Month: December 2018

Salt and Sanctuary

Salt and Sanctuary

I’m constantly searching for a Souls-like that isn’t designed by assholes, where all the mechanics are effectively tutorialized, the checkpoints are distributed humanely, and all hints of artificial difficulty have been exorcized out. Such a game would be practically perfect. Salt and Sanctuary is not that game. In fact, had I realized how closely it mimics its inspiration, including every unintuitive detail of its interface, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. Which is not to say that it’s terrible. Part of copying Dark Souls is copying the things it does right, so S&S is still intensely atmospheric, impressively deep, and skilled at environmental storytelling. There’s just not much reason to play it unless your major issue with Dark Souls was its number of dimensions.

Anything that doesn’t owe its existence to From Software is an undisciplined jumble of quality. Switching to a wholehearted Metroidvania was appreciated, but the continued omission of a map in such a case is inexcusable. Wall-jumping and the ability to reveal/disperse certain matter via torchlight are cool features, but the controls are still emulating the clunky movement of armoured 3D characters. I’d love to welcome the full co-op gameplay with open arms, but it’s clearly a late addition, as it’s noticeably unbalanced and often bizarrely implemented. Finally, that brutal, smoky art style is terrible for navigation and populated by characters that comically look and animate like Salad Fingers.

rymdkapsel

rymdkapsel

rymdkapsel is a sci-fi version of Rampart with no multiplayer but infinitely better aesthetics. That’s it. RTS base-building realized via tetrominoes is a slick idea; I look forward to a game that uses it without feeling like a proof of concept. The game’s problem isn’t that it’s brief, but that it’s brief because it’s completely trivial. I breezed through the main objectives on my second try and felt no desire to do the same in New Game Plus, having already seen everything there was. It was a smooth experience during those two playthroughs, but only because all opportunities for depth or micromanagement were sacrificed to the minimalism gods.

Kirby’s Dream Land 2

Kirby’s Dream Land 2

I consider myself a Kirby fan, but only when the series is partaking in gimmicky cartoon weirdness. The titles that try to be regular platformers, like Kirby’s Dream Land 2, just feel generic and empty. The fan-dubbed “Dark Matter Trilogy,” of which this was the first release, is supposedly meant to be slower and more puzzle-focused, but it’s really only the former, as guessing which copy ability will allow access to a secret area does not count as a puzzle. The copy abilities as a whole represent an enduring problem for the franchise. They were the contribution of Kirby’s Adventure to the “gimmicky cartoon weirdness” category, but now they just stick around, erasing the last glimmers of structure that the power of flight in a 2D platformer didn’t already destroy.

The only “unique” feature here is rideable animal partners, if you ignore that it’s just copying Donkey Kong Country. The rare instances where levels are designed with these characters in mind cause the game to come alive for a bit, but for the most part, they work much like the copy abilities – tossed in wherever and without reason. The twist in this case was supposed to be that each of the three animals would provide variations of each copy ability, but that’s only the case a third of the time. Mostly, it’s just the same ability being executed by the animal instead of Kirby.

A Bird Story

A Bird Story

To the Moon’s pseudo-follow-up carries on its predecessor’s legacy of excellent sprite art, powerful music, and a narrative that’s both heartwarming and heartwrenching, but it’s also missing a decent hook. There’s no mystery and only a little conflict, which the wordless storytelling renders quite opaque. In fact, I’m not even entirely sure how the plot resolves itself. “Mundane” is probably the single word that most comes to mind. Aside from some striking imagery, A Bird Story’s premise is very clichéd, and the first half hour is slow even by the standards of exploration games – it feels much like the non-action parts of a David Cage game. It’s both touching and funny despite everything, but it’s clear that its creator does his best work with more complex, unorthodox material.

Boson X

Boson X

Boson X is like Temple Run with the physical layout of Tempest, but the geometric minimalism and twitch gameplay bring to mind Super Hexagon so much that if you liked that game, it’s practically guaranteed that you’ll like this one. The premise is that you’re a scientist running and jumping through a particle accelerator so stylized it’s unrecognizable as such. That’s pretty much it, but the game makes the most of it, with wild, shifting levels that test every facet of the movement controls. Said controls are rather unintuitive – holding left or right prolongs your jump just as holding up does, rather than shifting multiple lanes – but once you adjust, smoothly flying through a level is satisfying.

Other things can’t be adjusted to, however, like the unbalanced procedural generation that doesn’t realize how much easier and harder certain obstacle patterns are. The visual design is either an eye-popping treat or astonishingly inconvenient for gameplay purposes; it varies from moment to moment. The all-important soundtrack is more consistent, and while it’s not up to Super Hexagon standards, it’s still pretty good. Overall, I was often frustrated with Boson X, but I also kept coming back to it.