Game Time

VIDEO GAME REVIEW
Giraffe and Annika
Nintendo Switch

GIRAFFE AND ANNIKA, the inaugural offering of developer Atelier Mimina founded by veteran game designer Atsushi Saito, isn’t aiming to be a standout. As far as anime-inspired releases go, it’s middle of the road in presentation, with a pleasant art style and fairy-tale narrative designed more to please than to challenge. That said, it manages to offer a pleasant experience that provides no small measure of entertainment in ways that plenty other puzzle platformers don’t.

In Giraffe and Annika, players take control of the neko Annika, thrust into the magical island of Spica with no recollection of her past. Spurred on by a boy named Giraffe who acts as a guide, Annika must do what she can to recover her memories, diving into the world around her and interacting with its inhabitants. She goes on quests, explores dungeons, does battle with enemies, and collects stars along the way, but she finds herself breaking no sweat. The challenges aren’t difficult; puzzles are laid out neatly for crafty but easy solving, while combat — coming by way of rhythm spectacles that require synchronized jumping — offers no threat of death.

In short, Giraffe and Annika engages, but not to the point of exhaustion. Rather, it aims to provide a welcoming experience not unlike a fireside chat with a long-lost friend on a chilly night, warm cookies and milk in hand. Its emphasis isn’t on getting to the end of the story, but, rather, on the fun players have while going on adventures en route. And whatever Annika lacks in skills, she makes up for with intelligence. She can’t beat down her foes, but she can outwit them. Meanwhile, she interacts with her environment to progress.

All told, Giraffe and Annika shows a lot of heart. Its fairly simple interface notwithstanding, it comes off as a labor of love that makes its message stick. It’s not a long game, but it doesn’t let up in vibrancy. It’s aurally and visually pleasing, filled with sugar and spice and everything nice. Featuring pacing that’s perfect for a long evening’s worth of distraction, it’s akin to a bedtime story that ends right before it overstays its welcome.

THE GOOD:

• Cutesy art style combined with an interesting fairy-tale narrative

• Simple puzzle design and rhythm-game mechanics

• Labor of love that makes its message stick

THE BAD:

• Relatively short

• Neither complicated nor challenging

• Occasionally buggy

RATING: 8/10

POSTSCRIPT: Quite a few players remember Pyro Studio’s Praetorians fondly despite its flaws. Released on the personal computer back in 2003, it is best known for its captivating depictions of Romans fighting against barbarian hordes of old. Which, in a nutshell, is why Praetorians HD Remaster is being greeted with anticipation by those who have a history with the original. Like finding an old friend after years of being apart, Millennials see it as a way for them to reconnect with their childhood, albeit with a fresh coat of paint courtesy of Kalypso Media.

In Praetorians HD Remaster, players get to choose one of three ancient cultures and lead them into victory. They get to take over villages, conscript units, hire more elite troops, and prove themselves to be the dominant commanders of the era. En route, this means mastering the game’s combat system, which, at its heart, is akin to a tactical game of rock-paper-scissors. Archers are strong from afar, capable of peppering spearmen down, but close combat or cavalry can bring them down fast. Spearmen are more defensive units, capable of bringing down the cavalry, but are no match against heavier, stronger infantry; the heavy infantry are efficient, capable of throwing pilums or axes before combat, but have their own drawbacks in being hard to recruit. It’s a simple but effective concept, one that even newcomers to the genre will be able to grasp.

Beyond basic units, Praetorians HD Remaster employs uncomplicated progression principles. Victory in combat generates honor points, which can then be used to recruit higher-tier units that can fill out army rosters and counter opponent compositions. At the same time, however, these higher-tier units come at a cost, requiring control of a village, villagers to conscript, and more time to muster them to battle.

The tradeoffs in Praetorians HD Remaster compel players to juggle and incentivize the buildup of different units. With combat locking units together until one side loses, micromanaging becomes less important vis-a-vis having a proper battle plan, as engagements, once started, cannot be cancelled. Instead of kiting opponents to death, having flexible army rosters and exploiting terrains properly become key.

On the flipside, Praetorians HD Remaster shows its age. Compared to titles which have significantly revised gameplay in the genre (Creative Assembly’s Total War is an example), it has not stood the test of time well. While its concepts stand firm, their implementation leaves much to be desired. And taken with uneven quality-of-life features, the clunky interface offsets the improved graphics.

To be sure, Praetorians HD Remaster is exactly what its name promises to be: an improved version of a cult classic. It upscales the video resolution and does little else beyond presenting the original experience as it was back then. Longtime fans of the game will no doubt enjoy the chance to play it anew, buoyed by fond memories. For the new generation of gamers, though, it figures to be wanting.

True, Praetorians HD Remaster does look better than it did before. True, it does run smoothly. And, true, it boasts of a fairly lengthy campaign mode alongside an assortment of skirmish maps. On the other hand, it may well find itself failing to assuage a hitherto untapped segment of players not likely to tolerate its clunky controls. Which is to say it should be a hit for some and a miss for others.

THE GOOD:

• An improved version of the original Praetorians, with upscaled graphics

• Fair amount of content in its campaign and skirmish modes

• Gameplay depth

THE BAD:

• Clunky controls

• Slow paced

• No gameplay improvements

RATING: 7/10

THE LAST WORD: For a while there, it appeared as if Leisure Suit Larry would be consigned to the dustbins of videogame history. The two releases from the series after the turn of the millennium were decided busts, and not simply because original designer and developer Al Lowe had nothing to do with them. Unlike the first six games that featured main protagonist Larry Laffer, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude and Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust boasted of a cruder, more direct approach to humor. The change in tone and treatment of sexual situations was as deliberate as the use of a new character to headline the releases, but failed to bring about the intended results.

In late 2011, however, publisher Replay Games took on the task of remaking Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. The plan was to tap into Lowe’s desire to, in his words, “redeem my creation” and come up with a modernized version of the title that launched the franchise. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the game received the high-definition audio-visual treatment along with marked changes in interface, introduced new characters and puzzles, and found itself in several platforms. In other words, it got a new lease on life. For all its politically incorrect themes, it had gamers who grew up in the 1980s and ‘90s waxing nostalgic. At the same time, it tickled the fancy of the younger set with its willingness to walk the fine line between being naughty and being offensive.

Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry serves as the follow-up to the second remake of the original, but again, without the involvement of Lowe. CrazyBunch, a small development studio based in Hamburg, Germany, best known for virtual reality games, brings the title character to the 21st century with nary an explanation at the start of the game. He simply awakens in a dark room unaware of his circumstances, and, after a short sequence designed to give players a quick tutorial of the interface, finds himself using a manhole cover for an elevator in order to get to street level. He recognizes Lefty’s Bar, but little else. Inside, he gets to talk to the owner of the watering hole, who tells him he has been missing for 30 years.

What comes next is around 12 hours’ worth of fish-out-of-water hijinks that has Larry staying true to himself despite the modern setting — which is to say still chasing skirts while displaying biting humor seemingly more fit in his past. His ultimate objective is to win over Faith, veritable goddess at Prune Inc. and secretary to head honcho BJ Prune. In order to do so, however, he needs to solve puzzles, collect items, and complete tasks, including, yes, going on dates via the Timber app on his PiPhone. If it sounds easy, be forewarned: it’s not. Unlike a plethora of other point-and-click adventures, Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry requires players to note descriptions of objects to understand how they can be properly used, and, occasionally, combined with others so as to arrive at desired outcomes.

Which should be all well and good, except that, on iOS, Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry suffers from glitches that bring down the user experience. Thankfully, the immersive gameplay encourages patience. Players who opt to cope with the technical hurdles should be amply rewarded. Additionally, there is the option of jumping straight to the Epilogue, but it would be spoiling the fun. After all, the game is all about the journey and not the destination. It’s a satisfying romp all told, and not at all a bummer at $4.99 despite the bugs. And since it can be enjoyed in small doses, it’s perfect on the go. Recommended.

THE GOOD:

• Immersive fish-out-of-water adventure

• Retains the tone of the series

• Challenging puzzles

• Lively audio-visual presentation

THE BAD:

• Suffers from glitches

• Constant clicking can lead to repetitive audio cues

• Spelling mistakes can put off

RATING: 7.5/10