Gaming Reviews

Zero Escape 3: Zero Time Dilemma

PS Vita, 3DS, Steam | 2016

Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is, I’m heartbroken to say, just an okay game.

The Zero Escape series of games boasts a pretty unique and compelling mixture of Japanese visual novel and puzzle solving. Just like the previous two Zero Escape games (999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward),

Zero Time Dilemma (ZTD) opens with a motley crew trapped in some abandoned facility, forced to play a game where the stakes are literally life and death. It sounds corny, but in practice it’s pretty effective and compelling. In this iteration, the game’s narrative hinges on chance and probability; you can “escape” on a coin flip not five minutes in.

Every choice made in the game’s narrative branches the story, and the player is encouraged to go back and play out other choices to unlock different looks at outcomes and character stories. Most choices are followed by a puzzle room of some kind, and players must solve a series of simple-to-baffling escape-room-style puzzles in order to move the narrative forward. It can be an awesome flow when done right; a cliffhanger to motivate the solving of puzzles for one more bit of story. Unfortunately, the puzzle-to-story ratio throughout the game is uneven at its best and downright maddening at its worst. Add in a new “amnesia” mechanic, which allows the game to present the story Tarantino-style in seemingly random order, and each piece feels like a short, nonsensical look at a piece of a narrative that isn’t particularly interesting or engaging paired with 30-45 minutes of arbitrary puzzle solving.

Gaming Reviews

Review: Downwell

PS Vita, PS4, PC | 2016 | ★★★★★

Despite still struggling to platinum the game, Downwell is one of the best I’ve played in recent memory and is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for a dedicated gaming handheld to exist.

From Wikipedia:

Downwell is a 2015 vertically scrolling shooter roguelike platform video game developed by Japan-based indie developer Moppin, and published by Devolver Digital. The game was released on iOS, Microsoft Windows, Android, and on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. Downwell centers around a “curious man”, who is at the local park one night when he decides to explore the depths of the well nearby. Knowing that monsters are waiting for him inside, he straps on his gunboots and starts his trip downwards, killing his enemies to proceed and collect treasure.

I’d heard mention of it a couple times on various gaming podcasts, but it sounded fairly basic in concept. I grabbed it on Vita for $5 (cross-buy with PS4) and dove in. After an hour of quick 2-5 minute runs, I could see the appeal for “fans of the genre”, but it felt like too much for me, too difficult, too twitchy, something.

But four or so hours of “just one more” later, I realized I was learning around the edges, progressing farther, getting better, all without consciously making a decision to change my tactics, approach, or strategy. The game pushes improvement and learning on you in a way I hadn’t felt since Spelunky (which is not a bad comparison for how this game bites into you).

Once you fall into this loop of learning and advancement, the game is just downright perfect. Between the rewarding combo system, the tough choices when presented with weapon swaps, the progressive character upgrades between each level, and the “play styles” that unlock over time, the game feels perfectly designed to ensure a consistent level of stress, engagement, and fun, despite everything being procedurally generated.

This game admittedly isn’t for everyone. It’s a fast, frantic, high-stress rogue-like that had my heart beating so fast at times I had to pause and put it down.

Upon first reaching the final boss, I had the temptation to look up strategies, thinking this was my one chance; my first trip to the bottom took probably 200 attempts. I stopped short, not wanting to rob myself of the same feeling I got from beating Olmec the first time in Spelunky. With a deep breath, I charged on, dying almost immediately. And I returned to beat the boss two attempts later.

The price of Downwell makes this a no-brainer. $5 on PS4/Vita, $3 ($1.50 as of writing) on Steam. Just make sure you play it with a controller.

It’s nice to be reminded occasionally how excellent games can be.

Gaming Reviews

Review: Severed

PS Vita | 2016 | ★★★★☆

Just platinumed Severed, a fantastic little Vita game from DrinkBox Studios, the same team behind Guacamelee!.

It’s a dungeon-crawling Fruit Ninja with battle tactics and time management. It’s just about as close as you can get to a perfect fit for the Vita: 8-10 hours, unique art style, inventive mechanics, and just enough progression to make me want to keep playing.

It’s not a masterpiece; it can be a little boring, especially when you’re backtracking for missed secrets and map locations. But it’s hard to fault it for making the completionist in me waste a little time. It’s fantastic really, but closes up just when the fights are starting to get frantic and exciting.

Give me some DLC for this thing. And thanks for having the guts to do something different. Highly recommended.