Port roundup: GRIME, The Outbound Ghost, Sable & NORCO

Just before Christmas, we’re looking at four quality games that were recently ported over to PlayStation. Here’s a look at GRIME, The Outbound Ghost, Sable and NORCO.

GRIME review (PS5)

Akupara’s GRIME, which was developed by Clover Bite, launched over a year ago on Steam, so it’s been a bit of a long wait for it to appear on the PlayStation 5. Mostly because we really liked what we had seen of the game, which at its core is a 2D Soulslike that will appeal to fans of the genre for multiple reasons – though some elements might put people off as well.

For us, the biggest initial draw was GRIME’s gorgeous art style, which is as unique as it’s surreal and as haunting and it’s beautiful. Soulslikes are a dime a dozen these days, especially of the 2D variety, so the visuals on display here – which are backed by some good atmosphere-rich music – certainly give it an edge over other games in the genre.

Looking past its exterior and towards the gameplay, GRIME ticks a lot of familiar boxes. Challenging combat that relies on your ability to dodge/block/parry, the need to grow and develop in order to stand a chance against stronger enemies, it’s all here. Cool boss fights? Not so subtle nods to Dark Souls? Check and check. What’s an original twist, however, is that you use your swirling vortex head (yes, it’s a thing) to absorb enemy health and life force, which is your way of also developing special abilities that are based on that enemy (type).

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It’s a great mechanic in a world that visually looks and feels organic, but we found it very challenging to pull off, timing-wise. Masters of the genre will have an easier time, but others will find a serious mountain to climb here. It’s ultimately rewarding, but this being one of the core elements of the gameplay doesn’t help in making GRIME accessible.

In a way, you could say the same about the narrative, which is – as per the norm in the genre – rather vague and hard to get into. We’ve always considered that to be an opportunity for improvement in the genre, yet everyone seems to follow the Dark Souls template here, instead of crafting an engaging story-driven campaign. That feels like nitpicking though, because clearly the typical Soulslike fan won’t mind. They’ll just see a 2D take on the genre that succeeds with good gameplay mechanics that involve an original twist in how you develop yourself, set against a gorgeous visual aesthetic. Worth the wait.

The Outbound Ghost review (PS4)

Another game that stood out to us because of its visual style is The Outbound Ghost from developer Conradical Games, which launched on Steam back in September. Publisher Digerati didn’t make us wait as long for this one though, as we just completed the PlayStation version, which is out now.

And while not wholly original, the visual style in The Outbound Ghost will fill a lot of gamers with nostalgia – evoking memories of the first Paper Mario games that came out about twenty years ago. Mario and Luigi might be nowhere in sight, but the charming paper aesthetic certainly seems to have inspired the development team here.

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The titular Outbound is a town in which all residents have turned into ghosts, and you’re playing the role of one of them – one with some unfinished business here in the mortal realm. You’re suffering from amnesia though, so things are a bit more complicated for you. And while this is an RPG with a slowly unfolding story, there is also turn-based combat, which is handled in an interesting way. Forming your party are ‘figments of self’, but rather than traditional classes these are based on emotions regret and solitude – you gradually unlock more and more of them and they’re fun to play around with. Experimenting is encouraged, as you can retry a lost battle and health is restored automatically at the end.

The Outbound Ghost is welcoming in that you can tweak the experience and difficulty to your liking, and you can further customize your style with crystals (called Aspects) to boost the abilities of your party members/figments. With a story that runs for about 16 hours, that makes a second playthrough where you try out different things a viable option. With a charming visual style and characters that help craft an engaging story (the figments are tied to stories from when they were living), this is a charming and surprisingly heartwarming RPG.

Sable review (PS5)

We thought Sable looked gorgeous when we first saw trailers and screenshots, but unfortunately the game was exclusive to Xbox and PC. Now, a year later, Raw Fury has lifted that exclusivity, and Shedworks’ exploration game with a ‘coming of age’ theme has landed on Sony’s console.

Sable is the game’s protagonist, and you’re about to undertake “The Gliding”, a rite of passage on the planet of Midden where you venture out on your own and complete quests. With your newly built hoverbike, you’re free to go and explore – a journey that will lead you past well written NPCs who grant you quests to complete. They aren’t all equally interesting as there’s a big range between simple fetch quests and actual investigations or daring missions you can undertake, but tied into your ability to traverse Sable’s gorgeous world with a lot of freedom makes sure it never feels like a drag.

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The game world in Sable is large, so you’ll spend quite a bit of time getting around on your hoverbike as it’s the best way to cover longer distances. And although we wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes it worth the one year wait, controlling the hoverbike with the DualSense controller is a lot of fun, revving it up and pushing up a hill as you feel the bike’s response on your triggers. You’ll want to get off every now and then to get your bearings though, as the world of Sable features a good amount of verticality and climbing up structures and surfaces helps in figuring out where you want to go – plus it’s a great way to enjoy the lovely visuals.

Sable is a great game to get lost inside, though the immersion get broken every now and then because of some technical issues. Even though they had a year for the PS5 port and this is Sony’s most powerful console yet, this seems to be a lingering issue carried over from the previous versions. They don’t ruin the experience, but it’s a shame nonetheless. Sable is stunning, but its performance issues hold it back.

NORCO review (PS4)

For a lot of console gamers, Raw Fury’s NORCO is a game that’s flown mostly under the radar, but its PC released garnered a ton of critical acclaim when it came out back in March of this year. Developer Geography of Robots has now brought it to consoles as well, and we can see it making it to some of those “best of 2022” lists.

Norco plays out like a traditional point and click adventure game from the genre’s heyday on PCs in the 90s, but stays away from the usual template of Lucasarts and Sierra adventures. In a refreshing change, it’s much more like games such as Rise of the Dragon, which although published by Sierra had a very different style when it came to visuals, narrative and controls.

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Norco takes place in a post-capitalist mining town by the name of Norco, where you (as Kay) are returning to find your missing brother Blake after the death of your mother. What follows is a somewhat traditional graphical adventure with a few puzzles, but it’s one that excels thanks to some stellar writing. From that perspective, NORCO feels like this year’s Disco Elysium, with impactful prose, well-developed characters and twists and turns that constantly keep you engaged.

The game’s dystopian setting is also brought to life through some gorgeous pixel art design work, which again feels different from the usual pixel art retro adventure games by, for example, Wadjet Eye. It makes for a standout audiovisual experience, further enhanced by a great musical score that always appears to shift with the tone of the story. Really the only thing missing here are convenience mouse (or touch screen) controls, because (as with most games of this type) the control experience isn’t perfect on a gamepad. A minor issue though, as this is one of the must-play games of 2022.

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