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Aces & Adventures has taught me what a flush is
As I have complained about mightily in the past, I grew up somwhere that didn't have much in the way of entertainment, so me and my friends had to engage in the time honoured tradition of making our own fun. Once we reached about age 17 this included playing poker with a shared second-hand chip set, and trying to do beer centurions (the progress in the latter affecting our interest in the former). I was never any good at it because, though poker was a fixture for several years, I was never really able to learn the rules. What hand is good? Why has your hand beaten his hand? But the little pictures are the best, I don't understand! It's disappointing because understanding poker is a cool adult thing, plus not understanding it makes certain pivotal scenes in James Bond films quite hard to parse.
Last week we got an email (shout out Aidan) singing the praises of Aces And Adventures, and I do try to check out recommendations from readers, even if I don't have time to reply or to write about the games. In this case I've made a special because Aces And Adventures is a great game that is teaching me winning poker hands through the medium of a dwarven warrior smashing things.
I've recommended a pretty wide variety of genres over the years, but I didn't expect a brick breaking game to surprise me like Destructure Colon Among Debris. It's not that I dislike them. They've just never really made much impression (possibly because I don't see all that many)
Destructure blends in a hint of shooting, resource management, and leans into the sheer fun of destruction, replacing bricks with "structures" that aren't meant to be anything specific, but give the whole feeling an impression of combat, an assault you're carrying out rather than a reacting, abstract geometry game.
Also it feels and sounds great to hit stuff. That's probably the bigger reason.
The Gears-liker has logged on
I'm going to Japan in a couple of weeks, and I am beyond excited. It's been 15 years since I last visited family in Yokohama, and my last memory is one where I'm miserable and I'm staring out of a cab window going back to the airport. I didn't want to leave. It sounds corny as heck, but I can't wait to sucker punch that memory with a swing that's been building for 5478 days, then jab it full of happy ones. Really, I imagine what will happen is I'll get weirdly emotional as the plane touches down and my mate Simon, who I'm going with, will be like, "Get a hold of yourself you buffoon".
I got LINE recently - a Whatsapp equivalent that's big in Japan - to arrange some meetups with friends and family. Those arrangements have happened, which brings me great joy. But in a surprise plot twist, it meant I got back in touch with a guy called Sam. Now Sam, he's a good bud and we go a long way back. All the way back to the original Gears Of War days. And I think we've arranged, as is custom, to play Gears 6 whenever it arrives. Such is the bizarre way of things.
Grow, my pretties! Grow!
I have, genuinely, been trying to get plants for my office area (desk in the corner of the living room) for like nine months now. If my need for plants were a child, it would have been born. I had a decent pot plant called James Plant back in the UK, but when I moved I bequeathed James Plant to Graham - and, now that I think about it, Graham hasn't told me how James Plant is doing, so I should probably check in on that.
I know that digital plants do not replace real plants in a physical sense - i.e. I am getting no oxygenating benefit from them - but the little plants in Garden In! make me happy. And I've just realised the name is a pun, too.
No swords, just boots
Most RPGs set you off on some kind of grand quest, a hero's journey filled with danger and peril as you track down some legendary sword to defeat a world-ending evil. Boots Quest DX, however, has much humbler aspirations. You are a mere boot enthusiast on an adventure to find the very bestest best boots known to man (or blobs, I genuinely can't tell what provenance these rotund creatures hail from), and nothing else will deter you from achieving your lifelong goal. Find a honking great sword on the beach? Trash. A pirate's cutlass? Get in the sea, literally. If it's not a pair of boots, you're not interested - and it all makes for a brisk, anti-RPG adventure that's incredibly refreshing.
No-one can hear you dream
Jank. I am saying "jank" several times upfront, not because Spacebourne 2 is particularly janky, but because it is a bit, and I want to temper your expectations so you're not unfair on its flaws if you try it after I bang on for the rest of this article about how impressive it is.
There's a dream space game we all imagined, where you pilot a ship freely around the galaxy, landing on planets and space stations and running around them doing stuff, finding things, maybe having a fight, then get back into your ship to launch into space, where you can stop at any time and do a little space walk. Maybe walk around on an asteroid, just because.
Spacebourne 2 isn't the dream. But for a game made, as far as I can tell, by one person, it is an astonishing effort to capture that spirit.
Team Lazerbeam stonecold stuns us with their answers
For Magic Week, I wrote about Team Lazerbeam's upcoming dating sim Wrestling With Emotions: New Kid On The Block (WWE) and how you're able to romance a beefcake composed entirely of green ooze. There is, of course, far more to it than that. I asked Team Lazerbeam's Ben Rausch about how it tackles themes of queer identity and diversity in a kickass way, which I highlighted in my post, but wanted to highlight even more here. Their answers were too good not to share.
I have no one to blame but myself
You ever see that Mastodon post where a guy explains why he now understands Elon Musk is an idiot, because he's started talking about software? I imagine you've experienced a similar thing with video games, whenever a columnist for a broadsheet writes about them and you can instantly tell that they have never played one in their whole dahlia-manuring, boot room-having, fox hunt-following life.
Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow is a book about the decades-long relationship between two people who are game developers. And like the above, it would be impossible to explain to someone who doesn't work in the games industry why a small exchange between the two of them made me absolutely roar with laughter.
Quickplay strategy games have always been a thing, but they appear to be gaining in popularity lately. I will probably regret not keeping Ozymandias aside for the traditional "summer strategy game for when your brain is a gas" bit, but the scene is looking healthy enough to chance it.
You know that cliché feeling of "just one more turn"? Ozymandias is a bronze age 4X that builds momentum enough to turn that into "just one more game". It is incredibly easy to learn, and despite looking a little dry and number heavy, becomes more effortless, more pleasant the longer you play. It also becomes more clear how much depth there is hidden away in such a light design. It's about proving yourself the most prestigious civilisation, not through total conquest, but by exploiting the lay of the land, and leaning into your strengths.
Lack of squad goals
But biffs it in the second
For three hours, Re:Call was high on my list of surprise recent indie hits. It has a great premise, for starters - change history by meddling with your memories and playing out different versions of events to arrive at the 'correct' solution - and executes it brilliantly. Its GBA-style visuals and larger-than-life character portraits give it a real sense of charm and personality, and its mystery story of murder and corporate conspiracy had hooked me in real good.
Then it abandoned its cool premise halfway through and became a different game entirely for its remaining run-time. I was heartbroken.
Maybe it's because I've been bouncing between a lot of weighty games lately, but I've found a great diversion in The True Slime King, a simple three button platformer that recently left early access.
Speaking pedantically, this isn't "as simple as it gets", but you'll get what I mean if I describe it that way anyway. You move and jump, dodging spikes and lasers and ISO 13370 compliant death pits, and ideally collecting all the hard to reach thingies along the way. These are far from my favourite genre, but I've played enough to realise I'm partial to a good one, and this is a great one.
And multi-tasking skills, of which I have none
As part of Steam Next Fest, I gave pixel-art, sidescrolling fantasy RPG Greedventory a go. It takes your mouse and turns it into a sword, or a shield, or an arm that's capable of swatting away an explosive potion. It may be like something you, dear reader, have played in the past, but me? Nah, never played anything quite like it! Well, that's a lie. If anything, it's the first fantasy RPG that's made use of my latent - and highly dubious - CS:GO skills and brought to mind a rhythm game called Osu! I am very impressed indeed.
Ma'am, please stop texting me about your room of trophies
Last week, I finished the free Tomb Raider DLC for PowerWash Simulator, in which you pressure-blast scum off Lara Croft's ancestral home. It's a great DLC, not just because it has loads of nods to the older Tomb Raider games, but also because if you're just in it for the powerwashing, you've got some lovely levels to clean, with nooks and crannies and satisfying walls to scour. My favourite thing about it, however, is that it kind of canonically confirms Lara is an ass.
Plus more details on the rest of our supporter program plans for 2023
Hello folks. Earlier this week, we unveiled some of the cool things coming up for RPS this year - many of which revolve around you, our lovely readers and supporters. If you haven't had a chance to check that post out yet, I'd love to hear what you think of it. And yes, fixing our comments nesting is still very much on the agenda as well. Our tech team have a lot of websites to take care of these days, and they're working as fast as they can to sort things out. As soon as I have an update I can share, I'll let you know.
But enough about techy bits. I wanted to use this Letter From The Editor to talk about some of the more supporter-oriented things mentioned in that 'What's coming up' post. Specifically, I want to kick off the inaugural Ask RPS - your chance to ask us, the editorial team, questions about games, the site, the way we do things, and other things we like.
Pray the fae is gay
I really do not play enough visual novels these days. Raptor Boyfriend has been sat on my hard drive for at least a year, and it won't be the last. Historically, I have fallen hard for two kinds of VN: emotionally probing character dramas like Eliza and Watch Me Jump, or gentle and slightly silly comedies like Laura Silver and Camp W. The jokey dating-sim-but-everyone's-a-talking-table type vein never quite grabbed me. Unless Monster Prom counts? Hmm.
Raptor Boyfriend is more the lighthearted comedy kind, but with through lines on social anxiety and navigating confusing coming-of-age relationships. It is also not actually about having a raptor boyfriend.
Heed my warning
This year, I decided to make a New Year’s Resolution for the first time in my life. I’m 21 and my knees click, which means I must be turning into stone faster than someone having a staring contest with Medusa. So, I vowed to exercise a few times a week. Then, during my first week back at work, vid bud Liam told me to try Age Of Empires II. Never before has a New Year’s Resolution been abandoned so fast. I really wanted to stick with it. Promise.
But! After my first match, the following 30 hours vanished quicker than the Galaxy Caramels in a box of Celebrations. I became obsessed. I mastered AOE II's low AI difficulties and quickly used the Advanced Techniques tutorial to learn build orders. Before I knew it, I had a Google Doc filled with step-by-step plans for various playstyles, the perfect strategies for any scenario. But that Google Doc ended up ruining everything for me. If that recent Xbox release with the good gamepad controls has you tempted to revisit Age Of Empires II on PC, do not make a Google Doc. You’ve been warned.
Squashable and hand-washable
Little fluffy stuffed friends exert a strange and unknowable power over me. These days we only occasionally get offered free stuff as part of our jobs, because we are not YouTubers or Twitch streamers. When I first started websites would get sent a lot of stuff - you know, statuettes and toys and doodads. I don't like these things, and I always wished PRs sent me cake instead. Neither thing would make me like the game more, but at least I can eat cake, and the same cannot be said for a figurine of some kind of big-titted space samurai holding a sword.
I have, however, discovered that plushies of game characters I like are an exception to this.
Pay attention deery
For Hayden and I's Ultimate Audio Bang podcast, we thought we'd do something a little differently this year. Instead of focusing on one theme and yapping on about it for a very long time, we're now splitting the pod into two segments: the first half on the hip and happening, the second on an FPS genre or subgenre that we're unfamiliar with. Our first port of call? theHunter: Call Of The Wild.
In our first sessions with the game, we both concluded that A) deer are incredibly athletic; and B) we're the most impatient people, perhaps ever. More than that, though, we hadn't realised how important it was to fixate on your prey. Not like, track them down. But like, track them down, you know?
You know what’s guaranteed to make me laugh every single time? A good visual gag in a cartoon. A little freak reading a newspaper, for instance. A hyper-realistic close-up of a character’s face. A weird rat, perhaps. Maybe it’s smoking a cigarette? Whimsical. I love it. This is the main reason why I keep returning to Pizza Tower, a 2D platformer by Tour De Pizza that released on Steam yesterday. It’s a bizarre homage to Nintendo’s lesser-known Wario Land series (specifically its fourth entry) that's jam-packed with goofy little drawings that make me laugh. It’s good, but not without its issues.
Ooh, I'm glad this made it to a full release. Power of Ten has rattled around my PC since ... I want to say "a year ago", but that could turn out to be any time in the last three years if I actually check. It didn't quite push me over the "Article Threshold" back then, but having given it a proper go now it's out of early access, it's time.
You're a little spaceship, with a simple but intriguing backstory, who's appeared near an inhabited planet. A transmission asks you to repair their defensive shield before "the Deadeye" arrives to genocide them, which, uh, okay I think I know whose side I'm on here, game.
What if a book had pictures??
Over the past couple of days, Book Twitter (and actually regular Twitter, because it's such a catastrophically mockable opinion to have in public) have been making much fun of this dude, who essentially pitched that AI could disrupt books. Another guy enthusiastically replied that you could add Metaverse features so you could "live the book". Don't bother adding to the pile on, because there are no more jokes to make. They have been deluged by people pointing out that TV, films and video games all aready exist.
This made me think about, firstly, that we'd be much better off as a society if techbro web3 enthusiasts were all siloed into one giant Truman Show-esque hamster ball where they can all scurry about together thinking they're achieving things. But secondly, that some people really put a lot of store on interactivity. Including me! Graham was the one who sent me those tweets, and he said he wouldn't want to live in any of the books he's been reading, because everyone in them is sad or angry for the whole book, until almost the end. I said I wouldn't want to be in them because you'd only end up being a side character, and that's boring.
You steer your wee boat around a grounded anime age-of-sail Earth, looking for shipwrecks and treasures, fighting pirates (and possibly being one, although fairly peripherally),exploring, trading, and doing the usual Elite-style open world thing. I'll be honest: I don't exactly love this one, and it's spread a little thin. But I've played it for hours longer than I expected and enjoyed it more as it went on. It's doing a lot, in its own slightly roundabout way.
Is there time to cry now that it's all over?
This past weekend, I ended an 18-month-long love affair. I managed to drag the experience out for all it was worth, but in the end, there was nothing to do but let go, and complete the fifth and final game in the Ace Attorney Turnabout Collection. And, oh, my heart, the post-game blues are real!
I was extremely late to the party when it comes to Capcom's long-running series of legal dramedy visual novels, which debuted all the way back in 2001. But I found my way here in the end, largely thanks to the aforementioned collection, which packages prettied-up versions of the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy and its prequel duology The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles onto modern systems.
In my opinion
I've been holding something in for 5 years. It first started as a deep joy, like a ray of sunshine in the palm of my hand. Then it became a deep sense of longing for something I'd lost, like a cascade of sand that fell from my palm as I wept gently on an empty beach. The "it" is a mobile and Nintendo Switch game called Pokémon Quest (don't laugh), which was the first - and only - mobile game I've actively obsessed over.
The game's an auto-battler where you gather a small trio from the original 150 Pokéfolks, level them up, and then tackle trickier and trickier stages. After a frankly disgusting number of hours, I'd finished all the stages. So, I thought, "Yes, of course they will add the 2nd generation of Pokéfolks with a bunch of new stages. This is its natural evolution, if you will". It still hasn't happened and probably never will. And I hate that I can't find anything else that'll replace it.
We can make movies into toys but not toys into movies
We had a discussion in our Monday meeting that got louder than things normally do, because The Last Of Us TV show came up, and we found ourselves divided into two camps. Well, three. Camp one was excited for the TV show and camp two posited that there's no point making an adaptation of something if your adaptation is just the same thing. (The third camp was "eh, I might check it out" and watched the other two camps duking it out). I was in camp two. If you're adapting something, adapt! Make changes! Otherwise I might as well just consume the original thing again! The Last Of Us has already been released, what, three times?
This was made funnier by the fact that nobody on staff had seen the TV show, so we were just arguing about tweets we'd seen that describe the show, the worst way to conduct a discussion outside of e.g. scrawling insults on the side of Teslas and self-driving them into each other's front doors. But it got me to thinking about adaptations, because there have been loads of adaptations of things that aren't games into video games. What goes wrong in the other direction?
The littlest robo
What makes a good platformer? Christ, I don't know. Why would you open an article with that. Calling Kandria a platformer feels a little reductive, so there's a need to clarify why it works. You play as an android revived several decades after an apocalypse, by a tiny camp of survivors who inevitably need your help. A lot of this help involves, well, platforming. To the point of having nonsensical areas of pure platforming in between you and a destination or secret area. You'll climb, jump, do the little dash thing that recharges when you touch the ground or pick up a hovering lamp thingy. You'll land on a lot of thorny instakill spikes.
So yeh, lots of the old platforming, but it feels more like an exploration and scavenging game, with a side order of light-light-heavy-dodge combat too. And a plot with varied dialogue options and mysteries about the world and its history. It's immediately and consistently fun, but I'm not sure exactly how to recommend it. Hmm.
I've no idea if it'll work in practice, but I'm absolutely going to find out
Writing up our big guide on all the upcoming PC games of 2023, I was introduced to a number of smaller games in development I hadn't heard about before. One of them was Broken Roads, an isometric RPG set in a post-apocalypse Australia. The gorgeous artwork was enough for me to click on the Steam page and read more, and while scrolling through the screenshots something strange caught my eye.
It was a screenshot of a fairly traditional RPG dialogue scene, with a panel at the bottom displaying all the possible dialogue options for the player. But what caught my eye was an unusual radial graphic on the right-hand side of the options. Reading on, I discovered that Broken Roads uses a rather unique Moral Compass, one which plots your overall moral stance towards the world and its people with a golden arc. Different decisions may rotate the arc, expand it, contract it, lengthen it, or shorten it. And in so doing, you'll unlock various traits dotted about the Compass, which only remain in effect for as long as that golden arc covers those traits within the wheel.
I can see a dozen different ways in which this Moral Compass may end up being a bad idea in practice. But I don't care. I adore it. And I'm going to play Broken Roads solely so I can see the consequences of my actions in satisfying radial form.
I can dream, can't I?
I've completed my first play through of Chop Goblins, a "microshooter" from Dusk and Gloomwood developer David Szymanski. All in all, it took me just under an hour to choppa' da goblins and I'm all up for more of the same, to be honest. I liked time-travelling between Dracula's abode and ancient greece, chopping a variety of killer goblins that squawked, "NICE TO MEET YOU!", in varying octaves.
While another FPS of the "micro" variety would be grand, I'd love a "microracer". Much in the same vein as my beloved Screamer, I'm desperate for a – linear or otherwise – arcade racer whose only concern is to burn rubber through all manner of world stages.
Come for the cleaning, stay for the storytelling
Last week I talked about how I spent my week off at Christmas playing PowerWash Simulator like it was my job. When I wrote that, I was about two thirds of the way through the story in Career mode, which turns out to be just before PowerWash Simulator goes as bananas as everyone's home baking in the summer of 2020. I can't believe I need to say this but: this article contains spoilers for the PowerWash Sim story.