After starting a semi-regular feature about comics I’m reading last week in Now Reading, doing something similar for my other go-to pastime – video games – was probably inevitable. Introducing… Now Playing, a quick look at some of the games I’ve been playing lately.
Most of my free time over the past few weeks has been wrapped up in replaying Velocity Ultra and Velocity 2X, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had time to muck around with a few other games, notably Dragon Quest III, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and Murasaki Baby.
Velocity Ultra (Vita)
FuturLab, Curve Digital
One of the greatest gifts ever given to me by PlayStation Plus is Velocity Ultra. I’d never heard of it, and probably wouldn’t have looked at it twice if it hadn’t been an Instant Game Collection game. Thankfully, it was, and I got introduced to what would become one of my favourite games on Vita (at least until the sequel, Velocity 2X, came out last year).
Velocity Ultra takes shoot-’em-ups and turns them on their head by adding an exploration element and a focus on learning courses rather than twitch reactions. Figuring out the best route through a level and the executing it to perfection is a thing of beauty, and the intense sense of satisfaction that comes with it is something that you don’t get every day (or maybe you do, in which case – good for you!)
I first played Velocity Ultra in 2013 when I got my PS Vita, but I recently had an urge to go back and play it again, and, hopefully, achieve now what I couldn’t back then: get the Platinum Trophy. Well…
It took a lot of effort (especially since I decided to start from scratch on a new save), but I got there.
Velocity 2X (Vita)
With the Velocity Ultra Platinum Trophy finally under my belt, Velocity 2X is next up. I’ve written previously about how great this game is, but it’s even clearer when playing Ultra and 2X back to back. It doesn’t just flip the script again by adding platforming sections, but it improves on every aspect of the first game, which was pretty fantastic to start with. Velocity Ultra had lovely art, but ingame graphics were kind of generic, but 2X looks gorgeous from top to bottom. Controls are more responsive than ever, level design reaches new heights of excellence, and simple quality-of-life improvements make 2X decidedly user-friendly. I can’t stress enough how great this game is, and I look forward to finally etching my name on its Platinum Trophy.
Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation (Droid)
I like to think of myself as a big fan of Dragon Quest, but I realised recently that until a couple of months ago, the only game in the series I’d actually played was Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. So, aided by the readily accessible ports of almost the entire series on mobile, I’ve been working my way through the series; I’ve played through Dragon Quest and Dragon Quest II, so now I’m up to Dragon Quest III.
Of the first three games in the series (which are all loosely connected), Dragon Quest III is far and away the best. I enjoyed the first two a lot, but a lot of this was due to historical curiosity – the fascination of exploring the origins of one my favourite genres. Dragon Quest III has that too, to some extent, but it absolutely stands on its own two and would be just as enjoyable for someone who’s never heard of the series and has no interest in its history.
For a game that first came out in 1988, Dragon Quest III feels surprisingly modern. It’s not just because of things like its day/night and job systems, but the overall structure and design feels more like something out of JRPGs’ mid-’90s heyday. A lot of the teething issues that came with Dragon Quest II’s increased scope, like the infuriating encounter rate, have been ironed out, and numerous usability improvements from a series of remakes mean the mobile version is lots of fun and very little of the tedium and frustration that JRPGs are known for.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PS4)
The Chinese Room, Sony Computer Entertainment
Rapture was the talk of the town last week when it came out to mostly positive critical coverage. It’s a narrative-centric exploration game from The Chinese Room, the creators of the lauded Dear Esther, telling a story about the mysterious disappearance of almost everyone within a small-town British community.
This is exactly the kind of game I normally love, but I’m having a really hard time getting into it. Despite some of the best voice acting and scriptwriting I’ve ever encountered in a game, I’m finding the story very hard to penetrate. It’s told in a non-linear fashion, and the pacing is deliberately glacial. This is great in short-form games designed to be played in one sitting, but Rapture is a 5-6 hour affair (give or take); an already confusing plot gets even more-so when you take a break and come back the next day.
There’s a lot to like about Rapture, don’t get me wrong. Like I said, the voicework and script is top-drawer, the graphics are phenomenal, and the way the game toys with expectations of what a video game is is important. I just can’t help but feel like it’s a victim of its own scope, and that a shorter, more linear format would have worked much better.
Murasaki Baby (Vita)
Ovosonico, Sony Computer Entertainment
I’ve only played a little bit of Murasaki Baby, but I really like what I’ve seen so far. This is a game that came out to a lot of middling and even negative reviews last year, but I can’t help but wonder if a lot of that comes down to to the tiresome “this game is short, therefore it’s shit” mentality. What I’ve played has been excellent.
Murasaki Baby is a puzzle platformer with a decidedly Tim Burton-esque art style that really pops on the Vita’s screen. But what really makes it special is how you actually play the game – instead of embodying an avatar in the game, you’re a nameless third party guiding the main character through the world by holding her hand.
The game is played entirely with the touchscreen, and this tactile element brings so much to the table as far as creating a sense of empathy with the main character. She’s a terrified little girl lost in a bizarre, dangerous world, and you’re her guide. Pull her hand to quickly, and she’ll stumble and fall over; try and guide her into something she can’t cope with, and she’ll visibly resist your efforts to move her. It’s almost like a singleplayer co-op game, where you’re cooperating with the main character instead of controlling them directly. It’s a really neat idea, and from what I’ve played, Murasaki Baby uses it to great effect.
Special Mention – Shadowrun: Hong Kong (PC)
I’ve also briefly played Shadowrun: Hong Kong, but the emphasis here is on briefly. I created my character (a troll street samurai called Agatha Honey, the name courtesy of my girlfriend), got about half an hour into the game’s first level, and got absolutely wrecked by one particular, lengthy encounter.
I was playing on Easy.
That’s it for this debut of Now Playing! What have you been up to? Comment below!