It’s time for our weekly roundup of what is trending in our own personal zeitgeist as the 25YL gaming team discusses what we’ve been playing lately. It’s what we call We’re Just Playing…
Hello again, everyone. Hope you’re hanging in there and taking care of yourselves.
Anyways, this week I’ve been playing a few shorter games between bouts of Persona 5 which, yes, I have managed to get further in, although not as much as I would like (I’m clocked at right around 7 hours right now). It continues to enthrall me, and made up for the slow opening with a great story set up. I’ve since gained the ability to fuse Personas, and am currently on my first unguided run through the first Palace. It really does a good job of balancing the visual-novel-style high school sim sections with the classic Shin Megami Tensei gameplay.
With all this talk of Mario going on, I was in the mood for a classic platformer starring the mustached hero. I didn’t want something I’d played before, so I downloaded the whole Super Mario Land series on my 3DS (I will not give up on that wonderful handheld, no sir). As I write this, I beat the original just about ten minutes ago, and I have to say that Nintendo did a very good job an translating the classic Mario gameplay to a handheld for the first time ever. He controls just as you remember him on the console, although weirdly enough, if you walk off a ledge without jumping, you fall almost three times the normal speed, which can be jarring. Rather than taking place in the Mushroom Kingdom, the game takes place in Sarasaland, which is a good excuse to make the enemies environments familiar but separate from the main series. Piranha plants are now slightly longer, Koopas explode upon defeat, and Goombas are relatively scarce. For some unknown reason, there are some auto-scrolling shooting stages where Mario pilots an airplane, and believe it or not, they don’t suck! There are only two, but they break up the pace nicely between the more traditional and action-packed platforming levels, which definitely got trickier as the game went on. It’s a very rudimentary, but very enjoyable, entry into the franchise…while it lasts. It’s admittedly very short, with only 12 levels, and it took me about 40 minutes altogether to complete. Still, I enjoyed it for what it was, and I’d say it’s more than worth a look for Mario or platforming fans, especially since it’s just 4 bucks on the 3DS eShop.
Another relatively short game I played is Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. CoJ is a series I’ve always meant to get into—as I really love a good Western—but never did. Upon completing Gunslinger, the most recent entry (which originally released in the early 2010s), I think I’m a bona fide fan of the series. You play as Silas Greaves, an old man narrating his life story to some folks in a bar. It’s unclear how much of what he says is true and how much is BS, which is where a lot of the narrative fun comes in. Along the journey, you run into hugely famous outlaws like Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and more.
The story isn’t mind blowing, but the unique take on an unreliable narrator is a wonderful twist and provides a frame work to hang the fun gunplay on. There are around ten levels, and each one is packed to the brim with classic Western action, with a generous arsenal to choose from and a whole bunch of skills to gain using the experience earned from gameplay. It’s not the biggest, or best, FPS I’ve played, but I got it for 10 bucks on Switch, and for that price it provided me with a whole lot of entertainment during its run time, which is around 6-8 hours, give or take. It serves as a reminder for what pure creativity can do when making a game with a relatively limited budget, which is absolutely something I’d like to write about in the future. Anyways, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is worth a look if you’re an FPS or Western fan and are on a budget, or you’re looking for something with a unique narrative spin.
Lastly, I’ve played some small horror games. For starters, I’ve played more World of Horror for the purposes of my 25 Days Later review (keep an eye open for my further thoughts). I downloaded a horror game bundle a while ago on the indie gaming site Itch.io, which is absolutely lousy with weird, offbeat titles. Two such titles that came in the bundle were Power Drill Massacre and Babysitter Bloodbath, both developed by Puppet Combo. Just looking at the titles, I’m sure you can guess they’re essentially the gaming equivalent of a cheap slasher movie, and you’d be right in guessing that. Using lofi graphics, each game replicates the cheap, dirty feeling of old ’80s slasher movies, and somehow, the bad graphics actually add to the sleaziness.
Power Drill Massacre is really short, with my first play taking about 15 minutes, and sees you playing as a hapless car crash survivor attempting to find help in an abandoned factory that’s haunted by a tall man in a mask with a power drill. Mechanically, the killer can show up at any time, which can be frustrating, but the short length offsets that, and the atmosphere really is top notch. It just feels gross.
Same goes for Babysitter Bloodbath, which sees you playing as Sara, a teen watching over a child while his parents are out to dinner. Sure enough, there’s an escaped maniac on the loose who soon comes knocking. It’s very clearly Halloween in game form, but again, the crappy graphics somehow make it feel dirtier and scarier than if it had been an amazing looking game.
Puppet Combo, it turns out, is quite prolific, having churned out a whole bunch of short but effective horror titles in this vein in just the past two or three years. And like the best lofi horror titles, each one really gets under your skin in a way that higher quality graphics wouldn’t be able to. Definitely check them out if you’re a fan of small scale, lofi horror games. And explore Itch.io, which houses some real hidden gems on it, like the pixel-horror Faith series. Short horror games like these remind me of campfire stories, or exploring the internet late at night reading user-created short tales, and these kinds of games always stick with me for that very reason.
I’ve only recently gotten into the short-length horror game genre and have found it to be a place I could easily get willfully lost in. I’ve already fallen down a rabbit hole concerning the Bad Dream horror series and it’s mythology. Horror is very subjective, and the pixelated graphics of those games you mentioned is not unlike the jarring camera work, or subpar acting performances, of an old grindhouse horror movie. Sometimes the crudity of the production makes everything just a little bit creepier.
I would have more to say, but I’ve been playing Resident Evil 3, Super Mario Maker 2, and Super Mario 3D Land, and I’ve already written about them (and in RE3R‘s case, I’ll be writing even more). Sooo…Sean?
This week, I’ve been continuing to roll-jump my way through Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. I’m still really enjoying it, but still feeling like it comes up a little short of the Donkey Kong Country trilogy it apes. In a time where we also have two fantastic evolutions of the series in Returns and Tropical Freeze, Playtonic’s platformer was always going to face tough comparisons. That being said, it does manage to punch above its weight in many ways.
The game looks great with bright and colourful visuals. Each stage is charming, packed with visual details and depth, and the buddy duo and their enemies are well animated. The game is certainly pleasing on the eye. I do wish there was a bit more variety though. The Donkey Kong Country series featured so many striking environments. Crystal ice caverns, industrial factories, gigantic sticky honeycombs, a network of twisted brambles in the sky—the creativity seemed endless. So far, the stages in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair have felt a little bland in that regard.
The level design is mostly excellent with lots of buzz-saws to leap over, fireballs to dodge and long gaps to roll-jump across. It all feels tight, well thought out and provides just the right level of challenge. Hidden in each stage are 5 coins to collect. Finding these can be a lot of fun but also an absolute pain in the arse for a compulsive collector like myself. I usually end up having to replay each level at least once before I find them all—even while taking my time and searching every nook and cranny.
The game is surprisingly large too; I’m 8 hours in and not even close to 50% completion yet. Between the interactive hub world and lengthy stages (of which there’s two versions of each), there’s certainly no shortage of content. The relatively long stages are thankfully broken up by a checkpoint system which helps to minimise frustration in some of the more challenging sections. A complete absence of ‘lives’ and ‘continues’ is certainly welcome for the same reason.
Where the game shines brightest for me is in its soundtrack. With four composers at the helm you could expect it to sound haphazard, but I honestly had a hard time figuring out who’d written what. Rare veterans Grant Kirkhope and David Wise accompany Playtonic’s in-house talent in Dan Murdoch and Matt Griffin, and the end result is a seamless collaboration. Each have standout tracks to their name with Matt Griffin in particular, nailing Wise’s signature DKC sound. I can see myself listening to tracks like Underwater Saunter and Conveyor Chaos long after I’ve finished the game—and finish it I will.
Also this week, I played Armello for the first time. The game is a digital board-game by Australian indie developer: League of Geeks. Board-games are a regular feature in my social life and it’s something that I’ve been missing while in lockdown. I suggested to a friend that we should look for a board-game that we could play online together and Armello seemed like a good pick. Unfortunately, the game crashed for both of us at the same point in the tutorial—not a great sign—and continued to crash with each reattempt—definitely not a good sign. Eventually, I found a workaround online and a tweet from the developer stating that they were working on a more permanent fix. My friend wasn’t impressed at having forked out for a broken game though and hasn’t felt like revisiting it. That’s left me to play the single player mode against the AI and, whilst it’s not what I signed up for, I have been enjoying it.
Set in fantasy world of anthropomorphic animals the player must try to jostle for position to replace the dying king. The game has several win conditions allowing for a variety of playstyles as well as having distinct playable characters who each excel in different strategies. The mechanics of the game revolve around item, magic, and treachery cards, as well as dice rolling, and resource collecting. It’s all good stuff and seems like a good mix of skill and luck. Perhaps I’ll talk about it more if I can convince my friend to give it another chance.