5 Console Games that Break From the Norm

Hello again! As established early on in previous blogs, I am a console gamer at heart, even though my interest in board games grows daily.

Ask the average person on the street to think of a console game and they will most likely tell you a game that involves shooting, violence, or football/sports. Even though I would consider myself to be a ‘hardcore’ game fan, I very rarely play the kind of things that most people do. I love games because of the amount of variation and wildly different experiences available, and I love finding hidden gems of games that sound crazy on paper, but due to the developer’s genius and vision, actually work really well!. So, without further ado, here are four of this kind of game that are all available right now on current consoles!

1. I Am Bread

I am Bread

Lets go straight in with one of the most off-the-wall game concepts that I have had the chance to play recently.

The name basically describes the main idea – you are bread. More specifically, you play as a sentient slice of bread, embarking on an epic journey to fulfil your destiny, and become toast! Each level is based on a room of a house, starting with the kitchen. Along the way you encounter different hazards, such as rotten fish, dirty floors and sinks full of washing up. If you touch any of these during your quest, your ‘edibility’ rating goes down and you get less points.

As ridiculous as this may sound, the game is really playable and addictive! Half of the enjoyment for me is from the absurdity and just realising that you are actually controlling a slice of bread flopping around someone’s house! In addition to a slice, there are also other types of bread in different game modes, such as a baguette or a speed-run mode with a bagel.

Another added bonus is that since the game is a couple of years old now, it can be found pretty cheap. I picked it up in a recent PS4 sale for only £3, well worth it even if you only get a couple of hours entertainment from it!

2. Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido

Sushi Striker Cover

This one is a much newer game, just released in June for both of Nintendo’s current consoles, the Switch and the 3DS/2DS.

The game, when you get to the playable part of it, is essentially a new take on the classic colour-matching puzzle genre. The idea is that you are standing in a sushi restaurant with loads of dishes going past on conveyor belts, and battling someone else by picking as many of the same colour plates as you can in one go, eating the sushi, and throwing the empty plates at your enemy!

Sushi Striker Screenshot

The gameplay is fun, but what makes it stand out for me is the hilarious backstory. The game is set in a world that has been ravaged by the Sushi Wars, due to a shortage of fish. Now, the evil Empire has banned all sushi, and you as the main character must lead the resistance against them. The story is told in extensive anime cut-scenes, including a lot of classic Japanese style humour, many over-the-top facial expressions, camp, buff bad guys and magical creature sidekicks.

The humour and tone of the game really reminds me of another classic from the Nintendo DS era, probably hard to come by now, called Elite Beat Agents, which itself was a westernised version of Japanese game Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. These are rhythm games about special agent cheerleaders, which have equally ridiculous scenarios and cut-scenes. If you have played and enjoyed these, you will probably like Sushi Striker.

Even if you only slightly like the idea of this game, there is a free demo available in the Nintendo online shop, so if you have a Switch or 3DS, definitely give it a try!

3. and 4. Flower and Journey

And now for probably the best known games in my selection. They are made by a developer called ‘Thatgamecompany’. They released three games back in the PS3 era: Flow, Flower and Journey. All three were so good that they were re-released on the PS4. I haven’t played the first one, but knowing the others I would recommend it!

Flower cover

In Flower, you play as a flower petal blowing in the wind. You travel through a beautiful environment, touching other flowers and picking up their petals, steadily growing into a giant group of petals. Some flowers will activate other things in your journey, such as splashing beautiful colours around the environment.  It is not free roaming though, each level has an objective, and there is an overarching theme of a growing evil as the levels progress.

Journey cover

In Journey, you play as a humanoid being that wakes up in the middle of the desert. Your only guidance is a mountain in the background that has a bright light coming from it. The journey in question is to make it to the top of that mountain. To traverse the landscape you can only walk at first, but as the game goes on you gain the ability to fly for short times thanks to your magic scarf.

In both games, there is a very minimal interface, hardly any tutorial, and no speech. What there is, is a beautiful soundtrack, serene visuals, and gameplay designed to give you an emotional response as you are immersed in the world of their creation. A bonus in Journey is that if you are online you sometimes get paired up with another player who journeys with you. The only way to communicate with them is by how you move, or by sending energy pulses, but this is enough, and it’s great having someone there to show you around and point out secrets, or if you are more experienced, it is also nice to help others if they look to be struggling.  If you are lucky enough to be paired with someone for a whole game (it takes about 2 hours to get through), it can make for one of the most beautiful moments in gaming.

I can’t strongly recommend these two games, especially Journey, enough to any PS3 or PS4 owners.

5. Everything

Everything cover

So I have to end this post with a game that is about everything!  In this game, you can actually be almost anything!  You start as a fairly normal animal , but after playing for a bit you gain the ability to be, or possess, another animal or object smaller than you.  When you do this, your perspective shifts down to the size of that object. You can keep doing this to get smaller and smaller, right down to the sub-atomic level of matter!  later on you also gain the ability to shift back in to larger things, and literally anything you see in the game, you can be, all the way up to super clusters of galaxies, and beyond!

Everything screenshot

The game is actually procedurally generated, so each play through is different to the last.  There is a vague goal, but most of the enjoyment of this game is just roaming around, discovering all of the environments and things that you can be.  As you roam around, some of the objects talk to you.  You can also get groups of the same kind of thing to follow you.  Every so often you get to hear audio snippets from the late philosopher Alan Watts about life and existence, and this, plus the general experience of the game start to leave you with a different perspective on real life.

This for me is again a game I highly recommend trying out.  It is a beautiful zen-like experience.  You can play just to chill out, or you can play to explore and try be every object it has to offer.  You can even just leave it on in the background and the game will play itself.

 

I hope that at least one of these games has piqued your interest enough to give it a try, and I hope that you, like me, start to realise that the world of computer games outside the standard samey mainstream ones is a beautiful and varied one that is worth diving into!

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Azul Review – Try some Tactical Tiling

Hello, I’m back after a short break. Today I am going to tell you about a new game that came out last year and has had quite a bit of attention in the board game world and won quite a few industry awards, but if you are not at or above my level of geekery you may not have heard of it!  This is definitely a game more suited to adults, due to the thinking required, but kids should be able to play too.

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The game is called Azul. The name comes from the main thematic inspiration, azulejos, the Spanish word for tiles. The initial attraction to the game for most is the art style used. Even the box is beautifully decorated with colourful patterns inspired by classic decorative tiles reminiscent of the Alhambra in Southern Spain. Once you open the box, the components of the game all follow this theme, and really are a pleasure to look at. The main pieces used in the game are the tiles. These have 5 different patterns and are a similar size to Scrabble tiles, but a bit thicker. They come in a cloth bag to reproduce that classic Scrabble feel when delving into it to retrieve more. There is actually another small similarity to Scrabble in the scoring, which I will explain later. There is a very loose story to give an excuse for what you are doing in the game (you have been commissioned to decorate a royal palace in Portugal), but that really is of minimal importance to the gameplay.

So, what do you actually do in the game? Well, the main aim is to fill a 5*5 square with beautiful tiles, and do so in a way that scores the most points. This is achieved over several rounds (at least 5) and each round consists of two phases: Drafting and Placing/scoring.

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The first job is to try and fill up the left side of the board (see picture) by drafting/selecting tiles from the ‘factory displays’ in the middle of the table.  This sounds simple enough, but due to some restrictions, you may be forced to take too many tiles, and any you can’t place on the board ‘smash on the floor’, giving you negative points!

If you complete any rows in the drafting stage, you can then add one tile of that colour to the main ‘wall’ and score points. Here’s where the other Scrabble similarity comes in – you score one point for tile that joins the new one, plus one point for each joining tile in the column, including the new tile both times.  This way, the more tiles you already have on the board (and how well you placed them), the better your score, so the points obtained each round are higher and higher.

As you progress with each round the restriction that you can’t place the same colour tile twice in the same row or column forces you to think more carefully about your tactics, and also makes you more likely to drop tiles.

The game ends when one player has completed at least one row of tiles.  At the end there are various bonus points available for every completed row or column, or for getting five of the same colour on the board.  These can definitely change the outcome, so are worth going for.

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I got Azul as a gift for my wife, as something that we could play together that wasn’t more aimed at a younger audience.  We both really like it, I think it works really well as a 2 player game, although you can have up to 4 players.  It has a great learning curve while playing. During our first 5-10 games we both found and employed different tactics that increased our score since the last game.  This feeling of progression and discovery of tactics is very satisfying and is what makes me keep coming back.  We mostly play to try and get the highest score on our own boards, but due to the drafting mechanic you can absolutely aim to sabotage the other player and stop them collecting sets, if you like that kind of thing.

Overall, I would recommend Azul to anyone who enjoys thinking games, Scrabble (but without the words), colourful components and especially those of you who love tiling and have been looking for a way to make a game of it!

Dixit Review – Wonderfully Whimsical Wordplay

One thing I like about modern board games is the sheer variety available. After getting more into the hobby a year or so ago, I started researching what kind of games were out there and I was amazed to see there are now literally thousands of new board games released each year. The last few years has seen a boom in board gaming, so this number is only increasing. This can be quite daunting when wondering what games to get, you are spoilt for choice! Also of course, of those thousands per year released, most aren’t amazing, and you couldn’t possibly have time to play them all anyway.

So, what do you do? Well, there are a couple of options: You could research on the net, there are a lot of great game sites with information and game reviews out there, my personal favourite being Board Game Geek. The main method I would choose though is to try and only buy games that you have played before, so you know you like. I found out about the game I will be writing about today in just this way. We played it at a relative’s and straight away it went on to our family game wish list. It is a unique, beautiful and fun game, and it is called Dixit.

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Some of the cards of Dixit

Dixit is, at it’s heart, a card game. It comes with 84 cards, and the first thing you notice when playing is that these are not your average cards. They are oversized, approximately double the size of your average playing cards, and each card has unique fantastical, whimsical, surrealistic, dream-like pictures printed on them. The images almost all have more than one element to them, and it is a pleasure just to look through the cards the first time you play! There is a board of sorts included with the game, but this is only to keep score.

 

The game itself is kind of a guessing game. Each player gets six cards. Each round, players take turns to be the ‘storyteller’. They pick one of their cards and say a word or phrase that the card reminds them of (without showing the card). The other players pick one of their cards that best matches this phrase. All of the picked cards are shuffled and laid out, and then the players guess which card belonged to the original storyteller. If the storyteller makes it too easy, and everyone votes for them, or too difficult, and no-one votes for them, they don’t get any points. In this way, the subtlety of the gameplay when you are the storyteller is to say a phrase that means some people, but not everyone, guesses your card. There is an element of luck to the game, as the other players may have cards which either fit the phrase very well, or none at all, but due to the clever way that the cards are designed featuring several similar themes, this is not an issue very often.

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This game was actually originally released about ten years ago. Since it has been very popular, and as is the case with a lot of board games, a lot of themed expansion packs have been released, and are still being made. Here are a few from Amazon, for example.  Each pack contains 84 cards with even more original and beautiful artwork, so can be shuffled in to the base game cards, or bought and played separately. The main base game of Dixit (pictured above) and Dixit: Odyssey contain pieces to keep scores. If you play other expansions separately, you would just need a paper and pen for this.

I have played Dixit with different groups of people, including young kids and adults, and it has been enjoyed by all. Younger players may find it a bit more challenging to think of words that are not too easy for others to guess, but they should still enjoy it.  The game actually changes depending on who you play with, as different vocabulary and shared life experiences may change the clues you give so this allows for good replayability. I would say that this fact, the unique concept and the beautiful art style, make Dixit a fine addition to anyone’s board game collection!

Switch and Snipperclips!

The Switch is Nintendo’s newest games console. It has been on the market now for almost a year. As I have made it clear in previous blogs, I am a big fan of Nintendo, so I couldn’t resist this latest machine.

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The Switch in handheld mode

 

The main unique feature of the Switch, apart from the great Nintendo games on it, is that it is a hybrid hand-held and home TV console, and can ‘switch’ between playing on a TV to playing in handheld mode very quickly.  This gimmick, and the really high quality games released (most notably Mario Odyssey and Zelda: Breath of the Wild), have made it very successful so far.  Even in the first ten months of release, it has now sold more than Nintendo’s previous console, the Wii U, did in its 5 years on the market.  This also reflects on the poor marketing for the Wii U, but in any case, the Switch is a fantastic console and if you are looking for a new gaming machine, especially for a family, this should be at the top of your list.

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Switch docked in TV mode

 

One of the reasons I like the Switch is that the main controller can be fixed to the side of the console, or separated into two parts, and this makes it instantly ready for two player games out of the box.  This makes it great for family/friends game time, and there are already a lot of games out that utilise this feature, such as Mario Kart, Mario Odyssey and Puyo Puyo Tetris.  One game that I feel uses the multiplayer aspect to great effect is the ‘couch co-op’ game Snipperclips, and so to continue the co-operative theme from last week, the rest of this post will be about that!

snipperclips

Snipperclips is a smaller sized ‘indie’ game that was released at the same time as the Switch and it was published and promoted by Nintendo at the time.  There are a few side minigames to it, but the main part of the game is a series of puzzles played with two U shaped characters, apparently called Snip and Clip.  They can move around and jump, etc. just like in a normal platform game, but they can also snip parts of the other one’s body out to change their shape.  They do this by overlapping their body with the other player, then pressing a button and the overlapping part is snipped off.

The snipping mechanic is pretty unique among computer games, and it is this that is used to solve the many puzzles that the game presents.  Each level is essentially a single screen puzzle.  There are a lot of variations to what you need to do in each level, such as: cutting yourselves out to fit in a dotted line shape, playing basketball, popping balloons, helping a flower to grow, and many more!  There are well over 50 levels in total and they are all presented in a clean and cute styled background, with a theme that changes for each world, or group of levels.

 

snipperclips screenshot
Basketball!

The game can be played with one player switching between the control of each character, but the main fun to be had with this is playing with another human.  there are even a few four player levels available, if you have enough controllers!  Since you both need the other player to snip you into the right shape, and the answer to the puzzles are not always obvious, a lot of communication and co-operation is required to pass each stage.  Obviously this doesn’t go without the inevitable arguments!  I think this just enhances the enjoyment of a game compared to a single player one, so this is a big plus point for me.

I would say that if you own a Switch this is an essential purchase.  it provides a lot of entertainment, the price is reasonable compared to a big AAA game such as Mario, and it is a really good demonstration of the unique two player ability of the console.  At the very least, it is worth downloading the free demo, which contains the first few levels.

That’s all from me, next time, back to board games!

 

It’s Dangerous to Play Alone – Take Kids!

Hi everyone, I’m back! I haven’t written one of these for quite a while now, life has got in the way a bit recently.

Well, I say life, I mean gaming.

Well, I say gaming, I mean one particular game: Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

breath-of-the-wild

I previously wrote in this blog about my love for the Zelda series in general and my anticipation for the latest title.  I can now say that this game definitely lives up to the hype, and I have been playing it almost every free evening for the last three months or so (a lot of free daytimes too!).  The sense of freedom and adventure, size and beauty of the game world and just pure fun of the gameplay is unparalleled. Another Nintendo instant classic!

One aspect of this game that I have particularly enjoyed is playing together with my wife and kids.  The kids are now getting to an age where they are starting to be able to play this kind of game by themselves (the youngest is 5), and it is great to watch them having a lot of fun with this one.  I know that a lot of parents are not gamers, but we really enjoy playing as a family and would recommend it to anyone, so I thought I would share a few of the things that we do when playing this kind of game with kids to ensure a great time is had by all.  These are just things that we do, I am by no means saying that we are experts and know everything.  Every family is different, and I am always open to suggestions from others!:

1. Be Inclusive

When playing games with more than one child, you need to appreciate that each one will have a different amount of desire to play a game, and especially with younger children, they may find it difficult to fully express that desire.  What I mean by being inclusive in this context is to make sure everyone’s voice is given a chance to be heard, everyone is in agreement about the choice of game, and everyone’s expectations about what they want to get out of the gaming session is known and acknowledged.  This can be quite difficult to achieve in practice, especially with younger children, but when it is achieved it significantly reduces the amount of meltdowns during and after the play session!

 

2. Be fair with rules/turns

Another thing to lay out before starting is the rules, especially the system of taking turns.  Zelda, for example, is a single player game, but if reasonable rules are established, there is no reason it can’t be played by a whole family (we do it!).  For this game, we normally play ten minutes each before passing the controller to the next person.  We literally time this using a timer on one of our phones.  This is a clear boundary that everyone can see and the children usually engage with it.  Our daughter in particular loves taking control of the timer, and ensuring that it is paused for cut-scenes when she isn’t technically playing!

 

3. Set clear play session length boundaries

This could be contained as part of the rules set at the start of play.  This also applies to a lot of parenting situations, but since console gaming is particularly engaging for a lot of children it is especially important in this case.  Children need to learn that play time cannot be indefinite, things such as food time, bed time, or other planned activities also exist.  Also too much screen time is just generally bad for anyone, children and adults alike.

It is important to let them now before they start playing how long this session will last.  Since they generally forget things very quickly, this will also need to be reminded to them in the middle of the session, and definitely when there are only 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes left.  As long as they know the boundaries all along, they generally accept the situation, at least they accept it a lot better that you just saying “Right, turn it off NOW” at the end and pulling the plug!

4. Ensure play is age appropriate

So, there are a lot of computer games in the world now, and they clearly aren’t all appropriate for children.  The first step when choosing a game to play with kids is to check the age rating.  This is normally clearly displayed on the front of the box.  If you are going to let the kids play by themselves, don’t let them play a game too old for them!

After saying this, I am now going to sound hypocritical, since the age rating for Zelda: Breath of the Wild (at least in the UK) is 12, and my kids are all under 10.  I did not take the decision to play this with the kids lightly.  My wife and I played for several hours to evaluate the reasons the rating may have been given.  We also know the kind of things our kids are sensitive to.  Using this knowledge, we decided to let them play.  Zelda is an open world game.  There are a lot of different things to do, and a lot of ways to pass the story.  The reason for the 12 rating in the game is the violence.  The hero, Link has to fight off several monsters with a large array of weapons during the course of the game.  Since we had played the game ourselves, we decided that this violence was not something that we wanted to expose the kids to too much, but there were several aspects of the game that they would enjoy, such as horse riding, puzzle solving, cooking, exploration.  In this case they are allowed to play, but in a ‘low violence’ style, i.e. running away from inessential fights, and if there are enemies that need to be fought, such as end of level bosses, pass control to a parent (I myself have no problem carrying out this parenting service!).  The other important thing is that they are closely supervised when they are playing, and if any seem overly distressed, we stop playing and address the issue.

5. Relax and have fun together!

If you follow the above guidelines, the only thing left to do is to relax and have a great shared experience with your family!  This kind of activity for me is where you can experience beautiful moments, create beautiful memories, and just generally have beautiful fun!  For us this fun spills over well past the actual time playing the game.  We have several discussions about it, how we are going to play next time, what happened in the story, etc. The children demonstrate incredible creativity acting out their own imagined versions of the game, draw endless pictures of characters, real and invented, and everyone’s lives are just generally slightly more enriched because of it.

 

So, those are my tips.  Let me know if there is anything you do when playing with your family, and happy gaming!

New Zelda Excitement!

Just thought I’d write a quick post about one of my favourite game series, which seems to be lesser known by non-gamers – The Legend of Zelda!

There is a new Zelda game coming out tomorrow, for the new Nintendo Switch console (also out tomorrow), but the game is also out for the Wii U.  More on those consoles here!  it is called Breath of the Wild, and reviews so far are already calling it probably the best game ever made.  This is not a light statement to make, especially for gamers, who prize their own personal top ten games over anyone else’s, but among gamers the Zelda series is one which is much more than others on or near the top of most of their best games ever lists.

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The Zelda games are kind of their own genre.  They are mostly role playing, more or less open world, action adventure games, starring the hero Link (Zelda is the princess that Link has to rescue).  They have been around for as long as Nintendo have been making consoles, with the first one being released on the NES.  Although they are not quite as well known as Mario, they are one of Nintendo’s biggest game series, with at least one Zelda game released on each hand-held or home console (more or less..).

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Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy

 

The first Zelda game I played was Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy.  Even with its basic black and green graphics, the game still had the ability to immerse me in the fantasy world that it created and got me hooked for the series.  Since then I have played several other Zelda games and loved each and every one of them.

As for playing together, even though the games are single player, in the same way as watching a movie together, the Zelda games can absolutely be enjoyed with others.  I have played through at least half of the games with my wife, and that has only increased my enjoyment and given us an amazing shared experience.  With this new game I am extremely tempted to coordinate time off work with her so that we can spend a whole day immersed in the land of Hyrule together with no other distractions.

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Zelda: Ocarina of Time

 

Now I have kids, I have, of course introduced them to the series.  We are currently playing through the widely regarded best of all, the Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. We are currently on the water temple, and fans of the game will know that we may be there some time..  it is great to see them as excited as I was for this game when playing it for the first time.  Just about as excited as I am for this new game – The Breath of the Wild!

So here is a picture of my boy as excited as me!:

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