Playlist: July 6th

Between a rooftop party and several trips to the beach, this week was a great start for July! It’s only going to get crazier once the Steam summer sale begins and two old-school franchises make their triumphant(?) return to the zeitgeist. To those who celebrate it, I hope your 4th of July was filled with joy, bad action movies and questionable dining decisions. Welcome to Earf. -Ben

PLAYED

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

SonicRacingTransformedBen: It’s easy to take one look at Transformed and write it off as a Mario Kart imitator, but that would be inaccurate; it’s a GOOD Mario Kart imitator that might even give the real thing a run for its money. Though it pushes the nostalgia angle with callbacks to Burning Rangers and Crazy Taxi, such winks and nods don’t detract from the vibrant, chaotic racing. There are also no blue shells here; even the most diabolical weapons are avoidable, should you manage to outrun, dodge, or shoot them down. This fighting chance helped me accept responsibility when I accidentally ran into a blowfish or unsuccessfully dodged an R/C drone.

As always, the real fun began when I took the game online. Years of drifting in Mario Kart DS helped me hold my own against random opponents, but there’s nothing quite like getting a few friends together and cursing each other’s names as we careened toward our (temporary) deaths. Karting games are the perfect way to bond through mutual hatred and distrust. I haven’t had the chance to race anyone on the same couch yet, though rest assured I’m looking forward to a fun afternoon of simmering hatred whenever those stars align.

Don’t Starve

Don't StarveColin: When push came to shove, I proved remarkably proficient at not starving in Klei’s wilderness survival game. The title proved to be something of a red herring, truth be told- after several hours played, it was clear that while food was not a complete nonissue, it was the other challenges of the randomly generated island you find yourself stranded on that truly proved an obstacle. The monsters, the materials to build new items, and the deadly darkness that coated the world every sundown were the true enemies.

That it is a game in progress is encouraging- I ran into little things that bugged me which, in some other games, would just be how it was, and tough luck. Knowing that they would (likely) be fixed were I to come back to the game was something I greatly appreciated. Their random world creation, for instance, seemed fairly hit or miss- the second world it made, the only rocks I could find to mine were in a huge nest of monsters that I had no hope of beating without weapons that can only be made from said rocks. Bit of a catch 22, that. The game was a ton of fun, though- more enjoyable than Minecraft to me, while having similar aims, and quite a bit more charming.

Klei’s come a long way from “The Shank Guys.”

Dust: An Elysian Tail

Dust: An Elysian TailBen: It’s a shame that any cast of anthropomorphic animals causes a sight unseen allergic reaction for large swaths of the Internet, because Dust is so much more than “that furry game.” It’s an immaculately-drawn, side-scrolling “Metroidvania” (Large sprawling world, with some locations only accessible once you reach certain parts of the story) RPG with a rich combat system that gives a titan like Devil May Cry a run for its money. Dust moves with agility and purpose, and his attacks feel strong enough to cut any god in twain.

It’s fortunate that the “game” bits are rock solid, because the story is almost rote to the point of boredom. Maybe things will get better as I advance past the first few hours, but “I have amnesia and I’ve been chosen to save the world” doesn’t do anything for me. Fidget, a spunky bat-like being that accompanies Dust, throws much-welcomed comic relief into the mix, but she isn’t enough to elevate the plot above “thing that stands between you and a buffet of delightful swordplay”. I’m still quite enamored with Dust, but without an engaging plot to anchor me down, I don’t know how much longer this “tail” will last for me.

Super Smash Flash 2

Super Smash Flash 2Colin: A flash game? Why, yes, dear reader. But not just any flash game. Probably the least imaginative flash game you are going to run across. Super Smash Flash 2 is the sequel to a game made with the question that every Nintendo fanboy asks themselves once- “What would Super Smash Bros be like if Nintendo had no worries about copyright?” And that question is fun, and silly, and then we go on with things like our lives. Well, not the man behind Super Smash Flash 2. He decided to make the ridiculous game of his dreams… and blow me down, it’s really damn fun.

The cast is a mismash of fanboyism- Kingdom Heart’s Sora, Bleach’s Ichigo, Final Fantasy’s Black Mage, and plenty more- and it’s kind of embarrassing to see how wholeheartedly the creator commits to creating a game that, logically, I should probably hate for its lack of creativity. But it’s just such stupid fun. It feels like a game that is innocent in a disarming way, so pure in its premise of “let’s just put a bunch of cool things in one room.” And it plays really well, actually! There are ideas in this game that the main series could do well to learn from. A pleasant surprise.

Bastion

Colin: “I’ll dig a hole, you build a wall….” SuperGiant’s debut title is a game that, in a way, holds a lot of significance to me. I played it at a pretty significant time in my life, and it left a big impression. But I ended up without my computer for a few weeks during that, and though I’d far from finished the game, I never went back to it. A few days ago I decided to start it again, fresh. By this point I’ve gotten farther than I did back then, and man, what a game.

Bastion ScumbagHaving a computer that doesn’t sputter and cough when I run the most basic of software has given me a chance to experience a lot more games by independent developers, and I couldn’t be happier about that fact. I’m starting to come around to where Ben is, in some ways- indie games are just so much more interesting than the triple A fair of the last few years. They feel alive in a way that the rigid plastic of a big budget shooter doesn’t, and it’s deeply refreshing. Bastion is a pretty conventional game as far as mechanics go, but exceptional polish combined with imagination and presentation that aims to kill push it way, way over the top.

A lot of indie games try to do something no one has done before, and while Bastion’s narrator is pretty original, for the most part Bastion just tries to do classic gameplay in a way that’s unbelievably satisfying. There’s no arrogance in the game, they don’t think they’re going to redefine the industry. They just want to ship a game so fundamentally solid that it will knock your socks off. Well, success, guys. Damn fine stuff.

Ben’s Response: Ever since I built my own PC a few years back, I had that exact same revelation. Sure, I still get a kick out of the occasional Call of Duty or big-budget racing game, but the indie scene has largely replaced most AAA titles for me. Bastion was definitely one of the first steps in that turning point; even though I first played it on my 360, it left quite an impression, along with a taste that the rest of the console’s library simply couldn’t satisfy.

Though the sheer number of unique indie games makes my head spin, excitement usually overwhelms the exhaustion. In this week alone, I went from slicing and dicing golem-esque creatures and swallowing mountains with a comically-large sinkhole to launching a papercraft shark off large ramps and collecting futuristic cubes of energy with a gun-toting simian. I wouldn’t trade this madness away for the world!