I Want to Escape This Shining House of Mini Reviews

Pokemon Shining Pearl
I took this specifically because of the special snow, which you can't see at all

Pokemon Shining Pearl (ILCA/Nintendo+TPC, 2020, Switch)

A frustratingly faithful remake of the original DS Pokemon games that most people here will already know their opinions on, so I'll keep this short. There's virtually no reason to get this game if you've already played DP and aren't desperate for a way to play it on Switch. There's almost nothing new, the updated graphics are nice but don't add a ton to the experience, and content from Platinum is, oddly, almost completely omitted. All that said, given that the original DS games are quite expensive to buy used and that the Switch is a far better system than the DS, the remakes are absolutely the best way to experience Gen IV if you haven't done so already.

Time to beat: 31 hours

MSRP: $59.99

Escape Simulator
The twist is that they're all snakes in different contortions

Escape Simulator (Pine Studio, 2021, PC)

It's a set of about 20 escape rooms divided between four major themes of about seven rooms each and two smaller themes of one room each. That's a great selling point on its own, but the real draw is that the rooms are designed for up to three player online co-op and have been made by people with experience designing escape rooms professionally. And you can tell: while some of the rooms are a little weaker and the space theme makes the third player feel somewhat extraneous, there are great puzzles here and as a whole it's the best of these sorts of puzzles I've seen outside of Zero Escape. They're remarkably creative even though they're designed to be finished in less than 15 minutes each. Even though you can get through them all in a few hours, they're easily worth the asking price.

Its other major feature is a level editor with Steam Workshop support that lets you easily download community levels. As you might expect, the quality here is very uneven. I've only played a couple of the best rated ones, but even these have included some with major bugs and questionable design. More frustratingly, some of them seem to break multiplayer. The game is very popular and this feature is pretty new, though, so it's reasonable to hope that community rooms will get better with time.

Time to beat: 5-6 hours

MSRP: $14.99

Who Wants to be a Millionaire
Spot the Cylon

Who Wants to be a Millionaire - New Edition (Microids/Maximum Games, 2021, PS5)

I rented this because I enjoy the show and have played earlier video game implementations on PC and GBC. This features the more difficult questions of the modern show, which is nice, but is otherwise somehow worse than the 20+ year old PC game. It uses incredibly generic voice lines that sound like they've been done in text-to-speech for the host and makes you play as pointless characters with equally poor voice acting. The graphics look like something designed for consoles several generations ago or, more likely, mobile. They didn't even bother trying to render the audience at all.

Looping back to the questions themselves, while I appreciate the higher difficulty, it's still something of a mixed bag. The theme choices are a little odd, and it inexplicably thinks that questions about individual Olympic athletes from over a decade ago are appropriate for the levels where the other themes are typically just jokes. You can have a question asking for the chemical formula of water followed immediately by one asking which of several French names correctly identifies the winner of a swimming event in 2008. And then on top of all that, while it claims to have 8,000 questions, it doesn't seem to remember which ones have already been asked, so you quickly start seeing repeats. I don't regret renting it for a day, but I wouldn't recommend buying it for more than a few dollars.

Time to beat: 1-2 hours

MSRP: $29.99

Defense Grid: The Awakening
And I thought graphics would never get better than 2008

Defense Grid: The Awakening (Hidden Path Entertainment, 2008, PC)

I had finished about 60% of this game in 2011 and finally knocked out the remaining 40% this month. It's probably the best remembered game not involving plants and zombies from the burst of paid tower defense games in the late 2000s, and it still holds up quite well. There's a great variety of towers to build and most levels give you a ton of strategic freedom in terms of what to build where and how to prioritize upgrades versus new towers. That strategy is important, too, because the later levels are very difficult.

Nothing about it is remarkable after other games have had 14 years to catch up, but the core design is strong enough that there's still a lot of fun to be had even though newer and flashier competitors exist. If you want to play a tower defense game, this is worth either picking up or digging out of your library. It's been included in enough bundles over the years that you might own it without even realizing it.

Time to beat: 14 hours

MSRP: $9.99

Demon Turf
The camera really likes to shove itself into the floor for some reason

Demon Turf (Fabraz/Playtonic Friends, 2021, PC)

An early Playstation-style platformer that takes some clear inspiration from the genre's recent revival by games like Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time. It focuses on giving you a bunch of different mobility skills right from the get-go, which makes for some very satisfying platforming sections. It wisely maintains that focus for roughly the first 75% of the game, only occasionally veering into the far weaker combat for short arena sections and occasionally dreadful boss fights. For that 75%, it's one of the better games I've played in this genre.

Alas, starting with a few of the levels in the third world and fully committing to it in the final fourth world, the game shifts focus to the extra abilities granted before each boss fight and to relying on timing sections for difficulty. The extra abilities never quite feel reliable and add very little fun to getting around, but it's the awful timing sections that really kill it. Waiting for the same platforms to get to you every time you fail a hard section quickly gets old, and it's even worse when you've failed because of a spinner laser wheel in a segment where you have limited control and need some luck to be able to navigate successfully.

The last world is lifted from A Hat in Time both thematically and mechanically to a truly bizarre extent, but it changes the bells to slow down time. Slowing down in this kind of game isn't fun to begin with, and it's made even worse by how finnicky and unreliable the whole system feels.

Those first two and a half worlds really are brilliant, but it ended on such a bad note that I couldn't even be bothered to finish the optional levels and soured on the whole experience. I don't know if there was a time crunch that prevented Fabraz from refining these levels as much as they'd have liked, but whatever the cause, they're horrible to play. It's a shame.

Time to beat: 17 hours

MSRP: $24.99

House Flipper
I want my wall to look like cabbage, please

House Flipper (Empyrean/Frozen District, 2018, PC)

A simulation game about fixing up houses either to resell them or for contract work for customers. Much like Train Station Renovation, one of the first games I reviewed on this site, it's an extremely repetitive loop of cleaning dirty rooms, fixing the walls, and then buying new furniture, but it never actually gets old because there's an inherent satisfaction to fixing up a building. Also like TSR, it's an incredible podcast game because it requires very little mental effort and there's minimal sound, so if you've got a backlog of audibooks or podcasts to get through, this is a great way to occupy your hands. I ended up buying all of the DLC after finishing it just so I could keep playing it while listening.

I also played three paid DLCs:

Luxury: Mostly the same thing as the base game, but with much bigger houses. There's less environmental storytelling, which is disappointing, but the houses themselves are more interesting. A little underwhelmed, but not really disappointed.

HGTV: Themed after some show I'm not familiar with. A bunch of short missions where you clean up a room or two and knock down walls much more often than in the base game. Wouldn't recommend.

Garden: Introduces doing yardwork, which mostly involves tedious lawnmowing and repetitive planting. There are 18 missions that all feel the same and don't take advantage of the garden competition mechanic at all, and the new houses are the least interesting yet. It costs as much as Luxury, but is a third as long. Big whiff.

Time to beat: 13 hours with the free DLC. 12 hours for Luxury, 3 for HGTV, and 4 for Garden. Pets was not out at the time of writing.

MSRP: $19.99

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