The summer vibes are strong in Shin chan: Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation -The Endless Seven-Day Journey- (NSW). Just the opening itself and the loading screens evoke a sense of calm not unlike a Ghibli-feature. Only for Shin-chan to crash into it with a healthy amount of butt puns. It just wouldn’t be Shin-chan without it.
Which is also a bit strange. This is the first western release of Boku no Natsuyasumi, itself a summer vacation simulator developed for and released a tad earlier on PlayStation than seminal slife-of-lifer Animal Crossing for the Nintendo 64. Whereas Boku has become a bit of a PlayStation mainstay in Japan, it never ventured beyond its borders. While Animal Crossing slowly garnered an audience in the west and veritably exploded as its latest launch coincided with the start of the 2020 pandemic.
The two series have a lot in common. In both you are locked into a small town, whittling your time away with everyday tasks, activities, and generally hanging out. Though like Moon, Shin chan is “stamina-based”. You faint from hunger if you travel too much (counted in screen transitions) and lose a chunk of time for that day. You can refill stamina by snacking, which is a bit of a weird message for kids I guess. And while the game starts with you staying in the town of Asso (yes, I know) for a week, the Shin chan component quickly removes that limit (as the title implies).
What follows is a kind of puzzle-ish visual novel, with the space between the major beats filled up with light exploration, fishing, catching bugs, and communication with the townsfolk of Asso. And oh my god, does it capture the Japanese summer vibe. From ever-present cricket noises, to nostalgic sunsets, to the cosy presence of other people, this is entirely wholesome.
Speaking of Japanese, there are a lot of Japanese based puns in this. The most obvious one involved the mailbox, which had a sign for “beef” on it, alluding to the Japanese post office sign looking similar to the kanji for cow. Sometimes the joke translates, other times it just awkwardly hangs about, and yet other times it’s a complete wash. It made me appreciate the momentous task of translating Animal Crossing even more, as it's nigh impossible to pick up the cultural origins of the Japanese language in that game.
The Shin chan shenanigans are often at odds with the more serene Boku-atmosphere of the village. As such, I do wonder if this would have been better without the license. Only to realise that has always been the case before, and we are slightly unlucky that the first western game in the series just happens to be the fresh new crossover one. You will simply have to enjoy the contrast.
With Cult of the Lamb exploding on the interwebs, I ventured back to Massive Monster's previous game: The Adventure Pals (NSW). This on its surface is a by-the-numbers platformer, but dig a bit deeper and it's a really good mechanical platformer. The following might not be logical to younger readers, but it's like a new McDonaldland, general Ocean platformer, or Sunsoft title. It's greatly polished, has a couple of genre tweaks, and - as a bonus - is also really funny.
The absurd sense of humour is pretty out there, but manages to pull everything together. You'll be freeing people from hotdog-monsters in no-time, while force-feeding cupcakes to cats. That said, if wacky humour isn't your thing, this'll instantly grate.
The game has a nice pace and cuts the various levels into bite size pieces. Most importantly though, the feel is effortless and convincing. Again, the closest I can get to describing it is uncovering an old NES-classic. After completing it, I did feel a need to go back and uncover all its secrets. Highly recommended and often dirt cheap when on sale.
As great as The Adventure Pals was to experience, so excruciating it was to experience Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (NSW). Look, obviously its creators have a love for Kirby. It's hard not look at this and see it for the clone it is. But whereas Sakurai had very distinct ideas about how and why Kirby is as it is, Whipseey is more of a proof-of-concept.
Every level is more or less centred around one type of challenge, it then repeats this challenge ad nauseam and... that's it. On to the next level. This in itself would be fine, but at one point it presents you with one pixel perfect jump challenge that it then repeats multiple times in succession. It doesn't have any leeway, it doesn't allow for ways to circumvent it, it's just the same jump and attack a dozen times. Screw up and you lose a life. It's maddening, frustrating, and at times feels like a kusoge. Which is entirely at odds with what the game so clearly wants to be. I did not enjoy completing this.
Chalk up another game I started and forgot to complete on Switch: Untitled Goose Game (NSW). It's also a nice palate cleanser after Whipseey, if only because frustration acts as both the mechanic and the reward of this game.
Frustrating the villagers get you further into the game, but figuring out how to do so is often frustrating. It might not always be clear how you can proceed. Which is exactly why I left the game at the spot I did: I was stuck at the pub trying to figure out how to manipulate the bucket.
Luckily that turned out to be quite simple, and after that it's just a victory lap with the ending being a truly delightful capstone. Enjoyed it, even though stealth gameplay is usually not my thing. I guess it helps that the stealth here is very light.
Oh boy, I completed Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5) and that ending did not satisfy.
First of all, even though I thought I was maybe halfway through one of several story arcs, it turned out I was basically one mission removed from completing the game. Basically, I could have completed this a good 20 hours ago, hadn't I focused on grind quests. This genuinely shocked me, as the main story turns out to be so... minimal, that you can't help but wonder why CD Projekt RED created an absolutely humongous stage if the play it's been made for is so tiny.
It's also at the very end that the game dares to venture into the philosophical realm of Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. Sadly, it doesn't do anything interesting with it. It's only presented as is and has little to no bearing on your journey, let alone a climax. No seriously, the finale is an annoying repetitive half-an-hour sequence that you really just want to end. Final choices be damned.
The addition of Johnny Silverhand also feels exactly like that. A last minute stunt-cast role for marketing purposes. Looking back on it, Silverhand shouldn't have been in the game; his space instead being filled by Jackie. Which not only would have been more impactful, it would also have made much more sense in the end. The Relic was obviously a prototype, but why on earth did it already contain Silverhand? Not even the game cares, and it just tosses Silverhand out of the story at one point. Had this been Jackie in the aftermath of the events transpiring early in the game, everything would have been much more meaningful, and - dare I say - emotional.
Apparently there's a hidden ending that involves Silverhand more, but with him being presented as the main drive of the game, it feels like an afterthought. Sadly, I think I'm pretty much done with this game and don't have any intention of finding out.