Games of the week – AO Tennis, Ritual, Winds of Change and Little White Rocket
Ritual: Crown of Horns
Platform: PC, Switch
Stand your ground for some six-shooter action
Ritual: Crown of Horns is a high-tempo, low-budget, devilishly challenging mashup of Western-style gunfights and gritty horror atmosphere. Your hard-boiled bounty hunter is ordered to execute a meddlesome witch in back-country old USA, but almost immediately you're slaughtered by skull-wearing cultists, resurrected by the spell weaver you were meant to kill, and discover the mission was a trap set by your government paymasters. The B-movie revenge plot supports a string of twin-stick shootouts requiring you to survive hordes of monsters while protecting the witch, and the rewardingly demanding balance of reload-times, special ability cool-downs and clock-watching make Ritual less about painstaking accuracy and more about frenetic crowd-control. Ritual is appealingly straightforward, just the right amount of difficulty and breathlessly moreish.
Skip to the end: Hard to master but reliable fun while you die trying.
AO Tennis 2
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch
Some features of AO Tennis 2 might be seen as innovative. Your custom ball-whacker can be kitted out with jewellery. You can trigger positive or negative reactions to influence your profile among the audience. You can tweak loads of game aspects, from stamina levels to the entire structure of tournaments. And, occasionally, a player might ask for a towel during a match. Fundamentally though, the traditional 'charge and release' tennis gameplay we've known for decades is unchanged. AO Tennis 2 may be an improvement on the original but this visually unimpressive sim is still plagued by inconsistent umpires, low-grade sound, awful audiences, unresponsive controls and robot-brained opponents who'll make one error to every ten of yours, regardless of difficulty.
Skip to the end: A significant lack of polish makes this one to return.
Winds of Change
Winds of Change is a visual novel, an accurate description of this fantasy world where anthropomorphic heroes and villains engage in paragraphs of dialogue, not bouts of swordplay. But literary ambitions make for a pedestrian videogame. Carefully detailed backgrounds can't hide the rudimentary character animations, where your companions cycle through limited poses during conversation in an attempt to illustrate emotions as nuanced as 'shock', 'happy' or 'sad'. It's admirable that Winds of Change is almost entirely narrated by voice actors, but their performances are just as devoid of character and stimulation as the limp and leaden script. With no strong personalities to attach to, the uninspiring choices you're asked to make along the way are as inconsequential as the breeze.
Skip to the end: A blend of un-engaging adventure and half-baked graphic novel.
Little White Rocket
You should approach the one-touch space-faring of Little White Rocket as a meditative tool, not a puzzle to be solved. The combination of an immersive, ambient soundtrack and gently charming 2D visuals (plus occasional readings of poetry by a Chris O'Dowd impersonator) are clearly designed to calm the mind, and the dinky obstacles you'll face are certainly not intended to run counter to that atmosphere. So if you blast off expecting challenges to stir your grey matter it'll only end in disappointment. Little White Rocket is an inexpensive tappable toy, where each touch launches your craft along a path of stars, some of which aren't visible until you get close or complete a particular orbit. Sweet, cheap and soothingly effective.
Skip to the end: A pleasant puzzler that relaxes, rather than taxes, your brain.