(Daddy/Daughter) Game Review: Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories

My daughter, Sienna turned 5 a few months back and she has been taking an interest in gaming recently. I’ve been trying to find games that she can enjoy, ones that hold her interest and even titles that we could possibly play together. Developed and published by Wild River Games, Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories is a new game that seems to be just what I’m looking for. Sienna loves ponies and horses. So, a game where you ride and care for horses really hits the right spot. But, how does it play? Well, that is what this daddy/daughter review is going to cover.

“Saddled, up and away! Ride together with the girls from Horse Club and discover a colorful world full of adventure. In Horse Club Adventures 2 – Hazelwood Stories you can plunge once again into the colorful world around Lakeside and experience adventures on horseback!”

Before I even loaded the game up, I put the trailer on first, just to see if Sienna would be interested. She loved it and kept asking if she could play it. She was entranced right away. The basic gist of Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories has you taking part in a photography contest. Along the way, you’ll meet plenty of people and get involved in all sorts of adventures. You start out by creating your own avatar with numerous customisable options. You can also name and create your own horse. The character/horse creation is pretty well-detailed for a game of this type. There are plenty of options and you’ll even unlock more clothing and items as the game progresses.

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From there, you are pretty much free to explore the world at your leisure. There is the main story to follow, of taking part in the photography contest, but there is also so much more to do that it is easy to get lost in all that Horse Club Adventures 2 has on offer. Take part in races, collect hidden golden horseshoes, care for your horse and the more you do, the more skills you’ll unlock as your relationship grows.

The map here is huge and I honestly was not expecting this at all. I thought this would be a linear, easy-to-follow horse game. But you get a big map that you are free to explore and a multitude of gameplay options and various mini-games to enjoy. Now, I have to be honest and say that Horse Club Adventures 2 is a bit too advanced for Sienna, with her only being 5 years old. For a kid’s game, this really is very in-depth with a lot to take in. So, Sienna was overwhelmed and couldn’t handle some of the ‘trickier’ aspects. QTE events, mastering slalom racing, timing jumps during races, etc. She’s only 5 and trying to hold a pretty big Xbox controller with loads of buttons is a bit of an issue. But, that’s not the game’s fault at all. As I said, it is a bit overwhelming at her age. However, Sienna still loved just riding around on the horse and just having fun on the map. She may not have been able to follow the story or fully understand the game (yet), but she really enjoyed the basics.

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I’ll pick Sienna up from school and she’ll ask ‘Daddy, can we play the horsey game?”. She is totally absorbed by it and absolutely loves playing Horse Club Adventures 2. I think this is a great title for younger gamers and there’s a lot here to keep them happy. Everything is very serene and welcoming about the world and it really is just a nice place to be in. I asked Sienna what she thought about the game and she said that it is “really, really, really brilliant and lovely”, before putting her thumb up. So, that’s her review. She is utterly enthralled by this.

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£25 (£35 on Switch) is the price tag for Horse Club Adventures 2: Hazelwood Stories and when I first saw that, I did think that it was a bit too high for a kid’s game. However, now that I have spent some time with this playing with Sienna I have to admit that the £25 price is very reasonable. Horse Club Adventures 2 is a big game, a lot bigger than I expected. A large open-world map, loads of missions and side-quests to do. Multiple and various gameplay options. This game is seriously big and I really wasn’t expecting that. I would suggest adding a fast travel option as the map really is big and getting from one mission to the next can be a massive chore at times.

Granted, the game is a bit too advanced for Sienna with her only being 5.5 years old. So, it is still not quite the daddy/daughter title that I am looking for. But, if you do have kids of your own that are a little older, I reckon around 7+ and they love horses, I think this could be a perfect game for them to play.

Game Review: Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator

As the great modern philosopher and free thinker, Homer J. Simpson once proclaimed:

“A woman is like beer. They look good, they smell good, and you’d step over your own mother just to get one!”

Beer, something that (ironically) I have massively cut out of my lifestyle over the last couple of years, is the main theme of this game review. From developer Auroch Digital and publisher Fireshine Games comes Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator. A game that, wait for it… is all about brewing beer. But the big question is, does this go down smoothly like a locally brewed ale with subtle caramel undertones and a careful balance of hops, or does it leave a bad taste in your mouth like a piss-water, mass-produced excuse for a beer?

“Brew your perfect beer in this relaxing home brewing sim. Use a realistic chemistry simulation to brew hoppy IPAs to creamy stouts. Customise your brewing space, create recipes and label your beer, unlock new equipment and enter competitions. Learn to brew, refine your craft and become a Brewmaster!”

I have noticed that these sim-styled games fall into two categories. You either get stupidly OTT ‘sims’ that are nothing like a sim with the likes of Goat Simulator. Or you get really down to Earth and more ‘realistic’ sims that you really need to invest a lot of time into before you even get going proper. Then, when you do get into the latter, they are often either really good, or just outright shit. Thankfully, Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator is one of those more realistic simulations that is actually really good. Not only is it good, it makes things relatively easy to follow too.

Make no mistake, Brewmaster is in-depth, very in-depth. There is so much to unpack with this game that I would need a separate article just to cover the different grains and malts that you can use to make your beer… and that is just two of the ingredients. Trust me, there are ton of things to cover in terms of ingredients before you even get to the actual brewing of the beer itself. I think that the best way for me to cover how Brewmaster works is to just talk you through the opening tutorial.

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So then, there are two play modes here. There’s a Free Play Mode and this allows you to use any of the game’s ingredients and all of the various equipment to brew beers with 100% complete freedom. This mode is great to experiment with, but jumping into it straight away will get you lost in seconds as there is so much to do and so many variables to think about. The best way to play Brewmaster the first time around is to try out the Brewmaster Mode. This is a story mode where you have to follow a set path and hit certain goals.

Set in your own home, you start out by brewing a basic beer, just to get you used to the controls and how to weigh out and use each of the ingredients. Start by grabbing a brewing pot from the cupboard and fill it with water from the sink. Heat the water up on a hob, which does take time when you are trying to boil 21lt of cold water. Thankfully, you can fast forward time at any point via your handy watch, so you don’t have to wait around for 40 real minutes for the water to heat up. Once boiling, grab some malts from the fridge Don’t worry, the tutorial walks you through every step and makes things perfectly clear. Add the malts to the water and then get yourself some steepable grains and add that to your brew. Then, you’ll need some hops, so off you go to nab some and put them in your brew too. Let the whole thing boil for a while and you now have your wort mixture.

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Once ready, you need to let the wort cool, get your handy time-skipping watch out again. Now cooled, take the wort mixture and pour it into a fermentation container, this is when you add the yeast. You then need to leave the brew to ferment for a couple of weeks. Again, you can fast forward time, now by using a calendar to skip forward how many days required. Once fermented, add corn sugar and your brew is almost ready. You then need to transfer your brew from the fermenting container to a conditioning container and leave for so many days, calendar time again. Now, your brew is ready for tasting. Take it to the tasting room and see how your beer turned out. Here, you get a full breakdown of just what your beer is. Did you make a light IPA or a darker stout? What is the ABV content? Is it a low-carbonated or a lively and bubbly brew? It tells you just what flavour profile you created and so much more, as each beer you brew is broken down into easy-to-understand elements. When following the opening tutorial you only make one type of beer (with some mild variation), but as the game progresses your beer-making skills will be tested fully.

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Anyway, now you have a decent brew, you can then design the logo, name your beer, alter the font, what kind of bottle it comes in, which type of glass it should be drank with, etc. You can then submit your beer and, hopefully, pass the requirements to progress further in the game. Once the tutorial is done, you can advance to the next season and start all over again. Only this time, no tutorial to guide you and you are mostly on your own. I say mostly as you do have a guide who will help you out with your brewing as the game progresses. At the start of every season, you get an in-game magazine to read. This magazine will have job offers with specific goals to hit, recipes that you can follow and even handy little articles to read that fill you in on information about brewing techniques.

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Pick a job, pick a recipe that fits that job’s requirements and get brewing. Check out the shop for new ingredients and equipment that will help you brew better and more varied beers. As you progress through the game, you’ll build up a nice collection of ingredients, equipment and skills to make some great beers. Build up relationships with local breweries and become known in the beer-making community. Get bigger jobs and make bigger batches of beer. Get away from recipes and start making your very own and unique beers. Yes, you can write your own recipes and create your own custom brews. You’ll soon be on the path to becoming a true brewmaster.

The gameplay loop really is just make new beers over and over. But it is the variety of ingredients and equipment that make that process far more interesting than I thought it would be. I have drank a few beers in my time and I do love a craft ale or two, yet I’ve never really thought about the work that goes into making them. Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator does a great job of taking you through the process and teaching you a lot about making beer at the same time. There are stats and information everywhere here. Each of the individual ingredients is broken down into the elements that will make the beer what it is. Hover your cursor over some grains (as an example) and the game will tell you what flavours it provides, the SRM and more. What is SRM you ask? Well, I didn’t know until I played the game. This is a factor I really enjoyed with Brewmaster, you really can learn a lot about making beer and playing this has made me appreciate just what does go into getting beer made now.

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Outside of the brewing, you can buy new items for your house and do a spot of decorating. This is a nice little distraction if you fancy a break from making beer. Plus, you can make your home your own and even get a few mementoes and awards of your beer-making antics to put on display.

£15 is what Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator is going to cost you, I feel this is a very fair price too. For me, I honestly really enjoyed learning about the different ingredients used and the different brewing techniques. I got lost in all of the information the game throws at you and loved experimenting and creating my own brews. This is a nice and chilled-out game. I’m sure that is it not an exact representation of what making beer is like and I’m willing to bet that real brewers will be nit-picking this game apart for its inaccuracies. The game can definitely be forgiving at times too. There was one time when I accidentally left my brew in the fermenting container and without the lid on too, for more days than I should have and the beer still came out okay. I’m pretty sure that would be a useless and contaminated beer in real life. Just an example of how forgiving the game is.

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It may not be a 100% accurate recreation of what home brewing is about, but Brewmaster does offer up a nice relaxing gameplay and even a few interesting lessons on the basics of making beer. Available now on PC and all the consoles, Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator is a great relaxing game to play for a good price.

(Mini) Game Review: Escape String

Developed by 7 Raven Studios and published by Totalconsole Escape String is a small budget indie title that put me in mind of one of my all-time favourite puzzle games, Lemmings. A simple premise and even simpler controls, but some tricky levels to navigate along the way.

“Escape String is a 2D puzzle game set in an undefined time and place. A small humanoid robot wakes up in the debris of a landfill inside a large factory. He receives strange and enigmatic messages, from someone who apparently wants to help him. The robot’s purpose is to explore the large factory where he is in search of answers about who he and his mysterious remote helper are.”

In Escape String, you play as a robot in  a factory with the main aim of getting to the exit of each level, that’s it. Basic and to the point. Of course, getting to the exit isn’t going to be as easy as just walking right. Along the way, you’ll have to deal with electrified obstacles, mechanical crushers, simple gaps and more. Now, the twist here is that you do not control the robot directly or even live, as it were. Along the bottom of the screen, you have a string where you can use basic inputs, up to fifteen of them. Move right, left, jump and duck/crawl. You have to look at the level you are on and work out just which inputs you’ll need to reach the exit.

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Use as many or a few inputs as you think you’ll need and the robot will carry out your instructions at the touch of a button. This is all about you working out your moves in advance and trying to get to the exit using as few movement inputs as possible. Nothing moves on the levels until you press the button for the robot to carry out your instructions. So, this does mean a lot of trial and error. Will you need one or two steps to the right before you need to jump that gap, and how do you avoid the crusher on the other side? You’ll need to send out the robot on a few kamikaze runs on some of the harder levels to see just what moves and how to avoid them to reach the exit.

There are 40 levels to challenge you and a number of unlockable skins to find, based on your performance. If you can reach the exit by using the minimum number of moves and by only using one string of moves, you’ll get the highest ranking on a level and a new skin for your trouble. However, you don’t have to finish every level that way. This gives a fair level of difficulty, I feel, as you can take it a bit easier to get to the exit, or you can try for the best possible performance. Really, Escape String is as easy or as hard as you want to make it.

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Around £6 is how much this will set you back and is available now on the main consoles. For the price, this is a pretty decent game. It may not be as complex as Lemmings and it lacks that game’s charm and personality, but the basic gist is the same. Get your character to the exit and avoid hazards. Escape String is certainly playable and some of the levels will have you scratching your head as you try to work out how to get from one end of the screen to the other. For a budget title and if you feel like having an easy-going but still challenging puzzle game, then Escape String may be worth taking a look at.

Game Review: Signalis

It’s October, Halloween season. Time for the first of my scary game reviews for this spooky season. Resident Evil, a game that, didn’t invent but kickstarted the survival horror genre. Ever since that first game was released back in 1996, horror games have had a new template to be held up against. Resident Evil introduced certain tropes that can still be found today, especially when an indie studio takes a lot of those tropes and blends them into its own bloody and horrific cocktail. Developer rose-engine and publisher Humble Games are the minds behind Signalis, a new survival horror title that could be perfect to play this Halloween.

“A classic survival horror experience set in a dystopian future where humanity has uncovered a dark secret. Unravel a cosmic mystery, escape terrifying creatures, and scavenge an off-world government facility as Elster, a technician Replika searching for her lost dreams.”

I think that the best way to describe Signalis is to take a big slice of Resident Evil, add in a generously sized portion of Silent Hill, throw in several handfuls of Dead Space and then garnish with plenty of well-crafted anime-styled art before blending thoroughly. As I said in the intro, a bloody and horrific cocktail. Right from the off, Signalis hits you with a lot of familiar gameplay mechanics. Very limited inventory, check and combine items, set and limited save points, ammo management and more. From the moment that you pick up the controller and start exploring the menu and inventory screen, you can’t help but think of those early Resident Evil titles.

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As you walk around the game’s sci-fi-inspired map, memories of playing Dead Space will wash over you. And then, there’s a very strong psychological horror vibe that will most definitely put you in mind of Silent Hill. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Signalis isn’t a lazy rehash of past classics, this game takes some of the very best elements of some of the very best survival horror games and creates something that feels familiar and wonderfully fresh at the same time.

You play as Elster, a Replika android who is searching for the missing pilot of the spaceship that you are on which has crashed on a mysterious ice planet. Expect a lot of exploration, locked doors, puzzles and yes, lots of scary horror. Much like those classic survival horror games, ammo is sparse and so are healing items. Your limited inventory will force you to pick and choose what to use when and often leave you in a state of uncertainty and panic. Of course, there are chests where you can store and swap items as and when needed… if you last long enough to find one. Readable scraps of paper and logs fill in the backstory. The combat here is simple and effective. Aim your gun and shoot, simple. So far, Signalis is a very ‘by the numbers’ kind of survival horror game.

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However, where this comes alive is its mood and atmosphere. The beautifully drawn anime art and cutscenes are striking and they create a wonderful juxtaposition against the gloom of the environment that you are in. The graphics are stylised low-res and crammed with great details and atmospheric lighting. You don’t get any of those annoying screens where you can’t see what is going on, as with some of those early survival horror games. Signalis is presented with a much clearer (and slightly angled) top-down view, so that you can see what is going on at all of the time. However, it does cut to a first-person view for some of the segments. Mainly the puzzle elements and doing things like using lifts, etc.

Now, in terms of the story, I really can not tell you much, as to avoid spoilers. This is one that you really do want to go into as blind as possible. But, suffice it to say, the basic plot of you trying to find the pilot of the crashed ship is just the beginning of a much deeper tale and one that takes you on a much more psychological horror and nightmare-like journey. Signalis is certainly a title that will linger in your mind long after you have reached the end credits.

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If you are a seasoned survival horror gamer, you will definitely feel very at home here. The game starts out relatively ‘easy’ and lets you slide into the familiar game mechanics with ease. However, the latter third of Signalis will really test your gaming prowess as things get far more difficult. Fewer resources, tougher enemies (that will randomly come back to life after you have downed them) and far tricker puzzles are what you will have to contend with as you guide Elster toward her goal. Signalis doesn’t rely on jump scares to get under your skin either. The horror angle here is much more Jacob’s Ladder than the likes of The Conjuring films. The mood, the atmosphere and the style are what will remain in your head for hours after you finish playing.

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When released, Signalis will have a price tag of around £16 (I think) and is available on PC and all the consoles from the 27th. It is also on Game Pass day one, so check it out when you can. If you don’t have Game Pass, this is a game that you really should get on your radar for Halloween and the £16 price tag is a great one. Signalis is dark, creepy and offers some genuine scares. The gameplay is not remarkable and does play very much like a typical 90s survival horror title, which is not a bad thing at all. Signalis is retro-styled gameplay done extremely well. A love letter to the 90s survival horror game and very well penned too. This is PS1-era gaming handled with passion and respect and a perfect game to play over Halloween with the lights off.

(Mini) Game Review: Batora: Lost Haven

Developer Stormind Games and publisher Team17 have a new game out. Batora: Lost Haven is an isometric, action-RPG that sends out very strong Diablo vibes. But, can this game do anything to stand out from the crowd of similar titles, or will it just disappear into the crowd?

“Embark on an epic adventure to save Earth in this interplanetary action RPG. Harness the ancient powers of Sun and Moon to take on a variety of unique enemies while solving diverse puzzles and exploring stunning sci-fi worlds, each with its own curious stories, inhabitants, and mysteries.”

Right then, you play as Avril and become the Keeper of Balance, a kind of middle person between two Gods. Those two Gods, Sun and Moon, give you powers to help fix various planets after they have been ravaged and destroyed. Joined by her friend Mila, Avril has to travel to the planets and fix their very cores.

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As you play through Batora: Lost Haven, you are given choices to make and these choices will alter just how the story pans out. You’ll get to pick one of two decisions during conversations, those two choices are Conqueror or Defender. The former being based around brash instinct and the latter being more compassionate and thoughtful. Basically, you can look at it as a ‘bad’ or ‘good’ choice, though that is not exactly how they play out. Really, the choices boil down to you picking between action (Conqueror) or a more puzzle-based approach (Defender). It’s not as if you can be outright evil or good.

The choices that you make don’t really make a massive difference to how the game or story plays out. They feel like they are there to try and encourage multiple playthroughs and add repeatability. But that is the big question, is Batora: Lost Haven worth multiple playthroughs to begin with?

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Gameplay-wise and Batora: Lost Haven feels very ‘by the numbers’. While a very nice-looking game, the gameplay is pretty bog-standard. The maps that you will find yourself on offer very limited exploration and funnel you to go in one direction, even when there seems to be a choice of paths. For most of the game, you will be fighting a variety of enemies. In terms of the combat, you do get a bit more depth. The two Gods who guide and provide you with powers also dictate the combat. You get two different attack styles, a close-quarters melee and a longer-distance projectile attack. The enemies you face will be weak to one or the other and you can switch between the two attack styles on the fly.

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Throw in some dodge moves and you have a pretty well-implemented combat system that does work well. If I had a gripe, that would be the lack of a lock-on option. Fights can get a bit intense and with you going up against multiple foes at once. Keeping in mind that they will be weak against one of your two powers and that you do need to keep moving around. It just gets a bit hard to hit your intended target at times and a lock-on would’ve helped massively. Batora: Lost Haven isn’t all about fighting as there is a puzzle element too. These never felt too taxing and the majority of the game does focus on the combat.

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There are some RPG elements, XP to gain, levelling up to do, new skills to learn and runes to find and equip that will give you various buffs. This adds a bit more depth to the gameplay and ties into the whole dual powers thing too. With a price tag of £20 and out now on everything (except the Switch, which is coming soon). Batora: Lost Haven is a decent game. I don’t think it will set the gaming world alight or anything, but it is certainly playable. But, getting back to a question I asked earlier, is the game worth multiple playthroughs to see the outcomes of the decisions that you make? For me, not really. I did go back to the game just to try the alternate choices for a while and honestly, they really don’t make a massive difference to how the game plays. I think this is very much a ‘one and done’ experience, even with the choices on offer.