Tag Archives: Steam

Waking Mars educates one about an alien planet’s ecosystem

I’ve never been to Mars and probably never will in my lifetime, but I’ve both read and seen a lot of hot takes on the red planet, such as Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, The Martian by Andy Weir, and 1990’s Total Recall. I’ve even played a few games set there, like all the Red Faction joints. Chances are I wouldn’t survive long, knowing only how to make hot dog rice and a slumber party tent using two chairs and an old bedsheet, but that’s expected. Also, if hostile alien lifeforms exist, I wouldn’t know what to do to keep them from eating my Earthly flesh. Related to that, one is still trying to survive the harsh landscape in Waking Mars, but the true focus is on study and education, on discovering what makes this world alive and function.

Tiger Style put out Waking Mars in early 2012, but I only discovered it the other night in my Steam library, way at the bottom of the list. I honestly have no recollection of how it got there, but I’m going to assume it was through a Humble Bundle of sorts. Without knowing too much about the game other than some of the Achievement descriptions, I loaded it up and was surprised to discover that it is…a science-fiction adventure game with light platforming in the veins of a jetpack. Also, it’s totally about gardening. The year is 2097, and life has been discovered on Mars. Your mission of first contact takes a real bad turn, with American astronaut Liang becoming trapped by a cave-in. He must master the alien ecosystem to better survive and progress, as well as discover the secrets of the planet’s past.

Right. First off, instead of shooting your way to safety, Liang must grow a lively ecosytem to open passageways and redirect water to the areas that need it most. This was a great surprise. Much like The Swapper, combat is not the focus; instead, exploring your surroundings and puzzling out what to do next is the main mechanic fueling progression and storytelling, and that has actually made the jet-packing all the more fun because you are not trying to fire a blaster and dodge acid bombs at the same time, but rather zip around in search of places to grow some local life. Instead, you are looking for plant seeds and fertile ground, as well as scientific remnants of a co-worker that has gone missing. Each area has a Biomass rating, which you must raise to open up new areas to explore, and you do this by making life thrive. Plant seeds in the right spot, cultivate them, mix seeds with other seeds, avoid dangerous plants, and watch how everything interacts.

Waking Mars, so far, has a somewhat compelling story, but I’m more interested in the diversity of its cast, as well as the strong voice acting, which gives more meaning and urgency to the search for alien life and a way back to the headquarters. Liang is quiet and curious, but also physically alone in these Mars caves. In his ear are two support team members: Armani, an upbeat scientist, and ART, a humorous and glitch AI (think TARS from Interstellar). At different points, you’ll stop for conversation and figure out what to do next. These are linear moments, but they do reveal a lot about each character and provide hints at what is really going on here.

The gardening is fun. I generally always have fun growing digital plants, but the fact that everything interacts with each other to either raise or lower your Biomass rating is fascinating and much different than other games. Makes me feel like a scientist doing scientist-y things. You are also encouraged to get creative and research each plant fully, figuring out how it reproduces or reacts to prey. Once you know more about each respective plant, you can create a highly efficient zone, one that almost takes care of itself. It’s difficult but not impossible to reach five-star Biomass rating, and I suspect doing so will have a unique result on the current environment; alas, I’ve not been able to do this yet.

According to the Internet, Waking Mars takes about six to eight hours to complete. I’ve only put in two hours so far, which means there’s plenty of Mars left to explore and turn into my personal zoa garden. We’ll see if I have a green or red thumb.

Get it?

Y’know, because the iron oxide prevalent on the planet’s surface gives it a reddish appearance?

2017 Game Review Haiku, #41 – The Bottom of the Well

Unsettlingly dream
Your landscape of decisions
Shock–I’m not social

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #40 – Yesterday

You got Y-shaped scar
Find thread to missing homeless
Puzzles, plot loopy

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.

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.

Figure out the connection between civilization and nature in Rituals

gd-impressions-rituals-steam-game

I feel like I talk about bundles a lot here at Grinding Down…and for good reason. These packages keep me afloat through the years, often helping to fill in the gaps for those bigger games I missed out on or drowning me in lesser-known indie titles that are equally as entertaining. Well, Humble Freedom Bundle is one of the best yet, with a sickeningly number of games, digital books, and music to add to your respective libraries, as well as having all the money raised go directly to charity. United, we stand. As of this post, the bundle has raised over $5 million for the ACLU, the International Rescue Committee, and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, and it feels great to be part of such a gracious, overwhelming cause. I might not be able to do much, but I can do this.

I’m not going to list out every game in the Humble Freedom Bundle, especially when you consider they added a whole bunch more only yesterday. But there’s a lot, and a good number of them were already in my Steam library from previous bundles, such as Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Super Meat Boy, World of Goo, VVVVVV, and so on. Regardless of that, purchasing the bundle was still a no-brainer as it got me immediate access to many others on my wishlist, like The Witness, Invisible, Inc., and Subnautica. Plus, I now have a third copy of Stardew Valley, so if you are interested in that game and want a key, please reach out to me so I can share the love and joy that is pixelated farming. That said, I’m not in the right frame of mind to start a bigger game, and so I decided to see what Rituals, one of the more recent additions to the bundle, was all about first, given its small install size.

To get as simplistic as possible, Rituals is an adventure game clearly inspired by classic point-and-click romps. The kind where everything you pick up in the area is essential to you moving forward, as well as the kind that simply do not tell you the answer to every puzzle dangling before your confused face. I’m not going to call it a point-and-click adventure title despite the fact that you do often point and click on things. Just doesn’t feel right, and I think it has a lot to do with how you move around the game’s environments. More on that in a sec. You play as a nameless, faceless person waking up at his or her desk in a rather by-the-books office building. As you begin to explore the empty rooms around you, there are hints of bad things, and then suddenly you are transported to a mystical forest at night, hearing whispers in the distance. There’s got to be a connection between the two realms.

If that set-up kind of sounds familiar, then yes, I too immediately thought of The Stanley Parable upon loading Rituals up. It’s that minus the witty, sarcastic narrator. In fact, there’s not a lot of words here, with just a smidgen of text when you pick up an item or examine something important. The rest is up to you to deduce. Even with its minimalist, low polygon look, the game’s environments are fun to explore as the shapes and solid colors do more than enough to make you believe these places are what they are. And those places range from an abandoned office building to a dark forest to a lush jungle to a snowy graveyard and more. Getting to the next area is a reward in its own way.

Now, moving around is a different trick–the game is played in first-person perspective, but you can’t freely walk around. Instead, you click on navigation arrows to move forward or back or closer to areas of interest, and this can take a little getting used to. However, this means you only need a mouse to play the game, and I’m cool with that. Using an item is done by clicking on it from the inventory list at the top of the screen and dragging it on top of whatever you want, and this can be somewhat finicky, especially during the mortar and pestle part. It’s not the end of the world, except when it is.

Rituals didn’t take me very long to complete. My Steam data says around 77 minutes, and that’s a-okay with me. Again, from all the Humble Freedom Bundle provided (even more games were added since I started typing this blog post!), I wanted something quick and enjoyable, and that’s what this was. There’s a big ol’ decision to make at the end, but you can quickly reload the last checkpoint to see how the other option plays out. That said, I can’t speak with confidence that I don’t know what the relationship is between the tedium and struggle of the real world and the more fantastical aspects accessed via magical elevators, but sometimes it’s okay to not know. The important thing here is not being afraid to say so.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Rituals

2017-gd-games-completed-rituals

Civilization
Goes hand in hand with nature
Save or destroy it

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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #24 – The Knobbly Crook: Chapter 1, “The Horse You Sailed In On”

2017-gd-games-completed-the-knobbly-crook-chpt-1

Must turn ship around
Wreak havoc on its odd crew
Well…half boat, half horse

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.