Game release: “Night Call” (PC)

Monkey Moon, BlackMuffin Studio, and Raw Fury‘s narrative taxi simulation Night Call delivers an interesting mix of crime and drama.

Anyone who has been following the Gamescom 2018 cover stories will remember this game from my third day press appointments. It took quite a while to show up in its final form, but it seems to be worth it, as nothing has been compromised in terms of vision and atmosphere. Still taking place in Paris and the player taking control of a taxi driver who tries to make a living and investigate a serial killer case involving someone killing taxi drivers, its dark material won’t be for everyone.

With more than 70 characters who share their life stories with the taxi driver during the short time it takes to take them to their destinations, there are enough reasons to replay the game, especially since their stories can be sad and funny. Of course one still has to gather clues from three case to find out who the killer is (or are there killers?). As the suspects can change from guilty to innocent, there’s even more replay value.

Providing an interesting mix of film noir atmosphere with surreal elements and presenting it all in a detective and visual novel style should set this game apart from other adventure titles. The game is out now on PC, and despite not launching with a discount, the developers should still be supported so that they might make even more unique titles like this one. Maybe there’s even a Switch version coming which should be perfect for playing in a taxi in short bursts… or not?

Buy the game for PC on
GOG
Steam

Official website

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Game release: “Eagle Island” (PC, Nintendo Switch)

Pixelnicks’ and Screenwave Media‘s mix of roguelike and metroidvania-platformer Eagle Island takes the concept and flies away with it.

From the first looks of it, one would be foolish not to be reminded of Owlboy (see release news), especially since its pixel art presentation and open-world form are quite similar. However, it’s not an owlboy, but a boy called Quill with an owl named Koji who explore Eagle Island in search for lost treasures and civilizations and to defeat the evil Armaura in order to rescue damsel in distress Ichiro.

Another difference is that levels are procedurally generated and invite the player to engage in a story, roguelite, or speedrun mode. With 85 different perk abilities and magical features that can transform the owl into elemental forms, there’s enough variety when it comes to overcoming 12 bosses in 16 environments. The gameplay is clearly inspired by 16-bit classic platformers, with running and jumping being the most prominent features, complemented by a unique cast-the-owl-in-8-directions combat mechanic that works with the different types of elemental magic and chaining combos together.

The game is out now on PC and Nintendo Switch. While there’s no launch discount, being able to throw an owl like a boomerang should be enough silly reason to buy it. Plus the pixel art looks pretty cool, too.

Buy the game for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the game for Nintendo Switch on
the Nintendo eShop

Official website

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Management sims: “Theme Park” (PC)

Bullfrog Productions’ and Electronic Arts‘ quirky management sim Theme Park remains a unique experience for anyone who wants to have a look behind the business scenes.

Theme Park (PC)
(UK 1994, developer: Bullfrog Productions (now defunct), publisher: Electronic Arts, platforms: PC, Amiga, 3DO, Mega Drive, Mega CD, Amiga CD32, Atari Jaguar, FM Towns, Sega Saturn, PS1, Super NES, Nintendo DS, iOS)

Building a theme park and pleasing visitors becomes hard business.

Nostalgic trips to theme parks
Anyone who has gone to various theme parks knows the feeling of what it means to get excited about the newest thrill or family rides, music in the air, and all sorts of beautiful scenery elements like flowers or fountains, everything adding to an unforgettable experience, especially for a child. But one might also remember the long waiting queues, litter on the ground, and even feeling sick after some fast roller coaster rides. Bad and overpriced fast food as well as countless souvenir shops might make you wonder if the price of admission was really justified, especially since it had increased each year and many attractions had to be closed due to renovations or repairs.

The reality of managing a theme park
All of these experiences are what makes Theme Park such a unique and personal game, for better or for worse. For the first time, one is able to see the inner workings of the business, because at its core, the game is a tough-as-nails simulation in which money rules and visitors are both a blessing when spending money or a curse when they’re not satisfied, which happens almost 100% of the time. Keeping customers happy becomes top priority, and the only way to achieve this is to offer lots of new attractions, food and drink as well as souvenir shops, while taking care of the cleanliness and safety of the park. Attractions have to be researched, staff for cleaning trash or toilets have to be hired. This also holds true for mechanics who might sit around eating their lunch boxes, but who are essential for repairing rides, while entertainers are also good for keeping up customers happiness in waiting queues.

Money problems
As everything costs money, it becomes extremely difficult to find the right balance between buying new things or hiring people and keeping the park profitable. Despite looking and sounding like a cute cartoon, this is anything but an easy game. Running out of money and having unhappy customers becomes more common than one would expect. Even on the lowest difficulty level, one soon runs into money trouble, which is a shame, because it’s highly motivating to unlock the next big ride, build it, and watch people have fun on it. There is always something to do, and if one feels like a real business man or woman, it’s possible to crank up the difficulty even more by introducing competitive parks that can buy out one’s own if one isn’t careful enough. Investing in research can only be done on the intermediate level, as it works automatically (and slowly) on the beginner level. If it’s not already stressful enough to keep an eye on individual customer needs, broken rides, and revenues dropping, then one can turn on a simulation mode in which one has to buy and distribute stock for each food and drink store.

Funny and difficult
The mix of building and business simulation is as frustrating as it is fun. Despite being very much about economics, there’s always that special sense of British humor which makes it different from duller management sims. Building a food store close to the exit of a fast ride might not be the best idea, as one will soon hear the sounds of endless vomiting and actually see the human mess on the walks. Sometimes customers lie there unconscious because of rowdies having beaten them up, so hiring security personnel might be a good idea. But one has to be careful about managing staff, because there are regular negotiations about their monthly payments that are visualized by two hands reaching out in a tight time limit. If one doesn’t agree on the worker union’s terms, one will soon have a park with staff on strike, which results in a dirty and unsafe environment.

The customer is always right and annoying
As in real theme park life, customers can be rather picky and become very annoyed if there are too many things to their dislike. Watching them closely and analyzing their thought bubbles either on site or in statistics reveals what they like and what they want. Usually it’s about the selection and quality of food and drinks, but it can also be prices or waiting times they’re not happy with. Even if there’s an advisor who notifies the player when something is amiss, one is often at a loss how to improve the situation when one either doesn’t have enough money or the means to build something better. The short tutorial only introduces the basics, but most of the time one has to figure out how to solve problems, as the advisor doesn’t give many clues. Fortunately, one doesn’t only have to rely on entry fees or customers paying for food, drinks, and souvenirs, as at the end of each fiscal year, one can also receive rewards in the form of prize money, e.g. for the cleanest or safest park.

Building…
Building rides or fair attractions is rather simple if one plans in advance how much space they require and where to connect the entrances and exits with their respective waiting and sidewalk paths. Rollercoasters need a bit more hands-on fiddling with tracks, but one doesn’t need much creativity to keep them running. One can also adjust how fast each ride goes (which also has a negative effect on safety and durability). While some visitors wish for more excitement, others can become sick, especially if a burger stall is close to the exit, turning the path into a lane of vomit that has to be cleaned up constantly (or the ride/stall placed somewhere else). One can also use decoration elements like flowers, trees, fountains, and even lakes to boost up the park’s prettiness and reputation, although installing toilets (and upgrading them later on) is more important.

… and optimizing
Adjusting the amount of sugar, salt, and fat or caffeine in order to make customers more active, thirstier, or less tired is all part of a business plan, so that a hamburger or fries store might lead a customer next to a drinks stand or prevent them to leave the park too soon. A handyman has to be on site when it comes to clean up the mess, but it’s here where the game’s controls make the player realize that not everything works as planned. Picking up staff and letting them fall on the path they should go to or rides to repair is an exercise in patience, because the controls are so fiddly and the AI isn’t particularly bright. One has to click on the exact spot in order to make a handyman clean a path, as a few pixels away, he’s more likely to mow the lawn or often just gets stuck somewhere else in the park. Setting a patrol route is even more cumbersome, as one can only do this step by step (or pixel quadrant by pixel quadrant). Pausing the game and selecting the route isn’t possible, which is also true for building and taking care of park business.

Fortunately, one can decrease or increase the game’s speed, so that if things start to get too stressful (and they certainly will with bigger parks that become very difficult to manage) or too slow (like waiting for the next research goal), one can adjust it accordingly. However, setting routes, building paths, etc. remains frustrating, as it happens way too often that paths are set too soon and have to be erased. Quite a few system crashes are also annoying, even with the help of GOG and DOSBox settings.

Cartoon looks and childish sounds
Despite being over 30 years old, the pixel graphics are still very nice to look at, which is mainly because of the fun cartoon animations, detailed buildings, and generally great artwork, which can be seen with the over-sized heads of the guests. Sound effects and music fit the theme park setting, too, with each ride having its own soundtrack and the ambient visitors’ murmuring, laughing, and screaming effects adding to the atmosphere. However, listening to constant vomiting sounds makes one turn off the effects (or fix the problem in the park). The various CGI video sequences have obviously not aged well, but they’re still fun to watch, including a promo intro and a few on-ride scenes for the attractions, evoking feelings of nostalgia, but also having a humorous touch in each one of them.

A classic exercise in nostalgic loving and despairing
Theme Park is an easy game to love when it comes to its presentation that bursts with a cartoon and humorous charm. However, underneath it all is a very difficult business simulation that is often let down by some control issues. The lack of missions and therefore specific goals might put some people off, too. Still, if one wants to experience what it’s like to build and (more difficult) manage a theme park, there’s no better game than this, especially since its graphics are still lovely to look at today.

Score: 8/10

Buy the digital version for PC on
GOG

Buy the retail version for PC on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

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GOG release: “Heaven’s Vault”

inkle Ltd.‘s open-world narrative adventure game Heaven’s Vault shows that history can be very much alive.

Anyone who’s played or at least read about 80 Days (see release news) won’t be surprised to find out that Heaven’s Vault is quite similar in terms of gameplay and subject matter, i.e. teaching people about human history and offering choices to make. This time it’s about archaeologist Aliya Elasra who explores the Nebula, A strange region of space, with her robot sidekick Six in order to reveal the secrets of its past. After a roboticist from the University of Iox has disappeared, Aliya makes discoveries that guide her to the edge of the world.

What makes Heaven’s Vault so interesting, besides the plot and setting, is that one feels like an archaeologist by discovering lost sites, exploring ancient ruins and translating inscriptions. Due to the hieroglyphic nature of these inscriptions, one has to find their literal meaning and their meaning for Aliya’s ideas about her discoveries, made even more intriguing due to translations not always being correct. As the game is non-linear, one can follow the story in any order. Choices have obviously consequences and open different narrative paths, while characters also react accordingly. So one can turn out to be a thief, an explorer, a detective, a seeker, a savior, a rogue, or anything else. With a beautiful mix of 3D environments and hand-drawn 2D art, it’s a unique game that should be on history buffs’ and adventure gamers’ wishlist.

Heaven’s Vault was originally released in April, but is now available DRM-free on GOG with a 20% launch discount that will last until July 23rd, 3pm UTC.

Official website

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New additions to the media collection in June 2019

June 2019 was again another month full of movies and games that filled the media collection shelves in unexpected ways.

It came as a surprise that there seemed to have been delivery problems with the newest LEGO magazine at German news agent stores and that the exclusive cover version of Edge was more or less on time. Whatever happened to Retrogamer only those people at My Favourite Magazines would know.

Thankfully, there haven’t been any problems when ordering bookazines, as these were cheap and full of great photos/storylines about the 500 best movies, 100 TV shows and horror cinema in general.

Action movies can’t get any cheesier than these guilty-pleasure material flicks with lots of bad acting and even more gratuitous nudity.

Even more action movies that include the awesome John Wick: Chapter 2 I watched in April 2018 on Amazon Prime Video and the fun Bird on a Wire from the 90ies. No Retreat, No Surrender (or the German title Karate Tiger) I barely remember, so it will be interesting to see how it holds up today.

Two classic adventure flicks that will probably be good for some unintentional special effects laughs.

You have to love Paddington 2 despite it being clearly aimed at children, just for watching Hugh Grant make a fool out of himself.

The two Problem Child movies remain unadulterated 90ies fun, while Weekend at Bernie’s should be just as enjoyable as the countless times I’ve watched it on TV.

Family Man should make for some good Christmas spirit time.

Both Deathstalkers aren’t Oscar material, but good enough for some unclean trash fun, especially as mediabooks.

Sherlock Holmes is always great, but does the detective material also work as a comedy? We’ll see…

Horror trash can be so boring, as can be seen with Alien Prey and Spawn of the Slithis, which is too bad, as the latter offers a great creature costume and an unexpectedly violent ending. Still, not recommended… although Alien Prey is so much worse…

More horror and I don’t even know what to expect from these, although seeing Nicolas Cage battle his way through hell and having another Austrian slasher flick is unique enough for me.

Some thriller material, even though I’m not sure if Rollercoaster is as exciting as when I watched it as a child. The same goes for The Good Son. In whatever way Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres) turns out to be, it should be as visually stunning as Amer.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was surprisingly more entertaining than its predecessor.

The first batch of 88 Films additions, with The Coach Trip and Once Upon A Crime being particularly funny.

More classic trash, especially the 80ies Scream Queens triple feature with more nudity and nonsense that could have used more originality and maybe a bit of suspense. I’ll probably give Night of the Demons 2 the Halloween treatment, as it fits perfectly for that time.

Can’t wait to watch even more trash, although despite its cool title, Surf Nazis Must Die wasn’t as great even back in the days.

Full Moon productions are always remarkable, as despite their low budget, bad special effects, not so great actors or actressess, plus dull storylines, they’re still kind of entertaining, as it’s the case with these three movies.

More slasher flicks, including The House on Sorority High that was already featured in the Amazon Prime Video watchlist: March to April 2017.

88 Films Italian collection additions I have again no clue of what to expect, although action and horror should do the trick.

Even if I’m not a big fan of Western movies, there’s something about the ruthlessness and violence in Italian flicks that appeal to me, especially after having watched Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

88 Films Asian collection additions that could be a nice mix of serious sword and kung fu fighting plus trash like The Mighty Peking Man I already own on DVD. Whatever to expect from a Chinese musical with a goddess I don’t know, but it should be a memorable experience.

Next up: lots of Arrow Video movies of classics I haven’t watched yet…

… although Heathers is a great one I’ve revisited multiple times.

More and more Arrow Video flicks thanks to a 2 for 1 sale celebrating 10 years of the company…

It was also the first time that I ordered via the Arrow Video shop, as some titles weren’t available on my favorite Zavvi store… although it might also be the last time, as the discounts weren’t right, the shipping too expensive… and there was even one movie missing! At least it was fast shipping (one day!) from the UK and the customer support was good. Still, I’d rather go to Zavvi or Amazon again next time.

The Howling is one of the few classic horror movies I haven’t watched (or I don’t remember), which is surprising since it’s from Joe Dante. This DVD collection is almost complete, and despite probably being not the greatest ones, these films should make for some entertaining Halloween special (maybe).

Time to move on to games, and this exclusive US collection was what I’ve been waiting for, because Beyond: Two Souls is only available uncut in the US. That’s why I’ve never bought it in Germany or the UK. Now it’s even remastered and the collection was cheaper than Detroid: Become Human on its own.

Finally my PS4 VR Amazon France order that went missing in April 2019 is complete, even if it meant waiting for months and using coupons.

More games imports from various sources, with The Council being a particular adventure game highlight.

More VR in a racing game that will hopefully be playable without a bucket.

Now the four-player multiplayer fun can begin with the additional 2 PS4 controllers which came in an unbeatable double pack price with God of War (even the Day One edition) and Spider-Man.

This was all part of Sony’s Days of Play, but it wasn’t only discount shop Real, but also Amazon that had some very nice bargains… and if I’d known that Hidden Agenda would be available for around 10 EUR with all 3 more PlayLink titles back when I bought it as a single version with the PS4 Pro… but that’s bargain hunting life for you.

Taking into account that it’s only been a year since I saw 428: Shibuya Scramble during Gamescom 2018, paying only 10 EUR was a joke.

Another joke is that Sushi Striker doesn’t seem to find a gaming audience in Germany, with the 3DS version going for 10 EUR (and a few days later at Gamestop for 5), and in the UK it’s out of print.

I haven’t even played the PS3 version yet, but having The Sly Trilogy on PS Vita is kinda nice. I only have to remember to redeem the code for the third game, as it’s unfortunately not on the disc, but only available via PSN.

Finally there are some card and other travel games for the summer that don’t require a console or PC.

Last but not least, these were the remaining Burger King Pok√©mon toys that would complete the collection…

… and finish this long photo story that will hopefully become a bit smaller (and less expensive for time and money) next month.

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