Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Last Stitch Goodnight (PS4, Steam) Review

Today is SuperPhillip Central's Local Game Dev Day! The first of two St. Louis-made games was reviewed this morning (check it out here). Now, we have the second. It's Well Bred Rhino's Last Stitch Goodnight, and here is the review.

Someone put Metroid and melee combat into a wound and sewed it all up into one pleasing package.

Indie developers of all shapes and sizes seem to love taking water from the Metroidvania well. Many high profile indie releases over the past few years routinely use Metroid and Castlevania as inspirations for their games, and they create experiences that play like typical Metroidvanias. Well Bred Rhino's Last Stitch Goodnight may not be an endeavor by a huge indie developer, but it makes for that in its oodles of humor, charm, and smart level design. It's just other quirks that needed some sewing up.

Your character is injected with a mysterious substance by Dr. Dooley, whose presence is dooley-ibous at best (I was going for "dubious" if you didn't catch the joke), and knocked out cold. With the threat of your character's body being experimented on for unknown research, one of Dr. Dooley's assistants intentionally drops a screwdriver to help you help yourself out of your cell.

The screwdriver is the first of many tools that you come across throughout Last Stitch Goodnight. As you progress through the myriad rooms, chambers, areas, and pathways throughout the game's sprawling mansion, you pick up new tools, serving not only as "keys" to new areas, but also to serve as weapons in battle. Things like candles can shed some light to dark areas, but they can also burn a baddie pretty badly (ha, ha alliteration rules).

That being said, sometimes things in the dark are best to actually not have to LOOK at their scary selves.
That said, we arrive at one of my issues with Last Stitch Goodnight. The combat, while refreshing that we have a Metroidvania based on melee and one-on-one battles, is quite stiff. Despite the abundance of enemy types with numerous attack variations to them, the basic strategy is generally to just run up close and whack them into submission while losing some minor slivers of health. As health pickups are usually easy to find from fallen foes and broken objects in the environments, and as many attack patterns by enemies are more than they're worth to dodge, it just makes the combat less about strategy and more about... well... a lack of strategy. Perhaps that's not totally true, as different tools used as weapons have different cases where they're best used. A downward swinging weapon is great for flying enemies, while one that deals more damage but only jabs forward might be better for an enemy that is grounded and on an even footing.

A saw right through the-- whoa.
That said, where typical encounters suffer, but not in a way that makes the game lacking an ability to enjoy it (far from it), Last Stitch Goodnight's boss battles really shine. These are more puzzles that have specific steps to solve to beat an enemy, or in one case, befriend an otherwise dangerous boss. These boss battles, of which there are eight by the just following the story, and at least one that is sweet in how adorable it is (using the developer's children's own character drawings), make you really think outside the box, use your tools in a way that make rational sense, and overcome them with great satisfaction.

*Singing with the Transformers theme* Ro-bah-ots: Robots in disguise!
Quests are a big focus of Last Stitch Goodnight. They are given in both story and side variants, and you can pick which one you wish to focus on from the pause menu. This means you're given a location to go to, as well as helpful prompts to determine which exits of rooms you need to enter to reach your destination. It's not entirely "go here, do this" either. Many times you'll have to use the correct tool at the right spot (all spots turn into a green circle when you walk near them) to progress, continue, or finish a given quest. Quest rewards range from new tools and items to things that flesh out the back story more, or simply just stuff to add to your completion percentage (which unfortunately forces you to beat the game to see the overall percentage each time, making "am I at 100% yet? *beats game and sees I'm not* Dammit!" a common occurrence.

Thankfully, most quests, important points of interest like vending machines, save points, and fast travel warp points, and even health upgrades are clearly marked on the maps you can purchase. These are done at said vending machines and show most of the blueprints for a given section of the mansion. Not all is revealed, so you will have to do some searching for rooms not revealed through the purchase of a blueprint.

Last Stitch Goodnight uses a mix of 2D characters and side-scrolling and 3D environments with many moments in transitioning between rooms that you'll pass between planes. It reminds me of Paper Mario in some regards, obviously without the ability to roam all around the 3D environments and instead being limited to a 2D plane. I'm talking aesthetics, folks-- so Last Stitch Goodnight reminds me of Paper Mario's aesthetics, so the comparison still works, alright?! In all seriousness, besides some chugging with the frame-rate, the visuals are very pleasant. Audio-wise, the music is suitable for the various environments, and I even found myself humming along with some of the tunes, or at least bobbing my head around. Some of these themes are more atmospheric than others, but a lot of them have a defined melody that can stick with some players. They certainly did with me. Outside of that, talking characters sport mumbles instead of actual speech, but it's charming and not grating like say, Banjo-Kazooie might be nowadays to players.

Don't make a "this enemy drives me batty" joke! Don't make a "this enemy drives me batty" joke!
One last point I'd like to make note of with Last Stitch Goodnight is how sharp the humor and dialogue are. The game might be set in a mansion with unknown horrors and evil science, but it doesn't take itself seriously all the time, and when it does, it can be quite poignant with its dialogue and moments.

Last Stitch Goodnight does suffer from stiff combat, limited strategy in typical encounters, and some bugs that are still being ironed out, but it's an appealing Metroidvania with engaging level design, smart boss battles, and sharp, witty humor. Well Bred Rhino's small size as an indie developer doesn't mean it had to create an unambitious game, because Last Stitch Goodnight is far from that. Instead, Last Stitch Goodnight is a cut above quite a few releases from bigger devs with bigger budgets that left me laughing in stitches a lot of the time.

[SPC Says: B]

Review copy provided by Well Bred Rhino.

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