The Redbrick Gaming team gets together in this festive period, as they look at the games kindly gifted to them through Secret Santa
Why Hidden Folks?
I confess it’s a game I haven’t gotten round to playing yet, but it very much is on my watch list. By the time I was deciding what to buy for Tom, I had already received Slime Rancher from Kyle. I felt that since I had got an insanely cute game, the only right and good option would be to buy my gift in kind.
Browsing Steam for inspiration, I happened upon Hidden Folks and was met with some vague memories of cute feedback I saw the game receive on release. The auto-play trailer started, and as soon I heard those acapella style sound effects, I knew I’d struck cute-gold to rival Slime Rancher.
Hidden Folks | Review
In Hidden Folks, the devil is very much in the details. The player is tasked with locating a number of characters or items that are blended into the monochrome world. However, it isn’t always a case of simple hide and seek.
The settings of Hidden Folks are interesting in their variation, with each having a new world to explore, through simple controls, zoom in and out, drag to move, click to interact. The levels themselves within these settings are densely populated with near-indistinguishable characters, animals or other miscellaneous parts-of-a-whole performing near-indistinguishable activities. Is that person carrying a flower, butterfly net or an axe? These are the kinds of distinctions you’ll be paying attention to.
There were a few occasions where I was a little overwhelmed with the size of the levels. It’s a feeling those of you who have ever opened a Where’s Wally book to a random page and immediately closed it again will be familiar with. The game encourages a slow and methodical approach and this feeling of dread usually subsided as I started working my way through.
My advice would be to look carefully over what it is you need to find, at a surface level at first, on appearances. Next I would take a look at the level as a whole and trying to separate it into its component environments: within the Forest there may be a collection of rocks, a lake, or a camp. Each titular folk comes with their own one-line descriptor that can clue you in as to where they are as aforementioned, hidden, so you can often use your knowledge of the level to estimate where they’re going to be before you’ve even started looking.
Though perhaps my favourite aspect of the game has been its wonderful sound design. Each and every sound effect in the game, from the buzzing of bees to the roar of Monster Mo the Man-Bat and even the little ‘ba-ding’ you get for finding Monster Mo the Man-Bat behind a collection of reeds seems to be just someone making the noise into a microphone. It’s a nice touch that make progressing through each level less of a slog.
Overall, Hidden Folks has been a joy to play thus far. I played it on PC, but it’s also available on the Switch, and I can personally foresee the latter as the best way to play the game. It’s one of those games you can pick up and put down without having to cordon off a whole section of your day to play it, perfect for unwinding during the winter months. I could also see it being perfect for keeping kids occupied in the car, which I mean less as an accusation of simplicity, but rather a testament to the game’s engrossing nature. Even little devils could get lost in all those details.
Why Slime Rancher?
I was in two minds in terms of the kind of game to get. At first I was thinking of getting a game that is quite bad, yet still enjoyable in a laughable way. This thought brought me to Garfield Kart, and oh dear it is not a good game. However, I had a change of heart (it was probably for the best) and gifted Angus Slime Rancher.
Above all, Slime Rancher looks fun and adorable, with the slimes seeming very cuddly. In addition, it seems like a game that exploration is encouraged. I will likely be buying this game at some point for these factors so hopefully Angus found it as fun and adorable as it looks.
Slime Rancher | Review
When I play games, I have a very goal-focused mindset and an obsession with productivity and efficiency. This is especially the case for sandbox games. Someone who doesn’t play games this way (and who, I’m sure, is a lot more fun in general) will likely have a very different experience with Slime Rancher than I did.
How cute the game is will probably be the first and second thing anyone will notice playing the game. It cannot be understated how much of Slime Rancher’s design philosophy seems to be focused on maximising its cute factor. To this end it succeeds. All the slimes are incredibly cute and creative (my favourites being the honey and crystal slimes) and whenever I was too busy or forgot to feed the slimes regularly, I did genuinely feel bad when I saw their cutesy faces contort into pure despair. Unfortunately, here is where I ran into my first major issue with Rancher: I wanted to care about the slimes, but there weren’t any systemic or gameplay reasons to care about them. When you don’t feed a slime in a while, they pull the above-mentioned face of utter torment and… that’s it.
Feeding slimes in Rancher means they produce the game’s main aim which is “Plort”, which I assume is just slime poop, but the system doesn’t go any deeper than that. This means that neglecting your slimes doesn’t have any real consequence for the player other than missing out on valuable “Plort”. I soon found myself feeling apathetic towards the slimes – I’d seen that face a thousand times and it just didn’t cut as deep as it used to.
This was a bit of a theme with my time in Slime Rancher; I would expect there to be a system under the surface level cuteness and was surprised to find there isn’t one. You can feed slimes the “Plort” of another type of slime to turn them into “largo” slimes which are a combination of the two slimes but about twice the size- meaning you can’t fit as many in the pens around your ranch. On the pro-largo side, they are less picky about their diet and will eat foods that either of its composite slimes will eat. When making this discovery my mind immediately began racing thinking of the decisions I would have to make in order to make my ranch efficient. I was disappointed to find that there were no ways to work around the largo slime dilemma of easier feeding vs reduced space. There are a limited number of plots available in the ranch, they can either be used for keeping slimes, storage, or providing food. So, using “largo” slimes reduces the amount of space required for providing food but increases the amount needed to keep slimes and not using “largo” slimes has the opposite effect. The player’s choice here is ultimately pointless.
The “largo” dilemma is a microcosm of so many of the game’s decisions: “meat eating slimes or veggie slimes?”; “Spend money on making feeding lots of harmless slimes easier, or spend money on retrieving plort from fewer, more dangerous slimes?” etc. Too many have almost no impact on the player and, as the type of player I am, this turned me off from really experimenting with the systems in the game, I felt like my choices didn’t matter.
While I may seem incredibly negative here, my thoughts on the game are mostly positive. The level design of the world was, unexpectedly for this type of game, very good, there are plenty of secret areas and time saving shortcuts, of which the jetpack unlocks more in areas you previously thought had been fully explored. In fact, I often found myself as interested in exploring as I was in farming slimes. I appreciate the rebranding of the usually violent shooting mechanics of the gun to be used in a non-violent way- an incredibly clever and kind-hearted way to make what could have been simply clicking or pressing a single button more engaging (even if the shooting mechanics aren’t quite satisfying or varied enough to support the whole game).
Visually, the game impresses too, the colours pop, the areas and slimes are all interestingly designed. One of my favourite touches in the game is the facial animations of Beatrix, the player character, which I’m pretty sure are the only thing in the game which is animated in a 2D classic cartoon style.
Yet despite all the positives, the game lacked the depth of decision making that I look for in any game, especially a sandbox game. If you’re a fun person, it is very possible that you could get a lot of enjoyment out of running around in a colourful and cute world, experimenting with slimes- I imagine it could be quite relaxing. However, if you think that what you tend to value in a game lie more towards the goal-oriented style, I doubt you would get much out of the experience past the initial cuteness.
Why Passpartout: The Starving Artist?
Passpartout: The Starving Artist is a game I’ve been looking at picking up for a while. I’d been holding out for a substantial sale on the Switch (a fool’s errand I’m aware), but I finally caved and bought the game about a month ago. With its apparently arbitrary metric for judging the portraits you put together, I think there’s a piece to be written about the way Passpartout can bring out the artist in even the least artistic of us.
This is of course nothing to do with the reason I bought the game for Kyle as part of the Redbrick Gaming Secret Santa. I gifted Passpartout for Kyle because I was aware it was a game that would be different to what he would usually play, and that’s what this is really about isn’t it? I am brimming with anticipation to hear about his artistic efforts.
Passparout: The Starving Artist | Review
When I reflect on my hobbies, I have a fair few. However, painting has never been on that list. I have never been good at it, but I have wanted to improve. Fortunately, I have received Passpartout: The Starving Artist through secret Santa (thank you Tom). While not quite as intricate as painting in real life, Passpartout is a way to create some very cool art. While I am still pretty rubbish at painting, there was a decent amount of fun to be had in this game.
In case you could not guess, Passpartout: The Starving Artist is a painting simulator title. Assuming the role of an upcoming painter, you must create and sell artworks to improve your studio and earn more money. It is a simple basis, but so much more can be achieved by ambitious players. One key factor of art is that it can be anything; use this ideology and create until your heart is content! This game is all about creation and being unique with your designs, so using your imagination is key. Want to paint your favourite character on a canvas (such as Spongebob or Bubsy)? Then absolutely go for it!
Interestingly, I have noticed that in this game you are rewarded for innovating. If you paint something too simple, you will not sell your work. Additionally, paintings that feel like replicas of real-life characters and emblems do not often sell. I found this impressive, as it encourages creativity. This could just be a coincidence but nonetheless it added depth and challenged my mind somewhat.
When away from the easel, Passpartout creates an intriguing atmosphere. As perhaps guessed from the games’ title, elements of French culture are taken. One character model in this game is a man in a black and white striped shirt, who speaks French and carries baguettes with him. Other character models are odd yet memorable, symbolising certain types of people.
As for aesthetically, this game is visually pleasing. I enjoy the colours and changing environments as the player progresses through the game. Across the three acts, environments change to represent the player’s progression. At first, you begin painting in a dark street, residing in a small warehouse. Afterwards, you have a small studio in which you can display your paintings on the wall. You finally achieve great success and have access to an even better gallery. Each new location is bigger and brighter than the last, giving you the feeling of success.
Alongside all of this, the colours on offer allow you to be creative. Especially for a game on the lower end of price, 24 colours are enough to create cool designs. Alongside previously mentioned lighting, brighter colours appear as you change locations. This makes environments feel warmer and more comforting, being symbolic perhaps to success.
Despite the ability to create endless paintings, Passpartout: The Starving Artist is a surface level game. Your imagination is your only limitation, but I still wish there was more. However, it is a small and reasonably priced game, so you get what you pay for, and that is just fine.
Why Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance?
Because it’s the rules of nature man. Seriously though, the game revels in a kind of excess you don’t see much in modern releases, even the once wacky Metal Gear series had itself muddied up for tactical mumbly army dude stuff with Metal Gear Solid V. The gameplay in Metal Gear Rising isn’t exactly challenging, but it’s mostly non-stop fun – and if games aren’t fun, why are we even playing them?
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance | Review
When put alongside the rest of the Metal Gear franchise, 2014’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance stands apart as a bit of a black sheep. It may mark the return of Raiden, the pretty-boy protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2 and is set canonically four years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4 but this whacky hack-and-slash, developed by the melee masters over at PlatinumGames, a studio well-known for creating the supremely sassy Bayonetta series, is otherwise a complete thematic and stylistic departure from the third-person stealth action of the mainline games.
Set in an unnamed African nation ravaged by war, Metal Gear Rising sees a cybernetically enhanced Raiden attempt, and fail, to protect the country’s prime minister from an assassination attempt by a mysterious private military company. After being severely wounded, Raiden is left to revenge and avenge his way through the entire military industrial complex on a mission which eventually culminates in the player fist fighting the president of the United States on top of a giant, nuclear warhead loaded mech. The whole plot is a constant tonal rollercoaster, which veers from deep philosophical about the nature of conflict and the role of disinformation to your protagonist strutting around in a sombrero and cyborg high heels.
Gameplay is equally frantic, comprised of a mixture of button mashing to dispense heavy and light attacks, coordinating blocks, and entering the slow-motion ‘blade mode’ to slice down oncoming projectiles or try and inflict critical damage to enemies’ weak points. Every encounter is intensely visceral, with huge bursts of blood spewing from enemies when they are successfully combo-attacked and an excellent physics engine allowing you to lop off your adversary’s limbs at will. You can rip out and crush opponent’s spines to regain your health mid-fight and collecting fallen foe’s right hands allows you to purchase some very useful upgrades.
Your performance is graded after every fight, providing a neat little appraisal of how effective you were in combat and there’s even some optional stealth segments thrown in there that allow you to sneak around in cardboard boxes to avoid certain sections of the game entirely.
Compared to the rest of the series, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is admittedly an incredibly short game, only taking up six or so hours of your time. In spite of its short running time, in the first hour alone I cut a fifty-storey high robot in half with a samurai sword as heavy metal blared in the background, jumped through a barrage of incoming high-speed missiles to propel myself towards an enemy and fought a cyborg ninja on an exploding cargo train. Was it ridiculous? Unapologetically. Did it make any sense? Not in the slightest. Did I have the time of my life? Absolutely.
XII has, in my humble opinion, all the makings of an absolutely phenomenal game. It has a brilliant set of comic-book visuals which still hold up today, an all-star cast of celebrity voice actors (seriously, they even got Adam West in on this thing) and plenty of adrenaline fuelled run-and-gun action. It is almost impressive, then, that once you get past the glamour of the game’s first two levels the entire experience completely falls apart. The plot becomes convoluted and confusing, the forced stealth-segments are just flat-out awful and even those shiny visuals lose their gleam after a while. Call me the Grinch, but I wanted something which would appear good enough on the surface to lure Dan into a false sense of security so that I could then point and laugh while he suffered a couple hours down the line.
XIII | Review
Allow to preface this by saying, I really wanted to like XIII. At first, it seemed the kind of game that would end up being more than the sum of its parts but its issues are too glaring, and too great in number that I cannot excuse them – even if hitting someone over the back of the head with a chair is a great feeling. Even writing this, I’m struggling to recollect a lot of what happened in the game, its all blurred together in a mess of reloaded quicksaves and Adam West’s narration.
The game is full of moments that should be fun, jumping off of cliffs with a grappling hook sounds great – but, it immediately arrests your movement to the length of your rope in a way that doesn’t feel natural. You snipe people on rooftops but the sniper is awful to use and yet somehow makes the game too easy. A lot of the problems stem from a lack of direction – the game can’t decide whether it wants to be a stealth game or not and this makes the combat mechanics and AI feel poorly matched with the linear level design. More damningly, most of the guns just aren’t fun to use, and many of the fights (boss fights included) ended with me running up to an enemy and dumping a magazine into their head.
The art design hasn’t aged well, which is strange for a game that adopts a cel-shaded style, but the flat character models remind me more of the permanent smirk on Max Payne’s face than of the expressive artstyle of Jet Set Radio.
This myriad of failings isn’t to say I had no fun with XIII, I enjoyed the first few levels, if only for the comically bad voice acting of Adam West and David Duchovny. If you’re going to play XIII, don’t bother pushing through the more tedious sections, there’s no real payoff, unless you really like bad cliffhangers for stories that don’t make sense.
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