Tactics games that allow you to produce new units are seemingly making a comeback. This summer, eleven years after the last Advance Wars game we get Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble — but can it grab the players like Wargroove did?
Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble calls itself Arcade Wargaming and there is something to that claim. It is, like Wargroove; a turn-based tactical strategy. The players control an army, take over cities, factories and airports to gain funds and recruit units to destroy enemy armies, unless the mission calls for a different victory condition.
Each player takes the role of a Commander, which gives their armies bonuses and different powers they can use once they build up their Power Meter. They can vary from tanks (called Metals in this game) getting a boost to healing all of the units and can greatly change the tide of the battle.
Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is a nice looking game — the main part of the game, skirmishes, have nicely detailed units that look even better during fights. The maps themselves are varied with nice models for cities, forests and mountains, all consistent in polish. I did find the fog of war jarring in comparison and it blocked a bit of the view as well.
The cutscenes are visually great too. All of the Commanders are distinctive and can be quickly identified as to which army they’re from. The backgrounds for those are well made too, just like the overworld. It allows for flying around the whole planet and shows attention to worldbuilding.
On the audio side, it’s nice as well. Every Commander has their own track that plays somehow to their character and they’re somewhat consistent in their army. Sound design is on par with all the shooting, explosions and tracks rolling sounding great. And so does the Japanese voice acting — in my opinion it is better than the English one, which makes some sense as the game is from a Japanese developer.
Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble has great game mechanics. The units can combine their firepower to attack together and the counterattack only happens to the last unit attacking. There is experience, and the troops can level up, making them stronger. There are special units that keep those levels between missions.
You will find a lot of variety in the units. The focus is mainly on ground troops, with a couple that are built in airports. In addition to standard troops, tanks and recon units, the player can also recruit mechs, called Mechanimas — they have their place and you can get different types of them for battle. There is a few more different infantry type units, such as snipers and spec ops. All of the infantry units can take over buildings, however some of them are better at it than others of course.
But this is where the title of this article comes to play. The game has issues — ones that by themselves wouldn’t matter that much, but stacked up, there’s a lot of them. To count a few, the game feels like it was created with a controller in mind, but all of the prompts are for keyboard. And even then, some of those prompts weren’t correct (it told me to press Backspace, but I had to press Delete). There’s no way to switch key binding and I had problems where my inputs were either doubled or not read at all, a mistake like that can cost you a mission.
And another big fat issue is the UI. It is way too big and overbearing for a game of this type. I’m not too keen on comparing games, but both Wargroove and the Advance Wars series kept their AI to minimum, with small menus next to units for choosing what to do after moving. Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble puts a bigger menu right in the middle of the screen.
The game feels slower than other games from the same genre. The fight animations are slow and can’t be skipped — they can be turned off from the menu, but then it can be confusing which unit is getting damaged as effects can be lacking in places. And the amount of units that can be recruited can be overwhelming — I’m not sure if having four different long range troops is necessary.
Tiny Metal: Full Meal Rumble is not a bad game. I think it’s a good game hindered by clunkiness surrounding the great main mechanic. If it is something that you can get through, and if you enjoy tactic games, I would recommend it. But if you do not enjoy this genre, there are better games to start that journey.
Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble is available on Steam, as well as Nintendo Switch.
Management simulator is a genre with a few recent hits in Planet Coaster and Two Point Hospital. For people wanting to manage transport for a whole country there’s OpenTTD. But there was a niche of the small scale transport. A niche now filled by Overcrowd: A Commute ‘Em Up, which allows you to run your own London underground station.
Overcrowd is, as mentioned, a management simulator that allows players to take care of an underground station. In each mission the player is given a plot of land with couple of tube lines passing through it. After building the platform, turnstiles and the ticket machines, you are able to start running the station, but only basics won’t do.
There is a lot that can go wrong on the Victoria line — garbage piles up fast and passengers can get sick. Occasionally there will crimes. Rats pop out. The temperature can go way too high causing heat strokes. To counteract all of that, you need to equip your staff with different tools or buy additional facilities such as air vents.
The passengers are very demanding. They arrive fast, don’t like overcrowding, standing around and love to litter. And with that, the player has to use Bonds acquired by transporting people to buy new upgrades, stations and staff to keep the station in the top shape. This means keeping the station’s reputation and the checkbook above zero, as well as digging up ground to create new platforms on lower levels..
While playing, you see the map from the isometric view — a classic look for the genre. However it immediately feels smoother. At the beginning, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it becomes apparent once you zoom in. The whole game is actually pixel art — but to see the whole station you have to zoom out, which blurs it perfectly. And it looks great to boot.
The whole artstyle is incredibly clean, putting readability over details. This is needed if you have to see exactly what is happening on the moment’s notice and respond. The UI is also clean, telling you all the necessary information — and sometimes interesting information the player might not know they need. The only gripe I could possibly have is the repetitiveness in passengers, as I managed to have a whole platform filled mostly with very similar looking characters.
The music feels nice and non-intrusive as well. Simple tracks in the background keep you in the zone while you try to figure out exactly how to put more tracks connected to the station. Similarly with sound effects, they’re a great filler and won’t distract you from the train coming in on platform two.
The tutorial got me through the basics of the game. I knew how to build, set up, staff and upgrade the station. After that, I was let loose to enjoy one of the few game modes — I decided to go with the campaign, as it seemed to be the main mode. The interesting thing about it is that the campaign itself is procedurally generated, giving you a couple of missions to build and run stations in different parts of the city, some more busy than others.
Once I got into the rhythm of the game, I started realizing that I’m not as good as it as I thought I would be. After losing because I had too much litter, I managed to barely scrape by. Overcrowd does not kid around — once you start dropping the ball on a certain aspect of your station, I found it hard to get back up. If not litter, then overcrowding, all while trying to keep my stuff from the verge of a breakdown.
Regardless of that, Overcrowd hits that sweet spot of being challenging. Each time I lost a mission it made me more conscious of how I build the station and what should I avoid next time. I don’t know if it’s the game or my liking of the genre, but I wanted more of it, and as soon as possible. There are difficulty levels, but I found the default level just right for me.
There are other game modes as well. If you want even more challenge, there is a daily mission — running a station and building all five platforms on the map. On the other hand there is the sandbox, which can be customized to your liking. Being able to experience the game without losing and just enjoying the mechanics and all the upgrades can be nice as a break from the demanding campaign or daily challenges.
If you’re a fan of the genre, you probably made your decision a while ago. But if you didn’t, I definitely recommend it for those that like micromanaging a transport company. If you’re not a management simulator fan you might still find Overcrowd interesting. However, be aware of the learning curve that might hit you, not unlike a train on the Piccadilly line.
Overcrowd: A Commute ‘Em Up is available on Steam as an Early Access title..
Volcanoids — Clever cogs
Over the last couple of years, the survival genre seems to have finally calmed down. People have stuck to what they like and it will be hard to get players out of their comfort zone. Can Volcanoids unearth them and accomplish what so many other titles had issues with — keeping them interested?
Basics — Hit it with a wrench
Volcanoids is a first-person survival game currently in early access. The player commandeers a drillship — a giant machine that travels underground and serves as the base. It can be fitted with different modules to suit your needs, be it research, production or defending it against robots that inhabit the island.
Yours isn’t the only drillship within the world — there is a lot of robot machines showing up all over the place. Raiding other ships and grabbing stuff from them is an important part, as it helps with research, upgrading your drillship and completing quests. The questline makes you drill all around the island to figure out what is it exactly that the robots are doing to this volcanic island. Their actions make the volcano erupt periodically, causing more chaos.
The modules on your ship take up energy, so you need to balance the current outtake as having everything on will quickly drain all your power. And upgraded parts take up more space, which in turn means having to add extra sections to your drillship but only if you first upgrade the engine — and this is where the bulk of the gameplay loop comes into play.
Visuals — Digging deep
Volcanoids is steampunk through and through. A lot of the time in-game is spent in and around digging machines — they do feel as well as look giant and powerful. The insides of machines are fairly compact, giving off a submarine vibe with different lights, levers and valves all around.
All of this is happening on (or under) an island with a giant volcano in the middle. The environment of it is quite nice, with greenery everywhere — all getting covered in the ash that spews from the volcano periodically. The volcano also creates pools of lava, making the island seem completely uninhabitable, a great contrast to the green meadows it returns to after some time.
There’s not much to say in the way of sound design as there is no music while playing. All of the sound effects are well placed with birds singing in the background and the giant machines rumbling as they create power from coal. I did find them a bit loud when I turned on the game, but that was quickly fixed by going to the options menu.
The Feel — All alone
While the first hour or two I felt really good about the game, first clearing the tutorial and getting my own drillship then fixing it up and adding modules after that the game seems to lose focus a bit. While quests were available, I almost forgot that they exist and was trying to upgrade my ship without full knowledge of how to get certain items. This is something that the developers are aware of and are trying to make parts of the game clearer through updating the game.
With that loss of focus Volcanoids had become somewhat tedious — I was trying to raid other drillships for parts, but for some reason couldn’t find what I was looking for. Only after checking online resources, I found out that the drillships can be fully destroyed and then the parts I was looking for would be available for scavenging.
However, the giant machines and running from module to module, turning them on and off to achieve proper output made the game enjoyable. Something I really appreciate is the fact that most of the actions on the ship can be done without looking at a menu — the consoles are fully working from the first person perspective, which makes using them so much faster.
Volcanoids isn’t too easy — while playing on the standard difficulty mode I managed to die a few times, be it to robots or the turrets some of the drillships have installed. The combat is quite basic with a few types of guns, grenades and healing. And healing turns out to be necessary as the enemies deal a decent amount of damage without missing.
While playing I kept thinking that this is an experience that requires friends. Similarly to Guns of Icarus, running around a steampunk machine with other people trying to switch things on and off and fix modules being broken seems like the natural step for this game. Thankfully, the devs are already working on it and I think that it will help with balancing some of the tedious stuff out.
While I enjoyed my time with Volcanoids, I was left wanting more — more weapons, more modules and more people I can play with. The base game that already exists will keep a player occupied for at least a couple hours, but until more content gets added they might not have a reason to return after that. Hopefully the multiplayer hits soon, and then a lot more shenanigans will be had.
Volcanoids is currently available on PC and Linux through Steam as an Early Access title.
Heaven's Vault — Words of the past
Archeology is not an easy topic — the main piece of media people seem to remember is the Indiana Jones series and that movie makes the field seem more glorious than it is. But even something so seemingly boring as looking at broken pottery and random words from thousands of years ago can be made interesting — and that’s what Inkle’s Heaven’s Vault tries to achieve.
Basics — Archeology made easy
Heaven’s Vault is an open-world narrative adventure game where you take the role of an archeologist Aliya Elasra as she investigates the Nebula — a network of ancient moons with rich history. Travelling between the various sites on your ship, Nightingale, with a companion robot Six, you discover a multitude of historic artefacts. As you discover the artifacts, you start to uncover the mysterious ancient language present in the game.
The language is the main overarching puzzle of the game — there are dozens of different words you have to find the meaning of to understand the ancient texts. Those texts then allow Aliya to understand the history of the universe and the empires that ran the moons over the centuries.
Heaven’s Vault has a really beautiful art style, one not seen in many games. The environments are beautifully done in 3D — be it lush farming planets or tiny barren moons in the middle of a cyclone. The coloring schemes and architecture for them also give a lot of information about what kind of moon you’re on — the institute planet has blocky buildings, completely different to an overgrown graveyard moon. All of this clearly inspired by middle-eastern architecture.
The offset to all of that is the character art — all of them are hand-drawn and 2D. They are also drawn from different angles, so even if you rotate your camera around they still look in the same direction. This, combined with an effect that leaves graphical echoes of where you were before, gives the whole game a feeling of a story being told by someone, which is well fitting with the historical theme of the game. The mild disappointment I had was lack of diversity — in bigger setpieces you can clearly see repeats of the same characters.
The music and sound design brings even more of the atmosphere to the Nebula. While quiet during land exploration, the music swells up while travelling on the rivers. This, mixed with different types of moons and rocks you’re flying by on the ship feels incredibly grand. The sound effects are mixed in well and never take you away, and the occasional narration from Aliya brings it all together as her story.
Feel — Slow but steady
I am by no means a history buff. But even so, Heaven’s Vault managed to get me interested not only in the story of the main character, but the whole history of the world. New words that Aliya has to decipher show up often enough to keep you interested and the fact that once you use them enough times you get told whether they’re correct replaces gaining skills.
Maybe it is just my love of cyphers, but the language you’re trying to decipher feels really good too. It is clear that love and attention was poured into it, and with time you get a certain amount of understanding on what makes a word mean things. At some point I noticed that all of the verbs have a certain symbol in them. You learn more about the language by trial and error, and sometimes thanks to help from other characters.
The characters play a fairly important role too. While there isn’t a lot of them, every single one is well executed with their own goals, ideas and past. Talking to them doesn’t feel like just checking out all of the topics but it instead it has consequences that can impact the game. I intentionally omitted certain topics because I didn’t trust the person with that information.
Interactions with the environments feel very natural — either reading a carving from a bottom of a broken cart or moving planks to safely go down into a stripmine feels very in line with the character. However, I sometimes found it difficult to pinpoint exactly which object I want to interact with when there’s a few near each other.
Heaven’s Vault is a bit slower than I expected at the beginning — there’s only one travel speed on foot, meaning the exploration can feel a bit tedious, especially if you’re doing a last check if you missed something. Sailing down the rivers feels faster, as the distances between locations can be very long — thankfully a patch with fast travel between places you’ve been to has been added recently.
What Heaven’s Vault gave to me is the ability to slow down — after a particularly intense time where I was stressing it allowed me to just relax and figure out a puzzle. With the beautiful atmosphere around it, if the idea of archaeology seems intriguing you should definitely give it a try.
Heaven’s Vault is available on PC for Steam, as well as on the PS4 store.
Monster Prom — Bed and behead
High School was hell for some people. There was a lot of drama, with people trying to date each other or mess with each other, but at the end there was the promised land of prom. Monster Prom works on that premise as a multiplayer dating sim, except everyone is a monster. Both literally and figuratively.
Basics — My friend wants the snake lady
As mentioned previously, Monster Prom is a dating sim in the style of, and inspired by, Yawhg. Every turn every player chooses their action in Spooky High, which results in a bonus to one of their statistics as well as an event with a choice that can either give you even more stats or get you points with a classmate. This is vital, as by the end of the game you are inviting one of them to the titular Monster Prom.
In between traditional rounds of players’ actions, which play out in order (based on a quick debating minigame after each round), there are also events in the cafeteria (which can only reward you with love points) and weekend events. Those usually require you to either answer about other player (giving you a chance to screw them up) or choose another player to team up with to achieve a certain goal threshold.
The game allows for both online and local multiplayer for up to 4 players as well as through sharing a controller between players, something quite useful if you want to play at a party. This adds a new level of play as someone may want to ask the same monster as you out. You can also decide whether you want a short or a long game, which could mean playing for up to 2 hours if you feel like it.
Visuals — The Cutest Cthulhu
Visual novels are often known to have very little on the visual side of things. Beautiful Glitch decided to dunk on that idea, with a multitude of main and secondary characters, each with a bunch of different faces and actions (and outfits, thanks to summer/winter updates). There’s also a couple of unique backgrounds, and a lot of extra art such as polaroids that you can collect when doing different endings.
On the audio side of things, no complaints. Every single character has voice clips that play when needed, there are tracks playing in the background that do get a bit repetitive after a while but they feel right for this type of game. The additional songs, whether from bands or made for the game, feel right where they should be.
Feel — Dates Against Humanity
Monster Prom is crass and definitely not for kids. It’s filled with characters being terrible, adult humor, poisonings and trying to get it on with a plate of pasta. And it does it all well. The jokes are well constructed and never in poor taste and the violence and terribleness makes sense since everyone is a literal teenage monster.
It is fully aware of its genre and makes fun of all the traditional tropes and game mechanics such as stats or numerical way to count love. It also makes fun of things worth making fun of, such as gatekeeping or bourgeoisie. And it does all that while still being incredibly inclusive and allowing each player to choose their pronouns for the game.
It is also chock full of content. It boasts over a thousand different events, each with two (or more if you fail the required stat threshold) outcomes. You can date and fail to date each character and with more endings you unlock stuff in the store which allows to get secret endings. Two of characters from secret endings of the base game end up being dateable classmates in the DLC.
And the DLC, aptly named Second Term adds not only those two new cuties, but even more events, side characters and secret endings including them. I recently got to go the Prom with a blue demon by buying a map and going along with what the game threw my way. Even more in-game art, concept art, polaroids and exclusive fan art can be unlocked as well, all of excellent quality.
And while it feels good playing by yourself, I found the most fun playing with friends, trying to either compete for someone’s heart, unlocking more endings or just voice acting our way through the game. Arguing about weird stuff to debate the next turn’s order makes it so much better. The experience is definitely heightened by sharing it with others, and trying to figure out how to be your worst self.
While it certainly isn’t for everybody. If you enjoy trying to bed a party ghost while your friend is failing to seduce an elder god then Monster Prom will keep your interest for a long while. It’s the perfect game to put on with all your terrible friends to enjoy with. Now, if you excuse me I have a very good boy werewolf to seduce.
Monster Prom is available on PC, Mac and Linux, the DLC Second Term has just come out.
Wargroove — The dogs don't die
And now we’ve got the most important part of the review out of the way with the title… Wargroove brings a breath of life to a genre untouched for a long time, popularized by the Advance Wars series in the West. Does it still hold up in a time where Fire Emblem reigns supreme?
Basics — Groove’em up
Wargroove is a turn-based tactics game — you control a bunch of units (and most of the time a commander as well), moving them around the map and fighting the opposing forces. Unlike the Fire Emblem series though, there are building you can take control of and recruit more units on land, air and sea. The game allows for playing either with a controller or just the mouse, which is great for people with limited mobility.
Aside from the units, each of the four faction has three commanders. Commanders are a unique named unit with great power and a special ability called a Groove. Once a commander has gained enough power by fighting and landing last strikes they can unleash it, these can really mix up the battlefield. One of the commanders is a dog called Caesar, which is amazing in itself.
Visuals — Every pixel a painting
Something Chucklefish’s catalogue excel at is pixel art — every game from them boasts beautiful pixel art, and Wargroove is no exception. Every commander is easily recognisable, every unit looks different, every army has a different influence, and yet all feel like a part of the same world. All the maps look incredibly clean too, every single tile is recognizable as a forest or a beach, regardless of the map’s theme.
The game’s audio is also amazing. Something that became a staple in the Advance Wars — different tracks for every single commander — is here in full swing. And while the variety in tracks is smaller than in the aforementioned series (no electric guitars in this fantasy world sadly) they all feel connected. You can tell which faction the character belongs to based on the instruments playing.
The sound effects are nice too, with each unit having their own taunts and damage noises. But, hearing the same shout dozens of times per game did get old for me fast, but the sound effects can just be muted to resolve this. I did notice that some effects keep playing for a while after skipping through combat. I assume this will be taken care of as Chucklefish is working hard to fix all issues that came up during the launch.
The Feel — Help me, I can’t stop playing
Wargroove is very simple to learn — the tutorial (which is the whole first act of the campaign) teaches you everything you need to know if you never played a game of this type. It was presented nicely and didn’t demand you read a wall of text — you can still do that though with the use of Codex, the encyclopedia of this game. You can read up on all the commanders and units as well as the lore of the world which you unlock during the campaign.
The campaign itself takes you all around the continent and makes you fight either as or against every commander on land, water and in air. Something that can be noticed early into the game are the difficulty spikes. While the general difficulty curve seems to be fair, there are missions that are vastly harder than the rest. Most of those are usually side missions, but some can grind your progress to a halt. Thankfully, there is a way to help yourself.
Accessibility in games is an important issue, and Wargroove works it in well. Apart from colourblind mode and changing the size of the UI, the player can also change the damage amount done to their units, daily income per village as well as the Groove charge amount. This makes the missions easier in one way or another, but it also limits the maximum stars gained by a mission to only one. You win some (missions) you lose some (stars).
There are also a few more changes to the formula that I found really appealing. Buildings such as villages or barracks can’t have units on them, which makes blocking them harder for opponents. You can also use buildings to heal units by spending money (amount based on unit type and amount healed) you can transfer health from the building onto the unit. This makes money even more useful, especially on maps with no ability to recruit.
Units themselves have some new stuff under their belt. Some units have special abilities which can be used, for a price, instead of attacking. This can be healing or dealing small amounts of damage over large areas. This gives you even more ways to interact, and more ways to help you win on maps, especially large ones — Wargroove maps feel bigger than Advance Wars maps, and thus feel a bit more sluggish.
Something that makes the game faster, however, is the critical hits. Each unit has a special condition under which it will deal extra damage. This adds to the tactical element of the game, making unit placement even more important. Putting two pikemen next to each other means a possible one-hit kill on another unit.
An important thing for a game’s longevity is the amount of content. Here, if you have access to the internet, it is unlimited as the game boasts a really complex map creator which allows for creating custom scenarios and even whole campaigns. Sharing the maps is easy: Uploaded maps have a code you can find it by. You can then play by yourself, or with friends, as the game allows for both local and online multiplayer.
Wargroove, even though I’d like to think so, isn’t perfect. There are a few quality of life missteps and issues, and I had a bug that had me digging through the game’s files to fix, a bug which could have potentially erased my save files. And while most of those are being patched by Chucklefish it feels like some of them shouldn’t be there in the first place, like the issue of readability about which units are effective against what.
I enjoyed myself every time I opened up Wargroove, regardless of small issues and major difficulty spikes here and there. The execution of the core of the game is impeccable. The campaign is really cool, there is an arcade mode, one turn puzzles and a bunch of other extras to unlock. And as when I spent hundreds of hours in my childhood playing Advance Wars with my friends, I plan to do so again, but this time with dogs.
Wargroove is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PS4.
Some games don’t let you interact with your environment — be it move chairs, pet dogs or use fire to your advantage. Some games make everything interactive, such as Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. Pikuniku achieves the perfect level of interactivity by letting you kick everyone and everything.
Basics — Hands-off
Pikuniku is an absurdly charming platforming puzzle/exploration game created by Sectordub, a self-described indie game laboratory. The main character, Piku, is a red, armless oval who moves around by slapping their feet about. The story follows them as they wake up, try to remember what’s going on and dismantle the bourgeoisie by accident.
Controlling Piku is very simple — apart from moving around and jumping they can tuck their legs in and roll, swing on their leg at certain spots and most importantly kick everything and everyone on their path. This allows for a good variety in the traversal options and challenges laid out in front of you, both on the platforming and puzzle side of things. You also end up talking with a bunch of characters with some limited choices — usually one simple choice per discussion.
In addition to all of that there are some items and hats that aid you in your quest, such as a pencil or a watering can. There are also a bunch that do nothing other than flop in the wind or look nice on your head. Completely useless headwear is the cornerstone of the gaming industry these days.
Visuals — LocoRocking my world
The first thing that strikes about Pikuniku is the visual style — the creators went with a very simplistic approach. The whole game is filled with a lot of simple shapes and flat colors. Character detail is also minimal, something very reminiscent of the wonderful PSP classics LocoRoco and Patapon. The style is wonderful and charming now, and it will stay like that forever.
On a similar note, so is the music. All the tracks, created by Calum Bowen, work perfectly with the visuals and add a great deal to show. The multitude of different honks, bells and other sound effects make the experience so much more enjoyable. The character voices, made by a bunch of random sounds strung together in an Animal Crossing-like way, work well too.
Feel — Absurd is the key to my heart
The overall experience isn’t too long — the game suggests around four to five hours for the campaign. And while my playthrough only took me three hours I have not collected every single trophy that can be found. For me, this is a good thing — you can finish it in possibly even one sitting, the story is well paced and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Difficulty wasn’t an issue either. The majority of the experience was a breeze, and even the boss battles weren’t much of a challenge — I died once and only because of my own mistake. The most challenging parts are the optional gauntlets, and even those have plenty of checkpoints and an easy way out if you want to leave and get back to the overworld.
The game tells a nice story about the rich trying to create a utopia that would work only for them, and how a random variable such as Piku waking up in a cave somewhere can screw it all up by accidentally joining and headlining the revolution. The main side characters Piku meets on their way are funny and likable, and their actions are logical, unlike some other bits.
That is because the game is filled with the absurd. An attempt to fix a toaster sends you into the toast dimension. There’s a compulsory dancing mini-game after you get your swag up and enter the exclusive club. There is a sports game that does nothing, and you can not partake in it at all. The side content in the game is not at all connected, and yet fits in perfectly within the world created by Sectordub.
In addition to all of that, if you have a friend with you then you can both play the co-op mode. It consists of nine long levels that can satiate your hunger if you needed more floppy platforming and puzzle solving. Some of them have mechanics that are never used in the single-player campaign, so it’s worth checking just for those gimmicks — who doesn’t want to ride in a tiny car?
Pikuniku sparks joy. The weirdly charming story works perfectly with its timeless aesthetic and absurd sense of humor. Whether playing the campaign or figuring out the puzzles with your close ones, it is a game worthy of going back to once every couple of years just to enjoy its simplicity. And to kick everyone and everything.
Pikuniku is available on PC on Steam, as well as on the Nintendo Switch.
It’s not easy to get into fighting games these days, especially if you have not kept up with the evolution of the genre or never played one. Recently released Soul Calibur VI has a roster of over twenty characters, with dozens of moves each. Remembering even one moveset proves a challenge. FOOTSIES goes the other way and gets rid of everything apart from necessities for the purest fighting-game experience.
Basics — quarter-circle what?
FOOTSIES has the simplest possible control scheme: players can move side to side and attack with one button. Another simplified thing is health — there is none. Players can only get knocked out with special moves, which can either be done by themselves (by a hold and then release while holding a forward/back or down) or as a follow-up from a normal move. However, players each get three blocks to guard from attacks; after that, each time they get hit, they become wide open for attacks.
There is another way to create an opening — each attack leaves some space free for the opponent to get a hit. This means that once you learn the ropes, the game becomes about trying to read your opponent, timing the hits and specials, and punishing the opponent’s mistakes. It feels like something straight out of a fighting-game tournament.
FOOTSIES was created by HiFight -- who themselves are a part of the fighting-game community -- as a way to teach themselves game development using Unity. They mention wanting to create a small project by themselves and release it, and a fighting game was perfect for them. Because of the close bond with the community and the genre, they kept on with the project and never lost focus, something that happens quite often with indie games, especially smaller ones.
Audiovisual experience — can’t be clearer
FOOTSIES’ creator admits that art and music aren’t their strong suit — and while that shows, the way the game is presented brings it up to a good level. The players control simple black and white characters; there are no needless effects obscuring the action; and the animation, while simple, leaves no questions about what is going on. The same can be said about audio, as the only music loop is simple but feels right at home with this visual style.
However, that can get very repetitive for a more casual player — the simple artwork and repetitive music does not engage in the long run. And while the audio issues can be fixed by muting the game and putting on your favourite tune, it’s not as simple with visuals. I asked the creator if there are any plans on putting more work in on the visual side. They replied that they think the way the game looks currently is charming and they don’t plan on doing anything more with it.
The feel — just like butter
What FOOTSIES gets right is the feel of a fighting game — it is as simple as it can without losing the fact that it is a fighting game through and through. There is no distinction between high- and low-level play. You can learn how it works, then immediately go on to play in a tournament with no problem, something that no other fighting game can do. There are tournaments for the game already happening, but they are mostly within the fighting-game community.
The game runs smooth, and because of its simplicity it can run on any machine (I am almost certain that it could be coded for an NES and it would work as well). There are no frame drops and I experienced no glitches or anything that would otherwise suck the fun out of it. Just like butter, it’s incredibly smooth and goes down with no problem -- the problems start to arise when you try to eat a whole block.
What I mean by that is that if you’re not a fan of fighting games, FOOTSIES will get boring incredibly fast. As a test, I showed the game to my partner, a fairly casual player, and they played with me for maybe a couple of minutes. There is nothing engaging to bring in people with no fighting-game experience — something that games like the Smash Bros. series can accomplish easily thanks to colorful visuals and a well-known roster.
Still, if you enjoy the game, in addition to the player-versus-player mode there is a player-versus-CPU mode where you can hone your skills against a computer. This is something I found myself playing a lot, as it meant I could try out tactics and learn exactly how the game works and how the attacks are timed. You can also turn on the hitboxes to see exactly what’s going on (press F12 during a fight for that).
FOOTSIES is an incredibly simple yet deep experience, and one that will definitely be enjoyed by fans of fighting games. I found great enjoyment within the game and I definitely want to run a tournament of it to see other people have fun with it as well. If you’re not into fighting games, it could easily get boring, especially if you have no one to play against.
FOOTSIES is available on Windows and Android, with an iOS version in planning as well. All can be found on the HiFight’s page.
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