Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning demo is brimming with color

Chances are high that, thanks to some quality time with the demo for Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning, I won’t be getting the full release when it drops next month. Boo hoo. And that has nothing to do with how the game plays, as it’s quite a fun action-adventure RPG with bright colors and the potential to be huge and vast and a total timesink. Nope, that’s all well and good. Alas, it suffers from tiny text syndrome.

Why can’t every game just be like Saints Row: The Third? I mean, when that game tells me to drive a tiger around the city and keep it calm and relaxed by not running into other cars, I can totally read those instructions on the screen with no problem whatsoever. Big and bold font versus what seems to be a growing standard of tiny and scrunched. It’s all I ever want

But let’s start at the beginning. The beginning of the demo, that is. It opens with a lore-heavy cutscene, voiced by a woman that desperately wants to evoke Galadriel telling the tale of those rings forged in darkness. Amalur is a world of many races–gnomes, elves, magical beings called Fae, and smelly ol’ humans–and, from what I can tell, a Winter Fae named Gadflow and his followers, the Tuatha, have decided to kill all the younger races. I think it has something to do with a prophecy. And you, whoever you are. You are dead at the beginning of the game–SPOILERS!–brought back to life by the Well of Souls, something the Tuatha also want to see destroyed. Plot-wise, it seems like you will be investigating how exactly you came to be reborn, as well as get mixed up in all this bitter conflict.

The escape from the pit of dead bodies is clearly a tutorial level, wherein you’ll learn how to use weapons, equip stuff, kill rats and giant spiders, have some dialogue, and fight a rock troll. Afterwards, you are given 45 minutes to explore as much of Amalur as you want, doing whatever you want. The game even makes it explicitly clear that the 45 minutes will pause during dialogue so nothing needs to be skipped. Regardless, I skipped a lot of dialogue; it’s not the game’s strongest bullet point.

The game looks like Fable II and plays like Dragon Age II, and you can interpret that how you like. Vibrant colors abound and combat is fast, heavy on action and rolling. I really like the visuals in Amalur, with all the flowers and colorful trees and billowing grass. Even dungeons look nice and non-gloomy. In an industry washed with browns and grays, it is nice to see something a little brighter, even if it draws comparison to World of Warcraft‘s cartoony style. I did notice some odd quirks during the demo that have me worried about the game as a whole: my avatar glitched in and out of cutscenes a few times and everything seems to glow, which can be overwhelming once outside in the wild.

I mentioned combat is fast, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s a play style here for everyone. You can do range with bows and staff spells or stealthy with sneaky daggers or full-on force with swords and such. From the selection of weapons so far, I actually prefer to just go in swinging contrary to my normal stealthy ways. Third-person stealth is always harder to do for me than first-person. The magic spells and Fate Combo Thingies look pretty fantastic, with nice particle effects all around.

By the end of my 45 minutes of free time, I had killed some smugglers, froze a bear to death, found a magical sword, and stole some peasant clothes from a stranger’s house. Y’know…RPG stuff. I liked the demo a lot and can see the potential here, but alas, I won’t be picking it up until I get a new TV, which might never happen. Sorry, citizens of Amalur. Save yourselves.

Queen Zeal says I need to finish up some more sidequests

As per my last update on Chrono Trigger, I was feeling iffy over the remaining sidequests and decided to just bite the bullet and attempt to end the game via storming into The Black Omen, slicing and dicing and dual teching, and taking down Lavos for all of humanity. But after watching Crono, Marle, and Ayla fall to pieces three times in a row, I’m thinking that I’m not ready to beat the big baddie. Or rather, the smaller baddies before the big baddie. Well, I’m ready, truly, with all my heart and soul, but my characters are not despite all three being around level 45 or 46.

So, The Black Omen. It’s linear and draining, featuring normal enemies that could potentially be labeled mini-bosses, as well as Flyclops, which are these one-eyed flying monstrosities that can literally empty your character’s stock of MP in a few turns. I hate them deeply and have to take them down fast with Falcon Strike or all hope is lost. A number of save points are thankfully available, as there is a constant need to heal up prior and post the numerous boss fights. It’s not the most exciting push towards an ending; the bigger problem I’m having is with the boss fights in rapid succession near the end of The Black Omen and not being fast enough to heal up before Queen Zeal flicks everyone to death after lowering my team’s collective HP to a measly 1. Yup, you have to endure three fights, one after the other, with no time to recover. It’s a bummer when that “you have died” music plays, bringing you back to the main menu screen and showing you that you just lost 15 minutes of playtime.

So I talked to one of those weird Nu things and escaped from the floating ship of death and depression, getting back to fights I could handle. Namely, Retinite in the Sunken Desert, who went down with ease now that my team was significantly higher in power and gear than the last time they fought it. I then brought that forest back to life, save a sad moment in Lucca’s life, got a cool accessory that I don’t want to use as I have cooler accessories already equipped, and…that’s it.

Let’s update my list of sidequests then:

  • Ozzie’s Fort
  • Northern Ruins
  • The Sunken Desert
  • The Sun Stone
  • The Rainbow Shell
  • King Guardia’s Trial
  • Geno Dome
  • The Black Omen/The Final Battle

Four down! Three more to figure out.

Also, I have to come to terms with the fact that my team of Crono, Marle, and Ayla is not good enough for the final fight. Firstly, I know Marle could use a stronger weapon as she’s still rocking a Robin Bow, but her purpose in the group is for healing and adding on to some dual tech attacks; rarely does she go in shooting solo. My only group heal spell is the dual tech Aura Whirl between Crono and Marle, but I really don’t want to give up the princess. With a Gold Stud and a lot of Magic Tabs, I’ve made her a cheap healing beast. Which makes me think that maybe Ayla needs to go. Her Charm tech is nice, but she lacks an elemental aura, which can hurt in some fights. Maybe Frog? I don’t know. I like my girls so there’s also Lucca who, if I’m to be honest here, I’ve used minimally since beginning Chrono Trigger. I just find her…uninteresting.

I also have the option–I think–to skip The Black Omen entirely and just fight Lavos via the bucket at the End of Time.

Hmm. Decisions, decisions. I hope to have a more successful update next time.

^_^ will shout at you until you are a smiling fool

I can understand that this blog post’s title might be a little confusing to read, but that’s how it is. Like Prince’s unpronounceable Love Symbol #2, ^_^ is a name that’s easier to type than say outloud. In my mind, I refer to it as Smiley Face or The Wererabbit, but your mileage may vary. However you want to say it can be argued this way and that, but one thing is clear: y’all need to play this.

I discovered ^_^–and subsequently further work by Ben Chandler–from the Gnome’s Lair blog, which focuses its coverage heavily on point-and-click adventure games, a genre that I’ve been enjoying more and more thanks to my recent times with Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge and Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. Initially, I was attracted to ^_^ by a single screenshot, which, almost immediately, made me want to click on everything, from the cart to the crow to the coatrack. Turns out that single screenshot makes up the entire space of the game, so it’s a relief that it is simply gorgeous. The lighting on the grass from the lamp is worth noting.

So, Julian is a wererabbit–the first of his kind, too–but wasn’t always that way. He’s trying to get a witch to help change him back, but first, he must retrieve her hair, which keeps running away from her. Also, there’s a verbally-challenged vampire and enough jazzy records to keep one from selling their ol’ gramophone for one of them newfangled cee-dee players. Yeah, it’s kind of weird and random, but cohesively sound, with a clear goal to achieve. Puzzles involve a lot of clicking and dialogue options and using the right item from your inventory at the right time and place. Standard adventure game stuff, but it’s all very charming here. My favorite running gag within ^_^ is all the shouting, which also nicely plays a pivotal part in getting that magical hair back to its master. The small addition of a screen shake each time is quite effective.

I played for about an hour last night, getting stuck a couple of times. ^_^ is no walk in the park, or a walk outside a witch’s house at that. Trial and error will get you there, as well as paying attention to how the game operates early on. Generally, if Julian uses a certain trick to advance the plot, he’ll do it at least once more before credits roll. Oh, and speaking of credits, Chandler handles them as nothing more than in-game dialogue, which I found pretty amusing and appropriate. After that, the game ends. It literally shuts itself down, leaving you left to stare at whatever image is gracing your desktop, heartstrings tugging for just one more thing to click on.

^_^ is a charming short story, with many moments worth remembering. The graphics and animations are surreal and surpass many quote-unquote professional games of the same ilk, and the funny moments are genuinely funny. Play it for the vampire tongue-twisters and all the shouting and the revelation from where the game gets name. Play it because it’s freeware, but made with skill and style. Play it.

This fresh meat is Rage’s latest MVP

I’m still not completely enamored with Rage, which is somewhat striking considering its similarities to Borderlands and Fallout 3. Granted, it’s not exactly the same as those other games, but it has elements or an essence of, such as kooky character designs, a barren wasteland thriving with mutants and bandits, and the use of vehicles for getting from point A to point B.

Evidently, Rage also has some online multiplayer, and it’s on a separate disc, too. Split into two types, there’s the Legend of the Wastes co-op challenges and Road Rage matches. The former are specially created missions meant to be played with a partner, and the latter consists of racing around a map, shooting other players and collecting special nodes to acquire points and hold the lead. Chances are I’ll never get to play Rage co-op–unless someone reading this has a copy of the game for Xbox 360 and wants to be my friend, then please, by all means, message me (gamertag: PaulyAulyWog)–so I did some Road Rage matches for about half an hour, climbing from a Level 1 wasteland racer to a Level 4 wasteland racer. Woo. I also earned the following two Achievements:

Fresh Meat (10G): Complete a public Road RAGE match

MVP (20G): Get first place in a public Road RAGE match

The first one’s pretty simple, but let me tell you how I got the second one. Sure, there’s a story; there’s always a story. For Road Rage, I ended up getting into an online party consisting of two little boys (both Level 1s) and some male adult (Level 20). Yeah, it was a little awkward. Anyways, the first few matches consisted of the Level 20 guy murdering us; me, I was still learning the rules and how to play, and the kids, well, they were little kids, not too skilled and very vocal about it. Eventually, the Level 20 guy mentioned he had to use the restroom, but that we should continue with a match anyways. And so we did. The two kids, who I assume were friends, ended up getting stuck in rocks or the landscape right from the get-go, begging each other to shoot the other in hopes of respawning–which never happened–and so I was free to roam the map, collecting all the power-ups and points and killing an idle Level 20’s vehicle over and over and over. I won the match with ease and never said a word to anyone.

So, yeah, I cheesed my way to the top of a match, but whatever. I probably would’ve gotten it eventually, as Road Rage isn’t too difficult to figure out. It’s somewhat fun, but there’s not a whole lot of incentive to keep playing; leveling up earns new vehicles and weapons for these vehicles, but I did just fine with the little ol’ scout. You can also unlock new badges and skin jobs, but meh. Plus, and here’s where y’all can call me a whore, there’s no more Achievements left associated to Road Rage matches.

Back to shooting mutants badly in Rage and running out of ammo, I guess.

Playing the Ludum Dare 22 Winners, #7 – The Last Geek

The Last Geek–the number seven spot from the top fifty Ludum Dare 22 winners–is quite impressive, but I don’t like it. Made by Robotic, this challenging run and jump and escape death by a fraction of a centimeter platformer certainly wears its influences proudly for all to see. And that’s kind of funny, considering the main character, the titular last geek, is naked save for a scarf and a generously placed leaf. But yeah, this is another take on Super Meat Boy and I Wanna Be the Guy, where gameplay is punishing and controls are crisp, requiring precise timing and endurance and quick reflexes. Alas, I’m terrible at those kind of games, being not quick enough to wall-jump my way to safety let alone make it to the tea kettle in time before it starts shrieking.

Okay, so in The Last Geek, there’s a story. No, really. It’s completely random and amorphous, told with some mediocre drawings that go by a little too fast to actually be read, all leading to our nudist stumbling across the factory of a mad scientist who is harvesting body parts. For what? Your guess is as good as mine. World domination, probably. This is a neat story device though that it makes for great division, devoting a room to each body part. Eyes, arms, legs, a heart, a soul, and more. The last geek must remake a girl to repopulate Earth, I guess.

Unfortunately, out of all the The Last Geek‘s rooms, I could only complete one of them, earning a single body part: the left arm. A nice touch in the game is that your dead forms remain on the spikes, often leading to a room filled with multiple versions of the last geek, all dead, all pierced and poised. At one point, I tried to make enough piles of myself on a set of spikes to be able to safely jump on them and get across a tricky gap. Didn’t work. I know, I know. I am teh suckiest. But it’s hard as heck to wall-jump using only the directional buttons and avoid buzzsaws of death. You try it. No, I insist. Go here and try it.

Playing the Ludum Dare 22 Winners, #8 – Locked Away

Next on our list of top dog Ludum Dare 22 creations is a mostly vertical platformer called Locked Away. Made by MoltenMustafa, it starts out strong, asking the player to choose a color before a difficulty setting. I really liked that, and I went with green and Easy for my first run. We then get some side-scrolling text: They locked me away in here. On Christmas day. All alone. Poor kid. And with that, we’re plopped into the game, ready to make our little lonely avatar climb to the top of the map while avoiding enemies. The graphics are retro and crisp, and the controls and movement speed of the avatar is surprisingly fast and responsive. Touching an enemy kills you, bringing you back to an unannounced checkpoint–all of which happens in the blink of an eye. That helps to keep one playing as you can just keep trying to make that jump up until you get it.

Easy is definitely easy. You learn some of the game’s tricks here, like how to time jumps and hit semi-hidden platforms to open up a new path. It doesn’t take terribly long to get to the end of the map. Normal difficulty, however, proved to be problematic for me; I ended up getting stuck between two platforms of moving enemies and just couldn’t squeeze by them without getting hit. I decided to try Hard out, sticking with the good ol’ green, and this time, you’re falling, trying to avoid hitting obstacles. Kind of like in ‘Splosion Man. You basically have to learn where everything is and memorize it; beating Hard got me an end game screen, which had a house and present box on it, but these were upside-down. Not sure if that was intended or some faulty coding

So yeah, I beat Easy and Hard, but can’t get past one part in Normal. Go figure. Y’all should play it though as it is quick and enjoyable, with tight controls. Just remember to choose green as your color. Green is the only way to play.

Achievements of the Week – The Gangsta in Space with a Lead Foot Reality Climax Edition

Well, after the crazy catch-up from the last Achievements of the Week, this edition is going to look somewhat slim. We can blame that on the living room being way too cold and that my gaming time this week was limited since I began working on a new minicomic, as well as put together a fancy All of Westeros postcard to give out at some upcoming conventions. I did, however, beat Saints Row: The Third over the weekend, and so most of the Achievements come from that title, with Rage slipping in one as I slowly get my way back into that game.

Enough rambling. Let me show you some shiny Achievements.

From Saints Row: The Third…

kill-deckers.exe (25G): Completed ‘http://deckers.die’, 01100010011011110110111101100010.

Readers of Grinding Down might recall I was having some trouble with this mission. Thankfully, after letting the Xbox 360 sit unused for a whole day and reloading the mission from a different hard save, I was able to continue forward with the boss battle, kicking Matt’s ass like only a Saint could. Anyone know what those numbers translate to?

Gangstas…In Space! (30G): Completed Act 3 in another way.

I edited this Achievement’s text to keep y’all unspoiled, but this is basically the one you get when you finish the final story mission. It’s a hoot, y’all.

Have A Reality Climax (20G): Completed all instances of Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax.

My favorite activity in Saints Row: The Third, and so it is also the first activity I completed each instance of first. Well, not counting Guardian Angel, but those activities were tied to story stuff. Loved all the funny commentary as I ran around, shooting mascots and dodging flamethrower traps.

Gender Equality (10G): Played for 2 hours as a male and female, we’re an equal opportunity offender.

Yup, I made the switch. You just go to a cosmetic surgery shop, drop some moolah, agree to the fact that this change will be permanent, and poof, there goes your look. Though I did try to maintain as much of my former male self in the process, keeping the weight, hipster glasses, and facial hair in place. I think I make a decent lady and an even more amazing superheroine:

From Rage…

Lead Foot (10G): Win a Race in the Campaign

So, I finally arrived at Goodsprings…I mean, Wellspring, which looks like the main hub city of Rage‘s wasteland. Here you can shop, store vehicles in your own personal garage, play multiple minigames, and race for money. I did the first race available on the easiest level and breezed my way to the finish line. I can only suspect–and hope–that they get a little more challenging down the line.

That’s it for me. As always, I aim to do even better this week. Gotta play clean-up with Saints Row: The Third and maybe give Rage another shake or two. How did you all do this week? Any long-term Achievement goals for 2012? Speak up in the comments section below for all to read.

The final sidequests in Chrono Trigger are deceptively tough

Yup, another progress report for Chrono Trigger. Last night, thanks to the excessive use of the Dual Tech called Ice Sword and by stocking up my team (Crono, Marle, and Ayla) with fire-resistant armor, I was able to kick Rust Tyrano’s rusty butt, discover the Rainbow Shell directly behind it, and bring said treasure back to Guardia Castle. I expected some kind of reward right there and then, but was surprised to learn that I’d have to do some time-traveling to see if anything was to come of the legendary shell. Ah, this sidequest was not over yet. Back in the future, the trial of the century is happening; I won’t spoil what happens next, but it was a nice moment for Marle and her father, and as a reward, I got Melchior to make her a new dress from the Rainbow Shell.

Again, just like last time, I’m now at some crossroads. Here’s the list of Chrono Trigger sidequests available to do before taking on big ol’ smelly, the it of the hour, the not-so-lovable Lavos:

  • Ozzie’s Fort – Finished this one and even found the secret room that housed all the best gear for Magus, a dude I am so not interested in using. I tossed him into my party once for a few fights and then got rid of him. No Dual Techs? Get outta here.
  • Northern Ruins – Thanks to Epoch, I found a ruined castle with the ghost of Cyrus in it. We fought, I did no damage to him, and the battle ended after a bit, with Frog trying to make contact with his old friend who was sadly having a case of the jimmy arms. That was it. Nothing else seemed to happen, and I’m not sure what it is we’re doing wrong–I figured having Frog in the party was the trick to getting this sidequest started. Guess not.
  • The Sunken Desert – I went into the quicksand hole, cleared out some enemies, grabbed all items from the treasure chests, and then died fighting the skeleton boss there, the infamous Retinite. He’s kind of a boney jerk. Couldn’t figure out a good pattern to beating him, as physical attacks raised his defense and water spells lowered it, but by the time I got something going there I had to call it quits in order to heal up my peeps. And then mass destruction was dropped on our heads. Dead, dead, and dead.
  • The Sun Stone – Haven’t even attempted this one yet. Not sure what exactly I’m supposed to do.
  • The Rainbow Shell – Just completed it last night.
  • King Guardia’s Trial – Same as above, which seem to go hand-in-hand with each other. I picked the Prism Dress over the three Prism Helms. Hope that was a good decision. Wait. Why can’t Melchior make all the items? It’s not like the Rainbow Shell got used up to craft the dress. It’s still in Guardia Castle’s basement. I can see it. It’s right there.
  • Geno Dome – I dropped Robo into my party, headed to that nasty vision of the future, and started this sidequest proper. Mother Brain–no, not that one–contacts Robo at the Geno Dome, curious about his human companions, and the gang begins exploring. I got pretty far into the factory, but then the game threw some switch puzzles at us, and I couldn’t really figure out where to go next. So I left and haven’t been back.
  • The Black Omen/The Final Battle – SO NOT READY YET. Though I think I did accidentally stumble into the final fight once already. I fought Lavos for a good twenty minutes or so, getting pretty far down his line of changing battle formations, but he got us in the end, destroying the world yet again. Kind of worried that my party is still not up to snuff in terms of equipment and experience for the finale. Ugh.

Not really sure what to do. I’m still itching to see this game come to a conclusion, but a few of these sidequests are strikingly unclear. I know in my heart of hearts that I’m missing a ton of items and story bits by not tracking down every place and puzzle to unravel, but I think I am just going to fly to The Black Omen next and see what my group can do. Now, the true question remains: should I take it on in 12,000 BC, 600 AD, or 1,000 AD?

Playing the Ludum Dare 22 Winners, #9 – Craequ

The number nine spot from Ludum Dare 22’s top 50 submissions is called Craequ, and it was created in under forty-eight hours by Jonathan Whiting. That name is seemingly familiar to me, but after perusing his website I’ve learned that I’ve never played anything else by him. Though his style is unique and heavy on pixels, so I am instantly a fan. Reminds me of VVVVVV. Anyways…

Craequ loads up very fast to a small room with blocks in the center of it. The music has an odd tribal sound to it, almost captivating. One block of the bunch is blinking, and using the arrow keys I can move a featureless white avatar around. No instructions or assisting text is available. I can’t seem to move the blocks and standing on a symbol tile at the bottom of the room makes a strange sound, but otherwise does nothing. I then discover that I can go up to a second screen. A giant, flashing orb teleports me elsewhere when I touch it, and the music changes. I am then introduced to the first puzzle of the game; a trio of movable blocks will open up certain pathways, but it all depends on where you line them up. Eventually, I’m teleported back to the beginning screen where a single block is now moveable. Locking this into the right spot opens up more pathways…and more teleporting orbs. This pattern persists for a few more rooms before I decide that I’ve played enough.

A simple design and even simpler look are nice and easy to grasp, but the gameplay didn’t grip me for very long. I can only go from so many rooms to so many rooms. Craequ definitely fit the theme of “alone,” but maybe a little more guidance or purpose would’ve helped. Onwards to the number eight spot!

Playing the Ludum Dare 22 Winners, #10 – Soliloquy

I had some serious great luck the last time I perused the Ludum Dare website and some of the contest’s entries, finding the gem BATHOS in a sea of contenders. The twenty-second edition of the “create a videogame in a single weekend” challenge just happened in late December 2011, and site users have voted on the top 50 games based on things like graphics, sound, fun, innovation, use of theme (alone), and so on. The winning lineup went up the other day.

Now, I’m not going to be a crazy bearded mountain man and try to play all 50 of these homemade brews, but I think trying out the top 10 is worthwhile. I mean, these are the ones that got the most love by a large community of indie game makers and fans, and glancing at teaser images for them, well, a lot of them look neat. Saw some pixel art and started salivating. Plus, I’m still slowly gearing up internally for the idea that maybe 2012 will be the year I learn how to make a game; playing these can only add to my experience.

So, first up, we have Soliloquy, created by the user Friedrich Hanisch, also known as ratking. The game is described as so: In this game you are split. You are one person, alone in a lifeless world – but you have two souls, which have to work together. Okay, got it. I am playing it over the web, and it opens up in a first-person perspective looking down an empty hallway made up of large, texture-less, purple and pink polygons. There’s a constant feed of white noise. Somewhere, a baby giggles. WASD moves you forward and the space bar lets you jump.

The beginning part is just moving down this short hallway, jumping small gaps while pondering where exactly you are as well as why it all looks so boring. Found the stage’s exit, which took us to a new room of floating platforms. Time to jump around; I instantly miss the first big leap and fall into the abyss. There’s more jumping, and then the soul-switching mechanic comes into play–and it ruins everything for me. By clicking the left or right mouse buttons, you sort of split the world into two perspectives of the same image, one layered hazily on top of the other; not really sure how to use this trick to complete the level, and then I started getting a headache, bringing our time with Soliloquy to an end.

Not bad. Very unique idea that just didn’t work for me and my bad eyes. I played for about 10 minutes or so. Give it a try, I say. There’s also a post-competition version that tweaks things like mouse sensitivity. Onwards to the number nine spot!