Category: Done Playing

We’re either completely through with a game or demo or we just gave up. Closing thoughts. It’s as close as GameLuv comes to a traditional review.

Done Playing: Roundabout (PC)

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I was never able to wrap my mind around the tricky spinning puzzle series Kururin but I was always fascinated by the titles. It also didn’t help that it was never released in North America and fell pretty low on my ROMs-to-check-out list. So when No Goblin revealed a wacky 3D spiritual successor packed with FMV and a hint of Katamari whimsy I was ready to jump right in. Short story short, I didn’t.

I wound up getting the game in January of this year from Humble Bundle but put it down a few weeks later for another trippy, cerebral experience with The Witness. I’ve been ready to get back to Roundabout ever since and this past weekend I finally did. Naturally, I was 2 missions away from the end but let’s rewind a little farther first.

Roundabout opens with the introduction of the silent hero… person, Georgio. The game never specifically says “him” or “she” and other characters throw around non-specific terms like “buddy” and “pal”. The character is obviously played by a female actress but the story and experiences are vague enough that anyone can read whatever they want into Georgio. It’s maybe the most unexpected part of this already inexplicable game and it was ultimately the reason I came back to finish it.

That’s because the parts where you’re piloting a constantly spinning limousine through an unpredictable series of timed missions can get a little frustrating. It takes a shift in your gameplay perception to even engage with the controller. Timing and alignment are most critical and staring at the spinning car for just the right angle of attack can turn invasive. It’s one of those games that gets into my head and forces its way into my dreams for a few days. I’m honestly not very good with the controls but the game is mostly gracious with checkpoints and never takes itself so seriously to make you feel incapable after exploding 5 or 10 times in a row. Completionists may feel a sting though as every mission has a tight time trial and there are hundreds of collectibles around the game’s moderately sized open world.

Even at it’s most frustrating Roundabout is compelling for the cavalcade of FMV scenes that bookend each mission. They feature a host of bizarre and hilarious characters portrayed by the familiar faces of No Goblin’s game industry friends (and by extension, the Giant Bomb circle). It’s funny seeing video game composer Danny Baranowsky playing an ultra-stereotyped Canadian tourist but the character that kept me playing was Georgio’s surprise love interest, Beth.

It is downright ridiculous that this absurd game of spinning cars and low budget cinematography could stir my heart like it did. Doled out in painfully short video clips over the course of the game, I went from writing off the bubbly Beth to worrying if she and Georgio would wind up together or not. There’s burgeoning friendship, a lovers spat, an unexpected reunion and ultimately the happy ending I was so worried about. All of this without a single word from Georgio and all filmed on a single crappy car-interior set.

Like so many open world games I found myself driving around town after the credits, hunting for collectibles but really searching for more offbeat FMV magic. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back and finish finding the hidden tchotchkes but I am so very happy that I finally finished this surprisingly sweet game.

Done Playing: Tetris Twist (Browser)

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I’ve been a little fixated on Tetris lately so I gave the announcement of Tetris Twist more than my passing oh-they-made-a-new-one reaction. It’s also free and browser-based and built in HTML5 so there’s no need to install a dubious plug-in. That makes for a pretty low barrier to entry. Unfortunately, the biggest “twist” in Tetris Twist is the mobile gamification built around the classic gameplay, despite not being playable on a mobile device. I present the evidence:

Exhibit A: a sprawling world map of bite-size stages
Exhibit B: a 3-star rating system based on score
Exhibit C: excessive ads

What this amounts to are 90-second sessions of Tetris bookended with a commercial or sometimes a blank box where a commercial should be that requires you to refresh the entire page. This goes on and on in chunks of 20 stages, each based around a new city with a new gameplay element. The first “world” introduces score cells that sometimes force you to fill up the well with junk on purpose to reach and clear them. The combination of pre-set garbage lines and score cells adds just a little strategy to the familiar game of Tetris.

There are promises of intriguing mechanics like Gravity Mode and Hourglass Mode that I’d like to see but they’re buried behind constant commercial breaks and a finicky new control scheme. Also very mobile-centric, the default controls use only the mouse and two buttons to play. Left click drops, right click swaps out your Hold piece and there is no rotation control. Instead, the silhouette of your rapidly sinking piece “sticks” in different configurations as you move the mouse around. It enables faster play and makes risky T-Spins effortless but it fails when the speed ramps up or precision placement becomes critical. Lo and behold there are classic keyboard controls which the game never points out but the mouse is what it was clearly designed around.

Like so many other free-to-play iterations on classic franchises (I’m lookin’ at you Plants vs Zombies Adventures and SimCity Social), Tetris Twist has me torn up. I liked playing it, even with the funky new control scheme, but the constant interruptions and brief stages turned me away before I could get to the interesting new parts. But you don’t have to take my word for it, Levar, because it’s free! Try it for yourself and let me know if it gets any better after Stage 40.

Done Playing: PONCHO (PC)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.]

Done Playing: Styx: Master of Shadows (PlayStation 4)

I like stealth games and I like the slightly less dire “stealth-action” sub-genre that blossomed out of it. In fact, I’ve been on a serious stealth game bender since Dan and Drew at Giant Bomb started playing through the Metal Gear Solid anthology in August 2014. But I didn’t do it on purpose. After working through all five Metal Gear Solid games (Peace Walker included) a series of sales and subscription freebies led me from Sniper Elite 3 to CounterSpy to 2014’s THIEF and most recently to Styx: Master of Shadows. It’s a game I’d originally seen at PAX and thought it was doing both interesting new stealth things while also calling back to some of the classic elements I haven’t seen in a while.

And this is the point where I stopped writing and decided to load the game up one last time to record. This “GameLuv Recap” video is much longer than the one I did for Submerged because Styx has a lot going for it but ultimately a little bit more going against it. You can see it unfold in the video above but — tl;dr — I was happy to delete the game off of the PlayStation 4 in the end.

Done Playing: Submerged (PlayStation 4)

So I finished playing Submerged and then spent some more time decoding its language and story. This is usually when I’d write up a Done Playing post to sum up my thoughts and experience with it. Buuuuut, since the PlayStation 4 makes it pretty easy to plug in my good microphone and record right to YouTube I decided to try a video thing. I’m calling it a “GameLuv Recap” for YouTube because I can’t rightfully say I’m done playing when the video is of me playing, right? I also get way more views on YouTube than hits on the site here, so video it is!

It’s definitely not as poetic as my writing tends to be but it’ll give you a nice overview of the game, the mechanics and the world. I’ve got at least one more of these videos coming to give Styx: Master of Shadows some closure as well.