Good morning! Welcome to our regular column where we write a bit about some of the games we’ve found ourselves playing over the past few days. This time: useless foliage, musical scores and Disney magic.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We Been Playing, here’s our archive.
Forbidden Horizon West, PS5
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game as beautiful as Horizon Forbidden West. The environments seem unreal in their beauty, while the detail and textures of character models and clothing are incredible. All of this mind-blowing work means that all the blemishes are very embarrassing – can someone explain why Aloy’s hair is apparently made of wool?
Despite this wonder, the Forbidden West feels like a world that doesn’t want to be explored. There’s just something wrong with Aloy’s movement: the way she gets stuck in the background, the way she jumps too high or not far enough to grab onto ladders and ledges, the way environment hinders the flow of combat. Or the way the mounts refuse to run through the bushes and just stop screaming. The world is so full of detail and vegetation and things that might look nice in photo mode, but make interacting with Aloy clumsy and her Focus a constant necessity to find the right path. And that’s before we take a look at the overwhelming map screen.
So while this latest Horizon game is a showcase for Guerilla artistry, its gameplay is an overworked culmination of open-world game design that has already been honed by the previous game. The combat still ramps up and the cinematic direction is wonderful, but there’s not much beyond that that feels fresh.
Worse yet, it’s Aloy herself. Originally a naïve, sympathetic character who took us on her journey of discovery, she’s now narcissistic and authoritative and obsessed with her position as savior of the world on a very, very important mission that couldn’t be sidetracked by distracting errands . The first game was criticized for its white savior complex, but Forbidden West seems to lean more into that. I’ve been a good chunk of the game so far, desperately hoping for some form of redemption.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody Memory, Switch
As I mentioned a while ago, I’ve played a lot of Hades and its soundtrack is awesome. Being the nerd that I am, I was wondering if there was an official piano book published by Supergiant, because In The Blood is a fantastic song. There isn’t, unfortunately, but it made me think of games that have official piano scores.
There are two series that I know exist – Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. When I was in high school, I would painstakingly search for scans of them on Scribd and capture them, arranging the blurry and enlarged shots together and printing them out at school to learn at home.
This train of thought was happening at the same time as the recent Nintendo Direct. And during this Direct, Theatrhythm Final Bar Line was announced. I’m into it for the tracks on 13, 13-2 and The World Ends With You, so I ended up with an itchy rhythm set and nothing to scratch it with.
Then I remembered from the piano books – a Kingdom Hearts rhythm game does exist! I bought it hoping to get a few hours of enjoyment out of it and then put it away to play something else.
It makes me more addicted than that. It’s joyful to revisit those songs I have such fond memories of and experience Kingdom Hearts in a different way. I’m still hitting Heartless, but there’s a different skill compared to the original games. There are a bunch of levels and worlds that I had even forgotten were part of the series (Tron! The entirety of Re:coded!) and it brings back fond memories when I remember them.
I haven’t played Kingdom Hearts in years, so I’m not caught up with all the games that have come out since, say, 2012? But I’m still going to play the bits I don’t know, because I’ve always loved the show’s soundtracks (and to see more of Donald Duck using his stick to shoot enemies with a bonk). It’s by no means the best rhythm game I’ve ever played, and it’s certainly not Trombone Champ, but for a lovely nostalgic trip down memory lane? My answer is simple (and clean) – totally worth it.
And if anyone knows of other games with official piano scores, let me know! I may have a new niche of interest…
Disney Dreamlight Valley, Xbox
Disney’s Dreamlight Valley is like Animal Crossing in a magic carnival mirror, where its look has lost some of its definition, but the warps and curves of its reflection have found fun new shapes. Gone is Nintendo’s obsession with detail and restrictive design. In its place, something more messy but no less physical – with all the same great ingredients inside.
So yes, Scrooge McDuck is your Tom Nook and Goofy your go-to for selling apples and cabbage. But it’s also a version of Animal Crossing freed from Nintendo’s tighter progression path and customization limits. Want to uproot McDuck’s business and plant it anywhere on the map without waiting overnight? Want to freely modify the furniture of your city at any time and on the fly? Want to customize your clothes without asking a hedgehog for a pattern? There’s a looseness to Dreamlight Valley that feels wonderfully open.
Finally, and most disappointingly in Animal Crossing, it feels like Dreamlight Valley could go on forever. After such an amazing launch, Nintendo seemed to cut live support for New Horizons and drop it altogether after a year. Disney clearly has a content schedule – and a monetization plan to go with it – to last for years, with endless appeal from the people at Disney and Pixar whose worlds you need to save before welcoming them to your town. It’s very Animal Crossing but not either – and that’s not a bad thing.
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