Cantata Impressions Review: Mechs and Aliens Do Work!
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It’s been a while since I wrote an indie article. March and April have been big months both for game releases and worldwide events. Itch.io, Fanatical and Humble Bundle all released gigantic charity bundles in March to support the people of Ukraine, and I picked up the first two.
Firstly, some old updates on games I played in previous months. I stopped playing Dying Light 2 for a while. Not because I don’t enjoy it, just because I got a little burned out playing zombie apocalypse games. I blame Project Zomboid for that. I will return to Dying Light 2 at some point, I promise. I’m still playing Pokemon Legends: Arceus, and despite the problems with the visuals, I’m digging the gameplay loop. Flaws or not, it’s a fresh take on the Pokemon genre and one of my favorite games in the franchise.
I’ve played a lot of games lately, especially in April when I was recovering from Covid. According to GOG Galaxy which I use to organize my game libraries, I’ve played fifty-three different games, and that’s not including emulation on handhelds. That may be too many, and it’s probably why I don’t complete as many games as I could.
As much as I wanted to cover Elden Ring, I’ve only played a few hours of it on my middling laptop so far. I need to be in the right mood to play it, and right now I’m just not feeling it. It has fantastic world design, though. Having the insight of someone who cannot beat Souls games to save his life might be entertaining. Either way, it seems to run okay on the Steam Deck, which I should be getting this quarter! Expect an impressions review of the Deck if and when mine arrives.
I had my eye on this for several weeks before its release. The devs kindly provided me with a review key for the game, and I’ve been playing it on and off since launch. While I haven’t finished the game yet due to running into a couple of unfortunate problems with my laptop, I’ve played enough to provide a nice impressions spotlight. It’s sitting on ‘Mostly Positive’ reviews right now on Steam, though the majority of that seems to come from translation issues for China. If we only count English language reviews, it’s sitting pretty high at ‘Very Positive’ which feels fairer. Don’t let the review scores fool you; I’ve enjoyed this game a lot so far even if it does have its fair share of flaws.
I love the cyberpunk genre. You can tell by my coverage of Cyberpunk 2077 and Cloudpunk, two titles on complete opposites of the spectrum. I rather enjoy the Deus Ex series, and it’s a crying shame that it seems to have stumbled to a halt after Mankind Divided. Instead, Square Enix got the team on Avengers…. heaves a heavy sigh. Fortunately, Guardians of the Galaxy was much better. Anyway, moving on from that.
Anno represents the cyberpunk theme rather well, and I was instantly drawn in by its beautiful visual design. It reminds me a lot of Cloudpunk: both games are relatively small slices into the world of cyberpunk, oozing charm. While the open world is relatively small, it is packed with charm and interaction, with plenty to discover and do.
I was also drawn in by the game’s story, at least from my early experience. Playing as Ann and suffering from a mysterious condition, the player is thrown into a story of intrigue and conspiracy. Typical for the cyberpunk genre, but there’s a lot packed into this title. The combat while simplistic gets the job done. It’s not particularly deep, and I’ve enjoyed combat more in other games, yet I don’t view it as a stick to beat the game down with. It’s a solid beat-em-up game in a brilliant setting. While the game isn’t particularly long, that’s a blessing in disguise. We’ve seen time and time again, that games in the industry become bloated with content that drags the game out far beyond its welcome. Anno provides a decent length with a good amount of side missions to dig into if that suits you.
This is a smaller slice than I wanted to show today, but there’s a lot to like in this game. For their first product, I think the developers have done an admirable job.
I’ll let you guys in on a secret. JRPGs don’t do much for me. The only ones I’ve enjoyed were the Persona series, particularly Persona 4: Golden and Persona 5. Atlus, please get off your backsides and port Persona 5 to the PC, the proper one, please!
I’m not sure what it is that drives me away from them. However, a new JRPG was released at the end of March that grabbed my attention. Crystal Project is a solo creation, yet another instance of small teams who have brought a golden product to the indie scene. Blending JRPG, open-world, and platforming, Crystal Project has pioneered non-linear game design well.
There’s a very light story touching behind the scenes, but nothing gets in the way of the game. One issue I’ve had with some JRPGs is that dialogue and story are at such a forefront that they can bog down the gameplay. When a game takes hours to get going with nothing but exposition, that can drag the game down. Triangle Strategy is a great example: it’s a solid game, but there’s so much interaction that it can turn off many players. There’s a reason why I haven’t reviewed that game yet, and that’s why!
Crystal Project manages dialogue and story in a simple, yet endearing way. The game’s NPCs all have something either interesting about the world or advice on the game. There’s no wasted space here. There are magical crystals to collect and the land of Sequoia to bring back to balance, but it’s a story that you don’t have to follow. One of the great things about Crystal Project is that the game is entirely open. You can do what you want, and the game throws itself completely into exploration. After a prologue section to pass a trial, the game is open from that point.
The world is vast and full of so many secrets that it will take an age just to find it all, the only limitation being platforming. Now, the platforming can occasionally be frustrating because of the voxel-based world and need for precision, and I found jumping to be a little finicky early on, but it’s easy to learn and there are plenty of tricks. The combat system is also fluid, with plenty of classes and abilities to unlock. You can switch classes at will and even save templates of the team to quickly return to if not happy with your choices. With even ‘mob’ fights a potential challenge, the combat never got boring even if there is still some grinding. There are plenty of accessibility options too if needed; you can turn off puzzles, gain extra gold and XP, and more. The dev has put a lot of focus on this, and I give him a ton of respect for it.
To those who are thinking: what if this game isn’t for me? Well, Crystal Project has two things going for it. First, it carries a very generous price tag of £10.99/15USD. For how much the game offers, I’d argue the game could have sold for more than that because of its excellent value. If people are hanging on the fence further, the game also has an excellent demo, one of the most lavish game demos I’ve seen in ages. There’s an estimated 15-20 hours of content in the demo alone, longer if the player likes to explore. That’s plenty of room to decide if the game is for you, and all progression can be moved into the full game.
I wasn’t expecting Crystal Project to be as enjoyable as it was, but I fully recommend it. The precise platforming will take some time to manage, however, yet that’s what the incredibly generous demo is for. I’ll say this right now, this is a potential GOTY in the making.
I wasn’t a fan of Frontier’s Jurassic World Evolution. The original game in 2018 was a hot mess, and I rather disliked how barren the customization was. It received plenty of improvements and DLC in later years, but I never shook off my disappointment with the game. The sequel launched in late 2021 which was a significant improvement, yet still had some issues with progression and sandbox mode. Most of these problems have been fixed, fortunately.
I love dinosaurs, and it’s nice to see more management titles come out in recent years. Prehistoric Kingdom was a game I’ve been looking forward to for years, in development by Blue Meridian. It seems to take Jurassic World Evolution and add all the customization and modular park design I love from games like Planet Zoo and Planet Coaster. It recently came out in Steam Early Access, and it’s seen a lot of attention. Is Prehistoric Kingdom what I wanted Jurassic World Evolution to be?
Not yet, but it’s a promising beginning. Early Access has always been a controversial thing in gaming, allowing players the ability to test the game during development and get into the game early. Despite the risks of games losing development, some of my favorite games ever made followed this program. While Prehistoric Kingdom has a rather rough and unfinished state in its present state, there are plenty of options to get stuck into. It’s more a creative sandbox demo than a management game at this point, and the developers have been open about that. There are plenty of niggling bugs in the game, and a lot of systems are either incomplete or missing. That’s okay though. As long as there’s transparency, I’m always happy to explore games like this.
There’s a decent amount to get stuck into. There’s a reasonable tutorial, voiced by the awesome Nigel Martin which covers the basics of the game, as well as a few challenge modes and a competent sandbox mode with a few maps. That’s a good base of content for an Early Access release, though as said, many of the systems in the game are in an archaic state. The animal AI is rudimentary and the park has no NPC interaction at all yet, nor are there staff. There’s a fantastic modular creation system that allows for tons of customization, and the terrain features are easy to use and expansive. The pathing tools are also far superior to anything the Planet lineup ever managed to achieve, which is also a good thing.
It’s early days, but Prehistoric Kingdom could reach the sky if it’s developed well. There’s plenty of talent here, and this is only the beginning. Keep a close eye on this.