By Matt Gerardi
Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s weekly look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. This week, our critics explore the dying cosmos of Outer Wilds and the depths of Metal Gear Solid. Plus, a hearty hello to Super Mario Maker 2 and a mournful goodbye to the 3DS.
In the last days of May, Mobius Digital and Annapurna Interactive sneaked out a surprise critical darling: the beautiful, contemplative space game Outer Wilds. Austin Walker found himself obsessed with its fantastical planets and thoughtful mixture of exploration, archaeology, and ecology, calling it “an unforgettable, time-looping, planet-hopping exploration of the end of the world” in his review. Austin was especially taken with the game’s readable, flexible method for keeping track of your discoveries and clues—the clarity of which is a godsend in a huge game where you’re exploring dozens of planets.
Heather Alexandra’s in-depth critical retrospective of the Metal Gear series continued this week with her essay on the inimitable PlayStation classic Metal Gear Solid. She starts by breaking down the ways Solid delivered on the promises of the series’ unforgiving 8-bit beginnings and goes on to dissect the level design and themes of every last scene the game has to offer, touching on everything from the meaningful crescendo of memorable boss fights to the infamous torture moment that kicked off the series’ difficulty representing homosexuality. And of course, Heather leaves us with a tease for her eventual look at the gonzo, political thrill ride of Metal Gear Solid 2.
Nintendo’s big sequel to one of its greatest games of the last decade, Super Mario Maker, is right around the corner, but Felicia Miranda was lucky enough to get an early preview. Her report focuses on what’s new: improvements to the building mode, a story mode, and multiplayer. While Felicia wasn’t impressed by the game’s effort to weave together a single player adventure, she found the retooled stage construction was way easier to navigate and that multiplayer—in both creation and play—added a whole new dimension of fun.
Nintendo stuck with its little handheld that could for far longer than expected, but the 3DS’ end really is in sight now, and Anthony John Agnello took on the duty of eulogizing the system. It was a life that started out rough, with defects and a lack of games and a shocking price tag, but as Anthony argues, the system eventually found its footing and developed an excellent library. And, Anthony writes, with the Switch being Nintendo’s one and only future, there’s something else—something that has long-fueled the company’s handheld success—that will be lost along with the 3DS: “the inspirational confinement of the underpowered portable machine.”
Ronald Gordon, the Circle’s freshman intern, took No Code’s Observation for a spin, getting thrown into the life of a malfunctioning AI that’s supposed to be maintaining a lost spaceship. He loved the opportunity to see a game from a different perspective and control the ship from the inside. But what went wrong and what was really happening onboard? That “heart-throbbingly intriguing” mystery is the biggest reason Ronald suggests sci-fi fans check out this unique game.
Founder Harold Goldberg took a long look at The Elder Scrolls: Blades which is in early access. While he came away somewhat impressed at the breadth of this Bethesda mobile offering, there were a number of missteps on the part of the gamemakers. The writing and story aren’t stellar and loot mysterious disappeared when Goldberg tried to open chests. These and other things need to be fixed. Still, there’s a lot to like here, not the least of which is the artwork and graphics, “Rainbow halos around the never setting sun then blue butterflies lilting across that orange star, spider webs that look intricate and sticky, cottonwood puffs that seem alive, shadows that change as you move and sun-drenched dust and mist that would induce coughing if you were to inhale them on a hike.”
From Beyond The Circle
Missouri senator Josh Hawley’s anti-loot box legislation continues to make waves in the industry. The bill itself was filed with the Senate recently and its full text made available to the public. As many feared, and as US Gamer‘s Eric Van Allen wrote about, the language in the bill itself appears to be vague and problematic in some places, particularly in the way it defines regulated elements, such as “pay-to-win” systems, and how it determines whether a game is aimed at minors. Polygon’s Owen Good later speculated about how this legislation might affect sports games, some of which have relied on loot box- and microtransaction-heavy modes – to make up the price of their costly licenses. Should this bill pass as is, their future may be in jeopardy.
In some sad news, The Institute Of Play, the New York non-profit building and promoting game-based learning experiences for students, has announced it will be shutting down. “We are beginning the process of winding down the organization and expect the wind down to be complete by the end of summer,” the organization said in a blog post. No reason for the closure was given. The Institute will hand over the many materials and programs it developed over the last 11 years to UC Irvine’s Connected Learning Lab, where the archive will be made freely available.
And to end on a more positive note, Play NYC, the New York-centric gaming convention, announced the first wave of exhibitors that’ll be attending this year’s show when it takes over the Metropolitan Pavilion on August 10 and 11. Plenty more exhibitors are expected to be brought in—applications are still open—and announced in the run up to the show. If you’re interested in attending, you can get tickets here.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week!
Matt Gerardi is a writer from New York, the former games editor at The A.V. Club, and a member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.