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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Stardew Valley & Superhot.

Transcript Edit

Stardew Valley is a retro-style farming simulator recently released on Steam that's somewhat reminiscent of Harvest Moon. Oh sorry, I read that wrong. Stardew Valley is Harvest Moon. It murdered Harvest Moon, stole Harvest Moon's skin and befriended Harvest Moon's parents under the guise of consoling them in their hour of grief. Same visual style, same tile-based crop growing, same animal rearing, same day-night-four-season-three-year-cycle, same relationship mechanic where you seduce the local hotties by sprinting up and shoving berries in their face twice a week. It is one of the 16-bit Harvest Moon games, if it were quite a bit bigger in scope and had a crafting element. And you know what that means: time to smelt some fucking iron! If I gathered up all the iron I've ever smelted in crafting games, I could build a giant statue to the god of wasting my fucking time. 

Also, Harvest Moon never had pixel art that blended multiple sizes of pixel resolution, which never fails to look like a packet of fried bum holes. Maybe I'm a little bit bitter because I somehow clocked up 50 hours on this game in the course of one week, and I could have used some of this time to do chores or eat food. You see, Harvest Moon was always good at hitting my addiction receptors. It's probably something to do with following a daily routine in the service of gradually building up to bigger and better things. Or maybe it's the way little hearts appear above a cow's head as we stand behind it making very suspect gestures until white liquid squirts out. 

The scope of Stardew Valley is a bit intimidating. At first you're given a field full of weeds and sticks and told that your first job is to introduce yourself to all 28 residents of this maze-like town, who are all in different locations and constantly moving. But think of it as a game world that you grow into. Don't worry about making friends with all 28 of them straight away. For one thing, only ten of them are on your knobbing radar, calm thy trousers Don Juan. Just clear a little space and try to grow some parsnips and the next thing you know, fifty hours have passed and the missing persons bureau have written you off for dead.  

If you are a 100% completion nutter, then you're going to need a spreadsheet and a lobotomy. But I just took things as they came, did enough to make progress, and concentrated on seducing the one girl in the next field over who was happy with being given flowers I found in the dirt outside her house. Mind you, I was only doing it to tick marriage off the check list, there's not much that differentiates the town's eligible spunk receptacles besides hairdos and what two line dialogue they quote day after fucking day. Why do people only like us more if we give them material goods? What is this, village of the ultra-capitalists? Can't there be characters who grow to admire us from afar for our firm outdoorsman's physique and faint smell of cow plops? 

Stardew Valley got me temporarily hooked, but then, so did crystal meth, and I'm not entirely sure I'd recommend either. The gamepad support is for absolute shit. (In Stardew Valley I mean. Gamepad support for crystal meth was perfectly alright after the day 1 update) And the controls are overall kinda wonky. Keep something handy to bite down upon for the first time you accidentally plow a ten-day-old patch of eleven-day melons. It's frightening how a routine and the promise of eventual, almost certainly disappointing reward can condition one's mind. A duck feather probably doesn't sound like treasure, but when it's the only item I need to complete the special item collection and I've got a coop full of ducks staying stubbornly attached to their feathers for five fucking seasons, this is probably the environment in which duck religion starts. 

So let's move on to the diametric opposite of Harvdew Moonvalley: it's an entirely new gameplay concept, you murder instead of befriending everyone and it was finished after about two hours: SUPERHOT, a first-person arena-type shooter in which time only moves when you move, which is an immediately intriguing idea, isn't it? So it's a shame I have to start qualifying it now: time does move a little bit. So even standing still, you're in trouble if bullets are crawling towards you in their bullet wheelchairs. Still, you don't want the pace to drop completely I suppose. 

SUPERHOT reminds me of Hotline Miami, and Hotline Miami would have lost something if you'd been able to stop dead in the middle of a frenzied death battle to have a quick sandwich and a poo. Where Hotline Miami compensated for its massively unfair combat with the ability to die and respawn approximately four times per second, SUPERHOT's slow time thing allows for taking a thoughtful pseudo-turn-based approach. 

A touch I particularly like is at the end of each level you see a replay of how your performance looked in real time. Shame that they felt the need to cover the screen in garbage and mute the sound with a computer voice reading out the name of the game over and over again, like they programmed a robot with Paris Hilton's entire vocabulary. I wonder if the sheer spectacle of things is inherently lessened when, as with all first-person games, it feels like we're controlling a tall cardboard box balancing on a roomba. But on the whole, it's a neat gameplay concept, I wouldn't say the game as a whole does it justice. You exclusively fight uniform, untextured red manikins in white rooms, it's like being in an advert for a stain remover that specializes in menstrual fluid. And what passes for a story is over in under two hours. There are challenge modes after that, but I've established to my satisfaction what a dying red figurine looks like, thanks. 

The aesthetic deliberately goes for the retro computer look, so the menus are all in ASCII and there is added scan lines, bloom and curving at the edges to look like it's on a CRT monitor, a style that is just now veering over into being prevalent enough in indie games to start trying my patience. I didn't buy a flatscreen TV to be constantly reminded of the obsolete shit it's supposed to have replaced, indie gaming, that's what we elect new presidents for. The story is told partly through a fake instant messenger during which we are expected to pretend to type in order to make the protagonist's dialogue appear. There's something faintly pathetic about that. It's like the audience participation at the Christmas panto. We all know damn well the forthcoming events will not change whether we yell "he's behind you" or not! But you're going to hold everything up until we say it, aren't you, you fucking cross-dressing bitch? 

The plot is: we play a big nerd sitting in front of a computer playing games- Whoa, slow down, SUPERHOT, give me a chance to get into character!- who gets sent the hot new game by their online friend and the barriers between game and reality start to break down as a mysterious force within the game begins to mess with you in a rather weak sauce and desperate manner. "Hahaha, we're in control now, you cannot escape. Press ESC and see what happens." Could I just play the next combat mission please? "Hit ESC you prick!" Alright, fine. "Hahaha, it didn't work. As cat with mouse, I toy with thee. Now I'm going to make you quit the game and restart it again. What now, bitch?" I don't know, maybe I'll get some work done. "Wait, come back!" 

You're not as clever as you think you are, SUPERHOT! Undertale pulled off the quit-and-restart gag 'cause it had earned it. Without that, it's just annoying. Meta-narrative style fuck-abouts is like the back stroke: if you start doing it before we're immersed, you just look like a twat. 

Addenda Edit

  • Ee eye ee eye oh: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • And do those Christmas panto shysters really expect us to believe that two blokes under a rug can pass for a real horse
  • Hello ladies check out my big parsnip
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017

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