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, we’re diving head first into some good old fashioned reviews, as our critics wade through the autumn’s tidal wave of games. Plus, Harold Goldberg sits down with one of the directors of The Last of Us Part II to talk about emotion, good level design, and something us New Yorkers will have to start worrying about soon enough: snow.
We’re in the thick of videogame season, folks, with the last few weeks bringing new hardware, new subscription services, and more new, notable releases than anyone could possibly find the time to play. So this week, it’s reviews (almost) all the way down, starting here with Joshua Rivera’s take on Borderlands 3. He compared Gearbox’s latest lootfest to greasy, delicious junk food—predictable, easy to love, hard to stop snacking on, and, ultimately, unmistakably unhealthy. “It’s not meant to take the place of a meal,” Joshua wrote, “but it still warrants criticism for being what it is, what it’s always been: a compulsively playable shooter with some good ideas and also some frustratingly retrograde attitudes.”
Christopher Byrd reviewed Sayonara Wild Hearts, the latest game from critical-darling iOS developer Simogo and one of the stars of the Apple Arcade launch lineup. (It’s also available on Switch and PlayStation 4.) He found himself entranced by the game’s colorful, minimalist visuals and shape-shifting level designs, calling this tight, glamorous musical adventure a “concentrated blast of audiovisual delight.”
On the hardware front, Patrick Lucas Austin ran down the highs and lows of Nintendo’s Switch Lite. On the portability side of things, the new model does exactly what it says on the tin, shrinking down the original Switch’s hefty rectangular design into a more compact form that retains so much of what’s made the Switch a runway success. But, Patrick writes, Nintendo still has a long way to go address modern conveniences—the Switch’s lack of Bluetooth headphone support is that much more glaring with a more handheld take—and to figure out how to accommodate owners of multiple consoles.
While it’s not exactly a review, at least not until the game is out of Steam Early Access, but Russ Frushtick gave us an extensive overview of Noita. This long-gestating collaboration from developers behind Crayon Physics Deluxe, The Swapper, and Baba is You is a fascinating dungeon crawler where each and every pixel of your environment is a physical entity, logically susceptible to fire and water and every element in between. It’s an impressive web of systems and in-game physics, but Russ has fallen in love with “the amount of control given to the player to shape their abilities, thereby discovering order within the chaos.”
And finally, we’re looking all the way ahead to February 2020 and the anticipated release of The Last of Us Part II. Harold Goldberg was in Los Angeles to get an early look at the sequel and recorded his conversation with co-director Kurt Margenau. The two spoke extensively about the process of developing such a huge prestige title—from the thrill of handing it off to the public for the first time to the importance of nuanced, subtly guiding level design—as well as the game’s mission to portray and elicit a much wider range of human emotions.
From Beyond The Circle
This week, GamesIndustry.Biz ran an inspiring interview with Mariel Cartwright, the director of Lab Zero Games’ upcoming RPG-meets-platformer Indivisible. The game, which Lab Zero has been developing for the last four years after the surprise success of its fighting game Skullgirls, is inspired by the culture, diversity, and mythology of Southeast Asia, an underrepresented region Cartwright says she and the team are proud to invoke. “I really appreciate when I see someone from Southeast Asian descent come to me and say ‘I’m so excited that you did this because we never see this,’” Cartwright told the site. Be sure to check out the full interview for more details on the game’s distinct cultural inspirations and what they mean to its “majority-Asian team,” as well as the pros and cons of its crowdfunding campaign.
At Monday’s United Nations Climate Action Summit, a few games industry heavyweights stepped up and pledged to further their sustainability efforts. Sony, Microsoft, Twitch, and Google were among the companies who announced their contributions to the “Playing for the Planet” initiative, which is aiming to promote greener gaming products and the spread of environmental awareness through games and gaming channels. Sony, for instance, noted that its next console will significantly reduce the power it draws while sleeping and suspending a game (a huge, hidden power-suck for any PlayStation 4 owner), while Microsoft is aiming to make its next system carbon neutral. The Associated Press has a lengthy report on the session, and you can find out more about Playing for the Planet as its official website.
And for some more good news, Rochester’s The Strong Museum of Play announced this week that it has received a $700,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Those funds will go toward a new exhibit that will depict the massive cultural impact electronic games have had on the world beyond the confines of their own medium, reshaping the way many people communicate, learn, and express themselves. This 24,000 square-foot exhibit, which the museum is tentatively calling Virtual Worlds, would be part of The Strong’s major expansion project and is slated to open to the public in 2022. You can read more about it, including some early details about its ambitious interactive elements, on The Strong’s website.
That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup. Thank you 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.