“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.
Myths and legends are frequently the basis for elements of games, be it their plotline, characters, setting, or some mix. However, these are usually components cherry-picked from a larger narrative, serving less as a means of introducing the audience to the original piece, and more as scaffolding to support the world created by the developers. In contrast, nearly every element of Mulaka feels like it was designed to honour and bring attention to the traditions and culture of the Tarahumara people. Yet rather than being little more than an elaborate Wikipedia page, Mulaka sucks you in with its vibrant world, and does everything it can to keep your attention until after the credits have finished rolling.
Games can be great at teaching. Titles like Influent attempt to game-ify the process of learning a new language, while games like Papers, Please opt for a more “immersive” approach, teaching the player not about real-world events specifically, but about the circumstances that no doubt surrounded the events it parallels. What I find particularly interesting, though, is the games that don’t so much “teach” as they “encourage to learn”. I’d argue that games like the Civilization series are a perfect example of this; while they don’t specifically mirror history (unless Gandhi was secretly a psychotic warmonger), I know of several friends who have started researching historical civilizations and figures simply because they got a taste of the available knowledge in a game of Civ. It’s in this category of games that Terroir finds itself, both to its benefit and detriment.
Omega Force’s catalogue of Warriors games has become incredibly prolific over the years, with dozens of instalments spanning many historical periods and franchises. Throughout this catalogue, they’ve carved out a niche for themselves in the “spectacle fighter” genre, though for the uninitiated, it may as well be the “shonen anime: the game” genre. Each title is a pure, unadulterated power fantasy, giving the player control over numerous heroes who are capable of slashing through scores of enemy soldiers with little more than a wave of their hand. While the overall gameplay tends to stay somewhat similar, the key difference is always the setting. The franchise has visited Hyrule, ancient China, and even Gundam…Gundam-land, but now it’s time to make a return trip to Japan for the latest Samurai Warriors title: Spirit of Sanada.
I found Block’hood to be deeply unsettling.
Now, that’s something of an odd emotion to feel when playing a cheery, colourful city-builder, no? With its intricately detailed cities (known as “‘Hoods”) that can consist of dozens of structures carefully stacked on one another, it seems like a lovingly optimistic view of the future. Catwalks criss-cross between constructs, providing elevated walkways to navigate the vertical landscape. Glasses clink in bars, internet cafes emit bleeps and whirs, and clothing stores sell the trendiest fashions to citizens. It’s a veritable utopia.
Suddenly, things collapse. Businesses fall into disrepair. Apartments cave in and lose all sense of life. Protesters line the streets as black clouds swirl in the sky. The veil is lifted, and the weight of everything you’ve done comes crashing down with the city you worked so hard to build. The clothes in those stores were manufactured in sweatshops around the corner, which in turn received their supplies from pollution-producing cotton fields. The internet cafes distributed electronics that were made with plastic, and therefore, oil. The apartments were constructed on the graves of trees, driving out assorted wildlife in the process.
Remember when you were in high school (or maybe elementary school) and you learned how to type? The teacher would sit everyone in the class down at a different computer, and you’d spend time learning about the “home row”, proper posture when sitting at the computer, and how typing with only two fingers on the keyboard at any given time is a horrible atrocity. (Author’s note: It’s not actually. You type how you want to type. Just never let me see it, because a part of me will die.) Well, if you remember that, congratulations! And if you don’t, then perhaps this review dates me, though whether it’s in a good way or a bad way is open for debate. Anyway, those that remember such typing classes and their associated programs may remember some of the games that were incorporated in. They were often simple affairs; tending to be very Space Invaders-esque, with various objects falling from the top of the screen requiring you to type different words to destroy, eat, or otherwise interact with them. Epistory: Typing Chronicles acts as a modern reimagining of such games, including more complex gameplay mechanics, a story and collectibles, and an absolutely gorgeous aesthetic.