Justice Playthrough #138: TAMASHII

There’s a lot about this game that I find frustrating, not the least of which is the underlying genre — Brutal Precision Platformer — is not one I find particularly compelling. So when I say that the gameplay makes up for all of it, that means the gameplay is fuckin’ FANTASTIC.

Page 3, Game 16: TAMASHII by vikintor

An Entity has summoned thee. Something has defiled its temple. Thou art tasked with finding the source of the corruption.

Get to it, kid

You will find this corruption via running around solving platforming puzzles. This is generally a matter of just finding the exit for a given level. However, before long, you’re going to start dealing with keys. Stand in a certain place, and the states of various blocks will toggle between “existing” and “not”. Stand in other places, and the door will open itself.

Naturally, since you can only be in one place, you can pretend to be somewhere by dropping what the game refers to as a “clone” behind.

Not seeing the resemblance

Those little chattering skull bastards will trigger whatever key they’re on for as long as they continue to exist.

Also, in one of the game’s many delightful graphical touches, the more clones you drop (up to the max of three) the wonkier the resolution on your screen gets. Suddenly, the game feels like you’re playing it on a shitty old TV. I don’t know why this makes me so happy, but it makes me incredibly happy.

From there, you’re free to jump all around the level and try not to die. The level will make this very, very difficult.

Those blades aren’t for show, and they do not tickle

Make it all the way through to the end, and you’ll face the level’s boss monster! Figuring out how to defeat it is part of the game. As is dealing with the psychological horror of seeing the thing.

WTF

Clear out enough levels and you win!

I think.

As much as I enjoyed it, this is not one I played through to the end.

Let’s get this out of the way: I didn’t play it through to the end because there’s something wonky in the save mechanism. There were levels I’m QUITE certain I cleared that the game wanted me to play again — I think. Beating the levels the first time was fun. But as challenging as they are, beating them AGAIN is a chore.

Assuming you can figure out where in the connecting temple you need to go to get to them. Simply finding where you’re supposed to go next was often an unwelcome challenge. The whole “Wait, did I do this one already?” feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that my high score on every level was always pegged at 0.

My big problem with this game is that it makes it too difficult to get to the fun parts.

But by the unholy spirits of the underworld, the fun parts are FUN.

The platforming in this game is brutal and merciless, but even though that’s not my jam, I still had a great time playing it. It’s smooth, it’s fast, it’s POLISHED. This is a game where you’re going to fail a lot, so the game lets you fail FAST. All right, looks like to do this, I’m going to need to plant a clone on the red key, which is behind a whole bunch of bullshit that will kill me. I’m gonna need to hit the jump like THIS, dodge the bullet like THIS, jump over the– shit, fucked up the timing. All right, jump like THIS, dodge the bullet like THIS, WAIT, jump over the buzzsaw blades, step lively, all right, I’m there! Now what?

The game feels FAIR. It’s hard as hell, but it genuinely feels like you have the tools you need to solve the problems at hand.

What’s more, it looks fantastic. I honestly don’t know what to call this art style — Giger-occult? It’s drippy and creepy and cruel and hellish. A better reviewer than I could no doubt pin down exactly what it’s called and where it’s coming from; I’m a basic bitch in more ways than just my taste in games. The game feels dark in a way that’s unique and genuinely unsettling. I fuckin’ love it.

When Tamashii gets the hell out of its own way, it’s a fantastic game. I’m glad I played it, frustrating bits and all. Definitely recommended.

What occult madness awaits me in the next title?

Page 41, Game 27: Book Reprocessing Machine #5 by Tenbear

“A game about turning old books into new poems”

Ah, poetry. SERIOUS madness.

Justice Playthrough #137: Rulent Tower VR

Yup, VR. Damn.

Page 47, Game 16: Rulent Tower VR by Setsune

I DOES look kinda cool. I definitely appreciate creating a virtual reality where you’re basically inside a Game Boy. If I ever get a VR rig, maybe I’ll come back to it.

What strange new use of old technology awaits me next?

Page 3, Game 16: TAMASHII by vikintor

“Weird Luciferian Puzzle Platformer”

Puzzles AND Lucifer? Dope, I’m in.

Justice Playthrough #136: Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition

Not a great game, even when it’s working.

It’s usually not working.

Page 13, Game 19: Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition by Axol Studio

Blasting Agent is a Olde Timey side-scrolling pixel shooter that visually is trying to evoke the feel of NES games like Contra.

This is its first huge mistake; the gameplay is absolutely nothing like Contra. You are not a bad-ass storming through an alien-infested jungle laying down adrenaline-fueled devastation. You are an (admittedly) tough but nimble soldier tentatively scurrying forward with a cheap, shitty “gun” rendered largely ineffective by its terrible range and negligible stopping power. Every time you encounter even a starting-level mook, you’re going to need to very cautiously snipe at them (did I mention your gun’s range sucks?) and then dash away, jumping-over their return fire. (I’m pretty sure the mooks’ guns are better than yours. I’m not joking. Pretty sure I’ve never seen that in a Contra wannabe before.) You’ll need to land four or five hits before you drop them, so taking down a single foe is a huge chore. Often, your best bet is to simply run past them.

Of course, if you’re forced to confront them and another soldier follows you into the fray, you’re fucked. Taking them on two at a time is suicidal.

So, yeah, this is not the dash-and-blaster it seems to be presenting itself as. It’s more in the “precision platformer” vein. Which is fine, I suppose. Not really my jam, but that’s fine. If you’re all about that cautious, one-step-at-a-time gameplay, this one might appeal to you.

Assuming you can play it. You might not. I started it up like five times, and got to play a decent ways into it once before it crashed halfway through the third stage of the first level. By that point, I felt like I had a pretty good feel for the game, so I fired it back up to harvest some screenshots. On the third try, I made it past the intro screen, and then the game promptly crashed when I tried to screenshot it.

But not before I noticed that it had done nothing to save my progress from the earlier run.

So in my experience, the game was too unstable to play and not fun enough for me to actually want to play it. It looks and sounds like a classic NES game, so props for presentation, but the actual game is just too fiddly for me to enjoy. If it sounds like your jam, by all means roll the dice; maybe your computer won’t hate it as much as mine did.

How much punishment will the mooks in this next game take before collapsing?

Page 47, Game 16: Rulent Tower VR by Setsune

“Witness Beautiful Game Boy Graphics in VIRTUALEST of REALITIES!”

Eh, fuck. VR. I do not have a VR rig. Looks like whatever mooks are in Rulent Tower have nothing to fear from me.

Justice Playthrough #135: Vignettes

I can’t tell if this is a chill, playful “anti-game” that wants me to relax or if it’s a hard-core puzzler that wants me pulling my hair out and secretly fucking hates me.

Page 3, Game 14: Vignettes by Skeleton Business

You are given a 3D rendered thing, like, say, a phone!

I think this keypad may have been designed by Charlie Day

Click it — see what happens! Or, use your mouse to turn it around, see it from a different angle. From certain sides, it doesn’t really look like a phone at all. Like, for instance, look at the bottom dead-on, it’s just a rectangle.

That rectangle could be anything. And if you twist it around, it’s not a phone any more! It’s a pot!

WHAAAAAAAT

What will the pot do with you click on it? What other things will it become when you twist it around? Find out! That’s the game!

When the game puts you in a just-fuck-around-and-see-what’s-next headspace, it’s interesting. It’s kinda fun, in its low key way. You can get some really cool stuff to show up.

Time to toot my tooter!

But then you discover the menu, and the “chill” part of the game kinda goes to hell.

Where zen goes to die

Look at how those things can turn into other things! Why, the pot alone could turn into four other things. What other things could it be?

Twist it around and find out!

No, not like that.

Not like that, either.

Maybe you could turn it the other way?

Come on, are you really even trying? Don’t you WANT to find the other things it could be?!

And what are those icons on the interstitial screen? Click them and find out.

Oh, here’s a picture showing all the things you’ve found.

And here’s a summary of the puzzles you haven’t solved yet. Did you not realize you were solving puzzles? You did not? WTF is wrong with you, did you not realize this is a game?

And here’s a chest. It kinda looks like the beginning of the game. What happens when you click on it? You go back to the beginning of the game, of course!

Would you like to go back to where you were? Like when you found this fucking thing?

It’s made of angry whimsy

That thing was cool. Wanna go back to it and play with it?

Well, you’re gonna need to remember every step it took you to get there.

Every.

Single.

One.

Feel stupid because you clicked on that chest thing and got kicked all the way back to the beginning? Well, you should. But don’t worry, you’ll have the same issue if you ever do something dumb like close the game.

This game isn’t awful, but there’s a staggering difference between the chill, playful, exploratory way it presents itself and the actual experience of playing the thing. The actual gameplay is merciless. Actual gameplay gives on the vaguest hints of what you’re trying to do or how to proceed. The playful, exploratory menu puts you in a corner where you are ONE FUCKING WRONG CLICK away from undoing all your progress and getting kicked ALL the way back to the beginning.

I don’t hate it, but I can’t say I love it, either. When it’s working, it operates under a kind of dream logic that I found quite appealing. Of course the thing just became another completely different thing because of how you looked at it. Of course there’s a cat in there. Why wouldn’t there be?

But I found that once I started investing myself in moving forward, it stopped being fun and just started being frustrating. In particular, the inability to return to a previous cool thing I found struck me as inexplicable. Why does the game want me to memorize every step I took? That’s not playful and zen. That’s not playful and zen at all.

If it looks appealing, I suppose I can recommend it. But this is not a must-have.

What things will be turning into other things for this next one?

Page 13, Game 19: Blasting Agent: Ultimate Edition by Axol Studio

“The definitive version of the classic, pixel jump-and-shoot Adventure for PC.”

Ah, I expect pixels will be turning into explosions. I like jumping, I like shooting, I like adventures. Let’s do this thing!

Justice Playthrough #134: Nuvoloso

Can’t play it. My PC privilege has been thwarted!

Page 56, Game 2: Nuvoloso by Claudio Vertemara

It’s an Android-only game, the first I’ve encountered in the trawl. That means I’ve encountered as many Android games as I have Commodore-64 and Sinclair VX Spectrum entries. So as I did there, I figured I’d see if an emulator could help me out.

I downloaded and installed NoxPlayer 6.6.12. In theory, installing Nuvoloso on it was a simple drag and drop. An hour later, the app is still installing.

If it’s this slow, I suspect that even if the install completes, the simulated game experience might be significantly less than what the developer intended.

Ah, well.

So all I can really say about this game is that it has something to do with clouds, and is definitely a thing that exists.

What fun shapes will I wind up seeing in this next one?

Page 3, Game 14: Vignettes by Skeleton Business

“Toyish surprise-o-rama”

Ooh. Toyish shapes. And I do like surprise-o-ramas. This bodes well.

Justice Playthrough #133: Analog Zine Issue 1-9

Not for me, thanks.

Page 55, Game 17: Analog Zine Issue 1-9 by Analog Fanzine

This is a zine about gaming. The first article in the first issue is about the author loves trash-talking in gaming culture. The second is about how much bullshit the author has had to put up with from the online gaming community because she’s a woman.

I have no idea if this juxtaposition is supposed to be ironic, or if the editor simply didn’t notice.

I skimmed through the first and final issues, and nothing really grabbed me. The articles tend towards the rambly and unfocused, mixed in with occasional listicles and thinly-veiled personal promotions. Still, even if I personally find the quality suspect, there’s an earnestness to the whole endeavor that I respect. So I’ll just say that it’s not for me and move on.

Will this next entity clearly denote its fictional bits as fiction?

Page 56, Game 2: Nuvoloso by Claudio Vertemara

“A Casual Arcade game where you look at a sky full of clouds.”

Obviously not. Everybody knows clouds aren’t real, and are all actually government surveillance drones.

Justice Playthrough #132: FLAMBERGE

Your plan will not survive contact with the enemy. Flaberge is in many respects very raw and clearly a work in progress, but its central conceit of watching your choreographed battle plans go straight to hell over and over again makes it fun and damned compelling just the same.

Page 10, Game 20: FLAMBERGE by msb /// hydezeke

Long ago, the land was savaged by war. So, your ancestors said Fuck This and violently ripped your homeland out of the ground and turned it into a floating island in the sky. For centuries you’ve lived in peace. But something has found you.

You take the role of a young soldier, last survivor of a squad devastated by mysterious invaders from below. You’ll explore the land and, in proper adventure game fashion, assemble your team of heroes as you attempt to put right what has gone so terribly wrong.

Flamberge brings an old-school brother-can-you-spare-a-pixel graphic style that I find immensely appealing. Check out this map of the overworld:

Follow the flag to adventure!

It also sounds fantastic, with a standout piano soundtrack. (My wife actually commented that the music for my game was suddenly “bangin'” and wondered why it had gotten so awesome. I’d earlier been playing Gloomhaven, a game from a much larger publisher.) The sound effects have a nice “crunch” quality to them in general, and just feel satisfying.

But the real selling point here is the combat system. It’s turned-based, but with one hell of a twist. You have to plan out what you’re doing ahead of time. You tell your people where you want them to go and when you want them to attack, and they’re off!

Unless you caught them by surprise, the enemy will promptly turn this into a huge clusterfuck by not being where you want them to be when you want them to be there, the bastards.

All right, I’mma come up on him from behind, you get right up in his grill, you shoot him, and assuming he remains perfectly stationary….

It’s not uncommon to botch a charge and end up hauling-ass WAY farther than you intended, possibly stumbling into visual range of another group of foes that you would preferred to have dealt with later. Whoopsy-doodle.

Combat mechanics are simple. Your attack does X damage; subtract your target’s armor (assuming they were where you wanted them to be) and subtract the result from their hit points. Easy-peasy.

You can even reduce the power of your attacks to account for uncertainty — which is often the smartest move. In exchange for a smaller attack strength, you can designate an area to go looking for foes instead of a straight line. It adds a very nifty gambling element to the proceedings, particularly when dealing with crunchybois with high armor values.

But as I mentioned, the game is still under development, and it shows. The developer says that it’s half done; they have three chapters in the can, and have three more to go to complete the story. I’m really hoping they’ll come back and polish some of the core gameplay elements, however.

There’s no “undo” mechanism for plotting your moves, at least none I could find. This results in a very unforgiving interface, where a single errant mouse twitch could spell disaster by taking one of your peeps too close to the enemy. There’s a timeline displayed, but I couldn’t figure out how to manipulate it; if I want something to happen later in the turn such as the healer holding off on his heal-bomb until everybody has congregated, I have no idea how to make that happen without the guy running in circles.

There’s also a weird thing where if you don’t collect loot while the fight is in progress, the game won’t let you collect it after you’re done, even if you wipe the field of opposition. Also, there’s one guy in the enemy camp who’s clearly recruitable, but I have no idea how; I was hoping getting closer to him would trigger some sort of dialog, but nope. I didn’t recruit him so much as … murder him. Maybe I have to ignore him completely? That seems counter-intuitive.

But what I most desperately want is a slow-motion replay option. When you hit the “Execute” button, things happen VERY quickly. My plans often went wrong, but I was often very unclear as to WHY. Did the target move before my archer could get the shot off? How close was the miss? Why did that guy get flattened? Didn’t I have his “defense” option selected? The game makes it harder than I want to learn from my mistakes — even though I’m clearly showering myself with learning opportunities.

The story is all right. I suspect English isn’t the dev’s first language, as the exposition and dialog can both come off a tad stilted. It also suffers from the problem of not telling me enough while telling it to me too slowly; the story stuff can really drag, and yet at the beginning of the game, I honestly didn’t know I was up in the floaty-island defending it from invaders from below.

That having been said, the story takes a turn for the weird in the third chapter, and I am fucking THERE for it.

You KNOW the party’s gotten real when they bust out the dancing diamond

You meet the people of the town you just saved. They are sheep. Literal sheep. So is their king. Nobody thinks this is in any way odd.

This is like ten times as much personalty as the game had displayed up until this point, and I would have loved a lot more of this loopy creativity.

It feels like there should be more to explore; the overland map is often just an exercise in going from point to point. There’s a shopping mechanism, but it feels weirdly half-baked. I would have liked my protagonist’s personality to have had a trait beyond “dutiful.”

It’s one of those games where it’s easy to lose yourself picking at what it’s getting wrong, which is a mistake. It DOES have a ton of room for refinement, but that shouldn’t distract you from the core truth:

It’s fun as hell.

I’m going to set this game aside. At some point in a year or two when I’m poking through these entries, I’ll stumble across this one and be all “Oh, yeah, Flamberge! That was actually kind of awesome. I wonder what it looks like now.” And then I’ll download the latest version and see what the developer has managed to improve.

This game can only get better — and it’s already pretty damn good.

This is absolutely worth a look.

Will this next game allow me to use a sheep as a motherfuckin’ tank?

Page 55, Game 17: Analog Zine Issue 1-9 by Analog Fanzine

“All the issues so far”

As balls-out weird as the zines have been in this trawl, there’s absolutely no way to know for sure, is there.

Justice Playthrough #130: Unmoored

A solo game that wants you to have a die, a deck of cards, and a Jenga tower to play it. I guess those are a thing.

Page 39, Game 27: Unmoored by Lari Assmuth

Terrorists are fucking the world, so the Time Cops are gonna send you back in time to deal with them before they ever become a problem. But as one of the game’s acknowledged sources said, science isn’t exactly an exact science with these guys. You’re getting jerked around the time-space continuum willy nilly, losing pieces of your identity as you go. You are, as the title suggests, unmoored.

You’re probably fucked. But you still have a future to save, dammit.

You draw cards, and write entries in your log based on what they’re telling you. At various points, you’ll pull blocks from the Jenga tower. When it falls, ya done. Hope you accomplished something before you lost all traces of yourself to temporal Alzheimers.

I don’t have a lot to say about this one, other than it looks really interesting. Which is why I don’t have much to say; I might just want to experience this one for myself. What the hell, if I get my hands on a Jenga set and have an afternoon to devote to what’s basically a writing exercise, I might very well give it a try. If it sounds appealing to you, it’s worth a look.

All right, Al. Where am I headed next?

Page 1, Game 22: MidBoss by Eniko

“A possession based traditional roguelike with turn-based gameplay.”

Ziggy says I’m an orc?! Oh, boy.

Justice Playthrough #129: Sanguine Sanctum

New rule: if your game makes me feel like I need to barf, I’m gonna say mean things about your game.

Page 7, Game 27: Sanguine Sanctum by Modus Interactive

The pool of blood wants stuff. Go find stuff, feed the pool of blood.

Feeling kinda judged here, pool of blood

Some games are about telling a story, others are about interesting/challenging gameplay. Sanguine Sanctum punts on both. Finding the various red lumps coveted by the pool of blood is just a matter of wandering around, clicking/stepping on enough things for the game to reward you. What is the pool of blood? No idea. Why do you want to feed it? Eh, it’s not like you have anything better to do. What’s going to happen if you feed it? Fuck if i know. Maybe it’ll get up and direct Season 2 of Firefly or tear the world in half or something, I don’t know, I’m just a cat.

No, this one’s all about the mood. Sanguine Sanctum just wants to establish a creepy psychedelic grove and let you wallow in it. So, how does it do that?

The system … is down! The system … is down!

By throwing sweet statue rave parties, of course!

Actually, it just kinda throws weird shit against the wall. Maybe some of it will stick for you.

That really didn’t engage me, but what the hell, it’s fine. Where the game outright lost me was the sections — and there are many of them — when the game deliberately fucks around with motion in order to try and enhance the sense of wrongness.

Prepare to enter the tie dye zone

I’m too basic to record animated screenshots. But the game likes to do this thing where the walls — like the ones above — move at a different speed than the floor. You’re walking past them, but they’re not moving like they should! Creepy, right?

Actually, for me, it induced motion sickness. I played this game for about half an hour, and came out of it needing to lie the fuck down. It wasn’t fun, it was just nasty.

So, yeah, I’m not gonna play this one to the end.

If you’re looking for a creepy game driven entirely by visual mood and read the “motion sickness” bit and were like “Pfft, what a pussy,” then by all means, give this one a look. But I definitely can’t say I recommend it.

What physiological reaction is this game gonna provoke?

Page 39, Game 27: Unmoored by Lari Assmuth

“You are a time-traveller on a crucial mission, but something has gone terribly wrong…”

Ah, it’s gonna stimulate the Bill and Ted centers of my brain. Most excellent.

Justice Playthrough #128: Mutiny Island

Promising game, but much too raw in its current state.

Page 15, Game 21: Mutiny Island by Elushis

You’re the captain of the pirate ship Red Dawn, but oh, no! Mutiny! That scoundrel Morgan the Mutineer (one assumes he put “Morgan the Perfectly Loyal Crewman” on his job application, the lying swine) has seized control of your ship. You’ve been dumped unceremoniously on the titular Mutiny Island, where presumably you’ll find your way back to civilization and make them rue the day the didn’t simply shoot you in the face.

Welp. Nothing for it but to wander around picking-up random bullshit.

It looks lovely, like an old-school top-down JRPG. And I gotta give it props for the theme. Unfortunately, it’s let down in two crucial areas.

First, teaching itself to you. It really doesn’t. I had to trial and error my way into what the buttons do, and the “Options” page doesn’t help at all. I finally learned which button was “Attack” — great! It was Button 5 on my controller. Which one is that? (Turns out it’s the right bumper.)

But a vastly larger problem is that this game is SLOOOOW. I don’t mean slowly paced, like a self-indulgent “interactive” novel. No, I mean physically; the framerate absolutely CHUGS, and I have absolutely no idea why. My PC is a quad-core Intel i7-8550U with 16 gigs of RAM. It’s not a top-of-the-line gaming PC by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not a total piece of shit, either; it’s handled much more graphically ambitious games than this.

But I don’t think a faster processor would have helped. I kept an eye on my CPU and Memory stats, and they seemed fine; despite how badly it was laboring, the game wasn’t maxing-out my machine. There’s something REALLY wonky going on in the underlying programming. I noticed that when I found an area beneath the island where there was less stuff, the game’s performance suddenly hit something vaguely resembling “acceptable.” So I don’t know what behind-the-scenes algorithm is responsible for kneecapping Mutiny Island’s performance, but until the dev sorts it out, this game is going to remain a really unpleasant experience.

The very notable lag between me pushing a button on my controller and something actually happening on the screen made combat absolutely miserable. There were a couple of times I accidentally selected a dialog option (without even getting to read it) because I was button mashing trying to get the goddamn text to appear faster.

This was especially problematic when a murderous snake jumped me while I was inspecting something on the screen. If a dialog/interaction box pops up, monsters will NOT do you the courtesy of waiting until you’re done before they murk you. Given how slowly everything reacts, that was infuriating.

There could be a nifty little retro RPG here, if it can sort out its technical issues. Until it does, though, there’s just no way I can recommend it.

What kind of performance am I gonna be looking at for this next game?

Page 7, Game 27: Sanguine Sanctum by Modus Interactive

“It desires more. Feed It. Nourish It.”

If Little Shop of Horrors has taught us anything, it’s that feeding mysterious creatures as much as they want is ALWAYS awesome. I’m in!