Scythe Had Enough – Staxel

I don’t quite know how it happened, why I let it happen, or if it could happen again, but fuck me, I got rinsed.

The other day a shiny trailer popped up somewhere or other, licked a finger and started stimulating the Lisa Frank receptors in my brain with bright colours and cute characters. That was the launch trailer for Staxel, a voxel-based farming game with crafting and building mechanics. There’s full controller support, it announced. There’s cat people, I discovered. It looks like a unicorn puked on it, I noticed. So, I checked the reviews and found them to be mostly positive. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but then neither am I, so I can relate. I had the cash spare so I grabbed it.

Here now are my findings after too long to request a refund for Staxel.

You begin your journey by designing a character using a fairly basic set of prefab parts. You can be all sorts of adorable and have most of the important styles of anime hair. You can be a cat person, which naturally, I chose.

Having fashioned a green-haired, purple-clothed, cat girl with a side fringe, I headed out into the world.

I found myself in a run-down house, with an awesome, nerdy looking person called Farm Fan, ready to show me the ropes. While I usually prefer to be the one using the ropes on others, I was taken enough with her style that I was willing to hang out and talk shop *ahem*.

For the next bit it was all pretty standard farming sim stuff. Learn to prepare the earth, plant seeds, water them. At this point, it’s basically a first-person 3D Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon, very familiar and easy to manage, but explained well enough that someone new to the genre could find their way in.

After a while, you’re escorted off to town, to meet some of the residents and learn how crafting works. And this, for me, is where cool idea, became frustrating annoyance.

You’re charged with building a barn, so that you can adopt some cows. First off you’re given a sign post, which states what the building is and what it’s requirements are. The only real requirement for a barn is that it mostly fits inside some sparkling 3D guides (toggled from the signpost), and that it contains some specific items (a roof and some troughs for animal feed). You can confirm that a building project is complete by checking the sign, which will tick off items as you add them.

Well that sounds simple. Oh bless you, my sweet summer child.

The fundamental thing about Minecraft is that you build stuff out of blocks. Largely, these blocks are easy to make. Or at least the most basic ones are. Staxel chucks all that in the bin, sets fire to the bin and then laughs in a terrifying fashion. Too loud, and too long. Is that a tear in Staxel’s eye as it laughs and laughs while smashing its genitals into a Lisa Frank binder with a rainbow cat on it? Hard to say, and I don’t want to get too much closer.

Rather than clicking on a crafting object, entering a simple GUI and throwing things from your inventory in set shapes to fashion the things you need, Staxel wants you to put things on the crafting tables by hand. Need wood? head out, find a tree, cut it down (at least cutting the bottom will make rest collapse, rather than defying gravity like in Minecraft). Take your raw wood (*snigger*) off to the building centre in town and use their saw table by putting wood from your hand, onto the table and then activate the saw. From here it will keep going until it runs out of wood or you stop it and grab your freshly hewn lumber. Because the saw table is good and the others – which make you craft one unit at a time – are awful and should learn by saw table’s excellent example.

Now we need some blocks of wood, to do this we’ll need 2 x glue, 1 x nails, and 4x lumber we made and pop it on the tiling table (not the assembly table, that’s different). You’ll need to buy the glue and nails from the building centre (so luckily you’re already there). Once they’re in place, just click the table and it will fashion you 10 blocks of wood for building. It’s not exactly punch tree, wood into crafting slot, pop out some lumber to use for building.

During this process, it becomes apparent just how clumsy and unhelpful this method of putting things from your hand onto the tables is. First off, if something’s in your main inventory, rather than your hot bar, you’ll have to move it there first, so you can put it on the table. This makes the whole process unnecessarily laborious, in a game that is already plodding along.

Tutorial’s over, fuck off.

With the barn built, I was awarded two cows and a tool for milking them. From this point, the explanation is over and it’s up to you to work out what you do (or not). Sure, fellow cat person asked me about building a fishing spot, and the mayor wanted me to build a house so someone new could move into the town. Given how I was already hating the crafting, I was hoping I could enjoy the farming for a while instead.

The problem here was that I didn’t have much money, I didn’t really understand what how to sell things for cash, and at some point my hoe just went missing, and I have literally no clue where it went.

Back to the shop, back to buy another hoe. Hopefully I can keep my cat and cows fed while my crops grow, or else find some way to sell the one thing I do have lots of (wood/lumber).

The problem is that in a farming game, selling your crops should be super easy. It’s been easy from the dawn of farming sims. There’s a bin on your farm, that you throw stuff in and someone grabs them in the evening and gives you cash. Not so here. Staxel wants you to get your saleable goods in your hand, put them down on a ‘sell’ bin in the market, in town, and then move down slightly and click on the bin to sell the item. Here again, this becomes a pain, when you have lots to sell. It’s got to come out of your inventory, onto your hot bar and then into the bin and then click sell. I guess it will stop you accidently selling too many things, but still, it’s annoying as hell and only bringing me closer to giving up.

One thing I’ve always struggled with in these games, from a stress perspective, is not having time to get everything done before the sunsets and stamina runs out. Luckily, Staxel doesn’t do short days (they’re almost twice the length of Stardew Valley’s), or a stamina meter, or mobs. All this should lead to a more calm and cheerful experience, but it’s not. Staxel is just frustrating in so many little ways that make me want to give up in despair.

(I know I’ve mentioned Stardew Valley a lot in this review, but it’s the gold standard of modern farming games so it’s going to have to come up some more. Soz not soz.)

SV starts you off with the humble parsnip. You clear some space, turn the earth, plant seeds, and water them. Four days later, you have something to sell.

Staxel starts you off with a beetroot, just one. In the tutorial, you’re told to find a clear space, hoe the ground, plant the seed, and water it. However, the tutorial then says that for the sake of understanding the process, they’re going to give you a magic jar of stuff to make it grow instantly, so you can learn to harvest. While I get the need to show the whole process early on and shortening it can be a good idea, what’s not clear until you start farming for yourself, is that these things take 8 days to grow normally(about 2.5 hrs of game time). That means that – while you should always give these things a decent amount of time before saying, “this isn’t for me” – by the time you’ve finished your first harvest, you’re already outside the refund window for the game on Steam. Furthermore, that’s 8 days of trying to make money to do something else while your crops grow so that you have to find something fun to do.

Until you get your first couple of harvests out of the way, you’re going to have to spent a lot of time pottering about the farm, then running to town to sell, talk, buy essentials to make things, or use the crafting tables in the building centre to process items. While town isn’t far away, it’s just such a constant need that it becomes a massive pain in the bum. Especially if you forget something at home.

Speaking of leaving things at home, I’d best mention storage. Chests are a common choice to both MC and SV. However, Staxel favours shelves and tables. Luckily there’s a starter shelf at home for you to dump things on, but once again, it’s a case of needing things on the hot bar to put them on the shelves in the first place *wails like an injured penguin*.

Something that I didn’t notice anyone in town explaining, was that there are special events. Not only did they not mention them before they happened, they weren’t always clear what they were about when they happened. My first encounter was seeing a bunch of what looked like partially built houses suddenly appearing in the weird field of storage bits (it looks like an abandoned market that’s fallen into disrepair) on the way to town. The first day, I assumed they were maybe going to be finished building’s later. However, further inspection revealed that they were actually portals to other worlds/areas.

I’ve been through each of these portals and while the change of scenery is nice, I’m a little wary of touching too much, as it’s been made clear by the villagers that if you take things from them that don’t belong to you, they’ll stop using the spaces/buildings. So, do I start taking the cool looking scenery for my home? Do I enjoy it as a weird new place to explore? Does anything happen in here or is it just there for the sake of being a different place? I have no idea, and as you can probably tell, I’m reeeeeeeally struggling to care at this point.

Staxel has just left early access and I’m not sure what it looked like before, but as it stands, it feels like a very pretty, but ultimately empty experience. Maybe if the crops were a little quicker to grow, if the days were a little shorter (or you could go to bed early to skip some time early on), if the crafting was less of a chore, if I had some idea where to look for fetch quest items, of if the quests could provide more info about where to find critical recipe ingredients (“you need two of these beetles, they hang out up trees and look like this” or something so you’re not just wandering round grabbing every innocent insect in the hope this is the one), I’d be writing a more glowing review, as it stands, it feels like unfinished, unintuitive, technicoloured unicorn shit.

I tried, but I’m done.

Maybe they have a roadmap for their future and a year from now it will be good, but right now it’s annoying shit that doesn’t even have a proper wiki to explain itself.

No, I don’t know where your blue socks are. If that’s your whole life ruined, fellow townsperson, you have bigger problems than cold feet.

Pros:

  • Colourful.
  • Cat people.
  • Mod and steam workshop support.

Cons:

  • Lacking substance.
  • Took so long to fully show its colours, I missed the refund window.
  • Needlessly obtuse at times.

Final Score: 4/10

No Sign Of A Towel

I’ve played a lot of Clank! in the last year. I originally picked up the base game as a Unicorn Dance Party gift to myself. This year the festive unicorn has whinnied happily at me again, because a special someone (not me this year) bought me Clank! In! Space! (which I say in the classic Lost In Space way, every time).

Clank! and CIS are deck-building board games, for 2-4 players (or single player with the app. More on that later) by Renegade Game Studios. While the former is high fantasy, the latter is some sweet sci-fi goodness. Whereas Clank! features a double sided board for different difficulties, CIS is made up of seven parts: the cargo bay (where you start, escape, and monitor player health), the clank area (for keeping generated clank before it goes in the bag), the command section (what would be the deep in the original), the corridor (which the hyperlift runs through), and 3 double-sided modules. The 3 modules can be placed in any order on either side and will make a big difference how you move through the ship.

Let’s go through the similarities to Clank! The crystal caves of the original are replaced with security checkpoints, the shops are represented by yellow spaces and marked with an ‘M’, there’s still an adventure row of 6 random card drawn from the deck, you still have a starting set of 10 cards (which are perfect reskin of the ones in the original), large and small secret tokens scattered around the board, a goblin to fight for cash (it’s now a robot though), and 3 basic cards to buy with action points (mercenary is now FAZR (which looks kinda like the gen 1 Transformer, Soundwave), explore is now boldly go, sacred tome is now a memory core (again, all reskinned from the original), cards generate the three main resources – skill (to buy cards), boots (to move), and swords (to do murders with). There are also some cards/actions which will generate clank (noise that will alert the big bad to your presence). Generate too much clank and it’s all the more likely you’ll end up dead on the floor, your treasures now worthless.

There are plenty of changes though. The shop now contains four items and you can’t buy more than one of each; the key is now a master key card, worth five victory points; medipack gains you two health and is also worth five VP; the teleporter pass allows you to blink around the ship and worth, oh yes, five VP; contraband is worth ten VP and unlocks certain card abilities. Also, there’s no backpack, so it’s one artifact each (you hear that folx who bought two backpacks in Clank! and then grabbed an unbeatable number of artifacts?! Do you hear me now? Fuck you and the magic carpet you flew in on *screams while crying tears of blood*);. The biggest change though, is factions.

There are three factions, each identified by a symbol on the top left of their card. If you’ve used a faction card during your turn, it will allow you to activate abilities on other faction cards. Getting lots of cards of the same faction will help you get a good engine going and more quickly do all you need to without getting caught.

Within the adventure deck there is a single card representing Lord Eradikus (who’s ship you’re pillaging). Once you’ve defeated them, you’ll be awarded a bunch of money and you’ll flip the G0B-L1N. card over. This makes it stronger, but also worth more cash for defeating it.

Last up there’s power crystals. They’re nice little blue and are plastic pieces that I was immediately curious about on opening the box (because apparently I’m part magpie. “Look, look at the shiny that I has found. No, you cannot have them. The shinies are mine!). There’s only 5 available and you can grab them either through card abilities or entering rooms with their matching icon. Enter room *boop* you got a shiny. Success and happiness are yours.

The artwork is great, from the vector art of the program cards, to the parodies of Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, Aliens, etc characters (Cranky Doctor, Dark Jidu, Hubba the Yurtt, etc.), to the board and box art. Renegade have done a really good job once again.

Your first mission is to hack two consoles in different modules to earn a command code. To hack a console, find yourself a room with a green tab attached and pop one of your transparent cubes in there. Each one can only be hacked once, so if someone else if following you around the board, they’ll have to go elsewhere to get their hacks. Each console hack will offer different rewards, some gain you health/cash, others will generate clank.

Once you’ve got your code, head to the command section and grab yourself one of those sweet artifacts, before making your way back towards the cargo bay. Here you have to locate one of the four escape pods and blast off to freedom with your ill-gotten loot.

The game ramps up in difficulty due to the rage track on the right side of the board. A player gaining a command code, finding an archive, or collecting an artifact. The further up the track the marker moves, the more cubes are pulled out of the bag when certain new cards are revealed on the adventure row. In addition, the top four spots on the rage track will release bounty hunters into the bag, and block off a section of the hyper lift (making escape a little more difficult). When a bounty hunter is pulled from the bag, they damage every player at once and go straight back in the bag. Ready to mess you up again at any time. With only ten health points, it’s easy to take a lot of damage late game thanks to these bloody minded assassins, even if you’ve been careful not to generate much clank yourself.

I’d avoided getting CIS because all that I could see from the marketing made it look like a basic reskin of the original (for which I own all four expansions). However, there really is enough in this to make the game different enough from the original that it’s definitely worth it. There’s also the added bonus that anyone who’s played that will be able to pick this up super quickly.

As with Clank!, CIS has a section on Renegade’s companion app (available for Android and iOS). I’ve used this in the past to add a twist to multiplayer games or to play solo. For CIS though the app includes a board generator – to help you pick which modules to use – and a whole campaign mode for single players. This is in addition to the normal mode, to shake up group games.

Played over multiple games, the campaign guides you through setting up the board (a different configuration for each mission), how much clank to put in the bag to start, which artifacts are available, it tells you what will be worth bonus points (be they cards of a certain faction/credits/memory cores/certain major or minor secrets) and off you go. When you finish a move, the app tells you to remove cards from the adventure row (simulating the crushing pain of missing out on a good card to another player). As you move to different sections, you update your position on the app and that may activate missions, or trigger a change in how many clank cubes are drawn per attack.

At the end of the game, you enter your bonuses and total score to receive your rank. Then you can setup for the next mission or put it away until you’re ready to go again. As you progress, the number and value of artifacts will increase, and you may be assigned a secondary mission (e.g. visit a market place to meet a contact). Some of the secondary missions will allow you to search the deck and discard pile for a particular card and add it to your deck. This makes finding some really useful cards super easy. Just the thing for the more difficult missions.

Some of the secondary quests will trigger further side missions (e.g. visit a particular spot and spend 6 action points for a bonus). The more you complete, the more chance for random bonuses/assistance and the higher your overall ranking at the end.

I’d say that the companion app makes CIS worth the money for single player games alone. Even with static missions, there’s still the randomness of the decks to change things up, so there’s tons of replayability here.

Pros:

  • Different enough from Clank! to make it worth it.
  • Plenty of variety in ways to lay out the board.
  • Fantastic single player campaign mode with the app.

Cons:

  • The board pieces are a bit too snug meaning the don’t quite go together properly in some configurations.

Final Score: 10/10

Bulk Smash

For months, most of the big noise online has been about Smash. Smash, Smash, Smash. It’s like the Incredible Hulk has used their bonus action to enter rage and then furiously bashed out their thoughts on – what I imagine must be – a heavily reinforced keyboard. If people weren’t hyped about the latest character announcements they were complaining about the latest character announcements. If they weren’t excited for some feature, they were sending death threats because the skinny, angular-moustached one wasn’t going to star. In many ways, it’s good it’s finally out, if only because it should calm most of the related anger. Oh, and I get to play it. That’s also nice.

If you’ve played any of the previous Smash Bros games, you’ll be right at home with this iteration of the popular fighting franchise. Personally, I needed some time to practice my skills as I’ve not played since Melee, around 15 years ago. As is typical, you have a small roster of characters to start with and the more you play, the more will show up to challenge you. Once defeated, their yours to control. Hurrumble!

New for Super Smash Bros Ultimate, is World of Light mode. A single player adventure in which an angelic (in the Bayonetta sense of the word) entity has captured all the playable characters, with the exception of Kirby – the world’s second greatest pink balloon (Jigglypuff is best cutie pink frond) and is making sinister clones, controlled by the spirits of yet more gaming characters. Your mission is to travel across the land (searching far and wide), defeating spirits to claim them as your own. Primary spirits will align to a particular element and will (mostly) have some slots for secondary support spirits, who will grant you boons in each WoL battle (spirits default to off in normal games, but you can customise rules as you wish).

That’s a lot of word soup so I’ll try to break it down. Say you’re challenge is to defeat Pauline from the original Donkey Kong. The character will actually be Peach, in a red dress. The parameters state that she won’t fight, that your jump height is reduced, that some enemies start with a hammer, and some are giant. The level starts, you’ll have Peach jumping around to avoid you, Mario appears with the classic hammer weapon, a giant Donkey Kong will appear. The boys will try to kill you while you try to take down Peach. If you win the battle, you’ll get Pauline’s spirit (she who possessed Peach) to assist you in future battles.

There are tons of different parameters which can affect WoL battles: inability to swim on watery levels, floor is lava/poison/electrified, high winds, screen/controls will randomly flip, giant enemies, tiny enemies, low jumping height, enemies having increased attack/defence, enemy favours up/down/side smashes, and loads more. This adds a huge amount of variety to the battles and really helps to keep it interesting.

Winning battles will earn you rewards above the spirits you free. This could be snacks of various sizes (food to level up spirits), skill spheres (used to power your main fighters up on a Final Fantasy X style sphere grid), gold (to buy stuff in the main shop – outside WoL), and spirit points (to buy stuff in WoL shops, as part of the cost of powering up spirits with snacks and for taking extra shots in Spirit Board mode).

As you move through World of Light, you will come across various characters which, once defeated, will unlock for use in all game modes. Additionally, you can play normal Smash battles and every ten minutes or so, a new challenger will appear. Again, defeat them to unlock them for use However, characters unlocked outside of WoL won’t be unlocked for use in that mode.

If you’re looking for a really quick way to unlock everyone, because you’ve got a party planned and hoping to have a big ole tournament with everyone, there is a super easy way to unlock everyone:

10 Start a match with one life.
20 Jump off the edge of the map.
30 Get challenged to a fight with a new character.
40 Reset the system.
50 GOTO 10

It’s less fun, but it works, and this way you can unlock everyone in about an hour. Should you fail to defeat a character challenge, an icon will soon show up on the menu to give you the opportunity for a rematch.

As well as spirits unlocked in World of Light, there are others that are unlocked by certain achievements in that mode. Just dip out after a while playing and you’ll be shown the art you’ve unlocked, awarded any spirit points, and unlock yet more bonus spirits. Additionally, you can head to the Spirit Board and directly challenge spirits to a battle. If you’re able to defeat them, you’ll get a chance to shoot them, as a shield, with a single opening circles them. Should you fail to get your shot through, you can either wait for that spirit to show up on the board again at a random time (ergh), or spend spirit points to take another shot (also kind of ergh).

There is soooooo much in this game. Tons of modes, tens of hours of play in World of Light, 76 characters (most of whom need unlocking), 103 stages, beautiful artwork, unlockable music (there’s some great remixes of classic tracks to be heard), abundant weapons and items to enhance or irritate, customisable game modes, tournament settings, replay saving, and more.

That’s all great, but…

My biggest gripe with Smash Ultimate is that it doesn’t explain itself. As I said earlier, it’s been a while since I played one. Regardless, there are going to be people who come to the game as their first Smash. There is a training mode, but it doesn’t really tell you much. Looking up the controls menu wasn’t much better. The only thing I did find was an attract mode demo if you leave the game on the start menu for a while. However, even that is vague and it seems silly not to at least make this a video you can play at will, by going into the menu where the training mode is.

I was 3 hours deep in World of Light mode when my seasoned Smash playing fiancée noted that there was a couple of moves I just wasn’t using (because nothing in the game had told me about them). For a game with so much content, it seems a real oversight on the devs part to miss out such a basic entry point to the enjoyment to their game.

Pros:

  • Huge amount of content.
  • Extensive single player mode.
  • Really pretty and polished.

Cons:

  • Not enough of a tutorial/training mode.
  • Spirit Board mode is kind of annoying.
  • No option to play as Rabbid Peach (see how I managed to type that without using all caps. It’s really that easy).

Final Score: 8/10

Andrew Ryan Animations

On receiving a letter from ex-colleague, Joey Drew, you head to the old animation workshop to find out what’s new. That’s all you need to get started, you play game now.

You, as Henry, arrive at the animation studio to find it seemingly deserted. The whole building is a sepia tone cartoon from the earliest days of animation. Outlines and minimal shading in black. A few off-yellow lights serve to draw attention here and there. Holes in walls are boarded up, doors too.

Standees of the studio mascot, Bendy the devil, are everywhere. Sometimes even peering out from around corners, before disappearing. Strange black pipes run through most rooms, occasionally dripping ink on the floor. The walls are plastered with artist notes near their drawing boards. Posters show some of the studio’s titles, introducing Bendy, Boris the wolf, and later, Alice Angel (of course, of course you make classic style cartoons about demons, angels and wolves. Of course it’s about going to hell in a handbasket, putting out the hell fires, and darling devils. That seems like jolly good, wholesome entertainment).

The game’s art style works really well. Bendy is about, and in, a classic cartoon. The only problem with making the whole world two colours is that it can be a bit difficult to navigate. As things move on, you will start to see a few areas over again, and this definitely helps you learn the layout, but for someone like me, who struggles with orientation in games, it’s very difficult to navigate some parts. Additionally, you can miss key items because you didn’t directly move your crosshair over them, to make them light up (I’m looking at you axe that I missed for 5 minutes in that boss area. Well, I’m clearly not, because I didn’t spot the damn thing for far too long, but you get the point).

You’ll start out by trying to get through doors, gather items to activate the titular ink machine, and solve basic puzzles to unlock the next area. All this under the watchful eyes of Bendy cutouts, Bendy plushes, Bendy character sheets on drawing boards, Bendy posters, Bendy Statues. Bendy is everywhere, always watching you. Their fixed grin more menacing than jolly or friendly.

Once the machine is active, the dripping ink becomes more prevalent and more… lively. Black creatures born of the ink rise up and swing for you. Their oily bodies somehow fitting with the rest of the art style, but their rendering making them look more realistic than Bendy’s more illustrated style.

Getting deeper into the game, you’ll start to encounter, what I refer to as, the “real” Bendy and Alice. These are inky horrors, parodies of their cartoon forms. These twisted, monstrous beings are of the ink itself, more like the oily ink monsters than their artist’s original designs.

At first the story is only fed to you through Bioshock-esque audio diaries. The various employees tell of their grievances, the story slowly being teased out. Here I will mention a problem. These audio recordings are equalized to sound like they’re being played from fairly poor quality tape recordings. This means that it can be difficult to make out what their saying. They are accompanied by transcriptions on one side of the screen, but the text is so small you’ll need to be super close to read it. On a smaller screen, it would be impossible.

As you move on you will meet Atlus Alice Angel. Should you agree to their requests, you’ll end up on a series of (maybe one too many) fetch quests around the building as they explain some of their woes. This does a lot to flesh out Alice’s story and give some hints about the nature of the ink itself, but larger mysteries remain.

Should you die at any point, you’ll find yourself in a weird swirling tunnel which reminds me of Silent Hill 4’s bathroom hole. Once you’ve crawled out of it, you’ll respawn at the nearest Bendy statue, which is very reminiscent of Bioshock (I know, everything’s been done before. I’m not criticising that, the game’s brought all these things together in its own way very nicely *pats game on head*).

Overall, the mood is really creepy, the world is interesting and keeps you wanting to know what’s happening and where it will lead, the sound design is very good and atmospheric (though sometimes you can hear radios through walls, like you’re right next to them), and the character designs are great. I’d say it’s definitely time and money well spent, if survival horror a la 1920’s animation is your thing.

Pros:

  • Good art style
  • Wonderfully creepy
  • Great character design

Cons:

  • Transcripts of audio logs are hard to read on smaller screens (especially in handheld)
  • Combat can be frustrating with certain weapons
  • Loading times are a little long

Overall Score: 7/10

Bendy and the Ink Machine is out now on Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC

Roll Model

Some years ago I read an article about the greatest PlayStation 2 games that nobody bought. I had most of the games on that list and figured that it would be worth seeing what else might work for me that hadn’t worked for most. The first one I picked up was an odd little title called We ♥ Katamari. It was bright and colourful, it had a very strange intro with a really catchy theme, and I was absolutely in love. I do, in fact, ♥ Katamari.

Over the years I’ve managed to miss every other Katamari game, either because they’re hard to get hold of, on systems I couldn’t afford for only one game, or just sounded like really bad versions (I’m looking at you, mobile ports). As such, it was with a certain degree of squeeing, flapping and excitedly running around that I learned that the original, Katamari Damacy, was coming to my beloved Switch, as a glorious remaster. Since I first got my Switch, I’ve been saying we need to put a Katamari game on there. I was right, It’s a great fit and I’m so happy it’s happened (it’s also on PC, but my PC broke and I can’t afford to replace it).

Katamari Damacy Reroll includes all the beautiful Katamari fun (not Beautiful Katamari fun, that’s the Xbox 360 version), with shiny new graphics. Katamari games have always had a particular art style, slightly blocky people and animals, simple and clear textures, and just plain weird cutscenes. It’s all here, all prettied up for your collecting pleasure.

You take on the role (ha!) of the prince. Your father, The King Of All Cosmos has broken everything in the heavens, leaving only the earth (and I guess the sun). Consequently, you are charged with heading down to earth to roll up whatever you can, to make new stars, constellations, and a new moon. You do this by rolling a colourful, lumpy ball around. Things smaller than the katamari will stick to it, while larger things will bash you away or just stop you altogether. The larger your ball of stuff gets, the larger the stuff you can grab gets.

Early levels will see you rolling up small items around a small room. Later on, you’ll be moving from small enough to roll under a car, with plenty of head room; to a gargantuan ball of terror that gathers even the tallest buildings. Most of the time, you’ll be given a target size and a time limit to aim for. Some levels however, will have special conditions. Maybe, you have to catch as many crabs as possible; maybe you have to carefully roll up things that aren’t cows, to get big enough to get the largest possible cow, to please the king (this level can get in the sea); maybe you’re trying to guess when your katamari hits a specific size, without your normal gauge.

Movement is done through tank controls. Both sticks in the same direction to move that way; one forward, one back for fast turning; speedy, alternate waggling of sticks to get a speed boost. Well, that’s true for normal controls. You can also use motion controls, but oh heckins I cannot recommend that at all. It feels clunky, unwieldy and like you’re going to run out of time before you master it.

The music in Katamari Damacy Reroll is typically cheery, fun, and not a little silly. It’s in all sorts of style from jazzy numbers, to mambo, to acapella that even in a 15 minute plus levels it doesn’t get boring or annoying.

It’s a really odd concept, but it really works and is a huge amount of fun. While I completed every level of the game in one afternoon, I’m still going back and trying to get better scores on the levels. Larger stars will replace the old ones, smaller ones are destroyed for stardust, just making the sky more twinkly. My sky will be full of stars and stardust and I’m looking forward to playing a huge amount more. *begins plotting campaign to get more Katamari games on Switch*

Pros:

  • A huge amount of fun, at a budget price
  • Looks fantastic
  • Great soundtrack

Cons:

  • The cow and bear levels can get in the sea
  • It has to end eventually
  • Motion control is the literal worst

Overall Score 9/10

Butt Not Found

When I was about 9-10, my parent’s marriage fell apart. They said they’d “stay together for the child”, but what that really meant was that my maternal parent didn’t want to find somewhere else to live (the house belonged to my nan, who also lived with us). As such, the backroom downstairs was turned into her bedroom. It was almost always closed – like all bedroom doors in the house – and consequently, somewhat of a mystery. About a year later, maternal parent brought home a guy she’d been dating. Shortly thereafter he was living with us, in her room. A further mystery to that area of the house.

Outside of working hours, maternal parent would stay in her room smoking her partner’s wares and he would take over the office she’d converted out of the garage, for her secretarial business (which failed) to play games on her PC.

MP’s partner didn’t really speak to me, I was just an annoyance, but if I kept quiet, I could sit at the back of the room and watch him play these games. If he was out selling at the weekend I could even play them sometimes. These are still games that I have a huge fondness for, games I still try to dig out and play every year or so. Lucasfilm Games’s Night Shift, Interplay’s Lord of the Rings, and from the Bitmap Brothers: Xenon 2, Magic Pockets & GODS. They may not be perfect, I may be pretty bad at them, but they lodged in my heart somehow and I’ve never let them go.

Imagine my surprise then when I went through my Steam list the other day to see that GODS had been remastered for modern systems. 11 year old me gave a little cheer and I immediately threw some money down on this updated version of my favourite action puzzle platform games of all time.

I usually only stream about an hour a week, but this week I ended up playing for two, without even realising. And I’ve been sneaking in some additional time here and there ever since. I was back there, toggling levers in the hope of working out the secret combinations to unlock bonus areas filled with glittering prizes, shrinking in horror at some of the floaty jumping, cheering on the thieves to bring me the treasures I needed.

GODS is the story of a hero who faces the fear of the ancient city, to slay the four great guardians, in order to win a single favour from the Gods. The favour they ask is to join these deities as an equal.

This is a loving recreation of the original version, as played by the remaster’s dev on Atari ST. The player character still walks with a certain weight and purpose, and jumps in this odd floaty manner.

Obviously the first thing to talk about with a remaster is the graphics, so (*Mario voice*) here we go!

Platform and background textures are nicely updated, while keeping the feel and style of the original artwork. There was something about Bitmap Brothers games that always stood out and made it instantly recognisable as one of their creations, so it’s nice to see that style given a shiny new coat of pixels.

The design of the shop is great, and icons are clear and familiar. It all feels very much like the original as upgraded by nostalgic memory. Then we come to the character models and here I do have a few problems. Some of the monsters you fight look very odd indeed, less demonic than they once were, more darkly adorable. The humanoids just look like scaled down assets rather than unique, short and stocky races. They all have the plasticy shine of 90’s era 3D animations, with none of the more modern soft glow of subsurface scattering.

The player character model has quite incredible muscles (especially those thighs) and their build overall is much more bulky. Where the original felt like they were built of strong, lean muscle. Like they were strong but agile. This new hero looks like they live on three square meals a day of 3000 calories of chicken, pasta and steroids. Like He-Man got self-conscious at the gym and decided he wasn’t quite ripped enough. Most egregious of all, they’ve hidden their butt. When using ladders, you used to be able to clearly see those firm buns wiggle. Now, the hero has immobile shorts that give no hint of the buttocks beneath. It’s a travesty I tells ya! A TRAVESTY *screams until the very Gods themselves quake in fear*.

With those gripes out of the way, it’s time to talk about some of the benefits. In the original version I played on PC, if you ran out of lives, you’d have to start a whole level again using a couple of continues (for some reasons it’s multiple worlds per level, rather than the other way around). If you ran out of continues, you could use passwords to get back to the start of a level and you’d be granted a set amount of cash to arm yourself. This often meant that you’d be at a slight disadvantage compared to having gone through from the beginning.

In the remaster, you don’t have continues, which means that you can just keep going with the weapons you’ve earned. You can even quit the game and come back to the beginning of the world you last played. It’s quality of life like this which makes me really happy, as someone who is very bad at this game.

Should you want to start a level like you’d used a continue/password in the original, you can access each one you’ve unlocked from the main menu. Here again, you’ll have a set amount of money to kit yourself out for the run.

Another nice upgrade is having multiple buttons for control. GODS was originally designed for one button joysticks so you could easily find yourself jumping instead of going through a door if you were off centre with your movement. Now there are separate buttons for jump, attack, inventory, and using levers. Additionally, there’s a turn and fire control which is great for the regular sections of the game where enemies will appear and surround you.

Back in the day GODS ran at about 17 fps. This version will run at a solid 60 in modern or classic graphics mode. This can be switched on the fly by hitting F10 or clicking the right stick on a controller.

Music here is a little disappointing. The original intro music, Into The Wonderful was super memorable, with its digised speech, catchy tune and low-res intro scene. The new title music is a legally distinct knock-off and honestly, I’d rather that they’d just accepted they couldn’t get the licence and go for something completely different. It’s the 500-in-1 video game console your uncle mistook for a PS4, to the misery of your cousins by comparison. Additionally sound effects are a little odd now. Getting hit sounds like you’ve suffered a minor inconvenience and not like you’ve just lost a quarter of your health. Not sure where they got/how they made that asset but it doesn’t sound right at all.

For all my usual moaning, I’ve really enjoyed this version, even if I do flick graphics modes on the regular, to avoid some of the less than impressive looking enemies. I’m looking forward to more time playing and would definitely say it’s worth the price (~£17.00) especially as it takes the hassle out of playing it on modern systems and provides those quality of life upgrades.

GODS Remastered is available on PC and XBOne now and is due for release on Switch and PS4 early 2019.

Pros:

  • Easiest way to play on modern systems
  • Improved control scheme
  • Easier to put down and come back to, when you need

Cons:

  • Odd sound effects in remastered mode
  • Character models are plasticy
  • They nerfed the hero’s butt!!!

Overall Score: 6/10

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