The version of The Witcher 3 that exists on the Nintendo Switch works, which is a miracle in itself, but it’s far from the ideal version of the game. Those with a modded Switch console, though, can play something that looks a lot nicer.
The game by default runs at 720P and 30FPS while docked, and that’s as good as it gets. Modders have however found that the Switch version is just a port of the PC edition running at very low settings, and that by sliding in a patch file they could unlock the PC version’s graphics options.
By overclocking the system and then disabling the game’s dynamic resolution, along with increasing other settings like the foliage density and post-processing effects, you get a version of The Witcher 3 that looks a lot better, and sometimes even gets to 60FPS.
It’s also cooking a Switch alive from the inside.
Here’s some footage of a modded copy of the game in action, to give you an idea of the improvements (it gets better, but don’t expect it to magically start looking like the PC version):
Luigi’s heading back to another haunted mansion (well, a haunted hotel) in Luigi’s Mansion 3 this Halloween, and he’s got many more tricks up his sleeve for busting ghosts, including one gadget that’s a wonderful reference to a classic Nintendo console of yore.
Ghost-hunting tools that resemble old Nintendo hardware are a staple of the Luigi’s Mansion series. Luigi carried a Game Boy Horror in the series’ GameCube debut. It was a riff on the Game Boy Color, which was slightly outdated even in 2001.
When the series made its long-awaited return on the 3DS for 2013’s Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Luigi upgraded to the Dual Scream, which was based on the quickly-discontinued “fat” model of the Nintendo DS.
And of course Luigi’s Mansion 3 on the Switch has its own take on this, one close to my own heart. Nintendo actually discussed this and showed it off a bit during a Treehouse Live segment at this year’s E3, but the news hasn’t really propagated much, so I’m going to err on the side of caution here and call it a spoiler. Turn back if you don’t want to know!
Early on in the game, Professor E. Gadd gives Luigi a way to communicate with him as he trawls the many floors of the hotel. It’s his latest invention… the Virtual Boo.
Nearly 25 years later, the Virtual Boy still fascinates video game likers for its sheer ridiculousness; a “virtual reality” system that projected monochrome red graphics in a headset to create a rudimentary 3D effect. It was pure out-of-left-field Nintendo, but this time it was way over the foul line, and Nintendo had to discontinue Virtual Boy within a year of its release.
I don’t think the Virtual Boo is going to do much better commercially, regardless of what Gadd thinks.
When Luigi gets a call from Gadd, he pops the headset on his face, where everything is rendered in shades of harsh LED red.
Actually, the game’s entire menu is Virtual Boy style, an excellent example of “committing to the bit.”
Later, when you become able to spend money on extra parts for the Virtual Boo, they even come in authentic Virtual Boy cartridge casings.
I think we can all agree that as the years go on, E. Gadd’s gadgets are becoming much better, and also much, much worse.
Little Town Hero, out October 16 for the Nintendo Switch, is a Game Freak role-playing game about a young boy who’s charged with fighting a bunch of viciously powerful monsters as adults stand idly by. No, not that one. Little Town Hero is totally its own thing: a deceptively simple RPG-card-game hybrid with light tactical elements that manages to be addicting.
My co-worker Joshua Rivera joked that my taste in games was “hardcore,” politely clowning me for gravitating toward games about “anime and math,” so it was no big surprise that Little Town Hero is my cup of tea. In it, your protagonist, Axe (or whatever you name him), fights off monsters suddenly invading the town using the power of a mysterious gemstone he found in the nearby mines. He’s guided by the irresponsible knight who was previously sent there to fight the monsters but hurt his back and now spends too much time in the tavern. The townsfolk must figure out the mystery of how these monsters are getting into the village in the first place. How does Axe fight these ferocious beasts? With the power of ideas.
Little Town Hero’s battle system revolves around ideas charmingly called “Izzits” which function like cards do in card-battle games. You can hold up to five at a time, while others remain in your Headspace to be summoned to the front of mind when space opens up. You have a set amount of “Power” each turn that you can use to turn Izzits into “Dazzits,” or usable moves. There are three types of Dazzits: Blue Dazzits, which have an immediate effect on yourself, your opponent, or both, Yellow Dazzits, which can be used again and again until they break, and Red Dazzits, which can be used once per turn or until they break and can be used to inflict damage directly on your enemy when the opportunity arises. Most involve attacking or defending with your pickaxe-shield weapon, but some involve picking up rocks or throwing a firecracker, for instance. Both you and your enemy have health represented as hearts, as well as “Guts,” a buffer that must generally be broken before you can inflict direct damage. It’s important to be careful about how you do this damage, because several enemies have powered-up states they go into when their guts are reduced to zero. After direct heart damage, guts are restored.
The core of the gameplay is simple, but there are a lot of ways to use the finite tools at your disposal, meaning that there’s a lot of predicting and planning and customizing you can do when it comes to your actual playstyle. You always see your opponent’s available Dazzits and the particular one they’re using each turn, which guides your strategy. I’m using a high-risk high-reward playstyle, taking opportunities to gamble by sacrificing health in order to make big plays on my opponents. The combination of Red, Blue, and Yellow Dazzits allows a static set of moves to be mixed and matched in a variety of different ways, especially once you start powering them up and unlocking new effects. The key to winning the game is breaking your opponent’s Dazzits to score a direct hit. Taking direct damage yourself automatically restores all your used-up ideas, which keeps the matches from becoming too one-sided at any given time. The game is easy enough for anyone to pick up but has a lot to offer a fledgling min-maxer.
Between turns, you move around on a party-game-style map. On this map are other townsfolk, who can give you bonuses. Axe’s buddy Nelz, for example, reduces the cost of turning one random Izzit into a Dazzit to zero. His rival Matock can do direct damage to the opponent’s body, regardless of its Dazzits. There are a variety of townsfolk ready to jump in and support this small child battling monsters, and you can find more via sidequests and story progression. Some of them offer inspiration for new ideas mid-battle. There are also environmental effects called “Gimicks” you can tap into if you have the right Dazzit. For example, I’ve taken on a very aggressive play style, so I enjoy strategically using the Barrel which does direct damage to both your and your opponent’s Dazzits and body, strategically sacrificing some of my guts to go ahead and deal heart damage to an energy. There are lots of these options to explore and thus lots of strategies to mess with during the battles, which can easily take 15 or 20 minutes a pop, if you’re like me and enjoy mathing out every possibility.
You may be wondering what you do between battles. You can take on sidequests to get to know townsfolk and gain rewards like Eureka Points, which you can then use to upgrade your Dazzits or increase your Guts on an upgrade grid. This adds a nice, if light, layer of customization to the game. You also fight Matock… a lot. And just like other Game Freak rivals, he is both relentless and unperturbed in his endless quest to get his bell rung by the protagonist, over, and over, and over, and over again. One chapter of the early game had me fight him three times, pretty much consecutively. I didn’t mind so much, since the battles changed slightly each time, but, man. The sidequests and between-battle moments are charming and provide some color for the town and townsfolk you fight so hard to protect. It’s banal but makes complete and total sense within the game’s themes of small-town fellowship, and it’s wholly inoffensive when punctuated by the solid battles you get to think through.
Like the little town Axe works so hard to protect, Little Town Hero is straightforward and earnest. Comical moments between characters and a Toby Fox-made soundtrack keep the boring parts manageable, and the battle system’s mix of a simple core with a variety of ways to execute makes the game work. You have a finite level of actions you can take and a clear layout of your enemy’s attack options. It’s the type of game that makes you feel clever for doing exactly what it’s designed to allow, and that’s always a great time.
With today’s releases of Baldur’s Gate games and Planescape: Torment for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, some of the most influential video games of the last 20 years complete a very long journey to the kind of wide audience they’ve long existed just outside. They’re also very old games that have spawned newer, flashier imitators, and they show their age.
This definitely makes them a little less appealing at first blush, but it’s worth stressing: If you’ve never played any of these before, it’s worth taking the time to experience them.
Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II, developed by BioWare, and Planescape: Torment, developed byBlack Isle Studios, are computer role-playing games created by what were, at the time, dream teams of RPG designers at the top of their game. 1998’s Baldur’s Gate in particular revived and perfected the style of RPG that sought to closely emulate the experience of Dungeons & Dragons—wherein you gather a party of colorful characters and venture out into the world, taking on monsters and confronting moral dilemmas. One year later, Planescape: Torment bent that format into something more narratively ambitious, where fighting was allowed but it was more interesting to talk, to read, to ponder over dialogue and wonder how characters were connected. Torment, to this day, is widely regarded as one of the best video game stories ever told.
An increased development focus on consoles killed much of the momentum built by these games at the tail end of the ‘90s, even as Baldur’s Gate II released to even greater acclaim in 2000. As publisher Interplay ceased operation, the games went out of print and became difficult to run on modern hardware without fan mods. For a while, you could get them, but it took a lot of work—until 2012, when Beamdog Interactive began releasing Enhanced Editions of these classic games for modern devices, including smartphones and tablets.
Twenty-one years later, it certainly helps that the newest ports are—at least on PlayStation 4—surprisingly excellent, taking games designed for a boxy CRT monitor and refitting them to play well on my flatscreen and work with a controller. There’s some clunkiness—a lot of how you play these games involves navigating menus full of items and abilities and indicating where you’d like them to take effect, and that will always be clumsy on anything that’s not a mouse and keyboard. That said, I did play Baldur’s Gate on an iPad a few years ago, and while it was less than ideal, I played nearly the whole damn game.
As officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons games, they take settings previously published for tabletop campaigns in the late ‘90s and use them as the backdrop for epic single-player adventures. I did not know this for years until I finally played them, and knowing that is important for understanding what makes them special.
In a way, it’s about limitations. A hallmark of tabletop role-playing has always been liberation, the way players are free to dream up and take part in adventure in ways that more rigid media like, say, video games couldn’t really allow for. While Baldur’s Gate is far from the first video game take on D&D (it’s not even among the first dozen) it kicked off an era of video games that achieved the platonic ideal of D&D-style role-playing, no dungeon master needed.
By this I mean: They told stories, good ones, in which the player felt they were truly taking part. Your decisions didn’t just matter, they colored the tenor of your experience far beyond the good/evil/neutral trinary of modern big-budget RPGs. They let you get inventive the way you could in a game of Dungeons & Dragons, tackling encounters however you liked as long as the dice rolled in your favor.
Baldur’s Gate cast players as Gorion’s Ward, an orphan raised in a monastic life under the care of the scribe Gorion, suddenly thrust into the wider world when they learn that their real heritage might be connected to something monstrous. Of these three games, it’s the most straightforward, about going on a grand adventure and learning something about yourself. In Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, you’re asked a more complicated question: Now that you know what you are, what are you going to do about it?
In Planescape: Torment, you’re The Nameless One, an immortal man stripped of his memories on a quest to piece his long life back together. Like It’s A Wonderful Life in reverse, you slowly become aware of all the lives you have touched in your journeys, and must deal with the fact that your personal history might have been an awful one.
All three of these games deal with themes of legacy and memory, which is potent fodder for a video game narrative. Games are about interesting decisions, the stories told by the choices that we make in them. Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment make this a literal part of the stories they tell, with a level of nuance rarely seen in games before them and since. In their spiritual successors like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect, the stories are about how much you mean to the world. In Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, it’s more about how you shape your character in response to these worlds. They resonate all the more for it.
Felix the Reaper is a puzzle game described by developer Kong Orange as a “romantic comedy about the life of Death.” That’s a pretty apt description, but here’s my crack: Final Destination meets Crypt of the Necrodancer (minus the rhythm element). The game, coming to consoles and PC October 17, bursts with wit and care in its puzzling, presentation, and even its tongue-in-cheek loading screens. Felix the Reaper’s story and simple showmanship elevate a decent puzzle game to something worth picking up.
Felix is a newbie reaper with the Ministry of Death tasked with creating contrived, deadly accidents using objects and creatures around the map. The gameplay takes place on grids that Felix can dance across. Felix must complete his tasks without getting burned by the light of the sun, using the shadows cast by static elements like trees and movable items like rocks to shield him. Felix also has the ability to use a sundial, which shifts the source of the light 90 degrees to change the way the shadows are cast. Elements like switches add to the complexity of the puzzles. The gameplay requires the player to think in perpendiculars and to creatively using objects around the field to manipulate space.
The puzzles are clever, and there are optional objectives like clearing levels in a certain number of moves to spice things up, but the real heart of Felix the Reaper is its presentation. Felix is a dancing fiend; in his idle animations, he bops around gleefully while listening to headphones. As you move around the maps, he’ll cartwheel and jump and click his heels and do the twist. It is absolutely adorable, and it’s complemented well by the variety of music you can cycle through in each level.
The story is written with the warm, dark slice-of-life comedy of a Grim Fandango. Felix is utterly smitten with Betty the Maiden, who works at the Ministry of Life. This is communicated via charming illustrations of an earnest, infatuated Felix thinking of the voluptuous Betty with his face flushed like a 1930s cartoon character. He may be working at the Ministry of Death only for the chance to bump into her, which his supervisor warns him against. Felix’s comically earnest demeanor in the face of all the dark and occasionally adult themes in the game is deeply endearing.
There’s a lot of story color in gameplay as well. In addition to menu-screen background information about the history of topics like religion and the Grim Reaper, there are intro scenes at the beginning of each level. In them, mute characters wackily go about their lives in a mixture of slapstick and worldbuilding. The tutorial has you kill your first victim, only for your helpful supervisor to receive an error message that you’ve killed the wrong person, which he brushes under the rug with the level of flustered embarrassment someone might experience committing a faux pas at a fancy dinner party.
The silliness continues into the idea of death itself. There’s one early level in which you must rig a barrel to roll down a ramp, smash into a house, and knock a hanging deer head onto an unsuspecting person below. He tries to get the head off in panic, attracting the attention of a nearby hunter. You can imagine what happens next.
Felix the Reaper brims with humorous representations of the macabre as a complex choreography of elements far beyond our control. Paired with the sweet romance of a simple reaper dancing through the afterlife while pining over his bombshell would-be sweetheart, the game uses its tone masterfully. As a puzzle game, it’s pretty good, and as a love story, it’s a little messed up, but that’s the appeal.
I knew What The Golf? was brilliant just a few minutes after it began. An early hole was structured such that I could bank a shot off a mound and a get a hole in one, as opposed to sloppily shooting around an obstacle—in this case, some cats chilling out nearby. Setting up this shot made me feel clever. I charged up my meter and sent the ball soaring. It bounced off the mound and into a nearby cluster of explosive barrels, which proceeded to blow up all of the cats. I laughed out loud in surprise. Since then, many What The Golf? levels have made me do that. Laugh out loud in surprise, I mean, not blow up cats, although that’s happened a fair amount, too.
What The Golf?, which is out now on PC and the Apple Arcade, posits two ideas that seem contradictory at first: Regular old golf is boring, but also, with a little bit of ingenuity, anything can (and should) be golf. Moving furniture around? It’s golf. Avoiding traffic? It’s golf. Propelling your own fleshy bone bag of a body through the air? It’s golf. Golf can happen anywhere, at any time, without notice. In an office, in space, in a side-scrolling platformer level complete with parody Super Mario Bros music, except with lyrics that just say “what the golf” over and over again.
All it takes is a simple swing meter—you know, the kind you can aim in a direction and charge by holding a button, like the ones in all the other golf games you have or have not ever played. What The Golf? slaps that little, arrow-shaped sucker on everything under the sun, as well as things above and around the sun, like literal planetary bodies.
It’s a shotgun confetti blast of absurd ideas, where many levels last mere seconds, but they’re guaranteed to get at least a smile out of you, if not a full-blown golferly chortle. What The Golf? never stops escalating, always finding some silly new thing to turn into golf. I had to pause the game when it tossed me into a Flappy Bird clone with golf mechanics; I couldn’t help but put the controller down and physically applaud its willingness to be as hog-bonkers ridiculous as possible with its core conceit.
Another especially inspired level had me load furniture into a moving truck using—what the golf else?—the golf swing meter, at which point I assumed I’d then golf the moving truck to my new destination. Nope. Instead, the truck began to move of its own volition, and I had to follow it by golfing a house, sending it tumbling down a neighborhood street. There are also elegantly simple goofs, like a level where you golf a regular hole into a giant hole in the ground shaped like the number one, thus scoring a “hole in one.” If What The Golf? can’t make you laugh, you might be dead inside. Or a 65-year-old retiree who treats golf with a grave seriousness.
Underlying all these jokes are some surprisingly savvy game design chops. Levels are housed in an experimental golf-laboratory overworld you can explore (as a ball), but it’s mostly an excuse to let you revisit levels at your leisure. That’s when the real fun begins. Every level has two additional challenges that stretch the initially silly gag ideas to their limits. Some challenges involve hitting par—finishing a level in, say, six shots—while others force you to execute nail-biting maneuvers like golfing an easily breakable flower vase into a hole while wind causes it to swerve erratically and nearly shatter against a variety of obstacles.
My favorite challenges, though, are the ones that dial up the absurdity to preposterous meta levels. For example, in one level, the thing I was trying to golf into a hole was the golf meter itself, and the challenge version of that level suddenly switched to a top-down perspective and had me whirl the golf meter around the hole to stave off a tower-defense-like swarm of enemies trying to invade it. The game did not even try to explain why any of this was happening.
What The Golf? is a master of that rare sort of comedy where jokes emerge not from dialogue or situations but from the game mechanics themselves. It nests jokes within each other, first making you laugh at what you’re doing and then laugh even harder when it turns that mechanic on its head. It’s a clever little game that seeks to delight at every turn, and, occasional frustrating levels aside, it succeeds with flying colors—which are, of course, flying because you golfed them into the air.
80 Days, a game based on Jules Verne’s novel Around The World In 80 Days, is now available on Switch. Revisiting the game has allowed me to see myself and my culture in ways that aren’t always visible to me in video games. I am mixed race, with an Indian mother and a black father. As a kid, I mostly made jokes about how the English colonized both halves of my family. As an adult, I wonder how much of my own identity I have missed out on. I grew up in a white majority state, in a white majority town, going to schools where I was frequently one of the few black people in my classes. I accepted whiteness as the norm, despite knowing that I existed outside of it. This is all to say: I was bringing 30 years of baggage with me when I started on my journey in 80 Days. That made playing it again that much better.
In 80 Days, you control not Phileas Fogg, the eccentric rich protagonist of Verne’s novel who has accepted a bet to travel around the world in 80 days in exchange for a substantial payout. Instead, you play as his personal valet, Passepartout, who does the real legwork. In the vaguely steampunk world of 80 Days, Passepartout is responsible for the more banal tasks: finding transportation, making travel arrangements, and buying and selling trinkets to make sure you’re flush with cash. On top of that, you have to manage Fogg’s ambiguous moods.
Sometimes, when you speak to characters, the responses and actions you choose will affect Passpartout’s relationship with Fogg. The outcomes are inscrutable. One day, he’ll love it when you speak to commoners as equals. On others, he hates it. Fogg also has a health bar in the corner of the screen, and as his valet, you are responsible for keeping your master in tip-top shape. Sometimes that means nursing him back to health after a rough journey across the sea. Other times it’s as frivolous as a quick shave.
I’ve played 80 Days before on PC, but on the Switch, making these arrangements feel more tactile, since I got a bit of haptic feedback on my Joy-Con each time I selected a new dialogue choice or bought a new train ticket. I felt invested in the narrative in a way I hadn’t when I had been playing on a computer. Something about making the act physical became a guidepost for me.
The Switch port of 80 Days is so seamless that other than my vibrating Joy-Cons, I didn’t think about it too much. If you’ve never played the game before, picking it up on Switch is a great place to start. Since I had played before, it was nice to not have to learn the trappings of the game as I played—though it can seem like a lot on a first playthrough, there’s not much to do beyond picking dialogue choices and making sure you catch your transportation on time. For maybe the first time while playing 80 Days, I allowed myself to soak up its rich narrative and opened up to it in more personal ways.
Playing as a valet rather than Fogg allows the player to see sides of society that remain invisible to other travelers. Once you leave Europe, that means speaking to and interacting with people of color.
As you make your way out of Europe, you begin to meet travelers and working people from outside of Europe. As I was investigating airships to help me leave the continent, I was surprised to run into a pilot from Nigeria, showcasing airships that he said the country had been making for years. This surprised Passepartout, and somehow also surprised me. Depictions of steampunk and Jules Verne are often associated with Victorian England, and it’s thus easy to expect any non-white characters to fall under a general colonial pastiche: a lot of hostility, not a lot of nuance. Since people from Africa not only have a rich history not taught in Eurocentric schools and have always travelled and left the continent, it was nice to actually see that represented.
As I settled into the meat of my journey, now more than halfway around the world, I went to India, arriving in Bombay, now known as Mumbai, and traveling through the continent at a rapid pace. I found a nun from a church dedicated to finding an automaton with a soul, and I wandered through markets just to see the sights. I bought spices to later sell in China, smiled at children as they played. I couldn’t spend long in India, though I wanted to. I have never seen a game portray my heritage as anything other than, well, the other.
In 80 Days, India and nations in Africa have a history before you arrive there (they’re also made distinct from one another, another positive point). Sometimes, people were outwardly hostile—though Passepartout is a valet, he’s still French and a member of a nation that is a colonial power. During a long-haul flight from China to Hawaii, Passepartout and Fogg almost died when the workers on the airship attempted a mutiny, pulling a gun on the captain and missing, instead piercing the hull. It was at the bottom of the ocean that I realized how incidental Passepartout and Fogg’s presence were on that ship. To those workers, we were just some rich idiots that had the misfortune of being there when their long-simmering plan came to fruition.
More than anything, 80 Days emphasizes how the people we have often been taught to see as lead characters are blind to the rich stories going on around them. On an Indian train, I met a young woman whose father eventually became convinced that Passepartout was trying to steal her away. She had broken her engagement, but not because she was in love with the valet—she wanted to become a novelist. After forging a friendship with Passepartout, she gifted him one of her novels, which she had been writing under a pseudonym. You can even read parts of it. I wish that I could play her game, but I am glad that I have had the chance to read her story.
In the ongoing saga of Nintendo’s Joy-Con drift problem, it appears even the Switch Lite isn’t immune. On Saturday complaints about the barely week-old system were added to a class-action lawsuit against Nintendo.
Originally filed in July, the lawsuit alleges Nintendo knew about a design defect in the Switch’s controllers and has failed to correct or acknowledge the problem. This issue causes a Joy-Con’s analog stick to register input, a.k.a. drift, even when nothing’s touching it, significantly disrupting gameplay.
And it doesn’t appear to have been fixed with the Switch Lite. Online reports of players experiencing drift on Nintendo’s newest system started cropping up days after its release, several of which were referenced in the lawsuit.
“I can’t believe it, my Nintendo Switch Lite is already drifting,” one player cited wrote. “I was playing BOTW and the camera kept moving without touching the analogue stick. I tried to calibrate and update the controllers but it was still the same.”
“I beat Link’s Awakening over the weekend on my original Switch Lite system,” said another, “I had only put like 20 something hours on it, and it started to show joy-con drift. Why is this happening earlier on than with the earlier Switch?”
The firm Chimicles Schwartz Kriner & Donaldson-Smith (CSK&D) is representing 18 plaintiffs in 16 different states as part of this suit, which goes on to cite online complaints of drift with a new version of the Switch released last month. This updated version sports a longer battery life and apparently the exact same joystick defect.
While there are no official numbers indicating how widespread this problem may be, online complaints have been cropping up since the Switch’s launch in 2017. At least three Gizmodo staffers have personally experienced Joy-Con drift, including myself, and it can render a game downright unplayable if any kind of speed or accuracy is required. So, most games.
Though not nearly as frustrating as having the issue crop up on the Switch Lite. While Nintendo hasn’t addressed the problem in any kind of detail, the company did begin offering free Joy-Con repairs, no questions asked, after the lawsuit was entered. But the Switch Lite’s controllers are built into the system itself, which means any kind of fix would involve shipping the whole thing off to a repair center, a process I can tell personally tell you takes weeks. Tomorrow I’ll be going into my third and still counting.
Plenty of online tutorials have popped up offering DYI methods for troubleshooting and fixing Joy-Con drift yourself, but they don’t always work and, in the case of the Switch Lite, could damage the console itself. According to a company memo obtained by Vice, Nintendo doesn’t require warranty information as part of this free Joy-Con repair offer, but there’s been no official news yet regarding anything similar with its newest system. Worst-case scenario, you could just be out a Switch Lite.
Nintendo did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. You can find the updated complaint in its entirety here, per Polygon, and those interested can sign up here to enter your name to participate in the litigation.
The following contains spoilers for Untitled Goose Game.
Untitled Goose Game, the new Switch and PC/Mac title from the developers at House House, is a good environmental puzzle game about a bad goose. You play as the goose, and your mission is to terrorize a small village by—for lack of a better term—being a huge asshole. You throw their clothes into a fountain when they’re not looking, you use the dedicated honk button to scare them into dropping and breaking glassware, and you orchestrate miniature disasters that cause very minor property damage—all by just doing the things that a particularly cruel goose would do. To be fair, though, the vast majority of the people you encounter in the game are no better than the goose, with most of them rudely shoving you away even when you’re not doing anything mischievous. Really, they’re all jerks and they deserve to have their lives briefly thrown into disarray.
That’s how things stand for most of Untitled Goose Game’s relatively brief runtime, at least up until its penultimate level (the game is sort of an open world, but you get specific puzzle-like tasks to complete in each area). After going through a garden and some yards, the goose arrives at a small pub with an outdoor seating area. The first task here is to get past a particularly overzealous anti-goose guard, and the game gives you a hint on how to do this by adopting an iconic piece of equipment from the stealth genre: a cardboard box. Whether it’s an intentional nod to Metal Gear Solid or not, the game is clearly indicating that—while it may have been a puzzle game before—this is now a sneaking mission.
Stealth was an important component of the previous levels, but most of them were big enough that you could run away from the townsfolk or stash the items you were trying to steal far enough away from them without getting caught. The pub, though, is a much more confined space with a lot more people to keep track of—any one of whom may notice that something is out of place and disrupt your attempt to, say, set a little table by stealing a plate, a knife, a fork, a pepper grinder, and a candle (one of the actual tasks in the area). To make this easier, Untitled Goose Game evenpicks up another hallmark of the stealth genre by having crawlspaces that go under the pub’s patio and instantly confound any pursuers, much like an air vent would in a traditional stealth game.
It uses a visual language that players may already be familiar with from outside of Untitled Goose Game in order to show them how to adapt the goose skills they’ve already developed for a slightly more difficult challenge. It’s a very clever sequence, but Untitled Goose Game doesn’t stop there. For as well-designed as the pub is, everything after that is a wonderful twist on the rules that Untitled Goose Game has established up until that point. After the pub, the goose goes to a model village that is a miniature replica of the very town you’re in, and some of the tiny figurines and recognizable landmarks from earlier in the game can be grabbed and ripped apart.
There are no guards or challenges here, but the game is doing two more smart things. The first is that it’s giving the player a chance to let loose and fuck up the town in a very direct way as a cathartic reward for having done well enough to reach the final area. The second is that it’s reminding the player of the path they took to get here, which is important for the game’s final challenge: retrieve a golden bell from the model village and carry it all the way back to where you started the game. That means going backward through each of the previous areas, keeping in mind how you were able to do it the first time and thinking quickly to figure out how to get past new obstacles that have been placed, all with the added challenge of the bell in your beak. If you move your neck too much or use that wonderful honk button, the bell will ring and summon any nearby townsfolk—all of whom are very invested in getting their bell back.
Here, the entirety of Untitled Goose Game reveals itself to be a brilliant piece of game design. Every single thing you’ve done up until grabbing the bell has been a lesson, and you have to keep all of it in mind in order to make your way back through the village. Each person presents a new challenge that is informed by their original challenge, whether it’s as straightforward as knowing how to pass through someone’s yard without getting caught or as complex as knowing which specific item to hide in order to get a man’s attention and divert him away from the only exit.
The initial puzzles, while very charming and entertaining (mostly thanks to the goose’s animation and the way the music ramps up when the goose is in trouble), are all a bit simplistic. The game gives you a vague instruction to do a thing, you watch the people in that area to see how they interact with their specific surroundings, and then you do the thing. Taken as a whole, though, each of these puzzles fit together in the final mission and work to create a thoughtful stealth challenge that elegantly ties up the whole experience in a nice bow.
I can’t remember the last time both of these games so underwhelmed.
In recent years both have had their individual highs and lows. FIFA’s last pre-Frostbite seasons were rough, and PES has long been walking a knife’s edge between eccentric brilliance and outright embarrassment.
This is not a normal Kotaku review
Sports game reviews are usually pretty boring, so for a few years now I’ve decided against giving each of these titles a spotlight of their own, instead pitting them in a caged fight to the death. Only insane people are going to get both of these games, so most football fans probably just want to know which of the two is the one to pick up. Most years it’s FIFA. Some years it’s not.
Every time one stumbled, though, the other was there to carry the day, whether it was PES’ Fox Engine revolution or FIFA’s surprisingly excellent single-player story mode, “the Journey.” I’d always be able to point to one of these two games, combatants in the last genuine competition in the sports game market, and say this one is definitely the one to get.
This year, instead of a confident thrusting of my finger, I can only half-heartedly wave my hand. PES is stuck in the same rut it’s been in for years now, capable on the pitch but increasingly a shambles off of it, while FIFA has somehow, in a genre defined by its obsession with incremental upgrades, managed to go backwards.
Here’s how this year’s head-to-head review is going to work. I’m going to give you what I like most about both games and what I don’t like. I’ll give a reluctant endorsement to one of them, and then we’re going to go our separate ways and reconvene same time next year to see what’s up.
THE GOOD STUFF
CAREER MODE – This is less of a big 2019 update and more of just the slow accumulation of features over the last few seasons, but FIFA’s career mode—especially as a manager—is now so fully featured that it’s like a Football Manager Lite, down to keeping players happy and getting into the nitty gritty of international scouting. The new contract negotiation system, which plays out with agents in a tense cinematic office/restaurant environment, is fantastic.
MISKICKS – While for the most part FIFA has tried to get more realistic over the past decade (it was originally a decidedly arcade experience), one area where it always lagged behind PES was the way you could string together pinpoint passes regardless of the direction the person receiving the ball was facing in relation to where he was kicking it.
In FIFA 20 there are now very strict rules regarding this, so if you try and just spam quick throughballs into the centre of midfield with your back to the opposition’s half, your players won’t perform leg-snapping miracles, they’ll just completely miskick it. Combined with the physicality and 1v1 “strafing” of the setup touch, it really helps to slow down FIFA’s pace, and really helps with allowing for calculated build-up play in an opponent’s final third, a ploy previous FIFA games just weren’t interested in accommodating.
ULTIMATE TEAM – Every year Ultimate Team inches closer, NBA 2K-style, to becoming the central focus of the FIFA experience, and every year that bums me out a little more. This mode is essentially gambling, it’s bad news for kids, and it has no place in a retail video game that’s already asking for you a big up-front investment.
THE GOOD STUFF
“THE PITCH IS OURS” – Every year PES’ gameplay, with its methodical player animation and 1:1 ball physics, gets a little closer to playing like the real thing. This year it got a little closer still. I never, ever score the same goal twice in PES, and its midfield battles are far more tactical than FIFA’s breakneck race to the penalty box.
MENUS – This seems like a minor thing to heap praise on, but for the longest time PES’ front end has been a nightmare to plod through. This year it’s much nicer, which for a game you might be spending hundreds of hours with, makes a big difference!
THE BAD STUFF
SLOPPY – PES 2020 is just so rough around the edges. It launched without correct team rosters, data updates take forever, in-game replays are doubled in length due to constant splashing of the game’s logo…everywhere you look, there’s just stuff there (or not there) that feels unfinished.
COMMENTARY – I think Peter Drury is the worst commentator working in football today, so his mere presence in the game isn’t helping here, but even were I a fan I’d still be criticizing PES for this. Its commentary is repetitive, slow and bizarrely unspecific, and after a few games got so tiring I just played games without it.
AI – Here’s the real deal-breaker with PES though: Throughout my review, the AI would continually just break down, especially when it came to player movement off the ball. Sometimes my striker would start to make a run behind the defense then just stop and wander off, while my defenders would see an opposition striker heading at them and turn their backs. It didn’t happen all the time, but it happened more than enough for it to make a difference on the scoresheet in several key games, which was absolutely unforgivable.
Both games underwhelmed this year because neither failed to progress significantly from where they were in 2018. FIFA 20 in particular feels like a lesser offering than FIFA 19, because“the Journey”was such an accomplished and enjoyable addition to the game; its absence this year is sorely felt, especially when Volta’s own story is so poor by comparison.
We’re here for a recommendation, though, not commiseration, and so despite its shortcomings I think FIFA is once again the better overall offering. Volta might be a misfire, but the way I can try and take defenders on 1v1 is now more fun than it’s basically ever been in a football game, regardless of the publisher, and the state career mode is in threatens to pull me away from Football Manager (of which I’m admittedly a pretty casual player) entirely.
PES, meanwhile, tried a little harder than usual this year, spending more on licenses (not having Juventus in FIFA is weird) and changing the name of the series itself. As befitting a game mired in quicksand, though, the more it struggled, the more it found itself stuck.
The overwhelming impression I got playing both games this year is that they’re just tired. Both series are in need of a fresh shot of adrenaline (and a fresh coat of paint), and they were never going to get it in 2019, in the twilight of the sixth console generation. We can only hope that this year’s stagnation is just a result of something bigger and better coming along next year.
Note 1: I played a retail copy of PES on PC, and had a prerelease copy of FIFA on PS4.