Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “platformer”

Master Blaster Zero for Switch and 3DS

I’ve played most of the most famous NES classics, but Master Blaster passed me by. Master Blaster Zero is a heavily altered remake, but the core mechanics of the original are essentially the same. It’s an interesting cultural artefact to be sure, but I can’t claim to have fallen in love with it. I think Mario, Mega Man and Castlevania remain the kings of the NES platformer for me.

The plot for Master Blaster Zero is incomprehensible guff. I think it’s post-apocalyptic and about mutants and stuff, but who cares? The original NES game was about a boy whose pet frog jumps down a hole and he uses a tank to rescue him. A frog does still go missing at the beginning of Blaster Master Zero, but it’s only the catalyst for a larger story. I’d prefer it to remain entirely frog focused personally as I quite like the goofiness of the original premise. Final rating for the story of Master Blaster Zero: all frog scenes 10/10, all non-frog scenes 0/10.

Master Blaster Zero can be split into two clear parts. The stronger half is a fairly straightforward platformer, as you manoeuvre the tank Sophia III through a series of caverns. There’s a lot of jumping and shooting, as well as some light Metroidvania elements, although this never becomes particularly extensive. It feels good and controls nicely, with some nifty abilities like hovering and climbing the walls, but it ends up feeling a little bit half baked. You can also leave the tank, where you’re incredibly weak and tiny. There are some interesting ideas at play when you leave the tank, but again, it never quite goes as far as it needs to.

The other half of the game begins when you leave the tank and enter a cavern, where the camera shifts to a top down, almost Zelda-esque perspective. In these you move through short dungeons, shooting enemies. You have variety of weapon types, from a simple blaster to a fast wave shot that shoots through walls. Every time you are hit you are bumped down a tier in the weapons. When you have the wave shot a lot of the game becomes ridiculously easy, with bosses going down in seconds. This is probably a good thing though as these sections aren’t that much fun. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the idea, but the execution left a bit to be desired for me. There are some cool ideas and variety, like some stealth focused sections (which work better than you might expect) but overall I| got tired of the core gameplay loop after a couple of hours, which isn’t great as the game isn’t particularly long to begin with.

That said, it does look nice, with the NES aesthetic updated very well and some genuinely imposing boss creatures. There are some scenes which are impressively cinematic and the soundtrack is pretty good too. Purely visually, Master Blaster Zero is a good case study in how to bring an NES aesthetic into 2017 but with enough tweaks to make it still feel modern.

All said, I wasn’t too impressed by Master Blaster Zero. I get why it’s so respected as it does a lot of interesting things, but it’s not about to break into my favourite NES games any time soon.

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Yooka-Laylee for PS4, Xbox One, PC, Linux and OS X

I still remember the day I got my N64. My mum was pretty strict when it came to game consoles; she didn’t approve at all and was pretty keen to keep controllers out of my hands. My dad was a big softy though and we went to go pick it up from Toys-R-Us for Christmas. This was the UK in the 1990s and the PS1 was culturally dominant in a way I think lots of people have forgotten, but I had eyes only for the N64. My best friend had one and we’d spent countless hours playing together, but one game had caught my eye above all others. Not Super Mario 64, not Ocarina of Time; Banjo-Kazooie. I obsessed over this game, collecting every Jiggy, every Note, every Jinjo. I’ll never forget the day Nintendo Official Magazine published the secret codes to unlock the enigmatic, but ultimately pointless, Ice Key and Special Eggs, ringing my best friend to share my discovery. I awaited Banjo-Tooie with a fervour, and even though with hindsight I can see that it’s a less tight and strong experience overall than the original, I still loved it to bits at the time. The point is, cut me and I bleed Banjo.

It’s 2017 now, and I’m not far from 20 years older than I was when I first played. Some things haven’t changed; I still have Grant Kirkhope’s Spiral Mountain theme etched into my skull and the childhood best friend was my best man, but one area that has changed is gaming. It’s not 1998 anymore. Yooka-Laylee’s reception was likely disappointing to Playtonic, formed largely by people who left Rare after not being able to handle anymore of Microsoft’s bullshit, who demonstrate clear passion for the collect-a-thon genre and a style of game that no longer exists. Yooka-Laylee is quite clearly a labour of love, which makes it all the sadder that it ultimately fails. Some have snapped back at the criticism of Yooka-Laylee by saying that it simply does what was promised, to recreate the gameplay, style and aesthetic of Banjo-Kazooie into 2017. Those criticising it are simply not the target audience.

Unfortunately, I think the issues with Yooka-Laylee run deeper than simply being a matter of personal taste and nostalgia. Banjo-Kazooie was a big, epic game, but it was very tightly designed. In terms of pure square footage, the levels really weren’t that big, but were packed to the rafters with stuff. There was a sense of wonder, as each world felt radically different to the others, offering unique style, gameplay and sweet, sweet Kirkhope music. Yooka-Laylee has fewer worlds than Banjo-Kazooie, only five overall, plus the hub world. This wouldn’t be a problem in of itself, but they’re also much bigger and, overall, have far less personality. There is probably more content in each world than in Banjo-Kazooie, each of which can be expanded, but it’s far less interesting to gather. Yooka-Laylee aims for Banjo-Kazooie, but it lands on Donkey Kong 64.

The Banjo games were never known for complex plots, but you still had a clear motivation. Banjo’s sister has been kidnapped by an evil witch who wants to make herself young again. In Yooka-Laylee the villain is Capital B, an evil businessman who creates a machine to absorb all the books in the world, to horde knowledge to then sell back. He steals the pages from a magical book in the possession of chameleon Yooka and bat Laylee, so the two set forth into his lair to get the pages back. The writing is still good, funny and silly and irreverent and oh-so-very British, as it was in Banjo. An element I really liked is that the whole game can be interpreted as a dig at Microsoft, with constant jokes at the expense of corporations and capitalism. A boss clearly modelled on Microsoft’s Kinect was particularly genius, as perhaps nothing symbolises how far Rare has fallen, or was dragged, than that useless bit of nonsense. Whilst I like the idea of Capital B, he ultimately feels like less of an engaging presence than Gruntilda, whose constant taunting and rhymes during the original game is pretty much iconic.

Although the level design is lacking, most of the core mechanics themselves are really solid. Yooka simply feels fun to control, running at a good speed and with tight platforming. Similarly to the talon trot of the Banjo games, Yooka can roll up into a ball and be ridden by Laylee for extra speed and to climb slopes, with controls that feel tight and responsive. Many people have knocked the camera, but I can’t say I ever had any major issues with it. The sheer joy of movement that 3D platformers really need is present here, even if what is layered on top of these mechanics feels lacklustre.

Yooka-Laylee has moments of greatness and charm but it is lacking something. The writing, music and strong core mechanics of Banjo are there, but the level design, variety and, ultimately, heart are not. This is clearly a labour of love and I’d like to see Playtonic have another shot; I think there’s a solid foundation here to build upon, but I’m as diehard a Banjo-Kazooie fan as you could imagine and Yooka-Laylee fell flat for me.

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Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment DLC for Switch, Wii U, 3DS, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

The third Shovel Knight campaign was the second game I ducked into on the Switch after Breath of the Wild. It was a good choice; after the sprawling grandeur of Zelda, a nice, tight platforming campaign was exactly what I needed and jumping back into the world of Shovel Knight seemed the best way to do so.

Specter of Torment tells the story of how Specter Knight came to be the ghostly presence we see in the main campaign, as well as how he first recruited the Order of No-Quarter for the Enchantress. Yet again, Yacht Club provide a masterclass in how to include story in this kind of games. It’s light, it never gets in the way, but there’s enough to add an extras layer of engagement to the rock solid platforming gameplay.

Ah yes, and speaking of the gameplay, Specter Knight is just as fun to control as Shovel and Plague Knights before him. Just as with Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment reuses the same locations and boss fights from the base game. Although I certainly hope we get some truly new levels down the line, the subtle alterations that are made to each level make them feel distinct. Alongside Shovel Knight’s bouncing shovel and Plague Knights bombs, Specter Knight has some interesting, fun traversal mechanics. One is the ability to slash towards enemies and certain objects, launching you across the screen. This can be combed to cover large gaps, with close timing being frequently required. Less commonly, you can also grind on your scythe along rails, which is fun but perhaps a little underused.

There’s a lot of joy in catapulting yourself around the areas and the boss fights are as fun as ever, even if Specter Knight’s abilities make them a little too easy. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of an overworld this time around, with Specter of Torment instead simply containing a level select screen inside a small version of the Enchantress’ castle. It doesn’t quite feel as fully formed as Plague of Shadows, but it’s still a really fun, challenging experience.

By this point, the base game for Shovel Knight is bloody good value, with three excellent campaigns. Specter Knight is distinct and fun to play as, although I do hope that Yacht Club begin to move beyond the original campaign as their basis.

 

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Lego Dimensions: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Story Pack for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

This is the second of the more extensive ‘Story Packs’ for Lego Dimensions, after 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. My feelings towards Fantastic Beasts as a movie is very similar to my feelings towards Ghostbusters; somewhere between lukewarm and positive. I’m a big Harry Potter fan but Fantastic Beasts as a movie just didn’t quite land for me; nonetheless, I liked it enough that I was happy to receive this pack as a Christmas present.

Just as with the Ghostbusters pack, this is essentially a straightforward retelling of the story of the movie. There are some funny asides and visual gags from other franchises, but nothing side-splittingly hilarious. The presentation is held back by the use of a lot of archive sound from the movie, with more subdued delivery which made sense in the movie just coming off as weird here. The newer voice acting from some of the cast is much better.

As ever, the Fantastic Beasts story pack doesn’t do anything new in terms of gameplay. The pack gives you Newt Scamander and the Niffler. Newt doesn’t offer anything unique; in fact, he has essentially the same move set as Gandalf from the starter pack and the Niffler simply allows you to use dig spots. Playing through the six story missions will take you a couple of enjoyable hours. The same enjoyably structured if entirely uncreative general unfolding of the environments which makes these games so mindlessly satisfying is in full force here and it is lacking the over-abundance of irritating boss fights which can slightly hamstring these games.

The Adventure World is fine and has some nice missions, but I must say that I’m a bit over New York as an Adventure World setting. It’s definitely more exciting than the Ghostbusters one, but compared to the beauty of the Adventure Time world or the labyrinthine complexity of the Portal 2 world, it ends up coming off a bit bland. I think these worlds are better when they move away from cities; it forces the developers to be a bit more creative. The general look is great and the voice acting solid, with the excellent soundtrack from the movie helping to elevate the experience.

These packs are getting harder and harder review because generally I feel the same about all of them. There are some I’m more enthusiastic about (Adventure Time) and some I’m less (Sonic the Hedgehog), but in general they all operate at the level of decent. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is another decent Lego Dimensions entry and I think that’s all I’m really asking for.

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Lego Dimensions: Sonic the Hedgehog Level Pack for PS4, Ps3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

There aren’t many Lego games that you’d be able to call genuinely brilliant, but most operate comfortably at least around ‘good.’ Lego Dimensions has held on to that, with the entire experience operating at the boundary between good and great, which is fine, that’s where the series belongs. There hasn’t been much that I’ve actively disliked, until the Sonic the Hedgehog Level Pack for Lego Dimensions which is a rather miserable experience.

There isn’t much story apart from Sonic and pals fight to take down Eggman who has nefarious plans. That’s ok though and the writing is decent in that snarky self-aware way that recent Sonic games have fallen into. I’d always choose genuinely good writing, but Sonic is such a poisoned brand at this point that self-mockery does feel like the only real option left. Inside the pack you get Sonic himself, a pointless Sonic car and Tails’ plane.

The core story Level is a decent length and takes in a series of classic Sonic locations from a range of games, from Green Hill Zone through to the first level of Sonic Adventure with the whale. I’m no massive Sonic fan; in fact, I picked this up to play with a Sonic obsessed friend of mine (poor bastard) through the local co-op. I’ve played the first one and dabbled with some of the 3D ones from the early 2000s like Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes, then more recently Sonic Generations, but it’s not a series I consider to be a real classic. A lot of the locations went over my head, but my depraved Sonic chum seemed to enjoy visiting a bunch of classic locations, so good for him I guess.

Somewhat appropriately, the Sonic Lego pack holds essentially the exact same issues as the main series; controlling a character like Sonic at high speed through a 3D environment in unbearable. Mario transitioned to 3D perfectly because it was a game about precision and tight control, but Sonic’s speed just doesn’t translate. This level pack has the same problem, with some fun moments of speed (never as fun as a proper Sonic game mind) hampered by the simple ‘puzzle solving’ that you have in the Lego games. I find these incredibly simple puzzles oddly satisfying normally, but they are an infuriating break of gameplay flow here. I was shocked by how well they were able to transfer over Portal to the Lego format, but they really didn’t manage to pull of Sonic the Hedgehog quite so well.

The Adventure World looks pretty nice but made me feel physically sick. Like, actual motion sick. Now, this was admittedly because of the frame rate drop accompanying co-op play combined with the high speed and open world design but when I returned to the open world in solo play I didn’t like it that much either. The same issues that has always plagued Sonic open worlds are still present here; it’s just not fun or exciting to explore. These Adventure Worlds are rarely great, excepting the Adventure Time one, but this is easily my least favourite so far.

The overall look is good, with the Sonic characters translating over to the Lego form surprisingly well. The music not so much, with Sonic falling into the same problem of The Simpsons when it came to licencing music. You don’t get Green Hill Zone, you get something which sort of sounds like it but isn’t as good. This may sound like a minor thing, but when you’re releasing a product which is, let’s face it, primarily trying to capitalise nostalgia, these details matter.
I’m afraid that Sonic the Hedgehog is easily my least favourite of these so far. They made a good stab at converting Sonic into the Lego formula, but it’s hard to claim that they pulled it off. This one is only for the die-hard Sonic fans, although to be fair my die-hard Sonic fan mate thought even less of it than me, so make of that what you will.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I was quite excited to finally get my hands on this game after a year of Xbox One exclusivity; I really liked the last Tomb Raider game and it got good reviews at the time. Oddly enough, the year delay in release may very well have affected my enjoyment of this game for one simple reason; Uncharted 4 came out since the Xbox One release and outdoes this very similar game in pretty much every way.

Rise of the Tomb Raider sees Lara Croft trekking into the mountains of Siberia is search of the Divine Source, a fountain of youth of sorts which provides everlasting life. Lara’s father Thomas had been obsessed with it before his death, which had seen him ridiculed in the press. Lara’s experience on the island back in the last game has opened her mind to the possibility that her father was right and so she sets out to salvage his legacy. She is opposed by the sinister Trinity, an ancient group who seek the Divine Source for their own nefarious ends.

Put simply, the story in Rise of the Tomb Raider is unbelievably boring. The narrative of the first game worked because it was fundamentally a survival story about someone learning to harden themselves to the horrors around them. This element is naturally missing in the sequel and all the Divine Source nonsense had my eyes glazing over. The biggest feeling was that I’d seen all of this before; the villain Konstantin is so stunningly generic that it’s a wonder the writers felt comfortable to use him and Trinity are like any other evil organisation we’ve seen in any number of games. None of the characters, perhaps excepted by Lara’s friend Jonah, are particularly likeable, communicating almost entirely in portentous and dramatic dialogue. There’s none of the lightness or humour or charm of the Uncharted games in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Lara needs to be quipping every 10 seconds like Nathan Drake, but everything is so po-faced and serious and lacks a sense of fun. Exciting treasure hunting stories can’t really get away without a sense of fun. I had close to no investment in what was going on.

Thankfully, the core mechanics are strong enough to mostly make up for it. The term ‘game feel’ has come under some ridicule lately, but I don’t know a better way to describe the ineffable feeling of something just feeling good to play. Perhaps it’s the frame rate, perhaps it’s controller sensitivity, perhaps it’s the animations, or maybe all three and more, but this game just feels good to play. Leaping around the Siberian wilderness as Lara never really got old, with good core platform mechanics. Much weaker is the combat; I don’t know if it’s gotten worse since the last game or if my standards have simply got higher, but the shooting in this game simply isn’t good. Stealth fares much better, but it is not uncommon for the game to deny this as an option and to throw you into a shooting gallery. Dodgy shooting mechanics in stealth games is fine as they are meant to incentivise stealth, but by so regularly denying you even the chance to use stealth you’re left with them just being bad because…well, they’re just bad.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is just as guilty of all the open world tomfoolery you get in everything these days; namely an infuriating map filled with collectible knick-knacks with no discernible purpose. The most interesting parts would be the audio logs which fill in the back story if…y’know, the story wasn’t crap. The main story stuff is actually really fun and I’d recommend just focusing on that, with one notable exception; the Challenge Tombs. These are the best part of the game and left optional, which is interesting. I wonder if they expected audiences raised on the simple gleeful joy and scripted platforming found in the Uncharted games to resent puzzling and exploration based interludes. Either way, there are 9 in total and they’re undoubtedly worth seeking out and doing. The puzzles are never particularly difficult or anything, but they’re neat and satisfying and actually make Lara feel like a proper tomb raiding archaeologist than just another marauding adventurer.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is helped immeasurably by just how bloody lovely it looks. The icy setting works very well and offers a nice change from the lush jungle of the last game. In the incredibly dull PS4 Pro announcement, this game was shown prominently as one which shall be boosted by the extra power of the console. Well, Rise of the Tomb Raider has had the opposite effect on me because I realised that I don’t need games to look better than this. I’m sure there are people who will notice little drops in frame rate and visual niggles, but for me who’s not observant about that stuff, Rise of the Tomb Raider already looks close enough to perfect. I very much appreciate the team behind this game resolving my decision on the PS4 Pro, although I doubt Sony would see it that way. The environments are gorgeous, the weather effects hugely atmospheric and the character models expressive. This is s sumptuous and gorgeous game. The music is entirely forgettable and the voice acting bland, although that could be the writing, but those visuals were honestly enough for me to keep coming back.

I really expected to like this game more than I did. It is good but I couldn’t shake the niggling wish I was playing Uncharted 4 again instead. When the sequel hits (and this game makes abundantly clear there will be one), I hope that a lot of the niggles are fixed, although I doubt they will be. Excellent general ‘game feel’ and stunning visuals only get you so far when core mechanics like combat are so poor and the game seems so willing to waste your time with pointless collectibles and a bland story. Unfortunately, Rise of the Tomb Raider never lives up to its potential.
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Lego Dimensions: Ghostbusters 2016 Story Pack for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

Due to me being a SJW libtard feminazi cuck, I actually quite liked the new Ghostbusters movie. It’s no masterpiece, but it had plenty of laughs and I liked that it wasn’t a straight remake of the original, with new characters who didn’t simply feel like analogues for the original cast. In Lego Dimensions, Ghostbusters 2016 as I shall henceforth call it is the first ‘story pack’, a more substantial offering than the level packs, containing six levels along with a new buildable frame for the game portal.

This pack follows the story of the movie pretty closely, but doesn’t really work as a Lego-ified story. Part of the charm of the Lego games is seeing franchises which aren’t comedies, like Star Wars or DC, made silly and goofy when put through the Lego lens. Ghostbusters 2016 is a comedy, it already is silly and goofy, so this story pack ends up mostly feeling like a heavily abridged version of the actual movie, without the unique Lego spin which is so great elsewhere. Still, I liked that the core four Ghostbusters returned to record new dialogue; as with the movie, Kate McKinnon is the highlight. The best moments are where elements from other franchises bleed into the Ghostbusters world, with one particular scene involving giant balloons that I won’t spoil.
The six levels are strong so far as these Lego games go. Since there’s no real challenge in these games, a lot of the charm is following the clear instructions and seeing how everything comes together. It’s an oddly passive and relaxing game experience. People may knock it, but in the moment I can’t deny that I find it very satisfying. In the pack you get Abby from the movie, who predictably has a proton pack useful for busting ghosts as well as the new Ghostbusters van, which functions much like every other car in the game; badly.

The most disappointing element is the adventure world, which is bland, flat and dull. Coming off the awesome Ooo in the Adventure Time pack, the New York of Ghostbusters feels cramped and repetitive. This is the downside of adapting such a recent release, locations such as ‘the university that Kirsten Wiig is fired from’ and ‘that Chinese restaurant they use as a base for a bit’ don’t exactly feel iconic enough to be particularly exciting. The love that was pouring out of the Adventure Time world simply isn’t present here.

The first story pack for Lego Dimensions is certainly decent, with some very strong levels, but doesn’t quite justify its existence. All three story packs are tie in to new films, which makes me a bit nervous as I feel like that is what held back the Ghostbusters pack. Still, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours than busting your way through this pack.

 

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Lego Dimensions: Adventure Time Level Pack for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

Year Two of Lego Dimensions is here and kicking off with one of my favourite franchises, Adventure Time. Adventure Time is a perfect fit for Lego and produces what is, of the three I’ve played (the other two being Doctor Who and Portal), my favourite level pack so far.

As with all of the other level packs, the Adventure Time pack gives you Lego figures of a character and two vehicles. In this case your character is Finn and your vehicles are Jake transformed into a car and the Psychic Tandem War Elephant. The latter is one of the coolest Lego figures I’ve built for this game yet. On the digital side of things you get one linear story level and then access to the open Adventure World. The level is a fairly straightforward retelling of the Enchiridion/Lich arc from the show and is pretty much exactly what you would expect. It’s a level in a Lego game, you know what’s going to be there. As always with this game the charm comes from seeing your favourite franchise transferred into Lego form and I was left wanting a full-fledged Lego Adventure Time.

The highlight for me was, surprisingly, the Adventure World. The open worlds in Lego Dimensions have never been my favourite part; I’ve found them generally janky and annoying but the Adventure Time one is wonderful. To be honest, it’s still pretty janky, but the attention to detail makes up for it. Lots of locations from the show are here, from the Candy Kingdom to the Badlands to the Ice Kingdom to Castle Lemongrab and they’re all represented beautifully. Alongside the usual fetch/escort quests available here, there are some lovely parts which directly reference the show, such as the crying mountain who will only be calmed down if everyone in the village below him stops fighting. A highlight for me was travelling through a recreation of the digital computer world from the episode ‘Guardians of Sunshine.’ Since I have the Doctor and the TARDIS, I was also able to travel back in time to the post-apocalyptic Earth that makes up Ooo’s pre-history and do a quest for a pre-insanity Simon Petrikov/Ice King. Sure, the actual gameplay is no better than ever, but these games don’t really need to be anything more than functional, with the mechanics essentially being a delivery method for humour and charm,

The presentation in the Adventure Time pack is wonderful, with the art style transferred pretty much flawlessly. This is possibly the prettiest level I’ve played so far. The music is wonderful too, particularly in the Adventure World which loops between versions of classic Adventure Time songs like Bacon Pancakes and Finn’s buff baby song. The voice actors all seem to be in place for the major characters and I was particularly happy to hear the dulcet tones of my absolute favourite character, Lemongrab. The attention to detail here really is what sets this game apart and makes the rather steep price tag feel justifiable. As a downside I experienced several very irritating glitches of the hard crash to dashboard variety. Traveller’s Tales need to get a patch out for this sharpish.

If you own Lego Dimensions and like Adventure Time this one is a no-brainer. I didn’t spend long with it, but the time I did spend was really really fun. Sure, I was being fan serviced, but who cares if I’m enjoying it?

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Inside for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I never really liked Limbo as much as a lot of other people. It was quite atmospheric, but I found the core mechanics irritating and the overall sense of place a bit repetitive. Playdead’s follow-up, Inside, is visibly a successor to Limbo; this is evident within seconds, but it follows through on the promise of their earlier game and delivers a much better experience which stands as one of the most unsettling and thought provoking games I’ve played in a while.

As with Limbo, Inside begins with a young boy running to the right through a forest, evading capture but unknown pursuers. I’m not going to say a single word more as this is a story you want to go into as unspoiled as possible. I will say that there is a story which is much clearer than Limbo; by the end I think I’d worked out what had actually happened, but I was left trying to work out what it all meant. I preferred the slightly heavier story approach in Inside, although it is naturally all told with no dialogue and entirely through the environments. With a very limited tool set, Playdead have created a fascinating setting and a truly haunting narrative.

Inside has similar core mechanics to Limbo, but everything is a fair bit smoother. There’s a far greater variety in gameplay mechanics, with some clever little puzzles. None of them are particularly hard, but they’re well designed enough to be quite satisfying and I rarely felt frustrated. Inside shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours, but the interesting ideas present in those hours are numerous. I found Limbo’s gameplay irritating and repetitive by the end, but Inside never lets you get to that point; just when one idea seems to have run its course something else comes in. Again, I would normally talk some specifics here, but the sense of mystery about what’s going to come next is such a big part of Inside’s appeal.

Inside definitely has a moody aesthetic, but it is more varied and interesting than the monochrome Limbo. Inside dwells much more in greys and muted blues and the world is much more detailed; I actually found the detail creepier than the more minimalist style of Limbo. There is a huge amount of attention to detail in the presentation; the ways some figures in the game move is so unsettling I just can’t quite get it out of my head. The sound design is just as excellent as the visuals. Inside is a short experience, but a meticulous one, where it is clear that every second has been given rigorous attention to make sure that the experience is as effective as possible.

Just when I thought I was done with the moody indie platformer along comes possibly the best one ever made. Inside is an effecting, melancholy and unsettling experience and I highly recommend you go forth and play it immediately.

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Ratchet & Clank for PS4

I didn’t have a PS2 growing up so my nostalgia is placed firmly in the Gamecube (my all time favourite console) era. I never played Ratchet & Clank, although the whole aesthetic appeals to me. I have a soft spot for mascot platformers; Banjo-Kazooie is one of my favourite games of all time. I’m even a bit fond of some of the bad ones, like Croc: Legend of the Gobbos. The Ratchet & Clank reboot was therefore pretty appealing to me. Although it feels in some ways like a blast from the past, Ratchet & Clank has enough concessions to modernity to make it feel exciting and fun even to a newcomer devoid of nostalgia.

Ratchet is a young mechanic with dreams of greatness; he seeks to join the Galactic Rangers, a squadron of elite space cadets led by the beloved, but in actually arrogant and incompetent, Captain Quark. Meanwhile, the Blarg under Chairman Drek have teamed with the sinister Doctor Neferious to create an army of war robots. One robot is defective and is produced as smaller but more intelligent and with a conscience. This robot, Clank, escapes the factory after escaping destruction and crash lands right in front of Ratchet. The two team up to fight the Blargian threat.

There have been some rather hyperbolic comparisons between this reboot and a Pixar film, but that is overstating it quite a lot. There are some fun characters and moments, particularly involving the Zapp Brannigan-esque Quark, but overall the story is incoherent and difficult to follow. It’s not that the story is complicated, it’s just that everything moves so fast and the storytelling moments so sparse it’s difficult to feel like I should care. The cutscenes that are here are pretty great and it seems odd to want more, but there it is. I wanted to love the story of Ratchet & Clank, but to be honest I finished it yesterday and I’m already fuzzy on the details.

Ratchet & Clank is a hybrid platformer and third person shooter and manages to balance these two mechanics rather well. It’s probably more of the latter than the former and it’s fun to play something so utterly detached from the tropes of the present day. Since Gears of War, third person shooters have invariably been tied into cover mechanics. I love Gears of War, but it’s difficult to deny that this can create stale and boring shooting experiences. Ratchet & Clank is nothing like this, with constant movement being the requirement to survive. There are loads of weapons and I found myself genuinely using almost all of them throughout. The hectic combat was a lot of fun and I never tired of blasting my way through the various stages. To break things up there are some simple, but fun, sections about grinding on rails and hoverboard races, as well as a couple of ship battles. These are well paced to break up the shooting and give you other things to do.

This isn’t a huge game, which is reasonable considering the lower launch price. There is an ostensibly open structure, but mostly the game is linear. There are lots of gadgets to gather, such as a jetpack which can be used in some levels, and this gives the game a slight Metroidvania element when previous planets can be returned to so you can gather collectibles. There are upgrade paths for every weapon and on my one playthrough I was only able to get them all to under 50% completion. I imagine upgrading them fully would take at least one other playthrough on the New Game+ challenge mode. The unlocks for the collectible golden screws are great and bequest all sorts of fun little additions. There are side missions, although not many and most are quite brief. I would probably have rather paid a bit more and got a bit more content, but on the value for money scale Ratchet and Clank is fine.

Ratchet & Clank looks gorgeous, with a clean and bright colour palate and a lovely world. It’s not quite Pixar; maybe more late 2000s Dreamworks, but it still looks bloody good. It’s a shame that this kind of vibrant cartoony game has been in short supply this console generation as Ratchet & Clank shows how good they can look with the boost in power. The voice acting is nice and cheesy, as well it should be for this sort of game. For something which essentially exists to promote a movie, Ratchet & Clank is a very handsomely presented package.

This isn’t the kind of game which is going to particularly linger in my memory, but as a fun and light diversion I really cannot fault it. Although I have no Ratchet & Clank nostalgia it did make me nostalgic for a simpler time. When Yooka-Laylee comes out, which is essentially going to be Banjo-Threeie, I’ll be a quivering wreck.

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