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.

Better Than A Head In A Bucket – Oculus Quest

Surely it is the goal of every friend group to sit around watching one of your number strap a box to their head and then flail around at nothing while the rest video it for light ribbing at a later time? Surely we all dream of being punched in the knees by someone slow motion fighting an invisible enemy? Surely, we all sat too close to the TV as kids, to try and capture the full cinema effect (and were perhaps told by a relative that our eyes would go square if we did so (well the screen’s strapped to my head now granny, what you gonna do, huh))?

Well worry not, your prayers are answered, and just like many other prayers, there’s going to need to be a large cash outlay to some middleperson before they’re willing to let said prayers on through.

Slightly strained metaphor there, but what the heck.

The third-ish generation of virtual reality gaming is here (I say third, we’ve got like the Virtuality headsets of the 90s (I’m not counting the Virtual Boy, no one should), then the more recent Oculus Rift/HTC Vive/PSVR era, and now this. Hurrumble) and it’s definitely moving in the right direction. First off the headset isn’t nearly as heavy as some, and the fact you don’t need any wires really helps lighten that load. It’s a lovely shape and the tiny IR cameras are fitted snugly into the body of the unit. On top of that, the Quest doesn’t require any additional sensors around the room to function, making it super convenient to use.

Inside the headset you’ll find the padding around the eyes is comfortable and the screens fill a good amount of your vision. My only gripe here is that there is a lot of space around the nose that lets in light, but keep your eyes up and you can still stay very immersed. The box it comes in also includes a spacer so you can comfortably wear glasses with it, woo!

There is a headphone jack on the side if you want to go that way, but I found the speakers really good and clear for directional sound. Plus, not having to wear separate headphones means that more of your head is free and therefore cooler (especially important if you’re really leaping around playing the likes of Beat Saber).

The Quest boasts a per eye resolution of 1440 x 1600 (which is better than the monitor on my PC if I’m honest) and looks really crisp in the games I’ve tried.

The unit stays in place thanks to three velcro straps which can be individually lengthened or shortened. I initially found that looking up and down could cause the headset to slip slightly, but I managed to resolve this by lengthening the overhead strap and tightening the sides up. I’ve also seen online that some folx have tried strapping a battery pack to the back to balance the weight (handy if you want to play long sessions without plugging to the mains).

I’ve found the head tracking to be spot on, though you can sometimes find that the controllers aren’t in quite the right place if they’re held down by your side or slightly behind you for an extended period. However, this can be easily fixed by moving them slightly forward, within sight of the cameras for a moment.

The Quest features the ability to use full room-scale VR, without the aid of base stations or additional cameras, which is awesome as heck, if you have that kind of space. Just enter room-scale setup, pop a controller on the floor to set the height, and then draw a line around the useable space in the room (or rooms it turns out. I tried seeing if I could draw the play area into the kitchen and hallway, which it did just fine, but was odd to feel like I was looking through walls in my flat when I saw it).

Once you’ve drawn your space out, it will be remembered between sessions with great accuracy, as long as you haven’t moved large objects around the room. However, if you open a curtain or move something large, or turn on a very bright light, you might find the unit struggling to recognise its surroundings.

If you don’t fancy wandering around in a virtual world, you can just sit down and use the sitting setting. This creates a virtual tube around you and doesn’t get too fussy if you just reach slightly outside this to manipulate virtual worlds. My only minor annoyance with this is that if you switch to sitting mode, you will have to redraw the room again if you switch back to room-scale

The controllers are lightweight, but feel nice, have easy to find buttons, a good analogue stick, and an impressive rumble for something so light. Additionally, the batteries on the controllers last a really long time (I’ve played all through Superhot VR, Virtual Virtual Reality, most of I Expect You To Die, plus days of Beatsaber and Tilt Brush, and so has my fiancée and they’re still on about 50% power). Furthermore, if they do run out and you want to play in a hurry, they will run off of a single AA battery each, which is great.

As for the battery life on the headset, you’ll find this depends on how loud your volume is set and how fancy the graphics on your game are, but on average, I’m getting about 3 hours of intensive use out of it before it needs a charge. Though you can just plug it in and play from the mains if you want (I thought I wanted, but I realised 3 days in I’d already become a cable snob (who even am I anymore?!)).

The system comes with in 64gb and 128gb versions, retailing at £399 & £499 respectively. I’ve got a bunch of games installed on a 64gb system and there’s still around half the space left. It helps that most are only about 3gb so once you get the current 10 best games installed, you’ll still have plenty of room for all your Tilt Brush art. For what the system is, and what it will be mostly used for, I think 64gb would be plenty for most people.

The big question really has to be, is it worth it? Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. I love using it, I love the fact we have one at home, I love that I can take it to a friends house and show them VR without having to lug a PC around as well, I love the immersion, I love that Beatsaber made exercise more fun, I loved watching VR videos from space, I love the big screen cinema experience in my living room.

But… It’s very expensive for what it is. For the same price you could get a PS4 Pro or most of an Xbox One X or the deposit on a gaming laptop, so if it’s this, or something else deal, maybe get something else. However, if you have the money to spare and no other commitments, go for it, it’s brilliant.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Cable free
  • No additional components required

Cons:

  • Expensive for what it is
  • Battery life could be longer
  • Having to redraw the boundaries for room scale if you switch between room-scale and sitting modes.

Final Score: 8/10

Blue Eyed Dragon Breath – Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution

Yu-Gi-Oh! Spikey hair, cards, Blue-Eyes White Dragon, The Heart of the Cards, ridiculous plots involving pharaohs? Really?! Like Stargate? Not like Stargate? Ok then.

It’s Yu-Gi-Oh everyone.

I’ll be honest, I’ve not played much Yu-Gi-Oh. My fiancée used to play the collectible card game years ago, and we’ve played a few games in the past, but I don’t really get it and I’m not super keen. It may be that the closest I got to a CCG was collecting Magic: The Gathering cards, but never playing because I didn’t have any friends as a kid.

As I got older I did eventually get to play with various partners, but I started to think it might be cursed. This was due to the fact that all it took was a couple of games of MTG and a week or so later and our relationships were over. As such, I’d become a little weary of it. That was all unfounded and now I play MTG, Pokémon, and occasionally Yu-Gi-Oh with my fiancée whenever we have a free weekend.

Now, we mostly play with fairly old cards, and we’re well aware that there are a lot of new rules in the modern game. The thing is, neither of us is willing to get sucked back into buying hundreds of cards until we can’t afford to eat.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution is here to for people like us, who want to try more of the game, but aren’t willing to throw an entire paycheck at Konami for the privilege. You want more cards? Just play the campaign game and gain points and cards, along with unlocking booster packs which you can purchase with in-game currency, from the shop.

No microtransactions, no DLC, just play more to get more. Simple.

The main part of the game is the campaign mode. Here you can play through each of the TV series, reliving great moments from the show. The stories are told through a series of vignettes like an anime powerpoint presentation. You’ll watch (or after the first few, skip) through the plot before being thrown into a duel as you would have seen it on screen.

Here comes my major gripe with the game. the decks being played are all about those moments in the show. They’re not super balanced, there isn’t a huge amount of synergy, and you don’t even get a chance to see what’s in your character’s deck until you draw the cards. I feel like if you’re supposed to be playing the characters, they’d know what you’re playing with. Perhaps I should just trust in the Heart of the Cards *rolls eyes*.

Too often I found that victory or crushing defeat was simply a matter of luck. If my first hand was good, I could be finished if a few minutes. If not I could either waste my time trying to block and hope I’d draw something to help with a come back (that would never come). More often than not, I’d look at my first hand, maybe my next 1-2 cards and surrender if it was already precarious, because the game beat the idea that recovery was even the vaguest speculation of a possibility. The only exception was playing the reverse match (play as an antagonist against one of the good characters in a duel you’ve already won from the other side) as Wendle, with an insect deck. This was the first time I saw a deck that even vaguely turned a game around.

As you play through, the game does a really good job of explaining each new mechanic in a fairly simple manner. This has definitely given me a much better understanding of how to play the decks we have at home along with the newer rules for things like pendulum or XYZ summons. The way you’re taught is very much just “here’s the instructions, do the thing”. It’s up to you to take a moment and read each of the cards in your own time. Thankfully, the tutorial doesn’t stop that. If you want to learn Yu-Gi-Oh, you could do a lot worse than play through the campaign tutorials in this.

Once you win a duel, you’ll be awarded a couple of signature cards for your opponent, some points (which you can use as currency in the in-game shop), the reverse match I mentioned earlier, and a blueprint for recreating the deck you played with.

After you’ve had enough of the campaign (and heck me there’s a lot to play through) you can try other modes. Play online in various modes (including local wireless, online, sealed play, draft play, and ranked matches), and build your own decks with the cards you’ve unlocked or purchased in-game.

This is where I feel the game really shines. Suddenly, you have the chance to put together some really good decks and try them out. The deck builder even has an option to select a card you like and then have the game suggest cards that will work well with it. This feature works really well and you can put together some really devastating decks on the advise of these suggestions.

The online mode seems well populated and and runs just fine. Which is really all you need to know.

Overall, Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution is as good a digital version of a collectable card game as I’ve seen for any of them. The graphics are nice during duels (though the animations of high level creatures being summoned looks a little bit early 00s era CG if I’m honest), the sound design is good enough, the selection of cards to use is great, the deck builder is really user friendly, the tutorials are very good, and the controls are simple. If you want an affordable way to play, or a way to play online because you can’t get anyone more local into Yu-Gi-Oh, this is the perfect way to do it.

Pros:

  • Lots of cards to win/unlock with no additional cash outlay once you’ve bought the game.
  • Good tutorials.
  • Excellent deck builder.

Cons:

  • Summoning high level creatures will play some ropey looking 00s era CG animations.
  • The vignettes make each series of the show look dull as heck.
  • Pre-built decks are poorly designed.

Final Score: 6.5/10

Spooky Action At A Distance – Man Of Medan

I used to watch a lot of horror films, not sure what happened, perhaps I just caught a lot of really bad ones in a row. Regardless, I’ve not had time for horror much of late. Gore doesn’t really do it for me. I’m not averse to it, I just don’t think that it makes a movie better. I like a creeping sense of dread. The idea that this horrifying thing is becoming more than 90 minutes in the dark with popcorn. Something that gets into your mind and gives you a moment’s pause in the dark, when you’re alone.

Some time early this year I finally got a chance to play Until Dawn with my fiancée. We shared time on the controller and made any decisions, that didn’t require split second timing, between us. It was a nice couple of evenings sharing moments of panic through quick time events, moments of surprise, and the all important moments of quiet in between, to build the tension. This was good horror.

Around the same time, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man Of Medan was announced from the same studio as Until Dawn. The plan was to take all the photorealistic character styling, decision making, quick time events, and exploration of the original game and create an anthology series of slightly shorter stories that can be played solo or with others in a number of different ways.

First up, there’s standard solo play. See all the things, from your currently controlled character’s perspective, explore, decide, try to keep everyone alive while you unravel the mystery of the decaying military vessel where most of the game takes place.

Next there’s couch co-op. Choose your number of players, and which characters each person will play as. As you move through the story you’ll get messages between scenes telling you who should be on the controller for the next section. Where as in Until Dawn, we made pretty much all decisions relating to the protagonists together, here we played our own characters, to our own tastes. Something very much encouraged by having the characters divided among us.

Lastly, there’s online co-op, and here’s where things change in a really interesting way.

There are sections of the game which happen simultaneously. As such, one player can be talking to another character in one area, while another person is exploring another section of the ship. Consequently you can have a moment very near the beginning of the game where two groups of characters are having entirely different stories told.

Those below the waves are finding interesting artifacts and trying to understand how a plane came down. Meanwhile above, a group of pirates are harassing those on the boat, eventually leading to an explosion, which the others see from underwater. This, in turn leading to WTF moments from the divers, which the characters can decide to discuss, or not. It’s up to the players to decide if they’ll share that information with each other or keep all explanation within the game itself. There’s a few other moments where this is used really well, but I won’t spoil you on it. Suffice to say that playing solo or in movie night (couch co-op) mode, the game takes around 5 hours to complete. Whereas online co-op is closer to 3 because of the overlapping sections.

The basic plot of the game sees two brothers, Alex (kind of a jock) and Bradley (an adorable, shy, nerdy type) preparing to take Julia (whom Alex is dating and seems like the type to ask to speak to your manager), and her brother Conrad (goofy alcoholic rich boy who seems like a total liability) out for some diving around a crashed plane they have located. This is a previously unexplored wreck and there’s excitement about what they’ll find, and in what condition. The last member of our merry band is Fliss, the boat captain (absolute badass, if a little shady) who’ll be taking them out on the ocean.

Things start off pretty gently through a flashback featuring a couple of naval soldiers on shore leave. The game uses this time to gently introduce the controls and game mechanics in a no-stakes environment. Flash forward then, to the present and we see our main cast loading their boat up for the proposed dive. Before long though, it’s all diving to the crashed plane, hearing rumors of lost gold, the aforementioned pirates showing up and dragging everyone off to and older and decaying, but still familiar ship. All aboard is very quiet and our protagonists are in over their heads. And that… is all I’m saying. You’ll have to play it for yourself if you want plot. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it a lot, on multiple playthroughs.

Just like Until Dawn, characters can die and this will very much change how the remaining characters interact and what options they have going forward. This gives the game a lot of replayability. Do you want a horror film with a lone survivor of the group? Do you want to try and save everyone? Maybe “accidently” fail a few quick time events to off that one character you don’t like? The options are all there.

The sound design and music is spot on. With great effects and cues that are well used, to enrich the experience. Graphically, the game is on par with Until Dawn. Which is to say, beautifully rendered and animated character with really uncanny teeth (why do all of these games do that?). The lighting is great and the locations are wonderfully grimey in just the right way. That said, I did experience some minor slow down in a few areas and a couple of momentary glitches, though this may be patched by the time of release.

One thing I was really happy to see was the number of accessibility options. I have a number of sensory processing issues which can make a game like this frustratingly difficult at best and unplayable at worst. First up, you have the ability to remove time limits from QTE button prompts. As long as you hit the correct button, you won’t fail. Additionally, there’s the option to replace button mashing sections with just holding the button down. Next up, there’s options to change how subtitles appear. Do you want the subtitles on a background rather than just overlayed straight onto the action? Do you want to change the colours for a more manageable contrast? Those options are here for you. Lastly, there’s the sidebar, which will put text from the various documents you find lying around into a more legible format, in a pop-up sidebar. These are all great considerations that I hope to see making their way to other games of this type in future.

The Dark Pictures Anthology has the potential to be to the interactive horror genre, what Telltale Games were to, well, all the many many genres things they worked on (though hopefully, it won’t end up collapsing like an incorrectly assembled deck chair as TTG did).

Pros:

  • Stunning graphics and sound design
  • Lots of replayability
  • Great story to unravel

Cons:

  • Some minor slow down in a couple of places
  • Pirates are mean
  • I’m struggling to come up with my usual 3 of these.

Final Score: 9/10

Hammer Time – Dragon Quest Builders 2

Well, it happened again. I sat down with a Dragon Quest Builders game and lost a month or so. In many ways, that’s probably a pretty glowing review on it’s own, but why don’t I gush on for a few paragraphs anyway.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes the third-person, action RPG, with voxel-based building fun of the original game, and tweaks it in just the right ways to make it vastly superior. You start the game as a trainee builder – one of the few people who can make anything in the world. You’re abducted and set to work on a ship of monsters. Just when it looks like your fate is sealed, the ship springs a leak and you’re washed overboard. Your time on the ship is a nice little introduction to the basic mechanics of the game (block placement, combat, camera controls, conversations, etc).

Next thing you know, you’re washing up on the Isle of Awakening. This will be your hub world for DQB2, replacing the old freeplay island where you could build whatever you wanted, outside of the story. Initially, there’s not a lot to do, apart from find shelter for Lulu, Malroth and yourself. In a case of dramatic irony, you’re made aware that the Lord of Destruction is also called Malroth in early cinematics. As such, the ever boiling temper and desire to break things by your black-haired, broody companion isn’t so strange to you, the player. As such, you’re left wondering just when things will come to a head in that department.

Soon after arriving on the Isle of Awakening, you’re sent off on your first mission, to learn all about farming. Heading to the dock, you’ll meet Brownbeard the pir-sailor (definitely just a sailor) who offers to take you around the local islands on their boat.

Your first excursion takes you to Furrowfield, an island of farmers who’ve lost the skills needed to ply their trade or feed themselves. The islanders are initially unhappy that a builder has arrived, because they follow the teachings of the Children of Hargon, who say that building is blasphemous and wrong. However, once they see your skills for building fields, bedrooms, kitchens, diners, and most importantly: a toilet, they soon come around to the ways of building.

One problem that I often found in the first game, was that when enemies randomly attacked your town, that they’d ruin chunks of it. While random attacks are still an issue, the monsters mostly go for your crops, and do no more than dig up the seeds. While the second island did see some enemies who could smash an adobe wall down, for the most part I didn’t have to worry about rebuilding half of my town.

In addition, when facing larger enemy attacks (triggered by talking to a townsperson who has a crossed swords icon above their head) it was nice to see that once the dust of battle had settled, the townsfolk announced they would put things back as they were before. A quick fade to black and everything was pristine again. The damage to my carefully made towns was one of my biggest complaints with the previous game. As such, this made a very welcome change.

On the subject of quality of life improvements, my biggest gripe was having to find everything I needed to make a large storage chest. Every. Single. New. Area. (*hours of screaming noises*). Luckily, this has also been fixed. Early on you get a big bag that gives you seven pages of storage space that you always have on you for the rest of the game (even if some of the contents gets stored away before you head to a new mission area). This is brilliant and stops a lot of unnecessary frustration for finding space to store all your carefully collected crap.

Most of the way through the first main island, you’re given a giant project to construct something. While your character is the one who designs each of its three huge sections, the townspeople are keen to do most of the building themselves. First off you have to collect a few items, and lay them out according to the blueprint. Once you’ve got that down, the villagers will get on with most of the rest themselves – just as long as there’s a chest nearby which has the items they need, many of which they will gather themselves. While I was initially a little unhappy to have this huge project taken out of my hands, some of the more fiddly bits seemed best done by my new helpers. Also, there’s always the option to just take their chest full of bits and do all the building yourself.

With Furrowfield restored to full glory, you return briefly to the Isle of Awakening, along with a number of the islanders. Here you can catch up with a strange glowing creature called the Hairy Hermit, who shows you the first stone tablet and teaches you how you can complete tasks to earn medals – which in turn unlock new tools: the trowel (for replacing one type of block with another from your inventory), the pencil (for creating blueprints from any scenery you find and want to replicate), and the chisel (for carving blocks down into other shapes, great for fancying up your grander builds); as well as new cosmetic items.

Initially, you’re charged with restoring a river and waterfall, and restoring the fields and woods, using tools, equipment, and assistants you gained in Furrowfield. While there’s some argument between a number of the island’s residents over what the place should be called or who’s in charge, none of it gets too heated and soon enough you’re being pointed back to the docks to explore elsewhere.

At this point you have access to a few other islands. The first two Explorers Isles can be unlocked for a few gratitude points (earned by building and farming on IoA) and the next major story island, Khumbul Dun.

The Explorers Isles are interesting little scavenger hunt areas where you can check various blocks, farm animals, rocks, and plants off of a list to earn an infinite supply of certain resources. Each island has two scavenger hunts and completing each of the major story areas will unlock two more of these islands. The ability to gain infinite amounts of some of the most basic resources is such a time saver in the long run, and the fact that carries over to the main story islands was a lovely surprise.

Additionally, you can often find new seeds for various crops on these islands. Just the thing for filling your farms on IoA and keeping everyone well fed and happy.

Up to this point, I’d been enjoying the story, even if I wasn’t keen on all the characters. However, heading into the second major island, I was somewhat squicked by the way a lot of the men in the village talked about the only woman living there. Entitled fuckboys. Entitled fuckboys everywhere. Each of them feeling entitled to her in some way. All of them trying to get her to become a dancing girl at the bar, and dress like a bunny girl. It wasn’t until a little later, when she revealed that, actually, she really wanted to dance, that that feeling eased any. Not that the men-folk got any less letchy in general.

Following this excursion to a mining town, you’re briefly back to the Isle of Awakening. At this point I was all ready to start using all my new recipes and start work on expanding my own island (I medically required a train system around my island). However, you’re quickly whisked off to a whole new chapter, set in a prison, that doesn’t really add much to the game as a whole (apart from making me really want the recipe for guillotines, so I can warn any would be capitalists off of my home island).

You are eventually allowed back home after about 90 minutes of side story, but at this point I’d kind of lost heart for getting on with bringing the desert mining town home and just wanted to press on with the story a bit.

The final big story island mostly takes place in a constantly warring castle town. The Children of Hargon have managed to convince the humans that to build is forbidden, to win the war is forbidden, and to be completely defeated is forbidden. As such, you’re shown to the last few crumbling walls of the once great castle and left to get on with it while people bicker about whether they should be doing much at all. There’s also a plot involving a traitor in your midst, which leads to one of the most irritating moments in the game.

Your character is a silent protagonist, meaning that you are unable to just have a simple conversation that could have avoided all or at least most of the distress another character was feeling. I get that the plot needed to eventually work round to a couple of specific things, but it really took a lot of agency away from the player at this point.

There’s no way to go into a certain area via walking in there, you can’t dig through into that area either because of sudden invisible barrier syndrome. The game just says “nope, we need them to be pissed at you so we’re going to block any attempts to make amends so our flimsy plot works. I knew there and then that while I’d left each other island intact when I left this castle – only taking a few volunteers with me to the IoA – this time I was taking everything that wasn’t nailed down. Every chest was emptied, every trap, weapon, and special item was coming with me. To heck with this hole!

There’s a final, mostly plot-based area after this which leads to the final boss, but it’s a shorter area than most of the main plot islands. After which, you’re treated to the credits and given the opportunity to head back to IoA to try out all your newly unlocked recipes and rooms on your home base, now with an added vehicle for getting around at high speed. Woo!

You may have spotted that DQB2 also has a season pass available (currently £18.89 GBP) on the eshop. This contains 3 pieces of DLC (which can also be purchased for £8.99 each for the Aquarium & Modernist packs, and £5.39 for the Hotto Stuff pack). I’ve had a look through what’s available and to be honest, it’s not super impressive. Each pack contains a number of new recipes and an island you can head to to gather pack specific items.

The available packs are the Hotto Stuff pack (retro Japan), which features more than 40 new recipes design and decorate buildings in the style of the Hotto Steppe region (Traditional Japanese/Dragon Quest XI); the Aquarium pack (wet and fishy), which gives you a new fishing island, a fishing rod tool, more than 40 fish to catch, a short story section, and a number of new character customisation items; and the Modernist pack (IKEA catalogue), which includes more than 70 recipes to make modern structures, and a bunch more character customisation items.

Outside of the paid packs, there’s also the Knickknack pack, which adds 3 new items to celebrate New Year in a traditional Japanese-stylee. The pack contains a paddle, soup, and an ornate decorations.

Finally, if you do own the original DQB (and still have a save file on your system) you can access a recipe for stackable slime decorations and a chance to wear the hero’s outfit from the first game.

You may have heard that this game features a multiplayer aspect, and that’s kind of true, but not at all what I was hoping for. Once you get to the Isle of Awakening, you find a cave with a teleportal in it. This will allow you to access the MP mode. First off, decide if you’re playing online or over local wireless. Then invite friends or go visit someone else.

For receiving visitors, you can change settings which will stop any potential trolling. Additionally, once you’re in multiplayer mode, a large chest appears by the telportal containing medical herbs, some basic armour, and a cheap weapon. However, as it’s not great armour or weaponry, I’ve put a small chest of guest equipment of my own down.

Once you’ve got everyone together in MP you’ve a few options. Obviously you can show off your builds, but beyond that you can also head out and do the Explorer Islands together. This makes the scavenger hunts a lot less work, and the boss monsters on those islands a lot more manageable.

I had hoped that you could just go through the story missions with another person, but this just isn’t an option. A real shame, since that’s what I really wanted from the sequel. Maybe next time.

Despite a few issues with the plot, some of the characters, and the minimal multiplayer, I really enjoyed DQB2. I’d say if you’re looking for Minecraft with a story, this is probably the one for you. It doesn’t require that you’ve played the first game and the quality of life improvements have made the original basically obsolete.

Pros:

  • Fun gameplay
  • Guillotines to build (and threaten anyone who tries to claim leadership of my glob damn island)
  • Lots of quality of life improvements over the first game

Cons:

  • Disappointing Multiplayer
  • Annoying plot decisions on the third island
  • Expensive expansions that don’t add enough value.

Final Score: 9/10

Scythe Had Enough – Staxel

I don’t quite know how it happened, why I let it happen, or if it could happen again, but fuck me, I got rinsed.

The other day a shiny trailer popped up somewhere or other, licked a finger and started stimulating the Lisa Frank receptors in my brain with bright colours and cute characters. That was the launch trailer for Staxel, a voxel-based farming game with crafting and building mechanics. There’s full controller support, it announced. There’s cat people, I discovered. It looks like a unicorn puked on it, I noticed. So, I checked the reviews and found them to be mostly positive. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but then neither am I, so I can relate. I had the cash spare so I grabbed it.

Here now are my findings after too long to request a refund for Staxel.

You begin your journey by designing a character using a fairly basic set of prefab parts. You can be all sorts of adorable and have most of the important styles of anime hair. You can be a cat person, which naturally, I chose.

Having fashioned a green-haired, purple-clothed, cat girl with a side fringe, I headed out into the world.

I found myself in a run-down house, with an awesome, nerdy looking person called Farm Fan, ready to show me the ropes. While I usually prefer to be the one using the ropes on others, I was taken enough with her style that I was willing to hang out and talk shop *ahem*.

For the next bit it was all pretty standard farming sim stuff. Learn to prepare the earth, plant seeds, water them. At this point, it’s basically a first-person 3D Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon, very familiar and easy to manage, but explained well enough that someone new to the genre could find their way in.

After a while, you’re escorted off to town, to meet some of the residents and learn how crafting works. And this, for me, is where cool idea, became frustrating annoyance.

You’re charged with building a barn, so that you can adopt some cows. First off you’re given a sign post, which states what the building is and what it’s requirements are. The only real requirement for a barn is that it mostly fits inside some sparkling 3D guides (toggled from the signpost), and that it contains some specific items (a roof and some troughs for animal feed). You can confirm that a building project is complete by checking the sign, which will tick off items as you add them.

Well that sounds simple. Oh bless you, my sweet summer child.

The fundamental thing about Minecraft is that you build stuff out of blocks. Largely, these blocks are easy to make. Or at least the most basic ones are. Staxel chucks all that in the bin, sets fire to the bin and then laughs in a terrifying fashion. Too loud, and too long. Is that a tear in Staxel’s eye as it laughs and laughs while smashing its genitals into a Lisa Frank binder with a rainbow cat on it? Hard to say, and I don’t want to get too much closer.

Rather than clicking on a crafting object, entering a simple GUI and throwing things from your inventory in set shapes to fashion the things you need, Staxel wants you to put things on the crafting tables by hand. Need wood? head out, find a tree, cut it down (at least cutting the bottom will make rest collapse, rather than defying gravity like in Minecraft). Take your raw wood (*snigger*) off to the building centre in town and use their saw table by putting wood from your hand, onto the table and then activate the saw. From here it will keep going until it runs out of wood or you stop it and grab your freshly hewn lumber. Because the saw table is good and the others – which make you craft one unit at a time – are awful and should learn by saw table’s excellent example.

Now we need some blocks of wood, to do this we’ll need 2 x glue, 1 x nails, and 4x lumber we made and pop it on the tiling table (not the assembly table, that’s different). You’ll need to buy the glue and nails from the building centre (so luckily you’re already there). Once they’re in place, just click the table and it will fashion you 10 blocks of wood for building. It’s not exactly punch tree, wood into crafting slot, pop out some lumber to use for building.

During this process, it becomes apparent just how clumsy and unhelpful this method of putting things from your hand onto the tables is. First off, if something’s in your main inventory, rather than your hot bar, you’ll have to move it there first, so you can put it on the table. This makes the whole process unnecessarily laborious, in a game that is already plodding along.

Tutorial’s over, fuck off.

With the barn built, I was awarded two cows and a tool for milking them. From this point, the explanation is over and it’s up to you to work out what you do (or not). Sure, fellow cat person asked me about building a fishing spot, and the mayor wanted me to build a house so someone new could move into the town. Given how I was already hating the crafting, I was hoping I could enjoy the farming for a while instead.

The problem here was that I didn’t have much money, I didn’t really understand what how to sell things for cash, and at some point my hoe just went missing, and I have literally no clue where it went.

Back to the shop, back to buy another hoe. Hopefully I can keep my cat and cows fed while my crops grow, or else find some way to sell the one thing I do have lots of (wood/lumber).

The problem is that in a farming game, selling your crops should be super easy. It’s been easy from the dawn of farming sims. There’s a bin on your farm, that you throw stuff in and someone grabs them in the evening and gives you cash. Not so here. Staxel wants you to get your saleable goods in your hand, put them down on a ‘sell’ bin in the market, in town, and then move down slightly and click on the bin to sell the item. Here again, this becomes a pain, when you have lots to sell. It’s got to come out of your inventory, onto your hot bar and then into the bin and then click sell. I guess it will stop you accidently selling too many things, but still, it’s annoying as hell and only bringing me closer to giving up.

One thing I’ve always struggled with in these games, from a stress perspective, is not having time to get everything done before the sunsets and stamina runs out. Luckily, Staxel doesn’t do short days (they’re almost twice the length of Stardew Valley’s), or a stamina meter, or mobs. All this should lead to a more calm and cheerful experience, but it’s not. Staxel is just frustrating in so many little ways that make me want to give up in despair.

(I know I’ve mentioned Stardew Valley a lot in this review, but it’s the gold standard of modern farming games so it’s going to have to come up some more. Soz not soz.)

SV starts you off with the humble parsnip. You clear some space, turn the earth, plant seeds, and water them. Four days later, you have something to sell.

Staxel starts you off with a beetroot, just one. In the tutorial, you’re told to find a clear space, hoe the ground, plant the seed, and water it. However, the tutorial then says that for the sake of understanding the process, they’re going to give you a magic jar of stuff to make it grow instantly, so you can learn to harvest. While I get the need to show the whole process early on and shortening it can be a good idea, what’s not clear until you start farming for yourself, is that these things take 8 days to grow normally(about 2.5 hrs of game time). That means that – while you should always give these things a decent amount of time before saying, “this isn’t for me” – by the time you’ve finished your first harvest, you’re already outside the refund window for the game on Steam. Furthermore, that’s 8 days of trying to make money to do something else while your crops grow so that you have to find something fun to do.

Until you get your first couple of harvests out of the way, you’re going to have to spent a lot of time pottering about the farm, then running to town to sell, talk, buy essentials to make things, or use the crafting tables in the building centre to process items. While town isn’t far away, it’s just such a constant need that it becomes a massive pain in the bum. Especially if you forget something at home.

Speaking of leaving things at home, I’d best mention storage. Chests are a common choice to both MC and SV. However, Staxel favours shelves and tables. Luckily there’s a starter shelf at home for you to dump things on, but once again, it’s a case of needing things on the hot bar to put them on the shelves in the first place *wails like an injured penguin*.

Something that I didn’t notice anyone in town explaining, was that there are special events. Not only did they not mention them before they happened, they weren’t always clear what they were about when they happened. My first encounter was seeing a bunch of what looked like partially built houses suddenly appearing in the weird field of storage bits (it looks like an abandoned market that’s fallen into disrepair) on the way to town. The first day, I assumed they were maybe going to be finished building’s later. However, further inspection revealed that they were actually portals to other worlds/areas.

I’ve been through each of these portals and while the change of scenery is nice, I’m a little wary of touching too much, as it’s been made clear by the villagers that if you take things from them that don’t belong to you, they’ll stop using the spaces/buildings. So, do I start taking the cool looking scenery for my home? Do I enjoy it as a weird new place to explore? Does anything happen in here or is it just there for the sake of being a different place? I have no idea, and as you can probably tell, I’m reeeeeeeally struggling to care at this point.

Staxel has just left early access and I’m not sure what it looked like before, but as it stands, it feels like a very pretty, but ultimately empty experience. Maybe if the crops were a little quicker to grow, if the days were a little shorter (or you could go to bed early to skip some time early on), if the crafting was less of a chore, if I had some idea where to look for fetch quest items, of if the quests could provide more info about where to find critical recipe ingredients (“you need two of these beetles, they hang out up trees and look like this” or something so you’re not just wandering round grabbing every innocent insect in the hope this is the one), I’d be writing a more glowing review, as it stands, it feels like unfinished, unintuitive, technicoloured unicorn shit.

I tried, but I’m done.

Maybe they have a roadmap for their future and a year from now it will be good, but right now it’s annoying shit that doesn’t even have a proper wiki to explain itself.

No, I don’t know where your blue socks are. If that’s your whole life ruined, fellow townsperson, you have bigger problems than cold feet.

Pros:

  • Colourful.
  • Cat people.
  • Mod and steam workshop support.

Cons:

  • Lacking substance.
  • Took so long to fully show its colours, I missed the refund window.
  • Needlessly obtuse at times.

Final Score: 4/10