Puzzles are at the core of Adventure gameplay, they provide challenges for you to overcome with brains rather than brawn. For Action Adventures, they offer a break from the hacky-slashy-stabby-shooty element of title.
Every week I’ll bring you a new puzzle, drawn from some of the best and worst adventure or puzzle games I’ve ever played. Every once in a while I’ll even leave you one of my own for you to solve. If you do, I’ll find a way to reward you!
This puzzle is from a fantastic adventure game series I discovered early this year during Rezzed, The Room. In the first title of the series, you progress through the game solving increasingly complex puzzle boxes, each furthering your quest towards the NULL element. Continue reading The Weekly Puzzle – Boxed to the Stars
The Weaponographist is an arcade game, one I saw during Rezzed 2015 and which I probably played more than any other game in the event. If you ever played Smash TV, you know how Weaponographist plays like, but for those of you who never have (aka my people) here’s the rundown. You battle your way through a series of rooms with four doors—up, down, left and right—and you need to kill all enemies before one of those opens, then you move to another room and start killing again until you reach the level’s boss fight.
On my keyboard, the game controlled very easily, with WASD used to move Doug and the arrow keys for attacking in one of four directions. Constant movement and precise directional attacks are extremely important in this type of arcade game.
Puuba Games added its own bizarre twists to the formula and they all revolve around Doug McGrave’s curse. Because of it every weapon he holds will inevitably fail, every coin he picks up turns to dust and every experience point he gains will fade away.
This means that weapon durability drains away with every attack and you’ll need to pick up new weapons to continue fighting. You’ll start every stage without weapons, just your fists, and the first enemy in the room will always drop a weapon, but from there the drop chances are completely random and you’ll have to use the weapons available strategically, making sure to move not only to avoid attacks and get close to the next enemy but also stay within short distance of a weapon. It takes some getting used to but soon enough I had mental routes on how to kill enemies and pick up the next item.
There are to categories of weaponry: main weapons and spells. The former have varying degrees of power and durability and it’s what you’ll be using most of the time. The latter on the other hand are much rarer, are incredibly powerful but will often last for one or maybe two attacks. There are both melee and range main weapons, with Melee ones losing durability with each successful hit and ranged weapons losing durability with each shot fired, no matter if it hit or not. It’s a fair system and one you get used to quite quickly.
The weapons themselves are an eclectic set and in some cases anachronistic. You’ll find swords, spears, bows and maces along with yo-yos, chainsaws and Tommy Guns. And that’s without considering the “body part” weapons, like the Boomerang Satyr horns or the rocket launcher Unicorn horns. I love the Unicorn Rocket Launchers and the flail, the sword and the Tommy Gun! Those were my go-to weapons. Sadly, your favourite weapons won’t always be available.
Doug’s curse prevents him from keeping his levels but that doesn’t mean you don’t level up, just that these aren’t permanent. Instead leveling is the basis for the game’s combo system, the more you kill the higher the combo and the more powerful you are, but the bar is constantly draining. At certain combo levels your base level will increase, so that if you ever lose the combo, you still have base to fall back on to build a new one. These base levels also drain but unlike the combo which goes away completely, they drain one level at a time.
During my playthrough my greatest frustration was that once you lost the combo, building a new one became right near impossible. At the start of each depth—what the Weaponographist calls the levels—the combo bar drains slowly but as you take damage the speed at which it drains increases. And for some reason this doesn’t reset when the combo falls off, making new combo levels last barely a few seconds and leaving you constantly losing base levels until you’re back at level 1.
You might think the game would get impossible with these mechanics, but that’s the final twist Puuba added and which they call Rogue-Light. You will most likely die a few times in the Weaponographist–it’s a pretty hard game and the bosses even more so–but when you do you’ll just pop back in Town with a pocket-full of goop. Since Doug can’t carry any money, the townspeople agree to take the goop monster drop when they die as proof of his monster slaying. You can use it to upgrade the damage you do with each main weapon or spell, partially lift the curse to make weapon durability last longer, increase your health or make the combo drain slower. You can even pay the Coffer Wrangler to have his pets set loose in each depth, to give you recovery and buff items when you crack them open. My only complaint with this system is that upgrades are gated and you need to clear a specific depth before the next one unlocks.
The Weaponographist isn’t al long game with only five depths. Each of these increases enemy health and damage and is longer than the previous one, but overall they don’t take long to complete. Once you clear the game though, the Hardcore mode opens up, which puts all depths at the highest possible difficulty level for you to speedrun for a shot at the leaderboards. At the time I played the boards were dominated by Puuba developers, but maybe we can take them off their fancy thrones!
Enemies are at the game’s core, to keep things varied and entertaining, and while the Weaponographist boasts a significant number of them, I did feel by the end that there could’ve been a bit more enemy variety. This might be because some enemies appear in every depth and other are gated, meaning they only start showing up as soon as you reach a certain depth. I don’t know which would’ve worked best, gating more of them or having them all available from the start.
But enemy variety doesn’t detract from the experience and it’s highly addictive. Even as I played, died repeatedly and quit, I found myself launching the game again within minutes. With the relative shortness of depths and checkpoints placed at certain points in them, this is a game that works really well for short bursts of fun as well as long play sessions.
The music is a bit of a mixed bag. Some depth background music is good but overall they’re just simple tunes droning in the background. A tracklist of two or three songs for each depth might’ve gone a long way, perhaps add some complexity to the tunes and make them more memorable.
The visuals are very charming. Doug’s chin could bust open a rock and every other character is larger than life, from the goop salesman to the female blacksmith and the coffer wrangler. Even Doug’s Quasimodo-ish assistant looks great. Environment design is really simple but it’s to be expected in this type of game as every room is essentially the same, with only a few different and breakable features. Monster design is phenomenal. The enemies are never scary or intimidating but just quirky and fun. There are Mafioso-type demons with Tommy Guns, the chainsaw ones have a Jason Vorhees mask on, the archers are dark elves with tight and revealing clothes, etc. What makes them unique and fun is the abundance of these little details.
Plot is my biggest gripe with the game. It’s weak. The premise is interesting enough and as you progress you expect there to be a big revelation at the end, but the final twist is just bland, especially after how amazing the last boss fight is. You want to be worthwhile and the payoff simply isn’t good enough. In addition to that there is almost no characterisation. Doug doesn’t grow or change, the townpeople are just vendors with almost no personality and the witch that cursed Doug barely shows up.
I had a blast with The Weaponographist and I still play it, trying to improve my times on the leaderboards. It has its flaws and shortcomings but the core gameplay is extremely addictive.
The Room and The Room Two are puzzle-centric adventure games. As your almost silent protagonist you progress through a series of rooms solving intricate puzzles and slowly piecing the story of your predecessor’s research into the Null Element, a strange and otherworldly material and power source that slowly draws people close to it mad. During the events of the first game you’re following your friend’s footsteps, opening a puzzle box that draws you ever closer to the Null. During The Room Two however, you travel to rooms used by others who discovered the element, trying to escape from the endless maze of rooms and puzzles. The Room series, as stated by the developers themselves, is light on plot and following it will depend on each player—and they expect most to ignore the story altogether.
The Room revolves around giant puzzle-boxes, one per chapter. Each of them has multiple puzzles to solve, ranging from inventory to deduction, and solving one will open the way to another or give you an important item needed to complete yet another puzzle. The game starts you off easily but soon enough drops you into the deep end and you’ll have only your wit—and the useful hint system—to help you solve the puzzles.
One of my favourite boxes is also one of the last in the game, where you have puzzles on the side that open as you find ways to generate and reflect light. They’re all wonderfully intricate and the way solving one puzzle opens up the others in a chain reaction is fantastic. I still replay this segment every so often.
This game is where you can most clearly see the Chinese Puzzle-boxes that inspired the development—as well as the Hellraiser elements that inspired the tone and atmosphere.
The Room Two expands on its predecessors offering larger rooms with multiple locations and puzzles to complete. These puzzles become increasingly complex. One of the early rooms is a pirate ship and it took me the longest to complete of all of them, but every time I pulled a puzzle off I felt like a genius…until the next one stumped me.
The controls are very simple, consisting of just swipes and taps, but everything from turning a key to pulling open a drawer controls smoothly. To use the inventory items, you can tap for a closer look (needed, as some items are themselves puzzles) or drag them to use.
You also have a special lens. You find it in The Room and in its sequel, you first need to repair it before putting it to use. The Lens shows you hidden messages and lets you see and interact through objects made from the Null element. If you see an iridescent object or surface, then it’s time to pull out the lens! Point-of-view puzzles using the lens feature heavily in both games, so you first use it to make random symbols visible, and then rotate the camera to form numbers or letters with them.
I do wish the lids on objects opened automatically or with a tap. I was playing on my mobile, with very little surface area so I always had issues with lids. This was a game developed for tablets and while you can play it on mobile phones, I wouldn’t really recommend it. You’ll often squint or tap like crazy to find small hotspots and it gets a bit uncomfortable. Dragging items to hotspots proved a challenge as well, as the aspect ratio made it so my—admittedly chubby—fingers completely covered the item, so I couldn’t see if the item was useful in a given situation or not at all. And it might be my mobile, but playing the game violently drained the battery.
Visually it’s impressive, perhaps the best-looking game I’ve ever played on mobile. They’re the type of visuals you expect from a PC game. Puzzle boxes and rooms are intricately detailed and there are tons of tiny elements that bring rooms to life, from delicate wine glasses on a table to hay and cannonballs in the pirate room. The Room Two even features a full cinematic ending that before playing I didn’t ever expect to see running on my mobile.
In terms of sound, both Room games have wonderful soundtracks. The main theme for the games has become of my favourite videogame pieces, both soothing and eerie at the same time if you can believe it. Speaking of eerie that’s the music’s direction in each room. It can be as subtle as a single tone, almost a whistle, to more intense pieces, often with dissonant cords to take you over the creepy edge into disturbing. It all plays fantastically into the madness theme and with the visuals and the sound effects—creaking boards, whispers, and even footsteps—they all make up this lovely atmosphere of fear. I sincerely recommend playing this game with full volume. If you don’t you won’t get the true experience.
With The Room Three soon to hit the Apple App Store, now is the time for you to go play these two games. They are outstanding puzzlers with an intriguing plot. If you’re like me and you love a brainteaser, then you’ll enjoy The Room and The Room Two
During Rezzed I was constantly amazed by the fantastic games on show, but I don’t think any of them struck me as strongly as Beyond Eyes, developed by Sherida Halatoe and Team17. If the latter name sounds familiar, they’re the studio behind extremely funny the Worms series. But what they had wasn’t a zany free-for-all between grubs, but a beautiful, serene and somehow both heartwarming and heartbreaking game. Continue reading Rezzed 2015 – Beyond Eyes
I have something to confess…I have never played Thomas Was Alone. I just knew what I read about it. Still, when the opportunity to interview Mike Bithell on his new game came along, I didn’t miss the chance. And I believe my lack of knowledge on his earlier work let me focus entirely on the new game, which is pretty damn cool! Continue reading Rezzed 2015 – Volume
This one was strange. A game about escaping from a coffin and which you played from inside one. When I first read the press release for Rezzed I said to myself “No way in hell!” but this was my first Rezzed and if I didn’t do it I know I would’ve regretted it. Continue reading Rezzed 2015 – Taphobos
I love Noir—the style, the tropes, the characters, everything. It’s one of my favourite genres. So when I saw Knee Deep on the Rezzed floor I had to take a shot. Also, someone I know with really good taste in adventures recommended it, so you know, double shot. Continue reading Rezzed 2015 – Knee Deep
Every time I saw the booth for The Weaponographist there were three things in common: first, I couldn’t do anything but chuckle at the silly name. Second, Danny the developer was helping people play and offering commentary and talking to everyone around—he’s a really nice gent. And thirdly, it was full.
You see, Danny Garfield (one of the developers) from Puuba did something very interesting for his game. He put up a challenge: the best three times clearing the demo would get free games at the end of the day! When I spoke to him and tried my hand at the title a few times, I couldn’t beat even the lowest of record, while the guy next to me had already broken his own like four times. In fact, he came back the second and third day and did the same! By then he was playing at ludicrous speed!
The title came from a brainstorming session. Danny tells the story and I will paraphrase it as I didn’t have a recorder on me at the time: “So, me and Dave, the other full-time member of the team, were talking about t and throwing out names. At some point, I just said ‘The Weaponographist!” and he gave me a look and said ‘What does that even mean?’ I started thinking ‘He…draws…weapons? He draws weapons! Yes! That’s it!’ And the name stuck!”
The Weaponographist tells the story of Doug McGrave, famed demonslayer-for-hire. When he’s passing by a town, a Witch asks for his helps against a demon incursion but because she can’t pay his high fee, he refuses…so she curses him. The only way to lift the curse is to save the town. The problem is the curse itself. Everything he holds turns to dust eventually, from his weapons to his gold and even his experience level.
Because of this, the currency you use in-game is “Goop,” a weird secretion left by monsters. It’s not that it’s currency in the town but it’s what they’re willing to take from you in form of payment and as proof of your demon hunting. It ties nicely into the plot while still being completely disgusting! You’ll use Good to upgrade your basic combat skills by weapon categories, so that you get more out of your weapons next time you use them. You can also—Danny mentions—have someone lift bits of your curse, lowering the speed at which everything degrades.
The game handles a lot like the classic game Smash TV, a run-and-gun. You go through square rooms filled with enemies and once cleared you go on to the next until you reach the boss. At the start, you only have your fists as weapons but killing enemies will sometimes make them drop theirs for you to pick up. But be careful, because of the curse all weapons in your hands will degrade over time. Every attack drops the weapon’s durability by a given amount. It’s actually quite interesting how you need to strategically pick up items and make the most out of them before picking up another. Some weapons are much more powerful than others and will have fewer hit points. You can carry a main weapon and secondary ones, which tend to have very little health, but on the other hand, they’re pretty powerful. My favourite was Dog Collar because with it I left flaming patches on the ground wherever I went. It was so cool!
The demo only had the first stage of the game, a few rooms with random enemies and a badass T-Rex boss with pulsar cannons, but the enemy variety was clear right from the start. I must have fought over 20 unique enemies in that short demo, from Satyrs throwing their horns as boomerangs to mobsters with Tommy Guns, and it’s so much fun you won’t care about the anachronisms or the weird creatures. It’s just top-down killing fun!
I did mention to Danny it would be awesome if the bosses dropped weapons, similar to Dark Souls’ Boss Soul Weapons and he gave me a bit of a bewildered look and said, “That is actually an awesome idea…I think we can add that!” Good to know I could have some positive effect there.
The most interesting aspect of it all, for me, is the Combo System. Killing enemies starts up a combo, and the longer it goes, the higher your stats are. This is because your Combo is actually your character level, constantly degrading, so you need to keep it up with kills so it doesn’t go away. If it does (as it will at the start of every new run) then you’re back at level 1.
Danny describes the game as being Rogue-light. There is the death and upgrade mechanic we see in many rogue-likes but you don’t lose the character.
From a development standpoint I was curious about the game’s engine, thinking it would be another Unity title, but Danny surprised me by telling me the entire thing had been done in Java. They built their own engine and made the entire game for it, which is always awesome when you consider how small the team is: two developers/designers and about 4-5 artists working freelance.
The Weaponographist is coming out very soon. The demo hits in 3 weeks on Steam and the full release three weeks after that! For those of us who attended the event and played at the booth, there were flyers with an early access code to the demo. And you can bet your ass I’ll be streaming it soon to show you all just how fun this game is!
You know, I’m happy I didn’t just keep to my schedule. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the chance to try Zombie Vikings with Zoink Games PR-Man Mikael Forslind. When I approached him and asked about the game, he immediately said, “Want to give it a go?”
How could I say no to that? So I took the 2nd gamepad and played a two-man coop with him, with another person joining us afterwards as we cruised through a couple of the demo levels killing monsters as our zombified Viking warriors while we spoke about the game and its development and everything else!
Zombie Vikings is a 2D sidescrolling beat-em-up in the same vein as Final Fight or Double Dragon where you control up to four undead Vikings, called into service by Odin himself. Loki has stolen his remaining good eye and made off with it for some nefarious purpose so he needs you to go get it back for him!
The game is very easy to pick up and get into, with the familiar control and game style. Each of the zombies has a basic attack and a signature one and you can charge both of them. For my zombie, a burly female Viking, her charged main attack was a spinning one that reminded me so much of Link in The Legend of Zelda. Her signature was throwing out her arm like a hookshot if you allow me more Zelda comparisons, dragging her towards enemies, but when you charged it, it made her big muscles get even larger and then blow up, causing area of effect damage. She would then pop-up without losing her health.
In fact, there is no health in the game and as zombies your characters can’t die. They will however lose body parts. During our playthrough, Mikael’s character lost his head quite often and it was my responsibility to pick it up and bring it back to his body to get him into fighting shape again. In fact, picking other characters up is a valid playing strategy as there are some escort side-quests (more on that further down) and you don’t want them to get hurt. Besides, when you pick things up the characters will raise their weapons and the objects or people will just hang from them. It’s quite hilarious.
The two sidequests we did were an escort mission and a fetch quest. The first one was to find a blind witch’s cat, or what she thought was a cat, and the reward was a nice sword shaped like a skunk’s tail. I really enjoyed this quest because it wasn’t just escorting the witch and finding the cat while wading through enemies but there was also a PVP element to it, as you need to deathmatch for the weapon. With zombies not dying, this meant fighting until someone lost their head. We were playing a 2-man game at the time so it was a simple match, but it left me wondering how fun it would be with all four players there in a free-for-all. Oh and by the way, I won!
The second mission I found to be even more enjoyable. First, it was rather short, just getting a jar of medicine from a goblin. We had our third player with us at this point and while Mikael and he distracted the creature, I quickly snatched the jar and took it to the doctor waiting for us.
The second reason I liked this quest much was because it tied to and demonstrated something Mikael mentioned when I asked about the characters: the four of them are unique, each with their own personality, and personal goals and stories. During the campaign, the players would experience those different stories. In this case, the person the doctor was asking the medicine for was one of the vikings’ mothers, their estranged and almost forgotten mother, and seeing the mother speak to her undead child was both weird and funny and very touching.
One of the things Mikael was very keen to point out was that this wasn’t just a random button masher. There are cutscenes, side-quests, exploration and subplots to help break up the pace of the game and help it not become monotonous. Adding the colourful art-style, it also gives the game plenty of personality and charm, something to raise it above others in the genre.
During our playthrough we saw a few of the cutscenes, the first one with Loki speaking to a mean looking troll and the others being mid-mission and serving as side-quest and NPC introductions. The scenes themselves aren’t animated, just still images with text, but they work wonderfully for the game’s style. I’m not sure if they have audio—we didn’t have any headsets and I couldn’t hear anything over the rush of people in the venue.
The ‘cinematics’ also helped tell you about the zombies’ personalities. One of the characters told the witch with the skunk ‘cat’ something like “Lady, that isn’t a cat!” showing his perhaps brutal honesty or just bewilderment at the weirdness of it all, but he was quickly interrupted by my character berating him, “Shut up! She’s giving us loot!” I couldn’t help but laugh at this.
As we played through the demo we collected loot from the quests and gold from enemies and chests and when I asked what the gold was for he told me there would be upgrades between stages, from more damage to special actions like double jumps. I followed it up asking if those special abilities would allow for greater exploration, maybe find hidden areas and he replied that of course, but also certain characters would have access to specific areas tied to their story and the same applied to the side-quests. If he hadn’t been playing his particular Viking, we wouldn’t have gotten the medicine side-quest, as it was a character arc quest.
In terms of exploration, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the stages themselves aren’t completely flat, but have several layers. At one point, to get the witch’s side quest we crossed a bridge I thought was pure scenery, and it took us to a new area, a new foreground, with everything else moving into the background. The only thing I could say was, “This is awesome!” It’s such a simple element, such a tiny mechanic but it adds so much to the exploration, as I’m sure I’d be looking around for every branching path for secrets!
The game’s inspiration, for me, was clear. Norse mythology with some variation on the Einherjar myth, but Mikael told me there was more to this. Sure, there was the Norse myth connection and there would be Norse characters popping up throughout the game, but the real inspiration was old buddy-cop and road-trip movies, where the journey itself is the important bit, as well as all the strange things that happen on the way.
While we played, I wondered about what game modes there would be on release, thinking it was perfect for an arena-type mode, where you get waves you need fight off. He said it was a good idea but they didn’t have plans for that yet. He did mention, however, a secondary mode and it caught me off guard. It was something I didn’t really expect: soccer. But this being Zombie Vikings, it’s not a ball and you won’t be kicking it. Instead, you’ll compete to pick up goblins from the ground and chuck them into dragon mouths. Not exactly soccer but hey, it works!
Zombie Vikings is set to release later this year on PS4, PC, Mac and Linux and is currently in development using Unity, which was the tool of choice for most developers in the event. This is one I’m keeping an eye out for—I can’t wait to play it with my friends online. It would also make an awesome party game with local multiplayer!
Starring a group of adrenaline junkies with no greater joy than beating the crap out of each other while racing up buildings in the middle of demolition, the game is fast-paced, acrobatic and extremely fun to play with others. I believe they have plans for online multiplayer but the local was fantastic, as I played against 2/3 of the team. They thoroughly kicked my ass of course, but at least I won 2 rounds. This is a four-on-four race and combat, and you need to win 3 straight rounds against your opponents.
You have two ways to do this: you either race to the top and reach the roof or you beat up everyone else. Having a lead on the race to the top is also a valid combat strategy because the one at the top determines how fast the screen scrolls up and if you fall under the lower screen limit, you take massive damage and respawn further up. It’s very similar to how Super Smash Bros. works in terms of leaving the stages.
The controls are fairly simple but it takes practice to master the movement and combat. You can jump and attack, but the jump distance and momentum depends on the angle of the debris you’re using as support. With the right angle, you can shoot up past your enemies and take the lead or an ineffectual little hop before you die, as I did for most of the match.
This game had one of the funniest inspirations of any game I saw at Rezzed: the art, plain and simple. The development team were big fans of the artist’s work and just created a game that would let them use it. To be fair, the art is pretty awesome.
With a game like this one I asked what game modes there were, as I figured some people might get tired of the frantic combat and it turns out there is a secondary pure racing mode, without HP and where you just need to make it to the top. You can still fight and kick and throw things at your opponents but they won’t die, which to me adds a lot more tension.
Speaking of throwing things, one thing I loved doing while I fought them was hit debris their way. When I did it right they tumbled way down and had to make their way back up. The downside was they then went after me because of it! Too vindictive these guys! They later told me I was right in hitting debris, and that it was one of their favourite strategies because if you pulled it off it was incredibly rewarding.
The game’s still in Alpha Stages but I loved what I played of it. And I will definitely organise a tournament as soon as I get my hands on a build, so we can all enjoy it and have tons of fun!