Wings and Wheels: A SkateBIRD Review

NOTE – Lots of spoilers for SkateBIRD ahead, particularly late game areas and plot details!

Normally whenever I try a game I can tell pretty quickly if it is an experience for me or not and usually that tends to stay true throughout. That sense of whether the foundation of a game is strong enough to keep me compelled and maybe even to recommend it to other people. I can’t remember the last time I came across a game, especially one that I’ve finished, that has left me so divided on what I think of it. From start to finish, SkateBIRD by American studio Glass Bottom Games is a crash course in duality – so wholesome and compelling while simultaneously being a nightmare to navigate.

Tony Squawks Toy Story Funhouse

The world of SkateBIRD is an interesting convergence of games like the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series combined with the “small characters in a big world” trappings of something like the Toy Story films. The game focuses on you as Birb, a bird you can customise in many more ways that I was expecting. Birb is lonely as his owner, affectionately known as “Big Friend” is rarely around anymore, no longer skates and has a new job they do not like. SkateBIRD is a short but sweet journey of a skateboarding pet trying their hardest to help Big Friend out and return them home.

My Birb! So cute!

While you never see Big Friend on screen, along the journey Birb meets other friends – many birds each with their own personalities and full of cute, “trying their best” energy. Some are more memorable than others but I was quite surprised how attached I ended up feeling to some of them by the end. The handful of levels you can skate through all have their own charms even if they layouts of these areas can sometimes be a bit contrived to make it work as a skatepark experience. And an experience it certainly is…

Team Rocket Blasting Off Again!

As I mentioned earlier SkateBIRD seems clearly inspired by the Pro Skater series. Unfortunately if the movement is anything to go by, the inspiration was Pro Skater 5… Being blunt, the way this game feels to play is terrible. I have completed this game 100% and I feel like I’ve had a great time with it. I do want to go back at some point because I find the world and the characters quite appealing, but unfortunately I know what I’d need to go through to do so. I really don’t want to have to be so negative of the game as a game, but I simply couldn’t recommend this game to other people because of it.

The biggest problem is the physics, or more accurately the lack of. If you’ve ever played a Tony Hawk game, or even a good handling platformer like the Mario games, you’ll know what good physics feel like. When games like these handle well, especially in the Tony Hawk’s and similar series it can push you to be creative as you have a good sense of what you can and cannot do. But in SkateBIRD, almost every input feels like a gamble between the game doing what you expect it to do or declaring the laws of physics dead and making it up on the spot. Ram into something at full speed and nothing might happen, slightly bump into the same object when barely moving and Birb falls over. Land upside down and you might be fine, land right way up and you might bail. I always feel like I’m fighting the controls and it really is a shame because essentially I’m enjoying all the parts of the game that don’t include the game itself.

Please!

I’m sure some of it could be explained away with logic along the lines of “You’re a bird on a skateboard. What did you expect?”, but at the end of the day if the game isn’t fun then most people won’t be like me, pushing forward to find the good bits. Unfortunately this is reflected in the achievements. “They Trained You Well”, the achievement for being in the first level and able to play has been earned by 82.55% of players at the time of writing. “They Worried You Were Lost”, the achievement for reaching the second level Scared of Heists falls all the way to 2.00%. This is easily one of the biggest post-intro drops I’ve ever seen in a game and while it is a terrible shame that so many players quit, I can see why they did.

For some reason the physics also don’t seem to work consistently. To give an example, in the third level Big Business, a collectible rests on top of the end of an air vent system. I’ve grabbed the collectible already, but below shows the vent in question.

Unlike similar games there is no wallride move (not that I could find, anyway). This leaves trying to jump on top. I spent a good 20 minutes throwing myself at it over and over and just couldn’t get up there. There are no stat points or anything like that so coming back later with better jumping height etc. was an impossibility. Perplexed, I looked up how others were getting up there. You can see in one of the pictures there is a massive drop along the far side of the vent tunnel. For some reason I can’t understand jumping towards the side over the big drop worked for them. I tried it, then again and again, worked every single time. I don’t understand how anyone would work that out naturally, it seemingly ignores all logic. Anyway I’m done venting about the vent now, lets move on…

Sadly not a better physics system…

Birds With Boards

SkateBIRD is split into 6 levels, the original five levels and an extra one added after release. Each level has around 18-20 missions and some collectibles – tapes for new songs as well as new boards and clothes. A few of these are hidden in tricky places, but for the most part they are just there to aid exploration and they serve their purpose. There are some mandatory missions that progress the story, sometimes even leading to the environment changing which is one of the coolest aspects of the game. Once I realised the game was doing this it was consistently fun arriving in each new level wondering what would change by the time I was done.

Watching the birds accomplish their goals is adorable.

The story missions and some of the side missions start and end with dialogue and despite all my problems with how the game handles, these little interactions are lovely and really add to the feeling of being on an adventure and making friends the game is going for.

The rest of the side missions are nothing more than harder versions of things you are already doing – collecting Tony Hawk SKATE style letters, maintaining combos, hitting high scores etc. Honestly despite how short the game already is, I do feel like the game would have been better without these, keeping the focus more on the character interactions and less on the mechanical side of play. Particularly given how limited the trick selection is as well, many of these side missions just feel like needless filler with no meaningful reward unless you are working towards full completion and I just didn’t really find them to be much fun.

For the most part once you work out a route and go for it the vast majority of the missions in this game are pretty straightforward really. Clever use is made of the whole being tiny in a human world perspective to involve the surroundings as both part of the story and part of the objectives. The only times I never really felt like this was working was the small number of missions that ask you to bail and roll yourself towards the goal. The first time I came across this objective type I completed it and wondered if I’d done so by accident as it just didn’t feel natural or right to be rolling around like that but this mission type isn’t used often so I didn’t mind it too much.

I can relate!

One other thing I should mention is the FANCY meter. I initially assumed this would work the same way as the SPECIAL meter in the Pro Skater games but that doesn’t seem to be true at all. As the FANCY meter fills, Birb’s speed ramps up quite significantly. Unlike the SPECIAL meter however, it doesn’t appear to fill up by doing fancy things like tricks, or if it does I couldn’t ever get it to do so consistently. Instead the only way I found of consistently filling the meter was to approach a quarterpipe and curve into a u-turn instead of actually jumping off the ramp. Progress varies, but usually I was filling out the bar completely just from this. I’m still not entirely sure I understand how this works and it is very confusing, but I understood it enough to finish the game at least.

While not part of the main game, I did also want to quickly mention the Pet the Bird mode. There isn’t too much to say about this other than it gives a small way to interact with Birb outside of controlling him and it is adorable! Can’t help thinking that it is a shame this is relegated to small side moment when it might have been cool to have this kind of interaction starting, ending or even bookending the story, showing a bit more directly that Big Friend really does care for Birb. Even as a small addition though it does what it needs to and I can see myself going back to this if I ever need a quick cheering up.

N’aww!

Boards and Beats

Finally, no review is complete without discussing the visuals and audio. Starting with visuals first and while it certainly won’t be winning any awards the graphical side of things is good enough for what the game is trying to do I think. The bulk of the work seems to have gone on the birds themselves and I think they all look wonderful and easily sell the cute factor I think the designers wanted to convey. The graphical design of the levels is very basic and feels quite dated and I can see how that might also put some players off but I think this is one of those games where the heart of the project matters more than the presentation. A goofy little game where you can help birds become more than they were. In an odd way the basic nature of the design is kind of appealing to me, but that might be more down to nostalgia of an era where graphics like this were more common.

I should also add that the game has Depth Blur and Lens Effects on by default in the settings. I had to turn these both off very quickly as it was giving me motion sickness and normally I never get that at all, so be careful of that if you pick this game up.

The music is so good!

The highlight for me is definitely the music. A large number of the included tracks were made by Nathan Madsen, who has also done the music for Glass Bottom Games’ other projects. The OST is rounded out by music from Grave Danger, Illicit Nature and We Are The Union. Last but not least are some tracks made specifically for this game by HolyWOW, who are game developers themselves. So much of the soundtrack blew me away and was much better than I was expecting and very fitting for Tony Hawk inspired skateboarding. Songs can be removed from the playlist if preferred. Overall I’m very impressed with what got included.

Mixed Opinions

Having discussed everything I still feel very torn about this game. The attachments I gained with the characters ensures that the experience will stay with me and I will be back to revisit, but at the same time I really don’t think I can recommend it. If you have Game Pass it will still be around for a couple of days at time of writing, but when it leaves it is currently £16.74 to buy at full price and I just don’t think that is a good value proposition for what is here. If you really want to try it, I’d suggest waiting for it to drop below £10 in a sale. I’ll be buying it full price to support the developers as I can’t help liking it but I know many won’t be willing to do so and I completely understand. The best parts of this game can seen for significantly less stress through videos and streams and that is the unfortunate truth of it.

That being said, if they were ever willing to do a sequel that handles better, or even just an improved version of this game I would be all on board to try it.

Thank you for reading!

First Impressions: Temtem

Note – This first impression has light spoilers for the first few sections of the game, up to and including the first Dojo (think Gyms from Pokémon)

I’ll always have a special place in my memory for Pokémon. Ever since I got a Game Boy with Pokémon Red and Blue for what I think was probably Christmas ’99, I’ve loved the games and the creatures that inhabit them. As the generations pass by though I find it harder and harder to stay invested. A lot of it stems from the difficulty – the games are definitely getting easier and easier and they were never particularly hard anyway. Catching them all has never felt more like a to-do list as well with over 900 Pokémon in total, potentially even passing the 1,000 mark as we head into Scarlet and Violet. Despite some new additions over the years the games never really feel like they are evolving as much as they could or maybe even should. Recent entries like Let’s Go and Arceus are experimenting and Sword and Shield along with Scarlet and Violet are starting to expand the online elements as well, but its so easy to feel like the series is holding itself back at this point.

While other series like Digimon, Monster Rancher, Nexomon etc. have all filled the monster collecting RPG genre in their own way, none of them have reached the same kinds of heights or ambition as Pokémon. A few days ago on September 6th, another new entry to the genre released in the form of Temtem, made by Spanish developer Crema. With clear inspirations aplenty taken from Pokémon, can it separate itself enough to stand alone? Time to find out.

Of Course I Know Him! He’s Me!

I’ve had an experience with Temtem already that is both likely unique and also entirely my own fault! I’m primarily an Xbox gamer so when Temtem released I happily got the Xbox version. I start the game up, make myself a character, type my name in aaaaaand “That character name is already in use”. I have a fairly unique gamertag and I’ve never seen my name taken before. Thinking about it a bit and I quickly realised I did a dumb. You see, I bought the game on PC when it entered early access in 2020 as there was lots of news about it and I wanted to check it out. I had forgotten about this until now and now had to spend a while just sat on the Xbox character creation screen whilst redownloading the game to get my name back from… Uh… Me. The situations I get into sometimes!

Whoops!

A bit of messing around later and I successfully reclaimed my name from myself. Time to give this a real go!

The Second First Impression

While I might have played an earlier version of Temtem a couple of years ago, I didn’t play it for long as I just wanted to check it out and I don’t remember it at all so I consider this a rare chance of being a first impression after already having one. From the second I start the game properly everything feels good. The art style is gorgeous, colourful and vibrant, making the world feel alive and something I want to stay in and explore. The music is fitting and adds greatly to the mood, not really anything catchy that I’d find myself humming away from playing the game but just right for the vibe I think the game is going for. Both the music and art style continued to be this way throughout my time with it so far and I’m greatly looking forward to playing more.

As is tradition for these kinds of games you are very quickly given some Temtem to choose from – the Crystal type Crystle, the Melee type Smazee and the Mental type Houchic. Green is my favourite colour and Crystle looks adorable so I pick them.

Also as is tradition you get forced into a fight with your rival, Max and the game instantly sets up what you can expect as his Digital type Oree wipes the floor with me. I’m unsure if this fight is winnable but it doesn’t seem likely. At this point you are given the wind type Tuwai regardless of your initial choice as your second Temtem and this sets you up for the journey ahead as battles in this game are largely 2v2 affairs.

Prepare For Trouble, And Make It Double!

Having the default for fights being 2v2 is a major departure from Pokémon which does have 2v2 battles but definitely isn’t the standard for that series. This change has big implications for strategy, team composition and overall difficulty.

An example of a 2v2 battle

The most interesting thing to me so far has been move synergy. Certain moves become powered up if you use them while the correct type of Temtem is also out on your side of the field. For example, Toxic type move Urushiol becomes Urushiol + if a your other Temtem is Toxic type, while Crystal type move Crystal Dust gets a noticeable power bump if a Wind type is also on the field etc. This greatly increases focus on team composition if you really want to get the most out of your squad.

Team composition and placement is also being shown to be important with some moves even at this early stage. One of the fights in the first Dojo has a Temtem with the Electric type move Chain Lightning, which hits the target for full damage then rotates around to the next two targets doing weaker damage as it goes. Keep in mind that battles are 2v2, guaranteeing that Chain Lightning will hit at least one of your Temtem depending on which target you attacked. I’ve avoided using this move as damaging my own team is counter-productive, but in this instance this Temtem has a trait that lets it absorb Electric damage, enabling it to do damage to my team while healing itself. This is very interesting to me and I’m very interested to see what other clever strategies can be employed.

Knowledge of the battle system and how to get the most out of your team is very important as Temtem is much harder than I ever remember any of the Pokémon games being. Even random battles against wild Temtem would cripple a lot of my team if the type matchups weren’t in my favour, even when my team were a few levels above them and trainers. Some fights, particularly in the area just before you can challenge the Dojo, were regularly wiping large sections of my team out. I like this because the game is constantly forcing me to interact with how it works and truly understand it to avoid wasting trip after trip to a healing station.

I feel like the game acknowledges the difficulty as well. Very early on you are given a Temessence Phial, an inventory item that can instantly revive and heal your entire team outside of battle. It can only be used once before it needs refilling, which happens automatically when using a Temporium (think Pokémon Center) or the smaller healing stations in the world. I didn’t need this much early on but when in the area mentioned above I was using this more regularly than I’d like to admit!

This is useful!

Without spoiling too much, the Dojo was also very tricky. I’m so used to how Pokémon is set up I absolutely wasn’t ready for the leader to have a full team of 6 ready to go, something I don’t think the Pokémon Gyms ever do in those games. The Dojo focuses on two types instead of one as well which makes planning a team out so much more important. I got so used to playing the Pokémon games and destroying most gyms just by having one Pokémon of the right type, but that absolutely doesn’t work here. Even having a full team of Temtem that are effective against the Dojo leader that were around their levels only just got me the win.

What impresses me most about Temtem so far is the amount of confidence it has. The game is considerably harder than the game it is inspired by but I don’t find it unfair or overly difficult. The challenge can be steep, especially for the unprepared, but the game is very fair so far and rewards those willing to take the time to understand the systems and the Temtem themselves. Anyway, enough of the focus on fighting for now – time to focus on the stars of the show!

It’s Temtem Time!

As of version 1.0, the current version at time of writing, there are 164 Temtem and while Crema have confirmed they will keep developing the game (it is an MMO after all), there are currently no plans to add more. I’ve seen some disappointment from this news, particularly from those that have been playing since early access and want more new additions to the roster, but for the time being at least I don’t think it is a problem. I’d be happy to see more someday, kind of like a Pokémon style second generation, but my understanding is Crema is a small studio and it takes a lot to add new playable characters to a game like this. Hopefully the game takes off enough where they can consider it when the game has aged a bit more.

Right now though I’m quite happy with how many Temtem are in the game and that has a lot to do with all of the various parts of the battle system. Because typing, moves, pairing and sometimes placement are so important, I find myself paying much closer attention to them. I’ve only got up the the first Dojo so far but I already feel like I understand Crystle, Saipat, Pigepic and the rest far more than I ever did Bulbasuar, Pidgey, Pikachu and so on in the original generation Pokémon by the first Gym and beyond, something still true even in the current generation. Not counting evolved forms, I have 12 different Temtem currently and they all feel very unique and different. Even at this early stage I’ve experimented enough with them that I feel I have a grasp of them as characters, not just another monster for the Pokédex, known as the Tempedia here.

Certain things like breeding Temtem aren’t available to me yet as far as I’m aware so I can’t investigate that, but I was able to evolve some Temtem on my travels and the system for doing so is different and interesting. In Pokémon, Bulbasaur will always evolve once it hits level 16. In Temtem, there are no hard levels for this. Instead a Temtem must level up so many times before it can evolve – Wind type Paharo for example will always evolve after 7 levels. If I catch one at level 5 it would evolve at level 12, or if I catch one at level 10 it will evolve at level 17. They can even evolve during battle! I really like this system as you have to spend time with every Temtem form and helps with having that connection with them. Assuming breeding works similar to Pokémon and new Temtem start at level 1, I can also see this being important for competitive players as they can get a Temtem they like, start it at a level much lower than a wild one and spend more time getting evolved stats.

Again the art style contributes greatly as well. All the Temtem I’ve encountered so far have all been cute and adorable in their own ways. Even the later game Temtem I’ve seen other players journeying with that are fierce looking still manage to have a cute edge to them just because of the art style and I can’t wait to see more of the full roster. I also want to draw attention to Platypet, because Platypet is adorable and I want a real life one so bad. Look! Gaze upon the cuteness!

So cute!

Ahem, anyway… Moving swiftly on to the world of Temtem, and what a world it is!

Welcome to the World of Temorrow!

Temtem takes place in the Airborne Archipelago, a collection of islands floating around the “Pan-Sun”. My adventures so far have kept me to only one of these islands, Deniz, but so far I’ve been very impressed! The adventure begins in the player’s hometown of Zadar, a small sea-side village that begins a journey through coastal paths, cliffsides, a couple of more towns and more besides. I was blown away by just how much you could see before you even take on the first Dojo, being able to see about half the island (which is bigger than I initially thought!), going through a variety of different places. I’m so used to Pokémon routes that are quite short and easy to breeze through, but I think here by the time you conquer the first Dojo I can easily see it taking 5-10 hours if you take your time to explore everything, do the side quests on offer etc. I can definitely see the potential for some grinding if you end up at the Dojo with a rough party composition or are just under levelled, but I play these kinds of games in quite a grindy way anyway so I didn’t notice personally.

I wanna see it all!

The world is full of trainers that will challenge you as soon as they see you, but many won’t engage unless you talk to them first which is a good way to do it for anyone more interested in exploration than combat. These and many of the other characters populating the worlds are quite expressive, most feeling like actual characters and not just exposition delivery systems. Its always a delight to come across someone that knows your character or someone else you’ve interacted with – this is an island after all and it makes sense that other people around it would know of you or your town. It helps the player character to feel like an actual person and also makes the world generally feel more alive. It turns it into a world that I feel like I’m taking part in and want to stick around and explore more.

Speaking of exploring, the routes so far have had water and climbing walls in certain parts that need equipment that you just can’t traverse on your first time through. I like this because it feels like the world will warrant further exploration when I have the gear to do so. The many side quests also evoke this – some can be completed quite quickly after you find them, but I still have some in my quest list that will require me to come back later to complete. I really like this as many games of this type will have bunches of side quests you complete in that visit and you never need to return, each town a checklist and nothing more. The world feels so much more connected here and it feels refreshing.

It is also worth noting that unlike Pokémon where routes tend to have the same Pokémon throughout, in Temtem most grass patches don’t share the same wild Temtem. This makes exploring potentially more rewarding as you never know if the next patch of grass will have something new, but equally if you are after a specific Temtem this might become a bit of a Wiki game while trying to track down new additions for the team.

Early on you also get given a sticker book, full of Temtem, places and specific people from certain areas. Stickers spawn in set places in the world and they seem to refresh every so often (I think anyway, only happened to me once?), also encouraging exploration and going back to old areas to see if you can find them. Only good quality stickers can go in the album which makes it frustrating when you get damaged ones, but apparently they have a use later as well. You get to place the stickers in the book yourself as well, which feels more personal and is also fun, kind of like working “Who is that Pokémon?” into game format. It is a really fun addition!

Who’s that Temtemmon?

The only time I felt the story and character was lacking was a section involving a traditional Pokémon Team Rocket equivalent. I’ve seen these kinds of groups done to death in games like this at this point and while I understand why they are here, it just doesn’t work for me. The world so far has been very intriguing all on its own, I just don’t feel like it needs the usual bad group trying to cause chaos routine. Ironically for a game based so heavily off of Pokémon, this was the one thing that reminded me heavily of that influence. I’m open to this group changing my opinion as the game goes on, but I can’t help see this as a misstep.

Of course, this isn’t all there is to the game. It is an MMO after all…

So Many People!

In a way it is funny that Pokémon, a series that started right from the first entry with trading with other people as an important part of the game if you wanted to get every Pokémon is only recently starting to tinker with online play in the world with other players. Out of seemingly nowhere Temtem arrives and it is very difficult not to see the online shine through, full of potential.

From as early as the opening moments, it is impossible to not notice all the other players being followed by their Temtem. So many other players living out the same kinds of experiences you are. I find it fun exploring the starting town of Zadar, seeing all the new players, knowing what they have to look forward to.

All the usual MMO type interactions are present – you can offer to battle them either casually or with competitive rules, speak and trade with them directly, recruit them to your Club if you have one (I wanted to try this, but it costs way more in game currency than I have!). The most interesting aspect is the co-op feature. I haven’t had chance to try this myself yet so I can only go off of what I know, but as far as I’m aware it is possible to play most of if not the whole game in co-operative play. Both players get one of the two slots on the field and can use their top three Temtem in their team. It sounds really fun and I’m hoping to be able to try it at some point.

Seeing so many players is great, but I found it to be a bit problematic in the inside section just before you can access the Dojo. On the one hand it is cool seeing other people trying to navigate all the spaces you are, but on the other hand it created some issues for me. I missed some item boxes because they would be obstructed by players, and I got into a lot of trainer fights I didn’t see coming because even though players get an icon above their head in battle, it isn’t always obvious if they are fighting another trainer. I walked into far too many trainer fights I just didn’t see coming as there was just too many moving things on screen to process. Not a huge annoyance, but worth noting.

The game is both cross-play and cross-progression between PC, PS5 and Series S/X consoles. I really wish there were versions for PS4 and Xbox One as well since some of my friends haven’t upgraded to current gen hardware and I really would have liked to have been able to play with them, but I also understand the studio is small and likely didn’t have the resources for this.

One final little feature I really like is that just like your own Temtem, you can walk up to Temtem owned by other players and interact with them. If you don’t already have that Temtem in your collection, it will add that you’ve seen that Temtem to the Tempedia. I’m really liking this feature and even though it is only a small detail, it makes sense for it to work this way in the world.

So far this post has been glowing with praise for Temtem, but sadly I have to talk about the one thing that brings it down slightly for me – the monetisation and the Tamer Pass.

You Shall Not (Tamer) Pass!

As is common for games these days, Temtem has a shop where you can buy in game items using real money. I’m not a massive fan of this kind of thing generally as many games have cosmetic items that cost a fortune and unfortunately this game is no exception – currently for example there is a “Pigepic Carrier” which I think is some kind of mount, but I’m not sure for certain. The cost of this is essentially £11.98. For reference, the cost of the game as a whole is £39.99.

Notice I said “essentially”. Unfortunately Temtem falls down the style of monetisation where you use money to buy currency, in this case Novas. These Novas can then be spent in the shop for cosmetic items. The Pigepic Carrier costs 1,600 Novas, equivalent to buying the 1,000+100 bonus Novas pack for £7.99, then also the 500 with no bonus for £3.99.

The Tamer’s Pass, essentially a battle pass, also costs 750 Novas. You can’t buy 750 Novas separately so you have to buy either the £3.99 pack twice or the £7.99 pack and have 350 Novas left over, which is unfortunately becoming standard practice. Including the free and premium tiers you do get 1,000 Novas if you complete the pass which is something but it still doesn’t feel good.

Eww

What I find incredibly confusing is that like most battle passes there are weekly challenges you can do in order to progress the pass. You can get pass experience just for catching Temtem and fighting, but the return for this is very poor forcing you to do challenges. Unfortunately you cannot see these challenges until you’ve basically beaten the campaign as far as I can see.

The given reason for this is that they want players to focus on the story but I find this absolutely baffling. Just to confirm it for myself I did get the Tamer Pass to see if buying it would bypass this requirement and let me see the challenges, but no. I’m still required to basically beat the game to get there and as I’ve highlighted already, this is not a short game as far as I can tell. In my opinion they should change this immediately to show the challenges for at least the people who have bought the pass (but preferably everyone!) as effectively right now everyone who has bought the pass but not finished the main story effectively owns a useless pass.

I’ve played for about 15 hours at this point and I’m not even halfway to level 2 on the pass and that is terrible. I can see instances of people buying the pass, missing weeks worth of challenges especially if they can’t play regularly and essentially wasting their money. This absolutely must change and I can’t imagine why they thought this was a good idea – it is perfectly possible to have weekly challenges and still play and focus on the story. Many games do that and especially in an MMO this could work as a way to get the community into certain types of activities etc. I really want to understand the logic here but I’m just not seeing it. Given how well crafted the rest of the experience is, it feels off to see the monetisation handled this way, the game deserves better I think.

Despite this, overall I’m really enjoying Temtem and would happily recommend it to anyone who likes Pokémon style games and especially for anyone who wants to see what kind of game Pokémon could have become with more effort to develop the core features. The world is fantastic, the Temtem themselves are adorable and the challenge has me invested in a way many games of this type haven’t in a long time.

It’s Overwatch, Anakin! I have the Battle Pass!

Did you ever try sliding down the stairs as a kid? I know I did and it was fun! It seems as if Blizzard enjoy this as well, but they decided to cover the stairs in sandpaper and add obstacles to hit their head on the entire way down. Judging by their recent history, those stairs are quite long too!

Well, That Sucks

When a friend shared a Dexerto article this morning showing evidence that Blizzard were advertising new hero Kiriko would be part of Overwatch 2’s first Battle Pass (and then Blizzard edited that out), I sighed. I wasn’t surprised, but I was definitely disappointed. I’m glad we’re moving on from the Loot Box model for the game and while I’m a bit exhausted of so many games I play having these Battle Passes at this point, I can see why this makes sense. Putting a hero on the Battle Pass though? This changes the core values of the game fundamentally – let me explain why.

Whenever characters have been introduced into Overwatch, they are done so instantly and without strings attached. As long as you can play, you have the character. This keeps the community together – nobody gets left behind and everyone can share in the enjoyment and frustrations of having a new, usually overpowered and in need of tuning addition to the roster.

Square Peg, Triangle Hole

By pushing access to new heroes like Kiriko into the Battle Pass, Blizzard instantly puts a nice big Mei ice wall between those that bought the pass and have the character instantly, and those that need to invest potentially a lot of time into unlocking the character. If you don’t get the character in time, it sounds like there will be a way to get the character for free in future seasons.

I play Destiny 2 and that has a similar model each season – an exotic weapon will be available instantly to anyone who has bought the Season Pass, while those that don’t have to play until they can get it or obtain it from a kiosk once the season is over with in game materials.

This desperately needs further elaboration!

At a quick glance this sounds like the same scenario, but this absolutely isn’t the case. In Destiny 2 you always have the main character classes available and while there definitely have been exceptions, most Season Pass exotics are good, but not game-breaking. While Destiny 2 does have PvP and even some competitive modes, I definitely couldn’t claim it is PvP focused and it absolutely isn’t an esport. It still sucks that players without the pass have to work to get the weapon, but generally speaking it just means they don’t have an option available to them rather than an entire character.

I realise a similar argument could be made in terms of the Stasis subclass in Destiny as it requires the Beyond Light expansion, but given that isn’t a straight comparison (Expansion vs Battle Pass) I feel its best for now to stay focused on a more direct comparison and discussion. That being said I might revisit this in another post.

Overwatch 2 is a heavily PvP focused game with an esports scene however and having a hero in a battle pass creates a lot of problems. It is essential to consider also that there is considerably more emphasis in Overwatch on teamwork. Assume Kiriko follows the tradition of new Overwatch characters and is incredibly powerful for a while, to the point where their character is considered an essential team member, particularly in Competitive play.

Overwatch, assemble!
Image taken from the Overwatch 2 Press Kit

If you have access to Kiriko and can play them well, congratulations! You will probably be in high demand. Don’t have Kiriko and they are viewed as being that important in a team? In comes the potential for bullying and I can’t think of anything that could be more opposed to what Overwatch represents. The varied roster of characters has people of all kinds of backgrounds and some people play characters they feel a strong affinity with. To me Overwatch is a game meant for everyone and even if this is a division that only lasts for 15, 20, however many levels, the idea that one now exists at all is diametrically opposed to what the game used to stand for.

The claim of heroes having free paths to unlock them once the season is over also has me quite concerned. My thoughts turn to Call of Duty’s recent games where if you miss a new weapon, you can grind it out in future by completing challenges. That works for Call of Duty but I can’t imagine anything worse for Overwatch. As an example, imagine a new hero is coming in and like Brigitte, Reinhardt etc. they use a shield. The season comes and goes and since this character uses a shield, the challenge created for them is to block a certain amount of damage with a shield character. I’m sure some would just do this casually, but there are those that absolutely would pick one of these characters and do things they would never do normally to get it done quickly. Imagine your only tank ignoring their job and wildly rushing out of position, your Brigitte wandering off instead of supporting the team etc. That would be AWFUL.

Another thing to consider is that Overwatch 2 is taking on a new approach entirely as 5v5 game instead of the old 6v6 model. Any new characters from this point will have been designed more with this in mind and may end up having an advantage purely from that alone. I’m already concerned that some Overwatch characters may end up obsolete going into Overwatch 2, particularly tanks in the one-tank era which would make it a lot easier for them to be outperformed by new characters designed this way.

A Matter of Time

I’ve seen some people mentioning that having a hero on the Battle Pass isn’t a problem. Just play more and you’ll get them eventually, right?

Can’t stress this enough – I hate that mindset.

Worth pointing out Overwatch 2 launches 26 days from now at time of writing

I enjoy playing Overwatch with friends, I enjoy occasionally playing solo. It will never be my main game though. I play some matches every now and then for fun and I definitely won’t be alone in that category. I certainly wouldn’t want to turn that fun into loads of extra play sessions and turn it from something I want to do to something I feel I have to do.

For those that don’t want to pay but don’t necessarily want to or even have time to dump 10-20 hours (most likely) to get a character to have an even playing field, they’ll be stuck. I’m sure at this point some will come rushing in going “But a Battle Pass is only £___!” and if you can afford to say that, good on you. There will be those that can’t though, who especially in current world circumstances will be stuck on the other side of the fence. For Overwatch particularly to divide that way straight up feels wrong.

Also worth noting, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Overwatch character release before this where people have gone “I’ll pay £10 for that, and I’ll encourage everyone else to as well!”

Something to think about.

The Summer of #i69

The last weekend in the fading moments of August took me on two great journeys. The first was an excursion halfway up the country and back again, the second one of understanding and appreciation. In a time where Insomnia and many events like it are recovering from some forced downtime, a question presents itself: was Insomnia #69 good?

Great Expectations

To get to the answer of this question requires some looking back. Three years ago, in a period I now like to call “the before times”, I had a joyful experience attending Insomnia #65. I’d never been to anything like Insomnia before and it was as awesome as it was overwhelming. Big games like Borderlands 3 among others were there, the layout and scope of everything felt massive and most importantly it left me wanting to go again so badly.

Just in time for the world to implode on itself.

Thankfully the world eventually returned to something resembling normality and after all that time, me and my friends finally made the pilgrimage back to Birmingham once more. Just as before we could only be there for the Friday and Saturday, but we were ready and more importantly, we were expectant. Big games, a mad rush to get everything done and making more memories to last a lifetime. Did we get that? Well… Not really, kind of and yes but not quite how I thought. Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s turn the clock back to the Friday…

Friday, Friday, Got Mixed Impressions on Friday

Having made our early morning excursion to THE NORTH as the road signs kept loudly declaring (thanks again for the lift Ted!), we rocked on up the NEC just in time to meet the rest of our travelling band in time for the big opening. Three years is a long time and memories can certainly get a bit fuzzy, but first impressions at the gates of gaming goodness were a lot more restrained than what I was remembering. We had standard tickets and missed the early access but there were a lot less people than I was expecting and the sights we could see of the festival seemed small. At the same time, I was keeping a reminder in the back of my mind that this was the first summer show since the before times and having only had Insomnia 68 to get back to business, this was understandable. That thought stayed in the back of my mind… Much like the song.

For context, on the big screen above the entrance they had a short cycle of information and adverts that looped every few minutes. Whenever it would loop back around to the Insomnia information section it would play a short tune that at first I found quite catchy, but it very quickly became repetitive and irritating, made worse that for the whole weekend it kept playing and was easy to hear around most of the hall. It really does make for a good first impression, but I really wanted it to stop after a while. Curiously, there only seemed to be a couple of indie titles being advertised as well. It might seem strange that I’m spending this much space taking about it, but it bugged me enough to make me want to mention it.

The music wasn’t all bad though! We went to the main stage to watch the opening ceremony and I stuck around at the end to watch an opening performance by drummer and Twitch streamer Mrgregles. He did a fantastic job with a few songs before leading into an epic medley featuring everything from popular songs to the Tetris theme and I’m pretty sure even the Thomas the Tank Engine theme was in there. It was an incredible performance and it made me sad to find out that his main show would be on Sunday which we couldn’t be there for. Highly encourage checking out his work!

Just like that, the festival was open for us to explore… Briefly. As I mentioned earlier, Insomnia 65 left me pretty overwhelmed by everything on display, but by lunchtime many in our group including myself were feeling pretty deflated. There were no big, impressive new shiny things to line up and gush over really. The longest thing we queued up for at all was a short line for some Sneak freebies. There just wasn’t anything big, loud or attention grabbing. There was already talk from some in our group about considering not returning next year. We came with expectations and instead reality hit us with a Reinhardt charge. Keep this in mind, I’ll be coming back to it soon. Besides, as one of our jolly band pointed out, this was only Friday. Tomorrow would likely be bigger and better.

While we were roaming the halls of Insomnia, we weren’t the only ones! There was a zombie event taking place over the weekend and especially during the earlier parts of Friday the actors were in full zombie dress and shambling around the floor. They were incredibly cool looking and I was very impressed with their movements and performance, but at the same time they kept appearing out of nowhere to scare and surprise. I’m sure many found this entertaining but as someone with anxiety issues I admit I found it a bit much, as did my friend I was with at the time. The hordes were largely absent after lunch and throughout Saturday leaving me wondering if there were complaints. All the same though they were very impressive and my understanding was they were raising money for charity which is cool!

With the afternoon vanishing before us and not much on the floor attracting my interest, I convinced a few of the group to join me at the Cosplay Masquerade. Cosplay isn’t really something I’ve ever had much interest in, but I had seen some excellent Overwatch cosplays including an amazing Reinhardt, Winston and Torbjörn among others which had me curious so off we went. Much to my surprise it was a lot more enjoyable than I was expecting, mostly because of my lack of expectations. I knew there would be costumes of course, but I was very surprised when the first entrant started singing. The performance/in-character elements never really crossed my mind before but I was very impressed by all of the clearly talented people that took part. It seemed pretty clear this was very important to them all and I’m glad they all got the chance to take part. I’m a big fan of the Destiny games and seeing Saint-14 come first place was awesome!

By this point Friday was almost over, but we had just enough time for some matches of Fall Guys in an area set up for it. A fun time was had but mine and my friend Sinead’s games bugged out in one of the matches and all we could do was spectate but otherwise it was a good time.

And with that the main day was over. Friday didn’t quite turn out to be the day I thought it would be, but Saturday was more interesting to me anyway – I was very excited to see Dungeons and Dragons group Session Zero so I still had something to look forward to. This wasn’t the end of Friday just yet however…

But Wait, There’s More!

Many who go to Insomnia know at this point that the Pub Quiz is usually one of the highlights of the weekend and this was no exception. Eventually. To make sure we all got onto the same table, one of our friends got all of our tickets – 10 in total. As soon as we tried to get in, we were bounced around between various different people until the last one finally gave up and gave us a BYOC band to help us get in, with the strict conditions that we take them off again afterwards (we did, don’t worry!). Organisation of the event definitely felt a bit on the iffy side but we did eventually get in. A brief table swap later in aid of a disabled group and we finally get settled in for the evening on chairs so uncomfortable I never want to see them again, but enough about that, how was the quiz itself?

Very good! It was a fun time with some very tricky questions. Just like the last one I went to, there was a round that involved cross-referencing answers from different sheets and it became a game in itself. Difficult, extremely well thought out and definitely created by an evil genius. I’m already looking forward to the next one! For the most part the rest of the quiz was standard pub quiz fare, which I thought was both good and bad. On the one hand the questions were pretty varied, but on the other hand many of the questions were esoteric and I preferred the previous one I went to which was a bit more angled towards gaming and sci-fi knowledge from what I remember. Naturally there was singing and lots of jokes in-between rounds and it was a fun time.

If you’ve never been to the quiz before and are interested, I should point out that some of the jokes can be very adult and if you are of a more sensitive nature you might find it a bit off-putting, but they rarely last long and I still think it is worth going for the experience. Be prepared for a potentially late night too – officially the quiz was meant to finish at 11 but it wasn’t over until gone midnight. I enjoyed it but especially if you are around all day, be prepared for a very long one!

The night came to a close with a quick appearance from Paul Wedgwood, co-owner of Supernova Capital and owner of Insomnia after it was sold by former owner Mike Ashley. What he spoke about was the start of a turning point in my opinions of Insomnia 69, but I’m going to come back to that in a bit. For now, day one is over. Saturday awaits.

Tokens, Dice and a Violin

At this point we unfortunately had to part ways with some of our group as they could only be around for the Friday, but the adventure continues! Even though we missed the doors opening, it was immediately obvious how much busier it was. This is actually something worth noting if you have social anxiety or have sensory overload issues etc. – there were noticeably more attendees, the hall was very warm and it was much louder than Friday.

While we wandered around yesterday some of us noticed an Intel area that had a claw machine for prizes, but it was empty by the time we got there. This ended up being what we went for first (after a quick dash by the Sneak stand!). It was a fun diversion and much to my surprise I got some things I’d actually use from it but I definitely think it could have been set up better.

The line for this was pretty busy (maybe more so than anything else I’d seen this year outside of evening activities), but not everyone needed to be there. The way it worked was that by speaking to staff or playing some of the games on offer, you would be given a token to spend on the claw machine. The problem was that this wasn’t obvious at all and many, including ourselves, were lining up for something we couldn’t actually use. One of the staff eventually came over and explained how it worked, at which point Sinead got sent off to play a game and they gave me a token too so I could hold her place in line. Unfortunately, her game took much longer than the queue so she had to line up again afterwards to use her token – a line that was continually growing and shrinking as people were arriving and finding out that they needed to do other things first. It would have flowed considerably better if it was just organised in a way where people had to pass through the gaming part to get to the prize part, removing the confusion.

With a bit of time to spare afterwards, we got some goodies from the marketplace and quickly dropped things back at the hotel, skipping lunch so we could get back in time for the main event I’d been waiting for – Session Zero. Session Zero is a small group made up of content creators Josh Strife Hayes, Callum Upton, RageDarling and BillieTrixx performing Dungeons and Dragons stage shows and campaigns on their YouTube channel.

We just about managed to get a seat at the small expo stage and we had an amazing time watching the session play out. It was brief, but it felt like much longer had passed (in a good way!) and was very engaging. It was only when we went to leave that we realised that had attracted a much larger crowd than we thought. It was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to seeing it again! It was definitely a bit restricted by the environment though – even as close as we were it was occasionally hard to hear what was going on over the background noise. I’m not really sure how this could be solved, if it can at all. An argument could be made for potentially having it take place at the main stage at future events, I don’t think it would work well considering the interactive elements and the smaller space definitely adds to the character of the show.

One thing I would potentially consider for families interested in seeing them is that while they encouraged family friendly adventure suggestions from the audience, some of their own antics didn’t always stick to it. Nothing I would personally find a problem and I thought it was all hilarious, but I can see the potential for some parents to find certain elements excessive (poor Tommy). Well worth the time if that isn’t an issue for you though!

There was a bit of a mix-up after this which was unfortunate. A meet-and-greet had been announced ahead of time and I was really looking forward to meeting the cast, but at the show the announcer seemed to suggest the time for that was 3.15 when really this was the end time for it. As such we went off and came back to find nobody there which was incredibly disappointing. In all fairness we could have misheard, but everyone in our group heard the same thing.

Happy times resumed shortly after though as we went back to the main stage for another session of the Cosplay Masquerade. We caught the last few minutes of the 15th anniversary cosplay contest for Assassin’s Creed and saw some fantastic work by all involved. This continued to be the case throughout the Cosplay Masquerade itself and it was awesome seeing all the work the entrants put into their costumes and performances – rosemagpie doing a great job and earning first place. Just before the winner was announced, there was an interlude featuring a phenomenal violin performance from Heavyy Rain, concluding with Undertale’s Megalovania. Still in awe at the skill needed to play the song, move around as characters interacted on stage and react to it all at the same time!

As good as the performances were though, I did think the show could have been handled much better from a technical standpoint. The main problem was the volume – Friday’s show was so much better because for the most part I could actually hear what was going on. This show was far louder and through no fault of the performers I felt it actually took a bit away from their performances. Whether talking, singing, playing background music or even the violin, a lot of it was hard to even register and there were a couple of speaking and singing performances where unfortunately I had no idea what was being said or sung because of the speaker distortion and that really is a shame.

For us that was the end of the daytime events, bringing the end to our Insomnia adventure ever closer. Little did we know though that there was a wildcard still waiting to be played…

Beans, Bread and the Flamboyant Potato

You wake up, headache in full swing, you aren’t really sure where you are or what time or day it is. You walk up to the window and realise to your horror that you are having a fever dream – beyond the rubble of everything you once knew and recognise you see a raging battle between the NyanCat Empire and the forgotten hordes from Goat Simulator 2. One member from each side of the fight look you in the eye and charge in your direction. Everything fades to black before you hear a loud, booming voice…

“YOU AWAKE TO FIND YOURSELF IN A DARK ROOM!”

That almost certainly isn’t the backstory to The Dark Room, if there even is one, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound like it’d fit! This was… certainly an experience!

The Dark Room, an interactive live-action video game, is the creation of John “Robbotron” Robertson. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the advertising for it at both here and Insomnia 65. Previously it was on a day I wasn’t there but I was here this time and I was tempted, so I somehow convinced our group to come along for the ride.

And wow, what a ride.

I’ll say this now so people don’t make the same mistake we did – I would strongly suggest researching into this show a bit before attending as the interactive game show bit was only really half of the show. I’d have noticed this to a degree if I’d properly looked into it, but I just kept seeing “live-action video game” and it stuck. Even if I had been well informed, I definitely still would have been surprised!

The show was split into two halves and the first half is easily some of the funniest comedy I’ve ever sat through. It absolutely isn’t for the easily offended and it seems like in theory anyone can be a contestant, although thankfully only people who willingly indicated they wanted to take part did so as far as I can tell.

While there is an end goal for the text-adventure style game – to find the light switch and escape, the real value comes from the game itself. As a choose your own adventure type of game, each run is different and it was consistently funny seeing people trying various things to avoid or embrace the cries of “YA DIED! YA DIED! YA DIED!”.

The highlight for me was DCflake being at the show dressed as Robbotron, being asked to come up and play the role of host while the real Robbotron played as a contestant in a way I can only really describe as memorable. Watching DCflake’s take on the role was best described as watching the gleeful excitement on someone’s face as they get a car for their birthday before watching things descend into confused chaos as they realise their car is really a monster truck, unaware they are at an off-road race being all too aware they don’t know how to drive. By far the funniest part of the night for me.

If the session had ended there or had carried on this way, this would easily have been one of the funniest shows I’d seen in a very long time. Unfortunately, it mutated very quickly into something barely recognisable as the same experience while the audience either wonders what is going on or is eagerly awaiting the insanity depending on whether they know what is about to happen.

By this point the show was clearly intended for those that had been before or were just up for something a bit wild and different. The description for the show even mentioned things getting crazy and I took that to assume the game would continue and craziness would be added to it – playing minesweeper gets mentioned, as well as beans, bread, a flamboyant potato etc. These were definitely involved… Just not how any of us were expecting.

Baked beans being poured into a bag and thrown everywhere (if you do want to go and don’t like the sound of this stick to the back!), having various bits of food thrown everywhere, bread being thrown into the air and cut with a sword, an attempt at getting someone with walking difficulties crowdsurfed around the call (the staff shut this down fast!), Robbotron himself getting crowdsurfed around the hall in his pants, twice! Someone seemed to get injured during all of it too. Safe to say, there was a lot going on and none of it involved the game that attracted us there in the first place.

There seemed to be two very different reactions to this – an almost cult-like response where those who knew what was coming were extremely into it, and a second group of people (including us) that found it to be a bit much. This really is a shame since the general feeling was that the first hour was amazing but the second hour might as well have been some sort of after-party. The show was streamed via Twitch and our friends that had gone home earlier in the day were watching and found the experience uncomfortable.

If you can stomach it (the show, not the beans!), I genuinely would recommend the first hour and would gladly go again next year for that part, but unless the above sounds fun or you already know what you are getting into I would consider leaving once it becomes obvious the game is over. Can’t stress this enough, do some research on this one first! Thinking of it, we did meet someone in the hotel on the way to the show that guessed where we were going and hoped we would enjoy ourselves but seemed very happy not to be going themselves. Should have seen something strange coming!

There are alternatives if you still want to try and experience the show – there was a free, presumably family friendly version on the expo stage during the day (again, may be wise to research first!) that might be a good entry point if you are curious but want to start on something a bit easier to approach. There is also a not as family-friendly video game version on Steam that I bought and tried while researching for this post and while it does have some issues and seems to be based on older material, I had a good time with it and it did solidify in my mind that the show would have been a lot better if it included the game itself more.

With The Dark Room and Insomnia itself over for us, the question of whether it was good or not returns…

What Is Insomnia anyway?

Returning back to the pub quiz, you might recall me mentioning Paul Wedgwood’s brief appearance. Quiz master and original Insomnia owner Craig “Wizzo” Fletcher introduced Paul as someone pivotal to Insomnia’s return after his company Supernova Capital bought it from Mike Ashley. Paul himself reminded the room that this was only the first big summer Insomnia after both the before times and the transfer of ownership – there was a smaller Insomnia 68 earlier this year as well. Our group discussed this after the quiz and much like staring up at the ceiling after falling over, it provided a new sense of perspective.

Given Wedgwood’s own history as a game developer, it seems like Insomnia was very fortunate to have fallen into the hands of someone who actually likes video games and can see the potential in continuing to develop Insomnia. This had me thinking though – what is Insomnia?

I think back to Insomnia #65 – the towering wall marking the Nintendo section, the big and bold Borderlands 3 tent, all the other big hitting attractions that year. Insomnia #69 was nothing like this at all and seeing a greatly scaled back version of the big event we all remembered going to came as a big surprise. I would argue though this might actually be for the best! Based on conversations I had with friends and overheard from other groups in passing, I think this might actually be the best chance for Insomnia to refocus and re-establish itself.

What I haven’t mentioned so far is that after visiting Insomnia #65, some of us would attend EGX just a few weeks later. That event too left a big impression on those of us that went and when we were discussing the state of Insomnia this year, the immediate thought from some was to go to EGX next year instead. This has also been a view I’ve seen others online express since then. Having been to both I can definitely see where the comparisons are coming from and at first I reached for a similar conclusion myself, but thinking further I don’t really think they are as similar as might be assumed on first impression.

If you were to go to the websites for Insomnia and EGX right now, they in theory sound very similar. Both have games, community events, a varying array of activities etc. That being said, EGX has always primarily being a trade show, expected to bring in the big games and developers and for many that go, it is a work exercise. It can afford to go bigger and bolder because of this business focus. Insomnia on the other hand is a gaming festival – a celebration of gaming. Would it be nice to have big games there? Sure. Do they need to be there for Insomnia to succeed and be worth going to? Having a lot of time to think it over, I would say no.

The big ticket stuff was a large part of my first Insomnia experience and of course it shaped my expectations for future events, but on reflection I find myself wondering if those big ticket things actually work against Insomnia. I was so focused on the big, shiny new things before that I wasn’t really paying much attention to the core parts of the show itself – the focus on playing games together, the stage events bringing the community together in that strong sense of community that I’d argue the festival has been built on ever since that first LAN party that started it all.

This year, with no big distractions, I was free to explore a lot of the things I normally wouldn’t have paid much if any attention to at all. In doing so I found a new sense of appreciation for the event itself but also all the smaller things – gaming as a community, the cosplay scene, Dungeons and Dragons, avoiding iffy hotdog vans and not just fixating on wanting to try all the new games I knew I’d be playing in a few months anyway. All the while Paul’s message was in the back of my head and I genuinely feel Insomnia is in a good space to refocus on the community aspects of it all. To be clear this is not me saying new games etc. can’t work with Insomnia, but I don’t feel like the time is right to try going back in that direction. I look forward to the next one and I really hope anyone on the fence is willing to give it another chance – I do think Insomnia will get bigger and better.

Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates…

I wanted to end this with a happy moment that to me really reflects how I see Insomnia at the moment. We might have done everything we could by the end of Saturday, but we weren’t heading home until the Sunday morning. As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted to attend the Session Zero meet and greet but unfortunately missed it.

Sunday morning comes around and I AWAKE TO FIND MYSELF IN A HOTEL ROOM. Wait, no, wrong section. Anyway, we wander up to the NEC for breakfast, said goodbye to the rest of our group and headed back to the hotel to make the journey home, happy and tired after our weekend of adventure. As we are passing the lake by the hotels, one of my favourite places, someone must have decided to roll a d20 on my behalf and landed the 20 as JoshStrifeHayes just happened to be stood there.

I can be incredibly socially anxious, particularly when approaching someone I don’t know. Even if I had been at the meet and greet, there’s no guarantee I’d have walked up to anyone and started talking. I realised I just couldn’t pass on this opportunity thought and managed to say hi. We had a quick chat and he even offered to have a photo taken.

This might seem like a strange story to end this on, but I really think it works when I think about it. The interaction I initially wanted would likely have been very brief in a loud space where I’d barely hear anything and would have been immensely uncomfortable. Instead, I got a quick, calm chat and a lovely photo right next to one of my favourite spots.

What a way to end the trip!

This is a mirror for how Insomnia #69 felt for me – I didn’t really get what I went there for, but with time and reflection I realised I ended up with something much better than what I hoped for. Insomnia has a character all of its own and I can’t wait to go again.

Can’t wait for next year, who knows – maybe some of you reading this will be there too!

Thanks for taking the time to read all this, I really appreciate it. Until next time, take care of yourselves!

First Impressions – TEPPEN

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When it comes to mobile games, TEPPEN may just be the biggest surprise I’ve found in a long time. That being said, it very nearly wasn’t a game I picked up at all!

I see adverts on Facebook all the time for mobile games, many of them being of questionable quality – games that advertise themselves as Pokèmon ripoffs that play nothing like them and have no Pokèmon involved for example.

Naturally then when I saw an advert for a game showcasing Ryu from Street Fighter but in a game with a name two letters removed from Tekken, my brain ignored it and I skipped past it. Twice!

Luckily I saw the ad again this morning and my eye caught something I missed previously – this game was actually being advertised by Capcom themselves. My curiosity peaked, I had to give it a look and I’m really glad I did!

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Based on what little I had seen, I had assumed this was a fighting game. Instead I was very pleasantly surprised to be greeted with a collectible card game (CCG) based on many Capcom properties!

Starting the game initially throws you straight into Ryu’s “Hero story”, a set of three matches designed to quickly teach you the basics of the game whilst also giving you a chance to learn how his deck functions. Completing this unlocks Ryu as a playable character along with his deck.

Once this is done you can play the Hero Stories of the other 7 characters to unlock them and their decks for use. These stories are very basic, mostly existing just to give a passing explanation of why all these characters are interacting with each other. I do like how they all line up though – Ryu fights Chun-Li during his story, whilst in her story you see her fighting Ryu from her perspective. I appreciate the details and as I’ll go into soon, this game is full of them.

Being a CCG, all fighting is done through the use of cards. There are four colour types of card – red, green, purple and black. Each focuses on seperate strategies – red being mostly offensive, green being mostly healing and support options and so on. Each of the 8 characters also has a favoured card colour, who in turn can use a special ability that usually ties in to abilities of that card type.

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Each character can be levelled seperately and if you stick with the same one for a few matches you quickly unlock Hero Arts, which changes the super move that character uses and encourages further exploration of deck building around a special move you like.

I have played a variety of card games before (Pokèmon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Hearthstone etc.) and so far TEPPEN has the most frantic gameplay pacing of them all, despite being deceptively simple at first glance.

Both players constantly have a hand of 5 cards, with new cards being drawn as soon as one is played. Two main types of cards exist – Units and Actions.

Units are character cards and each player can have 3 on the board at any given time. Positioning matters in TEPPEN with a top, middle and bottom slot for Units to be summoned in. When summoned, a Unit will automatically begin trying to attack the Unit on the enemies side in their respective slot, represented by a blue line for outgoing attacks and orange for incoming ones. If an attack connects with an enemy Unit both take damage based on their attack values, whilst if there is no Unit to defend the player takes direct damage.

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Actions meanwhile are cards that have a variety of effects – doing direct damage to Units, shielding the character or their cards, increasing attack values and so on. If an Action is used, the opponent has a chance to counter with an action of their own, starting a back and forth chain resulting with the last card to be played resolving first. Very similar to how chains work in Yu-Gi-Oh if you are familiar with it.

All cards require MP to use, a constantly regenerating resource that requires a good eye for resource management to get the most out of, especially when considering AP which is used for the aforementioned Hero Arts – playing a card exchanges the MP used for AP, so using a 3 MP card will refund you with 3 AP.

This means at any moment you can be trying to keep track of your hand, the amount and status of Units on the field as well as their attacks, your MP and both players’ AP… I honestly thought the game felt too slow during the early matches but once everything is in play I quickly began to appreciate the amount of real time mental juggling involved to play properly. It might be a bit much for some but I found getting everything right and pulling off victories immensely satisfying.

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Beyond the gameplay itself, I was blown away by the quality of everything. The art work is excellent across the board, from the cards themselves, the animations that play when Hero Arts are used, the still images that are used during the Hero Stories, even the title screen looks nice!

The audio design is much better than I anticipated as well – the sound effects are solid, the music is excellent and reminiscent of the games they come from… They even got voice actors in for the main characters! It was great hearing Reuben Langdon reprise his role as Dante, even more so when I immediately recognised D. C. Douglas as Resident Evil’s Albert Wesker.

Honestly the whole game feels like a massive love letter to Capcom’s games. Many of the cards themselves represent many characters and events from across the various series’ used here and I can’t help but love everything this game references.

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That being said I do have one complaint – this could very easily be what I consider a “gateway game”, something that may introduce a Resident Evil fan to characters from Devil May Cry for example. Unfortunately though unless I missed something I couldn’t find anything telling me what games characters come from. Even two of the main playable characters, Rathalos and Nergigante, are ones I had to Google as I didn’t know what games they come from. This seems like such an easily fixable issue and I hope they do something to address it in future.

Also microtransactions do exist in this game, but right now I don’t feel comfortable enough to comment on the state of them. I’m currently only a day into the game and as with most games like this I’ve been obtaining lots of card packs and card crafting materials. Only time will tell if the model being used here is a fair one.

That being said, developers GungHo Online Entertainment have really done an incredible job here and I look forward to playing more and messing around with various playstyles in future!

EGX Demo Thoughts – Team Sonic Racing!

When Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed released nearly 6 years ago, I immediately knew I was playing something really special. The racing felt just right, the transformation mechanic was an incredible addition and overall I found it to be a flawed but very enjoyable experience that still sticks in my memory to this day. I wanted more.

Naturally when Team Sonic Racing, the next game in the series was announced, I was over the moon. When I found out it would be playable at EGX, I had to see what it was about.

Whilst I am still looking forward to it, I must admit I walked away feeling a bit underwhelmed.

Continue reading EGX Demo Thoughts – Team Sonic Racing!

Forza Horizon 4 First Impression!

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This article contains minor story and game play spoilers for the opening hours of Forza Horizon 4.

Today finally saw the launch of the latest entry in the Forza Horizon series. This is a game I have been looking forward to for a while and having played a bit of it now, the game is even better than I anticipated!

The opening hour or so will be very familiar to anyone that played the demo. The game opens with a brief set of sequences showing off each of the four in-game seasons – autumn, winter, spring and then finally summer, where the game proper kicks in.

It feels more like a tech demo than an intro sequence, but either way it is glorious. Every season looks varied and colourful, graphically it is stunning even on my standard Xbox One, and I am very envious of anyone with a One X or a PC that can handle this game on the higher settings!

One thing I should point out is that when you begin the game you can pick from a bunch of real life names or titles which some of the other characters will actually call you. The game automatically knew to pick Danny as my default, presumably through my Xbox account. Oh boy, was it creepy to hear “Hey Danny!” almost immediately. It still catches me off guard from time to time but I’m getting used to it. You can change the name the game calls you from a set list whenever you like as well.

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Once you land in summer proper the cycle of the early game begins. Your goal is to do pretty much anything you like to earn enough influence (essentially experience points) to qualify for the next season. It feels somewhat limited to begin with as the game takes you through a lot of various activities but almost immediately once you hit the autumn season everything opens up to you.

I have played many games before that claim to have “player expression” in one form or another but I don’t think I have ever felt it to be as true as it does here before.

There is an incredible variety of activities and they all seem to be incredibly rewarding. You can race for your influence if that is your preference, fill in as a stunt double for a film crew, go around beating jumps. Even just exploring the roads and seeing as much as you can is an option in itself.

Many of these activities unfold as you do them. Choosing to do environmental challenges such as jumps, speed traps and speed zones unlock more of them as your level increases. The same is true for the various racing types – standard races, cross country events, street racing and more. You can even choose to travel and take pictures if you like!

There are also showcase events, special 1v1 races against interesting opponents that feel more like massive set pieces than true races. There is one in each season once you reach autumn and they are really fun!

In what may be a first for me in a racing game, I managed to reach the end of spring, the final season, without ever clearing a single race (not counting Showcase events). Being able to do this at all was a pleasant surprise for me and at least for the early sections of the game it really does cement the play your way style the game seems to be going for.

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The cars themselves are also a strong highlight. As always there is a massive amount of different cars to choose from. I have only tried a few but I can already tell I want to spend my time getting more!

One of the main reasons for this is the Skill Points system which returns from previous games. Doing almost anything in game outside of crashing can count as a skill for score. Trying to chain these skills to combo them and increase their score multiplier for even more points is a large part of the Horizon game play loop. Get enough score over time and your reward is a skill point.

Unlike previous games where these points were used to improve things on an account level, what they do here instead is have unlockable skills for every car. I was somewhat unconvinced about this system at first, but having now maxed out one of my first vehicles I am really starting to see the potential of the system.

My first car of choice was a lovely Subaru rally car. Many of the skills reflect this – extra influence from off road races, extra score from drifting, air and so on. I have yet to see other cars in the same class but I am hoping to see slightly different specialisations and I hope the system lives up to that promise. Being able to pick specific cars based on not just what type of event you take part in but also what kind of track it is could be really cool.

There were two skills on my car that I found a bit questionable. One was a free spin (will come back to this!) and the other one was a skill that allows you to retain a combo in that car after hitting something, no matter how bad the hit is, as long as you don’t flip over and require a reset.

This is an insanely strong skill and I am very surprised it is an option. To be fair it isn’t a cheap skill by any means at 25 points, but in the same amount of time it took me to get this skill I ended up with way more points than this afterwards.

Skill points are transferable between vehicles so having more is never a bad thing, but after I got the skill I was routinely getting large combo strings which awarded more skill points each time. It seems a little insane to me but perhaps later cars have higher point requirements to balance this out?

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One last thing I should cover is character customisation. I was quite surprised to see this as a feature at all but your character is in quite a few cutscenes and appears on race podiums and so on.

Your actual character is limited to about a dozen choices with no way to alter hair, facial features etc., but there is a huge selection of clothing items. Naturally a lot need to be unlocked!

This is where the aforementioned spins come into play. As you level up you character and the various activities you can earn two types of spins. These are essentially loot boxes in all but name – one gives you one item at a time while the bigger one gives you three.

Items range from clothing and accessories for your character, different horns for your cars, actual cars and in game currency. I’m still unsure about how I feel about this, but when I get around to giving my full thoughts on the game in a few weeks I will go back to this!

And for now that is everything I can think of. Now I have the early game cleared the larger scope of the game has opened up to me. Weekly season rotations with specific races and challenges for each, a heavy emphasis on online play, and much more await me by the looks of things.

I very much look forward to checking it out! I hope you liked these first impressions. I will be reviewing the game in full in a few weeks once I have a full understanding of how all the online features work, so keep an eye out for that if that interests you!

EGX Demo Thoughts – Black Ops 4 Multiplayer!

Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Release platforms: PS4 (Tested), Xbox One, Windows.

Over a month ago I participated in the PC open beta for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s multiplayer. My PC could barely handle running it and there were lots of crashes, but I did get a few games in and I instantly knew I had to get my hands on the game on a console, my natural habitat. Continue reading EGX Demo Thoughts – Black Ops 4 Multiplayer!

The Walking Dead: The Final Season May Still Be Completed Say Telltale Games

It came as a shock to many when Telltale Games, the game developer behind titles like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Minecraft: Story Mode and many more announced on Friday September 21st announced that they “made the difficult decision to begin a majority studio closure following a year marked by insurmountable challenges.”

Continue reading The Walking Dead: The Final Season May Still Be Completed Say Telltale Games