2015 Game Review Haiku, #33 – Broken Age

2015 games completed gd broken age full

Two young kids, destined
To shake their worlds up, those late
Game puzzles–not fun

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Cthulhu Saves the World with an old-school parody RPG

Cthulhu saves the world screen gd impressions

A copy of Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII: The Beginning have sat untouched, uninstalled in a folder on my laptop’s desktop, for a good long while now. I mean, the former came out in July 2011, and I guess I ended up getting a copy of it through some bundle promotion that I can no longer recall, but all I did was download it, not ever sure when it would be a good time to kickstart an old-school RPG adventure. Turns out, any time is good, and so I’ve been tinkering away at this pixelated 2D journey through labyrinthine dungeons brimming with treasure chests, a limited number of random encounters, and the moodiest soundtrack, with hard swings from cult-like chamber songs to a peppy, relaxing tune when exploring a village.

Now, technically, the game’s name on the title screen is as follows: Cthulhu Saves the World: Super Hyper Enhanced Championship Edition Alpha Diamond DX Plus Alpha FES HD – Premium Enhanced Game of the Year Collector’s Edition (without Avatars!). Oh boy. Quite a mouthful. We’ll just stick with the abbreviated title to save precious space, plus I have no idea how one even goes about abbreviating such a thing.

So, what’s the deal in Cthulhu Saves the World? Why would the lord of insanity want to save the world? Well, truthfully, Cthulhu was all set to plunge the world into madness and destruction, but his powers were suddenly sealed away by a mysterious sorcerer. Alas, the only way for Cthulhu to break the curse is to become…a true hero. Sometimes to save something, you have to destroy it at the same time. Everyone loves a good anti-hero in these days of Breaking Bad‘s Walter White and just about everyone from Game of Thrones.

I’d like to tell you that, as a writer, I’ve long delved into the works and demented mindset of H.P. Lovecraft, but the truth is, I really only became aware of the material due to the Munchkin Cthulhu card game from Steve Jackson Games many years ago. Still, I understand it on a surface level, and the game here seems to only demand you understand that Cthulhu is a monster forced to take on a heroic quest. At least so far. I haven’t really come across other cosmic entities yet.

Cthulhu Saves the World is a throwback to traditional 16-bit RPGs of yesterday, like Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy. You wander around towns full of houses and shops, buy potions, armor, and new weapons, and then traverse across an overworld to your next destination. That said, the battle system is a bit more unique here than your standard turn-based form, and this is what makes both playing the game and grinding for higher levels enjoyable. To start, enemies become 10% stronger for every turn they live through, feeding off of Cthulhu’s madness. This means you want to kill them as quickly as possible, as you’ll also regain more magic points the sooner the battle ends.

Here’s one of my favorite elements of Cthulhu Saves the World: random encounters are limited. When you arrive at a new zone, you can pop over to your status menu and see how many random encounters you will have to endure before they just stop popping up altogether. Praise the Great Old One! This means you can only grind for so long, though you can also start a battle if you want via a menu command. It’s both a nice and strange feeling to wipe an area clear of random fights, which makes going back for missed treasure chests less of a pain. When you level up, you have the option to pick between multiple spells or upgrades, and I’m focusing so far on Cthulhu doing big damage and Umi handling healing and attacking all enemies at once with her Flood spell.

I’m not terribly far into Cthulhu Saves the World, somewhere in Chapter 2, with both characters in my party–Cthulhu and Umi–at level 10. Like I mentioned at the top of this post, it’s a game I’ve been tinkering with over the last few months, playing it in short spouts, but always making progress. Its humor and engaging turn-based battles make it a joy to play, and, as always with old-school RPGs, I’m eager to see the next town and purchase better gear. That’s how you know you are getting somewhere, when a shop has more expensive items.

Seeking revenge against Sauron’s forces via slow menu screens

gd impressions xbox 360 shadow of mordor

When I heard that a Game of the Year edition of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was coming out, I got the tingles. From my toes to the tip of my ears. That is to say, I felt the time was now right to see what was up with that sleeper-hit that everyone was talking about during the end of 2014’s podcast deliberations. I’m always a sucker for GOTY editions, especially since I’m ten out of ten times late to the party, and these end-all, be-all packages provide me with, ideally, everything I need to get the full experience, such as DLC and now useless pre-order bonuses, just many months later. Count me in.

However, when I got to GameStop and asked the duder behind the counter, he informed me that the GOTY versions were only for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Snartleblast and snakes. Or rather–for the love of Varda! Us ancient tortoises stuck in the “previous generation” were simply out of luck. Still, I had driven all the way over to this brick-and-mortar building and didn’t want to leave empty-handed, and so, with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor still tickling away at my mind, I picked up a vanilla copy of it for the ol’ Xbox 360.

Back during all the praising and glorifying of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions were released a month or so after the current generation, with rumblings about how they were altered to not have the Nemesis system, a major element of the game that has you taking down Uruk and Orc captains and watching as the Dark Lord’s army shifts and shapes accordingly. This kept me at bay certainly, but no one seemed to care enough to cover them and confirm this. Well, as far as I can tell, the Nemesis is in the Xbox 360 version, though it might not be as robust or dynamic as the current generation; for example, I haven’t heard any mass of Uruks chanting their leader’s name to intimidate Talion, which is a big bummer.

Grinding Down readers should know how deep my love for J.R.R. Tolkien’s work goes, though many of the vidoegame interpretations fail to impress. I think LEGO Lord of the Rings so far is the only one I feel any kind of amazement towards. Definitely none for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring or Aragorn’s Quest. Anyways, from what I’ve gathered, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor does little to enhance Tolkien’s lore, but is still a ton of fun to play. I can concur with that sentiment, with one major caveat: it is a ton of fun to play, but not on Xbox 360.

Five paragraphs in, and I’m now only beginning to talk about the game proper. Welcome to my blog, new readers! This is par for the course. Right, here’s the four-one-one. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an open world, third-person action romp, where the player controls a ranger called Talion who seeks revenge on the forces of Sauron after his wife and son are murdered. Initially, Talion is mortally wounded during this early massacre, but the wraith of the Elven Lord Celebrimbor is able to use his powers to keep Talion alive, gifting him magical, wraith-like abilities in the meantime.

I hate to do this, but I want to get to the part where I rant about this version’s quality so here’s the gameplay in comparison terms: running around the world is like Assassin’s Creed on speed, combat is prompt-heavy and taken from Arkham Asylum, stealth is not very deep, and in between story and side quest missions you can collect plants, artifacts, and ancient runes for experience points and lore. I’m enjoying Talion’s journey so far, but am taking my time to collect what I can and learn the ropes when it comes to fighting large groups of enemies or hunting down nearby captains. In fact, I have to take my time. Yes, thank you, that is a great lead-in into…

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s menus are atrociously slow to load, to the point that I am constantly reaching for my phone to do something while I wait for the opportunity to do something in-game to appear. The problem? You use menus a lot in this digital Middle-earth, whether it is scrutinizing your intel on Sauron’s army, upgrading your weapons with collected runes, unlocking perks for Talion and his skills, or engrossing yourself in the appendices. Oh, and don’t forget the map, if you are interested in seeing what events/collectibles are around you at the moment. It’s so lousy that, at certain points, I’ve had to restrain myself from hitting pause and just go forward without doing whatever I thought I could do quickly. Couple this with textures frequently not loading (or taking forever to load in, even during cutscenes), choppy audio issues, and some hitching, and you have a less-than-impressive version of what many proclaim to be an impressive game. The Xbox 360 version also has a 5 GB mandatory install, which nearly filled up my hard-drive.

That all said, I won’t be moving into the new generation for a good while, certainly not until Fallout 4 is ready to be purchased and played, so this is the best I can do for now. It’s not unplayable, but like with Gandalf’s trepidation about entering the Mines of Moria, I wish there was another way around. For now, I’ll get back to tracking Gollum, freeing slaves, and cinematically slicing off the heads of Uruks with unequivocally cool names.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #32 – Race the Sun

2015 games compled gd race the sun

Push on, be the best
No obstacle is too big
Your sun is setting

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Time is of the essence when you have to Race the Sun

gd impressions race the sun

I first glimpsed the scorching hot light that is Flippfly’s Race the Sun last year at the tail-end of my Extra Life stream when, one might say, I myself was racing the sun to stay awake for the final few hours of charity-driven gaming. I was playing my Steam copy using an Xbox 360 controller to do the needful, and I found it to be a stylish, engaging experience of piloting an airship to the end of a bunch of regions before the sun sets. That last tidbit is very important considering that the airship is solar-powered, so if the sun sets or if you spend too long in shadows you’ll lose energy and come crashing to a dead halt.

Strangely, if you look over some of my gaming history, it’s evident that I’m a fan of endless runners. Jetpack Joyride and Temple Run 2 are good examples of that genre done well, done with enough addictive hooks to keep me going. Substance over style is the key element here, as an endless runner doesn’t need to have super realistic graphics for it to be enjoyable, but the activities you can do as the main character pushes forward without warning are where the game becomes fun or a chore. I don’t mind picking up gems, so long as picking them up feeds into a side quest or becomes currency for upgrades. It can’t literally just be endless running.

Again, the core gameplay of Race the Sun is pretty straightforward: race the sun until it sets. You control a solar glider that relies on sunlight to keep it powered; in order to survive, you also have to avoid a number of obstacles, such as sentient square blocks, tall pyramids, spinning windmills, and falling towers. Due to the game’s minimalistic art style, it can be hard to tell what some of these shapes are; perhaps they are just shapes in the end, lost in a forest or crumbling cityscape. As your ship rushes forward, you can pick up different booster types (jump, shield) as well as hit warp portals, which zip you right to the end of a region, no questions asked.

For many, endless runners are all about the high score. Strangely, I don’t really care about a number attached to my name listed on a board with similar results in Race the Sun. I prefer going for the side challenges, such as collect three boosters in mid-air in a single run or use the warp portal five times, which help you level up and unlock new abilities and decals for your airship. If you are interested in a high score, you’ll want to collect as many Tris, which are blue-colored pickups, to up your multiplier while also trying to survive running into things. Though some side challenges ask you to do that, which is fine by me.

To back all your quick reflexes, barrel rolls, and boosting ahead is an electronica, drum beat-infused soundtrack that is beyond catchy. You can buy it separately over here. It also builds with your progress, which really hammers home the sense of almost there during the end of the later regions.

I’m not certain about this, but it seems like Race the Sun‘s world is reconstructed after a set period of time (maybe every few days or a week?) so while I have become familiar with the layout of the gray-colored world in these last few sessions, that will all change shortly. Unlike with Tower of Guns, this is a rogue-light that I can really just pick up and play for a bit, though I’m stuck at level 17 currently, with two of the three side challenges available being of the “only turn left for two regions” or “only turn right” ilk, which are difficult to master. Either way, that sun is always setting, and my job is to not see that happen. Happy racing, all.

Making difficult decisions in Spec Ops: The Line’s war-torn Dubai

spec ops the line gd impressions

It’s no big secret that I lean away from realistic military-driven shooters, with the last one I gave a shot–pun intended–being Battlefield 3, of which I only experienced the bombastic single player campaign and removed the game from my PlayStation 3’s internal hard-drive without even giving its online multiplayer a kick. I’m not into the competitiveness of war, but generally curious to see a, hopefully, captivating story spun around tank battles, sniping, and yelling commands at comrades. A good story can generally carry a stinky load.

Progress is being made to clear out some space on my PlayStation 3. I recently finished up and uninstalled Prototype 2; afterwards, I took another scroll through my PlayStation Plus-heavy list and saw another title that called out to me…for a number of reasons. Spec Ops: The Line is, a first glance, a typical cover-based shooter, and it really isn’t the sort of game, based on its premise, I would drift towards. However, I remember the reviews for the game being fairly positive, praising its story above all else, that there was a narrative here worth seeing, even if it meant playing a perfunctory take on the genre.

Here’s the gist: Captain Martin Walker, Lieutenant Alphanso Adams, and Staff Sergeant John Lugo are traversing, on foot, through a storm wall on the outskirts of a mostly-buried Dubai. They come into contact with a group of armed survivors speaking in Farsi, referred to as “insurgents,” who have captured a squad of 33rd soldiers. Contradicting his orders, Walker decides to follow the insurgents and find out what has happened in the city. The story twists and turns from there, rather darkly, and to say any more would ruin its impact, but it often presents Walker with a moral choice, many of which result in dire consequences.

Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person action game, or, as the kids call them these days, a cover-based shooter. You move forward, you find cover, you hide behind it, and then you pop out to shoot human enemies in the head, dropping back safely when the going gets rough. I’m sure some people don’t even use cover, but I never found that a feasible option for surviving. In fact, I played the game on its standard difficulty up to the third chapter, eventually getting stuck in a tricky hallway and bumping it down to its easiest of difficulties, which, in a few spots, still gave me grief. You can laugh all you want, but I wasn’t really here for the perfunctory gameplay, so playing on easy was not one of the more difficult choices placed upon me.

Unfortunately, due to all its hype and praise, I knew to expect something narrative-wise as I gunned down human after human, and so the big reveal was not that big of a reveal to me. Still, it’s pretty good and more risky than you’d expect to see in a, from the outside looking in, straightforward war simulator, but I wasn’t blown away. I did, however, love hearing the voice actors change dramatically from beginning to end, at first being stern and ordering commands to ragged shouting and fuck protocol, save yourself attitudes. Honestly, Captain Walker’s voice was so strained by the end that I couldn’t believe it was Nolan North and not Troy Barker.

I will say this: the setting of Dubai made each checkpoint worth getting. Almost like with a point-and-click adventure game, I desperately wanted to see the next area, and most of them, especially those set inside a building or near the city limits, are astoundingly unique. I wish there had been more ways to use sand in battle, or, at the very least, more opportunities to use it, as sandstorms and dropping sand on an enemy soldier’s head grants Walker and his partners more strategic options than simply zooming in and firing until they stop moving.

After completing the game, I loaded up the final chapter to see a few of the alternate endings and earn a couple more Trophies. I also popped back to chapter 3 and beat it on the normal difficulty, putting all my hardened skills to use. That said, I have no interest in playing the full game a second time, nor do I need to go back and see how every other choice would play out. Just like with Battlefield 3, I won’t be even giving the online multiplayer a chance, as the main gameplay of hiding and shooting did little to excite me throughout Spec Ops: The Line‘s campaign; at least games like Mass Effect 2 and The Last of Us give me powers or other options for taking out enemies.

At least now I know what Spec Ops: The Line was all about: the tough calls.

Shutting this Nintendo Club down with freebies

club nintendo post gd end of april

A little while back, Nintendo emailed me. Chances are, if you are a member of Club Nintendo, you also got a similar email, though we might differ on one main point–status. Anyways, they wanted to inform me that I had earned a Gold status in their unblinking, Mario-esque eyes, which meant I was entitled to a free game, a digital download at zero cost, and I had a list to pick from for either the Nintendo 3DS or Nintendo Wii U. Those that got Platinum status had a larger pool to pick from, and I made a mental note to come back and get my not-yet-selected freebie. Fast-forward to yesterday, the deadline for this promotion, and I scanned the list and picked…well, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for the Wii U.

Hold your horses, you say. Ah, I say back. You must be one of my highly attentive readers, for you are properly confused as to why I’d buy a digital game only available for the Wii U when I do not have a Wii U. Let me spoil it for you: I have a Wii U, and I’ve had a Wii U for many, many months. Since last fall, actually. I’ve just not found much to say about the system, which, in its own little way, maybe says more than I ever could. I’m not sure how well playing a two-screen game like Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on the Wii U works–yes, I am not disregarding the fact that the console also has two screen, but they are somewhat separated–but I’m interested in learning.

Since I was already logged in to Club Nintendo’s site, I did a little more browsing and discovered I had 650 Coins sitting pretty up in the top corner. Suddenly, I remembered–there was something I wanted to use those on! Specifically, the Animal Crossing: New Leaf-themed deck of playing cards. Alas, they were no longer available, which is what I get for not hopping to it. Boo. None of the other physical items called out to me so I spent my well-earned reward coins on two more digital downloads for the Wii U: EarthBound and NES Remix. The former is a classic RPG that I’ve long wanted to play, just not through an illegal emulator, and the latter is a bunch of quick, quirky challenges in NES titles of yesteryear.

I’ve not actually loaded up either EarthBound or Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga yet, as RPGs like that require a time commitment, which I’m not ready to give, mostly because all my RPGing at the moment is going into Final Fantasy IX. I’ll get to them soon, perhaps over the summer. That said, I did load up NES Remix last night and found myself seriously absorbed, unable to stop until I had completed all of the levels for Excitebike and one-third of the ones for the original Super Mario Bros. It’s a lot of fun, but I’ll save further thoughts for its own dedicated blog post.

All that said, I am left with 100 coins in my Club Nintendo profile, which can be spent on…next to nothing. I can purchase one item for 80 Coins, which is called Grill-Off with Ultra Hand! Hmm. It’s a fast-paced game of skill and timing, where the player must barbecue all kinds of meats on the grill. In one way, it sounds amazing, and in another, it sounds like a gimmick that would quickly get old. Alas, I don’t think you can earn any more coins for your profile, so it is either this or let my coins vanish in the end. I’m not really tormented over this decision. Club Nintendo is shutting down at the end of June, so I have plenty of time to weigh my options.

If you too were brandished with either Gold or Platinum status, what freebie did you pick? Also, if you have those Animal Crossing: New Leaf-themed playing cards, I’ll trade you a free copy of Grill-Off with Ultra Hand! for it. That’s a pretty good deal, and you know it.