Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
A Hat In Time
When not continuing my warpath through Mordor, I’ve been playing a game that’s the complete tonal opposite of Shadow Of War: A Hat In Time. Only available on PC for now, it was sold on Kickstarter as a “cute-as-heck 3-D platformer,” and it certainly lives up to the billing. This is a throwback to games like Super Mario 64, where you’re thrown into little worlds in search of magical doohickeys (in this case it’s hourglasses) and collect lots of other stuff—but not too much stuff—along the way as you jump, fight, and solve puzzles. It’s innocuous and simple, but there’s a relentlessly charming off-kilter personality driving it.
Unlike Yooka-Laylee, which set out to revisit this same lost era of 3-D platformers by resurrecting Banjo-Kazooie in exacting fashion, Hat is less beholden to any one predecessor. It’s got the structure of a game like Super Mario Sunshine, but in playing through the first two worlds, it seems to approach that formula with the diversity and imagination of something like Psychonauts. Your first adventures are all on a bizarre mafia-themed planet where the mobsters have vaguely Eastern European accents and no qualms about beating up little girls, but the second set of stages whisks you away to a movie studio run by anthropomorphic birds and thrusts you into the feud between a snooty film director and a fame-chasing penguin DJ. Mafia town’s introductory levels are straightforward, homogenous, and pretty rough around the edges, but it’s worth sticking it out for the creativity and humor on display in world two, especially its wacky sepia-toned murder mystery. If the game keeps that spirit up, I can see it being one of the year’s most adorable surprises. [Matt Gerardi]
Super Metroid does a lot of things right—its music, world design, narrative audacity, weird voice-acting, and genuine sense of mystery have all been puzzled over and relished for decades. But it makes one particularly daring decision early on it when it sends the player on a minutes-long descent to start the game. This is after the more scripted opening scene that climaxes with your timed escape from an exploding space station. You’re finally set loose on the planet Zebes, your spaceship idling in the rain, and you’re suddenly overcome with a sense of freedom. A whole damn planet! Yours for the taking!
Only, that’s not quite the case, you realize. Head to the right and you’ll find a brick wall; head to the left and you’ll see tantalizing hints at other pathways that you can’t quite explore yet. So you keep going down the only path you can, eventually leading all the way to the bottom of a huge chasm. Get there and you’ll find a door on the floor, which opens up into yet another huge chasm—which you again drop down. Once there, you head through a door, only to find a goddamn elevator to take you down even farther. There, you’ll finally get your morph ball, and the game begins in earnest.
In a way, this is the game’s true tutorial, a suggestion that when in doubt, go deeper. Later games in the series adopted more linear levels and waypoint systems that made this irrelevant, but it’s worth recalling how pointedly Super Metroid disoriented the player, burying progress behind secret passageways and presenting puzzles that stared at the player obstinately, no text or clues in sight. Verticality is one of games’ most indescribable elements; there’s an elation that comes with climbing to unimaginable heights and an eerie sense of dislocation that comes when the floor keeps giving way, deeper and deeper into the unknown. By the time you make it back up to your spaceship, an hour or so later, you’re grateful and relieved, no matter how many times you’ve played the game before. You recharge your health, save your game, catch your breath, then head back into the depths. [Clayton Purdom]