Save point: April 2021

Welcome to April’s editorial post, a monthly progress report which rounds up all the happenings here at Later Levels in case you missed anything. With the sun starting to break through the clouds in more ways than one, let’s have a quick recap of recent events.

Blog life
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  • Total published:   14 posts
  • Most popular:   Finding it hard to be bad in video games
  • Most liked:   Finding it hard to be bad in video games
  • Most discussed:   Are you a walker or a fast-traveller?
  • My favourite:   My introduction to speedrunning: right game, right time
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  • Best day:   07:00 on Mondays
  • Other posts worth checking out:

  • A Case for Life in the Matrix by Athena from AmbiGaming
  • Favourite Game Aesthetics by Will from Geek Sleep Rinse Repeat
  • The Odyssey of Woman: Representation by Sarah from Just a Game
  • What Makes a Good Achievement? by Brett from Pixel Pricks
  • Does this need to be a video game? by Quietschisto from RNG
  • Blogging has always provided its challenges, but it has got a lot harder over the past six months. The attendance at blog parties and other collaborative events has been dwindling for a while now and the cancellation of the annual gaming expos due to COVID-19 has impacted a lot of my usual content. It doesn’t feel as ominous as writers’ block just yet thankfully, but I’m certainly struggling to find things I want to write about because of a lack of new experiences.

    The fact that I’ve been yearning to revisit older releases from my childhood lately hadn’t helped, probably a subconscious desire to seek nostalgic comfort in memories. The results have been mixed though. I had fun with the over-the-top acting in The 11th Hour after receiving the game as a gift from Darkshoxx, but Dragon’s Lair just wasn’t as magic as it as it seemed to be when I was a kid. My other-half got hold of a copy of The Black Dahlia for my birthday this month so expect to see it on stream soon if we can get it to work.

    Although these games have enabled me to create content in the form of reviews, there are only so many of these that one blogger can publish before they want to do something different. The news that gaming events are due to be back on this summer is pleasing but I can’t help thinking: will the UK really be ready for large-scale expos like that again by July? I guess there’s no harm in being cautiously optimistic and starting to look ahead to brighter days when I get to meet up with my blogger-friends at the usual events again.

    Gaming life
    Games played:

  • Coloring Pixels
  • Grim Fandango
  • Hitchhiker
  • I Saw Black Clouds
  • Internet Court
  • Nanotale – Typing Chronicles
  • Someday You’ll Return
  • The Balthazar Stone
  • The Cat That Got The Cream
  • The Darkside Detective
  • The Elder Scrolls Online
  • Several demos from LudoNarraCon 2021
  • Games previewed or reviewed:

  • Dragon’s Lair
  • GHOSTS
  • Hitchhiker
  • Invasive Recall
  • Murder on the Nile
  • Nanotale – Typing Chronicles
  • My other-half’s quirks have provided a welcome break from writing reviews this month after I started to notice how different we are when it comes to gaming. I always find it hard to be evil in video games and end up choosing the ‘good’ decisions; Pete on the other hand has no qualms about slaughtering innocents in every town he visits. He always uses fast-travel whenever the option is available whereas I’m more likely to take to my feet or a mount, in case there’s something to be missed on the journey.

    It seems that a lot of people have been considering their careers or trying new hobbies during the latest lockdown, as the number of projects on Kickstarter and their quality has been on the increase. Two more have been added to my backed list this month. GHOSTS is a modern full-motion video (FMV) horror which, going by the trailer, looks like it’s going to be as scary as hell; and Invasive Recall is a futuristic point-and-click adventure which isn’t aiming to reinvent the wheel, but celebrate the classics.

    Speaking of adventure games, this year’s LudoNarraCon took place on Steam last weekend and I managed to find some great games to add my to wishlist so stay tuned for more about those coming in early May. I also had one of the most interesting gaming experiences so far this year with Hitchhiker, which won’t be to everybody’s taste but left me thinking about it long after the credits rolled. And then there was Nanotale – Typing Chronicles, a typing game that I really enjoyed but still needs a few bug fixes.

    Real life

    I’ve been able to take quite a lot of time off work during April and the break has been appreciated. Pete and I had a lovely Easter alone together during which we went for a walk through the woods, completing several video games and ate far too much chocolate. We spent my birthday finally playing The Balthazaar Stone, an escape-room-in-a-box I backed on Kickstarter last August and received in February, so look out for a round-up of our thoughts coming next month.

    We also had the opportunity to briefly meet Darkshoxx in person! While making his way from Germany to Scotland for a new job, he spent his 10-day isolation after arriving in the UK in a nearby town which allowed us to take some books and cider to him (following all appropriate guidelines). He was also kind enough to guide Pete through a speedrun master-class during a stream one evening. We’ve both now got the speedrunning bug and have been trying to beat our fastest times in Myst.

    That’s not the only kind of running I’ve been doing this month: after signing up for new event StrideQuest, I’m aiming to complete 100-miles by the end of May for SpecialEffect. This has done wonders for my motivation when it comes to fitness and I’ve been more eager to get on the treadmill at 06:00 in the mornings than I have been in a long time. At the time of writing, I’ve got less than 20-miles to go and a new pair of trainers to break in. Let’s do this!

    Coming up
    Events:

  • 01-29 May: #DaysForDonations for GameBlast21
  • 01-31 May: StrideQuest for SpecialEffect
  • 01-31 May: EXP Share – Topic #7
  • 01-31 May: Zombie Awareness Month
  • 13 May: Shadowrun stream
  • 22 May: The Eurovision Division 2021
  • 27 May: Shadowrun stream
  • Take a look at the Side-quests page for more!
  • Posts planned:

  • A round-up from LudoNarraCon 2021
  • A celebration for Zombie Awareness Month
  • Our escape-room-in-a-box experience
  • Our puzzling time with Journal 29
  • Travelling though the UK in video games
  • And now over to you guys: what have you been up to lately, and what have you got planned for the coming month? Is there anything the community can help with or get involved in? Let everybody know in the comments below so we can show our support. Thanks for reading!

    Gaming facts FTW

    For April’s EXP Share, the awesome DanamesX from Tales from the Backlog has invited the community to highlight trivia about their favourite video games. Is there an interesting gaming fact you’d like to share?

    For my own post for the event, I had trouble deciding on just one so I decided to do something different and put together a little quiz. Below is a series of 50 questions, each from a different year in gaming history from 1972 to 2021, so why not grab a cup of coffee and see how much you know? Regular readers and visitors to our Twitch streams are likely to recognise the titles that Pete and I are fond of – good luck!

    1972: Who created Pong?
     Allan Alcorn 
    1973: What was the first commercial maze game?
     Gotcha 
    1974: Which home game console was reissued for released in the UK?
     Magnavox Odyssey 
    1975: dnd was the first video game to include what?
     A boss 
    1976: What was the first text adventure ever released?
     Colossal Cave Adventure 
    1977: What is the starting location in Zork I?
     West of House 
    1978: What was Space Invaders originally titled?
     Space Monsters 
    1979: What was the first handheld console to use interchangeable cartridges?
     Microvision 
    1980: The idea of eating a power pill to give Pac-Man super strength came from which cartoon?
     Popeye 
    1981: What is the career of the hero in Donkey Kong?
     Carpenter 
    1982: Which 8-bit home computer was released and became one of the best-selling of all time?
     Commodore 64 
    1983: Which video game is cited as a major contributing factor to the video game crash?
     E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial 
    1984: The famous Tetris song is an arrangement of which Russian folk tune?
     Korobeiniki 
    1985: How many targets are there in each round of Duck Hunt?
     Ten 
    1986: Which was the first LucasArts’ adventure game?
     Labyrinth: The Computer Game 
    1987: Solid Snake is based on which film character?
     Snake Plissken 
    1988: Which animals can you assume the form of in Altered Beast?
     Wolf, dragon, bear and tiger 
    1989: How much money do you need to collect for the best ending in DuckTales?
     $10,000,000 
    1990: What is the correct reponse to ‘You fight like a dairy farmer’?
     How appropriate, you fight like a cow 
    1991: What was Sonic the Hedgehog’s original name?
     Mr Needlemouse 
    1992: Which Guinness World Record is held by Alone in the Dark?
     First 3D survivial horror 
    1993: Where is Atrus trapped in Myst?
     D’ni 
    1994: How many titles were released worldwide for the PlayStation?
     7,918 
    1995: Which famous expo was first held in 1995?
     Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 
    1996: Who is the best-selling video game heroine?
     Lara Croft 
    1997: Which cities are featured in the first Grand Theft Auto game?
     Liberty City, San Andreas and Vice City 
    1998: Which organisation does Manny work for in Year 1 of Grim Fandango?
     Department of Death (DoD) 
    1999: What are the names of the contrasting worlds featured in The Longest Journey?
     Arcadia and Stark 
    2000: Omikron: The Nomad Soul featured a cameo by which musician?
     David Bowie 
    2001: Which wrestler helped Bill Gates reveal the original Xbox?
     The Rock 
    2002: What are the first creatures you’re taught to round up in Herdy Gerdy?
     Doops 
    2003: How many animal species are there to take photographs of in Beyond Good & Evil?
     56 
    2004: Eating which snack is considered an act of evil in Fable?
     Crunchy chicks 
    2005: What did Raz ride to escape the circus in Psychonauts?
     World’s Smallest Pony 
    2006: Which comedy-drama series set on Wisteria Lane was turned into a life-simulation game?
     Desperate Housewives 
    2007: The Witcher is based on a series of novels by which author?
     Andrzej Sapkowski 
    2008: What is the name of the brand of vending machines in BioShock?
     Circus of Value 
    2009: In Uncharted 2, Drake is approached by Harry and Chloe to help steal an oil lamp connected to who?
     Marco Polo 
    2010: What is Ethan’s motel number in Heavy Rain?
     207 
    2011: Paarthurnax’s voice-actor in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also voiced which other video game character?
     Mario 
    2012: What was the first video game soundtrack to ever be nominated for a Grammy Award?
     Journey 
    2013: Which personality voiced the narrator for Thomas Was Alone?
     Danny Wallace 
    2014: How much did Amazon buy Twitch for?
     $970 million 
    2015: How many database video clips can you unlock in Her Story?
     271 
    2016: Which pet can be found in several locations during Firewatch?
     Turtle 
    2017: What colour are Aloy’s eyes?
     Green 
    2018: Which model of android was Connor in Detroit: Become Human?
     RK800 
    2019: What connection to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can be found in The Division 2?
     Radical Pizza box and nunchucks 
    2020: Which radio station do Poe and Munro work for?
     Radio August 
    2021: What’s the name of the pub featured in The Dark Side of the Moon?
     The Crown 


    Invasive Recall: memories of the classic adventures

    Life in lockdown has left many of us with additional time to pursue new careers and hobbies, along with a curiosity about how things will be different in the future. Maybe this explains the recent increase in new crowdfunding projects and video games with a dystopian setting.

    I’ve mentioned before that the quality of campaigns appearing on Kickstarter has decreased in recent years, but things are really starting to pick up and I’ve made pledges to four projects since the beginning of March. The first was Calling Card, a murder-mystery-in-a-box by the creators of Hack Forward. Then there was choose-your-own-adventure puzzle book The Paper Labyrinth, followed by a full-motion video (FMV) horror game called GHOSTS which can only be played at 22:00 in your local time.

    The latest campaign I’ve become a backer for is Invasive Recall by Springbeam Studio. The Kickstarter page advises that this is a point-and-click inspired by ‘classic noir and cyberpunk movies’, so it follows in the footsteps of other recent releases which have gone for a dark, futuristic narrative influenced by technology. Its look and atmosphere remind me of Lacuna, an upcoming title I tried the demo for during February’s Steam Game Festival and then wishlisted immediately.

    The story take place in 2086, when advances in neurological science and artificial intelligence (AI) mean it’s possible to scan and interpret the thoughts of the human mind. The procedure is dubbed ‘Invasive Recall’ and legislators have permitted law enforcement to use it on recently-deceased victims of crime. By retrieving their last memories, detectives can potentially find details vital to a case and even find the identity of the perpetrator right at the crime-scene.

    Recall detectives John Landon and Rachel Hapley only know each other by reputation. The former is an investigator for the city police who’s looking into the murder of prominent scientists, while the latter works for a tech-savvy, well-funded private organisation and is following up on a series of mysterious disappearances. Little do they know that their paths are about to cross and they’ll soon face a far more sinister truth than the everyday corruption of the city.

    As to be expected from a point-and-click, gameplay is primarily presented in the form of conversations and puzzles but there are two main mechanics worth highlighting here. The first is Invasive Recall itself: you can use your Recall instrument to transfer the memories of the dead and play through their last moments alive, in a bid to uncover clues in the past which will help you solve challenges in the present. The promotional trailer hints at what this will be like after the death of a genetic scientist.

    Invasive Recall, video game, detective, office, elevators

    The second is less appealing for me personally: character-switching. Many adventure gamers enjoy the added insight that shifting between protagonists provides but I usually don’t like the mechanic because I find it breaks my immersion in the story. In Invasive Recall, players can switch between Rachel and Landon at will so they’ll have ‘an alternative approach if they get stuck’ and there will be certain puzzles where their collaboration is the only way forward.

    I must admit, the character-switching initially put me off when the Kickstarter page was first published – but there was something about the campaign which drew me in after watching the trailer again the following week. Springbeam Studio have stated: “We’re not aiming to reinvent the wheel. We just want to take what was good of the classic games like Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Broken Sword, and make a traditional and well-crafted game.”

    This appeals to me greatly. I’ve been finding myself drawn to older adventures during the lockdown, probably because the nostalgia provides a small degree of comfort and escapism, and a pixelated point-and-click featuring a verb interface is just what I need right now. Sure, it’s interesting when a release comes along that’s innovative and does something we’ve never seen before; but a game which doesn’t change the formula can be just as worth playing if contains an interesting storyline and well-written characters.

    The team go on to say: “Our goal is to make the puzzles feel like a natural part of the world of the game, and never feel like something shoehorned in for the sake of adding friction.” And speaking of the world, several locations are featured on the Kickstarter page. Players are invited to find out what’s stirring beneath the surface of the city: why are a handful of prominent scientists turning up dead, and why are ordinary people vanishing into thin air never to be seen again?

    Invasive Recall, video game, detective, cars, car park

    Just over 25% has been pledged by 342 backers towards the £29,099 target at the time of writing and the project is on track to reach this by Thursday, 06 May 2021. There’s a while to wait for the game itself though as it isn’t due to be released until the second half of 2022 but if you’re eager to get your hands on it, you can make a pledge of £44 or more for early access to the demo builds. Follow Springbeam Studio on Twitter to stay up-to-date on their progress.

    Hitchhiker: a journey into the unknown

    When sitting down to write a review, I usually begin by making a list of all the points I want to cover. They might be simple things such as the way the graphics reminded me of another release; or more complex subjects like story connections and meaning.

    I’ve tried to do this with Hitchhiker several times now but it’s impossible. After completing Mad about Pandas’ latest release a couple days ago thanks to a review key from Plan of Attack, thoughts about how it made me feel and what I think it was trying to say are still swimming around in my head and they’re as hard to pin down as the narrative itself. It’s difficult to put into words but don’t take that as a bad thing: this has possibly been the most interesting gaming experience I’ve had in 2021 so far and I think it’s going to be with me for a while yet.

    Hitchhiker is one of those titles where it’s difficult to go into detail without spoiling what makes it special. I tend to roll my eyes when I see that sentiment expressed in reviews because it always comes across like a cop-out, but this is definitely a game which needs to be played to be understood. You step into the shoes of a young man who hitches a ride with a different character in five episodes, before things turn mysterious when you realise they all know you in some way. More about that later.

    At first, the title seems like a hitchhiking simulator where you can’t do much outside of conversation except examine a few objects inside the car and look out of the window. There are a few puzzles which need to be solved to progress: for example, at one point you’ll be guessing the answer to riddles posed by the radio DJ and then later, rewiring a light to get out of a tricky situation. Although they aren’t overly challenging, they do provide a nice, occasional break from the story.

    But the story is where the power of Hitchhiker lies. You’re a young man with no memory of who you are and where you’re going, and the only thing for you to do is hitch a ride to hopefully reach your unknown destination. The first person you meet is a raisin farmer called Vern who’s happy to chat to you about his life. Over the course of the next 40-minutes however, it becomes clear that not everything is as seems and you start asking yourself whether you can trust this man and his words.

    Why do you feel as though you recognise each of the characters but don’t remember them? And how do they know so much about you and who you really are? The next rides are just as intriguing as the first with Vern and, although it’s difficult to say who my favourite driver was, I found myself drawn to Sayed due to the backstory hinted at in conversation. Each of these people are curious in their own way with individual personalities, beliefs and desires that they may use to influence you.

    Hitchhiker, video game, car, ride, man, Vern

    I didn’t get the impression that the options selected during discussions with the characters did much to change the following dialogue, because each response was vague enough to answer any of the questions asked. This fits in wonderfully with Hitchhiker’s atmosphere though. It’s as if you’re aware the drivers are pulling the strings during these rides and, although they appear amiable on the surface, you can tell there’s something each of them is trying to hide from you.

    An interlude during each ride gives some insight into their backstories. These are depicted in totally different visual styles from the Firewatch-like graphics of the main game: for example, one is told in black-and-white hand-drawn pictures while another is communicated through old View-Master images. I found this switch jarring at first but, once I understood that these stories-within-a-story were told from the other characters’ perspective, the style was perfect.

    It’s design choices like this which make Hitchhiker feel something like a hallucination. It’s almost as if the other characters have stepped into your dream during the main narrative and you’ve visited theirs for a short spell in return during the interludes mentioned above. Other visual components such as guiding fireflies, moving mustard bottles and even tumbleweed balls with staring eyes add to the impression that not everything the protagonist witnesses or is told is the truth.

    In certain sections of the game, it’s obvious that certain assets have been reused: scenery repeats outside the car window and the drivers all have the same way of fidgeting and checking out their surroundings. I couldn’t tell whether this was due to budget constraints or intentional design – but I’m going to go with the latter regardless because it worked. It seems to replicate that feeling of dreaming and noticing objects or people you recognise in situations or places where they don’t belong.

    I must admit that I wasn’t sure what to make of Hitchhiker immediately after completing it. Several possible explanations are given for the protagonist’s memory loss and potential destination but pulling the threads of truth out of the narrative is challenging, and you constantly change your mind about what you believe during your playthrough. No definitive conclusion is given at the end of the game and this isn’t usually something I enjoy; I’d rather have all the answers handed to me than an open-ended story.

    But it’s now a few days later and I’ve changed my mind yet again. Although I still haven’t deciphered everything and some questions remain unanswered, I think I’ve figured out most of what has happened to the protagonist – at least my version of what has happened to them. Giving a firm conclusion to Mad About Panda’s project would have removed some of that surreal feeling, and it’s thanks to some superb writing and voice-acting that I’m still thinking about it a week later.

    While Hitchhiker won’t be to everybody’s tastes thanks to the way it tells its story, it’s a game I’d definitely recommend to fans of releases such as Kentucky Route Zero and Virginia. It took me on a journey into the unknown and it’s one I’m not going to forget for a while.

    My introduction to speedrunning: right game, right time

    Although I was aware of speedrunning thanks to dedicated sections at gaming expos and the GDQ marathons, it was never something I’d paid much attention to. This changed after a chance encounter in October when I happened to be playing the right game at the right time.

    My other-half and I started chatting to Darkshoxx when he raided the Later Levels’ Twitch channel while we were streaming Shivers back then. Few people seem to have ever heard of this 1995 horror point-and-click whenever I mention it because it wasn’t one of Sierra Online’s most famous titles, but he was actually speedrunning it at the time. Darkshoxx told us that there was an entire community dedicated to doing the same thing and kindly sent me an invitation to an associated Discord server.

    I was surprised to hear that people were speedrunning this game because there’s an element of randomness to it. Ten evil spirits called Ixupi must be recaptured in a vessel which corresponds to their element, the pots and lids for which are scattered in different locations around a museum each time a new playthrough begins. It was interesting reading the conversations between the server’s members and hearing about the techniques each of them used to achieve their fastest time.

    Speedrunning still wasn’t something I’d considered trying myself even after being introduced to the group though. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy having to spend so long practicing with the same game, and the competitive side of gaming has never really appealed to me. I’ve written before about not usually doing replays because there are always so many new releases I’d like to start; and adult responsibilities mean I don’t have enough time to improve my skills to be able to play at a competitive level.

    But things may be starting to change since a recent stream with Darkshoxx. My other-half and I have had the pleasure of getting to know him since that raid six months ago and we can now frequently be found hanging out in Twitch chat. When Pete decided to do a weekly ‘master-class’ where he’s joined by a friend as part of our GameBlast21 streams, the awesome Darkshoxx agreed to take part in a speedrun-themed session and guided him through several titles.

    First up was Myst: Masterpiece Edition. Anyone who has completed a version of this classic adventure will know about the ‘twist’ at the end and how quickly you could finish the title if you only had all the pieces to the puzzle at the start, so it feels like the perfect game to speedrun. Pete’s first attempt took over 11-minutes but within an hour he’d managed to reduce this to less than 90-seconds – pretty amazing, but not as impressive as Darkshoxx’s own personal best (PB) of just over 44-seconds.

    Next on the list was Zork I, the text-adventure first released in 1980. Pete wanted to do this title for the nostalgia as it’s one of his favourite games from his childhood but so much of the speedrun obviously depends on typing-speed and I think he found it rather stressful as a result. He only made one attempt but managed to enter more than 275 commands in 28-minutes; and was pleased with this, as it was much faster than the three-months it took him to complete the story back on his Commodore 64.

    The final speedrun was DuckTales Remastered, perhaps the hardest one of the session as it wasn’t a game that Darkshoxx had ever tried to do himself and so some research was needed beforehand. Pete had played it during our 24-hour GameBlast21 marathon in February and at the time we’d joked about him speedrunning it, so here was his opportunity to turn that into a reality. He managed to beat the Transylvania level in just over nine-minutes and bag himself third-place on the leaderboard.

    My other-half’s eyes lit up and I could tell he was genuinely enjoying himself while watching him through this master-class. Don’t get me wrong, we always have fun when we’re streaming and hanging out with friends online – but there was something about those speedruns which really grabbed his attention. It helped immensely that Darkshoxx was a great teacher, patient when he made mistakes and providing advice on what he could improve to reduce his times even further.

    And I have to admit that Pete’s excitement and his continuing enthusiasm after the stream was kind of infectious. As he worked his way through Myst for the tenth time, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “I’d like to try this.” And despite sensing his stress as he typed the commands for Zork, it felt like something I could do too. As mentioned earlier in this post, I’d never been interested in speedrunning before that night but now it feels as though it’s something I might actually try for myself.

    So why is that, considering I don’t enjoy replays or competition when it comes to gaming? I’m still not interested in competing against others but challenging yourself is always appealing. That’s the reason why I participate in events like StrideQuest: I want to find out just how far I can push myself and whether I’m able to improve on that achievement over time. I’m not bothered about whether my best is better than anyone else’s, only whether I can see improvement in myself.

    There’s also the fact that the speedrunning community seems so welcoming. Pete and I watched Darkshoxx and Die4Ever2011 discuss a video of The 7th Guest by another speedrunner during one of his streams recently and there was absolutely no animosity at all; they simply wanted to know how he’d completed certain puzzles and whether his method was different to their own, rather than tear him down. Everyone we’ve met in the community so far has been genuinely lovely and supportive of each other’s efforts.

    Darkshoxx is getting up to speed in a new job so once he’d has some time to settle in, we’ll get him back on the Later Levels’ Twitch channel for another speedrun session. And who knows: it might be me on the controls next time rather than Pete. Although the suggestion of The Secret of Monkey Island from Ellen from Ace Asunder is tempting, I’ve been told it’s rather difficult due to the swordfighting-insult section. Maybe I’ll start of with Myst and see how I get on.

    After all, I wouldn’t want to Myst out on this opportunity… sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    Nanotale: my type of game

    I’ve always enjoyed typing games. There’s something quite relaxing about completing a mission armed only with your keyboard, whether it’s shooting at zombies in The House of the Dead: Overkill or being Master QWERTY’s apprentice in Keyboard Sports.

    During a week off work a few years back, I spent most of my time unsurprisingly playing video games and the one I had the most fun with was Epistory – Typing Chronicles. You play as the muse to a writer who’s lacking creativity and so your adventure starts on a blank page; but as you gather inspiration, solve mysteries and defeat enemies by typing the words shown onscreen, the world opens in an origami fashion and becomes filled with both life and danger.

    I was therefore pleased when I heard developer Fishing Cactus was working on another project and that I’d have a chance to get my hands on a demo of Nanotale – Typing Chronicles at the EGX Rezzed event in 2019. It felt quite similar to Epistory but a lot of thought seemed to have been put into how to evolve the mechanics since the previous title. Thanks to the offer of a review key from the Plan of Attack team, I’ve finally been able to play it in full this month.

    The story centres on novice Archivist Rosalind on her 18th birthday. She’s now old enough to explore the Ancestral Forest so, armed with the field notebook gifted to her by teacher Lavender, she sets off to discover rare plants and creatures. But when Dissonant Magic is lingering in the air and she’s attacked by slinking creatures after finding a Spirit Fox lying hurt in a clearing, she must set out on a journey to fix the corruption that’s filling broken hearts in her home and beyond.

    Anyone who’s ever played a typing game will be familiar with the gameplay: words appear onscreen and you must enter them on your keyboard to strike enemies, pick up health and talk to non-player characters (NPCs). Nanotale builds on its predecessor’s formula by adding a few RPG elements however. New spells learnt as you progress can be used to build up bigger attacks: for example, combining ‘large’ with ‘fire’ will throw a fiery ball at your chosen target.

    As seems to happen naturally with RPGs, you find your preferred spell and tend to stick with it for the majority of your playthrough, but the puzzles dotted throughout the three biomes encourage you to mix things up a bit. You can create bridges made from thick vines if you shoot your lightning spell at sand with ‘zap’ for example, but how do you do this if the ground is formed of rock? It was surprising to see a couple of new abilities introduced so late in my progress that I didn’t even use them, not even with the final boss.

    Nanotale, Typing Chronicles, video game, boss battle, typing

    Speaking of bosses, you face several during Nanotale and they come in the form of a large antagonist who must be defeated by taking down waves of smaller enemies in a particular way. Although these events don’t feel as frantic as those in Epistory, they’re still rather tough and there’s always a risk of hurting Rosalind through your actions. Don’t do what I did on several occasions: it’s never a good idea to use a fire spell when you’re hiding in tall grasses. Who knew they were so flammable?

    It’s a matter of staying calm, being as accurate as possible with your typing, strategically choosing which creatures to attack first and picking the right spell for the environment. There are some stressful moments when you’re trapped in an arena with a wave of enemies slowly crawling towards you but at no point did I feel overwhelmed enough to stop. It’s a pleasant level of stress and there’s a great sense of achievement after you’ve made it out of a battle alive.

    It’s not all about fighting though. Rosalind is an Archivist at heart and by entering the words shown above plants and trees throughout the environments, you can add them to her catalogue and find out more about them once she has enough information. There are several Steam achievements to be gained from collecting but sadly, I found that some of them didn’t trigger during my playthrough. The developer seems to be working on these issues though as fixes have been mentioned in the Steam discussions.

    For anyone who’s reading this post and feeling their typing skills would stop them from playing such a game: don’t worry, as several accessibility options can be changed to suit your needs. Adaptive difficulty means Nanotale gradually changes to match your level and you can also set a time-break to help you escape from difficult battles, opt for health regeneration and use the OpenDislexic font for more readable text. For those who are interested, you can check the typing speed recorded in the menu too.

    Nanotale, Typing Chronicles, video game, spirit fox, typing, desert

    Unfortunately, I did encounter a few bugs; at times I became stuck on the edge of ledges, friendly creatures approached me but then wouldn’t move so I became blocked me between rocks, and at one point I was unable to leave attack mode. These problems became more apparent during the last half of the final biome and I had to respawn every 30-minutes or so to progress. At least the last checkpoints were never too far away and so I never had to go back to repeat actions already completed.

    Nanotale’s map feels far bigger than Epistory, although my playtime of 14-hours was only three more than for the previous game. The lack of a fast-travel option didn’t bother me at all because the environments are so pretty and the transitions between the different atmosphere in each biome – the Ancestral Forest, Sunken Caves and Blue Desert – is lovely. The only small niggle I had was the lack of a quest marker onscreen as having to keep leaving the game to check my direction on the map broke my immersion a little.

    The final negative is that some of the smaller areas just don’t feel completely finished. There’s a section to the right in the desert that isn’t filled with anything other than rocks and seems to be missing both NPCs and enemies. And a bridge to a new location is marked on the map in the forest but when you arrive there, there’s no switch to activate and you can’t cross it. The fact that there’s plenty of content to see in other places unfortunately makes these omissions more obvious.

    But did I enjoy Nanotale? Definitely. It’s very easy to escape into as the typing gameplay and lack of more action-y elements usually found in RPGs make it a relaxing change from many other games in the genre, yet it’s still challenging in all the right places. The environments and soundtrack are both gorgeous too to top it all off. It’s a great follow-up to Epistory and you can see how much Fishing Cactus have learnt from their experience of creating the previous title.

    I’d recommend playing Nanotale – Typing Chronicles if you’re a fan of typing games because it’s a lot of fun; I finished it over four sessions and each one went on for longer than I intended because lost track of time after being sucked into its world. It’s just good to be aware of the bugs you might encounter during the final third of the game or be patient enough to wait for them to be resolved. The developer does seem to be actively working on fixing these and is keeping everyone updated via Steam discussions.

    I hope the Fishing Cactus team go on to create more instalments in the Typing Chronicles series. Until we hear more news, I’ll be working on increasing my typing speed.