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

Splatoon 2 Review in Progress

When Splatoon first came out two years ago on the WiiU, I had a feeling of hesitation. A feeling that is actually quite similar to what I’m feeling with ARMS right now. I was interested, but equally a little off-put for a number of reasons. First, I’m not a competitive online gamer. Second, it didn’t look like anything else to come before it; there was nothing to compare it with, which made it exciting but also wary to approach. It’s hard for me to justify $60 for any game, especially one that resembled 90’s era Nickelodeon and a tentacle fetish. So I left Splatoon to the early adopters.

I noticed from afar that Splatoon had managed to sustain a community of players. So now as a Switch owner (desperate to play something new), and with Splatoon on its second rodeo, I decided to give it a shot. Or, in this case, a squirt — er, actually, I take that back.

I’m equally glad and ashamed that I waited till the second game to join in, but ultimately enlightened to find that Splatoon is making me something I thought I would never become: a competitive online gamer.

You take the role of these tween humanoid squid kids known as inklings. The spine of the game is focused on competitive 4v4 matches, the most prominent mode being “Turf War.” Armed with a super soaker filled with ink, the objective is to splat as much territory as possible. Covering the map with ink also increases you and your team’s mobility. The inklings can change form into small squids that can move faster, cover, and refill their ink gun when emerged in your team’s ink.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

Every two hours the maps rotate, allowing only two maps to be played during that window of time. Though at first I thought it was a bizarre approach, I eventually found it to be a very clever. It gave variety to how I played, and never allowed me to get too comfortable. It also stopped the majority of players from weighing on one map specifically. Made me think back to my brief and short lived time playing Black Ops, and how Nuketown was always obsessively voted on as the next map. It became predictable and boring.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a competitive gamer. I’d much rather be fighting alongside someone against NPC’s than actual players. I just have more fun that way. Splatoon 2 is warping my perception of that, however. It has a very approachable leveling system that actually makes me feel like I’m progressing. Between levels 1-10, you’re only allowed to play “Turf War” (which is all I’ve been able to play). After level 10 I can progress to other modes such as Splat Zones, Rainmaker, and Tower Control. All of which can be accessed in either Ranked Battle, and then once you level up high enough, League Battle.

And though it may sound like I’m just grinding match after match to slowly level up to more competitive modes, there’s a satisfying reward system along the way that’s keeping me engaged and wanting more. Also, the matches are short, which is a huge plus for keeping me on my toes, and constantly wanting to play just one more round.

As you level, you gradually unlock different weapons and gear to purchase. Different gear has different attributes, like walking through enemy ink faster, or decreasing damage taken. As you play wearing that gear, it’ll level and unlock new buffs. Also, gear gives you the opportunity to customize and dress your inkling like a J-pop star. A dream I’ve wanted to fulfill in reality (I’m too tall to fit most Japanese clothing brands).

There’s a much broader variety of weapons which is a contrast to the first game if I understand correctly. From normal squirt guns, to paint rollers, or even umbrellas, each weapon has their own strengths and weaknesses, and favor a very specific playing style.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

There’s also a campaign mode which I’ve only played for an hour or so. It follows a pretty old-school liner approach which is reminiscent of games circa 1996-2000: play a series of levels; fight boss; move onto next world. The campaign thus far feels like a very extensive bootcamp for crafting players’ skills to play online. It teaches a variety of mechanics, while giving the player an opportunity to test out different weapons in varying scenarios. Also, this is probably the first time where I’m more inclined to play online than I am the campaign.

Salmon Run is Splatoon’s attempt at a horde mode. You play cooperatively with three other players, as you try to survive wave after wave of mutated salmon creatures. The variety of enemies is staggering, each one having devastating a attack, with a specific weakness to take it down. This mode, more than anything, could desperately benefit from voice chat. Which the game has… sorta.

I haven’t been able to try out the voice chat feature of Nintendo’s corresponding smartphone app that enables voice chat yet, and frankly, I don’t know if I ever will. Also, its use is limited to only working with players you know. So until I have three other friends who have the game and a willingness to play it together, I can’t even use it if I wanted to.

Salmon Run is only available to play in 12 hour intervals a day, which I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around as to why. Is it to build that sense of exclusivity, thus building hype and anticipation to play it? I don’t entirely hate it, because it gives me something to look forward to (which is maybe its intentions, and in that case, it’s working). But not everyone is as patient, so I can see it being annoying.

It’s hard to admit now, but when looking back on my hesitation of games like Splatoon and ARMS, I didn’t try them because they were different. Nintendo time and time again challenges its consumers by attempting new things. But this time around, they took something as familiar as the competitive shooter, and instead of completely trying to redefine it, they skewed it just a bit, and added their own new weird-ass mechanics. It works. And I love it. Though I haven’t invested a ton of time into it, I’m already well invested, maybe even addicted.

For money sake, however, I’m still gonna hold off on ARMS.

Now, only if Nintendo could implement this style of online gaming for Pikmin. A girl can dream, can’t he?

Kurt Indovina
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Comic Review: Mother Panic #7

Mother Panic #7

With the “Broken Things” arc finally at an end, there’s a welcome return to an aesthetic more comparable to Mother Panic’s first three issues. Issue #7 introduces a new, bizarre—which at this point is to be expected—villain in town, dressed in a literal Gotham City Coroner body bag, armed with two guns. The issue opens with the two parents being shot down in front of their young daughter—a seemingly common act of violence in Gotham City. But in this case, the shooting wasn’t a senseless robbery, but a planned attack by the new bag-wearing villain.

Connecting back to the first three issues, the little girl seems to be one of the children being held captive that Mother Panic saved, making the murder of her parents seem more deliberate.

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Though Tommy Lee Edwards’ work is still missed (although he is scheduled to return to the series to illustrate and write), I’m very happy to see the absence of artist Shawn Crystal—a style that was horribly unfitting and detached when standing next to the stark boldness of Edwards. For this issue, John Paul Leon helms the art, and though it features a very similar style to Edwards, Leon’s style remains distinguishable on its own merits. The story Mother Panic tells feels more suited with darker and serious art style— something that Crystal could not translate. Colorist Dave Stewart also does a good job of matching the tone and palette that Edwards made so distinctive in the first three issues.

Houser calmly paces the story forward while still revealing snippets of the past, and how Violet Paige came to be Mother Panic. Most importantly, this issue sheds some much needed light on her mysterious super strength; a super strength that is something more than human, but part cyborg. Houser also makes it clear that Panic isn’t necessarily seen as a hero in her own eyes, or by those who help her. But still, her intentions as a crime fighter are vague, not-to-mention why she’s on the streets fighting in the first place. It seems to be spiraling back to the need to protect children, but it’s too early to tell.

There’s still plenty of questions unanswered concerning Panic’s team and why they’re helping her, as well as her mother’s strange ability to apparently communicate with rats. Nonetheless, this is a welcoming start to a new arc, and sets the series into a new gear as we continue to learn more about Panic’s past, and a mysteriously strange and dark new villain on the streets.

Comic Review: Black Hammer #9

Black Hammer #9

Following the emotional masterpiece of issue #8, Black Hammer #9 takes a turn for the weird, focusing on the origins of Talky-Walky and her relationship with Colonel Weird. This issue reveals the least in terms of the overarching mystery that shrouds over the has-been heroes and why they’re trapped in the town of Rockwood, but hints that Colonel Weird knows more than he lets on, and by knowing too much, may be paying the ultimate price.

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It goes without saying that Lemire, as always, is at the top of his game in #9. Continuing to balance the quirkiness of Golden Age style writing, with his emotionally weighted signature touch. This month, Dean Ormston is replaced with David Rubin. David Rubin’s signature art style doesn’t match the emotional impact and pacing of Dean Ormston’s work, but is still a welcoming fit for Colonel Weird’s sci-fi pulp-esque tale. Rubin’s cartoonish worlds and creature sensibilities is a good fit for encompassing the other worldly dimensions Weird explores. And like his art, Rubin’s bubbles and lettering has just as much character and personality as the world and characters he illustrates. It’s a bit much at times and a little too cartoony for my tastes, but again, it compliments the off-kilter aesthetic of Colonel Weird’s character as a whole.

Though Ormston’s presence was missed in this issue, Rubin’s work didn’t take me out of the Black Hammer world; it was a change that made sense.

Black Hammer #9 didn’t quite have the emotional punch that #8 had for me, and I think most of that is owed to Talky-Walky not being a prominent character in this series as much as others. In fact, if I remember correctly, Talky-Walky went a few issues without an appearance. “The Ballad of Talky-Walky” left much more to be desired from the character; this issue gave only the smallest glimpse into Walky in terms of where she came from, but she still remains the most underdeveloped of the crew. Despite that, this issue continued to pull me in, especially with the mystery that surrounds Colonel Weird’s intergalactic abilities to slip in and out of the “para-zone,” where past and future live side by side, revealing that he, more than anyone, knows the most of what’s going on, and knows what may eventually happen to them all.

Black Hammer continues to be the comic I look forward to the most every month. It’s been a slow burn in terms of moving the overarching story along, but that seems to be a second agenda next to fleshing out the emotional worlds of each and every character. If Lemire is a master at anything (which is arguably a lot) it’s his ability to write characters. His ability to give realistic emotional weight to anything is simply unmatched in comics today. To me, this series is a masterclass in character development.