Mars Horizon is a modern take on Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space. Is it really any surprise that I had it bought and downloaded fifteen minutes after it released on Steam?
The reviews of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla mark yet another occasion where I wonder what on earth the mainstream games media have been smoking. “A saga for the ages!” exclaims Eurogamer, who are clearly hoping I’ll forget that they once gave the Bad Company 2 single-player campaign a 9/10 rating. “A big, bold, and ridiculously beautiful entry to the series!” bleats IGN, presumably because they couldn’t find a more generic set of superlatives for their review strapline. And quoth the usually-on-the-ball PC Gamer: “Valhalla is Ubisoft’s best Assassin’s Creed to date!”, a statement that quite overlooks the fact that the series has undergone so many reinventions over its 13-year history that it’s like comparing Doom to Doom 2016. But assuming, for a moment, that that’s possible: as someone who has also played and reviewed quite a few Assassin’s Creed games, I am here to tell you that Valhalla is nowhere near Ubisoft’s best Assassin’s Creed to date. In fact it barely scrapes in ahead of the worst of the pack, and it is a remarkable step down from 2018’s Odyssey.
If you go back and read one of my earliest reviews on this blog, you might notice a slightly different tone from the one I try to take today. Back then I took bad games rather… personally (this was before I’d formulated my Bad Game Theory1) and if I played a bad one I had a tendency to lay into not only the game in question but also the developers behind it, and with quite a bit of venom, too. Now that I’m older, wiser, and a little bit calmer, I can see now that this was unreasonable and unfair. Making videogames is hard. There’s any number of reasons why a game might not come together in the way it should, many of which are wholly or partially out of a developers’ control — not enough budget, truncated schedule, interfering executives, key personnel leaving, and so on. Nobody sets out to deliberately make a bad game, and so these days while I’m perfectly happy to continue giving bad games the kicking they so richly deserve, and while I might still have some choice barbs for the corporate aspect of game development, I try and give the individual developers themselves the benefit of the doubt. It didn’t come together for them this time. Maybe it will next time. There’s no reason to get nasty about it.
Or so I thought, until I played Möbius Front ‘83.
I really, really want to like Cloudpunk. You’re playing Rania, the driver of a flying car in a cyberpunk city on her first day of work for underground delivery organisation Cloudpunk. You drive around the city, taking packages from point A to point B, while people talk to you over the comm about the city, the world, corporations, identity, AI, androids, the rich getting obscenely richer, the poor being trapped by debt and prejudice and left to die the moment they’re not economically useful — all of that classic cyberpunk shit that’s becoming uncomfortably real as we hurtle headfirst into a capitalist dystopia of our own. Where modern “cyberpunk” properties tend to co-opt the look but not the themes, Cloudpunk at least understands what cyberpunk should be. It’s clearly a labour of love made by real people who have been on the receiving end of some of this stuff themselves, and unlike certain other big-ticket cyberpunk releases that are scheduled (for now) to come out this year, Cloudpunk’s heart is definitely in the right place.
I just wish it was a better game.
Spelunky 2 poses a problem rarely encountered by videogame developers: how do you follow up a game that’s already perfect?
Note that by “perfect” I do not necessarily mean “the best”. Art is subjective, and not everyone likes Spelunky, and that’s fine. However, I struggle to think of a game that hits all of its design goals with the unerring accuracy that Spelunky does. Everything in Spelunky meshes together so well to create an endlessly replayable dungeon-delving platformer roguelike, and there’s no wasted effort on extraneous, unnecessary features that bloat the game and don’t contribute anything to those design goals. Doing the usual sequel thing of adding new levels, items and features is going to be like adding a fifth wheel to a car, while taking anything out to make room for those new features is just going to create the dreaded Reliant Robin of games.
Having to make a sequel to a perfect (or almost-perfect) game is not something that happens often; of the few examples that do exist, the one I’d point to is when Nintendo had to follow up Super Mario 64 with a launch Mario title for the Gamecube. Mario Sunshine was a decent game which tried some new and interesting things with its water-spraying mechanics but which, ultimately, did not come together anywhere near as elegantly as the dead simple 3D platforming mechanics in 64. That’s fine. You can’t make every game a classic, and Mario Sunshine is still a lot of fun to play and a very worthwhile experience even if it ended up standing in the shadow of its predecessor. I think I would have understood if Spelunky 2 had ended up being the Spelunky series’ Mario Sunshine; I would have been a little disappointed, sure, but I would have respected the attempt and probably, eventually, enjoyed the game for what it was, just like I did Mario Sunshine.
Instead, what Derek Yu has made here is essentially Kaizo Mario 64. It’s the same game as before, but with all of the dials turned up to 11, and then turned all the way around again until the dial breaks. It’s Spelunky 1 for streamers and speedrunners; it’s Spelunky 1 if it were squarely targeted at the 1% of players who think Hell runs are too easy. It’s Asshole Spelunky. And I do not like it.