Cradle was released by the fine folk from Flying Cafe for Semianimals,and it hits all the points on my checklist when I'm looking for a enjoyable game, but that's not to say it's without its flaws. However let me just say right now, it wont be for everyone. I feel like its a game where a lot of people will drop off before they reach the halfway point and we will discuss that a little bit more later, but for those who decide to stick around a little bit longer you're in for a real treat with this one. The year is 2071, on the Mongolian Steppes (a location not often seen in games and they get points for that in my book) and you've just woken up in a yurt with no knowledge of who you are, how you got there or how Ida, the strange mechanical girl on your table ended up in the middle of Mongolia. In the distance is an old run-down amusement park. Now, it's up to you to figure out how its all connected.
Really when it comes down to the visuals, it is a beautiful game. The environment is lush and full of colors, even in your little yurt there is a mess of colors and items. It actually feels like someone lives there as opposed to the trappings of a home. The world outside is calm and eerie, one of the words I would use is atmospheric. The soundtrack doesn't disappoint either, and does a good job to help set the moods and tones of the game that otherwise would be filled with the sounds of chirping crickets and your own footsteps. It does what every soundtrack (at least in theory) should to, and that's to help make the game a more enjoyable experience.
Now on the topic of the actual gameplay. I think I failed to mention that Cradle is a puzzle game, and not the type that holds your hand. No mini-map, and not many hints beyond get flashlight from cabinet. I found it incredibly challenging at first just as this isn't exactly my preferred genre. But once I started to get into the swing of it things became much easier for me. Reading is a requirement to understanding the world around you. So if you don't like games that require you to shift through documents and come to a conclusion based off of that, then this one might not be for you and you'll start to loose interest quickly. That wasn't the case in my first game, the point where I started to struggle a little was with the visually out of place, almost mini-games that you have to go through. I don't want to give any spoilers, but they are required and there's no way to just skip them without playing them. For me it broke the immersion that Cradle had done a wonderful job of building up, never mind the fact that you can skip them after one failed attempt.
From a setting perspective, they make a lot of sense yes but in terms of gameplay it just doesn't mesh well, I am afraid. You go from standing around looking for fruits by a lake to feed an eagle to running around looking for brightly colored cubes to funky music. But on the plus side you get to go down a giant slide after every one. You can rest assured that it is worth it however because at the end of each little mini-game the plot is advanced that much farther.
The plot is admittedly somewhat basic. Wake up with no idea of who you are, and then figure it out, right? But the setting that it's all woven together into is both original and intriguing. Remember how I mentioned reading was required? The little fragments of magazines, notes, and messages that you found throughout your yurt, and then the dialogue between you and Ida are all combined in just the right way to flesh out the world around you. Again, I won't go into too many details because of spoilers, but when the game does end, it does so strongly provided you've read everything and have been able to piece it together. It is certainly a very unclear ending, but I think that if it was fully explained would have lessened the impact of the story being told. It's a wonderful story about nature, identity, and transhumanism that I think succeeds despite the out of place mini-games and I firmly recommend that you buy it on Steam. It's only 12.99, it's not that expensive and its relatively short so you'll have something to occupy your thoughts over the weekend.
Continuing with our theme of reviewing Dischan Media games, we'll be taking a look at Dysfunctional Systems. As I know it, this was the last game that Dischan released before it went under. But that hasn't affected the quality that I have come to expect from Dischan games and while it's no Juniper's Knot, Dysfunctional Systems is still a very good game and bears all of the hallmark traits of a Dischan game.
It was a 2013 release, available on the PC for free at the Dischan site, Steam for $4.99 and the App Store for $1.99. Take your pick, but I'm a fan of the mobile version because it is far easier to play a game on the phone between subway stops than it is to power up the old computer for an hour or two, because that's how long this game is, if even that.
We'll start with the plot. Just like Juniper's Knot, the game boasts a unique storyline, but unlike Juniper's Knot this is a story where you actually make choices, choices that affect the game and would have affected the series, if Dischan hadn'tfallen apart. It centers around Winter Harrison, a young Mediator-in-training who travels between worlds plagued by chaos to solve their problems, many of them adversely affecting her own home world. These chaotic worlds range from worlds full of magic, to dystopian worlds. The first of the planned series, the first Dysfunctional Systems, centers around Winter's second mission to one of these worlds where she follows Cyrus Addington around on what should have been a routine expedition, this chaotic planet being plagued by a concept that Winter doesn't quite understand. Poverty. But then it wouldn't be an interesting story if it was routine, would it?
Because the characters are more fleshed out than previous works, there's more too them. Winter is by far more interesting and more compelling than the stars of Junipers Knot were, and at the end of it you certainly do feel quite a bit more for Winter, especially at the ending. She's a young kid, thrown into a world and life she isn't entirely sure she wants to be apart of and the ending is (spoiler alert) much more tragic, there isn't any happy ending this time around for our protagonists. You've been warned.
The visuals are top quality in Dysfunctional System. Not quite the same as Dischan's previous works but you can very easily see the similarities in style. It's interesting to see the shift from the two games and every time I look at either I still feel a pang of disappointment that things went south so quickly for Dischan because they had serious potential. In fact we might be discussing where and why they went so wrong sometimes in the future.
Dysfunctional System certainly isn't lacking in that department, and the sound track is equal to if not better than other Dischan works, in fact I enjoy this one more than I do Juniper's Knot. There's not much more to be said about Dysfunctional Systems, its another short game from a short-lived Developer that died well before their time but is well worth the time and energy. I've posted links in the second paragraph to everywhere you can get it, I strongly suggest you look at the free download from Dischan's website.
I have heard it said that there is nothing good to be found on the App Store for gaming. It's a lawless wasteland of microtransactions, puzzle games and cheap Minecraft rip-offs. I tend to point these people towards Juniper's Knot. It's a small little visual novel released on April 13th of 2012, first available for the PC/Mac but now on the App Store. The game was made by Dischan Media (now sadly non gone like the dinosaurs) in little under a month. The game centers around two characters, known only as "Fiend" and "Boy", as they help one another to overcome the others problems.
Firstly I'd like to say that it's a visual novel, and I know that always leads to the question of if a visual novel is really a video game or not. We'll dive into that argument one day, just not today. The reason I picked it to discuss first is because I really like it, and it always pains me to see something that is genuinely good go ignored.
You'll have noticed in the first paragraph that it was made in less than 30 days and this is by no means something you're going to notice while playing the game. The attention to detail is astounding and right off the bat I found myself thinking that it must have taken around a year to make considering how small the list of people who worked at Dischan Media was. I finished Junipers Knot in about thirty minutes when I first played it but despite its length the visual presentation and writing are superb, which is always a pleasant surprise when you look at anything advertising itself as a game on the app store.
I don't want to spoil the plot for you too badly because I do think you will enjoy it more going in knowing as little as possible and figuring it all out for yourself but here's a basic summary: Boy is lost and stumbles upon Fiend as she muses on her current predicament and the two begin to talk. Juniper's Knot centers around the ensuing conversation and the soundtrack that is constantly playing in the background the entire time is very good at helping set the mood and tone, as there is no voice acting. The most interaction you get with the game is clicking the screen to bring up the next panel of the story, but I that's the same with most every game on the App Store. The soundtrack is emotive but it isn't at all overbearing in the slightest and you'll quickly forget there is even music playing as you become immersed in what's happening on your screen.
All in all, Juniper's Knot has a odd but unique plot and was a great read and every few months I find myself going back to re-play it. My only regret is that Dischan Media no longer exists because I would gladly pay another dollar or even five for a sequel. It's perfect for if you get stuck on the train or bus, or need to kill some time. Right now its $0.99 on the App Store but is free to download for your computer from the Dischan website.
I have always been a huge Warhammer fan, I think it started back in 2007 when I got a copy of Ice Guard by Steve Lyons. I fell in love with the whole Grim Darkness of the far future thing that is prevalent throughout the setting and in every novel, no matter the subtly. However, I haven't fallen in love with every single Warhammer game. I've always found something lacking from the earlier Dawn of War titles and Space Marine for the Xbox/PC was a mess of missed opportunities and disappointments in my opinion.
I've always wanted a grand Warhammer strategy game, on par with something like the games produced by Paradox in terms of size and complexity. Something that captures what it really feels like to play the slowly rotting Imperium of Man or the fading Eldar races. I am tired of Blood Ravens, I am tired of the formulaic approach to making a Warhammer game.
That's where Space Marine: Chapter Master comes into the equation. It's a free-to-play fan-made PC game that puts you in command of your very own Chapter of genetically engineered post-humans and a randomly generated sector of Imperial space, beset by Orks, Tau, Eldar, Tyranids, Necrons,and Chaos Incursions. Every world is calling out for your help and its up to you to decide which ones have priority, but be careful. Losses are not easily replaced in this game and entire companies worth of your warriors can be lost to something as simple as a warp jump between worlds. Which isn't actually that simple when you think about it, as you're literally opening a gateway into a reality populated by Daemons.
What is interesting about Chapter Master, however is that it is entirely fan made and so far as I can tell, it was made by the efforts of the website 4Chan (huge surprise, but remember that the wildly popular visual novel Katawa Shoujo also has its roots there) and support from the Traditional Games thread and stands as a testimony for all to see that, when motivated, the website can do more than send pizza's and prostitutes to random Twitch streamers houses.
It's been a wild ride since it's birth back in 2009. A tragedy, but one that is all too common with low budget fan made games like these. Back in August of 2015, it was announced that the game would be renamed 'Interstellar Army Simulator 2015' as a preemptive strike against any legal trouble from Games Workshop (remember that time they tried to get a book taken off of Amazon because they said they owned the word 'Space Marine'? Because I remember) while still being able to work on the game.
Sadly, today development seems to be well and truly dead. I'm not entirely sure what seemed to have happened, but I know that the original developer quit to go to school and the two who continued work after him gave up some time in October of 2015. Remember it's a free to play game so if you're a fan of Warhammer why don't you go check it out? You'll need to download the Interstellar Army Simulator 2015 base here and then the Warhammer mod for it found here. And remember, The Emperor Protects.