Weird with a capital D.
We all have tastes that place us in the one percent. My minority opinion is that not only is the Vita an incredible piece of hardware, but it houses a fascinating library as well. After big-budget games failed to engender much excitement in the Vita's early days, Sony shifted its focus to the independent scene, and in turn pushed away much of the audience who craved console experiences on the go. But the library has risen like a digital phoenix in the last few years, supplying more incredible games than I could possibly find the time to play. For just one moment, forget about the distinction between AAA and indie; ignore the technical buzzwords that have dominated our conversations. If fun matters more than anything else, then cast your gaze toward the Vita. I recently played six upcoming games, and the future looks bright for Sony's lovable handheld.
Murasaki Baby -- September 2014
Before we look ahead to the future, let's travel back to the dark days of yore. The Vita, as you might have noticed, has more control options than even a dexterous octopus could handle. With a touchscreen, backtouch, and a gyroscope, you've got a finger workout that would make even Steve Oedekerk blush. My point? We were forced to perform acrobatics in awkward and unpleasant ways just to justify the existence of these many features. Unless you're in the minority who enjoyed popping up monsters in Little Deviants or scaling cliffs in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, you probably gave a Bronx cheer to these efforts.
Fast-forward many years, years in which developers have become a little older and much wiser, and we've seen how such deviations can add to the experience. Look no further than Tearaway to see how a well-integrated camera can change your every emotion. And now we have Murasaki Baby. Guide Baby through a hellish landscape by holding her feeble hand, and manipulate the wind, rain, and screaming demons to guide her toward paradise. It's heartwarming and empowering, and though the puzzles aren't stumpers based on what I've played, the magical aesthetics certainly pulled me into the fold.
Metrico -- August 5th
Who has time to read? Well, except for you, of course, devouring every word of this article. But for the hurried masses out there, who just want bare-bones facts without properly grasping the data, there's a desire that cannot be quenched by long analysis. And so we gave birth to infographics. Behold skewed information in all its glory! Who cares about the underlying causes when it's so much easier to churn out a pie chart, or a bar graph, or any other manner of distilling those oh-so-tasty raw details into something digestible? One developer has found a way to make infographics even better.
Enter Metrico. Here's a game that has taken the ubiquitous formula and twisted it into something beautiful. Like with actual infographics, you may not understand exactly why a bar may rise or lower, but unlike with the real deal, you do have the power to make them bow to your wishes. You see, the graphs shift based on your movements. Sometimes a jump may lower a platform, whereas other times you must run around, or ricochet some bullets. The rules are never explained, so you must think and observe. The two worlds I've played gave me those satisfying "aha!" moments I crave from puzzlers.
One Way Trip -- 2015
I've referred to this game as One Strange Trip much more often than its real name. If you know anything about it, you would forgive me for my mistake. One Way Trip is as weird as games can be. There's a character named Wishberry Knifeprincess, for instance, who not only fails to explain her royal background, but, well, I don't even know where to go with this sentence. Look at her name! And then there are the the psychedelic visual style, thumping musical score, and insane scenarios, which make you realize how fitting the word "strange" really is.
So, you've got six hours to live, and you're hallucinating like a madman. The water supply has been spiked, and your arms will turn into dolphins if you don't find a cure fast enough. This isn't a typical save-the-world action, however. You use your words to discover the secrets of this bizarre world, and your objective is whatever you want. Talk your way into finding the cause of this outbreak, befriend the weirdos you meet, or bargain to figure out who should die when a gun is pointed on you and a group of masked strangers. I have to admit that One Way Trip was a little too out there for me to grasp in the hour I spent with it, but maybe I'm too uptight for my own good. We could all use a little Wishberry Knifeprincess in our lives.
Super Exploding Zoo -- Summer 2014
Never underestimate the power of media to change the way people thing. Way back in 1958--before even Kevin VanOrd was born--Disney released a documentary that forever tainted our view of one of nature's most misunderstood creatures. In White Wilderness, a scene was staged that had lemmings barreling off a cliff, apparently killing themselves in mass numbers, and that myth ingrained itself into our collective beliefs. Granted, DMA Designs might never have crafted the seminal puzzler Lemmings had this falsehood not been pushed forth by Mickey Mouse's gang, but it's a tough price to pay for those adorable rodents. Or marsupials? I'm not really sure what lemmings are.
Enough of the history lesson. Super Exploding Zoo doesn't purport to be a documentary game (if such a thing even exists), though it does present an interesting view of how animals would behave during an alien attack. You see, pandas, crocodiles, and other residents of the animal kingdom would so fear for the safety of their eggs (yes, pandas have eggs), that they would hurl themselves at the invaders and explode in a furry cloud. The Vita certainly isn't shy about weird games, is it? I was riveted by the initial craziness, but after I sank in a half hour or so, it was the puzzles that grabbed my attention. Who would have thought combustible animals could be so entertaining?
Rogue Legacy -- July 29th
And now we come to the ports section of this feature. When those who spurn the Vita aren't stating that it lacks games, they instead point to how much of its library is composed of ports. There's no argument to that position; many of the Vita's best games originated elsewhere. For me, that's a selling point, given that I would rather play games during my daily commute than tethered to a television, but for others, those who just crave new experiences, it's a dark spot. Consider this, though: Because only a small percentage of indie hits make their way to Sony's portable, we have a heavily curated bounty in which only the best of the best make the cut. Not too shabby.
Rogue Legacy, of course, falls neatly within that "best" categorization. One of my favorite games from last year, this empowering roguelike does an excellent job of easing in those scared of severe punishment while embracing others who want to be pushed to the bloody edge. The brilliance of this design comes from the Legacy in the title. Once you die (and you will perish often), you pass traits to your next of kin, so you can overcome even the toughest obstacles with enough stubbornness. The port seemed silky smooth, and it contains the various PC updates that added more characters and environments to the core build.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth -- Summer 2014
Don't judge Isaac. If you found yourself in the uterus of hell, you would probably cry just as much as this tormented child. Just cross your fingers that your tears can fly with as much precision, and singe those dire demons who dwell down below. Behind only Spelunky in the pantheon of roguelikes, The Binding of Isaac is one of the games that I am most excited to play once more. It's got a dose of the original The Legend of Zelda in how the game is viewed and controlled, with the punitive structure that draws me to so many roguelikes. I can only imagine how many hours I'll spend on my commute proudly wearing mom's underwear while vanquishing all that is evil.
There is one red flag. Well, it's not too severe, so we'll call it a pink flag, or maybe even orange. There's some slowdown present that most definitely is not there on the PC. Now, this didn't affect my progress since it was an occasional hiccup rather than a choppy slideshow, but it was noticeable even for someone like me who normally doesn't care about such things. We can only cross our fingers that it's ironed out before release. The new art style, however, is quite appealing, as is the enticing musical score, so at least some changes have been for the better. Now read The Anarchist Cookbook and befriend Bob's Rotten Head, because you'll need all the help you can get in The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.