Most Played: June 2020

As lockdown begins to ease, the team has broadened their spectrum and played games both digital and analogue. By which we mean we’ve played some board games this month in addition console and handheld titles.

Matt – Killzone: Mercenary

Two days after purchasing Killzone: Mercenary on eBay, news circulated that Sony had switched off the servers without forewarning. Typical. Everything turned out well in the end though. Not only was it a temporary closure (a blip, apparently), but it seems this news prompted a handful of players to pick up their Vitas and jump back into its online component.

When my copy finally arrived, I was able to find online matches easily. The lobbies weren’t fully populated, true, but there was plenty of people ready to gun this newbie down.

It quickly became apparent why some gamers were up in arms over the servers suddenly being shut off. Killzone: Mercenary is one of the most impressive games released on the handheld, originally being part of a big push to get the Vita noticed.

It’s a decent compromise between a console and handheld experience. It looks the part and the controls are responsive, while the missions are short and based around replay value. Here, every kill earns cash which can be spent at weapon lockers manned by a charismatic war profiteer. Plenty of sci-fi equipment is on hand to play around with, and most stages have alternative mission endings, each with a bonus trophy linked to them. Unlike Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the touchscreen stuff isn’t too intrusive either.

It almost makes me want to check out Resistance: Burning Skies – Sony’s first stab at bringing a big-name shooter to the Vita. Emphasis on almost, there. I don’t think I can justify spending £15 on a universally panned game right now.

Adam – Moving Out

Couch co-op and split screen multiplayer is something that I’ve been yearning for recently, and sadly it’s an ever rarer part of modern gaming. Partly to that end, I spent much of the last month picking up a small collection of Sega MegaDrive games on eBay, enjoying the two player platformy goodness of games like Sonic 2 and World of Illusion with my son. However, whilst wanting something a bit more elaborate for an evening of gaming with my other half, I stumbled upon Moving Out – a couch co-op multiplayer game that is to house moving what Overcooked is to cooking.

Much like Overcooked, it’s a frenetic affair as you work together to stuff the contents of a house into the removal truck before the clock runs out. It shares a very cute and colourful visual style too, which I’m all in favour of. Things start off simple; grabbing boxes and appliances, smashing windows, working with your partner to fill up the truck as quickly as possible. Soon enough more cooperation and team work is required, as you manoeuvre L-shaped sofas through narrow hallways and doors leading to Chuckle Brother style slapstick, or throw fragile boxes to each other half intending to make your partner smash them.

Whilst Moving Out may have provided more evidence that I’m the bossy one and our next house move may be somewhat tortuous, it’s also a perfectly mixed little game that provides plenty of fun moments and lets gamers and relatively non-gamers enjoy an evening together without having to spend time explaining the controls or gameplay – instead just getting straight to the point of shouting for help to shift the fridge out of the back door. It’s good that we seem to be seeing more games like this lately – fun, accessible, multiplayer, and importantly not just online multiplayer – hopefully bringing back some of the things I enjoyed most about gaming of old.

Jake – Imagzle

For reasons quite unknown, in lockdown my in-laws have discovered those picture quizzes that used to be big in Excel about 15 years ago, where you have to identify a parade of chocolate bars, logos, countries or whatever. I’m not sure if it’s because of or despite that, that I’ve been drawn to Imagzle.

The concept is nearly straightforward. As the developer puts it: “there is an image that suggests something and you need to understand what it is”. In some cases it’s just identifying what’s in the illustration, sometimes it’s a step or two beyond simple identification.

It’s often not clear which of those categories a given puzzle falls into, and the difficulty varies wildly: some are easy, some are easy if you know the answer and virtually impossible if you don’t, some are just plain hard; some are pleasingly logical, some are slightly perverse. This should be annoying, but there’s a certain enjoyable idiosyncrasy that comes from it being mostly the creation of one man. Like a friend’s virtual pub quiz, when it’s done with a bit of charm, the baffling swings in difficulty are part of the appeal.

And there is charm here. Wrong answers often provide clues, tell you when you’re on the right lines, make you check your spelling, or accuse you or just guessing. Right answers come with another little message: about the difficulty, a little fact, or just a comment on the topic. It’s all in a consistent voice that makes the game that little bit more personal.

The only frustrating thing is the hint system. Hints are absolutely needed at times, and form the monetisation structure. You buy credits, and hints then costs one to three credits. Credits are expensive, but the hints are as inconsistent as the rest of the game – it’s the only time that feels unfair. It’s not entirely the game’s fault – there’s not much of a market for premium priced games on the app stores, but for me an upfront cost in exchange for freer hints (maybe time limited?) would have been preferable.

It’s not game-breaking though. There are hundreds of levels, including audio variations later on. Racking your brain, asking other people, trying to Google something – anything! – to get closer to the answer is an unusual and welcome challenge.

Rich – Splendor

This month I have mainly been playing board games. As lockdown has ended in my part of the world, it has been nice to get some face to face time with people. Splendor is a particular favourite of mine. It involves you using gems (represented by lovely, thick poker chips) to buy cards. These cards have gems and points on them, allowing you to use these new cards to buy other cards and hopefully amass 15 points. It’s sleek and a beautiful and a perfect example of engine building. It’s also available on iOS and PC.

I’ve also been continuing building up my island on Animal Crossing, although it feels like it’s running out of steam. A few quality of life improvements would really help. The menus have become irritating rather than relaxing. July’s update seems rather anaemic.

In fact, it really seems like Nintendo have been in hibernation since September, with only a dribble of news coming out of the company since then. Come on, Nintendo. Give us some reasons to be cheerful.