Persona 5 Royal

Persona 5 Royal is a game developed by P-Studio and published by Atlus. This post will analyse it through Schell’s Elemental Tetrad and a few Game Design Lenses.

Lens of Essential Experience

Persona 5 Royal is a single-player Role-Playing Game which integrates aspects of both a 3d dungeon crawler with turned-based combat and a social simulator/visual novel, with players alternating between the two as the game and story progresses.

Gameplay is divided into in-game days as the story progresses with a calendar system over one school year, and players make decisions on how to spend their time each day, be it to progress their social relations or dungeon exploration.

Elemental Tetrad

Story

Players take the role of a Japanese high school student, who along with other peers he meets along the game’s campaign, has been wronged by individuals in positions of power.

With the discovery of a psychic world known as the Metaverse, the group of teens team up and support one another a double-life – one of ordinary students looking to make it through the academic year, and the other as a band of rebel vigilantes known seeking to reform society by performing heists within the minds of corrupt individuals.

Aesthetics

Pause menu: “Don’t Look at ME LIKe THaT”

Persona 5 Royal‘s characters and world are presented with an anime-inspired art style, not uncommon in the RPG genre. Where it stands out, however, is in its UI presentation. The striking colour combination of red, black, and white, the irregularly-sized text, as well as unconventional, non-orthogonal angles and shapes that make up every aspect of the user interface, including the dialogue boxes, combat and pause menus, all evoke a punk-like aesthetic, complementing and accentuating the story themes of teen rebellion.

Mechanics

Just as the main characters live 2 different lives in the story, the game’s mechanics are divided into 2 distinct, yet interconnected portions.

Persona 5 Royal serves as wish-fulfilment for the many who wish they could spend time with a therapist for free and receive immediate growth in their mental fortitude

In one half, players manage their avatar’s daily student life and social relations with others by spending time with them and choosing between dialogue options in their conversations, with some rewarding the player with more progress points, similar to visual novels.

Pictured: the squad fights a necklace

In the other half, players explore 3d dungeon environments and battle enemies in turn-based combat, in which players attack with weapons such as knives and guns, as well as the titular Personas, beings that characters summon to perform magical attacks.

The two halves are linked in the fact that progress in one aspect brings benefits for the other. For instance, building a relationship with a character in the social sim allows for greater combat strength in the dungeon crawler, and defeating certain enemies in the dungeon crawler could unlock progression in the social sim.

Technology

Due to the game’s stylised anime art style, it is less resource intensive than more photorealistic-looking games, and is able to run smoothly on a variety of systems, including Nintendo Switch.

Lens of Problem Solving

While game progression occurs regardless of most of the player’s choices in the social sim aspect of the game, there is a clear win-lose condition when it comes to the turn-based combat element of the game, and it is hence one of the key problems placed before players to solve.

During combat, players make decisions on attacking, using healing or assistive items, as well as which attack or item to use. Enemies have unique affinities to different attack types. For instance, if an enemy is vulnerable to fire-based attacks, it would take more damage from them and be left disabled, giving the player another turn to attack.

This adorable snowman-like creature is weak to fire and immune to ice attacks

Beyond this basic level of weaknesses and strengths, status effects such as buffs and ailments, as well as interactions involving these effects, add an additional layer of complexity and choice to the player.

The key problem players have to solve, then, would be figuring out which types combination of attacks would be most effective against different enemies.

While it may seem obvious to a non-player that any creature would be weak to gunshots and nuclear blasts, there’s actually no guarantee or way to know beforehand in this game.

In my experience, however, the game offers no hints as to discerning the affinities and weaknesses of when encountering new enemy types, and the problem-solving would always involve nothing more than trial-and-error as I blindly threw out attacks of different types, essentially brute forcing until I discovered what attack type an enemy is weak to. This aspect of the problem-solving would hence feel rather stale after I progressed through a few hours of the game.

Lens of Meaningful Choices

Sure, you could spend time with the people you love and help them with their problems, but you could also just ignore them and spend the day fishing. It’s a real dilemma.

While the main plot of the game is linear and fixed, players have a level of decision-making that changes certain aspects of the game, namely choosing what to do with the time spent during Social Sim portion.

During any particular day, a player may choose between:

  • Activities that increase stats for social sim half (charm, guts, knowledge, kindness, proficiency), that unlocks more social interactions
  • Activities that increase perks in the dungeon crawling/combat half (darts throwing, hp increase)
  • Activities to build relationships with other characters, which may also provide the aforementioned benefits at times
  • Entering the dungeon-crawling aspect of the game to complete side quests, gain levels or progress the main story

As the entire game takes place during and ends after a fixed number of in-game days, each decision made regarding time spent comes as an opportunity cost of other potential activities done.

The end result of this opportunity cost and the potential rewards behind each choice is that each of the numerous decisions made over the course of the game’s calendar year feel meaningful and important.

Lens of Character Transformation

As a story-driven title, P5R’s main cast of characters, as well as its secondary cast that the player interacts with each undergo a level of character transformation, rewarding the player with a sense of satisfaction.

This occurs over the course of the main plot, which all players will experience, but also during optional side content known as Confidants as players choose to spend time with various characters during the social simulator part of the game.

Confidants are individual stories the players experience in segments over the course of the game’s social system, in which players interact with and watch characters overcome a personal challenge and grow. Stories can be rather emotionally compelling as the characters involved develop.

That said, sometimes the character transformation that players work for are not as clearly communicated as they could be. For the main playable cast, much of the transformation to their characters occur during the single story arc in which they are introduced, and mostly involve them standing up for themselves as victims abuse by those in power over them. However, since the transformation that occurs during their respective Confidants are optional and parallel to the main plot, developments from them are often not communicated or reflected during story moments.

Conclusion

Overall, in spite of a few shortcomings in maximising its potential under a few lenses, Persona 5 Royal provided me with a unique, enjoyable experience through its characteristic flavour of aesthetics, story, and gameplay integration, leaving it with a memorable identity among many other titles of its genre.

Long Live the Queen – Hanako Games

Long Live the Queen is a tough but satisfying stat-building social simulation visual novel, similar to the Princess Maker franchise. The player guides Elodie, the 14 year old princess who will be crowned queen when she reaches adulthood in the game at 15… if you can keep her alive that long. Being royalty isn’t all fun and games when you’re faced with many different factions, enemies at your border, and magical dangers. Through every week until her coronation, the player gets to choose what Elodie studies — and those skills are what she will have to rely on to survive the twists in the story, with the ultimate goal of first finishing the game, and later obtaining the different endings or a ‘perfect’ playthrough.

https://hanakogames.itch.io/long-live-the-queen

Long Live The Queen Wallpaper

Analysis through the Elemental Tetrad Lens

The game follows Elodie, who is to be queen after her mother suddenly dies. Whisked from her school back to the palace, she is thrown into week after week of lessons…and also, power. Despite not yet being crowned queen, in order to prepare her she gains some control over the fate of her kingdom, and the player’s decisions have a great deal of power, not only to shape Elodie’s fate but that of her court, her kingdom, and her country’s interaction with others. Additionally, part of the story is about the many perils of ruling. There are many ways to fail and never reach Elodie’s coronation. 

The story is closely supported by the mechanics. In this game, knowledge is power and all knowledge, from decoration, handling dogs or horses, vocal lessons to military, political and magical knowledge has its uses. (Some however are more useful than others). Certain decisions and choices are locked behind skill checks based on whether Elodie has enough of that particular knowledge, but you need to be prepared ahead of time, which is why what you study each week matters. Furthermore, it leans into the fact that Elodie is young, and hence emotional. Every week her mood will affect her choices on what she is able to study, giving her positive or negative modifiers to what she is able to learn. Time is always linear, and the tradeoffs of every choice become obvious early, making plays feel like their decisions matter. Finally, while the events of each week are linear, the overall player experience is not the same every time, because depending on the way you train Elodie, her abilities and her experience is different. This allows players to learn and anticipate as they go through multiple playthroughs, and really learn about the power of their choices and the many potential dangers of being a young ruler. 

Long Live the Queen embraces a simple, cutesy aesthetic and the colour pink. It also provides a clear callback to similar games like Princess Maker, and other female-targeted games. While at first this seems at odds with the darker political themes and dangers in the story, the contrast also serves to highlight how the fantasy of being royalty is very different from the reality. For me, it felt particularly novel and fresh that each potential death Elodie could achieve was immortalized in a cute chibi badge on your achievements page. The urge to collect them all tempts players to replay the game just to achieve particular bad-endings and not just good endings, encouraging the discovery of the different impacts your choices can make. You even have the ability to dress up your princess (though this is actually an additional mechanic, because using the dress-up outfits increases your skills in a particular field, encouraging players to use the different outfits). Being a very story driven game, there is no action and the game is static, 2D screens with a great deal of text. The events in each week are told via short Visual Novel style scenes, in which the stat logic fades away so that you can focus on the story. Parts of the story’s lore is delivered through small text snippets summarizing Elodie’s lessons each week, which gives the player the context to understand what is happening during the story — but these dense snippets are displayed in a different kind of box, so the player can choose to read or not as they wish.

The technology is also in harmony with the rest of the tetrad. The tricky stat-crunching is easily managed for the player, and players can also save at any point. This makes the act of trying different choices at different parts easier and making it more fun to go back and replay different parts. Hence, the technology highlights the story and the satisfaction of building Elodie’s stats in different ways to overcome challenges.

I believe the game could be more immersive with more varied graphics or music, because the aesthetics were simple to a fault. In particular, the music quickly becomes repetitive. The simple graphics also made the deaths and other endings feel more sudden, which can be frustrating to the player. However, overall the graphics served the story, mechanics, and technology well, and might have been a necessary concession to producing the game quickly, and to put the players focus on the text.

Lens of Curiosity

Long Live the Queen excels in applying the lens of curiosity, and encourages players to keep coming back to the game again and again. The first few times you play, you probably won’t win. There are just too many potential dangers. This causes the player to wonder “What will it take to win? What should I make Elodie study on my next playthrough?” The story itself is interesting, where decisions cascade (actions done in earlier weeks affect events in later weeks), which makes a player feel like they want to find out what happens next in the story because they had a role in creating it. 

There is a tendency to do completely different things in later playthroughs (for example, studying music in the first playthrough and royal demeanor in the next), leading to different options. You can see every check you fail, piquing the curiosity about what other text you would see if you had passed the check. Once you solve the game for the first time, most players immediately want to play it again to explore more paths. Furthermore the death achievement collecting page gives players hints about what paths they haven’t figured out yet, and that unknown is very motivating.

Lens of time

“Games give us the chance to do something we can never do in the real world: control time”

— Art of the Game Lenses

This lens is interesting to observe the game through, because the main mechanic of the game is choosing what Elodie studies every week — speeding through the time before her coronation. The game length partially comes from these interesting but thought heavy decisions, and figuring out what to study in order to unlock new scenes and discover new things. As choosing individual subjects to study each day would lead to decision fatigue and a very long game, the game restricts the number of activities you can choose to just two. This is where the technology really supports the game. As mentioned in the tetrad, you can rewind time via saved games. Additionally you can actually speed up time. For scenes that you’ve read previously, you can speed through the dialogue, which allows you to get through repetitive content quickly. 

Lens of Pleasure

The three main pleasures this game offers (via LeBlanc’s taxonomy of game pleasures) is discovery, narrative, and challenge. For discovery, as stated in my analysis of the lens of curiosity, players enjoy finding out both how to win the game as well as how to win the game in different ways. Discovering new scenes also gives a strong sense of achievement and satisfaction. For narrative, as explained earlier the story is the games core strength. However, noting that narrative is more than story but also a dramatic unfolding of events, the structure of the game actually lends itself to this pleasure in particular. This is because each week is pre-coded with particular dramatic events. There’s rarely a dull moment in this game, because every week has the potential for something big to happen, and as described in chapter 17, the game uses the “string of pearls” method to space cutscenes with interactivity and challenging character choices.

Challenge then, comes from figuring out how to navigate this game in order to discover new scenes, strategies, and endings, and to progress the narrative. And this is quite difficult. The limited time, coupled with Elodie’s moodiness, really limits what you can study — and the games events wait for no player. There is always a time-crunch and a new threat, and the punishing stat checks drive many players to pull out their notebook or excel sheet to map out what future decisions they need to take to survive. But it is precisely this puzzle which makes the game so fun for me. The difficulty in even surviving gives me a lot of pleasure in triumphing over adversity (This is unpopular with certain kinds of players though, and if this doesn’t sound fun to you this probably is not the game for you). 

Lens of Emotion

I experienced frustration, joy, surprise, sadness, regret, dread, worry, curiosity, satisfaction and triumph playing this game. The strength of the story experience carried all of these for me, and I would like to highlight what emotions I felt at certain key moments.

Firstly, deaths and failed checks. I almost always felt frustration when my run was suddenly cut short, or my plans for that week were dashed because I failed a skill check. However, I usually also felt surprise about the different outcomes, dread as I waited for Elodie’s bad end, and even satisfaction with the deaths due to having unlocked a new outcome. In some senses, the game made failure fun. 

Secondly, I wanted to raise the tangible worry i felt for Elodie. While the player’s journey and that of Elodie are very closely intertwined, there are times where I felt very separated from her character, and I am sure this was intentional. Elodie is young. Elodie is a child, put in a horrible position of having to deal with being queen. At times in her story, I just felt so bad for the decisions I was making, which might put her in a bad place after the story ended — and while I did try to get her bad endings, I also tried very hard to find endings where she would be happy and the kingdom would be well, because of those emotions I felt about her. 

Conclusion

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Long Live the Queen! I think it is an excellent and novel game, with a tricky puzzle to solve regarding what stats to build and a complex and surprisingly deep story which quickly pulled me in. If you do not enjoy stat-raising games or puzzles which encourage frequent replay, this is not the game for you. But if you’re interested in trying to help a young would-be-queen beat the odds, maybe you’d enjoy this deceptively cutesy princess-raising game. 

Outer Wilds

Outer Wilds is 2019 open world mystery game developed by Mobius Digital and published by Annapurna Interactive. It is a critically acclaimed and award-winning game where you play as a space recruit exploring a solar system trapped in a time loop.

The official reveal trailer for Outer Wilds

Elemental Tetrad

Story

In Outer Wilds, you play as a Hearthian – an alien race native to the planet of Timber Hearth – who joins the Outer Wilds Ventures space program to explore and learn more about the solar system and its history, mainly, the history of the Nomai – another alien species that previously inhabited this solar system. The Nomai were highly advanced in technology but their race has gone extinct for mysterious reasons.

A Nomai
A group of Hearthians

The story begins with the player preparing for their first-ever space expedition! While exploring the solar system the sun goes into supernova but instead of dying the player goes back in time 22 minutes before the sun explodes. That is when they realize that they are stuck in a 22-minute time loop that ends whenever the sun explodes or the player dies.

The different planets in the solar system contain Nomai remains with clues that link to their history. The main premise of the game is to use these clues to uncover the story of the Nomai and their extinction, understand the cause of the time loop and some of the weird happenings of the solar system.

Mechanics

The player has a spaceship that can be used to fly around the solar system. Although the controls are simple, navigating the spaceship can be quite challenging due to the physics of the game with each planet having a different gravitational pull force, this can cause the player to crash and damage their ship in many different ways.

The player can explore the planets deeper by putting on their space suit, grabbing their oxygen tank, and walking around the planet. They can walk, jump, and interact with some objects by picking them up and putting them down.

Additionally, the player is equipped with a translator that can translate Nomai scripts into a language that Hearthians can understand. These scripts are usually found on walls and they look like curves that glow purple and turn orange after reading them. These texts are dialogues between Nomai that contain hints and information about the solar system as well as Nomai history and technology. These dialogues are the primal source of knowledge in the game and the player is required to connect the dots through different texts found on different planets.

Using the translator to translate some Nomai writing on a wall

Aesthetics

A planetary chart of the Outer Wilds solar system

Outer Wilds uses 3D graphics and goes for a sci-fi aesthetic. The solar system of Outer Wilds contains 6 unrealistically small planets. The game focuses more on the design and details of every planet rather than making the game look realistic. Each planet in the solar system is completely unique and designed to stand out for one reason or another. For example, one planet has a black hole in its core that teleports you to the opposite side of the solar system and another planet has giant cyclones that shoot small islands into its orbits before falling back into the planet.

Brittle Hollow – planet with a black hole at its core
Giant’s Deep – planet filled with cyclones

Technology

The game was developed using Unity engine. It runs on Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4/5, and a Nintendo Switch version is currently under development. It is best played using a controller. The game does not run on VR, however, since Outer Wilds is an atmospheric game I believe that playing the game in VR would add to the immersion experience and enhance the atmosphere of the game.

Lenses

Lense of Curiosity

Outer Wilds is purely driven by the curiosity of the player. The game hands the player a spaceship in the beginning and throws them into space with no direction at all, except for one question: Where do you want to go? It could be the weird smoke coming from the moon, some Nomai script they found guiding them to a specific location on another planet, or a strange-looking planet that caught their eye. Outer Wilds rewards its players with knowledge for following their curiosity and more questions start forming with that knowledge, slowly piecing the story of this universe together. This serves as a positive feedback loop where the game encourages curiosity and rewards the player for acting upon it.

Lense of Freedom

Unlike most games, Outer Wilds does not state any clear goals or objectives to the player. It does not have a list of quests for the player to fulfill. Once they get access to their spaceship, every single planet is accessible for them to go to with no restraints. This amount of freedom could be overwhelming to some players especially since each planet has random clues and bits of information about Nomai history with no clear chronological indication. Keeping track of bits of knowledge can be challenging to piece together, so the game balances this out by keeping a ship log in the player’s spaceship. The ship log serves as a log with all the important information discovered so far about every planet. The player can utilise it to make sense of all the information they found and it could help them decide which area they want to explore next.

Lense of Time

Time is an important element in Outer Wilds. First of all, each time loop is 22 minutes long meaning that by the beginning of each loop, the player has to decide what tasks they want to achieve in that limited time. Usually, when you discover you’re in a time loop and each run is time-limited you’d think that you would want to explore a location as quickly as you can before your time runs out and you lose all your progress. However, Outer Wilds uses time to its advantage by making both being fast and waiting rewarding. Some areas require the player to go at the beginning of the loop while others require they wait for some time to pass.

The Amber twin at the top and the Ash twin at the bottom

The best example of this in the game are the Hourglass Twins. The Hourglass Twins are binary planets orbiting each other. The first twin, the Ash twin, is a planet filled with sand, and the other twin, the Amber twin, is a rocky planet with a cave system. Due to the change in the gravitational pull of these planets, the sand from the Ash twin moves to the Amber twin filling up its cave system and creating an Hourglass-looking effect when observed from a distance. The player can only explore the cave system in the Amber twin at the beginning of the loop before the sand fills up, otherwise, they’ll get crushed inside. On the other hand, the sand leaving the Ash twin uncovers some structures hidden underneath that they cannot access until some time passes.

Lense of Emotion

Outer Wilds evokes a wide range of emotions in its players. From fear and sadness to hope and happiness. The game is filled with chilling revelations and intense moments that are amplified by the imagery, atmosphere, and soundtrack. One of the more emotional revelations was finding out how the Nomai died. Throughout the game, you can see many Nomai skeletons littered around the solar system on different planets. Seeing their remains, in the beginning, does not have much of an emotional impact because you are told from the start about this ancient civilization that has gone extinct, so, seeing their dead bodies is not surprising. However, the more Nomai dialogues you find and read you, the more you start getting attached to the characters that appear recurrently in these dialogues and their journey in this solar system. Later on, discovering the cause of their extinction and finding some of their dead bodies nearby accompanied by well-crafted emotional music can fill you with complete sadness and devastation.

References

https://www.mobiusdigitalgames.com/outer-wilds.html

https://outerwilds.gamepedia.com/Outer_Wilds_Wiki

Dyson Sphere Program

Intoduction

“Dyson Sphere Program” is a sci-fi sandbox building game that integrates elements such as space, automated factories, adventure, and exploration. In Dyson Sphere program, players take on the role of space engineers, and the player’s goal is to completing a difficult task: building the Dyson sphere, a giant structure that orbits around the star to harness all the power and energy of the star. The content of the game is very rich, and players from the third person perspective can control almost everything in the game, from collecting resources, building buildings, upgrading science, planning production, and finally achieving large-scale automated assembly line production and interstellar logistics. The high degree of freedom of the simulation game and the rich variety of technological buildings of this game make it highly playable, and subsequent combat updates are also worth looking forward to. Dyson Sphere Program is Developed by a small team of five, the game was released in Early Access on January 21, 2021.

Dyson Sphere Program Trailer
Dyson Sphere Program Compact Trailer

Mechanics:

The game supports walking around via “WASD” and provides the ability to fly low Earth and interstellar voyage with “space” key but requires more advanced technology to unlock it. The game also has the ability to interact with other players, and players can see the power generated by players in nearby galaxies. The main mechanism of the game is to quantify various items to allow the factory to operate in the most efficient way. How to build more Dyson Sphere within limited resources and cram more buildings on a spherical map. At the same time, designing a more material-saving and more powerful Dyson Sphere is also a mechanism for the game.

Story:

The Story of the game is that the player-piloted robot lands on a planet, starting with a small workshop and refining until it spans the entire galaxy. Experience the complete process from metallurgical technology, to electromagnetic coils, microcontrollers, processing chips, and future space transportation, shuttling wormholes and exploring different celestial bodies, and finally using solar sails to build a Dyson sphere. During this period, players can also feel the development of technology, such as wind and solar power is not enough to maintain factories, to the production of nuclear fuel rods or artificial stars to provide electricity.

Aesthetics:

The game’s graphics tend to be realistic, with light and shadow effects produced by the rotation of each planet, and each model has corresponding animations. At the same time, the game inevitably narrows the distance between these planets, which allows players to feel the magnificence of the project more intuitively. For example, when the player starts to build the Dyson Sphere, the parts of the Dyson Sphere can be clearly seen from the planet integrated into the framework little by little, with the game’s exciting and vibrant music, so that the player is immersed in the thrill of building.

Technology:

The game cleverly uses the GPU for most of the calculations, those tens of thousands of solar sails, each of which follows gravity and calculates the amount of power generated. These massively parallel calculations are more suitable for GPUs to do calculations than CPUs.  All this computation, including the rendering of the model, is handed over to the powerful GPU that makes tens of thousands of solar sails, transport planes, and interstellar logistics possible.

The Lens of Pleasure

There are many details in the game that can make the player feel pleasure, such as when the player perfectly plans and lays out the next production line, perfectly uses a small space, or balances the items on the conveyor belt just right, which can give the player a sense of purification. At the same time, when launching the Dyson ball component into space, the dazzling light and shadow and particle effects can make players feel their own engineering head-on, bringing the feeling of Triumph over Adversity.

The Lens of Visible Progress

A lot of content in the game emphasizes Visible Progress, players can clearly see every bit of progress in the technology tree, the technology in the game needs to be unlocked with five different matrices, each unlocked and mass-produced a matrix, is a big improvement that can be seen. At the same time, the game is also equipped with a statistics panel, so player can see the production speed of each item more intuitively. And more intuitively, of course, is to change a barren planet into a planet covered in high-tech buildings. Every sunrise on the planet is visible progress.

The Lens of Simplicity/Complexity

Balancing the material in the game can show simplicity and complexity, such as how to balance the ratio of hydrogen to refined oil when refined from crude oil, and how to deal with complex formulas with simple layouts, which are left to the player to explore. At the same time, after exploring different galaxies, players can simplify the production process by finding special minerals, such as sulfuric acid can be directly extracted from the sulfuric acid sea, hydrogen can be produced from combustible ice, and so on.

The Lens of Beauty

There are many beautiful man-made objects and space wonders in the game, such as the production line that the player has painstakingly built, which is uniform and full of technological beauty. There are also various different types of planets and stars in the game, such as neutron stars, where neutron stars can be seen with magnetic inductive line particle streams and polar jets, frozen giant oceans, pink sunset of the planet Pandora, etc.

Description
It Takes Two is an action-adventure platform video game developed by Hazelight Studios and published by Electronic Arts. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in March 2021, and was released for Nintendo Switch in November 2022. Like Hazelight’s debut game A Way Out, it does not have a single-player option. It is playable only in either online or local split screen cooperative multiplayer between two players.
It Takes Two received favorable reviews from critics and won multiple year-end accolades, including the Game of the Year at The Game Awards 2021 and the 25th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards. The game was a commercial success, with more than 7 million copies sold by July 2022.

Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics
“It Takes Two” is an action-adventure game with platforming elements designed for multiplayer split-screen cooperative play, which means it must be played with another player in either local or online mode. Nearly all the combat and puzzle solving in each level revolves around a theme, requiring players to not only use various interactive items scattered around the map to clear their way, but also to work with another player or they won’t be able to move forward.
For example, in one early level, Mei got the hammer, while Cody gained the ability to shoot and retrieve nails. Part of the platform needs to use the hammer to smash the organs to lift to a specific location, when you have to aim at the platform and the wall between the small hole, using nails to fix it; there are some partial action part is to use the dynamic cooperation between the two, such as players can be laterally embedded in the board nails as “leverage”, through the hammer hook swing to another platform.


Intuitively, there are seven levels in total, but the best part is that “It Takes Two” does not pursue the so-called “holistic”, but rather each level has its own unique gameplay, two players control two characters, each with corresponding abilities in each level, and even a combination of platform jumping, The game even combines platform jumping, decryption, audio games, real-time RPG, action games, TPS, and even tower defense elements.

Story
  In “It Takes Two”, players take on the roles of Cody and May, two strained partners who have been turned into dolls by some unknown magic. The two are trapped in a wonderful world where unpredictable situations lurk around every corner, and even though they have a thousand reluctances they must learn to overcome their differences, save their broken relationship, and find their way home to their beloved daughter Rose.

Aesthetics
The game adopts an animation style that most people can accept, full of fairy tales, you will meet the angry toolbox, high-tech squirrels, space monkey dolls guarding their daughter, the queen of the magic castle, elephant doll “cute”, the game is full of wild imagination, the characters are full of personality and likeable, more like a cartoon. Each map from the style and details are perfect, and invites imagination. Of course, we can also see the game for the well-known animation movie “Toy Story” reference and tribute, this work naturally has the producer’s own excellent design concept, the pursuit of two-player games, the pursuit of the game’s original intention: to let players experience the simple and pure joy.

Technology
The design team supported the AngelScript scripting language in the Unreal Engine (UE4) as a fast scripting layer between C++ and the blueprint editor. This allows for quick programming in the scripting language. While the game is running, the script is modified and saved, and the changes immediately appear on the screen. This change is useful not only for programmers, but also for designers, allowing them to be involved in the entire development of the gameplay, greatly increasing their productivity.

Other Lens


Essential experience
Two’s Company is an action-adventure game with platformer elements designed for multiplayer split-screen cooperative play, meaning that it must be played with another player, either locally or in online mode. It’s the communication between the two players, helping each other to overcome the challenges that make this game so impressive.

Problem solving
Almost all of the combat and puzzle solving in each level revolves around a certain theme, and players not only need to use various interactive items scattered around the map to clear their way, but also need to work with another player or they won’t be able to move forward.

Surprise&fun
Although this game only seems to be 13 to 18 hours long, it is almost a super “stitch monster” in terms of the richness of the gameplay. Before you get bored with a particular mechanic, the game will quickly move on to new content. One minute we’re lone hunters with grease guns and cannons, the next we’re mastering the ability to grow bigger and smaller and control gravity, the next we’re mages and warriors …… The gameplay is so diverse that you never know what abilities you’ll gain and what adventures you’ll embark on until you reach the next chapter. Surprise and fun always fill this game.

Curiosity
Roughly speaking, the whole work contains no less than thirty scenes. A seemingly simple house, in a combination of reality and reality, there is a world of difference. It is through these scenes that the developers have orchestrated an adventure about the resurgence of love.
Hazelight also gives the player a certain degree of freedom. In these beautiful scenes, usually configured with semi-open levels, such as ice town, toy town, etc.. Not only is the scenery unique, but there is also a lot of interactive content hidden here. The more unmissable details also lie in the occasional communication and interaction between couples.
Players are still jumping up and down in the pile of pillows, and in a short time, with the scene of the retro game machine, into outer space; when from the universe back to Earth, players will be like walking around, such as the toy room, classroom, dinosaur park, island paradise, circus, Lego Castle and other scenes.
No one knows what will happen next, and it is in this way that the players’ curiosity is aroused.

Roboquest — Roguelike + FPS

Introduction

Roboquest is a First-player-shooting (FPS) game with Roguelike features, playable in single player or 2 players co-op. It was released on Steam in 2020 as an Early Access Game, later released on xbox in 2021 and now is being periodically updated with new contents.

Mechanics

There are 3 main mechanics of this game: FPS, Job System and Roguelike. Firstly, the FPS system allows players to use a vast variety of weapons to shoot down enemy bots. Players can also use sprinting and double jumping to dodge incoming bullets or to do sneak attack. Secondly, the job system offers players different special abilities such as shielding, teleporting, and launching assistant robots. The experience (XP) that players gained from shooting down enemies will be used to further upgrade their abilities. Lastly, the Roguelike system creates random maps at each stage, and players have the freedom to decide which weapons to loot from their rewards, which aspects of their abilities to upgrade, and which stage to move to after clearing current stages.

Story

The game takes place in the age where robots rule the world and humans live scattered through the desert. One day a young girl discovers a old Guardian robot, repairs and reactivates it. The robot decides to stand by human’s side, and help the girl to discover ruins for answers to save humanity.

The story is presented as comics when the game is loading the next stages.

Aesthetics

The visual art has very iconic Cel-shading style (rendering 3D models with a cartoon-like texture), which is highly inspired from Borderlands game series. A series of fast-paced background music is used to stimulate players to shoot faster and rush to their destinations.

Technology

The game is developed on Unreal Engine 4. There seems to be no specific feature that is difficult to implement. However, the smart integration of different mechanics gives players a immersive, re-playable gaming experience.

Lenses

#2 Surprise

There are over 40 shooting weapons in the game. Players can acquire them either from stores, or from reward boxes. Based on the unique feature of each weapon and job abilities, players will make different attacking strategies. In addition to the weapon genres, there are over 40 purchasable weapon affixes to enhance players’ attack power. Acquiring those weapons and affixes is randomized under the rogue-like mechanism. Players may feel the joy of getting powerful affixes matching their existing weapons, or feel the freshness of new combat styles with random weapons.

#5 Endogenous Value

A “Time and Experience” scoreboard is used in the game, which rates player’s performance based on time spent on current stage and number of enemies defeated. A rank from ‘S’ to ‘C’ was given by the system, and players are awarded with currency and collectibles according to their ranks. Currency can be used to purchase affixes, weapons, or weapon upgrades, while collectibles can be used to make permanent upgrades such as job system and store availabilities. Under such postive feedbacks, players are inspired to perform better to get these awards, and these award will again enhance players’ shooting experience.

#31 Challenge

One challenge is the mighty boss enemies at the end of each stage. They have much more healths, higher damages, and faster moving speed. To defeat them, players need to make calculated strategies in choosing their weapon affixes and upgrading job abilities. They also need to observe boss enemies’ attacking pattern, learn and practice to attack boss enemies’ weakness.

Another challenge is the timing scoreboard ,which is mentioned earlier. To maximize their awards, players have to kill more enemies as well as take less time to clear the stage. The maps are full of sliding rails and shortcuts, which implicitly encourage players to take advantages of those features to shorten their travelling time.

#37 Cooperation

Two players can play together in cooperative mode. The stages become easier under two players’ effort. Players can take different jobs to make combat more efficient. Chance of survival is multiplied as players can revive their dead allies by sharing their health. However, the communication between players is purely based on communication applications outside the game. A labeling feature that targets enemies or position the next area to explore will be helpful for strangers.

Conclusion

Overall, Roboquest has a well-designed game mechanics that provides player enriching re-playable gaming experience. Every single feature is simple enough, and even old school. There is no astonishing graphics, no attractive soundtrack, and no impressive storylines. This indie game utilizes its limited resource wisely in its postive-feedback game mechanics, as I feel thrilled in challenging myself to shoot down more enemies and sprinting forwards. I am looking forward to its complete version, which will be released this year.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Description

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an action role-playing game developed by Bethesda. It is the fifth installment of The Elder Scrolls series and was released in November, 2011.

As the 2011 Game of the Year, the game continued to update and released three DLCs, Hearthfire, Dawnguard and Dragonborn in 2012. The remastered version, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition was released in 2016. In 2021, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Anniversary Edition was released for its 10th anniversary.

Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics

Skyrim is a open-world PRG. Players can explore this vast world freely either in first-person or third-person.

Players could focus on completing the main story which may take up to several hours. Besides, there are also numerous exciting side quests. In fact, most players spend more time on side quests (or mods) rather than main quests.

To handle the challenges that are everywhere in the world, players can use a variety of equipment, weapons or powers to defeat the enemies encountered. Unlike many traditional RPG, Skyrim gives players more freedom in combat. A character can be an assassin or a wizard at the same time!

Players could also build their own house, adopt children from orphanage, go hunting or fishing, be a blacksmith or an alchemist.

Story

The game takes place in Skyrim, the northernmost province of Tamriel, which is a snow-covered and mountainous region. The High King of Skyrim has been killed and the land was in a civil war between Imperial side and Stormcloak side. Meanwhile there are rumors that Alduin, the World-Eater, will return to Tamriel and destroy this land.

Your story begins here. Starting as a prisoner ready to be executed, you will have a variety of adventures and eventually become the savior of the world with your Dragonborn powers.

Aesthetics

Skyrim provides an immersive experience with high quality 3D graphics. Bethesda managed to create a vibrant and dynamic world. All kinds of details made the world very realistic such as the insects fluttering around the plants and little animals wandering in forests.

The best part is how Bethesda designed and created the different cities in Skyrim. Each city has its own unique aesthetic style. For example, Riften, the home to the Thieves Guild, feels darker and damper than other cities and players would immediately know that it is a place full of corruption and crime when they enter the city.

Technology

The game was developed with Bethesda’s own engine, Creation Engine. Although it is not considered a good engine and was often criticized of being buggy and poor in performance, Creation Engine actually makes it possible to create all kinds of mods which really takes the game to another level.

Other Lens

Curiosity

As mentioned above, the Skyrim is a vast world waiting for players to explore. Players’ curiosity would be stimulated as they travel around Skyrim.

Bethesda has detailed settings for this world covering all kinds of aspects including history, culture, geography and mythology, etc. These settings constructed this mysterious world which creates desire in players to explore and discover.

Meaningful Choices

The choices players make are meaningful in the game. Every choice would have some impact on the world.

The most important choice would be to join which side of the civil war in Skyrim. The player as a solider on one side would with their own eyes see how the other side is defeated and conquered city by city. At the end, the civil war will end in the player’s hand.

All these meaningful choices give the player a sense that he is not just an audience, but a living, breathing character in the world.

Challenge

The combat in Skyrim is challenging and thrilling. The Player would encounter a variety of enemies along the journey, from humanoid enemies like bandits and draugrs, beasts like wolves and bears, to the deadliest creatures in Skyrim, dragons. So, the player might need to have some strategies in fighting with enemies otherwise he will not survive.

A good thing is that the difficulty level can be adjusted during the game, so if the player really feels the combat is too challenging, he can always try again in an easier way.

Freedom

Skyrim gives full freedom to the player and lets players decide what to do during the game. A player could abandon the main quests entirely and have fun in the game world without any problem.

This level of freedom in gameplay is very rare in other games. I think this is how Skyrim stands out and becomes one of the best open-world RPG ever.


https://elderscrolls.bethesda.net/en/skyrim

Alice: Madness Returns

https://store.steampowered.com/app/19680/Alice_Madness_Returns/

Alice: Madness Returns is an action-adventure game developed by independent studio Spicy Horse and released by Electronic Arts in 2011, based on the well-known tale Alice in Wonderland, but with much darker settings. It is the sequential to American McGee’s Alice. It is an amazing game of incredible world design incorporating a highly completed aesthetic system which ties the map, the character and objects perfectly into a cohesive and immersive experience for the player, with a simple yet captivating mechanism that challenges both the actions and puzzle-solving skills of the player.

The Elemental Tetrad

Story

The main character, Alice Liddle, was a girl suffering from mental illness due to the loss of family in a fire. Due to her medical conditions, she was kept in a psychiatric clinic after the fire, and then stayed in an orphanage under Dr. Angus Bumby’s custody. The main story line of the game takes place in two worlds – the real world and the wonderland where Alice would fall into when her illness relapsed, with the latter one being the main background for the gameplay.

Mechanics

The main mechanics of the game is action-based which sometimes incorporates puzzles. The player controls Alice in a third-person prospective to move, jump or attack the monsters. The game is divided into different chapters which contain visually stimulating maps of stylistic themes. To complete each chapter, the player needs to control Alice to explore and then follow the path in the map, jumping around platforms and dodging traps, while fighting monsters emerged from the wonderland. The most interesting part of the mechanism is the settings of the obstacles and enemies which the player can overcome by tackling the different abilities and weapons that Alice possesses. For example, Alice is able to shrink (same as the setting in the original tale) after drinking the magical medicine, which allows her to enter places with limited space, and also allows her to see things invisible to normal creatures such as hidden platforms. Additionally, Alice would collect different weapons along her way, from the close-range melee Vorpal Blade, the long-range gun Pepper Grinder, to the grenade like Clockwork Bomb, with each of them in designed stylistically that fits perfectly into to the dark fantastic world setting. The player needs to strategically switches between weapons fighting monsters. Sometimes, weapons are also used to activates triggers so to open up certain paths. For example, the player would need to put Clockwork Bomb on a trigger and get to the door before it explodes, while shrinking to see the invisible platforms.

Using Pepper Grinder to shoot the eye of the tea pot
Different weapons and customs

Aesthetics

The aesthetics of the game is completely awe-striking, with there being various themes for the maps in different chapters, each with its own appeal. From the surreally beautiful card bridge in the sky to the nauseous castle made up of flesh and organs, the player can literally have the experience of falling from the heaven to the hell in one second. The artists made use of different elements that complement each theme to design the architecture, the natural environment, the traps, the objects and enemies so as to provide the players with an immersive experience to the highest degree as if they have gone into the wonderland themselves. The changing themes also ensures that the player would never get bored even with such a long gameplay time. Rather, the player can always expect something new moving into a new chapter, as if each chapter is like entering into a different world. As the main setting of the game is on the darker side, there are more chapters with themes that can make certain players uncomfortable, such as the Doll House which pictures an abandoned slum with creepy dolls that can almost trigger the Uncanny Valley reaction. Yet for players like myself who are into gothic styles, this is absolutely beautiful (and gross at the same time).

It is worth noting that besides the majority of the game being 3D, in the chapter of Oriental theme, the game in which the player goes into a scroll of picture in which there are similar platforms and triggers like the ones outside, but all in 2D. This illustrates how the game designer makes use of different aesthetics to achieve the same action-based gameplay to make the game more enjoyable yet still consistent.

Technology

There are no exceptional technological breakthrough about the game as the game mechanism mainly involves simple movement of jumping and running, and the weapon attack is also rudimentary. However, the graphics of the game is considerably realistic and appealing in the time when the game was released.

The Lens of Elegance

The game has a simple mechanism that is intuitive to learn – find and follow the path, while clearing obstacles that hinders one to do so, yet with deliberate design of the maps, it is able to give the player an enjoyable experience. The levels are set such that the player would need to find the most suitable weapon or skill to use in order to proceed with the game. Along the gameplay, there will be some new elements introduced such as new weapons, but the total number of weapons or skills will still remain small and easy to remember. The complexity of the game is achieved through designing the levels cleverly with similar basic structures instead of giving the player too many things to remember.

The Lens of Curiosity

One major element about the game that intrigues the player is the different themes of the maps, as the player can expect each map to be in a different theme – Underwater world, Card Bridge, Oriental World, etc. After the completion of each chapter, the player would be curious about what the design of the next chapter would be, just like Alice who follows the rabbit into the wonderland, wondering what kind of world the rabbit is heading to.

The Lens of Story

The story of the game is not that interesting, except for its dark theme as contrasted to the original story. The main storyline can be explained in a few sentences, and the story is revealed to the player progressively as the player completes each chapter, in cutscenes of a few minutes. There is no drastic character confrontation or very unexpected twist of the story. Additionally, as the cutscenes are played in between gameplay which lasts for hours, it is easy for the player to forget about the last cutscene when watching a new one. However, besides the real life storyline, the player also witnesses the destruction of the wonderland through the gameplay, mirroring the destruction of Alice’s inner world of imagination as she falls back to the reality, which is more subtle but also more impressive.

The Lens of Time

With an average length of 14 hours to finish the whole game, this game gives the player an immersive experience in the world of wonderland. There will be multiple autosave checkpoints in each chapter before and after the player completes each small task, which can take up to 30 minutes, or 10 minutes for the shorter ones. Instead of a casual game that the player can play on the way to work or in between breaks, or game that can be saved at any time, the game requires the player’s attention for a long time in order to have the best experience.

Conclusion

If you have not played it, please give it a try. This is absolutely amazing.

The Last of Us Part 1

WARNING: MIGHT BE GROSS

The Last of Us Part 1 is an action-adventure game developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment in 2022. It is a remake of The Last of Us launched in 2013, and the winner of over 200 Game of the Year awards, with improved gameplay and visuals.

The Elemental Tetrad

Story

Set 20 years after a pandemic has changed civilisation, infected humans run wild and survivors kill each other for essential resources. Joel is hired to smuggle a 14-year-old girl, Ellie, out of an oppressive military quarantine zone, but what starts as a small job soon transforms into a brutal journey across the United States.

Mechanics

The Last of Us Part 1 main gameplay mechanic is combat as you fight against human and infected enemies while playing as Joel or Ellie. The combat feels tense and nerve-wracking in many moments with the well-designed layout of the levels and combat animations. The game provides various ways for combat through the choice of weapon (ranged and melee) and stealth, all of which will give players different outcomes. Furthermore, there is a distinct difference when playing Joel and Ellie. The combat of each character is unique and tells you more about their character which plays a huge role in empathising with their characters throughout the entire story. The gameplay video below shows a glimpse of the combat in The Last of Us Part 1.

WARNING: MIGHT BE GROSS

Aesthetics

The Last of Us Part 1 provides an immersive experience from the very first scene through the end credits with the detailed and rich post-apocalyptic world Naughty Dog has created. The emotions of the characters hit harder with detailed facial animations regardless of whether it’s in a cutscene or during gameplay. The gameplay video below showcases a glimpse of the amazing aesthetics the game will offer.

WARNING: MIGHT BE GROSS

Technology

The Last of Us Part 1 is completely rebuilt from the ground up using Naughty Dog’s latest PS5 engine technology with advanced visual fidelity, fully integrated DualSense wireless controller features and more.

Lenses

The Lens of Emotion (#1)

The Last of Us Part 1 is sure to bring players on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Fear, happiness, sorrow, disgust. The entire gameplay will definitely evoke all these emotions. The environment, character facial animations and music all played a pivotal role in further elevating these emotions by making players feel immersed throughout the gameplay. The gameplay video below shows a glimpse of one of the most emotional scenes in the game.

WARNING: MIGHT BE GROSS

The Lens of Challenge (#38)

There are six levels of difficulty; very light, light, moderate, hard, survivor and grounded. Apart from making enemies more aggressive as the difficulty is increased, resources such as ammo and pickups become extremely scarce. Based on your current supplies, the game will work out how many supplies to provide and spawn them throughout the game. This is a subtle way to manage difficulty using Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment (DDA). If the players hoard supplies, then the game will not supply them with any more resources. However, this also shows the cons of using DDA as players can exploit this by using the resources as often as possible to obtain more resources.

The Lens of Imagination (#51)

The Last of Us Part 1 has the most effectively terrifying death sequences that I have experienced in my opinion. Most games end up with less by showing more. However, The Last of Us Part 1 death cutscenes shows us less, cutting to a black screen right before Joel’s face is ripped to shreds (see gameplay clip below) or before Ellie’s neck is ripped out into stringy fibres of the meat and because of this, the death sequences in the game evokes a sense of fear of what our imagination fills the gap with as opposed to completely being desensitized to the sight of a shredded human body. The mind fears what it does not know and combined with terrifying sound effects, the gameplay becomes even more immersive due to the nature of desperation during combat encounters in The Last of Us Part 1.

WARNING: MIGHT BE GROSS

The Lens of Story Machine (#73)

The Last of Us Part 1 is a linear narrative. One of the core foundations of game design is to make the player feels like their choices matter and how can it do so in a linear narrative game like The Last of Us Part 1. Almost all games tackle this by giving player choice during gameplay. In the case of The Last of Us Part 1, you have the freedom of weapons to craft and scavenge for supplies. However, these choices do not affect the narrative of the game. With the success of games that involve players in branching storylines like Mass Effect or Heavy Rain, the direction that gaming seems to be headed in is giving players a say and where the story goes. In the case of The Last of Us Part 1, the player is not meant to be Joel or Ellie in this linear story. Joel and Ellie are themselves. Playing the game is only meant to serve as a window into their thoughts and emotions. Therefore, in the case of The Last of Us Part 1, the narrative being linear is not a negative. It is a more powerful way of vicariously experiencing the story through Joel and Ellie.

Conclusion

Although there are some cons to the game design of The Last of Us Part 1, some of these cons are actually justified and the pros of the game outweigh far more. The Last of Us Part 1 is one of those games that we have to play through at least once and appreciate the amount of thought behind making the game.

Resources

  • https://www.playstation.com/en-sg/games/the-last-of-us-part-i/

Noita – A Pixel-Based Magical Physics Simulator Roguelike

AlbinoVEVO’s game review of Noita (Warning: Contains expletives and mature content)

What is Noita?

“It’s a roguelike where your only permanent upgrade is how much you learn about the game. And you gain that through experiment, asking yourself questions like ‘What would happen if I make my wand shoot a giant sawblade every frame? What if I break that giant crystal? What if I drink a potion of lava? And they all have the same answer: You die.'” – AlbinoVEVO in his Noita game review

Noita is a rather unique roguelike game with many special mechanics of its own. Developed by a Finnish indie game company, whose developers also created another popular award-winning pixel-graphics game Baba is You, Noita’s graphics are also completed pixel-based, but to great effect. Despite being a roguelike, it has a special emphasis on physics, exploration, and a hands-off approach while being horrifyingly unforgiving.

Story

Noita is a game that does not explain much, and it uses it to its advantage. As a roguelike, it has a strong emphasis on getting the player to explore on their own. The game is set in a magical world, but has the player explore a predominantly underground world, filled with different biomes, from fungal biomes to mysterious underground pyramids, filled with Finnish mythological creatures and monsters.

The main “goal” of the game, has the player explore this world as a sorcerer, and seek something out at the bottom of the world (and possibly defeating a final boss). And yet, this “goal” is barely emphasized in hopes that the player understand the importance of exploration in truly completing this game.

Mechanics

There are many mechanics in the game. Firstly, the mechanics available to the player for direct use, are the use of wands, potions and various artifacts they may find. Wands come with various spells that may be mix-and-matched later on and potions may be filled with any liquids the player comes across. The player is given a fixed inventory with 4 slots for wands and potions each, and 16 slots for spells (not limited to projectiles, projectile-altering effects, summons and more explosive/destructive abilities). The player may also levitate to move around the 2D platforms.

Secondly, the game simulates physics in a fairly realistic manner, which may work for or against the player. Oil burns, acid corrodes, water can freeze, steel pillars conduct electricity, and teleportation-liquids… teleport players and enemies away. Status-effects related to interaction with the environment plays a very important part in this game as well. Eating mud can cause the player to vomit, eating grass can cause the player to burp flammable gas, and of course, you can drink healing potions (Not that I have found any after 20 runs through the game).

Thirdly, the emphasis on exploration means that players are rewarded extravagantly for exploring more of the world, but more on that later on. All of these allow the player to build up some way of surviving difficult encounters.

Aesthetics

In terms of aesthetics, while the game is pixel-based, the lighting effects are beautiful, and the otherwise dull environment (since it is underground) also reinforce the theme of the game, with a sense of impending doom at every turn, having fog of war for parts of the world without line-of-sight. The fact that everything is a pixel, also meant that the difference between a liquid and a solid, is completely based on its physics. Regardless, it is done with great finesse. Creatures are designed to look like a kind of cross between the undead and mythical creatures out to kill the player. The only cute creature I have personally recognized thus far, is the sheep form that the player may get turned into (which, by the way, is VERY BAD).

Technology

A great amount of effort has been put into the physics engine of the game. From simulating the flow/viscosity of different liquid (pixels), to the momentum of objects blown away by the force of explosions and other spells, as well as the speed at which fire and electricity spreads through different mediums. Procedural generation of the world, on the other hand, is not Noita’s strong point. The world is made of biomes in a fixed layout, but the fact that it is not fully procedural in no way is a detriment to the game. Each biome is still pseudorandomly generated using Herringbone Wang Tiles and pixel scenes, with random drops and buffs to be found. For the amount of content in the game, the fixed biome layout can even enhance the playthrough of the game.

Lens of Curiosity

The game has a heavy emphasis on having the player figure things out on their own. The game introduces many different materials in the game and many spells, different biomes and enemies. The only tutorial in the game, is summarized by the two screenshots below. All interactions in the game, are left the player to ponder. Some interactions are more intuitive (coal is flammable, water has bonus damage against fire-elementals), whereas some require a more experimental approach to figure out (pouring water into toxic sludge turns it into water). These unexpected interactions keep the player on their toe and looking out for things that they might have missed. Lore is sparsely distributed throughout the map as well, in the form of green-coloured tablets with some text that appears from it. Surprisingly, these tablets are items that deal a relatively high amount of damage and bonus coin when thrown at enemies too.

Lens of Surprise

As a game that places much emphasis on the exploration and getting players curious about the world, it introduces a ton of surprises in various places that one may not expect. So much so, that it may even become a gamble at some points. While some surprises may seem unnecessarily punishing to some players, it is undeniably a unique addition to the experience that Noita offers. Aside from environmental interactions that may be special as mentioned earlier, spells have minimal description, often being a one-liner. Whether a spell can damage the player or not may be up to interpretation based on just the description. One rare spell is simply described as “Alea iacta est” or “The die is cast”, and one may only hope for the best when using it for the first time. Each enemy has a unique attack pattern and skills, and encountering a new one may always be an extraordinary danger, with more than a hundred unique foes. Every aspect of Noita is truly left up to the player to trial by fire.

Lens of Challenge

The game is difficult. It is extremely difficult. As a roguelite (As some may say, as opposed to a “roguelike”), the game has some progress across different runs, but the only progress is in the form of knowledge gained, and a few rare spells and secrets that are hard to unravel. The game effectively has permadeath in its purest form. “Friendly fire” is one of the main causes of death, as with great power, comes great explosions that may insta-kill the player as well. And yet, these are necessary to clear some of the more difficult portions of the game. Learning what spell combination works and what does not is part of the challenge. The player may make wands for different situations such as close and far range engagements or for terrain destruction to reach loot or new areas. With stronger spells, risks are involved as well (See: Black holes).

Lens of Expected Value

Building upon the challenge, there is a lot for the player to consider and weight in terms of risks and expected value of the actions they may take. Exploration is encouraged in order to find more wands and spells in the current playthrough, but with limited health and many hazards and enemies along the way, the player must weigh if it is worth further exploration, before moving on to the next checkpoint along the main path (where they are guaranteed a health refill) and entering a more difficult area. Some new wands can be completely useless to the player at that point in time, the player may come across more dangerous enemies which can give more coin to purchase wands and spells at the checkpoints, but also deplete the player’s limited health. In customizing the various wands with spells that the player has on-hand as well, there is significant consideration to be done. The player determines the odds of their spells working out with the resources they have found. For example, a wand may be set to spawn a fireball, a dynamite, or a bomb. Each has a different explosive radius, and a wand can have a slow or fast spell cast rate (but only cast one at a time), cast spells in a specific order or at random, and some spells (like the 3 mentioned) have limited charges. It is then up to the player to decide if they should leave all 3 spells on the same wand, or split them with another wand with different properties, and this with the consideration that there’s only 4 wands maximum and the only way to get new spells when exploring is to swap out existing wands for new ones. The player must thus also consider when building a wand, “should I build this as an expendable wand? Do I expect any new wand to be a suitable trade for any of the wands I have customized?”. This adds on a whole layer of considerations for the player to consider and strategize.

Conclusion

While a very difficult game, it is one that is certainly built upon a great concern to detail, with exploration to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the game, despite being a roguelike. On one hand, it allows the player to express their creativity and forge the most overpowered wand. On the other hand, it does so in the most punishing way, where the player may be one of the most dangerous foes they will continually face. For a roguelike, it can be said to be very novel for its genre with a much greater emphasis on exploration in a large world. But as a roguelike, it is still very much enjoyable and a great addition to the genre.

Check out Noita on Steam