Monthly Archives: February 2019

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse

I love X-Men, and I loved X-Men. I probably don’t love it as hard as I did as a young, lonely child with a wild imagination, but that’s okay. Not everything lasts forever, and that’s why nostalgia exists. Growing up, I had plenty of X-Men action figures, two VHS tapes–namely X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men and X-Men: Night of the Sentinels–that I watched over and over again, to the point of almost burning them up, and, of course, countless collectible cards, ranging from Jim Lee’s X-Men Series 1 to SkyBox’s X-Men Series 2 to X-Men ’95 FLEER ULTRA and even more. If you were at all like me, then you know exactly what I’m talking about; if not, oh well, move along. So it was natural for me to be excited about anything X-Men-related when it came to videogames, which brings us to X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse…for the SNES.

In X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, Charles Xavier sends five of his beloved X-Men to sabotage various operations and structures on the Genosha island complex to liberate mutants in captivity. Further investigation reveals Queen Brood and Tusk are involved in this matter and headed by the titular Apocalypse. After defeating all evil forces on Genosha, Xavier discovers that Magneto intends to destroy Genosha from his space station Avalon. To prepare for the confrontation, Xavier tests the five X-Men in the Danger Room to defeat holograms of Omega Red and Juggernaut. After passing the tests, the X-Men go on separate paths inside Avalon to face and defeat Exodus and then battle against that non-magnanimous Magneto. It’s like a multi-part string of episodes from X-Men: The Animated Series, and I was into it.

Right, so. The player takes control of five X-Men who each have their own objectives, as well as different moves and capabilities activated by certain control combinations. There is a limited number of lives that count for all five X-Men and not one individually. That said, similar to Mega Man, the levels may be played in any order. At the end of each level, you fight a boss, and the next three levels are linear and require each boss level to be defeated. This is followed by two straightforward boss battles in the Danger Room. Finally, only one of the X-Men can be selected, each one going through a different end level. Thankfully, after beating the first five stages, a password can be acquired. The game has health pickups, as well as the option to gain extra lives by collecting three “X” icons hidden throughout each stage. Otherwise, it’s a straightforward action game where you destroy anything and everything in your path, usually with mutant powers.

Here’s who you get to play as in X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse:

  • Beast – Possesses superhuman physical strength, agility, and an ape-like appearance…if, y’know, apes had blue fur.
  • Cyclops – Produces powerful, uncontrollable beams of concussive force from his eyes, forcing him to wear a specialized visor at all times.
  • Gambit – Has the ability to manipulate kinetic energy and charge objects with it. He’s also skilled in card-throwing, as well as hand-to-hand and staff combat.
  • Psylocke – She can use her telepathic powers to form a “psychic knife” from her fist. She’s also an expert martial artist.
  • Wolverine – A gruff mutant possessing superhuman senses, enhanced physical capabilities, adamantium coated bones and claws, and regenerative abilities.

For me, I was sold the instant I knew I could play as Gambit. He was always a favorite of mine growing up, and I still think there is a coolness to the character now, even if I haven’t kept up on any of his storylines. I also enjoyed Beast a great deal, hanging upside-down and punching minions in the face. The pixels were big for X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, almost zoomed in, which meant you didn’t get to see a ton of the environment around you, but you got a nice closeup of Cyclops firing off his laser blast. It definitely helped make these characters seem larger than life, which, for me at that age, they certainly were.

Now, around the same time as this game, there was another X-Men game, but it was for the SEGA Genesis. A system I did not own, but frequently played on at my then-best friend’s house. This was X-Men 2: Clone Wars, and it seemed to be the cooler-looking one of the bunch, much like how Mortal Kombat had blood on the Genesis and sweat drops on the SNES. In this one, you controlled a select few X-Men as they attempted to thwart the alien Phalanx from assimilating all of Earth’s inhabitants to their race. It played differently, and I still can’t pinpoint why I felt like my SNES title was inferior to it, but the feeling remains.

Either way, sorry, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, for trading you in. I do have a bunch of other X-Men-related games in my collection that remain untouched, shame on me, and I hope to get to them soon, as well as procure a copy of X-Men: Destiny, which might become a rarer thing down the line.

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.

Create your own Dark Cloud geographical landscapes

Back in April 2017, I was tabling at Camden Comic Con, selling my comic wares and keeping an eye out for any videogame-related cosplayers. Alas, didn’t see a single one, but there were several for Stranger Things and Sailor Moon, go figure. That said, a few tables away from me was a business whose name I no longer recall selling retro videogames, and by retro, yes, sadly, I mean PlayStation 2, PlayStation 1, and similar ilk of that time period. Wow. Man, I remember when retro meant Atari; hashtag I’m so old. However, in better news, I was able to reacquire a copy of Dark Cloud for a few bucks, one of the first games I originally got with my PlayStation 2, but ultimately ended up trading in for something else, an action I greatly regret to this day.

One of the PlayStation 2’s first big RPGs, Dark Cloud is a title that challenges players to not only battle enemies and solve puzzles, but also to create geographical landscapes using the Georama system, which limits a certain number of houses and items being placed in the world, as well as NPCs only being allowed in specific spots. The game was the first full-scale production by Level-5, a developer who would quickly go on to make some of my favorite titles down the road, such as Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Rogue Galaxy, and Professor Layton’s London Life from Professor Layton and the Last Specter, among several others. Here, I’ll name two more, just becauseFantasy Life and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Well, in Dark Cloud, you play as Toran, a young boy on an unforgettable journey of rebirth, revival, and hope. Not my words exactly; also, the early marketing for this game claimed this was a “Zelda killer,” which it definitely was not. The game begins as Colonel Flag Gilgister of the Lagoon Empire Army of the East attempts to awaken the Dark Genie, a legendary evil creature, whom Gilgister wishes to use to control the world. Upon summoning the genie, Gilgister orders him to attack the West. However, prior to the attack, Simba, the Fairy King, casts a protective spell around the land, sealing buildings, objects, and people inside magical orbs called Atla. Toran must harness the spirit of those destroyed to rebuild the lands in time for an epic confrontation. You’ll recreate demolished villages by re-building houses, hills, churches, volcanoes, and streams, populating these places with people, and you’ll even be able to control the weather. Ooh ahh.

All in all, Dark Cloud is an action role-playing game played from a third-person perspective, in which the player moves through procedurally-generated dungeons, battling monsters, collecting items, and doing their best to manage a bunch of different meters. This may have been my actual first taste of randomized levels; sorry, Rogue. In these dungeon levels, the player may have the option of entering a separate “back door” area that contains stronger monsters and rarer treasure. Most of the combat involves real time hacking and slashing, along with a lot of stepping to the side, but the player will occasionally “duel” a boss-like enemy, which boils down to a quick time event (QTE); alas, these aren’t all that exciting, but this was the beginning of the era for QTEs.

Here’s one of the two things I greatly dislike about Dark Cloud–while in dungeons, you have both a health meter and a thirst meter. The thirst meter gradually decreases over time, and, when fully depleted, it causes the health meter to begin to decrease. That sucks. To prevent the thirst meter from depleting, Toran must drink water from his inventory or use a small pool found in some dungeon levels. It’s not the most fun thing to keep on top of, forcing you to move through dungeons as quick as possible, almost frantically, which leads me to great dislike number two in the next paragraph…because it deserves its very own paragraph.

Weapons have durability and will, without constant care, degrade and eventually break completely, disappearing from your inventory. How sad and cruel. You can upgrade weapons after they gain a specific amount of experience, infusing them with extra abilities and bonuses, and all of that can be lost if you aren’t careful and continue swinging away at monsters while your weapon teeters on the edge of breaking. Early on, this is a major problem, because you only have access to a couple of weapons, and the mayor will give you one free weapon repair powder each time you talk to him, but only if you don’t have any in your inventory; I have not gotten to the point where I can unlock a shop yet. So my dungeon crawling has gone a lot like this–enter dungeon, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, repair once, fight monsters until weapon almost breaks, stop fighting monsters, hopefully find key to get to next floor, run around frantically, leave, go back to town, and stock up on items from the mayor. It’s fine, but not very thrilling, and I’m hoping that the weapon upgrade system becomes something I can really dig into, like in Rogue Galaxy.

Still, I love the Georama system very much in Dark Cloud, which should surprise no one. I mean, my favorite part of the Suikoden series is watching my castle fill up with people and seeing where everyone goes and what they can offer me. This sort of hits the same vibe, with some slight differences. After you acquire enough orbs, you can begin placing houses, trees, and ponds wherever you like (so long as it all fits nicely); for houses, you then have to fill in specific slots with items, such as beds, barrels, benches, and who lives there. I just got a llama for Toran’s home…well, barn area. It’s fun to find the right item to slot in and complete a full structure and then go out and meet your new neighbor.

I’ve never got too far in my original copy of Dark Cloud before trading it in, certainly not far enough to unlock fishing or other people to play as, which I know is in the game thanks to reading its manual. I’m hoping to make a bigger dent now and am excited to watch Norune Village grow at my discretion. Stay tuned for further updates down the road. If I build a road, that is.

The dark side of the Force is a pathway to LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars

So far, my track record with the LEGO Star Wars games has been downhill ever since, well, the very first one, LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game, which came out in 2005. LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga has its share of issues, and LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens was fine if a bit forgettable…though controlling BB-8 was a pure blast of delight. In fact, I’ve been having more and more issues with the latest LEGO games, and I think I’m starting to become no longer a fan of their structure and demand of grinding out studs to purchase everything from here to the moon.

The nitty-gritty is upon us: LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars is another action-adventure videogame based on The Clone Wars animated series, of which I’ve never seen a single episode though I know a lot people like it greatly, developed by Traveller’s Tales and published by LucasArts. It was originally released in March 2011 for the PlayStation 3, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Windows, and Nintendo 3DS consoles, and I ended up playing it via backwards-compatibility on my Xbox One. It features missions and characters from The Clone Wars television series, as well as everyone’s favorite characters from the original Star Wars saga, and there are both single-player and multiplayer gameplay modes to engage in.

The game engine used by previous LEGO Star Wars games has been upgraded to now hold more than 200 moving units or objects on-screen. That’s cool and all…and yet, I hated having swarms of constantly respawning enemies attack me as I tried to figure out what to do next. It didn’t add anything but frustration, especially as you see your stud count dropping with each and every death. Another dent in the hood is the fact that a majority of missions feel aimless, and the game doesn’t help you know where to go or what to do, especially the large levels where you need to take control of a number of enemy areas; for instance, some structures can only be destroyed by using a commander-like Stormtrooper to have a bunch of other Stormtroopers shoot at it in unison while other structures can simply be taken down by a lightsaber or tank. Getting around in these large areas is also a slog, and having vehicles that blow up after one or two hits doesn’t help.

The more traditional levels in LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars are fine, if the standard formula affair. It’s when the developers try to do something outside of it that things become wearisome. Such as the spaceship flying levels that have you going to and fro, landing on various ships to pull a lever or hit a doo-hickie or something like that. Or the big battlefield levels where you have to destroy enemy strongholds and build your own on top of them, all while dealing with an unending wave of enemies out for blood. Using the Force to move objects around still requires a great deal of patience; don’t expect perfection when trying to build a climbable tower. The hub zone is tiresome to navigate through and confusing, and many areas are blocked off until you have a specific amount of gold bricks; also, say you need R2-D2 to open a door, but you aren’t currently running around as it…you need to travel back to a menu desk, select it from the character list, and then travel back to where the door was and pray, pray, you don’t need another character to do something else, otherwise it is a lot of retreading.

Here’s a first: I used cheat codes to unlock a bulk of the red bricks in LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars. I’ve never done this before, but the idea of replaying all these levels again just seems so taxing on my mind, and the cheats don’t seem to affect unlocking Achievements. This will also be the first LEGO game that I don’t complete to 100%, and I’m actually okay with that. I’m going to finish the things I want to do, like getting True Jedi in every level and buying all the characters, but other than that…I’m ready to say goodbye to this brickish world. Also, I may very well do the same thing with LEGO City Undercover, another title that seems to require a ton of grinding and replaying to fully finish; at least that one had a fun story to follow.

If you play Pikuniku, you’ll get free money (not really)

With a name like Pikuniku, you’d think this game would be harder to explain or some kind of Pokemon offshoot, like Hey You, Pikachu!. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Weird, for sure, but weirdly simple, and I’m sitting here smiling just thinking about it. Before you read anything further, I highly suggest you put this game’s soundtrack from Calum Bowen on.

Right, so…Pikuniku is an absurdly wonderful puzzle-exploration game that takes place in a strange but playful world where not everything is as happy as it seems despite all the bright colors and bouncy tunes. You play as a “monster” from a cave and must help out a number of peculiar characters overcome struggles, uncover a deep state conspiracy, and start a fun little revolution in this delightful dystopian adventure. Down with robots, as they say, and don’t let the free money bit fool you; when it comes to money, nothing is ever truly free.

The main thrust of Pikuniku is its platforming, which I can liken to things like Night in the Woods and LittleBigPlanet. A bit floaty, but you can still get to where you need to go and, if not, try jumping on a tree, cloud, or citizen for extra reach. After that, there are several light-hearted puzzles to deal with, but none of them are overly complicated, and the same can be said of the boss fights, which are fun and easy, grandiose even, and that’s all good. I’m not a huge fan of splatformers–I just started to play Celeste, and I don’t see myself getting too far up that mountain–and sometimes I just want to jump around in a relaxing fashion and explore the world leisurely without being chased by some nightmarish monster or having to have super reflexes when it comes to pressing buttons and landing on teeny-tiny platforms.

As the red “beast,” you can run, roll, and kick things, and the animations for all these actions are smooth and hilarious to see happen. Plus, you can put different hats or cosmetics on the main character to change its look and perform specific abilities, such as the watering can hat that lets you water flowers to reach new areas via jump-pads. There are coins to collect, along with trophy statues and small scenes involving bugs, but all these are just that–collectibles. The world is full of fun characters to interact with, ranging from web-spinning spiders to round worms to people that look like they came straight off the pages of the Mr. Men books. The dialogue is goofy and enjoyable, and it is worth chatting with characters just to get a vibe for how they live in this world, and you’ll occasionally get a dialogue choice though it definitely doesn’t make a big difference overall.

Alas, I did not get to try out the co-op mode of Pikuniku, but that’s okay, as I can only imagine it being slightly frustrating considering the somewhat non-precise controls for steering your character and hitting rocks around. But it’s there if you want it. The main story mode is only a few hours long and pretty linear, and I played through it in multiple phases, usually pausing after a boss fight; a part of me wanted to go back and find all the hidden collectibles, but I didn’t get a sense that anything would truly come of it…so I’ll leave those for others to gather up. I wonder how many hats you can get, too.

As it currently stands, Pikuniku is one of my favorite games of the year so far. It’s delightful. It’s quirky and embraces its strangeness, and I love that. Don’t be surprised when it shows up on my end-of-year GOTY list.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #23 – LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars

Aimless adventure
Lightsabers, blasters–Star Wars
Used cheat codes, first time

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Cloudberry Kingdom

Here’s a rare happening when it comes to all these PlayStation Plus Purge posts–I’ve actually already played a small bit of Cloudberry Kingdom already, our topic du jour, but I naturally remember nothing more about it other than that. A quick search on Grinding Down shows that I definitely didn’t have anything to say about the game whenever it was I last touched it, and I don’t know how much more I’ll have to say about it now because…well, it just kind of is what it is. Still, let’s find out together.

First, some pertinent stats upon returning to Cloudberry Kingdom after what I can only guess is several years; my PlayStation 3 says I installed it on June 2, 2015…yup, so there ya go. I won’t go into them all, but here a few standouts:

  • Levels beat: 54
  • Jumps: 761
  • Score: 284575
  • Coins: grabbed 602 out of 637 (94%)
  • Total deaths: 40
  • Trophies unlocked: 1

Cloudberry Kingdom is an action platformer created by Pwnee Studios and published by that lovable French fatcat Ubisoft. The game uses a set of algorithms developed by Jordan Fisher to create procedurally generated levels that can be adaptive to the player’s skill level, in-game character abilities, and alteration of game physics. Whatever that means. Basically, the levels change based on how you play, which is neat, but I probably wouldn’t have known that unless I read it first before playing. To me, the levels in story mode feel mostly handcrafted, so if it is changing based on my lackluster jumping skills, that’s kind of cool. If it’s not, oh well.

There is…a story to follow. Or try to care about. Something called The Orb resurfaces and, with it, comes Kobbler with his mania and Princess with her endless boredom. It’s only a matter of time before Bob, Cloudberry Kingdom‘s hero, shows up to put order back to madness. Three powers struggle for victory, and the fate of Cloudberry Kingdom hangs in the balance. I really don’t know what to make of all that. Honestly, it’s like reading a short summary of something in a different language. Wait, wait a freaking second. I just discovered this major factoid–Cloudberry Kingdom touts celebrity voice actor Kevin Sorbo, the star of hit TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

I’ll be honest with y’all; I don’t dig Cloudberry Kingdom‘s look. It hurts to say because, obviously, I love cartoony styles, but there’s just something ultra plain vanilla about the graphics here. They look like stickers atop a muted piece of background art. The jumping is a bit floaty, but it’s functional enough, though the story levels don’t present much challenge; I’m sure if I got further into the campaign mode I’d come across some real zingers, but that won’t ever happen, at least not in this lifetime. In addition to the main story, there are four additional modes: Escalation, which throws increasingly tough levels at you; Time Crisis, where there is a timer that is draining gems to time to the clock; Hero Rush, another timed mode where you play as different character types; lastly, Hybrid Rush, an absurd amalgamation in which you’re afflicted by multiple abilities simultaneously.

Cloudberry Kingdom has a neat idea behind it, but it lacks polish and imagination. You can’t rely simply on Kevin Sorbo to sell your game…though I am interested to here some of his voicework now. I’d love to see the notion of randomly generated platforming levels explored further, as this is clearly just a nugget of an idea here. It’s just not enough currently.

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.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #22 – Pikuniku

Start revolution
Against tyrant, free money
Bouncy jumps, tunes, talk

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #21 – Baba is You

Follow simple rules
Think outside, break them to win
Baba is unique

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Search Anoxemia’s horrific ocean floor for a way out

I purchased Anoxemia at the same time I got Subject 13, and I played it for a bit before quickly losing interest. Both were relatively cheap, in terms of money, and so it didn’t weigh too heavy on my shoulders that I barely gave this a shot. Well, I’m trying to clear up some space on my Xbox One–y’know, so I can download more games I won’t get to right away–and I popped back into it the other night to see if it could hook me. Alas, it did not, and that’s a shame, because I love spooky underwater exploration, and this has that in droves. It’s just not fun to either play or control.

Anoxemia, which, for those that don’t know, is a condition of subnormal oxygenation of the arterial blood. It’s also a story-driven exploration game from BSK Games that puts you in control of scientist Dr. Bailey and his operations drone ATMA. Together, you’ll search the ocean floor as you discover and extract samples from the bowels of underwater caves. However, danger lurks in each passageway, everything from poison drifts to powerful ocean currents, leftover mines from the war, and mobile machines running haywire. Oh, and there’s also the ever-present risk of running out of oxygen. Fortunately, ATMA can help guide you to your destination using a few special tools and upgrades.

Initially, Anoxemia greets you with some stylized 2D drawings with some simple pan and scan animation, which does a good job of setting up the horror-driven story. Here’s a twist though…you don’t really control Dr. Bailey directly, instead using ATMA like a mouse cursor to make him follow along. Your main goal now is to steer ATMA forward and collect oxygen, energy, and contaminated plant samples. This all happens in a 2D platformer-esque fashion, except you are underwater, so everything is slow and swimmy, and there’s a lot of waiting for Dr. Bailey to catch up and perform the desired action. He needs to also dodge water mines, cannons, rocks, and lasers, which is not easy because, again, you aren’t controlling him directly.

The levels are relatively short, but there aren’t any clear instructions on what you are supposed to do. Death comes quick, and there is no checkpointing–at least not where I was early on–so you have to replay the level all over again from the start. Imprecise controls were mostly the reason Dr. Bailey bit the big one. As far as I can tell, you need to collect everything to proceed, while also not running out of oxygen or energy. Or getting hit by laser beams or heat-seeking machines. It’s a pretty tough game, and I think it knows that; throw in the dark, murky visuals, which do look great at times, but often obscure a lot of the environment, and you have a recipe for frustration.

Anoxemia also greatly lacks in giving the player any sense of progression. In any game, whether it is a platformer, an RPG, a first-person shooter, giving players the sensation that they are moving forward, making progress, is key to creating a successful game and keeping people hooked for more. Unfortunately, Anoxemia counters this by providing players with little variation in the maps and activities performed in them. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell when I was moving from one level to the next, and it felt like Dr. Bailey and ATMA were stuck on a ocean treadmill, going through the motions but ultimately getting nowhere. Also, the Achievements don’t provide any clues as to what you can or cannot achieve.

I’ll never know Dr. Bailey’s fate…though I suspect he’ll go through a good amount of torment before his finds the surface and makes it out alive. If that. Me? I’m not a masochist by design, and so Anoxemia has been uninstalled from my Xbox One. Maybe I’ll watch an online playthrough down the road, but for now I’m content with what I know, which is that ATMA moves forward and then, ten seconds later, Dr. Bailey faintly follows; I do not like that.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #20 – Fairy Song

Explore peaceful world
Cute aesthetic, fly around
Hundred percent fail

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.