Hey, Gameologerinos. Thanks for your patience while we took a week off from regular publication—everything will be back to normal next week. But first comes the weekend, which means it’s time for staffers and readers alike to share their gaming plans for the next few days. I’ll kick the thread off, and then Gerardi wants to say his piece. After that, it’s all yours as always.
I’ll be making my second run through Shovel Knight, the wonderful faux-NES released late last month. I can’t put it much better than Anthony put it in his review: Shovel Knight avoids the trap of retro for retro’s sake. We were going through a stretch there for a couple years, around 2012 or so, where there was a glut of games like Retro City Rampage that were apparently competing to see how many lifeless references to old video games they could cram into a single work. Not only was it tiresome, it was also disheartening to someone like me who thinks there are relevant design lessons to be gleaned from that era’s console games—lessons that are ignored when you’re strip-mining the 8-bit landscape for kitsch. Not only does Shovel Knight thoughtfully interpret the design standards of games like Mega Man and Castlevania, it adds a touch of heart—those dream sequences may be simple, but their sweet sorrow gets me every time. (That music. Man.)
It took me a while to write up my blurb for this post because after almost every sentence I was distracted anew by a 50-minute Shovel Knight speedrun I had playing in the background. I typically don’t see speedrun videos until the most efficient techniques have been practically perfected and players are just trying to shave a few seconds here or there. But because Shovel Knight is so new, speedrunners are still experimenting and getting the game into their muscle memory. I’m surprised to find that it’s still enjoyable to watch when you can see the room for improvement—it leaves a space for me to think about how it could potentially be done better. This is still some high-test Shovel Knight play, though. I embedded it above so you can take a look for yourself, even if this time is likely to be beaten within a week (if not sooner).
What I wish I could be playing this weekend is more of a game called The Fall. It came out back in May, but I didn’t hear about it until last week. And while I think it has a lot of flaws, it’s the most fascinated I’ve been by a game since the start of Kentucky Route Zero. You play as the artificial intelligence inside a military-grade super suit, the human occupant of which has suffered severe injuries in a crash landing. The AI takes full control of the suit and heads out into a dark, dingy world to find some means of saving their human pilot.
The whole “you play as an AI” thing is more than just a novel premise. It binds you to three Asimov-style rules: You must not lie, you must be obedient, and you must never do anything that would put your pilot in danger. This manifests in some clever ways. A lot of the puzzles are built around subverting the laws and finding a way forward. You might be in a conversation where avoiding the truth would be the best course of action, but you cannot choose to “lie,” even if the option appears on the screen.
Beyond that, it’s creepy and well written. Many of the conversations you’ll have are between artificial intelligences of varying backgrounds and directives, and the interplay brings up some questions regarding man’s relationship to technology and other typical sci-fi themes. I dove into it without reading much about it, which was a nice treat, but that also meant I wasn’t aware that this was a Kickstarter game that promises to be the first in a trilogy. You could probably imagine how bummed I was when I hit a “to be continued” screen just as my AI’s existential crisis was heating up.