Saturday, April 17, 2021

Oddworld: Soulstorm Review – A NEGATIVE Batch Of Brew

Playing Oddworld: Soulstorm is as arduous as Abe’s quest to liberate his Mudoken brethren from slavery. Each step is a supreme test of patience as you methodically guide your followers through challenging hazards, sweating over the fact that one slip-up could unravel all your effort. If you enjoy putting up with that old-school challenge, you might love this journey. However, if you’re a newcomer or a fan that believes this style of platformer hasn’t aged very well, turn back now. Soulstorm doesn’t do enough to modernize the series’ tedious gameplay, and a litany of severe technical hiccups spoil Abe’s attempted comeback. A reimagining of Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, Soulstorm’s gameplay remains largely the same: you recruit and guide followers through 2D platforming stages littered with dangers. As charming as the classic Oddworld games are, they can be frustratingly difficult and that hasn’t changed much in Soulstorm. Most Slig enemies and other hazards mow Abe down instantly, and I was infuriated by how little wiggle room I had to correct course when things went sideways. Abe drops so fast that it makes the health meter seem like a cruel tease. While playing Soulstorm, I often felt like I was walking on eggshells because of that high price of failure, retracing every step, re-recruiting every Mudokon, and carefully guiding them through a gauntlet of foes is soul-crushing when it all falls apart in seconds. Dying to unexpected perils, like being suddenly gunned down by off-screen enemies, feels cheap and happens way too often. A crafting system serves as Soulstorm’s biggest addition, but it doesn’t feel necessary. You must repeatedly gather the same ingredients every time you die (by searching lockers, trash cans, and fallen foes), which wore me down in a hurry after repeatedly replaying certain sections. The crafted tools themselves, like proximity mines, smoke screens, even a flamethrower, do add a welcomed element of flexibility and improvisation to gameplay. Dropping smoke screens to create hiding spots anywhere is nice, but I wished I didn’t have to make these items myself and grew tired of digging around the same spots over and over.   Even when Soulstorm’s difficulty eases up, the gameplay is bland. The action feels largely the same from previous games in the series, and that formula doesn’t evolve significantly beyond the first few hours. Even the more interesting sequences, like facing down a giant mech aboard a speeding train, are far too punishing to be fun. I’m glad that Abe controls better now (he even has a double jump), but the controls still have a mushy unresponsiveness that makes entertaining actions, like possessing Sligs, feel like a hassle. The controls also lead to additional deaths because Abe doesn’t act as swiftly as you need him to, especially during the ill-fitting, overly demanding combat arenas that pit you against waves of baddies while you try to protect fleeing Mudokens. Soulstorm would be a tough recommendation for anyone outside of diehard fans if it performed flawlessly, but I encountered several progress-sabotaging bugs (even after installing the big day-one patch) that should scare off even those players. When I died, Mudokens sometimes failed to respawn alongside me even though my tally indicated they were still alive and under my command. That meant I lost out on turning in followers that I’d spent ages trying to safely liberate, which negatively affected my overall quarma – a vital metric in determining which of the four endings you get.  Abe occasionally gets stuck in environmental geometry, forcing a restart. At one point, I fell into an infinite loop. One escape portal permanently vanished once I reached it, forcing me to abandon followers. A gun in a late-game turret sequence failed to shoot despite working fine in previous segments. After multiple restarts, I randomly discovered that clicking the right stick “fixed” the weapon for some reason, allowing it to fire. I spent over an hour trying to lead a large group of followers through a particularly challenging area, but once I opened the exit door an invisible wall prevented me from moving forward. I was forced to restart this entire, lengthy sequence twice before the exit worked properly. Soulstorm’s gameplay pushed my patience to its limits, but these bugs sent me over the edge and made me nervous every time I started a new level. “What on Earth is going to screw me over this time?” I regularly asked myself. Soulstorm’s faults are a shame because its narrative and presentation brought a smile to my face. Abe and his pals are goofy, delightful underdogs I couldn’t help but root for. The enjoyable story is packed with heart, and the cutscenes look great. I wanted to welcome Abe into a new generation of gaming with open arms, but Soulstorm fails to make a case for why its brand of cinematic platforming works today. In fact, Soulstorm only reaffirmed that Abe’s past adventures are best viewed with rose-colored glasses.
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    Wintermoor Tactics Club Brings RPG Coziness to Xbox One

    Summary

    • Wintermoor Tactics Club is now available for Xbox One!
    • It’s a story about surviving high school, with gameplay inspired by tactics RPGs and visual novels.
    • Wintermoor‘s warm tone and accessible gameplay make it the game equivalent of curling up with a good book and a cup of cocoa.

    We’re incredibly excited to announce that Wintermoor Tactics Club is now available on the Xbox One! We’ve worked hard as a team to create a cozy-feeling game that appeals to both new players of the tactics genre and veterans alike. So, if that idea strikes your interest, we hope you’ll read on!

    A World That Feels Like Home

    Wintermoor

    We designed every part of Wintermoor to convey a feeling called “hygge:” the cozy-comfortable feeling of a special moment where you feel content and safe, like sitting by a fireplace. We want to give players somewhere to hang out, a place filled with warmth and humor.

    Our story centers around a young girl named Alicia. As one of very few black girls at Wintermoor Academy and a nerd to boot, Alicia often feels isolated at her school. Her oasis is the Tactics Club, where she finds comfort in playing the tabletop RPG “Curses & Catacombs” and supportive friends that share her hobby.

    Alicia’s place of comfort is threatened when the school is thrown into a snowball fight, where all the clubs must compete and are disbanded if they lose. Alicia and her friends learn to take the game they care about and extend it into the real world, imagining the snowball fights as C&C adventures.

    The tone of the game is meant to put players at ease: an earnest and surreal sense of humor, illustrated graphics that evoke storybooks, and a soundtrack that mixes indie movie vibes with late-90s RPG nostalgia. All of the elements of the game are designed to work together to make players feel like they’re curling up with a nice cup of cocoa and a good book.

    Tactics For Everyone

    Wintermoor

    Part of being welcoming is accessibility. Although our team really likes tactics games and are used to their challenges and complexities, we didn’t want to make a game that was only for veterans. Everyone has to start somewhere when approaching a new genre; it felt to us like the best way to share our love of tactics was to make something that anyone could play. After all, one of the main themes of our game is bringing new people in to enjoy your favorite hobby with you!

    This goal guided many of our design decisions. First of all, we removed randomness from the gameplay. All the information that you need to make decisions is visible at all times: what actions enemies will take, how much damage they will do, and so on. There’s no need to memorize strengths and weaknesses, perform complex calculations, or remember huge stacks of stats. The game lays all its cards on the table so you can plan the best tactical move.

    Second, we tried to truly intertwine the gameplay and story. Those who are already experienced with tactics games can gain rewards through extra-hard challenge levels, but players in it for the story can earn bonuses just as powerful by talking to other characters on campus and completing side quests.

    Finally, we let players choose their own level of challenge. You can reduce (or increase!) enemy and player health through menu sliders. Players who enjoy combat can challenge our scoring system to try for max rank on each battle, and players who don’t can use a “no fail” combat mode with no negative consequences. Tactics games should be for everyone, so we wanted to make sure everyone could play.

    A Story About Inclusivity

    Wintermoor

    When thinking about the themes of our game, we decided we wanted to tackle a relevant issue: how the Internet can isolate people into like-thinking cliques, and engender an “us vs them” attitude that reduces human identity to being part of a tribe. So, naturally, we decided to set the game in the early 1980s.

    The classic 80s sports movie is all about that “us vs them” attitude, with “nerds” or “underdogs” fighting to triumph over the mean cool kids. But… what if there are no cool kids? What if everyone is struggling and just trying to make their way in the world, and the real solution is not to beat them but to try to reach out and find common ground?

    Inclusivity is not easy. It can be scary to try to welcome strangers into the sanctuaries where we feel comfortable. Wintermoor is about that struggle. In many conflicts, the bravest thing you can do is connect with others: try to understand how they feel, and help them see where you’re coming from. That’s why we chose a main character whose most powerful feature is her empathy. Although Alicia is shy and nerdy, she reaches out to the defeated members of other clubs. She tries to connect by sharing her favorite hobby, writing them custom Curses & Catacombs adventures to help them work through their personal issues.

    We Hope You Enjoy

    Thank you for taking the time to read about Wintermoor Tactics Club. In celebration of launch week, we’re running a 20% off discount on the game! We all put our hearts into making something that was both fun and meaningful, and we hope you enjoy it!

    Wintermoor Tactics Club

    Wintermoor Tactics Club

    Xbox Live

    Xbox Live

    Wintermoor Tactics Club

    Versus Evil

    $19.99 $15.99
    Xbox One X Enhanced
    Wintermoor Tactics Club is a story about surviving high school, with gameplay inspired by tactics RPGs and visual novels. It was hard enough for Alicia at the famed Wintermoor Academy before it erupted into a snowball war! Now her club’s only hope is to transform from nerdy nobodies into fantasy heroes. Unravel a reality-bending mystery. Test your strategic mettle against an avalanche of colorful characters. And don’t forget to make friends! • Unlock your Potential: Discover the power of 7 playable characters and dozens of unlockable upgrades across more than 40 battles. • Explore the School: Get to know Wintermoor in visual novel-inspired gameplay. Break down the walls between high school cliques such as the Psychic Detectives and Young Monarchists. • Make New Friends: Write tabletop campaigns to help students overcome their personal problems, and discover their fantasy selves as your club grows.

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