got back in early January 2017 when I plopped down some digital cash on the Steam Winter Sale. It was bundled with a group of similar-minded, indie action platformers, the kind that ask you both to make jumps as well as damage enemies in your way. Of them so far, I played Dungeon of Zolthan and found it pretty enjoyable, challenging, and quick despite its minimalist look and goals. Reset 1-1 was next on the to-do list, and I began liking it a lot, eating up its quirky sense of humor, bouncy soundtrack, and stamina-driven combat. Alas, I’m now actively against the thing. Don’t worry, dear readers–I plan on telling you why.

Developer xXarabongXx describes Reset 1-1 like so:

The world has ended, Demons have risen to conquer the uninhabited and flourishing nature outside. It’s your turn, with your unknown identity, to find your path for a new beginning.

For those not aware, my day job is editing. I read a lot and am thus quickly able to suss out when an author has no idea what they are talking about, but need to have something down on paper to show that they are clearly alive and involved in the project. That is what I’m getting here: a bunch of keywords loosely connected to each other that, hopefully, comprises something of a story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, but I guess many aren’t coming to Reset 1-1 for its wondrous plot twists. Still, a little more work could have been put towards this. A little more defining. Here, I’ll even do the developer a solid and provide a better description at no cost whatsoever:

Demonic forces have taken over the world. It’s up to you to discover who you are, defeat evil, and create a new start.

Sure, it still sounds like a generic mess, but I don’t have much to work with. There are hints of story and character development early on, with our pixelated tiny hero not knowing his true identity (is it John of Jhon?), but that doesn’t seem to last longer than the introductory levels. Each boss you come across has something quick to say before the battle ensues, but it is usually of the “I’m going to kill you” ilk. Other than that, this is more about action, with a focus on nailing tough jumps and effectively managing your stamina, especially during boss battles.

In terms of gameplay, Reset 1-1 is a platformer. Think Fez, but less puzzles, more fighting. I guess Cave Story is a better comparison, especially in the graphics department. You run, you jump, and you throw projectiles at enemies by swiping your sword in their direction. Our hero can also roll, and much of his actions are dictated by a stamina bar that quickly depletes. As you progress and defeat bosses, you gain experience points to level up, and you can pick either more damage, more health, or more stamina as an upgrade. There are also different swords to find, as well as single-use health potions to hold on to dearly or, if you are like me and playing with a controller, accidentally hit the X button to use it when most definitely not needed (I was trying to open a door). Speaking of controllers, plugging an Xbox 360 controller in works, but does not work well, as I found the game immediately laggy; however, the standard PC controls are even funkier to get a grasp on so it was this or nothing.

So, I got to the final boss fight in Reset 1-1 last night. It’s some kind of weird ghost-thing that throws fireballs and summons a wave of them up from the lava below that you need to carefully time two rolls to make it through alive. I can’t beat it, and each attempt is more difficult than the previous thanks to this game’s sinister system of upping the difficulty, slowing down the frame-rate, and dissolving color from the graphics with each subsequent death. It is extremely difficult to now see throw projectiles, and jumping with lag is as much fun as you can imagine. Unfortunately, it seems like I’m just digging myself into a deeper hole, and there’s no way to start this final fight on equal ground. More annoyingly, I got the Steam Achievement “Tales of creation and destruction” upon meeting this big baddie, but there doesn’t seem to be one for kicking its ethereal butt or even finishing the game.

On Reset 1-1′s title screen, there are four options–play (continue), reset, options, and quit. For some reason, my brain shrunk in size and strength, and I clicked “reset” thinking that this would reset the fact that I had died so many times that everything moved like quarters through molasses, but kept me there at the final boss fight, refreshed and ready. Naturally, this instead wiped my entire progress. Granted, it only took me about an hour to get to the end area, but still. Time lost. Grrr. Sure, I could go through Reset 1-1 again, but knowing that I’d get to the end boss and only have so many viable attempts early on before I found myself drowning in my own mess is a whole new level of stress that I’m not interested in handling. A shame, as I was nearly there.

The name of the game I could never remember is Swagman

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It’s a weekend afternoon, over at least a decade ago, and I’m in a bookstore. I don’t have anything in particular in mind, but I’m the sort that loves to wander aimlessly in these kinds of spaces, to tilt my head and read titles quietly to myself and touch a few spines, maybe even pull a whole book off the shelf and read the back-cover blurbage. I’m near the café section, where coffee and scones reign supreme, myself eating up a FoxTrot treasury or something like that when a song comes on overhead. It’s soft, safe, reassuring. There’s light guitar strumming and piano–and a man’s voice. I don’t remember any of the words or how the tune ultimately went. I know that I liked it. I have never heard that song again since.

I’ve had this happen a few times in my life. There are tunes or pieces of writing or drawings that live in my brain, fuzzily, right on the fringe of my consciousness, waiting to be rediscovered. I can recall them, but not fully. Clearly, they had an impact on me. Alas, I can only remember limited details about them to the point of frustration. It’s not like now when you have a mini computer in your coat’s pocket and can look up anything you want and create a historical record as a future reminder. I continue to live each day with a quiet hope that all these mysteries will reveal themselves before I buy the farm.

With all that said, there’s been a videogame from my teenager-era past that I know I have been unable to recall–for years. I’ve actively tried looking it up, but unfortunately was unable to figure out its name, even with all that Internet out there. It’s not even a game I regret trading in because I think I only rented it for a few days and didn’t like it very much, but the fact that I can’t confirm what it was confidently is more irritating than anything else.

Right. Okay, try to play along, even if I already spoiled the reveal in this blog’s title. Here’s everything that I knew about the mystery game:

  • It was on the original PlayStation
  • It had a top-down perspective, like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Its heroes were children
  • It began in a bedroom

That’s all, folks. Make your guess, and show your work.

Turns out, after clicking around on Grouvee today, which is where I’m working on organizing my unstoppable collection, that game was called Swagman. Uhh. For the longest time, I was convinced it was Okage: Shadow King, but no, especially when you realize that one is an entire console generation later. Anyways, when I saw the name Swagman, it did not immediately ring a bell, but I thought to check nonetheless and dropped it into a Google image search, only to be greeted with screenshots that instantly took hold of me to confirm that, yes, this odd, lesser-known critter from Eidos Interactive in 1997 is the game I played back in high school for a weekend and then never again.

I can’t believe I didn’t remember the specifics of Swagman. Here’s a plot summary: Using a substance called Dreammash to force everyone sleeping in Paradise Falls to suffer from constant nightmares, the Swagman and his army of Night Terrors are planning a deadly takeover. They have also captured and imprisoned the twelve Dreamflight fairies in order to begin a deadly invasion of the real world. That is, unless Zack and his sister Hannah can figure out a way to rescue them and destroy the Swagman for good. Otherwise, it’s nightmares on top of nightmares on top of more nightmares–for infinity.

In terms of gameplay, Swagman is a puzzle adventure thing with some light action and platforming. I guess “mixed bag” would actually be used correctly here. While in the “real world” sections, the game has Zack and Hannah–who both can be controlled–finding items like bugs and/or keys to solve puzzles or unlock certain doors. When in “dream” areas, called Territories and accessed via magical mirrors, the game becomes more action-focused, with you sometimes transforming into a monstrous beast that can spew flames from its mouth. Yup. There’s an on-screen inventory for some of the items you’ve collected, such as the Fantastic Frisbee, Super Sneakers, and Cherry Bombs. Your best weapon against the Swagman’s loyal minions seems to be a flashlight or general avoidance, and because Zack and Hannah share a collective lifebar, there’s danger in taking on too much by yourself.

I honestly don’t remember ever getting out of the real world section, but maybe I did and only have a strong recollection for the opening area. I don’t know. Looking back at it and watching some playthroughs on YouTube, I’m not overly impressed or interested in getting a copy for myself, even as a collector. Again, this wasn’t a lost treasured gem from my past, but rather something pestering me for years. I’m glad the issue is resolved.

Swagman is the game I could never remember, and now I’ll never forget it. Next up–whatever that bookstore store was hopefully.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #7 – Dungeon of Zolthan

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Upgrade your powers
Jump twice, dash, fire away
I’m no speedrunner

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.

Dungeon of Zolthan’s classic platforming mechanics are the sum of life

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As I’m wont to do, I didn’t go crazy for the latest Steam Winter Sale, especially considering the number of games still untouched in my digital library, a travesty I swear I’m working on for 2017, though the gamble is whether or not I’ll be successful. Well, shortly before that glittery ball dropped in Times Square and Mariah Carey fake-sung her last tune, indicating the official transition from one year to the next, I made a single gulp purchase of small games for a total that came in just under ten dollars. That’s a record high for me. Anyways, here’s what I got for those curious about what I got:

  • Deus Ex: Invisible War
  • LucasArts Adventure Pack (this includes Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Loom, and The Dig)
  • Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 4
  • The Silent Age
  • PulseCharge
  • Dead6hot
  • Broken Dreams
  • Dungeon of Zolthan
  • Reset 1-1

Part of me is surprised that I haven’t immediately loaded up Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 4 to see what that Australian devil is all about in this new day and age of endless runners considering my affection for the series (well, really just that first game). And yes, you can belly-laugh until hurts that there’s affection here for a game set on a fictitious Australian island about collecting “Thunder Eggs” and stopping the evil cassowary Boss Cass from being, y’know, even more evil; really, it just reminds me of long-gone snowy college days, of being trapped inside a third-floor dorm with not much else to do but toil away at things like Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, instead of working on that journalism degree.

Well, I’m not here to talk about the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. Nope. This post is all about Dungeon of Zolthan, which was part of the Platformer Bundle by New Reality Games. Visually, it stood out to me from the others listed above due to its limited color scheme and retro graphics. I know that’s basically one-fourth of all indie platforming games on Steam these days, but it is a jam I enjoy on toasted bread and like eating. Not that I get to eat toast with jam on it much lately. I also relish some challenge, though not too much, as I’m not a masochist who gets a rise from dying over and over again. Somewhere in the range of Tiny Barbarian and You Have to Win the Game is just fine.

Dungeon of Zolthan seems to dance on the line between casual and hardcore. You can play it either way, your call. It’s an arcade-style Metroidvania platformer light on puzzles and starring a little green block with legs, eyes, and a mouth, determined to defeat the powerful mage Zolthan that lives inside the dungeon. That’s all the story I’ve gotten so far, and it is more than enough as a goal. As you move from room to room, you’ll acquire power-ups, like double jumping and dashing across gaps, as well as battle mid-bosses. I’m not sure how this fella holds the gun he is carrying, but it doesn’t matter. You can take your time exploring, finding all the hidden power-ups and extra hearts or you can make a mad dash to defeat all the bosses as quickly as possible, with as little extra help as you think necessary. The game itself is pretty forgiving, dropping save points that also restore your health bar all over the place, and the early difficulty curve is lessened once you get the hang of jumping, shooting, and dashing around. Personally, I’m not wasting a lot of time on shooting enemies and am finding more fun in generally avoiding them altogether.

According to the Achievements list, I’m halfway through this dungeon, with two more bosses to battle. Alas, I don’t think I’ll be earning those speedrunning-related Achievements (beat in 40 minutes or 20 minutes or less), as I’ve definitely already logged more time than necessary because I left the game running while making dinner in the kitchen. Oh well. It’s okay. I’ll save the speedrunning for someone else, though I’ll gladly watch them do it later if Dungeon of Zolthan ever shows up in Awesome Games Done Quick. Until then, may your indie platformers be unapologetically old-school.

In Even the Ocean, an unassuming power plant technician rises up

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Even the Ocean has a lot to say. Sometimes the game says it out loud, other times it’s in the silence, the awkwardness, the looming dread. To be honest, it wasn’t everything I thought it would be, but in 2016, in this age of Internet spoilbreathers and big budget over-promoting with trailers every odd week, that’s a welcomed surprised. For starters, I entered Even the Ocean‘s beautiful if troubled world without having touched Anodyne, the previous independent videogame from Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka, also known as Analgesic Productions. Seems like I’ll need to work backwards for now.

The easy, one-two punch is that Even the Ocean is a heavy on the narrative, puzzle platformer about balance, about balancing. Not just the light and dark energies that hold the world together and keep Aliph, our unassuming power plant technician of a protagonist, alive, but also the balance of work and free time, of not overdoing it, of dreams and demands. Basically, Whiteforge City goes from good to bad after a routine maintenance trip to a local power plant takes a wrong turn, leaving Aliph in a position to show what she can do. Mainly, maneuvering safely through dangerous puzzles and solving those light-bouncing conundrums we’re all familiar with after things like Beyond Good and Evil and every Professor Layton title. With Mayor Biggs backing her, she’ll travel the continent, moving from power plant to plant and elsewhere, to save the city she now calls home from total destruction.

Gameplay is structurally straightforward, possibly on purpose, a mix of puzzles, platforming, and chatting. Mayor Biggs will assign a number of downed power plants to Aliph to investigate, and then you can pick which one she’ll tackle first. Each plant (or location) is more or less a puzzle maze, with learning how to navigate rooms blocking your progress. These places have their own theme and teach you, the player, something new about Aliph’s abilities, something vital. One area focuses hard on her maintaining the right balance of energy as she moves between energy-sapping blocks of color, another is all about timing jumps on moving platforms, and one will have you carrying items while avoiding heat-seeking enemies. I personally liked the puzzles involving using her shield the most. There are also non-platforming sections, like in Whiteforge City, which has you exploring different areas via menu selections and speaking with locals to learn more about the world and your place in it.

Let me explain more about the energy system since it is Even the Ocean‘s big draw. Aliph has a shield and bar of energy, represented at the bottom of the screen as chunks of blue and purple. The energy bar greatly affects her maximum running speed and jump height. When the energy slants one way too much, she’ll either jump higher and run slower or vice versa. Sometimes this is inevitable, and other times you’ll need to drop or increase to a certain amount for puzzle reasons. Discovering the when and where for this is a lot of fun and extremely rewarding, though a part of me had a hard time trying to constantly keep the bar sitting pretty at 50/50. If you go too far in one direction, the energy will consume Aliph, reloading you at the last checkpoint, of which, thankfully, there are many.

Even the Ocean is stylish as heck, both in its looks and sounds. The music is oftentimes soft, but moody, lingering behind every jump Aliph makes. It can get real pretty too, soothing, safe-sounding notes to provide comfort in dark times. I really liked a lot of the sound design too, from the noise the statue makes when saving your progress to Aliph pulling up her shield to even the simple pit-pit-pit of the dialogue boxes. The pixel art is…look, I love pixel art. I am never afraid to say pixel art is beautiful, is great, and Even the Ocean‘s art design is stellar. Commonplace locations, like a forest or beach, are enhanced with weird, unfamiliar flora. Many might see this whole thing as yet another 2D indie platformer with retro graphics, but it is more than that. The locations are unique and interesting, like Clearbreeze Island, home to a giant telepathic starfish. Also, every character portrait feels plucked from real life…though I have no way to prove that. Hmm, I wonder who Humus actually is.

Truth be told, not everything worked for me. I didn’t understand why there couldn’t be a single map or mini-map when traversing the overworld. Now, after exploring it fully, the world is not that big and it is impossible to get lost, but having to equip specific maps was a tad tedious to the point that I only relied on it for one puzzle-pertinent part. I also found the inclusion of an inventory misleading and unnecessary, as the number of items added to it over the adventure is slim, and it is as functional and as fun as reviewing your “key items” in any ol’ RPG. Y’know, the ones you can’t do anything with, but carry to the credits. Lastly, I was hoping to find more in the world, in the “dungeons”…some secrets or hidden doodads, but Even the Ocean isn’t about wasting time on inconsequential pick-ups to satisfy us collectible fanatics. At least you unlock some dev commentary buttons after completing the game to explore at your leisure.

At times, over my six hours with Even the Ocean, I was reminded strongly of other adventures, which shouldn’t be shocking. Everything is linked, in one way or another. As Aliph entered each new environment brimming with locked doors, unreachable floors, dangers, and offbeat characters, I thought of Knytt Underground. As Aliph jumped from wall to wall, shifting her energy balance to allow for extra speed, I thought of Super Meat Boy and Mega Man X. The game, at least on the normal playthrough setting, never becomes brutal or punishing, though a few puzzles did take a few tries until I learned the trick to making it through them alive, if leaning hard towards one color of energy. As Aliph took breaks after each plant to check in with Whiteforge City and her friend Yara, I thought of Persona 4 and schedules and the use of repetition. Of its story and conclusion, I couldn’t help but think of Shadow of the Colossus and The Last of Us, of our current political landscape and the hardships many face every day, of persevering against unlikely odds.

Here’s my suggestion: dip your toes into Even the Ocean. Wade in slowly, letting your skin become used to the temperature, to the ripples. When you are ready, comfortable enough, dive down. Submerge yourself. The flood is coming. Now it’s time to find out how well you can swim. Don’t worry–if the waves are too rough, too relentless, you can always play through it on Story Mode. In fact, I plan to do just that for my second go-around.

A review copy of the game was provided to me by Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka from Analgesic Productions LLC.

Dive deeper, swim faster in Beneath the Waves

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Beneath the Waves begins with, naturally, as all platforming-based videogames with a retro aesthetic should, the destruction of a romantic relationship. See, the Sun and the Ocean used to live in harmony, united, all smoochy smoochy, but have now fallen out. Well, the Sun wants its CDs back, and by CDs I of course mean precious gifts. You’ve been requested to gather these idols hidden beneath the waves–hey, that’s the name of the game wink wink–and return them to a series of pedestals high in the mountains. The trouble is, the Ocean and its denizens do not like this plan. Not one bit.

As mentioned above, Beneath the Waves is a platformer. Well, two types of platformer actually. There’s the part where you are on land, jumping from ledge to ledge, escalating higher into the sky to find the pedestals upon which you will place the returned idols. Then there’s the other part, in the water, where you are swimming and diving deep and avoiding dangerous schools of fish or heat-seeking sharks. The platforming underwater is actually more challenging than above the surface, as the little dude is able to cling to walls to reach higher ledges, but swimming past obstacles while the pressure is on requires a little more finesse and patience. I guess the best comparison I can make is that the swimming has a similar feel to arcade racing games–a little loose, with momentum an issue.

Controls in Beneath the Waves are fairly simple: use the arrow keys to move around, and [X] or up jumps. I stuck with [X], in case you wanted to know. Your main goal, to progress forward, is to find the idols deep down in the water, and thankfully you don’t need to worry about an oxygen bar as the main character can evidently breathe underwater indefinitely. Y’know, like Aquaman. As you search the underwater caverns for these idols, you’ll notice an abundance of friendly aquatic life that you can swim into without taking damage. However, once you pick up the idol, everything in the ocean changes and becomes your enemy. If you take too much damage, you drop the idol and need to swim back down and pick it up once more. Once you safely make it to the surface, you can bring the idol to a pedestal and open the gate to the next area, getting a sliver of interesting, if not entirely clear story-stuff the moment skin touches water again.

Rinse and repeat this a few times, with the underwater caverns becoming more twisted and maze-like as the game goes on. The above-ground platforming sections never really become too challenging, but the final boss fight against the Ocean’s biggest defender did force me to remain on my webbed toes, as this boss chases after you harder than any shark ever did, as well as steals back the final idol to its original location. The game does a good job of building up to this moment, so that you have all the necessary skills and knowledge readily available for you to succeed, though it took me a few tries.

It can be easy to dismiss Beneath the Waves as another one of those indie platformers with retro pixel graphics clearly made quickly for a game jam. Though Gregory Avery-Weir did make this initially for Ludum Dare under the title of simply Waves, before expanding on the idea. Still, the story is somewhat mystical, as well as something I’ve continued to think about in the days since playing it, and the swimming–when the sea creatures are not attacking you–is dreamy and fun and reminds me of the only reason I ever played Ecco the Dolphin, which was to dive deep and rocket-ship up out of the water in an epic, Sea World-worthy reveal. I’d say give this one a play if you’re looking for a different way to platform, under the sea.

The fruit in Jasper’s Journeys is not for eating

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I guess I’m on an indie action platformer kick at the moment, having moved on from Jables’s Adventure right to Jasper’s Journeys. To further blur the line between those two names, I’m going to invent a title called Journey’s Adventures and play that next, right after another go at Journey. I kid, I kid. Though this also means I’m moving backwards in time, which happens when you begin to dig into my laptop’s videogames folder, where I dump a ton of downloads on a nearly daily basis with the hope of checking the games out much sooner than later. Still, Jables’s Adventure came out in 2010, and Jasper’s Journeys is from February 2008. Yowza. I wasn’t even blogging back then.

Anyways, Jasper’s Journeys stars Jasper, who is a Loffin, whatever that is. I think it is a race of people with long, purple hair that have floaty jumps and don’t take any fall damage. I could be wrong on all that. Also, still not sure if Jasper is a young man or woman; for the purposes of this post, I’ll go with female pronouns. Unfortunately, her cat Orlando got kidnapped by an evil witch on a broomstick while playing in the tall grass. Seems like she’s keen to use this cat as an ingredient in some spell she’s concocting, and so it is up to you to save the feline by traversing fifteen levels of danger, platforms, and lots of fruit to collect.

Completing a level is as simple as finding the blue dragon, which will pick Jasper up and take her to the next level. If you find a purple dragon, you’re in luck, as this one will take you to a special island full of fruit, which is your only source of ammunition for taking out the baddies. However, to find this dragon, you’ll have to noodle out some puzzles based around platforming and finding colored keys, as well as fighting off enemies and bosses with health meters. There’s no in-game map, so you’ll have to pay attention to your surroundings and remember where to return to once you have the proper keys in your inventory. Along the way, you can also visit an inn to save your progress, as well as purchase items with acquired gold, like shields and status-affecting potions.

I played on the easiest difficulty settings, and I’m fine with that decision. The most trouble I got myself into involved areas where there were moving spikes on the floor and platforms above and having to take Jasper and make her jump from platform to platform without dipping into the sharp bits below. Naturally, because I’m playing Jasper’s Journeys on a keyboard and not a gamepad, this was more tricky than it needed to be. Also to blame: her floaty jump, which made it challenging to land on platforms now and then, especially when guiding her via the arrow keys. Otherwise, it’s not too challenging of a game, certainly on easy, but I wasn’t looking for a challenge here. Instead, I liked seeing how the levels changed from one to another, with the former focusing on grassy hills and the next tossing you beneath a castle, and though the pixel art never hits any extremes it is still pleasing to the eyes, some eight years later.

The same could be said about Jasper’s Journeys‘ soundtrack, but to your ears, not your eyes. It’s gentle and laid-back when necessary, but can up the tension during boss fights. However, the songs don’t seem to loop after they finish, and because I’m a slow gamer and like to check every nook and cranny for secrets, the majority of a level ended up being played in silence, which is a bit weird. Sound effects for killing enemies and picking up fruit are goofy and call back to the days of mascot-driven platformers on the SNES.

For some reason, it feels more odd to play a game that is only eight years old versus something like Final Fantasy IX. I don’t know why. I guess I’m having a hard time comprehending what the world was like eight years ago, which, all at once, doesn’t seem like too far back, but is also an eternity ago. Both in my life and the industry. The AAA gaming landscape of 2008 consisted of work like Burnout Paradise, Grand Theft Auto IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Braid, Fallout 3, and Fable II. As well as Jasper’s Journeys. I wonder how big of a splash it made; I think I got my copy in late 2011 as part of the Humble Voxatron Debut bundle. Shame it took me nearly five more years to play it. I’ll have to get a jump on Chocolate Castle soon too, I guess.