While I procrastinated prolifically before Valve updated my Steam Deck order to “Q3,” an approximation as to when it would arrive added incentive to play fewer video games than I purchased. In fact, I normally budget about $100 for Steam sales, yet this year, I spent $188 during the winter sale and $200 in the summer sale in preparation for my Deck’s arrival. Traditionally, companies lose money on hardware sales, betting on the ROI; at least with me, the attachment rate for the Steam Deck is already in Valve’s favor.
My history with portable systems is succinct, and my perceptions unfavorable.
Santa my parents gifted me a Game Gear once upon a Christmas in 1993. I enjoyed the novelty of playing games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Surf Ninjas, Judge Dredd, and Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble while taking road trips to Six Flags for vacation. However, I never failed to appreciate the fact that the majority of the Game Gear’s library comprised of downgraded ports—a minuscule proportion of games, such as Triple Trouble were originals.
After the Game Gear, “portable gaming” for me meant gaming laptops or “desktop replacements.” In 2002, my parents purchased a Toshiba Satellite 5200 as my high school graduation present, one of the first laptops with a discrete GPU: the GeForce4 460 Go. On that machine, I played plenty of WCIII: TFT, Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars, and Age of Empires 2, and The Sims (2) in the library with my girlfriend when I should have been studying. With my Toshiba as I called it, I would aggressively explore emulation. As I was raised on Sega platforms, emulation is how I experienced games like Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, for the first time. So I was playing full-scale video games in a 9.5 lb portable form factor—so long as I remembered to bring my A/C adapter because of the Toshiba’s one-hour battery life.
Years passed, and at some point during the era of the Wii U, I gave in to the hype of the Nintendo 3DS. I bought the 2013 golden Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds edition. I spent an embarrassing sum of money building a library of (3)DS exclusives (as seen above), yet the only two games I played through to completion were the 3DS version of OOT (which is the best version I may add), 999, and much later, Metroid: Samus Returns.
Like an idiot, I purchased a Switch in good faith that Nintendo would release Metroid Prime 4 soon after its launch. Notwithstanding the fact that I am still waiting for MP4, the Switch never impressed me. Perhaps this is because I loved the Wii U, and ports of Wii U games dominate the Switch’s library. For games like Dark Souls Remastered, Doom Eternal or Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus on the Switch, I would have to settle for 30 fps and a plethora of performance concessions.
In contrast, the Steam Deck is the handheld I have dreamed of. Whatever game I launch on it, I can play “as intended.” Effectively a desktop replacement, I feel comfortable playing games that I would have played on my gaming laptop that houses a GTX 1060. This is because the Steam Deck is powered by the AMD RDNA 2, the same chip found in the XBOX Series X|S. What people should expect from the Deck in terms of its optimal range of performance are among the questions that keep Digital Foundry in business. Though the Deck is capable, I still would not play first-person shooters, simulations, and real-time strategy games (or RTS-adjacent games like DotA) on the machine. But already in 2022, the Deck’s arrival has substantially contributed to my video game completion rate. Granted, I had not played that much in 2022, but that has already changed.
I have not tried emulation yet, but I have read that it is excellent. I might return to some of those 3DS games….
On Deck: Rainworld
I gave Rainworld a shot way back in 2019. It struck me as impenetrably esoteric. I did not understand the object of the game beyond wandering around in the hopes of finding food without getting eaten and finding hibernation points—inorganic gates linked to a biological function linked to a karmic system? I found this combination odd. At any rate, the game refused to provide direction when I needed, wanted, or demanded it.
So I quit.
Ironically, Rainworld felt like a perfect game to return to on the Deck, with its unmistakably indie touchstones, such as the pixel art and non-existent soundtrack, utilizing ambient cues instead.
So I started it back up and played it long enough to understand that all I need to do to raise my karma high enough to pass through gates is eat and hibernate. Excessive exploration is not necessary. I also figured out what the little golden arrows at the corners of the screen were trying to indicate. Go eat bats over here; head to shelter over there; my character should be going this way, and so on.
I eventually unlocked a new area: Industrial something or the other. It introduced new enemies as well as new items. Rainworld still did not explain a darn thing, though. I am still not a fan of that, because I feel like I’m missing out on so many cool things that I could be doing or experimenting with; zero guidance lacks efficiency.
The semi-randomly generated fauna remains “active” even when I am not on-screen is annoying. I died several times after standing my ground against a chameleon alligator thingy because I thought my slugcat could kill it with a makeshift spear, only to be ambushed from behind by some other creepy crawler. Now, I am losing karma if I am unsuccessful in finding the golden flower. Or, I know that the rain is coming soon, and two pink heads and a green head are blocking me from reaching my closest shelter.
I progress through the Industrial area, finding a new shelter. In the next cycle, I encounter some…people…who throw things at me. I take a wrong turn and end up in a loop and had to double back. I encounter a room that looks like it belongs to them, a private shelter full of tribal wall art. But Rainworld provides no lore. I get lost again after running from a green alligator thing that came out of one of the tubes I was supposed to go into. The exit is to the south, and the alligator drops on top of the pipe. So I had to regress back to my previous shelter and try again next cycle. Stuff like that—the randomness of progress being blocked—is not fun, but frustrating.
The lack of guidance concerning where I should be going or what I should be doing or what the ultimate goal of the game is compelled me to look up some guides, starting with a map. Wow, Rainworld is HUGE! I thought it would be the length or size of Carrion, but it reminds me of the scale of the original The Legend of Zelda. And with that, I wonder how the developers at Videocult expected players to stick with this game without real power-ups, instead of sticks and stones.
I am surprised that Rainworld reviewed so favorably. I guess there are a lot of Eldon Ring-type players who enjoy not knowing what they’re doing for dozens of hours on end. Or, they like to pretend like they figure things out all on their own while secretly googling everything (which, according to the hits on YouTube guides, is more likely). I mean, just look at this guide. How is anyone supposed to know this stuff?
Maybe the best way to play Rainworld is not how we typically play games, which is we play it every day until we beat it. Maybe one cycle per day or something like that is best—a marathon rather than a race.
I managed to reach Drainage System past the Garbage Wastes before dying to birds and spider-like things and leeches in water after maintaining max karma for several cycles. Dying feels really bad, forcing me to repeat areas. I understand that nature is brutal and unrelenting, for Rainworld simulates this accurately. However, that does not translate to fun to me.
As with the Souls games, I feel that if you’re skilled enough, you should able to get through the game without dying, esp repeatedly. In my frustration, I watched a longplay. And even during the longplay, the player dies multiple times just because the game decides to say SCREW YOU! If it’s not getting rained on because you have to stand there and wait for lizards to get out of the way, then you end up stuck between lizards and some other predator.
I gave Rainwold an honest go but it is not for me.
Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield
Real talk, I purchased this game purely out of support of a black developer. I most likely discovered it through a list of video games by black developers (though not necessarily this one), or Aerial_Knight’s personal Twitter. At any rate, I do not have much to say about the game. Though Aerial_Knight has gone on tour, on several Twitch, YouTube, and various podcast broadcasts explaining the difficulty of his development process, Never Yield is a Temple Run clone. Its soundtrack is worth a listen, and the art design is fancy and hip-hop inspired, but the guts of the game is as shallow as any other mobile duplicate.
Klei Entertainment is a premium-tier indie developer. They got my attention with Invisible, Inc., earned my allegiance with Mark of the Ninja, and made me a stan with Oxygen Not Included. With the Deck, I decided to go back to their past and play the first game in their repertoire, Shank.
It’s very much the type of game that one would expect to be a game developer’s first serious try. Shank is a repetitive, side-scrolling beat ‘em up with a cliché Kill Bill-style revenge story. Its brevity is a saving grace, as well as its artwork and creative boss encounters—the gimp whose nipple rings are a weak point is particularly interesting. I plan to go forward with Shank 2, but I would recommend that interested parties should just watch a YouTube video of the cutscenes and bosses.
Slay the Spire
Before Slay the Spire, any game with “deck builder” in its description went on my ignore list. OpenCritic’s Hall of Fame accolades spared this one a similar fate. Look, this game deserves every accolade given. If Heroes of Might and Magic II and III made the “just one more turn” mantra a thing, Slay the Spire successfully personifies that concept while fusing turn-based combat with roguelite elements.
As I learn Slay the Spire’s mechanics through bind brute force experimentation, an experience bar encourages me to launch a fresh playthrough. Each milestone unlocks something that makes me want to push forward further than I had previously, especially the different characters.
I did watch some of the pros, namely Baalorlord, who recently ended a twenty-game A20 rotating winning streak. That’s ascension 20 for those unfamiliar, the hardest difficulty for an already difficult game, while picking a different character for each run. Naturally, my favorite way to play the Ironclad is buffing strength + demon form, poison with the Silent, orbs with the Defect, and deva form with the Watcher. Every build, except perhaps poison with the Silent, is considered the least-efficient for each character.
The Watcher is the least-liked character, yet my favorite. I love alternating between wrath (damage) and tranquility (defense/energy) forms and dealing giga-damage. But she is considered an “easy mode” character, which is frowned upon in a game that is supposed to be challenging.
Well haters gonna hate, because I love that character concept and design. The Silent would be my second favorite, with certain builds being able to double and triple poison DOT. The shiv build is fun, but also gives the Time Eater plenty of fuel since it is possible to play eight, twelve, or sixteen shivs in a turn under the right conditions. I have yet to find a Defect build that is consistent for me, but I have yet to try claw. For the Ironclad, I am still a fan of strength.
I have beaten the Heart with all four characters, and have no plans to do ascensions. I have had my fill, and am now in the market for other deck builders.
Broforce is certainly, totally, absolutely a parody of an exhaustive number of action hero movies with a “dudebro” touch. It is a game of absurdity that does not take itself seriously, and so, neither should players. And I am okay with that, especially because developer Free Lives ensures that players never get bored, creating situations where the playable character frequently changes throughout a level.
The roster is huge. There has to be at least twenty different bros, where “bro” is inclusive of the (not-so) gentler sex, such as Ellen Ripbro (Aliens) and The Brode (Kill Bill), who are both fun to play. I also enjoy Brade (Blade), who gets special recognition for proving that comic book movies could be taken seriously. Brominator’s (Terminator) chaingun plows through enemies, and Mr Anderbro (The Matrix) possesses the most agility, one-hitting most enemies with martial arts.
Broforce then shifts from generic terrorist enemies to spoofs of sci-fi and supernatural enemies. Xenomorphs make for fantastic cannon fodder for bros with powerful weapons. Then a demon invasion takes place, providing supernatural targets. The over-the-top nature of Broforce makes for a game that I do not regret investing time into.
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