Enjoy the Great British Summer Time – long days, surprisingly pleasant weather, and mandatory nationwide lockdown. To help with the social distancing, here are some of the games we’ve all been enjoying this month.
Adam – Marvel’s Spider-Man
Lockdown and foolishly hoping for an increase in free time meant it was time to upgrade the gaming setup with a new TV and work through some of the back catalogue. What better game to test out a new A/V setup than Sony’s PS4 blockbuster Spider-Man. Approaching its second anniversary, it still remains one of the most visually impressive games on the system. Insomniac Games have done a great job of bringing Peter Parker’s New York City to life.
Whilst I was all ready to squeeze into the trademark spandex and sling some webs, I hadn’t quite realised just how open and freeform much of the game is. Between the cinematically driven story missions, you’re free to roam the city stopping crime, beating up gang members or improving your landscape photography. There’s more than a hint of Infamous: Second Son to proceedings – one of my earliest PS4 memories, and generally a good thing. The levelling and equipment upgrades help keep you hooked and prevent the potential boredom of being an overpowered super hero (I don’t suppose we’ll ever see a good Superman game?).
I was kind of hoping Spider-Man would be a great opportunity to share some gaming time with my son – he is his favourite superhero after all. However, it’s all a little too violent for a four-year-old, so instead I’ve been finding myself up after dark, sat on the sofa like a big kid, gleefully playing the virtual superhero. If you somehow managed to skip Spider-Man back when it was released, now’s the ideal time to pick it up – it all still feels fresh and makes you realise there’s still a lot of life left in the PlayStation 4.
Rachel – Don’t Starve Together
This co-op Burton-esque survival game has proven to be an ample timewaster during the lockdown. If you haven’t given it a whirl yet, now’s the ideal time – we’re all in this together, after all.
Teamwork is the key as you and your friends figure things out for yourself, fending off starvation and hoping you don’t get mauled by the monsters lurking nearby. Creating items to help you survive and setting up a camp in the wilderness is curiously addictive. The mishmash of cute ‘n creepy cartoon visuals holds much appeal, and I’m also a fan of the twee sounds the characters make.
As a standalone multiplayer expansion, available for a not too bank-breaking £10.99, you shouldn’t have trouble finding three other players. You maybe even learn a thing or two about surviving in the wild…
Matt – Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed
The uptake of PS Vita games has been slow around these parts. Tracking down physical games in the wild is a slow process, with only CeX having a dedicated Vita section nowadays. Even then the pickings are slim with approximately half their selection being LEGO tie-ins. eBay has been useful during lockdown for acquiring some of the more desirable releases at the right price, Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed for a reasonable £13 included.
I went into the Vita version of Racing Transformed with a preconceived opinion, knowing that it was delayed due to requiring additional work. I expected something rough with angular visuals, slowdown, compressed music, and other compromises. What I discovered was a nippy and fully featured racer. It’s remarkably close to the console iteration, suffering only from slightly cruder visuals. The sun-drenched locations – complete with those trademark SEGA blue skies – are genuinely uplifting, and power sliding around corners is constantly satisfying. Triple-changing vehicles on the fly remains a fun and inviting mechanic, especially upon successfully landing a trick on impact.
I’m well versed with the Xbox 360 version and was surprised to find that some of the locations ideal for achievement harvesting are perfect for trophy farming here, thanks to almost identical track design. Incidentally, the trophy list is well thought out – dozens are easy to acquire; you just need to be in the right place at the right time. Or to be more precise, have the right power-up at the right time. This makes working through the trophy list a delight, knowing that most will unlock naturally.
Replaying also rekindled my love for the musical score, including this riff on Golden Axe. I even dug out the Xbox 360 version – which is Xbox One backwards compatible – to mop up a few easy achievements missed way back in 2012.
I dare say Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed is worthy of a remaster. Or at the very least a tardy Switch conversion. The love and attention Sumo Digital poured into it all those years ago is still evident now, perhaps even more so.
Rich – Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Like many, I have been playing a ton of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s hard to say if I’m enjoying it anymore, however. I wonder if any players feel the same.
My wife asked me what I was doing yesterday, and I told her “I was doing my Animal Crossing chores.” As soon as I said it, I realised that the game has become a bit repetitive. Dig up fossils, shake a few trees, find a new recipe on the beach. Still, I am 140 hours in.
My Animal Crossing obsession also brought me back to Tetris 99. There was an Animal Crossing event, you see. I keep forgetting how utterly fantastic that game is. I was holding my breath as I reached the final 5. Tetris 99 is tense, brilliant, and addictive. It feels like the perfect Tetris game, and crossing paths with it is always a joy.
Jake – Sayonara Wild Hearts
The latest issue of Edge, a lockdown-impacted special issue all about games to make you feel better, is a lovely little read. You can’t help but come away warmer of heart for the memories it recalls – of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, Jet Set Radio and The Wind Waker for me, to name a few. And Electroplankton! Oh to have that and a DS to hand.
But it’s also a great reminder of games that passed me by first time around. Helpfully, few games on the list are hard to get hold of – though that did mean some serious whittling down to avoid swamping my ‘to play’ list. Sayonara Wild Hearts ended up on top: a pop album video game? Sold!
Like a good pop album, it’s packed with ideas, doesn’t hang around long, and there’s more to it than may first appear. The gaming influences are clear and varied – Space Harrier, OutRun and Rez the most obvious, with a chunk of rhythm action – but the achievement is in how they’re introduced, swapped in and out, and woven together, within each track and across the whole album. Despite the many influences, the game has a personality very much its own – strange, funny and surprising. Oh, and the Scandi electro pop music itself is tremendous.
All that in just over an hour. You can chase high scores if you want – and replay is certainly warranted – but it’s refreshing that equal thought has been given to making it accessible, with generous checkpoints, instant restarts, and even the option to skip sections. It’s been designed to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, however you come at it. Like a good pop album.