Today’s article is going to be a bit different from the ordinary. For starters, it’s not going to be a review, or even an in-depth analysis. It’s merely a spirited rant about my time with Niffelheim’s PS4 release. I didn’t play the original PC edition, and I only played this version for 3 or 4 hours. However, that was more than enough time to determine that I didn’t care to spend anymore of my life with it. In recognition of the fact that I haven’t delved deep into Niffelheim as I would for a normal review, I will not be including a score at the end. Also, my views here will be a lot less balanced than they sometimes are; again, this is a rant, not a thoughtful op ed.
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”.
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?
“I’m sorry, what?”
That was my first reaction upon receiving a press email about de Blob 2’s release on current-gen consoles. The inaugural title was a Wii exclusive which – while attention-grabbing to my 13-year-old mind at the time – ended up becoming little more than another bargain basement platformer in the Wii’s sea of them. Hell, I was pleasantly surprised when it got a multiplatform sequel in 2011. Yet when not a peep was heard about the franchise afterwards (following publisher THQ’s closure in 2013), I had pretty much accepted that it was all over for Blob and friends.
Half Life 3? Not happening. Portal 3? You wish. Valve’s longstanding reputation for teasing and never releasing sequels meant that the announcement of Bridge Constructor Portal was met with a…mixed response, to say the least. Really, though, I’d say that it’s a net positive, as I’d rather see Valve handing its licenses to other devs for spin-off purposes than hoarding them like a dragon with so much gold. If it results in more games like Bridge Constructor Portal, well, so much the better!
If you’ve played Legend of Grimrock, sitting down with Vaporum will practically be second nature. It utilises a tile-based movement system with real-time combat, and focuses on exploration, puzzle solving, monster fighting, and loot collecting. Key differences include a streamlining of combat (spells can be cast with hotkeys instead of inputting specific ruin combinations), the removal of parties (you’re all on your own here), and a switch to a steampunk setting. The latter of those is what really makes Vaporum stand out, with its mechanical arachnids, steam-powered suits of armour, and decidedly old-school weaponry.
GamerGate has developed something of an image problem. When the movement first came into the public eye in mid-2014, it was used to frame all manner of disparate narratives. If you go on any number of popular games journalism sites, it’s likely to be labelled as some sort of hate-fuelled rampage by a bunch of sadistic internet misogynists, primarily targeting women in the games industry. Other sources refute this, claiming that the whole thing is solely about promoting ethics in games journalism. Then, of course, there are all the people who fall somewhere other than these two bounds, muddying the waters even further.
I arrived in town bright and early, and was quickly greeted by a company representative. Almost immediately, they began rattling through their “best practices” list that every new hire has to hear. To be honest, I didn’t really mind; this wasn’t my first run as mayor, but, seeing as I’d been out of the game for a while, it was good to get a refresher course. Something seemed off, though. The rep’s ear-to-ear grin and exuberant shaking of my hand seemed to mask the fact that they were more than a little scatter-brained. Within minutes, they jumped from the acquisition of Lings (citizens of the town) to resource gathering and management, and then into combat and trading.
“But wait, how do I—”
“Aaaaand that’s it! Good luck!” cried the rep as they dived past a Mushface (a race of lumbering mushroom-folk) into the town’s dimensional portal. I looked at the Mushface, confusion and worry plastered all over my face, but he just shrugged and walked through the portal. An auspicious start.
Slow, stamina-based combat? Check. Enemies that respawn whenever you rest to heal? Check. Experience points that get dropped every time you die? Check. No, this isn’t some ill-promoted sequel to the Dark Souls series; it’s an isometric action game by the name of Immortal Planet.
To say that Immortal Planet draws heavy inspiration from FromSoftware’s famous series is an understatement. For the first half hour or so of the game, every time I asked, “I wonder if it does this thing that Dark Souls does?” the answer was a resounding, “Of course!” Thus, Immortal Planet takes place in a semi-open world backed by a largely vague narrative. As a mysterious Awakewalker, you are tasked with restoring the Cycles of the planet, the lack of which has caused it to turn to a frozen wasteland. In your way stand countless enemies with varying attack patterns, all of which need to be analysed and circumvented to succeed.
Randomness in games is an excellent method of promoting custom story generation. The fact that nearly everyone will have an experience that is at least marginally unique means that there’s always something new and interesting to talk about that many players may have never seen or heard of. That’s the goal with The Long Journey Home, a rogue-lite space game that channels FTL: Faster Than Light and No Man’s Sky into a challenging, galaxy-trotting, survival experience.