Category Archives: Software

Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition

I still don’t understand why games that are roguelike are named after the original game of that style, Rogue, while games that are Metroid-like (ie, exploration-platformers with boss fights and power-ups) are named after more than a decade later when Castlevania did the same thing, and someone decided they were equivalent and everyone else agreed. It’s just not right.

All of that to say, Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania in which you play a silent[1] protagonist come to the dying city of Dirtmouth above the dead-but-treasured-filled kingdom of Hallownest, and also everyone is bugs. And that’s it, that’s the whole plot as presented. Everything else you learn on the way. Questions like “why do I have such a shitty weapon? why are some of the bugs cool and chill and want to sell me things or discuss philosophy, but some of the bugs just run at me to kill me, but some bugs do both? why is this referred to as a platformer when I can barely jump at all?”

There are three important things to know about this game. The first is that, if you are okay with the genre, with having to go back and forth and remember where you left things to do later and explore until you find places you can’t go but trust that you’ll be able to later and until you find fights that you cannot win but trust the same thing about that, if you’re okay with these things: this is a spectacular game. Arguably the best one of its kind ever made.

The second is that it’s incredibly long. I played for 83 hours to get the credits, and there are still a number of things that I know are left undone, not counting that there are probably things I don’t know also.

The third is a corollary to the second. It is 97% melancholy, with only the briefest of divergences from this theme, and those countered by moments of much stronger sadness to still balance out at 100% adjusted melancholies. And there’s nothing wrong with a melancholy game! Most walking sims are, and I play lots of those. But here’s the thing: 83 hours of melancholy is a lot to get through, even for a truly amazing game.

Oh, and also Voidheart Edition is because there were eventually several small expansions, and all of them are included in the Game Pass version. According to the meter, I got 106% completion out of an implied possible 112%. Almost all of what’s left are harder versions of things I’ve already done, which makes it hard to feel like I should practice my ass off to accomplish them. Plus the melancholy.

In the unlikely event that I do more, and that the more I’ve done changes my impressions significantly, I’ll report back.

[1] I mean, yes, most video game protagonists outside of dialogue-tree RPGs and shooter cutscenes are silent. But the other characters in this game make a point of noticing your silence.

A Way Out

I found it difficult to classify A Way Out. It’s nearly a walking simulator, but too interactive for that. (It does frequently occupy the same story-telling space, though.) It’s on occasion a shooter. It’s definitely a light puzzle solver, going back almost to the middle days of your Kings’ Quests. I guess the best way to describe it is as a two player split screen[1] interactive movie, about breaking out of prison.

It’s also about more than that, in much the way that the TV series Prison Break was. I think it is fair to say that between watching all five(?) seasons of that, consuming two versions of Shawshank, and playing this game to completion, I will have no problems if I ever find myself in, er, diminished circumstances.

Downsides: antihero types. You are, after all, playing one of two people who wants to escape from prison, seeking revenge. But it’s rarely a dark take; mostly, in fact, it is kind and humanizing of everyone involved. It’s like, some people in prison are a danger to society and need to never come back. But some people in prison just, y’know, do crimes sometimes, and that doesn’t automatically make them bad people, even though probably you don’t want to have a crime done to you.

I bet that doesn’t make sense.

[1] Even if you play it online[2]! I found this at first pretty annoying but ultimately it grew on me. Thanks to illness in the house, we weren’t going to play couch co-op anyway. But at least it affirmatively worked, so now we can play Borderlands not on the couch, which means I won’t hate everything while trying to play it.
[2] Which is why even though I finally got a Series X, I played this on the XBox One. Mary, on the other hand, got the fancy treatment.

Final Fantasy II

Sixteen years ago, somehow, I played Final Fantasy for the first time, with my only previous JRPG experiences having been an abiding love for Dragon Warrior, deep amusement at Secret of Mana, and unremitting loathing for Final Fantasy VII. You’ll note, if you clicked through, that I had evinced an intention to continue playing the remainder of the Final Fantasy oeuvre. Believe it or not, that was actually true, and I really have been playing Final Fantasy II on and off for all of those many years since[1].

The main difference between the first and second game is that where the first game used “save the world!” as an excuse to string together a lot of random encounters in the world and in various dungeons wherein you could level up and get better equipment and better spells, allowing you to fight harder random encounters and dungeons… In the second game, all of those actions are strung together by an actual plot, with actual characters. I mean, plot and characters as imagined through the lens of the 1980s, but it’s actually there.

I’ll go a step farther, and say that the plot, although largely on rails, feels as if it is reacting to the actions of the characters. Which is impressive! There are three main characters, teenaged friends who get caught up in events, and a floating fourth character, who you are supposed to become attached to but who I largely viewed as a tool who occasionally stole my equipment by leaving the party without warning in any number of various ways.

That said, the game still punishes you for playing a game that old by having bizarrely restrictive spell and items capacities and random bugs that make the nominally most powerful spell in the game be functionally useless. Nevertheless, it was a good game. I mean, if you’re okay with mindlessly wandering the world having random encounters between various dungeons that advance the plot, but that’s just what a JRPG is, you know? (But Dragon Warrior was still better. For one thing, no goddamned chocobos.)

In case you’re wondering if I will play Final Fantasy III: I’ve started it already. (This proves nothing, of course.)

[1] Although I restarted at one point post-2014, switching platforms from DS back to Playstation[2]. (Well, PS2, since manufacturers once upon a time understood backward compatibility.)
[2] Because it’s harder to play a game together on a tiny-ass DS screen[s].

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019)

Two milestones! Surprisingly to me, I’ve never finished a Switch game before. Like, I kind of finished the Mario game from one perspective, but from another I was barely halfway through it. Regardless, no review! So, oops. (Or not. It’s hard to know.) But also, I’ve never played a game that required specifying a year for version control. Link’s Awakening has had three versions, two on various GamesBoy in the ’90s, plus this one on the Switch.

As for what it is, it’s a mostly 2D game[1] set at a 3D angle, a la Link to the Past[2], where you[3] have shipwrecked onto a small island where nobody has heard of the concept of an outside world, where there’s a giant egg housing a Wind Fish (whatever that is), and where (surprise!) the monsters have started getting restless just lately. Also, the art is an adorably almost claymation thing, and every time I paused to actually look at it, it just… made me happy. You know?

There’s item / powerup collection, there’s dungeons, there’s secrets (not all of which I found)… it’s a Zelda game, is what I’m saying, and those are good on their own merits in the vast majority of instances. On top of that, there’s a surprisingly emotional core to the thing, where the act of playing the game as intended leaves you wondering whether you should do so. I dug it.

Also, weirdly, I played the whole game handheld. Bad for my neck, good for my ability to actually finish. This is a problematic realization, to be clear. Especially if you happen to be my neck.

[1] You can jump and dive, so it’s 2D with an extra two layers beyond the one you mostly exist in? Approximately.
[2] Arguably the best Zelda game ever made, Breath of the Wild notwithstanding. Inarguably the best 2D Zelda game ever made.
[3] by which I mean Link, the boy in the green tunic who acquired his first sword under, at best, suspicious circumstances

Gears 5

Back at the dawn of time, I played Gears of War. Later, I started to play Gears of War 2 and got maybe two chapters in, and then… never touched the series again, except in multiplayer. Even though I liked it! They were good games! But I did a thing I maybe do with frequency (in games especially), and let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Because these are two player games, and they are explicitly different in two player at times, so you feel like more is going on if you get the full experience, and since I was not at that time getting said full experience… well, here we are.

Fast forward fourteen[1] years, and I have now played Gears 5, which for one thing is no longer “of War” apparently, and for another thing is the second(!!) entry in a new trilogy, the original Gearsing having apparently been completed with volume 3 until they decided they could make more money, and for a third thing is now a three player game.

I know you’re asking. “Well how do you have three players to play a game with when you haven’t had two for over a decade?”, and that’s a fair question. But this new Game Pass dealie has drawn people out of the woodwork, is what. The important part is, I did have three players, and the game seriously uses them to good effect! Because one character is something something that’s a spoiler for this game and probably way more of a spoiler for volume 4 which I have not played, and one player is a hoverbot with a lot of cool non-gun-based powers, and one player drives sail skiffs, and together you wander around doing the kinds of things people expect out of War Gears, which is mostly fighting indigenous underground aliens. But now with occasional open world exercises instead of non-stop rails.

Long story short, it’s pretty cool still, and except for being allergic to third-person shooters or characters who have necks the size of an average American’s waist, there’s basically nothing not to like here.

[1] god help us

Donut County

The thing about Donut County is, it’s barely a game at all[1].

But if you can get past that, it’s pretty fun and funny. It’s approximately a knockoff of Katamari Damacy, but instead of rolling things up, you are a hole in the ground, and you are swallowing said things. Donut County is a county somewhere near alternate Los Angeles I guess?, inhabited by all manner of sentient animals and also for some reason this one girl. The only problem is that everyone and everything keeps disappearing into holes in the ground.

Who could be causing this? And why? And will you ever get to fly the sweet quadcopter that you can unlock if you reach level 10?

Anyway: as two hour games go, I definitely got my money and time investment’s worth.

[1] This is not entirely true. The last third adds more game elements, such that by the end, there’s some game there.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

It’s not uncanny valley levels of weird, but it is nevertheless weird to see digital animation versions of real actors that you are already very familiar with. To wit, Cal Kestis, who is played by the Joker from Gotham and one of the Gallagher kids on Shameless. And he’s, like, just extremely recognizable, both character and voice. And in Jedi: Fallen Order[1], I’m controlling his jumps and pushes and lightsaber swings, and it’s weird, is what, in a way that a random character would not have been at all.

The game itself is… fine? As has been said by others elsewhere, it’s basically a modern Tomb Raider ripoff, but without that part of the gameplay being as polished. Tradeoffs are that the Force skills parts are in fact pretty cool, and that the plot eventually slides from generic to compelling, somewhere between the halfway and two-thirds point.

If you feel like those tradeoffs (especially the second one) aren’t good enough to make up for the initial complaint, well, I will not try to convince you otherwise. Even for me, as happy as I was to be doing a new Star Wars game for the first time in forever, I occasionally wondered if it would really kill the high and mighty Jedi to pick up a blaster sometimes, instead of fighting through another four or six hand to hand storm troopers.

But the Force skills are pretty cool, except when your Force meter runs out and you can’t use them anymore. And except for wishing you had access to them for the whole game, instead of only starting to get to the good stuff right at the end. (But that’s a problem with all games of this type. See also Ezio re-learning how to be an assassin in two sequels.)

[1] which EA would like to helpfully remind you is a Star Wars property, no matter how awkward it makes the title of the game

The Turing Test

Because I am extremely timely, have another review of a game that’s leaving Game Pass today! The Turing Test is a sci-fi puzzle game[1] in which Ava Turing wakes up from cryosleep above Europa and is tasked by her AI companion, TOM, to go to the surface and find out why communication from the crew has ceased. Not as in “why aren’t they answering anymore” (although that too), as in “why is the communication link down?”

Upon arrival, however, the mystery deepens when the rooms of the base have been repurposed into puzzles that require creative solutions to proceed deeper, apparently to keep someone (or something?) out. Whereupon follows 77 rooms’ worth of puzzles combined with an ongoing discussion between Ava and TOM on the nature of consciousness plus occasional clues as to what happened down there.

The puzzles are very occasionally ridiculous, but mostly the right amount of difficult[2]. The plot is deeper and ultimately stronger than I gave it credit for. On the whole? Pretty impressive game; recommended, even.

[1] If you’re thinking “poor man’s Portal“, well, that’s a fair comparison. Happily, there’s a lot of room to go downhill from Portal and still have an enjoyable and plot-dense experience.
[2] Well, for me at least, and not counting the rooms that were extra simple, just to teach you new rules.

Untitled Goose Game

I’ve been vaguely aware of Untitled Goose Game for some time, in the sense of, oh, hey, someone made another game like Goat Simulator, but for geese. Which sounded, you know, fine. At the same time, even though GS is on Game Pass, I have not really been itching to give it another try and finish this time, for whatever reason. Maybe I’m wrong? UGG is what was going to convince me I was wrong, if anything would.

So you’re this goose, right? Or, these geese, if you play multiplayer, as I did[1]. And you have a to-do list, some of which are things that might be fun for you and mostly harmless, but which really seem to annoy the humans around you, while others are, uh, pretty clearly designed to annoy the humans around you with no other particular benefit, except that it’s funny. Eventually your to-do list has an event that causes a new area (with a new to-do list!) to be unlocked. And so on, until you finish the game. Some of the bits are complicated to figure out, while others are complicated to execute, but it’s mostly a light puzzle game that you can breeze through in a few hours.

Which Mary and I did on Friday night, including the list of bonus to-do’s you can accomplish[2], some of which don’t even make sense to try until you’ve won once. And almost all of which are just purely mean, meaner than most of the previous mean things you’ve already done. …I did mention this is a game about geese, right?

Near the end of the night came the cruelest goose trick of all: even though we were both logged in on our accounts, Mary was not getting any of the achievements credited to her gamer score. This was especially painful because she was the one who wanted to cross off all the extra items in the first place; I had already been satisfied.

But I mean, it also ended up being fun, which is much better than if it had been grinding for points.

[1] Multiplayer is mildly annoying in that the screen only gets so big, so the geese have to stay together and can maybe get each other stuck. We played on a shared screen, but I assume that the same limitations apply to a remote multiplayer game. I also assume that remote multiplayer even exists.
[2] And not including the speed runs, which are all we left undone. I understand intellectually that some people are really into speed runs, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

What Remains of Edith Finch

I played another entire game over the past few days. This is so so weird. (Which I say every time I finish a game, I know. But it is! Especially relative to how long it’s been since I finished a book[1].)

This time, What Remains of Edith Finch, which is another plot-heavy / game-light exploration game in which … you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game like this, except, minimally, Gone Home. Edith Finch has, um, returned to her ancestral dwelling after the death of her mother and the receipt of a mysterious key, which grants her access to the majority of the house, which has been sealed up and inaccessible since before her earliest memories.

What follows is an exploration of generations of Finch family history and the simultaneous exploration of a truly ridiculous plus awesome house, with mysteries galore. There are elements fantastical, elements tragic, and elements personally very uncomfortable. If you want trigger warnings, you should expect that most things people get triggered by (besides inflicted violence) will be in play.

It’s barely a game in the way that all the things which fall into this genre are, in the sense that there are minimal choices to be made; you only move forward through the sparse and lonely plot. But it was a plot full of people and events I cared about, which is what I was looking for.

[1] Outside of a specific reading schedule