Sylvio 2 Review

When Sylvio first came out in 2015 it was something of a diamond in the rough. A psychological horror game where ambitious design, haunting sound and atmosphere, and truly a original game mechanic, made up for most of the game’s shortcomings such as its visuals and at times wonky controls. Now, two years later, Sylvio makes its return with Sylvio 2, but instead of growing on the strengths of the first one, we are left with an empty shell, narrowed down only to its most core mechanic, leaving for a repetitive experience, with so much more — once again — left to be desired.

Picking up after the cryptic ending of the first game, you continue as Juliette Waters, an audio recordist specialized in EVP — or, better known as ghost recordings. Juliette wakes up in an empty apartment, buried underneath ground by a landslide. She finds a video recording system that captures both audio and visual to allow you to capture EVP recordings, and communicate with the deceased residents of the estates. Juliette escapes the mound, only to learn that Saginaw Park (the park she explores during the first game) has been completely flooded, leaving nothing but a stretching body of water.

She finds a boat rusted and abandoned where she manages to contact Captain Walter via a radio, where she learns that her boyfriend Jonathan is out there looking for her. With only coordinates left on a post-it note to go off of, she ventures out into the sprawling water, island to island to find her boyfriend, and to further explore the mystery of what happened to the residents of Saginaw Park.

 

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Using the S-I-GHT, a ship navigation system, you’re free to explore any island from the start. The rides are very long, with nothing to see on the journey. Fortunately there’s a bed in the main cabin where you can sleep, making it something of a fast travel.

Once you arrive to an island and enter the mound to the buildings buried beneath it, gameplay consists of wandering back and forth from white dots marked around the area, recording audio and visuals, playing back and forwards the audio, then moving to the next point in the area. Though this is doesn’t differ from the first game, a tremendous amount of mechanics have been stripped from the sequel such as puzzle solving, open world exploration, and the occasional run in with a ghost that you’d have to shoot down using a blunderbuss, not to mention the actual ability to use your microphone to track down recordings and the direction you should be heading. Instead, Sylvio 2 opts out for a much more automated experience, leaving only movement, and messing with audio to your control. Picking up EVP recordings is now done automatically by simply getting close to a glowing orb. Though it’s core mechanic of deciphering audio is Sylvio’s most prominent feature, it becomes repetitive and boring in Sylvio 2 without the variety of the other mechanics.

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The open sprawling areas of the first game, covered in a thick red mist, trees, and varying buildings, has been traded for closed claustrophobic rooms that are completely pitch black, which at times are indistinguishable from one another. The water above is a nice change of scenery, until I realized that that’s all it is — sprawling empty water, where all the islands are nothing by mounds of shiny black mud.

A welcoming return from the first game is the amazingly haunting sound design. Though it’s established very quickly that this isn’t a jump-scare horror game, the sound was enough to send chills down my spine and make me squirm with unease. Especially in a particular scene where I had to conduct a seance — I was squirming and panicking, desperately wanting the scene to be over. It was great.

Much like the first, it manages to be as frightening as it is calming. There’s something so oddly satisfying about rewinding and fast forwarding the audio to find hidden messages. Though, at the same time, it’s eerie and unsettling. But it manages to make you feel like you’re genuinely decrypting the signs of the afterlife.

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Voice actress Mia Hansson Bergqvist also returns to reprise the role of Juliette Waters. Her performance is reserved and soft spoken, which I found very effective for the character.

Sylvio 2 takes all the things that made Sylvio 1 unique and special, and strips it down to its one main core mechanic: recording and deciphering audio, with the exception of adding a visual component this time around. Though this was Sylvio’s standout feature, it’s elements of puzzle solving, open exploration, and the occasional run in with an apparition are what made Sylvio an original, calming, ambitious standout title.

By the time the credits rolled, I was left conflicted and overwhelmingly disappointed, still hoping that at any moment the true sequel I was hoping for would suddenly make an reappearance. The first game was inspiring, leaving a tremendous amount of potential displayed. Sylvio 2 does much the same in some ways, but ultimately feels more like enormous step backwards, leaving so much more to be desired.

I must make it clear that Stroboskop, the developer of Sylvio, is a one-man-show. So there are elements of the game that I’m forgiving of a certain polish these games lack. But I admit, there’s a part of my that makes my heart hurt expressing my dislike for a small one man dev, but it’d be a tremendous disservice not only to developer Niklas Swanberg, but myself, if I didn’t give my honest opinion on this game.

I think Sylvio 1 remains a brilliantly ambitious and mysterious game, that displays ideas and atmosphere unmatched in any game of its genre.

Kurt Indovina
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The Journey Down Chapter 3 Review

The Journey Down first came through my radar years ago when seeking out modern adventure games that weren’t trying to be nostalgia grabs or re-hashes from the past. Though rooted in the genre’s traditions, the first two chapters exemplified a tremendous amount of promise and originality that separated it from its contemporaries. I fell in love its self-proclaimed afro-caribbean vibe, mood setting soundtrack, lovable characters, and its ambitious overarching storyline. Now, five years after the release of its first chapter, The Journey Down Chapter 3 is here, and it delivers a satisfying conclusion to an already great modern adventure saga.

Picking up immediately where chapter 2 left off, Bawana, Kito, and Lina continue their journey, in search for a lost journal that contains secrets and research of an ancient culture that could be the key to a great and mysterious power.

In their search, they come across an abandoned mining facility that contains a secret plan for the big bad corporate St. Armando power company, to drill into the center of St. Armando, a giant metropolitan city, resulting in millions of deaths.

Bawana and Kito, split up from Lina,  while she continues to uncover mysteries in the underworld, and they head back to the overworld to find Professor Moorhead, a vital character from the first chapter.

Bawana joins sides with an underground resistance and band, the “Resistance Rockers,” and a news reporter tired of delivering propaganda, and eager for the “real scoop,” to expose St. Armadno Power Companies dirty secret.

Consistent from the previous two chapters, writer and artist Theodor Waern displays his ability to write a compelling story, that feature characters you’ll love and remember, like Waasi, the leader of the of the Resistance Rockers, all of which play an important part in progressing the story forward. Not to mention Bawana, our star, an often times bumbling goof ball, incidentally turned hero. This chapter, however, is the first time we get to take control of Lina,  which was a refreshing change of pace from the other games.

A welcoming return from the previous chapters is its incredible soundtrack. The production and emphasis on music is unmatched, especially when compared with most AAA studio games. From its perfectly encapsulating Lethal Weapon vibe in the Overworld, to its pirate-esque jig in the Underworld.

And just as varying as its musical arrangement, are its environments. From from the tropical Underworld, shifting into the overwhelmingly congested urban Overworld, the environments are well varied and have character all their own. But in contrast, the underworld lacked the finer, more realized detail of its counterpart. Particularly with some character models, which looked completely 2D and illustrated when compared with the 3D models of the other characters. The production of cutscenes and soundtrack are so high and polished, that seeing these moments felt uncharacteristic with the rest of the game.

One thing seems to be apparent in contrast to its previous chapters, and that is the emphasis on story over puzzles. Though they’re very thoughtfully designed, I never found myself completely stumped. Thankfully, the puzzles make coherent sense, and never fall under the “try every item in your inventory until something works” trope (excluding one puzzle that involves a sticker from a piece of fruit.)

But due to the ease of the puzzles, this may be a quick playthrough for some. The only times I had found myself stuck was because I had missed picking up a vital item somewhere. Of course, all adventure games vary in length depending on the player’s ability to solve the puzzles. But if you’re a veteran adventure gamer, you might blast through this one pretty quick.

It’s a refreshing relief to have a modern adventure game saga have not only a conclusion, but one that feels cohesive and satisfying — especially in a time where most adventure games are done episodically, many of which aren’t yet complete, or cop out for a more cryptic and “up-for-interpretation-style” ending. Other developers should take note on how to properly wrap up a story.

Paired with top-notch voice acting, polished and highly cinematic cutscenes, The Journey Down Chapter 3 is a thoroughly well crafted conclusion to a very fun and surprising saga. It’s impossible to recommend one chapter without recommending them all, since each is a vital continuation of the last, so I don’t recommend jumping into the series here. Those looking for a modern adventure game classic, that’s reminiscent of traditional storytelling, while still maintaining an identity separate from its inspirations, look no further: The Journey Down Saga is great. Sky Goblin have proved themselves exceptional storytellers and world builders with the series. I’m eager to see what they do next

Preview: Moss

Among Skyrim VR, the Until Dawn first-person horror prequel The Inpatient, some racing game, and others, the only PSVR game that was on display that made me turn my head twice starred a tiny mouse that was communicating with the player using sign language. It resembled an art style and aesthetic similar to the comic book Mouse Guard, and featured a cute mouse communicating in a way I hadn’t seen in a game yet. That’s the game I wanted play. That’s what I wanted my first PSVR experience to be. It was called Moss.

Upon placing the VR headset on, I entered a woodland scene. From the leaves, the mouse named Quill entered and looked at me. She gestured below to a body of water in front of her. I looked down to find a Miyazaki-esque glowing blue figure looking back at me. It shifted and moved with my movements.  I then realized that I also had control of Quill. I was able to turn and look at the woods behind me, lean forward close to Quill, and peak around corners to reveal areas I couldn’t see before, but I couldn’t move the body of the spirit thing I inhabited; I could only move Quill.

I moved Quill from the left of the screen towards the right, executing Nathan Drake-style jumps and maneuvers up stones, under fallen branches, and leaping across small gaps to the next screen. Quill was faced with a gap she could not jump. As the spirit-like being I was playing, I was able to move the Dualshock 4 which simulated a floating orb on screen, that I could use to manipulate certain terrain and items that had a soft blue glow. Using the triggers, I grabbed onto a large block that I could slide into the gap Quill could not clear, allowing her to finally progress.

Quill and I went through large metal doors into an elaborate dungeon. Mechanical beetles awaited Quill. Armed with a small wooden sword, Quill was able to fight them off. The beetles could also be grabbed and shifted around using the orb.

From the ground I was able to pull out a collapsed staircase that I could also rotate, making it possible for Quill to progress to a higher platform and deeper into the dungeon. After a more complex puzzle that involved rotating and shifting a structure while simultaneously moving Quill through it, the demo ended.

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The rep told me the game was still in its very early stages of development, but it was clear developer Polyarc had a promising game in its hands. It combined the action platformer with VR puzzle solving seamlessly, and had presented a cute main character with unique characteristics that I felt inclined to help.

I was’t able to see just how Quill’s sign language would play a role in the game, but the act in creating a main character that communicated that way excited me, and left me inspired for what it could possibly do for the ASL community.

I don’t own PSVR, nor do I see the possibility of having one in the near future. But no game on the PSVR showroom floor that day enticed me more to get one than Moss.

Whether or not the VR seemed absolutely crucial to the game, I don’t know. But being able to lean in closer to the levels, and look around certain structures, possibly foreshadowed later puzzles that would make it very hard to accomplish without VR.

Moss is currently in development set to be released this winter.

Preview: Super Mario Odyssey

Like a strange sense of Deja Vu, stepping into Super Mario Odyssey was equally as familiar as it was new. Upon placing the Joy Cons in my hands, and pushing forward on the analog stick, followed by a three jump combo, everything just felt right. It was like seeing an old friend who had grown up over the years, but still had all the quarks that made them unique in the first place. This is a Mario I welcome back with open arms.

I played Super Mario Odyssey in docked mode. The rep insisted that I played the game using motion controls, never really making it clear that all the motion control functions were available as buttons.

I don’t hate on motion controls. In this game, however, I felt absolutely no need to use them. In Splatoon 2 and Breath of the Wild, the motion controls enhance the player’s performance, making for more accurate shots that are otherwise too precise to achieve on an analog stick alone. In Super Mario Odyssey, I felt like I was brought back to the early days of the Wii, when every game’s motion controls were focused on vigorously shaking all the time, just for the sake that you could. Thankfully for Odyssey, motion controls aren’t a requirement. I’ll be playing this one with a grip or Pro Controller.

Of the two levels available to play, I chose the Sand Kingdom level, which takes place in a desert known as Tostarena. A world influenced by Mexican Day of the Dead culture, populated with mariachi skeletons. Being able to freely move around and roam wherever I wanted was immediately reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy. However, I found this experience weighing more towards Sunshine because of the more grounded terrain and level design.  The design did a good job pushing the player forward to the other end, opposed to leaving the world massively open. It was a good balance of exploration but straightforward narrow design.

I used Mario’s hat, also known as Cappy, to take control of bullet bills and fly through obstacle courses. I went through a green pipe that transferred Mario into pixelated Super Mario Bros. 1 form onto a wall, A Link Between Worlds-style.

All-in-all, it felt like Mario. It controlled exactly as it has in all previous 3D Mario games. A new move added to Mario’s roster is a tumbling crouch roll. Mario squats into a ball, and by shaking the controllers, fiercely rolls forward smashing through enemies and obstacles

Though I’ve been a massive fan of the most recent Mario games like Super Mario 3D Land and World, it’s about damn time Nintendo has has taken the wants of its audience in consideration. It’s undeniable that consumers, myself included, have wanted a more mature control structure for Mario again. And again, I’m not putting down Land and World, but this is the Mario game we need right now. Aside from its loyal core audience, Nintendo has struggled to keep the attention of the every day gamer. From the brief time I had with this Odyssey, I have utmost confidence that this will satisfy our needs of real modern Mario game.

I wasn’t able to check out New Donk City, or try on any of the outfits that the game had to offer–which is a new addition to the series. But all those things would have been an enhanced bonus to an already seemingly great game. I  won’t fully know until October 27.

Kurt Indovina
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Preview: Skyrim Switch

It works. It works really well. I can’t help but have had skepticism of how the massive open world rpg would play on the Switch, but it just works, and without skipping a beat. Skyrim’s been remastered, repurposed, and re-released over and over again since 2011. So upon seeing its appearance on Nintendo’s initial Switch launch trailer back in October 2016, I blown away at the idea of having a game as demanding as Skyrim—even from six years ago—in your hands on the go, but I had to see it to believe it.

Nearly a year later, I was able to test it out for myself. At the Nintendo booth it was only available to be shown in handheld mode, and this seemed entirely intentional. Nintendo and Bethesda wanted this game to be seen in a way that Skyrim hasn’t been seen before, and in such away that was bound to impress even the most salty Nintendo hater. With that said, I had no comparison to how it looked in docked mode versus handheld mode.

In handheld mode it played very smooth. It’s obvious that this is not the HD remaster that was released for the PS4 and XBONE earlier this year. But that’s okay. That’s forgivable in exchange for a well performing game that’s as loaded as Skyrim on the go. That said, the game definitely lacked some of the visual graphical depth that we’ve grown used to. Some of the textures to me seemed a little flat; a tad muddy. Shadows weren’t very apparent, and the field of view did not stretch as far as the eye could see. But damn did it play well, and subtle graphical nuances aside, it felt amazing. And never did I think I’d ever be saying this, but, it felt a little at home on the Nintendo console.

During my short playthrough, I visited Riverwood. I was eager to test combat and the limitations of the game, so I began attacking chickens and villagers. Most of the hiccups and frame drops that I had become so familiar with my PS3 copy were not present. I only hoped that after six years, and several re-releases, that the game would be optimised better by now. And it is.

I am one of the few who’ve only purchased this game once, and I never got around to getting any of the DLC. I was admittedly on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to buy it again, but after finally getting it in my hands, and feeling how well it played, despite its now dated graphical capabilities, I’m in. I’m going to buy it. Besides, there’s no denying the absolute coolness to taking Skyrim anywhere, wherever your heart desires.

Kurt Indovina
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Going Digital: Week 1

It’s been a week. I know, big whoop right? Oh how far I’ve come. But really, in this short time I think I’ve learned a lot. And though there are more cons than pros, I anticipate a good payoff in this journey to own less.

Pros:

  1. Pooping
    My time on the toilet has become infinitely far more valuable since I started reading comics digitally. Instead of aimlessly swiping through a void of infinite social media bullshit, I instead read comics. Of course reading comics while pooping isn’t a new endeavor, however, it’s just much more convenient. Especially when hanging out at Ugly Duck Coffee, where’d I feel awkward taking in some reading material to its only bathroom. It’s socially acceptable to have your phone with you while pooping, but in my case, I’m just reading comics.
  2. Sales
    There’s a few comic volumes that I missed along the way and I found that they’re more frequently on sale on something like Comixology than they are physically at a store. Now, yes, I could order them used off Amazon or eBay in probably pretty decent shape cheaper, however, it’s the convenience of being able to purchase it on my phone, and being able to read it whenever and wherever my heart desires.
  3. Space
    I’m notorious for moving somewhat frequently (though I currently reside in my longest place of living going on four years), and with every move, comics are always my biggest dilemma. Reading them digitally obviously completely eliminates that problem.

 

Cons

  1. Holding them
    Unlike video games which have always been made on a digital medium, comics were originally created on paper, bound to the dimensions they were printed on. Yes, the majority of comics today are produced entirely digitally, I know that. However, they’re still being produced to be seen in the same format and page size as they have for decades and decades. Until I find a comic that challenges the conventions of how a comic is viewed on paper, it’s hard letting go of how it’s always been and continues to be.
  2. Sharing them
    Some of my most beloved comic series’ were discovered because someone handed it to me; they let me borrow it. It’s the very reason I hold onto specific titles, because they’re the books I’ll eventually want to pass off to someone who hasn’t read it yet. But with digital, there’s really no good way for sharing anything. The ability to show or share something in our most recent age is becoming increasingly more frustrating.
  3. Attention span
    I’ve always had a tough time playing games on my phone. There’s too many distractions. There’s too many things to do and see on it. All it takes is one text, email, or any other notification to appear, and I’ll be completely removed from the game. And yes, there’s usually an option to mute these, but it’s the temptation I think. The ability to stop playing at any second, and get carried away in the rabbit hole of distraction. Distraction aside, I just don’t ever feel comfortable holding my phone for that amount of time to enjoy a game. The same negatives apply to reading comics on my phone. I don’t feel as distracted as I do when playing games, but, I definitely don’t feel as absorbed.
  4.  Supporting Local Comic Book Stores
    This is hands down the one I struggle the most with. In an age dominated by digital platforms and Amazon, I feel an obligation to support stores in my neighborhood as much as I can. I preach a lot about voting with your dollar: spend your money with morals. I’m now a hypocrite. And my reasons are entirely selfish.

With all that said, there are still a few comics I’ll be going to buy monthly physically, however. Those are: Royal City, Black Hammer, Southern Bastards, and Moonshine. I cherish these series’, and they’ll be something I’ll most likely want to share with others. So I’m not entirely abandoning my local comic stores. Still, I’m a horrible person. I know.

Looking back, some of these cons feel a bit more petty, and something that I eventually will be able to part ways with. None of them in particular I think will ruin me. Next week I’m taking a trip to Vegas. Trips are usually perfect times to catch up on reading, and this will be the first trip that I decide to go with nothing but my phone and see how that goes for a long plane ride. Armed with my Switch too, of course.

Kurt Indovina
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Going Digital: The lament of a comic collector

I’m quitting comics. Physically at least. Or, well, I’m attempting to.

I’ve had a tough time letting go of reading comics physically. No tablet, phone, or computer screen has come close to replicating what it actually feels like to flip through the pages of a comic. To look at the panel layout; the color and the line work up close; and then organize it with all its corresponding issues. It’s a ritual.

It was different letting go of the physicality of video games, though that wasn’t easy either. After getting one too many plastic cases that had nothing but a disc inside, the idea of of buying games digitally got easier and easier. Yes, I can’t trade them in, but buying digitally makes me think twice about the game I’m buying.

I’m still coming to terms with owning most of my entertainment digitally, but the decision to transition boils down to one thing: space. My girlfriend Juliana and I use to move often, sometimes once a year (once even to another coast of the US and then back again). With every move we are faced with the either taking all our books, records, and games with us, or leaving them behind. In most cases, we go through a purge. Every move we narrow our collection down more and more. The collection that gets it the most severe, every time, are books.

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Our lifestyle is a frustrating contradiction to our interests. We like to travel. To make impulsive choices. However, we love pop culture, and with that, often comes the urge to collect and surround ourselves with the worlds we love. We own a lot of crap, and that gets in the way of our somewhat impulsive nature.

It is undeniably trendy to be minimal right now, but trends tend to reflect the movement of our culture. As we shift towards streaming platforms, owning physical things has become less enticing.

 

Every Wednesday when I come home with a few more comics, I face a feeling of dread when I  drag my comic box out from the closet, and add to the increasing weight of what I consider a very small collection of comics. With a lingering possibility that we’ll be moving sometime in the next year, owning these comics is becoming a burden rather than something I value.

 

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One of the hardest things I think I’ve done in my maturing nerdom is part ways with most of the cases to my DVD’s and Blu-rays. I even moved on to do the same with some old games. Now it’s time to move on from owning comics, and start reading digitally.

This is the week that I officially declare my full blown attempt to read comics from a screen. I’m cringing just writing it. But, I won’t know how I truly feel about it until I at least give it a shot. For the next few weeks I’m going to give updates on my pros and cons on the endeavor.

Kurt Indovina
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P.S. I’d be lying, however, if I said I’ll be quitting all comics physically. Some series’ I’m going to continue to buy issue by issue, mostly with the intent of someday lending them out to someone who I think would also cherish it. Right now, that series is Black Hammer. Holy hot shit I can’t stop freaking out over how fucking good it is. It makes me sick I love it so much.