Tag Archives: Imported from Japan

REVIEW: Mysterious Blue Valley

The aura around Mysterious Blue Valley ($1.00) seemed promising at first. A trip to an unknown destination, the allure of a potential job, being taken under the wing of the equally-mysterious ‘Mr. Money’, a rotund fellow who doesn’t believe in wearing shirts to cover his sizable man breasts? Sure, I’ll bite. You should never turn down someone who wishes to be your wealthy benefactor. Sounds vaguely Great Expectations-ish, minus a teasing Gwyneth Paltrow but with a Japanese twist.

Mysterious Blue Valley - Screen

Clearly a metaphor for something.

Of course once we actually get there, it’s an entirely different story. Turns out it’s not really a mysterious valley I find myself in; more an ‘Amphitheater of the Weird’. This isn’t some vacation or job offer, either, it’s just slave labor. ‘Mr. Money’ isn’t paying me squat, can’t afford personal clothing, and orders me around in broken English from his private tent. It’s apparently so terrible, I’m being totally sarcastic with my replies and whispering mean comments behind his back.

I can’t say I blame my in-game self; his instructions sound like the sort of ‘busy work’ no one wants to hear. I’m to walk extremely slow around the stage / amphitheater, turning like a tank, picking up these blue blocks— in specific order— and return to the stage to place them. Without ever letting go, I might add. If I do, or choose the wrong piece, the blocks go flying off into space. Because reasons.

I’m not a quitter, though. Well, not quick to quit. More than a half-hour later, I’ve stacked the fifteen(!) blocks that Mr. Money requested of me. He then tells me someone is watching us, and I set off to follow a shadowy man around the stage until he eventually stops behind the blocks I’ve already placed. It’s then that my not-benefactor assigns me a new mission; climb to the second floor of the stage and collect more blocks. Again, in a specific order. This involves a rope, and for me to be standing in a certain fashion in front of the wall to utilize it. Ditto for jumping back down, after I’ve wrangled the blocks. Four minutes later, I’ve succeeded in placing one of them, with at least a dozen more to go. … … (sigh)

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Nope. I know to hang myself with it.

This is the point in the program where those of us in the business like to say, ‘Fuck that’. There’s other interesting bits I gleaned from the screenshots, like a spider and a green garden hose, but I’ll never see it to its no doubt bizarre conclusion. I’m all for abstract gameplay, but nothing is worth the actual, mind-numbing labor this game puts you through. Not even Mr. Money’s ample breasts.

Mysterious Blue Valley is the kind of project that begs for oversight and playtesting. Anything to prevent it from what it currently is. A far-flung idea is one thing; it’s quite another to make the task so boring and exacting that you alienate whoever picks it up. You could do literally anything else, and it would be a more appropriate use of your time. As such, this is one valley that should remain unexplored.

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REVIEW: FarmFury!

Weighing in at just over forty pounds of quirkiness and furriness, FarmFury! ($1.00) finally answers the burning question of what people in the ‘old days’ did to settle farmland disputes. If you thought they dressed up as animals and then threw mice and cows at each other, all Tower Defense-like, until only one man-imal’s farmhouse was left standing, you would be one hell of a disturbed chap, and you’d be correct.

The game’s anime-style characters are merely window dressing to be pitted against each other, as there is no overall plot or story to follow. Whether or not you’d actually want to learn the backstory of someone named ‘Froggy’, obviously dressed in a frog costume, is a matter of preference (…I kinda would), though the lack of any overarching cohesion between the combatants, or why they’re fighting, means all you’re left with is the Tower Defense part.

And that aspect is rather plain and undercooked. TD games are known for their overly-complex setup and steep learning curve, sometimes dumping obscene amounts of knowledge and rock / paper / scissors formulas onto your plate, then trusting you to sort it all out. FarmFury! is the exception to that rule, giving you only two units, mice and cows, to play both offense and defense with.

FarmFury! - Screen

Rodent problem? Should’ve used d-Con.

As you’d expect, the mice multiply more quickly, whereas the cows are slower to spawn, but pack a bigger punch. Both units can be upgraded a handful of times, and, in a novel approach, everything is bought with the ‘gore’ you and your opponent vacuum(!) up. Yes, finally, we have an in-game economy funded entirely by the viscera of dead animals you Hoover-suck off the battlefield! This injects a little extra strategy, as well, since you’ll need to be proactive to earn cash. It can also turn the tables in a match, as a losing opponent will obviously have much more ‘gore’ on their side of the field to build with.

Unfortunately, all the blood and guts and cat-eared ladies in the world can’t be a substitute for shallow gameplay. Each character carries his or her own ‘special move’, such as the ability to heal units or slow down the unit production of an opponent, but it’s just not enough to maintain a lasting interest when so little differs from match to match. The novelty fades quickly, as once you’ve sparred with the AI or against a friend locally, you’ve seen all there is to FarmFury!

REVIEW: Unholy Heights

I like weird. I am a collector of odd things, I applaud the avant-garde, I don’t squirm in the presence of different. Somebody wants to stuff their dead pets and arrange them around the dinner table as guests, or loop a twenty minute video about Man’s obsession with masturbation and call it art, I’ll buy that ticket. When I heard the premise behind Unholy Heights ($2.99), I gladly stamped my passport to strange.

Part landlord sim, part dating network, part furniture shopper, part Pokémon, working under the label of Tower Defense and coming from Japan, Unholy Heights tries to tuck a little bit of everything under its roof. Rather than using the not-euphemism of ‘throwing shit at a wall to see what sticks’, however, developer Petit Depotto manages to include it all here in a way that makes sense and is entertaining.

As the Devil, renting out apartments to homeless monsters, while seemingly a good deed, is also your modus operandi, as you are merely doing so to build a massive, high HP / MP army of humanity’s worst nightmares. Your tenants unwittingly become soldiers, and missions take the form of varying quests, themselves just waves of enemies to outlast, tower defense-style, in order to earn cash, new furniture options, or advance the storyline.

Much more than window dressing, your monsters’ moods and opinions matter. As the old saying goes, a content demon is a useful demon. This will require you to invest in each monster’s particular brand of happiness, buying furniture and other items they crave, or having a compatible ‘significant other’ (ahem… erotic cakes, anyone?) move in to give a boost to your available infantry. The little things, too, like status messages and what each creature is currently doing, help to give you an understanding of your renters and build a relationship with them as landlord / overlord, one that will prove essential once the battles start.

Knowing who to place on the front lines is key, and changes based on the adventurers you’re fighting against. Even the weather can bring good fortune, as certain allies are stronger during certain conditions. Different aspects to each friend / foe, such as melee, ranged attacks and affinity for magic, will have to be considered, and the game does a mostly solid job in laying out the pros and cons to each quest you undertake, steering you clear of tougher missions until you’ve unlocked the ability to expand your building or attract stronger occupants.

Unholy Heights - Screen

In a way, this can make for a slow-moving crawl towards world domination, though you can speed through the more bland moments (largely) unimpeded, stopping to take on bigger quests or manage your roster of renters. The only real issue I found with the game was its sometimes uneven difficulty, with certain missions harder than others despite lower star / difficulty ratings. You can work around this by saving often, though, and testing the enemy waters before fully committing.

Otherwise, Unholy Heights is very well-done, a quirky, adorkable (yeah, I‘m using that word) game that manages to accent its personality rather than tower defense, a welcome addition to a genre that too often does the exact opposite, drowning players in trial-and-error and bland resource management / unit production. Here, it’s made to be fun and offer meaningful choices / customization. In that, it easily succeeds.

REVIEW: 一>◇

It’s not easy to quantify something like —> <> ($1.00). Not just because it uses hieroglyphics for a title, which is like reviewing the game formerly known as Prince. That it’s Japanese may account for the clash in cultural ideas, though there’s plenty of overseas games that seem eccentric at first glance, but offer a kind of fun ‘different’ that Western developers can’t.  In the case of —> <>, at best, I can say it combines the daftness of Goolin with the growth / assemblage aspect of Pikmin, with only confusing pictograms to use as guidance.

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Not that there’s some great mystery at work in the game, as you (you… the big green God hand) are essentially conscripted to squish grapes, grow trees, then jerk them off to create an escape vehicle for the surviving grapes. You might think I’m funning with you here, though I assure you, —> <> is a one-of-a-kind experience that absolutely advocates you tweaking nature’s… ahem, trunk, for good cause. I guess that makes this kind of like Pikmin for Perverts, as I certainly don’t recall you having to masturbate trees until they turned into spaceships in Captain Olimar’s escape from marooned plight.

Yet, such is the role you play in —> <>, and when the fruits of your labor finally board the ship and take off for parts unknown, you’re assigned a high score (more grapes / ships that escape equals more points), and repeat. Nothing left to discover, no new mechanics get introduced, and no happy ending (save for the trees you’ve touched; sorry, too easy).

There’s a few things to experiment with, like flicking branches to release more grapes, or using the mutated red beans that (supposedly) work as added rocket fuel, though that’s being generous to a game like this, which I can’t see anyone without a morbid curiosity sticking with for longer than the trial. Without more detailed instructions or exposition, it’s entirely on you to ascribe any worth.

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… Another ‘happy customer’.

So while it’s true that this game sells that kind of quirky concept that initially draws you in, it inevitably misfires once the novelty and weirdness of it is stripped away.  —> <>‘s bizarre antics have ruined digital gardening for me, so if you find yourself pining for a bit of the outside world, take a hike in an actual forest. Just do us all a favor and don’t touch the trees, eh.

Rent Apartments to Monsters in ‘Unholy Heights’

Already available on PC and the Japanese XBLIG store, developer Petit Depotto has been readying their monster sim / fighter Unholy Heights for its stateside release. The delay is for good reason; nobody on the development team speaks English.

Never fear. Fresh translation work in hand, the game hits peer review shortly. Taking on the role of the Devil, you settle down to the life of being a landlord, renting out to a variety of monsters (because they need a place to live too). You’ll adjust prices, fix up the place, and battle human ‘heroes’ set on their eviction, leveling up your tenants in preparation for world domination. You’re the Devil, after all, what did you think you were doing this for? With the addictive elements of a management sim combined with Tower Defense, it could be quirky fun.

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Unholy Heights will likely see release soon, and will run you $2.99 (based on other versions). If you want to follow the developer (in Japanese), you can do so here.

Unholy Heights - Screen