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Supporters only: Scout Report: Shardpunk: Verminfall is an impressive tightrope act
Wherever I slay my rat
Hargh blargh games are bad, roguelikes are worse, whinge moan complain. It is that time once again. You know whether my complaints will bother you, so consider this a massive recommendation if they dont: Shardtide Verminp... Punktide Verminsha... Shardpunk... goddamn it. Hang on.
Shardpunk Verminfall is, as Graham reported, an excellent mash-up of several familiar games and concepts, yet doesn't feel like a knockoff of any, or lack its own identity. I would resent it a lot less if it wasn't also a roguelike. Even with its standard mono-save system and unlocking things and "repeating the whole thing from scratch ad infinitum" though, I can't pretend I don't enjoy it anyway.
Supporters only: The joy of standing still in Vampire Survivors
It's the little things
Forgive me, I'm someone who's recently got a Steam Deck and I'm going through the honeymoon phase. Except it's a phase which is unlikely to end? Anyway, it's proven to be an excellent way to rinse Vampire Survivors, a game I wouldn't - I have nothing against those who do - play upright on a monitor. Survival is best served on the couch, curled up like a shrimp with the blood draining from my arms as I hold the TV slab at some atrocious angle.
Anyway, I've come to realise that Vampire Survivors might be a game about running away, but actually peaks when you come to a standstill. There's a special kind of joy to be had when you're able to stop and idle.
Supporters only: Rytmos is a puzzle game that makes you fall in love with music again
One to beat
Hello! Come on in. Please, take a seat. Welcome to the inaugural episode of our brand new (and currently untitled) supporter-first indie video show! Every month*, I'm going to be spending some time highlighting a cool indie game that deserves your attention. Think of this series as a supplement to Sin's Scout Report or our Indiescovery podcast. A brand new method for delivering piping hot recs from my desktop to yours.
My aim is to use this series as a springboard to dive deep into specific elements of a game I find particularly fascinating, sharing my discoveries with you lot behind the paywall first (and don't worry, regular readers, I'll also be making each of these videos public for all to see after a month, which should roughly coincide with the the next one going live for supporters). In it, I'll be discussing some common themes between multiple games, digging into underappreciated gems from years gone by... The remit is broad and nebulous, to the point where it's clearly obvious why I haven't been able to come up with a name for it yet.
(If you end up thinking of something, please do let me know in the comments. More than anything it'll stop me messaging Katharine a list of awful possibilites every other week, which I can only imagine is negatively effecting her feelings about me, the site and the endeavour of games journalism in general. They really have been that bad, folks. Proper rancid stuff).
Supporters only: Every aspect of Total Tank Generals exudes competence
I am once again spending a candidate for this year's Summer Strategy Game For When Brain Is Melt. Total Tank Generals is possibly the best introduction to wargames I've ever played, but to call it a light strategy game would feel like a disservice. If you're used to heavier fare this may still scratch the itch.
It's not that it's particularly simple, but it feels so damn clean and effortless to play. You'll know what you're doing in minutes, but still find a decent challenge, with lots of options but minimal analysis paralysis. I'm honestly finding it hard to fault.
Supporters only: The Steam Deck proves that practicality means more than power
I've come full circle
I'm now the proud owner of a Steam Deck and I think it's fantastic. It's a genuine marvel how I'm able to lay on the couch and play Like A Dragon: Ishin, or stream Resident Evil 4 - with admittedly, a ropey success rate - to it from my PC in the other room. I've even been reunited with some old friends, too. Welcome back to the fold, Rogue Legacy 2.
But my time spent with the Deck has me thinking that my gaming priorities have changed. I'm no longer excited by consoles that promise better graphics or blazing fast loading speeds. At least, not for big boxes designed for living rooms. Right now, I'm far more excited by the practicality of handhelds and how they'll evolve. The Deck might be the future, but it's also brought me back to my past.
Supporters only: Look, just bloody play Loretta, damn you
How clean is your spouse?
I'd planned on starting with a line about how Loretta is an exception to how psychological horror games are about trudging around an abandoned mental hospital with the worst torch in the world until the girl from Ringu menaces you. It was already interesting and good enough pretty much right away to earn a recommendation, but after one of what will definitely be several playthroughs, leaving my praise that faint would do it a terrible injustice.
Loretta is goddamn excellent by any standard. Where other games use the mentally unwell narrator to explain everything away with "turns out you're secretly crazy", it's instead just one layer of a complex horror mystery with splashes of drama and noir, whose surprises I'm straining not to spoil.
Supporters only: Edders in Japan: A Great Time Was Had
Let me take you on a tour of words
After 15 years, I finally managed to go back to Japan! And now I'm back, I thought it would be nice to recount the trip. It's a somewhat selfish thing, admittedly. Mainly because I think jotting down my scattered thoughts will help me process the holiday and, hopefully as a by-product of my outpouring, you'll get a sense of what it's like out there if you're interested in going yourself one day.
Supporters only: Pill Baby successfully fuses surreal drama with monster kicking
There are so many ways to cut this cake. I could call it a weird game, and bang on about those for a bit. I could call it a 2D beat 'em up with your classic heavy/light attacks (actually punch/kick, but whatever), which is important to mention. It's also tempting to namedrop the things it reminded me of, like Hotline Miami, Beraltors, and a tiny hint of The Cat Lady, but that could get you picturing just about anything, and is unfairly reductive to a game that has the right to stand on its own.
Pill Baby is, obviously, all those things. It's far better and more coherent than any of those descriptions would make it sound.
Supporters only: Raidborn doesn't try or need to be more than a bit of stabby fun
There's a kind of game that we all have a fondness for. It transcends genre, even if it doesn't particularly push the boat out. It's not the first game that comes to mind as a favourite or recommendation, but it's a plain good time. Raidborn is one of those.
It doesn't try to take over your life, or be the Everything Game that invariably becomes the Nothing Game. It's just a neat little thing to have some harmless fun with. Sometimes that's what you want.
Too many jangling keys
Graham (RPS in peace) text me yesterday and, with little warning, launched into what were clearly pre-prepared paragraphs of complaints about games he'd tried playing in his free time at the weekend and not enjoyed. I shall draw a veil of discretion over the names of the actual games, but his chief complaint was that none of them had, actually, very robust design or tutorialising fit for purpose (i.e. teaching you how to play the game), especially for people who aren't able to give games their singular attention for hours at at time. I agree with him, although his attention is divided by, e.g., having a child in need of stimulation, and mine is divided by, e.g., being a child in need of stimulation.
It's probably turning my brain into cottage cheese, but I often do things at the same time as playing a game, like listening to music or a podcast. I understand that podcast games are sort of a genre now, but I've started doing it with regular games. Is this a me problem? Sure. Does it mean I want games to bring back that thing where NPC quest givers will just explain the quest again to you if you ask? 100% also yes.
But will normal people like it too?
With the solemnity of Samwise Gamgee informing Mr Frodo that one more step will take him the furthest he's ever been from home, I recently realised that it'll soon be the longest we've gone without a new Life Is Strange game since the franchise debuted in 2015. I looked into it and sure enough, the current record-holder is the gap between the season one finale of Life Is Strange and the first episode of its prequel Before The Storm: 1 year, 10 months, and 12 days. That means that come mid-August of this year — specifically, the 14th, which marks the 683rd day since True Colors' Wavelengths DLC released — LIS fans will be leaving the Shire whether we like it or not.
I suspect that Life Is Strange: Steph's Story — the first prose novel tie-in to the franchise, released on March 21st — was commissioned with fans like me in mind. Fans who work out useless trivia like the above because they need something to occupy them when there's no new game on the horizon and they've played all the existing ones to death. Fans who know every character's canonical middle name and birthday. Fans who complain that it feels like they never have time to read any more, but nevertheless finished the novel and wrote a silly supporter post about it within ten days of publication. Of course I really liked Life Is Strange: Steph's Story. But will you, as a person whose relationship with this franchise is statistically guaranteed to be more normal than mine?
Huh? Harvesting the planet? None of my business *turns on hose*
It has been said (by me) that a lot of games journalists are generalists in terms of what we play, especially if we're talking about people who are staffers at an outlet, or have ever worked in guides. Though we all have stuff we prefer, or series that we serve as the go-to expert on for in-house needs (I think vid bud Liam might actually walk around wearing an ASK ME ABOUT RESIDENT EVIL badge in his day-to-day life), we - unlike the blue-haired neo-Gods of streaming - often can't focus on one game all of the time. You have to know enough about enough to be able to write about enough.
There are, however, a bunch of big important games that I haven't played. Sometimes it's because a bunch of other people have, so that gap in the site's knowledge is already plugged (and I do always make sure to be aware of their impact and basic facts). Other times, they might be games that I'm not really interested in playing, either because they're not my genre or they seem too overwrought. Or, in some cases, it's because everyone says they're really good and I have to try them, though I've been burned before on this method (you people said the same about Ready Player One). But you know what would make me take in info about these games, even if it's just by osmosis? If they all got PowerWash Sim DLCs.
Supporters only: Gothic grey goo platformer Angel's Gear respects your time
I can't remember if I've already banged on about what a terrible, unhelpful term "metroidvania" is, so let's skip past to say that Angel's Gear reminds me of the one Castlevania game I've ever played.
It's partly the tone: a compelling blend of gothic and biomechanical horror, with a 90s game boy goriness that's cartoony enough to feel colourful rather than repulsive. "Camp" isn't the right word, but a hint of melodrama gives the story severity without self-seriousness. I mean, within the first minute of the game, your soldier goes from a terrified Normandy-style amphibious assault on a fortified metal church to seeing their war made irrelevant when the moon explodes. The whole thing is kind of metal, to be honest.
It's better than it sounds
Exciting times! Liam and I have wrapped Inventory Space episode two, in which we documented several weeks of us returning to Bungie’s live service behemoth Destiny 2. We found it to be an FPS delight, but one that’s wrapped in a taxing MMO.
One thing I can’t stop thinking about are the game’s piss-coloured walls. They appear right at the beginning of the game’s latest expansion Lightfall and I genuinely believe they summarise Destiny perfectly.
Supporters only: 24 Killers is too likeable to cheapen with genre labels
Home on the range
I rarely enjoy adventure games, and in fact resent them for pinning that term for a genre that almost never feels adventurous. And yet I don't quite want to say that 24 Killers is an exception, because confining it to any genre feels reductive, let alone one that will probably put you off if you're anything like me.
Breaking ships is hard to do
I know you all like Hardspace: Shipbreaker, and I get that on paper it is very much my type of game. It is a manual job (slicing up spaceships for salvage) with an extra layer (unionism) to elevate it far beyond what it could have gotten away with. In this way it seems a lot like my beloved PowerWash Simulator (washing things; time travel).
The main thrust of the game I can really get behind - peeling apart big metal ships like clanky onions - but the more literal thrust, i.e. the moving around in zero gravity using a jetpack, is awful. I need you to give me a frame of reference for if you all felt this way at the start, because, genuinely, I am so bad at Hardspace: Shipbreaker that it makes me want to cry.
All these squares make a circle
One of the best things games can do is bring you an appreciation of something you've never thought about before. You'll probably start out Zellige thinking "oh, it's making some shapes and they turn into a pattern, whatever". But within ten minutes you'll be actively saying things like "does the empty space over here feel like purity or desolation" and "what does the contrasting colour of these triangles say about their relationship with the central star?".
It's been a while since I played a game about creating art that felt effortless even as I put in a lot of effort. Zellige: The Tilemaker Of Granada is humble but delightful. It's about designing tiles. And why something that straightforward is also rich and complicated.
Aces & Adventures has taught me what a flush is
As I have complained about mightily in the past, I grew up somwhere that didn't have much in the way of entertainment, so me and my friends had to engage in the time honoured tradition of making our own fun. Once we reached about age 17 this included playing poker with a shared second-hand chip set, and trying to do beer centurions (the progress in the latter affecting our interest in the former). I was never any good at it because, though poker was a fixture for several years, I was never really able to learn the rules. What hand is good? Why has your hand beaten his hand? But the little pictures are the best, I don't understand! It's disappointing because understanding poker is a cool adult thing, plus not understanding it makes certain pivotal scenes in James Bond films quite hard to parse.
Last week we got an email (shout out Aidan) singing the praises of Aces And Adventures, and I do try to check out recommendations from readers, even if I don't have time to reply or to write about the games. In this case I've made a special because Aces And Adventures is a great game that is teaching me winning poker hands through the medium of a dwarven warrior smashing things.
I've recommended a pretty wide variety of genres over the years, but I didn't expect a brick breaking game to surprise me like Destructure Colon Among Debris. It's not that I dislike them. They've just never really made much impression (possibly because I don't see all that many)
Destructure blends in a hint of shooting, resource management, and leans into the sheer fun of destruction, replacing bricks with "structures" that aren't meant to be anything specific, but give the whole feeling an impression of combat, an assault you're carrying out rather than a reacting, abstract geometry game.
Also it feels and sounds great to hit stuff. That's probably the bigger reason.
Supporters only: Gears Of War isn't just a game, it's tradition
The Gears-liker has logged on
I'm going to Japan in a couple of weeks, and I am beyond excited. It's been 15 years since I last visited family in Yokohama, and my last memory is one where I'm miserable and I'm staring out of a cab window going back to the airport. I didn't want to leave. It sounds corny as heck, but I can't wait to sucker punch that memory with a swing that's been building for 5478 days, then jab it full of happy ones. Really, I imagine what will happen is I'll get weirdly emotional as the plane touches down and my mate Simon, who I'm going with, will be like, "Get a hold of yourself you buffoon".
I got LINE recently - a Whatsapp equivalent that's big in Japan - to arrange some meetups with friends and family. Those arrangements have happened, which brings me great joy. But in a surprise plot twist, it meant I got back in touch with a guy called Sam. Now Sam, he's a good bud and we go a long way back. All the way back to the original Gears Of War days. And I think we've arranged, as is custom, to play Gears 6 whenever it arrives. Such is the bizarre way of things.
Grow, my pretties! Grow!
I have, genuinely, been trying to get plants for my office area (desk in the corner of the living room) for like nine months now. If my need for plants were a child, it would have been born. I had a decent pot plant called James Plant back in the UK, but when I moved I bequeathed James Plant to Graham - and, now that I think about it, Graham hasn't told me how James Plant is doing, so I should probably check in on that.
I know that digital plants do not replace real plants in a physical sense - i.e. I am getting no oxygenating benefit from them - but the little plants in Garden In! make me happy. And I've just realised the name is a pun, too.
Supporters only: Boots Quest DX is the anti-RPG I've been waiting for
No swords, just boots
Most RPGs set you off on some kind of grand quest, a hero's journey filled with danger and peril as you track down some legendary sword to defeat a world-ending evil. Boots Quest DX, however, has much humbler aspirations. You are a mere boot enthusiast on an adventure to find the very bestest best boots known to man (or blobs, I genuinely can't tell what provenance these rotund creatures hail from), and nothing else will deter you from achieving your lifelong goal. Find a honking great sword on the beach? Trash. A pirate's cutlass? Get in the sea, literally. If it's not a pair of boots, you're not interested - and it all makes for a brisk, anti-RPG adventure that's incredibly refreshing.
Supporters only: Spacebourne 2 is an absurdly impressive spacejank adventure
No-one can hear you dream
Jank. I am saying "jank" several times upfront, not because Spacebourne 2 is particularly janky, but because it is a bit, and I want to temper your expectations so you're not unfair on its flaws if you try it after I bang on for the rest of this article about how impressive it is.
There's a dream space game we all imagined, where you pilot a ship freely around the galaxy, landing on planets and space stations and running around them doing stuff, finding things, maybe having a fight, then get back into your ship to launch into space, where you can stop at any time and do a little space walk. Maybe walk around on an asteroid, just because.
Spacebourne 2 isn't the dream. But for a game made, as far as I can tell, by one person, it is an astonishing effort to capture that spirit.
Supporters only: Why wrestling is the perfect choice for a dating sim
Team Lazerbeam stonecold stuns us with their answers
For Magic Week, I wrote about Team Lazerbeam's upcoming dating sim Wrestling With Emotions: New Kid On The Block (WWE) and how you're able to romance a beefcake composed entirely of green ooze. There is, of course, far more to it than that. I asked Team Lazerbeam's Ben Rausch about how it tackles themes of queer identity and diversity in a kickass way, which I highlighted in my post, but wanted to highlight even more here. Their answers were too good not to share.
Supporters only: Reading TomorrowX3 feels different when you remember Braid's release
I have no one to blame but myself
You ever see that Mastodon post where a guy explains why he now understands Elon Musk is an idiot, because he's started talking about software? I imagine you've experienced a similar thing with video games, whenever a columnist for a broadsheet writes about them and you can instantly tell that they have never played one in their whole dahlia-manuring, boot room-having, fox hunt-following life.
Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow is a book about the decades-long relationship between two people who are game developers. And like the above, it would be impossible to explain to someone who doesn't work in the games industry why a small exchange between the two of them made me absolutely roar with laughter.
Supporters only: The superb quickplay 4X Ozymandias has almost no deposit
Open your Percy
Quickplay strategy games have always been a thing, but they appear to be gaining in popularity lately. I will probably regret not keeping Ozymandias aside for the traditional "summer strategy game for when your brain is a gas" bit, but the scene is looking healthy enough to chance it.
You know that cliché feeling of "just one more turn"? Ozymandias is a bronze age 4X that builds momentum enough to turn that into "just one more game". It is incredibly easy to learn, and despite looking a little dry and number heavy, becomes more effortless, more pleasant the longer you play. It also becomes more clear how much depth there is hidden away in such a light design. It's about proving yourself the most prestigious civilisation, not through total conquest, but by exploiting the lay of the land, and leaning into your strengths.
Supporters only: I am so very afraid of playing Dwarf Fortress
Lack of squad goals
Supporters only: Re:Call is a clever timeloop game with an amazing first half
But biffs it in the second
For three hours, Re:Call was high on my list of surprise recent indie hits. It has a great premise, for starters - change history by meddling with your memories and playing out different versions of events to arrive at the 'correct' solution - and executes it brilliantly. Its GBA-style visuals and larger-than-life character portraits give it a real sense of charm and personality, and its mystery story of murder and corporate conspiracy had hooked me in real good.
Then it abandoned its cool premise halfway through and became a different game entirely for its remaining run-time. I was heartbroken.
Maybe it's because I've been bouncing between a lot of weighty games lately, but I've found a great diversion in The True Slime King, a simple three button platformer that recently left early access.
Speaking pedantically, this isn't "as simple as it gets", but you'll get what I mean if I describe it that way anyway. You move and jump, dodging spikes and lasers and ISO 13370 compliant death pits, and ideally collecting all the hard to reach thingies along the way. These are far from my favourite genre, but I've played enough to realise I'm partial to a good one, and this is a great one.
And multi-tasking skills, of which I have none
As part of Steam Next Fest, I gave pixel-art, sidescrolling fantasy RPG Greedventory a go. It takes your mouse and turns it into a sword, or a shield, or an arm that's capable of swatting away an explosive potion. It may be like something you, dear reader, have played in the past, but me? Nah, never played anything quite like it! Well, that's a lie. If anything, it's the first fantasy RPG that's made use of my latent - and highly dubious - CS:GO skills and brought to mind a rhythm game called Osu! I am very impressed indeed.