Game Review: Resident Evil Village – Xbox Series X

Game Review: Resident Evil Village – Xbox Series X

I know this isn’t retro, and I’m weeks behind any other reviews that actually mattered to anyone, but as well as having some form with Resident Evil, when I finished the game I wanted to try and reconcile some of the feelings I had about the experience, especially in relation the well-known fourth entry in the series, so I thought why not!

With the possible exception of Shaolin’s Road coming to ZX Spectrum in 1986, I’m not sure I was ever as excited about an upcoming game as I was Resident Evil Village. It was the January 2021 first gameplay trailer that did it, when the doors of the castle swung open and you were greeted by this majestic, shimmering chandelier hanging from the grandest of intricately carved vaulted ceilings, over the grandest of intricately carved wooden staircases, accented by gold and flames and all that fancy next-gen lighting! In fact, it was that very moment that I decided it was time to take the plunge, leading to weeks of Xbox Series X hunting, but I had five months and it arrived long before panic needed to set in… In fact, the only moment of panic was the day before the game’s release, when my wife informed me she’d never actually had an order confirmation (for good reason, it turned out!), so the two day wait I was already prepared to endure between 7th May and my birthday on the 9th was about to stretch to ruinous levels!

It didn’t, thanks to the eighth wonder of the world when you live in the middle of nowhere, one-day delivery! Anyway, why all this excitement? Firstly, even from the trailers, you could tell that the stench of Resident Evil 4 (more here) was all over it. And that’s not only my favourite Resident Evil, but my number three favourite game of all time; now, I might have been very late to that party, it being the last major game in the series I’d never played because back in 2005 I didn’t like the look of the first chapter that was in all of the screenshots we got, but this year alone it’s been played on GameCube twice, and Wii, and PlayStation 4. I love it, and so by extension, I should love this as well! Then there’s secondly, which is how it looks. Again, a moment in a trailer was all it took – I’ve written a bit about favourite sights in all of gaming, a couple of times in fact (here and here), but that castle hallway stomped all over what’s come before. I think it’s breathtaking! And as trailers became bizarrely timed Sunday night-only demos spanning my PS4 then Xbox Series X, I was getting similar feelings about the village before the castle, and then the rest of the castle… I’ve always said I could retire to Super Castlevania IV, and Castle Dimitrescu was that wonderful Super Nintendo pixel art brought to the most stunning real life in 2021! From what I’d seen in the trailers and the demos, they really couldn’t have made a game look more personally appealing to me than this one, and combine that with the Resident Evil 4 context and influence, and we have what might be the best game ever just over the horizon…

Before we go any further – even more important than saying I’ll do my best to avoid any spoilers – is turn on ray tracing if you’re on a next-gen console! It’s off by default but needs switching on to make a great-looking gaming the most sumptuous, gorgeous game you’ve ever seen! As I’ve mentioned this a couple of times already, we’ll start with graphics, and confirm that this is a really beautiful game; I know we’re only scratching the surface of next-gen consoles so far, and with this being available on the old ones there’s sure to be some compromise, but all the same, apart from some of the gorgeous lighting effects in the enhanced Dirt 5, this is the first time I’ve really felt that I’m experiencing Xbox Series X. The domestic scene setter at the beginning of the game is fine (and we’ll come back here shortly), but it’s when you’ve taken in a stunning vista of everything that’s about to come your way, then you finally arrive in the titular village that you start to really notice all the shadows and reflections, the glisten of snowflakes and flickering candlelight, and stunning details literally everywhere you look.

You’re going to have some of these shoved right in your face very early on too – hair effects are always a mark of next-generation machines, and lycans and werewolves (there is a difference!) are the perfect showcase for seeing these in action! There’s just so much fidelity in everything, whether static or in motion, and some of these early encounters are not just graphical showstoppers, but they also serve to absolutely terrify you with the prospect of everything else that’s going to be out to get you in the ordeal to come! An early introduction to pre-launch sensation Lady Dimitrescu and her three fellow Lords also hints at the variety to come, and even very deep into the game I was constantly jumping into the pause menu, opening up photo mode and getting a shot of the latest thing to blow me away as we travelled through their various distinct domains. Some of these had a real Universal horror vibe as well, which I really appreciated, both literally and also where everything exists to have an atmospheric purpose. And you’re constantly encouraged to take all of this in, looking for that tiny glint that tells you there’s something valuable to be dislodged by a bullet, but sometimes you’ll also just decide you need to sit back and admire it, whether the sight of a mass of crows circling some ruined battlements, or just watching resident merchant, The Duke, ignoring you and enjoying his cigar before hunting out a book, flicking some ash out of it as he finds the right page, then exhales a puff of smoke as he starts reading. So much effort has gone into not only creating a realistic gothic fantasy with startling attention to detail, but also by bringing almost everything in it to life. There’s no doubt that this is the best looking game that these eyes have ever seen!

Quick note on the story. This is a direct follow-up to Resident Evil 7, continuing the story of Ethan Winters after he rescued his wife from supernatural Texas Chainsaw country, but now they’re in exile somewhere in Eastern Europe and he’s got a baby daugher to rescue this time. After being kidnapped by Resident Evil stalwart Chris Redfield and his cronies, she’s kidnapped again by our aforementioned four supernatural crime-lords, who are all at the behest of wicked witch Mother Miranda. As well as being the best looking game I’ve ever played, this is undoubtedly my game of the year so far, trumping even Ghosts ‘n Goblins Ressurection, Outriders and Cyber Shadow, all of which I thought were utterly wonderful, then there’s Genesis Noir, Narita Boy, Pac-Man 99… And we’re still in May! Anyway, I choose to say this now because the first time I was introduced to this baddies collective in a very early cutscene, all of that pre-launch excitement about having a new and improved Resident Evil 4 on my hands got a teeny bit tempered. Lady Dimitrescu was fine, and her three insect-infused daughters even more fine to this particular old goth! Modern-day Frankestein Karl Hesienberg was alright too, even if he was no Ramon Salazar. But then there was this doll running about shouting like some crazed Harley Quinn nerd figure, who turned out to be representing Donna Beneviento, a creepy dollmaker. Now, I’m not saying that either of the first two are any kind of realistic, but they were at least grounded in the same kind of horror reality that we were treated to in most of the previous game with the Baker family, but all these in-your-face Bride of Chucky histrionics just seemed a bit out of place at this point. As did the fourth Lord, an oozing, deformed aquatic worm-man thing by the name of Savatore Moreau – I might have loved the lake monster boss from Resident Evil 4, and this might have been a strong hint towards something similar to come later, but all the same, it’s not really what I wanted as I transitioned from a lycan-infested scene of rural slaughter into the golden vampiric opulence of Castle Dimitrescu; a couple of Scooby Doo villains making an overly dramatic entrance was all a bit jarring!

Fortunately, you’re not given too long to dwell on this as you’re dumped into a rip-roaring Indiana Jones-style set piece; it really is a testament to the game design that when I finally got to the end of this frantic little interlude that I wondered quite how I’d managed to escape first time and in one piece, but some clever pacing and some subtle funnelling quietly served its purpose here, and it wouldn’t be the last time I’d have a similar feeling after some of the game’s later set pieces too. This might be a good time to mention the puzzles, which is something else I really appreciated, though for reasons that others might bemoan them! I’ve never come to Resident Evil for the puzzles, and anything beyond the lightweight brain teasers we recently saw in Resident Evil 3 Remake have been things I’ve learnt to tolerate more than enjoy; thankfully, the puzzles here might be even more lightweight, sometimes being a test of your brightness settings as much as your logical thought! As I said, maybe a turn-off for some, but you’re rarely going to be scratching your head about what to do or where to go next, especially if you’ve played any of the series before. There are definitely some secrets to find off the beaten track though, and after my first playthrough I had a list of various non-critical puzzles to go back to that I’d encountered but not found the right gear to solve, or just stuff I knew must exist but I hadn’t had the right gear to access at the time.

I’m not going to describe much beyond what everyone with any interest in the game has already seen in either trailers or demos or bigger boys’ reviews, but after spending a good chunk of time in Castle Dimitrescu, you are going to use the village as a bit of a metroidvania-inspired game hub, and then travel through each of the other three Lords’ themed worlds doing things very much inspired by every Resident Evil game you’ve ever played, and not just spiritual predecessor Resident Evil 4. Although one of them very much reminded me more of Doom 3 than any previous Resident Evil, but as my favourite shooter ever that’s something I can forgive! Actually, as I think about it, it did go a bit Call of Duty at one point too, though again, in a fun, chaotic scrap with guns kind of way, so again, quite forgiveable! As I may have hinted, the castle is my favourite area in this game, but there’s not that much to where you’ll spend the most time while exploring here, and whilst that’s not necessarily a criticism – especially from someone with my sense of direction – I did feel that you were too-quickly whisked through some of the later areas it expands into in comparison as you reach the end of your time there. On a related note, there’s one dominant puzzle that appears here very early on, but you spend several hours not being able to do much about; and when I say several hours, it may be less if you’re not soaking in every decadent detail like I was! Anyway, that puzzle contain various elements, and the first and even the second of these are going to take some tracking down, but then this was where the pacing caught me out a bit as suddenly the rest of it all fell into place in quick succession; pacing is undoubtedly one of the hallmarks of Resident Evil 4, and this could have taken some cues from that game’s castle area by just taking its time a bit more instead of excitedly getting you on a roll and then out of there.

Another hallmark of Resident Evil 4 for me is the boss fights. I’m not a massive fan of boss fights in general, but I did enjoy most of those, as well as some of the other giant enemies it introduced in between. I also really enjoyed most of the nerve-shredding but ultimately dumb Nemesis fights in Resident Evil 3 Remake, and I think it was these I missed the most here once the first main boss fight was done – which it should be said was great, with its frantic and often overwhelming chase around the ramparts! After that, and right up to the final boss fight where things get a bit more traditional again, I was just a bit underwhelmed by the rest of the bosses, and none more so than when one of them turned out to be a very straightforward game of hide and seek, with absolutely no user input outside of a glorified game of Where’s Wally!

I’m going to stop finding fault in a second, but while I am there’s just a couple more things that bothered me. Before launch there was a big debate about the pronunciation of Dimitrescu, with everyone that had ever had any exposure to anything Eastern European (i.e. not an American being told what to say by a Japanese guy at Capcom) knowing it’s pronounced exactly how it’s written. But in the game, it is actually pronounced “Dimitreesc” and having worked for a Japanese company for exactly twenty years and one week at the time of writing, I’ve a feeling that this is grounded in the Japanese language handling of the letter “u” at the end of a word being assumed to also directly translate to Romanian. A mistake, in other words, but even if not, it sounds ridiculous every time you hear it! Final moan is the punishment that Ethan’s hands take in the first hour of the game. Even more ridiculous! One of them literally gets torn apart, and there’s fingers bitten off, and you find out exactly why people say that if Jesus was crucified like the popular story says then the nails would have gone in his wrists and not his palms in the most graphic detail (twice), and he even has one sliced completely off. But a bit of rag and some magic healing juice and they all come back again, which is fine, but what about the sleeves that get sliced off too? Did I miss the magic sewing kit as well? And if you’re planning on explaining that away, do it sooner before it becomes an ongoing annoyance rather than later, by which I mean during the absolute end-game.

I know, to the normal person neither of these are likely to be a showstopper, but these little details can nag away, and combined with similar, relatively minor issues definitely contribute to why Resident Evil 4 is my number three favourite game of all time and this isn’t even in the reckoning, as good as it really is over its ten hours or so duration! As an analogy, there’s a well-know way of approaching seemingly insurmountable ingrained problems in large corporations, like a huge giant block of stone that’s stopping you continuing down the path; you just start chipping away a the corners, and even though getting rid of each tiny bit isn’t going to let you pass, eventually you’ll be able to roll the block out of the way. And that’s how I feel about Resident Evil Village versus my beloved Resident Evil 4, but in reverse. I think! All that said, I’m sure there’s also an argument somewhere in my head for the groundbreaking and more epic nature of 4 over this one’s eye on the past to add to its sense of wonder.

And make no mistake, it is wonderful, so let’s talk about some more good then, and a really nice nod to Resident Evil 4, The Duke, who even knowingly spouts a line from his Resident Evil 4 counterpart, The Merchant, and over time you’re going to appreciate this guy (and his familiar backing music) just as much. For me, his first appearance was actually one of more horrific moments in the game too; this huge obese aristocrat crammed into the most unlikely of spaces, found in the most unlikely of places to sell his wares. As well as selling ammo and upgrades, and taking unwanted treasure off your hands, he’s also going to offer weapon upgrades and permanent stat boosts by taking meats you collect from killed wildlife and crafting them into various recipes. It’s worth saying that the crafting scare stories you might have heard before launch are no more than this, so take it from someone who dislikes crafting almost as much as stealth, but not as much as deck-building, that it’s really nothing to worry about! The Duke is also going to move the story along in places, and a bit more besides, and for something I initially took to be little more than window dressing lifted out of Tod Browning’s Freaks, he really became a surprise highlight, full of character and full of detail, as well as that familiar source of relief when you see him so you can save and fiddle with your inventory in peace for a while, just like with The Merchant before him!

Apart from The Duke, the Four Lords (and saucy insect offspring) and Mother Miranda, you’re going to come across a skull-wielding hag to also point you in one direction or another, various villagers in various states of panic, illness or death, and they all combine to keep the story moving and giving you just enough rope to hang yourself with too! There’s also much more than lycans and werewolves of all varieties to fight, with zombies, fire-wielding archer ghoul-things, mechanical soldiers, living gargoyles, big hairy things and everything in between waiting around any given corner, alone or in a big group, ready to spell your doom. They’re not massively scary, and running to preserve precious ammo is often an option, but there’s good variety and plenty of ways to strategise when you do have to take them on. Shooting stuff feels really good too, and the non-stop parade of upgradeable guns, explosives and other supplies you’ll come across, then picking and choosing what to do with them is also a fun side-story that really adds some extra depth to proceedings.

What else? For all of its gameplay and character influences from earlier games, as well as the direct link to Resident Evil 7’s plot, if you’re perceptive (and by the end, even if you’re not) you’re going to get some nice loose ends tied with regard to the Umbrella Corporation; I’m not saying the narrative isn’t bonkers by any means, but there’s more to it than I expected! As I’ve mentioned, it’s not especially horrific, but there are some great moments of tension, in many cases relating to your lack of ammo, which is classic Resident Evil design! As is the sound – stick some cans over your ears and that tension is ramped up another 100%! Much like the graphics, there’s enormous attention to detail in this department too, with all sorts going on in all directions, and as much as you’re going to be constantly panning up to the ceiling for that tell-tale glint of some precious jewel, you’re also going to be listening for the creak of a bird cage and its hidden bonuses, or just what direction the next insane danger is coming from! The soundtrack is suitably haunting, and also injects the adrenalin when it needs to, but its not especially memorable; that said, I’ve a feeling it might be a bit of a slow-burner, and is something I’ll definitely pay more attention to on future play-throughs. You’ve got some trademark Resident Evil voice-acting too, but let’s stay focussed on the very, very good!

Resident Evil Village is definitely a Resident Evil game, but for me it’s not much of a pure horror game despite the vampires and werewolves; there’s no sense of dread, shock or revulsion, and you’re not going to get scared like I know some did in Resident Evil 7’s claustrophobic opening few hours, though there is one area that some might find disturbing in a similar way to why some people won’t watch the movie IT! But that’s absolutely fine because the very best of the previous Resident Evils took a similar approach, and as was just pointed out to me, just because I wasn’t scared doesn’t make it not a horror game altogether! Overall, the tense, varied and mostly brilliantly paced gameplay, combined especially with the jaw-dropping, atmospheric visuals, makes Resident Evil Village absolutely essential, especially if you’re already on next-gen machines. It’s not perfect, and even though it controls like a dream in first-person, it’s still not quite up there with Resident Evil 4, but apart from Feud on the ZX Spectrum and Kick Off on Atari ST, what is? That beautiful, beautiful castle though…

Games Completed in 2020

Games Completed in 2020

How about a self-indulgent review of games I’ve played and completed in 2020? I know no-one else cares, but it’s kind of like a diary, and I’ve already written it, and I’ve got nowhere else to stick it!

January
3 January: Untitled Goose Game (Xbox)
13 January: Punch-Out! (NES on Switch)
16 January: Spyro the Dragon (PS4)
19 January: Mega Man X (SNES Classic Mini)
26 January: The Ninja Saviors (Switch)
31 January: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES on Switch)

Ninja Saviors the undoubted highlight for January. Goose Game didn’t blow me away like it seems to have done everyone else, but that’s the first game I ever finished on an Xbox! Also nice to finish Spyro on the collection I got for Christmas after starting it all those years ago, as well as some other old classics I hadn’t played before (but am now seeing in my sleep, Punch-Out!). And now I’m torn between what’s my favourite Mega Man. I reckon it’s still 2 but X was a corker!

February
3 February: Bulletstorm (PS4)
5 February: Koral (Switch)
7 February: Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES on Switch)
9 February: Super Mario Bros. (NES on Switch)
10 February: Super Cycle (C64 Mini)
16 February: Bioshock (PS4)
18 February: Castlevania – Circle of the Moon (Game Boy Advance)
19 February: Bloodstained – Ritual of the Night (Xbox One)
25 February: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Game Boy Advance)
27 February: Ninja Gaiden Shadow (Game Boy)
29 February: Ghostbusters (C64 Mini)

Always glad to get value out of PS+, and very much did this month with Bulletstorm and Bioshock. Same for Game Pass and Bloodstained (though my excessive play of Demon’s Tilt on there makes that a given). For medical reasons, my handhelds got plenty of love this month with Castlevania: Circle of the Moon being a particular highlight, though finally finishing the original Mario Bros was pretty cool too. And as I like to every now and again, I reminded myself why Ghostbusters on C64 is in my top 30 favourite games ever – a practice game to remind myself how it goes (which I actually did on the Spectrum this time), then straight through as usual. Timeless!

March
4 March: Destruction Derby 2 (PlayStation Classic)
14 March: Doom 3 (Switch)
18 March: Anodyne (Switch)
30 March: Agent X (ZX Spectrum)
31 March: Agent X II (ZX Spectrum)

50 hours on Animal Crossing over two weeks after release is quite apparent in this month’s list! Loved the chance to win everything in Destruction Derby 2 again, and Doom 3 became probably my favourite shooter ever! For the purposes of Retro Arcadia postings, I finished the wonderful Agent X for the hundredth time, and its less wonderful sequel on the Spectrum for the first time.

April
4 April: Death Star Interceptor (ZX Spectrum)
11 April: Doom 64 (Switch)
13 April: Doom (Switch)
26 April: Doom II (Switch)
27 April: Kid Dracula (Game Boy)
30 April: Saboteur 2 – Avenging Angel (Switch)

Caught up on a load more classic Dooms on Switch last month. As much as I enjoyed them, I’m a bit done with Doom for now! Also caught up with Death Star Interceptor, an even older game I first came across in 1985! I’d also forgotten I was right near the end of Game Boy Kid Dracula a few months ago when I abandoned it for some reason, so got that done too. Same for Saboteur 2 on Switch. Started at Christmas, got sidetracked (by Ninja Saviors) and forgot I had it, but will never forget that map from playing it on the Spectrum years ago!

May
3 May: TimeSplitters (PS2)
5 May: TimeSplitters 2 (PS2)
6 May: Streets of Rage 4 (Switch)
7 May: Moley Christmas (ZX Spectrum)
14 May: Streets of Rage 2 (Mega Drive Mini)
18 May: Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (ZX Spectrum)
26 May: Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (Game Boy Colour)
31 May: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PS4)

May began with the delivery of a replacement PS2, and meant I could finally finish the two TimeSplitters games I’d had a hankering to play for a while. And I’m still playing regularly to improve times on the original too! Streets of Rage 4 made a claim for the top of my game of the year list so far, but otherwise it was going back to some old favourites. Oh yeah, nearly forgot the latest Star Wars game too, which is indicative of how memorable I found it!

June
12 June: TMNT (GBA)
13 June: Call of Duty WWII (PS4)
14 June: American Election (Mac)
14 June: Wampus (NES)
16 June: I’m Bored, Let’s Explore (Ruins) (Mac)
16 June: Masks (Mac)
18 June: Intrepid (Mac)
23 June: In Other Waters (Switch)
26 June: Rik the Roadie (ZX Spectrum)
28 June: Milk Race (ZX Spectrum)
30 June: Akumajo Dracula (Super Castlevania IV) (Switch)

Thought the Japanese version of Super Castlevania IV might make a nice change for my annual play-through, but turned out wonderfully similar to what I know and love! Otherwise my MacBook got some unusual love with the fantastic Itch.io’s Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, which also included a fantastic all-new NES game Wampus. And an underwater sci-if exploration game called In Other Waters made a hell of a shout for game of the year!

July
12 July: Manic Miner 2020 – Special Edition (ZX Spectrum)
13 July: Super Mario Bros. COVID-19 Edition (ZX Spectrum)
13 July: Monument Valley 2 (iPad)
18 July: Erica (PS4)
19 July: The Room 2 (iPad)
20 July: Silent Hill (PlayStation Classic)
28 July: Ghostbusters The Video Game Remastered (PS4)

New Spectrum games always welcome, especially those involving Miner Willy! Always nice to see a Mario invasion on there too! I’ve had Monument Valley 2 taking up space on my iPad for years and it turns out that work of art didn’t deserve to be kept waiting, but that’s a far lesser crime than how long I left Silent Hill hanging around… Just amazing, and how on earth did I ignore that series for so long?

August
8 August: Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2 (PS4)
14 August: Carrion (Xbox)
24 August: Winter Games (ZX Spectrum)
25 August: Winter Games (C64 Mini)
27 August: Star Wars Episode 1 Racer (Switch)

Animal Crossing still in evidence while I was on holiday (from work at least) this month, though it marked the end of being about done with anything major on there I think. Lots of arcade stuff like P-47 and Sunset Riders this month that might have an ending but I’ll never see them, but Carrion was a definite, very unique highlight that I did finish. And always an absolute pleasure to spend time with Winter Games… Even in the height of summer!

September
3 September: Silent Hill 2 (PS2)
5 September: Super Mario All Stars – Super Mario Bros. (SNES on Switch)
8 September: Donkey Kong Country (SNES on Switch)
13 September: Bayonetta (PS4)
20 September: Duke Nukem 3D – 20th Anniversary World Tour (Switch)
26 September: Vanquish (PS4)

Some serious catching up done in September. Highlight was Silent Hill 2. First time playing (but already not the last), and I can safely say it’s one of my favourite games ever! Elsewhere some real big hitters I’ve somehow never managed to play before – horizons becoming truly broadened in my old (middle) age!

October
3 October: Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
9 October: Bloodstained – Curse of the Moon 2 (Switch)
17 October: Powerdrift (Arcade on 3DS)
20 October: Out Run (Game Gear)
25 October: Road Rash Jailbreak (Game Boy Advance)
27 October: The Ninja Kids (Arcade on PS2)
28 October: Star Wars Squadrons (PS4)
31 October: Out Run (3DS)

I seem to have had a thing for handheld racers this month! With that and Mario 3D Land, my 3DS had more play in the last month than ever before. Highlight of the month was Bloodstained 2 though. Very nearly as good as any proper old-school Castlevania, and definite game of the year contender, closely followed by Star Wars Squadrons, which is just so much nerd fun, win or (mostly) lose.

November
8 November: Super Mario Sunshine (GameCube)
8 November: The Chaos Engine (SNES)
19 November: Secret of Mana (SNES Classic Mini)
23 November: Friday the 13th (C64 Mini)
24 November: Splatterhouse (PC-Engine Mini)
25 November: Friday the 13th (ZX Spectrum)
26 November: Rupert and the Ice Castle (ZX Spectrum)

Mario Sunshine tops the list this month. Now I can allow myself to play the new 3D All Stars version that’s not only still sealed, but in the envelope it came in on launch day months ago! Enjoyed Secret of Mana far more than expected and Splatterhouse as much as I hoped. Chaos Engine was fun if a bit repetitive, but it’s always nice to finish a game within 30 years of buying it! Otherwise, some crap and not so crap 8-bit stuff for Retro Arcadia!

December
1 December: Splatterhouse – Wanpaku Graffiti (NES)
1 December: Jungle Hunt (Atari 2600)
2 December: Fantasy Zone II W (3DS)
4 December: Splatterhouse (Arcade on Switch)
13 December: Animal Crossing New Horizons (Switch)

A flurry of Splatterhouse and other retro activity at the start of the month! Having finally completed Fantasy Zone II W, I did also finally settle a long-standing internal debate about which game in that wonderful series is my favourite (and it’s this one)! At 510 hours and getting my final fish – which completes everything you can complete in the game – I’m calling Animal Crossing, but I’m still playing! Not sure where the rest of the month went – I was at least supposed to finish Residemt Evil 4 on GameCube, but it will be a nice start to 2021!

Intrepid and The Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

Intrepid and The Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality

A couple of weeks ago at the time of writing, I picked up the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, which included a staggering 1,741 video games, RPG’s, sountracks, development assets and a few other bits of content from 1,391 creators, all for as little as $5. I doubt there’s ever been better value in the name of a good cause or otherwise, with a retail worth of over $9,500, and it’s been a massive success, raising almost $8.2million as I speak!

There’s a few big indie headline-grabbers included, with things like Overland, Night in the Woods, Celeste and the wonderful Minit to name just a handful, but the real joy I’ve had so far is browsing through the rest of the content, deciding on a few priorities, and discovering some really cool stuff on the way… Far more enjoyable than actually playing anything!

Despite that, it is nice to feel you’ve actually made some progress into a giant heap of stuff like this, and that came when I accidentally started a browser-based choose-your-own-adventure called American Election, then spent a bit over an hour playing through it. Very simple, nothing revolutionary, but well written and engaging. With that quick win out of the way, I also couldn’t resist jumping straight into Wampus – an actual NES game in actual .nes file – when I came across it. It’s a very linear take on the original Zelda, nothing too taxing and is over in an hour and a half, but it’s a nice time.

With games that play in your internet browser, it’s often just as easy to click Run Game as it is to read a description, and that’s what I nonchalantly then did with a game called Intrepid. “You are an intrepid explorer hunting for artifacts. Can you survive?” This was developed by Jambudd for the March 2018 Archeology Bitsy Jam, with Bitsy being a simple HTML 5 game and world editor, and archeology being the theme for that month’s game jam.

And this one properly caught me by surprise! I’m still not sure how such a tiny, 1-bit browser game can be quite so affecting, but a week on from finally getting the ending I wanted, I can’t stop thinking about it! From how a two-colour opening scene can be quite so descriptive of your enviroment and convey such atmosphere, to its commentary on colonialism that dictates the “good” ending, I was really blown away by this!

In the space of four of the most basic-looking but perfectly beautiful screens you’ll ever come across, and over the course of less than a minute of gameplay, you’re finding a cave in the desert, inching your way across a rickety bridge, climbing to reach an artifact, then getting out of there, Indiana Jones style.

And there’s multiple ways of doing that, most of which end in your demise, but think long and hard about what you’re doing (and I did, over days!) and things might work out a bit better! 

The minimal look, complemented by equally minimal text that gives you literally just enough to make progress one way or another, does a wonderful job of inspiring your imagination – as was so often the case in the early 8-bit days – and as a result comes across as far more atmospheric than the sum of its parts. And it all combines to keep nagging at you until work what you should be doing!

The bundle might be over, but if you missed out you can still check out Intrepid here. And I can’t recommend doing that enough!

Before I go, another quick couple of recommendations to help you to tick off some more games in the bundle if you did manage to pick it up… First up is a surprisingly powerful browser-based text adventure called Masks, about being in a university under siege by riot police. It’s inspired by last year’s Hong Kong protests, but seems equally relevant as I write now. It takes just minutes, though you’ll probably want to play again a few times, and it’s very unique in that genre as far as I’m aware, but regardless is just very impressive.

There’s a few other game-jam type browser games there that are definitely a look too, but I don’t want to spoil your browsing fun, so I’ll just close with recommending you check out I’m Bored, Let’s Explore (Ruins). It’s another quick, simple treat with a lovely art style, so check it out and don’t forget that small is occasionally beautiful!