Monthly Archives: March 2016

2016 Game Review Haiku, #23 – The Fabulous Screech

2016 gd games completed the fabulous screech

A magical show
Starring cat, its adventures
Life is beautiful

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.

Stains and the Giant does not reveal how the dog got its name

stains and the giant final impressions gd

The whole time I was playing Stains and the Giant, which, I’ll grant you, was no more than maybe fifteen minutes total, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Stains the dog got its name. When push comes to shove, there’s only so many possible scenarios for a puppy to deserve such a calling, especially when it is young and innocent and unable to do cool, heroic-like feats that could potentially get him dubbed something cool like Jumps or Digs. Nope. The dog’s name is Stains, and it is left up to your imagination as to why.

Instead, what one should be focusing on in Stains and the Giant from Esklavos is fixing the magical portal, which will help teleport Stains…um, to somewhere else. I don’t know how the dog arrived here or where Stains is off to next, but it is not too vital to getting things done. To fix this portal, the dog will need to travel from one island to another (there’s four in total) using his airship, gathering items, solving puzzles for a fisherman, a bird, and a giant, and memorizing a bunch of clue codes–or do as I did, and take a picture on your cell phone of things you might need to reference later when the time is right. Saves on the backtracking and mind-scrunching.

The point and click mechanics are of the usual sort, and you can combine a few items in your inventory to create new ones. The puzzles are more geared towards patterns and memorization. For example, on the first island, you might spot a sign of strange symbols. On the next island, you’ll find those symbols again and must click on them in the same order as previously observed. Stuff like that. In terms of audio, the few short songs are jauntily enough, almost something you’d hear at a carnival, but they don’t last very long, leaving you with just ambient noises, like birds chirping and the sound of the ocean. That’s fine, but when you are stuck on a single screen for some time, a longer song is more desirable. Strangely, there are no sound effects for items interacting with another, not even a sound to let you know that using a pick-axe on a cloud is beyond ineffective.

I really dig the cartoonish, colorful look in Stains and the Giant. Both items you can interact with and the background art live on equal ground, which makes it sometimes difficult to know what you can or can’t click on, but it also helps to keep everything meshing together realistically, even when we’re discussing fantasy elements like magic skulls and a talking bird. There’s little to no animation, which resulted in me getting stuck in one spot where I hadn’t realized I had solved a puzzle and a crystal had appeared on the screen since there was no action indicating something like that was happening. Also, Stains is really cute looking and reminds me fondly of Frasier‘s Eddie.

Also, as far as I can tell, Stains has a few more adventures in his future, with Stains and the Yeti and Stains and the Guru already up and ready to go. I’ll have to give these a try at some point, though I’ll continue to hold out hope for Stains and the Person that Named Him That.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #22 – I’ve Been Late

2016 gd games completed i've been late

Despite all the ghosts
This was a relaxing time
Under the moonlight

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, #21 – Stains and the Giant

2016 gd games completed stains and the giant

Island to island
To find scepter, fix portal
Stains is sad dog name

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.

Covert Front will test your endurance with its traps and trickery

gd covert front final thoughts

You might have noticed an influx of haikus as of late about Covert Front, an episodic point-and-click adventure series from Mateusz Skutnik and Karol Konwerski that began back in July 2007, and that’s because I’ve been playing a lot of Covert Front. See, that first puzzle was easy, almost to the point of idiotic. It’s possibly done on purpose, to ease you into things and make you believe that you can do this. That you are a super sleuth of steel. However, eventually things ramp up both in difficulty and red herrings, and you will concede to not knowing what to do next. I won’t hide the fact that I looked up a lot of answers online, but only to help put me a few steps ahead. Y’know, until I got stuck again.

Covert Front takes place in 1904, but an alternate history 1904. The sort where where a technological revolution in the previous century resulted in a premature World War I. During this conflict, a bunch of specialists from varying fields held a secretive conference in Berlin called “Knowledge for Victory,” and, shockingly, almost a hundred of these specialists vanished afterwards. You play as a spy agent code-named Kara who is investigating the disappearance of General Karl von Toten, and this adventure will see you traveling from shady location to shadier location, unearthing clues and tracking your target down.

As a point-and-click adventure series, you’ll do a lot of pointing and clicking. That’s obvious. You won’t do too much combining of items from your inventory, and using items on in-game environment items requires precision. If you want to unscrew those screws, you need to use the item directly on them, not just in the general vicinity. A lot of the puzzles require thinking and memorization, like entering passwords or knowing exactly what labeled drawer to search in the library. One might be able to brute force these puzzles, but not all of them, which is where a lot of roadblocks lay, especially for the far more obtuse sections, like that dream-esque sequence involving Toten’s magic typewriter.

There’s definitely a lot of pixel hunting too at work here, not just for items, but for additional scenes, as sometimes clicking in just the right spot will reveal a whole new area to explore. Yeah, I’m looking at you, pipe along the side of the house by the airplane. I do wish these weren’t as difficult to discover as it feels a little too unfair, something I also ran into in Skutnik’s Where is 2016? game. Also, red herrings galore. You’ll walk into a scene and immediately see a handful of common day items that are typically picked up in other adventure games and used to open doors and such, but they aren’t interactive here, no matter how many times you click or concoct some reason X item in your inventory should work with it. By the fourth episode, I got used to this and simply ignored a lot of stuff, but it was difficult to do so in the beginning.

One of the nicer aspects of playing a game series that took several years to complete back to back is that I can really see how it improved, both technically and visually, from episode to episode, of which there are four. Covert Front‘s graphics don’t really change all that much, but do become more detailed and stylish, and the cutscenes ramp up the camera angles and action. On occasion, Kara’s model looks strangely odd, with lengthy arms and a neck that stretches a little too far to the sky, and this changes from game to game. Voice acting gets added to give Kara more depth, but never to the point that I actually knew her or felt anything for her. She’s just a vehicle to get things done, and yes, she gets things done, but I’d have been okay with her failing too.

Still, I came away from the Covert Front series enjoying the ride, but feeling pretty dumb. Maybe the brain-teasers in it are just not for me and my simpler solving skills…or maybe the games themselves are unnecessarily difficult. I did find Episode 4 “The Spark of Life” to be the easiest of the bunch, with me resorting to looking nothing up online, so maybe Skutnik took some similar criticism to heart by then and tweaked the puzzles accordingly. There are a couple of series from him that I want to try out, like Submachine and Mr. Mothball, but not just yet. My mind needs a nap.

Stardew Valley is undoubtedly a more fun Harvest Moon

stardew valley screenshot 02

I don’t have the longest or most memory-filled history with the Harvest Moon series, only entering the franchise a few years back with titles like Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon and Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar. I wasn’t very impressed, though I wished to be. On paper, these sound fantastic and easy to lose hours of time to, but they both began so slow and challenging that they turned into non-starters. I even came back to the well for a third time with Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, but that didn’t last long as I quickly realized making progress was still going to be a painstakingly lengthy task. Sure, you could make the comparison to real life, that managing and seeing an actual farm profit is no cake walk, but I’m not interested in a one-to-one simulator. It really shouldn’t take months to acquire a single cow, and then more months for the cow to like me enough to provide milk.

Still, being a massive fan of Animal Crossing and a few farming simulators that will remain nameless, I continued to scan the gaming horizon almost daily for something of this farming/dating sim ilk that will satisfy my curiosity. Which brings us to Stardew Valley, the talk of the Internet town over the last week. Amazingly, it’s developed by one person, Eric Barone under the handle ConcernedApe, and published by Chucklefish, and is receiving a lot of praise and press. I asked Greg Noe to sell me on the game as I know he’s a big fan of Harvest Moon, and he straight up gifted me a copy. Bless you, Internet neighbor. But if your farm is to be a raging success, you can’t give away the goods all time.

The story is one we’ve heard before: you’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in the titular Stardew Valley. After slumming around in a corporate workspace and feeling a severe disconnect with the world, you grab a few essential tools, a handful of coins, and make your way to the farm, which I named Perdido Farm after China Miéville‘s New Weird novel just because, to begin your new life. However, it’s not going to be easy, especially under the shadow of the Joja Corporation. Plus, a large part of the nearby Pelican Town is in disrepair, so not only do you have to make this plot of land of yours a success, but also rebuild the town from the ground up.

Graphically, it’s pixel art, but it’s sweet, delicious pixel art. Really colorful and fun, and more detailed than you might assume, especially once you get inside some of the shops and homes. It’s a sharper SNES title, with a slicker interface. I got to make my avatar in my own likeness (see above), and the menus are easy to navigate through. Call me silly and maybe this has more to do with me playing a lot of open-world games as of late, but I wish there was a way to mark a location on the map and follow directions to it. Like I said, silly.

Well, I’ve put about two hours in Stardew Valley so far, which is equivalent to five or six days in-game, and I can safely say that this gets things going much faster than other Harvest Moon titles. Again, there’s a lot one can do during the day, and a part of me wishes time moved slower or the character had a faster walking speed, because it can take a decent chunk of his day simply going from place to place. You’ll want to clean up debris on your farm, plant crops, sell materials, meet people, take on quests, and so on. When I say there’s a lot to do, there’s a lot to do, and I don’t have the space here to list everything out.

Instead, I’ll focus on a couple of big aspects. First, I really like the there’s a quest log. That might seem like a small detail or even just the norm these days, but previous Harvest Moon games didn’t have it, which often lead to me not knowing what to do next or give me a goal to focus on while waiting for those parsnips to grow. Items and tools and everything else contain detailed information, which is handy, and the map is intimidatingly large. I’ve not yet met all the citizens of Pelican Town–how do you greet the wizard?–so I’m not ready to pick a potential love interest or discuss how the dating sim elements work. Lastly, the idea of rebuilding this town and doing side quests from the bullet board by Pierre’s shop is hitting the nail on two different heads: my fondness for quest boards, as well as watching castle headquarters grow in Suikoden and Suikoden II.

I don’t understand the fishing minigame. Wait. Let me rephrase that. I understand the mechanics behind it, but I don’t understand it as a whole. It seems both challenging and random, and at the same time I’m not desiring an easy button press like in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and everyone should already know my feelings on really bad fishing minigames. I just worry that fishing can be too much of a risk or time waster despite obviously containing some great rewards.

Anyway, I’m eager to get back to Stardew Valley tonight and continue making progress, especially with those parsnips. It’s definitely one of those “one more day” kind of games, where one more day actually results in you playing for several more hours. If you don’t hear from me after a bit, check the farm.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #20 – Covert Front, Episode 4 “The Spark of Life”

2016 gd games completed covert front episode 4 capture

Find Karl von Toten
His magic machine creates
A violent ending

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.

Samorost has always been and always will be pleasantly weird

samorost 1 final impressions gd

The surprising news the other day was that Samorost 3 is on its way, launching on PC and Mac on March 24, 2016. That’s awesome. I mean, to be honest, I haven’t really thought about the Samorost series in a good long while. I played Samorost 2 way back in the day (circa 2010, when I was moving out of my studio apartment), and only just realized with the latest news that I never touched the first in the series, though I did bang my head against a wall for hours in Machinarium, less in Botanicula. Suffice to say, I like Amanita Design’s games, as weird as they are, and I want to eventually play them all.

That’s why I headed over to the developer’s website, where you can play the first Samorost for free in your browser. It’s fairly short, depending on how good of a clicker and puzzle solver you are, and it’s more about interacting with the environment than controlling the space gnome directly. The story for the premiere entry in the series is that an asteroid is on a direct course to crash into the gnome’s home planet, and he will do whatever it takes to not let that happen. And so you’ll travel to this asteroid, which is full of life and machinery and isn’t just some hunk of rock hurling its way towards death and destruction, and try to change its path. You do it by clicking, deducing.

Almost instantly, you’ll find yourself in a strange, surreal world with Samorost, where common combines with odd, solving somewhat leisurely puzzles that occasionally require a bit of extra thinking and clicking. Paying attention to everything happening on screen is vital to making progress, even if it is as minor as bugs making noises or the way a signpost is facing. Sometimes it is difficult to take everything in when you are presented with this gorgeous, stunning mix of reality and artwork. At times, it can be jarring, like the screenshot above, but for the most part it becomes the norm, and you begin to believe in this strange planet and wonder how these critters and beings survive and whether or not they also know they are on a bad path to their own demise. Well, I did.

Thankfully, the day was saved, as well as the space gnome’s home. I just skimmed my review of Samorost 2 to remind me what happened next, and it involved a dog getting kidnapped by aliens. I wonder what the plot to Samorost 3 will be; truthfully, it doesn’t matter, because this is the sort of point-and-click adventure game where what’s on the screen and getting to the next one to see more wild imagination come to life is the reward. I’m sure something will drive the space gnome forward, but it’s not essential for me to care about. It’s the journey that matters, and the locations so far are absolutely stunning in their strangeness, their ability to be unnatural and yet familiar, a place one could live in if that was their role in life.

Between this and Night in the Woods, 2016 is shaping up to be stellar for adventure games. I also need to get around to Oxenfree and Firewatch at some point as well. Too many amazing titles to try, not enough time. Such is life, when you are not a space gnome.