Category Archives: impressions

The great wheel of discovery turns again in Suikoden

suikoden lepant mansion wheel

Let’s see, let’s see. Where did I last leave off with my Suikoden progress?

Oh, right. Pauly McDohl and the gang had had their fill of playing Chinchirorin and were preparing to storm a gloomy castle in the middle of an ocean, one evidently guarded by fog, snails with long necks, and a mighty fire-spewing dragon. Don’t worry. We won, though Pauly and Gremio both fell unconscious during the fight and missed out on a largely sweet EXP boost, now a bit behind everyone else in terms of leveling. And so, with all the monsters cleared out of the castle, every treasure chest opened, and it given a proper name, the real meat of Suikoden can start. I’m talking about recruiting members into the Liberation Army and watching your castle expand as people move on in and call it home.

Before continuing on with the next story section, I immediately headed back out to all the towns I could visit to see who I could instantly recruit to the Liberation Army. Some Stars of Destiny are more eager or easily swayed than others; take for instance Onil, a gossip-monger living in Seika. She’s already heard about Pauly looking for recruits and is ready to go, and I think that’s the extent of Onil’s usefulness, but at least she can be ticked off of Luc’s recruit-tracking stone slabs. Other people you can recruit are more useful gameplay-wise, such as Marie–you remember her, the stuck-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place innkeeper from way back in Gregminster, yes?–who now operates a free inn inside your castle, as well as Sergei who puts in an elevator, which will grow in importance as your castle itself grows in importance. And then there are the fighters you recruit who you can actually add to your party’s formation and see what kind of neat runes they have or special unite attacks, such as Varkas and Sydonia.

After getting all that I could–sorry Lorelai, you’ll have to wait until I’m a higher level–I jumped back on the plot wagon and went to Kouan to speak with Lepant, a wealthy merchant, at Mathiu’s request. This took the gang inside a mansion brimming with robotic enemies, evidently created by Juppo the trickster. Fine, fine. I can fight mimic treasure chests all day long. However, I was once again completely surprised to enter a room featuring Juppo’s masterpiece: a giant roulette wheel of chance, backed by that jaunty, somewhat jarring banjo-lead tune previously heard during, I think, the cups game in Rockland. See above. Anyways, you step on the wheel, it spins you round and round, and you get what you land on. Strangely, there are slices for +10 EXP and -10 EXP, which is an amount so minor that you’d have to land on them five thousand times to really feel any kind of impact. It took me maybe seven or eights go-arounds to land safely on the other side. Again, a strange part of Suikoden that I completely forgot about, but one I have to imagine the developers were excited to see implemented at the time, in a JRPG of all things.

In the room after that, you meet Rock, a man eager to open up a warehouse in your castle. I recruited him as fast as I could hit the button because I’m beginning to struggle with Suikoden‘s old-school take on inventory slots. It’s quite limited, and with Rock’s warehouse, I can now at least store rune pieces, armor, and ? ornaments to my heart’s content until I’ve decided what to do with them. See, each party member can hold nine items, but this includes armor they are wearing, which can take up a maximum of five slots if you have something on from head to toes. I generally try to keep a Medicine 6 on everybody too, which leaves little room for much else, and when you are trying to share equipment with someone but they are full on inventory it can be quite maddening to shuffle things to and fro. It’s definitely an aspect I wish was stronger, but I don’t know if a shared inventory would work either, as sometimes deciding who to carry that Needle or Mega Medicine 3 is a strategic decision for sure.

Right, so, there are some big story moments in Lepant’s mansion. First, you learn that your old Gregminster boss Kraze is in control of Kouan and ends up kidnapping Eileen, Lepant’s wife. Secondly, there is the great return of Pahn, and Pauly McDohl’s previous bodyguard redeems himself, physically placing his body between Kraze and Eileen. Then there is a choice: kill or let Kraze go. All I could do is think of Ted, and so Pauly’s hands ran red that day. Digitally red. Well, no–not really. All that happens is the screen fades to black and you hear a “hitting” sound effect; when the scene comes back up, Kraze is gone, so we’ll never really know what happened there, just like we’ll never know what went down in the Tower of Joy unless Howland Reed decides to stand up and speak. Yup, I’m comparing Suikoden with A Song of Ice and Fire. Pony up.

I never intended for me to be covering my replay of Suikoden in a “let’s play” fashion, but I just keep finding interesting moments to talk about. Again, I haven’t touched this game in over a decade, so there’s a lot I’ve forgotten, as well as many memories tinted by nostalgia. Some of the mechanics are still extremely enjoyable–recruiting dudes–while others I’m finding frustrating–equipping dudes–but I’m glad to be back in this colorful 16-bit world, even if it feels a little less epic and more to the point than I previously remembered. Up next, I guess…elves and kobolds.

Hatty Hattington is working for the cats in BattleBlock Theater

BattleBlock-Theater-1 early impressions

The title of this blog post might not make any sense to those unfamiliar with BattleBlock Theater‘s plot. That said, it might not make sense regardless. Either way, it sounded catchy in my mind, and so I wrote it, because “working for the cats” is the sort of life no one should live. As a daily scooper of cat poop, trust me–I know. Rarely do I struggle with finding an image and silly phrase to write on top of it in my now classic Showcard Gothic font, but blog post titles are tricky things; you want something that will, at the same time, grab a reader’s attention and inform them about what they will be reading about. Some of my post titles are more successful than others. Just a little insider baseball here at Grinding Down, Inc.

Right. On with the show, pun completely intended. BattleBlock Theater was one of July’s free Games with Gold thingies, and, just as with Charlie Murder, I ended up downloading right at the end of the month, almost missing it entirely. I have to not slack on these because free is free, and we’re getting Motocross Madness (nay!) and Dishonored (yay!) for August 2014. I just might have to remove both Halo 3 and Crackdown from my hard-drive to make space, but that’s okay–I don’t think I’m going back to either ever again, despite there still being some 100+ Agility Orbs left to collect; I’ll live, and so will you.

I knew next to nothing about BattleBlock Theater or its developer before diving right into it. I guess they previously made Castle Crashers, which seems like a fantastic group game if you have people to play with, which I unfortunately do not. Cue sad violin music. A quick glance makes it seem like a cartoony, side-scrolling action platformer, and I think I was pretty close with my first assumption. I wasn’t expecting it to be so quirky, but quirky is fine in my books, and so listening to the narrator–voiced by Will Stamper–dramatically tell the doomed voyage of the S.S. Friendship and how all of its people, even the great Hatty Hattington, got captured by an island of cats and forced to entertainment everyone via deadly obstacle courses…well, it delightfully took me by surprise. Seriously, his voice is a rollercoaster, and it takes you places, most often from one level to another, but in a way that’s more fun than a silent loading screen or text pop-up.

For the story mode, you play through a bunch of short, platform- and puzzle-themed levels, trying to complete them as fast as possible while collecting gems and balls of yarns, both of which are used to unlock new avatars and powers, respectively. At the end, you get a letter grade, with the best being A++ and giving you two extra green gems. To get that, you need to move fast and collect everything in one go. Your little dude–which is always green for me and generally rocking a funny face–can jump, double jump, punch, and use a special attack like throwing fireballs or tossing boomerangs to knock away persistent enemies standing in your way of progress. Other parts of the level require timing, hitting switches, finding secret teleporting portals, clinging to walls/ceilings, and so on.

Naturally, getting the gems and balls of yarn is fairly easy in the early levels, but I’m now up to world five and struggling to even finish the levels with a letter grade above a B. That’s not to say that the levels are punishingly hard, just more devious about the puzzles and ways to reach everything, and since time is of the essence, you have to pick: pound your head against the wall in hopes of figuring it out or move on and finish the level faster. That said, every part of the level has a purpose, so there’s never any frustration felt over getting stuck in this corner or that; each piece in a level has a purpose, but you have to figure that out yourself. BattleBlock Theater is the type of game that gets under your skin, driving you forward to see what the next world’s levels look like and what new twists they throw at you. It also helps that, in reality, each level can be completed in under a few minutes, so the dopamine pace is rapid-fire.

As I already mentioned, the narration throughout is fantastic. In fact, audio is possibly BattleBlock Theater‘s lead actor in the limelight, deservedly so. The song that plays during the main menu begins with just some electronic noises before kicking it to the next level with a catchy-as-all-gets drum beat and horn combo. The majority of the soundtrack is upbeat, bouncy, which works great for leaping from platform to platform and punching enemy cats in the face. Oh, and the sound effects are snappy, but addictive, like the notes that play when you snag enough gems to open the exit to the level. I’m excited to hear more of it.

There’s some online play and co-op stuff in BattleBlock Theater, which I’ve not tried yet and most likely won’t ever get to. I mean, I could take a deep breath and randomly join another online player’s game, but I won’t. For starters, I’m not sure what the benefit of playing these levels with a second player is, though I guess we could potentially grab all the gems faster. Eh, I’d rather just go at it by myself, that way when I repeatedly fall into spikes or water seven times in a row I don’t have to explain it to anyone. If co-op adventure story levels aren’t your thing, then arena challenges exist, which are basically twists on classic multiplayer games like King of the Hill. Lastly, there’s a level editor, which I’ve also not explored…yet.

As a freebie for Gold members, BattleBlock Theater is a hit. It is colorful, accessible yet still challenging, brimming with content to eat up, and flavorful in the same vein that Thomas Was Alone is. Those that consider graphics everything are not going to be blown away, but this experience is more about learning a level and running through it as perfectly as possible, and it really helps that the game plays well, save for the unsatisfying melee combat. I’m glad I’m playing it now and am looking forward to finishing up the Story mode; I think there’s six worlds in total to go through. Again, I most likely won’t try to play any co-op Story levels, but maybe I’ll jump into an Arena match or two and see what that’s all about. Until then, my feline overlords.

Remember Me teaches us to never forget the painful memories

remember me game final thoughts

If I had actually played Remember Me in 2013 and not dragged my feet to getting around to it, this heartbreaking tale of mind and memory most likely would’ve made my list of my five favorite games for the year, knocking out Doritos Crash Course 2. Yes, in spite of its shortcomings, of which there are several, it’s still that good, and I urge anyone reading this that has even the slightest interest in checking out Dontnod Entertainment’s debut to bite the bullet and do it. There most likely won’t be a sequel, and there might come a time when you won’t, ironically, even remember this came out.

I covered a lot of Remember Me in my last post, which saw me just entering the game’s fourth chapter. Also known as the halfway point for this roughly seven-hour journey. The second half of the game is still formulaic, more of the same platforming, punching, and pondering, but with tougher group and boss fights, as well as hard-cutting plot twists, one of which actually honestly caught me by surprise. No, really. I leaned forward and muttered, “No way.” You got me, game. Some later beats I saw coming, but not in execution, so that continued to keep me on my toes, because in a world where anything and everything is malleable, even hopes and dreams and memories, nothing can be expected.

Remember Me‘s premise is so dang good, and I’m not just saying that because I love movies like Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, short fiction by Philip K. Dick, and, of course, George Orwell’s 1984, where playing with one’s mind is the key to making things work. At least for a time. It’s perhaps not as byzantine as those previous mentions, but it still packs a punch, holds power, and proves poignant, especially when talking about how personal pain can result in far-reaching consequences for the ones we love, even entire cultures. It’s certainly a cinematic adventure, but it’s handled quite seriously and personally, unfolding at a great clip with enough interaction peppered throughout to not slip into Metal Gear Solid 2 territory, where you only watch things happen as a passive player.

Something I neglected to comment on in my previous Remember Me post is that it features a fantastically strange soundtrack by Oliver Deriviere. Every time I’d scroll past Remember Me on my list of PlayStation Plus games, I’d get a one-second tease at the futuristic tunes that back up all those glowing signs, futuristic buildings, drones, and chaotic fights. It’s an orchestral and electronica mix, spiced with a number of glitches and synthesizer bleeps, which creates rather appropriate cyberpunk music. You might not ever notice when a song starts, but once it begins to amp up, it’s all you’ll hear, and it is used to great effect, especially during boss fights and the last chunk of the game.

Sadly, I will say that I felt no desire to search for the collectibles in Remember Me, unlike the feelings I got for Agility Orbs in Crackdown and shards in inFAMOUS 2. I finished the game with over half of the Scaramechs found, which are the parasites feeding on ambient memories in each level, generally located by the static-like sounds they emit; when you shoot them down, you get a slight PMP bonus. The most straightforward collectibles are the Mnesis memories, which are found in the environment. SAT and Focus pick-ups expand your health and energy after you collect enough of them. I don’t remember how much health Nilin had by the end, but she definitely only had two pips of Focus, so I missed a bunch, but again didn’t really feel driven to snuff every single one out. Plus, with the health-restoring combo attacks, you can get by on very little.

Again, Remember Me is a game you should play. It’s a smart, confident sci-fi adventure that’ll most likely take you ten to eleven hours on the middle difficulty level, with enough combat customization to keep things interesting and challenging, though there really isn’t any point to replaying it a second time, unless you missed some Trophies and collectibles. All the events will play out the same regardless, but man, what a series of events, lead by Nilin, a strong female protagonist capable of doing her own dirty work, and only sexualized in a few shots where the camera angle lingers a bit too long on her lower backside. She stands tall next to heroines like Jade from Beyond Good & Evil and Konoko from Oni. She, and her tragic tale of learning who she is and how she ultimately became Nilin, the Memory Hunter, is unarguably worth remembering.

Chinchirorin tests Pauly McDohl’s patience in Suikoden

suikoden 1 tai ho chinchirorin dice game

So, Suikoden surprised me again. I completely remembered the cups game with the old lady in Rockland, though I don’t exactly remember how the exploit works to earn a bajillion bucks–er, sorry, I mean bits. Think it has to do with only playing one round over and over, and it’s always under the same cup the first time. However, I was not at all mentally prepared for the trial of patience when Pauly McDohl and friends arrived in Kaku, a small fishing village on the coast of Lake Toran, and a second mini-game came into the fold, one that got in the way of the actual plot advancing. It’s based entirely around luck, and luck, it seemed, was not on my side, but I guess it hasn’t been for some time since a certain someone began wielding a certain “soul-eating” True Rune.

Right. Well, since the last update, Pauly McDohl and friends are now considered rebels and on the run. They eventually meet up with Lady Odessa, the leader of the Liberation Army, which thrives underground and exists to fight back against the Empire. After helping to deliver some secret weapon plans to friends, they return to find Empire soldiers attacked the Liberation Army headquarters–which is simply a basement beneath an inn–and Lady Odessa critically wounds herself protecting a small child. As she dies, she gives two final requests: deliver an earring and to not let her death be known, otherwise support for the Liberation Army will fall. When you deliver this earring to a man called Mathiu Silverberg–her brother!–he sees great potential in Pauly and declares that the Liberation Army needs a new headquarters, one that could withstand an attack from the Empire. Mathiu suggests the castle in the middle of Lake Toran, and so the gang is off to Kaku, to find somebody willing to row them over to it. That’s when we meet Tai Ho, his bowl, and his magical dice-throwing skills.

Tai Ho is willing to give the gang a boat ride over to the castle, but only if Pauly can beat him at his own game. However, you have to put up all your money against him so make sure you spend a bit before doing so. The gambling game played with three six-sided dice is known as Chinchirorin, or more commonly called Cee-lo in the United States. Rolling a 4-5-6 is always treated as a winning combination for the first player who rolls it, and a 1-2-3 automatically loses. If you roll two dice of the same number, the third dice scores, so a 4-4-6 would mean a score of 6. If you miss the bowl or the dice fall out, it’s also an automatic loss. There is also something called Storm, which is when you get three of the same number, but a 1-1-1 means you lose and pay double while a 6-6-6 means you win and get paid double.

All of that means nothing when you realize the game is based entirely around luck, and it took me at least seven or eight attempts to beat Tai Ho. However, you can’t play against him unless you have at least 1,000 bits, so the rinse, shampoo, wash cycle went as follows: lose all money to Tai Ho, venture out to grind for money, use some of that money to heal up via a night at the inn, go back out to recuperate losses, and then return to the dice master to try again. Took me about an extra 20 to 30 minutes. I guess some people save right before this part and reload to try again, but that’s never been my style, as you’ll recall from my time with Fire Emblem: Awakening. If you’re curious, my game-winning throw was a 3-3-5 to Tai Ho’s 2-2-4. Suck it.

I suspect I’ll have to play Chinchirorin a few more times to actually recruit Tai Ho and his brother down the line, but for now we’re moving on. There’s a gloomy castle filled with monsters in the middle of a lake to investigate!

Suikoden’s opening hour is more goofy than I remembered

suikoden 1-Image00254

I’m going to be replaying both Suikoden and Suikoden IIfor reasons. You don’t need to know the reasons right now, and truth be told, I’d happily replay both of these games just because I can since I still own them as physical copies, but also to keep me in check, because I do like to tout them as some of my favorite games, if not my absolute favorite RPGs. That said, I’ve not touched them since my high school days, and I’m beginning to worry that maybe I’m relying a bit too much on nostalgia.

And with that, after completing another comic about Dan Ryckert’s food stories over at Giant Bomb, I popped in the disc for Suikoden, turned on my, as of late, dormant PlayStation 2, and sifted through my memory cards to find one with space for a save slot. I also discovered at this point that I’m missing Suikoden‘s instruction manual, ugh. Not sure where–and when–that thing vanished. Anyways, after checking all my PS1 memory cards to make sure I didn’t already have a game in progress, I selected “New Game”, rightfully named Tir McDohl to Pauly, and began old-school JRPGing.

Real quick: I’m going to be talking pretty specifically about mostly everything that unfolds in Suikoden‘s first hour, which is actually a lot of different events, so if you’ve not yet gotten to experience it and don’t want to be spoiled, I suggest y’all close this browser right now and move on to something else. All right, let’s go. Let’s show my nostalgia just where it is all truly at.

So, the main thing that surprised me about playing Suikoden again for the first time in over ten years is that…it’s actually quite goofy. Like, if the technology to include a studio audience laugh-track existed at the time for the PlayStation 1, Konami totally would’ve done it. Sure, sure, most people think about the heavy politics and twisted betrayals for both this game and later ones in the series, and they are right to do so. Besides the recruiting of 108 Stars of Destiny and upgrading your castle, the extremely adult tone and direction of the plot is where Suikoden stands miles above its competitors. However, almost right from the get-go, things are goofy and light-hearted and a bit juvenile, and maybe that is really only for now, before the shitstorm truly hits Teo McDohl’s son and friends.

Anyways, check this out. After returning home from meeting the Emperor and getting assigned to work with Commander Kraze Miles (just look at that name), Gremio announces that he’ll be serving dinner soon. You now get the freedom to explore the house and talk to everyone. If you go into the kitchen and try to talk to Gremio, you are given the selectable option to either A) scare him or B) tickle him, both of which result in a lot of stuttering. You can also scare Pahn, who is busy napping. Again, you can probably chalk this up to kids being kids, but I honestly didn’t remember any of this.

Your first mission sends you off to Lady Leknaat’s castle, to acquire some astral projections or something. To get there, you must meet with a spunky young Dragon Knight called Futch and get flown over on his dragon Black, which, I kid you not, sounds like an elephant. Oh, and speaking of sound, when you are in the menus and click on something you can’t interact with, it sounds a bit like a duck. Yeah, maybe Konami was limited for audio samples, but it’s pretty bizarre nonetheless.

On your way up to the castle, you’ll get a small taste of the combat system. It’s pretty standard turn-based action, with some characters able to unite for a joint attack or use magic spells/attacks via attached runes. The combat goes pretty fast, actually, and I like when multiple things happen at once. Strangely, there’s no fanfare when you level; you simply watch numbers increase. We’ve been spoiled over the years with games–both RPGs and not–making you glow, playing a tune, doing something special when you increase in level. I’ve also gone from level 1 to 7, gaining experience fast and not even coming close to falling in battle, save for the boss fight with the Ant Queen, where it’s mandatory, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

After speaking with Lady Leknaat, the next mission has you going to Rockland and then up a mountain path to beat up some bandits that are causing trouble for Rockland, a small town of impoverished and suffering smallfolk unable to pay the Emperor’s taxes. I spoke with one of the kids there and he flat out said that the guards hit him. Heavy stuff, not a lick of goofiness, so long as you ignore the cup minigame. Anyways, during an unbeatable battle with the Ant Queen, Pauly McDohl’s good friend Ted reveals he has some crazy dark magic up his sleeve to save the day. When you get back to Rockland, the mayor pays you, but then your helpless escort Kanaan takes the money, seeing as it belongs to Kraze; that small wah-wah-waaah jingle plays. Um. At least it wasn’t a dragonphant trumpeting.

Upon returning to Gregminster, Ted is requested to go to the castle while everyone else returns home to rest. A little later, just as it begins to storm, Ted shows up at the front door, beaten and nearly unconscious. Cleo suspects it might be “thugs,” a term I did not remember her saying or ever expected to come out of her mouth, but there it is. Turns out, the Emperor wants Ted’s magic rune and he risked everything to get away, so that he could pass the rune–one of the 27 True Runes, mind you–over to his good friend Pauly. We’re now hiding out in the local inn, looking for some way to sneak out of Gregminster without alerting the guards.

And that’s more or less the first hour of the game. I think my save slot says an hour and fourteen minutes. Some talk, some battle, some plot development, and a bunch of hard turns when it comes to tone and material. Either way, I’m excited to keep playing Suikoden, to remember what I remember, and to learn about the moments I clearly missed my first few times through it.

Every mission repeatedly in Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions

spot_g7-metalgearsolidvrmissions-1

It all began in Metal Gear Solid, right there on the main menu. Basically, you could take on 10 different tutorial missions all set in a Tron-inspired virtual reality that would teach Solid Snake–or rather you, the player–the ins and outs of being a sneaky, alarm-bypassing soldier. The idea behind this is that players were offered a chance to learn how to be Solid Snake outside of the game while not interrupting the main flow of the narrative-driven gameplay. Ironically, Codec calls from Mei Ling and friends during Metal Gear Solid‘s early hours would still happen, with them casually breaking the fourth wall to tell you how to save or crawl under a table and so on.

I found the 10 VR missions in Metal Gear Solid to be beyond easy. Even bland. I breezed through all of them without fault and then immediately found myself sad, wanting more challenge. Well, Paul, I say to myself, nodding and grinning and lightly stroking my somewhat out-of-control mountain beard, then I have good news…

Welcome to Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, an entire game devoted to all things tutorial missions, as well as some of that crazy mindfuckery that we’d eventually really get to know Kojima for with the series follow-up of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. VR Missions is exactly what it says on the tin, adding 300 additional training missions for the stealthy gamers salivating for more. Oh, and if one finishes all 300 missions, “mystery missions” are unlocked, and there’s also three bonus missions where you get to play as the ninja Gray Fox. And some kind of photo-taking event that reportedly takes up your entire memory card. I’ll spoil y’all reading this now that I won’t ever see that stuff, as I don’t expect to cross even the 80% completion rate; as of this writing, I’m around 73% and really feel like I’m done with VR Missions, ready to move on in my Metal Gear sojourn to Sons of Liberty (the PS3 version with Trophies!).

VR Missions is divided up into four sets of missions, but only two of them are accessible from the very start: Sneaking and Weapon. Basically, you have to grind out access to other categories by completing a certain percentage of the ones you already have available. This often means playing the same mission twice, but now on a timed version, which is not very fun or even Metal Gear-like, but I’ll get to that in just a bit. For now, here’s a breakdown of what the game offers mission-wise:

“Sneaking” consists of 15 missions, most of which are lifted whole cloth from the VR training included in the original Metal Gear Solid. I ran through them in record timing thanks to having just played them recently, and then you get to repeat these same missions all over again in “Time Attack” form, “Socom” form, and then the dreaded “Socom Time Attack” form. For those counting along, that right there is already 60 missions of the much touted 300 missions.

“Weapon” tasks you with target shooting missions in 5 levels for each of the game’s main weapons. Yup, even C4. You basically take out both stationary and moving targets with a limited amount of ammo to chew through. Some are more puzzle-based than others. Then you get to do it all over again in “Time Attack” form, totaling 70 missions. If you add these plus all the “Sneaking” ones, you get 130 missions, nearly half the game’s content.

The “Advanced” section of missions is a little trickier, as you now have to use the game’s cache of weapons to kill guards and avoid alarms. Your only goal is to obliterate everyone, however you deem fit, which leads to more creativity than previous missions allowed. Unfortunately, before you can play the levels for the next weapon, you must first complete all five of the current weapon’s levels, which only got difficult for me when the Nikita and grenades were involved. Solid Snake is not meant to throw grenades, and I mean that.

“Special” is where VR Missions stands uniquely above itself, and it’s a shame that to get there you have to grind through all those timed modes and redundant missions. You won’t gain access to it until you’ve completed 50% of the rest of the game (around 150 missions). The first section of “Special” is “Puzzle” mode, where you need to use physics to knock off unreachable guards from platforms. Considering you’re using PS1-era physics, it’s not the easiest of tasks, but silly enough ideas. There’s some other stuff, but you need to be above 80% to see it, and alas, I’m not there. This means I’m missing out on the “Mystery” mode where you apparently solve Genome Soldier murders by examining rooms for clues. Oh, and those ninja missions, a fight against a giant Genome soldier (yes, I’ve seen the screenshot), and some kind of endurance run where you have to do like 10 missions in a row on one single bar of health, which I tried once and did not complete.

I was really excited about the idea of VR Missions and even enjoying everything early on, as seeing Snake leap triumphantly when you finish a set of missions was enough to fuel me forward, but as I quickly saw that I’d have to grind out missions to open up more to play…well, my enthusiasm dwindled. Especially when it came to the “Time Attack” forms of missions, which require Solid Snake to move fast and strike faster. He is a man that crouches, that crawls, that slinks around corners, so having him timed to kill X soldiers in X amount of time really makes you throw all that stealth stuff away and just run up to snap necks or pop silently with the Socom pistol. It’s certainly not at all how I like to play these games, and it certainly isn’t how the game was built; for example, try to crawl up behind an enemy, stand, and grab him, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

VR Missions is not the most visually exciting game, as it is the same virtual reality setup from mission to mission. Sometimes it is gold-colored, sometimes light blue. Might even get green at one time or two. Strangely, you can still see the cold breath of Solid Snake and the enemy guards. The music is fine if limited, and all the voice sample cues come from the original Metal Gear Solid, so don’t expect any new story beats here, unless you find hidden layers in how many times Naomi Hunter can say, “Impressive, Snake.”

Again, I’m disappointed that most of VR Missions is the same mission, but on repeat, and that the really crazy stuff is locked away for a long, long time. I might end up looking some stuff up via YouTube as I’m just not interested in grinding out those “Time Attack” levels. A shame, but oh well–this isn’t a traditional game, more like bonus DLC for those that really love these kinds of challenges. Me? I’m ready to move on to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and hopefully I’ve grown stronger as a Solid Snake–but not Raiden–thanks to VR Missions. We’ll see, I guess.

The Deepest Sleep’s nightmare ends and begins anew

the deepest sleep capture

I kind of planned my playthrough of Deeper Sleep just perfectly to line up with the release of the third and final game in the trilogy, The Deepest Sleep, which came out last week. Alas, my weekend was busy full of party planning, party partying, and party recovering, so I only just got around to returning to the darkness last night. The sad truth is that all three of these games are small, quick adventures, ones you can burn through each of them in under 10 to 15 minutes if you really put your heart in it, and so I did my best to make this last as long as possible, and thanks to a game-stopping glitch, it definitely stretched my playtime.

Right. So, at the end of Deeper Sleep, you go down a dark well and find a terrifying “To Be Continued” screen. In this one, it starts with you trapped in a bed, then finding a flashlight, and then in some cult-like building with a bunch of seemingly random rooms to explore. Hmm, all right. Granted, you can always brush aside anything in dreams since reality-based reasoning has no place there. The Deepest Sleep feels both like a continuation in the series and its own unique thing, especially when you come across the newer mechanics not found in the previous two adventures.

I think you could die in Deeper Sleep, but I never did. Yeah, you’re impressed over my pointing and clicking skills, calm down. That said, I perished in my dreams at least four or five times in The Deepest Sleep, and these unfortunate failings stem from the fact that there is a time-based puzzle and stealth-themed bosses to avoid. Wait, is it true that if you die in your dreams…you die for realsies? Uh oh. Let’s not contemplate how I’m typing this blog post any further. Anyways, there’s one puzzle where you have to escape a grouping of three rooms swiftly or succumb to the Bottom Feeders, demons that thrive on darkness; naturally, I didn’t even realize this was happening until the YOU DIED screen popped up. Then you’ll come across a crazy-looking worm boss that can sense quick reflexes, so you have to tip-toe around it or get devoured, and these scenarios are tense and fantastic.

One of the final puzzles in the game revolves around collecting four chunks of stones with markings on them and placing them in a thing on the wall which, when put in the right order, will open a hatch and reveal a ladder. The order placement of the stones is determined by a drawing you find earlier, which is randomly generated, and I put the stones in the right place, but the hatch refused to answer. I even watched an online walkthrough where someone got the same pattern that I had, so I couldn’t figure out how to get past it. Granted, shortly before this stone puzzle, my Adobe Flash plug-in crapped out and I had to refresh the browser, so maybe that had something to do with it hiccupping.

The Deepest Sleep does some interesting things with its story to bring it full circle, but leaves a lot of room open for questions. Alas, they won’t ever get answered, unless scriptwelder decides to go back for more with The Deepest Sleep That Ever Deeply Slept.

Transistor’s futuristic city Cloudbank takes a Turn() for the worse

Transistor game final thoughts

It’s been several weeks now since I played and beat Transistor, and since then I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that Supergiant Games’ second outing is no Bastion II. You might already have suspected that based on the look and tone of Transistor, but everything else seems to shout “same mechanics, same style, same story-telling”…alas, it is not so. That’s not to say that Transistor on its own is not a strong, enjoyable experience, but when put side by side with Bastion, a game I absolutely ate up twice and then some, it stands fully in its shadow. Let me explain some more.

One can easily summarize Transistor‘s story, but to detail it out is a much harder task. Cloudbank’s famous singer Red is, without warning, attacked by the Process, a robotic force commanded by a group called the Camerata. During the fight, she’s transported across Cloudbank and gains possession of the very sword used in her assassination attempt, the mysterious Transistor. She takes the Transistor out of the chest of a dead man, but his consciousness and voice are now a part of the Transistor itself, along with Red’s voice. As Red searches for answers, the Camerata continues to track her across the city, demanding the Transistor returned.

Now, truth be told, I got most of that from Wikipedia. If you want to know anything deeper than that, sorry…I’ve got nothing. And I played the game for a few nights in a row, my face only inches away from my struggling laptop’s screen. Alas, the writing is not as sharp and memorable here as it was in Bastion, though I loved the idea of those interactive terminals, but that air of mystery really hangs about like a damning mist, thickening and making it difficult to see where to go. I’m okay with some aspects of the story being vague, but who Red is and why she is going after these people–and who these people are and are about–well…that’s kind of important stuff and shouldn’t be buried in menus or unlocked through superfluous means. In Bastion, you have to rebuild your safe haven, and you get a big choice at the end; in Transistor, you move from one locale to another, constantly fighting, constantly taking in clouded data, and then you have a showdown with, I guess, the person behind your assassination attempt, and I won’t spoil what happens after that, but you guessed it–it’s unclear.

Okay, so I wasn’t super thrilled with how the story actually unfolded in Transistor–or didn’t unfold, if you will–but at least the combat’s interesting. And fun, sometimes. A few fights felt overwhelming and punishing, and you really don’t get a moment to breathe even though you can pause the action. It’s a mixture of real-time combat and frozen planning, referred to as Turn(). Using the latter will drain Red’s action bar, which takes some time to refill, but allows you to plan out each movement more carefully. It’s really nice that you can take as much time as you want and erase previous decisions if things don’t look sunny and bright, just like with Fallout 3‘s V.A.T.S. Red earns what appears to be set experience points after each battle and can collect new powers, known as Functions, from dead victims of the Process. You can equip up to four of these and combine them in multiple ways to create unique and different effects in battle. I played around with the Functions often, swapping in new ones and attaching others elsewhere just to see how battles changed, and there is quite a lot of variety here. I think you need New Game+ to really see everything though.

Just like with Bastion, Transistor gets its monsters right. From the paparazzi-inspired bots that take Red’s snapshot and momentarily obstruct the screen to the shockwave-creating Jerks that will plow you down if you , they are all uniquely designed and each requires special tactics in battle, which makes for some skillful juggling at times. Early on in the game, you’ll find the beach hideaway, which acts as your training grounds zone, as well as a good place to kick back, listen to some sultry jams, and watch the cyber-sun set. I did not end up completing every challenge here, but I did most of them and always visited when the chance popped up. The time-based and plan-based challenges really give you a feel for some specific combat situations, though I wish they resulted in more than just a bump of XP.

As I’m sure we all remember, music and art were a powerful combo in Bastion, and that trend continues here too. The slick, futuristic lighting of Cloudbank presents a city built on power and elitism, while the music is somber and striking, always setting a mood. At any point in the game, you can press a button and have voiceless Red hum along to whatever tune is playing; a small detail, but a powerful one. I wish one could zoom in a little closer on the battles to see some of the monsters better. Oh, and there are these strange, lightly interactive bridging sequences that really show off Jen Zee’s painting skills.

And so I beat Transistor, saw the message that I could begin playing it all over again in New Game+, and quit right away. I haven’t loaded the game back up since. It’s not that I hated my time with it, just that I feel like I experienced everything it has to offer already, and it’s not like the story is going to radically change a second time through. True, it might become clearer, but the fault is then in the cloudy writing, and it shouldn’t take two playthroughs to really grok it all. Anyways, that return romp would be mostly to try out more Function combos in combat and such, but I think I saw–and tried–plenty along the way, with Spark() probably my favorite Function.

Well, as Rucks might say, “I’ll see you in the next one.”

If only Spyro the Dragon could burn the in-game camera to a crisp

spyro ps1 early impressions

Spyro the Dragon is a cutesy fantasy action-adventure game from Insomniac–y’know, the Ratchet & Clank folk–that I got to play demo-wise way back in the day when videogame magazines came coupled with demo discs or you could even drop five bucks at the local brick-and-mortar store for a retail disc containing a mighty selection of different games to experience. I have a bunch of these in my collection still because I made a vow to myself long ago to never get rid of or trade in anything. In fact, it’s this one here from PlayStation Underground Jampack that I’m talking about, which I guess I got some time in late 1998 or early 1999:

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For those that can’t see due to camera glare in the above pic, on this are demos for Spyro the Dragon, MediEvil, Metal Gear Solid, A Bug’s Life, CoolBoarders 3, NHL FaceOff ’99, NFL GameDay ’99, Rally Cross 2, Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft, and Small Soldiers. Some classic titles there, for sure. Now, for me, a teenager with little cash to my name, spending five bucks ($7.99 for you Canadian suckers!) to sample a smörgåsbord of all games, ranging from sports to action to fantasy to RPG to racing, sounded a whole lot better than saving up for one big game that could potentially disappoint me. Plus, the natural idea behind these demo discs is that if I enjoyed what little nibble the demo could give, I’d probably like the full meal. Years later, the company Nintendo still has no idea how demos work, but that’s a post for another day.

SIDE NOTE: I’d love to do something here on Grinding Down with these demo discs of mine–I have about seven or eight in total–but I’m not sure just what yet. I mean, I guess I could simply deep-dive back into them all and write about playing these wee slices some fifteen years later, though who knows how interesting that would be. If you’ve got an idea for me to try, please do share.

Anyways, so far, my favorite thing about Spyro the Dragon, which I’m playing on the PlayStation 3 after nabbing it and others during a really good sale a few months back, is that it wastes no time getting into the mix of things. I can think of only a few other games that open just as swiftly and let you start playing before you can even speak a word–Jetpack Joyride and Scribblenauts come to mind first.

Okay, you ready for this. Spyro the Dragon begins with a short cutscene that can’t possibly last for more than 30 seconds. In it, a news team sets up an interview with a couple of dragons within the Artisan World, one of five realms in the Dragon Kingdom (the others of which include Peace Keepers’ world, Magic Crafters, Beast Makers, and Dream Weavers), which have lived in harmony for eons. Well, when the reporter brings up Gnasty Gnorc, a gnorc who lives within his own, sixth realm, one of the dragons describes him as an ugly, simple-minded creature who poses no threat to the Dragon Kingdom. Daaang. Those are fighting words, for sure. And yup, fortuitously, Gnasty is watching the live feed at that exact moment; enraged, he casts a magic spell that encases all of the dragons in crystal and sends out an army of gnorc soldiers to take over the realms. However, one purple dragon called Spyro, due to his smallish nature, is able to dodge the spell, and it’s now up to him to save his elders.

And that’s the gist of the story so far. You are the lucky wee dragon left alive, and you must save everybody us, and you do this by charging into the crystal statues and freeing the elders. Each of these older, bigger dragons has a name and something to say to Spyro upon rescue, but then they are gone in a poof. Rinse and repeat until you find all the dragons in a given themed area (36 levels spread across six worlds). Other than that, Spyro can shoot a small burst of flames from his mouth and jump and even fly a bit (though technically it is falling with style). You want to also defeat enemies and collect gems. More or less, it’s a very traditional character-dependent action adventure game, and there is nothing wrong with the premise to begin with.

However, in a game all about jumping and flying from one place to another, the in-game camera needs to work with the player. This camera is atrocious. Really just horrible, and you can only turn it left or right, not up or down, so if you are standing on top of a castle and want to jump to that smaller castle below, you kind of have to wing it (pun intended) because there’s no way to rotate the camera enough to see where you need to land. You can press the triangle button at any time to lock the camera directly behind Spyro, but this is only handy when you want to ram an enemy head-on with your horns.

Thankfully, despite the camera issues, Spyro the Dragon is a fun, harmless game. And it’s not too punishing, so even if you missed a jump due to not being able to see the land below, you can always try again. Interestingly, instead of some kind of health bar or string of hearts on the screen, Spyro’s health is visible through his butterfly companion, so depending on how that fella looks and acts, you’ll know just how many more hits our little dragon hero can take. You can save your progress at any of the statue spots where you’ve rescued an elder dragon, and most of the difficulty just comes from traversing, rather than fighting enemies or solving puzzles. Oh, and to tie this back to that demo disc above, I remember fondly being super impressed that Spyro could burn plants to a pile of black ash at the touch of a button, and it’s still an amusing thing to do many years later.

I’m looking forward to playing more when I can, as I also have Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro Year of the Dragon downloaded and ready for chomping. Not to mention Gex: Enter the Gecko, Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2, and Crash Bandicoot 3: WARPED. Yeah, I went a little crazy on the PS1-era mascot games during that sale. Not the worst mistake I’ve ever made.

Lastly, I’ll leave y’all on a fun tidbit about Spyro the Dragon–its soundtrack was done by The Police’s Stewart Copeland.

There’s just no turning back in And Yet It Moves

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And Yet It Moves has been in my Steam library and untouched for a pretty long time. Specifically, since July 2011, which is when I got it and a bunch of other not-known-at-the-time indie games as part of the Humble Indie Bundle 3. Man, I can’t even make an estimated guess as to what bundle we’re coming up to now, seeing as that whole process has evolved from just the occasional bundle to weekly happenings and themed promotions and a store and bundles about books and music and whatever else you can think of. Anyways, And Yet It Moves is not the first name at the top of my list of Steam games, but it’s pretty close, which means I see it all the time when logging in to the client, so I’m glad I finally sat down and played through it.

Besides being a famous quote said by Galileo, And Yet It Moves is a puzzle platformer, one where you turn more than you actually jump. Let me explain. The game’s main nifty shtick focuses on moving the player character, represented as a colorful man made of paper with wavy hair, through an environment full of hazardous obstacles. At any time, one can freely rotate the entire game world with the left and right arrow keys, transforming walls into floors and moving things like boulders and broken branches out of the way. Your goal is to basically navigate the environment and make it to the end safely, and you’ll have to be careful how you turn the world as our little paper hero can’t fall from very high and ends up maintaining momentum even as everything around him shifts.

There’s no real story to follow or even a thin set-up in And Yet It Moves. You’re just this paper man, stuck in a rotatable world. That’s okay, honestly, but it probably wouldn’t have been too difficult to come up with some kind of conflict. Maybe the paper man wants to find out who made him, how he is alive, where this rotating power came from. I actually thought we were getting somewhere along those lines during the last few levels, where everything begins getting LSD trippy and unpredictable. Anyways, the game features paper collage-inspired visuals designed by Jan Hackl, which are a treat to behold and watch move behind and in front of other visual planes, and a beatboxing soundtrack performed by Christoph Binder that really becomes its own when the vanishing platforms appear, your jumps nearly timed to the drums.

I only ended up getting seriously stuck in one spot, where there is fire involved. Little ol’ me didn’t notice that the flames change direction as you tilt the world, so you need to position them just right to set other things blocking your path ablaze. Other than that, trial and error and persistence are the key tactics here. There are other game modes to try like time attack levels, but this never felt like the sort of experience one should rush, especially given how slow the main character moves.

Oh, and we can add And Yet It Moves to that list of games with fantastic, interactive end credits. It can stand proudly next to Vanquish, even if it doesn’t last terribly long due to the small staff behind it.

Let’s see, let’s see. So, from the Humble Indie Bundle 3, I’ve now gotten through two entire games–And Yet It Moves and VVVVVV–played Cogs for a wee bit, and have never even launched Crayon Physics Deluxe or Hammerfight. Maybe I’ll try to see what those last two are like sooner than later or maybe they’ll just have to be even more patient and wait a couple more years. I know, I’m so cruel.