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From the store page and general atmosphere, I was worried the dice had given me yet another Metroidvania in quick succession. Thankfully, that’s not really the case.
Rather than being an exploration/puzzle solving hybrid, The Swapper is instead both of those things but strictly one at a time. Our protagonist, Mr. T Swapper, can create disposable clones of himself with wanton disregard of any ethical quandary such an act might inspire. These clones mimic his movements precisely (…mostly), allowing access to places otherwise out of reach. Provided there is line-of-sight, he can also swap consciousnesses with the clones at any time, allowing for some pretty neat chain-traversal puzzles.
Each puzzle room is entirely self-contained, but you have to find them first. The exploration is easily the weak point, here, much the same as it was with Stealth Inc– it kinda feels like a chore to wander the derelict space station when the puzzles are so neatly packed, many of them taking up a single screen and putting the space to full use.
Still, the exploration phase does ask for some jammy tricks, such as creating a vast and utterly inhumane ladder of other selves to climb, each body falling inevitably to its death as you swap higher and higher. …Probably best not to think about it.
Fin or Bin:
The exploration was what killed Stealth Inc for me in the end, but The Swapper hasn’t reached that level yet. The controls are very slippery and sometimes you’ll get caught on a little piece of geometry that will displace one of your clones, undoing a whole chain reaction. There’s lots of potential reasons to Bin this one, and I did worry a few times during my hour that I wasn’t going to have the patience for it. The puzzle rooms themselves are just too good, though, tightly packed and smartly designed, with that glorious “a-ha!” moment never too far away. A Fin, then, on the power of that alone. Tentative, but I want to see what other atrocities the game will ask of me in search of solutions.
It’s described as a metroidvania souls-like, and already it’s been compared to three different games before having a chance to speak for itself. Lets take those separately, then:
Hollow Knight is an exploration platformer (that’s the ‘vania) in a sprawling world that gradually opens as you gain new abilities (that’s the metroid), which absolutely refuses to pull its punches and deliberately excludes some modern home comforts like automatically-populating maps (there’s the Souls).
Of the comparisons, I’d say calling it a souls-like is the most unfair; where the Souls games delight in giving the player as miserable a time as possible, Hollow Knight is never cruel; the aforementioned maps can be bought with relative ease and the upgrade to have them automatically populate is earned early into the game (entirely skippable if that’s your speed), and the combat is entirely unrestricted by stats or gauges. Indeed, your success here is entirely based on your confidence and your skill level, and while Hollow Knight expects a great deal of both from the player, success and failure are never out of your hands.
At least, that’s usually the case. Hollow Knight’s aesthetic is very dark and dingy, which is absolutely beautiful, but comes with problems. Visibility suffers as a result, especially given the extravagant use of particle effects; many times I’ve struck an enemy to resounding applause of bright orange sparks, only to find once the smoke has cleared that the enemy was charging at me again and I’m about to take a hit with no recourse to avoid it. It’s highly frustrating, but I’m willing to own that one as likely user error- I typically fare poorly in dark games, having Binned a couple purely because I just couldn’t see a damned thing, while other players don’t seem to have that problem. Regardless, it’s one I’m willing to push through.
Fin or Bin:
It was perhaps a mistake to play Hollow Knight so immediately close to playing Metroid Dread, as the two games have enough in common that I’m confusing one with the other; no aeion dodge or double jump in Hollow Knight, alas (at least within its first hour). Also, I’m not at all jazzed about one particular Souls holdover- dying means losing all your currency and having to go get it back, essentially forcing you to retread the same path even if you want to explore somewhere else. I hate it when games punish failure in persistent ways- the main reason I don’t like roguelikes (except Hades).
Nonetheless! Hollow Knight is just too damn good. The controls are so, so sharp and the exploration so, so smooth. It might take me some time to get to it, but I’m not Finished with Hollow Knight yet.
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…Sorry. There’s really only room for one rainbow-dazzled retrotastic endless runner in my heart.
Commander Video returns to us, a populace undeserving of his glory, in this entry in the BIT.TRIP series. For those who missed it, the BIT.TRIP series was something of an event in the late 2000s/early 10s- an entire catalogue of games set to release one after the other, each with a different style of play, dripping with 8-bit aesthetic and telling the vague story of Commander Video’s rise.
Sequels to the series have dropped the BIT.TRIP moniker and fully transitioned into the world of modern graphics, losing the magic somewhat, but I remember the originals held a lot of attention as an expansive indie project in the days of WiiWare, right around the time the indiesphere first exploded. The only title I played previously to RUNNER was BEAT, an interesting and brutally difficult variant on the traditional Pong/Breakout formula set to catchy beats and a fun artistic flair where the graphics became lower and lower-fi as you inevitably failed to meet its challenge.
Ultimately for me, RUNNER’s fun is undone by a few poor design choices. Its genre is ‘endless runner’, but it’s not entirely correct to call it such; RUNNER is split into levels, with each level playing the same way each time- rather than a barrage of randomly generated obstacles to react to, the levels are static and can be learned over time. There’s no room for error, with a single mistake- no matter how minor- sending you immediately back to the very start of the level. Reacting to the same obstacles time and time again becomes very tedious very quickly, especially given the musical design tends towards slow-build crescendos, resulting in the opening 30 seconds of each stage being incredibly sparse of challenge.
Fin or Bin:
This is one of those frustrating “almost” games; with just the inclusion of checkpoints, or a health bar, or a lives system where you can make a couple of mistakes before being dumped back to the start, RUNNER would be a good time. The simplicity of the genre means you’re left with very little control over proceedings, and are at the whims of the game when it comes to how quickly challenges approach; dealing with one obstacle a second sounds very frequent until you’re put through it time and time again getting through the easy part of the level so you can practice the hard part again. Jump, wait, jump, wait, jump, wait… It’s boring, and that makes it frustrating. And the worst part is, after all this time, I still haven’t figured out a smart way to include a BIN.TRIP pun in my closing.