We’re looking at three new ports, and one of them is a title that gamers everywhere have been patiently waiting for after its extremely successful debut last year. Here are our thoughts on Hades, I Am Dead and Rogue Explorer.
When it comes to eagerly anticipated ports in 2021, there’s really only one game out there. Well, maybe two, but that’s because we wonder if Cyberpunk 2077’s next gen version will actually deliver on its promise. With Hades it’s a different story, because everyone already knew that it was still going to be great when it launched on PlayStation and Xbox. Having won numerous “best of 2020” awards for its Switch and PC versions, Hades is finally out on other consoles as well – we played the PS5 version to see if “next gen” would also make a difference here.
Because of all the critical and player acclaim, most will already be familiar with Supergiant Games’ innovative roguelike and how it delivers a visually vibrant world in which a multi-layered narrative brings its excellent combat to life. On PS5 it’s the same game, just with a bit more polish applied to the adventures of Zagreus, our protagonist and son of Hades.
The tale revolves around Zagreus’ desire to leave the underworld, but having lived there all his life makes this is a daunting task. Both the narrative and the gameplay unfold over the course of your runs, as you reemerge from the river Styx with some of your progress from your last run still intact. Your persistence of course angers your father as well, and while many games on the (roguelike) genre focus on gameplay the writing here is brilliant, with twists, turns and well-developed characters that reveal more and more of themselves over time.
Having previously launched on the Nintendo Switch, it comes as no surprise that the gameplay in Hades runs as smooth as butter on a more powerful console. A few DualSense features have been added as well, but it’s far from the most impressive example in this regard. While there’s some feedback when you pet Cerberus, you won’t get much out of the controller besides from fairly standard vibrations and the occasional audio feedback.
Visually, Hades’ isometic visual style doesn’t lend itself to a huge upgrade in terms of its visual fidelity because it already looked great before, but if you’re on 4K then the game supports that with high resolution assets that make sure the game looks wonderful on even the biggest of screens. For console gamers, it’s the best version of the game released thus far.
Having said that, however, there’s not a whole lot of reason to buy the game again if you already own it on the Switch or a PC – especially if you don’t have a console and/or screen that supports 4K play. If you’re new to the game, however, then this is the most polished version of it released thus far – benefitting from the excellent gameplay that won the game all of its awards, all of the Early Access and post-release improvements and (albeit basic) support of next gen controllers. This is a must-play game, and now you no longer have to invest in a Switch to do so.
I Am Dead
When Hohokum launched on PlayStation platforms, it was universally lauded for its audiovisual style but divisive when it came to its relaxing gameplay. Now, some of the creators behind that game are back with I Am Dead, which is a bit more mainstream while retaining that unique creative touch that Hohokum had. It launched last year on PCs and the Nintendo Switch, and even though Hohokum was a PlayStation exclusive we didn’t get I Am Dead on PS4 or PS5 until just now.
The game is a narrative-driven puzzle adventure where you are Morris Lupton, our protagonist who recently passed away after spending his life taking care of museum on the island of Shelmerston. Despite the seemingly macabre setup, I Am Dead features the same brand of colorful visuals and cheerful art that Hohokum had, even though it has an audiovisual identity of its own. It makes dealing with the afterlife not nearly as dreadful as you might expect, with a touching narrative delivered through quality writing.
As you traverse Shelmerston, time is ticking against you. Or rather, against the town, which will be hit with a vulcanic eruption soon. Your quest is to find five ghosts in order to replace the island’s custodian Aggi, but once you start diving into the past lives of these ghosts you’ll find that the story is much more grounded than it initially seems, with heartfelt stories about people’s lives and the impact they had on those around them. Much of this is done by finding objects associated with them and diving into the memories they’ve left behind – sometimes literally by ‘diving’ into objects and seeing what’s inside.
The story is delivered through some excellent voice acting, which elevates the otherwise simple gameplay to something meaningful. The music backs this up by delivering the right aural tone to the various story beats as well. Finding objects is one thing, but getting an underlying message across of fondly remembering those who are gone is something else.
Technically this is a puzzle game, and hints are provided when you get stuck and can’t find what you’re looking for. There is a great emphasis on exploration though – both in the gameplay sense and in how you uncover the history of Shelmerston and the people who live(d) there. There are also collectibles to find in the shape of little critters called Grenkins, extending the game’s lasting appeal a bit. I Am Dead’s storytelling is what really sold us on the game though – it’s as charming as the game’s visuals and should appeal to a wider audience than Hohokum did.
Eastasiasoft is continuing their run of bringing hand-picked indie titles to consoles after an initial PC release with Rogue Explorer. Developed by Zoo Corporation, it was originally launched on Steam in May and is now available for consoles as well.
A roguelike dungeon crawler with pixel art graphics, Rogue Explorer is fairly formulaic in its approach to the genre – especially compared to the likes of Hades. This is very true when it comes to story, as gameplay is front and center here, and a familiar loop quickly presents itself. With plenty of challenge and some of your progression carrying over between runs, this is a roguelike alright.
New equipment that you find and tougher enemies that you run into keep the game mechanics evolving at a steady pace, and randomly generated dungeons keep things from getting stale too quickly. In a nice twist to this formula, “daily dungeons” stick around for a day, so if you desperately want another stab at a particular dungeon you can jump right back in, even if you die.
As you progress and earn XP, you’ll gain access to both temporary abilities and boosts and permanent ones – the latter ones of course being crucial if you’re to pass through the game’s ten dungeons, which are all guarded by challenging bosses. A lot of the gameplay here is hack and slash, though weapon upgrades can give you some interesting and powerful ranged options as well – and since they magically float around you can look like quite the fantasy war machine.
The controls, especially the platforming ones, could have been tighter, but at the end of the day this is a budget release where it’s easy to forgive a bit of missing polish. Those looking for a few trophies to quickly add to their list need to look no further though, as despite a challenging campaign you’ll pick up all of the trophies for Rogue Explorer well within the first hour or play. Fans of roguelike indies will want to keep playing after that though, because the game has many of the fundamentals of the genre right and it’s easy to fill an evening or two tackling the entire game.