Every Friday, several A.V. Club staffers will kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
The latest from Tribute Games, purveyors of such fine pixel-drawn fare as Wizorb and Mercenary Kings, is another entry into the canon of great randomly assembled adventures. Sharing plenty of DNA with Cellar Door Games’ excellent Rogue Legacy, Flinthook stars the galaxy’s most adorable space pirate as he plunders cosmic corsairs in the pursuit of three big-time captains. Before you can challenge the boss you’re currently gunning for, you’ll have to survive pillaging several ships, the bowels of which have been randomly stitched together from a ton of the developer’s prefabricated rooms. And if you die before claiming your bounty, it’s back to the beginning of the gauntlet. That cycle of death and rebirth is all a part of Captain Flinthook’s growth, as you can unlock new bonuses between attempts—like extra health or experience-point multipliers—that’ll help you inch ever closer to victory.
It’s a stiff challenge, offset by catchy tunes, expressive sprite-work, and, most of all, the pure tactile pleasure of maneuvering the little hooded pirate. You’re outfitted with three tools: a gun you can aim in 360 degrees; a grapple that can snag onto one of the many hooks in every room and zip you through the air; and a belt that slows down time. You’ll have to expertly combine them together to survive the game’s labyrinthine deathtraps, which means regularly pulling off action-movie-caliber acrobatic feats that have you dropping down on a cluster of enemies, entering slow-motion, picking them off, and narrowly grappling your way out of the path of their bullets—all in a matter of seconds.
My downtime lately has been spent with two older games that have a shared cartographic theme: Etrian Odyssey IV, to scratch that “still waiting to pick up Persona” itch, and Sunless Sea for my quieter, more melancholy moments. Despite being two games that are both ostensibly about making maps, they approach the world of charts and sextants from two very different directions. In Etrian, the map is the ultimate survival tool. Wandering through verdant jungles or boggy marshes, I’m constantly hunting for shortcuts to shave off opportunities for giant mantises or killer crocodiles to ambush me and devour my team. When I find one, it gets plunked down on the map on my 3DS’ bottom screen, and my mastery of the dungeons increases. My map is my boon companion, my most trusted friend when all else seems lost.Sunless Sea inverts that relationship. With apologies to philosopher scientist Alfred Korzybski, the map in Sunless is the territory, and a vicious, harsh territory at that. Rather than a chart at my side (or nestled on my lower screen), it’s the bleak world I’m forcing my crew to traverse, pushing them forward into the inky blackness. Charted waters are dangerous, filled with pirates, hostile sea creatures, and the steadily rising hunger of my crew. Uncharted territory is even worse, as I push further and further out of my comfort zone, searching for the port that might make my journey worthwhile—or drive me mad and utterly wipe out my crew. In Etrian, seeing “Here be dragons” on an uncharted bit of world is a challenge, a dare to be stronger and better, and maybe bring home some cool new loot. In Sunless, it’s a hollow, false promise. The Zee is a cruel mistress, and there are worse things than dragons lurking in its dark corners.
It’s been months since I put any serious time into Overwatch, but I recently decided to dip back in so I could check out the new cooperative Uprising event that revolves around you and three teammates completing simple objectives while fighting off waves of killer robots. The mode comes in two flavors, with one forcing you to choose between four predetermined characters that tie into the game’s lore and the other allowing you to pick from any of Overwatch’s many lovable goofballs. The vanilla version is fine and worth doing at least once, but Uprising really shines when you can pick from any hero—and not just because D.Va, my favorite character, absolutely shreds those idiot robots with her big arm cannons. When you’re not forced into the balanced lineup that the developers intended you to use, your entire team has to be fully aware of what everyone else is doing at all times so nobody gets overrun. Also, you have to use different strategies than you would in a normal multiplayer match, since fighting a dozen or so robots at once is a lot different than fighting six human opponents, and I’ve lost many Uprising rounds simply because one person on the team (occasionally me) picked the wrong character. Basically, Uprising is so good that it’s got me playing Overwatch again, and it’s a huge step up from the awful capture-the-flag mode the game tried just before this.