Monthly Archives: September 2016

2016 Game Review Haiku, #61 – Cosmic Song

gd-2016-games-completed-cosmic-song

Unite animals
In this colorful, aural
Retro countryside

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.

Feverishly swiping away at my phone to Make It Rain

make it rain windows 8 phone game impressions gd

I am a patient man. Perhaps maybe the most patient, but that is a test that anyone claiming such a thing could easily fail. I mean, if someone sits next to me and continues to flick my nose once every three seconds for the rest of my given life, I don’t expect to last long. For the most part, when it comes to videogames, I don’t mind having to wait. Sometimes the waiting, whether it is for a certain upgrade or pivotal story-beat, can be kept to the shadows when grinding or side quests are involved, and other times, like with a lot of today’s mobile entries, such as Disney Magical Kingdoms or The Sims FreePlay, the waiting is the entire game itself.

Make It Rain: Love of Money didn’t start out being a waiter, but it eventually hit a point where progress was unobtainable except through the passing of time. I’ll tell you how I know for sure in just a bit, but I guess I’ll cover the game’s story and mechanics first. Story-wise, it’s a mix of the thoughtful, coming-of-age journey Kaitlin’s sister experiences in Gone Home and the multiple dimensions, always-a-lighthouse time-funkaroo from BioShock Infinite, with a dash of Jazzpunk‘s zany playfulness thrown in for good measure. Okay, no. Just kidding. There isn’t a lick of narrative here, just a means to get digitally rich. Perhaps you are an absent-minded app developer who accidentally created this money-making product and must now figure out the quickest way to make it big. Your adventure may vary.

The game’s theme revolves around money, greed, and corruption, and opens with a Biblical quote, every single time, to remind you of the evils of temptation and your place as a servant to a higher being:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

That aside, once you are playing Make It Rain, the greed takes over, and all you can do is earn money and spend money to help earn more money faster in the future so that you’ll have more money to spend on earning money. Money money money. You can do this in a few ways, with the main method being swiping the screen in the same fashion that one might swipe a wad of money from their hands if they wanted to “make it rain” on a stripper. It’s an amusing means to an end, even if it’s demeaning in nature. I often made it rain on my cats, for what it’s worth. Another way to earn money is by putting your hard-earned green stuff into things like insider trading, subprime mortgages, and the bribing of political figures. Doing this raises how much money you earn by swiping, how much you earn when not swiping or the game is off, and how much your bucket can hold before you need to empty it and start again. All of this has me wondering how much cash I’ve accrued in Fable II since last turning it on.

Make It Rain is the type of experience that can be never-ending. I decided to toss a flag and march towards it, with the end goal being to unlock every Achievement. By September 2015, I had all of them, save for three. One Achievement was for purchasing two bee-related services, of which I had one already, and the other cost a whole lot of money that seemed, given the game’s pacing, decades away. The second was for swiping 100,000 times, which I’m convinced is glitched. Lastly, the developers would love to reward you with a digital picture and 5 Gamerscore if you connected the app to your Facebook account. Well, zip ahead a whole year later to today, and I’ve crossed off two of those three and decided that “Erased Fingerprints,” the Achievement for swiping way too much, is never gonna happen.

I hope to never write about Make It Rain again–really, there’s not much more to say, and a part of me is still baffled that I played this and consider it something one plays–so let me tell you how the last year went, which was all about earning $123 KBB to purchase the Electronic Apiary. I first started out trying to both increase the size of my bucket so it could hold more cash, as well as boost how much I got per hour when not playing the game. I quickly became less interested in actively making money and preferred to let the app work its magic in the background. This proved glacier-like slow, with each increase being so minor that you never really felt you were making any ground, but so major that all your funds were depleted and you had to start from square one. I then decided to give up on trying to upgrade either and simply empty my bucket whenever it filled all the way up, which was probably every day and a half or two days. Granted, I often forgot to do this, which only prolonged the experience. This took, oh, about a year, and I’ll point you back to the very first sentence of this blog post.

It’s strange. In just the last few weeks or so, I’ve polished off a number of games that have been lingering in my backlog for a good, long while: Final Fantasy IX, Crimson Shroud, Spyro the Dragon, and now this. Also, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, a game I’ve been tapping away at its puzzles since 2014, is creeping close to the finish line. It’s like these things happen in large, social waves, and I have to wonder if some of the games I’m playing now won’t see their special haiku rewards for still some time. Again, I really don’t mind the wait. Occasionally, it’s not ideal, but sometimes it’s all you can do. In terms of Make It Rain, money doesn’t grow on trees overnight.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #60 – Make It Rain: The Love of Money

2016-gd-games-completed-make-it-rain

Swipe to make money
Fill your bucket with green stuff
Digitally rich

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, #59 – Dreams and Reality

2016-gd-games-completed-dreams-and-reality-capture

Dream a little dream
Chase it, climb into the sky
Tis good to have goals

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.

Doom’s demo proves one glorious, gory point

gd-impressions-doom-demo-first-level

This might come as a shock, but I first experienced Doom via its Super Nintendo Entertainment System port back in late 1995, at a neighbor’s house. I remember its red casing well, as well as my friend’s father being the sort of lawn fanatic that concerned me even at the virtuous age of twelve. This game and my copy of The Offspring’s “Smash” on cassette were items we hid whenever this man walked by his kid’s bedroom, but perhaps the topic of keeping things with parental warnings on them secret is best saved for another post.

Regardless, I am one hundred percent certain that this is not the version the developers over at id Software intended for people to play first. The SNES edition was published by Williams Entertainment and featured a custom engine programmed by Randy Linden. Naturally, this meant there were some stark differences between the PC and console versions, though I didn’t know about them back then, only years later upon reading about it via the Interwebz. One element that stands out is that, due to animation issues, there could be no enemies fighting other enemies, something that I found deeply amusing in the original first-person shooter where you fight demons from Hell.

Anyways, that’s not the Doom I am talking about for the rest of this post. That Doom is the new Doom–still just called plain ol’ Doom–from Bethesda and id Software and released back in May. I watched the Internet go all bug-eyed crazy over it and moved on with my life as, when it comes to shooters from Bethesda, I prefer the ones that let you slow down time and stuff your inventory full of coffee mugs. Well, to probably everyone’s surprise, the company kicked off E3 2016 by releasing a free demo of Doom‘s first level for all to taste, and here I am, some number of months later, ready to talk about it. Such is how my summers now go.

Let me give you some deep narrative setup so you understand why the ultra violent, ultra faceless character you are playing as is so invested in shooting demons from Hell into bloody bits with a supply of deadly firearms. As the lone DOOM Marine, it’s up to you to obliterate the relentless demon hordes invading the UAC facility on Mars. Mmm. Okay, there, now that’s done, and the guitar-ripping action can begin, and it does, oh so fast. I’m sure it is blindingly speedy on PC, but I was still charmed to see how quick and smooth everything moved on the Xbox One. There’s running, there’s gunning, there’s clambering, and there’s glory killing, all of which is happening simultaneously as a hard rock soundtrack plucked from some forgotten album collection in Satan’s attic pumps you onward.

Doom‘s demo is the entire first level of its single-player campaign, and it wastes no time getting into the thick of things. The DOOM Marine wakes up on a slab in some room of worship, grabs some armor and a gun, and begins blasting Possessed and Cacodemons in their faces. From there, it’s all forward momentum. You’ll push ahead and kill everything in your way, eventually ending up in arena-esque areas where you will have to keep moving to keep breathing. Performing a glory kill–a cinematic take-down you can activate after damaging an enemy enough–will provide you with some health pickups, so there’s more to do here than simply destroy all evil things. I also liked combo-ing one glory kill to another, feeling like a true powerhouse. You can also find collectibles in the environment, as well as take key cards off dead dudes that turned out to not be true powerhouses.

If anything, this demo worked as intended. It gave me a taste of how new Doom plays and feels without restricting the player or holding their hand through the entire experience. That first level is the first level. There’s also no strange Nintendo-like restrictions that say you can only play the demo X number of times or within a specific amount of time. I liked what I played, but I’m not ready to commit just yet, with too much still in my backlog to get through, but at least I know that when I get to this, I’ll have a bloody good time. I promise not to play this Doom‘s SNES port either…unless the rumors of cartridges making a return to the NX prove true.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #58 – Escape from the Planet of the Dravids

2016-gd-games-completed-escape-from-the-planet-of-the-dravids

Crash land on planet
Survive, gather up items
Escape loopy tunes

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.

Sadly, Crimson Shroud’s too difficult to grok and master

crimson shroud gd finished with the game

At long last, after years of grinding, following along with a spoiler-heavy walkthrough, then switching to a spoiler-free walkthrough, and grinding some more to defeat the final boss, I rolled a critical hit on Crimson Shroud. It is a complicated victory, one that I basically had to force myself to see because I am my father’s son and do not like to waste things, especially things I’ve bought with hard-earned digital cash, without experiencing them fully–or, to this point, mostly fully–but I am glad to have the large, 1,965 blocks-big application removed from my Nintendo 3DS. For many reasons, which I’ll get into later.

Allow me, one more time, to tell the tale of Crimson Shroud, as best as I can remember it because, for me, the last third of my progress on this game has been nothing but turn-based battle against goblins, one after the other. There was a short scene before the finally boss fight that was probably supposed to be revealing and satisfactory, but I had lost the narrative thread long before then for it to matter. Anyways, you control a party of three people as they make their way through the palace of Rahab. Giauque is a money-driven mercenary hired to retrieve the Crimson Shroud, the game’s titular McGuffin. He is joined by Frea, a Qish-descended mage, and Lippi, a stellar archer despite only having one eye. You might as well forget their names and know them by their classes: Tank, Healer, and Range.

It’s perhaps telling that I’ve actually never played any of Crimson Shroud‘s writer and director Yasumi Matsuno’s work, namely Ogre Battle 64, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Vagrant Story. After Crimson Shroud, I’m not sure if I would or will like them. The systems in this one really do sound great, on paper, such as creating combos through similar spells or rolling to clear away some accuracy-reducing fog, but I found their implementation confusing and clunky. For instance, you want to find gear you like and then grind out for more of those same items, feeding them into the one you have equipped so it can grow stronger. Fine, fine. I’m all about feeding. However, finding those same items is–excuse me for the saying–a roll of the dice, because the loot is random, and the fights take a very long time to get through, even when you seemingly have the upper hand. The way stats are shown is also difficult to decipher, and I eventually gave up trying to compare weapons and armor and stuck with what seemed okay, leveling it up as much as possible.

Crimson Shroud has been described as a bite-sized RPG. Perhaps it is too small. Not in scale, but in screen. All the combat action takes place on the top screen of the Nintendo 3DS, with menu selection and dice rolling on the bottom, where touching matters. Still, cramming all the fight details and characters in just the one screen above with a lot of text on top made it extremely difficult to follow who was doing what and the turn order. I often simply waited until the enemy finished attacking to see who was next in line for commands and went from there. I also never really understood why, if you killed all the enemies before they got a turn, the fight would be over, but if you didn’t then replacement goons would show up, making the whole ordeal last even longer.

Yes, the combat is strategic, but it is also immensely slow, as well as occasionally random. There’s also an unseen element of luck–obviously not just when rolling dice to use spells–that gives off the feeling that you are never truly in control of things. By the end of it all, I still did not have a strong grasp on what weapons and skills and spells worked against what type of enemy, or how new spells and skills were getting added to each character despite there being no XP won after each fight. Instead, you pick through a list of loot to take back to your inventory, but are limited in what you can take by some number cap.

After taking down the final boss and watching the credits do their thing, I was prompted to start everything all over again in New Game+. Curious, I tried to look up if anything greatly changed on a second playthrough, and enemies seemed tougher. No thanks. Anyways, I really do hope this is the last time I have to search for a usable screenshot of Crimson Shroud that can be manipulated to meet Grinding Down‘s strict standards because it is slim pickings out there, if you ask me.

With Crimson Shroud removed, I was finally able to download updates for Pokémon Shuffle, Nintendo Badge Arcade, and Mii Plaza, as well as the freemium Pokémon Picross puzzler, so there’s a plus in all of this. I even have room to spare for more stuff. See you never again, big, blocky game that, I guess, in the end, I really didn’t like all that much. I’ll think of you the next time I roll some dice.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #57 – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

2016-gd-games-completed-assassins-creed-4-black-flag

Pirate, assassin
Kenway breaks foul Templar plot
Big fan of shanties

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, #56 – Umbri

2016-gd-games-completed-umbri-capture-01

King of illusions
Cleanse the infected tiles
Must move fast, flip skills

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.

Rescuing a village of emotional fruit people is just what you do in Karambola

karambola-final-impressions-capture

Here’s a funny coincidence: I played Karambola, and then, the next day, ate some carambola, for the first time, as part of a fruit salad when visiting family for babies and a BBQ. I found the starfruit to be quite sweet, but maybe my taste-buds are off as I was the only one to think this. Others claimed it as bitter. To me, it tasted like a sweeter grape–no, not the cotton candy kind–and I am officially a fan. I’m also a fan of the point-and-click adventure-in-your-browser game Karambola, strange as it is, an artsy mix of bitter and sweet, a satisfying snack in the end.

First, if anything, Holy Pangolin Studio’s Karambola has reminded me of a great sin–that I’ve not yet played Samorost 3 this year despite totally saying I wanted to. These games swim in the same bizarre and silly point-and-click adventure pool where everything is all at once familiar and slightly unsettling. I mean, in this one, a flock of evil bird-thoughts–which I assume are standard endothermic vertebrates that happen to bring about unwanted thinking to those they encounter, like gray clouds hanging overhead–attack a village of peaceful and, might I add, emotional fruit people. Unfortunately for our titular protagonist Karambola, all of his friends scatter, lost to their own inner demons, and it’s up to you to bring them back via some smart if unconventional puzzle-solving clicking.

Each distraught villager is its own scene and puzzle, and some are easier to figure out than others, but all clues are directly in front of you, distorted or purposefully blurred, hidden in the environment for you to find. Still, everything is eventually doable with enough thinking and clicking, and you are then treated to a little animation of the emotional fruit-headed villager coming back to reality and happiness, color washing the screen clean. Then it is back to the Mega Man-esque level select screen to save the next downer, until all hope is returned.

Music and sound effects are vital to Karambola‘s storytelling, especially since you only get a screen of text at the start to explain the setup and then nothing more. Audio helps sell these villagers as villagers and sets the tone for each scene, whether it is the rhythmic lighting up of windows or muted guitar chords as a pinecone-headed figure cries into a wooden tube in the woods. A lot of the music is low, soft, clearly atmospheric, and it mixes strongly with the colorless, almost sketch-like artwork of the fruit people against the water-colored backdrops. There’s also a really fantastic little musical loop that plays when you click on the evil bird-thoughts to get a glimpse of unspoken story in their silhouetted bodies. Some of the bands on the soundtrack include Bird of Either and Avell, which are both new to me.

Lastly, some linkage. I know, I know…I just linked to some bands’ Facebook pages, but these are the more game-relevant ones. First, check out this interview with Karambola‘s creator Agata Nawrot. Second, give this oddball of a game a shot by clicking here and enjoying it in whatever browser you like to use. I played mine in Mozilla Firefox, for what it’s worth. Lastly, fruit flies are the worst, but evidently evil bird-thoughts are much worse, so don’t let your guard down. After all, there’s never been a better time to be playing videogames than right now.