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Clock Tower – The Cogs and Bells of Survival Horror

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Horror is one of the most unique genres in gaming. It can take the form of an action game or something slower-paced like an adventure title. The early years of horror-themed gaming were all over the place. In the West, horror had manifested with games like Dark Seed, Doom, and Alone in the Dark. Japan had its own take on the occult, focusing on console gaming. Titles like Castlevania and Sweet Home laid a lot of the ground work for Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Clock Tower, released in 1995, is also one of these early establishing titles. Despite never leaving Japan, the game has a sizable cult following overseas.

In Clock Tower you play as Jennifer Simpson, an orphaned girl that’s adopted by an eccentric named Simon Barrows. Mary, Simon’s wife, escorts Jennifer, and few other adopted girls, to Barrows Mansion. Upon arrival, Mary leaves the girls in the foyer to go find her husband. Time passes and the girls begin to get concerned. Jennifer volunteers to go look for Mary. She hears a scream from the foyer not long after leaving, and returns to find the lights out and all her friends missing. Jennifer will have to uncover the secrets of the mansion and find her friends if she wishes to escape Barrows Mansion.

2016_10_13_14_3_12.mpg_snapshot_04.12_[2016.10.19_16.18.40]Clock Tower plays like any other point and click adventure at first glance. You walk around Barrows Mansion collecting items and using them to solve various puzzles. You have an action/walk button, a stop button, and a menu button; standard fair for a game like this. The shoulder buttons can make Jennifer run to the left or right indefinitely and speed things up. The cursor even changes when you hover over an intractable object, and helps solve the adventure game problem of “click everywhere and everything till something happens.”

Clock Tower has one other key feature that sets it apart from your typical adventure fair, and that is its panic system. You’ll find that Barrows Mansion is a pretty strange place after you start exploring it. Poltergeist possessed objects, murderous animals, and other occult happenings all have it out for our heroine. Jennifer’s portrait starts flashing when she encounters any of these things, and that’s your queue to start mashing the panic button. Each panic instance will build a bit of Jennifer’s fear, represented by the color behind her portrait. You can think of fear like a life meter, even though everything can kill Jennifer in 1 hit. The more panicked Jennifer becomes, the more you have to mash the panic button. Most fear-inducing situations are one-off things and scripted events, so you can try to plan around them or avoid them completely if you know their triggers. Clock Tower does have one random element, though; and his name is Scissorman.

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This child-like killer loves to hide in boxes and behind curtains; waiting for you to inspect them.

Jennifer will repeatedly bump into Scissorman while exploring the mansion. This pint-sized serial killer first shows up when Jennifer discovers the corpse of one of her friends, and he chases her till you find a hiding place and wait him out. Scissorman encounters are rather intense despite his ridiculous appearance. Scissorman encounters are where the fear status can get Jennifer killed. There’s a chance she’ll trip if she’s panicked while running, giving him time to catch up. There’s also a chance for Scissorman to instantly kill Jennifer while she’s panicked if he catches her, rather than giving her an opportunity to fight back. It sounds pretty stupid, but Clock Tower gives you the option to pick your game back up from right before any encounter that kills you. Hiding places are rare, so you really have to get creative and think on your feet. There are certain areas where Scissorman will spawn, but there’s also plenty of encounters that happen at random. The mansion is small, and these chase sequences add an interesting element of longevity to the game.

Clock Tower seems lackluster when only looking at it’s adventure elements. There’s only a few puzzles in the game, and you’re lucky if you encounter more than 3 in a single play through. The game has 9 different endings, but the events that divide them up are rather small. This game isn’t a cult hit for adventure game enthusiasts, though; but rather for horror game fans. Things like Scissorman and the games detailed still images evolved into horror game staples such as bosses that seem unbeatable and grotesque, graphic imagery. There are a few more subtle things to Clock Tower’s horror-themed design, though.

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There’s a good chance you won’t see every puzzle or encounter in a single play through, leaving you with a bunch of spare items as you approach the end.

The main thing Clock Tower does is mess with player when giving them feedback. The game’s intention is to make sure you get lost, and it uses several techniques to do so. The Clock Tower soundtrack is rather small. When exploring Barrows Mansion, the only thing you can hear clearly is Jennifer’s footsteps. The near constant “white noise” makes it difficult to tell what kind of situation you’re in. The game conditions you to jump at the slightest disturbance, be it in or outside of the game. There’s a specific track that plays for when Scissorman jumps you, but it too can be a false positive in certain situations. This disorientation breaks over into the visuals as well. The hallways in the mansion look similar to one another, and if you’re not paying attention to what is where it’s easy to get lost. There’s no map screen in this game, and rooms in the mansion get jumbled around every time you start a new game. It keeps things disorienting, even for someone that’s cleared the game before. It also keeps the game somewhat fresh and engaging when trying to unlock multiple endings.

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Clock Tower is an interesting and weird game, but it’s worth playing for any psychological or survival horror fan. The game lacks an official release outside of Japan, but there are a couple of fan-translations floating around online. Simple, quirky, and all kinds of creepy, Clock Tower is a hidden gem in the SNES import library.

Taylor is a writer from Atlanta, GA. His passion for games extends across genres and generations. When not playing or writing about games, he's probably reading science fiction.

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Game Reviews

‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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Games

‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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