Since May is the calm before the storm not much is coming out this month. While cleaning up my trophy list I noticed that some interesting titles were put up on the ‘free games for PlayStation gold members’ of the month club. While I typically shy away from most games I have to download, my PS4 and PS3 already have a tantrum if I try to play a new game, I found these titles rather intriguing. On the PS4 we have Guacamelee! and Ether One and on the PS3 there is The Unfinished Swan and Race the Son, I mean Sun. I think there are a couple of colorful titles on the PS Vita as well but I have no idea what they are. I’m fairly confident my PSP 3000 won’t play them, not just because it hasn’t even been used in years and I still have been unable to bring myself to figure out what in the hell PS TV is.
Guacamelee! the something-something edition I enjoyed because it is everything I could possibly want or expect from an indie game. Colorful, lively, humorous and creative this game literally accomplishes everything big industry games have long forgotten how to do and more. It reminds me a lot of the old PS2 game Odin Sphere, another 2D side scrolling game, just not as dark and depressing. Instead it puts the usual Dia de Muertos spin on the game with brightly colored skeletons, vibrant backgrounds and the steadfast Luchador. A lot like that same episode from the last season of Angel. There are a number of other cultural influences as well, like playing Red Dead Redemption in the Mexican part of the map. Even each attack has its own colorful flourish, most of which do not get old, which is surprising. Going into Intense mode even had me yelling LUCHADOR!!! with it whenever I turned around a particularly difficult fight.
While the background, enemies and levels in general do get rather interchangeable by the end the use of switching between the land of the dead and the living does keep it refreshing. There are a couple of levels that keep things lively. I enjoyed the Inferno which looked like Hell for office workers. It is a shame that the Inferno is a completely optional part of the game. There are a couple of these which seems really odd, entire portions of the game that can be completely skipped over. Also, I had no idea what the orbs were till I found one by accident after going through the most grueling platforming section ever at the top of a tree and then I didn’t know what to do with it. It seems like that should have been explained to some extent earlier but I suppose it is cleared up at the end of the game.
What really sold the game for me were the characters. All of them had personality, probably more so than the main character, whose only motivation seems to be an epic quest to save his girlfriend. Of course he is playing the role of a steadfast Luchador so at least he’s sticking to the canon. Kind of like silent movies characters rely on physical signs or short witty dialogue. The Weregoat I found rather amusing, mostly from his cries of anguish when I broke his stuff. Le bruja X’tabay was my favorite, the way you could really tell she was shaking her hips to get the ‘characters’ attention. Her comment about ‘heavy petting’ is the most scaroused I’ve been in years.
The Unfinished Swan was a close second for me. While it is very small, I believe I beat it with all the trophies within a couple of hours, it was still one of the most engaging games I’ve played in a long time. While I was a little confused at first because I thought the game was still loading. Then I started pressing buttons, low and behold I tossed a paint ball. So I kept tossing paint until I found myself in a room, I tried to get out and hit a wall. So I kept throwing paint, I tossed paint everywhere; I tossed paint like the angriest painter in the world. The games natural charm really started to hit me when I reached the park. Suddenly I wasn’t painting a room but the outdoors and everything in it. I was actually surprised when I ran into a giant frog and subsequently the giant serpent that ate it. I was almost disappointed when the game started making the world for me instead of painting it into existence. It evened out quickly enough though and became even better in the night level, black paint in a black world? Really?
While short the story was a nice change of pace for me as well, a fairy tale of a king and how he went crazy with art. I would like to say it was well paced but the entire thing is so short it would be more impressive to screw that up. The story book pages really brought the entire thing home. Since they are not hard to find and the text is read to you they can be considered part of the story instead of just filler. I particularly enjoyed the ending with the king and his talking pet hippo just chilling out, talking about how I wrecked his art and everything else. One of the greatest lines ever is when the hippo says ‘Your dreams have credits?’ and the kings just like ‘Course’.
While this game shoots charm and charisma out of every orifice I can see some people having an issue with it because it lacks action. It would be more difficult than not to name a recent game that hasn’t had some form of action or violence in it. The spiders in the forest are as close as this game comes and I wouldn’t really count that. Frankly though, action alone cannot make a game, another lesson that big developers have almost completely forgotten. Not only does it have charm but the puzzles are creative and allow for creativity, they’re just not very hard. In a later section, when you are able to make 3d models and control them to various degrees I found myself rebuilding an entire house. I would have tried to get more creative but you can only do it in certain areas which limited what I could do.
Racing the Sun is another interesting game. Kind of a puzzle game and kind of a driving game it is a fairly simple premise either way. Basically you have a ship that needs to stay in the sun but wait! The sun is setting and apparently without constant sunlight the ship will explode something that seems like a major design flaw at best. As long as the sun doesn’t set the game will go on forever through a series of puzzles and ever changing environments. Probably the only interesting point of the game is how the environment changes daily, changing the field entirely. How this works I’m not really sure. I can’t imagine they have a system good enough to make a random field from scratch. I can only assume they just have hundreds saved up and set to a random order daily.
That is literally the entire game, you can unlock various items that can be found on the field to help avoid obstacles or increase time but that’s it. The field itself is just a bland grey space with various large grey shapes that can block out the sun or test how durable your ship is (spoiler alert: not very). I believe there were other modes, like apocalypse, instead of grey it was more red. I didn’t try it for too long but I was quickly hit by a falling bomb every time. The strange thing is that this feels more like a free to play you would find on a mobile or something. The kind of game a normal person wouldn’t play at home if they had other options. A game that can be started and dropped quickly with no consequences for stopping, a game for that person on the move.
I hesitate to call this game fun per say. Like Animal Crossing or Minecraft it is more addictive than fun. Just a huge time sink that someone can dump all their spare time down. Unlike Animal Crossing or Minecraft though Racing the Sun is an extremely small grey colored sink that gets old real fast. Any desire I had to play it didn’t come from the fact that I enjoyed it but from my mad desire to max out my level. The only real innovation here is the daily field change but since they are all built from the same grey shapes it is a cosmetic change at best. The only people that would have more than an inkling of interest in this game are those that find world stats extremely important. A sad and bleak world at best I imagine.
Lastly is Ether One, a game that I actually wanted to like and it left me feeling as though I had been kicked in the balls. I understand that the game was released on the PS4 that day but how the hell did it get the green light? I tried multiple runs and each time I ran into the same game breaking bug at completely different parts of the story. Looking at the trophies I can tell some people have made it to the end but I never could and in my frustration I gave up after a few attempts. Not only that but when I really began to dig in I realized one of the storage racks was bugged and that the game wasn’t even counting the projectors I fixed. Not to mention when I had to type something in I had to guess what letter I was on because there was no cursor. Just a lot of bugs that should have been picked up long before release. I ran into some frame rate issues where I was forced to restart my game a couple of times but that may have just been the game breaker again.
The game itself plays slow and clunky, like an old point and click adventure on the PC. I pulled up the info on this game and found out that was because it was originally a point and click puzzle game for the PC. It did surprisingly well apparently but that might just be because I can’t get past the half way point. The game actually looks better on the older version than the new one that was ‘rebuilt’ from the ground up for the PS4. It took forever for me to just get started in the game because I had to get used to the controls and figure out what things actually were. A little more direction in this game might not be a bad idea, such as item mechanics. Like the fact that you can only hold one item and switch it with another item or place it on a specific spot. The lantern doesn’t count as an item? How does that make sense? You’re still holding it. I have trouble rating this game because I can’t tell what is on purpose and what is a bug. It’s like playing Goat Simulator without any of the fun.
The only thing I can really critique and the only thing I enjoyed, like a diamond in a pile of shit, is the story. A twisted and mad look at dementia and trying to piece memories back together into a comprehensible sense. Since I could never complete it I don’t know how it ends but it paced itself rather well. The farthest I ever made it was when I fell down a mine shaft, doors whispering dark secrets flying past me. I was actually excited to see where things were progressing. There is also a kind of side story that gives me the sense that the person who put me into the simulation is keeping me trapped there for her own purposes. Something I would have liked to see the conclusion to but never did.
The voice acting is also well done, really emphasizing the broken psyche and the stress of putting it back together. Puzzles are a strong point; while they function in a clunky way they are still fun to figure out. What I enjoy and why I wanted to like this game is because it is a puzzle game driven by sense instead of drug induced hysteria. Puzzles are hard because you are missing the obvious, not because you failed to realize the most infeasible way to solve it. There are even dead ends and entire puzzle sections put in place just to throw a player off and make them an actual challenge. An interesting idea that was released half baked, maybe when the patch comes out it will be worth another try but until the bugs are fixed it would be a pointless venture.
In reality though they are all free this month so go try them. I leave you with one of my favorite parts, spoiler alert it is the end of the game though. So don’t wath it if you actually plan on defeating Guacamelee!.