16th of April, 2021
Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: Monsters, skate boards, and a town called Chicken.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What we've been playing, here's our archive.
Monster Hunter Rise, Switch
I don't know how it happened, but over the past week I've gone from Monster Hunter enthusiast to Monster Hunter advocate. A friend had just started out and was learning the ropes - or fumbling at them at least, in the same way I've been doing ever since I fell for the series myself with 2011's Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate - so we got together on Discord for a handful of hunts so I might show him what's what.
It's only when trying to distill all the information and all the systems that have gathered over the years in Monster Hunter for someone else that I started to really appreciate it all: how there's no need to be intimidated by all the stores and NPCs in the village, as they're only really doubling or tripling up on what you'll find elsewhere, a bit of convenience that can initially cause confusion. How decorations work, what to hunt, what to wear and what not to and how to go about farming your ultimate piece of kit.
What I've really appreciated, though, is how much fun it is sharing a passion for something with someone else, and helping them find their own way to Monster Hunter's charms. They've only just hit High Rank, so now we're down to proper business, and even though I've hit the somewhat miserly level cap a while ago it's a pleasure to run through it all again. What a game. What a series!
OlliOlli: Switch Stance, Switch
It feels so right to return to OlliOlli this week, even if it feels sort of wrong to play these beautiful, precise, expressive games on anything other than a Vita. I've been playing the OlliOlli twinpack on Switch, anyway, and reveling in the glory of the flick-stick control system that makes moving on the board feel wonderfully physical, each flick upwards a toying dalliance with gravity.
What a game. I fall out of practice very easily so whenever I return to OlliOlli I need to blast through the tutorial, which is such a thing of joy in itself that it's never anything but a pleasure. I've spent the morning fumbling around various levels and wondering if my virtual skating days are behind me, though. Happily, the Daily Grind was there to make everything better. Not only is this an excellent pun, but today's daily took me to a snow-blown missile installation somewhere and let me chain together an epic run across staircases, gantries, railings and at least one missile. I didn't hit the ground until the very end. And when I did, thankfully, I remembered to press B and land perfectly. I'm back.
Google Earth VR, PC
This past week I've been utterly absorbed by Google Earth VR, a magical application that is currently giving me an incredible amount of much-needed escapism.
Just like everyone else, since the start of the pandemic, I've been cooped up indoors with only short trips to the shops and the occasional bike ride to break up the monotony. The last big holiday I went on was my honeymoon to Japan and memories of that trip have been popping into my mind with increasing regularity. My wife and I were supposed to return this year but now those distant images tease me like a carrot on a stick. They're unreachable, unrepeatable. I can't go back. Or so I thought...
You see, Google Earth VR gives you the whole globe to play with. From inside a VR headset, you can survey the planet from space, then zoom all the way down to street level in a matter of seconds. It renders huge portions of the world in 3D too, so big cities, like say, Tokyo for instance, are now more than just the usual flat image you might see on Google maps. With it you can fly between skyscrapers and swoop under bridges, you can see the perspective of the tall buildings against small and you can look at all of this while being aware that there are things like mountain ranges looming in the distance.
It's hard to accurately explain the feeling you get when you play it but it's like having the whole world at your fingertips, and it brings Google maps to life in such an intoxicating way. Through it I've been able to visit those out of reach places that have been haunting me throughout lockdown and it's brought me a sense of ease that's helped combat the claustrophobia. I've been able to retrace the steps of our honeymoon and find the hotels we stayed in, the random vending machines we bought drinks from and the tiny little alleyways with hidden bars and ramen shops that we found by accident on evening strolls.
Not only that but it's also allowed me to discover new places too. Towns I've never been to, villages I never even knew existed and sights I that would probably have never seen in real life. Like, who knew there was an old gold rush town called Chicken in Alaska that was full of rusted and rotting mining equipment? Not many people I would guess, considering it has a population of 17, and not me either. Well, not until yesterday that is, and now I've been there, I've stood in its town center and I've marvelled at its old machinery.
Obviously Google Earth VR is not a patch on real travel but for now it's as good as I'll get and what I'm getting is honestly one of the most impressive, and awe inspiring things I've ever done in VR.