Digital Playground Mayl Edition by Rivers

A Long, Strange Trip

By Rivers

When I was a kid my grandparents had a Super Nintendo – and that thing was the shit. That is, until my grandfather retired and discovered the Tetris / Dr Mario combination game. Three rounds of pick-your-poison and this guy would beat literally everyone literally every single time. Witchcraft, I tell you! And upon whooping your ass, while you stared at the TV in confused disbelief he’d cackle behind you “skunked ya!”

I was ‘skunked’ many times. Every week I gnawed on bitter defeat until I finally honed my skills and unleashed with my first victory. It became personal. And it’s still personal. Tetris and Dr Mario. Every once in a while during a holiday dinner someone will say “oh we should get out the video game” and every single time I take the liberty of destroying my entire family, my child included, in honor of how my grandfather used to torture me.

This said, you can imagine my incredible delight to find Tetris Effect: Connected on Xbox Live. I sat down all smug, chose expert, decided I’d have the entire game beat in a weekend and abruptly got my ass handed to me. This Tetris is not 90s Tetris – and it is not designed for those that are easily distracted. I found out that I am easily distracted! 

The game is beautiful. The colors are stunning the music is great, the things that happen in the background are so pretty. The themes are gorgeous and sparkly and my controller batteries died SO many times from the bass of the music being pulsed through it. While the pieces and premise of the game was simple and exactly how I remember it, there were new challenges in how the pieces spun (to distract you) and how the backgrounds evolved in these crazy light shows (to distract you) and how the music was like Cirque du Soleil (to distract you) and how the speeds arbitrarily change (to fuck you while you’re distracted).

While the game does still have the multiplayer competition that I once reveled in, it’s honestly more enjoyable playing solo and going through the journey. You kind of get lost in the music and imagery, and it’s interestingly soothing despite the intense frustration at certain levels. Nothing is ever as satisfying as a series of ‘Tetrises’ and clearing a level you get stuck on is absolutely gratifying. 

Eventually, I found the end of the long, strange trip with a 90 point achievement for defeating all the levels. I was kind of sad, and stared at the screen in disbelief for a few moments. My only complaint is that it seemed there should have been more levels. 

I can imagine this wouldn’t be a game that everyone would be intent to play, especially start-to-finish. It certainly doesn’t have the action or complexity of games we normally talk about. For me, however, every time I played it brought me back to my grandfather’s living room and furiously pounding buttons only to get my ass kicked. It was a direct connection to one of my fondest childhood memories and I love how a reimagined classic game can have such beauty and interest and still stir up all that nostalgia. 10/10.

Digital Playground March Edition by Russ

Gaming; God I love gaming. My first console was an Atari 2600. I had an Amstrad CPC 464. And they opened a world to me. The magic of watching a tape load or a disc. (if you get frustrated by loading times now, you’ve no idea) I got lost in games, that felt magical. Dizzy, Harrier jump jet, Ghostbusters; it was a world I could partake it, shape, impact.  After that I was lucky. I would have Nintendo consoles, my brother Sega, so I got the best of both worlds.  Eventually my loyalties landed with Playstations. I remember getting Final Fantasy Vii, I brought it from the local video store, having no idea of the previous games, no knowledge of the hype. 48 Hours later, with my brother watching the whole time, I finally gave in to sleep. I love gaming and RP games will be my first love.

But what really got me to nerd levels and falling truly in love with gaming was the PC….My first PC sucked it was slow and ran games very badly. It was brought for school work and my stupid parents never considered that I might have a chance to game. 8mb of ram, 800mbs of memory. No chance to play some demanding  So I got creative with the games I played. Half-life etc would come when I got to uni and had a console that could run fancy graphics, more easily. (for the time people, at the time) Lan play then with Red alert 2 and half-life was a game changer for me.  (depressingly as I still pay off, my student loan it occurs to me, that I’m yet to ever actually technically own  that PC.)

But back in the day, what pulled me in was the point and click game. Firstly, the Lucas arts games, Monkey Island, Indiana Jones, Day of the tentacle, Full Throttle. These games felt like they got me, the nods to history, the humour. The feeling like I had a role in the story unfolding by solving puzzles, that ranged from the absurd, to the impossible. Then came Discworld and the human In that, just got to me. It remains the hardest game I’ve ever played. It took so long to complete, it was before you could just fire up a guide online (game FAQs saved me)

But the game that had the most impact Broken Sword. I loved those games. I became hooked on the mythos of the Templar’s, the mystery in the games, again the humour, the solving puzzles. It just hooked me. I maintain it played a big part in developing my love of history. It was the first game I played set in part in the UK and Europe to and that pulled me in. I loved the later games and when Five came out, It was a return to a genre of games I thought had passed us by. I missed it, I felt like I was using my brain, the dialogue, the cartoony graphics.

The pandemic and lockdown has made me nostalgic, and currently I’m playing the remastered Broken Sword on Steam and I still love it. The music, the memories, the fun and satisfaction of solving the puzzles. (The goat puzzle; if you know – you know) Alongside, playing FFVII remake (which makes me want to fire up the original) It feels safe, familiar and yet still fun. As I await the chance to get a PS5, I’m now conflicted and pulled towards a gaming pc and a return to my roots. Maybe I’ll report back in a few months with where that journey takes me. But for now, it’s a return to the familiar of George Stobbart and his adventures, and being grateful of a reminder of what fun I used to have with PC gaming.

Digital Playground
February Edition by Rivers

Things Change…

I grew up on gaming consoles. It all started with the Atari and from there I had every console that came out until somewhere in my teens. I got distracted somewhere between roleplay and boys. What can I say. The Playstation 2 [I know, this was a long time ago] was probably the last console I was super active on [my favorite game was Area 51] until I came back around maybe ten years later. I had once been pretty adept at gaming, and I thought for sure it was something that I could just jump right back into. But listen. Games changed a LOT in a decade! I suddenly couldn’t figure out how to look around and how to move and how to fight and I got mad and threw the controller aside and didn’t touch it but here and there over the next few years.

Well hello there…

Aside from the intermittent attempts at different games, I was primarily a backseat gamer to others. I’d watch, I’d be interested, but if I took the controller I was lost. Then came Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I was terrible y’all. I died to much. Like. Every two seconds. I couldn’t accomplish anything. Fuck boars. But somehow – it didn’t matter. The game was beautiful and I connected with it and couldn’t put my controller down. It’d been so long since I was hooked on a game I had completely forgotten that feeling. Often times I’d be asked, ‘hey rivers, what are you up to?’ and I’d respond ‘playing Kassandra!’ which is where I’d be for hours.

Over the course of the pandemic I continued playing, right through all the DLC and eventually beat the entire game. It was actually the first game I ever completely finished. I loved everything about it [even the things I didn’t love weren’t that big of a deal] – the story, the characters, the graphics – I’m certainly no video game connoisseur but to me this game had everything. I literally miss it. It is my absolute favorite game, ever, hands down.

The only negative that I found was the side quests were largely pointless to the main story and the grinding while utterly necessary for leveling and progressing was so distracting that at one point I literally forgot what the main story was.

The best thing was hunting cultists and I was sorely disappointed when the last one was killed.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the story attached to the Legacy of the First Blade DLC. It was very forced, there was no way around a series of events that I felt were unfitting for the main character – however, it does play in to Origins which is kind of cool. The best thing in this DLC was a new set of cultists to hunt down! I loved the Underworld DLC [have you seen my Underworld room? its based on this! shameless plug!] the design and story was absolutely perfect and I was disappointed to have to move on to Atlantis. Preceding the Underworld was Elysium which I felt indifferent about. It was beautiful, but the story was lacking and felt like a means to the end to reach the Underworld. Atlantis was beautiful as well and the story was a bit more compelling than that of Elysium.  

The map on Odyssey is incredibly expansive and I’m fairly positive you could lose days just sailing around the islands. The graphics on the water are stunning and the songs the crew sing are much better than in previous AC games. Battles on the sea are lots of fun and I have to admit I would get distracted hunting down pirates and cleaving their ships in half!

After Odyssey I went back to Origins but didn’t get the same ‘feels.’ I moved on to Valhalla – and while it’s a stellar game it doesn’t give me the same vibe either. There’s just something about Odyssey.

I’m told I’ll always have a soft spot for the game that got me back to gaming. And now I’m clumsily maneuvering my way through new games – still dying a lot – but occasionally making a badass move [often by accident]. Thankfully the people I play with are patient and enjoy the comic relief of my not-so-epic deaths. Even with the multitude of failures – I have found I really love grabbing my controller at the end of the night and playing for a while to unwind. Its okay to be terrible! Speaking of terrible – next time, I’ll tell you about the Phasmophobia nights!

Quarter-Circle Forward

Gaming reviews by Grey

My Friend Pedro Review

How do I even begin to review My Friend Pedro?

Well, I suppose by describing it. The game is a stylish side-scrolling shooter, with a weird sense of humor and an intense focus on style, and looking good killing dudes as much as the killing itself. You begin on a slab, with amnesia and apparently about to be chopped up for meat. Escape, turns into revenge, and in no time you’re on your way, shooting a bloody swathe through rooftops and city streets, to construction sites, to sewers, the depths of your own insane mind, and..somehow, some way, into the internet itself…?

Your nameless protagonist (You aren’t Pedro. Pedro is a talking banana. Yes that’s all the context I’m giving you.) is given many techniques with which to stylishly dispatch of those in his way, from dual-wielding pistols or submachine guns, which can be used to independently target multiple enemies, to sliding on ziplines, swinging across chasms, and dodging bullets the whole way. After each level you’ll be graded on performance and skill, and the game will even pull a clip of your best for showoff purposes. You’re encouraged to retry, to do better, to score higher. Maybe you could have pulled off that one part better, swinging on a cable upside down shooting 2 guys below, before crashing through a window, dodging the next guy’s fire, shotgunning him in the face while still flipping through the air. There’s always room for improvement, right?

There are a total of 40 levels over 5 chapters, not a lengthy game by any means. I completed the story over the course of a single evening, but I did find myself replaying at least a few levels that stood out to me as favorites, and as I said, with the incentive to improve and perform better, some may get a bit of replay value out of it, but it’s not exactly something you’ll come back to over and over again for weeks. It’s fun, challenging, and hilarious. I got it as part of a bundle, and probably wouldn’t spend the full price of $20 on it, given the overall lack of content, but when the steam sales roll around, If the price is right though, I’d say it’s worth grabbing and banging through on a slow afternoon.

I now leave you with images presented without context.

Quarter-Circle Forward

Gaming reviews by Grey

Final Fantasy VII Remake Review

Well, after about 5 years of development, another decade of rumors behind that, and 23 years overall since the original release, Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally among us. FFVII was, no, still is, one of the most beloved games of all time, for a number of reasons, and fans have been clamoring for years for a retelling of the story that brings it’s immensely dated visuals into the modern age. Did Square Enix deliver?

Well, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. The game, overall, is gorgeous. From the original, to the remaster, Crisis Core, and even Advent Children, FFVII has never looked better. Hair and skin look fantastic, even during closeups. Cinematics are gorgeous, the effects and environments are mostly spectacular. By mostly, I should point out that I did notice some subpar textures in the environments here and there, but far from anything gamebreaking. It could very well be due to me playing on a regular PS4 instead of a PS4 Pro. Those of you with Pros reach out and let me know if you noticed anything of the sort.

Final Fantasy VII’s music is just as iconic as the rest of the game is, and the original soundtrack was done great justice here. In addition to new compositions of the old favorite’s you’d expect, many signature pieces received several new renditions to be used in various points of the game, for example the jukeboxes scattered throughout, where music discs can be found and played featuring some of those old tunes done in various styles, many of which I wouldn’t have ever expected. In short, this soundtrack slaps. HARD. There are a handful of entirely new pieces as well, and they even wrote a new song to serve as the remake’s theme, a very nice song that fits in with the rest easily and has been stuck in my head for the past few days now. 

When details of FFVIIR began to surface, many people expressed doubt, to say the least, in the decision to go with a more action based form of combat. I can now say it was the right decision. While I love the more classic, turn-based style of combat, an action based system fits much better with the storytelling being done here. The classic mode offers something close to the old style, almost as a sort of consolation prize to those adverse to change, but I highly suggest you go in playing on normal mode. It’s a challenging game, Not one I would call overly difficult, but not a game you can faceroll your way through, either. Thoughtful use of positioning and character switching are just as important as weapon and materia loadouts are. Each character has some unique mechanic to make them play different enough to be useful in different situations, and fun to play in their own right, whether it be Cloud’s immensely useful and satisfying counter-heavy Punisher stance,  Barrett’s long range mastery, Tifa’s hard-hitting combos, or Aerith’s powerful affinity for magic.

The story is a tricky one. I imagine almost everyone with interest in this game has played through the original at least once, so you pretty much know what to expect, but without spoiling anything, I can say that this is more than a simple A to Z retelling. S-E is taking full advantage of the multi-part nature of this remake to greatly expand on FFVII’s story, stretching what was originally 6ish hours of game into just under 45 by the time I was finished, without making it feel padded with fluff. The story as presented felt complete on its own merits, even knowing there’s more to come. They’ve definitely, in my mind, alleviated any worries of being nickel-and-dimed to death over a series of episodic half-games. They packed plenty of story and gameplay into this thing and gained my confidence for the series ongoing.

The story wouldn’t hold up without voice acting to carry it, and carry it they did. Pretty much the entire voice cast was superb. From Cloud’s thinly veiled, nihilistic snark, to Aerith’s infectious enthusiasm and zest for life, everyone was represented beautifully. Even characters that had lesser roles in the original but expanded on here became favorites in their own right. The interactions between characters, their dialogue, their banter during and after battle, all injected a heaping serving of personality into characters we’d mostly only ever read on screen before, and breathed new life into some of those classic scenes. Everyone was cast perfectly and at least to me, sounds exactly like they sounded in my head 23 years ago.

Overall, to answer my earlier question, I’d give an emphatic yes, Square Enix most definitely delivered on this. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect, all I had going in was hope. Hope that this remake was getting the treatment it deserved. Those hopes were met handily, those nagging doubts assuaged. Well played, gents…Ya done good. Now get cracking on the next one.

(I haven’t really decided if I’m gonna be actually be scoring these or what. For now I’m sticking with “is the game good or is the game bad”)

Quarter-Circle Forward

Gaming reviews by Grey

Howdy ho, fellow quarantinos!

So, when the idea of me writing about games for this blog was put to me I paused, for lack of ideas. it’s been a little while since I bought a lot of new games, due to a combination of circumstances and well, there not being as much coming out that I wanted to buy right away. and a lot of the upcoming stuff I did have planned getting delayed (Cyberpunk come baaaaack q.q) But, then I realized, a lot of us probably aren’t buying much new right now anyway, right? I mean, there’s Final Fantasy VII Remake (I just got my copy the morning I wrote this, so that one’s coming), but outside of that, if you guys are anything like me, the gamers among you have been either playing a few old favorites, or using the extra time to catch up on a backlog of unplayed games. So, what I’m going to do, for my inaugural outing at this, is highlight a handful of games that have gotten me through this long, otherwise boring time. So as a first go at this I present…Games to Quarantine By! First off:

Divinity: Original Sin 2

With the hype train underway for Baldur’s Gate 3, I felt the urge to go back to the game that likely got developer Larian Studios the job. D: OS2 is one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. Fantastic characters, story, and writing, a fantastic combat system, tons of replayability. I’ve definitely started way more games of this than I’ve finished, mainly because by the time I start getting anywhere, I get all sorts of ideas for new character builds and just have to start all over to try them. It even has a DM mode where players can create their own campaigns to run their friends through. I haven’t tried it personally, as it seems like quite a bit of work..but I’ve seen what people have produced with it and the possibilities are very impressive indeed. 

The game was clearly made with the mindset of a developer that -wanted- to make a D&D game but didn’t have the license. I can’t wait to see what they do now that they have it. 

Final Fantasy XIV

Speaking of Final Fantasy…Now, I’ve been hard-pressed to find a good single-player entry in this series since 10. 12 was more so-so than anything. 13 and its sequels were lol-worthy, and 15? ….Well…15 was weird, and I’ve never figured out whether that was in a good or bad way. Either way, I never finished it.

The MMOs out of the bunch however, 11 and 14, have been high points despite the initial controversy of an online FF. 14 in particular, after a catastrophic launch back in 2010, has bounced back to become something I can confidently and without hesitation call the best MMO I’ve ever played. It’s pulled off an ongoing, in depth story in ways few online games can claim. One that -feels- like a Final Fantasy story that can hang with the best of them, despite its MMO nature, and at the same time frequently pays loving homage to the games that came before in a mix of overt and subtle ways. I briefly played during the aforementioned dumpster fire of a launch and quickly wrote it off as another chapter in what at the time was a steep decline for the series, but the game’s 2013 relaunch garnered such positive press I had to give it a shot, and I havent looked back since. I’ve long said that getting immersed in a good MMO, despite its monthly cost, actually saves me money in the long run, as if it pulls me in enough, I find myself buying fewer games. With its vast array of things to see and do, this game has definitely lived up to that.

No Man’s Sky

From one video game redemption story, to another. NMS is another game that had a disastrous launch sure to doom its developers to the hall of shame, only to see it rise up and become far more than even expected. No Man’s Sky released in 2016 in a state that can only be described as a shall of what was promised. after 3 years of hype, the game that released was a joke. The basics of what could have and should have been a fun, vast game full of exploration and adventure in a massive universe, instead a textbook case in disappointment and broken promises. Most stories of its sort usually end with the game and its developer disappearing forever, but Hello Games didn’t stop there. They swallowed their pride, got to work, and over the following months and years released update after update, adding not only the features that were promised but went far beyond that. Now, we have a game where you and your friends can explore space, build bases, discover ancient alien civilizations, command a starship, have outer space dogfights, craft, and as of the most recent update, pilot mechs. This game should be dead, but instead, it’s one I keep coming back to.

The Youtube channel Internet Historian did a fantastic video about the game’s hype, release, shame, and redemption. It’s long, but if you have any interest in the industry, it’s worth watching. Plus the guy’s hilarious.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

It’s…’s Mario Kart.  I don’t know what else anyone else needs for me to say. It’s effing Mario Kart. BUT, not just any Mario Kart. Mario Kart 8, after being one of the best titles among an underrated Wii U library, was ported to the Switch as a definitive, complete edition that I can most definitely call the ultimate Mario Kart game. A fantastic collection of racers and tracks both old and new, Probably the tightest, most responsive controls I’ve felt in the series as a whole, a great soundtrack including fantastic arrangements of classic tunes from the series, and the battle mode that the Wii U version was sorely lacking. The first year of the Switch’s release was probably one of the best first years a new console could dream of having. But in spite of an instant classic like Breath of the Wild, and the best Mario game since Sunshine, even with the later release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it was a Wii U port that got, and probably still continues to get the vast majority of my playtime on the Switch.

The Division 2

When the first Division came out, I hated it. I bought it to play with friends because they had it, but I quickly realized that I did not like it. At all. Character movement felt rough and unresponsive, gunfights were unfun, enemies only felt challenging in the sense of being bullet sponges, there to play a war of attrition, their HP versus yours. The map, while graphically beautiful and intricately detailed, was not fun, interesting, or rewarding to explore. Progression offered me no incentive. Needless to say, I didn’t play it for long. So naturally, I was hesitant to get into The Division 2 when it came along. But then, after positive word of mouth, I gave it a shot, and man. It was night and day. Every single complaint I had had been addressed. The game is fun. My character moves like a human being instead of a sentient bathtub with a gun duct taped to it. gunfights are more dynamic, challenging, and enjoyable, with enemies that pose a genuine challenge because of the things they do, rather than because they can simply take more than I can. I generally don’t pay attention to story in these looter shooters and even that was far more enjoyable, even if it’s often twisty for the sake of simply being twisty to the point of hilarity (“Ha HA! You thought it was the shadow government that was behind this but it was actually the shadow that betrayed the shadow government to become its own shadow!”).

The recently released “Warlords of New York” Expansion fixes what was my only remaining complaint: Progression. The base game as it was, was a touch better than the first game, but with the expansion, they’ve introduced not only new ways to advance your character beyond the level cap, but ongoing activities and updates that add new objectives and rewards to keep you coming back even once you’re kitted out.

I’ve messed with a few other games during these long weeks of course..anyone that knows me knows the tales of my extensive Steam library. I could go on forever, but as of late those have probably been my primary go-to’s to pass the time. I’d love to hear what you guys have been playing!

I’m working out how I wanna do this. Do I wanna review newer games? Older ones? A mix of the two? Maybe I’ll do more entries like this, where I highlight a handful of certain titles as suggestions or just brief opinions.I’ve also had all sorts of other ideas that I’ve toyed with but havent really put a ton of thought into. May or may not. I considered streaming, but I don’t think I’m talkative enough to keep that entertaining. Maybe something to expand on the gaming section in our ReVo discord channel, somewhere we can exchange tags, set up some play, etc. I think I’ll just keep it simple for now and just write about games I like, but if anyone has ideas, suggestions, wants to hear what I think about a certain thing for some weird reason, You guys know where to find me, let me know!