This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee discusses a roundup of 2021 video games he didn't review, like Unpacking, Eastward, and Tales of Arise.
2021 is over; another January wasteland stretches ahead of us like the romantic comedy our partner forces us to endure before the begrudging blowjob of the Quarter One releases. It's time for my second ever roundup of games I didn't review. Last time I did this, I did it before the awards episode in case I wanted to sneak a dark-horse candidate up the drainpipe to clandestinely bugger expectations with its giant dark-horse willy, but in practice, anything I don't review is most likely just fine and not worth harping on about, so that was like trying to add croutons to my salad by shaking my keyboard over it. So with expectations set nice and low, let's begin.
(game titles are spoken by a female computer voice)
Some indie games are like hamsters on Viagra: doing an awful lot with very little. Case in point, here's everything you do in Unpacking: you click on a moving inbox and drag and drop all the contents into shelves, cabinets and drawers, then you go to the next room and do it some more. Pitch that in the elevator at Ubisoft, and watch everyone's noses wrinkle like you just blew a hole through the seat of your pants. But it's actually rather enjoyable and Zen, and the crunchy, pastel-colored, isometric pixel art is pleasantly nostalgic, like a Game Boy Advance in the mouth of a friendly Labrador; plus, it's doing some interesting underhanded narrative stuff, as you notice what toys and kitchen appliances our unseen protagonist keeps from move to move, and what potential serial killers they're moving in with. Okay, it's no show-stopper - there's no heartrending emotional storytelling going on - but it's interesting, in a “Ooh, they do chocolate brownie M&Ms now?" sort of way.
Before Your Eyes
Oh, you're holding out for heartrending emotional storytelling, are you? Well, here's some! Before Your Eyes is a little snacky experience centered around the gimmick that you have to point a webcam at your face and control the game with blinking. The premise is, you're going through the key memories of your protagonist's life, jumping to the next one every time you blink, because you've recently died, and your life is literally flashing before your eyes; title drop, you see. (I guess they couldn't have added "Flashing", because people might've expected something else.)
It is very overtly a gimmick game, but one that's effectively using its gimmick to make a point about how life must move on; you're going to have to blink at some point, no matter how badly you want to stay in this moment where you can see down your high school English teacher's blouse. And the story really sneaks up on your feely-hole and rams in the emotion cactus. It is awkward to play, 'cos you have to hold your head completely still the whole time, and the software occasionally mistook simple eye movements for blinks, although that might be because I needed to light a few more candles in the murky oubliette in which I dwell. But I'd recommend it to all you day-walkers out there.
I wish I'd noticed this game when it came out, 'cos it's by the developers of Furi, and I liked that game, enough I'd let it snog one of my close relatives. (One of the ugly ones, though; let's not go nuts.) Haven is a game about a young couple exploring an alien world together, and it's honestly rather cute; you don't see it much, do you, two protagonists who are just in a relationship all game, with equal billing and neither being murdered to motivate the other? It's just nice to watch them holding hands as they roller-skate across an alien landscape, but then you have to stop roller-skating for a JRPG-style random encounter battle that completely kills the flow. Oh, and it's one of those awful hybrid turn-based and real-time systems; fuckup on fuckup, Haven! I let the survival crafting elements slide 'cos I was sold on the adorable space anime kids, but now you've killed my interest. I very nearly reviewed it as part of a triple-bill indie review that I was planning to call "The Roller-Skating in Space Trilogy".
The second game of which drops the combat, and the survival, and all forms of organic life, anime or otherwise, and one of the roller-skates, and most of the remaining one. In Exo One, you play a fucking ball bearing rolling around a series of empty deserts, but it completely sucked me in. You hold down a button to become really heavy, then release it to become light again - sort of an oblique metaphor for one's emotional state while reading the news - and by this method alone, you strategically employ slopes and ramps to launch yourself through breathtaking alien landscapes. Story's a bit obtuse and not terribly present, so conceptually, it's, like, one step up from a screensaver, but it made me nostalgic for retro games like SkyRoads or Spindizzy, that are just about exploring one satisfying core movement mechanic. It's that, but elevated with the spectacular environments modern graphics can offer to make a somewhat hypnotic experience, if not without low points; I played through it twice to absorb the story better, but only ended up confirming that I really didn't want to play that fucking jungle planet level again.
Solar Ash is a game by the creators of Hyper Light Drifter, who have dropped their previous unique crunchy pixel art identity in favor of going full 3D third-person open-world like everyone else. That's right; they've pulled the Risk of Rain gambit. Still, it maintains Hyper Light Drifter's visual style, in that everyone's decked out in magenta and cyan like they've all sworn fealty to the Order of the Mostly Empty Color Printer. Gameplay-wise, Solar Ash is all over the place; it feels like a 3D Sonic game and Mario Galaxy and Shadow of the Colossus all spent an evening together that none of them are now willing to talk about. If you've only room in your "roller-skating in space" budget for one game, then of the trilogy, it's probably the one that's most like a "game" game, if you see what I mean, but there's something weirdly forgettable about it that's hard to put my finger on; the story is kind of hard to follow, but more likely, it's that the core gameplay never really evolves beyond "press button to roller-skate" and "press other button to roller-skate a bit faster".
Oh Christ! I'm running out of time, and I wrote down more titles than I thought; better hammer the rest out, quickfire-style.
Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth
A Metroidvania with rather good pixel art reminiscent of Symphony of the Night, but harder, and more visually confusing, and with poorer environment design, and not as good. Apparently, it's a spinoff from some long-running Japanese fantasy franchise, so if you're more familiar with that, maybe the story would feel less like you're viewing it through a sheet of frosted glass.
Cartoon, post-apocalyptic, kind of Zelda-y, kind of EarthBound-y, kind of Lisa: The Painful but not quite as likely to induce suicidal depression-y. Charming enough that it gripped me for a while, but then the plot started to feel like it wasn't going anywhere interesting fast enough, and its grip loosened enough that I made my escape.
Like a light farming sim that went all-in on the fishing minigame, but where everyone's made of Duplo and kind of look like they're ready to die.
F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch
Another Metroidvania. It was alright.
Tales of Arise
Doctor Who: The Edge of Reality
(beat) Ehehehehehehehe... Ah, I did play that, didn't I? Ahahahahahahahaha... ahhhhh... fucking sucked.
- Gleefully still not reviewing Inscryption: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I hope you noticed that I redid all of ZP's assets in 1080p over Christmas because you'd better bloody well appreciate it
- Although updating all the CRT monitors felt like a step too far