14th of January, 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: retro-tinged glory, space horror, and cards!
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
If there's one word to sum up Observation, it's disorientating. Set in a space station where things are going very, very wrong (of course), this Devolver Digital game from 2019 has you embody its prime inhabitant: the on-board AI.
That means you view everything from cameras placed around the station, switching viewing angles to try and get a hold on the space. Then you're inside a floating sphere - both inside and outside the station - bobbing around in zero gravity, not knowing which way is up. It certainly feels authentically like you're in space, but the accompanying motion sickness is maybe a step too far.
There's a voyeuristic thrill to the setup though, especially as the humans on-board look to you as an AI without knowing there's a human player behind the camera. Observation is essentially a point-and-click adventure where you solve puzzles to indirectly affect the humans on the station. There's a wonderful tactileness about its retro-futuristic technology, even if the sometimes awkward UI feeds into an obtuseness that's typical of the genre. Still, Observation really thrives on its horror atmosphere, with a near-constant creepy tension underlying your actions. I'm yet to finish, but "AI gone rogue" seems inevitable and fills me with a perverse glee.
Shovel Knight, Switch
It's weird to play stuff backwards. I reviewed Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon this week, a game I absolutely adore, and half way through it I realised I had never played the original game on which it was based.
So I went backwards. And it turns out the original game on which it was based is partially based on a much older game that I have played. Duck Tales! The brilliant Capcom platformers for the NES and Game Boy. I spent hours as a kid bouncing around and collecting gems. Shovel Knight updates all that - lovely NES-era pixel art, generous levels, bosses and fantastic enemies.
Many of which I now recognise from Pocket Dungeon. It makes me realise what a lovely piece of translation Pocket Dungeon is - taking all these concepts and characters from a platformer and making them work as a puzzle game. And in turn, what a lovely piece of translation Shovel Knight is in the first place - a modern twist on an old 8-bit charmer I had almost forgotten. What a treat all round.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash, Switch
What if Hearthstone, but with fighting game royalty instead of WoW icons? If it doesn't seem that far-fetched a prospect, it's probably because SNK v Capcom predates Hearthstone by some 15 years, though it somewhat understandably never quite reached the same heights - debuting on SNK's much-loved but far from successful Neo Geo Pocket, instead of becoming a breakout hit it became a proper cult classic, obsessively loved by all who played it.
Now it's that much easier to play thanks to this week's surprise Switch port from the brilliant Code Mystics that captures all of the magic of this deck building masterpiece. Coming back to it all these years later, I love how the card battling captures the essence of the fights from which the characters you play with are better known, with that same to-and-fro mixed with a clash of tech. I love how the pixel art captures 90s icons such as Terry and Ryu in such fine form. I just love Card Fighters Clash, really - give it a shot, because I'm fairly certain you will too.