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What we've been playing

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

21st of October, 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: Hexes, organs, and singing.

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

Reefland, PC

Reefland trailer.

Reefland was one of the many games that had a demo available during the most recent Steam Next Fest, and I've had my eye on it since. At the beginning of the week, it released into Early Access and I've been thoroughly enjoying my time with it.

The game is a city-builder puzzler. Greyscale maps of hexagonal tiles are procedurally generated, with some of the tiles containing resources. Water tiles could have fish or boats on them, and land tiles might have trees or minerals. You're given a few random buildings and improvements to place on tiles. As you place your buildings, colour will spread across the island.

Reefland takes what I like about the Civilisation series and Dorfromantik and blends them into an amazing strategic challenge. You have to be very aware of where your resources are and what to place near them, as this affects your score. For example, if you have some sheep, you could place a house next to it. But if there's ore next to the house and you choose to put a mine on that ore, you'll incur a penalty.

You end up having to weigh up the scores of each of your placements - if I put down a lighthouse before I put fishermen down on any fish within its range, I won't get any bonus points, but how do I know if the game will give me some fishermen?

It can be a bit frustrating with the improvements you're given. They're random as far as I'm aware, and there's been a number of times when I've been given a load of paddocks but there's no more sheep left to use them on. The game just came out in Early Access though, so I'm not too bothered about balance issues.

The music and art style is very relaxing, and your aim is to colour a certain percentage of the island to unlock the next level. There's currently 15 levels, each with their own colour scheme and biome, and I've almost unlocked them all. Currently, the creative mode is still in development, but until then, I love trying to rack up as many points as possible. My high score at time of writing is 3260, though I'm sure it won't stand for very long!

Liv Ngan

Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator, Xbox

Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator trailer.

Lately, my time has been occupied by Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator. It's like the stock market but in space. The frantic and constant need to check organ prices drives me forward and the dopamine rush of profitable innards is always a plus, although sometimes it's more about the euphoria of an absolute capitalistic frenzy and nursing organs back to health only to immediately sell them for profit.

The concept seems novel but I've experienced starting in on it at 9am only to turn around and discover that I have been playing for 6 hours straight. Warping through time is always a blast.

Paolo Balmes

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Switch

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle trailer.

"Who's gonna run in fear, while screaming 'Mamma miaaaaa'?" sings Phantom.

Not, not the guy with the white mask 'of the opera' fame. This is Phantom, the rabbid, boo, gramophone hybrid singing opera in the midst of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. And it's pure art.

Not since the operatic Great Mighty Poo in Conker's Bad Fur Day has a singing video game boss had me cackling. Nothing quite beats the absurdity of a gigantic turd passionately emoting about sweetcorn before being flushed away, but Phantom comes close.

His little aria has everything. Like every operatic diva, his entrance comes at a dramatic point in the narrative (here, the climax of the game's spooky third world) and he - quite literally - will not leave the spotlight. There's romance ("My art will touch your princess's heart and you will be pulled apart"). There's tragedy ("Who leaves me grey and grim? Oh, what does Peach see in him?"). There are scathing put downs ("Slithering down every pipe, despite his plumb-shaped body type") and funny rhymes (""It's-a-me, let's-a-go!" The only words you know!"). And, really, a fair summation of the Mario games as a whole: "You're so not worth the hassle. Your princess is in another castle!"

I jest, I love a good Mario platformer. But Mario + Rabbids offers a fresh take on the series I didn't expect. It's more puzzle than strategy game, combining Nintendo's exquisite gameplay with Ubisoft's flair for comedy. I've been playing the game in preparation for the sequel out this week, but I'm enjoying it so much more than I thought I would I'm worried that Sparks of Hope can't compete. Unless, of course, there's another musical number...

Ed Nightingale

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