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Smith: Too Many Games, Too Little Time

Video game review

Like most hardcore gamers, I would play through every good game I could get my hands on — if I had the time.

Alas, there are only so many hours in a day, and I have to maintain a life outside of video games. But I still like to at least try most everything that looks interesting, even if only for an hour or two.

That’s why I’m not assigning any star ratings to the games I’m covering this week. They’re all worth playing (consider them three stars or higher if you need an absolute), but I just didn’t have the time for full reviews.

“Ever Oasis” for the Nintendo 3DS for $39.99: Rated “E” for Everyone.

Part city-building sim, part action role-playing game and all adorable, “Ever Oasis” is defined not only by its unique aesthetic, but its surprisingly measured action.

Players take on the role of a young seedling who creates an oasis with the help of a water spirit named Esna. But to create this oasis, you must go on regular quests to find more residents, whom you then assign to certain roles within the town.

The character designs are unlike anything I’ve seen in a handheld game before, which is appropriate, considering you play as a seedling. Whether or not they are visually pleasing is a matter of debate, and the rather disconnected story doesn’t push you to learn more about them.

Surprisingly, the real-time combat is the best aspect of the game, requiring slow, measured strikes that can only hit after you learn an enemy’s pattern. You even get a couple of characters to join you on the road, giving the game a classic “Secret of Mana” feel.

I didn’t get invested enough in the story to keep playing, but nature lovers who like action-RPGs may want to give this one a shot.

“Elite Dangerous” for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC for $49.99: Rated “T” for Teen.

I knew this game was far too large and involved for me before I even rented it. But I at least wanted to see what it was like.

It’s even bigger than I thought. The kind of game I could latch on to if I were perpetually unemployed.

Best described as a space adventure, trading and combat simulation, the player explores a realistic 1:1 scale, open-world galaxy based on the real Milky Way. That means the universe is literally the same size as the actual Milky Way, full of online players who may want to trade with you or open fire.

There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, and even the simple act of piloting your ship takes more button combinations than I thought possible. While the graphics don’t live up to the standards of most AAA productions, they are serviceable, considering what you get in return.

My own experience with the game amounted to little more than flying around a bit, but I could feel the Milky Way and the thousands of adventures within it calling to me.

That’s when I put it away. I don’t have time for a 500-hour space voyage. But you might — as long as you don’t play anything else.

“Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun” for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4: Rated “M” for Mature.

Set in a place and time that’s close to my heart (Japan in the 1600s and 1700s), “Shadow Tactics” is so damn cool that I almost added it to my overstuffed gaming itinerary.

Too bad I’m no good at stealth games.

That’s exactly what “Shadow Tactics” is — a stealth-based samurai game played from an extremely elevated position. The tilted overhead perspective gives you a nice view of your character’s surroundings, and you’ll soon find yourself switching between characters based on their strength and ability.

A quick glance at the screen may fool you into thinking this is a turn-based strategy game a la “Final Fantasy Tactics,” but it’s all real time. It’s more comparable to those commando missions in “Command and Conquer,” but you control the characters directly instead of using a cursor.

While not on the same level as bigger budget games, the graphics are crisp, stylish and serviceable, as long as you don’t mind controlling characters as tiny as ants.

If you’re into stealth gaming, don’t overlook it.

“Hey! Pikmin” for the Nintendo 3DS for $39.99: Rated “E” for Everyone.

I’ve been a big fan of the “Pikmin” series since my college days, and designated “Pikmin 3″ as one of my favorite games of 2013.

“Hey! Pikmin” isn’t nearly as good as “Pikmin 3,” but it is a lot different, serving as a kind of beginner’s launch pad for casual gamers who might want to get into the series.

The concept, however, is pretty much the same. The player takes the role of an adorable, big-headed (literally) astronaut who crash lands on a colorful planet. The only way he can escape is by recruiting little anthropomorphic saplings who answer to the astronaut’s whistle.

That sounds a lot weirder in print than in the game.

Unlike previous entries in the series, “Hey! Pikmin” is presented in a flat, two dimensional perspective, very reminiscent of “Lemmings” — an obvious influence on the franchise. But since this is on the 3D handheld, the top screen shows you what’s above eye level.

While the previous games created tension through a time limit that forced the player to gather their Pikmin before nightfall, no such limits exist here. That makes this a much easier game.

But I don’t mind an easy game. Especially one with the relaxing, zen vibe of “Hey! Pikmin.”

Smith: Too Many Games, Too Little Time | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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