Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin


Developer: Edelweiss
Publisher: US: Xseed Games; Worldwide: Marvelous Inc.
Audio: Hiroyuki Oshima
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: US: 10/11/2020, JP: 12/11/2020, EU/AU: 20/11/2020
Genre: Indie, Side Scroller, Platformer, Japanese Action Role-Playing Game, Rice Farming Simulation Game.

Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin is based in a Japanese folklore fantasy world where you play Sakuna, the daughter of Takeribi, the god of war and Toyohana, the goddess of the harvest. Living in the Capital of Yanato, part of the Lofty (immortal) Realm, she has cultivated the habits of a feisty, spoilt, lazy drunkard, who manages to get exiled to the Isle of Demons with some humans until they can figure out how to get the humans back to the Lowly (mortal) Realm.

This is a game where you will need to scavenge for food and defend your home… because the humans are helpless, and you are a lazy goddess. So, utilising the tools at your disposal, a sickle and hoe, you reluctantly get to work… Very reluctantly.

Visually it has anime styling, but with Ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock) influence giving it the hint of something akin to the game Ori. But also, with enough realism in the world to draw you into the farming simulation.

Yeah, so, Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin is a strange beast of a game. It’s equal parts: Side Scroller, Platforming, Fighter, Beat ‘em Up; a Japanese Role-Playing Game; and a Rice Farming Simulator. And the developers went far and beyond when it comes to the realism of this rice farm sim with cultivation, farming and harvesting. So much so that players have been known to research rice growing on the website of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for just, rice growing guides.

So, the rice growing loop in a nutshell? You firstly fertilise your field using a base of night soil (yes, that’s human poop) and let it mature with some basics like beast horn and leaf matter, then you till it into the field while removing any stones, and then sow the rice by hand. Next, you maintain the field by keeping an accurate eye on water levels, ground temperature, the weather, and pest control. Once it is grown, you harvest, dry and then using traditional kokibashi you thresh them to strip the grains from the stalk. Then you polish the rice to your preference. And the resultant quality of rice is affected by every. Step. Of. The. Process. You get a nice little note telling you the details and results afterwards.

The other side of the coin is the relatively standard side scrolling JRPG beat ‘em up. The stage design has some nice platforming mechanics, and the monsters are semi-repetitive, however the bosses can have quite a steep learning curve. Luckily, the games respawning mechanic is very forgiving, basically starting you from the start of the level on death, resetting just that levels progress.

So basically, you go out and beat-up monsters/demons to collect stuff to take home to use to make different farming tools or clothes and feed yourself and your mortal pseudo-family (daily boosts). Then, you spend the rest of your time growing rice, to also feed your family, but also because EVERY advance in your rice harvest directly correlates to upgrades in your battle prowess.

Throughout every part of the game, you are serenaded by the traditional Japanese instrumentation composed by Hiroyuki Oshima. The musical melodies softly relaxing while tending to your homestead and upbeat and motivating while in battle. There are also realistic soundscapes of the seasons and areas played over the top of these making for such a delightful aural experience that I sometimes just sat there and listened for the simple joy of it.

Combat though is punctuated with Sakuna yelling the same few lines during combat, which I remedied by changing the language preferences to Japanese Voice Acting. This could be my inner weeb raising its head, but once I turned on the Japanese audio the voice acting soothed my inner farming and grinding angst making for a far more enjoyable experience.

Overall, while Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin has quite repetitive gaming loop, I found the farming therapeutic in its repetition. Moreover, coming home at the end of the day and having a meal with my pseudo-family and hearing about their pasts, the discussions of religion and belief or just family dynamics gifted me with the stillness and contentment of just, a happy family. If I had to classify this game in just one word, it would be forgiving. For the easy respawns, the many avenues to increased strength and game progression, the many ways it tries to help you along, and the family who not only helps you be a stronger, but also be a better, person in the end.

Cyberpunk, Steam, & The Switch

Nintendo of America President says Switch is Entering “Midpoint” of its Console Lifespan.
In a recent interview, American Nintendo Boss Doug Bowser stated he believes the Switch console has reached the middle of its lifespan. That doesn’t mean they’re slowing down anytime soon though; many titles are in development for 2021 and beyond. He also addressed the long-rumoured Switch Pro model, stating it is not something Nintendo is focusing on for the immediate future and they will instead lean further into their Switch & Switch lite consoles for 2021. Despite the recent launches of the Playstation 5 and Xbox series X, the Nintendo Switch outsold both in November with 1.35 units sold. Doug credits it’s continued popularity to its mobility and versatility but it’s hard to deny covid-19 played a significant role – you only need to look at Animal Crossings release and the craze that followed. It will be interesting to see how this console progresses next year, and through the rest of its lifespan.

Controversy Surrounding Cyberpunk2077 Continues
Amidst the ongoing drama of Cyberpunk 2077’s release Developer CD Projekt Red continues damage control and a rapid release of patches to address the games numerous bugs. Sony has removed the game from its digital store  “until further notice” but the game is still available in physical copies for those still keen to try it out. Microsoft hasn’t removed the game but issued a warning on its online store stating, “Users may experience performance issues when playing this game on Xbox One consoles until this game is updated.” Both Microsoft and Sony are offering refunds for people who are unhappy with their purchases of the game. After eight years of anticipation, the game has now been dubbed a “flop” by many of it’s disappointed players but there is still a sizeable group of players (mostly on PC) singing the games praises. Love the game or it hate it, it’s impossible to deny it has had one of the rockiest, most controversial releases in memory.

Steam’s 2020 Autumn Sale Was Its Biggest Ever.
In a recent blog post Valve revealed the 2020 Autumn Sale was “the biggest-ever in terms of revenue for developers and publishers”.  Several factors seem to be at play here, a resurgence of popularity for older games, a spread of new games finding success, and of course the ongoing pandemic. During the sale, just shy of a million players bought a game or made a microtransaction on the platform. Even more impressively concurrent users peaked just under 24 million users, 7 million more than the same time a year prior! With Steam’s Holiday sale just around the corner, it will be exciting to see if it can be even bigger.

 

Games, Game Fixes, and Games Awards

The Game Awards 2020

The annual awards ceremony was held virtually last week, unveiling game announcements, as well as announcing the various awards studios, games, content creators, and esport teams have earned.

The Last of Us Part 2 was awarded Game of the Year, Best Game Direction, Best Narrative, and Innovation in Accessibility, a new award added to the Game Awards. Ghost of Tsushima won Best Art Direction, and Best Multiplayer and Mobile Game was awarded to Among Us. Unsurprisingly, Animal Crossing: New Horizons won Best Family Game, and Best Game for Impact goes to Tell Me Why.

You can check out the full list of nominees and winners through The Game Awards website here.

Cyberpunk 2077 gets major fixes

Cyberpunk 2077, the futuristic game that came out last week, has had several updates to fix major and minor bugs that players have encountered. One of these fixes includes modifying a flashing effect on braindances, which previously had a high risk of inducing epileptic symptoms. Thankfully, the effect has been smoothed out, and the flashing reduced, making it safer for players. This prompts an important discussion into accessibility, and the safety of players among the gaming community, and among game devs.

Other fixes include improved stability, fixing missing animations in some cutscenes, improving reflections for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, and fixes for many quests.

Mass Effect and Dragon Age fans rejoice

During The Game Awards 2020, many games were announced, and major additions to existing games, such as Among Us getting a new map, and Master Chief coming to Fortnite. In addition, teaser trailers for a new Mass Effect and a new Dragon Age game.

The Mass Effect game is in early production, and teases at a new chapter in the series, with the trailer ending with an Asari finding a piece of N7 wreckage.

The Dragon Age trailer offers a little more information, with the return of many familiar characters from previous games. You can check out the Mass Effect trailer here, and the Dragon Age trailer here.

Other games announced includes We Are OFK, an interactive series following the rise of a pop group called OFK, Open Roads by Fullbright, telling the story of mother and daughter on a road trip, Left4Dead and Dead Space both getting spiritual successors, called Back 4 Blood, and The Callisto Protocol respectively. And finally, Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII is joining the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lineup.

Stolen GPUs, Politicians for Video Games, Blind Playthrough, & 2020 Game Awards

40 containers of RTX 3090 GPUs stolen from a Chinese factory.

That’s right over $300,000 worth of high-end computer graphics cards were taken from a MSI factory in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The retail price for a RTX 3090 is over to $2,500AUD, is currently low in stock and in high demand especially coming up to Christmas time where people are looking to upgrade their PCs. The Chinese MSI factory has notified the police and is offering a reward of ¥100,000 ($20,000AUD) for effective and accurate information regarding the missing containers. MSI have also indicated that this may have been an inside job considering the high level of video surveillance and truck inspections conducted on site. The Chinese company has even offered clemency to anyone who took part in the heist provided that they can find the cargo.

A Bipartisan Parliamentary Group for Video Games.

A federal Labor MP and a Liberal MP have teamed up to begin a new parliamentary group that will assist the government in establishing a stronger relationship with the Australian video games industry. It’s called Parliamentary Friends of Video Games and it’s lead by Senator James McGrath and Labor’s Tim Watts. Both MPs acknowledging that, “this industry represents the fastest-growing media in the world.” The intention of the group is to give politicians and industry a forum to meet. This doesn’t mean that there will necessarily be more funding coming to the Aussie industry anytime soon however it does indicate that parliament are showing more interest in nurturing the Aussie Games Industry. Ron Curry, the CEO of IGEA (Interactive Games & Entertainment Association) spoke with 9News saying, “Australians spent $3.6 billion in 2019 on video games, with two-thirds of Australians playing video games. We’re not digging it up. We’re not shipping it. The carbon footprint is quite small. It’s ticking all of the boxes. We’re just trying to chip away at that culture divide that sits between government and the rest of us.”

Twitch removes ‘blind playthrough’ tag due to feedback from disabled players.

Recent feedback from blind people who consume Twitch media have spoken out about the “blind playthrough” tag. The tag has been used to collect streams where players were ignorant to the games story or mechanics. That has now changed as the tag has been deleted, Twitch’s director of community and creator marketing Erin Wayne tweeted, “You can still use ‘first playthrough’ or opt to use it in combination with “no spoiler” for the same sentiment.” Steve Saylor who runs a YouTube Channel called Blind Gamer and is also a media editor of the Can I Play That? Video game accessibility website has said, “Changing the term “blind playthrough” is not SJW’s (social justice warrior) being super sensitive. I’ve said this before, “first playthrough” is a better description anyway. I personally am not offended by it, but I do think it’s a term that can go away. Language changes over time, so let it.”

How to Watch The 2020 Game Awards.

That’s right it’s that time of year again where we celebrate the year in video games. This years Game Awards will feature celebrity guest hosts like Brie Larson, John David Washington, and Gal Godot. As the entire entertainment industry comes together to celebrate in a socially distanced fashion and you’d like to tune in from Australia the ceremony takes place at 11AM AEDT/10AM AEST on Friday the 11th of December. The Game Awards will be streamed across different platforms such as YouTube, Twitch.tv, Twitter, Facebook Live, and Steam.

Dune Sea

Developer: Frolic Labs
Publisher: Frolic Labs
Music: Jake Butineau
Platforms: Steam, Switch
Released: 10 – 10 – 2019
Genre: Side-scroller, adventure

You are a goose, and it’s time to fly.

Perched on the edge of a cliff, you don’t know what’s ahead of you, but with a leap you spread your wings, embarking on a journey.

The destination isn’t important, the joy of Dune Sea is in the journey. The process. Watching the landscape go by, making your way through the air, finding and coaxing friends to join your ramshackle flock, avoiding obstacles, learning how to soar with acrobatic grace.

Dune Sea is a side-scrolling adventure game, if adventure meant a meditative zen-like experience with a little bit of a challenge. With a simple, low-poly art style, soothing music, and a steady pace, Dune Sea is exactly what I needed to play, when everything was too overwhelming, too noisy, or just took too much energy.

Gameplay is soothing, if that wasn’t clear already. It introduces controls simply and slowly. First, let’s figure out how to hop off the cliff and spread your wings. Next, figure out how to fly quickly, change directions, and how and where to land for a rest. A some of the controls are explained to you, but a lot you are left to figure out. You’ll pick up some little collectables and learn that it’ll give you a bit more stamina. You’ll also learn what happens when you do run out of stamina.

A lot of it is very straightforward, and what you’d expect from a game like this. But you have a few interesting tricks to learn. If you encounter a flock of birds, honk at them! One of them may decide to tag along for a little while. And with enough bird friends, you’ll be able to unlock new and interesting pathways, and move past difficult obstacles. Is it necessary? Not really! But who doesn’t want a ragtag flock who can help you blast rocks?

Sometimes, the lack of explanation can be frustrating. I had quite a lot of trouble at the very first launch, where I was told to press two buttons, but I didn’t really know how to, or how long, or in what order.

I’m not afraid to admit I crashed off that cliff at least half a dozen times. But once the mechanics of flight clicked, it clicked, and the rest just fell into place. It helps that it is a forgiving game, with plenty of checkpoints. You don’t get punished harshly for a mis-timed dive. Instead the game goes ‘hey, let’s give that another go’. So you spend less time struggling, and more time just enjoying the journey.

In addition, there is a Zen Mode, where you don’t even have to worry about obstacles or crashing. You can choose to only have to fly.

Like the simple art style, and soothing gameplay, the music just ties it all together. You don’t HAVE to listen to the music, but I think you need to. It’s so gentle, melodic, easy to allow into the background of your flight. It really ties it together, giving pace to your experience. Gentle guitar tones, violins in the background, an echo of the melody rings in the background. It feels open, and warm. I wouldn’t fall asleep to it, but I found it relaxing. I had a better meditation experience playing this game, than I did in my last yoga class. Everything just compliments each other so well, woven into one experience.

There’s no rush, no glaring need to keep flying, no overwhelming drive to DO things. It just lets you fly.

What is Dune Sea? It is a journey, an experience, that serves no other purpose than to just let you experience it. Your destination doesn’t matter. Your goals can be to just stay off the ground. You can build a giant mega-flock, or you can just see where the game takes you, for as long as you want. It’s not exciting, it’s not busy, it’s sort of boring. But in the way that paddling down a quiet river in a canoe, and you look up at the sky and watch the clouds drift by is boring. In the way that sitting by a stream, and tossing sticks into it and mentally betting on which stick will reach the big rock first is boring. In the way that sitting on the train and watching the landscape change and the buildings go by is boring.

It just felt like, for a few minutes at a time, I could just breath. And fly.

That is Dune sea.

Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 2nd of December 2020

Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales

Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher:
Sony Interactive Entertainment
Music:
John Paesano
Platforms:
PS4 & PS5 Exclusive
Released:
12th November 2020
Genre:
Action-Adventure, Single Player Campaign

Miles Morales was bitten by a genetically enhanced spider and gains powers very similar to Peter Parker, however with some key differences that are quite ‘shocking’ (I’ll explain later). Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales starts off where Marvel’s Spider-Man ended, without giving away too much essentially Miles has been taken under by Peter and is learning the ropes, or webs rather. However, Peter is going away for a few weeks with Mary Jane thus leaving the city in Miles’ capable hands. After recapturing an escaped inmate from a prison convoy Peter reassures Miles that he can handle it.

Miles however is new and a little nervous, and after Pete leaves things start getting a little crazy. An energy company Roxxon Energy Corporation starts some dodgy power plants, there’s a high-tech terrorist group called the Underground run by the Tinkerer, Miles Mum (Rio Morales) is running for Mayor of Harlem, AND there’s also the everyday crimes of New York City, not to mention lots of other plot points that I’m not telling you because you should totally play the game.

Set in New York City in late December you get to spin your webs through a gorgeously snow covered Manhattan which is laid out exactly the same as the first Marvel’s Spider-Man game from 2018. If you pre-ordered Miles Morales, you do get a special spidey suit that is the animated version of Miles Morales from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. There are also a bunch more awesome suits that you can unlock throughout game play.

Speaking of game play, what’s new, and what cool things can Miles do that Peter can’t. Well I did say it was rather shocking, Miles can absorb and release electrical pulses or blasts, had can also go invisible for short periods of time. He basically has the same abilities from the animated film Into the Spider-Verse, plus a bunch of just regular Spider-Man abilities like having a Spidey Sense, super strength, wall climbing and so on. In terms of how all this feels it’s more or less exactly the same as the previous Marvel’s Spider-Man just with a couple of extra things.

The combat feels good (again, exactly like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2018), where you can create cool combos as well as work your way through the narrative unlocking skill points to advance your character level and skill tree. The skill tree in Miles Morales is interestingly, much smaller than Marvel’s Spider-Man, and the combination moves are the same but for some reason don’t display all the moves from the previous game despite having a lot of the same moves. I also found some bugs within Miles Morales that was a little unfortunate such a swinging through Manhattan and then glitching out and ending up INSIDE a building with no way out, in which I had to restart at a checkpoint. There were also little things like sometimes voice lines playing up. Granted there was a huge patch 1.7GB that appears to have addressed a lot of these issues.

The boss battles are pretty epic and might a I say REALLY HARD! There are four difficulty settings; Friendly Neighbourhood, Friendly, Amazing, and Spectacular. I was on Friendly, and I had a certain boss battle where I had to fight Rhino and a bunch of Roxxon hooligans at the same time. I played this part out for close to 2 hours before I completed it. Now you might be thinking “Evie, come on! Are you really that bad?” … Well you’d normally be right however this time no, I felt the stages of the fight with Rhino challenging and engaging however I was completely lost as to my objective for defeating him thus spinning me into the endless cycle of trying to take him out in a way that was never going to work. I felt mislead by the design of that battle and it was EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING. After a short visit to YouTube I was handed my solution that I thought was way more complicated than it needed to be. In saying that most of the game play isn’t too much different from the last game which is fine because it ties in really nicely with this extraordinary universe as well as compliments the brilliant story that is Miles Morales becoming his very own Spider-Man.

Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales sound track is spectacular fusing modern RnB/Hip Hop rhythm with Orchestral suspense and hype thus creating this wonderful expression that is very clearly Spider-Man with all the DUN DUUN DUN DUUUUN DUN but also this new flavour of Miles shining through. John Paesano the composer has crafted a masterful score that elevates your game experience to a new level AND adds that extra intense emotional rush to every wonderfully written cut scene. The music on its own is awe inspiring enough and here is the link to the OST.

I have to say as a die-hard Spider-Man fan and someone who just loves the Marvel universe this game has narratively done justice to an extraordinary hero Mile Morales. In saying that this game I felt fell short on it’s promise with a price of $95 maybe if I had of played on a PS5 my experience would have been different and my review would be more positive however. For that price I wasn’t expecting so much of the game to be basically the old one just with a new narrative and a narrative that honestly didn’t take long to play through. The map was basically the same (which makes sense because New York), but a smaller skill tree, same combat feel, less spidey suits, and for that price I was expecting more.

Not that this game isn’t truly amazing just that for that amount I wish I had of had more than 3 days to play through it. I still recommend playing Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales it does incredible justice to the story of Miles and to the continuation of the Spider-Man franchise just maybe wait for the price to drop if you aren’t a big die hard Spidey fan like me.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on the 2nd of December 2020