Saints Row IV
Initially this plays very much as Saints Row III-2, picking up from where the previous game finished both in plot and mechanics. Finding yourself in a Matrix-inspired virtual recreation of the city of Steelport, the exaggerated open world shooting and carjacking larks are soon supplanted by a selection of superpowers. You can keep it mundane if you want and some of the missions will force you to, but on the whole it kind of feels like playing an overpowered New Game Plus or with half a dozen cheats on. Character creation remains excellent, allowing for a lot of variation in your virtual self. I always refer to the Saints Row franchise as “Hooning Around: The Game” and there’s plenty of that to do, as well as the greater freedom to roam afforded by super-jumping/gliding/running.
If you liked Saints Row: The Third (best of the ones I’ve played), then you’ll enjoy this, just not quite as much. If you’ve not played SR3, do try that first. One common flaw SR3 and 4 share is a fairly insular/baffling approach to series-recurring characters (“What’s a Johnny Gat? Why should this unexplained NPC matter to my character? What’s actually going on here?”). You’re really not playing Saints Row games for the plot though, more the aforementioned hooning, the outrageous tongue-in-cheek OTT moments and the moment when your character starts singing along to their favourite song on the radio badly.
Skullgirls: 2nd Encore
This is tuna with bacon!
Probably the best part of Skullgirls is the excellent tutorial mode which teaches the broadly-applicable fundamental concepts of 2D 1v1 fighting games as well as game/character specific mechanics. Another joy is in the wealth of elements pinched or nodded to from innumerable predecessors, e.g. signature moves from familiar characters or announcer lines you know you’ve heard elsewhere. Gameplay made me think of the Darkstalkers series, minus its worst excesses and with some clever/interesting mechanics which show how much thought’s gone into the game. Everything about the Dark Deco design and look is great, except the preponderance of weirdly fanservice-y free Flash game character designs. Not massively keen on paying £3.99 a pop for additional characters for the limited roster either, although I guess that’s what proper balanced gameplay costs. A qualified recommendation.
Another rather noirish Cabaret-evoking game, this time a plot-driven puzzler. You play the oversexy imaginary friend of a young girl who just wants her imperfect parents to get back together. Gameplay largely involves minor exploration but mostly running between cutscenes using your ability to turn into a shadow in harsh light to help her via the shadows of other objects and people. One particularly nice touch is how some arguments involving the parents are depicted in huge animated shadows which you have to safely navigate. The game has a decent amount going on conceptually which you can chew on as you fall to your “death” again.
One quibble, whilst I’ve got no real complaints about the physics for the puzzles themselves (thank goodness!), movement of your character generally seems a bit unfinished. Blimey, even Super Mario Bros managed a bit of inertia to give the character some sense of weight. Also worth noting that it’s much less Ico than it looks/sounds especially in that screenshot above.
Manic Miner (Xbox 360 port)
Predecessor to 1984‘s (better known?) Jet Set Willy, Manic Miner is an object-collecting platform game played over a number of single-screen levels. Everything kills you (toilets, bushes, falling barely your own height), half the platforms crumble under your feet and jumps have to be pixel perfect or you die and have to restart the screen. As of writing I can get to level 5 – Eugene’s Lair, but it’s a right stinker. In addition, I’ve gone right off In The Hall Of The Mountain King.
There’s an HTML 5 version here if anyone’s pining for a go, although note that it runs a lot faster than the original, urk!
That’s all for now!