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What we've been playing

A few of the games that have us hooked at the moment.

30th of September, 2022

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: unhelpful foliage, musical scores, and Disney magic.

If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.

Horizon Forbidden West, PS5

Here's Zoe on Horizon Forbidden West.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game as pretty as Horizon Forbidden West. The environments feel unreal in their beauty, while the details and textures on character models and clothing are incredible. All this stunning work does mean any imperfections are very distracting though - can someone please explain why Aloy’s hair is seemingly made of wool?

Despite this wonder, the Forbidden West feels like a world that doesn’t want to be explored. There’s just something off about Aloy’s movement: the way she gets stuck on scenery, the way she jumps either too high or not far enough to grab on to ladders and ledges, the way the environment hinders the fluidity of combat. Or the way mounts refuse to run through bushes and just screech to a halt. The world is so full of details and vegetation and stuff that might look nice in photo mode, but makes interaction with Aloy feel awkward and her Focus a constant necessity to find the right path. And that’s before you take a look at the overwhelming map screen.

So while this latest Horizon game is a showcase for the artistic talent at Guerilla, its gameplay is an overstuffed culmination of open-world game design that was already perfected by the previous game. The combat still mostly soars and the cutscene direction is wonderful, but there’s little beyond that feels fresh.

Worse still is Aloy herself. Originally a naive and likeable character who brought us along on her journey of discovery, she’s now narcissistic and entitled and obsessive about her position as saviour of the world on a very very important mission that couldn’t possibly be sidetracked by distracting errands. The first game was criticised for its white saviour complex, but Forbidden West seemingly leans into this further. I’m a fair chunk into the game so far, desperately hoping for some form of redemption.

Ed Nightingale

Kingdom Hearts: Memory of Melody, Switch

Kingdom Hearts: Memory of Melody trailer.

As I mentioned a while back, I've been playing lots of Hades and its soundtrack is banging. Being the nerd I am, I wondered if there's an official piano book released by Supergiant, because In The Blood is a fantastic song. There isn't one sadly, but it got me thinking about games which do have official piano scores.

There are two series I know they exist for - Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. When I was in secondary school, I would painstakingly find scans of them on Scribd and screenshot them, arranging the blurry, zoomed-in shots together and printing them off at school to learn at home.

This train of thought was happening at the same time as the recent Nintendo Direct. And during that Direct, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line was announced. I'm interested in it for tracks from 13, 13-2, and The World Ends With You, and so I ended up with a rhythm game itch and nothing to scratch it with.

Then I remembered thanks to the piano books - a Kingdom Hearts rhythm game exists! I bought it with the expectation of getting a few hours' worth of enjoyment from it and then setting it aside to play something else.

It's got me a lot more hooked than that. It's joyful to go back to these songs I have such fond memories of and experience Kingdom Hearts in a different way. I'm still whacking Heartless, but there's a different skill involved compared to the original games. There's a bunch of levels and worlds I even forgot were a part of the series (Tron! The entirety of Re:coded!) and it brings back great memories when I'm reminded of them.

I haven't played Kingdom Hearts for years, so I'm not caught up with all the games that have been released since, say 2012? But I'm still going to play the tracks I don't know, because I've always loved the series' soundtracks (and to see more of Donald Duck using his staff to one-shot enemies with a bonk). This is by no means the best rhythm game I've ever played, and it's certainly no Trombone Champ, but for a charmingly nostalgic trip down memory lane? My answer is simple (and clean) - absolutely worth it.

And if anyone does know of more games with official piano scores, please let me know! I may have a new niche interest…

Liv Ngan

Disney Dreamlight Valley, Xbox

Welcome to Disney Dreamlight Valley.

Disney Dreamlight Valley is like Animal Crossing in a magic carnival mirror, where its look has lost some of its definition, but where the warps and curves of its reflexion have found fun new forms. Gone is Nintendo's obsession to detail and restrictive design. In its place, a messier but no less physical thing - holding all of the same great ingredients inside.

So yes, Scrooge McDuck is your Tom Nook, and Goofy your go-to for selling apples and cabbages. But this is also a version of Animal Crossing freed from Nintendo's narrower progression path and customisation limits. Want to uproot McDuck's business and plonk it anywhere on the map without waiting overnight? Want to freely edit your town's furniture at any time on the fly? Want to customise your clothing without asking a hedgehog for a pattern? There's a looseness to Dreamlight Valley which feels wonderfully open.

Finally, and most disappointingly in Animal Crossing, it feels like Dreamlight Valley could go on forever. After such an incredible launch, Nintendo seemed to scale back New Horizons' live support and ditch it completely after a year. Disney clearly has a content schedule - and a monetisation plan to go alongside it - to last for years, with a never-ending roll-call of Disney and Pixar people whose worlds you must save before welcoming them to your town. It's very Animal Crossing but also not - and that's no bad thing.

Tom Phillips

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