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The Gamer’s Guide to the World Cup – Group G

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With soccer’s biggest tournament started this week, the world is watching. But what happens if you want to follow the action and know nothing about the “beautiful game” because you spend all your time playing video games? Worry not, because Goomba Stomp’s resident footy-mad, cynical England supporter is here to give you some key info on this year’s contesting teams and how they theoretically relate to the gaming world. We’ll be doing one group every few days, so keep it here and you’ll be come a World Cup expert in no time!

Gamer's Guide World Cup BelgiumBelgium

Previous World Cup Appearances: 12

Best World Cup Performance: 4th Place (1986)

Star Player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

 

Biggest contribution to video games: Divinity series (PC, X360, XB1, PS4) – Larian Studios

Belgium have fallen into the same trap that England did back in the early-mid 2000’s, where they have labelled their team a “golden generation” without actually winning any, you know, gold. It’s probably because Belgium had a terrible team for the majority of the 21st Century until 2012, when a crop of incredibly talented young players began to emerge, and De Rode Duivels (The Red Devils) became many neutral fans’ pick for ‘dark horse’ winners of both 2014’s World Cup and Euro 2016.

This wasn’t without merit, to be fair. Belgium had impeccable records in qualifying for both those tournaments – and were ranked number 1 in the world by FIFA between Nov 2015 and March 2016 – but they fell at the Quarter-final stage each time. The current squad is ranked 3rd, and goes into the tournament with a new manager and four years’ worth of experience to build on. Their team is so impressive, and they are so close to the top, but this could be the last chance saloon for the golden generation to actually start being golden.

If it were a video game, Belgium would be:

DestinyDestiny is equally as baffling as Belgium in that its excellent fundamentals and obvious talent just doesn’t quite result in greatness. There’s no denying Destiny is a game built almost-flawlessly in terms of its mechanics, as Belgium are a team built full of talented players, but neither has yet to fully deliver on their promise.

 

 

 

Gamer's Guide World Cup EnglandEngland

Previous World Cup Appearances: 14

Best World Cup Performance: Winners (1966, but it’s not like that’s all we talk about)

Star Player: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)

 

Biggest contribution to video games: The ZX Spectrum? Rare? Rockstar Games? Batman Arkham series? I could go on forever, baby!

Ah, the England football team – the cause of, and solution to, many of life’s problems. Probably not the solution to many of my problems, considering a Semi-final defeat to Germany at Euro ’96 is the best I’ve seen since being old enough to understand the sport. Since then, it’s been nothing but false promise, heartache, and losing on bloody penalties. Or to Iceland.

Current manager Gareth Southgate took over the job despite seemingly not wanting to; reluctantly stepping in after Sam Allardyce was sacked after just one game in charge because he got caught in a sting operation by a British tabloid newspaper (because their job is to fuck over the England team as much as possible). He’s since brought a sense of calm to the squad, has experience of England’s recent tournament issues, and has built a squad of young, in-form players (mostly). Nobody is getting carried away, but this World Cup might not be completely horrible. Famous last words, right there.

If it were a video game, England would be:

SonicEngland are one of the two oldest national teams in football; alongside Scotland. SEGA and Nintendo – with their mascots Sonic and Mario – are undeniably the two biggest reasons for the popularity of gaming today, reinvigorating the medium after the crash of the 80’s. Mario remains genre-defining and iconic to this day, but Sonic mainly serves as an analogy for English football: Been around forever, shows glimpses of greatness, but usually ends up being a massive, shitty disappointment that pisses its fans off over and over again.

 

 

 

Gamer's Guide World Cup PanamaPanama

Previous World Cup Appearances: 0

Best World Cup Performance: N/A

Star Player: Roman Torres (Seattle Sounders)

 

Biggest contribution to video games: Er… They don’t really make them in Panama, but the US invasion of Panama was the basis for the title of the Just Cause series. That’ll do.

Hands up if you know anything about the Panama national team. Nope, me neither. Well, other than it’s their first ever World Cup, they qualified at the expense of the USA, the country’s president declared a national holiday the day after they qualified, and about the existence of a lady dubbed the “Panama Grandma,” who is probably the coolest old battle-axe ever.

Panama needed to defeat Costa Rica in their final game to qualify, and having scored an 88th minute goal, shenanigans kicked in. First, a ball boy decided that rather than giving the ball to a Costa Rica player trying to take a throw-in, he’d boot the ball out of the stadium. Then, the majesty of the Panama Grandma came into being. With stoppage time running down, the old biddy runs on to the pitch, and pretends to faint three times to stop police from dragging her off. Her reason was not subtle: “I jumped onto the pitch in order to avoid Costa Rica scoring another goal. I was not going to let them do it.”

If it were a video game, Panama would be:

Death StrandingPanama are at their first ever World Cup, and Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima’s first game since leaving Konami. If you think potential opponents know little about Panama, think how much you know about Death Stranding. They could both be awesome, they could both be bollocks – we just can’t be certain yet. While DS comes with a certain expectation, though, Panama have nothing to lose, and that makes them dangerous.

 

 

 

Gamer's Guide World Cup TunisiaTunisia

Previous World Cup Appearances: 4

Best World Cup Performance: Group Stage (1978)

Star Player: Wahbi Khazri (Sunderland)

 

Biggest contribution to video games: Mobile games – DigitalMania

Tunisia were the first African team to ever win a World Cup game when they defeated Mexico 3-1 at Argentina 1978. That, however, was the only game Tunisia have ever won at a World Cup, with them having identical records of won 0, drawn 1, lost 2 when they subsequently, and consecutively, qualified for the World Cup in ’98, ’02 and ’06.

Tunisia face England in their first game, which is a repeat of the first game of World Cup ’98 (that we were allowed to watch at my high school instead of going to a German lesson, proving again that it was right for us to enter World War II). Said match involved England midfielder David Batty producing probably the best foul I’ve ever seen when he bicycle-kicked a Tunisian player (I don’t care who) right in the face. Perhaps that moment of absolute brutality is what sparked fan violence in Marseille after the game – scenes which then-Prime Minister Tony Blair described as “a total disgrace” – or maybe it’s because England football fans can be right twats sometimes.

If it were a video game, Tunisia would be:

Binary DomainOn the surface (and based on the box art as well), Sega’s Binary Domain looks to be an utterly forgetful, bland and formulaic shooter. Ok, so it is kind of formulaic, but it’s massively underrated, and boasts solid mechanics, a decent setting and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Tunisia fit this bill as well. Solid, better than people think, and likely to be gone before the knockout round.

Crotchety Englishman who spends hundreds of pounds on video game tattoos and Amiibo in equally wallet-crippling measure. Likes grammar a lot, but not as much as he likes ranting about the latest gaming news in his weekly column.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. James Baker

    June 19, 2018 at 11:58 am

    Rockstar Games are Scottish are they not? Might upset them!

    • Alex Aldridge

      June 21, 2018 at 7:33 am

      The DMA guys are Scottish, yeah. So the original GTA was them, but Sam and Dan Houser are the actual founders of Rockstar, and they’re English. Trust me, I’d never accidentally give credits to the Scots – I made sure of that! 😛

      • James Baker

        June 21, 2018 at 7:57 am

        Even better, they’ll be upset and wrong at the same time!

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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