Game Review: YouTubers Life 2

When I was a young teen, I was raised on business sim games. The likes of Theme Park, SimCity and so on, taught me a few tricks that I could apply to the real world. They were games that not only entertained but could also educate along the way. Now, I’m in my mid-forties and the business sim game has evolved. Instead of running a successful theme park or being a mayor of a city, I can now become a famous YouTuber. From developer UPLAY Online and publisher Raiser Games comes YouTubers Life 2.

So the basic plot of YouTubers Life 2 has you starting your own YouTube channel and striving to become the biggest and most popular uploader around… and that’s about it really. You have a semi-open-world city to explore. Talk to folk, take photos, make videos, buy clothes from shops, upgrade equipment, etc. Slowly build yourself up from a YouTube newbie to the number 1 megastar.

The gameplay here is a very mixed bag as you do all you can to become internet famous. You start out by picking one of three regions of the city to live in. Each region has its pluses and minuses. One area of the city is known for its video gaming, one for luxury shops, the other for its beach and exclusive club. Still, it really doesn’t matter which of the three you move to as the city is pretty small and you can walk from one area to the other in seconds anyway. Plus there’s a tube station that can be used as a kind of fast travel system to get from one area to the other with ease. Anyway, you move into your small apartment and begin making YouTube content. Try to get more and more fans, make more and more money to upgrade your apartment and equipment… to help make more and more YouTube content.

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There’s a very shallow character creation mechanic where you get to create your very own YouTuber, complete with stereotypical hipster clothing and haircuts. After which, it’s away you go. With help from your not at all annoying (I’m lying) guide, Xavier, you move into your new place and get a gift. That gift is your very own drone, which you can name. This drone follows you everywhere, records your videos and takes photos for you. There are specific points around the city where you can record videos and you need to keep an eye on what is trending each day to ensure the content you create is popular. The same goes for playing video games, games trend, so make sure you are playing the games people want to see to get the most views for your content.

When it comes to actually creating that content, it’s all very uninspired and lacking. For a Vlog, for instance, a phrase will pop up and you pick from three (at first) responses. Whichever response you pick will fill up one or several of five icons that denote how good your finished content will be. You get a star rating (out of five) on the quality of your content and of it is on-trend. The idea is to be creating five star and on-trend content to get those views. You then take that video and edit it. Editing is as simple as picking a scene and just placing it. Get the start, fill in the middle and put the end on. These scenes have little tabs or ‘connections’ and the better connected your edit is, the better the video will be. It sounds a little complicated, but in all honesty, it really isn’t. This is a slightly modern version of those four or six-piece jigsaws you had when you were 3-years-old. Just make sure the little tabs of each clip of your video connect and there you go, you’ve just edited a video.

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The different content you create will have slightly different mechanics but are always massively simplified. From tired QTEs to just filling gaps in dialogue. There’s really nothing more to creating content other than very simplistic and vastly overused game mechanics. Honestly, this really feels like a cheap and nasty pay-to-win, tappy-tap mobile game. You know the kind of thing you play for 5 minutes on your phone while you drop a load in the toilet before getting utterly bored by it. Yet, here it is being sold as a ‘proper’ game on all major platforms… I seriously don’t get it. Admittedly, YouTubers Life 2 has quite a lot going on in it, yet it’s all just so incredibly shallow. I don’t think I have ever played a game that both has so much content and things to do but so little depth at the same time.

Aside from the bland, uninspired and outdated gameplay, YouTubers Life 2 really had me making all sorts of observations. I mean, YouTube itself isn’t in a game called YouTubers Life 2, a game centred around being a YouTube star. I’m guessing this is down to some kind of copyright issue. See, the word YouTuber isn’t a copyrighted trademark, but YouTube is. YouTube is a brand and one you need permission to use in games and such. I’m guessing the dev/publishing team didn’t want to pay for the licence to use the YouTube brand. However, there are several real-world YouTube stars in the game… I assume that they didn’t allow the use of their names and likenesses for free though? Anyway, in this game where you try to be a successful YouTuber and one named after the hugely popular video hosting service… there is no YouTube. Instead, you get to upload your content to the non-copyright infringing NewTube. Clever eh?

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Not really, this was another thing that bugged me through the game, the crappy ‘parody’ name changes. Instagram becomes Instalife. Twitch is Glitch. The game consoles you play on are the Honey PlayStudio, the Nicosoft ZBox, as you await the release of the long-rumoured Mantendo Zii. I love the use of a good parody, this is far from a good parody. I mean, the game feels like it was written by a 6-year-old for the most part. The crappy and lazy parody extends to the games you play too with such titles as Deity of War, Angry Burps and Geocraft… not that you do actually play any of the games though. Oh yeah sorry, I didn’t mean to get you excited there and think that this title where you play video games to create content, that you actually got to play any games. Nope, you just pick the game and console you want to play on and do this mini-game thing where you just ‘host’ your (not) YouTube channel and pick from a small selection of comments to make. The camera when making game content is focused on your character, so you don’t even get to see any of the fake games in the game either. 

Speaking of the games consoles, there are retro ones too as occasionally, retro gaming will be trending. Nice touch. However, the comments when recording footage for retro games is the same as modern games. As an example, I was playing this game’s equivalent of the Atari 2600, the Alari, and one of the comments that came up said that the server for the game had crashed. A server… for an Atari 2600 game… seriously? Also, there is no real-world social element to this game based around social media? You can’t visit real-world friends’ cities, give them gifts, etc. It just seems rather strange to me that a game centred around social media has zero social aspects to it. 

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You can’t move the camera either. This is basic stuff and pretty damn important when you are exploring the city. I’m playing a 3D game that takes place in a semi-open-world environment… and I can even rotate the camera? Often when out in the city, I get stuck behind a building and can’t see what’s going on because I can’t adjust the camera. One of the biggest faults of YouTubers Life 2 is the fact that it had been released in 2021, but it uses gameplay mechanics from and it feels like it was made in 1991. The map design for the city is really annoying too as there are so many dead ends. There’s no mini-map so you can quickly glance to see where you are heading, so you have to keep bringing up the main map every 2 minutes to check. You can’t leave waypoints and there are no mission markers to help guide you through the city either. Even though it’s not a huge map by any means, it’s still really easy to get lost and stuck in a dead-end thanks to the lack of a mini-map and the fact you can’t change the camera angle. And with this being aimed at a younger audience, you’d think it would be more user friendly for them.

You can’t even track people around the city and this is a major issue when you are doing jobs for them. Oh yeah, you can help the various residents of the city and this helps build your friendship… if you can find them that is. Now, some of the characters are easy to find as they work in the shops. As an example, there’s a girl called Blair who works in the gaming shop. So if I ever need to find Blair, I just go to the gaming shop when it is open and there she is. But when the gaming shop is closed at night or weekends, Blair could be anywhere. So let’s say you have done a job for Blair and need to return to her, if the shop is open, fine, there she is. But if it is closed, you’ll have to play a game of hide and seek to try to find her. There are characters who don’t work in shops and are next to impossible to find as they could be anywhere in any of the three regions. The residents do have their own houses, so just go to their house to find them eh? Now, while you can go to their homes, you can’t enter them nor can you call on them. The houses are just there for absolutely no reason whatsoever and are in no way interactive or serve any purpose. Seriously, I spent three in-game weeks trying to track down one character to finish a job I was given and even then, I only found them via pure dumb luck when walking around the streets.

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I’m even willing to admit that exploring the city was kind of fun… ignoring the camera issues, etc. Meeting new people, making friends and so on. There’s actually quite a lot to see and do. You can go to the gym, as an example, and work out. When you do, you increase your energy, which means you can make more content as making videos reduces your energy meter fast. Anyway, the workouts you do in the gym are let down by just bashing one button over and over. Want to lift some weights? Just bash a single button. Want to use the running machine? Just bash the same single button. Want to use the heavy bag? Guess what… just bash the very same single button again. The gym is a prime example of a wasted opportunity for some actual varied gameplay. There are multiple exercises to do in the gym, but they all play exactly the same way just bashing the same button over and over.

Why couldn’t the exercises all use different mechanics? Okay yeah, bashing a button to do the running makes sense. But why not a Simon Says type thing for the heavy bag where you have to repeat a pattern? Why not use the analogue sticks to lift weights and so on? You know differing gameplay mechanics based on each of the gym’s pieces of equipment, instead of the same bashing the same single button over and over? You can kind of go fishing too… kind of. You buy a fishing rod and a tackle box then go to a fishing spot and fish. The main problem here is that there is no mini-game or any kind of interaction to the fishing, you just press a button and watch the animation of your character fishing. Not only that, there is only one specific spot in the entire game where you can fish, despite the fact that there is a whole beach area and docks in the game. This is another example of the bland and barebones, minimalistic style of gameplay at use in YouTubers Life 2. Honestly, there was scope here for a pretty good game, but it’s just swamped in mediocrity and uninspired gameplay. 

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Another thing that annoyed me was that you can’t do a lot of the things that famous YouTubers actually do. You can’t make deeply racist and anti-Semitic comments. You can’t go to Japan, film and laugh at the corpse of someone who sadly committed suicide. You can’t groom minors and ask them to send you sexually suggestive pictures. You can’t fake your girlfriend’s death to get  sympathy and subscribers. You can’t accept advertising deals from crappy pay-to-win games, to then entice young and impressionable teenagers to gamble. You can’t encourage kids to eat laundry detergent. You can’t even make half-arsed and management-forced, meaningless ‘apology’ videos in an attempt to hold onto any sponsors because all you care about is making money, to then have your deplorable actions swept under the carpet, while the ‘fans’ just forget that you’re actually a pretty disgusting and horrible human. You can’t even take part in clearly staged ‘boxing matches’ against retired, over the hill boxers and make a mockery of the sport along the way. And really, if you can’t do any of that, is this truly a YouTubers sim? No sir, no it isn’t.

As I said at the start of this, I’m in my mid-forties. Trust me, I’m fully aware that I’m about three decades outside of the target audience for this game. However, my age doesn’t mean I can’t see how bad this game is. I have two small children and as I played YouTubers Life 2, I kept asking myself if I’d let my kids play it. Honestly, no I wouldn’t. This is an empty and vapid title with a message that is basically telling you that all that matters is being popular and making money. Games can be aimed at a younger audience and yet still be good you know. Younger gamers deserve good and quality games just as us old ‘uns do.

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I also said earlier that I spent my teenage years playing business sims that taught me things I could apply in the real world. No, my playing Theme Park when I was an older teen wouldn’t mean I could go on to become CEO of Disney Parks. Playing SimCity as a 13-year-old wouldn’t make me mayor of my home city either. But those games did teach me about profits and loss, budgets, about staff management and more. Basic skills that I could hone and actually apply in my adult life in jobs I had… and I did too. YouTubers Life 2 just teaches you how to be a shallow and selfish prick chasing fame, money and internet likes. It’s all really rather insipid, so I guess it does that bit right about being a real YouTuber at least.

Okay, I’m going to turn off the sarcasm and tone down the vitriol (slightly) for this bit of the review. This could’ve been a good or even a great game, in fact. On paper, YouTubers Life 2 really is a fantastic concept. A proper YouTube sim where you actually do manage your brand. Actual gameplay where you have to film and edit your videos. I don’t mean deep editing but if you have ever played the overlooked The Movies from 2005 then you’d get the general idea. I mean, I can pick up my phone right now, film something and then use the phone’s editing tools to edit the footage. Why not include something like that here? How about fictional video games you could play in-game for your content? Take a quick peek at the awesome looking Arcade Paradise as an example, with over thirty different fictional arcade games that you can actually play within the game. Even when taking a photo to upload to this game’s version of Instagram, it doesn’t matter how bad the picture is, as long as it has the popular hashtags in it, it’ll be getting likes. Seriously, you can take a picture of the back of your head and it’ll be liked. Here’s a quick example of what I mean:

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This is a photo I took of a few famous YouTubers (see the hashtags) in the sport shop. However, I purposely framed it so the scenery would be in the way and so that you can’t even see the YouTubers in the picture. I uploaded it and it got over 100,000 likes despite being a badly shot picture. It doesn’t matter what the picture actually looks like, you can take a picture of the floor, a tree trunk, the brickwork of a building, it really doesn’t matter. As long as it has popular hashtags, that crappy picture is getting thousands of likes. This was a perfect opportunity to show players how to take a good and properly framed photo, you know an actual gameplay mechanic that could teach some skills. Seriously, YouTubers Life 2 could’ve been pretty damn good if they put any effort into the gameplay. Instead, it’s a game that treats the player as if they’re a braindead imbecile. There’s nothing here except asinine, seen it all before, outdated mini-games and button-mashing.

And don’t give me any of that ‘film editing or taking photos is too advanced for younger gamers’ bollocks. This is aimed at young teens and I was playing games far more advanced than this when I was that age and managed just fine. I learned basic skills from more involved games that I could apply in my real life. Just imagine if YouTubers Life 2 taught youngsters the skills to… I don’t know… make YouTube content! Or at least gave them the basic tools and skills that they could then go on to improve on and refine themselves. But I don’t think the developers were at all bothered about making an engaging and interesting title, they just wanted to make a title that idiots would buy because PewDiePie is in it.

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Going around the city and meeting people, making friends, doing jobs could’ve been great. A kind of Animal Crossing set in the world of social media, if you will. This game had some serious scope and a blueprint to really be an appealing and enjoyable title… but it isn’t, it’s just so damn shallow and mundane that you will begin to question why it even exists. Even when you are doing jobs around the city for the residents, it’s really nothing more than overused fetch quests for 99% of the time. That is what is pissing me off so much about YouTubers Life 2, it really is a wasted opportunity and in all honesty, it could’ve been good. It could’ve been a brilliant little game that taught youngsters about brand management and basic editing, etc, in a simplified but still educational and fun way. Instead, it’s just a shit and lazy cash-grab with the absolute bare minimum of gameplay. As I said, this is a cheap tappy-tap mobile game being sold as an actual console game.

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I’ve played a lot of this too, a great many hours just so I could see as much of the game as I could. I played through an entire in-game year. See, a year in this game is split into four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter) and each season has 29 (I think) in-game days. So I played 116 in-game days of YouTubers Life 2, which is collectively a fuck ton of hours. I’ve seen pretty much everything this game has to offer in terms of gameplay… and it is very, very little. It’s also ridiculously easy. I was in the top 10 YouTubers about halfway through the autumn season and to be honest, I wasn’t really trying. My character had so much money that I had nothing much to spend it on. I had fully upgraded my house, bought and upgraded all of the content creation tools I needed, got the bronze, silver, gold and diamond awards from ‘NewTube’. I had helped pretty much every resident in the town and saw out almost all of their stories (when I could find them). Honestly, save a few minor things, I have seen everything that YouTubers Life 2 has to offer as a game and it really is very, very little.

Now for my review finale, I always look at what the game is being sold for and decide if it’s worth paying. I honestly wasn’t going to do that here as this game is not worth playing at any price. I got my review code for free and I feel ripped off. I might contact the publisher and ask for my time back. However, curiosity got the better of me and I just had to take a look…

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How much, £35? Fuck off with that! Content-wise, this game is worth about £2 at the most… £5 if you are really stupid. As a quick comparison, not in any way meaning to compare the game’s themes, just the value for money. I recently reviewed the amazing UnMetal. A game crammed full of gameplay, brilliant writing and loads of replay value. UnMetal is being sold for around £15 to £17 (depending on the platform). Here’s YouTubers Life 2 asking for more than double that for a game that has about 1% of the gameplay value? The only reason this has such a high price tag is because of the famous YouTubers in it, got to pay their license fees somehow eh? Even more worrying, this is called YouTubers Life 2, meaning there was another game before it. So these games are making money, otherwise, a sequel would never have happened. Seriously people, stop buying shit like this, the gaming world does not need a YouTubers Life 3.

Do I recommend YouTubers Life 2? Yes, I recommend you tell the world it is utter crap and to stay away from it. There are far better games out there for younger gamers and titles that don’t treat their target audience as complete braindead zombies. ‘Ohhhh, popular YouTuber in this, must buy’. No, please for the love of whatever deity you wish to believe in, do not subject your children to this utter dross. Have some respect for your offspring and get them a good game instead. 

Game Review: Xuan-Yuan Sword VII

I must admit as to losing interest in the RPG genre in recent years. I don’t really have the time to invest dozens and dozens of hours into games these days and RPGs do tend to go on a bit too long for my personal taste. Still, this game came up for review and I thought why not give it a go? Developed by Softstar Entertainment Inc. and DOMO Studio, published by Eastasiasoft Limited comes Xuan-Yuan Sword VII. A game franchise that I know absolutely nothing about. Just from a quick bit of research, it seems this series dates back to 1990, a thirty-one-year pedigree… and I’ve never heard of it until now. Even more so, despite the VII in the title, there are more than seven games released in those three decades. This is just the seventh game in the main series within the franchise, with fourteen titles in total.

The first thing to cover is that Xuan-Yuan Sword VII isn’t a full-on RPG, it’s more of an action-RPG. Yeah, it is still an RPG but there’s a big emphasis on action too that keeps the gameplay moving along. I’d even say it plays more like the Yakuza games in that regard and takes place in a semi-open world environment. You play as Taishi Zhao, a notable swordsman and mercenary who is trying to protect his little sister from warring factions, political upheaval and even plague outbreaks set in the pages of Chinese history and mythology. When Zhao’s sister is mortally wounded, you set out to save her life using magical powers. Oh, there’s quite a bit more to the story than that, I just wanted to cover the bare basics there.

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There’s a ton to unwrap when it comes to the story and Xuan-Yuan Sword VII features a lot of cutscenes and very lengthy and sprawling conversations that help to fill in backstories and more. The exposition here would make Hideo Kojima nod his head in respect. The opening few hours of the game are a very lengthy slog before you do see any real action. The combat is fairly easy to understand and use. Light, heavy and special/magic attacks, there’s a dodge and block, then you just lock onto enemies and away you go. It’s a simple but effective combat system that you’ve seen and used dozens of times by now. There’s also a little base building element as you can upgrade your home, which can then be used to improve your weapons, items and more. 

There is a lot of traversing through the map… a lot. Despite the world not being the biggest I’ve seen in a game, it’s quite awkward to navigate with the semi-open world lending way to a lot of linear paths that almost become maze-like as you go from one location to another. Thankfully, Xuan-Yuan Sword VII does offer a fast travel system that does help to make navigating the map slightly less annoying. There’s not a huge amount to say about this game, it’s an action-RPG much like every other action-RPG on the market. It may not be my cup of tea, but I can certainly see an appeal here and there is plenty to keep you busy once you get past the very slow opening 2-3 hours. Xuan-Yuan Sword VII is a title that doesn’t do anything fundamentally wrong but it’s also a game that really fails to do anything to stand out either. It’s a perfectly fine game and very playable.

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In terms of looks, this is technically a last-gen game that has been given a slight bit of polish and released on the latest consoles. Xuan-Yuan Sword VII looks good and unless you really, really set about looking for issues, you’ll not really find any. the scenery is lush and everything looks authentic, as if they’ve fallen right out of the pages of a Chinese history book. Character models look great and are nicely detailed too.

Xuan-Yuan Sword VII is being sold for around the £43 mark on consoles and that feels too high a price point to me. While I’ll openly admit that the RPG genre is one I’m not all that interested in anymore, I am interested in value for money. Xuan-Yuan Sword VII can be finished in around 20 hours (even with exploring and doing side quests) or less and I don’t think charging £40+ for an RPG that is this relatively short is worth it. That’s almost a full-priced AAA title price range and this title is a smaller/indie game. What is here is enjoyable and if you’re a bigger RPG fan than me, then you’ll most probably get a lot more out of this than I did.

(Guest) Game Review: Phoenix Point

Becoming somewhat of a regular contributor now, Dave Corn is back with another guest game review. This time Dave takes a look at Phoenix Point developed and published by Snapshot Games. A spiritual successor to the awesome turn-based XCOM franchise of games, with Snapshot Games being headed up by Julian Gollop, the creator of the original XCOM titles. Personally speaking, as a big fan of X-COM, I’m looking forward to what Dave has to say about this one.

Since starting to write reviews with my friends on our Facebook group (Lockdown Gaming), the games I have written about so far have all been relatively easy to play and review. Fairly straightforward titles and certainly non-intimidating… with Phoenix Point, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. Originally released back in 2019 for PC, this year saw the game released on console. From the developer behind the XCOM series, Snapshot Games, Phoenix Point sticks to their trademark and much-loved mix of strategy, tactics and an almost Fallout style attack method in attacking individual limbs, but more on that later.

First up, the plot. The year is 2047 and Earth is in the middle of a devastating alien virus, a virus that scientists accidentally released from a long-frozen state. Called the Pandora virus, when it comes into contact with human or animal life, they mutate into murderous creatures that eventually completely overwhelm the planet. This is where the player comes in. You start the game as a member of Phoenix Project, a secretive organisation that is called upon to try and save humanity from the threat of annihilation.

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There are four different branched groups that you can play as during the course of the game. Revealing too much detail on these would verge on spoilers to the plot, so I’ll not divulge too much here. Each faction offers its own story elements as well as certain perks and abilities, which helps keeps the game from becoming too repetitive. The gameplay is very much in keeping with the developer’s previous work on XCOM and as such, is pretty complex (in fact Phoenix Point takes this to a whole new level in places). It’s also worth noting that the combat does feature an interesting real-time element, one I touched on earlier where you can select certain bodies parts of your enemies in a similar way to Fallout. This really does keep the combat fresh and interesting, instead of the previous point and click of a lot of games in this genre before it.

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Perhaps the most interesting aspect in this game, one that distinguishes it from other similar titles in the genre, is the mutation system, this is where this game really shines. Along with an impressive A.I. that noticeably learns from your decisions against it, the virus mutates its targets around it to adapt to you as a threat. This means that procedurally generated enemies are made in direct response to your play style, in between turn-based moves, the enemy adapts and comes back tougher than before, always learning for your playstyle.

What does this mean in reality? Frustration but also a shock and awe in what the game is going to throw at you next, it keeps surprising you and depending on the location of level, the mutation uses the surroundings to change itself too. For example: you are fighting a mutated African militia and winning, so the virus mutates lions with humans to makes its forces stronger.

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Usually, this really wouldn’t be my kind of game at all. Taking a lot of time and effort to sink into it to see any kind of progression. But having a fair bit of time on my hands recently, I honestly found myself really enjoying Phoenix Point, to the point that I have even ordered a copy of XCOM 2 (good choice, it’s awesome – Steve). Graphically, Phoenix Point really looks great (surprising to me as the turn-based genre always made these games basically living board games to me) and it most certainly shines on PS4.

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For fans of the developer’s previous titles, you should have no fear jumping into this. However, if you’re new to the genre, then I’d definitely suggest you try one of the cheaper XCOM titles first to see if you like the style as it is a genre that definitely won’t be for everyone. In conclusion and probably the most obvious statement ever, Phoenix Point is a great game, but only for the right audience.

Game Review: Rainbow Billy: The Curse Of The Leviathan

Many, many years ago, when I was a young gamer, I loved Sensible Software’s Wizball. It was a side-scrolling shooter that was in back & white and you had to bring colour back to the world. Ever since playing and loving Wizball, I have been fascinated with games that start out black & white and you have to bring it back to its colourful life. From developer ManaVoid Entertainment and publisher Skybound Games comes Rainbow Billy: The Curse Of The Leviathan.

“Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is a wholesome, creature capture, 2.5D Adventure-Puzzle-Platformer with RPG elements. It is a family-friendly and openly accessible adventure in which you must save whimsical creatures by bringing back color to the world you once knew! Rainbow Billy tells a universal coming of age story about dealing with changes in the world and accepting ourselves and the others around us! Sometimes it only takes a conversation, empathy, and a new point of view to make a world of a difference.”

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That’s the basic blurb out of the way. Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is a rather intriguing little game. A platforming-RPG-adventure game that is unbelievably cute and features the bare minimum (if any) of violence. The title itself pretty much tells you the plot, but I’ll quickly cover it anyway. You play as Billy (with his fishing rod/hand companion-thing) who lives in a vibrant and very colourful, Fleischer Studios/Disney-esque world. A rather nasty leviathan turns up one day and puts a curse on the world that removes all of its colour. Billy, the plucky hero that he is, literally sets sail to break the curse and bring colour back to his world.

There are two main gameplay mechanics at play here. First up, you have the exploration aspect of Rainbow Billy. Here you can sail from island to island where you’ll have to solve fun puzzles. Some of the islands will have a character that you will have to ‘fight’. I say ‘fight’ but there’s no actual ‘combat’ in the strictest sense of the word. You do have very typical RPG, turn-based like fights… without any fighting. There are no swords, no guns, no weapons of any kind. Instead, the battles in Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan are based on words. What you do is you listen as to why your opponent is upset, to then select the right response to help them out. For instance, say someone is shy, you try to encourage them to be a bit more self-confident.

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Your opponent will have certain hidden shapes that are releveled if you get the right response to their issue. You then have your friends match those shapes (different friends have different shapes) and those shapes will colour in your opponent. Fully colour them in and they will join your team and the black & white island they were on, then returns to its former, glorious and colourful-self. Recolour all the islands in the same area to unlock the boss battle. befriend the boss (in much the same way as with the smaller opponents) and you can move onto the next area. Complete all areas, find and defeat the nasty colour stealing Leviathan to finish the game.

You can work on your relationships with your enlisted friends to help improve their skills and make them more effective in ‘combat’ by unlocking more shapes. Go fishing to find fish to feed your friends and even find gifts. Pay attention to what each of your friends want and give them the appropriate gift to help them level up. It’s all very typical RPG stuff, just presented in a very untypical and rather unique way.

You use a boat to get from island to island and also as your main base of operation where you can unlock new items and skills. You’ll also find hidden characters on the islands (whose names escapes me as I write this) that you can take back to your boat and swap them for upgrades. Now, sailing from island to island in the black & white seas does use up your ‘rainbow fuel’, which can only be replenished at a colour-filled island. So you have to carefully plan your journey as to not run out of fuel. Some of the islands on the map can’t be reached… at first.

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Graphically, you just can’t help but compare Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan to Studio MDHR’s Cuphead game. They both have that very 1930s animation style. But whereas Cuphead was a devilishly hard platformer, Rainbow Billy is a much more relaxing and serene experience. This really is a very nice looking title, full of wonderful animations and friendly characters.

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is all very wholesome and twee. Bright and (eventually) very colourful graphics. No violence and no one is ever killed or defeated. Just good, clean family fun and as I have been playing it for review, I have to admit that I’ve been asking myself just who the target audience is. I mean, It’s hardly ‘hardcore’ gaming. The puzzles are perhaps a little too simple for older gamers, but the game does have a level of complexity to it that will baffle younger gamers. I played through Rainbow Billy and kept asking just who is this game meant to be enjoyed by, as it doesn’t seem to be aimed at anyone in particular. The answer to my query was so obvious that I didn’t even notice it. Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is an anybody game. I’m 45-years-old now and I really enjoyed playing this.

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It’s not aimed at younger gamers, though they certainly could play it. It’s not aimed at older gamers who are more used to far more ‘adult’ titles. Rainbow Billy is a game for anyone who just fancies a nice little and relaxing game. A title that you won’t be pulling your hair out in frustration and anger because everything is just so nice and calming. My only niggle was that, when out sailing on your boat, you can’t move the camera up or down for a better view. Left and right works but you can’t raise the camera to look over your boat. It is a very minor niggle though. Which all brings me to my final judgement and a quick look at the price of the game…

You’re looking at paying about £22 on all formats and I feel that is a perfectly reasonable price point. I guess this one will really boil down to if this is just your bag or not. I know that Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is a game that certainly won’t appeal to everyone. It may be a little too cute and nice for some, the gameplay could come across as a perhaps little simplistic for some players too. For me though, I have to admit to really enjoying this far more than I thought I would. It’s just a very, very, very nice and pleasant little game.

Game Review: Chernobylite

Well, this is an ‘interesting’ idea. A game set in the aftermath of the Chernobyl Disaster. Developed by The Farm 51 and published by All in! Games Chernobylite is a mix of various gameplay mechanics. Still, I guess it could be best described as a survival game. But to leave it at that would be doing the game a disservice. To really get into what Chernobylite is, I’ll need a lot more than just this introduction paragraph.

Yes, Chernobylite could certainly be called a survival game, but there is so much more going on here that really needs looking at too. Playing as Igor Khymynuk, a physicist who worked at Chernobyl before everything went very badly wrong. 30-years after the disaster and Igor returns to the site in search of his missing fiancée, Tatyana, who disappeared shortly before the Chernobyl Disaster. Soon after successfully breaking into the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Igor finds a strange (and real-life) mineral called Chernobylite, which is used to power a portal gun. And that is when things really kick into gear.

The core gameplay of Chernobylite has you setting up and carrying out missions to scavenge the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and help build your base and create weapons to help you in bigger and harder missions as you slowly uncover just what happened to Tatyana. Part FPS (though it’s possible to play through missions without firing a single shot), part survival, part, base-building and crafting, All with a sci-fi/horror setting. Really, Chernobylite is a mish-mash of gaming ideas and when titles tend to throw multiple ideas into one title, they usually become a ‘jack of all trades’.

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Aside from the various gameplay mechanics used here, there’s also a branching story system. You’ll have a great many conversations with your team (oh yeah, you recruit people too) and you’ll be given a variety of responses and decisions to make that affect not just the story but also your relationship with individual characters. An idea used in many games before, but Chernobylite does something a little different with it as your decisions are not necessarily final. See, when you die in this game (and you will), you enter a ‘dreamscape’ and while in it, you can see how the decisions you have made have affected the story and characters. You can then go back and change your decisions (using Chernobylite shards) to better suit your needs.

Quite honestly, this is a brilliant gameplay mechanic. The branching system here is quite simply huge and unlike other games that use it to little effect, Chernobylite really pushes the whole multiple decisions thing beyond anything I have ever seen in a game before. From minor effects like how enemy patrols will work on missions to much bigger and major character and story events, the game will change as you play. You’ll actually want to die so you can enter the dreamscape and see just how differently things can work out. It’s a mechanic that feels very roguelite I guess.

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Before you do embark on a mission, you can (if you have the resources) build your base. Really, this part of the game feels Fallout 4-like. Love or hate Fallout 4, its base-building mechanic was actually pretty damn impressive. Chernobylite has a similar base building thing going on, it may not be as in-depth as Fallout 4, but it’s still pretty extensive. You don’t just build base improvements (to help keep the morale of your companions up) but there’s also weapon and item crafting and so much more.

The endgame of this is to plan and carry out a heist, which I’m not going to cover here, as to avoid major spoilers. Anyway, you can actually go for this heist very early on in the game… of course you will die, as you are just not equipped to carry it off. This is where the missions in the game come in handy, this is why you need to gather resources and build your base and weapons. Along the way, you will recruit team members, each with their own backstories and strengths. Backstories you will want to uncover to get the most out of their skills. Quite a few quandaries pop up throughout the game that will affect the characters, which all goes back to the branching system I’ve already covered.

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Things you say and do will affect so much in the game that you will soon find yourself being very careful of just what you do decide to say and do. The writing here really is quite excellent and far deeper than you think as you play through the first couple of hours of the game. In the options, you can choose between English or Russian audio. Trust me, you’ll want to keep it Russian. The English voice acting is rather ‘Cambridge’, I think would be the best way to describe it. It just sounds wrong and so out of place in terms of the characters and setting. But the Russian voice acting is spot on (put subtitles on so you know what’s going on) and adds a layer of authenticity that is lost with the English voices. 

As for the missions themselves, there are multiple ones that can be selected, set in five different regions around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, each with different objectives. You can just crack on with the story if you like, or you could seek out clues and background info to delve deeper into the plot. Of course, you’ll also be doing a lot of looting for resources to keep your base and team in tip-top condition. The maps themselves are not exactly huge… and that’s actually a good thing. You can get several missions under your belt in a relatively short amount of time. You can also send your companions out on missions, so they can go and do some resource gathering while you take care of more important matters.

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When you (and your team) do come back from a mission, you have to ration out the food. Give out too much and you’ll soon be running low on food. Give too little and you’ll soon see a drop in morale. You’ll also need to spend a little time with everyone to get to know them better and build up relationships. There are quite a lot of surprises in Chernobylite (some that I really don’t want to ruin here) and there were times when I was playing this that I forgot I was playing a title from a smaller studio. Honestly, quite a lot of this game wouldn’t feel out of place in a AAA, big-budget title. There’s so much depth of gameplay here that I couldn’t help but be impressed.

There are a few niggles that I have with Chernobylite. The combat in the game is very ‘okay-ish’. You have a dodge move/side-dash thing… and that’s about it. There’s no cover system or anything like that. Given the game does rely on stealth quite a bit, no cover system really can be annoying. A lot of the enemies feel like bullet sponges and gunfights do tend to drag on a bit too much… I think that may be to get you to use stealth as much as possible though. The maps in the game can get a little repetitive as they are the only places you go to. After a while, about the halfway point of the game, you’ve seen pretty much everything all the maps have to offer and as you do keep revisiting the same handful of locales over and over, it all feels a bit tiresome. Now, the maps do ‘evolve’ as you progress through the story, so they are never exactly the same. But those evolutions are very, very slight for the most part. 

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Very recently, I reviewed another survival game called Shadow of Kurgansk. Long story short and I said in that review how a survival game these days really needs to stand out and do much more interesting things. Shadow of Kurgansk failed in that regard and was a very bland and bog-standard gaming experience. Chernobylite however, this is exactly what I was talking about. Yeah it’s a survival game and you have seen and played dozens of them by now… but it also takes chances and adds so much more to the genre. It’s far from being a perfect game, but it is a very solid and playable attempt at the survival genre.

As for my final judgement, I need to look at how much the game is being sold for. Around £25 is the answer to that (depending on format) and I think that’s a very reasonable price point. There is a lot crammed into Chernobylite, FPS, survival, RPG, base building, team management, etc. Yup, you get a lot of depth of gameplay for your coin here. There’s more than enough to keep you busy for a good few hours and to get the most of out the game, you’ll really need to lose yourself in all it has to offer too. This’ll have to be a recommendation from me. Even though this review is over 1,500 words long, I’ve still not covered everything that Chernobylite has crammed into it. EXP, levelling, skills and more.

If you are on the lookout for a really good survival game, then Chernobylite is well worth picking up. A cocktail of several gameplay mechanics that have been blended beautifully.