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.
Summer is here. Wherever you are, we hope you’re happy and healthy, making the most of time in the sun and, hopefully, your own holiday at some point. For us, as a team of educators, this is a time to recharge after a difficult school year, but also time to refine our practice after reflecting on our successes and failures. That philosophy–of grinding, of ruminating, and improving–applies to games writing as well.
Reviews & Criticism:
Two games have mostly captured our attention in terms of recent criticism: Cruelty Squad and Chicory.
Describing Cruelty Squad, PC Gamer‘s James Davenport calls it a “psychedelic assassination nightmare”. The descriptive examples–the first paragraph a prime example–are helpful for establishing what the game is and what it aspires to be, and the review itself manages to discuss the mechanics without making it feel tedious. This is a review that works on every level.
Descriptive examples are the name of the game with coverage of Cruelty Squad, as evidenced by this Kotaku Australia clip:
There’s a double jump you install by cutting holes into yourself. There’s a corporate chip that basically breaks the stock market. There’s a grappling hook that’s better described as your lower intestine repurposed as a rope. You can install an implant that shrinks you to the size of a pea; you can buy goggles that transform the entire game in a black and red filter. And if you feel like it, you can also just buy a house for a million dollars.
Our favourite read on the game thus far comes from the DEEP HELL Skeleton who focuses on the slick but nauseating, textured but bright aesthetics found in Cruelty Squad, comparing it to the slick but nauseating American cultural fixtures of fast food and service stations.
It’s both the differences and the similarities to Cruelty Squad that Chicory: A Colorful Tale share that make it an interesting release gobbling up our collective attention together. Chicory leans into both its colourful world and strong writing to create something altogether different but the fact it came out a few days before Cruelty Squad isn’t lost on us. For a time, it was the only game we saw splashed across our social feeds; now, its palette is interspersed with the nightmare fuel of Cruelty Squad.
Uppercut’s review lays out the hero’s journey nature of the game and masterfully avoids giving away too much more. It’s a straightforward enough review that embraces magazine/newspaper style simplicity – for our team, it was the review that put the game on the radar in the first place. For those that need more nudging, more explanation, then a different review is in order:
Chicory is more than just an interactive coloring book experience; it’s also a surprisingly poignant story and a disarmingly candid depiction of mental health, along with the ebb and flow of its symptoms.
Over at Can I Play That?, their accessibility review reveals a host of features that are helpful to players who may be overlooked, including the introduction of a “wet sounds” toggle (to remove squishy, paint sounds) and eyestrain features (changing the “warmth” of the screen), praising its wealth of options and comparing its accessibility to the landmark work of The Last of Us Part II.
(While this is a reviews section, we’d be remiss not to mention Eric Van Allen’s short piece on its hint system–a feature that’s also referenced in the above review–and how it helps landmark progress while building out the story. Cute.)
Then there’s Natalie Flores’ review which focuses on the narrative theme of the game along with its various subversions and surprises. It’s a Game of the Year contender, according to Flores, that manages to challenge its players like any good piece of art. And, like any great work, it’s tough to put that into words. Flores does just fine.
Other recent reviews and criticism we’ve read are varied in the games they cover and the tone they take.
First up are a pair of tabletop reviews. There’s Brandy Berthelson with a review of a Taco Bell card game that’s less about the novelty and more about its functional playstyle. We’re not sure we’d have the strength to avoid filling an article with terrible taco jokes. Then, there’s this Monopoly Deal review with a headline that proclaims it’s the “only Monopoly worth playing”. Matt Jarvis explains that this condensed version of the game packs in all the parts people remember while removing the tedious bits. If you can’t get yourself one of those Animal Crossing themed sets this one will have to do.
Monti Velez grounds a piece on Mini Motorways on the exhausting nature of life in a pandemic – both as it progresses and as we try to move on from it. The Apple Arcade release, for its part, has a soothing feel to it, and that allowed Velez to be sucked into the game for moments, recalibrating in the face of life’s daily challenges.
Tackling Chivalry II, RPS‘ review blends an accessible (to newcomers of the genre) approach with irreverent humour (appropriate for the game), with this paragraph telling us all we need to know about both the game and the review:
Throwing weapons in general is an instant spike of dopamine, so much so that I will regularly throw all my weapons, at which point I have to rummage about on the floor for a new sword, a sight that must be funny to the enemy I have missed three times, now menacingly approaching. Of course, if you fail to find a sharp bit of steel, there are other options. Maps are filled with throwable detritus. Rocks, tools, barrels, planks. You can stick your hand in a well and find a fish to lob. You can pick dung off the floor and chuck that. An enemy knight once doinked me with a roast chicken. I cannot fault his valour.
That’s not #content you’ll get anywhere else, folks.
At his personal blog, Cole Henry writes about Maneater (Shark Week is soon, innit?) and how everything it does it frames as a joke or otherwise laughs it off. In that respect, it’s a wonderful companion piece to the DEEP HELL piece featured above and the two should be read together. Shot meet chaser.
Rounding out this section is a poem review of Metroid II which is just aces. The mission oriented nature of bounty hunter Samus Aran is given the spotlight here with wonderful effect.
A trio of pieces in the competitive space have inspired much discussion by our team in recent meetings.
First, is the phenomenal piece on the future of competitive Tetris after the death of its most prominent player and cheerleader, Jonas Neubauer. It’s as much an obituary as it is a rallying cry for the community — a potential roadmap for the dream of getting the series into the Olympics.
Next is this scathing commentary on on the ‘Save Titanfall’ campaign which, quizzically enough, has often involved harassing Apex Legends developers and fans alike. As the author opines, the “only thing this example of extreme gamer entitlement will accomplish is getting a bunch of devs to work overtime on a holiday weekend“.
Closing out the competitive bit is a slightly older piece explaining the shenanigans speedrunners use to beat Paper Mario in a hurry. The “cartridge swapping” method was on full display at this week’s Games Done Quick so it’s a great time to revisit the piece.
And now, your guide:
We’re turning the spotlight on guides on the regular moving forward and the first we want to feature is this series of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart guides from Jordan Oloman at TechRadar. The site doesn’t neatly put them all together for you but the pieces do neatly lay out where all the major collectibles in the game are found.
Mashable‘s tech coverage is reliably among the best but this science/tech piece on drones that search out screams (for noble reasons!) is fascinating enough we had to share it separately. We’re not fans of an email interview but the author gets plenty out of the research and responses provided.
At RPS, this list of the, erm, questionable art choices on graphics card packaging was both informative and eyebrow raising. Robot animals, cyborgs, and military inspired women abound.
At Fanbyte, Josh Broadwell interviews The Geofront, a group leading fan translations on JRPGs, highlighting the challenges and opportunities they’ve faced over the years.
On Vice, Steve Kupferman spotlights Best Electronics, “a mail-order business that has been selling Atari goods continuously for almost four decades”. Bradley Koda, the owner, has perhaps the definitive collection of unused, original Atari parts sourced directly from their warehouses. The businessman is meticulous in his work completing orders by hand but can be described as ornery. He has numerous rules–written and unwritten–such as order limits (no more than three items) and PayPal minimums. As the only game in town he writes the rules; those wanting to buy parts from Koda are ill-advised to break those rules.
If you’re a fan of Double Fine, then Blake Hester’s history of the company for Game Informer is a must-read longread, and its relationship to Microsoft is clearly highlighted throughout:
Psychonauts was in development for around five years. In that time, Double Fine learned how to operate as a team and make the game it wanted to make. But it came with some high costs. There was, of course, the crunch. “It was terrible,” Crook says. But also, Microsoft was going through its own internal changes. In January 2004, Fries left the company. Around the same time, Microsoft was beginning its transition to the Xbox 360 in preparation for its November 2005 release. This halted funding for original Xbox games planned to launch after 2004. Expensive and behind schedule, new management within Microsoft opted to cancel Psychonauts – even though, by this point, Double Fine felt it was finally making real progress.
Tension between China and Taiwan featured heavily in Red Candle Games’ work Devotion being incredibly difficult to find for the past two years. It’s available for purchase now–from the developers website–serving as impetus for Shannon Liao to interweave the story of the game’s self-publishing with review-like elements.
Can you lend a hand?
One of the premier Pokémon oriented sites on the Internet–particularly for fans of the TCG–is PokeBeach. The site has recently been hacked and in the process lost years and years of material. The owner is looking for help with data recovery. Are you someone who could help? Reach out to them.
A final shoutout:
Our last feature for today is to credit Kotaku for dedicating seemingly the entirety of their July 4th coverage to indie games through an event they called Indie Penance.
If you’re looking for a new indie–particularly with the glut of summer sales–their pieces from July 4 include 44 games you might want to take a peek at. Find the pieces below:
Berthelson, Brandy. “Taco Bell Party Pack Card Game Review” (SuperParent: July 6, 2021) <superparent.com/article/2624/taco-bell-party-pack-card-game-review>.
Broadwell, Josh. “A Dedicated Group of Fans are Translating Entire JRPGs” (Fanbyte: June 10, 2021) <www.fanbyte.com/features/a-dedicated-group-of-fans-are-translating-entire-jrpgs/>.
Caldwell, Brendan. “Chivalry 2 review: a gore-soaked multiplayer battler with tons of humour” (Rock, Paper, Shotgun: June 16, 2021) <www.rockpapershotgun.com/chivalry-2-review>.
Castle, Katharine. “The best and worst graphics card box art of all time” (Rock, Paper, Shotgun: June 15, 2021) <www.rockpapershotgun.com/the-best-and-worst-graphics-card-box-art-of-all-time>.
Chan, Khee Hoon. “Chicory: A Colorful Tale Review” (The Indie Game Website: June 11, 2021) <www.indiegamewebsite.com/2021/06/11/chicory-a-colorful-tale-review/>.
Craven, Courtney. “Chicory: A Colorful Tale — Can I Play That Accessibility Review” (Can I Play That? : June 10, 2021) <caniplaythat.com/2021/06/10/chicory-a-colorful-tale-can-i-play-that-accessibility-review/>.
Davenport, James. “CRUELTY SQUAD REVIEW” (PC Gamer: July 1, 2021) <www.pcgamer.com/cruelty-squad-review/>.
Dowell, William. “Metroid II: Return of Samus” (100 Word Gaming Reviews: June 26, 2021) <100wordgaming.com/2021/06/26/metroid-ii-return-of-samus/>.
Flores, Natalie. “For a Game About Imperfections, Chicory: A Colorful Tale Is Practically Perfect” (Fanbyte: June 10, 2021) <www.fanbyte.com/reviews/for-a-game-about-imperfections-chicory-a-colorful-tale-is-pretty-perfect/>.
Galiz-Rowe, Ty. “Chicory Review: A Warm and Cozy Picnic” (Uppercut: June 2021) <uppercutcrit.com/chicory-review-a-warm-and-cozy-picnic/>.
Henry, Cole. “Being a Shark at the End of the World” (June 16, 2021) <inthelobby.medium.com/being-a-shark-at-the-end-of-the-world-c12e36f896d1>.
Hester, Blake. “The History Of Double Fine Productions” (Game Informer: July 5, 2021) <www.gameinformer.com/2021/07/05/the-history-of-double-fine-productions>.
Jarvis, Matt. “Monopoly Deal is the only Monopoly worth playing, because it understands why the board game sucks” (Dicebreaker: June 29, 2021) <www.dicebreaker.com/games/monopoly-deal/opinion/monopoly-deal-only-good-monopoly>.
Kupferman, Steve. “Don’t Piss Off Bradley, the Parts Seller Keeping Atari Machines Alive” (Vice: June 15, 2021) <www.vice.com/en/article/7kvkx9/dont-piss-off-bradley-the-parts-seller-keeping-atari-machines-alive>.
Leporati, Gregory. “Competitive ‘Tetris’ was soaring, then it lost a legend. What comes next is a puzzle.” (The Washington Post: May 3, 2021) <www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/esports/2021/05/03/tetris-jonas-neubauer/>.
Liao, Shannon. “A Taiwanese horror game that angered Chinese players returns. Can it move past its unintended politics?” (The Washington Post: July 5, 2021) <www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2021/07/05/devotion-rerelease-taiwan-china/>.
Orland, Kyle. “How to beat Paper Mario really fast by… playing Ocarina of Time?” (Ars Technica: March 5, 2021) <arstechnica.com/gaming/2021/03/how-to-beat-paper-mario-really-fast-by-playing-ocarina-of-time/>.
Skeleton. “I’M THINKIN ARBY’S” (DEEP HELL: June 30, 2021) <deep-hell.com/im-thinkin-arbys/>.
Switzer, Eric. “Congrats Titanfall Hackers, You Made A Bunch Of Devs Work On A Sunday” (The Gamer: July 4, 2021) <www.thegamer.com/congrats-titanfall-hackers-you-made-a-bunch-of-devs-work-on-a-sunday/>.
Van Allen, Eric. “Chicory: A Colorful Tale’s hint system is both helpful and extremely relatable” (Destructoid: July 2, 2021) <www.destructoid.com/chicory-a-colorful-tale-hint-system-opinion-blog/>.
Velez, Monti. “Mini Motorways Is Helping Me Get Through The Year” (Uppercut: July 1, 2021) <uppercutcrit.com/mini-motorways-is-helping-me-get-through-the-year/>.
Walker, Alex. “Cruelty Squad Is The Video Game Equivalent Of A Contact High” (Kotaku Australia: July 6, 2021) <www.kotaku.com.au/2021/07/cruelty-squad-steam-acid-trip-deus-ex/>.
Yeo, Amanda. “Drones that hunt screaming humans just want to help” (Mashable: July 4, 2021) <mashable.com/article/drones-human-screaming-search-rescue>.