Saltsea Chronicles, put more simply, is triumphant. It’s up there (amongst very tough competition) for the best game I played this year. I found its measured and realistic portrait of the collectivist society it portrays extremely hopeful. It pushes the medium forward, as cliche as that may be to say, in its insistence on theorizing the specifics of a social and political philosophy to its conclusion.
Chants of Sennaar folds every one of its puzzle-solving bricks into a Rubik’s Cube of a concept, and yet it revels most of all in pan-linguistic understanding. The figure taking their break on a roof, or the grunted “no” from a security guard, or the laughter of a child playing hide-and-seek all serve to remind you of your place in a community. Learning a language stands in for observing and appreciating a culture that’s unfamiliar to you. It’s a lofty goal for a game, and it’s one that Chants of Sennaar achieves.
The best way to play this game seems to be in multiplayer, perhaps with a younger person on the team who can appreciate the novelty of the decor and combat without getting stuck. While the subgames and epilogue mode do provide more content, they don’t actually add much substance. For those who missed the game on Wii and want to try out the co-op, it provides a variety of ways to do so. But if you’ve experienced the original, Deluxe is just a larger version of the same — a little flashier, a little longer, but nothing unmissable.
These human texts open up genuinely insightful questions about authenticity in art and what it will come to mean centuries later, as well as what to do when your history has been lost to you. It is a beautiful portrait of history that doesn't limit itself from commenting on labor inequity, parental loss, or artistic hopelessness, all things the medieval and early modern art it draws from portrays so vividly. In bringing some of those stories to us today, Pentiment accomplishes the remarkable goal of being both clear-eyed about the period's faults, and sincere about its masterpieces.
Bear and Breakfast is the most fun I've had with a management sim in a long time. As I write this, I can't wait to finish up the checklist of tasks on my last hotel and round out my recipe list. It's a crafting experience with a lot of depth that never becomes too repetitive, and even when it gives you too much to do, it also encourages you to step back and take a breath.
It avoids feeling like a simple educational game while also hitting emotional highs that underscore humanity's impact on animal populations. A story that becomes overly simplistic in its back half and some frustrating stealth sections aren't enough to stop the game from being an engaging survival experience, or to dilute its brutally honest message about the challenges that await us as we hurtle towards warming without adequate regulations. Endling's greatest skill is in making us empathize with the animals we live among, and in making it clear that though they bear the effects of climate change before we do, our fates are ultimately entwined.
This pairing of humans and the natural world up against a common antagonist, not necessarily as allies but as common victims, makes it clear how intimately Norco is tied to the swamps, valleys and fields that surround it. This interconnection between individuals with little in common on the surface but a shared place and history is where “Norco” locates the possibility for hope, a provocation that might offer those of us playing a model for our own local responses to corporate encroachment and environmental devastation. Through these mutually affecting connections between humans, nature and technology, “Norco” creates its own robotic story, disturbing, personal and fresh, an experience that should not be missed.