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Two new games with old-school spirit help break the summer doldrums

Odallus by JoyMasher

Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

I have to say, I’m feeling like this whole “summer video game drought” thing might not apply this year. Like many of you, I’m still crawling my way through The Witcher 3, but a couple of interesting distractions have popped up and further slowed my snail’s pace through that adventure.

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First there’s Rocket League, a weird little multiplayer game that’s had the internet in a tizzy since it came out last Tuesday. It sounded like something I’d be interested in—a frenetic take on soccer with rocket-cars kicking around a giant ball instead of footballers—but I’d heard about the server woes that hamstrung its launch and put it out of mind. Then I found out Sony’s giving out the PS4 version free of charge to PlayStation Plus subscribers (it’s also available on Steam for $20), so I gave it a shot… and ended up playing it until 3 a.m.

I both love and hate the chaos of Rocket League matches. They’re all five-minute sprints, and a lot of players spend that entire time jetting headfirst to the ball. It’s hard to resist that innate reaction to just forget any semblance of strategy and turbo boost as fast as you can into the fray, but I’ve found hanging back and choosing the right moments to swoop in and strike is the better strategy. And while it can be frustrating to get stuck with teammates who forego tactics for their dreams of being the Kobe Bryant of jet-car soccer, slowing down and observing creates its own entertainment: You get to sit back and laugh as the rest of the players ineffectually chase the ball all around the arena. It’s like watching a pack of uncoordinated dogs run after tennis ball that’s too big to actually fit into their mouths.

The other game I’ve been playing is called Odallus: The Dark Call. (Available for $15 on PC.) It comes from a small studio named JoyMasher, and it answers the question “What would Castlevania be like if it had continued down the path laid out in Castlevania III instead of Symphony Of The Night?” Odallus borrows the stark visuals and stiff movement (and difficulty) of NES-era Castlevania. It iterates on the level structure of those games as well, with Haggis, its burly and unfortunately named hero, slicing and dicing through a bunch of discrete stages on his way to a creepy castle and a showdown with the dark force that has kidnapped his son and ravaged his homeland.

Like Shovel Knight before it, what makes Odallus stand out isn’t the accuracy of its NES tribute act; it’s how the designers at JoyMasher have played with and updated that old-school thinking. Simple as they are, the levels feel huge, open, and full of secrets. Many also have hidden exits that’ll lead you to new stages off the primary path. JoyMasher’s even repurposed the latter-day Castlevania trope of hiding new areas and power-ups behind obstacles that need to be revisited and ousted once you’ve discovered the appropriate magical abilities in a later level.

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Odallus is more of an overt throwback than Rocket League, but the latter has plenty of retro spirit as well. There’s a tightness to the feel of the driving and reckless automobile acrobatics that reminds me of late-’90s arcade racing games. It’s like that awesome stunt mode from Rush 2—except there’s upward of eight cars flying around and hurtling themselves into a giant soccer ball. Sounds pretty good to me.

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