Game Review: Epic Chef

I like cooking, I like funny things, I like video games. From developer Infinigon Games and publisher Team 17 comes Epic Chef, a story-driven adventure/life-sim game that combines a lot of what I like… but does it make for a good game?

“Epic Chef is a story-driven adventure game flavoured with life-sim farming, and crafting elements, blended together into one delicious dish via an interactive cooking experience – all served with a side of humour and elaborate cast of characters inspired by classics such as Mister Ajikko, or the writing of Sir Terry Pratchett. Grab your spatula and start on your journey to become… Epic Chef!”

Playing as Zest, you find yourself (literally) thrown onto the island of Ambrosia. Having recently come into possession of the deeds to a house and some land… which is said to be haunted. With the help of a guide-golem, you begin to plant seeds and grow some basic crops. Use those crops to grow and produce ingredients that you then use to make food. Build your home and land, grow more impressive crops, get better ingredients and make better food, open a restaurant. Become an Epic Chef. That is the basics of the game but there is a bit more going on here.

EPIC CHEF SCREEN 1

Epic Chef takes place on the aforementioned island of Ambrosia, which at first, is pretty small as most of the areas are locked away. As you progress, more and more of the island opens up. Ambrosia is full of NPCs that can and will offer you odd jobs to do that run alongside the main story. While cooking is a big part of the game, there’s much more to do. You can build new equipment for your home as an example. There’s a lot of exploration around the island and a lot of NPCs to meet and more.

Still, the cooking here is one of the biggest gameplay mechanics and it’s rather involved too. The basics are that you throw three ingredients into a pan and cook. Flip the pan to prevent the food from burning and give it a stir to release the flavour and pick up bonus points. The more points your food gets, the better it is… obviously. Still, there is more. Each ingredient has its own properties and flavour synergies. So mixing the right ingredients together soon becomes something you really need to learn. Make the best quality food, take part in cook-offs, upgrade your house and farm and be the best chef on Ambrosia.

EPIC CHEF SCREEN 2

While there is a lot to see and do around the island of Ambrosia, you do spend most of your time at home and tending to your farm. Planting seeds, growing crops, picking the fruit and veg, etc. This all does become a bit of a chore and really slows the pace of the game down. Still, Epic Chef isn’t a game that you blister through anyway. It’s a gentle jog in the park, not a sprint. There are a lot of various gameplay mechanics here and they are all pretty deep really.

The humour here is brilliant. Lines of dialogue and conversations really had me laughing a lot. When you meet the resident carpenter, you can’t help but find him hilarious for so many reasons, the main one being that he is, in fact, Jesus. Ambrosia is teeming with life and there is always something to do, someone to talk to, something to make you laugh. A funny and very interesting discussion on what makes a southern gate a southern gate (is it because it’s the most southern gate or because it faces south? If it is because it faces south, does it not also face north? So couldn’t a southern gate also be a northern gate?) really had me questioning my own sanity, in a good way. There really is a lot of fun to be had with Epic Chef but there are issues…

EPIC CHEF SCREEN 3

One thing that got on my nerves is that your character ‘runs’ but he is very slow at it. Perhaps that should read that there is a run animation, yet the character still moves slowly regardless. There is a long path you have to walk to and from your house to the heart of Ambrosia, and you’ll be walking this long path a hell of a lot too. This simple journey just takes too damn long and feels very unnecessary. If only you could actually run and didn’t have a run animation that really is just walking speed. There is no in-game map and finding your way around can be confusing, especially early on in the game. Pretty much all of the secondary tasks handed out by NPCs fall into the old fetch quest category. There really isn’t much variety in terms of side quests. The tutorials in the game are really very light and hardly explain a lot of the more complex elements of the game.

Overall, Epic Chef is a fun little life-sim. It is certainly funny and the game had a lot of personality. The cooking mechanics are far deeper than they first seem. Building and upgrading your house and equipment is familiar, if you have ever played one of these types of games before. Epic Chef is a very easy game to get into but also one that really needs your full attention to get the most out of it. Priced at around £20, this is a mild recommendation from me.

EPIC CHEF SCREEN 4

I did enjoy the game but elements of it felt a bit too ‘clunky’. NPCs are used for nothing much more than fetch quest givers. The long journey from your home to the main town is just simply annoying because you can’t actually run. Okay, you do get access to a mountable creature to help you get around, but it’s not really that much faster. Epic Chef really ‘borrows’ from other similar games and doesn’t do much new with the ideas either. There’s also no dedicated save feature. The game only saves when you go to bed and you can only do that after 10pm. So effectively, you have to play through an entire in-game day if you want to save your game… which can be really annoying. But, if you do like a life-sim, you may just enjoy Epic Chef.

Game Review: Crown Trick

I do love a good roguelike/lite game and it’s a sub-genre that is massively popular in the indie game scene right now. I’ve actually lost count of how many I have played and reviewed this year already and yet, I still have a major weakness for the sub-genre. Here’s another one too, Crown Trick from developer NExT Studios and publisher Team 17.  

The first thing that struck me about Crown Trick was its bold and vibrant art style. The opening animation really was a joy to watch and one that perfectly sets up the rich and beautiful world the game takes place in. A lot of the charm and personality of the intro finds its way into the game itself too. But I don’t want to bore you with the animation and graphics of the game, I need to look at how it plays.

As already mentioned, Crown Trick is a roguelite game, a sub-genre born from 1980’s Rogue. A very quick history lesson for you here. Rogue was a (what we now call) dungeon crawler where the main gameplay mechanic was that you die (a lot) but when you restart, the dungeon is randomly generated, so you get to experience a new game every time. Rogue was also turn-based and in that regard, Crown Trick is a wonderful homage to those roots. Yup, Crown Trick uses the old turn-based mechanic here too. Thinking about it, Crown Trick is probably the most Rogue-like roguelite that I have played in a long while. 

CROWN TRICK SCREEN 1

You play as Elle who finds herself trapped in a dream/nightmare. Early in the game, Elle finds a talking crown (stay with me) and this crown becomes her guide and helper. Right from the off, you are thrown into the action, exploring the dungeon-like dream you find yourself in and killing enemies and finding loot. At first, this all seems very button-mashy and rather shallow. However, there’s much more going on than just wandering around a dungeon and smacking enemies in the face.

Just going back to the whole turn-based thing for a second. Every step you make, the enemies move. This leads to some rather interesting strategy opportunities as you can lead enemies into traps and lure them to their doom. You could just pick up the controller and run around like a fool, bashing the attack button until the bad guys are dead. Yet, this would be a terrible idea for two reasons. First, you’ll end up dying a lot more than necessary. Second, you’re really going to miss out on a lot of the intricacies that Crown Trick’s gameplay has to offer. Everything is played on a grid, so you can move one square at a time. As it’s turn-based, you can really stop and think about your next move before you make it. It almost becomes a game of chess between you and whatever the dungeon has to throw at you, the game feels very tactical over action-based gameplay.

MAIN HUB

Like any roguelite game, you will die, die, die and die again. Upon your many deaths, you will be transported to the ‘Hall of Reincarnation’. This is your main hub and as you further explore the dungeon, you’ll find and recruit NPCs. These NPCs really work as upgrade shops for you various skills and items. As you kill enemies, you’ll earn Soul Shards, which act as your main currency in the game to unlock and buy upgrades. Kill more enemies, get more Soul Shards, die, upgrade, get further in the game, earn more Soul Shards, die, upgrade and repeat. 

Weapons and items come in a wide range of varieties too. Do you go for a long-range gun weapon to kill bad guys from a distance? If so, you need to remember that they need reloading and that’ll take up one of your precious turns. Or do you go for a melee weapon, you’ll have to get in closer to the enemy and risk taking a hit or seven. I think what separates Crown Trick from a lot of other roguelites is that element of strategy and thought. You enter a room and instead of just rushing in, you try to read the room, look at what enemies are about and keeping in mind what you have learned from previous runs, you try to anticipate their moves. This is where the whole turn-based gameplay really comes into strength. You seriously do need to just slow things down and make a plan of attack before you do actually attack. 

CROWN TRICK SCREEN 2

I have to admit that at first, Crown Trick really rubbed me up the wrong way. It all felt rather cumbersome and stiff to play, I was dying a lot more than I usually would with a roguelite. But that was all my own fault because I was playing it like your average dungeon crawler, like Diablo or something similar. I’d just rush in and start attacking enemies without even thinking… and that was the main issue, I wasn’t thinking. Once I slowed myself down and played the game correctly, once I got to grasps with the turn-based gameplay and more strategic elements that Crown Trick has to offer, everything just fell into place and clicked with me. Suddenly, I found myself really enjoying the game more and more.

Playing the Xbox version (it is available on Game Pass), I learned to really love and appreciate Crown Trick once I understood how to play it. This is not a game you put on for a quick blast, to kill half an hour. This is a game you really do need to invest some time and effort into. A game that is far more rewarding the more you stop and think. Most definitely a recommendation from me and as I said, it is on Game Pass for Xbox owners, so you can try it out for ‘free’ (so to speak). For everyone else, you’re looking at spending around £16 and at that price, you get plenty of game for your money. A real gem of a roguelite and one that is deeply rewarding… if you play it correctly. 

Game Review: Worms Rumble

Man, I can’t remember the last time I played a Worms game. Me and my brothers used to play the original on the Amiga, way back in 1995 a lot. I played some of the later PlayStation 3/360 era games, but I honestly don’t think I’ve touched a Worms game since 2012’s Worms Revolution. Between you and me, I didn’t even know they were still being made. Anyway, they are and from developer Team 17 comes the latest in the long-running franchise, Worms Rumble.

For those not in the know, a quick recap on just what Worms is. They are games where you control worms who like to kill other worms with a variety of weapons… I did say it would be a quick recap. Really, that is all there is to these games. The thing about the whole Worms series is how it had such a simple formula that just worked. You took it in turns to use the many weapons the game offered to try to be the last worm (or team of worms) standing. The turn-based simplicity of the games added a basic layer of strategy and immense amounts of fun too. Silly humour, OTT weapons and basic but truly engrossing gameplay. Then Worms Rumble came along…

Okay, I’m not going to waste any time here, I don’t like this game at all. Aside from the plethora of customisation and the bright, cartoony graphics, there really is very little to enjoy here. What Team 17 have done is seen how stupidly popular the battle royale sub-genre has become and decided to have a slice of the action. No more turn-based combat, no more tactics, no more thinking and strategising. Worms Rumble is full-on real-time, multiplayer-only, run (or crawl) around like a loon and shoot at other worms with zero thought. Also gone is the famed destructible scenery of the franchise. It’s just not Worms, this is a lazy ‘oh battle royale is making money’ cash-in. Granted, controlling the worms in the game is far more fluid than ever before. The little invertebrates can nip around the maps with ease, roll on the floor, jump, use zipline and even jetpacks… But it’s just not Worms

In terms of the levels themselves, they are way too ‘busy’ to really get a grasp on what is going on. This is exactly why Worms needs to be turn-based. You have very small graphics, a lot of bullets and grenades flying around, causing explosions… And you just can’t keep up with all the action. This real-time gameplay thing just does not work. Then, outside of the immense customisation (which is great), there is just far too little content here. There are only a very small handful of maps, I didn’t count how many exactly but I did see the same maps over and over (sometimes the same map repeated after another) during matches. There are only four game modes too, and even those are just two variations on two slightly different modes. There’s deathmatch, team deathmatch, then there’s last man standing and (wait for it) team last man standing… That’s it. Very little content here and what little there is gets repeated a lot. Plus, when I was playing this for review, it took AGES to get into a game too. I don’t know if that is an issue with the matchmaking, or if there are just not enough people playing Worms Rumble right now. All I do know is that it takes way too long to find a game.

WORMS RUMBLE ACTION

For me, this just did not work at all, not as a Worms game and not as a decent battle royale game either. Admittedly, I have not played a Worms game in a good few years, but when I did, they were infinitely more fun than this. Worms is a very specific title and it features very specific and much loved gameplay mechanics, changing things up to the point where it no longer feels like Worms is a very bad idea. Everything that made those earlier Worms title so playable, so much fun is gone, replaced by a lazy bandwagon jump to the battle royale genre, it’s just not Worms.

Game Review: King Of Seas

Shiver me timbers, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, I be in search of booty, avast ye landlubbers, I’ll crush ye barnacles and send you to Davy Jones’s locker… And other piratical phrases. For me, there haven’t really been a great many good pirate games. The pirate life is a fantastic setting, yet very few developers use it for their games. Yeah sure, there have been a few really good games that have a piratical theme like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag… But that never was a pirate game, just an Assassin’s Creed game wearing a pirate hat. My all-time favourite pirate game was Sid Meier’s Pirates! It just gave you an open world and the chance to forge your own career as a pirate. There was a story, but it was bare minimal as the focus was on creating a legacy as a pirate over following a plot. For years, I’ve been waiting for someone to take the idea behind Pirates! and just update it. Developer 3DClouds and publisher Team 17 throw their pirate hat into the ring with King of Seas, but is it worth a play?

Right, let’s get the plot out of the way first. You play as one of two (selectable) offspring of a king. starting out as a new captain, you are sent on your first ever mission. On your return, you find your father, the king, has been murdered and you are suspect number one. Your ship is attacked and sinks, while you are left for dead. Fortunately for you, some pirates are passing by and save your life. They take you to their island and teach you the ways of being a pirate. It is then up to you to clear your name and find the real killer… All while being a pirate. The plot here is thinner than an anorexic supermodel’s waistline, but to be honest, the plot is not why you play a game like this.

King of Seas takes place in a procedurally generated pirate world that is crammed full of things to see and do. After a fairly standard tutorial to get you used to the controls, you are then left to your own devices to do as you wish. Yes, you can stick to the story and just sail your way to the end credits… Or you could completely ignore the plot and just enjoy being a pirate. All of the action of King of Seas takes place on the waves and you never set foot on dry land. Well okay, you can visit various ports and when there, you can visit taverns to hire more crew, keep abreast of the least news and even pick up randomly generated missions. There’s also a carpenter you can visit to repair and buy new ships. Plus each port has a market where you can buy and sell goods. Everything in the ports is done via a menu system too, so you never get to walk the towns around or anything.

KING OF SEAS SHIP

There is a trading system in King of Seas and it works really well too. A port may be proficient in producing wood (as an example), so the buying price is low. Fill your storage with cheap wood and set sail to find a port where wood is harder to find and sell for a nice profit. With a constantly fluctuating trading mechanic and trade routes which are ever-changing as the game continues. There are many different commodities to trade in too so you’ll always be able to bring in some coinage. And what do you use that coinage for? Upgrades… Lots and lots of upgrades. Pretty much everything on your ship can be upgraded, the figurehead, the sails, the hull, even the crew and more. Each of the upgrades have that RPG colour coding thing depending on rarity and each will affect the stats of your ship too. You know the one where white-labelled items are common, up to purple and orange being rare and very rare. Different items have different stats and even special abilities. And about those special abilities.

King of Seas is not a serious game at all, it had a decent sense of humour and knows that it is meant to be fun. You are given four special attacks, triggered using each of the four main face buttons on the controller. These can range from having a flamethrower shoot out of the front of your ship to giant tentacles that will slap nearby enemies and even magical attacks. Yup, this is far from being a serious game based on actual pirate history. Then, even your cannons can have modifiers on them such as poison and elemental attacks. While I don’t think I would describe King of Seas as being a deep RPG, but it definitely has RPG elements to it, including a experience/leveling/skills system. 

KING OF SEAS SKILLS

Battling on the high seas is pretty basic stuff. Your ship can fire its cannons from either side with the press of a button. You’ll often find yourself circling your opponent and doing your best to hit them while trying not to get hit yourself. If you have ever played any piratical themed game with seafaring combat before, then you’ll know what to expect here. In terms of sea combat, King of Seas doesn’t do anything new, but the many upgrades and variables do mean you can mix things up quite a bit. Your ship has three health bars, one is your basic hull heath and when it’s gone, you sink. There’s another for your sails and the more damage they get, the slower you can move. The final one is your crew and as that lowers, so does how fast your cannons can be reloaded. Those three health bars also transfer to your enemies and you have three different ammo types to deal the three different types of damage. When you start, your ship (a sloop) will be pretty basic, but earn some coin, get some upgrades and you’ll soon have a ship that can hold its own in the battles.

It’s not all about sinking ships though as you can also go fishing, seek out cartographers to help with the game’s map, find treasure, capture settlements and more. Outside of the main story, there really is a lot here to do. All of which will help you build and upgrade your ship to give you a much better fighting chance. The seas are also full of other ships, from allies to enemies and even neutrals. Of course, you being a pirate means you can turn your hand to pretty much anything you like. Attack and sink fellow pirate ships, take on larger treasure-laden ships and more. You are free to pretty much do as you wish and become the respected or feared pirate you want to be.

KING OF SEAS BATTLE

Now, King of Seas can be a very slow game. You get around via sailing the seas and you’ll have to put up with varying weather and wind direction, both of which can impede your progress. The randomly generated maps are pretty damn big too with multiple ports to visit and getting from one end to the other takes a good while. The ships in the game are hardly speedy either, so this is just a pre-warning that progress through the game will be a bit of a slog. Still for me personally, I quite enjoyed the much slower pace and almost serene and calming nature of the game. It’s all rather relaxing… Unless you’re being chased by pirate hunters and the like. The action in King of Seas can also get a bit samey after a few hours of play, plus many of the missions are the same basic types too. I can not deny that King of Seas does get a tad repetitive and it is probably best enjoyed in smaller two to three hour sessions over prolonged gaming periods as the game can begin to feel a bit too grindy after a while if I’m being honest.

Looks wise, King of Seas is fine. Neither outstanding nor plain. There’s slight cartoony slant to the graphics and when you zoom the camera in, they do show signs of being a bit rough. But from the default, zoomed out view, everything looks good. Theres a day/night cycle that honestly looks pretty damn nice. But all the towns you visit all end up looking the same, and you’ll soon realise there’s a lot of reusing assets, with the maps being as big as they are, King of Seas really could’ve done with more variation with its visuals.

KING OF SEAS IMAGE

Truth be told, I never actually finished this game before I wrote this review. I just never saw the story out to its end. Not because the game bored me or anything, quite the opposite actually, as I’ve spent the last week with King of Seas just exploring and enjoying the game outside of the story. I’ve been taking on secondary missions, upgrading my ship, treasure hunting and just generally enjoying myself being a pirate. I mentioned how Sid Meier’s Pirates! is one of my favourite games, and most certainly my favourite pirate game ever. King of Seas is very clearly inspired by the classic Pirates!, it may not quite have the same level of depth and variety of gameplay (no sword fighting, wooing women, etc), but King of Seas really is a fantastic piratical themed title and one that I’ve gotten a lot of fun gameplay out of… All without even finishing the story. With a £19.99 price tag, I can definitely recommend King of Seas as there really is a lot of game here, you just need to know that it is not all fast-paced action and thrills. This is a much slower and steady game. Making progress and upgrading your ship, while getting around the map is more of a leisurely walk than a sprint. But a very enjoyable leisurely walk nonetheless. 

If only Sid Meier would make a new pirate game himself.

Game Review: The Survivalists

Back in 2015, we had The Escapists from publisher, Team 17 and developer, Mouldy Toof Studios (bought out by Team 17 now). In it, you played as an inmate trying to escape from prison. Follow the daily routine, roll call, exercise, mealtime, etc. Maintain an everyday prison life… But gather resources and do favours for other prisoners as you secretly planned your escape. If you’ve ever played the classic The Great Escape on the old microcomputers of the eighties, then The Escapists was basically an update of that… And bloody great it was too.

In 2017, we got The Escapists 2. More of the same, a few bells and whistles and also bloody great. Then just last year (yes, I’m a wee bit late with this), we got The Survivalists. A spin-off from The Escapists franchise, set on a deserted island. But is it any good?

I feel the first thing that needs addressing are the gameplay changes from The Escapists to The Survivalists. As the title’s of the games suggest, one is about escaping an enclosed place, while the other is much more open and revolves around survival. While the two games exist in the same game universe and share a lot of assets, graphical styles, etc, they’re actually very different animals in terms of gameplay mechanics. Still, if you’ve ever played any kind of survival based game before, then you’ll know exactly what to expect here.

THE SURVIVALISTS CAMP

You find yourself on a randomly generated island, where you can customise your character’s appearance. Once done, it’s time to survive. Your inventory is empty and you can’t really do much other than pick up some pebbles. So you bring up the crafting screen and there, you can make a simple chopping tool from those pebbles. With that, you can now cut down tall grass and smaller trees. These give you even more resources, which you can craft into bigger and more helpful tools. Find food to eat, water to drink to keep yourself healthy and alive. The more you craft, the more you unlock as your basic tools become more advanced. You can start to craft a bed, build a fire to cook food, a chest to store your goods in and so on. Eventually, you can build walls and even begin to create yourself a nice little dwelling.

Of course, it isn’t just about surviving, as the randomly generated island offers a variety of things for you to discover and do. Vaults and labyrinths house plenty of places to explore and plunder. Treasure maps to read for some treasure hunting, animals to find (and hunt). Occasionally, you’ll get raided by the game’s main enemy, the Orclings. These Orclings want to take your stuff. This is where your base building skills are tested. Are your walls strong enough? Have you got decent weapons to fend them off? The combat when fighting off the Orclings is pretty basic stuff, a button to attack and a button to roll out of the way. In terms of combat mechanics, The Survivalists won’t nab much praise. But combat is not what you play these game for, it’s the building and survival elements that sell this genre. Then, if you think you’ve seen all the island has to offer, build a raft and go exploring the seas, discover new islands to explore.

THE SURVIVALISTS BUILDING

There’s even a handy little feature in the game where you can obtain and train monkeys to do the work for you. If you don’t really feel like spending time and effort chopping down trees to get some wood or chipping away at larger rocks to get recourses, then just get your monkey helpers to do it for you. Need some help in fighting off invading Orclings? Give your monkeys a weapon and have them get their hands dirty. It’s a nice little mechanic that alleviates some of the work from you, or can be used for multi-tasking. But, the main problem with it is that you monkeys can only learn and uses one skill at a time. So if you need one of your hairy helpers to go from chopping wood to dealing with Orclings, you have to retrain them, give them a new weapon/item, etc. And if their weapon/item breaks, you are the one who has to replace it too. Honestly, it just gets a bit too bothersome re-training each monkey and re-equipping them, that you may as well just do the job yourself. I guess the monkey use is a bit like having a multiplayer option in the game and getting help from others…. Which the game already has anyway. Now, I’ve not tried the multiplayer mode, but from playing other similar games with the same feature, I can pretty much guess how it all works anyway.

THE SURVIVALISTS HOUSE

The Survivalists is a very typical survival-type game, it’s a genre that has been done many times before it. To be honest, the game doesn’t really do anything special to stand out in that regard, it’s a survival game. However, The Survivalists has something that other games in the genre don’t have, Team 17 as developers. There’s just something about Team 17 games, a certain charm, personality and attraction that make them really pop. There’s some very nice pixel art graphics, which if you have ever played the previous The Escapists games, will look very familiar.

So, is The Survivalists worth buying and playing? Yes. Okay, so it may not revolutionise the survival/base building genre, but it does do it very well, and all topped off with that wonderful Team 17 flavour. Plus, this was released back in October last year, so you can probably pick it up for a pretty decent price by now. Then there’s the fact that the game has had a few updates since its initial release to add new features such as farming and much more too. There’s a lot of game here for your money and The Survivalists offers a very balanced and playable game, unlike some other titles of its ilk.