Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Half-hour Hitbox: August 2013

Bit.Trip-Runner-2-2

I realized the other morning that, over the last couple of weeks or so, I’ve dipped my hairy, Hobbit toes into several videogames that I’ve not yet brought up here on Grinding Down, and by that I mean I’ve played a half hour to an hour‘s amount of these games. Not really long enough to go too in-depth with my zany and oddly driven thoughts, but I want to still share some things with y’all nonetheless. Otherwise, given that I’ll be traveling and away for some upcoming comic conventions over the next several weeks, these could be lost to the void forever if I never return to them. And so, a new monthly feature has been born–the Half-hour Hitbox!

Battleloot Adventure

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This is a game for my Windows 8 phone that I downloaded the day it released, because it was then free. I think it is a dollar or two now. Anyways, it’s a pretty straightforward turn-based RPG, with story and exploration completely stripped away. You control a small group of three characters and move from one combat to another. You can do things like tap a character to gain a better defense bonus when an enemy attacks though I have found it not consistently responsive. The cartoony look is very appealing and detailed, but otherwise it doesn’t stand out as anything I need to play right away. Battleloot Adventure might make for a good time-killer here and there, and nothing more.

Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

runner2-ss1

The first Bit.Trip Runner was equal parts mesmorizing and frustrating. I eventually did beat the Odyssey level, but when I returned to the game recently, my progress was not saved (thanks, Steam!), so to continue on I’d have to reconquer the toughest level in World 1. Er, no thanks. Good thing Runner 2 came out when it did, and it has graciously made things easier. Not easy, just easier, with some checkpoints throughout the levels. The music is still amazing, and the level designs fun. I’ve gotten to the second world now, which is based around pirate ships and stuff. I love that you can have the main runner guy “dance” at any time, as well as using the cannon at the end of a perfect run for bonus points. A lot of fun, and I do plan to get back into this one real soon.

Crackdown

Crackdown halfhour

Crackdown was recently given out to Xbox 360 players for free as part of their “Game with Gold” thing, which is their attempt to race along PlayStation Plus. It’s nowhere near close to beating Sony’s program, but whatever–more free games for me to play or not play at all. I also have Assassin’s Creed II and Dead Rising II downloaded, but untouched. A new one drops in two days. Gulp. If there is one thing I really like about Crackdown so far, it’s that you are dropped into its open world nearly immediately, with freedom to go and do whatever you want. Which is mostly cause chaos and collect agility orbs. I’ve done both of those, but not much else so far.

Defense of the Ancients 2

Dota-2-review-7

Hmm, I started the tutorial–which you have to get through before you can actually begin playing real games of DOTA 2–but the tutorial is broken up into like 12 different parts because evidently it is a very complicated game, with a lot going on at one time. I did the first tutorial level, and that took like 35 minutes itself. Nothing in this hooked me, and I think I’d rather stick with Torchlight 2, even though it is not a MOBA, it has the same look and feel.

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping_Dogs_13442008158654

This is a strange open-world game. You can go off and practice your karaoke skills. Or you can hack security systems and arrest drug-dealers. Or you can hone your hand-to-hand martial art skills. You can also eat food and earn Face and smash bad guys’ faces horrifically into things like dumpsters or car windows. You play an undercover cop, so you dip your toes into multiple storylines, some seedier than others. I like the focus on melee combat in Sleeping Dogs over guns, but I’m not very far into things story-wise.

UNO and Friends

uno-and-friends

Another free game for my Windows 8 phone! I love UNO. The XBLA version was probably one of the first arcade games I got all the Achievements in and regularly played afterwards. This is a free-to-play version of UNO, so there are some annoying things like only being allowed to play so many matches based on how many bronze tokens you have, as well as the constant in-your-face ads to spend real money, but otherwise it works fine and is great fun. Tara loves watching me play UNO and gets really into it, too.

And I’m sure I’m missing a title or two here from my August gaming times. I play a lot of games, sometimes some for longer than others. We’ll see which ones pop up in the next edition of Half-hour Hitbox!

The Half-hour Hitbox is a new monthly feature for Grinding Down, covering a handful of videogames that I’ve only gotten to play for less than an hour so far. My hopes in doing this is to remind myself that I played a wee bit of these games at one time or another, and I should hop back into them, if I liked that first bite.

Slaughter the bourgeois with speed in Proletarian Ninja X

ninja 2982-shot2

It’s probably a really good thing that I don’t follow game jams too closely, especially after they end. Instead, I pick up a name or two of an interesting title to check out from some other source (usually Indie Statik), do so, play for a bit, write a thing, and happily move on. Otherwise, these things are like bottomless pits, and you could spend days trying them all out to see which ones click and which ones sink. Truthfully, I had intended to look at more creations from Ludum Dare 26, after enjoying Gods Will Be Watching and TOOM, but then I blinked, and here we are now looking at games from the next game jam session: Ludum Dare 27. Really, where does the time go?

First up is Proletarian Ninja X. It is 1930, and capitalists seem to have taken over Earth. You are the Proletarian Ninja X, and your mission is to kill every single one of them. There’s a problem though; your “kill list” is as long as I am tall, and you only have 10 seconds total to kill all the fat cats in the room. Left-clicking with your mouse moves the ninja and kills a snootypant when next to them, and right-clicking throws a shuriken with deadly intent. All the rich have enlightened cones that show where they are looking, and if they spot you or another dead body, it’s game over. Thankfully, it’s very Super Meat Boy-like in starting you over again quickly, so while you might make many mistakes, it is easy to learn from them.

Everything about Proletarian Ninja X is amazingly polished. Evidently, deepnight has participated in game jams before with many successes, and it shows. In fact, I’ve already played one of their (his? her?) games before: Last Breath from Ludum Dare 22. Anyways, moving the ninja from room to room and over desks is easy and tight, the sound effects are wonderfully pleasing, especially when you kill a rich fella, and the pixelated art style fits very well for all that mass murder. That 10 seconds really makes every action count, and you will quickly learn this, as the difficulty seems to ramp up on like the third room. I got to the fifth room and gave up after failing to chop all those high and mighty to bits fast enough without getting caught. This is no Mark of the Ninja (or even Super Ninja Slash), where you can wait almost indefinitely to make your move, but I think the time restraint forces you to try different tactics and makes that final kill all the more rewarding.

I’m looking forward to popping back into this later, and I could totally see this evolving into a full-fledged title. Though I’d like to see some larger rooms with a longer time limit, maybe 30 seconds or so, just to allow for some hesitation and pre-planning. Either way, really good stuff. Always fun to give the upper class their just desserts.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #28 – WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

2013 games completed warioware

You have three seconds
To beat a bunch of bizarre
Lively minigames

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

Getting lost in a digital Tokyo brimming with demons

Shin Megami Tensei IV Tokyo lost

If the Minotaur boss didn’t put you off on Shin Megami Tensei: IV, then getting to Tokyo for the first time surely will. I have to imagine it’s a stopping point for many. To be honest, I put the game down a couple weeks ago after first arriving in the largest metropolitan area in the world, unsure of where to go and with little desire to look up specific step-by-step directions. That’s not how I play. Unfortunately, the game does a very poor job of indicating where you are to go next while at the same time giving you dozens of doors to open and places to enter and explore and demons to fight to keep you busy for long enough that you don’t even realize you’re technically going nowhere.

Some soft story spoilers in this paragraph, folks. When you first arrive in Tokyo, you are hot pursuit of the Black Samurai, who everyone believes did some bad things back in the Kiccigiorgi Forest countryside. I am with everyone, though I bet there’s going to be a twist as to who the Black Samurai actually is. Previously, all overworld exploration was done via menu selection, such as Castle Entrance or Lake. You then explore the dungeons in a traditional third-person perspective. However, all of this changes with Tokyo, where you now explore using a zoomed-out overhead map; other sub-areas on the map, just like dungeons, are explored traditionally. On the overworld map, demons are represented as pixelated squares that still make a beeline for you when spotted, and you can interact with exclamation marks to enter buildings or other areas. Right away, you are given a lot more freedom to explore–and places to explore–than ever before, and that can be a bit daunting. Your first goal is the underground section below Ueno Station, which is your new hub for Tokyo, providing a shop, a bar, and lots of unclean people to chat up. From there, your next main quest is to find the military base, which I can’t seem to do by naturally stumbling across it.

So far, I’ve done a sidequest about killing a demon at Shinobazu Pond, as well as unlocked another fast travel terminal after another tough demon boss that can quickly wipe your entire team out in a single turn if you don’t pay attention to the Press Turn system. I’m mainly running around the Ueno District though, picking up respawning relics, selling them off for sweet, precious Macca, and leveling up my odd assortment demons. It’s progress, but a different kind. On occasion, I fuse, but that’s still a pretty scary process.

One neat thing I got to recently try out was the StreetPassing functionality for Shin Megami Tensei IV. Thanks to that new relay system that just went live and a few trips to Walmart, I’ve gotten a couple of StreetPasses from others playing this difficult JRPG. Anyways, you get a collectible card from other players and, if they choose, a free demon attack during a battle. I was able to call on three StreetPassers during the boss fight to free the fast travel terminal, and it helped a lot. Hope to pass more players this upcoming weekend at Tampa Bay Comic Con!

But I don’t know where to go next, Shin Megami Tensei IV. Wandering aimlessly is okay for a bit, but not forever. Please help.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #27 – El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

2013 games completed El Shaddai

Climb this tower of
Angels, show them your Arch skills
Chapter 4 is cute

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is Biblical apocrypha in videogame form

el-shaddai-ascension-of-the-metatron final thoughts

Back in March 2013, there was a random sale on the Xbox Games on Demand marketplace section hub, and the cheapest deal among reduced prices was $2.50 for El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. I knew nothing about the game, but it had an intriguing–if long-winded–name, and a couple of screenshots told me that I was guaranteed to play something at least visually striking. So I pulled the trigger, promptly downloaded 6 GB of unknown stuff, and played the first two chapters, unsure of what to make of things. Several months later, I came back to the game and burned through the remaining chapters over a couple of nights, and I’m still unsure of what to think. I like a lot of El Shaddai, but some aspects are of the fun-ruining frustrating ilk.

The game’s plot is heavily inspired by the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which follows Enoch, a scribe searching for seven fallen angels in hopes of preventing a great flood from destroying mankind. He is helped in this epic quest by Lucifel, a guardian angel in charge of the protection of the world who exists outside of the flow of time, and four Archangels. However, there’s a modern spin here, as Lucifel, voiced by an unrecognizable Jason Isaacs, uses a cell phone to converse with God, and several levels are set in a futuristic, Tron-like cityscape. Basically, you are trying to climb a tower, defeating fallen angels on each level, until you get to the top, to defeat the fallenest of all angels and save the world from the wrath of…God? Satan? Y’know, to be honest, I don’t really know which is the opposing force in this game.

Gameplay is mostly hack-and-slash action in the same vein as Devil May Cry, with the ability to knock an enemy in the air and juggle them with sword swipes. Er, sorry–I mean arch swipes. Enoch gets three different weapon types as he progresses: an arch for quick slashes, a gale for ranged attacks, and a veil for slow, but devastatingly powerful punches capable of shattering weapons. You can pull off some combos, as well as steal an enemy’s weapon to replace your own and take them down a notch. I found fighting Gale-wielding enemies to be the most challenging, but you eventually learn all the patterns. For bosses, it’s all about patience and waiting for an opening to attack. If you do die, you can mash some of the buttons repeatedly to revive yourself, and on Normal difficulty, you could do this four or five times, which made getting through some unrelenting fights possible.

Visually, El Shaddai is a delight. Every chapter offers something completely different, and the best-looking stuff can be found in the interim platforming levels connecting two chapters. There’s one section early on that I found myself smiling through its entirety, despite the challenge being presented. There’s a lot of pinks and purples and watercolor-like washing for background skies, as well as strange geometry throughout. Enoch and Lucifel have a pretty stylized, hair-billowing anime look to them, though I found most of the fallen angels to be boring design-wise considering they all wear the same getup for most of their battles.

Two things really bothered me with El Shaddai, and they both have nothing to do with its religious slant. One: the platforming sucks. Like, no. It’s some of the worst. You can barely tell where Enoch is going to land when he jumps, and the controls are so twitchy that, oftentimes, you’d still fall off a platform after getting there in one piece. Considering that platforming is how you move from one event to another, it needed to be tighter. Two: there’s no indication on-screen of how much damage Enoch was able to take, and how hurt the bosses were. Most of the time, it was impossible to tell, and some weapons are ineffective against certain foes and armor, causing me to second guess my choices. Strangely, after you beat the game, you are given the ability to turn on health gauges for Enoch and bosses. Yeah, that’s a bit boggling.

I will not be going back to play El Shaddai on a higher difficulty, but there’s an Achievement or two left that seem feasible. Otherwise, a gorgeous game with a plot that’s hard to concentrate on, given that the screen is just one explosion of artistic beauty after another. Play it to see.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #26 – Hotline Miami

2013 games completed Hotline Miami

Wear animal masks
To wreak havoc and spill blood
‘CAUSE THE PHONE SAYS SO

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

Friendly fire is not be tolerated in Battlefield 3, so they say

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When it comes to war-based videogames, I’ve always kept my distance. This is a twofer: a severe disinterest in using a digital gun modeled after a real-life version and shooting a digital person modeled after a real-life counterpart, and stories that all seem to blend together, usually constructed around the ideas of straight-up terrorism and accented patriotism. It’s not that I don’t love the country I live in, it’s just that I don’t love it enough to want to blast open someone’s face with an M16A4 and then high-five my buddy and toss back a beer.

In all honesty, I can count the number of interactions I’ve had with war-based videogames on a single hand. First, I once dabbled in Battlefield 1942 back in my summers off during the college days, as a friend then constantly had it running at his house, and all you ever had to do was sit down in front of the computer and start playing. I was never any good, but we always had a laugh when trying to fly a plane only to end up crashing three seconds after takeoff. Think I also watched some friends play SOCOM. Then there was that time I tried out the demo for…um, it was a Call of Duty game on the Xbox 360, but I really don’t remember which one. There was snow and falling in snow and maybe infiltrating an airbase of some kind. Maybe Modern Warfare 2? And my third dip into the political warfare pool has been with Battlefield 3, given out for free the other month to PlayStation Plus members.

I found it to be a mindless, but educational experience. As well as reconfirming. Battlefield 3‘s single-player campaign is both traditional and not; the story it tells is generic “save the world from the bad guys” stuff, with you know who playing their respective roles, but its narrative structure will toss your mind overboard. You begin at the end, playing as Staff Sergeant Henry Blackburn in hot pursuit of a man behind some terrorist attacks. However, you then hop back to eight months before all this goes down, investigating a possible improvised explosive device in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan. Things happen from there, and eventually you end up playing as a couple other characters, some shadier than others: Sgt. Jonathan “Jono” Miller, a M1 Abrams tank operator deployed in Tehran; Lt. Jennifer “Wedge” Colby Hawkins, an F/A-18F Super Hornet Weapon Systems Officer; and Dimitri “Dima” Mayakovsky, a Russian GRU operative. These side stories all eventually form a bigger picture. Levels are varied in location and objective, but more or less, other than driving a tank or flying a Super Hornet, you are running down a corridor, shooting enemies until they fall down.

So, the biggest thing I learned from my short time with Battlefield 3, and probably all other realistic-looking first-person shooters, is that I would make a terrible soldier. Now, it is common knowledge that my eyesight is worsening every day, but I got new glasses last year, upping my ability to see things father away much clearer. However, in a game with super realistic graphics and lighting and a lot of shadows, I had a hard time deciphering friend from enemy, often shooting a team member thinking they were evil. When you shoot a friendly person, a message pops up: FRIENDLY FIRE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED! This would alert me to my mistake, and I’d target somebody else. Further down in the mission, I’d get the message again. Rinse, shampoo, lather, whatever…and so on. Evidently, if you cause too much friendly fire damage, you’ll fail the mission, but I was never that consistent. To me, it felt like a warning that was never acted upon. That said, I’m glad I was allowed to get by with so many blind bullet mistakes because otherwise I might never have made it out of those darker levels.

Oh, and I’m not afraid to admit it: I played the game on Easy difficulty. That’s what it defaulted to, and so I kept it. Considering how fast you lose health and can frak a mission, I doubt I’d have gotten very far on a higher difficulty. I’ve not yet–and probably never will–touched the multiplayer aspect of Battlefield 3. Some wars just can’t be won.

2013 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Battlefield 3

2013 games completed Battlefield 3

Help Sergeant Blackburn
Tell his story, of terror
Corridor shooting

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

It’s hard to stay alive in a horror-ridden basement

binding of isaac thoughts

I love trading cards, and I mostly blame Magic: The Gathering for it, but this affection traces back further than that to when I was a wee lad, collecting Fleer baseball and Marvel cards with a vigor I’ve never since seen again. I still have much of my collection stashed away in boxes and binders, but have mostly fallen away from collecting cards due to the cost these days and the fact that, part of the fun, is trading X and Y for Z with other collectors. Alas, I can count the number of real-life friends I have on one blender-mangled hand, and none of them are down with this type of lifestyle.

That all said, Steam now has trading cards, and while I still don’t fully understand how the system works, I find it fascinating nonetheless. Also, with these being digital trading cards, I no longer have to worry about accidentally bending or nipping them, as well as how to store them safely amongst everything else crowding up my studio space. Basically, you play a specific game, and a new trading card is added to your inventory roughly every 30 minutes. However, you can only earn so many, say 5 out of 9 cards, and thus have to either trade with other players or sell/buy cards online. Once you complete a set, you can craft a badge which gets you some background art, new emoticons, discounts on other Steam games, and XP to level up. It’s an odd meta game that I have a hard time ignoring. Thankfully, I haven’t gone full tilt yet, selling only one duplicate for $0.27 and sitting on it while I figure out my plan of attack.

I was able to give Grinding Down long-standing compadre Greg Noe some of my extra cards from The Binding of Isaac, allowing him to craft his first badge. It was both exciting and not. Like when you’re seven, and you are watching your best friend opening his birthday gifts. I believe he has some Stacking cards for me, too, but last time we attempted to trade the system kept glitching out. Another time, me hopes. I’m also pretty close on completing all the cards for Super Meat Boy.

Anyways, even though I got all the cards that I possibly could to drop from The Binding of Isaac, I’ve been playing a lot of it lately. Like, first to relax and just mindlessly see how far I can go, and then immediately after try my hardest to actively reach the end. Unfortunately, I’ve still not gotten past the Depths, but I feel like I’m getting better with every run. However, getting far actually requires a ton of luck, in that certain items will be more beneficial than others. Noe mentioned that a friend of his beat it on his first run, to which I replied, “Fuck him.” Trust me. When I beat The Binding of Isaac on my 157th run, now that will sound impressive.

Bosses that I just can’t seem to grok:

  • Widow
  • Pin
  • Chub

But it’s not actually the bosses that often slow me down or bring my flight of fancy to a grinding halt. Just your day-to-day room enemies are enough to give you grief if you don’t know how to handle them or can’t hit the keys fast enough, and I particularly hate entering a room to find it filled with charger maggots, hoppers, knights, keepers, and globins. On the other hand, I’m a pro at dealing with flies and piles of poo.

Hopefully, luck will be with me one day soon, giving me the best items from the get-go and opening a clear path to Mom. If I can just beat The Binding of Isaac once, I will feel a great wealth of accomplishment, because it really isn’t a simple task. I do have to wonder if I’d be any better at the game using a controller, but I don’t think, unlike Hotline Miami, another tough title requiring quick reflexes, that it offers gamepad support.