Monthly Archives: February 2012

Starting Shank’s story of sadistic and senseless slashing

The story of Shank: gang kills former gang member’s wife, said man kills everyone in the gang. At least that’s how I assume this will all go down. I’ve only just begun, but I mean, yeah. It’s all there. I’ve seen Kill Bill plenty of times to know what a tale of vengeance looks like. And I guess that’s fine. Really, this could be the story of a man named Shank that suffers from dementia and whittles pretty birdhouses during his flex time at Brookside Senior Citizens–so long as it looks this pretty.

As an artist, I love a game that revels in its artness. Like Prince of Persia and Bastion and Limbo and Odin Sphere and so on. If it looks hand-drawn, I’m in. If it’s colorful or has hints of cross-hatching or bold, thick outlines, I’m also in. Highly realistic graphics are uninteresting to me, and only help to make me feel more uncomfortable when shooting people that look like real, honest-to-goodness people in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield 3. No thanks. I’d prefer to blast apart something with tentacles.

But man, Shank. It’s a visual treat and like playing an episode of somethingSamurai Jack, perhaps–on Cartoon Network or Adult Swim. You control Shank in 2D, moving from left to right and jumping up and from platforms; the background goes deeper than that, with details like graffiti on buildings and telephone poles and a dreary and muted skyline that look absolutely gorgeous, especially to see it all in motion. Character models pop in that they are much more colorful and animated than everything else, slick with polish and personality. And story beats are covered in dramatic cutscenes and smaller scenes that actually take place directly during gameplay, which is a fun little trick that keeps the game’s pace frantic and fun.

Playing Shank on normal allows for unlimited continues and nicely placed checkpoints, which means I can just try again after Shank gets overwhelmed by too many goons. Which happens a lot. See, I have to learn to not get locked into a crazy-cool 15x combo when baddies are also standing behind me. So it’s a learning process, seeing what weapons work best and when to grab someone and how to toss grenades and so on. There’s a surprising amount of depth here, and I can’t even begin to imagine anyone playing without a gamepad. Like, really. It has to be nigh impossible.

Hmm. Okay, it’s Steam Achievements in your face time!

Just Getting Started: Take out 20 enemies

Making a Name for Yourself: Take out 100 enemies

The Wrong Guy: Defeat El Raton

My hands cramped up during the moving train level due to too many dogs and not enough health drinks, but I’ll be hopping back into it soon. It’s fun and fluid and immensely stylized and even though I kinda know where it’s all going it sure is a blast juggling enemies with knives, guns, and a chainsaw finisher. The only complaint I have with Shank is that the developers gave names to all the dog enemies, and it is ten times more hard to chainsaw a mutt’s face off when you know he’s called Thrasher to someone. Poor, poor, mutilated Thrasher. You probably didn’t mean to be so evil.

Mario, Princess Peach, and Bowser are back at it in Super Mario 3D Land

We’re closing in on the one-year anniversary of the Nintendo 3DS launching in the United States, and I’m now ready to talk about the third retail game I’ve purchased for the handheld. Yes, I said third. One entire year has almost gone by, and I’ve only bought three physical games made specifically for it. If I was an esteemed mathematician with framed diplomas on my walls, I’d venture a guess that that’s not a good ratio.

The first 3DS game I got was Pilotwings Resort, and it was an impulse buy as I wanted something–nay, anything–to have for my new system to show it off to folks. The second 3DS game I bought was Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked, and that was another impulse buy as it was right during Hurricane Irene and I wanted something new to keep me entertain while Tara and I went without power for as long as the handheld’s battery life held out.  The third 3DS game I got was Super Mario 3D Land, and I picked this up shortly before leaving for MegaCon as, again, I wanted something new to have with me on the road in case the hotel proved boring or I needed a distraction or whatever.

Hands down, between the three, Super Mario 3D Land outshines them all. It’s colorful and bouncy and filled with great nods to the past and neat uses of the system’s 3D gimmick. It starts out pretty slow and tame, but the difficulty ramps up with chasing ghosts and odd camera angles and my lack of skill with the circle pad for controlling our favorite plumber. I’ve gotten up to World 5 at this point, but need to collect a few more star coins before I can take on the boss level. Which is fine, as I definitely rushed through some earlier levels and can now go back to sniff out those shiny gold carrots on strings.

I’ve only ever played Super Mario 64 via an emulator on my computer and not for very long at that, and–to many disappointed gaming faces, I’m sure–I’ve never played Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Galaxy 2. Not a single second, and no, I’m not going to wait for you to pick up your jaw off the floor. I say this to stress the point that I don’t have a ton of experience in controlling Mario in a 3D environment. I am more use to running him from left to right, and it shows. I am constantly trying to run him in a straight line, which leads to problems like missing jumps or hitting enemies. It’s a learning curve for me, really.

And that’s fine. I’m in no rush. As with my 3DS Ambassador copy of Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3, I like taking my level-based platformers slow. I do a level or two and call it a night. Supposedly, once you beat all eight worlds in Super Mario 3D Land, another eight appear. Oh man. That’s a lot of flagpoles to jump on. At least this retail game is providing enough meat for a $40.00 price tag, whereas Pilotwings Resort certainly did not and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Overclocked probably does, but I’ve yet to get very far into the game due to my negligible SRPG skills. I really am looking forward to playing more.

The story of a robot boy in a cave and an evil doctor killing rabbit-like humanoids

Unfortunately, I did not get to participate in the Indie Impression for Cave Story+ as I was, at that time, an insane man, trying to pack for MegaCon 2012 and make sure I had all things with my minicomics straightened out before leaving for Florida or else I’d be totally boned. Which stinks, as I have played it both on my laptop (with and without a gamepad) and on my Nintendo 3DS and definitely have a few thoughts on the little indie darling that could, but now they go here, instead of over there. Right, well, time to level up and share some words…

Cave Story+ is surprisingly simple, and it’s surprising in how many times it surprises you. As the game’s  title implies, there’s a story here, and it does a great job of presenting emotion via the varied portraits of Mimigas. Seems like a girl named Sue is missing and you, a baseball cap-wearing robot who awakens in a cave, are off to find her. Along the way, you’ll learn of an evil doctor who is terrorizing the local village and killing rabbit people with sickening glee. Stumbling across special moments seems natural, but whenever the game cuts back to the man locked in the room trying to instant message with his computer, it all slows down and feels iffy.

Gameplay is fluid and fast, with your little robotic hero leveling up and leveling down within seconds of one another thanks to the swarms of enemies that want to inflict damage and destruction upon your very body. On occasion, a jump might feel a little floaty, but otherwise, everything is crisp and can make for some crazy tense scenarios where you are just shooting at everything that moves while trying to reach a save room as quick as possible. As you kill enemies, they explode into experience points (or hearts or ammo), which will upgrade your current gun as you collect them, turning a wimpy pea shooter into something more deadly. This is an addicting hook for sure, and leveling down is like the worst thing in life.

Currently, our hero is on a mission to get some jellyfish goo for…somebody. Names are a little hard to remember in this game except for Sue. Don’t know why that is.

And now for some Achievements from Steam, many of which are basically freebies:

Pea Shooter: Obtained the Polar Star!

Don’t Get Lost: Obtained the Map System!

Wanna Fight?: Defeated Balrog!

A Gift from Santa: Obtained the Fireball!

I have to wonder if I’ll beat Cave Story+ first on my laptop or my 3DS, and whether or not I’ll beat it more than once. Seems like there’s multiple endings, and I do like multiple endings. Either way, it’s fun and easy to pick up, especially if you are somewhat familiar with Mega Man and/or Metroidvania romps; you just gotta pay attention as there are one-hit kill creatures and spikes all over the place, making every jump and maneuver essential for surviving.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain

Kain, the once nobleman from Coorhagen, just beheaded Moebius, and I was on the floor tucked up against my bedside, a PlayStation controller cradled on my lap, a wired phone shoved awkwardly between my head and neck, waiting for my best friend down the road to pick up on his end. When he did, I recounted what happened, going so far as to imitate Kain in his moment of triumph where he proudly–and ironically–stated that he was already dead. There was little time for chit-chat, just straight to the details.

“Oh wow, wish I could’ve seen that!” Willie exclaimed, a hint of disappointment there. The last time he saw Kain in action was earlier on in some dungeon.

“Can you sleep over this weekend?” I asked. “I’ll save my game and wait for you. I don’t know how much further I have to go.”

“Yeah, definitely.”

Together, we saw Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain to its end, lapping up all the over-the-top violence, sinister ways, cruel spells, and amazing voicework. At its conclusion, a choice is presented: have Kain sacrifice himself and end the vampire race to save all of Nosgoth or refuse the sacrifice and rule the empire with total power. For us, the decision was easy, though not something I’d make now, some sixteen years later. We gave in to the power, and allowed Kain to slip into the darkness he constantly seemed teased by, ruling with blood-red eyes and unrelenting disdain. I have to believe that we both didn’t want to see Kain go, especially not after all the time we spent with him, helping him on his path of revenge and righting. He was our friend, no matter how silly that seems, and a friend of my friend is my friend and so on.

This connection to Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain later blossomed into some franchise love, as Willie picked up Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver three years later, and we’d go through the same routine, just with the roles reversed. Now it was me riding my bike over as fast as I could on Saturdays before the sun set to see what latest puzzle he was stuck at. I never got to play, but I watched enough, even if the game itself was pretty different.

Today, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is remembered as a darker The Legend of Zelda clone, one with terrible loading times. And yes, that all rings true. Though the loading times at that point in videogame history did not seem atrocious, just something to deal with. I think Suikoden had pretty long load times, too. But we all moved a little slower back in the day, and Willie and I just learned to fully explore a place before moving to the next screen to prevent needless backtracking. Reflecting now, it actually added to the overall experience.

But I remember this game differently, as an adventure and triumph shared, one with dramatically gory moments to ooh and ahh over while bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard. I miss it, and I miss what opportunities it used to give me.

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.

Ghosts, grueling headaches, and retro graphics in The Blackwell Legacy

Another day, another little game discussed over at The First Hour for its new Indie Impression series. Just kidding. They have been nicely spaced out, though I’m sad I missed my chance to write about Cave Story+, but I was in crazy con-prepping mode and didn’t have an ounce of brainpower to spare elsewhere. Oh well. I do have thoughts on that game, especially considering I ended up buying it for my Nintendo 3DS despite having a working copy on Steam–I guess Skyrim is no longer the only game I now have doubles of–just to have gamepad controls, but I’ll write something up later on it, whether here or there or in your underwear. Wait, what? Nevermind.

Anyways, the game up for discussion this week is The Blackwell Legacy. It’s a point-and-click adventure game, no doubt. You point, you click, you observe. The mechanics are by-the-book, so it’s the story that really shines here, and from what I can gather, it’s a good mystery to unravel. Like a mix of The Sixth Sense and The Ghost Whisperer and maybe, uh, The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Rosa really reminds me of Janeane Garofalo. Plus, just like in L.A. Noire, you have a notebook of clues to try out on everyone; I love elements like that. You can read my quick thoughts on it, as well as Greg’s and Steve’s by clicking that link in the first sentence. Seems like Steve completed the whole adventure, while Greg and I only dipped our toes into the puzzle-limned water. I’ll be going back to Rosa this weekend as it’s a relaxing time, and I’ll need some relaxing after stressful car stuff is (hopefully) taken care of.

MegaCon and the 3DS StreetPass tagging total

I’m back, dear Grinding Down readers. Thanks for waiting on me. For those that didn’t even realize I was gone, well…you stink. I was down in sunny Florida for some days there, selling minicomics and eating at places with nifty names like Tijuana Flats and Which Wich. It was a nice time save for all the driving. Actually, the driving down was fine. It was the return trip home that was grueling.

Now, only two people participated in my little contest where you could guess how many StreetPass tags I’d get at a three-day, very popular comics convention. One was my wife, the other a good online friend. Shame on the rest of you for not participating, as you have now missed the chance to hold total power over me for one entire blog post. Anyways, here is their guesses:

  • Tara Abbamondi: 114
  • Greg Noe: 256

Well, last night, with a fat cat sleeping on my back, I took the time to count up all of my StreetPass tags from the weekend, and the total is pretty surprising. Ready for it? Ready?

168 StreetPass tags

Woo. Ba-boom. So, that means Tara wins, and she’ll let me know what she wants me to moan and groan and go on about at length when she’s ready. Hopefully it’s not Sailor Moon.

But man, 168 tags in a three-day span does some magical things for one’s Mii Plaza and the minigames found within. One, I was able to complete five more puzzles, as well as collect all of the tag-only puzzle pieces. I’ll probably be able to finish up the remaining puzzles in April at MoCCA; I don’t like using my Play Coins to buy puzzle pieces, as it’s more fun to collect them from other 3DS owners. Two, I filled out my map a little more, meeting people from all along the East Coast, as well as someone from Anguilla, which is so rare that it doesn’t even get a picture for it. Third, made some sick progress in Find Mii II, getting all the way to the final boss, and by final boss I mean the boss after what many probably assume is the final boss. Still chipping away at it as that level-down gas is no fun at all. Then I get to replay it all over again, choosing a different path from before to get more hats. MOAR HATZ.

But getting all these tags and grabbing new puzzle pieces was great for filling in the gaps at MegaCon when nobody was stopping by our table. Aw, sad faces. Really, that was only on Friday and late Sunday. Saturday was slammed with busy, busy, busy. Sometimes I was actually clearing out my Plaza Gate under the table, because if you got ten Miis in there you couldn’t collect anymore visitors–and I needed to collect as many as humanly possible.

The next big tagging event will be at the end of April for MoCCA Festival in New York City. I’ll hold another guessing contest around then, and hopefully more of y’all will play along. Gotta think of a bigger prize. Maybe I’ll offer up my pristine copy of Suikoden II? Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Grinding Down on pause while I hide from furry cosplayers at MegaCon 2012

Tomorrow, Tara and I leave behind the cold, gray skies of Pennsylvania for hopefully something warmer in Florida. We’ll be at MegaCon 2012 from this upcoming Friday through Sunday, selling comics, being shy, and staring at cosplayers. You can find us at table RED 9, wherever that is. Just look for a fat bearded man and a small, attractive redhead–that’s us.

Let me give a quick rundown of what we’ll be shilling. Tara reprinted her girl-falls-into-a-puddle minicomic Puddles, has a new mini based on another song by Leema Mountain, has copies of Unite and Take Over, and some awesome prints based on those popular Game of Thrones peeps; you can see some previews here. On the other hand, I will be selling copies of my 31 Bad Comics challenges, the first issue of a new story called The Lost Seafarer, and some Supertown things. Also got some fancy postcards for All of Westeros to give out. You want more deets? Go here.

What does all this have to do with videogames and Grinding Down? Well, uh. I won’t have time to blog. I won’t have time to write up more delicious words about 100%ing Saints Row: The Third or playing the same exact character in Skyrim on the Xbox 360 and Steam or my early thoughts on the recently acquired Super Mario 3D Land. I won’t be able to do Achievements of the Week this time around. It’ll just have to wait for my grand return. Hope that’s okay.

But let’s play a game while I’m away. Wait. ::puts on Jigsaw voice:: I WANT TO PLAY A GAME WITH YOU. AND THAT GAME IS CALLED:


Catchy, huh? See, MegaCon is looking to be a pretty popular convention, and where there’s a popular convention, there’s the chance to score a good number of StreetPass tags for my Nintendo 3DS. For comparison, I got 51 tags back in April 2011 at MoCCA, but that was also early into the system’s life; with the price drop and array of good games, I feel like the chance of someone else having a 3DS is much higher now.

Whoever comes close to the exact number without going over will win a prize. What’s the prize? Geez, really? You have to ask? Okay, okay. The prize is that you can pick a topic–any topic you want though try not to creep me out–and I’ll write about it. Look, I’m not made of money. Take it or leave it.

Place your bets below, and I’ll see y’all when I return!