Month: October 2018

Hoplite

Hoplite

Hoplite is a neat little title that will inevitably leave players asking, “Was that it?” With turn-based gameplay and laughably simple graphics, it hews close to a classic roguelike, but it also feels like an asymmetric version of chess starring a “one-man army” piece. This genre isn’t known for evoking power fantasies, but Hoplite’s smooth interface will make you feel way more badass than you’d expect. Throwing your spear and then teleporting over to it, and using your shield to knock back bombs and slam enemies against walls are all available techniques. Visualizing them requires a bit of imagination, but they still feel cool.

Unfortunately, all of this is introduced in the span of 10 minutes, and it never evolves beyond that. The basic goal is to collect a treasure on floor 16, with later floors available for those who purchase the full game, but those later floors contain only greater numbers of what you’ve already faced. These mechanics are dying for additional enemy types, terrain variation, and creative upgrades beyond range boosters and the aforementioned teleportation. It’s also too retro for its own good – the RNG loves to slap you with inescapable situations, and the screechy sound effects become irksome quickly (though not the music, surprisingly).

Primordia

Primordia

This is the sharpest adventure game since Machinarium, which is fitting, because it’s practically the same subject matter approached from a different angle. Primordia is a much more cynical game, but not to the point of obsession. Spots of humour frequently pierce the haze of its decayed setting, making many of the characters instantly likeable. The dialogue is top-notch regardless of the tone it’s carrying, and the narrative it conveys is stellar. It tackles many of the themes that NieR: Automata would later be praised for, but stuffs them into a much tighter package. I especially appreciate that there are few disposable characters – nearly all of them have significant histories to suss out.

Primordia also avoids the usual adventure game trap of having to ignore the gameplay to enjoy the story. The puzzles are clever and surprisingly varied, requiring nearly as much codebreaking and syntactic logic as inventory management. Furthermore, hints are neatly integrated into the scenario as the main characters naturally discussing what they should do. The primary thing holding Primordia back is that it’s just an adventure game. Outside of small additions like using your tiny, floating sidekick as a puzzle-solving tool, it’s a pretty bog-standard AGS product. It also looks like deep-fried shit thanks to its miniscule resolution, but at least that’s offset by a beautifully subdued electronic soundtrack.

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale

Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is an incredibly charming and original game that’s only slightly more fun than working an actual retail job. The amazing localization, inhumanly catchy soundtrack, and sheer audacity of the premise are immediately compelling, but the joy disappears a few hours into the 15-20-hour campaign. It should be no surprise that alternating between a dungeon crawler and an item shop management sim is going to leave little depth to go around, and the dungeon crawler gets the short end of just about every stick in that regard.

That’s somewhat excusable, since loot acquisition is the real goal of the adventuring segments. What’s not excusable is how unbearably repetitive both sides of the experience become. Despite an ostensibly complex system of haggling, customer preferences, and market demands, running the shop is just a matter of repeating the same pattern ad nauseam. Delving deeper into the dungeons introduces only stronger palette swaps of existing enemies, rather than anything new and regardless of the dungeon’s theme.

Design missteps try my patience further. The “2D sprite vs. 3D model vs. a different kind of 2D sprite” art style looks sloppy and wreaks havoc with the hit detection. There are wide gaps in the survivability of the playable adventurers. Most of the bosses have weak points requiring some ingenuity, while others merely charge you and demand brute force in return. The final straw was realizing that despite every mechanic being over-tutorialized, many of them are taught incorrectly. There’s an interesting, quirky story hiding in the margins, but I’m not sure it’s worth pushing through to discover it.

Devil’s Attorney

Devil’s Attorney

There are lots of ways to make an amoral protagonist likeable: go completely over-the-top or tongue-in-cheek, make them the lesser of two evils, give them other redeeming qualities, etc. Or you can go the Devil’s Attorney route and just not even bother. This game’s star would be an obnoxious Mary Sue even if he wasn’t also a despicable human being, so it’s bizarre that half of the play time is spent just observing him being obnoxious and despicable. Pile on a fair bit of repetition, a completely bizarre ending, and that ubiquitous functional-yet-bland mobile game art style, and this should be a complete write-off.

…And yet, it’s not without merit. Despite the gameplay being all about the courtroom, this is far from an Ace Attorney clone. It’s more like a turn-based RPG that swaps attacks, magic, and healing for arguments, manipulations, and weaponized narcissism. It’s an extremely clever and satisfying setup at times, usually because it makes you feel clever by solving it. I wish I could excise it (and maybe the voice acting) and transplant it into a more hospitable host.

NieR: Automata

NieR: Automata

“What’s the difference between a human and a machine? Is it worth living an existence without any inherent meaning? These are the questions I ask as I roam the ruins of civilization, a soldier in an eternal war. Anyway, here are my panties.”

That’s the NieR: Automata narrative experience in a nutshell. Iconic character design is admirable, but it’s disappointing that a game with a story so layered, symbolic, and fervently diegetic as this would stoop to such distracting fanservice. I feel the need to mention this because it feels so beneath the rest of the game, which, while noticeably imperfect, is so batshit insane that it’s absolutely worth playing anyway.

It’s telling that Platinum Games’ signature hyperactive beat ‘em up gameplay feels relatively tame here. Yeah, you’re doing acrobatic dodge moves and swinging around weapons taller than yourself, but you also hack robots via bullet hell shooter, battle newborn humanoid hiveminds, and self-destruct by removing your own OS chips. There are tons of ideas here, so not all of them are fully realized – particularly the open world, which is too appropriately lifeless for its own good. It needs a middle ground between difficulty settings, and the controls are pretty convoluted, but the combat comes with satisfying depth, and the soundtrack is spectacular. The bottom line is that you may be annoyed by NieR: Automata, but you’ll never be bored.