This blog very nearly didn't happen today. On Tuesday evening I returned home from work and attempted to power on my crummy laptop, only to have it stubbornly refuse to co-operate. A few simple diagnostic tests revealed it to be, in what I believe is the correct technical terminology, "fucked". It's been a shambling husk for a long while now, to tell the truth, and I believe a traumatic blow it received while in transit during December may well have been the last straw. Thankfully I've been able to replace it on short notice (albeit with grave consequences for my savings account), so the planned blogging schedule can remain in effect and go ahead. Today is the second weekend of January, which means it's time for...
January Edition - Platformers!
For those of you who may have missed last week's blog in which I laid down my blogging plans for the year ahead, I'll explain briefly. Letting Off Some Steam is a monthly blog series that I'll be putting out on the second weekend of every month in 2014. Inspired by (read as: 'copied almost directly from') fellow Giant Bomb user Mento and his backlog-browsing antics, I'll be downloading a handful of titles from my own pile of digitally distributed shame and playing each of them for a little while, providing a few thoughts on each game as I go. The idea behind it is to get me to finally trawl through my enormous treasure trove of unfinished games, get a feel for them, and work out which ones I should be prioritising.
In the interest of keeping things thematically consistent for as long as is reasonably possible, I've decided to focus on one particular genre each month. For January's edition of Letting Off Some Steam, the genre is 'platformers'. The games I've chosen are And Yet It Moves, Braid, Gish, and Rayman Origins. First up, if only because my Steam catalogue is organised alphabetically by default, is And Yet It Moves.
And Yet It Moves
Three of the four games on this month's Letting Off Some Steam can collectively be described as 'platformers with a gimmick'. The first of these, Broken Rules's And Yet It Moves, stands out from the crowd by way of its world-rotating mechanic. At any given time, the player can rotate the whole level clockwise or anticlockwise in ninety-degree increments, turning previously impassable walls into floors in order to open new pathways. It's a neat mechanic, and in the half-hour of the game that I played, the developers seemed to get a fair bit of mileage out of it. Objects and creatures in the world can also be manipulated in this way, creating physics-based puzzles that punctuate the precarious platforming. Aesthetically the game is a bit of an oddity, and not necessarily in an endearing way. The 'torn paper' visuals are striking and unique, but not exactly easy on the eye, and the ambient beat-boxed soundtrack didn't sit well with me. That being said, it seems a cool little game, and providing it doesn't outstay its welcome, I can see myself playing through it in full over the course of a few evenings later in the year.
If the gimmick of And Yet It Moves is making the world go round, then Braid's gimmick is rewinding time. Considered by some to be the original 'indie darling', Braid was adored by Ryan Davises and Soulja Boys alike when it was released in 2008. Having played through the game's first two worlds earlier today, I'm beginning to understand why. It feels great to play thanks to some agreeable platforming physics, and unlike And Yet It Moves, which seems to rest on the laurels of its core mechanic, Braid seems keen to force the player to constantly re-think their approach by piling on new permutations to the established rules at regular intervals. The narrative is pretty well married to the action too, focusing on the themes of learning from one's mistakes, and longing to be able to undo what is already done. I'll definitely be returning to this one later in the year in order to play through the remaining worlds, although I'm not sure I've got enough lateral thinking in me to pick up all of the game's fiendishly out-of-reach puzzle pieces.
On to our third platformer with a gimmick. Gish is a conceptually interesting puzzle platformer in that its eponymous ball-of-tar hero doesn't control like your average jumping protagonist. Instead, Gish has several different states of being, clever manipulation of which is required to navigate the game's myriad hazards and pitfalls. Make him sticky and he'll cling to surfaces, make him more slippery and he'll slide through tight spaces, and make him more dense and he'll be able to destroy crumbling brickwork and crush enemies. It's a cool concept that's pretty well executed from what I've seen of the game (which is the first five levels, if you're wondering), although there were a few moments along the way where I felt the traversal was a little too 'hit-and-hope' and lacking in real control. Visually it's a treat thanks to Edmund McMillen's trademark art style, and I loved the jazzy saxophone breaks in its soundtrack. Whether or not I come back to Gish is largely dependent on how many levels it has, I think - I was already tiring of it after a half-hour session. If it's not a long game I may consider returning to it, but if it goes on beyond a couple of hours I think I'd find it very difficult to persevere.
Rayman Origins very nearly didn't make it into this blog, because it wasn't actually in my list of games to play. I'd previously confined it to a neglected corner of my Steam library titled 'Can't Run', on account of it being a stuttering choppy mess on my previous laptop. I was originally going to cover Toki Tori, which is really more a puzzle game than a bona fide platformer, but decided to take a gamble and see if the Limbless Wonder would run any better on my new PC. And whaddaya know, it runs smooth as butter. I'm finally in a position where I can enjoy the gorgeous art direction and revel in the fast, loose and fluid platforming gameplay. As someone who played a lot of the first Rayman game back on my original PlayStation, there's something about the game's mechanics and structure that appeals to my inner seven-year-old and puts a big ol' nostalgic smile on my face. I played about half an hour of Rayman Origins, which took me through the first five levels and did more than enough to convince me that I need to make this a high priority title. I'll probably have to hook up my Xbox 360 controller as I'm not keen on playing platformers with a keyboard, but I cannot wait to sink my teeth deeper into this beautiful, crazy adventure.
I think that's going to do it for this month's Letting Off Some Steam. Out of these four, I'm pretty sure it's Rayman Origins that'll end up on the Gaming Agenda for February. Braid and And Yet It Moves are also likely candidates for full playthroughs before the year is out, but I'm not sure I'll be returning to Gish in a hurry. Next weekend I'll be putting together a more considered opinion piece, most likely related to the time I've recently spent with the two Zelda titles A Link Between Worlds and Link's Awakening, and more broadly the franchise as a whole. Also, be on the lookout for the start of a new serial blog, which is likely to land mid-week. Thanks for reading guys, take care and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (3DS)