Stray

The Game

Stray developed by Annapurna Interactive is an adventure puzzle game that has been in the works for some time. Before you proceed, this review may contain some light spoilers – so if you want to fully fresh experience avoid the screenshots and maybe go play it first. Announced a couple years ago, the game really got cat lovers around the world hyped. The game lets you take control of an adorable kitty in a post apocalyptic world where humans no longer exist. After a misadventure with your fellow kittens you end up deep underground in a forgotten structure where you find some rather strange larvae (known as Zurks) and a hidden city of friendly robots. On your adventure you befriend a little drone, known to you as B12. The drone seems to remember a time when humans existed and the things they used to do. The robots in the city, known as Companions have adapted to the underground way of life, but some of them yearn to return to the Outside once more and to see the sky once again.

As you find out more about this world and the Companions you are tasked with collecting various items, exploring parts of the city and ultimately making your way to the outside. The core gameplay loop focuses on really satisfying puzzles that are delivered in a variety of ways: from jumping (parkour or is it catcour), to following cables, pulling levers, stealthily avoiding enemies or completing tasks for various Companions. The story takes you on a captivating adventure in a beautifully designed and crafted world with amazing attention to detail.

Worth it?

While it’s not the longest of games (first playthrough may take around 4-5 hours depending on how much you mess around and explore) the game certainly delivers in charm and story. The beautiful world, satisfying puzzles and amazing story will make you want to complete it while at the same time wishing it doesn’t end so you can explore and learn more. The game does also autosave quite frequently which allows for shorter play-sessions. The simple controls and short playtime also mean that you could hand it to a “non-gamer” and let them enjoy the experience (although they may need a hand with the Zurks). The game will currently set you back around £25, but I expect we will see it in some sales later this year, but even at this price it is worth getting. For PlayStation extra members it is included in the available games at no extra cost. There are currently some speculative rumours around an Xbox release, but it will be some time away with the earliest being October, some estimates even saying 2023.

Overall Stray is a beautiful game, with a captivating story and really satisfying gameplay. It goes above and beyond being simply a cat simulator (although it does that pretty well). It is a pretty unique game in terms of allowing players to see the world form the perspective of a cat which will make it a firm favourite amongst cat lovers (maybe also dog lovers alike). It is really hard to fault the game and it even has a bit of replay value in the music sheet or plant collection side quests and the memory collection element. The game also provides a solid base for the speed-running community and it will be interesting to watch some of those attempts as get better at it. I’d highly recommend checking this game out.

Tips

  • Follow red painted air conditioning units with orange streamers
  • Follow orange lights, cables, wires or arrows
  • You cannot go back for the music sheets after leaving the slums to go into the sewers
  • Hide in boxes to avoid sentinels, or in other areas where you break their line of sight
  • Scratch things when you can (pretty much anything that isn’t a carpet will lead to something)
  • The purple, yellow and red plants can all be found within Antvillage
  • Meow to distract/attract enemies
  • B12 can remind you of your current objective should you forget
  • Your backpack will light up if you can interact with nearby objects/NPCs
  • Interact with vending machines in order to be able to get all of the Barterman’s items
  • Talking to companions can give you hints or other objectives that will help you along the way

Useful Links

Dicey Elementalist

The Game

Dicey Elements by DoubleThink Games is yet another rogue-like deck building dungeon crawler game. The game starts out by introducing you to its key mechanic, rolling a set of dice which determine what cards you can play. The dice effective function as mana with each move requiring a certain number or combination of dice. You can choose to hold dice and reroll others for better combos. You can only ever have six cards in play so you will have to be selective as your deck expands on your adventure. Enemies get harder as you progress and each one you defeat will give you gold (which can be used within the dungeon), stardust (used for permanent upgrades outside the dungeon) and exp (to level you up). Initially there’s only one character (The Fearless) to be played on the most basic mode (NormalMode), additional characters can be purchased and the additional modes are unlocked as you complete the previous mode.

As you navigate the dungeons, each room will have 1 – 3 exits and an enemy, shop or loot inside. If there’s an enemy you will need to defeat them before progressing. There’s a decent variety of enemies, some with special artifacts or powerful cards that will really challenge you. As you progress you will get rarer and better cards and be able to customise your deck to pull of some truly impressive combos. You will also unlock the ability to craft potions using Element Stones – some potions can be particularly useful in a pinch. You will be able to upgrade your adventure permanently through the Adventure Reform upgrade menu, as well as unlock some permanent features like blacksmiths and black marketers or even the arcade section of the tavern, which features a series of arcade games where you win tickets (although it’s not quite clear what the use of these tickets is). This section also features the daily challenge, which will feature a random character – disappointingly you cannot play unless you own the character (this could have served as a nice preview of various characters in order to help me choose which to purchase).

Worth it?

The game is free to play and ads are only there if you want them – in the guise of a fairy which can offer you a random prize (ranging from gold to epic artifacts) or a revive if you die. You can play the game without either of these two. There are some slightly annoying ad banners on screen, but for a free game this is to be expected somewhat. The additional characters all cost various prices – The Stealthy can be picked up with in-game currency (gems), The Chanter will set you back $0.99, while The Prophet, The Telepathic and The Greedy are $1.99 each. There is also a purchase available for additional level up rewards for $2.99. My biggest issue with the pricing of all of these is that there’s no bundle or overall purchase where I could get everything for a reasonable price. $1.99 per character is a little bit expensive, The Chanter seems to have the perfect price, however it would be nice if all characters were still purchasable with premium currency so as to make it technically possible to purchase by purely playing the game. Also none of these purchases remove ads (separate purchase), it would be nice to know that if I am spending money on a game it will at least remove the annoying banners in game. There are also the occasional grammar or spelling issues throughout the game.

Overall, the aesthetic of the game and the sound are quite unique and very enjoyable. The overall gameplay loop isn’t anything too new or innovative, but the use of the dice as mana and throughout the game works really well. A successful run will usually take around an hour to an hour and a half depending on difficulty, but if you ever have to pause or quit, the game does a good job of recording your progress. With the adventure reform and several characters to unlock and play and a variety of difficulties and challenges there really is quite a bit to unpack and get stuck into. It’s a great game, good for medium-longer play times, but can also be picked up and dropped for short sessions.

Tips

  • If a card is on fire it will deal damage to you for using it
  • Red doors are basic enemies, Pink doors are elites, exclamation marks lead to a dice battle
  • Elites drop better loot
  • Artifacts are OP, but you can only carry 10 so think carefully about which 10 are active at any point in time
  • Spells or abilities that restore health are very useful
  • Remember to craft potions using your Elemental Stones, but you are unlikely to need them on easier runs
  • Unlock the blacksmith from the Adventure Reform as he will allow you to upgrade and sell cards
  • “Pick up” from the adventure reform unlocks the arcade/casino area
  • Having the Black Market Merchant (All for Cash) in the tavern isn’t really worth it although he does allow you to complete quests for small premium currency awards
  • Different characters synergise better with different decks and playstyles – the game is all about getting the right combos of cards, artifacts and that little bit of luck
  • Don’t overload your hand with hard requirement cards as it could make it very difficult for you to actually play any in a turn
  • If you have a lot of cards of 1 element, try and get some with 1/2 Pair requirements as these can be used with any cards and won’t leave you stuck with nothing to use
  • Cards that generate other cards are extremely useful (just make sure to use them when you have space for the new cards) – generating new cards allows your turn to go on for longer and for you to deliver even more damage (same goes for temp cards or the Soul Flame artifact)
  • Be careful with the Light Scythe artifact because if you have a “the next time you deal damage” card that will trigger for the hit of the Light Scythe

Useful Links

Jotun: Valhalla Edition

The Game

Jotun: Valhalla Edition made by Thunder Lots Games is an amazingly aesthetic game based on Norse mythology. Battle your way past gods and figure out weird puzzles on your way through the afterlife. You play as Thora – a recently deceased human wielding a massive two-handed axe. This is quite a challenging game which will have you in potential fits of anger as you face up against some of the later bosses. Each big boss (known as Jotun) fight is preceded by a couple of relatively peaceful missions to find some runes, often accompanied by a puzzle of sorts. Often you will also find special shrines that give you some interesting skills ranging from healing and shields to decoys and even the blessing of Thor’s hammer.

Once you have collected the appropriate runes you face off against a boss, and boy do these bosses pack a punch. The sense of scale is something the game plays with really successfully by pitting you – a tiny human against some truly gigantic deities. Each Jotun will have various phases, attack patterns and timings that you will need to learn and master in order to get past them. These fights can be very frustrating and you will suffer a quick death if you make too many mistakes. The process of figuring these bosses out and beating them is extremely satisfying.

Worth it?

Generally the game will set you back around £12 depending on platform, but is very often on sale up to 75%, allowing you to pick it up for less than £5. At that price it’s a must have. The game is an acquired taste in terms of difficulty, but an audio-visual masterpiece. The narration, soundtrack and artwork are something truly special and a testament to indie game development. If you see this game on sale make sure to pick it up. Overall it’s definitely worth the purchase and while the gameplay itself won’t last you more than around 5-6 hours, the world is so beautiful and the gameplay is extremely satisfying (and also challenging), making it an absolute must have.

Tips

  • Keep on the look out for Ithunn’s Apples – these will upgrade your health bar
  • The shrines of Mimir will replenish your skills and health, but they can only do so once
  • Take time to study a boss’ movement patterns and attacks
  • Heavy attacks will often do different things than basic attacks – experiment with this
  • Look for openings between legs arms or other bits where you can avoid being hit

Useful Links

Cats & Soup – Relaxing Cat Game

The Game

Looking for an aesthetically pleasing and chill idle game, love cats? Cats&Soup – Relaxing Cat Game by HIDEA is an amazingly beautiful and cute idle cat game. Purchase various stations – making soups or juices, prepping ingredients or places to relax and then hire some cute cats to perform those actions. As they make soups and juices you can sell them to start making some gold. As you make gold you can upgrade your existing stations or purchase new ones to add new ingredients. The game also offers some other ways to make money, including a grabber game or fishing. Your cats can also be upgraded, clothed and have their “rooms” with furniture, wallpaper or various other decorations.

The attention to detail in the environment, each station, each cat and its animations is really something amazing. The aesthetics are paired with relaxing music and sound effects making it a truly blissful experience. Apart from money there are also a few other types of currency: recipe points, furniture coins and gems (premium currency). There are ways to earn premium currency and furniture coins in game.

Worth it?

Overall a very relaxing and aesthetically pleasing game. However it suffers with some of the symptoms often seen in idle games – little to actually do (apart from checking in every so often). The mini-games are things we’ve seen before and get boring quite quick. Completing daily quests will require you to watch a good deal of ads too. You’re not necessarily forced to watch them but if you’d like to make quicker progress or unlock more you will need to watch your fare share. Progression is reasonably paced, however other than the cat customisation and the idea of unlocking new soups/ingredients there’s little to keep you coming back longer term. The game has some depth in terms of unlockables and new stations to build. The most interesting area of the game is combining various cats and their buffs with specific jobs and clothing – you can experiment by mixing and matching them to find the optimal setup.

Tips

  • Cat “room” customisation items can be bought form the “item” tab in the gift shop
  • You can use tickets that you earn in game in the “item” tab of the gift shop to get instant cash or recipe points.
  • Upgrade your stations using the button in the bottom left in order to improve their yields.
  • Focus on upgrading your stations rather than saving for new ones (you’ll earn gold faster if you upgrade).

Useful Links