Though 2016 will probably be mostly remembered by Nintendo fans as the Year of Switch Rumors, there were also quite a few great games that made their way onto the Wii U and 3DS. After a lengthy voting process and heated debate, the members of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast, along with Nintendo editor James Baker, have compiled a list of the best of these.
Because only four of us were voting, some games have been left off due to not everyone getting a chance to play them, despite being highly rated by the one or two of us that did. Those Honorable mentions include two that made the site’s Best Wii U Games list, Severed and Tokyo Mirage Session #FE, as well as Bravely Second and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam for the 3DS. All were worthy, but only only ten could make our Best Nintendo Games of the Year! Take a look and see if there’s anything you missed out on, and let us know your favorites in the comments below!
10) Fire Emblem Fates
The brutality to the battlefield returns, and the side you choose determines your fate. Your soldiers are ready, your swords sharpened, and your arrows are plenty. All that awaits is the decision of defense or conquest. Whatever you decide, the kingdoms of Hoshido and Nohr will change forever.
Fire Emblem: Fates brings some of the most compelling stories to the franchise, boasting three different games with three different scenarios. Birthright is seen as the best of the three for a beginner, with a much easier play through. Conquest is the most challenging, and the DLC Revelations lies somewhere in between.
The complex moralities surrounding the three games leave you with more questions than answers, participant in a tale of clashing bloodlines where the uncomfortable middle is your unfortunate situation. Conquest remains the better of the three games, with its darker shade of gray tone that uncomfortably leads you to follow the bloodthirsty King Garon, whose missions seem to punish rather than test you.
The turn-based style of battle remains its biggest strength. The game of chess absorbs you into a perfectionist’s nightmare, with one wrong move able to cost you the entire battle. This endearing style of strategy game has kept Fire Emblem alive and well for over three decades, and the intricacy of the battle leaves a devastating beauty to each critical moment. There’s no right or wrong adventure; each journey will leave you wanting more. (James Baker)
Sequels are often about character development, with heroes experiencing growth through the many trials and tribulations life has to offer. For Qbby, the four-sided platforming problem-solver who makes boxes to cross bottomless pits, flip switches, and scale walls, Nintendo had to dig deep to find the right angles from which to add more depth to 2015’s two-dimensional origin story. The result is BOXBOXBOY!, another pleasantly entertaining downloadable for the 3DS that delivers more of the same box-based puzzles, but with the added twist that Qbby can now make TWO sets of box chains. How’s that for growth! While some of the 100+ levels do cleverly take advantage of this new ability, most offer scenarios requiring tactics that fans of the first game will be familiar with, but that’s not a bad thing. Nintendo’s puzzle makers have once again crafted a gauntlet of increasingly devilish tests, forcing players to often think outside the box in order to collect all the crowns scattered about, which unlock various costumes, music tracks, and a fun series of comic strips.
Qbby and his quadrilateral friends are as adorable as ever, their blank stares strangely appealing, and the clean, crisp black and white visuals, such a stark contrast to Nintendo’s normal color bombardment, are minimalist eye candy. There is a dreamy atmosphere to the vague “story” that soothes the brain after wracking it, enticing players to continue on, and luckily plenty of content allows for just that. While not the out-of-left-field delightful surprise that was the original, and despite the unfulfilled potential of the new mechanics, BOXBOXBOY! can’t help but elicit smiles, with the unbelievably simple Qbby belonging squarely in Nintendo’s stable of mascots, hopefully with many more boxes to make and plenty of puzzling adventures still to come. It’s still hip to be square. (Patrick Murphy)
8) Axiom Verge
It’s impossible to play Axiom Verge without thinking of Metroid. This is a game that wears its affection for Nintendo’s beloved 8-bit original, as well as the 16-bit follow-up, Super Metroid, on its sleeve. Axiom Verge is the Metroid game we’ve been waiting for, even if it doesn’t include everyone’s favourite bounty hunter, Samus Aran. This 2D side-scroller includes just about everything that makes Metroid so memorable: a great variety of weapons, unique abilities, a minimalist score, and an evocative atmosphere. While it isn’t quite as good as Metroid, Axiom Verge is a remarkable feat given that it was developed by one man over five years. Not only did creator Tom Happ do all the programming himself, but he also created the art, music, and overall design of each character and level. Much like Shovel Knight, Axiom Verge is a game that not only borrows the aesthetic of retro games, but more importantly, it understands what made them work so well. It’s one of the best examples of the Metroidvania genre, and the Wii U version is arguably the best way to play it, thanks to the GamePad, which adds extra features, such as an interactive map and selectable icons for all your guns (not to mention with Off-TV Play). (Ricky D)
7) Pocket Card Jockey
Much like with horse racing, the world of video games is full of surprising winners, little-known long shots whose introductions inspire more snickers than wagers, but then soon prove their mettle coming down the stretch. Developer Game Freak’s Pocket Card Jockey was hardly looked at as an odds-on favorite after its initial reveal, but it turns out that within this dark horse beats the heart of a puzzle game stallion, mature enough to take the Triple Crown, and full of fun while merging the sport of kings with a deck of aces. The concept is a fairly bizarre one, but playing rounds of Solitaire to compete in horse races works surprisingly well, offering an addictive, fast-paced challenge that requires strategy, skill and (like with most card games) sometimes a little luck. There are many facets at play during each event, but the basics involve removing cards between laps to build energy, and drawing paths with the stylus that put your steed in the best position for heading down that home stretch. It’s exciting, rewarding, and some of the most enjoyably replayable mechanics since Tetris.
With a ton of potential trophies to raise, a breeding mini-game that ensure your prize studs superior genetics will live on, and loads of entertainingly silly dialogue to chuckle over, Pocket Card Jockey is hands-down one of the best and weirdest puzzle experiences the 3DS has to offer. For those who enjoy Solitaire and always wanted to suit up in a ridiculous outfit and take the reins at a prestigious derby, your game has finally arrived. Pocket Card Jockey is a stalker in the pack, waiting to Sea Biscuit its way to your heart. (Patrick Murphy)
6) Paper Mario: Color Splash
Though not a return to the more standard RPG gameplay of The Thousand-Year Door that many fans were hoping for, the relentless charm of Paper Mario: Color Splash is more than enough to overcome any flaws, delivering a consistently entertaining adventure set in one of the most aesthetically-pleasing worlds in video games. Yes, the card combat is similar to Sticker Star‘s less-than-satisfying battle system, but Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have improved upon some of the more frustrating aspects, including making the resources necessary far more available. Rarely will players find themselves running out of jump attacks or hammer bashes and the like, and though the lack of experience gained for victory means battles will often be avoided, it’s still fun to watch (and listen to) your paper enemies crinkle under the relentless assault of a timing-based combo.
The real draw of Color Splash is the one-ply universe itself, though, and the goofy characters that reside within it. Eye-popping colors abound, painted onto objects and creatures so tactile that they belong in a pop-up fairy tale book. As players explore the vast land, they’ll run across numerous gray areas that can be filled in by swinging a paint-filled hammer. A simple act that can bring out the obsessive-compulsive in anyone, spreading beautiful goop is both rewarding and a messy good time. As for the story, those with the urge to dive into something deep and emotional will find only a shallow pool (this is Nintendo, after all), but often laugh-out-loud dialogue makes every NPC worth talking to, and fans of nonstop puns will be be in humor heaven. This abundance of personality is what easily carries Paper Mario: Color Splash through to its end, providing the kind of classic Nintendo entertainment that the company’s fans can’t get enough of. (Patrick Murphy)
5) Star Fox Zero
Star Fox Zero is one of the best games released exclusively for the Wii U, and it’s a shame that it has endured such unfair criticism. Fox McCloud’s long-awaited comeback has faced a wall of skepticism ever since it was first unveiled at E3 two years ago, mainly because of the divisive control system. The game certainly isn’t without its faults, but it’s also blessed with a loose, anarchic, B-picture soul that encourages you to enjoy yourself even when you’re not quite sure if you’re in control. It’s exactly the sort of rousing space adventure that McCloud and his band of anthropomorphic allies have become famous for. There are aspects that may be messy, but it’s an extremely good-natured mess, full of humor and warmth.
If we can glean anything from Nintendo’s 126-year history, it’s a willingness to experiment. The original Star Fox took full advantage of the polygon processing prowess of the Super FX chip in an era when three-dimensional polygons in a console game were very unusual. Star Fox 64 was built with the Nintendo 64’s analog control in mind, and it was the first Nintendo 64 game to include support for the Rumble Pak, with which it initially came bundled. Nintendo has always used the Star Fox games to flaunt the unique features of their consoles, and Zero is no different. A sense of familiarity pervades all of Star Fox Zero, and not just because the story is essentially a retread of Star Fox 64 (which in turn was effectively a retelling of Star Fox), but because Zero shares so much DNA with the 64 classics that it might as well be called a remake. Star Fox Zero appears to remember what made its predecessors so much fun, and when the credits are over, all you want to do is get back in line and play it again. (Ricky D)
4) Pokken Tournament
Pokkén Tournament borrows from plenty of old fighting game favorites – most obviously Tekken – but the inspirations reach further than Bandai Namco’s hit series touching on Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and the Dragonball series, to name a few. This isn’t to say that Pokken Tournament is just a poor man’s Tekken and void of any new ideas; in fact, it introduces its own features and systems that give it plenty of depth and plenty of replayability. The most notable innovation is the shifting field of battle, which transitions back and forth between Field Phase (a three-dimensional range of motion that gives players access to the full scope of the arena, and an over-the-shoulder point of view), and the more traditional fighting game-style Duel Phase (taking place on a 2D plane and putting a focus on things like mid-range strategy or close combat).
Think Tekken meets SoulCalibur, only featuring iconic Pokémon from both early and current generations to choose from. Almost everything about it works so incredibly well that Pokken Tournament is the only game apart from NBA 2K17 that I put more hours into this year – a game that breathes new life into a notoriously stale genre, and more than exceeded my expectations. Like Super Smash Bros., it’s easy to pick up, easy to play, and provides players a chance to battle against their friends, both online and in the same room. What more can you ask for? (Ricky D)
3) Kirby: Planet Robobot
There are not many Nintendo characters that have the same iconic status as Kirby. Mario obviously, Link surely, but not many others reach the same magnitude of expectation. So when Kirby: Planet Robobot was first announced, there was an assertion of hope for a new classic. The disappointment was not to come.
Kirby: Planet Robobot adheres to the same formula that has been successful with almost every Kirby game to date. The ability of Kirby to absorb the traits of his opponents has kept an original, creative idea blossoming for nearly twenty-five years. The addition of giant robots only adds a new ingredient to the mix, although Kirby’s Robobot armor does make the game less difficult.
Actually, most of the challenge come from the puzzle-style level design. The six worlds you traverse through are beautiful and exude both character and charm. If the stereoscopic 3D screen doesn’t give you a headache, it’s definitely worth seeing the parallel side-scrolling levels switch between the foreground and the background as you warp through pipes. After easily overcoming any opponent in your way, the boss battles provide a slightly different challenge, but still a swift defeat nonetheless.
However, Kirby games have never been renowned for their difficulty. They’ve always provided a cute, relaxed style of gameplay that never fails to entertain. Anybody that grew up with Nintendo will be delighted with Kirby: Planet Robobot, and anybody new to Nintendo shouldn’t let appearances deceive them; this pink ball of fun never lets you down. (James Baker)
2) Pokémon Sun and Moon
Every iteration within Pokémon’s twenty-year history has brought small, subtle changes to prevent the franchise from getting stale. No generation of games has done quite so upstanding a job as Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon and, from the outset, they celebrate that twenty-year history while distinguishing themselves as something different. For starters, the experience is far more cinematic, allowing for moments of quality and subtle character building, while frequently raising tension and excitement with brief action sequences. Likewise, the setting of the game, the Alola Region, is far more realized than previous regions. Based on Hawaii, Alola is comprised of four unique islands, each exuding their own atmosphere. Despite taking place on islands, the game is fairly landlocked, so don’t worry about too much water. Alola is described as being a far stretch away from the original Pokémon region of Kanto, and that’s exceptionally demonstrated. Unlike other regions, Alola doesn’t have gyms. Instead, players embark on an Island Challenge in which they forego a series of trials. While similar to gyms in that they culminate in a fierce Pokémon battle, each trial sets the player on a completely different task that teaches and celebrates the history of Alola. Gone also is the linear, X-axis, Y-axis, top down, grid style map. Alola is a free flowing, 3D world where the variety of Pokémon changes for each section of tall grass, even on the same route.
Pokémon Sun and Moon are just as notable for their quality-of-life improvements. Quick access to Poké Balls amidst wild Pokémon encounters, move effectiveness listed for Pokémon previously battled, and fully customizable menus are just a few ways things have been made more user-friendly. That’s not to say the games don’t have outstanding new additions; Poke Pelago and Festival Plaza are welcome distractions from the main game, but represent the typical, expected additions to a new Pokémon generation. Also unprecedented is what fans are calling “SOS battle encounters” where wild Pokémon can call for aid resulting in two on one battles. On top of stacking the odds against the player in exciting ways, these SOS encounters can result in rare Pokémon encounters that include evolutions, Pokémon with hidden abilities, and shiny Pokémon. In fact, some Pokémon can only be encountered this way, resulting in some thrilling, unexpected discoveries. Sun and Moon also include Z-moves, powerful moves that can only be used once per battle between all Pokémon in the party. While often overpowering the player, when battling enemies capable of Z-moves, these powerful moves can actually shift the tides in interesting ways. For all that is new, Pokémon Sun and Moon are also a celebration of twenty years of Pokémon. Some of this takes the obvious shape of Alolan Forms of original Pokémon, some of which are cool as ice, while others are intentionally laughable. At other times it’s as subtle as a Cubone calling on a Kangaskhan for help in battle, a call back to Pokémon lore and legend of the original games. Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon represent the best Pokémon has to offer: some brilliant new Pokémon, celebratory riffs on the originals, countless quality of life improvements, and an abundance of character and charm from the cast within, both villains and heroes alike, and even the region itself. Do yourself a favor and take a vacation to Alola and the wonderful world of Pokemon Sun and Moon. (Tim Maison)
1) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
The best adventures don’t always have to be new ones. Often it’s more enjoyable reliving a journey and rediscovering what made it so diverting in the first place. This is absolutely the case with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, one of the best games to come out so far this year. Building on its predecessors in many ways, Twilight Princess represented the best of the Zelda franchise. With impeccable controls and gameplay, some of the best combat featured in a Zelda game yet, and its signature tone and design, Twilight Princess built on the familiar formula of Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker, then escalated it. This is again the case with the HD version of the game, and Twilight Princess HD is the definitive way to experience the game. Every enhancement is notable, from the improved graphics to the ease and simplicity of aiming as a result of the Wii U’s gyroscope controllers. Twilight Princess HD also validates the Wii U Gamepad, as an easy access inventory and ever-present map couldn’t be more convenient. On top of all of that, the game supports amiibo, utilizing every Zelda–themed figure to either support the player or make the experience more challenging. The Wolf Link amiibo even brings additional content in the way of a small challenge course. Twilight Princess was always a brilliant game, with a gorgeous art style, some of the best dungeons in franchise history, and the well-designed gameplay Nintendo is renowned for. Twilight Princess HD builds on all of that brilliantly and is the single best way to experience one of the best journeys to Hyrule players have been permitted to embark on. (Tim Maison)
That’s our list, hope you enjoyed it, and if you missed any of these great games, now is the perfect time to catch up!
‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures
Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.
Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?
Setting the Scene
Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.
There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.
In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.
Rebuilding a Community
So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).
Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.
While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.
Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.
In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.
Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.
How Asynchronous Online in ‘Death Stranding’ Brings Players Together
Hideo Kojima’s latest game creates a sense of community by aiding other players on the same perilous journey.
Video games have always been fascinated with the idea of player interactivity as a means of crafting a power fantasy. The player typically goes on a hero’s journey, eventually culminating in them being the one and only savior of the world inside the game. Typically associated with single-player games, MMOs also crafted that same narrative but with the conceit that everyone is going on this journey. Often the acknowledgments of other players are in multiplayer-specific features such as PvP and Raids. Destiny is a great example of a series that takes players on the same journey and makes no promise that the story is different between players by even allowing them to engage in playing story missions together. It all feeds into the larger narrative of Guardians fighting together to save the Light. A game that handles this very similar and perhaps more successfully is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.
While lacking any direct player-to-player interaction, Kojima’s latest game is drenched in the conceit that community is crucial to triumph over adversity. You can read many articles about the game’s ideas of community from fellow writers on the site. What hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves is how revolutionary Death Stranding feels in terms of utilizing asynchronous online to greatly affect the game itself. Games like Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles have included the ability to leave notes (which Death Stranding also offers) that help (or trick) players as they venture throughout the world on their own. How those notes’ effects are manifested are often on a much smaller scale – helpful at times but often to warn players of an impending way they might die. They don’t have a large impact on the player, only a temporary means of cheating death.
Where Death Stranding becomes something greater in scale is in what it lets other players do to other peoples’ single-player experiences. In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges who is tasked with reconnecting America from coast-to-coast. At first, the game thrusts Sam into its narrative, taking the reluctant, isolated character and forcing him to eventually realize the importance of hope and connections in dire times. As Sam starts bringing more and more people onto the Chiral network (which allows instantaneous communication and the transferring of 3D-printable goods), so too does the game open up and reveal its ultimate goal: to bring players together.
This doesn’t mean players will ever talk to other players, and the game very much avoids any real negative actions that can be performed on players. In fact, someone could play the game without ever actively engaging with online features. Instead, the game will passively hand out “likes” to other players whose ladders are used or roads are driven. If one wanted to fight the game’s narrative and instead keep Sam isolated and away from the community that the Chiral network provides, they could definitely do that – no matter how antithetical it would be to do so. Death Stranding even offers an offline mode that would nullify all of that and keep the experience solely on the player’s impact on the world and no one else’s.
Yet there’s a reason the online mode is the default mode. It was near the end of Episode 3 (which also happens to be when the game unloads almost all of its mechanics onto the player) when I finally realized the impact I was having on other people’s games. I had spent an entire day playing the game, but focusing largely on delivering premium deliveries – these are optional challenges that essentially boil down to carrying more cargo, damaging cargo less, or getting to your destination in a set amount of time. Death Stranding doesn’t ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. Instead, it places a wide array of tools in front of you and assuming the Chiral network is set up in an area, it can provide a rough guide on places to avoid or infrastructure already built. However, one of the key pieces of infrastructure missing for my playthrough was roads. My efforts immediately became focused on building a network of roads that made their way all throughout one of the larger areas in the game.
The game doesn’t ever make you build roads. It tells you the option is there but it doesn’t force your hand. Often tools will be introduced, like zip lines and floating carriers, but the game never demands that they’re used. Of course, engaging with those tools will make your life easier. There are easy ways to start building infrastructure in Death Stranding: ropes and ladders can help to scale mountains or plummet depths. Those will remain in the world for other players to use and will even appear on their maps as they hook up areas to the Chiral network. So, someone who plays the game earlier than someone else could lay down ropes and ladders, and depending on when the other person starts playing, they will find those once they have progressed to a point where they are traversing that area. Where the game becomes even grander in its sense of community is the realization that the more players commit to building roads or setting up zip lines, the more other players benefit.
The reality is that ladders and ropes are temporary – they cannot be rebuilt, they can only be replaced. The game’s Timefall – a weather phenomenon that acts as rain but ages anything it comes into contact with – can reset an entire map after a while if there is nothing more substantial placed on the map. So in my game, I decided that whenever I could build a road, I committed to doing so. This could mean going to multiple waystations and collecting materials that have amassed over time from deliveries, or going out in the world and finding these materials like Chiral crystals. At a certain point, I would load up a truck with multiple deliveries that were on or near the roads I had built, as well as with as many metal and ceramic materials I could load into the truck before it reached capacity. As I delivered packages, I’d replace them with more deliveries and more materials from each waystation. Eventually, I’d find myself at a point where a road was not built yet and would then build that road.
Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding .
In contrast to a game like Dark Souls, actions in the world such as providing notes on the ground or helping another player with a boss battle is helping them cheat death. The community that is being built is not one that has any lasting effect on the world in the game. No Man’s Sky may let players interact with each other and further their knowledge of the universe within the game, but often that help is relegated to an isolated planet. It’s a more contained impact. Hideo Kojima created a game where players don’t just build infrastructures for themselves, they can intentionally or inadvertently assist other players throughout their games. This leads to players like myself creating strand contracts with other players who have built things I liked in the game. A strand contract is a powerful feature because it means more of that players’ roads or other items built for the world will show up more frequently in my game.
Every Action in Death Stranding Creates Hope
One of the perks of building so many roads is you also get a lot of likes, whether passively given because someone used the road or actively provided by a player because they not only used the road but were appreciative that someone built it. It’s hard not to feel important in someone else’s life when you’ve made their experience less cumbersome because they no longer have to drive over rocky terrain or through enemy territory but instead can take a highway to their destination. What’s better is that more substantial developments like bridges and roads can be repaired by other players and even upgraded. So while I laid the initial roads down, I actually haven’t spent any materials repairing them. Instead, notifications come in and tell me players have repaired roads I’ve built. There’s no real reason to do that unless the infrastructure built was necessary to their journey through the game – making it easier but also providing the same feeling of helping out a larger community.
Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding – a game that doesn’t even try to be subtle in its intentions. Traversing Kojima’s version of post-apocalyptic America is harrowing on your own. With just your two feet and a package to deliver when the entire world itself is trying to stop you from doing so, America isn’t just divided – it’s hostile. Where Death Stranding shines brightest is when it offers a helping hand. Players aid one another to achieve the same unified goal: save the country. All of this is under the assumption that the country can be saved, but there is no denying that seeing someone else’s rope hanging off a steep cliff, or a Timefall shelter where it rains Timefall on a constant basis, is one of the most satisfying feelings. In Death Stranding, it isn’t enough to know that you’re making progress, but that everyone is willing to assist others to reach the same end goal. It’s a game where every action creates hope and is built upon the idea that we are at our best when we work together.
‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy
Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.
With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego Games‘Woven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.
Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.
Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.
However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.
But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.
Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.
But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.
And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.
Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.
Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.
‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).
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