Sony Keeps Things Simple, Retro, Little With February’s PS+ Freebies
Last month, I made the comment that it seems as if Sony has been steering away from bigger releases for their PS+ offerings, that their recent slates have been devoid of those attention-grabbing AAA titles. Instead, they’ve been sticking to a medley of indie releases spread across all three platforms, something they continue to do in the month of February with several tribute-style platformers, a puzzle game and a kooky multiplayer duel game featuring a foursome of whales. However, they’ve also included a substantial sequel from one Sony’s more reputable franchises that should keep players occupied for some time to come, tying together the offerings into a moderately decent month. Let’s take a look.
The LittleBigPlanet series has always been about creativity, stitching together an adequate story that powers the two-dimensional platforming gameplay with a hefty dose of freedom to build whatever levels and experiences you want – not limited to platforming — with the extensive level creator. The progression from the first to the second entries in the series was fairly drastic, though, adding a wealth of new customization options for the adventures of Sackboy and beyond. LittleBigPlanet 3 doesn’t offer quite the same profound improvements to the experience, but it delivers plenty of versatility and small innovations throughout, from near four times the amount of level-design “layers” to backwards compatibility with creations from the previous game. Critics have cited some technical issues and half-baked concepts as negatives, but most feel this third installment isn’t coming apart at the seams whatsoever.
Not a Hero
Over the past couple of years, developers have discovered two very specific gaming niches that can be repeatedly mined without players losing much, if any, interest: retro presentations and punishing difficulty. Both have reached a certain saturation point, though, where the pixelated graphics and hurl-the-controller challenge have started to lose their luster. Not a Hero works really hard to offer something unique, depicting a purple bunny from the future as the protagonist in a side-scrolling, ultra-colorful shooter with a story reminiscent of the silliness in the later Saints Row games. Stealthy mechanics and cover-based tactics add some spice to the mix, along with a bold penchant for violence, but critics and players seem to agree that repetitiveness and frustrating difficulty keep Not a Hero from going to another level with its throwback charms.
The concept behind Starwhal is pure silliness: players take control of a narwhal in a space/futuristic setting and endeavor to “pierce the heart” of three other opponents. Raucous charging, jabbing, and maneuvering ensues in a Geometry Wars-like grid atmosphere, where the brightly-colored whales flail about in a duel full of slow-motion shenanigans. While Starwhal contains a single-player function, it’s mostly a straightforward game centered on the fun a group can have while skewering one another, and even that seems to wear out its welcome rather quickly.
Anna: Extended Edition
The reception for Dreampainters’ Anna wasn’t exactly positive upon its release, earning criticisms for its dated horror-survival mechanics, excessively obscure puzzles, and a lack of effective thrills. Its only saving grace ended up being that there was another horror game released the same year, Amy, that fit the same girl’s-name-that-starts-with-A title design, one that garnered far worse reviews. Not one to take the situation lightly, the developers returned to the drawing board and scared up an Extended Edition of Anna, which has been dramatically renovated in response to fan feedback. Polished graphics, reworked puzzles, and a few new spooks enliven Anna, earning this do-over some positive marks for its efforts.
Ninja Senki DX
In the most positive of ways, Ninja Senki DX reminds one of a blend of Mario, Mega Man, and maybe a touch of Flappy Bird in what feels like a very direct tribute to the genre from … fittingly, developers Tribute Games. Built by some of the same folks who worked on well-received Scott Pilgrim and Ninja Turtles action games in the same vein, this platformer proudly bears its influences in both visual and game design, where players take control of a nimble little ninja who lunges through a series of obstacle-covered levels. Straightforward, retro game mechanics and derivative design choices seem to have some expected effects, though: Ninja Senki DX provides a bit of fun for short periods of time, but grows repetitive if the bouncing and star-tossing goes on too long.
Sometimes, the simplest of ideas can be the most innovative. Take, for instance, TorqueL: there’s little to the game beyond a rotating cube, a button-pressing mechanics that extends the walls of the cube, and start and finish points at opposite ends of a stripped-down, two-dimensional level. Pools of lava and sliding platforms provide the obstacles for the game, in which the player rolls the cube from point to point while using the extending walls however they see fit. Will they be used to bridge gaps across danger points, or to propel the cube with forward moment, or even to save the cube from last-minute destruction as a balancing pole? The graphics and concept itself are simple, yet there’s a distinct amount of creativity and versatility going on in the execution.