Game Review: Spiritfarer

I’ve been playing a game on the Switch called Spiritfarer, which bills itself as “a cozy management game about dying”, and the couple of reviews I’d read (plus a suggestion from someone I follow) suggested it was right up my street.

Let’s start with the good bits. It’s got beautiful graphics, is adorably drawn, and it’s pretty easy to move around/do things. The first quarter of the story – the first four characters – is lovely; you’re led pretty easily through how to play, the base resources you can get, customising your boat, sailing places, all as you do tasks for the characters and make sure they’re comfortable… and when those character arcs are done, you can take them to the Everdoor, and usher them onwards. It hits all the right bittersweet notes, and one of them did make me cry. So for the first couple of hours, it’s a really nice, sweet, find-resources-and-do-quests game.

And then let’s move on to the things that made me repeatedly (over several gaming sessions) swear, want to throw the controller across the room, and finally actually give up on the fucking game.

First; whoever designed the plot/game mechanics apparently never even considered that someone might not do things in the “right” order. I actually had to restart after 5-6 hours gameplay because I got the “wrong” skill, and couldn’t progress; after I’d restarted and got past that same point, I then spent 8-10 hours almost running in circles, because what I needed to do to progress any of my quests was. Not. Fucking. Obvious.

I usually hate looking up answers, but I hit my limit. I accessed walk-throughs. I asked the same questions many other players had asked. I tried to guess and second-guess if I’d missed something. Each time, I did eventually manage to figure out what I’d missed – but when it’s several things, in different areas, and that had happened multiple times… I was done.

Constantly second-guessing a game IS NOT FUN.

Fun is knowing something is up there but not being able to get to it yet, or mashing buttons frantically because you just have to get that jump riiiiight oh fuck, ok, do it again. Fun is exploring and finding new things, new quest lines, and even if you can’t do one or two there’s still plenty that you can follow. Fun is being able to see what you can do and what your aims are, even if you can’t currently do it/don’t want to/feel like chasing comets instead.

Fun is not being led, gently, along a path, and then being pushed off it – and having no idea if you can’t do a thing because you don’t have the skill, or you missed something, or there’s a bug. Fun is not being frustrated enough to have to research every single character you can pick up in the game to figure out which one you should get now, with the (apparently limited) skills, and realising that the answer is “none”… which can’t be right. Fun is not HAVING TO FUCKING RESTART because the devs apparently didn’t even consider that someone might not follow the game with the plot structure they had in their heads, and then have no way to remedy it.

Place that alongside some decisions not to signpost resources or provide any help in-game, and to only signpost some access points and not others (eg. places where you can jump are sometimes obvious… and sometimes very not obvious) and it’s a recipe for a fucking frustrating game. There was one instance with a high ladder, where one iteration of it is relatively easy to jump onto; it just requires the right position/skill. There’s a similar iteration where I must have tried 15-20 times, no luck – so I assumed, not unreasonably, that it required a skill I didn’t have. Apparently what it actually requires is the stars to align and a pink elephant to fly past, and you can climb up this ladder – I have no idea what I did differently to get there, but it was annoying. Times that by about ten different things, and it’s infuriating.

The paragraphs above don’t really convey the sheer annoyance of all of this, but my partner will assure you that I was PISSED OFF. And I would also like to point out that it’s not me being stupid; the decisions were pretty obvious, generally, and the game definitely didn’t point to one being needed before the other, or to where I could find more information – it did really seem like whoever designed this had merrily trundled along, assuming you’d do The Right Thing and just… not thinking about if you, maybe, didn’t or couldn’t do That Thing.

I want to love this game. I want to say it’s sweet, and cute, and fun, and it made me cry (which it did, twice.) I want to say it’s a neat little game about collecting resources and taking your passengers out for dinner and talking to rude passers-by and delivering lemons. I want to say that it’s a thoughtful, gentle story about life and death, and friends making their way into the afterlife, and about how we deal with death and loss and memories, and that it tugs all the right heartstrings.

I want to love it.

But, honestly: it is all of that – it is sweet and lovely and heart-tugging – and that’s not enough to overcome the flaws.

My real takeaway? Don’t buy this. Don’t bother playing. You’ll make the wrong plot decision, or not be able to do something, or choose the wrong action, and frankly – unless you like aimlessly drifting around a map while frantically Google’ing to see what you missed and where you should go next – it’s not worth it.

I Jumped On The Bandwagon… And I’m Underwhelmed

I’ve (finally) joined the Animal Crossings: New Horizons bandwagon!

[Edited to add: I’m publishing this as a legacy post. I’ve been playing for longer now and a lot of the problems have resolved themselves… but jeez, talking about a learning curve! Far too many assumptions are being made by the devs in the first few hours of playing.]

I was playing Pocket Camp on my mobile, and stopped when I ran out of space. So I do have some familiarity with Animal Crossings, but not on Switch, and not the full game.

So… yeah. Very, very underwhelmed.

(The Switch itself is great – we got a Switch Lite, and it is indeed light, easy to hold and nice to use! Multiple profiles too which is great for Otter and I.)

But Animal Crossings… hum. I’ve played a couple of hours, and got to the stage where I’m just upgrading from a tent to a house; I think I should get it tomorrow. So I’m withholding judgement a little in case that changes things, but…

  • The actions are not intuitive – I actually had to text a friend to ask how to sleep (which is ridiculous; you press a button to interact with literally every single other thing, and to sleep, you have to walk onto your bed. Seriously?)
  • It’s not particularly obviously what you have to do, and whether you can’t perform a certain action because a) it’s not possible, b) you’re doing the wrong thing, or c) you don’t have the tool yet.
  • There’s no help (that I can find) beyond some very unhelpful “have you done this activity yet?” from Timmy. So for anything like “how do I get those floating presents” or “how do I make a snowman”, it’s very much the above bullet point in guessing how to do it.
  • It’s also not clear how resources refill; bear in mind that I have come from pocket camp, where they refill on a set timeframe, and if things are just lying on the floor at the start of the game then my assumption is that more will appear on the floor at some stage in the future. Apparently, however, you have to whack trees and rocks. THIS IS NOT OBVIOUS.
  • On the same note, I gathered all of the fruit and weeds, because I got Moneys for them. I currently have no idea if I have to do something to get more, or if they’ll grow overnight/every week/every year. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.
  • The placement system for items is terrible (stand… vaguely near where you want it, and hope you’re not turned slightly too far to one side?) and it’s also very frustrating to not be able to move something once it’s been placed – you have to pick it up and try again…
  • And I’m finding the Switch controls hard too; trying to get my character at juuuuuust the right angle to get the fishing lure in front of the fish… forget anything that needs precision.

And I think the biggest thing for me… I’m bored.

There’s two animals to interact with, and they’re not interesting. Timmy, Tommy & Tom Nook are helpful, but going through the same scripts every time you want to sell a fish is frankly tedious. I can’t buy much yet because I either don’t want it, or can’t use it. I’ve dug up stuff and collected stuff and run around and…

Now what? I keep doing that? Grinding much!

Pocket Camp at least is interesting and interactive. There’s multiple animals, and multiple places to visit. There’s a wide variety of things to do and cute things to buy. You can decorate your house, or camp, and part of the fun is being able to collect multiple items and change theme. You have an obvious path to obvious goals.

New Horizons… not so much. I keep running around and get more money, and I… might be able to do something with it? Once I’ve paid back my house, of course. I dunno how many shells and fish that’s going to take. And is that it?

Also, it’s giving me anxiety that my character is running around in a t-shirt a jeans when it’s SNOWING! At least give the starting character some weather-appropriate gear! (I can’t find any in the shopping lists either, so I guess I’m going to have to stay anxious for a while.)

So… I’m going to keep playing for a bit longer, just to see if having a house makes a difference, or if Blather’s Museum gives any more options. But at the moment, it is very, very meh.

Board Games and Werewolf

One of the excellent things about Rebellion (amongst many others, of course) is that there’s so many geeky people that there’s a board games club at lunchtime. (There’s also a lot of people who play computer games – I’ve been offered Halo, Overwatch and World of Warcraft, and several others that I hadn’t heard of!) But because I like board games, I made a point of investigating who did what, and I’m now usually – if the publishing department hasn’t caught fire or the printers have just sent a proof copy back – to be found playing something at lunchtime…

7 Wonders

You are the leader of one of the 7 great cities of the Ancient World. Gather resources, develop commercial routes, and affirm your military supremacy. Build your city and erect an architectural wonder which will transcend future times.

I admit that when I first played this, I was a bit worried as it was quite long…but it’s actually a really good half-hour game! The setup’s a little fiddly but once you know what everything does (which I found took 5-ish games) it’s quite easy to start looking at strategies and ways of playing. I haven’t yet won, but I’m starting to hold my own – and develop my own strategies for winning! It can be as complex or as simple a strategy as you want it to be, and I like 7 Wonders because the game changes every time, so – so far! – it hasn’t become boring.

Tzolk’in

We’ve just started playing this (aka. we’ve played it twice now?) so I’m just about getting the hang of it. It’s got a cool mechanism of turning wheels, so you add your workers to a wheel and then can either leave them to ride up the rewards, or remove them to gain the reward, plus go up in temple points, build buildings…it’s quite complex to understand what everything does, but kinda fun. Still working out my strategies though!

Mystic Vale (with expansions)

A curse has been placed on the Valley of Life. Hearing the spirits of nature cry out for aid, clans of druids have arrived, determined to use their blessings to heal the land and rescue the spirits. It will require courage and also caution, as the curse can overwhelm the careless who wield too much power.

I really like the mechanism for this; you get issued a “base” set of cards, and then you add in powers on top in clear plastic sleeves. It means you power up your deck as you play, but still gives you randomly selected cards – and you’re potentially fighting everyone else at the table for the cards that you want to take. It’s been a 2-lunchtime game each time we’ve played (although sometimes only just!) and it fairly easy to set up. And it is very pretty.

Race for the Galaxy

Players build galactic civilizations by playing game cards in front of them that represent worlds or technical and social developments. Some worlds allow players to produce goods, which can be consumed later to gain either card draws or victory points when the appropriate technologies are available to them. These are mainly provided by the developments and worlds that are not able to produce, but the fancier production worlds also give these bonuses.

Another quick-play one, and one that I’m slowly getting the hang of – although I’ve only played this one a few times, too! Good for card strategy although has some dice-roll luck too.

Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico players assume the roles of colonial governors on the island of Puerto Rico. The aim of the game is to amass victory points by shipping goods to Europe or by constructing buildings.

Getting the hang of this one! It’s quite a simple one to pick up, and fairly simple to play. Haven’t yet won (let’s be fair, I haven’t won anything yet…) but getting closer! Coffee, that’s the key – and taking over one boat when no one else has any of that commodity 🙂

We’ve also been playing Dominion, Galaxy Truckers (which, I incidentally learned, isn’t supposed to take an HOUR to build your ship. It’s supposed to take five minutes. So there’s that), Ticket to Ride, and I forget the others…but definitely a bunch of different things! And we’ve still got quite a bit of the stack of get through! So my lunchtimes are busy and fun, even if I am still losing everything at the moment.

Aaaand…Werewolf

There’s an Oxford Werewolf group – I think there’s actually a couple around, but I trundled along to this one a week or so ago. It was awesome and it’s a really good group of people, but I’d forgotten how freakin’ anxiety-full Werewolf is! Especially for someone who doesn’t like arguing. Not sure I’m going to be able to go back, which sucks as otherwise it was a fun game. I mean, I got burned at the stake which frankly wasn’t very friendly, but a wolf nearly won – which is hilarious when you’re a ghost and hanging around just to watch the chaos.

Gaming (and typing practise!): Epistory

I have been gaming a bit more recently; I’ve had a whole stack on my wishlist and I’ve picked a few up when they’ve been on Steam sale, and over the last few weeks, I’ve started playing again – mostly a game called Epistory!

I wanted to love Stardew Valley, but it had too many bugs, too many random quests, no help given….screw that. I’m sure it’s fun if you get into it, but for me it was just tedious, and I refuse to waste time on tedium. I also had a go at something similar to Sid Meier’s Civ, but didn’t get on with it.

But Epistory…love love LOVE.

In a story where everything is to be written, ride a giant fox and fight insectile corruption in a beautiful origami world.

I mean, how cool does that sound? And it really is!

The world itself is stunning; everything unfolds as you approach it, and it’s origami-and-paper style designs, beautifully drawn. It’s a sheer joy to look at, especially as there’s a range of different areas that you can travel through, all rendered with different settings (I particularly like the ice floes). The plot is basically “find area, explore, do some puzzles, whomp creatures, learn a new language, explore more” but each level is different enough that it’s not tedious – and there’s a larger story wound into the world, writing itself as you go.

And that’s part of the fun – the story tells itself on the ground as you travel. You fight monsters by typing words and letters. You reveal treasure chests and flowers by getting the words right. If you’re trying to learn touch-typing, it’s an excellent way to learn – as I’m finding! I’m so used to writing from my head that I don’t have to think about how to type a word – but give me one on the screen and I get a little lost, so it’s actually an excellent tool.

I don’t know how long the story is, but you can keep exploring the world even between the levels. On a gameplay level, I love that the game automatically saves and if you die, it puts you back to a sensible save point (so doesn’t immediately put you back into danger!) The interface and tools are very easy – the only thing I’m finding difficult is the movement controls, as the game uses E-F-J-I. It helps typing, but unfortunately I can’t get them into my head as directions so I’m constantly going the wrong way…but that’s a minor bug compared to the rest of the game.

I don’t know if you can adjust difficult levels – if you can, Epistory would definitely be an excellent game to teach children touch-typing! It’s sweet for all ages, though, and beautifully drawn. The story’s still unfolding for me (and I love that I can play in small chunks!) so I’ll keep you updated!

 

Interview + Portal

I did an interview with the lovely Isha Crowe for the Ink Pantry – mostly about writing and GreenSky, but also about games. And that got me thinking – have I raved about Portal? I don’t think I’ve raved about Portal. So I’m going to. Because IT’S AMAZING.

First, you need a computer that can cope with a computer game. Then you need Steam and an internet connection to download it. Then you need about two days and a brain.

You’ve got all those, I know you have.

Portal‘s a puzzle game, where you wake up in a facility with a gun that shoots portals – one blue, one orange – and anything you put through one comes out the other (including yourself). You’re in some sort of testing facility, and you have to solve the puzzles in each chamber to reach the next one – but they slowly get harder and harder, and there’s more puzzles, more dangers (although the Turrets – above – are weirdly adorable) and the AI’s voice slowly gets more and more sarcastic…

Ah, who am I kidding. She’s thoroughly sarcastic, and it’s one of the best parts of the game. Definitely play with the sound on!

I love it because there’s no creeping dangers; you know where the turrets are (even though getting shot isn’t great) and everything’s a really nice, solveable puzzle. It doesn’t get boring, either, despite the fact you’re using the same basic tools: there are a huge variety of ways to put the obstacles together which means each chamber requires a new approach. The game isn’t too long either, which is nice, but you can save and come back easily.

There’s a second one too, which has a different feel (but just as good!) so it doesn’t feel like a repeat of the first – and you get to see different areas of the facility, as well as meet different people. And potatoes. And robots. The co-op mode in Portal 2 is amazing, as well; Atlas and P-Body are great fun, and you can drop each other in gunk! Accidentally. Honest.

So if you haven’t come across it and you like puzzles and sarcastic humour, definitely play Portal!