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The genesis of Metroid is relatively well known and takes place at the time when the Famicom saw an increase in storage capacity for games. Two directions were taken: the first is well known, it is The Legend of Zelda (1986), with the Dream Team in charge of the project – Miyamoto, Tezuka, Nakago, to name but only a few. A few months after, Metroid was also intended to be a non-linear title in its progression, but for the action-platformer genre. The team was different, as it was led by Satoru Okada and Yoshio Sakamoto, who had won their spurs on ports of arcade titles.
The scenario is more elaborate than the majority of the titles of the time and is backed with an extensive lore in the manual: we play as Samus Aran, who has to find the Metroids, stolen by the space pirates. These are holed up on the planet Zebes, which serves as the main exploration site. If the influence of The Legend of Zelda, in the non-linear construction of the world and the quest for objects to facilitate exploration, is obvious, Metroid innovates by its claustrophobic aspect. The cramped environments force anxiety, which the music often compliments. Brinstar, as the first locale, has heroic flights in its melody, while the bass in Kraid's Hideout creates anxiety with throbbing arpeggios and an ostinato that mimics a heartbeat. The soundtrack clearly plays on this carnal side, especially in Ridley's Hideout or in the secret rooms: strangeness is invited by chaos or silence, which take hold of the throat. The influence of Alien (1979) is undeniable and documented.
It is this mysterious, almost frightening side that accompanies the exploration of Zebes. Our initial, very limited arsenal prevents us from moving around as we please. The initial inability to attack ground-crawling enemies makes some sequences more complex than they seem, and it stays a perennial problem. Missiles are an effective expedient against more powerful enemies, but their number is limited, pushing a conservative approach when using them. Only the Screw Attack sets us free, but this is well hidden in a corner of Norfair. For the majority of the game, exploration thus remains a breathless challenge. This exploration, while intended to be organic, can nevertheless be broken down into several sequences – more or less interchangeable. From Brinstar, three zones radiate out and allow us to acquire upgrades. It is possible to explore Brinstar and then Kraid's Hideout; then Norfair and Ridley's Hideout, before tackling Tourian. This last area is the only one that is conditional on exploring other areas, as it is pegged to the death of Kraid and Ridley. Otherwise, it is possible to explore freely, although some passages require a certain amount of creative skill to progress without key items (Ice Beam, High Boots). We can already see the emerging potential of Metroid in this opus, especially the bomb jumping – though it's a bit different from the way it is done in Super Metroid, in that the game sometimes doesn't recognise the B button imput, when you want to drop a bomb in the air.
Beyond these qualities, Metroid is still a NES game and is limited by the technology of its time. Interviews have pointed out that storage was at a premium, so assets had to be reused to compress the size of the game. In practice, this results in rooms that are sometimes very similar, if not absolutely identical. Unfortunately, this makes exploration less iconic and, much more so than in Super Metroid, it seems essential to rely on an external map, as it is very easy to confuse one corridor with another. The lack of eight-way directional shooting feels limiting, especially as Samus can't redirect her gun in the air, leaving her sometimes defenceless against some fast-moving enemies. The game also lacks a bit of visual cueing to guide us through its world. Tourian requires possession of the Ice Beam to freeze the Metroids, but the title is never really clear on this point – admittedly, it places one in Norfair, in a more or less convenient location after facing Ridley, but this is somewhat inelegant. Similarly, some of the secret passages are viciously hidden and require, similar to The Legend of Zelda, the player to bomb every block to ensure it's not crumbly – the situation is even worse with the fake lava lakes. These little hiccups can detract from the quality of the exploration, especially as the difficulty remains generally high.
A quick word on the representation of gender: depending on the speed at which the game is completed, the ending screen may reveal that Samus is a woman; exceptional speed even shows her in a bikini. The inspiration is again Alien, with Ripley. Nevertheless, it is obvious that this choice is still situated in a very sexist environment, to the point where a non-negligible part of the public did not admit that Samus was a woman – Western magazines not helping on this point, notably because of the confusion surrounding the password 'JUSTIN BAILEY'. Fatally, the subversive side of Samus eroded quickly – perhaps less so for the manga? This is illustrated by her sexualisation in Zero Suit Samus, as well as in the themes of Metroid: Other M (2010). In any case, Metroid remains an essential game, even if it has not aged very well and Zero Mission (2004) is far more easily recommended.

Murder by Numbers is based on titles that are very popular with the non-gaming public: nonograms and the Ace Attorney-style investigation game. The mix of reflexive genres seems to make sense, and we're initially pleased with this rather outlandish idea. Playing as Honor Mizrahi, a newly laid-off actress and apprentice detective, we meet SCOUT, who can scan locations for clues, which serve as justifications for various nonograms. The picross grids follow each other through four different cases, which gradually gain in length. These alternate between discussions and puzzles, each one advancing the investigation: it is regrettable that these are rather simple and based on a formula of eliminating the culprits, which makes them rather trivial or uninteresting – the last one is undoubtedly the one that holds the most attention with its high stakes. While the cast of characters works really well and it's nice to have a decidedly progressive discourse on various social issues – despite a few clichés here and there – one can only regret that the actual gameplay mechanics don't mix all that well. There is a kind of narrative imbalance, which nullifies the investigations, excluding the player from the deductive process. There are also quality of life problems, especially with the interface, which lacks ergonomics, or the "sticky" nature of the controls for the picross game. The difficulty of the grids is never exceptional, but it is possible to have to start from scratch, since the title does not offer tools to undo the last markings. With a similar length to Ace Attorney games, Murder by Numbers definitely feels emptier, both because the humour, while charming, never manages to hit home in the same pungent way as its Japanese counterpart, and because the investigations never offer very clever, well-delivered moments. Still, the adventure is really enjoyable and Honor has an undeniable charm, counterbalanced by SCOUT and the rest of the characters. In the end, Murder by Numbers is an interesting attempt with undeniable potential, but it falls a bit flat, due to a lack of finish or budget, which we can only regret.

Derived directly from Italo Calvino's novel, If on a Winter's Night, Four Travelers tells a distinctly chaptered story. The idea remains that of the original writer: a meta-narrative approach that creates a kind of blending between perspectives, associating the player with the characters. In this respect, a video game transposition makes sense, insofar as immersion is the core aspect of the medium. The chapters follow one another, evoking in turn homosexuality in Fascist Italy, reactions to mental illness in interwar England and racism in the world of American medicine. The title thus allows itself some very classical and neat accents, recalling an almost archaic point&click aestheticism: the soft sepia colour palette helps, as does the soundtrack, which invokes Satie, Irving Berlin or Verdi. This archaism is the strength and weakness of the game. At the same time a vibrant tribute to a certain idea of game design, it shows its weaknesses in the sometimes obtuse or uninteresting puzzles. However, some interesting ideas emerge, such as in the first chapter where it is possible to shape the course of events in different directions. More generally, the game directly attacks social and historical issues, without offering any concessions on the cruelty of humanity. The approach is sometimes reminiscent of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, but is less rough and more politically focused. Unfortunately, unlike Calvino's novel, the game never offers an interesting metatextual conclusion to cement its social discourse. It's a pity, because despite this real potential, the title wanders a bit in its pacing, starting from the second half. Besides, the experience remains completely free, which can only evoke praise for such a title.

Pleasantly surprised by this one. What started as a cozy puzzle game about plants turned out to be much more mysterious and intriguing than I thought it would be.
Most of the gameplay will be you looking for the right plant with a slightly vague description from a book and customer. The other part is you looking for those plants. You got a map and throughout the game you get some cryptic clues that point to certain points on that map where you can find plants. I enjoyed this gameplay loop, the clues are never too difficult but still make you think a bit before you know where you have to go. Looking for the plants is fun and made me feel like I actually do know something about plants (I don't lol). The descriptions can sometimes be a bit too vague, especially when you got a lot of plants and some that look really similar.
It takes a while before the story gets going but after a while you'll get some hints of something mysterious happening and your knowledge of plants will play a big part in it. It isn't the best story you've ever seen but it was good enough to get me through the game and it did make everything a bit more interesting.
There is some 'decision' making in the game. During certain moments you'll get to choose which plant you'll give and depending on the abilities of the plant, you decide the fate of a character. It was not always clear what those fates would be to me and the impact on the story was rather light. The game does have multiple endings and I only got one of them and that ending showed what happened to the key characters of the game. Maybe the other endings have a bigger impact.
I did play the game on the Nintendo Switch and while I didn't have any problems with it myself, the controls can be a bit weird. You can feel that this game is designed as a PC game and the text can be small in handheld mode. Luckily you can always zoom in and change the font to be more readable. Just be aware if that type of thing usually affects your enjoyment of a game.
TL:DR
Pleasantly surprised by this game. A puzzle game about plants with a mysterious story that could've been better in some aspects.

I wish there were more deduction games with unique storytelling like this and Return of the Obra Dinn. Abstract puzzle games can be great fun too, but even more so I love getting wrapped up in a setting like this where the narrative supports the construction of mental models needed to make late game deductive leaps. It’s such a joy to realize I’ve become rooted in the invented domain knowledge of a world, if only for a few hours. I also appreciate how the occult bits gives an eerie flavor to what could otherwise be straightforward “cozy”fare.
Some puzzle games stop being fun before they end, and finishing them is an exercise in completionism more than having fun. The best compliment I can offer this is just how excited I was to discover its post-credits narrative that lets me finish IDing the last few plants. I’ll probably do a quick replay to see alternate story endings, too.

Norco

2022

NORCO is so painfully "of the moment", both stylistically, themalically and aesthetically that its undeniably enigmatic and successfully executed atmosphere is robbed of a lot of gravitas by its cloyingly pandering hip-ness.
It's a game that feels as if it is becoming dated as you play it and one that will never be called "timeless". It's clearly class-obsessed but is trope-filled, meaning such themes are barely given any of the fair, in-depth thought they deserve outside of surface-level mentions. Probably saddest of all, the much-lauded writing amounts to C-tier work, at best, in the pantheon of amazing PC Game writing. It's perhaps even more hindered out of the gate by all of the hyperbole of so many fawning mainstream reviews, which set up fans of great game writing with inaccurate expectations going in.
If you want a game that makes you feel like a train hopping, DIY show-going, roach-filled microwave-owning, salt of the earth "interesting person" who is surrounded by occult magic and mystery in your tragic family, but is under the thumb of big oil and evil industry, buy this game! If you know shallow, mostly gameplay-free poverty porn visual novels when you see them, then you'll see it in NORCO fast and be sorely disappointed in the missed potential of so many possibly interesting ideas that amount to a mish-mash of "vibes and feels".
Finally, I like point and click adventures and games with experimental attributes, but when simply pointing and clicking IS the entirety of said adventure in a story that more or less tells itself, with little player input or choice, I consider the experiment unsuccessful.
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"Blake is...a lot. An edgelord." -NORCO

Taking a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. CD and spinning it on my nose until it bleeds.

When I was a kid, I would read any book I could get my hands on - stories of astronauts, fantastical knights and wizards, strange and mysterious worlds, other kids in other places doing other things that I could only dream of. It's impossible to recall them all, yet I still get wisps of memories from time-to-time of forgotten books, characters, and scenes that float into my head like clouds forming fuzzy shapes for me to decipher before succumbing to the winds of time and memory and leaving me again. It's a strange sensation to feel nostalgia, wonder, and comfort from universes I'll never fully remember, but I am always left with some sense of longing. Eastward personifies and projects this feeling.
Although the actual gameplay of Eastward resembles, and was marketed as, the top-down Zelda formula of Link to the Past, that really isn't where the game's success lies. In fact, through most of the game you won't be exploring dungeons, solving puzzles, or swapping through your weapons. You'll be doing, well, nothing. You'll run errands, chat with characters, and learn about the world you've been dropped into. Eastward's charm is its greatest achievement - this strange, mish-mash universe of science-fiction, post-apocalyptic dystopia, high-fantasy, parody, and everything in between. The pixel art is obviously beautiful upon first glance, but the art design of the world itself has a unique yet familiar quality that comes off as pure magic. The soundtrack by Joel Corelitz similarly impresses and seems at once brand new yet nostalgic. Many of the songs he has crafted are not just impressive for a video game soundtrack, but on a song-writing level as well. So many tracks are packed completely full with emotion, build-up, and soulfulness that lend an otherworldly quality to Eastward. These things, the art design and soundtrack, are how Eastward tangibly interacts with the player, and they lay the ground work for everything else, specifically when anchoring the emotional impact of the game's characters.
There is a lot of dialogue in Eastward. Much of it is charming and endearing towards both the world-at-large as well as the characters involved, using humor to alleviate the darker tones of the story, much like one of the game's influences, Earthbound. This is not a game that can be pushed through to get through to the action bits. The best course of action is just to relax and give yourself over to the game - become the silent go-with-the-flow character that John is. I do recommend setting the text speed to fast in the menu, but ultimately enjoyment of the game will come from how much you like the characters and dialogue. Which works well because they are endearing when they need to be endearing, tragic when tragedy is needed, and frustrating when conflict arises. I was honestly surprised how much I cared about most of the characters, how angry I was with the antagonists, and how much I absolutely adored Sam. I began the game thinking that I would have fun swinging a pan and meet some funny characters, and ended with a lump in my throat. Eastward understands its strengths lie in emotion and connection and shows no fear in choosing to make you feel rather than understand when unpacking its main narrative. Its storytelling style does leave the player with a lot of work, but I think this is actually a good thing - it allows players to be able to make their own meaning of the world and its characters' choices. It also allows, particularly in the later stages of the game, for exploration into the esoteric - it's more important for things to be grounded in emotion and feeling rather than concrete reality. This willingness to go weird, as well as the art design and OST, give Eastward a dreamlike quality that is both beautiful and compelling.
Though the game heavily tilts towards dialogue and character-rich storytelling, when actual gameplay emerges, it is exciting and fun. The combat follows the standard top-down Zelda format with a melee option, ranged option, and bombs to switch between, as well as a few items and abilities used for puzzle solving. The bare bones combat acts as a one-two combo between Sam's ability to freeze enemies, and John's ability to shoot, smash, slice, and burn enemies. Weapons are upgradeable for both damage and ammo, and Sam has several hidden puzzle dungeons in which to find and upgrade abilities. Eastward does have quite a large enemy variety for such a simple combat system as well, which helps keep things from getting stale. As far as combat difficulty, I found it fairly moderate-to-easy for all things, including most bosses. Health pickups are given out regularly at low-health, and there is a cooking system which allows you to make health-replenishing items for cheap. The puzzles themselves are much the same - not terribly difficult, but interesting enough to mix things up and require a solid plan to execute. The game does get more difficult as it goes on, and I do believe a dodge action would be a welcome addition to the combat, but encounters are always manageable, especially if you've bothered to upgrade your weapons. This level of difficulty does make the bosses more fun experiences in storytelling and combat rather than challenges of skill, though it is still fulfilling to capture a victory. The game also mixes up the action by providing short chase sequences as well as a stealth sequence, so slamming enemies with a pan is not always your best option.
Eastward can come off as a bit of a fever dream at times, in the best way possible. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and yet it still contains emotional weight within its narrative and character arcs. The world truly feels alive with many small spiraling events, concepts, and people. The sheer amount of dialogue may mean that the game is not for everyone, but those that do enjoy it may find themselves lost in a new, unique story of charm, curiosity, and cast-iron.

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