Time for us to look into three brand new console ports of indie releases, with Hyperbrawl Tournament, Cloudpunk and Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey all appearing on consoles this week after earlier stints on PC and Apple Arcade.
I’ll readily admit that Hyperbrawl Tournament passed me by when it originally launched on Apple Arcade last year. There are a few titles on the platform that caught my eye early, and Beyond a Steel Sky is the most prominent one, but I didn’t notice Milky Tea Studios’ arena sports brawler until it was announced it was coming to consoles (and PCs).
It made a good first impression though, since the videos and screenshots reminded me of the classic Atari ST and Amiga classic Speedball II by the Bitmap Brothers. Hyperbrawl Tournament features a silly narrative that revolves around an ancient quest to find heroes that have to prove themselves in a future sports tournament first, but ultimately all of that just boils down to a reason to have 2 on 2 matches in small arenas with gameplay that somewhat resembles Speedball – a futuristic and violent version of handball.
You get to choose a potential hero from a dozen characters on the roster, and different combinations of players bring different strengths and weaknesses to the team you select. While some attributes are character-specific, the roster is roughly divided into three character classes – one emphasizing speed, another brute force, with a more well-rounded option as your third choice. Further customization can be achieved with your weapon selection, which determines which special ability you take into the upcoming match with you.
There’s a good selection to choose from, and a range of different arenas makes sure that the experience feels a little different each time you play. I say “a little”, because even though some arena’s obstacles that make it harder to throw a ball into the opposing goal or pass it to a teammate, the arenas are ultimately too small to offer much variety in terms of their shape and layout.
In-game, you can supercharge the action by activating “hypermode”, which essentially makes your player faster and stronger for a brief period of time. You also have access to “hypercurve”, which is the ability to curve throws around obstacles and opponents. This ability was frequently used in promotional videos for the game to the point where it seemed like it would be an unfair way to play by just spamming it, but they’re harder to pull off than you’d think so ultimately they’re satisfying when it works.
They can’t hide the fact that Hyperbrawl Tournament feels like something that could be the foundation for a larger, more varied game. The gameplay is fun, but matches start blending together too soon and I definitely wish we had some more variety in the arenas.
Having been released on PC earlier, Cloudpunk by Ion Lands arrives on consoles just before Cyberpunk 2077 is unleashed upon gamers next month. And while CD Projekt Red’s take on the genre is full of gritty and visceral action, Cloudpunk relies a lot more on mood and atmosphere.
We played the PS4 version of the game, and it was a good reminder that Blade Runner, the iconic benchmark for a lot of media that came after, wasn’t action-oriented either. It was about the atmosphere and culture of Neo Tokyo, and Cloudpunk takes a similar approach – though it exchanges Neo Tokyo for the city of Nivalis.
Gameplay centers around protagonist Rania, who works for a delivery company called Cloudpunk and pilots her hover-car around the city to perform jobs, no questions asked. You have your own reasons for taking on these clandestine jobs, mostly because you have debts to pay off, but it doesn’t take long before you get sucked into a larger narrative full of conspiracies and danger.
In addition, you also learn about various smaller stories through the clients you talk to, and in many cases your choices (or performance) can affect the narrative. You never really leave your vehicle (called a HOVA) for a longer period during all this, but there’s an almost zen-like quality to the ability to cruise through these futuristic streets or in between buildings while listing to electro-synth music and uncovering the narrative step by step.
It’s a bit surprising and a shame that Cloudpunk’s console version have a few issues to iron out though, as I assume some of them were already there in the PC version. These can include quests not correctly ending or the associated narrative looping, and I also noticed a bit of slowdown even though I’m playing on a PlayStation 4 pro. Perhaps the game was pushed out a little early to not conflict with Cyberpunk, but if the issues get ironed out I don’t see why both games can’t co-exist – I certainly enjoyed Cloudpunk well enough.
Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey
A brand new console port from Eastasiasoft, Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey was originally developed for PC by Proud Dinosaurs and is now available on PS4 and Xbox One – with a Switch version to follow. We played the PlayStation version of the game.
I hadn’t played it yet, but Macrotis stood out to me when it originally released because of its attractive visuals and interesting take on the puzzle platformer genre. As these things go you then forget about these games, but when the console port was announced I decided to jump on it right away.
In Macrotis, you play as a bilby – which is a cute little marsupial that lived in Australia. Whoever said videogames aren’t educational was clearly wrong. You’re a mother, but you’re been separated from your kids during a violent storm that also made the rivers overflow, causing you to be even further removed from them. It sounds like a setup for a heartwarming story of loss and the subsequent journey to reconnect, but the game quickly takes a more bizarre turn as wizards, magic and powerful crystals are introduced. Oh well, in a puzzle platformer I can forgive a weird plot pretty quickly as long as the gameplay is solid.
As you move forward through the game you’ll use basic puzzle platforming mechanics like the ability to jump, climb and push stuff around, but Macrotis never settles on a single puzzle mechanic to work with and expand on. I definitely enjoy when a good puzzle platformer gets creative with its challenges (Limbo is a wonderful example, as are the Trine games), but too often in Macrotis I had the sense that ideas could have been explored more, or in a more polished way.
As an example of the latter, sometimes you can’t perform certain actions but it’s unclear why, and at other times it takes too long to realize that you’ve reached a dead end in a puzzle. You can reset the puzzle, but the game doesn’t proactively let you know when a puzzle can no longer be solved – which can lead to frustration when you actually think you’re still on the right track. As with the narrative, the gameplay can be a bit “all over the place” at times.
Underneath all that, however, is an audiovisually charming game with a sweet narrative undertone – which made me keep playing until I reached the end of my six hour playthough. Glad this came to the PS4 and gave me a second chance to notice it.