Review: Cave Story+ (PC)

By: Steve Zachmann, contributor

I’ve developed a system that I really like when playing some of these more obscure games in my library. Here’s what I do: I boot up the game without any inkling of what it could be and I play it for however much time I feel compelled to.  After my initial reaction, I then read up on the game, if I feel compelled to do so.  Obviously with a game like Call of Duty there’s already a predisposition about what I’m getting into, and not much I could gather from reading other material about the game, but games like Cave Story+ or Spelunky, it was really interesting to see how my uninitiated opinion of the game was different (or the same) as the rest of the world’s.

This time around, my opinion was relatively different than that of the world at large.  According to Wikipedia, Cave Story was met with huge praise back when it was released in 2004.  One of the pioneers in the indie “Metroidvania” craze, it’s probably responsible for a lot of those types of games that we still see pouring out today.  I liked what I played of Cave Story+ (I’m not sure what the + means).  I didn’t love it.  I didn’t hate it.  It was fine.  I love Metroidvania style games, but Cave Story just didn’t really click with me.

There were certain points during my time with the game where I thought, ‘Oooh, that’s a really cool idea’.  The way the weapons level up is a good example of this.  For every moment like that though, there seemed to be a sigh of, ‘Ugh, what is this about’.  A good example of that would be the music, which I found to be terribly grating.

Two of the major reasons that Cave Story got such good reviews were story, and game length.  Because I wasn’t able to spend 8+ hours with it, neither of those things factored into my opinion.  Had I stuck with Cave Story for a significantly longer period of time, perhaps I’d have eventually come around more.  It also doesn’t help that I missed the zeitgeist on this game.  I feel like some of the more popular indie games kind of have a coolness bubble that inevitably pops, and then all of us who weren’t in on it when it was cool get left in the dust.  For me, I know that I’m more likely to stick with a game if I see people tweeting or talking about it on a podcast.

As a small aside, doing reviews for this blog has had the additional effect of making me seriously question my prior purchasing habits.  Most of the games in my library fall into one of two categories.  Either I was really excited about the game and bought it at launch, or I bought it during a Steam sale when it was 75+% off.  In this regard, I don’t feel terrible about buying things like Cave Story.  At the very least I supported a dev who did something that most people think was cool.  By buying his game, in some small way I help encourage him to make more games.  Perhaps his next one we’ll be my favorite game of all time.  On the other hand though, you wouldn’t flush $5 bills down the toilet, right?  While it’s not a lot of money, it’s not an amount you’d just give away just because you didn’t care.  So when I spend even $5 on a game that I end up either not playing, or not enjoying, I’m essentially just flushing that money away.  Playing through my backlog makes me realize that I’ve handed out a lot of small amounts for a lot of games I’m not likely to play or like.  Silver lining though, every time there is a Steam sale, there is less for me to spend money on because I own so much of it already.

Reviews: Escape Rosecliff Island (PC); Toki Tori (PC); Eldritch (PC)

By: Steve Zachmann, contributor

Escape Rosecliff Island

I’m not even sure how I came to own this game, or what I’ve done to find myself in the predicament of actually having to play it.  Let’s be clear up front, Escape Rosecliff Island is not a good game.  It’s barely even a game, really.  That might be too harsh I suppose, but I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to hidden object games, which is what this is.  If you’re not already aware, a hidden object game is pretty much exactly what you’d expect.  It’s a game where you get a static image filled small objects and you have to click on them to “find” them.  Your goal is to find all of the items listed at the bottom of the screen.  It’s as boring as you might imagine…and yet, I played it for almost two hours.

I can’t tell you exactly how this came to happen, but I believe it’s some form of hypnosis.  I say that Escape Rosecliff Island is bad because I don’t really care for what it is, but the fact remains that it engaged me enough to play it for way longer than I expected.  I can see a use for these type of games for people that have cognitive impairments like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  They might also be useful for anyone interested in improving their cognitive function as these games are good memory trainers.  Still, after every level I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing with myself, and when I finally couldn’t take it anymore I exited out of the game and immediately uninstalled it.  Thanks for the fun Escape Rosecliff Island, goodbye.

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Toki Tori

Toki Tori is a game that succeeded very quickly in making me feel really stupid.  It only took eleven levels, to be exact.  It’s a puzzle game wherein you play a bird attempting to collect their eggs while using different abilities to navigate a level (read: puzzle).  It seems like a fine puzzler, but after about 45 minutes, I had completely had my fill of it.  Sometimes you run across a game that just doesn’t resonate with you at all, and I suppose that was Toki Tori, for me.  I’m sure Toki Tori isn’t a bad game.  It has good reviews so it must connect with some people.  In fact, it may very well have connected with me on some other day.

This brings me to a realization about this whole backlog project.  It’s challenging to play these games so randomly because you never know what you’re going to end up with.  If you’re caught off guard by a game that you’re simply not prepared to dive into, you’re more likely to have a bad time with it.  That might be all that was wrong with my experience with Toki Tori; I wasn’t really feeling like playing a puzzle game that day.  I’m going to continue the format as-is for now, but if I find that there are too many games that I should be enjoying but am not, then maybe I’ll go back and reformat the structure such that I play games when it feels right to play them.  I like idea of randomly choosing games though, so I’m going to stick it out a bit longer.

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Eldtritch

Eldritch.jpg

Eldritch is an interesting little game.  Part Minecraft, part Resident Evil, part Spelunky, it feels like an odd mix of genres.  The gameplay loop goes about like this…  You wake up in a strange library wherein some of the books have magical symbols that, upon reading, transport you to new areas.  Inspired by Lovecraftian style horror, these new areas are filled with all manner of creepy enemies.  Eldritch purports to have “roguelike elements”, and it certainly does.  These magical areas are all randomly generated each time you start a new game, and you’ll start plenty of new games because like any good roguelike, Eldritch is pretty hard and doesn’t come with a lot of hand holding or explanation.

I definitely played enough Eldritch to understand what it is, and I feel like the game is actually pretty good.  My problem with games that lean into the roguelike aspects is that they’re very time consuming.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the experience, but it takes a very long time really get a feel for what’s going on in the game world (unless you resort to FAQs and such).  Games like Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac are both rich experiences that I simply don’t care to spend enough time to understand.  For me, I believe Eldritch falls into this category, although I think I’d be more willing to spend time with Eldritch than either of those other games.