Abe’s weird little world is a bit darker than I was expecting, but it works, after a fashion. The curious juxtaposition of the art design and the narrative makes a strange, yet compelling, impression on the player. The gameplay can trip you up if you’re not used to that stiffer 90s PC platforming style, but you eventually find those muscles. I ran into a few nasty roadblocks, but I never got impossibly stuck. More than the mechanical hurdles, my biggest hurdles were conceptual. Returning to this world, this flavor of frustration and satisfaction, won’t be for everybody. If you’re looking for a portal into an oft-forgotten slice of gaming history, Oddworld: Soulstorm will open that for you. This is an elevated, modernized window into puzzle platformers of the recent past. A little patience and a little perseverance will introduce you to a strange new world.
What we have here are two stories told with mixed results. The grim, gorgeous sci-fi saga fell flat for me. I couldn’t get invested in this last leg of the human race turning to tribalism and violence in the face of adversity. I’m pretty bored with ‘special soldier saves the day’ stories. But the loot cycle was a different matter. This tale of frustration, anticipation, determination, and joy was immediately compelling. I dug into the mechanical guts early and easily. The combat is varied, breathless, and brutal. The character progression is a decent mix of stats and skills, there’s a ton of customization to mess around with, and the difficulty scaling is perfectly fluid. I can tolerate a lot of nonsense in exchange for a good gameplay loop. But if you’re hoping for a package as good as the prize, you might be disappointed. So long as you’re prepared to dig a little for that glittering pearl, there’s a ton of fun to be had with Outriders.
Farm sims, at least the cute and casual ones like Story of Seasons, fall into a comfortable groove. You know what you’re getting into when you fire up one of these games. Pioneers of Olive Town is no exception. Yet, is that really so bad? If these kind of chop/craft/till/harvest/date cycles appeal to you, Olive Town will be just the dose you’re looking for. The game loop is well-crafted, the systems are polished to a glittering sheen, and the pace is downright swift. On the other hand, if you’re sick of the usual farm sim routine, this isn’t gonna win you over. We’re in well-trodden territory here. But of you’re anything like me, more adorable farming is exactly what the doctor ordered.
It all comes down to what sort of atmosphere you’re looking for. Do you want your eldritch horror to come down the pipe at a measured, careful pace? Or are you fiending for something more frantic, more relentless? I always assumed my appetite for horror was a hesitant one, but it turns out I can be eased into things too slowly. Who knew? If you don’t mind being patient, however, Mundaun might be right up your alley. The hand-drawn graphics are beautiful yet unsettling, the worldbuilding is baked into every surface, and the lonely horror atmosphere reaches some terrific high points. If you don’t mind some long walks through the mountains, there’s a compelling story here, just waiting to be told.
Maybe there’s no healthy way to insulate yourself from heartbreak, but there’s still beauty in the retrospective. Maquette casts a rosy lens on a love story softened by time’s eventual passage. It’s an important lesson, that the sorrow of love lost can be soothed and sanded down by the steady movement of the clock. The story’s frequent puzzle breaks mean that you’re eased into the worst of it. You’re given a long runway before the inevitable climax, which might be a blessing in itself. Even if a reflective journey through a complex relationship doesn’t appeal to you, the intricate world and it’s fascinating puzzles will surely have you hooked.
Like the visuals and the sound, my recommendation for PUSS! is a complex, chaotic beast. On the one hand, it’s a beautiful, brilliant game. I haven’t heard a game soundtrack this unique in literal years. The visuals will haunt your dreams for days after you’re done with this game. And yet, the challenge is either insurmountable or woefully insufficient. After a moment of weakness, I decided to look up some let’s plays on YouTube. It turns out I’m just not good at maze games? A man hands as shaky as these should have seen this coming, but still. My evaluation of the difficulty is tied to my skills in the genre overall. To that end, if you’re a maze gamer? This will be an absolute blast. Conversely, if you’ve got no patience for high precision movement and constant dodging, PUSS! might be a pretty bad time. Either way, you’re unlikely to see a game quite like this for a very long time.
Tough, beautiful retro games might seem like they’re everywhere these days. You might be losing track of them all in the midst of this recent deluge. I promise Cyber Shadow is one of the good ones. A delicate balance is struck between challenge and accessibility, leaving you bloodied and eager for more. The art and the music is among the best you’ll see all year long. Finally, the mechanical guts of this game are perfectly tuned. While some players will be rebuked by certain NES-era sensibilities (like the knockback effect), the overall experience is practically sublime. If you’re looking for a Ninja Gaiden send-up that’s been dragged into the 21st century, look no further than Cyber Shadow.
From a narrative perspective, the elevated difficulty and unfair mechanics are perfectly appropriate. How else do you make players feel like they’re taking on the gods themselves? Uneven rules and impossible odds, combined with the sinister music and the desolate world, create a lasting feeling of hopeless doom. And yet for me, it’s too much. I get that fighting the gods should be crazy hard, but the strange combat rhythms and the extra-permanent death system are a bridge too far. Hoping for the right weapon, losing that fighter to a mis-timed jump, and then struggling for 20 more minutes for a brief, ill-fated boss attempt? This kind of cruelty feels downright excessive. If, like me, you’ve grown weary of toil and suffering in your games, consider this your fair warning. On the other hand, if you’re thirsting for a relentless challenge, Gods Will Fall will be all you’re looking for and more.
Such was my time with Calico. The troubles I had were as unobtrusive and gentle as my enjoyment. You’re so laid back, that something like floaty controls or vanishing walls is barely an inconvenience. Conversely, the soft pastel skin of this game is difficult to get a grip on. Players looking for a more involved life sim will come up short, but if comfy gaming is your aim, you’ve struck gold. Calico is a brief, blissful vacation in a world of gentle magic and cute companions. If you’re looking to just relax for a little while, Calico will be exactly your speed.