Games

Thursday, 10 April 2014 | MYT 1:00 AM

Speaking fluent goat

VOCABULARY: The vocabulary list in Influent does a good job in letting you know which words you're already familiar with and which ones need more work.

VOCABULARY: The vocabulary list in Influent does a good job in letting you know which words you're already familiar with and which ones need more work.

Want same games to exercise your brain? Influent helps you learn new languages, while Escape Goat 2 is a beautiful lil' platform/puzzle game. Either way, you'll have plenty to think about! 

You know what? We've been playing way too many action games lately. It's all pew pew kaboom, and not enough thinking. Well, enough is enough! 

Today we're going to take a look at two games that'll challenge your minds in two completely different ways. 

We'll start with an honest-to-goodness educational game, Influent, which bills itself as a game that'll help you learn new languages. Sore wa kakkoi

Then, let's change the pace and take a look at a short but awesome platform-puzzle game called Escape Goat 2

Influent 

We've always had a problem with foreign languages. Once, while on vacation, some foreigners asked us questions and we could only answer them by screaming "Wo bu ming bai! Wo bu ming bai!

This was supremely awkward because we were in Tokyo at that time. 

As a result, we're always on the lookout for software that can help us learn different languages, and oh boy, were we excited to see Influent pop up on Steam!

MY LITTLE SANDBOX: The environment might be small, but it's packed with a lot of items for you to examine and learn.

Influent is less of a "game" and more of an interactive educational tool. You're put inside a sandbox — a small yet highly interactive apartment — and then tasked with exploring your environment. 

By examining objects — for example, an apple and a book — you'll add them to your list of vocabulary items. Collect enough words in your list and you'll unlock the Time Attack challenges, where you're asked to match random words from your list with the actual objects in the environment. 

In turn, successfully completing those Time Attacks will reward you with different things, such as the ability to add verbs and adjectives to your vocabulary list. 

If you couldn't see it already, Influent is basically just a really cool flash card system where you get to see and play with the objects you're trying to learn about. 

It's much more immersive than simple text-and-translation flash cards, but here's the important thing: don't confuse Influent for a complete language learning solution. Know what you're getting into before you click that "Buy" button. 

Grammar Hammer 

When it comes to learning languages, Influent is strictly a vocabulary-building tool, nothing more. It won't help you learn how to structure sentences or speak common phrases. 

So while we now know that "apple" is "ringo" in Japanese, and "book" is "hon", Influent doesn't teach us how to say "I read a book" or "I eat an apple". Or, if you're a snarky Mac user, "I read a book on Apple". 

(It's "ringo de honwoyomu", FYI. Thanks, Google Translate!) 

EXAMINE ITEM: For each item in the game, the system lists the various names/spellings for that item and provides a voiced pronounciation of the word. And that's awesome.

For what it does, though, Influent is a really good deal... and that lets us segue smoothly into talking about the product's interesting price structure. 

When we first paid US$9.99 (RM32.29) for Influent, we had to choose the language that we wanted to learn — in our case, Japanese. Further language packs can be purchased for US$4.99 (RM16.13) each, and they include Spanish, Bulgarian, Chinese, English, French, Swedish, German, Korean and, interestingly enough, Latin. 

Caveat emptor, folks. Be sure that you know what languages you want when you first make your purchase. Influent has English and Japanese built into the UI, but you'll still need to purchase the corresponding language pack if you want to learn it. 

The language packs are well worth their asking price, though. Each not only comes with full voice acting, but also comes with scripts tailored to the language. For example, the Japanese language pack lets you learn words in either romaji, kana or kanji, while the Chinese language pack lets you choose between simplified and traditional characters. 

Succinct 

So, overall, what do we think of Influent

We think it's pretty fun! It's no replacement for a structured learning course, but it works as a colourful, interactive tool that lets us learn new words at our own pace. 

Unfortunately, Influent still can't teach us how to say "I'm sorry, I do not understand you" in Japanese but fortunately, our friends have taught us the correct phrase: "watashi wa baka desu". They guarantee us that foreigners will stop asking us questions if we tell them that repeatedly, so we can't wait to try it. 

Escape Goat 2 

Escape Goat 2 is about a goat that needs to escape. A dungeon. Filled with traps. And that's it! 

We really can't tell you much more about the story or background of Escape Goat 2, even though we played both it and the original. We think there is a plot point about being trapped in some sort of animal purgatory and then having to rescue the souls of some sheep, but we really can't be sure. 

That's fine, though! The story isn't important here; all you need to know is that Escape Goat 2 is an excellent puzzle-platform game that's full of creative little challenges. 

You goat it good: The visuals in Escape Goat 2 has improved dramatically from the pixel-art of the first Escape Goat. It looks great!

Each level in Escape Goat 2 is a self-contained puzzle that requires both thought and timing. The most distinctive thing about each level is that they're built like devious machines that constantly reconfgure themselves as you try to solve them. 

Your goal is to reach the exit of each level, and you start off with simple tools — a double jump and a headbutt. That said, as you explore different regions of the animal purgatory/dungeon, you'll encounter new puzzle elements, such as a mouse partner, fireball-spewing reapers and electric traps. 

So far, so goat 

What we really enjoyed about Escape Goat 2 is that it serves these platforming puzzles in bite-sized pieces — mental snacks, if you will. Most levels could be solved in under five minutes, and whenever we got stuck, we could simply find different puzzle rooms in the dungeon instead. 

Unfortunately, the bite-sized nature of Escape Goat 2 does mean that it's a very short game. As in you'll probably finish it in an hour or two, if you're a decent puzzle-solver. 

REAPER MAN: Some puzzles involve mechanisms. Others involves scary reaper-like creatures that shoot fireballs.

Given the quality of the product, though, we were quite happy to pay US$9.99 (RM32.29) for the experience. Your mileage may vary, but if you enjoyed playing Escape Goat 2 and are itching for more goat-solving puzzles, (puzzle-solving goats?) then we can happily recommend that you purchase the first Escape Goat as well. 

The first Escape Goat's biggest drawback is that its visuals can't match the beautifully hand-drawn graphics of the sequel, but other than that it serves the same flavour of delicious bite-sized, self-contained puzzle levels of Escape Goat 2

Goatspeed 

So yes, Escape Goat 2: really fun puzzles, but a really short game. We don't have much else to say about the game itself, so instead we want to point out something more interesting about its development: Escape Goat 2 is the first indie game published by the established game development studio, Double Fine Productions. 

Yes, Double Fine, the guys behind Broken Age, Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, are now also publishing indie games. And if you want to know more, find the "Double Fine Presents: Escape Goat 2" video on YouTube, where Tim Schafer comically tries to steal credit for creating the game to hilarious results. 

Could this be a sign of a new wave of veteran studio-backed indie game development, which would combine the creativity of indie devs with the experience and resources of large studios? Goatness gracious, we hope so. 

Summary 

This has been a really nice change of pace — games that are all about the brain instead of just action. Whether you're looking to learn a new language or just solve a few puzzles, we hope you enjoy what you're playing. 

Or, as the Japanese would say, tanoshimu

Seriously though, if we got that one wrong, we're blaming Google Translate. 

Pros: (Influent) Excellent way to develop your vocabulary; (Escape Goat 2) Creative puzzle levels.
Cons: (Influent) Grammar? Not so much; (Escape Goat 2) Short. 

Influent
(Rob Howland/Three Flip Studios)
Educational game for PC/Mac/Linux (Steam)
Website: http://playinfluent.com/
Rating: 4 stars
Price: US$9.99 (RM32.39), plus US$4.99 (RM16.13) for extra language packs 

Escape Goat 2
(MagicalTimeBean/Double Fine Productions)
Puzzle game for PC/Mac/Linux
Website: www.escapegoat2.com
Price: US$9.99 (RM32.39) 

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