We're back for another edition of Two Good Hours, where I detail my impressions of three games plucked from the ranks of Microsoft's PC Game Pass services.
Game Pass is the perfect service for a gamer who wants to try out so many games but doesn’t have the budget to buy each one. I decided the best way to maximize the number of games I get to try is to spend just two hours with each one before moving on to the next. If a game hasn’t grabbed my attention during that time, I feel safe in saying it isn’t for me.
Last time out, I played Citizen Sleeper, Dodgeball Academia, and My Friend Pedro. Quite the varied experiences in that group to be sure, and each was enjoyable in its own way. Citizen Sleeper is the only one I plan to go back to, so now I'm on to the next trio of games.
This time out, I wanted to focus on games that had a heavy dose of storytelling and narrative, so I checked into SpiritFarer, Kentucky Route Zero, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge. I know the Turtles don't fit the mold - I had originally planned to try Tunic but couldn't get it to play nice with my system, so I decided to throw some action into the mix with everyone's favorite pizza-addicted reptiles.
Without further delay, let's get into the games!
I absolutely adored this game, and it caught me completely off guard. I knew people had really enjoyed it but I never read a review or dove too deeply into the praise. I expected this to be a basic game of finding souls, hearing their stories, and then experiencing their transition to the afterlife. That does explain the basis of the game, but there's so much more to it.
The first thing you'll notice is the stunning look of this game. It truly feels like playing a Don Bluth movie from the 1980s, especially watching your companion, Daffodil the cat, bounce and roll alongside player-character Stella. The way the characters move and the absolute smoothness of the gameplay is truly a sight to behold.
The setup has you taking over as the spirit guide in the underworld, tasked to find lost souls with unfinished business, helping them accomplish their final tasks, and see that they cross over to the afterlife. With that backdrop, I was truly surprised to find that Spiritfarer is actually a management sim with light platforming elements to go along with heavy doses of conversation with NPCs.
You captain a ship that you use to traverse the spirit realm, and upon which the souls you meet along the way will "live" until their business is done. They apparently need shelter and food, just like anyone else, so your earliest tasks will have Stella constructing a guesthouse, kitchen, and eventually gardens, on the boat to meet the needs of your clients. The platforming comes in when you dive into the water to salvage items from shipwrecks, and when you pilot your ship to islands where you must chop down trees, harvest food, and jump up to the balconies of various buildings to meet new characters and purchase items from shops.
While I'm of course still early in the going, thus far Spiritfarer is a warm, peaceful experience that trods difficult ground without being heavy-handed. It feels good to make your spirit friends smile with a hug, their favorite food, or even just listening to their stories. They each have a mood meter that tells what they need, and you are managing them just as much as you are the crops or food cooking away in the oven. There's a lot of dialogue to read but the writing is excellent and does a wonderful job of conveying the emotion and significance of the on-screen events.
I didn't know what to expect from Spiritfarer but now I absolutely can't wait to get back to it. I highly recommend you experience this one for yourself, but if you need more convincing and don't mind spoilers, check out this piece from Kristina M.H. for more evidence of why it needs to be in your queue.
Kentucky Route Zero
One of the most highly acclaimed indie games I've ever seen, the praise for Kentucky Route Zero has come from every corner of the gaming world. Knowing it was a point-and-click adventure like those I grew up with, it has been on my radar since I first heard of it more than three years ago. For whatever reason, I never jumped on a Steam sale to purchase it, but seeing it on Game Pass, it was a no-brainer that I would try it eventually.
The game is episodic in nature and was released as such, with seven years passing between the first and fifth/final episodes debuting to fans. Sporting minimalist (but still gorgeous) graphics and the what-do-i-do-next ethos of its progenitors, the game echoes with the soul of decades-old experiences that laid the foundation of PC gaming. Adventure games like the Monkey Island and King's Quest series were the bread and butter of gaming in the '80s and '90s, and you get the same feeling upon firing up Kentucky Route Zero. It's the thrill of knowing an adventure awaits but not knowing what you'll have to do to experience it.
The gameplay is as simplistic as it can get, with a mostly static scene presented where you must decide what to do or who to talk to, and in what order. Icons appear above the characters and things you can interact with, and clicking will result in observations from your character or a screen of story information with various dialogue choices. When you are moving between scenes, it is portrayed as a wheel moving across a line representing the highways of Kentucky. It's all very basic, but you're not here for fast-twitch action or layered mechanics, you're here for the story, and the game certainly delivers on that.
As you can guess with a game like this, the writing is absolutely crucial, and everything I've experienced so far has been excellent. Dialogue is very tough to write well, but the quality here is great and you can practically hear these non-voiced characters in your head as you read their lines. Even the color and style of the text work in conjunction with the writing to convey the spirit of the characters, and right away you can tell something isn't quite right in this town. The first scene at Equus Oils sets the mysterious tone perfectly. Are there people in the basement or not? The old proprietor says no, but you heard them talking, didn't you? And why does he want you to log onto his computer instead of just giving you directions? The only way to find out is to plunge ahead in the story.
This is the type of game that lays bare the drawbacks of making a decision about a game after devoting just two hours to it. Kentucky Route Zero is methodical and slowly paced, at least in the first act, so I can't say with my usual certainty that I got the full measure of the game. It didn't grab me completely, but there were some fantastic moments and I want to give it a fair chance, so I will be returning to it. As I've said several times already in this series, this is the perfect Game Pass game for me, one I was scared to buy but truly does deserve the chance to shine.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge
There aren't too many IP that have the nostalgiac power of the Ninja Turtles, and a new experience of any kind was at the top of every fan's wishlist. Developer Tribute Games could have put out a basic game and fans would have eaten it up, but they went whole hog on Shredder's Revenge to make it everything fans of the NES/SNES and arcade games have been missing all these years.
The game is 16-bit pixel art perfection, from the character models to the environments and everything in between. The animation is excellent in all facets, from the characters' signature moves to the items laying around the environment that you can turn into weapons. Trash cans crumple realistically, TV cameras fly off their mounts to flatten groups of Foot soldiers, and the various motor vehicles you'll face can take you down with a satisfying crunch if you aren't careful.
True to form, the action here is all 2D brawling and weapons-based combat. All four turtles are playable, as are reporter April O'Neal and the turtles' sensei Master Splinter. It is a nice touch that all six are available to play from the very beginning, as modern experience has taught us that at least a couple would be locked away until the game was beaten. Up to six-player co-op takes advantage of the full roster and allows all your friends to get in on the butt-kicking. Fan favorite character Casey Jones is unlockable and his array of weapons should make it worth the effort.
The characters are more than just palette swaps here, as each has different skill levels and, of course, different weapons. Every fan will have their favorite from their childhood, and each character feels wonderful to control. You never feel like you're taking cheap shots even when the action gets hectic, as your double jump, dive attack and special charged attack (among many others) are powerful enough to takethe fight to the Foot without ever letting the action feel unbalanced in either direction.
Tribute paid attention to the details as well, starting with the overworld map and its smoking chimneys, flowing water into the rivers, and characters showing the location of optional objectives. Once the real action begins on each stage, there's a visual feast from both the characters and the environments (monkeys throw poop in Central Park!). April takes pictures when she body slams a bad guy and drops the mic at the end of levels, and each turtle's weapon is appropriately center-stage throughout the action. There's so much to see you'll want to play each stage more than once just to catch it all. Even the game's music hearkens back to the iconic movie's hip hop vibe and soundtrack, putting the cherry on top of thistrero sundae.
If 2D side-scrolling brawling is your jam and you ever loved the Turtles, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. It's not terribly difficult at the middle level, and infinite lives may make it too easy for some hardcore gamers, but arcade mode helps make it a little tougher. And making it accessible to younger players who will undoubtedly be attracted to the cartoony look is the right way to go. Stop what you're doing and go play it now, you won't regret it.
So that's all for the third edition of "Two Good Hours...", where we looked at two story-heavy games... and some mutant turtles. Stay tuned for the fourth edition where we'll be taking a turn toward the AAA with Microsoft Flight Simulator, Gears of War (the remastered original), and Forza Horizon 5. See you there!
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