Seven Wonders: The Colossus Rises (Peter Lerangis)
Seven Wonders is about four descendants of an Atlantean prince, taken to Totally-Not-Hogwarts where they solve puzzles and decipher an old journal left by some dead guy on a search for seven macguffins stolen from Atlantis ages ago. The mystery of their locations is undermined somewhat by the title of the fucking series.
The obvious coattailling on Harry Potter and Dan Brown aside, the actual writing is trash. It's written in that "cheeky" Daniel X style w\that tries be "hip" and "with it", but is really just irritating. One of the characters' only personality trait is he randomly says words backwards. Because Lerangis apparently graduated from the M. Night Shyamalan School of Character Development.
Oh, and somebody says "Epic Fail." Twice.
The Cave (PC)
Back when I reviewed Phantasy Star III, I said the main problem was they were more interested in making a game you could play four times than a game you'd want to play once. The Cave isn't quite as bad about that, but only because it's inoffensive the first time around.
The Cave comes to us from the creator of Maniac Mansion, and follows its ancestor's footsteps by having you assemble a team of three characters from a pool of seven. But instead of a fixed problem that's tackled differently depending on who you have with you (how to get into the lab and defeat the meteorite), the choice of characters in The Cave just changes which three levels are played alongside five set ones. So to see all the levels, you have to play through two characters' levels twice and the set levels three times. And the game has good and bad endings for each character depending on what you do with each one's prize at the end of the game, so to see everything you'd have to play through the game five fucking times. That's before we get into how torturous the set level with the miner is to play even once.
Even on one playthrough, your enjoyment can vary wildly depending on which characters you choose. The Knight and Hillbilly's levels have some okay puzzles, and the Time Traveler's level has an interesting mechanic where you jump around three time periods, and alter things in the past to affect the future. Meanwhile, the Adventurer's level consists almost entirely of factoid regurgitation "puzzles" on loan from The Neverhood, aside from the ending I barely remember the Scientist's level, the Monk's chapter has that fucking obnoxious flower carrying bit, and the Twins' level can go die in a fire.
To solve each level you have to do something morally objectionable (in theory, anyway) that directly or indirectly kills an NPC (or two. Or twenty. Or a thousand). This is another thing that fails to be consistent across characters. The Adventurer and Monk's sins are anticlimactic enough even without comparisons to the havok the Knight, Hillbilly, and Scientist unleash. And considering the characters don't speak or emote, and the NPCs are completely token, it's hard to give a shit even about those ones.
After the first play, I thought it was a three Skitty game. On the second, a two Skitty. By the third, it had piddled down to one Skitty. After getting the Time Traveler's bad ending I just looked up the other six online, because I was not playing through the game two more times.
First impressions of JUJU were good; it felt like an indie tribute to Donkey Kong Country, what with the tropical environment and co-op multipler. But as the game went on, I got more and more sick of it. The first problem is the total lack of a difficulty curve; the game starts easy, and stays easy. And when I found myself collecting items while running along the back of a dragon as it snakes up and down, it felt like the game had just thrown off its DKCfan game disguise and revealed itself to be a Yoshi's Story fan game. I think I died more times against the final boss than I did in the entire rest of the game.
The real killer was the bonus levels. In Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3, every bonus level was unique. Yes, they all fell into categories like collecting all the bananas or killing all the enemies, but the layout was different for every single bonus stage. JUJU has five or six that it recycles through the entire game, and they all fall into the "collect all the shiny things" camp. And if you clear all of the bonus levels in a world, all you get is a race-to-the-exit bonus level. And if you complete all four of those? Jack shit. I don't think you even get an achievement.
A Metroidvania with a gorgeous Steampunk art style. What struck me most about Teslagrad was how it tells its story without a single word, instead relying on body language, background scenery, and mechanical puppet plays to build its world.
Teslagrad is not forgiving. You die in one hit, and the Tesla Tower was designed before things like "safety regulations" were conceived. And by the end, I thought the controls got a little confusing for the "Think fast, bitch!" mentality; it wasn't uncommon for me to get killed because I wanted to fire the red gun and activated an red aura instead, or activated the wrong aura color, or hit the right shoulder button and punched/fired the gun when I meant to dash (if you're wondering why I would do this, when I play a Mega Man X game I always rebind the dash to the right shoulder button).
Hidden throughout the Tesla Tower are scrolls that show various bits of the backstory. To tackle the final boss, you need to find 15. To get the good ending, you have to collect all of them, 36 I think. I did have to turn to a map to get the good ending, because as well as the whole "needle in a haystack" aspect of the search, some of those things were as cheaply hidden as the stars in Braid.