Alright, let’s be honest: July wasn’t a great month. Hardly anything came out — worthwhile or not — and what did was largely remasters and remakes. Thankfully, however, five fantastic games did release and we’re not about to let the month slip away without honoring them. Whether it was the joys of piloting a badass elephant or trying to pronounce “Zenzizenzic,” July nevertheless had something for everybody.
Those yearning for something that harks back to the classic era of platformers with an innovative new critter as the protagonist should look no further than Tembo the Badass Elephant. Of course, Tembo is no small critter as he is an unstoppable commando elephant with the speed of Sonic and all the titanium strength to stampede through anything, leaving a trial of broken machines, buildings and foes behind. Fast paced hard hitting platforming action is what you can expect from Tembo the Badass Elephant, all situated within a soundly designed adventure that features some truly epic boss battles.
Twin-stick shooters are usually mechanically simple. Drive with one stick, shoot with the other, bomb on the trigger, and the complexity comes from the swarms of enemies packing every spare pixel on the screen with pyrotechnic death. Zenzizenzic isn’t having any of that, and instead assumes you can do more than a single thing at once by providing a relatively large number of weapons and abilities that combine in tactically interesting ways. The main game plays out in a series of five hand-crafted levels, each one a vertically-scrolling bullet-hell marathon with three difficulty levels to choose from, all carefully tuned to within an inch of their lives. Macro mode, on the other hand, is a procedurally-generated free roaming quest to take down the five enormous bosses waiting at the end of each timed level. Each mode tests the player in a different way, with precision maneuvering as important as good aim and the ability to switch tactics and skills on the fly. Zenzizenzic is a precision instrument of bullet-hell survival and destruction, with one of the deepest set of skills yet seen in an arcade twsin-stick shooter.
Spectra is a simple game. You’ve got a track, a ship, gold cube point pickups, some speed boosts, and a whole lot of walls to avoid. Race down the track while the chiptune soundtrack blasts its Gameboy beats, pick up the powerups, hit the boost panels for a bonus multiplier, and try to avoid bashing into a wall long enough to bank your point chain. Points don’t go to the final score instantly but rather have to sit there for a second, and each cube you pick up resets the clock. Combos are a lovely thing but there’s a risk to running one too long, because in a game where 9,000 points is a respectable score, losing a couple hundred points due to a momentary error in steering is cringe-inducingly painful. Slowing down to dodge carefully isn’t an option so instead you need to decide when to keep the chain alive and when to steer away, all while the auto-scrolling course accelerates into forever. Each track is one song length in duration, and while the ship is indestructible falling off is instant doom, so a three minute track becomes an endless string of high-pressure steering as the walls threaten to pinball you into oblivion. Spectra is a hell of a way to listen to an album, and an instant ticket to the zone when the course, soundtrack, and your skills come together right.
While some might scoff at the idea of N++ existing, simply stating that it’s only more N, this shouldn’t be thought of as a problem. N++ might be the most mechanically sound platformer of the year, as every momentum-based action feels tight, responsive and accurate. The countless levels that come with the stock title would make for an experience that would last platforming fans months, the fact that content is continuously being added via the creative N++ community make this the one non-Mario platformer that you’d be able to take to a desert island (with Internet, of course) . We’ve waited a really long time for N++, after all it’s had a page in the PlayStation 4 storefront since launch (something that we often forget about), but the wait was more than worth it. This is exactly how to deliver a focused, polished experience.
There is no greater feeling than pulling off the perfect play in Rocket League to score the winning goal in the final few seconds of a match. You wouldn’t expect so much finesse and precision out of a soccer game where you play as a rocket car instead of a person, but the controls are so tight and well-designed that your ability on the field is completely dependent on your own skill as a player. Rocket League might seem like a gimmick from the outside, but it’s an expertly crafted multiplayer game that’s tough to imagine the person who doesn’t get addicted to its bite-sized five-minute matches. Rocket League is a brilliant game and you should absolutely give it a shot.
As an added bonus, select staff named their personal favorites:
- Steve: Rocket League
- Beck: Rocket League
- Matt: Rocket League
- Thomas: Rocket League
- Dermot: Rocket League
- Adnan: Rocket League
- Jeremy: Rocket League
- Marcus: N++
- James: Zenzizenzic
- Jahanzeb: Tembo the Badass Elephant