Squirrels…Shifty buggers I always thought. Stashing things, hiding, staring at you and running off abruptly like you caught them saying stuff about you or making some sort of plan to get you. I was looking forward to this NUTS review and playthrough. A pleasant squirrel surveillance puzzle game; a chance to have them endeared to me.
Cream chinos – check.
Blue shirt – check.
A chance to be David Attenborough for this NUTS review. Nope…a chance at revenge.
Last year a squirrel defeated me. No ordinary squirrel mind you, clearly the local Ninja Warrior champion. He kept invading the garden and stealing the bird food.
I tried lurking at windows to shoot him with a super soaker, I tried making squirrel baffles that meant he couldn’t climb onto the bird table. I hated him… he beat me time after time and every time he just used to sit there staring at me through the window, eating the food. NUTS was going to be military grade training for me in tracking and understanding the enemy.
Three Years In The Making
NUTS was originally a short demo created in 48 hours for Global Game Jam in 2018. So much good comes out of that annual event in encouraging developers to just go ahead and make that idea with the specific goal of perhaps starting them down the road to completing something. NUTS is a great example of that journey. Published by NoodleCake it has taken three years to get from that short demo to the full game you see today. You can still download and play the original demo from Itch.io. Jonatan van Hove (Joon in the listed designers), the original Icelandic designer has left it there for posterity.
NUTS is a beautiful, calm game, that bears a lot of similarities to Firewatch. In both games you operate in a remote location of natural beauty with only a more experienced colleague in telephone contact with you as the other human, who offers guidance and tasks. Here your job is to save the Melmoth forest from developers by proving that the area is a significant squirrel habitat and that they live here.
Lights, Camera, Action
After a brief set up you are into the game and it’s pretty simple, with few command options. You pick up cameras and place them to track squirrels, then you return to the caravan, hit record and watch the playback in the morning to see if you captured any on film. If you did you go out and move the cameras to try and ultimately find out where these squirrels are coming from and going to. That’s it; you play on your own, set cameras and scrub video for stills of them to print and fax to your boss for the next mission.
That’s all you do for the whole game. Review over… go photograph some squirrels.
I am aware that this sounds implacably dull and cyclical gameplay, but it really isn’t. It is remarkably engaging. You can be cautious and place cameras quite close together and be certain of tracking their route, you can try to find high wide angle positions or examine the land and take your best guess as to where they might go from where you saw them last. This approach is most rewarding as you scrub the video the next morning to see if you were right.
It’s great when you cut down the chase with a well deduced guess in placing the camera and, surprisingly it’s also quite joyous when you are totally wrong and stare at empty video for 90 seconds and realise you’ve been had…the cunning blighters.
Sure, there has been some criticism of the needless walking back and forwards but you find new routes, new possibilities for your cameras and the sprint function dramatically cuts down the retreading of steps or the return walk to the caravan. It honestly never bothered me one bit.
Let’s Talk Aesthetic
NUTS takes a different slant on look as well as gameplay. At first I am reminded of those stories of kids turning orange from drinking too much Sunny Delight day after day.
Well NUTS looks like it fell into a vat of Sunny Delight and you are wandering around playing the game through a diving mask filled with Sunny Delight. The entire game is presented in stark pastel shades of green, purple and yellow. Again though, this works and it is a clever choice that gives this game a very pleasing aesthetic. Imagine they made your standard glossy natural looking forest, the game would appear a lot duller and perhaps the gameplay intrigue would not be enough to save it.
In addition, the abstract colour palette makes Melmoth forest and the game in general both pleasing to the eye and memorable. It also allows the game to take something of a minimalist approach to surroundings. I don’t know how they do it, but what I noticed while putting together our NUTS review is the environment is entrancing – and the design of the levels makes this visual approach work for highlighting and negotiating different terrain in a way it just wouldn’t if it were plainly shown as a grey rock and green tree in clear definition.
I got about five hours of pleasant gameplay for this NUTS review, and the only replay value are tapes left lying around from when your boss was surveying the squirrels some time ago.
You may miss them as you progress through each of the six levels. You don’t need them to complete the game, but given a large part of the game is the narrative then it certainly adds to the game to seek them out.
Let’s Go NUTS
All in all, NUTS is definitely worth a pecan. It’s basically a giant game of hide-and-seek and has a great feel to it all round. It’s a good example of simple ideas done well – work. So go check it out and bathe yourself happily in this luminous squirrel conundrum. The story is strong, the gameplay straight forward, but engaging and you’ll have a good time discovering what these squirrels are up to.
The discovery is going to make me treat the one in my garden with a little more respect…I might even give him some nuts.
This isn’t really a game… this is a secret recruitment program for the Japanese whaling Industry. If you complete this game your download IP location is given to the Public Security Intelligence Agency in Tokyo; then a strange man in black shades and black badly smelling rubber overalls sidles up to you in the milk aisle asking you how handy you are with a harpoon and if you want to join the fleet? I can’t quite verify this because the game is not as straight forward to finish as I imagined.
The game opens up with a beautiful menu screen of a vast colourful setting sun as you rise and fall on the swell of the sea, backed by a great electronic beat; It all bodes well. ‘What lives below’ is currently a demo and the developer has created what they describe as four boss fights, taken in a first person perspective.
You begin on the wharf of a tiny island with one mock Tudor house and a small boat reminiscent of Jaws; you just know that at some point you are going to whisper to yourself, ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’.
The procedurally generated ocean swells are big, vast and combined with the changing lighting and weather it does a good job of creating a dangerous, brooding and malevolent environment. It all makes you feel alone and vulnerable, this is reinforced when you meet the first sea monster and it leaps vertically 40 foot out of the sea.
The four fights on offer see you hunt an electric humpback whale, a giant brooding octopus who might even pick you up and throw you around if you don’t keep moving, an oversized (incongruous) eagle and a bloody great Godzilla sized sea turtle.
They will all try to destroy you by smashing or shoving you under the waves and it gets quite intense and chaotic in battle at times.
Initially in seeking the monsters they stick to a generated route (except for the octopus who is clearly a sedentary obese octopus) but the moment you do them the slightest damage the creatures pursue you and the frantic battle is on. To succeed you need to do a variety of things, stop the boat from bursting into flames, repeatedly harpoon the monsters to wear down their health and deal with additional dangers like avoiding lightning strikes.
You can’t do these things at the same time as you might in a standard fps. In this sense you have to manage your situation, rather like Command and Conquer or Company of Heroes, frequently taking care of the needs of survival (repair and steering) trying to give yourself time to fight in-between these moments, all whilst under attack; It is challenging.
The difficulty is set reasonably high. It’s fair, but there is a sense of ‘Live, Die, Repeat’ about this; when you die you start again back at the island, have to hop on the boat and go find the sea beasts again. And you will die a lot to begin with as you adjust and find your strategy; that is as it should be in a demo presenting boss fights; these are meant to be the difficult bits of a potential full game, but it might be frustrating at first.
Then there is the weapon, you only have a harpoon and there is something slightly repetitive about this, despite an alternate fire mode which simply electrifies it. Currently this harpoon feels a little flimsy, there isn’t much noise or punch to it and you don’t feel you are using a significant weapon here. Things are also a little difficult to control overall because the ocean swell is so great.
During your adventure, you move quite considerably on the boat in terms of field of vision and it makes it hard to get off accurate shots against the monsters, so it’s just as well they are huge. These things are all just minor gripes though and the developer, keen for feedback, is perfectly able to improve on them based on what we can see already on offer.
What lives below has garnered lots of positive attention, surpassing 2000 downloads in its’ first week on Itchio; a sizable achievement for a young developer. They have just gained a Steam development page and it is amazing to think that this is the work of one 19 year old in just eight months. It looks good, is something different in style, has some impressive ocean physics and shows a tremendous amount of potential.
Currently you’ll get a couple of hours play out of it and it will be interesting to follow the development of the wider levels, weapons and story building. So head on over to Steam, follow it there and download this boss demo on Itchio to give it a go. It is free to download, but you’ll regret not giving them a donation once you play it.
…and if you do well at it, you’ll find me wearing shades and a black suit, serving you at the sushi counter with a car outside waiting to take you to harpoon training.
It’s a rarity that I end up playing most games in the survival game genre, such as Minecraft and Rust, Subnautica, Don’t Starve, and more. It’s not that these games are bad, but the market has become oversaturated with games in this genre in the last decade or so.
My talents for building beautiful structures, or finding the patience in my ADHD brain to gather the countless resources to craft what I need to advance to the next tier of the game.
But Valheim hits different.
You are a mighty Viking warrior, sent by Odin Allfather himself to the Norse equivalent of Purgatory in order to slay mythical beings that threaten Valhalla. Starting in the relatively peaceful Meadow biome, you build a small home (or find one) and begin to collect resources to better your equipment and explore the world.
Valheim offers a great tutorial system in the form of a huge raven that explains some of the core mechanics of the game, and offers a bit of direction on how to progress forward, which is a big step up from similar games that just drop you into a random world with little to no instructions.
I really enjoy that Iron Gate Studios spent the time to add a good, clear goal as well as a simple but well integrated tutorial system. One of my biggest struggles with Minecraft over the years is how absolutely massive the game is, with little to no direction on how to get to the endgame goal of killing the Ender Dragon or how you should be progressing forward.
Wait, Minecraft Is 12 Years Old?
It’s possible that’s more of an opinion, or signs of age as Minecraft is nearing it’s 12th year, but I’m not as much of a fan of the “figure it out yourself” side of these games. Maybe I’m just old.
The world of Valhiem is a beautiful, slightly haunting world. Danger might not lurk around every corner, but it is ever-present. Beyond the safety of the open Meadows biome, lies a myriad of dangerous creatures that attack relentlessly. From Greylings, Trolls, skeletons and more, they will endlessly hunt you down as long as you leave the safety of your home.
Base building becomes even more important as you delve farther into the world, as attacks on your home will become more frequent and you’ll need to build defenses like spikes and pits to stop them. Crafting your base is a breeze, with pieces snapping into place and requiring you to be mindful of support beams, chimneys for smoke ventilation, as well as protective walls for safety.
Beautiful Visuals, Open World Exploration
Visually, the game’s landscapes are beautiful and the building system lets you easily create nice looking structures without being an architect (in contrast to Minecraft where I can’t build anything). However, monsters and players themselves look like they were ripped out of Runescape, and don’t really mesh with the rest of the visuals of the game.
I do miss the lack of things to discover in the world, but to my credit I have only explored the first two biomes, and have not seen much on the Wiki to change my mind about more discoverable things beyond abandoned structures and small dungeons.
Where No Man’s Sky offers a plethora of locations that overall don’t matter a great deal to progression, and Minecraft offers a huge variety of possible things to explore that are (usually) beneficial in some way, Valheim’s abandoned homes generally only offer the same couple resources (some gems/amber/money that you can’t use for a while longer, feathers, bees, and maybe some arrows). The crypts you find in Black Forest are necessary to create Forges and smelters, but after that there’s never been anything of note to find in them.
The game also offers a skill system where the more you use a skill, the better you get at it.
Or, so I’m told.
I haven’t really noticed any difference between where I started the game and and where I am now. I’ve been sprinting since I started the game, but I haven’t seen a single difference in running speed. The only noticeable progression is upgrading tools and weapons, which make a decent enough difference to feel like progression.
The Final Verdict
Overall, I’m still really enjoying running around the world of Valheim. I’m somewhere around day 35 or so of my current world, wasting time trying to mine more bronze before I craft a ship to sail to the next island to face the second boss. And I’ve enjoyed just about every minute of it.
For an early access title (which is only about $20), it’s a great game at it’s current version. Iron Gate Studio has been adding small patches fairly frequently, improving the game’s stability while also being fairly open about their roadmap for new features.
I hope that some of the visuals are changed as the game goes on, mainly the horrendous looking trolls and player models, but we’ll see if that is just a design choice or not. I’d also like to see more attention paid to the skill system, to feel like there’s an actual progression for all the trees I’ve hacked down over the last 20 hours of game time.
Fans of great emergent storytelling and multiplayer survival games, Valheim is an easy pick. Even if you want to sit and let the game marinate for a bit longer for more content, there’s already plenty to unpack now to keep you entertained for a few weeks with your buddies.
This Prim review was based on the demo available from Common Colors’ website, Steam and Itch.io. Check out the links below for more information.
I’m a reaper. No I’m not a man from the village come about the hedge. You might have an image of the Grim Reaper, some hellish agent of Death and destruction in your head and that I’m pretty handy with a scythe, but to Jonas Fisch the German designer behind this game, it means I’m supporting him to make his vision of a point-and-click adventure game become reality.
Reapers are what Jonas calls his supporters in his updates on the development of his Kickstarter. Jonas Fisch is developing a game called Prim about the daughter of death and you can download the demo at these links for free now on Steam and Itch.io
Watch The Prim Game Review Here
Prim is the name of the main protagonist, a young girl who needs your help to escape the Underworld. You play with her, directing her actions and investigations. In turn, she will give up clues about objects she observes and describes. It’s standard point-and-click adventure game stuff. It’s done really well though, top drawer stuff; think Monkey Island set in the Nightmare before Christmas. And about a minute after I thought this Jonas himself described it as just that in one of his Kickstarter videos I was watching.
Jonas has clearly achieved what he intended. What do these comparisons actually mean though? Well the end result is something spooky, cute and comedic, backed by an ace story. Prim ticks all these boxes.
The story opens with an explanation that Prim is death’s daughter; well he’s called Thanatos, which is the name of the Ancient Greek Angel of Death, but he looks pretty much like the Grim Reaper styled skelly bones figure of death we are all familiar with. Prim dreams of a young boy in the real world, the land of the living and has an overwhelming urge to go and see him.
Thanatos, her father, naturally (should that be unnaturally?) won’t let her, warning of serious dangers if she does. This disagreement must be entrenched, because the game opens, after a little narrative explanation, with Prim locked in her bedroom by deathly daddy and she wants to get out. You are going to help her. It is this portion of the game you play in the free demo and I urge you to play it. Everything about it screams good.
Mechanics & Fluidity
The mechanics are fluid, there is none of the common frustrations with point-and-click adventures here. You have no trouble directing Prim to climb ladders, stand on chairs, combine tools, look at small things in the far corner of a wall; the hit detection is clearly very well made. There are also some nice developments that show Jonas knows what bothers people. He has made the game a single button interface…with everything. You want to combine items – Left mouse, want to use an item – left mouse, want to open things – left mouse; the only thing that isn’t is opening the inventory, for that you just flick the scroll when and then everything in it is….yep – left mouse. It is so simple and intuitive that you almost don’t notice it and it makes the whole experience so clean and fluid, an absolute necessity for a successful point-and-click adventure.
On top of that you have beautiful black and white hand painted images for the scenes that add to the setting of this cutesy house in hell. It’s very Adams family in vibe and Prim is a little like Wednesday…only less violently serious. Prim is a very likable character and is superbly voiced by Maria Pendolino. In fact everything about this game is slick, clean and works perfectly. There are no glitches in this demo, nothing is missing. There’s even a whopping spooky score laid over it all. On top of this clarity of form it is laced with nice touches and a tonne of humor, at one point a disco ball drops from the ceiling and death takes a cheesy dance, it’s delightful and unexpected.
Jonas Fisch clearly knows his stuff, he has made smaller adventure games in the past and obviously honed his craft. His pitch videos on Kickstarter are full of vim and charisma demonstrating a turn of phrase and explanation. This should not come as a surprise given his day job is as a secondary school English teacher in Germany. You can see his bright, playful intellect in the use of the word ‘reapers’ for his fans. It is playful and wields a duel meaning. Not only does it reflect the game subject, but it is also addressing those who have funded him and will in the near future, reap the rewards of backing him.
Hitting The Goal
The Kickstarter reached its base goal in just 22 hours and is well on the way to breaking all of its stretch goals. This is a good thing, because it means we can expect an eight hour game of many more levels and puzzles to follow this demo. Great, because I really want to know what is through those doors at the top of the stairs. To see what I mean you will have to go and play the demo.
Is Prim Worth Playing?
I’d like to round this Prim game review off with a very strong word of advice. If you do one thing today, it should be to head on over and download this.
The demo gives you about 40 minutes of play and shows you exactly how the game is going to be. After that I predict you will immediately slap it on your wishlist and sign up for his newsletter to guarantee you Early Access two weeks ahead of anyone else.
How do I know you’ll do this? It’s because I’m not normally a fan of games like this and it was the first thing I did upon completing the demo. The game is scheduled for release in 2022; that is a highly ambitious timeline, but when you play the demo you can see all the mechanics are in place and Jonas seems so calm and organised that I believe him…maybe also his wry grin to you on his videos reveal he has done a deal with the devil to ensure he reaps the rewards that are surely heading the way of Prim.
No Man’s Sky has probably one of the most notorious launches for a new game of the last decade. Soaring on hype, the game failed to deliver on almost everything, leaving gamers crushed with buyer’s remorse.
Now, over four years after the initial release of the game (and several large, free updates), is it worth playing after all this time?
What’s the game like in 2022?
The core gameplay loop for No Man’s Sky is the same as many other survival/exploration-based games in the genre. You’re a person, in a world, and you harvest resources to build a base, upgrade your character to explore farther, and fight increasingly tougher enemies.
One of the biggest reasons why I could never truly get into Minecraft and its kin was exploration.
The different biomes were neat, but they didn’t make me inclined to stick around if I didn’t immediately find resources or points of interest. Especially for Minecraft’s sake, most of the game is spent underground anyway, making the change in biomes hardly noticeable.
With No Man’s Sky, you’re instead greeted with the same key resources on almost all planets. Some planets will not have these resources in abundance, which means you may have to stock up and come prepared for some planets.
These planets are completely procedurally generated, while they may still fall under similar biomes to other games, they end up being completely unique every time.
Between zooming from planet to planet, harvesting resources, and building bases across the galaxy, you’ve still got to explore space as well.
Space Stations serve as trading hubs between you and the local system’s economy, with different prices being offered depending on where you are. Here you’ll meet the three prominent races of the galaxy, learning their language to communicate, trading resources, unlocking new technology, and even buying better starships.
Environments That Leave You Breathless
Space – that is where the game truly shines in the graphics department.
Seeing these vibrant, colorful worlds in different systems and configurations often leaves you breathless. Systems with multiple stars, ringed planets like Saturn, even the sheer size and closeness of planets offer awe-inspiring views that can’t be replicated in other games.
However, survival games such as these always fall into the same issue: Is the core gameplay loop enough to keep you entertained?
Just like Minecraft, the core of the game resides around harvesting resources, exploring new places, maybe building a base, and then going to another planet and repeating this cycle. No Man’s Sky offers some breaks to this via space travel, missions, managing your fleet of ships as you travel system to system.
And The Bad News?
The game doesn’t come without any faults, however.
No Man’s Sky has a fairly unimpressive story, which isn’t unlike other games in the same genre. Games like these offer little in the plot department, and instead opt for players to forge their own stories through their experiences while playing and exploring the game.
Gameplay gets repetitive as well, especially if you have bad luck and end up seeing similar planets in each system you jump to – which really ruins immersion when you’ve seen six Acidic planets in your last three jumps. This may be a personal beef though, as I don’t intend to land on every planet I see as other players may.
My final gripe with the game is the lack of difficult combat. The primary “enemy” of the game, Sentinels, are pretty dumb enemies. They offer little challenge after a certain point, and just attack in endless waves if you don’t actively run and hide from them to drop your “wanted level”.
All in all, the game has little to offer for downsides if you are already a veteran of the genre. There may be some struggles in Multiplayer that I’m not aware of, as I have only played solo so far.
For me, I’ve never been more hooked in a game of this genre. I’ve already dumped over 70 hours into the game, including a 3 hour stream. The game continues to offer new free updates every few months, which keeps players like me anticipating what comes next.
To start this Black Iris review, I must preface by saying at first it feels like I’ve clicked the wrong link… that I’m not paying attention somehow, because I think I am viewing one of the shortlist finalists for a major Art award at the National Gallery.
The game has a stuttering whirr of noise behind it at times, rather like the time you stuck a peg in the spokes of your bike wheel as a kid to make it sound like a Ducati and it includes some short silent black and white videos of time speeded bacteria growing across a petri dish.
You know the sort of art I’m talking about.
The opening titles are disconcerting Blair Witch Project style shaky close ups of trees and foxgloves in the woods and all of this builds a sense of tension at the start.
But no, all is well, I have indeed downloaded The Black Iris, developed by Arboreta Games. I say all is well, but in fact the premise of the game is quite the opposite.
You play an engineer tasked with shutting down some research stations in the woods (it’s always the remote woods isn’t it) in North Eastern Scotland, with all of the workers disappeared or dead.
You can tackle things in any order and the pixilated graphics are made to lend themselves to the theme, at times making me feel like I am reliving the last 15 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with it’s disorienting, psychedelic presentation. This works well in creating a world blistering between the normal and some chaotic otherverse.
The Black Iris is a third person, over the shoulder supernatural horror adventure game drawing heavy influence from movies like Beyond the Black Rainbow; where black irises play a significant part in the movie and the setting for all the terribleness of the film is a research facility called Arborea, clearly where the developers here get their name from.
Another inspiration appears to be a similar horror movie, The Void where they take the triangular shape prevalent in that movie and make it look like the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury, but in fact it turns out to be a Church to a new lunatic cult for sacrifice of the individual…wait it is Glastonbury.
In any case horror references abound in the game design, the chaotic mind-altering focus around the sphere in Event horizon is another and the developers do achieve their aim of making a credible interesting take on it.
Most of the Black Iris reviews I skimmed through have missed the way this game is balanced. Sure there are flaws; the graphics are blocky and there are moments when you inexplicably pass through walls of buildings and the entry to buildings instantly rotates the camera view but not the movement controls making for some stuttering to the play, but they get so much right.
Diversions, delay and misdirection to your mission, an ability to interact with your environment and you need to in order to progress. There are empty bottles lying on the floor of some buildings for no other reason that you can knock them when you walk and the noise makes you stop to look at what happened; mist emerges from a door when you open it, for no other reason than to try and add atmosphere.
These little things are painstaking to construct, but elevate the game beyond what might have been a simple linear adventure. Why make your life more difficult than all of the above by deciding it should also be set in the rain? Because it matters and recognizing all these things matter to convincing world building and drawing the player in, is a mark of good development.
One of the best things about The Black Iris is the score; it matches the feel of the game perfectly, with the sinister, suspenseful and uncomfortable rattling and the sound of wind and rain, it all adds to the experience.
The game has been regularly patched and improved since its release; there are plans for controller use to be added and the developers are keen responders to feedback. So go join the nearly 4000 other people who have downloaded this in the first two weeks since it dropped on Itch.io.
Black Iris is the first ever game developed by Arboreta and considering that it is a marvelous achievement and I can’t wait to see what they do next. You will get about 30-40 minutes play out of this and the best bit? The developers will let you have the game for free; but they ask you to consider paying what you like for it. Here it is worth pointing out to you that all of the profit after Itch.io gets its 10% will go to their local food bank in West Dunbartonshire.
I hope you have enjoyed this Black Iris review as much as I have enjoyed both playing and writing about it. Black Iris is available on Itch.io:
Take my word for it, you won’t be disappointed if you pay the suggested amount to be taken on this short trippy adventure. And it’s better modern Art than you’d see for more money in any Gallery, so really you’re winning.