Welcome to yet another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly, Topless Robot’s peek into the current happenings of the video game world! And while we have a new crop of reviews and trailers for you, the big news (as evidenced by the above header) is that RGM is celebrating its first anniversary! [Editor’s note: I’d have gotten him a cake, but to be truly thematic it would have had to be a lie anyway – LYT]
Yes, from the simple beginnings of a quick column designed for video game coverage, we’ve actually survived various issues, format changes, little controversies, and my own problems with procrastination to actually last a whole year! But can we also survive a comment system that now guarantees even less feedback and discussions than before? Let’s find out as we do something special and devour some cake in the process!!
So to repeat: Yes, its Robotic Gaming Monthly’s first birthday! Which we will celebrate here because A. It’s a special occasion, and B. Because with E3 coming in two weeks, there’s also a decent chance that anything we rant about will either be remedied or made obsolete by then. Besides, there wasn’t much to work with this month…well, except for one thing. Remember two months ago when I closed my discussion on Nintendo’s Amiibo issues by saying this?
So I urge you, Nintendo, for the benefit of yourself, the gaming community, and gaming as a whole, either fix your amiibo distribution or just stop it with them already, because at rate they’re going, amiibos may be soon destined for the graveyard of former collecting fads. And please at least do so before Black Friday, because having to read the headline “Crazed Mother Stabs Man Over Tingle Figure” might be one of the saddest things I could ever possibly see.
…As it turns out, I didn’t need to wait until Black Friday to sadly see a headline about Amiibo-related crimes. “Lorry full of special edition Splatoon Amiibo stolen” fits the bill. Yes, a shipment of Special Edition versions of Splatoon destined for the UK retailer GAME was hijacked, effectively denying the special Amiibos that came with it to those who pre-ordered them. Now, it might be a bit premature to say that this theft was solely Amiibo-related (hell, the criminals could have just been hijacking any random valuable goods), but given the controversial scarcity of the figures and the eBay scalpings that occur from it, this might be more than a coincidence.
But dammit, I warned you all about this possibility when you wouldn’t stop crazily buying Amiibos. But did you listen? Nooooo. And now all your local crack dealers are going to be run out of business by a guy in a trench coat selling squid figures in an alley. I hope you’re happy.
But moving on to the anniversary event: Last month I asked all of you what we should do for this occasion, and fellow Roboteer troi (now going by the moniker of Troi Iort) came across the idea of suggesting a list of my most favorite and influential games of all time, the ones that sort of molded me into the type of gamer I am today. A simple but damn good idea, so let’s go with that (incidentally, Troi wins this month’s Mystery Prize! Either contact us at toplessro[email protected], or we can direct message it to you via Facebook)!
So without any further ado (and restricted to games I have actually played), here is my own personal list of The Best Video Games Ever!
10. Sid Meier’s SimGolf
Yes, kind of an unconventional pick for a list such as this, but a deserving one nonetheless. Building and managing a golf course is fun enough thanks to an easy-to-use interface, but the real joy was in being able to actually play on the course you’ve built with your own pro golfer. In a sense, you were able to craft your own game within a game, because what fun is building a giant checkerboard penis for a golf hole if you can’t try it out yourself? Now if only they would re-release this game already…
9. Dynamite Headdy
The year was 1994, and the platformer was the king of the video game world. But Dynamite Headdy stood out with its unique visual flair and style, with each new level being an incredibly unique experience and a visual feast as you battled larger-than-life bosses through scrolling areas you had to keep flipping upside down, or while set to a bombast of classical music, all taking the form of a gleefully demented puppet show. Sonic, Donkey Kong, and Earthworm Jim may have stolen the show that year, but Headdy got my own heart, dang it.
8. Twisted Metal 2
If there was ever a game that demonstrated just how damn fun it can be when experienced with a friend, Twisted Metal 2 would probably be that game for me. Whether you’re blasting away at a pal while an ice floe collapses beneath him, nuking the Eiffel Tower to reveal a secret passage that gives you a larger area to play with, or just enjoying one of the game’s delightfully macabre Twilight Zone-ish endings together, this car combat classic was a killer, chaotic joy to play with company.
7. Dead Rising 2
Now, the original Dead Rising was the defining reason why I ended up purchasing an Xbox 360, what with it essentially being a gigantic zombie-filled sandbox game where you could act out your own version of Dawn of the Dead in a huge shopping mall. Back then, I honestly doubted if sandbox games could get any better than that, or if a sequel to it could actually top the original.
The sequel allowed me to gamble away my clothes in a game of strip poker and then go out to duct tape a guitar and amplifier together so I could make zombie heads explode with the power of rock. So well played, Capcom. Well played.
6. PaRappa the Rapper
I debated on whether to include PaRappa or UmJammer Lammy, its equally-deserving sequel/spin-off. In the end, I had to go with the original. Why? Because I remember playing it for the first time and realizing that I had never seen anything like this before. It was truly a unique gem back in the day (for North American audiences, at least), and it’s basically one of the defining reasons why we have an entire genre called “rhythm games” today. All thanks to a paper-thin cartoon dog performing in rap battles because he desperately needed to use the bathroom.
“Would you kindly…?” That was a turning point, ladies and gentlemen. The moment that I suddenly realized how much more important a role story and narrative were going to play in video games from then on (and the moment where I started playing more first-person shooters, coincidentally). Some people have said since then that BioShock is an overrated game, but I say screw it; The iconic characters, setting, and moments in the story have still left such an impact on me that it’s making this list no matter what.
So remember moments ago about how I stated that Dynamite Headdy was an incredibly unique platformer? Well, imagine the first time you experience such a level of creativity, except multiplied by at least a few hundred. We’re talking about a platformer set in the world’s greatest summer camp where every NPC has their own intriguing personality and story and you play in levels consisting of kaiju destruction, conspiracy theories by way of Salvador Dali, and entire worlds made out of black velvet paintings. There’s a reason that people like me constantly hope for the day that a sequel is announced…
2. Super Mario World
I’m just going to say it: Over entire decades, Nintendo has yet to craft a Mario game as perfect as Super Mario World. I don’t even know if I can fully describe what makes World the greatest game in the series. There are the colorful aesthetics and sprites with wide little eyes, fun enemy designs, unique power-ups, vast and challenging levels with all sorts of secrets and alternate routes that we gawked at back in the day and where we tried our damnedest to unlock every nook and cranny…truly sublime from start to finish. It really is the Mario game that stays with you years after you’ve beaten it.
1. Mega Man 3
Well, this is it. Mega Man 3 was the big one for one. The first big video game I can ever recall playing, the one on the cover of the first video game magazine I ever owned (and still own), and one of the first I had played through all the way to the very end (with the help of a friend). Mega Man 3 had been such an essential part of my childhood that when the game was first re-released, I was afraid that it wouldn’t be as good as I had remembered it.
And oh, was I overjoyed when I found that my fears were averted.
Mega Man 3 is pure video game bliss. A glorious piece of platforming action that improved upon everything its already-revolutionary predecessor gave us. The way the massive mini-bosses and enemy sprites still impress me even now, the way all of the levels are so vibrant and well-crafted, the way the game actually expands upon the story of the Mega Man universe and how it actually makes me cry a bit when I hear the Proto Whistle during the end credits…all just so perfect.
Best. Game. Ever.
Well, that was all a fun little look back at the past, showcasing some of the most defining games ever…well, for me, anyway. And it seems cruel to leave the rest of you out of this. So between our first anniversary and the upcoming return of the year’s most prominent gaming event, I think we have a good idea for this month’s Burning Question: What are your three favorite video games of all time? You know, the ones that inspired the rest of you as well and were an absolute blast to play? Sound off in the comments with your picks and join in on the celebration! And don’t be afraid to talk about why you love them as well, because you might earn bonus points for that!
But while we honor the past with all of that, what about the video games of today? Well, let’s head on over to the reviews and take a look!
Review time! The Summer gaming drought is coming soon (along with the Steam Summer Sale to help you load up in order to make it through said drought), so let’s see what we can cram in before it begins…
I’ve seen at least a couple of people here on TR display annoyance at what feels to them like a deluge of retro-inspired video games in recent years. I can’t say I feel the same way, but I can tell them what makes a good retro game that’s still worth playing and what doesn’t. What it boils down to is this: the good retro game evokes nostalgia, conjuring up memories of your childhood and all the fun you had from games of that era, and how the current game matches that level of fun easily. The lesser retro game, however, merely uses nostalgia as an excuse; Like just believing that pixillated graphics cover up sub-standard gameplay, or that constant obvious winking and nudging to particular games and tropes from that era are a substitute for actual wit (lookin’ at you, Evoland).
Thankfully, Axiom Verge easily falls into the former category here as a throwback to the Metroid-esque days of the NES era. The days in which games had settings consisting of 8-bit mixtures of flesh, machinery, and dark, isolated backgrounds that creeped the hell out of your ten-year-old self…and for that matter, Axiom Verge actually managed to produce a few moments that were unnerving to my thirty-year-old self as well. *shudders*
The story is simple at first: You play as Trace, a scientist who finds himself caught up in a lab explosion while working on a new experiment and now finds himself on a distant alien planet wondering what to do. Note the “at first,” though, because as you traverse the game’s world more and more, things start to get notably more complex and intriguing. Traversing the game’s world means having to journey through several creepy interconnected lands, each with their own unique visual style and soundtrack. It’s all extremely well-detailed and impressive (although I could do without some of the obvious vocal bits in the background music taking me out of the NES mood), with a lot of work clearly poured into every enemy design and piece of scenery. But the boss fights are where Axiom Verge truly gets a chance to shine in the visual department, with massive, imposing creatures taking up entire screens and then some. Their grandeur alone is worth the price of admission.
Now in case it wasn’t made pretty damn clear, Axiom Verge is a Metroidvania game that prides itself on exploration. The kind where you can take a detour while trying to find the tool that lets you bypass an obstacle and suddenly find yourself uncovering a new gun and a health bar upgrade. You’ll find yourself in situations where you’re not sure if the new drone tool you just uncovered is the tool you need, but you can’t wait to try it out nonetheless. And boy oh boy, are there a lot of gadgets to try out. The most prominent one is a gun that allows you to “glitch” certain enemies and scenery, turning them into screwed-up sprites with new behavior and patterns such as having one enemy destroy obstacles as it moves around now, or causing another to dispense health instead of projectiles. There’s also the ability to teleport, fire a grappling hook, and at least ten different guns to work with, all providing you with various means of travelling and combat. And trust me, when you discover the perfect combination of a gun and strategy that allows you to utterly annihilate a boss at least forty times your size, it feels like an incredible accomplishment. And everything also controls nicely, although I did have a few issues playing with my Xbox controller where Trace was prone to suddenly dashing off of a ledge or changing weapons when not needed, though that may be more of a hardware issue.
All in all, Axiom Verge winds up being a possible GOTY contender for me in how amazing it all is, but the only reason it isn’t a definite GOTY contender can be summed up in three words: No fast travel. Acquiring a new gadget does lose a little luster when you have to fight off several similar enemies and locations you’ve already conquered just to get to a point near the beginning where you can finally unlock something. The closest thing the game has to fast travel is a sort of “hub” level that appears halfway though, and even then it isn’t perfect. But that issue aside, Axiom Verge is utterly fantastic and a terrific homage to the NES days of old that I completely insist you check out. So yes, it’s the good kind of retro game. Really damn good.
While we’re on the subject of the types of games that tend to be catnip for the indie gaming scene, how about a turn-based strategy game mixed in with some stealth gameplay with randomly generated levels and roguelike elements? Such is the nature of Invisible, Inc., the latest game from Klei Entertainment. And considering the company’s track record so far, I was hoping for a particularly well-executed stealth gem…and I was not disappointed.
In the late 21st century after the megacorporations have taken over, you work as an agent handler for Invisible, a private intelligence agency. After their headquarters is compromised, the remaining members of Invisible have only 72 hours to loot enough assets as possible to prepare for a final raid, where they will then be able to use an extremely powerful computer to power up their AI system “Incognita” for use again. So you start out choosing your initial missions on the world map, where the remaining agents are then teleported into a random area in the building you decided to sneak into. From there, you control what the agents do, having to help them secure the main objective and find the teleporters needed to get out afterwards, all while drawing as little attention as possible.
What’s noticeable right off of the bat is the sharp signature style that Klei brings to the table, the type that made their previous games such as Shank and Mark of the Ninja pop as well. One that gives everything just the right amount of cartoonishness that complements the setting and action perfectly, alongside an eye for detail to create a subtle yet unique area each time, perfectly evoking the look of a sleek, futuristic office, vault, or detention center. But it’s the gameplay that’s the true star here, as Invisible, Inc. offers of a wide range of options when it comes to strategy. You have to make sure your agents peek through doors to survey what lies ahead, observe enemies to predict where they’ll move next so you move around them without being spotted, hack security programs using Incognita to make sure they don’t alert any alarms, and basically use every trick in the book to get in and out without any issues. It’s all very simple to work with, thanks to a great interface with simple controls that anyone can quickly get used to.
But of course, it’s never that simple. Sure, you could hack that one safe to get money to earn upgrades, but it might upload a temporary virus to Incognita that causes a random effect to be deployed, and maybe you don’t want to take that chance. You might hack every security camera along the way just in case, but that means now you’re running out of power for Incognita to use that could help you neutralize threats near the teleporter at the end. Knock out a guard and put as much distance between you and him? Nice try, but he only stays unconscious for so long, and now the trail of open doors you left behind has led him right to you. My point is, Invisible, Inc. is challenging. The good kind of challenging, the one that always keeps you on your toes and has you constantly thinking about the best possible move, be it during the current mission or just deciding where to travel next in order to try and acquire certain upgrades. It’s like a game of chess that just happens to involve robots and tasers.
If there are any flaws, it’s that I wished the agents in the field displayed more personality beyond a single line that they say at the beginning of each mission, especially given that they clearly have background descriptions presented to the player. Instead, the story is largely presented in between missions with two entirely different characters. There were also a few moments where the isometric view combined with the scenery made things slightly cluttered when dealing with areas near a wall; Like when I couldn’t tell if there was an open door near me or not, or if I was actually traveling along a path that provided the cover I needed to avoid getting spotted by a guard. There’s also the issue of the game’s campaign length, which only clocks in at a few hours. However, the ability to carry all of your unlockable agents to a new game along with other goodies, plus the random level designs, different game modes, and highly customizable campaigns means that Invisible, Inc. still ends up having a lot of replayability to offer.
In the end, Invisible, Inc. is some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a strategy game, and I can easily declare it one of the year’s highlights in gaming so far. It’s a truly intelligent and clever stealth game that’s worth your time, so take a peek at it whenever you can.
Not a Hero
Not a Hero is the type of game that might be a tough sell at first. You play as an assassin hired by a seven-foot-tall purple anthropomorphic rabbit wearing a suit named Bunnylord, who wants you to help him become mayor by basically killing all crime in the city. You achieve this goal via metric tons of gunplay in a succession of buildings which include the involvement of lasers, bullets that ricochet as if they were made of rubber, and the occasional cat bomb. You’re given a bunch of odd tasks each level like killing drug dealers, rescuing pixies, or helping gun-toting old ladies find their apartment. The whole thing resembles a 2D ’80s arcade game like Elevator Action, and the core gameplay involves a lot of cover-based shooting.
See, odd as it seems, those last few words are the part that would send a lot of gamers running.
Yes, Not a Hero has a lot of cover-based shooting. But said form of combat isn’t necessarily bad if implemented well, and such is the case here indeed. It takes on a new twist here, though, as taking cover typically involves your character sliding into the room and then pressing their back against the wall behind a flimsy bit of scenery, like they’re fully aware that they’re in an ’80s action movie. But it still works, and everything in the game moves so quickly that it never becomes a chore, with enemies charging and firing at you from all dimensions, ready to punch you out of cover and reduce your head to marinara sauce the second they have a good shot. And besides, the challenges the game gives you in order to boost Bunnylord’s approval rating each level ensure that you’re always on your toes and using as little cover as possible. Do you think you can complete a level while collecting garden gnomes, not getting punched in the face, and firing less than 80 bullets? Easier said than done.
It also helps that there’s a lot of charm in Not a Hero. Well-done retro aesthetics and colorful visuals aside, the game also manages to contain a nice sense of humor with the non sequitur-spouting Bunnylord and the way everything is deliberately over-the-top. It also channels a mixture of Snatch and Crank in the way it’s all acted out, a gonzo arcade-style crime story where it seems like everyone’s on drugs and the land is populated by a group of colorful characters with exaggerated European accents. Said characters are unlockable as you complete more challenges, each one with its own various skills and drawbacks to make you consider who’s best suited for each task, especially as the challenge ramps up. The difficulty curve is just right, introducing new enemy types, gangsters, and potential Idiocracy references at a fair pace. Plus you also have to think more and mroe about the layout of each building in order to discover the best way to complete all of the challenges and secrets in one go; For example, realizing that you might have to initially blow up an explosive to catapult you through a window in order to rescue a magic turtle. Yes, magic turtle.
Actually, this sort of random humor may be one of the game’s drawbacks, if only because it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. For that matter, the pressure to initially complete all of the game’s challenges right off of the bat might come off as a tad annoying. In fact, a lot of Not a Hero can pretty much cause it to be billed as a “love it or hate it” kind of game. But frankly, I loved it. Despite being a bit short in parts, the game’s arcade-style action, frantic gameplay, and general quirkiness really appealed to me. If it doesn’t appeal to you, that’s okay, but for the rest of you, I’d definitely encourage you to at least give Not a Hero a shot. After all, this is quite possibly the best game about violence and rabbit-related politics you’ll ever play. Vote Bunnylord!
Okay, in case you didn’t notice, I already wrote an entire article here detailing my thoughts on Splatoon just a few days ago. Long story short, an incredible game, and the type of inspired and innovative work Nintendo needs to make more of. If you want more, again, that article isn’t going anywhere. But yeah, if you needed a reason to buy a Wii U, this could easily be it…as long as you don’t mind getting used to a semi-awkward camera at first (or just decide to turn the motion controls off). But for those who can get past that, a ton of squid-filled shooter fun shall easily follow.
Sunset is the type of indie game that critics tend to fawn over: An experimental, artistic first-person game about exploration and the relations between two characters with a heavy emphasis on story, set in the 1970s and focusing on the gravity and horrors of a civil war taking place outside. It’s the type of game that’s meant to provoke a lot of questions.
In my case, however, only one question kept coming to mind: “Why am I not having any fun with this game?”
The setup: You are Angela, an African-American woman from Baltimore who’s a university graduate that immigrates to the fictional Latin-American country of Anchuria in 1972 to learn more about egality. During her stay there, she begins to discover a world rocked by violence, tyranny, fire, and civil unrest (so at least it’s still better than Baltimore). Angela winds up with a job as a maid for Gabriel, a museum curator who ends up having strong connections to high officials in the new Anchurian regime that’s taken power. Her job is simply to come to Gabriel’s new penthouse apartment and do chores for one hour each week during sunset. The two of them never meet in person, and save for one rare occasion, Gabriel’s presence is made entirely through post-it notes he leaves for Angela. So the stage is set for an epic tale where you determine how Angela and Gabriel get along, and quite appropriate for a game developed by a company called Tale of Tales, the story shines through indeed, much like the titular sunset on the apartment.
The unique selling point in Sunset is that the whole civil war is glimpsed only though the high-rise penthouse that you clean. All of the details either present themselves simply with newspapers, notes from Gabriel, or new additions to the apartment. It’s all very unique indeed, allowing for the narrative to focus largely on Angela and Gabriel and how they perceive each other. You control how immersive the game is, whether you want Angela to take their relationship to the next level, condemn Gabriel’s actions, or just clean the windows and earn a paycheck. But there’s a third character, as some have said, and that’s the apartment itself. Indeed, this is where the visuals and aesthetics shine, as Gabriel’s place is decked out with a wide variety of d?cor that captures the perfect level of ’70s kitsch, along with the various pieces of art he keeps adding to his ever-changing home. And unsurprisingly for a game called Sunset, the lighting and colors are quite impressive as well, coating the place in a warm glow that slowly fades as you pass the time.
However, you might notice that I’ve been just praising the visuals and story so far without mentioning any real gameplay. Largely because this is where Sunset fell apart for me. Every day, you have the same task: Receive a new list of chores Gabriel posted and do them, reply to any notes he may have posted, and just generally explore the place in your spare time. But the game allows you to approach the chores and notes with two different options: Warm and welcoming or cold and professional. For example, you might be given the choice as to whether you should arrange pictures in an artistic, creative pattern or a simple, orderly one. It’s an interesting concept, but then it becomes more and more clear that Angela’s two different approaches translate to two different personalities: Horny hippie lovechild and fiery Black Panther revolutionary. I get that they represent the cultures of the time, but it gets awkward when Gabriel poses a basic question via a note, and the only replies Angela can leave are either those that promise Gabriel some sweet loving or a fist to the face, showcasing the flaws in using a binary choice system in a game like this. Hell, sometimes the binary aspect is rather ludicrous; At one point Angela has the choice of either washing Gabriel’s sheets or tablecloth, or whether to send a poem he wrote to a friend of his or a strategic map to Angela’s revolutionary brother. And in each case, I just pondered why the hell I couldn’t do both. I obviously had the time for both, despite what the game said.
The most glaring flaw in Sunset is that it just really drags on. And for a game that only lasts about three to four hours, tops (for me, anyway), overstaying its welcome is kind of an achievement. It doesn’t take long before things become routine: Come in, do the chores on the checklist by making simple choices, search the apartment for any new decorations or notes Gabriel left, then punch out. Lather, rinse, repeat. The story breaks things up with the occasional intriguing moment, but those bits feel far and between after a while. But I would like to showcase one moment in particular that really pissed me off with Sunset, and demonstrated how it was padded as much as possible.
Here’s the scenario: Gabriel has to leave town for a few weeks, and gets stuck at the border for a few more. The only chore he gives Angela is to bring in the mail each day, but she can also unlock and open one room a day by selecting between two rooms using Gabriel’s electronic security setup, with each room containing a new decoration Angela can set up in the apartment.
Now, four things immediately sprang to mind for me during this segment:
1. What the hell kind of security setup is this that I can only have one room open for an hour at a time?
2. Why am I only allowed to choose between two rooms each day?
3. After each day, the room you unlocked is replaced with a new room, and the room you previously didn’t choose is still the second choice. By the end of this part, you end up unlocking every room in the place over time. So if that’s the case, why not just have every room open to begin with, and let the player handle the decorations within at their own pace?
4. From a narrative standpoint, why the hell doesn’t Gabriel just ask Angela to house-sit for him? Hell, one of the choices you make in this part is whether to unpack your clothes or not.
It just. Gets. Dull. Sunset is a game that would have vastly benefitted from more interactivity, because while the apartment is glorious to look at, there’s not much to do in it. Just long spells of nothing after you’ve done your daily work. I had high hopes for Sunset, and the story and initial concept are still interesting, but everything just fell flat after a while. It’s a shame; so much wasted potential. A bit of boredom not worthy to have the sun shine upon it.
You know those incredibly specialized stores you sometimes see presented on TV for a laugh, or even the occasional one in real life? You know, the ones like Just Socks or Spatula City that only sell very specific things? Well, I kind of get the feeling that indie game publisher Wadjet Eye feels like one of those stores at times, because for the past five years or so they seem to have only specialized in producing pixillated graphic adventure games that look and play like they just stepped out of 1994. Games like Gemini Rue, Resonance, Primordia and the like.
Not that I’m complaining, mind you, since all of those games turned out damn good. And indeed, Technobabylon is another quality title they can be proud of.
So last month, I reviewed another point-and-click adventure game called Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today and noted how it seemingly contained every dystopian sci-fi clich? imaginable. And now to provide a change of pace, Technobabylon seemingly contains every cyberpunk sci-fi clich? imaginable! It almost reads like a checklist at points: A prominent organization of hackers? Check! The ability to browse the Internet via some form of virtual reality? Check! Human augmentation and realistic synthetic androids? Check! Futuristic slang to use in place of swear words? Check! Truckloads of neon? Check! Hell, that doesn’t even cover a third of the list.
But I kid, really. Because also like Dead Synchronicity, Technobabylon uses these familiar bits not as a crutch, but rather a set of building blocks to craft some mightily impressive world-building and a complex yet intriguing story. You play as CEL police officers Regis and Max, along with agoraphobic net junkie Latha, and you switch between controlling all three at various points in the story as the lot of them are roped into a case involving a serial killer literally stealing people’s minds. Of course, it wouldn’t be cyberpunk if this also didn’t involve several notable conspiracies along the way, and by the end we’ve woven together quite the captivating tale. It also helps that the characters are a likable lot with some great personalities, although I wish I was able to play as Latha more often.
See, Latha has the unique gameplay wrinkle in that virtually any time, she can enter the previously-mentioned VR Internet (or “The Trance” as they call it here, because future and all). During these moments in the Trance, the game’s art style changes slightly, bringing in larger sprites and a more cartoonish, less realistic look to things. It also allows for some neat puzzles in which Latha has to mess with bits in the real world to affect things in the Trance, which means that we’re always seeing a good contrast between both worlds, which I enjoyed.
Speaking of which, the puzzle design in Technobabylon is mostly solid, with nothing too taxing and everything laid out for you fairly. There are even more than a few puzzles with multiple solutions, such as whether or not you can negotiate with a suicide bomber or have to take him dow.. It’s a neat little touch you don’t see in a lot of “traditional” adventure games, the type that makes you really try and think about the best route to take. Unfortunately, the game is still prone to classic cases of moon logic now and then, usually via cases where you wonder why the characters never try for the most obvious solution. Case in point, during one part of the game Regis has to investigate a murder in a restaurant. And as part of this investigation, you have to illuminate a giant darkened air duct so he can search it for clues. Now, what would you think is the best way to light up a darkened room? If you figured out that you should search the kitchen for a bonesaw and a jar, use the saw to carve off some meat, put the meat in the jar, then dip the meat-filled jar in the fish tank so that you lure in the glow-in-the-dark fish, scoop it out, and use the newly fish-filled jar as a makeshift lantern, then pat yourself on the back. Me, I just wondered why the hell Regis never asked any of the people around for a frigging flashlight.
While we’re on the subject of negatives, the version I played had more than a few glitches. Most of them were your standard animation issues I didn’t think too much about – a character walking backwards briefly or gliding through scenery, no real biggie – but at one point near the end, I entered a room, clicked on a cable to see how the characters observe or interact with it…and then the entire puzzle involving that cable was immediately solved. What the heck? Hell, I didn’t even know there was a puzzle there to be solved until about fifteen minutes later. These issues have arguably been fixed by now, but I just can’t forget an oddity like that.
But in the end, Technobabylon still proved to be a captivating adventure game and an enjoyable cyberpunk romp overall, one with a tale as impressive as the striking visuals it also has. Despite a few hiccups, it plays really well, lets us visit an entertaining future, and definitely warrants another trip to Wadjet Eye’s Mid-’90s Adventure Game Store.
In the last RGM, I placed Toren at the beginning of the trailer section largely because I wanted fresh-faced developer Swordtales to have my vote of confidence. After all, their Ico-styled adventure seemed like a promising start for them with a ton of potential and ambition. And now having played the game, I can say that…well, at least it does indeed still show potential and ambition.
Toren is the name of the titular tower in which the game takes place, a gigantic Tower of Babel-esque structure built by man as a glorious achievement that sadly only led them to eternal sunlight. You play as Moonchild, a young girl sent on a journey to climb the tower that starts out as an infant and grows up along the way while you watch and see her develop new skills and mature. And to say that the journey looks incredible is an understatement, as the tower is filled with countless impressive visuals and a gorgeous art style mixing together several unique and inspired moments of fantasy and mythology. Truly a sight to behold…at least when it’s not bugging out.
Yes, Toren sadly gets brought down by some notable performance issues (at least on the PC version, I don’t know if the PS4 has any issues). Through my game, I experienced clipping, drops in the framerate, and a moment while the entire lower half of Moonchild’s body disappeared, among other things. As gorgeous as everything is, snafus like those notably hampered the enjoyment of it all.
But the real maddening thing about Toren is that it all of its gameplay elements are still well-executed, but the game’s short length of a couple of hours means that they never get used to their full potential. The puzzles are creative, but there aren’t a whole lot of them. Combat is well-done, but aside from a recurring boss that’s more like a puzzle, there are barely any normal enemies to fight. The platforming segments handle nicely, but the challenge in them never increases to any notable level. The one part of the game that is consistently good throughout is the story, an intriguing tale that makes the most of its darkened fairy tale world and makes you want to see everything through to the end just to see how it turns out. Then again, even the story is still subject to bits of mystic mumbo-jumbo that sound more like dialogue from an episode of Xavier: Renegade Angel.
In the end, Toren ironically winds up resembling the in-game tower it takes place in: Something built with grand aspirations and dreams, but ultimately done in by its own hubris and left to remain as something beautiful yet cursed. I would still say that there are enough interesting bits here to encourage Swordtales to keep trying and craft even better games, but for now, this game sadly falls into the “Maybe buy it if it’s on sale” category.
…And that does it for reviews this month! Next time I hope to have a new crop of Steam games to work with (along with an empty wallet), and what looks like a Lego Jurassic World review on the horizon! But for now, on to the trailers!
So, not exactly a mountain-sized level of trailers to choose from this time compared to previous months. Gee, it’s almost like they were saving them for some sort of really big gaming show later on…but we still have some interesting titles to work with nonetheless (albeit with a recurring theme among some of them), so let’s take a look…
Is it weird that the most intriguing trailer I’ve seen this month was for a mobile Pac-Man game, of all things? Well, not when Bandai Namco decide to celebrate Pac’s 35th anniversary by hooking up with the folks behind Crossy Road. And considering that was a game with near-illegal levels of fun that perfectly paid tribute to another classic ’80s arcade game (Frogger), I’d say Pac’s birthday present is in good hands here. Well, he’s at the mercy of a kill screen, but good hands nonetheless.
Well, this is kind of a last-minute entry, but I still stand by Pac-Man 256 being this month’s highlight. Or maybe I’m just miffed that the 2K Games teaser site for this game didn’t turn out to lead to a new BioShock title like I predicted. But nonetheless, XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a terrific game that jump-started the franchise again, so here’s hoping the sequel is a superb follow-up as well. Plus, snakemen! Yay!
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
You know, after E3 last year, I commented on how the sudden surge of games set in the late 1800s/turn of the century/Industrial Revolution/etc. seemed like a bit of an odd trend. So now when Assassin’s Creed comes along and plays the whole thing straight compared to the other games, I can’t help but go “that is soooo last year.” Maybe this new installment will be a fine game, but all I can think about is how the main character is a guy named Jacob in Victorian London who stabs a ton of people. GEE, I WONDER IF THERE WILL BE ANY POSSIBLE MISUNDERSTANDINGS CONCERNING THIS MAN AND OTHER FAMOUS HISTORICAL FIGURES FROM THIS ERA. Calling it now, Jacob is secretly…Charles Dickens.
If the triple-digit number of hours I’ve logged on Ticket to Ride have taught me anything, it’s that I might be a sucker for digital board games. So any strategy board game that channel Disney’s Robin Hood mixed in with a bit of Game of Thrones is probably going to end up on my radar quite easily. Armello is in Early Access right now, and while it looks promising, here’s hoping the finished product is even better…but we’ll have more on that when we get some hands-on time with the game this month.
Well, we’ve seen games where you progress by killing people, and even games where you progress by killing yourself (or clones of yourself, or something similar). But having to navigate a post-apocalyptic wasteland by constantly destroying a living organism so that the growth of new cells helps move it forward, forever in a cycle of life and death? That’s a new one. And I like the looks of such a concept, I must say.
I have to say that a fast-paced action game where you battle ghosts that literally haunt you with your own past moves does sound quite appealing indeed. That and the charm of having a new game actually sell itself with the word “Extreme” in the title again. Suddenly I feel like chugging down some Mountain Dew…
What Remains of Edith Finch
You know, I think this this might be the first time we’ve ever seen a trailer with bits of gameplay projected onto a CGI trailer. Shooting for the best of both worlds, I suppose? Then again, this is apparently a game where you play as the titular Edith exploring the warped household where all of her various family members died, as she relives their deaths first-hand via various scenes where she turns into a cat, among other things. So yeah, maybe a bizarre presentation for an equally bizarre and intriguing game is kind of appropriate.
So Kholat is an indie horror adventure game inspired by the real-life mysterious Dyatlov Pass incident in the mountains of Russia, accompanied by the presence of none other than Sean Bean as he narrates what led to his own death and…well, this is where the game is presenting a silver platter here, so you come up with your own joke that it contains.
So it looks like the makers of Amnesia: The Dark Descent are going to great lengths to make sure their new game is just as much of a mindfuck, as evidenced by the above 12-minute gameplay vid. All I know from watching it is that it might be best to stock up on some spare underpants come September, along with a guide on how to get used to hiding places.
I don’t know if we’re going to be getting a Daredevil game anytime soon, but at least we’ll still be able to play one that lets us experience life as a blind person with eerily heightened senses. Emphasis on the “eerily” part, as our heroine is using echolocation to explore a haunted manor where your only means of survival is the Outlast method of cramming yourself into a closet and praying to god. So good luck with that! And if you want, support the game’s Kickstarter campaign!
Dang, this was apparently a big month trailer-wise for horror-related games. But yeah, the PS4’s slasher film tribute (now with Peter Stormare!) appears to be coming along nicely. It even manages to get a bit of the Carpenter-esque throbbing synth score down. Now all we need is at least one sex scene and a one-liner from the killer and we’re good to go.
LOUD on Planet X
Wait a minute, so we have a rhythm game on Kickstarter from the folks who crafted Sound Shapes featuring the music of Fucked Up, Tegan and Sara, Purity Ring, and Metric, among others, where they all battle aliens with giant concerts, and it still hasn’t been funded yet with mere days left?? Seriously, I’m kind of ashamed at the rest of you right now.
Also falling under the category of games with Kickstarter campaigns that end in a few days but are within earshot of their funding goals, we have Light Fall. A stylish little platformer in which you literally command a giant platform to use how you see fit, it definitely looks like a blast that I hope succeeds in the end. And long with LOUD on Planet X, this is a Canadian game as well. What, suddenly the rest of you are too afraid to give us some cash for sweet video games? Because keep this behavior up, and after a few phone calls you can kiss bye-bye to Orphan Black…
So Wattam is a game in which a bunch of living household objects with cute faces all party and hold hands together so that the little mayor can remove his bowler hat and reveal a bomb that blows them all up in an orgy of friendship.
…Did I mention that this game comes from the creator of Katamari Damacy?
And thus we reach the end of another edition of Robotic Gaming Monthly! Thanks for dropping by and celebrating our first anniversary with us, feel free to leave any comments offering suggestions, questions, additional discussions on what we talked about, or messages about how much we suck, and I’d like to remind everyone that I and fellow Topless Robot writer Bryce Abood will be covering E3 this year and hopefully collaborating successfully, so look forward to our coverage in a couple of weeks! See you next time, and a huge thanks for supporting us this past year!!