Beta Test


Monthly gaming reviews by self-confessed noob, Bethany Griffiths!



BETA TEST #5

Beholder

Holidays. The relaxing sound of beer glasses clinking in some vague European country. The inviting feeling of just staying in bed, in another continent, a twenty-four-hour flight away from your home. Getting out of the work stratosphere, evading carpal tunnel (or in my case, chronic retail overload) to truly reconnect with your fellow people. When, unlike the great Atlas, you are able to lift off the weight of the world, don’t you just want to sigh in relief?

Well, joke’s on you, you have to smuggle your family across the border of war torn Russia instead.

Hello Carl! I’m a Bethany Griffiths, and this is Beta Test. A game review platform where I—worldly, Contiki-brained, self-confessed noob—choose one game a month to go ham on, until either I get better or get wrecked. All in the hopes that I can provide you with a completely unbiased review.

This month I am back on the indie bandwagon, clanging my proverbial guitar, taking my metaphorical ‘shrooms, singing something or other from the Beatles or Hair, and loving every goddamned second of it. Yes, gone is the heinous, Joker-like, consumerist nightmare laugh that plagued me last month. Now I get to listen to the bomb in the washing machine, the gunshots of a tenant killing her husband, and the blissful screams of miners as they run down the street only to trample and subsequently kill my wife. Ah, the serenity!

Can you tell I’m on vacation?

Let me start by saying that above everything, this game is utterly amazing. The way the graphics are incorporated to give that classic indie feel, while maintaining a cohesive, fluid style is delightful. The black and white aura that Beholder gives off, while maintaining a solid colour palate is commendable, and the story line is nothing to sneeze at either. The game really gets you in the mood for the cartoon violence that you have to overcome, the dark imagery gets you revved up for more, and more you shall have with this one.

Developed by Warm Lamp Games, and Published by Alawar Premium, Beholder is the gripping story of Carl, a ministry worker, and his plight as the owner of an apartment building under the fall of the Iron Curtain. This game is fraught with conundrums: from saving people that could easily be killed off, to deciding between saving your daughter’s life and keeping your son in school, to giving people up to the law or squirrelling them away on a barge overseas. I have lost whole days on this game, and I’m still not through discovering all the different nooks and crannies.

When I first started playing, I was trying to go by the rules. I hate hurting people, so I was trying to be as gentle as possible. I soon learnt that that in not an option with Beholder. The trainee level is hard and the main level is almost impossible, giving you next to no money for tasks that cost you a fortune. I think I spent a solid three days trying to figure out how to save up $20,000 to protect my daughter’s life, only to find that I could get the medicine for free by playing dirty.

Normally, I would be more conflicted by the hate that this game seems to have seeping out of its pores. But since this is practically a game interpretation of George Orwell’s 1984, I really appreciate the developers trying to make you think about your situation critically, and assess all your surroundings to take advantage of every loophole you can find. It takes determination, but the payoff is phenomenal in the end. Apart from the occasional bug or glitch, Beholder is amazing for people who want to get into the scene, in an easy to understand but challenging way. (And not to hype the game up too much, but after last month, this was honestly a godsend).

Because of the hours of joy this game brought me, and the sheer stylistic vitality of the design, I give this game:

5/5 Illegal Apples for style
5/5 Illegal Apples for plot line
2/5 Illegal Apples for easiness
5/5 Illegal Apples for Dora shooting her husband (Five for you Dora, you go, Dora)

So, I can honestly say I’m sad to see this game go. It gave me so much and asked so little. Good thing there’s a sequel or I’d be suffering withdrawals! Isn’t that a horrifying prospect? Well, one thing’s for sure, I’ve been a Bethany Griffiths and this has been a holiday mode activated Beta Test: a game review platform where I either got better or got wrecked, all in the hopes that I can provide you with a completely unbiased review.

Until next time…


BETA TEST #4

Batman: The Enemy Within—The Telltale Series

How often do you screw up? Sometimes it feels like failure is inevitable, sneaking up on us every time we turn around. It could be at a party, at a family gathering, or like me, at a recent bad day on the job that led to a string of awkward, disappointed messages, and a panic attack so vicious that I got an actual cold. When an horrendous event happens, don’t you wish you had a save point to skip back to, to make it all better?

Because this game sure doesn’t.

Hey ya, Bats! I’m a Bethany Griffiths, and This is Beta Test. A game review platform where I—a snotty, anxious, self confessed noob—choose one game a month to go ham on until either I get better or get wrecked. All in the hopes that I can provide you with a completely unbiased review.

This month is a toughie. Not just because I started it with a panic attack the size of east Ukraine, or because I have five whole weeks till I’m officially in Europe (though the latter is a nice thought, isn’t it). No, it’s because I tried my hand at something more mainstream. Yes, I dipped my hand in the black inky ooze of mass marked consumerism, thinking that it would break me into the best game I had ever surely played. Oh, how was I deceived.

Let me set the scene. A girl, at her laptop at night. She is in her lil’ chilli pyjamas, nursing a Milo, browsing steam. She sighs. Her eyes—tired. Barely staying awake, delirious, She hears a voice in her head. ‘You’re too genre based,’ it says. ‘You need to branch out. You have to do a game that’s more popular. With identifiable characters, and a big plot pine.’ She nods, her finger hovering over the checkout button. ‘Yesssssssss, that’s it,’ the voice whispers, ‘cater to the masses.’ She clicks. The game is bought. She slumps, falling asleep. Head lolling, the download starts, and the month begins.

She has now overdrawn her bank account by ten whole dollars.

Now, I know, I know, you should never play a game out of spite. Or to please other people, but Darn it, I’m nothing if not a tryer. (not a ‘doer’ because doing is hard and I’m in therapy for it, but trying is something I’m severely adept at. Look out world). In the first few seconds of Batman: The Enemy Within, I was struck by how nice the graphics were. Sure the outlines were programmed in to change with the character, and sure the characters were a little clunky, but wow would you look at that story line.

In the first few minutes, I was thinking this was a very long cutscene before the tutorial, and In the first few hours I realised what I should have realised long ago—this is it. This is the game.

Now, this game has its good points, don’t get me wrong, but what I felt was so disappointing was that I was set to like this game. It had good dialogue, easy manoeuvres, and it was a great pick up for someone who only knows the basics about Batman. However, in the words of every parent who’s just seen their kid purposefully dump their cat out of a two story window: ‘I am severely disappointed in you right now.’

The lack of skippable cutscenes and actual gameplay was insane. In fact, the whole thing felt like a bastardised intro monologue that grew legs and overran the series with its bulky off-brand Batmobile body. If you thought listening to Sephiroth’s Kingdom Hearts monologue was boring, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Watch as Bruce Wayne encounters conversation after conversation with people that will hate his guts no matter what you pick. Take aim as he presses Q and/or E in movements so slow and meaningless you’ll wonder why you didn’t just pirate a copy of The Dark Knight and watch that instead. Behold, as you choose the silent option for him to cross his arms and pout like the toddler that he is. By all accounts, I was not amused.

The thing is, I like that this game has real world consequences. I like that you get to influence the characters and gameplay, and I like that there aren’t any difficult combo breakers that you have to master. But when the entire story is just one long exposition line with a couple of buttons to press on the side here and there, it gets boring quicker than Jared Leto’s Joker. Instead of a kick ass, gritty, crime fighting saga, I got a long, grating, lecture-like, download. And that is inexcusable. Because of the overbearing plotline, and the sheer boredom I faced, I give this game:

2/5 Bats for style
4/5 Bats for plotline
3/5 Bats for easiness
0/5 Bats for Bruce Wayne’s Pouty McPout Face

At this point I can’t even feel bad for the franchise for such a bad take on the Batman series. I found out that Telltale has cut a significant portion (25%) of their staff in November 2017, as they want to ‘focus on delivering fewer, better games with a smaller team.’ [G. Smith, Rock Paper Shotgun, 2017]

As someone who’s been hired under three different companies that are now slowly going bankrupt, I know a liquidation when I see one. Their comments of wanting to ‘make the company more competitive as a developer and publisher of groundbreaking story-driven gaming experiences’ sound exactly like something a CEO trying to deflect from the issue would say. I feel ashamed that a company would cut it’s staff by such a high margin to cover their asses.

So, with that illuminating month of stress and boredom out of the way, what could possibly happen next? Well, one thing’s for sure, I’ve been a Bethany Griffiths, and this has been an abysmal Beta Test. A game review platform where I either got better or got wrecked. All in the hopes that I can provide you with a completely unbiased review.

Until next time…


BETA TEST #3

Night in the Woods

Change. The daunting process of moving on and finding yourself. Whether it’s the change of growing up, or changing a job, or vomiting so hard you change your drinking habits for the first month of 2018… change is coming, and it is inevitable. So what can be done about the unsettling fear that so many of us feel crashing down when things start to turn? And what can we do to stay positive and let go of the past? Find out with me in this weird month.

Wazzup, nightmare eyes! I’m a Bethany Griffiths, and this is Beta Test. A game review platform where I—a vaguely more sober self-confessed noob—choose one game a month to go ham on until either I get better or get wrecked. This, all in the hopes that I can provide you with a completely unbiased review.

It’s February, my dudes, and like most people that love to make empty promises, I’ve only broken my New Year’s resolution three times! I know, what idiot makes the decision to do anything in January, other than starfish on the floor in front of the air con? Well, this girl apparently. Go me! But aside from the goal setting and parameters I’ve claimed, I’ve been losing myself in one of the best millennial games of 2017. So put down the smashed avocado, step away from the new Kesha album, and buy yourself a house because this one’s a good’n.

Yes, it seems like amongst bar soap and the American dream, the only industry the millennials aren’t apparently killing is the video game one.

Night in the Woods is a thoroughly enjoyable, story rich indie adventure game that sucks you right in from the start. Developed by Infinite Fall, and published by Finji, the game tackles some of the realer and more hard-hitting moments of early adulthood. It plays on the internal struggles of mental illness, the themes of gender and sexuality, and the way higher education is seen. It also explores the manner in which the presence of change in the universe is unsettling and the way people relate to each other through their own broken ways. It is a true critique on the modern age.

Throughout the game, we are able to see these themes through the eyes of the main character, Mae. As a hotheaded gal who has a great fear of letting go of the past, I really identified with her character. And not because she and I have a habit of throwing-up drunk at parties (i.e. the reason I’m sober this month), but because of the way she identifies with her fears and anxieties. Night in the Woods really played on this theme of insight, using a higher intuition to solve where you are and where you’re going to be.

I got the sense that Mae knew too much; she was so highly in tune with the ethereal elements of the world, but so painfully out of focus with the rest of the space. She was pent up and felt like she always had to perform to please people, all the while thinking she’s an embarrassment and a disappointment. Mae’s character is juvenile and impulsive. She gets reckless fast and is prone to bursts of mania, some of which could be seen as confronting if the player is sensitive. Her highly guarded nature is driven by anxiety and repression, and the way she gets it all out is by smashing stuff and dissociating. Her character is genuine, though, and the love she has for her friends, family, and neighbours is both real and warming. For a character with that much thought and depth, I give huge props to the writers. And that doesn’t even include the rest of the main band: Bea, Greg, Angus, Germ, and Lori all have backstories just as deep.

Night in the Woods boasts an impressive narrative that drives the game from a mediocre platform jumper to a true iconic piece of game design. The way the characters interact with each other and the sheer amount of thought that went into the NPC’s is astounding. Almost everyone in town having their own string of dialogue was a genius idea for someone like me who loves a good story with my game; the writing has a fantastic way of making you, the gamer, feel involved. The art style is simple and modern for a 2D render. The autumnal colours give a full, nostalgic view, as though we’re looking back on a constant memory. And the score is gorgeous too.

I love the way mundane activities are portrayed in this game. Having a conversation with your mum at the breakfast table, or filling out your journal feels pivotal, and real. (Which is funny, since the game nods at a fourth wall break in chapter three, making me *feel emotions*.) Because of the infinite reality Night in the Woods facilitates, and for the gorgeousness of all things score and script, I give this game:

5/5 Crimes for style

5/5 Crimes for plot line

3/5 Crimes for easiness

5/5 Crimes for millennial strength

That awkward middleground of not quite adult but not quite kid, too young to be stuck in the one spot but terrified of the outside world, is played with brilliantly. I saw myself reflected right back in so many incarnations of each of these characters. Being stuck in a job that pays the bills, dealing with my anger issues, trying to save what I can with my retail job, and getting professional help to stop my disassociation. It’s hard to not identify with at least one character here. The developers really took the time to understand what young adults are going through in the modern world and the way it impacts their lives. I am so grateful for that.

I’ve been a Bethany Griffiths, and this has been a sober, existential Beta Test. A game review platform where I either got better or got wrecked, in the hopes that I can provide you with a completely unbiased review.

Until next time…


BETA TEST #2

Status: Insane

December. The consumerist tradition month. The month where everyone in retail is made to work ungodly hours, and get pelted by shoppers who lost all semblance of mental balance long ago. The month of watching the family gossip unfold in a disarray of champagne and beer. The month of getting fat and blaming the weather instead of the gross amount of pudding and turkey you ate on Christmas Eve/Day. It’s enough to make you go insane.

Happy New Year, folks! I’m a Bethany Griffiths and this is Beta Test, where I—a self confessed noob—choose one game a month to go ham on. Whether I get better or get wrecked, you’ll get an unbiased review!

Now, with the holiday period coming to an end, I probably should have chosen something like Wii Fit Boxing as my game of choice this month. But oh no, I’m not about to give up my sloth lifestyle just yet. Maybe February…

ANYWAY, this month I’m taking you down a dark corridor, through multiple warp pads, and away from any bright lights that harbor gun wielding doctors, as I play Status: Insane—the addictive fast run maze game.

Here, you play as Igor, the mental patient with the demeanor of a chicken, who needs to escape the confines of delusional purgatory to reach happiness, peace, and as many funny hats as possible. That’s not hyperbole either. You reside in your ward room waiting to escape—which you will, through a complex series of puzzles that lead to graveyards, sewers, castle outskirts, experimental facilities, and finally to freedom. You just need to navigate through everything without dying or being pelted with tranquilisers first.

Make your way through the delightfully spooky layout, which reminds me of every early 3D animation game I played as a little kid, and you get to interact with characters like Greg – the angry patient, and your imaginary friend who is a floating explosive head, with a brain tongue. He has the best dialogue of the whole game, by the way, with his Russian accent and hipster beanie.

This game has modesty. It’s an indie run game that has a small cult following, and the developers are lovely. But beyond that, the puzzles aren’t impossible. I wasn’t pulling my hair out, trying to do a maze runner level for the trillionth time. In fact, I only spent a good three days finishing the main storyline. The only time I found myself frustrated was with my own reaction times, which caused me to get zapped by electrical pods, hit by needles, eaten by rats, blown up by floating heads, and demolished by crashing rockets.

So… you know… the usual stuff.

There is also a strong set of achievements throughout the game that you get by performing specific interactions, like finding all the hats, patient notes, and posters scattered about the universe. This works really well in the game’s favour because it has such a simple structure. The added elements of play give the gamer something to go back and look forward to, instead of finishing the game and going ‘well, that’s it.’

Because of my intense love for easy-to-play, maze games, and the general innovation and motivation shown through the game’s development, I would rate this:

2/5 Tranquiliser Darts for style

4/5 Tranquiliser Darts for plotline

5/5 Tranquiliser Darts for easiness

5/5 Tranquiliser Darts for NOSTALGIA

This game is one giant cliché. It cringes. It cringes like the Jimmy-Neutron-game-making-Cindy-Vortex-dumb cringes. It cringes like every-chase-level-of-Crash-Bandicoot cringes. It cringes like a-parent-taking-his-ten-year-old-to-a-Disney-film cringes. And it’s SO good. I loved every minute of gameplay that reminded me of the early days of 3D animation, every small jagged detail of the characters, every level that incorporated something new. This game was fantastic on the nostalgia scale, and I loved that little kids as well as adults would be able to enjoy it.

 

I’ve been a Bethany Griffiths, and this has been a stocking-stuffed Beta Test. A game review platform where I either got better or got wrecked, in the hopes that I can provide you all with a completely unbiased review.

Until next time…


BETA TEST #1

Cuphead—The Impossible Game

G’day folks, I’m a Bethany Griffiths and this is Beta Test, where I—a self confessed noob—choose one game a month to go ham on. Whether I get better or get wrecked, you’ll get an unbiased review!

This month we’re going to dive into the satanic depths of Cuphead. It’s a high-powered, action-packed indie game that has become notorious for having some of the hardest game play in a stand-alone franchise this year. The near impossible levels of hardness, and the smug noises of the big bosses (Goopy Le Grande, I’m looking at you, buddy), have made me rage more times than I’d ever care to admit this early on in our relationship.

In the game, you play as a little red teacup with arms and legs (or a blue mug of the same anatomy if you’re player 2) that shoots bullets of energy out of their hands in attempt to kill the endlessly spawning enemies. Starting in Inkwell Isle, you progress through three different worlds to reach the main boss of the game and defeat the evil. Pretty straightforward, right? So, what’s the catch?

The entire game is stacked against you!

Right from the very start, you notice that you are slower and do less damage than your enemies. There are also no checkpoints or saves mid-level, so if you die you HAVE to go back to the start. (You have three lives, straight up, with no extra lives thrown at you at any point in time.) Not only that, but if you play the game in Simple Mode, you can’t progress to the final battle.

Now I’ll be honest, I haven’t played a game that used platforming like this since the Rayman and Spyro franchises back in the early 2000s, as my tolerance for spending hours on a single level only to get to the end and die for the twentieth time is pretty low. I’m one of those people who get so immersed in games that I feel like I’m actually about to die if I lose… which leads to a lot of clocked hours on placid games like The Sims.

But this one, this one game made me re-think my entire stance on all of that. I spent a good hour-and-a-half on the first level, where I tried so hard to  get through the first half, only to die when the acorns started appearing. I was bashed by daisy men and mushrooms alike; little blue blob creatures foiled my every plan to get coins, and parry pink items to get a perfect score. And at the end of it—at the end of all that time dying over and over again—I was absolutely, utterly hooked.

The game play is simple enough. All the boss levels are a mass stream of button mashing until they die. You get various power-ups that you can buy with coins collected from run and gun levels, as well as some well hidden spot around the home screen. There are three basic types of level: run and gun, boss battles, and plane levels where you fly a fighter aircraft that fires bullets and drops bombs. All in all, the basic concept is plain and simple, but very well thought out.

The plot line is pretty fantastic, too. You and your brother are bequeathed the arduous task of collecting the souls of the damned for Satan himself, ensuring your safe return home after gambling away your own soul in a casino that somehow let in minors.

As you race through level after level beating bosses, you have to find ways to cheat the system to make any progress. You can use potions and remedies to poof in and out of focus or special bullets; you can gain features by freeing people from impending doom. This would be frustrating and ‘unfair’ if you weren’t dealing with a game that has the literal devil himself in it. Every detail has been thought out from the devil’s perspective and it all makes sense. Given this, and the sheer amount of time I spent on this game, I would rate it:

5/5 Cupheads for style

4/5 Cupheads for plotline

2/5 Cupheads for easiness

Which all rounds down to a solid 3.6/5 Cupheads.

The game is conceptually brilliant and visually stunning. The late ’50s inkwell style animation and fluid, ever-changing characters create such a beautiful world that it’s hard not to fall in love. The influence of early Disney and Fleischer Brothers studio, are evident, with the game holding true to those sinister undertones of cartoons gone by. Yet, it’s refreshing to see this style of animation in a modern setting. If there’s one thing I can say as a take away from Cupheads, it’s that even if you suck, even if you haven’t picked up a controller in fifty years, you will be entertained. And that is what makes this a fantastic game.

 

I’ve been a Bethany Griffiths, and this has been Beta Test.

Until next time…


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