Deja vu is a sentiment I often find cropping up around games like Flat Heroes. Much as I love minimalistic art styles, there are only so many times I can play as a monochromatic quadrilateral before starting to wonder if maybe I should be asking for more. After all, appealing as I find flat-shaded shapes, others may see the aesthetic as little more than laziness on the part of the game’s art team. And with all the titles out there that do similar things with better art, it can be tough to justify the existence of another game like Flat Heroes.
Prior to writing this review, I spent a decent chunk of time playing Mothergunship; nine hours, to be exact. Yet I feel like I spent twice that time contemplating one simple question: why doesn’t this game work for me? I’ve played and loved fast-paced first-person shooters like High Hell. Roguelite FPSs such as Immortal Redneck have brought me countless hours of bliss. So, the mystery of Mothergunship’s mediocrity has plagued me, to the point where I had to go back and replay some Immortal Redneck to attempt to glean some fresh insight.
As some of you may know, I’ve never really been one for streaming. I find it difficult to make the show entertaining in a way that keeps people (even my friends) engaged. It’s why my forays into the world of live-streaming have been so short-lived; there’s only so much you can stare at a viewer count of 0 before you start to get discouraged. However, if there’s one game that’s made me think about getting back into it, it’s Russian Subway Dogs. It’s been a long time since a game elicited such visceral reactions; from joy to anger, and even soul-crushing disappointment in my skills and abilities. And though it took me in excess of a year to finally sit down and write about it (thanks, spontaneous hiatus), I can safely say that I’ve enjoyed it just as much (if not more so) than I did all those months ago.
Bullet-hells. Shmups. Bloody impossible. Whatever you want to call them, there’s no doubt that the genre formed around throwing buckets of bullets at people like some overzealous member of the NRA has garnered quite the cult following. And while it’s not a genre that I frequently dive into, it has nonetheless provided me with some fantastically intense experiences. Sine Mora EX is an utterly exquisite story-driven shmup, while Astebreed (a title I played years ago but never reviewed) dives down the anime mech rabbit hole in fine laser-slinging form. So, when I found a copy of Solid Aether sitting in my inbox, looking like the much-beloved (by me at least) OVIVO had a baby soaked in shmup hormones…aaand this analogy is getting out of control. THE GAME LOOKED COOL, OKAY?!?
“Edutainment” is a term that’s gotten a bad rap over time, conjuring up memories of Mario Teaches Typing, Carmen Sandiego, and even the dreaded Mavis Beacon titles. However, the genre has evolved recently, to the point where the gameplay component is frequently fleshed out and enjoyable, rather than being a mere afterthought. Take a title like Mulaka, which exists as both an educational piece and a highly entertaining video game. Developers are realizing that – to keep people engaged with the game’s subject matter – they have to keep them interested in the game. Plus, even if the inclusion of so much gameplay (the horror!) results in some topics being omitted, getting a taste of a new subject in an exciting atmosphere can whet one’s appetite for knowledge, leading to further research and learning being done outside of the context of the game.
Several games have attempted the Groundhog Day format, to varying degrees of success. What tends to be the biggest stumbling block is also what makes the premise so interesting: you’re repeating the same day over and over. From a narrative perspective, this allows the story to focus on the same events from different points of view, or see how minor changes can impact the final outcome. However, it’s a lot harder to incorporate those subtle variations into gameplay, meaning that it’s easy to find yourself going through the same actions ad nauseum, simply to get from one story beat to another.
Dating simulators are a genre of conflicting sensibilities. On the one hand, we’re encouraged to immerse ourselves in the absurdist high school fantasies, ludicrous fan-service, and never-ending conflicts over waifus and husbandos. In other words, there’s a general lack of self-seriousness to the proceedings. However, this immersion is all but lost when you realize that – in many titles in the genre – everyone loves you by default. Even if you “lose”, you’ll still end up with someone, even if they weren’t your first choice. Before you know it, making decisions becomes an automatic process, requiring only a cursory glance at the options to determine which has the best chance of leading to intimacy.
Challenging games are a pain to review, and not just for the obvious reasons. Sure, it can be difficult (and often frustrating) to throw yourself against the same obstacle repeatedly, solely because you want to see as much of a game as possible before reviewing it. What I find to be far more stressful, however, is when that challenge becomes insurmountable. With the recent controversies surrounding games like Cuphead, the notion of saying that a game is “unfairly difficult” is frequently regarded as taboo. It’s not that the game is hard; it’s just that you need to “git gud”.
Masters of Anima is a game that takes heavy influence from cult classic titles like Pikmin, Overlord, and Little King’s Story. I know this, despite – unfortunately – having never played any of those. It puts me in something of an odd position when reviewing Masters of Anima, as mechanics that may feel derivative to fans of similar titles instead come across as fresh and interesting. Subtle changes to the formula go unnoticed by me, as Masters of Anima – from my perspective – is the progenitor of that formula. With that in mind, it should be clear that I have no thoughts on how Masters of Anima compares to its contemporaries. That being said, taken as a standalone product, I found it to be an absolutely wonderful experience!
Imagine if Nintendo released a compilation of the best user-created levels from Super Mario Maker as a standalone package; that’s basically Crazy Dreamz: Best Of, except it replaces all the Mario assets with magical cats and other fantasy-themed critters. What’s most interesting is the monetization model: 50% of the profits go to the creators whose levels made it into the game. Not only that, but each level spotlights its creator at the start and end, giving players the option to send monetary tips to their favourite builders. It’s a rather heartwarming collaboration between developers and players, and one which I’d love to see more games explore. However, can the creativity of an entire fanbase produce an inspired, diverse set of game levels to experience?