It feels like I keep saying “it’s been a while” because it usually has been, but that’s especially true as of late. I haven’t been feeling much in the way of creative drive and real life has been incredibly stressful, so the café has been closed for a while now. Oops. Regardless, it’s time for me to get back in the saddle, so I figured we’d start with a warm-up and go over some games I’ve been playing lately!
This Sakaguchi-directed endeavor is an Apple Arcade exclusive, and joins the likes of a bunch of other Apple Arcade games that I’ll be going over and recommending in their own post. One thing I should stress since people seem to not realize this is that a game being on Apple Arcade doesn’t mean it’s relegated to iPhones and iPads. You can play any of them on Apple TVs and Macbooks too. All that said, Fantasian actually works great on touch-devices because the combat is built around them. Your plucky JRPG protagonists can curve their attacks to catch multiple enemies or to bypass defenses. It’s a cute little system, bolstered further by the Dimengeon, a device that lets you stock random encounters before fighting all the enemies at once for bonuses. One wonders why modern JRPGs constantly find ways to bypass common JRPG conventions, because it begs the question why they’re there in the first place, but the Dimengeon is convenient the same way games like Bravely Default are.
I haven’t gotten too far into this game’s plot so I can’t speak for it, but it’s firing on all cylinders in terms of presentation; it looks and sounds gorgeous. Each environment is a handcrafted diorama, which gives the game a life-like appearance that harkens back to the pre-rendered JRPGs that Sakaguchi pioneered in the first place. And the soundtrack is powered by the legend Nobou Uematsu himself, who really feels like he's given his all for what may very well be his last leading project. If you've got Apple Arcade, definitely check this game out.
Also known as the game with the weird as hell Videogame Awards commercial, Knockout City is probably the most surprising game I’ve seen this year so far. It feels like Splatoon-flavored dodgeball, with a similarly bright, energetic art-style coupled with mechanics that are easy to learn but come with an ocean’s worth of depth. It didn’t take long for me to get captured by the core loop. At first I was throwing my dodgeball and hoping for the best. Then I learned I could fake out throws to bait catches. Then I learned I could curve and lob shots, pass my ball to a teammate to power up their throw, and more. Even the game's level design is surprisingly high-quality, and I quickly found myself utilizing the environment to land some sick plays. The feedback from jumps and throws feel great, and the entire experience has been stable on the network-front as well. I’m genuinely sad that this is just a beta and I'll have to wait until May to play more — that’s how good Knockout City is.
I don’t really have much to say about Outriders to be honest, other than that it taps into my goopy goblin gamer brain, which you probably know I’m a sucker for. I did not like this game on my first go around, and I frankly feel like $60 is still too much to pay for it. But if you liked Mass Effect’s multiplayer you might find yourself at home here, surprisingly enough. It’s basically Diablo mixed with cover-based shooting and super-powers. I play as a Trickster, who can teleport behind enemies and use a spiffy energy sword to cut down enemies. It’s a very aggressive game, which is a nice change of pace from the sit-in-cover style games like Gears of War / the Division. I’m enjoying it a lot more on a second pass, and will probably finish it, which I can’t say I’ve done for most of the new releases this year…yeesh.
Monster Hunter Rise
I was going to write a separate Thoughts On post about Monster Hunter Rise, but what can I even say? It’s Monster Hunter. It’s obtuse and complicated and addicting and beautiful. Rise is probably the best starting point for a would-be hunter yet. Yes, I know people say that about every new Monster Hunter, but I mean it this time. Not because it's been any more streamlined (although it has been, in some ways), but because being a hunter in this game is OP as hell. I've never felt so bad for the monsters in this series in my life. Every attack just feels overtuned for the first 20 hours or so of the game, and the wirebug gives you even more options to attack and evade your prey. You feel like a badass more in Monster Hunter Rise than any previous game, and feeling like a badass is a good way to encourage a newcomer to keep playing your game. The palamutts are another great addition, making navigating the maps and even sharpening your weapon feel better than older Monster Hunters. Every time a new game gets announced, I question how this series could continue to innovate, but Capcom knocks it out of the park without fail, while always maintaining the beautiful core that sits at the center of every Monster Hunter title. Just play it! Play it right now!