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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Monday, July 19, 2021

Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos Is My Best Surprise for 2021's First Half



Today, we’re going to focus on something a little smaller than a candidate for my Game of the Year title, something more in line with “a really nice surprise”. I hadn’t heard anything about Rogue Heroes: Ruins of Tasos, the new game of developer duo Heliocentric Studios. But it popped up in my attention, and it looked solid. And as an extra bonus, it was published by Team17.

I don’t talk about publishers a lot here, because I write about video games mostly as a fan rather than any sort of professional, and I’m not as clear on all that they do for a game compared to, say, developers. But one thing I understand that they can do, especially in the realm of indie games, is curation: looking for promising games and giving them resources and attention. And in that regard, Team17 is doing pretty good! I’ve played and enjoyed a number of their titles, and even covered a decent number of them here too: Yoku’s Island ExpressMonster SanctuaryGoing Under, Overcooked 1 and 2, the Yooka-Laylee games, Automachef… I don’t necessarily love everything they publish, but even the things that aren’t up my alley tend to be pretty high quality.

So when I see something they release, I’ll definitely take a second look if it catches my eye. Which is how I stumbled upon Rogue Heroes. My love of Top Down A-A games is pretty well established at this point, so seeing a game in that style published by Team 17 was clearly an interesting hook to draw me in. One short demo later, and I was all-in on the experience.


Let’s back out a bit: what is the general pitch for Ruins of Tasos? Well, it clearly draws heavily from the original, 2D Zelda games. Especially A Link to the Past, which serves as the template for a lot of its appearance. But on top of Rogue Heroes looking to A Link to the Past for its aesthetic, of all of the indie Top-Down A-A games I’ve tried, Rogue Heroes also feels the closest to ALttP from a gameplay standpoint as well. And as someone who absolutely loved A Link to the Past growing up, I can’t say I’m opposed to the decision to use it as a basis.

The main concern in such decisions would normally be that the newer game just feels like a shallow imitation, but that doesn’t end up happening here, as Heliocentric Studios had a ton of ideas for new things to add to the classic formula. The end effect is weird, but enjoyable. If you ever tried playing or looking for fan mods of games, it has a similar feel to stumbling on an especially extensive rework of an older title, like someone started with A Link to the Past, but completely remade the map, and then had an idea for a new mechanic or item to implement, which gave them ideas for new locations on the map, which then inspired another system to add, which led to another map rework, and back and forth and back and forth, until you’re years later and the resulting game has gone through a number of versions and feels as much something new as it does the original base game. And if you’ve never had that experience, it can be a fun one, seeing something familiar given such a big rework that it’s almost unrecognizable.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Naming the 2D Zelda Genre

I’m already in the planning stages for my next two video game reviews (no idea how long those will take, unfortunately), but they both have a commonality that I wanted to address. Something that I thought that I could discuss in an aside, as it’s a topic that I’ve mentioned before, but which kept ballooning in length, to the point where it seemed like it might just be for the best to spin it out into its own piece. And that topic is their genre.

Some of my favorite games growing up were the 2D Zelda games, and that’s something that’s persisted throughout my life. Although you might have already known that. After all, I’ve covered plenty of games of that style as well: Lenna’s InceptionCadence of HyruleBlossom TalesKamikoReverie, Sparklite, Moonlighter, arguably Ms. Director and Princess Remedy… The point is, this is a genre that means a lot to me, and I play a lot of games like it.

I also have no idea what to call it. For some reason, there just wasn’t ever a standardized name for it that cropped up in game discussion circles, so every time I want to write about it, I have to take a long time spelling out what I have in mind, and it kind of bugs me. So let’s try and fix that; sure, it might not catch on in wide use or anything, but at least in the future, I’ll be able to just drop the name and link to this article as an explanation.

But getting a name that’s just right is difficult. So let’s run through some ideas to see if any could work, and what they might leave out:

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Halfway Through 2021, Sill No Other Game Than Ikenfell I’d Rather Be Recommending

On some level, it was probably overdetermined that I would like Ikenfell. The basic pitch, a turn-based RPG about students at a magic university solving mysteries, is extremely my jam. I dug the art style and snippets of music I got from trailers. And there were some good indications that I would vibe with the approach, seeing as the game’s creator, Chevy Ray Johnston, is close friends and ex-roommates with Greg Lobanov and Maddie Thorson, both of whom made games that I loved and already wrote about (specifically, Wandersong and Celeste).*

*In fact, I think that one of them mentioning Ikenfell somewhere might have been where I first heard about it, while researching things for one of those earlier articles? Either way, Wandersong includes small cameos of characters from both of the other games as well, and Johnston recently announced they were working with Extremely OK Games on the team’s next game, the recently-announced Earthblade (source).

But I didn’t just like it, it more than surpassed my high expectations. Happy Ray Games’ Ikenfell is probably my favorite game of the year, at the halfway point.*

*Yes, it technically came out at the end of last year, but time is fake and I can’t always play things right away.

So let’s go back and take it from the top. Ikenfell begins with a girl named Maritte, who’s lost in the woods as she searches for the titular magic school. Her older sister, Safina, is a star pupil of the institution who has totally vanished off the face of the earth while doing off-semester research there, and Maritte is determined to figure out what’s going on. Unfortunately, Maritte is not magical, and clashes with the school’s various magical defenses to keep out Ordinaries… until she suddenly shoots a fireball, ancient magic that none of the school’s guardians even recognize. With this, she is allowed to pass with the warning that something major is afoot, and Maritte is certain that her sister’s disappearance is connected.
 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Monster Sanctuary Review: Mazes and Monsters and Min-Maxing, Oh My...

A little while ago, I began breaking down some of the video games from my 2020 Wrap-Up, offering a fuller appraisal of Phoenotopia: Awakening. Today, we’re hitting a second game from that year-end review, as I go more in depth on Moi Rai Games’ Monster Sanctuary.

For those who didn’t read the blurb for it in the Wrap-Up, the basic pitch for Monster Sanctuary is that it combines two fairly distinct game genres, something that I’ve written about here a few times. In this case, the two genres are Metroidvanias (another thing I’ve covered a lot) and Monster Taming* games (something that I haven’t covered, but which is exactly what it sounds like: think things like Pokémon, that involve collecting and/or training monsters).

*I’ve usually heard this term used, but it’s probably also worth noting that Steam uses the tag “Creature Collector” for this genre. I’m sure there are multiple other terms that people use as well, but these are the main ones that I’ll be sticking with.

This is a really novel combination, from what I can tell, which is actually kind of weird. Those two elements have always seemed like natural matches, in my mind. Growing up playing the 2D Pokémon games, they struck me in a lot of ways like the 2D Zelda games, just with HMs like Cut and Surf replacing Link’s equipment. And those 2D Zelda games and their genre-mates, at their best, seemed a lot like Metroidvanias that you controlled on a different axis. Think about it; they’d plop you down in an overworld with arbitrary obstacles, which you could overcome as you explored and found new gear and found secret branches to new areas… Pokémon quit never went that far, using its obstacles as plain roadblocks along a linear path. But they could have, if they wanted to, as could any aspiring game developer.

Monday, May 10, 2021

A Round-Up of Small & Interesting 3D Platformers

If you’re a regular reader here at Out of Left Field, you are probably aware of my love of 3D platformers as a genre. And even if you aren’t a regular reader, you may know of my affinity for covering indie games (see, for instance, my new master post of indie game reviews!). So, naturally, I love looking for indie studios’ 3D platformers to try and write about.

This is a field that had been fairly open in the recent past, but that’s rapidly becoming no longer the case. There are of course the big names that have achieved the lion’s share of attention, particularly Gears for Breakfast’s A Hat in Time and Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee. And deservedly so; I played and loved both of them! I’ve even covered both of them in the past here (the former, and the latter), and I’m super excited to see their upcoming endeavors in the genre: Gears for Breakfast has already shown some of their next game, Here Comes Niko!, while Playtonic has added a publishing unit to their studio and has announced they’ll be handling Fabraz’s forthcoming 2021 release Demon Turf.

And they’re hardly alone in this space, now. There have been a lot of other major releases here in recent memory, a group that I would say includes titles like Playful Studios’ New Super Lucky Tale, ROBI Studios’ Blue Fire, and Nicolas Meyssonnier’s Pumpkin Jack. These are all interesting titles in their own right, and I may even be writing about one or more of them later.

But right now, I want to look at even smaller titles; think of it perhaps as a tier below them as far as notoriety goes. These games have had even less attention, and while it’s understandable in these cases, I do think a lot of them also have interesting elements to them, and I think it’s worth highlighting them in some capacity, explaining what they do well while also discussing their shortcomings. And if nothing else ,if you’re in the hunt for fun bargain titles, these all provide a solid bang for your buck! So join me now, in this round-up of the smaller names of the genre; all of these are titles that I’ve played and enjoyed.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Indie Game Review Page Launch!

I finally decided to create a page to serve as a directory for all of my Indie Game Reviews here at Out of Left Field, complete with one-sentence blurbs previewing each one. There's also now a link to the page in the site header, for ease of access. Go check it out, and be on the look out for a few new posts in the near future (to be added to said page as they go up)!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Music Monday: End of 2020 Supplemental Playlist

I got asked about doing a follow-up to my Summer Playlist post from last year, basically filling in the gaps of the rest of 2020. I enjoy doing these, and only covering a few months seemed like it would be easier and quicker than the last one, so I decided why not. I have a Spotify link below, but there’s also a full track listing at the end of this post. In the meantime, I’ve included a few random thoughts about some of the music.

[Spotify Link]