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What we've been playing

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

24th February 2023

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: space, pirates, and music.

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

Returnal, PC

Cover image for YouTube videoLet's Play Returnal - Returnal First Hour Gameplay PS5
Returnal.

I've been waiting for an age for Returnal to land on PC. Housemarque are properly up there for me, and the idea of this brilliant team stepping into new territory is almost too much to bear.

Now it's out, I'm thoroughly on board. The sci-fi stylings are wonderfully chilly, and there's something lovely about the moment where the first baddy fires the first volley at you and you get that arc of slow moving laser ball things that tells you that Housemarque has not forgotten where it came from.

I'm still early in, but what I'm enjoying most so far is a total surprise - it's the main character discovering that they're in a Roguelike, and then discovering what Roguelikes are.

First they come across a body and discover it's theirs. Then they start to learn about the loop, the business of coming back to live, and even the process of saving progress at points - so I guess I should have said it's a roguelite?

It's one of the first times I can remember the rules of a game serving double-time as the plot of a game quite so nakedly. It's a boldness that seems very Housemarque to me. Can't wait to play more.

Chris Donlan

Konkan Coast Pirate Solutions, PC

Cover image for YouTube videoKonkan Coast Pirate Solutions - Trailer
Konkan Coast Pirate Solutions.

Konkan Coast Pirate Solutions isn't out until the 1st of March, but I've been playing it this week and I already can't get it out of my head. Billed as a cosy game about helping pirate ships do piratey things, it's deft, minimalist and exacting.

I'm still early on, but the point of each challenge is to move a collection of ships around a stretch of ocean, getting them where they need to go without colliding them with land or each other. This is done by placing a series of instruction markers onto the map's grid points. When a ship connects with an instruction to turn right, for example, it does so.

It's a very simple basic premise, but things quickly become devious. There are puzzles here that I could not let go until I had solved them, many hinging on the fact that a ship removes an instruction marker when it moves through it. One very early level was a real block for me, until I started to mess about with the pieces I had at my disposal and attempt things that initially seemed impossible.

What's emerging so far is a game in which I learn something new with every challenge. It's a lovely thing, built with cheerfulness and wit, and I can't wait to play more.

Christian Donlan

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, PS4

Cover image for YouTube videoTHEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE - Announcement Trailer - Nintendo Switch
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line.

I don't necessarily regret starting Theatrhythm. But I probably shouldn't have.

This latest Theatrhythm game is as much a celebration of Square Enix's Final Fantasy series as it is a rhythm game. I love Final Fantasy. I love rhythm games. This is catnip to me.

The core rhythm gameplay is perplexing me a little, though. It seems simple, tapping away at timed button prompts on the screen, but there are no set controls for those button taps meaning you can flit between the face buttons and triggers in improvisational patterns I haven't quite got my head around yet.

But wow the series has some bangers. Each game in the series is unlocked one by one, so I started naturally with the best: Final Fantasy 7 (yes, I'm basic, sue me). "Wow, I really should play through this again for the umpteenth time," I thought to myself. Then I switched to Final Fantasy 13 with its series-best battle theme, all transcendent violins and distorted guitars. "Wow, I really should play through this again," I thought to myself. It seems like strange praise to have one game inspire me to play another, but that's testament to the strength of the series. Next up was Final Fantasy 8 and its dramatic choral opening, the gently meandering Balamb Garden and world map themes, and the maximalist organ electro of its boss theme. "Wow," I thought to myself. "I should really play th..."

Please. This is a cry for help. I do not have the time for nostalgic playthroughs. I have work to do!

Ed Nightingale