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This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Astral Chain.


Prologue: Last Day for "Limited Edition" Merch Edit

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Transcript Edit

Not that I want to sound like a professional ice cream taster complaining about a headache, but did we have a shorter drought period than usual? I ask because my cup has been runnething over, and it's been hard to pick a review subject. I tried Borderlands 3, but I lost a little more will to live with every dialogue line that was about nine times longer than it needed to be in the name of somehow eventually sounding witty, possibly in accordance with the infinite monkeys principle. Oh, and by the way, at the risk of sounding un-woke, making 95% of your game's characters hot, badass ladies in tight pants and low-cut belly shirts is when you start to drift into the realms of fetishistic; I think that's called the Sucker Punch effect.

I also tried out The Surge 2 and Blasphemous, but frankly, I'm holding off on the Souls-likes for a while until I offend Mother again and need to self-flagellate. Then there were these two Switch games everyone kept banging on at me to try. "Ooh, play the new Fire Emblem, Yahtzee! It's really anime; you'll hate it!" So I did, but I didn't really hate it; I just got bored of it the second time I was obliged to run around an entire school patting every anime person on the head in turn like I was playing a game of tag that nobody else knew about. So that left the other Switch game, Astral Chain, which I did kind of get into, so let's talk about that; it's still anime, but slightly more restrained with it, in that I only noticed one character with visibly-bouncing tits.

In the future of Astral Chain, most of Earth has had its shit ruined by monsters from another dimension, and the last remnants of humanity survive in a small isolated, high-tech nation. I feel like I've seen this premise before in the animes; I wonder if Japan is trying to tell us something. Our character, or characters - we pick whether to play the male or female half of a pair of twins, but the only real difference it makes is whether or not we're allowed to wear hot pants - are members of an elite police unit who defend humanity from the inter-dimensional monsters through the use of tamed inter-dimensional monsters of their own, permanently connected to their wrists by a chain of the astral variety. So essentially, it's a supercharged anime dog-walking simulator, but if you're thinking the monsters with chains around their necks forced to battle their own kind don't look super-thrilled with the idea, you might be right, because after an inciting incident early on, the pet monsters rebel and everyone loses theirs except you; you're special, because the pet monsters respect your noble bearing and kibble-purchasing decisions.

Astral Chain comes to us from PlatinumGames, most recently known for Nier Automata, but also responsible for Bayonetta and some other games with combat reminiscent of a handful of lit sparklers in a candy floss machine, and as such, you should expect fast combat, high difficulty and every enemy monster being introduced with a freeze-frame profile like they're characters in a Guy Ritchie film.

The central gimmick with this one is your little inter-dimensional pound puppy on a chain, who you move around independently with the second analog stick. And it's quite an interesting gimmick as they go 'cos you use the titular Astral Chain in combat as a tripwire or to tie up enemies, annoying as it always is when the right analog stick goes back and forth between controlling the camera and something else, 'cos suddenly I can't use the camera to see where I'm moving my murder-dog to in a crucial moment when I really need him to accurately shit on the paper. This was the game that made me finally made me fork out for a Switch Pro controller, by the way, 'cos if I went through a whole Platinum game with those tiny Joy-Con analog nipples, my phalanges would have burst out the backs of my thumbs like little extruding surrender flags.

Astral Chain's combat based around exotic yo-yoing techniques reminds me, oddly, of Platinum's own The Wonderful 101; the action of guiding Genocide the Wonder Dog around the arena isn't a million miles away from drawing circles and shapes that turn into weapons, and the results can be just as fiddly and disappointing as my flaccid attempts at straight lines. Wonderful 101, however, was spectacularly over-the-top in the traditional rather than the magenta sense, while Astral Chain comes off as somewhat more restrained. "Restrained"? "Chains"? This is all starting to sound a bit kinky. But no, it's the bad kind of restrained.

Something seems to have happened to PlatinumGames around the time it was making Nier Automata; these were the lads who brought us Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, in which a bespectacled, muscular senator power-bombs the hero while lecturing him about his favorite neoconservative policies with a relish that stops just short of bursting into song. But Nier Automata was somewhat muted, tonally, at least as far as any game with such lovingly-rendered buttocks can be, and I see a lot of its influence on Astral Chain, especially the music; I was mentally back in Nier Automata every time I went to the astral realm and heard the sound of distant choral voices singing a song inspired by a dial-up modem.

Unlike Nier Automata, though, Astral Chain isn't really saying anything, philosophically; the setting, story, and characters are all rather shallow, bog-standard anime stuff, especially the monster design. Your leashed-up pedigree chums all look like EVA Unit 01 knocked up Metal Gear REX in some, no doubt, unimaginably destructive way, and the one form that literally is supposed to be a dog looks exactly like the robot dog from Revengeance but without the personality. If anything is going to sell this game, assuming you're not the kind of person who just buys anything with anime on it because you're convinced that this "meaningful relationships with other human beings" thing is a passing fad, it'll be the unique combat mechanics with your faithful ducky on a string; shame it's kind of buried amid so much other stuff, like the one student in the school photo who ended up under a staple.

For one thing, it's possible to get by without it; your dude or hot-panted dudette can light attack, heavy attack and dodge with the best of them by themselves. So if anything, going out of your way to bind the enemies as well almost feels like overkill, and this is only when you are in combat. Back when they were fun, Platinum would usually fully centralize their idiosyncratic high-octane combat, but now it seems we can't have our pudding till we eat our vegetables, so there's also a focus on being respectable police officers: exploring crime scenes, gathering clues, presenting the correct clue when asked in an anemic, Phoenix Wright-y sort of way. There's a stealth section at one point that, like all forced stealth in action games, is about as welcome as a slug in a garden salad and about as much fun to get through; a lot of side-quests that throw you unexpectedly into incredibly banal minigames where you have to balance boxes, do a sliding-tile puzzle, or hand out balloons; and then, eventually, you're allowed back into the astral realm for a bit of combat and a bit of platforming where your biggest threat is getting knocked off a ledge by your own fucking dope-on-a-rope 'cos you slightly misjudged the yank jump.

Variety is nice, but this feels more like throwing a speed trap in front of my tires to delay me getting to the next interesting bit, and even with all this variety, things start to feel a bit routine: hang out at police HQ, go to the city, do some side-quests, go to the astral realm, come back, sandwiches. The astral realm is initially impressive, if weirdly reminiscent of the one in Control, but that's lost when you're in and out of it every five minutes, like you're popping into the office over the weekend to pick up some files. Still, routine sort of makes sense for a police game. "<kkt> Attention all officers, a giant armored gorilla is flinging exploding turds around city center. <kkt>" "<kkt> You mean a 2218? <kkt>" "<kkt> No, it's a 2219, 'cos he's wearing a sombrero."

Addenda Edit

  • Police release me let me go: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Surprised they didn't have a minigame for picking up interdimensional turds with little plastic gloves
  • Now let's think about the Nier Automata buttocks some more

Extra: Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash Edit

As of September 26, 2019, my latest audiobook, Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash, will be available from audible.com! It's a sequel to Will Save the Galaxy for Food, in which our down-on-his-luck space hero protagonist returns to make an exciting new batch of hilariously bad decisions!

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
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2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
Q3 Jurassic World Evolution · Resident Evil 4 · Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter · The Crew 2 · Octopath Traveler · Observer · Chasm and This Is the Police 2 · We Happy Few · Unavowed · Guacamelee! 2 and Not Tonight · Shenmue · Marvel's Spider-Man · Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Q4 Dragon Quest XI · Star Control: Origins · Star Control: Origins · Assassin's Creed Odyssey · Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 · Return of the Obra Dinn · The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories · Red Dead Redemption 2 · Call of Cthulhu · Fallout 76 · Hitman 2 and Killer7 · Darksiders III · Just Cause 4
2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw · Control · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan · Remnant: From The Ashes · Blair Witch · Gears 5
Q4 Astral Chain · Contra: Rogue Corps · Ghost Recon Breakpoint · Indivisible · The Outer Worlds · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare · Luigi's Mansion 3
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