5th January 2024
Hello! We're back. I hope you had a nice break. What We've Been Playing is our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've been playing over the past few days - or in this case over the festive break. This week: bears, Jedis, and tears.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, check out our archive.
Root Bear, Playdate
Not to go all conspiracy theorist, but they've changed root beer. I don't know when and I don't know why, but the final notes of this drink-of-all-drinks now trend towards caramel rather than wintergreen. It no longer goes hard for the dentist! It's a bit of a disaster.
Anyway, as a fan of root beer and a fan of bears, I had to give Root Bear a go. It's a Playdate game that everyone with a Playdate seems to love. And I love it too! It's very, very simple. Your job is to serve root beer to a series of bears. The glass shape changes, the position you have to fill it to changes, and for all I know the bear changes too. You turn the crank to pour and hope for the best. That's it.
Except you don't really hope for the best. It all comes down to understanding how the tap works and how the strange alchemy of foam and liquid will come together for you. Root Bear is so morish, I think, because I feel I can always learn a bit more about how it works and do a bit better as a result.
Did I mention it's a hi-score chaser? It really is. If you have a Playdate, give this a go, I reckon. Happy new year.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, PS5
I'm starting to really suffer from motion sickness in games. It's been a creeping sensation over the past few years and I felt it keenly playing Jedi: Survivor. I don't know why it happens exactly. It didn't used to. I'd been playing Survivor barely half-an-hour, though, before I felt a tightening in my head and queasiness in my gut.
But I didn't stop playing, and this is partly the reason I'm writing this. Instead, I went into the menus to see what I could do and do you know what I found? A dot. I could turn on a dot that would behave like a crosshair, floating in the middle of my screen, which would apparently help mitigate the feeling of motion sickness caused by the game. (I also turned camera-shake down.) And it worked.
To me, this is a marvel. I'd never heard of a crosshair having this effect before, though it explains why I can play an FPS and not feel the same sickness there. For such a small thing to be so transformative, though, astounds me.
But what I really love about this discovery is that it's a symptom of games' push towards better accessibility options, and it's an example of how the tide rises for all of us because of it. In years gone by, I'd probably have had to give up on Survivor, which feels like a paradox, but because of the accessibility movement, I don't have to, and I am very grateful.
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Switch
I've been playing a lot of Tears of the Kingdom over the Christmas break, to the point it's now my most played game of 2023 by a considerable margin. I wasn't the biggest fan at first: I like the uniqueness of each new Zelda entry, but TOTK reusing BOTW's map didn't fit that mould and its emphasis on technology was too far from my personal vision of the series as a magical, fairytale fantasy.
However, like fusing a load of blocks together into something new, TOTK has finally clicked into place for me. What at first seemed overwhelming and unmanageable has now become rich with opportunity. With the bulk of the story completed, I'm finally suited, booted and confident enough to take on every inch of Hyrule. I loved the sense of adventure and discovery that BOTW's world provided me, and now, at the endgame point, TOTK has matched it. I've spent hours just pottering around, completing quests, defeating Gleeoks (finally!), and ticking off shrines. Taking on the world at a more relaxed pace, without story pressures, I'm having a much better time and gameplay feels more rewarding.
I've come to appreciate the way the game builds on its predecessor, too. Building with Ultrahand was fussy at first, but now I enjoy the sense of experimentation it brings. The world may be familiar, but I adore the mournful autumnal vibes of the sky islands. And while the temples generally disappoint and the shrine quests provide a repeated structure, the hymn-like sung melodies at the end of each shrine (a callback to the Temple of Time?) are a beautiful sonic reward. I am still yet to beat the final boss and finish every shrine, or tick off every quest, but even after over 130 hours, I can't stop playing. Now the dust has settled, I feel confident that TOTK is my game of the year. I still hate the depths though.