Monthly Archives: January 2015

Prepare to be surprised by Barely Floating’s unlikely hero

barely floating final thoughts gd

Barely Floating likes to challenge your expectations, almost immediately from the get-go. This alone makes it worth seeing, though then you’ll quickly realize it’s a pretty standard point-and-click adventure game once the adventuring begins. Still, kudos where kudos are deserved, and I applaud Stemshock Interactive’s decision to make the star of their game Joseph Lancaster, an old, whiny grandpa, cane in hand and medication pills in his pockets–for certain, he’s no spry Guybrush Threepwood or quick-witted American tourist George Stobbart. Then again, not many can be.

Right. Pirates have taken hostages off a cruise ship, holding them for ransom on The Sea Krait. In comes Agent Morris on a helicopter, a true professional with cool sunglasses and plenty of hostage-saving in his history. However, negotiations quickly take a turn for the worse, forcing Joe–he prefers to be called this–to take actions into his own wrinkled hands. Thankfully, since everyone views him as non-threatening he gets more freedom than the other hostages, allowing him to go from room to room, pointing and clicking to solve puzzles and put his plans into movement.

It’s an adventure game, so expect to collect a lot of items–some traditional, some silly, such as Barbara, an inflatable sex doll–and then use those items on people and other things in a creative manner. There’s also a very large dialogue element to Barely Floating. You can pick from options, but, once in a dialogue with someone, you can also click on things outside the list to ask about them. So, even though the cloth-covered machine isn’t a topic of choice when speaking with Igon, my favorite non-pirate-turned-pirate, selecting it still brings up a reaction and clues. I thought this was implemented really well and even becomes a key part of a puzzle’s solution when it becomes karaoke time.

Everyone on The Sea Krait, except for maybe the captain, directly counter the straightforwardness of Joe and the Wheat family. There’s Igon, who keeps items in his empty eye socket; there’s Pex, an idiot with too much muscle; there’s the bartender with the strange creature living in his dirty beard; there’s horny and severely obese Herr Hindenberg; and so on. This is where Barely Floating sees most of its color and humor shine through, and you strangely become more interested and invested in these lighthearted characters than the rich family actually held hostage.

Here are the parts I got stuck at, forcing me to dig up an online walkthrough. Some puzzles are timing-based, like getting the bartender to wash his beard by accident or having the recently fired geek lob a drink directly into the jukebox. I also struggled to fully comprehend how to handle the karaoke puzzle, though I wasn’t too far off course. Speaking of that, one of the more final puzzles involves using the pirate ship’s navigation system and speaking via text inputs to other ships in the area. Unfortunately, here, the game is looking for very specific phrases and sentences, and though I was close on a few of them, you can’t solve it unless you put in exactly what is desired. Felt this was a bit unfair, and there should’ve been more wiggle room.

I really like Barely Floating‘s look, though some backgrounds could be more detailed than others, and much of the animations are shortchanged. Still, every character is unique and stands out, and the text sort of bobs up and down, like it is floating on the water’s surface, which is a fantastic touch. You don’t have to do any “pixel hunting” as everything essential pretty much pops off the screen. In terms of music, there isn’t a lot of variety, but what is there is good, though it can get tiresome, especially when you realize how much backtracking you have to do–it is, after all, a tiny ship.

Seems like this was originally part of the Summerbatch Volume 1 bundle, which also featured Jailbreak, Nancy the Happy Whore, Patchwork, and PISS. Now, I did not purchase the bundle back in the day, ending up nabbing Barely Floating for free from its AGS page. Of those in the bundle, I’ve already played Patchwork and downloaded a copy of Ben Chandler’s PISS–there really is no good way to say that–but have yet to try out the latter. I wonder if I can find the other two titles elsewhere, though neither are giving me the warm fuzzies from screenshots.

Heads up, this is no short adventure either, with plenty to click on and read. Voice acting would’ve helped in spots, but the writing is fun and mostly to the point. You can, however, go pretty deep in some conversations. I think it took me about an hour and change to see Barely Floating‘s credits roll as the sun set. You can download a copy of the game and see for yourself how long it takes an old geezer to become a hero.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #6 – Barely Floating

2015 gd games completed Barely Floating

Pirates want ransom
Negotiations go wrong
Old man must point, click

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

When I look at stars, I will always think of Starbot

gd starbot thoughts game97

I truly have a soft spot for stories about robots and what it means to be alive, to be living. Blame Ghost in the Shell for changing me at a young age. Granted, games like Machinarium and Secret Agent Clank didn’t explore this concept too deeply, but they starred cutesy automatons and got an easy pass. The only real standout example of myself questioning where the future of artificial intelligence can go is with KOS-MOS, which stands for Kosmos Obey Strategical Multiple Operation System, from Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. And no, I do not believe Claptrap is progress forward. However, Starbot from developer Cloudhime tackles issues of friendship and loyalty in an adorably sweet way, pushing cozy over sermonizing.

Here’s how this little indie adventure goes: two scientists have created a work-in-progress robot in order to fetch parts on additional satellites. While powered down and in a mysterious dream-like realm, this robot befriends a star. Together, they will travel to other satellites, all while avoiding dangerous sloths. In the same vein that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince explored companionship and loss in an absurd, surreal world, Starbot does this twofold, both with its robotic and human characters, namely Lilli and Mat.

Gameplay is exploration-based, using the arrow keys to move Starbot around and some other button to interact with people and things. It might be space and it might be Z, but I can’t remember now. Since this is built in the RPGMaker program, you have that typical stat screen menu that does not need to exist, though it does show you a list of any items you’ve collected. The dream-like realm is more of a maze, often asking you to go through the right door, collect a number of keys, and avoid crossing paths with sloths. Otherwise, it’s all about talking to NPCs, listening to what they have to say, and moving on. Don’t forget to dig through everyone’s trash bins like it’s a Pokemon game.

Now, not everything is clear in Starbot, and maybe that’s done on purpose. For one thing, the use of “egg” never gelled with me, and I still don’t understand what it meant in context to these people, this world. I mean, most houses contain a painting of an egg or multiple eggs, so clearly they are important to people, but I’m not sure how. Or why. Also, even though I read every e-mail between Lilli and Mat, I’m not sure I comprehended everything about their relationship, especially the metal arm bits. As is often the case with smaller indie titles created by a single soul, a solid round of copyediting would help strengthen the already strong, wistful writing. And yes, I’m available for hire, thanks for asking. Just be prepared for me to add about ten more puns to everyone’s dialogue.

Overall, Starbot took me about 45 minutes to get through, and that was me not rushing, really taking everything in, examining all items, listening to the retro soundtrack, and speaking to every NPC multiple times. You might be able to burn through it faster, but I wouldn’t recommend it. After all, good friendships take time to grow.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #5 – Starbot

2015 games completed starbot game

Befriending a star
Digging through trash cans, e-mails
Le Petit Prince shines

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum, Duke Nukem 3D

duke nukem 3d ps3 early impressions gd

If you’re wondering how I can go from playing something like The Incredibles to Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition in one fell swoop, keep on wondering. Call it a palette cleanser, call it a leap of faith, or call it fortuitous timing–whatever helps you sleep at night. See, while I’ve had a copy of 3D Realms’ risqué tour de force from 1996 on the PC, it has sat untouched, uninteresting, especially since I struggled with its keyboard controls upon initially trying it some months back. However, this month, for PlayStation Plus, the first-person shooter with enough catchphrases to appease any 90s macho man action movie fan is a free download, and so I bit. Cue some tastelessly sexual one-liner from the man of the hour.

Real quick–and this will truly be real quick–here’s my history with the Duke Nukem franchise: I played one, and only a little bit of it at that. Yup, of the 15 or so iterations in the series, the only one I can remember experiencing, and through a demo at that, is Duke Nukem: Time to Kill for the original PlayStation. The clearest memories I have of it are time-traveling pig cops and strippers, so there you go. It was not a first-person shooter either, following more in the footsteps of Lara Croft.

Duke Nukem 3D‘s “plot” is nestled not so elegantly between a loud fart and the menu options: As Duke heads for Los Angeles in hopes of taking a vacation, his spaceship is shot down by unknown hostiles. Quickly, Duke realizes that aliens are attacking LA and have mutated the LAPD into horrible monsters. With his vacation plans now ruined, Duke vows to do whatever it takes to stop this alien invasion, including spouting a bunch of corny one-liners if necessary. That’s it. You’ll go from level to level, shooting aliens, with the next goal after that of shooting more aliens. I’m guessing the final action Duke takes in this game is shooting an alien.

This is no graphical masterpiece, nor will I sit here and believe you when you say it was at the time of its release. Everything is pixelated, and not in a good way. The enemies are flat, and I don’t mean that in terms of their personalities; they vanish if you strafe around them too fast. When you use the kick button, Duke tries to stomp whatever is in front of him, and depending on what you position him against, his foot either looks like a kid’s foot or a giant’s foot. That said, still ridiculous. I’m also not a big fan of how Duke appears when presented with a mirror, seemingly ice skating on solid ground. The shooting, y’know, the thing you are doing for the majority of the game, is okay, but often feels empty, like putting a number of bullets into an enemy pillow; I can’t even tell if these shotgun blasts are connecting, but I guess they are since I’m not walking in a bloody pile of skin and bones.

Here’s the best thing about Duke Nukem 3D: secrets! This game is loaded with them, and I’m a big fan of clicking against a wall and having it suddenly swing open to reveal extra health or a new weapon. Ideally, the library in my future dream house with have many hidden cubbies, accessible only if you touch the specific copy of The Hobbit or A Separate Peace. There’s a Trophy for finding at least seventy of them, but there are well over three hundred based off the stats screen. I’m not trying to look up every single one for every single level, but when I do get curious or lost and unsure of what to do next, I’m finding this site to be very helpful.

Progress-wise, I’m just starting the Lunar Reactor, which is level 8 from episode 2, conveniently called Lunar Apocalypse. I really burned through the entirety of episode 1: L.A. Meltdown the first night I started playing, but it seems like the levels have steadily gotten both longer and more challenging. I am also finding myself saving and re-loading more often in fear of losing problems due to some problems I’ll mention in the next paragraph. After this episode, there are two more episodes to go, plus three expansions. Whew, that’s a lot of listening to Duke say “Damn… I’m looking good!” I hope to get through it all, but it might be just the four main episodes, we’ll see.

All is certainly not well in Megaton Edition. For starters, I’ve had the game hard-lock twice (though not at Duke’s war table), stutter and even skip ahead, and lose rewind progress to corruption. It’s a buggy port of an old game, no doubt about it. And then there’s the multiplayer aspect. Oh boy. Granted, I really shouldn’t have expected anything, but I wanted to give it a try. There are two modes after you select a ranked or non-ranked session: one on one or a free-for-all with up to eight players. Unfortunately, horrendous lag makes it nearly unplayable, and any actual interaction, meaning your Duke shooting another Duke, is purely comical. I’ve managed a few kills, but it all came down to auto-aim luck or a decently tossed pipe bomb. It’s just a sad mess.

Here’s to many more dead aliens and outdated pop culture references as I continue forward to be the brainless action hero Duke is destined to be, but only that.

The Incredibles wants you to cross the line and suffer the consequences

the incredibles ps2 final thoughts violet's crossing

After all my years of gaming, I can only recall a few specific moments vividly by name or the tears that I cried as they truly frustrated me, the man with all the patience in the universe. Allow me to name them. That boss fight against Moldorm in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, especially when it could knock you off the level itself, forcing you to retrace your steps. The entire realm of Aquis from Primal, which is all about swimming, but not about good swimming controls. Lastly, there’s that wall jumping section in Super Metroid, which, to this day, is a mechanic I still don’t have down pat. Well, we can now add “Violet’s Crossing” from The Incredibles on the PlayStation 2 to this curmudgeonly list.

I’m actually going to talk a bit about the entire second half of The Incredibles, but I feel like “Violet’s Crossing” is such a special case of fail that it needs its own paragraph or two. Allow me.

For a level that many YouTubers seem to get through in about nine minutes, this one took me forty-one minutes and change; also, I stopped counting how many times I died after twenty or so, especially since you can kill Violet within seconds of gaining control. It’s a stealth mission and the only time you are in control of Violet by herself. For those familiar with the movie, her power is turning invisible, but the game limits this to only a few seconds. Four or three, tops. Your goal here is to reach the end of the level without being caught, as she is killed instantly when spotted, taken down by a single laser beam bullet. Guards are on high alert and can hear her sneaking by if too close or if she brushes against some foliage.

I like stealth, but I guess I should say that I technically like good stealth, and I’m thinking about Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Mark of the Ninja mostly. “Violet’s Crossing” is a terrible stealth level, seemingly created by developers that have never played a stealth videogame in their collective lives. There’s no map, the guards have no vision cones or indication of where they are looking, and you have very limited control of the camera–I wonder if I’ll say the same thing when I revisit Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Throw in a super short period for using her invisibility power, as well as one-shot kills, and this turns into a frustrating spout of patience, of creeping inch by inch forward, hoping to hit a checkpoint and not have to repeat everything over and over. By the end of it, I felt like an AGDQ speedrunner, following a specific path and doing certain button presses, knowing they’d work because I had memorized how the guards moved and where one had to go to avoid them. However, instead of waiting what felt like an eternity for Violet’s Incredi-power meter to fill back up with invisibility juice, I spammed another secret passcode.

The level immediately after this is probably the most fun I had with The Incredibles, as Dash and Violet team up to pilot a bubble shield ball thing and mess around with physics. Basically, you get to bounce around in a bubble, taking out enemy soldiers, turrets, and machinery, while occasionally hitting some sweet jumps. After this, it is back to the same ol’ same ol’, with Mr. Incredible fighting that very same tank mini-boss he fought a few levels back multiple times in a row. It’s maddening, especially since the only way to stay alive and not lose progress and have to do all this repetitive busywork over again is to spam health cheat codes. But get this–The Incredibles is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even have a full health or invincibility cheat code. All you can do is keep typing in UUDDLRLRBAS for 25% health refill….25%. Which depletes quickly when battling a fire-spewing tank. I mean, c’mon, the Konami code used to grant you 30 lives in Contra and dress Qwark up in a tutu in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal.

Ironically, the final final fight against the Omnidroid is not too difficult and kind of fun, so long as you keep an eye on everyone else’s health meters. Plus, after you beat it, you can continue running around the area, throwing rocks and leaping into burning trash bins, as the credits roll. For some reason, it reminded me of a Tony Hawk level. Or maybe my brain was so relieved to be done with this draining process in poor controls and faulty design choices that I was already beginning to think about what to play next. Please note that I did not actually go play Tony Hawk next (more on that in another post).

Oh, and somewhere about halfway through the game, I unlocked “Battle Arena” in the menu option. No, it’s not a local multiplayer slagfest. In it, you play as Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl, placed an arena to face round after round of enemies, culminating in a final tank battle, everyone’s favorite from the main campaign. Why would anyone do this? Well, to earn more bonus items, also known as uninteresting concept art. Here’s the kicker: you get one bonus item at the end of each round, so if you want all twenty of them you’ll need to beat Battle Arena as both superhero spouses. No thanks.

I’m sure it is obvious now from this post and the previous one that I have not had a good time with The Incredibles. A part of me is deeply curious if anything got better in the sequel The Incredibles: Rise of the Underminer, but maybe I should just retire my superhero cape at the ripe age of thirty-one. Also: no capes.

Fallow’s demo is full of sorrow and sleepwalking

fallow demo gd impressions

Fallow had me at “Gothic Americana adventure game,” and so I decided to give rooksfeather‘s personal darling, which looks like a warped version of Pokémon Yellow, a shot. I used to be all about demo trials in my high school years, but other than the special standalone thing for Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, I can’t recall the last time I earnestly tried out a demo. Usually, since I’m so behind as is on current games, I’ll just forget about them for a few months and be surprised when it is actually done and released to the public. However, just the look of Fallow had me hooked. I had to see it in action. Still, nothing tops that Metal Gear Solid demo, which basically gives out the first hour or so of the game for free.

Fallow‘s demo actually ends up providing a ton of background and plot details, but I won’t swear on the Good Book that I understood it all. For starters, you place as Isabelline Fallo, a farmhand in the olden, titular world of Fallow. Unfortunately, she suffers from sleepwalking, often waking up in a new location each morning. This means she has to make her way back home, alone and confused. Plus, it doesn’t help that this isn’t your typical America, brimming with foreign, alien technology and lodestone formations. If I grokked it all correctly, this now desolate and overtaken version of home is the Fallow family’s fault; there was a monument plaque that read something along the line that, as part of their punishment and as a constant reminder, the Fallow family name would now be one letter less–Fallo. Hmm, okay.

As Isabelline makes her way home, she’ll do a lot of exploring, a little investigating, and a pinch of puzzle solving. The puzzles I experienced in the demo are rather straightforward, of the “find the specific item” ilk, but they work well enough. Plus, it is both a joy and bummer to simply exist in this world, to walk around as a beautifully somber guitar lick loops, one not filled with any hope, but written to lull you, put you at ease. I really enjoy how the screen switches over to a first-person shot when you are looking at something worth examining, and if I had any complaints, it is that our sleep-troubled star walks too slow; when your game is mostly walking to and fro, sometimes you just want to hurry along to the next screen, see what else is out there in this strange, crumbling America. The slow pace doesn’t make the backtracking thrilling either.

You too could try out Fallow’s demo or just wait until it is a purchasable product later this year, seeing as it was Steam Greenlit (Greenlighted?) back in November 2014. If I had been paying attention then and saw it and was the kind of soft soul that did things like support upcoming indie developers, I’d have totally upvoted this.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #4 – The Incredibles

2015 games completed The Incredibles PS2 004

Punch, stretch, dash, and hide
The Incredibles are here
A super letdown

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

A Boney Night casts spells and sings songs about beer

a boney night gd overall thoughts

Heavily inspired by the LucasArts and Sierra classics of yesteryear, A Boney Night does not do much to stand out in the crowd. That said, it’s still an enjoyably short, retro point-and-click adventure, featuring hand-drawn backgrounds and original music. Plus, there’s a talking mushroom that you basically pepper-spray in order to bottle its tears. I know I have your attention now.

A Boney Night‘s story is something akin to a one-off episode of a Saturday morning cartoon. For some reason, I keep thinking about The Smurfs, for whatever its worth. Undra, a witch witnessing her later years in life, is suddenly awoken to her talking mushroom making a racket outside. Unfortunately, she needs to create a potion to be able to comprehend its words, and so the quest begins there. Once you do hear what it has to say, you’ll learn that a great evil is taking over the land. Spoilers: it’s zombies. Help Undra stop the undead by teaming her up with Kijo the surprisingly sensitive orc and creating more powerful potions.

Your clickable actions are threefold: examine, touch, and talk. You can do this for every item, person, and noun you come across in the wild, as well as whatever thoughts you have in your inventory. I suggest examining everything at least once, as it sometimes does advance the plot or give you a hint about what you need to do next. All of the puzzles are fairly logical, though I stumbled for a moment on “a dash of honesty” during the first repel aura potion Undra had to make. Here’s a clue: look inside the orc. Despite there only being three actions, I still found it tiring to cycle through them, but I guess that’s just part of that old-school adventuring charm.

A couple small critiques. Strangely, there’s a save/load function included in A Boney Night, but the game seems like you can complete it under an hour. I think I was probably around the thirty-five or forty minute mark, taking my time to read everything and explore all areas. Not really sure if you’d ever need to save your progress, especially since you can’t lose or screw anything up by missing an item. While the game features some catchy original songs, especially the one that plays at Undra’s home, it also does not contain any sound effects, which is a little jarring. I really wanted to hear some loud whooshing when I released that wind potion on the walnut tree. Pretty sure those old LucasArts/Sierra games had sound effects…right?

I ended up downloading A Boney Night to enjoy on my laptop in bed under the heated blanket (what, too much information?), but it looks like you can now play an HTML version of it right in your browser. If you’re looking for a retro point-and-click adventure game starring a witch sporting an attitude and wicked beehive hairdo, here you go.

Gloom is a macabre morsel of merriment

Gloom Hand

Gloom asks you to laugh in the face of others’ displeasure, perfect for an evening of beer, pretzels, and friends, so long as everyone is in the mood to make much mayhem. Also, alliteration. It’s not a great fit for more serious gamers, thirsty for strategy, but I’ve found the game of inauspicious incidents and grave consequences a strong palette cleanser after energy-draining, often soul-crushingly long sessions of Lords of Waterdeep or Kingmaker.

In Keith Baker’s Gloom card game, which came out in 2005, you assume control over the fate of an eccentric family of misfits and misanthropes. There are four families in the base set, each containing five members: Blackwater Watch, Dark’s Den of Deformity, Hemlock Hall, and Castle Slogar. The goal is easy enough: make your family suffer the greatest tragedies possible, and then kill them off one by one. Modifiers like “Was galled by gangrene” and “Was swindled by salesmen” add negative points to your people by lowering their self-worth, and the player with the lowest total family value after an entire line has been wiped out wins.

Gloom‘s gameplay is rather simplistic, but still requires some planning. Each turn, you get two actions to play modifiers on your family or an opponent’s, event cards, and untimely death cards. Please note you can only kill someone on your first action every turn, preventing you from loading Lord Wellington-Smythe up with a lot of self-worth and then forcing him to kick the bucket. The event cards can really shake things up, but other than them, it’s perfunctory card action, with a few rule changes to pay attention to, all of which are stated directly on the cards themselves.

The real magic behind Gloom is in the stories it births. When you take control of a family, you play the narrator of their lives, coming up with reasons why they went here or there and did this or that. It’s better to play a modifier with passion and reason than simply to give a character negative 15 self-worth. Sure, it takes imagination and effort, but it is worth the storytelling, especially when you begin to link your families with others, like the time I decided that Butterfield, the butler for Hemlock Hall, was actually married to Grogar, Professor Slogar’s work-in-progress teddy bear, after receiving the “Was wondrously well wed” modifier card from another player. Keep the stories alive, and the game, even when it slows down due to card shortages or roadblocks, remains bursting with flavor.

It’s hard to know what I love most about Gloom: the art or design of the cards. Both work hand in hand. All of the cards are transparent, which makes it so easy to see how the modifiers stack on top of a family member. Plus, they’ll survive an accidental soda spilling before all them Munchkin cards. The macabre and gloomy artwork, done by Scott Reeves, Lee Moyer, and Todd Remick, as well as heavy use of alliteration, will make many think of Edward Gorey instantly, but there’s also room for some influence from The Addams Family comics and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Regardless, fans of ominous Victorian horror will delight at the family member depictions, though the majority of the other cards lack personality.

I brought Gloom home-home during the holidays to play with my sisters, but we never got the chance due to all the to-and-for hubbub, charades, and Scrabble bouts. Hopefully we can make up for this over the summer so long as no one is stalked by snakes or sleepy from the sun.