Game Ramblings #163 – Trigger Witch

More Info from Rainbite

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

This is one of those rare situations where two types of games mixed together actually works out. The best way I can describe this is Link to the Past if it was a twin-stick shooter. At face value it doesn’t make much sense, but when you add in multiple weapons with upgrade paths you get enough of a power curve that it really fits into what you’d expect out of a Zelda style game.

It’s not too difficult to write this off as just a violent twin-stick shooter given the above video and that isn’t necessarily inaccurate. If you ignore the sort of story/meta game aspects of this, that is certainly a lot of it. The core twin-stick aspects are done really well. The guns are varied enough that you can find a set of weapons that both feel good to the pace of gameplay you want but still fit a bunch of different situations. Movement is tight in a way that you don’t often feel cornered while still giving you a get out of trouble dodge that you can use in tough situations. Basically, on its own the game probably would have been fun enough.

It’s where it starts to lean into its ARPG roots where it really starts to shine though. It’s not necessarily that it’s Zelda and full of items and stuff, but it brings in the things that make total sense within the gameplay at play here. The main overworld is definitely there, and that plays into the overall metagame. Besides getting cash from killing things, you’ve got weapon upgrades hidden all over the world that really encourage exploration. Those weapon upgrades then take cash to apply, which gets you into the main meta upgrade loop that worked so well in Zelda. There’s always a reason to be out killing things, so it never feels like wasted time even when you’re retraversing.

The dungeon loop is also the same, which is to say that it’s not really original but it’s still pretty fun. You still get keys, you still get a dungeon map, you still have some light puzzles, you still end the dungeon in a boss fight. Where they do kind of bend to something unique at least to this type of game is that the dungeons generally also have some kind of flying broom segment, where rather than being a twin-stick shooter you’re playing a vertical scrolling shooter. Again, it’s not necessarily that it’s unique on its own, but it brings an unusual little change to the gameplay to keep it fresh as you’re getting through things.

This is just one of those indie games that hits the right positive notes. It’s not that it’s incredibly unique, but it blends a few genres in a way that feels interesting without needing to push too many boundaries. It’s fast moving, tight to control, and doesn’t take itself seriously (….I mean come on, Mecha Stalin.). It’s super easy to just jump in and enjoy without really worrying too much about fussy mechanics, and after some of the longer games I’ve been playing recently it felt like just what I needed.

Game Ramblings #162 – Splatoon 3’s Single Player

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: Third-person shooter
  • Platform: Switch

Splatoon 3 sits in a weird spot. It’s far more involved than the base single player of Splatoon 2 thanks to it taking advantage of the sort of Portal chamber setup from the Octo expansion. However, it’s not nearly as inventive as that was. Because of that it’s simultaneously a lot of fun but also predictable, so I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

It’s easy to get drawn into a game when it’s this stylish, and that’s always been a mark for the series. They get a ton of mileage out of bright colors, the cool painting mechanic, and a great soundtrack. However, that’s all stuff that we knew we were going to get. The Octo expansion for Splatoon 2 showed a certain level of play that the series really benefited from in a single player setting. Having a level where you play Breakout is unexpected. Having a level where you are pushing a ball around a maze is cool. It felt like it was taking the playful aspects of the shrines from Breath of the Wild and putting them into a shooter.

Splatoon 3 has the same meta game aspect as that, but it feels like it leaned too hard into the shooter aspects. The levels are almost entirely one of two things – physics platform puzzles around your ink jumps or straight up combat segments. The handful of times that it leans into something a bit more playful, it often feels like it’s just replaying ideas from Octo. It’s not that the mechanics are bad, because honestly the levels are a ton of fun in isolation. However, it’s disappointing. We already knew the mechanics would be solid, and we already knew how they work because this is the third game. It didn’t need to lean into reteaching that core.

The boss fights end up being the real highlight of the single player as a result. Some of them are purely combat focused, but really play well into mixing ink movement and accurate firing. The one above is a standout, not because it’s original, but because it is a 100% riff on the same manta ray ink fight from Super Mario Sunshine. Ya, it leans way harder and leans way more unforgiving, but it was fun to see something so obvious being done to great effect. The final boss just ends up being a complete spectacle. It’s got multiple phases, some ridiculous robot fighting, and all the story spectacle of something that belongs as a game ender.

It was also nice to see some more lore. The previous games have fed some aspects of this being a post-human post-apocalypse world, but seeing the full scope of how the world got into its current state and how the inklings came to exist was a nice little bonus.

In the end though, I was just wanting more. I’m not necessarily looking for something open world or more traditional third-person shooter, because I’m not convinced that it would bring anything beneficial to the gameplay. Splatoon as a multiplayer experience is such a specifically crafted core gameplay that I don’t think translates to a larger experience. What I wanted was just more creativity in making interesting puzzle chambers. The thing that they benefited from with Octo was being able to just do silly things because they were crafting 2-3 minute long isolated experiences. This just felt like it leaned too safe, despite the quality of what is there.

Game Ramblings #161 – A Little Golf Journey

More Info from Okidokico

  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Platform: Switch
  • Also Available On: Steam

It’s perhaps ironic that this one was published by Playtonic, because my enjoyment curve of this game reminded me EXACTLY of Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair. The game slowly added mechanics throughout that worked well. It felt like it had an appropriate challenge curve based on mechanics that enhanced the puzzle solving. I got to the end of the game with a high level of praise ready to be put to ramblings.

Then I hit the long level for the true ending of the game that felt like it turned the mechanics on their head.

This is a puzzle game through and through. Ya it’s got its golf coat on, but that part of it isn’t really the point. Each hole is a puzzle to figure out what specific locations you need to hit the ball to in order to finish it in the correct number of strokes. That’s ultimately all there is to it. Ya there’s some dealing with power. Ya you get some wind later on. Ya you’ve got to deal with some gravity shenanigans in a moon world. Ultimately though, it’s a puzzle. What makes this work is that the entire game is a zen experience. You’re thrown into a little diorama and can move all around to plan out your shots, but you go at your leisure as you plot your course.

The way I would describe this is that you’re succeeding through trial and experience. Failures in a case like this end up being a case of not having enough experience – whether that be a lack of knowledge of how wind is affecting your ball, or how a slope in an area will affect rolling distance. However, it’s never because you were lacking information. Succeeding is because you’ve learned and applied your knowledge. In this case, the variable involved is purely your aim and your imagination in getting through the course.

When this all is working well the game is phenomenal. It’s the type of game that you can just sit back and relax to. You’ve got a pretty light ambient soundtrack that adds to the relaxation. You’ve got a game that isn’t rushing you, but is instead just letting you enjoy the experience.

What ends up being the enemy of this is time. For the most part though, the time-based mechanics aren’t too egregious.

The main mechanic that hits this is actually the core power selection. If you aren’t specifically focusing, your power and aim selection occurs via a cyclic infinity symbol. You can use this to increase or decrease your distance beyond the core aiming, which adds a bit of flexibility to the aim selection. While this works fine, it largely feels unnecessary to me. I don’t see a case where allowing the player to select their power around a target wouldn’t be beneficial to the player. The challenge of the game to me feels like picking your shot selection precisely. You can still do that with the cyclic aim, but it adds a level of imprecision that adds friction to the experience. It doesn’t make the game harder, it just makes it slower. You’re missing shots that you shouldn’t miss purely because of timing.

Later on in the game, the levels start getting some time-ish mechanics. These largely revolve around some lights moving items – asteroids in the moon levels, blockers in a computer level. Things of that nature. Again, these largely work fine but don’t really improve the game. Your shot selection doesn’t change because of the moving stuff, it just causes your pace to slow down.

And then I got to the final level.

The thing about the last level is that it adds a bunch of dynamic geometry. In some cases it’s geometry being created in areas panning around the world, while in some cases it’s creating holes in geometry. I get why this is happening, because ultimately the last level needs some challenge. However, it just doesn’t work to me.

The first thing is that the core golf mechanic is just too dynamic for this. I can’t tell you the amount of times I would land a ball perfectly, then sit there having to wait for it to shed the last little bit of speed. By the time I was able to shoot again, the geometry would disappear underneath me and I’d lose my shot. I’d then do nearly the exact shot on my next attempt, but a little shorter or a little longer and the ball would immediately stop and give me plenty of time to shoot.

It also just adds a time crunch that doesn’t really vibe with the rest of the game. Instead of planning your shots and carefully aiming, you’re just kind of rushing to generally the right area for your ball to land, then rushing to the next shot. Rather than trialing and gaining experience, you’re kind of just flailing around and eventually succeeding. It’s less learning and more just doing and it feels awkward compared to the rest of the game.

I guess despite the last level, I still recommend the game. There’s enough there that I enjoyed that if I ignore the last level, I’m fine with what I got out of it. It’s the same thing that I ended up doing with Impossible Lair. Enjoy the parts that are great, and just don’t actually finish the game.