To Leave, Eternum EX, and The Colonists also reviewed in our new monthly roundup.
I’m living on a weird planet where Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t really on my radar. I’m fairly sure it’s the reason I’ll never see my brother again. But, believe it or not, other actual video games were released this month! If nothing else, they should be commemorated for having the sheer guts to release within a few weeks of RDR2, a black hole of attention absorption where careers, dreams, families and livelihoods go to die.
If you’re on the same planet I am, or if you’re burnt out on all the triple-A releases, here are some quickfire reviews of five titles we couldn’t quite get around to penning a full review of this month, but which we nevertheless felt were worthy of a look.
Reigns: Game of Thrones
What better way to survive the coming winter than a Tinderesque swipe fest? The previous Reigns games put you in the deadly royal shoes of kings and queens with all of their feudal problems. In Reigns: Game of Thrones (PC, iOS, Android) nine fan-favourite royals take the lead.
The loopiness from the last two games has been toned down, but fans of the show might appreciate the lighthearted take on backstabbing politics. Every character has their own permanent passive ability and advisors, making each distinct and in keeping with the characters we know love.
Most of the passive abilities prevent one type of death for each character. Tyrion Lannister is suitably on top of finances, meaning he’ll never be dethroned by emptying the kingdom treasury.
There’s an ending for every character if you can make them survive through winter, and plenty of other secret events for added replayability. It will take at least a few hours to see everything, in a game that feels more like a sequel than a spin-off. Take note, other developers: this is how licensed games should be made.
Phantom Halls (PC) is a spooky squad-based 2D dungeon crawler pitting a crew of stereotypical monster-hunters against denizens of haunted mansions. You run a weaponised Scooby Gang from an RV and solve cases like ‘The Missing Tinder Date’ and ‘I Need To Check In On This Moonshine Operation’.
Three characters can take any case at the same time, and bring their own utility to the table. You control each member with separate keys, and finding combos of special abilities can be deliciously satisfying at times.
Some characters are more useful than others, like the Cheerleader that can heal on a cooldown. Ash from the Evil Dead series also makes an appearance. The characters each have their own upgrades, although these were minimal in the review copy I played.
It’s a pleasingly lighthearted take on standard 80s horror tropes – adorable evil dolls, clowns, zombies and skeletons. The low-poly, paper-craft aesthetic is pleasant enough, and should perform flawlessly even on low-spec machines.
However, gameplay is a bit on the slow side, and levels can feel repetitive even within unique cases. It’s also fairly easy, with few enemies except bosses posing any threat.
Still, Phantom Halls is smooth, squad-based fun just in time for Halloween – and with potential for future patches to add more content, upgrades and missions, it could improve over time.
Remember when gamers cared about scores? Eternum EX (PC, Switch) remembers. It goes hard on the 1980s arcade cabinet theme, and nails it. The scan lines, controls, soundtrack and art style feel authentic to a bygone era.
You lead an aged King Arthur on his quest to find youth again, beating stages by finding chests peppered around each level. Each stage has a variety of enemies with predictable patterns, but the screen swarms with monsters if you tarry too long.
There are secret levels to unlock, power-ups to wipe the screen completely, and point boosts to… get more points, I guess.
The controls are as solid, as you’d expect from an homage to old-school platformers. Everything moves at a consistent speed, so you never feel cheated by deaths. Arthur’s an old man now too, so one hit is enough to down him.
There’s a Home Mode (you can save between every five levels) and an Arcade Mode (no saving, but unlimited continues). They’re a neat thematic difficulty choice, and both present their own obstacles. It still takes a good couple of hours to crack Arcade Mode unless you’re well practised.
Eternum EX gives you exactly the experience you’d expect just from looking at the screenshots: an arcade-style platformer with continues, lives, scores and time limits. For what it is, they’ve nailed it.
To Leave (PS4, PC) is the love-child of a Gorillaz music video and one of my all-time favourite flash games, Helicopter Game. You control manically depressed Harm on his journey to open temples with ancient technology in order to send his fellow citizens to heaven. The story is fairly vague throughout, telling more through its striking visual aesthetic than through its text.
Each level is broken into mini platforming segments that you navigate using your flying door. Hitting any obstacle immediately sends you back to the start of the segment; your only challenge is to complete the level before your ‘vibrance’ runs dry.
The difficulty in To Leave is really back-ended. The beginning chapters are fairly straightforward, slowly escalating in difficulty. Then suddenly, you’re smacked so hard with the difficulty hammer that it feels like a completely different game. Most players will likely drop out here. With more a smartly implemented difficulty curve, this stylish platformer could have been great.
Difficulty isn’t normally something I criticise, but platformers like Celeste provide perfect solutions to making games more accessible. It’s a shame, because it results in To Leave being a tough recommendation to any but the most die-hard platformer fans.
The Colonists (PC) is a Settlers-inspired sim designed to tell you how stupidly inefficient you are. Okay, maybe just me.
Wall-E-like robots have fled Earth and it’s up to you to send their civilisation through new ages. Resource generation is the name of the game here. I don’t exactly know why you tell robots to farm for food, but they need it to eat to get the energy to fuel the woodchoppers to build the mines to extract the iron to make the tools to…
I wasn’t kidding about efficiency. There are graphs galore, and a bright, colourful productivity percentage on display. There’s satisfaction in watching that figure creep up the more you streamline your production.
There are two scenario types to choose from: a solo settlement builder with set goals and time limits, and a deathmatch against an AI opponent. Apart from these scenarios, there are no other modes as of release. A sandbox mode is in development and will likely come soon, but it would have been nice to have more modes available for launch.
All-in-all, there’s little content here compared to other strategy games. But for fans of the Settlers and Anno games, it’s a relaxing new setting and a logistics officer playground.
Disclosure: Phantom Halls is an Indie Game Website partner game and is currently being advertised on the site. This did not consciously impact Myles’ review of the game.