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Games Created by Women: Centipede

250px-Atari0028For many gamers, there are fantastic memories associated with games from the 1980s. Between the accessibility of arcades and finally being able to play at home these games became a foundation for so many of us who like to game.

One such game was released in 1981. Centipede was sent out into the world by Atari and it has been a favorite ever since. Many quarters have been lined up on Centipede machines in arcades through the years. One of the creators of this game is Dona Bailey. Dona has truly been a pioneer for women in the field of programming.

 

If you choose to play this game you should know that you are our only hope. Using a gun at the bottom of the screen you must target and shoot down threats. These threats come down the screen in waves. The player must try to shoot them down with a gun at the bottom of the screen. You can only go so far and so fast so this game so it requires patience and skill. It is a lot of fun though!

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The game isn’t very complicated looking by today’s standards. However that is not to take away from the graphic design of it’s time. Centipede has a classic look and feel when being played. The concept is great. The music is timeless. So if you are looking for an old school game to play this is the one to get.

 

I would like totally recommend this game. It is a great game to start off with. It is also a great game for nostalgia feels. 

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

Kingdom Hearts III: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

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Like many people, I’d waited almost thirteen years to play Kingdom Hearts 3.

Technically, you could say that I’ve been waiting since 2012, when I beat Dream Drop Distance. But thirteen sounds more impressive, and it’s been that long since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out in Japan. And ever since then, we’ve all hoped to hear Square-Enix announce development on Part 3. Instead, we got hit with a number of smaller titles on different consoles. All have proven to be important to the story to varying degrees and I enjoyed playing all of them. (Well, except Coded. Sorry, Coded.)

But now, here we are. I can say that I beat Kingdom Hearts 3 at long last. Many have asked, and many more have their own opinions regarding this one question: was it worth the wait?

My answer: yes and no.

Kingdom Hearts 3 was an emotional rollercoaster for me, a lot of ups and downs. When it’s good, it’s phenomenal. It surpassed some of my wildest hopes and dreams. But when it’s bad…yikes. It’s worse than I could have imagined. I’m not even really trying to be dramatic here. That’s really how I felt as I played this game.

Let’s start with the high points.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy are back! These characters are the best that they’ve ever been. Their friendship is so strong in every scene, whether they’re teasing each other, reminiscing about past adventures, or having each other’s backs in battle. Donald and Goofy love Sora and they’re prepared to go anywhere with him to the bitter end. And while Sora is the hero of the story, his two companions got to have plenty of “awesome” moments all on their own. That was a pleasant surprise. 

The Disney worlds look, sound, and feel fantastic. They’re enormous in size compared to previous games and they’re all beautiful. Each location presents a unique environment to explore, from the lush forests in Tangled to the wide, open ocean from Pirates of the Caribbean.  The attention to detail is just wonderful and I keep finding new things to appreciate.

And best of all: the game has NPCs! Sora no longer runs through empty streets! You can actually see people in the cities and towns!

Unfortunately, while I adore all of Yoko Shimomura’s work in the Kingdom Hearts series, I have to admit that I came away with mixed feelings about the soundtrack this time. Kingdom Hearts 3 recycles and remixes a lot of music from the previous games, when I would have liked to have heard more new tracks.

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But I can’t complain too much because both the new and old music sound just as good as they always have. And I was extremely impressed by the new field and battle arrangements for each world. They each reflect the style of the scores from the original Disney films. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that Alan Menken composed the music for Corona.

Now, you’ve probably heard that Kingdom Hearts 3 is too easy. Speaking as someone who’s not a very skilled gamer, I can confirm that these fans are correct. Most of the game is a breeze, even on the hardest difficulty level. Usually, I need to put in some level grinding at various points in a Kingdom Hearts game. Not this time.

Why is it so easy this time around? I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the number of options at your disposal when you’re fighting. As you attack with your Keyblade, you fill up a gauge that allows your Keyblade to change form and unleash more powerful attacks. Then, after a certain period of time spent fighting, you can trigger a joint attack with one of your party members, i.e. throwing Mike Wazowski at the enemy like a bowling ball. You also acquire Links, which are characters you can summon into battle using magic, i.e. Ariel and Wreck-It Ralph.

But wait- there’s more! On top of everything else, attacking certain enemies will trigger a type of attack called Attraction Flow. These attacks are designed to mimic popular rides at the Disney theme parks: a swinging pirate ship, the spinning tea cups, Prince Charming’s Carousel, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, etc. They are a lot of fun to unleash…the first couple of times. And they can be great for crowd control. But after a while, I got tired of using them.

And wait- there’s more! If you’re low on health, you might trigger an attack called Rage Form. Similar to Anti-Form, this turns Sora into a humanoid Heartless with faster, powerful attacks. His Rage attacks do significant damage at the cost of his own health.

Add it all up, and you can see why it’s not so easy to die in this game. I’d come close, only to trigger a slew of special attacks that allowed Sora to stay alive until the fight ended. Although you do not have to use any of these commands, you can’t disable them either, so they will keep popping up as you play.

Last of all, Kingdom Hearts 3 adds a very welcome option when you do fail at a battle or similar objective: “Prepare and Retry.” This allows you to access the menu before restarting a boss fight, so you can restock items you might’ve forgotten to equip, change your abilities or customize your spells differently. I hope that’s an option that’s here to stay for future Kingdom Hearts games.

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So, what didn’t I like about this game, besides the difficulty?  On paper, it doesn’t look like much.  However, the story has some problems and some of them bothered me so much that they almost tainted my feelings about the whole experience.

Granted, there’s actually a lot to like about the story of Kingdom Hearts III. The Disney characters get so many opportunities to shine. There’s a nice balance between worlds that strictly follow the plot of the movie and worlds that follow an original story that ties into the central conflict between Sora and Organization XIII. The Organization members have actual conversations with one another about their personal goals, their motivations, and their opinions of one another. One member gets a whole subplot that I won’t spoil, but it’s fantastic.

But, I reiterate: when this game goes bad, it goes bad. The biggest problem lies in the treatment of the female characters. It’s not a new problem for Kingdom Hearts, given that the games introduced us to dozens of engaging male characters and a handful of ladies. Yet many fans hoped that this would get rectified, especially for poor Kairi- the girl who is supposed to be one of Sora’s two best friends, but constantly gets pushed aside in favor of giving Riku more character development.

Kairi gets a couple of good moments in this game, but by and large, what Tetsuya Nomura decided to do with her was abysmal. I won’t spoil anything, but something important happens to her that left me feeling shocked, disgusted, and angry.  It’s not so much that I want Kairi to become a Strong Female Character who fights with a sword and doesn’t need a man in her life.  I just want Nomura to write her the way that he writes the male cast: as a person with her own goals and character growth, not an accessory to Sora.

To a lesser extent, there are twists in the game that seem to exist just for the sake of confusing/shocking us and getting the fans talking, not because they contribute to the story or characters. I know that some of this comes down to personal preference, and that if I want to continue with this series, I need to accept that this is how Tetsuya Nomura likes to tell stories. Still, I wish he’d stop pulling things like, “THIS character is secretly connected to THIS thing or person ALL ALONG!” When he just lets the characters play off of each other, Kingdom Hearts III shines. When he starts to go into the Lore, that’s when I begin to tune out.

I recommend Kingdom Hearts III to people who have stuck with this series for all of its installments. I would even recommend it to people who have never played a Kingdom Hearts game before. If you are willing to embrace the odd story and you think running around beautifully recreated Disney worlds sounds appealing, you should have a great time.

However, I do not recommend this game to anyone who has only played Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Weird as it sounds, I think you’ll have a harder time enjoying it than people who have never picked up a Kingdom Hearts game in their lives.

Why? Because you know just enough about the world and its characters to find certain ret-cons and new characters/information all the more confusing. The game doesn’t offer a clear, concise explanation for why some characters have returned from the dead, like Axel. Whereas, if you’ve never played one of the games before, you don’t know that they’re supposed to be dead.

Overall, I rate Kingdom Hearts 3 a 7/10. It’s not a perfect experience. The treatment of Kairi and certain parts of the ending left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yet the game also provided a lot of joy and I don’t want to throw that away. Sora, Donald, and Goofy: thanks for the ride. I look forward to playing future installments.

Dungeon Crawling: Clerics

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Lords, ladies, lads, and lassies, today I am here to talk to you about healers Clerics. I mean really, when most gamers think of clerics the first thought that comes into their minds is a healer, and they can be so much more than that. They are not the only class that has access to healing spells, nor do their subclasses have a monopoly on healing features. Just take a look at the Circle of Dreams Druid or the Celestial Patron Warlock.

Proficiency-wise, clerics don’t do too bad with all simple weapons, light and medium armor and shields. Certain Domains will give you access to Heavy armor as well, allowing you to wade into the thick of things cracking heads and getting hands on with your better healing spells.

Wisdom is the primary spellcasting ability for clerics, affecting everything from spell attacks to spell DCs, and even adding to the effectiveness of their healing spells. Combined with their clerical levels, wisdom also determines how many spells they can have prepared on any given day. Each of the chosen domains also gives the cleric access to certain spells that they automatically have prepared each day for free on top of the ones they choose. Ritual casting is in the arsenal for a cleric as well.

Channel Divinity. Every cleric gets it, and the common use for it is Turn Undead, or Destroy Undead at higher levels. Each of the domains also has a secondary use for it as well, adding to the clerics toolkit of abilities. Starting at 1st level you have roughly ten subclasses, or Domains, to choose from. I say roughly because the Death domain is secreted away within the covers of the Dungeon Masters Guide and is meant for villainous characters. Still, with seven to choose from in the Player’s Handbook and two more in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything a budding cleric has plenty of versatility laid out before them.

The Knowledge domain is all about divination, and borrowing proficiency in skills and tools using your Channel divinity. In addition you gain double proficiency in two skills of your choosing from Arcana, History, Nature or Religion making for an extremely talented learned scholar.

The Life domain is the quintessential healer. Most healing spells in the cleric list are not counted against their daily prepared spells. In addition, healing spells of 1st level or higher are more potent. They also gain access to Heavy armor so they can wade into the thick of battle. When push comes to shove their Channel Divinity can be used as a group heal spreading a scaling pool of healing among whomever they choose.

Light domain clerics are bright shiny beacons burning their foes with fiery spells. They can distract an enemy with a brilliant burst of divine light or use their Channel Divinity to set off a radiant area-of-effect attack.. At higher level they are capable of adding their Wisdom modifier to the damage they deal with any cleric Cantrip.

When you choose the Nature domain you gain proficiency in heavy armor, access to a druid Cantrip, and a skill chosen from Animal Handling, Nature, or Survival. Your Channel Divinity can also be used to charm animals and plants.

Now the Tempest domain is another full on battle cleric. They gain proficiency in heavy armor and martial weapons and specialize in using thunder and lightning spells. They can rebuke attackers with a lightning strike, and use their Channel Divinity to max out the damage on thunder and lighting attacks when they choose.

Trickery domain clerics are sneaky, giving a blessing of stealth to someone else or using their Channel Divinity to create an illusory duplicate of themselves creating confusion on the battlefield. At higher levels their Channel Divinity can also be used to turn invisible for a turn.

War is the last of the basic domains in the Player’s Handbook and not surprisingly another full on battle cleric. Like Tempest, War gains proficiency in heavy armor and all martial weapons. When they fight in battle they can make extra attacks as a bonus action, but this is limited to a number of times per long rest. Their accuracy however can be truly awesome. They can use their Channel Divinity to gain a +10 to hit after they make the roll.

The Death domain in the Dungeon Master’s Guide is the only villainous domain so far. Focusing on death and negative energy, they start with a free necromancy Cantrip that is expanded to hit two targets within 5 feet of each other. They also gain proficiency in all martial weapons. Their Channel Divinity can used as a necromantic smite doing extra damage on a melee hit.

Next we have the Forge domain. These clerics are walking magic item arsenals. Sort of. Once per long rest they can imbue a non-magical suit of armor or weapon with magic granting a +1 to AC or Hit and Damage. They are also capable of creating metal objects using an hour long ritual when they use a Channel Divinity.

Finally we have the Grave Domain. These clerics monitor the line between life and death. They can cast Spare the Dying as  bonus action and at range, and when they heal a target who is at 0 hit points the dice are considered to have rolled maximum for the spell. They are also able to detect undead a limited number of times per day. In combat though their Channel Divinity can be used to curse a foe so they are vulnerable to the damage from next attack that hits them from an ally or the cleric themselves.

So all clerics can heal, but all clerics are not strictly healers. Pick you god, choose a domain and kick evil ass.

A Trip Through the SNES Classic: Final Fantasy VI

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Hey, everyone!

This year, I’d like to try something different with my monthly video game reviews.  I was fortunate enough to get a Super Nintendo Classic as a present, and most of the titles are games that I’ve never played before.  So each month, I’m going to play a different game on the list and give my thoughts on it.  If there’s any titles that you would especially like me to cover, please let me know in the comments below.

Without further ado, I’m going to cheat and review the one game on the SNES Classic that I’ve already played and beaten: Final Fantasy VI.

(Note: This game was originally released in the United States as Final Fantasy III and it is listed as such in the Super Nintendo Classic’s library.  It is actually the sixth installment of the Final Fantasy series.  However, Square opted not to internationally release FFII, FFIII, and FFV until much later, hence the mix-up in titles.  I’ve decided to go ahead and refer to the game as Final Fantasy VI throughout this review.)

So yeah. Wow. I can see why this game has such a devoted fanbase!

In Final Fantasy VI, an evil emperor wants to gain power by hunting down magical creatures called Espers and absorbing their powers. As the game starts, a human/Esper hybrid named Terra escapes from his control and finds herself among a resistance group called the Returners. She befriends a dozen interesting characters (because there’s actually twelve characters in the party, not including the two secret characters you can find) all with their own reasons for fighting Emperor Gestahl and bringing peace to the world.

It’s hard to pick a favorite character when there’s so many of them and they’re all interesting or entertaining in some way.   They are the strongest aspect of the game. You’re required to have each one in your party at least once at some point in the story (not including the secret characters), which I found impressive. The previous installment that I’d played, Final Fantasy VII, had a couple of moments like that when you had someone different leading the party. But VI does it constantly. You start out as Terra, and then she falls unconscious at the beginning of the story and the perspective switches to Locke, the treasure hunter who rescues her. Later on, the party splits up, and you are required to play through each group’s scenario: Terra and Edgar, Locke and Celes, and Sabin, Cyan, and Gau. And then even further along, you have to play as Celes alone. So it’s in your best interest to keep everybody leveled up.

I also like how this game includes side-quests and cutscenes that flesh out different characters, just because they can. In the second half of the game, you can travel to Cyan’s abandoned home and help him battle his inner demons. You get an Esper out of it and unlock the full power of his special attack, but otherwise, you don’t really earn anything except a deeper appreciation of his character. Or you can have the party attempt to reunite Gau with his long-lost father. You don’t get any special items or Espers out of it; the cutscene is just there if you want to see it.

Now, I probably shouldn’t do this, because I’ve heard that there’s a strong rivalry between fans of Final Fantasy VI and VII. But I’m going to say it anyway: I think Kefka’s a better-written villain than Sephiroth.  Fight me.

Kefka starts out as a wacky henchman to Emperor Gestahl and then evolves into a bigger threat. He’s out to destroy everyone and everything, and if they manage to pick up the pieces of their lives after he does so, he’ll destroy it all again. I like how he constantly appears throughout the first half of the game, causing trouble for everybody. Kefka has more of a presence than Sephiroth ever did. Although he does look and act similar to the Joker, that’s not a bad thing. It makes him stand out from other Final Fantasy villains that tend to lean towards serious and intimidating.

Final Fantasy VI uses the turn-based battle system, as most of the main installments do. Many of the characters have a unique ability: Locke can steal items, Edgar has tools that wreak havoc, Sabin uses blitzes, Relm can sketch monsters and mimic their abilities, etc. Some characters start out with the ability to cast magic, while others have to learn how to use it over time. They do so by acquiring the powers of Espers, which you can collect throughout the course of the game. When you assign an Esper to a character, the character begins to learn a set of spells.

I had fun with this customization because it allowed me to make weaker characters more useful in battle. For example, Cyan’s got a special sword attack that would come in handy if it didn’t take him eons to charge it. So towards the end of the game, I gave him the powerful Ultima spell to learn, and suddenly he became an MVP.

Nobuo Uematsu created another amazing soundtrack with this game. I love “Terra’s Theme.” Most of the musical themes that I’ve heard for a female character fall into two categories: light and sweet or sad and melancholy. Sometimes they’re in both categories. In comparison, Terra’s theme sounds full of determination. It creates the impression of a woman who’s encountered lots of hardships in her life and she just keeps on moving.

There’s also an opera in the game. Yes, that’s right: the party gets involved in an opera and it’s wonderful. Sure, why not?

I’ve had a blast playing Final Fantasy VI. It’s a wonderful RPG with an interesting story and characters. If you haven’t been able to get your hands on a Super Nintendo Classic, you can play it on iOS and Android devices now. Or if you still have a GameBoy Advance, PS1, or Super Nintendo, you can play it on any of those systems.

Games Created by Women: Portal

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Hello readers and welcome to Aperture Science, where absolutely nothing is wrong. In this article, everything will be perfectly safe. Maybe there will even be cake for you at the end!

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Portal is a single player game. The player finds themselves in Aperture Science Laboratories. At Aperture, scientists have been working to create a special kind of gun that creates portals. Players must listen to the announcements for updates and information throughout the game. The story of what happened to the labs, and why you are now running around with a gun that creates portals will also be revealed throughout the game.

Portal was designed by Kim Swift. Kim is one of the creative directors at Airtight Games. She is also a speaker. Kim is looking to expand her repertoire with her website. It features doodles and her opinions. Her creativity is a gift to the gaming community.   

Portal was released on October 10, 2007. Players are able to take advantage of the innovative nature of gameplay that Portal provides. Puzzles are the keys to winning the game. This style of gameplay has been one of the things that players enjoy most about the Portal games. They are able to find creative ways to win while they try to make it through the labs.

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Portal is a multi-award winning game. This is not surprising with the success of the franchise. The game forces players to look for different solutions to reach the end of the game. It was a refreshing form of gameplay when it came out. The game is also highly entertaining.

If you are looking for a fun game that will challenge you then you should give Portal a try. It has interesting graphics. The style of the game also helps to immerse the player in the story.

Portal is a fun and challenging game that fans have been wild about since it first came out.

 

ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!

 

Dungeon Crawling: Barbarians

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Lords, Ladies, lads, and lassies it is time to rage. Barbarians have always been the meat-shields that protect the squishies. They’re big, tough, and fuel their battlefield expertise with Rage. Often played as dumb for the sake of humor, most of us have a stereotype in mind when we hear someone at our table has brought a Barbarian. Within the books of 5th edition D&D, however, things are not so cut and dry.

In the beginning, you’re a low level beast. The main feature of the class is Rage. This ability grants you advantage on strength checks, a bonus to melee damage, and toughens you up with a resistance to the basic three types of physical damage. Add to this the ability to stack your constitution modifier on top of your dexterity for unarmored armor class, and you’ve got someone who’s meant to take hits on the chin and keep going.

As you level up, your combat prowess increases. You can attack recklessly, gaining advantage against your opponents while leaving yourself open. As the meat-shield, this is perfect for protecting the rest of the party. You also develop a danger sense helping you face traps and spells that rely on you moving out of the way. Further on down the line, you get another attack, faster movement, better initiative rolls, better critical hits, and eventually physical stats that surpass the norm.

That’s all gravy, though. The real meat of the class is within your chosen subclass. The Berserker and Totem Warrior are the two basic choices from The Player’s Handbook.  Battleragers are the dwarf-only option presented in The Sword Coast Adventurer Guide. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything gives us three more choices: Ancestral Guardian, Storm Herald, and Zealot.

Berserkers get an extra bonus attack when they enter a frenzy. They’re also able to shrug off charms and fear affects. Their intimidation presence is enough to frighten most foes, and anyone foolish enough to go toe-to-toe with them can face a retaliatory attack in response.

Totem Warriors are more versatile than their straight forward kin. At various stages of their development, they can choose which animal spirit to follow and will gain an aspect related to that. Whether it be the strength and toughness of the bear, the eyes and flight of the eagle, or the pack tactics of the wolf, Totem Warriors can mix and match animals to get just the right combo for their Barbarian.

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From The Player’s Handbook

Battleragers adorn themselves with spiked armor literally throwing themselves into battle. Their spiked armor may be used as a bonus weapon,  extra damage when they grapple a foe, or even as a retaliation in melee. Eventually they can bolster their health with temporary hit points granting them a little extra staying power while raging. They might also use a bonus action to Dash into melee range.

Ancestral Guardians have to be my favorite flavor-wise. When you rage you’re surrounded by spirit warriors that hinder your foes and protect your allies. In metagame terms, they make you sticky. The spirits grant resistance to your allies, and if your foe doesn’t attack you they have disadvantage. The spirits can also shield your allies directly by reducing the damage taken, and even reflecting it back as force damage. Your spirits can also be consulted and used for Augury or Clairvoyance spells, should the need arise.

Storm Heralds surround themselves with elemental storms. If you choose the desert you can deal fire damage to multiple foes, gain resistance to fire, or retaliate when struck with fire. If you choose the sea you can deal lightning damage to a single target, gain resistance to lightning, breathe underwater, gain a swim speed, and knock the target prone. Lastly if you choose tundra you grant multiple allies temporary hit points, gain resistance to cold, freeze water, and reduce a foes movement to zero.

Zealots are chosen by the divine. Each turn they can do extra damage with a weapon attack. This damage is either radiant or necrotic and is chosen when the path is taken. If they are restored to life by a spell there is no material cost. They can also reroll a failed save once per rage. Eventually, if they are raging death does not stop them. They will keep on fighting, even after failing three death saves. Even then if they are healed above zero hit points before the rage ends they will live.

The menu of meat-shields is vast, the choices vary, and if you want to play a Barbarian…then rage on.

 

 

 

 

Games Created by Women: Blackwell’s Asylum

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Would you think you would be able to survive in a nineteenth century mental institution? What if, once admitted, you were sent to an asylum known as a place where no one ever left? What if the doctors were not only there to keep you from escaping but also to perform whatever atrocities on you that they wished?

Blackwell’s Asylum is a game that tests the abilities of the player to not only survive but also  to escape a terrifying asylum for the insane. Claudia Billie Stræde was the director of this game which started out as a project for the University she was attending. Blackwell’s Asylum was a multiple nominee. It also won Game of the Year and the Adventure/Roleplay category in the Intel Level Up 2011 Game Demo Contest. The game is also interesting becuase it was inspired by true events.

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Claudia was inspired by the written chronicle from Nellie Bly. Bly was a writer who had started her career as a young woman writing; “women’s columns.”  Bly wanted to write about more than cleaning and traveled to New York seeking opportunities. There she pitched the idea of going undercover at a mental hospital to expose what was really happening behind the closed doors of such institutions. For ten days she gained information and stories from other patients. Upon her release Bly wrote down everything in her six-part series called; Ten Days in a Mad-House. This work helped not only expose the crimes of the asylum but also gained more funding for public institutions to try to improve them.

The design of the game is interesting and unsettling. The player starts off, as Nellie, restrained as a doctor drugs them. The player then tries to escape. The coloring of the game is dark and it can make it difficult to determine where in the game the player is.  The effects of the drugs only aid in making the surroundings distorted and confusing.

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There are random shouts and other noises to make it difficult to focus. Blackwell’s Asylum does have a neat effect in which large circles like sonar when footsteps get closer to the player as they sneaking in the darkness. It is the only effect that helps the player with all the distortion. The character design is very well done. The sound effects also aid in the gameplay. 

Blackwell’s Asylum is an interesting first person game of escape.

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ALWAYS KEEP SPARKLING!