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Review of Oniria Crimes

A game that doesn’t use the La Llave method.

Oniria Crimes (Badland Publishing: “Oniria Crimes”) is a different spin on a point-and-click adventure. There are six cases that have you investigate and interrogate a crime scene in the dreamworld of Oniria. (In case it struck you as poor wording, it wasn’t: you interrogate the scene itself. Items and furniture give you statements about what they saw when the crime took place.) At each location you will identify three suspects and up to seven pieces of information about each of them (six plus their image), and once you have enough information you can point to two relevant pieces of information per suspect to ascribe guilt or innocence.

The artstyle is nice, with a voxel-based cyber-dream aesthetic. The writing is decent, showing a lot of worldcrafting behind the game. The environments are limited, and not as surreal as I expected for a dream-based game, though some of the lore and writing do have surreal elements. The main departure from a standard graphical adventure game was that there’s only one screen per crime (except for the train), and so each area is much more what-you-see-is-what-there-is. That’s a fine approach, and I don’t think it detracted from the overall design.

I liked the variety of the crimes presented. The inclusion of the minigames gives a nice breakup to the similarity of the levels, though some of them could have been better orchestrated. The other unique features per level were also nice additions. These level-differentiators are especially important as otherwise the interaction was mostly clicking and reading.

The game itself was a little bit of a rough start for me. The basic gameplay wasn’t entirely clear. When you start playing, you understand that you interrogate the items of the crime scene, and you learn that some will add choices to the suspects’ dossiers. But some of the dossier choices are a bit ambiguous. Others are too obviously canards. Even in retrospect, while some of the answers are easily identified, others seem arbitrary.

On the second level you can rotate the room (as you can later on the library level), but it wasn’t formally introduced and I didn’t try hitting the button until I already felt stuck, only to realize there were two other walls to interrogate. Other similar mechanics in other levels were properly introduced, so that made it feel like even more of an oversight.

For whatever reason (on Linux, at least) achievements only show up in Awakeland (i.e., after you close the game). This can leave you wondering if you’ve achieved something only to have several get added when you stop a play session. That’s not a huge deal from the player perspective, but if it’s fixable from the developer’s perspective, they should fix it. Getting the immediate feedback of achieving something is important from a psychology and design standpoint. You want to make sure that players who are rewarded by achievements get them as soon as they achieve the thing, as that makes them like your game more. (To be fair, I have seen this in a few other games before. It’s not clear why they do it this way, so perhaps there is some reason to it?)

One other thing to note: the library level uses a QR code to point to a URL that at the time of playing was no longer in service. Luckily a Steam Guide (Spoilers: Steam Community: “Oniria Crimes”: TheDeluxeTux: “Solutions and Achievements”) includes the relevant information from the missing page. As you can finish and revisit cases, after you finish the game you can go back and see that information without spoiling anything. But from a design standpoint, it’s best to avoid that entirely, even if it’s only for an achievement. Even if you know you’ll keep a website in operation indefinitely, people could still be playing offline.

Despite its flaws, the general shape of the game holds up. I think it’s a nice example of diversity in design helping to cover for some inadequacies. The parts I didn’t like or felt were incomplete got overshadowed by what the game got right, and I felt at home in the gameplay even when I knew it wasn’t quite where it should be.

I got all the achievements over about nine hours. It’s a fun game that begs to see more depth to the world than what the developer was able to bring. Making games is hard, so I understand the limited scope of the world compared to the lore, but I hope to see more titles from them in the future. If you like the genre, Oniria Crimes is worth a look.

Review of Helheim Hassle

Do not try to fuse your limbs together at home, kids.

Helheim Hassle (Perfectly Paranormal: Helheim Hassle) is a metroidvania platformer where you play Bjørn “Bearslayer” Hammerparty, a resurrected viking that can (eventually) detach your limbs and head and recombine them with his torso. Stick two arms together, or an arm and a leg, and jump, climb, and throw his body to solve puzzles. The different combinations have different abilities.

The game is a very chatty. It mixes some Norse mythology with popular online culture and liberal city culture. Some of that got a little stale for me, but the overall story hung together nicely.

The first time I booted the game, Mogdun, the gatekeeper to Helheim (and to the game) made a crack about not using a controller, which I took as a sign the developers really think a controller is best, so I played the whole game with one. That seemed to work fine, though I’m guessing a keyboard would’ve been okay too.

The only weakness in the control scheme was when you have multiple body parts at different places and need to switch to the right one. There may be tricks or tactics to make this easier, but for me there were many many mistakes and I mostly muddled through. In theory, a keyboard would be to have keys 1–6 switch to the specific body parts, but I don’t think this was implemented.

The game is very deliberate about introducing the mechanics, making sure you understand how they work. In different areas, different appendage-pairs or sets tend to work best, and throughout the game the arm–leg alliance seems to be the star (with the head stuck on as needed).

The puzzles weren’t too hard, and the game doesn’t really punish you for failing, which made it an enjoyable time of trial and error. Outside of the highest difficulty of one of the optional game-developer conference games (made to emulate other games; in that case Super Meat Boy), nothing was particularly hard about this one. Just a nice puzzle-platformer.

My only real complaint was that it could have done a better job of letting you know when to go back and collect some of the items from earlier areas. I felt like I played through most of the game before I was comfortable going back to pick up all the hidden bits, mainly because it wasn’t clear when I would have the skills to do so. That meant that I had beat most of the game without the benefit of the powerups, which aren’t too powerful but are helpful.

I spent about 30 hours on Helheim Hassle and got all the achievements. I actually spent a little longer, but that was chasing after some secrets (which I did not end up fully cracking, unfortunately; this was the so-called “mystery of Mount Riverrum”).

I enjoyed my time in this game. It was well-designed and well-executed. The plot hangs together. I’ll probably look into Manual Samuel, a prequel by the same developers, based on my experience here. If you like puzzles, platformers, and metroidvania-type games, you should look at this one.

For those who seek the answers to the mystery, perhaps this will make life easier:

A basic alphabet table showing the Roman alphabet over their pseudo-runic equivalents.
The pseudo-runic alphabet used to hide clues for some unsolved secrets in Helheim Hassle.

Review: Eggcelerate!

A difficult and messy racing game.

Eggcelerate! (Steam: Eggcelerate!) is a single-player racing game that’s part of this complete breakfast. Err. It’s a game where you drive a car with bowl on top. In the bowl is a raw egg. You try (and fail!) to keep that egg in the bowl as you speed and swerve across 30 levels. When it inevitably falls, it leaves what looks like a fried egg on the ground. Pretty soon, whole swaths of the road are covered in fried eggs.

A brown vehicle making the second turn on Track 2, with the roadway around the turn covered in fried eggs.
The road gets gnarly with eggs when you try to go fast.

It is a difficult game, and it’s one I can say I did not master. (I’m not sure if I could have mastered it, even if I devoted significant time. I half-wanted to dig up some TAS software (tool-assisted speedrun; what speedrunners use to create the theoretical fastest runs of games) to see if it’s even TASable—whether its physics are repeatable given the same input.)

The early levels are simpler, and more fun for their simplicity. There are various obstacles, hurdles, traps that get introduced as you move to later levels. There are:

  • humps
  • timed traps (hammers, boxing gloves, windmills, and saw blades)
  • fans
  • ramps
  • litter (bowling pins, beach balls, flower pots, dog bowls, etc.)

But even simple turns prove a challenge at times.

Each level has two times to beat: par and developer. The par times are mostly reasonable if tricky. The developer times are very tight, and some may require some trickery. For example, your car doesn’t have to cross the finish line. Your egg has to cross the finish line. So for at least one dev-time, your best bet is to bounce the egg over the line.

As you complete levels, you unlock new designs for eggs, bowls, and cars. By default, your setup is randomized for all three types. If you don’t like a combination, restarting (R on keyboard) will randomize it. I tended to play with randomization off, as once you beat all the levels there’s a bowl that’s just floaty little blobs and I didn’t like it. Rather than re-restarting whenever it came up, I switched randomizing off.

It has some rough edges. The controls aren’t configurable in-game, so it’s W,A,S,D with D being reverse and brake. I’d prefer E,S,D,F, but it’s not so bad using the default. You can also use the arrow keys if your keyboard has them.

On some levels, you should wait a beat or two before starting, as the timed traps will smack you if you don’t. This is actually a small disadvantage to getting a good time, as if you hold accelerate (W or on keyboard, probably right trigger (R2) on a controller) when you restart, your car gets to speed a bit faster off the start line.

Some levels have (brief) camera changes and obstructions. Going through windmills, the camera reorients to fit through with the car. At other places (going under a bridge) you’re left staring at an obstruction until you’re past it. Neither are ideal. The camera changes felt jarring, and trying to drive blind is a bad idea in games as in real life.

The developer recently added a ghost car option, which was modestly helpful at times, but I generally turned it off as I found it both distracting and not helpful once you find a semi-optimal line. I found if I tried to match or beat the ghost, I tended to fail more and get frustrated, versus turning it off.

It’s unclear to me if car selection makes any difference. On some levels I tended to do better with specific cars, but the bowls are placed at the same spot on each car, and they seem to have the same speed and handling. Maybe it was a placebo?

When you’re going for better times, you’ll play a level perhaps hundreds of times. This gets tedious, and one way to break it up is to switch levels. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t currently have a quick-level-select. You have to exit to the main menu and skip a couple of screens to change levels. (The game is in active development for the DLC, so hopefully this is something that will change.)

The game shows you split times, but only flashing them at the bottom when you pass certain points on the levels. It would be nice if the splits were recorded so you could use them as targets to beat. Also would be nice if the ghost cars respawned at each split, so if you’re way behind or ahead of the ghost, you’d still get some benefit at each split.

The timer is a little strange. It shows up to thousandths of a second, but the thousandths place is always just zero. The hundredths place can only be even, despite several of the developer times having an odd value for the hundredths place. It gets odder, as readers with sharp eyes will note from the post image. In one run on track 27 I somehow ended up exactly 0.001 seconds over, which is the only time I’ve seen that place used in the time I played the game. I’m not sure if it was some kind of gag or what it all means.

As a hard game, this is decent enough. Hard games tend to have rough edges, and that’s both part of their charm and part of their difficulty.

I enjoyed Eggcelerate! on its own terms, though it’s not the kind of game I feel most at home in. There are people for whom this sort of game is a really good challenge, but I’m not one of them. For me it was equal parts diversion and frustration.

I played for 35 hours, and I got 61 of the 87 achievements (though the latter number will probably change, as it is poised to have a winter-themed DLC release this month (March 2022)). I beat all the levels, and got the par times on all but the last. I only beat developer times on ten of the 30 levels.

I could have kept going. There were several developer times I got close on, say within half a second. But it became too frustrating: it felt like if I beat them, it wouldn’t really be because I got better at the game. It would be because I got lucky in one run out of hundreds. So I cut my losses and enjoyed most of the time I did spend.

For people who dig these hard games, this is worth a shot. If that’s not you, but you’re okay with not beating every last bit of this game, it’ll probably be a blend of some fun and some frustration like it was for me.

A bit of postscript here, as I think the game could be improved for a more general audience.

The main goal of changes, in my mind, would be to give the game a firmer rooting in skill. As I wrote above, I didn’t feel like I mastered the game, nor that I could have. I doubt there’s a track in the game where I could consistently beat the developer time. That’s a sign that the outcome is less about a skill than it is some sort of luck, at least in my case. If there’s a good way to make the game more skill-based, I think it would go a long way to appealing to the general audience.

I’d like to see how I’d have done with a coarser timer. Round the timer at whole seconds (or maybe halves or tenths). This would result in fairer developer times and fewer instances of players like me getting so-damned-close-but-no-cigar times. (I suspect this is why it’s only using the even hundredths, but don’t know for sure.)

Perhaps a slightly larger bowl. Keep the current one for a challenge mode, but if the bowl were just a little more forgiving, some levels would have been a lot less frustrating.

Other game modes. Lots of options here. I would have loved to try an eggless mode (call it “softboiled” or something punny like that). Or a mode where you get a time penalty for dropping the egg, but it gets respawned and you keep racing.

The developer could experiment with an egg control mode, where you can move the egg (or the bowl), or maybe even just “hop” it a little or something. Like tilt in pinball. Or a “hardboiled” mode where the egg is giant and you have to push it over the goal with the car, Sisyphus-style.

But for the core (yolk?) of the game, something to make it a little easier, a little more repeatable, would be a blessing.