Category Archives: PlayStation Network

A Monochrome Boy and a Great White Shark

Life in general is a bit of a mess right now, thanks to the revisit of my old pal from spring, Mr. Shitty Lower-Back. These past few days have been all about painkillers, mostly good for determining whether I have only a rusty nail or a fiery hot pitchfork stuck in my other leg. That’s pretty much my excuse for the lack of updates this week, even if I still managed a couple of playthroughs. The first one was this month’s PlayStation Plus freebie, Hue, which turned out to be quite a charming little 2D puzzle platformer.

The titular hero of the game wakes up in a bleak monochrome village with a yearning for his lost mom. Still, she’s bound to be out there somewhere, so there’s no choice but to chin up, go out, and explore. At first, Hue is only capable of running and jumping but it doesn’t take long for the tyke to discover his first color. It’s only good for changing the background color of the game, but at the same time it also turns all objects and obstacles of the same color invisible. One hue alone won’t a puzzle game make but as the palette eventually grows to eight colors, brain cells are in for a treat.

Despite such a simple game mechanic – or perhaps because of it – Hue is surprisingly enjoyable. Its puzzle rooms, filled with movable crates, pressure plates, spike pits, lasers, hovering platforms, etc. are delightfully compact, and even if the game isn’t particularly sadistic at any given time, trying to figure out the route to the next exit often requires quite a bit of brainstorming. While most of the puzzles can be thought out leisurely, some of them require fast reflexes. Thankfully activating the color wheel with the right thumbstick grinds time to a near halt.

Hue’s journey is accompanied by a minimalistic, yet beautiful piano score as well as a female narrator who conjures up a decent story context. The adventure takes about five hours to complete, further extended by 28 flasks hidden around the game world. Sadly, though, their only purpose is to be found. Despite this minor blemish, Hue is easy to like. Sure, it’s a bit of a one-night stand but it’s still a tasty snack between more sizable gaming projects.

The same goes for the other playthrough of this week. Giant Squid’s debut game Abzû is kind of like an underwater Journey; a tranquil and enchanting expedition through some breathtaking surroundings. Following a majestic great white shark, the player dives ever deeper and deeper, encountering dozens of fish species, submerged ruins, fascinating coral reefs, wild jet streams, and eventually even artifacts of apparently alien origin. There’s not really that much to play but all the more simply to experience. Abzû is a thrilling two-hour-long journey of discovery with fantastic visuals and music to back it up. The sea is chock-full of beauty, and a symphony orchestra upholds the joys of exploration and discoveries in a top-notch fashion.

Abzû, too, has artificial collectibles strewn here and there just for the sake of collecting, but such lazy design is once more forgiven; when hitching a ride on the back of a manta ray, or breaching the surface of water in a joyous leap together with a bunch of orcas, experiential gaming art truly feels like a thing!

From Poland with Love

After completing Nights of Azure with all of its trophies and everything, these past few days have been pure R&R. In-between more full-figured projects, I’ve taken quite a bit of liking to Sky Force Anniversary, this month’s PlayStation Plus freebie by the Polish developer Infinite Dreams. It’s a no-nonsense old-school vertical shoot ’em up pitting a lone hero against the massive air, sea, and ground forces of a pronouncedly evil General Mantis. Games like these don’t really need more story than that, so it’s all about wanton fire and turning tons of hostile metal into scrap iron.

Most games in this genre rely on three lives, a whole lot of memorization, and ever-increasing firepower that is quickly taken away by a single blunder. Sky Force Anniversary is notably more compassionate, even if it only provides a single life and pretty much no other pickup bonuses than increased rate of fire. Still, it’s possible to start from any previously unlocked stage, and stars picked up from destroyed enemies act as currency to steadily improve the player’s ship into a true force to be reckoned with. Such options are plentiful from thicker armor, more powerful shots, and homing missiles all the way down to limited use game changers such as lasers, force fields, and mega bombs. The game is more than happy to dish out punishment but the slow and steady grind is what keeps everything fair. Even a failed run is still a stepping stone towards a ship that will eventually allow even the less-gifted pilots to shine. Probably.

Inevitable repetition is also alleviated by stage challenges. They require destroying 70% or 100% of anything hostile, taking no damage whatsoever, and rescuing poor troopers stuck behind enemy lines by floating above them for a brief amount of time. After completing these four requirements (not necessarily during the same run), the stage can be challenged on a higher difficulty level. Even then the number and placing of enemies remains the same; they merely shoot more aggressively. This, too, helps in making Sky Force Anniversary the most refreshing vertical shooter in ages. Usually these games would be entertaining for maybe fifteen minutes, feel “kinda fun” and, if they were arcade cabinets, maybe swallow a quarter or two. In this case, however, the game is so delightfully approachable that hours just fly by.

Sky Force Anniversary also acts as good practice for times to come, as a couple of the latest arrivals are ruthless bullet hell games. Caladrius Blaze is assumably a traditional such shooter whereas Rabi-Ribi combines wild projectile dodging with platforming. As well as these, there’s a bit more semi-retro love courtesy of PS2-action-JRPG Dark Cloud, which makes a welcome return to the shelf. I used to have it as a kid but since I was young and stupid back then, I even sold some of my games. As an adult, such frivolities are thankfully a thing of the past.

Möst Wöndërfül

First some speed and then a leap into the unknown

The beginning of this Saturday has been quite jovial. I chose to play Type:Rider, which is a French 2D art platformer that was included in this month’s PlayStation Plus pile. It touts itself as a typographical video game, and it stars a happy little umlaut (or perhaps it’s a colon?) that rolls and jumps its way through mankind’s character, font, and printing history ranging from ancient cave paintings to modern day digitization. Along the journey, there are plenty of famous typeface letters to collect, including asterisks that open up really rather interesting little articles about the pioneers and innovations of the printing industry. It’s fun and educational; not bad!

The minimalist, stylishly designed stages are full of woodcuts, lithographs, posters, and typefaces. Traversing them is all about honoring the laws of physics, except when they make you curse physics altogether. The player’s two rolling dots are capable of jumping and rotating in the air but it’s quite tricky to keep them in perfect control. Inertia is your best friend but when it either runs out or there’s too much of it, you usually take a wildly spinning plunge into oblivion. Thankfully there are loads of checkpoints, and the game isn’t that challenging to begin with. Every now and then, there are also lightweight puzzle rooms where you have to free a third dot and then push it to a pedestal that enables you to proceed.

All the collectible letters can be found with relative ease, and even if you go after all of them, the game shouldn’t take longer than about two and a half hours to complete. One hour more, and I even managed to unlock all of its trophies. Those who want more can still improve their automatically tracked completion times or head to a separate speed run track that provides considerably more challenge for competitive gamers. Also, each stage has been split into four sections, each of which can be warped into via the in-game menu. In this game, reliving its best moments or practicing its slightly more challenging parts is remarkably quick and easy.

Even as a little snack, Type:Rider made me smile a lot. It’s original and stylish in a way that many French game developers seem to handle so eerily well. Sure, it’s also short and easy but then again, it never outstays its welcome, and it’s actually quite relaxing to play a game that isn’t constantly trying to make its player lose their cool. What a delightfully entertaining morning this has been!

Feisty Fish

Three arms and a bowl. I’M INVINCIBLE!! Until next stage.

This lazy Sunday has been all about extravagant nothing. My only accomplishment has been grabbing the last few trophies of a two-year-old indie 2D shooter Shütshimi: Seriously Swole. It’s yet another fake retro style release that was given free to PlayStation Plus subscribers a little over a year ago. Back then, its humorous angle was much appreciated but since the game always felt awfully challenging, it ended up being something I played on and off in little bursts over a long period of time. Apparently each session still taught me something, as I finally managed to complete the damn thing. To be precise, I actually finished it last week, triumphed over its boss rush mode last Friday, and spent today cleaning off its remaining few trophies.

Shütshimi’s take on shoot’em ups is amusing and brisk. You play as a totally pissed-off gold fish that defends its home waters against all sorts of maritime nasties, be they laser-shooting sharks or even underwater bears. Each stage only lasts about ten seconds, and between them you get to quickly choose between three random bonuses. Some of them are genuinely useful (say, a protective fish bowl, extra arms for additional damage, or a bouncy castle where everyone plays nice), others mostly cosmetic (a huge pile of hats), and the rest downright nasty (inverted controls, twice the size, or plenty more enemies to kill). You only get a few seconds to choose between these verbosely described bonuses, so it’s either a matter of blind luck or getting good enough to spot the ones that are practical or, in the worst case scenario, at least remotely less annoying.

At first, Shütshimi seems easy and relaxed. Every five enemy waves, a brutal boss appears. You shoot them for as much as the time allows, and if that’s not enough, it’s another five waves to survive to continue from where you left off. Even if no stage lasts longer than those ten seconds, it’s often long enough for the enemy hordes to flatten your stalwart gold-scaled hero and, since the game plays like a dream, you always have no one but yourself to blame. It probably doesn’t take longer than an evening or two to deal with the three main bosses of the game, but when you are then challenged to beat their advanced forms… I haven’t kept track of time spent with this one but as mentioned, it’s a game that has been steadily bugging me for a year or so.

While the indie scene is hopelessly crammed with these pixel-art forays, Shütshimi was a pleasant little surprise. It’s a simple, challenging game that I ended up coming back to over and over again, just like back in my youth when some games were equally brutal and yet somehow inexplicably compelling. I guess that’s the best recommendation I can give.