Game-related ramblings.

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Psychonauts Is Still Great

This is Keeping Score, a series about games and their soundtracks. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Later this month (at the time of writing), Psychonauts 2 will be released into the wild. In an unusual attempt at timeliness, I endeavored to replay the original Psychonauts before that happened, and lo, I have succeeded. Of course, I’ll probably play something else in between and not get to Psychonauts 2 until months later, but that’s beside the point. The point is that Psychonauts is still great, and I’m eager to play the sequel.

Shadow Warrior Is Better Than Shadow Warrior, But Still Problematic

This post is part of the Keeping Score series about games and their soundtracks. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I recently wrote about Shadow Warrior, the 1997 follow-up to Duke Nukem 3D. I’d heard that it was racist, and it very much is. Which is why I was surprised to see it get a remake in 2013, and even more surprised that it earned praise from critics and was successful enough to become a whole new franchise, with a well-liked sequel in 2016 and a third game planned to release this year. The positive reception to these newer games was what inspired me to play the original for comparison, and now I’ve also played the 2013 version of Shadow Warrior, by Polish studio Flying Wild Hog. It’s certainly better than Shadow Warrior, but doesn’t escape some of that game’s problems.

History Lessons: Shadow Warrior

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. In particular, you may want to read the post about Duke Nukem 3D for some context. This post is also an honorary member of the Keeping Score series about games and their soundtracks.

Back in the early days of this blog, before I even had screenshots in my posts, I wrote about Duke Nukem 3D. I was curious about the game because of the release of its sequel, Duke Nukem Forever, that same year; a game that had reached near mythical status due to its seemingly endless development cycle. It was crap, by all accounts, but it only made it to release because the original Duke Nukem 3D had been one of the most popular games of its era, before the rise of the linear shooter. Duke Nukem 3D is dumb and very sexist — something for which I didn’t criticize it harshly enough, in retrospect — but its imaginative level design and arsenal made it a lot of fun to play.

While many more games would appear using the Build Engine that powered Duke Nukem 3D, only one was by Duke developers 3D Realms: 1997’s Shadow Warrior. It was not nearly as popular. Duke Nukem 3D had been criticized for its sexism, but Shadow Warrior was also criticized for its racism, and it didn’t seem to do enough to offset its offensive stereotypes. I was surprised, then, when a remake, also titled Shadow Warrior, appeared in 2013, and even more surprised when it got good reviews. Good enough that a sequel appeared in 2016, also receiving critical praise, and a third game is planned for this year. I was intrigued. How did this happen? Why remake a game that seemed better forgotten?

The original Shadow Warrior, now re-dubbed Shadow Warrior Classic, was released for free in 2013 to help promote the remake, and I grabbed it but never got around to it. Now, I’ve decided to check it out, so later I can compare it to its more favorably-received remake. Having played it and the two expansion packs bundled with it, I can confirm that it is very racist.

Keeping Score: Alwa’s Awakening

This is Keeping Score, a series about games and their soundtracks. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I bought Alwa’s Awakening after reading a recommendation over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but I never got around to playing it. Now it already has a sequel, Alwa’s Legacy, so I decided it was time to take a look at the first game.

Alwa’s Awakening is an unashamedly retro-styled metroidvania platformer that doesn’t really have any particular standout feature. Players will guide protagonist Zoe (Alwa is actually the name of the land in which the game is set, not the name of the protagonist) as she explores an interconnected world, finds new magical powers that let her access previously inaccessible areas, and eventually challenges the nefarious Protectors and their overlord, the evil Vicar. All of this is familiar from countless other games. These days, indie platformers usually have some kind of hook, like an imaginative core mechanic or a particularly striking art style. Alwa’s Awakening does not; instead it it simply very good at traditional platforming, proving that sometimes great execution is all that’s needed to make a great game.

Scratching That Itch: Purple Chicken Spaceman

This is the thirty-eighth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. This particular entry in the Scratching That Itch series is also an honorary member of the Keeping Score series, which discusses games and their soundtracks. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Once more, the random number generators have spun up and spat out a selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. It’s Purple Chicken Spaceman, by Holmade Games. Included in the download is the Purple Chicken Soundtrack, which means this post is also an honorary Keeping Score post. Purple Chicken Spaceman’s tagline in the bundle reads:

Are you chicken enough?

Oh, I’m pretty sure I’m chicken enough.

Keeping Score: Transistor

This is Keeping Score, a series about games and their soundtracks. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Longtime readers may recall that I quite enjoyed Bastion, the first game from Supergiant Games. I’d always intended to check out their sophomore effort, Transistor, but never got around to it. Now, Supergiant Games have released two more titles: Pyre, which is actually included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality and so might pop up in my Scratching That Itch series eventually, and Hades, which is enjoying critical acclaim after a very successful stint in Early Access. It’s high time I got caught up with their catalog.

Keeping Score: Gonner

This is Keeping Score, a series about games and their soundtracks. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I think I got Gonner in a bundle at some point, since it came with its digital soundtrack. I’d read good things about it as a sort of quick-play action game, so I was happy to nab it along with some other games. More recently, Gonner appeared in the Humble Fight for Racial Justice Bundle, so if you picked that up you may find you have a copy yourself. Developers Art in Heart announced a sequel a few months ago, predictably titled Gonner 2, so there’s more visually striking action platforming coming soon. A good time, then, to give the original a spin.

Keeping Score: Celeste

This is Keeping Score, a series about games and their soundtracks. This particular post is also the honorary fifth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, because Celeste was added to the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality when I was nearly finished playing it. Don’t worry if you missed the bundle, there are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Longtime readers may remember that I am a fan of Matt Thorson’s games, which I highlighted as part of a post celebrating super-hard platformers way back in 2012. Matt Thorson came to more prominence in 2013 with Towerfall (or rather, the multi-platform reissue Towerfall: Ascension in 2014), but I never played it as I’m not set up for local multiplayer. But Matt Thorson’s next game, developed with a larger team, had me quite excited: Celeste is a return to their earlier style of single-player, highly challenging platformers, but with much higher production values and finesse. Critics heaped it with praise, and I nabbed it soon after release, but as often happens I was distracted by many other games and didn’t get around to playing it until recently.

After I’d played for some time, and conquered all but its toughest challenges, Celeste was added to the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. I’ve been picking things at random from the bundle and writing about them in my Scratching That Itch series, but of course, my choice of Celeste was not random, and indeed was made before the bundle launched. Still, since Celeste is included in that absolutely massive bundle, consider this post — which I was fully intending to write anyway — an honorary entry in the series.

Keeping Score: Furi

This is Keeping Score, a series about games and their soundtracks. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Furi, from developers The Game Bakers, combines two genres that I have little to no experience with. It’s part super-tough melee brawler, full of timed parries and lightning fast dodges, eager to put players through the ringer until they have learned to react to attacks on instinct. I haven’t played many games like that, but from what I’ve read it sounds similar to the exacting duels of Dark Souls and the rest of the FromSoftware catalog, or even “spectacle brawlers” like the Devil May Cry series and other games by Ninja Theory. But Furi is also part twin stick “bullet hell” shooter, asking players to weave through crazy patterns of deadly projectiles to stay alive. I have even less experience with these types of games, but they seem to hearken back to the design ethos of classic arcade games, with high skill ceilings that entice players to invest time in mastering the game’s intricacies. And on top of that, it’s a “boss rush” game. You know how many games have players work through large numbers of weaker opponents and traverse various obstacles, before facing a final, extra difficult “boss” enemy at the end of the level? Well, “boss rush” games get rid of all of that and just leave the bosses. Furi is a series of extremely challenging duels, and it goes all in on the concept.

I find all of this a bit intimidating. The hardest games I’ve played are classic roguelikes, which at least give me as much time as I want to consider each move. I don’t relish the prospect of practicing timed sequences over and over with a mistimed split-second reaction leading to failure, or learning to dodge insane attack patterns that fill the entire screen. But Furi is enticing in other ways. It has a bold art style, starring some sort of cyborg ninja with a cool red cloak, making his way through a strange world full of bold colors and fantastical environments. All of it is displayed with intentionally low resolution textures and shading gradient effects, such that it almost seems flat shaded a times. It’s striking, and even seeing still screenshots made me wonder if Furi might be the game that would finally convince me to leave my comfort zone and take on these notoriously difficult genres. I could even get two of them out of the way at the same time! And, to top it off, Furi features an original soundtrack composed by a who’s who list of synthwave composers, including names like Carpenter Brut, Danger, and The Toxic Avenger. Oh, all right then. I’ll give Furi a go.

Keeping Score: Loot Rascals

This is Keeping Score, a series about games and their soundtracks. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I was searching my backlog for something I could play in short sessions without getting too invested in a long story, and I settled on Loot Rascals. I don’t remember when I got it, but I do remember seeing some positive reviews online, praising it as a quirky and light game that sounded like it was exactly what I was looking for. Players explore a procedurally generated hex-based map, generated anew each game, while scrounging for loot and battling the colorful, titular rascals. Everything from the landscape to the bizarre cast of rascals is rendered in a beautiful watercolor style, and there’s even a Scottish robot sidekick with a teapot for a head. What’s not to like?

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