Good Games Writing Weekly: February 28, 2021

by Team GGW

The best games writing from around the web.

The Weekly is your round-up of all the best in games writing and related spaces. Reviews, news, features, and more await you each week as the curators of Good Games Writing scour the Internet for the best of the best. Some themes are for older audiences.

The Good Games Writing Weekly returns to its new-old home at goodgameswriting.com as we usher in our 10th anniversary celebration.

We’re still largely focused on rolling out our annual awards, The Goodies, so this week’s list is a little light. We know we’re missing some amazing Bravely Default reviews along with some great A/V content. As our curators look to wrap up our awards this week we’ll swing back around to the videos we bookmarked and the numerous reviews we only had a chance to skim.

Reviews

On that note, we read plenty of reviews this week, and they were of an eclectic mixture of releases.

There was Mike Epstein’s review of the ho hum Ghosts ‘n Goblins revival, praising moments that serve as “potent doses[s] of nostalgia” while lambasting its “infuriating heritage”. It’s a review for those that know this series inside and out, for better and worse, and in that way it’s the perfect review for its audience.

Keith Stuart, meanwhile, doesn’t beat around the bush in his review of Nuts: A Surveillance Mystery, despite beating around a bush being the type of thing you might do in such a game. It tells exactly as much as it needs to before moving on — something we admire increasingly, particularly for smaller Apple Arcade releases.

We admire the readable and approachable style of Kaity Kline’s reviews–she’s now won an award, from us, doing just that–and her review of Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is exactly what the Doctor (Goomba Tower) ordered. These are reviews for the whole family to sit and read together:

What’s not adorable is the way Bowser terrorizes you for the entire game. Unlike other Mario games where Bowser is a threat located only in a castle you choose to go into, here he’s a threat that randomly appears at any time during your adventure. You’re able to roam the islands and complete challenges peacefully for only a few minutes at a time, then a gigantic Bowser will chase you and try to kill you with fireballs and flame breath.

& CRITICISM

At Into the Spine, Jose Hernandez examines The Outer Wilds, finding a game that demands you to think about isolation and collaboration, actively challenging you every step of the way. There’s a nice synergy between that piece and Austin Jones’ analysis of Anodyne 2, with birth and work, loneliness and dependency; themes that are explored in both pieces albeit in different ways.

Grace Benfell’s stunning monthly column on religion’s intersection with games (and other themes) returns with a look at Tomorrow Won’t Come For Those Without __, a game we overlooked completely when it released last year, an oversight we’ll be sure to correct after this ‘graf:

The knowledge and understanding of the natural world and the inhuman are cloaked in the language of the occult and the celestial. The language of conformity and organized religion is wielded by scientists who wear the robes of priests. While Tomorrow Won’t Come For Those Without ______ has clear and sharp thematic ground, its metaphors are prickly. There is no easy one to one reading. In some sense, it showcases how the shape of thought can move between subjects. The divisions we make between science and faith are sometimes as thin as hotel walls.

Ed Smith, meanwhile, reflects on storytelling and morality, and, above all else, the things that invest us into the stories we read and play. Another stunning section of writing:

“I shot that man” means absolutely nothing, because for me he isn’t real. “Arthur Morgan shot that man” has meaning because, for Arthur Morgan, that man is supposed to be real.

Creating a division between the choices that matter to the player and that of the character is a level of analysis that seems obvious, but left us thinking about all the times the agency of the choices in games were left in our hands, made to shake us, and not the character standing before us. It’s a great piece of criticism.

Finally, Natalie ‘Witchbride’ Raine discusses what it’s like to play online games such as Valorant while facing misogyny and transphobia. Raine gives an important reminder in the piece: When you experience hate-filled speech, you must shut it down, reminding others that this space (of gaming broadly, your individual session specifically) isn’t a place for garbage human beings.

USUAL SUSPECTS

This week’s usual suspect is Cyberpunk 2077 – a trend we expect to continue, as now that it has left the discourse from major sites, there’s oxygen for smaller sites and voices to find an audience.

Vicky Osterwell’s analysis of Cyberpunk left us breathless more than once: It manages to recap its, erm, troubled release and situate it in the current media landscape, all while advancing the discussion around industry crunch and poor labour practices. There’s no shortage of moments and thoughts to unpack so we’ll leave you with one that isn’t central to the piece yet left us humming:

At their best, third-person action games can immerse players in an intricate narrative world. But even in the “best” of these — CDProjekt Red’s widely acclaimed The Witcher 3, for instance, or the perennial favorite Skyrim — the narrative is less a single story arc or even an episodic one than a cacophony of synchronous tales, like the musical harmony of a casino floor where all the slot machines are tuned to the same key. 

Our friend Michael Leopold Weber also gets in on the Cyberpunk train, setting up an essay on how the game coddles toxic masculinity, rather than saying anything of meaning. Indeed, in crafting the message that it does, it actively appeals to the worst tendencies of some groups.

REPORTING

Only a handful of posts to share this week with Fanbyte taking a pair of mentions. We’ll start with Imran Khan’s quick ditty about a mystery tournament winner who asks to donate his prize pot and then fades into anonymity. Also, we learned the phrase smurfing, which is delightful.

Jack Yarwood’s profile of Genepool (makers of X2: Wolverine’s Revenge) is chock full of fantastic concept art, anecdotes from fraught (and canned) development, and cape physics. David Crookes gets a similar inside look, though at a studio still releasing games, profiling Amanita Design while pulling back the curtain, ever so slightly, on its Eastern European influences.

GameStop‘s precipitous rise and fall on the stock market has been at the centre of much reporting but Rebekah Valentine’s analysis is the best, most useful we’ve read yet:

The question of what happens to GameStop now is difficult to answer. The company has a long road ahead to recovery, beginning with surviving the pandemic, but most of those measures are behind the scenes and related to cost-cutting. And neither GameStop nor representatives of Hestia or Permit responded to our request for comment or interview in time for publication — though there may be good reason for that at least. With the company’s full-year financials for 2020 coming up in March, it’s possible they legally can’t speak about the company direction any time soon due to rules about company quiet periods. Or, perhaps, as often happens in a new financial year, the board is preparing to make some kind of formal statement about the company’s direction one way or another.

We trust Valentine to get the answers she’s looking for and more through subsequent chasing. This is a story that won’t just disappear and business-savvy reporters, and worried investors, will make sure the full story comes out. It’s just a matter of when.

ODDS & ENDS

A few parting pieces to bid you adieu with.

Christian Donlan’s review of Sunlight could fit in the appropriately titled section above but it’s just trippy enough to land here. “The Trees!” he announces, “lots of them moving past you as you walk without legs but with the sound, somehow, of leaves crunching beneath the feet you also don’t have.” It’s that kind of piece. And it’s wonderful.

Over at WIRED, we found this explainer on HDMI cables helpful, because we (incorrectly) thought an HDMI cable was an HDMI cable was an HDMI cable. Not so!

We’ll leave you with a wonderful list that may help you shake off the cabin fever that’s set in around our offices, as The Washington Post/Launcher team gives you some gaming staycation destinations to enjoy. The illustrations are simply fabulous.

Quick Hits:

Benfell, Grace. “Killing Our Gods: When Tomorrow Comes” (Uppercut: February 28, 2021) <https://uppercutcrit.com/killing-our-gods-when-tomorrow-comes/>.

Crookes, David. “Paint and click: inside the unique adventures of Amanita Design” (Wireframe: February 24, 2021) <https://wireframe.raspberrypi.org/articles/paint-and-click-inside-the-unique-adventures-of-amanita-design>.

Donlan, Christian. “Sunlight is a woozy ramble in a neurological forest” (Eurogamer: February 25, 2021) <https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2021-02-25-sunlight-is-a-woozy-ramble-in-a-neurological-forest>.

Epstein, Mike. “Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection Review” (GameSpot: February 23, 2021) <https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/ghosts-n-goblins-resurrection-review/1900-6417643/>.

Gordon, Whitson. “A Guide to HDMI Cables for Next-Gen Gaming” (WIRED: February 23, 2021) <https://www.wired.com/story/hdmi-cables-next-gen-gaming-playstation-xbox/>.

Hernandez, Jose. “Finding Myself in Outer Space” (Into the Spine: February 24, 2021) <https://intothespine.com/2021/02/24/finding-myself-in-outer-space/>.

Jones, Austin. “Finding Life’s Value in Anodyne 2: Return to Dust” (Paste: February 28, 2021) <https://www.pastemagazine.com/games/anodyne-2/anodyne-2-return-to-dust/>.

Khan, Imran. “The Mystery of the Real-Life Ryu” (Fanbyte: February 26, 2021) <https://www.fanbyte.com/news/the-mystery-of-the-real-life-ryu/>.

Kline, Kaity, “Nintendo’s ‘Super Mario 3D World’ Gets Another Chance On The Switch” (NPR: February 18, 2021) <https://www.npr.org/2021/02/18/968960448/nintendos-super-mario-3d-world-gets-another-chance-on-the-switch>.

Osterwell, Vicky, “Goon Squads” (Real Life: February 25, 2021) <https://reallifemag.com/goon-squads/>.

Raine, Natalie. “I Just Want To Play Video Games, Damn It” (Trans Arcade: February 24, 2021) <https://transarcade.blogspot.com/2021/02/i-just-want-to-play-video-games-damn-it.html>.

Smith, Ed, “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHEN YOU KILL ALL THE CIVILIANS” (Restless Dreams Book: February 18, 2021) <https://restlessdreamsbook.com/2021/02/18/it-doesnt-matter-when-you-kill-all-the-civilians/>.

Stuart, Keith. “Nuts: a Surveillance Mystery review – squirrel snapper’s delight takes a dark turn” (The Guardian: February 25, 2021) <https://www.theguardian.com/games/2021/feb/25/nuts-a-surveillance-mystery-review-ios-pc-nintendo-switch>.

Tan, Shelly et al. “Five sensational vacation destinations from the virtual worlds of video games” (The Washington Post: February 25, 2021) <https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2021/02/25/video-game-vacations-persona-5-stardew-valley/?arc404=true>.

Valentine, Rebekah. “GameStop: How a 2020 Shareholder Coup Could Transform the Company Forever” (IGN: February 23, 2021) <https://www.ign.com/articles/gamestop-how-a-2020-shareholder-coup-could-transform-the-company-forever>.

Weber, Michael Leopold. “Cyberpunk 2077 Should Have Been a Lesson About Toxic Masculinity” (Gayming Mag: February 17, 2021) <https://www.fanbyte.com/features/from-x-men-to-iron-man-the-strange-tale-of-genepool-software/>.

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