Editor’s Note: This article was originally published May 25, 2016
There are a lot of games that are touted as having something to say. A je nais sais quoi if you will, that certain something that makes for a truly special experience, one that you want to come back to again and again. Gone Home is the utter definition of just such a game, and what it packs into it’s 2-3 hours of exploration and involvement is a tiny glimpse of something so profound and important to our existence that narrative-based games which offer 10, 20, or even 50 times its weight in content often miss it entirely, or simply bury it so deep that we barely feel it at all.
A treatise on reflection and understanding, Gone Home is the story of a girl named Katie who has been spending some time abroad and arrives “home” to find that her family is not as she left them. While Katie was off discovering herself in the world at large, her mother, father, and sister were going through their own adventures and struggles without her. When she returns to greet them some time later, she finds only an empty house and a note from her sister pleading for her not to look too hard for the truth in this new house.
Now, your natural inclination, especially as a gamer, would be to assume that something horrible has happened, and in some ways, you wouldn’t be wrong to imagine that this was the case. “Horrible” things have been happening to everyone in your family while you were away in one way or another. Whether in the form of addiction, temptation, discrimination, or self-loathing, each of your family members have suffered in your absence, and even if their demons are only metaphorical, they become your focus as you seek to unravel who these people you’ve spent most of your life with really are.
So who are they? Well, Katie’s father is a failed writer who has become independently wealthy via a family inheritance. These days he hides his porn addiction while writing reviews of electronics as a way of earning an income. Her mother is a career-minded forestry officer who is feeling distant from her husband and contemplating an affair with a co-worker while she pines for the exciting days of her youth. And then there’s Sam.
Sam is your wily, wacky sister. Sam is a rebel. Sam is a writer. Sam is a punk. And Sam is a lesbian. In the time you’ve been away Sam has grown infatuated with a girl named Lonnie and she’s been spending her time balancing between hiding it from your parents, who are achingly conservative and at least a little religious, and trying to figure out what love is as a teenager.
Her notes and journal entries make up the crux of the main story, sometimes only showing themselves in a few words scrawled on a napkin or torn piece of paper, other times punctuating your entire experience with a voice over representation of how she was feeling on a particular day and time. Large and small, these are the moments that make Gone Home what it is. Transparent short-stories that bear an obvious semblance to how Sam herself feels, saved ticket stubs and kitschy keepsakes with sentimental teenage value, and, of course, the confused and insecure ramblings of a young woman who has found what might be her first love. The aching, honest truth behind this puzzling piecemeal depiction of Sam forms the bittersweet center of Gone Home, and remains with the player long after the credits have rolled.
Gone Home is a snapshot of a slice of life in every sense imaginable. From the very opening seconds of the game, this much is clear, if not much else. The opening title is scrawled in stylized magic marker, and the time stamp (1:15 AM, June 7,1995) is so specific and so relevant that it informs the experience of the entire game, again and again, in subtle but determinate waves of recognition. Everyone is talking about Pulp Fiction, Street Fighter II is the game to master, and, of course, any music that matters is heard on a cassette, including a series of mix tapes which the player will discover throughout the game.
The deliberateness and succinctness of this time and place for these characters is so honest and heartfelt, so utterly sincere in its depiction, that it feels like this story could not have possibly been told any other way. It showcases a certain cultural turning point in a lot of ways that any child of the 90s will remember well. It was a time when homosexuality was still just on the cusp of being acceptable in the public eye, even as members of the LGBT community were finding more voice and representation in art and popular culture, there was still DOMA to contend with, and even liberals and democrats were split on the issue in terms of what should or shouldn’t be “allowed”.
The punk movement was still alive but just barely, or maybe it was just on its second life. The original wave of angry, anarchic punk music had faded to make way for new wave in the 80s. However, a new punk was emerging with a different kind of sound and message, one that was less a “fuck everything” destructiveness, and more a pointed series of passionate rants aimed at changing things. Now it was powered by people who were trying to send a message to this society–a society that refused to accept the legitimate desires and needs which were important to the many outcasts who had united under its banner of rage. The need to have a voice, the need to be heard, and, most of all, the need to be understood.
This may all seem a bit beside the point but it really isn’t. Like any writers worth their salt, the folks over at The Fullbright Company didn’t just pull this setting out of a hat. Gone Home is a period piece as much as it’s anything, and the setting is as important as anything else about its ultimate message and motivation. This is a story where context is key, and the context here is that the times, well, as the inimitable Bob Dylan would put it: they-were-a-changing (just not quite fast enough).
With that said, though, all of this is simply what informs the world and the time of Gone Home, the question of what it’s actually about is a lot simpler: it’s a love story. It may be a love story where you never actually meet or speak with either of the star-crossed youngsters in question but a love story it remains. Your sister Sam has fallen for a girl named Lonnie, and as you find one scrap after another of their journey, discovering themselves and each other along the way, you start to get a feeling for them as people. The story touches upon the experience of being infatuated, being afraid, being vulnerable, and ultimately, being in love, with such a pure sense of raw power that you can’t help but feel a prickle in your soul and a salty feeling at the corner of your eye every now and again.
In the end, their story is a simple one, and, in fact, it may be the simplest story of all the stories we experience, even in our own lives, as we came of age and grew, ourselves, into adulthood. That doesn’t make it any less important though, and the pinpoint accuracy with which we can remember and conjure up those moments when that flame of remembrance is reignited by a story like Gone Home is the only proof we need that those stirrings still hold sway in our hearts and minds, even if our lives have long gone on in the wake of those vulnerable, youthful years.
‘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).
‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still As Difficult, Demanding And Amazing To This Day
‘Aria of Sorrow’: The Symphony of the Night Sequel Castlevania Needed
Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “Little Fear of Lightning”
The Career of Seth Rollins: From Face to Heel at Lightning Speed
Anime Ichiban 21: Explosions are so Kakkoii!
Watchmen Season 1 Episode Five Review: “Little Fear of Lightning”
Awesome Mixtape: Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019
Similar but not the same: ‘Ocarina of Time’ vs ‘Majora’s Mask’
Ranking The Legend of Zelda Series
‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Undoubtedly Ranks as the Best Horror Film of All Time
With ‘Scream 5’ Announced, Let’s Look Back at ‘Scream 4’
The Top 50 SNES Games
‘Earthbound’ is one of the Weirdest, Most Surreal Video Games
150 Greatest Horror Films of the 20th Century (Top 20)
- Film1 week ago
With ‘Scream 5’ Announced, Let’s Look Back at ‘Scream 4’
- Game Reviews6 hours ago
‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still As Difficult, Demanding And Amazing To This Day
- Film1 week ago
History of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ – the Movie that Made me a Movie Buff
- Fantasia Film Festival2 weeks ago
‘The Divine Fury’ is a Cool Horror-Action Hybrid that Offers Something for Fans of Both Genres