Embr Is In Early Access Now

null

10:16AM my phone buzzes. It’s the Embr app. As a Respondr, I make my money by taking jobs through the app. People think we’re like a private fire service, but so few of them read the terms and conditions properly. Luckily I sleep in my customised truck, so I’m ready to roll in an instant.

10:19AM I arrive at the client’s domicile and chop my way through the front door. Yep, that’s a fire alright. On the far side of the room a middle aged man is running in circles screaming. I use my hose to clear a path through the fire towards them. “Oh, thank gods you’re here, please you have to save us, there’s me, my husband, our 2 children and my mother-in-law in the house.” he sobs, clinging to my plaid shirt. This shouldn’t be too difficult. I’m only contracted to rescue 4 of them and the house isn’t that big, or on fire.

“Sir, I need you to calm down and tell me if you have any valuables in the property. Any stacks of cash or high value items.” I ask, but he just goes back to screaming about his family and the fire.

In an upstairs bathroom I find the husband. He’s sitting on the toilet, looking a little sheepish. He’s surprisingly calm considering he’s sitting not 3 feet from the inferno that was once his shower unit. “Well, I hope you wiped already.” I think to myself as I hoist him over my shoulder and head for the nearest window, which I smash with my axe. Taking a moment to estimate the distance to the designated safe zone, I yeet him out the window.

Turns out I miscalculated and he landed a good 1 foot short. My bad. I take out my ladder and carefully descend, before collecting up the husband again and carrying him the last foot to safety.

Returning to the house I find a teenage girl in an upstairs hallway. The passage is a raging inferno, but she’s too focused on her phone. Hopefully she’s tech savvy enough to give me a full 5 flame review when this is over. I start to hose down the walls and floor but I failed to notice and electrical socket. As such, I’ve just swapped fire for a more shocking problem since the floor is now a different kind of death trap. Thinking fast, I look along the cable from the socket and flick the switch off.

The teen hasn’t even noticed so I rush her to the window and leave her there while I drop down a trampoline. Once it’s deployed I grab her again and hurl us both out. It’s a little bouncy, but I get us both to the safe zone without any broken bones this time.

In through the front door again, I see that, despite the fact I made a safe path through the fire on my way in, the client didn’t bother leaving the house himself. In the meantime, the main support beams for the floor above have fallen meaning I have to chop my way through to get him out.

Next up is the basement. Getting through the fire on the stairs isn’t an issue as the stairs have collapsed. I throw down a water grenade to clear most of the flames before deploying my ladder and descending safely. Floating ominously in a doorway is a cloud of green gas. Luckily there’s a nearby standing fan which someone left on and I use it to push the gas away from my entrance.

Jackpot! There in the corner is the family safe. There’s another kid sitting on top of it, but they can be moved. Unfortunately, it’s an electrical locking mechanism. Tossing the kid aside, I spray some water between the safe’s exposed cable and a wall socket. Then I just have to turn on the power and voila, the safe pops open. Come to momma you beautiful green stacks. There must be $100k here. I grab the cash, leaving the whining teen behind for now. There’s definitely going to be a bonus for my for rescuing all this dough. I carefully take my precious cargo out to the safe zone and place it tenderly within, on one of the comfier looking mattresses. Don’t worry friend, I’ll be back to count you later.

I allow myself a moment to think about the new grappling hook I’ll be buying with my cut of that before strolling back in. The fire is much bigger now and the basement is completely engulfed. Guess, junior isn’t getting rescued today. I retrieve my ladder and take it around to the back of the house to gain access to the balcony.

Score, there’s the mother-in-law. She seems completely unaware of the situation so I squirt her with my hose to knock her down before she accuses me of trespassing and carry her to safety.

“That’s me done sir, please be sure to leave a favourable review on the app.” I say cheerily to the client.

“But my house is still on fire!” he screams at me over the sound of the approaching Appbulance.

“I’m just here to fulfil the contract, which I’ve done. Have a good day, and stay safe sir.”

I’m barely back in my truck when the app buzzes again. A restaurant on the other side of town. Guess I’d better Crab n’ Go check it out.

Embr is out now on early access and available through Steam. It’s highly playable in it’s current state and hugely improved over the version I played last year at CoxCon. I’d highly recommend anyone play it, it’s loads of fun, especially in multiplayer. Just don’t think too hard about the premise of a private fire and rescue service.

PolyArmoury Is Back

Stoned Monkey Radio’s fifth edition D&D roleplaying series, PolyArmoury is returning 2020.04.11. When Curiosity Epidemic finished season 1 of Badly Designated Heroes, it was proposed that someone else take a turn DMing. As Jane was still desperate to finish telling the PA story, it was agreed that Becky, Nick, and James would roll up characters for the underdark.

The second season takes place some time after Valerie, Brilmara, and Thrall’s attempt to rescue Ellenor Findare from Croke Manor (which resulted in a lot of fire and death, and ultimately, the end of their relationship (don’t worry, Val and Thrall are still alive)). It will follow the adventures of a different PolyArmoury Requisition Patrol (P.A.R.P.) made up of Dee – a pleasure seeking, non-binary, changeling; Dusty – their gruff dust genasi barbarian lover; and Skitata – a broken, possessed monk.

Prepare for ridiculousness, spiders, amateur porn made by gnolls, High Elves, imposters, gods, magic, death, returning characters, and brand new theme music.

Soundcloud:
https://soundcloud.com/jane-aerith-magnet/polyarmoury-season-1-recap/s-D4aodFJWiLV

YouTube:
https://youtu.be/nEu8KMk4JH4

Apple Podcasts
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/stoned-monkey-radio/id1265778584

I’m Graving, I’m Graving – Graveyard Keeper

20200224220504_1.jpg

Stardew Valley is very popular. It’s bright, colourful, and very pleasant. People enjoy the simple farming life, the interactions with interesting characters, the world to open up and explore. They revel in the growing of things, the fishing, the dungeon delving. It’s a really charming game that’s rightly loved.

Graveyard Keeper is Stardew Valley’s edgy cousin who listens to only the most brutal tunes and pops ants with a magnifying glass in summer. One day it may grow up a bit, learn some empathy and be a cool metal head rather than an edgelord.

The aesthetic of GK is mostly dark, drab, and miserable. Which is appropriate for the theme. You’re dead(?), but somehow in this purgatory where you have a job and everyone wants something from you. The last keeper has gone, no one seems quite sure where, when, or why. As such, the graveyard is overgrown and falling apart. It’s your job to smarten things up and take care of the bodies that are dropped off periodically by a talking, socialist donkey.

20200224220647_1.jpg

The bodies are given a rating in red and white skulls. The more white skulls, the better and this will help the overall rating of your graveyard once they’re interred. By undertaking certain tasks on the autopsy table, you can change the number of skulls of either type. Removing fat and blood will reduce one red skull each, whereas removing the heart could replace a red with white or add an additional point to red.

All this has to be done quickly as the body is decomposing at a startling rate, and if you want to get your graveyard score up enough to impress the bishop, you’ll want only the best corpses in your hallowed grounds.

Graves aren’t just holes in the ground, you’ll want to smarten them up some. While you can initially only fashion wooden crosses, you’ll soon be making much nicer markers and frames and even upgrading to stone or even marble (though that’s a way off).

20200224221010_1.jpg
At the start of the game you’re mostly struggling for resources such as sticks, wood, stone, food and iron ore. It can take quite a while to build up enough of this that you feel you can move on with the plot or properly explore the world. There’s an almost overwhelming amount to do. Corridors need repairing so you can get through to other areas, bridges need repairing, almost everyone you meet will have a task for you, the donkey has a new body for you to deal with every day (which needs immediate attention if you want it to stay in a good state), and your early wooden grave stones/frames will need regular repairs. It’s a lot and you’re not really told what to prioritise.

Having enough to do is fine, but the stamina system can make each day feel ridiculously short, especially before you upgrade your tools and equipment, and get your farm working so you can produce bread.

20200224220626_1.jpg
Luckily, after a while, the donkey decides that they won’t deliver you bodies unless you can grease their wheels (literally and metaphorically). This means that you can just ignore the request until you’re ready for another corpse. It’s also around this time that you have everything that you need to start upgrading your graveyard items to stone, which will also provide you more food. Time to take a breath.

There’s a lot to do and around now you’ll have access to most of it. There’s multiple tech trees to unlock, bridges to repair, blockages to clear, resource gathering, fishing, holding weekly mass, extensive farming, upgrading all your workstations, work space, tools, equipment, graveyard, church, doing a scientific study of just about every item in the game, alchemy, embalming, fetch quests, raising the dead to serve you, dungeon crawling, trading to unlock additional items for sale, oh, and there’s all the story stuff.

20200224220802_1.jpg

You might say that all that sounds more dark/goth than edgy, and you’d be right. What creeps into edgy for me was that the local inquisitor insists on burning people as witches. Furthermore, they set up a whole quest for you to grow grapes and make your own wine, so you can get their soldiers drunk because they’ll find more witches that way. Not only that but you have to print up fliers for the latest witch burning because attendances are down. It doesn’t feel a million miles from historical accuracy, but it’s gross nonetheless. I’m all about death, science, and exploration, but the religious aspects of this game squick me mightily. That and the unnecessary use of a slur for one of the character names. They don’t have a name just a title and [current year argument] devs should know better.

Graveyard Keeper piles a huge number of tasks (and generally just stuff) on you in the hope of eventually getting your character reunited with their love. And while that goal may be achievable, it’s done in such a half-assed way that the ending of the game feels like the dev is just flipping you off before rolling credits. Making a quick joke about making loads of DLC to fill out the ending really doesn’t help it’s case in the least.

Pros:

  • A very engaging gameplay loop
  • Interesting setting
  • Lots to do

Cons:

  • Piss weak ending
  • Unnecessary use of a slur in a character title
  • Gross religious BS

Final Score: 5/10

Big Money, Big Prizes – Tiny Epic Mechs

Big Money, Big Prizes – Tiny Epic Mechs

In the (unlikely for humanity in our current timeline) far off future of 3030 (oops, we’re less than a line in and I’ve already melted the bleak alarm. That’s the third one this week *sigh*) bipedal mechs are a viable method of transportation and combat. This is the world we get to experience Tiny Epic Mechs.

After a successful Kickstarter back in 2018, Gamelyn Games have been shipping copies of their latest (I’m fairly certain) creation. Fitting in the same size box as all of their previous offerings (meaning you can fit even more of them on your shelf before you have to justify the space) and featuring their beloved Itemeeple, TEM is a programming game with lots of cool weapons you can buy and equip (more on that later) and awesome mech suits to arm and pilot.

The game can be played by 1-4 people, with different board layouts, depending on the number of players. Starting with the central point – where the Mighty Mech will be located until it’s claimed – the play area is layed out from a deck of shuffled tiles. Each tile shows a number and either a power or money symbol. Each player then takes their base tile and positions this in one of the locations shown in the manual. Players select one of their mines – numbered 1-4 – and places this, along with their itemeeple on their base. These base tiles (as well as the central tile) show one of each power and money symbol, in addition to a number 2.

With board setup complete, players are dealt two pilot cards and will pick one to play as. Each pilot card shows the character one side and and their power-armoured mode on the reverse. Each pilot has a unique special skill that can be utilised while in character or power armour mode. This could be something like taking extra resources on collection phases or being able to change the direction of your movement (for a small fee). These cards also track the player’s health in each mode.

Players also get a tracker board which shows money and energy reserves, as well as acting as a cheat sheet for what actions you can take, scoring, and building costs; an itemeeple in their colour; 4 mine tokens; three turret tokens; program cards; and a set of basic weapons to select their starting loadout from.

As well as the basic weapons, there’s the advanced weapon deck. These are layed out to form the shop. Each card corresponds to a delightfully dinky weapon which you can attach to your itemeeple, powersuit or the Mighty Mech.

Last up there’s the score and round tracker boards. Players place their two-sided score marker on the appropriate board (this can be flipped once you get to the end of the track to show you’re on your second go around).

Phew, it’s a lot of setup, and can take a while the first time you do so. However, once you’ve got it, it’s pretty straightforward and will be considerably quicker in future.

The program cards each show an arrow as well as the type of action that will be played once the player gets there (if they get there). This could be to place a mine – which costs money, deploy a turret – which costs power, collect resources – one for each tile showing that symbol which you control, to power jump two spaces in one direction, to move diagonally (usually you can only move in one of the cardinal directions), or to purchase something from the shop.

Each round starts with players picking their four actions, laying them out on the table (covered with the remaining cards). Starting with the first player (who rotates each round) everyone reveals their first action. These are played out before moving on to the next player and then on to the second actions. Should any player move into a space which is occupied by another, they will enter combat.

Combat is played out in turns, each player exhausting a weapon and passing to their opponent. Should a player be reduced to 0 health, they respawn back at their base with a minimum of 2 energy and cash and back to full health. However, if a player runs out of weapons before defeating their opponent, they are forced to retreat to an unoccupied, adjacent space.

Each weapon has a type and these types can play off of each other in a rock, paper, scissors style. By chaining off of the last weapon type, you get to use the weapon’s power attack. These attacks will not only do more damage than usual, but most will have an extra ability such as stealing/acquiring resources or removing adjacent turrets.

Once everyone has taken their actions and the dust has settled from any fighting, play moves to the next round. Every other round is a scoring round so it’s a great time to take some extra ground. You’ll be awarded points for each mine and turret, as well as the position you’re holding (based on the number on the tile), as well as points for controlling the Mighty Mech. After 6 rounds, the final scores are tallied as per the previous round and plus extra points for the weapons you’ve acquired throughout the game.

It’s a really fun little game that can be played in around an hour, with nice art, quality components, and it’s just such a joy to load up your powersuits and the Mighty Mech with your itemeeple and weapons. You’ll feel like kind of a badass stomping around the board in a fully tooled up mech.

 

Pros

  • Fun to play
  • Lovely character art
  • Quality pieces

 

Cons

  • Can be difficult to recover if you get behind in a two player game

Final Score 9/10

Come Along With Me – Wattam

If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll know I really like the Katamari Games. As such I was super excited to hear that Keita Takahashi would be releasing Wattam in time for the new year (happy new year btw). From the trailers I knew very little, apart from that it would have a similar graphical style to the Takahashi’s other games, and that it involved holding hands.

Wattam plonks you into a dark world with only a sad looking green cube friend who wears a black hat and has confusing facial features (everyone’s nose looks kinda like a cat’s mouth so the mouth below that makes for some mental gymnastics while playing). The cube – introduced as Mayor, has lost their memory and must explore the world around them, meeting a rapidly expanding cast of brightly coloured and simply designed companions. Friends such as orange flower, acorn, squid, boat, telephone & toilet.

Taking your first steps in the world of Wattam, you’re given a basic tutorial, introducing the abilities of holding hands with others, moving the red arrow (which points to whichever character you want to control), climb on people, and (as Mayor) doff your hat to create a small explosive gift box and blast anyone nearby into the air, laughing joyously.

While blowing up your friends is generally frowned upon in real life, everyone seems really happy about it in Wattam.

There’s a real joy to experimenting with this world. You’ll be taught early on that trees can eat people and turn them into fruit (we got you vore crowd, it’s all harmless fun here). Mouth, on the other hand, can eat fruit and turn it into coiled piles of poop (buzzing flies and all). At this point a tree could eat them again and turn them back to their original form, even if toilet got to them they could end up gold plated (the toilet is ever hungry for poops).

Wattam 03_01_2020 09_27_21.png

While this is all silly fun, I did struggle a bit in the late game, when I needed to find particular friends for a puzzle but could only find a box of sweet potato fries where I’d hoped to find an octopus and having completely forgotten about changing people’s forms as it had been a few days between plays. This is where Wattam’s explanation-light approach can become an issue, because it’s never explicitly stated that the collection menu can tell you both what form a friend is in right now, and what their normal state is. That said, it was only for one puzzle that I was struggling and only at the very end of winter.

Speaking of the collection screen, there’s a lot of silliness to find here too. Much like Donut County’s Trashopedia, each of the characters have an intro screen showing brief descriptions of them. This changes as they change form, so it’s worth checking back here a few times, to get the full experience.

Scale takes a role in this world, much like Katamari Damacy. When you’re zoomed in, you’ll be controlling characters around Mayor’s size. However, as you zoom out, you’ll take over some of the arriving friends such as the boat, a larger toilet, or bowling alley. These more grand characters can ferry others across the sea of clouds that makes up the wider world, taking them to visit main islands, each based on the seasons.

The music of Wattam is the kind of gentle and jolly tunes Keita Takahashi’s games are well know for. There’s plenty of acapella to “la-la laaa” along to and there’s almost always the sound of laughter and play from the other visitors to each island.

As you progress through the game, you learn more of the overarching plot through a series of simple vignettes. Why was the rainbow destroyed? Who is the mysterious, horned figure? What happened to the world?

At its core, Wattam is a simple game of exploration, experimentation, and puzzle solving. There’s a simple joy to helping one of your companions, being rewarded with the arrival of a new friend who in turn ferries in a number of smaller friends for you to interact as, or help through a difficulty. Be that helping seeds to grow into trees, getting a telephone receiver back from the sun, or stacking a group of friends up until you’re the same height as a bowling pin (for some reason).

Despite some of the more scatalogical aspects of the game, I found it packed with charm and simple delights and was regularly giggling away at the sheer joy of the world as I took the hand of a new friend and explored the vibrant and expanding world. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like weird, puzzly, colourful fun, and the sound of joyous laughter, you could do a lot worse than Wattam.

Pros:

  • Really Charming
  • Colourful
  • Original

Cons:

  • Nearly glitched the game to death when steering an explosion for a prolonged period
  • Some slow down in places
  • Camera controls are a bit clunky

Final Score: 8/10

Getting It Twisted – GiiKer Supercube

In the early 2010s I taught myself to solve the Rubik’s Cube. Since then I’ve got heavily into all sorts of twisty puzzles and have a collection of about 50, including various 3x3x3 shape mods, 3x speed cubes, 2x, 4x, 5x, 7x, 9x, 2x2x3, 3x3x2, 3x3x5, the highly intimidating X2 (it’s a sort of 3x3x7 in the shape of a cross rather than a cuboid), plus Rubik’s Clock, Rubik’s Magic, megaminx, pyraminx, master pyraminx, mastermorphix. On top of this there’s a few 3D puzzles, ring puzzles, dexterity puzzles (like the Rubik’s 360), and various wood burr puzzles. You could say, I enjoy puzzles.

Last summer I heard about the GoCube being kickstarted. It seems a really cool idea to have a cube that can tell what position it’s in and help you solve it, or help you learn the algorithms needed to solve it yourself from any state, or race against another cuber somewhere in the world through a matching scramble.

However, I’m always cautious with Kickstarter, especially for anything other than board games from known creators. Let’s be honest, there have been a lot of tech scams on KS, and if any of them is as good as they seem, it’s going to hit the market eventually, right?

Where there is one, there will be many, and so there are currently 3 main players in the smart cube market (some of which have had various iterations already). The GoCube was successfully delivered to backers earlier this year and are now available to purchase directly through their website for about $100 USD. Next up is the mighty GAN, with their 356i which retails for around £80 GBP. Pretty much anyone who has an interest in speed cubing, knows the GAN brand, they’ve even worked with Rubik’s to make better models of Rubik’s brand cubes (despite being the name everyone knows, Rubik’s are known in the community as makers of ok at best cubes). Then there’s the GiiKer Supercube which you can get for as low as £35 GBP.

Some of the copy states that they made the world’s first smart cube, but I’d never heard of them until they started turning up in comparison videos with the other smart cubes. Regardless, no one else sent me a cube to play with so this is the one I’m reviewing.

First off, the presentation is really charming. The charger sits on the center spots on opposite sides of the cube, with little connectors that hold it neatly in place. They look kind of like headphones, and this is further highlighted by the fact that the cube has a stand, which looks like the body a robot sitting down. with the cube and charger in place, it looks genuinely adorable on the shelf, sitting amongst its less intelligent cubey brethren, vibing out to tunes.

The action is great: it turns smoothly, finger tricks are easy, and corner cutting is successful at around a 40 degree angle. These are all things a speed cuber would look for and there it is, so what else? Well, it’s magnetised and while you can’t swap out the magnets for different strengths like you can with the GAN 356i, they’re a nice strength and do the job very well.

If this were just a review of the cube itself, I’d be giving it top marks as it’s possibly the nicest cube I’ve ever personally used. However, smart cubes aren’t just sold on their build quality, there’s plenty of nicely built cubes, and some available at very reasonable costs. What’s important here is the app.

Heading over to the app store or Google Play, and searching for Supercube will find the app. It’s not huge, but does require quite the selection of permissions in order to get started (especially on Android as it requires you to have location on for the Bluetooth connection to work). While the quality of the cube itself is great, the lack of polish on the app does let it down somewhat.

Once you connect to the cube you’re greeted with a menu which looks like you’re about to play one of a billionty Unity asset flips available on Steam for actual money (no, really, people charge for these My First Video Game project files). It’s not pretty, but it sure is functional.

Unlike the other smart cubes, the Supercube doesn’t have any tilt sensors. As such, it can’t tell which way up you’re holding it. This means that during instructions, the app needs you to orient the cube as shown on screen. It must stay rigidly where you’re told to put it (no y turns for you *glares in cube*).

The learning mode for this app certainly will take you through a solve, but it’s unlike anything I’ve encountered before. Most beginner’s methods I’ve seen for a 3x3x3 start with making a cross on one side (usually white) and then going going layer by layer from there.

However, the method here starts with making the ‘daisy’ (shocked pikachu.jpg). This involves moving the four white edge pieces up to the yellow center (edges are the bits with two colours on, centers which have one colour, and corners which have three). What threw me most about this was the fact I had white edges in roughly the right place to start with and the tutorial insisted that I move them to the yellow side to make this daisy (Ok, I’ll be fair, I get that there is a need to create a solve that works in every situation and not just in specific cases, but surely it wouldn’t take much to just tell people to look out for already solved things and use the methods to solve the rest).

My other main issue with the solve which app wants you to learn is that once you’ve done the daisy, you turn the cube over, and are asked to solve the cube from top to bottom, without ever turning it over again. Most methods that do any flips like this will have you solve the white cross and possibly the whole white layer, then hold this as the bottom layer for the rest of the solve. Here you’re expected to make the daisy, use this to make the white cross, and then turn the cube over and solve each layer from the top down. The on screen prompts largely ignore what’s on the yellow face, only what you can see on the side of that layer (thanks, I hate it).

I’m not going into this any deeper because those who came to laugh at my snark are probably getting bored with cube jargon, and speed cubers who wanted an overall review of the cube are probably never going to even look at this mode because they already know a faster method. So I’ll just sum up the learning mode by saying “Sure, it’s fine, I guess.”

Next up, there’s pattern mode. Want to make a checkerboard pattern on the cube for display? Want to swap all the centers while leaving everything else solved? Want to do that cube within a cube pattern you see in the displays of YouTube cubers? Well, this mode will guide you step by step through how to make all sorts of cool patterns. It’s good, but don’t you dare mess up a turn, because it will make you go all the way back to the beginning and start the whole thing again rather than just getting you to undo what you did wrong and keep going from there.

How about games? Sure, why not. One game sees a little virtual person standing on one side of a corner piece. You’re then given a limited number of turns to move them to a particular position, preferably via any coins sitting in other locations. It’s actually pretty fun and makes you think about how you move pieces around the cube, just the thing for getting more intitive about how you do a solve.

Ok, ok. That’s all the fluff, I know why the speed cubers came here. You want to test yourselves and show your skills. Don’t worry, I got you.

The timer mode invites you to scramble the cube however you want, or you can hit an option to be provided a scramble, and then tap the screen to declare your readiness to start. As soon as you make your first turn, it will start the timer and stop the moment you complete your solve. The on-screen cube will show each of your turns as you go, which is a nice addition.

Once completed you’re given your solve time, number of turns and turns per second (all info that serious cubers seem to revel in. Additionally you can click to get a full breakdown of the moves you made, and the chance to see a virtual reconstruction of your solve which you can inspect for ways to improve in future. Additionally it will provide your split times based on the stages of a layer by layer solve method. While some of these steps may not be relevant or even completed for the way you solved, it’s still good information for working out where you need to make improvements. Additionally, you can see what your average solve time is based on past attempts from a menu here.

The timer function was what I most wanted from a smart cube. Despite its limitations (no tilt sensors mean that the cube can’t tell what orientation it was when you did certain things and the playback of the solve was done from a static perspective), accurate timing, and seeing where I needed to be a bit better at looking ahead, to avoid doing and then immediately undoing moves as I move from one algorithm to another has really helped me learn not only how to do things, but how I need to think and look while solving.

Last up is battle mode. So you’ve learned to solve a cube and you now you want to test yourself against people all over the world. Well, here’s your chance. Once you’re ready, you’ll be matched with an opponent (matchmaking has never taken me more than 30-40 seconds). You’re then given a set scramble. The faster you do this, the more inspection time you’ll get (careful not to start before you’re told though or you’ll automatically lose the battle). There’s something rather motivating about challenging another cuber that’s genuinely increased my speeds overall.

The GiiKer Supercube is an excellent budget smart cube that feels really nice and with lots of features a speedcuber will enjoy. For those learning to solve, I’d stick with YouTube tutorials before coming back to the app to time yourself or challenge online players.

Pros:

  • Nice quality cube with a good action and cutting
  • Timing and battle modes are educational and fun (I genuinely can’t belive I just used that phrase)
  • Considerably cheaper than other smart cubes

Cons:

  • The app lacks polish
  • No tilt sensors so the cube on screen can’t track the orientation
  • Needs better or additional tutorials for other solve methods

Final Score: 8/10

How’s Anna? – Deadly Premonition Origins

The following is not so much a review as a picking apart because it’s a game that left me with a lot of questions. It includes spoilers though I’ve tried to keep details to a minimum.

Also, content warning at the very end for a flashing image.

I think I was about 11 when it happened. It was late one night, I was alone in my room, struggling to sleep, so I carefully turned on my TV and put the volume down to the lowest I could still manage to hear it at. There were only 4 channels in the UK at the time so not a huge selection. I distinctly remember turning to one channel and seeing a man in blue pajamas, lying in bed, with two police officers standing around him, looking concerned.

The blue-clad man stood up and went to the bathroom, wasted a lot of toothpaste and then slammed his head into the bathroom mirror, which cracked. There was some blood on the glass, and looking back at the giggling man with a head injury, was a reflection not his own. Instead it was a scruffy looking and sinister older man.

Something about this scene really unsettled me and I decided that was quite enough television. However, I’d be sleeping with the lights on that night… if I slept at all.

That was the final scene of the final episode of Twin Peaks season 2, and it really stayed with me. When I was older, I bought a (fairly) complete VHS box set of the show and watched it over and over, especially any episodes in the red room, or where things were most strange. Twin Peaks did creeping, weird, discomfort, set in a seemingly simple and mundane setting in a way I was deeply drawn to.

Over the last nine years, I’ve kept hearing the name Deadly Premonition over and over. It’s always come up as “very you, Jane”.

Some time ago, I purchased it on Steam, but then completely forgot about it (Probably because I saw something shiny and got distracted). When I found it again I spent most of two days trying to get the damn thing to work, without success and so it was forgotten, and I was fairly sure then that I’d never get to play it.

However, a recent Nintendo Direct showed that not only was it getting a sequel, but that it was being re-released on Switch as Deadly Premonition Origins. So finally, I’ve got the chance to play. It’s safe to say, that the Switch version can definitely be completed without the game breaking crashes of the old PC version.

Now DP has been released on consoles, then re-released as a directors cut and now this. As such, I think it’s reasonable to assume that however it is now, is how it is “supposed” to be. Especially as this release has taken some of those things back out from the Directors Cut (apparently the director had a change of heart on some of the changes). At this point, everything can be considered intentional (and yes, I would say the same about Skyrim and it’s curious glitches. If that wasn’t their artistic vision, they’d have fixed it by now).

Francis York Morgan (call him York, everybody does) is an FBI detective with a number of dangerous habits. He smokes cigarettes like he’s chewing a lollipop, while on the phone, while using his laptop, while driving at high speed, at night, in heavy rain. Also he eats smoked salmon he finds in lockers in abandoned lumber mills. He is – to put it simply – a reckless dickhead.

Understandably, the game begins with York flipping his car, and finding himself in the woods, somehow alive (although, who knows, this game could all be a Silent Hill, moment of death hallucination), while his car starts to slowly burn. Suddenly, theres all these people, looking dead, broken. They bend over backwards lumbering and flickering towards him like ghosts from a Japanese horror film. Moving in a way that I find deeply and wonderfully unsettling.

In some ways, it’s fitting that the game opens with York flipping the car, because the driving in this game is some of the most frustrating I’ve ever encountered. Steering is so sensitive that the first few times I was charged with driving a vehicle myself, I was weaving side to side and into trees like I was also smoking, making a call and using my laptop. Again, I have to believe that this was deliberate, as they definitely could have dialed it down by now if they wanted. This then is York being an appalling driver and a danger to himself and others (run sheriff, run deputy, run while you still can! Don’t dare to get in this car with York, he’s a fucking liablity).

To look at, you’d be forgiven for thinking Deadly Premonition was late PS2/Dreamcast era game, but it came out the same year as Fallout: New Vegas and Mass Effect 2 so there’s really no reason it had to look like this. The character models are ok, but goodness, the first time you see York smile, you’ll be sleeping with the lights on.

DP has some quite interesting little management aspects. If you don’t change and wash your clothes, they’ll become increasingly creased and dirty. If you don’t shave, you’ll start to grow a beard. York also needs to eat, sleep, keep his pulse within a reasonable window. It’s like the game is trying to be part life sim, part police procedural, part people management, and drunk driving simulator.

Everything about the sound in this game is too dramatic. All sorts of mundane actions or events – even entering the pause menu- causes dramatic, discordant, instrumental hits, that somehow still disquieted me hours into the game.

Then there’s the music, and this is where a good few minutes of hysterical laughter first started. Very near the beginning of the game, there’s a scene where York has breakfast with the hotel owner. They sit at opposite ends of a long banquet table, in the otherwise empty hotel restraunt. Each time York asks a new question a loud, jaunty piece of music starts. It’s out of place with the scene, and almost completely drowns out the dialogue. I’m convinced this is deliberate, because after nearly a decade I can’t believe that they wouldn’t have corrected the default audio balance if it wasn’t intentional.

Consequently I ask myself: why is this the case? Why did SWERY want to drown out the conversation? My only conclusion so far is that York places so little value in it that he’s half in his mind just thinking of a jaunty tune. This would sit with the fact he’s a massive douchecanoe (the Director’s Cut, did change the sound balance in this scene and it was nowhere near as hilarious. Besides, they didn’t re-release the DC, they released this).

It’s not just the music that’s bizarre, there’s a scene at one point where the tension is high, you’re running all over town on foot, desperate to get to your goal, but the game insists on stopping every hundred yards to chat about something unrelated or just cutting to another scene entirely. Once again, the ridiculousness of this moment had me laughing my arse off.

There’s also the question of York’s state of mind (or possibly state within the

multiverse). York frequently puts fingers to the side of his head and speaks to someone named Zach. He’s not wearing an earpiece, so the question of who he’s actually talking to remains a mystery. One of the menus describes Zach as York’s other personality, so the answer could be as simple as that. But… then there’s the way that York will ask a Zach a question and you, the player, will have to answer, using on-screen prompts. Have I been designated Zach for the purpose of the game? (more on this later.)

I’m reminded of how Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks would talk to his dictaphone, to the possibly non-existent (until Twin Peaks The Return, 26 years after the last episode was shown) Diane.

It’s not just Zach though, there’s also the matter of the otherworldly sections, where strange, red weeds block doors; where odd red mist blocks paths or objects; and where strange beings emerge from black marks on the walls and floor to assault you.

Early on, there’s a scene were York goes to the hospital to recover a coroner’s report. The path down is simple, a brief, simple word puzzle and then following a marker downstairs and into the morgue. Having annoyed the local sheriff, the deputy, and the coroner by being an arrogant jackass, York states he’s going for a smoke.

However, the moment he steps into the corridor, the world is changed again. It’s sinister, as the woods had been. There’s that red weed again. There’s those black marks. There’s the strangely moving assailants, juddering and twisting to attack him (frankly I think this is deserved). Having worked his way back upstairs – by finding key cards and getting past enemies – and into the hospital lobby, all is suddenly normal again. This lobby which was full of red weeds and shambling monsters which I was spraying with bullets is back to normal.

This is a mechanic that repeats throughout the game and leads me to question, is York seeing things, or slipping between realities, like someone trapped in Silent Hill? Truth be told, there’s a lot about the enemy movement and the way they emerge from the dark patches on the walls that makes me think of Silent Hills 2 and 4 (and I’m so here for that, because those are two of my favourite horror games).

A scene at the art gallery sees a York and three police officers trying to find a way in as the front door is locked. It’s late at night and raining heavily and the clouds are doing that purple thing they do when he enters the other worldly sections. The officers wander around the front of the building but only York will head around the sides. Here there are endlessly respawning enemies which will attack you. However, they never come near the police and don’t go to the front of the building. So are they real, hallucinations, or do they exist in a place outside Greenvale, outside the reality usually perceived here?

For an FBI agent, York doesn’t mess around when it comes to weaponry. You start the game your standard issue 9mm pistol and a knife. Soon enough he’ll locate the standard issue survival horror steel pipe which will grant you a little more room.

While the pistol thankfully comes with unlimited ammo, the melee weapons break after a few uses (meaning that you don’t want to get into a fight with more than one enemy unless your weapon has decent health, otherwise you’ll likely get attacked in the few seconds it takes York to swap to a fresh weapon.

As you move through the game, you’ll start to find more useful weapons like the assalt rifle and shotgun. While I was initially cautious about using my big guns in favour of my trusty pistol, I found that as long as I wasn’t just spraying bullets everywhere like a penis owner meat spin pissising in a public toilet, I was getting sufficient drops from downed enemies to keep myself in shooty things.

The game allows you to auto target an enemy by pressing a shoulder button. This is reasonably effective and if you nudge the stick slightly upwards, you’re usually good for a headshot.

There is one enemy however which cannot be fought in the usual manner. That being the dreaded Raincoat Killer. Clad in a long red raincoat, their features as indiscernible as a nazgul save for a pair of glowing eyes. When they appear, it’s usually a sign you’re going to have to engage with some QTE nonsense.

Maybe it’s just me as someone who plays on a lot of different systems and has coordination issues, but I find the amount of time you get to hit the buttons isn’t really long enough to read, process, and react. One section in particular had me enter a room, get attacked, fail the QTE, restart, and pass the first event, only to miss a second prompt and have to start again, this happened almost every time of the 5 or so parts to this section. Every attempt getting me a little further, but becoming less dramatic tension and more needless frustration. This may be a Switch issue, as I find it much easier to remember the positions of colours and shapes that just the letters alone.

If you’re trans and reading this, you’ve probably had someone warn you about an aspect of this game. I too was warned before I started (and several times thereafter by concerned friends) that there is a gender non-conforming character in this and they’re not well handled (I’m not sure if we’d call them trans as we don’t get much chance to speak to them or find out what their deal is. Only that, like the murder victims, they’re wearing that long red dress and heels).

I knew it was coming and still I felt very squicked out when the person who could bake beautifully, acts bashfully, and is seen skipping around in a childlike fashion early on in the game, is found to have a large collection of makeup and a wig at their apartment.

While I was impressed that this reveal wasn’t played for laughs and the voice actor didn’t just go for a ridiculous falsetto for the character, it does still fall into that trope of “unhinged, violent trans person” that we’ve come to know and hate.

It’s around this part of the game that you get a chance to play as someone other than York (because he’s tied to a chair with a blindfold on). Upon entering a building, as this other character, you’re faced with those red vines and the twisted assailants. Which means, they’re real(?) This completely confused me as everything so far seemed to suggest it was just a York thing.

Right near the end, there is some additional information about Zach, but you’re very much left to decide for yourself what this actually means. Whether they’re a repressed part of the characters’s personality, a splinter caused during childhood trauma or a parallel being who came to save them. I’m leaning towards the possibility of some parallel being since the primary antagonist mentions Zach being in the White Room

Deadly Premonition feels so much like it wants to be an homage to Twin Peaks. An FBI agent is called to investigate the curious death of a young, local woman; it’s set in Washington state; the diner could not be more like the RR (right down to the aggy husband of the owner); the bar on the edge of town is reminiscent of the Roadhouse; Sigorny is like a lively version of the Log Lady; York is very into his coffee; he gets accurate information from unusual, seemingly random sources; the waterfall up by Harry’s mansion look very much look very much like those seen in the opening shots of Twin Peaks’ opening credits; Anna’s mother falls apart in a very odd way following her daughter’s death (is Anna Graham a reference to Annie being played by Heather Graham?); there’s versions of the Black and White Lodges in the form of the Red and White Rooms, where spirits of the dead can commune with the living and the occupants of this space can take the forms of those still living. It’s like a love letter to the show and I’m so here for that.

There are parts of this game I loved and others I found utterly frustrating or awful. I’ve played objectively bad games before (check out my review for Overgrowth for example) and put them down without actually finishing due to awful controls or wonky plots. I didn’t do that here, and not because I was hooked on an addictive gameplay loop, but because I was genuinely engaged with the story, the side quests, and the world(s?) in which the game takes place. I’m left with a desire to pick over the story and ponder over its world after I’ve finished playing and I want to play the sequel to explore more of this world.

That said, there are parts of the game that I would ordinarily award it a flat zero score, and I can’t ignore that.

Pros:

  • A really interesting and deep story
  • Scenes so bizarre you’ll be forced to laugh
  • Fascinating world full of curious characters

Cons:

  • Some Skyrim level glitches (floating fires, people flying along next to the car they’re driving, clipping through the odd door/floor)
  • Just horrible driving mechanics, especially in any of the police vehicles
  • Poor handling of a trans character (though not nearly as bad a some)

DPO Score.gif

Deadly Premonition Origins’ score exists within the other world.