Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Half-hour Hitbox: May 2014


Well, it’s not been a busy month of videogame-based blogging, and there are reasons for that. It’s not for a lack of content or even potential content; I’m continuing to play games, as you’ll still see below. It’s just been harder to concentrate on putting my thoughts together. Distractions, decisions, determined dates dancing in the distance. Yes, I love alliteration–why do you ask? You could blame dayjobbery stress, but there’s more to this story than that. Unfortunately, I’m not sure when I’ll get to tell it. I hope you’ll continue to stick by me, even if content on Grinding Down is more sporadic than usual.

On the flippy-flip side, I’ve at least been making a dent in my goal to draw a comic for every videogame that I beat this year. Just follow the tag, and let me know what you think of ’em.



I finally bit the bullet on this one, seeing as the Game of the Year version for PS3 was only $20 and came with a whale buttload of extra content. Alas, I’ve not been able to play too much, only getting past the first mission after the prologue part. Dishonored is certainly a game of options; however, I’ve found the stealth elements very hard to grasp, and was spotted almost instantly in the first mission, which threw off my whole plan. Then I got spotted a few more times trying to sneak in and out of some buildings, grrr. I ended up murdering more guards than I ever planned to, which does bother me. I do like the Blink power, but I might just have to give in and focus on a more aggressive approach than slinking in the shadows.

The Valley Rule

the valley rule 25829-shot0

Created by Ryan Carag and Bill Kiley in a single weekend for Ludum Dare 29, The Valley Rule is an extremely impressive puzzle platformer in the same vein as Fez minus all the world turning, and I didn’t even have to get very far into it to be able to say that confidently. The story is simple, but enough: you play as a young red-haired girl stuck “beneath the surface” and trying to find a way up. A giant door blocks your path, and you need to collect four Tri-force-shaped crystals to open it. I was only able to gather one before ending up in room that required you to climb up the wall to the right, but not in a traditional manner, and I eventually gave up and fell into the milky water of death below. I highly recommend you check it out regardless of my lackluster wall-climbing skills.

Spyro the Dragon

spyro review4

Last month, there was a strange flash sale on the PlayStation Network, offering a bunch of PS1 games for only a dollar each. And some other good deals. But my eyes saw only what they wanted. Naturally, I jumped on this and grabbed a good amount of PS1 goodies, as well as Tokyo Jungle, which I promise to check out one of these dang days. Anyways, I’ve never actually played anything more than a demo for Spyro the Dragon, and so I was genuinely excited to check in on a franchise that I had missed out on, and with its first impression too. In short, you’re a tiny dragon out collecting gems and freeing big dragons from being turned into statues. There’s little story and a lot of gems to collect, and it’s kid-friendly fun, even if the PS1-era camera rears its ugly head from time to time.

Sid Meier’s Civilization V


I bought Civ V–that’s what all the cool kids call it, right?–in some Steam sale many moons ago. I even installed it at some point. But I only finally got around to playing a match this month. It’s much more detailed and engaging than that other Civilization thing I played on the Xbox 360, but after two hours and change, I still hadn’t won. Or lost. Or done altogether poorly or great. Just destroyed some barbarians and built some wonders. I played as Germany, and just did a lot of researching and army-building. This kind of game might all just move too slow for my liking, when you really break it down. I did save my progress so at least I can pop back into the match later, but I might have to be more aggressive to see it to its end.


iris game

Made for the most recent Global Game Jam, Iris is described as a “puzzle platformer with a special twist on how to view things.” Basically, you control a tiny red-headed girl with the A and D keys moving her left and right, and W for a little hop. Your mouse controls a ball of light that, when placed on top of the world, show an alternative take on things. That toothy monster is now a friendly bunny, safe for you to walk past, so long as the iris light remains on top of it. The game itself is quite short, but packs a good punch, and I could definitely see this mechanic evolving, becoming something more than just a special twist.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


Again, for those that don’t remember, I’ll play any LOTR-related videogame. No, really, I will. Here is proof; heck, I even bought Aragorn’s Quest a second time for the Nintendo DS to see if it was any different from the PlayStation 2 version. Spoilers: it’s not. Well, I don’t even have the case/manual for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, as I bought it at GameStop some time ago, and it only came in those yellow sleeves. Interestingly enough, the game starts terribly slow and mundane, but I really enjoyed running around Hobbiton doing small tasks for friends and putting everything in order for Bag End before it is off to Rivendell for Frodo Baggins. Alas, there’s a badly done “sneak past the Black Riders” part that currently has me roadblock. The game is supposed to be an action hack-n-slash, but I’ve yet to hit a single thing with Frodo’s stick. Hmm.


Transistor 429488-2

Transistor is the big game of the month, for sure. I just wish I had more time to devote to it, and, unfortunately, unlike Bastion, it is not captivating me enough to want to just sacrifice everything else around me for it. I mean, I really love the art style and atmosphere, but the story is unclear–only about an hour or so in, but c’mon, I should at least have a coherent idea of why Red is doing this or that other than just videogame–and the combat, fun in some parts, is difficult and overwhelming. I’ve been scared to experiment too much with the different nodes and functions. Also, whenever I reach the beach area where you can participate in tests and challenges, the game crashes to desktop. I’m secretly waiting on a patch to hopefully fix this.

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.

The Walking Dead is a lot less game, but still fun

TWD Carver season 2 overall imps

I’m not really here to talk about the unfolding events of Telltale Games’ season two for The Walking Dead and what latest hole Clementine and company have dug for themselves this time. In short and without spoiling things, people get hurt, both by zombies and their fellow humans, and there’s traveling and dashed dreams and madman-inspired plans and–everyone’s favorite–many soul-crushing decisions, which you have to often make in a split second. Y’know, basically everything that was great from The Walking Dead‘s first season is back once more. Well…maybe not everything.

In this episodic adventure series’ first season, back when you controlled smart, encouraging Lee Everett, it was very much a traditional point-and-click experience, but on a console and with a focus for storytelling and action-heavy sequences. You still explored scenes, talked to people, collected clues and items for your inventory, and solved puzzles using those items on other things. However, over the first three episodes of season two, namely “All That Remains,” “A House Divided,” and “In Harm’s Way,” I’ve noticed the game losing most of those elements, turning into more of a linear product of pure interactive fiction than anything else. I still love it and have a blast deciding who is going to remember what, but it does kind of bum me out that there’s less to do creatively–and, for lack of a better word, videogamey–between big scenes. I mean, remember when you got to play detective with Duck and actually solve a mystery; those days are long gone, I’m afraid.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that The Walking Dead has now infected–yes, pun intended–every piece of technology capable of playing a videogame. Yup, talking about mobile devices like iPhones and iPads. You can clearly see the developers thinking about this subset of gamers, given how many more action scenes rely on “swiping” as a means of a quick time event instead of just button prompts. It’s a little weird using a controller to press down via the analog stick to have Clementine hide from an incoming zombie, but maybe it feels more effective on a touch-based device. That said, it’s now a game series of dialogue choices (good!) and QTEs (bad!) and backseat steering (very bad!), which probably works better on mobile devices than the places The Walking Dead was initially born.

Let me slightly spoil a section from the latest episode–“In Harm’s Way”–to get my point across about how stripped and, dare I say, dumbed down The Walking Dead is at this point. Gameplay-wise, people. Gameplay-wise. So, Clementine is sneaking into an office to turn on a PA system for…well, reasons. You get into the office via a cutscene, walk over to a desk and inspect the PA system with the press of a button. Upon a closer look, you can then press a switch to flip on the external speakers. You do that; there is no other way to try things, you only have one choice to move forward with the “puzzle.” Then you are told to turn on the mic, so you try, and it’s not working. A quick cutscene has Clem then following the power cords from the PA system over to the CD player, which you try to turn on, only to find out there is no CD in its tray. The camera then does this back and forth motion, as if searching, and you instantly see a CD right next to the CD player. Sigh. You click on the CD, and the puzzle, if you want to call it such a thing, is does. Your hand was held the entire time, and there weren’t even any options to try things differently or mess up. Like, all you had to do, Telltale Games, was hide the CD in the room, anywhere, and have Clem actually search for it.

Trust me when I say that I’m, without a doubt, finishing this second season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. I’m too invested in the story at this point, but knowing how much has changed with the gameplay bums me out enough to wonder that, if I have a mobile device capable of playing the probable, but not yet announced third season when it does drop in late 2015 or early 2016, I might just experience it there. True, I’ll be losing all of my choices I’ve made up to that mark, but what do choices matter in a world where you are no longer in control? Yes, Paul will remember that.

Also, I’m deeply worried about what Telltale Games is going to do with Game of Thrones. We all remember how Jurassic Park: The Game turned out, right?

2014 Game Completed Comics, #28 – Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, Episode 1 – “Fright of the Bumblebees”

2014 games completed 28 wallace episode 1 resized

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, #27 – The Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 2 – “A House Divided”

2014 games completed 27 twd a house divided resized

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.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is colorful, cutesy, and full of genocide

dust-5 early imps

From what I’ve read on the always trustworthy Interwebz, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a polarizing game. Meaning, there’s the people that love it, and the people that hate it. And from what I’ve played, which is maybe an hour and change, enough to have at least opened up the map and availability of a number of side quests, I think it all comes down to whether you are a big enough person on the inside to unabashedly accept a game with cutesy, colorful–and I mean that in two ways–characters that harken back to that era of safe, but satisfying Saturday morning cartoons. Because everything else seems solid, if perhaps a little perfunctory and possibly unnecessary in some areas. We’ll get there, kids.

Welcome to the world of Falana, which is inhabited by any great number of anthropomorphic animals. You get to see the world and its people–if you can say such a thing–through the titular main character Dust as he tries to remember his past. Yup, it’s another main character suffering from short-term memory loss; at least he’s not mute. Anyways, right at the start, Dust finds a sentient sword called the Blade of Ahrah, which will be his main fighting weapon. Ahrah’s original guardian, Fidget, a flying squirrel-fox-thing, also joins the group and is able to toss magical orbs at enemies from afar. I don’t know much more about the story, except there’s monsters and a village and I think the monsters want to kill all the talking furry folks. There’s that and trying to reconnect Dust with his surroundings.

So that’s the story…kind of. Gameplay-wise, Dust: An Elysian Tail is basically a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up of yore. Think Odin Sphere and Shadow Complex rolled into one. Or if you want something more artsy, maybe Aquaria. Basically, you move left or right across a grid-based map, fighting monsters, building high combo counts, and earning experience points for it all. Oh, and you can also acquire loot in the form of ingredients and materials. Occasionally, at least early on, Dust acquires power-ups that permanently alter how he fights and moves, such as double jumping or being able to combine Fidget’s magic with one of his attacks for more damage. The RPG elements allow Dust to level up and put points into certain stats (health, damage, defense, magic), as well as wear different types of gear and craft new equipment. And that’s more or less everything I’ve seen so far.

Honestly, I don’t have any problem with furries, though I’m finding the story a little slow and predictable at the moment…at least until the other shoe drops in relation to Dust’s past and how he factors into all this genocide. Thankfully, the fighting is a ton of fun, even if it can quickly go wrong or become chaotic and confusing. If you know what you’re doing before you start tapping buttons, you can have total control over an entire group of enemies, much like you can in Guacamelee!, which I do need to get back to soonish. I enjoy knocking enemies up into the air, juggling them for a bit, and then pile-driving them into the earth below, sometimes hitting some other enemies along the way. It’s fun if occasionally mindless.

One aspect to RPGs of all kinds that I’m finding less and less appealing as time goes on is that moment when you arrive in a town, generally your first safe spot, and everyone under the sun has a side quest to give you. For Dust: An Elysian Tail, this happens in Aurora Village, and you can’t help but collect quest after quest as you walk left to right towards the mayor’s house. I think you end up picking up around five or six additional quests before you can move on, and sure, most of them aren’t thinkers, just asking you to collect this or that while out battling monsters, but it felt a little exhausting. I remember feeling the same when arriving at Borderlands 2‘s hub of Sanctuary, as well as stepping foot in every single Skyrim town. Quantity does not always equal quality.

This always gets talked about when I come across something Dust-related to read, so I might as well join in and mention that the game was developed by independent designer Dean Dodrill…and mostly only himself. Sure, there’s voice actors and a bunch of other stuff you might not think about, but Dodrill drew, animated, programmed, test, rebuilt, and so on. I believe it took him around four years to put a cap on his furry game’s head, and that’s one amazing accomplishment, whether the game resonates with you or not. There’s a fantastic piece over at Polygon on his plight, which I suggest y’all check out.

I’m going to keep playing for sure, as the difficulty hasn’t reared its ugly head, and it feels like the kind of game I can just chink away at over the next few weeks. Here’s to finding out what dirty deeds Dust did in his past life.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #26 – Tomb Raider

2014 games completed 26 - tomb raider resized

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, #25 – Beyond Good & Evil HD

2014 games completed 25 - beyond good and evil hd resized

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.

Golf is not a fair game in The Bogey Man

wallace bogey3g

Ah, here we are, the final episode of Telltale’s Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures. It all began with bee-growing trouble in Fright of the Bumblebees, then delved into the ins and outs of running one’s own in-door beach resort in The Last Resort, and lastly dealt with a con-man trying to steal dogs and dough simultaneously in Muzzled! This fourth episode focuses very much on the sometimes relaxing, sometimes stressful game of golf. I’m going to honestly try my best not to load this blog post up with a zillion golf puns, but understand that you are asking me to resist doing what I love most, and so it’s a challenge. Like, all I really want to do is say that after three episodes of pointing, clicking, and rather routinely solving puzzles, this final act is actually just more of the same…par for the course, if you will.

Anyways, The Bogey Man, unlike the other episodes, picks up immediately where the other one left off, and I’m going to have to spoil what happened at the end of Muzzled! in order to explain why Wallace is out doing what he’s doing. See, in a moment of pure coincidence, Wallace accidentally proposed to Felicity Flitt and is currently awaiting her answer. We all know he wants to live the single life and spend his hours noodling away with inventions in the basement, but Miss Flitt seems good to go, so long as Wallace isn’t a member of the snooty country club called the Prickly Thicket. Cue Wallace–and when put to it for his master, Gromit–doing everything possible he can to, first, get in the club and, second, ensure it stays operating since Constable Dibbins is set to close it down out of pure jealousy. All for love, of course.

You do get to play some golf in The Bogey Man, but strangely it is never on an actual golf course. I found the game’s cover art very misleading. Instead, you’ll play two holes–read two puzzles–through town and Wallace’s own home, as well as figure out a memorization-heavy riddle back in the country club’s headquarters, which requires Wallace and Duncan McBiscuit to hit a series of five paintings in a set order. I found the finding the three keys puzzles to be overwhelming and unfocused, especially since you get clues for all of them in one bang and are then left to attack them as you please. These required some back and forthing, and I eventually looked up the solution to one of them after growing frustrated. Everything else was pretty easy to figure out as, again, you only have so many items and options available to you, so trial and error will get you to the end eventually.

The previous three games focused on a big baddie villain–queen bee, devil dogs, mustached menace–while The Bogey Man is…more reserved. Though Duncan can be a jerk. Sure, there’s a complicated mechanism in the country club that goes haywire to protect its deed, forcing Gromit to unravel things while Wallace and friends are trapped inside a room quickly filling with sand–see, a sand trap–but otherwise, it’s a pretty low-key affair. Instead, you learn a lot more about Wallace, Gromit, Duncan, and Miss Flitt’s ancestors, and even Major Crum gets an interesting piece of dialogue now and then. It’s quieter and probably not what you’d expect in a finale, but I enjoyed getting to know where these characters came from, and seeing some resolution for the Flitt/McBiscuit sub-plot was a nice touch, one I didn’t expect to see right there, minutes before the credits rolled.

Well, with Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures now played and done, I can move on to…other episodic series of adventure games. Like Back to the Future or Sam & Max, still sitting pretty and uninstalled in my Steam library. Or maybe I should go back to focusing on smaller, singular experiences. I do need to eventually get around to Ben Chandler’s PISS, which is a weird thing to write, as well as the latest–and last–ghost-absolving journey for Joey and Rosangela in The Blackwell Epiphany. Hmm. Choices, choices…

2014 Game Completed Comics, #24 – Pokemon Y


2014 games completed 24 - pokemon y resized

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.

Disney Magical World simply asks you to collect the world

disney magic castle 3DS 36176608

I ended up nabbing a copy of Disney Magical World for the Nintendo 3DS a couple weeks ago and have been chipping away at it ever since. The first GameStop I went to, however, didn’t even have a single copy available since, according to the slack-jawed guy behind the counter, “We got no pre-orders for it.” Hmm. I went home defeated, but returned a few days later to a different GameStop and was lucky enough to snatch from the shelves their only copy. I guess the game isn’t in high demand, since everyone probably has Animal Crossing: New Leaf to keep them busy daily, and I get that. But I was also very curious about what Disney Magical World does differently. Surprisingly, a lot.

First off, you’re not the mayor of this magical castle and the realms surrounding it. Instead, you’re you. Well, at least I am. You can either create an avatar from scratch or use a Mii you’ve previously created, and I love seeing my Mii in action in games like Find Mii 2, so I went down that path. Plus, for a game all about customizable clothes, I want to see what I look like in a Mickey-themed apron–and only a Mickey-themed apron–not some passable clone of an avatar. Anyways, you’re dropped into this magical world with no big, hard goal to complete; instead, you’re out to earn stickers, which will help unlock other areas in the hub world, as well as give you new recipes for clothes, furniture, and other stuff. Early on, you’ll unlock one thing after another, so the pacing and progression is constantly rewarding, but around the 28-33 sticker mark, I hit a lull and had to actively plan on getting some stickers to help keep things going forward. Not a major problem, really, as by then there’s plenty of other stuff to occupy your brain even if, technically, progress is stalled.

See, Disney Magical World is one big collectathon. If you don’t know what that means, it’s a combination of collectibles and marathon, and that’s the fuel driving every action you more or less take here. In all the various hub worlds, spots on the ground will shimmer just like in JRPGs like Dragon Quest IX and Ni no Kuni, indicating an item to find, and these glow spots refresh pretty quickly if you’re looking to grind for, say, balloon apples. You can also gain items from fishing, doing miscellaneous fetch quests, and killing ghosts (more on that later). Some of these items are good for selling, some for mixing to create recipes, and some for making clothes and furniture. And some are more rare than others, requiring you to devote a decent chunk of time to fishing or planting crops to gain ’em. It’s a lot of alchemy without the alchemy pot, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s taking one item and fusing it with another to create something even cooler.

Pretty early on, you end up being the manager of the local café, which I decided to call the Drinkpad. This means you can select and create the dishes served for customers, change the room’s layout and theme, and throw big parties, the kind that might even gain the attention of some of the bigger Disney characters, like Stitch and Cinderella. There are even café-specific quests to complete, and this is where you’ll make most of your money, so long as you keep on top of inventory stock and what the people really want. Eventually, you’ll get to live above the café and can also decorate your bedroom a bit; not to the crazy extent of some other life simulator, but enough to make it feel like yours. I appreciate the ability to change your background music.

Strangely, my favorite aspect of Disney Magical World, so far, is the combat. Yeah, you read that correctly–the combat. Whenever I describe the gameplay of Animal Crossing: New Leaf to someone, I always make sure to mention that there’s no fighting, no boss battles, and hand-to-hand violence. That you just live a life and collect stuff and make your own non-violent fun. And the same can be said here as well, but you also get to take on missions that have you dungeon-crawling and zapping ghosts with your wands. It’s not a very complicated system; you can shoot a blast of energy from your wand with a simple button tap or hold to charge up for a stronger shot. Depending on your gear, you also get a set number of magic spells to use, though you can refill these as you go along, gathering items, hitting switches, and exploring the map. Instead of a roll, you can twirl out of the way of enemies by hitting the shoulder button, and that’s pretty important as, so far as I’ve seen, there’s no way to recover your health along the way. At the end of each dungeon is a boss ghost, complete with a long health bar to deplete, and upon kicking its butt, you’re rewarded even more items for your inventory. It’s not very challenging, but it helps break up the pace of simply running around, farming glow spots.

Honestly, there’s a lot to this game. I’ve not even touched on everything, though this post is now getting kinda long. I’ll write more later, I knows it. But yeah, just like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Disney Magical World is perfect for picking up and playing for ten or fifteen minutes only to realize a half hour has gone by and I still need to collect more character cards and check on Pooh’s garden and find a pumpkin so I can go to Cinderella’s ball and and and…