The Cing adventure titles for the Nintendo DS, Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk: Room 215, are very unique titles that are fondly remembered by many for their intricate storytelling and dialogue-heavy format. Gamers looking for a more gameplay-driven and less reading-reliant experience often shied away from these games, but they undoubtedly found their niche among a crowd of DS owners who love to experience a great story. Unfortunately, Cing filed for bankruptcy in 2010, and haven’t been heard from since. Luckily, fans of these unique DS games have reason to be excited once more; Chase: Cold Case Investigations – Distant Memories is a visual novel adventure from many former staff members from this now-defunct company, developing under the new team of Arc System Works.
Cold Case Investigations follows the exploits of a detective duo who have been placed into the reopening of a five-year-old case, coming to the realization that there is much more to the story than once thought. Fans of Cing’s strong storytelling will not be disappointed, and newcomers looking for a fun, but short story to keep them occupied will also likely find something to enjoy here. As a story, it succeeds; however, there are a handful of flaws, mainly in the ways of feeling like an incomplete portion rather than a full game, and a lack of characterization that make this title difficult to fully recommend.
The plot of Cold Case is relatively simple in its premise, as well as its execution. It’s a great detective “whodunit”-type of story, through and through. You play as Shounosuke Nanase, a detective who works for the Cold Case Unit of the 3rd Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. And…that’s just about all you ever learn about our hero, as well as his assistant, Koto Amekura. The player, as Nanase, follow their investigation of a five-year-old case that was thought to be closed, but hidden depths of the case soon begin to show, and it’s down the rabbit hole of investigating suspects and crime evidence from there. The story plays out like a more mature, abbreviated Ace Attorney case. Anyone who appreciates a good detective story will not be disappointed here, because the plot as a whole is very smartly-constructed. There are no shortage of suspicious suspects to be interrogated, data to be analyze, and revelations to be uncovered. The player will follow the two detectives as they converse with one another, as well as those involved with the case, trying to make sense of the entire scenario. It is best not to go into any more details of the plot of this game, considering the story is the main focus here, as well as the fact that the game only lasts about 2-3 hours. Though short, the plot does remain consistently entertaining throughout its run-time. The story is very satisfying until the very end, but a few threads are left untied by the end, and an obvious sequel hook at the conclusion tells us that there is more to come. For what is there, the story is easily enjoyable, but the short length still makes the ending feel sudden, and therefore a bit unsatisfactory. The game feels like a great chapter in what should be a much longer book. If the developers were going for an episodic format, why make the game $6? Because of this short length, it’s easy to feel a little bit cheated. The story is entertaining, but does not leave enough of an impression to be worth that much money for how little is actually there.
The plot does not waste any of the player’s time, and is quite fast-paced. So fast-paced, in fact, that the game ends up suffering for it. Not because the story is difficult to follow, but because there is a distinct lack of character depth within the game, and it’s fairly obvious that the developers put much more thought and time into writing the game’s overarching mystery than the actual characters themselves. This isn’t necessarily a problem, considering the game’s short length, but it still feels as if there could’ve been much more explained in terms of the characters and their motivations, instead of them being nothing more than machines that progress the plot forward. Detective Nanase, the lead character, has only one personality trait, which is apparently to antagonize his assistant, Amekura, as much as humanly possible. Seriously, this guy is relentlessly mean to her. And Amekura’s main personality trait is to become overly submissive and apologetic whenever Nanase criticizes her, which happens in just about every scene that they are together. It’s not worthy criticism, either- it’s just, “You did this wrong. You should’ve done this better. You’re an idiot.”-type of stuff. It’s not funny in the slightest, and the end result becomes a one-dimensional main character who is genuinely unlikable, and not even in a remotely enjoyable way. This is a shame, considering we spend so much time with him and his assistant. The supporting characters don’t have much to offer in this regard, either. Just a little bit of backstory, or attempt at any sort of characterization for the lead or supporting roles would’ve added a lot to the experience.
It should be noted that short stories that offer insight to character backstories are available on the game’s website, and it’s very much recommended that the player reads these if the game is purchased. They’re certainly not necessary, but add a lot more depth than what is presented in the game. It’s a shame that these stories weren’t included in the game, because most players will not be aware of their existence. So, that’s why I’m letting you know about these. Now you are among the few who are aware! Congratulations.
The gameplay, much like the story, is reminiscent of the Ace Attorney series. The majority of the game will be spent reading dialogue, and the only times that character interaction is involved are during instances of interrogation of suspects, where you need to choose the most valuable questions to ask each of them. If the player asks too many wrong questions, it’s game over. These sections are not very difficult, so long as the player has been paying attention to the story, and the interrogation sequences give the player a nice reward for doing so. Although, if one interrogation sequence does prove to be particularly difficult, have no fear, because the game allows the player to save at any point throughout the game. The interface feels very nice and polished, and the bottom menu allows for quick access to the text log, as well as the save/load screen.
The graphics of this game shine in some areas, but pale in others. The character designs and animations, for one, are quite fantastic. They are animated with a pseudo-3D look, and the slight movements of each character are done smoothly and feel genuinely lifelike. In a game that relies on only text and images to tell its story, the polished character models add a great amount to the overall experience. Unfortunately, this is just about the only noteworthy aspect of the game’s graphics, because there really isn’t much else to say about the rest of the game’s visuals. Much of the game takes place inside of a dark, dreary office, and there are very few instances where the player sees otherwise. There isn’t much color or particularly eye-catching imagery in this game, but what is there does a decent job. Unfortunately, there is no use of the 3DS’s 3D functionality in any way during the game.
The soundtrack of Cold Case Investigations offers a fun handful of tracks to solve mysteries to. Though only featuring a few songs, they are very enjoyable and give the game a lot of personality and atmosphere that it would otherwise lack. The pianos and muted trumpets really do put you in the shoes of a detective. I found myself enjoying the game’s music much more than I thought I would, and there is some great songwriting craft to be found here. However, it is highly reminiscent of a bygone era, an era of original Nintendo DS soundtracks. What I mean by this is that the soundtrack does sound particularly tinny and low-quality. This is something that is not really acceptable in 2016, and the 3DS’ speakers are capable of much greater sound than what is found within this game. Now I should denounce this, but I personally found myself really enjoying the low-quality audio, if not for nostalgia alone. The game’s sound really is low-quality enough to pass as an original DS soundtrack, and brings back warm memories of Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk. The musical quality itself is there, but the actual audio quality is quite bad, but still enjoyable for that original DS feel. It’s a somewhat unique scenario.
There is a strong feeling of lost potential that can be found throughout this game- the overall lack of polish and detail from within the game, as well as the sequel hook ending, give a sense of potential that was never fully reached. As a murder mystery, Chase: Cold Case Investigations – Distant Memories succeeds in its plotline with clever twists and a well-written scenarios, but the lack of polish, short length, and $6 price tag make it difficult to recommend to everyone. It’s a perfectly enjoyable adventure, but one that feels slightly empty in regards to personality and overall depth, with no replay value to be found. If an episodic format is what the developers were going for, a lower price would’ve been much appreciated. It is very obvious that the developers have a lot of talent when it comes to writing out a complex murder mystery, and really do care about bringing back that sweet DS-mystery flavor that they brought to the table with Cing in the mid-2000s. If you’re a fan of either Trace Memory or Hotel Dusk: Room 215, or enjoy a good mystery, this game is an easy recommendation. If you do decide to download it, be sure to check out those character short stories on the game’s website, they will add a lot to the experience. However, for the rest of the gaming population, its numerous flaws make it a title that one should look into before purchasing. In particular, more characterization and a longer play-time would’ve been appreciated. All in all, there is a lot to love about Cold Case Investigations, but there is a nagging sense of lost potential throughout the entire experience.
‘The Touryst’ Review: Vacation, All I Ever Wanted
There’s an acceptance of a certain rhythm when traveling alone: often an itinerary-less trip will be filled with quiet solitude and uneventful meandering; yet, when those exciting moments of interaction and discovery are inevitably stumbled upon, they tend to be of the highly memorable variety. The latest offering from Shin’en Multimedia, The Touryst, shrewdly captures this relaxing, energizing roller coaster. It’s a quirky little getaway that encourages players to explore its gorgeous voxel island delights at their own pace, letting them bask in the peaceful surroundings and doling out treasure for those curious to seek it out. The result is a soothing weekend sojourn of puzzles, platforming, and mini games under the sun that is also winds up as one of the best indies on the Switch.
There’s no doubt that atmosphere plays a big part in what makes The Touryst so successful, as the vague setup and sparse narrative casts a mysterious aura over the proceedings. Who our mustachioed vacationer is or why he agrees to find glowing blue orbs for some random old man is pretty much left to the imagination. Is the player curious about what they could see and find out there among the green palm trees, sandy beaches, monolithic temples, and sky blue waters? Then they will follow their nose regardless of the lack of any story motivation, and The Touryst has sprung its trap. The urge to see the sights and have an adventure is a must here, and so the wandering begins.
Luckily, The Touryst is filled with charming things to stumble upon around almost every corner, be that a scuba diving boat operator on a Greek isle that facilitates swimming with the fishes, a seaside dance party in need of a hi-tech energy boost, or a bustling business center complete with an arcade, art gallery, and movie theater (for those times when you just need to sit down for a while). Personality abounds, as long as friendly players aren’t shy about talking to strangers (the best way to get the most out of a trip to a new place). No matter where one’s feet take them, there are plenty of mini-stories at play thanks to the native inhabitants and fellow tourists, with these weirdos offering interactions both puzzling and profitable.
But there’s more to life than racking up coins via side quests; there’s something eerily odd buried beneath the tropical destinations of The Touryst that beckons to be uncovered by just the right explorer. Towering mounds filled with ancient devices and clever puzzles hold secrets that promise that this vacation will be one for the scrapbook. These short ‘dungeons’ are the meat of the game, providing a variety of platforming and logic challenges that range from overt to opaque; sometimes even finding the way in to these ominous structures is a puzzle in itself, which only further drives an overarching sense of discovery.
Smartly, The Touryst rarely telegraphs solutions to its tests (or in some cases, that there even is a test), and instead encourages experimentation. Inside temples, players need to determine why certain lights are glowing and others aren’t, understand how sequences work, pay attention to rumbling feedback, and decide just how to deal with once-dormant mechanical creatures that now awaken to stand in the protagonist’s way. Things can seem opaque at times, but Shin’en has managed to hit that sweet spot that keeps poking around from getting too frustrating. But just in case, there are plenty of beach chairs and cabana beds to lie down on and think. Or, just soak in some rays and enjoy the scenery.
Regardless of the difficulty players may or may not have with the crafty puzzles or surprisingly challenging mini games (good lord, surfing and those 8-bit arcade throwbacks can be tough), The Touryst is still a sight to see. Shin’en has created a buttery smooth island-hopping environment that is a pleasure to peruse. Go off the beaten path and enjoy the gorgeous sunsets, gently pixelated waves, crunching grains of sand, and flopping flora. The visuals seem so simple, yet at times can be stunning to behold, especially when spotting some of the smaller details that have been added to make these place come alive. A depth of field style entices players to see just what that blurry landmark off in distance is, and the soundtrack seamlessly shifts between relaxing and intriguingly uncanny. That developers have achieved this with what are surely the shortest load times on Nintendo’s console makes the experience all the more immersive.
Like most vacations, The Touryst is destined to be over too soon for some players, but trips like these aren’t meant to last forever. The five hours or so it takes to see all there is to see is highly satisfying throughout, and the vague hint at the end of a followup will have many Switch-owning puzzle fans looking forward to getting future time off.
‘Shovel Knight: King of Cards’ and ‘Showdown’ Review: Really Spoiling Us
It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise.
It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday season, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with, not just one, but two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise. Not content with just releasing another new character’s twist on the original formula, Yacht Club has also developed their own fighting game in the Shovel Knight universe. It’s to the developer’s credit that two simultaneous releases can be of this quality, but valid questions can also be asked as to whether the original formula has gotten stale, and whether Showdown’s new concept does the series justice. Fear not, for both questions will be answered in this bumper, two-for-one review!
Shovel Knight: King of Cards
King of Cards is the latest re-tread of Shovel Knight, and this time the emperor’s new clothes are the regal duds of King Knight, who is on a quest to become the greatest player in the kingdom of the card game Joustus… without really having to beat that many people at it. After the stoically heroic Shovel Knight, the dastardly cunning Plague Knight, and the broodingly enigmatic Spectre Knight, King of Cards’ protagonist embodies an enjoyable dose of pompous entitlement. His quest isn’t all that noble, and he really can’t be bothered to do a lot of hard graft to reach his goal. Thanks to the typically witty script, King Knight shines as a loathsome oik who doesn’t pay attention to any advice he’s given, and would rather have a fight, or cheat, than actually get better at Joustus.
Joustus might not really be all that important to King Knight, but it adds an entirely new element to the traditional Shovel Kinght gameplay. Those players who are a sucker for built-in card games (myself included) will find a lot to enjoy when stepping away from all the platforming and fighting to engage in a round of Joustus. The game is played by placing cards, one at a time, onto a grid with the goal of having more of your cards placed on top of gems than your opponent.
All cards contain abilities and can be used to shove opposing cards out of the way (and off the gems), with advanced cards used to blow up, slam or recruit those of the other player. It all starts off simple enough, but can get really brain-taxing as the story progresses, and grows to be a real highlight of the game – and one of the better card-games-within-a-game I’ve played. Cheat cards can be bought to give you a leg up for trickier opponents, especially as the winner of each game gets to take one (or three if you control all gems at the end of the round) card from the loser.
Outside of Joustus, King of Cards will feel pleasingly familiar to fans of the series. As in previous entries, the levels all share the same look and gimmicks as the original Shovel Knight, but are reshaped to adapt to the new abilities of King Knight. He has a shoulder barge attack that launches him forward, across gaps if need be, and will send him into a spin on contact with enemies or certain types of walls and blocks. This spin move acts very much in the same way as Shovel Knight’s shovel pogo attack, and allows King Knight to bounce around levels with impressive finesse. Anyone who’s played Shovel Knight before knows the drill now – try and clear every screen by chaining together as many bounce attacks as you can. It’s the law.
It also wouldn’t be a Shovel Knight game if there weren’t a ton of unlockable moves and buffs. Amongst the best unlocks for King Knight are a Tazmanian Devil-esque tornado spin that allows him to climb walls and smash up enemies, a hammer that produces hearts with each wallop for precious HP, throwable suicide bomber mice, and the ability to stand still and have a big ol’ cry to regain HP. Something we can all relate to.
The world map returns, and is in its best guise in King of Cards. Levels are now a lot shorter than you’d expect – there’s typically only one checkpoint in the non-boss levels – but there are a lot more of them, and a large number have secret exits to find. They’re interspersed with the multiple opportunities to play Joustus, and with the seemingly random appearances of traditional Shovel Knight bosses who show up, Hammer Bros. style, on the map to block your progress. It makes for a really tight campaign that’s filled with a ton of variety.
It seems almost arbitrary to say, but if you like Shovel Knight and you’re not tired of the standard gameplay, there’s so much to enjoy with King of Cards. He’s probably not the most fun character to play as (for me, that’d be Spectre Knight), but his game is easily the most diverse. He’s just such an enjoyably unlikeable idiot that you’ll constantly be playing with a smile on your face, bopping along to the classic Shovel Knight chiptunes, pogoing around levels and pausing for the occasional game of cards. Who could ask for more?
Shovel Knight Showdown
Who likes Shovel Knight boss fights? Everyone does, right? How about fighting three of them at once in an amalgamation of Smash Bros. and Towerfall? It’s as chaotic as you’re imagining, and seems like a total no-brainer as a second genre for Yacht Club to transpose their blue, spade-loving hero into.
What seemed like an obviously smart move doesn’t necessarily play out in an ideal way. The one-on-one fights in Showdown are as tightly-contested and entertaining as ever, but the multi-man rumbles are absolute mayhem. There are a few different stipulations applied to fights, and these typically involve simply whittling down your opponents’ lives, or depleting their health bar to briefly kill them off and steal any gems they’ve collected from around the level, with the winner being the first to an assigned number.
Standard fights are more enjoyable, as the simplicity of smacking seven shades of snot out of the competitors keeps things manageable amongst the cacophony of onscreen visual noise. The gem-collecting levels, especially with multiple opponents, are frankly a bit of a mess that I rarely found enjoyable.
Perhaps I’m just not very good at Shovel Knight boss fights, but the game felt overly difficult even on the normal setting. Playing story mode often sees your chosen character up against three opponents on the same team, and when it comes to collecting gems from around the level, they’ve got way more of the space covered and you barely get a chance to breathe with them swarming you from the word go. It’s basically an exercise in getting wailed on while you try to run away and scramble for gems, and it’s just not that fun.
What does add a layer of fun to the game is the chance to play as the complete ‘Knight’ roster of Shovel Knight characters, and the best part of Showdown is learning new moves and trying to find your ‘main’. Perhaps, with more time to sit down and learn the move sets in the practice mode, the game would feel more rewarding than if you just jump in and try to slog through the chaotic story mode as I did.
With a four-player battle mode as the only other gameplay option, Showdown was clearly never meant to be anything other than a brief little curio to give fans of the series’ boss fights an overdose of what they love, but as a complete experience, I found it lacking in both modes and reasons to keep plugging away at the arcade fighter-style story mode. It turns out that the boss fights in Shovel Knight are more fun at the end of a platforming level rather than in the middle of enclosed space filled with flashing lights, random effects, environmental hazards, and three bastards all chasing you down. If you can handle all that stress, you’ll have a much better time than I did.
‘Disco Elysium’: A Thought-Provoking Mystery
For the most part, the majority of games are easy to classify, but from time to time a game is released that defies conventional rules and resists simple categorization. Disco Elysium is just such a game. On the surface of it, it’s a topdown, isometric RPG of the oldest of old schools. It draws upon long-established systems, structures, and mechanics that make it comfortably familiar. However, beneath that patina of tradition lies something completely unexpected and utterly unique.
Developed by the small, independent studio ZA/UM, with a story penned by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, and a painstakingly detailed world crafted by artist Aleksander Rostov, Disco Elysium stands apart from most RPGs in that it is startlingly realistic whilst simultaneously being grimly fantastical. Set on an isolated archipelago in the wake of a failed communist revolution, the game casts players as a detective sent to solve the murder of a man found hanging in the backyard of a rundown boarding house/cafe. It’s a simple setup made all the more complex by the fact that the player character is suffering from a severe bout of alcohol and drug-induced amnesia. The mystery that needs to be solved concerns piecing together exactly who the player character is, as much as it involves reconstructing the chain of events that resulted in a brutal death.
Arriving at conclusions to both conundrums requires navigating complex webs of social and political intrigue. Along the way, players will encounter union bosses, disgruntled workers, war veterans, and all manner of extraordinary and mundane citizens just trying to go about their daily lives in a place that seems designed to thwart their ambitions at every turn. More than that though, players will be required to engage in continuous internal dialogues that involve the protagonist gradually putting themselves back together. The result is character customization in a quite literal sense of the word. Rather than the standard array of physical options that most games of this type present players with, the options are entirely psychological. Player actions and choices determine the overall structure of the internal workings of their character. Whether they decide to be a high-minded idealist trying to better themselves and the world around them in whatever way they can or opt to descend into anarchic, hedonistic self-obliteration such choices determine exactly who and what their version of the character is.
The foundation of stats and skills that are usually inert background components that all RPGs are based on is firmly in place. However, rather than being a numerical bedrock upon which all gameplay is based, Disco Elysium takes those sets of modifiers and statistics and makes them an active part of character progression and world development. As you progress through the game, skills points can be used for a variety of purposes. They can be used to upgrade core character stats, of which there a total of twenty-four covering a whole range of mental, physical, and social attributes, that govern player’s ability to immediately interact with the game world. However, they can also be used to learn or forget particular thoughts These thoughts develop depending on how players decide to approach situations and solve problems and can unlock semi-permanent bonuses and even penalties.
Much as in reality, the things the character is capable of are largely dependent on their frame of mind. If players opt to make a character that is brash and uncouth then they will find it difficult to subtly manipulate interactions to their benefit or arrive at unobtrusive solutions to various situations. On the other hand, if they elect to play a character that is more thoughtful and introspective, or cunning rather than crass, then they will find it difficult to emerge unscathed from more physical challenges. It’s an interpretation of character development and player progress that feels much more organic than in any other game of this sort. This is probably where Disco Elysium does the most to stand out from other such titles. Such a flexible approach to progress is hopefully something that other companies will emulate going forward, as it allows the character to develop a true personality that goes a step beyond the mathematically-oriented, incremental statistical increases that are usually the norm.
The ways in which player action, character interaction, and game reaction combine together is probably the closest it is possible to get to a truly curated dungeon master-guided play experience in an RPG. There is such a wide and unpredictable variety of moment-to-moment options that players can never be certain what exactly is going to happen next. This sense of improvisational unpredictability is a quintessential element of any RPG, but it is often lost in translation from tabletop rules to computer game mechanics. This pitfall is avoided thanks to the fact that the world of Disco Elysium was conceptualized as a tabletop game but doesn’t actually exist as one yet. As such the developers were able to implement systems without the expectation of adhering to pre-existing mechanics. This expectation has often been the downfall of many such games in the past, such as the much-maligned Sword Coast Legends which was lambasted for its apparent butchery of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. It will be interesting to see if Larian Studios can avoid similar problems with Baldur’s Gate 3.
As intriguing and unconventional as Disco Elysium is, and no matter how deserving it is of the accolades it won at 2019’s Game Awards, it’s hard to recommend it as something to play if you’re looking for fun. It’s relentlessly grim even when it’s trying to be funny, and its stream of consciousness style makes even the most basic of interactions a minefield of potential disturbing possibilities. With its biting combination of continental existentialist ennui, pseudo-Lovecraftian undercurrents, and socio-political critique it isn’t a game that you play for the sheer joy of it, but rather for the esoteric and unusual experience that it offers. That being said, in a market that’s full to bursting point with crowd-pleasing blockbusters and oftentimes strictly by-the-book sequels or carbon copy titles, it can be incredibly rewarding to delve into a game as intricate and nuanced as Disco Elysium.
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