Features

Night in the Woods: Brilliant indie game you should try

Wish I’d played it sooner!

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I know, I know. It’s been over a year since the first release of Night in the Woods, but if you need little bit more than just a release and a trailer to give an indie game a try, let me tell you here and now: This game deserves to be on your must-play list and I’ll tell you why in this review.

Night in the Woods has been nominated for many awards since its release and to this day, has been earning critics’ and players’ acclaim for its story and design. It won the Writing in a Comedy award at the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards and has recently rightfully earned Excellence in Narrative at the Independent Games Festival Competition Awards at the Game Developer’s Conference this year.

The game’s design is charmingly simplistic, the music score is unforgettable, and the cryptic story line leaves you wanting more; but when you sink your teeth into it, it will leave you feeling strangely reflective. If you let it, this game will stick to you even long after you’ve finished playing.

What will pull you in

Whether you’ve installed the game with high expectations or none at all, the game will stun you with its characters. In Night in the Woods, you play as Mae, a college drop-out who returns to her hometown, Possum Springs. Her return shifts the dynamic the town has sustained since she left for school.

And, that’s not all. When you explore the world of Possum Springs, you not only reunite with family and reignite your friendships, but you also slowly encounter strange ambiguous pieces of darkness hidden within the town.

There are a lot of mysteriously vague loose storylines at the beginning that come at you when you start off talking to people in the town. The game begins with you in a bus stop having left college behind. When Mae comes back to the town, she’s forced to walk back home — her father forgets the day she’d be back. You wander off the next day to meet her friends only to find one of them, Casey, missing.

That’s a striking contrast to the most charming part of the game which is the characters. From broad-daylight stargazing with your high school professor; to late-night diner adventures with friends; to spending time by the train tracks with a new-found friend, Night in the Woods will tug at your heartstrings with its earnest characters.

Subtleties that pull at heartstrings

Night in the Woods will reel you in with stunningly reflective moments wherein characters develop into intimate conversations. How much they tell you of their story will depend on how often you converse and hang out with them every day.

It’s good to note though that there’s more to just talking to your three friends. While playing, I highly recommend wandering around the town. The game gives you so much time and space to wander about and if anything, this is what makes this game amazing.

You can wander outside the area, hop around rooftops, and make new friends. The town definitely changes day after day and you’ll find yourself meeting surprising characters if you’re meticulous enough to notice.

Slow-paced but beautifully so

You’ll realize quickly that this game is not as action-packed as most and it can feel a bit of a drag once you get used to the town. I found myself struggling to care when I began playing but over time, I’d gotten hooked. Much to the title’s credit though, it puts so much effort on the little subtle stories within the town. You can really notice the time and effort put into the game’s storyboard and it pays off.

If you’re feeling a bit bored from the general routine you’ve built in the game, that’s fine. This may be a sign you should visit parts of the town you didn’t know you could. Even when you’re told to not do things, it’s fine to jump on reckless parts of the town — maybe even hop on the electric wires even after being told not to.

Fun games within the game

Luckily, if you’re not feeling like talking to your friends or people in the town, there are mini-games within the main title that might suck you deeper into the game. I can take back the lack of action in Night in the Woods with the mini-game, Demon Tower. It’s an arcade hack ‘n’ slash game that’s installed into Mae’s laptop where you can also have her chat with friends.

This game is addictive, and sometimes too much so, that you forget you’re in another game — game-ception, I swear.

Another mini-game you can play is a music rhythm game with your bass in Mae’s room. Mae plays the bass and aside from getting to play during practice with your friends, you get to practice in your room whenever you feel like mastering a song before performing with your friends. This one was a bit of a challenge to play on a controller — here we go with excuses again. But, really.

This game is properly tough and challenging so if you manage to perfect every song I send you all of my undoubted respect.

What reels you back into it

If you think you’re beginning to lose interest in the game, it dumps you straight back into the plot. There are moments that stick out when you go about your daily life and you think the game has had its run. Then, something happens and it kicks you back into the seeping darkness that lurks in the town. It brings you straight back into the main plot after allowing you to explore the town for a while.

There is something wrong with the town and you learn that through Mae’s dreams and little hints while you speak with people in the town. There are instances that characters around you begin to have a resounding sense of resignation to the growing troubles of the place. This, more than anything, had me running around every inch of the town being straight-up investigative and borderline paranoid.

Tears through real-world dilemmas

Night in the Woods deals with a lot of real-life and relatable subjects. From the struggles to have ends meet with financials, the wearing friendship due to unresolved jealousy, the existential crises wrapping itself around you day after day, and even the honest urge to leave the town to start anew. Much of the game is wonderfully written and it manages to throw hilarious lines from beginning to end, without making anything that happens in the world feel out of place.

You can undoubtedly feel for each character in what they’re going through and that is pretty ballsy to say seeing as most of the characters in the game are anthropomorphic animals. Night in the Woods is just an overall well-thought-out game. No character feels forced. Even in many cases, you have a false sense of control of Mae when she talks since you control her dialogue.

But, that doesn’t stop her from being the pesky brat that she is. Your choices are limited as well, and she will do things you didn’t sign up for. Even I caught myself feeling like there wasn’t much else to do besides watch and laugh at the train-wreck she’s so recklessly created.

Calls for a replay

If you’re a full-fledged completionist, I wish you the best of luck because this game is tough to complete all the achievements for. This game will require a second playthrough and maybe even more. There are so many secrets in the game and looking for them is a bit of a headache. On the bright side, you learn more and more about every single person in the town.

Night in the Woods rewards you with depth when you put the time into playing the game. The game calls for your attention without forcing it upon the player. At first, the ambiguity will frustrate you and will make you feel like creating a limp story behind all the unexplainable hints, but playing it a second time will be refreshing. You won’t run out of spots to explore in the town on your second run. I was genuinely surprised to have missed so many conversations on my first go at the game.

Is this your game match?

This game is undeniably gorgeous. It has characters that you feel for — if not relate to on a deeper level. The story is haunting, the design is stunning, and the music is catchy. It’s a game you should most definitely try out. There are so many parts that stole my heart so quickly. I caught myself relating to every character in the game — even the struggle of missed opportunities.

Although it’s slow-paced when it comes to building back into the main plot, it’s only because it’s space for you to rediscover the town you left behind for college — and that’s great. Even if exploring lore, character build, and clever design bore you over time, that’s perfectly fine. This game is still worth a try. Playing it with a friend will most definitely help.

If you want to give it a go, the game is on Steam for US$ 19.99.

SEE ALSO: Small Talk: A new beautifully engaging indie game

SEE ALSO: God of War: An older Kratos needs a wiser you

Hands-On

Vivo NEX Dual Display Edition hands-on

Two displays are better than one

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The quest for the bezel-less future is far from over, and Vivo has yet another surprise in store for everyone before it bids farewell to 2018. Recently launched in Shanghai is a smartphone that will surely catch your eye because this time, it has two displays: the Vivo NEX Dual Display Edition.

Ever since the start of the year, Vivo has been introducing one innovation after another: in-display fingerprint scanning, Time of Flight (TOF) 3D sensing technology, and who could forget the all-display Vivo NEX with a pop-up selfie camera that we reviewed in June.

The design story

While we appreciate brands trying to come up with different notch-free solutions, it makes us question the choice of reverting to pop-up mechanisms to achieve an all-display smartphone.

Vivo’s new proposal has two displays: a 6.39-inch Super AMOLED screen in front and another at the back at 5.49 inches. The Ultra FullView display boasts a 91.63 percent screen-to-body ratio, slightly higher than the original Vivo NEX’s 91.24 percent.

Having two displays may sound excessive but it actually has practical applications. On top of that, this implementation eliminates the need for pop-up cameras and one of 2018’s most hated smartphone feature — the notch.

Vivo Design Director Kyle Hsiao admits that the idea of creating both NEX phones came about around the same time while trying to solve the notch problem, hence the short gap between their launch dates. The pop-up mechanism was so easy to implement compared to having two displays on a single smartphone that it took almost 300 prototypes before finalizing the design we have today.

Hsiao says they don’t feel that the iPhone notch is the way to go. When working on the NEX Dual Display Edition, the design team had three considerations: technology, fashion, and most importantly, consumer experience.

Hsiao emphasizes that a smartphone doesn’t just have to look good, but has to be designed based on human needs. Mobile video app TikTok has been rising in popularity, and it’s this generation of users that Vivo had in mind when creating the new NEX — people who create and share their own content, no matter the level of production quality.

The last few years saw brands from China, including Vivo, to be simply copying what Apple does. Ultimately, Hsiao envisions the NEX line to always offer something different — something that breaks barriers. Although it is Vivo’s most premium line, it’s not about using expensive materials or coming out with the most premium phones, but providing solutions to users’ needs in a unique way.

Two displays, still a normal phone

In case you’re wondering, you can switch between the two displays in a multitude of ways. The easiest is by pressing the two buttons on both sides of the phone simultaneously.

Speaking of buttons, placement is usual: volume rocker and power button on the right, and Vivo’s virtual assistant Jovy on the left.

Vivo insists having a physical button for its personal assistant is a choice they made because they want to achieve a meeting of something that’s both real and digital, something users can interact with physically.

Dual nano-SIM card tray, USB-C port, and speaker grilles are at the bottom.

And yes folks, the headphone jack lives to fight another day.

You also get an earpiece on both sides of the phone, and that’s because even if the rear display is just secondary, it functions the same as the main one. So, you can also take calls no matter which one you’re using.

One question we get a lot when it comes to unconventional phones like the NEX is, “Will it work with a case?”

The Dual Display Edition comes bundled with a bumper that matches the phone color so the phone stays protected from accidental drops.

All photos are equal

The Vivo NEX S’ pop-up selfie camera is one of the best we’ve used this year that we even named it our favorite recently.

With another display at the back, Vivo ditches the pop-up mechanism for only one set of cameras on the Dual Display Edition. The setup found at the back doubles as a selfie camera: a 12MP dual-pixel main camera, a 2MP night video camera, and the Time of Flight 3D Camera.

This means all your photos will look equally good, whether landscape, portrait, or a selfie. Vivo believes that selfies need not be inferior compared to photos taken on the main camera.

We haven’t had the chance to take the phone out in the real world during our time with it but if the NEX S’ cameras are any indication, this triple-camera setup will not disappoint.

Some smartphones, especially those made specifically for taking selfies, usually have a front-facing flash or some kind of fill light built in. The NEX Dual Display Edition steps that up with a ring light, which Vivo calls the Selfie Spotlight.

You know how beauty vloggers’ eyes look like they shine? It’s because most of them use a ring light when doing makeup tutorials. Of all the new features on this NEX phone, this is the one I got most excited about.

Because Vivo has always been really popular with its selfies, even if there is no dedicated selfie camera anymore, they actually added more features to make the most out of the two displays.

There are modes like Mirror Mode, which allows you to see yourself on the back display, even while being photographed by someone else. There’s also Pose Director, which can show you pose references that you can copy. This way, you can compose yourself better, and find your optimal angle the same way that Crazy Rich Asian family did.

That circular bump around the cameras is called the Lunar Ring. Apart from serving as a ring light when taking selfies, you can set it to glow when you get notifications or even pulse when playing music.

Improved gaming

Another practical feature a dual-display phone like this offers is extra controls when gaming.

Certain games are played much better when you have a separate controller, but an extra display is the closest you can get to that without carrying another accessory.

We had a limited time with the phone, but we look forward to trying this feature out ourselves once we get our own review unit!

While we’re on the subject of gaming, it’s worth mentioning that the NEX Dual Display Edition has all top-of-the-line specs you can expect from a flagship smartphone in 2018: Snapdragon 845, 128GB storage, and even 10GB RAM, making it one of the first smartphones to come with that much memory.

Faster and more secure biometrics

If you remember on the original Vivo NEX S, we only had one biometric option — an in-display fingerprint scanner. Because the front camera uses a pop-up mechanism, we didn’t get face unlock then.

On the Dual Display Edition, you get both fast and secure options. Built onto the main display is an in-screen fingerprint scanner, a technology pioneered by Vivo.

On the rear display, you can unlock the phone using the TOF 3D Camera. This means you can unlock the phone easily no matter which side you’re using. During our time with the phone, both options worked seamlessly.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

We’ll have to wait ’til we get an international review unit to answer this question, and that’s coming really soon.

The original Vivo NEX, no matter how futuristic it seemed at the time it launched, was a phone that felt normal and practical over time. Even though it came merely six months later, the Vivo NEX Dual Display Edition offers an entirely different experience than the former.

But, like we said in our Vivo NEX review, we appreciate how in its bid to distinguish itself among the many global players, Vivo built yet another premium smartphone that’s both innovative and fresh with ideas.

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Lifestyle

These aren’t your typical Christmas decorations

But they’re pretty cool!

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It’s that time of the year again: the time when everywhere you turn you’d probably see bright lights, and anywhere you go you’ll likely hear Mariah Carey serenading you. It’s time to bring out the trees, wreaths, and time for celebration. We thought it would be fun to check out some quirky, kind of extra Christmas decorations to maybe inspire your decoration game, so here we go!

Programmable Christmas lights

Lights are a pretty essential aspect of Christmas decorations, and commercial establishments tend to utilize more high-tech lights for their shows. But did you know that you could do this to your home, too? We found the Twinkly Starter Light Set which connects to your phone so you can program the lights on your Christmas tree (or wherever you decide to put it) to have your own personal indoor light show.

A laser show on your house exterior

This is probably the most discreet extra way you can share your excitement for the holidays with your entire neighborhood. The Star Shower Laser Magic has six designs (four Christmas, two Halloween) that you can put on your lawn to project onto your house. It’s a pretty easy and low-maintenance way to decorate the outside of your house.

A snow projector for inside the house

If you want to play in the snow but don’t really want to deal with the cold, or if it doesn’t snow where you live, you can pick up this snow light projector. It displays moving snow designs across whichever flat surface you point it at, and adds something techie but also kind of simple to your decorations.

Geeky tree toppers

Why put a regular star or angel on the top of your Christmas tree when you could channel your geekiness onto this particular decoration? We found these two “Stars” that would subtly but surely pay homage to your favorite game or movie. The first is the Power Star from Super Mario Bros., which is closer to the traditional tree topper but at least five times cuter. The second one is this Death Star tree topper which isn’t very festive but is definitely iconic.

Inflatable decorations

Lastly, we have this general category of blow-up decorations. They come in many different designs and with different extra things, too. (I’ve seen one that’s a giant snow globe with “snow” blowing inside and one that rotates.). These will definitely put your lawn decorations on a whole new level. Some options are here, here, and here.

 

You probably already have your Christmas decorations up as you read this, but it’s never too early to start planning for next year. Or, you can always add more to what you already have. This season, there’s no such thing as too much, right? We hope this helps you if you’re wanting to change up your decorations but don’t know how to, or at least entertained you with these not-so-typical options.

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Features

Cooking on High, Islands: Now Playing

We don’t feel any December blues

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There’s still so much going on before the year ends. Here’s what everyone’s up to while waiting for the holiday season!

Movies to see

Spider-Man into the Spider-verse
Rodneil: A lot of people are calling this the best animated flick of the year. The visuals are stunning and the story introduces mainstream audiences to a new Spider-Man, all while keeping the spirit of the character and the whole franchise firmly intact.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle
Daniel:
The newest adaptation to the beloved classic is a showcase of the latest and most impressive motion capture technology. The story is a bit on the dark side, but still has the elements of the classic. The best part is it’s available on Netflix and it’ll be a good film for everyone to watch, especially on a big screen.

TV shows to binge watch

Devilman Crybaby
Rodneil: This might just be one of the most messed up anime I’ve seen in awhile. It starts off as a seemingly regular shōnen series with a monster of the week but quickly turns into a depressing social commentary about how people can be the true monsters after all.

Ms. Hammurabi
Rodneil: My growing mild obsession to K-pop led me to this clip on my YouTube recommendations. The actress prominently featured on the clip isn’t even the lead actress but after watching the pilot episode of the series, I instantly got hooked. Ms. Hammurabi tackles power balance and politics in the Korean judiciary but with a sprinkle of romance here and there.

Cooking on High
Marvin: You could describe this is a prestigious culinary competition on TV, but it’s essentially about guests getting high on cannabis-based dishes prepared by master chefs. The 15-minute format makes it perfect for in-between-work binge watching, and is ideal for red-eyed folks with short attention spans.

Games to play

Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Marvin: Lara Croft’s third entry in the revived Tomb Raider series is one to remember. It’s not GOTY-worthy by any measure, but its refinements over the predecessors and gorgeous graphics make it a high-octane gaming experience over the holidays.

Albums/Songs/Podcasts to listen to

The Best Thing I Ever Did by TWICE
Vincenz: Their latest song feels “merry” enough to be considered a winter song, but diving deeper into the lyrics clearly leaves an impression among fans, as it wants to show how one’s love can change everything, even the coldness and emptiness we feel especially when it’s December. After all, that’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about: giving what you love and loving what you give.

Islands by Reese Lansangan
Vincenz: If you’ve been listening to Reese’s previous songs, you’d definitely know that her latest single sounds different. From the title of the track itself, it is a tropic-themed song that has electronic sounds and water drop synths, making it ethereal enough to listen to.

Tadow by FKJ & Masego
Kevin: Sexy, smooth, intimate — these are some of the first words that come to mind when describing this track. FKJ or French Kiwi Juice is a French multi-instrumentalist who makes tracks that will make you want to lie back and drift away. “Tadow” is no exception with its soulful sax, chill beats, and soothing vocals. Turn down the lights, hit play, and enjoy the night.

Line by Line by PREP
Kevin: “Line by Line” is the latest of two EPs released in 2018 by British pop band PREP. Their songs are a mix of funk, R&B, and a bit of electronic music that go together to create a an easy-listening experience to make you feel good and dance when no one is looking. Their older EPs (like “Futures”) are golden, as well.

Cities/Places to visit

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El Nido, Palawan
MJ: White sand beaches, crystal-clear water, towering palm trees, and amazing lagoons behind limestone rock formations. El Nido is indeed a tropical paradise, one that you should visit at least once in your lifetime.

DIY/Trends to try

Brown sugar milk tea
Marvin: It’s nothing new, but certainly one to enjoy. Milk tea stores have been ramping up brown sugar production lately, and each one has its own signature flavor. Whether you try it in Taipei or your own neighborhood, it’s a sweet alternative to the tried-and-tested formula.

Apps to download

PackPoint
MJ: PackPoint is a very useful app to help you pack your essentials for an upcoming trip — whether it’s for business or leisure. It has local weather forecasts and comes up with a checklist that you can customize depending on the activities of your trip.

Books to read

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
MJ: Personally, I believe the universe brings us the people we need in our lives. If you think the same, then you need to read What If It’s Us. It’s a love story between Ben and Arthur and yes, it’s gay fiction, but it’s a book anyone can read this holiday season. After all, it’s about love and the universe. This book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and probably your local bookstores.


Now Playing is the GadgetMatch team’s favorite games, movies, TV shows, and more each month. If you’re curious to know what we’re into at the moment, this is what you should check out. So grab your popcorn, get some drinks, and enjoy what’s now playing!

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