Category: Reviews

Monster Hunter World

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Music: 
Akihiko Narita
Platforms: 
Microsoft Windows PC, PS4, & Xbox One
Released: 
22 December 2017
Genre:
 Action Role Playing Game (ARPG)

Monster Hunter World is the fifth instalment of the Monster Hunter series. For those of you who haven’t heard about Monster Hunter you play as a hunter that you can customise that is tasked with hunts to either kill or trap monsters that roam certain environmental landscapes. The idea usually is to kill them, harvest materials and use those materials to make new weapons, armour and other unique game items. You also have a friendly little side kick called a Palico which is an anthropomorphic cat that you can also name and customise that will assist you in combat. There is also your assistant Handler whose job is to keep you up to date with all your objectives and educate you on how the New World works.

In Monster Hunter World you start as part of the fifth fleet which has been called upon by the Research Commission to provide more back up to previous hunters in the New World. The major focus of the journey is to perform Expeditions into new environments to study Elder Dragons, which are very powerful monsters that play a big part in the ecosystem or each new area you discover. Early on in the story you learn that these monsters migrate to this New World every ten years in an event known as Elder Crossing. During the first initial cut scene on the ship to the New World you encounter Zorah Magdaros who is an Elder Dragon moving towards your destination. Throughout the rest of the main narrative, you are to discover why they migrate and what part they play in the ecosystem of this New World.

There are many twists and turns ahead should you take on this perilous journey, and if you should feel afraid do not worry Monster Hunter World is very big on multiplayer cooperative hunts. You can post a quest and other hunters can join you or you can join a quest that other players post. Not to mention loads and loads of optional side quests, special events and wonderful game cross overs; such as Geralt of Rivia or Mega Man. Also, once you finish the main quest line and hit the credits there is still more monsters to discover and challenges to face. The game almost seemingly never ends even after 50 hours of gameplay.

Something incredible about the Monster Hunter series is the impressive number of weapons you can choose from and you don’t have to be locked into specialising in one. There are 14 to choose from ranging from close combat, mid-range, high mobility, aerial, rapid fire, long ranged and versatile. I originally started playing on a Charge Blade which has to be on the most unique and if not most complicated weapons to master however provides insane damage once you reach the high hunter ranks. It has a couple of different modes such as it looks like a small sword and shield however you can combine them together to form a large axe that you can charge with power to deal massive blows. I later learnt the bow and arrow because some monsters fly and learning a ranged weapon definitely helps with certain hunts. Honestly one of the best parts of the game is enjoying a range of different weapons that can completely change the game play as well as the outcome of monster fights. I highly recommend learning more than one weapon.

The best, if not most incredible part of Monster Hunter World is the monsters themselves. They are fascinating, visually exceptional, diverse and extremely dangerous. Some of them are so hard that you definitely need a full team of hunters to take it down and some can be an hour-long grind. There are moments of such beauty for example during fights you have these scenes of incredible high-definition beasts up against these incredible environmental back drops that are simply jaw dropping. There is one particular hunt against an Elder Dragon where you are set in the volcanic pit with a what looks like a giant flying lion that explodes these incredible red and blue flames. Honestly there is nothing like it.

I should also mention the comradery of multiplayer hunting. Most of my time with Monster Hunter World has been cooperative, myself and some of the Zed Games team helped me climb in rank and experience by hunting together. There is so much fun to be had testing out different weapons and taking on different monsters all over the New World. Something that Zahra mentioned to me was, “Every hunt is different, even if it’s the same monster you fought before you are guaranteed to have a different experience the next time you’re out there.” Seeing massive fights between two different monsters or having your party crashed by an unwanted visitor is always a good opportunity to get the hell out of the way and see something new, maybe even try something new.

A quick tip for players interested in playing Monster Hunter World on Windows PC is get yourself a controller that is compatible, usually Xbox controllers wired or Bluetooth will work nicely. You can play using keyboard, however, depending on your weapon you might find your fights to be more challenging. On a personal level I find the controller to make to experience more immersive.

Akihiko Narita is the composer for Monster Hunter World and has created much of the soundtrack for many other Monster Hunter games as well as Resident Evil 5. His compositions are epic in nature, making everything feel like this grand adventure. There is mystery and suspense as well as fear and darkness. The orchestral tones and rising string sections of the music gives your heart a good stir especially when you’re fighting a Diablos. Speaking of Diablos this monster has some of the best sound effects, tunnelling underground and exploding up from under you. There’s the sound of monster roars that stun you in battle, some of these guys are pretty terrifying.

All in all, Monster Hunter World is extraordinary. It’s not my first Monster Hunter game and it certainly won’t be my last. If you are unsure about the soon to be released Monster Hunter Rise don’t be afraid to go check out this one instead. Plus, there is a massive expansion Iceborne should you love it as much as I did. To give you an idea of how resoundingly positive Monster Hunter World has been received internationally the lowest score it’s had was an 8/10 and with overwhelmingly positive reviews on Steam you are bound to find something you love. Are you ready to depart on your quest hunter? I am.

Green Hell Review

Developer: Creepy Jar, Forever Entertainment S. A., Incuvo S. A.
Publisher:
Creepy Jar, Forever Entertainment S. A., Incuvo S. A.
Music:
Adam Skorupa & Krzysztof Wierzynkeiwicz
Platforms: 
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Released: 
29 August 2018
Genre:
Survival, Adventure, Simulation, Indie, Action

It has been three years since Jake and Mia first visited the Yabahuaca people. Originally Jake & Mia visited the Amazon Rainforest to study and learn about the tribe. After returning from the jungle Jake published a book called “The Spirits of Amazonia” discussing all the cultural elements of the tribe and its customs. However, the book wasn’t received well by its readers and criticized Jake for using the Yabahuaca tribe for his own personal gain. This time Jake has returned to the forest undergrowth in hopes of learning more about the jungle’s flora and fauna while Mia (his wife) ventures off to visit the Yabahuaca tribe to hopefully gain their leaders trust, be initiated into the tribe and ultimately share their secrets with the wider world.

Dialog over walkie talkie:
MIA: “I need you here. Jake. Please, please answer me!

JAKE: “Mia, what happened? Mia, speak to me… Mia!”

As you might’ve guessed things don’t go so well for Mia and it’s up to you (Jake) to find her and bring her to safety. Of course, this is a survival game which means things are not going to be so easy. If anything, they are going to be extremely difficult. Well with all the dangerous wildlife, angry Yabahuaca, rainforest dwelling drug cartel and of course Omolu Corp searching for the cure for cancer what could go wrong? Narratively speaking Green Hell is a game with branching narratives and multiple endings making for an interesting and long journey that can end happily or in tragedy. So, watch where you step my friend.

There are 4 difficulty levels in Green Hell. There’s: A Walk in The Park, Welcome to The Jungle, King of The Jungle, and of course Green Hell being the hardest. The big thing with these difficulty settings is that you can have the option to turn tribe hostility on or off, predators on or off as well as Jake’s sanity, making for a truly terrifying experience should you be chased by a big angry cat through the jungle, at night, in the rain, whilst not being too sure that you hallucinated the whole thing. But don’t worry the tutorial eases you in. First by showing you how to check your backpack, inspect your body should you become injured, how to set up a camp, build shelters and so on. The controls and interactions are pretty intuitive and easy to follow making the learning curve a breeze to get through.

Similar to ARK: Survival Evolved, Green Hell is spectacular in its environmental design taking you through creeks and undergrowth with brilliant visual clarity. The Amazon truly comes alive if you can turn those graphics settings right up and even on a low-resolution the environment still looks pretty darn real. You can tell by how well the water animations have been done that it’s a very aesthetically pleasing game. Making the terror that much more real.

There’s a bit to juggle in the first few hours of gameplay with learning a map, navigating a notebook with all the details of “How to do things” as well as finding the right time to rest, eat, and maintain sanity. You have a smart watch gifted to you from Mia that aids you with managing your player needs. As someone who gets spooked a lot this game is probably best played with friends. Green Hell gives you the option to play cooperatively both with survival mode and story mode. I find myself being more confident with decisions in survival games with friends by my side, but by all means if your more of a lone wolf kind of player than good luck to you.

What really gets my heart racing is the music, with low tribal drums, maracas, bamboo pan flutes and suspenseful themes Adam & Krysztof have done and insane job of elevating the experiences of Green Hell to not just increase your fear but also showcase the native South American musical instruments. Touching on classical Latin guitar, whilst still keeping true to the native sound of the Amazonas, I am definitely impressed. Of course, most of the music is designed to keep you on your toes so be prepared for that.

To summaries my experience with Green Hell I have to say that as much as I spent my time working up the courage to venture further into the rainforest, there is so much going for it aside from the fear aspects. There are many moments of appreciating the natural world, spinning out with Ayahuasca, and learning about the wonder of the Amazon. The story is compelling and is a fantastic driving force when you are unsure about what to do. The music is heart thumping and beautiful and I’m looking forward to playing more of the Green Hell universe as the developers continue to expand on Jake & Mia’s story. Hopefully when you play, you both come out alive.

Windbound Review

sunsest over water with the word "windbound"

Developer: 5 Lives Studios
Publisher:
Koch Media
Music:
Zander Hulme
Platforms:
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Google Stadia, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Released:
28 August 2020
Genre:
Adventure, Role-Playing, Survival

Narrative

All around you stretches the ocean. A beautiful giant, but an unforgiving beast. Right now, you have no boat and you’re treading water looking at the short a small distance away. You haven’t been given a story to go off, all you have is the ocean and the land in front of you. There’s a shrine on the first island, you walk to it and climb to the top where a shell hangs in the air, waiting for you to wrap your hands around it.

Windbound has an impressive and gorgeous art style that brings you into the world. If you imagine Zelda: Windwaker meets The Breath of the Wild then you’ve pretty much got Windbound in a nutshell. The art style is reminiscent of both the aforementioned games. I believe it’s rated for ages 12 and up which makes a lot of sense since you play as Kara, a lone traveller who has to hunt, gather, and craft to survive. The game has a steep learning curve when it comes to combat.

Gameplay

You can pick from two different play styles: adventurer and survivalist. I’ve been playing on adventurer mode to focus on enjoying scavenging and crafting. The bonus on adventure mode is that when you die (and you will) you get to keep all of your stuff when you respawn. In survival mode, you lose most of your items,09 and you are sent back to the first level at respawn. I would have found this incredibly frustrating as a player so opted to play the more relaxed, adventurer mode. I think I died about four times in the first level even on adventurer mode. I almost gave up, but before I did, I read a couple of guides to get a good understanding of what I needed to be able to thrive in-game. I’d like to point out, that survival games aren’t my usual choice for games and so I wasn’t as used to the kinds of mechanics I was about to run into. It takes time to learn how to play Windbound, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to spend hours upon hours exploring islands and the seas.

There’s one mechanic that I find both equally cool and frustrating. Each time you die and respawn, you’re sent to a different set of three islands. They all serve pretty much the same purpose; you look for shrines and collect keys while trying to upgrade your boat. If you’re playing on survival mode, you will lose your boat each time you die, forcing you to start over completely from the beginning. Except for this time, you’re armed with the knowledge you have gained from your previous playtime. Ultimately, the more time you spend playing Windbound, the better you will get at it.

Crafting is a big part of your gameplay and you will need to get good at it to survive. Crafting is another reason that I really adore Windbound. I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from collecting parts for items and then seeing them done. You get to do a fair amount of cooking because you can slowly die from starvation. Food replenishes health and stamina, but uncooked food can do damage to your health. I spent more time crafting and cooking than I did trying to fight anything. This paid off pretty quickly because I was able to travel further and for longer without having to stop and refuel.

I loved spending time upgrading my boat and was constantly looking for ways to upgrade everything. Your boat acts as a good way to store extra items, but your overall storage is still pretty limited. I’d like to see more opportunities for furthering storage quicker into the game though. Not a lot of game mechanics are explained to players and there are some little side quests that should help you feel the world is a little bit bigger. I’m missing the jerky I left cooking on an island in level one. I can’t go back to it.

Music

I think one of my biggest highlights for Windbound is that the soundtrack was something I could have happily had on in the background while doing work or writing my review. Zander Hulme has done an impressive job of creating aural cues for the player. There’s a variety of pieces that play in the background of the game while you’re exploring the islands. You can easily discern between the general gameplay music and the combat music. Enemies nearby are often cued through the music. Hulme has created expansive, atmospheric soundscapes that give the game world a grand size.

 

Accessibility

I have included a section on accessibility because I am a disabled player that relies on some varied accessibility options to be able to fully enjoy games. The comments in this section are by no means a negative criticism of the studio. Accessibility options can be difficult to implement and I think that 5 Lives Studios has done a wonderful job for a small development studio. However, this section is included as more of a guide for players who may experience some disabilities.

I think younger players or players with cognitive disabilities might struggle with the gameplay. The gameplay isn’t that straightforward. It took me about half an hour of gameplay before I realised that there were actually objectives and a bit of a story that was happening. Tutorials pop up on the screen as you encounter new items and unlike other games, they stay until you’ve had a chance to read through the entire thing. However, I couldn’t find these tutorials later to reaccess them. I believe there are some guides online. So if you’re a player with a cognitive disability, it may be worth keeping a guide open while you play.

There aren’t other characters that you really interact with in the first couple of hours or so which means that there isn’t a

 

massive need for subtitles, but as a player who is hard of hearing, I was disappointed when some enemies were too easily able to sneak up on me. I had no idea what was going on until the battle music was playing and half my health was gone. I was able to chat with Zander Hulme about this and he recommended turning down the sound of the music while keeping the enemy sounds on full. It helps to be able to play the game with a good sound system or headphones. Unfortunately, the game does not include a visual tracking system for enemies. As a hard of hearing player, I have to get a little bit creative about playing with the sound up.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to remap the controls on my PC. I am unsure about the ability for remapping on other consoles. There are generally workarounds for this if you have a physical or motor disability that requires the ability to remap.

Colourblind players may run into some issues but for the most part, Windbound’s art style and colour palette are distinct enough for colourblind players to enjoy without too many issues. My experience with colourblindness is on the guidance of my colourblind partner.

Overall Experience

Overall, Windbound is a tough but thoroughly enjoyable experience. I think players over the age of twelve, who enjoy survival adventure games will have a blast with Windbound. While I ran into some issues as a disabled player, I think that 5 Lives Studios has done a wonderful job in creating something that is both visually and aurally appealing to players. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of survival RPGs, the art style alone in Windbound is enough to keep you coming back. It is far too easy to just spend hours hanging out on an island cooking, crafting, and ignoring the narrative objectives. So if you want a fun Sunday afternoon game, Windbound is the one for you.

Factorio Review

Developer: Wube Software
Publisher: Wube Software
Music: Daniel James Taylor
Platforms: PC only – Windows, macOS, Linux
Released: 14th August 2020
Genre: Simulation / RTS / Building / Management / Tower defence

Factorio in my house has a reputation, for my wife knows I will be lost for two days, rave of mathematical ratios and alien biters, and somehow gain the focus of a cramming uni student abusing caffeine and amphetamines.

But what is this, my game of 2020 and drug of choice?

Factorio was successfully crowdfunded in 2013 and released into early access on steam in early 2016. I first played Factorio later that year after binge watching youtubers creating vast belted megafactories. Visually, it is a top down, 2.1D isometric game like RTS games circa 1999, while also having a dreary diesel punk aesthetic. Despite this the world is rich with biomes, natural fauna, and easily identifiable resources to feed the factory.

Game play wise it is a beast of real-time strategy, automation, resource management and base defence.

The basic premise of Factorio is that you have crash landed on a planet and need to survive. This is really only present in the tutorial and when you set off your first rocket, the endgame trigger. The rest of the game is the dieselpunk version of Man Vs Wild while you set your mind to the machinations of the machine, engineering an extravaganza of a mega-base while protecting yourself from the natural life forms attracted by your pollution and hell bent on destroying your creations.

To create your first factory you mine, belt, chop, hand craft and build before progressing to automating with belts, inserters, and trains. The final step, if you are brave enough, the birth of true automation with flying robots, wires and storage all controlled through logistics and programming.

Your factory is now vast and consuming, both in resources and time. You stare bleary eyed at not only how long you have been staring at the screen, but how many hours you have now accumulated in your steam profile. Calculations and spread sheets strewn across your desktop as you have calculated the exact ratios of ore to final products.

This game captivates the engineer in me. The organisation to compact and replicate, modularise and expand. But I’ll be honest, I play on peaceful. For without this, those biters, worms and spitters come in ever increasing waves. They expand and search for weaknesses, and one day you look up from your hard work and hear the alarm and they’re chomping at your power station and everything goes dark.

Speaking of sound, the atmospheric sounds are inconspicuous. I don’t mean that in a bad way, rather everything sounds right for the situation. Footsteps on grass, sand, concrete and metal all sound right for the situation. The intervals between the musical interludes are filled with the wind in the wilds, or if you are in your factory the hum of machinery and belts, the crackle of arching electrics or the soft bells of sonar from the radar tower.

The musical composition of Daniel Hames Taylor highlights the desolation and feeling of isolation while still remaining calming and optimistic, it is also memorable and repeated enough so that years after playing, reopening the game and listening to the game’s music brings back instant nostalgia to the hours of gameplay you previously invested. However, should the music grate on your psyche, as in most things in this game, there’s a slider for that.

Overall while I’m sure you can tell I enjoy the game there are some teething issues for new players. The controls and key board shortcuts are extensive and while the tutorial shows a good selection of the basics, the huge selection of inbuilt shortcuts can be overwhelming to learn. There’s also little after the tutorial to tell you what or how to do things. You are left to your own devices, a research tree, and your own brain to guide you. This tends to lead new players to restart their first map a few times before getting into their stride. And when you set up your map everything has a slider, from the progression of the biters to how rich ore patches are, how many natural cliffs, water fronts and trees you need to cut down, destroy or pave over to expand your ever growing factropolis.

The developers Wube Software continue to actively develop the game, while also developing new toys and squashing bugs. The modding community is also highly active and can add different gameplay loops and complexities to your engineering marvel.

If this has wet your whistle for a play you can find a demo available at factorio.com, or you can buy if from that same website or from steam.

 

osu!

Developer: Dean “Peppy” Herbert
Publisher: Dean “Peppy” Herbert
Music: Variety
Platforms: Microsoft, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
Released: September 16, 2007, November 21, 2020 (Stable Release)
Genre: Rhythm game

What is osu? What does osu look like? How do you play osu? What makes osu so compelling?

Put simply, osu is a game about circles. And hitting those circles to the rhythm of the music. Circles appear, you click those circles, and more circles appear. At the end, you are scored based on how well you hit the circles.

Simple, right?

Simple doesn’t mean easy though. When you load up the game, you are hit by intense, hectic music that makes you want to move. You can select a map to play, called beatmaps by players, and away you go! You’ll see dozens of circles appear, and you have to click them at just the right moment to get those 300 points. But not all circles are the same! Most of them you will just click, but others require you to run the ball along a track. Another mechanic is to spin a wheel very, very quickly.

That’s just standard osu of course. There are other game modes, where you hit a drum to the beat, or catch fruit, to the beat, or play a small piano, also to the beat.

It’s rather straightforward, but the challenge comes with having to do these things to the beat. It’s intense, and even starting with the ‘easy’ beatmaps, you can find yourself overwhelmed by how many circles appear. Miss too many of them, and the beatmap comes to a disappointing stop.

So, you’ll have to try again. Learn the rhythm of the music and the beatmap. Listening to the music isn’t even wholly necessary, with visual cues indicating when exactly to hit the circles. But you will learn the rhythm, find the beat, and roll with it.

Before you know it, you’ll settle into a groove.

Now, a lot of the beatmaps are extremely challenging, and there is a huge jump between the easy beatmaps, and the normal beatmaps. There were so many circles! But this is where mods come in handy. You have the ability to play the beatmap at half speed, with larger circles, or to simply make it impossible to fail. All these are useful for learning a new  beatmap. Or to simply have a more chill time! These mods will affect your score modifier however, so if you have dreams of becoming the top osu player, well, you’ll only get so far. But, likewise, if you do master a beatmap, you can add mods to make it more difficult. And these will increase your score modifier.

Now, obviously music is a huge aspect to this game, and it does not disappoint. There is a wide variety of music from various genres, and it’s really hard not to just jam with a lot of them. In addition, there are artists who will compose tracks specifically for osu, or lend their sweet tunes to the game. And it is possible to actually create your own custom beatmaps for songs! There is a community surrounding this game, full of people who really enjoy osu, and want to see their favourite songs in it. And honestly, I have hunted down songs in the game so I could listen to it later.

I really enjoy osu, and I enjoy the process of learning a beatmap, practising, and watching my own personal score improve. I don’t love seeing it compared against the leaderboard, but I’ve never had any serious dreams of becoming the best at this game. I love how flexible the controls can be. You can play with just a mouse, with a mouse and keyboard, with a controller, or with a tablet. Fair warning though, if you play with a mouse, give yourself lots of space to move.

I love that there is a community full of serious and casual players, and that the game is constantly getting updated, and that the community continues to introduce new content. I also love that it is 100% a free to play game.

I do wish the menu interface was a little easier to use, and that importing beatmaps was a bit simpler (hint, doubleclick them when you download them), but these are things I believe will continue to improve with time. But there’s already so many ways to adjust my gaming experience. With such an active fanbase and community, and a team that keeps the game alive, osu is here to stay. Unlike all these circles I’m clicking.

It’s Literally Just Mowing

Developer: Protostar (Dean Loades & Matt Knights)
Publisher:
Protostar
Music:
Protostar
Platforms:
Mobile (Android & Apple)
Released:
27th February 2020
Genre:
Mowing Simulator

It’s a Sunday morning and you FINALLY get to sleep in… You’re all snug like a bug in a rug, nice and warm in your little blanket cocoon… then *click, cluck, click*… BZZZZZZRRRRRR!! Oh no the blasted neighbours are mowing! Don’t you hate that? But not to worry It’s literally just mowing is SO much more relaxing than waking up to your neighbours clipping grass at 7am on Sunday. In this magical mowing world, mowing lawns isn’t loud, isn’t sweaty, and it’s not even sticky, itchy, or dirty. Surprisingly, the developers of It’s literally just mowing Protostar have made mowing quite relaxing, almost meditative.

I know you must be thinking this is weird given that summer in Australia means you end up having to start mowing the lawns again right after you finish BUT NOT IN THIS GAME! This mowing simulation game is very much set in North America and you get to use ride-on mowers which makes for an easier mowing experience (even in real life).

It’s literally Just Mowing is set in multiple different landscapes, varying from community areas and courtyards, to mostly just different people’s backyards. Starting with a brief tutorial that is very easy to follow you begin your journey of mowing the yards of your very first street. Getting the luxury of not only mowing their lawns but also gathering lots of different collectables. Such as cats, birds, bugs, and other cute backyard critters. You’ll know that you can catch something in the backyard by tapping on a white glowing orb that hovers across your screen. For each animal or object that you find they are worth a certain number of gems common collectables are worth less than rare ones which you can spend on unlocking different types of toolboxes where you have the chance to win upgrades to your mower, the driver’s look, you can even pimp out your rims.

That’s right, this game contains microtransactions, ads and loot boxes. Like most free to play games their needs to be some mechanic where the developers can make a little cash. Gems can cost $0.99 for 500 up to $49.99 for 32,000. Don’t stress though these microtransactions and so on don’t take away from the overarching experience of the game. It’s Literally Just Mowing focuses primarily on creating a soothing, even mindless experience. You sit on your mower, swiping up, down, left, and right around an over-grassy patch to see it all snipped away as you pass over. During the Christmas break you didn’t mow grass you were sucking up snow that had taken over. There are 74 different collectable items in the game that aren’t just backyard creatures but also old lawn mower blades, seats, tires, and other parts that can also come in multiple colour schemes.

From a sound perspective, It’s Literally Just Mowing is super chill, from the pause menu to the sounds of full-on mowing everything has a gentle hum that is peaceful. You can hear the sounds of a busy suburban neighbourhood, birds chirping, and the wind blowing through the trees. Honestly if you are one of those people that find the sound of rain or white noise calming the sounds of this game will lull you into a relaxed state.

Overall, It’s Literally Just Mowing is a game where you get to zone out. If you can get past microtransactions and ads, you won’t be disappointed. This is the first time I felt so calm to be mowing and I guess that’s what the genre of simulation games is all about, feeding you the reward of doing the task minus the real-world physical effort. There are many other mowing simulation games on the App Store but I have to say after playing this one I feel like I don’t need to look any further for my ride-on gardening needs.

Ready Player Two

I was incredibly excited for this book to come out. I was a big fan of Ready Player One despite its flaws as a debut novel. Unfortunately, Ready Player Two falls into many of the traps that a sequel is known to have. The following review may contain some spoilers surrounding plot and characters.

Ready Player Two took me much longer than I anticipated to finish. I thought it was going to be a book that I picked up and finished in a matter of days, but it took me over a month to complete. The book has one glaringly major flaw: pacing. The first several chapters rush you through the three years since Wade won the contest. It’s a big information dump that includes information I believe would be much better placed throughout the novel. It removes a lot of the mystery that could have been there. It also almost immediately establishes the story as fast-paced which means that for the next 366 pages the reader is in for quite the ride. The exact opposite happened.

It took a bit too long to get to the inciting incident and the appearance of the corrupted AI Anorak. The twelve-hour time constraint that is placed on the High Five is often forgotten throughout the novel and the characters don’t ever move with a sense of urgency even though it takes them the better part of twelve hours to locate the first five of seven shards. Somehow, they manage to get the last two shards in just under two hours AND also fight off an army in the real world. It didn’t make sense from a narrative perspective and it severely messed with the pacing of the overall story.

The thing that I loved the most was how Wade’s idealisation of James Halliday slowly unravelled throughout the story. It made for an interesting amount of character growth, but the story was very much still rooted in Wade and his own obsession with Samantha. Wade was simultaneously judging Halliday’s inappropriate obsession with Kira Morrow while being equally obsessed with his own ex-girlfriend. Wade never really learns anything from the situations he’s placed in. Not to mention, all of his friends exist as mostly 2D characters in the story.

Pacing and characters aside, I still enjoyed the many references to pop culture that were scattered throughout Ready Player Two. Cline possesses an intense knowledge of 80s pop culture and I found myself reaching for some of the films mentioned in this story. There was more of an emphasis on movies than video games, but gaming still found its way into the plot. I would love to make my way through all of the John Hughes films and I have this book series to thank for that.

I wasn’t incredibly fond of the ending of Ready Player Two. Everything was being tied up too quickly in a nice little bow. The choices that Wade and Samantha made weren’t entirely believable to me as a reader and I felt that their decisions betrayed their characters a little bit. It became clear that Wade hadn’t learned from the experiences in the past twelve hours. Unfortunately, the ending made the entire story seem redundant. Just as Wade appears to be learning from the events he’s been through, he makes a decision that undone all of that hard work. Not to mention that apparently the very high stakes that kept the High Five on track during this quest weren’t very high at all. Plot points were half-heartedly resolved, and I feel both the top and tail Ready Player Two could have benefited from a little more care and attention.

While I’d still recommend Ready Player Two to fans of the first novel, I’d suggest that new readers stick to the original novel. While my experience left me somewhat disappointed, I understand the value of a novel such as Ready Player Two in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature genres. I’m not usually one to reach for either of those genres in the novels I read, but as a video game nerd myself, it’s important to be represented in that way.

Ready Player Two addresses accessibility in video games, artificial intelligence, climate change, death, grief, loss, love, and obsession. It is ideal for readers in the Young Adult and New Adult age ranges, but is appropriate for all readers older than 18.

Journalism, Reviews, and Accessibility in Video Games

Can I Play That?

Can I Play That? was established in 2018 as a hub for disabled voices in gaming and serves the disabled community with perspectives and reviews full of information relevant to their experiences and abilities, information that is difficult to find in traditional games media. Can I Play That? has also found another purpose through its ability to not just inform its primary audience but to give feedback to developers and create conversation about accessibility within the community.

I spoke with mobility editor Grant Stoner of Can I Play That? about his and his colleagues’ work in showcasing the importance of developers using a holistic approach to accessibility and enabling use of a broad range of accessibility options from beginning to end of the gaming experience.

Grant spoke to me of his own experience writing one of his first accessibility reviews for Can I Play That?, he noted in his initial review of Gears of War 5 that the game was rich in accessibility options that made it easier for him to play, but lacked the option to toggle many actions such as aiming on and off during play so that players were forced to hold buttons down for extended periods. Less than a month later he was forced to update his review as developers The Coalition had pushed an update adding the ability to toggle aiming to the game.

It’s easy for accessibility features to feel tacked-on to a game and fail to provide real solutions to the variety of barriers players can face, but Can I Play That? has become a hub for a growing movement in the games industry that embraces accessibility as an ongoing process, one that starts at the beginning of development and continues after release.

2020 Can I Play That Accessibility Awards

Can I Play That?’s 2020 Accessibility Awards have concluded and the winners have been announced. Taking the top award of Best Overall Accessible Game was The Last Of Us Part II, a game that debuted mid-last year to rave reviews of its wide array of accessibility features and was regarded as a milestone for gaming accessibility.

The Last Of Us Part II also took the top spot for Best Blind/Low Vision Accessibility. Other individual accessibility category winners included:

  • Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Best Deaf/Hard of Hearing Accessibility)
  • HyperDot (Best Physical/Motor Accessibility)
  • Immortals: Fenyx Rising (Best Cognitive Accessibility)
  • Among Us (Most Accessible Mobile Game)
  • and The Outer Worlds (Best Post-Launch Accessibility Improving Patch).

Next-Gen Console Accessibility

Can I Play That? also has continuing coverage of 2020’s next-gen console launches, including accessibility reviews of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.

The PS5 coverage so far  has praised features like automatic screen reading, system-wide accessibility settings and UX improvements. The included DualSense controller was divisive as its advanced haptic feedback was great for blind/low-vision players but left the controller bulky and difficult to use for those with mobility issues.

The Xbox Series X  shares most of its features with the existing Xbox One iterations, the familiar updated UI and Game Pass access, both already popular with disabled gamers. Backwards compatibility of both games and controllers and the lack of Series X exclusives both make the Xbox ecosystem more appealing for gamers of all kinds. The new console also comes with a new, slightly smaller controller design with improved grip.

– Article written by guest writer Hazel

Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin


Developer: Edelweiss
Publisher: US: Xseed Games; Worldwide: Marvelous Inc.
Audio: Hiroyuki Oshima
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: US: 10/11/2020, JP: 12/11/2020, EU/AU: 20/11/2020
Genre: Indie, Side Scroller, Platformer, Japanese Action Role-Playing Game, Rice Farming Simulation Game.

Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin is based in a Japanese folklore fantasy world where you play Sakuna, the daughter of Takeribi, the god of war and Toyohana, the goddess of the harvest. Living in the Capital of Yanato, part of the Lofty (immortal) Realm, she has cultivated the habits of a feisty, spoilt, lazy drunkard, who manages to get exiled to the Isle of Demons with some humans until they can figure out how to get the humans back to the Lowly (mortal) Realm.

This is a game where you will need to scavenge for food and defend your home… because the humans are helpless, and you are a lazy goddess. So, utilising the tools at your disposal, a sickle and hoe, you reluctantly get to work… Very reluctantly.

Visually it has anime styling, but with Ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock) influence giving it the hint of something akin to the game Ori. But also, with enough realism in the world to draw you into the farming simulation.

Yeah, so, Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin is a strange beast of a game. It’s equal parts: Side Scroller, Platforming, Fighter, Beat ‘em Up; a Japanese Role-Playing Game; and a Rice Farming Simulator. And the developers went far and beyond when it comes to the realism of this rice farm sim with cultivation, farming and harvesting. So much so that players have been known to research rice growing on the website of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for just, rice growing guides.

So, the rice growing loop in a nutshell? You firstly fertilise your field using a base of night soil (yes, that’s human poop) and let it mature with some basics like beast horn and leaf matter, then you till it into the field while removing any stones, and then sow the rice by hand. Next, you maintain the field by keeping an accurate eye on water levels, ground temperature, the weather, and pest control. Once it is grown, you harvest, dry and then using traditional kokibashi you thresh them to strip the grains from the stalk. Then you polish the rice to your preference. And the resultant quality of rice is affected by every. Step. Of. The. Process. You get a nice little note telling you the details and results afterwards.

The other side of the coin is the relatively standard side scrolling JRPG beat ‘em up. The stage design has some nice platforming mechanics, and the monsters are semi-repetitive, however the bosses can have quite a steep learning curve. Luckily, the games respawning mechanic is very forgiving, basically starting you from the start of the level on death, resetting just that levels progress.

So basically, you go out and beat-up monsters/demons to collect stuff to take home to use to make different farming tools or clothes and feed yourself and your mortal pseudo-family (daily boosts). Then, you spend the rest of your time growing rice, to also feed your family, but also because EVERY advance in your rice harvest directly correlates to upgrades in your battle prowess.

Throughout every part of the game, you are serenaded by the traditional Japanese instrumentation composed by Hiroyuki Oshima. The musical melodies softly relaxing while tending to your homestead and upbeat and motivating while in battle. There are also realistic soundscapes of the seasons and areas played over the top of these making for such a delightful aural experience that I sometimes just sat there and listened for the simple joy of it.

Combat though is punctuated with Sakuna yelling the same few lines during combat, which I remedied by changing the language preferences to Japanese Voice Acting. This could be my inner weeb raising its head, but once I turned on the Japanese audio the voice acting soothed my inner farming and grinding angst making for a far more enjoyable experience.

Overall, while Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin has quite repetitive gaming loop, I found the farming therapeutic in its repetition. Moreover, coming home at the end of the day and having a meal with my pseudo-family and hearing about their pasts, the discussions of religion and belief or just family dynamics gifted me with the stillness and contentment of just, a happy family. If I had to classify this game in just one word, it would be forgiving. For the easy respawns, the many avenues to increased strength and game progression, the many ways it tries to help you along, and the family who not only helps you be a stronger, but also be a better, person in the end.