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?
Jurassic World Revealed
Count me among the many who saw a video of Keegan-Michael Key playing Skyrim through voice commands on Alexa and thought, “Huh, that’s kind of a silly gag.” Then it turned out it wasn’t—and now, with the new game Jurassic World Revealed, Amazon is proving it’s actually serious about moving into voice-based gaming.
Your enjoyment of this game—whose narrative is directly tied to the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom—will proportionally correlate with your fondness for choose-your-own-adventure-style entertainment. Due to how Alexa currently works, this makes sense, as the machine isn’t really built for anything more than simple commands at this point, and it gets confused if you try and do anything more than repeat back one of the options offered to you over the course of the story. And the story really does lean into the movie. You’re Jesse, the co-producer of an investigative podcast who, along with the host, Janet, has traveled to the abandoned Isla Nublar to find out what’s really going on with the Dinosaur Protection Group and hopefully get the scoop of your lives. That just depends on whether your life will continue after coming into contact with the dinos.
The game actually lets you interact with Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing characters to a degree (though there are voice actors standing in for them here, unless my new Echo Dot was really messing up the sound), and as you make your way across the island, the events of the movie play out contemporaneously—albeit in abbreviated form, given that the six-chapter adventure takes roughly an hour to complete. Basic things I learned: Never run from dinosaurs when you can hide, private military types are still the worst people on Earth, and it’s rude to rifle through Chris Pratt’s pockets when he’s unconscious.
Mostly, I learned there’s a reason kids are the target demo for choose-your-own-adventure games. It’s impossible to ignore the simplicity of the game or the way it forces reductive and clumsy dialogue on you by necessity. (Your buddy Janet is constitutionally incapable of making a decision or not repeating everything, for obvious but still occasionally tiring reasons.) And yet I had a blast playing Jurassic World Revealed. Here’s my secret: I played it with my niece and nephew, just entering their teens and arguably the perfect age to play this. Watching their delight at being a part of the new film’s story was as much fun as the game itself, and as a result, this seems destined to become a recommendation in a future A.V. Club Field Guide To Parenting feature, an ideal way to have your (or your relatives’) young ones kill some time. [Alex McLevy]
Yoku’s Island Express
I’m always on the lookout for hot new Switch games, so I picked up Yoku’s Island Express a few weeks ago when it built tons of positive buzz. It’s the kind of odd experiment you could sum up in a single sentence: What if you took the exploration and ever-expanding environments of a Metroid-style game but made its world out of a bunch of interconnected pinball boards? It’s a clever idea, rendered with very charming 2D art and thoughtfully designed layouts, and it’s a perfect fit on the Switch.
I’m also not enjoying it as much as every other person I’ve seen talk about it, and I think I’ve finally figured out why. The traditional Metroidvania structure—explore a space, find a new ability that allows you to explore more space, repeat—is one of gaming’s most tried and true. At the core of all the ones I love, though, is an emphasis on making it fun to move through those spaces. Looking back to the titans of the subgenre (Super Metroid, Symphony Of The Night, even Ori And The Blind Forest), it’s telling that so many of the upgrades you find are about amplifying that movement: letting you run faster, jump higher, subvert gravity itself.
Considering that’s subconsciously what I want out of my Metroidvanias, the pinball half of Island Express poses some problems. It inherently muddles that joy and ease of movement, instead emphasizing the fiddly timing and frustrating repetition of pinball skill shots. Yes, I understand that’s entirely the point, but it’s hampered my enjoyment of the game way more than I would have ever predicted and kept me from really investing in it. Maybe I’m just not as into digital pinball as I thought. [Matt Gerardi]