Palworld (Sniper)
Genre: Sandbox
Developer: Pocket Pair
Publisher: Pocket Pair

The concept of a "mashup" is nothing new: websites did it; music did it; potatoes did it; and now, a small group of virtually unknown Japanese guys have bought a bunch of canned "Unreal Engine Store" assets, tossed together some world geometry in Blender, and-- it's creamy and delicious, against absolutely all reason! The secret ingredient is the wonderful spice "anachronism": succulent HDR, loaded texture resolution, and "round as a hard boiled egg" triangle count character geometry simply shouldn't have crunchy PlayStation 2-era clipping issues-- yet as peanut butter and jelly is to the mouth, Palworld's lesson in contrasts makes for a satisfying meal for the eyes.

That staccato piano tinkling and intense battle music, fading in and out dynamically, against an otherwise wind-blessed-but-erstwhile-silent aural backdrop... it's familiar enough to make an entire kingdom out of one's tears, or to make one's breath positively wild. The "Pal" sounds maybe came off of a "1000 Royalty Free Sound Effects" CD-- but they do the job. The humanoid dying sound effect is a custom one though-- probably, one of the programmers had a mouthful of Listerine and got punched in the stomach, hard to tell exactly.

Ask an elderly person how important is their pacemaker-- it'd be real heartbreak if it went awry, to be sure. The same is true of game design and it is here that, whether by accident or otherwise, the "Pocket Pair" dudes really nailed things: progression is gated by player leveling, which in turn exposes access to new things which can be built-- better weapons, new base structures, entire new mechanics like handheld flamethrower squirrel attachments... and the game's world, so perfectly spread with little shantytowns, caves to explore... Palworld delivers nothing but expectation-subverting surprises to the player.

When this reviewer was a kid in the mid-1980s, there was a "new Minecraft" every two months, such was the creative peak upon which mankind had clambered, face and fingernails filled with grime, licks of hair smeared to the forehead by sweat. From there, freefall at terminal velocity: but now, fifteen years after the release of the aforementioned Mojang legend, there is a new wunderkind in town. There are only so many elements on the periodic table: like all good recipes then, it's less about how original the ingredients are than how those constituent parts are slurried together-- and Palworld is a wonderful, rare seminal moment from a creatively bankrupt era.

Sniper's verdict: