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0°N 0°W Review — No Direction Home




Defining 0°N 0°W is a difficult task. The easy approach would be to label the title as a psychedelic walking simulator, but such simplicity negates what 0°N 0°W is trying to say as a video game. The phrase walking simulator, too, has become something of a loaded term in the video game canon. Critics of the descriptor typically fall into two schools of thought: those who attack the genre tag as an excuse to short-change the medium’s shift to narrative-focused video games and those who refuse to place walking simulators in the video game bracket at all. 0°N 0°W, the debut game from Colorfiction, manages to deconstruct the newly established tropes of the walking simulator genre by totally embedding itself in its maximalist art style. The project’s directionless design translates to a title that, ironically, defines itself through its refusal to be defined.

0°N0°W opens not as a video game, but as a film. The first two minutes of the title is a film, depicting a man as he drives through most of the United States in his car. The cinematic has a large focus on the U.S.’s cities, which is a theme carried on later by the game’s uncanny architectural landscapes. The cinematic then blends into gameplay, where the player walks into a neon-drenched theatre, alone, and steps through a door into the world of 0°N 0°W. After that, the game is procedurally generated, with no real goal in sight. The player is presented with a seemingly infinite number of doors, both literally and figuratively. After the player opens a door of their choice, they enter 0°N 0°W’s dimension-defying landscapes and wide-open possibilities.

The levels are polarising, varied, and downright schizophrenic in their designs. Visually, the game is stunning, yet its greatest achievement is that it looks completely original in an indie market flooded with homogenised art styles. Many of the worlds are a mimicry of western cities and architectures, acutely re-imagined and re-formed under a blanket of colour. Echoes of cities can be found in even the most volatile of 0N 0W’s worlds, and they appear as labyrinthine and organic as real cities. That each level is surprising, vibrant, and original certainly helps; the levels are great fun to explore on a basic, aesthetically engaging level.

The gameplay lacks purpose, but the art style does not. The foundation of 0°N 0°W’s art is a meditation on how players interpret space, design, and architecture within video games. The art does not just exist to delight, but to force players to think about how they interact with video games as a space. A deeper question is also present: on how players, as a market, engage with traditional video game goals and tropes. The goal, if one exists, is to navigate throughout the level until the player find a door, object, or the edge of the map which teleports players to another world. While some structure to how each level flows into each other is present, with certain levels having a similar artistic theme to others, for most of the game the player’s path is wholly tailored to their choices.

0°N 0°W

0°N 0°W is a total rejection of linear progression, opting for the opposite of what single-player games have been offering recently. The best part of 0°N 0°W is the game’s reconciliation of maximalist art with minimalist design choices.0°N 0°W’s carefree ignorance of the player’s expectations is as artistically mature as it is childlike, but this ignorance leads to moments where the game feels unfocused and tiring.

The closest comparison to 0°N 0°W is the cult classic LSD: Dream Emulator, a PlayStation title from 1998. 0°N 0°W’s gameplay and thematic concerns are remarkably similar to LSD, with each title acting as a response to contemporaries in their industry. What is most surprising about 0°N 0°W’s relation to LSD is the artistic similarities in their indefinable styles. However, 0°N 0°W lacks much of the charm that made LSD so great, which is symptomatic of the wider issue regarding repetition within the game. 0°N 0°W’s random and seemingly endless dimensions of worlds can become tiring as player choice and agency lacks motivation. LSD, for example, offset its lack of goals with creepiness and cult appeal, yet 0°N 0°W makes its art style too paramount at the expense of engagement. Lack of purpose eventually catches up to 0°N 0°W, which kills any sense of longevity the project may have.

Whilst most of the worlds are visually interesting, they feel empty and, at times, unfinished. The game’s hollow level design is made worse by the fact that certain levels seem to appear over and over, making the game feel a lot smaller in scope than it should. At the worst of times, 0°N 0°W feels like a glorified tech demo or art installation. The artistic depth of the game is not enough to make it a worthwhile interactive experience alone. The style ultimately makes 0°N 0°W special, but the project’s fragmented design choices can leave it feeling oddly anaemic.

A market for experiences like this one exists, though. Whilst this statement may feel like a cop out, 0°N 0°W is not for everyone, but it will appeal massively to a gamer who values non-traditional experiences. Positive aspects can be found in the project’s ambition, sound design, and overall cohesion, yet certain players may feel scuppered by the lack of purpose.

The fundamental question 0°N 0°W posits is ‘how much direction does one really need to enjoy a video game?’ The rainbowed reality of 0°N 0°W provides no answer, but the suggestion that the art form is being limited by its own definitions of what defines a game lingers.

OnlySP Review Score 3 CreditReviewed on PC.


Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review — A Symphony for the Fans



Bloodstained Ritual of the Night

For a long while, the industry had yet to see a return to a true-to-form Castlevania title, leading many fans to speculate if Konami had abandoned the formula all together. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is ArtPlay’s response to this absence, with the legendary Castlevania-veteran Koji Igarashi at its helm. Although Bloodstained may not have certainty that it will continue the legacy of Castlevania, the title delivers on its promise as a game for fans, by the fans, and exceeds most expectations. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a true Castlevania experience in every way except the title. 

In Ritual of the Night, players take control of a Sharbinder named Miriam, an individual who can harness the power of magical shards crystallized by the souls of the enemies she kills. As the core mechanic, the ability to absorb shards and utilize their new skills is required for player progression and success. The fact that Miriam is a Shardbinder further reinforces the narrative of Bloodstained, since their existence often lead to negative events. The story contained within Ritual of the Night is similar to most Castlevania titles, except this time, Dracula is replaced in favor of Gebel, a more skilled Sharbinder and Miriam’s old friend and mentor. 

Bloodstained Castle

Most of the game takes place inside a castle, but long-time Castlevania veterans will expect that the castle is only an external facade, with caverns and caves hiding beneath. Remaining true to its Metroidvania roots, Bloodstained contains a sprawling map full of hidden rooms and secrets. Exploration is encouraged by the ever-present possibility of better items and power-ups in the following rooms. Bloodstained finds a perfect difficulty balance by spacing out save rooms to encourage caution. Every time death was close, the curiosity of what could be behind the next door drove the desire for further exploration.

The map present in Bloodstained is truly expansive and worthy of a Metroidvania title. Each new area provides an extension onto the already dense castle setting, never requiring players to travel to a new location to progress. All additional areas remain connected to the central castle, providing an experience that is continuous and believable. Similarly to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, players can unlock an “Inverse” ability that will flip the playable map upside down and allow for new experiences in an already explored area. Just as he did with Symphony of the Night, Igarashi-san crafted a beautiful setting that retains its appeal even when explored upside down.  

The desire to progress deeper into the castle is fueled in part by the Shard system and the potential of discovering new ones along the way. In Bloodstained: RotN, enemies have the potential to drop shards that provide enhanced abilities and passive stats. Players can equip multiple shards at once, each enhancing different areas of play. For instance, one shard can provide Miriam with an ability drawn from the creature that dropped it, while another can summon a familiar to accompany Miriam throughout her journey. 

Bloodstained Shard

As the game progresses, players are required to backtrack and utilize newly gathered shards to enter areas that were not accessible early on. In this regard, the title maintains its genuine Metroidvania, or Igavania, genre as some fans are hailing it. Killing a random sea creature might net Miriam the ability to create a directional aquatic blast, but use that ability near deep waters and players might be surprised by what they can do. 

Since every enemy in Ritual of the Night is capable of rewarding Miriam with a shard ability, players will quickly find themselves host to multiple of the same kind. To counter this, players are encouraged to sell unwanted shards for coins at the local merchant, where they can also purchase crafting items. The crafting system allows players to utilize recipes found throughout their journey and create food that provides a temporary boost to Miriam’s stats. Additionally, players can use materials gathered to enhance the shards they have amassed to alter its capabilities and damage output. 

Although Bloodstained deserves to be showered with praise, the game is not immune to technical issues that can hinder the experience. During the preparation of this review, the game was subject to continuous frame issues, where too much action would result in stuttering. Additionally, optimization issues plague the console port, with registration lag featured every time Miriam would absorb a shard or with the occasional room entry. ArtPlay has responded to these issues ensuring fans that optimization is a high priority for the company, and it will be addressing these problems within the next few patches.  

Despite a few technical setbacks, Bloodstained is truly an experience for first-timers and longtime Castlevania fans alike. Igarashi-san and ArtPlay built this game out of their love for the genre and that is evident in every aspect of the game. The preservation of a traditional Castlevania game along with the advancements made towards propelling the genre further help Bloodstained stand out amongst other Metroidvania titles of recent years. Although an argument could be made that the title leans too much on its Symphony of the Night influences, Ritual of the Night succeeds in providing fans of the genre with an experience that has been absent for years. 

Given that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a crowdfunded game, the amount of love and attention evident in its production comes as no surprise. The level of quality that is present in this package is truly astounding, and the appreciation grows even more when considering the free content promised for the coming months. Perfection should not be expected from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. However, the result is exactly what was promised by the developers, and fans could not ask for more. Throughout its development, Igarashi-san provided continual assurance that he desired to make the game a product of its fans. By listening to criticism and acting on it, he fulfilled his promise with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Also available on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One.

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