Game Ramblings #188 – A Plague Tale: Innocence

More Info from Asobo Studio

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: PS4, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch

I was going to sit here rambling about how this really did a great job of combining a solid story with solid puzzle stealth gameplay. I was going to sit here rambling about how the rat setup really did a fantastic job of tying something core to the story (the black death) to the core gameplay mechanics. But then I got to the last chapter which leaned way heavy into combat and now all I want to do is complain.

It just kills me when a game does great things for the entire length right up until the end, then leans into something that was barely used throughout the game. Combat is this game’s trip up. The core of the game is about being slow, so when the end of the game throws some sequences where you have to make relatively quick combat decisions it’s clearly not in the game’s best interest. When the game’s aim assist is about making careful locks that can be lost when the target is moving fast, it’s clearly not in the game’s best interest to have stuff running at you across elevation changes. When the stealth is best while avoiding one or two targets around a bunch of obstacles, it’s clearly not in the game’s best interest to throw a bunch of targets at you across an open arena. The last chapter did all of those things.

The sequence above is a perfect encapsulation of what I think is good to not do in a game like this. The sequence has you hiding next to an off screen moving cart while a sequence of six dudes runs at you through this little drop down. Among the ways I’ve died included: running just too fast while I couldn’t see the cart and getting one shot by an off screen arrow, missing lock-ons entirely because the guys were moving too fast, missing lock-ons entirely because I started aiming while they were too far away, losing lock-ons after releasing the fire button because the animation had to finish, early on paying attention to where the cart was and missing a dude sneak up behind me. It’s all the things that work really well when you’re being purposefully slow and considering your options in stealth that fall apart in a faster paced section.

It’s not that I don’t get needing to ramp up for the finale, but this is a frustrating one to work through. The preceding chapter introduced a new rat control mechanic that felt like it had a ton of legs, but it was then effectively lost in combat. Rather than really leaning into the puzzle solving it was used as a finishing maneuver. You’d put out whatever light sources then send in the rats, rinse and repeat. Even the final boss encounter was dodge a few things, send in the rats. It felt like it never took advantage of the puzzle solving possibilities.

I guess I just wanted this to lean into the puzzles through the finish. This game was absolutely fantastic when its goal was to hide in the grass and trick enemies into getting eaten by rats. Getting through 10 hours of gameplay only for the last hour to fall into combat feels off. I guess what I’m saying is land your game on what made it good to begin with. Don’t land it on something made purely for high drama.

Game Ramblings #187 – Stitch.

More Info from Lykke Studios

  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Platform: Apple Arcade (iPhone)
  • Also Available On: Switch

You know, I was working on a play through of A Plague Tale: Innocence and happened to install this. Boy did this derail my playthrough. This hit whatever part of my brain needs to play the Picross series and didn’t want to let go.

At a glance this is a variation on the Shikaku puzzle type where you make a grid of boxes where each box has exactly one number and the number of cells in each box matches that number. Just from that little description I think you can see where this picked at the Picross portion of my brain. It has the same pattern where I can jump in for 5 minutes and make some progress on a large puzzle or sit there for a couple hours marathoning through a bunch of it. However, I don’t think that would have been enough on its own. The fact that this is puzzles making actual pictures in color is a huge improvement over the normal formula that really worked out well for me.

Making pictures is hugely important because it adds a ton of variety to the actual puzzle solving portion of the game. This isn’t just finishing number boxes. You’re also paying attention to the shape and color of what’s going on around you within the bigger picture. Strange shaped curve that looks like it delineates an area? That’s a huge clue about what shape you should be putting together. Areas around that you already completed have stripes? Use that as a way to continue the current section you’re on. All of that’s building up to a puzzle game where the puzzle isn’t necessarily just completing the screen you’re on but how it connects to the things around you in a larger way.

The variety they get out of this is what makes this game just work. The game isn’t constrained to a fixed size and it isn’t constrained to simple boxes. As of right now the game has 280 puzzles (plus dailies and weeklies), but each of those individual puzzles is an amalgam of dozens of other little puzzles within them. Each of those puzzles is its own little unique thing that you haven’t seen before. Because they aren’t a box, they can have weird stepped patterns like you see above, or it could be shaped like a leaf, or it could be a figure 8. The puzzles are built and themed to the picture you’re creating, so it’s always something new to see.

In any case, back to regularly scheduled programming. Every now and then I get sidetracked by my phone and disappear for a bit. This was definitely one of those cases. This is a perfect on the go experience, so it makes sense that it came to Apple Arcade, but I can see the Switch version that just came out being equally as good. Just go play it.

Game Ramblings #186 – Princess Peach: Showtime!

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Platform: Switch

I’m not going to claim that this game is a must play. I’m not going to claim that it’s even a great game. However, it has something to it that kept me playing it. To some extent it’s probably just that it worked generally well. To some extent it was absolutely that I just wanted to see the next costume change. A lot of it was honestly probably just that it wasn’t as serious as FF7: Rebirth was. At the end of the day it was just kind of consistently fun.

That’s honestly something that could be said about a lot of the past output from Good-Feel. Their projects with Nintendo are a who’s who of consistently fun experiences. Wario Land: Shake It was a fun platformer with incredible hand drawn visuals tied down with an obnoxious Wii Remote shake mechanic. Kirby’s Epic Yarn again had incredible visuals and solid platformers mechanics. Yoshi’s Woolly World again had a gorgeous unique visual style tied to fun platforming mechanics, and the same could be said about its followup Yoshi’s Crafted World. If you’re sensing a pattern here, that’s not an accident. Princess Peach: Showtime! follows the same pattern.

This game is just easy to jump in and play, which is made more impressive by the fact that each costume was different. They really took advantage of the core conceit of costume changing to keep the gameplay fresh. Every single costume can jump with the A button or take an action with a B button, so figuring out what to do is less about learning how to execute mechanics and more what those mechanics do. Swordfighter or Cowgirl? The action is a straight up attack. Detective or Patissiere? Neither of them attack so it’s a gameplay action button instead. It’s that variety of some things being really action focused and more things being slow puzzle focus that really keep the game fresh. It has a certain fast/slow back and forth that really works well. Some levels are higher stress combat and some are straight relaxation.

This is all backed by what is again a very unique visual approach. This is probably the game in Good-Feel’s arsenal that is the least unique since it’s inherently tied to modern Mario sensibilities. However, what it lacks in a unique visual theme it makes up for in pure flair. It takes the stage play Showtime! very seriously. Each level is tied to a stage play setting connected to the costume of the stage, and it’s super obvious that this is a stage play. Background elements are obviously made out of stage dressing like wood, cardboard, or stage curtains. Secret areas take you backstage behind the scaffolding. NPCs are all based around puppetry with moving hinged sections instead of organic bodies, as well as their control lines extending down from the ceiling. There’s even nice little touches here where friendly NPCs typically have white lines while enemies have glowing purple lines. This is all a company taking advantage of the theme to make an incredibly good looking experience.

However, like I mentioned – this game isn’t great and it has obvious issues that keep it in simply good territory. The most consistent problem is that a lot of the levels are simply too long for no reason. Each costume is broken into 3 levels. However, it feels like the pattern would have benefited from being extended to 5 shorter sections. The game also places a heavy emphasis on collecting, which is exacerbated by the level length. The game often blocks you from going backward, so missing a collectable can often be a 5-10 minute complete replay of a level. This would probably be fine if there was more variety, but again each costume has three distinct segments of one way to do things so there is no real replayability to any of this. It’s fun the first time and distinctly not the second. This is then wrapped into some real technical issues with low resolution and low framerate, and it’s pretty clear that this is more of a AA effort. It’s a fun one-time experience, but that’s all it is.

At the end of the day this probably hit the points I needed it to anyway. After finishing a game like FF7: Rebirth, I did not want a long or complicated experience. This is the kind of game you’ll fall into, hit your two buttons, have some fun, and be done. It’s fast and gets out of the way, so for me it was perfect. Just don’t expect an all-timer experience here, because that isn’t what you’re signing up for.