Monday, May 30, 2016
To Be Or Not To Be
You can get To Be Or Not To Be at http://gamebookadventures.com/gamebooks/to-be-or-not-to-be/
To Be Or Not To Be is Shakespeare's Hamlet as a comedic choose-your-own-adventure. The text is clever and fun to read, as to be expected of writer Ryan North. I really enjoyed my first playthrough, where I chose the Shakespeare-official options to familiarize myself with the normal story. I wasn't able to stick with the game much longer after that, though, because the UX is inexplicably bad for repeat plays. Most visual novels have this stuff down but for some reason this game's engine doesn't use any of the standard assists - it doesn't mark which options you've already chosen, and you can't fast-forward through stuff you've already seen. That means too much time spent sitting through boring stuff and not enough time spent reading hilarious and awesome new stuff. You can also just buy this as a straight-up book, which might be better since you can flip around more easily.
Friday, May 27, 2016
You can get Splatoon at http://splatoon.nintendo.com/buy/
Splatoon is a colorful third-person shooter with a strong and consistent punk aesthetic. The main draw of the game is the online arena-based competitive multiplayer which tasks you with painting the area with your team's color of ink and only incidentally with shooting up the opposing team members. Since you're essentially using water guns with fairly short range, combat is kinetic and intimate. There's a lot of clever and satisfying synergy in the mechanics: your score is determined by how much territory you cover in your own ink, but that ink also allows you to hide, travel faster, and restock your ammo. But there's an extended progression system that means you're never playing on a level field and it's ages before you can customize your outfit and loadout to any significant degree. Plus it features the usual frustrations of online multiplayer - you can get booted if the Wii U decides your connection isn't good enough, you spend a lot of time in the lobby waiting for enough players, and even when everything works your experience depends on the behavior of random strangers (and it always sucks to lose a match because you had an idler on your team). Bot matches would have gone a long way to rescue it, but are not available. There is a single-player mode, but it's totally separate - the progression is disconnected, you can't customize your character, and it's a much more Mario-like series of levels that uses a ton of mechanics not found in the multiplayer. There are a couple of arena levels that are a blast, but they are few and far between. All in all, I love the game's world, but this is not quite the game I want to play in it. For now, I'm just hoping for spinoff titles.
Monday, May 23, 2016
The Beginner's Guide
You can get The Beginner's Guide at http://thebeginnersgui.de/
The Beginner's Guide is a narrated exploration game which is also a meditation on a particular type of unhealthy fan/creator relationship, exploring themes of hero worship, difficulties of the creative process, and imposing our own meaning on others' work that reflects more on us than on them. It's a message game, aimed at an audience you may or may not be a member of, but either way it's skillfully done and you'll likely be thinking about the game long after the hour and a half or so it takes to walk through it.
Friday, May 20, 2016
You can get Gone Home at http://www.gonehomegame.com/
Gone Home is an exploration game that has you exploring your family home to find out what's happened in your year abroad and where your mysteriously-absent parents and sister are. The story is told through objects, found messages, and a series of audio logs. The central arc is about your younger sister, but other relatives have stories too and they all revolve around the importance of being true to yourself and of finding people who accept you that way.
Where the game succeeds is in its characters and atmosphere - the people feel real, piecing together the narrative from environmental clues is fun, and the subtly spooky state of the house is used to great effect. Where the game fails is in its most game-like aspects - to properly constrain your movement, the house is set up in an implausible and immersion-breaking way requiring you to memorize lock combinations and get one key to unlock the thing containing the next key a few too many times. (There's also a ridiculous number of cassette players and phone books lying around.)
A lot of people have latched on to the gayness of some of the characters as what this game is about, but honestly that's incidental to the true theme of being who you are.
Monday, May 16, 2016
You can get Glitchhikers at http://glitchhikers.com/
Glitchhikers is a meditative mood piece that for twenty minutes or so simulates the experience of a lonely late-night drive where nothing seems real but everything seems profound. The game is carefully crafted to create the right atmosphere - from the tail lights ahead that you can never quite catch up to, to the simplified and nearly-automatic driving that feels like highway hypnosis, to the dreamy insomniac quality of the radio music and DJ, to the slow heavy blinks of the player character. What really matters, though, are the conversations you have with your surreal passengers. Play at night with the lights off for the best experience.
Friday, May 13, 2016
You can get Frail Shells at https://fromsmiling.itch.io/frail-shells
All Boston Globe quotes from https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/2014/12/06/game-about-ptsd-that-eye-beholder/iapHq5YKVH5ui0YKQq7hRK/story.html
Monday, May 9, 2016
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
You can get Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons at http://www.brothersthegame.com/
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a puzzle platformer where you simultaneously control two brothers who must work together to navigate the environment and achieve goals. It isn't perfect - there are some learn-by-dying portions and the achievement design is awful - but it's really interesting and there isn't anything else quite like it. It's got dialog-free characterization, beautiful scenery and music, powerful atmosphere, and unique mechanics, some of which are actually used to convey story. It's worth your time, clocking in around three hours, but be warned that this is not a happy game. Death surrounds you and not everyone can be saved.
Friday, May 6, 2016
Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
You can get Runner2 at http://www.runner2.com/
Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is a rhythm platformer like its predecessor. Your character runs automatically, you avoid obstacles and collect gold by jumping, sliding, kicking or blocking at the right time, and your actions affect the music. It expands on the original in several ways - the game is much prettier and has a bunch of characters and skins to unlock, there are more levels and many of them have branching paths, and most importantly there are now optional mid-level checkpoints. This greatly mitigates the frustration of restarting a longer level because of a single mistake near the end, while still allowing players the option of the original hardcore challenge. There are a few misfires - for example, a new post-level "bonus chance" mechanic that makes pursuing 100% completion much more tedious than it needs to be - but overall it's a bigger and better BIT.TRIP RUNNER, and still a great way to zen out as long as your reflexes are up to it and you can groove on chiptunes.
Monday, May 2, 2016
You can get Bit.Trip Runner at https://totallychoice.com/games/bittrip-runner
Bit.Trip Runner is a rhythm platformer with an Atari 2600-inspired aesthetic. Your character runs automatically, you avoid obstacles and collect gold by jumping, sliding, kicking or blocking at the right time, and your actions affect the music. It's really good at creating flow, and to avoid breaking that flow, messing up causes the level to immediately restart. This works great for short levels, but the levels get longer and longer, meaning that it's increasingly the case that when practicing a difficult challenge, each attempt is preceded by a minute or so of platforming you've already mastered, which can get quite frustrating. Aside from that, it's a great way to zen out as long as your reflexes are up to it and you can groove on chiptunes.