Throughout the course of the new PS4 exclusive, Until Dawn, Peter Stormare, playing the part of a character referred to as The Analyst, will speak directly to you, the gamer. He periodically breaks the fourth wall to interact with you, asking you questions about what you fear, which characters in the game you’re fond of and which you don’t really care for. It’s an interesting idea, and the game adapts a little based on your answers to make your experience a little more personal. And so in the interest of keeping things meta, I’m now going to address you, the reader, directly, and ask you some questions. I can’t promise the review will change as per your answers, but I’m fairly confident I know what the answers will be so it won’t need to. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Let’s begin. Have you ever heard anybody use the phrase “getting presidential” as a euphemism for having sex? Have any of your friends ever offered you advice on how to take a girl to the “bone zone”? Have you ever referred to your own penis, or have you ever heard anybody else refer to theirs, as “Air Force One”? If not (and let’s be honest, it’s likely not) then prepare to be incredulous at how the cast of Until Dawn speak to each other.
Yes, the dialogue in Until Dawn is, at times, jaw-droppingly awful. Earlier in the year many of us laughed our way through the first episode of Life Is Strange as the cast hella spoke to each other not like real people, but like what an alien might imagine teenagers talked like if all they had to go on for reference was a ’90s Limp Bizkit music video and access to the Hot Topic website. The dialogue in Until Dawn in the opening few hours is like the bastard offspring of the worst moments of Life Is Strange and the script of one of the crap straight-to-video American Pie sequels that we all tried really hard to forget about. It’s all horny teen banter as written by people who can’t remember being teens. Or indeed how to speak. It’s actually borderline offensively bad at times, to the point where I laughed out loud playing the game. And I’m talking full on belly laughs, too. I positively howled on more than one occasion, cringed more times than I could care to guess, and remained in a constant state of bewilderment for most of the opening hour or two of the story. This game is something else.
But the secret weapon that Until Dawn wields is that it’s not aiming for high art and has crash-landed face first in the gutter. Supermassive Games have aimed to pay homage to the teen slasher movies of the ’90s, and boy, have they ever nailed it. While appalling dialogue, paper thin characters, and a nonsensical, trope-laden plot might be a deal-breaker for a game like Heavy Rain, for Until Dawn they’re almost a necessity. The implausibly hot and frequently annoying cast of teens are all together. We’re introduced to them. We hate them. And then something awful happens and they have to band together, finding courage inside that they didn’t even know they had, as they try to make it through the evening alive. It adheres to the classic formula of dozens of movies from that era, and if you’re like me, and you remember renting movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer from Blockbuster with a group of friends, Until Dawn will likely make you feel nostalgic. Like the movies it pays homage to, Until Dawn is all about dumb characters doing dumb things in a dumb story, while you sit in the comfort of your own home, shouting, “Don’t go upstairs!” at the cretin who hasn’t thought their escape routes through. This is every stupid teen horror movie you ever watched, rolled into one, only in this horror story, when you shout, the kids can hear you.
Set in a cabin in the woods in winter, Until Dawn tells the tale of eight friends having a weekend break. Like any good set of friends, one year prior they decided to trick one of their group, Hannah, into believing that the guy she was in love with was interested in her, and filmed her taking her shirt off with him as she thought they were heading, well, to the bone zone. For whatever reason, Hannah wasn’t all too happy about this and ran away, out into the night. Her twin sister, Beth, chased after her, and neither of them were ever seen again. The rest of the group decide to meet up again one year later at the exact same cabin, with some even mentioning that they feel a little guilty about what happened to Hannah and Beth, as though, you know, it was their fault or something. They naturally decide to meet up at the cabin at different times (why didn’t they all take a bus together?) and in the pitch black of night during a snowstorm. After a few meet and greets, a little bit of drama thanks to who’s dating who, and a whole lot of cringe inducing sexual innuendo, we’re ready to get the party started.
There’s Samantha, the only one of the group to protest last year’s deadly prank. There’s Mike, the guy who thinks “Air Force One” is an acceptable name for his penis. There’s Jess, Mike’s girlfriend, who apparently also thinks that “Air Force One” is an acceptable name for Mike’s penis. There’s Emily, who used to date Mike, but now she’s getting presidential with Matt, another one of the group. There’s Chris, who wants to take Ashley to the bone zone, and there’s Ashley, who wants Chris to take her there, but neither have managed to pluck up the courage to do anything about it. And then there’s Josh, the brother of Hannah and Beth, who is only missing the big, floating neon sign above his head that reads, “This guy is probably the baddie”. There’s a heated debate between Emily and Jess over who gets to take a ride on Air Force One, and for the good of the group, everyone splits up to various parts of the cabin to take a little time apart. Things are getting tense, so let’s hope nobody does anything stupid.
So anyway, someone does something stupid. Josh decides that the snowy, dark, secluded cabin in the woods where his sisters presumably died a year prior is the perfect place to break out the old Ouija Board. Not Monopoly, not Scrabble, not even strip poker. The Ouija Board. Predictably, this is a bad idea. Hannah and Beth start talking to Josh, Chris and Ashley from beyond the grave, giving the three clues on where to look for the proof of who and what killed them. Everybody freaks out a little bit. Meanwhile, Emily and Matt have gone out into the blizzard to look for Emily’s bag which like, totally, you know, cost like, six hundred dollars or something. Poor, poor Matt. Mike and Jess have gone off to a separate cabin to have sex, which we know, because they inform us seventeen times on the short walk to their love nest. And Sam has gone for a bath on her own, presumably because she’s the only sensible one in the group, and she needs some time alone to consider how she ended up in a log cabin with this bunch of absolute clown shoes. It’s dark, it’s isolated, and the teenagers have split up. And so the classic horror template is laid out.
The plot of the game essentially boils down to a mash up of a number of different horror movies. There’s some I Know What You Did Last Summer, a couple of nods to Scream, some Cabin Fever, and even a little Saw thrown in there, before there’s a sharp turn in the narrative, and the second half of the story lifts elements directly from another horror movie that I won’t reveal here. The first half of the game, for my money, is certainly more enjoyable than the second, but even after the third or fourth eyebrow-raising plot development, the game never felt like it had derailed thanks to the schlocky nature of what Supermassive Games have done here. Until Dawn is a game that wears its influences on its sleeves, and makes no bones about what it is, and what it’s trying to do, and that’s one of the reasons that it holds together so well. You know exactly what you’re in for with this game after the first hour, and so when something patently ridiculous happens, you just have to run with it.
A normal chapter of Until Dawn will throw you into control of one of the eight kids, and you’ll get a small section of story to take part in before control will switch to one of the other eight kids, doing something else concurrently. Playing the game is as simple as walking around and interacting with objects. There’s clues to find, and some very light puzzles to solve, but the majority of your playing time is spent talking to people, making decisions and taking part in QTEs. Conversations are interesting in that you can help shape the personality of each character as you see fit by making slight dialogue choices that alter how characters act. You can opt to be aggressive if someone gets in your face, or you can attempt to pacify the situation. These choices often have implications later in the game, rather than an immediate repercussion. Similarly, the choices in the game usually amount to which direction to go, or other simple decisions, that don’t immediately scream out to you as having potentially deadly consequences, but can often lead to serious trouble. That’s where the butterfly effect comes in.
The butterfly effect is a choice system that determines, essentially, who is going to get out of this game alive. It’s implemented in such a way that you can’t really see the strings controlling the proverbial puppet show, and one of the great successes of the game is that it unfolds in a way in which you’re never really sure which choices will end up with someone getting iced. That, along with QTEs that can result in the permanent death of characters rather than just a game over screen, means that Until Dawn never stops making you feel tense. A butterfly symbol popping up on screen lets you know that what you’ve just done will have some consequences, but you don’t know what those will be. And so it could be something as simple as you picking up and looking at an object, meaning that object isn’t in the same place it was, which might make it out of reach should you need it in a pinch, or it could be something as significant as falling off a cliff seconds after your ill-fated decision was made.
What’s really interesting about the system, though, is how organically everything comes together when you can’t see what’s happening behind the scenes. A second play-through of the game will reveal how some of the events of the game come together, and which decisions really matter, but in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to tell that this is a choice based game at all. It feels like a story that has been made this way, even though you’re shaping it, and that’s about the best compliment you can give to a game like this. The story, while being utterly unbelievable at times, always remains engaging thanks to the interactive elements and the fact that you know that any choice you make could spell death for one of the characters. And while the characters in the game start out as people you probably want to see get chopped up by a deranged killer, as the game goes on, their various quirks can become endearing, which means perma-death can be a bit of a gut punch. Mike might start the game as a bit of a jerk, but come the end he’s basically transformed into Nathan Drake. Watching your favourite character die a terrible death that’s of your own making (I’m sorry, Ashley) is surprisingly affecting.
The characters becoming more engaging as the game goes on is down, in part, to this being a nine-hour horror movie rather than a ninety minute one, but also thanks to the excellent voice acting. The production values in the game are top-notch throughout, with fantastic sound design – you’re in for a treat if you’ve got surround sound, by the way – and high quality graphics, but the voice acting in particular is really worth note. While I spent the opening hour or so laughing at the way the characters speak to one another, once the set-up is out of the way and things start getting nasty, it’s hard not to feel for the poor kids. Some of the characters fare better than others thanks to how much they get to do in the narrative, but on the whole, the dialogue is never delivered in a way that feels stilted or forced, and conversation feels natural. Characters like Sam and Mike are particularly well done, and come across as good, or often better, than what you’d traditionally see in this genre. Peter Stormare, though, has the most fun playing a flamboyant psychiatrist. It’s like watching Mads Mikkelsen playing Hannibal in an episode of Goosebumps, and it’s a lot of fun.
Whether you like Until Dawn or not will most likely be down to a couple of things. What are you expecting? And do you like teen horror movies? If you’re expecting high art, or psychological horror, you’re out of luck. It’s not a new Silent Hill. This is a big, silly ’90s teen slasher movie that you can take part in. It wears its influences on its sleeves, and it’s never pretentious about what it is. I instantly found myself in love with the camp dialogue, the cheesy story, and the constant peril our plucky teens found themselves in, and since that’s what Supermassive Games were aiming for, you can’t really knock them for it. Until Dawn is a game that has cult hit written all over it, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Sony turn this into a franchise. So grab a couple of beers, load up on snacks, and ask yourself, “Are you ready to take a ride on Air Force One?”
This article was originally posted on www.soundonsight.org
‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still As Difficult, Demanding And Amazing To This Day
Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later
Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!
What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.
What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.
But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.
It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.
Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.
The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!
– Ricky D
‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming
Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.
In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.
It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.
Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.
And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.
It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.
No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more.
‘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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