Monthly Archives: January 2018

2018 Game Review Haiku, #8 – Echoed World

Renew life, beauty
Just not through jumping, which stinks
Maybe promising

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

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2018 Game Review Haiku, #7 – Hitchhiker: First Ride

Riding with stranger
Results in questions, raisins
Where are you going?

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

Conceivably rising to Risen’s challenge of becoming the ultimate legend

I’ve always been intrigued by the Risen games, knowing they were probably something I’d never touch, mostly because big, open-world RPGs on the PC were just always that–on the PC. I mean, I’ve had a personal computer of some sort since my college days, then playing things like Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, The Sims, and Age of Empires, but mostly sticking to consoles for my gaming time and leaving the computer for activities like reading, writing, blogging, adulting, and using Photoshop Elements 3.0 to make killer journal comics. I think the closest I got to playing something Risen-like was trying out the demo for Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga way back when.

Anyways, at some point, from one of those numerous too-good-to-ignore bundles, because I know I did not purposefully seek out these two titles on my own, I got Risen and Risen 2: Dark Waters. It might have been a Deep Silver-themed bundle a couple years ago. Regardless, I have them, and I see them all the time in my Steam library as I scroll past them to play literally anything else, and I finally felt bad enough to give one of ’em a try, specifically the first entry in the series, which now has a total of three games not counting the potential tie-in ELEX. Unfortunately, first impressions are key, and the original game in the series about rising up as a nobody does not make a strong one…even if I do feel compelled to keep playing a bit more, to see where it ultimately goes. Or could go.

Risen‘s plot starts out somewhat generic. See, the gods have forsaken humanity, and from that titans have begun wrecking the world with all their might and rage; unfortunately, the ship you are currently sailing on is destroyed while at sea, sunk, torn to bits. Miraculously, you do not drown during this crazy storm, waking up on the island of Faranga. Alas, you are now stranded, penniless, and unarmed. Strangely, you are not alone, as Sara is another survivor looking to journey beside you. Her attire consists of a handkerchief around her neck, a bra, and a skirt; she’s all midriff in your face, like something out of the early 2000s. Anyways, you quickly begin to explore the area, meet locals, and fight off fantasy-esque monsters like giant vultures with…a stick.

After helping Sara find a safe and temporary house, the player moves deeper into the island and meets a resident named Jan who talks about the ruins and temples that have recently risen from the underground, bringing along strange monsters and animals. Still, these temples are also rumored to house mystical treasures. Because of this, humans from other lands have come in and started an inquisition, as well as instituting martial law, forbidding Faranga locals from moving out of the main town. Anybody caught outside is turned over to the monastery and recruited to the order. Alas, I wasn’t paying attention closely to this cutscene–had Netflix up on the television, duh–and so after it was over I walked a foot or two in the wrong direction, resulting in my character being taken. Either way, my character is now inside this monastery, doing miscellaneous tasks like sweeping up dirt and solving a murder mystery. Also, I can’t seem to leave.

At some point, I’ll need to decide if I’m with the bandits or inquisitors, though that is probably dependent on getting out of the monastery, and I suspect to do that means I’m becoming BFFs with the robe-wearing, -wielding inquisitors. Well, prior to getting kidnapped, I did get to experience some combat which…is underwhelming. Battles are not complicated, and enemies will move around and try to flank you, which makes groups especially dangerous, but I generally only fought one ugly-as-heck vulture at a time. I’m playing on a laptop with no mouse, and the mouse wheel is evidently what brings out your weapon, so to get that to happen I need press both buttons beneath the trackpad together, right in the middle…let’s just say that I hope there’s never a moment when I need to do this action super fast because oh boy. I also expect magic spells to show up eventually, but for now, all I’ve done is hit big birds and bugs with sticks and it is not all that thrilling.

Risen is almost ten years old, releasing back at the end of 2009. By today’s standards, it’s not the prettiest thing to crawl out of the swamp, but I’m not one to get hung up on graphics so long as there’s something to be enjoyed here. Remember, I’m the guy that recently played some Sonic Blast. Alas, I don’t know if there is anything fun here, but again, something about these games has me curious to see more. I need to at least get out of the monastery and give the game’s combat another look before deciding whether to see more of Faranga island or begin the long swim away towards Risen 2: Dark Waters.

Hitchhiker a roadtrip into the strange and aberrant

I never have and probably never will hitchhike. It seems like the scariest thing ever, and if ten seasons so far of Criminal Minds has taught me anything, it is not to get into a car with an unknown person, man or woman or child, no matter what time of day or state/county. Still, there is something fascinating about the concept, of having two people unfamiliar with each other putting all their trust out there, for a little help getting from point A to point B. I’m sure there are some kind souls out there that are genuine good Samaritans, and I’m sure there are plenty that are not. That’s kind of what Hitchhiker: First Ride is about, but there’s also some other weird things happening that I couldn’t grok. Plus, raisin jokes.

Hitchhiker: First Ride, a Humble Original from Mad About Pandas and current freebie over in the Humble Monthly Trove, begins innocently enough. You’re a hitchhiker, taking a ride somewhere else. Unfortunately, you are unable to remember who you are or where you’re headed, as if something in your recent past has stolen your memory. The car’s interior and highway offer some clues, like a hidden matchbook, a photo of a young couple in the glovebox, reality-breaking billboards, and chatty crows. The man driving the car is a mustache-sprouting farmer, specifically a raisin grower, and he seems bent on helping you discover your memories while also revealing more about his life. Naturally, not everything is as it seems.

In terms of gameplay, there’s a lot of sitting around and listening to your driving companion chat away the minutes and miles. You can also interact with different elements of the car, and sometimes these interactions lead to discoveries and sometimes they don’t, such as flicking the bobble-head on the dashboard. There are also dialogue choices to make at various times, like whether you will taste one of this farmer’s home-grown raisins or not. I know, that’s a big one. Harder than deciding Duck’s fate in season one of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. For a good while, honestly, I looked out the window and watched the landscape zip by, curious to know what was over that hill or if anyone lived in that house or if that billboard really said what I thought it said (it did).

At one point, Hitchhiker: First Ride takes a turn. Reality breaks, and I had a hard time following where everything was going. I might need to play it again. The driver knows things about you that neither you, the in-game character, or you the person playing the game know, and it’s a bizarre feeling, being left out of your own story. You begin to feel trapped, longing for air, a sinister aura surrounding you, judging every future choice you make. This is, by all accounts, a well-done metaphysical mystery, but I’m not going to stand here and tell you I completely got down with it on every level, especially the cartoon play-like storytelling near the end. Also, grapes are totally better than raisins, which, when you think about it, are dead grapes.

I think I liked 2000:1: A Space Felony a wee bit more, as I felt more in control of the unfolding story, but this was still super neat and different, and I’m excited to see Hitchhiker: First Ride develop into something more.

Echoed World is only the start of Algiz’s plight

I played Echoed World for two reasons, maybe three. One, I thought, based on its few screenshots, that it looked real pretty, like Monster Tale at a higher resolution or a piece of sci-fi concept art brought to life. I haven’t played it, but I can see a comparison to Ori and the Blind Forest as well due to its hand-painted graphics. Two, it’s available as a free download on Steam. And the maybe three part…well, it kind of reminded me of the character-driven platformers of yesteryear, like Jak and Daxter, Metroid, and, uh, Rocket Knight Adventures, which I do have a liking to. You know, you control a unique-looking hero and traverse an environment for some big and bombastic reason. Either way, that’s what I went in with, and the game–really, a demo, a practice sliver–didn’t exactly live up to expectations, but I think there’s promise here.

Echoed World was created as a student project, with the team putting it out for free in hopes of receiving feedback from players. You know, like me. Well, here I am, doing my civic duty. It sounds like most of Team DOTS had no previous experience with game development, churning out Echoed World over a few months of tutored game development classes. In that regards, it is impressive; in terms of something you play, it is less so, but I am no developer myself, only a player that plays.

The best thing Echoed World has going for itself is its world and opening cutscene. See, the creator of this place made a decision to split his almighty power up into seven Architects because of reasons. By doing this, he became nothing more than just an observer, a mundane human being. These Architects reshaped the world so that it brimmed with beauty and energy; however, the Architect Tyr was obsessed with perfection and struggled to make life as good as everyone else, deciding to steal the beauty from other planets. You play as the Architect known as Algiz, who can no longer create brand new life, but is still able to manipulate life that’s already been created. This process requires many sacrifices as he makes his way across a slowly dying world.

In total, Echoed World took me about 20 minutes to see to completion, but that could have probably been more like 15 minutes since I ended up having to reload a section due to a physics error, more on that in a moment. It’s a puzzle-based platformer where mechanics and story are bound together. You move generally left to right and make your way to the end of the level. Usually, there are some obstacles in the way, such as a large gap you can’t job; however, Algiz can borrow life from something nearby and put it into the dead tree stump by the gap to make it grow and create a bridge. There are also doors that need a specific amount of life energy to open, requiring you to take back life you’ve already used and store it inside until you get there. Lastly, on two occasions, a monster will attack you, and your only way to combat it is by manipulating the environment so that it falls into spikes and dies. None of this is challenging, and the monster sections are a little underwhelming, but I could see these ideas being expanded into more complex puzzles, especially if you had to juggle both monsters and stealing/dropping life into the world simultaneously.

That said, technically, performance-wise, Echoed World is not great. Jumping is vital to a platformer, obviously, and the jumping here is beyond bouncy and unresponsive. I never felt fully in control of Algiz and where he was landing. At one point, he got stuck on the edge of a platform, and the game didn’t know what to do, so I was stuck, body half inside a rock, unable to do anything but reload the whole section. Also, there are collectibles to find, swirling balls of light, six in total, but after I got stuck and had to reload, the game seemed to forget that I had already found four by that point and started me back at zero, despite picking up what I believed to be the fifth collectible. It was strange. Lastly, Algiz is not affected by any of the game’s lighting, which looks odd when inside a dark cave and the character model is cartoony bright and vibrant, like a new layer in Photoshop at 100% on top of another more subdued layer.

Anyways, that was a lot of words for a game that honestly is just testing the developmental waters. I hope my criticism is well-received because, again, I think there’s something here. Echoed World just needs more time and polish.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #6 – Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara

Classic coin-op port
Branching paths, monsters galore
Named my soldier Pault

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #5 – 2000:1: A Space Felony

Determine murders
Accidents, erroneous
Real detective work

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.