Fish Botherer

If Wikipedia is to be believed, Sumerian and Akkadian mythology says that ‘abzu was the name for fresh water from underground aquifers which was given a religious fertilising quality… sources of fresh water were thought to draw their water from the abzu. In this respect, in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology it referred to the primeval sea below the void space of the underworld (Kur) and the earth (Ma) above.’

On the other hand Abzû is a diving simulator with some lite puzzling. Released in 2016 by Giant Squid Studios on PS4, XBOne, and Windows PC. It’s now made its way to the Switch. You start your underwater adventure hanging in the ocean, just below the surface of the water. Blinking awake and then surfacing, you can see nothing but calm sea in all directions. Prompts will pop up to teach you to dive, boost, interact, and ride the larger fish and that’s the end of your direction in this. Right, let’s go see what’s happening in this oceanic realm.

This game never explains itself. Some games, like Journey, can get away with this, using glyphs, cutscenes, and the world itself as a storytelling tool. While Abzû does feature the odd mural here and there, I can’t say I managed to glean as much from it as I did reading the Wikipedia entry for abzu.

Exploration is basically, this thing has an orange bit over it that suggests I can interact with it, let’s see… Oh, turtles flew out of this circle of coral, somehow. That’s, good(?). What’s that statue down there? Huh, seems I can meditate there and follow a fish around for a while. Pushing the left stick will switch which species you’re stalking with your mind. How very tranquil. Or creepy, depending on how you feel about following unsuspecting underwater fauna.

Oh, now there’s a shard of light illuminating this area where there’s a something in the sand. *poke poke* Oh, I guess it’s some kind of, drone… thing, that is now following me (this is what I hath wrought with my fish following. How quickly moves the tides of karma in this deep, uncaring ocean. *gurgle screams as camera pans out*). Well, I seem to have three of them now. Yay(?). Ah, they’re cutting through that coral wall for me, thank you metal drone friends. Onwards!

Occasionally, you’ll leave a large open area – losing your primary movement controls – to be ferried down a nicely decorated tunnel, moved by the ocean currents. During these sections you can move around and bump into certain schools of fish will cause them to glow (have I learned nothing from stalking them, leave the fish alone!). There seems to be no benefit to doing this so I remain mildly bewildered by this whole aspect.

As you progress, you will encounter strange underwater buildings, with swirling voids on their roofs. Swimming into these takes you to a weird void ocean, that appears to be hanging over another body of water. Is this the Kur that Wikipedia mentioned? Buggered if I know.

You then swim towards a structure ahead of you and pull some glowing ball out of your chest and pop it inside a slightly bigger glowing, wobbly ball in the structure. This takes you back to the outside of the structure you swam into the top of earlier. The area will start teaming with life, some milky blue water will flow into the bottom of the area (how does that even work?), and a door will open. You still following?

Moving on you’ll find three more of these and a couple of areas where you need to turn a thing to make a chain move, to open a door. It’s barely a puzzle, really just basic exploration stuff.

Towards the end of the game, you encounter all these pyramids, point down, that will electrocute you if you get too close. Not to worry, you won’t die, it’s just annoying to try and get past. This is one of the few sections where I actually struggled with the controls. Positioning your very mobile character in a small space, wrangling the camera and making sure you accelerate at just the right angle and for not too long.

I won’t spoil too much, but there’s a whole bit with a resurrected(?) shark and killing off some alien(?) pyramid ships to make oceanic life grow all over their broken hulks and then it’s time to roll credits. After which, you’re free to seek out an online community to ask about what the ballsington fuckly just happened.

I’ll not deny that Abzû is very pretty. Having mentioned Journey earlier, it’s very much in that art style, just more blue than orange. It’s quite relaxing to swim through the large open areas, turning elegantly and in the water, boosting through underwater archways, leading schools of fish in an aquatic conga line.

The flora and fauna are nicely designed and the texturing is bold and minimal. There’s a whole section with a whale at one point that I think was supposed to be magical, but I just kept thinking about how angular it was in some places. Apart from that, I just found it all really gorgeous, especially some of the larger sea plants and coral formations.

The music is a very tranquil classically composed affair and while I hate to keep referring back to it, It’s very reminiscent of Journey. This includes the swells as you move into the ocean current sections that mirror the sliding down hill sections from that PS3 adventure. What’s that? It was composed by Austin Wintory, composer of the Journey soundtrack. Well, there you have it. I really enjoyed the soundtrack and would definitely recommend giving it a listen if you like classical music, even if you don’t play the game itself.

And just like that. It’s over in about an hour, plus change, perhaps more if you spent more time just swimming around for fun.

Pros:

  • Very pretty
  • Beautiful soundtrack
  • Charming aquatic flora

Cons:

  • Short for the money, especially if the soundtrack isn’t working for you.
  • Obscure story
  • The section where you’re swimming into the pyramid thing with all the pyramid mines can get in the sea. Or out of it I guess, since it’s already in the sea. It can get in the sun then. Yeah, that.

Overall Score: 7/10

Stardew Catty

Life is like, fairly chill.

Here in cat town.
Rabbits, mice, and hares to slay.
It’s a cat blur.
You might solve a mystery.
Or be a kitty.
Cattails (Woo-oo), is a cat life simulation RPG, where you take on the role of a cute little kitty, who’s owner’s parent decides they’ve had enough of having a happy child who is learning responsibility for another life and dumps you by the roadside (You know, like a responsible adult would). You find yourself alone and without the kitty knowhow that a more wild cat might have.

The graphics are rather simple, low-res pixels, about the quality of a 16-bit era console title. Not that that’s a bad thing. The character portraits are well done, animals can be identified, the local flora is nice, and the gameplay is such that having high definition graphics really wouldn’t add anything. My only real complaint here is that there are some areas that are super drab, and while I realise that this is supposed to be a very outdoors and earthy game, it could have been perked up in a few parts. The changing seasons will bring more colourful trees and plants, more vibrant grass, but underground areas remain quite visually uninteresting.

The music is pretty basic as well and reminds me of something that you might hear in The Sims. More variety here would have been most welcome.

Once the opening vignette is over you’re greeted by Coco, a mysterious black and white cat who teaches you the basic mechanics of the game, including foraging, hunting, and fighting. They then offer to take you to join one of the three local cat colonies. The forest cats live in the vibrant green, western side of the map. The two other cat factions – my sworn enemies – are the mountain colony to the north and the swamp-based Mystics to the east. Glory to the forest colony!

After you join a faction you are provided a den to sleep in. Here you can also save and store items. After a cat nap, you can take a turn around your village and get to know your kitty comrades. Much like Stardew Valley, you can improve friendships by giving gifts to the other townscats. Bribe all the kitty friends!

While on the subject of Stardew Valley, let’s get on to the main story. Not long after you begin your journey and are settled into your den, Coco will turn up to ask for your help with something. They take you to a temple which holds many strange standing stones. As you approach the first, it begins to glow and shortly thereafter it reveals that it wants you to bring it a bunch of dead animals. I have no idea what a stone pillar will do with some mice, squirrels, rabbits, and a hare, but who am I to judge. You live your best life pillar. Your best life, surrounded by carrion.

Once the first pillar is cleared, the others all come to life and your charged with finding several sets of items for them. Some want a bunch of fish, another wants bugs, and so on. Here again I have to draw comparison with Stardew Valley, particularly the town hall missions, where you’re gathering sets of items.

Between gathering all the stuff for the main quest, you can forage for food, medicine, and items. Finding various bushes around the map will yield all sorts of goodies, some of which will make fine gifts for your friends. Foraging is the easiest (and least fatal) way to gain experience at the start of the game. Though you won’t be earning much like this. However, you can sell items you don’t need at the shop, to gain some Mews (the local currency). This in turn can be used to buy extra skins for your cat.

Did you feel that only being able to choose plain fur colours was boring at the beginning? Head to the shop to unlock new skins and turn yourself into a calico, tiger stripped, or other more fancy styles. I can only assume that you tear your own skin off and replace it with something else, which has been gained from the flayed corpse one of your fallen foes. Wait… did I not mention fighting yet. Wow, what a segue!

While your own areas are well defended by your allies, there will be incursions throughout the day. Checking your map will reveal where these are taking place and head over to support your comrades, with your sharpened toe bean razors. Defeated enemies will drop additional mews for your purse (where do you even keep that? or is this like an eat it and then cough it up type thing? What the stuff?! I had like six doves, a couple of squirrels, and some lavender earlier, how does any of that work?! Does my cat have pockets. WHY WON’T ANYONE ANSWER ME! Ahem). This is another good way to gain experience.

‘You keep talking about experience, can you use it for anything?’ Why, thank you for asking fictional voice. You can indeed. Earned experience can be used to power up passive abilities or purchase active abilities. Want to be a better hunter, fighter, swimmer, etc.? Pop some experience in and watch your badassery grow. Tired of getting whipped in fights? Sharpen those claws and wreck some enemy business. Tired of those precious bunnies escaping your reach? Hone your senses and stealth and mess small creatures up with renewed efficiency. With enough practice, you will be the finest specimen of cat that the world has ever known.

Bwahahahahahahaha! Look out colony leaders. Soon I will be ruler over all! All will bow to me! Forests, swamp, and mountains! (Though, maybe not the swamp, it’s all squishy and makes my fur all muddy. But all the good bits, they will be mine). Mine I say.

‘Mine you say? Damn Jane, you are killing these segues.’ Yes, kill, destroy, rule all. ‘No no, dial it back. I was asking about mining’. Fine.

Yep, there’s mining. Head to a pickaxe on the map and enter the mines. Here you can break rocks to try to uncover resources. The deeper you go, the more valuable the debris/metals/gems you uncover. These can be traded to the mole people for mole coins, which will pay for more inventory expansions, skins for your glorious kitty to wear, etc.

As you move further through the game, you can pay to expand your den, this will give you space to start building a family. Romance a friendly cat, get married and have little kittens of your own. If only you could find a camera phone, you could become web-famous for filming the antics of your adorable offspring.

Days go by pretty quickly in game, and white there’s no requirement to sleep it will grant you some experience and top up some health. Each season is 10 days and on the last day there’s a friendly gathering of all the tribes at the central shrine. Here you can play a themed game, up to three times, in order to win a third currency that can only be obtained at these festivals. Games include turtle racing in summer and snowball fights in winter. Each season will have exclusive cat skins available to purchase from Coco at the festival shop.

Overall, the game is quite sweet, with plenty to do and see. A nice little budget title.

Pros:

  • You get to be a cat. Cats are awesome.
  • Like Stardew Valley, but without the crop watering and with more cats.
  • You don’t have to sleep, and won’t be penalised for staying out all night.

Cons:

  • Music could be a bit better or have more tracks.
  • Quite drab in places.
  • Has lost the dynamic lighting seen in the PC version.

Overall Score: 8/10

Let’s Go… Somewhere Else

Because the baying fans always demand more, Nintendo is releasing a remastered version of classic enslavement/dogfighting simulator Pokémon Yellow.

As a depressed, alcoholic, recently out of a mental health facility, closet transgender, undiagnosed autistic, twenty year old, desperate to connect with other nerdy folk, while simultaneously wanting everyone to just go away and leave me the balls alone, I decided to try this game everyone was on about.

Based on having seen maybe 8 episodes of the related anime series and the fact that the few people who’d let me hang out with them were getting into it, I figured I’d give this mass enslavement/dogfighting simulator a go.

Pokémon Yellow had been slightly rejigged from the preceding Red & Blue versions to fit more closely with the TV show. Starting you off without the usual choice of three starters and favouring instead to have you issued with the state-mandated sparky yellow mouse which will follow you around the Kanto region. They’re always there, always watching, always waiting, likely to eat you in your sleep and be found with your blood covering it’s glossy yellow coat (I’m weird about animals ok. I just feel like, they’ll eat me if they get the chance, and honestly, I don’t blame them. There’s a lot of meat on this).

Perhaps you’ve heard of Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee. If not, I guess, this is me telling you now. I feel so accomplished. I made news for you, that one person who didn’t know. I hope you’re not too disappointed.

Once again, you get to take on the mantle of a 10 year old child, abandoned by your parental figure (who may just be some kind of automaton or Stepford parent, charged with raising new, morally questionable children. Always at home, in the kitchen, never sleeping. How else do you explain them not having a bedroom) and forced to make your way in the world by imprisoning the wildlife you encounter and making them to fight to earn you a few more Poké-yen (Pokéyen? Pokkén? Is that right? Is that why the tournament is called that, because it’s prize fighting?), to feed your animal enslavement habit, in the hopes of becoming the owner of the best animal gladiators in your region.

True to its roots, Let’s Go starts you off without the normal choice of starter Pokémon (You made your choice when you paid for it, deal with it). Once you finally get your mitts on the tiny spherical cage they’re usually held in, they’ll pop out and cling onto you. As such, your Pikachu or Eevee is the closest thing to an actual pet in this game. This mon is special. They get stroked, fed snacks for pleasure instead of just need, and put in tiny outfits you pick up along your journey.

While the Pikachu version of the game shows of the dressing up mechanic very well, it’s not so clear with Eevee. This is mainly due to their extra floofy collar (is that a mane? I don’t know animal biology well) which tends to hide most of the shirts you can dress them in. Since it’s only a shirt and hat that they can wear, and I don’t think it’s fair to put a long eared animal in a hat, my Eevee, remains unclothed.

The first major change for this from the original is the way wild Pokémon behave. Gone are the random encounters, replaced with visible mons wandering around the long grass. Once you run into them, you are taken to a capture screen that will be very familiar to anyone who’s played Pokémon Go since its release in 2016. Pick your cage of choice, then throw it at your target as they do their best to evade you. A shrinking ring gives you a change to get standard, nice, great, or excellent throws. None of which really seems to make any difference to whether you’ll actually catch your quarry (even if it’s multiple excellent throws in a row. Sure, you can swap balls or bait them with berries to try and make capture more easily, but there’s no guaranteeing anything.

This is made more frustrating by the forced use of motion control in TV mode (the only way I really like using my Switch). Throwing a Pokéball straight is fairly straightforward (pun intended only after proof-reading), but doing throws to either side is just bad. It took me some time to work out what action the game actually wanted from me, because my natural action led to balls flying in the opposite direction. Basically you need to angle the front face of the joycon towards direction you’re aiming for, as you make the throwing action. My natural inclination was to do the opposite, as that’s how I’d throw naturally. I admit, I’m bad at throwing, but still.

In handheld, you can move with the control stick and do fine tuning by tilting the console itself. This works much better for precision targeting, but it’s annoyingly absent from TV mode. I’ve heard reports the creator said they forced this because they were worried that people wouldn’t use it otherwise. *holds up hand* I would like to be excused from the crap motion controls, in favour of the slightly less crap motion controls please. *the wind blows, tumbleweed passes* Ok then. Thank you for your consideration.

Much has been made about integration with Pokémon Go – the free-to-play mobile game, very much in the same vein. This led me to spending 2 weeks aggressively playing Go, in the hope of getting a head start on a game I wasn’t nearly as excited as I know most people picking it up will be. ‘Did it help?’ In a word, my imaginary friend, no. Firstly, you need at least 6 of 8 gym badges completed before you can even access the function to import your mobile mon. Sure, you can bring them in thereafter, you may be able to fill in the gaps in your version or even get yourself a Meltan (only available by transferring between Go and Let’s Go, and opening *dramatic music* The Mystery Box *audience collective ‘ooh’*. Ultimately, though, it cannot be used to get any real early game advantage, as I’d hoped it might.

What will fill in some gaps early on though, are trades with other players. Pop open the trading menu and select a three icon room code and send it to your perspective supplier of desirable, exotic animals. In local mode, this is very simple. No real risk. For wider area trading, you just have to hope no one else is using that random code and double check their username before you send off something shiny to the wrong person and destroying a friendship.

Speaking of shiny, there’s an “easy” way to get them (shiny Pokémon are just off colour versions that are prized due to their rarity. Even if most of the alt colours are pretty naff (Shiny Ponyta is a beautiful goddess though and I will politely ask Beedrill if they wouldn’t mind punching you in the eyeball if you argue)). Just catch the same Pokémon over and over and you’ll start a chain. The longer the chain, the higher the chance of a shiny spawning – they get easier to catch too. Additionally, the stats of the Pokémon you catch will get closer and closer to perfection. So if you want all the stats you can easily access to be as high as possible, you’ll be looking at catching 200+ of the same creature. However, if just one escapes, or you accidentally catch the wrong thing in a moment of half-asleep confusion, you break the chain and will lose all the benefits you’d worked up.

Don’t worry, if you don’t need those Pokémon that aren’t perfect, you can go full on eugenics and “transfer” them to Professor Oak who will send them to a farm you can never go to, to live a happy life. Honest. Not convinced? No, me neither. Pretty sure he’s grinding them up into candy that you can then feed to your other Pokémon, to improve their stats. The weak destroyed for the good of the strong. Horrific, isn’t it, but apparently this is fine in the Pokémon universe.

There’s a few changes here and there to the plot, but basically it’s the same, you’re the new trainer, your neighbour is a good natured rival (could have sworn they were a total jerk in the original) who’s starting out at the same time, you travel round, mostly looking for tea and some way to wake a Snorlax and then beat the Elite Four to get crowned the very best, like no one ever was, except the last however many people.

Once you’ve proven the strength of the animals you’ve been forcing to fight, you can move onto the post-game. I’m told that the serious Pokéfans get the most out of this bit and are hoping for a lot from it. Well here’s some things you can try for. You can try to become the master of a certain Pokémon type (or all of them, if you’ve got the time), just train up your mon and find the current master. If you defeat them in battle, you can claim the title for yourself. Take 6 of these titles and you can face off with Red (basically Ash from the TV series) for a further title. There’s stuff to find all over the world, the shiny hunting, perfect stat hunting, Meltan farming (and if you’re really patient, evolving), and series favourite trainer battling against other human players.

The graphics look really good. It’s a nice, richly coloured, cartoon style, that sort of reminds me of the MySims games. I was particularly charmed by the fact that the Pokémon in the menus are shown in the pixel art style of the first gen games. The music is well done, modern remakes of the original pieces that was a very pleasant reminisce.

This game is not for me, but I can see what other people like about it. As always, I’m super happy that there are people who like things I don’t, because people worked super hard to make this and it would be a shame if that wasn’t appreciated by folx.

Pros:

  • Beautiful
  • The main Eevee/Pikachu (depending on your version) are super adorable to interact with
  • It’s more of that thing people like

Cons:

  • Motion controls are annoying
  • It’s got Jessie, James and a Meowth in it, but this Meowth doesn’t speak human
  • It’s like dog fighting, but without the blood and long term consequences

Overall Score: 8/10

Archive Software – Starlink

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This is the first in a new series that will show up from time to time. Games I really feel I’m done with, but have more thoughts on now I’m as done as I’m likely to be and just before I hit ‘archive’.

So after ragging on Starlink in my review, I found that I’d still rather play that than Townsmen. While I moaned about the content I wouldn’t be able to unlock without additional purchases then, I feel like I’ve still seen most things after sinking maybe another 6 hours into it.

So just a quick refresh, I only have the Switch exclusive, physical edition, with the Arwing. This means no other elemental weapons than fire and ice.

Without access to other elements, I stopped even bothering with the space shipwrecks as they usually needed a levitation weapon to open. So this left me hopping from planet to planet, taking out just enough of the Legion’s Extractors (industrial mining facilities) to weaken the Primes (powerful insectoid mechs) to weaken the Dreadnoughts up in space. Once they were all clear, it was plain sailing all the way to the final boss, which was far easier than some of the dreadnoughts tbqh.

While it’s possible to 100% destroy the Legion forces on a planet before moving on, it doesn’t make much sense as there’s a constant countdown to the dreadnoughts deploying another Prime, which will in turn create more Extractors. Consequently, I ended up roleplaying it in my head that I was clearing the main dangers on the planet, then helping organise the local vigilante forces by building armouries, which provide planetary defence forces. The flavour text even says they look after things while you’re away. I’m off dealing with the big bad, I can’t be expected to fight the whole war on my own.

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That said, I did end up going and clearing out all the extractors and imp hives once I’d finished the campaign. I was still haunted by the spires, which taunted me every time I flew by. ‘You’ll never get us open… unless you want to pop us another few quid for new weapons’. Leading me to feebly shoot at them with the useless weapons I had.

Next, I cleaned up the exclusive Starfox missions and honestly, while I was initially surprised by the amount of cutscenes and voice acting for this version, I had to remember that the digital version had all this too, but without skimping on the weapons. However, it’s a fun enough story, chasing Wolf around a few planets, shooting up some pirates that he’s allied with. I’d estimate, there’s about an hour of extra content exclusive to this version – excluding the main story cutscenes, which the Starfox team seem to have been quickly pasted into.

How could they have done things better and left folx (me) feeling less aggrieved? Simple, have the digital edition include 2 ships, 2 pilots and 5 weapons (one of each fire, ice, gravity, levitation, kinetic types); have the physical edition include all this as digital only, but charge a little more to cover the cost of the toys. Then you can still lock whatever that is in those last three upgrades on the mothership behind DLC/extra purchases of physical items, and you don’t alienate anyone.

People – especially kids – will still want the cool ship toys. It wouldn’t be hard to add a simple mission or two that unlocks when you buy another ship/pilot. Heck, even spend the extra time and do online multiplayer dogfighting (which would be epic in this engine). Once it’s competitive, it wouldn’t be hard to sell all the customisation bits (although maybe that’s an evil idea and I’ve spent too long coming up with bits for Electronic ActiSoftWorks).

Starlink is not a bad game, but I feel like it had potential to be way better, and less repetitive. And with that final thought, this one is archived.

Get Ye Goode

Townsmen by HandyGames is a medieval city builder that looks like it used to be a browser game. *is nudged by assistant with papers* Ah, I’m being informed it’s a mobile game too. Meh, I can see how that would be a thing. Oh, and the earliest trailer I can find for it is in 2012. So Nintendo thought, ‘how do we want the world to think of our awesome hybrid system and it’s storefront? Well made, new games, maybe a few ports of much beloved titles? Or just emptying Neo-Geo titles older than the average Switch owner, some of our endlessly rereleased NES “classics”, with just a dash of Sudoku, Picross, and 6 year old mobile titles, scattered like chocolate chips through the puddle of vomit one might spew after eating 3 packs of cookies and drinking a litre of apple juice, while baked like a badly made cup of tea?’

The game is slow as hell, and I now wonder if this isn’t deliberate and part of some microtransaction aspect. ‘How slow is it?’ I hear you ask, from the future, after I’ve written and uploaded this review. Well, future reader, I started the tutorial and have been drudging through it for over five hours. Sure, it could be trying to streamline directly into the main game, but it’s hard to tell, and I’m not going to email them to ask.

You start the game (tutorial) as a disgraced Lord, on the run from the royal court after some money went missing, and set yourself up as governor of a rural township. You learn – painfully slowly – how to assign people to tasks, build basic buildings, how stockpiles work, and all the usual stuff that Stronghold did much better, 11 years prior to this bubbling up. As it’s early game, you’ll find many building options locked off, until you progress, but only in the manner you are told. If you work out that you’ll need a baker once the mill is built – because the main mission is to supply the town with food – you’ll have to wait until the mill is built and the miller has ground enough wheat before you can even think about marking the mission complete and being permitted to build a bakery. If you’re making a tutorial this simple, you could at least speed up build times for it. Otherwise, it’s just a waiting game.

While there is much waiting at this time, there is another peril. Your buildings will start to fall into disrepair. So if you leave the game in high speed for slightly too long while trying to skip build time, or work time, you could find an important building will be unusable. Plus, thanks to the rigidity of the tutorial, even if you work out the building you need to make in order to repair that other building, it will be locked until you’re given permission. So… start over, I guess.

As you progress, you can unlock research projects. These will open up things like new units or the ability to upgrade certain actions/buildings. Some of these upgrades will be permenant, while others will only last for the current map. It’s not totally clear which is which from the menu, which is super considerate.

What really confused me was that the section marked ‘tutorial’, under ‘new game’ shows 6 missions total, the last two of which are labelled ‘hard’… but… but why?! It’s a tutorial. Aren’t you just supposed to show me the mechanics so I can get on with the actual game? No? I guess I should just get goode then huh, my liege?

Once you’ve finished the long, boring, and apparently hard mode tutorial, there’s 26 scenario missions and 24 sandbox levels with sizes and difficulties ranging from small and easy to huge and hard (a point I only bring up so that I can write huge and hard, and then let my brain write the penis jokes – this is the most enjoyment the game has managed to provide me with). None of that really matters because I was bored to shite long before I’d seen more than a couple of those. Well done, you got paid and then annoyed me out of any possible value in your game *golf clap*.

I got so bored with Townsmen I actually went back and finished Starlink. Now, much like the game itself, I’m bored of talking about it, so here’s the usual end bits.

Pros:

  • Clean graphics
  • Didn’t crash
  • Probably seemed great on Android in 2012

Cons:

  • Uninteresting music
  • Just too many menus
  • Probably gave me the plague and killed me

Overall Score: 4/10

Starlink: Battle For Fat Cash

I’ve had the chance to sit down with Starlink: Battle for Atlas over the last week or so. It’s the latest toys-to-life game from Ubisoft. This time we’re avoiding big name characters and franchises (bar Starfox if you’re playing on Switch), the building fun of Lego Dimensions, or the whatever the heck Skylanders was about and going into the one place that was previously thought to remain uncorrupted by capitalism.

Turns out Tim Curry was dead wrong.

I was lucky(?) enough to get to play with the physical release on Switch, which comes with a rather nice Arwing model with detachable wings, a couple of weapons (one fire based, one ice), a Fox McCloud pilot figure, another pilot (who I’ve spent so little time playing as, I have no idea what his name is (ok, I looked it up, he’s called Mason. Happy now?)), and a stand to attach it all to my joycons. There’s a poster in there too, but who cares. Want game now! In addition to this, there’s digital versions of a third weapon (kinetic type) and the standard ship that comes in the other format physical editions.

I’ve probably dumped around 20 hours into this so far. Lots of buzzing over planets claiming every ruin, enjoying the beautiful and varied biomes & wildlife, destroying enemy extractors (think fracking/mining if it made clouds of evil that corrupt local fauna… so, fracking), building up a whole host of mining and observation facility-running friends by completing basic tasks (allowing me to get regular cash deliveries and see more of the planets I visit respectively), and crushing the wonders (world bosses).

I’ve been struck how much Starfox content there is in the game, making me feel kinda bad for people on other systems. There’s cutscenes, and bonus missions to be had. PS4 and XB1 players will miss out on this, but I suppose they can rub themselves down with slightly better graphics to feel better, if that’s their bag.

On the subject of missing out, I come to my main problem with the game. As mentioned earlier, the physical version comes with two physical weapons, covering fire and ice elements, plus a digital weapon that’s kinetic. As far as I’ve seen, kinetic weapons can’t open anything particularly special, they just do non-elemental damage. However, elemental weapons do act as keys for specific doors/chests. At this point, I ask myself: “do I miss whatever this is and move on, or buy more bits to unlock it?” and looking at my cool Arwing model and go, “this is yet more plastic tat that will sit on my shelf after a week and never be looked at again, meanwhile, the actual game I want to play is gating content”. Often, you will find canisters with the required element that you can throw at these elemental locks, but sometimes you have to go well out of your way to find the right one.

See, the thing is, once you’ve got the game going, you don’t actually need the models attached to the controller, as you can just use the menu to change them digitally. This takes unnecessary weight off and makes long term play more comfortable. As such, after the initial hour or so of “hey, this is fun to take the wings off on the fly, or attach them all on one side and make the ship really wonky” turns into “ah, that enemy is resistant to cold damage, I’ll hit the menu and swap that out as I don’t own the third weapon physically anyway”.

“So what about the digital version”, I hear the imagined voices in my head cry, because I imagined them crying that.

I’ll tell you. The digital edition includes the game + 4 ships, 6 pilots, and 12 weapons. Add to that the Switch version includes the exclusive ship, pilot, and missions. All this for slightly less than a physical version. Those weapons cover all elemental options, meaning you can unlock (as far as I can tell) every elemental door/chest and easily find a weakness for every elemental enemy without the need for additional purchases. Furthermore, additional ships will act as extra lives, meaning you can respawn immediately, rather than back at a prospector/observatory.

Throughout the game, there are upgrades you can make to your mothership. These include adding additional mod slots to your ships and weapons, the ability to fuse low level mods into the next level up, extra space in your inventory for collected items, etc. At first progress is nice and steady, but before long you’ll notice the bottom three categories can’t be unlocked with the pilots you have available in the physical edition (and, I understand you need at least two extra pilots with the digital edition). Right now, I can’t tell if these are really important to the game, but I feel it’s important to let you know where you’ll need to spend extra monies.

Right now, ship packs – containing one ship, a pilot and a weapon – will set you back £24.99 for physical editions and £9.99 for digital. Then there’s pilots, which are sold individually for £6.99 physical and £4.99 digital. Lastly, there’s weapons in two packs which go for £9.99 physically and only £3.29 on the eshop. I have no idea where they got these prices, but it feels like they just drew numbers out of a hat.

I get that it’s a toys-to-life game. I get they want to make fat cash off of these toys, but when you’re skint like me, the value from the physical game feels greatly lessened when I start finding bits I just can’t do, because I was wowed by a plastic Arwing.

As far as I can see, someone buying the physical edition of the game will need at least two extra weapons (gravity and levitation based) and 2-3 extra pilots to unlock everything. I’ve tried to work out what the smallest amount of extra stuff I’d need to buy to see what I currently feel is gated, but it’s proving a pain so close to release. Best guess right now is two ship packs 1-2 pilots.

“Enough of the gripes about how much the damn thing costs and tell us about the actual game”, the imagined voices holler. To which I say, “shut your noise hole and try a brownie. While your mouth is full, I’ll tell you.”. The voices agree, and I move on.

The game starts with a grumpy alien vulture kidnapping the team’s peculiarly named leader (just as Starfox and pals arrive in the area). Apparently they’re the Legion and they’re bad, so they’ve decided they need leader guy more than we do. With our ships disabled, we’re helpless to fight back and badly named vulture makes off with our heroic motivation.

Next thing you know, you’re down on a planet, learning to fly around, plucking fruit, scanning fauna, helping out the locals, mining currency, blowing up the Legion forces, looking for plot clues, and planning epic revenge.

Play went something like: do all listed tasks on planet, upgrade some stuff, head to space, attack a few random space pirate bases, head to next planet, start again, go back to space, plot happens, go to next planet, find all my weapons are made of fail against these enemies but do my best (standard enemies taking nearly 3 times longer to beat, not due to their skills, but because they’re bullet-sponges), encounter a jumping puzzle.

A. FUCKING. JUMPING. PUZZLE!

If you think jumping puzzles in FPS games are bad, try it in a hovering ship that will just slide all over the tiny ass platforms. It’s absolute garbage and whoever, thought it should go in needs an Arwing, with the wings on backwards, shoved right up their nose for their crimes. True, it was 1am when I got to this bit, but hovering ship-based jumping puzzles can get in the freaking bin! Worst part was that the first time I made it to the top, I couldn’t finish the puzzle as I hadn’t noticed that I needed to cut free the final platform from the ground first. This really doesn’t help that before this I was already starting to feel that the game was getting a little repetitive. This just made me swear at the screen and go to bed.

I’ve got past it now, only to be rewarded with a well done that implied that it took me ages, it did, but heck you and the modular ship you flew in on.

Overall the game is fun-ish, graphically very pretty, nice to listen to (really digging the Starfox theme when you call for support), good to explore, ship design is interesting, and the plot isn’t too awful.

Pros:

  • The worlds are diverse and pretty
  • Nice Arwing model
  • Solid space and planetside combat

Cons:

  • Switch version requires a huge download before you can play the physical version
  • Physical copies really skimp on content compared to the digital versions
  • FUCKING JUMPING PUZZLE!

Overall Score: 5/10

London Calling Collect

Twice a year, when the stars are aligned, the circles are drawn, and the ramen is ready, nerds of every flavour gather at ExCel in London.

The time is now, the cosplay is finished, a voice on the wind howls uwu. It can only mean MCM London ComicCon. Friday is always the quietest day, which does socially anxious folks like me just fine. In spite of the relative quietness, there were some stunning cosplays on show (none of which I got pictures of, because that would mean talking to people I don’t know and am in awe of). You want Spider-Punk, Spider-Man, Deadpool in a suit, Black Panther, rule 63 Link, alllllll of the anime? There’s all of that. Want to play the new Pokémon Let’s Go games, Cat Quest 2, Soul Calibre VI? Check, check, check. Want a freaking tattoo?! Surprisingly, this is an option this year (though I was somewhat concerned about how hygienic they can get a convention hall).

None of that working for you? There’s a celebrities doing signings (Paul Bettany, Matthew Mercer, Marisha Ray, Paul McGann, David Bradley, Zack Callison, Caroline Blakiston, and tons more), beautiful creations in artist alley, retro games, refurbished Gameboys, t-shirts, goodies, swords, drinking horns, Japanese snacks, comic books, panels, So. Much. Merch on a huge variety of stalls, and more that I’ve probably forgotten about. Seriously, there’s a LOT here.

More important than all of this is furries. Because furries are awesome. So cute, so floof, so precious. There’s so many great furry folx in amazing fursuits and they make me so very very happy.

If all this sounds like the very best thing, and you need it in your life, head over here to get day tickets for Saturday and Sunday. And if you can’t make it to London, there’s always MCM Birmingham at the end of November. For more of this great nerdary.

Queer & Pleasant Strangers – Laura Kate Dale & Jane Aerith Magnet will be doing a meet up on Saturday afternoon. Keep an eye out on Twitter for details.