So it was quite refreshing to have two awesome, insta-purchase games pop up on PSN recently.
From the start, Abzu is a stylish feast for the senses. It's an underwater exploration game in which a robot diver chap bimbles* around, fixing little robot buddies, freeing fish, finding shells and... well, opening doors to get into the next bit.
I don't think I've played a game that does a better job of capturing the feel of scuba diving than this. The controls are sufficiently floaty (pun intended) which really does speak to the theme. The diver wheels and turns with an otherworldly grace but it feels just one step removed from the player - in any other game, this would be a bad thing, but it really works here.
|"Turtles! It Turtles daddy!" - Willow|
The levels do a good job of mixing it up too - with everything from bright, colourful shallows to dark and gloomy monochrome depths.
In fact, mechanically, everything works.
I think it's biggest problem is its Journey DNA.
This should be a great thing. I mean, Journey was amazing - one of the most incredible experiences in gaming and Abzu does pretty much the same thing. You wordlessly progress through the game, piecing together the narrative from icons and murals all the while marvelling at your surroundings.
All the way through, you can feel the Journey-ness shining through - the currents taking over from the surfing section**, the mysterious and sinister contraptions, filling the chambers with light and life, the music that rises and falls with your emotions.
But it's not quite as good.
I'll quantify that with the statement that it's still excellent and more than worthy of your time and expense, but it's not as good in the way that [YourFavouriteBand'sSecondBestAlbum] isn't as good as [YourFavouriteBand'sBestAlbum].
Simply put, if Journey didn't exist, Abzu would be it. Everyone would be gushing about it (well, more than they're already doing) and rightly so. But Journey does exist, so Abzu has to settle for the silver medal.
Still means you should definitely play it though.
If you get a chance, play it with a toddler that loves fish and especially turtles, then watch them lose their shit.
I played a version of Overcooked at Games By The Sea at Develop and had a great time, meaning this was another no-brainer.
It's a 4-player, couch co-op cooking game. Each player is a chef in a kitchen and the team is tasked with producing specific dishes for clients. The more dishes that can be prepared in the time limit, the higher the score.
Each player can perform one task at any one time - either carrying something, chopping / preparing an ingredient, washing up a plate or putting out a fire. That's it***.
Dishes are made by combining the various ingredients in prescribed ways before dumping the whole lot in a plate and delivered to the serving hatch. For example, a burger requires meat to be chopped into a patty before being fried. Then you need chopped tomato and lettuce (assuming the order is for one with the works). The whole lot then needs to be put in a bun and on a plate.
The neat thing is that there's mostly no real order to the events. Sure, you have to prepare the meat before you can cook it, but the actual assembly can take part in any order. Since cooking the meat takes time, there's plenty of scope for optimising your routine - get the meat on then use that cooking time to be preparing the other ingredients or doing a spot of washing up perhaps.
It is immensely satisfying to work with your teammates and get a routine going. Getting to that point normally requires some (also immensely satisfying) shouting and abuse. Once everything is working like clockwork and the 3 star ratings begin to pop up, the sense of achievement is superb.
Leanne and I have played through the campaign - there's still some work to do to 3 star everything and we're very much looking forward to that. I don't know what the single player is really like and, unless you've got at least one friend, this really isn't that sort of game.
|A calm kitchen. This almost never happens.|
If you get the chance, play it with someone who doesn't punch you when you accidentally set the kitchen on fire or fall in the lava with a fully prepared meal.
* Bimble, verb. A diving term meaning to just sort of wander around an area with no real plan other than to look at all the cool stuff.
** Complete with the camera that turns to give you a side-one view of an impressive vista as you glide by.
*** Apart from shouting. Each player can, and will, shout at the other players. A lot.
**** Note that this only applies to games and in no way relates to my desire to be anywhere near the kitchen in real life.