Participating in Extra Life for the very first time

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Hi, everyone! It’s me, your Grinding Down creator, author, and somewhat steady maintainer–Paul Abbamondi! I made a big decision recently, and that is to participate in Extra Life this upcoming Saturday, October 25. What’s Extra Life, you ask not knowing? Well, in their words, it’s “an online grassroots movement working to save local kids through the power of play.” Basically, people stay up for 24 hours straight playing games and asking for donations. Over the years I’ve watched others put in the time and raise money for children in need, and now, nervous as I am, I’m gonna do it too. First, some important links to click on:

My donations page: http://tinyurl.com/pabbamondiEL2014

My Twitch page, where hopefully you’ll be able to watch me stream: http://www.twitch.tv/paulwise

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s what I’m thinking. My goal is set at $100 (and we’re already halfway there!), but of course I’d love to raise a whole lot more for PennState Hershey’s Children’s Hospital. I plan to make a big dent in my Steam catalog, though I have to be careful in what I play as my laptop can’t really handle anything too strenuous and stream at the same time, thus the above list of indie/older titles. If I somehow run out of things to play there, I can always hit up the consoles or handhelds (I’ll most likely be getting Fantasy Life the day before), though I can’t really stream from them.

Tentatively, I’ll start streaming at 9:00 AM Saturday and won’t stop playing vidya gamez until 9:00 Sunday. I will be maintaining a “live” blog post here on Grinding Down, updating it hopefully once an hour or so, though these’ll be short, quick updates. Truthfully, I’m excited about finally finding the time to eat up some Deus Ex: GOTY more than anything. I am part of Team Giant Bomb, and I appreciate any support you can offer me–this is my first time doing anything like this, and I’ll be running at it solo (well, my cats will be around), so please, give me strength. And donations, too. FOR THE KIDS.

Metal Gear Solid 2, an unpredictable mix of gloss and dross

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I wish I could remember whether I knew about the big early twist in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty or not before I deep dove into it. At this stage, it just seems like one of those known certainties that everyone who games is aware of. I was certainly reading a lot of gaming magazines at the time, though the Internet was not yet the spoiler battlefield we have to crawl through today. Plus, at the time, I had other priorities to worry about: drawing, failing at drawing, crying in bathrooms, girls, making friends, losing friends, throwing up in bathrooms, and pondering the future. Hideo Kojima’s second cool action guy game in the Metal Gear Solid series came out in November 2001, my freshman year of college at Rowan University when I was still rocking my original PlayStation and using a dorm-mate’s PlayStation 2 to experience things like Grand Theft Auto III.

In fact, I remember exactly when I got my copy of Metal Gear Solid 2 and for how much; the receipt is still in the case, though now very faded after about twelve years. I snagged it on November 22, 2002 for $16.99 at the Deptford Mall’s GameStop (the receipt says the cashier’s name was Jay–hey Jay!) and then visited a girl at a candy store before heading home to immerse myself in nanomachine-driven mindfuckery and yellow-green gummi worms. That was also probably roughly the last time I played it, completing it over a few days or so while juggling school, dates, something of a social life, and the impending Thanksgiving break.

All right, imagine if I’m telling you this plot summary via Codec and you can use the analog sticks to be silly and zoom in on my face. You start out by reprising your role as Solid Snake, ex-FOXHOUND operative, who is now working with his Shadow Moses buddy Otacon to stop the production of Metal Gear machines by the military. Currently, Snake sneaks aboard a tanker supposedly housing Metal Gear RAY, an anti-Metal Gear machine. Spoiler alert, but after this section runs its course, the story begins somewhere else, starring someone else. Big Shell, a massive offshore clean-up facility, has been seized by a group of terrorists calling themselves the “Sons of Liberty” and demanding a large ransom in exchange for the life of the POTUS. You now play as Raiden, a greenhorn member of FOXHOUND fresh out of VR training and ready for his first real mission.

There are many things that stand out when you go right from Metal Gear Solid to Metal Gear Solid 2, and I’m not just talking about the graphical uptick that greatly allows characters to emote more voicelessly. The goal remains the same and always has since the beginning: sneak, scurry, crawl, cartwheel, and occasionally shoot your way past enemies until you’ve reached your destination. However, Metal Gear Solid 2 really ups the ante, giving both Snake and Raiden new tools, new ways of traversing, and new perspectives. My favorite was being able to hop over guard rails to a floor below or, if needed, just hang there until the enemy walks past. You can also dive into a roll, if you need to get under a desk real fast. Plus, there’s the first-person shooting perspective, which is vital for using the tranquilizer gun, as well as looking around corners. That said, the controls are still tough to master and do not work 100% of the time (I won’t even go into how many times I’d try to pick up an unconscious guard only to immediately drop them back down); in line with that, I’ll also never master holding up an enemy from behind and then walking in front of them, weapon still drawn, to make them nervous. I got less than five dog tags total during my replay.

I continue to find it easier to simply die or jump off into the water after being spotted in Metal Gear games, rather than try to hide and wait for the enemies to go back to their standard patrol routes. For one thing, in Metal Gear Solid 2, the enemy artificial intelligence got a serious boost, as they will hunt you down, call for reinforcements, double-check areas, and so forth. Their vision cones also extend a bit further than what the radar actually displays, which leads to me getting spotted more often than I wanted. Still, one of my favorite moments is when Snake leans against a wall and accidentally knocks over a fire extinguisher, alerting a nearby guard. In fact, I had more trouble dealing with guards and flying gun-toting drones than boss fights, which is probably the completely opposite with all the previous games in the series.

The action in Metal Gear Solid 2 is mostly solid (pun intended), but it’s the story that many remember (or continue to disbelieve). It goes to some zany places, and I truthfully don’t know how I swallowed it all the first time I completed it, doing naked cartwheels and reliving the past. That said, that’s one of my favorite thing about this series, the clash of super series tech talk and then the ghost of a dead twin brother in the arm of your enemy. Fighting a tentacle-wielding ex-U.S. President after taking down a bunch of Metal Gear RAYs. Learning about top-secret military weapon technology while hiding in a locker and masturbating to pin-up posters. I’m so looking forward to Giant Bomb‘s playthrough, especially given the moments in the original game that Drew scoffed at; he has no idea what’s in store.

There’s a lot of bonus stuff to experience on this copy of Metal Gear Sold 2 from the Legacy Collection. Not sure if it was included in the original or not. Sadly, there’s no skate-boarding mini-game from the Substance version, which I’ve always heard was silly fun. Included though are a bunch of VR missions, Snake Tales (five story-based missions featuring Solid Snake as the main character), and some kind of cutscene remix tool. I dabbled in each a wee bit, but think I’m sated for the time being.

Truthfully, this final summary blog post exists so I can continue sharing my end-game screen statistics with y’all:

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I also believe my code animal grade was…elephant? Which was what Drew got for his recent completion of Metal Gear Solid. I think elephants are pretty cool, but I feel like it’s a “bad” grade. Let’s compare rations across the series so far though:

  • Metal Gear – used 57 rations
  • Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake – used 27 rations
  • Metal Gear Solid – used 90 rations (the photo I took is a little blurry and hard to decipher)
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – used 69 rations

I’m not exactly sure what those statistics say about my skills, but at least I didn’t need to heal as much as a I did in the previous game. Either way, rations are yummers. I look forward to eating more of them, as well as snakes, in the next cool action guy game in the series. When will that happen, I muse out loud as I glance at the calendar and see that 2014 is dangerously close to closing. I don’t really know. My goal of playing through all the Metal Gear games this year is, alas, teetering on the edge, and I didn’t bother upgrading my grip strength to level 3.

Five more games I almost beat, but then walked away from

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Over at SlickGaming, every Sunday or so, Jason Jasicki lists the games he acquired across the week, whether they were provided to him for review purposes or he hit up a yard sale or–and more power to him–he ventured into GameStop during a “buy-2-get-1-free” promotional event and dropped some loose change on the counter. I’m not as deep into collecting as he is–though I still want to have every Suikoden title out there, even if I can’t play them–but it’s interesting to see what he picks up, for how much, and whether or not he’s actually interested in playing these games.

That said, his recent excursions landed him a copy of Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, a game which I got to the very last tank fight, but couldn’t beat–and haven’t gone back to since. Shame on me. That got me thinking about other games I got about 95% through before throwing in the towel. Now, for the die-hard of Grinding Down readers, you’ll most likely remember that I already touched on this topic, focusing on six PS2 titles that never got their respective credits to roll: Dark Cloud 2, Suikoden V, God of War, The Mark of Kri, Ratchet & Clank, and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. I wrote that post two years ago in October 2012, and here’s a surprising update–I’ve still not beaten any of ‘em. Though I did make an attempt to get back into DQVIII, but it was short-lived.

Well, let’s see what else I can find in my collection that I nearly played to completion but, for some reason or another, walked away from. Dangerously, I might have to even load up a few of these to refresh my memory. On to the list!

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime

All right. Just loaded up this DS cart on my 3DS for the first time in a very long time. Seems like I’ve rescued 90 slimes (out of 100), and my save slot says I’ve played Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime for 12 hours and 57 minutes (also of note: 0 multiplayer wins). I’m definitely at the last level of the game, also known as the Flying Clawtress, but I don’t know if it is actually the last tank battle or not as I previously suspected. I’ve wandered around the town map for a bit to get a feel again for the main slime’s powers and relearn the lay of the land. Maybe later I’ll see just how much more work I need to do to save the rest of the slimes and take down the final tank(s). That jaunty, head-boppin’ Boingburg town music already has a strong hold of my heart again.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Out comes Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, in goes The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. My 3DS is very confused. Looking at my save slot, there’s no logged time, and I truly don’t recall that last time I drew a line across the ocean and had Link sailing to and fro. Here’s what I can tell you: I have 11 hearts, three butterfly thingies (red, blue, and yellow), and three gemstones (red, blue, and green), though it looks like there is room for a fourth. I’m on some island, and I suspect I need to head back to wherever that one main ever-expanding singular dungeon is and see how far down it goes. Brace yourselves: I’m glancing at an online walkthrough. Ahh…yeah. Nothing even looks a sliver familiar, so I really don’t know where I am at this point. Maybe not 95%, more like 75% complete. Heck, I could just forget about the story and focus entirely on getting every single fish in the ocean…

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

According to my Achievements list, I have 31 of 60 unlocked for Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. It’s a bit difficult to tell, but it looks like I maybe only have a handful left related to story stuff, like defeating that mean ol’ witch and collecting a bunch more Jiggies. Jiggles? Er, I don’t remember. I think the problem I ran into was struggling to be creative enough with my vehicle creations and lacking the parts to do anything considerably cool, as well as some of the level design just being frustrating, especially when you are trying to ascend vertically. I know I did complete the game within the game, which was some strange auto-scrolling runner amusingly called Hero Klungo Sssavesss Teh World.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked

If you’ll recall, I sucked so horribly at this SJRPG that I hit the “Early Bad Ending” and put the blasted thing aside, eventually forgetting about it altogether, especially once Shin Megami Tensei IV entered my collection. Which is a major bummer, because I really enjoyed Devil Summoner Overclocked‘s story and characters, even if every other word out of their mouths is “demons” or “government.” If I’m going to successfully get past this one fight where you need to battle demons and angels and attack the humans to break their COMPs, but then also protect them from the previously mentioned angels and demons, with no civilians dying…I’m going to need help. Mega help. And by that, I might not to watch someone else play it on YouTube and try to mimic their every move. Yeah, I’m not happy with this.

Final Fantasy VIII

Yup, digging deep on this one. Back to the PS1 days and my PSM sticker-covered console that sat proudly on my bedroom’s floor. I have never beaten Final Fantasy VIII, and given that one of the game’s discs is missing from its jewel case, I most likely never will. That’s okay. It definitely is not one of my more favorite Final Fantasy titles, though I did find something strangely interesting with the Junction system. Plus, this is where Triple Triad got its start, but was better refined in Final Fantasy IX. Anyways, I do remember hitting the end-game area, back when I had the disc still, but–and no, I’m not looking this up to confirm–you had to split your group into two teams to progress, and one group of characters was much higher in levels and gear than the other. I was not prepared for such a scenario and walked away from it entirely. Oh well.

Well, that’s all I got for now. Whew. Between this list and that other one with the six unfinished PS2 games on it, I have plenty in the backlog waiting to be polished off. Waiting and wishing and wanting. That is if I ever make a dang effort to do so. We’ll see. My gaming habits are constantly in flux, and I just end up playing what I want, when I want, and for how long I want. If something goes unfinished or untouched for a good while, perhaps that’s how it was meant to be. Yeah, yeah, I see you, Game of Thrones, eye-balling me from across the room. I see you.

Tell me, dear readers. What games in your collection hover right on the edge of completion? And why did you stop playing?

 

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Colony Wars

games I regret trading in colony wars

I still can’t believe we haven’t seen a new Colony Wars game in this day and age of impressive technology, big TV screens, and unstoppable imagination. Or, at the very least, a half-hearted remake of the first 1997 space adventure from Psygnosis. Alas, it seems like the Colony Wars series was deeply cornered in the late 1990s, possibly too unique for its time, and never managed to break free from its own genre, and that’s a shame, because this is the series that really taught me what it might be like to fly an aircraft not of this world. Also, not in this world. Yeah, sorry, Decent.

Story stuff. In Colony Wars, the player assumes the role of a nameless colonist involved in the expanding League of Free Worlds resistance movement. As a skilled League fighter pilot, you take orders from the Father in an attempt to overcome the oppressive Earth Empire and its massive naval fleets, which are spread across multiple colonies. I don’t know if it is simply the American Revolution in space, but it’s close enough. What’s really neat is that failing a mission in Colony Wars did not mean “game over,” just a new branch to follow. You can “fail” every mission in the game and still see it end, albeit through dire consequences. This allowed for the story to really feel unique, like your own, and certainly softened that blow when things didn’t go as perfectly as you planned them. Evidently, there are two alternative “good” endings, though I couldn’t tell you if I saw any of them. I definitely witnessed my fair share of “failed” missions though…

Speaking of missions, I remember them being quite many, as well as varied, though they naturally all involve you flying in your spaceship to some capacity. I think there’s about 70 in total, and you have to remember that you’ll only experience maybe a third or so based on your success or failure rates, making multiple playthroughs worth the effort. Let me see what some mission types were: perimeter defense, guarding supply lines, protecting capital fleetships, taking down opposing capital fleetships, dogfighting, infiltrating Imperial territory, and surveillance-style objectives, like obtaining Naval technology.

At the time, the graphics in Colony Wars were capable of being described as light years ahead of other PlayStation titles (pun intended). It did that thing where when your spaceship goes faster, speed lines appear around you in a circular fashion, something I’d probably scene on Star Trek or some other space-themed TV show. And there I was, the one piloting the ship, zooming forward through the emptiness towards that massive hulk in the distance, my target to destroy. It’s also one of the rare games that I enjoyed using the cockpit view more than the third-person camera, as seeing the inside of your ship and HUD really helped immerse yourself in the action, especially when you’d be flipping this way and that, hot on some enemy ship’s trail. Also, a friendly warning that should be heeded by all: do not look directly into the sun.

The game’s soundtrack is not exactly memorable, but upon giving it another go via the YouTubes, I’m finding it thematically appropriate. Dark, brooding, and capable of building to something that feels almost entirely overwhelming–perfect for backing up a contested dogfight out in the middle of no spaceman’s land. A great use of orchestra and electronica, but maybe a bit too unnerving for listening to when writing a blog post. I feel the need now to take down an evil-as-evil-gets ginormous battleship hiding in an asteroid belt singlehandedly; that, or entirely rewatch Battlestar Galactica for like the umpteenth time.

I’ve had a disc copy of Colony Wars: Vengeance in my collection for some time now, untouched, the manual glanced at occasionally, and I guess if I ever do really get that itch to fly through space and shoot some massive vessels I can give it a go. I don’t know much about this sequel to the original, save that it retains the idea of fail-able missions, but also lets your spaceship entire planets’ atmosphere to shake things up. However, it won’t be the same Colony Wars that I remember so fondly from 1997, that opened before my blossoming eyes and stretched out endlessly, that put a dot in the distance and directly me towards it. Let’s leave with a fitting Carl Sagan quote: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

Suikoden II reminds you to not join the Highland Army’s youth division

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I like juggling multiple games at once, and so for the moment, here’s everything I’m tossing in a circular motion over my head: Dead Island, Diablo III, Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, The Swapper, and Disney Magical World. Someone off to my side just threw Suikoden II in with the bunch, but it’s okay; I’m a decent juggler. Here’s the real dirt–I first learned to juggle with baseballs because I was generally lousy at team sports and often asked to sit the bench for Little League, and it was one way to entertain myself. Hey, at least I was improving a skill, though not one that my coaches intended.

Anyways, Suikoden II. It was this or moving right on to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but I think I need a wee bit more breathing room from Hideo Kojima’s zany nanomachine-influenced mindfuckery for the time being, though I am still intent on playing the remainder of that series before 2014 comes to a close. So long as I can stay one game ahead of Dan and Drew over at Giant Bomb, I’m good. Granted, I also had ambitions about playing a horror game for this glorious month of October, namely Silent Hill 3–yes, another Konami game–but that might not happen given that I’m simultaneously juggling a bunch of comic projects (like Inktober, hint hint).

If you’ll recall, I found replaying Suikoden for the first time in many years to be…an experience. Sometimes an odd one, sometimes a mechanical one, sometimes a repetitive one, but in the end, an enjoyable one. It turned out to be a rather short RPG too in the grand scheme of things, but given that I’ve now sunk just under seven hours into Suikoden II and haven’t even gotten a castle headquarters yet, the sequel is looking to be a much longer, more thorough journey. Let’s get into it.

A real quick summary of the plot goes like this: Suikoden II begins with Riou–who I naturally renamed as Hodor–and his childhood friend Jowy Atreides working together in the youth division of the Highland Army. One night, unexpectedly, Luca Blight, the prince of Highland, orchestrates the slaughter of their unit, blaming it on the neighboring city-state of Jowston. This gives the madman justification for invading Jowston and snowballing a, more or less, civil war. Luckily, Hodor and Jowy escape, eventually making friends with those caught on the other side of battle.

First off, this is a very serious story. Cue ultra and dramatic soundtrack. There are teeny tiny splinters of humor in the game, but so far, they are only with Flik and Viktor and their festering bromance with one another. Otherwise, it’s all about politics and really evil people doing really evil things to innocent villagers; yes, Luca Blight, I’m looking directly at you for that “act like a pig” scene. The game does a great job of making you feel like you really did get swept into the middle of all this, but also prompts you, or rather Hodor, to be the hero destiny foretells. I still wish he wasn’t a mostly mute protagonist, but alas, that’s just how these games roll.

Structurally and gameplay-wise, not much sets Suikoden II apart from its predecessor, though it clearly looks a whole lot nicer. Battles remain turn-based, you still do one-on-one duels, and the large-scale army fights are still there, though tweaked to be more RTS than rock, paper, scissors. The cast is much grander right from the start, and I love that Suikoden‘s Flik and Viktor make a return here, playing extremely vital roles in guiding Hodor and his friends safely through war and strife. I’m curious to see if anything is different with upgrading your castle besides that cooking mini-game; honestly, I don’t even remember how you get your castle, so here’s looking forward to that surprise.

Stray observations, a format I’m totally stealing from The AV Club for the time being:

  • You can run by holding down the Circle button right from the beginning of the game, which does wonders for moving about towns. In Suikoden, you could only dash if you had a specific rune attached, the True Holy Rune, which is one of the reasons I ended up using Stallion a lot.
  • The flashy random battle transition takes advantage of the PlayStation’s ability to render 3D polygons, even in a 2D game.
  • Animations on the character sprites have been enhanced x10.
  • I’m still coming across some strange sound effects, especially when attacking enemies in battle. Sounds like a wet sponge being stepped on. Not as weird as a dragon trumpeting like an elephant, but odd nonetheless.
  • Already took like five photos of bad grammar/spelling mistakes in the opening hour alone.
  • At a glance, seems like inventory space is even MORE limited this time around. Grr. Funk that.
  • I’m happy to see that Unite attacks are more plentiful, especially early on. You end up using Hodor and Jowy’s “Buddy Attack” a lot because it targets all enemies on screen, but I also enjoy seeing Kinnison and Shiro take down an entire column of creepy spiders with their “Loyal Dog Attack”.
  • Already got like three recipes, so bring on the Iron Chef mini-game.

For the reasons I’ve stated above at the start of this post, I’m playing Suikoden II slower and in much shorter chunks. Granted, that might all change once Hodor gets his castle headquarters and can begin bringing in a swarm of friends and allies, but for now, I’m okay with the pace. After all, there’s a lot more heavy moments to take in here, and no matter how many times Nanami told Hodor he didn’t have to wait with her for Jowy’s return, I’ve got all the patience in the world. You can’t rush through the good times.

Dead Island’s a lively tropical vacation full of zombies

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Back in October 2013, I grabbed a digital copy of Dead Island for $4.99 on the PlayStation 3 and played for a little bit, actually finding it too unnerving to play solo, given that any group of three or more zombies proved deadly, and the to-ing and fro-ing for fetch quests felt both depressing and lonely. I don’t think I got out of Act I or even hit level 10 with whatever character I selected before putting the whole thing aside. Flash-forward to February 2014, and Dead Island is given out as a freebie for Gold users on the Xbox 360. Figured I’d try one more time.

For those unaware, Dead Island is a first-person, zombie-killing survival loot fest. What does that mean? Well, you will kill zombies, find better weapons, and use them to kill more zombies. There’s a high focus on melee weapons though guns do pop up later and are less exciting. The game takes place on the fictional island of Banoi, a tropical resort destination located off the coast of Papua New Guinea. You play as one of four survivors who discover, after a crazy night of partying, that the island’s gone to heck–undead heck, that is. Back on the PS3, I started off as Xian Mei, a hotel receptionist and spy for the Chinese government, but decided to go with former football-star Logan Carter for this second go-around, seeing as he is much better suited for wielding blunt weapons.

Your goal is, naturally, to get off this zombie-infested island alive. Along the way, you’ll do smaller quests for other survivors, like finding a necklace or reuniting siblings. All the quests exist to simply get you out in the wild, killing zombies, finding new weapons, and gaining XP. This can be a lot of fun, generally when it is you versus one or two zombies; it’s all about crowd control and managing your stamina, which runs out fast with each hard swing of your hammer or spiked baseball bat. Breaking a zombie’s bones or slice its head off in one swift action is very satisfying, even if the game occasionally bugs out or feels too tough for one person to get through.

Well, something happened the other night. I was playing through the campaign by myself, specifically the Act 1 mission where you have to protect a mechanic’s workshop while he tinkers with upgrading your van with some zombie-blocking armor. Naturally, all the noise he creates draws in a bunch of biters; I finished the mission just fine when, out of nowhere, another player joined my game. This player was clearly much higher in level than me–his gun shot bullets that set zombies aflame and put them to the ground in one single trigger-pull–and I figured he’d see what I was up to and decide I wouldn’t be fun to co-op with, given the differences between our characters. But no–he lingered. And then two other players joined, both just as high in level as him. They wanted to adventure with moi.

With these three other power-spewing players by my side, we blazed through the remainder of Dead Island‘s Act I and got pretty deep into Act II before I had to drop out to make some phone calls and play something less terrifying before bedtime. I wouldn’t necessarily call it fun for me or how I even wanted to play, as I spent the majority of my time just walking behind them, watching zombies getting slaughtered and free, unearned XP added to my character, and there seemed to be little I could do. Given that Act II begins in a new area, I wanted to explore more slowly and on my own, but these three were eager to just move on to the next mission, often firing guns in the air as a signal for me to hurry up and over. A part of me felt bad for abandoning them; heck, they joined my game, and were here to assumedly help me. So I followed behind for a good while, earning lots of XP, money, and weapons, and missing every important story beat along the way. Now that they’re gone, I feel very out of my element–like I don’t belong in Act II.

As you explore Banoi, the game is constantly letting you know that so-and-so is nearby, just click this button to join their game. I tried it once or twice, with it putting me really far away from the other player, to the point that I was basically still just playing solo, but listening to someone’s choppy voicechat. It’s a neat function that seems to work well enough, but I think I need to turn it off, at least until I complete the story once. Right now, I feel like I’m missing a lot of the atmosphere and small details by just jumping from quest to quest, completing a handful in under an hour. Maybe they were all boosting for Achievements, but I’m not really interested in that stuff anymore.

It sounds like Dead Island is a pretty long game. The level cap is 50, and I just hit 25, and there are still two more acts to go. I’ve come across some online grumbling about how these final sections are less fun than exploring the beach/resort area. Already, I’m disliking the city/church area, as there are way too many zombies to realistically handle; I’ve found myself sprinting past enemies more often to not. It’s also more closed off, with narrow alleys and buildings, whereas the beach felt very open. I’ll keep going though. I don’t want to be a zombie.

There’s some cold, quiet body interchanging in The Swapper

the swapper early thoughts

Well, back in February of this year, I tossed a few bucks at Humble Indie Bundle 11 and got the following puppy-eyed indie dogs back to play with:

  • Antichamber
  • Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail
  • Fez
  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
  • Guacamelee! Gold Edition
  • Monaco
  • Starseed Pilgrim
  • The Swapper

Naturally, I’ve only really played half of these. Granted, I already played and beat Fez back when it debuted on the Xbox 360, so my digital copy will most likely continue to collect e-dust for a good while unless I get a hankering for some world-rotating fun. I also ended up getting free copies of Dust: An Elysian Tail and Monaco for being a Gold member, so I won’t really be getting much use out of these Steam editions. Really, the only game from this list that I played freshly and fully is Guacamelee!, and I do intend to pop back to it eventually, as its Metroidvania map is still littered with secrets to unearth.

Of the remaining names, I’ve been most interested in seeing what The Swapper is all about. While it and Antichamber are both puzzle games, one is more intimidating than the other, and I’ll let you figure out which is which. Psst: it’s the one that deals with colors and walking backwards.

The Swapper‘s got a great, Golden Age sci-fi plot, the kind that makes me want to fish out my many Asimov books and pore through them all over again: having exhausted their natural resources, humanity establishes seven remote outposts in distant space to extract and synthesize useful materials from nearby planets. The crews for these space stations must survive independently of Earth for several decades as they work. Unfortunately, Station 7 loses orbit and disintegrates into its closest sun, and then Station 6 mysteriously goes offline. The crew of Theseus begin to explore an uninhabitable desert planet and find that it is abundant with natural mineral deposits called Chori V. However, they also discover an alien lifeform similar to Earth’s silkworm and highly complex rock formations of unknown origin that seem to possess rudimentary intelligence.

The majority of the story is told visually and through terminal logs, though I have run into another living, speaking crew member, distraught as she may be. Oh, and rocks talk to me telepathically. But really, it’s all about the visuals. Which are, to put it straight, simply stunning. The 2D visuals are created from photographed clay models, which gives everything a diorama-like look, and every room you enter tells a story, whether it is the lush, vibrant plants still thriving in the greenhouse or the somber, abandoned rec rooms. Lighting plays an important part; your character’s Swapper gun is equipped with a flashlight, which is really only a sliver of light, but it adds to the atmosphere wonderfully. The levels themselves are gorgeously lit or sometimes dark on purpose for effect. It’s got the same sobering sadness found early on in Super Metroid or when you later get to the powered down section.

To progress in The Swapper, you have to collect orbs, as some doors or places on the Metroidvania-esque map require you to have X number of them first to get past. You find these orbs as rewards to puzzle rooms, and sometimes you get one orb, another time you get three, and occasionally you’ll rack up a large sum all at once. The puzzles revolve around you using the Swapper, which creates clones; you can make up to four other copies of yourself, and so long as the path is clear, swap places with any of them. At first, the puzzles are fairly elementary, but they quickly ramp up in difficulty, often asking you to balance timing and the specific placement of each clone, as well as dealing with moveable crates or Swapper-nullifying bursts of light. You’ll also end up murdering many, many clones of yourself, all for the sake of progress. I’m proud to say I’ve not had to look up outside help…yet.

If I had The Swapper‘s story spoiled for me during some of Giant Bomb‘s GOTY talks last year, I’ve quickly forgotten whatever they said. Sure, I suspect there’s going to be some kind of twist related to your ability to create disposable duplicates of yourself, and those mind-talking rocks are surely up to no good, but either way–I’m glad I don’t remember what is going to happen. It makes both the future puzzles and story beats all more desirable, rewarding. I don’t know how much further I have to go, but here’s to more orbs, obtuse terminal logs from Sam Cook (not to be confused with Sam Cooke), and watching my body crumble into itself after missing a timely swap as gravity took over and floor quickly met feet.