Cloth Map Tours Chernobyl & Goes to Eurovision

After visiting a Ukrainian nuclear missile base, Drew Scanlon of the Cloth Map travel documentary series, has visited the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Chernobyl.

If you’d like something more uplifting after watching that, take a look at Scanlon’s trip to Eurovision:

 

A Robot Named Fight Review (Windows)

Matt Bitner’s A Robot Named Fight feels like it might be the answer to a question: What if a third-party developer had made a Super Metroid style of game for Sega’s Genesis console?

Here’s the concept: You’re a robot, you fight some meat-monsters until your remains are tossed on a heap of other robots that have failed in their task. Each time the robot named Fight dies another robot you control shoots up a different procedurally generated series of rooms. Each bot is looking for a violent solution to the meat-monster problem, or at least some powerups for now and some upgrades that might be available for the next ‘bot. Ultimately, you must destroy the Megabeast. The developer calls it a “…pulsating moon-sized orb of flesh, eyes, mouths and reproductive organs…”

Most games in this metroidvania genre of side-scrollers try to significantly depart from their source material. In this case ARNF takes the unusual position of straight-up copying Samus’ spinning jump and a few other animations. They might not be perfect reproductions, but they are so close.

Now that isn’t bad, just a surprise as if you went into a Burger King for the first time and found them selling the exact same sandwich as you would find in a McDonald’s. Except in this game the fries and tray and your drink and cup and straw would be made of meat.

A Robot Named Fight has another clear ancestor in Rogue. That’s where it gets areas generated programmatically, or laid out by an algorithm, instead of designed and assembled by hand in a linear order. You might see the same kind of room in one run and another, but the layout of the rooms should almost never be the same as what you saw in your last attempt.

This is also a pretty difficult game. There is what the developer calls true permadeath, once you run out of health your run is done. No coffins or alien tubes to resurrect in. The game lets you save at any time, but that’s not a save you can go back to if, when, things go to shit. Although I did find a robo-tube save-room once, using it brought me back to life with a black screen that ultimately appeared to be a bug. After restarting the game I was back to a normal view. More typically, when Fight dies it’s back to the start for an almost entirely clean slate.

A Robot Named Fight is at least nice enough to follow the standard of giving you what you need most. If you’re low on health, you’ll get health when you splat some more monsters. Low on energy? Here you go.

The bosses I’ve faced so far aren’t super challenging, they generally feel like you can work out a simple strategy as long as you’ve had enough upgrades on the path to them.

Other little things contribute to the difficulty. Often, games can be generous with the amount of invincibility you get when landing in spikes or lava or whatever to get out of them, not in ARNF. If you land in spikes with some minor obstacle blocking your exit it could be game over.

Some of the most challenging parts of the game come when you least expect them. Once, when I had been through a room a few times before and was used to blasting everything before it could harm Fight, I wasn’t paying quite enough attention and got tangled by a glitch monster that screws with your controls. That wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t gotten me while I was over a pit of spikes where I struggled for a few moments watching my health dwindle before regaining control.

Like many modern metroidvania games, when you press the “select” button to bring up the map, or view the minimap in the top right of the screen, you’ll see an indicator for rooms with hidden powerups. But in ARNF I keep coming across misleading markers for hidden items where the marker is for one room but the adjoining area is actually where the hidden powerup is. It doesn’t take too long to figure out that you’re attacking the wrong zone, but it isn’t fun to waste a few minutes looking for something that isn’t there. It’s also a bit difficult to even see that the hidden powerup marker on the minimap when you’re in the room because the “you are here” blinking marker overlaps it. Then you realize while you’re staring at the map that bringing it up doesn’t pause the game and you might lose some health or die. Not fun.

Maybe the most frustrating part of A Robot Named Fight is that in some cases you’ll end up taking a path down that is a steep enough drop that you can’t return to the previous area. In one egregious case I went through a door on the floor intro a room that connected to one other but had no way to get back up or progress in any way because I hadn’t found a double-jump powerup on that run. 20 minutes of exploring down the drain because the procedurally laid out rooms had been generated poorly and then five minutes more of trying to find some way to progress by letting my robot bounce off of the two monsters that spawned in the room.

The developer is still patching the game, and I see patch notes for correcting similar issues so I would expect all of those situations to eventually be resolved, but in that case maybe this game should be in Steam’s Early Access program. I reported the bug and sent my save file to the developer before starting a fresh game in a different save slot.

The next run I had was my longest robo-life with the game at that point, 35 minutes or so where I explored a lot of the meatly ruins  It’s here that I finally had the default blaster leveled up with so many rate-of-fire powerups and other bonuses like flame damage to finally feel like I could breeze through areas without worrying too much about the monsters in them.

The final differentiating factor for this metroidvania is that it isn’t built for playing on a review schedule. A Robot Named Fight feels like a game where it is entirely run-based and would be best played at a leisurely pace, picking it up once or twice a day for a few weeks to experience a new layout of the wrecked planet each time. Playing repeated runs for long sessions felt defeating. One run might be great, but my next would sometimes throw me up against a boss immediately without enough powerups to win.

I like a lot of things about A Robot Named Fight, it is extremely familiar with callbacks to earlier games but also changes things up with the randomized level layout and meat-tacular theme, but it feels like it isn’t ready yet.

I love the feeling of progress in metroidvania games by unlocking more weapons and breezing through areas that were previously difficult, but ARNF isn’t always as rewarding with its progression as it should be.

I love randomized level layouts in some recent metroidvania games like Rogue Legacy and Dead Cells, but it’s clear with A Robot Named Fight that no human designed them when I ended up looking at layouts of rooms too often that made no sense. Secret paths that lead nowhere, broken rooms without an escape. these all made me feel like this game should be in beta, not a finished product. It is receiving patches every few days right now to fix these issues, and I can understand why someone might not want their game lumped into the early access program, but sometimes when you hit a bug ARNF feels like it’ll be done in 3 months, not today.

Still, there’s something charming about the meaty challenge. If you’re looking for something that you can’t turn your brain off and breeze through, this could be that game for you. For me, I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach the Megabeast but I will keep trying a run or two every few nights.

3 out of 5 reanimated meat monsters for A Robot Named Fight. It’s out now at $10 on Steam for Windows and macOS. A Linux version is planned.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! is Out on Steam

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! (that is the actual name of the game) was delayed but is now available for your restauranteering contentment. Or extreme frustration, you know, whichever emotion you feel when you have pressure on you to perform a series of cooking tasks. I love this kind of game, but as I wrote in my last post about it, I fear that my reflexes are too terrible to play this kind of game anymore.

The new version promises higher resolution graphics, local split-screen drop-in/drop-out co-op throughout the entirely new 60+ hour campaign. CSD! 2!! is also supposed to be more flexible in its difficulty, so maybe I could throw myself at it again.

If you would like to test your mettle, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! is out on Windows, macOS, and Linux via Steam (as well as through the Humble store) for $13. A PlayStation 4 version is also in development.

Nintendo Promises More Stock of Classic Editions

SNES Box image via Nintendo

Nintendo put out a press release announcing that they would both manufacture more NES Classic Editions this coming summer, 2018, as well as making more Super NES Classic Editions available at launch on September 29th than they had shipped of the NES CE all last year.

It’s good that Nintendo are finally going to potentially thwart some people who are taking advantage of shortages, but this commitment should have happened a long time ago.

Wattam Has a Steam Page

Keita Takahashi is the beloved creator of Katamari Damacy, and he is working on a new project, Wattam. That game finally has a page on Steam you can go to and wishlist so that the store notifies you when it is ready for your money to receive the game or pre-order it when it is released for Windows next year. It is supposed to be destined for consoles as well, but no word as to which or when. Go and participate in modern capitalism.

It’s 2017 and Windjammers is Available Again

Speaking of games that have left a void and been inexpertly filled by well-intentioned developers. The Neo Geo classic disc tossing game that’s basically pong if it involved a gruff euro beach 90’s future aesthetic,  Windjammers, has been riffed on so many times. It’s actually been thrilling to see who gets the closest to surpassing the original game because it was so difficult to get a hold on many Neo Geo games legitimately.

Those days are over, as long as you have a PlayStation 4 or (surprisingly) a PlayStation Vita. DotEmu has brought the original game back out on these Sony platforms for $15, with some pretty big updates to multiplayer and leaderboards that go beyond your typical ROM-in-an-emulator package but don’t seem to change the art or gameplay. Buying one version also nets you the other with Sony’s cross-buy promotion.

Advance Wars Gets Unofficial Sequel in Tiny Metal

It has been almost a decade since Nintendo and Intelligent Systems released Advance Wars: Days of Ruin for the Nintendo DS. This void in the turn-based-strategy-with-cute-troops genre has been poorly filled by third party developers looking to recreate the past. We’ve got another challenger to fill the TBSWCT hole in our hearts. The development group Area35 are working on Tiny Metal for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows and macOS. They’re promising a single-player campaign that lasts eight-to-ten hours.

I actually like the 3D-toy style of Tiny Metal a bit more than Advance Wars, but it’s good that they’ve found something a little different than the 2D perspective that is typical to Advance Wars games.

The pre-release gameplay footage above is promising, here’s hoping that Area35 hits the mark when the game is released later this year.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is Another Surprise

Ubisoft has developed XCOM: Baby Mode with a Nintendo license for the Switch called Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. It reminds me of my favorite JRPG, Super Mario RPG, because both games were developed by third-parties using a Mario license to get a genre of games out to more people than would normally try them. With Super Mario RPG, that was the JRPG, with Mario + Rabbids, it’s the turn-based strategy from old DOS games brought to life again but this time Mario has a gun for some reason.

Chris Scullion reviewed it:

…the game’s still funny thanks to the character animations. From the way Rabbid Mario poses like he thinks he’s God’s gift to hares, to the way Rabbid Peach takes selfies of herself while one particular boss plummets to its doom (as Luigi looks on disturbed), the cutscenes and animations constantly had me chuckling in ways the dialogue never threatened to.

Ultimately, despite the exploration sections and the writing being slightly underwhelming, the main meat of Mario + Rabbids remains the turn-based combat sections so it’s a good job this is where the game truly shines.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is out now on the Nintendo Switch.

Sonic Mania is a Surprisingly Good Sonic Game

I’ve been kind of blindsided by this one. Although I don’t enjoy many of the mechanics in even the supposedly good original Sonic games, there was something special about them at the time that has been elusive to any of the developers working on the countless Sonic games since the first few on the Genesis.

From everything I’ve heard and read, Sonic Maniafrom Christian Whitehead and other third-party developers, fulfills the promise of a Sonic game in a way that Sega has been unable to fulfill. That includes the pitfalls of the original games, but without dumbass additions like guns that ruin modern Sonic games.

It’s out now on Steam for Windows as well as the Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 for $20.