What does the coast and this edition of Steam A to Z have in common? They’re both nearly at C!
Oh screw you, this is difficult.
From Amanita Design, the same people who made the sublime Machinarium, we have Botanicula. Thankfully, this is every bit as charming as its predecessor.
A point-and-click adventure based in a beautiful yet unnerving world of foliage and insects, Botanicula handles narrative and gameplay with visual suggestion, eschewing dialogue entirely. It makes the act of clicking everything on the screen (something which is a bit of a drag in other examples of the genre) an engaging act of exploration in and of itself.
You control a group of insects, a twig, and an acorn, all of which are utterly adorable. Specific characters of the group are more suited to specific tasks, but you can attempt to complete each task with all the characters and get a delightfully charming animation in return. The world around you isn’t evergreen, rather occupying a space that teeters between blossom and decay, feeding into the pervasive sense of unease as a mysterious arachnid antagonist follows close behind.
Rating: Awesomely cute… Cutely awesome? / 10
What can I say about Braid that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over? Moreover, what can I say about Braid that won’t lead to creator Jonathan Blow berating me for not actually getting it?
It’s every bit as fantastic as the years of acclaim would suggest. From a simple premise, that being the ability to rewind time and effectively undo death, Braid offers up enough variety in what it asks of you to not feel like a one-trick pony.
The nods to Super Mario are there for all to see. The main enemies are particularly ornate goombas and upon completing each level a cotton-work dragon informs you, in the feigned reverence of one who’s recited the line a thousand times over, that your princess is in another castle.
If you play the game for nothing else, play it for the climactic and perfectly executed final level. For my money, it’s one of the best endings to a video game.
Rating: The grade for Braid is A(id) / 10
Breach and Clear
What a pleasant surprise this was! Not entirely gripped by either the concept of breaching nor the subsequent clearing, it was with considerable trepidation that I booted up Breach and Clear. For a while, it seemed my worst fears had been realised as a clearly bored woman talked in monotone about “providing real-life training” and “owning the angles” as video footage of SWAT teams flew across the screen. “Owning the angles”, is that right? The only way you can say that and not come across as a moron is if you’re an ancient Greek mathematician; at least then there’s some legitimacy to the claim.
All this nonsense bravado aside, Breach and Clear is not only a serviceable turn-based strategy, it’s a good bit of fun to boot! Its gameplay, which equates to enter rooms and kill hostiles, is simple but well-honed and engaging enough to excuse the Quite Obviously A Mobile Port Graphics.
The obvious reference points are Frozen Synapse and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, both of which also allow you to plan an attack, execute the attack and look on in silent horror as you see the myriad ways in which your plan is a miserable failure. Breach and Clear takes a simplified version of Frozen Synapse‘s movement and combat mechanics, having each unit controlled by waypoints and allowing their line of sight to be altered at every point along the path. It also, like XCOM, allows character progression with a levelling system after successful missions. It’s not in the same league as either of those games (frankly what game is?) but regardless stands out as a fun diversion.
Rating: Didn’t make me retch and sneer. It sounds like Breach and Clear, see. / 10
Breath of Death VII
A classic-style RPG with its tongue so firmly in its cheek it’s nearly pushing through, Breath of Death VII (the first and only Breath of Death game) simultaneously mocks old RPG conventions and provides updated versions of them within its own gameplay. It’s a pretty neat idea – remind the player how tortuous things like drawn-out and repetitive random encounters can be, then provide a version that’s far quicker and becomes more sparse as you clear out an area of monsters.
There’s also a surprising amount of depth to combat for something which is ostensibly a satire. A combo meter builds up with successful hits making certain special attacks more powerful, but that meter can be brought back down to zero with certain combo-breaking attacks. As characters join your party, special ‘unite’ moves become available that pools your power into unique attacks.
The environments are pretty, the music’s got that authentic RPG charm to it and the writing is funny where it needs to be. Overall, it’s a hearty recommendation for RPG aficionados and novices alike.
Rating: Seven out of ten… Breath of Death Seven, that is! / 10