Disgaea 6 – Spoiler Free Pre-Review Preview Views

Ed Notes: Few quick notes at the bottom, but here’s the TLDR:
We got a pre-release code for this game.
This article is spoiler free.
This article is NOT a Disgaea 6 deep dive.
Oh, and all of this is based on the Switch release.

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny comes out tomorrow (well the English release does), and I think it’s pretty fucking great.

From a purely abstract sense, it also has one of the most interesting twists on the series’ mechanics that I’ve seen before.

See, one thing I’ve heard said a lot about Disgaea is that “The Game Doesn’t Really Start Till You Reach Endgame.” But I’d disagree with that statement. I’d say it’s more that Disgaea games don’t usually give you access or incentivize using the series’ unique mechanics until endgame.

Elements like reincarnating characters to boost their base stats, entering the Item World to level up items, and abusing the cheat shop for grinding don’t usually come into play before you beat the story. This is a bit of a shame, since they’re some of the more unique and interesting systems in the series. Usually, you don’t need or want to do any of these to beat the game’s main story.

Disgaea 6 doesn’t do that, and instead opts to bring these systems in and make you want to use them far, far earlier than previously.

So, before I spend several paragraphs gushing over the rest of the game, I do want to quickly talk about the elephant (and some accompanying mice) in the room. The game’s performance isn’t great. Disgaea 6 was originally released for PS4, and it’s also the first game in the series with 3D graphics. The end result is, regardless of what I set the graphics quality to, it looked like garbage when using my Switch as a handheld. Strangely enough, the low quality is entirely constrained to the tactics map and overworld. Menus, combat animations, and cutscenes all run good.

If graphics are potentially a deal breaker for you, I heavily suggest you download the demo from the eShop, and give that a whirl. I’ve heard tell that there may be performance improvements, and I plan to reach out to NIS to ask, but I don’t expect an answer anytime soon. So yeah, consider playing the demo first. (Your save also transfers over to the full game, so no reason not to.)

Elephant gone, time to talk about mice. This is the first game in the series with 3D graphics for characters instead of sprites. They are fine. I would not say that I love them. The special attack combat animations are much shorter and less complex than in previous games. I liked how over the top they were in previous games, but that might have just been me. Whatever, mice dealt with.

Okay, so let’s go back to talking about why this game is great. Like I mentioned above, Disgaea 6 incentivizes using all of the game’s ridiculous systems.

Reincarnation, the process of resetting a character back to level 1, in exchange for making their base stats and stat growth higher is a central part of the game’s story, and you’re actively encouraged to use it from the moment you start.

Auto-battle and Demonic Intelligence turn grinding from a slog into a task to be automated and perfected, making early game grinding feasible.

The Item World loop has been updated so that once an instance of an item has been boosted, that boost applies to any versions of the item bought at the shop. Now, instead of leveling dozens of boots, you level one, then buy half a dozen copies, with the end result being it’s much easier to get cool equipment across all your characters.

The Story Is Good. Not gonna say anything else on that one just yet, but yeah. It’s fun. (Although I didn’t like the English voice acting personally)

There are a lot of interesting risks and design choices with Disgaea 6. I don’t necessarily love all of them, but the game does a lot to allow earlier access to many of its series-defining mechanics, and I think that’s to its credit.

Disgaea 6 comes out tomorrow, and if you like tactics games, I cannot recommend it enough. If you’re already a fan of the series, I’d say you should get a day one copy. If you’ve been interested in playing, but always thought it felt a little overwhelming, Disgaea 6 is the most new player friendly entry into the series.

See you in the Netherworld, dood!

Editor’s Notes Ultimate Plus Complete Edition

  1. We reached out to NIS America and requested a pre-release code for Disgaea 6, which we received. Was it because of our blatant pandering? No idea, honestly they sent us the code like immediately after we requested it, we hadn’t even really kicked our “Pretty Please NIS, let us play it” campaign into high gear.
  2. This article is spoiler free, for reasons. Please don’t assume that this policy will apply to things here in the future about Disgaea 6, but we’ll try to give it a month after release (so anytime after July, it’s open season) before we start discussing spoilery… stuff.
  3. This article is what it sounds like: It’s a general set of thoughts on the game, why you might want to pick it up when it comes out tomorrow, etc. It’s not an exhaustive deep dive on any level, to any system in the game.

Disgaea RPG

I have mixed feelings on Disgaea RPG. The reality of it is that when you strip away much of flavor and art, it’s a fairly bog-standard mobile phone game. On the other hand, it’s also Disgaea flavored which means I’ve been playing it every day more or less non-stop for a week.

Yes, I know. I’m weak.

So, Disgaea RPG. It’s a mobile unit-collection RPG. In practice, this means that you spend most of your time playing the levels you have access to, grinding out the highest content you can when you hit a wall, and waiting for your energy to recharge (or running the item world) when you run out. And saving up as much premium currency as you feasibly can to roll gacha.

In terms of actual gameplay, you build a team of five units, then select and play levels. Units have a basic attack and a few abilities that require SP, which recharges over time…. and that’s pretty much it. There’s no grid system, and you only have a maximum of these five characters in your party.

If it wasn’t for the Disgaea theming, I’m not sure I’d still be playing. But since it is Disgaea themed, the flavor and ability to get a bunch of characters from the other games that I like (such as Valvatorez and Desco) is actually pretty neat. The polish on the art and animations is very solid, and I’d be surprised if the assets weren’t taken directly from the other games. The same is true of the background music, the voice acting, and story elements.

Unfortunately, outside of that, Disgaea RPG doesn’t do too much that most other mobile collection games don’t do already, from what I’ve seen so far. While some elements of the combo system are interesting (such as the way tower attacks are ported over), they aren’t interesting enough to force you to really think about what you’re doing at any given point in time. There have only been 2-3 fights so far that have even made me do anything more complex then “Use best attack I have access to, then keep using it”.

Outside of this though, the aspect of the game I’d say I enjoy the most is the story and character interactions. None of it has quite hit the level of quality I’d expect from a mainline series game, but even if it feels like glorified fanfic, it’s good fanfic. Etna planning on murdering Laharl is still funny, Fuka and Desco’s questionable teamwork is amusing, and Mao cackling maniacally is still fun.

Overall, Disgaea RPG is… fine. I think it’s enjoyable if you’re already a fan of the series, but if you’re not, there isn’t much there for you. It’s definitely carried by the setting and art. But there simply isn’t much mechanically that hasn’t been done in a mobile game before.

Of course, if you’re curious, you can grab it yourself. It’s free on the app store and google play store with in-app purchases. (The ratio of real world money to in-game stuff is pretty garbage in my opinion though.)

Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero?

You can do it, dood!

Ed Note: Images are from theSwitch re-release press kit.

“Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?” was re-released for Switch back in 2020, after originally being released on PSP. It’s a game that I first played on a whim, but grew to love and play religiously. And what with this being Disgaea Week, I figured now is as good a time as any to talk about it.

I was still in high school when I heard about its release, and while I thought the animation looked good, and the gameplay seemed cool, I knew nothing about the Disgaea series. Still, I grabbed it anyway, and on a cold day after class while waiting for the bus, a friend passed me his PSP and I was off on a journey where I learned the most important lesson in life: “Gotta be smart, dood!” 

Starting the game, you’re introduced to our expandable super cool hero, the Prinny, a penguin-shaped husk that houses the spirit of a criminal sentenced to hell. After a quick meeting with your master, Demon Lord Eta, you’re told someone ate her Ultra Dessert and that unless you and your fellow Prinnies get her a new one, you’re all dead. With this promise of an asskicking should you fail, Etna gives you a magical scarf, and it’s off to the races.

Take three hits, and it’s the end of the line dood!

 Once the story begins your UI shows you the main helpful info: your scarves, combo bar, points, a timer, and the total number of Prinnies left. The UI’s not overwhelming when playing and all of the elements are spaced out nicely, so you never have a moment where the action is covered or blocked. The game has a very roguelike feel considering how your Prinny can take three hits, and then they’re gone.

1000 Prinnies might seem like a lot, but they disappear quickly and watching the life counter in the bottom left adds a very fun sense of impending doom. I’ve always been a fan of watching the counter go down as I struggle, getting closer and closer towards the end but also getting better and better, learning boss and enemy mechanics.

Overall, the game is a very snappy side scrolling platformer, and it feels great; there are only rare moments where I felt like a death was due to confusing level design or weird controls. One thing to note is that the game changes perspective when you do an air attack from 2d to a pseudo-3d. This can be awkward at first, but once you get used to the perspective shift it can be helpful for platforming or trying to find hidden areas. 

For combat, your character has a ground slam attack and a sword slice that can be used at short range. The slash attack can be used on the ground or in the air which will cause your Prinny to float while the attack is active. 

Combat is simple and honestly that’s what I loved about the game. Prinnies are supposed to be a weak throw-away characters, and while they are (sorta) the hero of this story, you can tell they’re not traditional overpowered protagonists. 

Enemies and boss fights feel challenging but absolutely beatable. The level design is streamlined and makes it hard to get lost. Additionally, if there was ever a moment where I entered a boss room and didn’t immediately know how to complete the fight, a quick look around the room always guaranteed I knew what was needed to beat them. 

The music and voice acting is also a huge part of what makes the game great. The soundtrack has a very Nightmare Before Christmas/Disgaea vibe. It’s always very fitting for the level and really gets you bobbing with music. As for voice acting, the Prinnies have their go-to catchphrases that after 4 hours I found myself yelling as I beat enemies or made lots of progress: “Gotta be fast dood!” They all have an attitude and speech type that makes you want to help these doods.

Additionally, the supporting cast of demons and lords are hilarious and as an unassuming Prinny walking up to these powerhouses, you get amazing dialog as they ridicule you or even pay no attention. And when you end up interrupting, rest assured, it may end with you running for your un-life.

In short, the game is a great time. If you’re looking for something to pick up and play mindlessly for a few hours, or just laugh at all the crap the hero endures, only to see him finally succeed, it’s still worth it. It’s a simple joy to play and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. As I noted above, the game was released on PSP before, but your best bet at this point if you’re interested is to grab the Nintendo Switch re-release.

Nuclear Throne

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about Nuclear Throne for like two weeks now, and each time I think that I’ll be able to figure it out if I play more of it. Then I go play more Nuclear Throne, and I don’t generate anything new to say about it.

Okay, so let’s talk about why I don’t think Nuclear Throne is perfect, and why I still think you should play it even though I’m about to complain about it a bunch.

To make a long story short, Nuclear Throne is so fun and I played it so much that I was able to make a list of the things that annoy me about the game. So let’s talk about the parts of this good game that drive me nuts.

  1. The Ammo System
    Nuclear throne has a bunch of fantastic guns that all feel super fun to use and handle in the game’s twitchy, fast paced environment. Unfortunately, the guns have a low ammo cap for how hectic the game can become. And I hate that. Often, instead of playing the game like a dodging run-n-gun, I found myself peaking out from behind corners, popping off a shot, and then hiding behind a corner again to conserve ammo. I just want to shoot things.
  2. HP and Damage
    This is a bit of a weird gripe, but here it is: The game does not telegraph at all how much damage various attacks from enemies do. This can become quite frustrating because it’s entirely possible to have a reasonable amount of health (say, 4 HP), and just die in one shot or by blowing yourself up by a surprise high damage attack. I just… find this very annoying. I feel like if I have 4 health left, I shouldn’t just die in one hit.

The end result is that Nuclear Throne ends up feeling like two different games: one where you run-n-gun-n-dodge, and one where you peak around corners with a crossbow, taking potshots and hoping nothing actually rushes you.

So yeah, I generally like Nuclear Throne. I think it’s pretty good. I don’t think it’s perfect. If you bought the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, you already own it, so you can just download it from there. It’s also just on itch.io for $11, and that feels like about what it’s worth.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

These are the same games that came out 14 plus years ago, with a better controller, and worse motion based gimmicks. If you liked them before, you’ll probably still like them now.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars has Super Mario Galaxy in it, which is pretty much worth the price of admission on its own. Okay, now to figure out what else to say so that this looks like a real article.

I’m not sure there’s much purpose in talking a lot about Super Mario 3D All-Stars, or at least the games in it. Like, it’s a collection games of which the most recent is 14 years old at this point. You’ve got Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. They’re the same as when they came out, and you can now rebuy them for your Switch for like $60 bucks.

What’s that, small voice in the back of my head? Assuming that everyone has already played these is mildly exclusionary, and maybe I should write about the actual content of the games anyway? Sure, if it keeps you from telling me that I should go fishing for rats with a hook and cheese in the alley behind my house, I’m all for it.

All three of these games are 3D platformers, and with some variations, follow more or less the same structure. There’s a hub world, which connects to side zones, each of which has a series of levels populated with either Stars or Shines, which you need to collect. When you collect enough, you unlock access to the next level. Different stars require you to do different things. Some involving navigating gauntlets of traps, some involve solving small puzzles, some require you to defeat bosses, and some are based on your ability to do one of the three things above as fast as possible before a timer runs out.

There. Voice in the back of my head quieted. So let’s return to the bits I want to talk about: each of the individual games.

I played a little bit of Super Mario 64, and to be honest, I don’t think it holds up well. The camera is wonky. I don’t love the controls, and I don’t have any special nostalgia for it, so I’d say that one is wash. This isn’t a remaster, so the graphics are Nintendo 64 graphics, which is to say they look bad. It might have been revolutionary for the time, but that time was over 20 years ago.

Next up is Super Mario Sunshine. I haven’t played any of it, mostly because I’ve been busy playing Galaxy, and I’m not sure if I’ll play any Sunshine, mostly because I really do not want to sit through the eons long opening cutscene. Also because so much of Sunshine is recycled boss fights against that weird goop piranha plant. Again, not a remaster, so I don’t feel too bad about that.

So, we’ve got two down, neither of which was great, but that’s okay because we still have Galaxy. And Galaxy is still godly.

So far, I’ve played Galaxy the most out of the collection. I’d say it holds up very well all things considered. While there’s some wonkiness at times with some of the sections that use motion controls, none of it was enough to make me want to stop playing the game. The music is still great. The graphics aren’t going to win any prizes for incredible technical sophistication, but they also don’t have to. The level design and worlds are all super fun, even if the movement feels watered down relative to other games.

The reality of it is at $60 for just Galaxy, I probably would feel like I got my money’s worth out of the games. But that’s partly because I never really got to finish Galaxy in the first place. I’m not sure that this collection offers a huge amount of value to anyone who has already played these games to completion before (unless you already love the genre, in which case I’m not sure you’d need this review).

So yeah. This isn’t a remaster. If you already liked Mario, want to play more, and somehow destroyed all your consoles except your switch, I’d say the game is a pretty good deal. If you don’t like Mario or 3D platformers, then skip it. This is the same game that came out 14 plus years ago, with a better controller, and worse motion based gimmicks.

MMORPG Tycoon 2

Lots of bone, not enough meat. Yet.

Okay, so let’s get the core of my opinion out of the way: MMORPG Tycoon 2 as it currently stands can be pretty fun, but it feels more like a creative playground than a simulator/tycoon style game. If you’re like me, and you are seeking simulation/tycoon games for the system interactions, I’d say wait on this game for the moment. If you’re not like me, and you just want a really cool imaginative playground of game, you still might want to wait, because I can’t tell if its going to stay that way, or turn into the heavy sim I was looking for.

Look at this. It’s incredible.

It does have the single greatest video game cursor ever though.

Okay, let’s talk about the game’s systems, before we get into why I don’t want to currently recommend it.

MMORPG Tycoon 2 is, as the name suggests, a tycoon game about making a MMO. You start with a blank world map of zones, and it’s your job to make it into a world that your little fake players will want to actually exist in. And also to not go bankrupt while doing it.

Ah, Kyle Land 2021.

This means installing the sorts of thing that every MMO needs, from quest-givers, to shops for equipment and taverns to log out in, to putting in zones that spawn monsters so that your players can grind to their hearts’ content. You’ll also have to put down paths, and set up bandwidth networks which power everything.

In addition to the world building, there’s also a massive amount of customization available. You have the ability to customize the looks of the player characters and NPC’s in the game, with what struck me as an impressive modular system for building simple character models. Buildings and other objects also have robust tweaking and modeling controls.

The in-game classes, NPC’s, and monsters also all share a pretty robust customization system that allows you to tweak their abilities, stats, and also make changes to their character models.

People with good taste and thoughtful design ideas can probably use the modeling system to make interesting and neat monsters and characters. I used it to make a 6 story tall hobo-plague doctor with floating arms that just runs around and beats people up.

Okay, so if the game has all of these features, why do I currently not want to recommend it? Well, while many of these systems exist, they don’t yet interact with each other in particularly interesting ways.

For example, take the bandwidth system. It’s completely decoupled from every other part of the game. You just put down bandwidth everywhere you have objects, and if they don’t have enough juice, you add more. There’s no real need to manage spikes based on player behavior, or other activity.

The same thing feels true of the classes and the monster balance. While you have have the ability to make changes to them, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t really influence the fake players’ decisions. While fake players have the ability to request buffs and nerfs, they don’t do much else.

Closer.

Finally, the weakest system in the game by far in my opinion is the versioning. This is effectively leveling up your MMO, and I dislike it for two reasons.

Reason #1. You don’t level up by getting subscribers/money, or by building out more content for your players. You level up just by placing objects down. If you look at some of the screen shots below, you can see that there are areas where I just smashed down a massive amount of objects because I needed to get my level ups. And also…

Reason #2. The benefits of leveling up are almost entirely numerical, i.e., +5 to loot or something. There are a few that give you more interesting and fun powers (Flight paths, PVP), but most are just… more numbers.

Even closer.

And these are the bones with no meat. The level up system is lackluster, but if the numeric benefits were replaced, or added to with a tech tree, all of a sudden they could become far more interesting. If player classes influenced player behavior more, there would be more impetus to balance them and tweak them. And if quest rewards changed a player’s likelihood to complete them, you could use quest rewards to influence player pathing and decisions.

Of course, these are all just the changes I would make, because I’m curious about what the game would look like as a “simulator” as opposed to a Sims-style creative expression toy, with some light simulation elements. And that’s where I run into my main problem with recommending the game in its current state.

Perhaps a bit too close. Yes, the crocodile is a player class.

I can see the game’s design going in one of two different directions, and it’s unclear to me which of the two it will take.

The first design direction that the developers might choose would be the route of a simulator, something with more in common with maybe Cultivation Simulator, or a pure RollerCoaster Tycoon sort of thing, with systems that govern fake player behavior, happiness, willingness to spend, interaction with in-game systems, etc.

The second possible design direction would be for the game to take a tone of something like Animal Crossing or the Sims. This version of the game would have less focus on the simulation aspects, but with more attention paid to your ability to customize and edit your MMO to be exactly the way you want it, much like building up a village in Animal Crossing or the joy of playing with Legos.

Thing is, I’m not sure that it can go both directions at once.

You don’t get anything out of making custom quests, quest names, or NPC’s other then the satisfaction of making something to annoy your friends with. Or crafting a believable mechanical world, but who does that?

The game currently contains more of the features related to the “playing with Legos” situation. Which is fine. But I suspect that the person who wants to craft a beautiful creation of a MMO doesn’t want their fake players to quit en-masse because they died too much to an angry herd of sheep. They don’t want to have to carefully build exact flight paths, and try to understand fake player behavior, or have to deal with managing the underlying data grid. They don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they need to slap together a higher level zone just to make sure they don’t lose subscribers who hit the previous level cap. They don’t want to be punished for building a dingy back alley in their city, just because they used spooky looking buildings in what the game thinks should be a “happy zone.”

The closest comparison I can draw to this is trying to get a highly rated island in New Horizons. Getting a high rating requires that you make a bunch of changes and follow a bunch of rules that may not mesh with the specific look and feel you’re aiming for on your island. And tying in mechanical progression to making those changes feels bad.

On the flip side, I don’t think the person who just wants play with the simulation/ant farm aspect of the system wants to be forced to put down individual cacti to make the desert area more “Deserty” so that players don’t quit over a lack of immersion.

Running won’t save you Inbae. Bob is coming.

And this is why I’m hesitant to recommend the game right now; there’s a lot of potential, but it’s unclear to me what direction this game will go in, so it makes it hard to know who to recommend it to. Will it remain a lite sim where the primary joy is something akin to Animal Crossing, that of building out and creating your own cool space? Or will it become something more mechanically heavy, but less focused on customization?

With that said, the game has a bunch of potential, and I encourage anyone who finds the premise interesting to add it to their Wishlist and keep an eye on it. It’s $25 on Steam, and as far as I can tell, that’s the only place to get it right now.

Didn’t Make the Cut

Some more things I was not impressed by or didn’t like much.

At one point, these posts were gonna be weekly or something. In any case, it’s time for another “Didn’t Make the Cut” AKA “Here’s all the things I either didn’t enjoy, or didn’t think were interesting.” So with minor further ado, let’s get into it shall we?

Ado: Social Justice Warriors and Kids were in the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, so if those two seem neat, you can check them out there.

Social Justice Warriors

In Social Justice Warriors, you play as someone arguing with other people online. Each time you finally defeat someone, you move on to arguing with a new person. Regardless of how many trolls you defeat, nothing actually changes, and you just waste your time.

It’s almost as if there’s some sort of message in the gameplay or something, but I don’t have anything else to say on this one. Also the combat is pretty boring. Next!

Kids

Kids describes itself as an interactive animation. If you want to buy it, it’s $3. Had I bought it for $3, I would regret not using that to buy a cinnamon roll instead. I guess a lot of other people find that it speaks to them, though? I dunno. I just don’t get it. Unlike….

Void Bastards

I do get Void Bastards, and what I get is that I don’t like it very much. Void Bastards is in theory a procedurally generated rogue-lite shooter, with a comic book graphic aesthetic. I would say that the “Shooter” part of that description is debatable, given that you never seem to have any fucking bullets. I’ve played 5 hours, and I have no desire to play anymore. The game’s mechanics just did not feel good, to the extent that they made everything else about the game more annoying.

Side Note: Void Bastards wins some sort of prize for single worst rogue-lite mechanic I’ve seen: Space Whales. You just die, because you clicked on the wrong node on the map? Why? Why would you ever add this?

That’s all for the moment. Planning to do some writeups on a bunch of Switch games in the future, including the somewhat difficultly named new “New Pokemon Snap,” so we’ll see how that goes.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket

I think Wide Ocean Big Jacket is very good. It might be great.

I’d like to open this writeup on Wide Ocean Big Jacket with a long series of paragraphs discussing the definition of games, what it means to be a game, and just general thoughts on interactive media.

I’m not going to do that because it would be a tremendous waste of time, and take away from actually talking about the Wide Ocean Big Jacket.

I think Wide Ocean Big Jacket is very good. It might be great.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket is not something I would have played if I wasn’t trying to force myself to step outside of my comfort zone. If you’ve read my other reviews, it’s pretty easy to figure out that I prize interesting mechanical gameplay over just about everything else.

That’s not really what Wide Ocean Big Jacket is about. The game itself has more in common with a visual novel than any other genre. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any major branching decisions, and the whole experience is fairly linear.

The thing is, the game absolutely nails almost every aspect of the writing and the setting. I would rank it up there with Night In The Woods in terms of being accurate to what human beings are actually like, and also nailing what going camping is actually like. There are very few games with writing this good.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot. Generally speaking, it feels like a slice of life style thing. It’s about going camping in the woods and relationships. And that’s all you really need to know.

Wide Ocean Big Jacket is $8 on itch.io. It’s not a long game by any means, but I don’t think that’s a valuable tool to measure it by. It was also part of the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, so if you own that, you can download it and play it now. And I think you should.

Oh, and if you’re on the fence, there’s a demo! It’s an entirely separate set of extra chapters of the game. You’ll have to scroll down a bit on the page to find it.

Wheels of Aurelia

An interesting attempt at combing visual novels and other mechanics, but I didn’t like it.

I have mixed feelings on Wheels of Aurelia. On the one hand, I don’t like the game enough to play more of it. On the other hand, I keep thinking about it. It was going to get a section in “Didn’t Make the Cut,” except I think I have more to say about it than any of the other games that didn’t make the cut, so it gets its own article.

So what is it? Wheels of Aurelia describes itself as a racing game set in Italy in the 1980’s. I’d describe it as a visual novel with a light driving element set in Italy in the 1980’s.

Potayto, potahto.

For those of you with busy lives, here’s the five second summary: I think it’s very interesting, but I did not like it very much.

There are some really strong parts to Wheels of Aurelia, but these parts (usually the writing and the setting) feel somewhat disconnected.

The big one is the setting of 1980’s Italy. One thing the game has made abundantly clear to me is that I don’t know shit about 1980’s Italy. And while the game does link to some sections of text from Wikipedia, this wasn’t enough for me to understand a lot of what was being referred to in the writing. Which brings us to the second problem.

The writing shifts tone rapidly to the extent that it feels almost non-sequitur, with the result being that parts of the story just don’t make any sense whatsoever because of this tonal shift. For example, characters that have barely been named suddenly become relevant.

The main character goes from losing their car in a race to a molesty creep (and being understandably fucking pissed), to buying a 3 wheeled tractor cheerfully from a farmer, to chasing fascists for some reason. The end result was that I had a harder and harder time following the plot as it went on.

However, this doesn’t characterize the entire game. There’s a well-written and interesting dialogue with a hitchhiker about a football club. And sub-sections of the game are fine. It’s how they connect that sucks. At first, I thought this might be related to the game’s localization or translation, but the game’s credits don’t actually list an English translation. So I’m honestly not sure what happened with the writing. Sub-sections of it are fine, the but the overall arc feels janky.

In either case, enough ragging on. Let’s talk about what the game does have going for it:

  1. A solid soundtrack. I actually kind of want to re-listen to a few of these. (Wait until 1:00 minute in for it to go crazy.)
  2. Strong art design. Both the characters and environments are well done. They’re fairly minimal, but I’d consider that to be a good thing.
  3. A solid attempt at combining standard game mechanics with a visual novel. I wouldn’t say it succeeds 100%, but it’s interesting, and trying to drive while also deciding how to respond to prompts is neat.

And yeah, that’s about it. Wheels of Aurelia is $10 on Steam, Epic or itch.io. And it’s also in the itch.io racial justice bundle, so if you purchased that, you already own it.

It wasn’t for me, but maybe it will be for you?

Hunt: Showdown

The little Battle Royale that wasn’t

Ed Note: The screenshots in this article are from the Hunt: Showdown press kit. Getting good screenshots of the game is kind of tricky, because any time you’d want to get a screenshot of something cool, it’s usually trying to kill you. With that said, in my opinion, the game doesn’t look as good as its marketing material, but I also don’t care because the gameplay is what sells it.

Today, I’m gonna be talking about Hunt: Showdown, also known as “That Other Game Crytek Made” and “Wait, Crytek Makes More Than Engines?” I like Hunt: Showdown. A week ago Steam said I’d played about 70 hours, and I’ve played another 15 or so since then, so I feel fairly confident in that recommendation.

If I was forced to stuff Hunt: Showdown into a neat little box to characterize it, it would probably go in the “Battle Royale” box, with Fortnite/Warzone/PUBG. You can play with a squad of up to three folks, you want to shoot people, and you start on a massive single map. I don’t think this is entirely fair and accurate, though, because while the general intention of Hunt is similar to those other games (forcing interesting FPS based fights on a massive open map against other players), the way it goes about making this occur is pretty different.

For starters, there is no “looting phase” or “drop phase.” Instead, you create a loadout of items and weapons prior to starting a hunt, and once the hunt begins, you just spawn with your team on a random edge of the map. While you can pick up additional ammo and supplies from caravans around the map, and also other dead players, you don’t get to choose what you get from these, and so you mostly just have to make do with what you brought with you. Generally speaking, you’ll bring things like bolt action rifles, six-shooters, shotguns, and sticks of dynamite.

Also, unlike most Battle Royales, your goal isn’t to wipe out all other players on the map. You can leave more or less whenever you want by getting to an exit point, and waiting out the escape timer. And if you want to save your character (we’ll get into why you might want this in a bit) escaping like this can be the smartest choice.

Behold, the zombies. Stupid, slow, and not a problem until one that you miss stabs you with a meat cleaver.

Instead, the goal of a round of Hunt is to escape with a bounty token, an item that you get from either killing an AI boss monster, or prying it from the from cold dead hands of someone else who did. You locate the boss by picking up clues. Each time you pick up a clue, a section of the minimap gets closed off, letting you know the boss isn’t in that zone. After 3, you’re given the boss’s location.

And this is where things get interesting, because you’ll note I said “Boss.” See, Hunt’s map is fully populated with AI enemies, fairly basic trash mobs. And while these enemies are dumb as bricks, if you’re not careful, or a little too gung-ho, they can easily get you into trouble. Not because they do massive amounts of damage (they don’t) or can kill you quickly (most of them can’t), but because they force you to spend time or ammunition dealing with them.

It’s a spider made out of people! And yes, it looks just as horrifying close up as you might expect.

Okay, so I’m bored of writing about the general mechanics. This is enough to explain the general tension and what makes Hunt: Showdown interesting. In brief, all of the game’s systems are built to force you into fights, and the lower player count means that you only need to win 1-2 of these fights in order to “win” a match. The boss objectives mean that despite starting at different locations, players are funneled together, while the game’s sound design and AI means that if you find yourself using non-silenced weapons against monsters, enemy players can quickly locate you. The bounty mechanic puts a target on your head once you’re trying to escape, but it also gives you dark sight, a very minimalist wallhack sort of thing that lets you spot folks trying to ambush you, and make those end game engagements more even.

The one big thing I haven’t talked about yet is how loadouts and perks work, and while I don’t have too much to say, here’s the five second version:

Your “Hunters” have a level from 1-50, and whenever they successfully extract from a hunt, they get some more experience based on how they did (mob kills, boss kills, bounties, player kills). Each time they level up, they get a skill point that can be used to unlock passive perks, things like walking quieter, taking less damage from falling, that sort of jazz. If your team wipes in a mission, your Hunter is permanently dead, and there’s no way to bring them back, and you lose all the gear they had on them.

Gear is somewhat similar. Various actions during a match will pay out Hunt Dollars, which you use to buy gear. Different types of gear are unlocked as you level up your bloodline, and when you buy hunters they come with some of their own gear.

While you always have access to a pool of Hunters that includes at least one free Hunter to recruit, this free Hunter has random weapons and equipment, and no perks.

And this is one of the reasons you might choose to extract early: saving your gear and Hunter, and living to fight another day. It might not be worth much, but it can take 2-3 successful matches to get a Hunter to the cap, and losing them feels bad.

The end result is a game with some interesting character building systems outside of the actual gameplay, and solid FPS mechanics with a set of much older weapons. For me, the game feels like it’s built in a way to encourage and cause interesting gunfights, as opposed to being shot in the head by someone hiding twelve miles away in a cornfield, or simply losing because you couldn’t find a gun when you dropped.

This doesn’t mean Hunt is flawless. The loading times are incredibly frustrating and long. There are no death cams, just death views, which make it difficult to learn from your deaths, or if the person who killed you was hacking, which it can feel like even if they weren’t. For me, though, these downsides are annoying, but not enough to make the tense gunfights less fun, and the game itself less enjoyable.

Hunt: Showdown is $40 on Steam, and it’s also on PS4/XboxOne, but it looks like there’s no crossplay between consoles and PC. So if you do want to play it with friends, make sure everyone gets it on the same platform.