Into the Breach Breached

Subset Games’ FTL was a huge hit for anyone looking to get into the realm of managing spaceships in difficult times. Their follow-up, Into the Breach, looks a bit closer to Final Fantasy Tactics or Advance Wars, which are all the good kinds of wars.

Alex Wiltshire liked it a lot:

If you’ve played FTL, you’ll remember the very particular kind of clammy-palmed panic it’d conjure as you’d face another seemingly no-win situation. Into the Breach will bring that feeling right back, and it’s wonderful.

As a bonus until the 6th of March, Subset is offering a copy of FTL if you buy Into the Breach through gog or Humble instead of directly on Steam. It’s $15. Subset has also planned that the game will hit other platforms, but right now it’s only on Windows.

Chrono Trigger’s Surprise Steam for Windows Release

Screen Shot 2018 02 27 at 2 08 37 PM

Square surprised us all today with a version of Chrono Trigger up on Steam for Windows. No announcement before the release, just up on the shop it goes. What would be more surprising than that? What if it turned out that this is really a not-so-hot port of the mobile game? Expectations tempered. It’s $15 if you’re missing an emulator or would like to justify your download of the ROM. Recommended follow-up reading, this thread from Jason Scott.

Puyo Puyo Tetris is on Windows Today

That sounds like a morning breakfast show, doesn’t it? Well, Windows Today isn’t a thing, but Puyo Puyo Tetris is out for Windows via Steam, today, it’s $20. I played a short bit and it felt just as good as it does on the Switch, which reviewed well as we discussed previously. It is very odd to have a lot of visual novel cutscenes that take forever to tell their story inbetween levels of the single-player campaign, but those are easily skipped if you’re not interested in anime characters screaming at each other about how their worlds have been ripped asunder to bring Puyo Puyo and Tetris together.

Battleship Solitaire

Battleship

There’s something special to free games on the web. Luke Rissacher (via Tom Francis)has this quick game, Battleship Solitaire. It is  a  “mindless podcast companion” as he describes it. I like that it is simple callback to a beloved board game, and has elements of sudoku, minesweeper, and picross. Fun.

Burnout Paradise Remastered on March 16th for Consoles

Electronic Arts announced a remastered version of Burnout Paradise coming to the PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One on March 16th for $40. The Windows version will be on Origin “soon” but  doesn’t have a release date yet.

This version will include all of the original Paradise’s DLC, like the Big Surf Island expansion and cars that look like close to famous rides (KITT, Ecto-1, and more) from movies and TV. Big Surf Island and all were never on Windows before, but you can still get another version of Burnout Paradise on Steam (or Origin) for $20. The Xbox 360 game is also backwards compatible on the Xbox One.

Paradise is a fine game, and this version’s mainly boasting about updates to the graphical fidelity with a 4k resolution and 60 frames-per-second on the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X, but I’ll always miss a real crash mode from the older Burnout games. It’ll be good to read impressions once this update is out.

The Fall Part 2: Unbound, Released, You Can Now Be Train

The Fall was a fantastic, short, adventure about an AI combat suit that activates when it crash lands on an unknown planet, its duty was to protect the unconscious human pilot inside. That was Part 1, things are different in Part 2, and you can see a bit of that in the gameplay footage above where ARID tries to convince her friend that he isn’t train.

I absolutely loved part 1 of The Fall, it was a genuinely surprise when it was released almost 4 years ago, and it has been a terrible wait for part 2. If you haven’t played part 1 then you are in luck as (temporarily) you get both for the price of the second part at $17 on Steam or Humble for Windows, macOS, and Linux. The developers point out that you don’t have to play part 1 first, but, with this deal you don’t have much to lose in getting 2 and playing them in order or going at 2 first and playing 1 as a prequel. They equate it to being like the Mass Effect games, they’re fine standalone, with maybe the exception of the third game… and Andromeda, which I’ve never unwrapped.

The Fall Part 2: Unbound is also out separately for the Nintendo Switch, without part 1 (which is on the Wii-U).

It’s also on the Xbox One, where you can get the same bundle as on Steam but for 54 cents more. If you already have part 1 and want to save 54 cents, here’s the link to the regular Xbox One version of part 2.

There’s a PlayStation 4 listing but the game isn’t up there yet, I’ll update this post with a link there later on.

The HomePod Situation

Apple’s competitor to other standalone high-end speakers came out on Friday. It’s the HomePod. Apple boasts about its higher quality sound that adapt to the room you are in, reviewers agree.

Nilay Patel wrote this in his review:

All of this means the HomePod sounds noticeably richer and fuller than almost every other speaker we’ve tested. You get a surprisingly impressive amount of bass out of it, but you can still hear all of the details in the midrange and the bass never overwhelms the music. And it’s immediately, obviously noticeable: set in a corner of my kitchen, the HomePod sounded so much better than everything else that our video director Phil Esposito went from thinking the whole thing was kind of dumb to actively pointing out that other speakers sounded bad in comparison.

Compared to the HomePod, the Sonos One sounds a little empty and the Google Home Max is a bass-heavy mess — even though Google also does real-time room tuning. The Echo and smaller Google Home aren’t even in the same league. The only comparable speaker that came close in my testing was the Sonos Play:5, which could match the detail and power of the HomePod in some rooms when tuned with Sonos’ TruePlay system. But it also costs more, is larger, and doesn’t have any smart features at all.

The Apple engineers I talked to were very proud of how the HomePod sounds, and for good reason: Apple’s audio engineering team did something really clever and new with the HomePod, and it really works. I’m not sure there’s anything out there that sounds better for the price, or even several times the price.

What most reviewers also say is that Siri isn’t as hot as the virtual assistant competition in “OK, Google” and Amazon’s Alexa.

Joanna Stern for the WSJ:

Stumping Siri wasn’t as easy as it has been—it knew state capitals, kitchen measurements and the year “Friends” premiered. But Alexa and Google Assistant not only knew more answers, they could better parse my questions. When I asked, “Who is the prime minister of England?” they both correctly named Theresa May. On the HomePod, Siri only knew the answer when I asked, more appropriately, “Who is the prime minister of Great Britain?”

There are other problems I won’t shut up about: Many people will put a HomePod in the kitchen, yet it can’t set two simultaneous cooking timers. It can’t wake me up to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” either. Echo and Google Home can do both. Apple says it is improving Siri all the time.

Of course the “Who is the prime minister of England?” question no-longer stumps Siri, Apple read that review and fixed the glitch, but they’d do that for whatever trivia a reviewer points out. More fundamental issues like the one with multiple timers have been a thorn in the side of anyone who uses iOS’ built-in timer for the past decade, and every Homepod reviewer seems to have taken the time to (rightly) dig into Apple on it.

Siri on the HomePod also fails at understanding multiple users. This is a real issue because it won’t lock other people out of your messages and other personalized features. So, unless you live alone and never have guests, it would never make sense to turn on the personalized features option in the HomePod’s settings.

The other downside is that the device only works out of the box with Apple Music and other music in Apple’s ecosystem through iTunes Match or purchased in iTunes.

I wish that there were a cheaper HomePod Jr. that was cheaper than $350, and that Siri had worked better on the device today. It will get better over time, and I know that for many people that want a smart speaker they’re going to choose the Amazon or Google options, but I wouldn’t ever buy a box running Amazon or Google’s assistants for one reason: Trust.

Google is an advertising publisher, they are fantastic at search, but that’s how they make their money. So, their assistant-in-a-box is not something I would ever trust to keep in my home. I don’t even use their browser, Chrome.

Amazon is a weird business that wants to put something in your home so that you will buy things through it and it can learn more about you to sell you more things. Amazon is more focused on being user-friendly than Google, but the ultimate goal is still so that you’ll be used to ordering paper towels or whatever through their assistant. They also have abhorrent labor practices.

Kelly Weill for the Daily Beast:

In 2015, Ohio gave Amazon more than $17 million in tax breaks to open its first two distribution centers in the state. The handout was heralded as a job-creator.

By August 2017, more than one in ten of those new Ohio Amazon employees or their family members received government food assistance, state data show.

Spencer Soper at The Morning Call reporting on conditions inside an Amazon warehouse back in 2011:

Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.

During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.

An emergency room doctor in June called federal regulators to report an “unsafe environment” after he treated several Amazon warehouse workers for heat-related problems. The doctor’s report was echoed by warehouse workers who also complained to regulators, including a security guard who reported seeing pregnant employees suffering in the heat.

Apple, in theory, wants to sell you a good product that does a thing that you will hopefully find delightful. I believe that their engineers take privacy seriously, and genuinely try to treat their workers well even though the executives fuck up like clockwork, I haven’t seen anything as galling as what happens with Amazon and Google.

The Apple engineers, at least, try to do as much as possible with processing our data on our devices instead of shipping your data off to their server farms to analyze it. Siri does require shipping your voice data off, but I would bet $100 that some of Siri’s limitations are down to the security restrictions Apple has in-place to protect our privacy.

It’s wrong to personify any company, but this is the only company I would trust to have a microphone in my home all day. I also like Apple Music, I’ve been using it daily since 2015 and I still love it.

That’s why I’d be good with trusting the HomePod with what it offers today, and would recommend it to someone who wants to listen to music, podcasts, or other audio sent over Apple’s AirPlay to the dingus. I just have no idea where it would even fit into my life.

I use a cheap bluetooth speaker in the bathroom to listen to music and the news while I take a shower or give my kid a bath. I bring an even cheaper bluetooth speaker with us to the playground so that we can listen to music and baseball games. The HomePod can’t replace the bluetooth speaker in either of those scenarios.

When I want to listen to music in my house I can turn on the Apple TV box, TV, and audio/video receiver with one tap of the remote. The speakers inside the HomePod sound great, but they aren’t going to beat a real stereo set. The HomePod doesn’t have a physical line-in, so it can’t replace my AVR and speakers.

So, I don’t really know where the HomePod is supposed to fit in, for me and my family. It’s not a soundbar, it’s only a bluetooth speaker replacement when you don’t need portability, and obviously don’t need it to work with non-Apple devices since the HomePod only supports Apple’s AirPlay. Maybe if you live an extremely minimal life it’d fit in for you. What a strange device.

Puyo Puyo Tetris for Windows on February 27th

Almost everybody seems to have liked Puyo Puyo Tetris on the Switch and PlayStation 4. Sega  combined the Puyo Puyo and Tetris puzzles games, but you can also just play either in a bunch of different modes. It came out early last year and it’s finally hitting Windows via Steam on February 27th.

Caty McCarthy’s review of the Switch version for US Gamer:

In Arcade Mode, both solo and multiplayer, there are six particular types of battling: Versus (choosing your poison before battle: Puyos or Tetriminos), Fusion (a combination of Tetris and Puyo Puyo in the same field), Party (where cleared items obstruct your nemesis in different ways, such as speeding up time), Challenge (a challenging six different modes in a row), Big Bang (where preset Tetrimino or Puyo patterns await you, and you clear them as fast as you can), and finally, my personal favorite mode, Swap. In Swap, the player musters through two games simultaneously: a Puyo Puyo match and a Tetris match. The maps shift back and forth between the other every 25 seconds, and as your maps build, the game grows increasingly tense with each swap. One slip-up, and it could spell the end.

Not every mode in Puyo Puyo Tetris is a rousing success though. Some modes—like Fusion and Big Bang—feel tedious and not as frenetically quick-witted as the others. In Swap, I had to be agile and constantly be aware of my maps’ structures. In Fusion, the mixture of Puyos and Tetriminos operating in the same space just makes for a cluttered, frustrating experience. Big Bang, while fun for a match or two, only works on the pretense of its repetition. And once that’s been seen, it loses its fast-paced feverish joy, and becomes the most boring of all the modes.

Puyo Puyo Tetris is up on Steam for Windows with a pre-order discount of 10%, but I’d hold off until reviews are out just in case this port doesn’t turn out so hot.

Monsters I’ll Never Hunt(er): World

Monster Hunter checks so many boxes that make me never want to play it. Lets go over them:

  • Can’t pause the game to take care of my kid
  • I don’t like hunting
  • The monsters aren’t really bothering you, why hunt them?
  • Different weapons for different enemies. I hated this about The Witcher games, too.

There you go, that’s my complete list of excuses for not playing Monster Hunter: World. If you love murdering dragons with your pals, your cat buddies, or alone, don’t let me stop you.

Bob Mackey is my go-to Monster Hunter reviewer, here’s some of what he said about this one:

If you’re new to the whole Monster Hunter thing, the appeal isn’t hard to explain: essentially, it’s a loot-focused RPG built around a series of boss fights against large (and fictional) dinosaur-type creatures. But the sheer amount of depth Capcom applies to this basic idea explains why it’s so easy to sink hundreds of hours into any single Monster Hunter game. Since you’ll be fighting the same creatures over and over again for the sake of building the best gear, battles involve more than mindlessly mashing buttons. Monsters each have their own specific behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses, and since you’ll be attacking them with unwieldy weapons, even an action as simple as, say, swinging a ten-foot sword requires some degree of planning. Mastering each weapon is akin to mastering a fighting game character: each weapon type features multiple combos and special moves that aren’t always apparent.  

And “planning” is basically the name of the game in Monster Hunter. One of the reasons it’s such an addictive experience can be found in how well it rewards you for thinking ahead. You not only have to think about which weapon and armor will aid you best in a hunt—you also need to keep in mind which of the many, many items available may help you fight a specific monster. But it’s not just how you fight monsters; it’s also where. The diverse environments of Monster Hunter offer their own advantages and disadvantages, and the complexity doesn’t stop there. The area you attack on the monster in question—and the weapon you attack with—determines the loot you get, which gives you smaller objectives within the overarching one. Each (typically 5-to-30-minute) battle contains so many variables that even your third consecutive fight against the same monster can bring some new surprises

Monster Hunter: World is $60 at least and out now on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Capcom has a version coming out on Windows this Fall.

Celeste Looks Beautiful

Originally a game for the PICO-8 fantasy computer (that I wrote about here), Celeste is a hardcore platformer from the developers of TowerFall that has now become a complete thing and is universally loved for its beautiful aesthetic and challenge.

Polygon’s Russ Frustick reviewed it:

Celeste feels like a very capably made platformer, easily on par with other masocore greats. But where it really sets itself apart is in its incredible presentation values. The game is home to some of the best 2D pixel art I’ve seen. Inspired by the SNES era, the characters and environments in Celeste are vibrant and memorable, adding way more visual charm than the genre usually provides. The aforementioned resort level is filled with peeling wallpaper, rusted elevator cages and moonlit mountain views, while a later level set in a temple features spooky totems and spinning torches. These visuals are backed by a stellar score from Lena Raine, whose synthy chiptune beats harken back to the days of Donkey Kong Country. And the adventure is held together by a gorgeous low-poly 3D model of Celeste Mountain that helps to convey the scale and trajectory of the climb.

Celeste is on so many platforms, and it’s $20. Steam for Windows, macOS, Linux. itch for Windows, macOS, LinuxThe Nintendo Switch eShopThe PlayStation 4’s store. The Xbox One’s garbage web store that made me log-in just to browse to this game.