It's not often Dead Cells manages to get under my skin, but this one hurt.
It is fun to see games acknowledge each other. If only within the slightest of nods.
A nice mood piece. Pour yourself a warm or a stiff drink and set some time apart to play through If On A Winter's Night, Four Travelers. Either via itch.io or Steam. It's a pixel-art point & click adventure, but disposes of most of the inventory management. There's some light puzzling contained within, nothing to serious nor obtuse, but it's not why you're here. No, you're very clearly here to hear some stories. And the stories contained within are great.
There's some evocative stuff in here, both in text as in pixels, as the stories become larger and more fanciful as you progress. It all builds up nicely and although it's clear this is all going to end in tragedy, there's also some light-heartedness in there. A wistful dark smile. Just the ticket on a long, cold winter's night.
Here's a fun little timewaster: Mini Tokyo 3D. A real-time 3D subway map of Tokyo, showing you all the little trains updating in real-time. (Might be a bit heavy on your phone browser.) It even points to some live feed cameras at certain stations. Like this one at Shibuya:
Pretty soothing stuff to rummage through on the first Sunday of the new year.
Radio Kootwijk is a weird place. Or rather, I think it doesn't really belong nor fit within the Netherlands. The photo above reminds me of something else entirely. A place where anomalies are detected by throwing nuts and bolts, while you can hear some Russian shouting in the distance.
It's an art deco building and imposing to say the least. Earning it the nicknames "the Cathedral" and "the Sphinx". Not that art deco is rare in the Netherlands, but to me this particular building also invokes brutalist vibes which are amplified due of its lonely location at the edge of a heath landscape. The combination of it all making it feel rather alien.
Actually, I can see this working as a good location for an escape room (escape building?) or maybe as the setting for a one-shot D&D adventure. Apparently, it was already featured in a film for such a purpose. Having visited it yesterday, I might return to it during a different season. Maybe its imposing stature will take on a different feel as the surrounding shrubland awakens.
Here's a nice blast from the past. While cleaning up some folders, I stumbled upon the old manual of The Chronicles of Spellborn. This did cost me a lot of time to create and also had quite a strict deadline behind it. The way Spellborn was being run meant nobody picked up on the need for a manual (still a normal occurence for a boxed product back then) and I scrambled to cobble something together. You can download it here:
While a lot of this is outdated, especially if you're currently playing the game through spellborn.org, it's still kind of fun to read the excerpts that are present at the start of every chapter. I remember having a lot of fun finding relevant texts to use. The very final excerpt is a thinly veiled reference to a certain mecha-loving forumite over at rllmuk. I haven't got the foggiest as to why I did that though...
Because multiple people started asking me about what I played and liked this year, here's the list. No Metroid Dread though. I certainly enjoyed it, but once I wanted to put into words what I thought about it, I stumbled upon my Samus Returns article and realised I already wrote those. Has a way more massive speedrunning endgame for the hardcore, making it perfect for first-timers and niche-enthusiasts, with little in-between.
Anyway, here we go.
5. Castlevania Advance Collection
Is this cheating straight out of the gate? Yeah, it sure is. Three classic metroidvania titles, each with their own strengths and weaknesses but stuck together they're an incredible package and way too much fun to play through once again. There are some niggles overall: the new features added to this collection are clashing severely with the style of the original games and no adjustments have been made to visually compensate for the original GBA screens used, but hey, apart from that this is an insane deal. Even if it does mean sending Konami money for doing the bare minimum.
4. Cyber Shadow
I thought it was just a nice retro-platformer, but it turned out to be a superb 2D game that picked up some moves from its 3D character action game brethren instead. The soundtrack is killing it in the way that the murderer is nowhere to be found on streaming services or Bandcamp, but you really need to find him, and the game's flow is exceptionally smooth with great escalations of skill applications. Just a nice, comforting slice of apple pie like grandma makes now that she has her new prosthetic.
3. Axiom Verge 2
The first was my personal Metroid V way before the current owner Metroid Dread hit the scene and the sequel is... completely different. Well, it builds upon a lot of stuff from the original, but it also manages to bend it over backwards to more exploration and navigation, to the extent that - for all intents and purposes - you can turn the combat off in the settings, and are still left with a game that's amazing. If your idea of a good metroidvania is scratching that exploratory itch, figuring out where to go next and how to get there, then boy is this a treat.
1. Disco Elysium: The Final Cut & Returnal
This is really just a shared first place, as I've been aching for months now trying to discern which of the two I prefer over the other. Both these games are instant classics but on completely different grounds. So please accept my dirty cop-out.
Disco Elysium is simply the best RPG this side of Planescape: Torment, while Returnal might be the best thing Housemarque has ever produced (which is saying something).
Like Axiom Verge 2, Disco Elysium also bends the notion of genre almost to its breaking point. It constantly threatens combat, violence even. But it never wants to give in. Until it does and then it becomes one of the most gut-wrenching clicks on text I have ever made. Looking back on it, it's simply a lush, luxurious, and elaborately designed conversation tree, but it really doesn't matter once you are enjoying the sturdiness of its branches as they hold up an abundance of characters. And that's not even touching upon the game's setting and world building. Or the narration that makes Bastion look like amateur hour. Or the politics. Oh god, the politics. It's the RPG for RPG nerds, and it clings to your mind for way too long, in the way a good book would do.
Not to be outdone, Returnal also bends the notion of genre, branding itself a roguelite, but in the same fashion that a salad at McDonald's can be regarded to be the healthy option. The unlock highs are very rare, but true progression can be found in the twitch skills you build up during each subsequent run. It's not easy, it even feels a tad miserable at times ("THE DARK SOULS OF SHOOTERS?!"), but when it flows, it flows beyond into the gaping void within your brain and makes you forget the outside world. Wading and dashing through the projectile showers feels refreshingly new, yet strangely comfortable, with a thick sci-fi Twin Peaks sauce slathered all over. If you've ever played Super Stardust or Nex Machina and wondered what it would be like to be in that world, Returnal is your golden ticket. If you just want good shootey bang bang game, it still doesn't lose its lustre. God knows why Housemarque thought a suspend-save feature was not needed, though.
- Curse of the Dead Gods - An odd sort of middle-ground between Dead Cells and Hades.
- Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth - Record of Lodoss War - A smooth and clean Symphony of the Night facsimile.
- If On A Winter's Night, Four Travelers - Oh, this is nicely done indeed.
- Metroid Dread - As mentioned. Only starts when it ends.
- Yakuza: Like A Dragon - This is so much better than old-school Yakuza! And also not of this year!
- Ender Lilies - Quietus of the Knights - The grinder's metroidvania.
- F.I.S.T. - When every slider goes up to 11, but your game design is stuck on 5.
- Maquette - Loved the concept, but just about everything was executed in a wrong way.
- Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… - Yikes, I regret buying/playing this.