Rounds: The Dangerous Worlds of Neon

Re-design on the site to fit the new theme. “Rounds” is my attempt to force myself to post regularly, however disorganized, about my thoughts on what I’m playing recently. It’ll help me write more regularly in my own design journal, and also share that stuff here weekly.

 

Hyper Light Drifter

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I finished it this week, and what a game. First the obviously good.

Art:

Mind blowing quality, and style. Pulls off a unique color palette that with any less skill would have been a noisy mess.

The imagery used in the cutscenes and vistas is just spectacular

I love the way it abuses its angled isometric perspective to sometimes show you a distant view, that in a 3D game would require the camera to move down to get the angle.

Sound:

General sound work is very good, with some standouts that are truly great like the interaction noise.

Music is great across the board, especially the way tracks blend into each other. Also incorporated a lot of dubstep/digital noises into the tracks in unique ways that make it stand out from similar synth influences.

Aesthetics:

Great use of digital motifs across the board, as above in music, digital noise and feedback was also used well in the sound design. And a lot of the visuals drew on digital imagery, and circuitry.

Gameplay:

Overall it felt great, and I really enjoyed it even though some parts bothered me. But I also experienced it in a very unusual way. Near the start I only bought 1 upgrade: the repeated dash. And I didn’t buy anything else until literally the final boss. Most of the game felt great and very doable, so I didn’t feel compelled to buy more. Though periodically I’d find really infuriating sections, including the final boss who inspired me to go buy some. On returning I easily 1-shot the boss, which raised a concern for me. These abilities felt way too strong. They would have helped with the frustrating sections, but would have made everything else less interesting. I am not great at these kinds of games, but things like the bullet reflection on attack seem to trivialize a lot. I felt this way with the guns at first too. Until the southern zone I basically never used them, and even then it was mostly for shotgunning bosses. It just felt far more appealing to rely on melee and managing my positioning more precisely.

Player hitbox was also unclear. It was fine most of the game, but the bullet hell miniboss in the south made me realize I had no idea how to hide behind a pillar safely, if that’s even possible.

Not a criticism, but if the game had gone on longer I would have wanted to see a lot more variety in the combat mechanics. A vast majority of enemies boiled down to wind up -> dodge attack -> rush and attack. I liked the frogs a lot because they seemed to offer a different optimal strategy of dashing past their attacks. Would like more variety like that, the design space of actual combat was largely unexplored. A good example of this in level design too is the sky sub-area in the south. Excellent fight with very different considerations from most of the game.

Most bosses felt great. Good mechanics, good music, and I love the brutal intros most have of killing one of the indigenous peaceful races.

Other stuff:

The choice to avoid language was cool, but weird, and it didn’t always work. I liked the idea and effort though, especially the stories told through pictures.

It confused me early too given that the tutorial was written. Similarly due to lack of clearer or more explicit guidance I got lost at times because I wasn’t sure what the game expected of me. Most notably I would come across areas where I could see something out of reach. At times it was unclear if I needed to unlock some ability that would let me get there, or just explore more. I think the worst part for me was the first dash ability unlock which showed an image of repeated dashing. I felt like I already could dash rapidly, and it took me a while to get the hang of the timing and notice the miniscule bar in the upper left corner. So there was a long period where I had no idea if this let me dash again in midair with the correct timing.

The unspoken story of the pink knight was great. Giving him one of those hovering doodads was a nice subtle way of clearly showing he was a foil for the player.

Vibrating the controller to your heartbeat at low health is one of the best uses of rumble I’ve seen.

Overall:

Really good game. Aesthetics alone make it worthwhile, and gameplay was solid. But some parts definitely felt experimental and/or unpolished.

 

Brigador

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Really mixed feelings on this so far. Combat, and aesthetics are great when you’re in the thick of it. But then you have to wander and backtrack across mostly static cityscapes to objectives, and that excitement quickly bleeds away. A nice partial solution would be fire, smoke, and other more obvious and dynamic effects left in the wake of combat. Destroying a city block is not as satisfying as it should be.

Really good music for combat, some of it feels out of place when not in combat.

World design is really nice. Level layouts feel good and believable. Reminds me of Mech Commander.

I don’t know if it’s meant to be the aesthetic, but the menus are a huge turn off to me. And the “campaign” which I believe was recently added, feels more like a long, largely dull, and unusual tutorial. I was confused by this because usually a “campaign” is the most designed part of the game and its focus. But here the meat, and most polished gameplay appears to be the rogue-lite-esque freelance mode.

Vehicle design is amazing. There is a faction whose tanks are made out of scrapped cars. I cannot overstate my love for the ‘treehouse’, ~3 story tall, slender tank, with a minivan as its turret.

Will play more. I’m hoping that as I get to harder levels, it will be better tuned to create more of the challenging, and complex battles I’ve enjoyed so far.

 

Ashes of the Singularity

Only barely started playing this. But already hit a snag on the starting level. The tutorial with the scout is slow, and punishes you really hard if you try to get ahead of it. Yet also punishes you at one part for not speeding through an area in a specific direction (which confusingly is not the cardinal direction, north, they’ve been hammering you with).

Still, interesting idea overall, and will try more.

 

Knights

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Finally gave in and picked this up on sale, and put about 15 minutes into it.

I don’t think it’s a great game so far, but sticks out to me as a potentially great product. It’s simple, pleasantly designed, and dirt cheap. For 50 cents I got more than what I paid for even if I never touch it again. It really struck me how important the price point was here to how I perceived the product.

And though it’s mostly a time killer for me, it’s already doing some interesting stuff with the puzzles.

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