After a rather brief introduction where a simplified, yet very charming (years of Tokimeki experience plus new presentation approaches do wonders), dating sim structured section plays out, the game reveals what is it really about. For once, the confession isn’t the end of the love story, but the beginning.
Which is a very interesting idea. Using the real time approach (because skip mode, apart from being clearly unintended, sucks) the game still has the charm from the introduction in a much more relaxed pace, but something begins to fail. The more you meet your girlfriend, the more you go out on dates, the more you touch her, the more you kiss her, the less you want to do any of that. Which is also even more interesting. It still carries the question, how does love work after that initial burst, after insecurities are dissipated and becomes part of the daily routine? There are many roads to explore, like to examine how the relationship develops into something more mature, or even to witness how the passion gets lost, the need to see each other fades away and becomes a dear memory of the past. But no, LovePlus is not really interested in that. At this point, your Tamagotchi girlfriend will always be at your loyal service, pretending she cares the same as the beginning, waiting eternally frozen at high school for you even long after you forget her. I just wish both sides could move on.
It’s nice to see Butterfly Soup high school nostalgic tale not because it’s more or less accurate (who knows) but because it believes in a teenage ideal where being yourself is accepted and received with love. It’s a letter of hope. Even if the world opposes you, even if your parents oppose you, you can find that group of friends that will understand you. The ideal of Butterfly Soup is not one where all hardships around you magically disappear, but one where the rebellious spirit of Min (and everyone else) is worth fighting for. It’s worth fighting for your truth, for what’s right, it’s worth to be dumb and straightforward and to hear your heart. If made up rules don’t fit who you are, jump over them. Your life’s always ahead and being yourself is a risk you should always take.
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy09-09-22
A platformer that invents itself from its foundation in a stale genre, reaching back to the essence. An essence that understands that everything at its root is about platforms and moving around them, not about enemies, nor levels, nor obstacles, nor lives, nor deaths, not even jumping or running. A game that doesn’t care how you reach the top, it will treat you the same either if you were lucky or you worked hard, that if you fall it will just suggest you go back up. A mountain made to piss you off, but a static platform above all, the same mountain for all, the journey only yours.
Bennett Foddy kept reinventing movement, searching for the opposite of convenience, to understand and explore that rare bodies are capable bodies too, much more interesting than any standard one. In 2017, Getting Over It was released demonstrating that you could learn to climb with a hammer the same as you learnt to walk, then run, then jump, as we already did more than 40 years ago, and all the merits and failures were yours. If you want to capture the frustration of getting used to a new body, you must avoid any standard. In 2018, just 3 months later, Celeste released and insisted, over a search of the most comfortable body to ever be put under control, that you had it hard, but that if you made it to the top, the merit was yours, you overcame yourself. About every year, hundreds of precision platformers demonstrate that there is no friction going that way, that a small touch on what is already over-explored is the opposite of self-discovery. About every year, it becomes more clear that the Getting Over It journey was truly unique and personal, that trying to replicate it already misses the point. It conquered its own top.
I have the feeling that an important ingredient in Hexcells taste is in the familiarity of the base, half minesweeper, half sudoku (some say Picross, but I don't know it first hand). It’s simple to understand because the rules are always simple. The interest escalates quickly by taking advantage of handmade levels where the positioning is carefully considered to the detail, so that you never need to guess while you still need to slowly examine all the hints to advance without failing.
The great understanding of space is as important as the great understanding of rhythm. In just one hour, the game achieves tranquility, which is clearly pointed at in its visual and sound style, through an impeccable complete concentration. When you realize, you've gone through the whole game in a single one-hour session.
This is what Plus fails to understand from the get go. It's not a bad premise to begin from where the original left off, throwing much harder levels early on. But the Plus isn’t only in the difficulty but also in the size and length. What used to be a concentrated session is now a collection of huge, tedious levels where you spend too much time counting, not deducting, and where you keep tabbing out frequently to clear your mind, something unthinkable in the first one. Even worse are the new hints. The hints with question marks may still have some grace depending on their positioning, however the hints that tell you how many blue hexes are there in a range, represented by an area that looks terrible and hard to read often, multiply the already tiring counting by having to count again, now in circles. And that without going into the levels that rely on this new idea essentially.
That infinite Hexcells games can be made was obvious. That a key essence from the first one was to be concise and not needing anything else, not so much it seems.
Comparando con Doom, faltan muchos elementos aparentemente claves, no es comparable ni en variedad ni en complejidad a la hora de hablar de enemigos, armas, escenarios, aquí ni siquiera hay iluminación, algo esencial para la atmósfera de Doom. Lo que sí que tiene es la mala leche. Prepararte para que detrás de cada puerta la bienvenida sea a punta de pistola. Que cada vez que pases una esquina te esperen tiros por todos los ángulos muertos. Ayuda a subir la tensión como funcionan los tiroteos en el mano a mano, que por lo instantáneos que son los disparos, tanto propios como enemigos, y por su naturaleza de ser más dañinos cuanto menor distancia tengan que recorrer la balas, se asemejan a algo como el estereotípico duelo del oeste, el primero en apuntar y apretar el gatillo es el que sale con vida. Entre las cosquillas que no para de buscar el infierno laberíntico, uno acaba encontrando entrañable cada nivel a través los ocasionales puntos de referencia que con un par de detalles le dan una sensación de lugar incalculablemente valiosa entre tanta vuelta.
Por supuesto hay mucho margen de mejora en prácticamente todo como se demostraría en el futuro, más a causa de experiencia que de mejora tecnológica quiero pensar. Pero lo realmente importante, el entendimiento de la acción y la aventura, ya estaba evidentemente presente.
Can You Say My Name Again16-08-22
The biggest fortress of insecurities holds nothing else but an uncontainable yearn for intimacy.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon09-08-22
Es cuestionable, y con cierta razón, cuál es el aporte real de Igarashi a Castlevania más allá de ideas a alto nivel. Rompo la lanza a favor de que Igarashi sí que mete algo más de mano. Como prueba Circle of the Moon. De los Castlevania Metroidosos que jugué (todos hasta Aria of Sorrow incluido), el único que se interesa en el concepto de darle vueltas al castillo. Donde los de Iga son juegos de convertirte en Goku Super Sayan Dios Ultra Instinto 100% Kaioken hasta que puedas limpiar en tiempo récord cada pantalla del mapa, Circle va remixeando los enemigos de forma que nunca puedes volver atrás por gusto, te vas a encontrar siempre un reto nuevo y a la altura. Incluso todo el asunto RPG de los looteos tiene mucho más peso que conseguir una de las ciento de armas que nunca vas a usar porque tiene peores stats. Porque aquí las mejoras que consigues son nuevas formas de atacar, incluso tienen un simple sistema de combinación que es suficiente para mantenerte probando nuevas tácticas de vez en cuando. Aún con esto, el mejor Castlevania Metroid tampoco consigue que ni la mejor escena de acción supere la sensación de ser un Castlevania clásico muy pasado por agua. De que cuando llegas a un reto que se antepone, la lógica te dice de volver atrás en una aburrida búsqueda de mejoras. Buen intento, lástima que Igarashi no tardó en volver.
The moment when the heart will put you in doubt confronting yourself and those surrounding you, forced to decide the way to live (survive) shaped by those moments in life that keep coming back. Often called adolescence.
Red Faction: Guerrilla28-07-22
Somehow similar to GTA III in how it takes its open world condition. The first impression may differ from this view, the New York life one tried to communicate with tons of NPCs on screen doing nothing in particular contrasts with the desertic Mars where everyone seems to be either a worker or a cop. However, upon tackling the action it’s another story.
Except for a few more gimmicky missions, that are the lowest points, Red Faction Guerrilla unifies in harmony its objectives and its chaotic systems. To kill a sniper you can search for their exact location or you can just demolish the whole building they are in. What makes the game fun all throughout is that the messy behavior of each system piles up to give interesting situations constantly. You can enter a fortress by searching for the entrance or you can just hammer your way in. Better yet, pick up a good vehicle, build speed and crash through any wall. Similarly, the way the enemy and ally reinforcements join the multiple battles keep giving a persistent sense of life that adds to the destructive nature of the game as war wages while everything gets demolished in the way.
There are just some impressive, probably even unwanted, details due to being consistent with the open world and its physical presence. From the slapstick comedic tragedy of seeing the building you just took the pillars off crumbling you into death, as many years of Minecraft made us forget about gravity, to keep seeing how alerts for enemy buildings being destroyed pop up while on a mission and realizing that, at least just for a bit, somewhere out of there the world is still alive and reacting even if you’re not watching.
The first steps in Prince of Persia are a bit rough not because of the environment, which presents almost no obstacles and a lot of room to discover by accident instead, but because this new body contrasts with the usual lightweight platformers. Now each step counts, building speed is crucial and a calculated process. Even when familiarized with the controls and the levels the weight is still there in every single movement.
One of the first hits to succeed Prince of Persia was Another World. At first glance, the influence is obvious, the rotoscope animations, the silent minimalistic 2d environment with a "realistic" body to move… However, at the very first screen it becomes clear that it didn't get what made Prince of Persia really unique. The sections that asked to explore and carefully calculate your motions are now contained mini scenes to be repeated until solving the conflict. This usually leads to a result of scratching your head trying to understand what exact thing the game is asking of you or repeating a platformer/action section with the most lifeless movement ever created until you learn all the traps. In both cases, dragging the pace. Yes, there were some more logic driven moments in Prince of Persia and the surprise of the traps made little sense considering the repetition too, but they were anecdotic towards the real action. Here all the weight is watered down in favor of a constant search for the exact solution.
In some universe, the weight of our bodies would still be as popular as the speedrun feeling of keeping an inhuman movement forward constant. At least, fortunately, the concept has never been totally forgotten. Unfortunately, Another World proposed that platforming and action were about being cinematic, which apparently meant solving sequential bad puzzles.
Mega Man X715-07-22
The game is very evidently half baked, with a sense of bugginess in every motion and, to top it off, the more gimmicky ideas seem to tell that there wasn’t even a solid concept to work upon. Add a weak intro level and a tiresome story told through unskippable cutscenes that appear again and again, the mixing for failure is done. Perhaps because it is so messy, or out of curiosity of why this one in all the franchise was so poorly received, it is also a Mega Man game that kept me interested up to the very end, which is an achievement.
Sometimes intentionally, some others not, the title ends up building pretty tight fights quite often. On the most probably thought part, the initial two protagonists are a simple yet successful complement to each other, the agility but risky close range offensive of Zero and the safety on the distance but poor tools when cornered of Axl. The levels themselves tend to be quite bad, the best thing I can say about them is that they can be speedrun skipped without issues, which usually is the best way to tackle them. Saying that something is easily avoidable is secretly one of the ugliest insults, but at least it lends space into a boss rush approach.
The 3D is interestingly used in these fights, always slightly touching the camera angle or the arena navigation to modify in turn the perception and dynamics of the action. Again, the bosses are dumb, but in their dumb behaviour there is something that clicks more than it should. There is the fire guy who will circle around while shooting with 2 clones of him, occasionally cross attack through you, at the center of the ambush you’ll also have to deal with a missile launching platform and, to finish off, you are fighting on top of a mech, so it won’t be rare to get some weird momentum mixed in. What is a very simple behavior unexpectedly keeps you moving and reacting in a pace that some action games could only dream of. Boss fights keep maintaining this tension constantly just using simple patterns that build on top of each other and rarely leave room for breath. There’s the water boss who not only doesn’t leave any clear window open to get free hits, the classically boring design where offense and defense are separate things contaminating even the most technically complex hack and slash of your preference, but will keep switching patterns all the time. For some, this is poor design. In my dictionary, this is what you call a proper fight.
A disaster? Kind of. But one that at least tries things and can be unironically enjoyed, much more than the rest of the NFT like produced entries in the series.
It is a shame that every system is a little bit bad at best since turning football into a tactical JRPG can be very interesting. As uninspired as the game may be in that regard, the ideas and the heart are still present elsewhere.
Thanks to the game having no restrictions on where it can go, and being at least partially conscious about how stupid the ideas can be, what keeps you wanting more episode after episode is knowing that anything goes and that it will usually have some good heart in it. It may sound surrealist to say that people here get to be friends just because they share an honest passion in football, but in reality it isn’t something that far away from how it was when we were kids (or teenagers (or adults if we were more honest)). What I like the most is that the story practically ignores any logic because it knows it has enough heart. Anyone is welcome on the team as long as Mark feels that they really want to play football in a sincere way.
One of my favorite moments is when Mark and his friends look for the players that his grandfather trained years ago in a search for guidance. Of course, some of them have moved on, their story didn’t end up well and they fear that the new generation will meet the same doomed fate. However, when Mark's attitude transports them to a time where someone put effort into making them comfortable in something as simple as playing football in a team they cannot back down. I guess that when I played this years ago I still was at the age to side more the team feelings, but now I’m closer to the retired players view. Maybe we didn’t have the best outcome in our time, but how can we deny the future if the spirit lives on?
Halo: Combat Evolved23-06-22
When focused on more traditional closed shooter sections Halo is an almost alright game. The (few) enemy variety does not make that much difference since Master Chief Rambo is always rapidly firing those giant auto targeted aliens anyway. Likewise, the so praised AI, that I do not doubt that is very worked on, rarely ever shines due to how fast the pacing is, so one questions the importance of this “revolution” when the actual behavior of the enemies is way less charming than something much simpler like Doom enemies getting to fight between them (I’m assuming and hoping that the IA praise isn’t towards the dumb wheel eater allies). And comparing with Doom, remember the worst levels that consisted of big empty arenas full of enemies? That’s about half of Halo, but even worse somehow.
It’s funny to me that the advancements that this popularized in the genre that I perceive are exactly the things that I still find unconvincing after 20 years of iterations. The regenerative health not only causes what happens in almost any FPS ever of hiding behind a wall for a couple of seconds doing nothing, but in the way decreases the supposed greatness of the enemy intelligence as they are incapable of taking the vanguard on your most obvious state of crisis. Worse than that, it probably helped to popularize adding variety in shooting games by reducing the actual shooting with anything else that happens to be worse. I think what pisses me off the most is that the only thing mildly interesting in the combat, the constant movement due to the open space and enemy designs (even with a pretty standard movement), is completely tossed away by umm… the worst car that you will ever drive, a turret to shoot standing still while eating bullets, and something called a tank that in reality happens to be a giant hitbox amplifier since for some reason any bullet that hits the vehicle damages you directly.
Evolve combat? Sure, but please, not like this.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown12-06-22
The weirdest decision in XCOM is having the ironman mode not being optional, but strongly unadvised for the first try. Don’t listen, put it on. It’s not about difficulty, choose easy if you want to, it is about not losing sense. About thinking how rigged are the odds of failing an 80% shot and how right was your call on a lucky 50/50. Really, permanent deaths are not that much of a deal compared to how vital it is to feel that there is only one chance at a moment, to live with your decisions and getting to see when there is no going back, that most of them weren’t neither right nor wrong, just multiple ways of uncertainty.
It also reinforces a defense approach because risks cannot be rewinded until turned into hits. Obviously, the defensive focus sounds bad because usually the defensive stance in games means the worst part, not here though. Don’t venture into the dark, don’t stay uncovered, we are not in this fight to conquer but to defend. It isn’t cowardice to take advantage of the infinite turns, the courage is assumed upon stepping into the battle, it’s about wit. A small step at a time, no turn is bad as long as the final consequence can be explained in that you took care. Let the aliens come, let them retreat, take advantage of whatever they do, split the team to cover all the angles, together in spirit but not clogged with fear.
What’s the worst that can happen? You can’t make it and get the bad ending? As long as you fought with all you had every single time, who can call that as a loss?
The fundamentals were already defined in the first game. Turning back to check on your children, counting all of them each time. Searching desperately for the food that likes to hide when the hunger is at its high. One of the biggest differences is in the approach, as convincing as some of the set piece driven linear navigation was carried out, the nature calls for the wild, the dread of danger coming from any direction, the prey harder to corner. A harsher world that shows its hazards in just being there, and in consequence, a world where life is more prized.
Despite my bad memory, I still remember much of my first playthrough about 7 years ago. How only one of my cubs survived, often not even knowing how the others got lost. Getting better at my hunts, not sure if because of experience or because all that remained was only one hope. Asking the stars that guided me to a secure den at the start if I misread the constellations, if I did something wrong. As i kept thinking, the little one was no more, it matched my shape and size now, the steps that were always on my back now often stole my lead. I reached the conclusion that it was pointless to ask for what could I have done and better celebrate the life that survived, the life that now had to go away and truly live on its own. I remember being emotional at the ending where the lonely notes didn’t last for long when the stars appeared again and I was reunited somewhere else with, what I thought, was once my child.
Things have changed now. The harsh world that I remembered is bland. Not only you don’t have to go out of your comfort zone at all, completionism being the only incentive to explore to make it worse. Hunting rabbits for the whole year does the job, I don’t even think you need to return to the den at all. Climate changes the look and a bit of what gets added to your collection, but nothing more. The seasons run long, not because of the hard job of keeping the family alive, but because of the tedium of always repeating the same hunt. When the 4 cubs now survived and grew up I didn’t cherish the last moment, I just wanted them to spread as soon as they could, I knew they were ready after all. That ending scene that moved me so much was misunderstood, the 4 lynx survived, but there was only one there waiting for me. Who was that? My own mother, one of my children, some partner that I lost time ago? At least I can still recall the sentiment of what I once thought this was.
NEO: The World Ends with You21-05-22
For the first game to be set in a, at the time, current Shibuya was very important in the style and identity of the game both aesthetically and thematically. It was the story of some teenagers seeing the world they lived in with reality juxtaposed within the reaper game, a way to put an outsider's perspective. This was especially important for the main character, Neku, who started the game feeling isolated from that world and then suddenly the first thing he had to do was to read into everyday people’s mind and find a partner in order to survive. Starting from more superficial and direct elements, like the fashion in every district influencing and being influenced by your presence, getting into other thoughts and trying to guide their thinking in the right way… Neku senses opened. Yes, it was still that Shibuya Scramble where you cross with hundreds of unknown faces everyday, but anyhow still a world where Neku is not insignificant, just a part of everything, hence the original title, as cheesy as it may be: It's a Wonderful World. Even though the game stuck with me at the time, replaying it a few years ago was much colder since apart from the premise it didn't really capture me, but at least I could see and appreciate the intention.
NEO is a late sequel, a sequel that maybe never was needed, a sequel asked for just because if you like a game you must ask for more. NEO fails both at trying to capture both the sensations of the modern world and upon reflecting on the place that was left behind in 2007. The most minimum sense of intention is gone, the reaper game is repeated just because that is what it was about, now everything is about an amplified lack of inspiration that before already destroyed the rhythm of a quite catchy premise. There is nothing.
Upon finishing the game, there is a small reflection where the obstacles you went through are mentioned, implying that this was a somewhat harsh journey, that reaching this place was earned.
It’s quite hard to measure how much a game really wants to push you against the wall, since there will usually be a reasonably obvious way to get through anything (although, it’s very interesting to observe the situations where, for whatever reason, the possibility of completion is gone). Hatch’s resistance falls weak. It’s not only that the way to continue up feels calculated for you to pass through, again, a reasonable conclusion, even if the game didn’t even try to give the illusion of the contrary. Where it falls is in the ignorance of friction and momentum. All the journey is a mere hide and seek of surfaces, when they are hidden, inclined more than 90 degrees.
The only obstacles and their remedies seem to recognize the fundamental problem that is running up any slope always at max speed. The sun like figure is added as a look to avoid in order to not take the easy (geographical) way, making the more open first half feel again constrained, not resistant, looking for the designed angle where you can climb in safety. Falling down, the most evident frustrating experience in climbing, gravity, the ultimate inescapable force, is toned down with a checkpoint system, probably in recognition that repeating the climb, and in consequence the act of climbing, lacked enough substance. “Don’t forget where you came from” says at the end, hard to remember a road where the obstacles are a paved way.
Hello Charlotte EP1: Junk Food, Gods and Teddy Bears10-05-22
I’m glad that people connected with Charlotte later on, but I miss something that got lost since this first game. May sound typical for this kind of RPG maker games, but to me the game is entirely about the peculiar and imaginative perception of the world from Charlotte’s view in videogame language.
If I’m allowed to make a guess, I’m pretty sure that most people who grew up with videogames being quite present in their lives have dreamt in videogame terms (specially as children, but also as adults), even daydreaming about them. Something similar must have happened with cinema and TV (camera angles, cuts and such being present in dreams and even when recalling memories) and Hello Charlotte has a lot of this new influence on perception. Her imaginary friend is someone never present that may seem (and may be) a fourth wall breaking reference to the player or just her thinking that she’s a videogame character. The multiple deaths act more as what ifs, what if the world ended if I touch this, what if the scary bear impales me. It may seem insensitive to think about these images, but to me it’s kind of liberating from the perspective of Charlotte, just her letting her mind express herself and experiment knowing that a bad end can always be rewinded.
What’s interesting about the mixed perception between videogames and real life is the point that I miss in the next two games. This perception happens (partially) as a way to connect very designed, even standardized simple rules and the bigger complexities of the real world. Think about little kids asking about “who are the good and bad guys” like if everything was a cartoon, not out of bad intent, but to try and grasp something unknown to them on their terms. The first Hello Charlotte is a quite well achived abstract adventure in the conventional sense with a lot of personal quirks in its presentation that lets glances at Charlotte’s deepest worries. If I’m allowed to take a picky example, Episode 2 represents Charlotte social troubles in school through RPG Maker standard combats. The first game is the imagination running free while still being inevitably attached to who Charlotte is and her life, the second one feels like a failed attempt to represent social anxiety in those terms, ignoring both the way that is really perceived and how the imagination tries to make some sense out of it.
My biggest shame is that the dreamy yet way less abstract influence in the next games does come occasionally incredibly close to my dreamy perceptions, apart from the cinema and videogames presence. The mix between everyday places with something always off, but something that seems normal unless you stop to think about it, and the meaning that such small changes carry (like everything about the school structure, for instance think about how the way to it requires the students to take a mortal drop into a mattress, a process that makes sense but only under a specific non sensical logic). In some way, a perfect match about videogames' constant failures at replicating reality by nature and yet the convincing sense that their obvious fakeness brings. I appreciate the attempts to try to have more focused thematic ideas later on, but while I never found my footing in those, I always yearned for that more natural expression of intuition from the subconscious. Charlotte lets herself see without noticing while dreaming of being herself.
Before Your Eyes30-04-22
In a lot of ways, pretty much the opposite of Unpacking. One remembered life through the spaces lived in, taking all the time in the world to place and contemplate the smallest details to a pixel level. Before Your Eyes looks at life as moments, not completely defined even, just extracts surrounded in a black fog. Segments that the more you try to concentrate on not losing sight of the quicker they get lost. If Unpacking tried to tell that the personal was defined through the planned detail that decorated life on a general level at a time, Before Your Eyes defines personal as the particular moments that, for any reason, stayed with you, and how your gaze navigated them. The implication of life against showing the people who were there. The isometric all-mighty observer versus the first person who cannot do anything but blink and move forward. Future decisions being a yearn, and yet they seem insignificant when appreciating the road traveled.
Get in the Car, Loser!25-04-22
Act I is good vibes: the videogame. That doesn’t mean that it lacks claws, it’s about a journey against obvious fascist, homophobe, transphobe and related figures and ideologies. The game doesn’t even try to hide who is fighting against, and it’s the right call, it would be a bit of a step down to look for some supposed “subtlety” in a game that yearns for justice, or at least the fantasy of it. What’s good is that, having clear who is the enemy, the group just goes by, drive and kick ass, chilling. Realizing on the car that a mysterious godly giant bird is following them and insulting it just in case that it is omnipresent, finishing every combat with a postal card goofy photo, turning the whole screen pink as Grace prepares freezed while “I WON’T FALTER IN THE FACE OF EVIL” is written on giant scratched letters across the screen when the Sword of Fate is used, the escape combat option asking you if you want to “escape to fight another day”, the result screen after escaping telling you that “the only reward for running from a fight is survival”... Even the too repetitive combats get a pass by being mostly avoidable (not exactly a compliment, I know) and being very active, without pauses.
This energy is lost entering act II onwards. The now not tutorialized combat shows that it doesn't take off, worsened by an even more insisting encounter pace. The little cute details get caught too in repetition and lose their significance soon. Probably the worst one, the carefree talk on the road is now drained by thoughts about how the villains view them, when not the villains doing the monologues themselves, what before asked to be responded with a fist in the mouth now takes its time to fade away the charm. But this does come to some sense.
If I don’t care about any lack of subtlety is because one of the things I appreciate the most, in general, is honesty. Not that being honest is always enough, but I feel that I need some of it if only to be on the basis. Act III, the more direct one, takes the hateful villain ideas and explores how it affects Sam along the way in full introspection. An exploration that is clunky, not only for the still present combat, now being more disruptive than before, but also the constant humor not being in place at all and the overall presentation forgetting about the senses. Yet, I appreciate the pause to explore the doubts and fears of a queer hero, insecurities that for sure have been discussed way too many times before and probably better, and still a sincere action above all. If this queer battle wants to take any chance to win it must fight nihilism as well. Against the “nothing really matters”, care about the individual. Random people posting online that you should not exist and the likes are interesting subjects to care about as evident or small as they may seem, after all, those thoughts do come from somewhere real, and that's the frightening part. Is this confession then enough in spite of everything? Ironically, to be honest, I understand the soul, but I don't feel it as much.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim23-04-22
Looking for a thematic element or the one big thread that summarizes 13 Sentinels is destined to lead to a not great finding. You can insist on fixating on any of the many suits that the game uses, it’s just that the vast majority of them come from the very passionate science fiction homages that most plotlines take root in without digging as much as their original sources. What’s interesting here is that the sense of chronology is totally destroyed while the concept of chronology is still there. In the prologue section there are already uncountable time travels, flashbacks, strange premonitory dreams and to top it off a constant change of the main character, with the events rarely going on parallel. And it only gets more intricate as soon as you choose what scenarios to continue and when, with just a few blockages restricting the rest of the journey.
This may seem a simple exhibition on structure, be that the idea or not, the case is that it lets the story create a rhythm that has no pauses, focused on moments and mystery. Mystery not that much in the sense of wanting to know the answers of every enigma (a bit too of course), but in knowing that there are no limits on what the next scene is going to be about. Well, there is something you always know is coming, character and heart. Who would follow 13 protagonists with very diverse adventures without attitude? Charisma found in the little details that end up making up a, at first glance, modest theatrical presentation into something more akin to the fireworks that burst out each time the sentinels destroy a kaiju in combat. Again, as interesting as each one of the cast may be on their own, interactions are multiplied when roads cross in unimaginable ways. There’s the core of 13 Sentinels, the taste of picking very cared threads and playing with them, finding interest in entangling them and pulling out of one of them again and again. A case where the impossible to follow plotlines are not the result of an attempt of mending, but of not limiting the imagination. A living definition of science fiction.
Space, zombies and little to no resources. Few rooms where the combat takes place can actually be called big and even in those scenarios, doubting if it is better than the usual lack of space when regardless you end up being surrounded by hazards anyway, with only a few of them on view. Having some distance is no small thing considering that the tiny number of enemies who do not rely on melee attacks running towards you on sight are still more lethal in close quarters. Not only is the enemy stronger, but you are weaker, since the shooting focusing on taking off limbs to save ammo is considerably harder to execute when the tentacles are dancing around the whole width and height of the camera.
The already tense combat doesn’t stop there as resources are really scarce to the point where I thought the game was virtually softlocked on normal more than once, no ammo, no health, no cures, no money (it’s hard to illustrate how this happens, let’s just say that, for instance, you get 6 bullets for the main gun with every obtainable pack. And the standard magazine capacity is 10 bullets. It’s the only weapon that I had where I recovered more than half of a default charge with every pack). Apart from adding to the tension, the possibility of running absolutely out of everything being quite high adds a new layer to the space. There are melee possibilities, sure, but due to the enemy design it often leads to a (not recommended) trading of damage, a one way trade in the case your blow is blocked. There is another resource of course, using the kinesis power to pick up and throw anything from the surroundings. And each object has its own properties, making the process more physical and a desperate course of action less likely to be successful. Shape, size, weight, everything is taken into account. A floppy ragdoll corpse is rather useless, but the blades of the zombies cut through everything, clunkier objects can grant you some stagger and even sometimes you can carefully place the bigger items in order to block or guide enemies to your mental trap.
Outside of combat the magnificent ambiance assures that the action and tension are never truly gone. Toned down compartments and corridors filled with vapor covering the view and not being sure what may or may not be in front of you, taking into account the multiple traps found while exploring and that monster noises are the soundtrack of the game. The audio is to be noted to the point when there were some moments where I was using the store and I had to take a turn around just to be sure that I was really safe. And being a good indicator of danger, fake and real, it takes a main role in the no oxygen sections where you can only rely on your eyes (it’s pretty neat the attention given to those sections apart from managing the oxygen, having ammo only for the flamethrower in those sections lead to a pleasant horrible surprise). Mix them with the no gravity sections where everything comes at you at (almost) 360 degrees and get to know a new meaning of disorientation.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City03-04-22
You can trash GTA III with a lot of reason from many sides, but it was a game that committed to its still fresh open world, focusing the missions on playing with how that place worked and keeping the exploitation of clunkier or derivative systems for the later half when the ideas that the game managed well ran out. Vice City takes where III left off, that is, the few first missions that seize the now less lively open world feel already exhausted and it takes a much shorter time to add gimmick missions or to focus on shootings and other barely working devices.
The “new thing” is obviously the setting that, aesthetically, is not bad at all, being more a game set in the 80s with actual references from the 80s than the retroactive monsters of nostalgia seen through the past decade. At the same time, probably because references were mostly about pop media, the life from III is not here. Gangs taking different parts of the town, citizens and vehicles changing depending on the zone, even how some of the NPCs (the aggressive ones) responded to your presence depending on your actions within the story, everything is barely there if not totally gone at all. Yes, GTA III was a game about (childish) walking stereotypes as NPCs, but at the same time NPCs that were rooted in some, very twisted, reality. Here everything is a distorted view of some gangster movies that fail to inhabit a proper place. Which could be fine if, again, it didn’t constantly lead to the worst action scenes imaginable.
At least you have some better tunes on the radio to have a drive around.
A Mortician's Tale02-04-22
Though it’s obviously easy to share the sentiment, all the commentary about corporations taking upon death itself is rather weak. It points out what is certainly happening everywhere, but with an ending dictated with too much of a good heart without thinking about the consequences of actually taking the risk it comes off as naive. The preparation of the deceased through a simple puzzley segment, especially in the cremation process, the stay positive mail list and overall cuteness are probably not the best fit for most of the situations. Yet, there is something in there.
Though simplified as it may be, having to actually prepare each of the deceased gives a bit more insight into the process and labor of a mortician. The mails give new perspectives about death and how to deal with it, sometimes obvious and not that interesting, true, but sometimes hitting the right spot (“Religion provides different paths for dealing with a death, but the goal is almost always the same: offering support, guidance, and ease to the people who are grieving”). Even that cute aesthetic helps to make the process more mundane, in a good sense, considering we are in the perspective of the mortician. But not without respect.
If the game ended up gaining me it was due to the sections where you have to attend the funerals. Due to the protagonist being silent (even if she is implied to communicate at least via email), her role is as simple as necessary, just lending an ear. And not everyone will grieve the same, some will be unable to speak in tears, some will think about if things couldn't have gone differently, some put their mind on how to distract themselves to make it easier… Most importantly, there is one thing that Charlotte will always do before leaving, no matter the complications behind the bureaucracy, including that certain peculiar funeral. She will always bid farewell with a reverence.
Shmup compressed and magnified. Instead of having bombs, Klorets adds a slow down button, managing this as a limited resource, especially considering that enemy bullets can be converted into points only the slow state, is essential for survival. It is also a twist on the classic million of bullets spawned lagging the game on purpose, now it is you who decide when the screen is too busy and switching back and forth in between the pattern creating its own new rhythm. On top of that, it adds to the peculiar aesthetic where every shiny hazard and collectible contrasts in a cute big pixel white and blue canvas, with a very characteristic audiovisual style (like usual in all nizakashii games) that adapts particularly well to the switch of tempos, creating a stronger synesthetic experience than usual in the genre.
Still, apart from the gimmick, the big size of everything (bullets usually being as big as the sprite of your ship) makes for a very clear and tight distillation of the genre. Space feels more cramped and to every pixel of the screen is essential.
Only one objective, to write 1000 words in order to finish your dissertation and, most importantly, prevent your girlfriend Violet from going away as she has been waiting too long for that task to be done, this is the last chance. The intention is always to get rid of the immediate distraction which then leads to another distraction, and so forth. Creating a very strong sense of space by focusing on detailing a single room (which adds to the lack of attention), the solutions to each problem are obtuse, not so much for the sake of getting you stuck (using the hint command will end up giving you the exact actions to execute) but to reach exaggerated absurdist situations unexpectedly twisted for the setting, ending up in a very intimate total chaos.
Forgot to say, everything in the game is narrated by Violet, or better said, by the Violet that the protagonist imagines, as she is still patiently waiting somewhere else far away. Adding a more catchy flow to every line where the narrator has a personality while still being absent, there is some more cute obvious twist behind it. No matter the small distractions, what the main character cannot get out of their head and what motivates them to write is the same thing. They cannot stop thinking about Violet.
To an extent I can appreciate Galatea for its search for an NPC with more presence than usual in videogames in general and in text adventures in particular. If there is one thing I’ll never get tired of is people experimenting with IAs, especially when it is more about trying new models than raw technological power.
And yeah, you never know exactly how Galatea is and the conversations are equally blurred enough to not be able to really move anything exactly in the direction you want. My main concern is in not being able to properly develop any of its themes. In a way I guess having multiple big thematic ideas as well as various dozens of endings going around was just the perfect match for the game, but in my playthroughs none of them got into anything interesting. Probably much of it has to do with a writing that doesn’t stand up enough by itself.
In one of the conversations the main character ended up talking with Galatea about their family, their sister, and crying with her reaching through a connection beyond the cold relation of a visitor and a museum piece. The problem? It got out in a few lines (which can be fine if done well) and honestly didn’t feel to me that neither the main character nor Galatea had any kind of confidence, trust or just feeling between them yet for the talk to end up that way. It makes me wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to reduce all the possible ramifications to have a more focused development, in particular when reaching near the personal areas, probably the most interesting aspects of the dialogues. I know that Emily Short herself has already reckoned that this is no perfect game by any means, especially as more games and years passed by. And in a similar way, I appreciate Galatea in some ways, but the words weren’t enough to make me want to visit again.
There are two keys to Mudrunner. The first is the joy of moving through the mud. I can't quite describe why it is, it's a bit of a childish taste like kids stepping in puddles just because, you just feel at ease being in constant play with and against this peculiar resistance. The main character of the physics is the terrain here, it molds and deforms with the passing of your wheels, leaving traces that not only remain as an aesthetic reminder, but also create their own physical scar for the tires that pass by later during the game. This taste of physicality is everywhere.
Every little stone can cause a catastrophe, the confidence given by the speed of the asphalt can be another tragedy, a tree is both a blockage and a hitch from which to borrow strength. My favorite interactions have to do with those between trucks. Going on a trip with two of your machines together, pushing and pulling each other when the wheels are buried, or my favorite moments of all when one truck manages to turn another partner around by pulling with all its might, a humbly heroic moment in the middle of the forest without any music or fanfare, after the rescue there is simply a route to continue.
The second key starts to appear here: the adventure. Because the game knows how to put all its physical bases in a very good context. Despite how misleading the heavy metal guitars of the main menu may be, the adventure is relaxed, with vehicles moving in first gear 99% of the travel, that is when they are moving at all, with hours passing between day and night but without any pressure, each at its own pace, whether you deliver the logs one at a time or in one trip, whether you meet all the secondary objectives or none at all. I still recommend unlocking all the watchpoints and garages, as in addition to making the main deliveries lighter they add their own adventurous layer. There is a little bit of everything here, with the journey into the unknown with smaller vehicles in order to uncover the map and some logistics to complete the various assignments by looking at the state of the map and the vehicles at hand. Of course, there can be no adventure without improvisation. If what I enjoyed most about the physicality was the rescue of an inactive vehicle, it's probably because it involved a series of adventures and misadventures. Starting with the unfortunate accident that leaves the vehicle idle for some reason, posing what rescue options there are and finally carrying out, or at least trying to, the action.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin21-03-22
Loot, out of place sidequests, the weirdest decisions at the most crucial cutscenes, keeping everyone dressed up during the most dramatic events (poor souls that don’t disable visible headgear and have to stare to a close up of a helmet or the dumbest mask), and yet…
The action has some good fundamentals in order to keep you active and managing space, but if it stays fresh for the whole game it is because of the combination of the different variations. Small gimmicks in every mission, trying new jobs, some slight changes in the enemies that may not seem that much but end up making you plan some new strategies, specially when the placement is a little thought out, and why not, infinite comboing against the wall your least liked monster with your friends, never gets old. And bosses don’t fall behind, they often take the highlight, a good arsenal to cover all the surroundings and distances, barely taking any breath between an attack and the next, good luck finding an opening.
And what a bunch, three thirty-something years old join with two twenty-something years old to play the most visually overdesigned sci fi dungeons and dragons campaign ever. The IA distracting the boss when you need a rest, trying to keep every distraction away from your target, helping you to not drop the staggering… Not anything never seen nor complex, but always very present while fighting side by side nonetheless, giving more strength to every chit chat, to every dialogue, to every fist bump. The Warriors of Light… not, they don’t fit that role no matter which side they are viewed on, that prophecy would materialize later. What is the role of the outcasts forced to complete a prophecy that not even they understand? The biggest merit of the narrative is that even with the amount of giant obstacles that it likes to place arbitrarily, you never leave Jack's resolve, a guy that speaks in punches, and me backing up every single hit thrown. To fight with all that he has for what he knows is right, no matter the cost, with Ash, Jed, Neon and Sophia on his side, even if the role of the heroes is for another group. Finding their way to make it work.
You’ve got to be crazy if you want to change the world.
When an enemy robot falls down, it becomes a sacrificial tool that will crawl towards his objective, its life is now regardless. When a teammate falls down it becomes a rescue mission, it will not take a second for a partner to ask if there is a need for help. In the machine apocalypse where the line between human and robot is so blurred that no one can know for sure what they are anymore, the team that defends humanity is just one thing: comrades.
Small talks, what to do when everything is over, jokes, being dumb, having the worst romance, lending a helping hand, dividing sides of the battle, acting as decoys, covering each others back. The dichotomy between artificial and human is in them in various ways, the militaristic ambiance makes orders seem robotic, partners will listen to you more if they trust you but said trust is represented by a simple bar. Upgrades are equipped through nanomachines and it could be considered that traditional game elements like the dependency on weapons or the nature of ally AI are slightly recontextualized just by the setting.
What is more interesting within the main theme is not so much in taking it as philosophical or as a complete joke, very little will be found in those ways. It is a considerate trust in humanity that doesn’t fall into naivety. Humans brought our own apocalypse to begin with, and if you think that we may have learned from the past, you are very wrong. By the end of the game a plot twist is revealed and what we thought was the “human” side of the conflict ends up being just another fight over power. Upon this discovery, all of the team has it clear, as always, no matter if the fight is too big for them, they won’t budge down and will do everything that is in their hand.
Knowing a bit about the studio, it’s surprising to see a game like this. It sure seems like there were a lot of problems in development, probably related to tackling a new genre, and the game ends up falling a bit short in some aspects, especially in the second half. But also it seems like they wanted to build this group adventure so much, there was so much charisma that the studio would blow out if they didn’t finish the game. It sure would be a shame if the same team would later spend the rest of their days making carbon copies of formulas that they don't care about anymore, taking a mold where everything fits, or at least that's what they wish to, turned into robots.
There is one more or less recent trend that I really don’t like that searches for an active kind of explicit “transcendence” through games (not entirely new, but more prominent than before). Not that the sentiment is not there at all, I agree that there is some obvious arcade/synesthetic feeling that can and do elevate games, but precisely because of that feeling being inherent every reivindicacion actually sounds like “games are art” statements but many years later and more twisted. Another endless search to justify playing games as if liking games shouldn’t be more than enough (or questioning if there is a need for a justification at all).
Anyway, it doesn’t repel me that much to negate its intentions totally, contradicting myself, I’m interested in the individual interpretation on videogames that these titles want to propose, they can end up going interesting ways after all. I’ll give it to ZeroRanger that even with its pretensions that inevitably led to some headlines like “more than a shmup” or “an elevation of the genre” (in reality, making the rest look like lesser works), it’s also a humble game that shows all of its references unmasked and it really helped a lot of people to enter into an intimidating genre, at least looked from afar. The game isn’t ashamed to show its robots, aliens and whatnot mixed with the highest number of ways that you can show a third eye open, it trusts in the most gamey transcendence.
And ZeroRanger is a competent shmup, it’s very far from being one of my favorites, but I would be lying if I said that I found it uninspired. Then again, wouldn’t I be underestimating the game's own terms by calling it just “a competent shmup” when it will remind you at every second that there is something beyond? Shouldn’t I be considering what the game tries to do if not only out of respect? This is enlightenment, Ikaruga impossibly fast to read paragraphs were just flavor text compared to the insistence of ZeroRanger.
And here is where it loses me. It may be because I’m not exactly an expert on the area, but precisely reminding me each time I fail that “things aren’t going to get any easier, but I know you can make it” is not exactly the message that enlightens me the most. Are we letting introspection aside so fast to be deceived by this kind of motivation? Aside from the messages, funnily enough, this might be one of the less transcendental shmups I’ve played due to its structure. A structure that is very interesting in itself and to keep the attention of newcomers, something that I can admire, but contrary to its major interest. Unlocking more permanent continues as you get more points, letting you start from advanced levels… even the plot twist doesn’t really affect me since it’s relying more on a (very weak in my opinion) “now you should trust yourself” than in taking a new level of self-consciousness. Is the game really trusting in you or does it insist to say that it trusts you while creating its limits and aids just in case you don’t make it out by yourself? Is beating a hard challenge the climax of enlightenment or is enlightenment a never ending contemplative process that should not be deceived by focusing on achieving a goal? Is self satisfaction what we are looking for in introspection or is it something more abstract and perhaps less happy?
It’s exactly based on the traditional formula of having a run always from beginning to end where you slowly connect with the game and adapt to the new body when the arcade transcends and silently elevates itself, a connection so strong not even the continues slightly disruptive nature can break it. Contrary to the supposed compromised decision of the twist, my real recent moment of self-consciousness in a shmup was when I tried my first Touhou a few months ago and a friend told me “at the end, completing 1cc or not is something for you and no one else”. Bad ending for some, I didn’t get the 1cc. Good ending for me, I noticed it never was about that.
It’s a bit weird to me that this type of arcade games doesn’t have a number of titles at least similar to the number of shmups that get released in recent years. Both styles are, in concept, very simple and straightforward (later in the execution, of course, there are no limits for complexity). Also, since they are not restrained by how many coins can you pour in or in ports of various degrees of quality (that is, in the case when there is any port), their true strengths and flaws can really shine, even letting everyone pick their own rhythm, no matter if the objective is to complete the game with credit feeding, in 1cc, looking for high scores or whatever. These types of sensibilities didn’t ever disappear at all, the influences are seen in longer action titles and more obviously in some roguelikes for instance, but it seems like the root of the expression was lost somewhere.
Praising Annalynn for taking back again a certain type of arcade that at least I don’t see very often nowadays would be a bad idea, as it isn’t really a single exception and would demean its own merits. With a very simple movement in two directions and an action button, a jump button of all of them, Annalynn has more than enough to construct its very own slapstick arcadey setpieces. Influences it has, and are very clear, but that doesn’t mean to fall short on personality.
Just get to the second set of levels and it won’t be long until you find yourself climbing between the ropes with the four snakes above you. Of course they could throw themselves to your doom, and they will, but before they will look down on you with the most malicious face ever, so that you have some time to react some might say, so that you can see how these snakes enjoy to be a pain in the ass I say. If I’m in favour of returning at least once in a while to some of the arcade traditions in their rawest sense, it’s because of some discoveries like the one present in Pacman and its ghosts more than 40 years ago. Kicking ass in videogames is always fun, but being chased with no defense by the creatures that embody the devil itself and then turn it around to kick their four reptile ass (or tail?) in a row is another level.
What’s better, I’m sure there are a lot of details to find out in this kind of very thought out design until I master this, if I ever do, but here is the magic of the arcade, it won’t take a single minute to see how good this is. Immediacy can be a problem when it prevents you from appreciating sensibilities that need a slower pace, but nothing that cannot be controlled with a bit of care. And Annalynn cannot help it, it’s so good that it cannot hide its joy for a single second, and at least I am very happy to watch it blow out as soon as it can.
Final Fantasy XIII0-01-22
In theory, in spirit, in abstraction, choose the inexact term of your preference, I really like this. The game honestly treasures its silly adolescent spirit, a spirit about people wanting to save the world from its, supposedly, destined doom. Not exactly the most original thing in the universe right (though I won’t stop liking it because of that), but there’s a bit more.
The reason why the group ends up deciding to attempt to defy a greater power, a colossal global act, takes root in a very personal and intimate place. It all starts from the desire of Lightning and Snow to save Serah, their sister and bride to be respectively. It’s not only them, Hope needs to find a way to move on after losing his mother and the other three characters also have the root of their cause in someone close, though they hide it for some time. The thing is that at the start of the adventure all of them are blinded and need to put the blame on whatever they have at hand. From self repulsion to putting all the weight in someone concrete that, even if still has some responsibility to account, isn’t the truly villainous force.
It’s not hard to understand why they point fingers so easily. The real culprit here is a more abstract force beyond any human, easy to guess they end up fighting godlike figures, because of course they do, though not necessarily religious gods. There are clear influences of religion here and there, but these forces are embodied in machinery monstrosities, beings that can literally produce food and other essential goods to keep humans happy. They also can curse the people in order to carry their will. At the moment that this curse is cast there are only two options: you fail at your abstractly told task and turn into a zombie or you succeed and gain eternal life aka turn into a crystal forever. A curse for eternity.
Talking about killing gods may sound like getting into unbearable pretentiousness (partially true, I guess, but also cool) that in reality ends up leading nowhere, but it never really feels like the game is trying to be smarter than it is. It’s not so much about screaming out loud about the possibility of change through a serious way, but about what comes before, the burning desire of that possibility existing. To believe in miracles just before fighting to make them come true. It is the moment the cast starts realizing that to save Serah or anyone dear to them the only real way is to fight for that greater shift that saves everyone.
Unfortunately, the game has many problems. I could start with everything related to combats, in short, they try something but it isn’t compromised enough nor good enough and ends up being a mess. In any case, what really keeps me from liking it is this messiness in other places.
It’s surprising to see how Hope's conflict with the loss of his mother is considerably well handled, letting see what goes on until he can come clear with himself and then have Sazh conflict. In about 30 minutes (of a really long game) a grown up guy, not a child like Hope, gets in a similar situation in which he blames someone that is just very partially at fault, then realizes that revenge will solve nothing, then thinks about ending his life in a small cliffhanger and the next time he appears he’s all cool everything clear. In a flashback showing Lightning’s birthday, the only moment where she tried to stop being a soldier and act as a human being, the gift that she receives from her just-cursed-about-to-be-married dear sister is… a combat knife.
Even the moments that work to some extent fall short of what I feel they should be. Watching Snow and Serah being together is cute, but with a couple around twenty years old planning on building a family and assuring that not even godly curses will stop their love, “cute” shouldn’t be enough. And it’s like that through the whole game, I keep coming back to its concepts, to the burning passion that is in its abstraction, but when I reach my hand to try to get a handle on anything, the game is, ironically, incapable of truly crystallizing.