Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Half-hour Hitbox: February 2014

halfhour hitbox gd feb 2014 post image

Ahh, February–the shortest month of the year. As well as the snowiest, at least for 2014, that is. Last year we barely saw any snow, and this year we’re quadrupling down on that cause, and I have to be honest. I’m done. Truly and terribly. No quibbles about it. I’m tired of my car getting stuck in the snow, I’m tired of shoveling snow, I’m tired of walking like a penguin so as to not fall in the snow, and I’m tired of hearing nearly every day on the radio about the potential coming of even more snow. I really don’t mind cold weather, as I’m all about layering and being warm, but there’s a difference between cold weather and stress-inducing snow. Bring on March and green grass and the chance to not wear socks in the house. My body is ready.

That said, here’s a handful of games I played a little bit of this month.

Lyle in Cube Sector


This little indie thing from 2006 is self-described as a block-throwing action adventure game, and that’s exactly what it is. Lyle’s kitty cat has been stolen by some robed witch, and he’s off to rescue his furry feline. Unlike other Metroidvania games, Lyle doesn’t have a weapon–no whip, no gun, nothing. All he can really do is pick up blocks and throw them. Sometimes this is done to damage enemies, and other times it is to create a path from point A to point B. I had trouble balancing the timing of avoiding incoming enemies and picking up blocks, meaning I didn’t get very far, but it seems like an overall good package. You can grab Lyle in Cube Sector for free over here.

Under the Garden


Right. In this open-ended indie survival game, you are out in the middle of the wild nowhere, tasked with staying alive. You’ll need to eat, create shelter, find fire and essential tools, and so on. A bit like Minecraft, but the controls are kind of iffy. I ended up surviving for around 15 days or so, but gave up playing when I reached a part where you have to cross a body of water on floating crates, and the physics of everything coupled with the janky jumping proved too much. Without exploring, you just end up spending a lot of time standing around, waiting for something to happen. Most often, nothing does.

Pale Machine


More like an interactive music video, Pale Machine is kooky and crazy and completely worth the five or so minutes to go through it. You’ll do ordinary things, like brush your teeth, but also rock potted plants back and forth and stick your tongue out very far to cause some cereal-based chaos. The song is peppy and bounces around from mini scene to mini scene, which means you’re not doing any one specific action for too long. In fact, I played through Pale Machine a second time while writing this little blurb up, and it’s still a bunch of uninhibited fun.

Maverick Bird

maverick bird 11 Capture

Terry Cavanagh strikes again! Maverick Bird is a fan game for the much-talked about Flappy Bird, and though I can’t say much about the game that this draws inspiration from–remember, I have a Windows 8 phone–the concept is simple, but so very addicting. In Maverick Bird, you are…well, a diamond-shaped being, and you can fly up using the up arrow and dive down with the down arrow. You never stop moving, and so the goal is to see how far you get without hitting any walls or traps. It’s tough, but I like it, though I turned the music off right away. Despite the screenshot above, my highest score so far has actually been…17. Take that!

Monaco – What’s Yours is Mine

monaco ss_333a0b3b78041a533e592457d9e1f7882d5a7ae9.1920x1080

Yup, I bought the newest Humble Bundle, and got a handful of new indie games to play. So far, while I’ve installed all of them, I’ve only loaded up one, and that’s Monaco – What’s Yours is Mine, a strange title for a stealthy game about…well, cooperative stealth? I really don’t know. There’s some light story setup in the beginning about breaking a fella called The Mole out of prison, but that’s all I recall at this point. I like the aesthetics very much in this and the retro-ish graphics, though it’ll take me some time to get used to the lack of vision and fog of war. Lockpicking feels good, having you press against a door or computer for a short period of time to pick it. Rubbing ain’t picking.

Galaga Legions DX


I was drinking a hot toddy and getting buzzed and thought this would be funny–not fun–to experience a little on the tipsy side. Turns out, I was right. Maybe. Hmm, maybe not. I had no idea what I experienced. I was a spaceship, and I shot bullets, and a blizzard of colorful lights and objects filled the screen, and there was some crazy music bumping in the background, and I did this for a little bit until I cleared the first section of levels. Most likely never going back.

Payday 2


Hmm…this game is described as so:  an action-packed, four-player co-op shooter that has players donning the masks of the original PayDay crew–Dallas, Hoxton, Wolf, and Chains–as they descend on Washington D.C. for an epic crime spree. That may all be very true, but I still can’t get past the first mission, and if one can’t successfully pull off a jewelry heist, well…maybe a life of crime is not the right path to walk. My problem is someone in the store notices what’s going on too quickly, and I don’t yet know how to corral everyone away from the bank-opening action without alerting them or the cops.

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.

Bound from cloud to cloud in Scaling the Sky

scaling the sky game thoughts

Look, I’m just going to start this off by urging you to go play Scaling the Sky for yourself right now:

It won’t take up your entire day–or even your entire morning–and I also feel that it is important to grok the jumping mechanics as they are different enough to separate this from a blatant clone of running and jumping along the cloud platforms in Super Mario Bros 3. Oh, and did I mention this plays in your browser? So no excuses.

If you need more convincing or are curious what words I’ll use to describe this 2D skywards climb, then please, stay. Read a while. Research shows that Scaling the Sky was created by William Felkner, Chelsea Howe, and Michael Molinari during the 48 hour SF Indie Game Jam 2013, and it’s a surreal little experience that surprisingly says something by the end of it, and gameplay basically boils down to jumping from cloud to cloud, jumping out of floating pools, and leaping into rainbow elevators to move on to the next area. That might not seem like a whole lot to go off on, but it is very enjoyable.

You play as a woman stuck on a small, tropical island. Eventually, after discovering there is nowhere else to go, you travel upwards, to the clouds. Naturally, these clouds have buoyancy, which makes jumping on and off of them a bit tricky. When you enter a cloud from below or the side, you are rocketed through it at a quicker clip, propelling you up and out, and this technique will be extremely handy in the later sections where the transporting rainbow beams are seemingly just out of reach and you need momentum to get there. You’ll also enter pools of water hovering in the sky, giving you a tiny leap upon exiting the water. The game is controlled completely by the arrow keys, with left and right for movement and up for jumping.

Scaling the Sky is a fairly simple platformer, but elegant and soothing, with much thanks for its soundtrack, and missing a jump is never harshly rewarded. But when you do nail each jump, especially later when the clouds have dissipated and all you have to work with are large and small bubbles of water, going from one to the other successfully really feels like scaling the sky. Visually, the game is colorful, but limited in its art. Sorry to say, but it initially looks like MS Paint, and the clouds sort of appear like someone just used a large circle eraser on a blue background a couple of times. Though, when you land on or exit the cloud, tiny little puffs sneak out, which is a nice touch. Our sky-climbing woman is garbed in orange, making for a fantastic contrast against all the blue hues of the sky and water pools, and her hair and clothes are constantly moving in the breeze. It’s not going to wow you with its look, but it plays phenomenally and tells a mature, elegant story about the continuous movement of water.

Removed two more games from my Xbox 360

BGAE HD beat again copy

The title of this post says it all: Beyond Good and Evil HD and Torchlight got removed from my Xbox 360’s hard-drive space to help make room for future games and content I’ve already paid for, such as the remainder of Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead, if they ever get around to releasing another episode. I think I ended up freeing around 2 GB of space, but I plan to tackle some more arcade titles I have sitting untouched for awhile to see if I can polish them off enough for me to consider to removable. Previously, I polished off Shadow Complex and then immediately uninstalled it. We can all blame this on my neurotic nature to use every oodle of storage space I have to its full potential.

For Torchlight, though I had long beaten the game back in 2011, I was sitting pretty at 11 out of 12 Achievements. The last one to unlock was called “Superstar” and requires you to “achieve maximum fame.” You mostly earn fame by defeating unique enemies in dungeons, and you can always tell these apart from regular grunts because they have names like Moggath the Dragonkicker and Sh’gorl the Darkstink. In short, you probably need to kill around 200+ unique monsters to hit this target, and my saved game showed that I had only killed, at that point, around 125. And so I grinded, which was not the most exciting task, but it was mindless enough, and I had plenty of potions and healing spells to keep me going. Only took a few hours of going at it and ignoring picking up new weapons, enchanting gear, and worrying about what skills to enhance and so on.

This also served to remind me that Torchlight II is much better than Torchlight, especially because I built a range character there with the ability to create random chaos whenever making a critical hit. It was much more taxing to grind as a melee character for the “Superstar” Achievement because it meant getting in close and taking more HP hits. Though I do like the idea of these “clicky” action RPGs on consoles; maybe I should look into Diablo III one of these days.

Next, I moved on to Beyond Good & Evil HD. Now, I played and completed the original Beyond Good & Evil on the PlayStation 2 a long time ago; in fact, it’s one of the first games I wrote about back when I got into writing about entertainment media on the side, over at my stupidly named Blogger site Game Beliefs. In 2011, a Cyber Monday sale for XBLA had the HD version of the game priced at $3.00, and I happily paid for it a second time, fondly remembering how many photos of strange wildlife I snapped during Jade’s journey to stop the DomZ from stealing away the inhabitants of Hillys. I played a little bit of the game then, and then nearly finished the whole thing a second time in June 2012 when I was permanently stuck on the couch for an entire weekend with really bad back pain. I got all the way to the end section and…well, just stopped. Not really sure why, but I guess my back got better and I was so excited to leave the couch that I just dropped everything off my plate and went elsewhere.

Anyways, the last section of Beyond Good & Evil HD basically involves some “reflect this light properly to open the door” puzzles, a spat or two of direct combat, some flying-but-on-rails ship battle, and a surprisingly difficult final boss. I don’t remember the final fight being so difficult last time, but I suspect the fact that I went into the fight with only a small number of health-healing items played a major part in its difficulty. Without spoiling what happens, the controls for Jade during combat get reversed, and you basically have a split second to hit the boss and/or dodge out of the way, and the reversed controls take some time to get used to. Took me several attempts, but I did it; I saved Hillys all over again. I missed unlocking four Achievements, but they didn’t seem like any fun–more grinding, and not in a do-able, mindless way–so I just watched the credits, appreciated the soundtrack once more, and removed the game entirely. Oh well. Bring on Beyond Good & Evil 2; that was a joke, by the way. That game is never becoming a real thing.

So that’s three games now played and polished off enough for me to feel okay with uninstalling and never looking back. I’ve got more to go after, but for now I at least have enough room for the next episode of The Walking Dead, which I think drops sometime in March. Whew.

Five ice stages actually worth playing

most memorable snow levels GD copy

On Monday, February 17, I left the house for the very first time in five days after getting seriously snowed in. I mean, yeah, we live in the middle of the Pennsylvanian woods, so this was bound to happen eventually. And yes, the above picture is the actual abode Tara and I live in, and that’s her Jeep there, stuck in the middle of the driveway. Anyways, she was able to eventually get out, and after some more shoveling, I too got my lackluster and turble-in-da-snow Chevy Cobalt out and was able to reconnect with society for a brief moment before returning home with plenty of yummy groceries. Alas, it was not meant to be because, while I was able to get down the snowy driveway just fine, getting back up it was another mess. Flash-forward two hours, and all is well, but now I’m thinking about ice stages in videogames that I actually enjoy spending time in, unlike real life.

Onwards, with the five chilliest places I don’t mind getting stuck in…

The Ice Caves (Spelunky)

spelunky ice caves polish02

During my early days with Spelunky, getting to the Ice Caves was a big deal. It meant mastering the Mines and Jungle levels well enough to hit a series of levels as unlike the previous ones as possible. In the Ice Caves, you can slip and slide on blocks of ice, and so can gems and items and enemies, making it dangerous and chaotic for all involved. UFOs, yetis, and mammoths guard their territory aggressively. Also, the entire level takes place over a dark, endless abyss, meaning if you fall incorrectly, you might not ever hit ground and get back up. It’s not quite as deadly as the Temple levels, and I actually find the Ice Caves to be much more relaxing than any other section in Spelunky. Much as of that is due to the snappy, jazz-fused soundtrack, but I also think it has something to do with its unconventional openness; if you have the jetpack equipped, you can fly to and fro and see all that it has to offer, with few threats in your way. Perfect for ghost mining, too.

World 4 – Gorilla Glacier (Donkey Kong Country)


With great snow comes low visibility. Pretty sure that’s a famous quote said to Peter Parker. And that’s what I remember most about the Gorilla Glacier worlds from Donkey Kong Country–a lot of snow, blowing this way and that. Now, the levels don’t start out that way. In fact, you begin in Snow Barrel Blast, which paints a pretty picture of a clear sky and a lot of snow on the ground. As you progress, snow begins to fall and intensify, to the point where it becomes difficult to see. Toss in some hectic, heart-pulsing music, and this is starting to sound like a nightmare–but it’s strangely not. I remember it so fondly as a sign of the power of videogames, the power of the SNES, and when the snow would start to come down heavy many, many years later in games like Skyrim, I always knew where that technique–for me–started.

The Colder Climates (Journey)

journey colder climates 22

I will keep this as brief as possible, since the snow levels arrive late in Journey‘s journey, right in spoilery territory, but man…they are something special. Especially if you are able to have a nameless co-op friend at your side, like I did my single time floating through the game. You basically have to traverse through the blinding snow, trudging up white hill after white hill, all while avoiding some big baddies soaring overhead. The controls work really well here, as it is actually so much harder to move in the snow than the desert sand, hitting home that you are in one bad place. That said, it’s gorgeous and gorgeously orchestrated. I played with another player, and we took turns checking to see if the coast was clear before chirping that it was time to dart back out into the blizzard.

Winter (Animal Crossing: New Leaf)

animal crossing new leaf snowman 2

There’s a surprising amount of things to do in the winter in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and that’s all on top of the general number of things one can do as mayor of a village full of spunky animal residents. Building snowmen and snowwomen opens up chances for new collectibles; the snowwoman will give you special ice furniture for bringing her a certain number of snowflakes, and the snowman plays a game of Bingo with you for as long as he is standing. But walking around is nice and peaceful, the soft crunch of boots on snow peppering the soundtrack. Plus, I’m not as distracted as much as I am in the spring and summer by a dozen different bugs and butterflies to chase after. You still gotta watch out for those dung beetles though.

Canada (Sly 2: Band of Thieves)

sly cooper canada

The Sly Cooper franchise has a serious affection for snow levels. No, really. They are the one constant across all four titles. Here, have some proof in the form of a very direct sentence using a number of semicolons. In Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, you go to China; in Sly 2: Band of Thieves, the gang ventures to Canada; Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves has them moseying back to China; lastly, in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, the trio find themselves lost in time, stuck in the bitterly cold Ice Age.

In Band of Thieves, Canada plays home for two separate, but subsequent episodes and is visually depicted as large expanses of snow, tiny mountains, and ice-covered walls. There’s also moose carrying flashlights, but I think that’s based on actual findings, what do I know. The first Sly game was very linear, but the second outing began to open things up more, offering a hub and a larger area to explore at your leisure. And you could pick between any of the three heroes, and each traversed the snow differently. Aw, this was back before Bentley ended up in a wheelchair, too. My bad.

Well, that’s five really cold, frigid places that I’m okay getting stuck with. Do you have any others to add to this snow pile?

2014 Game Completed Comics, #17 – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

2014 games completed 17 - brothers facebook

Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #16 – Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

2014 games completed 16 - far cry 3 blood dragon facebook

Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.

Brothers, a tale of two analog control sticks

brothers tale of two sons completed

Many might think it is strange that I immediately went from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, but that’s just how I roll sometimes. Kind of needed a bit of a palette cleanser, if you will, from the outlandish exploits of Rex Powercolt. And boy did I get it, both from a story and tone perspective, but also from a control scheme. See, I constantly kept messing up which was the grenade button in Blood Dragon, as it always seems to switch between the shooters I play and have played, like Borderlands 2, Gears of War, and Grand Theft Auto V. There is still plenty of confusion to experience in Brothers, but it never has to do with tossing grenades; I’ll explain in a bit.

Brothers is a game that, not surprisingly, revolves around two brothers. One older, the other younger. They live in a nameless fairytale-like world, which more than likely means death and a lesson is right around the corner. Alas, their father is very sick and dying, and the two boys decide to venture off into the wild in search of a very unique and rare medicine, one that can hopefully save the man that raised them. That really is the meat of the story–two siblings battling the elements to save their father’s life–and while it is pretty simple from a plot perspective, it is delicately handled, with love and care and admiration. You could even almost name Starbreeze Studios as the third brother, looking for the other two.

What makes Brothers stand out, for me, is its control scheme and dedication to not speaking a comprehensible word while still being able to tell a coherent story. We’ll start on the former of those two. Each of the two brothers is controlled by one dual stick; that means there is no switching between them, you are controlling both at all times. If I recall correctly, the older brother is the left stick and left trigger, and the other brother commands the right stick and right trigger. The nameless brothers can each perform unique interactions in the environment, such as swimming or climbing up a ladder, and the game’s puzzles revolve mostly around traversal and using these mechanics in tandem.

A couple months before I played Brothers, I also tried out a little ibb and obb. That’s an indie puzzle platformer on PSN with a very similar control scheme, though it does allow for a second player to control one of the two colored blobs, but I went at it solo and nearly broke my brain. Trying to use both sticks at the same time was quite difficult when precise timing and jumping was at hand. Thankfully, since Brothers is slower paced and much more lax, I was able to control both bodies just fine, except for one area where they are tied together with string, and you have to use them in a steady, physics-based rhythm. Also, there’s a hang-gliding sequence that proved problematic until I figured out how to properly tilt left and right just enough to turn without tumbling down to the ground.

Like many, I played through the entire game in one sitting…and didn’t earn a single stupid, trivial Trophy. I love that. Good on the developers. Evidently, the unlockable Trophies are hidden off the main path and demand that you truly explore the world as you come across it. I thought there might have been on for sitting at every bench, but nothing came of that, and when I find some free time down the line, I think I’ll return to Brothers and take it even slower, scouring the levels for these extra slices of interactivity and the vacuous ping of an unlocked digital picture. This also means I get to spend more time listening to the literally soaring soundtrack again, and that’s fine by me.

Brothers is not a very long or happy journey, about three to four hours, but it is a memorable one. It’s driven by love and compassion, and contains some strikingly gloomy and beautiful visuals that will give you pause, that foreshadow events to come and flesh out the world. There’s a moment near the conclusion of the journey that hits you like a rolling boulder, but I wish it lasted longer, as the impact of all that is quickly swept away by the final cutscene of the game and everything ending. Regardless, this one comes highly recommended.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon stole my neon-glowing cyber-heart

far cry 3 dragon iconic thoughts copy

Well, this was unexpected. Over the course of just a few days, I burned through nearly everything Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon had to offer, and I loved every minute of it. Well, just about. Trying to kill a cyber-shark with a grenade was tedious and based around luck, and some of the “save the scientist” side missions required too much perfect planning to pull off effectively, but otherwise–this was a whole lot of fun. And yes, I find that very strange, considering I’ve never wanted anything to do with the mainstay Far Cry franchise, even the newest one that Blood Dragon takes its engine and mechanics from.

The crazy, totally 1980s-influenced story goes a little like this: Rex Powercolt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando, is on a mission to save the world from the corrupt and evildoings of Colonel Ike Sloan and his Omega Squad. This all takes place in a post-Vietnam War II world, brimming with neon and enhanced super soldiers, as well as a dragon or two. To stop Sloan, Powercolt must go on an epic quest of killing, sneaking, commandeering, and straight-up loving, becoming the badass super soldier he was constructed to be. It’s a bombastic story, but one backed by history, and if you have an appreciation for the genre and era, as I do, having been a boy that watched every single American Ninja film that came out, it’s wonderfully delightful without being stupidly cheesy.

I downloaded Blood Dragon because it was not Far Cry 3, and by that I mean, sure, it looked visually different from the green-and-blue tropical jungle setting where tigers roam and waterfalls fall, but it also wasn’t focused on shooting real people/animals with real guns in a realistic manner, something I have an aversion to. I’d rather shoot super soldiers with a laser beam powered by the amount of health bars I have. It’s not an expansion or piece of DLC; it’s an appetizing, alternate take on sound mechanics, for those that grew up in an era when action heroes spoke gruffly and took on the seemingly impossible. Oh, and all that is backed by a throbbing, synth-heavy soundtrack, that spasms and perfectly sets the mood and kicks into action whenever Powercolt himself, well, kicks into action.

Like a delicious mix of Fallout 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Blood Dragon lets you both run into scenarios guns blazing or be a sneaky, stealthy ninja, taking down enemy soldier quietly from the shadows. Naturally, I prefer the latter until shit hits the fan, and then it’s easy enough to mow enemies down and still be standing at the end of it thanks to an overwhelmingly generous healing system. Easy, but not as much fun. Stealth options include silent kills from behind, attacks from above, bow and arrows, and so on, and you can even chain a stealth kill to another using a throwing star. Tricky to pull off, but when it does, you really feel like a commando that knows the game. When you tag an enemy, you can track their movements, even through walls, which I loved and gave me a bizarre sense of comfort and security, just at least knowing where everyone was in the building.

Truthfully, I was surprised how short and to the point the main story missions in Blood Dragon were. I think there was six or seven of them total, and they aren’t anything more than go here, shoot stuff, protect this guy, shoot stuff, shoot stuff, ride this thing, and shoot more stuff. The real fun, at least for me, is in exploring the island and the side stuff, collecting VHS tapes and TV sets, all of which do factor into unlocking new gear and upgrades. You can buy maps that tell you where each collectible is, and you just have to work out how to get there. Commandeering the garrisons is the real meat of the side activity work, and I would often spend upwards of half an hour trying to take one as quietly as possible; the key is to first destroy the alarm system, so no reinforcements can be called in. They also work as quick travel spots when they become yours, which makes moving around the map much swifter.

Hmm. Let’s see. There are still a couple of Trophies left to unlock, but I think I could really only get two more of them. Can’t remember which enemies I have “headshotted” and which I haven’t, so I will just stick to killing a few more dragons, earning some coin, and buying the rest of the weapon upgrades before finally putting Blood Dragon to bed for good. I may not be looking forward to the next installment in the Far Cry franchise, but I am looking forward to whatever weird, offbeat spin-off comes from it.

Winnose, a surreal puzzle game starring half of a moai statue

winnose final thoughts copy

All right. Deep breath. I’m going to do my best to explain Adult Swim’s Winnose without sounding like a complete crazy goof loose on buckets of acid, but it’s going to be a tough crawl. See, the great Winnowing has devastatingly split the world in two, including you, a moai statue, causing your flower to lose some precious petals. Hopefully you can find your missing pieces and get the world back to a more relaxed, unified kind of life, though that might require a little time-traveling. Spoiler: that’s not going to be a problem.

Created by Todd Luke and Calum Bowen, Winnose is undoubtedly a surreal experience. A fever dream come to life, one you just can’t stop bobbing your head to. It’s half a puzzle game and half a chance to show off its fantastic, flighty soundtrack, ranging from a soft, acoustic lick sung to you by a chicken to an eclectic mix of percussion and culminating with a bouncy, hyperactive J-pop track set out in space. Not lying about any of those things, I swear. This game goes places, carrying you on clouds of strange and unique sounds, certainly ones I don’t get to hear too often.

Playing Winnose is actually quite simple in that your control scheme is limited. You can move around in four directions only via the arrow keys…and that’s it. There’s no jump, no attack, no hold X to charge up your sword for a killer swipe, etc. The main gameplay goal is to reach the screen’s exit; enemies move according to specific patterns or special rules, and the moai head just needs to get by them without making contact. It’s pretty easy in the beginning, but the rules eventually stack, and there’s a lot more to consider later on as you enter and exit different portals. Regardless, I never got stuck for too long, and trial and error works well enough for figuring out the exact path you need to take to move on.

There’s a strange theme in Winnose, and I’m not even talking about its psychedelic, shroom-munching lining. No. There are constant references to, obviously, noses. First and foremost, the name of the game. You hear someone sneeze in one of the early songs, two tracks are called “Snot My Problem” and “Calm Before the Sneeze”, and the final boss battle has you…well, it’s again, without spoiling that truly special moment, related to sneezing. I don’t know if I missed something earlier, but I guess I can only take away from all this that the Winnowing was caused by some giant sneeze. Or maybe it all means something more.

But yeah, if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience and have an hour or two to kill, I urge you all to play Winnose. It’s free and can be sampled in your browser over at Adult Swim’s game page. I evidently missed out a chance to do a super secret speed run after beating it, so I’ll probably be going back real soon; really, I’ll take any excuse I can get to lose myself in this colorfully bizarre state of an underworld, where the beats never stop, not even after you pull yourself together.

Some JRPGs demand you grind from the get-go

grinding early in RPGs GD

I finally got around to trying out that free and standalone-like 3DS demo for Bravely Default: Flying Fairy last night, but this post is not going to be explicably about that game. I need more time with it to both figure out my thoughts and overall opinions, as well as to decide on whether or not I’ll pick up the full retail copy, which drops today. I suspect I will, whether I love or loathe the demo to pieces, because these kind of strange JRPGs are far and few between, and my thinking is that by supporting it with a purchase, I’m helping to make strides towards a North American release for Fantasy Life. Wishful thinking, sure…but it’s better than doing nothing.

But Bravely Default got me thinking about the various RPGs and JRPGs that really make you grind for levels and money from the very start, because, at least in the demo, it downright demands you do it. The very first fight outside of town resulted in one character in my party of four dead, two badly hurt and poisoned, and the remaining member okay at half of his HP. I’m on the default–pun intended–level of difficulty, and I’m pretty good at turn-based combat, but I don’t think I have the whole brave and default techniques down just yet. That said…yowzas. The combat is brutally tough, and so for my first hour and change with the demo, I’ve just been going back and forth to the inn to heal up, fight monsters in the desert, and rinse and repeat until my eyelids grow too heavy to keep playing. It’s honestly not terrible, as I’m used to grinding, but I always find it strange when a game makes it impossible to progress without it at the very beginning of the journey. Let me list a few other examples.

One of my fondest gaming memories, just in general, always comes back to Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. See, when I moved out of my parents’ house and up to northern New Jersey for my newly acquired post-college job, I lived off the grid for several months, relying on previously purchased videogames and DVDs for nightly entertainment while I held off on getting cable and Internet. DQVIII filled that space greatly, but it’s a slow game, and you do have to grind for a little bit in the very beginning at the Waterfall Cave section, otherwise the final boss of that area can wipe your party out quite quickly. If I recall, there’s a small section of healing water you can keep drinking from to restore your team’s health, making this place perfect for grinding, and, at the time, it certainly seemed necessary.

Dragon Fantasy (Book 1) is made up of three different storylines and a strange one-off inspired by all things Minecraft. Ignoring the latter and focusing on the former, of the three separate but connected plots, one storyline, by its very design, requires you to grind a whole bunch before you can even get to the first dungeon and safely explore it at a decent clip. In Ogden’s storyline, he is an old, washed-up man out to make a name for himself again, but that means fighting all the battles by himself, which is slower and more grindy than the other two campaigns. It meant fighting battles until Ogden was nearly out of health, run to the nearest inn, spend some gold to heal, and go back out to do it all over again. Not the most exciting time, but I ended up playing a lot of Dragon Fantasy (Book 1) while watching Netflix or Giant Bomb videos.

The first hour or so of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is both magical and devastating, and not just because something terrible happens to Oliver’s mother. I’m talking about the area just outside the Golden Grove. It still gives me the shivers to this day. The monsters here are so powerful and aggressive that your small team of nobody really doesn’t stand a chance, and so you have two options: run and hope to avoid every fight, or go back into the woods and grind a bit for levels, money, and health-restoring items. Naturally, me being me, I ran for it. Which was not very successful for the first few attempts, though I did eventually get out of the area, only to find myself in an even more dangerous spot, though much more suited for grinding.

Oh boy. Now, truthfully, I only stopped playing Phantasy Star II because the cold weather is here, and the Xbox 360 is in the living room, which gets no heat for the whole horrid season, and so it must wait until the snow melts before I can get back into it. And by it, I naturally mean grinding for levels and much-needed moolah while trying to figure out exactly where to go next. Thankfully, the music is so good that it makes grinding more pleasant than not, but it took me forever just to reach the first Bio-Systems Lab areas.

Hey, remember Eternal Sonata? I sometimes do. Beautiful grass in that game, and it’s not every day you come across an RPG so heavily themed and dedicated to that theme. I mean, really…Polka is a terrible name for a young girl. But whatever. Every now and then, I think about going back and playing it some more. But that would mean starting over because I got to that ghost ship section and found myself severely under-leveled with no hope of gaining enough levels quick enough to defeat…uh, the boss Captain Dolce. From reading up some walkthroughs, it sounds like I messed up and didn’t spend enough time aimlessly grinding when I could. Oh well.

I’m sure if I spent some more time looking through my collection I could come up with another five to ten RPGs that are grind-heavy early on, but I need to end this post somewhere. If you have one I missed talking about, let me know about it in the chat! That is, if you can spare some time away from your efficient, but meticulous level-gaining strategy.