Murder By Numbers (Switch): COMPLETED!

One of my favourite types of game is picross. There’s something relaxing about switching to autopilot and completing a load of puzzles. One of the best, quirky game series of all time is Phoenix Wright, with it’s gentle humour, amazing characters, and murders. Murder By Numbers is both these things.

I talk about it a lot on episode 33 of the ugvm Podcast, but briefly, Murder By Numbers is very much like Phoenix Wright only each time you find a clue you have to reveal it by solving a picross puzzle. Oh, and there’s no courtroom.

It has a great cast of well drawn characters with some funny dialogue, excellent music, and importantly the flow between detective sections and picross sections somehow never seems jarring. It’s also surprisingly long, especially with all the bonus puzzles you can unlock if you do all the ones in the story without using any hints.

If you even only slightly enjoy picross puzzles, this is a great game for you.

Shenmue III (PS4): COMPLETED!

Ryo it all to Yu

Well, this has been a long time in coming, hasn’t it. Even longer than that, since I stopped playing before Christmas for a while so most eager fans have already completed it. Was I getting bored? No – it’s just a million other games came along and having to turn the PS4 on is so terribly tedious. Why couldn’t this have been on the Switch?

I’m partly serious, but of course I’m very glad we have Shenmue III at all, and I’d have bought whatever system was necessary to play it, if that was what it would have taken. The question is, was is worth the two hundred and seventy Earth pounds I paid for it? The answer, of course, is yes.

As a game, it certainly isn’t worth that amount of money. No game is. But this wasn’t paying to play just any game – this was paying for a game I’ve wanted to play for 18 years to actually get made, and that’s a different thing entirely. So here it is. And it’s exactly what I wanted. With just one issue.

Many people have complained that in terms of mechanics, controls, graphics, voice acting, and so on, Shenmue III is a relic. They’ve not improved anything in the gameplay, whereas other games have moved on. Some have said that it should have played more like Shenmue’s spiritual successor Yakuza. Others said it looks like a Dreamcast game with nicer graphics. To those people I say this: This is Shenmue III and to do it any other way would not be Shenmue III.

I won’t go into the story, events or characters – they have been covered by many better game writers than me. It’s no blockbuster film, in any sense, but it is a valid, seemless, continuation from Shenmue II to the point where the end of that game is the very beginning of this. The story keeps things ticking over, but ultimately the one real thing that we’ve waited all this time to happen… doesn’t. That shouldn’t be a spoiler at this point, by the way, but it’s the only negative thing I really have to say about the game. We now have to wait an unknown amount of time for Shenmue IV, should that ever come to light at all.

It’s difficult to explain why Shenmue III is so good when each of it’s parts – especially these days – is clearly below average. It might be a bit of nostalgia. It could be that despite there being a murder at the heart of it, it’s a gentle, slow-paced game about Ryo Hazuki training his kung-fu, gambling all his money away and (my favourite bit) hunting down fat chickens hidden in all the shops.

If you were never a fan of the games, you won’t enjoy this. But if you were a fan, Shenmue III should be both exactly what you were expecting, and exactly what you wanted.

Lair of the Clockwork God (PC): COMPLETED!

After Devil’s Kiss, this was the Main Event. A new Ben and Dan adventure game, and long awaited followup to Ben There, Dan That and Time Gentlemen, Please. Unlike those games, there’s a whole load of platforming mixed in with the point-and-clickery, as Dan has decided exciting indie platformer adventures are the in-thing, and Ben’s insistence on examining everything and refusal to jump even the smallest amount both clash and co-exist in a unique hybrid of styles.

But it’s not the new platforming, or even the old adventuring, that make the game one of the best indies I’ve played in a long time. No, it’s the clever puzzles and the heavy hit after heavy hit of comedy that never once lets up. The new mechanics mainly streamline the inherent slowness of the point and click genre, which is great, but the shakedown of tropes from both genres provides fodder for puzzles and quips alike.

This pretty much explains the level the humour sits at.

The characters, situations and items and you come across through the game are varied and silly. Some are a stroke of genius, with spoiler-free standouts being the Daily Mail reader thinking Ben is a dirty foreigner, the yoofspeak section when Ben and Dan are too old to get into a nightclub and can’t understand a word the kids are saying, Ben calling Dan “pickle” and asking if he needs help in an especially tricky platforming bit (and Dan getting increasingly annoyed with him), and use of what appeared to be a bug. And the whole Sonic the Hedgehog-y platforming section that Dan has to do as Sonic would but Ben adventures his way around by manipulating the respawn process is inspired. I’d love to explain more but it’d solve puzzles for you, and you really need to do that for yourself.

More like Green Bottle Zone amirite

Humour aside there’s still a very good game here. The platforming isn’t quite the Super Meat Boy/Celeste/VVVVVV that in-game (and maybe also game-dev) Dan perhaps wants it to be, but it’s perfectly good enough. The item use and combining (sorry, it’s crafting now) bits are at least as good as any you’d find in Monkey Island or Thimbleweed Park with equal parts weird, unusual, and gross. One of the “items” in Ben’s inventory is his own bladder, for example, and yes – there are toilet and non-toilet related puzzles associated with it.

It’s an excellent game, and even if you’re not a fan of point and click games I implore you to play it anyway. The comedy is good enough to carry the game, even though it doesn’t have to as the game is good enough without it, and that’s something even the big boys of gaming with teams of writers don’t manage. I’ve not laughed out loud this many times at any game ever.

Devil’s Kiss (PC): COMPLETED!

Firstly, I just want to say that although this is a PC game, I played it via the Steam Link app on the iPad. Actually, it’s more complicated than that, but it’ll do for now.

Secondly, this game came free with Lair of the Clockwork God – a new platforming/point and click hybrid game from Size Five Games. It was a surprise simultaneous release with that game, but instead of being either of those two styles, it’s a visual novel telling the story of how Ben and Dan met at high school, and the immediate adventure they had there.

It’s very short and has no challenge whatsoever, but it was funny and, of course, it was free. And there’s a section set in the toilets.

What Remains of Edith Finch (Switch): COMPLETED!

It’s two years since I played this on the PS4, and having picked it up for just One United States Pound for the Switch, I thought it was high time I played it again.

Most of the story I’d remembered, but the detail I’d forgotten. There was a lot of “oh yeah! I remember that!” while I played. And it’s still good, there are still great toilets, and it’s still the same game it always was.

What I did expect was a graphical downgrade, especially since I played it handheld. And it appeared that was what I got – it just wasn’t as impressive as I remembered. What I didn’t expect was for this to be mostly faulty memory! I’d taken screenshots of the PS4 game at the time and comparing these to what I’ve just played, there’s very little in it. In fact, the only really difference was that on the Switch, everything was just a bit too dark, even with the game’s brightness setting up full. Maybe that was intentional for performance reasons (although bright scenes were still bright, so probably not), or perhaps it’s because it was in handheld mode, who knows.

Oh, and somehow I totally missed Gus’ story so had to replay that bit at the end. I didn’t even realise that was possible!

Baobab’s Mausoleum Episode 2: 1313 Barnabas Dead End Drive (Switch): COMPLETED!

Now this is better. Unlike the linear, disjointed approach of the first game, Episode 2 of Baobab’s Mausoleum works much better. You have a whole town to explore, and a day/night cycle (real-time, or skip by sleeping) to contend with. There are still TV and game references, and it’s still very weird, but it makes – in the context of the weird – much more sense.

A girl goes missing and you have to find her. Only to do that, you have to do something else. Only to do that, you have to do something else. And so on.

Imagine a more passive Link’s Awakening (which is referenced), with very little combat but lots of talking and some puzzles and lots of getting item A to get item B. And some fishing.

It’s very shallow (which I don’t mean in a negative way), funny in an absurdist sense, and a lot better than Episode 1.

Baobab’s Mausoleum Episode 1: Ovnifagos Don’t Eat Flamingos (Switch): COMPLETED!

A while back, I played the demo of this. Although short, it looked like it the full game was going to be a viewed from above puzzle adventure game with Twin Peaks overtones. And, when it came to playing the full game, for a while that was the case. Your basic zombie-lookin aubergine FBI agent’s car breaks down outside a mysterious town that only appears once every 25 years, and he needs to find a phone and get on his way.

Only that premise is discarded very early on as the plot veers all over the place. Characters you know are somehow also in the town. Nobody mentions the 25 year thing. You have to play hide and seek with beavers in a first person section for… some reason. A guy in a cinema gives you a ticket so you can get into the cinema in order to get a ticket to give to the guy so he can get in the cinema. What? Sometimes you turn into a guy who is a tiny moon for a bit, but it’s not explained why. Frankly, nothing makes sense.

I’m all for weird for the sake of weird, but at least string it together. BME1ODEF is missing what fellow weird games Weird Dreams on the Amiga and Switch on the MegaCD had – a coherence to the random madness. Perhaps some of the cause of this was the translation to English from what I assume is the dev’s native Spanish, and some explanation was lost.

I don’t think I enjoyed playing it and I think that’s because I wasn’t sure why I was playing it. There’s no mechanical or gameplay reason why it’s bad, and it isn’t bad really, it’s just too strange. That said, I’m going to play the sequel as I’ve already bought it.

Isoland 2 (Switch): COMPLETED!

Well, there was no way I could not play the sequel after the first game, was there? Especially since they’re both so cheap!

Isoland is, as expected, more of the same. A different island to the first game, but the story is linked. The main difference here, though, is there’s a time-travel element which affects some of the puzzles.

A Clue

Other than that, it’s the usual Cottongame point and click stuff with tile-slidey/combination-findy puzzle elements. Also like the first game, you have to complete this twice, with extra and altered puzzles the second time, in order to get the true ending.

Hoping Isoland 3 comes Switchward now!

Batman: The Telltale Series (Switch): COMPLETED!

Warning: this post contains spoilers.

I don’t often write with spoilers but some of the things I wanted to mention are very spoilers and so I don’t really have much choice. But firstly, I just want to say that I have this game on the PS4 as part of PS+, but I bought it on the Switch anyway because who plays PS4 games in 2020?

So it’s yet another Batman game. This one exists in its own, somewhat different DC Universe, where there are no superheroes or supervillains (yet) – just normal folk with science and gadgets. The plot is that someone called Lady Arkham is planning to poison Gotham to “fix it”, and it also tells the story of Harvey Dent (who hasn’t become Two-Face yet) running for mayor whilst being supported financially by best mate Bruce Wayne.

Also mates with Bruce is Oswald Cobblepot, who, yes, becomes the Penguin, but he’s like no Penguin I’ve ever seen. He has the British accent but he’s tall, young and thin.

And then there’s Catwoman, who clocks that Bruce is Batman within seconds, and Bruce is remarkably relaxed about it (before bedding her, of course).

Unlike previous Telltale games I’ve played, there’s very little graphical adventuring here. It’s a make-dialogue-choices and QTE game, which made me worry at first because the horror that was Heavy Rain still lingers in my mind. Luckily, it is a much better game than that in almost every conceivable way – better story, better game logic, lack of nonsensical situations, and no stupid twist. But I’ve said enough about Heavy Rain before and I don’t wish to get that angry again. Still, it not being what I’d consider a “Telltale adventure” any more was a bit disappointing. There are some investigation sections which are close, but they’re too simple and shallow to be puzzles.

Being a fair weather Batman fan, some parts of the story didn’t sit that well with me. I didn’t like Selina and Bruce’s instant recognition. I wasn’t a fan of how you could be a very, very violet Batman (it seems you could kill and let people die) even though that was player choice – it isn’t a choice Batman makes. I hated who Lady Arkham turned out to be even though I saw it coming from a mile away. I also thought the back story about Bruce’s parents being bad guys was rubbish. But, in the context of it all being an alternate-universe Batman tale, I could work through all that.

I did enjoy it though. There were no real plot surprises, and some of the QTEs didn’t really work, but it was well worth playing. I’ve the second series lined up ready to go now too, so will no doubt play that as well.

Adventures of Bertram Fiddle 2: A Bleaker Predicklement (Switch): COMPLETED!

This was the funniest game I’ve played in ages. I’m a sucker for terrible puns and Bertram Fiddle is filled to the brim with them. More so here than the first game too, I’d say. It was better than the first game in other ways as well, being both longer and more varied with locations, and having some better puzzles.

The characters you meet are excellent, and the voice acting is perfect. There’s even a cameo from Professor Elemental, who is absolutely the right fit for the game.

Only issue now, is there is not – as yet – an Episode 3. Thankfully, the story in the first two games is finished so it didn’t end on a cliffhanger or anything.

Takeshi & Hiroshi (iOS): COMPLETED!

At first glance this is a JRPG, but actually, it’s somewhat different. There’s a wrapper story (with really nice puppet stop motion animation cutscenes) about a brother who is writing a JRPG to entertain his sick little brother.

The problem is, he doesn’t know how to code the AI, so he pretends to be the AI while his brother plays, and so, as him, you have to decide which enemies to have appear in the random battles. If you make them too hard, his character dies, but make them too easy and he gets bored. It’s actually really tricky, but pretty unusual in terms of gameplay.

It’s cute, and I really like the animation, but I did find the RPG bits too random.

Isoland (Switch): COMPLETED!

Ages ago, I played a graphical adventure game called Mr Pumpkin Adventure. It was good, but very, very bizarre. Isoland is by the same guy and is also very bizarre, although perhaps not quite so much.

You begin on an island, and although it seems your job might be to figure out where everyone has gone, in fact you mainly just discover the presence of aliens, and find clues and items to crack codes to open areas or activate things.

Like Mr Pumpkin Adventure, it’s pretty short – but once you complete Isoland you don’t get the full story, and have to run through it again in what is essentially hard mode, with more puzzles. It’s a nice little game.

Knights and Bikes (Switch): COMPLETED!

I wanna ride my bike

I was already sold when I saw the original trailer videos, but I didn’t really know what sort of game I was going to be getting. Luckily then, Knights and Bikes turned out to be the sort of game I wanted to play.

It followed two girls, Demelza and new-found friend Nessa as they explore the island where Demelza lives. A tourist-funded place, which draws holidaymakers in with its legends of knights and hidden treasure, but is currently out of season and financially, things haven’t been going well for Demelza’s caravan park owning dad.

The girls decide they can save the day if they find the island’s ancient treasure, and set off on a pretend quest, Demelza’s imagination bringing the anamatronic minigolf hazards “to life”. But it is all pretend. Until it slowly becomes more and more real. There’s a real curse, and real danger and so surely, a real treasure?

The gameplay of Knights and Bikes reminds me a lot of the Lego games. There’s no Lego building, and nowhere near as many characters and abilities, but there are similar sorts of puzzles and boss fights. Graphically, it’s similar to a cross between Tearaway (and this is probably due to having some of the same dev team) and Little Inferno, but the feeling of the game is definitely along the lines of the films The Goonies and Stand By Me. Kids on an adventure, doing stuff a bit naughty, things not quite going to plan.

Objects in the real world have these drawing overlays to show what Demelza’s imagination is perceiving them as.

There’s a great cast of characters you meet along the way, lots of 1980s references, and a fantastic punk theme song, and some great attention to detail – the girls make aeroplane noises as they run around, for example, high-fiving ToeJam and Earl style to recover health, and the facial expressions are wonderfully, well, expressive. And all the pointless cosmetic changes you can do to your bikes which changes nothing in terms of the gameplay or story but is absolutely what you want to be able to do anyway.

And then there’s Captain Honkers. One of Demelza’s geese, he follows you everywhere, has a nose for finding where you need to go, and constantly needs feeding or petting. He’s the second best goose in games.

Yes, I made the letters spell BUM.

It’s all great, but perhaps the best thing about the game is you can play it all in co-op. In fact, single player mode (which I didn’t play) would seem to be a hindrance to the fun as it’d require more character swapping. Again, like the Lego games, two player should be the way to go if you can.

Stuff I’ve Been Playing Recently

Wow. Been a while since I did this.

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 (Switch)

I’d finished it with Gunvolt previously, but now I’ve completed it with Copen. Who, despite feeling like the game was much harder with him, actually turned out to be much easier as, if you pay attention, he’s pretty much invulnerable. He does have some tricky platforming bits Gunvolt doesn’t, though.

After that, it turns out you have to beat the final boss again, as each character again. So, with that boss dead as Gunvolt, you then face Copen, and vice-versa. Gunvolt vs Copen was really difficult (Copen vs Gunvolt was a walkover), so I was stuck there for a while, but finally did it. Both True Endings get!

Code of Princess EX (Switch)

Another 3DS game I loved, and it’s just as good on the Switch. Unlike Gunvolt, everything here has been redrawn so there’s no jagged pixels. They’ve also taken out the bit where you spend gained stat points from level increases on better stats – it’s all done for you now. Not sure if that’s better or worse – you don’t need to bother with it and sometimes choice is paralysing – but also some stats aren’t of any use to some characters so I wouldn’t “spend” my points there.

I’m about half way through the game, although I’ve also played most of the unlocked quests in that extra mode, and also played in two player co-op, which I never did in the original for obvious reasons.

Pokémon Sword (Switch)

Went back to this for a bit, mainly to get the DLC promo Slowpoke, but have also started getting the various Milcery and Eevee evolutions.

Melbits World (Switch): COMPLETED!

Bought on a whim because it was $1 as a download voucher from Target a while back, I really wasn’t sure what sort of game this was. From videos, it seemed to be much like Captain Toad, but in fact it’s just the graphical style and isometric view that it shares with that.

What it actually is, is something closer to old Game and Watch titles like Mario’s Cement Factory, crossed with Lemmings, only in multiplayer and 3D. You have to activate or move blocks, conveyor belts, lifts and springs in order to get as many of your four Melbits creatures to the exit, making sure they don’t fall off the world or get killed by the wandering baddies.

We played in three player mode, so on each level each of us was responsible for a number of these objects, making co-operation something of a task. It felt a bit like Overcooked, only with more important timing.

It’s pretty short, at just three worlds with nine levels in each, but it was fun while it lastest. And yeah, it was a dollar.