The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Summer 2022 Playlist Update: YouTube Playlist Now Available!

I have a short update on last week’s Summer Playlist post. For those who don’t use Spotify, I now have a YouTube playlist version available!

Just like with the Spotify playlist, there were a few songs that I could find official versions of (and I’d like to stick to those when possible, both to help those artists when possible and to minimize the chance of videos being taken down and affecting the overall list). 147 out of 153 songs on my list had something available. For the other six:

-Polite Fiction: “Arrow” and “Suzerainty” have SoundCloud uploads by the artist. The newer song, “Drive”, has an official upload though.

-Witch Cafe: The same situation as the last time. “Pumpkin Prince” and “Purikura” are on SoundCloud, although “Cauldron Bay” is still only on the artist’s Bandcamp page, as far as I can tell.

-gloss: “Secondhand Beauty Queen” has been uploaded to the band’s YouTube page, however nothing else from that EP (including “Daydreamin’”, which made my playlist) has been. I believe their Bandcamp page is still the only place that has any of those songs?

I’m not going to re-post the full text of last time, since it got a little long; if you want to read any of my thoughts while you listen, go check out the original article!

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

A Pair of Petite Platformer Recs: Transiruby and Flynn: Son of Crimson

I have an idea for another fairly-large article in the works. However, the writing on it has been going slowly (in addition to some real-life delays), and I wanted to do something in the meantime. It’s been a while since I did my last round-up of smaller recommendations (my two-parter on 3D Platformers way back in November and December… wow, it does not feel like those were that long ago…), so why not another one of those?

Once again, I’m looking at platformers, but today we will be remaining firmly in the realm of two dimensions and red-themed names, with Metroidvania title Transiruby and kinda-sorta-Metroidvania-like Flynn: Son of Crimson.

Transiruby (SKIPMORE)

I’ve said in the past that the Nintendo Switch is a great platform for indie games, but this was even more true early in the console’s life. It was much easier for a small but well-made game to stand out in the eShop back when there just wasn’t as much on the console. One of the big beneficiaries of this was Kamiko (which you may recognize from waaaay back in my 2017 year-end round-up), a title by solo Japanese developer SKIPMORE that was released about a month and a half after the console launched. I had heard basically nothing about it when I saw it while browsing the eShop for new games to try. There weren't a ton of bigger games overshadowing it yet, it wasn’t expensive, and it looked solid, so I gave it a shot and enjoyed myself.

I hadn’t thought much about it lately, until I was browsing upcoming games and saw Transiruby. Once again, it looked like a cute little 8-bit Metroidvania. Of course, given the current crowd of the eShop, that wasn’t enough to just give it a try on a whim; so I looked into it a little more, at which point I went “Oh shoot, this is the Kamiko guy!”, which was enough to convince me (although for those who don’t have that past experience, there is also a Steam demo you can give a whirl to see if it’s your thing).

Monday, September 12, 2022

Music Monday: Summer 2022 Playlist

It is once again that time of year, the point late in the summer where I decide “yeah, that’s a good enough cut-off” and build a loosely-defined playlist of what I’ve been listening to lately. There’s a lot to cover in this year’s version; I feel like I spent a lot of time browsing new music the past few months, and I had a lot of thoughts to write out about some of it, so let’s dive right into things.

(As a note: not every song I included here is on Spotify. The iZme songs can be found here, here, and here. Meanwhile, two of the Witch Café songs can be found here and here; however, I think “Cauldron Bay” may only be publicly posted on the artist’s Bandcamp page?).

9/21 Update: There's now also a YouTube Playlist version, for those who would prefer that:

It's still missing the Witch Café songs, as well as one of the gloss songs and two Polite Fiction songs (although those can be found here and here).

Let’s start with the big guns: my pick for Album of the Summer is The Kick, by Foxes. I listened to her debut album Glorious back in 2014, and it was fine. I didn’t revisit it a ton, so there’s a lot of it that kind of faded from my memory, but there were definitely stand-out parts, like the dramatic timpani rolls and stuttered vocals of “Youth” and the layered, Florence + the Machine-like vocals on the chorus of “Holding onto Heaven”. But I ended up missing out on her 2016 follow-up, and probably would have missed out on The Kick had my brother not sent it to me.

I kind of really regret not checking out All I Need, though, because I really did not see her swing into Carly Rae Jepsen-style dance-y synthpop on The Kick coming, let alone her skill at the style. This really is exactly what I want out of a summer album, just non-stop sing-along choruses and sparkling synth hooks for days.

Every one of these could be a standout single on a normal album, and it makes the 40-minute album breeze along. I could run on a loop without getting tired of it (and I suppose I have, to some extent), and I could pick any combination of three songs for it (my unofficial limit on a single album’s representation for these lists) and not feel bad (although it was difficult to ignore the pulsing excitement of opener “Sister Ray” or the absolutely cathartic drop in the bridge of “Potential”). With Carly pushing her next album into October, I am so glad this was here to pick up the slack as my soundtrack of the summer. And in the meantime, I definitely need to go back in her discography and see what I missed.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Nobody Saves the World Is Another Notch in Drinkbox Studios' Belt

I’ve wanted to write something about Drinkbox Studios for a bit now. I played their Guacamelee and Guacamelee 2 back-to-back a few years ago, and genuinely enjoyed both of them quite a bit! But I never really got a handle on what I wanted to say about them.

They were both good games, solid Metroidvanias with well-designed maps and strong beat-em-up mechanics for combat. Maybe they weren’t the best entries in either genre, and there wasn’t really anything revolutionary about anything they did with either system. But they did genuinely do two things really well, which is no small task! I considered making another Genre Mash-up article, but never quite gathered enough other material, so I settled for praising them in my year-end review instead.

Maybe I couldn’t think of what to write then, but I knew I wanted to check out whatever they did next. Which happened to be this year’s new release, Nobody Saves the World, their first title since Guacamelee 2 four years ago. Nobody is a Top Down A-A game, with the notable new mechanic being that the titular Nobody is a shapeshifter who can jump between over a dozen forms. Each of those comes with its own handful of abilities to learn, and about a third of the way through the game, you get the ability to mix and match them across forms.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Haven: Love on the Run Beyond the Stars

There are a lot of indie games that I’ve been meaning to try and just putting on the backburner; there are just so many titles out there nowadays, and stuff will slip through the cracks, but I do make an effort to circle back around to things on occasion. Such was the case with The Game Bakers’ late 2020 release Haven; I had been curious about their previous game (2016’s Furi, a boss rush game) before deciding it wasn’t for me, and after seeing a lot of praise for Haven, decided it sounded more up my alley.

But I sort of forgot about it after that, until a few weeks ago when I was itching for something new to try, and it popped up in my feed thanks to a recent update. That seemed like as good an onboarding point as any, so I gave it a shot. And after that, I was so enthralled that I basically ended up shotgunning the game in under a week.

Haven is also a weird game, because it feels simultaneously very difficult and very easy to describe. On the one hand, at its core, it’s one of the oldest story archetypes in existence: that of the star-crossed lovers, just set in a far-off sci-fi world. Yu and Kay are the main pair here, young adults from some sort of interplanetary empire known as The Apiary, fleeing their arranged marriages to live together. The game opens with them having recently settled on Source, a far-off shattered world hopefully outside of The Apirary’s purview, following a daring escape from home.

While deciding what to do next, their new home, an RV-esque spaceship Yu fixed up called the Nest, sustains heavy damage from an earthquake, stranding them in place. And so begins the game proper; you guide Yu and Kay around the fragments of Source, searching for replacement parts, foraging for food, fending off wildlife, and dodging The Apiary’s search efforts. There’s constantly stuff to do to keep this loving couple up and functioning, and it gives the game’s story an almost episodic, cliffhanger-heavy approach that is well-executed and addicting.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Climbing the Open-World Heights of Sable

I’ve been playing a lot of cool games lately, and they’ve given me quite a few things to talk about. However, my last few games articles have gotten a little on the long side, both in word count and writing time, which can be a little daunting even when I don’t have a bit of a backlog to work through. So, I’m going to try and keep these a little shorter; maybe I’ll slip up a bit and one of them will grow in length, but keeping two out of three manageable isn’t bad.

And so, today I’ll be talking about Sable, the debut game of two-person studio Shedworks. I had seen and heard some good things about it prior to release, which got me interested. But one unusual thing that I noticed was that some of the previews I saw called it a 3D platformer (always a hot topic here), but that didn’t seem to be the case universally. “Open World”, “Adventure”, and “Exploration” showed up more frequently as genres/descriptors. And… yeah, it probably is those first and foremost, but I also don’t think I would dispute calling it a 3D platformer; it’s certainly not a traditional one, but it’s definitely more in line with that sort of level design and play style than most open world games.

But first, the general backstory: Sable takes place on an alien desert planet, beautifully rendered in a vibrant, rotoscoped* artstyle, where people live in much smaller-scale villages and societies (many even taking on nomadic lifestyles). You play as Sable, a young girl from a herding tribe known as the Ibexii, who is about to experience a coming-of-age ceremony, then set off into the world on a hoverbike to find her place in the world and decide what she’s going to do in life.

*Art criticism is not my forte, but I think that’s the term/technique I’m going for, at the very least for the animation? It looks like drawings over real figures, to give it a distinct mostly-realistic style with a few embellishments here and there, and usually colored in ways that are more striking, unique, or vibrant than real life? Either way, it makes for some amazing scenic landscape shots, and driving your bike over these dunes makes you feel like a master cinematographer with how easy it is to get beautiful and striking images of the world as you frame the in-game camera.

It’s a pretty basic story, but one that Sable sets up beautifully. You get dropped in pretty cold and build up an understanding of what’s going on naturally, talking to the rest of Sable’s clan as they mentally prepare both her and themselves for the coming separation of her going out into the world. It’s extremely relatable and well-done, and that natural discovery for the player, leading into the ceremony itself, is a huge emotional swell.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Demon Turf is a Great 3D Platformer that Gets Extra Mileage from a Different Approach

I managed to cover a lot of different games in 2021 (and even launched a page to collect all of my indie game reviews!), and consequently, don’t feel the need to write any sort of loose-ends wrap-up piece like I have in years past; I’m not sure there would be enough games or ideas to fill it out. However, there’s still one big game I played last year that I want to cover, a late release that I played towards the end of the year and wound up being one of my favorite games of the year: Fabraz’s Demon Turf.

Demon Turf is a game that I had been excited about for a while. I hadn’t followed any of Fabraz’s earlier games, but I’m always on the lookout for new and upcoming 3D Platformers to try, which is where I first came across it. My excitement only grew upon trying the early demo when it came out on Steam, and then even further after it came out early last year that Playtonic (makers of Yooka-Laylee, among other projects) would be picking it up as one of the first three games in their Playtonic Friends publishing division. Both of those pointed to good things, which got me a little worried that I might be overhyping it.

As it turns out, my concerns were totally unfounded! Demon Turf wound up being my favorite 3D platformer since… probably A Hat in Time? In just every way it’s delightful, but it also manages to squeeze a lot out of its indie game scale; and along the way, it tries a bunch of interesting twists on genre formulas that make the entire thing feel that much fresher.

So let’s start with the basic set-up: Demon Turf is about a young demon girl named Beebz, who’s a bit of an outcast in the underworld and plans to rectify that by taking on the Demon King. But to challenge him for the throne, she’ll need to first take over the territories of four other demon gang leaders who serve under the King, which you do by beating all of a world’s levels and then challenging them to boss battles.

It’s a pretty standard 3D platformer set-up at its most basic level. Each level gives you a major, end-of-level collectable, a la Mario’s power stars or Sonic’s emblems (here, it’s batteries), and there are a variety of optional secondary collectables that can get you a variety of unlocks (in this case, sweets). You start in the main hub world, Beebz’s home of Forktown, and from there, travel to one of four smaller world hubs, each of which has seven levels leading off of them like spokes; one easy level lets you into the world’s main square, from which you can tackle the remaining six levels in any order. Collect the battery at the end of every level and you open the boss door.

It’s all pretty standard stuff for this type of game, but Demon Turf pulls it all off well. And really, that extends to the other fundamental mechanics. A lot of work has clearly gone into refining the movement in this game, and it all really shows, as Beebz controls incredibly smoothly.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Nexomon: Extinction Offers an Interesting Story and Some Fun Twists on the Monster Collecting Genre

I’ve still been thinking about the Monster Taming genre a lot as of late. Which makes sense; as I’ve said in the past, it’s a game style that means a lot to me. I loved it growing up, and as someone who’s gotten more and more into the indie game sphere, I’m thrilled with the number of small projects tackling the style. New ideas and directions from new talent is really what helps an idea grow.

I got some of my thoughts about this out in my Pokémon 25th Anniversary piece from late last year, which makes sense. Pokémon’s dominance within the genre is undeniable; it’s far and away both the best-selling and most prolific series in the style, both of which make it most people’s introduction and formative experiences with the genre. This also means that a lot of people have opinions on what Pokémon as a series should be, though, especially compared to what it actually is.

My take on it from last year can more or less be summarized as “The mainline series is trying to be the JRPG version of something like Animal Crossing, and most of their changes have either been to enhance that side of the game, or to make the surprisingly-deep competitive side more accessible for those who want the challenge.” And I also think all of that is good, even if it is not yet perfect or to everybody’s taste. It’s a fun vision on the whole.

Of course, that’s also why the growing number of other Monster Taming games is good; no one vision of the genre can sate everyone, and it’s good to have alternatives. Which is why today I’d like to talk up VEWO Interactive’s Nexomon: Extinction, another new entry into the genre, and a very worthwhile one in my estimation.

It’s one of the more directly Pokémon-inspired games I’ve seen, and never quite escapes being “Pokémon, but…”. But I also don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing; Pokémon at its core is a lot of fun, while also having a ton of variables and decisions that can be adjusted in a number of ways. And I enjoy seeing other people’s potential divergent evolutions of what the series could be, in tweaking these things.

And despite having a fraction of the budget or manpower* of Game Freak, Nexomon: Extinction still provides its own unique voice and polished experience. It’s not going to be for everyone, because again, I don’t know that anything can truly be that, but I do think there’s something here for both people who still enjoy Pokémon and want more new experiences like that, and people who have found the interests drift from the main series but still find themselves missing some aspects of it and wondering what could be.

*Counting the credits, I saw 1 designer/programmer, 1 producer, 6 music credits, and 19 artists and animators.

Unlike with Monster Sanctuary, there really isn’t really a big twist on the base-level Pokémon formula in Nexomon: Extinction. The gameplay still alternates between top-down overworld segments where you explore the game’s world, and turn-based RPG battles where your team of up to six elementally-themed monsters with up to four attacks each takes on either a solo wild Nexomon or opposing trainer teams.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Music Monday: End of 2021 Playlist

Last year, I did an “end of the year” supplemental playlist to go with my normal summer playlist (which usually ends up covering the first two-thirds of the year anyway), and I kind of liked doing that. So it’s making a return this year to follow up my Summer 2021 list, especially since there’s a lot of good stuff I’ve been listening to since then. Like normal, I’m including a playlist link up top, followed by some stray thoughts on various entries on the list, and then a full text listing at the end. And as per usual, it’s mostly 2021 stuff, but I’m also only one person doing this on the side, so sometimes it takes me a while to get around to trying things.

To start: last time, I called CHVRCHES Screen Violence my album of the summer, and if I had one complaint, it was that it felt a little shorter than their last few albums. Well, they released a bonus version in late October that included three new songs, all of which are stellar. Especially “Killer”, which might be my favorite song on the album now? “How Not to Drown” is hard to top, though.

Moving on from my favorite album on the last list, to my favorite album on this list: it’s Mercurial World by Magdalena Bay, which has been living in my brain for the past month or two. Every song is just great, layers upon layers of hooks and melodies and interesting things. It’s almost hard for me to pick three songs off of it, but “Hysterical Us” is probably my favorite track (I absolutely love that main piano riff). And “Secrets (Your Fire)” feels like the perfect introductory single to the album (I think it was the first track of theirs that I heard, although I’m not positive), plus it’s such a smooth jam. A third pick from the album was difficult, since there are so many good songs. Just by how much I enjoy the songs, I’d probably go with album closer “The Beginning”, but I think part of what I like about it is how it works as a final track, so I left it as a surprise. After that, it was a tough call between the title track, “Chaeri”, “You Lose!”... but I ended up going with “Dawning of the Season”.