August 2021 Mini Reviews Part 2

Another batch of short opinions on games I've been playing.

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (Insomniac/Sony, 2021)

There's no screenshot here because my PS5 broke and Sony won't answer the phone to fix it, so I can't access my screenshots. But I can draw professional-quality art to represent the game, so thankfully I don't think anyone will notice that this isn't a 4K capture of the game with ray tracing and all.

I'm not going to go too in depth on this one because there are already a million reviews out there telling you it's good, but in short: it's fantastic. I hadn't played more than an hour of one of these games before, so I didn't have any expectations going in. It's an action/platformer that manages to feel very modern and very 2000s classic at the same time. Highly recommended if you can get a PS5. And, you know, it doesn't break.

Platforms: PS5

Time to beat: 10-15 hours

Scarlet Nexus

Scarlet Nexus (Bandai Namco, 2021)

This is a deeply confusing game to talk about because it has an absolutely phenomenal combat system and a great soundtrack, but it's middling to actively terrible at everything else. I definitely recommend giving the OST a listen and it'd be an easy buy if it were a $15 indie game. It's much harder to say that a $60 game is worthwhile when it's full of repeated areas, overuses enemies, has a story that is somehow both painfully predictable and absolutely incomprehensible nonsense, and feels too long even at 10-12 hours. I ended up not being able to drag myself through to the ending and quit in chapter 9.

What's worse, it gives up the strengths of its combat at the end by repeatedly sending you out against enemies who can't be staggered and hardly react at all to your cool attacks. There's a lot of potential here to make something amazing in the future after more refinement, but it's not there yet.

Platforms: PC, all current consoles but Switch

Time to beat: 10-12 hours for one branch, twice that if you do two for some reason

In Other Waters

In Other Waters (Jump Over the Age/Fellow Traveller, 2020)

Fellow Traveller has carved out a niche for themselves as a publisher of narrative-central games with unique mechanics, and that describes IOW to a T. It's Subnautica as a visual novel, essentially. You're the AI that pilots a dive suit worn by a scientist who has deliberately landed in an unexplored alien ocean in search of a friend. Along the way, you'll document new species and explore a handful of different biomes by using an extremely retro interface.

I loved the first 75% of IOW and would've recommended that to anyone with a love of exploration games and a tolerance for lots of reading, but it went downhill hard after that. Despite all the imagination and creativity that went into creating lifeforms for this new world, the plot ends up being almost entirely summarized by "sci-fi involved a mining corporation." It's not interesting unless you've literally never encountered pessimistic sci-fi before, and I imagine it'd still be predictable even then. And worse still, it abandons several far more interesting threads in order to focus on its generic overarching plot. I still enjoyed it, but I can't recommend a game that flubs the ending as hard as this does.

Platforms: PC, Switch

Time to beat: 6 hours


Lightmatter (Tunnel Vision Games/Aspyr, 2020)

Lightmatter is a game that could not possible be more open about its Portal inspirations: You're trying to escape a decaying lab that was used to create mysterious new technology, and that escape naturally involves solving loads of puzzles and listening to voices over the intercom. Cave Johnson and Aperture Science are even referenced by name.

Obviously you've got to be good to survive a comparison you invite so directly, but Lightmatter thankfully delivers. The core gimmick here is that shadows kill, so you need to use a number of different devices to make sure that your path, and potentially some light-activated switches, are always illuminated. Its strength is an emphasis on lateral thinking, which means that the obvious solution is almost always wrong. If a puzzle seems to require unusually precise movements, you're probably just not thinking about it the right way. Finding a graceful fix to a seemingly complicated problem is always satisfying.

Just about everything else is great, too. It's hyper-stylized art direction makes it clear what terrain is and isn't safe, the plot is surprisingly compelling, and while not nearly as funny as Portal, it manages to get a few laughs in. Valve isn't about to give us a new game, so I'd highly recommend checking it out. Confusingly, Lightmatter is also a real company that makes photon-based CPUs. Hopefully they have more success in not destroying the world.

Platforms: PC

Time to beat: ~5 hours


Molek-Syntez (Zachtronics, 2019)

This is a puzzle game (surprise, surprise) from Zachtronics that basically acts as a sequel to their 2011 game, SpaceChem. Like that title, it's about creating complex molecules from sets of precursor chemicals, but unlike that game, it's as much about parallel programming as it is geometric optimization. You still need to find a way to fit all the chemical transformations you'll need to do into a small space, but now you have six different processors that can each move independently and perform actions on the atom or molecule in front of them. Success comes from making them work together as efficiently as possible.

I loved this until the last two puzzles, at which point the frustrating tedium of working with carbon rings and sulfur, which always comes bonded to four oxygen, got to be too much. Those puzzles might be a fair increase in difficulty, but working with these chemicals specifically in the way it wants you to just isn't fun after a certain level of complexity. I'd still recommend the game because it's cheap and everything except the last two puzzles is worth playing, but I didn't end up finishing.

Platforms: PC

Time to beat: 8+ hours

Mario Golf

Mario Golf: Super Rush (Camelot/Nintendo, 2021)

This is actually my first significant experience with Mario Golf, so I can't compare it to any previous game. My basis for it is games like Golf With Your Friends and other Mario sports games that also take a silly approach to athletics. I've also only played the regular golf mode in multiplayer, because that's all I'm particularly interested in.

It's good! I like that there are so many different characters, but I wish that there was more meaningful variation between them. Many have identical special shots and are only differentiated by small statistical differences, which is disappointing when compared with something like Mario Superstar Baseball. Similarly, while I like that there are loads of holes with three different tees in the game and that very lax out of bounds rules give you a lot of freedom, the individual holes on each course are rarely as distinct or zany as in Golf With Your Friends or even Wii Sports. Lastly, I really don't like that characters get better clubs as a result of playing with them repeatedly. It discourages trying out new characters and just isn't as interesting as unlockables in Mario's other sports outings.

Still, like I said, it's good. It didn't blow me away by any means, but it has enough content and is easy enough to pick up and play that I think it'll be a great fit for airplanes and as a filler multiplayer game when you need something light. I'd recommend it on sale.

Platforms: Switch

Time to beat: 5 hours to get through all the multiplayer courses

Fire Tonight

Fire Tonight (Reptoid/Way Down Deep, 2021)

I highlighted this as one of my anticipated indie games of 2021 back in June. As I said then, it's a Captain Toad-esque puzzle game about rotating the camera to help you navigate small environments. Each chapter ends with a point and click scene starring Devin, who Maya, the other main character, is trying to reach in the midst of a fire. Some people have called out their relationship as one of the best parts of the game, but honestly, I'm not seeing it. Devin has the intelligence and life skills of a sitcom dad, and while Maya is better, she's still not interesting.

The bigger issue, though, is that I didn't realize I was playing more than a third of the game back when finished the demo. I got through the whole thing in 45 minutes even while pausing repeatedly to chat in Discord. Is that a fair length for $6? Sure. The problem, rather than the price, is that it doesn't justify itself in 45 minutes. The plot doesn't establish its characters, the puzzles don't evolve their mechanics, and the whole thing feels like an extended demo of a bigger game. As a result, and even though I enjoyed it, I fully expect that I'll have forgotten this game in a few months. A shame.

Platforms: PC, Switch

Time to beat: 45 minutes

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