Slashy Hero – Review – PC / Mac

Reviewed on Mac, copy provided by publisher. 

Slashy Hero is a well made game, tarnished by its origins on mobile. It arrives on PC and Mac with gorgeous art, fun music, and some really clever gameplay, but is hobbled by its touchscreen centric design, and sloppy porting.

Slashy Hero Intro

The setup is brief, but cute. It’s Halloween; a possessed house has sucked up all the Trick or Treat candy. You must enter the Haunted Mansion and reclaim the stolen goods. Inside you’ll encounter a run of short stages, each culminating in a portal to zap you to the next. These are inhabited by various spooky themed baddies who must be taken down to collect the precious candy.

This is where things get tricky. To perform all attacks, the player has to draw a line on the screen across the enemies, once completed your character will rush the line, attacking anything in its path. These lines can be any shape, and can be used to dash traps or make quick escapes too. The problem is, neither mouse or controller work as well as a finger on a tablet would. While the game boasts full controller support, trying to draw a precise line with the right stick feels pretty awkward. Mouse is a little better, but it’s a constant reminder that you’re not playing the game as the developers intended. By the end it’s easier to drop clever sweeping lines and settle for just nudging the stick into foes like a glorified attack button.

Worse still are the bugs. The game frequently breaks, often quite dramatically. Getting killed is often enough to send you to the desktop. Upon death you can trade your candy for a revive. This soon becomes less of a choice, and more a basic tactic to avoid crashes.

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-10-55-43It’s a shame too because if you can get to grips with it the game works. The variety of enemies is nice, and switching tactics to handle each one is rewarding. Drawing a neat spiral line and watching it blast a swarm of ghosts is an air punching moment, particularly if you can trail off your line and drop your character off at a safe vantage point when you’re done. You can also possible to lure enemies into traps or use the layout of the stage against them, making the whole experience feel more varied and thought out than it would.

At every stage, Slashy Hero feels like time and effort went in to making it a complete experience. From item vendors on the menu screen who will swap candy for upgrades, to a whole range of unlockable Halloween costumes that will give you permanent stat boosts. On your phone, this would probably be one of the most satisfying purchases you could make. Unfortunately so much of this time and effort has gone to waste on a poorly thought out and rushed port to Steam. It never feels quite right and breaks too often to get yourself accustomed to it.

5/10 – A good game, but some serious problems get in the way of fully enjoying it.

 

(As this blog exists, in part, to train myself up for a paid writing career, I try to set myself reasonable requirements and restrictions before writing. For this piece I gave myself a 500 word target length.)

SOMA – Review – PC / Mac.

SOMA Screen

Few games leave the player with the lingering, sometimes troubling feelings that stick with you after playing SOMA. From Frictional Games, who scared the pants off Youtubers with the Amnesia series, this is a more contemplative game. You play Simon, normal in every way except that he’s slowly dying from a bleed in the brain. While receiving an experimental new scan everything goes dark. When the lights come back on, he’s in Pathos-II, a facility at the bottom of the Ocean. All is not well here. The base’s AI has worked its way into all the electrical systems, machines and sea-life merge in unintended ways, and a few old robots have forgotten they’re robots.

It’s first person and reminiscent of the Amnesia games and their imitators. You can crouch and peek around corners or pick up scrap off the floor and toss it about. Occasionally you’ll need to break a window by lobbing something heavy through it. As you head deeper into the complex you meet with various hideous predators that will make trouble.  Hiding and sneaking play a big part of the game, but SOMA doesn’t ask you to spend hours tucked away in lockers. Instead you’ll need to duck in a corner and wait for the best moment to shuffle past undetected.

Sometimes you’ll escape. If not, the game uses a forgiving second chance system. Getting caught by an enemy once will knock you back, get caught again before reaching a healing station and you’re finished. What’s remarkable is how rarely this happens. The game wants you to be frightened, but it never feels like your obstacles are insurmountable. They are simply part of the unfortunate sequence of events Simon is trapped within. As such, events progress at a pace that feels appropriate to the experience.

Complimenting this, each encounter with an enemy is unique. There are no Goombas here; no enemy feels like a generic “SOMA Monster” haunting every corridor. Instead each encounter feels like a planned moment, designed to frighten you in just the right way. When their time is done, they bow out of the story. It is not unusual to find long periods of time going by without an encounter and yet the game feels no emptier for it. In these sequences the setting, and the science fiction is allowed to breath. It maintains tension, but isn’t afraid to put away the action now and then. SOMA feels like a curated experience, controlled and patient, as if every corner, ever room was tested and retested to make sure events flowed smoothly. I haven’t played something so well managed since Bioshock.

To go into more detail would spoil things. Even so, the game is adept out outmanoeuvring your speculations. If you play expecting to guess the twist, you might be disappointed. Whatever your ideas are, the developers thought of them first. When the truth of Simon’s journey is revealed, it comes neither too early or too late, and is less a surprise than a feeling of immense satisfaction. It is a masterpiece of storytelling.

 

soma-wallpaper-hd
If it has a weakness, it’s in variety. This isn’t a long game, but you’re going to see a lot of airlocks and corridors before it’s over. That’s a consequence of the setting, and they do try to shake it up. You’ll spend time walking across the ocean floor, or riding transport vehicles, but it’s never long before you’re staring at corridors again. This carries across to the monsters too. While each encounter feels unique, the visual style of the creatures themselves is pretty consistent. Rotten flesh and junk in various arrangements. It’s not a bad style and you’ll spend most of your time hiding from them anyway, but non really stand out like a Xenomorph or a Big Daddy.

This isn’t a deal breaker though because SOMA plays to its strengths. It takes its little bag of ideas and polishes them until they’re absolutely sparkling. It grips the player immediately, and confronts them with difficult questions. This is a game about being human, you will explore what it means to be yourself, and what it means to be alive. At times the game does an eerily effective job of breaking down the fourth wall and making you question where the game stops and reality begins.

SOMA is something special. It’s a great horror game, and a tidy little first person narrative experience that makes the most of a conservative budget and a limited scope. That’s an achievement in itself. But it also explores territory few other games have, it opens with a quote by Philip K Dick, and like Dick, it uses science fiction to make you question your fundamental understanding of the world. Here it succeeds too.

Final Score 10 / 10