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‘Gato Roboto’ and ‘Dig Dog’ put pixelated pets to work in gleeful gaming homages – TechCrunch

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Drawing inspiration from games of yore but with dog and cat protagonists that signal light adventures rather than grim, dark ones, Gato Roboto and Dig Dog are easy to recommend to anyone looking to waste a couple hours this weekend. Not only that, but the latter was developed in a fascinating and inspiring way.

Both games share a 1-bit aesthetic that goes back many years but most recently was popularized by the inimitable Downwell and recently used to wonderful effect in both Return of the Obra Dinn and Minit. This is a limitation that frees the developer from certain concerns while also challenging them to present the player with all the information they need with only two colors, or in Dig Dog’s case a couple more (but not a lot).

In the latter game, you play as a dog, digging for bones among a series of procedurally generated landscapes populated by enemies and hazards. Dig Dug is the obvious callback in the name, but gameplay is more bouncy and spontaneous rather than the slower, strategic digging of the arcade classic.

On every stage you’re tasked with collecting a bone that’s somewhere near the bottom, while avoiding various types of enemies and traps or, if you so choose, destroying them and occasionally yielding coins. These coins can be traded with a merchant who appears on some stages, offering various gameplay perks like a longer dash or higher jump.

Get it! Get the bone!

The simple controls let you jump, dig, and do a midair dash that kills enemies — that’s pretty much it. The rest is down to moment-to-moment choices: dig around that enemy or go through them? If I go this way will I trap myself in this hole? Is it worth attacking that bat nest for a coin or will it be too hard to get out alive?

Collected bones contribute towards unlocking new stages with different, more dangerous enemies and devious traps. It gives a sense of progression even when you only get a bone or two, as does your dog rocketing back upwards in a brief but satisfying zoomies celebration every time. So even when you die, and you will die a lot, you feel like you’re working towards something.

It’s a great time-waster and you won’t exhaust its challenges for hours of gameplay; it’s also very easy to pick up and play a few stages of, since a whole life might last less than a minute. At $4 it’s an easy one to recommend.

Interestingly, Dig Dog was developed by its creator with only minimal use of his hands. A repetitive stress condition made it painful and inadvisable for him to code using the keyboard, so he uses a voice-based coding system instead. If I had been told I couldn’t type any more, I’d probably just take up a new career, so I admire Rusty Moyher for his tenacity. He made a video about the process here, if you’re curious:

Gato Roboto, for Switch and PC, is a much more complicated game, though not nearly so much as its inspirations, the NES classics Metroid and Blaster Master. In Gato Roboto, as in those games, you explore a large world filled with monsters and tunnels, fighting bosses and outfitting yourself with new abilities, which in turn let you explore the world further.

This one isn’t as big and open as recent popular “metroidvanias” like Hollow Knight or Ori and the Blind Forest — it’s really much more like a linear action-adventure game in the style of metroidvanias.

The idea is that you’ve crash-landed on a planet after tracking a mysterious signal, but the spaceman aboard the ship is trapped — you play his cat, Kiki, who must explore the planet in his stead.

At first (or shall I say fur-st) you really are just a cat, but you’re soon equipped with a power suit that lets you jump and shoot like any other action game. However, you frequently have to jump out of it to get into a smaller tunnel or enter water, in which the suit can’t operate (and the cat only barely). In this respect it’s a bit like Blaster Master, in which your pilot could dismount and explore caves in top-down fashion — an innovation that made the game one of my favorites for the system. (If you haven’t played the Switch remake, Blaster Master Zero, I implore you to.)

Gato Roboto isn’t as taxing or complex as its predecessors, but it’s not really meant to be. It’s a non-stop romp where you always have a goal or an obstacle to overcome. The 1-bit graphics are so well executed that I stopped noticing them after a minute or two — the pixel art is very clear and only rarely does the lack of color cause any confusion whatever.

Like Dig Dog and Downwell before it, you can pick up color schemes to change the palette, a purely aesthetic choice but a fun collectible (some are quite horrid). The occasional secret and branching path keeps your brain working a little bit, but not too much.

The game is friendly and forgiving, but I will say that the bosses present rather serious difficulty spikes, and you may, as I did, find yourself dying over and over to them because they’re a hundred times more dangerous than ordinary enemies or environmental hazards. Fortunately the game is (kitty) littered with save points and, for the most part, the bosses are not overlong encounters. I still raged pretty hard on a couple of them.

It’s twice the price of Dig Dog, a whopping $8. I can safely say it’s worth the price of two coffees. Don’t hesitate.

These pleasant distractions should while away a few hours, and to me they represent a healthy gaming culture that can look back on its past and find inspiration, then choose to make something new and old at the same time.

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WarCraft Arclight Rumble impressions: High production values, questionable costs

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Enlarge / Welcome to the mini-styled smartphone-RTS universe of WarCraft Arclight Rumble.

Blizzard

Blizzard Entertainment’s first real-time strategy game for smartphones, WarCraft Arclight Rumble, is slated to launch on iOS and Android later this year, with a tech beta going live sooner in various regions. Ahead of that launch, we were invited to test the game’s current version for a couple of days, and we can confirm that Blizzard is still pretty good at designing games for phones. (Even if they’ve brought at least one related gaffe upon themselves.)

In Arclight Rumble‘s case, however, a certain chicken-and-egg question comes up: When comparing this game to the wildly popular Clash Royale, exactly who is ripping off whom?

Both games overlap, as Blizzard’s new smartphone game adopts more than a few of Supercell’s well-trodden, touchscreen-friendly conventions. Yet Supercell’s game arguably borrows a lot from the original WarCraft series on PC—not just in its adherence to RTS traditions but also its medieval, primary-color aesthetic.

However you parse it, Arclight Rumble appears to add just enough depth to the smartphone RTS genre to stand out, though anyone new to this gaming space should brace themselves for a whole new universe of microtransactions. While not as aggressive as some of the smartphone world’s worst offenders, Arclight Rumble‘s approach will still be a tough sell to anyone who remembers buying WarCraft RTS games outright.

Familiar fare gets bigger, more strategic

If you’ve played Clash Royale, you know the drill. The game defaults to one-on-one faceoffs without any fog of war, and the object is to send troops from your side of the battlefield to your opponent’s to destroy an enemy base while protecting your own. Troops appear as cards, randomly shuffled into players’ hands from a deck, and players spend a battle-specific currency to turn those cards into active troops (or spells that can be cast by tapping on the screen). More powerful units cost more currency, and each unit type has strengths and weaknesses over others, so savvy players will generate and direct troops with that in mind in order to succeed. (Melee beats ranged, ranged beats aerial, and aerial beats melee.)

That entire paragraph could apply to either game mentioned in this article, so what’s different in Arclight Rumble?

Blizzard’s game better splits the difference between a smartphone card-battler and a PC RTS. Battlefields in Arclight Rumble are bigger, and they typically don’t fit on a single smartphone screen, thus requiring finger swipes to move your viewpoint between your base (bottom of the screen) and your foe’s (top of the screen). These arenas are vertically oriented, so it’s more of an up-to-down swipe to glance around, not left-to-right, which feels good in practice.

Unlike a classic RTS, players don’t rapidly click a mouse to issue commands, but troop management is also not as wholly simplified here as in Clash Royale. Arclight Rumble players can tap an arrow on the ground to tell troops which way to advance when a path branches, and they otherwise automatically march forward and target foes along the way.

Blizzard adds the RTS-like convention of putting control points and gold mines onto its larger battlefields. If your troops can successfully wear down a control point, it becomes yours, and some of them come with auto-firing catapults. Once you take over one of these, you can opt to spawn troops that much closer to your foe’s base. And gold mines can be smacked by any of your melee troops, including a low-cost miner character who comes as a default in your deck, no matter what other cards you put into it. You need gold to spawn new troops, but the miner, who costs only one gold, can quickly grab two gold pieces from mines that regularly regenerate near your base. (There’s also the strategic option to spend your allotment of gold to move troops toward enemies’ gold mines—especially for special troops that can be freely spawned outside of your control points.)

Increasing the game’s average map size and dotting each with control points is an interesting tweak to the fits-on-one-screen combat of Clash Royale, and mid-arena control strategy makes this game feel deeper than some of its peers. But such an expansion in scope exposes how simple these smartphone strategy games can feel once play hits a higher level. In particular, there’s no way to contend with Blizzard’s auto-targeting failures. As of press time, I’ve seen my melee troops turn around and react to enemies that have passed them by when two battling lanes criss-cross. This happens even when I’ve devoted my limited gold economy to a massive rush meant to bombard my foe’s base, my own defenses be damned. There’s no troop tag for “kiting” in this game, which might have indicated that enemies could lure my melee forces away from my objective.

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Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany goes green in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law trailer

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She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, starring Tatiana Maslany, starts streaming on August 17 on Disney+.

Marvel has released the first trailer for its latest spinoff series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, and it looks like it will be a lot of fun. Bonus: Mark Ruffalo reprises his role as Bruce Banner/Hulk and teams up with She-Hulk, played by Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany. Marvel also announced that it has begun production in Atlanta on Echo, a nine-episode spinoff series centered on the deaf gang leader Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox), who was introduced in last year’s Hawkeye.

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has described the series as a “half-hour legal comedy” (with superheroes) and said it would hew closely to John Byrne’s take on the character in the comics. That would be The Sensational She-Hulk series, known for its metafictional approach, in which She-Hulk occasionally broke the fourth wall, walking through ads and even arguing with Byrne as the writer. The character has been a member of The Avengers, the Fantastic Force, and S.H.I.E.L.D., and it’s expected that She-Hulk will eventually appear in the MCU films.

Per the official premise: “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law follows Jennifer Walters as she navigates the complicated life of a single, 30-something attorney who also happens to be a green 6-foot-7-inch superpowered hulk.” In addition to Ruffalo’s “Smart Hulk,” Tim Roth will reprise his role as Emil Blonsky/the Abomination from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and Benedict Wong will be back as Wong, most recently seen in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Jameela Jamil plays Titania, a super-strong rival of SheHulk; Ginger Gonzaga plays Walters’ best friend; and Renee Elise Goldsberry plays Amelia.

We saw the first footage from She-Hulk last November during Disney+ Day. The brief teaser featured Maslany and Ruffalo in an homage to the 1970s live-action Hulk series, with Walters uttering Bill Bixby’s trademark line, “Don’t make angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” This new trailer introduces us to Jennifer Walters (Maslany), a successful single lawyer who has just been asked to lead the superhuman law division of her firm. But then her cousin, Bruce Banner, gives her a blood transfusion, and she gains some of his Hulk abilities. Fortunately, he makes a great mentor, training her to channel her powers by focusing on her anger and fear (aka “the baseline of any woman just existing”).

We get a brief glimpse of Roth’s Blonsky in prison and in his Abomination form, as well as Jamil’s Titania. And it looks like She-Hulk will be trying to find Mr. Right (or perhaps Mr. Right Now), as we see her swiping through a dating app and carrying one of her dates to the bedroom, bridegroom style.

As for Echo, we’ve already met Maya Lopez, aka Echo, in Hawkeye. She was the deaf commander of the Tracksuit Mafia, capable of perfectly copying another person’s movements. And she was on a quest to discover the true identity of Ronin, the assassin who had killed her father. That put her on a collision course with Clint Barton/Hawkeye, who had hung up his Ronin gear for good.

When the two adversaries finally battled it out, Barton revealed that someone working for Maya’s boss wanted her father dead. That boss turned out to be Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio). In the Hawkeye finale, Kingpin escaped, only to be confronted by an angry Maya, who had learned the truth about her father’s murder. We heard a gunshot, but who was shot? And was it a fatal wound?

Enlarge / Alaqua Cox stars as Maya Lopez, aka Echo, first introduced in last year’s Hawkeye.

YouTube/Marvel Studios

The Echo series seems to be an origin story. Per the official premise, the character’s “ruthless behavior in New York City catches up with her in her hometown. She must face her past, reconnect with her Native American roots, and embrace the meaning of family and community if she ever hopes to move forward.” D’Onofrio will reprise his role as Kingpin, and we’ll even get to see Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, briefly seen (to fans’ delight) most recently in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Zahn McClarnon will play Maya’s deceased father, William Lopez.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law debuts on Disney+ on August 17, 2022. Echo is slated for a 2023 premiere.

Listing image by YouTube/Marvel Studios

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We made a PlayStation Plus explainer that’s better than Sony’s

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Layers upon layers.

Since Sony announced its upcoming transition to a new, multi-tiered PlayStation Plus subscription service in March, the company has tried to explain that service’s many benefits with thousands of (sometimes confusing) words across two blog posts and an FAQ. We have tried to break down those benefits with our own posts composed of thousands of more (hopefully less confusing) words.

As we’ve struggled to make sense of the new offerings, though, we’ve found ourselves wanting a more concise, readable summary that breaks down each tier of the new PlayStation Plus at a glance. And we figured if we wanted that kind of quick reference, some of our readers might, too.

So please enjoy this breakdown of the new PlayStation Plus, as clear and concise as we could make it without leaving anything important out. We’ll try to keep this post updated as Sony adds or clarifies new features.

Pricing/benefits summary

Essential Extra Premium
Monthly price $9.99 $14.99 $17.99
Quarterly price $24.99 $39.99 $49.99
Annual price $59.99 $99.99 $119.99
Two monthly downloadable games X X X
Cloud saves X X X
Online multiplayer access X X X
PlayStation Plus Collection (on PS5) X X X
Downloadable PS4/PS5 games X X
Ubisoft+ Classics game lineup X X
Downloadable PS1/PS2/PSP games X
Streamable PS3 games X
Streaming access to PS1/PS2/PS4/PSP games X
Time-limited game trials X

Essential tier benefits

Two monthly downloadable games

  • These are usually PS4 games these days, sometimes with PS5 enhancements
    • Since the beginning of 2020, PS Plus has offered 11 PS5 exclusives and 5 PSVR exclusives
  • You can access these games for as long as you maintain your subscription

Cloud saves

  • 100GB of cloud storage per console for PS4 and PS5
  • Limit of 1,000 save files for PS4

Online multiplayer access

  • No subscription is needed for free-to-play games like Fortnite.

PlayStation Plus Collection (on PS5)

  • A collection of 19 “classic” PS4 games that are playable on the PS5
    • Not available on the PS4
    • Full game list, which hasn’t changed since 2020, is available here

Extra tier benefits

Downloadable PS4/PS5 games

  • 62 titles announced so far, “up to 400” promised in March
    • 50 PS4 exclusives (playable on PS5)
    • 9 PS4 games with PS5 “enhanced” versions
    • 3 PS5 exclusives
    • 38 first-party titles, 24 third-party titles
    • Full list of titles announced so far available here

“Ubisoft+ Classics” game lineup

  • This isn’t the full 100-game Ubisoft+ lineup launched in 2019; it’s a cut-down version for PlayStation Plus owners
  • The “Classics” plan will launch with 27 titles and expand to 50 by the end of 2022, Ubisoft says
  • Full list of announced titles so far available here

Premium tier benefits

Downloadable PS1/PS2/PSP games

  • 28 titles announced so far, “up to 340” (including streamable PS3 games) promised in March
    • 19 first-party, 9 third-party titles
    • 9 PS1, 18 PS2, 1 PSP title(s)
    • Full list of titles announced so far available here
  • “Some” classic games will have “improved frame rates and higher-quality resolution compared to their original launch versions”
  • “Some” PS1/PSP games will also have new UI and save-anywhere/rewind capabilities
  • PS2 games announced so far will be “remastered,” though the specific meaning of that is unclear at the moment

Streamable games

  • Stream to a PS4, PS5, or PC
  • Streaming currently available in 19 countries, plus 11 more starting in June
    • Full list of streaming availability by country available here (scroll to the bottom)
  • 29 streamable PS3 titles announced so far
    • 21 first-party, 8 third-party titles
    • Not remastered
    • No downloadable versions for PS3 games
    • Full list of titles announced so far available here
  • Streaming for available PS1/PS2/PS4/PSP games was mentioned in Sony’s March blog post but was not specifically called out in its latest update
    • The fine print says that “streaming may not be available for certain games”
  • PlayStation Now currently has a much wider list of streamable PS2/PS3/PS4 games

Time-limited game trials

  • 6 titles announced so far
    • 2 first-party, 4 third-party
    • 2 PS5 exclusives, 4 PS4 titles with PS5 enhancements
    • Full list of titles announced so far available here
  • Trials will last two hours “for most games”
  • Trophies/save data from the trial carry over if you buy the game

Other notes

  • Remaining PlayStation Plus subscriptions will be converted to Essential subscriptions
  • Remaining PlayStation Now subscriptions will be converted to Premium subscriptions
  • If you have both PS Plus and PS Now subscriptions remaining, you’ll be converted to a Premium subscription for the length of the longer remaining subscription.
  • Some PS1/PSP games purchased as downloads will be downloadable for free on a PS4/PS5, even without a PlayStation Plus subscription

Planned transition timing

  • Asia (except Japan): May 24
  • Japan: June 2
  • Americas: June 13
  • Europe, Australia, New Zealand: June 23
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