Well, six hours per game was apparently far too ambitious with a newborn. I’ve also found that I don’t need six hours to know if a game is worth playing or not. Still, I’ve been able to devote between two to three hours to Guacamelee, The Swapper, and Solar 2, and I was pleasantly surprised with all of them.
Guacamelee was first up. To me it was equal parts Castle Crashers (with the action and stylized environments) and Metroidvania. If that has you salivating, go purchase and play this game immediately. There are some puzzle/platforming elements present in the game, so not strictly a beat-em-up. There are also various combos to unlock and perform, furthering the play style beyond a game like Final Fight or Streets of Rage. But Guacamelee clearly harkens back to those early titans of the genre while it also pays service to other gaming giants.
Tons of references to Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and Metroid can be found throughout the world–Metroid, in particular, right down to the Chozo statues that unleash power-ups.
The music is astounding–simultaneously Mariachi and ambient–and the visual appeal is very high. You’ll definitely want to play it with a controller versus keyboard/mouse. I can’t recommend using the 360 controller enough, it felt perfectly attuned to the game’s design. In terms of an evaluatory system, which is based on equating the game to a certain type of libation, this game is scored as: Inebriating, like a house margarita. That’s pretty good!
The Swapper, I loved. Reminiscent of games from yesteryear you are thrown into a world and expected to move forth with no explanation at all. Like Guacamelee, The Swapper utilizes a Metroidvania layout for its world while gameplay is more akin to that of Portal. It’s a puzzle game that provides you with an item, The Swapper, which allows your character the ability to create up to four clones of yourself. These clones can be placed in various points, depending on the Swapper’s line of sight, allowing you to solve puzzles and progress through a space station filled with mystery and questions.
The puzzles in The Swapper are intriguing. Several times I sat thinking about how I didn’t even want to attempt a solution, being perplexed from the very start. Yet I was compelled to try, and compelled more so to figure out the key to unraveling said room’s enigma. There’s a great sense of accomplishment when a puzzle is solved that provides great motivation to keep pressing forward.
The music in The Swapper is background ambiance, if present at all. I was actually playing WinAmp in the background while I moved through the station, only to find out a good bit of the plot is told to you by a scientist moving through the station, dropping hints as to what is going on. A couple of different occasions saw me miss some vital plot point because I didn’t hear everything she had to say. Still, the lack of really good VGM is not anything to keep me from coming back to The Swapper. I score it: Top-Shelf, our highest grade.
Solar 2. I can best describe this game as a more-rudimentary Sim City but on a universal scale, which seems highly contradictory but still fits. You start off as a chunk of space rock, free to roam around the open planes of existence, searching for greater meaning by way of gaining mass through the absorption of other rocks. Eventually your hurtling boulder evolves into a small planet, then a life-bearing planet, then different levels of a star. The final form you take is a black hole which can swallow anything in its path, provided there isn’t a larger black hole gunning for you. Eventually you achieve The Big Crunch and everything becomes what it once was, you being a wayward rock trying to find your place in the universe.
More impressive an image when it is in motion.
I spent a great majority of my time with the game simply roaming through space, growing my system, saving various iterations, evolving my stars and planets. It is strangely gratifying and didn’t get stale. I eventually took part in the ‘missions’ laid out before me, which added some challenge and structure to the game.
The music in Solar 2 is very good, extremely laid-back and ethereal–what I would expect for a game about deep space and the evolution of a universe. It never got old and never got in the way, it just remained in the background, occasionally peaking upward while subsequently piquing my attention. The visuals of the game are pretty basic for this day and age but they have a certain beauty to them. The controls are challenging because you can FEEL THE PHYSICS. Seriously, though–gravity is ever-present and you have to quickly learn how to manipulate your surroundings before they manipulate you. Venture too close to a star and you’ll be pulled in. Capturing space rocks or new planets is not just a matter of getting close to it in all cases, but sometimes making a motion more conducive to putting something in orbit.
My only knock on Solar 2 is I can’t imagine I’ll ever go back to it. I loved every moment I spent with it, but I kind of feel like I did everything I wanted to in the game. Because of that I withhold the esteemed rank of ‘Top Shelf’ and bestow the next-best award: Intoxicating.
*** Update ***
After I wrote the first draft of this post I started playing through a few more titles on my list of backlog: Half-Minute Hero, Starseed Pilgrim, and Dust. Here are some brief thoughts.
Half-Minute Hero struck me in a similar way as The Swapper in that I felt resistant towards completing an objective but at the same time felt compelled to continue through it. The point of this game is that you are playing an RPG in which you have 30 seconds ‘to save the world’. Time freezes in towns and can be reset by p(r)aying near a statue (the Time Goddess, like many other major religious figures, loves money).
Save the world in 30 seconds, many times over.
Now, those who have tortured themselves in the past by reading articles I’ve written or listened to podcasts I’ve bitched on know that I am not one for time limits in games. It was one of the ruining factors for me in Majora’s Mask. I feel like it cheapens my experience because I am one who likes to play a game deliberately and explore the worlds game devs have laid before me. I totally understand the point of a time limit, as it does intensify a particular game experience a dev might be seeking to convey, not too mention it ramps up difficulty, with increased anxiety and adrenaline serving as by-products. Nevertheless, it still remains a turn-off for me.
Battles are auto-fought. Kinda boring.
I played Half-Minute Hero for about an hour and progressed through several different areas in which I had to save the world (the whole game doesn’t end after 30 seconds, just the scenario you’re currently faced with). The game has some very interesting aspects to it and is not altogether unfun, but it is not a game I see myself indulging in too much. While it is an RPG, it is not so much an RPG as it is a puzzler, giving you obstacles to overcome and forcing you to find the most apt route in solving those dilemmas. Quick-score equivalent: Shot of Whiskey (not a bad experience, but over too quickly).
Starseed Pilgrim–I don’t know what to even say about this one. I tried playing it for maybe 10 minutes. It has extremely rudimentary graphics, which is not a problem for me. But I had no idea what the fuck I was supposed to be doing and, honestly, I didn’t feel compelled to try and figure it out. Nothing from the game grabbed me, urging me to play on. I realize this is a very book-by-its-cover judgement, but of all the games in the world for me to be playing at any given time, this one did not present its case well to be one of them. Quick-score equivalent: Toilet Wine (you know its there, but you don’t really want to drink it).
Dust: An Elysian Tail was the last one I started up and I’m happy to say I cannot provide a good evaluation of it yet because it is definitely a game I want to sink my teeth into more. I can say, firstly, that the presentation of the game is top-shelf. The visuals are simply-stunning–hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds that are beautifully colored and have a real pop to them. I didn’t get much sense of the music, but there is full voice acting which is handled in a serious, yet tongue-in-cheek, fashion. I’m going to sip on this one for a while, but my gut-reaction, quick-score equivalent:Bubbly.