Always Sometimes Monsters Review

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Always Sometimes Monsters

PC

Developer: Vagabond Dog

Publisher: Devolver Digital

It’s half-past ten on a Friday evening and you’ve wound up at a party you had no idea about when you were putting your shoes on. There’s a lot of hipster douches there, but one or two reasonable people too and you get chatting to a dude with a scruffy beard who knows a surprising amount about physics. You’ve got a lot on your mind lately, life’s been up and down, all things are possible – both great success and dramatic failure. When a guy steps up to you and suggests you play this new game, Always Sometimes Monsters, and makes out it will change your life, you feel in your gut that this is the right decision for you right now. Swallowing your last mouthful of Stella Artois 4%, you pull out your phone and find the Steam app, purchasing the game on the spot, ready to play in the morning.

You arrive home about 2.30ish after the party ends; a little late since you unusually decided to walk home rather than take a taxi. Still slightly drunk, you decide that this life changing game cannot wait so you hit install and flick through your twitter feed. As your computer goes through its cycle your hand catches your pocket and you feel the packet of cigarettes in there, a half-remembered sensation with an almost pleasant familiarity. Although it’s been a while since you quit smoking, you auto-pilot to your back door, stand in the half-light and light up one of your party-cigarettes. Technically, technically, these still don’t count since they’re a one-night only deal, that’s for sure. Right now however, these feel good.

Back at the computer you notice a notification on your phone. A flashing light. At this point, it’s Schrödinger’s message. Until you access it, it exists in a million states concurrently. A potential lover, an emergency call from a loved one, a job offer from a different time-zone; all of these things at once and none of them at all. You pause, savouring the anticipation, enjoying the rush of adrenaline from all these new worlds stretching out in front of you.

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You flick your phone into life.

A message from Adam. Your closest friend for so many years before a poor choice of girlfriend landed in him trouble with drugs and, ultimately, the police. You’d heard the relationship was long since dead and that he’d cleaned himself up, yet you hadn’t had it in you to make the call. Half afraid there’d be no friendship left, half terrified that you’d have to hold his hand again while he cried and explained that he was unable to control his thirst for the powder that had destroyed the person you loved like a brother. The message reads:

Help me. I’m lost.

You have no idea what this means but are in no position to help anyone right now. You turn off your phone as the alcohol catches up with you and sets your head swimming. Leaning back in your chair, fighting the urge to heave, you suddenly recall another drunken evening from years ago. The crisp winter air had kept your head straight and you’d held her hand, been transfixed by the cut of her coat, how it accentuated her body. You’d sighed inside at the redness of her cheeks, softness of mouth and the way her hair had curled out from under that striped woollen hat. You considered the decisions that lead you to that point, and the ones you made that lead you away again. How the stars seemed to align for you that evening and how, no matter how closely you might try to replicate those circumstances it would never, could never, come again.

If you continue to ignore the message, will Adam be dead by morning?

The choices you make from this point could affect many futures, or have no impact at all.

Recalling the guy who’d suggested  (or was it forced?) Sometimes Always Monsters to you, his words fade but the almost feverish look in his eye was enough to sell the game to you. What was it he’d said?

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“It’s not an adventure to take lightly, it’s a new life that you engage with. It could turn out a hundred different ways and you’ll never be sure of the best fit. It’s filled with odd, awkward moments and strange busy-work tasks that don’t seem to fit. It’ll frustrate you, it’ll delight you. It can make you laugh or cry and sometimes you won’t be sure which is the right response. Sometimes it won’t seem like a game – sometimes it’ll feel like the only game.”

You click play game.

For a moment, or several, you lose yourself.

Constructed using RPG Maker, Always Sometimes Monsters is Vagabond Dog’s fascinating role playing game.  The player moves through a variety of locations in a bid to stop the love of their life marrying someone else. The small, independent studio have constructed what on the surface appears to be a very simple game but which actually tells a variety of stories; some humorous, some sad, but all work together to create a fascinating narrative. The maps of the game operate like the towns from many an RPG, filled with a developed array of characters who respond to the player’s actions in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways. Short minigames pepper the adventure, although these are merely asides to an enthralling tale of love and life that player guides through their choices – many of which have repercussions that are far reaching and thought-provoking.

A thoroughly engaging and beautifully written title.

Karlos Morale

Always Sometimes Monsters is out now on PC

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Long Live the Queen Review

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Long Live the Queen
PC
Hanako Games

How is it that the animals are always first to know?

Look at almost any horror film you can name and the little barking doggy or the startled cat is the first indication, to any character willing to see it, that misadventure is about to befall. Animals, it would appear, have some kind of preternatural sense of impending doom – it’s just we humans who are too dumb to recognise it. Trouble is, as soon as our animal friends – whom we feed and protect for years – sense anything dangerous they give the most useless warning signals going. Oh, puppy is barking at the door? Well it could be that the old man outside is a hideous were-beast from beyond the veil, or it could be that puppy needs a piss. Thanks for making that clear, pup. Now we’re all dead.

Well, great news if you enjoy obscure animal signals leading to your untimely demise, because Hanako Games has brought us what I can only imagine is a world’s first ‘useless animal sign of death’ simulator, under the charming name of Long Live the Queen.

In this game, you play as Elodie, a 14 year old princess with gigantic eyes whose job it is to survive long enough to become queen – just 40 short weeks are all that separates you from the crown that your mother vacated by virtue of ‘magical mishap’. It would be nice to think that your soon-to-be subjects are all rooting for your in your bid to take control and have a bit of sympathy for you as a young girl who has suddenly lost a parent. Unfortunately, life in the court of Nova is a dangerous place and basically everyone has an agenda of some kind. Only by harnessing the skills necessary to be queen will you survive long enough to take the throne.

Long Live the Queen is a story that you read, with some game-y elements that make it feel very similar to a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ story. You make choices based on the information you have (or have learned from previous playthroughs) and hope that you are choosing wisely.

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Given that most people you meet seem to either subtly or openly hate you and want to see you dead, and that violent murder can come suddenly from any direction, you swiftly need to get Princess Elodie up to speed on how to manage the affairs of the kingdom. This is done by attending classes in various topics to increase your skills (hey, that’s a lot like life!) which could be things such as Public Speaking, Animal Handling or World History, amongst many others. Being a teenager, Elodie’s mood is up and down like a yo-yo in a hurricane and her mood effects her ability to learn certain skills at certain times. Happy Elodie wants to go running and swimming whereas lonely Elodie prefers more cerebral pursuits.

All of this is done in the vain hope that one day, your skill in accountancy or dancing will prevent you from getting stabbed, poisoned, blown up or any of the other fail-states that punctuate your story.

Fear not however, as death doesn’t exactly mean the end of your tale – rather that you begin it again – and try to make better decisions to prevent your demise.

In fairness, murder doesn’t always come out of the blue. Sometimes you might get a piece of text that describes a falcon flying over head and dropping a twig. Other times you might hear a dog barking. These are clues. And if you don’t have the necessary skill to interpret them, they are f*cking useless clues which – as you expire from eating poisoned chocolates or whatever – you realise it would have been better if you’d have picked up on.

Although there are multiple paths to victory, there is definitely an optimal way to play through the game. A wiki guide can take you straight through to the end with zero effort on your part besides a little clicking and reading.

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So here’s the kicker – will you care enough to want to see Elodie’s story played out through to the end? Unfortunately, I’ve got to say probably not. At £7 on Steam, it really is hard to recommend this title when there are so many other games vying for your attention and hard-earned cash. Although Long Live the Queen is certainly an interesting title, there is little variation (the story can be virtually identical from playthrough to playthrough) and, once beaten, little incentive to return. It is certainly a charming game, with relaxing music and undemanding visuals that are pleasant to look at – stats screen aside – but I have to say that you’re probably better off watching one of your favourite YouTubers do a Let’s Play of it than play through it yourself.

Long Live the Queen simply doesn’t offer enough fun to make it a worthwhile purchase.

Now I am off to keep a close eye on my dog, in case she is trying to warn me that the new bowl which has appeared in my house is a bomb by going to sleep on the stairs and shedding exactly the same amount of fur as normal.

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Karlos Morale

Long Live the Queen is out now for PC

Try the demo here