Sega blue skies and low poly cars in Hotshot Racing. Two cars are in a tussle during a race.

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.

A low poly Roger Moore, with his face punched in.

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.

A low poly car going fast down a low poly road. It's beige.

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.)

A low poly car ramming into another low poly car in a low poly canyon.

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.

Torchlight III is perhaps the most casual ARPG I’ve played yet.

I know there’s a lot of baggage around the word “casual” but I assure you, I use the term in the nicest way possible. Torchlight III is very, very relaxed – both in pacing and difficulty – and given how tired I am right now, that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a game. Low stakes, low pressure, numbers going up and pretty colours? That’s me sorted, thankingyouverymuch.

I can understand how, perhaps, this would be disappointing to anyone seeking a deeper, more challenging, number juggling, ARPG. Torchlight III is very not that game. Essentially, it’s a game where you tootle around mazes using every single button available in order to flash lights at goblins and robots whilst making some numbers go up.

Probably the most usual view of Torchlight III, the player surrounded by a glowing light, a sigil on the floor also glowing beneath them. Text pops off enemies who are also surrounded by their own glow. Loot and corpses abound. It's all really cartoony and kid friendly despite the somewhat grim description.

The numbers do rather tend to go up slowly, mind.

Sometimes it’s a grind (hello ‘contracts’ which operate similar to how battle/season passes tend to except no extra money changes hands) but for the most part it’s just numbers going up slowly because the game just isn’t in any sort of hurry.

I’ve been playing (and completely failing to enjoy) a bunch of roguelikes recently where the games really feel stingy, progress gated and slowed just because. Often progress being in tiny increments, if any is made at all.

Thank Molyneux I never once got that vibe from Torchlight III because, frankly, it does my noggin in trying to wade through that sort of game. No, no, Torchlight III is just an amble, a meander, a stroll. Perhaps it’s a result of its roots as a repurposed F2P game, I don’t know. Either way, it’s chill and far from a furious button smashfest to get the next skillpoint as soon as possible.

(I skillfully negotiated around the problems with contracts by ignoring them entirely, because I can)

It's a screenshot from Torchlight III, it's a manky metal dungeon with a steampunk brown and off green/grey look. It's not very complimentary but there is a big fight going on so not all is lost.

Contracts are one of a handful of ways that, compared to its predecessors, Torchlight III is a tad rough around the edges.

You wouldn’t know it from the screenshots because visually, the game is absolutely gorgeous at just about every turn! Whilst the new Diablo looks to be asking the question “what would my depression play like?”, Torchlight III goes all in on colours in a far more cartoon-inspired fantasy world. It’s all the stuff I liked about Torchlight II’s art but better.

But yes, try and navigate its menus and map, browse the inventory and, well, move around in game and the rough edges are quite unavoidable. It’s not bad, really it isn’t. I think it’s genuinely all the more jarring precisely because the art is so good. It looks like there shouldn’t be any jank whatsoever so encountering any feels even more wrong than it would in a clunky looking game.

Largely, I’m having a great time with it and couldn’t care less. That’s the important bit.

A screenshot from the game Torchlight III. It's a stone dungeon with gold leaf motifs on the floor. There's a fight giving on and some glowing loot dropped in one spot, criminally not picked up already by the player.

And yes, there’s vestiges of what a F2P Torchlight would have been still present. The fort you’re tasked with filling up from pretty early on is the stuff of a thousand and one free to play towns, encampments or whatever. Arrange it how you’d like, pump resources in to get resources back out, complete with wait timers. Craft stuff, arrange it how you’d like, pump resources in … you get the picture.

Just, the wait timers are negligible. They barely run for longer than it takes you to click off the thing you’re waiting for. So so obviously the kind of thing where it would have been too much work to remove these systems from the game so instead they’re rendered as unobtrusive and innocuous as possible. They’re just not a problem in the slightest, if I’m honest. They’re just sort of there and *shrugs* okay, whatever.

A screenshot from the game Torchlight III. It's a top down view of a forest with some sort of fight happening in one spot.

For all my incredibly minor grumbles, Torchlight III hits the spot. Hitting things is exactly as trancelike and reflexive as I’m after, I’m suitably showered in coins and loot whilst playing and numbers keep going up.

I never used to but these days I really like numbers going up, they give me something pointless to concentrate on in these tumultuous times.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling a bit cheeky, I make one number go down whilst another one goes up. Strategy, mate. Strategy.

But seriously, I tend to play an ARPG as a tidying up simulator. Break everything breakable, explore every corner of the map, collect every treasure, hit everything until it goes away and eventually, I have a nice, clean, map that’s free of anything interactive except maybe a few traps I can’t do anything about. Then, I do it again.

Torchlight III lets me do that, albeit much, much, much more slowly than most other games. It’s a pace I have no objections to and the hitting things is good.

That makes it alright in my book, you know?

Been having a bit of a grumpy old time of it these past few weeks so time to crack out the big guns.

Madonna Of The Wasps is one of three Hitchcock numbers that never fails to cheer me up (for the record: Heaven and Ted, Woody And Junior are the other two).

Honourable mention to Neko Case whose cover version works the exact same magic.

The Ghosts Of Videogames Yet To Come

A screenshot from Moose Life. It's like a vidkidz arcade game circa 1983 except new. The screen has the text "attractive moose! I will get a big plushie of you and cuddle up to it in bed. Soporific plushie. Moose cuddles"

Moose Life feels like a game that’s existed as long as videogames. Moose Life feels like a game I’ve never played the likes of before.

Moose Life is really confusing like that. Seriously, it’s kinda baffling.

It’s Llamasoft doing what they do best – a psychedelic arcade game, Vidkidz inspired, honed through 40 odd years of learning on the job, of craft and expertise. Particles fly, words explode, sheep baa. It’s beautiful, hypnotic, it is the zone incarnate.

It's particles. Purple particles everywhere.

If Polybius is the videogame as urban legend, Moose Life is the videogame as hauntology, an echo of something familiar that never really was. A day at the seaside never taken, a game never played in a pub, a sports centre, a chip shop. 10 pence pieces never spent, a name in a high score table never entered, a score never beaten.

Moose Life is uncanny in its authenticity yet also unsettling in its impossibility. An anomalous videogame, unstuck in time – too old to be new, too new to be old. Too perfect a combination to have existed before now.

And yet you could swear…

A screenshot from Moose Life. There is a pixel moose hanging from a pixel ceiling, green mushrooms are scattered all over the 'floor'

Everything, and I do mean everything, explodes

The amount of explosions in this thing is, quite frankly, obscene.

Thinking back to a lot of the time I spent with Space Giraffe and yeah, it was most definitely out there. That said, despite its reputation it certainly took a while to really let go.

By the time I’d survived through to Level 11 of Moose Life for the first time, my eyesight was absolutely broken.

Not in some metaphorical sense either! For a whole ten minutes afterwards anything and everything I looked at moved. Even words on my phone were zooming towards me.

It took until a good way around the halfway mark for Space Giraffe to have a similar effect on me. It’s completely wild. I loved it!

I can’t imagine sticking your head inside it in VR, blimey. That’s gotta chafe.

Moose Life. It's a very trippy orange screenshot with a purple pixel moose, a purple sphere and multicoloured pixel animals. And explosions.

Ostensibly, the objective is simple. Shoot enemies, take pills, save the animals, claim a high score. And yet.

Moose Life is a game of Chicken, of forever ducking and weaving inside the map. It is Defender mapped to a 3d space except the player is constantly facing the same way, staring down an endless one way tunnel of bold colours and chunky pixels.

Enemies rez into position, pixels all up the place. Your lasers shatter them back into pixels on contact. Mostly. Sometimes the player ends up changing the state of the enemy, an abstract shape becomes animal, threatening. Cubes shift colours, seem angrier somehow as though the digital distillation of Zelda’s anti-Zeroid cubes.

Moose Life. It's a lot of particles. You can just about make out some other stuff but mainly just particles.

Everything explodes.

Pills drift into the map offering some of the most ridiculous power ups ever to bless a videogame. Your moose throws a moose party, your moose splits into two – a mirror moose, reflected on the opposite surface.

If a pill drifts past the player, it still exists on the map. Lurch into a panicked reverse, try and remember the baddies that got through your defences so as not to blindly career into them, exploding your moose into pretty colours. Instead, find the pill, explode everything else into pretty colours.

Moose Life is Defender x Ballblazer x Encounter x Devil Daggers x Blaster (with a moose).

There’s so much going on in Moose Life, so many influences, inspirations – work done with intent and coincidentally – that it’s difficult to know where to even start describing it.

The Vidkidz influence is strong, it’s almost Defender mapped to a 3d plane. There’s a hefty dose of David Levine as drifting back and forth within the play area feels a lot like playing the Lucasarts classic Ballblazer (only wilder, obv)

The giant Robotrons flying towards your space moose are more than a passing nod to the criminally underappreciated arcade triumph that was/is Blaster

At times, it has the intensity of Devil Daggers shot through with the DNA of Paul Woakes’ excellent (and all too forgotten alongside Mercenary), Encounter.

It’s the videogame equivalent of a scotch drinker’s dreamiest dream. It’s the special stuff.

any excuse to link a Chinny comparison vid, really.

It’s early days yet but I rather suspect Moose Life might well be the best Llamasoft game since/alongside Space Giraffe, though as ever that’s all a bit “which best thing is the best?” so maybe ignore me.

Ok, let me try that again.

I’ve adored pretty much everything Llamasoft have punted out on recent gen machines, each and every game having been remarkable in its own standout way. Each game has had a distinct personality, never formulaic unless by necessity (and even then we’re talking Tempest 4000/TxK which are Llamasoft’s formula anyway. Well, and Dave Theurer’s too obviously. Let’s not be rude!), always taking steps to someplace else.

Moose Life feels important in the way Space Giraffe did. Steps forward, yeah? Big arcadey steps forward. It shouldn’t feel as fresh and new as it does but it absolutely does. It absolutely is.

I don’t know where we go from here but I can’t wait to find out. I bet it’s full of stars there too.

Moose Life is available on PC and PS4 in normal-o-vision and VR. I’ve been hammering the PS4 version and yes, yes, yes.

Like I wasn’t going to give a game called Inksplosion that looks like this a try.

A big splat of colour within a green border

You know, me liking colours and all that.

Let’s just stop for a second again and do another screenshot (all pics here taken from the Steam page because I couldn’t be bothered with the faff of getting the ones off my PS4, sorry)

A light blue border, a splat of colour. This time the sprites are easily visible, they're white abstract designs with bold black outlines.

Yeah, there was absolutely no way I was going to let this pass me by.

Just look at those colours, they’re fantastic. Go on, let’s do one more picture.

Like someone has tipped paint on the screen, a splurge of colour stretches out across the screen in yellow, greens and blues. Some white sprites with black borders are visible amongst the noise.

It’s some sort of visual hybrid of (my own) War Twat and the all time greatest Asteroids game of all time, Spheres Of Chaos. That’ll do me.

Sorry. I’ll calm down now. I’m okay. I haven’t been this excited about colours in a game since Ultralight Beam. It’ll pass in a second.

Anyhoo. As twin stick shooters go, there’s probably few surprises here. You’re faced with a jumble of waves and each wave finds you having to use a different weapon to clear the screen. Clear the screen, move on to the next wave. You now have a different weapon. Shoot those baddies! Clear the screen! And so on.

There isn’t really that much to distinguish each weapon from the other and as far as I played, not much to distinguish each enemy from the other either. But that’s okay, yeah? I’m not playing this for mechanical marvels, I’m playing this because I really really like watching colours explode across the screen and Inksplosion does that perfectly.

Inksplosion is, primarily, a game about making things explode to smear colour across the screen. Every thirty seconds or so the mess will be cleared up and you get to do it all over again.

My only real gripe is that the announcer that declares each weapon you find yourself suddenly equipped with comes across more Viv Stanshall On Tubular Bells than befitting of an arcade game but I’ll freely admit that I have very, very specific ideas of what speech in arcade games should sound like. Also, I dearly love a lot of Bonzo stuff but Tubular Bells brings me out in hives. Not sure I can put the blame for that on Inksplosion, really.

Phew. Got a bit lost there, sorry. Anyway. Inksplosion set me back about four quid and I don’t regret a penny of it. I plumped for the PS4 version but other formats are available.

I’m not saying my eldest knows me well at this point but I had to nod shamefully when they asked did I buy this game just because it had “Willy” in the title.

I’m not sorry though.

A side view pixelly alien landscape, brown rocks covered in blue grass and purple plants, a waterfall plunges into a lake below, alien looking trees sit in the background. The player, a small astronaut, stands by the lake.

I’m sort of ducking in and out of this a bit. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s that it’s such slow progress getting anywhere that I find I get the most out of it playing through small chunks at a time.

I’m a fair few hours spent and really, I don’t feel like I’ve made it far at all. Just looking at the huge amount of upgrades still unavailable to me and the cost of them suggests unless the game surprises me, it’ll keep me going for a while.

It’s not even an especially difficult game so far, anyone used to sort of 8 bit arcade adventures won’t find much in the way of surprises. You meander round a bit, do a bit of jetpacking here and there, shoot some baddies and grab objects to plonk in another object.

The slow progress is largely down to enemies taking a long time to chip away at and the materials for upgrades being slight whilst the cost of upgrades are high.

It's a pixel cavern with a rocky entrance, a metal save point and a very videogamey shop.

I can totally understand if that’s off putting – certainly, me of ten years ago would be having none of it.

But! I’m not me of ten years ago and I largely don’t care. I tend to like this sort of arcade adventure, thanks to no longer needing a multiface to save me having to repeat sections (and to save at all, I suppose) I’m fine with pushing forward achingly slowly providing I’m fine with the rest of the game. Which so far, I am.

Well. Except for the ‘jokes’. I’m rarely fine with videogame jokes but even by videogame joke standards, I definitely pulled a few faces at these. Still! Worse things happen at sea, eh?

Anyway, unless it does something especially awful I’m likely to see it through to the end. Can’t complain too much then and it’s maybe worth a look if you fancy a slow crawl through one of the older videogame formats around. Luckily, I do.

Willy Jetman is available on a few machines, as usual I’ve been playing the PS4 version.

It seems kinda fitting that after a fairly lengthy enforced absence from playing much in the way of videogames, the first game I want to post about is by Tom Sennett, author of the last game I posted about.

Ultralight Beam is the perfect distillation of the be-positive-scribblepunk aesthetic Tom’s been working with for years and as aesthetics go, it’s definitely one of my favourites. Combine that with an arena collect ’em up? Yeah, I’m down for that, alright.

A scribbly screen with STAY COOL in green letters.

Look, you just collect stars and avoid monsters, right? There’s not really that much to explain.

A screen with REJECT PEER PRESSURE on it. It is a pic of the game, promise.

But sometimes you don’t need much more than collecting stars and avoiding monsters.

A screen with TALK TO THE PERSON NEXT TO YOU on it. It's all very colourful.

Because sometimes avoiding monsters and collecting stars feels really fucking good.

Quit your job, in big letters

And when the game looks and sounds really good too?

Bands of colour with the score "130" overlaying them.

Don’t look at me to go picking at it, wondering if and where it could be better.

This screen reads "escape your life"

Sometimes I just want to feel good, y’know?

It's the words Ultra Light Beam across bands of colour
It's the words "get stars" with lots of scribbly stuff going on.
It's the words "avoid monsters"

Yeah.

Originally posted May 2016, updated January 2021

A screenshot from Byte Driver. It's a black and white racing game done in the style of a Vectrex game. The mountains in the background are lines, the road is a bendy line, the car is also made up of lines.

Byte Driver is a neo-vectrex vroom vroom videogame. The vroom vroom is important because Byte Driver is speedy in a very specific early eighties arcade/home computer kind of way.

It’s a game where every turn is a really wide turn, every straight a chance to try and go fast without crashing into a mine, some bullets, or something videogamey.

You go forward, you go fast. You take a turn, you go fast. Vroom Vroom.

Sometimes, you slow down to hack a car and then you have to make a choice really fast. Hacking a car throws up a menu with some goodies to choose from, which is so far so videogame, except you’re still in a car going fast. That’s still going fast whilst you try and choose whether you want to upgrade something or cadge some energy in order to survive, in case you weren’t managing to keep up.

Without energy, you won’t be going fast any longer. You won’t be going anywhere because it’ll be game over.

Here’s a quick video to show how it works:

Yeah, yeah, I died pretty quick there, you can stop laughing now.

Byte Driver is available on Steam and Itch in exchange for some money. Needless to say, I enjoyed it.