Tag Archives: insects

2017 Game Review Haiku, #93 – The Plan

A beacon, calling
Up, I fly, rocket with wings
The light draws closer


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.

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2017 Game Review Haiku, #91 – Morphopolis

Bug transformation
Find out what each insect needs
Frustrating puzzles

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.

Learning about gross insects with Aniscience’s help

gd-aniscience-impressions

As a young boy in a public school on the East Coast in southern New Jersey, I had my standard fill of edutainment games, such as The Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. These were interactive experiences designed both to educate and entertain. Like, now I know that dysentery is a terrible thing for anyone to get, extremely detrimental to one’s colon and health, and that it will severely impact your chance of seeing the end of your covered wagon’s journey to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. But enough about the highs and lows of 19th century pioneer life because I’m here to talk about bugs. Flowers, too. But mostly those creepy-crawlies that, from my point of view, exist solely to freak me out and slither into my open mouth as I sleep.

Aniscience is a fine piece of edutainment, performing both actions of entertaining and informing well enough, though I do wish there was a little more interaction from the player. Well, easier interaction, to be honest. To start, it’s still in development. You can basically play a demo of the first level, and there are promises of more areas to come. Ultimately, Aniscience is a cutesy, mouse-driven journey about discovering nature, its laws, and the principal species of plants and animals. Or, in the case of the demo level, all things that live in the dirt. Y’know, insects galore.

Here’s how one plays Aniscience. You control the tiny brown mouse, either with the arrows keys or, I assume, if on some kind of touch-based device, with your figure. This cinnamon-brown mouse by the way reminds artistically of the characters from Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I’m perfectly okay with. Anyways, by lightly dragging a magnifying glass over a selected object (animal or plant), you can get a page of facts on the screen. These are real, honest-to-science facts, too. I mean, look at all these common shrew details:

common-shrew-capture

Other than that, you can click (or tap) on the specific animal/plant in question to watch it animate slightly. That’s basically the experience, backed by a soft, friendly soundtrack of happy keyboard notes, as well as birds chirping. It’s inviting, simplistic, and visually pleasing. I still wish there was more interaction, like maybe comparing different bugs and flowers to one another or somehow modifying the scene, like adding in food or a predator and seeing how things change. Also, having to drag a magnifying glass over each and every thing you want to examine is tiresome. I get that the developers probably wanted a very straightforward control system, but I’d have preferred having the examine on one mouse click and the animation on another. It’s not a deal breaker.

Aniscience is a pretty fun way to learn about nature, even if some of the bugs are super gross. You are rewarded with exploring by learning about a new critter or flower, and while that might not sound immediately satisfying…it is. I wish you could collect these fact cards in some kind of journal, that way you could both have a goal of finding them all in one area and can easily pull them up later to view without having to go back to the specific thing in question and re-magnifying glass them. Again, not deal-breakers. I’m viewing this more from the “Is it fun as a game?” perspective, where I’m sure others coming to it just for education purposes aren’t even thinking about stuff like this. I mean, again, that mouse is pretty dang adorable.

Ridding a lambent tree of every evil, parasitic creature

botanicula pc early impressions gd

Originally, despite having owned a copy of Botanicula for a good while now, I was planning to experience it firsthand raw, in the flesh, during my Extra Life stream in this past October. However, when I went to load it up, something turned wonky with my streaming program and was not able to capture footage despite being able to capture other windowed games prior. Instead of sitting there and pounding my head against a metaphoric wall, I moved on to another title to keep the action hot, but always planned to get back to Amanita Design’s bug-based point-and-click adventure game.

So, what’s the narrative all about? Botanicula centers around a rag-tag group of tree-dwelling creatures searching for the last seed of their home, a giant tree unfortunately infested by evil parasites. Sure, this excursion sounds ultra serious and something the U.S. EPA could get behind, but there’s a great deal of humor to eat up thanks to the game’s zany five heroes and creative critter designs. For the first half of the adventure, the game’s environments and clickable bugs are bright and amusing (for example, the tambourine bug above), though things get pretty dark by the end, both figuratively and literally. Either way, it’s a straightforward story with a lot of personality, but few surprises–and that’s okay. It’s good versus evil, life versus nature, cute bugs versus villainous spiders.

Gameplay-wise, Botanicula is a puzzle game, one that often asks the player to think outside the box. That said, many puzzles simply devolve down to clicking/tapping on the most obvious of things on the screen (the bugs themselves, large plants, strange items) and watching what happens; generally, something happens. There is no in-game hint system or even text-on-screen guide to point players in the right direction, but the puzzles never got to the place where progress felt unmovable. Every screen has a number of tiny secrets to discover, too. My favorite section was about midway through the journey, when the gang arrives in a large village of problematic onion houses, asked to gather a number of birds to help run a machine. The puzzles here were sometimes isolated to a single house, while others gave you items to use elsewhere. Still, this is more a point-and-click exploration romp than an adventure game.

Let’s pause and talk about Botanicula‘s soundtrack. Which is astounding. The constantly unpredictable and tinkling audio is supplied by the Czech band DVA and is peppered throughout the game in numerous ways. Some scenes are interactive, with you making the music by bouncing on mushrooms or clicking bugs in a certain order, while other tunes are rewards for solving a puzzle or making some insect happy. It’s all very pleasing, except when it is scary, and then it is terrifying.

Last year, I finally got around to playing–and completing–Machinarium, which is truthfully no easy task. Some of those puzzles were absolutely maddening, and yet I couldn’t not solve them. Amanita Design’s games brim with color and character, not to mention colorful characters, and the switch from robots to bugs in Botanicula does little to change that hard-earned fact. I think I ended up looking up a single puzzle solution this time around, and it turned out I was on the right track to solving it myself, but just didn’t take it all the way there. Your inventory never becomes bloated, and it is usually pretty clear where you need to go or what you need to collect to move forward.

In total, Botanicula took about three to four hours to get through, and I ate it up in a single sitting over the Thanksgiving break while enjoying some quiet time down at my father’s place in South Jersey. As you go along and encounter all the various friendly/non-friendly insects, you collect animated cards of them; if I had been playing a Steam version, I think those are all related to Achievements. Anyways, I didn’t collect them all by the time the credits rolled, but I got enough to open up two bonus menu items after completing the game. I might YouTube what you get for collecting all the cards. Either way, I’m so glad I finally got around to ridding this tree of evil bugs; it was an odd little trip, but without a doubt memorable.

Journey of a Roach will have you climbing walls

journey of a roach final thoughts

When you think about it, Journey of a Roach is a puzzle game built entirely around a single gimmick: you play a roach, able to climb up walls and skitter across the ceiling. This change in perspective plays a key part in the majority of the puzzles. It’s not the worst way to see the world, upside-down, though it can be a bit disorienting from time to time, especially when you accidentally mean to return to the floor but hit the wall instead and the camera sharply tilts one way and then the other and all you can do is make audible gasps until you right yourself. Given that I just spent a long time playing as Scree the gargoyle in Primal, who can also climb walls, you’d think my tolerance would be higher, but I’m pretty tired of the mechanic. Thankfully, Journey of a Roach doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The insects in Journey of a Roach live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, though how the world actually got to that point is not addressed or necessary to know. Bugs will simply outlive us all, and this is their realm now. As a young roach hurries across the ruined earth, he gets a glimpse of something in the distance: a flower. Delicate, standing tall: a sign of rare vegetation, a sign of life still to come. If you’ve seen Pixar’s WALL-E, you know this is important stuff. Unfortunately, the little roach ends up getting pinned beneath a barrel of toxic waste. We then cut to a smaller, childlike roach, being awoken by the sound of the crash. Off he goes to help his bug buddy get free and find this mightily desired flower of power.

Visually, the game has two different looks, and unfortunately they don’t mesh nicely. There’s the cutscenes, which are flat, hand-drawn images with minimal coloring, background art, and animation. They work, but they could’ve been so much more, especially since a lot of the key story beats unfold/resolve using these. Conversely, there’s the in-game graphics, which you’ll spend more time looking at, and they are rather nice, a mix of cel shading and 3D models. Think Borderlands, but from the perspective of an inch off the ground. Environments are relatively detailed, with a good number of non-interactive items to fill in all the gaps, and everything comes across as really there, with depth. If you can imagine bugs living beneath the ground, smoking cigars and lounging in bars, then you can imagine it even more with Journey of a Roach.

Just like with Machinarium, there’s no spoken language, at least not one that I, as a non-bug, can understand. Instead, all the ants and roaches and flies speak to each other via animated speech bubbles or tinny nonsensical squeaks, giving you an idea of what they want without actually spelling it out for you. Hope you’re good at charades. You’ll explore environments, speak to some other insects, and use items in your inventory to solve puzzles. Since you’re a cockroach, exploration is not just limited to the floor; climb up the walls and the ceiling to see what else you can find. Most of the time, it’s a vital item or a collectible grub, which you can click to claim. The environments themselves often hold a ton of clues, too, so paying attention to every sign or lever is important.

Annoyingly, there are several red herring items, which disappear when you move from one isolated scenario to another. Let me state here and now that I do not enjoy pointless, time-wasting items. Yes, Deponia, you had a few too. In your inventory, items are presented in silhouette form only, making it hard to tell what some items actually are. For example, later in the game, the tiny little roach picks up the sole of a shoe, which I thought was perfect for the tired caterpillar being forced to run on a wheel to produce electricity. Nope. This item was better fit to take the place of meat in a makeshift burger. Go figure.

As mentioned before, Journey of a Roach is not very long, and I think that’s just fine for a puzzle game that really has only one trick up its sleeve. In fact, there’s a Steam achievement for completing the whole game within 18 minutes, which if you know all the puzzle solutions I’m sure is possible, but you have to seriously truck it and probably not make a single mistake. I think it took me more around two to three hours to finish, but I liked playing it slower, clicking on everything and trying to noodle out the solution to the roach’s latest roadblock before ultimately glancing at a walkthrough. The ending was, naturally, predictable and unexciting, but there really wasn’t any other direction the developers could go with it. The roaches wanted the flower, the roaches got the flower. But then it goes to credits, and you’re left wondering why. What’s this one little flower going to do for their well-being? I dunno. It’s not a puzzle game to set the world on fire, but it does have some personality and a different way to view things.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #58 – Journey of a Roach

2013 games completed journey_of_a_roach

There is this flower
Above these two roaches want
Climb walls, solve puzzles

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.