Monthly Archives: August 2012

2012 Game Review Haiku, #23 – Shank

Glad to see Kill Bill
Get its own videogame
Great art, prosy fights

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

Playing the Ludum Dare 22 Winners, #1 – Frostbite

Um…yeah, my bad. I kind of forgot that this was a mini-challenge I put upon myself back in March 2012 right after the winners for Ludum Dare 22 were announced. I played through the top nine entries fairly fast and meant to get to the overall crowd-pleaser right after, but other stuff came up and then that was that. It was gone from my mind, gone from existence. That is until I was scanning my long–well, relatively, I guess–list of games on Steam over the weekend and saw the title Frostbite, a flood of reminders hitting me all at once. Oh yeeaaaah. Oh riiiiiight. Remember thaaaaaat. Also, considering that the Ludum Date 24 contest is happening right around now, I should wrap all of this up.

Frostbite comes from a user named saint11. Here’s what he says of his creation:

A post apocalyptic soldier in a watchtower going mad on a nuclear winter, seeing things and with some serious memory problems.
A simple platformer, maybe a little too serious and pretentious 😀

The main deal about Frostbite is this: two meters to pay constant attention to. One is for your health/hunger, and the other is for how long you can survive the harsh cold. They deplete at an alarming rate, and can only be refilled by eating found rations and hovering near a burning trash can. You are you, a nameless soldier, armed with a gun and the ability to jump, as well as the power to see ghosts. Unfortunately, your wife went out into the cold some time ago, never to return, and you’re off to find her/make it to the city.

It’s very good. I played three times, each instance getting a wee bit farther. The first time, I died from hypothermia. The second time, a sentry bot shot me dead. The third time, I ran out of bullets and accidently fell into some frigid water. However, that was it. There’s no checkpoint system from what I can tell, and so even though each time I made it closer to the city, I still had to start back at the beginning, which isn’t ideal. You fall into a zombie-like patten that way, moving in a manner that is unnatural and free of fun. The platforming is fine, and the idea of a limited number of bullets, which you need to shoot walls open and stop enemy ghosts and bots, gives the game some bonus stress. Mainly, that hunger/cold mechanic is solid, and I could see this evolving into something much more.

All right. There’s your winner for Ludum Dare 22. Should I try to find the winners from 23 and give them some coverage or just skip on ahead to the newly finished 24 contest?

The first hour of Stacking will not blow your stack

I know the gaming industry is currently bloated and over-saturated with games based on hopping into Russian stacking matryoshka dolls and plots hanging on oppressive child labor and puzzles solved by flatulence, but if you could find it in your heart and busy schedule…please check out my coverage of Stacking‘s first hour. It’s a fun time. The game and the review.

I actually wrote that coverage some weeks back, and since then I’ve come to beat the game as a whole. That means I can speak a bit more about what happens after the “emphatic yes” answer to that oh-so-critical question at the end of the post. It’s not a terribly long game experience, but I padded Stacking out a bit by searching for special dolls, different answers to puzzles, performing hijinks, and generally just exploring the levels and looking at all the adorable details instead of immediately moving on with the storyline. There’s a lot to see and experiment with, and that’s part of the charm, that it is paced to your liking. Between this and Costume Quest, Double Fine has created some great “introductory” videogames for friends and family members that you might want to get interested in playing a game. They are safe and still quite rewarding.

Overall, story in Stacking is more about style than telling, which is a small slight. It’s predictable but acceptable, with a beginning, middle, and end, but it’s how it is presented via silent film style that really keeps you watching. Little Charles Blackmore meets a wide range of dolls, and the larger they are, the more intimidating. I think my favorite is Cromwell the Terrible, capable of giving anyone and nearly anything a royal wedgie. The final fights switch things up, requiring you to have previously paid attention to doll powers, as well as know how to play rock, paper, scissors. Nothing too challenging.

I do have another complaint to add though, one that is really only discovered in the later levels. Well, honestly, they are too big. Not in the sense that you can get easily lost, but when you have to traipse back to the beginning part to find one specific doll…it can really feel like a sojourn instead of a skip.

At some point, I’m gonna hop back in to clean up some Achievement-related tasks and give the DLC The Lost Hobo King a try. I am expecting more of the same–which is fine–but if the gameplay of “solve X puzzles to complete level” gets mixed up even the tiniest of bits…well, that’d be a great surprise. I’ll be sure to let y’all know.

Experience gun selection and skags old skool style with The Border Lands

If you’re like me–or, even more terrifyingly, if you are me–then you’re pretty stoked about Borderlands 2 coming out next month. Yeah, yeah…even the whole “girlfriend mode” scandal isn’t enough to throw me off, and I’ve been recently re-soaking myself in all things Pandora-related with some further time in Borderlands, finally dinging Level 61 with my soldier on Playthrough 2 and mentally preparing myself to take on Crawmerax the Invincible…soonish.

Until then, there’s The Border Lands. It’s a “demake” of the game. Not sure who made it specifically or if it is even associated with Gearbox or 2K Games. Seems like it though. Here are some descriptive words from everyone’s favorite dancing robot:

Borderlands wasn’t always the slick, handsome bastard of a game it is today! Go old skool and play the 1989 16-bit original to see how it all began. I can’t believe how young I look!

And it is all that. You pick your character–Salvador, Maya, Zero, or Axton–and then you’re dumped into a screen to shoot enemies. All the classics are there, like skags, rakks, and those annoying screamers that charge at you with a bomb in hand. Even bosses, clearly marked with a flashing skull. In order to proceed to the next level, you must kill all enemies. Some drop loot crates, which let you pick from two new guns, each with their own abilities and shortcomings. Anything with decent range is highly recommended, as the enemies get on you fast, and you can’t move away quick enough. It really is the Borderlands experience in bite-size format. Or is that bit-size? Thank you, thank you. Try the fish.

So, it’s something to do and has a nice style to it, with great sound effects and easily recognizable sprites. Try and beat my high score of $19,720. My only complaints are as follows: 1) you can’t change the direction you’re aiming when firing a gun, you have to wait until you run out of ammo or stop firing altogether and then change positions and 2) some serious slowdown happens once eight or more enemies get on screen. Otherwise, neat-o.

Oh, and the music that plays on the main menu for The Border Lands is quite nice. I mean, I should know, considering I’ve had it in the background on a loop while writing this blog post for y’all. Can’t pinpoint if it comes from the original game or the upcoming one or if it’s a new piece altogether, but either way, it fits just fine. Enjoy, vault hunters.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Breath of Fire III

I have a strange, uneven relationship with the already pretty strange and uneven Capcom RPG franchise known as Breath of Fire.

First, for the introductory title and its sequel in the series, games found originally on the SNES, I only got to play them much later in life when I learned all about emulating ROMs on the computer, and even then I never got far with either. They were just something I tried out to see if the tech could actually work. During my PlayStation 1 heydays, I picked up a copy of Breath of Fire III, played a decent bit of it, and then traded it in like an idiot, which should be obvious considering the name of this post. Missed out on Breath of Fire IV completely, and later picked up Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter for the PS2, which for all intents and purposes in basically the fifth game in the series. That one probably deserves its own post, but let me just say that it is a confusing game, one that encourages death and replaying the same areas over and over again, and one that I’ve tried a good number of times to figure out without much luck.

Nonetheless, each game in the series is sort of the same interchangeable story: a boy named Ryu can turn into a dragon and goes on adventures. A girl named Nina also appears frequently, as well as characters from other games in the franchise. Battles are turn-based, and fusing into different kinds of dragons is often the key to victory. Fishing and bright colors, too.

Well, how dragon Ryu (before becoming a boy) enters the world in Breath of Fire III is probably my favorite part of the game, and a really strong contender to a classic first hour. Here’s an animated GIF, but I’ll use words below it, too:

(EDIT: Okay, I guess I can’t host animated gifs on Grinding Down. Boo. So go here instead to see.)

That open sequence and probably the hour or so after it are probably the reasons why I like this game the most from the whole franchise. It’s endearing and nicely paced, as well as quite colorful. As you can see above, the graphics for the first Breath of Fire on the PlayStation 1 were a mix of hand-drawn sprites and polygons–and dang it, I love the mixture.

Anyways, it all starts with a pair of miners–Gary and Mogu–as they search through a mine, pontificating on the nature of the magical creatures and the valuable ore called chrysmThe two miners find a giant chrysm with a preserved baby dragon locked inside it. They plan to blow the crystal apart with TNT, and when they do, the preserved dragon, to no one’s surprise but the miners’, turns out to be alive, and it attacks them. Just like that, we’re thrown into the game’s first battle, and we’re totally in control of the dragon, not the humans. With ease and shock, we turn the miners to ash. Farewell, Gary and Mogu–we hardly knew ya. The young dragon is not a ruthless monster though, attacking back against miners only when they strike first. It is, in actuality, an innocent boy, and this is conveyed strongly as miners beg for their lives and are let go.

Eventually, a bunch of miners knock the dragon out with a crane, cage it, and put it on a train headed for a bad place. Luckily, Ryu the dragon wakes up during the journey and is able to knock its cage off the train and down a ravine. We then cut to a scene involving a cat-like man stalking a wild boar in the woods. The falling cage ruins his plans, and the man is somewhat surprised to see a naked little boy inside the cave. So is whoever is playing the game, as we last saw a fire-breathing dragon in there. Despite living in complete hunger, the cat-like man decides to bring the boy home, meaning another mouth to feed, and welcomes him into his surrogate family. What follows after that is that Rei, the cat-like man, and another orphan named Teepo teach Ryu how to be a thief as a means of surviving. This character-building and -bonding is important, as the trio eventually gets separated, and a large part of the game involves finding friends and rebuilding homes and generally growing up.

And that’s all I can recall. There’s a big white space after the intro and whatever happened next. Though I do remember getting far enough into Breath of Fire III to unlock the Faerie Village, which allows the player to rebuild an entire village for magical flying critters. Doing so unlocks special benefits like rare weapons for sale, mini-games, and a sound test mode. Can’t really recall how far into this element I got, but it stands out as a charming way to spend time. Another aspect that stands out as pretty neat and something that was also later found in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was being able to study under a Master, earning different skills and benefits this way.

I dunno. Games like this and other PS1 classics now long gone do have me seriously considering picking up a VITA–it just recently got announced that the Sony handheld would be receiving PS1 compatibilityone day. Well, them and that updated version of Persona 4. Yeah, I know; I’m losing my mind.

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.

Munchkin Apocalypse to cause frenzied fun with new card types

Last week, I got to go to Barnes & Noble. Now, this used to be no big thing, as I went to the bookstore a highly frequent amount when living in Clifton, NJ, nearly every other day, especially with the given that I had two brick-and-mortar locations within five minutes of my apartment–in either direction. A beautiful thing. I’m not bragging, really; I’m saddened on reflecting this, as there are no bookstores near us in the Pennsylvanian woods. There used to be a Borders about 20 minutes down the road, but that place went under and is being replaced with a Michael’s, not a BAM. ::insert the sound of a toddler crying::

Right. All of that was to say that I was in B&N recently, and so I got to check out their stock of geeky board and card games. My eyes bulged and brightened at all of these desirable gaming experiences, such as Game of Thrones: The Card Game and Game of Thrones: The Board Game–love the originality there. Sadly, no copies of Gloom, a quirky social card game Tara and I are interested in after seeing Wil Weaton and friends play it on a recent episode of TableTop. However, I did get to see what was new and kewl with Munchkin these days, because really, it seems a new product or expansion is launched each month, and if you blink too much you’ll miss it all. I saw a copy of Munchkin Conan, which looked tempting and is so not easily confused with the 15-card booster pack called Munchkin Conan the Barbarian, but I passed for the time being. Right now, I have one Munchkin core set in mind, and one only. It comes out this fall, it’s based on the end of the world, and it’s called Munchkin Apocalypse. Let’s take a look at a few preview cards…

Here are some sample doors:

Oh man. Doesn’t everyone know that bloggers have no class? ::zing::

And some sample treasures, with a first look at the new Seal card type:

Don’t know much yet how these Seals work–I have to imagine like Portals and Dungeons from vanilla Munchkin and Munchkin Cthulhu–but I have read a rule online that says if seven Seals are currently open, the game is over. Kind of like when everybody becomes a Cultist rule. Hmm…

You can’t see them all, but these are the cards you get if you buy some Radioactive Dice for your next round of Munchkin Apocalypse:

Not satisfied yet? Want more? Wow, y’all are a demanding bunch. Okay, okay…I’ll scour the Interwebz for more previews. Just give me a sec.

And I’m back! Only found one decent image. Here, here:

So, yeah. This is looking good. I hope there’s references to the following items: A Boy and His Dog, Fallout 3, and The Walking Dead. Guess I’ll find out in a few months, and I hope I can squeeze a group game in before the Earth cracks open and we all kiss each other goodbye.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #22 – Stacking

This wee chimney sweep
Out to save the Blackmore fam
By stacking, farting

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

Sir Leopold has waited way too many years for a whomping

Right now, I’m only concentrating on a handful of videogames while I wait for the remainder of 2012 to fill in. Namely, these babies: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, The Sword of Hope II, Metroid Fusion, and Borderlands. And, strangely, we can add…Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King to the list. Yeah, that one Level-5 RPG from way back in the day, circa 2005. Let me explain.

Well, as readers of Grinding Down already know from yesterday’s post, I’ve been immersing myself in another PlayStation 2 RPG via the Persona 4 Endurance Run over at Giant Bomb. This has been a constant reminder of the numerous great RPG/JRPGs that live on that system, many of which I still need to play some more or even ultimately finish. I won’t name them all just now–lucky you–but DQVIII, a game that I ate up like endless bowls of shrimp-flavored Ramen during my first few months in a new, Internet-less apartment in Clifton, NJ, suddenly called back to me. Like a sailor to a siren, and I went wide-eyed and mumbling, not sure what was to unfold.

Loading up my last save from six or seven years ago was downright disorienting. I mean, yeah, there was some immediate familiarity thanks to the 150+ hours I’ve dumped into Dragon Quest IX, opening back up in a church to that unchanging churchy tunes, with Akira Toriyama’s art style bright and clear and a colorful world as far as the silent hero’s eyes could see. My quiet guy’s name is Taurust_ with a bonus blank space at the end because I remember not knowing then what the confirm button was and accidentally adding an empty space at the end. Oh wells. It’s not like I played the game for that lo…oh wait, my save slot says 82 hours. Dang it.

And throwing caution to the wind, I immediately went to the spot where I guess I last stopped at, and that place involved a boss battle fight with an evil winged dog named Sir Leopold. Hmm…yeah. If there’s one thing I struggle with remembering about Dragon Quest VIII, it’s the story stuff. I mean, I know that I’m a mute, and that the king is Yoda, and the horse is his daughter, and that fat dude has a funny accent, but that’s really it. It might be beneficial to read a wiki or even the back of the box at some point, but whatever–fight turn-based style first, ask questions second. Except no, that didn’t work out. Sir Leopold wiped the floor with my team of four, and we woke anew back at a church with half our money gone.

So I’ve been wandering a bit and re-learning the ins and outs of the world, as well as the menus and other systems at play (casino, monster team, mini medals, item creation, and so on). I completely forgot I could summon a sabertooth tiger to ride. I’ve grinded a little bit, raising all four team members up a single level, so that’s good, but probably not good enough to take on Sir Leopold again just yet. I think I need better armor and weapons first, but to get those…I need gold, and I need a lot of it. Trying to see if I can earn a decent amount with casino BINGO, but that probably is a super slow process.

But I’m okay with dipping back into Dragon Quest VIII, even if it’s only to grind a bit and ultimately get nowhere. That Sir Leopold boss fight seems nearly impossible from where I stand, and it’s not even the final fight of the game. Not sure. I’d love to see how it all ends, considering I definitely wanted to see how it ended back in 2005, but somehow got distracted with shiny things like Final Fantasy XII and Rogue Galaxy. The music is, no surprise, gorgeous, and the battle system remains simple yet addicting. Unlike IX, you do not get to see what skill you’ll get when leveling up and assigning points, which is frustrating, but definitely keeps you guessing and crossing your fingers for something stellar. Between these two games, I’ve collectively used up over 250 hours of my life. Blimey, gov!

I’d rather watch Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 than play it

If it’s not terribly obvious, I’m a big fan of the Giant Bomb website. It’s a place that prefers to present things within the videogames industry raw and honestly, as well as welcomes everyone to contribute to its ever-growing wiki. For myself, I’ve done some decent wiki work on Game of Thrones: The Game, The Sword of Hope II, and Musashi: Samurai Legend. I go there every day to read and watch and interact sporadically on the forums.

But I’ve only recently taken it upon myself to experience one of the biggest things the website is known for–their lengthy tackle of playing Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, the critically acclaimed event where the term Endurance Run got dubbed. It’s 155 episodes of varying length, with Vinny playing and Jeff constantly adding colorful commentary, and I’m just under halfway through it on episode 71. Strangely, I’m hooked, and it has a lot to do with the ridiculousness of the game itself, as well as the GB duo’s reactions to these moments. Otherwise, it looks like the kind of JRPG I used to play, but no longer have the time and dedication to handle now.

Persona 4 is an odd story, and I can only imagine it gets more odd later on. Nay, I predict it. The main character and his friends from school form an investigation team to unearth the answers to recent murders in Inaba, Japan. There’s a strange connection between these murders and a TV-world they can enter to fight shadow demons. During the time you are not fighting monsters, you can work on increasing relationships with your friends and family by doing social activities, such as getting jobs, attempting beef bowl challenges, and going to camp. Also, since you’re in school, you have to study occasionally for midterms and finals. And, when certain stars align, you can pursue romantic relationships. Oh man, that’s a lot of systems to juggle.

The First Hour‘s Greg Noe absolutely hated Persona 3, and I have to suspect he’d not like Persona 4 much more, considering that they share the whole “grind in a dungeon and then spend a lot of time socializing with friends and foes” thing; one big difference between the two is that, during battle, you can control everyone’s actions. But yeah, grinding and socializing–that doesn’t sound delicious to me either. But from a watching perspective, hey…it’s quite engrossing despite its slow gameplay. A lot of menu manipulation and a constant pausing when a list of decisions pop up; the greatest part is that it’s not me making these choices or dealing with items and switching Personas in battle and so on. That’s up to Vinny and Jeff, and they can make some silly mistakes, which might normally be frustrating on my own playthrough, but are now hilarious to witness. No, really…keep casting Bufu on enemies that heal from ice spells.

A bonus from watching this Endurance Run inspired me to pick up my bereaved copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Surviver Overclocked again for the 3DS–with triumphant success, too. Though these both come from the same franchise, they are not entirely alike. The Social Linking stuff is gone or mostly diluted in Overclocked, as I have had to make a few relationshippy decisions, but otherwise you just watch a few different plot-driving scenes before going into a battle. Fights are more RTS-based than RPG-based, with character placement and the available number of moves vital to how a battle begins and ends. Individual battles are turn-based, with an importance placed on using the correct elemental spell to earn extra turns; I’m still learning the ins and outs of this, but I’m getting there, I swear. Just finishing up Day 3 after a whomping from the immortal demon Beldr…

So, while I’m not playing Overclocked, I’m watching Persona 4. It’s a nice way to stay within the game’s solar system, even if they aren’t exactly similar. All right. About seventy-plus more episodes to go until I see how Persona 4 ends. I’m contemplating adding it to my 2012 Games Completed list once I’m finished watching because…well, by that point, I will have invested a whole bunch of hours, and that should count for something.

LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 is done casting Crucio on me

It took the whole weekend, but it’s done. All characters and character variants unlocked and bought; all Hogwarts House crests grabbed; all students in peril saved from peril, whether that peril was a man-eating plant or them just being lazy and oversleeping in a hammock; all gold bricks found; all Achievements acquired. LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7 is now completed as a whole, and I’m happy to be moving on from it finally.

Unfortunately, the grinding these LEGO videogames demand is detrimental to their overall quality. I’ve written about this before, and will most likely continue to write about it for the next half-dozen of forthcoming LEGO videogames. I mean, it took how many iterations to get Traveller’s Tales to add a new camera system and voices to their LEGO beings? Yeah, change does not come fast to those developers. So expect the obtuse and exhausting collectathon to continue on for a good while. But since I’ve already gone on at length about that annoying aspect, let’s talk about something else pertaining to LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7: glitches and unforgiving level design!

For a game series constantly billed as co-op friendly, it’s strange that some goals can only be completed solo. Meaning you have to look directly at the person next to you, take their hand gingerly, and say, “Sorry, but you‘re the problem; I need you to drop out.” That’s a pretty cruddy thing to do–to anyone, really–but if you want to unlock the following Achievements, you gotta bite the magic bullet and kick them to the curb:


O Children (20G): Complete the scene where Hermione and Harry dance in the tent


Weasley Does It (25G): Use a Weasley box with every Weasley


What If? (20G): Defeat every Harry freeplay variant as Lord Voldemort

Tara and I tried unlocking all of these as we played the game. We did everything we thought we were supposed to do, and yet nothing seemed to work. I even began thinking outside of the box, using Hermione as a Weasley. For a time there, I thought we were losing our minds, but no, all we had to do was kick my wife out of the game and have me do everything all over again by myself to get them to ping. Boo to that. I mean, all the other Achievements were not like this, and so it has to be labeled as strange. Wonky, even.

More frustrating than the above is the bad level design on Magic is Might from Year 7. In this level, players must make their way through the Ministry of Magic in hopes of stealing a plot-vital item from Dolores Umbridge. After dueling with her, you are chased down a narrow corridor by a swarm of Dementors; this level is set up in the “Indiana Jones and the rolling boulder” sense, with you running towards the screen as danger follows behind. A Hogwarts House crest is hidden behind a golden statue off to the side, and for me, this was the last crest I needed to get; however, time is an issue, and you have to be quick to grab it. If you touch the statue or wall near it, you die, and the Dementors attack your respawned body immediately, pushing you forward. You cannot go back to get the crest without replaying the whole level again, which means you get one chance, and one chance only. Also, if you try to walk past the statue and then go behind it, you die. You can only acquire it by being Fang or Griphook–someone small or fast–and going behind the statue without touching it or the wall. I replayed this level four times before I learned the errors of my way and figured out what to do. Ugh.

Thinking back, LEGO Batman had something just like this, and the proof is in the post. Here’s what I wrote about it way back in the day in October 2009:

LEGO Batman. Sure, I “beat” it months ago, but every now and then I pop back into it to grab some missed items and trying and unlock everything. And I’ve gotten just about everything…that is, but three collectibles. Now, one of them is painstakingly annoying to obtain. Trust me, I tried three times in a row last night. In one of the Penguin’s villain levels, you have to guide your characters down an icy slope, going through five specific flags to unlock the hidden canister. Sounds simple enough, yes? The problem is that if you miss even one flag you are then dropped into the level’s final boss battle room and cannot return to try again. Meaning you must replay the level again and again and…again. I’ve had zero luck so far. Insert heavy sigh.

Gee, that’s the exact same sort of level design used years later for LEGO Harry Potter, Years 5-7. Whoever comes up with these parts, please stop. I don’t care if you think they are a barrel of fun or there for a reason. Just stop. No one likes replaying levels again and again for a single collectible.

So that’s it. I’m done…until LEGO Lord of the Rings, that is.