Category: PS Vita

Flower

Flower

Playing Flower in 2019 really shows how far art games have come. With obvious inspiration from Passage, this is like the gaming equivalent of Oscar bait – using up a whole lot of artistic talent to say a whole lot of nothing. After an hour of gorgeous scenery and aimless gameplay, the game’s big statement boils down to “beautiful things > not beautiful things.” A lot of elements of the presentation still haven’t been replicated elsewhere, but in some cases, that’s because they don’t work very well. The unorthodox controls effectively capture the intended feeling of weightlessness but don’t lend themselves to the collection gameplay, which feels undercooked and inconsistent even by art game standards. It’s also quite obvious how infantile procedural audio was at this point, as the music often feels disjointed even during the story’s initial relaxing arc.

Axiom Verge

Axiom Verge

Axiom Verge is the best type of game – one that uses a solid template as a jumping-off point for a host of crazy ideas. The template in this case is Metroid, and the crazy ideas include weaponizing in-universe glitches, phasing through walls, and exploring caves with a rifle-mounted drill. It should be an amazing nostalgic love letter, but seemingly everything that makes it awesome has a caveat attached to it. There are over a dozen weapons, but none of them are remotely balanced. The aesthetics are a nearly flawless NES recreation, but that means the environments are a pixelated jumble and the audio is unbearably screechy. The controls are excellent, except for the later movement abilities, which all handle terribly.

Much has been made of Thomas Happ’s one-man development effort, and with good reason: he clearly knows what makes this genre tick. Between the setting and the enemies, I haven’t seen a game world feel so completely alien since the last Metroid Prime. Between that and the meaty challenge (excepting some uneven boss fights), this 8-bit side-scroller can be uncommonly frightening. The one sector where Happ should definitely do some outsourcing is storytelling, however. After an intriguing first half, the plot abruptly implodes, with nonsensical twists involving every imaginable sci-fi cliché. It’s possible this was meant as another layer of homage, because it’s the kind of stream-of-consciousness schlock that informed 80s video games. In that case, mission accomplished, unfortunately.

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.