Great Game Tour Day 12: Daring Dungeoneer

I swear, sometimes I have downloaded apps sitting on my phone for so long untouched that I completely forget what they are or what piqued my interest in the first place. Daring Dungeoneer is one of these, so opening it up turned out to be a pleasant surprise as I discovered that it was a cartoony card dungeon crawler.

So the idea here is that you’re a sole adventurer who jumps into a series of quick dungeon runs that are represented by cards. Your only options during the dungeon is to “dare” (flip over the next card to deal with it), “flee” (quit the dungeon but keep what you’ve gained so far), or use a temporary potion to increase your odds for the next encounter. At the end of a successful dungeon run, you also get an option to run it again at a higher risk — and higher rewards — with all of your accumulated XP and loot at stake.

The way I see it is that DD is emulating that blackjack feel of getting close to the line without going over — and getting out while the getting is good. You can improve your chances by getting better gear (you can equip one weapon, one armor, and one trinket), upgrading gear, and buying potions. There are also some special card backs to earn and permanent bonuses to XP and gold acquisition to unlock.

As I said, the visuals here are a big plus. It’s a good-looking, slick game that’s perfect for a two-minute session here and there. I can tell already that it’s highly grindy, expecting you to run and rerun dungeons to get good enough to tackle the next one, and so on, but at least it’s up front about its design.

The only major detractors come with the business model. Daring Dungeoneers has unskippable ads from time to time (unless you pay a one-time fee of $5 to turn them off) and other F2P purchases that they nudge you to attain. Even so, I really took a shine to this and will continue to poke around in it to see if it sticks or repulses in the long term.

Great Game Tour Day 11: Space Pioneer

This may be the first time on my list that my kids played well before I ever did. I download a lot of mobile games on my iPad to try at later (perhaps never) moments, and one of these was a highly recommended title called Space Pioneer.

My oldest two children stumbled upon this one day when they were messing about on my tablet and told me that they got hooked — and that I totally should play it. So I made time to do so, and I have to say, I can see what they’re raving about.

Space Pioneer is sort of a frantic Smash TV-style shooter that incorporates some light RPG and base building elements. Basically, every stage is a short mission to the surface of an alien world where certain objectives must be met before an extraction can take place. The player gets a couple of weapons, abilities, and turrets to use to survive the various situations, which can involve run-and-gunning, stationary defense, puzzle-solving, and the like.

It’s certainly nothing deep, but it is satisfying if you want a light dose of carnage and action without any blood or gore. I liked the colorful graphics and easy-to-use UI, for sure. And the whole game is set up to encourage repetition as you grind out items to increase your abilities or different weapon types.

So yeah, this one gets a stay of execution. Sometimes I need to be able to shut my brain off and pew-pew little alien fuzzies to death.

Great Game Tour Day 10: Offworld Trading Company

So, so many untouched games sitting in my backlog that I’ve been hoovering up for years now. Let me tell you, it’s a really good feeling to get to some of them and push myself to see what they’ve got. Not always, but sometimes, you end up with a title like Offworld Trading Company that you heard was good but needed to see for yourself to find that it meets that reputation.

I love RTS-style games where you set up supply chains and get the satisfaction of seeing a well-designed facility operate without micromanaging, and that’s exactly what OTC is all about. It puts you in charge of building up an economic base on Mars that can be more profitable than all of the bases around it using whatever means you see fit. So instead of focusing on combat (which is the typical RTS route), Offworld Trading Company is all about cutthroat corporations making profits, manipulating the stock market, and dealing with the black market to get things done.

There’s a great charm to this game that surprised me, especially while going through all of the tutorials. I kept getting laughs out of the robots and the way they addressed me, and I liked how easy to understand and set up this place was. It’s just deeply satisfying to get all of those base elements working in concert to produce better elements or pay down debt.

This is definitely a game I’m going to be keeping on my desktop for further investigation, although I’m sure that I’d lose hard to any actual human competition.

Mystic Towers: Out of the retirement home

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1994’s Mystic Towers. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I can’t tell you how often I have this urge to take all of these interesting and amazing computer games that I somehow missed from my youth, package them up, and send them back through a wormhole to my teenage self to enjoy with all the copious amounts of time he has. One of those titles would definitely be Mystic Towers, but as always with this series, better late than never!

Mystic Towers caught my attention this past year with a screenshot. There’s something about the three-quarters 3D view here that is instantly appealing, especially with the colorful fantasy graphics and the idea of a dungeon crawler puzzle solver. I’ve been dying to play this for a while, so let’s get into it!

The splash screen warns me that this product is NOT shareware and should not be reposted on a BBS. Oh, is there anything more ’90s than that statement? Other than the EVGA graphics and Apogee logo, I mean.

Woo boy, there is a lot going on in this screen. So from what I can deduce, you play this very old sorcerer who is trying to climb up multiple floors of a tower. Only by beating all of the monsters and destroying the generator can you unlock the next floor. Since everything is at an angle, moving and facing directions is a little awkward… at least at first. I’m going to have to read up on this one.

The controls really take some getting used to. Due to the isometric perspective, moving is at an angle — as is interacting with objects and attacking. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to defeat this non-attacking bug with my ice spells due to it wandering off the straight line that I was shooting.

So this isn’t really a dungeon crawler in the vein of Diablo, but rather a puzzle games with occasional combat. You explore the floors, pick up useful spells and items, defeat monsters, and unlock sections until you get where you need to be.

Pro-tip: Don’t eat the mushrooms UNLESS you’re poisoned. Otherwise you’ll die right away. Good to know.

Other than the difficulty in trying to handle combat at an angle, my only other initial gripe with Mystic Towers is the use of CTRL at your catch-all “use” button. The problem with this is that it’s all context-sensitive: If there’s something in the game world that you can interact with, this button will do that, otherwise it defaults to firing off your selected spell. And since all of your spells — save for ice — have limited charges, it’s really easy to waste shots. So I’ve gotten paranoid about switching to ice unless I’m gearing up for combat.

Well, “gearing up” as much as an old guy going commando under a robe can, really.

One other factor that you have to consider is food and water. Yup, years before “survival games” were all the craze, Mystic Towers had you track those annoying food and drink meters. The tower has plenty of these items, but I’m still a little annoyed by the timer function that they serve. I’d rather explore without having to rush.

Still, every room here is a treat. I like taking this tower one bite-sized room at a time and looking around for secrets and interactions.

Not that a video game from 25 years ago is taking any of my calls today, but I would advise that Mystic Towers would’ve been better off without combat. It’s easily the most awkward part of the game due to the diagonal facing and enemies’ tendencies to continually move around until you really, really tick them off with enough attacks so that they come straight at you. In my opinion, this game would’ve functioned a whole lot better as a pure puzzle game than this hybrid format.

This dragon looks so, so sad. I guess I’d be, too, if I was given a job of holding a red-hot bowl of fire on my back and stuck in a lonely room.

I’m sad to say this, but I’m just not feeling it with this game the way I had hoped. I really do love the premise and the graphics, but the actual gameplay isn’t hitting my fancy. I feel like I’m meandering about without any direction or even understanding what’s a puzzle, and I would like to move on to another game.

Great Game Tour Day 9: Lifeline

For today’s game trial, I’m jumping back six years to an app called Lifeline. It’s built up a bit of a solid reputation and some sequels, so I wanted to give it a go.

What we have here is basically a choose-your-own text adventure that capitalizes on the smartphone format. The story is told via a series of in-game text messages from a stranded spaceship crash survivor named Taylor to the player — who is presumably the only person who can get Taylor’s signal and communicate back. Taylor seems amiable to follow whatever directions the player sends, and thus the story of survival and exploration begins.

The twist here is that at fairly regular intervals in the story, Taylor will undertake an action that requires an unspecified amount of time to do. So that halts further progress through the story until Taylor — via phone notifications — lets the player know that the story is on once more.

Depending on  how you look at it, this technique can be either annoying or immersive. I can kind of see both sides, but really, I don’t mind being told a story in little bite-sized chunks spread over the course of several days. The idea here, as I understand it, is to blur the lines between reality and game a little bit — to have Taylor interject into moments in your day and give you the sense that this is an ongoing event rather than a one-and-done story.

The writing and personality is pretty good — I think it was penned by the guy who did The Wolf Among Us, which is neat. And I’m totally up for taking Taylor’s story to completion, so we’ll see where this goes.

Great Game Tour Day 8: Dark Sun Shattered Lands

Today’s stop on the Great Game Tour is at 1993’s Dark Sun: Shattered Lands, a turn-based RPG set in the Dark Sun D&D campaign setting. This was one of the titles that led up to a short-lived MMO in the ’90s called Dark Sun Online, but for obvious reasons, I can’t play that. So why not this?

Shattered Lands literally throws you into the deep end from the get-go — your pre-made (or customized) party is tossed without much introduction into some desert gladiator pit.

If you ever lament how hand-holdy tutorials are these days, you should jump into one of these older games that will have expected that you read, memorized, and tested well on the manual before playing. Because going into this, I had no idea what to do as a crowd of monsters started to attack.

It was turn-based, fortunately, but still… no directions. I used the cursor keys to walk my weird party — which I think included a giant praying mantis — over to the bad guys and bumped into them while damage numbers went up. Since there wasn’t any sort of HUD on the screen, I didn’t see any options for special attacks, spells, etc. Just a whole lotta bumpin’.

And bump we did for a good 20 minutes. Just wave after wave of attackers. My half-giant did pretty well putting them down, but eventually even his health was worn away and the party was killed off for good. I couldn’t figure out how to leave the arena, but since the game kept implying that I should — and then punishing me with more fights since I didn’t — there must’ve been some way I didn’t see.

Ah well, they all can’t be winners on this game tour!

Great Game Tour Day 7: Tyrian 2000

For a lazy Sunday afternoon, my five-year-old and I sat down to check out Tyrian 2000, a classic PC shmup from 1999. The PC never had all of the amazing shmups that consoles and arcades had, but reportedly, Tyrian 2000 was one of the best out of the few that we got.

Besides, I was tired and needed something light and fluffy to play that wouldn’t require a lot of brain power. More reflexes than intellect. This game was felt like a good fit for the day.

And it turns out that, yup, it’s pretty fun. My son got to fire the guns (i.e. hold down the spacebar) and make color commentary while I handled all of the fancy navigation around obstacles and projectiles. It’s certainly not as frantic as some console shmups I’ve played — at least not initially — but it hits that sweet spot of responsive and satisfying without being frustrating.

You get a basic ship to start, but coins can be gathered in each level to invest in ship upgrades. I loved this, because it let me tailor the type of ship that I wanted. Once we got powerful multi-directional cannons, we had a blast cruising around and causing mass destruction.

I also liked the constantly recharging shield, which allowed for some slip-ups while not removing the challenge altogether. The colorful EVGA graphics and satisfying thumps and explosions rounded out the experience. While I would’ve probably played the heck out of this if I had had it in college, it’s still a fun diversion that I’ll be glad to leave on the computer.

Great Game Tour Day 6: A Short Hike

For Day 6 of the Great Game Tour, I’m going to finally give in to the growing chorus of people that have urged me to give A Short Hike a short try. Considering that I got it for free on Epic and as part of the Itch.io bundle, it’s not like I lack a copy.

In this simple game, you play Claire, a bird who’s on a bit of a summer trip to an island while her mom is in the hospital. The gameplay, such as it is, mostly concerns exploring the island and unlocking various tools to fly or climb better. There are also several NPCs you can interact with and elect to help or join up with. For instance, I joined a rock climbing club, went fishing, and assisted a marathon.

But mostly it’s just running, climbing, and gliding. The game has a really neat 3-D pixel-art aesthetic that’s inviting and colorful, and I was pleased that the platforming wasn’t TOO annoying. I only found it such when I had to run diagonal and ended up falling off cliffs or whatnot. However, since you can easily climb or flap back up, it’s not usually a big deal.

A Short Hike definitely is a more peaceful game that invites you to relax and just experience stuff rather than power game to the ending. I guess it’s a test of your gamer personality, whether you’re open to being sidetracked and enjoy poking around, or if you really want to gun for objectives.

I’ll be honest: I thought it was a little on the boring side. It handles fine, it does what it does well, but there isn’t much here of substance. There isn’t a lot of narrative to compel me to keep playing, and one can only poke around for so long before feeling like one got what one wanted to get out of one’s gameplay session.

Great Game Tour Day 5: Dead and Breakfast

Remember that insanely great $5 Itch.io deal they ran for charity last year? I’ve had dozens upon dozens of these titles sitting on my hard drive waiting for a small slice of my time, and so I picked one at random: Dead and Breakfast. Apparently it’s about running a B&B with ghosts.

So yeah, I played this all the way through start to finish. It’s a fairly basic adventure game that has a girl homesitting for a woman who just lost her son and is in the hospital. It turns out that said girl (Corinne) can see ghosts — and this particular house is a ghost magnet. Very slowly over the course of seven days, Corinne gets to know the four ghosts living there and works to help them move on. She also meets some of the locals and does a whole lot of chores.

That’s… pretty much it. There aren’t any really tough puzzles, as the meat of the game is trying to fulfill all of the chores that’ll make for the best ending — and that means cooking and gardening. This is easily the weakest part, as it’s not engaging. It’s just busy work, as clear as day, meant to stretch this hour-long story to two hours.

And while the characters are somewhat charming, I was hoping after a while that there’d be more depth to all of them — but there wasn’t. Everyone’s story is pretty basic, from the little girl ghost who just wants to play to a glutton who just wants to eat. I pushed all the way to the end thinking that there was going to be this great resolution, but it was as tepid as the rest of the narrative.

There’s some charm here, and it’s not a complete waste of time, but I think I could’ve quit at about 15 minutes and not really missed much. But hey! First time I completed a title for the Great Game Tour, so that’s something!

Great Game Tour Day 4: Albion Online

While the primary purpose of this month’s Great Game Tour is to investigate some of my gaming backlog, I also wanted to toss a few MMOs into the mix. The challenge here is that there are actually very few of them that I haven’t played at some point in my life. But hey, Albion Online? Never done that one yet! Let’s check it out.

It’s clear that there were some lonely, lonely devs working on the character creation system, as evidenced by the lack of modest outfits for female characters. Maybe if you stare at them long enough, Greg, they’ll come to life and profess their undying love for you. Maybe you need to get out more often.

Obviously I’ve seen screenshots and even videos of Albion Online before, but let me tell you, playing it really brought home how good-looking and slick this game is. I was deeply impressed with the visual presentation, both the game world and the UI. That map is just SLICK, and for a fixed, overhead camera perspective, they really make some good use of verticality.

And can I just gush about this adorable name plate? When’s the last time a name plate caught your eye in an MMO?

Initial combat is fine, although the skill keys are slotted to really weird placements. It’s got a good auto-attack pace with your standard extra skills thrown in here and there, and I like it. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

Got me a mule! So cute. Let’s go conquer the world, noble steed.

It’s not just fighting, of course. Albion is heavy on the PvP and crafting, so the tutorial focuses a lot on teaching crafting basics. Happily, they ARE basic and not to aggravating. I like how the skin comes off the fox when I gather up its hide, leaving behind a skeleton. Nice touch.

Forging on (pun intended) through the newbie zone meant a combination of combat and crafting quests. Honestly, I’m just bowled over by this game. It’s *way* better than I had anticipated, and now I’m going to have to invest some more time into it to see if the PvP angle will turn me off — or if there’s a way to live and let live.