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Posts Tagged ‘puzzle’

Backlog Tackling, 2016 Edition

As with the old Gaming Roundups, which I addressed last time, another annual feature of this blog was a backlog assessment. However, unlike in previous posts, a photo of my current backlog will not accompany this year’s entry. Roughly half of my backlog nowadays is digital, so the best overview of the games I have yet to finish, or even start, is at the Backloggery. As you can see, as of this posting, there is… a good amount. Some of these are games I will never, ever go back to, usually either due to lack of interest or an annoying issue I have with the game itself (oh hi, Crayon Physics Deluxe!). However, the vast majority are games I genuinely want to play and beat.

Parin from <i>Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure</i>.To start off my 2016 gaming, I chose a title which is representative of my favorite type of game: quirky, mid-tier, colorful, reasonably polished, and Japanese. This game was Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure, an action RPG of sorts by Nihon Falcom, the folks behind my beloved Ys series. I had actually gotten this game for free; before Valve (understandably) banned this sort of practice, publisher Mastiff gave away Steam keys in exchange for Greenlight votes and joining the official group. Seeing as how I would’ve voted for it anyway, signing up for this promotion was a no-brainer. Gurumin, which took me roughly a week to beat, was more or less what I expected: somewhat janky in places—the pacing of the localized voiced dialogue, the slightly imperfect platforming, the graphical glitches at the edges of the screen—but otherwise a decent little story-light game with lovingly-crafted graphics. Drill-wielding heroine Parin is a likable protagonist, and the world she inhabits is rather charming. It’s the type of very good all-ages game that I don’t see too often nowadays outside of Nintendo’s titles and a few other places, and certainly very rarely on PC.

A couple of days after starting Gurumin, I fired up my first lengthy turn-based RPG for this year: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. A 3DS port of a never-localized Sega Saturn game, this is, technically, the oldest JRPG I’ve played in some time, and it shows. Besides the usual low-budget MegaTen trappings, Soul Hackers‘ demon conversation system and certain other gameplay bits are a touch cruder than those that have come along since the late 90s. The story is very 90s as well: it takes place in a fully networked city where a Second Life-esque virtual world is being beta tested. The player character, a member of the hacker group Spookies, becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving demons, summoners, and the city’s advanced intranet. It’s not bad, especially since there are “hacks” available that allow you to make the game less frustrating on the fly; I have the “automap” one on almost all the time. As of this writing, I’m still playing it, but given recent story developments, I hope to beat it sometime next week.

The third game I started this year, which was also the first one beaten, was Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe, a very different kind of falling block puzzle game. The basic conceit is that, instead of moving or rotating the pieces that fall, you play a little person inside of the well who uses its gun to destroy individual or adjoining blocks of a single color. A row of deadly spikes on the well’s bottom incentivizes you not to clear the board, and, in a similar bending of typical match-three mechanics, there’s no real penalty for stacking blocks too high, at least in the standard single-player mode. Throw in various obstacles, such as cannons which sometimes fall in place of blocks, a few power-ups, unlockable outfits and challenge stages (neither of which I’ve paid much attention to), and collectible gems, and that’s pretty much the game.

It’s a neat combination, and although the requirements to “beat” each stage are somewhat dull (accumulate a set number of large gems over an unlimited number of games), it also makes the game a bit less daunting than certain other falling block games I could name. Even so, I don’t think it has what it takes to join the lofty ranks of recent-ish hybrid puzzlers like 10000000 or Puzzle & Dragons. There is too little variety in the blocks, for one thing—it would’ve been great to see the difficulty slowly ramped up in the form of additional block colors, instead of trickier types of cannons, etc. falling from above. The platforming end of things gets kind of samey after awhile, too. Although the game is fun in short bursts, in general, “Deluxe” seems like a bit too generous an adjective to attach to its name.

So, that’s where I stand so far in my 2016 gaming. There’s still a lot left, of course, particularly when it comes to JRPGs. My main worry in all this is that the games themselves will become chores more than diversions, but hopefully I can pace myself so that won’t be a problem. Wish me luck!


2015 Gaming Selections

For several years, I posted “roundups” of all of the games I played in a given year. After the 2011 edition, I lapsed on this and have not written one since. Having to remember every game I played in a 20xx and write up a little something about it got to be tedious, and didn’t play well with my inherent laziness.

All that is why, when I decided to revive this feature, it was with new restrictions. This time, I will be covering only ten games: those which left the strongest impressions on me within a given year, regardless of release date. This restriction also enables me to write a bit more about each game.

So, without further ado, here’s my ten for 2015, presented in the order in which I played them. Following each title is the developer/author, the platform I played the game on, the release year on said platform, and my obligatory summary. They are not ranked, except for my personal Game of the Year and its runner-ups, which were relatively easy choices, at least for this installment.

Mighty GunvoltMighty Gunvolt
Inti Creates | 3DS | 2014
Although I am not a big fan of anything that resembles Mega Man, this game charmed the pants off of me. Few “retro” style games that truly want to be “retro” ever come close to the faithfulness to the era that Mighty Gunvolt achieves: here, it really does feel like you’re playing an NES game. The art and music are lovingly crafted, as is the localization from the original Japanese, which sprinkles bits of “Engrish” throughout. The biggest aspect which feels “modern” is the difficulty, which isn’t as punishing as its predecessors, but that’s all for the better.

<i>Octodad: Dadliest Catch</i>Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Young Horses | Windows | 2014
And on the opposite end of the spectrum is Octodad, which forces the player to unlearn everything they know about controlling video game characters. The player character is a giant octopus masquerading as a human surburban father, and controlling him—through a scheme where arms and legs are affiliated with analog sticks and shoulder buttons—is as difficult as you might expect, given the circumstances. Not drawing suspicion to yourself in your everyday life is the goal of the game, a lighthearted sitcom of a tale which comes complete with a catchy theme song (but no laugh track, thankfully). Although a certain part came off as slightly unfulfilling, there’s nothing else that would cause me not to recommend this.

<i>Gone Home</i>Gone Home
The Fullbright Company | Windows | 2013
This is one of those games I put off playing for awhile due to the neverending hype and discussion surrounding it, but I finally did so this year. What it ended up being was an exploration through a massive old house that was alternately nostalgic, goofy, and suspenseful, a miniature 1990s teenage soap opera told in first-person in-between references to Bratmobile and The X-Files. That this tightly crafted, intimate little story generated as much controversy as it did is bewildering. Gone Home is—somehow, bizarrely, sadly—groundbreaking for the video game medium in its everyday mundanity and small human dramas, but it’s also good, and hopefully this sort of thing will become more commonplace in the future.

<i>PixelJunk Eden</i>PixelJunk Eden
Q-Games | Windows | 2012
I play few platformers anymore, not so much for lack of interest (Kirby burnout notwithstanding), as that there haven’t been any really good ones in awhile. I came to PixelJunk Eden not knowing much about it, but finding within it just the refreshing sort of platformer I needed. The visual style is minimalist overall, but can get pleasantly noisy sometimes in a structured Sonic Youth sort of way, and it’s accompanied by some cool electronic music and suitable sound effects. The physics are floaty but believable; the diminutive player character moves around like it’s in water. Although the paths weren’t always clear and, thus, it became way too easy to get lost in certain late-game levels, I had a really good time with PixelJunk Eden.

<i>You Must Build a Boat</i>You Must Build a Boat
EightyEightGames | Windows | 2015
This game, the follow-up to 10000000, almost didn’t make this list. It’s on here because I returned to the game again, months after first beating it, to go after more crew members and achievements. That’s when I fell back into its rhythms. With more tile types and general complexity than 10000000, my original feeling was that You Must Build a Boat was too overwhelming, and somewhat inelegant. Somehow, this doesn’t matter any longer. Its density and mechanics have their own kind of beauty and rhythm, and it has proven itself to be just as well-balanced and addictive. That, plus the new rooms and crew members that get added over the course of the game gives it more character than 10000000 ever had. That’s not to say that YMBAB is better than 10000000, but it is most definitely a worthy successor.

<i>Roundabout</i>Roundabout
No Goblin | Windows | 2014
This game is unlike anything else out there. It’s got a groovy 1970s setting complete with funk music, rounded chunky fonts, trippy drug references, and suitably toned live-action FMVs. The story centers around Georgio Manos (pictured), a silent protagonist and up-and-coming revolving limousine driver. With the support of her comrades, she ferries people all over town and deals with various bits of drama. Oh yes, and as her title implies, her limo does indeed revolve around and around while she drives, which is where the challenge comes in. It’s all very silly, a little bit difficult, rather fun (and funny), and over all too quickly.

Neko Atsume: Kitty CollectorNeko Atsume: Kitty Collector
Hit-Point | iPhone | 2014
My husband and I waffled on trying this out for ages, and a patch from earlier this year which added an English-language option basically gave us little excuse. So, one day over the US Thanksgiving weekend, we each downloaded Neko Atsume from Apple’s App Store. What a great decision that was. A few times a day, after setting out food and toys, we check to see which stupidly cute, beady-eyed cats have visited us. Another aspect which has won us over: it’s free to play, with microtransactions available, but we’ve never once felt the pressure to buy any extra gold fish (the top-level in-game currency). We just take our time and enjoy these adorable digital felines at our leisure.

———

<i>Hatsune Miku: Project mirai DX</i>Third Place
Hatsune Miku: Project mirai DX
SEGA | 3DS | 2015
I’m afraid I might be biased when it comes to this choice: I’m a fan of Vocaloids, and Miku in particular, plus I also have a soft spot for both Nendoroid figures and tactile rhythm games. Project mirai DX features a robust selection of songs featuring music software developer Crypton’s beloved stable of Vocaloids: classics, fan favorites, and lesser-known tracks spanning a nice range of styles and BPMs, from many of the best producers in the scene. There are even a few songs with additional vocals supplied by special guest GUMI (aka Megpoid), a Vocaloid published by Internet Co. Ltd. All of the characters are represented in their chibi Nendoroid forms, thanks to a collaboration with Good Smile Company, and have a certain lively appeal to them that the blander, regularly-proportioned Project DIVA models lack.

The touchscreen-based gameplay mode is a joy to play (the button-based one isn’t too shabby either, though not as much fun), and there are several diversions—a room to decorate, character outfits, reversi and Puyo Puyo minigames, a music player, etc.—that are entertaining ways to take a break from the main rhythm section every so often. Despite the rare misstep (such as a certain pair of popular but overly repetitive songs), it’s a must-have for 3DS-owning Vocaloid fans, and probably the best rhythm game on the system overall.

<i>Analogue: A Hate Story</i>Second Place
Analogue: A Hate Story
Love Conquers All Games | Windows | 2012
Stories with a strong sociological bent are still relatively hard to find in games. While my 2015 manga slate was filled with brilliantly humane works like Vinland Saga, My Love Story!!, and Assassination Classroom, there hasn’t been much like those on my gaming one. Analogue: A Hate Story is one of the rare exceptions. Like (the absolutely amazing, seriously it’s a masterpiece) Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Analogue is a feminist examination of a specific period in Asian history. In this case, it’s an extremely repressive Korean society recreated on a long-lost starship, whose story is told through the logs maintained by, and the commentary of, a pair of AIs named *Hyun-ae and *Mute.

What follows from there is a dense, intertwined tale of family, hierarchy, social expectation, doomed romance, dashed expectations, and horrific violence, with the occasional bits of humor, which helps lighten the mood from time to time and rounds out the characters. It’s a gripping tale, one as fine as in any good comic or prose story I read this year, and I’m looking forward to playing its sequel, Hate Plus, in the year ahead. In fact, Analogue was all set to be my personal Game of the Year, but then something else came out…

<i>The Beginner's Guide</i>First Place: Game of the Year
The Beginner’s Guide
Everything Unlimited Ltd. | Windows | 2015
I really don’t know where to start with this one without giving away what happens during a certain scene, a scene that matters so much when it comes to how this story is ultimately interpreted. When that scene happened, I understood much more, but only to a point. By the time the game ends, there’s at least two apparent large plot holes and some uncomfortable unanswered questions, which aren’t helped by the fact that the entire thing has been narrated by Davey Wreden, the creator of The Beginner’s Guide, seemingly playing himself. There’s also that cryptic dedication…

I’m going to dig further into this now, and although I won’t reference anything too specifically, there might be some parts that could be considered spoilers, so turn around if you need to.

Okay? Good.

The Beginner's GuideWhat The Beginner’s Guide is ultimately about (or at least it seems so to me) is audiences, the great bugbear of creators everywhere, and how uncontrollable they are. It left much the same impression on me as The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, which dealt with a similar theme on multiple levels. In that film, which is based on true events, an inventor does amazing, innovative work but finds that his lofty ideals don’t line up with reality. Such is the situation in The Beginner’s Guide, where Davey takes us through a tour of the works of “Coda”, a friend who has dabbled in game development before suddenly stopping. Who Coda is and what their works really mean is beside the point. It is Davey and his presentation of Coda’s games which really matters here.

The result is a fascinating, but somewhat worrying, journey through all sorts of unfinished first-person games. There are a lot of dialogues that go nowhere, enclosed spaces, and strange surprises. Davey is not wrong to have interpretations of these creations. The wrongness that is present becomes evident later on, and, in the end, I don’t blame Coda for their actions, though perhaps they were somewhat naive in how they handled their games. It’s an interesting and ultimately heart-wrenching story about creation, interpretation, modification, and everything in between. I wonder if anyone who isn’t a creative type of some sort would get it. I wonder, like many others, if this is based on something which really happened. I do not wonder if this sort of thing continues to happen in the real world, because I know it does. It sucks, but it still happens. It happens to a lot of us, and though it might take awhile, things will be okay again.


E3, and a Gaming Update

I wasn’t excited for E3 this year. Of the games I knew that were coming out, there wasn’t much that I absolutely needed to see more of, and my anticipation for the as-yet-unannounced was low. It turns out that I was right to skip the Microsoft and Sony press conference streams, as there was practically nothing of interest to me in the liveblogs that I read (well, there was Halo 4, but I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers for it at the moment). The following day, I caved and watched Nintendo’s presser, but found it to be sorely lacking.

After several days’ worth of coverage, only one new game piqued my interest, and that was “Project P-100”, a crowd management action title, directed by Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya, that seems to have gotten barely any attention from the press at all. This game is similar to his earlier Viewtiful Joe in its Super Sentai aesthetic, and the basic concept of controlling a crowd that turns into weapons to beat giant villains is pretty awesome. The one thing about this game that came as a disappointment was that it is for WiiU, a system I don’t have any interest in getting. Other than that, and a welcome reminder that the 3DS Paper Mario exists and is on its way, there wasn’t anything for me.

In the meantime, I’ve been continuing on with my main personal goal for 2012: reducing my backlog as much as possible. April is the current record-holder month with seven games beaten, including one (Soul Nomad & the World Eaters) that took me nearly 45 hours, and the two Pinky:st DS titles that I reviewed in my previous post. Some highlights these past few months include the DS remake of Dragon Quest VI, massively moe and just plain charming doujin shop sim/dungeon crawler Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, bare-bones browser-based JRPG Parameters, fantastic expansion pack Tropico 4: Modern Times, and Pokemon White Version, which I’ve written about before and was top-notch all around.

There was also Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, played co-op with my Halo-detractor husband. We had a good time, playing the game with the new graphics and old soundtrack, though I have some quibbles regarding the former. The new maps are brightly lit compared to the original versions, which, along with the whole co-op thing, made the game’s scariest moment a bit less so. Also, some of the new character models were lacking, especially Sergeant Johnson and 343 Guilty Spark. More than anything, I’m now cautiously optimistic about Halo 4.

I also played a couple of platformers, namely The Legendary Starfy on DS and Ratchet & Clank for PS2. Starfy was a decent game with a lot of character, but it was also much wordier than I expected, with more cutscenes than is average for a platformer. Ratchet is not as good as its first-party brethren Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus and also has some irritating bugs. However, the weapon/gadget system at its heart is well thought-out, and the storytelling, which is similar in tone to Jak and Sly, is enjoyable enough.

There have been a smattering of others, including the two Izuna games, mystery dungeons with an emphasis on humor and fanservice, and, on the negative side, vague endings that lack so much as a credit roll or “The End” text before dumping the player into Postgame Territory. I also beat the puzzle game RUSH and attempted to play EDGE, but the bad controls and mediocre design of the latter led me to quit. Finally, over the weekend I played through Breath of Death VII, a parody RPG that resembles an early Dragon Quest and contains jokes and references that range from the silly to the sillier; despite some design quirks, it’s well worth a play if you love the genre.

That’s it for what I’ve beaten these past few months. As for what I’m actively playing right now, I’m approaching the end of “The Journey”, aka the main game in Persona 3 FES. This RPG has been unlike most others I’ve ever played, in a good way, and I hope to write about it at length later on. I’m also playing Dance Dance Revolution again (SuperNOVA 2, specifically); after a long ordeal, a couple of new, working pads arrived yesterday.

Once I wrap up “The Journey”, I plan to put Persona 3 FES aside for awhile before taking on the bonus episode “The Answer”. Right now, I’m considering starting de Blob 2 and/or Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 as my next game (or games). As usual, we’ll see.


The Annual Backlog Update of Doom

It’s a new year, which means the annual status report on my backlog. I would’ve had this up sooner was I not waiting on Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey to arrive from Play-Asia. This was one of seven(!) console and handheld games I ordered for myself shortly before the New Year. Then there’s Sonic Chronicles, purchased at Best Buy after Christmas, plus a not insignificant number of computer games purchased during Steam’s amazing Holiday Sale. All this plus my preexisting Pile of Shame adds up to a mountain of games to pick and choose from in 2012.

What have I gotten myself into? DX

My DS backlog has become particularly large with fourteen entries, at least half of which are RPGs. The Xbox 360 and PC piles have grown some as well, as has the Wii one, which was nonexistent this time last year. The GameCube stack is unchanged, and the PS2 one has shrunken, but only slightly. All in all, the number of console and handheld games this year comes to thirty-five; add in PC/Mac, and it’s closer to fifty, which is more than double the tally from last year.

This growth, particularly on the DS side, was largely fueled by my wanting to pick up certain out-of-print games before they became impossible to find. There’s also the matter of my not being able to beat many games last year, thanks to certain real-life factors. Therefore, my goal this year is to beat at least twenty-five games, which would be a marked improvement from last year’s seventeen.

Here are my must-play games for 2012, in no particular order:

  • Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES – Now that Rogue Galaxy has been beaten (and thoroughly enjoyed), Persona 3 is the candidate best-suited to fill its shoes as the Game I’ve Had in My Backlog Since Forever That I Really Should Play.
  • Half-Life – As was the case with Halo, I feel that I ought to play this FPS.
  • Bayonetta
  • Tales of the Abyss – I think I’m about due for another fun Tales experience.
  • Last Window: The Secret of Cape West – Yet not before replaying Hotel Dusk.
  • Soul Nomad and the World Eaters
  • Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village
  • The Legendary Starfy
  • Suikoden V

Going by previous backlog posts, I’ll probably end up playing somewhere between a third and half of this list, and one or two games will make repeat appearances on next year’s. We’ll see how it goes.


The 2011 Backlog Report

My Christmas break was longer than expected, thanks to the bad weather, but I’m back home now and catching up on crucial tasks, like changing the look of my Backloggery. While I was away, I finally became the Champion in Pokemon Platinum, started and beat the iPad version of Plants vs. Zombies, picked up a couple of PS2 games in decent condition at Gamestop of all places (a new Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love—it was the last copy and had a beat-up outer box, but the game case itself is sealed— and a used Baroque), got a DS game on sale at Best Buy (Picross 3D), and started Rune Factory 3 and the aforementioned Picross 3D. Upon returning home, yet another new game was added to the pile: Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a Christmas present that I wasn’t able to open until last night. There are other late gifts, but I’m not sure any games will be among them; this might be a good thing, given the current state of my backlog.

DD:

When I wrote last January’s backlog report, twenty-two game cases stood on my desk shelf. Counting Metroid Prime Trilogy as three distinct titles, this meant a total of twenty-five games. This year, there are twenty cases and twenty-one titles—World of Goo is currently sitting, unplayed, on one of my hard drives—but the number of RPGs is as unwieldy as ever. And yes, I still haven’t played Rogue Galaxy.

Speaking of which, there were three other 2009 must plays that I didn’t get around to: Nocturne, Persona 3 FES, and Tales of the Abyss. I did play the others, and, save for Chrono Cross, greatly enjoyed each one of them.

Here are my must-play games for 2010, in no particular order:
Rogue Galaxy – Because, seriously, this is starting to get ridiculous.
Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 – Might start this one later in the week, actually.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 – It’s been awhile since I’ve dug into a tactical RPG.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes – Like FFTA2, a game I had intended to play last year.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Ratchet and Clank
Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja
World of Goo
Professor Layton and the Curious Village

How many of them will I get through, or even just start? Stay tuned.

My annual roundup, where I post brief impressions of all the games I played in the past year will be up shortly. Also, I will start keeping my annual Beaten Games tabs here from now on (I’ve got a post at the CAG forums’ current Completed Games thread I might use, too). As for the old tabs, they will be migrated here along with most all of my other game-related posts from LiveJournal; having seen this past year how ad-heavy that site has gotten, I feel this would be for the best. Anyway, more to come…


Braincrumbs: Mini Reviews

The busy holiday season is upon us, and over the past couple of weeks, I have bought half a dozen games—not as gifts, but for myself. So far, I’ve played two of these, and have also beaten one of my older backlogged titles. Instead of doing entire posts for these games, which I was strongly considering for two of them, here are some capsule reviews which hopefully cover the core essence of each title.

In Which Chopin is a Bishie Who Dreams he’s in a JRPG: Eternal Sonata

What would the real Chopin have thought of Eternal Sonata?

I have a soft spot for games from early on in a console’s life. They’re an interesting glimpse into what developers were thinking back then in regards to a new platform. What are their priorities? How are graphics approached? What holdovers from the previous gen are apparent?

Eternal Sonata is one such game. It was the first major third-party JRPG on the Xbox 360, greeted with much fanfare by followers of the genre. However, it might also be seen as a sign of things to come, as JRPGs have yet to really find their footing on the high-definition consoles (meanwhile, handheld JRPGs are going through what might be termed a golden age, but that’s a topic for another time).
 
As one would expect from a game inspired by a composer, Eternal Sonata is musically lush, and the voice acting ranks up there with the Tales series in terms of quality. The anime-styled graphics are drop-dead gorgeous, though the animation is merely decent and the environments are more constrained and linear than you would expect. Eternal Sonata also features an engaging battle system that meshes turn-based and action gameplay, with a light and shadow component for special moves that is wholly dependent on the environment. Blocking and counterattacking moves are available, but these require extremely precise timing to pull off, and thus leave much to be desired. One of the characters also has the ability to take photos during battle, but the only thing that this feature is useful for is in amassing large amounts of money (photos can be sold at shops), and feels like a novelty at best, and a wasted opportunity (on the developers’ part) at worst.
 
Ostensibly, the story is about a dream that famed composer Frederic Chopin has while on his deathbed, and his questioning of this dream’s very nature. However, it is also the story of the heroine, Polka, a terminally ill teenage girl with magical powers. There are a few things in the story that don’t make sense, but thanks to good pacing and solid (if cliched at times) characterization, the game progresses in such a way as to lead one to believe that all will be answered by the end. However, in terms of plotting, the final chapter is a mess, and the ending is long, pretentious, and only led to more questions. The final boss, though startling at first, made sense; unfortunately, its abrupt emergence matched the haphazard tone of the entire ending.
 
There’s an Opera out on the Turnpike: Audiosurf

Screenshots don't do this game justice.

I have only been playing the PC game Audiosurf for a little under a week, and already, it’s my favorite game out of those that I’ve played this year. In fact, I was ready to post about this under Game Love, not Reviews; declare it the greatest music game of all time; and make room for it in my Holy Trifecta of Puzzle Games (Panel de Pon, Puyo Puyo, and Tetris). I don’t know if “quadfecta” is a real word, though.

Audiosurf, like many ingenious works, is simple in both form and function. Essentially, it is what would happen if you took an audio visualizer and mixed it with a match-three puzzle game. Plug in any audio file, and as long as it’s in a supported format, Audiosurf will generate a track out of it, complete with peaks, valleys, and lots of little colored pieces to collect for mad points. There are a handful of different characters to choose from, including a few that allow for two-player games. The Mono characters are the most basic of them all, and a good place to start for beginners; the colored blocks are all the same, and all one has to worry about is dodging the useless grey ones. When playing as one of the others, multiple colored pieces show up on the field at the same time, along with power-ups, and things really start to get hectic.

The graphics settings are quite flexible, plus a handful of optional sound effects are available. There’s also a set of achievements, but what really adds to the fun are the online leaderboards; there’s ones for each individual song that’s played with the game. Pick an obscure enough song and you could be the global champion at it, but of course, the real competition lies in the better-known stuff.

One of the most surprising things about Audiosurf is that it’s making me a better listener. Playing a track in the game, I find myself paying more attention to lyrics, instrumentation, and BPM. Regarding that last thing, some songs, like Michael Jackson’s “Wanna be Startin’ Somethin'” sound slower to me in Audiosurf than they do normally.

All in all, despite an interface that isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing thing ever, plus a tutorial mode that’s rough around the edges, this is an incredible game and a must-have for music lovers. By the way, I’m R. Kasahara on the official site, and if you have any doubts about Audiosurf, go see it in motion.

Snack-Size Diablo: Torchlight

Here's what my Destroyer and his dog looked by the end of the story.

This is the most recent RPG I beat, and the first WRPG I’ve ever gotten to the end of. Torchlight, available for Windows and Mac OS X, is often described as a Diablo clone, but it’s one whose pedigree includes former staffers at Diablo home Blizzard North. Naturally, Torchlight has some of that Blizzard Touch™ about it, without the full-on robustness of that studio’s regular output. This lack of depth isn’t really a problem, though, since it’s a quality game made on a small scale by a small studio, and a good value at its full price of $20.

The story in Torchlight is pretty bare-bones. There’s mysterious happenings in the mines just outside of the town of Torchlight. You’re an adventurer who has come to town, and soon you find yourself teaming up with a woman named Syl in an effort to unravel the mine’s mysteries. It’s not a particularly deep story, but it gets the job done, and features some challenging moments and a tidy conclusion.

What largely kept me playing were the clean, World of WarCraft-style graphics and the satisfying loot grind. I also liked going in knowing that it was a short game—I like Diablo-esque RPGs but find many of them too long and too big. Oddly enough, in the end, the one game that Torchlight reminded me of most was Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer. Shiren is turn-based and a roguelike, but other than that, there’s not much else separating the two: dungeon floors that were just the right size, item limits that were reasonable, the aforementioned story and loot points, the helper character concept, good graphics and music, and above all, plenty of fun to be had. Besides, if you want to play Torchlight in a more hardcore manner, there’s always the harder difficulty settings and permanent death option.