We are knee deep into summer, which means the near future for big releases is pretty light, as usual.  This season’s big AAA releases like Witcher 3 and Batman: Arkham Knight have already hit along with darling indies like Rocket League.  I’ve taken time out of my busy Rocket League schedule to play a few downloadable titles with three unique characters: a mysterious one powered by a scarf, a very badass elephant, and a nearly 10 year old stick figure ninja.

Looking for some interesting gaming experiences?  Look no further!

I never thought I'd type "flying with a scarf in the desert," but here we are.
I never thought I’d type “flying with a scarf in the desert,” but here we are.


More art than game
More art than game

Journey first came out on PS3 years ago, but recently came to PS4 which has allowed me to experience it.  Journey is more of a piece of art than a game, with unique takes on common gaming elements to make it a very different kind of game.  You control a nameless, faceless character in a desert with a cowl and scarf which allows you to jump and soar.  As you explore the desert, your scarf will grow longer, allowing you to fly for longer.

What makes Journey so interesting are the things it strips away.  When the game fires up, you are dropped in a desert with no direction at all aside from a light in the distance.  Naturally, you move towards the light.  Soon you learn to jump, fly, and slide down hills without any explicit direction.  You will run into other players, but you won’t know their names.  Not only that, but your only means of communicating to them is through a ringing noise made by pushing a button.  Even with these limitations, it’s hard not to grow attached to your nameless exploring partners, taking in all that Journey has to offer together.

Similarly, the story is told through a tapestry with, again, no audio clues.  I had a hard time figuring it out and I still don’t think I get it, but I don’t know if I’m even supposed to.  Journey is a very unique game.  It’s really more art than game.  It’s very short, only taking about 90 minutes to beat if you go quickly, but it begs for replays and I still recommend it simply for it’s uniqueness.



Minimalist platforming that keeps you coming back
Minimalist platforming that keeps you coming back

I started with the N series of games back in high school with the original N Ninja on a browser game site.  A sequel, N+, came out on Xbox 360 which I enjoyed and I was super happy to finally see N++ come out just a week ago.  The N games are about as simple as platformer games go.  You control a stick figure ninja with the ability to run and jump.  Each stage contains a button which opens an exit door.  Hit the button, go in the door, move on to the next level.

There are no weapons or power ups for your ninja.  It’s just you, tight controls, and the clock.  That’s not to say there aren’t any obstacles, though.  Mines, missiles, lasers, and more will get in your way.  N++ adds a new obstacle, the shadow ninja, who mimics your every move and kills you on contact.

What makes the N games so great are their simplicity.  Stages are fully contained on a single screen.  Loading up a new stage means taking it all in at once, formulating a plan of attack, and just going for it.  There are different color themes, but I like the classic grey theme (pictured above).  The full-body-pounding bass in the soundtrack keeps the energy level up, as well.

N++ comes with hundreds and hundreds of stages, co-op play, racing, and even user-created stages.  The UI to find and play the best stages could use some work, but it opens up the game’s replayability to an absurd degree.  If you like platforming and are looking for a difficult challenge akin to Super Meat Boy, give N++ a shot.


Tembo the Badass Elephant

The game's title really says it all
The game’s title really says it all

Game Freak, aka “the Pokemon company”, has branched out with Tembo the Badass Elephant.  In it, you control the titular Tembo on his quest to save the world from the evil PHANTOM.  Tembo’s main function is smashing things, which is a lot of fun.  Charging with a never-ending stream of “BADA BADA BADA BADA” echoing from your footprints as you ram through cars, buildings, walls, and anything else in your path is a good time.  Tembo can also slam downwards and shoot himself diagonally as a wrecking ball.

Where Mario has coins and Donkey Kong has bananas, Tembo collects peanuts to increase his number of lives.  I like how Game Freak kept the classic lives system in place for a truly classic platformer like Tembo.  The comic book graphics, combo counters, and puff of smoke from defeated enemies also bring you back to the SNES days.

Each stage has 10 civilians to rescue and a number of enemies to defeat, usually in the 300-400 range.  Completionists will have to play stages over and over to find the secret areas and hidden civilians.  Tembo the Badass Elephant can be completed in about four hours, but it’s worth it if you ask me.

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