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  • Putting together a gingerbread house in a 3D puzzle in Piecing It Together

    Supporters only: Piecing It Together gave me a timely little island of calm

    Good thing I got my pieces

    It's been a while since I snuck my diary into a column, huh?

    Long-term readers might have discerned that I haven't been well for a very long time. I have various ailments, of which we all suffer, and it turns out that a mere five years of clinging on by your fingernails sometimes leads to some actual treatment for... all of them. Wild.

    So while there've been a lot of interesting looking games in the shortlist lately, these last few weeks have been entirely too interesting for me personally. Piecing It Together is nothing more or less than 3D jigsaw puzzles. I've never even liked jigsaws, but it turns out that was exactly the kind of game I needed.

  • High-scoring cards popping off in a Balatro screenshot.

    While trying to keep vaguely up on both games discourse and terminology over long periods of time, I frequently find myself noticing terms enter common usage, get used a bunch, then fall out of favour again. I think this is partly because games discourse is cyclical, and partly because writing and talking about the same things a lot means that when a neater phrase for something complicated pops up, it gets assimilated quickly. Mostly, though, I think it’s because of my brain doing the thing where, say, you notice a yellow car on a walk and then see dozens of them. I was going to write a car make there but I don’t know any. Uh, (looks at monitor), Asus? Do Asus do cars? The 1994 Asus Gremlin. What a ride!

  • The protagonist in Ants Took My Eyeball standing atop a strange bug-shaped machine

    Supporters only: An action platformer about getting an eye back from ants affirms my belief that games need a Ronseal approach to their titles

    Ants Took My Eyeball is about a man who has had his eyeball taken. By ants.

    I sometimes struggle with what to write about for supporter posts (a contender this week was "why does Fallout the TV show insist Walton Goggins' character is from California when he talks like Foghorn Leghorn?"). And then we got an email about a game called Ants Took My Eyeball and I was like "Man, games need good names more often." I played the Steam demo for Ants Took My Eyeball (which is a 2D action roguelite where you go into an anthill to fight ants, who took your eyeball) and I very much liked the design, weapons and idea, but not the controls so much. Not my cup of tea, but have a go of the demo. But you know what got me to play an action platformer roguelite when those games aren't really my cup of tea? That godamn name is what!

  • Fighting a big frog monster in Carpathian Night

    Supporters only: Carpathian Night Starring Bela Lugosi takes Castlevania back to basics

    And they call it Bela Notmuche

    "Very little Bela Lugosi" is not a criticism I ever expected to level at a game. It's not entirely unexpected considering he's dead, but I'm still grumbling at you, Carpathian Night Starring Bela Lugosi.

    It is, as it appears, an unabashed homage to Castlevania, but with none of the -vania, making it much more like the original (or the game boy ones, and possibly a few others in the series I don't know about): a straightforward, linear platform game about whipping monsters and not stepping on spikes. Ten a penny, right? But CNSBL captures it so well that it had me looking up old game boy tunes it vaguely reminded me of.

  • Geralt prepares to fight guards in a The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt screenshot.

    Supporters only: Fantasy games have a weird relationship with regional British accents

    Whose epaulet is that pauldron?

    Nationalism is obviously weepingly dull, even when it’s not being genuinely harmful, but the UK does have a few special things you can’t get anywhere else. Nik Naks, for example - the only crisp without at least one inferior flavor in the multipack. If I’m even vaguely patriotic about anything, though, it’s the sort of colloquial variety for such a comparatively tiny landmass that means you can drive an hour in any direction and get in a guaranteed fistfight with a stranger over what one of these is called*:

  • A magnificent aquarium with freshwater fish in Aquarist

    Supporters only: I am obsessed with this detailed but very weird aquarium sim

    Right click to throw away

    I know some of you will quibble with the headline, so let me confirm straight away that, yes, technically Aquarist is not a game simulating being an aquarium. An aquarist is someone who builds and manages aquariums, which is your principle task in the capital A Aquarist game. It recently left early access, which is sort of unbelievable because it's very janky in the most adorable way. You can tell it was made by someone who bloody loves aquariums, but taken at face value the career mode tells a strange tale indeed. For example, you have a very unsettling father.

  • A couple of serfs fertilising the fields in Under The Yoke

    Ever since Lords Of The Realm, I've had a soft spot for feudalism sims. Although faux-medieval games are common, there aren't all that many about regular people and regular concerns. Even LotR was increasingly about battles and armies as it went on, rather than the unique management parts.

    But in Under The Yoke, you're just a serf. You want to make something of yourself, but it's about a regular person managing his life, not some unlikely "adventurer", whatever that means. So you'll mostly be toiling, and foraging, and genuinely having way more actual skills than us superior modern folk. And despite some UI issues and rough edges, it's weirdly compelling.

  • The Gambler model from Kingdom Death Monster

    As a valued RPS supporter, you’re likely aware that you possess legal ownership of the fleeting thoughts I have right before falling asleep at night. It’s actually in the T&C, right under the bit about Horace’s claim on your organs. Good news: such interruptions are plentiful, and so too will be content. Here's my latest:

    Am I doomed, I asked myself, to live in wishful longing for the myriad gaming experiences I could have had if I didn’t tend to get obsessed with a few specific games, both digital and tabletop, that take up all my leisure time?

    Obviously I didn’t phrase it like that. It was more like ‘whawhaohhnoo’.

  • A pitched battle in desktop twin-stick shooter Windowkill

    Supporters only: I hate that I sorta hate twin-stick shooter Windowkill

    I can feel the window's pain

    Windowkill is the most inventive arcade shooter I've played for years.

    It's twin-stick shooting in a tiny window that temporarily expands in that direction when you shoot its edges. You have to actively manage and maintain the play space itself for that to even be an option. Soon static monsters appear in their own isolated windows you'll have to shoot your way towards (their attacks can cross the void between), and before long there are the horrible hateful little blue bastards who sit there passively, soaking up shots and never attacking but actively pulling the edges of the window towards them.

    It's a clever and great little thing and I sort of hate it as much as I like it.

  • Barret, Cloud and Tifa rendered in retro polygons in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth

    Supporters only: Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth’s minigames are each a new sensory organ for its many novelties

    But also, screw the chicken quest specifically

    So, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, eh? I liked it a lot. 150 hours a lot. I big cried at least twice and welled up, much like a well, many other times. As much as I’d like to wax emotional about the plot and characters in an endless lifestream-of-consciousness ramble, articles need both headlines and subjects (truly an act of conspiratorial violence targeted at my personal dadaist instincts). So, let’s talk about just the minigames, because I think they’re wonderful for all sort of reasons that might not be immediately apparent. Naturally, big spoiler potential ahead if, like me, you consider everything you haven’t experienced in the RPG game a spoiler.

    I think one of OG Final Fantasy’s 7 best tricks is how it doesn’t just dish out its strangest distractions as a palette cleanser to the main meal of its action and drama, but actively works them in as an indispensable part of the menu. It also does this all without a shred of shame or self-consciousness, resulting in a cinematic video game with no inner turmoil or resentment toward either part of that equation - a characteristic I feel is suffered from by many of the games for which FF7 lead the way. Take the Gold Saucer. It’s an excuse to dick around and ride motorbikes, sure, but it’s also an essential story beat while the party takes time to relax and enjoy each other’s company away from the stress of travel and battle.

  • The Celestial Witch ready to expand the coven on the character select screen of WitchHand.

    Graham wrote about WitchHand last month when the game came out. He compared it to Stacklands, and I can see where he was coming from. It's a cute, deckbuilding strategy game where you're a witch building up strength to take on some horrible void-y demon-y things. It has much higher stakes than Stacklands, but most importantly, you summon cat familiars in it, and they go 'meow!'

  • A little brick house in a lush green meadow by a little pond in Summerhouse

    Supporters only: Tiny builder Summerhouse is even more delightful when you see what inspired it

    In addition to Townscaper, solo dev Friedemann also cites A Short Hike, Stronghold Crusader and more as key texts

    After its gorgeous Steam Next Fest demo last month, tiny little house builder Summerhouse has now arrived on Steam in full, launching just a couple of weeks ago on March 8th. I've been having a swell time with this over the last few days, particularly as I noodle about in the other big backdrops that weren't available in its earlier demo.

    But there's been another Summerhouse development this week that has arguably delighted me even more. Solo developer Friedemann took to Xwitter on Monday to detail all the games that inspired him to make Summerhouse in the first place, and there are some really surprising, but fascinating call outs in there, including Stronghold Crusader and Sword & Sworcery. I love it when developers go in-depth about things they've seen in other games and tried to riff on in their own creations, so please, let's make this a tradition for all new game releases, yeah?

  • Helping a fellow airship owner in Passing By

    Airships have an odd place in games. They pop up as a central idea in a fair few games, but there hasn't really been a definitive one about actually piloting your own.

    Passing By - A Tailwind Journey isn't aiming for that, I think, but it nonetheless captures a key part of the appeal such a game should have. It's the sense of drifting, both with the wind and with life more generally, and the stretches of not particularly much happening. But in a good way. This is a game about taking it easy, choosing to sail by the less remarkable things unless you happen to fancy stretching your legs, and having only the trust that the currents will take you where you're meant to go when they get around to it. It's not a purely vibe-based game, but you'll definitely enjoy it a lot more if you can appreciate the mood.

  • A strange cultist looking at you in Isle Of Maligree

    I usually know right away when I'm going to enjoy interactive fiction. But I don't always know why. Isle Of Maligree is a bit of an all-rounder, as pretty much every part of it is doing something right, but it's the sense that you're making your own version of its story that marks it out.

    People are going missing on the island, and you've been sent to investigate. Only, it seems this isn't the first time, because some sinister magic is causing everyone to forget the whole thing ever happened. If you don't figure it out in time, you'll have to make a new character and try again. And if you're an amazing genius who figures it out on your first try... you'll want to try again anyway, to play it a different way and see what you missed. Maybe one day I'll even do it without getting stabbed.

  • A pawn with a moustache, bowl cut, and tattoos stands to attention in Dragon's Dogma 2.

    My time with Dragon's Dogma 2 for review was neat, mainly because it's a good video game and an anecdote generator. But it reinforced one thing for me that I've increasingly come to realise about myself: I actually can't cope with character creators that let you like, tweak the finest details. I do not want to define the curls of each individual nose hair or adjust the angle of the mole on one's forehead. I'm far too indecisive for any of this! Let me roll the dice, please.

  • The cast of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth are all riding chocobos in a forest

    Having spent close to 40 hours hanging out with Cloud and co. on my (entirely accidental) Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth holiday last week, I've been absolutely bowled over by the sheer size and scale of its big, open world map regions. I've only seen three of them so far, out of its total of eight, but it's immediately obvious just how much of a step-up these places are compared to the dusty plains and rolling hills of the most recent Final Fantasy game to hit PC, FF15. An obvious take, perhaps, given that FF15 first came out eight years ago in 2016, but I'm sure anyone (all right, mainly me) who's ever despaired at Noctis' seeming inability to climb even the smallest hillock in front of him, or how everyone always rides right into your backside while gunning about on a chocobo, will feel some mild, tangible relief at how elegantly Rebirth has solved both of these particular problems. Not only can everyone's chocobo navigate the world seamlessly without getting tripped up on either yourself or the nearest pebble, but Cloud can also jump, leap and haul himself up crags and rocks with one easy button press.

    But there are aspects of Rebirth's approach to open world adventuring that also feel distinctly underwhelming at the same time. When you look past the splendour and rich reimagining of this once flat and detail-less world, it's ultimately quite a standardised take on what modern open world games have become in recent years. There are towers that reveal more points of interest on the map; there are special monster encounters to find; summon temples to discover; and lifestream springs to analyse that also reveal more and more about your immediate surroundings. There are proper sidequests with their own multi-part story objectives, too, which is arguably where Rebirth feels most alive, but most of the activities you'll be doing between critical story missions all generally fall into the same identical categories in each region. FF15 had some of these, too, of course, but it never felt quite so formulaic in how you went about them.

  • A Helldiver shooting at a big Terminid enemy in a jungle environment, with two more Helldivers in front also shooting.

    Supporters only: The success of Helldivers 2 shouldn't come as a surprise

    Live service games can be good

    In some respects, Helldivers 2 did come as a bit of surprise. Not a huge amount of marketing, no betas, and review codes didn't go out until it basically launched. Before it landed on my PC, there was a small part of me that thought it was going to be a rocky ride with severe performance issues or the like. Nope! It's easily slid into one of my favourite games of the year without question, and presumably, for the hundreds of thousands of others who've also opted into preserving democracy.

    But there seems to be this sentiment that Helldivers 2's roaring success has come as a shock, so much of a shock that top execs and investors are doing YouTube thumbnail faces in boardrooms with mini-nuke explosions erupting from their heads. Should its success come as that much of a surprise, though? No, probably not.

  • The underside of the tentacles of a giant octopus, floating through a void in Chasing The Unseen

    This weekend I said one of the games I was planning to be playing was Chasing The Unseen, and I did in fact do that. It is indeed a strange, dream-like experience where you leap floaty leaps onto thin, spindly crags of rock in a sage-grey void. Rather than finding it soothing, I found it it extremely stress-making. This was the opposite experience to what I had expected.

  • A newspaper in Minami Lane announcing that litterers have a special place in hell

    I like a good management game, but my definition of "good" often includes words like "detailed", "complex", or "dangerously all-consuming". That doesn't mean, though, that I don't appreciate something light and simple now and then. In fact, Minami Lane might barely qualify as a management game by some standards.

    There's no real pressure, no chance of failure, and its limit of a handful of levels lasting perhaps three or four hours just about taps it out. But sometimes such limitations are intentional, and exactly what you want from a game.

  • A bug in My Horse: Bonded Spirits where a horse got stuck on a barrel and is doing a Roach from The Witcher

    Readers with good memories may recall that I was delighted to see Games Incubator and PlayWay moving away from "cleaning abandoned industrial buildings" and towards "magical pets" in their sim games, when they revealed My Horse: Bonded Spirits. I played the prologue to the game today (which is about 40 minutes long) and discovered that you have to level up your horse before you can gallop. Sir: no.

  • A sewer level from Star Wars Dark Forces Remaster

    I come to you with an important question today, readers. Has there ever been an actually good sewer level in a video game before? I propose to you that there has not. Sewer levels are the worst. They have always been the worst, and will always be the worst. There is no redeeming feature that can make sewer levels good, fun or enjoyable, and I come to you today saying they must stop. No more sewer levels, developers. Please. I beg you. Especially you, Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster. You're the chief offender in this whole mess, and both my nostrils and my sanity simply cannot take it anymore.

  • Firing at an enemy ship in Skull And Bones.

    Supporters only: To survive Skull And Bones, pair it with Catfish

    Not the bottlemen

    I don't think I've fully recovered from my time with Skull And Bones, having suffered tremendously as a result of the review. There might be fun in some of its slower moments, but some of the generally positive, "It's actually quite a good game!" takes that I've seen honestly baffle me. The game is a series of long, annoying journeys, during which the most fun I had was turning my head to watch Catfish on my other monitor. MTV's show about people getting duped online was the perfect sailing companion, and perhaps, one of the only reasons I survived my brush with the live service seas.

  • Concept art of Solas from Dragon Age standing infront of a six-eyed wolf with a moon in the middle

    Last night I dreamt I had to review a Dragon Age DLC. I reviewed it poorly. I thought that it should not have been marketed as main game DLC instalment when it pivoted to being a magical girl dating sim. This serves to show how unrealistic dreams can be; in my waking hours I am, of course, of the clear-eyed awareness that a magical girl dating sim is entirely in-keeping with the rest of the Dragon Age oeuvre.

    I'm worried about Dragon Age. I'm worried that so much cost has been sunk, team members changed and redrafting did that it'll end up kind of a mess. But that's the pessimism talking. What I'd like to propose is that all the big game companies have a crack at something similar to Amazon's (hiliarious and abortive) attempt to officially license fan fiction, which was called Kindle Worlds.

  • A female warrior rushes toward her opponent in a fiery blaze in Cards RPG: The Misty Battlefield

    Supporters only: I have so much respect for the honest simplicity of C.A.R.D.S RPG's game title

    The next one from the Octopath Traveler devs is effectively: what if Fire Emblem, but cards?

    I know this sort of thing has been said before around these parts, but in scanning through the endless reams of Steam Next Fest demos earlier this month and trying to work out what these games are and whether they're worth downloading, I truly believe it's a sentiment that's worth repeating. When I first saw the name C.A.R.D.S RPG: The Misty Battlefield appear on the Next Fest landing page, I instantly thought, 'Yes, here we go, now we're talking'.

    Well, my first thought was actually, 'Gee, if only there was an easy way to know what this game's about based on just the title alone,' but that's just me being facetious. Ultimately, I have a lot of respect for this kind of naming convention, and the fact it's also being made by the Octopath Traveler developers Acquire is really just the icing on the cake.

  • A monster in a green cloak lurches out of a castle window in Graven

    I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from Graven, but it still feels like it wasn't quite what I expected. That's both good and bad. It has the look of a 90s throwback FPS, the cool atmosphere and action RPG (barely RPG, really, restricted to which weapons you upgrade) combat of something from the 2000s like Rune or Dark Messiah, with a hint of a modern immersive sim. There is, I think, a better game to be made with those parts in a different arrangement. This one is only kinda good.

  • Microsoft's new Copilot key, which will summon an AI when pressed

    Supporters only: I don't hate generative AI, I just hate that it's "The Future"

    Who gets to call something the future?

    I've been looking back over my news pieces about artificial intelligence tools, generative image software and/or large language models and reflecting that what I really distrust about "AI" is the fact that AI is "the future". Saying that X thing is the future is de rigueur for technology marketing. It's something you hear repeatedly from videogames companies in particular, with their sequels and console generations and other chronological fixtures that form an endless staircase towards The New.

  • A frog asks you to rebuild his spaceship in Sunshine Heavy Industries

    Supporters only: If you're enjoying Cobalt Core, you should play Sunshine Heavy Industries

    Wot the Cobalt Core devs did first

    I promise I'm not trying to turn RPS into a Soggins the Frog fansite, but... If you have a) been enjoying Cobalt Core as part of RPS Game Club this month, and b) especially like it when Soggins turns up with his ship of malfunctioning missile launchers, then I implore you to make Sunshine Heavy Industries your next port of call in your Steam library. It's what the Cobalt Core devs Rocket Rat Games made first, and you can immediately see a lot of shared DNA between the two games - not least its chunky, charming pixel visuals and some crossover between its cast of characters - including our pal Soggins.

    It is, I should stress, a very different game to Cobalt Core - it's a sandboxy spaceship builder with zero combat involved, for starters - but I've been playing it again this week ahead of some other Game Club-themed articles I've got cooking, and I've been having a lovely time with it. Not least because I get to spend more time with Soggins the very smug frog, all while listening to even more excellent chill tunes from Cobalt Core composer Aaron Cherof.

  • The keybinding menu in Starfield, with the Jump key highlighted.

    Supporters only: Can we use tracking tech for good? (aka: a game automatically knowing if I've forgotten the controls?)

    I am the main character of your video game, and of life

    Tracking technology isn't perfect. Actually, that's an understatement. Tracking technology has many pitfalls, including how Google Maps can be accidentally used to track people, and the fact that if you systematically turn off cookies, your internet browsing experience becomes increasingly bizarre. I am offered adverts for afro hair care products and huge bags of puppy kibble, because the algorithms no longer have any idea who I am or how many small dogs I have. And yet.

    Surely this technology has reached the point where, if I open a game for the first time in several weeks, it should be able to tell I haven't played for a long time, and ask if I would like a small refresher of the controls.

  • Attacking a giant snake in the jungle in Islands Of The Caliph

    I have never enjoyed those grid-based dungeon-crawling games. I dislike the very notion of dungeon-crawling in general, frankly, but the awkward juddery squareskipping rat-toucher games have always left me absolutely cold.

    You will be shocked and aroused to learn that I preface with all this just so I can make an exception of Islands Of The Caliph. Does this mean she's becoming more open minded, or just that she's found a way to gripe and complain even within a recommendation? Who can say, readers.

    What I can say is that I don't merely hate it less than its genremates. I think it's a bloody great little RPG, full of charm and detail that never drags it down.

  • Four Helldivers players advancing across a desert at sunset towards alien arachnids, firing weapons

    When it comes to co-op shooters and most other multiplayer games, it's often the case that friendly fire is switched off by default or there are endless systems in place to make it a punishable offence. In Helldivers 2 it isn't actively encouraged, nor is it punished. Accidentally vaporising your teammate with an air strike is all a part of the campaign for democracy and freedom, a hilarious byproduct of human error. I gushed about it in my review, and cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer wrote up a quick piece on the specific ways it eeks out silliness.

    But comedy isn't just accidental in Helldivers 2, oh no. I think it encourages playground behaviour of the worst order: smacking your mates into things.