Review | Coffee Talk

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Three things that always catch my interest are reading, gaming, and coffee. So when I saw that Games with Gold was featuring a visual novel game centred on brewing coffee, I instantly downloaded Coffee Talk.

Coffee Talk was released in January 2020 and set in the near future of … September 2020. This version of Seattle is home to elves, werewolves, succubi, nekomimi, and many other species, but thankfully not to COVID-19.

As the friendly yet mysterious owner of a coffee shop that only opens at night, you attract all sorts of customers in a variety of circumstances. Over the course of two weeks in the world of Coffee Talk, you eavesdrop on, and help along, the lives of six characters. How do you do this? By listening, talking, and of course by brewing them the perfect drink they need for the situation they’re facing.

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Review | Tetris Effect Connected

Screenshot of the cooperative mechanic, which combines each player's field into one large field.
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Somehow I’ve never owned a Tetris game before, so when I discovered Tetris Effect Connected on Xbox Game Pass soon after it was released, I decided to try out this version. The graphic style showcased in the screenshots and trailers seemed impressive, and the idea of head-to-head online matches appealed to me much more than experiments such as Tetris 99.

My first impression of Tetris Effect Connected was a little negative, purely because it seemed oddly pretentious. This was mostly due to its language and exposition; the campaign is called a “Journey mode” and is described as “a voyage of emotion and discovery”, while you are referred to as a “Guardian” whose job is to help save the galaxy from a negative void that’s going to erase existence. Leaving that to one side and jumping into the gameplay, however, quickly appeased my scepticism.

Its clear from the first information screen that Tetris Effect Connected aims to be an immersive, sensory-blending experience; its encouragement to equip surround sound or wear headphones “for maximum enjoyment” is presented with the same prominence as its photosensitivity warning.

This aim is reinforced by how the Journey mode is built to be near-seamless. After completing each stage, you automatically transition into the next one, while failing a stage resets you to the start of the previous stage rather than returning you to the stage selection screen. This approach feels like its designed to absorb players into a flow state, especially as the power-up mechanic is called “the Zone”. Once you’ve filled the Zone meter by scoring points, you can activate it to slow down time and hold tetrominoes at the top of the screen until you’re ready to release them. While activated, lines that you clear won’t vanish as they normally do, but will instead stack underneath the existing game board. When the Zone activation ends, all of those lines are cleared at once, allowing for not just the titular high-scoring Tetris (4 lines cleared at once), but an Octoris (8 lines), a Decahexatris (16 lines), and even clearing more lines than the game board contains at once (an aptly-named Impossibilitris).

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Review | The Touryst

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Today I’m looking at indie game, and former Switch exclusive, The Touryst. One of my friends recommended it to me, as he found its free exploration and relatively short length relaxing.

Initially, I didn’t find it quite as peaceful, because the first thing I did was jump out of the arrival boat on the wrong side to see if I could swim in the surrounding ocean … I could, until I was eaten by a shark.

Once I respawned which let me quickly discover that there is no life counter and no major consequence for death, I began exploring the islands. The Touryst takes place across a cluster of small islands, which you travel between by boat. The boat being at the end of a boardwalk and accompanied by an ever-present Captain reminded me strongly of the balloonist in Spyro the Dragon, which added to the game’s nostalgic vibes. Some of the islands are inspired by real-life locations like Santoryn (Santorini) and Fyjy (Fiji); all of them are compact, colourful, and studded with secrets, mini-games and tasks.

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I Finally Finished … Saints Row: Gat Out Of Hell

An image of combat in Saint's Row: Gat Out of Hell
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According to TrueAchievements, I first played Saint’s Row: Gat Out Of Hell in July 2015. While I’ve dipped in for a couple of co-op sessions since, it’s been on my “I’ll finish this eventually” pile for years. My plan was to spend 1-2 hours finishing any remaining campaign missions on and fulfilling any close achievements, and then to retire the game completely.

What actually happened was that I spent around 5 hours that evening finishing every activity New Hades had to offer, and unlocked the 100% activity ending. After my second evening of exploring, I had beaten up Satan, and collected every orb, book, and piece of audio commentary. Then I saved my progress and realised I was at 98% game completion…

So the day after that, I went for full 100% completion. It’s safe to say that Gat Out Of Hell caught my attention, and my time, much more this time around.

Saint’s Row: Gat Out Of Hell is a standalone expansion pack that follows on from Saint’s Row IV. It features the same open-world gameplay and upgradeable superpowers found in IV, but moves the actions to a new location – Hell itself. As Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington, you must prevent Satan from marrying his daughter Jezebel off to Johnny. You do this by getting supernatural assistance from a cast that includes previous Saint’s Row characters as well as famous additions like Blackbeard and William Shakespeare.

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Game Review Tier List and Review Collection

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Given that game reviews have accidentally become my most common posts on this site, I wanted to make sure I was doing them as fairly and as well as I possibly could. One part of this, for me, is figuring out how I compare games to each other. While I don’t want to get as granular as using a number or percentage system, as I think that I would then focus too hard on those numbers at the expense of looking at the individual games, I did want to add some kind of structure.

A more general tier or category list, that covers the most likely possible options without forcing reviews into a rigid scale, seemed like the best approach. While this will change in future if I need it to, the table below contains the rough framework that I’ll use for comparing games.

I’ll also keep a running list of games I’ve reviewed in each tier below – consider this post the meta-post for my game reviews!

TierDescriptionDefining Game
AmazingA game that is the best of its genre; it is so strong in design, gameplay and enjoyment that it offers an excellent experience to many different audiences.Grand Theft Auto V
BrilliantA game that is enjoyable beyond the “cool” tier; it offers a consistently good experience and does everything that you would expect from its genre and setting to a high standard.Spyro Reignited Trilogy
CoolA game that is competent and fun, but not extra-special. It might be technically good but formulaic, or its ideas might have been already done better in previous games.Team Sonic Racing
DisappointingA game that executed its concept poorly, or was marred by technical or design issues that made it difficult to enjoy.Onrush
ExperimentalA game that is so novel, or so reliant on deconstruction or meta-narrative, that it is polarising. Generally, people who like weird experimental games will enjoy it, while people who don’t like them won’t.Beyond Eyes
FailureA game that does not deliver what it promised and offers little or no fun.?
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I Finally Finished … skate.

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Sometimes I first play a game years, or even decades, after its release. Other times I get partway through a game, get distracted, and then revisit it years later. Calling any discussion of a long-lived or dormant game either a “review” or an “impression” feels incorrect, so the more literal title wins out. (However, I’m going to use “finished” to mean “finished by my own standards”, rather than 100% completed). 

Going from my first recorded achievement date in 2014, to completing the career mode yesterday, I took 6 years and 1 month to complete skate … somehow I doubt this is the worst offender on my backlog!

So how well did skate hold up? Was it still enjoyable in 2020?

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Review | Letter Quest : Grimm’s Journey Remastered

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Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered (often referred to as Letter Quest Remastered) is a word-assembling RPG where you defeat monsters with your vocabulary, your scythe, and bacon.  

I was introduced to LQR by two of my friends, who assumed that I would enjoy its celebration of verbal geekery. I’m happy to say that they were correct. 

In LQR, titular young reaper Grimm must battle though the foes who are blocking him from his desired treasure … pizza. Battling is carried out by finding words in a board of Scrabble-style letter tiles; your score for each valid word becomes damage to the current enemy, who then retaliates with attacks of their own. Each defeated enemy and completed quest awards Gems, which you use to strengthen Grimm’s selection of scythes and to buy skill upgrades.

This is my best word so far. 11-letter words are uncommon, but they output tons of damage.
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Review | Aəero : Complete Edition

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Imagine flying a Wipeout-style ship along the musical ribbon from Vib-Ribbon, while dodging lasers, while playing a twin-stick shooter at the same time, and that almost sums up Aəero.

Aəero is part of a new generation of indie rhythm-action games that has sprung up since the over-saturated -Hero games met their demise and Beat Saber took VR gaming by surprise. It shares two foundations with other experimental rhythm games; a blend of various gameplay styles, and an aim of creating flow-inducing multi-sensory experiences. However, my first few minutes with Aəero felt more like a sensory assault. After reducing my TV volume, lowering the in-game volume to 40%, and lowering the vibration strength to minimal, I could then dive into its challenging and immersive gameplay.

The core gameplay of Aəero is balancing the duelling roles of the left and right analogue sticks. With the left analogue stick, players follow the ribbon of white light that traces out each song’s most salient melody. The ribbon can soar and fall with the singer’s pitch, or swoop and spiral to follow synthesizers and bass. For me, the most challenging songs are the ones which quickly swap between delicate adjustments and larger jumps or spirals. When the ribbon isn’t on-screen, players instead use the left stick to avoid obstacles and fly through narrow gaps in routes interrupted by burning lasers or crushing platforms. The right stick controls the aiming reticle, which players use to target enemies and projectiles, while the right trigger fires the ship’s laser beams. 

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Review | Dear Esther : Landmark Edition

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As Dear Esther begins, the protagonist stands at the entrance to a deserted island quickly revealed as being in the Outer Hebrides. Behind the protagonist is a short concrete path leading into the ocean. I promptly walk them into the ocean (for science, of course). As a result I discover some of the island’s mystery within seconds of playtime. My screen fills with indistinct images and pulses like a heartbeat, while the narrator’s own voice whispers “come back…”, before the protagonist reappears at the starting point. After walking into the ocean again to see if any of the environment changed as a result, and only unlocking an incongruous-seeming achievement for drowning, I start to actually play Dear Esther.

While I’ve played other Environmental Narrative Games before, I’ve somehow never played Dear Esther nor had its story spoiled. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from the game that brought ENGs into mainstream discussions.

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Review | Spyro Reignited Trilogy – Spyro 2

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Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer was the first game I recieved with my PS1, and also my first 3D game, so this is a nostalgic revisit for me. (As it’s named Ripto’s Rage in the Reignited Trilogy, I’ll just refer to it as Spyro 2 here). It was also one of my favourite games – I remember enjoying Idol Springs and Crystal Glacier, and finding the summer and autumn home worlds incredibly peaceful. I don’t think my 7-year-old self ever reached the final third of the original game, as it was mostly unfamiliar. This time, however, I beat Ripto at 98% completion after about 13 hours of in-game time, then reached 100% at about 14 hours (blame the Fracture Hills level for that delay!).

The major difference between Spyro the Dragon and Spyro 2 is revealed in the first cutscene, which shows off a more detailed story taking place across a larger set of worlds and also introduces you to allied characters who need Spyro’s help to take their homes back from antagonist Ripto.

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Review | Spyro Reignited Trilogy – Spyro the Dragon

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I’ve been taking my time with the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, as I wanted to enjoy each game fully without rushing them and without worrying about getting a specific completion % or making review notes along the way. I didn’t want to ruin my own experience in any way.

After completing most of Spyro the Dragon and Spyro 2, taking a break, then returning a few months later, I reached 120% completion in just over 12.5 hours of playtime. So here are my thoughts on Spyro’s renewed debut.

I didn’t remember much about the original version of Spyro the Dragon, as I played it after the second and third games, and found it less interesting in comparison. I remembered some early world themes, and the general plot of Gnasty Gnorc turning the other dragons into crystal statues, but much of the game was new to me.

The gameplay in Spyro the Dragon focuses on rescuing the crystallised dragons while collecting gems and dragon eggs. 5 dragon homeworlds are hubs that each contain portals to 5 levels: 3 standard levels based on the homeworld aesthetic, a timed flight level where you fly Spyro through obstacles, plus a boss level. The sixth homeworld, inhabited by antagonist Gnasty Gnorc, contains the remaining levels and final boss fight.

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Review | Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled [Updated]

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I rarely pay attention to upcoming games, because I dislike the media hype-to-disappointment cycle that comes with every new game. But a new version of Crash Team Racing, a game that my childhood self absolutely loved, was guaranteed to hold my interest. However, I worried that it wouldn’t be remade fairly – that CTRNF would be forced to take on the often-harmful baggage of modern gaming.

The original CTR was technically short but absurdly replayable. You could simply win each race once to reach the final boss and so nominally finish the campaign mode in 3 hours. But mastering CTR required learning the tracks inside and out to complete the challenging token races and devilish Relic races.

To me, any attempt to force attention-manipulation mechanics like season passes and time-gates into CTRNF risked ruining this tight design and its quality-over-quantity nature. So I’m disappointed that Activision and Beenox have followed the convention of including seasonal “content roadmaps”, time-locked shops and item rarity tiers. I’m happy about the prospect of continued interest and additional racers, but Activision’s attempt to shove the lifecycle mechanics of a looter-shooter or an RPG into a kart racer is shortsighted and unnecessary.

So from here I’m going to pretend those extras don’t exist, and focus on the game itself. Thankfully, the game is everything I hoped it would be.

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Review | Team Sonic Racing [Updated]

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While I generally find kart racers fun, I wouldn’t call myself a serious fan of them. Two exceptions to this are the original Crash Team Racing, which was one of my favourite games as a child, and the thoroughly enjoyable Sonic and All-Stars: Racing Transformed.

Although Team Sonic Racing (TSR) was made by the same development team as Racing Transformed, Sumo Digital, I was pessimistic about it before release. When I briefly played TSR at EGX 2018, I felt like it might be unable to differentiate itself from other kart racers. At the time, my opinion was: “Sumo Digital promise that unlockable parts will let you change your car’s looks and performance, but that’s just not the same as turning your car into an aeroplane.”

I wanted to be proved wrong, but unfortunately I can’t say that the game has done enough to change my mind. Before I follow that train of thought, I’ll explain what TSR actually is, and what it does well. 

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Review | Tyler: Model 005

Screenshot from Tyler Model 005
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This is another tag-team review from me and Adoboros; he handled the controls of Tyler: Model 005, while I helped to solve the puzzles. This review has gameplay spoilers and minor story spoilers.

During its opening sequence Tyler: Model 005 (which I’ll shorten to TM5) presents itself as a charming puzzle-platformer with a sympathetic main character — dormant robot Tyler, who wakes up confused and amnesiac after an electrical surge.

Your job as the player is to explore the house which Tyler awakens inside and to figure out what’s going on, solving environmental puzzles to access more of the house and turn on more light sources. Tyler is tiny enough to hide inside a coffee cup, making even small rooms seem vast to him, so the game’s setting isn’t as cramped as you might expect from its description.

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Review | Borderlands : Game Of The Year Edition (2019)

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Even though I’ve previously enjoyed playing Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (via co-op), I could never say the same about the original. In solo attempts, I would get stuck at about 10% campaign completion because I couldn’t navigate through the open world. Playing with friends often failed due to lag and frame rate issues. However, after two friends who adore the series both gave me rave reviews of Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition, I joined them to try a co-op campaign again.

As there was already a Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition in 2010, I found the name re-use illogical, especially as the 2010 release is still on sale. To avoid confusion, I’ll use Borderlands to mean the series/games in general, “the original Borderlands” to mean the 2009 release, and GOTY to mean the 2019 release. But that’s a minor issue, so I’ll get on to the actual game.

Because GOTY is a remaster rather than a remake, the core gameplay, mechanics and plot are left untouched. The story retains its sparse exposition, as well as its odd pace – it still idles for most of the game then jumps to its full intensity during the last half hour. But the impactful gunplay, chaotic elemental effects, irreverent dialogue and deranged enemies are just as entertaining as in the original Borderlands. Customising your character’s build in co-op to get full-team boosts and combine each player’s abilities allows lots of opportunities to experiment with setups and weapons (and plenty of comedy from Brick’s melee adventures).

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Review | The Swapper

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Full disclosure: due to my ineptness at puzzle platformers, the helpful Adoboros handled puzzle-solving, while I watched and occasionally gave him useful ideas.

When launching The Swapper, the first thing I noticed was its atmosphere (pun not intended). It’s not horror-game-tense or oppressive. Instead it’s somber and melancholy, a tone I’m unused to seeing in games. The next thing I noticed was its uncommon style. Every location and character model was hand-made in clay then digitized through photographs to create a unique world. It’s diffcult to understand just how much work went in to crafting the game, especially as it runs at 60 frames per second.

The Swapper opens as a lone astronaut is ejected into space inside an escape pod. When the pod lands, you take control of the silent astronaut, and start to explore the doomed spaceship Theseus. The remaining crew are hiding in a sealed chamber, so your path is isolated and your exploration uninterrupted … until the scenery starts asking philosophical questions.

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Review | Forza Horizon 4

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If you’ve ever played a Forza Horizon game, the core of Forza Horizon 4 is pleasantly familiar. Its most important aspects — its cars and locations — are as impressive as you would expect. FH4 refines the classic Horizon open-world gameplay and extends it across even more environments, taking you from muddy cross-country treks to snowy hills and frozen lakes.

Showcase races, which place you against showstopper competitors like planes and hovercraft, also return. Although these are fun displays featuring ingenious opponents, the showcases occupy an awkward middle ground between a setpiece spectacle and a race. Showcase races are focused on putting you and your opponent in the right positions for dramatic jump scenes and conflict points, which detracts from their stated role as a race. I have a game clip of myself trailing a Showcase opponent yet suddenly being switched to first place as a race ended. It’s a minor gripe, but that kind of switching makes Showcases feel somewhat dishonest — I believe the Showcases would have been better if they were purely a spectacle, rather than being a mixture of race and setpiece.

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Review | Spec Ops: The Line

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Last week, I finally played Spec Ops: The Line (only 6 years late!). I’d heard about its ambitious, ethically challenging story, but I’d tried to avoid spoilers. Going into the game, I knew one thing; I would have to make choices that I wouldn’t want to make.

I was expecting tough choices from The Line. However, I wasn’t expecting false choices. The Line contains a mid-game scene where protagonist Walker (and by extension, the player) is treated as if they can choose between two actions, even though the game mechanics allow only one. In the next dilemma, the game lets you continue assuming that only one choice is possible; this time, you could have done something else.

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Review | Onrush

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The ingredients of Onrush are simple. Start with the frenzied speed and crashes of Burnout: Revenge, and mix in the co-operative objectives of Overwatch. Add cartoonish, Fortnite-styled character models and emotes, then finish with cosmetic loot boxes.

Onrush is a co-operative racing combat game, where players succeed by carrying out team-based objectives. It promises relentless speed and chaotic battles. It vows to keep you in the action at all times. So, how does Onrush achieve the goal of continual speed? And what does it feel like to play?

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Insomnia63 Gaming Festival

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This weekend I had the brand new experience of going to the Insomnia Gaming Festival. Having never been to any gaming events or tournaments, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I had a full weekend ticket, so I was there from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon.

As families often attend over just Saturday and Sunday, Friday was a fairly quiet introduction to the festival environment. We were able to get our bearings and explore the arena, and we could try all but the largest activities without queuing.

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