Tag Archives: Steam

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.

That evil charro skeleton Carlos Calaca is no more

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A problem of late is that I’m not getting to write about games immediately after finishing them up, and you can blame this on my dream goal of drawing a comic for every game I finish this year. See, in prior years, I’d write a haiku of said finished game and then, if warranted, I’d write some further and final thoughts about the experience, and I’d do both of these things relatively fast, with everything still fresh in my mind. For 2014, I beat a game, add its name to my ever-growing list, and sigh in sadness at just how far behind I am in these comics. Then, instead of writing about it, I either wallow in my own frustration or start sketching a comic for a game I beat months ago.

Now, the last few posts on Grinding Down have shown promise, as I got to cover the Puzzle Agent games quickly, am still currently playing Doki-Doki Universe, and only tapped into Charlie Murder a week ago, meaning I’m relatively caught up, but there’s a bunch of in-progress blogs on my dashboard that are beginning to grow mold. Seriously, green-and-purple fuzzy grass hairdoFor example, I still haven’t talked about my time with Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, Spyro the Dragon, or even Transistor, one of this year’s big AAA releases. Hopefully soon.

All of those two paragraphs are there to say this: I beat Guacamelee! the other night. It’s a game I started playing in April, walked away from due to a difficult boss fight, picked up again in May, walked away due to a difficult platforming puzzle section, skipped playing it entirely in June due to life falling apart, and then returned to it last night to polish off the final chunk of the game in one glorious go that nearly saw me twisting my Xbox 360 controller into plastic bits. Don’t let the cartoony graphics and bouncy tunes fool you…this is one of the toughest platforming games I’ve played since VVVVVV and not getting very far in Super Meat Boy.

If you’ll recall, humble agave farmer Juan Aguacate lives in a small village in Mexico and is in love with El Presidente’s daughter. Alas, an evil charro skeleton named Carlos Calaca attacks the village and kidnaps her, forcing Juan to go after them. The story never really gets in the way and is only told moments before and after boss fights. This grandiose journey will see Juan jumping between the realms of the living and the dead, jumping between ground and air-borne enemies to punch, kick, and throw, and jumping from platform to platform to reach new areas. Basically, there’s a lot of jumping. Thankfully, the jumping controls are really good, generally leaving any missed landings as your fault, and be prepared to feel the blame constantly, especially the parts where you have to both move and switch between realms in split-second decisions. They are grueling, but then at the same time, really rewarding to complete.

I’m still not 100% completely sold on Guacamelee!‘s combat. And maybe it’s because I was still using the same tactics and combats that I rocked at the beginning of the game at the very end of it, too. After a while, Juan will have some special color-coded attacks, like uppercutting or headbutting, but I found just mashing the punch button until a button prompt appeared over the enemy’s head, which means they can now be thrown, worked well enough. Even in locked-in kill rooms. So long as you can get a good thrown enemy to bounce around and knock down other beasts, you can pretty much keep everything under control. Thankfully, you also restore health at every save point, which are frequently scattered across the Metroidvania map.

Before the final boss fight, you get the option to warp back to previous locations to finish up any side quests or find more health/stamina upgrades. I decided against this as I was cemented in my goal to finish the game, afraid I’d just end up putting it down again for another month. Thankfully, after you take down Carlos Calaca and his second form, which, for me, took at least ten attempts, you can reload into the game right before the boss fight. So I can potentially go back and look for more stuff, if I’m interested. Honestly, I’m kind of interested, and it’s all thanks to a handy-dandy map that is constantly updating where hidden areas are, as well as your completion percentage. Good on you for that, Guacamelee! because really, I can’t be bothered to remember this stuff. However, I don’t think I’ll be attempting every jumping/warp portal puzzle left because…um, my hands just can’t take it, but it is fun finding the secret areas.

I played Guacamelee! on Steam with a Xbox 360 controller, and I really can’t imagine someone using mouse and keyboard here. I mean, maybe. Um, maybe. But my tiny, one-sided controller-loving brain just can’t picture it. There are so many moments where you have to respond in less than an eye blink, and I’d say the controller is the way to go. Just my two cents. One day, it’d be fun to experience it co-op, but then that would mean co-op jumping puzzles, and my heart is all adiós a mis amigos.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #31 – The Binding of Isaac

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Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #30 – Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, Episode 2 – “The Last Resort”

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Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #28 – Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, Episode 1 – “Fright of the Bumblebees”

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Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.

Golf is not a fair game in The Bogey Man

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Ah, here we are, the final episode of Telltale’s Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures. It all began with bee-growing trouble in Fright of the Bumblebees, then delved into the ins and outs of running one’s own in-door beach resort in The Last Resort, and lastly dealt with a con-man trying to steal dogs and dough simultaneously in Muzzled! This fourth episode focuses very much on the sometimes relaxing, sometimes stressful game of golf. I’m going to honestly try my best not to load this blog post up with a zillion golf puns, but understand that you are asking me to resist doing what I love most, and so it’s a challenge. Like, all I really want to do is say that after three episodes of pointing, clicking, and rather routinely solving puzzles, this final act is actually just more of the same…par for the course, if you will.

Anyways, The Bogey Man, unlike the other episodes, picks up immediately where the other one left off, and I’m going to have to spoil what happened at the end of Muzzled! in order to explain why Wallace is out doing what he’s doing. See, in a moment of pure coincidence, Wallace accidentally proposed to Felicity Flitt and is currently awaiting her answer. We all know he wants to live the single life and spend his hours noodling away with inventions in the basement, but Miss Flitt seems good to go, so long as Wallace isn’t a member of the snooty country club called the Prickly Thicket. Cue Wallace–and when put to it for his master, Gromit–doing everything possible he can to, first, get in the club and, second, ensure it stays operating since Constable Dibbins is set to close it down out of pure jealousy. All for love, of course.

You do get to play some golf in The Bogey Man, but strangely it is never on an actual golf course. I found the game’s cover art very misleading. Instead, you’ll play two holes–read two puzzles–through town and Wallace’s own home, as well as figure out a memorization-heavy riddle back in the country club’s headquarters, which requires Wallace and Duncan McBiscuit to hit a series of five paintings in a set order. I found the finding the three keys puzzles to be overwhelming and unfocused, especially since you get clues for all of them in one bang and are then left to attack them as you please. These required some back and forthing, and I eventually looked up the solution to one of them after growing frustrated. Everything else was pretty easy to figure out as, again, you only have so many items and options available to you, so trial and error will get you to the end eventually.

The previous three games focused on a big baddie villain–queen bee, devil dogs, mustached menace–while The Bogey Man is…more reserved. Though Duncan can be a jerk. Sure, there’s a complicated mechanism in the country club that goes haywire to protect its deed, forcing Gromit to unravel things while Wallace and friends are trapped inside a room quickly filling with sand–see, a sand trap–but otherwise, it’s a pretty low-key affair. Instead, you learn a lot more about Wallace, Gromit, Duncan, and Miss Flitt’s ancestors, and even Major Crum gets an interesting piece of dialogue now and then. It’s quieter and probably not what you’d expect in a finale, but I enjoyed getting to know where these characters came from, and seeing some resolution for the Flitt/McBiscuit sub-plot was a nice touch, one I didn’t expect to see right there, minutes before the credits rolled.

Well, with Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures now played and done, I can move on to…other episodic series of adventure games. Like Back to the Future or Sam & Max, still sitting pretty and uninstalled in my Steam library. Or maybe I should go back to focusing on smaller, singular experiences. I do need to eventually get around to Ben Chandler’s PISS, which is a weird thing to write, as well as the latest–and last–ghost-absolving journey for Joey and Rosangela in The Blackwell Epiphany. Hmm. Choices, choices…

Guacamelee! follows Juan Aguacate’s luchador-focused plight from one world to the other

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I like a good Metroidvania just as much as the next person, but it needs to contain the right mix of visual and gameplay activity to keep me moving, searching for that next item that will unlock all those previously blocked paths I encountered earlier on in the journey. If that doesn’t happen quick enough, I kind of just lose interest and never go back, like in Celestial Mechanica and Lyle in Cube Sector. Thankfully, Guacamelee! is really hitting that sweet spot, and if I worked harder than I do at this amateurish swing at videogames journalism, I’d come up with some witty piñata metaphor here. Oh well, moving on.

Story stuff. Juan Aguacate is but a humble agave farmer living in a small village in Mexico. Oh, and he happens to be in love with El Presidente’s daughter, and no, I don’t recall if they ever said her name or not. An evil charro skeleton named Carlos Calaca attacks the village and kidnaps her, forcing Juan to go after them. Alas, he is killed–not a spoiler–and finds himself in the land of the dead. There, a mysterious luchador named Tostada grants him the power of luchador-ism via a glowing mask, as well as brings him back to the world of sunshine and rainbows. If you don’t know what happens next, well…it should be pretty obvious. Juan Aguacate goes on to film Nacho Libre II: Hay Mucho Diversión. No, no. He’s off to stop Carlos Calaca from sacrificing El Presidente’s daughter in a ritual that could potentially combine both the living and dead worlds.

It’s a pretty stereotypical “damsel in distress” story that we really need to get away from, but the world just oozes with flavor and fun that I have to ignore the game’s shortcomings. From the music to the cartoony, somewhat cel-shaded-like graphics, Guacamelee! makes up for its trite story and story progression–don’t be surprised when you have to take on all of the main villain’s sub-bosses one after the other before getting to the main event–with stunning visuals, Disney-of-yesteryear-like animation, and a sense of place and time. I’ve never been to Mexico. I think, at one time, I was in New Mexico while visiting my sister in Arizona, but that’s not the same. Still, this all feels right. Sounds right as well, given that the soundtrack is deeply rooted in Latin music and mariachi.

Gameplay is the standard mix of exploration and combat, except instead of blasting away undead critters with fancy guns, Juan puts his newfound wrestling powers to use, punching and grappling and doing pile-drivers from upon high. If you’re quick and careful enough, you can string together some length combos from one enemy to another. Perhaps my favorite part of combat is that, after landing a good number of punches on an enemy, you can then grab them and doing a special finishing move or throw them into other enemies. When there’s a bunch of enemies to deal with at once, tossing them into one other is the best tactic. Also, extremely gratifying, like bowling a strike and watching the pins fly off the ground.

For exploration purposes, well, it’s pretty linear in the beginning. Only so many places Juan can get to, but all those blocked paths are color-coded, with each color related to a specific ability to open then. Thankfully, the map also highlights the color coding, which will make it very easy to revisit some areas and finish up that map-clearing business. There’s a good amount of platforming to be done, too, with many jumps relying on quickly using your abilities to reach that platform just a centimeter too high or off to the right to get to normally. Some of these jumping puzzles are quite difficult, almost to the point of Super Meat Boy levels of frustration. It’s a good thing the game is constantly auto-saving your progress.

Evidently, Guacamelee! is littered with Internet memes and other kinds of meta jokes. Thankfully, I’m blind to most of them, though the really obvious references to Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise and Super Metroid with the ability-giving stone statues are…really obvious. Oh, and instead of rolling into a ball to reach hidden areas, Juan gains the power to morph into a teeny chicken that can peck enemies slowly to death. It’s amusing, if not very effective.

According to the map screen, I’ve completed about 25% of Guacamelee!, just finishing up the boss fight with…well, maybe I shouldn’t ixnay on the boss-say. Psst: that’s a clue. Anyways, I still have plenty of new abilities to earn for Juan and more sub-bosses to deal with before Carlos Calaca gets his just desserts, and I’m really looking forward to popping back into Drinkbox Studios’ colorfully cartoony world–both of them–to see what happens next. Until then.

The beauty is not in the walking in Dear Esther

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On a whim over the weekend, I loaded up Dear Esther. Besides my other plan to beat all those Metal Gear games in order of release, which is moving along swimmingly, thanks for asking, I am also trying to tackle many of the acclaimed indie games from years prior. Y’know, the big small games. The ones that generally feature some sort of unique gimmick and demand you think about things more than just swallow yet another tired, scripted action scene that is supposed to wow you with its bombastic approach at storytelling. So far, in 2014, I’ve experienced Gone Home, Journey, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Thomas Was Alone. Many more to come.

Other than being set on an island, I knew very little about Dear Esther going into it, which is how I like my videogames to go these days. Alas, we live in a day and age where the Internet can ruin anything for you in half a second–that said, hope you all watched last night’s Game of Thrones episode, gotta get that purp. I do recall some heated arguments about whether or not this is a “game,” just like many rushed to do with Gone Home, mocking them both as nothing more than walking simulators, short films with little to no interaction. With that in mind, I went in expecting a pretty good story and little else–truthfully, that’s kind of what I got, and that’s all right.

In Dear Esther, the player starts off on a dimly lit shore of an uninhabited Hebridean island, surrounded by fog and mountains. Far off in the distance is a tall, metal tower, with a red light blinking every few seconds, the beacon beckoning you towards it. As you explore the island, you’ll listen to a series of voiced-over letter fragments to a woman named Esther, which are revealed in no set order. The narrator’s identity is not specified though it’s easy to figure out he is Esther’s husband or lover. Alas, she’s dead, and that’s not a spoiler, as it is something you learn very early on in the journey. Dear Esther, despite its namesake, is more about the narrator and the island’s former inhabitants than anybody else. To say any more of the story would ruin the experience, especially since that’s all there is here, a story; a good one, mind you, and one that can be seen performed in a number of different manners, but just that.

Controlling the player is as simple as using the [W] key to walk forward and the mouse to look around. You can click on either of the mouse buttons to zoom in a bit for a better look at things. That’s it. Those are all your actions. When you enter a dark room, a flashlight automatically comes on, and it also turns itself off when you go back into the light. After playing for about ten minutes, my finger grew tired of just pressing down the [W] key, and I knew I’d have to do this action all the way until the end credits, but thankfully Dear Esther comes prepared for controller support. I’d much rather hold up on a joystick than keeping a finger firmly pressed into a keyboard, and I suspect I’m not the only one. I do wish there was at least something else to do control-wise; perhaps actually collecting the letter scraps or being able to pick up and examine items on the island. Heck, even a jump button, to push exploration even more. I wanted a little more game in this game; yes, it’s still a game.

The writing ranges from mesmerizing to feverish to a bit overdone, but it’s all backed by a gorgeous, swooping orchestrated soundtrack composed by Jessica Curry that can make any scene, whether it’s looking out at the rough ocean waves that brought you to this seemingly metaphoric island or trapped inside a dark, fungi-lit cave, extremely powerful. There’s strings, there’s piano, and they never overtake a scene, simply raise it up. Crashing waves, rushing wind, and cawing gulls provide additional noise at times too.

Dear Esther is an audio/visual trip, a game bent on delivering those two aspects to you at full force. For some, that’s enough. For an hour and a half of simply walking, it’s just enough. I did want something else to do, another way to play in this gorgeously constructed world, to be part of the island, but no man’s an island. And so you keep walking, keep walking, keep walking, all the way to the end. The darkness that greets you is far from comforting, but there is a sense of completion nonetheless. Quitting to the desktop after too many minutes on a blank screen that screamed the end slightly ruined the effect.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #21 – Thomas Was Alone

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Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.

Ys I and its beautifully bodacious bump combat

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Let’s all laugh at the great irony that I can’t actually confidently pronounce my favorite JRPG franchise out loud. I mean, is it SOO-ECK-AH-DIN? SOO-EEK-ADIN? SUE-EE-KO-DEN? I dunno. Luckily enough, I’ve not had to talk about Suikoden too many times in public, and when I do, it’s usually with people who have no idea how it is supposed to be said and probably assume I know what I’m doing since, y’know, I’ve been playing games for all my life. Spoiler: I don’t. And now we can add the Ys franchise to my collection of games I will never be sure of, but I’m going to pronounce it like EASE and move on.

I’ve always been curious about the Ys games, but never enough to take the plunge. Heck, I even have a copy of Ys: The Ark of Napishtim in my collection, which I guess I forgot about immediately after purchasing. Anyways, there was a good deal on Ys I & II on Steam over the holidays, and so I entered my credit card info, clicked purchase, and actually installed and played a game I bought instead of just collecting stuff forever. I know, crazy talk. A little researching shows that Ys I & II are pretty old JRPGs, first releasing back in 1989 and eventually coming to all the following platforms in some form or another: PC, PlayStation 2, Virtual Console, Nintendo DS, and PSP. Ys I & II are actually enhanced remakes of the respective Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished and Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter, meant to be played one after the other. So far, I’ve completed Ys I and started the second half only a wee bit.

In both games, you play as a red-haired swordsman named Adol Christin, who, from what I can tell, is the main protagonist for every Ys game. That dude either really gets around or something else is afoot. For the first adventure, he has to collect the six Books of Ys, which contain the history of the ancient, vanished land of Ys and will give Adol the vital knowledge he needs to defeat the caped evilness sweeping the land of Esteria. This means you go from town to town and dungeon to dungeon, talking with villagers and fighting enemies, respectively, gaining clues as to where to find the next book. The last chunk of the game takes place in the astronomically tall and somewhat tedious Darm Tower, which has you ascending floor after floor of bad guys and mazes to eventually fight…um, I think people in Minea called him Dark Cape and complete the first fifty percent of Ys I & II.

If that sounds like your typical JRPG adventure, you’re right. The story and its characters are nothing to write home about, and that’s because the real charm of the Ys franchise is in its combat system. It’s called bumping, and basically, when out in the field, Adol can run into enemies to deal damage directly to them. There’s no attack button. You bump, they take damage, they explode, you gain XP. Rinse, lather, repeat until you hit the level cap and have enough gold to buy all the best armor/weapons. And yet, there’s still strategy to this, as you don’t ever want to attack anything head-on, so you must come at enemies at an angle or from behind, making you feel very ninja-like. It was definitely one of the more unique combat systems I’ve come across lately, and it, along with regenerating health, made for speedy grinding, something I always appreciate.

Despite the gloriously joyful and smile-creating combat, I still ran into some problems. Like, there’s a specific boss that transforms into a swarm of bats and then back to human form for a split second, and you have even less time than that to hit him, which made for a very frustrating boss battle. Later on, there’s a room in Darm Tower filled with poison-like music that drains Adol’s health fast, and the only way to clear out the room is by exiting, finding a specific pillar outside, and hitting it with a hammer you found a few levels down; the game does not really make this clear, and I had to look up the solution online. And speaking of not making a lot clear, I wasn’t sure what a lot of the items in my inventory did, so I mostly refrained from ever equipping any of them.

Glancing at the Steam Achievements for Ys II, I get the impression that the second part of this series is…a little weirder. Also, looks like there’s magic spells to be cast. I’m down with that, as well as some more bumping. Maybe I should change my blog’s name is Bumping Down? Maybe.