A bit more of a casual piece here. As I’m sure most of you know, the Christmas period is one for settling down with the family, rewatching episodes of Only Fools and Horses and eating many forms of pork. Along with this, I usually pick up some cheap games to see me through the period between Christmas and New Year – When days don’t mean anything and Baileys tastes the best.
Here are a few of the games I have been playing over this period, I didn’t want to do a full review of these, so it will be a lightning round of my thoughts and then whether I not I think you should try them out.
I have always admired Cuphead from afar, knowing the barrier to entry from anyone even remotely interested in the gaming industry, it was just too daunting. Eventually, a £10 price tag was enough to entice me in. There isn’t much I can say about this that hasn’t been typed a million times before.
The title is a Contra/Mega Man style run ‘n’ gun game with an emphasis on boss encounters, which make up the majority of the run time. Each boss is wonderfully imaginative and memorable in their own way, be it by design alone, or number of times they sent you to the grave.
Visually, the game is unmatched. I haven’t seen anything so uniquely itself in quite some time, if anyone tried to copy Cuphead, it’d be so blatant they may as well not bother. Not to mention the level of detail and effort put in by Studio MDHR isn’t something that can be shallowly jumped on, it takes care and love, something this developer clearly has in spades. I’m excited to see their next entry into the Cuphead series, but not necessarily play it. Why is that? Well…
Yes, it is hard. Too difficult for my liking, after reaching about the halfway point, I decided to throw in the towel – I didn’t need this in my life right now. My brain clearly is not what it used to be. There is just one too many things to focus on and whilst victory over the wonderfully designed bosses was satisfying, it wasn’t enough to keep me on the hook. I fully respect people who champion this game, and I do too, it is just such a hard recommendation given how controller crushingly challenging it can be.
If you are up for a challenge, pick it up, but be warned, it really isn’t as fun as the visuals may have you believe.
My favourite game I played over Christmas, easily. Now I played the original and really liked it quite a while back now, but this really blew me away still. Why had I never picked this up before? I imagine that the price tag scared me off a bit, but I managed to grab this for like £3.49 or something daft – that is a steal.
Following the Metroidvania structure of the previous game and kicking off with a fantastic homage to Castlevania Symphony of the Night sets the tone brilliantly. What follows is a tightly paced, funny and tight platformer. Because the game is so well signposted and the objectives so straightforward, you never really end up being lost, you always know where to go – this minimised the down time which plagues other titles in the genre.
Gameplay is split into two styles, platforming and combat. Platforming is your typical affair, with new elements always being introduced through the consistent avalanche of new abilities. Whether this is switching dimensions or changing into a chicken, it all keeps the platforming fresh and introduces new challenges at a decent clip.
These new traversal options are then brought into combat, whether it is your uppercut, your dash, or the body slam, there are multiple uses across each of the gameplay styles. What might shock you more is how fun the combat encounters are. Every few rooms or so you will be locked in a space and be forced to “lucha” your way out. This is where you can rack up combos and smash your foes to pieces like figurative and sometimes literal pinatas. The ability to throw enemies remains as satisfying as ever, especially in the smaller spaces and never gets old throughout the 9 hour runtime. There are a few bosses and optional areas also peppered in here and each are typically great.
The game is funny too, with jokes being much more than surface level like they were in the first title. This is something the developers really took to heart it seems. As you play through the adventure you will see some clever jokes referencing classics such as Street Fighter II, Limbo, The Unfinished Swan and more. I won’t ruin them, but they’re always a treat.
Pick this up as soon as you can, you won’t regret it, if you can grab it on sale – brilliant. If not, I would not have felt short-changed paying full price when the quality is this high.
Yoku’s Island Express
Yoku’s Island Express is just such a neat idea. You play as the postmaster, a beetle who must deliver various items around an island and gather together three tribes to save this big turtle guy. The twist? This is a pinball game, I didn’t even realise I liked pinball.
As Yoku the beetle, you must embark on your adventure and explore the island, which is broken up into many tiny pinball boards. This is such a cool way of updating something as seemingly old and outdated as pinball and making it relevant for a modern audience. There are even metroidvania style upgrades to help you reach new areas and discover more collectibles. It is super neat. The fast-travel system is brilliant too, the Bee-Line, allows you to shoot around the island and skip many previously completed boards through a series of canons, similar to Donkey Kong Country. Not only is it fast, but the kinetic nature and player input means that even this remains engaging, something that many other games neglect and relegate to a canned animation or loading screen – it helps that the music during these sequences is a bop too.
The pinball gameplay is fast and sometimes frantic with score meters and bright colours popping off all over the shop. Although occasionally frustrating, it is always fun, navigating through a series of pipes and tubes also reminded me of the old Sonic The Hedgehog days which was a nice bit of nostalgia to encounter over this cosy period.
The game is pretty short, but the novel idea of a pinball adventure alone made my time with the title worthwhile. I picked this up for £4 and got more than my money’s worth, but I would perhaps hold off until a sale, simply because of that shorter runtime.
I really wanted to love Control, I promise, I did. Let me get my biggest gripe out of the way early and then we can finish on a positive note – the performance is so bad. The frame rate cannot keep up with the action presented on screen, these consistent frame drops during what should be excellent action sequences really did dampen my enjoyment of the game. Not only are the frame drops consistent through action, but also more mundane actions such as pulling up the map screen or even pausing. The Metroidvania design leads to more frustration due to the poor framerate every time you have to pull up the map, with this being a regular occurrence, it really is a drag sometimes.
Now, onto what I liked about Control. Firstly, the combat feels great when it runs smoothly. There is a visceral twang and woosh of using telekinesis to pull various pieces of office furniture before throwing them with excessive force into your foes. This, alongside a wicked transforming handgun makes the combat of Control feel unique and tickles that power-fantasy itch time and again.
The story is a little too weird to discuss in this style of review, but trust me when I say, it is delightfully odd. Within The Oldest House – the fully explorable location of the game is somehow wholly distinct from anything I have seen before, making office décor look daunting and inspired is no mean feat. The ever-shifting corridors make for a memorable location to explore through the Metroidvania style gameplay, having visited various offices over my career, a photocopier has never looked spookier, trust me.
Overall, it is difficult to recommend Control, particularly on a base PS4. I would have loved to have experienced this for the first time on the next-gen consoles which promise to bring more stable performance, so if you have the opportunity to play this there, I recommend holding off.
Let’s go 2021
I also played PHOGS! You can check out my review of that here if you’re interested, but that is another great little title, particularly if you have someone to share it with.
What have you been playing over the Christmas break? Anything good? Anything bad? Let me know. Here’s hoping for an easier ride in 2021, although we are not off to the best start…