Category Archives: achievements

If you work hard in Punch Club’s training, the fight is easy

I don’t know much about boxing, and I know even less about what it entails to train to become a good boxer. I figure it’s a lot of punching bags, doing push-ups, and dodging and weaving. I saw one of the Rocky films, but couldn’t tell you which one. Well, if anything, Punch Club is showing me that there’s much more involved, such as holding down part-time jobs, fighting mutated monsters in the sewers, eating food, sleeping, and keeping up your romantic relationships by bringing a young woman some flowers. The boxing life, it ain’t easy.

There’s a story here, and it’s sad. Your father was brutally murdered before your eyes…kind of just like how Batman’s parents went down. Now you must train hard, eat chicken, and punch dudes in the face to earn your place in the Punch Club ranks. All of this serves for you to discover who ended your father’s life and get that sweet, sweet revenge. I’m not there yet, still pretty low in the ranks, because it can be hard to multi-task, and so I’m splitting my time between multiple tasks, not sure what to really be focusing on in the short term. I figure it is better right now to earn money and buy training gear for my garage than keep paying the expensive gym fees, and that’s my main goal. The problem is something else always gets in the way.

Punch Club, for those that don’t know, comes from Lazy Bear Games and is a boxing tycoon management game with multiple branching storylines. Your goal is pretty clear from the start, but how you get there depends on whether you want to legitimately climb the rankings or take the more ridiculous, shady route. I’m kind of dancing between both paths at the moment, unsure where my loyalty lies, but I’ll eventually need to pick a path and stick to it.

Whatever task you’re completing, whether is it punching a bag or delivering pizza, gameplay boils down to watching a series of fluctuating statistic bars representing your various levels go up or down and then judging when enough is enough. Every activity essentially fills up some and empties others, with time given a crucial stat bar of its own. It’s an approach that carries through to the most important portion of Punch Club: training up your fighter. You can improve your brawler’s three core attributes–strength, agility, and stamina–by using certain pieces of gym equipment. However, your abilities will degrade over time when you’re not exercising, so it’s best to reserve the really hard graft for the period just before your next fight, to better your chances for climbing that ladder.

I’m usually not one for management sims, but Punch Club has both an aesthetic and attitude that I really do dig. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is basically a sim of a 1980s fighter movie, so all the nostalgia is quite warranted. I won’t spoil all the references, but you’ll see loving nods to Rocky, Blood Sport, Cobra, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Fight Club, Aliens, and more. The game itself uses pixel art, and it’s better than anything you probably ever saw on the SNES, with more colors and attention to detail. It might not be for everyone, but it’s definitively for me.

I don’t know how far up the ladder my trainee will get, but, for the time being, I’ll keep climbing.

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Celeste: jump up, jump up, and get down

I went into Celeste with hesitation. It’s a splatformer, also know as an extremely difficult type of action platformer, and while I somehow was able to beat Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV, I’ve never been great at these games. They require steady fingers and precise timing and, above all, patience, a quality I pride myself on having…but only to a point. For instance, I really don’t like unnecessarily aggressive drivers; here, let me tell you a recent story of an interaction I had the other week. A light was turning yellow, and I didn’t believe I could make it through so I slowed and stopped just as it turned red. The car behind me was annoyed at this; the driver was a middle-aged man on his cell phone, and he threw his unoccupied hand up in disgust and then flipped me the middle finger. My response? I waved cheerfully at him. There’s just no need for any of that, sir.

Anyways, Celeste is a platformer in which players control a girl named Madeline as she makes her way up a mountain while avoiding various deadly obstacles, such as spike pits and shadow beings. Along with jumping and climbing up walls for a limited amount of time, Madeline has the ability to perform a mid-air dash in the eight cardinal and intercardinal directions. This move can only be performed once and must be replenished by either landing on the ground, hitting certain objects, such as replenishing crystals, or moving to a new screen. Throughout each level, the player will encounter additional mechanics, such as springs that launch the player or feathers that allow for moments of brief flight.

Celeste is at its core a 2D platformer–you run, jump, climb walls, and air-dash. There’s no picking up special items, upgrading stats, or finding costumes that give you the power to shoot lightning from your hands or spit fireballs. You may occasionally grab strawberries, which are mostly collectibles to boast about your excellent masochistic platforming skills. They serve no greater purpose than tempting you to perform non-mandatory challenges liberally sprinkled onto each stage, and I’ve gotten a few here and there, but have no intention of going after all of them, as some definitely look extremely tricky to grab.

Here’s some light praise: Celeste has some of the best 2D pixel art I’ve ever seen. Clearly inspired by the sprites of the SNES era, the characters and environments are both vibrant and memorable, adding a beauty to a genre known for being somewhat ugly or more focused on killing you so quickly you have no time to take anything in. These gorgeous visuals are backed by a soundtrack from Lena Raine, whose synthy chiptune beats will time travel you back to the days off Donkey Kong Country and, more recently, Fez and FTL: Faster Than Light. Lastly, the adventure is constructed together by a low-poly 3D model of Celeste Mountain that helps to convey the scale and trajectory of the climb, as well as serving as a level select.

I’m not that far in Celeste, just a couple chapters, and a part of me worries that it is only going to get more difficult as I climb higher. I mean, that would only make sense; games often ease you into the challenge, unless you are Dark Souls then there are no rules. Still, there’s something called Assist Mode, which I may need to look into further. Evidently, there’s a handful of options available to cycle through at will, like becoming invincible, extending the all-important air dash ability, and slowing the whole game down in 10% intervals. Assist Mode allows for any combination of these to work at any time; for example, if my redheaded-climber keeps landing on spikes, I could just turn her invincible for a hot second to alleviate the pain and bypass the obstacle, and while some might see this as cheating or cheesing the game…I certainly don’t. In fact, this type of stuff allows me to experience more of the game, which is a good thing.

With that, I can hear the mountain calling me back. May I reach its top in due time, all in one piece, perhaps with a strawberry or two to munch on along the way. Perhaps.

There’s too much trivial chatter in Batman: Arkham City

Twice a month, I go to my local oncology center, sit in a fairly comfy reclining chair, get hooked up to a machine, and have poison, along with other substances, pumped into my body for three to four hours. It’s not exactly what I’d describe as fun, but it is what I have to do to continue living the life I want to live, a life with cancer. I’m never alone there, and sometimes the room is quiet, with everyone reading a book or listening to music or sleeping, as I’m wont to do, and other times it is just bursting with mindless chatter. Thank goodness for headphones. I tell this story because it actually relates greatly to Batman: Arkham City, believe it or not.

Can Batman just get one moment of peace to look out over Arkham City without having to hear some nearby conversation between Goon #1 and Goon #2? Please, it’s all I want. It seems you can’t go anywhere without picking up a stray conversation, and the majority of them are just fluff, nonsensical, pointless chatter to clog up your ear-holes. Someone somewhere is always talking, and it quickly becomes grating. Plus, there are occasional conversations you do need to pay attention to, such as when a political prisoner is being attacked or threatened, as it is a side quest activity, and parsing those out from the clutter can be tough. I don’t remember Batman: Arkham Asylum having this issue, but a lot of the game was spent in-doors, whereas here you are constantly gliding from rooftop to rooftop via a pretty open world brimming with enemies.

That said, I’ll now talk about the game proper. Written by veteran Batman writer Paul Dini with Paul Crocker and Sefton Hill, Batman: Arkham City is inspired by the long-running comic book mythos. In the game’s main storyline, Batman is incarcerated in Arkham City, a huge new super-prison enclosing the decaying urban slums of the fictional Gotham City. He must uncover the secret behind the sinister scheme “Protocol 10,” orchestrated by the facility’s warden Hugo Strange, all while also dealing with a number of other big-name baddies, such as Mr. Freeze, The Penguin, and, of course, The Joker. It plays and feels a lot like Batman: Arkham Asylum, but bigger and more explosive, with more things to do.

The same freely flowing combat from Batman: Arkham Asylum returns here and, while it can feel mashy at times, it does also feel purposeful. Batman can dynamically punch, kick, grapple, and Batarang through crowds of tough guys or, if you get the jump on a solo dude, take him down stealthily. Players gifted with superior button-pressing timing and the clarity of mind–in short, not at all me–can also use Batman’s fist and gadget tools to elevate these brawls into something much more. A violent dance, perhaps. Not all of Batman: Arkham City takes place outside; in locked rooms, Batman is a true predator, stalking enemies from the shadows and plucking them off one by one. I’m much better in these scenarios than I am trying to take on eight unarmed enemies and three guys with guns, all while trying to counter here, punch there, dodge this way, leap that way, etc.

At times, Batman: Arkham City has too many distractions, and I even found myself unable to figure out where to go next for the main mission, having veered off to answer payphone calls and attempt to collect some Riddler trophies. I say attempt because, for many of them, they are quite puzzling and seem like they require tools and abilities I’ve not yet unlocked. I do like that you can tag any Riddler trophy you see and it’ll add it to your map so you can return to it later, if that’s something you want to do. I highly doubt I’ll be going after all the collectibles in this one, despite that being a task I love doing in many other games. My goal is to just get through the story and see how things ultimately unfold for Mr. Wayne.

Currently, I’m in a large museum, trying to carefully make my way across a small pond of frozen ice to save some cops from The Penguin. If you are too reckless or take the wrong path, the ice will break, and a shark will eat Batman. Let me repeat that last part–a shark eats Batman. It’s probably the best thing I’ve seen so far in Batman: Arkham City.

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.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, a big ol’ boring collectathon

I started playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate when I came home from the hospital last August; I’m still playing it. It’s a long one, bloated with things to collect and many uninspired missions that I no longer even care about completing the way the developers clearly want me to, but I like finishing things that I start, and so I’ve stuck with it still despite it being really boring. Those are both my words and Melanie’s word; the poor thing has had to endure watching me run around like a maniac in search of every single collectible. I’m currently in sequence 8, with one more sequence to go, along with a few Achievements to unlock because, at this point, I’ve put in a good chunk of work to unlock them already…might as well see them pop.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is set in a fictional history of real-world events and follows the centuries-old struggle between the Assassins, who fight for peace with liberty, and the Templars, who desire peace through order. The story is set in Victorian-era London and follows twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as they navigate the corridors of organized crime and take back the city from Templar control. Naturally, this being an Assassin’s Creed game, you’ll run into many a notable figures as you stab and loot your way to victory, such as novelist Charles Dickens, biologist Charles Darwin, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, political theorist Karl Marx, nurse Florence Nightingale, Duleep Singh (the last maharajah of the Sikh Empire), Sergeant Frederick Abberline of the Metropolitan Police Service (known for his investigation of Jack the Ripper), and Queen Victoria. Phew.

It’s an Assassin’s Creed game, which means it does all the same things previous ones have done, but on a grander scale, this being on the Xbox One and not the Xbox 360. It’s got main missions, side missions, a thousand collectibles, gear to upgrade, income to earn, gangs to upgrade, skills and perks to unlock, and so on, just like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag–maybe the last one I’ve truly enjoyed–Assassin’s Creed II, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I wasn’t thrilled with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and all I remember from it is that is focused heavily on bombs. Anyways, taking place in a bustling place like London, the buildings are bigger and more closely connected to each other; to help get around somewhat faster, both Jacob and Evie have access to a grappling hook device that shoots a zipline from one place to another. This still doesn’t make all the running around fun or that much quicker, as climbing can still be iffy, with the occasional leaping off of rooftops to your swift death below.

Here’s something funny I’ve been doing while running around from one place to another simply to collect a pressed flower, a poster, a beer bottle, or a chest full of crafting/upgrade ingredients. I’ve been telling Alexa–that robot lady everyone seemingly now has in their house–to play a playlist of polka music. Honestly, it makes all the to-ing and fro-ing much more enjoyable, because it’s not like any interesting dialogue is happening at this time, and getting from A to B can often take a couple of minutes, depending on where you are and whether or not there’s a fast travel viewpoint nearby. At some point, I have to give up the notion that I’m going to open every single chest in this game because…there are just too many.

Combat in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is still a button-mashy mess. You can string together a couple of combos, as well as counter an incoming attack from a different enemy, but only if you time it just right. Then, some enemies, require you to break their stance by stunning them before you can begin a new combo. This sounds par for the course, and it is, but things go sour real fast the minute you have four or more enemies attacking you at once, as well as snipers on rooftops that you have to dodge. I eventually began using hallucinogenic darts from a distance to get enemies to fight each other, with me sneaking in at the end to finish off the remaining survivors. It’s not the coolest way to go about it, but it works. Also, while the skill trees make it seem like Evie is the sneaky one and Jacob is the more aggressive combatant, both play exactly the same way and can unlock the same abilities for fighting…so there’s really no point in having two playable characters other than for story-related reasons.

Looking at my games to install list on the ol’ Xbox One, I still have Assassin’s Creed III to play. Also, this month, we’re getting a free copy of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue from Games With Gold. Ugh. I’ll never be done with this series. Plus, there’s the newest ones, Origins and Odyssey, which, according to podcasts I’ve listened, sound like they are too big for their britches. Can’t wait. Part of me enjoys the idea of a collectathon, but maybe only one that is both not this big or a bit more fun to play. Heck, I enjoyed collecting 10 eggs recently in Dear Cousin more than anything I’ve accomplished in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Please pray that I’m finished with this beast sooner than later.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #14 – Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

Ungodly boring
Hate tail missions, save the Queen
At least there was cake

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.

There’s beyond plenty to do in LEGO City Undercover

For Black Friday this year, I purchased three games digitally for my Xbox One–LEGO City Undercover, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Batman: Arkham City. Go me. And yes, I’ve technically already played Batman: Arkham Asylum on my PlayStation 3, but this came as part of a two-game bundle, and the price was too good to ignore. I think it was about $5.00. But I’m not here to chat about the Batman…instead, let’s get into Chase McCain and his big-city antics.

Naturally, LEGO City Undercover takes place in the vast LEGO City, with players controlling an undercover cop appropriately named Chase McCain. Chase goes on the hunt for criminals, with various moves at his disposal, such as swinging across poles and performing wall jumps. He can also gain disguises throughout his quest to take down Rex Fury that give him additional abilities, such as a robber disguise that lets him break locks, a miner that can use dynamite, or a firefighter to put out fires and chop down boards on doors. Chase can also pilot a number of different vehicles, such as cars and helicopters, and use loose bricks to build various special structures. It’s basically a severely toned-down version of Grand Theft Auto, but with more building and people jumping out of the way of a car driving down the sidewalk.

This is a totally original LEGO story, for once not based on any sort of previously established universe and/or characters. Upon McCain’s return to the titular LEGO City, the mayor reveals the city is in the grips of a crime wave, which she suspects to be the work of Rex Fury, a notorious criminal that Chase initially helped to arrest, but who has since escaped from prison. Chase is tasked with finding him. To assist him, Chase is joined by dim-witted rookie Frank Honey and police technician Ellie Phillips. However, McCain’s grand return is not welcome news for Natalia Kowalski, Chase’s ex-girlfriend, who was forced into the witness protection program after he inadvertently revealed her as the witness in Fury’s trial. I mention all these characters by name because they truly make the story work, fun, and engaging, and Frank Honey is just so goofy and dumb as LEGO bricks that you have to love him.

LEGO City Undercover is packed with humor, references, and silly gags, as one might expect from the folks at Traveller’s Tales. Some of these I think might go over many children’s heads, but I spotted several and smiled constantly. There’s an early level that is entirely a pastiche of The Shawshank Redemption, complete with a Morgan Freeman impersonator. Later, you have to follow the instructions of a construction worker who sounds exactly like one Arnold Schwarzenegger, with him even mentioning that we need to “get to the chopper.” The game definitely has its own voice and sense of style, and the writing is engaging and goofy, even when attempting to hit some emotional beats. There’s a redemption arc for McCain, but it falls a little flat with all the goofiness around his actions.

And now, the most daunting aspect of LEGO City Undercover is just how much stuff there is to discover. I’m talking collectibles here, and LEGO videogames have just continuously gotten bigger and bigger with each new entry. However, this feels like a bit too much, yet sadly I will have to collect every single one of them or forever not sleep soundly again:

  • 39 Red Bricks
  • 305 Characters
  • 120 Vehicles
  • 450 Gold Bricks

Now, those 450 gold bricks are tied to at least over a dozen different types of activities, such as punching ATMs, destroying boulders, doing time trials, chasing down aliens, watering flowerpots, and so on. Basically, if you do something special or attached to a specific character disguise for McCain, you get a gold brick. Hooray. Since beating the game the other day, I am just a smidge over 100 gold bricks and somewhere in the 35% completion total rate, which means I have a long road ahead of me.

Other than LEGO City Undercover glitching out on me a few times, I’ve generally had a good time with the game. I wasn’t too keen on having to collect building bricks along with studs, but it hasn’t been an issue, and once you beat the game you get an automatic x2 multiplier to the activity. Still, there’s lot of things left to build, so maybe I’ll end up hating the grinding for building bricks by the end. If you don’t hear from me in a month’s time, please send help.