Strap yourselves in everyone, we’re taking a feel trip today.
Ori and the Blind Forest took out my game of the year for 2015, beating out many other worthy competitors such as The Witcher 3 and Bloodborne. The reason at the time, and it still holds true today, is that there’s been no other game that’s made me care so deeply about the characters so quickly and then used that against me. From the early moments on I was hooked and all the other aspects of the game’s craftsmanship just served to amplify those deep feelings I had. So to say that I had high expectations for the sequel is putting it lightly; I was expecting the kind of near perfection that they had delivered the first time around and was extremely nervous that they wouldn’t be able to match it. Spin forward to the game’s first moments and suddenly I’m back there, 5 years ago, just after the game finished with all those feelings rushing back again. Now here I am today having finished the game and taking a good week to process it emotionally before I could write the review.
Suffice to say, Moon Studios has done it again and I’m an emotional wreck because of it.
SPOILERS FOR ORI AND THE BLIND FOREST FOLLOW
Picking up right where The Blind Forest left off you follow the story of how Ori, Naru and Gumo raised the lone hatchling of Kuro (the original’s protagonist) who they’ve named Ku. She was unfortunately born with a broken wing, rendering her unable to fly. However Gumo finds a feather which he then attaches to Ku’s wing, giving her the ability to fly. Her and Ori then set off on their first journey together and follow a band of owls to the old forest of Niwen. However before they can return a storm hits and the pair gets separated. This is how your journey begins, a simple quest to reunite with your little owling, but the destination is far more meaningful than you can possibly imagine.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps maintains the original’s art styling with a little more emphasis towards the 3D elements than the 2D ones. The environments still have that wonderful dreamlike quality about them with their lavish use of bright colours, unreserved use of bloom and lighting effects galore. The simple fact that I have a screenshot directory with some 34 screenshots in it is a testament to just how gorgeous this game is, every one of the frames it renders not feeling out of place in a concept art reel. The only downside with the heavier focus on the 3D elements is that during some cutscenes the resolution of some models becomes apparent which draws away from the impact those close in scenes should have. There are some solutions for this available thankfully although none of them natively supported by the in-game graphics options. I’m hopeful that these will become available in future patches however as I’d love to play this again in full 4K resolution with all graphics settings pushed right to their limit.
I also have to give a special mention to the soundtrack that Gareth Coker, who was responsible for the original’s as well, created for The Will of the Wisps. Once again he’s managed to create a brilliant set of emotional pieces of music that beautifully match the events happening on screen. For many games the sound track is an afterthought so it’s always great to see when it’s given just as much care and attention as everything else that’s put in.
The Will of the Wisps retains the same core game loop as the original with some of it’s newer elements borrowed some elements from some modern metroidvania titles. The progression system has been significantly increased in breadth and complexity, no longer being a simple choice between a couple different skill talent trees. Instead you’ve got multiple different paths to progress through, each of them with different mechanics for their progression. The level design has also been significantly improved as whilst it follows the standard metroidvania trope (I.E. unlocking new areas in already completed mission with new abilities) not once did I feel like I was missing a significant part of a level because I didn’t have a certain ability. There’s also a myriad of quality of life improvements as well, making the journey to 100% a run through something I actually considered doing for the first time in…quite a long time. With this release Moon Studio has proven that they’re dedicated to developing extremely high quality titles and aren’t satisfied with simply retreading old successes.
The game’s platforming starts off from the basics once again, a good thing considering it’s likely been quite a while for many players since they played the original. Some of my old muscle memory was still there, like expecting double jump and wall sticking from the get go, but it didn’t take long before I had those few abilities and the game started lumping on more things on me to make the platforming sections more varied and challenging. Each of the games…I want to call them biomes… comes with a new ability that will be the main trick that you’ll use to progress through it. That ability then also unlocks other areas in other biomes as well, typically granting access to upgrades and other collectibles that you couldn’t get ahold of. Towards the end of the game this will also get you into situations that were obviously not designed for, like skipping entire sections, but that’s mostly to your benefit. There’s also a bit of emergent behaviour you can exploit here too, like in the main Moki town which you can easily clear out of most of its collectibles before you complete the requisite side quests. Overall the platforming is as solid as it ever was.
Combat feels much the same as it used to although, I admit, this may partly be because I didn’t invest as much time in progressing the combat abilities as I did the other parts of the game. There are new abilities, some of which are also required for unlocking certain areas of the game, but for the most part it’s still a dodge/attack game loop. To be sure there’s going to be some broken skill builds out there that will have you wrecking all sorts of havoc but I played it safe for the most part, favouring instead being able to recover from my mistakes rather than going full glass canon. Still though for a few of the boss encounters I’d switch out to a different build that then made those encounters a lot easier going as without some kind of damage buff some of them could take forever to complete.
Progression comes at a pretty steady clip thanks to the multiple different progression mechanics. For starters you’ve got your simple life/mana orbs which you can easily find throughout the levels and most will be available to you immediately or soon after unlocking the biome’s ability. The main avenue for progression is spirit shards which modify your current abilities or attributes. Initially you can only equip 3 at a time but that can be upgraded to a total of 8 if you complete all the combat shrines. Most of the shards can be found around the place but a choice few will need to be bought. About half can be upgraded as well, although none need to be upgraded to be useful. You can purchase and upgrade new combat abilities from a vendor as well, a couple of which you’ll need to purchase in order to unlock some of the areas of the map. I tried the spirit surge initially but it’s pretty underwhelming. The spear was by far my favourite as it did an absolutely insane amount of damage and is pinpoint accurate. The downside is the mana cost but that can be made up for with the appropriate shard selection. There’s also a myriad of side quests which change the world around you although I don’t believe they have an appreciable impact on how the game plays out (apart from opening up more secrets to you).
There’s also a bunch of time trials scattered throughout the game, pitting you against a ghost Ori in a race to the finish line. I think originally they may have included a wide variety of rewards but they only now give spirit light, the game’s main currency. Whilst this is certainly helpful it’s not like you’re always scrounging for it. Indeed if you complete the side quests and find most of the secrets then you’re likely going to be rolling in it. I usually kept above 6000 as I wanted to max out the damage buff from a shard I had but even when I did go and splurge on something I don’t remember it taking that long to get it back up again. Regardless the challenges themselves aren’t too difficult, especially considering you can just follow the ghost and then overtake them quickly right at the end (doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, right?).
You’d be forgiven for thinking that all these mechanics would make for a game that’s too busy but they all work together to give the game a steady, moderate pace. There’s always something you need to do but the game doesn’t punish you for taking your time to explore around and uncover all the secrets they’ve hidden around the place. This makes it really enjoyable to simply take your time with the level, figuring out all the tells they’ve built in that lead to secrets or hint at how the current blocking puzzle could be solved. The fact that I only got stuck a couple times is a testament to how well the game is designed.
The same niggle I had with the original makes an unfortunate return in The Will of the Wisps; that being the use of long platforming sequences that must be completed in one shot. There’s more than one in this but they’re thankfully 1) shorter than the original’s final boss fight and 2) somewhat better designed so that you don’t feel like you’re running up against unfair mechanics designed to make you fail. That improvement is then offset by some slight…mushiness in the keystroke detection which makes doing some of the more involved platforming a bit clunkier than it should be. To be fair it could be that I was attempting things you weren’t intended to do as I distinctly remember this grumble coming to the front when I was clearing out the Moki town before I’d done all the plants and building improvements.
PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
The game’s narrative follows a very similar trope to the original but god damn do they know how to find your heart strings and tug on them relentlessly. It wasn’t enough that the game’s opening moments made me remember the original’s tragedy with such vivid recollection that I needed a minute to compose myself before playing they then had to set up yet another tragedy after I had already bought into the game’s premise emotionally. To be sure the plot is simplistic and predictable but I couldn’t help but feel for each and every one of the characters. This is only made better by the fact that it didn’t rely heavily on the story that came before it either, the original’s characters only having a passing role in this game.
Probably the biggest thing that stuck with me, which is possible fertile ground for a sequel, is that they didn’t resolve Shriek’s storyline positively, instead condemning her to misery that she’s known her entire life. That honestly hurt me more than anything else given what you know of her backstory. But, having had some time to process it, I can see it for what it is: great storytelling that didn’t go the way I wanted to. That doesn’t make it bad, just sad for me.
Now I’d usually chide a game for hinting at a sequel but I’m happy with the way it was done here, for a couple reasons. Firstly it’s already established canon in the world and the current story threads (bar Shriek’s) are resolved. That means that any further games in the series will have to stand on their own and, quite likely, lose “Ori and” from the title. Whilst it’s beautifully sad how Ori’s thread resolved I’m glad it did as it’d be all too easy to keep riding that cute little spirit’s goodwill until all the money was squeezed out of him.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an exceptional sophomore release from Moon Studios, demonstrating that they’re exceptional craftspeople when it comes to the genre of metroidvania that’ll make you cry. If you’ve made it this far in the review then you know what I think about the game’s various elements and I’m not going to rehash them again. All I’m going to do is say that, no matter what kind of gamer you are, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is worth your attention. If you haven’t played the original then do yourself a favour and give it the once over so you can play its sequel immediately, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps is available on PC and Xbox One right now for $39.95. Game was played on the PC with 11 hours of total play time and 43% of the achievements unlocked.
Way back at the very first PAX Australia (which was, gosh, 7 years ago now) I remember roaming through the indie booth and stumbled across FRAMED. I’m ashamed to admit that I never actually got around to playing it even though I was thoroughly intrigued by it’s panel puzzle design that was unlike anything I’d seen before. Since then there’s been a few imitators but none of them really caught my attention. That was until I stumbled across The Pedestrian in the Steam recommender and it’s combination of the panel puzzle design and absolutely fantastic background art design. That was enough to get my attention and keep my curiosity for a little while after however unfortunately I didn’t find much to keep bringing me back after just an hour or so of play time.
The premise of the game is pretty easy to understand: you’re a little man trapped inside the various signs , drawings and other wall coverings that are part of our everyday life and you want to travel through them. It starts off easy enough, you just need to run from one side of the screen to the next, but you’ll quickly find yourself needing to rearrange panels in certain ways to make sure you can progress. Initially this is just a simple task of not dead-ending yourself but it’ll quickly turn into a problem of figuring out which order events can happen and when they need to happen. It’s kind of hard to explain via text but you’ll immediately understand the premise when it’s first presented to you.
The Pedestrian’s graphics are, put simply, wonderful. A lot of attention has been paid to the smallest of details like the metal grains you can see on the outside of galvanised metal pipes, the various textures of the different kinds of signs you find yourself in and even the vast detail in areas that the camera whips past in just a few seconds. That kind of dedication to detail is, to be honest, quite astonishing and reflects the high level of craftsmanship that’s gone into developing this game. It does make you wonder what kind of person loves the minor details of the mundane world so much that they want to make a game that’s ostensibly honouring it in this way. Possibly someone who’s able to see the joy in the little things… 😉
The puzzle mechanics build up over the course of the game, starting as a simple platformer (with an extra step or two) but quickly adding in more and more mechanics as the levels go by. There are some really clever ones in there, like the puzzles where you have a hole through the card that you go through, but for the most part they’re the standard 2D puzzle tropes that you’ve seen before. The rearranging frames part is the game’s main claim to fame and it uses it to good effect, often making you wonder just how the heck things are meant to go together and forcing you to just try things out.
However past a certain point I just lost interest in seeing more puzzles as, whilst the game does add more mechanics and challenge, I just didn’t feel motivated to go back. Part of this could be because of the lack of story, although there seems to be some narrative around somewhere if the achievements are to be believed, as once I’d lost interest in the puzzles themselves there wasn’t anything to fall back on. That’s saying something given the fact that I think the game is probably only 2 hours long total, and really I could probably slog through it, but I just don’t feel like going back to it. Perhaps if I’d played it through to the end in one sitting I’d be singing a different tune.
The Pedestrian is a well crafted game with it’s beautifully realised renditions of the everyday world around us. The mechanics are a solid blend of the traditional and the new, slowly building the challenge as you tick over each of the levels. However for me it just failed to capture my attention much beyond the first hour, the repetitive nature of the puzzles and lack of any other driving factor (such as a story) making it far easier for me to put it down than to pick it back up again. All this being said I still think The Pedestrian is worth playing for those who enjoy these kinds of games, and those with perhaps a little more patience than I.
The Pedestrian is available on PC right now for $28.95. Total play time was 78 minutes with 40% of the achievements unlocked.
Thinking about my journey as a gamer it’s interesting to note how I’ve ebbed and flowed between being focused on single player experience and those enjoyed with others. To be sure part of this was due to the way I came to games in the first place, sharing the family PC with my brother and later moving onto the first generation NES console which we’d waste endless hours on. Later on, when I was blessed with my own personal PC, that I started to find an interest in gaming by myself. That was upended when I got into the LAN scene and continued in strength as the world of online gaming was unlocked when I was graced with the wonderful gift of broadband. The last decade has been a good mix of the two although I’ll admit that most of my gaming time is more on the single player side than otherwise.
Suffice to say I don’t often go looking for co-operative experiences these days, especially if they don’t come with a single player option. However Degrees of Separation caught my eye early last year and it had long been in my review queue to play with my wife when we got the time. Well, once again thanks to the bushfires that continue to rage on, we managed to sit down and make our way through it. Whilst it’s core mechanic is somewhat novel it is a rather run of the mill puzzle platformer. That being said it can be a good bit of fun when you’re playing with another, especially if they aren’t exactly experienced with this kind of game.
Ember and Rime are from two different sides of the same world: hers a warm one of endless sunshine blessed with boundless heat and his, a world of frozen beauty. They are separated by an enigmatic force, unable to reach each other nor visit each other’s world. It’s clear however that their world has suffered some great tragedy at the hands of despotic ruler and they set out together to uncover the mystery of their shared world. Working together is the only way that they’ll be able to uncover the mystery of what happened and why they both are separated from one another.
Degrees of Separation is crafted in the style of Flash games of yesteryear with its flat 2D environments, simplistic animations and limited use of modern effects. There’s an unfortunate amount of asset reuse which makes a lot of the areas feel very samey, even though they’re supposed to be completely different environments. That being said it’s not like it’s an ugly game, more that it’s just very simplistic in its implementation. I can hazard a guess that’s likely due to the developers needing to create 2 of everything: one for Ember’s world and one for Rime’s. Combine that with the various interactions that needed to be coded in and I can see why they wanted to keep things simple from a visuals perspective.
The game’s claim to fame is the two worlds of the main characters: one world is hot and the other is cold. Initially that’s all there is to it and solving most puzzles is just figuring out the order in which things need to be done with the various worlds so you can progress forward. The later worlds start to play on the divide a lot more, bringing in mechanics that make use of it in some way. However all of these new mechanics are contained within the level that they’re granted in, so this isn’t some kind of metroidvania style game where you’ll be unlocking different parts of past levels with new skills. The only metroidvania style thing in here is the main overworld which is non-linear, but realistically you’re going to have to complete a number of levels in order due to the number of unlocks required to open them.
The puzzles are almost all self-contained and we only came across one that required us to bring something in from another puzzle in order to solve it. I personally prefer it this way for a co-op setting as otherwise you end up second guessing each other’s ideas endlessly, spending countless hours trying to drag things from other puzzles around in order to try and solve them. It also means that you’ll need to be aware of the developer’s logic as you progress through the levels as if you lose sight of that then there’s going to be puzzles that you won’t be able to solve. Thankfully those seem to be few and far between as I can only remember skipping maybe 3 or so in our full playthrough.
The puzzles are also predominantly physics based with a good chunk of them requiring precise platforming and/or timing in order to complete them. Given the game’s less than stellar control implementation this can make some puzzles a little more frustrating than they need to be as objects might not react the way you expect them to or you’ll find yourself having to repeat sections over and over again because you mistimed a jump. Even I, the seasoned puzzle platform gamer that I am, struggled at times much to the delight of my wife. This could also partly be due to us playing it on console as, I’ll admit, I don’t usually do most of my platforming with a controller.
All this being said the puzzles are, for the most part, pretty straightforward and most of them should be doable for even novice gamers. Thankfully not every puzzle must be solved as you’ll only need a certain amount of scarves (the game’s collectible) to progress to another level. The only improvements I’d seek to make would be the inclusion of a map and a reworked checkpoint system as it’s something of a pain to get back to where you were after you’ve put the game down for the night.
The story is told via a voiceover that’s triggered on every new puzzle screen, which is nice, but the story itself is pretty forgettable. I think this is partly because it’s told in the third person and the characters themselves rarely interact on the screen so it’s hard to really empathise with them at all. To be sure I prefer having the story told to me as I’m playing it rather than being presented with walls of text every so often, but having the entire thing told in the third person just seemed to take a lot of the emotional investment out of it.
Degrees of Separation is a solid co-op platformer with a novel take on the genre’s mechanics. Whilst its visual style and story err on the side of simplistic the puzzle/platform mechanics are on point, requiring some real lateral thinking and cooperation to solve. Its casual nature will make it attractive to those who are looking for something to play together but can only do so in short bursts. Other than that there’s not a terrible amount to say amount Degrees of Separation and hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you know if it’s for you.
Degrees of Separation is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch right now for $28.95. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with a total of approximately 4 hours playtime and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
My history with the Trine series is long, stretching all the way back to 2011. However it could have never happened at all as I missed the game when it first came out, it not really registering as a blip on my radar back then. It was on the recommendation of a friend, one who had noticed the uptick in my gaming consumption, who recommended that I give it a shout. What’s bloomed from that is a love of the quirky series that I’ve seen go through ups and downs over the decade of its existence; from it’s awkward beginnings as a quirky physics based platformer all the way through to its latest incarnation which, I’m happy to say, is the best one in the series to date.
This time our intrepid trio of heroes isn’t summoned to adventure by the Trine, instead the request comes from the Astral Academy. Prince Sellius, one of their “students”, suffers from intense nightmares. This would be one thing but he’s also gifted with potent magic abilities and those nightmares are starting to invade the waking world. So the call goes out once again to the Wizard, the Thief and the Warrior to help save the kingdom from this threat and, hopefully, save the prince in the process.
Trine has always had amazing visuals and the latest instalment is no different. The trademark dreamlike quality is retained, coming to us through the liberal use of bloom and bright lighting effects. The 3D backgrounds and set pieces have become even more elaborate, becoming bigger and more detailed than they ever have before. The game still runs on the in-house proprietary engine and it appears that Frozenbyte has done a great job in improving its capabilities and optimising the implementation as the whole game runs very smoothly, even on old hardware. Suffice to say that Trine continues to be one of the most visually impressive platformers in the market and I’m glad the developers keep pushing themselves to improve upon what they’ve delivered before.
As anyone who played Trine 3 could predict the game has returned to its 2D platformer roots, removing the 3rd dimension and going back to what they know. For fans of the series this is a great thing as whilst the 3D version of Trine was indeed a step up the fact that they could only deliver a third of the game they wanted to with 3 times the budget of Trine 2 says a lot about the effort required to make it work. So in that respect Trine 4 is much more of an evolution of what Trine 2 was rather than a rework of 3 and the mechanics are all back to their roots. There have been some changes to make all characters more equally a part of the overall experience however, notably with the Wizard now having substantial combat capability and the Warrior being a key piece of numerous puzzle mechanics. Progression is now split into 2 tiers: one from combat and one from finding experience jars. The former is effectively the unlock for new puzzle mechanics whilst the latter unlocks augments to those abilities, effectively being quality of life improvements. Frozenbyte describes this as the “most complete Trine” experience they’ve ever created and, I’m glad to say, I wholeheartedly agree with them on that.
Combat is, as it always was, something of an also ran in the Trine experience. To be sure, there’s a more comprehensive combat experience to be had there than there ever has been, but pretty much all the engagements play out in the same way. The addition of more combat abilities to the Wizard, in the form of abilities that allow you to slam objects and levitate enemies, does make for a more varied experience but in all honesty most of them will get done with a lot of hack and slashing. The resurrection mechanic is also very, very forgiving ensuring that you’re unlikely to actually die and need to go back to a checkpoint at any time. To be fair this kind of combat fits into the whole overall zeitgeist of what Trine aims to be: a casual puzzle platformer that could be enjoyed by anyone. In that respect I don’t ever envision the combat aspects getting much more complicated than they already are.
The puzzles have gone back to their roots with physics based problems being the name of the game. The wizard still has the ability to conjure boxes and platforms, the thief grappling hook things and now the warrior’s shield forms a core part of the experience with its reflecting ability. There are numerous augmentations to all of these abilities which bring with them a wide variety of challenges for you to solve. For the most part though the majority of puzzles are going to be heavily focused on the last mechanic you unlocked with only a couple other abilities required to solve them, at least for the main puzzles. The secret ones do ramp up the challenge somewhat although they, like pretty much every puzzle that’s ever been created in Trine, is subject to the whims and whiles of the emergent gameplay that the series is well known for.
Initially you’re pretty limited in the shenanigans that you can get up to as your abilities are significantly limited. However once you’re able to summon 2 items things start to get pretty interesting and only start to rocket up from there. Indeed the combination of multiple boxes plus the fairy rope means you’re able to make platforms of arbitrary height that you can grapple onto, meaning that no matter what the height of something is you’ll be able to get to it. Combine that with the fact that the developers have still not solved the likely unsolvable issue of the Wizard levitating things he’s standing on in some capacity (this time you can grapple 2 boxes together and then levitate one of them, which can fling you basically anywhere) and you’ve got a recipe for some rather whacky solutions to the puzzles at hand. Additionally, and I don’t remember noticing this in Trine 2, but the co-op aspects have obviously played a bit into the level design as there are some puzzles that have multiple solutions, most only requiring one character. So for those it’s usually very easy to get past them with all 3 abilities at your disposal.
Despite all of that though the game is very well polished, not really suffering from any major game breaking issues or glitches. I mean sure, there were times where something happened that I wasn’t exactly expecting but I was deliberately trying to find ways to break the game’s physics engine in order to solve a puzzle in an easier way than intended. Perhaps my most enjoyable moments was when I was trying to grappling hook 2 boxes together, one of which was directly on top of the other. Doing that is fine however the second you start to levitate them things go wildly out of control as they start to clip and bounce off each other. I’m sure there’s easy fixes for edge cases like that but honestly, I think the game is better off with them in.
The story is perhaps the most well fleshed out of the Trine series but it’s not like that was a high bar to get over. The focus of Trine has always been on the visual and puzzle experience, notsomuch the characters or the world that they reside in. To be sure this does expand the world of Trine a little but it’s a pretty standard affair with a rather predictable outcome. Thankfully the story doesn’t get in the way of the game at all, mostly playing as background to what’s happening on screen.
Trine 4 is a return to form for the series, taking the essence of what made it great originally and building that up significantly. The more varied and deeper puzzle mechanics make for some truly interesting game play, especially with the trademark exploitable physics engine that allows you to do all sorts of things that the developers never intended you to do. The visuals are once again of AAA quality, retaining the same stylings that have become a trademark of the game. The usual not-so-great features are still present in this instalment with the middling combat experience and a run-of-the-mill story that you’re likely to forget shortly after playing. Still what makes a Trine game great is here in spades and for fans of the series this is a definite must-play.
Trine 4 is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $42.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 9 hours playtime and 53% of the achievements unlocked.
Portal is mostly remembered for its mechanics, and rightly so given how revolutionary they were at the time, but its storytelling was just as influential. Nearly all of the games that seek to capture some of Portal’s mechanical magic will also attempt to put their own spin on the omniscient AI who’s running you through experiment after experiment, with or without the added sarticial element. Gravitas, whilst not really innovating or providing anything particularly new from a mechanical perspective, did manage to make its story lighthearted and universally appealing. In this age of endless soulless clones of every popular title it’s somewhat refreshing to see one that’s given some good thought to the kind of experience they wanted to player to have beyond just the simple mechanical level.
Gravitas puts you in control of a mute protagonist who finds themselves on their way to a space station that’s home to the Gallery of Refined Gravity. There you meet the Curator, a small floating robot who’s spent an unknown amount of time building all sorts of puzzles that involve manipulating gravity and he very much wants you to experience them. So begins your journey into the weird and wonderful world of an AI who’s been left to their own devices for far too long.
Developed on the Unreal 4 engine Gravitas’ visual style is pretty basic favouring simple textures, basic lighting elements and uncomplicated level design. It’s certainly not a bad looking game but it does feel like the majority of the assets have come from the Unreal store, which isn’t a bad thing per se, it just makes the game feel somewhat generic. Still I don’t think the main focus was on the mechanics however, with the story elements being much more fleshed out. Overall Gravitas’ graphics aren’t terrible and don’t distract from the experience.
Mechanically Gravitas is your typical platform puzzler that relies on a certain trick mechanic, in this case being the use of a “gravity glove” that allows you put down columns of manipulate gravity that pull things, including yourself, towards them. Puzzles consist of most of the standard tropes for this genre: getting blocks from A to B, moving things around so you can get to the next room or blocking off deadly obstacles so you can pass through. If you’ve played any of the multitude of games in this genre then none of the mechanics will be much of a surprise, or challenge, to you and you’ll likely be able to complete most on the first pass.
However it’s the story and its performance by the voice actors is what makes Gravitas worth playing. Whilst the narrative isn’t anything new it’s still thoroughly enjoyable, striking the right balance between its satirical and sinister parts. It’s also well paced with the only real breaks in the story coming when you’re working your way through the puzzles. Given that most of them can be solved pretty quickly this means the story keeps going on at a steady pace throughout the game’s short play time.
Gravitas is one of those rare short indie games that gets the storytelling right, ensuring that the core gameplay loop doesn’t get in the way unnecessarily. The mechanics are simple and unchallenging, ensuring that you’ll maintain a good pace through the game. It’s short play time works to its advantage too as much longer would see a lot of the comedic elements wear thin and the basic game play would then become more of a chore than anything else. Hopefully the success that Galaxy Shark Studios has found here with its first title will give them the confidence to try something more ambitious next time around.
Gravitas is available on PC right now for free. Total play time was 51 minutes with 50% of the achievements unlocked.
Exploration in games used to just be about finding the secret room or a hidden easter egg that the developers left behind. For many games now exploration is a key part of the experience, sometimes completely changing the narrative or mechanics leading to a whole different kind of experience for those who invest the time to explore deep and wide. Further the exploration of things outside of the game has also become an integral part of many titles, including Sea of Solitude which seeks to explore the emotions of depression, loneliness and loss. It unfortunately does so in a rather ham fisted, stereotypical way; it’s apparent metaphorical storytelling being far more direct than I think it’s creators intended. To be sure I’m not denying that the feelings that went into creating this story aren’t real, indeed the creative director states that it was due to a breakup of hers, but it’s clear that that experience has been workshopped and massaged into a very middle of the road experience.
You play as Kay who finds herself in a world that’s been consumed by the sea with only a few scarce buildings popping out over the waves. Her boat is her only respite from the deep waters that are inhabited by monsters who taunt her endlessly. Those monsters are of her own creation however, stemming from events in her past that she has yet to deal with fully. Your journey is then one of exploring her past, uncovering the trauma that has created the monsters that now inhabit this sunken world. It’s up to you to guide her through the pain and, hopefully, come out the other side healed.
Sea of Solitude’s art style is the ever-trendy low poly chic that nearly every indie game seems to be implementing these days. The wider world isn’t exactly filled out well with a lot of noticeable asset reuse, making a lot of the more open parts of the world feel very samey. However the internal level parts are brimming with detail, each which their own distinctive style (something which I’m sure the level designers are quite proud of). Animations are a little on the simplistic side however, feeling like they’ve mostly been hand cranked which makes some characters look a lot more stilted than they should be. Overall the games visuals are quite good for Jo-Mei’s first all inhouse, standalone title.
I’ve shied away from calling games like Sea of Solitude “adventure” titles as, in my mind, that’s games like the old school LucasArts titles and their more modern equivalents. Instead I feel that games like this are more akin to puzzle platformers as their puzzles are typically self contained and usually heavily blended in platform elements. Indeed that’s pretty much Sea of Solitude in a nutshell: you’ll move between various different platforms (quite literally most of the time too), working your way through until you hit a puzzle that requires you to solve before going on. There’s two sets of collectibles for you to track down although whether or not they actually change the game in any appreciable way is unclear. Altogether Sea of Solitude is a pretty simple game mechanically and isn’t likely to challenge most players.
With all the puzzles being self contained it’s usually not terribly difficult to figure out what needs to be done. Some of them are unforgiving though, sending you all the way back to the start of the puzzle should you happen to time something wrong. Many of them are platform based which, as anyone who’s played 3D platformers before will tell you, means there’s a certain unwieldiness to them. There’ll be times when you’re pretty sure you’ve made a jump or calculated your timing perfectly only to be slapped down unceremoniously. Thankfully the game doesn’t require frame level precision nor are any of the puzzles minutes long sequences that need repeating upon failing so you won’t be struggling for hours on end to get past something.
The game also has a few rough edges that could do with some sorting out. For starters it’s not completely clear on communicating its mechanics to you, most notably during the first light beam puzzle which tells you to “focus” with the mouse…somehow. I tried doing everything I could think of with my mouse and nothing seemed to work, until I started wiggling it wildly only to find that the game had dropped the sensitivity way down, requiring quite a few long passes across the mouse pad to get the beam moving. This then extends to the rather unwieldy controls which make most things a little more challenging to navigate than they otherwise should be. Most notably this happens with the boat which makes navigating around with it quite a pain. These things aren’t beyond fixing so I hope future patches will smooth these things out.
Sea of Solitude warns you straight up that it’s going to deal with some heavy emotional content but what follows fails to really deliver any emotional impact whatsoever. There’s no real one issue at play here, more the culmination of the various storytelling choices removed any kind of empathy I had for any of the characters. The voice acting isn’t particularly great, feeling devoid of emotion save for a few choice scenes that happen later in the game. The ham-fisted approach to working through the various emotional challenges, typically done by using stereotypical exposition of scenes associated with them (Bullied at school, career focused father, depressive boyfriend), makes it hard to truly resonate with the story. Given that I’ve been through most of the trauma that the game describes myself you’d think it’d be a slam dunk but, in all honesty, it felt like someone from the outside trying to tell my own story back to me. It simply didn’t hit the mark at all.
That is really the true failing of Sea of Solitude. For all the effort put into making a great looking game the substance needed to back it up, either in the form of great mechanics or an intriguing story (perhaps both, if we’re lucky) just wasn’t there. The CEO describes this as her most personal game to date but I just don’t really get that feeling. The story, even if born out of true events, feels like it’s done at arm’s length, almost as if there’s a fear that doing so would alienate those seeking to play it. Really that was done the second they decided to partner up with EA and therefore only be allowed to release on Origin, not exactly the platform known for its vibrant indie scene. For what it’s worth I’d still like to see more from Jo-Mei but only if they can take the lessons learnt from this and make something that actually achieves some form of emotional impact.
Sea of Solitude is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $29.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 3 hours playtime and 73% of the achievements unlocked.
The one thing I’ve always hated about most Metroidvania games is when they show you something that you’re not able to access with your current abilities. Often this manifests extremely early on as you explore the level only to find there’s a part you can’t get to with no indication of when you’ll get the requisite ability to explore there. Quite often those areas aren’t even necessary for you to explore, just a bonus or something, so their inclusion is merely to draw you back to earlier levels. To be fair there are some examples where this is done well, the revisiting of the level being driven by story or other mechanical elements, and for those I have far more leniency. I tell you this mostly preface my thoughts on Supraland as it’s this particular mechanic, as well as a handful of other issues, that made this a game I didn’t want to play past a couple hours.
The Steam store page for Supraland proclaims, among many other things, that the story is “minimal” and that’s absolutely true. Whilst the premise is quite cool, all the characters are toys in a kid’s sandpit, the plot itself is ridiculously basic: you’re the red guys and the blue guys have shut off your water supply and it’s up to you to turn it back on. However to actually get to the blue guys you have to make your way through numerous different challenges, many of which will require you to upgrade your equipment and skills in order to do. I’ve read elsewhere that there’s a little more too the story later on in the game but it does nothing to expand upon it at all, save for having little dialogue instances between NPCs which have nothing to do with the plot at all.
The graphics of Supraland are heavily stylized and simplified, giving it a very cartoony feel. The developers have managed to avoid the typical Unreal engine game feel, keeping the use of specularity to a minimum. There’s a heavy use of depth of field which is supposed to give you the feeling that you’re a very small being in a large world. To some extent this works however it can have the effect of simply making everything disorienting like in the screenshot below. The issue here is, of course, perspective as whilst the game touts that it only has a tiny map of 9m2 that’s somewhat meaningless if you’re scaled down in size. So try as you might to make it feel like a small world with tiny people it’s going to end up feeling just like normal anyway, no matter how much you try to use depth of field or tilt shifting to change that.
Supraland bills itself as a combination of games like Portal, Zelda and Metroid which is horrendously disingenuous as it’s much more akin to the run of the mill indie puzzle platformers we’ve seen many of over the past decade. To be sure there are elements that you could say are borrowed from each game: the platforming from Portal (although that’s a stretch), the semi-open worldedness of Zelda games and the reexploration mechanic from Metroid. Realistically it’s just a bog standard first person puzzler with a tacked on RPG progression system. There’s really nothing wrong with that but the appeal to authority of titles with much greater pedigrees is what’s getting me. Honestly I was going to write this off as just your average indie puzzler until I reread the Steam page but now I feel compelled to point out all the faults given that it thinks it’s a combination between 3 of arguably the most influential titles in the puzzler space.
The combat is simple and implemented poorly. There’s really no nuance to it at all with enemies just running directly at you or standing dead still whilst they shoot from you at a distance. There’s also no way to block so you’ll likely end up dying to the first enemies since their melee range is the same as yours and there’s nothing you can do to stop them from hitting you. Once you get the gun you can basically just kite everything around but in its default form it’s annoyingly slow. Not that you’ll be wanting for upgrades for long though, even with rudimentary exploration you’ll be unlocking the upgrades in no time flat, even with the requisite barrel running task that serves no other purpose but to burn more of your time. But let’s not judge the game based on the one attribute which it doesn’t trumpet the most, let’s take a look at its puzzles and exploration.
The puzzles are incredibly simple, most of which you’ll solve pretty much straight away without too much of a thought. Others are easily solvable with emergent behaviours that the developer hasn’t taken into account, like being able to bypass entire sections of the game by walking on terrain that hasn’t been properly walled off. This only gets more ludicrous the more mechanics you have access to, giving you all sorts of means to break the game and bypass core game mechanics. This would be fun if it weren’t for the fact that it also means that there’s a certain level of gank to puzzles you can’t bypass, necessitating replaying certain puzzles over a few times in order to get them to complete properly.
Exploration is rewarded, although most of the time it’s just a few coins hidden around a corner or somewhere else rather obvious. The other parts are, of course, hidden behind mechanics you don’t yet have access to, something which will necessitate you trudging all the way back through the levels in order to get back to it. There is a rudimentary fast travel system however you can’t access it from a map (I don’t believe there is a map, actually) and it takes a good 20 seconds for it to travel you somewhere. This makes retreading ground a pretty annoying experience and, given that most of those hidden rewards are just basic upgrades, there’s no real compelling reason to do so.
It’s for these reasons that I didn’t find myself drawn back to playing Supraland after the first night I sat down with it. The fact that most of the work was done by a single developer is commendable but the marketing of it could not be further off the mark. The game is simplistic in all the wrong places, making combat a chore, puzzles easily waltzed through and the prospect of going back to retread old ground something I don’t think any sane player would want to do. Of course the reviews on Steam paint a much different picture and so it’s quite possible I’m on the wrong side of the fence for this, but in all honesty I simply cannot see what others find enjoyable in this game.
Supraland is available on PC right now for $28.95. Total play time was 2 hours with 27% of the achievements unlocked.
We sometimes forget just how young video games are as a creative medium and how far they still have to go as methods of expression. But that relative youthfulness brings with it an incredible amount of experimentation with the many centuries of artistic expression that preceded the medium suffusing themselves into the storytelling lexicon of game developers. When all those elements come together it can create some of the most beautiful experiences that we’ve ever created. Gris, by Nomada Studios, is a fantastic example of what games as a medium can be, combining stunning hand animated visuals, a deeply moving soundtrack and game mechanics that evolve alongside the game’s visual style. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful games of this year, both in terms of visuals and its story.
Your world is filled with beauty; fantastic colours swirl around you as you raise your voice in concert. But suddenly your voice leaves you and the world begins to crumble, dumping you down into a place drained of colour and life. As you begin to stumble forward you notice that the world reacts to the small points of light that have followed you, allowing you to move onwards. There’s no telling if the path forward will bring back the world you once knew, nor if your voice will ever return, but you continue on hoping that one day you’ll see the world brighten once again.
Gris’ is a hand animated game that uses a watercolour palette and art style, giving you the feeling of a children’s book come to life. The developers favoured a simplistic art style although they thankfully didn’t skimp out on the animation frames (unlike a recent, similar title). Each of the different sections has its own distinct visual style which forms a key part of the game’s mechanics. Supporting all of this is an absolutely amazing soundtrack done by Berlinist, a music group from Barcelona. The whole album is up on Spotify and is honestly worth a listen just by itself. Suffice to say from a craftsmanship level Gris achieves a level of refinement I wouldn’t expect from a first time developer, even if it was founded by 2 long time developers.
Mechanically Gris is simple, essentially being a platformer with a few interesting mechanics. Most of the puzzles you’ll encounter are fairly straightforward, only requiring you to figure out the right sequence of moves in order to get past them. If you’re chasing momentos though there’s going to be a slight increase in the challenge, often including a timing element that’s not present in most of the required puzzles. You’ll gain new abilities as you progress but unlike many other platform puzzlers they’ll always be used individually or in sequence. This means that puzzles towards the end of the game aren’t really that much harder than those at the start. Mechanical complexity isn’t really a focus of the game however and nor should it be. Far too many games have ruined themselves by letting the mechanics get in the way of the core story.
Exploration is usually rewarded through giving you a momento although they don’t do anything beyond playing a cool sound (at least, nothing I saw when I was collecting them anyway). If I was to level one criticism here though it’d be that in the larger environments exploration feels cumbersome and the lack of a good reward doesn’t motivate you to seek them out. This is especially true for some sections where the game takes you through a large spanning environment for minutes on end, making you wonder where they could’ve hid things. Thankfully not exploring at all doesn’t detract from the overall experience but it could be rewarded just a little better.
PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW
Here’s where I step into pure speculation about what I believe the story is about because, well, I had a fun time speculating as to what each of the game’s visual elements meant. The colour leaving the world feels like an allegory for depression, something which I think many of us who’ve struggled with it can attest to. The bird that torments you is doubt, the thing that keeps coming back and screaming at you, threatening to knock you down if you don’t prepare yourself for it. The small lights are akin to hope, building the bridges you need in order to push on as you try to restore colour to your world.
So the story is one of succumbing to doubt and falling into a depression so deep that it drains the colour from your world and preventing you from doing the one thing that will bring it back. It might not be the most unique of stories but it’s relatable and told beautifully which is really all I can ask for from most games. I haven’t yet gone around yet to see if my interpretation lines up with anyone else’s so I’d be keen to hear anyone else’s thoughts on what the visual story of Gris means to you.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
Gris is a masterpiece, telling a beautiful story through the use of wonderful visual artwork, a great soundtrack and simple but solid game mechanics. It came at the perfect time for me to, after having put a bunch of hours into no less than 3 different shooters I was ready for something that favoured beauty over action. Nomada Studio has set themselves a strong precedent with this and I’m very much looking forward to what they start working on next.
Gris is available on PC and Nintendo Switch right now for $16.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 3 horus play time and 29% of the achievements unlocked.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s release surprised me as I hadn’t really kept track of where the next instalment was at. You’d think then that I’d have no big expectations for it but reading back over my reviews though I think they were set high given the previous game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, rated up there among many of my favourite games of that year. This is always a challenge for follow up titles and it seems that unfortunately the developers just weren’t up to the task this time around. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to like in the newest Tomb Raider game, but like many other long running AAA titles they’ve stumbled and they’re going to have to shake things up considerably if they want the IP to be successful.
Following almost directly on from the events at the end of the previous game we find Lara and Jona tracking down the leaders of the Trinity cult. They track them down to a town in Mexico where they discover that they’re looking for an ancient artifact that can bring about the remaking of the world. Lara then finds her way into an ancient temple and steals the Dagger of Ix Chel, one part of the two things needed to accomplish this. Shortly after however she’s captured by Trinity who take the dagger from her, informing Lara that she’s just begun the end of the world. You then follow Lara’s quest to find the other half piece, the Silver Box of Chak Chel, so she can stop Trinity before they remake the world by purging everyone from it.
I can strongly remember Rise of the Tomb Raider opening with a wide sweeping in-game cinematic that was absolutely stunning, showing right from the start that it was a visual marvel. Shadow of the Tomb Raider by comparison doesn’t, feeling decidedly last-gen with its muted colour palettes and tendency towards tight, closed in set pieces. Now I’ll admit that it’s quite possible some of this is due to the limits of the hardware it’s running on, given my PC is nearing 4 years old at this point, but even looking back at my old screenshots they just look so much better than the ones I have here. Rise of the Tomb Raider still has its moments, some of them which can be improved dramatically by using the built in photographer mode (not used for any of these shots), but on the whole it feels like a step back in visual quality. Given that this was supposed to be the biggest budget Tomb Raider game yet, up to $100 million possibly, it does make me wonder why the graphics took a bit of a back seat.
Where Tomb Raider reinvented, Rise refined and Shadow, unfortunately, simply copies most things wholesale from its predecessors. The game play will be familiar to those who’ve played the previous two instalments with a handful of new mechanics being thrown in. You’ll start off with a lot of abilities now I vaguely remember requiring skill points to unlock previously, many of which were necessary quality of life improvements. The upgrade and crafting system is much the same, requiring a mish mash of different items gathered from both humans and beasts in order to get the best items the game has to offer. There’s also a bunch of outfits and other weapon types available for you to find if you’re into exploring every inch of the maps that the game has to offer. Many other reviews have criticised the game for becoming stale and it’s a valid point as Shadow of the Tomb Raider doesn’t bring enough new things to the table to make it feel truly distinct from its predecessor.
The stealth/combat is almost identical to Rise of the Tomb Raider with really only two new notable mechanics: covering yourself in mud and hiding on leafy walls. They’re introduced early but they don’t really make much of an impact in how combat plays out. It’s only towards the end when the enemies get infrared goggles does the mud mechanic make some sense but even then it’s not a huge change in the way stealth sections play out. So the combat flow follows the same pattern that a lot of games do: stealth around and take out as many enemies as you can before you inevitably trip up and have to go full gunslinger mode. There doesn’t appear to be much (if any) penalty for just shooting up everything in sight either so if you’re not really a fan of the stealth sections then you can simply blast right past them all. This would be more glaring if there was the same amount of combat in Shadow of the Tomb Raider as there was in previous games but I probably spent less than half of my total game time in combat.
There’s definitely a much heavier emphasis on platforming this time around with a lot more of the environments explorable. Shadow of the Tomb Raider does make that most annoying choice of showing you parts of the map you can’t access until you get a certain item, something which always gives me the shits. This was especially annoying given that the fast travel system never seemed to be available for me, preventing me from going back to places even after I had unlocked the requisite gear. There also appears to be some gear that you don’t get from completing the campaign missions as well (the rope ascender being the first that comes to mind) and I never saw it at any vendors either. So I’m not sure what happened there but even at the end of the game I didn’t have all the tools I needed to explore every part of the game. I’ll admit that towards the end I was starting to lose interest quickly so I might have missed some important side quest or some such which might’ve given me those tools I needed. Still my point stands: showing a player somewhere they can explore but forcing them to come back later is crap and I don’t like it.
Progression comes at a pretty steady pace throughout the game with basically every action you take giving you XP. There’s still a lot of skills which aren’t particularly useful and some that honestly shouldn’t be there at all. For instance the one that allows you to buy bigger resource bags from vendors feels a bit shit, it should just increase the one you have already. In fact the steady levelling is offset somewhat by the rather high cost of items bought from vendors and the fact that you have to buy the lesser version of something before you can buy the bigger one. Had I known that going in I might’ve been a little more strategic with how I spent my cash. Still it’s not like anything I bought from the vendors make a great deal of difference to how I played. The different bows and other types of weapons all feel basically the same, none conferring any real advantage or disadvantage over the other. Indeed you’re probably best placed just fully upgrading the defaults as you won’t really need much else.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a few rough edges, most notably in the platforming sections when Lara doesn’t respond to inputs as you’d expect her to. Quite often I had her leap in an unintended direction because I wasn’t angled in exactly the right way, causing her to leap to her doom. There’s also a few sections which, for some reason, instantly kill you when they shouldn’t, like the big tower which you can explore if you take one path down but will die instantly if you jump to it (even though it’s a fully survivable jump). The aiming also feels a little unrefined with a lot of shots that should have connected whiffing their target completely. None of this is game breaking but it does feel a little more rough than an AAA title like this should.
The story dives deeper into the Lara’s family history and the ties it has to the Trinity organisation which is, on the whole, not bad. It does jump around a fair bit with events unfolding a bit too fast which makes some plot points a little unbelievable. This has nothing to do with the mystic elements either, more you have character relationships developing too fast, events taking place in weirdly accelerated time frames and a lack of moments to let the story breathe. Indeed a lot of the flavour of the game is hidden in the collectibles which are all fully voiced but will only play if you stay in the inventory screen. It’s a big missed opportunity to have them playing in the background as you walk around as some of them are quite interesting. It’s not like they didn’t do that for other parts of the story too, like when you sit around the camp to upgrade your skills and Lara will either chat with people that are around or go through her internal monologues. Overall I think the story was probably one of the stronger elements of this instalment, it was just let down by the so-so game play.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider would be a fine game by any other standards but it seems small compared to the shoulders of the giants it stands on. The game feels like a step back for the series as a whole, with a lack of innovation and refinement in nearly all aspects of the game. It’s still very much the kind of game that rekindled the IP over 5 years ago, which might be great for some, but I’d want to see a lot more for the kind of investment the developers have made in it. To be fair it would’ve been hard to continue going from strength to strength, the weight of the hype train always weighs heavily, but for this reviewer Shadow of the Tomb Raider feels to be the weakest in the series. I still have hope for the franchise but at this time of year, when competition for a gamer’s attention is never greater, these kinds of missteps can be lethal.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 11 hours of total playtime and 52% of the achievements unlocked.
A tried and true path to making a successful sequel is to hone in on what made the original great and build from there. For some games this is an easy road to tread, sometimes involving just dusting off ideas that couldn’t make the cut originally or streamlining certain things to focus on the game’s core. For others though it can be a more painful process, forcing the developers to shed parts of the game that they felt were core to the overall experience. Unravel 2 feels like a combination of these two ideals, adding in something that I never I knew I wanted in the original (co-op) whilst dropping what I felt was the weakest part of the game (the story) which I know the developers felt was the cornerstone of their game. The result of those two changes is an experience that far exceeds that of the original, one that my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed playing together.
Whilst there appears to be some semblance of a story going on in Unravel 2, told through ghost like figures playing out scenes in the background, it is most certainly not the focus of the game. Instead, if you play the game the way I feel it’s meant to be played (with another person), the story that will develop is one of the trials and tribulations you face as you try to progress through the game. For gamer/gamer pairs it’s possibly not one of much note, but for any other kind of pairing it’s going to be about how you figure out how best to work together, the hilarious situations that evolve when you don’t and the joy you’ll experience when everything just starts working.
Unravel 2 retains the same gorgeous, lovingly detailed art style that made the original so distinct. The models, texturing and environment design are all done with near photorealistic accuracy, aided by the clever use of other visual tricks. I have the feeling that, had we played this on PC, the visuals would have shown a marked step up but regardless they still looked absolutely amazing on the PS4. Yet again the backing soundtrack is wonderful, flowing along with you as you progress through a level. Coldwood Interactive have proven yet again that they’re capable of some exceptional levels of craftsmanship when it comes to a game’s audio visual experience. I look forward to whatever project they throw themselves into next just based on that alone.
At a nuts and bolts level Unravel 2 retains the same basic mechanics as its predecessor in its puzzle/platformer mechanics. The main difference is, of course, the fact that you have another player with you and most of the novel puzzle mechanics are based around that. I’m sure there’s some differences in the single player version since not all of the puzzles could be done with just one person, even if you were controlling both Yarnies. The challenge, for me at least, was helping my dear wife through various sections and the various hilarious things that would happen along the way. To her credit though she became quite apt at the game as we continued through the levels, even completing a few of the challenges once we really started to find our groove.
Many of the puzzles aren’t exactly novel in their design, taking the form of one player needing to do X so the other player can do Y which unlocks the path to the next section. The more advanced puzzles later on and the challenges do require a good amount of lateral thinking, some of them stumping us for a good few minutes before we could carry on. The later puzzles end up mostly relying on timing and your platforming prowess which, whilst a good challenge for a gamer like myself, proved to be extremely challenging for someone like my wife who doesn’t play as often. Of course for those sections you can just hitch a ride on the more capable player, something we did every so often after a few solid tries.
The team work aspect of Unravel 2 isn’t to be underestimated and you won’t simply be able to rely on a single skilled player to make it all the way through. For instance if you’re swinging around or in mid air and your partner decides to grab the yarn (to climb up to you, for instance) you’ll instantly lose all momentum and, if you’re airborne, fall to the ground like a rock. Initially I couldn’t figure out what was happening until I accidentally did it to my wife at one stage and it was then I realised that she was the cause of the seemingly random physics engine quirks that had been plaguing us to no end. Additionally there’s a number of puzzles where you won’t simply be able to run to the end and then hoist your partner up with you as your yarn simply isn’t long enough. This means either finding a creative way to get them closer or attempting the puzzle together.
Probably the most challenging (and by extension enjoyable) puzzles were the ones where you had to each get on a platform at opposite sides of the screen. This often required a bit of lateral thinking and planning your moves out in order for it to all work out. Some of those later puzzles use mechanics which you’d either not been introduced to or weren’t explained well (like the tension of a string when you’re tying it off) which can make them a tad frustrating to solve. The hint system here was good though, initially giving you a few nudges in the right direction before just outright telling you what to do. We only needed to use that once though but for lesser skilled players I’m sure it’ll be a saving grace.
There’s definitely been a lot of improvement in terms of the game’s overall polish when compared to its predecessor. Most of the original issues with Yarny are gone and the platforming mechanics feel a lot more solid than they previously did. Part of that is due to the lower reliance on physics based puzzles as the ones that do make use of that are still some of the more janky experiences the game has to offer. We did end up breaking the game completely at one stage where our respective Yarnies were on two sides of a stick which, for some reason, caused the physics engine to freak out and dropped the frame rate through the floor. This then buggered up the sound engine and made the game’s music start looping in a really weird fashion. Try as we might to fix it we had to restart to a previous checkpoint which, thankfully, solved the issue.
The story of my wife and I playing through Unravel 2 was an exceptionally enjoyable one, warts and all. She’s your typical sometimes gamer, able to grasp the basics quickly but hasn’t got the tens of thousands of hours of game time that I do which has honed my hand/eye coordination significantly. This lead to many great moments where she’d inadvertently hit buttons, controller flailing and all sorts of other amusing behaviours that made our time together with Unravel special. To be sure I’m not blameless here either, my bravado often resulting in my untimely demise because I figured I could make it through a puzzle quickly without considering the consequences. We did give up after doing a couple of the challenges though as they just weren’t as fun given their reliance on timing and technical skill rather than problem solving.
Unravel 2 took the best elements of the original and made them better through the addition of the co-op mechanics. The gorgeous visuals and amazing soundtrack are now signature items of Coldwood Interactive’s games, something I hope they continue to work on with any upcoming titles. Defocusing the story in favour of letting players craft their own through the simple act of playing the game results in an experience that will be very personal to those who play it with someone else. The increased polish on the core mechanics is very much welcome, even if there’s still a few minor edge cases to sort out. The original was a game that struggled to achieve its ambition whilst its sequel does so admirably, making it a much better experience overall. For gamers and non-gamers alike Unravel 2 is an experience that is well worth investing the time in.
Unravel 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with approximately 8 hours of total game play and 14% of the achievements unlocked.