25th November 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: Pokémon, Bugsnax and cars.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
Pokémon Violet, Switch
I’m having a lot of fun with Pokémon Violet. A fully open world Pokémon game is a step towards the perfect vision I and many players have had since my tween days playing Blue. Both major and minor changes have been made in this latest instalment; it’s just frustrating they come with some caveats.
The open world design allows a sense of freedom Pokémon fans have longed for. Finally you can choose the order of gyms and strategise based on your party, or you can spend time simply roaming the land adding Pokémon to your collection. The flipside is an empty world with little to discover but locked doors and bland environments. And I miss the dungeon-like themed gyms of the past.
The Let’s Go feature is a welcome change that allows you to quickly level up your party and streamline battles, which no longer occur in a separate screen making it all feel more alive. Yet this also makes Pokémon feel more disposable, with less time to develop a connection. And you’ll want a connection with the new designs, among the most adorable yet conceived.
Then there’s the glorious bookshelf Pokédex; the use of Spanish words to add character to dialogue; the brilliant music (the slap bass in the battle theme!); and small tweaks like auto heal and switching lead Pokémon. There’s a joyful adventurous spirit that, despite the game’s flaws, is inescapable.
Yes, the performance is appalling, but the core gameplay is solid. Pokémon Violet offers comfort food as I journey through Paldea with my sassy dancing duck and perfectly baked, sugary sweet, glossy coated cinnamon bun dog. I must stop salivating over him, though.
Bugsnax was a launch title for the PlayStation 5 that I immediately ignored for the much more grown-up Spider-Man: Miles Morales. But with Sony's foray into games as a subscription model, I decided to download the game on a whim. I wish I did it earlier.
The game is both delightful and terrifying at the same time. On the one hand the game is remarkably simple and light-hearted: go and collect these half-insect/half snack creatures to feed the newly immigrated populace of human-like Grumpuses. There is an immediate sense of uneasiness about collecting these talking and moving burgers/French fries/strawberries with the intention of dropping them into the mouths of a Grumpuse.
But what happened next was not something I expected at all. Feeding a Strabby to Filbo Fiddlepie, the self-appointed Mayor of Snaxburg, changed his hand into a strawberry! "Oh this? Pretty neat, huh? It's a side-effect of eating Bugsnax!" Filbo says nonchalantly, as if it wasn't absolutely terrifying to witness. But it's that commitment to a rosy and deceptively family friendly vibe that makes Bugsnax so great. I've yet to finish the game but I can sense a deeply sinister ending awaits.
As for the gameplay, none of the puzzles were terribly difficult but were challenging enough to still feel like an accomplishment when you have the "aha!" moment. And that's what makes this game a perfect addition for my rotation of games. When I feel too tired to sweat it out in Call of Duty or invest myself in a narrative heavy Yakuza game, I can always turn to Bugsnax at the end of the day.
Burnout Paradise, Xbox
I came downstairs at some point last weekend and my daughter was playing Burnout Paradise. This was one of the first games she ever played - I can still remember her wild giggling as she rammed her car against railings and sent up endless showers of those beautiful Burnout sparks.
As such it's been an excellent means to study her development with games. She's nine now, and an absolute Burnout demon. She used to weave back and forth on the road and now she has beautiful focus, and has uncovered a load of short cuts that would never have occurred to me.
What I love most though is that I watch her play and I understand what's important to her. She doesn't like doing the races or any of the events. The city is just a big playground and she explores it, thinking about the buildings, choosing a spot where she might live, and sort of doodling around the map with her car. What a game. And what a perfect introduction to games in general.