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2021 Gaming Catch-Up
A backlog? In this economy?
It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that 2021 was a busy year. Even with COVID lockdowns continuing in Finland – often with no rhyme or reason – I somehow managed to cover almost as much as in a pre-COVID year. But, as always, some things slip between the cracks. So here’s a rundown of the games that I played, but for some reason did not write about.
Hell Architect is a colony builder that originate from Kickstarter a few years back. The small team behind it, Woodland Games, appears to have a knack for building products out of jokey concepts. Their other upcoming titles include Taxi Simulator and Autopsy Simulator.
Superficially, Hell Architect has a working gag going for it. You play Satan, ruler of Hell, and it’s your job to micromanage daily work to build the most effective torture dystopia possible. New souls come in like clockwork, and new methods of labor and torture need devising every minute of the day.
Compared to other colony builders, Hell Architect falls into the good-but-forgettable side of things. The initial guffaws all come from the cartoony gore, childish violence, and floppy nudity. It’s only once you dig deeper into the mechanics that things start to bog down. Menus are surprisingly fiddly, often just straight up not giving you the necessary information. Your minions aren’t the brightest, either, often requiring constant supervision to handle even basic tasks.
There’s also very little to do once you start reaching the end game. While certain additions, like demons, are fun for a bit, they add very little to the big picture. What’s worse is the game displays some weird stuttering once your kingdom reaches a certain size. Even on high-end CPUs.
Having said that, there’s something cathartic and zen about this sort of management. There’s nothing particularly new or novel, but everything does work to a degree.
I can’t say I didn’t like Hell Architect, but I do feel like it’s something of a missed opportunity. It has some really fun ideas built into it, like collecting agony from more effective torture devices, but overall it’s more fiddly than engaging. But that’s usually the case with first builds for this genre. Should there be a sequel, I have a feeling Woodland Games will iron out the kinks for even greater fun next time around.
I’ve been open about how bad I am at racing games in the past, and not much has changed on that front. When it comes to this genre, I’m far more comfortable with arcade racers than realistic simulations. So I’m not the best person to review this, but I will give it a fair shake.
RIMS Racing is as realistic of a racing game as I’ve ever seen. If it has something to do with bikes, you can bet you’ll find it here. This is a meticulously and lovingly crafted game that is overwhelming to someone like me but should satisfy all cravings that fans of the sport have.
Content-wise, it follows a very traditional path. You start with a lesser bike, then spend hours and hours tuning it, buying new ones, and racing increasingly harder tracks to rise the ranks. The fun comes from the intricate details and finding the precise point where your needs and skills match.
Visually, Rims Racing is gorgeous. The bikes look amazing, the tracks are vivid, and the sense of speed in every race is palpable. I kept crashing because I just wanted to admire the little details, like how parts of the bike would wobble in tight turns.
After hours spent in RIMS Racing, I can’t say that I came away any smarter about motorcycle racing than before. I still couldn’t tell if my bikes were tuned properly. They ran, at least, but I kept losing.
Having said that, I can’t help but admire the work and specificity that’s gone into this. I can imagine someone dedicated to the hobby will love it. I’m not that person, but I can recognize a solid, quality game when I see one.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition
Another year, another remaster. This time from the equally beloved and reviled sci-fi trilogy, Mass Effect. Once a high point of action-RPG-gaming, Mass Effect took a hard tumble upon the release of the third and final chapter. After hyping player choice for years, the series concluded on a sour note of linear and forced resolutions that overrode all the connections players had made with their characters.
Even now, years later, you can spark up a debate over whether or not the finale is a good one or not. Developer Bioware even went as far as to release an extended epilogue to quell the angry masses. But it may have been too little, too late.
With the added benefit of hindsight, Mass Effect isn’t quite the colossal disappointment it once felt like. The third part is still easily the weakest, and the first one hasn’t aged well, but the high points remain unrivaled. The sprawling cast is still immaculate, each written and voiced to perfection. The stunning setpieces kick ass, and everything in part 2 continues to set the bar for others that follow.
On a technical level, the remaster is fine. Not great, not terrible, but squarely a passable update. It updates the graphics where it can, but there’s no hiding how quickly technology moved past the series. There are still audio bugs here and there, and sometimes events will fail to trigger as they should. Gameplay mechanics are noticeably dated, too. Especially when it comes to the first game.
Regardless of these issues, Mass Effect is still a thrilling sci-fi adventure that everyone should experience. It might not have the satisfying finale most of us were hoping for, but the journey there is still worthwhile.
Hot Wheels Unleashed
Talk about a surprise.
Even though I’m an arcade racing fan, even I have my limits. Usually, those limits come with toy tie-ins. So imagine my surprise when Hot Wheels Unleashed turns out to not just be good, but a thoroughly fun racer for the whole family.
What’s even better is that for a franchise known for literal microtransactions (cause they’re small cars), the console version is completely rid of them. Everything unlocks by playing the game. In this day and age, that’s not automatically a given.
The tracks are also inventive, the feel for the cars is grippy and fun, and there’s a constant sense that you just want to have one more lap. Throw in some bright and poppy graphics, and a decent soundtrack, and there’s almost nothing to complain about.
OK, so it’s not a deep experience. But that’s not a knock, either. Sometimes you just want to jump in the race, and that’s precisely what Hot Wheels Unleashed delivers. This is one of the unsung gems of last year. If you get the chance, pick it up asap.
After finishing Scarlet Nexus for the first time, I had no idea what the hell just happened. Upon reading the wiki and watching a second playthrough – one that took different paths from mine – I’m still lost.
It’s a dense, mystifying, and wildly over-the-top game. Its roots are deep in anime, which leads to lots of monologing about nothing. But there are also some really amazing set pieces that keep the story interesting.
Gameplay-wise, it’s a mixed bag. I realize these games aren’t played for a deep and involving experience, but I found the fighting and exploration mechanics dull at best. It’s fine if you’re in it for the characters and stat grinding, but I think my days of caring about those are long gone.
Luckily it’s really pretty to look at, and the voice acting (both dubbed and subtitled) is great. The soundtrack is full of bangers, too.
For fans, it’s probably everything you’d want out of this genre. But for folks like me, who are a little behind on the JRPG train, it’s a little too impenetrable to prove satisfying.
Inspired by masterful platformers like Celeste and Super Meat Boy, Sunblaze is a precision platformer with a lot to prove – and just enough charm to be compelling, if not altogether successful.
There’s very little plot to write home about. Josie, the titular Sunblaze, traverses through increasingly complex environments as her inventor father tests her skills. There are some twists to the threadbare plot, but most of it is told through muddled dialog that never really interests.
Luckily the gameplay is tight and fun for the most part. It doesn’t quite capture the thrills of Super Meat Boy or the exploratory wonder of Celeste, but for a first effort, it’s already got a leg up on dozen imitators.
It’s also not very expensive, so if you’re looking for a quick game to jump in and out of every once in a while, you could do a lot worse. Just don’t go expecting too much, and Sunblaze will prove an adequate salve until something else comes along.