Hempuli Oy’s Baba is You came out last month and has received nothing but praise, since. Baba is a puzzle game that is about re-writing the language of the game itself when you (Baba,Baba is You, remember?) move blocks of words. The developer, Arvi Teikari, is behind a ton of other games.
I think one of my absolute favourite things about this, beyond being a completely original and utterly brilliant puzzler, is how meticulously balanced it is in terms of offering progress. The difficulty curves up in each set of levels, getting pretty steep toward each groups’ end, but it unlocks the next set before you’ve completed them all. The difficulty of the next group dips back down again as it also introduces new rules, meaning that even if you’ve become completely stuck in one place, there’s likely somewhere else you can continue playing. Offering both super-difficulty and progress is all too rare, and something to celebrate.
An Ape has escaped, but he isn’t a friendly little hominid with a siren. No, this is a vicious one from Gabe Cuzzillo, Matt Boch, and Bennett Foddy, oddly enough. Ape Out is an overhead smash-em-up with noisy drums and it looks like much fun for anyone who enjoys escapism.
The whole game has an algorithmic masterpiece of a score by Matt Boch, frenetic drums that grow louder and faster as the violence increases, or dip into a lull at times of calm. Each death is greeted by a triumphant crash of cymbals, so you feel like a conductor in your own mad orchestra of carnage. You, somehow, feel part of the creative process. The way you smashed three men together, just so, leaving a blush of red over the blue carpet, and adding just a soupçon of orange viscera from your own wounds. “Ah, exquisite,” you think. “Perhaps I was always meant to be a great improvisational artist.” But there is no time to pause and admire your work, for you must knuckle on and create another.
Ape Out is $15 on the Nintendo Switch, and various stores for Windows, like itch.io, Humble, and Steam.
Ace Combat is a beloved series to me. I have a box full of the collector’s edition joysticks from a decade and a half ago when I found out how great the series was on PS2 and graduated to the Xbox 360 version. Dogfighting doesn’t require those sticks, it’s perfectly fine on any gamepad since the Dual Shock 2, but it felt even more glorious to fly through the arcade dogfighting skies of Ace Combat with joysticks and throttles.
After the ignominious spinoff Assault Horizon distanced the series from the shores of the strangereal eight years ago, Ace Combat 7 is finally available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows via Steam after a short period of console-onlyness. Brendan Caldwell called it well, for Rock Paper Shotgun:
…the story explodes outward like an expanding foam, into a complex sequence of nonsense and counter-nonsense. There is a space elevator. There are deadly drones. There is a princess. At one point you, a professional fighter pilot called “Trigger”, are relegated to a prison base, yet still expected (and trusted) to pilot an immensely expensive instrument of war over hostile AA guns. “Your mission,” says your new commander, “is to atone for your crimes.”
I won’t say why this line is uttered to you, because one of the biggest joys here is laughing out loud at the wall of batshittery that hits you with each mission, like a volley of missiles. But I will say this: Ace Combat 7 is the best JRPG so far this year.
The PlayStation 4 version of Skies Unknown also features an exclusive VR mode consisting of an Ace Combat 4-inspired mini-campaign. There are only three missions, and their objectives are less complicated than those of the main campaign, but even so, the experience of flying from the cockpit of a plane is engrossing. The feeling of speed and height is literally dizzying, the ability to freely look around and track a target with your gaze is terrific, and the act of pitching and rolling your plane is so effective at eliciting a feeling of actual g-force that I personally had a hard time doing more than one mission at once without breaking out into a nauseous sweat. It’s a shame that there’s no option to play the main campaign in VR–the head tracking and freelook alone would be incredibly useful–but the mode is a great addition nonetheless.
Ace Combat 7 is out now for your typical $60 on Xbox One,PlayStation 4, and Steam for Windows. The “launch edition” for the Xbox One includes a digital copy of the 360‘s Ace Combat 6 and other goodies. The PlayStation 4‘s version of the “please don’t wait until there’s a discount” edition includes the aforementioned VR mode, Ace Combat 5, and the goodies. Sadly, Steam users on Windows only get the goodies and are told to get fucked if they’d like to play the older games. All launch editions expire on the 18th. There are also some kind of season pass shenanigans with three missions exclusive to it.
Somehow, it’s still not as bad as the Anthem purchasing grid. Although Anthem doesn’t support real-world weapons manufacturers, Ace Combat 7 is at least veritably fun. Hm.
More usually a feature of games that have spent far too long in early access, No Man’s Sky feels like a game that’s made for people who already play No Man’s Sky. When an available game’s opening is reworked and reworked, iteration colliding with iteration, both the developers and current playerbase seem to lose track of accessibility, and that is woefully apparent in No Man’s Sky’s latest incarnation. Already being a very familiar player, I knew to just wearily restart the game three times until I got a planet that wasn’t outrageously toxic with Sentinels that attacked on sight. Three times it took me to get a habitable starting location where I could wrestle with all the daft new faff. None of this would be communicated to someone coming in cold, who would be left to assume that either the game was idiotically difficult, or broken.
The game’s controls and feel especially overloaded as Walker says:
Each menu seems to have contradictory controls, leaving me never knowing if I’m supposed to be left clicking, holding down left click, or pressing E, F or X, and even something as simple as moving items between your inventories is now a confusing jumble of both. Once where you could open a green box on the ground by just pressing a single key to get its contents, now you have to press X and select a menu to move some “rusty parts” out of the way, before it then dumps the item inside into a menu of its own choosing. It’s like they went through every single system and pondered how they could make it far more of a fiddle.
Despite all of the flaws, I love No Man’s Sky particular brand of exploration, quirks and all.
The miniaturizing nostalgia shrink ray is sprayed at everything now: Cars; entertainment systems both super and conventional Nintendo; iPads; arcade cabinets… There’s also now a The C64 Mini, not a Commodore 64 Mini or Classic Edition, but strictly The C64 Mini. Apparently they couldn’t get the name Commodore 64.
This miniature device that definitely isn’t a Commodore 64 also isn’t out yet in the U.S., but it is out almost everywhere else and I wouldn’t trust an American to review it, so here is Dr. Ashens’ review:
It sounds like this The C64 Mini isn’t going to be beloved like the original unless the firmware is updated in some fundamental way and they also recall and replace every joystick. Still, it is fun to hear someone who is familiar with all of the 64 games it ships with go over each one.