3rd November, 2023
Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we’ve found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: The Simpsons, dressing up as a cleric, and city building.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We’ve Been Playing, here’s our archive.
Cities Skylines 2, PC
I didn’t play much of the original Cities Skylines, much to my regret, but I am a sucker for city-building games. To me, the idea of waking up at the weekend to lazily map out a new city – while still in my pyjamas and sipping coffee – is the stuff dreams are made of. So last weekend I did exactly that.
A few things struck me. The first was how convenient it is to have roads serve as the conduits for water, electricity and sewage in the game! I’m exclaiming because I’ve never seen this before and it’s so simple yet so helpful. It means if you connect a building to a road, you also connect it to delivery of those essential things. There’s no faffing around connecting pipes and wires every time you want to expand a neighbourhood.
This convenience also makes room for Cities Skylines to give you other details to think about. This is the other thing that struck me about the game. There are so many details; I don’t think I’ve played a city-building game as detailed before. I’m talking about detail on the level of placing individual bus shelters around the city, and bus lanes, and determining their routes. Or placing individual post boxes. I’ve never done anything like that before. And initially I found it daunting.
Except, it’s not daunting when you come to actually do it, and I think it’s here that Cities Skylines 2 really shines. There’s always a simplification for whatever you’re doing. If it’s bus stops, for example, then there’s a handy colour gauge for seeing at a glance which areas need them. So what seems like an incredibly fiddly task actually becomes a really simple one. And it’s in this way the game gives you lots of control but stops it overwhelming you. It’s clever.
I’m still not at the stage where I can build what I envisage in my head; as in, I’m still on my first build so the game is gradually unlocking complexity for me. I’m still frequently having a-ha moments as I work out how buildings are properly used. But I’m really enjoying it, and I think about it when I’m not playing. Eco utopia here I come!
The Simpsons: Road Rage, Game Boy Advance SP
Leaves are falling from the trees, a crisp chill is in the air, warm drinks and blankets are starting to appear and for me, that means one thing is ready to be taken out of the box – the Game Boy Advance SP. After getting this out, I felt the need to get annoyed, yet strangely competitive, with myself. That did give me a few options, but nothing was as rage inducing as aptly named The Simpsons: Road Rage.
True to its title, the Game Boy version of this game does indeed conjure the feelings of severe road rage as you speed through the courses and complete driving challenges as one of the beloved Simpsons cast. One level in particular always pushes my temper over the edge, yet it’s also great fun to try to get further and further each time you start it. The level I’m talking about is the one where you have to smash through mail boxes before the time runs out, which sounds simple enough but the controls available on the Game Boy makes it far from easy. Even 5 year old me would internally rage each time I crashed into the road barriers instead of the thing I was aiming at.
The stressful levels are precisely where this game gets its charm from. It’s unapologetically frustrating and it definitely knows it, which is why it works. I don’t know about you, but I find that games that are frustrating but pretend that they’re not are just not as enjoyable as the ones that know what they are, and the ones that play up the fact they’re made to annoy you.
Also, does anyone else remember the graphics for the Game Boy version? They’re definitely not much to cheer about but, again, the nostalgic element of having to navigate eye-wateringly blurry graphics to find your target adds to my love for the 2003 version, even if it hurts my eyes a bit now.
Delving into The Simpsons: Road Rage has opened up the older game wormhole that I will now be in for the rest of winter. So, what should I play next? Something less stressful I suppose…
There’s a slight technicality here in how it says “DnD” and not “D&D”, but we are still talking about Dungeons & Dragons and not, um, Do Not Disturb. It’s just that the group running it doesn’t have an official Wizards of the Coast partnership yet. But they’re working on it.
Otherwise, yes, it is what you think: life-sized Dungeons & Dragons. Imagine that you are one of the miniatures on a model D&D battlefield – it’s like that. There are a couple of large, tented areas that constitute the playing area, and in them is stage scenery like crumbling walls and tombs and altars. There’s tape on the ground marking it out into grids, and then you, the players, are given laminated character sheets and some items of costumes and off you go into a half-hour adventure. Oh, and there are gigantic, inflatable d20 dice to roll (and some roughly football-sized d6s).
It’s not quite a LARP because you’re still confined to moving and behaving as you would in the turn-based tabletop version of Dungeons & Dragons, albeit in a slightly modified-for-the-event way (the characters and abilities don’t 1:1 carry across). But it does take you a step closer into the make-believe world of D&D, and help you – help me – feel what it would be like to face some of the iconic enemies in the game. I always find it hard to imagine encounters in first-person for some reason – does anyone else? Maybe it’s something to do with the bulk of D&D games being third-person or isometric.
Anyway, while there are some home-made edges to it – enemies are large wooden cut-outs, for example – there’s also an endearing charm that comes from that, and from the group running it, whose passion and energy is trying to propel this idea to bigger things. I really enjoyed myself. All I ask is that next time the campaign is much longer and occupies a much larger space. I could play this for hours. I don’t ask for much, do I?
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