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Backward compatibility would make moving to the PS5 much easier

PlayStation wants to move its established community from PS4 to PS5 quickly. Here’s PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan, as quoted by gamesindustry.biz:

These are gamers who are networked and sticky and engaged and passionate about PlayStation to an extent that we’ve not seen in previous generations. As we move towards the next-generation in 2020, one of our tasks – probably our main task – is to take that community and transition it from PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5, and at a scale and pace that we’ve never delivered on before.

He goes on to talk about how impressive the PS5 is, and how easy it is to develop for, and how great its games will be, as well as how PlayStation itself is improving its internal organization. But I was really hoping he’d talk a bit about how the transition will be made appealing to the existing community. To me, the obvious thing is to make the PS5 not be a hard break from the existing PS4 ecosystem.

When the PS4 came out, I was very disappointed to learn it wouldn’t have any backward compatibility. I’m sure this saved money during development, and of course it meant that old games could be sold to us again as “classics” or via PlayStation Now or whatever, but it still seemed like a mistake. It meant that the PS4 wasn’t just an upgrade to the PS3, the way the PS3 had (originally) been to the PS2 and the way the PS2 had been to the PS1. For the first time, a new PlayStation console came with an entire separate ecosystem. Its value wasn’t enhanced by your existing investment in games and the community. It wouldn’t replace your existing console. It was more analogous to buying a Nintendo or Xbox console to supplement your existing console. And in that case, suddenly it’s a lot less obvious that you shouldn’t just buy one of those instead.

It was a while before I bought a PS4, and longer before I was confident I’d been correct to do so (and my PS3 is still hooked up next to it). If the PS5 wants me to be more confident that I should move over to it quickly, it should at least play every PS4 game, disc and download alike. Similar compatibility for games for older PlayStation consoles would be even better, and while I personally don’t do much online play, cross-play with gamers on at least PS4 seems like it would help too. There are rumors (supported by a patent) that the PS5 will in fact be backward-compatible (though perhaps not for the unusually-architected PS3) but it’s unclear yet whether this is true and whether it would mean we could reuse our old discs and downloads. Guess we’ll still just have to wait and see.

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Capsule Review: Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back

A collaboration between Bubsy franchise publisher Accolade and Giana Sisters developer Black Forest Games and the first Bubsy game in twenty-one years. As Bubsy, explore a series of 2D platforming levels while avoiding hazards, defeating enemies, and collecting yarn. Bubsy can run, jump, climb certain walls, double-jump into a glide, and “pounce.

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Bubsy: Twisted Dreams

Bubsy: Paws on Fire! was my first Bubsy game and I loved it and thought it set a new standard for rhythm platformers. After 100%ing it on Steam, I’m playing it again on Switch and it’s still great. And I guess Bubsy must have gotten into my head, because I decided I wanted MORE BUBSY and went ahead and tried the only other Bubsy game made more recently than the 1990s: Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back. And… it’s decent!

I wasn’t expecting to like it. The game was not well received and got a metascore in the mid-40s on both PS4 and PC. But honestly, I don’t think the game got a fair shot. It was the first Bubsy game in over two decades and even the announcement that the series was getting revived was met with hostility. With expectations like these, the game would have had to be fantastic to overcome reviewers’ predispositions to dislike it, and… it isn’t that. The core gameplay is solid and I enjoyed playing through the levels, but the menus and other connective tissue feel a bit unpolished (including bizarre omissions like not being able to see your current high score per level), the boss fights are tedious, and perhaps worst of all - the game is very short. I fully completed it in something like five hours (about one-third of the time it took me to do the same with Paws on Fire!).

To me, these flaws don’t destroy the game’s strengths and I think a fair rating would land in the “mixed” range rather than the “negative” one. But with the baggage carried by the Bubsy IP, this game was never going to get a “mixed” score. Either it would be good enough to smash preconceptions and rate “positive” or it wouldn’t and it’d be dismissed out of hand. A mediocre Bubsy game is not, in most people’s eyes, a sufficient reason to revive the franchise.

Or maybe I’m just biased because of how much I liked Paws on Fire!. Or both. Who knows.

Anyway, the people I feel sorry for are the long-time Bubsy fans who saw their beloved series was returning. They had to watch the internet mock the very idea of a new Bubsy game. Then when the resulting game was middling and quite short but had promise and could easily have had an excellent sequel, the fans had to watch the internet call it pure trash. Then when another Bubsy game followed, it turned out to be by a different developer in a different genre. The result might be a game that I love, but when I imagine one of my favorite dormant franchises getting this kind of treatment - oof.

So, I’m definitely keeping an eye on Bubsy. I’m quite interested to see what happens next here, and I really hope something does. And for the record, I would be excited to see a follow-up to Paws on Fire! but I would also be excited to see a follow-up to The Woolies Strike Back.

In the meantime - folks like me who enjoyed Woolies and aren’t sated after its short runtime are best advised to move on to its developer’s previous work: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. The gameplay is actually quite similar. That might also have been a knock against the reviews for Woolies (some felt it showed the game was a rushed cash-in that reused most of an existing game design) but it’s definitely a bonus if you’re looking for more Woolies-like game to play.

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Capsule Review: Celeste

A precision platformer with a pixel-art aesthetic and a story featuring themes of mental health and self-acceptance. Play as Madeline, a young woman attempting to reach the summit of Celeste Mountain to prove to herself that she can - and dealing with her inner demons along the way. The climb is accomplished via a series of platforming challenges.

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Assist Mode is great; I’d like a Forgive Mode too.

I applaud the intent behind Celeste’s Assist Mode that allows for tweaking aspects of the game and lets players of varying skill level and physical capability enjoy overcoming an appropriate challenge. And I hate to come across as complaining about it. But the fact is that Celeste is a game that I found very frustrating and I wasn’t able to fix that with Assist Mode - because Assist Mode doesn’t let you tune punishment.

Celeste is a precision platformer. You have a set of abilities: running, jumping, wall-jumping, wall-climbing, and an air dash. Some abilities are limited and get refreshed by standing on solid ground. You must use these tools to get through a series of platforming challenges in varied environments with their own varied mechanics, such as platforms that move when you air dash or midair gems that replenish your abilities without you needing to land.

Most challenges in Celeste really have two parts: the puzzle of figuring out how to use your limited abilities and the particular environment to navigate each obstacle course, and then actually executing your solution with precise timing and positioning. To use my own terminology, this is a tactical challenge (figuring out what to do) followed by an action challenge (doing it). They are difficult in different ways and can separately be interesting/dull or hard/easy to individual players.

This is risky, because it means a player has to enjoy and be sufficiently competent at both the tactical and the action challenges in order to enjoy and progress through the game. Someone who likes charting a path through each screen but then lacks the reflexes to actually follow that path is not going to have a good time.

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Climbing the Mountain Because It's... Wait, Where Is It Again?

For me, a lot of Celeste’s difficulty felt unintentional.

First, some background about me: I have a terrible sense of direction. It’s hard for me to build mental maps of areas and to visualize where locations and landmarks are in relation to each other - and thus to figure out how to get from one place to another.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, I was once asked for directions to a building that was literally next door to where we were standing. I pointed in the wrong direction. This is not an atypical example.

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Capsule Review: Untitled Goose Game

A stealth puzzle game in which you play as a goose and wreak mischievous havoc in a charming village. The gentle cel-shaded aesthetic with incredibly expressive animation loads both the goose and the townspeople with personality and attitude with no need for dialog, and the dynamic Debussy-inspired soundtrack perfectly accentuates your antics.

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Capsule Review: Everdark Tower

A short and approachable RPG designed to be completed in two to four hours. The story is kept short, the mechanics are kept simple, and guide features keep the player from getting lost. The result is an enjoyable bite-sized RPG experience, though there is still room for improved approachability. It’s very similar to Archlion Saga and much of the following review is the same, but the stories and world are not connected and the games can be played independently.

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