Ice Age: Scrat's Nutty Adventures isn't a terrible game, but it is so old fashioned and average that it is difficult to recommend. If you have kids of the right age range and find it on sale, then it's fun enough. The lack of a movie to tie into leads to a particularly weak story that feels like it's tacking on a license instead of a genuine entry in the Ice Age series. Scrat may find his nut, but I was left unsatisfied by a functional but mediocre tie in.
Mutazione is a great example of how games can immerse you in a world in a manner that no other medium can achieve. Whilst it doesn't push any envelopes, it is easy to recommend to anybody who is interested in games that can get an emotional response. Don't let the description soap opera put you off; this is a movingly, melancholic and meditative experience.
There's much to love about Sparklite, and it's clearly been a passion project for the small development team, but my overall experience was a frustrating one. It's hamstrung by its half-formed and unnecessarily repetitive roguelite structure that undermines the positives of the aesthetic and challenging boss fights. A good roguelite gets better and more complex with repetition, but Sparklite just increasingly overstays its welcome.
I really wanted to like Bookbound Brigade, but its flaws are too great to overlook. There are moments when it all comes together and you get a real sense of achievement from navigating a tricky section of traps or figuring out a nice environmental puzzles, but these are too often overshadowed by boring combat and the chore that is getting around the world. Unlike the books and stories that Bookbound Brigade is inspired by, good writing is not enough to salvage this story.
Woven could have been a welcome addition to the family friendly game catalogue, but the finished game just lacks any kind of polish or fun. The controls are unresponsive, the design decisions at odds with the presumed audience, and the few moments of interest lost in a sea of mediocrity and meandering backtracking. Unfortunately, Woven is just knit very good.
Pandaball is a silly idea that plays ok but is just too lacking in content to really recommend. There is fun to be had here but I don't understand the decisions not to include multiplayer tournaments or online play. The end result is a game that will prove mildly diverting for younger players but has little to no long term substance. Unfortunately for these pandas, the game itself is more boo than bam.
Moons of Madness is a welcome addition to the wider Lovecraftian catalogue, and its cosmic aspects really get to the heart of the mythos' insanity. While there are annoying moments when the developers see fit to include some of the worst excesses of modern horror games, the quality of the writing and the atmosphere is enough to justify seeing things through to a conclusion that is as epic as it is satisfying. This is one trip to insanity that you shouldn't pass up.
Simulacra 2 is a worthy sequel and an immersive take on the role that our digital presence has in defining who we are. The different playable characters help to give a different perspectives to the sotyr and the suspects are sufficiently flawed to keep you guessing as to where blame may lie, but the wider cast of characters don't feel as focussed as the original. While the virus in question here is completely digital, it's uncannily topical given our enforced switch to virtual interactions.
While clearly not as impressive in gaming terms as the Bloodlines series, Coteries of New York is a welcome addition to the digital world of The Masquerade. Offering up an immersive and atmospheric take on the politics and personalities of the undead Big Apple, it seduces with it's quality of writing and characterisation, proving to be more than a mere snack to tide the Hunger over until the main course of Bloodlines 2. If you have any taste for the Gothic you should give yourself over to the vampiric delights of Coteries.
The Inner Friend isn't a bad game, but it never really rises above mediocrity. As a result, it's difficult to recommend unless the narrative premise attracts you. There are some moments of greatness amidst an interesting take on trauma and the idea of replaying unresolved memories from one's past, but the overall feel is distinctly average.
The Procession to Calvary is very rude, very silly, and a whole lot of fun if taken as it is intended. Much like the Monty Python sketches that have influenced it, it walks the thin line between humour and heresy, but as long you don't mind a bit of irreverent blasphemy mixed in with your silliness, there is a great evening of fun to be had within. You don't even need to have spent 10 years getting a PhD to enjoy it…
When Someday You'll Return is at its best, it is one of the finest immersive horror games I've played. Its take on psychological horror and ability to create a sense of dread is second to none, but that comes with some caveats. It can drag in parts, has some frustrating stealth sections and some puzzles that are needlessly obscure, but if you're prepared to make it through the less successful moments, there is a lot to love here.
Pixel Ripped 1995 is a VR love letter to an integral part of gaming history, building on the strengths of the original as it once again blends authentic retro games with an innovative VR world. If you remember the golden days of home gaming and the thrill of waking up at Christmas to see a console shaped box under the tree, then this is the game for you to relive. If not, then there's still plenty here to enjoy without the nostalgia.
Song of Horror is one of the best indie horror games out there. Taking the key aspects of genre classics like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, and combining these with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre in other media, Song of Horror really gets under your skin and, just like The Presence, will haunt the dark corners of your mind. But don't worry, that noise was just the wind. Or was it…
Skelattack is a fantastic platformer with a real sense of character and gorgeous aesthetics. Blending cutesy graphics with challenging platforming and some strategic boss fights, it manages to really stand out and deserves to do well. Here's hoping for more adventures with Skully and Imber in future.
Summer in Mara is a lovely experience with an abundance of charm and a welcome engagement with environmental and emotional subjects. It makes for a perfect introduction to the genre for younger gamers, and a great relaxing escape from the real world for more mature sorts. It doesn't have the depth of last year's My Time at Portia but is both more accessible and has more developed characters. While there may be little prospect of a summer trip to sunny islands in reality, you could do a lot worse than take a holiday with Koa and explore the wonders of Mara.
Waking is a fascinating experiment that tries, but ultimately fails, to combine two radically different ideas together. Less would certainly have been more here, as the clunky and overly confusing action parts get in the way of the interesting narrative and psychological aspects. While I was drawn in by the central conceit and the use of meditation, the end result is more likely to leave you in a coma than drag you into the light.
Old Gods Rising takes a great premise, but unfortunately does very little with it. The barren, but confusing campus leads to pointless wandering that does little to reward exploration and the narrative is delivered through generic exposition. The one successful aspect is the sense of uncertainty and unease that permeates the experience, yet this isn't enough to maintain interest. The Old Gods may have been better off staying put.