Monthly Archives: March 2015

The untouched stealth games in my collection

GD more stealth games in the pipeline

I’m either just about done with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater or totally done with it, now ready to bounce back to focusing on putting Queen Brahne and her big queeny bum in their respective places in Final Fantasy IX. That said, my recent time of crawling lovingly slow through tall grass or donning a gator mask and gently wading through a marsh past enemies has reaffirmed that I love stealth games. Sure, I don’t love them as much as I enjoy roleplaying games, especially the Japanese ilk, but I’d put them right under there in the number two spot, rubbing shoulders with point-and-click adventures.

Glancing over both my tangible collection of games and ever-growing digital stash, I realized I have a ton of stealth games still to play, still to compare to Snake’s skills and style from the Metal Gear series. Oh, and for those following along, the next three to conquer–Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes–will be all new to me; I hope I can get through them in time for the recently announced release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain this upcoming September 1.

Let me talk briefly about a few other stealth titles that I’m champing at the bit to try, but am resisting in order to not take on too many games at once. Hopefully I can experience all of these sooner than later.

Counterspy

A recent PlayStation Plus freebie for March 2015. CounterSpy is a 2.5D side-scrolling stealth game from Dynamighty, with a stunning, stylistic look. It comes across like you’re playing a Cold War propaganda poster. It’s not a traditional stealth game, but I’m looking forward to sneaking through enemy bases and stopping nuke launches without anyone being the wiser. It sounds like some of the camera angles can be problematic.

Thief

Another freebie for PlayStation Plus users, though I don’t remember if I downloaded it this year or late last year. Oh well. I have it on my PlayStation 3, and though many reviews were critical of Thief and disappointed in how it turned out, I still want to give it a try. The idea of shooting out torches with “water” arrows is amusing.

Dishonored

Let me come clean: I have not given Dishonored a fair shake. I have the game in two forms actually: the “Game of the Year” edition for PlayStation 3 and a free digital copy on the Xbox 360. Yup, I bought the game and then a few weeks later got a free copy. Whatever. I only really played it once and found the first true mission–where you have to eliminate High Overseer Campbell–a real disappointment. The stealthing is so clunky and finicky, and I totally flubbed my way through it, murdering more people than I preferred for a silent assassin. Maybe I’m terrible at Dishonored, or maybe I need more practice.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell

I’ve never read any of Tom Clancy’s Sam Fisher-driven books, but they seem like solid action-lead espionage adventures. Interestingly, the primary focus and hallmark of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell , especially the gameplay for the first game in the series, is a heavy emphasis on light and darkness. Players are expected to use shadows to their advantage. This sounds like a fun mechanic, similar to Snake’s reliance on camouflage in the jungle. Plus, I’ll take any chance I can to don thermal goggles and spot hot bodies from afar.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Look, I know that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is more of a military turn-based tactical alien invasion/planetary defense strategy game than anything strictly stealth-oriented, but there does appear to be some elements of stealth in the gameplay to appreciate. I’ve never been a huge fan of the RTS genre, but there’s something intriguing about this one, something that I did enjoy in Fire Emblem: Awakening–permadeath. That risk/reward of popping out from behind a rock and not instantly evaporating an alien, which results in your named soldier buying the farm.

Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark

Originally called Stealth Bastard Deluxe: Tactical Espionage Arsehole, the renamed Stealth Inc is yet another PlayStation Plus freebie that I downloaded and then never played. Its gameplay has been likened to both Metal Gear Solid and…Super Meat Boy. Not sure how the latter of that comparison works, but I’ll give it a whirl nonetheless. It seems to come packaged with a serious case of attitude, too.

Hitman games

Though I had a horrible time with Hitman: Blood Money, I still have a few more to try, such as Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and Hitman: Contracts. I’ve also only played the first level of Hitman: Absolution, so, much like how I treated Dishonored, I need to dig into this one a little more. I am a big fan of taking Agent 47 and dressing him up in a range of colorful costumes to get him through a scenario, but some of the mechanics from those earlier titles are a bit too wonky to grok. Like tossing coins and strangling dudes with wires, both of which I imagine are extremely important to master in order to remain undetected.

Lastly, there are some intriguing stealth games coming out later this year, such as Volume from Thomas Was Alone‘s Mike Bithell, Invisible, Inc. from those fine folks at Klei Entertainment that previously amazed me with Mark of the Ninja, and probably some others I either don’t remember or know they exist yet.

As you can see, there’s plenty of material for me to crouch-walk my way through, even if it takes me an eternity. If you can think of any other great stealth games I should try out, let me know, and I’ll add them to my mental list.

An endless supply of handsome princes to Little Briar Rose’s rescue

little briar rose gd overall impressions

The original version of Sleeping Beauty by the Brothers Grimm, meaning the non-Disney take or even the more recent stab via Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, tackles such hot topics like adultery, bigamy, murder, rape, suicide, and even cannibalism. Yes, this is how fairy tales went back then. Thankfully, Little Briar Rose from Elf Games is not quite as dark as its source material, both in look and narrative, though we never do see what happens once the prince makes it to the castle, leaving that ending to either your Disney-slanted imagination or something more horrifying, the kind of twist that George R.R. Martin would appreciate.

But what is Little Briar Rose, other than a different name for a complicated tale of a comatose princess? It’s a point-and-click adventure game using a stunningly gorgeous stained glass art style, revolving around this plot: a princess has fallen under a curse that puts both her and her whole kingdom to sleep, with thick briar bushes blocking the way inside her kingdom, and the only way to break the curse is for a prince to awaken her with a true love’s kiss on the lips. However, in order to clear away much of the thick briar bushes and open up a path forward, the prince must first help the magical denizens of the forest. There are wishes to be granted still. Some are basic fetch quests, some involve a wee bit of puzzle solving, some are multiple choice-driven, and they all require a lot of backtracking.

Overall, Little Briar Rose isn’t a very long adventure. I think there are a total of five or six screens to explore, with plenty of revisiting between them all to solve every last puzzle and clear away those thorny vines. One puzzle asks you to construct a house based on a crude drawing, another requires you to gather specific information and relay it correctly, and the remainder involves finding items and giving them to the right non-playable character. Here’s the main deal: you’ll need to talk to everyone you’ve met, multiple times depending on the situation, to be set on the right track. If you feel stuck or unsure how to push the puzzle forward, go and talk to every merman, fairy, and gnome you see. Even that crow atop those mushrooms. Talk, talk, talk. Some of the dialogue is a little tedious to sift through, but it is well-paced and amusing for the most part. Obviously, the game’s art style is a delight to behold–and I wanted more screens to gawk at more colorful images–though the limited soundtrack grows tiresome quickly.

Interestingly, you can fail at several of the puzzle scenarios in Little Briar Rose, resulting in the death of your prince. No worries though as a new one quickly shows up to carry on the previous one’s torch and try again. This prince will have a new name and differently-colored hair and clothes, but otherwise, it’s just another empty husk to move around the game’s world and do your bidding. Adventure games like Gemini Rue and Beneath a Steel Sky have implemented death before, but they actually abide by the laws of death; here, it doesn’t make sense or even feel necessary. All it does is kill a few more minutes, making you backtrack to whatever puzzle you were at, as well as redo the steps you previously took to begin solving it if you forgot to save beforehand. I’d rather have seen some kind of “lolz you so wrong, prince, try again!” message rather than this, and trust me, I saw enough new princes spawn to earn an Achievement notification. Seeing as that was the only Achievement to pop up during my time in Princess Aurora’s land and that there’s no way to even view them, it came across as a waste.

I don’t want to come across too negative, as it was an enjoyable and certainly unique adventure gaming experience. At least there was no cannibalism. You can grab a copy for zero dollars for either Windows or Mac OS X at Elf Games’ website. I also scrolled through the developers’ blog, and it seems like Little Briar Rose is going through some revamping, with new art to come. I might give it another go down the line, curious to see what else changes.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #23 – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

2015 games completed mgs3

Destroy Shagohod
By sneaking, CQC-ing
Through awkward cutscenes

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.

Healing radio frequencies are Naked Snake’s escape

metal gear solid 3 cure radio thoughts

I’m actively not looking up every secret or Easter egg for Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but a scan through its Trophy list revealed something I never even knew existed back when I played the game in 2004 slash 2005, on the good ol’ PlayStation 2 in my bedroom at my parents’ house while home from college. I’m specifically talking about healing radio frequencies, seeing as I already knew how to make Snake throw up after spinning him in circles via the surgery screen.

In short, there are special frequencies you can tap into to hear a song play and get your health healed at the same time. Music really is magical. There are eight in total, and once you dial in to them, they stay in your menu of codec options for future use, such as when you run out of life medicine, so long as you don’t mind kicking back and digesting a tune or two. Trust me–I don’t mind, not when the songs are this good.

For those that wanna try ’em out yourselves, drop to one knee and switch to any of these following frequencies, though they might be different for other difficulty settings than Normal:

  • 141.85 – “Don’t Be Afraid” by Rika Muranaka
  • 142.09 – “Sea Breeze” by Sergei Mantis
  • 143.32 – “Sailor” by Starry K.
  • 144.86 – “Jumpin’ Johnny” by Chunk Raspberry
  • 145.83 – “Salty Catfish” by 66 Boys
  • 146.65 – “Rock Me Baby” by 66 Boys
  • 148.39 – “Surfing Guitar” by 66 Boys
  • 148.96 – “Pillow Talk” by Starry K.

Before I go and confirm anything, I have to wonder if any of these groups are real. I’m no Matt Pinfield from 120 Minutes, but I’m pretty up and up on music, especially fascinating with stuff from the 1940s through the 1960s. Clearly, Chunk Raspberry is a punny play on Chuck Berry, but that still could be someone imitating the legendary pioneer of rock and roll music.  Is the name Sergei Mantis a nod at Psycho Mantis from Metal Gear Solid? Was he originally a lead guitar player in a sultry jazz band before becoming the kind of man that reads your memory card data and tells everyone how much you love the Suikoden series? Not that I mind that, of course.

Okay, I did a little digging. As it turns out, all of the healing radio tracks were actually written by Norihiko Hibino, who selected song titles and artist names as a parody of music in the 1960s. I’m not sure if Hibino played all the instruments as well, but regardless of that…yowza. Pretty cool. I’m a big fan of Starry K already and would totally buy a t-shirt after one of their fictitious concerts. Since discovering these frequencies, I listened to all eight of them in a row to get a Trophy, but have popped one or two, not while injured, but when just chilling in some heavy brush or atop a cliff, enjoying the view. No one tells Big Boss how to his music; I know the years don’t match up, but it would’ve been great to have a Bruce Springsteen track in there as well.

I’m not 100% thorough when it comes to calling everyone on the codec, in every new situation or desperate moment, but I can’t recall these radio frequencies ever being brought up. By Major Zero, by Para-Medic, by Sigint, by EVA. I imagine people just stumbled on to them by accident at first. Either way, I think they are one of my favorite Easter eggs ever; it would’ve been one thing to just include a Chuck Berry song in there, but to go to the effort to write a song to mimick Chuck Berry and the times…that’s some Hideo Kojima-esque level of dedication.

Also: one of the healing radio frequencies should’ve played Snake Eater‘s main theme, which fully recovered Naked Snake’s health and stamina, as well as made him invincible for a short period of time. You know it’s a good idea.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #22 – Little Briar Rose

2015 games completed little briar rose gd

Thick, briar bushes
Block the prince’s path, to love
Click pretty stained glass

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.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater takes on a 1960s Soviet jungle setting

mgs 3 snake eater gd early impressions

I’ve only played through Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater once in my life, and I remember very little, save for the obvious much-written about boss fight with The End. And a few other details. Borrowing the game from a friend kept the pressure on me to burn through Naked Snake’s map-less operation as quickly as possible and return it to its rightful owner. This is ultimately why I no longer borrow things; something goes wonky in my brain, and all I can concentrate on it how I’m holding captive someone else’s possession, as if they are just standing behind me, tapping their foot in impatience, demanding it all back.

All that said, I was hoping to not start playing Snake Eater this soon, especially considering I just started Final Fantasy IX up. Timing is everything though, and Metal Gear Scanlon is back in action, which means I need to stay a bit ahead of them to both enjoy my second replay and experience Drew’s first dip into Hideo Kojima’s Cold War antics. For me, it’s more enjoyably knowing what’s coming up and watching someone’s reaction as they get there. Granted, I don’t need to see everything first, but knowing that a young revolver-less Ocelot meows to summon extra back-up is the sort of ridiculousness that I like to be aware of as I watch Giant Bomb play.

It’s only been a few months since I took down twenty-five Metal Gear Rays in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, but whatever skills I refined then are now completely gone. In the few hours I’ve spent running through a Soviet Union rainforest, I’ve lead Naked Snake to his death more than at least twenty times already, and this was me just trying to get a handle on movement, shooting, and CQC-ing, all of which are still as clunky as ever. I was totally spoiled by radar and vision cones in the last game, now struggling with even being able to tell what’s around me when flat on my stomach in some thick, dark grass. There’s also a ton more meters to pay attention to–health, stamina, camouflage, battery life, the cure menu, your backpack–as well as your surroundings, such as enemies, wildlife, hidden mines, and so on. As a general rule, I go into these games trying to be stealthy and unseen, but I’m not afraid to pop an unconscious soldier in the head if he’s giving me grief; yes, I know what repercussions this will wrought.

Progress-wise, I burned through the Virtuous Mission, showed The Pain, The Fear, and The End what real pain, fear, and end is, respectively, during Operation Snake Eater, if you catch my drift. If I’m being honest, I died once during the ravine-split encounter versus young Ocelot before those named gobbers, but didn’t die at all during the named boss fights. Which I find odd. I’m playing on Normal, but so far, I feel like these fights were…fairly easy. Certainly much more forgiving than the boss fights in Metal Gear Solid. Amusingly, I have more trouble getting through an area of four or five guards, or one loaded with booby-traps.

Everyone plays Metal Gear Solid differently. That’s just a way of life. I’d love to be sneaky all the time, but when the going gets rough, I do enjoy using CQC to knock dudes unconscious. Or the occasional shotgun blast to see their bodies cartoonishly zip backwards. Right now, there’s a lot of…let’s call it heated criticism over how Drew is playing in Metal Gear Scanlon 3, but I think he’s solving problems as he see fits. Personally, I’d like to see Dan be less of a backseat driver and let his friend experience the game in his own manner, his own pace. Sure, we as viewers might miss some content or silly codec calls or episodes could go on for pretty long, but if it means Drew takes his time (or doesn’t) and clears a room of soldiers (or doesn’t) without being seen (or is), then that’s more rewarding and still entertaining.

With that, I just saved before the ladder sequence. You know what I speak of. I’m thinking I’m now past the halfway mark, with a goal of finishing Snake Eater up soon so I can get back to learning equipped abilities in Final Fantasy IX.

It takes a princess to save a knight in The Tale of Kelda

gd impressions the tale of kelda

Don’t you hate it when, in the middle of spinning and swirling and dancing with your one true love in some fantasy-quality grassy field, a ferocious monster snatches away your significant only, leaving you standing there, burning for justice and revenge? I know I do. And so does Kelda, the star of The Tale of Kelda, which was another high-up-on-the-list entry, in terms of votes, for the GameBoy Jam 3 from last year–yes, I’m still nibbling away at it–of which I’ve also tried out two other strong contenders in the names of Roguelight and Meowgical Tower.

The Tale of Kelda, from Sinextra Game Studio and which obviously has no obvious connection with The Legend of Zelda (obviously), is an action platformer, starring the princess herself, which would make Anita Sarkeesian quite proud. It kind of reminds me of when Jade, a journalist, was sent to rescue Double H, an armored soldier, who was kidnapped by the evildoers in Beyond Good & Evil. If only we can get a true take on this notion from Nintendo with the Mario series, and no, sorry, Super Princess Peach was not the best effort, given that most of her power-ups rely on emotions, like joy and rage. Y’know, because all women are emotional.

Moving right along, Kelda deals in simple actions: moving left and right, jumping, double jumping, slashing with her sword, and charging up a magic projectile. That’s it. You’ll use all of these skills to complete each level, with the level’s end identified by a road sign and an arrow to follow. You have five hearts, and a set number of magic spell uses, though killing enemies and breaking pots will reveal extra pick-ups to refill those meters. All in all, it’s a straightforward experience, with little challenge, though there is something extremely satisfying about slashing a skeleton archer to death before it can loose an arrow your way. The platforming is rudimentary and never really tasks with you anything too challenging, but it gets the job done.

A few quibbles, of course. Kelda occasionally would land on the edge of a platform, and she’d sort of get stuck in-between the geometry. I never felt truly confident leaping to another ledge and slashing at an enemy awaiting me there. Lastly, I was able to cheese the final boss by standing in one spot and perfectly timing four or five magic projectiles in a row. Oh wells. This is a jam game, after all, and still a solid stab at the theme and all its limitations.

I have a few more entries from GameBoy Jam 3 downloaded to look at, though I will never experience all 239 creations. Certainly not at my pace, at least. Regardless, stay tuned for more retro-themed adventures and my avant-garde thoughts on ’em. Long live princesses.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #21 – The Tale of Kelda

2015 games completed gd the tale of kelda

Dragon takes your knight
Jump, slash, charge your magic blasts
Good to be princess

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.