Monthly Archives: May 2011

Steve Jackson Games unsheathes Munchkin Conan the Barbarian

Strangely and surprisingly, over the Memorial Day weekend, Steve Jackson Games announced yet another new Munchkin title, this time going almost back to their fantasy origin roots with Munchkin Conan the Barbarian. This is a 15-card supplement for original Munchkin–y’know, the core set that already has 74 supplements as is–and while I will always be excited for new Munchkin art, cards, and game mechanics, I am growing a little weary of how bulky original Munchkin is getting. I think I only have like three big expansions (Munchkin 4 – The Need for Speed, Munchkin 5 – De-ranged, Munchkin 7 – Cheat With Both Hands) and one little one (Munchkin Waiting for Santa), and it’s already way too many cards to deal with. When my wife and sisters and I play, we have to actually create two Door piles and two Treasure piles because stacking them all at once would suddenly turn a round of Munchkin into a round of Jenga.

But yeah, Conan the Cimmerian…I mean, Barbarian. He’s definitely a great character, surviving in a world with inventive monsters and barrels full of fun–yet deadly–weapons. There’s actually so much to Conan’s rich history to pluck from that I’m sad to see this as just a supplement and not its very own set. Again, give me more big sets before little additions.

Munchkin Conan the Barbarian comes out this fall. Naturally, a better title would’ve been Conan the Muncharian. I’m dying to see what the Barbarian Booties do. No sample cards available yet, but you can check out a few pieces of early art over at the set’s homepage.

Skirting the wild side with Wild Arms 2

Tara‘s been telling me for several months now that I have to play Wild Arms 2 from her side of our games collection, and since there wasn’t much else to deal with today but dog diarrhea and a severe lack of air conditioning in our apartment, I finally said okay and gave the game an hour of my time. Sorry, Greg, but I didn’t take any notes as I played. I did, however, have a serious blast naming the many characters’ names. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing in RPGs; for my first and only playthrough of Final Fantasy VII, I gave everybody either a Greek or Roman god’s name.

Here’s what I came up with for our colorful crew of heroes in Wild Arms 2:

Just ignore the stats in the images above. I got nobody past level 3 by quitting time. I also named some boy hostage 12345 and a friendly dog Updog. Yeah, I know. I’m da best at naming dem thingies.

Like all Wild Arms games would go on to do, the adventure begins with picking one of three characters to play as. Don’t worry. You’ll do everyone’s origin story, and then all three timelines will connect with each other. I picked Dimples first, a soldier in Meria Boule’s army, one of the three nations of Filgaia. He walked around some underground place, learned how to hit switches with throwing knives, and then fought a boss monster with creepy hands. Next it was on to Banana’s story, which is a little on the somber side. See, he’s hunted as a criminal, but is actually a “hero.” The use of quotation marks is his doing, not mine. Maybe he doesn’t want people to confuse him with a sandwich. Lastly, there’s Brickface, and boy did I name her correctly. She’s a hapless magician in training, and her introductory story is one giant puzzle of blocks and switches and giant bugs. It’s not fun. In fact, it’s a bit frustrating, and by then I’d had enough, so off went the PlayStation 2′s power button.

Some strange things to note though. Despite being three separate characters who have not yet met each other, they all shared the very same inventory. I had collected 14 Heal Berries with Dimples, and then when it was time to switch over to Banana, he also had access to all those berries. How does something like that work? The battle graphics are atrocious, but otherwise the game is pretty decent looking. Dialogue can be a bit confusing as it’s not always clear who is talking. Evidently, you can also name your own spells; Tara renamed many of hers after ones from Slayers and Magic Knight Rayearth. Go, nerdy wife!

I can’t promise that I’ll go back and play more Wild Arms 2 at this point, but if I do, at least it’ll be worth a few laughs.

Games Completed in 2011, #18 – Back to the Future: The Game – Episode 1, “It’s About Time”

Taking place six months after the conclusion of Back to the Future III, Back to the Future: The Game – Episode 1, “It’s About Time”–from here on out known as BttF EP1–does a wonderful job of keeping the story strong and inventive, as well as recreating that special wonder that made the trilogy such a blast. Heck, they even managed to snag Christopher Lloyd to provide the voice-over work for Doc Brown; alas, we get a new kid trying to do “the Marty,” and it’s mostly fine. Throw in contributions from Bob Gale, co-creator, co-writer, and co-producer of the original film trilogy, and you’ve got gold nurturing gold.

Telltale Games is known for their episodic adventures with the Sam & Max series, and the same formula is applied here, with five episodes representing a full season. The first episode was released for free to everybody with an Internet connection back in early April, and I greedily downloaded the game as quickly as possible. Still, it took me several weeks to actually install the thing and play it, but once I did, I played it all the way through, giddy to be back in this universe.

It’s May 1986, and Doc Brown is nowhere to be found. The bank plans to sell off all of Brown’s items at an estate sale, which Marty is very upset over; however, without warning, the DeLorean reappears at Doc’s house with Einstein in it, as well as mysteriously single shoe. This shoe will be the clue to unraveling what happened to Doc and where–or should I say when?–he is. I won’t say much more as it quickly leads into a spoiler zone shortly after that.

As a point-and-click adventure, BttF EP1‘s puzzles were disappointingly easy, but that did not detract from how great the story was, as well as the character interaction and dialogue. I laughed out loud several times, and, despite having no mirror in front of me to confirm this, suspect I was smiling for the majority of my playthrough. Plus, I was playing a new game on my Mac–that never happens. It ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m definitely curious about the other episodes, just not in a rush to buy ‘em. However, I do now have a hankering to watch the films again; yes, yes, even the third one.

30 Days of Gaming, #20 – Favorite genre

If you thought the answer to this topic was gonna be racing or cooking sims, well…you’ve clearly not been paying much attention to Grinding Down. I’m all about the roleplaying games, but it did take me some years to really get into the genre and stay there, as many JRPGs almost ruined me, as they have almost ruined others before me. Thankfully, standout titles like Suikoden, Suikoden II, and Final Fantasy VII literally blew my genitals, taking me from teenhood to manhood in a matter of dozens of hours, thanks to intricate plots, fantastic battle systems, soaring sounds, elegant pacing, light grinding, addictive gameplay, and endings that still resonate with me to this day. Plus, y’know, they let me play a role in their worlds.

I’ve always been a big reader, and much of the credit can go to my sister Bitsy who, from an early age, passed along books she had already read to me. Many of these turned out to be fantasy novels–works by Mercedes Lackey, Piers Anthony (oh my), and Anne McCaffrey–and it wasn’t too hard to leapfrog from them to more “adult” work, devouring things like The Belgariad series by David Eddings, The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, and stuff by David Gemmell. Throw in the classics like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the entire Discworld series, and well, I was hooked on stories.

And here comes along a genre of videogames that promises epic stories…and more! The majority of RPGs, more often than not, at least five or ten years ago,
were fantasy-themed. Sure, there’s the occasional sci fi-themed RPG, and many could argue that Final Fantasy VII is more space and metal frames than swords and dragons, but these videogames gave all their love to royalty and kingdoms and knights and dragons and magic spells and small-time villages trying to make ends meet before war destroyed everything everywhere. So I ate it up, even the bad meals like Beyond the Beyond and SaGa Frontier. It didn’t matter–I just wanted to be in a realized world, growing as a character, growing into a story.

Character customization is not as important to me as character crafting is. Whenever a new RPG begins and you’re given the chance to mold how your dude or dudette looks, I click around, raise their cheekbones, lighten or dark their skin, find a cool beard, and call it a day. I can easily see that hours upon hours can be spent noodling with dozens of options, but that’s not important to me. Once we’re in the game, spending skill points or focusing on this spell or deciding what kind of armor Mini Paul will wear are the bigger decisions.

While RPGs are my favorite genre, this also can be problematic. On average, a RPG can take around 30 to 40 hours to complete. However, having an addictive personality, I end up playing most RPGs for double that. See: 130 hours logged so far in Dragon Quest IX, over 100 hours for Fallout 3, eighty+ hours for Fallout: New Vegas, and so on. Playing more than one RPG at a time is like juggling balls of fiery acid with no gloves, and yet it’s something I simply can’t avoid.

Last year, I needed a break between some RPGs I was eating up, and so I picked up Mini Ninjas for the Xbox 360, thinking that an action title would be a good change of pace. I completed the game in under five hours. That’s it? I’ve played prologues in RPGs for longer than that (think Suikoden V, people), and I was a bit taken aback at how much quantity I look for in a game these days. Quantity over quality, especially when discussing bug-ridden games like the Fallout series. I don’t care how broken they are…there’s so much stuff to do to distract me from such bummers.

But yeah, RPGs. Love ‘em. Always will so long as they continue on, which we all know they will. Can’t wait to see how big and massive Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is gonna be, as well as the multiple choice quiz that is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Sorry, upcoming Cooking Mama 4 for the 3DS…I DON’T GIVE TWO STEAMED CAULIFLOWERS ABOUT YOU.

Games Completed in 2011, #17 – Ratchet: Deadlocked

This isn’t the greatest analogy, but it’s all I got this early in the morning and with only one mediocre cup of coffee to keep my membranes ticking: Ratchet: Deadlocked is the adopted kid in Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank series. You can just tell that it’s not naturally comfortable around its older siblings, what with their love of platforming and exploring open planets. Instead, Deadlocked focuses on shooting and mission-based objectives, giving the game a quick sort of feel; there’s no wandering around, looking for hidden secrets; there’s just the more or less same-same missions on various planets, divided up by hilarious sports-like faux commentary and jesting cutscenes.

Initially, I was a little put off. The missions were so straightforward that I found myself annoyed that I couldn’t wander around as I pleased. Instead, I had to go from point A to point B, shooting all enemies, and so long as I lived to tell the story, that was good enough to make it to the next mission. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. These aren’t really missions…they’re events in a reality TV game show that…um, let me start at the beginning.

In Deadlocked, Ratchet and Clank get kidnapped by Gleeman Vox, the head-honcho behind Dreadzone, a reality TV game show that shares some links with our very own American Gladiators and The Running Man. In order to earn their freedom, Ratchet will have to fight his way to the top of the show’s leaderboards and prove himself worthy. Otherwise, his explosive collar will go ka-boomie. It’s not as interesting of a plot as previous titles, but it works well for the mission-based format, with each planet in Dreadzone acting as an arena filled with challenges to conquer. These range from tiered rounds of enemy swarms, to piloting a huge mech called the Landstalker or hovership, to fixing generators, to boss battles. With Clank on the sidelines, Ratchet gets some new help from two assistant fighter-bots; I can’t recall their names, but they make funny comments and can help with some objectives though I found myself repairing them more often than not.

When you’re not doing main story missions, you can complete challenges to earn more Dreadzone points and currency, which will help you buy upgrades and visit other locations. I ended up buying every mod and every weapon save for one: the Harbinger, which costs 2,000,000 bolts. Eep. I still love that weapons upgrade the more you use them, which is a nice way of getting me to try guns I’m not really interested in. Like the Holoshield Launcher. Still, my favorite weapon is the Miniturret Glove with just about any kind of crazy mod on it. Try it with the Morph mod for a laugh.

The cutscenes and voiceover work for the Ratchet and Clank series has always been top-notch, and there’s no exception here. The commentary during main story missions would usually get a snort out of me, and I still can’t get the way Dallas says Juuuuuanita out of my head. However, I was still surprised to hear Gleeman Vox curse–well, they bleeped it out, but the intent remained there–and it just goes to show how much darker this entry is than others. Kind of like how Jak II was drastically different than what came before it. Not necessary, if you asked me.

After you beat the game, the option for New Game+ opens up, which I both love and hate. I love it for the fact that I could play the game again with my weapons already kicking bolt butt and the chance to earn enough currency to buy the Harbinger, and I hate it for the fact that I don’t really have the time to play Ratchet: Deadlocked for a second time. Sorry, Insomniac. There’s too many other games demanding my love and praise (or wrath), but I had a great time on one playthrough, and that certainly counts for something.

Adding to the Backlog – A whole bunch of drastically different videogames

Suddenly, without warning, my backlog grew tremendously over the last couple of weeks. Actually, no, not without warning–I’ve been buying games pretty frequently, mostly because I’m trying to fill out my PlayStation 2 games collection before all copies of anything PS2-related disappear like pay-phones, cassette tapes, and music videos on MTV. Also, Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger’s pride.

Here’s a little summary of my recent additions:

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

I actually ended up buying a new copy of this game for around $15.00. This totally confused the GameStop employee as he claimed that he had not sold a new copy of a PlayStation game in many, many months. He had no idea where they kept them. He called three people on the phone. Time passed, and I shuffled back and forth on my feet, waiting, wondering. Anyways, I’ve yet to pop this baby into the disc tray. Soon, I’m sure.

Mafia

This is okay. Not quite a GTA clone, but there’s bits and pieces there, as well as a character named Pauly. However, I’m stuck on the third mission. Like, I’ve tried it six times, and I can’t get past it. You’re supposed to bash a bunch of cars up with a baseball bat and then ignite them in a blaze of glory with a molotov cocktail; the problem is that once you’ve smashed up two and a half cars, a bunch of goons with guns attack you, and within a few shots, the main character is dead. I’ve tried it a bunch of different ways, but can’t seem to avoid their shots and finish up the job at the same time.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit

Haven’t played it yet, but the store clerk was excited to see me getting this game. Seems to be more of a platformer than an adventure game, but I’ll give it a shot.

Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2: Bush Rescue

Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Sly…those were the staples of PS2 platforming titles. However, another series existed, one about a not-so-crazy Tasmanian tiger that kept a nifty collection of boomerangs. I have and enjoyed beating the first game in the series so I picked this one up for super cheap. Shame it has a laughingly bad name. Can’t wait to rescue some bush.

The Simpsons: Road Rage

Tara saw this and said something to the effect of, “The Grand Theft Auto Simpsons!” And she’s a huge fan of the show, much more than I am, so I grabbed it for her for $4.99. However, it turns out it’s more like Crazy Taxi than GTA, but it’s still pretty fun. Love that it has all the true voice actors in it. I got to be Ottoman and drive around a topless school bus.

Tokobot Plus: Mysteries of the Karakuri

No idea what this is, but the Capcom-esque art style and inclusion of a mini army of robots was enough to sell me. It was like $4.00. Haven’t gotten to try it yet.

Now, if I just complete all six of these games in the next week, that’ll bring me up to 25 total for 2011, and then I can gleefully go out and purchase L.A. Noire for the extended holiday weekend. Ha, not likely. Besides, I’ve got a bunch of artsy projects I really should work on instead of playing with pixels. However, I’ll still be searching for other PS2 titles I want…if you have any, please send them to me as soon as possible, and I’ll repay you with a silly drawing. Seriously, that’s the deal. Unless you have Suikoden III. Then I’ll do you a silly drawing…in my very own blood.

30 Days of Gaming, #19 – Picture of a game setting you wish you lived in

Fable II was an okay game. It did not wow me, but it had a lot of pretty to it, and bumbling into a new location was always a joyous moment because it meant immersing myself in a place and seeing how everything clicked. Oh, okay. That’s where they get their food, that’s where they sell their wares, that’s where a talking gargoyle head insults my intelligence. Bowerstone is an impressive main city hub, very busy with lots of shops and shoppers, as well as being broken up into distinctive districts. Bloodstone is moody and dangerous. Westcliff is a dump though you do get the opportunity to change its tides.

For me, the place to be in Fable II is Oakfield, a small village of farmers and monks north of Rookridge. It’s serene and open, quiet and nice, a place to spend the day either tilling the land or walking the paths, with a single bar hot-spot, the Sandgoose, to go to at night where, more assuredly, everybody knows your name. Some other points of interest include the Temple of Light and Manure Manor.

And if you play to the good-natured side, when you return from the Tattered Spire, you’ll find Oakfield thriving, with new houses and an expanded Temple of Light. Plus, autumn will be in full swing, with gorgeous reds, oranges, and yellows to feast upon, and probably nothing else comes as close as to feeling like a true fantasy village than Oakfield. Evil people get to destroy the village, which only makes me want to never finish my evil second playthrough even more.

A lot of Fable II is spent running after the golden breadcrumb trail, your dog desperately trying to keep up. Considering the game’s tiresome loading screens and sluggish menus, running was a blessing. I ran just about everywhere. Except for Oakfield in the sunlight, where I’d stroll leisurely around, doing little expressions for its inhabitants and keeping the peace. It’s the sort of place I dream about, where I could leave behind the plastic and pointless, be one with my surroundings, spend every day soaking up the sounds and smells.

Runner-up:

That’d be Serenity Farm, also from Fable II. It’s the inside of Oakfield’s Demon Door, and it’s special in that no one but your family (wife/husband and kids) can follow you there. Meaning no enemies, truly a secret spot all to your own. That also sounds good to me. Either way, fantasy farms…I kind of like ‘em.

Honest early impressions for the Honest Hearts DLC

As expected, things go horribly wrong the minute you begin the Honest Hearts DLC for Fallout: New Vegas. First, the Courier needs to meet up with Jed Masterson, a traveling merchant working for the delightfully named Happy Trails Caravan Company. He tells you a bit about the caravan’s history, as well as his need for someone with a Pip-Boy 3000 to help him and his groupies navigate safely through Zion Canyon in hopes of trading with the Mormons in New Canaan. And off you go, zipping from state to the other in a matter of a single loading screen. However, once you arrive, your caravan is attacked and, sorry to say, you’re the lone survivor…which is a shame as Ricky would’ve made for a hilarious albeit annoying companion all the way through.

Speaking of companions, you can’t bring anyone with you in Honest Hearts. Sorry, ED-E. You’ll also need to drop your inventory down to only 75 lbs, which is irksome, but understandable. Thankfully, I was only at like 112/215 at that point, so I dropped some stupid things like lunchboxes and clothes I’ll never wear. At least they didn’t strip you of every awesome thing you worked really hard for like Bethesda has done in the past with Operation Anchorage, The Pitt, Mothership Zeta, and Dead Money.

So far, I’m enjoying Honest Hearts a thousand and five times more than Dead Money. It’s less claustrophobic, focusing more on exploring and looting through abandoned places considered too taboo for the native folk. The landscape itself is varied, but sparse of life, and at this point I’ve shot some geckos and steered clear of cazador groups. I was particularly surprised to see the Courier coming face to face with Joshua Graham, also known as the Burned Man, so soon into the adventure as I figured he’d be too pivotal and big for open chatting. Guess he’s desperate for help.

Also, kind of like when one first arrives at the Strip, the player is overwhelmed with a great number of quests to do. Like three at once, and then another five at once. It’s both great and maddening. I’m currently working on Rite of Passage, a side quest that’s more than a little trippy, while I figure out exactly how I want to go about Zion and saving its people (or not). I got to the end of the quest and quickly met death so I’m not sure if I’m ready for this or just if I need to plan better. We’ll see…right, Ghost of She?

And here’s what I’ve gotten so far Achievement-wise, both of which are simply tied to completing specific quests:


When We Remembered Zion (20G): Arrived at Zion.


Restore Our Fortunes (30G): Resupplied Daniel and the Sorrows.

Sadly, the Achievements for these DLC add-ons are never very exciting. If only the brains behind them would open up and get creative; I mean, the in-game challenges do a much better job of getting players to express their characters fully, encouraging my current Courier to melt enemies and damage limbs, rewarding us with bonus XP. Why not go the extra three feet and make some of those into Achievements? But I digress…

Looking forward to exploring more Utah territory. Most likely this weekend.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

Sadly, I can only imagine how terrifying RPGs must have seemed when they first came out on gaming consoles years–nay, decades–ago. In contrast to games like Super Mario Bros and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, here was a gaming genre that moved slowly, told a grandiose tale, reduced combat to a turn-by-turn basis, and asked the player to save frequently because there’s no way you’ll end up finishing this title off on a lazy Saturday afternoon. To ease gamers into this notion of quests of the epic nature and turn-based combat, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest for the SNES in 1992, a game that was, for all intents and purposes, a gateway drug to the realm of harder, more satisfying drugs. Drugs here being RPGs, people. Calm down.

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest‘s plot is guessable. It’s about a young boy named Benjamin who is out to save the world. He’ll accomplish this hefty goal by collecting stolen crystals that affect the world’s four elemental powers. Yup. If that sounds familiar, you’re an attested RPGer. By the way, this unnamed world is divided into four regions: Foresta, Aquaria, Fireburg, and Windia. Go ahead and guess what each one is like, I’ll wait.

Gameplay, for an RPG, was simplified. And this was before Mass Effect II did it. Random battles, equipment customization, save points, and a full party system were abandoned for a streamlined, cleaner presentation that did most of the work for you. Newly acquired armor simply replaces the previously worn. You explored towns and chatted with folk, and you could chop down trees, blow up walls, and use a grappling hook to cross wide gaps. Sounds a bit more like a Zelda game, right? Here’s another instance of Squaresoft making it easier for gamers: the heal spell not only recovered lost HP, but also removed status ailments, eliminating the need for other item types.

I bought a copy of this game for über cheap several years after its release, after it missed the mark of finding lovers in the hardcore Final Fantasy fans, as well as the general mass market. I remember playing it for a bit, but never completing it. My favorite aspect was always how gargantuan the monsters you fought against were in comparison to Ben. Also, the main town in Windia stands out in my mind, but I can’t pinpoint why…maybe there was a band there playing music and I thought that was pretty neat? Maybe. But at some point, this game was bundled up with a bunch of other SNES carts as I traded them all in for my chance at a PlayStation. Strangely, it wouldn’t be until the PlayStation that a Final Fantasy game hit both targets of hardcore RPG fans and those not in the know.

Easy, simple RPGs, such as Costume Quest, can still be awesome, be loved. A part of me wants to believe the same can be said about Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, but that same part also thinks that new equipment replacing old equipment against my will is extremely obnoxious.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

Odd Gamerscores are perfect for palindromic numbers

I had a busy day of pinging Achievements, unlocking several from a number of games: A Kingdom of Keflings, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, and Fallout: New Vegas. When all was said and done–and by that, I mean when it was time to stop gaming and make dinner–I noticed that my Gamerscore looked kind of special. It read 23132. Here’s the moment frozen in time too:

Oh boy! Zaaaany. There’s even a name for this crazy happenstance, and it’s called a palindrome. Basically, a sequence of units that can be read the same forwards and backwards. It occurs a lot in life, and I can now check off “palindrome the heck out of my Gamerscore” from my bucket list.

I know, I know. It’s all rather silly, but I found it amusing, and it’s probably never gonna happen again, at least not like this because I’ll be getting the 88G Achievement soon from LEGO Pirates which will turn my ‘score back to a nice, even number. In fact, I’ll probably do some more gaming tonight, messing up my ‘score most certainly by morning’s time, which is why I’m pushing this post out sooner than later.

Another fun example of a palindrome? This phrase: rats live on no evil star.