The Quirky: A Valley Without Wind 2
Arcen is known for straying off the path and taking chances on titles coming out of their studio. They mashup genres and never adhere to any formula when it comes to making games. A Valley Without Wind (and later the sequel) was the first Arcen game I reviewed, and it struck a chord with me because it was doing something different. In this case ‘different’ actually means weird and that is the best thing that A Valley Without Wind has going for it.
It is impossible to classify what A Valley Without Wind is, and therein lies the charm. It is genre bending for better or worse as it samples from a buffet of games before it. The exploration feels like something out of Metroid and the combat steals from some twin stick shooters complemented with skill trees out of RPGs. Finally the overworld map plays like a co-operative board game where you are playing against the clock of impending doom.
The co-op in A Valley Without Wind 2 is wonderful and wacky. There is no rhyme or reason and players can kind of do whatever they want in a map. There is no reason to stay as a group, so exploration gets pretty hectic but it is in your best interests to tackle bosses together. In this day and age of having characters tethered to each other, A Valley Without Wind says ‘to hell with that’ and basically lets co-op buddies run rampant throughout the game. What is also crazy is the fact that you can have up 16 players in one game, which is unheard in anything but an MMO.
Of course there are downsides to having a genre buffet. However, A Valley Without Wind is just zany enough that these are overshadowed by the amount of freedom Arcen gives a player. Combine this with a not-so-elegant mish-mash of gameplay styles and you’re left with a cornucopia of digital madness. It’s fun, it’s weird, and it is definitely worth your time.
The Insane: Saints Row series
Possibly the least ‘weird’ game I’m highlighting today but the most ridiculous is the Saints Row Series. It brings the sheer sense of insanity to the table in place of weird. Since the inception of the Saints Row series Volition has always tried to do things differently. They took the open world style and turned it on its head, progressively evolving it into something the competition couldn’t even begin to fathom. Saints Row was not afraid to do something different and it has diverged enough to become its own open world style. Controversy be damned, if GTA had a ‘really intense scene’ Saints Row would come out with something so obscene it would make Rockstar blush. Dildo bats anyone?
What is refreshing about Saints Row comes from the writing, gameplay, and the fact you can do this all with a friend. Where realism is held in high regard, Saints Row pushes boundaries and simply becomes a game for the sake of fun. Not many games do this these days, and I think companies could learn a thing or two when analyzing what Saints Row does well. Anything the player can think of is available in Saints Row. This becomes more valid towards the end of the series, which has you (the President of the United States) fending off aliens with your newfound superpowers.
What can we learn from Saints Row? One thing for certain comes from a game not being afraid to know that it is a video game. Volition leaned into it and it paid off, giving us one of the best open world series games of our generation. It also goes to show that being weird is sometimes a good thing.
The Bizarre: Zeno Clash 2
I saved the weirdest for last, and rightfully so. I can’t think of another title where animals are humans, and humans are animals, and a bunch of stuff in between. Zeno Clash feels like someone made a game about the Island of Dr. Moreau and managed to code it during a peyote-induced fever dream.
Conceived by the fine folks of ACE Team, three Chilean compadres responsible for the first person brawlers titled Zeno Clash. We don't see many brawlers in the first person perspective, so this in itself puts the whole experience in a whole different category. Punching a weird anthropomorphic creature while it hurls racial epithets at you isn’t something you play everyday. Go ahead and read that sentence again, because it is basically what you do throughout Zeno Clash.
If the first person brawling wasn’t odd enough, match that with a plot that makes Naked Lunch look like a children’s book. We’re talking hermaphroditic parental figures, crazy dreamlike landscapes, and power hungry Promethean gods that like to watch the animals battle for sport. The game is mind boggling, and I highly suggest bringing a friend along for the ride. At least you will have something to hold on to when things get crazy. What better way to spend a day with a friend then going out and starting tag team bar fights with the locals of Zeno Clash. Thankfully you and a friend can traverse this foreign land together, making Father-Mother proud.
Of all these titles, Zeno Clash betrays all semblance of a normal game, which it isn’t going to resonate with the mainstream audience. ACE Team is known for their zany antics when it comes to gameplay and themes, and I think there is room for it in this industry. I especially enjoy having no barriers on creativity, something that has been lost as video games bring in more money and it becomes about the business and less about doing something creative.