Minit is a game I’ll awkwardly insert into conversations for the rest of my life. It’s a game designer’s game for game design nerds. So does that mean it’s any good? Honestly, I have no idea.
If I didn’t have the attention span of an abnormally spastic beagle, who bounces from one video game to the next like a ping-pong ball in a clothes dryer, I would only be playing Monster Hunter World. But if that were the case I wouldn’t have the free time to write this blurb, make this video, eat, or sleep. So maybe it’s for the best.
Rise of the Tomb Raider left me with plenty to think about. Just kidding, I’ve forgotten about it entirely. Tomb Raider isn’t a bad game, but it isn’t a good game either. The gameplay is fine, the graphics are fine, the writing is . . . okay the writing is garbage. But if bad writing was a deal breaker I’d have a problem with most video games. No, my problem is the blandness. Rise of the Tomb Raider tries nothing new. Go from room to room shooting bad guys, climbing around color coded handholds, and solve the occasional rudimentary yet somehow still frustrating puzzle. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a 3rd person, cover based, shooter with a semi open wor- sorry I lost interest. Forget everything you know about the action-adventure genre, it’s the only way you might be surprised by Tomb Raider. My extensive knowledge of the Uncharted series is finally getting put to use. A room with chest high walls? Get ready for the bullets to start flying. On the receiving end of those bullets is the standard bad-guy set 32B. Including: every type of bad guy you’d expect with no surprises. Enemy verity is woefully unappreciated. God forbid I forget the climbing. I spent half the game monkeying around with enough time to wonder what the point is.
Not helping Tomb Raider’s case are its striking similarities to the Uncharted series. I’m a huge Uncharted fan. But “it’s not Uncharted” is far from the heart of the issue. What I’ve described is Uncharted if Uncharted had no personality. The puzzIes, the climbing, the mass murder these define Uncharted’s gameplay and it’s far from perfect but it is Uncharted. I want Tomb Raider to have a different spin on the Uncharted formula. I want it to have it’s own identity. But alas, Rise of the Tomb Raider is nothing more than a discount Uncharted game. Not the worst thing, but not the most interesting thing either.
We live in a world where broad appeal is waning. In a gaming landscape that offers a dating simulator about birds, a philosophically charged action game about androids, and everything in between at the press of a button, there isn’t any room for games like Rise of the Tomb Raider. If a game doesn’t hook me in the first ten minutes I don’t stick around. That leaves me with Rise of the Tomb Raider. A game whose elevator pitch will always start with “it’s like Uncharted but . . . worse”. If you haven’t played Uncharted, play Uncharted, and if you already have there’s no reason to play Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Nier: Automata is one of the most interesting games I’ve played in recent memory. PlatinumGames makes a stunning comeback with a sequel to a cult classic.
I had a plan. Finish The Last Guardian then make a video about it. Seemed simple enough. The Last Guardian has become something of a myth for the Playstation community. Which made me all the more curious. So I downloaded the game, sat down and played it for 30 minutes. I admit I wasn’t expecting the game to be great but I wasn’t expecting the game to be terrible either. So The Last Guardian did exceed my expectations in the worst possible way. This game is bad. This game is really bad. The Last Guardian is a massive step backward form Shadow of the Colossus. I wish I could say it tried something new and failed spectacularly, but I can’t. The game consists of terrible controls, boring puzzles and no gameplay hook. I only played the game for an hour but I still feel justified in saying The Last Guardian is not worth your time. You might think this type of game just isn’t for me, but I love slow cerebral games like Journey and Gone Home. The one thing I can say is I got slightly attached to Trico the bird dog thing. But that is no accomplishment on the game’s part. It is simply using what movie directors have done for decades. If you want to grab the audience emotionally, use a dog, everyone loves dogs. It is impressive when I grow attached to a human character, that is a very difficult feat to pull off. But I grow attached to dogs I see walking down the street, or if I see one for 30 seconds in a movie. Don’t fall into that trap, and don’t play The Last Guardian.
Roguelike has been a favorite industry buzzword for the last few years now. Especially in the indie scene the roguelike sub genre is thriving. But few people remember Rogue, a game for which the industry owes a great deal. Created in 1980 by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman, Rogue used simple ASCII graphics and singlehandedly created an entire genre. Brut@l is a reimagining of Rogue for the modern era, ASCII graphics and everything.
Brut@l gives the player a simple goal. Fight your way to the 26th level of the dungeon and kill the dragon. The trick is getting there. Brut@l is a roguelike at its purest form, procedurally generated dungeons and permadeath are constant companions. Unlike many modern roguelikes, nothing carries over from game to game. When you die that is it, you lose everything. The problem with modern roguelikes, such as Rogue Legacy, is in the incorporation of items and experience that carry over, death quickly loses its significance. Despite its death mechanic, Brut@l is forgiving, and it streamlines the roguelike formula into an action RPG.
I’ve dabbled in classic roguelikes before always to much frustration. I respect the games but I’ve always found them too obtuse and unforgiving. Brut@l is not as hard as I was expecting given its heritage, and I think this is a good thing. I was expecting to be clobbered quickly on my first game but Brut@l is quite easy in the early levels. Giving the player some breathing room early on works to draw new players in. Buttons for attack, block, dodge and special move make for a easy to understand combat system. As much as at first it feels like Dark Souls, don’t expect the same level of difficulty and depth. There is a problem in the late game with some weapons breaking combat. But the strategy doesn’t come so much from the combat, instead most of your time is spent on exploration and health management. I found that even though I could tear through a room full of enemies I would still take a fair amount of damage. Because of this health restoring items are at a premium. The gateway to the lower levels of the dungeon comes from knowing how to engage enemies and when to heal. Exploration is key. The player could easily sprint through the dungeon until they found the entrance to the next level, missing all of the critical items in the process. Brut@l keeps the feeling of classic roguelikes without sacrificing accessibility.
Brut@l lets the player choose between four different classes. The one unfortunate thing is the classes are only differentiated by their starting skills. But since every class has the same skill tree, they all play pretty much the same. This isn’t a problem in singleplayer but Brut@l can support up to three additional co-op players, so some class variety would have been helpful. What keeps the gameplay from being stale are the weapons. Brut@l has a simple but diverse lineup of weapons and together with elemental enchanting you can quickly find your own playstyle. The one weapon the breaks the game is the longsword. During my playthrough I quickly learned the longsword special attack renders the player invulnerable for the duration. This spinning attack move made me unstoppable. Until I fell down a hole. My one glaring issue with Brut@l are the unnecessary platforming sections. Only once was my playthrough ended because an enemy actually killed me. Roguelikes should always make your death seem like your fault. But falling down an endless pit because of a miscalculated jump always feels like a cheap death. Brut@l is above all simple and, despite a few gameplay stumbles, I had some good fun dungeon crawling.
Brut@l’s graphics are the one truly unique thing about the game. Seeing ASCII graphics fully realised in 3D is something I have never seen before. For the most part it works. Sometimes items can be lost in the clutter but the 3D ASCII are simple and get the job done. Bringing up the map gives the player a bird’s eye view that is designed to look exactly like classic ASCII games, in a clever homage to Brut@l’s heritage. Graphically I wouldn’t call Brut@l pretty but it is certainly unique.
Don’t expect a deep experience with Brut@l. It is a simple game: start, dungeon crawl, die, repeat. I had a lot of fun with Brut@l and I never even reached the end. Brut@l is perfect if you want a simple dungeon crawl experience without the hassle of a massive RPG.
Never have my first impressions of a game been so spot on. From the moment I saw a trailer for Abzu I thought it looked like Thatgamecompany’s Journey, just underwater. Abzu doesn’t shy away from this, proudly stating “from the creative mind behind Journey and Flower”. Far from turning me off I was all the more intrigued by Abzu. So far no developer has really tried to challenge Journey and I was interested to see a different take on the Journey idea. But unfortunately Abzu is a misguided attempt to recreate Journey’s magic, although it has a few fresh ideas of its own.
My jaw hit the floor when I played Abzu. Not because the game was awesome, but because it is exactly like Journey. I was expecting a similar experience to Thatgamecompany’s masterpiece but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I played. Anyone who has played Journey will immediately recognize most of Abzu. I want to be clear, Abzu doesn’t just look and feel like Journey, it is almost indistinguishable at times. Both Journey and Abzu have characters that communicate the same way, both characters seem to be the last of their race, the player finds murals that tell history in both games, the story beats are nearly identical and even minor gameplay elements are much too similar to be a coincidence. It is difficult to say much more about Abzu when it seems to be a clone of another game. Abzu is is a pretty game but it doesn’t do anything new or interesting with its beauty. I am at the same time disappointed that Abzu does almost nothing new and impressed it copies Journey so well.
The one reason to play Abzu is the fish. Giant Squid studios clearly spent a long time researching all the different kinds of sea life. Abzu acts as a virtual fish tank the player can swim through. As you descend through the ocean the sea life changes accordingly. The best parts of Abzu are the moments when the game focuses on the marine life. Unfortunately these moments are few and far between. The game allows the player to interact with the fish but there is no reason to. For a game about the ocean it is disappointing to see the inhabitants relegated to little more than a backdrop. In every level there are statues the player can activate. This unlocks the camera and allows the player to freely observe the different sea life. It is disappointing that the only part of the game that focuses on the interesting animals is passive. Abzu should have built its gameplay around the animals. I would have liked to see Abzu take advantage of the beautifully detailed marine life. But as it is now they are simply used as decoration.
I’m not one to condemn a short game. I think the value of the experience matters more than the length. However, I do think it is relevant to say Abzu is short, lasting only around two hours. So the question becomes is the quality of the experience worth the price of entry? The short answer is no. Abzu is a clone of Journey and a good clone at that. But Journey is better in every way and asks five dollars less for the experience. If you have already played Journey there are not enough reasons to play Abzu. There is potential here, but it is never realized and Abzu isn’t worth your time.
This summer the PSN is hosting their annual PLAY event. Every year they hand pick four indie titles, usually from untried developers, and offer them with an incentive to pre order more than one. This year developer Double Fine is up to bat first with Head Lander.
Headlander’s gameplay is the weakest part of an otherwise mediocre game. The crux of the gameplay is ripping heads off of enemies, don’t worry they are robots, and “headlanding” on their bodies. Body switching is a cool idea but it doesn’t translate into engaging gameplay. Once in control of a body Head Lander becomes a rather average side scrolling shooter. I found no real strategy to combat. Since the player can detach from a body when it becomes too damaged there is little to no risk in fire-fights. Holding L2 allows the player to see the path their shot will take. But I found the best strategy to be shoot like a madman. Most of the robotic bodies are carbon-copies of each other, destroying most of the combat variety. Head Lander gives the player a large upgrade tree with many different abilities. But since dispatching enemies is already really easy I forgot to use most of them. Head Lander’s combat has many good ideas that are too underdeveloped.
When I started Head Lander I thought it was a metroidvania with branching paths to explore. But in fact the game is very linear. The door unlocking system would seem to facilitate backtracking and branching paths, but like so many other things in Head Lander it is criminally underused Every door is assigned a color: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. A colored door can only be traversed with a body of the same color. These colors are also used as a sort of hierarchy. A yellow body is not only more powerful than a red body but it can also open yellow, orange and red doors. This is a cool idea but once again Head Lander fails to do anything interesting with it. Making high ranking enemies more rare seems like a simple idea, but it could have added an entirely different spin to combat. Forcing the player to be protective of high ranking bodies would have added some much needed risk. Instead areas with green doors are patrolled by green enemies and so on. Head Lander doesn’t encourage the player to explore. Finding collectables and upgrades should make the player feel smart without being frustrating. Instead Head Lander’s upgrades are stowed away in areas whose entrances are clearly marked on the map. Play any classic platformer and the game will routinely show the player a collectable but not how to acquire it. These act as puzzles that don’t block progression but instead offer little ah ha moments throughout the game. Whenever I saw one of Head Lander’s secret entrances there was no mystery. I never did anything remotely challenging to be rewarded by an upgrade. I simply flew through the door and grabbed the collectable, no puzzle, no challenge and no fun.
Being a Double Fine game one can expect Head Lander to be genuinely charming. The art direction is spot on. I love games that use color and as mentioned previously the primary colors are baked into the gameplay itself. This plays out on a retro futuristic almost Blade Runner esque background. Unfortunately the personality of this world leaves much to be desired. The writing, usually a notable highlight in Double Fine games, has no energy. The voice that guides the player through most of the game falls flat. Most of the dialogue feels like a joke with no punchline. The only humor I found in the game are the doors. Non security doors will say “This door opens for anyone . . . even you.” and most of the other doors have some pun that corresponds with their color, “Orange you glad I opened for you?”. Since this is the only humor in the game they seem almost out of place. Beyond that it feels at odds with the rest of the game which tries to tell a pretty serious Sci-Fi story.
Head Lander disappointed me. Nothing stands out as a reason to play this game. It was competent enough for me to finish, but all the way through I was only mildly interested. There are so many better games out there. Head Lander is the pinnacle of the “it’s fine” game, and it doesn’t do anything that makes it worth your time.