Review: Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup

I haven’t done a video game review in a while, and this review is long overdue. It is a game anyone can play, because it is open-source and will work on practically any computer since it has almost no graphics to speak of and is only about 20 to 30 MB. But it also has one of the deepest gameplays of games you can get for free.

I first started playing this game back in June (when I was supposed to be studying for exams!) and stopped playing for a while but recently got back to it. It really is a game you can never see the end of, because there’s a surprise around any corner.

The goal of the game is to delve into the deep Dungeon and find the fabled Orb of Zot and return to the surface with it. To do this, you will first have to find at least 3 runes in different branches of the dungeon. But the devs advise you not to get too worried about this, as it is extremely difficult to do. To start off, they tell you to just try different things, and find different ways to play and die. In fact, a common phrase seen around the Crawl website and forums is ‘Losing is fun!’.

Now to the graphics. Probably the first thing you’ll realise is that everything in the dungeon is illustrated by ASCII characters. For example, you are represented by an @ sign, rats are r, ogres are an O, and food is %. This may seem like a really good reason not to try this game, but it is surprisingly easy to understand once you play for a while. Plus, if you really need graphics, there is a tiles version of the game available for download as well.

So enough talk, time to play! The latest version of the game, 0.11 (Wait, what‽ I’m still playing 0.10!) is ready for download at this link. Also on the website is helpful information about the game, and links to the forums and the servers where you can play, single-player, online, but where other users can watch you play.

What do you think of the game? Are there any other ASCII games you like? Tell us in the comments?

Review: Age of Empires II: Gold Edition

Developer: Ensemble Studios | Year: 1999 | List Price: $9.99 | Buy from Amazon

I just recently re-took interest in this game, as it was one of the games I enjoyed most not too long ago. I did a review on Age of Empires III a little while ago, and I actually got that game before Age of Empires II, so I’ll use that for an excuse for this long-overdue review.

I think I should say before I start that I own the Mac port for the game, but I don’t think there are any differences between versions. (As a side note, if you have Lion, you can’t actually play Age of Empires II on Mac anymore, at least not without some tinkering, as it is a PowerPC application which Apple no longer supports.) Regardless of the platform, Age of Empires II is a significant milestone of the real-time strategy genre. The Age of Empires franchise was actually the first historical RTS franchise and is probably the most well-known.

Age of Empires II continues where Age fo Empires left off, at the fall of the western Roman empire. You begin the game with a small settlement with a few villagers and almost no technology. As your town grows, you can research new technologies and develop your armies. The ultimate goal is to vanquish your enemies on the battlefield and be the only tribe left on the map.

There are many civilisations to lead to victory. The 13 Middle Age civilsations include the likes of the Britons, Goths, Saracens, and Mongols. Unfortunately, unlike later games, there isn’t really much difference between civilisations: They have only slightly different sets of units, and each has only one unique unit. There are also many campaigns to play. Not including the learning campaign, there are 5 different campaigns, all separate from each other and with different difficulty levels.

The game actually has an extremely deep strategy system, even when compared to more modern titles. There are formations for your troops to assume, four different resources to stockplile, even features which the newer Age of Empires III does not have, such as a primitive diplomacy system with trading ships and carts.

There is also an expansion pack called the Conquerors, which adds 5 new civilisations, 4  new campaigns, and a whole host of new units, technologies and maps. This in itself is not really so revolutionary, but there are also new features that make the gameplay smoother and easier, such as smarter villagers, buying replacement farms in advance, and some general UI improvements. The expansion pack really adds a lot to the game, and fortunately nowadays it is usually bundled in.

Obviously where this game loses out in our time is in graphics. At 13 years old, Age of Empires II is not exactly a new game, and this is rather apparent. On newer, larger screens, the game is extremely dotty and animations seem awkward and cheesy sometimes. Of course, this could be a good thing, too, as you no longer have to worry if you have adequate system requirements and the game never freezes or jumps. If you are younger, or just new to video games of this type, this may not be a good entry, as newer games are often simpler and more logical, and have more well-defined graphics.

Game length could also present an issue to some. When compared against other strategy games, games are actually rather short, but modern casual games have made the general population more impatient with their games, and while Age of Empires III has games lasting about half-an-hour to an hour, Age of Empires II easily doubles that.

So basically, if you are looking for a good RTS to just try out, this may not be the first choice, but if you are experienced in the genre and determined to suffer through out-dated graphics, then this game is an extremely nice piece of RTS history, at a price reasonably lower than you would get for a more modern game.

List Price: $9.99 | Buy from Amazon

What do you think? Do you play Age of Empires II? Tell us in the comments!

Also, be sure to check out the rest of our videogame-related reviews and articles!

Review: LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4

Developers: Traveller’s Tales | Year: 2010 | List Price: $19.99 | Buy from Amazon

I remember first hearing about the game on MuggleCast, and thinking how awesome it sounded. Now, even after having the game for months, it is still one of my favourite games of all time, and I have only just completed about 50% of it. Granted, I haven’t been playing that often, but I would say it’s practically impossible to finish the entire game! After finishing all the levels, you unlock the rest of Hogwarts, and every time I play, I’ll see a new room, or mini-level I haven’t seen before. Although it’s such a simple game, and not very difficult, it packs more replay value than any game I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly better than any other Harry Potter game (the EA ones were too simple, and had no replay value whatsoever).

What do you think? Tell us in the comments. Are you excited for LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7?