Soul Axiom

I didn’t mean to buy this game. You see, there is a
popular metroidvania game called Axiom Verge out, and- yes, it’s
embarrassing, but I apparently was in too much haste to check the store
page of what I was buying and ended up buying Soul Axiom instead. The
perils of the Steam Sales strike us all. Still, I bought it, so it’s in
my library, and that means it’s a backlog game.

went in knowing absolutely nothing about what to expect, and I left…
knowing pretty much exactly the same amount. Charitably, Soul Axiom is a
game that plays its hand close to its chest; less charitably, it’s a
game that just kind of does a load of stuff and you’re just kind of
there for it.

Ostensibly I
guess it’s a first person puzzle game, though one where the puzzles are
very gentle- rarely being more complex than interacting with a specific
object in order to open the path. Later on there are special abilities
granted such as the power to disintegrate objects or to rewind time, but
these also rarely add much; if you can use a power on an object it
usually means you have to, and having interacted with it at all is
usually enough to solve the puzzle. As a result it becomes more of an
interactive story rather than a game, which is a fine thing but only if
the story is worth telling.

well, that’s where it kinda falls apart. A sequence of surreal
non-sequitur landscapes isn’t doing much environmental storytelling even
if the narrative assures us one is being told. Nothing means anything
here, it’s not cohesive, it’s just stuff.

Fin or Bin:

towards the end there is a single unifying reveal which bridges the
connection between the dive bar, the desert, and the museum flawlessly,
but getting to that point is a journey of being shown some mildly
interesting environments and occasionally clicking on something within
them to get to the next one. It’s one step removed from browsing through
a background artist’s portfolio on Deviantart.

It’s worth noting that
there is a “rebooted” version now available (and the original has been
delisted). I played the original, and while I can’t imagine a remaster
could do much to improve things, I can’t say for certain that it didn’t.
The original, at least, will be going in the Bin.

(Steam (Rebooted Version))

Baba Is You


Many many moons past, I ran a youtube channel whose aim was to spotlight neat indie games and help them find an audience. This was before the indie boom, a time when Steam was still in its infancy and the spread of indie titles was limited largely to posts on forums via word of mouth. One of the games I featured was Floating Island Game, a point-and-click puzzler by Arvi Teikari.

Thirteen years later, and with that project long rendered redundant, it was a big surprise to see his name again as the developer of Baba Is You, a wildly successful puzzle game that has had people worldwide tearing their faces off in frustration trying to solve its devilishly simple but astoundingly devious puzzles. I like to think I had a small part in that success! It’s entirely possible one of the 6,000 people who watched that video went on to become a Teikari superfan.

Anyway, to get back to Baba, those devilish puzzles take the form of simple word-based rules. The game grid is populated with both objects and words referencing those objects. By pushing the words around, you can change the rules of the world, and thus the interactions of those objects. [Baba] [Is] [You] and [Rock] [Is] [Push] can be rearranged such that now [Rock] [Is] [You], and now you are controlling the rocks instead of Baba.

This is important because some objects will have multiple rules affecting them- ‘Baba Is Melt’ and ‘Lava Is Hot’ together mean Baba will die if they try to cross lava, but that doesn’t matter one jot if Rock Is You, because there isn’t a rule saying ‘Rock Is Melt’!

Simple in premise, then, but figuring out what arrangement of rules you need and in what sequence is where the brain starts to boil; the words all operate as moveable blocks and are prone to getting stuck in corners or against walls, and all the while you need to be careful not to disturb the ‘_ Is You’ rule for fear of knocking it out of place, deleting the rule and ending up in the existential nightmare of NOTHING Is You. Thankfully, you can quickly backspace one errant action at any time, all the way back to the very beginning if you need to, so mistakes aren’t at all punished.

Fin or Bin:

I was really worried going into this game. I know people far more intelligent and far more patient than I am who had to tap out for fear of their brains leaking out of their ears. But boy howdy, Teikari knows how to make a great puzzle game;
there isn’t anything quite like that “a-ha!” sensation when you stumble over the one set of rules that makes everything else click into place, and the puzzle arenas are tightly designed enough that you’re never left wandering around trying incalculable permutations of the same puzzle until you can brute-force it. For the first hour at least, everything was eminently solvable, however hot my brain got trying to get there. Baba Is Fin!


Sin and Punishment

This game is amazing. I don’t necessarily mean amazingly good, but I’m not at all trying to say it’s bad either. Look-

There is just an incredible amount of stuff just constantly happening in this game and I can’t follow any of it and it feels great. Utterly baffling cutscenes featuring some of the most ludicrous technobabble spouted as though it were common sense, psychic messages from ghostly apparitions of a man’s eyes, telekinetic children throwing fragments of battleships around, a playable character who screams “NOOOO!!!!!!!” every time she as much as gets a papercut, an annoying mascot character who is apparently super important to the plot, a lead character who suddenly becomes a giant antagonist, and all of this in about 30 minutes punctuated only by explosions and boss fights.

Treasure, one of my favourite developers of all time, who as far as I can tell have never made a single mis-step, somehow created this absolute fever dream of an on-rails shooter. All the usual Treasure hallmarks are here and yet it also feels utterly alien, like they just took every single idea they had and put them all together at once; the controls are ludicrously complicated and yet somehow seem to work, much like learning to pilot the helicopter in GTA Vice City, the plot throws itself around like a luchador who doesn’t have time for things like worldbuilding or establishing shots, the sheer audiovisual clutter never ever ceases, except to show you the next war machine you have to explode.

I haven’t got a clue what I did for the hour I played this game, but I came away from it a changed- nay, improved– person. I was a giggling mess by the end, long giving up on any hope of comprehension.

Fin or Bin:

Are you serious? Of course I want more. I feel like I touched the heart of madness and it changed me in ways irrevocable. It felt great to just switch off and let Sin And Punishment take me wherever it is we were going, and it’s a journey I long to Finish. Treasure always know what they’re doing, even when it’s beyond the ken of us normal folk; I trust them to get me where I need to be.

(Available on Nintendo 64 Online Expansion thing whatever it’s called)

The Swapper

From the store page and general atmosphere, I was worried the dice had given me yet another Metroidvania in quick succession. Thankfully, that’s not really the case.

Rather than being an exploration/puzzle solving hybrid, The Swapper is instead both of those things but strictly one at a time. Our protagonist, Mr. T Swapper, can create disposable clones of himself with wanton disregard of any ethical quandary such an act might inspire. These clones mimic his movements precisely (…mostly), allowing access to places otherwise out of reach. Provided there is line-of-sight, he can also swap consciousnesses with the clones at any time, allowing for some pretty neat chain-traversal puzzles.

Each puzzle room is entirely self-contained, but you have to find them first. The exploration is easily the weak point, here, much the same as it was with Stealth Inc– it kinda feels like a chore to wander the derelict space station when the puzzles are so neatly packed, many of them taking up a single screen and putting the space to full use.

Still, the exploration phase does ask for some jammy tricks, such as creating a vast and utterly inhumane ladder of other selves to climb, each body falling inevitably to its death as you swap higher and higher. …Probably best not to think about it.

Fin or Bin:

The exploration was what killed Stealth Inc for me in the end, but The Swapper hasn’t reached that level yet. The controls are very slippery and sometimes you’ll get caught on a little piece of geometry that will displace one of your clones, undoing a whole chain reaction. There’s lots of potential reasons to Bin this one, and I did worry a few times during my hour that I wasn’t going to have the patience for it. The puzzle rooms themselves are just too good, though, tightly packed and smartly designed, with that glorious “a-ha!” moment never too far away. A Fin, then, on the power of that alone. Tentative, but I want to see what other atrocities the game will ask of me in search of solutions.


Hollow Knight


It’s described as a metroidvania souls-like, and already it’s been compared to three different games before having a chance to speak for itself. Lets take those separately, then:

Hollow Knight is an exploration platformer (that’s the ‘vania) in a sprawling world that gradually opens as you gain new abilities (that’s the metroid), which absolutely refuses to pull its punches and deliberately excludes some modern home comforts like automatically-populating maps (there’s the Souls).

Of the comparisons, I’d say calling it a souls-like is the most unfair; where the Souls games delight in giving the player as miserable a time as possible, Hollow Knight is never cruel; the aforementioned maps can be bought with relative ease and the upgrade to have them automatically populate is earned early into the game (entirely skippable if that’s your speed), and the combat is entirely unrestricted by stats or gauges. Indeed, your success here is entirely based on your confidence and your skill level, and while Hollow Knight expects a great deal of both from the player, success and failure are never out of your hands.

At least, that’s usually the case. Hollow Knight’s aesthetic is very dark and dingy, which is absolutely beautiful, but comes with problems. Visibility suffers as a result, especially given the extravagant use of particle effects; many times I’ve struck an enemy to resounding applause of bright orange sparks, only to find once the smoke has cleared that the enemy was charging at me again and I’m about to take a hit with no recourse to avoid it. It’s highly frustrating, but I’m willing to own that one as likely user error- I typically fare poorly in dark games, having Binned a couple purely because I just couldn’t see a damned thing, while other players don’t seem to have that problem. Regardless, it’s one I’m willing to push through.

Fin or Bin:

It was perhaps a mistake to play Hollow Knight so immediately close to playing Metroid Dread, as the two games have enough in common that I’m confusing one with the other; no aeion dodge or double jump in Hollow Knight, alas (at least within its first hour). Also, I’m not at all jazzed about one particular Souls holdover- dying means losing all your currency and having to go get it back, essentially forcing you to retread the same path even if you want to explore somewhere else. I hate it when games punish failure in persistent ways- the main reason I don’t like roguelikes (except Hades).

Nonetheless! Hollow Knight is just too damn good. The controls are so, so sharp and the exploration so, so smooth. It might take me some time to get to it, but I’m not Finished with Hollow Knight yet.


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Always, I wanna be with you, and make believe with you, and live in harmony harmony oh love~

…Sorry. There’s really only room for one rainbow-dazzled retrotastic endless runner in my heart.

Commander Video returns to us, a populace undeserving of his glory, in this entry in the BIT.TRIP series. For those who missed it, the BIT.TRIP series was something of an event in the late 2000s/early 10s- an entire catalogue of games set to release one after the other, each with a different style of play, dripping with 8-bit aesthetic and telling the vague story of Commander Video’s rise.

Sequels to the series have dropped the BIT.TRIP moniker and fully transitioned into the world of modern graphics, losing the magic somewhat, but I remember the originals held a lot of attention as an expansive indie project in the days of WiiWare, right around the time the indiesphere first exploded. The only title I played previously to RUNNER was BEAT, an interesting and brutally difficult variant on the traditional Pong/Breakout formula set to catchy beats and a fun artistic flair where the graphics became lower and lower-fi as you inevitably failed to meet its challenge.

Ultimately for me, RUNNER’s fun is undone by a few poor design choices. Its genre is ‘endless runner’, but it’s not entirely correct to call it such; RUNNER is split into levels, with each level playing the same way each time- rather than a barrage of randomly generated obstacles to react to, the levels are static and can be learned over time. There’s no room for error, with a single mistake- no matter how minor- sending you immediately back to the very start of the level. Reacting to the same obstacles time and time again becomes very tedious very quickly, especially given the musical design tends towards slow-build crescendos, resulting in the opening 30 seconds of each stage being incredibly sparse of challenge.

Fin or Bin:

This is one of those frustrating “almost” games; with just the inclusion of checkpoints, or a health bar, or a lives system where you can make a couple of mistakes before being dumped back to the start, RUNNER would be a good time. The simplicity of the genre means you’re left with very little control over proceedings, and are at the whims of the game when it comes to how quickly challenges approach; dealing with one obstacle a second sounds very frequent until you’re put through it time and time again getting through the easy part of the level so you can practice the hard part again. Jump, wait, jump, wait, jump, wait… It’s boring, and that makes it frustrating. And the worst part is, after all this time, I still haven’t figured out a smart way to include a BIN.TRIP pun in my closing.


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Metroid Dread


With one month shy of 19 years between the release of Metroids Fusion and Dread, I’m fairly certain this is currently the longest I’ve ever waited for a sequel to a video game (Half-Life 3 is, at the time of this post, at 14 years and counting). It’s also a very, very rare instance of a game I bought on release day, heading out immediately after work to purchase a physical copy. No waiting around on a digital sale event for this one; I had to own it and hold it in my sweaty hands. I think the last time I did that was Super Smash Bros Brawl in 2008, to give context to the weight of this moment. And so, yes, technically it entirely skipped the backlog and doesn’t count, but on the other hand I’ve been waiting for nineteen years so it totally, totally does count.

Yes, I am a terminal Metroid fan, abuzz with anticipation and speculation since the cheeky little hint found in Prime 3. But after all this time spent yearning, was it worth the wait?


Fin or Bin:

Sorry to keep it brief, but why be coy? The atmosphere is rich, the controls obey your thoughts more than your button presses, the movement is super-fast and satisfying, the world feels dangerous but not insurmountable, melee-counter on the move feels great, and the cheerful chimes of the EMMIs will join the opening piano trill of BOTW’s Guardians and the distant howl of Ravenholm’s fast zombies in the list of sounds that will immediately void your bowels. The sense of dread fear that permeates throughout the EMMI zones matches the SA-X from Fusion, an incredible feat in itself; making a player feel utterly powerless without frustrating them is a very delicate balancing act that the series has pulled off twice now. Also impressive is the design of these areas- somehow always funneling me to the correct destination even when I’m running in a blind panic without any thought to direction. Yeah, this game’s great. Can’t wait to Finish it, and then Finish it again and again until I’m finally fast enough for Metroid to take his helmet off at the end.

Final Fantasy Adventure

Originally branded under the Final Fantasy license, this is actually one of the Of Mana games. That license didn’t exist at the time of its localisation, and while later games dropped the Final Fantasy moniker, this one has held onto its mixed lineage through rereleases. This odd assortment of circumstances made the Collection Of Mana seem quite bizarre to those unfamiliar with the history, but I suppose Squeenix were mostly targeting nostalgia-cash with that release.

Despite being a separate beast, FFA wears its lineage with pride; a great many of the graphics are lifted wholesale from Final Fantasy 3 (another game with a complicated history); the aptly-named Dark Lord, our antagonist, uses the dark knight sprite, ‘Man’ is a repurposed red mage, and even deuteragonist Girl is FF3’s Elia in greyscale.

The similarities end with the graphics however, as the gameplay is more akin to a prototypical Link’s Awakening; protagonist Boy swings his bladed weapon of choice in a 90-degree arc roughly corresponding to the direction he is facing to beat monsters and gain experience points. I say ‘roughly’ as there is no way to target the lower right quadrant on his range, a fact which repeatedly screwed me over. This, along with many other odd annoyances and retroactively-bizarre design choices give the game a distinct “first steps we don’t really know what we’re doing” feeling; niggles that would be ironed out in generations hence are here in their roughest form, forgivable in a time when no one knew better but very chafing to go back to.

Fin or Bin:

Ultimately I found the experience more frustrating than fun, a theme which seems to run through the whole series. Seems like the Of Mana series just isn’t for me. Still, the OST is splendid as ever, even rendered through the Gameboy’s dinky little speaker. I’ll hold onto that while I place the rest in the Bin.

Milo And The Magpies


Some important housekeeping before I start the review proper- I was given a key for this game by the publisher, Second Maze, in exchange for streaming it. I haven’t written up a sponsor policy yet because this is the first time it’s happened, so for now please know the following: I will always state very clearly and as the first point in a review if I am given a copy of a game by an interested party. No money changed hands in this instance, and I will always declare if a game is featured as a result of a paid sponsorship. I have not and will never accept any kind of compensation in exchange for a guaranteed Fin.

With the boring stuff out of the way- gosh, what a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Milo the cat is menaced by a squawking mob of magpies as he tries to go about his usual cat business, ultimately winding up seven gardens away from his house. It’s down to the player to provide a series of distractions, interferences, and manipulations in order to clear a path for our intrepid hero to find his way back home.

The adventure is presented in an utterly lovely storybook aesthetic that reminds me of the wonderful Puddle Lane books of my childhood. The puzzles, too, are not outrageously difficult, many being solved simply by finding the correct element to click on. It all comes together to create something that is just thoroughly nice; it’s a light blanket, cup of tea, toasted cheese sandwich, cat on your lap kind of game.

Fin or Bin:

With a runtime of 60-90 minutes, I Finished this one on stream, and we all came away from the experience with our hearts warmed. Hidden object games can be pretty divisive, but even if you are one to sneer at such things, you may well find Milo puts a smile on your face.


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i hate this game


I’m going to be very careful to avoid all the obvious jokes, here.

Harkening back to the days of flash games (RIP), the goal of each single-room puzzle in ihtg is as simple a concept as it gets- get your unnamed hero from the left side of the screen to the door on the right side of the screen.

But no one could hate such a simple game! And this is where ihtg bares its fangs; for each chamber has a specific rule that must be met before that door will open- each one more dastardly than the last. All one hundred rooms of the base game will have you thinking laterally in order to solve the one-word clue given. A chamber might need you to find numbers hidden in the background, or change a series of blocks to fit a pattern, or move the walls around to create platforms. Now it’s upside down, now it’s in first person, now the window is tiny, now you have to- you get the idea.

It’s frankly astonishing how different each room feels, with 100 (plus bonus levels) puzzles to solve, but no two rooms were quite alike and the constantly changing pace made for a very interesting playthrough. It also, of course, makes the game very hard to talk about, as attempting to describe any of the cooler challenges will only spoil the fun of discovering that, yes, the game really does want you to do that.

Fin or Bin:

My total play time came in at around 90 minutes, with all the bonus levels and extra challenges cleared. None of the levels are too taxing and a hint system will help you through the odd one or two that leave you scratching your head. Coupled with a superb chiptune soundtrack, this is a great game to Finish in an afternoon.


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