I’ve played a few hours of NORCO by Geography of Robots and I’m pleased to say that it’s a good game. Well, let me reframe that. I am enjoying it despite the gameplay is a more accurate description of what is happening. The gameplay as it were is few and far between, which is to its benefit. It’s mostly a graphic novel with dialogue choices and I really enjoy the gritty noire feeling to the game and the hard-bitten dialogue. Most of the time, I choose the kindest options when I play these kinds of games. I don’t like being a jerk, but for some reason, I went a different route in this game. I am Kay, the daughter of Catherine, who dies of cancer at the beginning of the game. Kay left Norco when her mother was diagnosed, despite her brother (Kay’s brother), Blake, pleading with her not to go. Instead of being sympathetic with Blake, I am bracing with him as I ride off on my motorbike.
The protag reminds me so much of Kathy Rain from her titular game. Hard-bitten, sarcastic, motorcycle-riding, and takes no guff from anyone. There was a mystery in that one as well. A dead mother, too. In that case, the mystery surrounds her missing father (missing long before the game starts). In this one, when she gets back home, she discovers her brother is missing. Also, her mom has a security robot who…does housework? I’m not sure what she does exactly, but she’s pretty cool as well.
Two things I really hate about point-and-clicks, both the fault of Wadjet Eye Games, the developers of the Blackwell series, which is the granddaddy of this genre. One, pixel hunting. Oh my god. The having to mouse over each pixel to find that indeterminate pixel that is important, but unnoticeable from the rest is excruciating. Two, and this is the one that annoys the FUCK out of me, having to find and combine disparate objects. It’s bad enough to be asked to combine a long piece of hair, a coffee cup with a heart on it that can only be found in the left side neighbor’s backyard, and a sham pillow to make a key. It’s always a key. Why is it always a key? The worst part is that you often have to backtrack to get what you need. And you know how From games are considered obfuscating and difficult to comprehend? They ain’t got nothing on point-and-clicks. I remember playing Unavowed (Wadjet Eye Games). It looked gorgeous and I loved the concept. I went into it with high hopes, but then there came a point where part of the solution was dangling rope out of a greenhouse (or something similar) and then going down a few floors to do something else with the rope, but it very much wasn’t explained. That was the last straw and I quit on the spot. I had been using a walkthrough throughout the game until this point.
It’s a crying shame because there is a really good game in there. And I know I’m in the minority because it has Overwhelmingly Positive reviews on Steam as do most if not all of Wadjet Eye Games, which honestly makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. Do people really not mind pixel hunting, needless backtracking, and finding items to combine without knowing exactly where they are or that they need to be combined? Seeing something you know you’re going to need at some point, but can’t pick up for hours?
I have reluctantly concluded that the genre just isn’t for me. But I’m hoping NORCO will change that. It has fast travel, which I much appreciate. BIG fan of fast travel because while I’m game to traversing an area once, I’m not as game after that. I know it’s a big selling point in Dark Souls, very limited fast travel. There is a huge debate in the community over fast travel, but I’m firmly on the side of don’t waste my fucking time. Andy from Outside Xbox was never a big From fan. He got super into Elden Ring, though, and part of it was the fast travel. He has said that one reason he never got into the games is because of the boss runs. He felt they weren’t respectful of his time, and he’s not wrong.
I get why they made the choice for the first Dark Souls not to give fast travel until the second half of the game (and beating Biggie & Smalls) and why they limited it in the second half. But it’s one of the reasons that I don’t play the first game as much as the third or even the second. It’s just such a slog.
Back to NORCO. I love the pixel graphics, which is saying something because I’m getting tired of them in general. I keep using the word gritty, but it’s so apt in this case. There is a feeling of depression in this big oil town. Shield is obviously a parody of Shell (in my mind, anyway), and they are up to no good. Catherine was investigating them while she was alive, but died before she could come to any conclusion. Now, Blake is missing and Kay is trying to find him with the help of Million, the android.
I’m enjoying the game tremendously despite the brief gameplay moments. One is a flashing boxes/memorization game that is played out in this genre. The other is a weird crocodile dragging pixels around game that is clunky and unimpressive. I would rather it just be a graphic novel, honestly.
Back to Elden Ring. *Spoilers* I just got the Mimic Tear Spirit Summon. It really is the best Spirit Summon in the game, bar none. Some would argue that Black Knife Tiche is the best, and while she’s great, a carbon copy of the player character is way more powerful. I didn’t know this, but they also carry whatever consumables you have in your belt as well. So Aoife suggested carrying Warming Stones even if you don’t use them because they cast a healing glow (that heals anyone who’s in its aura). Another suggestion I’ve seen for a hard boss is to equip Shabiri’s Woe (talisman), which draws the aggression to you. Summon the Mimic Tear and then quickly unequip the talisman on yourself. The Mimic Tear will continue to wear it and draw the aggro.
Mimic Tear got nerfed, but it’s still OP. There are some who pooh-pooh it and say it’s cheating. Because of course there are. Everything is cheating to a certain subsect of FromSoft fans. Using a shield, using magic, using the Zwei in the first game, becoming Giant Dad (also in the first game), and nearly everything else. So, yeah, of course they’re going to say that using the Mimic Tear (or any other Spirit Summon) is cheating. Whereas I say, it’s in the goddamn game. FromSoft specifically added Spirit Summons to Elden Ring whereas there was not any in the other games. Therefore, they were encouraging people to use the Spirit Summons! But, of course, as with everything else in the games, there is that mythical sweet spot of acceptable and cheesing. I still haven’t discovered it, and I’ve given up trying.