2016 Game Review Haiku, #38 – Legend of Xenia

2016 gd games completed legend of xenia

Thought dead, the princess
Washes ashore, to find keys
Kill slimes, all colors

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.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #37 – Saints Row IV

2015 gd games completed saints row iv

Earth is gone, POTUS
Out for revenge on Zinyak
Superpowers help

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.

Drowning in random drops in Crimson Shroud’s Gerseym Waterway

crimson shroud waterway random drop gd bs

I have a problem. Well, more specifically, my Nintendo 3DS has a problem. See, there are updates to both Pokémon Shuffle and Nintendo Badge Arcade that I desperately want to install, but I can’t download them. I also have a code for Retro City Rampage: DX thanks to the latest Humble Friends of Nintendo Bundle that I can’t do anything with yet. Why? Well, of course, after many years of downloading things like games, DLC, themes, and StreetPass data, the system’s memory is just about full.

Upon reviewing everything that is installed, I noticed that Crimson Shroud is extremely large, coming in at 1,965 blocks. Yowza-bo-bowza. However, me being me, I can’t simply just delete this outright, and so I’ve gone back in to this magical land of figurines and digital dice, to figure out how to progress in hopes that I can complete the game and then feel justified in removing from my handheld. I did this with Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale, though there is a part of me that wants to revisit that game relatively soon down the road, especially with summer creeping on in.

See, last I played Crimson Shroud, which I sheepishly admit was back in January 2013, I had just defeated the Zombie Minotaur boss and was looking forward to exploring the area more. Unfortunately, to progress forward, you have to work through one of the most obscure puzzles I’ve come across in all my years gaming. Which is over twenty-five. Anyways, after dealing with the Zombie Minotaur, our trio of adventuring table-top figurines–Giauque, Lippi, and Frea–make their way to the Gerseym Waterway. There, you need to recall something Frea previously said:

“If you’re going to continue to search this way, you’ll need something to dispel the darkness–a gift. Anything with a gift like that would be an enemy to any mage. More of a curse than a gift, really.”

Right. Evidently, from that, you’re suppose to know that in order to move forward and not perpetually explore the limited number of spaces over and over and over again you need to obtain a single item called Obsidian Daphne. However, you won’t find this in a treasure chest or somewhere on the map. It needs to drop from a battle encounter, one specifically involving a Skeleton Mage. Your best bet for finding Skeleton Mages to battle against them in the Gerseym Waterway, but it’s not as simple as just getting into a battle, taking them down, and walking away with their sweet, puzzle-solving loot, and this is probably why I eventually put Crimson Shroud down despite loving rolling digital dice to regain MP.

Okay, every time you move away from and back to the space for the Gerseym Waterway, you get some muddled text and the chance to fight some monsters. A choice, really. Here’s the rub. There are four types of encounters you can…well, encounter. Not all of them contain Skeleton Mages as enemies, and the only way to know is to first take out an enemy and see what it gets replaced by. I think there’s a higher chance of a Skeleton Mage showing up if you destroy the Skeleton Archers first, but that’s just me guessing. Regardless, if you get the wrong encounter, you’re out of luck, but must still finish the fight, which takes several minutes as the enemies have a lot of HP and do not go down swiftly. Then you have to rinse and repeat your actions from before and pray to the skies above that you walked into the correct encounter. Remember, each of the four types of encounters have the same initial set of forces, so it’s all a crap-shoot from the get-go. For me, this took about an hour to do, and I almost missed grabbing the Obsidian Daphne at the end from the list of available loot. Eek.

Alas, that’s all the progress I’ve made so far in Crimson Shroud. Granted, it’s big, and hopefully there isn’t another section just like it up ahead, but I found the whole thing unnecessarily frustrating. I’m only on chapter two and already looking up online walkthroughs. Also, I’m beginning to remember another major issue I had with Crimson Shroud, and that comes down to screen real estate. With three party members and upwards of four enemies on the top screen, plus other information, it can be a bit hard to see what is even going on. I’m all about portable RPGs, but this one might make the case for being on one of those fancier Nintendo 3DS systems with the larger screens.

Oh, and once you find the Obsidian Daphne, it is used up immediately to further the story along. I didn’t even get a chance to hug and kiss it–after all that.

Gears of War 2 continues its virile fight against the Locust horde

gd impressions on gow2 xbox 360

A part of me somehow knew that if I waited long enough I could get all of the Gears of War games for free thanks to Xbox’s Gaming with Gold program. Well, not exactly free, as I am paying money to be a Gold member, but free from the outside looking in. It started out with the first Gears of War, which I played through and found myself dumbfounded over how this became a popular, blockbuster series, even if I was having fun with the active reload mechanic. I find it perfunctory and fine, but nothing amazing, and you can feel free to call me names in the comments (if I approve your abhorrent name-calling comment for all to see, that is). Then Microsoft gave out Gears of War 3 and Gears of War: Judgment, but I was holding my breath for the second entry in the series so I could at least play them in some sort of sensible order. Lo and behold, it was a freebie for February 2016, completing the path forward.

Gears of War 2 takes place shortly after the end of the first game. The Coalition of Ordered Governments continues its fight against the Locust horde, who are attempting to sink all of the cities on the planet Sera. Sergeant Marcus Fenix leads Delta Squad down into the murky depths of the planet to try to stop the Locust from destroying Jacinto, one of the last remaining safe havens for humans. I feel like, other than the part about sinking planets, you could use this same description to summarize the first game, too. Either way, there are a couple of small side stories to explore, such as what happened to Dom’s wife Maria and a civil war brewing between the Locust and the Lambent.

Gameplay remains largely unchanged from the first Gears of War, though you can now pick up fallen enemies and use them as cover against incoming bullets. These are lovingly referred to as meatshields, which I approve of greatly. Regardless, you’ll push forward in linear levels, hiding behind cover and popping out of it to shoot the bad dudes. You’ll also have an AI-controlled partner with you for most of the missions, and I assume this character can also be controlled during the co-op campaign. I found Dom, at least on the “normal” difficulty, to be mostly a waste of space, especially during that boss fight against the Leviathan. Truth be told, and maybe this has to do with my recent practice with the Gears of War 4 Beta, I did pretty good in the campaign, only seeing red a handful of times, and those really only occurred during the two separate fights against Skorge, as I wasn’t sure exactly of what to do. Okay, okay…maybe an unseen Ticker got me now and then as well.

Alas, I’m still not enthralled with the running and gunning of the Gears of War series. I liked finding the collectibles in the levels, which should not surprise anyone following Grinding Down, as well as when you got to ride a Brumak near the end and just massacred everything in front of you. There’s also one level inside a giant monster where the focus is not on pelting Locust with bullets but rather surviving all the weird internal organs.  Those stand out as the highlights of the campaign for me.

Since beating Gears of War 2, I’ve been dabbling in its multiplayer modes. For various reasons. One is to clean up some Achievements I’m close to getting, like performing all the different execution methods or using proximity mines to kill ten enemies. Two…is that I fully expect to never return to Gears of War 2 once I start playing the third one, which I’m in no rush to load up, and so I want to make sure I get everything out of this game that I can. Or rather, that I want. I managed to get into one online multiplayer game with real-life people and had my butt handed to me swiftly, and so now I’m sticking to local matches against bots, as well as the Horde mode (solo and on “casual” difficulty). I also plan to pop back into the campaign and grab the remainder of the collectibles, considering I already got half of them my first time through this brown, brown world.

I’m definitely not immediately launching into Gears of War 3, even with the way this campaign ended on a cliffhanger. I’m okay waiting a bit. There’s plenty of other games currently in circulation too, such as Sunset Overdrive, I Am Alive, and Saints Row IV. In the meantime, if you are in the mood to play some Gears of War 2 and want to help me progress through Horde mode (I crashed into a wall around wave 6), hit me up on Xbox One.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #36 – Gears of War 2

2016 gd games completed gears of war 2

The Locust are back
With plans to sink Jacinto
Goodbye bland, brown world

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.

Jamming with Grandma immediately takes a turn with kidnapping

jamming with grandma capture 02

Look at that screenshot above. It’s a little girl tied up inside some sugar factory, with a pile of dynamite to her side and a spinning saw blade of doom heading right towards her. This scene takes place almost immediately after starting Jamming with Grandma, another point-and-click adventure game from Carmel Games that I foolishly assumed was going to a light-hearted romp where a young child helps her elder make some fancy plum jam.

In one way, I was right, and then I was also completely wrong, as a creepy dude in black quickly showed up and kidnapped little Kaitlyn with the full intention to murder her. No, that’s not entirely true. Here comes a spoiler: all the threats in that room are completely fake. That dynamite? It’s just paper towel tubes painted red. That saw blade? It actually goes behind Kaitlyn and cuts her ropes off. He only wanted to make it seem like she was going to die so that Kaitlyn would give up her grandma’s secret, award-winning jam recipe. Yup, all that for jam.

After escaping the dastardly plans of the disturbing man dressed in black, it’s business as usual in Jamming with Grandma. You’ll travel to a limited number of scenes set in a small, suburban town, interact with a small mount of people, pick up items, and then use them on people and things to progress forward in your quest to get Grandma all the ingredients she needs. I believe this is sugar, lemon, sliced pears, and something else I am forgetting. I’m no jam chef, though I do enjoy putting some apple jam jelly on lightly toasted bread in the morning.

I know this won’t be shocking, but I continue to experience the same problems I did with other titles from Carmel Games like Smells like Art and Dakota Winchester’s Adventures. These include not being able to tell when you can explore more of a scene to the left or right, obtuse puzzles, and extremely forced voice acting. The latter isn’t a deal-killer, but I did eventually get stuck for a minute or two in Jamming with Grandma until I accidentally hovered my mouse over to the right inside Grandma’s house and discovered there was an entire second room to explore. The artwork didn’t really make it seem like there was more that way.

Speaking of artwork, I actually really like the direction Jamming with Grandma took. It’s more colorful and defined than previous titles, where everything in the foreground, meaning characters and items you could pick up, felt flat when placed against the more detailed backgrounds. Here, everything gels together a little more naturally. Though Grandma’s artwork kind of reminds me of the Hobbits in Return of the King by Rankin and Bass. Also, there’s a kid dressed up as Freddy Krueger and hanging out on a sidewalk, which was weird, though he did eventually make himself useful for a puzzle.

Once again, I continue to pop into these titles because I’m just so dang curious about them and their titles and plots and how high the male voice actors will pitch their voices this time to somewhat emulate a woman speaking. Can’t wait to see which one I try next, though I did see a comment on Carmel Games’ blog mentioning that a new title that explored more of this mysterious man in black was on its way. Let’s hope there’s less kidnapping of tiny children.

Sliding, spotting, and shotgunning through the Gears of War 4 Beta

gd gears of war 4 beta impressions dropshot

I’ve not popped back recently into Tom Clancy’s The Division for a couple of reasons. One, after grabbing every single collectible on the map, I’ve found that it’s a shockingly empty, bland world and terribly lonely to play by yourself, especially when you don’t have a goal to go after, like nabbing all those cell phone recordings. Two, all of my Division buddies have been playing the Gears of War 4 Beta for the last week or so, which makes diseased New York City doubly abandoned. They got into the Beta seven days early for being special money-tossing loyalists to the series, but it went open to all on Monday, which means I get a week with the thing, which is plenty of time for me to figure out if I’m cut out for this kill or be killed multiplayer-driven world.

So far, I don’t know. I’m not great. Surprisingly, I’m probably not the worst player out there, but by no means am I at the top of the end game stats list. Getting more than three kills in a match is something worth getting excited over, and, if you think that’s silly, think back to your first time with the game, any game, and whether or not you were an unstoppable tank then or a fragile mosquito desperately facing down a shower of bullets with little to no luck on your side. I believe I did try once or twice to play a multiplayer session in the original Gears of War, which I was getting into some seven years after its initial release, and that didn’t go over terribly hot. In terms of my performance, yes, but also with how many people were still into that mode after fancier, enhanced editions were available for consumption from Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 3.

Let’s see. This Gears of War 4 Beta is…all about the multiplayer. Here’s what you get access to. There are two modes: the returning Team Deathmatch and brand new Dodgeball mode. To play these two modes, there are three available maps–Harbor, Dam, and Foundation. At this point, all I’ve played is Team Deathmatch on all of the maps, with my favorite one being whatever is the brightest one set during a nice afternoon with no clouds in the blue sky. My old man eyes are able to see the other team’s players much easier on this map, whatever one it is. I’m leaning towards Dam, but don’t make me swear on it.

The goal: murder everyone that doesn’t look like you. You’ll get randomly selected to play as either the humans or monsters before the start of each round. Each team only has so many lives and respawns, and everyone must work together to take control of the map. If not, the other team will slaughter you, and you’ll feel bad about yourself and probably not want to play anymore, especially if your own teammates are reinforcing these thoughts in your head. Thankfully, my gaming group has been relatively kind to me considering I’m brand new at all this, and I can see myself improving in small ways from round to round, but the nagging thought that I’m bringing everyone’s experience down a wee bit is a lingering friend nonetheless. My biggest hiccups are not moving around enough, going from cover to cover to cover, and learning how to blind-fire effectively.

My strategy is to generally follow a team member or two and stick near them like glue, helping where I can. A lot of my co-op online experience comes from The Division, and I had a role there too, which was dropping turrets, healing/reviving everyone when needed, and occasionally taking a shot or two at the bad dudes. Here, you really need to be on top of yourself, alerting everyone about what you are doing and where people are and how many and so on. This means a lot of communication, which is not my strong point when gaming online. There were definitely a few times where an enemy team member took me down and I didn’t say anything, and then that player took out a few more of my friends due to my silence. Whoops, and I’m sorry.

As a “thank you” to those participating in the Gears of War 4 Beta, anyone who reaches XP Level 20 will receive the Beta exclusive “Vintage Kait” character model, an emblem, and a special Vintage Kait bounty, as well as the Vintage weapon skin for the Lancer and Snub Pistol. Hmm. Lot of vintage going on here. Okay, I guess. I’m somewhere around XP Level 10 or so, with a few more days left to play, but if I somehow don’t hit this mark and get these mostly cosmetic freebies, I’ll live.

If anything, the Gears of War 4 Beta has inspired me to pop back into Gears of War 2 and make some new progress in the solo campaign (on its easiest difficulty, of course), for better or for worse. More on that later in a separate post, but let me just tease you with this: having a limited number of chances to toss a grenade into a boss sea monster’s mouth on a boat that is prone to glitches and having the characters lock up on its geometry and then having you do it all over again from the very beginning if you miss on those grenades because there is no other way to damage the beast is not fun. I’m currently on attempt number seven, if you are curious.