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begged for this game when I was a young teenager. I don’t know why. It was very clearly not an A-grade title of any sort, evidenced by its thirty dollar discounted sale price. Luckily, my mother knew better and told me to save up for it if I wanted it. And, I did just that, excited for what seemingly was just Resident Evil with giant bugs in lieu of zombies. I think too, I wanted to jump onto a new horror series and claim it as my own in that sort of annoying nerd-type way. Well, the day finally came when I was able to afford it… and my expectations were… well…

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Upon closer insection, nothing makes sense

I think perhaps, it’s best to start with the story that drives the experience of Escape from Bug Island. If the game manual is the source of exposition for your game, I think that you may need to reconsider your story firstly. You are dropped onto the island by boat because the girl character (that is the extent of her personality) you are with needs to complete a book report for college on the insects of the island (despite it being common knowledge that the island is infested with huge, man-eating insects), and you and the other guy you’re with are in love with her. A few moments later, you lose the guy and girl and you’re forced out into the jungles and caves of Bug Island where you progress past hordes of bugs (mostly crickets and praying mantis’) until you suddenly run into some survivors who are running from a giant, blood-thirsty gorilla (King Kong?). Anyway, you keep going and then there’s more enemies (Amazonian lizard women?), a bug researcher, and then a giant fly boss who happens to live in a ‘Time Cave’ guarding a black hole. Turns out to finish the game, you have to finish it twice because the black hole restarts the game (spoilers) and sends you back in time to save all the people who died your first time through.

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Fighting bugs, and fighting buggy controls

This was a launch title of the Nintendo Wii, way back in 2006 and 2007 for Westerners. That said, expect motion controls to be heavily and needlessly implemented throughout the duration of your time with the game. Not only are you required to attack enemies by flapping your arms about to use exciting weapons such as ‘branch’ and ‘rock’, you are also required to balance yourself on tree stumps with the ill-calibrated Wii controller, and are required to aim in first-person using the notoriously annoying sensor of the controller to throw objects. Between all this, the game is plagued with shoddy hitboxes, painfully slow enemies that can all be ran around to avoid, and generally unfun gameplay. Not even your healing items produce intrigue as your main source of vitality restoration is ‘fruit’ and ‘can of food’. I remember the most fun part of the game being the final, final boss and that’s about it.

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Creepy crawly atmosphere

I’ll give it this, Escape from Bug Island had a fun premise. Escaping from bugs on an island? Sounds like fun! And that’s what really carries the game, I think. The game is foggy, dark, and uncolourful (although, whether that’s to cover up the vomit-worthy graphics I am unsure) which does provide a mysterious atmosphere. The game definitely provides mystery and tension as you always feel like something interesting is finally about to happen, but it never really does. That takes talent. To keep up that sense of illusion the whole time while you plod around in an effortlessly unsettling environment is something to be commended. Oh, and good choice to constantly have the soundscape buzzing with flies, really clever, since we’re on Bug Island and all. I get it.

Gnat a complete waste

For as much as I’ve shot this game down, I really do love it. It’s trash, B-grade horror that has no place in popular culture. And that’s why I like it. It’s not even a cult classic, no, it’s barely something that should be remembered. This game revels (although, I’m certain it’s not purposeful) in its campy and low-budget origins that are akin to the real gems of horror cinema. If you’re keen for a laugh and a half, and are keen to instill your own imagination onto a game clearly lacking it, I say go for it – the second half of the game once you fall into the black hole guarded by the giant fly is when things really start to pick up. One Cthulhu out of five. More to be read here.

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

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Two-Player D&D with MCDM: A Review

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Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a popular fantasy table-top roleplaying game usually played by four to seven people. However, guidelines have been created for how to play with only two people: a dungeon master and one player character. In this article, I will look at the suggestions for two-player Dungeons and Dragons offered by Matt Colville’s MCDM publications. Specifically, I will focus on Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons, which has historically been MCDM’s content focus.

Matt Colville is a well-respected long-time dungeon master who publishes third-party books for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition through his production company MCDM. Through MCDM, he also operates Arcadia, a magazine devoted to optional rules, items, subclasses, and more. It is through both his YouTube channel and Arcadia that I came across rules for playing Two-Player D&D.

Playstyle Options

From what I’ve seen there are two recommended options: 1) Changing the Player, or 2) Changing the Encounters. In the first option, the player character is altered beyond the base rules of D&D to be more powerful. This option I will cover in depth later, as this is what I tried out. The second option is to stick to the base D&D rules but alter encounters to be accessible for one player. This can be accomplished in many ways. A common solution is to scale down combat and skill encounters to meet an accomplishable difficulty to one player character. Others like to introduce non-player characters operated by the dungeon master. Matt Colville has a really great video on what that can look like linked below.

Matt Colville on One-on-one Dungeons and Dragons

For my own foray into Two-Player D&D, I tried out the Heroic Champions classes created by Will Doyle for Arcadia Issue 22. These classes take the first approach of allowing a player to start the game using alternative rules. In this case, players don’t choose traditional classes but instead a heroic one. At first-level, someone using a Heroic Champion class would have a similar power level to that of four first-level characters.

Within the outlined rules there are three Heroic Champion classes: Heroic Warrior, Spellcaster, and Trickster. Each borrows core elements from either martial, spellcasting, or utility classes respectively. They all gain additional hit points, opportunities for healing, and attacks as well.

The Player Experience

As a player, I had a lot of fun playing Two-Player D&D. Specifically, the experience was very intimate and high stakes. I’d never been emotional about what was happening in a Dungeons and Dragons game until I played in such a setting. Everything about the story was specifically tailored to be about my character and as such the outcome of every situation was directly on my shoulders.

I played the Heroic Warrior class, which was novel as I don’t often play martial classes. It was empowering to be able to cut down my enemies, especially as it fit an emotionally-charged narrative. Often I find in role-playing games that I want to start with a grand backstory of adventure-in-progress but feel limited by the mechanics of being a first-level character. This rules set fixes that idea by making your character truly feel extraordinary instead of just another person with some sword training. 

The Gamemaster Experience

My spouse served as the dungeon master during the experience. He also found the gameplay to be a lot of fun. As someone who loves to worldbuild, he found Two-Person D&D to be an awesome opportunity to collaboratively build out a hero of legend. It was also cool from a novel combat scenarios perspective and the ability to think creatively about enemy composition and tactics.

That being said, he also found it to be a lot of extra prep work in terms of combat and encounter preparation. Because everything moves faster with just two people, he needed to have a comprehensive plan for what I would fight, who I would talk to, and what would happen ahead of time in order to best suit the story and my needs as a player. This is in contrast to games with more people in which he felt like he could do more general prep as it aligned with general party goals versus prep specifically aligned with the thoughts, motivations, and backstory of a single individual. 

Conclusion

The Two-Player D&D experience was great, and I highly enjoyed the classes by Will Doyle. Matt Colville’s advice was also beneficial to prepare for the experience. I would highly recommend trying out Two-Player Dungeons and Dragons if you are struggling to get a group together or just want a more intimate role-playing experience. It could also be really fun as a private session zero to get to know all the characters in a party individually before introducing them to the larger group.

4.7 out of 5 stars (4.7 / 5)

To keep up to date about what MCDM is up to and to learn more about the role-playing game they are making, join their Patreon!

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Blade Runner RPG Starter Set Review

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You walk the streets both badge and boogeyman. This city fears you. Resents that it needs you. Refuses to accept that you’re here to stay. And yet that’s your job. To stand in the rain, steam, and shadows amidst the seething crowds and chaos. Relentlessly pursuing what never wants to be found.

– pg 6 of the Blade Runner Roleplaying Game Starter Set Rule Booklet

The Blade Runner RPG is a tabletop role-playing game released by Free League Publishing in December 2022. The game is based upon the world explored within the Blade Runner movie franchise and the novel that formed the basis for the franchise, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Explore a dark cybernoir world in which corporations rule a planet ravaged for its resources and left for dead. Blade runners, cops charged with finding robots indistinguishable from humans known as replicants, try to stay alive and protect the city. Be vigilant, some blade runners have nobler intentions than others. And replicants and blade runners may have more in common than they know.

The Blade Runner RPG Starter Set features an introductory scenario, abridged rules, four pre-generated characters, and an insane amount of supporting documents and features. It is an introduction to the Blade Runner RPG recommended for one to four players (plus a gamemaster). The Starter Set is available from Free League Publishing for about $50.

An image of all the materials contained within the Blade Runner Starter Set. Image from Free Publishing.

The Gamemaster Experience

My spouse took on the role of gamemaster during our playthrough. He found the scenario to be interesting and thematic, to the point where he was compelled to rewatch the movies after reading the scenario the first time through. The supporting materials were effective in dispersing clues in a way that made the gamemaster’s job easier. The story in the introductory scenario was also intriguing and made for a good introduction to the world.

He found some of the scenario and rules booklet to be lacking. Specifically, he found that the scenario challenged the gamemaster to withhold as much information as possible even when it was unclear why. He also felt like the scripted events in response to specific pieces of evidence being shown to suspects were odd. The conditions that had to have been met seemed a little obtuse in the sense that he wouldn’t have expected us to even consider taking those actions. Because of this, he improvised some changes according to what worked better for the playgroup. Additionally, some of the rules weren’t explained quite well enough so we had to make some stuff up while playing. The scenario pointed to the Core Rulebook for further rules explanations, which seems like a bad assumption that someone that would be trying out the system through the Starter Set would also have a Core Rulebook.

A last note would be that while the included materials were impressive, the Rules Booklet’s binding began to fall apart pretty quickly. This was disappointing, especially considering the price point and how often we referred to the Rules Booklet.

Game Artwork from the Blade Runner RPG

The Player Experience

The resources provided within the Blade Runner RPG Starter Set were absolutely delightful. Supporting documents from faux case files to headshots to crime scene photos made the experience more immersive. By far, they were the most elaborate handouts I’ve ever seen in an RPG Starter Set. As a player, I loved how the handouts were used to advance the storytelling and how well they fit within the theme of the game. Through the handouts I was able to use my own detective skills to investigate the crime in addition to my character’s. I also liked the pre-generated characters provided as they had enough details to have fun with their backstory while also adding your own components. 

Mechanically, I had a lot of fun as well. Combats are punishing for enemies and players alike, which meant every combat encounter felt high stakes. A single good shot can kill an enemy or a player. This means that every round is heart-racing and rewarding. Outside of combat, skill checks were almost always successful, which felt rewarding but also low stakes at times. This was especially true since only one success is needed in most situations. 

My biggest issue as a player was that game is designed for players to split up, which can create an imbalance of experience. For example, one person can get into an exciting high-speed chase while the others spend the same round reading reports or staking out an empty building. This issue can be fixed with a good gamemaster, however, it is an inherent part of the game system that would need to be kept in mind when designing encounters. The Starter Set encounters were tweaked slightly from what was written so that we could have more equitable experiences throughout the game.

Game Artwork from the Bladerunner RPG

Conclusions

Overall, the Blade Runner RPG Starter Set was a lot of fun to play, and I look forward to delving into the Core Rulebook. It is a masterful example of how to convert genre franchises into a role-playing system. The game excels in delivering the desired atmosphere and themes through the rules, content, and introductory scenario. The mechanics are also novel, which was refreshing. I highly recommend the Starter Set for any fans of the Blade Runner franchise but also for anyone looking for an introduction to a cybernoir game experience.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Find my review of another game from Free League Publishing, the From the Loop RPG Starter Set, here.

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Buddy Simulator 1984 Review

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Making new friends can be difficult, but can it really fall into psychological horror? You bet! Buddy Simulator 1984 was released in 2021 by Not A Sailor Studios. You interact with an AI designed to be the perfect best friend, and as time goes on, it becomes more desperate to hold your attention. Going through this game, I felt a wide range of emotions. I flinched at jumpscares, frowned at bad jokes, and smiled at wholesome moments. It was an interesting and unique experience I don’t I’ve ever had with a game in this genre.

If you want to go into this blind, I would recommend you give the demo a try if it seems interesting. Your progress carries over into the main game, so you won’t have to worry about replaying sections. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the review!

An unforgettable, uncomfortable adventure

From text adventure to pixel graphics to 2.5D, Buddy Simulator 1984 ’s graphical variety is one of the ways it disorients and unnerves the player. You can solve a puzzle while the game is a text adventure, only for the game to show you the same puzzle with pixel graphics hours later. Recognition is horror.

The player character and a stuffed animal sitting on a swing set, in black and white pixel graphics. From Buddy Simulator 1984's Steam page.
The player character and a stuffed animal on a swing set, taken from the game’s steam page.

The soundtrack for this game includes some pleasant chiptune and other memorable tracks. There are some creepy tracks that do a good job of conveying an uneasy, anxiety inducing atmosphere. It really keeps you on your toes.

I do have some gripes with the game, however. There are often loud sudden jumpscares, not for any plot reason but just to spook you. Trying to figure out the sound mixing while avoiding blowing your eardrums out isn’t fun, and I’ll admit I’ve had the game on mute at certain points. There are multiple endings, and some go by rather quickly. This is the kind of game where you need to see all the endings to understand the story, and if you’re a completionist, go for it! Otherwise I would recommend watching them on YouTube.

This is a game about toxic friendships, attachment, attention, and the lengths one will go to to get it. If you have free time and don’t mind the $9.99 price tag, give this a try!

Check out some of the games we’ve been playing at Haunted MTL!

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