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Envision this. I was on vacation in North Carolina where my family and I were planning to buy my grandparents house. Our vacation home was said house. Mind you, this house was on a hill. Little Coleman (me) was forced to sleep on an air mattress because the house only had 2 beds. My bird, Angel, was stationed next to the mattress. I had played every single Mario & Luigi game up until this point, loving every single one more and more. Nearing the trip, my father bought me a copy of Dream Team on my 3ds XL. I was at the final boss during this coming event. My grandmother was cooking eggs and offered me some. I said yes because I love eating eggs. When she handed me the plate, the eggs were nothing more than a liquid. Watery eggs. I told my grandma I didn't want to eat them because they smelt bad and looked disgusting then carefully placed my 3ds down on the edge of my air mattress. I ran down the bottom of the hill to talk to my parents and tell them the breaking news regarding the egg soup. My dad told me to just stay in my room and play on my favorite handheld, little did Coleman know the tragedy he would witness in the coming minute would be the single most devastating thing in my entire life. As I walked into the house, a silence unlike any other befell my ears. There was no crackling of the stove, no creaky air conditioning, no windows settling, not even a bird chirping. As I walked into my room, I saw it. My 3ds. Sat on. Snapped. In half. By none other than my grandmother's fat fucking ass. I was devastated and since that day I vowed to never play Mario & Luigi Dream Team ever again.
Thank god she died
Dragon Warrior III
Limp, devoid of swag, frictionless. A Japanese player might be forgiven for liking it out of comforting familiarity, but anyone in the West who claims to is motivated by boyish contrarianism or, worse, an admiration for Tim Rogers.
The good news about trying out Solar Ash is that it clicked immediately since it was not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeves: you’ve got skating mechanics inspired by Jet Set Radio, boss fights and designs inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, and a woozy ambient soundtrack alongside gooey and ethereal aesthetics captured in deep space. It’s not hard to decipher Heart Machine’s vision for the game. The bad news about trying out Solar Ash is that being so heavily inspired by two of my favorite games meant that I was both consciously and unconsciously comparing the game in every waking moment of my playthrough, and the cracks in the armor really started to show. Right away, the most obvious issue is the lack of subtlety. The game is so in-your-face with its lore and the overarching details that it fails to leave much room for individual player interpretation. The protagonist Rei is constantly commenting upon everything she comes across, and the audio logs that she stumbles upon where her old crewmates vividly describe the world’s demise don’t leave much up to imagination either. This over-explanation is further compounded by all the jargon thrown into the mix and the exaggerated voice acting, which not only confuses me, but also feels like the authors didn’t really tackle the tone properly; instead of sounding desperate, Rei instead comes off as somewhat angsty to me. The amount of effort put into flaunting all this detail feels quite unwarranted, considering that Shadow of the Colossus was more than happy to let players just linger in their own space and judge for themselves: what happened to “show, don’t tell” guys?
Further invited comparisons to Shadow of the Colossus make it evident to me that despite the reverence of its boss encounters, Solar Ash fails to emulate much of their appeal in any meaningful way. Nothing comes close to the volume swells present in Shadow of the Colossus, because there’s no focused build-up of anticipation when the player is too busy looking for plasma and voidrunner caches alongside traversal puzzles for destroying Anomalies, not to mention Rei’s stream of self-narration breaking up any prolonged moments of silence. More importantly, the boss fights themselves lack any stakes. Shadow of the Colossus emphasizes its sense of scale, as you carefully climb this larger-than-life creature while it desperately flails about, trying to shake you off before you snuff it out by plunging your sword into its vitals. Solar Ash on the other hand, may as well just be a casual Sunday drive through a Mario Kart course; the sigils have been replaced with temporary targets and context-sensitive grapple points, and most of the interaction boils down to holding forward on the joystick and jumping/grappling at the right time. You don’t even need to adjust the camera, because the game will automatically do that for you when you need to shift directions. Say what you want about Shadow of the Colossus’ ballistic camera during the colossi encounters, but it really lent the fights a sense of powerlessness and urgency during this desperate dance of death that Solar Ash lacks. To top this all off, consequences of failure are minimized in the latter; falling off or failing to hit a target in time just sends you back to a close checkpoint to the boss with only one hit point missing, and you can usually grapple right back on the boss to retry the phase within a minute or two. Considering that health boxes are scattered everywhere, you have to actively try to get a game over. It is kind of funny that the final boss fight doesn’t even provide you with a health bar for a potential game over: it’s a mere formality at that point.
The weird thing is, despite how streamlined the boss fights are in Solar Ash, there’s a real lack of polish from strange jank and design decisions elsewhere. Rei’s standard attack combo string is three attacks at a time, but the game likes throwing enemy variations at you that require four hits at a time (either a pair of smaller foes that each take two hits, or a singular medium baddy that takes four hits). The result is that you have to actively linger in the same space to completely finish off most enemies, and combat then noticeably interferes with the general flow of movement. Regarding lack of fluidity, I also have to agree with nex3’s point that it’s surprisingly easy to lose momentum altogether from strange collisions from geometry. The strange momentum physics are reflected elsewhere too, such as when I noticed that jumping from the end of a rail resulted in significantly less momentum conserved than when Rei naturally slid off the rail instead. Finally, it’s kind of a shame that despite how much plasma is thrown at you and emphasized as the main collectible resource (to the point where one of the unlockable suits doubles your rate of plasma collection), there’s only one use for it: restoring a block of your health gauge’s max capacity after losing a cell every time you defeat a boss. In that sense, plasma feels rather superfluous, much like most of the game’s mechanics and features outside of its core traversal.
In spite of all this, I liked Solar Ash enough to complete a save file. I can’t help but feel bummed though, because I should have loved this. I had a good enough time just gliding about the surface of a post-apocalyptic wasteland and zooming about from rail to rail, but there’s so much stuff in-between that doesn’t seem to add anything pertinent to the base structure. I can’t see myself coming back to this for hardcore mode unfortunately, since it just seems like an artificially difficult no-hit playthrough with extra steps, though perhaps I’ll return someday to see if a speedrun challenge feels any better than a standard run. I find myself agreeing with quite a few others here: if practically everything minus the atmospheric visuals/soundtrack and core traversal mechanics were removed, you might actually have one of the most compact yet focused experiences of recent times. As it is now though? It’s just fine. It’ll always be I suppose.
why do i feel like all the bespoke queer games ive seen that came out in the last 10 years have been just so saccharine? this isn't really a knock against the game itself, and I don't really fault anyone who enjoys these types of games, its just I really want more games about being gay/trans that isnt just like "I'm a girl and I can kiss girls!!!!!!" I want a game thats bespokely queer, but through the lens of someone whos gotten past the initial euphoria of figuring out your queer identity, like a story thats about people's real world struggles and how they intertwine with their queerness to where its the focus? they speak from the abyss seems to fit that bill from what I've seen, maybe something like that? this is a genuine question btw. and hey maybe if this game eventually does become what im describing then i'll give it another go! i really just wasn't feelin it chief.
The art and setting are charming, but the gameplay never felt fully there. Too much emphasis on short range and demanding dodge rolls with little feedback to understand how you’re supposed to time everything. Health system feels a little too punishing and replaying sections from checkpoints never really feels rewarding.
Lunistice's core precision platforming instantly hooked me as soon as I picked up the controller. I see a lot of the comparisons to Sonic, and for the most part I agree; it's generally very tight jumping across small platforms with occasional rail riding sections with a few easily spotted shortcuts and side corridors that you can make your way to for a tougher challenge and extra collectibles to find out more about the main story. In this sense, the speed isn't always a given, since it takes dedication to master the demanding platforming despite the simple controls, but it is most definitely a reward flying through stages and scoring S ranks once you get into the swing of things. For the sake of description however, I actually think it might be more accurate to describe this as a 3D Freedom Planet (yes I know, that's Sonic inspired too); the main character, Hana, has a double jump and a full body tail swing attack that performs triple duty as a enemy clearer, a hurtbox extender to quickly snag nearby collectibles without wasting time turning around, and a "triple jump" to extend your aerial drift and gain a bit more height.
There really aren't many nitpicks here; the rhythm section does feel a bit out of place, but I'd assume that figuring out the cycles for speedrunning and understanding the tempo would make it feel much less frustrating, thus serving as an example of the game leaning even more heavily towards "easy to pick up, harder to master." I unfortunately do think that playing as Toree (one of the unlockable extra characters in the post-game) of Toree 3D fame isn't that satisfying, as the levels still have tons of enemies that you just have to outright avoid (since you can't attack) while often turning a ton to collect all the stars, and the consequence of dying in one hit from enemies means that despite Toree feeling like the fastest character, I still felt like I had to play much more cautiously to avoid a reset. The other unlockable character, Toukie, is a lot more interesting; in exchange for a slightly slower character, you get three jumps of slightly lower height instead, opening the door for more creative and different pathing than that of Hana's. Even though I don't think the extra content in the form of Toree playthroughs is that great, and the actual game can be "beat" in a couple of hours, the core gameplay as well as Toukie make the fairly low asking price of $4.99 absolutely worth it. Combined with nostalgic graphics of the PS1 era and some banging tunes, this is definitely a great hidden gem if you're into short and sweet 3D platforming with emphasis on quick bursts of challenging yet rewarding bursts of slick action.
I'm aware at this point that Stray has been dissected to hell and back, but I did want to get my thoughts out there in relation to a lot of the similar games that I've dubbed "Journey-likes" that I've also gone through somewhat recently. You know, those games where you travel from point A to B to C with tons of emphasis on atmospheric exploration and environmental storytelling with maybe some minor puzzles and other limited interactions involved. Keep in mind that this review may have minor spoilers in the form of me discussing gameplay and story design choices, but I'll try to make the discussion general enough as to not impact overall plot enjoyment.
While playing through the first hour and a half of Stray, I kept thinking back to this video by Matthewmatosis, where he argues that an over-reliance upon context sensitivity in modern games both limits player control ("press X to initiate cutscene of action for every case") and player agency (that is, just walking around in an environment until a context-sensitive prompt tells you that something can be interacted with) and thus results in less interesting experiences. Granted, I'd like to think that I'm acclimated to Journey-likes at this point, and so came in not expecting too much difficult or deep interaction, and yet I still think that Stray goes too damn far in abusing context sensitivity as to significantly reduce meaningful engagement or difficulty.
The main gameplay loop consists as follows; as a cat, you walk around various environments, and simply perform the correct context sensitive interaction when you approach the relevant objects/individuals. There are plenty of walls and rugs to scratch that are marked by a triangle button prompt, plenty of NPCs to talk to that are marked with a square button prompt, and plenty of objects and ledges to jump to that prompt you to press the X button every time. The latter is easily the most problematic case here, because this turns navigation into what is more or less a task of walking forward until the context sensitive prompt tells you to press X to jump forward. There isn't even a risk of falling off ledges or jumping into the abyss; just keep moving forward until the prompt tells you to jump to the next object. Again, I understand that Journey-likes are generally not difficult at all, but this design decision oversimplifies gameplay to a baffling extent beyond other Journey-likes, and it could have been easily fixed if the game was just a regular 3D platformer; I know I'm not the only one who's brought this up either.
If the strict gameplay loop for the entire game was just what I experienced in the first hour and a half, I would most likely be even more disappointed than I am now. Fortunately, Stray eventually opens up to a few "hub" areas in its runtime where you can meander about to find scattered secrets and memories as well as chat up NPCs. However, it's not quite entirely removed from the Journey-like formula, as there are two caveats. Firstly, these hub areas are still governed by the rule of context-sensitive jumps, so exploration can almost feel automatic at times just walking around and mashing X to see where the cat will jump next. Secondly, while there are sidequests and main-story quests of fetching key items, talking to important NPCs, and solving some fairly basic visual recognition puzzles, there's really only one "solution" for every problem, resulting in what is ultimately a pretty linear approach for finishing the side quests and following the main story fetch quests in these hub areas. I admit here that I'm nitpicking, as this is probably the least significant case of railroading in Stray, but I do lament that there was a great opportunity here for more player creativity and that ultimately, it's just a well disguised case of sending the player down the preconceived path that kills a lot of the joy of discovery for me.
Let's quickly go over a few of the other more gameplay-heavy segments inbetween these hubs too. After the first robot city hub, there's a "puzzle" section where you have to outmanuever and trap these goo monsters (called the Zurk) to safely progress; while this section is not particularly difficult either, it's at least engaging in that successfully luring and shutting traps on the Zurk brings some degree of satisfaction since you can actually die (albeit still fairly unlikely). There are also multiple straight corridors where you just have to outrun the Zurk; again, there's not much difficulty once you realize that strictly holding down R2 and tilting the analog stick forward will allow you to avoid most of the Zurk, but it at least provides a nice rush thanks to the hurried and tense accompanying tracks and the scourge of Zurk just descending upon you.
As a counterpart to these running sections, Stray also features a more horror-game inspired survival section filled with dimly lit tight corridors, alien red pulsating webs, and sloshing sewer water infested with Zork eggs. This is probably the most engaging section of the game, since you're provided with a zapper that can eliminate the Zork, and since it overheats quite easily, you often have to kite and funnel Zork to successfully dispatch them; it's a slight shame that you don't get to play with your toy for too long, but it most definitely does not outstay its welcome.
Near the end of the game are three forced stealth sections, one right after other. Nothing like a good ol fashioned "stay outside of the lit cone of sight" segment to slow the pace down a bit and get a bit more out of the price tag, right? Interestingly, most of the forced stealth is actually somewhat trivial, because there are really few lasting consequences to getting spotted by the drones. You can just run at max velocity through all of the stealth sections, dodging the bullets by maintaining your speed and rounding corners, and then just mash circle when you see the circle button prompt to dive into a cardboard box at the end of the segment and wait for the drones to deaggro and leave once they're gone. Which leaves me with this question: if it's this easy to cheese and disregard the forced stealth sections, then why were they implemented in the game in the first place?
I've mostly been lambasting the gameplay for the last few paragraphs, so I'll give the game props where it's due; I really do enjoy the ruined yet nostalgic backdrops of Stray. The ambient tunes that drop in and out as you explore the subterranean wastelands as well as the decaying posters and hastily scribbled graffiti on the concrete walls really help etch this feeling that while something great has definitely gone to pass, there still linger a few strays (no pun intended) that seek to find their own sources of hope in the sprawling underground. I do appreciate that the game really lets you take your time soaking in all the details here and there, with plenty of snug nooks where your cat can curl up while the camera slowly pans out to let you breathe in and forget about life for a while.
Ultimately, I find myself somewhat frustrated because as great of an idea as they have shown in the final product, I feel like they could have done so much more. I love the little moments like the cat walking on the keyboard to communicate with the AI or random jumbled notes being played as the cat walks across the piano keyboards, so why are these cute cat interactions with the environment so sparse? The interactions between your cat and your lil beep boop buddy are heartwarming and set up the mood perfectly, so why do the writers also insist on inserting so many side characters in an already short timespan that leave after an hour or so with not enough time to develop any strong lasting impressions? It's a ton of fun just mashing circle to hear meowing through the speaker while attracting Zurks, but why is that NPCs have no strong reactions to my cat's meow? There's a section near the end of the game where you have to communicate and cooperate with another big beep-boop without your robot buddy translating, and it's a fantastic subversion after getting used to just reading so many textboxes of translation from random NPCs, but this subversion is ultimately over within ten minutes or so, and I really feel like there was a fantastic squandered opportunity to force players to think outside of the box a bit more.
I won't dismiss the possibility that perhaps, I'm just a bit jaded after playing plenty of fairly structurally similar games over the last twelve months, with a few more potentially on the docket. That said, I can't help but lament that as fantastic as the concept is on paper, the way it plays out leaves a lot to be desired on my end. Even while considering the often hackneyed genre of Journey-likes, Stray feels too safe, too straightforward, and too scripted. As cute as it is jumping and scratching your way back to the surface, I feel like it could have been so much more compelling.
Mega Man X6
New candidate for the worst game I've ever played in my life, top five at the very least. This shit makes X5 look like X1.
Mega Man X6
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