We’re back! We’ve taken something of a summer hiatus over the last few weeks due to a slowdown in game releases and some major life events. But now we’re firing up our consoles and getting ready to turn the content faucet back on. Here’s what we’ve been playing lately.
Joe – Editor & Lead Writer
Various Apple Arcade games
Playing on Apple Arcade via iPad
We’re back from our summer hiatus, with weddings and holidays galore. I’ve just returned from the wonderful Greek island of Crete, feeling very relaxed but itching to play some games again. As I mentioned back in March, I’m not the best flyer. Thankfully, I found a great distraction in a couple of fun little mobile games courtesy of an Apple Arcade trial. If you’re on the lookout for something to get you through your next flight or car journey, look no further. These guys definitely calmed me down (the Valium probably helped too):
Bloons TD 6
My first experience with Tower Defence games harks back to the custom TD maps on Warcraft 3 (yeah, I’m old). There seems to be a glut of these now on the respective app stores but on a recommendation from our very own Ollie, I thought I’d give it a shot. When the seat-belt sign turned on to signal turbulence, I’d usually be a nervous wreck, but instead, I was too busy upgrading my dart-throwing monkeys into giant catapult wielding bad boys that obliterated everything in their path.
The concept should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played a TD game; you purchase and place defensive weapons onto a map to destroy an oncoming onslaught of enemies. Only here, the weapons are military-trained monkeys and the enemies are balloons or, should I say, Bloons (because letters suck). The colourful animation, lively characters and addictive upgrade paths kept me reaching for just one more game. Screw you, turbulence.
Are you a fan of Candy Crush but feel like it needs a little more sword wielding and monster slaying? Then boy, have I got a game for you. Grindstone takes the classic symbol matching gameplay and turns it into a delightful adventure up a mysterious mountain.
As you slash your way through matching coloured monsters, you collect gems that allow you to change paths, upgrade your gear and craft new perks from the charming town Tavern. Don’t be fooled by the cutesy art style though; each level introduces a new peril in the form of creatures that fight back and giant monstrosities that require a chain of matches before you can defeat them. A gem of a game.
Tom – Lead Writer
Playing via Xbox Cloud Gaming
The trap you can fall into with subscription services like Xbox Game Pass is assuming that games will be available forever. I’ve had Boyfriend Dungeon installed for months but always passed it over, thinking ‘Ah, I’ll get to that later’. The gods saw fit to punish me for my hubris, and a week ago I got a phone notification informing me that Boyfriend Dungeon would be leaving Game Pass on 15 August. Oops!
Luckily, Boyfriend Dungeon was a pleasure to play, and I didn’t mind mainlining it at all. It’s a strange combination of a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler and a dating sim, with engaging characters and a tone of joyous positivity. Once you’ve levelled up a bit, the combat ceases to be truly challenging, but it’s still fun nonetheless.
The game sees you visiting your cousin Jesse for the summer in Verona Beach, a city populated by hunky guys, sexy ladies, and alluring non-binary people who can turn into weapons. It’s a somewhat bizarre premise that the game treats with an almost entirely straight face. You not only wield these people during dungeon battles, but you can also date them too. The characters are written with good humour and a lot of personality, and you might have a hard time deciding which one has truly won your heart.
It’s worth noting that the game is incredibly inclusive. Characters all along the spectrums of gender and sexuality are featured, and their identities are never treated with anything other than unquestioning acceptance. You can change the appearance and pronouns of your player character at any time; fluidity is the name of the game. I’d love to see more games take a leaf out of Boyfriend Dungeon‘s book. Even in a game like Cyberpunk 2077, which depicts a genderfluid future, your character’s pronouns are tied to whether you have a ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ voice, with no option to change your gender later.
I ended up playing Boyfriend Dungeon entirely via cloud streaming, both on my laptop and my phone. The streaming performed very well on my laptop, letting me fight through dungeons with barely any lag. While the game has touch controls on mobile, I found them a bit too cumbersome to use for combat, but I was able to complete the text-based date sections of the game without a hitch this way.
Boyfriend Dungeon can easily be beaten in six hours, but if you’re a huge love rat like me and try to reach the maximum romance level with every character, it’s more like a still-manageable ten hours.
Ollie – Social Media
Hot Wheels Unleashed
Playing on PlayStation 4 Pro
The new PS Plus tiers are here and for a matter of pence I could upgrade myself to Premium – so ‘why not?’ I thought. This brought with it two-hour game trials, the first one I tried was Hot Wheels Unleashed, and my word was I glad. I didn’t know what to expect, besides toy cars, but I was instantly locked in: you drive around a plastic Hot Wheels track in tiny toy cars in increasingly wacky settings like a pool hall, a boarding school, and a skyscraper.
The cars themselves look exactly how you might remember them; the driving is fun, whimsical, but feels tactile enough to satisfy racing fans; and there’s something about the frame rate, the visual quality, I don’t know what it is is, but it’s really, really fun to look at. When the full game came ons ale for £11, I grabbed it and didn’t look back.
Playing on PlayStation 4 Pro
The year is 2011. The setting: a student house, stale with smoke and lager fumes, floors littered with cans. The activity: Trials on Xbox 360. It was a physics based bike game, you ride your trials bike sideways on the screen, controlling the throttle, brake, and the rider’s body position only. The levels get weirder, harder, more infuriating the longer you play. This was a simpler time, a more enjoyable time, a time of youth and whimsy.
So when I see that Ubisoft and RedLynx have made an updated version, available on PlayStation called Trials Rising, I snaffled it up like a hungry, hungry pig. I’ve hammered it pretty hard recently, it’s exactly what I wanted – the same challenging, realistic physics, the same crazy, creative level design, the same addictive enjoyment. But with a 2019 edge. If you’ve ever played a Trials game, get this one. It’s ace.