A screenshot from Pokemon Sword featuring several normal-sized Trainers facing an enormous Pidove.

This Week, I Have Been Mostly Playing: Superliminal and Pokemon Sword

Here are some games I’ve been playing a lot of this week.

Superliminal

I put Superliminal on my definite-buy-on-release calendar after seeing the trailer a few months back, in which the protagonist picked up a small, close object, moved it around a little, and then dropped it, revealing that through a trick of perspective, it was suddenly a massive object, quite far away. At that point I stopped watching the trailer, to save the rest of the surprises for an actual playthrough. The full game didn’t disappoint.

Superliminal is a first-person puzzler that descends most clearly from games like Portal and Antichamber in its physics-bending puzzle design, and The Stanley Parable in its serene surreality. Presenting itself as taking place in a dream world, the game asks you to readjust your sense of physical reality and use perspective tricks and camera manipulation to change the sizes, shapes and layouts of objects in the world to progress.

The game is structured across eight or so discrete levels, each of which introduces a new physical mechanic or puzzle element to deal with. Some of these work really well and others are less effective. Changing the sizes of objects to reach unreachable doorways or clear too-high hurdles is your bread-and-butter move, but it’s not always particularly intuitive, and adjusting things to the right size can be tricky when by the nature of the shifting-perspective system you don’t really have a good way to judge actual volume. This never becomes a significant problem, but it’s always there looming in the background (or maybe it’s just a small problem in the foreground). In later levels, some of the puzzles became a little too abstract for me – I had to look up a solution to one, and another I didn’t solve at all, stumbling eventually across the exit with no understanding of how I’d gotten there. Your mileage may vary, but I’m not inexperienced with this kind of game and there were parts where I felt that puzzle solutions were slightly beyond what a player might reasonably be expected to deduce.

Superliminal is at its best when it’s messing with your sense of reality. It’s packed with optical illusions, clever tricks and visual gags, some direct and some more subtle. Throughout the game I was constantly encountering moments in which I suddenly realised that I was looking at something completely different than what my brain had been telling me it was, and sometimes these Necker-cube switches happened so suddenly and powerfully that I could almost physically feel my brain twitch. The narration and audiologs too are cleverly implemented, and play on similar metaphysical concepts, inviting the player to consider the borders of reality not only between dreams and the waking world, but between the world presented in the game and the world of the player experiencing it.

So, despite some issues with the puzzles, I loved Superliminal. It’s fun, funny, unpredictable, and thought-provoking. Come for the unique mechanics, stay for the metaphysics.

Pokémon Sword & Shield

A picture of an extremely cool Pokemon trainer in sunglasses.
Some Trainers are just born extremely cool. (Click for animated.)

Every time. Every time a new Pokémon generation comes out I tell myself I’m done with the series, and that I won’t buy this one. I don’t even think I’ve properly finished a Pokémon game since Black and White. I only got half-way through Alpha Sapphire and barely a quarter of the way through Moon. So I’m done. No more wasting time on a series I’ve tried to abandon, like, four times now. And then someone starts talking about the new one at work and I’m immediately on my phone to see if I can get it delivered same-day so it’s there when I get home. (I could, and did.)

I seem to be persisting with this one, at least. Four gyms in.

The Internet Conversation around Sword and Shield has been less than serene. Various groups in the Pokémon fandom have gotten various levels of angry over a perceived lack of performance and graphical polish, and about the fact that for the first time in the franchise, not all previous Pokémon are available or transferable to the new main-series games.

(I don’t really care about that first issue. The games look and play absolutely fine. One doesn’t need a steady 60FPS to play a turn-based RPG, and Pokémon has never been a franchise celebrated for its incredible graphics, having appeared until this generation only on handheld consoles of relatively limited graphical ability.)

A screenshot from Pokemon Sword featuring several normal-sized Trainers facing an enormous Pidove.
The new Dynamax system, an engine designed to consistently produce the funniest images I have ever seen.

What I was interested in was the reduction of available Pokémon and the removal of the National Dex. I can understand why this change disappointed a lot of fans, but for me it was actually a benefit. I think part of the reason I’ve bounced off the recent Pokémon generations is that in games like this I can be a bit of a completionist. I haven’t actually Caught ‘Em All in a Pokémon game since the original Red and Blue, but that’s always my ultimate (albeit unlikely) target, and it’s hard to press on when the number of Pokémon to catch is rapidly approaching 1,000. Reducing the number of available monsters to 400 feels much more achievable. Maybe I’ll actually manage it this time! I won’t, but maybe I will!

In fact, 400 is still too many, if you ask me. 300 would have been fine. Or 200. Or 151. The original 151, perhaps. The best 151. 

Maybe I just want them to remake Red and Blue. Again. Yeah, that’s probably it. When’s that happening?

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