For some reason, a lot of publishers decided to plan all their big releases in the same few weeks at the start of the year. That leaves more room on the calendar for smaller games now, and we’re highlighting three of them here: here are our thoughts on PictoQuest, Raven’s Hike and Castle Formers.
PictoQuest review (PS4)
NanoPiko Games originally launched PictoQuest on the Nintendo Switch back in 2019, and it’s easy to see why – this blend of a Puzzle Quest-like formula with nonogram/picross elements is very well suited to playing on the go in short bursts. If it had been released earlier we would have loved this on the Vita as well, but at least it’s coming to additional platforms now thanks to Seaven Studio – letting us play it on a PlayStation 4.
Much like in Puzzle Quest, PictoQuest is a lighthearted RPG game where the main mechanic is to solve puzzles. In this case, nonograms – the kind you’ll be familiar with if you’ve played Picross or some of the Lightwood Games productions that feature the same mechanic. The puzzles in Pictoquest are of the simpler variety, which just a single color and relatively small grids, allowing for fairly fast-flowing gameplay.
This of course ties into the RPG element and the combat sequences you’ll engage with, where completing rows and columns triggers attacks. Other tasks include finding and opening treasure, as well as using items. Sometimes combat will see you facing off against multiple enemies at once, or give you a boss to fight, but besides very light tactical choices (like selecting who to attack first) the core remains the same – despite a bit of time pressure every now and then.
As with the games that inspired it, it’s a simple but very engaging loop, though perhaps a tad too casual for nonogram veterans looking for a challenging. But with a charming cartoon-like presentation and a ‘pick up and play’ quality, this is a fun casual puzzler to consider. And hey, if you want to play it on the Vita, then Remote Play works just fine!
Raven’s Hike review (PS4)
Originally developed by Wired Dreams Studio, Raven’s Hike has now been launched on consoles by QUByte. It’s a puzzle platformer with a big twist, because you can’t walk, run or jump, where a grappling hook is your key to traversal. It’s an incredibly simple mechanic, but one that can be extremely tricky in practice.
To demonstrate how simple the core concept is, you don’t even need any buttons to control your main character. Point the thumbstick in the direction you want to travel, and off you go. You can change direction again in mid-air, but this is where things get tricky – timing becomes crucial when you suddenly go left when whizzing upwards, and if you’re a fraction of a second off you can launch yourself into some spikes or other hazards.
In every level, you need to get to the exit, and if that’s not hard enough because of obstacles, levels also require you to collect gems in order to open said exit. This introduces a puzzle element, especially as certain elements inside each level will change position or state after touching them. This can help you crush enemies, but can also close off the way towards the next gem if you’re not careful.
It’s a solid idea, and while the grappling hook initially feels a bit like the classic sliding puzzles it quickly becomes clear that Raven’s Hike is much more of a precision platformer that requires quick thinking and precise timing – and for puzzle fans those kinds of twitch controls might quickly lead to frustration. If you enjoy a challenging platformer with an original twist, however, then Raven’s Hike has you covered. Four distinct worlds don’t equate to much more than a different color scheme, but this one should keep you busy for a few hours at a budget price.
When we saw the title for Castle Formers, we were pretty sure it was going to be a castle building simulator – something along the lines the classic Castles game by Interplay. Turns out it was actually an amalgamation of the castle defense and platforming genres, originally developed by
Fernando Araujo and now brought to consoles by Ratalaika Games.
Structure-wise, Castle Formers is mainly a castle defense title, where you gain resources, spend it on your defenses, feed and train soldiers and buy new weapons and spells. Everything plays out from a retro 2D perspective though, and this is where the platforming element comes in. You’ll physically navigate between various NPCs in order to recruit their help, set up defenses and spend your money, but you’ll also be hands on in battling the incoming hostiles, which came at you in waves. There’s a 3 minute daytime cycle, then a 3 minute nighttime cycle, after which things repeat and progressively get harder.
A full game is 30 day and night cycles and will thus take about three hours, but trophy hunters will be happy to know they’ll have unlocked all of the trophies well before then – which is probably good news because things do get a bit repetitive when a run gets to be more than 30 or 40 minutes long. There’s no story here, and the gameplay loop doesn’t change much beyond unlocking more stuff and facing stronger enemies.
For a short diversion that you can pick up for a budget price, Castle Formers is okay. Gathering coins by venturing out for a bit of Ghost ‘n Goblins-like platforming (meaning that combat is more important than jumps) and then mixing that with castle defense is a fun combination – just not one that’ll tide you over for long.