PEGBRJE: Rising Dusk and Orion Trail
Rising Dusk is a 16-bit platforming adventure made by Studio Stobie, pseudonym for the first solo project by Lukas Stobie out in Japan. Inspired by the local folklore, players play as the young girl Tamako who has been trapped in the realm of the yokai. Her travels will have her see strange and unique locations and meet new friends, as long as she can make it across each region. The catch? Those coins she sees floating around aren’t as helpful as one may think.
Player’s journey with Tamako is a relatively jovial one, jumping across different regions and areas while utilizing the yokai wandering around to the best of her ability. Some wish to blockade her route or punch her away, while others may inadvertently help by pushing objects for her or carrying her across. Players will notice that there are hundreds of these bizarre numbered blocks scattered everywhere, and some may unfortunately find out their secrets the hard way — the coins that Tamako has collected trigger them to become ghostlike and disappear on contact. The coins do not disappear upon touching a block either, acting more like a threshold to worry about. This completely changes how players approach levels, as accidentally collecting too many coins can spell doom once a long strip of numbered blocks appear and they are all below the current coin number. Then there are the actual puzzles that involve having specific numbers of coins at different times to acquire the collectable cute golden cats and record tapes, making players question if they wish to risk it or just ignore the shiny objects and make it to the end.
Finishing a level allows Tamako to enter the overland map, where each level will open up another part of the map to explore either through a mirage of a wall fading or a pathway being built to allow for passage. This magical land of the yokai has many bizarre and strange locations, including bizarre floating objects and a temple for the cat statues players discover (this is actually the challenge mode location as well). This doesn’t include the hidden locations that may be unlocked from levels that aren’t completely by ringing a bell, which I’m still uncertain as to what exactly they unlock. Many levels have multiple endings, like the time I knocked a giant’s club out of his hands and ran off to complete the level. I still don’t know what that did, and I didn’t waste any time sticking around to find out.
Rising Dusk is a fantastical tale within Japanese folklore with a fantastic twist to the platforming formula, especially to those that want to hoard coins for no real reason. They don’t add to any score, but they do sabotage many runs that I’ve tried. Add in a bop of a soundtrack to fit the adorable visuals and you’ve got yourself an adventure of exploration and fun. If you or anyone you know is looking for a lengthier platformer with dozens of different ways to approach it, this is a title to try out.
Orion Trail is a space adventure simulation made by Schell Games, a video game studio touted as the ‘largest full-service education and entertainment game studio in the US’. Greenlit and Kickstarted back in 2014, it’s a narrative ‘choose your own adventure’ set out in space and reminiscent of a certain Oregon Trail in that players will make decisions to decide the fate of their mission, but ultimately hope that space RNGesus won’t destroy them.
Players will begin by selecting their crew for the selected mission, comprised of a captain and three other Officers. Each option for choice has their own story and their own stats, comprising of five different but important attributes that the crew needs to succeed. These are (left to right) Attack, Tactics, Diplomacy, Science and Bravado, which each crew member have a different array of. Selecting a crew member will add their stats to the ship’s total, which are used to help make decisions. Once the four have been selected, it’s off into the Orion Trail to complete the mission of reaching the Galaxy Force Starbase. To do so, players will select between different nodes on a map to travel to which costs fuel and food per ‘dot’ on the trail to each node. Arrival will give some text about the scenario, with players needing to make a choice as to how they will react and deal with the encounter. Making a decision brings up the most polarizing part of the game; the Probability Drive.
This wonderful/horrible contraption may seem familiar to many of the X-COM or any other strategy title in which a random percentile determines the success or failure of an encounter. Here there are 20 squares that are filled with Xs, checkmarks, stars, skulls and blanks, acting as a visual representation of a D20 if players could shrink it down. If the Drive lands on a checkmark, players can breath a sigh of relief as they’ve succeeded, with Xs involving the disappointing fury of failure. Those stats come back in a very important way, as whatever decision made is tied to a stat, and the value of the stat is then used to convert Xs into checkmarks to increase chances of success. Unfortunately, critical failure skulls cannot be removed, so the threat of those is always looming. Instead, excess stats convert checks into stars representing critical successes, the greatest option ever. This is where the ‘magic’ happens, where a perfect run can be utterly destroyed and where a miracle can occur. The only control player’s have over success is the stat bonuses, and even then that may not help if 50% of the Probability Drive is covered in skulls. The only variation to the drive is during ‘Away Missions’ in which players send red shirts with an officer to do a ground mission. Instead of successes, each checkmark is replaced by a red shirt; and we all know what that means don’t we.
Yeah they die. It’s ok, they’re the extras, they’ll just put another shirt on and come back later, right? Right?
In case it wasn’t clear, the entire tone of Orion Trail is one of ridiculous absurdity, filled with bizarre plot points and satirical comments about future space travel and popular sci fi. The writing and scenarios are what sells it, keeping similar feeling encounters fresh because some random ambassador in a jar decided I was a terrorist or something — I’m not sure, I just flipped him off and quit the mission before my officer died. Which is something that can be done, and is glorious.
The best description of Orion Trail is that it’s a self-aware combination of space flying FTL with the terrifying randomness of Oregon Trail. It knows that missions can become grating over time, especially when plagued with multiple critical failures, so it keeps missions shorter to a bite sized approach. Some may find the RNG of the Probability Drive infuriating, especially when getting a crit failure when that’s the only failure token on the board. I simply decided that I would embrace its chaos to just see how far I could get. As you can see above, I completed that mission easily if one ignores the lack of officers and the amount of times I ran out of fuel (4). If this sounds like something you’d enjoy for an hour or two while just laughing at the silly scenarios you’ll end up in, this is definitely a game to give a whirl.
As the day shines the last of its golden light over the land an eerie realm begins to form in the shadows. This…