Between the long weekend and being off sick from work one day last week, I’ve had a chance to play a lot of games over the past little while. Here’s what I’ve been playing.
I picked this one up a while ago and just tried it out this past week. What a thoroughly charming game. It has a great art style that looks like pastels on dark construction paper and very relaxing gameplay. It’s about a little ghost girl who is searching the cosmos for her lost fox friend and it manages to be both sad and uplifting. Each level has you collecting stars, or sometimes reuniting animal spirits with their bodies. The game plays with gravity, with different types of celestial bodies causing different reactions and pulls on your character. While there’s a bit of a puzzle solving element in reaching your goals, its also feasible to just float around until you find your way there. Like a happy accident.
I heard this was a great RPG and I was interested to try it out, but not in any rush. When I heard the gameplay used bullet hell mechanics my need to play became more pressing. Undertale is quite charming. It’s full of wit and humour and put a smile on my face at times. However, I’m not overly fond of the gameplay. During combat, you can attack opponents or interact with them in some other way. When you get attacked is where the bullet hell mechanics come in and they really aren’t great. It’s basically a tiny box in the middle of your screen with your character represented by a heart and you need to move around to avoid objects that start moving through the box. I guess that’s technically what a bullet hell (minus the quite important ‘shooter’ bit) is, but it’s not fun or flashy and you have to move around with your keyboard. Ew.
Undertale’s big draw is that it subverts normal RPG tropes. The biggest one being that you don’t have to kill monsters – you can talk to them or interact with them in some way to make them surrender. However, without killing things you gain no XP so the no-kill route is the harder path. I’ve heard people complain when things get too tough that they don’t want to ruin their no-kill playthrough. There’s something very unnatural feeling about this – choosing how you’ll play a game beforehand. Placing these kinds of restrictions on yourself, and having gameplay that totally supports and even encourages this, feels strange. Inorganic. My favourite parts of many RPGs are being able to use your character’s particular set of skills to complete an objective without combat. Often pumping skill points into things like Intellect or Charisma means you’re not as good of a fighter when combat is unavoidable. Undertale takes this to a whole other level by completely removing any measure of character progression, a very important part of an RPG, and replacing it with… feeling good about yourself for not killing monsters? It does raise questions about how much punishment you’re willing to take to do the “good” thing, but I’m still in the camp that thinks gameplay should be enjoyable. Maybe I’ll write some more about this when I’m further in.
The Beginner’s Guide
The Beginner’s Guide is… a game. It’s from one of the co-creators of The Stanley Parable, which I loved. This game, on the other hand, I didn’t love as much. It tells the story of a developer named Coda. A narrator walks the player through games created by Coda, giving us his interpretation of what they say about their creator. I think The Beginner’s Guide has some very apt things to say about player entitlement and not respecting the boundaries, of projecting ones own needs and interpretations onto games and their creators. The problem is that it’s just not very fun or interesting to play. The games we’re introduced to are all quite dull, and the narration becomes very disturbing by the end. So, while I appreciate some of the messages, the game itself was repellent to me. What I do like though, is all of the great discussion it has spawned. See Cameron Kunzelman’s review at Paste, or Laura Hudson’s article at Offworld, or Spidey J’s post on Medium.
PS1 and PS2 survival horror games hold a special place in my heart, but I’ve never beaten Silent Hill. I played it as a teenager, for a very brief amount of time. The sound the radio made when monsters were near creeped me the fuck out and I quit. I maybe played for 30 minutes.
Now I’m older, wiser, and hopefully braver, so I’ve started playing again. I’ve made it to the school, so I’m already doing better. While the graphics of the PS1 don’t hold up particularly well the game still manages to be unnerving. The fixed camera angles are effective and the sound effects are chilling. I’m not thrilled with the tank controls but I want to know what happens enough to continue on.
Out There is a mobile game. I’ve very selective about which mobile games I play, but an article by Kaitlin Tremblay on Playboy.com got me interested in this one. It’s a roguelike, a genre I’m generally not interested in, but I liked the concept. You play an astronaut, lost somewhere, in some galaxy, trying to find your way home. You jump from planet to planet, searching for resources that will keep you going, technologies that will help you, and even meet aliens. The events you encounter are mysterious, often deadly, and always deftly written. The resource management aspect of the game is very difficult and you will die a lot. I’d love to reach the end of the game but I’m pretty much done with it now. I enjoyed the couple hours I spent with it though.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong
The Shadowrun series keeps getting better. This isometric, cyberpunk, RPG sends you to China, where your foster father has been killed. Soon you find yourself wanted by the police and need to become a shadowrunner to find out what’s going on. The game sends you on all kinds of interesting missions where you can solve problems with force, magic, wits, or technology.
Shadowrun’s gameplay keeps getting smoother and more refined, and the stories and missions more interesting. Dragonfall was good, but ran a little bit long, around 30 hours. Hong Kong clocks in around 15-18 hours which I thought was a perfect length. I’m even replaying this one to see some things I missed, which is quite an endorsement as I almost never replay games immediately. Also, this game is full of lady characters! So many of the major players are women which is always nice to see.