Season: A Letter to the Future

We’ve all played walking simulators, but have you ever played a riding simulator?

Season: A Letter to the Future is a serene game with moments of profound sadness. You start your journey as Estelle, a young woman with a passion for recording stories. She leaves her local village near the end of the season by bicycle to make records of the world around for posterity’s sake. Seasons in this fictional world are catastrophic and biblical in their transition. Estelle’s journey leads her to Tieng Valley, a place that resembles a small village from South East Asia. Here she learns of the Grey Hand society that are leading an evacuation effort on the village as a flood will wipe out the place at the season’s end. On the last day for evacuating the village, Estelle explores the land and its remaining people by recording their stories, taking photos, and recording sounds. The end goal of Estelle’s journal is to take it to the museum, like the Smithsonian, that can keep the records for the future generations.

The gameplay is very simple as you have a journal, a camera, a microphone, and a bicycle. By using the journal you create your own little narrative by the way you align the photos you’ve taken. Five photos will usually complete the location, not that you need any, but they do make for an enjoyable looking journal at the end. The camera was great, and if anything extended my gameplay by hours as I was trying to align the best shots. I want to say I took probably three hundred photos throughout the game, most of them having no relevancy towards the story. Two-thirds into the game I found I was not taking as many photos so I could get through the story faster. The microphone is an element I rarely used, even though I appreciated how good it felt to use. For a game that wants you to primarily utilise a bicycle, it was fine. You would press L2 and R2 to move the bicycle and would feel the tension in the Dual Sense Controller’s adaptive triggers when doing so. The problem with the bicycle was the camera angle when using the bicycle, it would easily steer off or not keep up when turning the bike on tight corners, and that would detract from the beautiful vistas you pass.

The mission structure was mostly up to you once you explored Tieng Valley, you could choose to uncover all the clues by taking corresponding photos of each area to learn more about the place. You could effectively skip most of it and just be riding a bicycle ignorant to the place and its people. I’m not usually into these fantastical stories in alternate worlds however it seemed grounded enough by talking to the villagers and learning their very human struggles. Most of the villages are dealing with loss, whether that be of a loved one, memories, or time. It’s interacting with the villagers where I enjoyed this game the most because the writing is always profound, and the voice acting is excellent. If the writing was sub par I would probably enjoy just riding around the bicycle in a meditative state.

I went into the game not expecting much story, I was frankly surprised how much story there was. When it was over I wanted there to have been tons more of the narrative. I would have liked for there to have been more villagers spread across the map, while there isn’t, it did make the weight of the situation feel more real. Riding around in the village I was thinking about how this will all be gone once the flood came. Everyone had to uproot their lives to and leave their memories to be washed away. I played it for the most part in one sitting making the game feel parallel to Estelle experiencing the village for one day. I think the game works better like that. You would lose something if you played this game over a week or two.

Season: A Letter to the Future may very well be a beautiful looking game, but for me it’s like a series of depressing poems and I revelled in that. This game will appeal to those who enjoy walking simulators, great writing, and meditative backdrops.

Robert Ring

Available now on PS4, PS5, and PC.

PlayStation Essentials for February 2023

This is a surprising month for February.

First off is Evil Dead: The Game for PS4 and PS5. Evil Dead is a zany franchise and one I’ve tried multiple times to get into. I did think Evil Dead (2013) was an excellent horror movie and Evil Dead Rises coming out this year looks good. It’s a series that is ridiculous, like Looney Tunes with horror. The fan base is dedicated so it’s not surprising that there is now a game. The game came out to good reviews and plays like Friday the 13th, and Dead by Daylight, so if you like asymmetrical multiplayer horror games, this one is for you.

OlliOlli was a surprise little hit on the PS Vita. It was a simple side scroller where you jumped obstacles on a skateboard and gather a score based on your tricks. It’s popularity led to ports on all consoles, and a sequel came out which was more of the same. OlliOlli World is the latest entry in the franchise and looks to have completely reinvented itself. The reviews were great for this game when it launched last year, so look forward to adding the PS4, and PS5 versions to your library.

The Mafia series has been a consistently good franchise with a forth game in development. Mafia: Definitive Edition is a complete remake of the original game and had overall favourable reviews. Just the setting is enough to jump into this title if you haven’t before. PS4 version will be available for download.

Destiny 2: Beyond Light is the expansion before last year’s The Witch Queen. The next expansion, Lightfall comes out at the end of this month, so this is perhaps to get more people to jump back in. Is this going to be PlayStation’s approach to Destiny 2‘s expansions coming to PlayStation Plus in the future with next year’s expansion we get The Witch Queen? Either way this is an additional game to the line up this month, and Destiny 2 is great. Beyond Light will be available for download on PS4 and PS5.

All four titles are available from the 7th February for the PlayStation Plus Essential tier until March 6th 2023.

Are you excited with this selection of games?

Robert Ring

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake

When THQ was brought back from the dead as THQ Nordic they started by remastering classic titles in their catalogues. SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom was among those titles. Most of these titles resembled the original content to a fault, and felt of their generation with modern graphics. Since then THQ Nordic has faithfully remastered most of these games and now they are onto making brand new sequels. What is yet to be determined is the quality of the new games, so far we got a middling Saint’s Row, a lack lustre Destroy All Humans multiplayer game. So how does SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake fair?

SpongeBob SquarePants is back with another grand adventure. This time after buying wish-granting mermaid’s tears SpongeBob grants the town wishes. Of course SpongeBob’s do good attitude goes wrong and Bikini Bottom is sent into peril as a cosmic shake pulls the place apart, sending them throughout different universes. To repair Bikini Bottom and bring back together the universe SpongeBob must jump into each of these cosmic breaks and set things right. There are seven worlds to explore throughout these cosmic breaks from the popular Jellyfish Fields (with a Wild West theme), to Rock Bottom (with a Halloween theme).

The Cosmic Shake starts off as a slog. Those first couple of hours including the first world you visit are mediocre at best. SpongeBob can only jump in the first section of the game, and is only given a simple attack in the first world. This piecemeal approach works great from the second world, but the beginning needed more thrills. Once you get the Karate Kick in the second world the gameplay becomes a joy, and with every world after your move-sets just get even better. The story is fun and brings the platforming altogether more than most platformers do.

There is effectively twenty years between The Cosmic Shake and Battle for Bikini Bottom, however there is not twenty years of refinement in the gameplay. The Cosmic Shake is a much more enjoyable experience than Battle for Bikini Bottom partly due to the refinements. Battle for Bikini Bottom was a PlayStation 2 game and is as you would imagine a PlayStation 2 game to be. You are never lost in The Cosmic Shake as the main path is always clearly shown, whereas Battle for Bikini Bottom would have me back and forth looking for my objective. The combat feels great and flows well in The Cosmic Shake, yet the hitboxes felt unfair in Battle for Bikini Bottom. The results are all positive and as a AA feeling platform it sits well amongst it’s comparable competitors and above Battle for Bikini Bottom.

Overall, The Cosmic Shake has a nice constant progression that fails in the beginning and triumphs in the end. Each world feels well designed with replay value to find all the collectables. As far as games that are made with children in mind this one is near the top. A lot of care is given to creating an authentic SpongeBob SquarePants story that fans will appreciate. If we get more of these every couple of years I’ll be there enjoying my platforming fill.

Robert Ring

Available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows.

Check out my review of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated here.

Final Fantasy 7 Continues to Expand

Final Fantasy VII no longer feels like it’s a part of a franchise, it is a franchise.

Since the game released in 1997 we have seen protagonist Cloud in Kingdom Hearts, as a secondary character, to a playable fighter in Super Smash Brothers. There has even been a film set after the game with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Currently, the game has been remade into a trilogy with the second part due out this year. However, nothing compares to the downloadable content coming to PowerWash Simulator.

That’s right! PowerWash Simulator is getting Final Fantasy VII downloadable content. The pack is Final Fantasy VII inspired and called the “Midgar Special Pack”. This will let players have the chance to Power Wash locations, objects, and enemies from Final Fantasy VII in a new mission, which includes “7th Heaven,” “Hardy-Daytona,” and “Guard Scorpion”. The pack will be free, with no release date as of yet.

With the Tomb Raider pack coming alongside the console release tomorrow, it may be the next content drop. PowerWash Simulator was a hit last year so more content is not surprising. Collaborating with Square Enix to Power Wash in these environments just sounds like pure fun. I’m yet to play PowerWash Simulator, and I have to say I’m looking forward to it.

Are you excited to see Final Fantasy VII appear in PowerWash Simulator?

Robert Ring

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated

SpongeBob SquarePants is pretty great. It’s like a modern-day Ren and Stimpy that looks more kid friendly. There are so many jokes that will go over a child’s head, which is what you want so you can watch it too. In my opinion it’s the show closest to the popularity of Looney Tunes back in its day. Children love it and adults enjoy it too. There have been three feature films with a fourth in development. SpongeBob is reaching it’s twenty-fifth anniversary next year and shows no signs of slowing down. This year will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom. What better way than to play this game and celebrate the release of the spiritual successor SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake.

Licensed games these days are really terrible as there is not enough time to simultaneously release them alongside the media, especially when it comes to movies where developers need those production assets. The PlayStation 2 had much smaller development cycles due to the simplistic nature of the graphics and level designs so they were able to make quality products in time. Battle for Bikini Bottom didn’t align with any tie-in to the show, however it did come out within five years of the show’s launch and it would have been a few years in before the show’s success warranted a game. The following year saw the The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie game release with the same developers. These quick turn around times were astounding for a game that when remastered still feels fresh amongst modern games twenty years later.

Battle for Bikini Bottom sees Plankton once again trying to steal the recipe for the Krabby Patty. This time he builds a machine that creates robots, armies of robots to do his bidding and take the recipe. These robots before long go against Plankton and wreck havoc to Bikini Bottom. SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy must defend Bikini Bottom by ridding the robots that have managed to spread throughout every location. Explore fan favourite areas from Jellyfish Fields, Rock Bottom, to even the Flying Dutchman’s Graveyard, and many more. You will battle mini-bosses like King Jellyfish and the Flying Dutchman. Big bosses include Robo-Sandy, Robo-Patrick, SpongeBob SteelPants, with Robo-Squidward exclusive to this Rehydrated edition.

As someone who never played the original game, I find this game to be fun and nostalgic for classic SpongeBob episodes. The game is segmented into levels and each level is fairly big, like the Ratchet and Clank games from the PlayStation 2 era. To access levels you will need to collect Golden Spatulas, you don’t need every one in each level to move onto the next, but you will want to collect as many as you can as you progress. The original voice actors are used and really sell the immersion of feeling like you are playing an episode of the show.

The surprising thing about this game is how difficult the second half of it is. There is a dreamworld level that’s difficulty is exponential to the rest of the game. It seems designed to be more of a challenge level than anything else, even still the second half of the game will see you dying a lot. This did take away from the fun I was having when I was replaying the same areas over and over again. The combat is not great, where I feel I’m not connecting to the enemies as well as I should.

Overall, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom is a fun trip down memory lane to PlayStation 2 platforming and exploring classic SpongeBob locations. It’s not as child friendly as you would think as the difficulty spikes take away from the enjoyment. That said I still think this is a good game, and has a lot of room for improvement that could be rectified with the sequel SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake out this week.

Robert Ring

Available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

‘Tomb Raider’ the Next Big Adaptation?

Pheobe Waller-Bridge is reportedly writing and producing a TV Series based on Tomb Raider. Here’s why it could be great.

If you don’t know the name Pheobe Waller-Bridge, you haven’t seen Fleabag. This is one of the greatest shows ever, and based off her one woman show. You should see it. Fleabag is what made her a success and rightfully so. Since then she has had her foot in the Action genre and bringing her sharp wit sensibilities. She created the show Killing Eve which was a critical darling in the years she was writing for it. Then writing last year’s No Time to Die to help sunset Daniel Craig’s James Bond. This year she will be playing Indiana Jones’ goddaughter, a pivotal part in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Most recently she has left the Mr and Mrs Smith project over creative differences, meaning she knows when to leave a project. So fairly quickly she has become an action aficionado with all these recent projects.

Tomb Raider has had success on the big screen before with Angelina Jolie for two films, which were terribly mediocre and only made popular by Jolie herself. In 2018 Tomb Raider was rebooted with Alicia Vikander, with a plot revolving around the current series of Tomb Raider games. The reboot was made for more modest budget, and a sequel was in the works before being canceled last year. Now with Amazon holding the rights and Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the helm we should see not only a good adaptation, perhaps maybe a great one.

Tomb Raider is going to be an interesting adaptation. There may be many games, although the material worth mining it for adaption seems to be minimal. Hopefully Pheobe can crack the story. I would almost think Alias would be a good show to look at when adapting this and seeing how well they did their mythology episodes.

What do you think about another Tomb Raider adaptation?

Robert Ring

Dead Space – Reviews Are In

I love the setting of Dead Space, it’s stunning and then you run into the infected. The original game was too much for me, so better graphics would just illuminate the horror for me.. haha no thanks. One day I will play this version to completion.

After Forspoken came out to little acclaim this is the first big triple A hit for 2023.

Dead Space – Review Scores

Twinfinite – 100

IGN – 90

Game Rant – 90

Screen Rant – 90

PlayStation LifeStyle – 90

PlayStation Universe – 90

Destructoid – 85

Push Square – 80

Metacritic Score is currently at 89% with 54 Critic Reviews.

Judging from the scores given by the major outlets so far the Metacritic score will likely stay close to this. In all accounts Dead Space remake is great. It expands on nearly all aspects of the original and serves it with great care.

It’s great to know that the Dead Space remake came out great. All the promises and expectations of triple A games in the past couple of years have made gamers cautious of being sold a dud.

Are you excited to play Dead Space, or are you happy enough with the original?

Robert Ring

Monster Hunter Rise

Monster Hunter World was my Fortnight where I was in there every night slaying monsters, with the just one more match mentality. I sunk so many hours into the game, and still barely saw all that the game had to offer. Then Monster Hunter World: Iceborne came out which was much like a sequel offering almost as much content as the base game. I think most people would have been happy to have Monster Hunter World continue with big expansions, instead we will probably get a proper Monster Hunter World sequel in the next couple of years. Monster Hunter Rise was a weird release being exclusive to the Nintendo Switch and like a spinoff. It was likely already in the works when the success of Monster Hunter World became a hit, and now we finally have Monster Hunter Rise on all platforms.

Storytelling is the same as previous entries where you have a base camp and must protect it from monsters, with fetch quests in-between. Each mainline quest has you tackling a new monster with an intro video of the monster David Attenborough style. Story is thin, which is ok as you’re here for the gameplay. Monster Hunter has an addictive gameplay loop, even with somewhat clunky combat, it always feels rewarding. You will replay similar quests slaying the same handful of monsters with slight variations. The key to the addiction is the grind for the gear that feels rewarding when you get a new armour set, or weapon. Every battle is never really the same as different variables affect each battle. When two large monsters come across each other and battle things hit a new height. It’s like you’re witnessing a Kaiju battle and you’re in-between it. Monster Hunter Rise is as long as you want it to be. There is a soft ending for the game where you defeat the cover boss at the end of around fifteen hours of gameplay, and get your fill. Or like most who play Monster Hunter it’s where the game really begins, and you start to take on the high ranking quests that net you better rewards. To put it in perspective I finished the soft ending with the credits rolling and obtained only 2% of the PlayStation trophies.

There are so many little things that have been refined in Monster Hunter Rise. You now have a mount that you can ride at any time, with the ability to attack and pick things up. This mount makes the gameplay more fluid as you chase after monsters once they leave to recoup, unlike previous entries where you are chasing after them by foot and draining the stamina bar. The load times are nearly nonexistent when heading out to a mission, where Monster Hunter World would take minutes to load. This game can be played incredibly well solo, with the addition of your mount you now have two NPCs fighting against a monster taking away some of the agro that the monster would have sent all your way. The smaller maps have you spending less time chasing the monster, and if you faint much less time getting back to the monster.

Most of the negatives of Monster Hunter Rise come from originally being a Nintendo Switch title. Frankly, it’s a surprise how this game ran on the Nintendo Switch to begin with, nor how it would be enjoyable with the analog sticks. The scope of each map is much smaller than Monster Hunter World, which is ultimately fine and makes it easier to catch monsters as they have less terrain to trek. The biggest detractor of the game is how Nintendo’s online system has worked itself into the game. You need to provide a twelve letter id code to join friends in online, whereas multiplayer was a breeze in Monster Hunter World. Every time you do an action that will be seen online you are prompted with seemingly Nintendo’s code of conduct. No bullying, profanity, things that are expected with any game. It’s a surprise how integrated these were in the PlayStation version.

There is competition on the horizon next month for Monster Hunter with Wild Hearts. Considering Wild Hearts is an EA game it will likely have a ton of micro transactions and battle passes, so I’m not sure it could ever replace Monster Hunter. Later on in the year the Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak expansion will be available for purchase as well. This will likely be when the exclusivity ends with Nintendo. Knowing that Sunbreak came out on the 30th of June 2022, I would guess it will be available to purchase from 30th of June later this year.

Overall, Monster Hunter Rise is just as fun as Monster Hunter World and a great entry point for beginners. In a year of big releases this will be an ideal game to enjoy in the downtime of those releases.

Robert Ring

Available now on PlayStation, Xbox, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

Check out our review of Monster Hunter World HERE

PSP Game Patched for Trophies

Super Stardust Portable released to PlayStation Plus Premium on June 23rd 2022. Notably the game was released without trophies, leaving gamers to question whether each PSP and PS1 games would release with trophies on a game to game basis. There is still no real understanding of which titles will and won’t get them, but it is great to see that they can be input into games even after launch.

Now Super Stardust Portable has trophies for the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 versions.

This should be standard for all PSP and PS1 titles even if there is a little extra work involved when porting the games. If these games are not going to be remastered at least make them as future proof as possible. Now lets see them bring trophies to games like Toy Story 2.

Are there any games you would like to see them add trophies to from the PS1 and PSP games?

Robert Ring

HBO to Renew ‘The Last of Us’

With record breaking numbers HBO should be renewing The Last of Us for a second season imminently.

Streaming has changed how we look at numbers for film and television, we no longer rely on just the premiere numbers. With that in mind only two episodes of HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ have aired with the second episode breaking records. The first episode premiered with 4.7 Million views, and after the first week that count was at 18 Million. Episode two premiered with 5.7 Million marking the platform’s largest second episode viewership for their original dramas. With that amount of growth it is also likely to surpass the 18 Million views after a week.

Budget wise you are looking at roughly $10 Million per episode this season, and it doesn’t seem like a show that needs to up that budget in production costs like Game of Thrones. HBO’s The Last of Us may tow the line closer to Westworld, yet unlike it people will continue to watch this show. House of the Dragon was trying to stay under $20 Million per episode so there is no doubt HBO will be happy to run this show alongside it.

If I was to speculate further, there will be a two year delay between season one and two, as they have some work to do in deciding season 2. If they don’t choose to make a new story in-between the events of the first and second game they are going to have to decide how to crack the dual narrative of the game’s sequel.

It will be interesting to see what the finale numbers will be for this season of The Last of Us as everyone will be tuning in to see if they change the ending, as they’ve made minor adjustments so far. Are you excited for more of HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’?

Robert Ring