Yonder on Nintendo Switch is the perfect game to unwind with. One part Skyrim, one part Animal Crossing with a few sprinkles of Minecraft thrown in, this open world adventure takes you to an island plagued by poison clouds called the Murk. And by take you to, I mean it crashes your boat headfirst into the island. From there, the story is mostly what you make of it, with a heavy focus on exploring the games many distinct areas. The game controls and runs fine on the Switch, though I noticed a few framerate drops in docked mode. However, I spent most of the game playing in handheld mode, where the relaxed atmosphere and music were the most calming. The main quest line involves completing 3 specific fetch quests to repair the titular “Cloud Catcher”, but how you get to that point is up to you.
It really is a beautiful world.
Yonder is the first title by Australian studio Prideful Sloth. Despite being their first title, the studio’s devs have a long, impressive pedigree. The lead developer Cheryl Vance is an industry veteran who has worked on a number of large titles like Devil May Cry and the DJ Hero franchise. Joining Cheryl to round out the team are Joel Styles (Bioshock, Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Guitar Hero Two) and John Northwood, who has 10 years industry experience.
As I had said earlier, the story is mostly what you make of it. The main quest around removing the murk is… ok. It’s not compelling and probably the biggest issue with the entire game. The subplot about finding your missing parents comes out of nowhere and was lost on me because it wasn’t mentioned for the entire game and is thrown at you right at the end. The other subplot about finding your missing crew also leaves something to be desired. The dialogue between characters is believable and is only exaggerated to the point of a standard RPG. Most of the side quests involve crafting, finding a location, or are fetch quests. They feel unique and offer enough variety and spacing to help amplify the relaxed pace of the main quest. They allowed the perfect opportunity to let me lean back in my chair and just enjoy the world. It’s worth noting I played most of this game sitting in an airport and on a plane in the middle seat, and the music, gameplay, and world were immersive enough to help me Zen out and ignore the noisy children two rows behind me. The music of the game reminds me a lot of the Legend of Zelda: Windwaker; it was appropriately atmospheric without being distracting.
Most relaxing game of the year?
The biggest standout of Yonder is the lack of a combat system. Going in, I wasn’t sure how I would enjoy a game without combat because I’m not a fan of fetch quests generally, and having no combat seemed like a recipe for all of the fetch quests, but I had a good time. The game is immersive, and time flies both in real life and the game world with changing seasons. Stumbling into one town just in time to go trick or treating was a pleasant surprise during the fall. By discovering small details like this, most of my enjoyment of Yonder came from exploration. A lot of quests send you to the other side of the map, and I found myself getting distracted and frequently ignoring my quests to explore the world Prideful Sloth created. Each one of the game’s 8 biomes had a distinct feel and atmosphere that kept me entertained and engaged for the entirety of the time I spent playing the game.
This style of game isn’t for everyone, but if you want to play a game to relax, or if you enjoy the combat-free, Animal Crossing style of gameplay, you’d be hard pressed to find a better indie title on the Switch.
Yonder is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC
This review was made possible by a review key provided by Prideful Sloth
Yonder was reviewed by Michael Flaherty, content creator for The Surly Nerd (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In a time when retro rules everything around us, there are plenty of artists and developers trying to evoke the feeling of memories past in their audiences. Bonus Level Entertainment takes this idea to the nth degree in Fox n Forests by creating a game that’s a nostalgic feast in everything from its music and art design to its combat and platforming mechanics.
These screenshots don’t do the game justice
Although it doesn’t break much new ground, Fox n Forests is a charming adventure that does a lot of things right. The story centers around a fox named Rick (naturally) who is tasked with recovering pieces of magical bark to restore power to a lovely, old fellow called the Season Tree. Rick finds these pieces of magical bark by exploring different zones around the world which represent different seasons. This theme is where Fox n Forests’ core game play concept (one of the most interesting things about the game’s design) comes in.
The Season Tree gives Rick the power to bend the seasons to his will early in the game, offering him the ability to turn a beautiful spring landscape into a somber frozen wasteland at the snap of his finger. Not only does this make for some interesting level design, but it also contributes greatly to the game play. By changing the seasons during each level, Rick can take advantage of alternate routes, monsters may disappear or come to life, or new paths could open up entirely. Staying in that level’s alternate season consumes mana (which also serves as ammunition for your magic bow), so being conservative and planning your route is key.
The changing of the seasons does more than uncovering secrets or altering combat; it makes things interesting. Changing the season offers new, alternate traversal options. You may be confronted with a gap that seemingly has no way across, but transforming the level to fall welcomes giant leaves floating lazily across the chasm for you to jump on. The game is full of moments like this which really allow the game’s core concept to shine, and when you’re used to switching back and forth between seasons it’s a pretty cool feeling quickly manipulating them as you make your way around the level. This time-bending game play is accompanied by strong (if not standard) combat and platforming mechanics that control comfortably throughout. You’ll have your fair share of jumping, slashing, shooting, and dying, and it all feels familiar in a very Aladdin-throwing-apples kind of way.
Over the course of Rick’s adventure, he can spend his hard-earned coin to unlock new potions and abilities for his melee crossbow. You begin the game with a single melee attack, but as you play you’ll earn more moves to add to Rick’s arsenal. These additions allow for previously tough levels to be tackled with flair, and it’s quite rewarding returning to a place that once stumped you only to make quick work of the monsters within on your second run.
Completing zones gives Rick new types of magic arrows that let him gain access to previously locked areas. This offers a great reason to go back and explore old levels, but it’s also where my one major complaint with the game comes in. These secret areas often contain magic seedlings and other goodies to collect. Normally this would be a welcome distraction and a good reason to return to older areas, but your progress in the main story is locked behind finding these seedlings. Since you can’t continue on your journey without the requisite number of seedlings, sometimes it feels like you’re forced to return to old areas rather than being compelled by curiosity. Granted, if you end up finding all the seedlings in a zone you gain access to that zone’s bonus area, so you may want to go back in the end either way. It just didn’t feel great having to backtrack when I was keen on continuing my quest.
Overall, Fox n Forests does a great job of putting the player into a nostalgic state of 16-bit bliss with its gorgeous pixel art and classic platforming mechanics. The game is accompanied by a retro soundtrack of digital plucks and whirrs that will have you humming along even when you’re not playing, and it seems like just that type of fond tone that Bonus Level is trying to strike with every decision they make. It’s a real treat in both its visual presentation and sound design, offering a modern take on an era of gaming that’s well-loved. It’s not perfect by any means, but if you’re a 90s kid looking for a solid action romp reminiscent of the SNES days, then Fox n Forests is definitely worth a look!
Fox n Friends is available now on Steam, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and the Nintendo Switch
This review was made possible by a review key provided by Bonus Level Entertainment
Fox n Friends was reviewed by Gary Froniewski, content creator for The Surly Nerd (email@example.com)
Horns! Suspenders! Sequined Cocktail Dresses! And yes, Fat Beats! Good Co is back with their subversively modern spin on swing in this, their third record release. The Surly Nerd is proud to review: Big Time Business.
For the uninitiated, Good Co consists of a substantial number of musicians performing electro-swing. If the term “electro-swing” isn’t sufficiently self-explanatory, our run-down for the last record should bring you up to snuff. Genre labels are functional in both directions; bands and artists can manifest their craft with more clarity of vision and audiences can connect to creative works which check all the right boxes (for them). Good Co still firmly operates within the electro-swing genre, but inhabit it more naturally while remaining free to even dabble in a bit of soul and samba. “Holding On” sways right into some some spooky, lounge music territory. Arpeggiated synths sweep up and down the track and combine with some excellent trombone work—an interesting detour from the more typical, jittery types of dance songs.
The modern touches mesh progressively better with each track. “Set Me Free” springs straight out of the 30’s. The modern mastering and thumping bass are its only giveaway. Crisp production serves to sufficiently ground the record as a modern work without alienating its more antique flourishes. The more subtle the electronic influence, the more malleable and easily interpreted the track. That said, I expect to spot a few remixes from this record.
Having lauded Good Co’s ability to thread the needle of old and new, it must be said how treacherous the path can become. Good Co operate in a weird space. No, I don’t mean Seattle (though similarities can be drawn). To be clear, Good Co is, quite simply, a good band. That’s more important than any genre labels with which they might associate. For all its usefulness, the Electro Swing genre seems to be a polarizing element. Anything that offers an easy shortcut to judgement of a work without ever actually interacting with the work in question is a persistent danger. Case in point, this asshole. I mean, damn. What did fun, dance-y, horn driven music ever do to that fella? Nothing that warrants that many words in protest of people trying to have a good time. Legendary curmudgeon Patton Oswalt got over himself as regards to detesting music that doesn’t suit his tastes. Let any bloggers with an axe to grind follow his example.
The only frustrations I suffer are inconsistent vocals and lyrics. Otherwise stellar instrumentation gets dragged down by lifeless or stilted vocal performances. It’s frustrating to really dig into a fantastic sax solo only to be brought up short by a clunky vocal melody or awkward verse.
Those issues aside, there’s a lot to enjoy. Listen to “Ride With Me” on a roadtrip and try to tell me a good time won’t be had for the duration. Those shuffling beats and muted horns insist on joy. “Breaking Out” toys with gospel conceits so playfully I can’t help but smile.
When Cory isn’t being tied to a chair and forced to write reviews for our site, he can be found all around Houston playing music for one of the several bands he is in, like Golden City Music. You can also stalk him on Twitter, here. Look forward to more reviews from him in the future.
“It will be then, in the darkest of days that the final lights of SEGA’s love will disappear into the Aether once and for all and the most united of states will feel the cold discombobulating nothingness that is life without Phantasy Star.” –PSO 13:5
For many older gamers, the name Phantasy Star is one spoken with a certain amount of reverence. For those of you too young to remember, before Square released the first installment of Final Fantasy on to the console world in 1990*, there was a game trying to garner popularity for the role-playing game (RPG) genre way back in 1988. This title, released on the Sega Master System was quickly overshadowed in the U.S. by anything released on the Nintendo Entertainment System – but in the wake of its launch, still managed to manifest a cult following that lives to this day. This game was known simply as: Phantasy Star.
Phantasy Star IV, updated and re-released for the Saturn (Japan only)
The narrative of Phantasy Star was a surprisingly deep one for the time of its release, from political assassinations, to revenge plots and even an elder god manipulating humans so that he could rise to power after hiding in the shadows for centuries. This, coupled with a an overhead map, a rich battle system and a faux-3D first person dungeon view set on the sci-fi/fantasy solar system of Algol – proved to be more than Americans were ready to embrace. This did not, thankfully, dissuade SEGA from releasing the subsequent titles in the series here in the states…for a while.
As SEGA made the transition from the 8-bit generation to 16-bit universe, so too did Phantasy Star. The next three installments of the Phantasy Star series would all take place on the Sega Genesis with each game building on the last in terms of visuals, sound and story depth. Phantasy Star III alone spanned several generations of characters stories all within the course of one game, a concept that is rarely seen at all in modern games and a complete version (mint in box) of Phantasy Star IV is still a highly sought after treasure for game collectors.
Phantasy Star was notably absent for the handheld and 32-bit era in America, with only a series of remakes and spin-offs available only in Japan. However, SEGA was not content to let their beloved RPG go silently into the good night. At the beginning of 2001 Phantasy Star Online (PSO) burst onto the scene, cementing its place into the hearts of gamers everywhere on SEGA’s newest gaming platform, The Dreamcast. Phantasy Star Online was a wildly successful game, and one of the first real online console gaming experiences. PSO eventually was released for the Xbox, Nintendo Gamecube and even PC markets.
With a version update, an expansion and a card based video game spin-off under their belt, Phantasy Star had finally hit the prime time even in the midst of the Dreamcast’s short-lived lifespan. In 2006 Phantasy Star Universe, the next title in the online Phantasy Star series, was released on several consoles and PC to a lukewarm reception. For many, it was so vastly different from PSO that it lost most of the magic of the original PSO experience and the game suffered for it in terms of ratings and sales.
In 2011, the U.S. got their first glimpse of the game that had been waiting years for, a true sequel to Phantasy Star Online. Elegantly called Phantasy Star Online 2, it promised to give American gamers everything they loved in the original PSO and more with features such as more simultaneous players for larger boss fights and a more complex and rich character creation system. The message boards across the internet lit up, eagerly anticipating the next installment of the franchise and year after year when SEGA was asked when PSO2 was going to get released to western shores the only response given was “soon”. With the Phantasy Star festival now over in Japan, we found out that there is a new Phantasy Star Online 2 spin-off dubbed Phantasy Star Nova, in the works and that it is more than likely going to be a Japanese-only release. This announcement, alongside the repeated delays of the American release of PSO2 ultimately begs the question: What does SEGA have against America, when it comes to releasing more Phantasy Star content on our shores?
I mean, who wouldn’t want to down enemies with a giant fish? (PSO2)
If we look back to the franchises history, the decision to not release the remakes and spin-offs of Phantasy Star on western shores does start to make sense . Japan has always fostered the Phantasy Star market in terms of sales where systems like the Game Gear and Saturn under performed in America, at best. This means that the creation cost-to-profit margin is much slimmer when you take into account the amount of resources SEGA would have to spend to have those games translated on top of marketing and publication. SEGA took a risk on releasing Phantasy Star Online to the states when non-PC internet gaming was in its infancy. This gamble did ultimately paid off for them, which leaves many people scratching their heads as to why Phantasy Star Online 2 has yet to see a western release.
Unfortunately, at this time all we have is wild speculation. With SEGA still holding firm to the idea that PSO 2 will be released “at some point” in the west, we can only look to the amount of time it has taken the game to even leave Japan. Reports are saying that around early 2014, PSO 2 had finally entered closed beta in Southeast Asia – nearly two years after the launch of the game in Japan. In 1988, a gap of years like this was commonplace when it game to translation and publication. These days, it can be a death sentence for a game. Gamers who wait too long to play their favorite titles can become disillusioned over time, knowing that the game they have waited to play for so long can never live up to the hype they have built up in their minds.
Phantasy Star Nova, in all its glory
Another factor could simply be the overall cost of releasing the game here. While in 1988, translation and publication times were much wider, (Final Fantasy I was released by Square Japan in 1987 and not released in the states until 1990) those games ultimately had a large cost associated with release such as paying for the localization teams. Phantasy Star IV alone retailed for up to $100 when it launched in 1995. Phantasy Star Online 2, is currently a free-to-play game with buy-in options as a central game mechanic. Most of these in-game purchases are purely cosmetic since there is a physical copy of the game available for purchase should you prefer a non-digital distribution platform. When you take into account the X variable which is “how much does this game make per day?”, it may not be financially feasible for SEGA to take a risk like translating, distributing (bandwidth costs money) and establishing servers for every region. If this is the case, it would only make sense that SEGA would not be willing to take a chance on Phantasy Star Nova here – considering it is a spin-off of the Phantasy Star Online title we have yet to receive.
While American Phantasy Star fans are eagerly awaiting another game release in their beloved franchise, for now they must be content with the videos being published out of Japan of the upcoming series titles until SEGA has finally announced that a new Phantasy Star is coming their way – or at the very least, finally told them why they will be unable to release it here. If the online fan base is any indication, they are willing to wait a very – very long time to once again step into the shoes of a hunter and try and save the galaxy from Faltz once again.
-Until next time, goodnight and good game 1990*– All dates are based on the U.S. release windows
Holy shitballs, people, it’s finally here. The comic equivalent of Jodorowsky’s Dune, except we actually get to see it: the first issue of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity is now on comic shelves everywhere.
When Morrison first announced the project, the New 52 wasn’t even a gleam in Didio’s eye and Wizard: The Guide to Comics was still being published. It’s an ambitious comic event now eight years in the making, a mini-series that will attempt to map the DC Multiverse and, as Morrison himself has said, define DC comics themselves. Multiversity is one of the most anticipated projects of 2014, and it shows: there’s already been a number ofreviews and annotations from people muchsmarter than me. I’ve been pondering what I wanted to say about the book for the last few days; I’m still not sure I have anything relevant or coherent to add, and at this point, I’m just another voice in the chorus. But a book like this needs to be talked about, deserves to be talked about – it’s a comic of scope, and vision, and faculty. Here are my scattered thoughts on the newest work of one of my favorite creators. I hope like hell this makes sense.
• For a book this complex, it’s surprisingly easy to follow.
It may be because Morrison is playing with a number of ideas and themes that have reverberated through his past work, but I didn’t find Multiversity nearly as impenetrable as I’d feared I might. The multiple realities we travel to are all pretty clearly delineated, and the characters – both the standard alternate reality inversions and the more direct homages – each have a unique voice and demeanor. I still love his President Superman in particular – he reads much like the Supes we all know from Earth 1, but there’s a casual acceptance of power about the character that’s missing from ours. One line in particular struck me – “My dad played a mean piano and I have been known to strum the guitar” – as something A Superman would say, but not OUR Superman. And I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention that Captain Carrot is exactly as fun and upbeat as you would hope, and adds a wonderful bright glow of levity to the story.
There’s also a definite Final Crisis vibe to the whole thing, but I can’t help but feel that’s an intentional callback, and not lazy repetition. The ship made of music and the reference to the vibrational frequencies of reality being like an instrument one can play – if one happens to be Superman – are all very reminiscent of his last earnest but ultimately flawed DC event, but they also play off the comic book physics long ago established in the Flash’s macrocosm. Speaking of….
• I really like the central conceit of the book, even though I feel it’s a bit ham-handed.
The idea that characters interact with and are inspired by the stars of the comics in their world goes all the way back to the first interdimensional crossover, “The Flash of Two Worlds!” from Flash #123, which saw publication in 1961. Morrison has proven himself a continuity archeologist before, when he stitched together the patchwork of Batman’s conflicting and occasionally embarrassing history during his six-year run on the character. He does much the same here, by having all the heroes in the Multiversity be familiar with each other because of those characters’ comic exploits in their home realities. Morrison has traditionally shown a more deft touch at this, however; most of the characters go around nerding out about reading each other’s adventures. It goes so far that there’s even a character, Red Racer – the Flash of Earth-36 – who proclaims himself the “resident comic nerd around here” and more or less forces himself on the pan-reality rescue team because “They NEED a geek for this.” I’m honestly not sure if this is Morrison pandering to the base or if it’s a reaction to Geoff John’s characterization of Superboy Prime back in Infinite Crisis, but I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favorite bit in the issue. Still, I love the idea that comics are, as Captain Carrot so eloquently says, “Messages in BOTTLES from NEIGHBORING UNIVERSES.”
• Ivan Reis is a superstar who needs to be getting way more work and credit than he does.
Reis deserves a lot of the credit for this comic being so readable – Morrison (and I don’t want to turn this into another paragraph about the writer, but this point needs to be made) can be incomprehensible in the wrong artist’s hands. Reis, however, manages to thread the needle of keeping each Earth reality distinct without sacrificing his signature style or attention to detail. I also stand in amazement at how beautiful and distinct each of his characters are on the page, not just in costuming but just and shapes in the panel. A number of high profile artists tend to bunch and amalgamate in crowd scenes, but Reis maintains a coherent character approach throughout the book. He also comes up with some super entertaining, super creepy designs for the villains of the piece – monsters from outside reality, composed of pure evil and malice, intent on destroying existence.
Mention should also be made of his costume design skills, which manage to evoke the classic uniforms without aping them. I am curious as to why Captain Carrot is drawn as a traditional anthropomorphic bunny when the cartoon physics of his universe still apply to him; not to mention what I can only describe as Midget Wonder Woman (whom I believe is supposed to be the kid version of the character from JLA: World Without Grown-Ups, maybe?). But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise phenomenal work of penciling.
• The lettering in this book is, no bullshit, amazing.
The lettering is pulling double duty here – it’s not just telling the story, it’s illustrating it. Whether its captions falling down the page, color-changing dialogue, emphasizing the words of the pan-dimensional monsters or the “super-judge” who stands against them, the lettering in this comic deserves a shout-out.
Multiversty is shaping up to be, on the strength of its first issue at least, another feather in Morrison’s already plumed cap. It is my sincere hope that in 2015 I will start a series of posts entitled the Great Grant Morrison Read/Re-Read, during which I will read and discuss the major works of Morrison chronologically from Zenith on through to the completed Multiversity. If the rest of the series holds up to the quality and scope of this first issue, I am excited to say my re-read will end with a jubilant crescendo.