The future is full of cyborg diseases and neon adverts in Among Thorns

gd final impressions among thorns screenshot 01

I am weak to small games with big ambition. Like Limbo, which was a perfunctory action-puzzle platformer that attempted to tell a story of loss and uncertainty with next to no words. Or Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, what with its exploration based around different phases of the actual moon. I think we can add Among Thorns to this mental list of mine. It reminds me a bit of A Landlord’s Dream, which also came from the AGS community and was brimming with grand ideas, littered with the kind of far-reaching sci-fi concepts that flesh out a futuristic world to make it feel livable instantly. However, Matt Frith’s pixel art here is a whole lot less grainy, having that clean, sterile feel to it that can only be attained in an era of synthetic body upgrades, and the puzzles are not as obtuse.

Among Thorns was created specifically for MAGS, which is a monthly competition for all amateur adventure game makers, last month. January 2016 for those that can’t figure it out. I think voting is still going on, though I have high hopes for it doing well among its competitors. The theme was Black Death, and Among Thorns certainly covers that aspect with its Necronite disease, which only seems to affect the people in this world that have begun to augment their bodies.

Among Thorns‘ driving force is slight, but gets things going right away. You almost don’t have time to finish your noodle cup before the plot starts popping in. Anyways, you play as a young woman named Cora who ends up taking a shady job from her boss Lentii to investigate a dude named Cordell Jann, as he may or may not have a cure for Necronite. Yup, that sentenced contained a lot of science fiction-appropriate names. Now, getting to Jann’s apartment is no hop and skip over, and most of the game involves puzzling your way past roadblocks, like the cops. Once you’re inside Jann’s place, there’s more to do and discover, but I won’t spoil any of that here.

Gameplay doesn’t try to do anything wild and crazily unorthodox for the point-and-click adventuring genre. You have an inventory on the left side of the screen, can collect items, converse with people and things, and solve puzzles logically, using your brain and whatever is in your pockets. That’s fine. It’s a short little game, and, for me, this was all about seeing what was next. The more neon signs my eyes could eat up, the better. I mean, we all love Blade Runner, right? This is very much Blade Runner-inspired. There’s a small amount of pixel hunting to do, and this task can be hard to accomplish when there is so much already on the screen to gawk at. I’m still always looking for that balance of easier to find things to interactive with versus actually playing detective screen to screen.

Though Cora does complete her job by the time credits roll, the story ends in a cliffhanger-esque fashion, leaving me hungry for more and wondering what happens next. Clearly, time was an issue, and this is more a prologue than complete project. Among Thorns is certainly capable of carrying a full-fledged story and campaign, and I’d love to learn more about Cora herself and why she prefers to live off the grid and what struggles that entails. Until then, I’ll probably check out some of Matt Frith’s other work over at the AGS community.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #12 – Among Thorns

2016 gd games completed among thorns

Techno plague world
Cora takes a job, sort out
Her way to a cure

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Happy Home Designer gently puts you to work

animal crossing hhd bw bastion gd thoughts

I stopped playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf on May 5, 2014. That’s two days after my favorite villager Sylvia’s birthday. I missed her party. I meant to go all out and get her every gorgeous, pink item I could find, wrapping each up in special paper to make her day all the more memorable. Instead, I blanked and didn’t even show. With panicky fingers, I visited her only to discover her entire home in boxes, ready to be picked up and moved by a service of muscles. She was leaving me. I tried my everything to convince her to stay, but it was too late–she was unmovable. Or rather, completely movable.

It was hard to step away from Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a game which still to this day sits at the top of my Nintendo 3DS stats as my most played game, with only a few others creeping near it. And yet, Sylvia’s departure from my town, as well as her finally giving in and presenting me with her portrait only a few weeks before, unfolded right around the time my marriage was concluding. Two lives ending in unison, and me, standing still, scared and uncertain of what I could do. Thankfully, to help ease the nights, another game swooped in and stole all my attention.

Well, Happy Home Designer is not another full-blown Animal Crossing title, and that’s fine. I’m not ready to commit once more. Instead, it takes elements from the main series, specifically the home decoration aspect, and expands it into a full-time job for your character, who is no longer mayor of the town, but once again another employee of that nefarious rascal Tom Nook. As the newest designer at Nook’s Homes, you’re given the power to create homes, yards, and other buildings, inside and out, with the main goal of making your animal client friends happy. You can help out one client or building request from Isabelle per day–that’s in-game per day, not real life–and before you call it a night, you can spend Play Coins to study your handbook and acquire new blueprints, items, and other decorative thingies for future use.

For some people, decorating is not the siren’s call of the Animal Crossing series. They might prefer fishing and collecting bugs, selling beetles from the tropical island for a large amount of Bells, or doing all the community requests around your village. Or perhaps you really got into designing outfits. There’s also working at the cafe. I think the great thing about Animal Crossing is that it is wide open, and you can love what you love and go deep on it without completely pushing everything else out of the way. For instance, when my sister Jules was playing, she made a great effort to breed all the rarer flowers and enforced a strict “no running” rule when I’d visit her town.

For myself, I really enjoyed expanding and decorating my home, both in Animal Crossing: Wild World and Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’ve gone to great strides to get rare furniture before. For the most part, I’d pick a theme for a room and work towards collecting items that were either officially part of the theme, like astro furniture only, or somehow related, like a meteor or toy rocketship to place in the corner. The struggle sometimes was finding all the pieces of furniture, which relied on the daily luck of the shop, the generosity of your neighbors, and whether or not you had a friend who could visit and dump everything you need at your tiny, pointy feet. Thankfully, Happy Home Designer gives you a large amount of the furniture objects to you right from the get-go, so you can attack your client’s house with all you have and not be restrained by things like missing lamps or using a chair that obviously clashes with the aesthetic.

Or, if you want, and this is something I don’t ever want, you can go against your client’s wishes and run amok in terms of design and feng shui. For instance, say a squirrel wants a forest-themed house, but you decide to fill it up with pink princess furniture, robots, and all things not related to the forest. As far as I can tell, the job will still get done, and the client might be okay with it. There doesn’t seem to be any penalty for going outside the box, but I prefer to accomplish what the buyer is paying for. I mean, you’ll still get something to eat if you order a hot dog and get a hamburger instead, but that doesn’t mean you’re one hundred percent satisfied with the course of action.

I’ll never stop moaning and groaning over the severe lack of Play Coin integration during the lifetime of the Nintendo 3DS, but the Animal Crossing series has at least tried here and there. In this one, before you clock out for the day and count some sheep that hopefully look nothing like Pietro, you can spend Play Coins, ranging from one to five (so far), to upgrade your decorating abilities and the items available to you, as well as other functions. Like, now I can change my avatar’s skin tone and hairstyle in the boutique section upstairs at Nook’s Homes. Also, I have every gyroid possible, simply at a fingertip’s reach. Same with famous pieces of art.

Now, you’ll recall I had a bad case of epic fail last time I went to GameStop. Well, seems like there was still some in my system when I went to purchase Happy Home Designer with a Christmas gift card. Speaking of cards, there are special amiibo cards for this game that allow you to personally invite celebrities like Tortimer and DJ KK to Main Street and help construct a home for them. Since I have a regular ol’ launch Nintendo 3DS, I asked the young man behind the counter if the amiibo cards would still work or if they only worked on the New Nintendo 3DS, which remains a terrible name to this day. I mean, there’s only one copy of the game, and the game itself comes with a card, so I hoped they would work no matter where you ended up playing it. The GameStop employee told me they would work. Got home, played for a bit, unlocked the amiibo phone, and nope–they do not. I’d have to buy some sort of electronic reader for $19.99 to get them to work, and I already spent enough money on the game and cards themselves that I’m annoyed by the whole process, so forget it.

I’m not playing Happy Home Designer every day like I did for Animal Crossing: New Leaf when I first got it and then for many, many months thereafter. Instead, I’m chipping away at it, doing a client’s request or a job from Isabelle, and then calling it a night. That’s fine. It’s a leisurely game about making animals happy, and making animals happy makes me happy, so this is how I get my fix when needed. However, I am curious to know how long this whole business plan lasts because, eventually, I will run out of clients and things to do.

Going too far to cure the Curse of the Mushroom King

the curse of the mushroom king capture 02

The Curse of the Mushroom King looks stellar, but inhibits every element of point-and-click adventure games that I absolutely loathe, which is a real shame as there’s a cuteness to its look and randomness. However, it never overshadows the frustration of clicking on every single thing a dozen times and brute-forcing your way ahead by trying every item with every other item in your inventory or object in the world until you want to rip the main character’s face off when he makes some snarky remark about you not even thinking about things logically. Phew. That was a long sentence. Keep it together, Abbamondi.

In Bad Viking’s The Curse of the Mushroom King, which can be downloaded for free on iOS and Android or played in one’s browser, you play as a character called…Bad Viking. Hmm. I’m not sure if “bad” is being used in the same way that my comics are or if he really is terrible at all things viking or if it’s just a nickname that stuck. Anyways, he gets on the wrong side of the Mushroom King fast by refusing to have some soup, getting cursed for his rudeness. The curse is that he’ll never again be able to enjoy the taste of PB&J sandwiches. This is upsetting to him, and I completely relate, but only if the jelly is grape and nothing else. In order to lift the curse, Bad Viking must retrieve an eclectic list of items–like a dragon’s egg and a banana–to make a special potion.

It’s a short–but not that short–point-and-click adventure game where you have a literal list of items to gather. This sort of scenario is fairly common for the genre. Unfortunately, while there may only be five items to collect in total, each item has multiple steps, with some paths crossing others before you can complete them. I’m okay with this, truly, but only if there is some in-game guidance. Don’t hold my hand, but at least give me an idea of what I’m supposed to be doing. Here, in The Curse of the Mushroom King, you barely get any nudge as to what to do next.

Let me give an example of a puzzle that I simply couldn’t understand; I was forced to look up the solution online. From the very beginning of the game, the bartender refuses to speak to Bad Viking until he has met the wizard. That’s all he says, and no other characters mention a wizard or give a hint to where he/she might be and how to summon them. Later, you find a stone plinth with a hole at the top by the tree with the bees; for some reason or another, if you place a cannonball in it, the wizard appears, ready to spit some mathematical riddles your way. Now, clicking on that stone plinth prior to placing the cannonball there gives no indication that you should do something like that or that even doing something here is how one could call forth a magical man from another realm. It’s a tortuous, convoluted puzzle, and only one of many more to crawl through.

My other problem with The Curse of the Mushroom King has to do with its art style, which I enjoy greatly from a cartoonist’s perspective. However, the colorful graphics make it hard to tell what it either an item or thing you can interact with. Nothing is highlighted differently when you hover your mouse over it, which resulted in my clicking like a mad fiend on everything I could before moving on to the next scene. You also end up having a ton of items in your inventory within a few minutes of playing, which meant I needed to try every combination of items possible, even if it didn’t make sense logically. I remember struggling with this issue in Deponia.

Sure, without a doubt, The Curse of the Mushroom King is nice to look at, but a soundtrack, dialogue tree system, and better way to distinguish interactive areas from background art would help make this a stronger recommendation. As is, there’s too much pixel hunting and guessing going on here. That said, a few other games from Bad Viking look intriguing, like The Dreamerz and Escape to Hell, so we’ll see if these problems are persistent across the developer’s other work. In due time, of course. I’m still feeling cursed from this one.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #11 – The Curse of the Mushroom King

2016 gd games completed the curse of the mushroom king

Cursed, never again
To enjoy PB&J
Tortuous puzzles

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

The fruit in Jasper’s Journeys is not for eating

jasper's journeys early imps gd

I guess I’m on an indie action platformer kick at the moment, having moved on from Jables’s Adventure right to Jasper’s Journeys. To further blur the line between those two names, I’m going to invent a title called Journey’s Adventures and play that next, right after another go at Journey. I kid, I kid. Though this also means I’m moving backwards in time, which happens when you begin to dig into my laptop’s videogames folder, where I dump a ton of downloads on a nearly daily basis with the hope of checking the games out much sooner than later. Still, Jables’s Adventure came out in 2010, and Jasper’s Journeys is from February 2008. Yowza. I wasn’t even blogging back then.

Anyways, Jasper’s Journeys stars Jasper, who is a Loffin, whatever that is. I think it is a race of people with long, purple hair that have floaty jumps and don’t take any fall damage. I could be wrong on all that. Also, still not sure if Jasper is a young man or woman; for the purposes of this post, I’ll go with female pronouns. Unfortunately, her cat Orlando got kidnapped by an evil witch on a broomstick while playing in the tall grass. Seems like she’s keen to use this cat as an ingredient in some spell she’s concocting, and so it is up to you to save the feline by traversing fifteen levels of danger, platforms, and lots of fruit to collect.

Completing a level is as simple as finding the blue dragon, which will pick Jasper up and take her to the next level. If you find a purple dragon, you’re in luck, as this one will take you to a special island full of fruit, which is your only source of ammunition for taking out the baddies. However, to find this dragon, you’ll have to noodle out some puzzles based around platforming and finding colored keys, as well as fighting off enemies and bosses with health meters. There’s no in-game map, so you’ll have to pay attention to your surroundings and remember where to return to once you have the proper keys in your inventory. Along the way, you can also visit an inn to save your progress, as well as purchase items with acquired gold, like shields and status-affecting potions.

I played on the easiest difficulty settings, and I’m fine with that decision. The most trouble I got myself into involved areas where there were moving spikes on the floor and platforms above and having to take Jasper and make her jump from platform to platform without dipping into the sharp bits below. Naturally, because I’m playing Jasper’s Journeys on a keyboard and not a gamepad, this was more tricky than it needed to be. Also to blame: her floaty jump, which made it challenging to land on platforms now and then, especially when guiding her via the arrow keys. Otherwise, it’s not too challenging of a game, certainly on easy, but I wasn’t looking for a challenge here. Instead, I liked seeing how the levels changed from one to another, with the former focusing on grassy hills and the next tossing you beneath a castle, and though the pixel art never hits any extremes it is still pleasing to the eyes, some eight years later.

The same could be said about Jasper’s Journeys‘ soundtrack, but to your ears, not your eyes. It’s gentle and laid-back when necessary, but can up the tension during boss fights. However, the songs don’t seem to loop after they finish, and because I’m a slow gamer and like to check every nook and cranny for secrets, the majority of a level ended up being played in silence, which is a bit weird. Sound effects for killing enemies and picking up fruit are goofy and call back to the days of mascot-driven platformers on the SNES.

For some reason, it feels more odd to play a game that is only eight years old versus something like Final Fantasy IX. I don’t know why. I guess I’m having a hard time comprehending what the world was like eight years ago, which, all at once, doesn’t seem like too far back, but is also an eternity ago. Both in my life and the industry. The AAA gaming landscape of 2008 consisted of work like Burnout Paradise, Grand Theft Auto IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Braid, Fallout 3, and Fable II. As well as Jasper’s Journeys. I wonder how big of a splash it made; I think I got my copy in late 2011 as part of the Humble Voxatron Debut bundle. Shame it took me nearly five more years to play it. I’ll have to get a jump on Chocolate Castle soon too, I guess.

Jerky McJerk complains his way to be everyone’s nemesis

gd sims freeplay jerky mcjerk nemesis of the state

I may or may not be nearing the end of my time with The Sims FreePlay, which I only really picked up again in September 2015 after not touching it for a good long while. I say may because I just popped the last, in my mind, feasible Achievement, which involved a lot of grinding and a solid time investment, and I say may not because, even though the remaining Achievements seem unattainable, there’s a part of me that wants to keep trying. In terms of goals, there’s really not much left for me to focus on, to grasp at achieving, and because this is a free-to-play game, restrictions abound when it comes to things like decorating your house, adding more Sims, and so on. I’d rather go play The Sims on a console or PC to get the full experience…or a fuller one via cheat codes.

First, take a look at this shiny thing, which required a lot of complaining on one man’s part, bless his terribly rude soul:

nemesis of the state achievement
Nemesis of the State: Have 1 Sim be nemeses with 16 Sims. (15G)

This took awhile. I’ve been actively working towards this goal for the last few months, and even created a specific Sim called Jerky McJerk to fill this role. That way it would be easy to track, especially once my Sims count reached over twenty, with only one Sim that everyone hated as a community. I made sure to dress Jerky McJerk in the pinkest suits ever seen to ensure I didn’t forget this man’s job in being rude and obnoxious to everyone he crossed paths with, except for toddlers and babies, as they are unaffected by impoliteness. Don’t know if that’s a hard fact or not, but I’ll believe it for now.

It’s a grindy goal, one that I often did while watching Giant Bomb or a TV show during my lunch break. Basically, I’d scan my list of villagers, see who wasn’t a nemesis with Jerky McJerk yet, send him over, and hit the “complain” interaction with them–for five minutes total, requiring about 30 interactions in the end. All without having my Windows phone’s screen time out. This resulted in me occasionally tapping the screen and checking it every few seconds to make sure all was going well. Rinse and repeat until Jerky McJerk is the bane of sixteen Sims total.

The problem was that, more or less, I had Jerky McJerk make enemies with about eight or nine people rather fast, but after them, I had to wait until more Sims were added to my town. Sometimes this didn’t happen right away because I’d rather spend my hard-earned Simoleons on buying new buildings pertinent to ongoing quests, like the stables or swimming center. It was only recently that I realized I had a decent amount of Lifestyle Points–that’s the orange currency in the pic above–somewhere around 80 or so since I never spent them. You can use these to buy new houses for rather cheap. Still, once you buy a house, you have to wait upwards of 36 hours for it to be “built,” which is why this process took so long. Good thing I’m Mr. Patience Man.

So, here’s what is left for me to accomplish in The Sims FreePlay: have my town be worth 12,000,000 simoleons, have it be worth 30,000,000 simoleons, and complete 1,000 goals. Sadly, after playing the game nearly daily for nearly five months, my town is only worth about 3,500,000 simoleons. That’s kind of harsh. I’ve not spent a single real dime, and I have to imagine that if I did plop down some digital cash my town’s worth be much higher. The “quickest” way to raise your town is to buy buildings and houses, both of which are costly and take time to complete after purchasing. Then you have to go through the long process of sending your Sims off to work every day to earn enough money to buy the next building or house, both of which go up in price the more you build. I’m not prophetic, but I think I can see the future, and it’s looking like a slow burn.

Evidently, there’s an exploit to help you boost your town’s worth by 30,000 simoleons, but it too is grindy and requires dedication. Not sure if it is even ultimately worth going after in such a manner. I’d rather hit these mile markers traditionally, and if I’m looking to complete 1,000 goals then surely it’ll happen along the way. The way could be years down the road. Also, one problem: I have no idea how many goals I’ve completed so far. Sure, sure–it’s feels like I’ve done a thousand and then some, but since there’s no stat tracking in-game, it’s impossible to tell, and I’m not about to start counting now.

I suspect I’ll keep tapping away at The Sims FreePlay for a bit more, just to see if I get any closer in a quicker fashion, but a part of me already feels ready to call this adventure dead and done. Which is strange, because I probably won’t uninstall the game right away, which means this cast of characters that I would play omnipotent being to and command they do my bidding will simply sit ignored on my phone, bereaved, with no chance of progressing. Huh, it’s kind of like when I’d play The Sims back on the PC, put a fellow in a row by himself, wait until he had to use the bathroom really bad, and then remove all the doors. Yup, I was that player.