Fixing Nigel – Pandemic On The Brink

Previously on Pandemic.

“Without wishing to be rude, what actually happened was that the elite gamer of the group basically played all four roles and the rest of us pushed things around as we were told…

“(a ball gag and lockable mittens can be very helpful in this respect)…

“There’s a lot of choice and as the game is cooperative, the table is free to discuss the best strategy (except Nigel, he’s wearing his gag because he knows what he’s done)…

“Pandemic is very well regarded, and rightly so, it’s a lot of fun and with the adjustable difficulty, can have a lot of replayability, but it is a puzzle, which can be solved. This is why players like Nigel (who’s been moved to a cage in the corner, for good behaviour) can get a bit overbearing with a group of new players. They get less “here’s what I think we might need to be doing between us” and more “you go here, via here, cure this and on your next turn do that. You, meet them there, give them that and then fly over here” (but for a fee, such players can be retrained).”

And now, the conclusion…

*roll titles*

I mentioned a fee for dealing with your overbearing players. I propose that fee could either be a talented Domme, or simply a copy of the first Pandemic expansion: On The Brink.

On The Brink adds extra epidemic cards, so you can play the standard game on an even harder mode, a virulent strain challenge (replace all the epidemic cards with much nastier ones), a mutation challenge (which adds a whole extra disease to conquer), and a bio-terrorist challenge (ripping one player away from the co-op fun to take on a hidden role game, spreading a fifth disease across the globe). The box also includes petri dish containers for all five colours of cubes, new roles, new events, extra pawns for the new characters and a pad of pages for the bio-terrorist. There’s also blank role and event cards, so if you want to homebrew a new card, now’s your chance to get creative.

The petri dishes are a really nice touch, that were an unexpected, but most welcome addition (I ended up borrowing them when we played Pandemic Legacy as they’re a nice bit of extra immersion). The new characters bring with them new skills, none of which feel unbalanced compared to the original game. There’s also the option of a sticker to go on the board to indicate the new disease type, or a card that does the same job. It’s up to you whether you’re willing to put a sticker on your original board.

All of the cards in this expansion feature a small symbol so you can separate them back out if you choose. Honestly though. I moved the new insert over to the base game box, tossed the original, and now house all of the components in a single box (shelf space is limited these days so it’s nice if I can get more on without adding an extra box).

On The Brink solves the issue of power players controlling the game in several ways, firstly, they won’t know all the new issues that may arise. So while they have some transferrable skills, they should find themselves much more uncertain. If that still doesn’t stop them, you can take the manual’s advice and just make them play as the bio-terrorist (or, as I said, a Domme with reasonable prices), that should keep them from “helping you out” (playing for you).

The virulent strain challenge makes one of the diseases particularly nasty. A new set of epidemic cards replace the originals (there’s up to eight, so you can play on legendary difficulty with this one too). These new cards add additional negative effects to each epidemic drawn, making the heart drop moment of an epidemic all the more intense.

In the mutation challenge, you start with two cards sitting in the infection discard pile and three related event cards mixed into the player deck. While the danger of these new events can be a bit hit and miss (one only has an effect if there’s already two mutant strain cubes on a city), the cards in the infection pile bring an unparalleled level of chaos to the board.

Normally you can get a grip on what is likely to come back around in the infection deck. However, once these mutation cards start coming out, you’ll be pulling cards from the bottom of the deck to add a cube of the new strain to. Suddenly there’s a lot more variables and things can quickly go wrong. This is all the more concerning since there are less purple mutant cubes than the four classic disease flavours. Now you’re rushing all over the world as the extra cities join the Wheel! Of! Disease!

The purple strain can be treated as per normal treatment rules, and is cured by handing in any 5 city cards at a research station. While this can sound easy, you’ll want to avoid using up or discarding too many cards of each colour as you could find yourself unable to cure one of the original diseases.

Finally we get to the bio-terrorist challenge. They get a secret sheet to work on and hatch their nefarious plans. Their moves are hidden from the other players (think Scotland Yard) and they only declare their location if they happen to be in the same city as another player or if they take a flight action. The bio-terrorist can place down purple disease cubes in cities as they pass or spend cards from their hand to infect remotely. While this player can be captured, there are mechanics for them to escape, so it’s not a complete game over.

While it’s theoretically possible to mix and match some of the new modes, I really don’t recommend it unless you’re an absolute sadist.

Pandemic – On The Brink pumps a huge amount of extra gameplay into the base game while providing you enough space to pack everything into a single box. If you’ve played Pandemic to death, this is your chance to resurrect it.

Pros:

  • New play modes add tons of replayability and variety.
  • New characters are well balanced.
  • The new insert allows this and the base game to fit tidily into a single box.

Cons:

  • Not every single role needs their own coloured pawn. It makes more sense for each player to just remember what colour they’re playing.

Final Score: 10/10

A Sense of Control – Pandemic

Why review Pandemic?! It’s been out years and everyone who’s played a modern boardgame either has it or has played it. It’s like the modern Monopoly, kind or essential. The reason: I like boardgames, I like writing reviews, I’m trying to get better at writing reviews. So strap in it’s time for an outbreak.

I first played Matt Leacock’s Pandemic with some local boardgame friends who’d borrowed it from a family member. They’d been playing it an awful lot (if the record sheet of wins to losses they were storing in the box was anything to go by) so understandably, they were very good at directing people on the best moves to make.

Without wishing to be rude, what actually happened was that the elite gamer of the group basically played all four roles and the rest of us pushed things around as we were told. Victory, hooray (/s). Even so, I could see where the fun was in the game and wanted to give it another try some time.

One person power playing is a known problem with the game and something you’ll just have to negotiate with your gaming group (a ball gag and lockable mittens can be very helpful in this respect).

Pandemic sees you take on one of several roles as you work together to fight four diseases which are breaking out across the globe. Each role has their own, unique abilities such as needing less cards to find a cure for the disease or being better equipped to treat affected areas.

The main board shows a map of the world, with cities linked, mostly to their nearest neighbour. Areas of the world are divided into four colours, representing the four diseases that will appear. Players start at a research station in Atlanta with a hand of cards, each showing either one of the major cities, or an event which grants them a single use ability which can be used at any time.

During setup three cities are drawn from the infection deck to receive three disease cubes, three more to receive two cubes, and a final three to receive a single, lonely cube (all alone in the world, just wishing for friends. Is that so wrong?). These nine infection cards are put into the discard pile and wait patiently for their chance to come again (and again).

On your turn you may take four actions. These include things like travelling along one of the connecting lines to a neighbouring city, discarding a city card to travel to that location, fast travel between research stations, build a new research station, treating the disease in your current city, etc. There’s a lot of choice and as the game is cooperative, the table is free to discuss the best strategy (except Nigel, he’s wearing his gag because he knows what he’s done).

At the end of each player’s turn, they draw two new cards from the player deck and a number of infection cards based on the current infection level. Those cities are infected with a single cube of their colour.

Scattered throughout the player deck are a number of epidemic cards (boo! hiss!) depending on the difficulty level agreed upon during setup there could be up to seven epidemics. When an epidemic comes out the infection rate goes up, and a city is drawn from the bottom of the infection deck which will receive a maximum three disease cubes. This is added to the infection discard pile which is shuffled and put back on top of the infection deck and only the infection phase happens. If your luck is particularly bad, you may find that city you just filled to the brim with disease coming straight back up and causing an outbreak (instead of adding a fourth cube, add one cube of that colour to each adjoining city).

It’s important to get as much board coverage as possible, to treat diseases that are getting out of hand and prevent a possible outbreak (you can only afford so many of these). That said, because of the way the infection cards cycle around, you can get a good idea of which cities are most at risk and which can be left a little longer.

If a player has five cards of a matching colour and happens to be chilling out at a research station, they can trade these in for a cure. Once you’ve cured all four diseases, you win the game (hooray! (not sarcastically this time)). Winning though, anyone can manage that (except me, the first few times I played solo). Let’s talk about losing: If the player deck runs out, you lose! If you get too many outbreaks, you lose! If you need to add a disease cube of a certain colour and there’s none left in the stockpile, you lose! If you look at the game funny, you lose! (at least I think that’s my issue).

Pandemic is very well regarded, and rightly so, it’s a lot of fun and with the adjustable difficulty, can have a lot of replayability, but it is a puzzle, which can be solved. This is why players like Nigel (who’s been moved to a cage in the corner, for good behaviour) can get a bit overbearing with a group of new players. They get less “I’ve noticed these areas are in peril, perhaps we should think about that” and more “you go here, via here, cure this and on your next turn do that. You, meet them there, give them that and then fly over here” (but for a fee, such players can be retrained).

Pros:

  • Simple design.
  • Easy teach.
  • Can be very addictive.

Cons:

  • Can be “solved”.
  • Can bring out the worst in some players.
  • Some of the events feel considerably weaker than others.

Final Score: 9/10

Come back next time for some thoughts on the first expansion: On The Brink

Pretty Wrong – Stuffed

Stuffed first caught my attention on Kickstarter, and like most boardgames I’ve kickstarted, it actually arrived (woo!). The biggest pull is the amazing artwork, which admittedly isn’t the best thing to base a purchase on (no shit Janey!).

The component quality is amazing. The custom dice have nice art and a really nice weight. The card art is incredible, the box opens like a story book which is held shut with a magnetic clasp, there’s enough space to have sleeved cards in there, and the vacform tray is very nicely designed to show everything off.

The plot of Stuffed is… *makes slightly embarrassed noises*. Luckily, it’s not well conveyed in the game itself, which is probably for the best because it’s a massive yikes once you put in the context of some of the cards. Those who were destined for great things, but fight their destiny, waste their talents and let time slip away, fail at their purpose. Their vice leads to the penalty that they become adorable, but troubled stuffed animals.

This is the only time ‘vice’ is brought up, usually the game talks of burdens (or rather, birdens). So what does the game consider a vice or a personal failing that sees you damned to the plush realms? Hatred – sure, addiction – makes sense I guess (if you completely ignore the underlying issues of addiction), self pity – I… suppose, regret – shaky ground, fear – what?!, broken – huh?, depression – oh do fuck off.

See at this point I just want to shake the designers and ask how they didn’t see the problems here. These ‘vices’ are mostly just mental health problems. You made a game where if you had mental health problems from anxiety, to depression, to trauma, to anger issues, and so on, you’re doomed to be punished for that in the next life. You done goofed. You’ve done a bad job, game designers *baps on nose with a newspaper*.

Why didn’t I notice this in the Kickstarter? Because the plot and the birdens (get it? They have birds on) weren’t shown together. Indeed, the use of the birden cards is considered an alternative play style (more on that later).

I genuinely think that if Certifiable Studios had framed it as: those who had, through their own failings or lack of bravery, failed to do the things that really mattered to meet their destiny, and then changed the titles of each birden, that this all could have been avoided.

Stuffed sees you trying to complete a mission by putting a dedicated team together and gathering the necessary supplies to complete it. That’s it, no need to blame people who have mental health problems. Just adorable stuffed animals (some of whom happen to be mercenaries) going on a quest together. Even with the birden cards in play, you can read it as “we came together as a team, and overcame those birdens”. They simply had to avoid framing them as vices or personal failings.

Ok, major glaring issues addressed, time to talk about gameplay.

Players take turns rolling 8 custom dice to earn money, gain advantage cards, gain loyal companions and specialists, or hire mercenaries. Each ally (and the player’s avatar) allows you to spend a die with a matching symbol to manipulate one or more dice. The avatars always allow you to spend one paw symbol die to re-roll any number of other dice. Others may ask you to spend a leaf to modify one of the dice to your favour. It’s this ability to re-roll and modify dice that takes a lot of the frustrating randomness out of the game (which is always a risk with dice rollers).

Loyal allies only require you to spend the correct symbols from dice in order to join your team, but specialists will also want you to spend gold to recruit them. Whereas mercenaries may even want you to part with your advantages as part of their cost. Luckily you can trade in three matching symbols for a coin or four for an advantage card (unless you rolled birds, those pesky birdens ruin everything). Advantages can be played for various benefits such as a free re-roll, an additional resource, to modify a die, etc. Some may even be played as allies in their own right.

As you progress through the game someone will eventually hire a mercenary. Once the first one is hired a new, pink die goes into the mix. This is rolled with the other dice on each player’s turn and should it land on a symbol matching a merc in play, their current employer gets a benefit. That could be extra gold, to steal gold from another player, to manipulate one of the current player’s dice, remove dice from the current player, etc. However, they wouldn’t be truly mercenary unless you could do the most devious thing, and just hire them straight from whoever hired them last, instead of from the pool of available companions.

Basically that’s the base game. The mission will have a description like “Break the curse and wake up the sleeping town of Totta”, but what it requires is (with a single exception) the same thing: have 2-4 teammates, 1-2 must be a mercenary, then spend 5-6 resources (dice of the correct type and possibly some coins or an advantage card). Once that’s done, that’s it, quest complete, game over.

That said, there is a rules variant which tries to bring in some of the plot, but even then only loosely. At the start of the game, each player can be dealt two birden cards (*angry hisses at birden cards*) depending on the card they will have different requirements in order to overcome them – such as spending 4 coins to rid yourself of anxiety, or dealing with your personal issues by hiring two mercenaries (sounds serious), or dismissing a teammate (who is not a mercenary) to rid yourself of depression (as someone with clinical depression, I can assure the designer that pushing your friends away is not how you deal with it). Once both your birdens are removed, you can complete the mission. It’s pretty flimsy but stops people rushing to the end game. Even so, you’ll probably be done in 20-30 minutes.

Stuffed has such beautiful art (even when it’s being kinda dark), but the story and the flavour of some of the mechanics really let it down. It feels like they had someone with incredible talent design the cards and then they just spitballed the plot while drunk and high. A real shame, and the reason I’m not that interested in Certifiable Studio’s next Kickstarter project. My advise is, if you’re going to play it with friends, let them know the rules and then put the manual away.

Pros:

  • Amazing art.
  • Custom dice have nice art and a lovely weight.
  • The box opens like a story book.

Cons:

  • The game treats mental health problems like personal failings.
  • Doesn’t really tie all it’s concepts together very well.

Final Score: 6.5/10

Seeing Red – Flamme Rouge

To look at Flamme Rouge, you’d think it was a child’s puzzle with some little toy bicycles on it. It’s a few Hot Wheels, a Care Bear and a tin of home dried mint leaves (don’t ask) away from looking like something I’d have loved as a kid. That said, the front of the box shows enough awards to make it worth a deeper look.

Flamme Rouge is a race game for 2-4 players (you can add 2 more with the expansion). The game board is double sided and modular, meaning that you can get a lot of different layouts from these parts. The pieces of the board (and the player boards) are made of super thick and weighty cardboard and popping these out was one of the most satisfying punchcard experiences I’ve had in a while.

Setup is pretty simple, the game comes with 5 route cards which show you how to lay out the pieces and which way up. Players then take turns to put their bikes in the starting area. The inside lane of each square counting as being in the lead.

Each player gets two cyclists – a sprinteur (slow, with occasional bursts of speed) and a rouleur (who keeps a more steady pace) – as well as two decks of cards – one for each of their grumpy bike boys (seriously, all the cards make them look really miserable).

Players will draw 4 cards from one of their two decks, pick one to play, and then lay it face down next to their player board. The other cards get put face-up on the bottom of their deck. Then they move on to the other deck and repeat the action. It’s this incomplete knowledge of what the other cyclist’s cards are going to be that can really ramp up the tension, and make or break your strategy.

Once everyone has picked their cards, players go in sequence from the race leader, turning over their cards and move the number of spaces shown. The played cards are removed from the game, never to be seen again (I think they get taken out and shot, or something).

Next comes the slipstream section. Starting from the last racer, players check the number of empty spaces between them and the cyclist in front. If it’s only one space the racer(s) move up and fill the gap. This then forms a block and the process starts again. If there’s only one space between that block and the rider in front, the whole block move up to fill the gap. And so on until everyone is either bunched up in a pack, or too far apart to benefit. Any riders who find themselves with an empty space in front of them after this process takes an exhaustion card (only 2 movement) and add it to their deck.

Because of this, it’s not advisable to get too close to the front of the pack as you risk exhaustion, but if you don’t, it’s very hard to try and pull ahead. As such, you can find yourself sticking in the pack for most of the race, only daring to sprint at the last minute. That said, if you’re saving all your high value cards for the end of the game, you could end up with one rider drawing a hand of just these cards, long before you’re ready. Meaning they’re forced to go flying by, flicking the v’s at opponents as they speed past. Sure, they’re way in front now, but they’ll be picking up exhaustion and looking pretty silly if the others finally catch or overtake.

As you move through your deck, it’s easy to get a grasp of roughly what’s in there, so you can plan ahead to some degree. Once the face up cards you’ve been recycling hit the top of your deck, it’s time to shuffle and move on. Suddenly those exhaustion cards you picked up are in the mix and you’re at risk of having a handful of low value cards when the pack pulls away.

In addition to these basic rules, some of the track layouts include hills. While entering or going up an incline, you can’t move more than 5 squares. So if you’re 6 blocks from the bottom of a hill you can’t move onto it with a card showing 7, you’ll have to finish your turn early, before you start the climb. If you played that 7 on the way up, you’d only get to move 5 spaces.

Furthermore, as you fight your screaming muscles to push on up, you get no slipstream benefits and as before, if there’s a gap ahead of you at the end of the round, you’re getting exhausted.

Conversely, if you start your turn on a downward slope, all cards are treated as a minimum of 5. Meaning you may be able to spend away your exhaustion cards for far more than they’re worth.

Because the decks are so small, you’ll find yourself moving through them very quickly, especially late game (if you’ve managed to avoid too much exhaustion). This limits your options in really fun and interesting ways. There’s a reason one of the awards on the box is from Mensa.

While a game of Flamme Rouge isn’t exactly long (30-45 mins at most) it’s a lot of fun and there’s every chance your table will be up for setting up a new track and going the extra kilometer.

Pros:

  • A well paced race game.
  • Deep enough that even seasoned gamers will enjoy.
  • Modular board means there’s plenty of replayability.

Cons:

  • The game comes without anywhere to store cards, so they just rattle around the box.
  • Could do with some more course cards as 5 single sided cards seems a bit of a waste.

Final Score: 8/10

Warm, Wet, and Breathable – Terraforming Mars

Lately I’ve been craving some more heavy weight boardgames. Much as I love a game we can knock out in 30-60 minutes, I’ve been wanting something more in depth. Having looked around for recommendations, I’ve been pointed in the direction of Terraforming Mars by Jacob Fryxelius.

Huge corporations are sending people off to Mars, in the hope of bringing warmth, water, and a breathable atmosphere. So this is your chance to get in on the dusty, red, ground floor.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about Terraforming Mars, is the sheer number of cubes. There’s 5 bags of cubes in each player colour, some chonky white cubes, and then bags of gold, silver, and bronze cubes to use as money. Next up is the massive number of cards and the art thereupon.

The card art for this game is an amazing and alarming mix. It’s like someone just used google images and hoped for the best. It’s mix of what looks like stock photographs and… interesting art. Ultimately it does the job, but there’s no real consistency through the deck. Additionally, the print on the cards is a little fuzzy and the card stock is flimsy. This is another game that feels like it needs to be immediately sleeved or risk it melting on a particularly humid day. As so much focus goes on the cards throughout the game it really feels like a poor choice to have put so little care into the finished product.

You’ll start your martian adventure by dealing out two corporations to each player, they then pick one and this will determine their starting funds and any ongoing bonus they may get throughout the game. Alternatively, new players can pick a beginner corporation which gets a set starting amount, but has no other bonuses during the game. These basic corps can be played with the standard ones, so no worries if you’re introducing a new player to a group of veterans.

Next up you’ll be getting some of those cards I mentioned earlier, beginners get 10 cards for free, normal corporations will get 10 to choose from, but will have to pay 3 credits (they’re called mega Euros, but that’s a bit wordy) for each card they wish to keep. Once everyone’s made their decisions about their starting hand, play can begin.

Each player huddles over their own resource board, here they carefully monitor their income and supplies of various commodities such as money, steel, titanium, plants, energy, and heat. These boards take up a lot of focus, but once again, the quality of the components really let things down. They’re shiny rectangles of cardboard, which you constantly place and remove various cubes on throughout play. Keeping the income tracking in place is vital, but one sharp knock on the table and it could all get shifted around. Unless everyone has a good memory, you could be looking at basically calling game over.

If you look online, people have made various solutions, from phone apps, to perspex overlays, but none of these are really satisfactory. What’s needed is a little bit more love on the components, to give us something more akin to the Scythe player boards, those little divots are perfect, and stop things going completely tits up if, 2 hours in your friend accidently kicks the table while getting up to answer the door to destiny (bloody destiny, always calling at inappropriate moments).

Players may take one or two actions, be that playing cards from their hands, paying for various actions shown on the main board itself, using special actions on already played cards, using their unique corporation actions, etc. As you can see, there’s a lot to do on your turn, lots to think about. Is now the time to start building cities, or do you want to focus on raising your titanium income, so you can afford more space projects? What if you wanted to start cranking out power, which you can turn into heat and ultimately start raising your terraforming rating by warming the planet?

Ultimately, your goal as a group is to raise the temperature of the planet to a balmy 8 degrees, increase the level of oxygen in the atmosphere, and to create 9 glorious tiles of ocean. Once these challenges are completed, the game ends.

On an individual level though, you’ll want to make sure that you’re raising your own base score (in the form of a terraforming rating, usually raised by building oceans and forests) and to lock in victory points, which are calculated at the end of the game. Victory points are mostly found on the cards you play, but there’s also the opportunity to claim awards (Do you have a bunch of cards in your hand? Have you completed enough building projects? Have you build 3 cities?). While there are 6 different awards that can be funded (for the knock down price of just 8 credits), players can only fund 3 of these during the game. Once they’re gone, they’re gone and with them a further 5 victory points in the end game, so get them while they’re here (FOMO! FOMO! FOMO! Bend yourself to capitalism! Do iiiiiiit!)

Gameplay can last up to about 3 and a half hours for a couple of first timers, but settles down to 90-120 thereafter. Terraforming Mars is deep enough and thoughtful enough to keep you engaged during that time, without risking boredom and gameplay moves fairly swiftly (as long as everyone is paying attention). While I absolutely love the gameplay and just want to keep diving back in (and maybe investing in some expansions), I really wish the components (particularly the player boards (flimsy and potentially a game ending risk), the cards (flimsy) and cubes (which aren’t well finished)) had enjoyed been better made. It’s natural to wonder where your £50-£60 is going when you look in the box, my only conclusion is that it’s licencing for the art, but still, that poor quality has lowered my final score. If you see it on sale, definitely grab yourself a copy.

Pros:

  • Good, weight to gameplay.
  • Very replayable.
  • Fun.

Cons:

  • Lack of consistency in the art.
  • Flimsy and badly finished components.
  • Very expensive to feel this cheap.

Final Score: 7/10

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.