This is it! My life is complete! Minna de Spelunker Z is finally out and completely comprehensible in English as Spelunker World. It’s free-to-play on PlayStation 4 and hilariously brutal and you should all go download it and we should play for a while. Check out my first 45 minutes with the game that I streamed last night and all the simple revelations I had simply because I could read text prompts.
Happening now on GameLuv
PONCHO is one of those ultra-mysterious indie games I first latched onto at the Independent Games Festival back in January. Tantalizing as it was, the problem with falling for an indie game early on is never knowing exactly what you’re going to get. I assumed the preview build I played was only a taste of an expansive, fleshed out world but it turned out to be the whole thing, sans a little polish. I’d hoped for much more time for the gameplay and story to “breathe” but find myself a little deflated and yearning for more. Still, I’d rather take my chances on something new and unfamiliar than just another action game with level grinding tacked on. That’s where PONCHO excels, with its wonderful pixelart visuals and parallax effects, nonexistent combat, existential hints of a bigger story, and of course, its signature gameplay mechanic.
I still think the intro makes for both a great tutorial and a stunning setup, one I don’t want to spoil with any more details. Suffice to say, once the dust settles you wake up into a post-human world of self-sustaining robots as the titular poncho-clad automaton. Poncho’s only motivation is to find out what happened to the mysterious Maker whose final words echo through that opening scene. To do so means exploring 9 stages that scroll both left and right and are packed with puzzles and secret pickups. This is the “open world” that the game advertises, allowing you to return and explore any stage once you find the exit.
For reasons unexplained, Poncho can instantly swap between Z planes — background, middleground and foreground — at the touch of a button. This lets the designers build platforming puzzles that tweak your spatial awareness in ways I’ve not experienced in a “2D” game before. Yes, not even in Fez; PONCHO has a dimension-jumping feel all its own. All you need is clear line of sight and you can jump forward and back as the three planes ripple in and out. It remains a satisfying and mesmerizing feeling as the pixelized world whips in and out of sight, changing scale and transparency as you leap around. There’s even a subtle distortion to the music when you move behind foreground objects.
From the moment it opens the whole experience is made into something bigger than the sum of its parts thanks to Jack Odell’s splendid soundtrack. With a powerful, lo-fi explosion the simple title screen takes on dramatic importance, layered with a melancholy synthwave melody. It’s not always so dramatic but even the lighter pieces have a forlorn vibe with mechanical beats and simple, lonely synths. It culminates in “The Tower”, a powerful, bitcrushed dirge of synth organs that accompanies one of the game’s most daunting sections.
While I absolutely love that PONCHO has no form of combat, the mechanic that introduces the game’s challenge can be quite frustrating. The good ol’ moving platform gets a three dimensional upgrade in PONCHO, moving in and out instead of horizontally or vertically. At first they’re not bad but all too quickly they’re stacked side by side and used to build unexpected and confusing pathways. There are also platforms and barriers that move with you between planes but it always came down to blind luck as to whether, on the tenth try, they moved in the direction I need them to.
There are moments when the moving platforms feel perfectly balanced. They’re used to great effect in the lead up to the final level and really make you feel like a platforming genius. Leaping across gaps while simultaneously transitioning through the layers is a great sensation but these moments are rare. In contrast, in the very next section of the final level — a terrifying climb up The Tower — it’s possible (and very easy) to fall almost all the way to the bottom with a single mis-timed button press.
For a game this short it’s disheartening to see so many moments that could have been clever and fun turned frustrating. For me, PONCHO shines the brightest when you’re simply navigating its ruined, reclaimed world and poking your head around its many clever corners. A few more stages of this simpler exploration before the moving platforms take focus would have helped me. Instead, I came to dread the sight of them and it was only thanks to a launch week patch that adjusted their timing that I was finally able to finish the game.
Frustrating as some of the platforming was I was still sad to see there wasn’t more PONCHO to play. The lo-fi music and vibrant, layered, pixel visuals combine to create a world I’d love to hang out in for more than a handful of hours. It’s an experience worth having but there’s not nearly enough of what I loved — and a little too much of the stuff I didn’t — to justify the $15 price.
[PONCHO is developed by Delve Interactive and published by Rising Star Games. At launch it is available on Steam and PlayStation 4 for $14.99.]
I forgot to pass this one along when I recorded this video last week. I got the PlayStation 4 Universal Media Remote and while it is totally not universal, it’s still handy, with a few caveats. My Vizio soundbar isn’t fully supported and the Volume Punch Through feature (where the volume buttons always control a specified device) is still not working correctly. The remote also shuts itself off after 20 minutes making emergency volume control a concern. And YouTube isn’t supported. BUT!
Despite all those problems this remote is going to prolong the charge and life of my controller batteries and allow me to watch video without the glaring blue lightbar illuminating the coffee table and couch all night. Is that worth $30? That’s ultimately for you to decide for yourself. Me? I love these console remote controls, always have.
As I’ve done for quite a few years, I’m celebrating Halloween with a little bit of game music. This year I’ve been making quite a few holiday-appropriate posts for Original Sound Version and it’s resulted in my most elaborate Halloween production since the long-lost efforts of Hal10ween.
After you watch this video featuring some offbeat and spooky songs you can check out two of my favorite Castlevania remix albums, my review of the Spooky Bonus soundtrack, and Ryan’s “Game Soundtracks for Your Soul” post for which I whipped up the featured image.
YES! YES! YES! In the PlayStation VR sizzle reel just released from Sony’s conference at Paris Games Week you can see a few quick seconds of Megaton Rainfall. So that’s where the game has been hiding since January when I pegged it as one of my Top 20 IGF games.
For those that don’t remember Megaton Rainfall aims to be a first-person Superman simulator, allowing players to fly across the galaxy and right down into the massive cityscapes of a world invaded by gargantuan alien forces. The tech demo was impressive enough but doing all that in VR could make it one of the genre’s defining experiences. Basically, it means I’ll be getting PlayStation VR at some point. Check out this other video to get a better idea of what the game has in store.
Yes, of course I immediately tried to create a Spelunker Z community now that game-specific hubs have been added to PlayStation 4! Unfortunately, the U.S. PlayStation interface doesn’t know what “みんなでスペランカーZ” is so I couldn’t tie it to a game but I’m still here, ready to answer your questions about this obscure little platformer. So come join up, you probably won’t be hit with very many “new post” notifications from me.
In other Z-News, I’ve been spending my candies trying to win Perle the Cat and on the fourth try — with eyes clenched shut and having Katy prophesize “YOU GOT THE CAT” — I got the cat! There was much screaming and hollering and our real cat, Molly, immediately attacked Katy because she hates when Katy is happy. Now I have my own in-game cat who can hold down multiplayer switches and let me nab even more “lithograph eggs” in the levels.
Truly, it is a new era of Spelunker. Come and join
I expected to like a lot of things about Metal Gear Solid V but I was surprised to find one of its in-game soundtracks so captivating. Yes, yes, there’s a bunch of 80’s songs in the game but forget about those. You’ve heard them all before and GTA has done a better job of curating them for the last fifteen years.
‘Music Tape 1’, that’s the stuff you should check out. And now you can, because I recorded it all. I also wrote about several of the tracks over on OSV so take a look at that if you want to know more or just hit play on the video above and enjoy.
My god, it’s finally happening: Prison Architect is going to be a really real, for-real final released video game as of October 6th. This year! Prison Architect always looked really great but after being burned by Don’t Starve and its early access changes in 2012 I kept my court-ordered distance for a while.
I eventually got Prison Architect for about $8 on a Summer sale or in a bundle and fairly quickly logged 40 or so hours with it. But I never got too attached to my prisons because I assumed they’d be broken by an update or wiped completely when I came back to them. Such are the tribulations of getting in early. I last played the game almost a year ago now so I’m sure the “wealth of new content” promised in the upcoming release version will be immense. Gosh, has it really been nearly three years since I first saw the game? Crazy.
Forget about that Metal Gear Whatever game! Minna de Spelunker Z updated last night and while we still don’t have a new zone they’ve updated, changed and added a lot. The Version 1.07 changelog adds the new Championship events, makes the web-based notifications faster, adjusts the daily login bonus timer, and improves the criteria for the end-of-stage multiplayer rankings. Most noteworthy for me and my sprawling glut of gear is the addition of a “NEW” tag on newly crafted items to make them easier to find. According to the Google translation there’s also a way to reset your OP gear to its starting stats which is kind of terrifying since I can’t read anything in the game.
In other news, Square announced that they’ve reached 300,000 registered players which doesn’t seem like a lot for a game that’s nearly eight months old. The chances of it being translated now seem extra slim but, whatever, we get a bunch of daily login goodies to commemorate the occasion starting on September 18th.
Several new events are rolling out including the reveal of Collaboration #7 that I’ve been guessing at for nearly a month. Turns out it’s Kaku-San-Sei Million Arthur, some kind of wildly popular mobile, card battle, RPG, thingie. It’s even available in English if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m not, so all that’s important to me is that new gear will be available from 9/16 through 10/28.
Nimue (the character from the teaser image), Merlin and Arthur gear will be peppered through a handful of stages, rotating availability in two-week intervals. The Million Arthur collaboration also gets you a bonus 100 Moon Stones if you download both it and Spelunker Z on the Vita by October 28th. That might be hard to pull off if you aren’t using your Japanese PSN account though.
Of utmost importance to me is the new pet, Perle. Not only is it an adorably plush Persian cat that sits on your head, Perle can be used to activate the multiplayer switches in the levels. I might finally be able to grab some of the shining silver eggs that have been off limits to me since I can’t ever find anyone to play with. Perle’s lithograph pieces can be found in stages 1-16 through 1-20 from September 16th through October 28th.
Finally, there’s the new Championship events that promise “tricky ultra-high degree of difficulty” stages with powerful loot as the reward. Rotating daily from now until October 28th, I’m not certain if these five Championship stages are just remixes of existing ones or totally new. I’ll have to have more of a poke around the map screen with Google Translate loaded up.
You know me, always happy to fawn over a little release that looks to have some quirk. That’s definitely Gotcha Racing, a game I’ve had my eye on since its quiet debut at E3. It released yesterday on the 3DS eShop for $5.99 and I grabbed it as soon as I got home from work last night. It’s called Gotcha Racing because it’s all about winning new car parts through a gashapon system. But as I would play, put it down and come back minutes later for “just one more race” I felt like the title had another meaning. After my first hour with the game I wouldn’t call it captivating but it definitely scratches that compulsive itch for progress.
Of course, I wasn’t drawn to a game because it has random loot drops from capsule toys. Gotcha Racing makes a fairly striking first impression when you see it in motion with a strict top-down perspective that spans both screens of the 3DS. The view keeps your car perfectly aligned in the center of the bottom screen, feeling a little like a sewing machine where you’re rotating the world underneath your car. It’s a peculiar sensation at first and a peculiar design choice as the game leans towards realism with its vehicle performance. Each chassis, engine and tire has an impact on acceleration, top speed, brake power, cornering and drift.
I don’t know if it’s the perspective or the precision of the A.I. racers but I’ve never fought this hard to find the perfect racing line in any other game. Moving up a position is a battle over inches in the early game and if you can cut just a tiny bit more into a corner you’ll secure your spot in the pack. It’s turned out to be way more harrowing than I expected from what looked like a cutesy toy race car game. Grinding out parts from the capsule machine and then combining them to boost stats also seems harrowing. It’s been fun tinkering in the first hour but I can see this process getting elaborate and annoying as you can’t upgrade or sell items equipped to your four loadout slots. This results in temporarily swapping each loadout item to an inferior one, backing out, fusing the items, then going back to each car and re-equipping the new gear. Elaborate!
Gotcha Racing seems like a game I’ll pop in and out of for short bursts or maybe while listening to podcasts. I’m not yet able to move out of the initial F-Grade class because I don’t have a good enough car to win the final tournament. That means re-racing the first three courses over and over until I can win or upgrade my way out. It may not sound like fun but it’s enjoyable to play and fast to load, and there’s always a chance for that Rare Drop to fall out of the machine and make everything instantly better.
I’ll be back with an update once I hit the next noteworthy milestone with the game.
[Gotcha Racing is developed by Arc System Works and published by Natsume. It was released on the Nintendo eShop August 27th, 2015 for the Nintendo 3DS.]