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These acts might sound routine and tedious, but when you’re rooted in the fictional Latin American country of Anchuria during a 1972 military coup, a ritualistic comfort goes along with carefully making a bed or unclogging the upstairs sink. Still, uncertainty lies even within these constants because the man whose house you maintain has ties to the political and cultural turmoil engulfing the streets. Sunset beautifully pairs its dull corners with a sharp, sociopolitical edge, and while its inconsistent pacing and nagging technical hiccups blur the vision, there’s an unquestionable beauty in watching the sunset kiss the tips of skyscrapers as another somber day comes to a close.No matter the time of day, Sunset is a beautiful game.
You'll spend Sunset's four-hour run with Angela Burns, an African-American engineer working as a housekeeper to cover her hefty school bills. Angela works for the affluent art collector Gabriel Ortega, whom Angela gets to know solely through his surplus of sculptures and paintings, his eclectic taste in literature, and a series of notes on which you can write personal responses. You become most intimately acquainted with the actual apartment, though, which both subtly and dramatically morphs as the revolution outside its walls progresses. It’s a character all its own, and you grow accustomed to its many distinguishing features--such as the deep closet dug into Ortega’s bedroom, the neatly prepared chess board in the game room that pines for players, and, maybe most importantly, the wide windows by the patio that act as a thin veil between calm and chaos.
How this apartment is decorated and what you do during each in-game hour is up to you. If you feel compelled to go above and beyond the to-do list and hang up pictures of Ortega’s accomplishments, you have the option. If you just don’t feel up to lifting a finger on a cool September evening, you can simply turn around, open the elevator doors, and call it a night.The diary entries tend to provide the most poignant writing.
You do work within boundaries, though. You can’t throw a chair in the fireplace or send the grand piano out the window and into the streets (I tried), but the chores you’re assigned have variations. You’re given a warm and a cool option when you hover your cursor over a task, which determines whether you want to add some personality to the work or complete the task plainly. You can decorate the second floor with bright, floral wallpaper or slap on whatever drab design Ortega has tucked away in the closet. The material of the rug in front of the fireplace, the color of the fresh coat of paint on the bar walls, the care taken when stitching a patch into a ripped piece of clothing--this system provides a fork in every road. How these decisions affect actual change in the grand scheme of things isn’t always clear, but they do act as a silent, day-to-day means of communication between you and Ortega.
Much of the storytelling in this first-person experience is visual, but Angela’s running monologue provides direct context for each week’s happenings and her current feelings toward Ortega. In addition, Angela can sit on a canvas-wrapped chair located within the apartment at any time to begin scribbling notes into her diary. Beyond questioning Ortega’s intentions and worrying for her rebel brother’s safety during the conflict, she digs deeper into her interpretation of Ortega’s art, the social differences between Anchuria and her hometown of Baltimore, and her place in this unstable country. This is where the superb writing shines brightest, and while the text’s sluggish scroll quickly drains precious minutes before the sun sets, it’s worth your time to drink it all in.Continuing to clean while buildings burn just down the street is real dedication to your job.
Depending on how often you complete tasks and reply to notes with a warm sensibility, a strong romantic bond begins to form between tenant and housekeeper. It starts as an innocent flirtation, but as the revolution escalates, so do their feelings toward one another. And while the passion isn’t capped by a nightly embrace and kiss goodbye, watching the unspoken dance grow and evolve into something deeper is satisfying. It’s hard to know whether or not it’s a kinship born from tragedy and stoked by fear, but they find comfort in each other’s presence--even if that presence isn’t physical.
For the most part, the deliberate pacing benefits the relationship’s establishment. However, the steady climb toward a resolution is occasionally broken by days of inactivity and narrative stagnation. More than a few visits feel like filler, with no notes to respond to and few tasks to complete. These periods slowly drag you away from an otherwise compelling story. Sunset excels at using subtlety to build tension and curiosity, but when the progression halts, the activities start to feel like exactly what they are--chores.
Running Sunset on higher graphical settings can also be called a chore. Even after experimenting with a handful of different option combinations, I couldn’t find a mix that permanently steadied my framerate or prevented hitching. The presentation--from the glamour of the sky’s often-lavender glow to the dark smoke billowing from the buildings in the distance--is salient but often muddled by technical inconsistency. It’s a shame, too, because when Sunset does run smoothly for a visit or two and the powerful, orchestral soundtrack booms across the household, it can be an audiovisual marvel.The only time you ever really see Angela is through her reflection.
Sunset presents so much, all while asking you to do so little. A revolution burns, bombs burst just out of sight, and all you can do is decide if your boss would rather have a fancy dinner or a hefty portion of macaroni. The complexity of your decisions is occasionally greater than setting the table, but Sunset succeeds at making each small action feel significant by giving them all similar weight. Though the story is peppered with periods of inactivity that are detrimental to the pace, Sunset acts as a thoughtful, pensive walk through social themes and struggles not often explored in this medium.
The company on Tuesday announced that a Windows 10 companion app will be available for iOS and Android devices alongside the main version for Windows devices.
"A real challenge people face is figuring out how to make everything work together," Microsoft's Joe Belfiore wrote on the Windows blog. That's why we’re announcing a ‘Phone Companion' app built-in to Windows 10, which will help you connect your Windows PC to whatever phone you own--whether it's a Windows phone, Android phone, or iPhone."
Once you sync up your iPhone or Android device, you'll be able to access your files and content across PC and phone. Check out the full blog post for a detailed breakdown of how this works.
In addition, Microsoft announced today that Windows 10's Siri-like digital assistant Cortana--named after the Halo character--will also be available for iPhones and Android devices. Cortana can fetch net-based data such as web results and weather reports, among many other things.
However, there will be some limitations.
"Although the functionality will be very helpful, because it's "just an app" there will be certain things that Cortana does on Windows phones that won't work on Android devices or iPhones," Belfiore said. "Some features require access to the system that aren't currently possible with iOS or Android, so things like toggling settings or opening apps won't initially be available in the Cortana companions for those platforms. Similarly, the ability to invoke Cortana hands-free by saying 'Hey Cortana' requires special integration with the device's microphone, so that feature will be limited to Windows Phones and PCs."
Windows 10 launches this summer, first on PC. The new operating system will also be integrated into the Xbox One, but not until "post-summer."
@stay_scialla The lock should be there in the upcoming patch.— Marcin Momot (@Marcin360) May 26, 2015
A Digital Foundry tech analysis published last week found that the Xbox One edition could, at times, achieve a resolution higher than 30fps. That might sound nice, but the frame rate was also found to be quite unstable. Sometimes it dipped below 30fps, leading to an undesirable stuttery experience.
The Xbox One patch is currently going through Microsoft's certification process, which means, barring any problems, it should be released soon. A PlayStation 4 patch, which also promises to improve performance, was released earlier today.
Although the console versions of The Witcher 3 are only just now receiving their first patches, the PC edition of the RPG has already been updated on multiple occasions.
The Explorer's Pack, available with digital and physical preorders, consists of three parts: bonus treasure maps, a vanity pet named Warty, and the ability to play as any race, regardless of your alliance.
That last part is arguably the most important. When you choose from the three alliances--Ebonheart Pact, Daggerfall Covenant, and Aldmeri Dominion--it restricts what races you're allowed to choose from. Of the nine total races, only three are available to each alliance. These races represent not only significant cosmetic differences, but each also has its own unique bonuses.
This can be problematic if you want to join the same alliance as a friend, but you each want to play as races from different alliances. With the Explorer's Pack, this isn't a problem--assuming you preorder. If the PC version is any indication, the Explorer's Pack won't be sold separately. We've asked Bethesda if there will be any way to avoid the race restriction in the future, and will report back with anything we learn.
Following a series of delays and a shift to a new name and subscription-less business model, The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is set for release on June 9.
Square Enix on Tuesday announced that its next Active Time Report will be held on Thursday, June 4.Final Fantasy 15's Cindy
During the program, Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata will provide "development updates" for the game. He will be joined in the video briefing by global marketing manager Akio Ofuji. The video event will be broadcast on YouTube and Twitch, featuring subtitles.
The show starts at 6 AM PDT / 9 AM EDT. GameSpot will have all the news from the Active Time Report as it's announced.
June 4 falls in the "early June" window that Square Enix plans to release Episode Duscae 2.0, the updated version of Final Fantasy XV's original demo. It is expected to include a variety of changes and improvements.
During the most recent Active Time Report, held in April, Tabata and Ofuji addressed a long list of complaints about the Final Fantasy XV demo, including concerns that the game's Cindy character was "too sexy."
Looking ahead to later in June, Square Enix will host its own E3 press conference on Tuesday, June 16.
The patch makes a number of visual tweaks, including a particularly grisly change that will make blood particles properly appear on water surfaces in the wake of battle.
It also corrects an issue that caused an infinite loading screen and, in response to feedback, enlarges the text for the loot screen.
Patch 1.03 also "improves performance, especially in cutscenes and during gameplay," which could be a reference to the game's reported frame rate issues.
The Xbox One version of The Witcher 3 is still awaiting its first patch, but it shouldn't be much longer. CD Projekt Red community lead Marcin Momot says on Twitter that this patch is currently going through Microsoft's certification process, which means, barring any problems, it should be released soon.
The update should be available now in the following countries:
United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Poland, UK, Sweden, The Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Portugal; Greece, Cyprus, Malta; Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; Czech Rep + Slovakia; Hungary, India, Romenia, Bulgaria; Isreael; Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yugoslavia, Romania, Croatia,Montenegro; Turkey, Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, France, Monaco, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, San Marino, Spain, Andorra, Australia, New Zealand; South Africa; Angola; Botswana; Ghana; Lesotho; Kenya; Malawi; Mauritius; Mozambique; Namibia; Nigeria; Tanzania; Swaziland; Zambia; Zimbabwe and Uganda.
The Humble Nindie Bundle is comprised of a handful of indie games for the two Nintendo platforms. This bundle works like any other--you can pay any price you want (over $1) for certain games, while beating the average sale price gets you a few more, or paying at least a certain price (in this case, $10) gets you all of those games and two more. You're also free to distribute your money between Humble, the various games' developers, and charity.
More games will be added at some point over the next two weeks, but the current lineup looks like this:
Pay any price:
Beat the average price:
Pay $10 or more:
This Humble Bundle's charity is Code.org, a non-profit group that works to expand computer science education and encourage participation in the field by women and students of color.
Humble Bundles are typically comprised of PC and mobile games, though in recent years the company has branched out to occasionally offer things like ebooks and music albums.
I've praised the the game's focus on the Forrester family before; they are always the most interesting characters on screen at any given time, overshadowing cameos from the TV show's stars. It's been thoroughly delightful (and painful, in that masochistic, enjoyable way) to watch Mira evolve into a sneaking schemer, to see Rodrik struggle to balance the demands of Lady Forrester and his sister Talia without letting either down, and to uncover the mystery of the fabled North Grove with Gared. But their story is starting to to mimic the tale of the Starks--the downtrodden family at the center of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire--with the introduction of new characters and scenarios that come across as though detailed on a writer's checklist of necessary plot points. I can't list all those things here, as doing do would spoil nearly every turning point for the episode, but I can say that if you're familiar with the arcs of Sansa Stark and Jon Snow, you will find few surprises here.
We last left Gared Tuttle at the Wall in more trouble that he's ever been, with Mira out of favor with Margaery Tyrell, with Rodrik trying and failing to regain control of Ironrath, and with Asher at the feet of Daenerys Targaryen. Most of the major choices in Sons of Winter revolve around the heroes trying to please one person at the expense of incurring another's wrath--something you've been doing in more exciting, meaningful ways for three episodes already. There's a lot of verbal fencing, but none of it reaches anxious heights of, say, Mira's first conversation with Cersei Lannister in Episode One. For example, Asher's plea to Daenerys to provide an army is rushed and flat, and no matter what you tell her, she continues to threaten you. Having Mira eavesdropping on partygoers and potentially ruin fellow handmaiden Sera's life doesn't feel thrilling, and threats made towards her are all simple variants of "You'll pay for this!" and "We'll get you!" with little bite behind the bark.
Sons of Winter is about defense and safety--protecting yourself and your house, and keeping who you can safe. You can't keep everyone secure, though, and most decisions are predictable: side with Beshka or with your uncle as Asher, side with Sera (or not) as Mira, side with your mother or with the woman you love as Rodrik. These gambits of "him or her" decisions, one after another, have become tiring four episodes in. You have to decide how to use the information you have, who to reveal it to, and with whom to use it as a bargaining chip. You'll make people angry, fall further out of favor if you choose to put your family first, and, in one instance, alter someone's only chance at having a good life.
You're still being pushed to think of your family first, and endanger yourself in the process, but the emotional risks feel just out of sight here, not in the way that you can sometimes be blind to negative consequences, but in a way that you aren't taking time to weigh outcomes because there is no threat to consider. Having those threats simmer at every major choice has served Game of Thrones well in its first half, but Episode Four drops the tension entirely. In Mira's case, for instance, you gather loads of useful information in a short amount of time and are then able to bully and tease others as you please. But by making Mira powerful, much of what made her storyline frightening has been sidelined. She’s playing the Game of Thrones with no immediate consequence.
Perhaps this is the part of Game of Thrones when it's time to talk more and do less, to bide time and wait for opportunity. But the episode's overall goal is to introduce more information, more context, and more characters, and not to drop the Forresters directly into harm's way. There's nothing wrong with slowing down, but Sons of Winter slows to a crawl. Telltale's games are at their best when they drop action sequences into unexpected junctures of downtime, thus creating threats that need to be dealt with immediately and quickly before you can proceed. An entire episode of exposition and lock-picking doesn't contribute to the mood-building, especially in Westeros, and the lengthiest action sequence--a string of running into cover, sneaking, and stealthily taking down guards--is devoid of any real stress or excitement.
There are a few emotional cling-points in Sons of Winter, and they revolve around the people who are willing to risk life and limb to help the Forresters. Most notable among these are several scenes with Beskha, the brash and cutthroat sellsword who has become Asher's best friend. You finally learn why she's so tough and why she's loath to return to Meereen, and the scene culminates in one of the most heartbreaking moments in the series so far. Her tragedy outweighs Asher's. By revealing her backstory to Asher, he gains some perspective in his relationship with her, which delivers several sweet, enjoyable moments between the two that are welcome amid the episode's low points.
It is also refreshing to see Rodrik's struggle against the Whitehills finally move away from the repetitive cycle of events that characterized the series' first half. As the Whitehills realize they aren't as strong or as powerful as they thought, unlikely allies come to Rodrik's aid. These supporting characters bring a refreshing change to the fight we've seen so far, revealing personalities that alternately clash and meld with the Forresters and bring out new, personal facets of their struggle. Rodrik's beloved, Elaena Glenmore, becomes more important in Episode Four than she's been throughout the series, evolving beyond a love interest and perhaps into something more dangerous as she pushes Rodrik to take action on her behalf.
A bit about the presence of the TV show characters: Daenerys is totally out of character. She's mean and hard in ways that she isn't in the TV series. In the show, she is firm and always open to listening, but Telltale has made her into a vicious would-be despot. Her scene happens early in the episode and jarred me out of the experience; she didn't fit, her behavior so off that it was harder for me to find my emotional footing for the rest of the episode.
As Telltale's Game of Thrones passes its halfway mark, it takes a bit of a dip, staging a set of scenes that feels less like something you can control and more like something you can only passively watch. There's no sense of agency in the choices you are offered; you simply spin a conversation in a certain direction before arriving at a pre-determined outcome. Sons of Winter is set dressing, though the events of its last two minutes are strong enough of a taster to make you hunger for Episode Five. It's a bit disappointing that the rest of the episode doesn't reach the dramatic bar Telltale has already set for itself.
Let me elaborate on that statement a bit: I adore the mobile version of Puzzle & Dragons, and have made it a part of my daily gaming routine for a very long time. The prospect of a version devoid of free-to-play trappings such as limited stamina for adventuring, or the premium-monster Rare Egg Machine is naturally exciting. Developers often make substantial changes in game design when making a free-to-play version of a popular game, often to the game’s detriment; features once seen as a given are now treated as pricey premiums. On the 3DS, P&D Z and P&D Mario represent quite the opposite: they remove some of the features of the free-to-play game, leaving experiences that, while still quite fun, don’t quite live up to the ever-changing and growing mobile version.
Puzzle & Dragons, for the unfamiliar, is an exceptionally clever mix of match-three puzzling, a collectible card game, and role-playing. You assemble a team of five monsters, complete with a “leader,” from the horde of dragons, demons, gods, and superhumans you’ve collected, and then venture into dungeons consisting of sets of enemy encounters. You engage in combat on a 6X5 puzzle board: match three orbs of a particular color, and your monsters of that color attack foes. Unlike in a lot of similar games, you can move a single orb around the whole board for a short time, using it to shift many other orbs and create multiple matches, and thus yield more attacks and attack boosts for your team. Enemies, naturally, hit back when their turns arrive, which is when you focus on matching the healing orbs on the board. With practice, you’re launching multiple combos and healing each turn with ease.
It’s not just puzzle prowess that makes P&D appealing, however: every monster type in the game is unique, with its own statistics, color attributes, and perhaps most importantly, special skills. Leader monsters can employ a passive, always-on leader skill, like increasing the health points of your monsters of the same color, or giving an attack multiplier after a certain number of combos. Active skills are single-use abilities each monster has that you must choose to trigger, with effects like changing one orb type into another, or healing a bit of team health. Awakened skills--seen here only with Mario P&D--are extra, passive skills that can be applied to certain monsters by special means. Weighing considerations like monster types, stats, and skills is crucial to success when building teams. With the right materials earned from dungeon romps, monsters can also evolve and transform. It’s this feeling of building and growing a killer squad, along with flaunting your puzzle skills, that makes P&D so tremendously fun and satisfying.
While both Puzzle & Dragons Z and Puzzle & Dragons Mario are built on this formula, the two games take very different approaches to presentation. P&D Mario is a full reskin with the Super Mario theme, replacing the fierce gods and towering dragons of mobile P&D with Mario, Luigi, Toad, and a bunch of familiar baddies. P&D Z is also quite different from the mobile game, but in its own way: while it features some of the familiar mobile P&D monsters, it’s a more kid-friendly, story-driven adventure in which you fight an evil organization that controls the legendary Skydragons and is trying to reshape the world. From a strictly cosmetic standpoint, P&D Z is considerably more appealing: P&D Mario reuses New Super Mario Bros. music and visual assets frequently. Evolving a tiny dragon baby into a huge, hulking god-lizard is leagues more appealing than changing a Blooper into “a Blooper, but now with a baby Blooper!”
But there are more than just cosmetic differences between the two. Let’s start with P&D Z: it’s a fairly old game, having first released in Japan in late 2013, and simplifies the mobile game as it existed at that time, with all single-color-attribute monsters and no awakened skills. It also implements a significant change to the active skill system; instead of monsters each waiting a set number of turns before their skills can be triggered, there’s a pool of skill points that can be utilized at any time by any monster, as long as you’ve got enough points to use a particular skill. P&D Mario feels a lot closer to modern mobile P&D, with things like multi-attribute monsters, skill-up boosts, and awakened skills, along with a more traditional turn-based active skill system.
The key difference between both of these games and mobile P&D, however, is the removal of anything associated with the in-app purchases that fuel the mobile version’s money machine. Mobile P&D employs a free-to-play standard stamina meter than limits your play time (unless you either wait or pay), but you won’t find that here. Your squad gains experience with dungeons in P&D Z and P&D Mario, unlike the mobile game, in which experience is strictly sacrifice-based. (This is an adjustment I really wish would be implemented in the mobile version.) Wiping out in a dungeon doesn’t mean you lose everything you’ve earned: whereas you need to continue (and possible pay) in the mobile game to keep the loot you’ve earned to that point, the drops you acquire in P&D Z and P&D Mario stick with you whether you decide to bail, or use your one-up stash to keep pressing on.
This all sounds pretty great so far, so why don’t these games click in the way the mobile version does? For starters, there’s the odd difficulty curve. I understand that these games must be sold to people who may not have played P&D on mobile before, but being an experienced orb-slinger, I was terribly bored during the first few worlds of each game, wiping out enemy teams with relative ease. There’s no option to skip all the tutorials and introductory dialogue, either, meaning that no matter which game you choose to play first, you’ll be hearing a lot of the same advice to get you started. It isn’t until about the halfway point in each game that things start to get considerably more challenging, and sometimes in weirdly unfair ways. For instance, you may encounter a no-healing-orbs dungeon at a point where you’re not likely to have team members who have a “change an orb type to healing” active skill.
Another major issue is the grind. In mobile P&D, you have sets of dungeons that are centered around earning materials needed to upgrade your monsters, and they rotate on a consistent schedule. If there’s something you know you need, you set time and stamina aside on a specific day of the week to do a few dungeon runs for the drops you require (which you’re very likely to get). Both P&D Z and P&D Mario lack these, meaning that items (chips in P&D Z; coins and medals in P&D Mario) to upgrade monsters all must be be earned from regular dungeon runs, many of which don’t have great drop rates. This leads to a lot of repetition, forcing you to run dungeons where you know a certain monster could appear, usually with disappointment as an end result. A “pay in-game currency for random items” option appears about halfway through both games, but getting what you want from those is even more of a crapshoot.
But perhaps the biggest issue, an unavoidable part of being a prepackaged product, is that the games are woefully static. There are no fun little surprises when you boot the game up, like daily giveaways, new monster and dungeon additions, and limited-time bonuses and areas like in the mobile game. While it’s easy to cynically see these mobile P&D features as a means to get more money from players as they spend it on extra stamina and Rare Egg Machine rolls, the fact of the matter is that they make the game more interesting and exciting from one day to the next. When you’re done with P&D Z and Mario, when you’ve cleared all the current levels and collected every last type of Paragoomba and Cheep-Cheep, that’s all there is to it. But perhaps that’s intentional--have no doubt that developer GungHo hopes some players move on to the ever-evolving mobile game when they feel they’ve seen everything these two games have to offer.
That’s what I mean when I say that this game wasn’t made for me. It’s a watered-down stepping stone, intended to introduce players to Puzzle & Dragons with a familiar face and none of those intimidating in-app purchases. It’s clear, however, that P&D’s design was built on a free-to-play base, and taking those elements out actually makes the game feel less substantial as a result. (Yes, much as we loathe to admit it, it’s exciting to spend some premium-currency magic stones for a random rare monster from time to time, just as it’s fun to open a pack of trading cards or a blind-boxed figure.) While you can still have a good deal of fun with this two-in-one package, the mobile game is the better option. P&D Z and P&D Mario make nice little appetizers, but ultimately, it’s up to you whether you want to feast on the main course afterwards.
In the game's favor, it's a great idea for a mascot-style platformer. On the subatomic level, a particle zoo--a real term used to describe the atomic building blocks of our universe--is used literally here as a bright, colorful cartoon zoo housing quarks, gluons, and the like. One day, security breaks down, Jurassic Park-style, and the zoo's inhabitants get loose. Unable to deal with the sudden chaos, the zoo's director calls in an agent with a particular set of skills: Schrodinger's Cat. You might remember him from such popular quantum states as “being alive and dead at the same time.”Particle cat, particle cat....
The particular set of skills the Cat has turns out to be collecting and manipulating quarks to create completely new tools to traverse the environment. The science is rather cleverly on point here. There are four different types of quarks running around: Up, Down, Construction, and Destruction; each type is assigned to a shoulder button. Pressing them in combinations of three creates a different effect, just like they create protons in reality. Three Ups create a tiny helicopter. Three Downs create a drill that breaks through floors. Three Constructions create a giant bubble shield; three Destructions create a fragile platform to stand on. The 12 possible combinations are mostly left to the player to discover. It's a fun bit of trial and error to find all the different options, which are wisely shown in a little reference guide when you pause the game. A few too many are different permutations of “this helps you go up,” but when you start running out of components, the options for a creative alternative are nice.
It's an imaginative mechanic that feels like it belongs on a current gen system. The problem is that the rest of the game is absolutely committed to being a 90s mascot platformer in every other respect, complete with the Cat himself being given obnoxious, oft-repeated catchphrases, like “Scienceariffic!” and yelling “Holy Higgs!” when he dies. Schrodinger's Cat is, ultimately, the more ThinkGeek-y cousin of Bubsy The Cat, to the point where I bet a friend that “What could possibly go wrong?” was coming. The references to famous physicists and physics terms start off as cute, but they quickly become ubiquitous, obvious, and awkwardly shoehorned into the narrative. Non-player characters serve the same function, offering hints and clues to the next objective but burying those hints neck deep in references to the Higgs Boson and combinant theory at every turn. The script is less concerned with showing and playing with the physics concepts (in the way that Psychonauts utilized psychology) and more concerned with showing off the fact that yes, the designers clearly went to college. It's exclusionary nerdery at its worst.Secret trophy: Decipher this sentence without running to Google.
Even as a game, however, it is trying to serve two masters at once. Two types of levels are seen here. The best are pre-planned puzzle levels with a limited number of quarks to use, quark-stealing gluons scattered about, and the need to do some tricky platforming. Faint glimmers of greatness occur here--if you run out of the type of quark you need for the easy solution, you have to think creatively to use the quarks you do have. You have plenty of ways to get vertical in a level, but having the ability to explode a wall in just the right way to proceed and saving enough quarks to do so is a different story. The worst levels, on the other hand, are procedurally generated, awkwardly designed obstacle courses that rely far too much placing nondescript destructible walls in your way rather than creating a surmountable challenge.
Both types suffer from a severe lack of variety in environments and enemies for a platformer, and seeing the subatomic world undulating in the background doesn't cut it. It doesn't take long for the game to show you virtually everything it has to offer. The actual mechanics of running, jumping, crawling, and clawing are just fine, but the mad genius platformer where you get to test any of those skills is missing. All we get in return is a gimmick in which you can create a special net out of your available quarks to cart the ones you knock unconscious away, making the job of the zoo's staff a lot easier. It's neat the first hundred times, but it’s not nearly enough. You have to do way too much of it to feel a sense of accomplishment; you also have to do it while walking in the irksome paws of a sentient episode of The Big Bang Theory. The game turns a fresh, fascinating new mechanic using particle physics as a creative springboard into the most staid, stale platformer imaginable. If the goal was to create a game that's both alive and dead at the same time--mission accomplished.
"Free-to-start" is a wonderfully upfront term, but it doesn't suit any other game on the Nintendo 3DS eShop as well as it does Stretchmo. Let me clear something up right away: if you expect from Stretchmo a familiar free-to-play game structure with actions, timers, and assorted currencies that can be exchanged for one another, you will either be very disappointed or very relieved. The same can be said if you come to it after having played Pokemon Rumble World or Pokemon Shuffle, which were both released earlier this year under the same free-to-start banner. You are given access to seven tutorial levels in Stretchmo that explain the game's basic mechanics for free, but unlocking everything else requires a transaction. While you can happily spend hours plucking away at the content in Pokemon Rumble World and Pokemon Shuffle without paying a cent, Stretchmo is more like a supremely limited game demo by comparison--with only a few minutes of play time available, for that matter. You don’t even have access to camera rotation in these early levels, a feature that becomes absolutely crucial in solving the more complicated puzzles that come later on. You can at least rewind, which comes in handy after accidentally (and inevitably) tumbling down from somewhere precarious.
These aren’t necessarily bad things in this free-to-start venture. Stretchmo is much truer to the term "free-to-start" than some of the other games that share the descriptor, but expectations may need to be adjusted accordingly. Stretchmo is best thought of along the lines of the Picross e series--a relatively accessible puzzle game broken up into manageable chunks with even more manageable price tags attached to each one.
Pushmo, Crashmo, and Stretchmo (known in Europe as Pullblox, Fallblox, and Fullblox, respectively) are all about manipulating structures built from various Tetris-like blocks to reach a goal, and each game has changed the rules of this manipulation to stand on its own. As Stretchmo's name implies, the primary way of interacting with blocks is by stretching them from the front, back, or either side. A thoughtfully stretched block path allows you to climb up to the goal, whether it's a flag or a sickeningly cute little baby blob character that's been trapped. In the purchasable level packs, you’re introduced to a variety of gadgets that have various effects when triggered; they may shoot a platform out, stretch a block in every direction, or provide you with a tunnel to get past an otherwise insurmountable obstacle. Most of these gadgets are drawn from previous games, and they add a little mechanical variety to keep things interesting.
As for the level packs, the game encourages you to complete them in order as they increase in difficulty, but because each pack starts with a refresher on some of the most basic Stretchmo strategies, there's no reason for a confident player not to stray. Whether or not you're a veteran of the series, however, you’ll ultimately find twists that appeal to you. For example, while the Mallo's Playtime Plaza level pack is very simple and straightforward, in Corin's Fortress of Fun, the gadgets you encounter primarily release enemies who are used to climb to the goal and that can attack you and send you back to the start of the level. It's much more action-oriented than the other areas of the game, and it provides a good challenge, not to mention a good change of pace.
When you run out of puzzles, you always have the option to create a few levels of their own or scan QR codes to load user-made levels. The downside of this system can be finding those QR codes in the first place--especially if you don't feel like wading through Miiverse comment after Miiverse comment about Stretchmo's pricing to find them. The lack of an online level gallery certainly doesn't help, especially given the fact that the WiiU's Pushmo World had one. It's a firm step backward in a game otherwise full of small (but respectable) steps forward.
Stretchmo is as solid and endearing as the games that have come before it in the series; it's cute, colorful, and the perfect puzzle game to keep on your 3DS for dull commutes. It inherits all the best parts of Pushmo and Crashmo and bundles them up in a package (or rather, a series of packages) that is well suited to anyone, regardless of their series experience. Although it may not offer a groundbreaking change in the series, it distinguishes itself enough to be joyful in its own right.
This kind of material usually runs the risk of slipping into tired homages to Neuromancer seasoned with a dash of Blade Runner, but Technobabylon rejuvenates the formula by shifting the focus. Here, you spend much of your time in the guise of Doctor Regis, a member of the Central AI's police force that's sent out to handle all the things that need an actual body. He may have a penchant for covering monitoring cameras in his office, and he may dislike contemporary technology, but he's very much a part of the system. Still, the genre's tendencies toward loners and outsiders reveals itself here as well, although it's largely limited to Latha Sesame, who spends her sad days wired to a Matrix-like "Trance" while her crummy apartment and recycled paper clothes rot around her.Bigs are rare enough that Technobabylon can safely poke fun at them elsewhere.
Much as in Game of Thrones, the story benefits from shifts in perspective between these and other characters. Knowing the truth about how a particular event played out, for instance, makes it all the more difficult to control the actions of a character who places the blame and motives elsewhere.
This is heavy stuff, and Technobabylon has the good sense not to take itself too seriously. The splashes of humor tend to appear in some of the game's toughest (or at least most time-consuming) puzzles, where they serve as a nice chaser to the frustration that comes with matching incorrect inventory items or not knowing what to do with that goo that's in your pocket. The script smartly recalls past secondary references and repurposes them for new and often humorous effects, and at one point, a character's grating silliness actually becomes a clue.I should use this line with Comcast sometime.
As a result, Technobabylon feels like a real world, mixed with as much mirth as menace. Even the dystopia isn't as bleak as what you'll find in the likes of Shadowrun; for better or worse, it presents a generally believable picture of what life would be like toward the end of the century. True to the zeitgeist, Technobabylon even sneaks in exploratory conversations regarding sexuality and spirituality, but they're never heavy-handed or superfluous. Like so much of Technobabylon, it simply is. These elements come together to make the few choices encountered feel more meaningful, although the events reach the same basic outcomes regardless of the means it took to get there.
The game depicts these events so capably that I find myself half-forgetting that developer Wadjet Eye drenched the whole project in a pixelated aesthetic that seems better suited to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past than the futuristic landscape where the action takes place. The strong voice acting generally helps, as do the expressive conversation windows. (However, as a Texan, I laughed when two characters claimed they could recognize each others' Texas accents. Doctor Regis sounds more like Regis Philbin than anyone I've ever met in my neck of the brush.) It's a simple and increasingly outworn style, but there are stunning shots here nonetheless, such as when the camera rushes up the side of a skyscraper to peek through a hole in a shattered window. People and objects are well-crafted but just blurry enough to make the imagination do the right amount of legwork, and sound effects often pull the weight for what the visuals can't achieve.Technobabylon sometimes shakes up the rhythm by making you pilot things remotely.
It's worth mentioning that, strictly speaking, Technobabylon isn't an entirely new game--its DNA reveals the vestiges of shorter freeware episodes released earlier in the decade. The art style has improved, however, and the mini-games from that era are mercifully gone, but the basic puzzling remains much the same, even if it serves different purposes for the new storyline. This is generally a good thing, as it's given Wadjet Eye the time to clean up cumbersome elements. Some of the associated problems with pointing and clicking remain, however, such as in a room where I had to grab a table's edges and pull it across the room. Minutes passed before I realized that something so simple as the table's edges existed, and then I had to endure the mildly tedious chore of searching for just the right pixels to grab them.
Fortunately, the puzzles themselves tend to find a sweet spot that delivers the right degree of challenge, and the character commentary that pops up when clicking on an item in your inventory or the world wisely makes up for the absence of a hint option. (Or, at least, I don't think there's one. It seemed like there might be hints in the developer commentary, but it repeatedly crashed the entire window every time Wadget Eye CEO Dave Gilbert finished his introduction.) While Technobabylon places a heavy emphasis on picking up objects and using them on something else, it never floods you with items. Many of the game's best ah-ha moments happen when you stop clicking on items in the world and play with matching items in your inventory, which suddenly opens solutions where there previously seemed to be none.The doctor...is out.
That's not to say that I didn't get stuck. Quite the contrary--I can recall at least four incidents when I couldn't progress for an hour or more, but to the game's credit, it usually sprang from some mistake of my own. I once wasted 30 minutes thinking that I was supposed to throw a sheet over a camera, for instance, and (in a slightly more UI-blameworthy mistake), I didn't realize that a certain object wasn't working in my inventory because I hadn't right-clicked on it. Up until then, left-clicking had sufficed for inventory-related items.
Regardless, I consistently enjoyed Technobabylon. The puzzles are always meaningful, and the story proves that you can teach the aging dog of cyberpunk some new tricks. At times, I found myself genuinely surprised by story developments; at others, I marveled that it kept me smiling through rough patches when another game might have had me switching it off and playing Skyrim out of spite. And when a game can explore issues of sexuality and government surveillance while giving you a plausible reason to use a fishing pole at a crime scene, that's pretty all right.