Connect with us

Game Reviews

‘Merchant of the Skies’ Is An Experiment That Will Fly or Dive

Experimental games have always been a complete gamble when it comes to public reception and Merchant of the Skies will be no different from that long-established directive…

Published

on

Merchant of the Skies Review

Developer: Coldwind Games | Publisher: Coldwind Games | Genre: Strategy, Trading | Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Linux, macOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One | Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch


Experimental games have always been a complete gamble when it comes to public reception and Merchant of the Skies will likely be no different. With its resource management emphasis, tycoon elements, and building mechanics all housed under the same roof, this is a title that will fly high or dive fast depending on whether players can find entertainment in its slightly complicated–albeit easy to grasp–gameplay loop. Merchant of the Skies is an intricately designed game that does not often fall short in quality, but that still doesn’t mean it’s something everyone can pick up and enjoy. It may not have been my personal cup of tea, yet I still found many aspects to appreciate in its fascinating structure.

The premise of Merchant of the Skies is explanatory by the title alone. Your uncle has decided to give you an airship alongside a small sum of cash in hopes that you will sail the skies to become a successful merchant. Your main objective is to make massive profits through selling or trading resources, bank interest, and many fetch quests asking you to retrieve items or help build specific structures. With the income you acquire you can buy up floating landmasses and continue to help small-town islands expand to their utmost potential. Interestingly enough, there is only one real obstacle within the game: yourself. For a title that heavily emphasizes trading and resource management, there are surprisingly no pirates, monsters, or con artists constantly waiting to intervene and send you into a spiral of bad income decisions. There are occasionally threats that can bring with them some consequences, but for the most part, the whole world relies directly on your actions to evolve. Every NPC is out to help you in some way within their haphazard economy.

Merchant of the Skies

Fetch quests and resource management are what the main gameplay loop mostly revolves around, but there’s an enjoyable story and some appealing customization mixed in as well. For better or worse the gameplay loop never attempts to dabble into anything else; if you don’t like what you’re reading so far then there is a high chance that Merchant of the Skies will absolutely not be for you. For the entire game, you will travel by airship from island to island always looking after the same three specific quirks: your fuel gauge, the ship’s item storage, and most importantly the total gold count (gold is the universal currency of the game).

Recruiting crew members to speed up and enhance long processes, gaining experience, buying useful tools, upgrading your ship, and everything else you can imagine is all dictated by the coins you collect. Strategy and advance planning are the only ways to become a successful globetrotting entrepreneur as on the spot thinking will likely end in disaster. You need to learn how to ration spending and selling accordingly when it comes to both resources and time. If you manage to go bankrupt for a specific amount of in-game flights, the consequence is the ultimate punishment: your save file is deleted. There are no second chances. Your business either thrives or fails miserably.

However, once you get adjusted to its changing trade cycle, things only get exponentially easier. In fact, Merchant of the Skies isn’t particularly challenging in general. That said, for a title with such a simple premise and concrete gameplay, it manages to hold itself back by stumbling on some basic mistakes that drastically hinder the overall experience. Fuel, or rather energy as the game calls it, is painfully short during the opening hours and the gauge is all-around difficult to grasp. Travel often feels more of a hassle than it ever should be, which is a major problem considering that this is a title that’s constantly keeping you on the move. Luckily, one of these problems is solvable since you can upgrade your ship with more cargo room for energy and single-use batteries. Still, without properly researching what the energy gauge means and when not to fly, players will be burning through cash like there is no tomorrow. Merchant of the Skies just never takes the time to properly explain its core mechanics.

It’s not just the energy system that takes time to understand, however. The whole user Interface system itself is largely confusing and often times players scour through multiple menus to find what they are looking for. Oftentimes the menus have either too much going on or too little. Why is it that the quest log never tells you what items are required for a fetch quest involving building a structure? Even aesthetically it looks rather unpleasing as text and icons are practically scattered all over the place. There is just far too much going on at once on-screen with even more crammed inside menus. There are quick actions you can utilize, but they still don’t help the majority of the problems that the user interface presents. The greatest negative, though, is that Merchant of the Skies boasts a painfully short soundtrack.

The game only has a few tracks that constantly repeat on loop for less than a minute at a time. Worst of all, every time you leave a location songs restart, meaning that for the majority of your journey you are going to be hearing the same two songs popping in and out constantly. With how often players have to location hop, this small flaw can become an absolute nuisance. For a game that you are arguably meant to sit down and play for an extensive amount of time, I can only assume most players will be turning down the game’s volume and playing their own tunes long before they can manage to clock an hour of in-game time. It seriously is the most lacking and irritating aspect of the entire release. This is a feature I would have expected out of an Atari or flash game, not something modern. In contrast to its sound design, the title does at least have an appealing pixel art style that always feels alive and moving. It’s never anything mind-blowing or notable in the bigger picture, but some of the creatures and high-value ship designs deserve your attention. The turtle cities fit outstandingly with the game’s natural backdrop, and one can’t help but wish it catered more to its crazier fantasy elements.

Merchant of the Skies

Merchant of the Skies is a passion project that targets gamers with extremely niche taste. It attempts to focus on making methodic gameplay fueled by what is fundamentally resource grinding into an addictive race against limits. Being an experimental title that relies on player taste to keep it afloat rather than established tropes or trends undoubtedly makes this a unique experience, but it’s a risky purchase for the average consumer. Like modern trading in the stock market, this is a purchase you will either win or lose with; there’s no middle ground. While I personally didn’t enjoy my time spent with Coldwind Games’ big release, I do wholeheartedly see its value. At the end of the day, Merchant of the Skies is the type of flight that audiences will probably find flying through cult classic territories in the future. You will either be bored out of your mind roaming the uncharted cloud sea or hooked on its promise of adventure capitalism.

Creative writer, producer, and Games Editor. I have always held a high interest in the fields of professional writing and communications. You can find me with my head deep in the espionage genre or in a kayak upstream. I’ll always be first in line for the next Hideo Kojima or Masahiro Sakurai game.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

Published

on

AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.

Published

on

Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

Continue Reading

Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Published

on

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Continue Reading

We update daily. Support our site by simply following us on Twitter and Facebook

Facebook

Trending