Tamiku

Snowballs and stuff in the neo-arcade game, Tamiku

Grabbed this on a whim because I really enjoyed Zeroptian Invasion (one of those games where I’ve had a draft post sitting there about it for a while that I never seem to get round to finishing up) and well, it looked good. No better reason, really.

And it is good! Less arcade and more a home computer take on arcade games (absolutely not a slight), it’s a single screen game where you race between platforms to pop balloons, avoid the nasties and… that’s it, actually. That’s the gig.

Each screen sees you presented with some new variations of baddies to keep an eye out for and it’s all very, very videogame. Some go up, some go down, some wrap round, some are big meanies and I’m telling teacher.

It’s tough and I reckon slightly tuned to “person who wrote the game” so you’ll need a bit of speed and quick reflexes to get out of a level alive. The red balloon that takes slightly longer to pop can be quite a nerve wracking proposition and frankly, I’m not speaking to the Bomberman style explosives as they’re just rude.

It’s pretty brilliant though! Absolutely enjoying myself playing it, cussing at it and I dunno, might get a balloon fetish or something, see how it goes. Okay, maybe not that.

Proper recommendation for Tamiku though, it’s the good stuff.

It’s on consoles courtesy of Ratalaika, I’ve been playing the PS4 version and it’s good. You can also find it on Itch and Steam for the PC.

With Origins, No Man’s Sky is a big, glorious, mess again.

One of the joys of No Man’s Sky at launch was the chaotic worlds the game would generate. It was a game that could often be beautiful, but only from the correct angle. It was a game that was as likely to generate an awe inspiring planet to explore as much as it could generate one that looked like somebody threw up over a map from the original Halo.

My very first planet from No Man’s Sky’s launch, sort of like a rock of space vomit.

I loved it. Not just because I never quite knew what I’d find when landing somewhere but also because I really, really, enjoyed finding the angle it looked amazing from and *click*, taking a screenshot.

Over a series of updates, that all changed. I think it kinda had to because the promise of visiting dinosaur laden lush planets was a huge part of what people wanted from the game, not something akin to your cat sitting on the keyboard whilst you have Vue open.

I’d forgotten quite how much UI there was.

I can’t say I didn’t appreciate it myself either. It took Hello Games a couple of rejigs to get it working but when they were done, the results were astounding. It became incredibly difficult to take a rubbish shot because the game looked that good pretty much most of the time, from most angles.

Unfortunately, this came with the cost of the universe feeling increasingly uniform. The tidier the generation, the more things looked similar no matter where you travelled to. A wonderful thing for setting up a virtual space home in but yeah, exploration meant seeing the same thing, often. I won’t say the game lost something, it was just different.

A rock formation that looked great before the 50,000th planet I landed on to find it present.

By the time the Beyond update dropped, it was an absolutely remarkable kind of different. I don’t know what they’re putting in the snacks down at Hello Games HQ but blimey, whatever it is made the game look breathtakingly beautiful. Closer than ever to the great infinite book cover generator dream that sold me on the game from the off.

Gosh, look, I’m getting tingly thinking about how often this silly videogame had me in awe of the talent behind it. I’m a sucker for the craft of game making (not just art) and No Man’s Sky became an absolutely pure show off game. Really, really something.

This pic gets me every time. Seriously good stuff.

I wrote about the game a few months back, fully expecting that to be close to the game’s final form. It’s been four years, it looks astounding, more than had my entertainment from it all. But no. That absolutely was not close to it’s final form.

Since my last piece, explorable space wrecks with more than a tinge of survival horror to them got added to the game and a few weeks back, an absolutely enormous update to the world generation. No Man’s Sky is a big mess again and for the fourth year running, Hello have made me fall in love with the game all over again.

This was the first shot I took after Origins landed and, well, SOLD.

Which is just rude, really. They should let someone else have a chance.

There’s just so much stuff now. So many new plants, rocks, things, creatures, colours. It’s an absolute treat and best of all, it’s chaotic again! Just chaotic with 4 years of lessons, 4 years of improvements, 4 years of making the thing increasingly beautiful. Because of all this it’s messy in a way the launch version never could be. Stuff everywhere! Incredible storms tearing up the sky! Massive cloud cover! So much stuff to see that I’ve barely touched the sides of it.

It’s really good you know and I’m feeling proper spoiled by it.

What a game. What a game.

Feather, in pictures

Whilst the ambient game has a comfy home on the PC, there’s scant few to be found over on the PS4. Bit of a shame considering plenty would look fabulous on a big TV but whilst console dev remains out of bounds for most people, guess we’re kind of stuck.

Anyway! Feather is a lovely compact be-a-bird ’em up. Float around a really quite pretty island, do a bit of flapping and that, make some nice tweeting noises and occasionally pass the odd other player doing the same.

It’s largely a pretty lovely experience, the kind of thing it’s nice to pop on and relax to for a few minutes or so. Being a bird feels nice, swooping, rolling and diving to your own rhythm. There’s no punishments, no goals, just being a bird. It’s nice.

Five quid well spent, I reckon. It’s one I’ll be digging out when the old bonce gets a bit too sore again and I need something to take me away from it all.

The music can be a bit “stood at the back of Shared Earth picking some incense sticks” but I guess that’s kinda fitting regardless. Not every work can be as sublimely soundtracked as the hauntological nature dreamscape that is Proteus and, to be fair, nor would I want every game to be that. Give me breadth, you know?

It really is a shame that consoles are so far behind the curve on the sheer amount of videogame experiences people are making now, mind. Imagine if instead of the tired action, adventure, RPG, shooter categories that games have sat with since the nineties, consoles had some easily browsable space for “ambient”, “nature”, “relaxing” and all manner of other things that people pluck from their imaginations.

Hopefully this upcoming generation will see that finally shift though. It’s certainly long overdue.

Whilst I’m waiting, I’ll treasure the few experiences like “Feather” that can afford to sneak through the net and give me the sort of chill time I often crave. Especially when they look this good.

Hotshot Racing

Early impressions but it’s safe to say I’m pretty happy with Hotshot Racing so far.

Not entirely sure what I was expecting considering I’d pretty much forgotten about the thing 2 or 3 years back and so was pleasantly surprised to see reviews dropping this week for it. Eurogamer’s review pretty much sold it to me, anyhoo.

A low poly Roger Moore, with his face punched in.

Admittedly I’m having a bit of trouble with Aston (hohoho) looking like someone had wrote “draw Roger Moore but with his face punched in” on the design document and nobody stopped to think whether this was the most aesthetically pleasing choice BUT that seems like a pretty small complaint.

Honestly think I’m spoilt by the low poly stuff Ethan Redd knocks out so anything is going to look a bit worse in comparison, no one person should be allowed to set the bar that high. It’s just rude.

A low poly car going fast down a low poly road

It still looks pretty fine though, all the right bright colours in place for the most part, even the menus are perfectly Sega arcade enough. I like it.

Racing wise, it’s surprisingly more in the realms of the still rather excellent Split/Second (without the exploding scenery and stuff) than Outrun 2 or Daytona, even down to the really aggressive rubber banding. Though, as far as I can see, it doesn’t share Split/Second’s more gentle difficulty adjustment when you repeatedly muck a race up.

It’s not a huge problem but it does mean the racing can be rather unforgiving and mistakes can be costly in Grand Prix mode. A couple of times I’ve mucked up a drift and gone from first to last place with nowhere near enough track left to recover.

Luckily, I’ve been too busy going “wheeeeee” and “whoooooooo” to care all that much. (Figured I best mention it though in case that sort of thing is a deal-breaker for you.)

A low poly car ramming into another low poly car

There’s so much I haven’t had chance to look at yet, mind. There’s so many cars, so many tracks, a few different game modes – it’s a really excessively full game for its budget price! I’m happy enough playing the Grand Prix mode or doing a single race in Arcade mode so I haven’t really felt in a hurry to check everything else out. I’ll get round to it all soon enough, I’m sure.

Maybe? Truth be told, I’ve been playing Outrun 2 for a very long time now and still haven’t bothered looking at half of what’s in the home versions of that. Sometimes there’s enough joy to be had from the main game and the rest is a nice bonus. Like I say, I’ve been enjoying the main mode of Hotshot Racing plenty so, err, yeah. Might get round to the rest, dunno.

I really am quite happy with the low poly wheels on my car going round and round, round and round. Hotshot Racing is the good stuff, full of bright colours and blue skies and that’s all that matters to me.

The Elder Scrolls Online

A picture of a castle, behind a tree. It's a bit drab.

Look, it’s been a hairy few months shielding and trying not to catch a killer virus, obviously there’s no better time for me to lose myself in an MMO. For some inexplicable reason, I already owned The Elder Scrolls Online so it seemed as good a choice as any.

The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) kinda ticks off most of my needs at the mo. I can scale play to whatever I can manage, if I’m exhausted then I can pop it on and do a few hours fishing then spend another fifteen minutes shaving the fish. I am exhausted a lot right now. I have shaved a lot of fish.

A spoopy cavern that's remarkably blue.

Otherwise, as MMOs are generally built to accommodate, the more energy I have to spuff on a game, the more of a challenging activity I can go off and do. Though to be honest, I mainly just run around collecting things when I’m not fishing. It’s calming.

It also provides a certain routine. Log in every day, do a bit of crafting, go and have a nap. Do the same tomorrow.

Bluntly, ESO is Very MMO.

One of my houses in the game. It's a wooden building with lots of wooden furniture, a fireplace and a curious glowing device on a table.

I couldn’t say it exactly does anything especially amazingly. I couldn’t even tell you what I’m doing or why most of the time either. It’s kind of a meat and potato game – filling enough, if largely unexciting. But that’s fine because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic so unexciting is sweet relief from the daily news. It’s more than fine at this point, you know?

Sure, it would be nice if the writing had a bit of charm to it (any charm at all really), but I guess I can’t have everything. The writing is largely not great and y’know, skippable. Best off just hitting things rather than reading things. I have skipped a lot of writing.

A scary mansion, it has blood red lighting, some fetching drapes and a couple of glowing alchemy bottles in case you forget this is a fantasy game.

My favourite thing about ESO though is how ESO perpetually very nearly looks good but somehow manages to flunk it at the last hurdle. Whilst some of it is understandable given it needs to run on a toaster almost, there’s definitely some interesting colour and art choices been made that mean the game falls flat for me no matter what angle I spin the camera to.

I know some decisions around the art are due to the internet backlash over its early art style that could have politely been described as “very PS3” and fair enough, that wasn’t an especially good look for a fantasy role playing game. The solution was partially to make the game look like A Very PC Videogame and whilst it has, absolutely, worked and it looks like A Very PC Videogame, it’s a Very PC Videogame from 2006 or something. Which is less kind on my eyes.

It's a videogame forest, red plants in the foreground, a sweep of green and a selection of autumnal shades make the trees almost, but not quite, akin to a painting.

But! I kinda like that. Sure, I’d love something with the kind of fidelity Ubisoft bring to their games or whatever but there’s something about the “photorealism circa the mid to late 2000’s” look that reminds me constantly that this is a videogame rather than a place.

It’s absolutely wrongheaded on my behalf, no doubt, but I like being reminded that a videogame is a videogame. It’s just somehow easier for me to relate that to “humans built this” and kinda marvel at the results. Even if the results do seem to have fallen through time.

A very profoundly blue rocky cavern. Really, it's mainly blue.

I realise I’m not exactly selling ESO here. It absolutely is a game I’d struggle to recommend to anyone who wants to lose themselves in a good story, it’s a game where I’d struggle to recommend it to anyone who wants an exceptionally pretty game and mechanically, I press buttons and things happen, it works. Sometimes I press buttons and this happens and that’s great.

Frankly, an absolute mess of colour that makes it difficult to see what's actually going on in the game.

But I don’t always want exceptional! Sometimes I want something that ticks the right boxes and I don’t give a toss about much beyond that. Not everything has to be astounding to be worth my time, sometimes it’s fine to just be a thing. Sometimes, that’s everything I want.

It’s also something I don’t think videogames as a space appreciates enough with everything being a race to the next best thing. I think people, generally, appreciate that games can just be and that’s fine. It’s just videogames again, really. Videogames is an odd, silly, place.

Will my dalliance with an MMO last beyond coronavirus? Probably not. Do I care? Definitely not. Right now, ESO brings me a peace I don’t find much of in real life and that’s more than enough.

Polybius

Polybius is the videogame as fairground ride. You must be this tall to play. Scream if you want to go faster. I can’t hear you, I said scream if you want to go faster.

Polybius is a Doug Trumbull dreamscape – the 2001 stargate made game, the TARDIS in the time vortex. This is your brain in slitscan.

Polybius is the dull thump thump thump of the sound of a sweaty club dancefloor heard from the bar, the bogs, somewhere, it’s walking from the sidelines to the euphoric centre, the relentless drive of the music building, building, building and…

SHIELD DOWN

If Slave Of God is the game as local nightclub after one too many, Polybius is a case of white labels, a warehouse and let’s hope the fuzz aren’t onto it.

It’s a game that grips and releases like no other I’ve played. It is dance music. It is the videogame rave. It’s fucking incredible. It is a night out, in. I don’t know how this works, it just does. Trust me. It works.

Polybius is purest videogame. Polygon spinning, pixel shattering, the ultimate arcade videogame. The very definition of The New Arcade, impossible in 1983, oh so possible today.

Polybius is I, Robot, Polybius is the modern Blaster, Polybius is Tube Panic. Polybius is Horace Goes Skiing?!? Polybius is a lot. Seriously, it’s so much.

A game that dares to wear the name Polybius has to go hard. No questions, that’s the deal. Polybius goes hard. Polybius, the game, earns its mythical, legendary name and then some.

Polybius is a Nine Inch Nails video. I don’t know either, it just is.

Polybius leaves me breathless. No exaggeration, no kidding. I can only play it for so long before I need a bit of a sit down. Problem? I’m already sitting down. I haven’t worked out how to deal with this yet.

Llamasoft are at the top of their game right now, Jeff and Giles leaning in to the beasty, furry, psychedelia. Reaching deep for the soul of the arcade, pulling out videogames that feel profoundly digital, made from finest ones, zeroes and silicon. Implausibly ending up with videogames to dance to.

Polybius is a few years old now and unjustly ignored. That feels like a wrong that needs to be righted, you know? Even to a die hard Llamasoft admirer like myself, it feels special in ways I can’t put into words anywhere near well enough.

Maybe a sound then? Yeah, that’s it. A sound.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

That’s the one. That’s Polybius.

Like the man says, scream if you want to go faster.

Watch: Chinny on Supergran

Obviously, there’s no universe where a game based on Supergran would be anything but a bit naff. A game based on Supergran published by Tynesoft though? That’s going to be a special kind of naff, the best kind of naff and really, it doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

There’s something wonderfully Don’t Buy This about every version of Supergran Chinny looks at in this vid and I’ll be honest, I can’t ever get enough of that sort of thing.

It’s clear from whatever version you pick, the template the game works to is going to present problems regardless of anything else. With sprites as big as they are, it’s going to be difficult to squeeze any sort of arcade game out of that. And sure enough, it’s a struggle! An almost unsalvageable one at that.

Despite that though, a couple of the versions really do push to get something, anything, that works from it.

It’s marred by flickering but the Commodore 16 version looks really good. Well, providing none of the sprites go over the buildings, anyway. The Commodore 64 version makes a noble push to almost Minter-ise the game. It doesn’t work but the effort’s clearly visible. They’re proper good tries and in all seriousness, likely taking more effort than the game deserves.

The thing about games is that even a ropey one takes a lot of effort and I think that’s why a lot of consumer-first journalism rubs me the wrong way. Like, I have an enormous love of tat films and until the internet developed into the siloes it kinda is now, I had no idea anybody saw these films as a problem, as aberrations, wrong.

The same goes for games, music, whatever. This isn’t a New Sincerity thing because urgh at all that! This is a complete so what if they’re not the most earnest 10/10 things? I can still find things to enjoy and appreciate. Well, providing they’re not harmful anyway. There’s only so much problematic I can stomach.

I am totally guilty of falling into the trap where I wholly believed the “if you pay money for it, damn right it better be the best” mantra of consumer journalism, sometimes I have to snap myself out of it. It is that deeply ingrained in our culture, that pervasive, that it’s hard not to fall into it sometimes.

I should stress that I’m talking about consumer led journalism, not criticism here. Very specifically that thing which holds makers prisoners of perfection because money is finite and only the best will do. (Amount of best may vary, terms and conditions apply. Please see a doctor if you suffer side effects)

Mind you, that’s why this site exists. It exists so that I can talk about things I enjoy in games and why I enjoy them, what I get out of them – videos, articles or whatever.

Yes, even if it’s a slightly naff TV tie in game. That’s just how things roll round here, so nerr.