Most Played – December 2021

The team didn’t just spend the merry month of December wrapping presents, eating mince pies, and watching re-runs of vintage Christmas specials on TV – there was still time for a spot of gaming too.

Serious Sam 4 – Matt

Earlier this year I played through Shadow Warrior 2 and was left impressed by the improvements over the linear, gung-ho, original. It felt far more modern, almost to the point where a comparison with Borderlands 3 wasn’t unjustifiable.

Serious Sam 4 (released earlier this month on Xbox Series and PS5) comes from the same publisher – the usually dependable Devolver Digital – and so I hoped it had been steered in a similar direction. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Serious Sam 4 would leave you convinced the last generation never happened – it’s hard to think that both this and DOOM Eternal (or even DOOM 2016, for that matter) are running on the same console.

I chose not to give it the review treatment as, well, there isn’t much to say; just looking at the screenshots should give anyone the gist.

It’s a game that exists within its own little bubble, and in a weird way, there is a degree of comfort within that. Developer Croteam hasn’t kept up with trends but rather stuck with tradition, adding only the lightest sprinkling of next-gen tech. The titular lead blitzes through quaint European towns and villages, mowing down hordes of enemies until progress is halted by an electronically locked door. It’s at this point the music ramps up and the enemies come thick and fast, and it’s usually accompanied by a new weapon drop.

Around 80% of the whole shebang comprises of this loop, with the remaining 20% being barren open-world sections and boss battles. During the few moments it steps away from its tired formula, it can impress – the chance to ride around the French countryside on a combine-harvester is a rare highlight.

It’s okay for games to be brainless, requiring minimal effort to play. Problem is, Serious Sam 4 isn’t satisfying with it, and neither is it particularly flashy. At least the festive skeletons were a nice touch.

Overboard! – Rich

I have been playing Overboard! on Nintendo Switch. It’s a visual novel type game that starts with you throwing your husband overboard from a ship. You then spend the rest of the game trying to get away with his murder.

There’s some nice writing and character work but it’s only after you finish the game (which takes 30-45 minutes) that its true structure reveals itself. Each playthrough can be very different, and you unlock new information, endings and quests every time you complete the game. I’m currently on my fourth playthrough and I’ve just peeled back another layer to the story.

It’s a fun, interesting, game. Although I’m not sure if I’ll make it to a sixth or seventh playthrough. Repetition can be interesting. But it can also be repetitive.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes – Jake

I’d been meaning to try out Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes for, I reckon, about five Christmases now. But this was the year that I finally put my reputation on the line and subjected my extended family to a bit of festive bomb defusing. Thankfully I got away with it.

It didn’t go quite as expected though. There are two sides to the game – one person handling the bomb on the Switch and describing it sufficiently clearly, so that the remaining players can use the bomb defusal manual to instruct the bomb handler. I didn’t expect the older contingent to want to wield the Switch, and that was certainly true, but I had expected them to be more engaged by using the manual to solve the puzzles. They were certainly intrigued and impressed, but once it got a bit tricky a few bombs in, they sat back a bit.

I can see it lasting longer as a two-player game though. There’s a range of types of puzzles, which range over straightforward, simple but time-consuming, tricky but brief, and outright fiddly. And there’s some expertly designed frustration, particularly playing on the fact that the communication is purely verbal. The bomb is procedurally generated each time, so there’s still variety even when it takes a few goes to clear a level.

Short-lived as a casual party game then, but I’ll be back to meet the challenge.

Oneechanbara Origin – James

Japanese developer Tamsoft tends to take on too many projects at any given time, the quality of the final games suffering for it.

That wasn’t the case with Oneechanbara Origin. While this isn’t the next Bayonetta, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead, Tamsoft has crafted a short but intensely satisfying action game that brings with it rhythmic sword battling against some creative encounters that, unlike many other Tamsoft games, crucially never outstays its welcome. It’s six hours long but you’ll actually want to go through it again once it’s all over.

Its quality is a mystery considering Oneechanbara’s origins as a shoestring game made under D3 Publisher’s Simple 2000 label back on PS2. But as with Earth Defense Force, another series that originated under the budget label, ample time and budget have been the key ingredients in turning those humble beginnings into something a bit special.