Review: Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme (Transcendant Games)

Platform: PC, Mac, Linux

Developer: Transcendent Games

Genre: Adventure/Visual Novel/Life Simulation

Recommended Age: 16+

Who’s It For: Fans of kinky gender swapping, slapstick bizarro comedy, and a whole universe of suspension of disbelief.

Available for 24.99 at Desura, Demo Available

Yes, really.

Transcendent Games’ mouthful of a game, Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme, is a game I’ve been sort of curious about for a while now, but, well, you don’t throw away $25.00 on something that you’re not sure you’ll like, and if you’re not into the particular kink of men getting turned into sexy women and then having to go bra shopping and other wacky hijinks, well, this game probably wasn’t created with you in mind. To be perfectly clear, I’m not coming down on this fetish, or any other fetish, it’s just not one that I get or find erotic, and as a result, I highly doubted it was created with myself in mind. Which is fine! Not every game is or should be aimed at heterosexual cis-gendered white chicks with My Little Pony collections. But when the game recently dropped on sale, I figured I might as well give it a try, and in the end it was… well… special. Special.

In the game, you pick a character who winds up getting involved in a lab accident that turns a him into a her, which comes as tremendous surprise to you since you thought you were developing a treatment for ringworm… OR SO IT SEEMED. With all the rest of the previously dong-equipped staff also running around as women, it’s time to get down to the important things… like figuring out what caused the transformation and how to reverse it… and buying bras… and picking out new girly names… and buying pretty clothes… turning into mermaids… you know. Priorities.

~Girl, you’ll be a woman soon…~

The game’s focus is definitely more on the story than actual gameplay. Your first choice for Ben, for instance, comes over half an hour into it when you can decide to have her cut her new flowing locks. Whatever you choose, she still winds up showering and masturbating (yes, it’s one of those games), but the text for both scenes is different for some reason in a way that has nothing to do with the length of her hair at all. This makes it difficult to really predict the consequences of your choices, which might be true to life, but is extremely frustrating in a video game. Most of the options you’re given seem like inconsequential choices, and it’s disappointing not to be given greater control in the scenarios you really might want to have some say in.

The cast itself is mostly fairly likable, if underdeveloped beyond their kink, and the game changes drastically depending on who you choose to play as, as well as who you pursue romantically. Some of the writing is a little odd. In Bri’s route, for instance, she gets the bad news that she might be stuck in a woman’s body permanently while discussing being attracted to someone with Dan… and yet immediately after that, in the same conversation, Dan breaks the news to Bri that they’ll be stuck as females again and both of them react as though this is the first time they’ve heard and discussed it.

Let’s get one thing straight… GBDNATE (I am not typing all that out over and over) is definitely a game for fetishists and kinks. The game lovingly lingers on the transformation aspect, detailing the painful body changes, and there is substantially more detail and effort spent on drawing the female characters than their male forms or counterparts. There’s nudity, lingering shower scenes, long pans over bodies, and some coy references to masturbation. If all that sounds fine to you, well… fine! That’s perfectly alright, if that’s what you’re into. You just need to know that if you’re looking for a serious story with more attention to emotion and character, GBDNATEOMG might not be for you. Most of the romances feel almost perfunctory, and the endings extremely abrupt with little fanfare, which leaves the whole thing feeling sort of rushed and dedicated to the spectacle rather than an execution as an actual game or more developed visual novel.

Geez, such a lot of fuss over a little shed uterine lining.

What does potentially concern me is how someone who is trans might feel about a game that passes off something that is for them a potentially very difficult life choice and struggle as some kooky, sexy escapade that’s just some fun and wacky adventure. To say nothing, additionally, of the way the game uses the words sex and gender interchangeably to mean the same thing. Of course, the distinction between fantasy and reality is important, and we’re talking here about characters magically growing chick bits through green gas, not extensive hormone therapy, psychological evaluation, and let’s not forget, the stigma and hostility from society. Still, it’s undeniably a very personal issue, and to see it treated so flippantly for kicks and kinks could be upsetting, or at the very least seem as a little ignorant, especially when characters start insisting on what body parts make you male or female without question. The bottom line is, if sex and gender are an issue of importance for you that have given you a lot of trouble and pain, you might potentially find some of the content here upsetting regardless of how light-hearted it’s all trying to be.

I, uh… we need to talk if you think vaginal burning is optimal.

I had actually expected to be more concerned with the game’s portrayal of women, but as it happens, I’m both hard to offend, and the game is too goofy to really take seriously in its approach to what it thinks makes a woman a woman. The female proportions are, for the most part, all completely ridiculous, and the way Bri’s torso starts spinning around like a top is downright alarming. The game makes some half-hearted stabs at dealing with issues women face, but in the end decides to ignore it simply in favour of goofing off, and the end result is that it basically feels like a woman’s worth is still down to how she looks since the only thing the characters are concerned about are the size of their breasts and their clothes. (And nachos. At least Bri gets that right.)

Am I saying the developer shouldn’t have made this game? Of course not, and I’m not trying to make them feel badly about it either, or you if you enjoyed it. It’s just another perspective to consider, and perspective is always important to be open to. Refreshingly, the game has a much more open attitude towards relationships. When asked if she would be upset about becoming attracted to men as a woman, having previously been a straight male himself, Dan says, “Romance is romance. If I’m happy, then it doesn’t matter.” Even Ryan, one of the male romantic interests, says he considers Bri a woman without issue no matter what her body used to be. This is a prevailing attitude on the topic that might be idealistic given the slow state of real world society’s progression towards acceptance, but is sweet to see nonetheless.

Behold, the raw emotion!

Unfortunately, GBDNATEBBQ is probably only really recommendable if you’re really into the fetish its pushing, and then with the caveat that you have to not mind the lack of any real character arcs, resolutions, gameplay, and so forth. As someone for whom all that is an issue, I wasn’t really motivated to replay the game very much because it all felt so shallow. Unlike, say, Katawa Shoujo, GBDNATEOHAI is completely devoted to its fetish as a fetish and fetish alone, and the end result is a visual novel that’s far too light on content to really get behind for its price unless this is a kink you can’t have enough of. Though the developer clearly put a lot of work into it, it’s best left alone unless a short, game-lite sex-sperience is exactly what you’re looking for, so make sure you try the demo before taking the plunge.

Review: The Crooked Man (Uri)



Platform: PC

Developer: Uri (translated by vgperson)

Genre: Horror/Adventure

Recommended Age: 16+

Who’s It For: Fans of monster movies and sniveling

Available via free download at vgperson’s site

After playing Uri’s Mermaid Swamp, I sort of felt I had to go back to her earlier work, The Crooked Man, even though there were a lot of things that annoyed me about it. Not because it’s terrible, so much as it is contrived and clunky. Playing it is like trying to pick up toothpicks while wearing thick winter gloves… not impossible, but frustrating.

In the game, you play David, a young man whose personal life has hit a few bumps in the road recently. He’s also whiny and unpleasant, but since his mother is in the hospital and barely knows who he is, I’m willing to cut him a minor break. But, unaware that he is a horror game protagonist and thus destined to suffer, he is optimistic about the new start his new apartment offers. Strange events and a stranger connection to the apartment’s previous tenant, however, who left without warning leaving everything he owned behind, forces David to follow a trail of clues that will lead him to discover the truth about the apartment’s previous tenant, and himself.


I feel the exact same way, David.

As I mentioned at the start of the review, David isn’t exactly the most likable guy, and not just because he’s as bland and palatable as a handful of flour. Mermaid Swamp’s Rin might have been annoying, but at least she had a personality to be annoying with. Like Paranoiac’s Miki, David also does stupid things because the plot requires him to, and fails to react in any realistic way to a lot of the things that happen to him. Coffee spills by itself and spells out “Help me”? “Not much use thinking about it. Better call it a day.” Mysterious figure chases him out of the basement and tries to pull him back down? “I must have imagined it.” Universe, why did you take Mitch Hedberg from me, but leave me with David?

Admittedly, David being useless and terrible is sort of the point, as the story drags him kicking and screaming through personal growth via the people he meets. Whether you can like and root for someone who has to be forced to be a better person and take charge of their own life is arguable, but hey, to each their own. While I agree with most of the points The Crooked Man is trying to make throughout the course of the story, it does come off as both one-sided and fairly shallow, which is sort of ironic. Provided you get the Good ending, everything sort of wraps up in a neat little bow, and it feels a bit too simplistic as a result. Clearly, as obnoxious and passive as he is (and he is despite the game’s insistence that he’s just “kind”), David does have good traits, but it feels more like the game is just pointing those out than actually having him mature.

It’s the sort of story that might resonate with players who have struggled with depression, but after the setup for a more complete character arc, it falls a little short. I’m not advocating changing who you are for someone else, I’m advocating not teaching people that they’re perfect all the time and anyone who feels otherwise will come around in the end. Had the Good ending been a bit less perfect and still ended with David being happy with who he is, I would have been fine with it.

The Crooked Man is actually a fairly long and ambitious game, taking place across multiple self-contained, puzzle-filled locales and featuring multiple characters with complex backstories. Though it is scary, those scares are almost entirely jump scares, completely reliant on loud noises and sudden images. It’s actually a bit of a shame, since though I’m not, by nature, against jump scares, they feel out of place here alongside the mood and story. It’s like reading the sort of slow boiling horror The Shining is, and every now and again some asshole fires off an airhorn in your ear. And you’re unable to punch them. The area design and attention to crafting the story is so well done that it feels like the jump scares are there to cater to the YouTuber crowd more than anything else.

Sadly, Gary Busey’s daycare center was short-lived.

Unfortunately, The Crooked Man is more often than not hamstrung by a simple lack of direction and a tendency to change its own rules. Sometimes the game automatically uses items for you, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the game will nudge you where to go, sometimes you just have to backtrack everywhere to see if anything has changed. One attack sequence can only be won by locking your pursuer in the room you just fled… but with nothing to indicate this and no reason to think to try since you’ve never been able to lock doors before, it’s not exactly a leap of logic a player should be expected to make. With a bit more guidance, the game would have felt less like it relied on you brute forcing the solution or simply examining every innocuous bit of scenery over and over, and been vastly more enjoyable as a result.

Review: The Longing Ribbon (Gibmaker)

Platform: PC

Developer: Gibmaker

Genre: Horror/Adventure/Pain-in-the-ass

Recommended Age: 16+

Who’s It For: Fans of cosmic horror and people who don’t mind brute force as progress

Available via free download at

The Longing Ribbon is an older freeware horror title that gets a lot of things right, so it’s extra frustrating that I completely hate it. Or maybe only mostly hate it. But definitely more than a little. The game follows Jeannine, her dog Sandy, and her friends Matthew and Sara as they stay the night at a secluded mansion deep in the forest after getting lost. The weird bit, apart from the eccentric owner’s insistence that they stay in their rooms and not bother her sickly son, is that each clearly remembers the other arguing vehemently in favour of staying. If you think this sounds like a bad idea, congratulations, you officially have more than the single brain cell Jeannine and Co time-share between them.

Largely, the game has few genuine puzzles, and gameplay consists of wandering around triggering events while admiring the plumbing and decorations. (More on that later.) While Matthew and Sara are having a rough night of their own, Jeannine’s uncomfortable sleep is plagued with nightmares and visions, and when she wakes, she discovers it might already be too late. Not only to escape, but for the rest of the world as well. Because there’s something inside this house, and it wants something from Jeannine and her friends. It wants… them to utilize single-use save points, and intuit the correct choices in upgrades for battles they cannot forsee, and to solve a series of annoyingly repetitive puzzles that force you to play through them multiple times.

Christ, don’t I wish.

The game’s survival horror aspects are unique, which is great, but they’re also ridiculous, which is not. Rather than gaining experience and leveling up via combat, Jeannine gets stronger by examining paintings and books, and learns new techniques and gets special upgrades by using sinks. For no reason. Now, here’s the thing. A strange upgrade procession is not a bad thing, but having one implemented in such a manner that it is completely unexplained in the game and renders you completely incapable of being able to know what upgrades you would need to surpass any particular challenge is a very bad thing. If you would have to restart multiple times or go back to multiple save points just to try to figure out what you would need when the game gives you little to no indication, it’s not well designed. It’s incredibly poorly thought out, and the battles are tedious to boot, especially when they make up the lion’s share of the latter half of the game and consist of furniture. They offer literally nothing to the overall experience. Lacking the ability to use save points more than once or reallocate upgrades, if you get farther into the game and discover you should have taken a particular skill earlier on, you’re screwed unless you want to slog through a bunch of slow, unskippable cutscenes all over again. It’s not about wanting hand-holding, or being adverse to challenge… it’s about designing a game that functions better than a bicycle with square wheels. Sure, it’s technically functional, but why would you want to bother with something that’s just there to make things arbitrarily difficult?

The plot itself has several issues, and the main one is an inability to balance horror and hilarity. As many games, movies, and books have proven, you can still make something scary and funny, but that is not achieved by mashing a copy of The Evil Dead/The Turning of the Screw together with The Naked Gun and making mwah mwah mwah noises and expecting it all to work. Horror works best when the game allows for suspension of disbelief, and Jeannine and her friends do not act like normal human beings would when things happen, making the attempts at humour just come across as bizarre. It’s not wacky or surreal, it’s weird, and the creeping from-beyond-the-world style horror haunting the plot is trying to go with doesn’t work with it. The game allows you to pick most of Jeannine’s dialogue, but even if you ignore the deliberately silly options, she and her companions still come across as semi-incoherent pod people, like aliens behaving the way they think humans are supposed to behave to try to fit in. BEEP BOOP. INITIATE JOKE SEQUENCE. SELECTING RANDOM POP CULTURE REFERENCE. VIBRATE VOCAL CORDS. LAUGHTER: SUCCESSFUL.

Ha ha, I guess?

It’s actually difficult to tell if The Longing Ribbon is actively trying to parody or satirize the more frustrating aspects of it, but, again, even if it was, a deliberately frustrating sequence for satirical purposes is still frustrating. For instance, late in the game Jeannine is sent to find a key taped under a chair, but because there is no clue or visual indication given as to which chair, you have to manually search all thirty-four chairs in that area until you find the one you’re looking for. The atmosphere can be a little inconsistent too, with some areas being remarkably effective in their design and execution, and others little more than dull placeholders to pad the length, usually while the soundtrack goes <em>bwuuuuuuuunnn</em> over and over, like someone nodding off at an electric keyboard. It feels, largely, like many of the scenes here don’t translate well to this particular visual style, and as a result, both impact and some coherence is lost. Throw in some repeated typos and spelling errors and you have a game that feels like it needed a bit more polish overall.

These annoyances grate more than they should because The Longing Ribbon has glimpses of some fantastic ideas. It does some clever visual tricks with the engine it uses, making for some effective, comparatively bloodless horror and memorable sequences. I just wish more of them had been memorable for reasons other than me wanting to set the monitor on fire. There was clearly a massive amount of work put into this game, but not all aspects were thought out as well as they could have been. There are even some interesting plot twists, and a satisfying degree of complexity to the story to boot. Heck, even the accursed battle system has a chunk of depth to it that makes me wish I could have enjoyed it more. Give more time for the cast to build personality to care about them, and a less restrictive/obnoxious save and upgrade system, chances are the battles would have been a lot more enjoyable to boot. The Longing Ribbon is a better story than it is a game, and you’ll need a lot of patience to slug your way through the latter half, but a lot of ambition is better than none at all, and The Longing Ribbon certainly has ambition to burn.

Review: Gone Home (The Fullbright Company)


Platform: PC, Mac, Linux

Developer: The Fullbright Company

Genre: Introspective Adventure

Recommended Age: 14+

Who’s It For: Fans of human drama and snooping

Available via Direct Sale or Steam 19.99USD

I’ve always loved stories about people. My most favourite parts of any Stephen King story, for example, are the ways he details the ordinary lives of his cast before he gets to the extraordinary circumstances. Gone Home is basically all about those ordinary lives, from the perspective of someone realising they might have been more of an outsider in their own family than they thought. Katie returns home late one stormy evening after a year abroad to find a note on the door of her family’s home from her little sister Sam, who has left mysteriously and begs Katie to understand and apologise to their parents. With the house silent but for the raging weather, you have to search the home you thought you knew to learn more about the family you thought you understood, and the real reason behind Sam’s disappearance. With no real puzzles beyond tracking down a combination or two and the only objective to explore, Gone Home takes you on a winding journey of self discovery and hidden emotion as you search through every nook and cranny, uncovering family secrets both simple and painfully complex.

Since the whole point of the game is to uncover the story of your sister, Gone Home is all about directing you along a path that leads you to the next piece in her tale. Whenever you find something relevant, Sam’s voice will pick up as she narrates another fragment of her life, and as you explore you gradually come to realise what your sister was going through and why she did what she did. Gone Home’s gimmick is that you can pick up, rotate, and scrutinize everything from Sam’s homework, to the toothpaste on the bathroom counter, and while that sounds like a recipe for random fumbling and confusion, Gone Home does an amazingly good job of directing you where to go next without ever making you feel like you’re being directed. Exploring feels very natural, and you’ll almost always know where to go next. Throw in some exceptional atmosphere and you have an experience that both captivates and feels entirely organic like no other.

The downside is that while you can pick up or otherwise interact with absolutely everything, only about a quarter of those items have anything to do with the story in any capacity whatsoever and the rest is just household junk. At first I got a kick out of narrating my play to my husband as he sat beside me (“Good ol’ FaceSoft brand tissues.”), but after a while you just stop bothering because they offer nothing beyond their novelty. Sure, you can toss around the bathroom cleaner and those cans of peas, but, well, why? Who cares? It just feels gimmicky and out of place compared to the tight construction of the rest of it. Similarly, for all the development Katie’s family gets, Katie herself is very nearly a blank slate. You know from the postcards you find that she’s a pleasant, funny young woman, but those are very few and far between and the beginning and the end of a characterisation that is so shallow it’s out of place compared to the vastly more developed family members. If the point was to allow me to project myself onto Katie, then why does she have a name and a face at all? Why not go with a comparatively silent protagonist that would have let anyone of any gender slip into the role? That’s not to say Katie isn’t identifiable at all, she’s just barely there, and it’s almost sad how little a place she seems to have in her own family as a result.

What Gone Home does perhaps better than any game I’ve ever seen is play you like a violin, using its atmosphere and your own expectations to shift your perceptions. Its gradually shifting tone is masterfully handled, as you slowly go from an environment that seems pregnant with lurking menace and dread to a realization that what’s really happening here is both more mundane and yet more important than your typical adventure game fare. It’s human drama at its finest, and while Sam’s story is beautifully and honestly told with real emotion, I actually found the less obvious tales of Katie’s parents to be just as interesting because of how they were handled. Sam’s life is front and center in the game, but you have to go digging for the details of your mother and father because the game simply doesn’t call attention to them, and knowing who they are and what they were going through provides extremely important framework. Even your family ancestor, long dead, who left you the house has a story to tell that goes beyond his local legacy of a “psycho”.

The best endorsement I can give Gone Home is that I was rapt from beginning to end and then lay awake later that night thinking about it, even crying a little. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve gone through the exact sort of experiences Sam and her family detail (I certainly hadn’t), because the themes here are applicable to everyone. From the simple things like trust, love, and a struggle for identity, to the more complex themes of understanding the people we thought we knew, and realizing we may have taken them for granted, Gone Home is about people pure and simple, and in a more heartfelt, painfully honest way than most narratives, game, movie, book or otherwise, ever succeed at being… or even try to. At twenty bucks for what is basically a three hour linear interactive narrative if you take your time, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether the cost is “worth it”, but in a world where most games are about saving the world one way or another, it’s incredibly rare and refreshing to come across one that knows the world is made up of people, and people are what matter in the end.

Review: Mermaid Swamp (Uri)



Platform: PC, Mac

Developer: Uri (translated by vgperson)

Genre: Horror/Adventure

Recommended Age: 16+

Who’s It For: Fans of haunted house stories, urban legends, and obnoxious college kids being menaced.

Available via free download at vgperson’s site

If horror movies have taught me anything, it’s that being a college student with a group of ca-raaaaaazy friends out in the middle of nowhere on a road trip is just like wearing a big sign around your neck that says “TERROR STRIKING IN 3… 2…” There’s only so much you can do to tempt fate. So maybe it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise to Rin when the car she and her friends are driving breaks down in the mountains immediately after they get lost. And maybe it also shouldn’t be a shock to her when the manor she and her entourage are so kindly invited to stay at is home to dark secrets and terrible danger. Will Rin and her friends escape the curse? Or will the watery grave surrounding the mansion claim them all?


Good old Yuuta “Red Flag” Takahashi.

As Rin, you’ll explore the mansion and the surrounding area when things inevitably go mammaries up, searching for something to help you and your friends, but also clues as to what’s happening and why. Though structured somewhat like Uri’s first game, Paranoiac, the game is thankfully less obtuse. I mean, it would have to be. There’s still a lot of wandering around hallways, looking for keys and following vague clues, but you’re typically given a bit more direction. If you’ve been examining your surroundings, chances are you’ll generally know what you should do with an item whenever you’re given it. It’s less passively wandering around waiting for things to happen, and more actively working to make progress in a logical manner, which is something Uri’s games have sorely needed. There’s also plenty of opportunities to get people killed for different endings, if that’s your bag, though the downside is since it’s not entirely clear when a decision would lead to a demise, especially with the game prompting you to do it, it’s too easy to kill people by mistake.


Like, whoa, daddy-o.

The writing is… it’s… well, it’s like what you’d get if you asked an undercover cop to write what he or she thought “cool kids” would sound like after watching Dazed and Confused a few times. It goes out of its way to portray Rin and her friends as vapid, giggling twits whose every word brings the looming shadow of natural selection closer and closer over them. It doesn’t help that Rin is rude, snappy, and completely dense. Admittedly, that’s sort of the point, since the differences between Rin and her more ladylike, “docile” friend are actually both a plot point, as well as the main reason she has more self-preservation than the other three combined. At the same time, a deliberately obnoxious protagonist is still obnoxious, so win some, lose some, I guess.



Despite all that, however, Mermaid Swamp probably stands as Uri’s strongest game to date, and a definite sign of how she’s rapidly growing as a game designer. Mermaid Swamp avoids the pitfalls of its predecessors, for the most part, and delivers jump scares that, despite being more subtle than Paranoiac or Crooked Man, are still creepier and more effective. It’s a lot more slower paced, and in general far less ambiguous than Uri’s previous works, so while there’s less over-the-top scares and action, it’s also a lot more intelligent in its structure and setting. It feels like a classic monster mystery haunted house story, and the ominous atmosphere and more deftly handled storytelling makes this one easy to get sucked into. The big reveal at the end, provided you get the best ending, is actually fairly clever and chilling, and though the resolution isn’t particularly satisfying, Mermaid Swamp is still a fantastically freaky game for an evening that shows Uri is capable of tremendous improvement and will likely have even better things on the way in the future.

Review: Mad Father (Sen)



Platform: PC, Mac

Developer: Sen (translated by vgperson)

Genre: Horror/Adventure/Hahaha, But Seriously It’s Great

Recommended Age: 16+

Who’s It For: Fans of straight to DVD horror cheeseball classics and brilliant atmosphere.

Available via free download at vgperson’s site

When I was in junior high, my best friend and I had sleepovers every Friday night, and since the local movie rental place would lend you old releases on VHS for a whopping .47 a night, we would usually load up with anywhere from four to six horror movies that had never so much as glimpsed the inside of a movie theater. Which, incidentally, should never be taken as an indicator of a movie’s quality. I had far more fun with the relentless, gleeful stupidity of Luther the Geek than I did with a lot of modern day blockbusters.

In a lot of ways, Sen’s over-the-top free horror adventure Mad Father feels like something I would have found on those movie nights. I mean… it’s kind of dumb, but I say that in the fondest way possible, because it’s not trying to really be much else than simple gory entertainment. Which, as it turns out, is sometimes enough, especially when executed as wonderfully as it is here. You play little Aya Dervis, whose family and father in particular have never been the same after her mother dies. Though Aya knows her father is up to something horrible in the basement, she turns a blind eye out of love and because the game wouldn’t continue if she didn’t.


"At least not since I installed the cameras."

As it turns out, Aya’s father is more than “mad”… he’s monstrous. On the eve of her mother’s death, a mysterious stranger informs Aya that her father’s work has come back to haunt him, and now the restless souls of the people he tortured and killed are roaming the halls looking for revenge. But to Aya, no matter what he’s done he’s still her father, and now she must search the mansion for him while evading the creatures that seem to be everywhere. If Aya is attacked or otherwise in danger, a blue bar that represents her health appears in the upper right corner, and if that depletes, it’s game over. Don’t worry, her health refills whenever she’s safe or leaves the room. To survive, you’ll have to solve puzzles, move quickly, and mash buttons.

Ain’t even the craziest thing that comes out of her mouth with a smile, trust me.

Despite dealing with some fairly horrific subject matter, Mad Father’s relentlessly over-the-top approach to horror and its campy supernatural themes prevent it from really being taken all that seriously. About the time you start throwing eyeballs down holes and wielding a mini-chainsaw, you sort of have to admit you’ve gone more than a little insane. You can practically see every plot twist the game tries to throw at you a mile away, and as a result, there are no real surprises. The gore is so omnipresent and horrific that it tends to overshadow anything else the game might want to say. On the other hand, part of the plot revolves in a subtle way around Aya’s interactions with these atrocities… seeing them as people suffering rather than just monsters, and thus beginning to change her way of thinking about her father.

In a way, the core theme is the concept of one’s relationship with their family. We’re told for a young age that we have to love our family “no matter what”, and it’s this childlike belief that Aya clings to with determination even though she knows the things her father has done. Most of us have someone we’d do anything for, be able to overlook almost any crime out of pure love, a concept that sheds some light on Maria’s character and thought process. Aya loves her father without question, and the frequent flashbacks to their time together adds a touch of bitter sadness to the events in the game, and watching that uncertainty begin to waver the more she finds out becomes the emotional crux of the game. How far is too far? If someone you loved, someone who was your entire life, did something horrible, could you stop them? Could you live with yourself if you didn’t… or if you did?


In hindsight, maybe my childhood wasn’t so bad.

It helps that as silly as the whole plot can be, the game looks fantastic. Mad Father stands out as a remarkable example of what you can do with popular RPG tool creation, and the enormous amount of custom art and animation make it shine. The attention given to sound effects, everything from subtle ambient noise to the different sounds Aya makes walking on different surfaces, is really remarkable. The game’s fantastic sparse use of sound and music makes for a deliciously ominous experience that make its many jump scares all the more effective. And make no mistake, as far as the gore is concerned, this is a disgusting, squishy game, featuring some truly horrific violence and sound effects that’ll make you cringe.

The main problem with it as far as, you know, being a game goes, is that it features some fairly unintuitive gameplay at times. There’s a room where you need to push a stool to reach something in a high place, for instance, but there’s no indication that there’s anything there, so you wouldn’t really think to try pushing anything. To get the “true” ending, you also need to “talk” multiple times to a character you have no reason to suspect would have anything more to say. The result is a game you’ll spend a fair amount of time fumbling around in, and one less about puzzle solving as it is revisiting places whenever you make progress to see if something’s changed. Throw in some annoying key-mashing, frustrating stealth sequences, and Mad Father has more than its share of annoyances, making me wish it had been a more straight-laced and intuitive adventure game where its gameplay is concerned.

Despite these bumps, however, if you can get past the almost cartoonish levels of violence and drama Mad Father is definitely worth playing. It’s exactly the right size to keep you riveted for the evening, and the creative scares and design will deliver for fans of jumping out of their seats. It might be more than a little weird and hard to take seriously, but Mad Father is one of the better, more polished freeware horror games out there, and well worth a look with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

If this squicks you out, you might want to avoid the game entirely.

Review: Gunpoint (Suspicious Developments)


Platform: Windows

Demo Available: Yes

Developer: Suspicious Developments

Genre: Action/Stealth

Recommended Age:14+

Who’s It For: Fans of stealth, clever level design, and tackling dudes out windows.

Available Now, $10.00 USD

There’s a lot to like about indie stealth-em-up snark fest Gunpoint, and I’m not just saying that because it let me tackle a guy out the window of a multi-story building. As a private-eye with… unusual methods, you’re used to your share of accidental property damage, but being framed for a murder you didn’t commit leads you on a complex trail of mystery, double-crossing, and tackling guys out windows.


The game is made up of a series of missions, each stage coming with both its own objectives and its own grading system. While it’s possible to smash, crash, and bash your way through most levels, Gunpoint is more about the satisfaction you get by creeping in, doing what you need to, and getting out like a ghost. A smart-assed ghost in a dirty coat with sticky, bouncy shoes. Armed with equipment that lets you leap staggeringly high, cling to walls or the ceiling, and even hack the wiring around you. This last is particularly clever, allowing you to, say, rewire a locked door that only opens to security to open at the flick of a nearby lightswitch instead, or even to turn the lights off in a room before you even enter it. The cross-link device has such an enormous amount of potential that you’ll feel exceptionally smart whenever you make it (and even the oblivious security guards) work to your advantage. Handy if you want to slip into a guarded room unseen to tackle the gun-toting security out of the window.


As you progress through the game you’ll earn cash for performing well that you can then spend on upgrades and new equipment. Not a lot of new equipment, mind, since a large part of Gunpoint isn’t about what’s in your pocketses, my little hobbit, but figuring out how to use your surroundings to your advantage. Figuring out a way to set off a chain reaction using a light, a security camera, and a power socket to clear the way for you to slip through is immensely satisfying, though Gunpoint’s stages are usually small and tightly designed enough that there are really only ever one or two ways through, making the game more about being fast and quiet.

Gunpoint’s strength is largely in that wonderfully inventive gameplay, especially since the story is just sort of happening on the sidelines and often feels like it’s trying too hard for most of its humour. That’s not to say the game isn’t funny because it definitely can be, just that the ratio of hits to misses isn’t always in its favour. Fortunately, you’ll probably forgive it given the pitch-perfect tone, from the swanky soundtrack to the distinct characters and rain-soaked levels. You might call the graphical style low-res, but there’s a tremendous amount of detail packed into those little pixels. The environments are beautifully painted and designed, and some expert use of sound and expressive animation makes for a surprising amount of character in each tiny character model. Especially when you’re tackling them out windows.


Of course, if I’m talking about Gunpoint, I also have to talk about Yahtzee Croshaw’s freeware 2007 stealth-em-up Art of Theft, mainly because Gunpoint feels very similar to it. Though featuring drastically different protagonists and a few distinct mechanics, however, it feels less like Gunpoint is a copy-cat and more like something that took the inspiration and ran with it in interesting new directions. Gunpoint is much faster, with a greater emphasis on reflexes and puzzling things out, and the result is a game that’s vastly more challenging because you have to think on your feet.

Gunpoint is the sort of game that stealth enthusiasts can sit down to for “just one minute” and look up to find an entire hour is gone. With side-missions, replay value, and extra objectives galore, its the sort of disarmingly simple looking game that will keep you hooked with charm, challenge, and tackling guys out windows. No, I don’t have a problem, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.

Review: Defiance (Trion Worlds)


Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox (reviewed on PS3)

Demo Available: No

Developer: Trion Worlds

Genre: Action/Shooter/MMO Adventure/Sci-Fi

Recommended Age:14+

Who’s It For: Fans of big guns, bigger monsters, and gameplay that begins and ends with pointing one at the other.

Available Now, $59.99 USD

My husband and I have been watching SyFy’s newest original series, the apocalyptic science fiction show Defiance, and it surprised us both by exceeding expectations in a big way. I mean… it’s good. Campy, but good, in that satisfying way only giddily exuberant science-fiction shows can be. There’s monsters, mutants, sassy aliens, and Lucius Malfoy. It’s basically the perfect hour of pure entertainment television. So when we realised there was a tie-in game we could nab from GameFly, well, it was an obvious choice.

At the start of Defiance, you’ll create your character to be booted out into the dangerous, unfriendly world. You were hired by the world’s most unpleasant manchild, a “scientist” (there are no skeptical air quotes big enough) named Von Bach, who loses a valuable piece of technology after the ship you were on crash lands. Naturally, it’s up to you to go and get it back from the forces fighting over it. Somewhere in between facing down endless hordes of mutants with a shotgun. And racing across the Hellbug-infested wasteland for high scores. And ramping your dune buggy off a cliff, flying straight at the face of a monstrous acid-spewing bug taking on fifty other players while screaming like a banshee at the same time. But yeah I’ll get right on tracking down your doo-dad and getting shot up while incompetent NPC AI yells for my help so I can watch another cutscene of you being a repulsive human being.

Typically, gameplay just consists of tooling around on your vehicle looking for something that needs shooting, and then shooting it a lot more than is strictly necessary. There are random encounter popups everywhere, or you can view your map and toddle on off to the myriad of permanent missions.  Your biggest asset is your EGO, which here refers to a computer and AI implanted in your head that gives you a lot of nifty abilities as well as direction only three-quarters as annoying as Navi. “Shut up, EGO,” I sigh as she merrily informs me, for the fifth time in a row, that “We made that look easy!” Usually delivered on a delay a good thirty seconds or so after I’ve completed and driven away from whatever it was I just exploded/picked up/ran over.

In order to really review the game, however, you have to talk about what it is, and what it isn’t. What it is, is an MMO shooter with RPG elements, not an “action RPG” in the traditionally accepted definition of the terms. Your sole involvement in the game is shooting things. You can’t talk to NPCs, you can’t participate in cutscenes, you can’t decide what your character says… largely because they literally never say anything at all. You’ll drive around, and you’ll shoot things, and you’ll get stronger so you can shoot other things. That’s it. If that’s fine with you, well, carry on my wayward son, but if you want or were hoping for a more, say, Fallout-sy gameplay experience, you might find this a bit too shallow.

As an MMO shooter, however, Defiance is actually very good. Repetitive! But good. Featuring massive, large-scale battles and challenging combat that will force you to both think strategically and on your feet, Defiance is the sort of game that can keep action fans busy for a long time. The map is enormous, and there’s always something going on. There are oodles of side missions, daily and weekly contracts to complete to boost your standing with different merchants, new batches of missions released with and related to new episodes, racing, high-score ranking rampages, and of course, Arkfalls, where you and other players team up to destroy massive bosses for treasure raining down from the sky… literally. They’re spectacular to behold, and the more challenging structure to dealing with the bosses themselves on top of all the other enemies swarming the field provides a welcome break. If you don’t find seeing thirty players sent flying twenty feet into the air by a giant robot with an angry rap face hilarious, you’re dead inside.

The other draw is, naturally, the tie-in aspect with the TV show, which is… well, there. Sort of. After every new episode, you’ll get a new side-mission (sometimes a chain of them) in the game that ties in with events. Unfortunately, while some of these are well produced and feature lengthy cutscenes and story, like Ryn’s arc with the Hellbugs or the most recent Plague, a lot of them feel sort of… phoned in, consisting simply of going to an area, shooting ALL the things, and listening to a data recorder. Right now it feels like the action between the game and the show are happening on either sides of the galaxy instead of the country, and somewhere in the middle where story, setting, and pew-pew-pew intersect could lie true greatness.

The main problem with the story missions is that apart from cutscenes and some special maps, they’re virtually identical to the rest of the game. Very nice cutscenes, mind you, well acted as well as designed, but completly uninteractive. And that’s when the fatigue of repetition can start to set in. Mission structure begins to get wearily predictable. “I SURE HOPE THERE’S NO AMBUSH WAITING FOR ME UP THERE.” I announce loudly as EGO directs me to yet another deceptively quiet area where my objective is surrounded by a lot of chest-high walls and an ammo box, and my husband and I laugh merrily, but with a bit of mingled frustration. You know exactly what’s going to happen, because regardless of what the mission description says, especially if it’s a side mission, it just boils down to killing things. Kill things long enough to save a thing, or kill things long enough to get things. That’s it. No curveballs, no surprises, no decisions… just more and more staged encounters after while the game dumps experience and treasure on you. Not particularly satisfying if what you’re after is more story, or choice, or even any of that great world building a game tied to a TV show should be offering.

What Defiance gets very right, however, is player interaction. By which I mean there isn’t any, sort of, or at least none that isn’t beneficial to you. Unlike other MMOs where you might squeal in rage to see another player galloping up to steal your kill on a rare monster or steal that rare item drop, in Defiance, you’re almost always glad to see other players because largely, they’re always on your side and can do little but help you out. You get all your own item drops and experience points, so nobody is fighting for loot, and it takes a community to take down some of the big bosses. Players can also resurrect you when you fall, and hop into quests you may be undertaking simply by virtue of being in the area, lending a hand against the game’s frequently daunting odds. I often found myself forming impromptu and immediate alliances with players who showed up simply to help me, or vice versa, and it’s a rare game that makes you happy to see someone coming.


At the moment, however, Defiance’s biggest issue, hands down, is stability. Get used to seeing that crash screen a lot, because as of this writing, you can still hear the game groaning to handle you. Within ten minutes of play, you’ll start to notice your menus being slow to come up. And then your HUD will be even slower to display coming out of them. You might even be frozen in place as this happens, but continue to take damage. And then, suddenly, you get that screen above. Get used to it, because if you play with any frequency for any stretch of time, you’re going to see it a lot. You’ll be booted to the main screen and have to log back in, and it could happen at any time. Mostly it’s an annoyance, but sometimes it can be a potential dealbreaker. I spent upwards of twenty minutes working a major Arkfall only to have the above screen happen to me a split second before I would have gotten my rewards, and the end result was a big fat zero for my time and efforts. Had that been my first experience with the game, I might have shut it off then and there.

It’s easy for the more sanctimonious among us to quickly cry “first world problems” at complaints like that, but here’s the thing. You have the right to expect that the product you pay for be able to perform well when you want to use it. That’s all. That’s the bottom line. And I don’t say that to imply that Trion isn’t working hard to address these concerns, because they are. But at the same time, with this being such a common issue across platforms and PS3 in particular, it seems like stability should be the number one focus before asking us for any more money for DLC.

And largely… they are focused on bug-squashing over anything else. It’s taking a while, largely due to the distressing and somewhat depressing layoffs within the studio, but it’s happening. And though the game is still annoyingly buggy and one-note, it’s also pretty addictive. The thrill of the massive player cooperation in the huge boss battles is exhilarating as the field swarms with enemies, the world is enormous and teeming with sidequests and other time-wasters, and somewhere in here lies a simple but also simply fun multiplayer shooter that seems tailor made for lazy afternoons or an evening to unwind. As the first season of the TV show winds down to a close, one has to wonder what the game is going to do in the “off” season, which is potentially a make in break scenario where keeping and generating players is concerned. Defiance has a lot to offer fans of multiplayer shooters, being challenging and engaging without also being too overcomplicated to scare away newcomers, and while it may not fulfill its crossover potential the way you might hope, it’s unexpectedly entertaining and backed by a team of clearly devoted developers doing all they can to meet player feedback and constantly improve the experience.

Review: Paranoiac (Uri)



Platform: PC

Developer: Uri (translated by vgperson)

Genre: Horror/Adventure/Hot Mess

Recommended Age: 14+

Who’s It For: Ugh.

Available via free download at vgperson’s site

Have you ever felt like you hated a game so much you had to see it through to the end out of spite? That’s Uri’s freeware indie horror adventure game Paranoiac for me (translated by vgperson), which is about a woman in a house being stupid while also being obstructed by unintuitive and repetitive gameplay and bad writing. Well, not really. Only, yes really. The game is about Miki Takamura, a novelist who moves into her aunt’s dusty old house three years after the woman dies. What should be a time for our socially awkward and inept heroine to get some work done turns much darker, however, when bizarre signs and hostile messages are only a prelude to the terror that comes out when night falls.


Yeah, whatever, I saw the Grudge and thought the hair was gross too.

It’s actually a fairly promising concept, though a limited one. The game is split into days and nights over the course of several days. By day, Miki searches the house for clues as to what’s going on and tries to figure out whether she’s going insane. By night, however, she’s terrorized by a crawling horror she has to run and hide from in order to survive until morning. The problem with that is, the game has ten different hiding spots, and during each chase sequence, you have to find and hide in a specific spot to make the monster go away, with all the others resulting in either immediate death or a continued chase. Not only is there no way to tell which hiding space offers safety, but it’s also impossible to tell what is a hiding space to begin with. There’s no visual indicator, and during normal exploration the text won’t imply you could hide in that particular spot if you examine it, so the end result is a frustrating, repetitive slog as you try and fail over and over. Or get caught and suffer instant death, since the monster is faster than you. Or just cave and use the guide thoughtfully included in the download by vgperson since the game is virtually impossible to complete without it.


Yeah, whatever, I hate you too Paranoiac.

That’s not just annoying, it’s plain bad game design, and a problem you see crop up a lot in adventure games. The solution always makes absolute sense to the author, because they thought of it, but they fail to take into consideration that other people might not operate on whatever Martian wackadoo wavelengths they apparently are and give insufficient direction. This is, sadly, echoed in the daylight portion of the gameplay, which suffers from not just boredom, but the same flawed design. It consists solely of watching a short cutscene or two, and tramping back and forth looking for more keys to unlock more doors. There are a few puzzles, sort of, but the muddy visuals and vague as hell clues means more trial and error than actual deduction. It’s exactly the sort of game I would design if I hated adventure game fans and felt they should be punished.

All of this might be overlooked, however, if you were hooked into the story. I mentioned bad writing earlier, and, well, I suppose that’s not entirely fair. It’s not like it’s the original Resident Evil or anything… it’s just very stilted and bland. Figuring out what, exactly, is going on is a great incentive, and the game is adept at shocking scenes. In fact, if you’re a die-hard scare fan the repeated jump scares will be incentive enough to play, and some are both creative and very effective… even if the mostly rigid day/night gameplay cycle means you’ll see most of them coming. The game has the potential to be a fascinating character study as Miki flees for her life but struggles with what she believes is her decaying sanity in the process.

Of course, having potential and following through with it are two entirely different things, and the final nail in the coffin is that Miki is too stupid to function. She doesn’t behave like a real human being, and if your plot calls for a character to continually do stupid, stupid, stupid things solely because the plot couldn’t continue if she didn’t, your plot is a failure. It’s impossible to care about Miki, who blunders dully into obvious danger over and over, while deciding to stay into the house after being attacked over and over by a crawling torso. Even if you decide to cut her some slack when she awakens blearily after the first attack in the cupboard she hid in all night claiming it must have been a dog, this doesn’t just happen once. It happens five times over nearly a week, and there is no reason whatsoever for her to not leave the house. Other than Darwinism, I guess. 



While it may offer some shock scares and even have a halfway decent story rattling around in there somewhere, though not as decent as the movie it feels inspired by, as a game Paranoiac is far too deliberately obtuse and poorly designed to really succeed. If you’re willing to cut the developer some slack since it’s an earlier game, love jump scares and don’t mind restarting, Paranoiac may still be worth checking out, and its willingness to try to tackle actual emotional and mental issues is admirable. But, again, as an actual game with gameplay, for my money, Paranoiac can’t overcome its poor design to really be recommended unless you’re absolutely famished for horror.

Review: Katawa Shoujo (Four Leaf Studios)


Platform: Mac, PC, Linux

Developer: Four Leaf Studios

Genre:Eroge Visual Novel

Recommended Age: 18+

Who’s It For: People more interested in story over gameplay. Also, boobies.

Available Free Via Torrent On Official Site

It’s hard not to form an opinion about Four Leaf Studios’ flagship visual novel title, Katawa Shoujo, without even playing it. I mean, come on. It bills itself as an adult game with sexual content and the name translates to Disability Girls. It sounds more than a little exploitative and shallow. The truth is, however, that while there are times when Katawa Shoujo’s attempt to tell a story is undermined by instances of gratuitous T-and-A-and-V, it rarely feels as though its outright fetishizing its cast, and there’s an unexpected genuine heart beating within its breast. It, uh. Just wants you to grope that breast a little too.

Not a single changeling among them, either. What a rip-off.

Within the game, you’re Hisao Nakai, a boy who discovers he has an extremely dangerous congenital heart defect in the most dramatic fashion possible… by collapsing at the feet of the girl confessing her feelings to him in the middle of winter. If that isn’t the ultimate way to avoid going out with a girl, I don’t know what is, so I guess plus one for commitment? Unfortunately for Hisao, it doesn’t matter if he was interested, since as soon as he gets out of the hospital four months later, he discovers he’s bound for Yamaku Academy. The school is exclusively for students with disabilities, ostensibly so they can all have round-the-clock access to any medical care they might need and be in a positive environment rather than one where they would be seen as an oddity. Because, you know, nothing says “nothing has changed, you’re just like everyone else” to a kid who’s struggling to cope with major life changes than making sure they’re almost totally isolated from “everyone else”.

The ultimate goal is to find a positive romance with one of the eligible ladies in school, who range from Shizune, whose deafness and inability to talk doesn’t hamper her fiercely competitive nature and frightening intelligence, to Hanako, who seems to have retreated from the real world entirely into an almost childlike state of constant fear and nervousness after a tragedy left her covered in burns. Each girl is vastly different and comes with her own baggage… not just related to her disabilty as you might think. With nothing so complex as stats to manage, the game is largely comprised of reading interactions between yourself and the characters, and, very occasionally, choosing one of two options that will determine who you end up with and how good the relationship ends up being. This is harder than it sounds, since the game eschews more common romance simulation ideas like obvious good/bad choices (“You look nice today” versus “I killed and puppy and ate it”) for forcing you to actually think about the girls’ personalities on a deeper level and the reasons they might feel the way they do instead of just blindly trying to please them. And of course, since this is an eroge title, I also mean please them with the sleaziest eyebrow waggle possible, as each relationship includes varying amounts of explicit sexual content.

It’s because she’s unpleasantness incarnate and you’re a whiner.

So… how sexy is it? Not very. Still, it’s worth mentioning that in some instances, getting a rise out of the reader doesn’t always seem to be the intention, and you have a few scenes that display an almost painfully tender intimacy in the coy dialogue that actually does serve to develop a bit of character. On the other hand, certain sex scenes aren’t just bafflingly out of place, like an anal experiment in a supply shack, but feel so forced and unnatural that its almost creepy. Hanako’s arc in particular, which continually paints her as so frail and childlike in mentality that the tone and progression, combined with her passive involvement, feels downright disturbing. The implication almost winds up being that she needs your weiner to cure her, and coming from a character with deep-seated emotional, mental, and physical trauma, that’s almost as insulting as it is unsettling. There’s also the fact that every single one of the characters involved in these scenes is underage, which is still uncomfortable even if that includes Hisao himself given how incredibly explicit some of them are.

Understand, I am neither condemning nor endorsing the sexual content in this game. Some people would argue that real life isn’t censored, and I would of course agree, but this isn’t real life. This is a video game about a bunch of kids by legal definition, whatever your personal feelings or arguments about that may be. And by including so much clearly gratuitous sexual content, they have made the decision to limit their audience, especially since so much of the sex is not only almost jarringly out of place at times, but is often treated like a magical bandaid or the only way to display a culmination of a relationship. All of this is largely the reason why it never got a review over at JayisGames, since it would be outside of the content we allow within our ratings, but also, guys… Katawa Shoujo is barely a game, even from a visual novel standpoint. Imagine a Choose Your Own Adventure novel as long as your average George R R Martin opus, with only twelve or so tiny choices to be made in it. Which would be bad enough, except it can be impossible to tell what impact those seemingly inconsequential choices will wind up having in the story’s progression. It’s frustrating, since your inability to really direct Hisao in his interactions with people leaves you feeling largely uninvolved with events as they unfold, and even annoyed when he lets stupid things happen that could be easily avoided or resolved.

That feel.

So why play then? Well, despite a disappointing lack of player involvement and some characters that read like a list of tropes being ticked off, the more well developed characters and smooth writing still makes for a surprisingly engrossing experience. Kenji and his deliberately over-the-top misogynistic rants are always popular, even if they drag on, but the rest of the cast is interesting and even surprisingly relatable too. Emi in particular, who doesn’t let her prosthetic legs keep her down on the track field, winds up being a remarkably complex, realistic, and even inspirational character. There’s also no denying that there is some serious talent at work here, since the writing is generally top notch and the game even features a decent amount of animated scenes that look professionally done to go with its beautiful artwork. Unfortunately, not a single frame of that artwork is devoted to punting Misha Team Rocket-style into the sky every time she opens her mouth. “Wahahahaha~!” Uuuuugggggh.

Ultimately, and somewhat surprisingly, Katawa Shoujo does seem to be pushing the concept of acceptance and inspiration over ogling the disabilities here on display from a sexual standpoint. While some of the cast may feel stereotypical, they’re at least stereotypical characters and not walking disabilities with boobs. There aren’t enough games out there that represent people with disabilities except in the most token way possible, and they’re rarely represented as the stars. Kawata Shoujo largely means well, but its decision to limit its audience with (sometimes questionable) sex means the potential for cultural impact is sorely lessened. It’s well written and produced, and Four Leaf Studios is clearly comprised of some sincerely talented individuals, but Katawa Shoujo makes some poor choices both as a game and as a means of conveying a story. For representing an often neglected part of society in a surprisingly honest and gentle fashion, Katawa Shoujo deserves some recognition, and I hope the next title from its developers undertakes can be appreciated and received by a wider audience to take the full impact it has to offer.