A Lack of Focus: Unravel Review, Super Mario Run, and PS4 Pro

a-lack-of-focus

My intention was to make this post entirely about my thoughts on the game Unravel, but I’ve had difficulty in creating a substantial review. So, somewhat in desperation, I’ve turned to other topics that I considered writing about, but wasn’t sure if I had enough to say: the recent Apple and PlayStation press conferences.

Toss them together and you have something a little better than alone.


unravel

Sometimes we play a game that’s good, but fails to make a meaningful impact. It does nothing wrong, yet we walk away without strong feelings.

That’s Unravel for me.

Unravel is a physics-based puzzle/platformer by Coldwood Interactive and Electronic Arts that centers on Yarny, a sentient and anthropomorphic bundle of red yarn. Standing only a few inches tall, Yarny can’t, for instance, reach the top of a table and thus requires that he climb the yarn that makes up his body to get around. Furthermore, he’s always leaving a trail of yarn behind him, so he gradually loses himself by simply walking through levels, making it possible to spread himself too thin (pun intended?) and be unable to progress further.

Fortunately, levels contain numerous spindles that, in addition to being checkpoints, “recharge” Yarny to his maximum amount of yarn.

Using yarn to lasso, climb, and tie is a main mechanic, allowing Yarny to reach higher locations, create smooth paths to move objects, or simply hold onto something. Since Yarny is small, most obstacles are of a similar scale, providing unexpected dangers through normally harmless objects. One sequence sees our hero hiding behind shovels as small birds swoop down to snatch him up, while another has him crawl onto a panel inside a construction vehicle to manipulate levers as tall as he is.

The problem is that Unravel doesn’t make enough creative uses of the mechanics. There’s only so many times you can yarn onto a tree branch with yarn while mid-air or jump from trampolines of yarn before it becomes rote. It stayed fun through the credits, but felt familiar pretty quick.

Each level contains a handful of — for lack of a better word — scenes where Yarny will slow down as a fuzzy image inserts itself into the environment before fading away, apparently depicting moments in the life of someone (husband? Son?) close to an elderly woman seen in the introduction. I appreciate that they last only seconds and don’t interrupt the flow of the levels like a regular cutscene would, but they don’t build to anything.

They’re simply… there, leaving me with the impression that I’m supposed to feel a bit more about what I’m seeing.

Final Say: Unravel is a fun game with flashes of creativity. It only goes for $20, so platformer fans should get their money’s worth, but it’s also not likely to stick in your mind as long as, for instance, Inside. RECOMMENDED.


mario-run

My initial reaction to the news of Super Mario Run — the first mobile game to star Nintendo’s famous mascot — was confusion. Nintendo is a company the loves to crow on being original and not following the crowd (for better or worse), yet their first “real” (sorry, Miitomo) mobile game is a runner? Isn’t that, y’know, more than a little predictable? The App Store is filled with similar games, right? Is Shigeru Miyamoto ignorant that runners already exist and everyone at Nintendo was too gutless to inform him?

That being said, my attitude is fueled partially by ignorance. Although I know that runners exist, I haven’t played any. So if Mario Run differentiates itself in any meaningful way, I won’t know until told. (I’ve heard that the Rayman endless runners on iOS are good, so I’ll likely download them sometime soon.)

Then I watched footage of Apple’s conference, when Shigeru Miyamoto came on-stage and struggled to speak English. (I don’t know why, but I barely understood him. I can’t fault him, though. English is annoyingly difficult even for those raised to speak it.) This was also the first time that I saw Super Mario Run, er, running.

I came away with a single thought: this looks fun.

It’s easy to knock at Mario Run because it’s a mobile game capable of being played with a single finger, and I have little doubt that plenty of forums were filled with people slamming Nintendo, but it still looks fun. With thousands of people anonymously tearing down Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo for what they do — or didn’t — and because this game isn’t perfect or because that software doesn’t work 100% as intended, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re playing these games for fun.

I too get swept up in playing armchair developer or publisher quite often. It’s only when people get up in arms about something that I consider not worth caring about (the “controversy” over Fire Emblem Fates’ localization, for instance) that I step back and remind myself that I’m playing games for fun, not to argue with irrational idiots over the internet.

Super Mario Run looks fun. It won’t becomes a phenomenon like Pokemon GO has or replace Super Mario World as my favorite Mario game*, but it looks like it’ll make a fun $5 phone app that I’ll enjoy for a handful of hours and get my money’s worth.

 


ps4-pro

When it comes to technology, I’m typically behind the curve. I only recently purchased an iPhone with one of those fancy Touch ID sensors, my computer has never been (nor likely will be) top-of-the-line, and I still buy physical media regularly. That includes good ol’ CDs, even though I could spend less by streaming everything through Spotify.

So forget about buying new versions of existing gaming hardware. 4K? I can’t say if my television display 1080p. HDR? I recognize the term from my iPhone’s camera, but only recently discovered when it meant. Stream 4K content? Sometimes I can’t even stream above 720p. PlayStation Pro is meant for consumers wealthier than I, likely living someplace where Google Fiber isn’t a far-off future development. So forget watching a 4K movie on my PS4 Pro.

More than anything, this is a development that makes me uneasy. Although we’re almost three years from when PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hit the market, they still feel like hardware readying for the big time. I struggle to think of software that wasn’t possible on last-generation hardware, and the overall quantity of games is considerably less, thanks in no small part to mobile gaming and rising costs of development.

And now Sony and Microsoft want me to spend more money on somewhat improved hardware? The only reason I purchased a New 3DS XL was because my older 3DS had severe issues, including a busted shoulder button. Jumping to newer hardware was a nice improvement (I loved the increased screen size), but I’d have gladly stuck with my original 3DS hardware had it been okay. (It’s not as if Nintendo supported New 3DS with New 3DS-only content outside a port of Xenoblade Chronicles, which should’ve been an HD remaster on Wii U instead.)

Others argue that purchasing the PS4 Pro is planning for a future when 4K content is more common, but assuming that comes to pass (however unlikely, there’s always the possibility that 4K goes the way of 3D TVs), how is buying the hardware now better than waiting and purchasing the same hardware for a lower price? Buying hardware for an eventual future doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless you’re just buying it to support whatever new technology the hardware makers are saying will change the world. Waiting a couple of years comes with almost no downside to the consumer.

And not that it matters to Sony and Microsoft, but Nintendo’s NX is upcoming, even if everything about it is a haze. I’d sooner buy that new hardware instead of somewhat more powerful old hardware that supports a video resolution that my television doesn’t support and would happily trade for more games. Besides, I’m more likely to play my 3DS instead of PS4. Neither PlayStation nor Xbox has Picross, after all.

Bloody hell, this came out much angrier than I expected.


* Super Mario World > Super Mario Bros. 3. I’m more than a little biased since World was the first game I ever played, though.

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