Hammer Time – Dragon Quest Builders 2

Well, it happened again. I sat down with a Dragon Quest Builders game and lost a month or so. In many ways, that’s probably a pretty glowing review on it’s own, but why don’t I gush on for a few paragraphs anyway.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes the third-person, action RPG, with voxel-based building fun of the original game, and tweaks it in just the right ways to make it vastly superior. You start the game as a trainee builder – one of the few people who can make anything in the world. You’re abducted and set to work on a ship of monsters. Just when it looks like your fate is sealed, the ship springs a leak and you’re washed overboard. Your time on the ship is a nice little introduction to the basic mechanics of the game (block placement, combat, camera controls, conversations, etc).

Next thing you know, you’re washing up on the Isle of Awakening. This will be your hub world for DQB2, replacing the old freeplay island where you could build whatever you wanted, outside of the story. Initially, there’s not a lot to do, apart from find shelter for Lulu, Malroth and yourself. In a case of dramatic irony, you’re made aware that the Lord of Destruction is also called Malroth in early cinematics. As such, the ever boiling temper and desire to break things by your black-haired, broody companion isn’t so strange to you, the player. As such, you’re left wondering just when things will come to a head in that department.

Soon after arriving on the Isle of Awakening, you’re sent off on your first mission, to learn all about farming. Heading to the dock, you’ll meet Brownbeard the pir-sailor (definitely just a sailor) who offers to take you around the local islands on their boat.

Your first excursion takes you to Furrowfield, an island of farmers who’ve lost the skills needed to ply their trade or feed themselves. The islanders are initially unhappy that a builder has arrived, because they follow the teachings of the Children of Hargon, who say that building is blasphemous and wrong. However, once they see your skills for building fields, bedrooms, kitchens, diners, and most importantly: a toilet, they soon come around to the ways of building.

One problem that I often found in the first game, was that when enemies randomly attacked your town, that they’d ruin chunks of it. While random attacks are still an issue, the monsters mostly go for your crops, and do no more than dig up the seeds. While the second island did see some enemies who could smash an adobe wall down, for the most part I didn’t have to worry about rebuilding half of my town.

In addition, when facing larger enemy attacks (triggered by talking to a townsperson who has a crossed swords icon above their head) it was nice to see that once the dust of battle had settled, the townsfolk announced they would put things back as they were before. A quick fade to black and everything was pristine again. The damage to my carefully made towns was one of my biggest complaints with the previous game. As such, this made a very welcome change.

On the subject of quality of life improvements, my biggest gripe was having to find everything I needed to make a large storage chest. Every. Single. New. Area. (*hours of screaming noises*). Luckily, this has also been fixed. Early on you get a big bag that gives you seven pages of storage space that you always have on you for the rest of the game (even if some of the contents gets stored away before you head to a new mission area). This is brilliant and stops a lot of unnecessary frustration for finding space to store all your carefully collected crap.

Most of the way through the first main island, you’re given a giant project to construct something. While your character is the one who designs each of its three huge sections, the townspeople are keen to do most of the building themselves. First off you have to collect a few items, and lay them out according to the blueprint. Once you’ve got that down, the villagers will get on with most of the rest themselves – just as long as there’s a chest nearby which has the items they need, many of which they will gather themselves. While I was initially a little unhappy to have this huge project taken out of my hands, some of the more fiddly bits seemed best done by my new helpers. Also, there’s always the option to just take their chest full of bits and do all the building yourself.

With Furrowfield restored to full glory, you return briefly to the Isle of Awakening, along with a number of the islanders. Here you can catch up with a strange glowing creature called the Hairy Hermit, who shows you the first stone tablet and teaches you how you can complete tasks to earn medals – which in turn unlock new tools: the trowel (for replacing one type of block with another from your inventory), the pencil (for creating blueprints from any scenery you find and want to replicate), and the chisel (for carving blocks down into other shapes, great for fancying up your grander builds); as well as new cosmetic items.

Initially, you’re charged with restoring a river and waterfall, and restoring the fields and woods, using tools, equipment, and assistants you gained in Furrowfield. While there’s some argument between a number of the island’s residents over what the place should be called or who’s in charge, none of it gets too heated and soon enough you’re being pointed back to the docks to explore elsewhere.

At this point you have access to a few other islands. The first two Explorers Isles can be unlocked for a few gratitude points (earned by building and farming on IoA) and the next major story island, Khumbul Dun.

The Explorers Isles are interesting little scavenger hunt areas where you can check various blocks, farm animals, rocks, and plants off of a list to earn an infinite supply of certain resources. Each island has two scavenger hunts and completing each of the major story areas will unlock two more of these islands. The ability to gain infinite amounts of some of the most basic resources is such a time saver in the long run, and the fact that carries over to the main story islands was a lovely surprise.

Additionally, you can often find new seeds for various crops on these islands. Just the thing for filling your farms on IoA and keeping everyone well fed and happy.

Up to this point, I’d been enjoying the story, even if I wasn’t keen on all the characters. However, heading into the second major island, I was somewhat squicked by the way a lot of the men in the village talked about the only woman living there. Entitled fuckboys. Entitled fuckboys everywhere. Each of them feeling entitled to her in some way. All of them trying to get her to become a dancing girl at the bar, and dress like a bunny girl. It wasn’t until a little later, when she revealed that, actually, she really wanted to dance, that that feeling eased any. Not that the men-folk got any less letchy in general.

Following this excursion to a mining town, you’re briefly back to the Isle of Awakening. At this point I was all ready to start using all my new recipes and start work on expanding my own island (I medically required a train system around my island). However, you’re quickly whisked off to a whole new chapter, set in a prison, that doesn’t really add much to the game as a whole (apart from making me really want the recipe for guillotines, so I can warn any would be capitalists off of my home island).

You are eventually allowed back home after about 90 minutes of side story, but at this point I’d kind of lost heart for getting on with bringing the desert mining town home and just wanted to press on with the story a bit.

The final big story island mostly takes place in a constantly warring castle town. The Children of Hargon have managed to convince the humans that to build is forbidden, to win the war is forbidden, and to be completely defeated is forbidden. As such, you’re shown to the last few crumbling walls of the once great castle and left to get on with it while people bicker about whether they should be doing much at all. There’s also a plot involving a traitor in your midst, which leads to one of the most irritating moments in the game.

Your character is a silent protagonist, meaning that you are unable to just have a simple conversation that could have avoided all or at least most of the distress another character was feeling. I get that the plot needed to eventually work round to a couple of specific things, but it really took a lot of agency away from the player at this point.

There’s no way to go into a certain area via walking in there, you can’t dig through into that area either because of sudden invisible barrier syndrome. The game just says “nope, we need them to be pissed at you so we’re going to block any attempts to make amends so our flimsy plot works. I knew there and then that while I’d left each other island intact when I left this castle – only taking a few volunteers with me to the IoA – this time I was taking everything that wasn’t nailed down. Every chest was emptied, every trap, weapon, and special item was coming with me. To heck with this hole!

There’s a final, mostly plot-based area after this which leads to the final boss, but it’s a shorter area than most of the main plot islands. After which, you’re treated to the credits and given the opportunity to head back to IoA to try out all your newly unlocked recipes and rooms on your home base, now with an added vehicle for getting around at high speed. Woo!

You may have spotted that DQB2 also has a season pass available (currently £18.89 GBP) on the eshop. This contains 3 pieces of DLC (which can also be purchased for £8.99 each for the Aquarium & Modernist packs, and £5.39 for the Hotto Stuff pack). I’ve had a look through what’s available and to be honest, it’s not super impressive. Each pack contains a number of new recipes and an island you can head to to gather pack specific items.

The available packs are the Hotto Stuff pack (retro Japan), which features more than 40 new recipes design and decorate buildings in the style of the Hotto Steppe region (Traditional Japanese/Dragon Quest XI); the Aquarium pack (wet and fishy), which gives you a new fishing island, a fishing rod tool, more than 40 fish to catch, a short story section, and a number of new character customisation items; and the Modernist pack (IKEA catalogue), which includes more than 70 recipes to make modern structures, and a bunch more character customisation items.

Outside of the paid packs, there’s also the Knickknack pack, which adds 3 new items to celebrate New Year in a traditional Japanese-stylee. The pack contains a paddle, soup, and an ornate decorations.

Finally, if you do own the original DQB (and still have a save file on your system) you can access a recipe for stackable slime decorations and a chance to wear the hero’s outfit from the first game.

You may have heard that this game features a multiplayer aspect, and that’s kind of true, but not at all what I was hoping for. Once you get to the Isle of Awakening, you find a cave with a teleportal in it. This will allow you to access the MP mode. First off, decide if you’re playing online or over local wireless. Then invite friends or go visit someone else.

For receiving visitors, you can change settings which will stop any potential trolling. Additionally, once you’re in multiplayer mode, a large chest appears by the telportal containing medical herbs, some basic armour, and a cheap weapon. However, as it’s not great armour or weaponry, I’ve put a small chest of guest equipment of my own down.

Once you’ve got everyone together in MP you’ve a few options. Obviously you can show off your builds, but beyond that you can also head out and do the Explorer Islands together. This makes the scavenger hunts a lot less work, and the boss monsters on those islands a lot more manageable.

I had hoped that you could just go through the story missions with another person, but this just isn’t an option. A real shame, since that’s what I really wanted from the sequel. Maybe next time.

Despite a few issues with the plot, some of the characters, and the minimal multiplayer, I really enjoyed DQB2. I’d say if you’re looking for Minecraft with a story, this is probably the one for you. It doesn’t require that you’ve played the first game and the quality of life improvements have made the original basically obsolete.

Pros:

  • Fun gameplay
  • Guillotines to build (and threaten anyone who tries to claim leadership of my glob damn island)
  • Lots of quality of life improvements over the first game

Cons:

  • Disappointing Multiplayer
  • Annoying plot decisions on the third island
  • Expensive expansions that don’t add enough value.

Final Score: 9/10

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

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