New Year, Same Old Routine
The new year is a time for reflection, better choices, new year’s resolutions and all that jazz. For me, it’s a time of mental fortitude and a willingness to power-through life’s immortal enemy; work. From January through March, my personal/gaming time is severely limited due to my profession, however, this isn’t my first rodeo. As I enter my 7th season/year in the financial services/hedge fund industry, I’ve grown to make better use of my time, yet there’s always something that falls by the wayside. On the gaming-front, a fresh new year is an opportunity to start brand new games, close-out ones that have been in-progress and restart my annual goal of “52 games completed” (which you can participate in here). For January of 2019, I managed to beat 3 games, so without further ado…
GRIS, developed by Nomada Studio, is a short & sweet puzzle-platformer with a beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic. Games like Braid, Limbo and INSIDE have popularized and reignited the 2D “art-formers” of yesterday and classics like Another World, Prince of Persia, Heart of Darkness and even Abe’s Odyssey/Exodus paved the way for what a lot of indie studios are achieving today, GRIS included. Despite its strong emphasis on narrative and storytelling through art and minimalism, GRIS is a lot more game-y than I was expecting it to be. GRIS is an abstract journey which depicts a female character who’s lost her voice and the trials & tribulations one must go through to find one’s self-worth (or that’s what I’ve gathered at least as the game has virtually zero dialogue).
In a Metroid-like fashion, the game is centered around an interconnected hub, which evolves as the player unlocks new abilities and completes each of the areas that branches from it. Every level is thematically unique, both in its visual presentation and gameplay mechanics. In one world, for example, the player obtains the ability to become a block, which allows one to break through certain environmental pieces or solve puzzles. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome, either. Each world is relatively linear, but some levels do allow certain objectives to be tackled in a non-linear fashion. My biggest disappointment with the game, however, is that you cannot backtrack to older areas, but there is a chapter select which gives the player an opportunity to discover any missed secrets (which there are a handful to be discovered).
I completed the game in two or three sessions on my Nintendo Switch, but I’ve yet to find all the hidden items or unlock the secret challenges. I will likely go back and complete the game at 100%, but I’m in no rush to return to the experience anytime soon. Although GRIS is a beautifully animated journey, it didn’t quite deliver the hard & heavy emotional gut-punch I was hoping it would. I would certainly recommend it to those who enjoy a lot of the aforementioned 2D puzzle-platformers, but it didn’t have the same impact on me as games like INSIDE or The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories.
Black Bird, developed by Onion Games, and from the visionary mind behind such titles as Chulip, Little King’s Story (a personal favorite of mine) and Rule of Rose, comes a side-scrolling shooter that pays homage to the classic arcade shooter, Fantasy Zone. Onion Games is a Japanese independent studio consisted of a handful of industry veterans, including Yoshiro Kimura, Kazuyuki Kurashima and Tom Ikeda. While their previous games have been exclusive to mobile devices, Black Bird is Onion Game’s first console/PC debut and boy is it one weird game! One could say that Black Bird’s presentation evokes a silent film from the 1920s, complete with the film graininess and strange vignettes between stages that one would expect. There’s no spoken dialogue, but the game appears to portray the life of an orphaned girl whose parents were killed in gruesome accidents (or even murdered?).
After the girl appears to be shied away from an orphanage, the little one collapses and a man with a cane turns her into an egg, which ultimately hatches and becomes a disembodied crow-like head that wrecks havoc on the inhabitants of what appears to be a European-styled town. It’s dark and disturbing yet nonetheless charming due to its cute sprites, strange denizens and enemies that animate, dance and march throughout the city streets. The player can fly left or right and the stage will loop until all target enemies (towers) are eliminated. Each level culminates in bizarre boss battles, which are supposed to resemble the things/people who have scarred/harmed the girl from her past. The game is also relatively short, but it is meant to be replayed as there are multiple endings based on certain max/total score thresholds. In each level, there are hidden characters to shoot for bonus points and opportunities to earn more health, screen-clearing bombs and speed power-ups (which make the player move faster).
Black Bird’s got traditional “shmup/STG” mechanics at its core, but everything melds together rather nicely. It seems like completing each stage quickly while using bombs at max score multiplier is the intended way to play, as the “True Ending” is quite difficult to achieve if you don’t know the game/enemy patterns by heart. It’s not the easiest shooter, either. There are no lives/continues, however, the crow’s hit-box is rather small and there are plenty of opportunities to stock extra health, bombs and the like. There’s a nice risk/reward system at play here, too. Play defensively and hoard bombs/health to survive or play aggressively (yet smart) in order to climb the leader-boards and earn the coveted best ending. Good stuff! I completed the game a few times (including its True Mode), but have yet to earn the best ending (which I believe requires 25,000,000 points). Practice! Practice! Practice!
Florence, developed by Australian studio, Mountains, and published by Annapurna Interactive (a company that is slowly becoming the de-facto house for quality indie titles), is an extremely breezy short-story/visual novel for mobile devices. The game centers around a woman’s day-to-day life and the personal struggles she experiences as one enters adulthood. Florence depicts the life of two individuals whose hopes and dreams become sidelined as life and love “get in the way”, so to speak. What’s interesting about Florence (similar to Black Bird and GRIS) is that there’s no spoken dialogue. Everything is communicated to the player visually and the conversations between the two main characters are presented by puzzle-pieces.
It’s a clever mechanism to deliver a narrative, as communication is often confusing and sometimes words don’t quite connect the way they are supposed to, especially when emotions are involved. The game itself utilizes basic touch-screen maneuvers/controls (such as tapping and swiping), yet it’s all rather intuitive. In some chapters, the player will have to brush their teeth by swiping a digital toothbrush from left to right, tap on colors/prints to customize a butterfly or unpacking their significant other’s belongings by dragging and dropping certain items into a storage box. It sounds simple and boring, quite like life, right? The game elevates these mundane tasks and life moments through its beautiful visual presentation and music, however. I completed the game in about an hour on a 4-hour flight and had plenty of time to fart around on my phone or play something else afterwards.
In-progress & Ongoing Affairs
At the begging of each year, I like to try a bunch of new games I’ve been meaning/wanting to play. I will usually spend the first week or two of January pulling games from my backlog until something sticks (or finishing games that have been in-progress). I liken the period to throwing darts at a dart-board until I hit the bull’s-eye. A lot of cool/interesting games I’ve been looking forward to released during the first month of the year as well, including Resident Evil 2, Ace Combat 7 and Kingdom Hearts III. I’ve managed to checkout a few of the new releases in addition to some older titles, but I haven’t formulated my thoughts on a lot of these games yet (which will subsequently be written about in the coming months). I also continue to play my ongoing games like Destiny 2, Monster Hunter: World and Overwatch. So, here’s what I’ve dabbled with over the past month or so and what you can look forward to me writing about!
- Destiny 2: Forsaken
- Monster Hunter: World
- Shadow of the Colossus
- Yakuza Kiwami
- Ace Combat 7
- Resident Evil 2
- Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (KH HD 1.5+2.5 ReMIX)
- Splatoon 2 + Octo Expansion
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
- Mom Hid My Game!
- Lightning Force: Quest for the Darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Monument Valley + Forgotten Shores & IDA’s Dream DLC
- The Room
- Dandy Dungeon: Legend of Brave Yamada
- Pixel Puzzle Collection
- Part Time UFO
- Million Onion Hotel
- Dragon Quest
Until next month!