The first time I played through Journey, I cried. It was – without a doubt – one of the most emotionally moving gaming experiences I had had up to that point, and it’s held a special place in my heart ever since. However, when I mentioned to my friend Matt that it might find its way onto my “favourite games of all time” list, he made an interesting remark: “Have you replayed it?”
“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.
Exploration. Discovery. These are terms which frequently find themselves thrown around when a game stimulates any sense of curiosity. And yet, they tend to be ancillary features in whichever game they appear in. Exploring the open worlds of Assassin’s Creed or Breath of the Wild is certainly a way to pass the time in each game, but they’re not the focus; there are quests to complete, baddies to hunt down, and so forth.
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.
While it’s cliché to say that a game is “challenging to review”, I think that it’s fair to apply such a statement to SeaBed, due to one simple fact: it isn’t a game. It’s a visual novel (VN) in the truest sense of the word; there’s text that can be advanced with a click or set to auto-read, and pictures complement said text. Some VNs attempt to shake up the formula by adding dialogue choices or additional gameplay elements, giving the player a break from the ever-advancing walls of text; this isn’t the case with SeaBed.
Life is a series of choices. What to do, where to go, how to act, and so on. Some choose to live in the moment, focusing on their pursuits with reckless abandon. Others live for those around them, eager to help in whatever way they can. Regardless, everyone is their own person. It’s easy to look back on a series of events and think, “What if?” For instance, what if you had turned down that job offer? Then again, suppose you were dead broke and days away from ending up on the street. Suddenly, that job offer doesn’t seem like a choice. You may know of some potential repercussions; you may not. The decision remains the same, because, regardless of what hindsight may later tell you, it seems like the only option at the time. Such is the case with Last Day of June, a story-driven title that feels like a puzzle game version of Groundhog Day meets The Butterfly Effect.
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.
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.
So many games focus on conflict. Light versus dark. Good versus evil. Bokida: Heartfelt Reunion, though, takes a different approach, with the nameless protagonist working towards the unification of the yin and the yang. For too long, the two have been separated, but it is time for them to be reunited once more.
Generally, when one game adapts ideas from another, it will expand on them. It will add variations and extra wrinkles to the gameplay that were impossible when the original game came out. Sometimes, it will even throw in entirely new ideas that profoundly change the way the core mechanics work. I therefore find it interesting to see a game like Refunct, which seems to draw inspiration from an assortment of free-running games, but particularly Mirror’s Edge. Now, Mirror’s Edge is a game that I played through quite a while ago, but I remember that some of my biggest problems with it were just how big it was. The levels were large and complex, often requiring complex sequences of actions to traverse effectively. There was a lengthy story mode, which meant that some missions felt padded with unnecessary combat sections and other irritating set pieces. It was a good game at its core, but there was just too much of it. Then there’s Refunct, which strips away all the complexity and leaves only the bare necessities. While this scaled-back approach may seem counterproductive at first, I feel that it actually elevates Refunct to be a far more enjoyable experience.