“Huh, place doesn’t come furnished I guess. Couple skulls…”
You’d be hard-pressed to name more than a couple iconic shields. Yes yes, Captain America’s counts, though it doesn’t even have a name like “Freedom” or “Banner” or “The Philadelphia Escutcheon.” What else do you have to put up against the likes of Sting, Excalibur, Needle, Glamdring, the Vorpal Sword, the Sword of Chaos, the Master Sword, the Sword in the Stone, and so on?
Jason Pickering’s MicRogue has, for what it’s worth, one of the most laughable fictional shields you could imagine. No name for the thing, but plenty of character, and that character is mostly wimpy. The game’s a bare-bones roguelike (a micro rogue, you see, or a micro rouge as my inevitable typo will say a few paragraphs in) which emphasizes movement, positioning, and timing over the accumulation of XP and levels, and one where only three blows to the hero’s gilded shield (or one blow to his exposed flanks) spells “game over.” And yet it says much about MicRogue’s dubious challenge that this wet-cardboard buckler often seems like too generous an armament for the game’s plucky hero.
Neighborhood’s something of a food desert, but the rent’s not bad.
Last Voyage is a puzzle game which trades just as heavily in mood and the suggestion of plot as it does in clever mind-benders. As the title suggests it’s a journey of sorts—an abstract, seemingly space-faring trip in five parts. Each act centers around just a handful of mechanics, each different from the last, with the game’s ghostly cosmic synth running throughout.
None of this is to say that Last Voyage has a story in any traditional sense, though there’s a familiar, filmic quality to how the game presents certain puzzles—the monolith and psychedelic tunnel of 2001: A Space Odyssey are possible touchstones here, though the repeated images of a half-risen sun speak just as readily to The Twilight Zone’s middle ground between fear and knowledge. These similarities don’t stop at passing visuals, though. Varied though its sections may be there’s a strong, mechanical, interactive framework which supports Last Voyage’s thematic aspirations.
Isn’t this where they found Frankie Carbone in Goodfellas?
Call any particular cast of characters “interchangeable” and, for most games, you’d be speaking in the pejorative. But for Swap Heroes 2, the second action-puzzler of its name from developer Chris Savory, rolling with a foursome of interchangeable fantasy archetypes is the whole point. As the name suggests, the idea isn’t that your squad is comprised of bland nobodies who wouldn’t stand out at your average weekend LARP (let alone a week-long camp where everyone’s armored to the nines), but rather that your team adheres to one specific, rigid tactical formation, a formation which only allows for two characters to change places at any one time.
“You go for a man hard enough and fast enough, he don’t have time to think about how many’s with him.”
There’s a plasma-hot streak of can-do spirit and 1950s pizzazz in Space Age, an unwavering optimism that colors every moment of the game’s pulp adventure. Early space race kitsch is the style here, with our cast of cosmic explorers decked out in fishbowl helmets and garish spacesuits (with hoop skirts for the ladies, of course). Out of this crew tasked with investigating the alien world of Kepler-16—a crew which includes a suspenders-wearing, toolbox-carrying engineer and an Obvious Love Interest/chief science officer—we have a most average of Seemingly Average Heroes, a lowly private who can barely manage to communicate with his fellows between rapid-fire gees, goshes, shucks, and painfully naïve quips. (Quick paraphrase: “Is there a special girl back home, Private?” “Of course! My mom! Oh, and the family dog’s a girl too, I think. And maybe my neighb- OH YOU MEAN ROMANTICALLY.”)
Space Age is an odd mash-up of action, adventure, and some light (like, lunar gravity light) squad-based tactics. The game itself, as befits the dream of a push-button future, seems to want it all: a little bit of twee sensibility here, a little bit of stealth-game sneakery there, some timing puzzles off to the side and then a big, earnest slice of American apple pie on top. That is a tough ship to get into orbit.
Paper is the most important item in Hadean Lands. That’s odd for a text adventure, especially one wholeheartedly classic in form. More important here than hidden keys, improvised rope ladders and hackneyed riddles are ideas—rituals and obscure geological information, specifically—and ideas are written on paper. (Ideas are also occasionally free-floating energy halls invisible to the naked eye. But you’ll figure that one out pretty quickly.)
Hadean Lands is a game about alchemy, where progress is measured primarily through the acquisition of knowledge. The genre-standard march of soon-to-be-unlocked doors and “impenetrable” safes is nothing but a series of trifles next to the synthesis of pure elemental forms. Rest assured you’ll need to assume sure-handed mastery over the elements in order to… well, unlock bigger, more impressive doors and safes.
Unlike many of the games we’ll be gushing over during these awards, there’s nothing about our Action GOTY Runner-up that particularly endears the fantasy roguelike to touch devices–nothing that jumps out, at least. You could take the same basic ingredients–meaty top-down action, a handful of classes, procedurally constructed stages, permanent and semi-permanent upgrade systems–and plop them onto a PC, or Xbox, or Super Nintendo, and you wouldn’t lose the effect. A cynic might look at this game and say its best achievement is doing virtual sticks right.
The skull indicates the gang are DEALERS OF DEATH. And that they *really* like Halloween.
Amid the glut of quality shows available to those living in the Golden Age of Binge TV, FX’s Sons of Anarchy has always seemed like an also-ran. Good enough for seven seasons (with the series finale airing tonight), but next to the likes of Game of Thrones, True Detective, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, House of Cards… well, you get the picture.
Maybe that impression is simply due to “gun-trafficking motorcycle gang” being a bit on-the-nose, theme-wise, for a show trying to grab an ever-diminishing slice of viewers jonesing for unexpected character deaths. Or, maybe, it’s because Sons of Anarchy has yet to have its own video game tie-in.