10th of December, 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: the biggest game in the world, a rollerskating delight, and pure arcade fury.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Fortnite's second chapter began with one of the most virtuoso pieces of stage management I've ever seen in a game: I dived out of the Battle Bus in a cut-scene to find that I was actually launching myself into my first game on a new island.
The third chapter's opening was a bit stodgier, but now I'm playing the game's third island, the feelings I had back at the start of the second chapter remain: I will wander around and remember a place on the old island I loved, and have a lovely little pang of melancholy that I will not see it again.
Fortnite is full of this stuff, of course: it is constantly offering new things because it is so happy to plough old things up and replace them. As I wander across the new island I'm stunned by how beautifully things have been put together - the landmarks, the sight lines, the easy shift from one kind of terrain to another. But I am haunted, in the best possible way, by things that are no longer there. Loot Lake, Tilted Towers, Lazy Lake, Pleasant Park...
Solar Ash, PC
For a long time before it was released, it was unclear exactly what kind of game Solar Ash would be. But it feels most like a platformer and like the best of those, it's a joy to simply move around. Skating and boosting around feels rhythmic; pathways and islands float all around like Mario Galaxy's fragmented worlds; grind rails and homing attacks invite you to keep momentum. It's almost like a cosmic Sonic game with its fluid, rollercoaster motion. Movement feels smooth, tight and responsive, allowing you to marvel at the game's sights.
The best of those sights are the Remnants: towering...colossi whose shadows (sorry) loom over the world. Destroying enough anomalies to take on these bosses is a simple structural device but the battles themselves form a thrilling climax as the music soars and you leap and grind and skate your way over each Remnant like a scuttling ant. They're a natural extension of the platforming, the ultimate test of your abilities.
Much like Hyper Light Drifter before was a pastiche of Zelda, Solar Ash is easily described as Jet Set Radio meets Shadow of the Colossus. And like the latter, there are some frustrations despite its beauty. The camera sometimes has a mind of its own and Rei's lack of shadow makes it difficult to judge where she'll land next.
But this is a game that thrives on its atmosphere. Its surreal space world is a bright splash of magenta, and the score (once again from Disasterpeace) shimmers and whirs like the best of Vangelis (Donlan was right). Gameplay might be pinched from elsewhere, but nothing else quite feels like Solar Ash.
Akane is secretly one of the best games on the Switch. Don't ask me, ask Dr Omar, whose taste is sublime.
It's a one-hit-kill affair where you're deadly but gloriously fragile, setting the Neo Tokyo night ablaze with slashes of a sabre and blasts from a gun. I play it for a couple of minutes each week without getting any better at it, but it brings such a wonderful fury into my life through my fingertips - it's truly maddening.
Do you remember Super Crate Box? You can't get that on Switch, as far as I can tell - thankfully I have the perfect version on Vita - but Akane, while being nothing like it, is totally just like it. Stabbing the button wildly, going from freewheeling life to shocking death and back again. What a treat.
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