Monthly Archives: March 2016

So many mushrooms to click on in The Sea Will Claim Everything

the sea will claim everything island

Sometimes I just want to read. Other times, I want to play, or, more to the point, interact. With people and animals and things. Cause and reaction is what I’m looking for, but the safe, casual kind. Don’t shoot me in the stomach and force me to find medicine to stop the bleeding. Instead, let me find some fish food for a hungry fishie that will make it smile. Well, after a panic-inducing, unpredictable weekend, I wanted to do both: read and interact harmlessly. Thankfully, there’s The Sea Will Claim Everything, a game which I’ve danced around revisiting lately. Well, the straw that finally broke the camel’s back is that it has now been released on Steam, and Jonas Kyratzes was kind enough to provide me with a free key since I already purchased the game back in 2012 from the Bundle in a Box promotion.

Allow me to quickly summarize what’s going on in The Sea Will Claim Everything. If I can, that is. You visit the Lands of Dream through a special window which allows you, the person reading this and playing the game, to see, travel, and interact with the various strange and fantastical elements of the Fortunate Isles. You begin in the Underhome, a biotechnological house unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. Unfortunately, Underhome has been badly damaged by goons threatening to foreclose on it; they are so rude that they even cut up a nice rug. Your job is to help The Mysterious-Druid, who likes to simply be called The, get Underhome back to its healthy former self. However, along the way, you’ll end up on a larger quest to free the citizens of the Fortunate Isles from Lord Urizen’s political and economic oppression.

Strangely, when it comes to me and point-and-click adventure games, it’s always about getting to the next scene to see where things go. Brute-forcing through the puzzles to see what new characters pop up and grab more items for my ever-growing inventory. However, with The Sea Will Claim Everything and other works in the Lands of Dream, I prefer to linger, to absorb. Every screen is packed with flavor and things to click on, with my personal favorite being all the little mushrooms sprouting up in the Underhome. Verena Kyratzes’ artwork is colorful and pleasant, perfect for a storybook-like tale, and you should not take anything for granted–each individual flower has its own flavor text, as does every book and drawer and item at a merchant’s stall. Also, there’s evidently 700 collectibles to gather, so click, click, click.

Gameplay is mostly clicking and reading, and it doesn’t take long to realize that The Sea Will Claim Everything is roughly just fetch quest after fetch quest after fetch quest. Occasionally, you’ll have to find a recipe and create the item someone needs instead of simply finding it elsewhere in the world and bringing it back. I’m okay with fetch quests, as sometimes it is all I want, but I do wish that the quest log, represented as a single-page scroll, did a better job of showing your progress. For example, I need to make a special soup that will help heal the Underhome, and this requires gathering a number of items, but the quest log doesn’t show what I have and don’t have; instead, I need to pop back into my inventory, scan the list, and then figure out what is missing. Also, with so many people and strange names, it’d be helpful to list where the person is in the quest so that I can turn it in without having to scan every single screen in Port Darragh over and over again.

Since you’ll be doing a lot of sitting on a single screen/area and reading flavor text, dialogue text, recipe text, and dialogue text, a good soundtrack is a must. The music needs to not overpower your brain and get in way of the nifty characters and stories, but at the same time ground everything together, enhance it. Make you believe that this talking spider is part of the world. That this town of anthropomorphic creatures live lives and exist beyond your window view. I’m happy to report that Chris Christodoulou’s soundtrack is nearly perfect. Inspiring and mystifying, the songs fit the adventure. I do wish some were a little longer or looped more instead of repeating after a two minutes or so, especially when you are in a room for longer than that. I think my favorite is the piano-driven, calming “Plingpling Fairydust,” but the dark, beyond unnerving “Swamp Thing” is also quite special…for reasons.

The Sea Will Claim Everything is really the most charming oddball, and I’m looking forward to helping everyone I can on the Fortunate Isles, whether it is by solving a mysterious murder or giving them a cookie. It just might take a few more sessions. That’s okay. Those mushrooms aren’t going anywhere.

The versatile, grandiloquent mix that is Frog Fractions

gd final thoughts on frog fractions

Look, I took a genuine stab at Frog Fractions back when it was all anyone on the Internet with a Twitter account or blog-posting machine could talk about. It was spoken about loudly and in enthusiastic tones, with the insistence that it was more than met the eye. That it harbored some surprising secrets beneath its initial educational slant. I got as far as the text-based adventure game, getting stuck in one of the three rooms and unsure of how to proceed. Which is a shame, seeing as there wasn’t much more to go after that. Anyways, I can now say I’ve seen it all, even if I don’t understand it all.

I’ll do my best. Frog Fractions is a browser game developed by Twinbeard Studios, a company composed primarily of founder Jim Crawford, released to the innocent and unaware public in 2012. A quick glance at it reveals it, more or less, as a spoof of the edutainment game genre, of which ones from my past that I absolutely ate up were Number Munchers and Oregon Trail. Y’know, interactive things that taught you smart stuff as you went. In this game, the player begins by controlling a frog who eats bugs to stop them from destroying fruit. After each successful round, the player can then spend points on upgrades to improve the frog’s abilities, and these upgrades range dramatically and include a back-and-forth dialogue over the merits of auto lock-on versus straight tonguing it. In fact, Frog Fractions does not actually teach the player anything about fractions except for the fact that the player’s score, which is seemingly inconsequential, is given in fractions.

If you’ve not gotten around to playing Frog Fractions and that hodgepodge of a summary job above piqued your interest, by all means, stop reading this post and go play it. Because I will now be moving into “meets more than the eye” territory, and boy oh boy is it bonkers. Yeah, totally nuts.

Okay. Buckle up, readers. Remember those upgrades? Well, after you collect enough fruit, you can eventually purchase a warp drive, which allows the frog to ride a dragon through an asteroid field to Bug Mars. That’s the planet Mars now run completely by bugs. Before you get there, you have to do battle with an alien robot squid that is reminiscent of a bullet hell shoot ’em up, like R-Type. After this, you go to court and must answer some multiple choice questions in order to obtain a working visa. Then it’s back to what you already know, eating flies and protecting fruit, except the bullet hell aspect is back; however, this time, you can dip under the water to escape playing any more “traditional” Frog Fractions and instead learn some totally fake history about how the sport of boxing came to be. After this relaxing maze, the frog activates a spaceship and must maneuver through a text adventure game to return to Bug Mars. Last time, this is where I gave up. Upon completing this, you are given some fake-as-fake-gets credits, which are quickly followed up by an impossible-to-play mockery of Dance Dance Revolution as you run for…president. No matter how good or bad your fancy footwork is, you’ll acquire the role of presidency of Bug Mars. Then you have to do a business simulator that is all about insect porn. Once that is done, you get the real credits, which features heavy metal music and pictures of bugs doing the nasty with their inappropriate bits pixelated.

Whew.

As you can see, Frog Fractions is more than just a spoof of edutainment titles from our nostalgia-driven days. It spoofs a number of genres, and stacks them one after the other, in ways that seemingly don’t make sense. Some worked for me, and some didn’t, but it’s the not knowing what comes next aspect that really propelled me forward this time around. The wackiness and sharp turns are equally enjoyable, especially if you truly came to this hoping to experience some good ol’ fashioned fun with fractions.

I’m glad that I finally sat down and saw Frog Fractions through to its conclusion. Despite the subject at hand, I actually enjoyed the insect pornography simulator mini-game. Though I’m glad I won’t have to hear that frog “slurping” up those flies ever again; it’s the sort of sound effect that lodges itself in your brain and makes you shake your head instantly upon hearing it. All that said, I’m ready for Frog Fractions 2. Whatever it is. Perhaps it’s already out there and I played it, but I kind of doubt that. My closest guess is…this.

The Division’s straightforward formula has been activated

tc the division further impressions

I’ve been playing Tom Clancy’s The Division–from here forward more succinctly written just as The Division, because, really now, I don’t think Tom Clancy the author man had anything to do with it–for about two weeks now, plugging away at keeping virus-laden Manhattan, New York as safe as one possibly can during these tough times. I’ve also given a lot of bottles of water to those in need for clean, sometimes trendy, attire, and I’ve also done my fair share of shooting “bad” dudes in the fleshy bits while hanging back to heal my teammates and distract enemies. It’s a cover-based shooter, for better or worse, and good fun with a group of friends.

The story has promise, banking on at least my fear about both chemical warfare and the mass hysteria that unearths during the annual Black Friday shopping event, which, with every new year, begins to expand and trickle into the Thursday prior. Maybe even starting on Wednesday night for some greedy stores. Anyways, a smallpox pandemic called “Green Poison” is spread on banknotes and then circulated around, forcing Manhattan to be quarantined by the government. The U.S. government jumps into action, activating sleeper agents in the population who operate for the Strategic Homeland Division to assist emergency responders, now called the Joint Task Force (JTF), in restoring order. You play as one of these agents, doing things like retrieving important personnel and combating criminal groups, like the Rikers, which are escapees from Rikers Island.

To be honest, and I don’t know if this is because I’ve played the majority of story missions cooperatively with a group of chatty souls, where it is often hard to pay attention to cutscenes and ambient dialogue, but the story seems like all premise and nothing truly substantial. I’ve rescued people, but they aren’t interesting or important to much else that happens afterwards, and every scenario is built around getting the Division agents into a room full of low barriers and red, explosive barrels to have a chaotic shootout. That’s fine and all, considering the shooting gameplay is solid and enjoyable, but a lot of the action doesn’t feel very purposeful. Especially when you walk away from a story mission with only a new weapon blueprint and some XP.

I completed the last main story mission a few nights ago, and the reason I know it was the last main story mission is because a screen pops up afterwards, telling you about going into the Dark Zone and promising more content in the future. I don’t really even know what happened. I hid towards the back while my higher level teammates shot down a helicopter. I thought we were looking for a cure or a means to get there, but I don’t know why we did this, and why the plot ended here. Seems like it stopped too short, and the rest of any story bits can be picked up via the hundreds of collectibles scattered across the map. I’d like to tell you that I won’t go and get them all, but this is me…I love setting a waypoint and heading to it to grab a thing.

If anything, The Division has a fashion problem. Which is unfortunate, because it’s the aspect of the game I’m drawn to the most. Yup, you read that right. I’d rather play dress up than shoot up. I love dressing up my avatars in games like The Sims or Animal Crossing: New Leaf or Fallout 4. It helps bring out both my personality and theirs, and getting a new piece of clothing to try on is exciting. Not in real life, but digitally…yes. I can’t really explain it. Alas, the clothing drops in The Division are drab and dull and barely contain any character. I’ve mostly leaned toward outfits that feature sharp oranges or blues to at least stand out a bit in this colorless world. Thankfully, your clothing inventory is separate from gear and has no limit, but it can still be overwhelming to sift through in search of a new hat or pair of hiking boots.

I hit the level cap of 30 last night, which now unlocks daily missions–basically the same story missions you’ve already done, but at a higher difficulty with the promise of good loot–as well as high-end gear. Which means a gun that does more damage, a backpack that provides more health, and so on. You know, numbers going up. I haven’t experienced much of the Dark Zone yet, with intentions of entering it after checking off most of the story-central stuff. Unfortunately, I still have like three hundred different collectibles to get, not an exaggeration, as well as two more wings to upgrade back at my main base of operation. I suspect I’ll keep playing, certainly to get all these items, but also because I bought the game’s season pass, and there’s more content down the road. Hopefully it’s more than just a bunch of generic-sounding missions that force you to aim a gun at someone who is also aiming a gun at you.

Overall, I’d say that The Division is a pretty good game, with some severe weaknesses when it comes to its story and mission variety. It is at its most enjoyable when playing with friends, telling stories, making jokes, and occasionally paying attention to the dangers that actually lay ahead. Running to and fro across the map by myself reveals just how lonely of a time one can have in Ubisoft’s diseased New York City, and getting into firefights along the way results in either being amazingly easy or the most difficult struggles of your career as a secret agent. I prefer a crew and playing a part in said crew, which, for me, is to toss out a turret to distract enemies while running around and ensuring everyone is healed up. I’ll also occasionally fire a bullet at someone. It’s camaraderie that keeps The Division together, keeps me navigating through less-than-impressive menu UI. Without that, the sickness will win.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #26 – Frog Fractions

2016 gd games completed frog fractions flash

Fractional scoring
Leads to unconventional
Journey to Bug Mars

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Tom Clancy’s The Division

2016 gd games completed tom clancy the division

New York very sick
You have been activated
To shoot bad humans

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Soul Brother’s puzzle platforming life is but a brief tenure

gd final impressions on soul brother

I have two copies of Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor in my collection, one on the PC and the other my PlayStation 3, and I’m scared to play either. Y’all should know this by now, but I’m terrible when it comes to horror games or even games with just a slight hint of horror. I don’t like walking around a corner in real life and getting scared when something jumps out at me, and I like it even less in videogames. This is why it took me years to play through Silent Hill 2. Strangely, I’m mostly okay with horror films, as I’m not in control and just along for the ride, though some, such as The Gate or The Blair Witch Project, continue to give me nightmares to this very day. Thankfully, Soul Brother, which is one of Byrne’s earlier works, is a more lighthearted adventure, despite all the forced suicide.

You play as one Mr. Soul, a spirit that can body hop from creature to creature upon death. This spectral form is on a quest for wisdom and understanding, and to find that, it’ll have to navigate a weird, maze-like landscape, using the body and skills of the bodies it inhabits to make progress. Different bodies will help in unique ways, such as the bird Birdie that can hover across long stretches or the cat Nemo who can double jump. Mr. Soul also needs to avoid enemies on screen, floating saw blades, and pits of spikes because this colorful, kaleidoscopic realm is full of danger, while also trying to collect every gem of wisdom along the way. It’s the only way to understand reincarnation, naturally.

Soul Brother is free to play in your browser over at Adult Swim’s gaming site. I’ve enjoyed other titles from there before, such as Insidia and Winnose. Just search Grinding Down if you want to know more. Anyways, this retro platformer is just as good and kooky, with enough challenge to stop you for a bit in several rooms as you noodle out a solution to make it out alive or, in some cases, kill yourself in the most strategic way possible. The arrow keys move your character left and right, and the X button is for jumping, which changes based on the body Mr. Soul is currently occupying.

Alas, I did not collect all the gems of wisdom. There’s 33 in total, and I grabbed about 8 or 9 before moving on to the end. Thankfully, you don’t need to collect all (or any) of the gems to reach a higher plane, but they are there if you’re looking for an extra challenge or goal. Evidently some gems are also tucked away in hidden rooms. At the end, you are rewarded with fruit pick-ups from a multi-limbed green entity based on a number of different attributes, like time completed and how often you had to reincarnate. I suspect getting all the gems would give you something really good here, but that’s just me speculating. I was content with my pixelated pear and orange.

I can’t end this post on Soul Brother without touching on its soundtrack. It’s so full of bounce and pep that it is in complete contradiction with the idea of killing yourself to be reborn in a better body. The soundtrack makes me want to live more in my original body, to get up and move, to nod my head as I wiggle my heads. Truthfully, I’ve been listening to it on full repeat as I wrote this post. There’s a bunch of thick drum and bass, crunchy electronica, wonky synth action, and just enough odd sound effect sampling to keep you on your toes. Warning: these great tunes may get in your way of successful platforming.

Lastly, I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I look at my cats every day and do think they have it pretty good. So, if push comes to shove, I’d like to be reborn as a furry friend for a nice human, where the biggest concern of my day isn’t avoiding swinging saw blades but rather finding the most perfect slant of sunlight and taking a nap in it. Right meow please.

The instructional quest of three tutorials for four Achievements

916471-938611_20081107_001

It all began with doing half of Terraria‘s tutorial, which put me at a perfect Gamerscore of 55,555, which, to number-obsessive nerds like myself, is an amusing triumph. Loyal readers of Grinding Down should already know that I have a penchant for going after perfect scores, like 10,000, 20,000, and so on, but when I saw that I was sitting humbly at 55,550 after playing some Tom Clancy’s The Division…I just knew I needed to make it something special. I assumed it wouldn’t be tough to do, and, for once, I assumed correctly.

And so I scanned my list of games, searching for a 5-point Achievement that could slide me into the sweet spot. I found a couple, but none of them screamed easy to me, and I couldn’t risk going after something like this only to pop an Achievement for 10 or 15 points and completely blow the plan. Thus, I settled on Terraria, which I got for free back in April 2015, downloaded, and then didn’t touch. There’s also a copy on my laptop that I never got into; I’ve always viewed it as a more complex 2D Minecraft, and the thought of maneuvering its UI via a controller is beyond off-putting. Still, there’s an Achievement for 5 points for starting the tutorial, as well as one for 5 points upon completing it, which lead to me loading the event up, beginning it, and then shutting my console down. Y’know, like a boss.

Anyways, since I’ve now already leapfrogged past this 55,555 mark and am on my way to the coveted 60,000 check-box, here’s photographic proof from a few days ago for preservation’s sake:

55555 gamerscore

Aw yeah to the heck yeah. Also, maybe I need to update my user pic so that it fills in that whole gray circle. Maybe.

Anyways, sticking with the tutorial theme of this post, I also then played the tutorial levels for Gears of War 2 and Supreme Commander 2, both of which have been added to the free games list for Gaming with Gold. I like that, for these two games, as well as Terraria, the tutorial sections are optional or skippable. Most games work them into the opening level, which can sometimes feel forced and too hand-holdy. The Gears of War 2 tutorial has you teaching a rookie how to be a super soldier like yourself, which at least makes sense from a narrative perspective since you already know how to actively reload from the previous game, whereas Supreme Commander 2 explains every step of how to play an RTS game on a console, in two lengthy parts. It brought back all those reasons why I don’t love this genre, unfortunately.

Hands down, my favorite tutorial level to date is the one from Deus Ex. Here’s a convenient visual walkthrough of it. Anyways, again, it’s separate from the main campaign, but does a good job of teaching you a number of important mechanics without overwhelming you. Plus, there’s room to be goofy and explore, and there’s even a secret area you can access if you search hard enough. I feel like I’ve played the tutorial more times than the actual game at this point.

In the end, here are all of my digitally sweet and easy e-peen rewards:

Achievement_Terraria_Student
Terraria Student (5G): Begin the tutorial!

Achievement_Terraria_Expert
Terraria Expert (5G): You have completed the tutorial!

gow2 green as grass ach 125175
Green as Grass (10G): Train the rook (any difficulty)

sc2 start here ach 311162
Start Here (10G): Complete both parts of the tutorial

I wonder what weird side mission I’ll undergo to nail 60,000 Gamerscore on the dot, which, at this rate, is either by summer or end of 2016. Hmm. Either way, I’m sure it’ll be weirdly fun to write about. Until then, I guess.