18 Reviews liked by Rapatika
I wish more games were like this one.
Simple objective, easy and intuitive controls, great art direction, challenging-but-fair(ish) difficulty, an incredibly rewarding ending, and the title tells you everything you need to know about the whole game.
Gameplay wise Arceus is certainly going in the right direction. The catching mechanics are the most fun I have had with Pokemon in ages and it is nice to have Big open areas to explore. Sadly like many recent titles the game lacks in a lot of other areas. Despite this I enjoyed my time with Arceus. It gives me a little hope for the future of pokemon and I hope the series continues to build off the good ideas presented here.
definitive cat game. The world/lore is cool and it's crazy how much info they put like on every single wall. I just didn't like when it got a little too fetch questy. Oh I also didn't like how ending a conversation is a different button than progressing text. You have no idea how many times I struggled with text boxes because I was playing on steam with a switch controller so it's like hit A to finish talking but that means hit B so my ankles were constantly broken having to alternate from hitting Y to B or was it A I still don't know. Also also I wish the game told you what music notes you gave to the dude because I wasn't keeping track :(
Cult of the Lamb
Cult of the Lamb is likely not exactly what you think it is. While the flashy roguelike action has drawn a lot of comparisons to Hades, it’s not really the crux of the game. At its core, developer Massive Monster’s new ultra-cute cult simulator is just that - a simulation. Players will spend around 75% of its 14 hour runtime playing a masterfully designed city-builder/management sim, with bursts in between of mediocre roguelike action that far out stays its welcome weighed down in poorly paced progression systems.
In Cult of the Lamb, you’ll become a lamb sent to slaughter in the name of a false god. On your way to hell, you’re rescued by a demon called The One Who Waits, who has been shackled between the surface world and inferno. In exchange for sending you back to the world above with its remaining power, it tasks the Lamb with creating a cult in its name, in the name of the Red Crown. There are four bishops, who serve as the bosses, that the Lamb must defeat while managing their cult compound to free The One Who Waits from its demonic chains.
I first want to speak about the thing that draws the most attention in Cult of the Lamb - the art style. It’s beautiful, it’s colorful, it’s easy to distinguish in the heat of combat, and most importantly it’s consistent. Even during the garish occult rituals and demonic summonings, the presentation of Cult of the Lamb never, ever wavers. The artists and animators are 110% dedicated to making this the most adorable Satanic ritual you’ve ever experienced, and do not back down. The contrast of the subject matter and art style is not just something to catch players eyes - it’s an aesthetic decision that was made with purpose.
As I mentioned previously, Cult of the Lamb is a management sim supported by small chunks of roguelike action. You’d be forgiven for thinking the management part is secondary based on the trailers, but really the game is about growing your cult and making them more powerful while the runs through the four procedurally generated biomes serve to help you gather followers and materials for building. Each run is actually quite short, depending on what you run into; I had some that were as quick as 3 minutes, with the longest being about 10.
Cult of the Lamb, like any good management sim, is made up of a dozen interlocking systems, each one both feeding and being dependent on several others. As the game progresses and your cult expands, you’ll be able to automate these processes so you can focus on more high level planning. It very much has the cadence of a city-builder RTS like the Tycoon games, but on a much smaller and more palpable scale for newcomers to the genre.
After inducting your first few cultists (those are freebies), you’ll need to construct your most important structures - a shrine and a temple. The shrine is the beating heart of your cult, and is where your followers will worship you so you can gain power over the course of your journey. The temple is the brain, where you will make the decisions that affect your followers, tell them how to live their lives, dictate their eating, sleeping and working schedules, and more.
From there, you’ll branch out and need to collect rocks, wood, grass, flowers, seeds, food and a variety of other materials so your cult can thrive. There’s three meters you’re trying to maintain - loyalty, hunger, and sickness. If your loyalty depletes, your followers will revolt and declare you a false prophet, leaving the camp. If your hunger depletes, your followers will begin to starve and die. Likewise, if the sickness meter hits 0 disease will begin to spread and followers will be similarly snuffed out.
There are nearly two dozen systems running in the camp by the time it's operational, and it is frankly mind blowing that they all work together so well and never become overwhelming. Like any good management game, it’s all about getting better stuff so you can automate your basic systems, then automate those systems, and so on and so forth. At first you’re scrounging for berry seeds to put together meager meals for your cult, but 6 hours later you’ve got an industrial farm complete with fertilizer and irrigation automation.
You’ll construct housing for your followers, decorations to brighten the place up, and lots of idols to increase the amount of faith you’re collecting each day. All of these systems lead directly into leveling up your Lamb. Each day, you can host one sermon, which feeds skill points into a tree that increases your attack power while increasing loyalty. You can also declare a new doctrine if you have enough tablets, which are gained by doing nice things for your followers. They’ll age and die and you’ll find new ones over time, and restart the cycle.
New doctrines can either be passive buffs for your camp or active rituals that can be cast with a 2 day cooldown. Roughly half these doctrines aid you in leading by way of love, and the other half by way of fear, so you can definitely choose what kind of cult you would like to run. I only picked the love-based doctrines because I am a merciful god Lamb and would bestow my grace upon this flock. But you can go full dictator on it if you wish.
One of the best parts of Cult of the Lamb is that you can name and customize your followers, so, like most everyone, I named them after my real life friends and asked everyone which animal and what color they’d like to be. Everyone had a good time watching their antics as one friend would report another as a traitor, or when two of my friends who barely know each other fell in love, or when one of them showed up at camp covered in blood and just died without explanation. There are certainly other games where you can name characters, but the concept of the social interactions takes the interesting part of Miitopia and Tomodachi Life and puts it into a good game instead.
Now it’s time to talk about the mediocre part of it - the roguelike action stuff. At the beginning of each run, you’re given a weapon and a curse, which is a magic spell. Defeating enemies gains fervor, which is in turn used to cast spells. Simple enough. You’ll unlock tarot cards that give small buffs, like turning your weapons to poison or raising your crit chance, and collect a different assortment on each run. And that’s it. The color palette changes between the four biomes, and there’s a few monsters that are unique to each, but they all effectively do the same thing. As I was spending just a few minutes at a time in combat before heading back to the farm, it didn’t hit me until about 7 or 8 hours in that the combat had not changed. The way that it feels at the beginning is the way it will feel in hour 14, just with new (mostly worse) weapons and upgraded versions of the same spells. The combat is smooth, quick, and certainly eye-catching, but without any additional layers it grows boring after a time.
This leads to my next, much bigger issue: progression. The management sim in this game was not designed with me in mind, who put 20 hours into Factorio over just two days and who builds large scale automated mining operations in Minecraft for fun. As i normally would with a game in this genre, I optimized my followers and automated them, then automated the automations, and so on. I ran a sermon every day, ran as many rituals as possible, upgraded my worship speeds right at the beginning to accrue faster over the life of the game, and talked to every follower to inspire them every single day and extort resources from them. I also mostly ignored the side quests, because mathematically the amount of loyalty you lose for accepting and then not doing them can easily be made up with a single ritual the next day.
There’s a saying that if given a chance, players will optimize the fun out of a game. Well, I did it, and I did it barely halfway through. As I was early on in the third biome, I completed the doctrine tree, the sermon tree, the fishing quests, the mushroom quests, and everything useful in the camp tree. What this resulted in was no progress for the last 5 hours of the game. I had already finished everything the game had to offer, so the next few hours were just maintaining my camp for no reward and outputting resources that would never be used. It slammed to a crashing halt. There is a difficulty modifier for combat, but god I wish there had been a hard mode for the management part of it. I never struggled with collecting enough of anything, and if I didn't have enough resources my automated systems would have it ready for me in just minutes regardless. Perhaps I got too eager, but as a fanatic lover of management games and city builders this was hugely disappointing. Imagine playing Fallout and hitting a level cap halfway through the main story and having to continue without the small reward of simply leveling up.
Another issue that really put a damper on my experience was the requirement to have 20 living followers to fight the final boss. The second biome required me to have 9 to enter, the third required me to have 10, and the fourth required me to have 12. However, to face the final boss I needed to find 8 more. This was such a strange ramp up in requirements I did not expect. In addition, one of the features of the fourth biome is that your followers are summoned and possessed and you must kill them to progress, so right after losing 4 followers in this way I was presented with a gate telling me to find 8 more to proceed.
It’s not actually all that simple - you can buy one follower a day from a spider nearby, but you cannot just fast forward through the days and buy them because your followers will continue to age and die. Rather, I had to basically speedrun 4 more runs hoping that my current elderly followers wouldn’t drop dead any second so i could grind out more cultists. It was not fun in the least. While narratively satisfying, the final boss was also a disappointing fight that lacked a single new combat element.
The first 8 hours of Cult of the Lamb were magical, and if the game had ended somewhere there this review score would be a 10. But it doesn’t, and it goes on and on and gets less and less interesting as it reaches the conclusion. With progression systems that are way too easy to bust and combat that goes stale halfway through, my time with this game did not sustain the high I felt at the beginning. But there are strokes of a masterpiece in here, with excellent music, whimsical characters, starkly themed visuals, just enough narrative push, and management tools that allow for the player to really experience their own story. If you don’t optimize the fun out of Cult of the Lamb, there’s an incredible amount of it to be had.
Live A Live
Live a live feels so absurdly ahead of its time it’s not even funny. Like, I know this is a remake and slightly modernized and stuff, but from what I can tell most of what was changed was the visual style (duh) and the translation (which is one of the best translations for an rpg I’ve ever SEEN) (also duh) and everything else was like, slightly rebalanced? But the vast vast majority of what’s fantastic and creative and bursting with life here was just as breathtaking in the original version, and that’s genuinely insane to me.
If you don’t know, Live a Live is made up of a bunch of mini-rpgs, usually running anywhere from 1-3 hours apiece. Each of these picks the genre conventions apart in a slightly different way, with almost none having a traditional dungeon crawl/town experience (and when they do, you can tell there’s an understanding of the genre built upon the deconstructions they’ve perpetrated elsewhere).
One scenario has you exploring one huge dungeon that reveals itself in more of a metroidvania-type way. One has you spending most of your playtime preparing for a bossfight at the end. A few have extremely novel and fun forms of progression, beyond the standard “kill and level up” loop. A few of them diverge so far from how rpgs typically work that they completely cross genres.
But it’s not just interesting in this way. This experimentation goes beyond the structural and mechanical and bleeds into everything about the game. Each chapter takes place in a different time period and location, exploring a certain kind of pulpy fiction story and how you can mold rpg mechanics around the feelings those stories deliver. The wild mechanics are used to build story, character, and really connect you to the material in a unique way.
That kind of brings me to this game’s legacy. These short, experimental rpgs, that play with the genre and conventions in such a loving way, yet not very sentimentally, are the kind of thing I associate most with little indie rpgs on Itch.io. Sure there’s a lot of “earthbound-inspired indie rpgs”, but these days if you look in the right places you can find stuff that feels more varied and unconventional, stuff that until now, I didn’t think had ever been released by a larger studio. Games like An Outcry, Facets, Cataphract.io, even Dujanah to an extent, feel like the kind of bold interesting games that would not feel out of place next to any of Live A Live’s chapters.
Beyond even that though, the way this game ends (which I don’t want to get too into for spoiler reasons) is almost as perfect as I could’ve even wanted. It ties the themes of all these disparate stories together so well and so meaningfully, and gives you a right challenge too (which the rest of the game doesn’t really focus on). It nearly left me speechless, and gave me all the warm feelings finishing a more traditionally laid out rpg would.
If you like rpgs at all, you’ve gotta play this. Like, as soon as you can. This is one of the most interesting and cool and fun expressions of the genre to ever come out, especially from a studio as large as Square. Go in with open eyes.
The creative tools in Dreams are impressive, but as a platform for playing good video games, I was left wanting more. Maybe it is just a result of poor curation, but most of the things I saw and played felt like tech demos, memes, or experiments rather than interesting games.
I do admire the people putting in the hard work to craft these unique experiences, but aside from the jazz sections in "Art's Dream", nothing from Dreams has really landed for me so far.
Stray is a very respectable game. For a game who's credits arent rolling long enough to demand multiple credits songs and 3 point font, it is astounding in terms of visuals, technical design, and to an extent game direction. It achieves seemingly everything it goes for with only minor "objective" issues. You could have told me that this game was made by naughty dog as a little side project and i'd only need two drinks in me to believe you.
And it really is a very ND-style game, down to the straight up game flow. Linear platforming where you snap from location to location, chase sequences, extremely light puzzling, general level-to-level structure and the occasional quiet bit where you just get to explore a very small area - it's like Uncharted 4 but drake is small and there's no ludonarrative dissonance trophy. Even has the very naughty dog thing of having a conspicous landmark in the horizon you always work towards in the levels. I swear im not crazy, it's really noticeable when you catch onto it.
The problem with Stray is that, for my money, you don't feel like a cat. Which is a pretty big issue for a game where that's the hook. There's a few good gags, the animation passes muster for the most part, but the behaiour of the cat and in particular the interactions it has with others don't. You could practically replace the cat with a small dog, hell, it would probably make more sense for the things the characters demand and how they treat you.
My favourite moment in the game, is, when in what is ostensibly a tense, high-stakes situation where you're meant to solve a puzzle, the cat can simply lie down by a record player in a comfy alcove, as long as you and they want. It's lovely. And there's just not enough of it. The adventures of cats are crescendos to lives spent revelling in comfort and warmth - even in wild and big cats - and you can let me meow as much as you like but the pure action adventure betrays the nature of cats. I feel like small creature. I don't feel like cat.
On top of that the sci fi narrative is very bland. Fortunately the environments are excellent and carry the game pretty hard. Again, the naughty dog influence is well integrated, with fantastic subtle signposting of areas that feels naturalistic whilst ensuring you're never really lost.
Again, the game is very competent, and a frankly remarkable facsimile of games with hundreds of times the budget. It's well paced and i appreciate it's brevity, and i would be remiss not to touch on it's excellent soundtrack. And it's that extreme competence that makes it dissapointing for me that it doesnt actually get it's hook. And without it, it's ultimately forgettable, as good as it is.
Definitely has its problems in the dungeon and world design departments but its charm is irresistible. Awesome soundtrack and art style, one of the best Zelda stories, and good characters. While Ocarina of Time was about growing up, Wind Waker is about being forced to grow up. You aren't "the chosen one", you aren't inhabiting some kind of magical fairytale world, and your call to action wasn't from a talking tree. Your sister was captured, the world is flooding, and your grandmother is spiraling. What's left of Hyrule has gone to absolute shit (and you didn't even need to set foot in a temple of time), and now it's your job to fix the colossal mess that the older generation created? You had to prove your worth as a hero not because it was your destiny, but because nobody else would step up. It's graphical style was seen as unpleasant when the original game released in 2002. And I think that reaction mirrors the way Wind Waker attempts to unlearn generational patterns of selfish inaction and mediocrity. We've come to appreciate this game's artstyle nowadays, and applaud Aonuma and co.'s progressiveness and willingness to bring change. And I believe those lessons can be applied to our own lives. The kids are alright - you don't need to be the "chosen one" to change the world.
Also, I'm gonna say it. The final scene in this game where link kills ganondorf is cooler than the one in twilight princess. Rawest moment in video games.
Sniper Elite 5
Sniper elite 5 is a very solid WW2 3rd person shooter. It features great level design with some gorgeous vistas, level 3 "Spy Academy" in particular was phenomenal in this regard. The pacing and direction closely follows the recent hitman games. The areas are large with many areas to explore, different paths and starting areas can be unlocked. Much like the hitman games the perfect path can likely be found to speedrun through games. Where this game lacks a little for me is the amount of enemies and the difficulty in maintaining stealth. The levels, especially the later ones, are jammed full of enemies and the stealth options in this game are farily limited compared to other similar titles like Hitman or MGS5. Over and over again I ended up in all out gunfights, luckily the shooting and combat in the game is very fun, if standard, 3rd person combat. A fun game that took me around 13 hours to beat all 9 story missions 1 time. Will look forward to the DLC, thank you GamePass.
how does one go about creating a follow up to something like spelunky HD, a game which many would consider to be perfect, and which is arguably the most influential roguelike? well in Derek Yu's case, you simply build on top of that. Spelunky 2 is bigger and larger than the first game in almost every way. Levels are effectively twice as large due to the network of caves behind every level, there are multiple paths you can take through the game to get to the end, and the secret world after the "final" boss leads on to a gantlet of levels far longer than anything in the first game.
does it succeed as a sequel then? well i think that it's a pretty good crack at it. it's obviously a pretty tough task to create something as incredible as the original spelunky was, but Spelunky 2 has all of the charm of the original, in both its gameplay and secrets.
the main issue for me with spelunky 2 is its difficulty. now spelunky 1 was a difficult enough game alright (especially if you play the game the way it's intended and kill every shopkeeper you see, incurring their wrath) but spelunky 2 is definitely a notch tougher. and i would largely chalk this up to the increase in opportunities for being instakilled. spelunky 1 definitely had enemies and hazards that could instakill you and delete your 30 minute run, but they were used more conservatively, and you learned as a player to respect that. in spelunky 2, there are far more enemies, hazards and even your own items that can end your run instantly. this does make the game harder and adds more tension to your runs, but a lot of the time it just doesn't work. when you carelessly jump into spikes in spelunky 1, that was a learning moment, when a blob of lava falls on your head in spelunky 2, it just feels like bullshit.
despite this however, i enjoyed my time a lot with spelunky 1. i think it's one of those instances where a sequel is put out that perfectly captures the spirit of the original, and builds on it in meaningful ways. looking forward to whatever Derek Yu has next in store