This week we’re going to look at a few recent family-friendly first-person games, plus talk a bit about the recent Minecraft update.
The two titles we’ve been playing a lot of are similar in that they’re both first-person, they’re both really beautiful, and they’re both kind of mysterious and anxiety-inducing. The main difference is that one is a cute economic game about slimes and one is a story driven mystery. Let’s start with the cuteness.
This is an absurd game that is so cute and odd that it’s impossible not to like. You play the part of a, you guessed it, Slime Rancher. Equipped with a Dyson-looking vac system you go around sucking up little slime creatures from the desert-like landscape. You then build a pen and hit the reverse button on your equipment and pop the the creatures into the pens with translucent force fields to keep them in.
Slime Rancher is the tale of Beatrix LeBeau, a plucky, young rancher who sets out for a life a thousand light years away from Earth on the ‘Far, Far Range’ where she tries her hand at making a living wrangling slimes. With a can-do attitude, plenty of grit, and her trusty vacpack, Beatrix attempts to stake a claim, amass a fortune, and avoid the continual peril that looms from the rolling, jiggling avalanche of slimes around every corner.
It all seems simple enough. Gather slimes. Except you need to feed them. And they keep trying to escape when they get too big. But it doesn’t matter, it’s all about the plorts. When a slime is fed and happy they drop a little plort. They’re like gems or jewels but really they’re just poo. It’s all in how you want to view it.
You take these plorts and head over to a vending machine attached to the plort-market that takes your plorts and gives you credits. The credits you get are used to build and upgrade stuff.
It’s bright, it’s bubbly, it’s completely bonkers. And it’s totally addictive. The only thing that initially derailed our Slime Rancher playing was the Minecraft update, which we’ll get to later.
At first you think how long can this cuteness amuse me? But then you become completely obsessed with gathering certain slime types, certain food types, getting all those plorts! As the game unfolds new regions open up and you get to explore the candy-coloured wastelands around you.
After you master ranching a few slimes you take up agriculture. What better way to ranch than to farm foods for your slimes.
As a whole the game is an economic one. It’s all about the plorts. More plorts, better plorts, not flooding the plort market. You use these credits you earn to make better pens, bigger pens, buy upgrades like a jetpack, and ultimately open up more regions of the game.
The only bad part of this game is that my whole family is addicted to it. Although my wife noted that after a few hours she felt exhausted from the stress of constantly worrying about feeding her slimes. There’s this interesting combination of exploring and building your economic engine that keeps you constantly busy. I never find myself bored. The minute you’re not sure what to do a bunch of zombie slimes will attack the free range slimes or your tabby slimes will start getting annoyed because they need to eat chickens.
At the moment it’s PC/Mac/Linux only. Apparently there’s an update coming very soon and the developer, Monomi Park, is busy hiring and looking for a “real” office. As of Mar 18 Slime Rancher had sold over 200,000 copies so they are doing well with it so far. It’s an early access game, which means they haven’t added everything they want yet. But it feels very polished. Plus they have a good wiki roadmap for players, outlining where they want to take the game. Sadly, there’s no plans to release it for console. As it stands now, though, I couldn’t recommend it more.
But it’s not all happy, shiny slime ranching around here. There’s also mystery. And Northern Canada in winter is an unsettling game setting.
Listener JP Sirois tipped us off to this early access game being developed in Québec.
Here’s how the developer, Parabole, describes the game:
Northern Canada, 1970. A strange blizzard ravages Atamipek Lake. Step into the shoes of a detective to explore the eerie village, investigate surreal events, and battle the elements to survive. The first installment in a series of four games, Kona is a chilly interactive tale you won’t soon forget.
We are suckers for bleak games in this house. We love The Long Dark, and this game easily wiggles up next to that title.
One of the immediate differences is the narrative and the plot. While The Long Dark has a sense of mystery that is only magnified by its lack of narrative, Kona bursts out of the gates with the narrative built in. The Long Dark makes you build some kind of imaginary narrative from the absence of people and the collapse of everything. Kona opens with story, continues with story at every point, yet the mystery and anxiety is no less present.
Now this game currently only represents the first of four parts. They estimate each part is about 2 – 5 hours of gameplay. We haven’t quite finished part one yet, but I am already pretty invested into the story. These types of games are so compelling. Beautiful, eerie, story driven. They’re not the kind of narrative you might expect from something like Minecraft Story Mode or Tim Schafer games. Kona is more brooding, the environment itself is a character. It’s less about entertaining you and more about exploring unsettling scenarios and engaging thematically mature narrative.
The game opens at a rest stop just before the main area. You explore around a bit and very quickly hop in your truck and drive to the next location. The driving in this game is lovely. It really nails the anxiety of traveling on a snow-covered road in near white-out conditions. That opening really sets the tone for the rest of the way and it was a brilliant way to introduce you to all of the main components of the game as well as immediately immerse you in the tone of the game.
From the first moments you get busy solving little problems, like getting electricity to work at the general store so you can get the gas pump to work, gathering resources, and then moving on to various other locations that you’ll drive to. Throughout you can take Polaroids of some of the peculiarities you encounter.
The narrator helps you gain a sense of the locations, like explaining the people that used to live there as you look at photos, and this information begins to both build the sense of mystery but also help you feel like you just might solve this thing. At first it’s hard to know what might be important or how the narrative fits together. I’m still not sure how much I need to pay attention to certain details, or how my photographing of events and my investigations will come together to help me solve this thing.
One of the really intriguing parts is a kind of dream-like state, a ghost world, that the player gets sucked into sometimes. What’s interesting about it is that it’s not a passive patch of narrative that you sit there and watch play out, but a part of the game where you follow the dream/ghost character to learn more. It integrates really naturally into gameplay.
Areas of the game that are currently off bounds are demarcated by this translucent hazard wall that appears as you get close to it. It throws you off a bit, but it’s probably the best solution to this problem for a game in development. The one good thing about it is that it tantalizes you with the promise that you’ll eventually be able to head to these areas to further explore the mystery.
I contacted the developer to confirm how kid friendly it is before we played, and they quickly confirmed it’s totally family friendly. Due to the uneasy feeling of the game – and I should add it’s never scary – my family sat around and made me play it. My son saw those wolves and had flashbacks from The Long Dark. But they really enjoyed it. The music, the graphics, the story, it’s all there. I think they were as sucked into Kona as I was. The game immediately identifies its overall tone to you and manages to be consistently compelling. We are really excited to see this game succeed.
Minecraft 1.9 Combat Update
Just when we thought we were out, they pull us back in. While we’d gotten back into Minecraft a while ago after a little household hiatus, we put on our armour and picked up our enchanted diamond pickaxe just in time. Minecraft hit us with update 1.9 at the end of February and it’s terrific.
Update 1.9 is known as the Combat Update, and they certainly did an overhaul on it. If you’re not a Minecraft obsessive it might not be a big deal, but here’s some the things they changed:
* Added shields
* Attacking now has a “cool-down” delay, making it more important to time your attacks
* You can now hold items in both hands (default quick key to swap items is ‘F’)
* Swords have a special sweep attack
* Axes have a special crushing blow attack
* Expanded The End
* Added the elytra (an item that allows the player to glide)
* New mob: Shulker (found in End Cities)
* Added Chorus plants
* New Purpur blocks
* New End Rod block
* Added dragon head block
* Ender Dragon can be resummoned
* Added beetroot and beetroot soup (from MC:PE)
* Added grass path block
* Added igloos
* Armor protection values have been lowered
* Added tipped arrows (14 different types, using potions, effects are 1/8th of regular potion)
* Added spectral arrows (they glow and light up the block for a bit)
* Added Frost Walker enchantment (boots turn water to ice) and frosted ice block
* Added a whole bunch of new sound effects
* Added sound effect subtitles
* Brewing Stand now requires Blaze Powder to activate
* Added skeleton riders (involves lightning and horses I believe)
A lot of players worried about how Minecraft would change in the hands of Microsoft. So far, so good. They’ve done a lot to improve the Pocket Edition of the game as well, bringing it closer in line with the original version.
So how do these 1.9 updates change the game?
Combat, which was always a part of the game, is more sophisticated. I think if you played Hunger Games or any PvP games this will be pretty huge. But if you’re vanilla players like us it’s still a big deal. The game feels difficult again, which was something it needed.
Your approach to gameplay changes with the combat changes. Maybe you get a bit more prepared before caving. Maybe you think twice before wandering around in the dark. The addition of shields and the two handed approach to combat changes how you deal with skeletons. The game has both offensive and defensive gears now.
We’ve really liked the changes in this house, and it came at just the right time as my son started to do a Let’s Play series on it after a decent break from the game. I can’t help but think that at some point the game will fade a bit, but then siblings and younger kids start getting into it in a big way after watching years of the older kids hog the controller. With these changes now everyone in my house is once again dreaming of mining precious ores.
If you have any comments about this episode be sure to visit the show page or you can find me on twitter @epicgumdrop.