New Pokémon Snap (May 2021)

A very short catch up this month; I am flying out to visit my parents tomorrow, now that we have all been vaccinated. I have been able to spend more time this month in much needed social company, and I hope you all are able to as well. A funny side effect of this is that I didn’t play too many games this month! Or rather, I didn’t play any too deeply. So this will be a very fast and loose collection of thoughts, perhaps as a karmic consequence of going three times as long in the last letter.

Before I get to this month’s games, the IGDA is doing a peer determined awards show with open nominations in many hyper specific categories, and it makes my heart soar a little. Our industry accolades are dominated by very strange processes, but this is a good chance to vouch for indie titles or specific people who deserve more attention. If you make games fill in a couple that you care about!

New Pokémon Snap (Switch)

I did not grow up with the original Pokémon Snap, but like many I was very happy to see the humble photography amusement ride return. In all the conversation about the game I came across an interesting video that outlines as much behind the scenes information about the original game as they could muster, with some fascinating turbulent history, if it is accurate. Whether it is conjecture or not, the new game is made by completely different staff, in completely different circumstances. The original game is the perfect “Blockbuster rental” game — something that is dabbled in for a weekend while friends are around. That economic model is obviously totally extinct now (to Nintendo’s glee, I am sure). The new online features are cool, and help ease this old game system into a modern context, but beyond nostalgia I am not sure it offers anything special within the wave of photography games that have been innovating the genre like Umurangi Generation, Dear Future, and Beasts of Maravilla Island. Compared to all these other titles, New Pokémon Snap is a very, very expensive production, but I do not think it takes those resources as far.

I still had a great time snapping some pics though, so I can only really beg for one change: The loading screens all show a randomly selected Pokémon silhouette in the corner, I wish it also said “Who’s that Pokémon?” and then unveiled the name as the loading screen transitioned back to the scene. For a single text box and a database query they could make every loading screen a tiny game! (I know why they can’t do this but I waaaaant it!)

Dicey Dungeons (Switch)

I LOVE THIS GAME! It combines a turn-based RPG combat system with the dice sorting of Yahtzee, turning the random number generator into a malleable bidding system. I can’t describe the mechanics because they change constantly — each of the multiple characters has their own unique core gameplay system, and even those have variations across different episodes. It is bursting with mechanical creativity, and always changes up as soon as you get comfortable.

I don’t know if everyone will love it — I admit that it is a game designer’s game. The core challenge is to build a probability engine that manipulates dice rolls into attacks that are guaranteed to land. Cute art only disguises the math of it all so much. But it is mechanically delicious. I played a thief who rolled a chance to steal one of my opponent’s attacks, and that attack let me transform into a bear, and then I was a bear for the rest of the episode, destroying enemies intended to challenge my thief skills. This made some fights very easy, and some incredibly hard. I loved every second.

Final Fantasy VI (SNES with localization patch)

I haven’t gotten very far through this game yet, but it’s cool. There is a character who takes fighting game combo inputs to execute moves. It’s like Dicey Dungeons, but with more talking between the cool mechanics. I suplexed a ghost train though, Dicey Dungeons hasn’t let me do that yet.

Bugsnax (PS5)

You know what, this should belong to that nebulous genre category that Pokémon Snap and Umurangi Generation are in, even though there is no photography in this one. This game would be so much better with Pokémon in it, and Pokémon would be so much better with this game. The makers of Bugsnax clearly know this, I wish Pokémon would too. 

Actually — and I hate to jump back to talking about a multibillion dollar transmedia franchise when this should be an indie team’s time in the sun — isn’t it weird that New Pokémon Snap spends so much effort assuring you that the apples you throw at Pokémon aren’t painful and it’s like being hit with a marshmallow? I know they have been traumatized by PETA campaigns against them, but this is a series founded on Pokémon knocking each other until one faints, and they are so completely adverse to any violence in this fictional world that the contrivances have become comical. Bugsnax has a bite to it (sorry for the pun) that makes the sentient food world more believable. More importantly, it allows it to be more dramatic. The world feels vaster and more alive because there are drops of danger and malice, and it makes the sweet stuff more meaningful by contrast.

Anyways, Bugsnax is better than New Pokémon Snap. Good job team.

Rez Infinite (PS4)

Nice.

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Take care and have a pleasant start to your summer!