April’s PS+ Freebies Sneak, Speedrun Through Month In Leadup to June’s Big Changes
In just a few months, the PS+ program will be receiving a much-anticipated overhaul. As far as one can tell, for now, the $10 Plus subscription tier will exist as it always has as the “Essential” tier; similar things were said about keeping Xbox Live Gold alive and it’s clearly been given the cold shoulder for a while now. Then, the other new prestige tiers come into the picture. The middle-of-the-road “Extra” level obviously includes all the benefits of the baseline service, but also grants access to 400 PS4 and PS5 games to be freely downloaded. Then, the “Premium” subscription level unlocks 340 legacy PS-to-PS3 titles, cloud streaming of select PS4 and below games on PS4/5 consoles and PC, and time-limited game trails. Extra will be $14.99/month or $99.99 yearly, while Premium will be $17.99/month or $119.99 yearly.
It’s a big shift that obviously aims to directly compete with Xbox’s Game Pass in some capacity – the $15 tier lacks certain features to offer a direct comparison, while the $18 tier does a few extra things to earn the higher price tag – and I’m sure it leaves subscribers with feelings of both excitement and anxiety. The question remains: will PlayStation keep up the quality of their baseline service’s offerings for those who choose to stay at that tier? Well, if the answer lies in April’s PS+ free offerings, there’s reason to be nervous. An admittedly charming remaster of a classic franchise tie-in platformer, an aggressively poorly-received free-to-play action title, and a niche deckbuilding fantasy game doesn’t instill confidence that they’ll be upholding the base tier’s substance. But, maybe they’re holding the good stuff in the reserves for once the new PS+ framework kicks into gear.
Hood: Outlaws and Legends
With the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Thief, and other medieval stealth games being around, the absence of a good, dedicated Robin Hood game makes a lot of sense. If someone wants a theft or bow-‘n-arrow simulator, they’re able to scratch that itch in those games alongside their added storytelling differences, covering most of the simulator bases outside of embodying the actual folklore character himself. At this point, direct comparisons would even be drawn if someone attempted a traditional third-person style of game featuring Robin Hood.
Perhaps those reasons are why Hood: Outlaws and Legends veers away from the norm. Instead of a traditional adventure game that’d essentially adapt one of the many movies about Robin Hood’s fall and rise with the Merry Men, this game from Sumo NewCastle takes an even more straightforward, purely action-based approach by pitting “Hood” and his merry team against rival thieves in a stealth-based race to steal the Sheriff’s key, raid a vault for riches before the others, and escape with the loot. In theory, this kind of light, pick-up-and-go online title that merely uses the familiar characters for a dose of flavor could work, but both critics and players alike have struggled with its shallowness, clunky controls, and monotonous mission design.
Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated
Back in 2003, Battle for Bikini Bottom suffered the fate of countless tie-in games like it, where a subpar critical reception really didn’t matter to both young and old audiences who just wanted to enjoy the characters in a videogame format. More than that, it’s also an original story in the Spongebob world and most of the original cast voiced the characters, so fans will inherently play and at least partly enjoy the story of Plankton’s robot invasion of Bikini Bottom. Over the years, the game’s level design and attitude has invited a new outlook, and the combo of Spongebob’s fanbase and that the game has built popularity among the speedrun community – I know, right? — has given it unexpected longevity.
Is that enough to earn a remastering? The folks at Purple Lamp Studios certainly think so, and it seems as if they knew what to do to craft a satisfying “Rehydrated” version of a PS2-era title. They’ve preserved the original creative intentions and re-recorded the dialogue – the original recordings are also available; no, the missing cast members from the original didn’t come back – and they’ve specifically mirrored the feel of the controls and gravity for an authentic reconstruction with an audiovisual facelift. This will inherently make the title feel like it’s a family-friendly adventure game from the early 2000s, but it also works in overdrive to satisfy the nostalgic and the speedrunners out there.
Slay the Spire
It’s tough to strike a proper balance between the strategy, selection, and in-action combat of deck-building videogames: titles typically of the fantasy variety that incorporate a deck of “cards” as strategic special abilities to use during turn-based combat. Too much focus on the player collecting, refining, and implementing these cards could result in a decrease of momentum in the combat, whereas too little collaboration with the cards might make them feel like an unnecessary step in what’s otherwise a standard turn-based battle system.
Slay the Spire works really hard to make sure that all those elements coexist with one another for a complete, absorbing gaming experience, taking the expected but welcome paths of making it a randomized roguelike dungeon crawler. After selecting one of 4 characters, the player progresses through the spires of a castle and randomly encounters various creatures with a range of strengths of weaknesses, which the player exploits by choosing what types of attack, defense, and special ability cards to use on a turn by turn basis. Both critics and players have heaped praise upon Slay the Spire’s execution of the tricky concept in videogame form, remarking on its sneaky addictive properties despite the inherent sameness of battles and progression.