Yay! Mermaids! But can a game intended for preschoolers entertain me, a grown adult, a task for which it was never intended??
This is essentially my introduction to the world of Dora. This is a US show for young children with educational elements. Dora herself is bilingual and I think maybe teaching kids some Spanish is one of the educational elements; I did learn a word or two from this! This particular game is based on an episode/movie where the message is loud and clear: pollution is bad and don’t litter!
I must say it’s amusing to play through a licensed “shovelware” type game and hear the character shouting “GARBAGE!” constantly, especially in the DS version. But really the game is decent enough for its intended age range. On DS it’s incredibly simplistic and short, consisting of touchscreen and microphone-based minigames with interstitial scenes made up of crunched screenshots from the movie. It assumes you’ve seen it as there’s no voiceover in these parts to help you through the plot.
The PS2 version is better about being a complete experience with voiced cutscenes and all, although its modelled 3D characters are a bit creepier than the DS’s 2D artwork, especially Dora herself. Still, it has more to do; the minigames are worse and clunkier but between them are very basic 3D “platformer” sections where you collect gems to power up the mermaids’ magic crown. It’s all very smooth and chill, with no risk of setback. There’s even a mode where a parent can use the second controller to guide and encourage the primary player, which would probably be nice for a shared experience with a young tot. It’s constantly tutorialising at you though; surely even a toddler doesn’t need to be told every single time that they need to move the analogue stick and press the action button; it’s the same control all the way through the game!
My main problem with the game is Dora’s transformation into a mermaid comes
too late! There’s only one pair of levels out of the four pairs total
where she’s under the sea, although in the third set you do get to ride a
dolphin. The underwater sections are identical to previous parts, just
with a different aesthetic and the unfortunate absence of Dora’s monkey
companion Boots. Oh well.
It actually made for a relaxing hour, cruising through this. The characters are cute, and they replicate the show dynamic where you’re encouraged to talk back (only the DS is able to make this an actual mechanic, of course). In a way a video game is the ultimate fulfilment of that interactive aspect of the show, so it’s a good fit. I don’t really recommend it at all, I’ve just been playing mermaid games on my Twitch streams (every Wednesday 1pm AEST at twitch.tv/miloscatter plug plug, archived at youtube.com/channel/UCAyVI8sXU_NNZopJCuwRy9A plug plug) so I checked this out from curiosity. Also it’s nice to see a video game with a protagonist who’s a woman of colour, that’s rare and worth celebrating!
What an absolutely stunningly cool game.
SWH is like a fever dream, but one that makes you feel exhilarated and uplifted. It’s a playable techno synth pop album of music videos stuffed with neon-flooded imagery and subtext. It’s also a fast, flashy twitch-action rhythm autorunner that’s very gay and very glorious. It’s the best thing I’ve played all year and I can’t stop thinking about it.
You are a heartbroken woman, called by cosmic forces to venture through abstract landscapes, pursuing the usurpers of a mystical power. Along the way there’s setpiece after setpiece loosely inspired by the cards of the tarot, as you ride your transforming motorcycle and pick up little hearts for points. Each stage is a rollicking thrill-ride that’s constantly shifting perspective and throwing new concepts at you.
But it’s still consistent, with a simple streamlined control scheme, and forgiving, with failure only setting you back seconds and an option to skip tricky bits. I didn’t want to miss a single second, although the experience is better if you make no mistakes. The quicktime events are hard to fail, and it’s your choice to replay for better rankings or just do your best and let the game carry you along in its riptide glow.
The encounters with the gallery of boss ladies are a highlight, whether it’s the retro-inspired 2D vector action played out on the exterior of a VR visor, the rolling shmup against a transforming mech, or the memorable parallel-universe-shifting chase. All the while that banging pop soundtrack syncs perfectly with the action, whether it’s Daniel Olsén’s instrumental tracks or his electro-arrangements of Johnathan Eng’s compositions accompanied by the sublime vocal work of Linnea Olsson. The music is the beating heart of SWH, hence its marketing as a “pop album video game”, and it builds to crescendos during these battles.
The culmination of all this is an epic climax revisiting concepts and motifs from the whole game (which can be easily played in a single sitting), which ultimately fulfills the heroine’s journey by subverting it in a positive way before easing you back to reality and leaving you with a hopeful message. But enough pontificating, please give this game a try, or at least watch a competent playthrough of arcade mode. If you’re put off by frantic, disorienting action, wildly flashy colour and light shows, or cycling techno-pop, that’s fair. But you might just find SWH smashes your heart into a million pieces and builds you a new one full of love and appreciation for the small Swedish team that created this joyous experience.
My exploration of Apple Arcade continues with this exploration of the wonders of the ocean.
This is the latest in a minor trend of video games letting you experience the mysteries of the undersea world as a human diver. I’d rather be a dolphin or mermaid, but hey. This way perhaps lets the game engage the player more directly with a story of human discovery and, in this case, push real-world educational and activism goals.
The developer E-Line Media worked with real-life ocean scientists, educators, and the BBC itself (building off their Blue Planet II documentary) to make the game authentic in illustrating to the player behaviours of ocean life, and the way humanity interacts with them (conservation, research, exploitation). Like Jupiter & Mars, they’re trying to connect you with this vast ecosystem and our impacts on it through the game events as well as with supplementary videos.
As far as that goes, it’s relatively successful. Your diver character Mirai has a personal connection to sperm whales, while other members of the team (who communicate to you through voiceover and between-dive conversation cutscenes) have their own goals on the expedition. Your dives introduce you to different sea life with an emphasis on cetaceans for the important plot encounters, as well as issues that face them such as sonic trauma from mining, or toxicity of algal blooms.
The near-future setting lets them incorporate advanced technology into the gameplay so as to ignore some practicality issues: you don’t ever have to worry about air, or getting attacked. In fact if I had to classify the game it’s closer to a walking simulator than anything else: there’s no real peril or much in the way of gameplay mechanics beyond swimming around, pointing a cursor as a sonic telescope, and scanning critters. Which is fine! As a peaceful experience that’s also narrative-driven, it works.
The game strives for a realistic look and it’s pretty good on the eye, albeit with a quite low draw distance. Some levels are also very dark or have a visual filter of debris. You still feel the majesty of the remarkable creatures you encounter, but also sometimes a fish will swim straight through a rock wall, and the more you play the smaller the maps feel as you traverse them. There’s also very limited interaction between creatures aside from a few scattered scripted events. So things can begin to feel game-y and shallow if you spend too much time with it.
In that sense it’s good that it’s over quickly, or to put it another way it’s quite short and I’m glad it was included in my Apple Arcade subscription, in my case. The frequent character voicework is surprisingly good (although the subtitle text has the odd typo), not annoying and adds a sense of realism and humanity to the proceedings. The touted “player choice” mechanics are in my opinion overstated; the few dialogue options didn’t seem to impact the story much at all, and in fact one choice I made seemed to have been reversed by the game in the following cutscenes? But just following this low-stakes story is enough, and as a kind of playable nature documentary with some added human drama it’s quite endearing.
Let’s get this over with. This project was so utterly misguided from the start. It leans heavily on motion control gimmicks and a baffling control scheme, without much option for customising your experience. It introduces tons of new vehicles with different modes, which do nothing but add to the control frustration. Worst of all as far as I’m concerned, it steadfastly dropkicks the story back in time by rehashing the Star Fox 1 plot AGAIN, leaving the development of the characters and world still stuck in the limbo they’ve been in for 14 years now (10 at the time of release).
On the surface, Zero seems to be a stubborn attempt to retell Lylat Wars again and indeed the basic plot is exactly the same, most enemy ship designs are copied directly, many voice lines are recreated, and several locations and setpieces are reused wholesale. I was pleased to discover at least some new content: a recurring gorilla mech, for example, although dealing with it necessitates more awkward, forced gimmickry. Other concepts are lifted from Star Fox 1 (Monarch Dodora) or 2 (a carrier infiltration, the walker transformation) and revamped to look and act much spiffier.
The general structure of the game is similar to Lylat Wars, but despite not being built around single-run completions, it has much less content. Not every stage ends with a boss, but all bosses are in All-Range Mode, which is my least favourite of all the modes. I like being able to revisit stages at any time to find alternate routes, but after finding Fortuna I failed too many times on the Corneria side route boss that I just gave up.
I should explain more about the controls. They’re a complete mess. The TV view is a third-person perspective, with an objective lockon button that will 100% guaranteed disorient. The Gamepad displays a first-person view, and you’re expected to look between them or hit Minus to swap views. You move your ship around to aim, but also tilt the Gamepad for even more aim, which can’t be turned off but which mercifully is not often required. When it is, it feels forced and aggravating.
It’s just overstuffed with bad ideas, and the bright spots are few and far between, not worth getting to. The whole thing smacks of a vanity project by one S.M., a scattershot of dreck, overloaded with false innovation and lacking in thoughtfulness or heart. I tried to give Zero a chance… my first impressions from previews were sour indeed, but playing the game on its own terms did nothing to convince me otherwise. It looks pretty for the most part, I’ll say that, but the music is limp and impactless… I have so many more criticisms, niggles, and nitpicks I could list (no multiplayer, the continued misogyny, the “voices from the Gamepad” gimmick), but the very fundamentals of the game are so broken as well, it’s miserable. This game sucks. Sorry for the negativity.
It’s way past time I finally got around to playing this on my SNES mini. It’s an interesting kind of sequel that’s very different to the first but still fits right in, and has a lot of ambitious ideas to it.
Quick history lesson: Star Fox was a SNES rail shooter that used the Super FX enhancement chip built into its cartridge to create 3D polyognal graphics that were advanced for the time but feel dated now, especially with its low framerate from pushing the console so hard. Afterwards Argonaut worked on a sequel using the improved Super FX 2 chip and essentially finished it, but Nintendo cancelled it due to the impending (at the time) N64 launch. They then took many of its ideas—and reportedly, code—to create Lylat Wars on that system, without crediting or financially compensating Argonaut in any way. This still makes me mad.
But anyway, this mythical lost game was in fact perfectly playable in a mostly-completed state for many years due to ROM leaks, but it got a slightly more polished official release on the standalone SNES mini-console, and later through the Switch online service. Having read an LP of the ROM dump years ago, I finally tried it out for myself and enjoyed it more than I expected.
There are very few sequences in this game that are akin to the Star Fox rail shooter experience. Instead, you start with a 2D tactical map of the star system, moving your chosen pair of Arwings (including new (female!) team members Miyu the lynx and Fay the poodle) from planet to planet. Enemy forces and missiles also move in real time (even while you’re in the shooter segments) and must be intercepted to defend Corneria. If it takes too much damage it’s game over. There’s an orbital defence platform that has a limited ability to destroy enemy units, but there’s also a type of enemy that can capture it and use it against you. This screen can be overwhelming, especially on higher difficulties, and gets easier as you progress and take down targets, although periodic events refresh Andross’s attack on the system. The amount of player agency is interesting but adds pressure especially with the relentless time mechanic.
Any unit interception transitions you to a “space battle” segment, an all-range first-person dogfight in a 3D arena (although you don’t really change your height) fighting against one of the many random types of ship or missile. Each have their own tactics, which keeps things fresh, and the Star Wolf squadron makes their debut here too as individual miniboss battles. The relatively low draw distance and speediness of many enemy types makes these sequences disorienting though, and you spend a lot of time turning around. The larger enemy carriers also briefly start as “space battle” approaches before transitioning to the interior-style gameplay that is probably the headline gameplay style.
Inside a carrier or on a planet surface, you have a third-person view of your Arwing and can freely swap between flight mode and walker mode. Most of the environments and simplistic “boss fights” are set up for walker mode in these zones, and this is also where the game takes some faltering steps into the territory of the 3D platformer, very much an unperfected art at the time. Planets also involve first finding how to unlock a base entrance and infiltrating it to clear out Andross’s presence, which pits some exploration, 3D strafing combat, and light puzzle-solving against the ever-present time crunch of the overall tactical map which you must always be aware of (General Pepper sometimes will message you in the typical Star Fox communicator style to warn you of external events).
Juggling these three styles may make the game seem overloaded, but it does a good job delineating these segments and balancing them against each other, all while challenging the player’s mindfulness of the overall tactical situation. Expert mode (the hardest of three difficulties) is where the game comes into its own and shows the player the most content, but also has the highest potential for frustration as you can easily get overrun and lose progress. It’s a game designed for repeat runs, to be beaten in one sitting, but on repetition much of the battling can feel like busywork as you continually take down fighter squadrons and missiles. And the randomisation elements don’t stop the cramped carrier and base interiors from quickly becoming incredibly samey.
On reflection, the highlights of the game for me were the planet surfaces before the base infiltrations. There’s lovely varied backgrounds and nice music (overall not nearly as memorable as the first game’s score unfortunately), as well as different kinds of tasks to perform and heavier use of the transformation mechanic. There’s more novelty there than the repeated dogfights and interiors.
A fun part of playing this was seeing all the stuff that made its way into other Star Fox games. As mentioned, Nintendo took stuff like All-Range Mode, Star Wolf, and elements of the final boss encounter to use in Lylat Wars. Argonaut’s successor Q-Games under Dylan Cuthbert of course reworked the general structure into Command much later, which I judge has similar problems of tedium through repetition but expands on character variety, context of battles, and planet-level tactics. Perhaps through coincidence parts of Namco’s Assault often feel similar to the planetside segments, exploring a ground space while swapping between on foot and airbound play. And of course Zero revisited the transformation mechanic. As such finally playing 2 for myself feels like filling in a missing piece in the series’ genealogy. It’s not perfect but for the time it’s very impressive and still enjoyable today. It probably should have been released in 1995 eh!
Overcooked 2 is an exemplary sequel, delivering more of the same madcap task-juggling while layering on new inventive kitchen chaos.
If you’re new to Overcooked, you’re a cute chef (with many wacky costumes available) who has to constantly manage the various tasks of meal preparation in a fantastically unrealistic kitchen. For example, two chefs might be separated by a yawning chasm or raging river, or there are conveyor belts everywhere, or you have to fire yourself out of a cannon to serve the food.
Now that social distancing rules have been relaxed, my brother was able to visit and finally finish the last DLC for this game that we’ve been plugging away at for a while. You can’t just play it consistently; it relies on your brain being in good shape. We’d often find that we couldn’t handle the demands properly, and had to come back to it later.
For the most part the game balances itself very well. You always feel frantic, with the different steps to attend to without losing money on an order or your stove catching fire. But after coming to terms with each stage’s quirks, most of the time it feels manageable… just barely. Communication, assigning separate duties, and reactive initiative are your essential tools (at least in co-op—I expect solo play is a whole different kind of headache).
It’s not always perfectly judged though. In this game, particularly towards the end, we more often found ourselves “settling” for less than three stars after a particularly absurd gimmick, or an unreasonably high score cutoff (in fact, some DLC score requirements were adjusted to be easier in a subsequent update). But it’s all in good fun and the sense of relief and triumph from clearing almost any level in the game is powerful.
Overcooked 2 has also been supported quite satisfactorily with post-launch content. An initial DLC pack was followed by another three in a season pass, plus a couple of costume sets as well as some free seasonal level packs. This extended the life of the game significantly, as well as experimenting with some new mechanics such as “horde” levels which feel quite different to the standard formula, or adding new cooking methods and gimmicks. The base game itself also expands on what the first instalment offered of course, but in essence it’s the same shenanigans, and a worthy successor in the “plate-spinning” genre.
I’m always on board for a pinball adventure, so I was keen to try this on Apple Arcade.
This is a rogue-lite, which in this case means advancing up the floors of a tower, death setting you back to the start (or a checkpoint floor), while between runs you can get permanent upgrades. You’ve got your classic fantasy theme, with a wizard fighting off beasties. Except of course that it’s also pinball, and you’re the ball!
Each floor of the tower is a fun, simple mini-pinball layout. Sometimes there’s targets to hit, there’s rows or groupings of treasure to find, and always monsters to bump off by bashing your tiny wizard body into them. You command the flippers but also some spells: a dash, for better control of your movement, and a magic orb for a brief multiball to aim at your goals. This can ease the frustration of ham-handing the flippers, as your spells are directed in bullet time, giving you an easier chance of fulfilling whatever objective you want to plink into.
It’s a lovely application of pinball mechanics to a fantasy-action theme, and it looks beautiful too with its subdued, flat shaded cutesiness. I had some problems with my flippers sticking or being unresponsive (I don’t know whether to blame the game or the Apple TV’s controller support), which cost me some runs. But it’s hard to stay mad at this addictive little gem, particularly when runs are quick to start and end, and you make progress on your perks regardless. It’s short but very sweet, one of the better pinball-adventure games I’ve tried!
While browsing Apple Arcade, this silly golf game caught my eye, considering my and my brother’s mutual appreciation of minigolf games. It exceeded all my expectations with its surprising zaniness!
You start out simple enough: a low-poly, minimalist 3D golf game. Hit the ball at the flag. Then, your shot instead throws the club. Then, it throws the golfer. What the Golf works hard to continue subverting your expectations of what a golf game is. Soon you’re racing against sheep, doing monster truck jumps, or spitting into a flowerpot, and yet every new concept uses the same aiming/power-bar control mechanics. Every level also has two variants; sometimes a par challenge (occasionally dreaded) to limit your strokes, sometimes with other twists or requirements, riffing on the new ridiculous idea that each hole presents.
Between holes you’re playing as a ball in an Aperture-style mad science lab. You essentially use top-down minigolf mechanics to traverse this labyrinthine laboratory, solving puzzles and finding the way to the next hole and the next weird anti-golf variant. Finding out what offbeat request Triband will make of you, the player, next is quite addictive.
There’s even holes that homage or borrow ideas from other games, such as Katamari, Super Meat Boy, Super Hot, Angry Birds, etc. not to mention genre parodies with stealth or first person shooter-style challenges. There’s so much packed into this game, and yet it feels cohesive for the most part with a consistent physics engine and simple-to-grasp control scheme.
I experienced some control awkwardness, but that may just be the Apple TV gamepad support. And I would complain that it’s difficult to do low-power shots as the bar fills up very quickly, but really it’s seldom necessary to do so, and this quickness helps keep up the speedy pace of the game as a whole, with its rapid-fire mini-challenges. Different areas of the lab are themed, such as the car zone or the beach zone, so you have some idea of what to expect from groups of holes. The content is also broken up by a scheme of progressing through tiers of the lab, with regular confrontations with a mad computer to keep it structured. It reminded me of WarioWare: madcap hijinks with an underlying framework to the world.
I’m glad to hear the game is being ported to more platforms, as it’s a delightfully silly experience full of ideas and character (despite not really having any characters, per se). Plus, the final level promises a content patch incoming, which is exciting. I can’t wait to see what these mad Danes come up with next!
The Rayman mobile games have been consistently great to play, but hampered by distribution conventions on the platform. Is Mini any different?
The short answer is yes, because the game is locked to Apple Arcade, a strange subscription service where Apple pays for exclusivity or timed exclusivity. I bit the bullet on it to play this and other things on my fancy new Apple TV, with a controller connected (all Apple Arcade games have full controller support, which is nice). Aside from that barrier to entry, the game itself is a return to form.
The first post-Origins mobile game, Jungle Run, was a pure and excellent autorunner by Pastagames with minor cosmetic in-app purchases. Ubisoft’s in-house follow-up Fiesta Run ramped up the purchasable powerups, and then Adventures—despite having a lot of new post-Legends content and concepts, and different kinds of level goals—went all-in with energy systems, random collectibles, recycling content, etc. and was a worse product for it.
Mini sees Pastagames return and take it more back to basics—with no microtransactions at all!—following their same Jungle Run formula of straightforward setpiece-driven levels with 100 lums to grab as you dash headlong through. Of course, the Legends art style has been applied along with the participation of Barbara-type characters, but with a new setting where our heroes are miniaturised. I always like this conceit, of platforming across leaves and over huge bugs, etc., and they also get some play out of the occasional normal-sized Legends baddie popping up and being a colossus in comparison.
Getting perfect runs requires lots of restarts, but levels are usually bite-sized. And when you’re done with the 48-level campaign, there’s a kind of more slight version of Legends’ renewable challenges. This is a section with weekly infinite levels, with a set of weirdly specific goal lists (eg. jump XXX times). It doesn’t seem broad enough to keep me coming back as Legends’ challenge and race modes did, but it’s a nice little extra I suppose.
Locking the game to Apple Arcade may not be a popular choice, but at least the game itself is internally unaffected by intrusive monetisation strategies. And controller support is a boon. The service does offer a free month trial, and is playable on all newer iOS devices as well as the Apple TV. Not to be a shill, but I prefer this to what they tried with Adventures where enjoyment of the game itself was affected. And it’s the only new Rayman thing going on. But that’s selling it short: Rayman Mini is a great little thing in its own right, and I hope it’s not too long before those two “coming soon” panes on the main menu are filled out with more levels to play!
Orta is the perfect gateway to Sega’s well-regarded rail-shooter series: it’s seen as the best of the lot, and also contains the original game as an unlockable bonus! You just have to own the Xbox Zero, which luckily I do.
Of course whenever I get it out I have to relearn how to open the stuck disc tray (I guess Microsoft knew it could be a problem, because there’s a little hole to stick a pin in to open it freely). But with that out of the way, I was able to enjoy this quite a bit. Loving Lylat Wars as I do, I was able to get on board with the heavily homing-laser-based mechanics; in PD the idea much of the time is to lock on to multiple targets and let loose a flurry at once.
The series has its own tricks up its sleeve though; from the first entry, you’ve been able to rotate the camera to combat threats coming from different angles. This makes for some cinematic battles, especially when your flight path weaves and whizzes in all dimensions. Orta has other complications, with a boost/brake system, three different dragon shapes to transform between for the situation, and an attempt at a levelling-up system over a campaign run.
They make it work though. There’s a reason this entry is lauded. I will say it is quite difficult; I found myself unwilling to slog repeatedly through a level, only to die at the miniboss again (there is very limited health recovery, but it does at least checkpoint at bosses and there is no life/continue limit). There’s logic and skill to it beyond memorising enemy patterns in a level: your shot can cancel some projectiles, and swapping to the right dragon is important. Either way, easy mode had my back and I got through the campaign.
Orta doesn’t sacrifice story for shoot-em-up action. There’s FMV sequences which hold up quite well, and occasional in-game dialogue in the series’ made-up language (subtitled, of course). It’s a classic story of ancient weapons being rediscovered in a post-apocalyptic age, with plenty of bizarre-looking flying machines and oddball mutant creatures, including the eponymous dragons. The plot too is your usual mysterious youth with a destiny, stop the bad guys from activating their doomsday plan, a chaotic third party, etc. But it too works, helped by the cool visual design language of this sci-fi/fantasy world.
This particular game is known for its wealth of bonus content, with an in-game encyclopedia/glossary/loredump, illustrations and cutscenes from previous games in the series, and bonus missions (including a nice story told from the perspective of a minor player inside the evil empire). And of course, a port of the PC version of Panzer Dragoon 1, which is an extremely cool thing to include.
To digress into a short mini-review of said original instalment, the graphics are shaky and the gameplay simplistic, but for its time it’s an impressive 3D rail shooter indeed. The features core to Orta are present in more limited form, and it creates an effective world and a very playable game experience, with a lighter touch in regards to the plot. It’s also quite difficult, and easy mode here quite rudely locks you out of half the game content. However there are cheats for invincibility and level select, which I recommend using if normal mode is kicking your bum as much as it did mine. It’s a fun extra, but the main event is a much more polished and meaty product. Polished meat. Like a hot dog.
No, to describe Orta as a hot dog does it no justice. It’s a delicious crispy falafel. Check it out if you like cinematic rail shooters: it’s cool.
I’m anticipating playing Rayman Mini soon, so I thought I’d revisit my favourite Rayman game while also catching up on this port. Is it the definitive version…??
Origins was a relaunch of the Rayman series, a beautiful co-op enabled 2D platformer with buttery smooth momentum-based play control and a joyous soundtrack. It was refreshingly modern with no game overs, charming in its hand-drawn animated style, and full of secrets and challenges. It made me love the series and this is the third time I’ve played it to completion.
At this point, I look back on it as a very pure experience. Legends was a bit muddled with no plot and compulsory control gimmicks, as well as making the art style more detailed (a debatable choice). The mobile games—Jungle Run -> Fiesta Run -> Adventures—became more focused on user-unfriendly microtransaction mechanics. (Although I did replay Jungle Run just now through an old device, as it’s been delisted, and it’s a great use of the Origins style to make a compelling level-based autorunner; I highly recommend it). Origins is focused and bold, and executes brilliantly on its aims, with the exception of the shooter levels which still break the flow a bit, and the character selection which is a little limited and mostly filled with Teensy variants.
As for the Vita port, it has extra additions that are unique to it. There’s new collectibles, small stones that sit in the background or foreground, blending into that beautiful artwork. They make a sound and move when you’re near them, and then you tap the touchscreen to collect them. These unlock murals that tell an amusing new anecdote about both Rayman and Globox’s pasts. Finding these adds a small extra spice to replaying the levels in the same way that Donkey Kong Country 2′s GBA port had a sprinkling of new secret pickups on top of its nigh-perfection.
That’s the main thing. There’s also a pinch-to-zoom camera function to facilitate the search for these baubles, but which is otherwise a hindrance. The touchscreen can also be used to pop item or enemy bubbles, which is nice. Otherwise there’s a new Ghost Mode, where select levels can be played in a special stripped-back time trial mode against staff ghosts. Using my skills honed in Legends’ race modes, I found these pathetically easy. Ghost Mode is supposed to be a conciliation for the Vita version not supporting simultaneous multiplayer in any way, which could be a drawback or a non-issue depending on your circumstances. Player ghosts were meant to be traded between Vita systems, through a service that has now been discontinued, so it’s a bit of a moot point.
The Vita’s resolution is lower than a HD console but higher than the Wii. I found the game looked great on its vibrant screen, and it controls equally well with the clicky D-pad or the nubby stick. The main problem with this version, and what makes me hesitate short of declaring the Vita port definitive, is the audio glitches I experienced. Not often but frequently enough to be annoying, sounds or music would fail to play. It’s an unfortunate black mark on an otherwise cromulent port with some added bonuses. Either way, I enjoyed replaying this game immensely; for me it’s where the entire franchise peaked and it still brings me joy.
Toki Tori 2 is perhaps slightly less ruthlessly difficult than its predecessor, and expands the puzzling out into a large immersive world. It’s a very nice sequel!
The earlier Toki Tori games were about carefully managing your tools in the right order to complete levels. Now Toki only has two tools: his native abilities to whistle and stomp, which affect his surroundings in different ways. It’s still about doing things in the right order, but now it’s interacting with the various creatures and mechanisms that inhabit his world, and discovering how they interact with each other.
For instance, a simple puzzle might be stopping a frog from eating a bug long enough for a bird to take both to its nest. When the frog does eat it, it can then spit a bubble to lift Toki to a higher place. Stomping releases the bubble, or stuns the frog, or pushes the bug. Whistling lures the frog or bird.
The intricacy of the puzzles steadily increases, tying into the level design. It’s rarely overwhelming this time around, though; although the world is large and interconnected, each puzzle is self-contained. I miss the infinite rewind of Toki Tori 1′s remake, but if you fail it’s a simple matter to restart and set things up again. There’s also plenty of shortcuts and fast-travel points so when backtracking is required, it’s not too arduous. Of course, there’s lots of optional collectibles and secrets to find if you really want to push the limits of your puzzle-solving skills.
Some of the special functions I’ve mentioned (restart from checkpoint, fast travel) and others (view map, see nearby pickups, take photos for an in-game encyclopedia!) are activated by whistling songs in sequences of short and long notes. What’s nice about these is that everything is done within the context of Toki’s world. The game teaches you everything without breaking the immersion, with the player figuring things out by experimentation, or little birds teaching you the special songs. The plot, such as it is, is also revealed subtly through environmental cues.
Two Tribes have really stepped up here, taking the cute looks and head-scratching puzzles and synthesising them into a real tangible adventure. Simplifying your set of skills while creating this landscape populated by creatures with their own behaviours, and all in service of the puzzling but without breaking the delightful and believable world. It’s really very good.
This puzzle game’s cute looks belie how much it was able to stump and frustrate me at times. But its charm and quality of life features won me over in the end.
The Toki Tori series started on the MSX as Eggbert, then had an entry on GBC that was very impressive for the platform. This is a remake of sorts of the latter game, with new prerendered graphics and some very friendly features, chiefly the rewind function. At any time you can infinitely rewind your actions, so a single mistake won’t cause a restart; this is a godsend especially for the longer levels.
This remake has a bunch of ports all over the place, but it’s perfectly cromulent on 3DS. You don’t get the pointer controls the other versions have (buttons are better anyway), but the screen resolution might hurt the fidelity of the graphics. The accessibility of the handheld is a plus, though.
Anyway. Toki Tori may have the appearance of a platformer, but it’s a hardcore puzzle game. I was constantly reminded of Lemmings; Toki has a variety of limited-use functions, such as building a bridge, a short-range teleport, or an ice gun. You have to figure out the logic of where to use each of your tools to find all of his stolen eggy chums, paying careful attention to the grid-based layout of the levels and the interactions of your various functions, and avoiding the occasional red herring. Again, the rewind feature is the high achiever of this whole experience, alleviating much of the frustration of figuring things out.
I was almost ready to pack it in a few times, as my feeble brain and limited patience was stymied by the Dutch masterminds at Two Tribes. However, the game itself prompted me to check out their specially recorded Youtube walkthrough videos if I ever got stuck, and indeed I did a few times, letting me get to the ending. These only cover the “Normal” levels, and so “Hard” and “Bonus” are all up to the player, which for me was a bridge way too far. Sorry Toki Tori!
Did I say that InnerSpace had a stark minimalism to it? Well get a load of this!
Race the Sun is a score-chasing game, a sort of 3D auto-runner where you manouevre a hover-vehicle through a slightly abstracted field of obstacles. Your… car-plane thing… is mostly ground-bound apart from ramps and jump powerups, which help you get sweet air and avoid crashing for a bit. The goal is to get diddlybops as you advance between zones, which have different kinds of hazards.
The flat, low-poly style is a strong visual choice that’s well-executed on. It (as well as the motive capabilities of the glide-speeder) reminds me of Argonaut’s X and 3D Space Tank. The goals are much different here though, being modelled more after the type popularised by mobile runner games: you have missions to complete, which work towards unlocks for subsequent runs. As is often the case when a game is mechanically fun to engage with, this creates an addictive loop.
Let me elaborate a little further on the gameplay. Your swoop-bike banking and swerving around the rigid geometry that‘s quick to race towards you. Picking up chains of glow-bobs, looking for a telltale beacon of a powerup as you pick your next path on the infinite horizontal plane. Staying in the light of the setting sun; straying in to shadow slows down your solar-powered conveyance, while the slow descent of that luminous orb foretells the end of your run. It’s really quite thrilling!
I played Race the Sun on Vita, the portability of which suited the game design better than PC or PS3/4 but is otherwise kind of a dud port. Mission progress was bugged—in the player’s favour—by awarding you extra pips out of nowhere. The timer for resetting the randomly generated world only ticked down during actual game time, whereas it seems to be intended that you would get a new set of maps each day. My most nitpicky observation: the screen resolution was not quite sufficient to read the pithy comments when your run is launched. And of course the “free mode” DLC is not available on the PSN version. It did at least get the update that added the maze mode, a slightly slower-paced way to play with a higher camera viewpoint.
Still, I had a good time with it anyway. Considering the small size of the team that developed this Kickstarter-funded game, the ports being a little under-supported is more understandable. But you’re much better off getting it on iOS, that seems like a more natural home by far.