Monthly Archives: March 2018

2018 Game Review Haiku, #22 – Dord

Ghost dreams of knighthood
A casual adventure
Of strange combat moves

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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GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Midnight Club: Street Racing

This might be hard to believe, considering my long and well-documented love for all things racing games, but I willingly bought a copy of Midnight Club: Street Racing for the PlayStation 2 some time back in that wacky, inexplicable decade known as the aughts. I suspect I got it for cheap at the Blockbuster near my college’s campus when they started selling used games–or rather “previously rented”–but that’s just a suspicion, based mostly on the fact that that is where I got a small chunk of my early PS2 collection during my poorer days eating ramen noodles and working a few hours during the week in an art gallery. For the record, and yes, I just looked, here are all the games still in my collection rocking a “Previously Rented Game – Quality Guaranteed” label from the now defunct Blockbuster business:

Yup. Quite a super-squad there. With that said, let’s get on to the star of today’s show. Everybody, start your engines. Vroom vroom vroooooom…

Surprisingly, for a game centered around driving speedy cars quickly and aggressively, Midnight Club: Street Racing kind of had a story behind all its engine-driven action. Granted, around that timeframe, my experience was fairly limited to car-related adventures through things like Vigilante 8, Super Mario Kart, and Crash Team Racing, where vehicular combat was the central element, and it didn’t matter who was behind the wheel so long as they could toss projectiles out like everyone else. So, taking place in both New York City and London, you’re a bored-as-bored-gets cabbie looking for some street-style racing action…for reasons. Magically, you stumble across your first challenger named Emilio and are then invited to join the titular Midnight Club to continue proving your worth and burning gang leaders in races. There’s no real introduction, and the dialogue sections are flat images with character portraits speaking while two cars sit idly next to each other. Look, it’s not Great Expectations, or even Fast Five, but it’s something.

Not shockingly, when you see that Rockstar had a hand in this, but Midnight Club: Street Racing is a bit open-worldish. Y’know, a genre just starting to hit its stride then. You’re able to cruise around the respective cities, looking for trouble in the form of hookmen, which are visible on your mini-map, which, when you glance at the screenshot above, defies the definition of the word mini greatly. I mean, that was the UI for the era–big, bright, and loud. Anyways, once you get behind them, you’ll have to keep up with their ride until they feel that you’re worthy of a race, which is you against that driver’s entire posse. Also, you can call up these hookmen on your cell phone–a novel concept back then–for a more fair one-on-one race. If you win the race, you get to add your opponent’s car to your garage, which I guess is akin to carving up a dead animal and wearing its skin as a prize. I don’t know a lot about cars.

I remember being initially impressed by the scale of Midnight Club: Street Racing offered, but do remember the cities feeling lifeless and empty. Now, I’ve only ever been to New York City, and I remember a lot of cars and honking while there, as well as swarms of people; here, it is just mostly empty streets, with little traffic to deal with, and that just wouldn’t cut it today. Still, one must consider that this game came out before things like Grand Theft Auto III and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. It was also frustrating that, to even start a race with another member of the Midnight Club, you needed to follow them to the starting line first, weaving through traffic and praying they didn’t get too far ahead of your slow whip, which was often more challenging than the race itself.

Most races are checkpoint races, which means you can veer off the beaten path so long as you hit all the checkpoints and cross the finish line before anyone else. That might sound like there’s a ton of freedom at hand, but this is a condensed city-scape and not miles of Smuggler’s Run‘s open terrain, and there were generally only one or two ways to get the job done efficiently. If rubbing and racing isn’t your thing, well…there’s an arcade mode, which lets you set up head-to-head, checkpoint, and two-player races. Also, some sort of capture the flag mode where you need to bump into the car carrying the flag to steal it and then deliver to some hotspot on the map. I don’t believe I ever took down the gang champion of New York City, thus never even seeing the second half of the game set in London.

I have no idea if Midnight Club: Street Racing hold up in 2018, and I’m not interested in finding out. Still, if I had my copy around, I might pop it in randomly one night for a zip down memory lane, but oh well. Much like Blockbuster, this franchise stalled years ago, and newer, more efficient racers have taken the lead, like Burnout Paradise.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

I hilariously keep forgetting Team Kirby Clash Deluxe’s name

At first, I thought it was called Kirby Battle Royale–y’know, the game where 100 Kirbys jump out of a plane, land on an island, and must fight each other to death. Then I thought it was Kirby Star Allies, which is some new thing full of big reveals coming out real soon for the Nintendo Switch. Lastly, I thought it was Kirby’s Blowout Blast…but nope, none of those are right. I mean, yes, they exist and are all technically games starring the titular pink vacuum-beast, but the game I am playing and constantly forgetting the name of is Team Kirby Clash Deluxe. Oy vey. Look, there have been a lot of similar-sounding and looking Kirby-based games coming out of Nintendo these last few years, and it is difficult to keep them all separate.

Evidently, to make things even more complicated and layered, Team Kirby Clash Deluxe is a spin-off of a mini-game from 2016’s Kirby: Planet Robobot, available as a free-to-start digital down on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. It’s a game entirely made up of boss fights from previous Kirby-starring games, with all your favorite cute-as-heck baddies showing up, like Waddle Dee, Meta Knight, and King Dedede. RPG elements like leveling up, class types, and unlocking new weapons and armor sets are the key to making your Kirby super strong. You can take on the fights somewhat alone, with three computer-controlled Kirbys–should it be Kirbies?–or you can team up online with other real-life players; I’ve not tried the latter, and I’m doing just fine without human help, though I guess then I’m missing the whole point of this experience. For what it’s worth, I’ve never done much online multiplaying on my Nintendo 3DS, save for Animal Crossing: New Leaf and a few matches of ScareScraper slash Thrill Tower from Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. I like flying solo.

Now, the fighting in Team Kirby Clash Deluxe is not the most technical or satisfying combat system this side of the moon. It’s mashy and chaotic and that’s never really been the focus of Kirby games, of which my favorites are Kirby’s Dream Land 3 and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Speaking of the latter, I seemingly still have my case and instruction manual for it, but no longer the disc. Boo to that. Also, not-favorites in the franchise include Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. Anyways, you can freely switch your Kirby between four different classes, which are as follows:

  • Sword Hero
  • Beam Mage
  • Dr. Healmore
  • Hammer Lord

These classes are basically locked-in versions of when Kirby would copy an enemy’s ability for his own nefarious purposes in a traditional game. Y’know, but sucking them into his mouth and swallowing them whole. Class-wise, they are easy to figure out, with Sword Hero being a general warrior type, Beam Mage being a ranged wizard, Dr. Healmore is your cleric, and Hammer Lord is most definitely a tank. I’m putting all my chips, and therefore Gem Apples and currency fragments, into Beam Mage, buying weapon and armor sets as they unlock because trying to spread out my spending on multiple classes, without using real money–more on that in a bit–is a fool’s errand. I really like the Beam Mage’s Time Stop ability and the fact that I can keep my distance from bosses and let my AI-driven team get in close for me. As fights progress, the boss will drop stone tablets, and if you collect all four of them you can perform a supermove that deals massive damage; other than that, the strategies are mash attacks and heal and dodge when necessary and obvious.

Let’s now talk about the free-to-play stuff. Team Kirby Clash Deluxe‘s freemium currency is Gem Apples, and there’s a tree in your main hub area that will give you five Gem Apples every 12 hours. Naturally, you can also buy Gem Apples for real cash money through the nearby shop or upgrade the tree itself for better harvests, and I wish I could tell you what the best deal is, but I honestly haven’t even looked at the prices. Each boss fight requires a certain amount of Vigor to take on, which recharges over time–it’s basically your standard energy system to restrict you from playing too much at once. You can instantly refill the meter by eating a Gem Apple or leveling up. Gem Apples are also used to unlock new boss fights and, along with additional currency requirements, acquire new weapons and armor. At first, everything only takes a few Gem Apples to do, but as you progress the amounts required will increase, insisting you pay real money for more; thankfully, I’m as patient as an anaconda hunting its prey and don’t mind checking in every 12 hours or so for my free Gem Apples, stockpiling them until I can unlock the next whatever.

So, similar to my approach with Pokémon Shuffle, Disney Magic Kingdoms, and other free-to-play games, I’m okay taking it slow in Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, so long as I get to see a majority of its stuff. Some of these armor sets look adorable on the ol’ pink sphere. I doubt I’ll get my Kirby up to level 50–he’s currently sitting rotund at level 12–but I’ll keep checking in on this until the Gem Apple requirements truly become too steep to climb.

2018 Game Review Haiku, #21 – Brave

This princess thirsts for
Generic monster fodder
Her bow screams–Mor’du!

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, #20 – Packing Up the Rest of Your Stuff on the Last Day at Your Old Apartment

Hot day for packing
Fans on, boxes to fill up
Better start moving

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.

Brave’s videogame transformation is not surprisingly rote

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being slightly baffled as to why Brave, that character action romp from 2012 developed by Behaviour Interactive and published by Disney Interactive Studios, not to be mixed up with another similar-sounding series, was being offered as a Games for Gold freebie this month for those on Xbox One and Xbox 360, but then I realized it is probably the closest thing Microsoft has that’s Irish-like in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I mean, let’s look at the facts–Scotland is totally near Ireland, and Kelly Macdonald’s deeply relaxing and soothing accent might as well be coming out of a banshee’s mouth. I guess those are all the facts.

Actually, no, another fact–I love Brave. I’m specifically talking about the animated movie here, the one where Princess Mérida, determined to make her own path in life, defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, she must rely on her bravery and ultra-good archery skills to undo a beastly curse and bring about peace to both her kingdom and family. That said, I do not love the videogame version of Brave, though I have just about squeezed every bit of entertainment from it by the time this post goes public. By that, I mean I popped all but one Achievement, the one for beating the game on its hardest difficulty setting.

This tie-in take on Brave doesn’t follow the film’s events scene by scene. Instead, it’s kind of a side happening, with Mérida chasing after her mother, now in bear form (uh, spoilers?), and discovering that a magical blight has befallen the land. To stop it, she’ll need to defeat Mor’du, along with a number of generically traditional evil creatures. There’s under ten levels to get through, and you’ll do them linearly, and they are all linear themselves, following almost the same exact progression, but more on that in a bit. The story never really becomes its own thing and never rises above an excuse to have a bunch of monsters to destroy; at least the hand-drawn cutscenes are more interesting to watch than the ones using in-game graphics, which, and this is not uncommon for this generation, are extremely ugly and lacking life, character. I mean, the inside of any castle section might as well be from the chopping floor for Demon Souls or Oblivion.

Brave‘s gameplay is far from courageous or anything unique. There’s running around, jumping on platforms, loosing arrows, and hitting plants and enemies with your sword. Oh, and I can’t forget the section where you play as her bear-mother Elinor, or the parts where you control her bear-brothers to solve beyond straightforward puzzles involving levers and switches. Honestly, I was surprised to discover that this kind of played like a twin-stick shooter. Using the right stick, you can loose an arrow in mostly any direction and change the element it is based on–earth, fire, wind, or ice–which is necessary for affecting the environment, as well as dealing more damage based on an enemy’s weakness. Fire boars hate ice, for instance. That said, the arrows sometimes don’t go where you want them to, and it reminded me a lot of trying to hit enemies in the background in Shadow Complex.

Look, this is obviously a family-friendly title, and thus, the action is okay, never trying too hard to be more than a standard affair. On the default difficulty, it never, ever even came close to challenging. My go-to plan for dealing with enemies was to fire at them from a distance and then, if they got close, double-jump and stab downward into the ground with Mérida’s sword for a damaging slam move. The only time it ever got tricky was when there were multiple enemies on screen with different weaknesses, requiring you to either switch your element out on the fly or take on a single set of enemies out first. The final boss fight–or rather final boss fights–have a bunch of these, but by that point in the game, Mérida is full of upgrades and more than capable of taking a few hits.

Speaking of that, the upgrades are what one expects in these types of games–more health, deal more damage, element effects last longer, potions restore more life, etc. They each require a specific amount of gold, which you earn from defeating monsters and cutting up flora. One playthrough alone of the game will probably only net you enough gold coins to buy maybe one-third of all the upgrades. So choose wisely or, if you are like me and want every Achievement, be prepared to grind out some money, and this includes purchasing the co-op specific upgrades. The ones you definitely want early on are increasing your power move meter more quickly, either from dealing damage or receiving it, the range at which you suck up gold coins, and the minion-summoning power for the earth element.

I’ve not played many of these tie-in games to Pixar/Disney properties I love because, well, they are often not what I want. Here’s a link to my thoughts on that The Incredibles game, which still hurts to think about today. I can’t say I was surprised by how Brave turned out, and I’m only holding out hope now on the rumor of a LEGO-based game for the upcoming The Incredibles II. That said, I’m sure if I ever get a copy of the videogame takes on WALL-E, Up, or Toy Story 3, I’ll foolishly give them a honest chance, forgetting all the missteps I’ve seen along the way up to this point.

Well, as they famously say in Scotland, lang may yer lum reek, Brave. I never want to play you again.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Ultratron

gd-ultratron-ps3-early-impressions

I’m trying to think of what the first “bullet hell” shooter was that I ever played or, at least, the first time I came to know the term. It might be U.N. Squadron. Or maybe 1943: The Battle of Midway. It was definitely something back on the SNES, because I remember cementing my dislike for the genre early in my gaming history. Though I’m sure some could argue that those titles don’t necessary meet the definition of a “bullet hell” shooter. Regardless, clearly from my examples there, it is a genre I don’t play often, and I could blame it on a strong lack of eye-hand coordination–which is also why I don’t play many fast-paced first-person shooters–but the truth is that I simply do not find this style of gameplay all that interesting.

Anyways, this post is about Ultratron, another “bullet hell”-esque shooter from Puppy Games, the same company that put out Titan Attacks!, which I previously played and uninstalled from my PlayStation 3. For lack of a better description, Ultratron is a twin-stick arena shooter inspired by classic arcade titles, updated and improved for the 21st century. The story is uninteresting and thus: the last human in the universe has been slain by evil killer robots. As the only remaining humanoid battle droid left, you’ll be fighting through over 40 arcade levels to take on the four giant boss robots of the apocalypse to…I don’t know. Get revenge? Make them go away and feel bad about their decisions? Grow as a metallic entity? Spoiler: I’ll never find out, as I only got slightly past Bellum, the second boss.

Ultratron‘s main goal is to obliterate wave after wave of incoming robot hordes. As you progress further, these tiny robots become tougher, rocking shields, explosive firepower, and other ways that they can damage you. However, as you destroy them, they burst into gold coins that you and your little pet droid can pick up, and there’s a shop-like screen at the end of each wave that lets you purchase new shields and smartbombs, along with special abilities and power-ups to increase your firing capability. They get tougher, you get stronger, rinse and repeat until your wiring no longer works. Also, there are a few challenge levels between waves, tasking you to dodge all enemies or, shockingly, shoot all enemies, with the money you earn at the end being determined by your performance.

Aside from this, there’s not much else seemingly to do in Ultratron. Which is a shame because it looks super slick. The game, without a doubt, takes its old-school style and runs for the hills with it; there are flashy gun effects, glossy animations, and a confined, stylized arena motif that truly makes you feel trapped and on your own to survive. That said, this ultra bright aesthetic often made it difficult for me to discern what was happening in the arena, with fruit trails blending into one another and swarms of teeny-tiny robots getting lost in the action. Also, text pops up in the bottom left of the screen, which is already condensed to begin with, in the middle of a dogfight, making it next to impossible to read while fighting off an enemy or dodging bullets.

Lastly, every time I typed the name Ultratron for this farewell post, all I can think of is the theme song to Ultraman. Enjoy.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.