Tax Fugitive – Sept. 10th

Finally, a game that combines two of my favorite things. A dog main character, and tax evasion, which as a dog, I didn’t think was an issue, but here we are.

In Tax Fugitive, a game by Morning Shift Studios, you are on the run from the IRS, and must traverse 16 levels to get to tax paradise. Along the way you can collect coins that are apparently counterfeit and stars that demonstrate your exploration of each level, with each level containing three stars. Each level also contains a lot of spikes, sometimes lava, a few buzzsaws here and there, and other fun traps as well, that I unfortunately didn’t see because, well, it’s hard. Oh, and there’s a level where you are upside down, so when you jump, you jump down. It was…challenging.

When picking a game each week, I tend to find quite a few platformers and often think to myself “oh, a jumping game. This should be easy to get through.” And then I remember that I’m actually not good at platforming games. Like, at all. But, the review must go on.

Tax Fugitive, was no different for me. It starts out going over the basics, letting you know that you have the ability to double jump, dash, and slide on walls to slow your downward momentum. One thing it doesn’t tell you, is that you can hold the X button, on an xbox controller, to sprint, making your long jumps much more effective. Oh, did I mention that it has full controller support? Because it does. It doesn’t really go over what those controls are, but its not a very complicated game, control wise, so you can figure it out as you go. One thing I will point out though, is that the Steam page says you can play through the entire game without having to touch your keyboard or mouse. I did not find that to be the case, as the level select screen and main menu were not operational with a controller. Minor detail, but worth noting.

Once you’ve had a chance to master a few jumps and the dash, you’re more or less thrown right into the thick of things, and by that, I mean a floor or wall of spikes. And once you hit those spikes, you are sent to the beginning of the level you are currently on. But don’t worry, you have five hearts at the top left corner of the screen that represent your lives and how many chances you have to complete said level. Did I say level? I meant ENTIRE game. Which begs the question, why even have a level select screen?

That’s right, you have five lives, to get through all 16 levels of this game. Now, there are some mushrooms spread throughout each level to replenish your lives, but getting to them can be a challenge, and could end up costing you more lives, making it not really worth it to go for at all.

This game, like most platformers, takes patience and the ability to learn the levels, and also the understanding that you aren’t going to run through the game on the first try. Or the second try. Or probably the third either. Given a little more time, I could see it being very beatable, barring any game breaking bugs in the later levels that I haven’t discovered yet.

The music for Tax Fugitive had an almost surf rock vibe, really giving you that feeling of being on the run and headed toward your vacation paradise. A world I think we all strive to be in, where you don’t pay taxes, and you’re a dog.

If you take anything away from this game, it’s that you can, and definitely should be, charging your dogs taxes. And also, that platformers are hard. Despite the difficulty, this was still a very fun game to play, and one that I intend to go back to, in order to see just how far I can make it on those five lives. And because I hate paying taxes. 4.5/5

Milo and the Magpies – Sept. 7th

When I first read the description of Milo and the Magpies as being a point and click adventure, I didn’t have high expectations. Actually, I had fairly low, like, this is going to be similar to a free flash game low, expectations. What drew me into choosing this game though is the art style, and I have to say, sometimes it’s okay to choose a book by it’s cover.

Milo and the Magpies was developed by Johan Scherft, a dutch artist, and published by Second Maze. This game is just one of his many masterpieces. The rest of his work is very much worth checking out, especially if you, like myself, are amazed by the pieces presented in this game.

There are nine chapters/puzzles to this game, and each one is like walking through a painting, because well, they are. The story is, Milo is on his way home after some daily adventures outside when he comes across a magpie in his way. Milo being a cat, goes after one magpie, and then is chased by another, leading him further away from his home to some unfamiliar backyards.

With a little help from some unlikely friends, a lot of help from you, eventually you can guide Milo back to his own yard and owner. To do that, you’re going to have to solve a few puzzles.

The puzzles start out fairly straight forward, with a short tutorial telling you the basics of what you can click, and when you need to drag something. You start out clicking on Milo to scoot him forward through the first garden, while clicking on the magpie to move it into position. Eventually, after hearing a scuffle between Milo and the magpie, the home owner comes out to find Milo and helps him up and over the fence, and into the next yard. From then on, you are required to click things in a certain order to progress through each puzzle, which can mean getting Milo into a certain position, or uncovering a clue that will allow for Milo to move forward. An example of that, which I found to be terribly clever, is when you are trying to figure out the combination to a bike lock on the second level.

This particular yard is full of different things you can click on, including a picture of a wine bottle, paint brush, frog, and an apple. At first the picture appears as just an added bonus of the artistic skill of Johan Scherft, but upon further investigation of the yard, each of the items in the picture, are also present in the yard. And all of those items have a number on them. An arrow indicating the direction of the pieces in the picture, is also the order you must input the numbers on the bike lock, thus unlocking the bike and setting off another chain of events to help Milo return home. Every level has a puzzle similar to this, but different enough to keep you guessing, and I assure you, they are all solvable based on the clues in the game.

If it does take you a while to solve the puzzles, no need to worry, because the music that accompanies each level is so calming and relaxing, you might just find yourself stuck on purpose. Each level has its own separate track, composed by Victor Butzelaar, with the occasional audio clue to help with the puzzle. Though the music can lull you into sticking around in a certain area, don’t linger too long. Milo does have to return home at some point.

Milo returns home, with a little help from his new friends.

I felt a little spoiled with this game. Though it is short, and quite simple, it is worth more than the $1.99 it is currently being sold for. The artistry alone is breathtaking, and the story that goes along with it is just as heartwarming. I’m already planning a second play through so I can find the rest of the secret items hidden in each level. I can’t recommend this game enough, especially if you’re looking for a cute way to kill an hour, in the most relaxing way possible. 5/5

Heartbeat: Regret – August 23rd

Heartbeat: Regret is a horror adventure game that caters to the visually impaired by being fully playable just based on what you hear.

The story of the game is based around the main character undergoing heart surgery, and during said surgery having a very vivid dream, which is where the player comes in. The sound of a beating heart can be heard as soon as you start a new game, and plays a very vital role, which is pretty true of life. One of the many innovative gameplay ideas this game uses is that the character can only move to the beat of the heartbeat. So rhythm is something your definitely going to need if you plan to try this game. Another gameplay mechanic utilized is that in order to do any task in the game, such as opening a door, you have to type it.

In order to cater towards the visually impaired, there is a setting in the game that announces what objective you are standing in front of and are required to type in order to progress. I personally found it messed with my rhythm, such as when I was trying to bypass a staircase that I was not quite ready to ascend, but it’s a very helpful tool for those that can’t read the text they are meant to type.

Let’s get into the meat of the game. The story, which is very well done compared to some of the games I’ve played on here, revolves around the character who is undergoing heart surgery, as I mentioned above. The beating heart you hear is assumed to be your own, and if you attempt to step out of beat, or mess up while typing a prompt, the heartbeat increases. This, along with other clues, is mentioned by the mysterious stranger at one of the many telephones you can pick up. You can also hold the up arrow key in order to stow your flashlight, but this also increases your heart rate. If it get’s to high, your heart flatlines and your character dies, forcing you start at the last checkpoint you made it to. Luckily, the checkpoints are fairly generous.

Yes, you even have to type the prompts in order to save.

In order to lower your heart rate, you have to find peaceful sounds throughout the spooky castle, such as rain against the window, or the crackling fire of torches on the wall. If you stop to listen, which is only something you can do while not being pursued, your heart rate will lower giving you the equivalent of a full health bar. Kind of. If the monster is in pursuit though, your heart rate increases, which is a bit of a double edged sword. It gives you the opportunity to escape quickly, but also raises your own heart rate making it more likely that you will make a mistake in your escape attempt.

When it comes to the monster, there are a few techniques to avoiding it. The trick of holding up and hiding is very helpful, but cannot be over utilized, due to the increasing heart rate. So sometimes you have to be creative to get around it. This is where the auditory techniques really shine. The monster can be tracked based on the sound of its footsteps and breathing. Whether its on the other side of a door, or even if its on a different floor. If you pause to actually listen, you can hear the monster walking from left to right and vice versa, and it actually translates to your left and right earphone, which I strongly recommend using if you decide to give this game a try. It’s a small, but very impressive tool this game uses to help those that can’t see what they’re doing.

By far my favorite use of sound design in this game though, is that the character’s dog is also present in this dream, and when you are approaching something helpful, you can hear the dog making sounds, letting you know that you are on the right track. A simple, but very heartwarming addition to this game that further endeared it to me.

There are a lot of elements that honestly make this a great game. And I’m not even talking about compared to other games mentioned on this site. It was fun, challenging, and a little bit spooky. As of this writing, I have actually not finished it unfortunately because it is quite difficult. Sometimes you do have to slow down and use your ears, and that’s not a technique I’m accustomed to in playing video games. If you have $2 burning a hole in your Steam Wallet, then I would definitely check this game out. If nothing else for the experience of playing a game designed with the visually impaired in mind. 5/5

The Dive – August 18th

The Dive is an underwater based linear horror game. Kind of.

The Dive opens with the main character, let’s call him Keith since he wasn’t given a name, on his motorboat in the middle of the ocean. Or some type of open water, which in and of itself is terrifying for certain people. Keith is tracking a submarine that was mining a mineral called painite, and after some research of my own, I discovered why he was going through some rather unscrupulous methods to obtain this mineral before rescue crews arrived to salvage the submarine. Painite, a real mineral, is estimated to be worth $50-60K a carat.

Before submerging yourself in the deep blue sea, Keith is sure to grab his compass and spear gun and then the adventure begins.

You start out with only one instruction. Head north. After heading north for a while and swimming through a school of fish, you see a red light in the distance. Keith abandons the compass and swims straight ahead. After a bit more swimming, the games first challenge, and boy was it a challenge, comes straight at you.

Good luck shooting the eyes.

I spent a little over an hour on this game. The task of shooting this shark in both of it’s eyes took well over half of that time. After almost giving up, I managed to blind this poor shark and continue my swim to the submarine. Before reaching it though, another underwater creature, much larger than the shark, was sure to give me a friendly bump, alerting me to his presence and some foreshadowing for later in the adventure. Theres a quick circuitry puzzle to gain access to the submarine and then the next stage of your journey begins.

After gaining access to the sub, you find that the ventilation has been damaged and must be fixed. Your only option is to grab the crowbar and and dislodge the only discolored floor tile to go beneath the floor and fix the ventilation before you run out of air, which seems like a weird thing to have to do considering you’re wearing a diving suit that allows you to breathe while underwater, but who am I to argue? After solving the puzzle of scrubbing the dust off the chip to the ventilator, Keith enters a dream sequence that might be one of the weirdest things I’ve ever encountered in a video game.

Keith wakes up having just gotten out of a pool in what looks like a room from some sort of simulation. You can walk up a staircase to see the elevated hot tub you can’t get in. Or you can go down a hallway to the showers. On the opposite wall from the showers are three rooms that I didn’t get a chance to explore because of aforementioned weirdest thing. There is a row of lockers on one of the walls. Like any resourceful gamer, I wanted to explore the lockers to make sure I wasn’t missing any key items. Apparently that was a mistake, because upon opening the last locker, Keith finds a knife. After laying eyes on the knife, you lose control of Keith as he reaches for the knife and makes the strange decision to cut off his own member. Worst. Cut scene. Ever.

After that you wake up and carry on with the rest of the adventure that I won’t spoil here. Just be aware before you play this game, that it contains genital mutilation, which I thought was a joke in the description from it’s Steam store page. If you have an hour or less to kill, and $2 to burn, try something else. 2/5