My Ever-Changing Opinion on Trophies

I like collecting; both in reality, and in games, it gives me satisfaction, whether it be my physical library of games or my vinyl collection. So, platform-spanning systems such as Achievements or Trophies very much play into that; yet, it’s always a fascinating balance of whether I feel as though I’m going after them for fun, or for the acquisition of them itself – in which case, though, is the acquisition the fun? It’s a debate I continue to have internally, and a subject that has been discussed in a variety of ways elsewhere since their introduction approximately two generations ago, starting in the Xbox ecosystem. In this article, I am going to run through why my opinion on the topic is in such regular flux. At points the journey for them is incredibly rewarding, however at others it can be hollow and make me consider my priorities while gaming.

Why am I writing this now? Well, my recent ventures through the Resident Evil series – across both Switch and PlayStation 4 – have made me approach this with a new comparative perspective. Because of how Switch has no platform-cohesive Achievement-style system, but PS4 does, in the form of Trophies, I’ve inadvertently created a side-by-side test of how my play is affected in the series in those two different circumstances. On Switch, I made my way through the two Revelations games, focused on completing the campaigns, and where there were additional challenges to complete that I felt compelled to tackle, I went for them – for example, the awesome arcade-y, score-based Raid Modes. On the other hand, on PS4 I have had a great experience with Resident Evil 2 and 3 (the remakes), Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 5, and Resident Evil 6 (I have also started Resident Evil 0), with the awareness of Trophies always being there in the back of my mind. I’m not here to directly criticise either of the set-ups or platforms, but more to run through my thoughts on the two ways of going about it.


The Case For

Perhaps a significant reason why I am so into Trophies (I’m going to refer to Trophies in the service of conciseness, but be aware that I mean the overall concept of platform-spanning reward systems) is that they can act as a flag in the ground signifying the games you yourself personally really connect to. It’s tempting, but I soon realised that trying to go for all the Trophies in every game just isn’t a reasonable expectation; so, instead, I identify the games that I form a strong affinity for, and then set about getting that 100% and/or Platinum Trophy as an extension of my enjoyment of the game. Then, when other players scroll through my Trophy list, they can see those games and identify them as ones I regard very highly. It’s a way of giving back to the game, too.

Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Celebration on PS4 has a comprehensive Trophy list

An example is the modern Tomb Raider trilogy, amazing games with a wondrous sense of exploration that very much cater to my tastes. It takes considerable time to achieve the Platinum in those three entries; I have got the Platinum for the second and third games so far. Those games reward you for revisiting areas and taking your time finding all the secrets, which pairs so, so well with the nature of Trophies – there are specific ones for the story, collectibles, play styles, additional modes, and more. The Platinum for Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Celebration is one I decided to go for in the run-up to Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and I am really proud of achieving that. In this case, my motivation and subsequent prize for taking Trophies into account was intrinsically linked to how the game itself was suited to that process.

Along that vein, the way Trophies act as a barometer for you to compare and compete against your friends is great, and it is fun to scroll through the profiles of my friends and see which games they have played, and which they have the most Trophies in, as well as seeing how I stack up against them. It’s a friendly sort of competition that actively encourages you to try more games, encouraging discussion on the subject and getting more word out there about more games. Multiple times in PS4 party voice chat I have had fun conversations about our Trophy progress, the different games we have progression on and how we went about them. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a recent example, and adds an extra competitive element to a game without much depth of modes; Trophies are a feature in themselves. Furthermore, Resident Evil 3, my current Game of the Year, has a fantastic Trophy list which did this, and had a friend and I talking about the different tactics we were using.

That latter game is a brilliant example of how Trophy lists provide alternate challenges, leading to you finding joy from playing the game in different ways. Beyond the Trophies for completing the game on different difficulty settings, there are also ones for finishing the game without using the item box, in a certain amount of time, and more, altering my play style in repeat playthroughs and giving me new insights into details of the game. As a series, I have found that Resident Evil is consistently creative with the Trophy lists, often supplying these unique challenges for the player; completing the games without healing items, for example, is a frequent one that appears and makes you be more cautious.

Encouraging exploration and experimentation of gameplay works well when there are many possibilities, too, such as in scenarios with multiple different endings. Then, Trophies can act as additional incentive to see them all. I mean, Catherine: Full Body, which I have been playing – I’m now onto my second run – literally has a Trophy named “I’ve Seen It All” for viewing all the differing resolutions. Combined with the absorbing characters, I am very invested in following the various routes. Games that manage to smartly interweave Trophies into already-engrossing gameplay can give themselves more longevity, actively improving them as an overall package.

In that sense, after experiencing Trophies done so well in games such as Resident Evil 3, it does cause me to imagine the positive influence they could have on games on consoles that at this point do not have them. Let’s use Animal Crossing: New Horizons as an example: there could be rewards for various approaches to island design and the successful realisation of them, perhaps nudging people into trying styles they otherwise may not. There are already in-game trackers that reward you with Nook Miles, so how about if these were developed further within the framework of a Switch Achievement-style system? Or, is it maybe better as it is, not having them?


The Case Against

It’s a delicate task to achieve a harmony of game and Trophy list that compliment each other. My experience is that it can easily go the other way, where the additional routes opened up by Trophies can be a distracting aspect; I have previously fallen into the trap of spending more time with a game than I maybe should have. I’ll be clear: my personal traits affect this, as my collector side can veer into a habit of unlocking more and more in a game once I have started it. Despite perhaps not particularly enjoying a game, the idea of leaving it at a low percentage on my profile does affect me and puts me off the idea of immediately going towards a different game I may have a better time with. This isn’t really the fault of the concept of Trophies, but a documentation of how my mind can react to them. Due to this overplaying, there have been cases where Trophies have been an unwelcome distraction. I have evolved my mindset on this though, with my aforementioned renewed focus on going for Trophies in the games I find myself really connecting to.

Firewatch entices exploration with a rural park setting, but has no Platinum?!

Another way Trophies can actively harm my time with a game is when the lists aren’t well designed. For starters, games that don’t have Platinum Trophies, such as Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch, lack that glorious, resounding moment when the Platinum is unlocked. I don’t really understand why they are omitted in cases such as these – it seems a missed opportunity, and these are games that justify having that final reward. Further to this, on occasion a Trophy list can be over-designed and make playing more of the game seem more daunting than it may otherwise have. The Uncharted series is one that does this; after my first playthroughs, I tended to be around the 20-25% completion mark, and it left me with an underwhelming emotion. It’s far enough away that it puts me off working on collecting the rest, instead of making me feel as though I could press on and go for the Platinum. In contrast, when I play on Switch, much of this consideration fades away, leaving me to form an opinion on the game for the game itself, without an eye on the way it integrates into the platform.

That can be very freeing, taking away that layer of integration that crosses from the game to the console and/or platform. I’m not saying that Trophies have been a make or break feature for me when reviewing a game, but them not being there does – in a refreshing fashion – leave it solely up to the game to provide the entertainment, from which I decide how much of the game I play. So on Switch, for Resident Evil: Revelations and the sequel, Revelations 2, there is a separate sort of clarity about my continued playing that feels distinctly different to when I played other entries on PS4; in a slightly changed way, I am acutely aware of my investment in the characters, the story, and the gameplay. In addition, it is at the fore when I finish the campaigns and try, say, those Raid Modes present in each where, again, it is clear I am not playing them for the requirements of a Trophy list, but because I am having a brilliant time and the in-game rewards are there.

I mean, there are more pressing issues than Trophies

Again, I shall put emphasis on how this isn’t a criticism of Trophies, but a commentary of how my mind interacts with the presence of them. There are occasions where I wonder about how great they could be on other platforms; you could imagine that Nintendo would find an ingenious spin on them, too. Would I have played even more of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild if there were profile awards for, say, completing all the Shrines? Similarly, would I be more compelled to try all the different routes of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, or to go back and get all the collectibles in Paper Mario: The Origami King? It is possible. Nintendo has been superb at in-game progression – take the plethora of unlockables in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – but so far have not rolled out a system across a platform, and I am not sure if they ever will.


Right then, to wrap this up (it sorta became an accidental essay, didn’t it?), I am going to try and summarise my thoughts. This article has been a way of me putting the thoughts that run through my mind on the subject of Trophies down into words, and I appreciate you spending the time to follow them. Writing this has emphasised to me that it isn’t an incorrect avenue to either include Trophies or not – when they are there, though, the way different games go about implementing them makes a considerable difference to whether their implementation has a positive or negative effect. I have put down some examples for this in the article, but to go back to the Resident Evil case study, it is a series that excels at having plentiful challenges to give the games longevity, both in the game and in the Trophy lists. It is a series that other developers could do well to examine when going about their own lists.

As a person with the collecting spirit, Trophies have inherent appeal to me and shall continue to do so. However, it is crucial to not let them override the reason for playing the games in the first place; it shouldn’t become a compromise, where you are going for them at the expense of the game or vice versa. They certainly can improve the experience, and in that sense, maybe those who have resisted the addition of them, most notably Nintendo, should create their own system as there is potential. Either way, I am okay with the two differing directions, as the game is the priority. At the end of the day, it’s important to not let false perceptions of the reason you are doing an activity – be it gaming, or another part of your life – to get in the way of the reason you are there in the first place. In this case, that’s because games are, well, really awesome, aren’t they? That gratification of a Trophy being unlocked is the cherry on top.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout Review

Developed by: Mediatonic
Published by: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: Out Now


Since the reveal trailer in the 2019 Devolver Direct, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout has been a game I have had my eye on, and the decision to make it a PS Plus game this August has served to put it even more in the spotlight. Built around a simple premise, being the sole survivor of 60 players in a random selection of obstacle courses and team games, it’s ingenious fun that especially comes alive when playing with others in a group. There are elements of the game that could be improved, with some obvious gaps in the offering, but the overriding chaotic fun of trying to bundle your way to victory and the Crown does a lot to cover up for them.


One Way Through

Fall Guys has one mode, and one mode only, that throws you into the action with 59 other players in a new take on the battle royale structure. This time, the genre has been given a Total Wipeout-esque twist (sadly without Richard Hammond) with your primary goal being survival as you progress from course to course with only the actions of jumping, diving, holding onto other players, and your custom theatrics (essentially an emote). Each stage you play through whittles down the group until a final round where the sole remaining player earns themselves the lucrative and sought-after Crown. From my experience, there tends to be around 4 to 6 levels in each run of play, usually beginning with an obstacle course such as the battering Hit Parade and ending with one of the tense final levels designed to leave one player standing. In those mid-point courses, though, there is a varied selection, so you’re never entirely sure what is next, whether it be an egg-gathering contest or a memory match puzzle.

Of those currently in the game, there is a hierarchy in my mind of which levels I prefer to play; in general, the obstacle courses such as The Whirlygig – with plentiful spinning blockades – are much more satisfying to me, as they reward individual skill, in comparison to the team games, where you are much more at mercy to the overall ability of those you are put in with. For example, if in the Rocket League-style Fall Ball the rest of your team doesn’t play well, then you’re at a serious disadvantage. I’m not against the idea of having a range of stages to combat repetition and create that sense of chaos, but perhaps it would be wise to make alternate playlists for those who prefer playing certain types of course; these could have differing rewards so as not to detract from the value of the Crown. More modes would encourage me to play more, as the idea of playing certain levels puts me off the idea of going through the whole sequence again.

Patience can be an important skill in this game

The courses themselves are very well-designed overall, with clever tricks and side passages; I got the impression that even with the randomness, as you play more, you do get better. I’m very conscious that your personal favourites can vary from person to person, and the ones you perform better at can easily become the ones you prefer. Many of the levels aren’t actually that complicated in layout, but the real challenge comes from trying to navigate them with up to 59 others also stumbling through them, forming logjam and tripping hazards. Springy sound design and the unintelligible noises of determination from the characters provide quirky appeal; the physics of your character are purposefully awkward, easily falling and rolling around, losing you control – gaining and maintaining momentum are crucial for success here. Seeing everyone trying to get through pathways to not be eliminated is a delightful sight – they’re all attempting to make it, but not all can…


Fall Fashion

Even before I got into my first game, the energetic, vibrant, and colourful presentation of Fall Guys stood out to me as I waited in the lobby. That main theme music is audaciously funky and entertains me by itself in the brief waiting periods from game to game, pairing wonderfully well with the bubblegum-bright art direction. Pastel pinks, oranges, and similar are all over, combining with the soft, almost rubbery environments to create a very welcoming atmosphere that draws you in to the world created, leaving you to get stuck in the cycle of one-more-go as you chase victory. The endearingly clumsy avatars have a bunch of customisation options, from outfits to the theatrics emote. These are great for turning the group of 60 into a crowd of distinct personalities.

Leave see-saws how you find them, everyone

Upon release this has the illusion of being a free-to-play game, but really it isn’t, considering that you pay for PS Plus, and after this month it returns to solely being a £15.99 game. Hence, we must be careful about how we discuss the monetisation. Through gameplay, you earn Kudos, which is one of two currencies, with the other being Crowns, which you can only get by winning or by reaching certain level-up milestones. In the shop, you can use these to pay for various outfits and theatrics to add to your personal repertoire; these alternate each day, which adds some pace of variation, but this also feels a bit of a trick to me, when they could make all previous additions permanently there on the shop. It’s a trend emerging across these sorts of games that only limits choice.

Only the Kudos currency can be purchased with real transactions, with costume packs also available in that way. It’s not over-egregious, as you get a decent amount to spend just from playing, but these systems aren’t ones that leave a positive impression, especially when the game does cost money to initially buy – don’t let the PS Plus situation hide that. The game is in Season 1 right now, with Season 2 soon arriving (and new stages with it); as you play and level-up in-season, you gain new items. There is a decent pace of progression, so you are getting those moments of achievement to fuel you on, though the desire to amend past failures already brings a lot of motivation! Even so, having those real-money payments there is a temptation for those involved to make you spend that does not sit well with me.


Group Descent

All the emotions encouraging you to do better on that next go, that quickly turns into another go, and another, are only emphasised when playing with others in your party, which I have had the joy of doing; in-game, the only difference is that those players are marked out for you, and will automatically be in your team in applicable games. However, the change in urgency and hilarity is keenly felt, as your trials and tribulations are shared. A key difference to me is how when I was on my own, a slight fatigue did set in to the way the game only has one set routine of gameplay. When with others, though, every game has the added intrigue of where my friends are and whether they’re gonna make it; and even if I don’t myself progress on, I have an investment to see how they do. Those aforementioned team games I had complaints about work better too, as I know more about the team I am on. For one gem of an example of this dynamic, see the video below of two friends of mine (one of which recorded this, thank you!) and I, as one of said friends has an encounter with another player…

Another slight and general criticism I have of Fall Guys is how it feels unpolished. It’s the little details, such as when you are grouped up with friends, and the spectator camera doesn’t prioritise them, meaning you need to cycle through everyone to find those perspectives – additionally, it doesn’t stay with them from one round to the next. Further to that, and my comments about the lack of modes, why not allow us to make custom playlists of stages for just us and our friends, or maybe add sliders to adjust aspects just in those private games? Fall Guys has a really fantastic base concept that could be added to in so many creative ways. Yes, this is a game that may well get those additions, but if this is how you launch, then this is where the game is judged. As well as this, the visuals, though charming, aren’t always very refined, and the choice of typography for most of the text is quite a generic option. They’re all small aspects, but when all improved together, it elevates the entire package.


Final Thoughts

On occasions, a simple premise, with the right delivery, can form a brilliant party game to strike just the right note and resonate with an audience. The decision to make Fall Guys a PS Plus game has opened up the game to an audience that may otherwise not have paid the £15.99, and has created a multiplayer phenomenon that I am confident shall thrive and be added to over time. As I just talked about, there are many areas here and there that I was slightly disappointed by whilst playing, as my mind wandered to imagine how great this game could be. It’s a game that shall evolve over time, but without guarantees, they’re omissions that affect my enjoyment. A game that provides joyous entertainment and many passionate reactions, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a game I imagine I shall be playing for a while, and hopefully it fulfills the potential as that happens.

7/10

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Review

Developed and Published by: Capcom
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: Out Now


After the successes of Revelations, a sequel is a welcome addition to the Resident Evil series, informing us further about the events that transpire in the gaps between the numbered entries. Whilst the initial Revelations game focused on Jill Valentine (in particular) and Chris Redfield in the gap from Resident Evil 4 to 5, Revelations 2 has a story set during the days from 5 to 6. It is built around returning characters Claire Redfield (Yûko Kaida/James Baker) and Barry Burton (Yûsaku Yara/Geoffrey Chalmers), giving them new backstory and development that is really intriguing to experience. Other than some familiar locations and names, there isn’t that much direct connection to that first Revelations game, but the episodic format, effort at introducing new gameplay ideas, and atmospheric vibe are carried across, even if it isn’t quite as neatly packaged. I am reviewing the 2017 Switch release here, with the original roll-out on other consoles in 2015.


Been Here Before

The game kicks off with a cinematic depicting a Terra Save work event where Claire Redfield and Moira Burton (Ayumi Fujimura/Marcella Mazde) are ambushed and taken away by a mysterious group. Next they know, they find themselves in a gruesome and enclosed facility where they have to work together to find their way out past the monstrosities known as the Afflicted – only to discover that they are on an unknown island and very much not out of trouble yet. Immediately, the environment design is of a different tone to that of the Queen Zenobia cruise ship of Revelations; whilst the cramped feel is present, Revelations 2 is much more grimy and evidently unclean, with spiked traps, prison cells of enemies, and dirty, blood-splattered floors to unsettle you. This goes some way to masking the rough edges in the visuals as they blend into that look, but is unrefined in places with quite frequent flat textures and blurriness. It reminded me a lot of Saw and that style of horror, and that continues on with the way the plot plays out.

Each episode of the story has both a section playing as Claire/Moira and also one as Barry with a new character, a child named Natalia Korda (Aoi Yûki/Gabrielle Pastore). They sync up to a degree, being in slightly different times but connecting as each duo makes their journey through Sejm Island. Barry Burton is going there in search of Moira – his missing daughter – and when he gets there discovers the lost Natalia, who seems to have some link to events that she herself is not yet aware of. It’s very much an even split of game time, in contrast to how the Jill sections were clearly most prominent in Revelations; there is a nice balance struck of making both sides of the narrative feel sufficiently developed. Whilst the environments can leave improvement to be desired visually, the characters models are proficient; furthermore, the cutscenes are fantastic, brimming with a self-aware, slightly over-the-top drama similar to Resident Evil 5.

Natalia and Barry on Sejm Island

Switching from one pair to the other also changes the way you approach scenarios; each has one character that is more orientated towards direct damage, and another who can help with that but is more focused on exploration. Claire and Barry are the ones best at dishing out the firepower through the solid and satisfying gunplay of shotguns, machine guns, and more, whilst Moira and Natalia are able to spot hidden items in the environment. This method of finding items essentially replaces the Genesis scanner device in the prior game – personally I found the Genesis more satisfying, as in that case I didn’t have to switch characters in solo in order to find items; yes, you have the choice to either play the campaign solo or with a friend! It must be noted that this is only for local multiplayer, as online play is not supported. That is a slightly disappointing drawback, but considering Revelations had no campaign multiplayer at all, it’s tough to complain, and I’m glad this was added in.

Keeping inventories stocked is crucial, so it isn’t an area of the game to ignore – whether they’re ranged weapons, or the medical items for healing, stopping bleeding, or wiping off gunk. These latter two both decrease your vision on-screen, with visual effects that up the tension dramatically; the other character is able to help you out with those items, encouraging that teamwork. This is the case when playing either solo or co-op, as you can manage both inventories when solo. I spent most of my playtime as Claire/Barry, but the different skillsets led to each duo feeling as though they were a team, instead of one being dragged around by the other.

It’s fine, Claire has this covered

Additionally, Moira has a crowbar to attack and open new routes, and Natalia can throw bricks to compromise enemies. Natalia has the ability to see enemies that others cannot whilst crouching; she can locate enemies through walls, and there are even some that Barry just cannot see, but Natalia can point out for him. This in particular is a thought-provoking inclusion, as it stops you running in and makes you be more considered in your approach if you don’t want to accidentally run into a fatal encounter. On the other hand, there are a bunch of other concepts that aren’t that original or even used much – for example, finding drills to take down the occasional blocked path, or as aforementioned, needing Moira to open certain doors. There are quite a lot of new ideas here, and it may have served the game better to cut some of them and better flesh out others.


Family Matters

As the story progresses, Claire and Moira meet up with a bunch of other survivors who have been fitted with bracelets similar to theirs, that change colour depending on the level of fear they are experiencing and allow the enigmatic Overseer to contact them. This is what is producing the Afflicted; people are being overtaken by the fear experiments. At this point it’s got that slasher movie vibe, especially as some characters are picked off one by one – the game didn’t do much to invest me in most of this new group, though, which limits the impact felt. After this sequence, the game quite quickly reverts back to a more expected Resident Evil approach of corridors and monsters – this is fine, but after the initial set-up it seemed to be going for a very different approach akin to torturous horror. For my nerves it may be helpful that it didn’t go that way, but it is also disappointing that they didn’t follow through.

Please don’t touch me

Despite this, as you’d expect from a game with the Revelations name, there are many dramatic moments interspersed through the episodes to hold your attention. The father/daughter dynamic between Barry and Moira sets this game apart in the series too, and is a developing bond that – whilst not a masterpiece of storytelling – certainly got me invested in hoping they would not only survive but also be able to resolve their differences. At first it seemed that Natalia may be the child you have to look after and slow down for, but actually she has a fascinating plot of her own and contributes to their survival. Natalia helps Barry realise aspects about the way he has handled being a father – again, this isn’t superbly layered stuff, but it is there.

The island setting has a decent amount of variety too, which prevents encounters from becoming too samey. People definitively used to live here, and the mix of rural and urban areas shows this, as well as some documents you find along the way that explain more about the downhill path that led to this. An eye-catching tower in the centre of the island signifies an action-packed ending, too! Without spoiling it, there are links to other Resident Evil games here that are welcome moments of continuity referencing. The game gathers momentum as it progresses and motivated me to see how it would play out in the ultimately cinematic finale. As with the first Revelations, the episodes are presented in a TV-style way, with recaps of previous events at the start of each and teases of the next episode at the end. This is such a great structure that lends itself to the way this series, and the Revelations games especially, use gameplay to build up to story beats.


Around Every Corner

That build-up inevitably means making your way past many infected opposition, and it’s praiseworthy that the new vein of enemy design is quite distinctive to this game. The underground style incorporates unsettling combinations of metal and organic elements; you will also go up against monsters made up of multiple parts of bodies that move in creepy, alternate ways. Having a variety prevents the fights from becoming samey – from insect creatures to infected that fire off ranged bomb attacks (seriously), you’re kept on your toes. Emphasising this is the previously mentioned way different characters tackle different situations. Furthermore, the boss fights are frenetic fun; even when not on the hardest difficulty, they’re a challenge, and supply that desperate sense of survival as you work out how to take them down.

Moira and Claire form a great partnership

It’s a shame that the puzzle design isn’t quite as inspired. It’s okay, but straightforward in comparison to some of the new combat ideas. I’d describe it as serviceable; not bad, but it felt as if I was just working through those areas in order to get to the thrills elsewhere. When the puzzles were combined with that aesthetic of being in a labyrinthine set of traps, there was at least that suspenseful setting to make them stand out more. Further hurting them, though, was that occasionally the solutions were not always clear, which breaks the flow of the game. It isn’t fun to fail and not really know why or how you were supposed to act in the situation. In a way, the best puzzles are in that combat – finding the enemies, deciding whether to sneak past or take them out, discovering their weak points.

Contributing to the quieter stealth approach is being able to hear Afflicted wandering around, and there are plenty of groans and shuffles to prick up your ears. The Revelations games are great at ambient sound, informing you through audio at which type of area you are in through the way surrounding noises are reverberating. They’re often combined with neat visual effects, such as the way that the screen and sound distorts when you go near an enemy you cannot see, letting you know to get out of there and find another way to judge the way forward. If this game had just had a bit more polish, particularly in the environment design, it could’ve reached another level of presentation and made the whole experience feel more cohesive.


Avid Collectors

One area of presentation where Revelations 2 does excel, though, is in the amount of extras on offer. The Switch release includes the two DLC episodes that focus on Moira and Natalia respectively, and they’re a mixed experience. Firstly, The Struggle has an intriguing premise where there is permadeath depending on the items you collect, and provides more details on a character from the campaign. However, it relies a lot on areas from said campaign and has an uninspired feeling as a result. After this, the Little Miss episode gives more backstory to Natalia and delves into her psyche; it’s short and isn’t the most refined example of stealth, but I much preferred this DLC as the gameplay better matches the story being told, and the soft mist applied to the spaces separates them from other parts of Revelations 2.

Two Natalias? What could be happening here…

Beyond this, there is a vast quantity of game modifiers, figurines, pieces of concept art, costumes, and more to unlock that provide incentive to continue on after finishing the campaign. The points you earn from playing the game can go towards either these, or to new skills and then improving those skills. Additionally, there is a selection of collectibles in the campaign that go towards the unlock progression. Resident Evil games are great at giving this plethora of challenges, and this is a substantial example of that!

The most substantial of all may be the Raid Mode, a returning feature from the first Revelations. If you are not aware, this is where you compete in specific stages to complete the objective (often defeating all the enemies) in as efficient a way as possible. You can customise your character, choosing from a roster including returning faces not seen in the campaign, and then kit yourself out from a selection of skills, weapons, and more. This mode has the option of co-op, but differing from the campaign, it can be either local or online! With a really generous selection of stages that can be played in multiple difficulty modes, as well as Daily Missions, there is a fun experience to have here.

Oh hi there

Intriguingly, quite a few of the levels I played through in Raid Mode had settings from Resident Evil 6 (which I am currently playing through!), reflecting how 6 chronologically is after Revelations 2 in the continuity. After Revelations used areas from the campaign in that Raid Mode, this is actually a refreshing change, providing a markedly different set of places to fight through. I find myself returning to these two games to play their Raid Modes as they’re such robust offerings with great characters to play as!


Final Thoughts

If I had to pick my preferred Revelations game, I would go for the first as it has a slightly more focused feel, and, well, I’m a Jill Valentine fan! Yet, Revelations 2 continues the interstitial series’ penchant for satisfying gameplay and thoroughly enjoyable storytelling. The ambition to incorporate different characters and several new gameplay ideas is to be praised, flaws and all; however, it may have been better to practice restraint on certain game mechanics and side characters. Backing it up is the fantastic Raid Mode and superb longevity, an emerging trait of the Revelations games. I really hope there are more Revelations games in the future, as it is awesome to discover more about where these characters go when we aren’t with them in the numbered series entries.

7.5/10

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Apply Respect and Reason to the Gaming Hype Cycle

The announcement of the Indie World presentation for Nintendo Switch (airing at 5pm UK time today, Tuesday 18th) and some of the discussion around it, has made me want to put down in words how I hope we can be more reasonable about the expectations we have of game companies. So bear with me for this – people reading this may well not be the ones making harsh demands online, but it is a message I would like to put out there into the world. Additionally, I’m not going to be calling people out or giving individual examples, as I think that just stokes more conflict and gives oxygen to negative thoughts.


It’s been a very unsettling year, and for many of us, various forms of entertainment have been an escape from that. What I am saying is that I realise we’re all yearning for that familiar structure of how we go about our lives, and in the specific gaming sense, for that cycle of hype reveal to game release. With no E3 this year, that fell apart, and led to companies going their own separate ways on how they revealed news about their games, additionally compounded by them being spaced out. I’m there with you; the lack of the closely-packed E3 presentations was keenly felt. Yet, we have to appreciate that we did get reveals, and it has been a great effort from the companies to give us moments such as the reveals of Horizon Forbidden West and Fable for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively. It has been noticeable, though, that Nintendo has been rather quiet.

They have made announcements, for sure; but the format in which they have happened have been markedly different from the way Nintendo has revealed new games in recent years. Paper Mario: The Origami King was suddenly announced via an online press release, with a trailer that – to me – seemed to be ripped out of an E3 video presentation, and we have recently been informed about the upcoming Pikmin 3 Deluxe through the same method. There has been a Nintendo Direct Mini, a Nintendo Treehouse Live, but no production of the style you would have – in that pre-COVID-19 world – expected from them around June-time this year. Of course, this is understandable, as a company as secretive and traditional as Nintendo would, you imagine, be facing many obstacles in this new world of working-from-home and compromised manufacturing processes. It is understandable, yet, the demands and criticism I see online about getting those game announcements are, at times, far from considerate to the situation.

So here is my request. Today, Tuesday 18th, there is an Indie World broadcast. No, it isn’t a Nintendo Direct, and there isn’t going to be news about Metroid Prime 4 or the sequel to Breath of the Wild. That may seem an obvious statement, but from comments I see online about events such as this, some people don’t seem to comprehend the context around the differing video presentations Nintendo puts out. However, there will be news about a bunch of independently-developed games, and I am confident there is going to be several in there that I – and you – are going to be excited about. These are probably going to have development teams with less people than games from, say, Ubisoft or EA, creating awesome, creative pieces of interactive art for you to play and get enjoyment from. Realise that, respect that, and bring an open mind, knowing that those first-party games you’re excited for reveals about? They’re almost certainly going to arrive, but in the meantime there are even more games to surprise you.

Yes, it’s a business, but it’s a business of joyous interactive experiences, and let’s all just be more considerate of the people that are behind it. Shouting about not getting that first-party reveal you’re excited about, and angrily exclaiming about it not having happened yet, isn’t productive and is a disservice to the content they are putting in front of you today. You’re allowed to be disappointed about the relative lack of currently-known upcoming Nintendo first-party games, but there is a way to express that that isn’t hurtful to others. It’s about managing expectations; an Indie World video is clearly not the place for those first-party games, but in contrast, it’ll let us know that when we do get a Nintendo Direct announcement, that is going to be the platform for those.

That is my hope! Also, to change track a bit, if you asked me for hopes for the Indies World itself? I would be excited to see more of CrisTales, which I enjoyed playing at EGX last year, and a surprise collaboration in the style of Cadence of Hyrule could be fun! A prediction I shall make is that my list of games to play is going to get even more extensive, haha!

My intention here is not to lecture, but just to offer my opinion on how the gaming community can be a more positive environment. Have a great day!

My Top Ten Films of 2019: #5-#1

It’s happening. I’m actually getting My Top Ten Films up to date (for now) with my five favourite films of 2019 (you can click here for #10-#6!). Take a read of my opinions below! As usual, I shall clarify; this is going by UK release date, so a film such as Vice counts for 2019. Here we go…


#5: Marriage Story

At #5 is a film you have to emotionally prepare yourself to watch. Marriage Story is about the divorce of Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) and all the agonising stress it brings. As a concept, that could sound an uncomfortable situation to invest yourself into, yet the rawness of the narrative being told and the complex dynamics between characters absorb you in. The two leads do an amazing job at balancing being both endearing and infuriating, both to each other and to us. Of the two I would say the film puts slightly more of a focus on Driver, who for me should have won the Oscar for Performance by an actor in a leading role. Both Nicole and Charlie have so many factors that have led to where they are now, and Marriage Story ensures that we see both of the multi-faceted sides, ensuring it isn’t as simple as one side being completely at fault. If you have witnessed or even been involved in those horrible family arguments where honest yet unmeant remarks are thrown back and forth, you may recognise that in the scenes here; don’t underestimate how difficult it is to create that on film, the sense of people who have cared so much for each other having their relationship break down in such a way. Director Noah Baumbach accentuates this with a slightly sepia, warm, traditional appearance, visually matching the richness and intensity of the subject matter – it’s as though you haven’t time to breathe, reflecting the way this dispute is taking over their lives. Find a few hours to really sink into this film; it’s intense, but also very rewarding viewing.


#4: Joker

Joaquin Phoenix is a showstopper as Arthur Fleck in this origin story for the Joker, directed by Todd Phillips. I know I just mentioned that for me Adam Driver should have won the Oscar – an Oscar which Phoenix won for Joker – but I do slightly prefer this as an overall film. A standalone tale (at least for now) this is a powerful message about how society can affect people and turn them into beings capable of horrific acts. We follow Arthur, who lives in Gotham, as he balances being a working clown performer with his personal aspirations to be a stand-up comedian. With the world seeming to conspire to knock him down, you can empathise with him; he loses income when he is fired; he has his idol shame him on live TV; and his mother is suffering with her health. However, when he then responds in violent and unsettling ways, you can’t justify those actions, bringing a conflict to the way you view him and his changing persona. This is a film with shock value, but I disagree with a lot of the criticism about the content of the scenes – it is refreshing when a film such as this really challenges you to make your own mind up about whether you agree or disagree with that which you are watching, and that can serve as a valuable warning about the real world. In the lead role, Phoenix is undoubtedly phenomenal in reflecting that complex duality, and the Taxi Driver-esque production and themes wrap this up into a hard-hitting, masterful adaptation of the well-known character.


#3: Earthquake Bird

This film is SO underrated! Available on Netflix, I saw this film at the London Film Festival in 2019 where it was – of the films I saw there – my favourite. There is so much about it that drew me in to the story it tells (based off of the novel of the same name by Susanna Jones); a crucial factor is the brilliant Alicia Vikander in the lead role of Lucy Fly, an English woman who now works as a translator in Tokyo in 1989 after living in Japan for 5 years. Earthquake Bird begins with her being brought in for questioning about the missing Lily Bridges (Riley Keough), and then the film shows the lead-up to this – immediately a fascinating film structure. In these past events, Lucy meets the mysterious photographer Teiji Matsuda, who has an obsessive fixation on her. They form a relationship, one that is made more complex by the introduction of Lily, who is outspoken and flirtatious in contrast to the smartly-dressed, more reserved Lucy, contributing to her sense of paranoia – a sense the film emphasises with clever tricks of cinematography. A psychological thriller unlike any other that I have seen, it doesn’t delve into exaggeration, instead allowing the wonderfully understated performances and the intelligent scene compositions to create a world of irresistible intrigue. It gradually builds the noticeable under-riding tension until it reaches a boiling point at which secrets, past and present, are uncovered, unveiling sides to characters that you may or may not have suspected were there under the surface. Alicia Vikander learned Japanese for this role, and the way she masters the ability to be fluent – very important for embodying this character – is stunning. One scene in particular late on is a demonstration of this, where the camera is close-up on her for an extraordinary one-shot of her describing an event from her past. Director Wash Westmoreland has this wonderful knack for constructing a quietly poignant atmosphere in his films that makes them intriguing without shouting about it (see: Colette). With the visual wonders of the Japan setting, this goes to a new level; tranquil rural areas punctuated by the click of a camera, the enclosed Tokyo streets ferociously stricken by rain, continuing on to the soundtrack and the way Japanese style is incorporated with the delicate vocals. Earthquake Bird is enigmatic and engrossing in a way I’ve never experienced before.


#2: Little Women

Released on Boxing Day, Little Women managed to impress me so much it took the #2 spot for my 2019 list from Earthquake Bird! Greta Gerwig is an amazing talent, following up Lady Bird (#4 on my 2018 list) with this modern version of Little Women, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott (there was another film version back in 1994). This film follows the diverging and converging paths of the female members of the March family throughout their lives, led by that of Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), and including her three sisters Amy (Florence Pugh), Meg (Emma Watson), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). All of their separate plot and character threads are intelligently thought out, simultaneously interweaving with each other to create a really authentic feel in the detailed 19th-Century Massachusetts setting – this film deservedly won the Oscar for Achievement in costume design. I have always been someone who is drawn to stories with high quality character development, and this film supplies so much of that; the growth of the sisters, and their subsequent actions, drive the film forward, also providing an important message about equality. The interactions of Jo March and childhood friend Laurie (Timothée Chamolet) particularly stand out as a demonstration of how real life can play out away from the fairytale idea and yet be just as, if not more, happy – and the performances those two bring are rich in the complexities we have seen in the lives of those characters. There is an inherent truthfulness to how we see these lives progress, showing that we can strive for traditional ideals whilst still being our own distinct selves. This film releasing on Boxing Day was a brilliant decision, as it is a film you can wrap yourself up in. At any time of year, this is a masterpiece, and there being a film I have placed above it in this list is a testament to how incredible 2019 is for films.


#1: Eighth Grade

My Top Film of 2019 is Eighth Grade, and if I were to make a top ten films of the decade, it’d be high on that list as well (maybe I should do that list at some point)! Another film that, in comparison to other films in 2019, isn’t talked about as much (Avengers: Endgame was released the next day in the UK), this film shows the trials and emotions of that delicate adolescent part of our lives in an utterly unique and real way. Eighth Grade focuses on Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) a teenage girl in her final year before high school; she isn’t particularly popular or unpopular, being in that position of trying to find her confidence as she weaves through the different ways you try to fit in, such as the terrifying idea of going to parties with people you don’t know well, or the joy of being invited to go to the mall. The way this film demonstrates the stress caused by these developments is varied and creative, making honest, uncomfortable scenes supremely watchable. Soundtrack and shot choices are part of this, with strikingly unique music by Anna Meredith and spectacular vision by writer/director Bo Burnham. Kayla’s father Mark (Josh Hamilton) is balancing on that tightrope of bring overbearing and caring as his daughter is growing up, and this dynamic brings incredibly emotional scenes – one in particular is an honest and heartfelt commentary on family dynamics that brought me to tears in the cinema. Even when the film could go for the more generic emotional crescendo, it instead has an impactful and natural scene of character development that is so much more satisfying. Additionally, an often ironic and self-referential sense of humour is there when appropriate to break up the scenes. I have never seen this balance of brutal honesty and endearing interaction in the coming-of-age-teen-drama genre before, and combined with the creative methods of showing the emotions of scenes, it makes for a film that has made me view other films in a different way and hold them to a higher standard. Eighth Grade is the best film of 2019!


There it is; my Top Ten for 2019. I have caught up! I did it! I have a provisional list for the year of 2020 so far, though there are several months left until that is set. Have a great day!

Paper Mario: The Origami King Review

Developed by: Intelligent Systems
Published by: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: Out Now


There aren’t that many games that make me laugh out loud, but this one? I was frequently chuckling to myself whilst playing Paper Mario: The Origami King, to the point where it glossed over some of the major issues with this game – not to the point where they weren’t noticeable, but enough to make my 25-ish hours with the main story go by in an enjoyable way. In a year where Nintendo is being understandably more reserved about their first-party plans, it’s important to note that we are getting quality releases from them such as this and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Yes, I know a lot of you are anticipating a Nintendo Direct… but there is a smorgasbord of amazing games on Switch to play whilst you wait (woo, I got to use the word “smorgasbord”)!


Creased Up

It isn’t often that the star of a Mario game is the story, but that’s exactly the case here – though not necessarily in the actual main set-up. During the Origami Festival, King Olly steals away Princess Peach and the Castle with her, leaving Mario with the task of unwrapping the streamers blocking the way and also amending the trail of destruction left behind. Said in that way, it sounds rather straightforward and not unlike other Mario plots, but the assortment of wittily written characters you meet make the difference. The standout for me is Olivia, the sister of King Olly, who you encounter early on and accompanies you for your journey. Her design is wonderfully expressive, putting across a range of emotions with subtle movements of her eyes, arms, and head, and her dialogue effectively portrays a determined but also adorably innocent perspective.

Near the start of the game, with Olivia and Bowser (yes, that is Bowser)

Starting out around Toad Town, the adventure takes you to a nice variety of locales, including a theme park themed around Japan and the secret-laden Scorching Sandpaper Desert. Each area introduces its own group of quirky characters; one highlight being said desert and Professor Toad, an expert on the mystery of Khap’taan Teeowed (alas, no appearance of the main man himself, THE Captain Toad). The rough structure each area takes is reminiscent of some Zelda games; enter a new area, complete some overworld activities, then get to the dungeon and boss of that area to remove the streamer, before moving to the next area. Variations on that structure, plus that aforementioned humour, keep it from becoming too formulaic.

For example, roughly halfway into the game you discover a wide-open ocean space that reminded me of The Wind Waker; you get a map of the ocean, with islands to plot as you find them, and through your travels you unveil the way forward. This sort of exploration was where I had a lot of my most joyous experiences; wandering around, meeting new characters, and discovering secrets at my own pace. The characters that accompany you in each area add a unique flavour as well, and take the game to very emotional places. As well as joining you in battles (more on those in a sec), they have their own arcs that develop as you play – Bobby the Bob-omb is a particular example, really shocking me at the deep places the game went.

There is a really creative feel to the environment design

On your path to clearing each of the five streamers, there are holes in the world to patch up and Toads to save. For the former, you collect confetti through various means – defeating enemies, hitting various parts of the world with your hammer – and, frankly, it’s quite a straightforward mechanic that is a bare minimum of player engagement. Saving the Toads, which have been crumpled, hidden, and mistreated by King Olly, is a much more rewarding part of the game. The way they are hidden is much more varied, posing more of a challenge to the player. Plus, each one has their own reaction to being saved, often with hilarious one-liners that add a creative spark to each time this happens. I have so many screenshots on my Switch of the dialogue in this game, from meta jokes to brilliant wordplay to dancing Toads. Yep, really!


Going in Circles

It isn’t all humour, though, and this is where the most divisive part of Paper Mario: The Origami King arrives: the combat. For most enemy encounters, you are put into a turn-based system on a circular arena of concentric circles. You are in the centre, with the opposition in various segments surrounding you. In an allotted amount of ring moves, you have the options to either push them vertically inwards/outward, or rotate the entirety of one concentric ring. If you manage to organise them so that they are in either a straight line (for a jump) or a 2×2 block next to you (for a hammer blow), then not only can you strike more enemies with your attacks, but you get a damage bonus. Additionally there are items you can use (such as a Fire Flower), but they’re used within that framework. It means that every battle has these prelude sections where you plan your moves out, almost as if you are in a strategy game.

The comments from Toads watching on are amusing, even if they are repeated a lot

See, it’s a neat idea that makes you consider your attacks in a different way, but it also takes a lot of impetus and immediacy out of battles. Especially against enemy types that pop up frequently, it can get quite repetitive, to the point where I was, at times, less invested in solving the solution for the optimum line-up. More than once, I would settle for more of a mismatched layout just so I could get onto the move selection and get the battle going. That is a clear sign that I was not always enjoying the combat that much. Especially when you’re trying to relax with the game and have some laughs, you aren’t always in the mood to slow your progress with repeated, very similar, battle set-ups.

Improvements are in the more unique confrontations, in particular the boss battles, as you are given unique obstacles and board layouts to consider. In a way, I found some of these easier, as my mind was being engaged more compared to the more samey intermediary ones. Additionally, these fights are much more visually absorbing, with the one-off enemy designs and the ability to regularly use Vellumental attacks from Olivia that harness the elements. The whole battle system is very mixed for me – it’s certainly flawed, but also I must say it’s a neat concept that has clearly had a lot of thought go into it. Perhaps the amount of work that went into making the very distinctive layout work has also led to it becoming unwieldy and disconnected from other aspects of the game.


Get On Board

This isn’t the only type of combat in Paper Mario: The Origami King, with some real-time encounters thrown in too. Often, these take the form of real-time fights against paper-maché enemies – Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and more – which add a different, larger scale of proceedings. In terms of structure, they’re all quite similar; use the hammer to knock off a sticker to make them vulnerable, then proceed to hit them more until they disintegrate fully into confetti. Despite this, they remain refreshing breaks from the occasional monotony of the turn-based sequences. As you get stronger, you can also take out some enemies that would previously have been fought on the circular field, but not many. I actually would have appreciated a better balance of these fights, as the real-time ones are quite uncommon in comparison.

We’re gonna need a bigger hammer

With how this game tends to have new ideas and quirks throughout to play into the humourous feel, it is also hit-and-miss whether every departure of gameplay works. There are a lot of ideas going around in the overworld portions of this game, and whilst some were very entertaining, naturally I wasn’t as much of a fan of all of them. Later on in the game, as I was becoming more and more knowledgeable about the core gameplay mechanics, this became more of an issue for me, perhaps because I was becoming so accustomed to those main systems the game had taught me. Therefore, any sudden new ideas were especially jarring. A Shy Guy-related one later on in the final stages is an example; it’s an amusing set-up, but the brainteasers can be really tough (at least for me). If memory puzzles are challenging for you, then there are potential stumbling blocks later on that the game doesn’t do a great job at teaching you about.

More than once, my rhythm with the game was put on hold as a result of this; it’s as though this game isn’t entirely sure what it would like to be. On one side, it is a really joyful, funny, not especially lengthy RPG with clever writing and an energetic momentum to the story. On the other, it is a tough strategy/puzzle game that asks you to be more patient and calculated, being prepared to halt your progress and even retry certain parts in order to clear them. Neither is necessarily a bad approach to game design, but they don’t go together here very well. This game would have been a more focused experience if it committed more to one of the two styles.


A Fine Craft

Essential to mention, though, is the music. Oh wow, the music in this game. It’s amazing! It’s consistently impressive throughout, and really noticeable in the battle sequences when it kicks in with the intro screen. It mixes classic themes with modern arrangements really effectively, reminding me of the underrated Super Mario 3D World and the jazzy, contemporary tones of that game, and the numerous times I have been thrilled by the battle theme of a Pokémon game. There’s a wonderful variety too, with an example being the soft, mellow tones of Autumn Mountain early on. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by the audio in this game, but that is what has happened.

Benches heal you, and also initiate more clever dialogue

So how about the art direction? It’s… fine. It’s Paper Mario, with the fresh introduction of the Origami characters and the different style they bring, but mainly it’s not that innovative. There’s a pleasant contrast of environments, and they’re colourful and bright, but it’s not breathtaking. Animations are charismatic, especially the way different emotions are shown with only a few different animations of the paper-made characters (as aforementioned, this is really apparent with Olivia), and this contributes to the expressive humour. It all works well, but it isn’t going to be in the top ten Switch games for visuals.

I didn’t find any performance issues, I am glad to say, as they have popped up in several Switch games over the years. However, I will say that the – optional, bear in mind – motion controls are quite dodgy, especially when playing handheld. They feel a bit unnecessary and gimmicky; this is mainly when using the 1,000 Fold Arms to reach somewhere, or when shaking the controller to hit an object or enemy. It isn’t always clear which direction you should be moving the controller, and it can end up being another barrier to the continuation of the narrative. Motion controls can be fun when purposefully incorporated into a game, but this sort of use is really under-baked. Again, though, this is optional, and can be turned off.


Final Thoughts

If Paper Mario: Origami King had dedicated itself to being either a super-strategic game or a less-involved RPG, it may have actually been more successful. As it is, it’s a slightly awkward amalgamation of the two, with many, many bright moments, but also strange decisions that hurt the experience. The overall meta, self-aware, and intelligent vibe of the story is my favourite part of the game, and as I said at the top, meant that even in those rougher moments I was motivated to not put the game down, and instead power through, because I knew more fun was waiting for me. It’s not a top-tier Switch game, but as a first-party Nintendo release to play in this current wilderness of announcements, it’s an enjoyable way to spend your time.

8/10

Rating: 8 out of 10.