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Horizon Shift ’81 immediately brought to mind Binary Zoo‘s excellent Duo. It’s the same gimmick of the player moving along a horizontal line that runs through the centre of the screen, being able to flip either side as required to shoot the baddies.
Awkwardly, it also managed to stun me into silence for a brief moment when I realised that Duo is now over 15 years old and come on! Ref! Ref! That was a foul. So I guess it won’t really be a point of reference for most folks. Ah well. Duo is really good and I’d recommend giving it a go if you can.
Whilst the basics are shared between the two games, there’s a lot more going on in Horizon Shift ’81 than I’d expected. As well as the horizon flipping, the player can jump their way out of trouble or use a Space Giraffe-esque bulling mechanic to push any enemies off the line. It’s kinda chaotic, really.
The chaos seems to extend to the baddies turning up too. Perhaps there is a pattern to them appearing but with so much going on, I found it really difficult to make one out. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, just a heads up in case you prefer your games to be about learning patterns and that.
Every so many levels there’s a boss fight too and they provided me with a welcome break from the chaos. Here things are observable, learnable and I won’t go as far to say tactical but certainly easier to concoct a strategy for. They’re also really quite peaceful so I found I wasn’t especially worried about finishing them off quickly before being plunged back into the chaos.
So aye, definitely a lot more than I was expecting when I first booted Horizon Shift 81 up. It’s deliciously messy and whilst I can’t say that stuff always hit the spot, I love the whole “sod it, we’re having this and this and this and this and” attitude towards designing games.
I like my games to have rough edges, I like them messy, I like to see people throwing stuff in even if it’s not the most perfectly polished or necessary thing to find its way into a game.
I liked Horizon Shift ’81, is what I’m trying to say. I picked up the PS4 version (as usual) but other formats do exist.
- Calimari Ganon
- Extraordinary Sausage Shaped Pete Waterman Ganon
- Queue Ganon
- Inappropriate Comments At A Funeral Ganon
- Gesticulating Penguin Ganon
As cunning designs go, this is definitely one of them. They’re not punch proof but I reckon getting a smack in isn’t going to be easy.
The head is hard to reach, I’d have to get past those wobbly arms as well. Awkward stuff. Plus, I just know the robot is going to be yelling “DANGER DANGER” if they spot me.
So, okay – two ideas. Try and sneak up on them and give them a swift slap from the rear or wait until the spaceship they’re on wobbles a bit and the robot starts skating across the floor, meaning their attention is elsewhere. Perfect time to get a punch in!
Either way, I’d have to be quick but the challenge is all part of the fun.
The original Aqua Kitty, a kitten-ified homage to 16 bit home computer takes on Defender, is one of my favourite games of the past decade.
It also has the dubious honour of being the only game I’ve felt compelled to buy PS4 themes for too. Look, I really like turning my PS4 on to be greeted by jolly pixel cats. Yes, I’m that easy.
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from a sequel but Astro Aqua Kitty isn’t it. This is a very good thing! Astro Aqua Kitty is lovely.
Leaving the arcade behind, Astro Aqua Kitty is a game of cave exploring, shooting and the occasional bit of inventory twiddling to make a number go up.
Each world (so far, anyway) has popped me into a small hub area and charged me with heading out, exploring the surrounding area and bringing back a number of things to open some other things. The caves are chock full of things to shoot, invariably they’re reasonably durable things to shoot so that’s where a bit of stat juggling comes into play.
It’s a familiar formula and one that thankfully isn’t a Metroidvania game or a roguelike so I can actually enjoy myself with it. Hooray!
It really helps that there’s few games that tread 16 bit home computer territory. So many games seem intent on replicating the experience of playing on a Nintendo console that there’s a huge amount of videogame history left untouched.
Home computer homages seem to be Tikipod’s speciality. Rock Boshers is a modern ZX Spectrum game and both Aqua Kitty games are tremendously reminiscent of Amiga games. Obviously, the graphics are a giveaway but also, there’s a really specific rhythm and speed to a lot of Amiga games that’s replicated here perfectly.
It’s slow. Not in a super padded out way, not in a numbers going up slowly way. I guess a better word for it would be “relaxed”. Here’s a game that knows it’s being played at home so there’s no need to rush, take your time a bit and all that.
The pace being more relaxed means it’s much, much easier on the reflexes and on the noggin. Yeah, there’s moments where the screen is full of bullets and enemies to clear but it’s never really frantic. There’s zero stress here and in 2021, I’m grateful for anything that goes a bit easier on my brain.
I tend to play this sort of thing slowly where permitted. I’ll clear a few small areas, pause the game, go do some reading or pop the kettle on, unglue the kids from the ceiling or remedy whatever pickle it is they’ve gotten themselves into this time. I prefer to play games this way these days so I’m always glad when a game is designed with that in mind.
I’m fairly certain it’ll take me much longer to wade through than most other people but I don’t really mind. Not whilst I’m in the company of space cats. And a rabbit.
It is a game that fits around me, not requiring me to dedicate myself to it and not requiring me to think beyond “that’s a higher number, that’ll do”. Obviously I want the game to be enjoyable too and Astro Aqua Kitty clears that barrier with ease.
All told, a more than pleasant surprise of a game. Some absolutely gorgeous graphics (with a special shout out to the portrait art which is universally glorious), a chill game and cats. Lots and lots of cats. It all adds up to a properly brilliant videogame that I’m super happy losing myself in.
Astro Aqua Kitty – it’s properly brilliant.
As usual, I’m playing on PS4 but other formats are available. If you’re quick, there’s even a Vita version.
Astronut was a wonderful little puzzle platform game for the Speccy that I never really got to play as often as I’d have liked on release.
Oh, it wasn’t like I didn’t try! The infernal thing refused to load most of the time and when it did finally load, I’d have to squint at the tiny codesheet and hope I hadn’t managed to get the colours mixed up again so I could actually play it.
Copy protection is ever infuriating in how it’s more likely to punish legit players – a truth in 1984 as much as today.
Just, you know, a gently spookified Animal Crossing style experience, designed to be played in small chunks and without the obnoxious monetisation of Pocket Camp dragging it down?
Oh, go on then.
Nearly a week on from picking it up and I’m really not disappointed in the slightest. Cozy Grove is an absolutely lovely game. It’s gorgeous to look at, the writing is whimsical and often as funny as it is charming (and it is remarkably charming) and it really does fill the Animal Crossing but in short sessions void I’d hoped it would.
It’s the game I’d originally hoped Pocket Camp would be and it is but transplanted from Tom Nook’s capitalist hellhole world to a more genteel, kind, spoopy island. A game where it feels less like you’re perpetually engaged in repetitive transactions with animals who just want things from you and can never be satisfied and more everyone helps each other here.
The writing has been uniformly wonderful so far. The item descriptions and all that stuff often raise a smile from me (more so for being the first game to truly understand hatred for shrubbery), the characters you meet on the island all have distinct personalities and a sideline in wry humour and slowly uncovering stories has been an absolute joy.
Most importantly, none of the ghosts of animals past are tools. Unlike certain Animal Crossing folk I could name.
Smartly, Cozy Grove is also designed to be played for only a short while, then put away again.
There’s no “energy” mechanic or amount of permitted moves before it starts putting the brakes on, you can tootle about at your own pace and do as much or as little of the day’s tasks but no more than the day’s tasks.
You can spend time fishing, hunting for hidden objects, brutalising shrubbery and doing multiple laps of the island. You just can’t grind and grind at it, the game isn’t interested in that.
It’s a really refreshing change and perhaps a sign that Cozy Grove work best on a portable device of some sort. I’m playing it on the PS4 though and it’s perfectly fabulous as it is. I can nip in once a day, knock a couple of tasks off the list, have a chill wander around the island and sell things to a fox.
Not sure I need much else, to be honest. That all seems perfectly fine.
- “Void Gore” is a phenomenal name for a videogame. Straight up perfection.
- It has an incredible piece of key art, which is why I’m leading with that not a screenshot.
- I’ve rarely been so grateful for a fade to black in a videogame. Bloody hell.
Void Gore is a cracking, intense, randomised high score shooter. Simple rules, shoot everything before it shoots you, use your surrounding circle to wipe stuff out for maximum effect. At one stage, the circle clears bullets, at another it clears everything within it. Get a high score.
That’s it. It’s quickfire stuff – games can be over nearly as quickly as they begin, especially whilst you’re still in the process of upgrading your spaceship. Game over comes incredibly swiftly to the point you can see why the game describes each stage as a new hell to survive.
(Spoilers: it’s because each stage is a new hell to survive)
Survival becomes slightly (only slightly!) easier with a few ship upgrades (and the option to unlock multiple background styles is a nice one), but mainly it’s a game that needs practice, a growing familiarity with its handful of hell monsters and their behaviours. Knowing when to hold off and when to hit that kill circle button to maximum effect.
It’s great new arcade stuff but man alive, it can be exhausting playing a game that’s this full on whilst wanting to try again for a better score, often.
We live in a post Super Hexagon world where more often than not, instant restarts are just how things work. Whilst quick, Void Gore gives me a few moments as it fades to black, a chance to recompose myself, get my breath back a bit. It’s an almost-instant restart and just time enough to settle down again.
It’s something I found myself really grateful for!
As much as I’m a fan of putting the least distance between player and videogame, I’m also a fan of being able to relax for a moment before going at something another time. Those few seconds make a tremendous difference to me in stopping the game from being frustrating as well as brutal.
It keeps a rhythm going, it adds a reset for the brain.
Sometimes, it’s the small things, perhaps not even there by deliberate design, that I appreciate the most. Or maybe I just really like breathing? I dunno, I’ll get back to you on that one.
I grabbed Void Gore for the PS4 but other formats exist. I’m having a ball with it. Two thumbs up from me, alright. Go gerrit.
From The Devil Girl From Mars.
It’s a fridge with a warning light for a noggin, easy easy easy.
Early impressions but it’s safe to say I’m pretty happy with Hotshot Racing so far.
Not entirely sure what I was expecting considering I’d pretty much forgotten about the thing 2 or 3 years back and so was pleasantly surprised to see reviews dropping this week for it. Eurogamer’s review pretty much sold it to me, anyhoo.
Admittedly I’m having a bit of trouble with Aston (hohoho) looking like someone had wrote “draw Roger Moore but with his face punched in” on the design document and nobody stopped to think whether this was the most aesthetically pleasing choice BUT that seems like a pretty small complaint.
Honestly think I’m spoilt by the low poly stuff Ethan Redd knocks out so anything is going to look a bit worse in comparison, no one person should be allowed to set the bar that high. It’s just rude.
It still looks pretty fine though, all the right bright colours in place for the most part, even the menus are perfectly Sega arcade enough. I like it.
Racing wise, it’s surprisingly more in the realms of the still rather excellent Split/Second (without the exploding scenery and stuff) than Outrun 2 or Daytona, even down to the really aggressive rubber banding. Though, as far as I can see, it doesn’t share Split/Second’s more gentle difficulty adjustment when you repeatedly muck a race up.
It’s not a huge problem but it does mean the racing can be rather unforgiving and mistakes can be costly in Grand Prix mode. A couple of times I’ve mucked up a drift and gone from first to last place with nowhere near enough track left to recover.
Luckily, I’ve been too busy going “wheeeeee” and “whoooooooo” to care all that much. (Figured I best mention it though in case that sort of thing is a deal-breaker for you.)
There’s so much I haven’t had chance to look at yet, mind. There’s so many cars, so many tracks, a few different game modes – it’s a really excessively full game for its budget price! I’m happy enough playing the Grand Prix mode or doing a single race in Arcade mode so I haven’t really felt in a hurry to check everything else out. I’ll get round to it all soon enough, I’m sure.
Maybe? Truth be told, I’ve been playing Outrun 2 for a very long time now and still haven’t bothered looking at half of what’s in the home versions of that. Sometimes there’s enough joy to be had from the main game and the rest is a nice bonus. Like I say, I’ve been enjoying the main mode of Hotshot Racing plenty so, err, yeah. Might get round to the rest, dunno.
I really am quite happy with the low poly wheels on my car going round and round, round and round. Hotshot Racing is the good stuff, full of bright colours and blue skies and that’s all that matters to me.
Originally published on Sept 13, 2020.