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.

Read: The All Shooter

I swear so much of 2020 is spent with me trying to reconcile existing at the end of history with the odd effects it has on my noggin. Catching the arse end of a million potential futures due to having spent the better part of half a century on the planet makes the cultural what’s now is then and what’s then is now that is any artform or media in 2020 weirdly difficult to process.

Not gonna lie, this ReBind piece on The All Shooter really didn’t help in that regard. It’s totally on the nose to the point of being almost too easy, too obvious. It’s exactly that obviousness that makes it messier for me to deal with because, well, it’s only a tiny amount of changes required here and there for it to fit perfectly into any year in the past decade.

Like I say, living at the end of history is weird. I have to concentrate really hard to remember that this article wasn’t always obvious, wasn’t always so deeply embedded in what videogames simply are. The All Shooter was not always a thing. It doesn’t have to always be a thing and isn’t all things – it’s a looming shadow over all videogames though because it forever dominates conversations.

The latest all shooter is the latest all discourse. Its position bought and assured, regardless of quality, invention and aesthetics.

As games have pushed further and further into fringes, niches rarely explored in the medium prior, towards audiences who’ve been forced to defend their right to Just Be in games, the discourse dominance of the All Shooter is a great disservice to all of games.

But we know this, it’s been said for my entire time in games, year after year after year. It’s right there in the ReBind piece. That’s the thing though, isn’t it?

What’s then is now, what’s now is then. And so it goes until the grave.

No wonder it wrecks my head.

Spaceships In No Man’s Sky

Can’t lie, I like a good spaceship. Whether it’s the post war airforce analog of Dan Dare’s Anastasia, the flying St John’s Beacon-isms of the Dalek flying saucer from the 60’s Who film (any flying saucer is great really but that’s the gold standard), my personal all time favourite of The Liberator (Scorpio just doesn’t cut it) or the absurdly ominous kitbash of the Star Destroyer. Spaceships, frankly, are good.

Well. Film, TV and comic spaceships are good. Videogame spaceships have largely failed to grab me in the same way. I’m not even sure why. When sitting down to write this post out I tried racking my brains for some spaceships in a game somewhere that I really love and I guess there’s the R-9, that’s pretty good though that’s more for the attachments, I guess. And errr, well, that’s where No Man’s Sky comes in because the spaceships are fantastic and there’s so many variations to pick through thanks to them being built out of modular parts.

And sure, it’s a bit of a cheat because the ships in No Man’s Sky do often riff on familiar ships but no matter, they’re really something. The only real problem is that the game only lets me own six at any one time so picking the fleet I desire most is as much a part of the game as anything else. In a game where the appeal is predominantly aesthetic, it’s actually a rather hefty part.

I’m rarely entirely content with my fleet but right now, I reckon I’ve got a bit of a special bunch. I mean, take a look at these.

The ridiculous thing is that my fleet doesn’t even touch the sides of the amount of ship designs in the game. There’s an absurd amount of variations from the curious Captain Blood-esque living ships to 70’s SF book cover style haulers, tubular shuttle craft, “bug” spaceships and even a bunch that look like they’ve popped straight out of the Dyson factory. It should be illegal to have this many spaceships in one videogame.

Like, Destiny 2 has a bundle of spaceships but for the bulk, it’s a paint job to tell them apart. To be fair, they’re often exceptionally good paint jobs because that’s Destiny for you! Just, you know, spaceships.

Because my brain is terrible to me at the best of times, I absolutely do find myself looking over at the ridiculous amounts of money Star Citizen asks for their post-Aliens militaristic in-game spaceships (some of which you’d currently only be buying a promise that it’ll appear in the game at some vague point in the future), then looking back at how I could, if I wanted to, swap round my ship for a markedly different one at nearly every stop I make in No Man’s Sky.

I do know it’s kind of mean but, again, spaceships.

In summary: spaceships.

Skool Daze Reskooled

I’m not sure at what point I managed to lose my way but I do know me of relatively few years back would be ashamed by more recent me for avoiding Skool Daze Reskooled because of how it looks.

Like, I’m not here to argue it’s an amazing looker of a game but I’m definitely here to point out that for someone who defends making games at most levels, it’s pretty bloody hypocritical of me to make a thing of this. Especially when what it might well lack in looks, it more than makes up for as a remake.

I’ve been kicking myself about this for week or so now. Considering my roots in remakes, it’s pretty atrocious of me. I’d be made up to be able to write a Skool Daze a tenth of what this is and Molyneux only knows, I’m personally responsible for making games that look worse. Honestly, I’ve no defence.

Crucially, I’m not damning it with faint praise. It is a great take on Skool Daze. If this had landed on my old remakey haunting grounds and/or been entered into one of the prominent remake competitions I used to run, I’d have been a strong advocate for it. You would think the recommendations of my friends and peers would have tipped me off, but nooooo.

Live and learn though, eh. Not exactly the first time I’ve been wrong.

Skool Daze Reskooled is pretty cheap on Steam as well as Android/iOS. It’s pretty good! Sorry.